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August 3, 1966: The Vietnam War Operation Prairie Begins

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On August 3, 1966, the US launched a six-month offensive known as Operation Prairie in Vietnam. The operation consisted of a series of battles primarily in the Con Thien and Gio Linh regions along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separated North and South Vietnam. The objective of the US was to prevent the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) from crossing the DMZ and invading the Quang Tri Province. The operation came on the heels of Operation Hastings, a previous operation that lasted from mid-July to early August along the DMZ and was deemed a strategic success.

During 1965 and early 1966, the Viet Cong and the NVA infiltrated areas near the DMZ with the tactical goal of drawing US troops away from cities and towns. US forces responded to the threat by constructing a string of bases south of the DMZ. The Marines provided the ground forces and received air support from two helicopter detachments; one from MAG-16 and the other from the Army 220th Aviation Company.

On August 6, 1966, the Marines inserted a five-man reconnaissance team in an area 4 km north of a craggy mountain of solid rock with 700-foot cliffs known as the Rockpile. The Rockpile was south of the DMZ and used by the US as an observation post and military base. The reconnaissance team smelled smoke from an enemy camp and called in artillery bombardments. On the morning of the 8th, the Marines saw NVA troops and radioed in the situation. Hoping to take NVA prisoners, a 40-man reaction force arrived to help. The enemy couldn’t be located, and plans were made for a helicopter extraction of the Marines. During extraction, troops came under heavy fire and half of the Marines weren’t evacuated. Those that remained held a defensive perimeter while under heavy attack. A Huey gunship flew under heavy fire to resupply the group. On August 9th, following a napalm attack against the NVA, the remaining Marines were finally evacuated. Five Marines died, but there were at least 37 casualties from the NVA.

A Helicopter lands on top of the Rockpile

In the following weeks and months, additional fighting took place in several different areas. One of them was a ridge known as Razorback. While trying to silence a machine gun position that was firing on the Rockpile, Marines encountered an area dotted with caves where the NVA were hiding. The North Vietnamese soldiers emerged from multiple caves at once and opened fire on the surprised Marines resulting in multiple casualties.

Marines also engaged at another place known as Mutters Ridge where the Marines encountered an NVA ambush. In September, intelligence suggested that NVA troops had built an infiltration route along Mutters Ridge. While patrolling in the area, the Marines walked into an ambush. The trapped soldiers fought their way out at close quarters. Sometimes the Marines and North Vietnamese were only 30-feet apart and lobbing hand grenades at each other. It took two days for ground help to reach the surrounded Marines. With the help of air and artillery strikes, 170 of the enemy were eliminated. Nine Marines also lost their lives.

By the time Operation Prairie came to an end in January 1967, US troops were able to prevent the NVA from establishing a major base in the region, but it came at a steep cost. The Marines sustained 200 deaths and 1,000 wounded, while more than 1,000 North Vietnamese soldiers lost their lives.

Did you or someone you know participate in Operation Prairie? To see more of our Vietnam War records, search Fold3 today!

140 Comments

  1. I have a teeshirt that has a second place ribbon on it. It says “Southeast Asia War Games – Second Place by Act Of Congress”.
    1st Cav 68-69 Bluemax cobra pilot. I lived in and flew in Agent Orange ares for months.

  2. My uncle Jesse Samaripa lost his life on 11/2/1966. He was 19 years old, did not make to his birthday on 11/21.

  3. I would be interested (for family history purposes) in information on the timing, objectives and scope of Operation Phoenix–which my late ex-husband was part of (He was in Army Inteligence, but this may have been a CIA operation.) He was emotionally scarred for the rest of his life, as so many were by their Vitenam experience. My son and I also believe (based on what the VA said about the fast moving cancer that ended his life) that his exposure to Agent Orange while working along the border with Cambodia contributed to his early death (at age 60.) Any help appreciated.

  4. So sad to hear of the deaths of the North Vietnamese men, defending their homeland from our invading force, and so sorry for the boys from the United States who were tricked into going into that stupid war, thinking they were heroes, thinking that war made sense. They were use like pawns. To hurt and be hurt, kill and be killed. For the ambition of some selfish few.

    I’m so sorry for every

    • You are very confused and disrespectful
      Shame on you
      Go visit the Vietnam wall and
      Learn the names of those you
      Dishonor

  5. Forgot Password

  6. This system is too expensive and charged to my account without my awareness

  7. Any soldier who answers their country’s call and risks their life is a hero. No matter the politics.

    • These men responded to their obligations as American citizens. We honor them as heroes.

  8. Kenneth –
    When my husband was first dx I went on-line and looked at everything I could find, even in the old ‘dial-up’ slow downloads. I would find a file, download it overnight and read. Agent Orange has become the ‘call word’ for dioxin although there was also agent pink, agent white, agent yellow, etc., and ALL were the same material – dioxin! You are so right – did whoever created this monster know they would be using it on our soldiers,sailors and marines? What did they think it would do to them? Or did they care?
    I can answer that one! NO! This was the means to an end and that’s all it was to them!
    Over a year ago my husband began showing signs of dementia with a total personality change although I had NO idea what it was at the time. Finally his temper and filthy language began to get to me – he had NEVER even said the word ‘damn’ in front of me and if anyone else did, he would say, ‘hey, watch the language there are ladies in the room’! So I did what I never thought I would do, I taped one of his tirades, talked to my doctors, cried a lot and learned to just leave him alone! We have been married for 52 years and this is not what I thought our ‘golden years’ would be like, but they are. It’s not his fault and it’s not mine – it just ‘is’!

    • The manufacturer of dioxin was dow chemical.The govt. for years had denied any knowledge of this chemical until many cases of different cancers were showing up because of it’s use.There are 55 gallon drums on an island in the pacific causing cancer.It is in the foliage,the animals eat the plants people eat the animals.It is in the water and the plants.

  9. Jack, I’m just curious. What is the year of your birth? Where you old enough to join the military any time before or during the years of the American / North Vietnamese war. (I am aware that it is only a small minority of Every generation who actually into the military. Most people fortunately never have to.)
    Just asking.
    Thank you,
    STRYKER 6

  10. My uncle had helped dump this chemical along with several others not knowing early on let alone later on during the conflict that it would have this affect,He had passed away several years ago due to this.

  11. The LWV Peoria IL Chapter, had a Study Group on the origins of the Vietnam War. I was in that group. We learned how the Catholic Church ensnared France to attack to save Church property from the Godless Communists, and then the US, with Cardinal Spelman as the point man. Bao Dai (hereditary leader or king of N&S Vietnam, was faithfully following the terms of SEATO, and named a date for the election to be held. The U.S. told him to resign or die. He resigned. Cardinal Spelman used Maryknoll monasteries to secretly bring Diem to the U.S. to meet with Kennedy and others. He was accepted and became the head of S.V. There was no more talk of elections, tho the Treaty required them.

  12. My cousin, Major William Walgren “Bill”, flew gun ships in front of med-evacs during the duration of the war. He lost the sight in one eye from a melanoma on his optic nerve a few years after separating. He didn’t fly with sunglasses or tinted goggles because he couldn’t see the target well. He went on to serve in the CIA. I was just a teenager, 6 years younger, and didn’t learn of his exploits until years later. I have always been so very proud of him.

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