I worked in the fire support coordination center in Dong Ha. I was the BDE FA Liaison Officer and my call sign was Swift Reply 88. Also working in the FSCC was Major (P) Russell F. Scott. His replacement as Bn XO had arrived and he was my mentor and passing time while he awaited orders to command his own Battalion. We received the OPORD for Operation Rich and prepared a fire support plan for it. our plan had a large prep of the first days objective to include Naval gun fire from The USS New Jersey (call sign, ON RUSH) and, I think, the Cruiser USS Boston or a destroyer. BDE S-3 approved the fire support plan and submitted it to LTC Wheeler (BN CMDR 1/61). He disapproved, advising he did not want a prep but wanted an artillery diversion. (I thought that this was a masterful call, this was the first time since we arrived in country that an operation kicked off without a prep and I think facilitated the 1/61 with surprising the NVA.) We prepared another plan with increasingly heavy harassment and interdiction (H and I Fires) throughout the night before and early morning hours of the first day. All targets were west by north west of A4. Around daylight two 5/4 batteries, a Marine 105 battery and I think an 8/4 Arty 8 in. battery fired a time on target (TOT) into an imaginary objective. I believe we also had a late night radar bomb strike (RBS) into the same area.
Meanwhile the 1/61 was going N by NE and then turning east. They were on radio silence with us until well into the morning. The first calls for fire were for counter mortar fire. I think B 5/4 was the direct support battery and A battery was reinforcing. The FOs could not see the smoke marking rounds because of terrain and weather and Barky began adjusting fire and direct air support. We began to get contact calls from three different locations and for a hectic few minutes it sounded like friendly units calling fires on other friendly units. We called a cease-fire and I believe Barky had all units mark with a smoke grenade until he could verify all locations. Then we again responded to calls for fire. I don't remember if it was day one or day two but one of the units reported receiving 130mm gunfire from across the river. We got a Marine AO up and he got On Rush involved in counter battery fire. They stopped firing the 130s. From then on ON RUSH fired blocking fires all long the north side of the river. On day two when the units turned S and tried to link with A/3/61 they got into a large bunker system and backed off and fired considerable Arty and air into the complex. A Company got spread out and I recall Barky asking them to mark their positions so he could get air support and arty to support them. LTC Wheeler called for C 1/77 Armor. We also received calls for fire for NVA activity between C2 and A4. 1/77 also called for arty and air as they closed on the objective.
A CPT Mc Gowan (I think) had a movie camera and actually had movies of the assault by C/1/77. One scene had an M 48 attacking through a napalm strike. COL Gibson (BDE CMDR 1/5) used to show the film at smokers. I have no idea what became of it.
The first ARVN had a role in this operation. I think they were to support A CO. They did not like the 2200-lb. rounds that ON RUSH was putting across the river from them. They asked to shut it down. COL Gibson said no but later agreed to not use it north of their sector. I have no idea how many rounds were fired by who or who might have the records. The New Jersey fired for the better part of day two with 16-inch and 5-inch guns. A Marine officer told me several weeks after Rich that the NVA had massed some boats north of the river either to reinforce or withdraw forces. ON RUSH was alleged to have worked them over pretty good and no boats got across. I did not recall this from the radio traffic we were monitoring but we did not have the capability to monitor all the AO frequencies.
My final remembrance was the press briefing in the TOC. One of the reporters got up in the middle of COL Gibson's briefing and sauntered back into the FSCC and began to question one of my RTO's on the merits of the war. I escorted him back to the briefing I was HOT.
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