James Larry Hightower

United States Marine Corps
15 January 1946 - 22 October 1966
Brownsville, Kentucky
Panel 11E Line 097


Purple Heart, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign

The database page for James Larry Hightower

11 Feb 2001

You reside forever in my mind, with memories of happy times from our youth ... and then I am reminded that you only had your youth. I miss you, but never will I forget you. You left an imprint within my heart that will last my lifetime.

Sharon Parker Carroll

A Note from The Virtual Wall

Operation KERN was a combination recon in force/search and destroy operation in the Khe Le Valley area of Quang Nam Province between 20 and 25 October 1966. Conducted by the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, KERN initially involved two rifle companies - Golf 2/3 and India 3/9. Elements of the 3rd NVA Regiment, supported by local VC forces, were known to be based in the area and had conducted an unsuccessful attack on on the ARVN camp at Khuong Thuong on the night of 16/17 October. India 3/9 Marines entered the Khe Le Valley late on 20 October by march from An Hoa, but the fall monsoon was in full swing and low overcasts, torrential rains, and high winds hampered both ground and air operations. India 3/9 and Golf 2/3 were moved by air to their respective initial positions on the afternoon of the 21st. Although the insertions were done under fire, there were no casualties among either the helo crews or the Marine infantrymen. Gale force winds and torrential rains began again at about 1700, and the two forces established separate night defensive positions under miserable conditions. The night of 21/22 October passed without incident.

At first light both companies moved out toward their respective objectives. The morning was uneventful with no contact until Golf 2/3 started receiving sporadic sniper fire at about 1300. That changed at 1350, when 1st Platoon, Golf 2/3, received heavy fire. The Golf 2/3 Command Group and 3rd Platoon, Golf 2/3, moved up to assist 1st Platoon. Within short order the Company Executive Officer, 1stLt Thomas Holden, and the 1st Platoon Commander, 1stLt Robert Bates, were killed, as was the 1st Platoon's Platoon Sergeant. 3rd Platoon's Commander was critically wounded and its Platoon Sergeant killed. In addition, six squad leaders were killed or seriously wounded. At the same time, a stream to the Marines' rear, easily forded an hour earlier, had risen to the point of being nearly unfordable. 2nd Plt, 2/3, moved to the south side of the stream and established a base of fire to support withdrawal of the Marines on the north side and India 3/9 was ordered to move without delay to link up with Golf 2/3. By 1730 the remnants of the 1st and 3rd Platoons, Golf 2/3, had managed to cross the swollen stream, bring their dead and wounded with them. India 3/9 also had joined. All high ground within 300 meters of the Command Post was secured and occupied and a night defensive position established. Fog, rain, high winds, and continuing enemy fire made helo resupply and medevac impossible - only one helo was able to get in before nightfall.

Abysmal weather continued through the night, but at first light on 23 Oct India 3/9 and 2nd Plt Golf 2/3 forded the stream and assaulted the enemy positions on the north bank. The weather cleared briefly just after noon, allowing helo resupply and the evacuation of all casualties. As the Marine assault continued, the NVA/VC commander decided to withdraw. Two groups of about 200 enemy troops each were sighted and brought under fire by supporting artillery. At this point elements from the 51st ARVN Regiment and a third Marine rifle company, Echo 2/1, were detailed to move into the area to block the NVA/VC withdrawal.

The weather broke during the early hours of 24 Oct, permitting helo resupply and fire support for the ground forces. Echo 2/1 was lifted in at 0900 and the ARVN troops, moving by foot, arrived by midafternoon. By nightfall the Marines had secured all assigned objectives and established defensive positions.

Beginning at first light on the 25th the combined forces swept the battle area under clear skies. They met no resistance but did find 148 NVA/VC bodies. All forces were withdrawn from the area during the afteroon of the 25th, terminating Operation KERN.

Although there were other Marine and ARVN casualties during the five days of Operation KERN, the only known deaths were eight Marines killed during the initial assault on Ap Ba on the 22nd:

  • 1stLt Robert A. Bates, Lake Forest, IL (Silver Star)
  • 1stLt Thomas J. Holden, Hasbrouck Heights, NJ (Silver Star, 2 awards)
  • SSgt Louis J. Reed, White Plains, NY (Silver Star)
  • Sgt Alan I. Smith, Hamden, CT
  • Cpl James L. Hightower, Brownsville, KY
  • LCpl Charles J. Riley, Tinley Park, IL
  • LCpl Francis P. Rosebrugh, Geneseo, NY
  • Pfc Alonzo A. Teague, Middlesboro, KY

The point-of-contact for this memorial is
a friend,
Sharon Parker Carroll

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 11 Feb 2001
Last updated 06/08/2006