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Operation Starlite__August 1965

"It became a way of life. I didn't even know where those shells were going. I didn't even know what they was. But every death sound there is, you start to detect it__you know it. You start to know if death is going over you or if it's coming right at you.___U.S. Soldier

Even when fire fights raged within 50 yards of the pickup point, Marine Aircraft group 16 pilots managed to land their helicopters in the fields and evacuate their wounded compatriots during Operation Starlite. Marines could always count on the pilots to answer their requests for assistance.

The first major U.S. ground combat operation of the Vietnam War began when a Viet Cong deserter revealed that the 1,500-strong main force VC 1st Regiment, with its 60th and 80th battalions and 52nd Company, was planning an attack on the airfield at Chu Lai. When Major General Lewis W. Walt, commander of the III Marine Amphibious Force based at Chu Lai, was informed, he decided to preempt the Viet Cong with a spoiling attack of his own.

The Marines, under the command of Colonel Oscar E. Peatross, would make a two-battalion assault on the VC force, which was bivouaced at the village of Van Tuong, 12 miles south of Chu Lai. One battalion, the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment (3/3), would make an amphibious landing on the beach and the other, the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment(2/4), would land by helicopter further inland. Afloat would be the Special Landing Force's 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment (3/7).

A Marine M-48 tank searches a riverbed 16 miles south of Chu Lai during Operation Starlite. The search party found several holes along the bank which might have been hiding spots for the VC.

August 18, 1963, was selected as D-Day, with 3/3 (less M Company) plus three flamethrower tanks and a platoon of five M-48 medium tanks landing at Green Beach to block VC avenues of escape to the south. M Company would move overland from Chu Lai to a blocking position on a ridgeline four miles northwest of the landing area, and close off the VC retreat in that direction. Meanwhile 2/4 would land at Landing Zones (LZ) Red, White, and Blue, about 2,000 yards apart and approximately one mile inland from the coast. Link-up between the two forces would be outside the hamlet of An Cuong, about one mile inland.

After an artillery preparation by 155mm howitzers firing from Chu Lai and air strikes by Marine fighter bombers on the LZs, the assault began. Green Beach was secured without opposition, and there was only light resistance at LZ Red and LZ White. But at LZ Blue the assault force landed almost on top of the VC 60th Battalion, entrenched on nearby Hill 43.

Marines retrieve the dead commander of an LVTP during Operation Starlite. A LVTP was a Landing Vehicle Tracked,Personnel carrier.

A bitter fight ensued, but the hill was soon overrun. Meanwhile elements of the 3/3 landing party attacked the fortified hamlet of An Cuong. As the LZ Blue force moved to link up with the force from Green Beach they came under heavy fire from the hamlet of Nam Yen and were forced to withdraw to LZ Blue. A Marine supply convoy was ambushed near An Cuong. A company from 3/7 was then landed, and after hard fighting the 60th Viet Cong Battalion broke contact. After the commitment of the rest of 3/7, the attack continued on August 19, and by nightfall the sweep of the area was completed.

Operation Starlite officially ended on August 24, 1965. The 1st VC Regiment had been rendered, temporarily at least, ineffective, with the 60th Battalion destroyed and its 80th Battalion badly mauled. The Marines had suffered 45 dead and 120 wounded, while 614 VC bodies were found and 9 VC were taken prisoner. One reason for the disparity in casualties (which would continue throughout the war) was the intensity of U.S. fire support. Marine fighter bombers flew some 290 sorties, and the destroyers U.S.S. Orlek (DD 886) and Prichett (DD 561) and the cruiser Galveston (CLG-3), lying offshore, fired 1,562 rounds of naval gunfire support.