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Title: The Battle for Khe Sanh
Author: Shore, Moyers S.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber’s Note:-

The original spelling, hyphenation, and punctuation has been retained,
with the exception of apparent typographical errors which have been

Underlined text is denoted =thus=.

Italic characters are denoted _thus_.

Footnotes marked thus [12] have been moved to the end of the chapter in
which they occur.

Footnotes marked thus (12) can be seen in Appendix A, as in the
original document.

Footnote markers (44), (45), (136) and (154) were omitted in the
original document. The location of these markers is the transcriber’s




  K.W. White




  Captain Moyers S. Shore II, USMC

  [Illustration: U. S. Marine Corps Badge]

  Printed 1969
  Reprinted 1977

[Illustration: Oblique aerial photograph of the Khe Sanh Combat Base

(United Press International Photo by Kyoichi Sawada)]

  Library of Congress Card No. 75-603604

  For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government
  Printing Office Washington, D.C. 20402

  Stock No. 008-065-00114-5


It is with pleasure that the Marine Corps presents this account of
the Battle for Khe Sanh which stands as one of the most crucial and
bitterly contested struggles in the Vietnam War. Throughout the
existence of our Corps, thousands of men have been called upon to
further the cause of freedom on scores of battlefields around the
globe. At Khe Sanh, a new generation of Marines, aided by their gallant
U. S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and South Vietnamese counterparts,
admirably upheld this tradition and wrote a thrilling new chapter in
the history of armed conflict.

The two senior U. S. commanders in Vietnam who supervised the
defense--General William C. Westmoreland, USA, and Lieutenant General
Robert E. Cushman, Jr., USMC--have contributed immeasurably to the
production of this work and have also provided their astute summaries
of the operation which appear in the following pages. I heartily
endorse their statements as well as the approach and conclusions of
this history.

In addition, I am grateful to the individuals and agencies of all the
Services who have provided valuable assistance through written comments
and personal interviews which are reflected in the text. In particular,
I wish to extend our appreciation to Mr. David D. Duncan, a veteran
combat photographer who has graciously consented to our use of the
brilliant pictures he took during an eight-day visit to the combat
base. These truly professional shots graphically depict the face of the
siege and enhance the narrative.

The sum total of these contributions, I feel, is an objective, readable
account of this important battle which honors the valiant American
and South Vietnamese troops who held Khe Sanh. I can think of no more
fitting tribute to these men--both living and dead--than to simply
relate the events as they happened. This, then, is their story.

[Illustration: Handwritten signature]

  General, U.S. Marine Corps
  Commandant of the Marine Corps



As the commander of the United States Military Assistance Command,
Vietnam, during the battle of Khe Sanh, I welcome publication by the U.
S. Marine Corps of this historical study. The Marines' heroic defense
of the Khe Sanh area against numerically superior North Vietnamese
forces stands out among the many battles fought to defend the Republic
of Vietnam against Communist aggression.

The enemy's primary objective of his 1968 TET Offensive was to seize
power in South Vietnam by creating a general uprising and causing the
defection of major elements of the Armed Forces of the Republic of
Vietnam. In conjunction with this, the enemy apparently expected to
seize by military action large portions of the northern two provinces
lying just south of the Demilitarized Zone and there to set up a
"liberation government." The virtually unpopulated Khe Sanh Plateau,
which lay astride the enemy's principal avenue of approach from his
large base areas in Laos, was obviously an initial objective of the
North Vietnamese Army. Its seizure would have created a serious threat
to our forces defending the northern area and would have cleared the
way for the enemy's advance to Quang Tri City and the heavily populated
coastal region. There is also little doubt that the enemy hoped at Khe
Sanh to attain a climactic victory, such as he had done in 1954 at Dien
Bien Phu, in the expectation that this would produce a psychological
shock and erode American morale.

My subordinate commanders and I were particularly sensitive to heavy
fighting in the populated areas, since this would result in substantial
destruction to the towns and villages and cause unnecessary suffering
by the civilian population. We wanted to avoid this situation to the
greatest extent possible by denying the enemy freedom of movement
through the Khe Sanh area and into the coastal region. At that time
we did not have sufficient troops, helicopters, or logistical support
in the northern provinces to accomplish this entirely through mobile
operations, and competing requirements for troops and resources did not
permit immediate reinforcement from other areas of South Vietnam. The
situation was further complicated by long periods of fog and low cloud
ceilings during January, February, and March, which made helicopter
operations difficult and hazardous.

To maintain our presence on the Khe Sanh Plateau, our only choice at
the time was to secure the airstrip we had built on the plateau since
this facility was essential as the forward terminus of our supply line.
From here we could maintain our military presence in the area and,
through the use of our firepower, make it costly for large enemy forces
to advance while we awaited the end of the bad weather of the northeast
monsoon and constituted the forces and logistics necessary to strike
out on offensive operations.

Another factor favoring the decision to hold Khe Sanh was the enemy's
determination to take it. Our defense of the area would tie down large
numbers of North Vietnamese troops which otherwise could move against
the vulnerable populated areas whose security was the heart of the
Vietnamese pacification program. Our decision to defend also held the
prospect of causing the enemy to concentrate his force and thereby
provide us a singular opportunity to bring our firepower to bear on him
with minimum restrictions. Had we withdrawn to fight the enemy's force
of over two divisions in the heavily populated coastal area, the use
of our firepower would have been severely restricted because of our
precautionary measures to avoid civilian casualties and minimize damage
to civilian property.

Based on my decision to hold the Khe Sanh Plateau, Lieutenant General
Cushman's and Lieutenant General Lam's first task was to reinforce the
area with sufficient strength to prevent the enemy from overrunning it,
but at the same time to commit no more force than could be supplied by
air. While the battle of Khe Sanh was being fought, emphasis was placed
on the buildup in the northern provinces of the necessary troops,
helicopters, and logistic support for mobile offensive operations to
open Highway 9 and move onto the plateau when the weather cleared at
the end of March.

This report provides a detailed and graphic account of events as they
unfolded. It centers about the 26th Marine Regiment, the main defenders
of the Khe Sanh area, who tenaciously and magnificently held off the
enemy during the two-and-one-half-month siege. Yet the battle of Khe
Sanh was an inter-Service and international operation. Consequently,
appropriate coverage is given to the contributions of the U.S. Army,
Navy, and Air Force, and to South Vietnamese regular and irregular
military units, all of whom contributed to the defense of the area
and to the destruction of the enemy. As Marine artillery from within
the fortified positions pounded the enemy, Army artillery located to
the east provided heavy, long-range fire support. Fighter aircraft
from the Marines, Air Force, and Navy provided continuous close air
support, while B-52 bombers of the Strategic Air Command dealt decisive
blows around-the-clock to enemy forces within striking distance of our
positions and against enemy supply areas. Further, Marine and Air Force
airlift together with Army parachute riggers logistically sustained the
defenders during the siege despite heavy enemy antiaircraft fire.

In early April, when the weather cleared and the troop and logistic
buildup was completed, a combined force of U. S. Army, U. S. Marine,
and Republic of Vietnam units, coordinated by the U. S. Army's 1st
Cavalry Division (Airmobile), maneuvered to link up with the 26th
Marines and rout the remaining enemy elements. Meanwhile, U. S. Marine
Corps engineers expeditiously opened Highway 9 to the plateau. The
crushing defeat suffered by the North Vietnamese Army during the siege
cost the Communists untold casualties, shattered two of their best
divisions, and frustrated their dream of a second Dien Bien Phu.

The battle of Khe Sanh is but one facet of the long and complicated war
in South Vietnam. It is one in which the aggressive nature of North
Vietnam, the resolute determination of our fighting forces, and the
local defeat of the armed enemy can all be clearly seen.

[Illustration: Handwritten Signature]

  General, United States Army


In the extreme northwestern corner of South Vietnam there stands
a monument to the free world. Unlike those which commemorate the
victories of past wars, this one was not built on marble or bronze but
the sacrifices of men who fought and died at a remote outpost to halt
the spread of Communism. This is the story of those men--the defenders
of Khe Sanh--and the epic 77-day struggle which not only denied the
North Vietnamese Army a much needed victory but reaffirmed to the world
the intention of the United States to hold the line in Southeast Asia.
In addition to having been a contest of men and machines, this was the
test of a nation's will.

As a history, this work is not intended to prove any point, but rather
to record objectively the series of events which came to be called the
Battle of Khe Sanh. These events spanned a period from April 1967 to
April 1968. The rationale for the buildup along the Demilitarized Zone
and the commitment to hold the small garrison is presented as a logical
extension of the three-pronged strategy then employed throughout I
Corps and the rest of South Vietnam; this balanced campaign included
pacification programs, counterguerrilla activity, and large unit
offensive sweeps. Although isolated, the Khe Sanh Combat Base was
a vital link in the northern defenses which screened the Allied
counterinsurgency efforts in the densely populated coastal plains from
invasion by regular divisions from North Vietnam. By obstructing this
attempted invasion, American and South Vietnamese forces at Khe Sanh
provided a shield for their contemporaries who were waging a war for
the hearts and minds of the people in the cities, villages, and hamlets
farther to the south. In the process, a reinforced regiment--the 26th
Marines--supported by massive firepower provided by the Marine and Navy
air arms, the U. S. Air Force and Marine and Army artillery, defended
this base and mangled two crack North Vietnamese Army divisions,
further illustrating to Hanoi the futility of its war of aggression.

Later, after the encirclement was broken and additional U.S. forces
became available, the Allies were able to shift emphasis from the fixed
defense to fast-moving offensive operations to control this vital area
astride the enemy's invasion route. In these operations, our troops
thrust out to strike the enemy whenever he appeared in this critical
region. This shift in tactics in the spring of 1968 was made possible
by favorable weather, the buildup of troops, helicopters, and logistics
that had taken place during the winter of 1967-68. An additional factor
was the construction of a secure forward base across the mountains to
the east of Khe Sanh, from which these operations could be supported.
The Khe Sanh Combat Base then lost the importance it had earlier and
was dismantled after its supplies were drawn down, since it was no
longer needed. The strategy of containing the North Vietnamese Army
along the border remained the same; but revised tactics were now

But in 1967 and early 1968, neither troops nor helicopters, logistics
nor the forward base were available to support the more aggressive
tactics. The enemy lunged into the area in force, and he had to be
stopped. The KSCB with its airstrip was the pivotal point in the area
from which Allied firepower could be directed and which the enemy could
not ignore. It was here that the 26th Marines made their stand.

This study also provides insight into the mechanics of the battle from
the highest echelon of command to the smallest unit. In addition,
appropriate coverage is provided to the supporting arms and the mammoth
logistics effort which spelled the difference between victory and
defeat. While this is basically a story about Marines, it notes the
valiant contributions of U. S. Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel, as
well as the South Vietnamese.

The account is based on records of the U. S. Marine Corps, selected
records of other Services, and appropriate published works. The
comments of and interviews with key participants have been incorporated
into the text. Although this monograph has been cleared for publication
by the Department of Defense, most of the documents cited retain a
security classification.

[Illustration: Handwritten signature]

  Lieutenant General, U. S. Marine Corps
  Commanding General, III Marine Amphibious Force


  Prologue                                            v

  Foreword                                           vi

  Preface                                            ix

  Introduction                                        1

  Part I:     Background                              3

  Part II:    The Lull Between The Storms            18

  Part III:   The Buildup and The Opening Round      29

  Part IV:    The "So-Called" Siege Begins           53

  Part V:     The Airlift                            72

  Part VI:    Supporting Arms and Intelligence       93

  Part VII:   The Turning Point                     113

  Part VIII:  The Breakout                          132

  Part IX:    Epilogue                              145


  A. Bibliographical Notes and Footnotes            152

  B. Glossary                                       169

  C. Chronology                                     180

  D. Task Organization                              187

  E. Command and Staff List, 3d Marines             193

  F. Command and Staff List, 26th Marines           196

  G. Military Map Symbols                           203

=The Battle for Khe Sanh=


Captain Moyers S. Shore II, USMC


"Attention to Colors." The order having been given, Captain William
H. Dabney, a product of the Virginia Military Institute, snapped to
attention, faced the jerry-rigged flag-pole, and saluted, as did every
other man in Company I, 3d Battalion, 26th Marines. The ceremony might
well have been at any one of a hundred military installations around
the world except for a few glaring irregularities. The parade ground
was a battle-scarred hilltop to the west of Khe Sanh and the men in
the formation stood half submerged in trenches or foxholes. Instead of
crisply starched utilities, razor sharp creases, and gleaming brass,
these Marines sported scraggly beards, ragged trousers, and rotted
helmet liner straps. The only man in the company who could play a
bugle, Second Lieutenant Owen S. Matthews, lifted the pock-marked
instrument to his lips and spat out a choppy version of "To the Colors"
while two enlisted men raced to the RC-292 radio antenna which served
as the flag-pole and gingerly attached the Stars and Stripes. As the
mast with its shredded banner came upright, the Marines could hear the
ominous "thunk," "thunk," "thunk," to the southwest of their position
which meant that North Vietnamese 120mm mortar rounds had left their
tubes. They also knew that in 21 seconds those "thunks" would be
replaced by much louder, closer sounds but no one budged until Old
Glory waved high over the hill.

When Lieutenant Matthews sharply cut off the last note of his piece,
Company I disappeared; men dropped into trenches, dived headlong into
foxholes, or scrambled into bunkers. The area which moments before had
been bristling with humanity was suddenly a ghost town. Seconds later
explosions walked across the hilltop spewing black smoke, dirt, and
debris into the air. Rocks, splinters, and spent shell fragments rained
on the flattened Marines but, as usual, no one was hurt. As quickly as
the attack came, it was over. While the smoke lazily drifted away, a
much smaller banner rose from the Marines' positions. A pole adorned
with a pair of red, silk panties--Maggie's Drawers--was waved back
and forth above one trenchline to inform the enemy that he had missed
again. A few men stood up and jeered or cursed at the distant gunners;
others simply saluted with an appropriate obscene gesture. The daily
flag-raising ceremony on Hill 881 South was over.

This episode was just one obscure incident which coupled with hundreds
of others made up the battle for Khe Sanh. The ceremony carried with it
no particular political overtones but was intended solely as an open
show of defiance toward the Communists as well as a morale booster for
the troops. The jaunty courage, quiet determination, and macabre humor
of the men on Hill 881S exemplified the spirit of the U. S. and South
Vietnamese defenders who not only defied the enemy but, in a classic
77-day struggle, destroyed him. At the same time, the fighting around
the isolated combat base touched off a passionate controversy in the
United States and the battle, therefore, warrants close scrutiny.
For proper prospective, however, one first needs to have a basic
understanding of the series of events which thrust Khe Sanh into the
limelight. In effect, the destiny of the combatants was unknowingly
determined almost three years earlier at a place called Red Beach near
Da Nang.



When the lead elements of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade,
commanded by Brigadier General Frederick J. Karch, slogged ashore at
Da Nang on 8 March 1965, Communist political and military aspirations
in South Vietnam received a severe jolt. The buildup of organized
American combat units had begun. In May 1965, the 9th MEB was succeeded
by the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF) which was comprised of
the 3d Marine Division, the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, and, within a
year, the 1st Marine Division. The Commanding General, III MAF was
given responsibility for U. S. operations in I Corps Tactical Zone
which incorporated the five northern provinces and, on 5 June 1965,
Major General Lewis W. Walt assumed that role. (See Map 1). Major units
of the U. S. Army moved into other portions of South Vietnam and the
entire American effort came under the control of the Commander, U. S.
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (ComUSMACV), General William C.


  MAP 1      K. W. White


The Marines, in conjunction with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam
(ARVN), set about to wrest control of the populace in I Corps from the
Viet Cong and help reassert the authority of the central government.
The Allies launched an aggressive campaign designed to root out the
enemy's source of strength--the local guerrilla. Allied battalion- and
regimental-sized units screened this effort by seeking out and engaging
Viet Cong main forces and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) elements. Smaller
Marine and ARVN units went after the isolated guerrilla bands which
preyed on the Vietnamese peasants. Thousands of fire team-, squad-, and
platoon-sized actions took a heavy toll of the enemy and the Viet Cong
were gradually pushed out of the populated areas. Whenever a village
or hamlet was secured, civic action teams moved in to fill the vacuum
and began the long, tedious process of erasing the effects of prolonged
Communist domination. Progress was slow. Within a year, however, the
area under Government security had grown to more than 1,600 square
miles and encompassed nearly half a million people. As government
influence extended deeper into the countryside, the security, health,
economic well-being, and educational prospects of the peasants were
constantly improved. There was an ever increasing number of enemy
defectors and intelligence reports from, heretofore, unsympathetic
villagers. By mid-1966, Allied military operations and pacification
programs were slowly but seriously eroding the enemy's elaborate
infrastructure and his hold over the people.(2)

It soon became apparent to the leaders in the North that, unless they
took some bold action, ten years of preparation and their master
plan for conquest of South Vietnam would go down the drain. From
the Communists' standpoint, the crucial matter was not the volume
of casualties they sustained, but the survival of the guerrilla
infrastructure in South Vietnam. In spite of their disregard for
human life, the North Vietnamese did not wish to counter the American
military steamroller in the populated coastal plain of I Corps. There,
the relatively open terrain favored the overwhelming power of the
Marines' supporting arms. The enemy troops would have extended supply
lines, their movement could be more easily detected, and they would be
further away from sanctuaries in Laos and North Vietnam. In addition,
when the propaganda-conscious NVA suffered a defeat, it would be
witnessed by the local populace and thus shatter the myth of Communist

If the Marines could not be smashed, and the Communists had tried
several times, they had to be diverted or thinned out. The answer to
the enemy's dilemma lay along the 17th Parallel. Gradually, they massed
large troop concentrations within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), in
Laos, and in the southern pan-handle of North Vietnam; in short, they
were opening a new front. Nguyen Van Mai, a high Communist official in
Phnom Penh, Cambodia, predicted: "We will entice the Americans closer
to the North Vietnamese border and ... bleed them without mercy." That
remained to be seen.(3)

In response to the enemy buildup along the DMZ throughout the summer
and fall of 1966, General Walt shifted Marine units further north.
The 3d Marine Division Headquarters moved from Da Nang to Phu Bai,
and a Division Forward Command Post (CP) continued to Dong Ha so
that it could respond rapidly to developments along the DMZ. In turn
the 1st Marine Division Headquarters moved from Chu Lai to Da Nang
and took control of operations in central and southern I Corps. For
specific, short-term operations, the division commanders frequently
delegated authority to a task force headquarters. The task force was
a semipermanent organization composed of temporarily assigned units
under one commander, usually a general officer. Because of the fluid,
fast-moving type of warfare peculiar to Vietnam, the individual
battalion became a key element and went where it was needed the most.
It might operate under a task force headquarters or a regiment other
than its own parent unit. For example, it would not be uncommon for the
2d Battalion, 9th Marines to be attached to the 3d Marines while the 2d
Battalion, 3d Marines was a part of another command. Commitments were
met with units that were the most readily available at the time.(4)

With the buildup of American troops in Quang Tri province, there
logically followed the buildup of installations. Dong Ha was the
largest since it served as the brain and nervous system of the entire
area. Eight miles to the southwest was Camp J. J. Carroll, a large
artillery base. The Marine units there were reinforced by several
batteries of U. S. Army 175mm guns which had the capability of firing
into North Vietnam. Located at the base of a jagged mountain ten
miles west of Camp Carroll was another artillery base--the Rockpile.
This facility also had 175mm guns and extended the range of American
artillery support almost to the Laotian border. In addition, the
Marines built a series of strongpoints paralleling and just south of
the DMZ. Gio Linh and Con Thien were the two largest sites. (See Map 2).

During the remainder of 1966 and in the first quarter of 1967, the
intensity of fighting in the eastern DMZ area increased. Each time the
enemy troops made a foray across the DMZ, the Marines met and defeated
them. By 31 March 1967, the NVA had lost 3,492 confirmed killed in
action (KIA) in the northern operations while the Marines had suffered
541 killed. For the Communists, it appeared that direct assaults across
the DMZ were proving too costly--even by their standards.(5)


  MAP 2      E.L. WILSON


The Khe Sanh Plateau, in western Quang Tri Province, provided the
NVA with an excellent alternative. The late Doctor Bernard B. Fall
compared the whole of Vietnam to "two rice baskets on opposite ends
of a carrying pole." Such being the case, Khe Sanh is located at the
pole's fulcrum in the heart of the rugged Annamite Range. Studded with
piedmont-type hills, this area provides a natural infiltration route.
Most of the mountain trails are hidden by tree canopies up to 60 feet
in height, dense elephant grass, and bamboo thickets. Concealment from
reconnaissance aircraft is good, and the heavy jungle under-growth
limits ground observation to five meters in most places. Dong Tri
Mountain (1,015 meters high), the highest peak in the region, along
with Hill 861 and Hills 881 North and South dominate the two main
avenues of approach.[1] One of these, the western access, runs along
Route 9 from the Laotian border, through the village of Lang Vei to Khe
Sanh. The other is a small valley to the northwest, formed by the Rao
Quan River, which runs between Dong Tri Mountain and Hill 861. (See Map
3). Another key terrain feature is Hill 558 which is located squarely
in the center of the northwestern approach. The only stumbling block
to the NVA in early 1967 was a handful of Marines, U. S. Army Special
Forces advisors, and South Vietnamese irregulars.(6) (See Map 3).

The "Green Berets" were the first American troops in the area when,
in August 1962, they established a Civilian Irregular Defense Group
(CIDG) at the same site which later became the Khe Sanh Combat Base
(KSCB). The first Marine unit of any size to visit the area was the 1st
Battalion, 1st Marines (1/1) which, in April 1966, was participating
in Operation VIRGINIA. In early October 1966, the 1st Battalion, 3d
Marines, which was taking part in Operation PRAIRIE, moved into the
base and the CIDG camp was relocated near Lang Vei, 9,000 meters to
the southwest where it continued surveillance and counterinfiltration
operations. The battalion remained at Khe Sanh with no significant
contacts until February 1967 when it was replaced by a single company,
E/2/9.[2] In mid-March 1967, Company E became engaged in a heavy
action near Hill 861 and Company B, 1/9 moved in to reinforce. After a
successful conclusion of the operation, E/2/9 returned to Phu Bai, and
B/1/9 remained as the resident defense company.


  MAP 3      K.W. White


The KSCB sat atop a plateau in the shadow of Dong Tri Mountain
and overlooked a tributary of the Quang Tri River. The base had a
small dirt airstrip, which had been surfaced by a U. S. Navy Mobile
Construction Battalion (Seabees) in the summer of 1966; the field could
accommodate helicopters and fixed-wing transport aircraft. Organic
artillery support was provided by Battery F, 2/12 (105mm), reinforced
by two 155mm howitzers and two 4.2-inch mortars. The Khe Sanh area
of operations was also within range of the 175mm guns of the U. S.
Army's 2d Battalion, 94th Artillery at Camp Carroll and the Rockpile.
In addition to B/1/9 and the CIDG, there was a Marine Combined Action
Company (CAC) and a Regional Forces company located in the village of
Khe Sanh, approximately 3,500 meters south of the base.[3]

All these units sat astride the northwest-southeast axis of Route 9
and had the mission of denying the NVA a year-round route into eastern
Quang Tri Province. The garrison at Khe Sanh and the adjacent outposts
commanded the approaches from the west which led to Dong Ha and Quang
Tri City. Had this strategic plateau not been in the hands of the
Americans, the North Vietnamese would have had an unobstructed invasion
route into the two northern provinces and could have outflanked the
Allied forces holding the line south of the DMZ. At that time, the
Americans did not possess the helicopter resources, troop strength, or
logistical bases in this northern area to adopt a completely mobile
type of defense. Therefore, the troops at the KSCB maintained a
relatively static defense with emphasis on patrolling, artillery and
air interdiction, and occasional reconnaissance in force operations to
stifle infiltration through the Khe Sanh Plateau. In the event a major
enemy threat developed, General Walt could rapidly reinforce the combat
base by air.(7)

On 20 April 1967, the combat assets at KSCB were passed to the
operational control of the 3d Marines which had just commenced
Operation PRAIRIE IV. The Khe Sanh area of operations was not included
as a part of PRAIRIE IV but was the responsibility of the 3d Marines
since that regiment was in the best position to oversee the base and
reinforce if the need arose. The need arose very soon.(8)

On 24 April 1967, a patrol from Company B, 1/9 became heavily engaged
with an enemy force of unknown size north of Hill 861 and in the
process prematurely triggered an elaborate  North Vietnamese offensive
designed to overrun Khe Sanh. What later became known as the "Hill
Fights" had begun. In retrospect, it appears that the drive toward
Khe Sanh was but one prong of the enemy's winter-spring offensive,
the ultimate objective of which was the capture of Dong Ha, Quang
Tri City, and eventually, Hue-Phu Bai.[4] That portion of the enemy
plan which pertained to Khe Sanh involved the isolation of the base
by artillery attacks on the Marine fire support bases in the eastern
DMZ area (e.g., Camp Carroll, Con Thien, Gio Linh, etc.). These
were closely coordinated with attacks by fire on the logistical and
helicopter installations at Dong Ha and Phu Bai. Demolition teams cut
Route 9 between Khe Sanh and Cam Lo to prevent overland reinforcement
and, later, a secondary attack was launched against the camp at Lang
Vei, which was manned by Vietnamese CIDG personnel and U. S. Army
Special Forces advisors. Under cover of heavy fog and low overcast
which shrouded Khe Sanh for several weeks, the North Vietnamese moved
a regiment into the Hill 881/861 complex and constructed a maze of
heavily reinforced bunkers and gun positions from which they intended
to provide direct fire against the KSCB in support of their assault
troops. All of these efforts were ancillary to the main thrust--a
regimental-sized ground attack--from the =325C NVA Division= which
would sweep in from the west and seize the airfield.[5](9) (See Map 4).

The job of stopping the NVA was given to Colonel John P. Lanigan and
his 3d Marines. Although he probably did not know it when he arrived
at Khe Sanh, this assignment would not be unlike one which 22 years
before had earned him a Silver Star on Okinawa. Both involved pushing a
fanatical enemy force off a hill.


  MAP 4      K.W. White


On 25 April, the lead elements of the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines,
commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Gary Wilder, arrived at Khe Sanh. The
following day, 2/3, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Earl R. De Long,
which was taking part in Operation BEACON STAR east of Quang Tri City
was airlifted to the combat base. On the 27th, a fresh artillery
battery, B/1/12, arrived and reinforced F/2/12; by the end of the day,
the two units had been reorganized into an artillery group with one
battery in direct support of each battalion.(10)

Late in the afternoon of the 28th, the Marine infantrymen were ready to
drive the enemy from the hill masses. These hills formed a near-perfect
right triangle with Hill 881 North (N) at the apex and the other two
at the base. Hill 861 was the closest to the combat base, some 5,000
meters northwest of the airstrip. Hill 881 South (S) was approximately
3,000 meters west of 861 and 2,000 meters south of 881N.

The concept of operations entailed a two-battalion (2/3 and 3/3)
assault for which Hill 861 was designated Objective 1; Hill 881S was
Objective 2 and Hill 881N was Objective 3. From its position south of
Hill 861, 2/3 would assault and seize Objective 1 on 28 April. The 3d
Battalion would follow in trace of 2/3 and, after the first objective
was taken, 3/3 would wheel to the west, secure the terrain between
Hills 861 and 881S, then assault Objective 2 from a northeasterly
direction. Coordinated with the 3/3 attack, 2/3 would consolidate its
objective then move out toward Hill 881N to screen the right flank of
the 3d Battalion and reinforce if necessary. When Objectives 1 and 2
were secured, 3/3 would move to the northwest and support 2/3 while it
assaulted Objective 3. (See Map 5).


  MAP 5      K.W. White


[Illustration: Marines of Company G, 2d Battalion, 3d Marines inch
their way toward the summit of Hill 881N during the Hill fights. (USMC
Photo A189161)]

[Illustration: Close air support strikes of the 1st Marine Aircraft
Wing and massive artillery fires paved the way for infantry assaults.
(USMC Photo A421953)]

After extremely heavy preparatory artillery fires and massive air
strikes, the 3d Marines kicked off the attack. On the 28th, 2/3
assaulted and seized Hill 861 in the face of sporadic resistance. Most
of the enemy troops had been literally blown from their positions by
heavy close air support strikes of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. The
operation continued with a thrust against Hill 881S by 3/3. This area
was the scene of extremely bitter fighting for several days, because,
by this time, the NVA regiment which was originally slated for the
attack on the airfield had been thrown into the hill battles in a vain
effort to stop the Marines. After tons of artillery shells and aerial
bombs had been employed against the hill, Lieutenant Colonel Wilder's
battalion bulled its way to the summit and, on 2 May, secured the
objective. In the meantime, Lieutenant Colonel De Long's battalion
pushed along the ridgeline leading from Hill 861 to 881N. After
smashing a determined NVA counterattack on 3 May, the 2d Battalion
battered its way to the crest of Hill 881N and secured the final
objective on the afternoon of the 5th. The three hills belonged to the

The supporting arms had done a good job, for the top of each hill
looked like the surface of the moon. The color of the summit had
changed from a vivid green to a dull, ugly brown. All of the lush
vegetation had been blasted away, leaving in its place a mass of
churned-up dirt and splintered trees. Hundreds of craters dotted the
landscape serving as mute witnesses to the terrible pounding that
the enemy had taken. What the NVA learned during the operation was
something the Marine Corps had espoused for years--that bombs and
shells were cheaper than blood.

Thus, the "Hill Fights" ended and the first major attempt by the NVA
to take Khe Sanh was thwarted. All intelligence reports indicated
that the badly mauled =325C NVA Division= had pulled back to lick its
wounds, ending the immediate threat in western Quang Tri Province. With
the pressure relieved for the time being, General Walt began scaling
down his forces at Khe Sanh, because the next phase of the enemy's
winter/spring offensive involved a drive through the coastal plain
toward Dong Ha.

From 11-13 May, 1/26 moved into the combat base and the adjacent hills
to relieve the 3d Marines. By the evening of the 12th, 2/3 had been
airlifted to Dong Ha and one artillery battery, B/1/12, was pulled
out by convoy. The following day, 3/3 also returned to Dong Ha by
truck. In the meantime, Company A, 1/26, was helilifted to Hill 881S
while Company C took up positions on Hill 861. Company B, 1/26, and
a skeleton headquarters of the 26th Marines arrived and remained at
the base, as did a fresh artillery battery, A/1/13. At 1500 on 13
May, Colonel John J. Padley, Commanding Officer of the 26th Marines,
Forward, relieved Colonel Lanigan as the Senior Officer Present at Khe

In his analysis of the operation, Colonel Lanigan reported that his
men had been engaged in a conventional infantry battle against a
well-trained, highly-disciplined, and well-entrenched enemy force.
In the past, the NVA had used phantom tactics when engaging U. S.
forces--not so at Khe Sanh. The maze of bunker complexes served as a
grim reminder of their determination to stay and fight. They openly
challenged the Americans to push them off the hills, and the 3d Marines
rose to the occasion. The fierce resistance was overcome by aggressive
infantry assaults in coordination with artillery and close air
support, which according to Colonel Lanigan was the most accurate and
devastating he had witnessed in three wars.

The Communists had anticipated a blood letting and they received
one. From 24 April through 12 May 1967, the NVA lost 940 confirmed
killed.[6] Even for the North Vietnamese, this was a massive defeat
which could not be easily absorbed. But the leaders in Hanoi were
committed to a course of action which traded human lives for strategic
expediency. Just like the monsoon rains, the enemy would come again.(13)


[1] The number indicates the height of the hill in meters.

[2] The designation E/2/9 stands for Company E, 2d Battalion, 9th
Marines. This type of designation will be used periodically for other
Marine units throughout the text.

[3] The Combined Action Program was designed to increase the ability
of the local Vietnamese militia units to defend their own villages.
These units, referred to as Popular Forces, were reinforced by groups
of Marines who lived, worked, and conducted operations with their
Vietnamese counterparts. A Combined Action Company was an organization
controlling several Marine squads which served with different Combined
Action Platoons. Combined Action Company Oscar (CACO) was the unit
operating in the Khe Sanh area. A Regional Forces company was comprised
of local South Vietnamese soldiers along with their American and ARVN
advisors who were under the operational control of the Vietnamese
Province Chief.

[4] The III MAF and enemy operations during the period of the NVA/VC
winter-spring offensive (1966-1967) will be the subject of a separate
monograph prepared by the Historical Branch.

[5] The diversionary attacks were all launched apparently on schedule.
On 27 and 28 April, the previously mentioned Marine fire support and
supply bases were hit by some 1,200 rocket, artillery, and mortar
rounds. Route 9 was cut in several places. The Special Forces Camp
at Lang Vei was attacked and severely mauled on 4 May. Only the main
effort was detected and subsequently thwarted.

[6] Marine losses were 155 killed and 425 wounded.



With the departure of the 3d Marines, a relative calm prevailed at Khe
Sanh for the remainder of the year. Although occasional encounters and
sightings indicated that the Communists still had an interest in the
area, there was a marked decrease in large unit contacts and the tempo
of operations slackened to a preinvasion pace. Such was not the case in
other portions of Quang Tri Province.

During the summer and fall of 1967, the center of activity shifted
to the eastern DMZ area. After being battered and thrown for a loss
on their end sweep, the Communists concentrated on the middle of the
line again. With an estimated 37 battalions poised along the border,
the NVA constituted a genuine threat to the northernmost province. At
times as many as eight Marine battalions were shuttled into the area
for short-term operations and three or four were there full time, but
the enemy's intensified campaign created a demand for more troops.
As a result, General Westmoreland was forced to make major force
realignments throughout South Vietnam to satisfy the troop requirements
in I Corps.(14)

General Westmoreland drew the bulk of these reinforcements from areas
in Vietnam which, at the time, were under less pressure than the five
northern provinces. During April and May 1967, Task Force OREGON,
comprised of nine U. S. Army battalions from II and III Corps, moved
into the Chu Lai-Duc Pho region and was placed under the operational
control of General Walt. By the end of May, five battalions of the 5th
and 7th Marines at Chu Lai had been released for service further north.
Two of these units moved into the Nui Loc Son Basin northwest of Tam
Ky to conduct offensive operations and support the sagging Vietnamese
Revolutionary Development efforts. The other three settled in the Da
Nang tactical area of responsibility (TAOR) and in turn released two
Marine battalions, 1/1 and 2/1, which moved to Thua Thien and Quang Tri

In addition to his in-country assets, General Westmoreland also
called on Admiral U. S. Grant Sharp, Commander in Chief, Pacific, for
reinforcements. Besides the two Special Landing Forces afloat with the
U. S. Seventh Fleet, the Pacific Command maintained a Marine Battalion
Landing Team (BLT 3/4) as an amphibious reserve on Okinawa.[7](15)
Actually, this unit was part of the BLT rotation system whereby
battalions were periodically shuttled out of Vietnam for retraining and
refurbishing in Okinawa before assignment to the SLF. ComUSMACV needed
the unit and got it. On 15 May, 3/4 began an airlift from Okinawa to
Dong Ha by Air Force and Marine C-130 aircraft and within 31 hours the
1,233-man force was in-country. After the realignment of units in I
Corps was complete, there was a net increase of four USMC battalions in
the DMZ area making a total of seven. Additionally, the SLFs, cruising
off the Vietnamese coast, provided two more battalions which could be
landed quickly and added to the III MAF inventory. SLF Alpha (BLT 1/3
and HMM-362) was placed on 24-hour alert to come ashore and SLF Bravo
(BLT 2/3 and HMM-164) was given a 96-hour reaction time.(16)

During the second half of 1967, the enemy offensive south of the DMZ
was a bloody repetition of the previous year's effort. With more
courage than good sense, the NVA streamed across the DMZ throughout the
summer only to be met and systematically chewed up in one engagement
after another. In July, the enemy, supported by his long-range
artillery along the Ben Hai, mounted a major thrust against the 9th
Marines near the strongpoint of Con Thien. Reinforced by SLFs Alpha and
Bravo, the 9th Marines countered with Operation BUFFALO and, between
the 2d and 14th of July, killed 1,290 NVA. Marine losses were 159 dead
and 345 wounded.(17)

[Illustration: Action near the DMZ was characterized by hard fighting
in rugged terrain. A Marine of 3/4 moves forward during Operation
PRAIRIE. (USMC Photo A187904)]

[Illustration: Marine Battalion Landing Teams aboard U. S. Seventh
Fleet shipping augmented III MAF forces. USS =Iwo Jima= stands off
South Vietnamese coast. (USMC Photo A650016)]

After this crushing defeat, the NVA shifted its emphasis from direct
infantry assaults to attacks by fire. Utilizing long-range rockets and
artillery pieces tucked away in caves and treelines along the DMZ, the
enemy regularly shelled Marine fire support and logistical bases from
Cam Lo to Cua Viet. One of the most destructive attacks was against
Dong Ha where, on 3 September, 41 enemy artillery rounds hit the base
and touched off a series of spectacular explosions which lasted for
over four hours. Several helicopters were damaged but, more important,
a fuel farm and a huge stockpile of ammunition went up in smoke.
Thousands of gallons of fuel and tons of ammunition were destroyed. The
enormous column of smoke from the exploding dumps rose above 12,000
feet and was visible as far south as Hue-Phu Bai.(18)

The preponderance of enemy fire, however, was directed against Con
Thien. That small strongpoint, never garrisoned by more than a
reinforced battalion, was situated atop Hill 158, 10 miles northwest
of Dong Ha and, from their small perch, the Marines had a commanding
view of any activity in the area. In addition, from one to three
battalions were always in the immediate vicinity and deployed so that
they could outflank any major enemy force which tried to attack the
strongpoint. Con Thien also anchored the western end of "the barrier,"
a 600-meter-wide trace which extended eastward some eight miles to Gio
Linh. This strip was part of an anti-infiltration system and had been
bulldozed flat to aid in visual detection.[8](19)

Because of its strategic importance, Con Thien became the scene of
heavy fighting. The base itself was subjected to several ground
attacks, plus an almost incessant artillery bombardment which, at its
peak, reached 1,233 rounds in one 24-hour period. Most of the NVA and
Marine casualties, however, were sustained by maneuver elements in
the surrounding area. Operation KINGFISHER, which succeeded BUFFALO,
continued around Con Thien and by 31 October, when it was superseded by
two new operations, had accounted for 1,117 enemy dead. Marine losses
were 340 killed.[9](20)

While heavy fighting raged elsewhere, action around Khe Sanh continued
to be light and sporadic. Immediately after its arrival on 13 May,
Colonel Padley's undermanned 26th Marines commenced Operation
CROCKETT.[10](21) The mission was to occupy key terrain, deny the enemy
access into vital areas, conduct reconnaissance-in-force operations to
destroy any elements within the TAOR, and provide security for the base
and adjacent outposts. Colonel Padley was to support the Vietnamese
irregular forces with his organic artillery as well as coordinate
the efforts of the American advisors to those units. He also had the
responsibility of maintaining small reconnaissance teams for long-range

To accomplish his mission, the colonel had one infantry battalion,
1/26, a skeleton headquarters, and an artillery group under the control
of 1/13. The 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, commanded by Lieutenant
Colonel James B. Wilkinson, maintained one rifle company on Hill
881S and one on 861; a security detachment on Hill 950 to protect
a communication relay site; a rifle company and the Headquarters
and Service Company (H&S Co) for base security; and one company in
reserve. The units on the hill outposts patrolled continuously within
a 4,000-meter radius of their positions. Reconnaissance teams were
inserted further out, primarily to the north and northwest. Whenever
evidence revealed enemy activity in an area, company-sized search and
destroy sweeps were conducted. Although intelligence reports indicated
that the three regiments of the =325C NVA Division= (i.e. =95C=,
=101D=, and =29th=) were still in the Khe Sanh TAOR, there were few
contacts during the opening weeks of the operation.(23)

Toward the end of May and throughout June, however, activity picked
up. On 21 May, elements of Company A, 1/26, clashed sharply with
a reinforced enemy company; 25 NVA and 2 Marines were killed. The
same day, the Lang Vei CIDG camp was attacked by an enemy platoon.
On 6 June, the radio relay site on Hill 950 was hit by an NVA force
of unknown size and the combat base was mortared. The following
morning a patrol from Company B, 1/26, engaged another enemy company
approximately 2,000 meters northwest of Hill 881S. A platoon from
Company A was helilifted to the scene and the two Marine units killed
66 NVA while losing 18 men. Due to the increasing number of contacts,
the 3d Battalion, 26th Marines, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Kurt
L. Hoch, was transferred to the operational control of its parent unit
and arrived at Khe Sanh on 13 June. Two weeks later, the newly arrived
unit got a crack at the NVA when Companies I and L engaged two enemy
companies 5,000 meters southwest of the base and, along with air and
artillery, killed 35.(24)

Operation CROCKETT continued as a two-battalion effort until 16 July
when it terminated. The cumulative casualty figures were 204 enemy KIA
(confirmed), 52 Marines KIA, and 255 Marines wounded. The following
day, operations continued under a new name--ARDMORE. The name was
changed; the mission, the units, and the TAOR remained basically
the same. But again the fighting tapered off. Except for occasional
contacts by reconnaissance teams and patrols, July and August were

On 12 August, Colonel David E. Lownds relieved Colonel Padley as the
commanding officer of the 26th Marines. At this time the 3d Marine
Division was deployed from the area north of Da Nang to the DMZ and
from the South China Sea to the Laotian border. In order to maintain
the initiative, Lieutenant General Robert E. Cushman, Jr., who had
relieved General Walt as CG, III MAF in June, drew down on certain
units to provide sufficient infantry strength for other operations.
Except for several small engagements Khe Sanh had remained relatively
quiet; therefore, on the day after Colonel Lownds assumed command, the
regiment was whittled down by two companies when K and L, 3/26, were
transferred to the 9th Marines for Operation KINGFISHER. Three weeks
later, the rest of 3/26 was also withdrawn and, as far as Marine units
were concerned, Colonel Lownds found himself "not so much a regimental
commander as the supervisor of a battalion commander." The colonel,
however, was still responsible for coordinating the efforts of all the
other Allied units (CACO, CIDG, RF, etc) in the Khe Sanh TAOR.(26)

[Illustration: Colonel John J. Padley turns over the colors and the
26th Marines to Colonel David E. Lownds on 12 August 1967. (Photo
courtesy Colonel David E. Lownds)]

As Operation ARDMORE dragged on, the Marines at Khe Sanh concentrated
on improving the combat base. The men were kept busy constructing
bunkers and trenches both inside the perimeter and on the hill
outposts. On the hills, this proved to be no small task as was pointed
out by the 1/26 battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson:

  The monsoon rains had little effect on 881, but when the first
  torrential rains of the season hit 861 the results were disastrous.
  The trenchline which encircled the hill washed away completely on
  one side of the position and caved in on another side. Some bunkers
  collapsed while others were so weakened they had to be completely
  rebuilt. Because of the poor soil and the steepness of the terrain,
  the new bunkers were built almost completely above ground. To
  provide drainage, twenty-seven 55 gallon steel drums, with the tops
  and bottoms removed, were installed in the sides of the trenches
  around 861 so water would not stand in the trenches. (Culvert
  material was not available.) All bunker materials, as well as other
  supplies, were delivered to the hills by helicopter. Attempts were
  made to obtain logs for fighting positions and bunkers in the
  canopied jungle flanking the hills. This idea was not successful.
  The trees close to 881 and 861 were so filled with shrapnel from
  the battles the previous spring that the engineers did not want to
  ruin their chain saws on the metal.... In spite of the shortages,
  Marines of 1/26 worked extremely hard until every Marine on 881(S)
  and 861 had overhead cover.(27)

Another bit of foresight which was to prove a God-send in the
succeeding months was the decision by higher headquarters to improve
the airstrip. The original runway had been a dirt strip on top of which
the U. S. Navy Seabees had laid aluminum matting. The 3,900-foot strip,
however, did not have a rock base and as a result of the heavy monsoon
rains, mud formed under the matting causing it to buckle in several
places. Upon direction, Colonel Lownds closed the field on 17 August.
His men located a hill 1,500 meters southwest of the perimeter which
served as a quarry. Three 15-ton rock crushers, along with other heavy
equipment, were hauled in and the Marine and Seabee working parties
started the repairs. During September and October, U. S. Air Force
C-130s of the 315th Air Division (under the operational control of
the 834th Air Division) delivered 2,350 tons of matting, asphalt, and
other construction material to the base by paradrops and a special
low-altitude extraction system. (See page 76) While the field was shut
down, resupply missions were handled by helicopters and C-7 "Caribou"
which could land on short segments of the strip. Work continued until
27 October when the field was reopened to C-123 aircraft and later, to

On 31 October, Operation ARDMORE came to an uneventful conclusion. The
absence of any major engagements was mirrored in the casualty figures
which showed that in three and a half months, 113 NVA and 10 Marines
were killed. The next day, 1 November, the 26th Marines commenced
another operation, new in name only--SCOTLAND I. Again the mission and
units remained the same, and while the area of operations was altered
slightly, SCOTLAND I was basically just an extension of ARDMORE.(29)

One incident in November which was to have a tremendous effect on the
future of the combat base was the arrival of Major General Rathvon
McC. Tompkins at Phu Bai as the new Commanding General, 3d Marine
Division. General Tompkins took over from Brigadier General Louis
Metzger who had been serving as the Acting Division Commander following
the death of Major General Bruno Hochmuth in a helicopter crash on 14
November. In addition to being an extremely able commander, General
Tompkins possessed a peppery yet gentlemanly quality which, in the
gloom that later shrouded Khe Sanh, often lifted the spirits of his
subordinates. His numerous inspection trips, even to the most isolated
units, provided the division commander with a first-hand knowledge of
the tactical situation in northern I Corps which would never have been
gained by simply sitting behind a desk. When the heavy fighting broke
out at Khe Sanh, the general visited the combat base almost daily. Few
people were to influence the coming battle more than General Tompkins
or have as many close calls.(30)

During December, there was another surge of enemy activity.
Reconnaissance teams reported large groups of NVA moving into the area
and, this time, they were not passing through; they were staying.
There was an increased number of contacts between Marine patrols and
enemy units. The companies on Hills 881S and 861 began receiving more
and more sniper fire. Not only the hill outposts, but the combat base
itself, received numerous probes along the perimeter. In some cases,
the defensive wire was cut and replaced in such a manner that the break
was hard to detect. The situation warranted action, and again General
Cushman directed 3/26 to rejoin the regiment. On 13 December, the
3d Battalion, under its new commander, Lieutenant Colonel Harry L.
Alderman (who assumed command 21 August), was airlifted back to Khe
Sanh and the 26th Marines.(31)

On the 21st, the newly-arrived Marines saddled up and took to the
field. This was the first time that Colonel Lownds had been able to
commit a battalion-sized force since 3/26 had left Khe Sanh in August.
Lieutenant Colonel Alderman's unit was helilifted to 881S where it
conducted a sweep toward Hill 918, some 5,100 meters to the west,
and then returned to the combat base by the way of Hill 689. The 3d
Battalion made no contact with the enemy during the five-day operation
but the effort proved to be extremely valuable. First of all, the men
of 3/26 became familiar with the terrain to the west and south of
Hill 881S--a position which was later occupied by elements of the 3d
Battalion. The Marines located the best avenues of approach to the
hill, as well as probable sites for the enemy's supporting weapons.
Secondly, and most important, the unit turned up evidence (fresh
foxholes, well-used trails, caches, etc.) which indicated that the NVA
was moving into the area in force. These signs further strengthened the
battalion and regimental commanders' belief that "things were picking
up," and the confrontation which many predicted would come was not far
off. Captain Richard D. Camp, the company commander of L/3/26 put it a
little more bluntly: "I can smell ... _[_enemy_]_."(32)

[Illustration: General Leonard F. Chapman, Jr., Commandant of the
Marine Corps, talks with his son, First Lieutenant Walton F. Chapman,
during the General's visit to Khe Sanh in January 1968. Lieutenant
Chapman served with the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines and spent a good
portion of the siege on Hill 950. (USMC Photo A190283)]


[7] The two Special Landing Forces of the Seventh Fleet are each
comprised of a Marine Battalion Landing Team and a Marine helicopter
squadron, and provide ComUSMACV/CG, III MAF with a highly-flexible,
amphibious striking force for operations along the South Vietnam
littoral. During the amphibious operation, operational control of the
SLF remains with the Amphibious Task Force Commander designated by
Commander, Seventh Fleet. This relationship may persist throughout
the operation if coordination with forces ashore does not dictate
otherwise. When the Special Landing Force is firmly established ashore,
operational control may be passed to CG, III MAF who, in turn, may
shift this control to the division in whose area the SLF is operating.
Under such circumstances, operational control of the helicopter
squadron is passed by CG III MAF to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.

[8] The system was an anti-infiltration barrier just south of the DMZ.
Obstacles were used to channelize the enemy. Strongpoints, such as Con
Thien, served as patrol bases and fire support bases.

[9] In addition to the action near the DMZ, there was one other area
in I Corps that was a hub of activity. The Nui Loc Son Basin, a rice
rich coastal plain between Hoi An and Tam Ky, was the operating area of
the =2d NVA Division=. Between April and October 1967, Marine, U. S.
Army, and ARVN troops conducted 13 major operations (including 3 SLF
landings) in this region and killed 5,395 enemy soldiers. By the end of
the year, the =2d NVA Division= was temporarily rendered useless as a
fighting unit.

[10] The official designation of the unit at Khe Sanh was Regimental
Landing Team 26 (Forward) which consisted of one battalion and a
lightly staffed headquarters. The other two battalions were in-country
but under the operational control of other units. The rest of the
headquarters, RLT-26 (Rear), remained at Camp Schwab, Okinawa as a
pipeline for replacements. RLT-26 (Forward) was under the operational
control of the 3d MarDiv and the administrative control of the 9th
MAB. Any further mention of the 26th Marines will refer only to RLT-26



With the beginning of the new year, Khe Sanh again became the focal
point of enemy activity in I Corps. All evidence pointed to a North
Vietnamese offensive similar to the one in 1967, only on a much larger
scale. From various intelligence sources, the III MAF, 3d Marine
Division, and 26th Marines Headquarters learned that NVA units, which
usually came down the "Santa Fe Trail" and skirted the combat base
outside of artillery range, were moving into the Khe Sanh area and
staying.[11](33) At first, the reports showed the influx of individual
regiments, then a division headquarters; finally a front headquarters
was established indicating that at least two NVA divisions were in the
vicinity. In fact, the =325C NVA Division= had moved back into the
region north of Hill 881N while a newcomer to the area, the =304th
NVA Division=, had crossed over from Laos and established positions
southwest of the base. The =304th= was an elite home guard division
from Hanoi which had been a participant at Dien Bien Phu.[12](34) The
entire force included six infantry regiments, two artillery regiments,
an unknown number of tanks, plus miscellaneous support and service
units. Gradually, the enemy shifted his emphasis from reconnaissance
and harassment to actual probes and began exerting more and more
pressure on Allied outposts and patrols. One incident which reinforced
the belief that something big was in the wind occurred on 2 January
near a Marine listening post just outside the main perimeter.(35)

The post was located approximately 400 meters from the western end of
the airstrip and north of where the Company L, 3/26 lines tied in with
those of 1/26. At 2030, a sentry dog was alerted by movement outside
the perimeter and a few minutes later the Marines manning the post
reported that six unidentified persons were approaching the defensive
wire. Oddly enough, the nocturnal visitors were not crawling or
attempting to hide their presence; they were walking around as if they
owned the place. A squad from L/3/26, headed by Second Lieutenant Nile
B. Buffington, was dispatched to investigate. Earlier in the day the
squad had rehearsed the proper procedure for relieving the listening
post and had received a briefing on fire discipline. The training was
shortly put to good use.

Lieutenant Buffington saw that the six men were dressed like Marines
and, while no friendly patrols were reported in the area, he challenged
the strangers in clear English to be sure. There was no reply. A second
challenge was issued and, this time, the lieutenant saw one of the
men make a motion as if going for a hand grenade. The Marines opened
fire and quickly cut down five of the six intruders. One enemy soldier
died with his finger inserted in the pin of a grenade. The awesome
hitting power of the M-16 rifle was quite evident since all five men
were apparently dead by the time they hit the ground. The lone survivor
was wounded but managed to escape after retrieving some papers from a
mapcase which was on one of the bodies. Using a sentry dog, the Marines
followed a trail of blood to the southwest but gave up the hunt in the
darkness. The direction the enemy soldier was heading led the Marines
to believe that his unit was located beyond the rock quarry.

The importance of the contact was not realized until later when
intelligence personnel discovered that all five of the enemy dead were
officers including an NVA regimental commander, operations officer, and
communications officer. The fact that the North Vietnamese would commit
such key men to a highly dangerous, personal reconnaissance indicated
that Khe Sanh was back at the top of the Communists' priority list.(36)

This series of events did not go unnoticed at higher headquarters.
General Cushman saw that Colonel Lownds had more on his hands
than could be handled by two battalions and directed that 2/26 be
transferred to the operational control of its parent unit. On 16
January, 2/26, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Francis J. Heath, Jr.,
landed at the Khe Sanh Combat Base; its arrival marked the first time
that the three battalions of the 26th Marines had operated together
in combat since Iwo Jima. The rapid deployment of Lieutenant Colonel
Heath's unit was another example of the speed with which large number
of troops could be committed to battle. The regimental commander knew
that he would be getting reinforcements but he did not know exactly
when they would arrive; he was informed by telephone just as the lead
transports were entering the landing pattern. The question that then
arose was: "Where could the newcomers do the most good?"(37)

Outside of the combat base itself, there were several areas which
were vital. The most critical points were the hill outposts, because
both General Tompkins and Colonel Lownds were well aware of what had
happened at Dien Bien Phu when the Viet Minh owned the mountains
and the French owned the valley. It was essential that the hills
around Khe Sanh remain in the hands of the Marines. Shortly after its
arrival in mid-December 1967, 3/26 had relieved 1/26 of most of this
responsibility. Company I, 3/26, along with a three-gun detachment of
105mm howitzers from Battery C, 1/13, was situated atop Hill 881S;
Company K, 3/26, with two 4.2-inch mortars, was entrenched on Hill
861; and the 2d Platoon, A/1/26 defended the radio-relay site on Hill
950. This arrangement still left the NVA with an excellent avenue of
approach through the Rao Quan Valley which runs between Hills 861 and
950. The regimental commander decided to plug that gap with the newly
arrived 2d Battalion.(38)

At 1400 the day it arrived, Company F, 2/26, conducted a tactical
march to Hill 558--a small knob which sat squarely in the middle of
the northwestern approach. The rest of the battalion spent the night
in an assembly area approximately 1,300 meters west of the airstrip.
The following day, Lieutenant Colonel Heath moved his three remaining
companies and the CP group overland to join Company F. Once the Marines
were dug in, the perimeter completely encompassed Hill 558 and blocked
enemy movement through the Rao Quan Valley.(39)

Even with 2/26 in position, there was still a flaw in the northern
screen. The line of sight between K/3/26, on Hill 861, and 2/26 was
masked by a ridgeline which extended from the summit of 861 to the
northeast. This stretch of high ground prevented the two units from
supporting each other by fire and created a corridor through which
the North Vietnamese could maneuver to flank either Marine outpost.
About a week after his arrival on Hill 558, Captain Earle G. Breeding
was ordered to take his company, E/2/26, and occupy the finger at a
point approximately 400-500 meters northeast of K/3/26. From this new
vantage point, dubbed Hill 861A, Company E blocked the ridgeline and
was in a good position to protect the flank of 2/26. Because of its
proximity to K/3/26, Company E, 2/26, was later transferred to the
operational control of the 3d Battalion. Although these units did not
form one continuous defensive line, they did occupy the key terrain
which overlooked the valley floor.(40)

With the primary avenue of approach blocked, Colonel Lownds utilized
his remaining assets to provide base security and conduct an occasional
search and destroy mission. The 1st Battalion was given the lion's
share of the perimeter to defend with lines that extended around three
sides of the airstrip. Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson's Marines occupied
positions that paralleled the runway to the north (Blue Sector),
crossed the eastern end of the strip, and continued back to the west
along the southern boundary of the base (Grey Sector). The southwestern
portion of the compound was manned by Forward Operating Base-3 (FOB-3),
a conglomeration of indigenous personnel and American advisors under
the direct control of a U. S. Army Special Forces commander. FOB-3 tied
in with 1/26 on the east and L/3/26 on the west. Company L, 3/26, was
responsible for the northwestern section (Red Sector) of the base and
was thinly spread over approximately 3,000 meters of perimeter. The
remaining company from the 3d Battalion, M/3/26, was held in reserve
until 19 January when two platoons and a command group were helilifted
to 881S. Even though it held a portion of the perimeter, Company D,
1/26 became the reserve and the remaining platoon from M/3/26 also
remained at the base as a reaction force.[13](41)

In addition to his infantry units, the regimental commander had an
impressive array of artillery and armor. Lieutenant Colonel John A.
Hennelly's 1/13 provided direct support for the 26th Marines with
one 4.2-inch mortar battery, three 105mm howitzer batteries, and one
provisional 155mm howitzer battery (towed). The 175mm guns of the U. S.
Army's 2d Battalion, 94th Artillery at Camp Carroll and the Rockpile
were in general support. Five 90mm tanks from the 3d Tank Battalion,
which had been moved to Khe Sanh before Route 9 was cut, were attached
to the 26th Marines along with two Ontos platoons from the 3d Antitank
Battalion.[14] These highly mobile tracked vehicles could be rapidly
mustered at any threatened point so Colonel Lownds generally held his
armor in the southwestern portion of the compound as a back-up for
L/3/26 and FOB-3. All told, the Khe Sanh defenders could count on
fire support from 46 artillery pieces of varied calibers, 5 90mm tank
guns, and 92 single or Ontos-mounted 106mm recoilless rifles. With an
estimated 15,000 to 20,000 North Vietnamese lurking in the surrounding
hills, the Marines would need it all.(42)

Ironically, the incidents which heralded the beginning of full-scale
hostilities in 1968 occurred in the same general area as the encounter
which touched off the heavy fighting in 1967. On 19 January 1968,
the 3d Platoon, I/3/26 was patrolling along a ridgeline 700 meters
southwest of Hill 881N where, two days before, a Marine reconnaissance
team had been ambushed. The team leader and radioman were killed and,
while the bodies had been recovered, the radio and a coded frequency
card were missing. The 3d Platoon was scouring the ambush site for
these items when it was taken under fire by an estimated 25 NVA troops.
The Marines returned fire, then broke contact while friendly artillery
plastered the enemy positions.

[Illustration: Five M-48 tanks of the 3d Tank Battalion lent the weight
of their 90mm guns to the defense of the combat base. (USMC Photo

[Illustration: Two Ontos platoons of the 3d Antitank Battalion were on
hand at Khe Sanh. The Ontos sports six 106mm recoilless rifles with
coaxially mounted .50 caliber spotting rifles. (USMC Photo A369169)]

The next morning, Company I, commanded by Captain William H. Dabney,
returned to the scene in force. The captain actually had two missions:
first, to try and make contact with the enemy, and, second, to insert
another reconnaissance team in the vicinity of the ambush site. Two
platoons and a command group from Company M, 3/26, commanded by Captain
John J. Gilece, Jr. were helilifted to 881S and manned the perimeter
while Company I moved out to the north.[15] The terrain between 881S
and its northern twin dropped off into a deep ravine and then sloped
gradually upward to the crest of 881N. The southern face of 881N had
two parallel ridgelines about 500 meters apart which ran up the hill
and provided the company with excellent avenues of approach. These two
fingers were dotted with a series of small knobs which Captain Dabney
had designated as intermediate objectives.

The Marines moved out at 0500 proceeding along two axes with the 1st
and 2d Platoons on the left ridgeline and the 3d Platoon on the right.
The ground fog was so thick that the men groped along at a snail's pace
probing to their front with extended rifles much the same way a blind
man uses a walking cane. For that reason, Captain Dabney had placed
Second Lieutenant Harry F. Fromme's 1st Platoon and Second Lieutenant
Thomas D. Brindley's 3d Platoon in the lead because both units had
patrolled this area frequently and the commanders knew the terrain
like the back of their hands. In spite of this, by 0900 the entire
force had covered only a few hundred meters but then the fog began to
lift enabling the Marines to move out at a brisker pace. The company
swept out of the draw at the northern base of 881S, secured its first
intermediate objective without incident, and then advanced toward a
stretch of high ground which was punctuated by four innocent-looking
little hills. These formed an east-west line which ran perpendicular
to and bisected the Marines' intended route of march. As it turned out
this area was occupied by elements of an NVA battalion and each mound
was a link in a heavily-fortified defensive chain.(43)

As the element on the right moved forward after a precautionary 105mm
artillery concentration, the enemy opened up with small arms, .50
caliber machine guns, and grenade launchers (RPGs). The resistance was
so stiff that Captain Dabney ordered Lieutenant Brindley to hold up his
advance and call for more artillery while the force on the left pushed
forward far enough to place flanking fire on the NVA position. The 1st
and 2d Platoons, however, fared no better; volleys of machine gun fire
from the other enemy-owned hills cut through the Marine ranks like
giant scythes and, in less than 30 seconds, 20 men were out of action,
most with severe leg wounds. Caught in a cross fire, the captain
ordered Fromme to hold up and evacuate his wounded. Again, Lieutenant
Brindley's men on the right surged forward in the wake of 155mm prep
fires. The assault, as described by one observer, was like a "page out
of _[_the life of_]_ Chesty Puller."[16]

[Illustration: The ambush of a Marine reconnaissance team near 881N on
17 January 1968 was the prelude to the opening battle three days later.
(USMC Photo A188243)]

[Illustration: A view of Hill 881N (1) from its southern twin. Action
on 20 January took place on ridgelines (2) and (3). (Photo courtesy
Major William H. Dabney)]

Brindley was everywhere; he moved from flank to flank slapping his
men on the back and urging them on. The lieutenant led his platoon up
the slope and was the first man on top of the hill but, for him, the
assault ended there--he was cut down by a sniper bullet and died within

During the advance, the recon team, which had volunteered to join the
attack, veered off to the right into a small draw and became separated
from the rest of the platoon. When the enemy troops were finally driven
off the hill, they fled to the east and inadvertently smashed headlong
into the isolated team. After a brief but savage fight, the North
Vietnamese overran the team and made good their escape; most of the
recon Marines were seriously wounded and lay exposed to direct fire
from the enemy on the easternmost hill. Several other men in the 3d
Platoon were hit during the wild charge and by the time the objective
had been taken, the radioman--a corporal--discovered that he was the
senior man in the platoon. He quickly reported that fact to Captain

The company commander saw that the enemy defense hinged on the center
hill which the 3d Platoon had just taken. If he could consolidate that
objective, Dabney would have a vantage point from which to support,
by fire, assaults on the other three NVA positions. Second Lieutenant
Richard M. Foley, the Company I Executive Officer, had moved up to take
command of the 3d Platoon and he reported that while the unit had firm
possession of the hill, there were not enough men left to evacuate
the casualties. In addition, he could not locate the recon team and
his ammunition was running low. Dabney, therefore, ordered Lieutenant
Fromme's 1st Platoon to remain in place and support the left flank of
the 3d Platoon by fire. With Second Lieutenant Michael H. Thomas' 2d
Platoon which had been in reserve on the left, the company commander
pulled back to the south, hooked around to the east and joined Foley's
unit on its objective. The officers tried to evacuate the wounded and
reorganize but this attempt was complicated by the fact that one half
of the hastily formed perimeter was being pelted by .50 caliber machine
gun and sniper fire from the enemy's easternmost position.

At this point, there were two acts of extraordinary heroism. Lieutenant
Thomas, who was crouched in a crater alongside the company commander,
was informed of the wounded recon Marines who lay in the open at the
eastern base of the hill. Even though it was courting certain death to
do so, Thomas jumped out of the hole without hesitation and started
down the hill. He had only gotten a few steps when an enemy sniper
shot him through the head killing him instantly.[18] In spite of what
happened to the lieutenant, Sergeant Daniel G. Jessup quickly followed
his lead. While the NVA hammered away at the exposed slope with
continuous machine gun and sniper fire, the sergeant slithered over
the crest and crawled down the hill to locate the recon unit. Once at
the bottom, he found the team in a small saddle which was covered with
elephant grass; two of the Marines were dead and five were seriously
wounded. Jessup hoisted one of the wounded men onto his back and made
the return trip up the fire-swept slope. Gathering up a handful of
Marines, the sergeant returned and supervised the evacuation of the
entire team. When all the dead and wounded had been retrieved, Jessup
zig-zagged down the hill a third time to gather up weapons and insure
that no one had been left behind. For his calm courage and devotion to
his comrades, Sergeant Jessup was later awarded the Silver Star.

The heavy fighting raged throughout the afternoon. Lieutenant Colonel
Alderman, his operations officer, Major Matthew P. Caulfield, and
representatives of the Fire Support Coordination Center (FSCC) flew
from Khe Sanh to Hill 881S by helicopter so they could personally
oversee the battle. During the action, Company I drew heavy support
from the recoilless rifles, mortars, and 105mm howitzers on Hill 881S,
as well as the batteries at Khe Sanh. In addition, Marine jets armed
with 500-pound bombs streaked in and literally blew the top off of
the easternmost enemy hill, while other fighter/bombers completely
smothered one NVA counterattack with napalm. A CH-46 helicopter from
Marine Aircraft Group 36 was shot down while attempting to evacuate
casualties but another Sea Knight swooped in and picked up the pilot
and copilot. The crew chief had jumped from the blazing chopper while
it was still airborne and broke his leg; he was rescued by Lieutenant
Fromme's men. This, however, was the only highlight for the North
Vietnamese because Company I had cracked the center of their defense
and, under the savage air and artillery bombardment, the rest of the
line was beginning to crumble.(46)

Lieutenant Colonel Alderman realized that his men were gaining the
advantage and requested reinforcements with which to exploit the
situation. Colonel Lownds, however, denied the request and directed
the 3/26 commander to pull Company I back to Hill 881S immediately.
The order was passed on to Captain Dabney and it hit him like a
thunderbolt. His men had been fighting hard all day and he hated
to tell them to call it off at that point. Nonetheless, he rapidly
disengaged, collected his casualties, and withdrew. The struggle
had cost the enemy dearly: 103 North Vietnamese were killed while
friendly losses were 7 killed, including two platoon commanders, and
35 wounded. As the weary Marines trudged back to Hill 881S, they were
understandably disappointed at not being able to continue the attack.
It wasn't until later that they learned why they had been halted just
when victory was in sight.[19](47)

Colonel Lownds' decision to break off the battle was not born out of
faintheartedness, but was based on a valuable piece of intelligence
that he received earlier in the afternoon. That intelligence came in
the form of a NVA first lieutenant who was the commanding officer of
the =14th Antiaircraft Company=, =95C Regiment=, =325C NVA Division=;
at 1400, he appeared off the eastern end of the runway with an AK-47
rifle in one hand and a white flag in the other. Under the covering
guns of two Ontos, a fire team from the 2d Platoon, Company B, 1/26,
took the young man in tow and, after Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson
had questioned him briefly, the lieutenant was hustled off to the
regimental intelligence section for interrogation. The lieutenant
had no compunction about talking and gave the Marines a detailed
description of the forthcoming Communist offensive. As it turned out,
the accuracy of the account was surpassed only by its timeliness,
because the first series of attacks was scheduled for that very
night--against Hills 861 and 881S. At the time Colonel Lownds received
this news, Company I was heavily engaged 1,000 meters north of its
defensive perimeter and he definitely did not want Captain Dabney
and his men to be caught away from their fortified outpost when the
NVA struck. Consequently, Lieutenant Colonel Alderman's request for
reinforcements to press his advantage was denied.(48)

When the first enemy rounds began falling on Hill 861 shortly
after midnight, Marines all along the front were in bunkers and
trenches--waiting. The heavy mortar barrage lasted
 about 30 minutes and was supplemented by RPG, small arms,
and automatic weapons fire. This was followed by approximately 300
NVA troops who assaulted Hill 861. The van of the attacking force was
made up of sapper teams that rushed forward with bangalore torpedoes
and satchel charges to breach the defensive wire. Assault troops then
poured through the gaps but were met and, in most sectors, stopped cold
by interlocking bands of grazing machine gun fire.

In spite of the defensive fire, enemy soldiers penetrated the K/3/26
lines on the southwestern side of the hill and overran the helo landing
zone. The Company K perimeter encompassed a saddle, thus the crest of
861 was actually two hills; the landing zone was on the lower one and
the company CP was perched atop a steep rise to the northeast. Before
the enemy could exploit the penetration, the Marines counterattacked
down the trenchline and pinched off the salient. After vicious
hand-to-hand fighting, the men of Company K isolated the pocket and
wiped out the North Vietnamese. Had the enemy been able to flood the
breach with his reserves, the situation might have become extremely
critical. When the fighting subsided, 47 NVA bodies were strewn over
the hilltop while four Marines died holding their ground.[20](49)

During the attack on 861, the 3d Battalion command group remained on
Hill 881S because bad weather prevented Lieutenant Colonel Alderman
and his operations officer from returning to the combat base.[21](50)
Major Caulfield contacted the Company K command post by radio and found
out that the fighting was indeed heavy. The company commander, Captain
Norman J. Jasper, Jr., had been hit three times and was out of action;
the executive officer, First Lieutenant Jerry N. Saulsbury, was running
the show. The company gunnery sergeant was dead, the first sergeant was
badly wounded, and the radio operator had been blinded by powder burns.
Major Caulfield later recalled that the young Marine remained at his
post for almost two hours before being relieved and was "as calm,
cool, and collected as a telephone operator in New York City," even
though he could not see a thing.(51)

Some men on the hill had a rather unusual way of keeping their spirits
up during the fight as First Sergeant Stephen L. Goddard discovered.
The first sergeant had been hit in the neck and was pinching an artery
shut with his fingers to keep from bleeding to death. As he moved
around the perimeter, the Top heard a sound that simply had no place
on a battlefield--somebody was singing. After tracing the sound to a
mortar pit, Goddard peered into the emplacement and found the gunners
bellowing out one stanza after another as they dropped rounds into the
tubes. The "ammo humpers" were also singing as they broke open boxes of
ammunition and passed the rounds to the gunners. Naturally, the name of
the song was "The Marines Hymn."(52)

One decisive factor in this battle was that Hill 881S was not attacked.
Company I did not receive a single mortar round and the reprieve left
the Marines free to lend unhindered support to their comrades on 861.
The bulk of this fire came from the Company I 81mm mortar section.
Since Lieutenant Colonel Alderman and Major Caulfield were concerned
about the possibility of their position being attacked, they were
careful not to deplete their ammunition. Major Caulfield personally
authorized the expenditure of every 20-round lot so he knew exactly how
many mortar rounds went out that night--680. The mortar tubes became
so hot that the Marines had to use their precious drinking water to
keep them cool enough to fire; after the water, the men used fruit
juice. When the juice ran out, they urinated on the tubes. The spirited
support of Company I and its attached elements played a big part in
blunting the attack.(53)

There are two plausible explanations for the enemy's failure to
coordinate the attack on Hill 861 with one on 881S. Lieutenant Colonel
Alderman and Major Caulfield felt that Captain Dabney's fight on the
afternoon of 20 January had crippled the NVA battalion which was slated
for the attack on Hill 881S and disrupted the enemy's entire schedule.
On the other hand, Company I had emerged from the engagement with
relatively light casualties and was in fighting trim on the morning
of the 21st. Another possibility was the manner in which Colonel
Lownds utilized artillery and aircraft. The regimental commander
did not use his supporting arms to break up the attack directly; he
left that job up to the defenders themselves. Instead, the colonel
called in massive air and artillery concentrations on points where the
enemy would more than likely marshal his reserves. Much of the credit
belong to Lieutenant Colonel Hennelly's batteries at the base. One
infantry officer on Hill 881S, who observed the fire, described the
Marine artillery as "absolutely and positively superb." Throughout the
battle, the North Vietnamese assault commander was heard frantically
screaming for his reserves--he never received an answer. The fact that
the initial attack on 861 was not followed up by another effort lent
credence to the theory that the backup force was being cut to pieces to
the rear while the assault troops were dying on the wire.(54)

The Marines did not have long to gloat over their victory because at
0530 on the 21st the KSCB was subjected to an intense barrage. Hundreds
of 82mm mortar rounds, artillery shells, and 122mm rockets slammed into
the compound as Marines dived into bunkers and trenches.[22](55) Damage
at "ground zero" was extensive: several helicopters were destroyed,
trucks and tents were riddled, one messhall was flattened, and fuel
storage areas were set ablaze. Colonel Lownds' quarters were demolished
but, fortunately, the regimental commander was not in his hut at the
time. One of the first incoming rounds found its mark scoring a direct
hit on the largest ammunition dump, which was situated near the eastern
end of the runway. The dump erupted in a series of blinding explosions
which rocked the base and belched thousands of burning artillery and
mortar rounds into the air. Many of these maverick projectiles exploded
on impact and added to the devastation. Thousands of rounds were
destroyed and much of this ammunition "cooked off" in the flames for
the next 48 hours. In addition, one enemy round hit a cache of tear gas
(CS) releasing clouds of the pungent vapor which saturated the entire

The main ammunition dump was just inside the perimeter manned by
Company B, 1/26, and the 2d Platoon, commanded by
 Second Lieutenant John W. Dillon, was in the
hotseat throughout the attack. The unit occupied a trenchline which,
at places, passed as close as 30 meters to the dump. In spite of the
proximity of the "blast furnace," Lieutenant Dillon's men stayed in
their positions, answered with their own mortars, and braced for the
ground attack which never came. Throughout the ordeal, the 2d Platoon
lines became an impact area for all sizes of duds from the dump which
literally filled the trenchline with unexploded ordnance. In addition,
the men were pelted by tiny slivers of steel from the exploding
antipersonnel ammunition which became embedded in their flak jackets,
clothing, and bare flesh.(57)

The fire raging in the main dump also hampered the rest of the
1st Battalion. The 81mm mortar platoon fired hundreds of rounds
in retaliation but the ammo carriers had to crawl to and from the
pits because of the exploding ammunition. Captain Kenneth W. Pipes,
commanding officer of Company B, had to displace his command post three
times when each position became untenable. Neither was the battalion CP
exempt; at about 1000, a large quantity of C-4 plastic explosives in
the blazing dump was touched off and the resulting shock waves cracked
the timbers holding up the roof of Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson's
command bunker. As the roof settled, several members of the staff were
knocked to the floor. For a moment it appeared that the entire overhead
would collapse but after sinking about a foot, the cracked timbers
held. With a sigh of relief, the men inside quickly shored up the roof
and went about their duties.(58)

The sudden onslaught produced a number of heroes, most of whom went
unnoticed. Members of Force Logistics Group Bravo, and other personnel
permanently stationed at the ammunition dump, charged into the inferno
with fire extinguishers and shovels to fight the blaze. Motor transport
drivers darted from the safety of their bunkers to move trucks and
other vehicles into revetments. Artillerymen quickly manned their guns
and began returning fire. The executive officer of 1/13, Major Ronald
W. Campbell, ignored the heavy barrage and raced from one shell hole to
another analyzing the craters and collecting fragments so that he could
determine the caliber of the enemy weapons as well as the direction
from which they were being fired. Much of the counterbattery fire was a
direct result of his efforts.(59)

Three other artillerymen from Battery C, 1/13, performed an equally
heroic feat in the midst of the intense shelling. When the dump
exploded, the C/1/13 positions, like those of 1/26, were showered with
hundreds of hot duds which presented a grave danger to the battery. The
battery commander, Captain William J. O'Connor, the executive officer,
First Lieutenant William L. Everhart, and the supply sergeant, Sergeant
Ronnie D. Whiteknight, immediately began picking up the burning rounds
and carrying them to a hole approximately 50 meters behind the gun
pits. For three hours, these Marines carried out between 75 and 100
duds and disposed of them, knowing that any second one might explode.
When the searing clouds of tear gas swept over the battery, many
gunners were cut off from their gas masks. Lieutenant Everhart and
Sergeant Whiteknight quickly gathered up as many masks as they could
carry and distributed them to the men in the gun positions. The "cannon
cockers" donned the masks and kept their howitzers in action throughout
the attack.(60)

By this time, most of 1/13 had ceased firing counterbattery missions
and was supporting the defense force at Khe Sanh Village. An hour after
the KSCB came under attack, the Combined Action Company (CACO) and a
South Vietnamese Regional Forces (RF) company stationed in the village
were hit by elements of the =304th NVA Division=. The enemy troops
breached the defensive wire, penetrated the compound, and seized the
dispensary. Heavy street fighting ensued and, at 0810, the defenders
finally drove the enemy force from the village. Later that afternoon,
two NVA companies again assaulted the village but, this time, artillery
and strike aircraft broke up the attack. Upon request of the defenders,
Lieutenant Colonel Hennelly's battalion fired over 1,000 artillery
rounds with variable time fuzes which resulted in airbursts over the
defensive wire. During the action, a single Marine A-6A "Intruder"
knifed through the ground fire and killed about 100 of the attackers.
Those enemy soldiers who persisted were taken care of by close-in
defensive fires and, when the fighting subsided, an American advisor
counted 123 North Vietnamese bodies on or around the barbed wire.(61)

Following the second attack, Colonel Lownds decided to withdraw these
isolated units to the confines of the KSCB. The village, which was
the seat of the Huong Hoa District Headquarters, was not an ideal
defensive position. The Allies were hampered by restricted fields of
fire and there was a temple just outside the village which overlooked
the perimeter. Most important, a regiment of the =304th NVA Division=
was operating in the immediate vicinity. The colonel decided that he
would rather evacuate the village while he could, instead of waiting
until its occupants were surrounded and fighting for their lives.
Helicopters flew in and picked up the Marines and U. S. Army advisors;
the Vietnamese troops and officials of the local government moved
overland. Upon arrival, the CACO and RF companies, which totaled about
250 men, took up positions in the southwestern sector of the base and
were absorbed by FOB-3.[23](62)

There was one other encounter on the 21st. At 1950, the 2d Platoon,
L/3/26, reported 25-30 enemy soldiers crawling toward the wire
bordering Red Sector. The Marines opened fire and, within an hour,
killed 14 North Vietnamese. Remnants of the attacking force were seen
dragging dead and wounded comrades from the battlefield. Cumulative
friendly casualties for the day, including those incurred on Hill 861,
were 9 killed, 37 wounded and evacuated (Medevaced), plus 38 wounded
but returned to duty.(63)

When the events of the 21st were flashed to the world via the news
media, many self-appointed experts in the United States began to
speak out concerning the feasibility of maintaining the garrison at
Khe Sanh. Those who opposed the planned defense felt that the Marines
had been able to remain there only at the pleasure of the NVA. They
pointed out that, in the preceding months, the installation had been
of little concern to the North Vietnamese because it was ineffective
as a deterrent to infiltration. The undermanned 26th Marines could
not occupy the perimeter, man the hill outposts, and simultaneously
conduct the constant, large-unit sweeps necessary to control the area.
Therefore, the enemy could simply skirt the base and ignore it. A
build-up, however, would make the prize worthwhile for the NVA, which
badly needed a crushing victory over the Americans for propaganda
purposes. By concentrating forces at Khe Sanh, the theory went, the
Allies would be playing into the enemy's hands because the base was
isolated and, with Route 9 interdicted, had to be completely supplied
by air. Fearing that Khe Sanh would become an American Dien Bien Phu,
the critics favored a pull-out.

[Illustration: General William C. Westmoreland,
ComUSMACV (Photo courtesy Office of
the Chief of Staff, U. S. Army)]

[Illustration: Lieutenant General Robert E. Cushman,
Jr., CG, III MAF (USMC Photo A190016)]

In Vietnam, where the decision was being made, there was little
disagreement. The two key figures, General Westmoreland and General
Cushman, "after discussing all aspects of the situation, were in
complete agreement from the start."(64) There were several reasons
they decided to hold Khe Sanh at that time. The base and adjacent
outposts commanded the Khe Sanh Plateau and the main avenue of approach
into eastern Quang Tri Province. While the installation was not 100
percent effective as a deterrent to infiltration, it was a solid block
to enemy invasion and motorized supply from the west. Had the Allies
possessed greater strength in the northern provinces, they might have
achieved the same ends with large and frequent airmobile assaults--a
concept which General Cushman had advocated for some time. In January
1968, he had neither the helicopter resources, the troops, nor the
logistical bases for such operations. The weather was another critical
factor because the poor visibility and low overcasts attendant to the
monsoon season made helicopter operations hazardous to say the least.
Even if the III MAF commander had the materiel and manpower for such
large airmobile assaults, the weather precluded any such effort before
March or April. Until that time, the job of sealing off Route 9 would
have to be left up to the 26th Marines.(65)

An additional consideration for holding the base was the rare and
valuable opportunity to engage and destroy an, heretofore, elusive
foe. Up to this time, there was hardly a commander in Vietnam who, at
one time or another, had not been frustrated in his attempts to box in
the slippery NVA and VC units. At Khe Sanh, the enemy showed no desire
to hit and run but rather to stand and fight; it was a good idea to
oblige him. In effect, the 26th Marines would fix the enemy in position
around the base while Allied air and artillery battered him into
senselessness. Furthermore, the defense was envisioned as a classic
example of economy of force. Although there was conjecture that the NVA
was trying to draw American units to the DMZ area, the fact remained
that two crack NVA divisions, which otherwise might have participated
in the later attacks on Hue and Quang Tri City, were tied down far from
the vital internal organs of South Vietnam by one reinforced Marine

Thus, with only two choices available--withdraw or reinforce--ComUSMACV
chose the latter. In his "Report On The War In Vietnam," General
Westmoreland stated:

  The question was whether we could afford the troops to reinforce,
  keep them supplied by air, and defeat an enemy far superior in
  numbers as we waited for the weather to clear, build forward bases,
  and made preparations for an overland relief expedition. I believed
  we could do all of those things. With the concurrence of the III
  Marine Amphibious Force Commander, Lieutenant General Robert E.
  Cushman, Jr., I made the decision to reinforce and hold the area
  while destroying the enemy with our massive firepower and to
  prepare for offensive operations when the weather became favorable.

General Westmoreland reported his decision to Washington and more
troops began to pour into the combat base.(67)

On 22 January, the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, commanded by Lieutenant
Colonel John F. Mitchell, was transferred to the operational control
of the 26th Marines and arrived at 1900 the same day. Ever since the
three high ranking NVA officers were killed outside Red Sector, General
Tompkins and Colonel Lownds were concerned over the unhealthy interest
that the North Vietnamese were showing in the western perimeter. When
1/9 arrived, the colonel directed the battalion commander to establish
defensive positions at the rock quarry, 1,500 meters southwest of the
strip. Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell moved his unit overland and set up
a kidney-shaped perimeter around the quarry with his CP perched atop a
hill. In addition, he dispatched a platoon from Company A approximately
500 meters further west to set up a combat outpost on a small knob.
The 1/9 lines curved near, but did not tie in with, those of L/3/26;
the small gap, however, could easily be covered by fire. The western
approach was firmly blocked.(68) (See Map 6).

General Tompkins and Colonel Lownds also discussed plans for the
opposite side of the compound. This approach would have been the
most difficult for the North Vietnamese to negotiate because the
terrain east of the runway dropped off sharply to the river below.
This steep grade, however, was heavily wooded and provided the enemy
with excellent concealment. The NVA troops, masters at the art of
camouflage, could have maneuvered dangerously close to the Marine lines
before being detected.

The main reason for concern, however, was the testimony of the
cooperative NVA lieutenant who had surrendered on the 20th. According
to the lieutenant, the eastern avenue of approach was the key with
which the Communists hoped to unlock the Khe Sanh defenses. First, the
NVA intended to attack and seize Hills 861 and 881S, both of which
would serve as fire support bases. From these commanding positions, the
enemy would push into the valley and apply pressure along the northern
and western portion of the Marines' perimeter. These efforts, however,
were simply a diversion to conceal the main thrust--a regimental ground
attack from the opposite quarter. An assault regiment from the =304th
Division= would skirt the base to the south, hook around to the east,
and attack paralleling the runway through the 1/26 lines.

[Illustration: Two key figures in the defense of Khe Sanh: Major
General Rathvon McC. Tompkins (L), CG, 3d MarDiv, and Colonel David E.
Lownds (R), CO, 26th Marines. (Photo courtesy Colonel David E. Lownds)]

[Illustration: General Tompkins (L) made helicopter trips into Khe Sanh
almost daily in spite of heavy enemy fire. (Photo courtesy David D.


  MAP 6



Once the compound was penetrated, the North Vietnamese anticipated that
the entire Marine defense system would collapse.(69)

On 27 January, the 37th ARVN Ranger Battalion, the fifth and final
battalion allotted for Khe Sanh, arrived.[24](70) Understandably,
Colonel Lownds moved the ARVN unit into the eastern portion of the
perimeter to reinforce the 1st Battalion. Actually, the Marines were
backing-up the South Vietnamese because the Ranger Battalion occupied
trenches some 200 meters outside the 1/26 lines. Lieutenant Colonel
Wilkinson's men had already prepared these defensive positions for the
new arrivals. The new trenchline extended from the northeast corner of
Blue Sector, looped across the runway, paralleled the inner trenchline
of 1/26, and tied back in with the Marine lines on the southeastern
corner of Grey Sector. (See Map 7) The only gap was where the runway
extended through the ARVN lines; this section was covered by two
Ontos. At night, the gap was sealed off with strands of German Tape--a
new type of razor-sharp barbed wire which was extremely difficult to
breach. The North Vietnamese would now have to penetrate two lines of
defense if they approached from the east.(71)

As January drew to a close, the situation at Khe Sanh could be summed
up in three words--enemy attack imminent. As a result of rumblings of a
large-scale Communist offensive throughout South Vietnam, the scheduled
Vietnamese Lunar New Year (TET) ceasefire was cancelled in I Corps and
the 26th Marines braced for the inevitable. While they waited, they
filled sandbags, dug deeper trenches, reinforced bunkers, conducted
local security patrols, and, in general, established a pattern which
would remain unbroken for the next two months. The NVA also established
a routine as enemy gunners daily shelled the base and hill outposts
while assault units probed for a soft spot. Thus the two adversaries
faced each other like boxers in a championship bout; one danced around
nimbly throwing jabs while the second stood fast waiting to score the
counterpunch that would end the fight.(72)



  MAP 7



[11] The Santa Fe Trail is a branch of the Ho Chi Minh Trail which
closely parallels the South Vietnam/Laos border.

[12] In addition, one regiment of the =324th Division= was located
in the central DMZ some 10-15 miles from Khe Sanh and maintained a
resupply role. In the early stages of the siege, the presence of the
=320th Division= was confirmed north of the Rockpile within easy
reinforcing distance of Khe Sanh; thus, General Westmoreland and
General Cushman were initially faced with the possibility that Khe Sanh
would be attacked by three divisions plus a regiment. General Tompkins,
however, kept constant pressure on these additional enemy units and
alleviated their threat.

[13] On the 21st, a platoon from A/1/26 reinforced K/3/26 on Hill 861
and a second platoon from Company A later followed suit. Throughout
most of the siege the line up on the hill outpost remained as follows:
Hill 881S--Company I, 3/26 plus two platoons and a command group from
Company M 3/26; Hill 861--Company K, 3/26 plus two platoons from
Company A, 1/26; Hill 861A--Company E, 2/26; Hill 558--2/26 (minus the
one company on 861A); Hill 950--one platoon from 1/26.

[14] The Ontos is a lightly armored tracked vehicle armed with six
106mm recoilless rifles. Originally designed as a tank killer, it is
primarily used in Vietnam to support the infantry.

[15] Captain Gilece was wounded by sniper fire and on 1 February, First
Lieutenant John T. Esslinger, the executive officer, assumed command.

[16] Lieutenant General Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, a legendary figure
in Marine Corps history, is the only Marine to have won the Navy Cross
five times.

[17] Lieutenant Brindley was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

[18] For his actions throughout the battle, Lieutenant Thomas was
posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

[19] NVA casualties were obviously much greater than 103 dead because
the Marines counted only those bodies found during the withdrawal.

[20] Many more North Vietnamese died that night than were found. The
stench from the bodies decaying in the jungle around the hill became so
strong that the men of K/3/26 were forced to wear their gas masks for
several days.

[21] Throughout the night, Lieutenant Colonel Alderman supervised
defensive operations from 881S and was assisted by an alternate
battalion command group at the base which was headed by the 3/26
Executive Officer, Major Joseph M. Loughran, Jr.

[22] On Hill 881S, Captain Dabney watched several hundred 122mm rockets
lift off from the southern slope of 881N--a scant 300 meters beyond
the farthest point of his advance the day before. The enemy defensive
positions between the two hills were obviously designed to protect
these launching sites. At the combat base, the barrage did not catch
the Marines completely by surprise; the regimental intelligence section
had warned that an enemy attack was imminent and the entire base was on
Red Alert.

[23] The Huong Hoa District Headquarters operated from within the KSCB
throughout the siege.

[24] ARVN battalions were considerably smaller than Marine battalions
and the 37th Ranger was no exception. Even by Vietnamese standards, the
unit was undermanned; it had 318 men when it arrived.



When the Communists launched their TET Offensive on 30 January, they
struck in force almost everywhere in South Vietnam except Khe Sanh.
Their prime targets were not military installations but the major
population centers--36 provincial capitals, 64 district capitals, and
5 autonomous cities. The leaders in Hanoi were apparently becoming
dissatisfied with their attempts to win in the South by a protracted
war of attrition and decided on one massive stroke to tip the scales in
their favor. Consequently, the enemy unleashed some 62,000 troops, many
of whom infiltrated the cities disguised as civilians, in hopes that
they could foster a public uprising against the central government and
encourage mass defections among the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces.
Virtually all available VC main and local force units were thrown into
the initial attacks. With the exception of Hue and Da Nang, NVA units
were generally committed a few days later to reinforce the assault

The sudden onslaught initially achieved surprise but, in the final
analysis, the overall military effort failed miserably. Allied forces
reacted quickly and drove the invaders from the cities and towns,
killing approximately 32,000 (as of 11 February) hard-core guerrillas
and North Vietnamese soldiers in the process. Many Viet Cong units,
with no other orders than to take their initial objectives and hold
until reinforcements arrived, were wiped out completely. Ironically,
these elite cadres were the backbone of the guerrilla infrastructure
in the South which the Communists, up to that point, had tried so hard
to preserve. In Saigon and Hue, die-hard remnants held out for several
weeks but, for the most part, the attacks were crushed within a few
days. The general uprising and mass desertions never materialized;
on the contrary, the offensive tended to galvanize the South

Even though he paid an exorbitant price, the enemy did achieve
certain gains. If the Communists' goal was to create sensational
headlines which would stun the American people--they succeeded. To the
strategists in Hanoi, an important byproduct of any military operation
was the associated political ramifications in the United States;
namely, how much pressure would certain factions put on their leaders
to disengage from the struggle in South Vietnam. To the delight of the
Communists, no doubt, the TET Offensive had a tremendous psychological
impact in the U. S. and, as usual, the response of the dissidents was
vociferous. Much of the reaction was completely out of proportion to
the actual military situation but it had a definite demoralizing effect
on the American public--the long-range implications of which are still

Another casualty of these nation-wide attacks was the pacification
program in rural communities. When the Allies pulled back to clear the
cities, they temporarily abandoned portions of the countryside to the
enemy. Upon return, they found that progress in the so-called "battle
for the hearts and minds of the people" had received a temporary set

To achieve these ends, however, the enemy troops brought senseless
destruction to Vietnamese cities and heaped more suffering upon an
already war-weary populace. Thousands of innocent civilians were killed
and hundreds of thousands made homeless--mostly in Saigon/Cholon and
Hue. Four days after the initial attacks, the central government
formed the Central Recovery Committee which, with U. S. assistance,
launched Project RECOVERY to help alleviate the misery of the people.
Had this program not been implemented, the Communists might have come
much closer to achieving their goal of overthrowing the government. In
addition to the destruction in the cities, the enemy violated a sacred
religious holiday and, what's worse, actually desecrated a national
shrine by turning the majestic Hue Citadel into a bloody battlefield.
For these acts, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese earned the
deep-seated hatred of many South Vietnamese who in the past had been,
at best, neutral.(77)

Whether or not Khe Sanh was, in fact, the ultimate enemy objective
or merely a diversion for the TET Offensive has not yet been
established with certainty. The U. S. command in Saigon believed that
the Communists' goal was to create a general uprising, precipitate
mass defections in the RVN armed forces, and then seize power. The
concentration of NVA regular forces in the northern two provinces was
primarily to support this overall objective but it was also possible
that the enemy had a secondary aspiration of shearing off and seizing
the Quang Tri-Thua Thien area should his primary effort fail. Thus
Khe Sanh was envisioned as an integral part of the master plan, or as
General Westmoreland called it "an option play."

Subsequent events tended to vindicate that evaluation. Since the
initial nation-wide attacks had been conducted primarily by Viet Cong
guerrillas and main force units, the NVA regular forces remained
relatively unscathed and, with two of the four North Vietnamese
divisions known to be in I Corps poised around the 26th Marines, there
was little doubt as to where the next blow would fall. Furthermore, the
enemy's extensive preparations around the base reinforced the belief
that this effort was a major offensive and not just a feint. Before
investing the garrison, the North Vietnamese dug positions for their
long-range artillery pieces. Later, they emplaced countless smaller
supporting weapons, established numerous supply depots, and began the
ant-like construction of their intricate siege-works. This intensive
build-up continued long after most of the fighting associated with the
TET Offensive was over.(78)

The enemy had much to gain by taking Khe Sanh. If they could seize
any portion of Quang Tri Province, the Communists would have a much
stronger bargaining position at any future conference table. In
addition, the spectre of Dien Bien Phu which was constantly raised in
the American press undoubtedly led the enemy to believe that the coming
battle could not only prove successful but decisive. If the garrison
fell, the defeat might well turn out to be the =coup de grace= to
American participation in the war. At first, the Marines anticipated
a major pitched battle, similar to the one in 1967, but the enemy
continued to bide his time and the battle at Khe Sanh settled into one
of supporting arms.(79)

At Khe Sanh, the periodic showers of enemy artillery shells were,
quite naturally, a major source of concern to General Tompkins and
Colonel Lownds and they placed a high priority on the construction
of stout fortifications. Understandably, not every newcomer to Khe
Sanh immediately moved into a thick bunker or a six-foot trench
with overhead cover. The colonel had spent most of his tour with a
one-battalion regiment and had prepared positions for that battalion;
then, almost overnight, his command swelled to five battalions. The
new units simply had to build their own bunkers as quickly as they

[Illustration: Marines at the combat base run for cover when warning of
enemy rocket or artillery attack is sounded. (USMC Photo A190245)]

[Illustration: Machine gunners lie on top of trench cover while they
search for enemy movement. (USMC Photo A190929)]

The regimental commander placed a minimum requirement on his
subordinates of providing overhead cover for the troops that would
stop, at least, an 82mm mortar round. The FSCC determined that one
strip of runway matting and two or three layers of sandbags would
fill the requirement. The average bunker usually started as an 8x8
foot dugout with one 6x6 inch timber inserted in each corner and the
center for support. The overhead consisted of planks, a strip of runway
matting, sandbags, loose dirt, and more sandbags. Some enterprising
Marines piled on more loose dirt, then took discarded 105mm casings
and drove them into the top of the bunker like nails. These casings
often caused pre-detonation of the heavier-caliber rounds. The combat
engineers attached to the 26th Marines could build one of these bunkers
in three or four days; the average infantrymen took longer. Overhead
cover for the trenchlines consisted of a strip of matting placed across
the top of the trench at intervals and reinforced with sandbags. The
defenders could stand up in the trench during periods of inactivity and
duck under the matting when enemy rounds started to fall.(81)

The Marines were also faced with another question concerning their
defenses: "How large an artillery round could you defend against
and still remain within the realm of practicality?" Since the 26th
Marines was supplied solely by air, building material was a prime
consideration. Matting and sandbags were easy enough to come by but
lumber was at a premium. Fortifications which could withstand a hit
from an 82mm mortar were a must because the North Vietnamese had an
ample supply of these weapons but the base was also being pounded, to
a lesser degree, by heavier-caliber guns. With the material available
to the 26th Marines, it was virtually impossible to construct a shelter
that was thick enough or deep enough to stop the heavy stuff.(82)

This fact was borne out when Colonel Lownds decided to build a new
regimental CP bunker. The engineers supplied the specifications for an
overhead that would withstand a 122mm rocket; to be on the safe side,
the colonel doubled the thickness of the roof. The day before the CP
was to be occupied, a 152mm round landed squarely on top of the bunker
and penetrated both layers.(83)

The massing of enemy artillery made the hill outposts that much
more important. Had they been able to knock the Marines from those
summits, the North Vietnamese would have been able to fire right down
the throats of the base defenders and make their position untenable.
As it was, the companies on Hills 881S, 861, 861A, and 558 not only
denied the enemy an unobstructed firing platform from which to pound
the installation, they also served as the eyes for the rest of the
regiment in the valley which was relatively blind to enemy movement.
For observation purposes, Hill 881S was the most strategically located
and a discussion of the enemy's heavy weaponry will point out why.

While the 60mm and 82mm mortars were scattered around in proximity
of the combat base (roughly within a 2,000-3,000 meter radius), the
NVA rocket sites and artillery pieces were located well to the west,
southwest, and northwest, outside of friendly counterbattery range. One
particularly awesome and effective weapon was the Soviet-built 122mm
rocket, the ballistic characteristics of which had a lot to do with
the way the North Vietnamese employed it. When fired, the projectile
was fairly accurate in deflection but, because it was powered by a
propellant, the biggest margin of error was in range. Consequently,
the North Vietnamese preferred to position their launching sites so
the gunners could track along the long axis of a given target; thus,
longs and shorts would land "in the ballpark." The KSCB hugged the
airstrip and was roughly in the shape of a rectangle with the long axis
running east and west. This made the optimum firing positions for the
122mm rocket either to the east or west of the base on line with the
runway. There was really only one logical choice because the eastern
site would have placed the rockets within range of the Americans' 175s
and extended the enemy's supply lines from Laos. To the west, Hills
881S or 861 would have been ideal locations because in clear weather
those vantage points provided an excellent view of Khe Sanh and were
almost directly on line with the airstrip. Unfortunately for the NVA,
the Marines had squatters' rights on those pieces of real estate and
were rather hostile to claim jumpers. As an alternative, the North
Vietnamese decided on 881N but this choice had one drawback since the
line of sight between that northern peak and the combat base was masked
by the top of Hill 861. Nevertheless, the enemy emplaced hundreds of
launching sites along its slopes and throughout the siege approximately
5,000 122mm rockets rained on Khe Sanh from 881N.(84)

Because of their greater range, the enemy's 130mm and 152mm artillery
batteries were located even further to the west. These guns were
cleverly concealed in two main firing positions. One was on Co Roc
Mountain which was southwest of where Route 9 crossed the Laotian
border; the other area was 305, so called because it was on a
bearing of 305 degrees (west-northwest) from Hill 881S at a range
of about 10,000 meters. While the heavy caliber artillery rounds
which periodically ripped into the base were usually referred to as
originating from Co Roc, 305 was the source of about 60-70 percent
of this fire, probably because it was adjacent to a main supply
artery. Both sites were vulnerable only to air attack and were
extremely difficult to pinpoint because of the enemy's masterful job
of camouflage, his cautious employment, and the extreme distance from
friendly observation posts. The NVA gunners fired only a few rounds
every hour so that continuous muzzle flashes did not betray their
positions and, after each round, quickly scurried out to cover the guns
with protective nets and screens. Some pieces, mounted on tracks,
were wheeled out of caves in Co Roc Mountain, fired, and returned
immediately. Though never used in as great a quantity as the rockets
and mortars, these shells wreaked havoc at Khe Sanh because there was
very little that they could not penetrate; even duds went about four
feet into the ground.(85)

The 3/26 elements on Hill 881S were a constant thorn in the enemy's
side because the men on that most isolated of the Marine outposts could
observe all three of the main NVA firing positions--881N, 305, and Co
Roc. When rockets lifted off of 881N or the guns at Co Roc lashed out,
the men of Company I could see the flashes and provided advance warning
to the base. Whenever possible they directed retaliatory air strikes
on the offenders.[25] Whenever the enemy artillery at 305 opened up,
the muzzle flashes were hard to see because of the distance and the
everpresent dust from air strikes, but the rounds made a loud rustling
noise as they arched directly over 881S on the way to Khe Sanh. When
the Marines heard the rounds streak overhead, they passed a warning to
the base over the 3d Battalion tactical radio net, provided the net was
not clogged with other traffic. The message was short and to the point:
"Arty, Arty, Co Roc" or "Arty, Arty, 305."(86)

At the base the Marines had devised a crude but effective early warning
system for such attacks. Motor transport personnel had mounted a horn
from a two-and-a-half ton truck in the top of a tree and the lead wires
were attached to two beer can lids. When a message was received from
881S, a Marine, who monitored the radio, pressed the two lids together
and the blaring horn gave advanced warning of the incoming artillery
rounds. The radio operator relayed the message over the regimental net
and then dived into a hole. Men in the open usually had from five to
eighteen seconds to find cover or just hit the deck before "all hell
broke loose." When poor visibility obscured the view between 881S and
the base, the radio operator usually picked himself up, dusted off, and
jokingly passed a three-word message to Company I which indicated that
the rounds had arrived on schedule--"Roger India ... Splash."(87)

[Illustration: A Marine forward observer keeps a watchful eye on enemy
trenches. (USMC Photo A190933)]

[Illustration: "Arty, Arty, Co Roc" was the title of a popular folksong
in 3/26. (Photo courtesy David D. Duncan)]

[Illustration: Colors over Hill 881S. (Photo courtesy Major William H.

[Illustration: Water on Hill 881S was scarce and beards flourished.
2dLt Richard M. Foley, XO of India, 3/26. (Photo courtesy Major William
H. Dabney)]

The fact that Company I on 881S was the fly in the enemy's ointment
was no secret, especially to the enemy. As a result, North Vietnamese
gunners made the Marines' existence there a veritable nightmare.
Although no official tally of incoming rounds was recorded, Captain
Dabney's position took a much more severe pounding than any of the
other hill outposts. Volume, however, was only part of the story
because the incoming was almost always the heavier stuff. The hill
received little 60mm or 82mm mortar fire but a deluge of 120mm mortar
and 100mm artillery rounds. There was also a smattering of 152mm shells
from Co Roc. The shelling was the heaviest when helicopters made
resupply runs.

The firing position which plagued the Marines the most was located to
the southwest of the hill in a U-shaped draw known as "the Horseshoe."
There were at least two NVA 120mm mortars in this area which, in
spite of an avalanche of American bombs and artillery shells, were
either never knocked out or were frequently replaced. These tubes
were registered on the hill and harassed Company I constantly. Anyone
caught above ground when one of the 120s crashed into the perimeter
was almost certain to become a casualty because the explosion produced
an extremely large fragmentation pattern. Captain Dabney figured that
it took one layer of runway matting, eight of sandbags, and one of
either rocks or 105mm casings to prevent penetration of a 120mm with
a quick fuze--nothing the Marines had on 881S could stop a round with
a delayed fuze. Because of the shape of the hill, the summit was the
only defendable terrain and thus provided the enemy with a compact
target; this often resulted in multiple casualties when the big rounds
landed within the perimeter. The only thing that the Marines had going
for them was that they could frequently spot a tell-tale flash of an
artillery piece or hear the "thunk" when a mortar round left the tube
but the heavy shells took their toll. On Hill 881S alone, 40 Marines
were killed throughout the siege and over 150 were wounded at least

Considering the sheer weight of the bombardment, enemy shells caused a
relatively small number of fatalities at the base. Besides the solid
fortifications, there were two factors which kept casualties to a
minimum. The first was the flak jacket--a specially designed nylon
vest reinforced with overlapping fiberglass plates. The jacket would
not stop a high-velocity bullet but it did protect a man's torso and
most vital organs against shell fragments. The bulky vest was not
particularly popular in hot weather when the Marines were on patrol
but in a static, defensive position the jacket was ideal. The second
factor was the high quality of leadership at platoon and company level.
Junior officers and staff noncommissioned officers (NCOs) constantly
moved up and down the lines to supervise the younger, inexperienced
Marines, many of whom had only recently arrived in Vietnam. The
veteran staff NCOs, long known as the "backbone of the Corps," knew
from experience that troops had to be kept busy. A man who was left to
ponder his problems often developed a fatalistic attitude that could
increase his reaction time and decrease his life time. The crusty NCOs
did not put much stock in the old cliche: "If a round has your name on
it, there's nothing you can do." Consequently, the Marines worked; they
dug trenches, filled sandbags, ran for cover, and returned to fill more
sandbags. Morale remained high and casualties, under the circumstances,
were surprisingly low.(89)

Although the NVA encircled the KSCB and applied constant pressure,
the defenders were never restricted entirely to the confines of the
perimeter. The term "siege," in the strictest sense of the word, was
somewhat of a misnomer because the Allies conducted a number of daily
patrols, often as far as 500 meters from their own lines.[26](90) These
excursions were primarily for security and reconnaissance purposes
since General Tompkins did not want his men engaged in a slugging match
with the enemy outside the defensive wire. If the North Vietnamese were
encountered, the Marines broke contact and withdrew, while supporting
arms were employed.(91)

One vital area was the drop zone. When the weather turned bad in
February, the KSCB was supplied primarily by parachute drops. Colonel
Lownds set up his original zone inside the FOB-3 compound but later
moved it several hundred meters west of Red Sector because he was
afraid that the falling pallets might injure someone. Lieutenant
Colonel Mitchell's 1/9 was given responsibility for security of the
drop zone and his patrols conducted daily sweeps along the periphery of
the drop area to flush out enemy troops who might try to disrupt the
collection of supplies. In addition, combat engineers swept through the
zone each morning and cleared out any mines the enemy set in during the
night. Thus the defenders at Khe Sanh were never
 completely hemmed-in, but the regimental commander
admitted that any expedition beyond sight of the base was an invitation
to trouble.(92)

The Allies did more than prepare defenses and conduct patrols because
the NVA launched three of its heaviest ground attacks during the
first week in February. In the predawn hours of 5 February, the North
Vietnamese lashed out at the Marine base and adjacent outposts with
nearly 200 artillery rounds while a battalion from the =325C NVA
Division= assaulted Hill 861A. Colonel Lownds immediately placed all
units on Red Alert and, within minutes, 1/13 was returning fire in
support of E/2/26.

The fight on Hill 861A was extremely bitter. At 0305 the North
Vietnamese opened up on Captain Breeding's positions with a tremendous
82mm mortar barrage. This was followed by continuous volleys of RPG
rounds which knocked out several Marine crew-served weapons and
shielded the advance of the NVA sappers and assault troops. The North
Vietnamese blew lanes through the barbed wire along the northern
perimeter and slammed into the Company E lines. Second Lieutenant
Donald E. Shanley's 1st Platoon bore the brunt of the attack and reeled
back to supplementary positions. Quickly the word filtered back to the
company CP that the enemy was inside the wire and Captain Breeding
ordered that all units employ tear gas in defense but the North
Vietnamese were obviously "hopped up" on some type of narcotic and the
searing fumes had very little effect. Following the initial assault
there was a brief lull in the fighting. The NVA soldiers apparently
felt that, having secured the northernmost trenchline, they owned the
entire objective and stopped to sift through the Marine positions for
souvenirs. Magazines and paperbacks were the most popular. Meanwhile,
the temporary reversal only served to enrage the Marines. Following a
shower of grenades, Lieutenant Shanley and his men charged back into
their original positions and swarmed all over the surprised enemy

The counterattack quickly deteriorated into a melee that resembled a
bloody, waterfront barroom brawl--a style of fighting not completely
alien to most Marines. Because the darkness and ground fog drastically
reduced visibility, hand-to-hand combat was a necessity. Using their
knives, bayonets, rifle butts, and fists, the men of the 1st Platoon
ripped into the hapless North Vietnamese with a vengeance. Captain
Breeding, a veteran of the Korean conflict who had worked his way up
through the ranks, admitted that, at first, he was concerned over how
his younger, inexperienced Marines would react in their first fight.
As it turned out, they were magnificent. The captain saw one of his
men come face to face with a North Vietnamese in the inky darkness;
the young American all but decapitated his adversary with a crushing,
round-house right to the face, then leaped on the flattened soldier
and finished the job with a knife. Another man was jumped from behind
by a North Vietnamese who grabbed him around the neck and was just
about to slit his throat, when one of the Marine's buddies jabbed
the muzzle of his M-16 between the two combatants. With his selector
on full automatic, he fired off a full magazine; the burst tore huge
chunks from the back of the embattled Marine's flak jacket but it also
cut the North Vietnamese in half. Since the fighting was at such close
quarters, both sides used hand grenades at extremely short-range. The
Marines had the advantage because of their armored vests and they would
throw a grenade, then turn away from the blast, hunch up, and absorb
the fragments in their flak jackets and the backs of their legs. On
several occasions, Captain Breeding's men used this technique and "blew
away" enemy soldiers at less than 10 meters.(94)

No one engaged in the donnybrook was exactly sure just how long it
lasted--all were too busy fighting to check their watches. More than
likely, the enemy was inside the wire less than a half hour. During
the fighting, Captain Breeding fed fire team-sized elements from the
2d and 3d Platoons into the fray from both flanks of the penetration.
The newcomers appeared to be afraid that they might miss all the action
and tore into the enemy as if they were making up for lost time. Even
though the E/2/26 company commander was no newcomer to blood and gore,
he was awed by the ferocity of the attack. Captain Breeding later said:
"It was like watching a World War II movie. Charlie didn't know how to
cope with it ... we walked all over them."(95) Those dazed NVA soldiers
who survived the vicious onslaught retreated into another meatgrinder;
as they ran from the hill, they were blasted by recoilless rifle fire
from 2/26 which was located on Hill 558.

At approximately 0610, the North Vietnamese officers rallied the
battered remnants and tried again, but the second effort was also
stopped cold. By this time, Captain Breeding, who was busier than the
proverbial one-armed paper hanger, was assisting in the coordination
of fire support from five separate sources (i.e. Hills 861A, 881S,
558, the KSCB, and the 175mm gun bases). The Marines of Captain
Dabney's I/3/26, located on Hill 881S provided extremely effective and
enthusiastic support throughout the attack. In three hours, Captain
Dabney's men pumped out close to 1,100 rounds from only three 81mm
mortars, and the tubes became so hot that they actually glowed in the
dark.[27] Again, the bulk of the heavy artillery fire, along with radar
controlled bombing missions, was placed on the northern avenues leading
to the hill positions. The enemy units, held in reserve, were thus
shredded by the bombardment as they moved up to continue the attack.(96)

After the second assault fizzled out, the North Vietnamese withdrew,
but enemy gunners shelled the base and outposts throughout the day.
At 1430, replacements from 2/26 were helilifted to Hill 861A. Captain
Breeding had lost seven men, most of whom were killed in the opening
barrage, and another 35 were medevaced so the new arrivals brought
E/2/26 back up to normal strength. On the other hand, the NVA suffered
109 known dead; many still remained in the 1st Platoon area where they
had been shot, slashed, or bludgeoned to death. As near as Captain
Breeding could tell, he did not lose a single man during the fierce
hand-to-hand struggle; all American deaths were apparently the result
of the enemy's mortar barrage and supporting fire. The Marines never
knew how many other members of the =325C NVA Division= had fallen
as a result of the heavy artillery and air strikes but the number
was undoubtedly high. All in all, it had been a bad day for the

The North Vietnamese took their revenge in the early morning hours of
7 February; their victims were the defenders of the Special Forces
camp at Lang Vei. At 0042, an American advisor reported that the
installation was under heavy attack by enemy tanks. This was the first
time that the NVA had employed its armor in the south and, within 13
minutes, 9 PT-76 Soviet-built tanks churned through the defensive wire,
rumbled over the anti-personnel minefields, and bulled their way into
the heart of the compound.[28](98) A battalion from the =66th Regiment,
304th NVA Division=, equipped with satchel charges, tear gas, and
flame-throwers, followed with an aggressive infantry assault that was
coordinated with heavy attacks by fire on the 26th Marines. Colonel
Lownds placed the base on Red Alert and the FSCC called in immediate
artillery and air in support of the beleaguered Lang Vei garrison.
Although the Marines responded quickly, the defensive fires had little
effect because, by that time, the enemy had overrun the camp.[29](99)
The defenders who survived buttoned themselves up in bunkers and, at
0243, called for artillery fire to dust off their own positions.(100)

Lieutenant Colonel Hennelly's artillerymen responded with scores of
deadly air bursts which peppered the target area with thousands of
fragments. The 1/13 batteries fired over 300 rounds that morning and
the vast fire superiority was echoed in the radio transmission of one
Lang Vei defender who said: "We don't know what you're using but for
God's sake keep it up." That was one of the last transmissions to
Khe Sanh because, at 0310, the Marines lost communications with the

Part of Colonel Lownds' mission as coordinator of all friendly forces
in the Khe Sanh area was to provide artillery support for Lang Vei
and, if possible, to reinforce the camp in case of attack. Under the
circumstances, a relief in strength was out of the question. In early
January, when M/3/26 was in reserve, Lieutenant Colonel Alderman and
Major Caulfield had conducted a personal reconnaissance of Route 9
between the KSCB and Lang Vei to determine the feasibility of moving
a large unit overland. Their opinion was that any such attempt would
be suicidal because the terrain bordering Route 9 was so well suited
for an ambush it was an "NVA dream." Any column moving down the road,
especially at night, would undoubtedly have been ambushed.[30](102)
If the Marines went directly over the mountains, they would have to
hack through the dense growth and waste precious hours.[31](103) A
large-scale heliborne effort was ruled out because the North Vietnamese
apparently anticipated such a move and withdrew their tanks to the only
landing zones near the camp which were suitable for such an operation.
Even with tactical aircraft providing suppressive fire, a helo assault
into the teeth of enemy armor was ill-advised. The most important
factor, however, was that NVA units in the area greatly outnumbered any
force Colonel Lownds could commit.(104)

Since a relief in force was undesirable, plans for a hit and run rescue
attempt were quickly drawn up at General Cushman's headquarters. Once
General Westmoreland had given the green light, Major General Norman J.
Anderson, commanding the 1st MAW and Colonel Jonathan F. Ladd of the U.
S. Army Special Forces, worked out the details. Two major points agreed
upon were that the helicopters employed in the operation would be those
which were not essential to the 26th Marines at the moment and that
Marine fixed-wing support would be provided.(105)

As soon as it was light, the survivors of the Lang Vei garrison managed
to break out of their bunkers and work their way to the site of an
older camp some 400-500 meters to the east. Later that same day, a
raiding party composed of 40 CIDG personnel and 10 U. S. Army Special
Forces advisors from FOB-3 boarded Quang Tri-based MAG-36 helicopters
and took off for Lang Vei. A flight of Huey gunships, led by Lieutenant
Colonel William J. White, Commanding Officer of Marine Observation
Squadron 6, as well as jet aircraft escorted the transport choppers.
While the jets and Hueys covered their approach, the helicopters
swooped into a small strip at the old camp and took on survivors,
including 15 Americans. In spite of the heavy suppressive fire provided
by the escorts, three transport helos suffered battle damage during the
evacuation. One overloaded chopper, flown by Captain Robert J. Richards
of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262, had to make the return trip
to Khe Sanh at treetop level because the excess weight prevented the
pilot from gaining altitude.[32](106)

There was a large number of indigenous personnel--both military and
civilian--who could not get out on the helicopters and had to move
overland to Khe Sanh. A portion of these were members of the Laotian
Volunteer Battalion 33 which on 23 January had been overrun at Ban
Houei San, Laos (near the Laotian/South Vietnam border) by three NVA
battalions. The remnants fled across the border and took refuge at Lang
Vei and when the Special Forces camp fell, the Laotians continued their
trek to the east with a host of other refugees. At 0800 on the 8th,
about 3,000 approached the southern perimeter at Khe Sanh and requested
admittance. Colonel Lownds, fearing that NVA infiltrators were in their
midst, denied them entrance until each was searched and processed. This
took place near the FOB-3 compound after which some of the refugees
were evacuated. The Laotians were eventually returned to their own

Also on the morning of 8 February, elements of the =101D Regiment=,
=325C Division= launched the first daylight attack against the 26th
Marines. At 0420, a reinforced battalion hit the 1st Platoon, A/1/9,
which occupied Hill 64 some 500 meters west of the 1/9 perimeter.
Following their usual pattern, the North Vietnamese tried to disrupt
the Marines' artillery support with simultaneous bombardment of the
base. To prevent friendly reinforcements from reaching the small hill
the enemy also shelled the platoon's parent unit and, during the fight,
some 350 mortar and artillery rounds fell on the 1/9 positions. The NVA
assault troops launched a two-pronged attack against the northwestern
and southwestern corners of the A/1/9 outpost and either blew the
barbed wire with bangalore torpedoes or threw canvas on top of the
obstacles and rolled over them. The enemy soldiers poured into the
trenchline and attacked the bunkers with RPGs and satchel charges. They
also emplaced machine guns at the edge of the penetrations and pinned
down those Marines in the eastern half of the perimeter who were trying
to cross over the hill and reinforce their comrades.(108)

The men in the northeastern sector, led by the platoon commander,
Second Lieutenant Terence R. Roach, Jr., counterattacked down the
trenchline and became engaged in savage hand-to-hand fighting. While
rallying his troops and directing fire from atop an exposed bunker,
Lieutenant Roach was mortally wounded. From sheer weight of numbers,
the North Vietnamese gradually pushed the Marines back until the enemy
owned the western half of the outpost. At that point, neither side was
able to press the advantage. Pre-registered mortar barrages from 1/9
and artillery fire from the KSCB had isolated the NVA assault units
from any reinforcements but at the same time the depleted 1st Platoon
was not strong enough to dislodge the enemy.(109)

One Marine had an extremely close call during the fight but lived to
tell about it. On the northern side of the perimeter, Private First
Class Michael A. Barry of the 1st Squad was engaged in a furious hand
grenade duel with the NVA soldiers when a ChiCom grenade hit him on
top of the helmet and landed at the young Marine's feet. PFC Barry
quickly picked it up and drew back to throw but the grenade went off
in his hand. Had it been an American M-26 grenade, the private would
undoubtedly have been blown to bits but ChiCom grenades frequently
produced an uneven frag pattern. In this case, the bulk of the blast
went down and away from the Marine's body; Barry had the back of his
right arm, his back, and his right leg peppered with metal fragments
but he did not lose any fingers and continued to function for the rest
of the battle.(110)

In another section of the trenchline, Lance Corporal Robert L. Wiley
had an equally hair-raising experience. Wiley, a shell-shock victim,
lay flat on his back in one of the bunkers which had been overrun by
the enemy. His eardrums had burst, he was temporarily paralyzed and
his glazed eyes were fixed in a corpse-like stare but the Marine was
alive and fully aware of what was going on around him. Thinking that
Wiley was dead, the North Vietnamese were only interested in rummaging
through his personal effects for souvenirs. One NVA soldier found the
Marine's wallet and took out several pictures including a snapshot of
his family gathered around a Christmas tree. After pocketing their
booty, the North Vietnamese moved on; Lance Corporal Wiley was later
rescued by the relief column.(111)

At 0730, Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell committed a second platoon,
headed by the Company A commander, Captain Henry J. M. Radcliffe, to
the action. By 0900, the relief force had made its way to the eastern
slope of the small hill and established contact with the trapped
platoon. During the advance, Companies B and D, along with one section
of tanks, delivered murderous direct fire to the flanks and front
of Captain Radcliffe's column, breaking up any attempt by the enemy
to interdict the linkup. After several flights of strike aircraft
had pasted the reverse slope of the hill, the company commander led
his combined forces in a frontal assault over the crest and, within
15 minutes, drove the North Vietnamese from the outpost. Automatic
weapons chopped down many North Vietnamese as they fled from the hill.
The battered remnants of the enemy force retreated to the west and,
once in the open, were also taken under fire by the rest of the Marine
battalion. In addition, the artillery batteries at KSCB contributed to
the slaughter and, when the smoke cleared, 150 North Vietnamese were
dead. Although the platoon lines were restored, Colonel Lownds decided
to abandon the position and, at 1200, the two units withdrew with their
casualties. Marine losses that morning on the outpost were 21 killed
and 26 wounded; at the base, 5 were killed and 6 wounded.(112)

During the next two weeks, the NVA mounted no major ground attack but
continued to apply pressure on the KSCB. There were daily clashes along
the Marine lines but these were limited to small fire fights, sniping
incidents, and probes against the wire. A decrease in activity along
the various infiltration routes indicated that the enemy had completed
his initial buildup and was busily consolidating positions from which
to launch an all-out effort. The Allies continued to improve their
defenses and by mid-February most units occupied positions with three
or four layers of barbed wire, dense minefields, special detection
devices, deep trenches, and mortar-proof bunkers. The battle reverted
to a contest of supporting arms and the North Vietnamese stepped up
their shelling of the base, especially with direct fire weapons.
Attempts to silence the enemy guns were often frustrated because the
Marines were fighting two battles during February--one with the NVA,
the other with the weather.(113)



The weather at Khe Sanh throughout February could be characterized
in one word--miserable. General Tompkins remarked that, for combat
purposes, the weather was the worst that he'd ever seen. The northeast
monsoons had long since spilled over into the Khe Sanh Valley and every
morning the base was shrouded with ground fog and low scud layers which
dissipated around 1000 or 1100. When the sun finally managed to burn
through, the cloud ceiling retreated slightly but still hovered low
enough to prevent the unrestricted use of airborne artillery spotters
and strike aircraft. It was during these periods, when the overcast was
between 100 and 500 feet, that enemy artillery, rocket, and mortar fire
was the heaviest. The NVA forward observers, perched along the lower
slopes of the surrounding hills, called in and adjusted barrages with
little fear of retaliation against their own gun positions. Later in
the afternoon, when the fog rolled in again and obscured the enemy's
view, the incoming tapered off.[33](114)

The Marines adjusted their schedule accordingly. They usually worked
under the cover of the haze in the morning, went underground during the
midday shelling, and returned to their duties later in the afternoon.
While the extremely low cloud cover occasionally befriended the men
at the base, it constantly plagued the pilots whose mission was to
resupply the 26th Marines.

The job of transporting enough "bullets, beans, and bandages" to
sustain the 6,680 Khe Sanh defenders fell to the C-130s of Marine
Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 and the U. S. Air Force 834th
Air Division; the C-123s of the 315th Air Commando Wing; the UH-34,
CH-46, and UH-1E helicopters of Marine Aircraft Group 36 (MAG-36); and
the CH-53 choppers of MAG-16.[34](115)

[Illustration: Ground fog in the morning and late afternoon shrouded
the base obscuring the view of both the enemy and the Marines. (Photo
courtesy David D. Duncan)]

[Illustration: The reduced visibility from fog and haze hampered air
operations. Crews of Marine UH-1E gunships wait for ceiling to lift.
(Photo courtesy David D. Duncan)]

Even under ideal circumstances, the airlift would have been a massive
undertaking. The difficulties, however, were compounded by the poor
visibility which was below minimum for airfield operations 40 percent
of the time and the heavy volume of antiaircraft and artillery fire
directed at the incoming transports. The NVA had moved several
antiaircraft units into the hills east of the airstrip forcing the
C-130 Hercules, the C-123 Providers, and the helicopters to run the
gauntlet during their final approach. Under cover of the heavy fog,
some audacious NVA gun crews positioned their antiaircraft weapons
just off the eastern threshold of the runway and fired in the blind
whenever they heard the drone of incoming planes. Several aircraft were
hit while on GCA final and completely in the soup.[35](116) Immediately
after touchdown, the aircraft were subjected to intense mortar and
rocket fire; in fact, the incoming was so closely synchronized with
their arrival, the fixed-wing transports were nicknamed "mortar
magnets" by the Marines.(117)

[Illustration: View of airstrip at Khe Sanh facing east. (Photo
courtesy David D. Duncan)]

[Illustration: U. S. Air Force C-130 about to touch down after
approaching from the east. (Photo courtesy David D. Duncan)]

The key to survival for the pilots was a steep approach through the
eastern corridor, a short roll-out, and a speedy turnaround after
landing. A small ramp paralleled the western end of the strip which the
transport crews used as an unloading point. After roll-out, the pilot
turned off the runway onto the easternmost taxiway, then wheeled onto
the ramp while the loadmasters shoved the pallets of supplies out the
back.[36] All outgoing passengers were loaded on the double because the

planes rarely stopped rolling. The pilot completed the loop by turning
back onto the runway via the western taxiway and took off in the
opposite direction from which he landed. It was not uncommon for the
entire circuit to be completed within three minutes; even then, the
planes were tracked by exploding mortar rounds.(118)

On 10 February, a tragedy occurred which resulted in a drastic
alteration of the unloading process. A Marine C-130, heavily laden
with bladders of fuel for the 26th Marines, was making its approach to
the field under intense fire. Just before the giant bird touched down,
the cockpit and fuel bags were riddled by enemy bullets. With flames
licking at one side, the stricken craft careened off the runway 3,100
feet from the approach end, spun around, and was rocked by several
muffled explosions. The C-130 then began to burn furiously. Crash crews
rushed to the plane and started spraying it with foam. The pilot, Chief
Warrant Officer Henry Wildfang, and his copilot suffered minor burns as
they scrambled out the overhead hatch in the cockpit. Fire fighters in
specially designed heat suits dashed into the flaming debris and pulled
several injured crewmen and passengers to safety--rescue attempts came
too late for six others. One of those killed in the crash, Lieutenant
Colonel Carl E. Peterson, the 1st MAW Engineer Officer, was a reserve
officer who only a few months before had volunteered for active duty.
As a result of this accident and damage sustained by other transports
while on the ground, C-130 landings at Khe Sanh were suspended.(119)

[Illustration: Death of a Hercules. A C-130 of Marine Aerial Refueler
Transport Squadron 152 burns after crashing at the base. (Photo
courtesy David D. Duncan)]

[Illustration: Crash crew at Khe Sanh pours foam on a burning CH-46
helicopter following an enemy artillery attack. (USMC Photo A190350)]

With the field closed to C-130s, a U. S. Air Force innovation--the
Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System or LAPES--was put into
effect. This self-contained system, which had been used extensively
during the renovation of the airstrip in the fall of 1967, enabled
the aircraft to unload their cargo without landing. When making a
LAPES run, the Hercules pilot made his approach from the east during
which he opened the tail ramp and deployed a reefed cargo parachute.
Prior to touchdown, he added just enough power to hold the aircraft
about five feet above the ground. As the plane skimmed over the runway
and approached the intended extraction point, the pilot electrically
opened the streaming chute which was attached to the roller-mounted
cargo pallets. The sudden jolt of the blossoming chute snatched the
cargo from the rear hatch and the pallets came to a skidding halt on
the runway. The pilot then jammed the throttles to the firewall, eased
back on the yoke, and executed a high-angle, westerly pull-out to avoid
ground fire while the Marines moved onto the runway with forklifts
and quickly gathered in the supplies. The system was quite ingenious
and allowed the aircraft to pass through the V-ring in a matter of
seconds.[37] Even though the airmen could not control the skidding
pallets after release, some pilots perfected their individual technique
and were able to place the cargo on a 25-meter square with consistency.
On one occasion, however, an extraction chute malfunctioned and the
cargo rocketed off the western end of the runway; the eight-ton pallet
of lumber smashed into a messhall located near the end of the strip and
crushed three Marines to death.(120)

Another technique--the Ground Proximity Extraction System or GPES--was
also used but to a lesser degree than the LAPES. (15 GPES deliveries
during the siege as compared to 52 LAPES.) Both utilized the low
approach but with GPES the cargo was extracted by a hook extended from
a boom at the rear of the aircraft. As the C-130 swooped low over the
runway, the pilot tried to snag an arresting cable similar to the one
used on aircraft carriers; only his hook was attached to the cargo
bundles and not the plane. Upon engagement, the pallets were jerked
from the rear hatch and came to a dead stop on the runway. With the
GPES, the chance of a pallet skidding out of control or overturning was
greatly reduced. The only problem that occurred was not with the system
itself but with faulty installation. The Marines who initially emplaced
the GPES were frequently chased away from their work by incoming mortar
rounds and, as a result of the periodic interruptions, the cable was
not anchored properly. The first C-130 that snagged the wire ripped
the arresting gear out by the roots. After the initial bugs were
remedied, the system worked so successfully that, on one pass, a load
containing 30 dozen eggs was extracted without a single eggshell being

Most of the time, however, the low overcast precluded the use of either
extraction system and the preponderance of supplies was delivered by
paradrops. This technique called for close air/ground coordination and
the C-130 pilots relied on the Marine Air Traffic Control Unit (MATCU)
at Khe Sanh to guide them in to the drop zones. The Marine ground
controller lined the aircraft up on the long axis of the runway for a
normal instrument approach and when the Hercules passed a certain point
over the eastern threshold of the field, the controller called "Ready,
Ready, Mark." At "Mark," the pilot pushed a stop watch, activated his
Doppler navigational system, turned to a predetermined heading and
maintained an altitude of between 500 and 600 feet. The Doppler device
indicated any deviation from the desired track to the drop zone, which
was west of Red Sector, and the release point was calculated by using
the stop watch--20 to 26 seconds from "Mark," depending on the winds.
At the computed release point, the pilot pulled the C-130 into an
8-degree nose-up attitude and 16 parachute bundles, containing 15 tons
of supplies, slid from the rear of the aircraft and floated through the
overcast into the 300-meter-square drop zone. Under Visual Flight Rules
(VFR), the average computed error for the drops was only 95 meters.
Even when these missions were executed completely under Instrument
Flight Rules (IFR), the average distance that the bundles landed from
the intended impact point was 133 meters--well inside the drop zone.
On a few occasions, however, the parachute bundles missed the zone and
drifted far enough away from the base to preclude a safe recovery. In
these rare instances, friendly artillery and air strikes were brought
to bear on the wayward containers to keep them from falling into the
hands of the enemy. During the siege, Air Force C-130 crews conducted a
total of 496 paradrops at Khe Sanh.[38](122)

Although the paradrops were sufficient for bulk commodities such
as rations and ammunition, there were certain items which had to
be delivered or picked up personally. Medical supplies, special
ammunition, and other delicate cargo would not withstand the jolt
of a parachute landing. In addition, there were replacements to
be shuttled into the base and casualties to be evacuated. With the
cancellation of all C-130 landings, this job was left up to the sturdy
C-123 Providers of the 315th Air Commando Wing as well as MAG-36 and
MAG-16 helicopters. The choppers could maneuver around areas of heavy
ground fire, land, unload, take on medevacs, and depart very quickly
but their payloads were limited. On the other hand, the C-123s had a
larger cargo capacity but were restricted to a more rigid approach and
provided better targets both in the pattern and on the ground.[39](123)
The Providers, however, required much less runway from which to operate
than the C-130s and could land and take off using only 1,400 of the
3,900 foot strip. This saving feature enabled the pilots to make a
steep approach, short roll-out, and rapid turnaround. The crews still
had to undergo those frantic moments on the ground when the geysers of
dirty-black smoke bracketed their aircraft. Nevertheless, the dauntless
C-123 crews continued their perilous missions throughout the siege with
great success.(124)

No discussion of the airlift would be complete without mention of
the MAG-36 and MAG-16 helicopter pilots who flew in and out of Khe
Sanh daily delivering supplies, delicate cargo, reinforcements, and
evacuating casualties. The chopper crews were faced with the same
problems that plagued the fixed-wing transports--low ceilings and enemy
ground fire--but to a greater degree because of their slow speed and
vulnerability. MAG-36 operated primarily from Quang Tri and Dong Ha,
and was reinforced from the group's main base at Phu Bai. These valiant
pilots and crewmen in their Huey gunships, CH-46 transports, and UH-34s
flew long hours, day and night, in all kinds of weather to sustain the
Marines in and around Khe Sanh. The CH-53s of Da Nang-based MAG-16,
with their heavier payload, also made a sizeable contribution to this

[Illustration: C-130 Hercules conducts paradrops west of Red Sector.
(USMC Photo A190803)]

[Illustration: A UH-34 of MAG-36 departs Khe Sanh on its way to the
hill outposts. (Photo courtesy David D. Duncan)]

The resupply of the hill outposts was a particularly hazardous aspect
of the overall mission. Approximately 20 percent of Colonel Lownds'
personnel occupied these redoubts and, for all practical purposes,
were cut off from the rest of the garrison. The road north of the base
was not secure and the perimeters atop the hills were too small and
irregular for parachute drops; the only way that the isolated posts
could be sustained was by helicopter. When the dense monsoon clouds
rolled into the valley, the mountain tops were the first to become
submerged and, as the overcast lifted, the last to reappear. During
February, several of the outposts were completely obscured for more
than a week and resupply was impossible. During these periods, the
North Vietnamese took advantage of the reduced visibility and emplaced
heavy automatic weapons along the neighboring peaks and waited for the
ceiling to lift which invariably heralded the arrival of helicopters.
As a result, the UH-1Es, UH-34s, and CH-46s were subjected to a hail of
enemy bullets during each mission.(126)

When the helicopters proceeded to the hills singly or in small groups,
each mission was a hair-raising experience for both the chopper crews
and the men on the ground. A good example of what often transpired
during those frantic moments occurred early in the siege on Hill 881S
when Captain Dabney called for a chopper to evacuate a badly wounded
Marine. One corporal was assigned as a stretcher bearer because he
had a badly impacted wisdom tooth and, once aboard, he could ride
out on the helicopter and have the tooth extracted at the main
base.[40] Because of the 120mm mortars located in the Horseshoe and the
antiaircraft guns which ringed the hill, the men on 881S had to employ
a variety of diversions to keep the enemy gunners from getting the
range of the incoming choppers. In this instance, they threw a smoke
grenade a good distance away from the actual landing zone in hopes that
the gunners would register on the smoke and the helicopter would be in
and out before the North Vietnamese could readjust. This meant that the
helo had about 19 seconds to get off the ground.(127)

The ruse did not come off as planned. The stretcher bearers had
barely loaded the wounded man aboard the helicopter, a CH-46, when
120mm mortar rounds bracketed the aircraft and spurred the pilot to
action. The helo lurched into the air and the sudden jolt rolled the
corporal with the bad tooth over the edge of the tail ramp; he held on
desperately for a few seconds but finally let go and fell about 20 feet
to the ground. Cursing to himself, the young man limped back to his
trench and waited for another chance.

Later that day, a UH-34 swooped in to pick up another casualty and the
prospective dental patient quickly scrambled aboard. This trip also
covered about 20 feet--10 feet up and 10 feet down--because the tail
rotor of the UH-34 was literally sawed off by a burst from an enemy
machine gun just after the bird became airborne. After the swirling
craft came to rest, the passengers and the three-man crew quickly
clamored out the hatch and dived into a nearby trench. A heavy mortar
barrage ensued during which several more men were hit.

By the time another CH-46 arrived on the scene, the passenger list had
grown to 14, including 10 casualties, the crew of the downed helo, and
the original dental case. Because of the heavy concentration of enemy
fire in the original zone, the Marines had blasted out another landing
site on the opposite side of the hill. The chopper touched down and 13
of the 14 Marines boarded before the crew chief stated emphatically
that the aircraft was full. As luck would have it, the young Marine
with the swollen jaw was the 14th man. Thoroughly indignant, the
three-time loser returned to his position and mumbled that he would
rather suffer from a toothache than try and get off the hill by

It was the consensus of both the ground commanders and pilots alike
that the problem of getting helicopters to and from the hills was
becoming critical. The technique then employed was resulting in
casualties among both the air crews and the infantry units, as well as
a rapid rise in the attrition of MAG-36 helicopters. The Huey gunships,
though putting forth a valiant effort, did not possess the heavy volume
of fire required to keep the approach lanes open. As a result, the 1st
MAW adopted another system which provided more muscle.(129)

The solution was basically a page out of the Fleet Marine Force Manual
for Helicopter Support Operations. All helicopter flights to the hill
outposts were to be escorted by strike aircraft which would provide
suppressive fire. The A-4 Skyhawks of Chu Lai-based MAG-12 were
selected as the fixed-wing escorts and the little jet was perfect for
the job. Affectionately referred to as "Scooters" by their pilots,
the A-4 was a highly maneuverable attack aircraft; its accuracy,
dependability, and varied ordnance load had made it the workhorse of
Marine close air support for many years.

[Illustration: After introduction of the Super Gaggle, CH-46
helicopters with their 4,000-pound external loads proceeded to the hill
outposts in convoy. (USMC Photo A422061)]

[Illustration: A-4 Skyhawks of Marine Aircraft Group-12 provided
suppressive fire during resupply missions. (USMC Photo A421671)]

Generals Cushman and Anderson conceived the idea and the details were
worked out by Colonel Joel B. Bonner, Lieutenant Colonel William J.
White, and Lieutenant Colonel Richard E. Carey at 1st MAW Headquarters.
The operation went into effect on 24 February. Because of the large
number of aircraft utilized in each mission--12 A-4s, 1 TA-4, 12
CH-46s, and 4 UH-1E gunships--the overall effort was nicknamed the Super
Gaggle by its planners. The difficulty in execution was primarily one
of coordination and control because of the various agencies (i.e.
MAG-36, MAG-12, 3d MarDiv G-4, Dong Ha Logistics Support Area, and the
units on the hill outposts) which were involved. Additional factors
that had to be considered were departure weather, destination weather,
and coordination of friendly artillery and air strikes around Khe Sanh.
Lieutenant Colonel Carey, the 1st MAW Operations Officer and one of the
planners, later described the mechanics of the Super Gaggle:

  Success of the effort was predicated on timing, coordination, and
  often times luck. Luck, as used, refers to the ability to guess
  whether the weather would hold long enough to complete an effort
  once it got underway. The effort began with the TA-4 on station
  determining if sufficient ceiling existed for the "Scooters"
  of MAG-12 to provide sufficient suppressive fires to assure
  success.... Once the TA-4 called all conditions go, an "H" hour
  was set and the Super Gaggle began. Twelve A-4s would launch from
  Chu Lai while simultaneously 100 miles to the north 12-16 helos
  would launch from the Quang Tri helo base and proceed to the Dong
  Ha LSA (Logistics Support Area) for supply pickup. The object was
  for all aircraft to arrive in the objective area on a precise
  schedule. So the operation generally consisted as follows: (1)
  Softening up known enemy positions by four A-4s, generally armed
  with napalm and bombs; (2) Two A-4s armed with CS (tear gas) tanks
  saturate enemy antiaircraft and automatic weapons positions; (3)
  30-40 seconds prior to final run in by the helos two A-4s lay a
  smoke screen along selected avenues of approach.... (4) While helos
  make final run into the target, four A-4s with bombs, rockets, and
  20mm guns provide close-in fire suppression.... Once the helos
  commenced their descent the factors of weather, their 4,000-pound
  externally carried load, and the terrain would not permit a second
  chance. If an enemy gun was not suppressed there was no alternative
  for the helos but to continue. They (the transport pilots) were
  strengthened with the knowledge that following close on their
  heels were their gunships ready to pick them up if they survived
  being shot down. Fortunately, these tactics were so successful
  that during the entire period of the Super Gaggle only two CH-46s
  were downed enroute to the hill positions. The crews were rescued
  immediately by escorting Huey gunships.[42](130)

These missions, however, looked much more orderly on paper than they
did in the air and the operation lived up to its name. Only those who
have experienced the hazards of monsoon flying can fully appreciate the
veritable madhouse that often exists when large numbers of aircraft
are confined to the restricted space beneath a low-hanging overcast.
Coupled with this was the fact that the fluffy looking clouds around
Khe Sanh housed mountains which ran up to 3,000 feet. No doubt, the
aircrews involved in the Gaggle were mindful of the standard warning
issued to fledgling aviators: "Keep your eyes out of the cockpit;
a mid-air collision could ruin your whole day." Even though the
missions were well-coordinated and executed with a high degree of
professionalism, it often appeared that confusion reigned because
planes were everywhere. A-4s bore in on the flanks of the approach
lanes blasting enemy gun positions and spewing protective smoke;
CH-46s groped through the haze trying to find the landing zones; the
hornet-like UH-1E gunships darted in from the rear in case someone was
shot down; and the lone TA-4 circled overhead trying to keep his flock
from running amuck. During the missions to 881S, the men of India and
Mike, 3/26, added to the hullabaloo with a little twist of their own.
When the CH-46s settled over the hill, the Marines on the ground tossed
out a few dozen smoke grenades for added cover and then every man in
the perimeter fired a full magazine at anything on the surrounding
slopes which appeared hostile. With some 350 men hosing down the
countryside at the same time, the din was terrific.

Neither the deluge of lead from 881S nor the suppressive fire of the
jets and gunships kept the NVA completely quiet. The 120mm mortar
crews in the Horseshoe were especially active during the resupply
runs to 881S and always lobbed some rounds onto the hill in hopes of
knocking down a helicopter. These tubes had been previously registered
on the LZs and the smoke screens had little effect on their fire; as
a result, the Marines frequently shifted landing zones.[43] The smoke
did block the view of the North Vietnamese machine gunners and they
were forced to fire blindly through the haze--if they dared fire at
all. The choppers still took hits but nowhere near as many as before
the Gaggle was initiated. The CH-46 pilots, poised precariously above
the LZs during the few agonizing seconds it took to unload their cargo,
often heard the sickening smack which meant that a bullet had torn into
the fuselage of their thin-skinned helos. The members of the two-man
Helicopter Support Teams (HST), 3d Shore Party Battalion who were
attached to the rifle companies were also prime targets. These men had
to stand up while they guided the choppers into the LZs and, every few
days, they had to attach bundles of cargo nets, which accumulated from
previous missions, for the return trip to Dong Ha. This was dangerous
for the aircrews as well as the HST men because, during the hook-up,
the pilots had to hold their aircraft in a vulnerable position a few
feet above the ground with the nose cocked up and the belly exposed
to fire from the front. While they attached the bundles, the ground
support personnel could hear the machine gun rounds zing a few inches
over their heads and slap into the soft underside of the suspended
helicopter. Not all the bullets and shell fragments passed overhead; on
881S, the defenders were operating with their fourth HST when the siege

In spite of the seriousness of the situation, the Gaggle was not
without its lighter episodes. In one instance, an HST man attached
to I/3/26 hooked up an outgoing load and gave the pilot the "thumbs
up" when he discovered that he had become entangled in the pile of
nets. The CH-46 surged into the air with the startled Marine dangling
helplessly from the bottom of the net by one foot. But for the quick
reaction of his comrade on the ground who informed the pilot by radio
that the chopper had taken on more than the prescribed load, the young
cargo handler would have had a rather interesting trip to Dong Ha. The
CH-46 crews also provided a human touch during these missions. When the
Sea Knights swept over the hills, it was not uncommon to see a machine
gunner on board quit his weapon for a second, nonchalantly pitch a case
of soda pop out the hatch, and then quickly return to blaze away at the
enemy positions. At 1st MAW Headquarters, Lieutenant Colonel Carey, who
had been an infantryman in Korea before he went to flight school and
who sympathized with the men on the outposts, felt that a small gesture
acknowledging their continued outstanding performance was in order.
Special efforts were made to obtain quantities of dry ice for packing
and one day, without notice, hundreds of Dixie-cups of ice cream were
delivered to the men on the hills as part of the regular resupply. This
effort was dubbed Operation COOL IT. The only hitch developed on 881S
where the Marines, unaware of the contents, allowed the cargo to remain
in the LZ until after dark when it was safe to venture out of the
trenchline. The ice cream was a little sloppy but edible and greatly

The introduction of the Super Gaggle was a turning point in the
resupply effort. Prior to its conception, the Marines on the outposts
dreaded the thought of leaving their positions to retrieve cargo--even
when it included mail--because of the heavy shelling. With a dozen
Skyhawks pasting the surrounding hills during each mission, this
threat was alleviated to a large degree and casualties tapered off.
The Company I, 3/26, commander later stated: "If it weren't for the
Gaggle, most of us probably wouldn't be here today." The helicopter
pilots, knowing that their jet jockey compatriots were close at hand,
were also able to do their job more effectively. In the past, the
transport crew chiefs occasionally had to jettison their external load
prematurely when the pilot took evasive action to avoid ground fire.
When this occurred, the cargo nets usually slammed into the perimeter
and splattered containers all over the hilltop.[44](131) With the Super
Gaggle, the pilots had less enemy fire to contend with and did not bomb
the hills with the cargo pallets as much; as a result more supplies
arrived intact. In addition, the system greatly facilitated the picking
up of wounded personnel.[45]

The Marine helicopters continued their flights to and from Khe Sanh
throughout the siege. In spite of the obstacles, the chopper pilots
crammed enough sorties into those days with flyable weather to haul
465 tons of supplies to the base during February. When the weather
later cleared, this amount was increased to approximately 40 tons a
day. While supporting Operation SCOTLAND, MAG-36 and MAG-16 flew 9,109
sorties, transported 14,562 passengers, and delivered 4,661 tons of

Colonel Lownds was more than satisfied with the airborne pipeline
which kept his cupboard full and he had quite a cupboard. The daily
requirement for the 26th Marines to maintain normal operations had
jumped from 60 tons in mid-January to roughly 185 tons when all five
battalions were in place. While the defenders didn't live high off
the hog on this amount, at no time were they desperately lacking the
essentials for combat. There were periods on the hills when the Marines
either stretched their rations and water or went without, but they
never ran short of ammunition. Understandably, ammunition had the
highest priority--even higher than food and water. A man might not be
able to eat a hand grenade but neither could he defend himself very
effectively with a can of fruit cocktail. This did not mean that the
men of the 26th Marines went hungry. On the average, the troops at the
base received two C-Ration meals a day and this fare was occasionally
supplemented with juice, pastry, hot soup, or fresh fruit. The men on
the hills subsisted almost entirely on C-Rations and the time between
meals varied, depending on the weather. Within the compound, water was
rationed only when the pump was out of commission and that was a rare
occurrence. Lieutenant Colonel Heath's position on Hill 558 was flanked
by two streams so 2/26 was well supplied but the Marines on the other
four outposts depended on helilifts for water; it was used sparingly
for drinking and cooking.[46](133) Besides the essentials, the 26th
Marines also required tons of other supplies such as fortification
material, fuel, tires, barbed wire, and spare parts--to name a few.
PX items were on the bottom of the bottom of the priority totem pole
because, as Colonel Lownds remarked: "If you have to, you can live
without those." On the other hand, mail had a priority second only to
ammunition and rations. The men at Khe Sanh received over 43 tons of
mail during the worst month of the siege.(134)

[Illustration: A CH-46 helicopter of Marine Aircraft Group-36 evacuates
wounded from Hill 861A (Photo courtesy David D. Duncan)]

[Illustration: U. S. Navy doctors and corpsmen, wearing helmets and
flak jackets, treat wounded at Charlie Med aid station. (Photo courtesy
David D. Duncan)]

One portion of the airlift which affected morale as much as the arrival
of mail was the swift departure of casualties. A man's efficiency was
greatly improved by the knowledge that, if he were hit, he could
expect immediate medical attention and when necessary, a speedy
evacuation.[47] Those with minor wounds were usually treated at the
various battalion aid stations and returned to duty; the more seriously
injured were taken to Company C, 3d Medical Battalion. Charley Med,
as this detachment was called, was located just south of and adjacent
to the aircraft loading ramp. There, U. S. Navy doctors and corpsmen
treated the walking wounded, performed surgery, and prepared the
litter cases for medevac. From Charley Med, it was a short, but
often nerve-racking trip to a waiting aircraft and a hospital at
Phu Bai. During the siege, the courageous men of Charley Med, often
working under heavy enemy fire, treated and evacuated 852 wounded

Thus the Marine and U. S. Air Force transport pilots, helicopter crews,
loadmasters, and ground personnel kept open the giant umbilical cord
which meant life for the combat base. Without their efforts, the story
of Khe Sanh would undoubtedly have been an abbreviated edition with
a not-too-happy ending. On the other hand, accounts of the heroism,
ingenuity, and skill demonstrated by these men would fill a book. But
there were other things besides manna falling from the heavens at Khe
Sanh and the vital role of the transports was frequently eclipsed by
the efforts of air crews who carried a much deadlier cargo.(136)


[25] One Marine, Corporal Robert J. Arrota, using a PRC-41 UHF radio
which put him in direct contact with the attack pilots, personally
controlled over 200 air strikes without the aid of a Tactical Air
Controller (Airborne); his peers gave him the title of "The Mightiest
Corporal In The World."

[26] Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell, whose battalion held the rock quarry
perimeter, later commented that his troops patrolled out to 1,200
meters. The units at the base never went that far until the siege was

[27] The men of Company I used the same methods to cool the mortar
tubes that they used during the attack against 861 on 21 January.

[28] The defenders later reported knocking out at least one and
probably two tanks with rocket launchers.

[29] The 26th Marines FSCC had prepared extensive defensive fire plans
for the Lang Vei Camp. In the early stages of the attack, the camp
commander did not request artillery and later asked for only a few
concentrations. He never asked for the entire schedule to be put into

[30] Documents taken off a dead NVA officer later in the battle
indicated that the enemy hoped that the attack on Lang Vei would draw
the Marines out of Khe Sanh so he could destroy the relief column.

[31] In November 1967, Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson, on direction
of the regimental commander, had sent a rifle company to determine
possible direct routes through the jungle. The company commander,
Captain John N. Raymond, reported that his unit, avoiding well-used
trails to preclude ambush, had made the trip in about 19 hours.

[32] On the return trip to the KSCB, Captain Richards flew over the
outskirts of Khe Sanh Village. A NVA soldier suddenly stepped out of
one hut and sprayed the low-flying chopper with a burst from his AK-47
assault rifle. The rounds ripped out part of Richards' instrument panel
and one bullet zinged about two inches in front of his nose before
passing through the top of the cockpit. A Marine gunner on the CH-46
quickly cut down the North Vietnamese but the damage had already been
done. Even though he was shaken by the experience, the pilot nursed his
crippled bird back to the base and landed safely. Once on the ground,
he quickly switched helicopters and returned to Lang Vei for another
evacuation mission. For his actions during the day, Captain Richards
was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

[33] The weather during February was bad for operations but not
particularly uncomfortable. The mean temperature was 71 degrees, the
average humidity was 92 percent, and an average weekly rainfall was
.04 inches. The wind was out of the east with an average velocity of 6
miles per hour.

[34] Organizationally, the USAF C-130s belonged to the 315th Air
Division but that unit did not operate in Vietnam. Five to seven
aircraft from each of the 315th's squadrons were on temporary duty
in Vietnam and were under the operational control of the 834th
Air Division. The 315th Air Commando Wing and its C-123s were
organizationally part of the 834th.

[35] One NVA gun crew came in too close for its own good. The 1/26
commander, Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson, dispatched a platoon from
Company D to attack this position which was off the northeastern end
of the airstrip. While the 81mm mortars of 1/26 provided support, the
platoon commander, Second Lieutenant Daniel L. McGravey, and his men
aggressively assaulted the position. During a brisk fire fight, they
killed several North Vietnamese, captured the antiaircraft weapon, and
took the gunner prisoner.

[36] If a pilot made his approach from the west, which was not often
the case, he had to taxi all the way back down the runway to the
loading ramp.

[37] V-ring is a term used on the rifle range to describe the
bull's-eye of a target.

[38] Disparities in official records make it difficult to determine
the exact tonnage delivered to Khe Sanh by air. The USAF Historical
Division Liaison Office states that, of the 14,356 tons delivered
during the siege, Air Force planes were responsible for 12,430 tons
(8,120 tons by paradrop, LAPES and GPES; 4,310 by aircraft landing
at the field). On the other hand, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing records
show that Marine helicopters alone carried 4,661 tons of cargo. About
three-fourths of the helicopter tonnage, however, was lifted directly
from Dong Ha to the hill outposts and thus did not pass through the
main base at Khe Sanh. Neither total includes the contributions made by
Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152; the records of that unit
only indicate the tonnage transported throughout the whole of I Corps
and do not break it down to the amount delivered to individual bases
such as Khe Sanh.

[39] This resulted in another fiery crash on 6 March when a C-123 was
shot down while on approach to the field and all aboard (43 USMC, 1
USN, and 4 USAF) were killed.

[40] Having the ambulatory cases serve as stretcher bearers was
standard operating procedure on 881S. These men stayed on the chopper
and did not have to make the return trip to their trenches under fire.
When uninjured Marines served in this capacity there was the added
danger that the helicopter would take off before they could debark and
they would end up at Khe Sanh. In one instance after the siege was
lifted, Captain Dabney spent a day at the combat base because he did
not get off a medevac chopper fast enough.

[41] During the course of the battle, 881S became a small graveyard
for helicopters; at least five were downed on or around the hill.
Consequently, Company I gained a reputation among chopper crews which
lasted long after the siege was over. When the 3d Battalion later
departed Khe Sanh, Company I eventually moved to Hill 55 near Da Nang.
One afternoon, while evacuating a wounded Marine, a CH-46 developed
engine trouble and the pilot decided to shut down for repairs. Another
flight was sent to pick up the wounded man and as the lead pilot
approached he came up over the radio and asked his wingman where the
landing zone was. The wingman replied: "Just look for the downed
chopper, India _[_Company I_]_ always marks their zones that way."

[42] For comparison as many as 16 helicopters were utilized up to four
times in one day during the Super Gaggle without a loss. Prior to the
conception of this technique, as many as three choppers were shot down
in one day around Khe Sanh.

[43] There is an interesting possibility as to why the mortars in
the Horseshoe were never silenced. Fourteen years earlier, at Dien
Bien Phu, the North Vietnamese used an ingenious method to protect
their heavier siege mortars from air attacks and they may well have
repeated it at Khe Sanh. The mortar crews selected a site on the slope
of a hill, figured the elevation and deflection necessary to hit one
specific target, and then dug a small tunnel at that precise angle into
the side of the hill. The mortar was emplaced at the bottom of the
tunnel with connecting caves which housed the gunners. When fired, the
mortar rounds traveled up the shaft, sometimes as far as 50 feet before
reaching the surface. The foliage was cleared away from the mouth of
the tunnel so that the rounds did not hit the overhanging branches and
detonate prematurely. Mortars emplaced in this manner were, of course,
limited to only one target and, as far as the gunners in the Horseshoe
were concerned, that target was 881S. When the siege was later broken
and Marine units began to maneuver in the terrain surrounding the hill
mass, they were never taken under fire by the 120mm mortars even though
they did receive fire from smaller caliber weapons. Hill 881S, however,
continued to be hit periodically by the 120mms.

[44] Of all the jettisoned loads, those containing water were the most
spectacular. On one occasion, a CH-46 carrying plastic containers of
water was forced to release the net about 200 feet above the ground.
The containers broke open in midair and the contents cascaded on the
hill below. The Company E, 2/26, commander, Captain Breeding, later
recalled that it produced one of the prettiest waterfalls he'd ever

[45] It is no exaggeration to say that MAG-36 helicopters played a
decisive role in the battle. The maintenance of the hill outposts was
imperative if Khe Sanh was to be held, and these units depended on the
helicopters for survival.

[46] During one period of extremely bad weather, the platoon from
A/1/26 which held positions on Hill 950 went without resupply for nine
days and the water shortage became a major problem. Lieutenant Colonel
Wilkinson authorized the platoon commander, Second Lieutenant Maxie
R. Williams, to send a squad out to a small stream which was about
two hours march from the perimeter. In addition to finding water, the
Marines surprised a group of North Vietnamese and killed nine of the
enemy. One Marine was also killed.

[47] Bad weather occasionally precluded the immediate evacuation of
casualties from the hill outposts.



The amount of air and artillery support that the 26th Marines received
during the defense of Khe Sanh was enormous. Few regiments ever had
such an overwhelming amount of firepower at their disposal. The
reason was that General Westmoreland gave SCOTLAND priority over all
other operations in Vietnam. The well-publicized struggle had long
since become more than just another battle; it was a symbol of Allied
determination to hold the line in Vietnam. The stubborn resistance of
the 26th Marines had generated an emotional impact that was felt not
only in the United States but around the globe. Thanks to a small army
of war correspondents and reporters, millions of people followed the
battle day by day and, in essence, the military prowess of the United
States was exposed to the world.

The agency at the combat base which was responsible for coordinating
the vast array of supporting arms was the 26th Marines FSCC which was
headed by the 1/13 commander, Lieutenant Colonel Hennelly. The FSCC,
with its artillery and air representatives, was an integral part of
the regimental staff and it planned and supervised the execution of
all fire missions within the SCOTLAND area of operations. Subordinate
to the FSCC, was the 1/13 Fire Direction Center (FDC), headed by
Captain Lawrence B. Salmon, and the Khe Sanh Direct Air Support Center
(DASC), under Major Charles D. Goddard. The FDC served as the brain
of the artillery battalion where initial fire requests were received
and transformed into numerical data for the gun crews. To speed up the
process, Captain Salmon relied heavily on the Field Artillery Digital
Automatic Computer or FADAC. The DASC had displaced to the KSCB on
19 January with the sole mission of handling the deluge of incoming
aircraft. Requests for air support from the FSCC were channeled through
the DASC to the Tactical Air Direction Center of the 1st MAW. Whenever
the wing could not completely fill a quota, liaison teams within the
DASC called on the other services for assistance. Once the schedule was
met and the strike aircraft arrived on station, the Marine DASC, aided
by an Airborne Command and Control Center (ABCCC) from Seventh Air
Force, coordinated all air operations within the Khe Sanh TAOR.[48](137)

This mammoth air umbrella, called Operation NIAGARA, lasted from 22
January until 31 March and was truly an Allied effort. At one time or
another, the Khe Sanh DASC utilized the assets of all services: 1st
MAW, Seventh Air Force, Strategic Air Command, U. S. Navy Task Force
77, Vietnamese Air Force, and various U. S. Army aviation companies.
The majority of the sorties, however, were flown by U. S. Marine, Navy,
and Air Force crews. Their mission was to "destroy enemy forces in
the SCOTLAND ... TAOR, interdict enemy supply lines and base areas,
... and provide maximum tactical ... air support to friendly forces."
Generally, the type of strike fell into one of three categories:
close air support, B-52 Arc Light strikes, or radar-controlled

Close air support missions were utilized against pinpoint targets in
proximity of friendly troops. Along with radar-controlled bombing, this
type of air strike was the most responsive to the needs of the ground
commanders and the most accurate; the attack pilots, however, required
reasonably good weather to be able to hit their targets. There were
usually fighter/bombers overhead at Khe Sanh around the clock; if not,
they could be quickly scrambled from hot pads or diverted from other
missions. When the pilots arrived on station, they checked in with
the DASC and were handed off to a Marine or Air Force Tactical Air
Controller (Airborne) who personally directed the strike. There were
seven TAC(A)s assigned to the 26th Marines; the Air Force personnel
were members of the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron and the
Marines were from Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron 36 and Marine
Observation Squadron 6. At least five of these pilots, flying O1-E
Birddogs or UH-1E gunships, remained over the battlefield during the
day and maintained direct communications with both the attack aircraft
and the troops on the ground. In this manner, the TAC(A)s could rapidly
employ the jets wherever they were needed the most and the close
supervision reduced the chance of accidentally bombing friendly forces.

During the day, the air around Khe Sanh was filled with the
high-pitched shriek of jet engines: Marine, Navy, and Air Force
F-4 Phantoms; Marine and Navy A-6 Intruders, A-4 Skyhawks, and F-8
Crusaders; Air Force F-105 Thunderchiefs and F-100 Super Sabers. In
addition to the jets, the South Vietnamese prop-driven A-1 Skyraider,
a rugged attack aircraft of Korean War vintage, was in evidence. At
times, the sky overhead resembled a giant beehive. When a flight
arrived on station, the Khe Sanh DASC normally directed it into a
holding pattern until a TAC(A) or a Forward Air Controller on the
ground was free to handle the strike. These patterns sometimes extended
up to 35,000 feet with scores of planes gradually augering their way
downward as each preceding flight unloaded its ordnance and scooted for

When a TAC(A) picked out a lucrative target or was assigned one by
the FSCC, he cleared the strike aircraft into his area. The pilots
then broke up whatever formation they were in, slipped into trail,
and snaked their way through holes in the overcast--all the while
keeping a sharp eye out for helicopters. Below the clouds, the TAC(A)s
and attack pilots often had difficulty finding each other because of
the ever present haze and dust. Even on a clear day, the camouflaged
Birddogs and Hueys were hard to spot because they blended in so nicely
with the surrounding landscape. To expedite the link-up, the jet
pilots frequently used Automatic Direction Finders to get a fix on the
TAC(A)s radio transmissions. All the while, the airborne spotter was
passing on pertinent information such as target description, elevation,
run-in heading, direction of pull-off, number of passes, direction
and distance of nearest friendly troops, and whether ground fire was

[Illustration: Marine and Air Force TAC(A)s controlled strike aircraft
from light observation aircraft called Birddogs. (USMC Photo A402048)]

[Illustration: UH-1E Gunships of Marine Observation Squadron-6 were
also used to direct close air support missions. (USMC Photo A421451)]

When the controller and his flight made visual contact, the real work
began. The TAC(A) made a marking run during which he either fired a
smoke rocket or pitched out a colored smoke grenade on the position he
wanted hit. Once the attack pilots had the smoke, the TAC(A), and the
nearest friendlies in sight, they rolled in on the assigned heading and
made dummy passes until the controller was satisfied that the jets were
lined up on the right target. He then cleared them in for hot passes.
While the jets streaked in, the controller monitored his VHF tactical
net to the ground troops and gave short corrections to the attack
pilots over his UHF radio. An example of an average commentary follows:

  TAC(A): Number One, from my smoke go six o'clock at 100 meters....
  PILOT: Roger, One's? in hot.... TAC(A): I have you in sight, you're
  cleared to fire.... TAC(A): PILOT: Ones off target.... Switches
  Safe.... TAC(A): Number Two, from One's hits come three o'clock at
  50 meters.... PILOT: Roger, Two's in hot ... etc., etc.

The aircraft continued their race track pattern until all ordnance was
expended at which time the leader announced that his flight was pulling
off "high and dry."[50]

The TAC(A) would then swoop low over the smoke-shrouded target and
attempt to record the results of the strike. This Battle Damage
Assessment (BDA) was relayed to the departing pilots for their
intelligence debriefing back at homeplate. An example of one such
transmission would be:

  Your BDA follows: 5 KBA (killed by air); two bunkers, 1 automatic
  weapon, and 50 meters of trenchline destroyed; one secondary
  explosion. You have been flying in support of the 26th Marines;
  your controller has been SOUTHERN OSCAR. Good shooting and good
  afternoon, gentlemen.

While the strike pilots checked out with the Khe Sanh DASC and headed
for home, the TAC(A) looked for another target and waited for another

One of the most unusual incidents involving the use of strike aircraft
occurred near Hill 881S and the key figure in the episode was a Marine
from American Samoa--Lance Corporal Molimao Niuatoa. The corporal was a
bull of a man, who because of his origin and wedge-shape physique was
nicknamed "Pineapple Chunk." (A second American Samoan in the company
of considerably smaller stature was dubbed "Pineapple Tidbit.") But it
was not the muscles which distinguished Niuatoa, it was his eyes; the
man had absolutely phenomenal vision. During his recruit training, this
gift had enabled him to post a score of 241 out of a possible 250 on
the rifle range. Besides his vision, the corporal had the patience of
Job and a deep power of concentration--qualities which were essential
in his job as an artillery spotter.

One day, Corporal Niuatoa, using a pair of 20-power naval binoculars,
was scanning in the direction of 305 when he picked up the muzzle flash
of an enemy artillery piece; he then saw the gunners hurriedly cover
the weapon with a screen. As the round sputtered overhead on its way to
Khe Sanh, the corporal noted the position and reported his discovery
to the company commander. Referring to a map, Captain Dabney could not
get anything other than a general idea of the location because the site
was from 12,000 to 13,000 meters away and the terrain in that area was
so mountainous that he could not pinpoint the exact contour line. Not
so Corporal Niuatoa, he could see exactly where the gun was and kept
his eyes glued to the binoculars. Normally, he would have adjusted on
the target with marking rounds but the site was beyond the range of
friendly artillery. The only way the gun could be taken out was with

While Pineapple Chunk maintained his reference point, an O1-E Birddog
aircraft arrived on the scene, and was directed to the general area of
the artillery position. On the heels of the spotter craft came several
flights of Marine A-4 Skyhawks armed with 500-pound bombs. Although
the TAC(A) didn't know exactly where the target was, he rolled in
and cranked off a smoke rocket. The puff from the 2.75-inch rocket
wasn't visible to the Marines on 881S but the billowing clouds left by
the 500-pound bombs of the first A-4 were. Using standard artillery
terminology, Corporal Niuatoa adjusted: "Left 2,000, add 1,000."
The corrections were passed to the TAC(A) who fired another rocket,
on which an A-4 pilot placed another string of bombs. Gradually,
the bracket was closed until a Skyhawk in the fourth flight scored
a direct hit and the gun position erupted in a series of secondary

[Illustration: Marine F-4B Phantom delivers Snakeye bombs on enemy
trenches. Large tail fins retard the descent of the bombs. (Photo
courtesy David D. Duncan)]

[Illustration: Corporal Robert J. Arrotta (center), controlled over 200
airstrikes from Hill 881S. (Photo courtesy Major William H. Dabney)]

The NVA troops, however, were not always on the receiving end; they
frequently dished it out. In addition to numerous helicopters shot
down around the combat base, several of the speedier jets were also
knocked out of the sky. During one close air support mission, an A-4
flown by Major William E. Loftus of Marine Attack Squadron 311 received
heavy battle damage and the pilot realized that he could not make it
to the coast. Not wanting to end up in "Indian Country," he nursed his
crippled Skyhawk toward Khe Sanh and ejected right over the base. As
the smoking A-4 knifed into the lush jungle growth and erupted in a
brilliant orange fireball, Major Loftus floated down and landed in an
outer ring of barbed wire just outside the Company B, 1/26 perimeter.
Lieutenant Dillon, the 2d Platoon commander, took several men out and
helped extricate the major who had become hopelessly entangled in his
parachute shroud lines and the barbed wire. After being freed, Major
Loftus grinned and told the lieutenant: "If you weren't so damn ugly,
I'd kiss you." After a quick medical check-up, the major climbed aboard
a helicopter and returned to his squadron at Chu Lai for another plane
and another day.(141)

One of the closest escapes, however, occurred to the southwest of
the base. In late January, Lieutenant Colonel Harry T. Hagaman,
Commanding Officer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323, and his Radar
Intercept Officer, Captain Dennis F. Brandon, were leading a flight
of F-4B Phantoms against what the TAC(A) described as a "suspected"
antiaircraft position. The enemy gunners confirmed their presence
during the first pass. As Lieutenant Colonel Hagaman's F-4B, armed with
napalm and 250-pound Snakeyes, skimmed low over the treetops, the North
Vietnamese cut loose and laced the belly of his plane with a stitch of
50 caliber shells. The aircraft shuddered under the impact and burst
into flames. Captain Brandon, a backseat veteran with over 300 combat
missions, knew instantly when he heard the series of ominous "thuds"
that the Phantom had been mortally wounded; he quickly pulled his
face curtain and ejected. Lieutenant Colonel Hagaman stayed with the
bucking Phantom momentarily in a vain effort to stabilize the aircraft
by using his rudders. The delay almost cost the pilot his life because
the F-4B began to tumble end-over-end barely 100 feet above the ground.
Suddenly the world outside became a spinning blur of blue and green.
The second time that he saw green--indicating that the aircraft was
inverted--Lieutenant Colonel Hagaman started to pull his alternate
ejection handle which was located between his knees. In the second that
it took the escape mechanism to function, the Phantom flipped upright
and the ejection cartridges blasted the pilot from the flaming cockpit.
Seconds later, the plane cartwheeled into the ground and exploded. The
pilot was so low when he "punched out" that the chute had scarcely
deployed when his feet touched the ground. Both crewmen hid in the
tall elephant grass within earshot of the North Vietnamese who were
searching for them. Within minutes, rescue helicopters lumbered on
the scene and, while the downed crew's wingman made dummy passes to
discourage the enemy soldiers, the choppers darted in and plucked the
shaken, but otherwise uninjured, Marines to safety.[51](142)

If there was anything that could top that performance, it was the
spectacular air shows provided daily by B-52 Stratofortresses of the
4133d Provisional Heavy Bombardment Wing, based at Andersen Air Force
Base, Guam, and the 4258th Strategic Bombardment Wing in Thailand. The
B-52 pilots did not count on finesse as much as they did on sheer power
because each Stratofortress carried a 27-ton payload of 108 mixed 500-
and 750-pound bombs. Since these giants had the means to virtually
move mountains, the Arc Light strikes were used on area targets such
as troop concentrations, marshalling points, supply depots, and bunker
sites. The result of the enemy build-up around the base was an enormous
number of targets located in dispersed but common areas and such
complexes were ideal for heavy bombers. These targets were programmed
into computers aboard the aircraft and the strikes were conducted from
altitudes above 30,000 feet. To the bomber crews, it was an impersonal
type of warfare because, from above the overcast, they rarely even saw
their bombs explode. The bombs did not have to be seen to be felt.(143)

When several flights of B-52s worked over a target, the results
were awesome. The exploding bombs churned up strips of the terrain
several thousand meters long and the ground for miles around literally
shook from the blasts. Many enemy casualties were sustained from the
concussion alone. One entry from a captured North Vietnamese diary
read: "18 February: The heavy bombing of the jets and B-52 explosions
are so strong that our lungs hurt." In some instances, NVA soldiers
were found after an Arc Light strike wandering around in a daze with
blood streaming from their noses and mouths.[52] Often the internal
hemorrhaging induced by the concussion was so severe that it resulted
in death. Quite understandably, such missions could not be unleashed
too close to the Marines.(144)

In the early stages of the conflict, Arc Light strikes were not
authorized within a prescribed distance of friendly lines. The same
rule had applied during the heavy fighting at Con Thien the year before
and the NVA had taken advantage of the buffer zone by moving troops and
supplies in as close to the Marine base as possible to avoid the bomber
raids. They tried the same thing at Khe Sanh. When American airborne
observers noted enemy bunker complexes cropping up near the KSCB, the
no-bomb line was moved in to about half of the original distance. At
first the regimental commander was afraid that the resulting concussion
would collapse his own bunkers and trenches; as it turned out, the
enemy fortifications were the only ones which suffered. The first
few B-52 raids inside the old line touched off scores of secondary
explosions and undoubtedly snapped the North Vietnamese out of their
sense of security. The closer strikes also served as a morale booster
for the defenders who flocked from their bunkers to watch, what the
Marines called, "Number One on the hit parade."(145)

According to the regimental Target Intelligence Officer (TIO), Captain
Mirza M. Baig, the B-52 was an accurate weapons system which the FSCC
employed around Khe Sanh much the same as the other supporting arms.
About 95 percent of the Arc Light missions were targeted at the 26th
Marines headquarters.[53] Requests were submitted to the 3d Marine
Division Air Officer 15 hours prior to the drop at a rate of 8 strikes
every 24 hours. Up to three hours before the strike, the TIO, upon
direction, could divert the bombers to new unscheduled targets, but
after that the Stratofortresses were restricted to their original
target. The response time was later trimmed even more by using cells
of three B-52s which left Guam and Thailand every three hours; this
put the bombers over Khe Sanh every hour and a half. In spite of
this streamlining, the B-52s were never as responsive or flexible
as the droves of fighter/bombers which were overhead constantly.
Nevertheless, the devastating power and psychological effect produced
by the Stratofortresses, coupled with the surprise factor, made them an
extremely valuable adjunct.[54](146)

The type of strike which most impressed the regimental commander,
however, was the ground-controlled radar bombing. Although these raids
lacked the punch of an Arc Light strike, they were as accurate and
flexible as dive-bombing attacks and could be conducted in the worst
weather. In fact, the technique was designed especially to cope with
the inherent bad weather which accompanied the monsoons in Southeast
Asia when attack aircraft could not get below an overcast to hit the

The controlling agency at Khe Sanh for these strikes was Air Support
Radar Team-Bravo (ASRT-B), Marine Air Support Squadron 3 which had
moved from Chu Lai on 16 January. The ground controllers operated
from a heavily reinforced van which housed their sensitive computer
equipment and used the TPQ-10 radar to guide aircraft to their target;
thus, the missions were called TPQs.[55](147) The radar emitted a
pencil-shaped beam which detected and locked on to the aircraft. Using
target coordinates provided by the FSCC, the controller programmed
the enemy position, ballistic characteristics of the bombs, current
winds, and other pertinent data into a computer which was connected to
the radar. The computer also received inputs from the radar and, in
turn, provided corrections in airspeed, altitude, and heading which
the operator passed on to the pilot. The controller closely monitored
his set and, at a predetermined release point, called a "Mark" to the
pilot who "pickled" his bombs.[56] In specially-equipped aircraft, such
as the A-4 Skyhawk and the A-6 Intruder, the bombs could be released
automatically from the ground. One ground controller could handle a
single plane, a section (two planes), or a division (four planes) on
the same pass as long as the pilots flew in a tight formation and the
radar did not break lock. One of the controllers' favorite aircraft
was the A-6 because it packed such a heavy wallop; a single Intruder
usually carried 28 500-pounders. Any fighter/bomber, however, could be
used as long as it carried low-drag ordnance and the pilot could make a
smooth run.(148)

Even though most TPQs were conducted from around 14,000 feet, the
accuracy of ASRT-B was phenomenal. When new personnel arrived at
Khe Sanh, they were given several check drops on a nearby hill to
test their proficiency before the newcomers were allowed to conduct
strikes near friendly troops. The first drop was always within 40
meters of the target and, after they adjusted there was virtually no
error. Calibration drops were also conducted twice weekly to ensure
the accuracy of the equipment. One member of the FSCC stated that, if
he were in a foxhole and under attack, he would have no qualms about
calling an ASRT-B controlled TPQ within 35 meters of his position.
The rule of thumb which the FSCC generally applied when determining a
safe distance for normal operations, however, was one meter from the
friendlies for every pound of conventional ordnance being delivered.
Thus, for TPQs, a 250-pound bomb would not normally be dropped within
250 meters of Allied troops, a 500-pounder within 500 meters, and so
on. This criteria was not established because the men on the ground
lacked confidence in the system but because of the large fragmentation
pattern produced by the bombs. Besides, anything inside the prescribed
radius could be handled just as effectively by artillery, mortars, and
direct fire weapons. In an emergency, the regimental commander would
have undoubtedly lifted the restriction. Concerning the quality of
support he received from ASRT-B, Colonel Lownds said, "Anything but the
highest praise would not be enough."(149)

[Illustration: A-6 Intruder, under TPQ control, provides precision
bombing around Khe Sanh despite poor weather. (USMC Photo A422000)]

[Illustration: B-52 Stratofortresses flew strikes daily in support of
the 26th Marines. (Photo courtesy USAF)]

In addition to its accuracy, the TPQ system was extremely flexible.
A strike could be programmed and executed within 10 or 12 minutes
utilizing any available aircraft. Most of the missions were at night
when it was inefficient and dangerous to conduct dive-bombing strikes.
As a matter of routine, two Marine and three Air Force flights were
scheduled every hour unless an emergency developed. On 18 February,
ASRT-B set a new squadron record for a single 24-hour period by
controlling aircraft which delivered 486 tons of ordnance on 105
separate targets. After that, the record was approached frequently but
never broken. During the siege, ASRT-B controlled 4,989 TPQs in support
of the 26th Marines.(150)

Beginning on 20 February, ASRT-B also assisted with supply drops
whenever the Khe Sanh MATCU was inoperable. Normally, the controllers
could have guided the transport pilots to an exact release point but,
at Khe Sanh, the C-130s had to fly directly over the station and the
TPQ-10 would break lock.[57](151) Therefore, the ASRT personnel used the
same technique as the MATCU controllers and called a "Mark" when the
Hercules was over the eastern threshold and the pilots completed the
runs with Doppler navigation and stop watches. The only problem was
that, when the ASRT conducted supply drops, it was drawn away from the
primary mission of handling TPQs.(152)

While air support was vital to the defense of the base, Colonel Lownds
felt that his artillery played an equally important role. When the
fighting first broke out, the colonel surmised that the side which
managed to keep its artillery intact would win the battle. The Marine
artillery emerged almost unscathed. Many incoming rounds landed within
the battery positions, however, very few actually hit the gun pits and
throughout the operation only three artillery pieces at the base were
destroyed; one was a 155mm howitzer parked alongside the loading ramp
awaiting airlift to Dong Ha.[58] Generally the pieces, were tucked away
inside heavily sandbagged revetments and, while the crews were often
showered with fragments, it would have taken a direct hit, squarely on
top of the weapon, to knock out a howitzer. Fortunately for the Marine
gunners, the North Vietnamese scored only one such a hit which led the
regimental commander to the conclusion: "Either they were amazingly
inaccurate or we were amazingly lucky."(153)

The enemy's failure to silence Lieutenant Colonel Hennelly's batteries
was a big point in favor of the Marines. While American news reporters
gave wide coverage to the number of shells falling on the base, they
frequently neglected to mention that 1/13 answered each enemy round
with 10 of its own. Throughout the battle, 1/13 cranked out 158,891
mixed rounds in direct support of the 26th Marines. The methods
employed by the FSCC were reminiscent of those used in World War I.
Time On Target (TOT) by massed batteries, Harassment and Interdiction
(H&I) by battery volley instead of a single piece, artillery boxes,
rolling barrages, and battery zones were a few techniques adopted by
the FSCC which more than lived up to its motto: "Be Generous."[59](154)

Since the enemy did most of his maneuvering under the cover of
darkness, that was when the Marine and Army batteries were the most
active. Captain Baig, who wore one hat--Target Intelligence Officer--in
the S-2 section and another--Target Information Officer--in the FSCC
later described a good night's work:

  An average night's pattern of pre-planned fires was as follows:
  Combined TOTs from 9 batteries (4-6); separate battalion TOTs
  (Army 4-6, Marine 10-15), battery multiple volley individual
  missions (40-50); battery H&Is (20-30). Normal 1 gun, 1 round
  H&Is were not used; this type of fire was of little value. Marine
  and Army artillery were employed in target areas and at ranges to
  reduce to a minimum check fires caused by the arrival of TPQ and
  reconnaissance aircraft. Later, as we learned finesse, air was
  given the targets south of the base and west of the maximum range
  of the 175mm guns; 1/13 was given any targets whose range required
  a maximum ordinate of less than 14,000 feet (altitude of TPQ run);
  and the 175mm guns were assigned targets to the north, northwest,
  and east of the base. Such were the pre-planned fires.(155)

[Illustration: A 105mm howitzer of 1/13 lashes out at NVA troops
surrounding Khe Sanh. The artillery battalion was in direct support of
the 26th Marines. (USMC Photo A190832)]

[Illustration: The 175mm guns of the 2d Battalion, 94th Artillery, USA
were in general support of the Khe Sanh garrison. This gun was located
at Camp J. J. Carroll. (USMC Photo A190709)]

In addition to volume, reaction time was a key factor. Unless friendly
aircraft in the target area necessitated a check fire, artillery
response was immediate--no matter what the weather. To test the
proficiency of the Fire Direction Center and the gun crews, Colonel
Lownds periodically walked into the FSCC bunker, pointed to a spot on
the huge map which adorned the wall and directed Lieutenant Colonel
Hennelly to hit it. The coordinates were quickly sent to the FDC where
they were either fed into the FADAC computer or worked out manually and
the firing data was then passed on to the gun crew. After adjusting
the tube, the gunners slammed a round home and sent it on its way.
The entire process usually took less than 40 seconds. This "instant
artillery" constantly hampered enemy movement within the TAOR and
helped break up numerous attacks.(156)

The defensive fire plan adopted by the FSCC was separate from and
not to be confused with the final protective fires employed by the
defenders who manned the perimeter. The artillery batteries were used
to prevent the enemy assault forces from reaching the wire and to cut
off the lead elements from reinforcements. The fact that the North
Vietnamese usually attacked with their battalions in column made it
somewhat easier for the FSCC to isolate the assault elements from
the reserves. When the enemy launched his attack, the FSCC placed a
three-sided artillery box around the lead battalion; three batteries
of 1/13 executed this mission. The fourth battery then closed the
remaining side, which faced the friendly positions, with a barrage that
rolled from one end of the box to the other--much like a piston within
its cylinder. The NVA force in the box could not escape and could not
avoid the rolling barrage. Those North Vietnamese who spilled out of
the open end of the box were subjected to the final protective fires of
the Marines along the perimeter.

At the same time 1/13 worked over the assault force, the FSCC put a
secondary box into effect for the benefit of the back-up units. The
Army 175mm batteries were responsible for two sides which were about
500 meters outside the primary box. On order, the gunners rolled their
barrages in toward the sides of the primary box and back out again.
The third side was sealed by continuous flights of aircraft under the
control of the TPQ-10 radar. Whenever B-52s could be diverted in time,
Arc Light strikes were used to saturate the approach routes to the
battle area.(157)

Another key factor in the defense of Khe Sanh was the manner in which
Lieutenant Colonel Hennelly's FSCC coordinated their air effort with
the artillery so that the two components were complimentary. One prime
example was the Mini-Arc Light which was devised by the Assistant Fire
Support Coordinator, Captain Kenneth O. W. Steen and the TIO, Captain
Baig. As the name implies, this technique was used against an area
target the same as a B-52 strike, only the former could be organized
and employed much quicker. When intelligence reports indicated that NVA
units were in a certain region, the FSCC plotted a 500 by 1,000-meter
block in the center of the suspected area or across a likely route
of march. Two A-6 Intruders, each armed with 28 500-pound bombs,
were called on station for a TPQ and the batteries at Khe Sanh, Camp
Carroll, and the Rockpile were alerted for a fire mission. Thirty
seconds before the two A-6s dropped, the 175mm batteries, concentrating
their fire on one half of the block, salvoed the first of approximately
60 rounds. At the same time the A-6s rippled their load down the
middle of the block, the 1/13 batteries opened up on the second half
with around 200 155mm, 105mm, and 4.2-inch rounds. The trajectory and
flight time of all ordnance were computed so that the bombs and initial
artillery shells hit at the same instant. The saturation of the target
area was such that any enemy soldiers caught in the zone during the
bombardment simply ceased to exist.(158)

During the second week in February, a special Mini-Arc Light was
directed against a major NVA headquarters. Two members of the 26th
Marines S-2, Majors Robert B. Coolidge and Jerry E. Hudson, learned
from their various sources that a force-wide meeting of NVA commanders
and their staffs would occur in an abandoned schoolhouse near the
Laotian border. A beefed-up Mini was prepared to welcome the delegates.
For this strike, the target block was reduced to 500 by 300 meters
around the schoolhouse which would take in, as one of the planners
stated, "the hangers-on and other idlers who usually congregate around
large staffs." Twenty minutes after the meeting was scheduled to start,
the trap was sprung. Two Marine A-6 Intruders and four F-4B Phantoms
unloaded 152 500-pound bombs into the block in concert with the
opening volleys of eight artillery batteries (total of 350 artillery
rounds).(159) The target was obliterated, but whether or not this
unusual ambush netted any NVA brass-hats was never ascertained.

The Micro-Arc Light was executed in the same manner as the Mini except
smaller amounts of ordnance were used and the block was cut down to
500 by 500 meters. Any aircraft on station would suffice, preferably
ones armed with 12 to 16 500-pounders. Artillery fire was reduced to
30 rounds from the 175mm guns and 100 mixed rounds from Lieutenant
Colonel Hennelly's battalion. The advantage of the Micro was that it
could be put into effect within 10 minutes while it took roughly 45
minutes to plan and execute the Mini. On an average night, three to
four Minis and six to eight Micros were executed, usually to the south
and southeast of the base; both were extremely effective.(160)

The massive firepower supporting the Marines would have been almost
useless had they not known where and when to employ it. The 26th
Marines intelligence section was responsible for this facet of the
operation and these people had more than a passing knowledge of the
enemy's past strategy. At Dien Bien Phu and Con Thien, the Communists
had followed a fairly predictable pattern--not unlike the classic
siege of the 18th Century. There were three distinct phases involved
in this type of campaign: arrival on the scene and encirclement of the
garrison, construction of siege works and support facilities, T-ing
the sapheads and final assault. After investing the base, the North
Vietnamese first established numerous forward logistic bases within
a few thousand meters of the base. Under the cover of darkness, the
enemy soldiers dug a series of shallow trenches, interlaced with supply
bunkers, leading from these points toward the American positions. The
first trenches began to appear at Khe Sanh around 23 February and the
heaviest concentration was to the south and southeast. Once in close,
the main trenches branched off into ones which paralleled the Marines
lines; these secondary trenches, which from the air looked like long
fingers reaching greedily toward the base, were the ones from which the
NVA assault troops intended to attack.(161)

At first, the defenders tried to prevent the enemy from moving in too
close to the base. The routes into the valley were saturated; artillery
H&I fire and frequent air strikes were employed but such tactics
only tended to slow down the enemy and force him to bypass certain
routes--they did not stop him. Constant, massed artillery would have
effectively blocked infiltration but that alternative was, from a
logistics standpoint, impossible. The S-2 personnel recommended that
the best way to counter the enemy was to allow the North Vietnamese to
close and pursue their siege tactics and then, to borrow a phrase used
by General "Chesty" Puller (then a colonel) on 28 November 1950 when
his regiment was surrounded near the Chosin Reservoir in Korea, "that
simplifies our problem of finding these people and killing them."(162)

The S-2 section utilized a multitude of sources to develop an accurate
picture of the enemy's activity around the base. While much of this
information was self-generated, the 26th Marines received substantial
intelligence support from the MACV, III MAF, and 3d Marine Division
Headquarters. Ground and aerial observers, photo reconnaissance,
infrared imagery, target lists of higher headquarters, crater
analysis, shell/flash reports, and agent reports were all tools of the
intelligence community at Khe Sanh. By comparing this information with
the knowledge of enemy doctrine as applied in past situations, the S-2
staff was able to accurately estimate the intentions of the NVA on a
day-to-day basis.

One good example of how this intelligence produced hard results
occurred in late February. From their various inputs, the two men who
were responsible for the earlier attack on the NVA staff conference,
Majors Coolidge and Hudson, pinpointed the exact location of 12
artillery positions and 2 major ammunition depots. These targets were
concentrated in two main areas to the south of the base. Air strikes
were called in on the enemy positions and, after the planes departed,
the whole area erupted in secondary explosions which lasted for the
next 40 minutes. Two weeks later, these officers repeated a similar
performance in another area.(163)

The activities of the intelligence community at Khe Sanh and higher
headquarters were vital to the conduct of the battle. Almost every
major attack against the 26th Marines was picked up well in advance by
the S-2 section. Whenever enemy activity was detected, the information
was passed to the FSCC and this was the signal for Colonel Lownds
to put his defensive fire plan into effect. The base was placed on
Red Alert, the primary and secondary boxes fired, and saturation air
strikes were employed. This method of cutting off the attack force by
massed fires, once the S-2 section had provided a warning, proved to be
a decisive factor in thwarting the major enemy thrusts which came late
in February.(164)



While the supporting arms continued to whittle away at the enemy's
strength, the defensive posture of the 26th Marines grew more
formidable with each passing day. By the end of February, the
Americans and South Vietnamese had erected some 510 bunkers, dug
miles of trenchline, and laid hundreds of minefields and trip flares.
Each sector was guarded by a maze of double-apron, tanglefoot, and
concertina barbed wire obstacles.[60] The Marines also had sophisticated
anti-infiltration equipment such as the Night Observation Device, the
PPS-6 ground-surveillance radar, and the Starlight Scope; all of which
could detect infiltrators along the wire during night-time and other
periods of reduced visibility.(165) Wherever these apparatus were
employed, the number of enemy killed along the perimeters increased and
the number of probes decreased.

In addition to the standard issue, the men improvised many of their
own jerry-rigged gadgets. Drawing from his childhood experiences on
the farm, Colonel Lownds devised a type of electric fence which was
employed along some of the company fronts in the main perimeter. The
plan was simple; the Marines figured out which strands of barbed wire
the enemy would more than likely cut to penetrate those obstacles and
they attached trip wire in a circuit. Flashlight batteries were the
power source and the network of wires tied into a central switchboard
located in each company CP. When a North Vietnamese soldier clipped
the barbed wire, he short-circuited the system and one of the warning
lights on at the switchboard went out. A few grenades in the right
place or a broadside from a Claymore mine and the snooper usually
became another grim statistic.

On the hill outposts, the =fougasse= was used extensively. The Marines
dug holes along the slopes which faced the enemy and embedded barrels
or cans of mixed gasoline and diesel fuel. The detonator for this
volatile concoction was usually a grenade, a blasting cap, or a pound
of C-4 plastic explosive taped to the container. The triggering device
was a wire leading back up the hill to the Marine positions. When
attacked, the defender simply jerked the wire and detonated the lethal

The Scout Sniper Platoon attached to the 26th Marines provided
another kind of deterrent. At least one team of these hand-picked,
specially-trained sharpshooters was assigned to each company. Using
commercial, bolt-action rifles with high-powered scopes, the snipers
preyed on individual NVA soldiers who carelessly exposed themselves
around the fringes of the perimeter. Patience was a must in this
business and the marksmen often waited for days until their quarry
appeared. When the snipers finally got a chance to practice their
deadly art, the results were almost unbelievable. As though they
were firing for record on a rifle range, they calculated the wind,
adjusted their slings, took steady positions, and slowly squeezed
off their shots. Many North Vietnamese who felt safe beyond 1,000
meters of the Marine positions never received a chance to ponder their
mistake. The psychological impact was also a factor. One can imagine
the eerie feeling experienced by an NVA soldier who had just seen a
comrade "zapped" and never heard the report of the rifle that did the

[Illustration: Sniper attached to Company E, 2/26 on Hill 861A waits
for a target. (Photo courtesy David D. Duncan)]

[Illustration: Men of 1/26 lay wire along Blue Sector. Dong Tri
Mountain is in the background. (Photo courtesy David D. Duncan)]

By no stretch of the imagination did the 26th Marines have a monopoly
on good snipers. The NVA marksmen, armed with rifles and scopes which
were comparable to those of their American counterparts, lurked
around the edges of the perimeters--especially the hill outposts--and
waited for a target. Although none of this deadly business could be
categorized as humorous, there was one sniper incident on Hill 881S
which could not help but evoke a chuckle. The men of Company I had
been cursed with the presence of a particularly accurate sniper who
was located in the brush to the south of their perimeter. The rifleman
scored frequently and had wounded 10 Marines in the period of about a
week, all of whom were medevaced. In addition to being a hazard, the
sniper was also a general nuisance. A man moving from one place to
another within the perimeter was always hurried on his way by slugs
which kicked up dirt at his heels or buzzed past his head like angry
hornets. Thus, the Marines were constantly waiting for the culprit to
expose himself and one day a glint off the telescopic sight proved
to be his undoing. The Marines marked his position and, on Captain
Dabney's order, lugged a 106mm recoilless rifle from the northern
side of the hill, sighted in, and blew the sniper away--tree and all.
The victory was short lived because his successor proved equally as
effective. More Marines were hit. The second rifleman lasted about as
long as the first before he suffered the same fate at the hands of the
106mm gunners.

His replacement, however, was a complete wash-out. Expending between 20
and 30 rounds a day, the misfit flailed away for over a week without
hitting anyone. In the process, he too gave himself away. After the
Marines had manhandled the 106 into position for the third time, and
were sighting in, one private, after deep thought, approached the
company commander with a proposition: "Skipper, if we get him, they'll
just replace him with someone who might be able to shoot. He hasn't hit
anyone so why not leave him there until he does." It was so ordered.
The sniper's ineptitude had saved his life and he blasted away for the
rest of the battle and never touched a soul.[61](168)

The incident with the snipers pointed out the advantage of having 106mm
recoilless rifles on the hills. Unlike the artillery pieces at Khe
Sanh, the 106mms were used in a direct fire role and because of their
extremely flat trajectory, they could be employed when attack aircraft
were in the target area. Another feature which endeared these weapons
to the Marines was their extraordinary accuracy. The recoilless rifles
were used with great finesse, especially against the well-camouflaged
enemy gun positions which ringed the outposts. In most cases, it
required minute adjustments to put a round squarely on target and knock
out these emplacements. This was evident in one instance when a 106mm
on 881S was used to silence an NVA 12.7mm machine gun which had been
spraying Marine helicopters.

The automatic weapon was situated inside the mouth of a small tunnel
which had been cut deep into the side of a hill located north of the
Company I, 3/26, perimeter. The tiny aperture, which faced south,
restricted the gunner's fields of fire but that was no drawback because
he only concentrated on the resupply choppers as they hovered over
the Marine positions. On the other hand, the small opening prevented
the gun from being knocked out by anything except a direct hit from
the front. Once the men on 881S had pinpointed the heavily camouflaged
site, they went to work with their 106mm. Out of necessity, their
firing routine was erratic; the gunners cranked off a round, dived for
cover when enemy mortars responded, jumped up, adjusted the weapon, and
fired again. While spotters guided them with such unorthodox jargon as
"Right a tad," or "Up a hair," the gunners repeated the process and
slowly closed in on the enemy position. Finally, one glowing round
disappeared completely into the side of the hill and a split second
later there was a muffled explosion from deep within. Smoke belched
out the mouth of the tunnel and the NVA machine gun was no more. This
performance was repeated several times during the battle with the same

The three 105mm howitzers on 881S were also used extensively in
the direct fire role and were especially useful against targets of
opportunity. The ever-present fog around the hill reduced the number
of such targets but on one occasion a momentary break in the weather
yielded an extremely lucrative prize. When the fog suddenly lifted,
an alert Company I machine gunner spotted a 20-man column of North
Vietnamese slowly climbing Hill 758 which was due south of 881S. They
were carrying what appeared to be several mortar tubes. The Marine
immediately opened fire and even though the range was 1,200 meters he
managed to hit several of the enemy soldiers. Instead of scattering,
the remaining NVA troopers clustered around their fallen comrades and
this proved to be a fatal error. The C/1/13 gunners attached to Company
I sprang to the 105mm howitzer on the south side of the hill, quickly
knocked aside the parapet, and depressed the tube for a downhill shot.
Using a combination of point detonating and VT fuzes which were set to
explode 50 feet above the ground, the gunners slammed a dozen rounds
of direct fire into the midst of the tightly packed enemy soldiers.
By the time the fog closed in again, there was no sign of life on the
opposite slope. The action was so brief, that the first report received
at the 3/26 CP was a laconic message from Captain Dabney that 20 North
Vietnamese had been sighted, engaged, and killed.

There were also innovations inside the compound. Ever since 21 January,
the NVA gunners had concentrated their fire on the base ammunition
dumps. Originally there were two large caches but the main one was
totally destroyed on the opening day of the battle. After that,
Colonel Lownds decentralized his stores in several widely-scattered
berms which were large, 12-foot-deep trenches, gouged out of the
ground by bulldozers. One end of the berm was sloping so that 2-1/2
ton trucks could be driven down a corridor between two flanking stacks
of ammunition which lined the sides of the trench. This arrangement
greatly facilitated loading because the Marines could stand on top of
the stacks and pass rounds onto the bed of the truck which was at their
level. The driver then backed out of the berm and took the ammunition
to the distribution points of the various units. The ammunition was not
only dispersed, it was also segregated according to type. This way,
if a berm of artillery high-explosive shells was hit, fire fighters
were not hampered by tear gas or white phosphorous fumes. On three
occasions, ammunition stores were hit but the resulting devastation
never reached the proportion of that on the 21st.(170)

Although the berms were prime targets, the ASRT, MATCU, FDC, 26th
Marines communications center, and other units which depended on
sophisticated and delicate equipment suffered from the heavy shelling.
Consequently, they all had one common problem--maintenance. The normal
difficulties associated with keeping the various radars, radios,
antennae, generators, and cooling components in an "up" status were
complicated by the constant incoming, the dust, and the limited supply
of replacement items. The vans and bunkers were heavily sandbagged
but antennae and some communication lines were exposed and frequently
knocked out by enemy rounds.[62](171) The speed with which the vital
installations were returned to operation served as a tribute to the
technicians who maintained the equipment under the most adverse
conditions imaginable. In one instance, a 122mm rocket exploded a scant
seven meters from the ASRT-B van and sheared off most of the radio
antennae. Thanks to several trouble shooters who braved the intense
barrage and repaired the damage, the station was back on the air within
20 minutes.[63] Such performances were routine. The ASRT normally
operated 23 hours a day and shut down one hour for maintenance.
The MATCU, which was essential for ground-controlled approaches and
paradrops, was kept operable 95 percent of the time.(172)

Major John A. Shepherd, Communications Officer of the 26th Marines, was
responsible for the vast network which enabled the ground commanders to
keep abreast of the situation and in touch with their units. The major
praised the accomplishments of his men, stating that they "provided
support in winning every battle, firing every round of artillery,
controlling every air strike, and providing the means to receive every
bean and bullet." There were six radio relay teams which kept open 52
channels between Khe Sanh and the outside world. In addition, there
were five external teletype nets in operation 24-hours a day. Radio
relay provided voice and teletype links to agencies at Dong Ha and Da
Nang. For classified information, there were two secure voice circuits
operating full time. One net linked the Combat Operations Center of the
26th Marines to that of the 3d Marine Division at Dong Ha. The other,
the Regimental Tactical Net, enabled Colonel Lownds to disseminate hot
information to his battalion commanders.

To protect it against the artillery, mortar, and rocket attacks,
all communication equipment was either underground or heavily
sandbagged. Major Shepherd moved his communications center into a
shelter which was made from 4 conex boxes, 16 feet underground.[64]
This nerve center housed the teletype equipment and switchboards
which provided service for 65 on-base subscribers and 40 external
radio relay voice circuits. In spite of the protective measures, the
antenna and internal wire system sustained damage on a daily basis.
Following every barrage, wiremen tracked down cuts and spliced them
and repaired damaged antennae so that the various nets were back in
operation within minutes. The maintenance and repair of the electronic
devices used for perimeter security placed an additional burden on the

While trucks and forklifts were not exactly delicate equipment, the
base motor transport personnel had their share of problems. These
vehicles were used constantly. During the summer and fall of 1967,
they were used to haul rock for the repair of the runway. Throughout
the siege, the drivers carried ammunition from the berms to the
distribution points and supplies from the drop zone to the combat
base. Many of the trucks were in bad shape and mechanics worked around
the clock to keep them rolling. The biggest headache was caused by
flat tires, of which the constant shelling produced an abundance; the
drivers became paste and patch experts of the highest order. More often
than not, these men were caught out in the open when the enemy decided
to pound the base. Since their cargo usually contained high explosives,
the drivers had good reason to be apprehensive. Some simply bailed out
of the cabs during the attacks and dived for cover; others, performing
a wild imitation of the Grand Prix, raced for revetments. Needless
to say, the base speed limit of five miles per hour was frequently

When there wasn't any work to do, many Marines created some and the
threat of enemy tunnels provided a powerful motivation. When the word
spread that the enemy might try to dig under the base, the tunnel
ferrets went to work. Many of the defenders became fascinated with the
prospects of uncovering a "mole" and their antics were near comical. It
was not uncommon to see a man crawling around in front of his position,
patting the ground with the flat side of a shovel, and listening for
hollow spots. Others drove metal stakes into the ground and listened
with stethoscopes by the hour for tell-tale signs of digging. If they
heard something, the next step was to dig a large hole in front of the
enemy so that he would tunnel himself into a trap. Some self-appointed
water witches walked around with divining rods and waited for the
downward tug which meant that they had discovered a subterranean
intruder. When the news media got into the act and publicized the
possibility of tunnels, the regimental commander began receiving scores
of letters from around the world with "If I were you" themes. One
American planter who lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil, wrote and suggested
that the Marines purchase commercial sensors like the ones he used to
detect bugs which fed on the roots of his trees. Another suggested that
the defenders strap hand grenades onto rats and turn them loose in the

Unknown to the Marines at the time, the enemy never tried to tunnel
under the base. The KSCB sat atop a plateau, and the slopes were
wrinkled with deep ravines. Colonel Lownds later surmised that the
enemy would have had to go so deep to keep from breaking the surface
that such excavations were impractical. The men of Company K, 3/26 did,
however, discover one tunnel leading toward Hill 861 and called in air
strikes against it; at the base itself, the North Vietnamese limited
their digging to trenches.(176)

Unlike the phantom tunnels, the trenches were very real and served as
a constant reminder of the enemy's intentions. These networks were
quite understandably a source of concern to the defenders who watched
with fascination and no small apprehension as the trenchlines drew
closer and closer each day. Working at night or under the cover of
fog, the North Vietnamese often moved their lines forward as much as
200-300 meters at a time. There were several methods used to counter
the trenches with artillery and tactical air strikes being the most
prevalent. Lieutenant Colonel Hennelly's batteries provided constant
fires during the night especially to the east and southeast where the
heaviest enemy siegeworks were concentrated. The VT-fuzed ammunition
with its deadly airbursts no doubt hampered the enemy efforts
considerably. During the day, attack aircraft hit the trenches with
every type of aerial ordnance from 20mm cannon fire to 2,000-pound
bombs. At night, TPQs were run to within about 250 meters of the
wire while Mini and Micro Arc Lights were targeted from 500 to 1,500

In addition, the Marines along the perimeters concocted their own
schemes which added to the displeasure of the enemy. During the day,
Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson's men registered on the close-in trenches
with their M-79 grenade launchers; these shotgun-like weapons fired a
40mm projectile to a maximum range of about 375 meters and produced a
frag pattern approximately 5 to 10 meters in diameter. At night when
the North Vietnamese were digging, the Marines periodically lobbed
these rounds into the trenches and disrupted the sappers.(178)

In spite of the harassment, the NVA launched several attacks against
the base from the trenchlines during the last 10 days in February.
At 1245, 21 February, the North Vietnamese fired 350 mortar, rocket,
recoilless rifle, and artillery rounds into the eastern sector and
followed up with a company-sized probe against the 37th ARVN Ranger
Battalion. The enemy troops, however, did not attempt to close with the
South Vietnamese and, after a distant fire fight, withdrew at about
1500. Although no body count was ascertained, the Rangers estimated
that 1/13 artillery and their own defensive fires had claimed from 20
to 25 of the enemy. Six Marines from 1/26 and 18 Rangers were wounded
during the encounter.(179)

On 23 February, the base received the worse shellacking of the
siege. In one eight-hour period, the installation was rocked by 1,307
rounds--a total which surpassed the daily high received at Con Thien in
1967. Many of the rounds came from the 130mm and 152mm artillery pieces
in Laos. The runway took several hits but the Seabee and Marine working
parties filled the craters and quickly replaced the damaged strips
of runway matting. At 1600, the barrage touched off a fire at one of
the supply points and 1,620 rounds of 90mm and 106mm ammunition were
destroyed. Cumulative friendly casualties for the day were 10 killed,
21 medevaced, and 30 wounded but returned to duty.(180)

Two days later the Marines suffered one of their most serious setbacks.
On the morning of the 25th, the 1st and 3d Squads, 3d Platoon, B/1/26
departed Grey Sector on a patrol to the south of the base; the patrol
leader was a second lieutenant. The two squads were reinforced by an
81mm mortar FO, an S-2 representative, a Kit Carson Scout, one rocket
team, and a machine gun section (two guns).[65] Each man carried 500
rounds of ammunition and six grenades; each machine gun team had 1,800
rounds. Their mission was to sweep to the south along a well-defined
route and attempt to locate an enemy mortar which had been harassing
the Marines. The patrol leader was assigned three checkpoints from
which he was to radio his position and progress to the company
commander, Captain Pipes. The lieutenant was under strict orders to
follow the planned route and keep within sight of the base as much as

Around 0900, the two squads reached their first checkpoint; the
lieutenant made the required radio report and the Marines started on
the second leg of their trek. Unknown to Captain Pipes, the patrol had
deviated from course and was actually about 600 meters south of its
scheduled route. Shortly after his first transmission, the lieutenant
spotted three NVA soldiers walking along a road which branched off
Route 9 and ran northwest into the FOB-3 compound. The North Vietnamese
were apparently trying to suck the Americans into a trap--a trick as
old as war itself. In spite of warnings from the Kit Carson Scout,
the young patrol leader took the bait and pursued the three men; the
decision was to cost him his life.(182)

The Marines moved south across the road, chased the North Vietnamese
and ran head-on into an ambush. A heavily reinforced NVA company
was entrenched just south of the road in a crescent-shaped bunker
complex, the tips of which curved to the north. When the trap was
sprung, the patrol was caught squarely in the center and, in essence,
was double-enveloped by stationary positions. At first the Marines
opened up and gained the advantage but the enemy fire gradually built
to an overwhelming crescendo and the patrol became pinned down. When
the lieutenant realized the full implications of his predicament, he
dispatched the 1st Squad to flank the NVA emplacements from the west.
The maneuver might have worked but the squad leader did not hook out
far enough to the west before turning back in on the enemy positions.
Instead of hitting the tender flank, the 1st Squad walked into more
blistering, frontal fire. When the lieutenant was unable to raise
the squad leader on the radio, he sent one of his few unwounded men,
Hospitalman 3d Class Frank V. Calzia, a U. S. Navy corpsman, to find
out what had happened. The corpsman returned later and reported that
every man in the 1st Squad, except one, was dead.(183)

Captain Pipes immediately realized that his men were in trouble
and, upon direction of higher authority, sent the 2d Platoon to the
aid of the patrol. The cunning North Vietnamese anticipated such a
move, however, and positioned a blocking force in the path of the
relief column. The two separated Marine units were engaged in heavy
fighting for about four hours before the remnants of the patrol could
break contact and withdraw through the positions of the 2d Platoon.
Marine tanks rumbled into the southern portion of the compound but
supporting fires were restricted by ground fog and the proximity of
the combatants. As he pulled back, the patrol leader was hit in both
femoral arteries and bled to death before reaching the perimeter.
His radioman, Corporal Rolland R. Ball, a full-blooded Sioux Indian,
carried the lieutenant's body back to the base. Friendly casualties
during the day were 1 killed, 25 missing and presumed dead, 13
medevacs, and 8 wounded but returned to duty; the bodies of the missing
men were all recovered. Enemy losses were undetermined. The action on
the 25th sobered the men of Company B and there was one predominant
thought in their minds. Captain Pipes probably understated the feelings
of his men when he said: "We are anxious to repay the loss." Before the
siege ended, Company B did just that.(184)

The flurry of activity to the east and south of the base led General
Tompkins and Colonel Lownds to believe that the major enemy thrust was
imminent. Recalling the accuracy of the North Vietnamese lieutenant's
previous predictions, they felt sure that the attack would come from
the east. From various other reports, they knew that large NVA units
were massing around a deserted plantation to the south and an old
French fort near the junction of Route 9 and the two roads which tied
in with the KSCB. Although the North Vietnamese had not secured the
hill outposts according to the first phase of their plan, time was
running out. Each day, the skies over Khe Sanh cleared a little more
as one of the enemy's greatest allies, the monsoons, slowly abandoned
him. If American airpower, unhindered by the weather, were ever fully
brought into play, the enemy's task would have been next to impossible.
The NVA launched a heavy attack against the base on 29 February;
whether it was in fact the main prong of the Communist offensive,
historians may never know for sure.(185)

Largely because of the quick response by the FSCC and the overwhelming
firepower at its disposal, the enemy attack never got up a full head
of steam. Early in the evening of 29 February, current intelligence
showed that the enemy was on the move. Each succeeding report indicated
that the North Vietnamese were heading toward the eastern perimeter.
The FSCC sprang into action and called on all assets to saturate the
enemy's route of march. Massed artillery, TPQs, as well as Mini and
Micro Arc Lights were targeted in blocks to the east, southeast, and
south. Flights of B-52s, diverted from other targets, arrived overhead
in two and a half hours and added to the carnage before the enemy
troops had moved completely through the killing zone.(186)

At 2130, a battalion from the =304th NVA Division= launched the first
attack against the 37th ARVN Ranger Battalion. The South Vietnamese
responded with their final protective fires; 1/13 contributed
thousands of conventional and special artillery rounds while strike
aircraft streaked in and raked the attacking force. The enemy pulled
back without even breaching the outer defenses. The first assault
was followed by one at 2330 and another at 0315 (1 March); both were
similarly stifled short of the wire. The North Vietnamese finally
called it quits and withdrew with those bodies which they could
retrieve. When the Rangers investigated the next morning, they found 78
dead NVA soldiers huddled in three successive assault trenches a few
hundred meters from the perimeter. Some were in a kneeling position
as if they had been killed just before going over the top. Many had
been peppered by the artillery airbursts and were covered with small
holes. Crude devices made from bamboo strips and laced with blocks of
TNT lay beside many of the bodies. These were obviously to be used as
bangalore torpedoes but the sappers never had the chance. The slaughter
along the perimeter, however, was nothing compared to the losses
sustained by the NVA reserves.(187)

While the S-2 personnel could never ascertain the exact number of
enemy killed, they felt reasonably certain that an entire NVA regiment
had been virtually wiped out. The eastern approach was saturated with
tons of high explosives; the road junction, the plantation, the old
French Fort, and all bottlenecks along the enemy's route were heavily
hit. Montagnard tribesmen, who inhabit the surrounding hills, later
reported finding from 200 to 500 North Vietnamese bodies at a time
stacked in rows along the trails and roads leading to the base. It was
obvious that they had been caught while on the march and mangled by
air raids and piston-like artillery concentrations. While many of the
defenders at the KSCB never fired a shot, what was believed to be the
long-awaited enemy onslaught came and passed with a whimper instead of
a roar.(188)

Even though the North Vietnamese continued to probe throughout March,
it was obvious that they had shot their bolt on the night of 29
February/1 March. The NVA never mustered another large ground attack
against the base; the battle had reached a turning point. Having had
their fingers burned too often, the North Vietnamese settled into a
wait-and-see strategy. They continued to pound the base with artillery
but exerted no major ground effort; instead they lurked in the hills
and waited for patrols which ventured too far from the perimeter.(189)

The waiting game proved to be just as disastrous for the enemy as had
his previous strategy. The month of March was marked by clear skies
over Khe Sanh and there were only five days during which weather
hampered flight operations. While the overcast had never interfered
with Arc Light strikes or TPQs, the retreat of the monsoons was a
blessing for the attack pilots and fighter/bombers swarmed into the
valley like locusts. The number of close air support sorties in March
almost doubled the amount flown the previous month. Any enemy movement
within the TAOR during the day invariably drew a flight of sleek jets,
prop-driven A-1 Skyraiders, or helicopter gunships within minutes. The
trenches and bunker complexes inside the B-52 line were also worked
over daily to insure that the NVA stayed at arm's length. What's more,
the unrestricted visibility enabled the TAC(A)s and airborne observers
to ferret out and call in artillery on the enemy gun positions which
had been hammering the base. For the most part, 1/13 had been limited
to intelligence-generated concentrations during February, but the
good weather in March provided Lieutenant Colonel Hennelly's men with
something they could sink their teeth into--observed targets. Enemy
gunners no longer enjoyed a reprieve and each round they fired was an
invitation to instant retaliation. With Birddogs or Hueys overhead, the
enemy seldom even fired and this was no small consolation to the men at
the base. The clear skies and accurate supporting fires were a potent
combination and the number of confirmed enemy dead recorded in March
increased approximately 80 percent over February.(190)

The enemy's plight at Khe Sanh was echoed, albeit in veiled terms by
his propaganda broadcasts. The Radio Hanoi, English-speaking announcer,
Hanoi Hanna--the Communist's anemic version of Tokyo Rose--gradually
shifted her theme from, "We will crush Khe Sanh" to "Ho Chi Minh would
be unhappy if we wasted our time on only 6,000 Marines." The Communists
also attempted to sell the line that 20,000 North Vietnamese had "tied
down" the 26th Marines. Such rationale smacked of sour grapes. This
illogical reasoning would be similar to a defeated football coach
saying that he didn't really want to win the game, only keep the other
team "tied down" for an hour or so. At the KSCB itself, there were a
few feeble attempts to sway the defenders. On 10 March, an incoming
mortar round released about 200 propaganda leaflets. The following
day, an NVA loudspeaker blared a message to the 37th ARVN Ranger
Battalion which invited the South Vietnamese to "join their brothers
from the North in driving out the Americans." There were no takers. The
psychological effort was just one more indication that the enemy was

About mid-March, the 26th Marines S-2 began noting an exodus of major
NVA units from the Khe Sanh TAOR. Most of these reports came from
mountain tribesmen who provided valuable information on enemy troop
dispositions throughout the siege. The =325C NVA Division Headquarters=
was one of the first to pull out toward Laos, followed by elements of
the =95C= and =101D Regiments= which also relocated to the west. About
the same time, the =304th NVA Division= withdrew several thousand
meters to the southwest. The enemy still retained enough troops
around the base to maintain pressure and thus the shelling and probes

Closely correlated with the enemy's retrograde movement was another
large influx of refugees into the KSCB. Most were Montagnards who had
inhabited the smaller villages surrounding the base and unfortunately
had become the pawns of war. When the fighting first broke out, the
Allies advised them to evacuate their homes and move overland to Cam
Lo or else they would be exposed to fire from both sides. During
the period 23-28 January, 1,050 Vietnamese and tribesmen with their
families were air evacuated to Da Nang and then on to Quang Tri City.
About the same time, some 1,800 tribesmen completed an overland trek
from Khe Sanh to Cam Lo by way of the the Ba Long Valley. Later an
additional 3,000 or more attempted to reach Cam Lo, but during the
journey, the North Vietnamese intercepted this group and directed them
back into the Khe Sanh area. Presumably, the NVA used the Montagnards
to screen troop movements and confuse American intelligence. The next
surge of refugees into the combat base occurred in early February
following the attack on Lang Vei. On 7 March, the tribesmen again
started to filter into the base. They were screened, interrogated, and
processed for evacuation in the FOB-3 compound. As many as 661 were
airlifted to eastern Quang Tri Province in a single day and the total
for March was 1,432.(193)

Although the enemy had scaled down his forces, the heavy incoming
continued to plague the Marines. On the average, the base received
about 150 rounds a day during March. During the course of a normal
day, the preponderance of fire was from the 82mm mortars but on peak
days the greatest number of rounds was from the heavier artillery.
On 23 March, the KSCB received its heaviest daily saturation of the
month--1,109 rounds. Of these, over 30 percent were from the enemy's
big guns in Laos. In addition to the indirect fire, the Marines took a
sprinkling of recoilless rifle shells; but these weapons were easy to
spot because of their large back blast and thus were vulnerable to air
attack and counterbattery fire.(194)

During March, the defenders, on order of General Cushman, began to push
out from the perimeter. On 8 March, the ARVN Rangers conducted a series
of sweeps east of the runway. The first patrol made no contact but the
next two became heavily engaged with an NVA force of unknown size. The
Rangers attacked and poured into the enemy trenches, got eye-ball to
eye-ball with "their brothers from the North" and killed 26. On the
24th, a patrol from Company A, 1/9, made contact with two NVA platoons
which were dug in approximately 1,500 meters northwest of Lieutenant
Colonel Mitchell's main perimeter. The Marines attacked the enemy
emplacements and in a four-hour battle killed 31 North Vietnamese.
During the fighting, a UH-1E helicopter of VMO-6 was shot down while
supporting the Marines but the crewmen were rescued.[66] Friendly
casualties were five killed, four medevaced, and two with minor wounds.
The largest encounter, however, came on 30 March when Company B, 1/26,
received a chance to settle an old score. The target area was the same
complex, approximately 850 meters south of the perimeter, where the
B/1/26 patrol had been ambushed on 25 February.(195)

The attack had been planned by the battalion commander, Lieutenant
Colonel Frederick J. McEwan (who relieved Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson
on 1 March) and his operations officer, Major Charles E. Davis III,
with careful attention to every detail. In fact, the 1/26 staff had
been working on this attack for a month. The sweep was also closely
coordinated with the FSCC to ensure that the maximum supporting arms
were available. To support Company B, Lieutenant Colonel Hennelly's
staff worked out a variation of the defensive fire plan with nine
batteries participating. Marine artillery (1/13) formed the primary
box and rolling barrage while the Army 175mms and TPQ-10 controlled
aircraft were responsible for the sides of the secondary box. The
latter fell on the high ground adjacent to the objective which might
influence the battle. The plan called for Captain Pipes to move his
unit into the primary box and follow approximately 75 meters in trace
of the rolling barrage. As the company advanced, the entire cylinder
also advanced. Outside the primary box, the sides of the secondary
would open and close over the terrain like a giant accordion. One
extremely important factor was that the artillery fire would not
necessarily alert the enemy of the impending attack because the same
technique had been used so frequently in that area. The element of
surprise still belonged to the Marines.

At 0800, Captain Pipes' men swept out of a draw and, under the cover of
heavy fog, crossed the access road which ran from the Route 9 junction
to the FOB-3 compound. This jumping off point had been secured by one
platoon during the night. To their front and flanks, waves of exploding
artillery shells churned up the terrain. At the same time, four 106mm
recoilless rifles and six .50 caliber and M-60 machine guns provided
overhead fire; a type of support "which would have warmed the heart of
'Manila John' Basilone."[67] The crescent-shaped defenses, manned by
an NVA battalion, were roughly 100 meters southeast of the road and
extended along a 700 meter front. The enemy troops occupied heavily
fortified bunkers, trenches, and fighting holes. Although the objective
was indeed formidable, Company B was not to be denied that day.(196)

After about 10 minutes of continuous supporting fire, Company B moved
swiftly into final assault positions and Captain Pipes directed the
FSCC to collapse the two artillery boxes. The fire was shifted to
cut off any enemy reinforcements from reaching the battle area and
to suppress NVA artillery and mortars. As if on cue, the dense fog
suddenly lifted; the last thing that many enemy soldiers saw that
morning was two Marine assault platoons with fixed bayonets only a few
yards in front of their positions. The surprise was complete. Pipes'
men poured into the trenches and swarmed over the startled defenders
before they could react. While one element laid down a base of fire
with small arms and machine guns, Marines armed with flame-throwers,
grenades, and satchel charges rushed through the trenches to sear and
blast enemy emplacements. The men of Company B carried out their grisly
work for over three hours and, by noon, the trenchworks had become a
smoking tomb for 115 North Vietnamese.

The only effective resistance during the battle was enemy mortar fire.
Eventually, the NVA placed about 100 rounds on the attacking force. One
of these scored a direct hit on the company CP and killed the radio
man, the artillery FO, and the 81mm mortar FO. The company commander
was also hit. A mortar fragment passed through Captain Pipes' arm and
lodged in the side of his chest about two inches from his heart. Pipes
not only survived, he continued to direct the attack.

With the loss of his two forward observers, the captain had to
handle the coordination of supporting arms by himself. Fortunately,
Lieutenant Colonel McEwan and Major Davis had made allowances for such
a possibility. During the planning phase, they plotted general fire
zones in the objective area and assigned each one a call sign (e.g.
Apples, Oranges, Grapes, etc.) Captain Pipes knew where these zones
were located and whenever he wanted to hit a target he simply told the
FSCC, "Fire Apples" or "Fire Oranges." In short order, the designated
zone was saturated with mortar and artillery rounds. Pipes utilized
this technique throughout the rest of the battle.(197)

Once the Marines had consolidated the objective, they collected their
casualties which included nine dead and returned to the perimeter.
As Company B retired, the primary and secondary boxes closed back
in around the Marines and walked them home. During the battle, the
raiding force was shielded by some 2,600 artillery shells and 1,000
mortar rounds. On the return trip, NVA artillery tracked the column;
ironically, one casualty during the withdrawal was an NVA prisoner who
was killed by his own fire. Lieutenant Colonel McEwan later described
the operation as a "classic raid." He attributed the success to the
detailed planning, the coordination with the FSCC, and Captain Pipes'
precise execution which "adhered to the tactical fundamentals and
principles of war."[68] For his part, the captain was later awarded
the Silver Star and the entire company received a warm congratulatory
message from General Westmoreland. The debt had been paid in full.(198)

This purge to the south of the base marked the last significant
encounter of SCOTLAND and, at 0800 on 31 March, the operation was
officially terminated. The operational control of the 26th Marines was
passed to the U. S. Army 1st Air Cavalry Division (1st ACD), commanded
by Major General John J. Tolson, III, and Operation PEGASUS commenced.
The Army division, along with the 1st Marines and the 3d ARVN Airborne
Task Force started the push from Ca Lu to reopen Route 9, relieve the
pressure on the KSCB, and destroy remnants of the NVA units in the
Khe Sanh TAOR. In effect, the siege was over. Cumulative friendly
casualties for SCOTLAND, which began on 1 November 1967 were 205
friendly KIA, 852 medevaced, and 816 minor wounded. The extent of NVA
losses was never determined and more than likely never will be. The
Marines counted 1,602 enemy bodies along the perimeters but the total
number of North Vietnamese dead was probably between 10,000 and 15,000.
The enemy always carried off his dead when possible and many others
undoubtedly died in the surrounding hills and were not found by anyone.
There was little doubt that the heart of two crack NVA divisions had
been ripped out at Khe Sanh. The full impact of the suffering endured
by the enemy, however, did not become evident until the Marine, Army,
and ARVN troops began mopping up operations around the base.[69](199)


[48] Marine control of air support within the Khe Sanh TAOR resulted
from negotiations between CG, III MAF and the Seventh Air Force.
General Cushman was delegated authority for Colonel Lownds to
control, through his FSCC, all supporting fire, including air strikes
within a circle which encompassed the range of the regiment's 155mm
howitzers. During the period 22 January-13 February, operational
difficulties caused ComUSMACV to give Commander, Seventh Air Force full
responsibility for the overall NIAGARA air effort through the ABCCC.

[49] Close air support in Vietnam includes all air attacks that are
coordinated with the supported force. Radar-controlled bombing and B-52
strikes, in this context, can be called close air support but, for
the purposes of this study, the three above mentioned categories will
be considered separately. Although the delivery method is technically
not a criteria, close air support in this text will refer to those
missions where fixed-wing pilots, under the direction of an airborne or
ground controller, visually acquire and attack a target in proximity to
friendly forces.

[50] High and dry meant that all ordnance had been expended. Another
frequently used term was "ammo minus."

[51] Both crews suffered sore backs from the ejection but no other
injury. Lieutenant Colonel Hagaman became the third CO in a row from
VMFA-323 to leave an F-4B via the ejection route. Captain Brandon
returned to action and eventually compiled 400 combat missions--a first
for Marine Radar Intercept Officers.

[52] To catch stunned survivors above ground, the 1/13 batteries
frequently put massed artillery fire into the target area 10 to 15
minutes after the bombers departed.

[53] General Westmoreland gave his constant personal attention to the
targeting of these strikes and while most of the targets were generated
by the 26th Marines Headquarters, General Westmoreland personally
approved the requests. Based on intelligence he also directed or
diverted B-52 raids from Saigon. To keep right on top of this aspect of
the battle, the general slept at night in his Combat Operations Center
during the siege.

[54] The 26th Marines Command Chronology does not list sorties but
strikes which were made up of several aircraft and 430 strikes were

[55] The van, as well as crew living quarters, was emplaced underground
and was heavily sandbagged. The sturdiness of the bunker was an
important factor because of the heavy shelling. One enemy round scored
a direct hit on top of the bunker with no damage to the fragile
equipment. The computer van remained operational throughout the siege.

[56] The term "pickled" is slang used by pilots which means to drop
their ordnance.

[57] When a TPQ-10 broke lock, the radar beam strayed from the aircraft
and inputs to the computer were interrupted. The operator also lost
visual contact on the radar screen.

[58] One 105mm howitzer on 881S was also destroyed.

[59] Not every artillery round that left Khe Sanh was high explosive.
During March, Lieutenant Colonel Hennelly's battalion had accumulated
more ammunition than it could safely store. Since the ammo would not
fit in the berms and presented a hazard above ground, the decision was
made to fire it all. This excess included some 90-odd rounds of green
smoke. On 17 March--St. Patrick's Day--the Marines fired all the green
smoke rounds on known enemy positions to honor the patron saint of the
Fighting Irish.

[60] Tanglefoot, as the name implies, is a barbed wire entanglement
that is stretched low to the ground and is usually used between larger
barriers. Concertina comes in rolls which are laid side by side or on
top of each other. Double-apron obstacles are simply barbed wire fences
in depth.

[61] To rub salt into the wound, the Marines devised a red
flag--Maggie's Drawers--like the ones used on rifle ranges to signal
that the shooter had missed the entire target, and waved it every time
the sniper fired.

[62] To keep the North Vietnamese from zeroing in on his communication
bunkers, Colonel Lownds ordered that fake antennae be placed on every
structure at Khe Sanh--including the four-holers.

[63] The ASRT-B radar antennae sustained over 200 hits from shell
fragments but continued to function near maximum efficiency throughout
the siege.

[64] A conex box is a large metal container primarily used to sea-lift

[65] Kit Carson Scouts were enemy ralliers who scouted for the Allies.

[66] The pilot was badly burned in the crash and died that night.

[67] Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone was a Medal of Honor winner in
World War II. During an action at Edson's Ridge on Guadalcanal,
Basilone's machine gun section fired over 26,000 rounds in one night
and helped break up a fanatical Japanese attack. Manila John was later
killed on Iwo Jima.

[68] Another interesting point was that the attack was largely carried
out by inexperienced troops. During the siege, Company B suffered
considerable casualties and most of the replacements were fresh from
the States. Major Davis later commented that the conduct of these
Marines during the operation spoke highly of the type of training that
they received before arriving in Vietnam. This ability to adapt quickly
plus the high quality of small unit leadership was, in Davis' opinion,
a key factor in the Marine victory.

[69] The breakdown of fixed-wing tactical sorties under Operation
NIAGARA follows: Marine-7,078, Seventh Air Force-9,684, and U.
S. Navy-5,167. These figures were derived from 1st MAW Command
Chronologies and Project CHECO, Southeast Asia Report. The two sources
do not agree on Marine sorties (Project CHECO credits USMC aircraft
with 6,385); 1st MAW records in this case have been cited. Statistics
for B-52 strikes and Marine helicopter operations have been previously
incorporated in the text.



The blueprints for a major Allied drive into the Khe Sanh Plateau had
been on the drawing boards at III MAF Headquarters in the embryo stage
since late January. The 1st ACD was slated for the campaign since that
division had displaced from Bong Son, in II Corps, and arrived at Phu
Bai on 22 January. Three days after he assumed operational control of
the new division, General Cushman directed General Tolson to prepare
a contingency plan for the relief of Khe Sanh. This action eventually
resulted in Operation PEGASUS but there was a series of events which
delayed its start until April. The first was the disruptive Communist
TET Offensive and the resulting Battle of Hue City which raged until 25
February. Throughout February and early March, the 1st ACD was busily
engaged in and around the old imperial capital. Logistics was another
consideration. General Westmoreland had initiated a supply build-up in
I Corps during December 1967 but III MAF did not yet have sufficient
stock levels to support an operation the size of PEGASUS, especially
while the heavy fighting still continued in Hue. Finally, the poor
weather prevented large-scale helicopter operations in the Khe Sanh

An alteration of the command structure in I Corps also indirectly
affected the proposed operation. Until the early part of 1968, the
three divisions in I Corps (1st MarDiv, 3d MarDiv, and the U. S. Army
Americal Division) were under the direct control of General Cushman,
CG, III MAF. General Westmoreland, however, was convinced that a
critical, if not the most critical, phase of the war was taking shape
in I Corps and had begun to pump reinforcements into the two northern
provinces. These included the 1st ACD and the 101st Airborne Division.
To keep closer tabs on the action in the north, General Westmoreland
also established a forward echelon of his MACV Headquarters, under
the Deputy, ComUSMACV, General Creighton W. Abrams, at Camp Hochmuth,
Phu Bai on 9 February. There was little formal change in the command
structure; General Abrams simply acted as an agent for ComUSMACV in
an advisor/coordinator role. On 10 March, however, the structure did
change; MACV Forward was converted to Provisional Corps, Vietnam (PCV)
and placed under the operational control of General Cushman, CG, III
MAF. PCV's new commander, Lieutenant General William B. Rosson, U.
S. Army, assumed control of all American combat forces operating in
the northern two provinces, less the southern portion of Thua Thien.
At that time the three major U. S. units in the area were the 3d
MarDiv, the 1st ACD, and the 101st Airborne Division. In addition, the
reinforced ARVN 1st Division was operating in this region. In essence,
PCV was established to provide closer supervision over growing U. S.
forces and coordination with the Vietnamese units in the northern

As the operations around Hue tapered off, General Cushman, on 29
February, directed General Tolson to take the plans for PEGASUS back
off the shelf. During the first week in March, General Tolson met
in Da Nang with Generals Cushman and Abrams for a discussion of the
operation.[70] The mission was threefold: relieve the Khe Sanh Combat
base, reopen Route 9 from Ca Lu to Khe Sanh, and eradicate any NVA
elements within the area of operations. In addition to the three
brigades of the 1st ACD, General Tolson was to assume operational
control of the 26th Marines, the 1st Marines, and the 3d ARVN Airborne
Task Force. D-day was tentatively set for 1 April--depending on
the weather. With the basic directives, General Tolson returned to
Camp Evans, and settled down to detailed planning with his division
staff. During the next few weeks, there were numerous planning and
coordination meetings with III MAF, PCV, the 3d Marine Division, 1st
Marine Aircraft Wing, Seventh Air Force, and representatives of the
attached units.(202)

The logistics portion of the plan hinged around construction of a base
and airfield near Ca Lu which could accommodate C-7 Caribou transports
and later C-123s. Before work could be initiated, elements of the 3d
MarDiv had to secure and repair the stretch of Route 9 between Ca Lu
and the Rockpile so that supplies, fuel, ammunition, and construction
material could be stockpiled. Once this was accomplished, a joint task
force of engineers--the 11th Engineer Battalion, Fleet Marine Force,
the 1st ACD's 8th Engineer Battalion, and Navy Mobile Construction
Battalion 5--began construction of an airfield, parking ramps,
logistical facilities, and defensive positions. By the time the lead
assault elements were ready to jump off in the attack, the installation
was 83 percent completed. The base was dubbed Landing Zone (LZ) Stud.

On 25 March, D-6, the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry (1/9 CavSqd), operating
from LZ Stud, began extensive reconnaissance in the PEGASUS area of
operations to pave the way for the initial air assaults. The mission of
the unit was "to find the enemy, destroy his antiaircraft capability,
acquire hard intelligence for exploitation, and locate and prepare
suitable landing zones." Since General Tolson had little concrete
information on exact enemy locations, the activities of the 1/9 CavSqd
were essential to the operation. The squadron fanned out from LZ Stud
in ever increasing concentric circles under the cover of tactical air,
B-52 strikes, and the 8-inch and 105mm batteries which had been moved
to Ca Lu. During this phase, the air cavalrymen called in 632 tactical
air strikes, 49 specially fuzed construction sorties (Daisy Cutters),
and 12 Arc Light strikes on enemy antiaircraft positions, troop
concentrations, and future landing zones.(203)

As a prelude to PEGASUS, the 3d MarDiv launched a regimental-size,
diversionary attack in eastern Quang Tri Province. On 30 March, Task
Force KILO, comprised of the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines; the U. S. Army
3d Squadron, 5th Cavalry; and the 3d Battalion, 1st ARVN Regiment
pushed northward from Dong Ha on a search and destroy sweep through
the Gio Linh coastal plain area between the Cua Viet River and the
DMZ. In addition, a company from the 101st Airborne Division was used
as a reconnaissance force and to convey a picture of greater weight
and diversity of attack. Although the foray was primarily designed to
confuse the NVA and draw attention away from the mailed fist which
was poised at Ca Lu, the Allies of Task Force KILO killed 150 North
Vietnamese during the first day.(204)

At 0700 on D-day (1 April), two battalions controlled by the 1st
Marines (2/1 and 2/3), which had moved from Phu Bai to LZ Stud several
days before, spearheaded the attack to the west. Meeting only light
resistance, 2/1 wheeled to the north of Route 9 and secured its
objective while 2/3 swept through and consolidated the area to the
south of the road. With both flanks screened by the infantry, the 11th
Engineer Battalion began the mammoth task of renovating Route 9. Later
in the day, elements of the 3d Brigade (Bde) 1st ACD leapfrogged by
helicopter to positions midway between Ca Lu and Khe Sanh. The 1st and
2d Squadrons, 7th Cavalry swarmed into LZ Mike which encompassed Hill
248, approximately 7,500 meters east of the KSCB. This high ground to
the south of Route 9 was cradled on three sides by branches of the
Quang Tri River. To the north some 3,000 meters, the 5th Battalion,
7th Cavalry air-assaulted the southern slope of Dong Chio Mountain
which was designated LZ Cates. This stretch was particularly critical
because the road was sandwiched between the Quang Tri River on the
south and the nearly perpendicular cliffs which towered menacingly
over Route 9 to the north. Following the initial waves, the 3d Brigade
Headquarters displaced to LZ Cates and established a CP. By 1650, the
Flying Horsemen were in place and continued to expand both zones while
105mm howitzers of the 1st Battalion, 21st Artillery, were helilifted
in for direct support. Throughout the PEGASUS area of operations, the
Americans established defensive perimeters and passed the night with
little or no contact.(205)

While the combat engineers continued their steady movement along Route
9, additional elements of the airmobile armada were thrown into the
action. On D plus two, the 2d Brigade, 1st ACD which had been staging
at Ca Lu conducted a vertical envelopment into LZ Tom and LZ Wharton
which were roughly 6,000 and 8,500 meters southeast of Khe Sanh. The
air assault went smoothly even though the zones were shelled by NVA
gunners. By the end of the day, all 2d Brigade units were in position
along with three batteries of the 1st Battalion, 77th Artillery. In the
meantime, the 3d Brigade and the 1st Marines expanded their TAORs along
Route 9.(206)

On 4 April, General Tolson began to put the squeeze on enemy elements
to the south of the KSCB. Moving northeast from LZ Wharton, the 1/5
CavSqd attacked the old French fort near the junction of Route 9. At
the same time, the 26th Marines, which had been attached to the 1st ACD
since 31 March, began the long awaited breakout from the base. At 0600,
three companies of Lieutenant Colonel John J. H. Cahill's 1/9 (relieved
Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell on 1 April) moved out of the rock quarry
perimeter and advanced on Hill 471 which was 2,500 meters due south of
the airstrip. The hill was a key terrain feature since it overlooked
the road junction and that segment of Route 9 which snaked to the
southwest. The area was also occupied by major elements of the =304th
NVA Division=. After heavy prep fires, the Marines stormed up the
slope in the face of light enemy fire and secured their objective at
1720.[71] Thirty North Vietnamese bodies were strewn over the hilltop.

The men of 1/9, however, were in for a long night. Later that night,
the enemy lashed out at the hill with 192 mortar and artillery rounds.
The barrage was undoubtedly designed to soften up the Marines for a
counterattack the next morning. The North Vietnamese might as well have
saved their ammunition and their counterattack.(207)

At 0515, the =7th Battalion=, =66th Regiment=, =304th NVA Division=,
charged up Hill 471 in a vain attempt to knock 1/9 from the crest. The
=66th Regiment= was definitely a hard-luck outfit; it had been bloodied
at Khe Sanh Village on 21 January and again during the abortive attack
against the 37th ARVN Ranger Battalion, on 29 February/1 March. The
enemy's string of bad luck remained unbroken on the morning of 5
April. Lieutenant Colonel Cahill's Marines stood their ground, poured
withering fire into the onrushing enemy troops, and, with the aid
of artillery and tactical air strikes, smashed the North Vietnamese
attack. During the one-sided exchange, one Marine was killed and 19
wounded; the =66th Regiment= left 122 dead on the slopes. This fight
was one of the major highlights of Operation PEGASUS.[72](208)

The surge of Allied units into the previously uncontested domain of
the =304th NVA Division= continued for the next few days.[73] On
the afternoon of the 5th, the last element of the 1st ACD--the 1st
Brigade--departed Ca Lu aboard droves of helicopters and swooped into
LZ Snapper, 7,500 meters south of the base. The following morning,
the 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry (2d Brigade) moved northeast from LZ
Wharton and relieved Lieutenant Colonel Cahill's battalion on Hill 471.
After relief was effected, 1/9 initiated a drive toward Hill 689 some
4,500 meters to the northwest. On the opposite side of the KSCB, the
5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry (1st Brigade) conducted a landing just 500
meters north of the Blue Sector wire. The 2d and 3d Battalions, 26th
Marines fanned out to the north and northwest of their hill outposts.
Company G, 2/26 bumped into an NVA company that afternoon and killed 48
of the enemy.

The initial relief of the combat base occurred at 1350 on 6 April when
the lead company of the 3d ARVN Airborne Task Force was airlifted to
Khe Sanh and linked up with the 37th Rangers. This move was primarily
intended as a morale booster for the 37th. Two days later, after 2/7
CavSqd had completed the sweep along Route 9 and linked up with the
26th Marines, the official relief took place. At 0800 on 8 April, the
3d Brigade airlifted its CP to the base and became the new landlord.
Relieved of its duties along the perimeter, Lieutenant Colonel McEwan's
1/26 saddled up and attacked to the west that day but made little

Traditionally, the lifting of a siege has been the occasion for great
emotional outbursts, bands, and stirring oration; in this regard, the
relief of Khe Sanh was somewhat of a disappointment. General Tolson
intended for the link-up to be "as business like as possible with a
minimum of fanfare" so that he could get the Marines on the offensive
again. A few newsmen at the base snapped pictures of Marines shaking
hands with the Cavalrymen but the men usually shrugged indifferently
afterwards and went about their business. The defenders generally
looked on the proceedings with sort of a "ho-hum" attitude, perhaps
they felt that they had not been rescued from anything. In fact, they
were right; the enemy threat had been squelched weeks before PEGASUS
had gotten off the ground. "I've been at Khe Sanh for nine months," the
regimental commander stated, "and if they keep me supplied, I could
stay here another nine months." No doubt most men were glad they did
not have to remain because the stand at Khe Sanh had not been "all
peaches and cream," but, as far as the defenders being snatched out of
the jaws of destruction--it just did not happen that way.(210)

With the arrival of the 3d ARVN Airborne Task Force, all maneuver
elements involved in PEGASUS were on the Khe Sanh Plateau. On the 8th,
the three South Vietnamese battalions (minus one company) leapfrogged
from Quang Tri to LZ Stud and then conducted a helicopter assault into
LZ Snake about 2,000 meters southwest of the base. In effect, the
encirclement was complete; only, this time, pressure was being applied
in the opposite direction. As the Allied oil slick spread over the
valley, the Americans and South Vietnamese uncovered ghastly evidence
of how badly the NVA had been beaten. The various units found hundreds
of North Vietnamese in shallow graves; hundreds more lay where they
fell. A total of 557 individual weapons, 207 crew-served weapons, and
2 antiaircraft pieces were either captured or destroyed. In addition,
17 vehicles, ranging from PT-76 tanks to motor scooters, and tons of
ammunition, food, radios, and individual equipment were discovered. The
mountains of captured or abandoned enemy stores indicated that either
Operation PEGASUS had caught the NVA completely flat-footed or the
remnants of the two enemy divisions were in no shape to cart off their
equipment and supplies.(211)

Even though the rest of the operation centered around completing
work on Route 9 and sifting through the debris of battle, there were
several contacts with the retreating enemy. On 8 April, the ARVN forces
turned back an NVA counterattack west of the base and killed 78 in the
process. The same day, the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, assaulted and
seized Hill 689 with no opposition but discovered 37 NVA killed during
a fight the previous night. Air and artillery also hammered away at the
NVA; on one occasion, a U. S. Army airborne observer spotted 100 North
Vietnamese in the open and called in artillery fire which accounted for
30 of the enemy. While the NVA pulled away to the west, the engineer
task force crept toward the base from the opposite direction, and at
1600 on 11 April, Route 9 was officially declared open. The engineers
had repaired 14 kilometers of road, replaced 9 vital bridges, and
constructed 17 bypasses; General Westmoreland applauded their feat as
"herculean."(212) (See Maps 8 and 9).


  MAP 8        K.W. WHITE



  MAP 9      K.W. WHITE


The day before the road was completed, General Tolson received a visit
from the PCV commander, General Rosson, which resulted in an alteration
of Operation PEGASUS. General Rosson directed his division commander to
begin extracting units to Quang Tri and Camp Evans in preparation for
an assault into the A Shau Valley (Operation DELAWARE). General Tolson
anticipated that the operation would last much longer and had initially
planned to expand his sweeps far to the south, north, and northwest.
In addition, the 1st Marines was slated for air assaults into a valley
west of the Rockpile. The A Shau Valley, however, was a major enemy
base area and logistics complex which supported his operations in Thua
Thien and Quang Nam provinces. To launch a mobile strike into this
region and destroy the enemy's base had been a major MACV objective of
long standing. Support of this operation had been one of the reasons
for the troop and logistical buildup in the northern area which had
begun the previous December. The weather in the A Shau Valley was now
ideal for airmobile operations and General Westmoreland was anxious
to get DELAWARE underway before the end of April. The following day,
the 11th, all air assaults were cancelled and General Tolson began to
withdraw elements from Khe Sanh. The 1st Brigade, less one battalion,
was airlifted to Quang Tri City and the 37th ARVN Ranger Battalion,
which had fought so valiantly, was pulled out and sent to Da Nang. Two
days later, the division command post and elements of the 3d Brigade
departed for Camp Evans.(213)

Another noteworthy departure was that of Colonel Lownds. The colonel,
who did his job well enough to earn the nation's second highest
award--the Navy Cross--turned over the reins of the 26th Marines to
Colonel Bruce F. Meyers on 12 April. The new commander wasted no time;
he planned and executed the attack which in effect, ended the Battle
for Khe Sanh. It was scheduled for 14 April--Easter Sunday.

Ironically, the last engagement took place between Hills 881S and
881N precisely where, on 20 January, the whole affair had begun. The
3d Battalion, 26th Marines which had started the fight was also on
hand to finish it. Ever since the 4th, Lieutenant Colonel John C.
Studt's battalion (relieved Lieutenant Colonel Alderman on 15 March)
had been sweeping to the north and northwest of Hill 881S and, on
several occasions, had taken fire from 881N. The enemy troops still
clung tenaciously to that piece of real estate from which they had
directed rocket fire against Khe Sanh and antiaircraft fire against the
helicopters resupplying the Marines on 881S. Lieutenant Colonel Studt's
mission was to secure the terrain between the two hills, then attack
and seize 881N.(214)

Since the enemy gunners had zeroed in on the slopes of 881S with their
mortars, Lieutenant Colonel Studt moved his attacking elements into
position the night of the 13th. The assault companies of 3/26 slipped
out of the defensive wire under the cover of darkness and moved down
the forward slope of the hill along routes which were protected by
security patrols. As he watched the Marines file by, the battalion's
operations officer, Major Caulfield, could not help but be concerned
about them. Most of the men had spent the past two and a half months in
a foxhole or trench; they had received minimum rations and a maximum
of enemy shelling. All were tired and dirty; some suffered from large
body sores because the water received by these men had gone into their
bodies and not on them. Even though they were Marines, the major
wondered how they would perform the next morning. At 0800, he received
his answer.(215)

The attack, which the troops referred to as their "Easter Egg Hunt,"
was preceded by a deluge of supporting fire. Colonel Meyers, who flew
to 881S by helicopter, observed the attack and personally ensured
that sufficient supporting arms were employed. In addition to the
artillery of 1/13 at Khe Sanh and the 175mm bases, 155mm and 8-inch
batteries of the 1st ACD at LZ Stud were called on to help cave in
the enemy bunkers. Strike aircraft worked over the hill with bombs,
rockets, and napalm. The Marines who remained on 881S also provided
heavy support. Besides the 60mm and 81mm mortars, these men had pooled
all eight of the battalion's 106 recoilless rifles, the two remaining
105mm howitzers, and six .50 caliber machine guns which had been
salvaged from downed helicopters or stripped off of trucks at the base.
As the assault troops advanced, the weapons on 881S provided direct
overhead fire which sometimes preceded the front ranks by no more than
50 meters. As usual, the recoilless rifles were extremely effective.
One observer later remarked that when the lead elements approached a
treeline, no chances were taken; the 106 gunners fired a broadside and
the treeline was simply blown away.(216)

Because of the weight and speed of the attack, the enemy was never able
to recover. Moving behind a wall of steel, the battalion clawed its way
through the defenses between the two hills and prepared for the final
push. Major Caulfield, who had worried about the Marines' weakened
condition the night before, soon found the opposite was true--he was
having trouble holding them back. At one point, a group of NVA soldiers
who had been hammered senseless by the prep fires, broke from their
positions and fled into the open. An airborne spotter directed the
companies to hold up while he called in air and artillery. Scanning the
front lines, Major Caulfield noticed that a handful of Marines with
fixed bayonets were in hot pursuit of the enemy. The major contacted
the company commander by radio and told him to collar his troops. The
reply was, "Sir, I can't stop them...." Neither could the enemy.(217)

The men of 3/26 stormed the hill, swarmed over the crest, and killed
anyone who stood in their way. At 1428, the objective was secured and
the men signaled their victory in traditional Marine Corps fashion, as
Colonel Meyers later described:

  On Sunday, 14 April (Easter), I helicoptered to 881S and with
  Captain Bill Dabney, Company Commander of I/3/26, personally
  watched the U. S. Colors (which had been fortuitously carried in a
  squad leader's pack) hoisted again over 881N. This was the signal
  (visual) that Lieutenant Colonel John Studt's assault had been
  completed. I watched the jungle utility-clad Marine "shinny-up" a
  shrapnel torn tree whose limbs had been sheared from the intensive
  prep fires, and affix the Stars and Stripes.(218)

With the enemy either dead or gone, the hill again lost its value.
Terrain wasn't so important in the fluid Vietnam war, but people were
and, in that respect, Lieutenant Colonel Studt's men had completed a
very successful operation--106 North Vietnamese were dead. In addition
to the enemy dead on the objective, air strikes and artillery fire had
completely blanketed three large groups of NVA fleeing from the hill
but because of the dense vegetation and the approaching darkness, no
bodies were recovered. Two slightly shot-up North Vietnamese, one of
them an officer, were captured and flown back to Khe Sanh in Colonel
Meyers' helicopter. Considering the strength of the enemy defenses,
Marine casualties were surprisingly light--6 killed and 19 medevaced.
Lieutenant Colonel Studt stated: "... stand off plastering with
supporting arms ... prior to each assault was the key factor here."(219)

That night the battalion commander and his operations officer stood at
the gate on 881S and slapped the men on the back as they trooped back
into the perimeter. One Marine, a tall, lanky, slow-talking Kentuckian,
held out a captured rifle for Lieutenant Colonel Studt's inspection--it
was filthy. During the attack, the Marine had come face to face with
the owner; both men raised their rifles simultaneously and pulled the
trigger but only the M-16 barked out--the enemy's rifle jammed. The
survivor's explanation was simply, "I cleaned my weapon last night, he

The next morning at 0800, PCV terminated PEGASUS. The operation was
very successful and all objectives were achieved; Route 9 was open,
the enemy had been routed, and the base itself was relieved. The North
Vietnamese had lost another 1,304 killed and 21 captured, while 41 U.
S. Army troops, 51 Marines, and 33 South Vietnamese died. Air support
again had played an important role. There were 45 B-52 Arc Light
strikes and 1,625 tactical sorties conducted during PEGASUS. Of the
latter number, 650 sorties were flown by Marines, 463 by the U. S. Air
Force, 436 by carrier-based Task Force 77, and 77 by the U. S. Army
and VNAF. From 31 March to 8 April, U. S. Air Force C-130 and C-123
aircraft delivered 843 tons of supplies to Khe Sanh by paradrop and the
low altitude extraction system. On 9 April, the strip was reopened to
C-130s and the supply level at the KSCB began to grow large enough so
that the 1st ACD could draw from the 26th Marines stockpile.(221)

With the termination of PEGASUS, the 3d Marine Division again assumed
responsibility of the Khe Sanh area. Task Force GLICK, comprised of the
26th Marines, the 1st Marines, and the 2d Brigade(-), 1st ACD, launched
Operation SCOTLAND II at 0801, 15 April. The 26th Marines, however,
did not remain in the operation very long. Three days later, the new
commanding officer and two of his battalions were transferred to Quang
Tri Base and, for the men who had taken 77 days of the best the NVA
could offer, the defense of Khe Sanh was over.[74](222)


[70] It was around this time that PCV was formed and General Abrams
departed I Corps. General Rosson then became a key figure in the
planning of the operation.

[71] Although the rifle companies encountered only slight resistance
during the assault, the Company A command group, while advancing toward
the objective, took a direct hit from an enemy mortar. The Air Officer,
Captain Walter C. Jones, III was killed as was one radio operator; the
battalion Operations Officer, Major Ted R. Henderson, was seriously
wounded and evacuated. The Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel
Cahill and his Artillery Officer, First Lieutenant John K. LeBlond, Jr.
were also wounded at that time but were able to continue.

[72] In addition to the Marine killed during the attack, nine were
killed by enemy shelling the night before. A total of 57 Marines were

[73] The =325C NVA Division= had long since departed the area and left
the =304th= to continue pressure on the 26th Marines. Some elements of
the =304th= swung to the north of the base and replaced units of the

[74] The 2d Battalion, 26th Marines did not return to Quang Tri with
the regiment but was transferred to the operational control of the
4th Marines at Camp Carroll. General Tompkins saw to it that each man
who returned from Khe Sanh immediately received a hot shower, a clean
uniform, and a big steak dinner. As an added touch, the 3d Marine
Division band was on hand, and greeted each arrival with a stirring
rendition of the "Marines Hymn."



On 23 May 1968, several members of the 26th Marines who had fought
at Khe Sanh had a reunion of sorts in Washington, D. C. and the
surroundings were a far cry from the dirt and grime of the combat
base. The "CP" belonged to the President of the United States, Lyndon
B. Johnson. In the Cabinet Room of the White House, the Commander in
Chief paused to honor the men of the 26th Marines and awarded the
Presidential Unit Citation to the regiment. Colonel Lownds, whose
large handle-bar mustache had been shaved off at the direction of
"the highest possible authority"--his wife, and Sergeant Major Agrippa
W. Smith, senior enlisted man at the KSCB, were on hand to receive
the award. While it was fitting that the 26th Marines be cited as a
unit, the President also praised the South Vietnamese, U. S. Army, U.
S. Navy, U. S. Air Force, and Marine aviation and support units which
contributed so gallantly to the defense of the installation.(223)

In some quarters, however, there were still grumblings over the Khe
Sanh issue. During the siege, there had been a virtual storm of protest
from critics who opposed the Administration's decision to hold the
base. These doomsday prophets suffered from what some military experts
referred to as the "Dien Bien Phu Syndrome." Many noted intellectuals
were in the van of this group and throughout the battle they could not
be convinced that air and artillery support would provide the margin of
difference; they warned that the tiny base would suffer the same fate
which had been meted out to the French garrison 14 years earlier.(224)

[Illustration: During the presentation of the Presidential Unit
Citation to the 26th Marines, President Lyndon B. Johnson (C)
congratulates Sergeant Major Agrippa W. Smith (L) while Colonel David
E. Lownds (R) looks on.]

There are several reasons why Khe Sanh did not become another Dien Bien
Phu. The first and most obvious being that the Americans possessed the
overwhelming supporting arms which were not available to the French.
Contrary to the predictions of many critics, air and artillery were
decisive and more than made up for the numerical superiority of the
enemy. Over 100,000 tons of bombs and 150,000 artillery rounds were
delivered--and delivered intelligently--by the Americans during the
siege. Much of the credit goes to the regimental commander and his
staff who knew how to coordinate their different sources of firepower
to achieve maximum results. The NVA learned this during the five major
attacks against the base and hill outposts.

The ability to keep Khe Sanh resupplied was another major factor.
The NVA encirclement did not coincide with the monsoon season by
accident. With Route 9 interdicted, the fate of the garrison hinged
on the success or failure of the airlift and apparently the North
Vietnamese anticipated that it would fail. The fact that the airlift
was successful in the face of heavy enemy fire and the foulest weather
imaginable is indeed a tribute to the aircrews and recovery personnel
but the resupply effort went much deeper than just delivering the
goods. The Force Logistics Command at Da Nang augmented by U. S. Army
sources at Cam Ranh Bay was responsible for the mountain of supplies
and material which sustained the 26th Marines. An excerpt from the
works of Winston Churchill which was selected as the motto of the
Force Logistics Command best describes the vital role these logistics
agencies played: "Victory is the beautiful colored flower. Supply is
the stem without which it could never have blossomed."(225)

Another important facet of the defense was the close supervision and
leadership provided by the senior commanders, namely CG, 3d MarDiv,
CG, III MAF, and ComUSMACV. Since much of the supporting arms and all
of the logistical support was handled by agencies external to the 26th
Marines, constant coordination among these three headquarters was
imperative. General Tompkins was the pivotal figure of the triumvirate.
During his daily trips to the base, the general learned first hand
what the regimental commander needed; he not only saw that Colonel
Lownds received adequate support but he insured that the defenders made
the most of their resources. In so doing he exposed himself to heavy
enemy antiaircraft, artillery, and mortar fire as did General Cushman
during his periodic visits to Khe Sanh. Commenting on the strong role
played by the 3d Marine Division commander, General Cushman later said,
"General Tompkins made or approved every major decision during the

The real hero of Khe Sanh, however, was on the opposite end of the rank
scale--the individual fighting man. For 77 days the defenders waited
in the trenchlines while the bulk of the credit and publicity went to
the artillery, fighter/bombers, and B-52s. On several occasions the
supporting arms could not prevent major enemy assaults from reaching
the wire; at this point, it was the Marines or ARVN Rangers, armed with
rifles, grenades, and bayonets, who stopped the North Vietnamese--often
in bitter hand-to-hand combat. Without exception, the battalion
commanders were lavish in their praise of the young Americans and South
Vietnamese who held the perimeter and denied the enemy a much-needed
victory. In spite of the inherent hardships which accompanied the siege
and the incessant shelling, the defenders were always itching for a
fight. The most overused expression during the battle was, "I wish they
(North Vietnamese) would hurry up and come so we can get this thing
over with." When asked by a reporter if the NVA troops could take Khe
Sanh, one officer answered, "Hell no, those 19-year-old Marines won't
let them."[75](227)

Finally, much of the credit for the American success at Khe Sanh
belongs to the NVA. The North Vietnamese obliged the 26th Marines
by standing toe to toe in a slugging contest during which they were
outgunned and outfought; in effect, the enemy destroyed himself. If
there was one salient feature which resulted in the enemy's defeat it
might well be his rigid adherence to a siege strategy in the face of
certain failure. Even when it became obvious that the Americans were
aware of their master plan, the North Vietnamese doggedly pursued
their siege tactics without alteration. The extremely lucrative target
presented by the massed NVA forces which ringed the base was one of the
main reasons the garrison was maintained. Thus, the question may be
legitimately asked, "Who besieged whom?"(228)

To a lesser degree, there was a controversy over who or what had won
the battle. Proponents of air power and strategic bombing were the most
vocal; they felt that the B-52 had been the most decisive instrument
of defense. While the Stratofortress was a valuable asset and, without
doubt played a major role, any attempt to single out one supporting
arm as the ultimate weapon in the battle would be futile. The B-52 was
but one part of an intricate defensive fire plan. The bombers struck
targets beyond 1,100 meters of the base; tactical air and artillery
took up the slack to within about 250 meters and the organic weaponry
of the defenders provided close-in fires. The system was balanced
and effective but, if any part were eliminated, the defenders would
have paid a much higher price in casualties. Both General Tompkins
and Colonel Lownds were unstinting in their praise of all supporting
arms, as well as the logistical effort; they stressed, and stressed
heavily, that the defense of Khe Sanh was a joint endeavor. The highly
successful results were achieved through the contributions of all U. S.
Services and the South Vietnamese. While the Marines had been unable to
find an infantryman who could carry a 27-ton payload, neither had the
U. S. Air Force come up with a B-52 which could man a foxhole. Both, in
their own way, were essential.(229)

The Khe Sanh story again became news in late June 1968 and the old
controversy over strategy was rekindled. Prior to leaving his post as
ComUSMACV on 11 June, General Westmoreland visited PCV Headquarters in
I Corps and approved the recommendations of Generals Cushman and Rosson
to raze the KSCB and withdraw all Allied forces to the Ca Lu area.
While General Westmoreland made the decision prior to his departure,
he did not close the base at that time, because mopping-up operations
were being conducted around Khe Sanh. In addition, large amounts of
supplies had been stockpiled there and the general deemed it more
economical to maintain the base while these stocks were consumed in
support of the operations rather than backhaul them to Ca Lu. For these
reasons, he left the choice concerning the optimum time to dismantle
the installation up to his successor, General Abrams. When bulldozers
finally began to level the bunkers and structures which had housed the
26th Marines throughout the siege, the American people wondered why
the base had been so tenaciously defended if it was to be eventually
abandoned. Had American blood been shed in vain? Critics of the
hold-out policy argued that, in the final analysis, they had been right
and those who decided to defend the base had been wrong. Such rationale
pinpointed the inability of many Americans to break away from the
techniques employed in past wars and recognize the peculiarities of the
conflict in Vietnam.

There were several reasons for the deactivation of the KSCB since,
for all practical purposes, the base had outlived its usefulness.
The rationale endorsed by General Cushman and General Rosson was
threefold. First, the enemy had reduced his forces and changed his
=modus operandi= in the Khe Sanh area. Secondly, the NVA artillery in
Laos had accurately targeted the base and access road which compounded
the casualty and resupply problems. Finally and most important, General
Cushman had sufficient assets in June to pursue the mobile offensive
strategy which he had advocated strongly for such a long time. Two U.
S. Army divisions (i.e. 1st ACD and the 101st Airborne) with their
inherent helicopter resources had been shifted to III MAF and, during
March and April, the tremendous logistics burden associated with
the introduction of these 50,000 men into northern I Corps had been
alleviated. Since he had sufficient maneuver elements to go on the
offense in western Quang Tri Province, General Cushman no longer needed
five battalions buttoned up in Khe Sanh.(230)

An additional consideration for the abandonment of the base was
President Johnson's announcement on 31 March that the U. S. would end
air strikes in North Vietnam.[76] While the decision was a major step
toward peace, it also enabled thousands of NVA support personnel who
were responsible for road repair in North Vietnam to move further
south. These workers constructed a network of infiltration arteries
which bypassed the combat base and the continued policy of positioning
static Allied defense installations in the path of these routes would
have been inefficient and undesirable. In this regard, the best defense
was a highly mobile offense and while a forward operating base for such
operations was essential, the LZ Stud/Ca Lu area was much better suited
than Khe Sanh.(231)

By the time PEGASUS was over, LZ Stud was in full operation. The
airstrip was extended to accommodate C-123s, a Force Logistics Area was
established, and local defenses were strengthened. The base was outside
the range of the North Vietnamese 130mm and 152mm guns in Laos and the
stretch of Route 9 from Ca Lu to the Rockpile and eventually Dong Ha
was easier to keep open. Thus, two factors--enemy shelling and resupply
problems--which had negated the effectiveness of Khe Sanh as a base of
operations were absent at LZ Stud.

While not physically located on the Khe Sanh Plateau, the forces at
LZ Stud controlled it. Two forward fire bases were established in
the vicinity of the old combat base from which extensive patrolling
was conducted. Ground patrols were supplemented by air surveillance.
Whenever contact with the enemy was made, lighting-fast helicopter
assaults were launched from LZ Stud and were supported by the artillery
of the forward fire bases, tactical aircraft, and Huey gunships.
The enemy was attacked by these mobile forces whenever and wherever
he appeared. When a major NVA unit was encountered, sufficient
reinforcements were also injected by helicopter. So, the only thing
that changed on the Khe Sanh Plateau, besides the face of the combat
base, was the style and tempo of operations.(232)

The new strategy by no means diminished the accomplishments of the
men who had held Khe Sanh; it was simply a continuation of the
battle in another form. When the leaders in Hanoi finally accepted
President Johnson's peace overtures and consented to meet with U. S.
representatives in Paris, there was one thing that the North Vietnamese
negotiators did not possess--the battle standard of the 26th Marines.
An editorial in the =Washington Star= provided an appropriate tribute
to the men of Khe Sanh:

  To be sure, Khe Sanh will be a subject of controversy for a long
  time, but this much about it is indisputable: It has won a large
  place in the history of the Vietnam war as an inspiring example of
  American and Allied valor. One day, in fact, the victory over the
  siege may be judged a decisive turning point that finally convinced
  the enemy he could not win.(233)


[75] Many of these young men exhibited a maturity beyond their years.
One message, scrawled on the back of a C-ration carton by an anonymous
Marine, was found after the siege. It read: "Life has a special flavor
to those who fight for it that the sheltered never know."

[76] The attacks were halted except in the area north of the
demilitarized zone where the continuing enemy buildup directly
threatened Allied forward positions and where the movements of their
troops and supplies clearly related to that threat.



=Explanatory Note=: Unless otherwise noted the material in this
monograph is derived from Admiral Ulysses S. G. Sharp, USN, and General
William C. Westmoreland, USA, =Report On The War In Vietnam=, hereafter
Sharp and Westmoreland, =Report On The War=; Maj John J. Cahill, USMC,
and Jack Shulimson, "History of U. S. Marine Corps Operations in
Vietnam, Jan-Jun65"; FMFPac, Operations of U. S. Marine Forces Vietnam,
Mar67-Apr68, hereafter =FMFPac Marine Opns in Vietnam=; FMFPac, U. S.
Marine Corps Forces in Vietnam Mar65-Sep67 Historical Summary, Volume
I: Narrative, hereafter =FMFPac HistSum=; III MAF Command Chronologies
Apr67-Apr68, hereafter =III MAF CmdChron=; 3d Marine Division Command
Chronologies, Apr67-Apr68, hereafter =3d MarDiv CmdChron=; 1st Marine
Aircraft Wing Command Chronologies, Apr67-Apr68, hereafter =1st MAW
CmdChron=; 26th Marines Command Chronologies, Apr67-Apr68, hereafter
=26th Marines CmdChron=; 1/26 Command Chronologies, Apr67-Apr68,
hereafter =1/26 CmdChron=; 2/26 Command Chronologies, Jan68-Apr68,
hereafter =2/26 CmdChron=; 3/26 Command Chronologies, Jun67-Apr68,
hereafter =3/26 CmdChron=; 3d Marines Khe Sanh Operations After Action
Report, 9Jun67, hereafter =3d Marines Khe Sanh AAR=; VMGR-152 Command
Chronologies Jan68-Apr68, hereafter =VMGR-152 CmdChron=; Marine Corps
Command Center, Status of Forces, Apr68, hereafter =MCCC Status of
Forces=; Defense Intelligence Bulletins Dec67-Apr68, hereafter =DIA
IntBul=; Six Month Evaluation Report, prepared by HQ, MACV 31May68;
Presentation of LtGen Robert E. Cushman, Jr., USMC, in 1968 General
Officers Symposium Book, HQMC, dtd 15Jul68; CG, FMFPac msg to CMC
dtd 200327Z Mar68; Combat Operations After Action Report, Operation
PEGASUS (C), hereafter =PEGASUS AAR=; Gen William C. Westmoreland ltr
to CMC dtd 14Dec68, Subj: Review of the draft manuscript "The Battle
of Khe Sanh Apr67-Apr68," hereafter =Westmoreland Comments=; LtGen
Lewis W. Walt Interviews with HistBr dtd 17Dec67 and 14Jan69; LtGen
Robert E. Cushman, Jr., USMC, ltr to Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff,
G-3, HQMC, dtd 26Dec68, Subj: "The Battle of Khe Sanh, Apr67-Apr68,"
hereafter =Cushman Comments=; LtGen Herman Nickerson, USMC, memo to
Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, HQMC, dtd Dec68, Subj: Review of draft
manuscript, "The Battle of Khe Sanh Apr67-Apr68," hereafter =Nickerson
Comments=; LtGen William B. Rosson, USA, ltr to CMC dtd 18Dec68, Subj:
"The Battle of Khe Sanh, Apr67-Apr68," hereafter =Rosson Comments=;
LtGen John J. Tolson, III, USA, ltr to CMC dtd 21Jan69, Subj: "The
Battle of Khe Sanh," hereafter =Tolson Comments=; MajGen Norman J.
Anderson, USMC, ltr to HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC, dtd 2Jan69, Subj:
Khe Sanh Historical Monograph, hereafter =Anderson Comments=; MajGen
Louis Metzger, USMC, memo to Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, HQMC,
dtd 23Dec68, Subj: "The Battle of Khe Sanh, Apr67-Apr68," hereafter
=Metzger Comments=; MajGen John R. Chaisson comments on draft
manuscript, "The Battle of Khe Sanh, Apr67-Apr68," hereafter =Chaisson
Comments=; Interview with MajGen Rathvon McC. Tompkins, USMC, dtd
26Aug68 No. 3088 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC), hereafter
=Tompkins Interview=; Deputy Chief of Staff (Air) comments on draft
manuscript, "The Battle of Khe Sanh," dtd 9Dec68, hereafter =DCS/Air
Comments=; BGen Robert P. Keller, USMC, ltr to Deputy Assistant Chief
of Staff, G-3 Division, HQMC, dtd 17Dec68, Subj: "The Battle of Khe
Sanh," hereafter =Keller Comments=; BGen Harry C. Olson, USMC, ltr
to HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC, dtd 13Jan69, Subj. "The Battle of Khe
Sanh," hereafter =Olson Comments=; BGen Carl W. Hoffman, USMC, ltr to
CMC (Code AO3D) dtd 22Dec68, Subj: "The Battle of Khe Sanh," hereafter
=Hoffman Comments=; Chief, USAF Historical Division Liaison Office ltr
to HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC, dtd 18Dec68, Subj: Review of Historical
Study, "The Battle of Khe Sanh"; Chief, Historical Studies Branch, USAF
Historical Division ltr to HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC, dtd 22Jan69,
Subj: Review of Historical Study, "The Battle of Khe Sanh"; Chief,
Project CORONA HARVEST ltr to HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC, dtd 15Jan69,
Subj: Review of Draft Manuscript, "The Battle of Khe Sanh," hereafter
=Air Force Historical Comments=; Interview with Col David E. Lownds,
USMC, dtd Jul68, No. 801 674/4 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC),
hereafter =Lownds Jul Interview=; Col David E. Lownds, USMC, Interview
with HistBr dtd 13Sep68, hereafter =Lownds Sep Interview=; Col Frank
E. Wilson, USMC, ltr to HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC, dtd 6Jan69, Subj:
Review of "The Battle of Khe Sanh," hereafter =Wilson Comments=; Col
Bruce F. Meyers, USMC, ltr to HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC, dtd 16Dec68,
Subj: "The Battle of Khe Sanh" hereafter =Meyers Comments=; Interview
with Col Franklin N. Pippin, USMC, dtd 24Jun68, No. 2907 (Oral History
Collection, HistBr, HQMC); Interview with Col Johnnie C. Vance, Jr.,
USMC, dtd 20Jun68, No. 2909 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC);
Col Robert D. Brown, USAF, ltr to HQMC (AO3D) dtd 8Jan69, Subj: "The
Battle of Khe Sanh" hereafter =Brown Comments=; Col Robert E. Brofft,
USAF, ltr to HQMC (AO3D) dtd 8Jan69, Subj: Monograph, "The Battle of
Khe Sanh," hereafter =Brofft Comments=; LtCol John F. Mitchell, USMC,
ltr to HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC, dtd 31Jan69, Subj: Comments on "The
Battle of Khe Sanh," hereafter =Mitchell Comments=; LtCol Harry L.
Alderman, USMC, ltr to HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC, Subj: "The Battle
of Khe Sanh" hereafter =Alderman Comments=; LtCol James B. Wilkinson,
USMC, ltr to HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC, dtd Dec68, Subj: Response
to HQMC ltr AO3D-rem S807 373 of 6Dec68, "The Battle of Khe Sanh,"
hereafter =Wilkinson Comments=; LtCol John A. Hennelly, USMC, comments
on draft manuscript, "The Battle of Khe Sanh" of 15Feb69, hereafter
=Hennelly Comments=; Interview with LtCol Edward J. A. Castagna, USMC,
dtd Mar68, No. 2621 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC); LtCol
Francis J. Heath, Jr., USMC, comments on draft manuscript, "The Battle
of Khe Sanh, Apr67-Apr68," hereafter =Heath Comments=; LtCol Frederick
J. McEwan, USMC, ltr to HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC, dtd 30Dec68, Subj:
Comments on "The Battle of Khe Sanh Apr67-Apr68," hereafter =McEwan
Comments=; LtCol Johnny O. Gregerson, USMC, ltr to HistBr, G-3, HQMC
dtd 3Jan69, Subj: Review of a draft copy of the historical monograph:
"The Battle of Khe Sanh, Apr67-Apr68," hereafter =Gregerson Comments=;
LtCol John C. Studt, USMC, ltr to HistBr, G-3, HQMC dtd 24Dec68, Subj:
"The Battle of Khe Sanh" manuscript, hereafter =Studt Comments=;
Interview with LtCol Harry T. Hagaman, USMC, dtd 2Mar68, No. 2548
(Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC); LtCol William J. White, USMC,
comments on draft manuscript, "The Battle of Khe Sanh, Apr67-Apr68"
n.d., hereafter =White Comments=; Interview with Maj William J.
Sullivan, USMC, dtd 26Apr68, No. 2621 (Oral History Collection, HistBr,
HQMC); Maj John A. Shepherd, USMC, ltr to HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC,
dtd 2Jan69, Subj: "The Battle of Khe Sanh, Apr67-Apr68" hereafter
Shepherd Comments; Taped comments of Maj Matthew P. Caulfield, USMC,
on the draft manuscript, "The Battle of Khe Sanh, Apr67-Apr68" dtd
2Jan69, hereafter =Caulfield Comments=; Interview with Maj Matthew
P. Caulfield, USMC, dtd 10Feb68, No. 2535 (Oral History Collection,
HistBr, HQMC); Maj Wayne M. Wills, USMC, ltr to HistBr, G-3, HQMC,
dtd 2Jan69, Subj: Historical Monograph, "The Battle of Khe Sanh,
Apr67-Apr68," hereafter =Wills Comments=; Maj Harper L. Bohr, USMC,
ltr to HistBr, G-3, HQMC, dtd 18Dec68, Subj: Comments concerning "The
Battle of Khe Sanh" hereafter =Bohr Comments=; Maj Jerry E. Hudson,
USMC, ltr to HistBr, G-3, HQMC, dtd 2Jan69, Subj: Review of Historical
Monograph of Khe Sanh, hereafter =Hudson Comments=; Maj Mirza M.
Baig, USMC, ltr to HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC dtd 23Dec68, Subj:
Comments on draft manuscript, "The Battle of Khe Sanh, Apr67-Apr68"
hereafter =Baig Comments=; Maj William H. Dabney, USMC, comments on
draft manuscript n.d., "The Battle of Khe Sanh, Apr67-Apr68" hereafter
=Dabney Comments=; Maj William H. Dabney, USMC, Interview with HistBr
dtd 10Jan69; Maj Earl G. Breeding, USMC, comments on draft manuscript
dtd 22Dec68, "The Battle of Khe Sanh, Apr67-Apr68," hereafter
=Breeding Comments=; Interview with Capt Earl G. Breeding, dtd Jul68,
No. 2121 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC); Maj Kenneth W.
Pipes, USMC ltr to HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC, n.d., Subj: Khe Sanh
Manuscript, hereafter =Pipes Comments=; Interview with Capt Kenneth
W. Pipes, USMC, dtd Mar68, No. 2621 (Oral History Collection, HistBr,
HQMC); 1stLt James M. Alexander, USMC, ltr to HistBr, G-3 Division,
HQMC, n.d., Subj: "The Battle of Khe Sanh, Apr67-Apr68" hereafter
=Alexander Comments=; Interview with 1stLt James M. Alexander, USMC,
dtd 26Apr68, No. 2621 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC);
Interview with 1stLt William L. Everhart, USMC, dtd 10Feb68, No. 2535
(Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC); Interview with Sgt Timothy
B. Keady, USMC, dtd Mar68, No. 2621 (Oral History Collection, HistBr,
HQMC); Interview with HM3 Frank V. Calzia, USN, dtd Mar68, No. 2621
(Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC); LCpl Michael A. Barry, USMC,
Interview with HistBr dtd 17Feb69; Cornelius D. Sullivan, =et al.=,
=The Vietnam War: Its Conduct and Higher Direction= (Washington, D.
C.: The Center For Strategic Studies, Georgetown University, 1968)
(U), hereafter Sullivan, =et al.=, =The Vietnam War=; Bernard B. Fall,
=The Two Viet-Nams= (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1965 ed.) (U);
Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., USMC, =Soldiers of the Sea= (Annapolis:
United States Naval Institute 1962 ed.) (U); Capt Ken Kashiwahara,
USAF, "Lifeline to Khe Sanh," =The Airman=, v. XII, no. 7 (Jul68) (U),
hereafter Kashiwahara, "Lifeline to Khe Sanh"; =Washington Star=,
25May68, p. 13 (Early Bird) (U); =Washington Star=, 9Jun68, p. 1-E
(Early Bird); =Baltimore Sun=, 25May68, p. 2 (Early Bird) (U). All
documentary material cited is located in the HistBr, G-3 Division,
HQMC and, unless otherwise noted, carries an overall classification of


  (1) Major John J. Cahill, USMC and Jack Shulimson, "History of U.
      S. Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam, Jan-Jun65," pp. 67, 68,
      126 (S).

  (2) =FMFPac=, =Marine Opns in Vietnam=, Jun67, pp. 5-12 (S).

  (3) =Ibid.=

  (4) =3d MarDiv CmdChron=, Oct68, p. 11 (S).

  (5) =FMFPac=, =Marine Opns in Vietnam=, Mar67, p. 15 (S).

  (6) =3d Marines Khe Sanh AAR=, p. 7 (S); Bernard B. Fall, =The Two
      Viet-Nams= (New York: Frederick A. Praeger 1965 ed.), p. 3.

  (7) =Westmoreland Comments.=

  (8) =3d Marines=, =Khe Sanh AAR=, p. 12 (S).

  (9) Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt Interview with Historical
      Branch dtd 17Dec68 and 14Jan69 (S).

  (10) =3d Marines, Khe Sanh AAR=, pp, 7-30 (S).

  (11) =Ibid.=

  (12) =Ibid.=, pp. 32-33 (S).

  (13) =FMFPac Marine Opns in Vietnam=, May67, p. 11 (S).

  (14) =Ibid.=, pp. 7-10, 19 (S).

  (15) =FMFPac HistSum=, pp. 7-17 (S).

  (16) =FMFPac Marine Opns in Vietnam=, Jul67, pp. 9-13 (S).

  (17) =Ibid.=

  (18) =FMFPac Marine Opns in Vietnam=, Sep67, pp. 52-73 (S); =3d
       MarDiv ComdChron=, Sep67, p. 25 (S); Chaisson Comments; Personal
       observations of the author.

  (19) =Westmoreland Comments=; =Metzger Comments=.

  (20) =FMFPac=, =Marine Opns in Vietnam=, Oct67, pp. 24-36 (S).

  (21) =Metzger Comments.=

  (22) =26th Marines CmdChron=, May67, p. 4 (S).

  (23) =Ibid.=

  (24) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jun67, p. 4 (S).

  (25) =Ibid.=, Jul67, p. 4 (S).

  (26) Col Lownds tape No. 801 674/4 (S); =26th Marines CmdChron=,
       Aug67, p. 4 (S); =Metzger Comments=.

  (27) =Wilkinson Comments.=

  (28) Col Lownds Tape No. 801 674/4 (S); =26th Marines CmdChron=,
       Aug67, p. 4 (S), =Brown Comments=.

  (29) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Nov67, p. 4 (S).

  (30) =Cushman Comments=; =Hoffman Comments=.

  (31) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Dec67, p. 4 (S).

  (32) =Alderman Comments.=

  (33) =Bohr Comments.=

  (34) =Hudson Comments.=

  (35) =FMFPac Marine Opns in Vietnam=, Jan 68, pp. 8, 9; =III MAF
       CmdChron=, Jan and Feb68 (S); =26th Marines CmdChron=, Feb68,
       p. 60 (S); =Lownds Sep Interview= (S).

  (36) =Lownds Sep Interview= (S); =3/26 CmdChron=, Jan68, p. 10 (S);
       =Caulfield Comments=.

  (37) =Lownds Sep Interview= (S); =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan68, p.
       4 (S).

  (38) =3/26 CmdChron=, Jan68, p. 3 (S).

  (39) =2/26 CmdChron=, Jan68, p. 2 (S).

  (40) =Ibid.=; =Breeding Comments=; =Caulfield Comments=.

  (41) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan68, pp. 3, 4 (S); =Lownds Sep
       Interview= (S).

  (42) =FMFPac Marine Opns in Vietnam=, Jan68, p. 10 (S).

  (43) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan68, pp. 3, 4 (S); =3/26 CmdChron=,
       Jan68, p. 3 (S); =Alderman Comments=; =Dabney Comments=;
       =Caulfield Comments=.

  (44) =Ibid.=

  (45) =Dabney Comments.=

  (46) =Ibid.=; =26th CmdChron=, Jan68, pp. 3, 4 (S); =3/26
       CmdChron=, Jan68, p. 3 (S); =Alderman Comments=; =Dabney

  (47) =Ibid.=

  (48) =Cushman Comments=; =Tompkins Interview= (S); =Lownds Sep
       Interview= (S); =Wilkinson Comments=; =Pipes Comments=; =26th
       Marines CmdChron=, Jan68, p. 5 (S).

  (49) =Caulfield Comments.=

  (50) =Alderman Comments.=

  (51) =Caulfield Comments.=

  (52) =Ibid.=

  (53) =3/26 CmdChron=, Jan 68, p. 3 (S); =Caulfield Comments=.

  (54) =Lownds Sep Interview= (S); Interview with Major Matthew P.
       Caulfield, USMC dtd 10Feb68, No. 2535 (Oral History Collection,
       HistBr, HQMC) (S); =Caulfield Comments=.

  (55) =Dabney Comments=; =Caulfield Comments=.

  (56) =Ibid.=; =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan68, p. 4 (S); =Lownds Sep
       Interview=; =White Comments=.

  (57) =Pipes Comments.=

  (58) =Wilkinson Comments.=

  (59) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan68, p. 4 (S); =Hudson Comments=.

  (60) Interview with First Lieutenant William L. Everhart, dtd
       10Feb68 No. 2535 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC) (S);
       =Hennelly Comments=.

  (61) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan68, p. 9 (S); =FMFPac Marine Opns
       in Vietnam=, Jan68, p. 11 (S); =Tompkins Interview= (S); =Hudson

  (62) =Lownds Sep Interview= (S).

  (63) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan68, p. 9 (S).

  (64) =Cushman Comments.=

  (65) =Ibid.=; =Westmoreland Comments=.

  (66) =Westmoreland Comments.=

  (67) =Ibid.=; Sharp and Westmoreland, =Report on The War=, p. 163.

  (68) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan68, pp. 4, 11 (S); =Lownds Sep
       Interview= (S).

  (69) =Lownds Sep Interview= (S); =Baig Comments=.

  (70) =Wilkinson Comments.=

  (71) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan68, p. 4 (S); =Lownds Sep
       Interview=; =Wilkinson Comments=.

  (72) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan68, pp. 3, 4 (S); =III MAF
       CmdChron=, Jan68, pp. 3-10 (S).

  (73) Sharp and Westmoreland, =Report on The War=, p. 158.

  (74) Presentation of Lieutenant General Robert E. Cushman, Jr.,
       USMC, in 1968 General Officers Symposium Book, dtd 15Jul68 (S).

  (75) Sullivan, =et al.=, =The Vietnam War=, pp. 101-104.

  (76) =Ibid.=, Sharp and Westmoreland, =Report on The War=, p. 235.

  (77) =Ibid.=

  (78) Sullivan, =et al.=, =The Vietnam War=, p. 99.

  (79) =Ibid.=

  (80) =Lownds Jul Interview= (S).

  (81) =Ibid.=

  (82) =Ibid.=; CG FMFPac msg to CMC, dtd 200327Z Mar68 (S).

  (83) =Lownds Jul and Sep Interviews= (S).

  (84) =Dabney Comments.=

  (85) =Ibid.=

  (86) =Ibid.=

  (87) =Ibid.=; =Caulfield Comments=.

  (88) =Dabney Comments.=

  (89) =Lownds Jul Interview= (S).

  (90) =Mitchell Comments.=

  (91) =Lownds Jul and Sep Interviews= (S); =Tompkins Interview= (S).

  (92) =Ibid.=; =Mitchell Comments=.

  (93) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Feb68, p. 8 (S); Interview with
       Captain Earl G. Breeding, USMC, dtd Jul68, No. 2121 (Oral
       History Collection, HistBr, HQMC) (S): =Breeding Comments=.

  (94) =Ibid.=

  (95) =Ibid.=

  (96) =Ibid.=; =Dabney Comments=.

  (97) =Ibid.=

  (98) =White Comments.=

  (99) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Feb68, pp. 8-10 (S); =Tompkins
       Interview= (S).

  (100) =Ibid.=; =Lownds Jul Interview= (S); =Hennelly Comments=.

  (101) =Hennelly Comments.=

  (102) =Hudson Comments.=

  (103) =Wilkinson Comments.=

  (104) =Lownds Sep Interview=; =Caulfield Comments=.

  (105) =Anderson Comments.=

  (106) =Westmoreland Comments=; =White Comments=; =26th Marines
        CmdChron=, Feb68, pp. 4-8 (S).

  (107) =DIA IntBul.=

  (108) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Feb68, pp. 8, 48 (S); =Mitchell

  (109) =Ibid.=

  (110) Lance Corporal Michael A. Barry Interview with HistBr, dtd

  (111) =Ibid.=

  (112) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Feb68, pp. 8, 48, 49 (S); Mitchell

  (113) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Feb68, p. 49 (S).

  (114) =Ibid.=, p. 51 (S).

  (115) =Air Force Historical Comments=; =1st MAW CmdChron=, Feb68,
        p. 8 (S).

  (116) =Wilkinson Comments=; =White Comments=.

  (117) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Feb68, p. 51 (S); Kashiwahara,
        "Lifeline to Khe Sanh".

  (118) =Ibid.=; =Lownds Sep Interview= (S).

  (119) =VMGR-152 CmdChron=, Feb68, p. 4 (S); =Gregerson Comments=.

  (120) Kashiwahara, "Lifeline to Khe Sanh"; =Meyers Comments=;
        =Brown Comments=; =Air Force Historical Comments=.

  (121) =Ibid.=; =Lownds Jul Interview= (S).

  (122) =Ibid.=

  (123) Information provided by the Marine Corps Command Center on

  (124) =Ibid.=

  (125) =1st MAW CmdChron=, Jan, Feb, Mar68 (S); =Wilson Comments=.

  (126) =Ibid.=

  (127) =Dabney Comments.=

  (128) =Ibid.=

  (129) =Wilson Comments.=

  (130) =DCS/Air Comments.=

  (131) =Breeding Comments.=

  (132) See =1st MAW CmdChron=, Jan, Feb, Mar68 (S); CG FMFPac msg to
  CMC dtd 200327Z Mar68 (S).

  (133) =Wilkinson Comments.=

  (134) CG FMFPac Msg to CMC dtd 200327Z Mar68 (S); =Lownds Jul
  Interview= (S).

  (135) See =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan, Feb, and Mar68 (S).

  (136) =Lownds Sep Interview= (S).

  (137) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan, Feb, and Mar68 (S); =Lownds
        Sep Interview=; Interview with Major William J. Sullivan,
        USMC, dtd 26Apr68, No. 2621 (Oral History Collection, HistBr,
        HQMC) (S); =Hennelly Comments=; =Gregerson Comments=; =Air
        Force Historical Comments=.

  (138) =1st MAW CmdChron=, Jan and Feb68 (S).

  (139) =Ibid.=, Debrief Sheets (S).

  (140) =Dabney Comments.=

  (141) =1st MAW CmdChron=, Feb 68, p. 2-2 (S); =Pipes Comments.=

  (142) Interview with Lieutenant Colonel Harry T. Hagaman, USMC, dtd
        2Mar68, No. 2548 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC) (C).

  (143) Information supplied by U. S. Air Force Public Information
        Office, 16Oct68 (U); =Chaisson Comments=; =Air Force
        Historical Comments=; =Brofft Comments=.

  (144) =Tompkins Interview= (S).

  (145) =Ibid.=; =Lownds Sep Interview= (S); Kashiwahara, "Lifeline
        to Khe Sanh."

  (146) =Air Force Historical Comments=; =26th Marines CmdChron=,
        Jan, Feb and Mar68 (S); =Tompkins Interview=; =Baig Comments=.

  (147) =Gregerson Comments.=

  (148) =Lownds Jul Interview= (S); Interview with Major William J.
        Sullivan, USMC, dtd 26Apr68, No. 2621 (Oral History Collection,
        HistBr, HQMC) (S); =Gregerson Comments=.

  (149) =Lownds Sep Interview= (S); Interview with First Lieutenant
        James M. Alexander, USMC, dtd 26Apr68, No. 2621 (Oral History
        Collection, HistBr, HQMC) (S); =Hennelly Comments=.

  (150) Interview with Major William J. Sullivan, USMC, dtd 26Apr68,
        No. 2621 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC) (S); Interview
        with First Lieutenant James M. Alexander, USMC, dtd 26Apr68, No.
        2621 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC) (S); =26th Marines
        CmdChron=, Jan, Feb and Mar 68 (S); =Gregerson Comments=.

  (151) =Ibid.=

  (152) =Ibid.=

  (153) =Lownds Interview=; =Hennelly Comments=.

  (154) =Hennelly Comments.=

  (155) =Baig Comments.=

  (156) =Hennelly Comments.=

  (157) =Ibid.=; =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan, Feb and Mar68 (S);
        =Baig Comments=.

  (158) =Ibid.=

  (159) =Baig Comments.=

  (160) =Ibid.=

  (161) =Ibid.=

  (162) =Ibid.=; Interview with Lieutenant Colonel Edward J. A.
        Castagna, USMC, dtd Mar68, No. 2621 (Oral History Collection,
        HistBr, HQMC) (S); Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., USMC,
        =Soldiers of the Sea= (Annapolis: United States Naval
        Institute 1962 ed.) p. 563.

  (163) =Baig Comments.=

  (164) Six Month Evaluation Report, HQ USMACV, 31May68 (S);
        Interview with Colonel Franklin N. Pippin, USMC, dtd 24Jun68,
        No. 2907 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC) (S).

  (165) =1/26 CmdChron=, Jan and Feb68 (S); CG FMFPac msg to CMC dtd
        200327Z Mar68 (S); Information provided by Research,
        Development, and Study Division, HQMC, 8Nov68 (U); =Lownds
        Jul Interview= (S).

  (166) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan and Feb68 (S); =Lownds Jul and
        Sep Interviews= (S).

  (167) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Jan, Feb and Mar68 (S).

  (168) =Dabney Comments.=

  (169) =Ibid.=

  (170) =Lownds Sep Interview= (S); Interview with Sergeant Timothy
        B. Keady, USMC, dtd Mar68, No. 2621 (Oral History Collection,
        HistBr, HQMC) (S).

  (171) =Baltimore Sun=, 25 May, p. 2 (Early Bird) (U).

  (172) Interview with First Lieutenant James M. Alexander, USMC,
        dtd 26Apr68, No. 2621 (Oral History Collection, HistBr,
        HQMC) (S); Interview with Major William J. Sullivan, USMC,
        dtd 26Apr68, No. 2621 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC)
        (S); Interview with Colonel Johnnie C. Vance, Jr., USMC,
        dtd 20Jun68, No. 2909 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC)
        (S); Interview with Major John A. Shepherd, USMC, dtd 26Apr68,
        No. 2621 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC) (S).

  (173) =Shepherd Comments.=

  (174) =Lownds Sep Interview= (S).

  (175) =Lownds Jul Interview= (S).

  (176) =Ibid.=; =Tompkins Interview= (S).

  (177) =Keller Comments.=

  (178) =Wilkinson Comments.=

  (179) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Feb68, Encl 1 (S).

  (180) =Ibid.=

  (181) =Lownds Sep Interview= (S); Interview with HM3 Class Frank V.
        Calzia, dtd Mar68, No. 2621 (Oral History Collection, HistBr,
        HQMC) (S).

  (182) =Ibid.=; Interview with Captain Kenneth W. Pipes, USMC, dtd
        Mar68, No. 2621 (Oral History Collection, HistBr, HQMC) (S).

  (183) =Ibid.=

  (184) =Ibid.=; =26th Marines CmdChron=, Feb68, Encl 1 (S).

  (185) =Lownds Jul and Sep Interviews= (S).

  (186) =Ibid.=; =26th Marines CmdChron=, Mar68, p. 4 (S); =Baig

  (187) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Mar68, pp. 3, 4 (S); =Wilkinson

  (188) =Ibid.=; =Lownds Sep Interview=.

  (189) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Mar68, p. 8 (S).

  (190) =Ibid.=, pp. 11, 12.

  (191) =Ibid.=, p. 7.

  (192) =Ibid.=, pp. 7, 8.

  (193) =Ibid.=, p. 6.

  (194) =Ibid.=, p. 10 (S).

  (195) =Ibid.=; =White Comments=.

  (196) =Ibid.=; =McEwan Comments=; =Pipes Comments=.

  (197) =26th Marines CmdChron=, Mar68, pp. 9, 10, and Encl 1.

  (198) =Ibid.=; =Baig Comments=.

  (199) MCCC, Status of Forces, Apr 68 (S); =Lownds Sep Interview=
        (S); =PEGASUS AAR=, pp. 1-4.

  (200) =PEGASUS AAR=, Encl 1 (C); =Westmoreland Comments=; =Cushman

  (201) =Ibid.=

  (202) =Tolson Comments.=

  (203) =Ibid.=

  (204) =PEGASUS AAR=, Encl 1 (C); =Rosson Comments=.

  (205) =Ibid.=

  (206) =Ibid.=

  (207) =Ibid.=; =Lownds Jul and Sep Interviews= (S).

  (208) =PEGASUS AAR=, Encl 1 (C).

  (209) =Ibid.=

  (210) =Ibid.=; =Lownds Jul and Sep Interviews= (S); =Tolson

  (211) =PEGASUS AAR=, pp. 13, 14 (C).

  (212) =Ibid.=, Encl 1.

  (213) =Ibid.=

  (214) =3/26 CmdChron=, Apr68, p. 4 (S); =Studt Comments=; =Meyers

  (215) =Ibid.=; =Caulfield Comments=.

  (216) =Ibid.=; =Dabney Comments=.

  (217) =Caulfield Comments.=

  (218) =Meyers Comments.=

  (219) =3/26 CmdChron=, Apr68, p. 4 (S); =Meyers Comments=; =Studt

  (220) =Caulfield Comments.=

  (221) =PEGASUS AAR.=

  (222) =Ibid.=; =26th Marines CmdChron=, Apr68, p. 4 (S); =Caulfield

  (223) =Baltimore Sun=, 25May68, p. 2 (Early Bird) (U); =Washington
        Star=, 25May68, p. 13 (Early Bird) (U).

  (224) =Ibid.=

  (225) =Olson Comments.=

  (226) =Cushman Comments.=

  (227) =Alderman Comments=; =Caulfield Comments=.

  (228) =Baig Comments.=

  (229) =Tompkins Interview=; =Lownds Jul and Sep Interviews= (S).

  (230) =Westmoreland Comments=; =Cushman Comments=; =Rosson

  (231) =Ibid.=

  (232) =Ibid.=`

  (233) =Washington Star=, 9Jun68, p. 1-E (Early Bird) (U).



  AAR                        After Action Report

  ABCCC                      Airborne Command and Control Center

  A-4 Skyhawk                A single-seat, lightweight, jet attack
                             bomber in service with Navy and Marine
                             Corps squadrons. Built by Douglas.

  AN/PRC-25                  U. S.-built, short-range, portable,
                             frequency-modulated radio set used to
                             provide two-way communication in the
                             30 megacycle to 75.95 megacycle band.

  AN/TPQ-10                  U. S.-built, ground-based radar system
                             used to guide aircraft on bombing missions.

  A-1 Skyraider              U. S.-built, prop-driven, attack aircraft
                             built by Douglas.

  Arc Light                  Operational name for B-52 strikes in South

  ARVN                       Army of The Republic of Vietnam.

  A-6A Intruder              U. S. Navy and Marine Corps twin-engine,
                             low-altitude, jet attack bomber
                             specifically designed to deliver ordnance
                             on targets completely obscured by weather
                             or darkness. Carries a heavier and more
                             varied load than any other U. S. naval
                             attack aircraft. Built by Grumman.

  ASRT                       Air Support Radar Team

  BDA                        Battle Damage Assessment

  Bde                        Brigade

  B-52 Stratofortress        USAF eight-engine, swept-wing heavy jet
                             bomber. Built by Boeing.

  BLT                        Battalion Landing Team

  CAC                        Combined Action Company

  CACO                       Combined Action Company Oscar

  CavSqd (e.g. 1/9)          1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry

  C-4                        Plastic explosives

  CG, 1st MarDiv             Commanding General, 1st Marine Division

  CG, FMFPac                 Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force,

  CG, 3d MarDiv              Commanding General, 3d Marine Division

  CG, III MAF                Commanding General, III Marine Amphibious

  ChiCom                     Chinese Communist

  CH-53A                     Sea Stallion U. S.-built, single-rotor,
                             heavy assault transport helicopter powered
                             by two shaft-turbine engines with an
                             average payload of 12,800 pounds.
                             Full-sized rear opening with built-in
                             ramp permits loading of 105mm howitzer and
                             carriage. External sling will accommodate
                             a 155mm howitzer (towed). Carries crew of
                             3 plus 38 combat troops or 24 litters.
                             Built by Sikorsky.

  CH-46D Sea Knight          U. S.-built, medium transport,
                             twin-turbine, tandem rotor helicopter
                             with an average payload of 4,800 pounds.
                             Has rear loading ramp and external sling
                             mount. Carries crew of 3 plus 25 combat
                             troops or 15 litters and 2 attendants.
                             Built by Boeing.

  CIDG                       Civilian Irregular Defense Group

  Claymore                   U. S.-built, directional antipersonnel
                             land mine employed above ground and
                             normally in an upright position.

  CMC                        Commandant of the Marine Corps

  CmdChron                   Command Chronology

  CO                         Commanding Officer

  ComUSMACV                  Commander, U. S. Military Assistance
                             Command, Vietnam

  CP                         Command Post

  CS                         Designation for tear gas

  DASC                       Direct Air Support Center

  D-Day                      Day scheduled for the commencement of an

  DIA IntBul                 Defense Intelligence Agency Intelligence

  DMZ                        Demilitarized Zone

  EC-121 Super               USAF and USN four-engine, prop-driven,
  Constellation              long-range, heavy transport modified with
                             special equipment for radar early warning
                             patrols and electronic warfare duty.
                             Built by Lockheed.

  FADAC                      Field Artillery Digital Automatic Computer

  FDC                        Fire Direction Center

  F-8 Crusader               U. S. Navy and Marine Corps supersonic,
                             single-seat, single-engine, jet fighter
                             with afterburner. Primarily used in South
                             Vietnam in an attack role. Carries
                             air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance.
                             Built by LTV Vought Aeronautics.

  F-4B Phantom II            U. S. Navy and Marine Corps twin-engine,
                             two-seat, supersonic fighter/attack jet
                             with afterburners; has dual role of
                             interceptor and bomber. Of all U. S. naval
                             attack aircraft, F-4B carries second
                             largest payload. Built by McDonnell.

  F-4C                       U. S. Air Force model of the Phantom II.

  1st ACD                    1st Air Cavalry Division

  1st MarDiv                 1st Marine Division

  1st MAW                    1st Marine Aircraft Wing

  FOB-3                      Forward Operating Base 3

  F-100 Super Sabre          Single-engine, jet (with afterburner)
                             sweptwing, supersonic fighter-bomber; in
                             production since 1953, the F-100 was the
                             first supersonic operational fighter
                             developed for the U. S. Air Force.
                             Carries air-to-air and air-to-ground
                             ordnance. Built by North American.

  F-105 Thunderchief         U. S. Air Force supersonic, single-seat,
                             single-engine, jet fighter/bomber with
                             afterburner. Built by Republic.

  FMFPac                     Fleet Marine Force, Pacific

  FO                         Forward Observer

  FSCC                       Fire Support Coordination Center

  GCA                        Ground Controlled Approach

  GPES                       Ground Proximity Extraction System

  Grenade Launcher,          U. S.-built, single-shot, break-open,
  M-79                       breech-loaded shoulder weapon which fires
                             40mm projectiles and weighs approximately
                             6.5 pounds when loaded; it has a sustained
                             rate of aimed fire of 5-7 rounds
                             per minute and an effective range of 375

  Gun, 100mm M1944           Soviet-built, dual purpose field and
                             antitank gun introduced toward the close
                             of World War II; it weighs 7,628 pounds,
                             is 30.9 feet in length and has a muzzle
                             velocity of 900 meters per second. Maximum
                             range is 21,000 meters and maximum rate
                             of fire is 8-10 rounds per minute. Is
                             recognizable by long tube, double-barrel
                             muzzle brake, dual wheels, and sloping

  Gun, 130mm                 Soviet-built fieldpiece which utilizes
                             either a limber for transport or is
                             self-propelled. Towed weapon weighs 19,000
                             pounds, is 38 feet in length, and has a
                             muzzle velocity of 930 meters per second.
                             Maximum range is 27,000 meters and maximum
                             rate of fire is 6-7 rounds per minute.
                             Tube has a multi-perforated muzzle brake.

  Gun, 175mm                 U. S.-built, self-propelled gun which
                             weighs 62,100 pounds and fires a 147-pound
                             projectile to a maximum range of 32,800
                             meters. Maximum rate of fire is 1/2 round
                             per minute.

  Hand Grenade,              U. S.-manufactured, hand-thrown bomb,
  Fragmentation              which weighs approximately one pound,
  M-26                       and contains an explosive charge in a
                             body that shatters into small fragments;
                             it has an effective range of 40 meters.

  H&I                        Harassment and Interdiction

  H&S Co                     Headquarters and Service Company

  HistBr                     Historical Branch

  HMM                        Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron

  Howitzer, 105mm            U. S.-built, towed, general purpose light
  M2A1                       artillery piece; the weapon is mounted
                             on a carriage equipped with split box
                             trails and pneumatic tires. On-carriage
                             sighting and fire control equipment are
                             used both for direct and indirect fire.
                             The piece weighs 4,980 pounds, is 19.75
                             feet in length, has a muzzle velocity of
                             470 meters per second, and a maximum range
                             of 11,155 meters. Maximum rate of fire
                             is 4 rounds per minute.

  Howitzer, 155mm            U. S.-built, towed, medium artillery piece
  M1                         mounted on a two-wheel, split-trail
                             carriage with detachable spades. The
                             howitzer is fired from a three-point
                             suspension, with the trails spread and
                             the carriage resting upon an integral
                             firing jack, the wheels being clear of the
                             ground. The piece weighs 12,700 pounds,
                             is 24 feet long, has a muzzle velocity of
                             560 meters per second and a maximum range
                             of 15,080 meters. Maximum rate of fire
                             is 3 rounds per minute.

  Howitzer, 8-inch           U. S.-built, self-propelled heavy artillery
  M-110                      piece; 37 feet long tracked carriage is
                             identical to that of 175mm gun. M-110 has
                             a maximum range of 16,930 meters and a
                             rate of fire of 1/2 round per minute.

  HQMC                       Headquarters, United States Marine Corps

  IFR                        Instrument Flight Rules

  KBA                        Killed By Air

  KIA                        Killed In Action

  KSCB                       Khe Sanh Combat Base

  LAPES                      Low Altitude Proximity Extraction System

  LSA                        Logistics Support Area

  LZ                         Landing Zone

  MACV                       Military Assistance Command, Vietnam

  MAG                        Marine Aircraft Group

  Machine Gun,               U. S.-built, belt-fed, recoil-operated,
  .50 Caliber                air-cooled automatic weapon, which weighs
                             approximately 80 pounds without mount or
                             ammunition; it has a sustained rate of
                             fire of 100 rounds per minute and an
                             effective range of 1,450 meters.

  Machine Gun, M-60          U. S.-built, belt-fed, gas-operated,
                             air-cooled, 7.62mm automatic weapon, which
                             weighs approximately 23 pounds without
                             mount or ammunition; it has a sustained
                             rate of fire of 100 rounds per minute and
                             an effective range of 1,100 meters.

  ____ Marines               Designation of Marine regiment

  MATCU                      Marine Air Traffic Control Unit

  Medevac                    Medical evacuation

  Mortar, 60mm               U. S.-built, smooth-bore, muzzle-loaded,
                             single-shot, high-angle of fire weapon,
                             which weighs 45.2 pounds when assembled
                             and fires an assortment of high explosive
                             and pyrotechnic rounds; it has a maximum
                             rate of fire of 30 rounds per minute and
                             sustained rate of fire of 18 rounds per
                             minute; the effective range is 2,000

  Mortar, 81mm               U. S.-built, smooth-bore, muzzle-loaded,
                             single-shot, high angle of fire weapon,
                             which weighs approximately 115 pounds
                             when assembled and fires an assortment of
                             high explosive and pyrotechnic rounds;
                             it has a sustained rate of fire of 2 rounds
                             per minute and an effective range of
                             2,200-3,650 meters, depending upon the
                             ammunition used.

  Mortar, 82mm               Soviet-built, smooth-bore, muzzle-loaded,
                             single-shot, high-angle of fire weapon
                             which weighs approximately 123 pounds
                             when assembled and fires high explosive
                             and pyrotechnic rounds; it has a maximum
                             rate of fire of 25 rounds per minute and
                             a maximum range of 3,040 meters.

  Mortar, 120mm              Soviet- or Chinese Communist-built,
                             smooth-bore, drop or trigger fired,
                             single-shot, high-angle of fire weapon,
                             which weighs approximately 606 pounds when
                             assembled and fires high explosive and
                             pyrotechnic rounds; it has a maximum rate
                             of fire of 15 rounds per minute and a
                             maximum range of 5,700 meters.

  Mortar, 4.2 inch           U. S.-built, 107mm, rifled, muzzle-loaded,
  M2                         drop-fired weapon consisting of tube,
                             baseplate and standard; weapon weighs 330
                             pounds, is 4 feet in length, and has a
                             maximum range of 4,020 meters. Rate of
                             fire is 20 rounds per minute and utilizes
                             both high explosive and pyrotechnic
                             ammunition. (Five M2s were employed at

  Mortar, 4.2-inch           U. S.-built, 107mm, rifled, muzzle-loaded,
  M98 Howtar                 mortar; a towed weapon, the Howtar is
                             mounted on a carriage with two pneumatic
                             tires. Tube and carriage weigh 1,289
                             pounds; maximum range is 5,500 meters.
                             (Two Howtars were employed at KSCB)

  M-16                       U. S.-built, magazine-fed, 5.62mm
                             gas-operated, air-cooled shoulder weapon
                             designed for either semiautomatic or full
                             automatic fire; fully loaded weighs 7.6
                             pounds, fires a maximum rate of 150-200
                             rounds per minute, and has a maximum
                             effective range of 460 meters.

  9th MAB                    9th Marine Amphibious Brigade

  9th MEB                    9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade

  NVA                        North Vietnamese Army

  O1-E                       U. S.-built, single engine, two-seat,
                             prop-driven light observation aircraft
                             built by Cessna.

  Ontos                      U. S.-built, lightly-armored tracked
                             vehicle armed with six coaxially mounted
                             106mm recoilless rifles. Originally
                             designed as a tank killer, the Ontos is
                             primarily used in Vietnam to support the

  PCV                        Provisional Corps, Vietnam

  PF                         Popular Forces

  PMDL                       Provisional Military Demarcation Line

  RC-292                     U. S.-built, elevated, wide-band, modified
                             ground-plane antenna designed to operate
                             with and increase the distance range of
                             various radio sets.

  Recoilless Rifle,          U. S.-built, single-shot, recoilless,
  106mm, M40A1               breech-loaded weapon which weighs 438
                             pounds when assembled and mounted for
                             firing; it has a sustained rate of fire
                             of 6 rounds per minute and an effective
                             range of 1,365 meters. The weapon can
                             be singly or Ontos mounted.

  RF                         Regional Forces

  RLT                        Regimental Landing Team

  Rocket, 122mm              A Soviet-built, four-piece, fin-stabilized,
                             9-foot long rocket weighing 125 pounds;
                             maximum range is approximately 17,000
                             meters. Launcher tube and mount weigh
                             121 pounds and are 8.1 feet in length.

  RPG-2                      A Soviet-and Chinese Communist-built
                             antitank grenade launcher; a smooth-bore,
                             muzzle-loaded, shoulder-fired, recoilless
                             weapon which fires a 40mm spin-stabilized
                             round. The weapon weighs 6.3 pounds, is
                             3.2 feet in length, has a muzzle velocity
                             of 84 meters per second, and an effective
                             range of 100 meters. Maximum rate of fire
                             is 4-6 rounds per minute utilizing High
                             Explosive Antitank ammunition.

  SLF                        Special Landing Force

  S-2                        Intelligence section or officer

  TA-4                       Two-seat trainer model of the A-4 Skyhawk

  TAC(A)                     Tactical Air Controller (Airborne)

  TAFDS                      Tactical Airfield Fuel Dispensing System

  Tank, PT-76                Soviet-built, 15.4-ton, amphibious tank
                             with a crew of 3; primary armament is
                             turret mounted 76mm gun and maximum
                             thickness of armor is 0.6 inches.

  Tank, M-48                 U. S.-built 50.7-ton tank with a crew
                             of 4; primary armament is turret-mounted
                             90mm gun with one .30 caliber and one
                             .50 caliber machine gun. Can be configured
                             with water fording equipment.
                             Maximum road speed of 32 miles per hour
                             and an average range of 195 miles.

  TAOR                       Tactical Area Of Responsibility

  TET                        Vietnamese Lunar New Year

  3d MarDiv                  3d Marine Division

  III MAF                    III Marine Amphibious Force

  TIO                        Target Intelligence/Information Officer

  TOT                        Time On Target

  UHF                        Ultra High Frequency

  UH-1E                      A single-engine, Marine, light
  Huey Gunship               attack/transport helicopter noted for its
                             maneuverability and firepower; carries a
                             crew of three with seven combat troops or
                             three litters, two sitting casualties and
                             a medical attendant, or 3,000 pounds of
                             cargo. It is armed with air to ground
                             rocket packs and fuselage mounted,
                             electrically fired machine guns.

  UH-34D                     A single-engine, Marine, medium transport
  Sea Horse                  helicopter with a crew of three; carries
                             16-18 combat troops or 8 litters or a
                             normal 5,000 pound payload.

  USAF                       United States Air Force

  USA                        United States Army

  USMC                       United States Marine Corps

  USN                        United States Navy

  VC                         Viet Cong

  VFR                        Visual Flight Rules

  VHF                        Very High Frequency

  Viet Minh                  The Vietnamese contraction for Viet Nam,
                             Doc Lap Nong Minh Hoi, a Communist-led
                             coalition of nationalist groups which
                             actively opposed the Japanese in World
                             War II and the French in the early years
                             of the Indo-China War.

  VMA                        Marine Attack Squadron

  VMFA                       Marine Fighter/Attack Squadron

  VMGR                       Marine Aerial Refueler Transport

  VMO                        Marine Observation Squadron

  VNAF                       Vietnamese Air Force

  VT                         Variable Timed fuze for artillery shell
                             which causes airburst over target area.




     Aug      U. S. Army Special Forces establish CIDG camp at
              Khe Sanh.


     Apr      1/1 sweeps Khe Sanh plateau during Operation

     Oct      1/3 occupies KSCB; CIDG displaces to Lang Vei.


     Feb      1/3 replaced by single company, E/2/9.

  15 Mar      Company B, 1/9, replaces E/2/9 as resident defense

  20 Apr      Combat assets at KSCB pass to operational control
              of Col Lanigan's 3d Marines which commences Operation
              PRAIRIE IV.

  24 Apr      B/1/9 patrol engages large enemy force north of
              Hill 861 and prematurely triggers attack on Khe
              Sanh; "Hill Fights" begin.

  25 Apr      2/3 and 3/3 airlifted to KSCB to counter enemy drive.

  28 Apr      After heavy prep fires, LtCol DeLong's 2/3 assaults
              and seizes first objective--Hill 861.

   2 May      LtCol Wilder's 3/3 seizes Hill 881S after four days
              of heavy fighting.

   3 May      2/3 repulses strong enemy counterattack south of

   5 May      2/3 secures final objective--Hill 881N.

  11-13       "Hill Fights" terminate with 940 NVA and 155 Marine
   May        KIA. 3d Marines shuttled to Dong Ha as 26th Marines
              (FWD) and 1/26 move into Khe Sanh.

  13 May      Col Padley, CO 26th Marines (FWD), relieves Col
              Lanigan as Senior Officer Present at Khe Sanh.
              Elements of 1/26 occupy combat base, Hills 881S,
              861, and 950. Operation CROCKETT commences.

  13 Jun      Due to increasing enemy contacts, LtCol Hoch's
              3/26 airlifted to KSCB.

  16 Jul      Operation CROCKETT terminates with 204 NVA and 52
              Marines KIA.

  17 Jul      Operation ARDMORE begins.

  12 Aug      Col Lownds relieves Col Padley as CO, 26th Marines.

  13 Aug      Due to lack of significant contact around Khe Sanh,
              Company K and L, 3/26, transferred to 9th Marines
              and Operation KINGFISHER.

  17 Aug      Khe Sanh airfield closed to normal traffic for
              repair of runway.

   3 Sep      Remainder of 3/26 withdrawn to eastern Quang Tri

  27 Oct      Air strip reopened to C-123 aircraft.

  31 Oct      Operation ARDMORE terminated with 113 NVA and 10
              Marines KIA.

   1 Nov      Operation SCOTLAND I begins.

  28 Nov      MajGen Tompkins assumes command of 3d MarDiv.

  13 Dec      LtCol Alderman's 3/26 returns to Khe Sanh because
              of increased enemy activity in Khe Sanh TAOR.

  21 Dec      3/26 conducts five-day sweep west of base and uncovers
              evidence of enemy buildup around KSCB.


   2 Jan      Five NVA officers killed near western edge of main

              Intelligence reports indicate influx of two NVA
              divisions, and possibly a third, into Khe Sanh TAOR.

  16-17       LtCol Heath's 2/26 transferred to operational control
   Jan        of 26th Marines and arrive KSCB; 2/26 occupies Hill
              558 north of base.

              ASRT-B of MASS-3 displaces from Chu Lai to Khe Sanh
              to handle ground controlled radar bombing missions.

  17 Jan      Team from Company B, 3d Reconnaissance Battalion
              ambushed near Hill 881N.

  19 Jan      While searching ambush site, patrol from I/3/26 comes
              under fire from estimated 25 NVA troops and withdraws
              under cover of supporting arms. Two platoons
              from M/3/26 helilifted to Hill 881S as reinforcements
              for I/3/26 which prepares for sweep toward
              881N the next day.

  20 Jan      Capt Dabney's I/3/26 attacks and, with the aid of
              air and artillery, badly mauls NVA battalion entrenched
              on southern slopes of 881N; 7 Marines and
              103 North Vietnamese KIA.

              On strength of testimony of captured NVA lieutenant
              that enemy attack is imminent, I/3/26 is withdrawn
              to 881S and base placed on Red Alert.

              DASC of MASS-3 displaces to Khe Sanh.

  20-21       Estimated NVA battalion attacks K/3/26 on Hill 861.
   Jan        After penetrating southwestern portion of Marines'
              perimeter, the enemy is repulsed leaving 47 dead; NVA
              reserves are hit by heavy air strikes and artillery

  21 Jan      KSCB comes under heavy mortar, artillery, and rocket
              attack which destroys main ammunition dump. NVA
              battalion attacks and partially overruns Khe Sanh
              village before CAC and RF companies drive off enemy.
              After second attack, Col Lownds withdraws defenders
              to confines of combat base.

  22 Jan      ComUSMACV initiates Operation NIAGARA to provide
              massive air support for Khe Sanh.

              LtCol Mitchell's 1/9 arrives KSCB and takes up positions
              which encompass rock quarry southwest of
              combat base.

              E/2/26 is relocated from Hill 558 to prominent ridgeline
              northeast of 861 as covering force for flank of
              2/26; E/2/26 passes to operational control of 3d
              Battalion. New position is called 861A.

  23-28       Large number of tribesmen and families are evacuated
   Jan        from Khe Sanh area to avoid hostile fire.

  27 Jan      37th ARVN Ranger Battalion arrives KSCB and takes up
              positions in eastern sector of combat base.

  30 Jan      Communists launch nation-wide TET Offensive.

   5 Feb      NVA battalion attacks E/2/26 on Hill 861A in concert
              with heavy shelling of KSCB. Enemy gains foothold
              in northern sector of Company E perimeter but is
              driven out by savage counterattack; 109 NVA and 7
              Marines KIA.

   7 Feb      Special Forces camp at Lang Vei overrun by enemy
              battalion supported by PT-76 Soviet-built tanks;
              first use of NVA tanks in South Vietnam.

   8 Feb      Some 3,000 indigenous personnel, both military and
              civilian, from Lang Vei move overland to Khe Sanh.
              After being searched and processed, several hundred
              refugees are air evacuated.

   8 Feb      A/1/9 combat outpost 500 meters west of 1/9 perimeter
              hit and partially overrun by reinforced NVA battalion.
              During three-hour battle, reinforcements drive NVA
              from Marine position and with aid of supporting arms
              kill 150 North Vietnamese; Col Lownds decides to
              abandon outpost and units withdraw to 1/9 perimeter.

  10 Feb      Marine C-130 of VMGR-152, hit by enemy fire during
              approach, crashes after landing at Khe Sanh and six
              are killed.

  Feb-Apr     Paradrops, low-altitude extraction systems, and
              helicopters are primary means of resupplying 26th
              Marines due to bad weather and heavy enemy fire.

  21 Feb      After heavy mortar and artillery barrage, NVA company
              probes 37th ARVN Ranger lines but withdraws after
              distant fire fight. It is estimated that 25-30 NVA
              were killed.

  23 Feb      KSCB receives record number of incoming rounds for
              a single day--1,307.

              First appearance of enemy trench system around KSCB.

  25 Feb      B/1/26 patrol ambushed south of KSCB; 23 Marines KIA.

  29 Feb-1    Estimated NVA regiment maneuvers to attack 37th ARVN
     Mar      Ranger positions but fail to reach defensive wire.

   6 Mar      USAF C-123 shot down east of runway; 43 USMC, 4 USAF,
              and 1 USN personnel killed.

   7 Mar      Large groups of refugees begin to filter into
              the combat base and are evacuated.

   8 Mar      ARVN patrols attack enemy trenchline east of runway
              and kill 26 North Vietnamese.

  15 Mar      American intelligence notes withdrawal of major NVA
              units from Khe Sanh area.

  23 Mar      KSCB receives heaviest saturation of enemy rounds for
              the month of March--1,109.

  24 Mar      A/1/9 patrol kills 31 NVA west of 1/9 perimeter.

  25 Mar      1/9 CavSqd, 1st ACD begins reconnaissance in force
              operations east of Khe Sanh in preparation for
              Operation PEGASUS.

  30 Mar      B/1/26 attacks enemy fortified position south of combat
              base and kills 115 North Vietnamese; 9 Marines are KIA.

              Operation SCOTLAND I terminates with 1,602 confirmed
              NVA and 205 Marines KIA; estimates place probable
              enemy dead between 10,000 and 15,000.

              Task Force KILO launches diversionary attack along
              Gio Linh coastal plain to divert attention away from
              Ca Lu where 1st ACD, and 1st Marines are staging for
              Operation PEGASUS.

   1 Apr      Operation PEGASUS begins; 2/1 and 2/3 (1st Marines)
              attack west from Ca Lu along Route 9. Elements of
              3d Bde, 1st ACD conduct helo assaults into LZ Mike
              and Cates. Joint engineer task force begins repair
              of Route 9 from Ca Lu to Khe Sanh.

   3 Apr      2d Bde, 1st ACD assaults LZs Tom and Wharton.

   4 Apr      1/5 CavSqd moves northwest from LZ Wharton and attacks
              enemy units near old French fort; 1st Battalion, 9th
              Marines moves southeast from rock quarry and assaults
              Hill 471.

   5 Apr      1/9 repulses enemy counterattack on Hill 471 and
              kills 122 North Vietnamese.

              1st Bde, 1st ACD departs Ca Lu and assaults LZ Snapper.

   6 Apr      One company of 3d ARVN Airborne Task Force airlifted
              to KSCB for the initial link up with defenders.

              Elements of 2d Bde, 1st ACD relieve 1st Battalion, 9th
              Marines on Hill 471; 1/9 commences sweep to northwest
              toward Hill 689.

   6 Apr      1st Bde, 1st ACD helilifted north of KSCB. 2/26 and
              3/26 push north of combat base; Company G, 2/26 engages
              enemy force and kills 48 NVA.

   8 Apr      2/7 CavSqd links up with 26th Marines and conducts
              official relief of combat base. 1/26 attacks to
              the west.

              3d ARVN Airborne Task Force air assaults into LZ Snake
              west of Khe Sanh and kills 78 North Vietnamese.

  10 Apr      LtGen Rosson arrives Khe Sanh and directs LtGen Tolson
              to disengage and prepare for Operation DELAWARE in
              A Shau Valley.

  11 Apr      Engineers complete renovation of Route 9 and road is
              officially opened.

              Elements of 1st ACD begin withdrawal to Quang Tri City
              in preparation for Operation DELAWARE; 37th ARVN
              Ranger Battalion airlifted to Da Nang.

  12 Apr      Col Meyers relieves Col Lownds as CO, 26th Marines.

  14 Apr      3/26 attacks Hill 881N and kills 106 NVA; 6 Marines
              are KIA.

  15 Apr      Operation PEGASUS terminated; Operation SCOTLAND II

  18 Apr      26th Marines withdrawn to Dong Ha and Camp Carroll.

  23 May      President Johnson presents the Presidential Unit
              Citation to 26th Marines and supporting units during
              White House ceremony.

  23 Jun      Although forward fire support bases are maintained in
              Khe Sanh area, the KSCB is dismantled and abandoned.
              LZ Stud at Ca Lu is selected as base for air mobile
              operations in western DMZ area.



  =A. 3D MARINES (-) (REIN)=                        24APR-13MAY67

        HEADQUARTERS COMPANY                        24APR-13MAY67

        2D BATTALION (REIN)                         26APR-13MAY67
              DET, HQBN, 3D MARDIV
              DET, HQCO, 3D MAR
              DET, B BTRY (REIN), 1ST BN, 12TH MAR
              DET, 15TH DENTAL CO
              2D CLEARING PLT (REIN), CO B, 3D MED BN
              1ST PLT (-) (REIN), CO A, 3D ENGR BN
              1ST PLT (REIN), CO C, 3D MT BN
              1ST PLT (-) (REIN), CO C, 3D SP BN
              DET, LSU, FLC

           COMPANY E (REIN)
              1ST SEC, 81MM MORTAR PLT
              FAC TEAM
              DET, MED PLT
              DET, B BTRY (REIN), 1/12
              1ST SQD, 1ST PLT (REIN), CO A, 3D ENGR BN
              DET, 1ST PLT (REIN), CO C, 3D SP BN

           COMPANY F (REIN)
              DET, H&S CO
              2D SEC, 81MM MORTAR PLT
              FAC TEAM
              DET, MED PLT
              DET, B BTRY (REIN), 1/12
              2D SQD, 1ST PLT (REIN), CO A, 3D ENGR BN
              DET, 1ST PLT (REIN), CO C, 3D SP BN

           COMPANY G (REIN)
              DET, H&S CO
              3D SEC, 81MM MORTAR PLT
              DET, MED PLT
              DET, B BTRY (REIN), 1/12

           COMPANY H (REIN)
              DET, H&S CO
              4TH SEC, 81MM MORTAR PLT
              FAC TEAM
              DET, MED PLT
        DET, B BTRY (REIN), 1/12
        3D SQD, 1ST PLT (REIN), CO A, 3D ENGR BN
        DET, 1ST PLT (REIN), CO C, 3D SP BN





     COMPANY E, 2D BATTALION, 9TH MARINES          12-13MAY67


     2D PLT (REIN), CO A, AT BN

     3D PLT, CO B, 3D RECON BN

     2D PLT (REIN), CO A, 3D TANK BN

     106MM RR PLT


     COMPANY K                                      25-27APR67
        FO TEAM, BTRY C, 1/12
        DET, H&S CO
        FAC TEAM (-)
        DET, MED PLT

     COMPANY M                                    27APR-1MAY67
        FO TEAM, BTRY C, 1/12
        SCOUT TEAM, 3/3

     COMPANY B, 1ST BATTALION, 9TH MARINES          25-27APR67




     COMPANY C, 1ST BATTALION, 26TH MARINES          5-13MAY67

     COMPANY A, 1ST BATTALION, 26TH MARINES         12-13MAY67






     1ST BATTALION, 26TH MARINES                12-13MAY67



        BATTERY F (REIN), 2/12               24APR-13MAY67
        BATTERY B, 1/12                      27APR-11MAY67
        BATTERY A, 1/12                      13MAY



        HEADQUARTERS COMPANY                       20JAN-31MAR68

        1ST BATTALION                              20JAN-31MAR68

        2D BATTALION                               20JAN-31MAR68

        3D BATTALION                               20JAN-31MAR68


  =(1) U. S. MARINE CORPS=


        CO "C", 1ST BATTALION, 9TH MARINES         23JAN-31MAR68

        1ST BATTALION, 13TH MARINES                20JAN-31MAR68

        1ST PROV, 155MM HOWITZER BTRY              20JAN-31MAR68


        DET, 3D ENGINEER BATTALION                 20JAN-31MAR68

        COMPANY "B", 3D RECON BATTALION            20JAN-31MAR68

           BATTALION                               20JAN-31MAR68

           BATTALION                               20JAN-31MAR68

        COMPANY "A" (-) 3D ANTITANK
           COMPANY (-), 3D TANK BATTALION)         20JAN-31MAR68


           BATTALION                               24JAN-31MAR68

           3D MED BATTALION                        24JAN-31MAR68


     TRANSPORT BATTALION                     20JAN-31MAR68

     BATTALION                               20JAN-31MAR68

  DET, SU#1, 1ST RADIO BATTALION             20JAN-31MAR68

  DET, 3D DENTAL COMPANY                     20JAN-31MAR68

     ISO, AO'S, STAFF AUGMENT)               20JAN-31MAR68


     3D MARINE DIVISION                      20JAN-31MAR68

  DET, 5TH COMM BATTALION                    20JAN-31MAR68

  DET, 7TH COMM BATTALION                    20JAN-31MAR68


     TEAM                                    20JAN-31MAR68

     MARINE DIVISION                         20JAN-31MAR68


     MARINE AIRCRAFT GROUP-16                15MAR-31MAR68

     3, MARINE AIR CONTROL GROUP-18          16JAN-31MAR68

     GROUP-36                                20JAN-31MAR68

     MARINE AIRCRAFT GROUP-36                20JAN-31MAR68

  =(2) U. S. NAVY=

     MOBILE UNIT-301                         20JAN-11FEB68




  =(3) U. S, ARMY=


  DET, 44TH ARTILLERY                        20JAN-31MAR68

  DET, 65TH ARTILLERY                        20JAN-31MAR68


     CHEMICAL COMPANY                         9FEB-31MAR68

     BATTALION                               20JAN-31MAR68

  =(4) U. S. AIR FORCE=

     AERIAL PORT SQUADRON                    20JAN-31MAR68

     COMBAT SUPPORT GROUP                    20JAN-31MAR68

  DET, 903D AERO MED EVAC SQDN               20JAN-31MAR68

  DET "A", 834TH AIR DIVISION                20JAN-31MAR68


  37TH ARVN RANGER BATTALION                  27JAN-1APR68



(Period covered during "The Hill Fights")


  Commanding Officer                  Col John P. Lanigan

  Executive Officer                   LtCol Jack Westerman

  S-1                                 WO Charles M. Christensen

  S-2                                 Capt Adolfo Sgambelluri
                                      Capt James D. McGowan

  S-3                                 Maj Floyd A. Karker

  S-4                                 Maj Howard L. Long

  Communications Officer              Capt Curtis G. Arnold
                                      Capt George W. Brooks


  Commanding Officer                  LtCol Earl R. DeLong

  Executive Officer                   Maj Wendell O. Beard

  S-1                                 2dLt Billy L. Heaton

  S-2                                 Capt Robert N. Bogard

  S-3                                 Capt Douglas W. Lemon

  S-4                                 Capt Robert R. Green

  Commanding Officer
  Headquarters and Service Company    Capt Stuart R. Vaughan

  Commanding Officer
  Company "E"                         Capt Alfred E. Lyon
                                      1stLt John F. Adinolfi
                                      Capt Alfred E. Lyon

  Commanding Officer
  Company "F"                         Capt Martin Sorensen

  Commanding Officer
  Company "G"                         Capt James P. Sheehan

  Commanding Officer
  Company "H"                         Capt Raymond C. Madonna


  Commanding Officer                  LtCol Gary Wilder

  Executive Officer                   Maj Rudolph S. Sutter

  S-1                                 2dLt John C. Ralph

  S-2                                 2dLt Evander R. McIver III
                                      (24Apr67-11 May67)
                                      2dLt Michael T. Montgomery

  S-3                                 Capt Thomas A. Stumpf

  S-4                                 SSgt William T. Pope
                                      1stLt John H. Admire

  Commanding Officer
  Headquarters and Service Company    Capt Robert W. Poolaw

  Commanding Officer
  Company "I"                         Capt Christian L. Harkness

  Commanding Officer
  Company "K"                         Capt Bayliss L. Spivey, Jr.

  Commanding Officer
  Company "L"                         Capt John W. Ripley

  Commanding Officer
  Company "M"                         Capt William R. Griggs



(Period covered in Presidential Unit Citation)


  Commanding Officer                  Col David E. Lownds

  Executive Officer                   LtCol Louis A. Rann

  S-1                                 1stLt Robert J. Mariz
                                      Capt Arnold R. Nelson
                                      Capt Anthony V. Latorre, Jr.

  S-2                                 Capt Harper L. Bohr, Jr.
                                      Maj Jerry E. Hudson
                                      Capt Thorvald P. E. Holm

  S-3                                 Maj Wayne M. Wills
                                      LtCol Edward J. A. Castagna

  S-4                                 Maj Aubrey L. Lumpkin

  Communications Officer              Maj John A. Shepherd


  Commanding Officer                  LtCol James B. Wilkinson
                                      LtCol Frederick J. McEwan

  Executive Officer                   Maj Charles E. Davis III
                                      Maj Howard J. McCarty

  S-1                                 1stLt Stephen A. Fitzgerald
                                      1stLt William J. Ferral

  S-2                                 1stLt Anthony E. Sibley
                                      1stLt Ernest E. Spencer

  S-3                                 Maj Bruce A. Greene
                                      Maj Charles E. Davis III

  S-4                                 Capt Robert C. Onslow

  Commanding Officer
  Headquarters and Service Company    1stLt Robert A. Brown
                                      1stLt Paul G. Lojkovic
                                      (17 Feb68-20Mar68)
                                      Capt Lajon R. Hutton

  Commanding Officer
  Company "A"                         Capt Ray G. Snyder

  Commanding Officer
  Company "B"                         Capt Kenneth W. Pipes

  Commanding Officer
  Company "C"                         Capt David L. Ernst
                                      2dLt Paul W. Bush
                                      Capt Walter J. Egger
                                      Capt Lawrence E. Seaman, Jr.

  Commanding Officer
  Company "D"                         1stLt Ernest E. Spencer
                                      Capt Edward J. Hughes, Jr.


  Commanding Officer                  LtCol Francis J. Heath, Jr.

  Executive Officer                   Maj Royce L. Bond

  S-1                                 1stLt Richard J. Gustafson

  S-2                                 1stLt Edwin R. Matthews
                                      SSgt Horace E. Roland
                                      1stLt John C. Wainio

  S-3                                 Maj Gerald F. Kurth

  S-4                                 Capt Erwin J. Martikke, Jr.
                                      Capt Earle G. Breeding, Jr.

  Commanding Officer
  Headquarters and Service Company    Capt Stanley M. Hartman

  Commanding Officer
  Company "E"                         Capt Earle G. Breeding Jr.
                                      1stLt Joseph R. Meeks

  Commanding Officer
  Company "F"                         Capt Charles F. Divelbiss

  Commanding Officer
  Company "G"                         Capt Lee R. Overstreet

  Commanding Officer
  Company "H"                         Capt Charles O. Broughton


  Commanding Officer                  LtCol Harry L. Alderman
                                      LtCol John C. Studt

  Executive Officer                   Maj Joseph M. Loughran, Jr.

  S-1                                 1stLt Edward J. Paurazas Jr.

  S-2                                 2dLt Jay G. Marks, Jr.

  S-3                                 Maj Matthew P. Caulfield

  S-4                                 1stLt Jack A. Brage

  Commanding Officer
  Headquarters and Service Company    Capt Alfred Lardizabal, Jr.

  Commanding Officer
  Company "I"                         Capt William H. Dabney

  Commanding Officer
  Company "K"                         Capt Norman J. Jasper, Jr.
                                      1stLt Jerry Saulsbury
                                      Capt Paul L. Snead

  Commanding Officer
  Company "L"                         Capt Richard D. Camp, Jr.
                                      Capt William F. Hurley

  Commanding Officer
  Company "M"                         Capt John J. Gilece, Jr.
                                      1stLt John T. Esslinger
                                      Capt Walter R. Jenkins


  Commanding Officer                  LtCol John F. Mitchell
                                      LtCol John J. H. Cahill

  Executive Officer                   Maj Joseph A. Donnelly

  S-1                                 1stLt Peter A. Woog

  S-2                                 1stLt Robert J. Arboleda

  S-3                                 Maj Edward M. Ringley
                                      Capt Charles B. Hartzell
                                      Maj Ted R. Henderson
  S-4                                 1stLt John M. Georgi

  Commanding Officer
  Headquarters and Service Company    1stLt Michael J. Walker
                                      Capt John W. Cargile
                                      Capt Edward R. Miller, Jr.

  Commanding Officer
  Company "A"                         Capt Henry J. M. Radcliffe
                                      Capt. Henry D. Banks

  Commanding Officer
  Company "B"                         Capt Robert T. Bruner
                                      1stLt Arthur N. Mangham, Jr.
                                      Capt John R. Williams, Jr.

  Commanding Officer
  Company "C"                         Capt John W. Cargile
                                      Capt Ralph H. Flagler

  Commanding Officer
  Company "D"                         Capt Don F. Schafer
                                      Capt John W. Cargile


  Commanding Officer                  LtCol John A. Hennelly

  Executive Officer                   Maj Ronald W. Campbell

  S-1                                 2dLt Daniel W. Kelly

  S-2                                 1stLt Walter K. Jones
                                      1stLt Leslie M. Palm

  S-3                                 Capt Lawrence R. Salmon
                                      Maj Gerald R. Houchin

  S-4                                 1stLt Harold P. Klunk
                                      Capt Tommy J. Hicks

  Commanding Officer
  Headquarters Battery                1stLt Ralph W. Dunn, Jr.
                                      1stLt Walter K. Jones
                                      Capt Jerome P. Rogers
                                      1stLt Jacob W. Hughes, Jr.

  Commanding Officer
  Battery "A"                         Capt Dennis L. Pardee
                                      Capt Victor B. Snider

  Commanding Officer
  Battery "B"                         1stLt George G. Wood
                                      Capt James C. Uecker

  Commanding Officer
  Battery "C"                         Capt William J. O'Connor

  Commanding Officer
  Mortar Battery                      Capt Michael T. Pierson

  Commanding Officer
  1st Provisional 155
  Howitzer Battery, 3/12              Capt Joseph Taylor
                                      Capt Stephen J. Hayes


  Commanding Officer
  Company "A", 3d AT Battalion        Capt James O. Lea

  Commanding Officer
  Company "B", 3d Tank Battalion      Capt Daniel W. Kent
                                      (       -24Jan68)
                                      Capt Claude W. Reinke

  Commanding Officer
  Company "A", 3d Shore Party
  Battalion                           1stLt Robert L. Singleton
                                      Maj Howard W. Wahlfeld

[Illustration: APPENDIX G]

The device reproduced on the back cover is the oldest military insignia
in continuous use in the United States. It first appeared, as shown
here, on Marine Corps buttons adopted in 1804. With the stars changed
to five points, this device has continued on Marine buttons to the
present day.


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