I was forwarded an e-mail requesting information about Medal of Honor recipient Lt. John P. Bobo. My name is Jack Riley and I had the honor and privilege of serving as a squad leader under John and was with him when he was killed in action on March 30, 1967 during the battle of "Getlin's Corner".
John's hometown was Niagara Falls and I am sure that the vets of New York would like to know more about a hometown True American Hero. John has a Navy ship named for him as well as the Officers Mess at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia where John's Medal of Honor story is used to teach LEADERSHIP to every Marine Officer Candidate. There is also a monument in his honor at the park overlooking Niagara Falls.
John was a Leader that took his responsibility very seriously, as did all leaders in "The Flaming I". He made sure that information was made known to all those that needed to know. He along with our Platoon Sergeant, Guy Hodgkins, made sure that every Marine was cross-trained to fill in for any man who may be wounded or killed in action. His belief was that the more we knew, the better we fought. John's attitude molded 2nd Platoon into a very close-knit deadly fighting unit. When a fight started, everyone knew what their responsibility was and performed accordingly. Taking care of the Marine on your left and on your right was John's approach to kicking the enemy's butt.
John joined India Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division and was assigned the position as 2nd Platoon Commander. I joined his platoon one week later in July 1966. John commanded three rifle squads
with attached weapons specialist, M-60 Machine Guns, 60mm Mortars, and 3.5 inch Rockets. We also had attached 81mm Mortars, Ontos, M-48 Tanks, and 106mm Recoilless Rifles.
During the summer of 1966, I/3/9 was located in the An Hoa area 35 miles southwest of Da Nang under the operational control of the 1st Marine Division since the rest of our division was operating along the DMZ. 3/9 was responsible for operations throughout the An Hoa region out to areas that included "The Arizona Territory", Antennae Valley, and Go Noi Island. Providing security for the construction of Liberty Road, the only road to Da Nang, was a challenge. The VC routinely mined this road to disrupt traffic and kill as many Americans as they could.
It is impossible for me to tell you everything that this Hero did in this letter so I will just touch on a few battles. The first significant battle for John occurred on the night of July 4th when our platoon engaged a major NVA force attempting to move undetected across 300 yards of open rice patties to a village on the Song Thu Bon River. We were successful in wiping out that unit. Up until this time in the war, the longest sustained artillery fire mission was fired in support of our attack on that NVA unit.
Unfortunately, our platoon like all Grunt outfits never had the luxury of being at full strength (TO). Typically, we had 8 or 9 Marines to each squad which according to TO was supposed to be 14. Three fire teams of four each, a grenadier, and a squad leader to equal 14. At one period during my tour I had 2 fire teams of 3 Marines including me making up my squad.
The daily routine was either the entire company out on an Operation for many days or weeks at a time, or operating out of Platoon Patrol Bases (PPB). This was the norm when not on operations. PPB routine typically operated this way. One squad defending the outpost along with weapons personnel during the daylight hours. The other two squads broke up their squads into Fire Team Hunter- Killer Teams that ran all day patrols throughout the tactical area of responsibility (TAOR). This meant that there were several 3 man patrols running Seek and Destroy patrols several kilometers around the PPB. Upon contact, the other teams would rush to the aid of their brothers. If a particular patrol was thought to make contact then a squad was sent along with machine guns.
It was not unusual for Lt. Bobo to go along on a squad patrol. He didn't have to do this but he did it because he cared about his Marines so much. At night each squad had responsibility for three separate fire team ambushes as well as perimeter security and listening posts. John and I each received our first Purple Hearts during the battles of the Cu Ban villages along the Song Thu Bon. The Flaming I rendered the R-20th VC Battalion ineffective as a fighting force in battles from September 3-5,1966. Col. George Navadel (retired) then Commanding Officer of "The Flaming I", is writing an account of these battles for the Historical Branch of the Marine Corps. Our 2nd Platoon Sergeant, SSgt. Guy Hodgkins was KIA and presented the Navy Cross for his valor in taking out an enemy machine gun that had our first squad pinned down. 2nd Platoon lost three Marines that day and John Bobo took it very hard. We got even two days later when we wiped them out. John was very calm and collected during a battle. His demeanor gave his Marines the Spirit de Corps so important at a time that is without doubt the most frightening thing man can face. The enemy no more than thirty yards away trying his best to kill you so that he can escape the killing zone of our firepower.
The Flaming rejoined the 3rd Marine Division along the DMZ in 1967. 3/9 was given the TAOR from Dong Ha west to the Rock Pile and all in between. We ran operations all along the DMZ. In March 1967, intelligence reported that a regiment of NVA was attempting to surround our outpost at Con Thien and overrun it. We were trucked out of Camp Carroll to Cam Lo and then marched northwest trying to make contact and draw the NVA into a fight.
We made contact on March 30th after our Battalion Commander ordered our CO, Capt. Mike Getlin to split our company into three separate platoon ambush locations. The CO did not want to do this because he knew contact was immanent but being a good Marine he followed his orders. You can read the citation for John's Medal of Honor and see what a magnificent Marine he was but it doesn't tell you why he sacrificed his life. Yes, John was a warrior but he was so much more to the men who fought on that hill that day. There were so few of us to start with and after the enemy mortars started to fall all over us, there were only a couple who were not wounded. Many had already been killed. Those of us still able to fight fought our way back to the crest of the hill to make our last stand. Lt. John Bobo held off an enemy ground assault on the forward slope of the hill that enabled us to regain a perimeter and defend many attempts to over-run what was left of our platoon. There were fifteen Marines still alive, most wounded several times, still fighting off NVA attacks when our 1st platoon rejoined us in our defense. John knew exactly what he was doing when he ordered his men back up the slope. He knew that he was giving us the only chance we had to not just survive but to win this terrible battle. He gave his life fighting for his Marines, Marines that truly loved him. We lost 15 Marines on Hill 70 that was renamed Getlin's Corner in honor of our fallen commander Capt. Mike Getlin (Navy Cross).
The 15 of us who survived would not be here today were it not for the sacrifices of John Bobo and those brave Marines and Leadership they exemplified.
Lt. John P. Bobo is a real American Hero and I want to thank you for helping his family and his Marine brothers in keeping his memory alive.
2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon
"The Flaming I" India Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines