Battle Account by
Sgt. Donald L. Schaffer USMC Ret
When: 2 February 1968, 0200 Hrs
Where: Cam Lo, Republic of South Viet Nam
I have had either vague or inaccurate recollections of what occurred this night until August 1998. I had vividly remembered that we were over run at Doc Kinh and everyone except me was killed.
While cooking dinner on the grill for my family, one night, I received a phone call from Bill Lefevre. Bill was a Corporal After talking, Bill reminded me that he was on his way to try and be with his cousin who was seriously wounded in December '67. His condition had worsened to the point where they couldn't transport him out of country. Bill was a grubby marine out of the bush, hopping helicopters and C-130's trying to get to a Saigon hospital. Bill did make it in time to be with his cousin, Sgt. Clifford E. Bryan, for about three days until he died of his wounds. Sgt. Bryan was with the Ist Cavalry20 Division, Airmobile, and died on January 25th. 1968, which was after his rotation date.
This is how I now remember the battle at Cam Lo on 2 February 1968. My thanks to Bill for bringing this all back to me. I have not felt completely comfortable about my vivid recollections of this night for over 30 years. I now am confident that my current memories are much more accurate.
While serving with Combined Action Platoon, Papa 5, of the Fourth Combined Action Group of the Third Marine Division we came under heavy rocket and mortar fire at approximately 0200 Hrs. There we approximately 30 Marines inside the compound. This force was made up of:
We had evacuated our post at Doc Kinh when enemy troop strength in the area began to increase prior to the TET Offensive
Had come into the compound just before dark
Had been ambushed on Highway 9 earlier that day
The only Marines stationed at Cam Lo
When the incoming started I grabbed my M-16 and headed for what appeared to be a weak spot on the perimeter. I took up a position and fired several boxes of ammunition, hundreds or possibly thousands of rounds. I was shot twice in the right shoulder (flesh wounds only, no bone damage). The enemy began to over-run our position and were inside the compound. Someone managed to find a working radio and, after advising his fellow Marines to conceal themselves in a bunker, called in an artillery strike directly on our compound. This succeeded in forcing the enemy out of the compound.
I then resumed firing my M-16 until it was either hit by enemy fire and blew-up or misfired and blew-up in my hand. My right hand was broken in 22 places and has had many reconstructive surgeries, the most recent in February of 1990.
After my M-16 was destroyed I saw an Infantry Machine-Gunner about 15 meters away who had a severe head wound and was unable to fire his weapon. I started towards him to assist and was hit in the right leg (doctors took an AK-47 round out of my leg) three times, shattering the bones. I crawled on my elbows and knees to the M-60 machine Gun and began firing it left-handed.
We were over-run a second time we called in another airburst, with the same results.
The enemy was over-running the compound a third time. This time I didnít her the warning to go into the bunker and remained in the open. †At this point I heard in-coming artillery fire and a round exploded directly behind me. Even though wearing a Flak Jacket my back was broken in 3 places and I received 64 shrapnel wounds. The sounds of the in-coming were confusing to me for years. It wasn't until I learned from Bill that our artillery was called in a total of three times that night that I realized why I was confused by the sound. It was the distinctive sound of a U.S. Marine Artillery Air Burst that caused the injuries to my back. I still have a great deal of shrapnel in my back and last had infected shrapnel surgically removed in May of 1996.
During the third siege I received a bayonet injury to my lower back, the bayonet entered just below my Flak Jacket and exited my stomach. I had major internal injuries and extensive abdominal surgery as a result.
The next thing I remember I was being carried into the Communications Bunker. After dawn I remember laying outside on the ground among other screaming Marines, begging to be evacuated.
I still have vivid memories of a Navy Corpsman surgically removing my spleen that was ruptured prior to me being evacuated. He told me "I think this is your spleen and I think you can live without it, but you're bleeding to death so I'm taking it out". This was done in the field without any anesthetic and I assisted by retracting the incision.
The sounds and smells are still in my memory. One of the things I remember most vividly is the stinking mud. It had not rained for some time. The mud was sticky and red, it was from all the blood spilled on the ground that night by the dead or wounded men. I also remember the screaming, both in English and Vietnamese, of the wounded and dying men.
It was about 0800 Hrs before the area was secured and the wounded could be evacuated. Several Marines died, waiting to be evacuated.
I was subsequently medically retired from the Marine Corps 19 May 1970 with a disability rating of 80%.
I was diagnosed with Diabetes caused by exposure to Agent Orange in February of 2005 and my disability rating increased to 90%.
In May of 2009 I was diagnosed with PTSD and my Diabetes worsened, along with arthritis caused by shrapnel wounds, my Disability rating increased to 100%.