Sub-Unit One Lands in South Vietnam

by Tom Hunnicutt
(Reference notes from GySgt. Ike Eisenhaur)

Yes, it is true, Sub-Unit One Marines landed with the 4th Marines on May 7, 1965 at Chu Lai. Their mission was so secret that even they did not know the details or why they made the landing. This is what I would call, “Not Our Best Moments To Remember” for it was a mess from day one onward. Yet, we learn from our mistakes, or at least we hope we do?

Marines from Sub-Unit One, 1st Radio Battalion at Camp Horn were dispatched to the Philippines to join up with the 4th Marines in order to make an assault landing. Here is a roster of those who stormed the shores of Trip...whoops, I mean Chu Lai. These orders were signed by Captain F. A. Losik, by Direction.

Captain Dale C. Hawkins
SSgt James G. Mentiply
Sgt Matthew B. Allaire
Cpl Thomas C. Dean
Cpl Charles H. Gallina
Cpl Robert E. Page
Cpl Charles H. Peterson
Cpl Jerry Saunders
Cpl James H. Stanton
LCpl Robert M. Eisenhauer
LCpl Virgil G. Zipperer
Pfc Ronald R. Mallette

According to my source the landing was a bit of a fiasco, which could have been a disaster and is a bit of a humiliation or at least it should have been. It appears leadership was lacking in many areas, which reminds me of the three PPPs. That’s an old abbreviation from my NCO School days: Piss Poor Planning. It fits here and it does not reflect on those mentioned in the roster above. Any of us could have ended up on such a roster…and most likely did at one time or the other.

The Marines were well briefed in that they heard rumors this was going to involve combat operations. As the moment of truth approached they became somewhat confused and disillusioned because no one had briefed them and they had no ammo. However, two linguists did get some ammo and shared it with them. Therefore, they hit the beach with six rounds per man and my source told me he figured it was to be a short battle. However, upon landing they found nobody knew what to do with them. So they sat back and took life easy for a few days watching the off-loaded vehicles being pulled out of the sand and mud. All of them had to be towed up onto the beach. Not very impressive from their way of thinking.

Come the second day on the beach they decided they should find some ammo, just in case. Since no leaders were providing them the necessary tools of warfare they had to do it for themselves. Now, that is the Marine way!!! As a result two of them set out to beg, borrow or steal any ammo they could find. What they found is something you only see on television or in a movie. They came upon some Seabees who had built a house out of ammo boxes with ammo in them. The Seabees were insid cooking a meal. Not wanting to linger in the area for to long they ask if they could have some of the ammo. They were told, “Help yourself!! It’s not ours!!” They looked like Mexican bandits upon returning to their fellow warriors.

The Marines actually made history without realizing it. Up until this time the only Marine units in South Vietnam were either at Da Nang or Phu Bai. The 3rd Marine Division had just came ashore on May 5th and there were no support platoons out in any of these units at that time. And yet, like Marines they did not continue to wait for orders or direction they simply started to do what they had been trained to do. Some of those things most likely violated all regulations, but hell, another old Marine saying is: Do something even if it’s wrong!!

SSgt James C. Mentiply was the first Marine NCO to take the bull by the horn and started looking for ways to achieve some measure of success on the battlefield. They sent the linguist forward of their lines to listen for enemy traffic. They were located on top of a mountain range ahead of our lines and spent several days hiding out while keeping their ears open. They made some homemade encryption systems and callsigns for security reasons. They worked on changing their frequencies because they had none assigned.

One night during their Chu Lai days they came under fire during the night. They could see tracer rounds coming and going and yelling. The enemy had got into the camp and shot up a few things, it was mostly the messmen’s sleeping area. They went back to C-Rats at that time. Yet, another memory mentioned about Chu Lai was the sand. Sand everywhere from the coast to the mountains, which was about a mile inland. Having been there I can say: yes, this is the truth.

About two months into their Chu Lai adventures they were augmented by Marines from Hawaii and GySgt Everett Williams took over as OIC of the unit and things immediately started changing. Not much information was given about Captain Hawkins, but it appeared GySgt Williams and Captain Hawkins did not get along. The only other mention of Captain Hawkins was when then LCpl Eisenhauer drove him inland about 25 miles. He stated, “We simply headed inland down a dirt road for about 25 miles. It was me, the Captain, (carrying his .45 in a plastic bag), Gunny Williams and Sgt Allaire. This next thing mentioned about Captain Hawkins was that he was headed stateside.

Since this platoon did not have a formal title, I’ll just call it the 1st Platoon of Sub-Unit One, 1st Radio Bn, for the unofficial records. I have a soft spot in my heart for these Marines because I was both NCOIC and OIC of the 5th Platoon, 1st Radio Bn, III MAF in 1970 in Chu Lai. We left there in August 1970, so they were the first and we were the last Marines of 1st Radio Battalion to venture into the hills and mountains, and of course the sand, too, of Chu Lai, South Vietnam.

(MCCA Source File 65)