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August 3, 1966: The Vietnam War Operation Prairie Begins

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!

175 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.

    • My brother served in Vietnam and died recently. Our niece works for VA and assisted him to file for benefits after his SECOND cancer appeared. At first he said others deserved the benefits more, but educated him that our U.S. government now acknowledges the harmful effects of dioxin…essentially any soldier who served in Vietnam is eligible for benefits AS WELL AS THEIR CHILDREN if they too experience any one of a whole list of diseases, not just cancers!!

      PLEASE, Encourage Vietnam vets who served in country to file for benefits if they OR THEIR CHILDREN are experiencing illness.

  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

    • American forces never invaded North Vietnam. Invasions were done by the NVA into South Vietnam.

      Truly it is sad the over 1 Million Vietnamese lot their lives though that Conflict.

    • not even worth a response something this stupid. U need to move to North Vie Nam or even South Viet Nam Now. Love the USA or leave it.

    • Hi Jack,
      I’m sorry we didn’t obliterate the North Vietnamese Government. They took advantage of Western, be it Russian, or Western European, educations and then didn’t comply with the agreement to which they were a part in 1954. The NVA;s homeland started North of the DMZ. Any life is precious, but I feel more for the widows and orphans Governments of all ilks leave while pontificating the rightness of their cause. Since We were in, I am sorry We weren’t allowed to use all the weapons at our disposal to bring it to a faster more acceptable conclusion.

    • In total agreement with you, John. Thanks to all our warriors who
      fought valiantly. I have no sympathy for the North Vietnamese.

    • You Jack, are ignorant. If you’re even old enough you’re probably one of the ones who fled. You, coward, are a disgrace to our Country.

    • Jack – where were you…were you ducking the draft. Look the war was a disaster and my soon had two tours in Nam. He was treated like dirt on his return. And, by the way our family has been volunteers for service from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Afghan/Iraq. So, your comments are not appreciated. I guess you fit with Jane Fonda.

    • I am so sorry that you think all that . I wasn’t tricked into the service and none of the hundres of other Marines felt the same way . Never thought the war was stupid or that we were heros . No war makes sense . A” pawn ” Bull Sh_it . You seem to be echoing some 53 year old opinions that are simply not factual and never were .

  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.

    • see comment by Martha Malone Davis posted August 19, 2019…dementia is one of the ‘diseases’ for which benefits are available. File for benefits if you can on behalf of your husband, especially if you have children who may develop similar issues in future.

    • So sorry for what you’re going through. God bless you

  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.

    • I am so sorry that you think all that . I wasn’t tricked into the service and none of the hundres of other Marines felt the same way . Never thought the war was stupid or that we were heros . No war makes sense . A” pawn ” Bull Sh_it . You seem to be echoing some 53 year old opinions that are simply not factual and never were .

    • I to am a student of pre Vietnam/USA conflic . I was mainly studing the role that Ho Chi Min played in the coming war . What I learned is that was a educated Communist from the time he was a cook on a merchant marine vessal . His goal in life was the Communist Party and foisting it on the world . He was correct in his hatred of the French , as they just wanted to suck life out of Vietnam and enslave their population . They confiscated their property . Ho Chi Min worked with the OSS which later became the CIA , during WWII retreving and saving our downed fliers that were bombing Japan and their near islands . He worked with a OSS agent , who’ s name was Wilson , I believe . At wars end he asked Wilson if he would help him get total independance . Wilson agreed . At the same moment at Japan’s surrender Ho issued a Declaration of Independence that was verbatum of ours . Wilson tried but was stymede by Washington politics at heavy pressure from France and De Gaulle . To top it off some idiot from our government had Japan military be in charge of Military Marshall Law till France got their way . If Ho did get independance , would history have changed ? We will never know .

  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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  14. My late husband served in Vietnam . He was Donald D. Dobyns (PeeWee) He was the seven son all of which served this Country .He was in the Army . He volunteered for Vietnam . He had a brother Cleutes (Buck) also in Vietnam. Of the seven, 3 have died of cancer. One of heart trouble . One of diabetes . The one still living has cancer. I had a brother, Samuel A. Morrow, in Vietnam he has since passed , he had Dementia.Any war is terrible & we should thank all our Veterans everyday for our freedom.

    • So much suffering. I’m ever conscious of our wonderful veterans. Their deeds should be a huge part of school history curriculum.Thank you for sharing about your husband and his brothers and your brother.

  15. Answered the Call
    Still a boy, at just nineteen
    Much of the world he had not seen
    He signed upon the dotted line, adventure to find
    New places and people were on his mind
    But then he found himself off to war
    To a place he will remember forever more
    It was hot and wet and smelled of fish
    This really was not his fondest wish
    He left a boy, but returned a man
    To find things were different in his native land
    They spit on him and baby killer was the name
    They gave to him, the land he knew was not the same
    A war they said he had not won
    Disrespecting him for what he had done
    Many nights he would wake with a tear
    The nightmares had brought the war here
    But a warrior he is, and he can stand tall
    For he didn’t run, he answered the call
    To let freedom ring and protect your rights
    So, you can be safe and sleep through the nights
    May God Bless these women and men
    For Hell is a land where they’ve already been
    John B. Tillson II

    • Wonderful poem. If not a poem a wonderful inspiring piece. I had a job waiting for me when I got back. If that was not there, I don’t know what I would have become. It was quite difficult to adjust. In part, I blame that as..le John Kerry for the horrible public analysis of the Vietnam veteran. I swept through villages, respecting life unless I was fired on or attacked. He did a gross disservice to us and I blame him for a lot of the negative public opinion that followed his comments. Thank you for that beautiful piece. US52690048 Drafted Army Specialist 3rd Squad., 5th Cav., 9th Infantry Div. 2/68-11/68

    • Thank you for you comment and appreciation of the poem I wrote. I’ve tried to keep most of my experiences in Vietnam buried deep in my subconscious, but as I was preparing to go to bed a few nights ago, the beginning of this poem surfaced in my mind. I went to bed and thought, if it’s still there in the morning, I will begin to write. Obviously, it was still at the forefront of my mind, so I wrote the poem. I served in Vietnam while in the Marine Corps (Delta-1-4, 3rd Marine Division -1966 and Marine Detachment aboard the USS Newport News CA-148 – 1967-68). I only started writing poetry about two years ago, but this is the first one I wrote specifically addressing Vietnam.

    • Appreciate your comments, Thomas Hunter, and thank you for your service.
      John Kerry is a despicable man who shamefully attempted to sully the American soldier. Thankful for Dr. Jerome Corsi’s research and expose on Kerry’s time in Vietnam. Otherwise we might have had the lying coward for president.

    • Beautiful!!! Thank You ALL for YOUR SERVICE SACRIFICE and COURAGE. I thank you for myself and for those that fail to understand what you do did are willing to… I am not sure I could have done the same , my father did his brothers my daughters, YOU are AMERICA’S HEROES . Thank YOU

  16. Nice Work Mr. Tillson,
    I was able to consider the sources of the derogatory comments on our return, believing those expressing them knew not through what those of us involved had been. We all have questioned, and should, governments both then and now, but until one finds another country to which to bare allegiance, it is still a person’s country right or wrong. It is for this reason I still have great respect for all of us on the ground on both sides. It is the, “Nay”, sayers once the decision was made to help the South VietNamese people with whom I have a problem.

  17. My Late Husband served in the Air-force from 1962-1966. His specialty was Communications. In 1965, he and his fellow ‘Radio Techs’ were sent to Viet Nam to “string wire after after the planes defoliated” , he related to me after we were married. They were housed in a hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. I did not meet him until he had returned from this deployment.
    We were married in June, before his discharge in October of 1966. He was diagnosed with a Brain Tumor on October 15, 1974. He died July 13, 1978 .
    I did try to join in a group law suit against Agent Orange in 1981 a friend told me about. The government denied my claim! The letter said he Had Not Been in Vietnam Nam! We received a small amount of support during his last year of life, for medicine, from the VA and he has a Viet Nam era burial plaque!
    I never pursued it again.
    Today after reading the above comments, I would like to know how to look into benefits for our two children, who list their father at the age of 7. They were 3 when he suffered his first Seizure on September 4, 1974.
    Any suggestions?

  18. Gail: All u need is a copy of his orders showing he was in the country.
    and my guess it was when Orange. Don’t give up. God bless

    • Thank you Glenn. I will try again. I have his Dd213, but nothing else. My investigation needs to continue!

  19. My mistake, the paper is called DD214. It’s been a long time since I looked at the information. I realize now after Glenn’s response that I need to search for his Air Force records. I do not know where to start?

    • Gail: google and look up how to get a copy of his records. All u need to do is request all records and that can be done on the computer, however, they will also need signed copy from u . Send it and in a few weeks you will receive all his records when in service

      Can email me and I can give u all the information [email protected]

    • GAIL FORM U NEED TO COMPLETE IS A 180 TO GET ALL RECORDS AND ASK FOR NON DELETED RECORDS. INCLUDE ALL MEDICAL RECORDS ALSO. HOPE THIS HELPS? GOOD LUCK

    • Thanks again.
      I did complete the 180 Form and emailed it-
      Hopefully! Another page popped up after I clicked Done. This was a PDFfiller request
      I hope my 180 form went thru. I guess I’ll just wait to see if I have a response. The instructions say not to apply more than once!!
      I’ll keep you posted.
      Again I am grateful for your time today to answer my initial question and supply the site Where I could ask for my husbands Military information.

    • Gail: U still need to send a hard copy to the address because it needs a signature. The advantage of online is they will do the research and when a hard copy get there it may be ready?

    • On No. I didn’t make a copy☺️ I tried to go back after I clicked Send. But could not!!!
      Guess I’ll have to do it again!! Red Tape!!! Ugh
      Thanks again
      Gail

  20. Beautiful!!! Thank You ALL for YOUR SERVICE SACRIFICE and COURAGE. I thank you for myself and for those that fail to understand what you do did are willing to… I am not sure I could have done the same , my father did his brothers my daughters, YOU are AMERICA’S HEROES . Thank YOU

  21. Your style is very unique in comparison to other folks I’ve read stuff from.
    Thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just book mark this blog.