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Hill 488 [Kindle Edition]

Ray Hildreth , Charles W. Sasser
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)

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Book Description

For some, Hill 488 was just another landmark in the jungles of Vietnam. For the eighteen men of Charlie Company, it was a last stand. This is the stirring combat memoir written by Ray Hildreth, one of the unit's survivors.

On June 13, 1966, men of the 1st Recon Battalion, 1st Marine Division were stationed on Hill 488. Before the week was over, they would fight the battle that would make them the most highly decorated small unit in the entire history of the U.S. military, winning a Congressional Medal of Honor, four Navy Crosses, thirteen Silver Stars, and eighteen Purple Hearts -- some of them posthumously.

During the early evening of June 15, a battalion of hardened North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong -- outnumbering the Americans 25-to-1 -- threw everything they had at the sixteen Marines and two Navy corpsmen for the rest of that terror-filled night. Every man who held the hill was either killed or wounded defending the ground with unbelievable courage and unflagging determination -- even as reinforcements were on the way.

All they had to do was make it until dawn....

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Ray Hildreth was one of three Recon Marines who were able to walk off Hill 488 unassisted. He retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 2002 and is a martial-arts instructor in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Charles W. Sasser has been a full-time freelance writer, journalist, and photographer since 1979. He is a veteran of both the U.S. Navy (journalist) and U.S. Army (Special Forces, the Green Berets), a combat veteran and former combat correspondent wounded in action. He also served fourteen years as a police officer (in Miami, Florida, and in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he was a homicide detective). He is author, co-author or contributing author of more than 30 books and novels, including One Shot-One Kill. Sasser now lives on a ranch in Chouteau, Oklahoma, with his wife Donna.

Jonathan Yen was inspired by the Golden Age of Radio, and while the gold was gone by the time he got there, he's carried that inspiration through to commercial work, voice acting, and stage productions. From vintage Howard Fast science fiction to naturalist Paul Rosolie's true adventures in the Amazon, Jonathan loves to tell a good story.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

My dad was fifty years old and working on his second wife when I was born. I had two brothers and a half-sister, but they were so much older that it was like I was an only child. Mom died when I was fifteen, which left Dad and me bacheloring it together in the rough neighborhoods of North Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was an old man by the time I reached high school. He hadn't the energy to ride herd on a rebellious teenager. I started running with a bad crowd at Rogers High School. Some might have said I was the bad crowd. Whichever, the cops picked me up for burglarizing a vending machine two months before graduation. That was in March 1965. A couple of other guys and I were popping Laundromat soap boxes and rifling the machines for coins.

I was seventeen and therefore no longer a juvenile, according to Oklahoma law. I went to the big boy's jail at the County Courthouse downtown. Talk about a hollow feeling when that steel door clanged behind my punk ass. I shook all over. It reminded me that I wasn't that stud I thought

I was.

Dad left me behind bars for four days to think things over before he showed up to get me out. I did a lot of thinking too. Here I was four months from being out on my own, from being an independent adult, and I was already on my way to prison.

"You're heading down a bad road, son," he said.

"Yes, sir."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

"Go in the Marines -- if they'll still have me."

Like I said, I had been doing a lot of thinking. I had wanted to be a Marine as far back as I could recall. My infatuation with the Marine Corps began after I watched an old Wallace Beery movie set during World War II. Marines were the fightingest, baddest warriors on land or sea anywhere in the world. It took a real man to wear the Marine Corps uniform.

"What are you going to do when you get out of school?" friends asked.

"Join the Marine Corps," I automatically responded.

Well, it was time to put up or shut up. Dad nodded in that slow way of his. The Marines were honest and honorable, and they knew how to jerk the kink out of a bad boy's tail.


Dad walked away. He left me in jail one more day just for good measure. My half-brother Homer, a retired Tulsa police detective, talked him into getting me out. By the time he made my bail, I could hardly wait to run down to the nearest recruiting station. I had embarrassed my dad and embarrassed myself, but surely I could redeem myself in the Marines.

I received a deferred sentence and probation on the condition that I enlist in the Marines, if they would have me. I signed up on the delayed entry program along with a couple of high school buddies, Gary Montouri and Stephen Barnhart, which meant we were allowed to graduate from high school before shipping out to boot camp. That day I raised my hand and swore loyalty and obedience to God, country, and the Marine Corps, not necessarily in that order, and promised to rain fire and brimstone upon all enemies happened to be only two weeks after the buildup of troops began in Vietnam with the landing of the Ninth Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Da Nang on 9 March 1965.

Still, at that time, Vietnam was little more than a once-a-week footnote on NBC News. Vietnam was a long way off. Most people, including me, couldn't have picked it out on a map. I was little aware of how the situation was rapidly eroding and becoming a real war.

Things changed even more from March to July, the month I actually packed my bags and left for Oklahoma City to catch my first airplane ride to the United States Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot in San Diego, California. Viet Cong sappers crept onto the air base at Da Nang and destroyed three aircraft and wounded three Marines. Three Marines were killed and four wounded in a firefight at Duong Son. Lieutenant Frank S. Reasoner became the first Marine in South Vietnam to win the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously.

Walter Cronkite, "the most trusted man in America," was now talking about the war every night on the news. Friends asked me if I weren't afraid of going. Nah. There were already enough Marines in Vietnam to handle the job without adding me to the number. I could wear the good-looking uniform and have the name without the game. Besides, when you were a strapping eighteen-year-old kid a couple of inches under six feet tall and full of yourself, you thought you were going to live forever.

What I couldn't know at the time was that 1965, the year I completed Marine Corps training, would be a year of bloody fighting in the highlands between Chu Lai and Ban Me Thout -- and that I would be personally involved in the strategy of attrition announced by General William Westmoreland, Commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). That strategy, simply put, stated that we would kill more of them than they killed of us.

"We'll just go on bleeding them until Hanoi wakes up to the fact that they have bled their country to the point of national disaster for generations," he said.

That was the beginning of the practice of counting dead bodies, the all-important "body count," to keep track of how well we were doing.

My half-brother Homer saw it coming. He was a lot older than me, and a veteran of World War II as well as a retired cop. He came back from the war as a colonel with a chest full of medals.

"Don't try to be a hero," he counseled when I came home for boot camp leave. "Don't take any chances. Don't think. Act on your instincts. Expect the unexpected and always be on the alert."

It didn't take a rocket scientist to understand that the aim of Marine Corps boot camp was to emotionally strip us of our individualities and mold us back into a single functioning combat unit. A mean, lean, green fighting machine. Generations of scraggly, undisciplined youth from across the country had undergone that traumatic metamorphosis from civilian to warrior the Marine way. It started the moment the bus from the airport pulled into the Receiving Depot in San Diego and that hard hunk of mean in the drill instructor hat let you know immediately who was in charge and that you had better jump through your ass to please him.

"All right, ladies," he growled in a way that you knew his bite was worse than his bark. "You puke maggot pussies shut your meat traps and listen. Get off my bus and get off it now. You got five seconds, or your ass is mine."

I was off in three flat.

"That was slow, that was sloppy, your breath stinks, and you don't love Jesus. You goofy-looking maggots are gonna have to do better than that. Get with the program, pussies. Get on those yellow footsteps. Don't speak unless you're spoken to. The first word out of your mouth is 'sir,' and the last word out of your mouth is 'sir.' Is that understood, ladies?"

It was a clusterfuck of responses. The DI liaison went bugfuck, red in the face. "What?"

I had never heard someone so proficient in the art of profanity.

"What part of that didn't you cunts understand? Let's hear it again, the right way. Is that understood, ladies?"

"Sir, yes, sir." More or less in unison.

"I can't hear you..."

Bellowing it out. "Sir, yes, sir!"

"You fucking dickheads will never be Marines."

I was in total shock for the first five days. Scared to hell. Every DI -- you called them drill instructors to their faces, as they said DI stood for damned idiot, which they weren't -- looked capable of taking on Man Mountain Dean and whipping his ass in the ring. I didn't sleep at all the first night. DI's yelled at us constantly. They expected us to obey and react instantly.

"You pussies gonna sleep all day?" It was still the middle of the night. "Get your asses out of them fart sacks..."

"You're getting your haircuts. Don't speak. If you got a mole or something, point to it, but keep your mouths shut..."

"Boot! What was that? Were you talking about my mother? I love my mother. Get down. Get down! Give me twenty pushups and every time your chest hits the ground I want to hear it..."

First, they tore you down. Then they built you back up. The Marine way.

All through basic training, DI's underplayed and understated the actual war element of the drills while stressing the mechanics of it. For all that Vietnam loomed over our shaved heads like a prophetic specter, for all that our eyes popped suddenly open at night looking into the ghost world of times to come, none of us actually believed we would go.

One afternoon on the firing range, a DI brought in a photo clipping from a newspaper. It showed a dead U.S. Marine lying on his back clutching a bloodstained bayonet across his chest. The picture made its silent way through the ranks. Everyone stared at it and swallowed. This dead guy wasn't much older than any of us, if at all. The war that seemed so far away suddenly became a lot closer. Something queasy stirred in the pit of my stomach, seriously disturbing my sense of immortality.

"If you guys don't pay attention in boot camp," the DI said, "this guy could be any of you."

I paid attention, but I paid more attention after that. My forte was the ability to shoot a rifle. I had been on the rifle team at Rogers High School. The recruit who fired the highest score received an automatic promotion to PFC, private first class. I fired expert, a 224, but I missed getting the promotion by one point. The score was high enough, however, as I found out later, to qualify me to attend Marine sniper school.

After twelve weeks of basic, Recruit Training Platoon 345 graduated fit, tanned, tough, and full of ourselves. Automatically, we were no longer "boots," "shitheads," "maggots," or "pussies."

"Today, you are United States Marines."

Jesus, I stood tall, addressed like that for the first time. Semper fi and all that. Hey, I could eat the enemy for breakfast and still devour a platter of eggs, bacon, and SOS prepared by other by-God United States Marines. Dad was going to be proud of me. I looked forward to going on boot leave and strutting my stuff around Rogers High in my uniform. Watch out, girls.

The commander summoned a formation to read off our next duty assignments. He called us off alphabetically, followed by the duty station. I couldn't help noticing that about every other man was being sent to the Third Marine Replacement Company. Replacement for whom?

The alphabet reached me. "Hildreth, Raymond Stanley: Third Replacement."

Afterward, the commander explained. "For those of you assigned to the Replacement Company, that's a stop-off point in Okinawa. Congratulations. It means you're going to Vietnam."

Copyright © 2003 by Ray Hildreth and Charles W. Sasser

Product Details

  • File Size: 483 KB
  • Print Length: 396 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0743466438
  • Publisher: Pocket Books (June 10, 2010)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003QP4E1W
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #96,890 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Instant Classic About Remarkable Unit & Battle October 6, 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is one of the best books on the Vietnam war to come out in awhile. I'm still filled with awe after reading this masterpiece of a book. It is a memoir from a veteran recon Marine about a hellish battle on Hill 488 in Vietnam. First we learn about Ray Hildreth and get to know him pretty well as he joins the Marines in 1965 and eventually becomes a sniper in a Recon Marine platoon. In 1966 he ships out to Vietnam and an expanding war. Ray is assigned to 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Recon Battalion. You can feel his fear as he goes on his first patrols with the mostly green platoon. Luckily Sergeant Jimmie E Howard runs the platoon and guides the young Marines in this tense war zone. Sgt. Howard is a veteran of the Korean war, where he won a Silver Star for helping defend a hill named Bunker Hill from a massed Chinese/N. Korean attack. Howard held 30 yds of the perimeter by himself, an amazing feat in itself.
The Recon platoon gets orders to go deep into enemy territory in the dreaded Hiep Duc Valley. (bitterly contested throughout the entire war. See Keith William Nolan's wonderful Death Valley for more.) You can feel the tension build through the story with his wonderful prose. (Charles Sasser helped write the book and has written many fine books about American fighting men) 1st Platoon successfully inserts onto Hill 488 where they call in airstrikes & artillery on NVA & VC troop concentrations. On June 15, 1966 the enemy got smart and attacked Hill 488 hoping to wipe out the small American platoon. Only 18 Americans held the hill, 16 Marines & 2 Navy Corpsmen. A full battalion of enemy troops (400-500 men) attacked. By all rights the Marines should have been overwhelmed by this massive force.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Vietnam non-fiction title December 20, 2005
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I have read quite a few military and Vietnam related non-fiction titles. Hill 488 stands as the best book I have ever read. I can not understand how anyone could rate it lower then 5 stars. The first half of the book may start out slow, but the second half makes up for it in so many way. No other book I have read captures the emotion and intensity of a battle the way Hill 488 does. Hill 488 draws the reader in and doesnt let go until the very end. Dont pass up on this extraordinary true account. This book is by far the best Vietnam book I have read.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hill 488 Tells it like it was July 31, 2006
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a Marine I spent two tours in the Nam. My first trip over was in 1966 and my first assignment was Chu Lai. I was there when this took place. The author has done a fantastic job of researching the background and recreating the events of what took place. This story takes you there and places you in the middle of the action. It is a must read for any Veteren or anyone else who just want's to know what it was like to be in the Nam'
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars RIVETING!! SPELLBINDING. A REAL PAGE BURNER!! April 26, 2004
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
I don't write many reviews, but this book deserves one.
I won't go into all the details about why this is a great book to read, other than to say, it was well done/written. I couldn't put it down. A real page burner! You actually relive their night of horror on Hill 488. It was like being there!
After reading the book, I loaned it to my 73 year old mother-in-law, who has little interest in "a war story". When I told her it was based upon fact, she borrowed it. Later she said, she couldn't put the book down until she finished it, then she wanted to know if she could loaned it to her friend from church. (Because she thought the book was so good)
All my mother-in-law would say "is those poor, poor boys! What they live through. I had no idea about the fighting in Vietnam."
Please don't miss this this really great book! You'll be glad you got to share in their fear, survival, bravery, and heroism!
To All Veterans,
Thank You.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excels technically: great descriptive writing. March 12, 2006
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was back "in country" while reading this fine work.

Captain Joe De Guise USMC retired

2/3/3 1966-1967
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of best war books ever July 19, 2006
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I wish every American would read this book. I wish an honorable person in Hollywood like Mel Gibosn would make a movie of it since he kept "We Were Soldiers" true to the real events. This is an awsome book and tells the honor and courage many Viet Nam vets had that the media and particularly Hollywood never wanted to tell about, insteat churning our negatives and lies. I am not a hero but did serve in VN in same area but with US Army Ammo Supply.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ethos of the U. S. Marine Corps August 4, 2009
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Hill 488 recounts one of the most remarkable & historic events in American military history & the annals of the U. S. Marine Corps. Authors Ray Hildreth--who was there--& Charles Sasser, have written a gut-wrenching minute-by-minute recounting of the overnight battle June 15 - 16, 1966, on Niu Vu Hill (Hill 488) in the Hiep Duc Valley, the highlands between Chu Lai & Ban Me Thout. There, 16 Marines & 2 Navy Hospital Corpsmen (combat medics) overcame 25 to 1 odds to survive one of the most infamous battles of the War in Vietnam. All 18 were gravely wounded & awarded the Purple Heart medal. All 18 were awarded the nation's three highest medals for valor (to six posthumously), 1 Medal of Honor, 4 Navy Crosses, & 13 Silver Stars.

The heroes of this tract fought for 10 ½ hours, often hand-to-hand, for survival against nearly overwhelming 25 to 1 odds opposed to a battalion of hardened North Vietnamese regulars.

As the authors note, "the Vietnam war touched an entire generation in one way or another" (page 332). For anyone interested in military history, this is an outstanding first-person account of a chilling episode in America's effort to thwart communism in the 1960s. For those who opposed the War in Viet Nam, Hill 488 is also highly recommended. It is not suggested to bolster a particular political perspective, left or right. Rather to glimpse the ethos of the U. S. Marine Corps & the point-of-view of a small group of mostly teenage volunteers who chose to serve their country rather than those who found ways to evade military service. It is always easier to let someone else meet his or her obligation. The members of the 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division walked the walk.

William L. Tafoya *
New Haven, CT

* Professor Tafoya served in combat in 1966 in Vietnam with Bravo Co, 3rd Recon BN, 3rd MAR DIV.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous and Riveting
As a Vietnam Era Marine I can relate to the early-war recount of Hildreth's recon team's defense of Hill 488. Read more
Published 8 days ago by Kenneth Kirkeby
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A great book, really hard to put it down. Can't imagine being in the middle of this battle.
Published 11 days ago by TPW
5.0 out of 5 stars Another book you should not be without in your library ...
Another book you should not be without in your library. Interesting from the 1st page and gets more interesting as it continues on until the last 1/4 of the book, then it gets... Read more
Published 15 days ago by GAF
3.0 out of 5 stars What takes place on Hill 488 is amazing as the Marines fight for...
This is the incredible story of a Marine recon force fighting off a VC/NVA attack on a hill in Vietnam against tremendous odds in 1966. Read more
Published 17 days ago by Al Stone
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book
Published 18 days ago by Patrick J Ovens
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't pass this Vietnam True Story up.
This is an excellent read. A must for all Marines of the Vietnam era.
Published 1 month ago by Dennis Burchard
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read. Amazing story about some amazing people
Great read. Amazing story about some amazing people.
Published 2 months ago by MississippiFishing
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A telling account of a few brave Marines.
Published 2 months ago by Val De Visser
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
it was a well written and easy to read book and it really hits home
Published 2 months ago by Pam Fernandez
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book
Published 2 months ago by Raymond Bennett
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