Through 1966 and 1967, Americans would watch on television and read newspaper accounts of American military operations, such as Masher-White Wing, Malheur, Attleboro, and Birmingham. These would not be the type of battles Americans were familiar with from World War 2 or from the Korean Conflict. Vietnam would eventually become the battlefield: the dense jungle and rugged hills near the DMZ, the wet- lands and impenetrable forests north of Saigon, and the myriad waterways and rice paddies of the Mekong Delta. In these many environments General Westmoreland was calculating that his search and destroy tactics could work. The application of that strategy was demonstrated, in part, by MACV's efforts in South Vietnam, namely Operation Hastings near the DMZ.
Early May, 1966. Hundreds of NVA soldiers of the 324th B Regiment waded across a shallow section of the Ben Hai river, the demarcation line dividing North from South Vietnam. Their mission objective was to infiltrate the four districts in central and eastern Quang Tri Province.
Early July, 1966. D-Day. A squadron of CH-46 helicopters lifts off from Dong Ha. Three waves of troop insertions are planned at various LZ sites. The first wave of helicopters set down in the river valley without incident. Sniper fire ended hope for a quiet landing as the second wave swooped toward the LZ. The third wave met disaster. In the LZ, two helicopters collided and crashed. A third, trying to avoid them, rammed into a tree, killing two marines and injuring seven. The Song Ngan Valley earned that day an infamous place in marine lore as "Helicopter Valley."
By month's end, it appeared that 324B had abandoned its offensive and was pulling back through the DMZ. Marine patrols discovered bodies, weapons, and ammunition left behind. The marines also overran a NVA regimental base camp containing a 100-bed hospital and twelve hundred pounds of medical supplies. A reporter's account in Time magazine noted that "one North Vietnamese unit apparently
pulled out so fast that 500 men abandoned their field packs and left their rice still cooking in open pots." As enemy contacts tapered off, General English terminated Hastings at noon on August 3. 1966.
The 324th B Regiment paid for its incursion: 882 killed, 17 captured, and the seizure of two hundred weapons, three hundred pounds of documents and over three hundred thousand rounds of ammunition. The Marines also suffered casualties. In all 126 marines were killed and 448 wounded.