Alan Green Remembers LZ Margo
by First Lieutenant Alan Green
81mm Mortar Platoon, BLT 2/26
A Freight Train of Bad News
"Crouched low in the dirt, with shrapnel whizzing past, the 81s fire direction center (FDC) worked up a mission and called it downhill to the eight guns, all in the midst of a continuous incoming barrage.
"The FDC was a crater with some ammo boxes filled with dirt and a handful of Marines trying not to die."
The mortar attack on LZ Margo on September 16, 1968, was intense beyond belief. Screaming death walked that hill and woe unto him who chose the wrong crater to be in when the rounds came down.
From the volume of incoming fire, the North Vietnamese mortarmen had twenty tubes. When the attack began, the Marines on LZ Margo had eight 81mm mortars. By the end of the battle, only four remained.
They knew our hill well, as they knew all the likely landing zones in the DMZ. Every point of military value was recorded in the target lists for their guns. When they opened up on us, they raked hundreds of exposed Marines with zones of fire that walked the crowded hill and then walked it again.
And again. And again. Their crews fired each tight volley in unison. They were good.
The NVA had the strong advantage of landing the first blow. Their guns had two 82mm mortar rounds in the air at the same time, one that had just left the tube and one that was about to explode, with plenty of time for each enemy gunner to level the bubbles in his sight before the next round slid down the tube.
Each mortar round they fired was a freight train of bad news for anyone within 30 meters of its impact point. And in twenty agonizing minutes they dropped hundreds of those lethal shells down on us.
Until the barrages finally eased and we engaged NVA infantry moving towards us under the mortar umbrella, most of the battalion was playing defense. With no enemy in sight, the riflemen and machine gunners could do little except scramble for cover and wait it out.
But the 81s platoon was expected to play offense, though it's difficult to mount an effective counter-mortar defense when your forward observers, fire direction center and gun pits are all under a massive bombardment from enemy guns.
Our mortar squads were capable of hitting unseen targets like the NVA mortarmen who were killing us from the reverse slopes of their hills. Our mortarmen just needed a target to shoot at and the discipline to execute fire missions while themselves taking devastating fire.