In 1967, I was sent to Vietnam and assigned to Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines Regiment, 1st Marines Division. My military occupational specialty was 0311 - Marine rifleman, infantryman or just plain grunt. Our mission - to close with the enemy, kill him and destroy his will to fight.
My unit, Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines was located in the furthest reaches of the First Marine Division area of operation. In other words, we were in the middle of nowhere with no Marine unit beyond us. The closest Marine unit was 7 miles away. Mike Company was on 2 hills. Hill 52 was held by First and Third Platoon. Hill 25 was held by Second Platoon. These two hills were located between 2 notorious strongholds of the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Congs. To the south was Charlie's Ridge. To the north was Arizona Valley.
Marines are masters of the understatement. Charlie's Ridge was not a ridge. It was a mountain range that was over 10 miles long and ran off our map. The top of the mountain range was covered by clouds. Arizona Valley was not a valley, but a rectangular area that was 5 miles long and 10 miles wide. We also operated in an area called Dodge City. Dodge City was not a city, but a 5 mile radius filled with hamlets and villages. It was called Dodge City because you could expect booby traps, mines and gunfights every time you entered the area.
Mike Company patrolled their area of operation with vengeance and aggression. There are historians who say that the Viet Congs ruled the nights in Vietnam. Maybe the Viet Congs ruled the night elsewhere but not in Mike Company's area of operation. Mike Company ruled the night. If the North Vietnamese Army or Viet Congs came into our area of operation, we made them pay a high price for intruding into our estate day or night.
I suspect the Viet Cong felt the same way because they decided to pay us back and obliterate Mike Company from their landscape. We had become a problem for the North Vietnamese and Viet Congs by stopping their supply lines and reinforcement crossing between Charlie's Ridge and Arizona Valley.
On paper, it was a masterful plan to annihilate Mike Company. We were located in the middle of nowhere and severely undermanned with 75 Marines on Hill 52 and 28 Marines on Hill 25. The closest Marine units were 7 miles away. The Viet Congs' plan was to attack Hill 25, whose reinforcement could only come from Hill 52. They would close all approaches to Hill 25 and ambush the reinforcement force from Hill 52. At the same time, they would attack the remaining Marines on Hill 52. In this manner, they would isolate the 3 Marine platoons and cut them to pieces separately with a numerically superior force.
The Viet Congs also knew the Marine Corps tradition of never leaving our wounded or dead behind. They counted on the fact that Marines would rush to the rescue of their comrades. They had seen it time and time again. This time, they were going to use it to set a trap for Mike Company with Hill 25 as the bait. And regardless of what the Marines on Hill 52 did, the Viet Congs would annihilate Second Platoon on Hill 25. Either way, the Viet Congs would be victorious.
On November 2, 1967, a Viet Cong commando unit composed of 100 men attacked Hill 25 at 2:00 in the morning. They broke through the defenses and the fighting became individual gunfights and hand to hand combat between the Viet Congs and Marines. Greatly outnumbering the Marines, the Viet Cong commandos overran the defenders and surged over the top of the hill. The Marines fought back furiously from their foxholes, trench lines and bunkers.
On Hill 52, we instantly put on our fighting equipment, slung as much ammunition we could carry and prepared to rush to the rescue of Hill 25. We watched the crisscrossing red and green tracers and listened to the sounds of gunfire, automatic weapons, explosions and flares coming from Hill 25. We were all concerned and impatient to reach our comrades. Finally the order came down to us. Everyone into the foxholes and prepare for an attack. Angry Marines began cursing our company commander for this order. We believed we were being ordered to abandon our comrades to die. I remember Marines saying, "We can't do this. We just can't do nothing. We can't leave them out there by themselves."
Regardless of the plans of the Viet Congs, they underestimated the leadership skills, resourcefulness and combat experiences of Staff Sergeant Gilbert Bolton, the platoon sergeant in charge of Hill 25. S/Sgt Bolton was a tough, hard charging and uncompromising career NCO dedicated to his Marines and the Marine Corps. Long before this day, he had anticipated the possibility that the Marines on Hill 25 would be on their own and could expect no reinforcement. As the fighting intensified on Hill 25, S/Sgt Bolton realized it was only a matter of time before the enemy would overwhelm his small force.
S/Sgt Bolton decided he had only one alternative left - the one order that haunts all commanders and is the most difficult to give. Call artillery on yourself and your men. The signal to the Marines on Hill 25 that this would happen was 2 green star clusters in the sky. That meant - get to a foxhole, trench line or anything that will give you cover because all hell is going to break loose. When S/Sgt Bolton gave the codeword which called for 105 artillery variable timefuse airburst on Hill 25, the artillery officer stated, "We can't do that. We will kill all of you." S/Sgt Bolton's reply was, "If you don't, they are going to kill us all anyway. Fire for effect, dammit." Which meant all artillery pieces to fire concentrated barrages onto one position. And the 105 howitzers fired. The resulting artillery barrage broke the back of the Viet Cong attack and our Marines drove the enemy off the hill.
The next morning, my platoon relieved Second Platoon on Hill 25. We found all approaches to the hill mined and fortified with automatic weapon positions and evidence of a large force lying in ambush for anyone coming to the rescue of Hill 25. The hill was in shambles. There were enemy bodies everywhere. Of the 28 Marines that held Hill 25, 10 were dead, 9 were wounded and 9 walked off the hill. Around the body of one of our dead Marines lay seven enemies dead. When last seen alive, he was swinging his 60mm mortar tube as a club against the Viet Congs who had overrun and surrounded his position. He was determined that the enemy not take his mortar.
Staff Sergeant Gilbert Bolton was awarded the Silver Star for his leadership and gallantry in the battle of Hill 25 that night. The Marines of Second Platoon, Mike Company credit S/Sgt Bolton as the reason why many of them returned home alive from Vietnam. His Marines stated - they would follow him into combat anywhere - even to hell - because they knew he would find a way back.
The above was written to recognize the valor of now retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Gilbert Bolton and the Marines of Second Platoon, Mike Company who held Hill 25 against a numerically superior enemy force. It is also to remember and pay tribute to the ten Marines who died 30 years ago at Hill 25 in a foreign country and a war, Americans wish to forget - lest we forget these brave young men who fought and died while their peers at home waved the flags of their enemies and pontificated about the horrors of war. No truer words were spoken then the following: "For those who fight for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know."
Roll Call of the Marines from Second Platoon, Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines Regiment, First Marine Division killed in defense of Hill 25 on November 2, 1967.
Cpl Willet Rankin Amendola
L/Cpl Glen Douglas Bates
L/Cpl Patrick John Dearborn
PFC James Gard Edinger
Pvt Stephan James Fiducioso
L/Cpl Davis Allen Jones
L/Cpl Gerald Kropidlowski
PFC Robert Everett Moore
L/Cpl Dana Allen Pitts
Sgt David Howard Shoemaker