CHARLIE ONE FIVE: A Marine Company’s Vietnam War
The First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment has a long and illustrious combat history. Through the mid-to-late 1960s, “Charlie” Company served the battalion with distinction in the rice paddies and jungles throughout I Corps in South Vietnam. The author, Nicholas Warr, was a junior officer with C/1/5 and has written a moving account of the company.
The foreword is written by First Lieutenant Scott Nelson, one of C/1/5’s company commanders. In a briefing given by his new regimental commander, Nelson got the word! “You’re here, Lieutenant, to kill the enemy!” To that, 1stLt Nelson simply replied: “Aye, aye, sir!” One of Nelson’s platoon commanders who helped accomplish the regimental commander’s direction was the author, Second Lieutenant Nicholas Warr. Regarding serving with Warr, Nelson writes: “I admired Nick as a combat officer then, and I admire him now as he leads the 1/5 Vietnam veterans. He promotes esprit de corps and assistance for all Marines.”
The battalion landed at Chu Lai in late 1965 and served in the Phu Loc 6 tactical area. Warr asserts: “I’m determined to write the truth about the Vietnam War as I experienced it—how it tasted and smelled, looked and felt, and how it is remembered by those who rose to the challenge of serving their country, risking everything in that worthy endeavor.” The narrative of this excellent work is enhanced by a detailed map section fashioned by frequent Leatherneck contributor Lieutenant Colonel Richard “Wild Bill” Cody, USMC (Ret).
At the beginning, C/1/5 acted as a rapid reaction force in 1965’s Operation Starlite and Operation Jackstay. These were the first major combat operations conducted by Marines in South Vietnam. Much of the detailed story of their first actions comes to us through the letters written by Corporal Keith Vollendorf. Serving as a blocking force, Marines of Charlie Co were heli-lifted into Landing Zone Sparrow. In a letter home, Vollendorf wrote: “The operation just got over today. It lasted for about 12 days and they were the most miserable days I’ve ever spent in my life.”
Warr tells the readers that one of the early lessons learned was not to allow their Marines to bunch up around any “inviting” waterhole. Catching the Marines gathered at one such oasis, the Viet Cong remotely set off a massive explosion that killed seven and wounded 15 Marines.
Warr’s description of the frustrations endured by the “grunts” in C/1/5—the monsoonal downpours, the heat, exhaustion, disease and cold, tasteless C-rations— heightened by a combat-experience-draining individual rotation system, clearly demonstrates how Marines faced far more than a highly trained and competent military force. But Warr notes that perhaps even worse for Charlie Co was the replacement of the trusted M14 rifles with the new, untested and frequently malfunctioning M16.
As evidence of the ills of the M16, Warr writes that after the deadly Battle for Hill 110 in 1967, the commander of 1/5, LtCol Peter Hilgartner, said: “I have three main criticisms of the Marine Corps during this time. First, they kept moving the companies back and forth between battalions, which caused serious command and control problems. Second, I hated that stupid M16. I hated it because it kept getting my Marines killed. Third, it seemed like every time we got the enemy on the run, we always had to stop and count the bodies, and we couldn’t pursue them.”
Warr pulls no punches in describing Charlie, 1/5’s time in country in Vietnam. The unit gave its all while fighting in some of the most devastating actions of the war: Operations Colorado, Osage, Swift and Unions I and II. The losses were great in these major operations, but Warr does not diminish the role of C/1/5 in a multitude of missions while patrolling the hills and paddies surrounding Hoi An, Chu Lai, and in the Phu Loc 6 area.
Veterans, members of the Fifth Regiment and Marines everywhere, will take pride in reading the account of this fine company of fighting Marines. You can proudly place a copy of Nicholas Warr’s book, “Charlie One Five,” on your military history bookshelf beside his other tremendous Vietnam War tale, “Phase Line Green: The Battle for Hue, 1968.”