Marines from the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion were assigned to Operation Kansas, an infiltration and recon mission in Vietnam.
Que Son Valley
The unit was headed deep into North Vietnamese territory. Their mission was to observe and strike the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.
They worked to take out smaller groups of enemy soldiers via artillery and air support. If they came upon larger groupings of enemy fighters, they called for additional Marines.
However, it was not in the plan for them to actually make contact with the enemy forces. The team of 18 Marines was led by Staff Sgt. Jimmie E. Howard.
Staff Sgt. Howard
Howard became a Marine in 1950. He began in the 1st Marine Regiment in Korea. In 1952, he was a forward observer for the regimental mortar company.
For his work defending outposts along the Main Line of Resistance, he was awarded the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts.
Post the Korean War, he became a member of the Marine Reconnaissance. In 1966, he fought in Vietnam, leading a unit of Reconnaissance Marines.
On June 13, 1966, multiple groups of Marines set up on Hill 488. The men spent the next two days striking the enemy with artillery and airstrikes.
Howard’s team was so successful that they opted to stay another day to do more damage. However, their success alerted the Viet Cong to their presence and approximate location.
The Viet Cong sent around 200- 250 men to fight the Marines. But the Marines were ready for them, waiting up on a rocky hill.
Initially, the Marines had casualties, but they were focused on fighting back with a vengeance. Howard and his men used grenades and mortars along with machine guns and rifles.
The Marines took out the first line of fighters and slowed the rush of Viet Cong fighters, which have the men a break.
Howard took the opportunity to call for an extraction. However, Viet Cong fiercely attacked the Marines, who were low on ammunition.
Three hours later the Air Force dropped Napalm on the Viet Cong fighters, but their attacks did not slow down. Marines were sent in to get the men out.
For his bravery and leadership, Howard received the Medal of Honor and a Purple Heart. The Silver Star was given to 13 members. The Navy Cross to four. Making them the most decorated unit of their size.