Marine survives near fatal wound from VC machine-gun in Vietnam

Cpl. Charles Shaughnessy is pictured with his hunter-killer squad in 1968 at their Marine base in Vietnam. He’s the Leatherneck at the top left in the picture. Photo provided

“Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division was a black flag outfit. We were a skull and crossbones unit comprised of assault hunter-killer teams. We took no prisoners,” Charles Shaughnessy, who saw considerable action in 1968 in Vietnam as a 20-year-old Marine corporal and squad leader, said.

What the 62-year-old Gardens of Gulf Cove, Fla. resident found out decades later, long after his fighting days were over, “Echo Company 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division in all foreign conflicts was the most highly decorated outfit that ever served in the United States Marine Corps.”

Shaughnessy and his company arrived in Da Nang at the end of the “Tet Offensive,” when thousands of North Vietnam Army soldiers and Vietcong guerrillas unexpectedly overran and briefly took control of many of the country’s major cities. Their unit became a roving battalion called in when conditions got serious. He and his buddies saw action in 15 major operations during the 12 months they served in ‘Nam.

“I got shot in the head on July 14, 1968. We were trapped by an enemy pill box on dikes crossing a rice paddy,” Shaughnessy recalled. “I was helping a Navy corpsman with a wounded Marine. Lucky for me the bullet ran around the outside of my helmet liner exiting out the back.

“I suffered a hairline skull fracture and was blinded for a while. When I came to, after a few minutes, I watched the blood squirting out of my head with every beat of my heart. I knew I would bleed to death if I didn’t get help,” he said.

A corpsman patched up Shaughnessy during the firefight. Two days later he was extracted by helicopter. He received medical attention at a hospital in Da Nang and another at Cameron Bay.

A month later Shaughnessy was back on the front lines with his unit.

“It was Oct. 18, 1968, the monsoon season, and we were surrounded and cut off by a VC regiment during Operation Henderson in Quang Nam Province. We watched two choppers bridging us provisions and men collide after one was hit by ground fire,” he said. “We watched Marines, their bodies on fire, jump out of Hueys and hit the ground. There was nothing we could do.

“After seven days we were starving sitting on top of Hill 100. Our morale was low. The next morning, about 4 a.m, we were hit by a strong VC force. The 60 Marines left in our company were attacked by at least 1,000 enemy soldiers from all sides. We were about to be overrun by the enemy,” Shaughnessy said.

“It was our platoon and my squad who were called on to lead the charge after numerous attempts to take the hill had failed. I was first up the hill after dodging mortar and rocket fire to get there,” he remembered.

“I was filled with fear and turned animal instinctively. I cut off the heads of my enemy and displayed them at the top of the hill. I felt nothing,” he wrote decades later. “There were enemy all around. I saw the foxhole next to us take a grenade or mortar. The man in the hole was blown to bits.

“Taco Obeso, a Mexican from Arizona, who drew cartoons for all of us when we wrote home, took a grenade in his foxhole. It appeared he lost both of his arms in the blast. I was devastated and ran to Taco’s hole with a couple of slings I was going to use as tourniquets,” Shaughnessy said.

“I was crying, shaking and screaming the whole time. I put the tourniquets on Taco’s arms to keep him from bleeding to death. Fortunately, he only lost three fingers on one hand and his other hand was messed up, but repairable,” he said. “A corpsman arrived and took care of Taco.”

The three ‘Jarheads’ in this photo include Shaughnessy in the center and Jimmy Leake (left) and Ed Holcomb (right), two of his best foxhole buddies in Vietnam. Photo provided

“The other guys in the next foxhole with the M-60 machine-gun weren’t as lucky. They were dead, killed by an enemy grenade. There was plenty of ammo and grenades in their foxhole. I started throwing grenades at the enemy long and short, left and right,” Shaughnessy said.

“I picked up the M-60 and I melted the barrel by firing 100 to 150 rounds in a hurry before I replaced the first barrel,” he said. “The VC must have been on heroin because I’d hit ‘em with my machine-gun and they’d just keep coming.”

When daylight finally arrived Echo Company held back the enemy onslaught by calling in air strikes. Phantom fighter-bombers dropped their bombs on the enemy yards away from Shaughnessy’s position.

After the enemy assault failed members of his company checked out the area. They discovered Hill 100 was almost on top of the Ho Chi Min Trail, the main enemy supply route linking North Vietnam with the South.

Records of the 1st Marine Division, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines of which Shaughnessy was a member in 1968 Vietnam shows the firefight on Hill 100 on October 12 was part of a larger engagement called “Operation Mameluke Thrust.” The figures I quoted in the original story 2,728 enemy casualties and 269 Marines killed and 1,730 wounded were the numbers for the larger engagement, which included the numbers for the battle on Hill 100, too. 

Cpl. Charles P. Shaughnessy survived the fire fight without a scratch. He would go on to fight in many other engagements: “Operation Osceola,” “Operation Hue City” “Operation Maui Peak,” and “Operation Mead River” to name a few.

He flew back to the States in 1969 at the end of his tour and couldn’t believe the American public’s reaction to the Vietnam War.

“We were greeted outside the gates of Camp Pendleton, Calif. with tomatoes, rotten apples and ‘BABY KILLER’ signs by the public,” he said. “We had been on the front line for a year and knew almost nothing about the politics of the war back home.”

In 1970, just before being discharged from the Marines, he was serving with a unit at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station when President Richard Nixon arrived on base.

“I was actually in the brig for fighting in the barracks. They came and got me and told me that President Richard Nixon was going to pin a medal on me. After the president read the accompanying citation he said,” It’s the most outstanding citation for a Bronze Star I have ever read.’

“I knew nothing about it until the president pinned it on me two years after the fire fight on Hill 100 in Vietnam. I learned my company commander had put me in for the Medal of Honor,” he said.

Shaughnessy spent the first five years or so after his return from Vietnam trying to work his way back into civilian society. He lived in a small cabin in the woods raising chickens and goats in upstate New York most of that time.

Later on he came out of the woods, went to work for several corporations and held responsible administrative positions until he decided to visit his sister in 2002. That’s about the time he found Ann, an old girlfriend he had known for 35 years, and invited her to Florida to check out his new home he had just built.

Recently some of the surviving members of Echo Company held a reunion with their families in Branson, Mo. for the first time since the war. In the front row Holcomb (far left), Shaughnessy (center) and Leake (right).

Three years ago he married Ann when he was 60. It was his first marriage and her second.

Looking back on his war time experiences Shaughnessy observed, “You can’t have politicians and bureaucrats sitting in Washington trying to run a war in Southeast Asia.”

Bronze Star Commendation

“The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the BRONZE STAR MEDAL to

CORPORAL CHARLES P. SHAUGHNESSY

UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

for service as set forth in the following

CITATION:

“For heroic achievement in connection with operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam while serving as a Fire Team Leader with Company E, Second Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division.

“Early on the morning of 12 Oct. 1968, during Operation Maul Peak, Company E’s defensive position on Hill 100 near Thuong Duc in Quang Nam Province came under intense hostile mortar, rocket and machine-gun fire supporting an assault by a large North Vietnamese Army force.

“When a machine-gun position was rendered ineffective by an enemy hand grenade and was in danger of being seized by the hostile force, Cpl. Shaughnessy completely disregarded his own safety as he ran across the fire-swept terrain to the emplacement. Undaunted by the heavy volume of hostile fire, he single-handedly manned the weapon for a period of 20 minutes, fearlessly delivering devastating fire against the North Vietnamese. When another Marine arrived to man the weapon, Cpl. Shaughnessy ignored the enemy rounds impacting near him as he boldly rushed across the hazardous area to his position and lead a corpsman forward to attend casualties.

“Returning to his fire team, he then directed reinforcements to the forward lines and skillfully coordinated the efforts of Marines until the North Vietnamese attack was repulsed. His heroic and timely actions inspired all who observed him and were instrumental in his company accounting for 31 enemy soldiers confirmed killed. Cpl. Shaughnessy’s courage, bold initiative and unwavering devotion to duty at great personal risk were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.

“Cpl. Shaughnessy is authorized to wear a Combat ‘V’.

“FOR THE PRESIDENT

“H. W. BUSE, JR.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL U.S. MARINE CORPS

COMMANDING GENERAL FLEET MARINE FORCE, PACIFIC

Shaughnessy’s File

Name: Charles Phillip Shaughnessy
D.O.B: November 6, 1947
Hometown: Bradford, Pa.
Current: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: December 1966
Discharged: Nov. 6, 1970
Rank: Corporal E-4
Unit: Echo Company 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines 1st Marine Division
Commendations: Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” device, Combat Action Ribbon, Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon, Purple Heart, Vietnam Service Medal with 3 Bronze Stars, Marine Corps Marksman Rifle Badge, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Republic of Vietnam MUC Gallantry Cross, Republic of Vietnam MUC Civil Actions Medal 1st Class, Marine Corps Honorable Discharge Button
Spouse: Ann

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, September 2, 2010 and is republished with permission.

Click here to search Veterans Records and to obtain information on retrieving lost commendations.

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All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be republished without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments

  1. My Brother Is Private First Class John E. Metzler..Radio Operator With Company E. Second Battalion, Fifth Marine Division.Early on the morning of 12 October 1968, Unfortunately He was a Casualty. Hoping that he was taken care of by his Comrades. Thanks to all of you who served..!! Brother Billy.

  2. I am curious about something: If there were 60 Marines up there, how could 269 Marines have been KIA and another 1,730 Marines WIA??? And if 1,000 enemy soldiers attacked them, how did 2,728 enemy soldiers die during this battle???

  3. In a lengthy statement by Pat Lisi in the “Southern Utah Veterans Aide” entitled: ‘A Real BS Vietnam Story’ the writer takes issue with a story about Cpl. Charles Shaughnessy that first appeared in the Charlotte Sun daily newspaper in Port Charlotte, Fla. and was reprinted in “Don Moore’s War Tales.com on the net.

    Lisi writes: “…Shaughnessy was a member of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, which is exactly the same outfit I was in.

    “At any rate, the enemy did indeed assault Hill 100 on the morning of October 12th with men, mortars and rockets, which are right in line with Shaughnessy’s recollection. He reports to Don Moore and ‘War Tales’ that “the 60 Marines in our company were attacked by at least 1,000 enemy soldiers from all sides (of the hill).”

    He then goes on to say he was filled with fear and that he turned instinctively animal. He claims he cut off the heads of his enemy and displayed them at the top of the hill.

    “My problem with the statement by Shaughnessy is twofold: I don’t believe there were 1,000 enemy soldiers coming up the hill that night, and I can guarantee that no one displayed the heads of any enemy soldiers during or after the combat. Mr. Shaughnessy would have fund himself in a Marine Corps brig somewhere, is my guess, if he had committed such atrocities.”

    REBUTTAL by Don Moore, writer and editor, Charlotte Sun daily newspaper Port Charlotte, Fla.

    For the record: The interview I did with Mr. Shaughnessy was captured on a 40 minute DVD in which he clearly states there were 1,000 enemy soldiers assaulting Hill 100 that morning. In addition, he also says he cut the heads off some of the dead enemy soldiers on the same DVD.

    This is the same DVD I sent to the “Library of Congress Veterans History Project.” At this point the Library has almost 500 of my interviews with local veterans in its archives.

    If that’s not enough, I have a seven page account written by Mr. Shaughnessy about his military service he gave me when I interviewed him in 2010.

    He wrote on Page 4: “In early October we were sent on ‘Operation Henderson Hill’ or Hill 100 as we called it. It was a series of tunnels atop an ant hill about 100 meters high. We fixed bayonets and stormed the hill about 5:30 on about the 8th of October. I was first up that hill after dodging mortar and rocket fire to get there. I was credited with 4 or 5 kills that day. I was filled with fear and turned animal instinctively. I cut off the heads of my enemy and displayed them at the top of the hill. I felt nothing.”

    Lisi’s Comments: “The very next sentence in Shaughnessy’s and Moore’s article states the Marines lost 269 killed and 1,730 wounded in the fight! C’mon, really? How could 60 Marines sustained 269 KIA and 1,730 WIA among their own ranks?”

    Moore’s Comments: Checking back over the information in Shaughnessy’s file I found a series of computer generated pages on the 1st Marine Division, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines activities in Vietnam entitled: “Chronology of Significant Events January-December 1968.”

    On Page 6 it notes:

    “23. October—Operation Mameluke Thrust ends, resulting in 2,728 reported enemy casualties with 269 Marines killed and 1,730 wounded.
    “23. October—The 5th Marines begins Operation Henderson Hill in Quang Nam Province as a continuation of Operation Mameluke Thrust.”

    Explanation: Operation Henderson Hill or Hill 100, as the Marines called it, was part of the larger battle of Operation Mameluke that took place in Quang Nam Province in October 1968. According to Marine records a total of 2,728 enemy soldiers were killed. Marines lost a total of 269 killed and 1,730 wounded.

    The two operations were one and the same, but the much larger casualty figures were for the entire operation from start to finish, not just the few days Cpl. Shaughnessy’s platoon was involved in the battle on Hill 100.

    That fact wasn’t made clear in my story in the paper or in the same story that appeared in my “War Tales” web site on the internet. The mistake was entirely mine. With a clarification of the confusing casualty paragraph I stand by the story.

    — Don Moore

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