The Saga of Hill 950
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Shown in picture of Hill 950 – Headquarters Company, 26th Marines, Security Platoon, rotated on to the hill from Khe Sanh.
Also on the hill was a Platoon from 1/26th. In addition several Force Recon Marines help to reinforce the units, all of the Force Recon Marines were thought to be KIA.
Marines from Headquarters Platoon, 26th Marines, a platoon from 1/26 and several individuals from Force Recon did battle against the NVA for the hilltop on Hill 950.
Overwhelming forces assaulted Hill 950 on the night of June 6th 1967. The battle continued until mid morning the next day.
Marine Richard Green, Marine David Buffalo, and Marine Richard del Castillo, Marine Powell, and Marine Stevenson survived but all were wounded in the action. Marine Baskin survived with no injuries.
Marine Green reports the NVA came up opposite side of densely fogged in Hill 950. AK47 rounds tore through his hooch. He jumped in his gun position. The NVA were on the already on the communications bunker and he opened up with his M60. Those were eliminated.
Marine Powell came running back saying he had been shot. Green could not see in the dark so he started feeling on his body. Found bullet wounds but could not help him at this time. Marine Stevenson came up. He also was hit badly. Marine Green was dodging too many grenades at time to help them.
Marine Green exchanged fire and grenades for at least the next three hours. Marine Buffalo was to my left. Eventually I later crawled to Marine Castillo’s bunker.
Marine Buffalo in the communications bunker told Khe Sanh the hill had been overrun and fearing we were all dead to start dropping everything they had on it.
Good thing they didn't have the right measurements or I wouldn't be here today. Seemed like Khe Sanh threw everything they had at us but the kitchen sink. Couldn't really tell what they were hitting since the hill was fogged in.
Marine David Buffalo reports he had thought 1/26 was the
only unit there. I don't know if it was an rpg or hand grenade that came into the bunker all I know was it went off and killed MarineSpear, wounded me and a Marine named Howard. Howard from my communications platoon ran out the bunker and came back in after the thing exploded without being seen.
Marine Castillo reports he was up on watch at 10:30 PM 6-5-67. He thinks he was the only one awake, on the western side, but he said he was on the easy approach side, so he was on the East or southeast. Marine Sherrill’s bunker must have been on the Northern side where Richard ran to as the battle started. He saw rockets hitting Khe Sanh Combat Base, and screamed for Marine Baskin to awaken. Khe Sanh Combat base is to the South. Then a trip flare went off on the opposite side (North), so he ran to see what he thought would be rock apes, as the flares had been going off for weeks. He was told it was rock apes.
Marine Lawrence had a blue battery operated player, playing "Groovin, by the Young Rascals". It played over and over again all night. He got to the other side of the hill and an explosion knocked him senseless, and to the ground. Next to him was Marine Lawrence. Mortars came in for a few minutes, which awoke everyone. Marine Castillo was stunned. A squad or more of NVA charged over him. Running Marine Lawrence groaned and they bayoneted him. Marine Castillo was quiet, played dead. If he had groaned they would have poked him too. Marine Sherrill was probably in action shooting NVA. The Machine Gun on that side did not fire. Marine Castillo later saw Marine Stevenson his eyes as big as saucers, in shock. The guilt he must have felt. He said he saw them attack three bunkers, Marine Sherrill included. Several Marines killed those NVA. Marine Castillo thinks Marine Sherrill was wounded and crawled into his bunker only to be hit by a grenade and then bayoneted. Marine Castillo arose to be confronted by 5 NVA. 12 feet in front of him 3 stopped. The first two left to right fired tracers at his head. One went by one ear and one by the other. The third one and kneeling froze for a second. Marine Castillo knew that if nothing else he could shoot well. He shot the first gook in the head, the second, and the third, and the third gook fired up into the air, already dead. His M-16 jammed, after the third shot.
Then there were two gooks a few feet beyond. The one on the right crouched to fire, but the one on his left decided he was going to bayonet Marine Castillo so he came forward blocking the shot of the other. Marine Castillo threw his M-16 sideways into the gooks face, and then picked the guy up and threw him off the cliff.
A Marine from behind shot the other NVA. Then Marine Castillo crawled around and got an AK-47. He killed one NVA with a knife and one with an e-tool to get their rifle and ammo. Otherwise he just stabbed each dead gook, to be sure they were dead, and fought all night using AK-47's, belonging to the other side.
As the battle developed he was in the forward fighting position with Marine Green on his flank.
He passed AK-47's and clips back to other Marines to use. For one long period he was having a grenade battle as the NVA dug in. He said they were landing all around him with no effect. He thought he was un-killable, but he also thought he was as good as dead. It's a mental oxymoron, but true.
Marine Castillo was injured and received a Purple Heart. He said the NVA should not have dug in but should have just swept the hill and they would have had us, but they dug in. Very un-grunt like, the Americans were all fighting individually and yelling to each other, giving away their positions. The gooks must have thought they were crazy, he was told later. Plus Marine Castillo was yelling at the NVA in French and Vietnamese "Put down your weapons and live."
Marine Sherrill and Marine Castillo’s group were totally out numbered. Marine Castillo said after a while a moon was up and it was like no one was paying any more attention to him. It was like the gooks just put him out of their minds, as if they had paid him so much attention that they now seemingly just wished him gone, and didn't think about him anymore. So Marine Castillo just crawled around to get good shots and killed a lot of NVA.
In the morning Helicopters flew over but could not see them because of the fog. The NVA were set up on some bunkers by now and were throwing grenades up at the choppers. After that they decided to assault the hill and get to a radio, before the fog cleared and Khe Sanh blew the hill off the map, with them still alive, on it.
Marine Del Castillo’s helmet had been shot off early in the battle.
There he was in his red hair, helmet less. He shot a guy out of a tree that had been firing down on them for 5 hours. Got him between the eyes. The last thing Castillo did was run after a NVA with a knife out off the hill and Marine Baskin tackled him, to stop him. Then Marine Castillo just walked around and collected NVA hats. At this point it dawned on him that he was going to live.
Marine Richard Castillo reports: Marine Green saved his life twice.
First time: Five NVA circled Marine Stevenson's bunker. It was bright, maybe the flares, moon, the explosions, don't know why I could see so well. Remember being really, really ticked off. The front three and I saw one another at the exact same moment. We even fired at the same time. I watched their tracers in slow motion, going every which way. One in particular I thought I was going to eat. It went buy my ear. The NVA were hit. The two behind did a 180, heading for the radio bunker. Marine Powell went down centerfield hit by a ChiCom. A couple of more grenades landed not more than 10 feet from us. I jumped on top of him, not in a fit of bravery. I just wanted to die close to someone. The next thing I remember is your voice. Marine Green had crawled into the south-facing bunker.
Am I glad you spoke to me instead of crawling in. With concussion, shock, fear, or all of them I had a bayonet in my hand. I was ready to use it on the first person that breached the doorway or myself.
Time was so compressed. Seemed like minutes, but it was probably more like 3 hours.
I remember thinking. OK I need to crawl out and die with Green. For the moment you had saved my life, not to mention my dignity. Had messed myself pretty good when the grenade went off. Still wasn't aware that I had been hit.
Second time: For some stupid reason, I yelled at them. I told
them to give us their weapons or today they would die. Oh, they gave us the weapons! I remember several bursts from the machine gunner. I was about to say something else and I heard your voice again. I don't remember the words. It could have been something nice like, "Don't think it's working." Probably you yelled at me to shut up. A grenade comes over the top. You would have taken it too.
The shock had worn off and I was in a heap of pain. I had shrapnel in the leg and neck. Thought you, Balzano, Stevenson, Baskin, and me were all that was left.
Marine Castillo also reports that Marine Baskin held the Marines together and that Marine Green and Balzano held the line and prevented the NVA from overrunning the entire Hill 950.
Marine John Burke had charged down the hill at the NVA alone, with grenades, prior to Marines Castillo and Baskin charge up the hill in the morning, and was cut down.
During the battle, all the men save for one in the picture, Richard Green of Headquarters Company, 26th Marines, Security Platoon; Weapons Section M60 Machine Guns shown kneeling to the right were killed.
Marine Larry Lawrence is shown in the picture on the extreme left. The rest of the platoon cannot be identified in the picture at this time.
Cost for the Battle
KIA = Marine Spear, Marine Lawrence, Marine Sherrill, Force Recon Marine Burke plus all of the Force Recon Marines (names are not known at this time) + additional Marines whose names are not known at this time.
WIA = Marine Green, Marine Buffalo, Marine Richard del Castillo, Marine Powell, Marine Stevenson, (Other names are not known at this time)
Note: It seems without going into full detail of the account of the battle that everything that could go wrong in an infantry battle of this type DID GO WRONG!
The main thing I keep hearing in all of these hill battles from the Marines is the jamming of the first M16 that was issued as an infantry assault rifle. I wonder how many men in Vietnam were lost because of this Washington screw up and the Military Commanders that allowed it to happen. Maybe more would have survived had they stuck with the M14.
Yet to this day, I can find no one taking responsibility for the adoption of that junk weapon or even a past investigation. For the American Military man to have to go into battle with a weapon of this type was indeed a crime and someone higher up should have been held accountable!
Among those killed on June 6th (noted above) was Cpl. John R. Burke, RECON. Not shown in the picture. Prior to his assignment to Hill 950 Cpl. Burke had been a spotter for the legendary Marine Corps sniper Sgt Carlos Hathcock. Other names in the picture are not known at this time.
Cpl Burke received the military’s second highest honor for valor.
His award reads as follows:
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross posthumously to Corporal John R. Burke United States Marine Corps for service as set forth in the following
For extraordinary heroism while serving as a Sniper Team Leader with Headquarters and Service Co., First Battalion, twenty-sixth Marines, Third Marine Division (Reinforced), in the Republic of Vietnam on 6 June 1967.
Assigned the mission of defending an outpost on Hill 950 at Khe Sanh, Quang Tri Province, Corporal Burke's team was taken under attack by a numerically superior enemy force. During the initial assault, Corporal Burke was wounded by an enemy grenade. Ignoring his wound, he administered first-aid to a
severely wounded comrade and placed him in a relatively safe position, covering the wounded man with his own body to protect him from further injury. Heeding a call for help from outside the bunker, he unhesitantly went to the aid of another Marine. While he and a corpsman were moving the man to the man to the security of the bunker an enemy grenade exploded, knocking him and his comrade into the bunker. Although seriously wounded,
he moved the wounded man to a tunnel to protect him from the devastating enemy fire. With all his team members casualties, Corporal Burke unhesitantly and with complete disregard for his own safety armed himself with grenades, and shouting words of encouragement to his men, stormed from the bunker in a valiant one-man assault against the enemy positions. While firing his weapon and throwing grenades at the enemy positions, Corporal Burke was mortally wounded. By his dauntless courage, bold initiative and devotion to duty, he was instrumental in stopping the enemy attack and saving his men from possible further injury or death, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and the Marine Corps and upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantry gave his life for his country.