LZ Margo and the DMZ (continued)
On September 16, after three days of patrols and light contact we were ordered to pull back to our landing zone to allow a B-52 Arc Light mission to pound the jungle to our north.
Landing Zone Margo was a bad place to pull back to. Nothing but rocks and craters, the hill was smaller than it appeared on the map. And it had been bore-sighted long ago by NVA gunners in the surrounding hills.
LZ Margo from just above the 81s fire direction center. On LZ Margo, 81s forward observer Cpl Joe "Coop" Cooper manned this machine gun protecting the Alfa Command Group and landing zone. The FDC, gun pits, main landing zone, waterhole and Echo Company position are off to the left and downhill from this perspective. You are seeing the hill through the eyes of PFC Larry Towne, pictured at the top of this page looking out, standing in the same spot, with his helmet and the machine gun in front of him.
Many of us heard our operations officer, Major Jarvis Lynch, argue strenuously by radio against the order to concentrate the battalion on that small hill. And when he was finally told to execute the order, we all knew what might happen.
And it did.
Worse Incoming Than the Chosin Reservoir
Beginning with an intense incoming mortar barrage, we got into the fight of our lives that afternoon. Hotel Company Gunny Richard Porter, who had served at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea said it was worse than anything he had experienced.
Major Lynch estimated 400-500 rounds impacted LZ Margo and those on it. He doesn't know for sure because he stopped counting after 100. Ultimately, it was one of the heaviest mortar battles of the Vietnam War.
And it lasted only 20 minutes.
But those minutes were punctuated with the sounds of explosion after explosion after explosion after explosion. The air was thick with greasy black smoke and razor-edged shrapnel and the stench of burned gunpowder and blasted rock.
On Margo, there was no escape.
Whether you lived or died was a matter of luck. If an incoming mortar round found you, you died. If it found another spot on the hill to obliterate, you lived, at least until the next round hit.
More than 150 men were killed or wounded in those endless 20 minutes. No unit on the hill was spared.
Echo, 81s, Recon and the battalion CP were the first targets, but the rounds soon walked their way across the landscape pounding Hotel on the north side of the hill and then on to Fox and Golf.
The enemy mortar crews had practiced their fire patterns well.