Incident Date 19651028 MAG-16 UH-1E Grnd Incident - Sapper Attack
Rowland, Thomas Patrick LCpl Grnd Casualty VMO-2 MAG-16 1965-10-28 (vvm 03E:003)
Graboskey, Edward Elliott PFC Grnd Casualty H&MS-16 MAG-16 1965-10-28 (vvm 03E:001)
Gelien, Walter John HMC Corpsman VMO-2 MAG-16 1965-10-28 (vvm 03E:001)
MAG-16 Command Chronology - October 1965
MAG-16 Command Chronology - October 1965:
28 Oct - A few minutes after midnight, the Marble Mountain Air Facility was taken under attack by suicide demolition teams [sappers]. The adjoining MCB-9 area was simultaneously taken under mortar attack. The demolition teams apparently gained access to the flight line areas by knocking out a key bunker on the west side of the aircraft parking mat. The three personnel occupying the bunker took the Viet Cong under fire until all three were wounded in action by the Viet Cong infiltrators. Two teams of approximately ten men each penetrated to the tactical squadrons maintenance and office spaces located in the tents along the western edge of the parking ramp. One of the teams moved north through the VMO-2 area grenading the squadron tents. The other team moved in a southerly direction through the HMM-263 and HMM-361 areas. Personnel of the three squadrons were roused by the explosions and immediately resisted the attackers with small arms fire, killing one Viet Cong. Action by these squadrons significantly reduced the effectiveness of this sapper team. Several personnel from VMO-2 were wounded in action as was one man from HMM-361.
The sapper team attacking the VMO-2 area penetrated the maintenance and admin area and out onto the parking ramp. Once in the parking area they commenced a methodical attack on each helicopter. A Chief Hospitalman [HMC Walter J. Gelien], standing his watch in a medevac UH-1E was killed in action.
As the Viet Cong continued across the parking ramp to the east side, they encountered Crash Crew personnel who were engaged in damage control. One member of the Crash Crew was killed in action [PFC Edward E. Graboskey]. Parking ramp sentries and a machine gun bunker took the sappers under fire. The sapper teams then broke into smaller teams and moved south through the UH-34D area of HMM-263 and HMM-361, placing demolition charges in aircraft as they moved. Elements of these teams attempted to move eastward to the runway to attack dispersed aircraft in that location. Defenders between the runway and the parking ramp prevented this attempt.
A third team of sappers attempted to penetrate to the H&MS-16 maintenance and supply buildings but were virtually annihilated by personnel from the Avionics and Maintenance Section watch, killing seven and wounding four Viet Cong. The attack was accomplished in approximately 20 minutes but sporadic firing at the Viet Cong trapped in the area continued for about an hour. MAG-16 casualties were three KIA and twenty-four wounded in action. This included one killed and five wounded in vehicles which struck mines on the main service road.
Immediately following the attack, MAG-16 personnel of all squadrons moved to the aircraft ramp, reinforced the perimeter defenses, assisted in evacuation of the wounded and commenced damage control operations. Eighteen MAG-16 casualties were evacuated by helicopter to "C" Med as were approximately forty-four of MCB-9. Operations were rendered extremely hazardous by unexploded grenades, grenade clusters, and the ordnance scattered throughout the parking ramp and tent areas by Viet Cong sapper teams. By 1400H fifteen of the damaged aircraft were again in an UP status and with the assistance of HMM-161, UH-34D's from Hue/Phu Bai, were continuing support of the III MAF and ARVN I Corps units.
I was the gunner on stand by with the Navy Corpsman [Doc Gelien] that was killed during the sapper attack on MMAF. He was sleeping in one of the hueys that was hit [standard overnight practice on medevac alert]. It is interesting to note that he was the brother of Tab Hunter, the famous actor. The other Marine killed was GySgt Wood. He was killed after the attack when he turned over a dead VC that was holding a grenade. Myself and several others were wounded in the attack. The attack was carried by four (4) squads. One of those squads was wiped out by a VMO-2 Marine that was on guard duty. Several more VC were killed in the attack. Submitted by Lloyd C Wood, VMO-2, Huey gunner on flight line during attackSubmitted by: Lloyd C Wood, VMO-2, Huey gunner on flight line during attack, 20030802
MAG-16 AFTER-ACTION REPORT - 28 October 1965
MAG-16 AFTER-ACTION REPORT - 28 October 1965:
On the evening of 27-28 October, the VC struck the newly built Marble Mountain helicopter facility on the Tiensha Peninsula. The Communist attack on Marble Mountain was larger and better coordinated. A VC raiding party of approximately 90 men quietly assembled in a village just to the northwest of the Marble Mountain Air Facility. Under cover of 60mm mortar fire, four demolition teams struck at the Marble Mountain airstrip and a hospital being constructed by the Seabees. At least six of the enemy, armed with bangalore torpedo's and grenades, reached the MAG-16 parking ramp.
Colonel O'Connor, the MAG-16 commander, remembered:
”I awoke to the sound of explosions shortly after midnight...arriving at the group command post, I received a phone call from General McCutcheon. He was warning me that the airfield at Chu Lai had been attacked and to be on the alert. I told him no one was asleep at Marble Mountain, as we had also been under attack for about 15 minutes. After leaving the command post, Colonel O'Connor drove to the aircraft parking ramp where "Helicopters were burning all over...VMO-2 was practically wiped out." Before the VC could be stopped they destroyed 19 helicopters and damaged 35, 11 of them severely. Across the road, much of the hospital, which was nearing completion, was heavily damaged. After 30 minutes, the Viet Cong withdrew, leaving behind 17 dead and four wounded.
American casualties were three killed and 91 wounded. During the attack, Lieutenant Colonel Verle E. Ludwig's 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, south of Marble Mountain, came under small arms fire, but apparently this was a feint designed to fix the unit in its defensive positions. All units at Da Nang went on full alert, but the damage had been done. The VC attacking forces at both Chu Lai and Da Nang were not ordinary guerrillas. "There were indications that these troops were from hardcore main force VC units, although the VC unit which attacked Marble Mountain was better trained than the one which hit Chu Lai. Captain Hoa, the Hoa Vang District Chief, believed that the enemy group which attacked Da Nang was North Vietnamese, but the four prisoners captured by the Marines there came from small hamlets in Quang Nam and Quang Tin Provinces.
The enemy had been well equipped for the mission. At Marble Mountain, Marines recovered a considerable stock of fragmentation, concussion, and thermite grenades, as well as three bangalore torpedoes, several Chinese Communist B-40 antitank rockets and miscellaneous ammunition. The American troops also captured several weapons, a 7.62mm AK assault rifle, two .43 caliber automatic weapons, and a 7.62mm Tokarev automatic pistol."
Colonel O'Connor observed that the destruction of the helicopters at Marble Mountain resulted in "a 43 percent loss of division mobility" and that it ' 'put a crimp in division plans for several months afterward." Col Thomas J. O'Connor, Comment on draft MS, dtd 27Nov76 (Vietnam Comment File). Submitted by Fred E. White, H&MS-16, MMAF
I was in MCB-8 at the time of the mortar attack on MAG-16. A few days before the mortar attack, I saw a VC with a mortar stake standing outside of our perimiter. Also have got email from a friend that was in MCB-9. He told me that they had mortar stakes all in their compound. Damn, I never have understood that. Have thought about Doc for many years and only through this report did I find out his name. I always thought I was crazy but now I know what I saw.Submitted by: Michael Manley, I was in MCB-8, 20050522
I was assigned to MAG-16 interior guard from VMO-2 for the month of October. The night of October 27/28 I was assigned to roving patrol of the "mat area". We walked the perimeter and stopped at the western bunker next to the MSR and had some coffee with "pappy" Papp(?). We continued on briefly, meeting LtCol Bauman in the VMO-2 area. We passed through the H&HMS area on the way to the interior guard bunker located on the east side of the runway arriving there at midnight, the end of our shift.
We heard the explosions from the VMO-2 maintenance area and then we came under fire as the VC swept up the line of VMO-2 aircraft. There were 4 VMO Huey's parked on the runway adjacent to our bunker and we commandeered the internal M-60,s. We initially established a defensive line along the runway and engaged the VC attempting to get to fuel farm located between the east edge of the mat and the runway. There was a lot of firing to and from the mat area with most of the perimeter fire ricocheting off the steel matting.
The VC swung south through the 34's dropping grenades into the exhaust stacks not covered and randomly spraying the tent areas with small arms fire as they exited at the south end of the base using a line of parked earth moving equipment as cover.
Immediately thereafter, Capt. J. Rider [earning the "Johnny Rifle" moniker] (VMO-2 pilot) arrived on the runway with a reaction platoon he had assembled. He directed us (the interior guard) to estabish a defensive line at the south end of the field.
About that time Maj. Reilly took one of the 4 gunships on the runway. He was airborne about a half hour when we noticed his rocket runs to the west side of the base, near the river. The remainder of the night was tense but no more VC activity. There was someone in a disabled truck on the MSR taking shots at anyone that moved until morning.
I was on roving interior guard that might of the attack. Can't remember who I was teamed with that night. Do remember we were on the west side of the mats and heard something in one of the supply tents. We started to check it out but seen or heard nothing. This was close to the Air America area. We crossed the mats to the bunker by the runway. We were relieved and I was looking through C-rations on top of the bunker when two NVA/VC opened fire at me with automatic weapons. Then the assault began Helicopters blowing up by grenades or satchel charges. We were firing at them from the bunker on the runway. They ran south where a tank came up with light on and fired towards the river. C 47 gunship also made a pass by the riverSubmitted by: Danny Jackson, Roving interior guard October 1965, 20141116
I don't accurately remember whether Chief Gelien hijacked me out to MMAF before or after Starlight. I know I flew on Starlight, but I remember being out at MMAF before the birds got there & sickbay was a sand floored tent. How good was chief Gelien? None better & I served with many. He told me, "Segars I need corpsmen to go out in an unsecured area to build an airfield. If you stay here, they're going to send you to jail on Okinawa; I like your style, go with me or go to the brig if you keep getting in trouble.” My comment was, "Chief, you put it that way, when do we leave?”
Walt Gelien was very persuasive in the volunteering realm. Chief knew we were going to get hit out at MMAF that night. We talked about that & many other things when I drove him down in the ambulance to relieve HN Shackleford. Shack wasn't happy about Chief relieving him early either, but Walt Gelien would not ask another to stand hazardous duty that he wouldn't - A personal code of honour.
Medical started preparing for the attack 2 days before it happened. We reinforced our bunkers & started sterilizing extra surgical gear. That an attack was imminent was no secret to us. We were in a very high state of medical readiness when the attack came. That's about it. Yes, because of our closeness, I had to handle the sensitive task of Chief's personal effects. I've met many a great people, but Chief Walt Gelien was one of the greatest. I have always remembered that he gave me a break during hard times & I've tried to pass that on when circumstances predicated such. Chief Walt Gelien was truly a courageous man of honour. Well remembered, Never Forgotten! Submitted by Walt “Doc” Segars
Rumor Control: I don't know where the information came from about my Dad, (Doc Gelien) Walter John Gelien, as having large holdings in Hawaii. We weren't native to Hawaii.
First of all my dad was always struggling from the military pay, especially with 7 children. As I remember, my dad volunteered for rescue duty to receive an extra fifty dollars a month to help my mother take care of us kids. I can remember my dad extremely stressed over bills and really having a hard time. He was too honorable to ask for help from his brother Tab. I also remember my dad going out evenings to sell mutual funds to help make ends meet. Even cutting some lawns in the earlier days of my growing up.
Secondly, we were always moving around the country with my dad being transferred fairly often. I think the longest we stayed in any one place was around two years. I remember CA, WA, VA, AK and HI, with several minor moves in between. The Navy even named a lodge called the Gelien Navy Lodge in the Bay area because we moved so much. I think it has been torn down by now. Sure would like to have the placque from that building with his name on it. Anyone know where that might be?
I am the oldest of the seven children. I was 14 yrs old when I got news of my dad being killed. Man, how I paid a dear price for growing up without a dad, having to learn so much without guidance.
I would very much appreciate hearing from someone that knew my dad as well.
Thank You very much, His son Michael.
Comment on Incident (from a Corpsman’s perspective):
Got to thinking about the casualty thing from the Oct 28, 1965 night action. Seems we lost 30 something WIA & 4 KIA (truck driver got killed by a mine set in the road the night before). The Seabees had 90 something WIA. 1st Force Recon Company south of us had some WIA. One of the guys in the bunker out from the VMO 2 line had the firing pin break on his M14 after shooting some of the attackers.
After me & staff with 2 or 3 others got the bunker & the others went back to get transport (might of been just me & staff first go to the bunker) & when he came back he had extra support, anyhow the gentleman with the busted firing pin used the rifle I'd gotten from Ski. Pretty good firefight developed. I treated the wounded & used my 45.
I was in the bunker & my cover was outside. He called out when staff got back so I wouldn't shoot him or staff accidentally. I remember him going hand to hand also, I’d already left my K-Bar in a gentleman much earlier on my way from the sickbay bunker to the line (eternity) & had fixed a bayonet on the piece after getting it off of Ed after I' done all I could for him. I didn't realize Gunny Wood had bought it. Think I heard about it maybe but it just didn't register. Like I told a gunner (warrant) who'd been an enlisted at the Marble Mountain fight thing-anyhow he was at 29 Palms as was I on a 4thMARDIV thing (he regular) & I in a state of angst about something. Anyhow the conversation in a loaded van got around to that night & the body in the road with the knife in it they found in the road next day. My knife.
I was still pissed about that sonofabitch trying to kill me. Gunner was @ New River & TAD Stumps, guess the summer of 80. I'd just been back from an op for the spook works. Damn was I crazy. I went around for many a year with an attitude of severe piss. I just don't drink over it any more. Like I said, most of the wounded were hit several times & kept going. I'd have to hazard a sober & experienced guess that everyone but me & 3 or 4 others were the only ones on the line & in the bunkers & holes that night that weren't wounded. Hey guys, Doc ain't griping. I'm here cause y’all were there. Semper Fi Walter B. "Doc" Segars
They'd walk in or be brought in. I'd treat their wounds & they'd go back into the fight. I have to disagree on the 15-minute thing for many reasons. Hell it took me that long after the 1st explosion to leave the medical bunker, put on my clothes (I was in underwear & 782 gear) & head for the line. No the other corpsmen wouldn't go & I was too scared to say no. Hell yes - I'm still in angst about missing linking up with the reaction platoon & having to make that long walk to the line by my one & only. Like the song says. I had to walk that lonesome valley & I had to walk it by myself. Wasn't quite right in the brain-housing group before then & sure as hell ain't been quite right since. I just don't drink over it anymore. Doc Segars
Comment on Incident
The sapper attack at MMAF that killed the above individuals also resulted in the destruction of the following BuNo’s of aircraft: UH-1E’s #151273, 151274, 151276, 151287, 151288, 151293, 151296, 151298, 151843, 151844, 151850, 151853 and 151862; UH-34D’s #145763, 148779, 150196, 150197, 150231 and 150251.Submitted by: Alan H. Barbour, Historian, USMC/VHA, 20030802
A FRIEND OF MINE, GEORGE DENNISION WAS PART OF THAT ACTION. HE WAS BEHIND AN M-60 THAT NIGHT.
I WAS ON GUARD DUTY POST #2 ON THE DANANG SIDE. IT LOOKED LIKE THE 4TH OF JULY FROM WHERE I WAS, BOMBS [explosions] GOING OFF EVERYWHERE. WE LOST SOME CHOPPERS THAT NIGHT. I NEVER FORGOT THAT IMAGE OF LIGHT THAT FILLED THE SKY.
I REMEMBER WATCHING MY DAD BEING INTERVIEWED ABOUT THIS INCIDENT AT MARBLE MOUNTAIN ON NBC NEWS THE DAY AFTER IT HAPPENED. MY DAD BROUGHT HOME A PLAQUE THE MARINES MADE DISPLAYING ALL THE OPERATIONS DURING HIS COMMAND AT MARBLE MOUNTAIN. IN THE MIDDLE OF THAT PLAQUE IS A MELTED CHUNK OF ALUMINUM RETRIEVED FROM ONE OF THE BURNED OUT CHOPPERS. MY DAD PASSED AWAY IN 1992. THAT PLAQUE STILL HANGS ON THE WALL AT MY MOTHER'S HOUSE HERE IN 29 PALMS, CA. HOME OF THE BEST FIGHTING FORCE IN THE WORLD, THE U.S. MARINES. SEMPER FI!