The battle of Dai Do began when major elements of the North Vietnamese 320th Regiment infiltrated the area near the Third Marine headquarters in Dong Ha, Quang Tri Province. The command center was defended by an understrength Marine Corps battalion landing team that would find itself in one desperate situation after another during the next three days.
At the heart of it all was James Livingston, once a free-spirited student who, on receiving his Army draft notice after finishing college, decided to take what he later called "the path of greatest resistance" by enlisting in the Marines.
Captain Livingston had been in combat since 1967, most recently as the commander of Echo Company.
On April 30, 1968, Echo Company was sent to defend a key bridge near Dong Ha on the Cua Viet River. The next day it became clear that another company, Golf Company, was having trouble in its assault of Dai Do, so Echo was sent to join it. Charging with his men through a rice paddy raked by extremely heavy fire from .50-caliber machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, Livingston found the enemy heavily dug in. After his first two platoons stalled, he ordered the reserve platoon to attack. Carrying an M-2 grease gun, Livingston personally led the assault. He was wounded twice by grenade blasts but refused treatment. Once he and his men had broken through the enemy trench line, they went from bunker to bunker, destroying the North Vietnamese troops. Livingston himself killed fourteen of the enemy. When Echo Company finally secured Dai Do, it was left with only thirty-five able-bodied men out of the more than one hundred who had commenced the action.
As the medevacs loaded up the dead and wounded, Livingston heard, over the radio, desperate pleas for help and sounds of fighting in the background. It was Hotel Company, which had attacked the nearby hamlet of Dinh To and encountered heavy opposition from snipers, machine guns, and rockets. After its assault bogged down, it had been put on the defensive by a numerically superior North Vietnamese force dug in behind bamboo hedgerows. "I could tell those young guys were in a world of hurt," Livingston said later. He told what was left of Echo Company to get ready to go to the rescue.
After he reached Hotel Company through a hail of fire, Livingston merged it with Echo and led an attack on the North Vietnamese. At one point, when his submachine gun jammed, he gestured for a Marine to toss him an M-14. He killed another eleven North Vietnamese over the next hour of hand-to-hand fighting.
By late in the day, the battlefield situation was briefly stabilized, but then the reinforced North Vietnamese attacked again. Livingston ordered smoke shells and all available supporting fire in order to bring the survivors of the two companies out in a phased withdrawal. He was hit in the thigh by an enemy machine-gun round and went down. Unable to get back on his feet, he continued to fire from a prone position. When he ordered his men to go on without him, telling them he would cover them, two Marines disobeyed. They picked him up and dragged him to safety.