3rd Force Recon Team "Box Score" 16 Feb 1968

The Marine "Force Recon" people are roughly the equivalent of the better-known Army Special Forces or Navy SEALs - except, of course, that as Marines they know they are better. The 3rd Force Recon Company was attached to the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion of the 3rd Marine Division, operating in the area immediately south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

This photo (used with the kind permission of "Digger" O'Dell, Lt. Col. USMC (Ret)) shows team "Box Score" on 10 January, 1968, after returning from a recon patrol. They had captured a POW and were extracted, given a bottle of champagne (which Sgt. Billy Andress is holding), a steak dinner, and a 3 day R&R in DaNang. It was also the first patrol that Lt. Terry Graves made in Vietnam; in keeping with company policy for new officers Sgt. Andress led the patrol with Graves along to observe and learn.

In mid-February 2nd Lt Graves led the "Box Score" team on another mission. The five men on the right in the photo (Cpl Slocum, PFC Nation, 2LT Graves, HM3 Thompson, and Cpl Thomson) went on this patrol, together with three not pictured: LCpl Steven Emrick, PFC James Earl Honeycutt, and PFC Adrian Lopez. The eight men walked into an area six miles northwest of Dong Ha, Quang Tri Province, SVN, in order to identify enemy positions, prosecute them using supporting fires, and if possible capture prisoners.

On 16 Feb, "Box Score" encountered and successfully ambushed an NVA patrol of 7 men, but CPL Danny Slocum received a fairly serious gunshot wound to the thigh. 2LT Graves hastily searched the NVA dead, retrieving documents, and then attempted withdrawal to a position where CPL Slocum could be picked up by helicopter. Within moments the patrol was under heavy machinegun fire from two directions. Graves directed a defensive perimeter and the Marines returned fire.

Although the Marines were successful in reducing several machinegun positions, NVA reinforcements joined the battle - at least two companies surrounding the 8-man patrol. Graves called in air strikes and helicopter gunships to provide cover while the patrol moved toward the top of a small knoll for extraction. Graves also received a gunshot in the thigh, followed almost immediately by more serious wounds to CPL Robert Thomson and radioman LCPL Steven Emrick. Emrick's last words before lapsing into unconsciousness were demands that another Marine (PFC Michael Nation) should cease first aid and instead take the radio.

Still under heavy fire from the surrounding NVA troops, Graves again attempted a move to high ground. HM3 Stephen Thompson and PFC James Honeycutt brought Thomson, while PFC Nation and LCPL Adrian Lopez carried Emrick. Graves and Slocum, both wounded, provided covering fire until the other six reached the top of the hill, a position suitable for a helicopter pickup - except that their ridge was paralleled on both sides by higher hills only a hundred meters distant ... and those hilltops were occupied by the NVA.

Two CH-46 helicopters attempted pickups; both were forced to withdraw after taking heavy fire. A smaller H-34 helicopter, piloted by Captain David Underwood, then made an attempt, coming in at tree-top level with UH-1 gunship cover. Underwood touched down only a few meters from the team and immediately came under intense fire. Although the H-34 was rapidly being reduced to a hulk bleeding aviation gasoline, Underwood stayed on the ground while the Marines loaded. Slocum provided covering fire as the remainder of the team boarded the H-34. As the H-34 started to lift off, Graves realized that Slocum had not boarded and jumped off the helicopter - and Honeycutt followed. Once on the ground, Graves appeared to see the extent of the damage done to the H-34 and waved it off. The lightened H-34 was able to gain altitude rapidly, although Lopez was seriously wounded after lift-off.

Five members of "Box Score" were airborne - two dead, one seriously wounded, and two more or less intact. Three others remained on the ground - Graves, Slocum, and Honeycutt. A second H-34 made four passes, taking numerous hits and one casualty before withdrawing with serious fuel leaks.

In addition to heavy small arms and automatic weapons fire, "Box Score" was now under fire by mortars. Even so, a UH-1 HUEY saw a chance and dropped almost on top of the three Marines, hovering just off the ground in intense crossfires. Graves, Slocum, and Honeycutt managed to scramble aboard, but the UH-1 was hit very heavily as it started to lift off - Graves and the copilot (1LT Paul Andrew Jensen) at least were hit at once. The HUEY nosed over and crashed on its side, still receiving heavy fire.

Slocum was able to crawl from the UH-1, only to face an oncoming wave of 15 to 20 NVA troops. Although under fire, Slocum very sensibly ran for cover and was able to elude his pursuers. By this time it was getting dark, but a platoon from Bravo 1/4 Marines air-landed nearby. Immediately engaged from three sides, the platoon was forced into a defensive perimeter, where it remained until the remainder of Bravo 1/4 arrived on the moring of 17 February. Shortly thereafter the 1/4 Marines reached the downed helicopter. The four-man crew, Graves, and Honeycutt all were dead; Slocum could not be found.

He was sighted a bit later - and mistaken for an NVA. Artillery fire was promptly called in on him, which he avoided by finding a hole to crawl into. When men from Bravo 1/4 started toward the hole, Slocum - again very sensibly - headed in the opposite direction. He finally was identified by a helicopter crew, who coordinated his join-up with Bravo 1/4. (After 2-1/2 months recuperation, Corporal Slocum returned to 3rd Force Recon.)

The 1/4 Marines Operations Log contains the following description of the events:
"At 1845H, 2nd platoon, Co. B, sparrow hawk was dispatched to (YD 165668) to aid downed UH1E gunship. Gunship was downed by enemy fire while attempting to extract recon insert. Platoon received S/A, A/W and grenades from 3 sides while attempting to reach helicopter. Some A/W fire came from vicinity of gunship. Platoon withdrew to position 150 meters SE of downed helicopter. Called for flare ship coverage for entire night. Called 81mm and arty defensive fires for platoon. Platoon received 1 friendly KIA and 4 WIA. The next day at 0830H, the 2nd platoon at (YD 166667), retrieved body of radio operator KIA [Cpl William A. Lee]. The rest of Co. B departed C-2 position on way to downed gunship position. At 0908H, the 2nd platoon reached the gunship position at (YD 167665). They found one man (crew member) still alive and 4 KIA's. Searched immediate area for two MIA's. Aerial Observer on station observed one NVA KIA from previous day's contact. A Landing Zone, at (YD 166667), was secured and med-evac choppers picked up 5 WIA's (4 from 2nd platoon Co. B and 1 from gunship) and 5 KIA's (1 from 2nd platoon Co. B and 4 from gunship). Search was continued for 2 MIA's from gunship. The 2nd platoon, Co. B search party found another KIA from gunship at (YD 167665). Received S/A, A/W, chicom grenades and 60mm mortars. 2nd platoon, Co. B returned S/A, A/W and called arty and 81mm mission on enemy position. Enemy broke contact. Contact resulted in one USMC/WIA and unknown enemy casualties. Co. B found last man from downed gunship alive at (YD 163666). An emergency med-evac was requested and completed. At 1540H, Co. B burned wrecked gunship and commenced return to C-2."
There is a discrepancy apparent in the 1/4 Ops Log and information from other sources. The USMC Helicopter Pilots' Association data on BuNo 151291 lists 4 crewmen and there were 3 Box Score team members picked up for a total of 7 men aboard the UH-1E when it went down. Slocum evaded from the wreckage, leaving six men. The casualty data indicates that all six - all aboard the UH-1E except Cpl Slocum - were killed in action; none is coded as having died afterwards from wounds. The VHPA database states that there were 5 KIA and 2 WIA from BuNo 151291 ... again, 7 men total but two WIA rather than 6 KIA and 1 WIA (Slocum). This discrepancy cannot be resolved with the information available to The Virtual Wall.

So ended Box Score's reconnaissance patrol - five of eight Box Score team members dead, four dead from VMO-6, one dead from Bravo 1/4. One Medal of Honor, three Navy Crosses, eight Silver Stars, and two Bronze Stars were earned that day.

From Team Box Score - 3rd Force Recon Company
2nd Lt Terrence Collinson Graves - KIA - Medal of Honor
Cpl Danny Slocum - Survived - Silver Star
Cpl Robert Brian Thomson - KIA - Silver Star
HM3 Stephen Thompson - Survived - Silver Star
L/Cpl Steven Eric Emrick - KIA - Bronze Star
PFC James Earl Honeycutt - KIA - Navy Cross
PFC Adrian Salome Lopez - Died of Wounds - Silver Star
PFC Michael P Nation - Survived - Bronze Star

From VMO-6 (UH-1E BuNo 151291)
Capt Bobby Frank Galbreath - KIA - Navy Cross
1st Lt Paul Andrew Jensen - KIA - Silver Star
SSgt Jimmy Ellison Tolliver - KIA - Silver Star
Cpl Harry Warren Schneider - KIA - Silver Star

H-34 pilots
Capt David Underwood - Survived - Navy Cross
Capt Carl Bergman - Survived - Silver Star

From Bravo 1/4 Marines
Cpl William A. Lee - KIA

What an amazing story. The final pages of 'The 13th Valley' bear an extraordinary resemblance to this - I wonder if it was inspired by Box Score?

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