Bob Riordan Remembers LZ Margo and the DMZ Operation (continued)
The LZ was an abandoned fire support base about ten clicks northwest of The Rockpile and less than a mile from the DMZ - truly "Indian Country." Our battalion was the division's Special Landing Force, meaning that we went wherever the action was with Golf Company designated as the assault company. The battalion mission was to move north to the high ground on the southern border of the DMZ and sweep the area seeking to capture prisoners.
LZ Margo looked bad right from our recon fly-over the afternoon before our scheduled attack. Worse, the mission was timed for Friday the 13th. Politics, atrocities and drugs aside, Oliver Stone did get a lot of things right in "Platoon" - most noteworthy, that palpable sense of doom before the NVA night attack. Sometimes you did just know that things were going to turn out bad.
Going in itself was relatively uneventful but, after assuming our assigned perimeter position and viewing the surrounding mountainous terrain, I issued one command: "Dig!"- and then started digging myself. After two days our anxiety had started to fade and we had almost convinced ourselves that we had dodged "The Big One" when one lone range-seeking mortar round told us otherwise. Pete Post and I simply exchanged glances and shook our heads.
In effect an entire Marine company was wiped out that afternoon with more than 20 KIAs. But, due to either simple preparation or Divine Providence, none of our company was even wounded. You can believe what you choose but I know that my faith in God has never wavered since that afternoon. For whatever reason I survived that day and have always considered every day since a blessed gift.
After the attack Golf was ordered to move north toward the DMZ high ground. The NVA harassed us en route with periodic sniper fire and we soon discovered the reason for their resistance as we captured a substantial base camp with an eerily still warm cooking oven, a bamboo pipe water system, open air training classrooms and extensive hammock sleeping areas in addition to weapons, mortars, ammo, etc.
The camp was under triple canopy trees but sunlight still filtered through and it was simply a beautiful site with comfortable 70 degree temperatures and well maintained with no trash anywhere. It was clearly a rest and staging area for NVA troops infiltrating south and we were all sobered by its sophistication.
But our task was to press the assault as the battalion command post relocated to the camp and oversaw its destruction. When we reached the DMZ, Lance Corporal Mike Personette was shot and killed.
20-year old LCpl Mike Personette, killed by small arms fire in the DMZ. Photo courtesy of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
Our lead platoon secured that area, but I spent the night on the trail next to Mike's body bag and thought about our other losses.
Obviously, he and the others have not been forgotten.