Beacon Star was the first operation for newly designated STY Bravo. As Navy Captain Richard L. Cochrane's ARG steamed toward northern I CTZ, Colonel Wortman, the SLF commander since September 1966, experienced normal pre-landing doubts and anxieties. One reassuring factor was that both of his major subordinate units were I Corps veterans. The helicopter squadron, HMM- 164, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Rodney D. McKitrick, had been in Vietnam since February 1966, and Lieutenant Colonel Earl R. Delong's BLT
2 / 3 originally arrived "in country" in May of 1965. Additional confidence stemmed from the fact that the BLT had just come from a one-month rehabilitation period on Okinawa. It was at full strength and all equipment was ready for combat.
The target area for Beacon Star was a major VC stronghold and supply area along the border of Quang Tn and Thua Thien Provinces. The small 0 Lau River is the natural terrain feature which delineates the provincial borders in the coastal region. The center of the Beacon Star amphibious objective area (AOA) was 27 kilometers northwest of Hue, on the edge of what French soldiers called "La Rue Sans Joie," or "The Street Without Joy." The AOA was known for its heavy concentration of Com munists; intelligence officers reported two battalions of the 6th Regiment and two main force battalions, the 810th and the 814th, were operating in the region.
The Beacon Star scheme of maneuver consisted of a waterborne and heliborne BLT landing on the coast. The battalion was to move inland, generally following the 0 Lau River, while, at the same time, gradually expanding its TAOR in a southwesterly direction.
Bad weather and poor visibility delayed operations on D-day, 22 April, but the first heliborne company landed at 0809. It met no opposition. Beacon Star progressed according to plan; enemy resistance was minimal. On D plus four the battalion launched a combined helicopter and overland assault in the southwestern portion of the expanded TAOR to at tack an estimated 250 VC spotted in the target area. Unfortunately, the BLT was not able to capitalize on this intelligence.
Urgent orders from the Commander Task Group 79.5 interrupted Beacon Star. The Phase I casualties, one killed and 10 wounded, would seem insignificant in the face of what happened in the next 24 hours. The new SLF Bravo was about to undergo its first real combat test. On 26 April, the name Khe Sanh was just another place name to many of Lieutenant Colonel Delong's Marines; by mid-March those who survived would never forget it.
While Phase I of Beacon Star proceeded, the Marines of the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines discovered strong Communist formations in the hills west of Khe Sanh, 43 miles from the Beacon Star area. Realizing that one battalion could not carry the hill mass, the 3d Marine Division commander, Major General Hochmuth, ordered BLT 2 / 3 to break off operations in the original Beacon Star AOA and proceed to Khe Sanh.
The tactical move to Khe Sanh was a transportation triumph. At 1200 on the 26th, the division placed BLT 2 / 3, in the field and in contact with the enemy, under the operational control of the 3d Marines. By 1400, three of the BLT's companies and the command group were at Khe Sanh, and by 1600 the BLT effected a link-up with elements of the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines northwest of the Khe Sanh perimeter. The BLT moved by helicopter from the Beacon Star AOA to Phu Bai, and from Phu Bai to Khe Sanh by Marine and U.S. Air Force KC-130 and C- 130 Hercules transports. The total elapsed time from receipt of the warning order until the link-up near Khe Sanh totaled less than seven hours.
The second phase of Beacon Star is more commonly known as "The Khe Sanh Hill Fights" or the "First Battle of Khe Sanh. The BLT's casualties during the period 27April- 12 May gave evidence of the violence of the fighting for the Khe Sanh hills. During these weeks the BLT lost 71 killed and 349 wounded, more than a fourth of its strength. Of the 78 Navy corpsmen assigned to the BLT, five died and 15 suffered wounds.
The fighting at Khe Sanh tapered off in May and SLF Bravo's BLT 2/3 transferred from the 3d Marines' operational control back to the SLF. The return to ARG ships started on 10 May and finished on the 12th, signaling the official end of Beacon Star.