Location Coordinates: 164656N 1065415E (YD029563)
The U.S. Army outpost at Khe Gio Bridge on Highway 9 near the DMZ was overrun by North Vietnamese troops on 12 March 1970. Of the 14 Americans who fought in this battle, 2 were killed, 5 wounded, and 1 captured. The ARVN garrison had 6 dead and 9 wounded. The NVA lost about 40 men.
From a tactical perspective, the attackers neither damaged the bridge nor dislodged the garrison. But the enemy’s real objective was to inflict American casualties, in the hope of hastening the U.S. withdrawal already underway in northern I Corps, and in pursuit of an overall strategy to win the war in America’s living rooms. To this end, the NVA would accept high relative losses.
In another context, the U.S. losses comprised 9% of the 33 Americans killed in Vietnam this day. The enemy profited more, without cost, from the loss of 14 men of the 25th Infantry Division in a non-hostile helicopter accident later in the day. But every loss devastated the families and communities back home and increased the cumulative effect on the U.S. populace, which was growing tired of losing sons.
The enemy’s plan was to sneak into the perimeter, pin
down the defenders with rocket and mortar fire, and kill them in the bunkers
with grenades and explosives. The strength of the assaulting force was
in the range of 150 to 400 troops. For
2d Lt. Gary Bernard Scull, 30, Advance Team 3, MACV, from Harlan, Iowa, assistant advisor to the 2/2 ARVN Regiment, who by a stroke of incredible bad luck arrived at the bridge only a few hours before it was attacked. He had been in Vietnam since November 1969.
Sgt. Mitchell William Stout, 20, C Battery, 1/44 Artillery, from Lenoir City, Tennessee, who was five weeks into his second Vietnam tour, having served previously with 1st Platoon, B/2/47 (Mech), 9th Infantry Division.
Sp/4 Terry Lee Moser, 21, also of C/1/44, from Barto, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Philadelphia), who had been in Vietnam nine months and undoubtedly was looking forward to going home.
Except for Lt. Scull, the U.S. personnel were from 1/44, an Air Defense Artillery (ADA) battalion attached to 108th Artillery Group and headquartered at 3rd Marine Division’s large base (pop. 30,000) near the village of Dong Ha on Highway 1 north of Quang Tri City. Lt. Col. Richard L. Myers and Capt. Douglas Mehle were the commanding officers of 1/44 and C Battery, respectively.
After Khe Sanh was deactivated in 1967, Highway 9 beyond
Camp Carroll was kept open to support operations in northwestern I Corps.
Khe Gio Bridge, about 20 miles west of Dong Ha, one of 49 bridges on this
road, was guarded by two dusters from C/1/44, a searchlight from G/29 (a
1/44 line battery), and 40 or so men of the 2/2 ARVN Regiment. Getting
there wasn’t easy because the road went through rugged country, had to
be swept for mines, and was subject to ambushes. I made this trip on 28
Sept 1969 and 5 April 1970 riding with a couple tons of ammunition and
watching artillery rounds impacting along the road ahead of us.
M42A1 duster (photo by author) The weather in early March was scorching and humid with dense fog at night. During the night of March 7, artillery at Quang Tri shot aerial flares to mark a flight path for a medevac mission up north near Gio Linh; the night of March 12 was foggy again, and the NVA columns approaching the bridge were aided by poor visibility. They walked into the camp, reached occupied structures, and were climbing through windows and doors when our guys awoke and began shooting from their bunks.
Back at Dong Ha, I was in the radio shack with RTO John Goss when Khe Gio’s perimeter erupted and he received the first distress calls from the bridge. The frantic voice, heavy explosions, and stuttering gunfire mingled with radio static are forever etched in my memory. The time was 1:30 a.m., and nobody at battalion headquarters would get any more sleep that night.
The NVA had set up a dozen or more rocket pads and mortar tubes in the surrounding hills, and when the firing began inside the camp, they laid a barrage which killed many of their own men but also pinned the defenders inside the bunkers. A letter I wrote later that day, after hearing four survivors tell their story, states “the rain of shells was so heavy no one could go outside without being killed instantly.”
Sgt. Stout, in a bunker down by the road with Jimmy
Silva and Robert E. Foster of C/1/44 and Richard E. Dunn and John H. Laughridge
of G/29, picked up an enemy grenade and carried it outside where it exploded
at the same time a mortar round landed nearby. He died instantly, but this
act spared the four other men, who all survived the war and made it home.
Moser was killed by a mortar burst during this intense bombardment as he
During the night, Headquarters Battery was assembled
and 50 men were recruited for a reaction force. We were 104 enlisted strength
at the time, and all stepped forward. Venturing into pitch darkness to
confront enemy forces of unknown strength is nobody’s idea of a good time,
but we’d go wherever our guys were in trouble, it’s real basic. The reaction
force got ready but never left Dong Ha because the embattled survivors
The Rockpile and Camp Carroll. From the author's collection. All rights reserved.
An officer’s daily log entry by Major David W. Wagner, the S-3, identifies the dusters in the battle as C-122 and C-142. The destroyed duster probably was C-122, which is recorded in unit records as a “total loss,” so the fighting duster (and the one reaching Camp Carroll) must have been C-142, which was booked as “salvage” and used for parts.
ARVN company with U.S. advisers who reached the camp at 0700 searched in
vain for signs of Lt. Scull. A detail from Dong Ha arriving at 0845 reported
finding “enemy 14 KIA and still counting.” My letter states they recovered
17 NVA bodies and estimated from drag marks that 40 enemy troops died inside
the perimeter. This number is based on statements made to me by witnesses.
I’ve heard claims, then and recently, that ARVNs had shot at Americans;
but when the battlefield was seen in daylight, ARVN and NVA bodies were
found on top of each other, indicating they had fought to the death in
hand-to-hand struggles. The camp itself was a shambles and had to be completely
We eventually turned it over to the ARVNs, who ran like hell, and the NVA recorded their deed without a fight. You can go there as a tourist now, but Highway 9 is still primitive and infrequently traveled. The wartime bridge and camp are gone. I don’t know if there is any trace of the battle, but I’m tempted to wonder whether ghosts of the 48 people who died there return on dark, foggy nights.
The survivors who returned to Dong Ha on March 12 thought Lt. Scull was killed in the fight, but an ARVN officer reported his bunker was hit and on fire, and he was led away by NVA soldiers. U.S. intelligence analysts concluded that a report by a former NVA officer in December 1974 about a U.S. POW he saw in June 1971 matched Lt. Scull’s disappearance in terms of description and incident. Nothing else has been learned of his fate. On October 16, 1978, the U.S. Government changed Lt. Scull’s status from “missing” to “died while missing” and upgraded his rank to Major, as was always done for MIAs to maximize government benefits to their families. He is survived by his mother and sister. A memorial web site and photo may be seen at http://www.flash.net/~azgecko/scull.htm
Rumors started circulating at 1/44 headquarters before the sun had set on the day of battle that Sgt. Stout would be recommended for the Medal of Honor. Lt. Col. Myers signed the paperwork, and Jack Stout and Faye Thomas went to Blair House Gary Bernard Scull on July 17, 1974, during the last days of the Nixon Administration, to accept their son's medal from Vice President Ford. Jack Stout donated it in 1991 to the National Medal of Honor Museum, where it is on permanent display. Buddy White, a childhood friend, organized a fundraising drive and Mitch's home town built a hero's monument over his grave. A major building at Fort Bliss is named for him, along with the I-75 bridge across the Tennessee River and the Mitchell W. Stout Medal of Honor Memorial Golf Tournament, an annual event in Lenoir City. He also is survived by two sisters.
I'm proud to have served in 1/44 with the men who fought
at Khe Gio Bridge and other battles in the Vietnam War's most honored artillery
battalion. My time with them shaped my character and life.
Sources and acknowledgements: The author served with HHB/1/44 as the intelligence and operations clerk and other duties as assigned from April 1969 to May 1970. The author's letter of March 12, 1970 describing the battle is a primary source of material for this article; a copy has been donated to the National Medal of Honor Museum. The author was a newspaper reporter before the war and for the last 25 years has been a lawyer residing in Seattle, Washington.
The following individuals cooperated in providing information,
photographs, and contacts: Gary Puro of the National Dusters, Quads, and
Searchlights Association; Ed Hooper of the Tennessee Star Journal and National
Medal of Honor Museum; the Harlan (Iowa) Tribune News, Col. Dave Althoff
(USAF, retired), Harold "Doc" Peterson (2/47 Mech, 9th Infantry Division),
M/Sgt Danny L. Fisher (USA, retired), John Goss (HHB/1/44), Ben Johnson
and Windell Crowell (C/1/44) (military ranks are given where known). I
sincerely apologize if I left anyone out.
Brief excerpts may be quoted for non-profit educational,
scholarly, or historical purposes.