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Operation Harvest Moon

By; Frank Pavone  0331 3rd Platoon,  Lima Company 3/3

 

It was a clear beautiful day on 9 December 1965, I remember Gunny Moe telling us that we are going where no American has ever walked, and too bring two (2) combat meals; we should be back too base camp by this evening. Then we loaded on to the choppers,

it was the start of operation, "Harvest Moon", we landed without any resistance. The CO of Lima company was Captain DeMartino, he was a true leader, his marines of Lima company would follow him too hell if he gave the order. Lima company was on line and began too search and destroy, there were three sniper's taking shots at us and then they would move back and fire, move back and fire,

Bob Neener (0351) spotted enemy movement on our right flank, there were twelve (12) males dressed in black pajamas. Neener passed the word up, about the men in black pajamas moving and following us on our right flank. The word came down and we were ordered too continue moving forward, Lima company was short handed ( just like so many other Marine units) we were about 100 Marines strong.

My machine-gun team some how managed too work our way to the right flank of Bob Neener and Jim Stead's rocket team, some how we managed too get cut-off from Lima company's main force. We came upon a cave, and there was a pith helmet laying at the mouth of the cave, I grabbed the helmet not even realizing that it could have been booby-trapped, I tied it too the back of my pack, then I heard a noise from the cave, I yelled too Art Winterfield too throw a grenade in the cave.

Art hurled a grenade right into the cave at the same time yelling, "fire in the hole", when the grenade exploded, a little girl came out, she was about seven years old, her arm was hanging from her body, I would never forget that sight, then a older lady stumbled out of the cave, it must have been her mother, she fell over and died, then a NVA officer came out, he had brass all over his uniform, he had that gook smile on his face, I could not handle that this NVA officer was hiding behind a child and a women, I cut him in half with a short burst from my M-60 machine gun, and I wiped that gook's smile right off his face. Then all hell broke loose, we found ourselves in a triangle ambush, we were completely surrounded.

They were walking motars in on us from hill #43, when our gun team reached the ambush, we started too return fire, the Viet Cong were running ammunition and supplies to the main force that was dug in along this treeline. I dropped eight of them, they went down like bowling pins, then eight more Viet cong tried too re-supply their main force, I dropped all of them.

Now the mortars were definitely zeroing on my machine-gun, Neener told Jim Stead we have too get Pavone's machine-gun, the team and ourselves out of here. Then a 60 mm mortar came crashing in, Neener was hit by shrapnel, Doc Croxen was killed instantly.

We put our wounded and dead in this bomb crater. I was standing by this tree when I heard this inner voice tell me too move two feet to the left just as I moved a burst from an AK-47, went right up the trunk of that tree,  if I didn't move, it would have cut me in half. We had many wounded Marines in the rice paddy, I remember a Henry Hitchcock (0351) yelling my name, he also was from Chicago, we both transferred over from Charlie 1/9 to Lima 3/3 in August of 1965. I remembered yelling, "you mother fucker's", and began running and shooting my machine gun at the same time, when I reached Henry, he was yelling, " they blew off my mother fucking arm," I rolled him over, and their was a piece of shrapnel protruding out of his forearm, I remember pulling it out and burning my hand,

I told Henry he had the million dollar wound and he would be going home, his whole attitude changed, he knew he was going too live, I carried him back to the bomb crater. I rescued two more wounded Marines, and brought them back to the bomb crater. Gunny Moe told my gun team too stay on this rice paddy dike and set up a base of fire, while they charged hill #43. The fire fight lasted about two in a half hours, we had eleven (11) dead Marines and forty-one (41) wounded just from Lima Company. The last med-a-vac left at about 23 hundred hours, Neener was on that last chopper out. I believe that when we came upon that cave, and I cut that NVA officer in half with my machine gun, that burst set their ambush off prematurely, or it could have been a turkey shoot, we were surrounded. Thank god for the good Marine Corps training of charging the enemy's position, while under fire.

Frank Pavone

Charlie 1/9  Lima 3/3  - Vietnam 1965-1966

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After 40 Years, Frank and I finally hooked back up. We recently spent over a week together sharing memories and telling war stories, (we went to the Vietnam Veterans Reunion in Melbourne FL together this past April, (but that's another story for later), Frank's theory that when he dusted the NVA officer in the cave, and this prematurely started the battle, before the triangle ambush was complete, makes sense based on the timing and its close proximity to the first incoming mortars. This may have been a very big factor in the number of us who survived that ambush.

Semper Fi, My Brother

  Bob Neener