The Saga of Hill 950

       

U.S. Third Marine Marines

26th Marine Regiment

         

 

 

Hill 950 had long been recognized as an important radio relay station as early as October of 1966.  Normally an assignment of boredom for the Marines;

on the night of June 5-6 1967 the hill would turn into shear terror.

 

This is an attempt to document that valiant fight by those members of the 26th Marine Regiment

 

 

We Lived:

Shown in picture of Hill 950 Members from  – Headquarters Company, 26th Marines, Security Platoon, commanded by Marine Sergeant Richard Baskins rotated onto the hill from Khe Sanh.

 

Also on the hill was a squad from B/1/26th. In addition, several Force Recon Marines help to reinforce the units, all of the Force Recon Marines were thought to be KIA.

 

We Fought:

Marines from Headquarters Platoon, 26th Marines, a squad from B/1/26 and several individuals from Force Recon did battle against the NVA for the hilltop on Hill 950.

 

Overwhelming forces assaulted Hill 950 just after 0100 hours on the night of June 6th 1967. The battle continued until the next day.

 

Marine Richard Green, Marine David Buffalo, and Marine Richard del Castillo, Marine Powell, Marine LCPL William Balzano, and Marine Stevenson survived but all were wounded in the action. Marine SGT Baskin  survived and it is thought with no injuries.

 

Marine LCPL Charles Castillo was on watch on the western face of the hill when the attack began.  As he was calling the alarm a grenade exploded in front of him. 

 

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.

 

The trip flares on the east side of the hill were going off by this time followed by RPG's, small arms fire, and then grenades.  SGT Baskins then told Marine CPL Wethy, on radio, to call for some artillery on the east side and make sure it was close enough to do some good.

 

Marine LCPL Richard Green reports:  The NVA came up opposite side of densely fogged-in Hill 950. AK47 rounds tore through his tent. 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 LCPL Balzano reports:  That as the alarm went off he and Marine Green jumped into their M60 position.  Marine Arnold was knocked silly by an RPG and I put him down in the ammo area for our M60 and grenades. Marine  Green then went around to the right side of the perimeter.

 

Marine LCPL Richard Green reports:  The NVA came up opposite side of densely fogged-in Hill 950. AK47 rounds tore through his tent. 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. Marine 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 that time to help them.

 

With the Marines above now wounded the Marines then tried to withdraw the wounded while one Marine covered this withdrawal.  At this time SGT Baskins identified another threat and continued to toss grenade after grenade.  Marine Balzano's M60 had locked up and he and Marine Arnold tore it down to get the gun back in action.  By this time the NVA had blown up the Sniper/Recon bunker and shot two of the wounded Marines.

 

Marine LCPL Balzano reports:  A flare went off and I could see the NVA charging up behind us.  I then turned the M60 around to the rear.  Never anticipating a line breach; we had not sandbagged the rear of the gun emplacement.  I open up and just kept firing.  I had over 1000 rounds belted so I did not need to reload often.  As more flares went off I could see the NVA, what seemed like dancing ,on some of the overrun bunkers. 

 

Four  NVA soldiers were highlighted with a flare standing on one of the bunkers.  Two of these were cut down by Marine Balzano on an M60.  PFC Steven Arnold and LCPL Green Marine killed the others.

 

Not wanting them to concentrate fire on my gun I threw grenade after grenade until I had no more.  Marine Arnold came up with some more but they were still in canisters.  We used bayonets to get them open.  Marine Arnold would open and I would then toss them out.

 

I had changed barrels as things seemed to come to a lull.  I then saw Marine Green fly through the air during an explosion.  I called to him and he said he was OK but wounded in the leg.

 

I later ran into Marine Castillo who informed me none of the M16's left were working.  That he and Marine Green were to try and find as many AK47's and ammo as possible.

 

While I kept the middle under fire, Marine Green and Marine Castillo kept the side of the hill under grenade and small arms attack.

 

Eventually my M60 malfunctioned.

 

At some point in the battle the Armies twin forty mm cannons (Dusters) 1/44th Arty are now called into action to try and help the beleaguered hill top; firing from the Khe Sanh perimeter.

 

We were once again almost out of grenades.  You could not just pop the spoon and throw since it was such close quarters.  I threw a WP grenade at an NVA and hit him about chest high.  I could hear him scream as it went off. 

 

At one point we had a sniper also firing at us.  Marine Castillo pointed him out to me and then with one shot dropped him out of a tree.

 

Marines Green and Castillo were all over the hill that night fighting from different positions providing cover fire and protecting the sides.  

 

At one point I saw a helmet moving between two bunkers and as I took aim I realized it was Marine Green who looked up at me and smiled!

 

Marine CPL John Burke already wounded had been shielding and tending to the wounded when he tried to get back into action himself.  He then charged the NVA throwing grenades as he went and was cut down.

 

Marine Buffalo who was wounded about 0130 hours had stayed on the radio directing artillery.  Since the hill was all but lost; Marine Buffalo then asked the artillery to fire on the position with all they had.

 

"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 Marine Spear, 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 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. 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's 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.

 

The 105mm artillery support from Khe Sanh had come into play early in the fight but by 0230 hours there was no response from the hill.

 

At 0330 hours a Marine Recon team in the area took over the artillery fire assisted by a gun ship.

 

The reports from Khe Sanh to the higher command at Dong Ha indicated the hill may have fallen. 

 

The Marines at Khe Sanh plan a full assault the next day at first light  with  120 Marines from D Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines.

 

As the fog cleared for a moment the choppers were under fire from grenades being tossed by the NVA.  The Marine survivors are now setting off flares trying to let the Marines know there are still some alive.  Because of the thick fog; the Marines now try and take back the communications bunker.

 

Marine LCPL Balzano reports:  I could see there was an NVA gunner on the commo bunker.  Grenades would not work as the just rolled down the opposite side.  I used an M79 against a tree hoping it would kill the gunner.  I hit the tree but the gun position kept firing.  I then thought I would wait until he was down and then take aim.  I came up to take aim and realized he was not down.   Something struck me in the head and knocked me over.  I touched myself to see I was still alive.  I then realized if not for the helmet liner the bullet would have entered the top left side of my head and come out the right side of my jaw.  I had only received a minor head injury.

 

As they made their way they found a few more wounded Marines.  One assisted in the assault by pitching grenades.  After recapturing the communications bunker they found more wounded Marines.  One of the wounded made contact with the base.

 

Marine 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.

 

After the fog lifted; the Marine assault force then swept the area clean of any enemy soldiers that were left.

 

Marines Baskins and Castillo were both awarded Sliver Stars.  Marine Buffalo was awarded the Bronze Star.

 

Marine John Burke was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

 

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.

 

Some Died:

 

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 of Hill 950

 

KIA =

 

BARNES, EOCS Donald Joseph NMCB-10
BURKE, CPL John Roland H&S/1/26
HUBBARD, BUL-3 Charles Austin NMCB-4
LAWRENCE, LCPL Larry Eugene HQ-26 MAR
SHERRELL, CPL David Frank A/3rd Recon
SPEIR, CPL Dale Lloyd A/3rd Recon
STUPAR, LCPL Michael Nick H&S/1/26
WITHEY, CPL Howard Hugh A/3d Recon

BARNES, EOCS Donald Joseph NMCB-10
 

 

BLAZ, LCPL James Lujan B/1/26
CHASE, LCPL John Joseph B/1/26
CROOKS, CPL Ronald Lee B/1/26
ENDERBY, LCPL Robert Francis B/1/26
FURLONG, CPL Edward Francis Jr. B/1/26
GOTTI, PVT Gale Edward A/1/13
HEALY, PFC Thomas Michael B/1/26
JOHNSON, PFC Kenneth Michael B/1/26
KEEFER, LCPL Kenneth Ray B/1/26
MILLETT, PFC Steven Lawrence B/1/26
MORRIS, PFC Larry Lee B/1/26
PITTS, PFC Wayne Monroe B/1/26
SHOVLIN, PFC Frank Joseph B/1/26
VAN DEUSEN, PFC Philip Andren A/1/13
VERCOUTEREN, LCPL Edward Arnold B/1/26
WARD, CPL Walter Leonard B/1/26
WORTHEN, PFC Larry Eugene B/1/26

 

 

WIA = Marine Green, Marine Buffalo, Marine Richard  Castillo, Marine Powell, Marine Stevenson, Marine William Balzano (Other names are not known at this time)

 

Note:  Marine Sergeant Richard Baskins would take his own life after the war.

 

Receiving on the spot combat promotions to Corporal:  Marine Richard Green and Marine William Balzano

 

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 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!

 

Note:

Among those killed on June 6th (noted above) was Cpl. John R. Burke, RECON.

(CPL Burk for those that do not know, was the spotter for the legendary Marine Sniper Carlos Haithcock.)

 

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

CITATION:

 

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.

 

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