Smitty Steps Up (continued)
On October 1, 1968, after hard days operating from two earlier landing zones, Battalion Landing Team 2/26 was inserted further north into the DMZ, the narrow strip of contested terrain that stretched from the white beach of the South China Sea west into the dark green mountains, where beneath triple-canopy jungle unknown perils were concealed.
The DMZ followed the meandering trace of the Ben Hai River to its headwaters in Laos.
As other Marine units had discovered, in the last half of 1968 it was the most dangerous place in Vietnam, and on Earth.
Overview of major I Corps bases on the edge of the DMZ. LZ Margo was northwest of the Rockpile, three kilometers from the DMZ. Map courtesy of Wikipedia. Click the image to enlarge or restore it.
The term “DMZ” – Demilitarized Zone – was a euphemism. The strip had been heavily militarized by the North Vietnamese Army, which viewed it as a defensive buffer for their own country and as a logistical haven for massing men and supplies for incursions into the South.
The job of BLT 2/26 was unchanged from its combat patrols out of LZ Margo and LZ Susan, to “find, fix and destroy all enemy units and installations in the Area of Operations”.
Photo of a topo map showing the locations of two Marine battalions in mid-September 1968. Courtesy of Eric Smith.
And what the battalion could expect to find hidden away beneath the tangled overgrowth was entirely predictable, based on the recent experiences of other Marine battalions who had operated there: a whole lot of trouble.