Hue, Vietnam Battlefield Tour Chapter 2: Golf 2/5

This is chapter 2 of a 5 chapter battlefield guide covering major U.S. Marine sites from the Battle of Hue City in January/February 1968. You can find chapter 1 here. Stops 2A-2D are below and a Google Maps link of the associated sites is included in each stop title.

HueG25_Master

Above: Map depicting locations of tour stops associated with U.S. Marines of Golf Company 2nd Battalion/5th Regiment in Hue 1/31/1968

2A: Doc Lao Park

2B: Truong Tien Bridge

2C: Tran Hung Dao Street

2D: Thuong Tu Gate Road


STOP 2A: Doc Lao Park

2A

What Happened Here

G/2/5 headed north from Phu Bai Combat Base at 10:30 AM on January 31, 1968 to relieve Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment (A/1/1), actively engaged with NVA forces in the southern New City of Hue attempting to seize the city as part of the nationwide enemy Tet Offensive.

The company first found signs of A/1/1’s fight just north of Stop 1D from Part 1, where they were hit by small arms fire from the fresh 810th NVA Battalion. Stalled under fire on the exposed road, G/2/5 was able to connect with A/1/1 and begin the process of retrieving the wounded.

Col. Marcus Gravel, now commanding the combined force, gave Lt. Col. Ed LaMontagne, an officer from the accompanying tank battalion, permission to simply bypass the NVA fire and speed to the MACV Compound (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) 900 meters north of Stop 1D for reinforcements to rescue A/1/1 and G/2/5. 

Pinned down under a metal pipe running under the causeway between culverts (Bowden, 2017, p. 139), the companies were successfully reinforced and able to reach MACV at 2:45 PM. The ease with which G/2/5 arrived at the compound with minimal casualties compared to A/1/1 occurred because the NVA soldiers facing the Americans were a fresh relief battalion more interested in reaching the Citadel than they were in engaging American forces.

Who Fought Here?

A relief force of 160 U.S. Marines and Navy Corpsmen from Golf Company, 2nd Battalion/5th Marines “chopped” (or attached) to the control of 1st Battalion/1st Marines commander Col. Marcus J. Gravel. Despite Gravel’s misgivings of the mission, at 4:10 PM following a rest at the MACV compound, G/2/5 and the command element of A/1/1 loaded onto trucks and advanced a block to the bridge approach 260 meters SW of Stop 2A with a plan to cross the Truong Tien Bridge, assault the Citadel via the Thuong Tu Gate entrance, and rescue ARVN soldiers besieged in the 1st ARVN Division HQ Compound.

The combined force had the following equipment for the upcoming Truong Tien bridge assault:

  • 5 Marine M-48 tanks
  • 2 U.S. Army M-55 quad-50 trucks
  • 2 ARVN Armored Cavalry Battalion M-41 light tanks
  • Unspecified number of hot-wired civilian vehicles used to rescue wounded

Golf Company was commanded by Capt. Charles L. “Chuck” Meadows and split into 2 platoons with 2 squads each:

  • First Platoon (2nd Lt. Mike McNeil)
    • 1st Squad (Corporal Glenn Lucas)
    • 2nd Squad* (unengaged; left on south bank to provide crossing with fire support)
  • Second Platoon (2nd Lt. Steve Hancock)
    • 1st Squad (Lance Corp. Barney Barnes)
    • 2nd Squad (Corp. Lester Tully)

They were opposed by the following battalions from the 4th NVA Regiment commanded by Lt. Col. Nyugen Van: (engaged forces bold, unengaged italicized, attached*)

  • 804th NVA Battalion
  • 810th NVA Battalion
  • 815th NVA Battalion
  • 818th NVA Battalion
  • 2 sapper battalions*

This stop itself is a park that was used as a friendly helicopter LZ (landing zone) to evacuate wounded troops as well as a supporting fire position for some Marines of A/1/1 for G/2/5’s assault on the Truong Tien Bridge (then known as Nguyen Hoang Bridge):

Above: Video of Doc Lao Park taken by author in March 2018

Who Commanded Here?

Col. Marcus J. “Mark” Gravel commanded the combined force of G/2/5 and the command element of A/1/1 48 hours short of his 38th birthday on January 31, 1968. The Korean War veteran was described as a kind and sensitive devout Catholic who took the unusual step of learning the names of every Marine under his command. In Mark Bowden’s Hue 1968 he is quoted as often saying, “Whenever one of my Marines gets a scratch, I bleed.” To show solidarity with the ARVN forces who fought alongside him in Vietnam, Gravel sported the rank insignia of an ARVN Lt. Col. on his helmet. After the war, Gravel was stationed at the Pentagon where he worked as a public affairs officer with the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Flores, 2006, p. 114). He died relatively young at the age of 62 on March 30, 1992 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Gravel_ARVN

Source: Eric Hammel Marines in Hue City: A Portrait of Urban Combat Tet, p. 88


STOP 2B: Truong Tien Bridge (formerly Nguyen Hoang Bridge)

2B

What Happened Here

The planned mission was for G/2/5 to reach the besieged ARVN Compound was by following Highway 1 across the 400-meter-long Truong Tien Bridge, turning left on Tran Hung Dao Street parallelling the north bank of the Perfume River and proceeding 300 meters to the Thuong Tu Gate Road leading to the southeast corner of the Citadel. 

Above: Panoramic view originally facing NW of the Truong Tien Bridge spanning the Perfume River in Hue

G/2/5’s bridge crossing was complicated due to a number of factors:

  • Holes in the bridge span opened straight down into the river due to an unsuccessful NVA attempt to blow the bridge earlier.
  • ARVN Armored Cavalry Battalion soldiers were fought out and refused to provide M-41 light tanks.
  • Gravel feared the steel superstructure would not support Patton tanks so they were left behind instead to provide supporting fire from the south bank of the river.
  • No air support would be provided due to American fears of damaging important South Vietnam cultural sites in the Citadel.
  • Capt. Meadows reduced the size of the 160-man company to 100 for the bridge crossing and Citadel advance, leaving a reserve squad behind to provide supporting fire.

Who Fought Here?

Lance Corp. Barney Barnes’s squad of 2nd Lt. Steve Hancock’s 2nd Platoon served as the point team and set off at a crouched trot to this point at the crest of the arch of the bridge at Stop 2B where they began to take fire from an NVA machine gun in a bunker at the NW end of the bridge. Because of the arched roadway in the center of the bridge, Barnes’s squad could not see over the center of the bridge. Their view approaching the crest was similar to the below:

To combat the NVA .51 caliber machine gun fire, Pvt. FC Clyde Carter and a Marine machine gun team set up an M60 but Carter was quickly killed. As casualties mounted Barnes reached the northern end of the bridge and reserve squad leader Corp. Lester Tully, in an effort that would earn him the Silver Star, reduced the NVA machine gun position with a hand grenade, killing 5 NVA soldiers (Hammel, Fire Streets, 61). 

In a June 2013 Leatherneck article Army Sergeant Bob Lauver, who assisted in removing wounded G/2/5 men from the bridge, described the actions of Marines who tried in vain to disable the NVA machine gun bunker before Tully got to it: “I saw many Marines of Golf-two-five perform heroic actions that remain unheralded to this day. Many Marines were cut down trying to take out the machine gun in the bunker. I remember a Marine charging the bunker with grenades, only to not make it. Another Marine with an M60 or M16, firing from the hip, also did not make it to the bunker.”

Barnes’s Squad was the first to arrive across the bridge with Tully’s arriving shortly after, thanks in part to fire assistance from 2 U.S. Navy PBRs (riverine patrol boats) deployed from the Hue LCU (landing craft unit) ramp set up earlier in the day (Hammel, Marines in Hue, 97). Since 2nd Lt. Steve Hancock’s Platoon (Barnes and Tully’s squads) endured the heaviest fighting on the bridge, Capt. Meadows left them to hold the north end of the bridge while 2nd Lt. Mike McNeil’s 1st Platoon prepared to assault the Thuong Tu Gate and enter the Citadel.

Who Commanded Here?

Capt. Chuck Meadows was 28 at the time of the Battle of Hue on his second tour of duty in Vietnam. The beloved captain of Golf Company was an apolitical Marine unconcerned over the politics of the war. Hospital Corpsman Bruce Gant treated G/2/5’s wounded at Hue and said of Meadows: “He loved his men and they loved him. He was their skipper for life.” After the war, Meadows returned to Vietnam to work with Peace Trees, a nonprofit group responsible for finding and disabling unexploded ordnances. He also returned often to host veteran reunion groups. Meadows led a group of G/2/5 veterans across the Truong Tien Bridge on a reunion visit for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Hue. It would be his final visit to the country. Meadows died unexpectedly from a heart condition in his home in Oregon on March 1, 2018, just 3 weeks after leading the anniversary visit. Corpsman Gant said of the final visit: “When we said goodbye in Hanoi last month, I shook his hand and told him I loved him. That’ll always be with me,” (Nelson-Jones, 2018).

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Source: The Seattle Times

Who Fell Here?

Plucky-eared 19-year-old Oklahoman PFC Clyde “Butch” Carter was the first member of Golf Company to be killed in the Battle of Hue. He was killed by machine gun fire from the NVA bunker on the north end of Truong Tien Bridge while attempting to set up M60 counter battery fire. On his Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund page a remembrance left for Carter from Eva Gilreath Johnson is addressed to “My close friend/first love, Clyde” and states, “I miss you and I love you, soulmate. You are my Special Angel. Our Memories are special.” Carter is buried at Sunny Lane Cemetery in Del City, Oklahoma.

Carter, Clyde Elmer

Source: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

What did they say about it later?

In the aforementioned Leatherneck article chronicling a February 2013 veteran reunion in Hue, Larry Verlinde of 1st Platoon-2nd Squad remembered moving out for the Truong Tien Bridge assault shouting, “Whoopee! We’re all gonna die!” an apparent reference to the chorus of the 1967 Country Joe and the Fish Vietnam protest song “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag.”


STOP 2C: Tran Hung Dao Street

2C

Who Fought Here?

McNeils undersized platoon containing only Corporal Glenn Lucas’s Squad was ordered to take over G/2/5 company lead and turn left at Stop 2C down Tran Hung Dao Street towards the Thuong Tu Gate Road and Citadel beyond. Hancock’s Platoon remained back at the bridge to interrogate captured NVA soldiers and recuperate during a period of relative quiet. Lucas’s Squad (of McNeil’s Platoon) continued on an uneventful, but eerily quiet walk to the Thuong Tu Gate Road intersection 300 meters south of Stop 2C

The above video shows McNeil’s Platoon’s journey to Thuong Tu Gate Road via Tran Hung Dao Street with relevant timestamps below:

  • 0:00-0:12 Turning left from the bridge onto Tran Hung Dao Street (NVA machine gun bunker site from Stop 2B at 0:10)
  • 0:13-0:17 View McNeil’s Platoon had as they advanced up Tran Hung Dao
  • 0:18-0:26 NVA view looking south towards Thuong Thu Gate Road/Tran Hung Dao intersection

What did they say about it later?

Many Marines of Lucas’s Squad later remarked about a movie theater they passed in the commercial district along Tran Hung Dao Street that stood out as they made their way to the Thuong Tu Gate Road. However either due to intense focus on the mission or the fog of war, veterans of G/2/5 remember differently what the theater was showing.

In Mark Bowden’s Hue 1968, the author quotes Capt. Meadows as saying the theater was advertising the Italian Western Tempo Di Massacre (Bowden, 2017, p. 146). However, in Eric Hammel’s Fire in the Streets he describes McNeil’s Platoon as passing a movie theater showing Gone With the Wind. (Hammel, 2006, p. 62). As you can see in the comparison photo below, a 1968 photo shows the actor name “Franco Nero,” the Italian Spaghetti Western film star from Tempo Di Massacre, putting the mystery to rest.

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Top: The movie theater as it stood in March 2018. Photo taken by author

Bottom: The movie theater as it stood on January 31, 1968. Source: “Golf” Company at Hue Leatherneck June 2013, p. 40 Lance Corp. Ray “Q” Quist from the above photo was shot in both legs wounded on the Thuong Tu Gate Road shortly after this photo was taken. He survived the wounds, but later died of cancer.


STOP 2D: Thuong Tu Gate Road

2D

What Happened Here

When the Marines of Lucas’s Squad arrived turned right at the Thuong Tu Gate Road intersection 100 meters south of Stop 2D, Corp. Lucas was rudely welcomed by NVA AK-47 fire from atop the Citadel wall at the Thuong Tu Gate entrance here. Though Lucas was wounded by gunfire, he led his squad to a point 50 meters north of the intersection where the point squad came under intense NVA small arms fire from atop the wall and inside the gate (Hammel, 2006, p. 63).

IMG_1147Above: Author’s photo the imposing Thuong Tu Gate NVA firing position taken March 2018

8 Marines of Lucas’s Squad fell seriously wounded and found themselves in a dangerous position exposed on both sides of the road. PFC Bill Tant frantically attempted to find cover, but finding all of the shop doors along the road locked he had to settle for a small tree 50 meters from Stop 2D. Corp. Lucas attempted to make the same tree but fell gravely wounded in the road. Hospital Navy Corpsman Donald Kirkham treated wounded Marines all along the dangerously exposed sidewalk, but was shot in the throat and killed while attempting to reach squad leader Lucas (Hammel, 2006, p. 64). 5 Marines now lay dying in the immediate area of Tant’s tree, with no way to move forward or retreat.

KirkhamAbove: Photo taken by Corp. William Peterson from the article “Golf” Company at Hue’ Leatherneck June 2013, p. 40 showing Corp. Lucas and Hospitalman Kirkham lying killed in action near Tant’s tree

With his company being cut to pieces, at this point in the sunny January afternoon, Capt. Chuck Meadows decided to find a spot closer to the action to command from: the front. Meadows made his way to a tree in front of a pharmacy just meters from the Citadel moat, the farthest G/2/5 advance of the day. He went to work trying to improve the outmanned and outgunned position his company found itself in. 

IMG_1129

Above: Roughly Capt. Meadows view towards the Thuong Tu Gate Road from the pharmacy and witness tree. Photo taken by author

Below: Modern photo of pharmacy location. Photo taken by author

IMG_1064

Standing as a blue and green 2-story building today, in 1968 the pharmacy was a white 1-story building that allowed for roof access, so Capt. Meadows ordered an M-60 machine gun team up to the roof to fire on NVA positions inside the Thuong Tu Gate. From this position it was evident that G/2/5 could move no further due to the imposing NVA defensive position, and the only thing left to do was evacuate the stranded men around Tant’s tree. M-79 smoke grenades fired from the pharmacy roof allowed G/2/5 to extricate all but 1 of their stranded casualties: PFC Gerald Kinny.

The above video shows relevant sites from Lucas’s Squad’s fight at the commercial intersection fronting the Thuong Tu Gate moat and entrance to the Citadel with relevant timestamps below:

  • 0:27-0:35 View of pharmacy and Meadows’s witness tree
  • 0:36-0:49 Likely location of Tant’s witness tree surrounded by wounded from Lucas’s Squad
  • 0:50-0:59 View of NVA defensive position atop the Thong Tu Gate from Meadows’s position in front of the pharmacy

Who Fell Here?

From his position in front of the pharmacy, Capt. Meadows could see the 18-year-old sibling-of-8 PFC Kinny lying motionless in the road. With the “No Man Left Behind” Marine mantra in mind, Meadows “ignored the heavy fire and sprinted toward him. His adrenaline pumping, with his rifle in one hand, he grabbed Kinny by the belt buckle and lifted him with one arm. Running for all he was worth, he half dragged and half-carried him” to a convoy removing the wounded though he was dead on arrival (Bowden, 2017, p. 148). 

After accounting for all of the men in McNeil’s Platoon involved in the mess in front of the Thuong Tu Gate, Meadows radioed back to the combined force commander Col. Gravel and told him he was pulling his company back to the MACV Compound on his own authority (Hammel, 2006, p. 65). Gravel ensured a military convoy of trucks would cross Truong Tien Bridge to assist in evacuating Golf Company’s wounded and the disastrous mission was complete with a withdrawal across the bridge complete at 7:00 PM.

From 4:10-7:00 PM on January 31, 1968 G/2/5 suffered a 33% overall casualty rate (7 killed, 45 wounded). However, this is a bit misleading since the number of forces who actually crossed the bridge was 100, making Golf Company’s engaged forces casualty rate 52%. With the 1st ARVN Division HQ Compound still under siege inside the Citadel and G/2/5 failing to penetrate the Thuong Tu Gate entrance, the company returned to the MACV Compound and regrouped for a new set of orders to fight the NVA block by block in the New City south of the Perfume River. In one day of fighting in Hue the 2 infantry companies of A/1/1 and G/2/5 suffered 80 casualties out of a combat force of 300 Marines, for an overall casualty rate of 27%.

  • Secondary accounts differ on the number of G/2/5 Marines killed in action on January 31 ranging from 5 to 10 KIA. I was able to account for 7 deaths attached to the fighting in this post from primary and secondary accounts. Of those 7 losses, below are 4 Marines mentioned in this post who have publicly available memorial pages:
    • PFC Clyde “Butch” Carter
      • Age at Loss: 19
      • Location of Casualty: Truong Tien Bridge
      • Casualty Detail: Gun or small arms fire
    • Corp. Glenn Lucas
      • Age at Loss: 21
      • Location of Casualty: Thuong Tu Gate Road in front of pharmacy
      • Casualty Detail: Other explosive device
    • Navy Hospital Corpsman Donald Kirkham
      • Age at Loss: 22
      • Location of Casualty: Thuong Tu Gate Road in front of pharmacy
      • Casualty Detail: Multiple fragmentation wounds
    • PFC Gerald Kinny
      • Age at Loss: 18
      • Location of Casualty: Thuong Tu Gate Road in front of pharmacy
      • Casualty Detail: Other explosive device

What did they say about it later?

George Haught served in Second Platoon gun squad and participated in the assault on the Thuong Tu Gate. When Capt. Meadows ordered a team of Marines to the roof of the pharmacy for a better position, Haught climbed on top of the pharmacy roof with the assistance of a boost from another Marine. During my March 2018 visit to Hue, I messaged with Haught and shared photos of the visit. Upon my sharing the below comparison photo of the Thuong Tu Gate destroyed in 1968 and intact in 2018, Haught said simply: “I am glad we never made it through that gate. We all would have been destroyed.”

Comp_ThuongTu_demolished

Stay tuned for Chapter 3 of this series where we will follow the start of Fox, Golf, and Hotel Companies’ block-by-block fighting in the New City. 


Veterans mentioned in this piece are involved with the following charities. To donate to a good cause, please click below:

Peace Trees Vietnam: Donate 

Veterans Breakfast Club: Donate

Works Cited

Bowden, Mark. 2017. Hue 1968: A Turning Point Of The American War In Vietnam. Atlantic Monthly Press.

Flores, John W. 2006. When the River Dreams: The Life of Marine Sgt. Freddy Gonzalez. AuthorHouse. 

Hammel, Eric M. 2006. Fire In The Streets: The Battle For Hue, Tet 1968. Pacifica Military History.

Hammel, Eric M. 2015. Marines in Hue City: A Portrait of Urban Combat Tet 1968. Pacifica Military History.

Keene, R. (2013). “Golf” Company at Hue. Leatherneck. Retrieved from https://www.miltours.com/image/data/brochures/lneckhuepart1.pdf

Nelson-Jones, Diana. (2018). Chuck Meadows: an appreciation. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved from https://www.post-gazette.com/local/region/2018/03/05/col-Chuck-Meadows-obituary-vietnam-tet-offensive-marines-hue-city/stories/201803050125

Nelson-Jones, Diana. (2018). A return to Vietnam: Veterans occupy a former battleground 50 years after Tet. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved from https://newsinteractive.post-gazette.com/dispatches-from-vietnam-vietnam-veterans-pittsburgh-tet-offensive-hue-city-50-year-george-haught-marine/