TEAM 3A1 -"HAWK"
Alpha Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion
A personal account of the mission of team "HAWK," vicinity of Khe Sanh, RVN, 18-25 April 1967, from team member Ray Raymond.
Team Hawk’s action is particularly significant to our history and the history of the USMC battle for the Khe Sanh plateau. It occurred on a dominant piece of high terrain overlooking the confluence of valleys running from the DMZ and Laos into the watershed of the Rao Quan River. These valleys were primary infiltration routes for the NVA 324B and 320th Divisions into the Khe Sanh/Route 9 area. They were equally significant to other independent battalion, regimental and divisional movement since they led directly to the infiltration routes for the Hue/Phu Bai area through the Da Krong and Ba Long valleys south of Route 9. Domination of Hue/Phu Bai and control of Route 9 and National Route 1 by the Peoples Army of North Vietnam would have cut I Corps in half. The populous, rice-rich coastal plain and Third Marine Division would have been effectively isolated from the bulk of U.S. and ARVN forces.
Team Hawk’s observations were one of the indicators of the massing of North Vietnamese forces northwest of Khe Sanh in the spring of 1967. Two weeks later Company ‘A’, Team 3A3, "BREAKER," fought a bloody and heroic action on the same ground, as North Vietnamese forces consolidated after the hill battles. These actions occurred on terrain dominating the approaches to Hills 881N and 881S and 861, located five miles south of the HAWK/BREAKER missions.
The hills were the key to the defense of the Khe Sanh Plateau, Khe Sanh Combat Base, and western Route 9. Route 9 was the only trafficable route to the coastal plain and a strategic gateway to southeastern Laos.
The "Hill Fights," of 23 April – 1 May 1967 imprinted Khe Sanh and the Marine’s struggle in northwest I Corps indelibly in the history of the United States Marine Corps and the history of the Vietnam War. It was a battle that continued through the "Siege of Khe Sanh" in 1968, lasting until the Third Marine Division withdrew from Vietnam.
The part that the teams of the Third Reconnaissance Battalion played in this theater of the war cannot be minimized. Our history is rich with the accomplishments of Reconners who located and engaged the enemy in the corner of I Corps bordered by Laos and North Vietnam. From the summer of 1966 though late 1969, 3rd Recon’s teams patrolled the steep ridges and tangled valleys of Northwest I Corps. Frequently working beyond "friendly" radio and artillery range, we continually located North Vietnamese troop concentrations, infiltration routes, and base areas; engaging the North Vietnamese in some of the most difficult terrain in Vietnam.
Many of the stories of our effort in the Khe Sanh AO remain untold. However, the courage and skill of the Recon Marines and the USMC aircrews who supported us during the years we fought there stand tall within our proudest traditions.
Respectfully Submitted by
I was stationed with Company ‘A’, Third Reconnaissance Battalion at Khe Sanh Combat Base in April of 1967. We relieved a platoon from the Third Force Reconnaissance Company in late March. Our first patrols yielded a great deal of evidence of NVA activity, but we made no visual or physical contact. During the third week of April, we were assigned a mission in an area roughly ten miles northwest of the base and six miles east of the Laotian border. Our mission was to conduct an area recon then establish an observation post (OP) on high ground located in the XD 7553 grid square. We had no experience in the area, no intelligence of the Recon Zone, and did not have the opportunity for the SOP aerial recon (over-flight). The mission required the emplacement of another team between our location and Khe Sanh to serve as a radio-relay due to range and VHF line of sight limitations. Team Hawk consisted of:
Cpl. Robin Walker, Team Leader.
Cpl. Ronald Rudolf, Assistant Team Leader.
L/Cpl. Wayne Hurst.
L/Cpl. Fred Baker.
L/Cpl. Terrie Burden.
PFC. Tommie Bazydlo.
PFC. Ray Raymond.
PFC. Pete Morici.
We were inserted by an H-46 helicopter late on the afternoon of 18 April. Our LZ was located on the North Slope on a finger of the ridge that led to the to the dominant terrain feature, Hill 655. The hill was at the apex of several sparsely vegetated fingers leading up the southeast and southwest shoulders of the ridge, and provided good visibility of the valleys to the north. We chose a secure harbor site in heavy cover that would also serve as a patrol base, and set-in for the night.
In the morning, we moved down into the valley to conduct a physical recon of the area. Signs of recent North Vietnamese activity were so plentiful our team leader decided we could provide better intelligence by regaining our position on the high ground and conducting reconnaissance by visual observation. We returned to our night position and began the conduct of an observation mission.
We spent the next five days performing covert observation and reporting the location of enemy movement. We saw little during the hours of daylight, but at night, we observed numerous lights on the adjacent ridges surrounding us. The lights were consistent with a heavy NVA troop movement, but since the movement consistently occurred on the reverse slopes of the terrain in relation to the Khe Sanh Combat Base, we could not engage by fire. We were close to the range limitations of available artillery, and the rounds could not achieve sufficient maximum ordinate to clear the elevation between the howitzers and potential targets.
On the morning of 25 April, before our scheduled movement to the extraction LZ, we heard heavy movement in the thick vegetation to our immediate west. Cpl. Walker immediately deployed us in a hasty ambush formation. We set up in a ‘U’ shaped formation with Walker and L/Cpl. Burden on one side of the trail leading to our OP, while Cpl. Rudolf, Pfc. Bazydlo and I took the other. L/Cpl. Baker and Pfc.’s Morici and Hurst closed the ‘U’, and provided rear security with the slope leading to our LZ on the finger to their south. Cpl. Walker ordered us to hold fire until he initiated contact.
The NVA were completely unaware of our presence. Four enemy soldiers walked into the kill-zone, one of whom leaned his AK-47 against a tree as if he was about to take a break. We recently acquired the M-16A1 rifle, and the early version of that weapon was subject to frequent malfunctions. When Walker attempted to trigger the ambush, his weapon malfunctioned. Several other weapons jammed, and the NVA were alerted, but another Marine and I were able to put out enough fire to kill three of the enemy with one burst. The NVA reacted almost immediately. The team received such heavy automatic weapons and grenade fire we were pinned in the prone position. We were in extremely close proximity to the NVA - twenty to twenty-five feet - and judging by the heavy volume of fire, in contact with at least a platoon sized unit. We could occasionally catch glimpses of them through the brush.
Walker and Burden, who from their side of the trail had good observation on the deploying soldiers, threw enough grenades to neutralize their initial response. The firefight diminished and we could hear the groaning of NVA wounded. Our casualties were light. L/Cpl. Hurst was shot in the foot during the first moments, but the enemy forces seemed disoriented and the heavy fire ceased.
Recovering quickly, the NVA launched a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG-7) hitting a tree directly behind me. I lost consciousness. Upon regaining my senses, I realized that the explosion wounded the entire team. Walker was face down, covered with blood. Burden was unconscious and appeared badly hit. Concussed by the explosion, I was unaware of the extent of my wounds, but I was able to see that only four of us remained combat effective. Cpl. Rudolph took command of the team. Although we were in close combat and down slope from the LZ, Rudolf called for an emergency extraction. He ordered me to take Baker and find a route to the LZ. I was able to crawl to Baker who was administering aid to Burden and Morici, and told him we were moving out to secure a route to the LZ.
We moved out of the brush and onto the finger leading to the top of the ridge. As we made the finger, we heard aircraft approaching. L/Cpl. Baker, looking at the leg wounds I had sustained, volunteered to proceed into the LZ to identify it for the extraction helicopter. Behind us, the NVA had surrounded the team, and directed heavy fire at the gunships accompanying the H-46’s. The first aircraft was unable to land, but a second H-46 hovered on the finger above us, and slipped backwards at low altitude while the gunships suppressed the NVA fire. The H-46 landed, and as Rudolf and Baker dragged the remainder of the team into the aircraft, I provided covering fire. When Baker signaled me that take-off was eminent, I attempted to run for the aircraft but my legs would not support me. Baker left the H-46, helping me limp the fifty feet to the helicopter. I distinctly recall how slippery the aft-ramp was from leaking hydraulic fluid and clearly recollect holes appearing in the fuselage as NVA rounds penetrated our helicopter on take-off.
I later learned that the enemy forces we encountered were elements of a battalion moving to reinforce the battle for the 881 Hills. I discovered that both the hydraulic system and rear rotor of the H-46 that extracted us was damaged severely enough that only superior flying skills enabled us to return safely to Khe Sanh. I also learned that fixed-wing strikes called in on our former position generated numerous secondary explosions.
After our return to Khe Sanh, I found out that the first H-46, commanded by Capt. Dave Petteys aborted the extraction because both door gunner’s weapons had jammed. He remained, defenseless, in a low orbit over the LZ until the extraction was completed. Capt. House commanded the pick-up aircraft with 1stLt. Dalton in the right seat. The crews of the H-46’s and gunships who participated in our extraction on April 25, 1967 have my eternal gratitude and that of Team HAWK.
When I reflect back, I recall the courage, tenacity, and professionalism of my team and the aircrews who survived that experience. It was a day on which personal bravery, loyalty, determination, and professionalism were displayed to their utmost. In my mind’s eye, I still see Walker and Burden breaking-up an NVA assault with hand grenades. I see an H-46 sitting in a hot LZ, taking hits, but never wavering until the last man was safely aboard. I still see the look in a North Vietnamese soldier’s eyes immediately before the first shots were fired.
I share my deep personal pride with my teammates recalling what we accomplished. I know I share scars and sorrows, as well. Team HAWK is a team still; and the men I fought with remain the finest I have ever known. We lost Pete Morici to cancer in 1993. We comforted his wife, Mary Lou, and carried him to his final resting place as a team. I have written this account of the April 18 to April 25, 1967 mission of Recon Team 3A1 "HAWK," for all of us.
Postscript As this was being completed and edited, we received word that Ronnie Rudolf was seriously ill and he subsequently passed away on 24 June 2000 at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans. Team Hawk again responded and was there to comfort Rita and the boys and placed to rest another from Team Hawk. A testimonial to the faith and loyalty we swore to each other so many years ago.