“The Battle for Cam Le Bridge” *(From a Corpsman’s point of view)

Early in the morning, (I guess about 0530), on Aug 23, 1968, I was rudely awakened by the Plt Sgt. (name since forgotten), of the 1st Plt./ E Co. 2/27. We had recently returned from Operation Allen Brooke after over 35 days in the “bush” and were enjoying some “slack time”. He informed me that we were on standby, for something called “Sparrow Hawk”. All that meant to me was, standby to standby, to hurry-up and wait, as we had done this before. He said, “Doc, get your gear and fall out by the LZ”!

The 2/27 Battalion HQ was at the former hamlet known as Phong Luc 2, sometimes known as LZ 412, about 12-13 kilometers South of DaNang, just west of Highway #1, located on the Anderson Trail. We sat there listening to the rumor mill and radio chatter for several hours. About mid morning it was evident we were actually going somewhere, as they began handing out extra ammo, and three tanks from 5th Tanks showed up, as they were to be our transportation to where ever we were going. Just before we scrambled aboard the tanks we were given a short briefing of what was going to happen and where we were going. Then like so many fleas jumping on a dog, we hopped aboard, and started rolling north on Highway #1.

We had been informed that Units from Alpha Company, 1/27 had gotten into it with a large North Vietnamese Army unit at Cam Le Bridge, south of DaNang on Highway #1, spanning the Song Cau Do River. Little did we know that The 38th North Vietnamese Army Regiment and the 402nd Viet Cong Sapper Battalion were the instigators. When we were perhaps 1 kilometer south of our objective we started to hear small arms fire and when we were about 500 meters south of the bridge we started to see villager’s fleeing south along the road and through the dry paddies to the west. Mixed in with the refugees were North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong, as they started to fire on us as we passed. One of our Marines sustained a broken ankle as he bailed off the tank, and I bound his ankle up and got him back onto the back of tank where I stayed up there with him. This was not a good move as I learned very shortly that large objects such as tanks tend to attract unnecessary attention in the form of small arms and rocket fire.

We were about 150 meters south of the south end of the bridge when the second to the loudest “metallic bang” I have ever heard shuddered the tank to a stop. A rocket propelled grenade was fired from a tree line East-Northeast of us, and hit the front of the right track which stopped us cold. I now had a dilemma, as I had an injured man on the back of the tank and most of my unit was either in the deep rice paddies to the east of the road or in the dry paddies on the west.



Before I had much time to think about what I was going to do, a second rocket, (the loudest sound), hit the toolbox to my right. It launched me into the rice paddy, where fortunately, (I think), I landed unceremoniously in waist deep water right next to Cpl. Lafayette “Monster Lafe” Bronston. Without fanfare, he flopped me back onto dry land next to the “bullet magnet”. What then seemed like a long time was probably in reality, only a minute, if that, as I unscrambled my brain and thought I heard someone hollering “Doc, get me off this F*****G thing”!

I somehow got the Marine off the back of the tank and down to the west side of the road berm. We were now taking small arms fire from a variety of points to our North, Northwest and Northeast. The platoon commander decided we had to get clear of the tanks and move forward. About 50 meters in front of us on the West side of the road was a large pile of bricks and small structures. I was later informed it was a small Vietnamese brick factory. Secure within the piles of bricks, the 3.5” Rocket man, also known as the “preacher” casually asked if I knew that I was bleeding from my right arm and backside. I did then! The east side was waist deep paddies all the way to the foot of the bridge. We were taking sporadic fire from the bunker at the south end of the bridge, some of it .50 caliber machine gun fire. This was very disconcerting to say the least. Apparently, the .50 was originally USMC property that was now the property of the wrong people, (the VC).

The tanks were having a field day firing at anything that moved near the village to the west of the south end of the bridge. They had made short work of the source of the earlier rocket fire. (I might mention at this point, I cannot recommend remaining in front and below a tank when it fires). The tankers won’t even give you the courtesy of a “Fire in the hole”! (My hearing to this day has never been the same). Our problems were a bit more immediate, so Corporal Bronston and Lance Corporal Arendondo (sp) took it upon themselves to solve the problem at the south end of the bridge. Bronston’s squad advanced through the waist deep paddy until they were up very close to the bunker at the end of the bridge, where they were below the angle of fire from the bad guys in the bunker. One of the tanks had hit the bunker and no more fire from the .50 occurred, however, the small arms AK fire kept up. Lance Corporal Arendondo had a bag of C ration cooking fuel, (aka C-4). By this time he was directly below the bunker when he put an igniter in the C-4, lit it, held the fuse until it was just above the cap, and pitched it around the back of the bunker. He dove back into the paddy as it went off, and that ended the firing from the bunker. The enemy “survivors” were running to the edge of the river when Bronston and the rest of his squad crested the berm and started returning fire. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. I believe at this point the MP’s were coming across the bridge from the North.



The next objective was to stop the exodus of refugees from the village on the West and sort out the bad guys from the good guys. We had found discarded NVA uniforms in the village, and they were obviously trying to blend in with the locals. Alpha company, 1/27 secured the village, and as I remember, they had sustained 2 KIA and 2WIA. My unit had 2 WIA’s, (myself and Cpl. Bronston). As I recall there were more than 30 NVA/VC bodies piled up at the end of the bridge. Lcpl Arendondo deserved the Silver Star he was written up for but was only awarded a Bronze Star. (Not to belittle a Bronze Star, but this was beyond that level of bravery). His actions that day were witnessed by the entire platoon, (all but apparently the Platoon Commander). It was right out of a movie, as this is what Marines do! We waited for the tank retriever to come and claim its broken “buddy”, and boarded 6-By trucks back to our Battalion compound. We got back and found they had kept the chow hall open for us.

This was not the first time I had been under fire, nor would it be the last. This time it was more intimate, these people were shooting specifically at my friends and I, and not just the indiscriminate spraying of bullets. I am glad the Marines showed no mercy, as these arrogant, gutsy people needed a good spanking and the MP’s and Marines from the 27th gave it to them… with some help from the Tanks and Air. The action continued for a couple of days afterwards in the TAOR of the 27th, where many more were killed. This was not without cost, as Marines from the 1st & 2nd Battalion of the 27th Marines lost 9 KIA’s, 42 WIA’s. I do not know what price the MP’s paid. The total from the entire action was 1,072 VC/NVA KIA’s, (if you are to believe in body counts). The entire total of “bad guy” casualties was not the equal of one Marine, as in my eyes they still owed us, big time.

I have tried to give an honest accounting of our actions that day. While memories of some things fade, most remain indelibly etched in my mind. I have found through the years that when 15 people were present at some incident or action, there are inevitably 15 variations, all true but from a different perspective and view.

The above numbers are from the 27th Marine after action-reports and unit diaries. When the colors of the 27th Marines went home in September 1968, many of the Corpsman and Marines stayed on, and were transferred to other units. I was transferred to the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, with Charlie Company, and then to Delta Company, as their Senior Corpsman.

David “Doc” DeVries HM2

E 2/27, C& D 1/1, RVN ’68-‘69