Combined Action Company Oscar
III CAG, III MAF, Khe Sanh, RVN 1967 - 1968
Dedicated to the Marines of Oscar Company,
our counterparts of the Bru tribe of the Dega people,
and to all those who served at Khe Sanh, Viet Nam
(Photo courtesy of "Doc" John Roberts.)
Rare photo of a Combined Action Company all together, taken before a large joint services operation in October 1967.
"Doc" is top row, 2nd from right, minus helmet, with glasses. Doc was our Navy Corpsman in O-2. He later joined the USMC, retiring as a captain.
The author / editor of this site is in the front row, far right, kneeling.
This site is dedicated to the men of Combined Action Company Oscar, which operated at Khe Sanh, in the former Republic of Viet Nam from February of 1967 to April of 1968, and to their native counterparts of the Bru tribe of the Dega ("Montagnard") people.
The Combined Action Program was a "hearts and minds" program which arose out of the perceived need for civic action and civil affairs programs that addressed the condition and needs of the Vietnamese people who suffered from both their own often corrupt and inefficient government and the demands of the NLF (aka "VC ") shadow" government, as well as the usual devastation and horrors of war, including "collateral damage" from all sides.
They needed more than just CARE and AID packages (most of which ended up on the black market anyway), and more than patrols of infantry sweeping through their areas, causing their own brand of havoc in the process. CAP tried to fill this gap. (For details, see CAP History)
I have long waited for someone better qualified to do this project, but as none have stepped forward, I decided to do what I could.
This project began as a short memoir, hand-written on four booklets of stationery paper, in September, 1969, in Ireland, where I was traveling after my return from Vietnam. I
originally intended to write a memoir of what I had recently seen and been involved in during my tour in Vietnam (1967-8), in an attempt to make some sense of things, and to put down what I remembered while it was still relatively fresh. Even then, I had a strong sense that what we had passed through at Khe Sanh would be part of history.
However, for many reasons, I put it aside for over 20 years.
Over the last 20 years, however, as I eventually became reunited with some of the men I served with, I decided that this should really be about all of us, not just my own experience.
It was originally written with the intention of eventual print publication, but once in print, a work becomes static. I decided in the mid-90s that the Net is a much more powerful and flexible medium. Hence the creation of this site.
The histories and stories given here are for the most part only an outline. They are told mainly from my own memories, and those of a handful of other Oscar company men who have come forward, as well as official records. Unfortunately, my memory is not what it used to be, and I was not present for all the events recounted here. Therefore, there is much that needs to be written that I cannot write alone. I hope that all of you who were there will help fill in the details. I urge all of you from Oscar who have not yet contributed, or who have more material and memoirs or stories to tell, to come forth with as much as you can - memories, letters, photos, etc. Time is growing short.
In addition to being our shared experience, there were people from other branches who were instrumental in the fight. Although Khe Sanh is often viewed as being a Marine Corps operation, members of the Army, Navy, and Air Force all contributed in their own way to the eventual repulse of the formidable PAVN (NVA) forces.
I want to take this opportunity to mention some of them. These include first and foremost our USN Hospital Corpsmen, who risked their lives for their Marines; the men of the MACV Army Advisory Team who lived in Khe Sahn ville at O-1; the Marines at Khe Sanh, and members of other services, who provided us with artillery and air support; the men of the US Army Special Forces assigned to Forward Operating Base-3 who took us and our Bru in and gave us shelter, food, clothing, and ammunition after Oscar company was ordered to abandon Khe Sanh ville. I want to personally mention CPT Harlan E. "Rip" Van Winkle and the men of ODA-221, who I had the privilege of fighting alongside, and the late Jim Stanton (COL, USMC Ret.), who flew as "covey" for us in that fight and others. There are many more, including the Army SF medics, the men of the MCB (Seabees) who helped build Khe Sanh and keep the strip open, and far too many to enumerate, even if I knew all your names -- but you know who you are.
I intend steering clear of the "rocks and shoals" of the political aspects, or "rights or wrongs" of the Vietnam war (or any war) on this site. Veterans who served well and bravely have very different views on the Vietnam war and other issues ranging across the political and philosophical spectrum. The war remains as divisive and controversial now as it was then.
I believe that the "truth" (a difficult word to pin down) probably lies (as usual) somewhere between the two extremes. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the war itself, I believe that many, perhaps most of us who served did as I did -- with the best of motives based on our beliefs and information we had at the time.
I have seen politics divide too many veterans' groups, and there are more than enough venues elsewhere to express one's political or other personal opinions or beliefs already. Therefore partisan politics and personal political opinions or comments are not going to be part of this site or story, except where they are an integral part of the story of what happened (as in the case of President Johnson's obsessive involvement with the events at Khe Sanh).
My only purpose here is to commemorate our comrades - those who fell or were wounded there, those who have died since, and those still living, and to try to tell the story of what happened as accurately and honestly as possible.
This account has been assembled from many sources - my own memoirs and recollections, those of other CAP Oscar and other service personnel, books, news accounts, oral and written official and unofficial histories, photos, etc. Where I know the source, it is credited. I will be glad to credit any currently unacknowledged sources that may be brought to my attention by the reader. These stories, histories, etc., represent the recollections and views of the individual authors and not necessarily my own.
One of my greatest online resources has been the CAP Marine website, one of the first and still the best CAP-specific site, begun and maintained by Tim Duffie. Tim's site has led to many facts and photos being published, and many comrades being reunited.
Another resource has been the CAP Unit Veteran's Association, founded and maintained over the years by Jim Duguid, Russ Longaway, Phil Ovelman, Lenny Pugliese, Fred Caleffie, and others to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude. As with Tim's work, they have helped CAP Marines reunite.
Also, the Khe Sanh Veterans' Association has been a focal point for connecting vets of that region and period. (Also see Links for other KS related sites.)
Larry Larsen of Sub Unit 5 had a section on his former site about Oscar mainly focused on the early days. SU-5 was (among other things) once the reporting unit of the fledgling CAC Oscar and other Combined Action units. Larry has contributed greatly in many ways to this site. I hope that he eventually relaunches his interesting and useful site.
These men are all to be congratulated for their work in getting Viet and CAP vets organized. Without them, we would not be able to have the connection that we do today, and this site would have been difficult, if not impossible, to produce.
Thanks are also due to LCDR Ray Stubbe, USN (Ret.) who was a chaplain at Khe Sanh. Ray was a co-founder of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association, and co-author with historian John Prados of the monumental work; “Valley of Decision” (Dell, NY, 1993), which remains the most comprehensive and authoritative work on Khe Sanh, and of "Battalion of Kings"a follow-up book about casualties at Khe Sanh. (See Bibliography)
Ray’s excellent memory and meticulous notes, along with first-hand accounts, allowed him to recreate the place and time in a way that would have been impossible for almost anyone else. His colleague Mr. Prados’ macro-historical approach and knowledge of the larger issues and situation was also a great asset. Also, Ray’s founding of and work with the Khe Sanh Veterans’ Association, like that of the CAP Vets’, enabled many of us to reconnect, and share what had happened.
It has been said that the story of Khe Sanh was like a great picture painted on glass. The glass was shattered into thousands of shards, and each one of us who was there holds a shard. Ray has made it his life’s work to re-assemble the shards, in so far as possible. He has done a great job, and has recently published a book called "Battalion of Kings" honoring those who fell and Khe Sanh or who have died since.
Each passing day brings us all closer to the Final Muster. We have already lost men, all bearing pieces of the story. Some of them have told their stories, while others have remained silent. I respect and understand this, but we need all the info we can get if the story is to be told right.
Among the most helpful Oscar Company men have been "Doc" John Roberts, the provider of many of the pictures. When we were in Nam, I used to ride "Doc" about his collection of photo gear - he customarily went out with at least 2 cameras and numerous rolls of film.
I once said to him, "Damn it, Doc, you have more camera gear than medical gear!" He replied; "Some day you'll be glad I am taking these pictures." 23 years later when we got back in touch, I had very few pictures or memorabilia of any kind of Oscar and Khe Sanh. I asked Doc when we first made contact; "Doc, have you still got any of those photos?" He had virtually all of them, plus relevant newspaper clippings his wife had saved. I reminded him of our conversation, and told him he had been right. A number of his photos appear on this site.
(Poor Doc was so afflicted by the apparently contagious "Marine Malady" from his association with us that he went on to become a Marine Reserve officer, retiring as a captain.)
Thanks also to: the late SGT Raymond Gray of O-1 for photos and info, LCPL Enrique (Rick) Valdes and LCPL George "Doc" Sargent of O-2, Dan Kelley of O-2 and 3, and SGT John Balanco of O-1, all of whom provided valuable information and photos.
I would also like to mention SSGT Bob Hall of the 26th Marines Radio Relay unit stationed at O-1. Bob was not only an early contributor of his story and photos, but was a financial contributor to help establish and maintain the original site.
Thanks are also due to Steve Sherman, former Special Forces officer (Pleiku, 1967-8), whose CD version of "Ethnic Minorities in Vietnam" (Chapter 2, the Bru), as well as his voluminous works on Special Forces and SOG have been extremely helpful. He has put together a tremendous amount of material in print and digital format utilizing many sources. Visit his web site (in Links) to order this CD and other material of interest.
I would also like to thank Mr. Pat Deering, a friend and Marine of a later generation, Mr. James Van Doren, an Army Viet veteran and friend, and Mr. Howard McKinnis, one of the defenders of O-1 in Khe Sanh village during the Tet Offensive assaults. They have all contributed in various ways to the project.
My thanks to my wife for all her hard work and assistance in typing parts of this, proofing it, and supporting the effort.
Last, but hardly least, I would like to mention the late John W. Morris, a USN veteran, who was our original webmaster, and who contributed the initial technical skills and expertise to make this and our other sites possible. He was a multi-talented gentleman with an eclectic taste and background. He will be missed.
This site is intended mainly for the use and benefit of veterans of Combined Action Company Oscar, and for their family members and survivors. Any of these may download a copy from the site at no charge for their own non-commercial use. However, as the accounts or materials are copyrighted by me or the individuals concerned, and published only for use of the veterans and their families for sole use here, please apply for permission before circulating anything found here.
Though much of the following material will be known to the CAP veteran, for the benefit of the reader who is not familiar with CAP, a synopsis of the history and origins of the program, and of Oscar company follows. I will examine the program and its origins, the terrain, climate, and people at Khe Sanh, the unit's history, and the campaign, with an emphasis on aspects not generally covered by the books on the subject, and a glossary of terms.
(Note: This site represents the result of many years of investigative work and research. I have tried to be as accurate throughout as possible, but there is no such thing as 100% perfect. In cases where I was not present, I have relied on the accounts of those who were present and / or official records, correspondence, statements from comrades, friends and family, and other sources. Statements, quotes, poems, or any material other than my own reflect the views of those who made them. Neither this author nor this site assumes any responsibility for any errata made in good faith, nor for any of the views expressed other than my own. All the photos, documents, text, and other materials are copyright, and they belong solely to the authors, photographers, etc., who retain all rights to the materials. All material is copyright, and may not be used without express written permission of the owners or their heirs and assigns. All material used with the express permission of the owners, who are named where known. Unattributed material will be attributed when the owner contacts me.)