Operation Overview: On 21 April 1967, Alpha and Charlie Companies were attached, or “chopped,” to 3rd Battalion, 5 th Marines, and committed to Operation UNION I. Alpha Company's Marines proceeded to the 3/5 combat base and became the rear security force for 3/5 for the next couple weeks. Charlie Company was committed to the field, and was assigned as battalion reserve to take up the “drag” position, responsible for 3/5's rear security. It would be nine long days before Lt. Col. Peter Hilgartner, the CO of 1/5, would get his Marines back and be placed in command of the operation in the field. Lt. Col. Coffman had completed his combat tour as the CO of 1/5, and Lt. Col. Hilgartner had taken command of 1/5 on 3 November 1966.
The objective of Operation UNION I was to find, fix and destroy enemy forces and supplies in the objective area, the Que Son Valley , a large, very rugged area of mountains, valleys and villages located about 40 kilometers west of Tam Ky. There were several critical terrain features in the Operation UNION I TAOR, including Nui Loc Son (Hill 185), Nui Da Ham (Hill 218), and Nghi Ha Sa (Hill 110). The terrain in the Que Son Valley is composed of rice paddy land surrounded by densely forested mountains with elevations of between 100 and 445 meters. The paddy land was interspersed with thickly brush-covered hills. By reputation, the Que Son Valley had long been known as “VC Valley,” and although the Viet Cong guerillas were there in abundance, it would be a major battle with a huge force of North Vietnamese Army regulars on 10 May 1967 that would define this battle for history. On that date, the 200-plus Marines of Charlie Company climbed to the top of their Objective M, which was marked as Hill 110 on their terrain maps, and engaged that estimated force of 1,000 or more NVA soldiers at point-blank range.
Despite restrictions on their supporting arms (their supporting artillery battery was re-locating to a closer position, and were unable to bring their 105mm guns to bear on the enemy, and an unfortunate friendly fire situation involving Marine Air accidentally bombing the Alpha Company CP Group calling a halt to air support), the Marines prevailed, resulting in the near-destruction of the NVA units who were trying to kill the Marines.
Two days later, on 12 May 1967, the Marines of Delta Company, 1 st Battalion, 5 th Marines, after having been “chopped” to 3/5, engaged another huge NVA force, initially suffering high casualties but again mauling the North Vietnamese Army forces who were trying to control the Que Son Valley.
On 17 May 1967, Operation UNION I was officially terminated. According to the Combat After-Action Report for Operation UNION I, compiled by Lt. Col. Hilgartner, CO of 1/5, 1 st Battalion, 5 th Marines lost 34 Marines or Navy Corpsmen killed in action, and 150 wounded in action as a result of combat operations during Operation UNION I. On the other side of the macabre Vietnam-style scales of warfare, the Marines involved in Operation UNION I accounted for 865 enemy KIA's, including a reported 486 who were NVA regulars of the 2 nd NVA Division. The Marines also captured tons of enemy war-fighting materials. Including all of the units that were involved in the 27-day operation, 110 Marines were killed, 2 were Missing in Action, and 473 were wounded in action. The mission of Operation UNION I was accomplished. The area surrounding Hiep Duc and the Que Son Valley was considerably more peaceful after Operation UNION I was completed. At least, for a while longer.
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