Operation Allen Brook was Cpl. Neal Gettle’s defining moment in May ’68

Operation Allen Brook in May 1968 was the worst of the numerous combat operations Cpl. Neal Gettle of Gulf Cove participated in during his 14 months of service with the Marine Corps in Vietnam.

Hundreds of American Marines were killed and wounded trying to capture the two square mile Go Noi Island at the convergence of the Ky Lam, Ba Re and Chiem Son Rivers 25 miles south of Da Nang from seasoned North Vietnam Army regulars and Vietcong Irregulars.

“I was an 18-year-old corporal attached to a helicopter support group that controlled the movement of choppers in and out of the landing zoning during an operation,” the 64-year-old Marine said. “We were the first ones into an L.Z. (Landing Zone) and the last ones out.”

The teenage “Leatherneck” flew into Da Nang in November 1967 and was acquired by the 1st Shore Party Battalion. He flew all over the country taking part in offensive airborne operations throughout Vietnam.

“We controlled the landing zone and called in the Medevac helicopters and sent them out of the zone after they were filled with dead and wounded,” he explained. “My job was to control the helicopter traffic in and out of an L.Z. I spent a lot of time with Marines in combat on the ground.”

The high-water mark of tough combat operations was “Operation Allen Brook” in May 1968.

Cpl. Gettle (center) was the lone survivor. His two buddies who were also in his helicopter support group in Vietnam in 1968 were both killed in fighting over there. Photo provided

Cpl. Gettle (center) was the lone survivor. His two buddies who were also in his helicopter support group in Vietnam in 1968 were both killed in fighting over there. Photo provided

“The Marines were told there was an NVA hospital on the island held by the enemy. They wanted to clear the island of North Vietnamese forces.

“Coming in during the start of the operation our Chinook helicopter was hit by a rocket propelled grenade when we were 30 to 50 feet off the ground and shot down,” Gettle said. “The big twin-rotor chopper set down soft enough no one aboard was injured.”

The first day of battle they got in a firefight with the enemy. The Marines were trying to stabilize the area. During the shooting all the people in Gettle’s helicopter support group were killed.

“We started filling tracked vehicles full of dead Marines. You could put 35 bodies in one of these vehicles. But they couldn’t go anywhere because we were still in a fire fight with the enemy,” he recalled.

The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Division were ordered in one battalion at a time to confront the enemy on Go Noi Island. After they were chewed up and spit out by the NVA and VC they tried one last time to confront the enemy on the island with more unseasoned combat troops.

“The last battalion that went in was a bunch of green Marines from Hawaii. They were untrained, unskilled Marines and they pretty much got wiped out on the island,” Gettle said. “Of the 700 green Marines that went in from Hawaii only 50 or 60 left the island alive.

“The Marines came off the island and we sent the B-52 bombers in with napalm to destroy the place,” he recalled.

Operation Allen Brook was only the tip of the iceberg for Gettle. He also took part in Operation Trust, Operation Darling, Operation Dodge City and many more during the 14 months he served in the war zone.

“I went from one operation to the next all over Vietnam, Gettle said. “I left Vietnam Christmas Day 1968 and flew home to Los Angeles. When I flew into LA Airport there were hundreds of war protesters who called us ‘BABY KILLERS!

“Six cabs of Marines arrived at LA Airport in a bunch. Because of our numbers we had no problems with the protesters,” he said. “I flew first class to Philly aboard a plane that only had 17 passengers.

Gettle when he got married on June 17, 1967 before he went to Vietnam with the Marine Corps. He was 18 years-old at the time. Photo provided

Gettle when he got married on June 17, 1967 before he went to Vietnam with the Marine Corps. He was 18 years-old at the time. Photo provided

“When I arrived in Philadelphia my wife, Cindy, was waiting for me along with Neal, Jr., my son I had never seen, who by then was six months old,” Gettle explained. “Shortly after I returned to Lebanon, Pa., my home town, my wife and I went out to to dinner. That was an eye opener.

“I was wearing my Class-A Marine uniform when we walked in this restaurant in my home town and they wouldn’t serve us,” he said. “We went down the street to a second restaurant and when we walked in they told us there was no service.

“So we left and drove to the next town. We stopped at a local restaurant. They invited us in for drinks and dinner,” Gettle recalled.

When he returned to work Gettle went back to construction which he had been involved with as a teenager before he went to war. Eventually he became a heavy equipment operator.

In 1992 he was working on a highway project outside Philadelphia running heavy equipment. He jumped off the equipment to move a couple of traffic cones when he was hit by a car doing 60 mph. Gettle spent the next few years recovering.

“In 1995, three years after I was hit by the car my wife and I were vacationing in the Englewood area and I was still in a wheelchair recovering from the accident. During the six weeks we were down here the weather was warm and I started to walk a little on my own,” he recalled.

It was the beginning of his recuperation. Today he walks around his Gulf Cove home just fine.

He and Cindy have three children: Neal Jr., Janeen and Jonathan.

Gettle’s File

 Gettle today at 64. Sun photo by Don MooreName: Neal Edward Gettle
D.O.B: 13 Sept. 1949
Hometown: Lebanon, Pa.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service:  2 Nov. 1966
Discharged: 6 Nov. 1969
Rank: Sergeant
Unit: 1st Division
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with one battle star, Vietnam Campaign Medal.Battles/Campaigns:  Vietnam War

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on May 7, 2014 and is republished with permission.

Click here to view Gettle’s collection in the Library of Congress.

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

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  1. I was one of as you say “green Marines” well over half of us made it out alive. Check your facts. We were well trained. I know and know now many of them. So get it right.

    • Mike McCrary . I was also one of those Green Marines . It burns my ass to see casualty numbers that are obviously made up just to make a ‘ better ‘ story. Like the real casualty numbers werent bad enough ? India 3/27 and India 3/7 68-69. Semper Fi Brother

      • I’m trying to find men that served with my uncle pfc Robert Charles Burke ….and see if anyone had pictures of him of there ty for ur time and service

    • I think the “green” Marines he was referring to and their lack of training was the haste in which the 27th was put together in Camp Pendleton. They took anybody and everybody from amtracks, tanks, MPs, cooks, and every other walk of Marine life and suddenly made them grunts. I was in Pendleton when this happened. I was in the tank unit, Bravo Co., 5th Tank Bn. that supported 2/7, 2/27 and 3/27 during the 2nd to the 5th week of Allen Brook. The “wiped out” comment he made might be referred to India Company of 3/27 which took very heavy casualties around May 17th. They had to fly out what was left of the company to regroup. However, the rest of regiment kicked ass. Allen Brook lasted for 5 months; 1,500 of the enemy were killed on that Godforsaken island. Yes we took casualties but half of them were heat exhaustion . . . it was 120+ degrees the first 4 weeks! Also, I was there when the CH-34 was shot down not 100 ft away from me. It was not a Chinook .. . the Marines used the crappy CH-34 which could hardly pull its own weight off the ground.

  2. The Marines were sent to Island to “clear and level it) due to impending attack on DaNang. No hospital. We fought and engineers cleared island nothing was left no trees nithing and herbacide was put down so nothing could grow. You weren’t there long enough to know what happened And no B-52 were called in. Read the history of the op.

  3. Why do you only have one battle stat if you were in so many operations? And the 5th 7tn and 26th Marines were on the island at same time moving in and out. The unit you said got wiped was 3/ 27. Out of Pendelton,We were 1/27. Sounda like you weren’t on ground and had no idea what was going on.

  4. Go to GeGarvis history of 27th Marines Vietnam and see list if Marines who went and get # of killed and wounded.

  5. You’re right McCrary, I remember that operation. I was in M 3/5 and 3/5 told to stop before crossing the river, the 1/27th Marines were coming up to pull point as the main unit and enter the island (just activated out of Pendleton). Extremely green but they had their heart in it. Most had tent shelters wrapped around their back packs like the book. All shit broke loose and they got pinned as point. I think it was G 3/5 that had to go and help them. We all needed that in Nam at one time or another. I will say the 1/27th had “big ones” and put up a hell of a fight, they were well trained, combat experience for anyone will come soon, seems this guy has no idea what went on. Everyone pulled back and then came in air strikes and arty. Leveled the place. That guy needs to check his facts, maybe trying to get a little self-glory.

  6. No B-52s because all the battalions were within a1000 yards of the place, if you know anything about B-52s and 500lb to 1000lb bombs. There was no hospital, if there were they would have arc lighted it then sent in the ground pounders.

  7. One more thing, there were a lot of different battalions from different divisions, it was a long long fight. Even G 3/5 got pinned with the 1/27th.

  8. I was also with 1st shore party and on operation Allen Brook and operation Mameluke Thrust was in viet nam from april 67 to January 69 did you know Mike Mcgarty from 1st shore party

  9. while with 1st shore party i was attached to 1/5 2/5 3/5 1/7 2/7 3/7 1/27 and was on 14 different operations operation allen brook and mameluke thrust were the most memorable

  10. I was the point man with Bco 1/27 when we walked across liberty bridge to relieve 3/27 hung a left turn a went in to go noi island … we had spent 45 days up at HUE our green went away up there…. we did lose people on Allen brook but not like you wrote i was taken out buy a snipers bullet on June 4th …they did have b52 work out there about the 24th or may !!! Also marines didn’t use shinook choppers as for the downed ch 34 it was there on the ground stripped ..SF

  11. Bernie: you are correct By the time 1/27 went to go noi we put our time in at Hue. As far as I wasn’t on ground. As I stated earlier look it up. Campaign stars 2. Was wounded, Allenbrooke, 6/17/68 C 1/27

  12. Hầu hết các ngài đều là lính tham gia trận này các ngài có biết thông tin gì về trận đánh ở Go Noi 22/8/1968 của trung đoàn 51 VNCH với D3 VC? ( Do you know a battle of 51 VNCH vs D3 VC in 22/8/1968 at Go Noi island? The battle 9day and use to B52)
    Brother my dad was die here. (He is a VC). But we didn’t find him. Cry…. Cry…
    Please talk me if you know! Thanks you somuch!
    My email Vianxq04@gmail.com or my facebook An Lương Vi

  13. Looking for 3/27 Marine warriors at Go Noi who maybe knew my deceased brother Capt EM Keefe Jr. Agent Orange was his demise at age 70. I think maybe he got dinged before this bad island thing while on patrol around the south of DaNang?

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