By Jesse Church
Aloha al my fellow veterans and people of Molokai, old Jesse here with all the veterans news and upcoming events. I am sure that all my fellow Marines will remember 50 years ago this month the battle of Chu Lai South Vietnam. A main force of Viet Cong were preparing an attack on Chu Lai in August 1965 that was stopped in its tracks by the Marines in what was the first major battle of the war. The following history is from an article by Al Hemingway in this month’s issue of VFW Magazine.
Gen. Lewis “Silent Lew” Walt, commanding general of the III Marine Amphibious Force, had intelligence reports that the 1st Viet Cong Regiment was missing for an assault on the airfield at Chu Lai. Walt, after discussing the situation with his staff, decided on a plan that would leave the Chu Lai airstrip defenses weakened and strike the enemy stronghold on the Van Tuong Peninsula. It was a gamble that Gen. Walt felt he had to take.
So the destroyers opened up a barrage to soften the VC position, in addition to fighter aircraft dumping many tons of ordnance on the enemy. At about 6 a.m. on Aug. 16, 1965, Marines opened their fire and the battle was on. In the beginning when all hell broke loose, nobody could tell what was happening until reports started to come in to the command post. Gen. Walt realized his Marines were doing their job and the battle was in good hands with Col. Oscar Peatross, the 7th Marine Regiment Commander. They both could see that uncommon valor was a common virtue.
The Marines prevailed in the six-day battle for Chu Lai, which ended on Aug. 24, 1965. Four Marines won medals for their bravery on the field of battle. A grenade killed Capt. Bruce Webb, a company commander, and he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his extraordinary heroism that day. Lance Corporal Ernie Wallace saw enemy soldiers hidden behind a row of trees and he screamed, “Start killing trees.” He began to put accurate fire at the treeline, killing some 25 enemy soldiers and saving the lives of fellow Marines, for which he was awarded the Navy Cross. Lance Corporal Joe Paul positioned himself to lay down fire so wounded Marines could be placed on a helicopter. He was struck by several bullets and awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. Corporal Robert O’Malley eliminated an enemy position and although wounded three times, he would not let himself be evacuated until all his squad was aboard; he was also awarded the Medal of Honor.
The battle of Chu Lai cost the Marines 56 killed and 203 wounded in action, and left 614 Viet Cong confirmed killed and nine taken prisoner. If you know anyone from Molokai who was in the battle of Chu Lai, please let me know and give me a call at 553-3323. I was stationed at Chu Lai Marine Air Base two years after this.
To all the men, women and children of Molokai, you are my family and I love you with all my heart. So have a great week and be happy and safe. Aloha and mahalo.