Billy and I were in the USMC, in Combined Action Company Oscar in Quang Tri Province, I Corps.
These programs (also called Combined Action Platoons, or Combined Action Groups) were a successful "hearts and minds" civic action program. A squad of Marines (approx. 12-14 men) with a USN Hospital Corpsman (medic) teamed with a platoon of indigenous militia. They lived in or near a village, and helped train, fortify and defend the villes against the VC, and assisted in civic action projects, such as medical care, wells, etc. Our indigenous troops were recruited from the local Bru ("Montagnard") tribe.
On 21 January 1968, Khe Sanh Village was hit by superior enemy forces. The Marines of Oscar 1 and Oscar 2, with the local Army advisory team and the Bru, fought against great odds, with the assistance of supporting arms from the combat base. They beat the NVA back, with hundreds of the enemy killed and many more wounded. (See pp. 293 - 301 of �Valley of Decision�, written by Ray Stubbe, (our chaplain) and John Prados. This book also contains a number of other references to CAP Oscar.)
The CAP Marines were ordered by the base commander, Colonel Lownds, to evacuate, but he refused to allow the Bru RF troops on the base for fear of VC infiltrators. The Marines didn't want to abandon their valiant Bru fighters.
The Army Special Forces also used the Bru fighters, and welcomed them and the Marines on Forward Operating Base 3, the Special Forces camp adjacent to the combat base. They ran patrols for and with the Green Berets.
All endured the constant pounding of the enemy�s shells and rockets. We lay in our trenches and bunkers cut into the red clay of Khe Sanh, waiting for the round that would shatter your bunker and kill you and all in it. This continued for the duration of the Siege. One day, over 1500 shells impacted the base. It is difficult to explain what that type of warfare does to you, especially for troops trained for offensive combat, as all Marines are.
We also lost men to "friendly" fire - one such incident killed Billy, and wounded a number of Marines and Army personnel. On 2/26/1968, a jet fired his rockets at our lines by mistake. He was making strafing runs at the NVA near our position, and receiving intense fire from the NVA. It may have caused him to miscalculate.
We ran over to help, but Billy was dead, just two months short of his 19th birthday. He was a good kid, well-liked, and cheerful. I often think of him to this day. He had bravely volunteered to go to a far-off land and volunteered again to do something for the people there. That tells you a lot about what kind of person he was. My heart goes out to his family and friends.
The photo was provided by our "doc", Hospital Corpsman John Roberts,
who later went on to become a USMC officer, retiring as a Captain.
The database page for Billy Dale Livingston
17 Jun 2004
Last updated 08/10/2009