Operation Starlite was the first full scale, regimental size battle for U.S. Marines and American forces in the Vietnam War. It took place over six days, from August 18th to the 24th of 1965.
This video will give you a sense of both the intensity of the battle and of the young men who fought it.
The great Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote in his poem, To A Mouse, “All the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.” And nowhere is that more true than on the battlefield.
In the reality and the smoke of combat, all the planning that goes into it beforehand, usually does not survive the first shots fired. And this was true for Operation Starlite as well.
As the video opens up you will see how young and even how naive the men were who were ordered into this very large operation. The idea was to catch a very large Viet Cong force in a pincer movement, one side of it coming from the sea and the other from the forest behind them.
Some of the Marine units involved in the plan came ashore on a beach in landing craft up near Da Nang. Other units were airlifted to three landing zones behind the Viet Cong forces.
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These young men walked into a baptism of fire and found out what war was really about in the first moments after they landed, but they overcame their original shock quickly and fought like good Marines. The Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese ally discovered that these Marines were capable, well trained, skilled and committed opponents.
They were not going to be as easy to deal with or to challenge as their former French overlords. They knew from that moment on that they were going to be in long and costly fight with these Americans.
Those young Marines who went ashore and who were landed behind enemy lines by helicopter, may have been inexperienced when they entered the battle, but they fought like the warriors they were trained to be. They made their presence known to “Charlie.”
The battle plans for Operation Starlite that had been so meticulously laid out in the rear, changed almost as quickly as the Marines came ashore, or landed at their assigned landing zones. But those young Marines, like their Marines ancestors, met the challenge, adapted to it and took the fight to the enemy with a fierce tenacity.
Those Marines in Operation Starlite, the first full scale battle of the Vietnam War for America, came from the rough streets of America’s big cities, from comfortable, neatly ordered suburbs and from rural communities and farms of every description from all over the country. They came together in all of their diversity to boot camp at Paris Island or MCRD Pendleton, and were forged into a brotherhood like no other.
When the feces hit the oscillating blade in that battle, they fought not as separate, self-interested egos, but as Marine brothers. They fought for each other. And they suffered and absorbed each loss and injury like the brothers they had become.
Listen to the men as they speak of their own experiences during this battle. And listen, too, to their love for one another and for the Marine Corps. These men were forged in the crucible of war and in the company of their fellow Marines.
As a Fleet Marine Force Corpsman, I had the privilege and the honor to serve with such men in Vietnam. Though I, like so many, was lucky to come home, to marry and have children, to get an education and to enjoy a challenging and rewarding career, I have never forgotten those Marines and the brotherhood they so generously invited me into.
When we say Semper Fi! to one another, it is not an empty gesture. No, it is a fact of our lives. We became and remain Fratres Aeterni, brothers forever. OoRah!
The Veterans Site honors those Marines who fought in Operation Starlite and the countless battles and sieges throughout that long war and we mourn those who were lost.
You were the Few. You were the Proud. You were Marines.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.