The Battle of Dong Xoai was one of the more intense fights during the Vietnam Conflict. Fifty years later, we look at the events of that two-day battle which claimed the lives of many service members including Medal of Honor recipient Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Marvin G. Shields. Over the next to days we’ll be recounting the events of Dong Xoai and the heroic actions of Marvin Shields.
Shields hailed from Port Townsend, Wash. and joined the Navy in January 1962. He completed training as a construction mechanic in Sept. 1963 upon which he was assigned to A Company, Mobile construction Battalion 11. He deployed with Seabee Team 1104 in January 1965 out of Port Hueneme, traveling to Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base in Saigon.
In the late hours of June 8 and heading into the early morning hours of June 9, 1965, Seabee Team 1104 woke at Dong Xoai, Republic of Vietnam to sound of mortar and 57mm recoilless rifle rounds fired by Viet Cong forces, so beginning an intense battle, one of many during the Vietnam Conflict.
Nine Seabees, led by Lt. j.g. Frank Peterlin as well as 11 soldiers assigned to U.S. Army Special Forces “A” Team 342 occupied the camp shared with approximately 400 members of the Vietnamese defense force. Some of the first mortar rounds destroyed the camp’s medical aid station and communication equipment. Several sleeping units were also hit, killing and wounding several soldiers and Seabees in just the first few moments.
At approximately 0245, supported by an intense mortar barrage, recoilless rifles, machine guns and small arms, and utilizing hand grenades and flame throwers, the Viet Cong launched an assault on the west berm of the north area of the camp. As the Viet Cong overran this area of the camp, Shields and Utilitiesman (Plumber) 2nd Class Lawrence W. Eyman and a Special Forces sergeant succeeded in carrying a badly wounded Special Forces Captain to the west end of the camp where they joined the remainder of the Americans.
Steelworker (Fabricator) 2nd Class William C. Hoover, Special Forces Staff Sgt. D.C. Dedman and Peterlin were cut off from the remainder of the defenders and began withdrawing to the east side of the camp as the Viet Cong came over the west berm. Both Hoover and Dedman had previously been wounded and Peterlin was wounded in the right foot. As the three attempted to crawl through concertina wire on the east side of the camp, Peterlin was separated from Hoover and Dedman. Both Hoover and Dedman were later found deceased.
Shortly before the assault began on the north area of the camp all the Americans in the west area had withdrawn into a District Headquarters building, which was subjected to an intense Viet Cong attack about 0300. Even though all the Americans in the building were wounded, they successfully held off the attacking Viet Cong throughout the night and following morning. U.S. and Vietnamese aircraft arrived over the camp at daybreak. The first relief forces secured a landing area about a mile and a half north of the embattled village and were quickly engaged with Viet Cong forces. A pitched battle developed as aircraft continually struck the Viet Cong positions with napalm. About noon the landing area was overrun with Viet Cong forces; only three Vietnamese soldiers survived from the group of 196 troops and two U.S. advisors.
In the meantime, a second lift of relief forces landed at a nearby rubber plantation and quickly was pinned down by intense Viet Cong fire. During the middle of the afternoon a coordinated effort of heavy close air support by fixed wing aircraft permitted elements of the 118th Aviation Company to evacuate the wounded U.S. personnel from the District Headquarters.
Shortly thereafter, a Ranger relief force landed at a soccer field southeast of the town. Another group landed near the District Headquarters compound and captured numerous Viet Cong weapons. Sporadic fighting continued throughout the second night and the Rangers moved out the next day and recaptured larger areas. The final count of casualties of the original 20 American forces was three killed, 16 wounded and one unscathed survivor. A total of 12 other Americans were listed as dead or missing as a result of action during the two-day battle. The Vietnamese forces suffered 46 wounded and 300 dead or missing. Viet Cong losses were estimated at more than 700.
Tomorrow we’ll conclude with the final events in Dong Xoai. Don’t forget, Dr. Lara Godbille, museum director, will host a special presentation tomorrow evening, June 10 at 6p.m. at the museum commemorating the 50th anniversary of Marvin Shields’ actions and death.