Operation Starlite was the first major battle and regimental size clash between U.S. and enemy forces during the Vietnam War. Over the course of six days, between Aug. 18-24, 1965, units from the 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Amphibious Force, clashed with the 1st Viet Cong Regiment south of the newly established Marine base at Chu Lai in the I Corps area of responsibility. Being no unit of part-time farmers, the 1st Viet Cong Regiment was a thoroughly professional organization of battle-hardened fighters. It was commanded by Col. Le Huu Tru, who had led a battalion at the iconic battle at Dien Bien Phu against the French in 1954.

The operation was important for several reasons. First, it was the opportunity for Marines to test a combat doctrine they had long practiced in peacetime—that of combined amphibious assault and simultaneous vertical envelopment. That is, a landing of Marines on a beach on one side of the enemy and inserting Marines by helicopter on the other in order to trap the enemy between them. Secondly, it was the first Marine search and destroy operation of the war. For the first time, the Marines left the defensive enclave they had been ordered to man since landing in Da Nang in early March and carried the fight to the enemy. Lastly, it was a win for SigInt, or signal intelligence—the exploitation of the enemy’s electronic communications through intercept or direction finding.

On August 15th, Maj. Gen. Thi, the South Vietnamese Army Commander in I Corps, informed Lt. Gen. Lewis Walt, the senior Marine in Vietnam, that he had urgent news. He had an enemy defector, a seventeen year old who had been drafted into the Viet Cong the previous spring. The young man told Major General Thi that the 1st Viet Cong Regiment had moved onto the Van Tuong peninsula just south of the new Marine base at Chu Lai. Until this time, the Marines had received agent reports among other sources, that placed the unit in multiple locations and they weren’t sure how credible the defector’s information was. Then they received a lucky break. A National Security Agency SigInt analyst in Saigon pouring over direction finder reports, found several that located the radio known to be used by the headquarters of the 1st Viet Cong Regiment on the Van Tuong peninsula. Recognizing a threat to the base at Chu Lai and an opportunity to destroy an important enemy unit, Gen. Walt immediately set in motion a major operation. Time was of the essence: he was determined to act before the enemy either attacked the Marine base at Chu Lai or melted away into the western hills. The units had two days and three sleepless nights to prepare and launch an attack. The operation was to be named Operation Satellite but a generator failure caused a clerk to misread the handwritten instructions and the operation became known as Starlite.

We honor those Marines who were part of this Operation on it's 50th anniversary.

Click here to watch the Operation Starlite Trailer

Click here to watch the full length Operation Starlite Video

Charlie Fink shares his story from Operation Starlite and what it means to be a Marine

Mike Jenkins shares his memories from Operation Starlite, Vietnam, and coming home

Ben Palermo shares his memories on how he became a Marine and Operation Starlite