"LET'S GO CHARLIE"
Story and Photo's by SSgt Bruce Martin USMC
Hell three times reinforced was breaking loose on the small jungle-enclosed battlefield. Then, from somewhere, a baritone voice thundered above the melee, singing The Marines' Hymn over staccato bursts of Communist-made automatic weapons and the steady "whump" of grenades.
"The Hymn" swelled above the din as wounded Marines lying in tight knots across a fire-raked helicopter landing zone on exposed terrain took up the song, urging their buddies on to the fight.
"Let's go . . . Charlie!" the deep voice bellowed, "let's go get 'em!" And Lt. Jack Ruffer charged off into the jungle, leading his men in the hymn at the same time. They followed closely on his heels, whooping blood-curdling oaths at the North Vietnamese soldiers hidden in the dusk-darkened undergrowth.
Charlie Co., 1st Bn., First Marines, had its adrenalin up and was fighting for its existence with all the tenacity and fortitude it could muster against three-possibly four-Communist companies termed "first-rate" by Charlie Company's CO, Capt. Bill Major.
This wasn't the first engagement of "Operation Medina" for Charlie Co., but it was the bloodiest for the Communist forces and the Marines.
The rifle company had taken to the field the previous day with 162 able Marines. They were the point unit for their battalion and the 2nd Bn., First Marines, seeking elements of the Ninth North Vietnamese Army Regiment in the Hai Lang forest, southwest of Quang Tri city.
That first day had been spent mostly waiting to get to the operational area. The first groups of Charlie Co., landed by U.S. Army and Marine helicopters, immediately set up a hasty defense around the landing zone. By mid-afternoon, the company had moved off the hilly landing zone and waded through a sea of elephant grass to plunge into a dense jungle.
With the enemy out of sight, Charlie Co. had fought its way through the towering jungle without significant incident the first day. The night was marked only by a light rain seeping down through the high canopy. In mid-morning of the second day of the operation, Lt. Ruffer and his platoon remained behind on a crude emergency landing zone to help evacuate two non-combat casualties. One Marine had broken his ankle; the other sustained injuries to his kidneys. Both of the injured had fallen down the slippery mountainsides which Charlie Co. was crossing.