CAC Oscar History





There are many books and articles, as well as many excellent sites with more detailed information on the events leading up to Khe Sanh.  These include th Third Marines site, which hosts an article originally from the Khe Sanh Veterans Newsletter Special Issue on the 30th Anniversary of the Hill Battles at Khe Sanh. Ray Stubbe compiled the text from official records and personal narratives of those involved, as well as  Bruce M. Geiger's excellent account on PBS and others (See Links).  However, there are relatively few about Oscar Company.  (These few include Ray Stubbe's books - see Bibliography ).  I hope to rectify these omissions to some degree. 

This history is only an outline.  It is told mainly from my own memories, and those of a handful of other Oscar company men, 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, and the official records are sparse and sometimes incorrect or incomplete.  Therefore, there is much that still 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 will be adding the personal recollections section (which was removed due to some issues) again later.  You may E-mail yours to me, and I will edit them for you if desired.  

I have recently started adding in more details and photos of the three Oscar Company platoons from both extant and recently acquired material.  Therefore, this site will be undergoing a number of additions and changes in the coming months. Unfortunately, some of the men who supplied the earlier material are no longer with us, so any of you who has relevant information or corrections are urged to get in touch if you spot any errata or deficiencies.

(All ranks, where given, are taken from MPRs and other official sources, or as given by the individuals concerned, and reflect either their highest-held rank in Oscar Co., or when they left the Marines.)


 


Foundation

During early 1967, there was heavy enemy activity in the area, but the line companies stationed at the nearby Khe Sanh Combat Base which was garrisoned by elements of first the 9th Marines, and later the 26th Marines, were getting most of the action. However, despite this activity, the Marine CO at the combat base seemed to remain unconvinced that there was a large and growing enemy presence.

However, it was determined that a Combined Action company would be established and headquartered in Khe Sanh Village (XD 846380) at the site of the 
Huong Hoa Sub-Sector HQ, 
and plans were completed with the Huong Hoa Sub-Sector Chief for the establishment of
three Combined Action Platoons (CAPs).  (SOP 031530 / Feb 67, SITREP #3)

In February 1967, the Narrative Summary of the HQ 3rd MarDiv (Rein) notes the establishment of Sub Unit # 5 at Khe Sanh.  This corresponds to the establishment of Oscar Company, and the arrival of three platoons on the morning of 5 February at 0945.  (SOP 051315Z / Feb 67)  The company was officially established in Huong Hoa 
Sub-Sector
 Headquarters in Khe Sanh Ville. (SOP 061414Z / Feb 67, SITREP #6) 

These official accounts more or less coincide with oral accounts given by the late Steve Green  (see In Memoriam ), a "plank-crew" member of O-2 (who gave a date of about 2 Feb 1967), and that of Larry Larsen of Sub Unit #5 (the original reporting command), who stated that CAC Oscar was part of Sub Unit 5 from 1 February until 15 July 1967.  (At that time they were reassigned to Sub Unit #4 which was headquartered in Phu Bai.)   

The company consisted of the HQ and 3 CAPs.  HQ / Oscar 1 was in the "downtown" section of the village near Khe Sanh Combat Base, and was located in the Huong Hoa 
Sub-Sector
 Headquarters compound, which was garrisoned by 2 platoons of the 915th Regional Force Co. (ARVN) under LT (later MAJ) Nhi Tinh (who was also the sub-sector chief).  There was also a small team of US Army advisors under MAJ James Whitenack (later replaced by CPT Bruce B. G. Clarke) for a total of approx. 178 men in the HQ compound.

Outlying units were Oscar 2 (XO 843380), on the north side of Hwy. 9 at the western end of the village, about 200 meters west of O-1, and Oscar  (XD 841408)  assigned to Ta Cong Village in Khe Sanh Valley, originally located on the South side of QL-9 approximately 800 meters south of the west end of the main Khe Sahn Airfield.



TAORs for CAC Oscar, 1967

(Courtesy of LCDR Ray Stubbe, USN Ret.) 

Originally, the company was commanded by an NCO, Sergeant Roy Williams (who has recently established communications with us - welcome aboard, SGT Williams!). 
He established the initial Oscar units in their respective areas, and began operations while awaiting an officer to be assigned. He was later replaced in command by the late 1st LT (later CPT) William T. Sermeus  (see In Memoriam), who arrived to take command sometime during the latter part of February 1967.  

1st LT Sermeus was already in command when the late SGT Raymond M. Gray  arrived in February 1967.  LT Sermeus picked Gray up, along with two men whom Ray described as "CIA" at KSCB.  They rode in a "Mighty Mite." (The M422 / A1 - a field utility vehicle somewhat like a jeep)and visited CAP O-3, en route to CAP O-1.


Other "Plank Crew" members of O-1 included: SGT Robert Funk, Victor Garfield,  LCPL Fred Harkrider,  CPL Howard Hegmann,   LCPL Charles Aaron Lynch (KIA on Hill 689 - see below and  In Memoriam ),  LCPL Johnny L. Payne, PFC Donald Powell,  LCPL Daniel L. Sanford,   LCPL Michael L. Sexson,  LCPL Jim Silver (0331 and radio) , and  LCPL Larry Woolverton (2531, radioman). (In addition to being a "plank-holder" Larry was perhaps the longest-serving member of Oscar Company). 

 (Ed. NotePerhaps some of the "plank crew" can help fill in the names, ranks, and MOSs on this list, and ID photos. )

Over the course of the next 15 months or so, they were to be joined or replaced by (in alphabetical order):  SGT John J. Balanco, LCPL William A. Breedlove, James Carpenter, LCPL Richard E. Dahler, LCPL Stanley J. Dilley, Douglas Eldridge,  CPL John F. Groman, Gary Keegan, LCPL Billy Dale Livingston (see In Memoriam), CPL John Loschelder, LCPL Howard C. McKinnis, PFC Donald Powell, LCPL Jose Ramos, LCPL Ulysses Reyes, CPL Verner Ray Russell  (see In Memoriam), PFC Charles David Stanker  (2531, radioman), LCPL Clarence E. ("Butch")  Still, LCPL George  A. Vachlin (see In Memoriam), LCPL Antonio Vera, LCPL Louis C. Whiting, and CPL James Zipler.  A number of these men, including some of the "plank crew" would participate in the ferocious fighting that accompanied the 1968 assaults on Khe Sanh village and the ensuing Siege.


 
Oscar 1

(I will soon be adding additional photos and text for O-1, 2 & 3.)



L-R:  Donald Sanford (?), Johnny L. Payne, ARVN (?) CAP O-1, Khe Sanh, RVN, 1967


Bunkers O-1, 1967
(Photo courtesy of the late SGT Ray Gray)



Jim Silver (?) rigs PRC-25 radio in Bru village near Khe Sanh, 1967 
(Photo courtesy of the late Ray Gray)



Fire Registration, O-1, Oct. 1967
(Courtesy of CPT Peter D. Haines)



Two Early Tragedies

On June 5th, 1967, CPL Carl F. Pepple 
(
see In Memoriam
of 
O-3 was killed, apparently as the result of a non-hostile
hand grenade explosion while he was on watch, but the circumstances surrounding the explosion have (to my knowledge) never been definitely ascertained.  As he was the only man on watch, we shall never know the whole story. 

In a second tragic incident, the CO, 1st LT Sermeus and SGT Ray Gray  (see In Memoriam for both) later traveled back to O-3, where the LT issued orders (perhaps originating from the Marine command at the combat base) to clear a previously laid mine field.  The NCOIC complied, though with serious reservations, as there was no map of the field.

On June 14th, CPL Craig W. Albers (see In Memoriam) lost both legs and an arm while removing mines. There was another man injured in the blast as well.  I cannot find a record of his name so far, though he may have been PFC Brian "Olds" Oldervik (see In Memoriam), who appears only on the June 1967 MPR, and was retired as a PFC - obviously a medical retirement.

SGT Ray Gray said that word of tjhe blast came while he was out on patrol with LT Sermeus.  LT Sermeus was described as being "terribly shaken" by the news and said, "That  was my fault !"  However, in the ensuing investigation, the NCOIC at O-3 received the blame, despite his having been reluctant to clear the field without a map or mine detector.  Ray described the NCOIC at O-3 as being extremely distraught as he had been close to one of the men.  However, he was relieved from duty and transferred, though I am not sure what further action, if any, was taken.  

LT Sermeus was replaced some time thereafter, though I am not sure if it had anything to do with this incident.  When I spoke with him a few years before his death, an earlier bout with brain cancer (and possibly the traumatic nature of the incident)  had left him with almost no memories of that period. 




O-3 Loses a Patrol - Ambush on Hill 689, 27 June, 1967

Meantime, Oscar company was conducting patrols and civic action work while fortifying their positions against possible assaults.

At 0830 on 27 June, 1967, CAP O-3 was ordered by the Marine command at Khe Sanh to send a patrol to investigate suspected launch sites (spotted earlier by an aerial observer) of an NVA rocket and mortar attack on the Khe Sanh base which had occurred just after midnight of the night before.  A 1 / 13 and elements of 3 / 26 (including the Battalion Aid Station) had been hit hard in the attack, incurring a number of casualties.  Although key A 1 / 13 personnel were injured and killed, they managed to mount an effective counter-battery fire and silenced the enemy fire. 

The O-3 patrol included the following men CPL Dennis Alfred O'Connor (newly arrived at Oscar Co. after an extension leave, KIA), CPL James Merrill Shepard, Jr. (patrol leader, KIA), LCPL Francisco Alberto Mazariegos (KIA), LCPL Earl Grissom (also newly arrived at Oscar Co.), LCPL WIlliam Pennock, LCPL Raymond E. Strehlow (WIA), LCPL Richard Moison, and  the unit Corpsman (most likely HN John Fisher ), all of Oscar-3, and LCPL Charles Aaron Lynch of Oscar-1, who  was visiting friends at O-3, as well as Popular Force militia from the Bru tribe, and ultimately involved losses from India and Lima Companies, 3 / 26, who were sent in support of the Oscar Company patrol. 
(Also see  In Memoriam )

The following is a first-hand account  from Earl B. Grissom, written on 1/13/09. This account was sent to me as an E-mail and I have added some notes from telephone conversations with Earl and other sources which vary slightly from his account, though overall they agree regarding the main facts.


Account of Earl  B. Grissom
 
"I can’t remember if it was late night of June 26th or early morning of June 27th when Khe Sanh started getting hammered by mortars followed by rockets. It was a bad rocket and mortar attack. I’m not sure how many rounds of each, but the attack went on for awhile.  

(Ed. Note: It was just after midnight on the morning of the 27th.)

Early that morning, June 27th, we were informed that we were going on a patrol to look for the mortar sites from the attack the night before. I can remember looking at the overlay. I noticed that one of the checkpoints was the top of a hill numbered 689 that at that time was being hammered by Phantoms. I found it strange that this patrol was going that far to a hill that was getting hit by an air strike - just to find some mortar sites. I remember me and Dennis (Dennis O’Connor) said as much and were told to shut up. 

(Ed. Note: In fairness, their NCOIC, the late SGT (later WO4) Lawrence Bosworth  (see  In Memoriam ) told me in a phone conversation some years before his death that he had already protested the assignment on the same grounds, but had been ordered by higher command to run it, so he was compelled to order the patrol against his better judgement. Unlike the Special Forces SOG, Marines generally had no say in accepting or refusing assignments.)

Things went along pretty good. We got to the top of a hill (I think the number was 521 or 561). Anyway, that is not important. It was about the third checkpoint and that’s when we found the mortar sites. The pits were freshly dug, aiming stakes still in place. Some 82 mm rounds laying around. We knew that the NVA weren’t far away. They were still air striking 689 and we started realizing we were in some deep shit.







Two views of 689 as the patrol approaches.  Note airstrike in progress in both photos.
(This picture and the one above were taken by radioman William ("Peanut") Pennock on the day of the patrol.)

(Photos and information courtesy of William Pennock)


We started off towards 689 when a spotter plane saw our patrol. I’ll never forget his call sign. It was CAT KILLER 2-6. Anyway, he flew low and dropped a canister out with his radio frequency and his exact words were……”What in the hell are you doing?” We explained and he called off the Phantoms and we started up 689.

O’Connor was walking point, followed by I think Maz (Francisco Mazariegos), then I think me, and behind me were Shep (James Shepard) and Doc (O-3's medic). I just know that us five were the first ones to top the hill. We came up on a spider trap and looking in we saw an ammo dump with mortar rounds. Cases of AK-47 rounds, RPG rounds, or B-40, whatever you like to call them. Just a lot of shit and that’s when we knew we were definitely in trouble.



The O-3 patrol approaches crest of 689. Leading two figures (near top left of hill) are probably CPL O'Connor and a Bru RF, followed by LCPL Mazariegos and another Bru RF, 
Earl Grissom, 
CPL Shepard,  "
Doc "John Fisher, "Red" Strehlow,
and their Bru RF counterparts. This photo was probably taken only minutes before the ambush was initiated.  In a few minutes, O'Connor, Mazariegos and several Bru RFs would lie dead, Shepard mortally wounded, and Strehlow seriously wounded in the chest and shoulder and left for dead in a shell-hole, with the few uninjured survivors scrambling down the hill in an attempt to evade the searing fire of the heavily entrenched NVA force (later estimated at a Bn.)  and the incoming artillery fire called in by William Pennock, who was the radioman.
(This picture and the two above were taken by William "Peanut" Pennock)

(Photos and information courtesy of William Pennock)

(Ed. Note: In a telephone conversation of May 31, 2015, William Pennock said that CPL Shepard had told them to fix bayonets just before the ambush. However, Grissom did not recall this.)

O’Connor had seen another spider trap and said he was going to go over and check it out. I guess Maz had seen something else and took off. I turned around to say something to Shep and I saw O’Connor look down into a hole and a machine gun opened up on him and it seemed like the whole hill erupted.

(Ed. Note: In a telephone conversation in January 2009, Grissom informed me that O'Connor had started to point his rifle at something, when the MG opened up. He said O'Connor was "stitched up" by the MG, and was probably dead when he hit the ground.)

I turned around and dove into a bomb crater. I crawled up to the top of the crater and was doing what I could with my blooper (M-79) and I saw Maz fighting his way back towards me taking out one gook just before he got to the crater. A few minutes later he caught an AK-47 round in the temple and he was dead before he hit the ground.

(Ed. Note: In a telephone conversation in January 2009, Grissom informed me that he was often firing almost straight up, because the enemy was so close. He said the rounds were striking so near him and Mazariegos that he feared they might be hit by them. He also informed me that Mazariegos had jumped into the crater laughing and saying; "I got two of the mother-f****rs! I got two of them!" He also commented that Mazariegos had displayed great courage in his fighting retreat to the crater, his face to the enemy and delivering accurate fire on them, resulting in at least one enemy casualty.

Grissom also said that he had warned Mazariegos against looking over the top, but Mazariegos had responded by pointing out that if they didn't, the enemy could sneak up on them.  It was on his second look that he was shot. After Mazariegos had been hit, the Navy Corpsman, "Doc" Bell, came over under fire to try to render aid, despite Grissom telling him that Mazariegos was dead. He also stated that CPL Shepard [below] was lying beside the crater rather than in it. The corpsman rendered first aid to Shepard, and assisted Grissom in hauling him down the hill.)

I turned to Shep and said…”we’ve gotta get outta here” and he said…”We can’t - I’ve been hit!” I reached down and grabbed Maz’s 16 and his magazines and got out of the crater. I couldn’t see where Shep got hit. There was no blood. Then I saw where the round had gone in right next to his neck in the soft area by the collar bone. At this time he was still alive so we tried dragging him down the hill. Doc was trying to keep him awake and alive by talking to him, however, Shep was at this point no longer responding, other than an occasional groan.  After a hundred yards or so he died. We had to leave his body, because the fire was still so heavy.

(Ed. Note: According to Bill Pennock, Shepard said; "Fix bayonets!" shortly before he was shot. Grissom does not recall this, but that is the nature of recollection, especially so long after the events.

Two other Marines had survived from the back half of the patrol and to save my life I can’t remember their names. Anyway, we got back to our C.P. and we had to go over to the main C.P. at Khe Sanh and give all the brass the run down about what happened and gave them the coordinates of the ammo bunker, etc.

I’m sure that there is more to this than what I have written. As time goes on I’m sure more will be revealed to me but what I have written down here is a true and accurate statement from a survivor of the ambush on Hill 689 at Khe Sanh – So Help Me God."

Semper Fi,

Earl Grissom

 
The survivors were unable to reach the KIA and wounded, except for one WIA who died en route to the camp. 
 (I am unsure if this was Shepard, Lynch, or a Bru RF.) 
 After the artillery fire, two men attempted to sweep the hill for our WIA and KIA, but were driven back.  The remnants of the patrol were forced to retreat, leaving two Marines and one Bru PF on the hill, status MIA.  The survivors fell back toward their compound, where elements of the other CAPs were mustering a relief column.

The relief column from O-1 and O-2 was dispatched, but they were unable to gain the hill, being driven off by heavy fire and hampered by the refusal of the Bru RFs [native militia] to ascend the hill. (The Bru usually knew when things were going to be very bad - their senses were much finer tuned than those of most of the Americans.)

Earl Grissom left the unit shortly after this action.  In a telephone interview with Grissom in January 2009, he said that when the survivors got off the hill, he heard that Lynch and another man he knew only as "Red" had been KIA also.  Aside from Lynch I had found no record of any other Oscar KIAs than those given.  

However, that problem was solved when I located and re-connected in 2015 with some of  the other survivors, William Pennock, Richard Moison, and Raymond E. ["Red"] Strehlow, who filled in some of the rest of the story, and are in the process of hashing out their respective recollections, which will be published here as soon as they become available. In general, their stories agree with Grissom's. 

Pennock and Moison were the Marines at the back of the patrol who had survived the initial slaughter.  Raymond ("Red") Strehlow, who Grissom had long believed was KIA, had survived, but was seriously wounded (shot in the chest and shoulder) and dropped into a shell-hole where he lay alone, wounded and bleeding, all night. He was not recovered until the assaults of India and Lima companies (3/26) cleared the hill on the following day, having survived his serious wounds, the NVA, repeated and heavy air strikes and artillery shellings, and the subsequent assaults by India and Lima 3/26. l. It must have been an intensely lonely and terrible ordeal.  

"Doc" Bell also survived, but we are unfortunately not in touch with him at this time.

Later, according to Grissom, a CPT named Hall from Hotel Co. (A CAC near Hue) came to Khe Sanh and investigate, speaking to the survivors. He asked them why they left the radio frequency with Oscar, and was of the opinion that the disaster was entirely due to leaving the frequency. They explained about the spotter, but were ignored by CPT Hall, who apparently sought to lay the entire blame for the disaster at the door of the men who had been ordered to perform it against their collective better judgement - a not untypical response from some in command when things go awry. It seems clear he was there to assign blame to the survivors, who had done their best under extremely difficult circumstances and great odds.

In my professional opinion, that officer (and those who sent him) were fools or ignorant of the realities of combat, because no amount of "radio contact" could have offset what was essentially an ill-conceived, unnecessary, and in essence a suicidal mission - sending a small, lightly armed CAP unit patrol, with no supporting arms, against a numerically and tactically superior, heavily-armed, well-entrenched and obviously determined enemy force that was not dislodged until two full rifle companies with weapons platoons and supporting arms were sent up the hill - and even then, losing many KIA and WIA in the process.



Account of SGT Raymond Gray

At this point, CAP 1 & 2, who had been on separate patrols,  had finished their patrols and were on their way home.  They had come together and linked up approximately 1600.  The Marines, hearing of their comrades’ peril, immediately took off at a run, ignoring the danger of another ambush in their haste to relieve their friends.  

The late SGT Ray Gray told me in a telephone conversation shortly before he died;  

"Tempers flared from the heat and tension and worry about our friends' fate.  We got to the CAP 3 village (Ta Con) on the access road to KS.  We gathered the Bru to go up the hill, and HQ called and said not to go up, because they were going to shoot up the hill with air and arty.  From what I remember, it took them about 5 days to clear the hill.”

(Ed. Note: Acc. to LCOL "Tony" Anthony and the other members of I & L companies of 3/26 who were involved, they had actually cleared the hill by the 27th.)

Ray then went on R & R to Hawaii, catching the last flight out of KS for about a week.  He came back afterwards and resumed doing what he had been - patrolling, ambushing, LPs, civic action, etc.  He had one more tight encounter.

We got hit about last part of August, right before I left. Suddenly, every flare in our line went off, and the wire was full of gooks.  I had the machine gun (a Browning .30 AC), and opened up. Everyone fired their "mad moment" and finally the enemy withdrew.  They didn't leave a single body! The rush from a firefight is almost sexual."

(Ed. Note: 
Ray passed away in March 2005 from illnesses probably related to his exposure to Agent Orange, but was unable to get recognition from the VA for this condition. 
See:  
 In Memoriam )



Assault on Hill 689 by India, Lima, and elements of H&S Companies, 3 / 26 



Photo of the assault on Hill 689 by 3/26

(Photo by and used courtesy of Ray Palmer of D 1/26)

Meantime, India 3/26, commanded by CPT M. E. Coulter, was returning to KSCB from a patrol,  when it was ordered instead to Hill 689 to assist the CAP patrol.  It was later joined by Lima 3/26, elements of which had been air-lifted in by chopper. Despite being well-equipped and manned line infantry companies with supporting arms capabilities, they incurred heavy casualties KIA and WIA from the well-entrenched enemy forces (later estimated at two reinforced NVA companies). These losses included two officers and a SNCO KIA at the hill fight, and other casualties at the unit HQ at KSCB from incoming mortar fire. 

At the end of the fighting, CAP O-3 had suffered 4 KIA, and 3/26 had lost 14. 
 In addition, one of the WIA, LCPL Charles  M. Gattis died of wounds on July 5th, raising the toll to 19.

According to the 3/26 Command Chronology, the enemy had sustained an estimated 91 KIAs. (I do not have figures for their WIA or POWs, though some are listed in the accounts below.)

There are also first-hand reports of the action and related events in LCDR Ray W. Stubbe's "
Battalion of Kings" (2nd ed.  
pp. 85-88
).  

Below are first-hand accounts of the action by participants of the assault forces from India and Lima 3/26.



(Ed. Note: In the following accounts, the term Platoon Leader and Platoon Commander are used interchangeably.  This reflects both a change in the official terminology at the time and two styles of leadership. Due to the high casualty rates among officers assigned to platoons, their title was changed from "Platoon Leader" to "Platoon Commander." This seemingly insignificant change reflected the concept that if officers "led from the front" in the ancient warrior tradition, they were more subject to being wounded or killed, thus fracturing the command structure, and jeopardizing the success of the mission.  The idea was that the officer would "command" the troops as opposed to "leading" them.  However, some officers had the "lead from the front" mind-set and personality, and found it difficult to assume the role of "commander.")  


Account of LTCOL "Tony" Anthony (then serving as 2nd Platoon Leader, India Company, 3 / 26)

In an E-mail dtd. February 10, 2009 12:05:05 PM PST, LTCOL Anthony wrote:

(Author's Note: "The following account is of my involvement with Hill Battle 689, located in the Khe Sanh area of Vietnam, on June 27, 1967.  Everything is from memory as I have no written correspondence on which to rely for names etc. All rosters etc. were lost at some point in one of my many moves while making a career of the Marine Corps and at this point in my life, at 72, memory is not what it used to be." --  C. T. Anthony, LtCol USMC (Ret) )
 
My name is LtCol. C.T. ("Tony") Anthony, USMC (Ret) and on June 27, 1967 I was a 2nd Lt. assigned as Platoon Leader for the 2nd Platoon, India, 3/26.  I joined "I" 3/26 sometime in May while the Battalion was operating in the Phu Bai TAOR.  The CO of the Company at that time was Capt. Mallard.  I was assigned as Platoon Leader for the 2nd Platoon relieving 1st LT. Bob Stimson who I believe became the Company XO.  Prior to joining 3/26, I had been a SSgt. Platoon Sergeant and Platoon Leader with Delta 1/26 from December 66 and after being commissioned on April 17, 1967 worked with the 15th Counter Intelligence Team in Dong Ha for approximately 30 days before joining 3/26.
 
For India Company, 3rd Battalion 26th Marines, events leading up to that battle began on the evening of June 26, 1967.  The Company had been in the field and returned to the Base Camp and had been assigned a defensive sector for Khe Sanh Combat Base.  This was standard operating procedure in that when not in the field, units would be assigned a sector of the Combat Base to defend.  That evening of the 26th, the 1st platoon was assigned to send out a squad size security ambush.  The squad moved to their ambush site and later that evening, the Combat Base received some incoming rockets and our artillery returned fire to suspected NVA rocket sites.  At some point, we learned that the squad from 1st Platoon had taken incoming fire and had casualties to include one  very seriously wounded and needed an emergency medevac to try and save his life.  A helicopter attempted to make the medevac but was shot down.  We later learned that the seriously wounded Marine died. 
 
At first light, our Commanding Officer, Captain Coulter, informed me that the other two squads from 1st platoon and my platoon would be going out to the ambush site and from there would continue to look for sites from which the NVA rockets had ben fired.  He and his Command Group would be with us.  2ndLt. Dale Allen was Platoon Leader for the 1st Platoon and  had recently had a cyst removed from his upper back.  He was on light duty and was not supposed to go back in the field until the wound had healed as infections were always a serious problem but he insisted on going with the platoon.  He wanted to be with his Marines.
 
We departed the Base and while en route to the ambush site, I was told that our mission had changed and that we would be going to Hill 689 where Marines from the CAC Company in Khe Sanh Village had run into trouble and were taking heavy casualties. We changed our route of march and moved toward Hill 689.  

India 3/26 en route to Hill 689

(Photo courtesy of Steve Greene of India 3/26)

Once we reached the base of the hill we encountered heavy elephant grass with its razor sharp edges and that, combined with it being very hot, made movement very difficult.  We were in a column and in  order to move through the grass the point man had to use a machete to cut through the razor like grass.  My platoon was in the point, so because of the heat and heavy grass, we had to change the point man with great frequency.  

We continued up the hill through jungle like terrain and although we couldn't see it, we could hear a plane circling above the Hill and the AO was giving Capt. Coulter updates on enemy activity on the hill as we moved up the objective. 

Sometime after noon, we finally reached a point near the top of the hill where we were halted. No artillery or air support could be used as no one was sure of the status of the CAC Marines on the hill.  

Still under cover of the jungle canopy,  Capt. Coulter called Dale and I back to where he was located in the column.  He issued us a quick frag order and assigned the right hand portion of the hill to my platoon and the left side of the hill to the 1st Platoon.  There was a saddle separating the two parts of the Hill.  He further indicated that he had received reports of numerous NVA troops on the hill.  



CPT Coulter briefing LT Anthony, SSGT Burton and others. 

(This photo may have been taken after the assault.)

(Photo courtesy of Steve Greene of India 3/26)

I went back to my platoon and called the squad leaders together and issued them a frag order.  Because this was the first time during my time in Vietnam in which we were going to be able to assault an objective using normal Marine tactics, I had the Marines drop their packs and fix bayonets with instructions to assault as they had been taught, walk up the hill firing from the hip even if not receiving any fire and when near the crest, continue firing and double time over the crest and set in a hasty defense.  Looking back at that day now, I think that the dropping of the packs and allowing the 2nd platoon Marines to assault as they had been taught in ITR were both very helpful in our eventual success in accomplishing our assigned mission.
 
We moved out of our covered positions and using the V formation with two squads on line and one bringing up the rear we started advancing up the hill.  At the same time Dale moved his platoon to our left and started moving up the hill on that side.  

As 2nd Platoon moved up the hill we didn't initially receive any resistance but nearer the top, spider holes started opening and soon we were taking heavy fire and Marines began getting wounded.  The Marines of 2nd Platoon never stopped but responded with heavy return fire and continued their advance until they had taken our portion of the objective.  

During the assault, lots of stuff was happening with several being  wounded and one later became a KIA.  I recall an instance where a spider hole opened and a grenade was thrown out wounding my radio operator and slightly wounding me. I directed the nearest Marine to throw a grenade into the hole which eliminated that threat.  At that time I had LCpl Peavey become my radio operator. All these actions were taking place as we tried to secure our portion of the hill.  To say it was confusing would be putting it mildly!
 
The wounded Marine who later died was, I believe, LCpl Alejandro R. Godinez. He wasn't killed immediately but died while being treated.  He had been shot in the leg and the bullet had hit the artery and the bleeding couldn't be stopped.  I saw the Corpsman treating him and tried to encourage him but he appeared to pass out as I talked to him.    
 
While consolidating our position and attempting to redistribute ammo, get casualty reports etc., I learned over the radio that the 1st platoon had run into serious trouble and was pinned down with several casualties and unable to advance to secure their portion of the Hill.  I then got one of my machine gun teams to move to the left flank of our position where they could support the 1st platoon by fire.  This was done but 1st platoon still remained pinned down.  About that same time, I learned that Lima Company was coming in by choppers and would be landing to our front and would be advancing from the other direction to secure 1st platoon's portion of the Hill.  As soon as they landed, they too started taking heavy fire.  During all of this time, there was a lot of confusion and firing going on but the Marines of 2nd platoon performed superbly under  the leadership of outstanding NCOs.
 
Lima Company eventually took the other portion of Hill 689 but suffered several casualties to include the Company Commander being killed and one of the platoon leaders being seriously wounded.  1st platoon took heavy casualties including the death of my friend, Dale Allen.  Dale had not been in country very long and this was probably his first real fire fight.  Of course, that probably could have been said about many Marines who were there that day.
 
Once Lima Company had secured their portion of the objective, medevacs were made with the most serious going out first and for some of us who had suffered slighter wounds, flown back to the Aid Station at the Combat Base, treated and then returned to the Hill.



Top of Hill 689 after the Fight

(Photo courtesy of Steve Greene of India 3/26)

 
Upon my return to the Hill I noted that more units from the Battalion to include the Battalion Command Group had arrived on the Hill. That evening, Mike Company, as I recall, moved through our lines and assumed defensive positions.  Also that evening, a General from 3rd Marine Division, I believe it was the Assistant Division Commander, flew out to the Hill and complimented the Marines on an outstanding job.  Of course, because of the many casualties, not many of us were thinking about it as being an outstanding job.  All we could think about was those who had been killed or wounded and wondered who of the wounded who been lifted out would make it.  That was one of the strange anomalies of that War in that most times you didn't have time to dwell on the casualties as they were medevaced out so quickly, you didn't know who lived or who died.  We always wanted to believe that most of them had survived.  But in retrospect, yes it had been an outstanding job on the part of the Marines who fought that day, many of whom fought their last battle.  They fought as Marines have always fought with mission accomplishment in mind and for each other as brother Marines.  They have the right to be proud of what they did that day.



Chopper Carrying Bn. Command Group

(Photo courtesy of Steve Greene of India 3/26)




CPT Coulter briefs 3 / 26 Bn. Command Group on Hill 689 after the assault.

(Photo courtesy of Steve Greene of India 3/26)

The next day,as I remember, we mopped up the area and found several NVA bodies but also found one living wounded who was brought back to me.  He smelled horribly and was high on self medicated pain meds and had to be carried.  When he saw me, he spit in my face.  We then turned him over to the Company who in turn turned him over to the Battalion S-2.  We then stayed in the field operating until returning to the Combat Base around the 4th of July.  After June 27, no significant contact was made that I can recall.



Wounded NVA

(Photo courtesy of Steve Greene of India 3/26)



Clean-up after fighting on 689

(Photo courtesy of Steve Greene of India 3/26)
 
No awards were issued to Marines from India Company that I know of for actions that day but many Marines performed over and above that which would normally be expected under those conditions.  I heard later that of the recommendations for awards which had been submitted , they were rejected on the basis that these Marines were just doing what was expected of a grunt Marine. Maybe they were right but I saw Marines decorated for far less than what I saw Marines do that day.  As was said about the fighting on Iwo Jima, "Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue".  That too was true of those Marines who fought on Hill 689, June 27, 1967.



Account of Robert E. Stimson, XO, India Company 3/26 on Hill 689

Bob Stimson was India CO. XO, and replaced Dale Allen as 1st Plt. commander when Allen was KIA on Hill 689. In an E-mail dated 1/10/2009 9:49:50 A.M. PST, Stimson wrote:   Good morning Tony. Appears accurate and complete, as far as I can remember. Well done. The little bit I can add follows:

As company XO, I was at the rear of the column coming up the hill. When I reached the top, both 1st and 2nd Platoons were heavily engaged on their respective portions of the Hill 689 saddle. Immediately upon arriving at Captain Coulter's position, he told me 2nd Lt. Allen was "down" (extent not clear at that point) and that he wanted me to take over command of the 1st platoon.

It was about a 20 meter run across the crest of the hill to the 1st Platoon; very difficult, up, down, run some more, zig zag but LCpl Schaeffer (radio man) and I finally made it. The situation I found when I got there was chaotic, i.e. Platoon Commander 2nd Lt. Allen KIA, Platoon Guide Sgt. Bailey severely wounded, Squad Leader Corporal DiCesare KIA, other KIA/WIA as well, no tactical integrity to speak of (too many casualties), heavy, very accurate fire from the NVA. After some time, I found the Platoon Sgt. (can't remember his name) but he appeared to be injured as well so I moved on. 

We didn't have much to work with. I was finally able to get the remaining men into more or less of a skirmish line and as best we could began engaging the NVA with rifle fire and hand grenades (LCpl Lindsay, later KIA on 10 Sept., displaying exceptional fortitude in partially standing and kneeling throwing his grenades with great accuracy and effect). 2nd Platoon on the other part of the hill also began supporting us with machine gun fire which was welcome to be certain.
 
At that point I was beginning to request mortar/artillery fire from the Captain, the intention being to follow with an assault on the NVA positions. He told me rather to maintain our position as relief (I believe Lima Co.) would be coming up the hill on our left flank. This we did.

You've covered the rest of it in your recollections so I will leave it at this point. Hill 689 was a violent affair to be sure. The NVA were as tough as I had ever seen them and their fire as intense as anything I'd experienced. The 1st Platoon Marines did their jobs under very difficult circumstances in a highly professional and exemplary manner.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Best regards,

Bob


 
Account of Frank McCarthy, Platoon Commander of 3rd platoon, Lima Company 3/26, wounded on Hill 689

On the night of 26 June, Lima Company was in the field on a search and destroy operation; I believe, south of Rt. 9. By the morning of the 27th we had been in the field for more than a week and were looking forward to our return to the base for a hot meal and showers. On the morning of 27 June we were to rendezvous with a truck convoy on Rt. 9 for transportation back to the Khe Sanh combat base. During the early morning hours of the 27th the base had been pounded by a persistent NVA mortar attack.

Immediately upon our arrival back at Khe Sanh we received orders to have the troops report to the LZ and officers and staff NCO’s to report to the Battalion S3 to receive a briefing and operation order. During the briefing, we were informed that a Combined Action Unit had been ambushed on hill 689 and that four Marines were MIA. The CAP unit believed they knew where the mortars came from that hit the base that morning. Also, India Company, who was in the immediate area to the north of 689, was attempting to reach the crest of the hill but was taking very heavy fire from the NVA unit dug in on the crest. We were told that India Company was taking heavy casualties. The OP order had Lima Company land by helicopter on the opposite side of 689 and assault from the south in order to relieve the pressure on India Company. Artillery and/or air strikes were out of the question due to the fact that we did not know the location of the four missing Marines. 

My platoon was assigned as the assault platoon. Upon arrival it was determined, due to the steepness of the hillside, that there was no suitable landing area. We were forced to jump from the helicopters while they hovered above the elephant grass growing on the slopes of 689. Not knowing how deep the elephant grass was made the jump a problem. We were only several feet above the top of the grass but did not know if the grass was four feet high or one foot high...needless to say the landing drove a few knees into a few stomachs. While in the air I made a mental note of the terrain...Also, we had been on that very same hill just a week or so earlier. There was a high point to the left as one faced the ridge...I wanted to use it to set up a base of fire with one squad plus machine guns and assault with the remaining two squads. I was, instead, ordered by the CO to make a frontal assault immediately with all three squads. It took few minutes to cross a gully and maneuver the platoon into position to assault. While doing that I changed the frequency on my radio and called the India Company Commander. I asked if he had a 3.5 rocket launcher handy...He answered “affirmative.” I asked him to fire a white phosphorous round at the NVA strong point. In just a few seconds when the round went off I asked if it was a good hit. The answer again was in the affirmative. I requested that India Company cease fire and immediately began the assault.

It seemed, at the time, that the actual assault took only a few minutes. As we reached the top of the ridge and made our way to the far side, the silence became deafening. I immediately began to establish a defensive perimeter. As we crossed the ridge we found two of the missing Marines on the crest...they were both KIA.

I began to follow a wire up the ridge...soon I was face to face with a Chinese Claymore mine. I turned and traced the wire the other way. It soon disappeared into a spider hole. I fired two rounds from my 12 gauge into the hole and pulled the cover off only to find a dead NVA soldier with the trigger to the claymore in his hands. Within a short time the Company Command group arrived on the hill. Soon after a Marine fired a pistol into a hole in the ground believing that the green at the bottom was a NVA uniform. The hole exploded with a roar...the Marine who fired the shots was very seriously wounded. I believe the Claymore was supposed to be the signal, however, when the hole exploded it was mistaken to be the signal and the NVA came out of their spider holes and began firing which soon, due to the close proximity, in many cases, turned into hand-to-hand combat. Within seconds I was informed that my Company Commander (Captain Bynum) was wounded. I began to make my way to Captain Bynum but was wounded myself within the first fifty meters. Again, within just a short span, the top of the hill fell silent again. A search of the area soon found the remaining two MIA Marines. Again, they were both KIA. In fact, the NVA who shot me in the back from his spider hole, and was soon thereafter killed, had two M-16s in his hole with him. I believe they must have belonged to the CAP Marines. It was dark before we were finally evacuated to Khe Sanh. Captain Bynum died soon after arrival there...I was evacuated to Danang and then to the Hospital Ship USS Sanctuary where I remained for more than two months.   

Also...The missing KIA mentioned was Lima Company’s artillery forward observer. The two Marines...PFC Brent and Williams were members of my platoon killed during the assault and subsequent hand to hand combat. Finally, I do not believe that the photograph representing Captain Bynum is, in fact, Captain Bynum. I could be wrong...but it does not look anything like what I remember Captain Bynum looking like. 

I hope this sheds some light on the assault of hill 689.

Semper Fi
Frank McCarthy
Maj. USMC Ret.


(Ed. Note: CPT Bynum's picture was verified by at least one of his men. It is possible that MAJ McCarthy's memory of him is as he was in Vietnam, whereas the picture shown on the In Memoriam page looks like one taken at OCS. I submit that we all changed considerably after a short time in country, dropping a lot of weight, becoming tanned, and acquiring the look of what we had become - combat Marines.)



Account of  LCPL Michael J. Padula, 2nd Platoon, I Company 3/26


(Submitted to LTCOL "Tony" Anthony, edited by F. J. Taylor)


I really don’t remember the night that preceded our patrol to 689.  I didn’t know where we were going or why.


I do remember seeing gooks running on top of a hill. However, I didn’t realize it was the hill we were about to assault.  As such, I had no fear or apprehensions.  My lack of knowledge created a false impression so that I was unfazed by the coming assault.


2nd platoon was in the lead as we started up the hill.  It was Molina, Heller, you, then me. I remember clearly shrapnel blowing through the canopy the closer we got to the top.  Molina had difficulty in pulling the pin on the smoke grenade which would mark our position.


You gave the order to fix bayonets.  The clasp on my bayonet was pretty much rusted shut.  I had to open it with my teeth.  Once I placed the bayonet on my rifle I totally grasped the situation.  


As we crested the hill, 2nd platoon turned right and the 1st turned left.  Almost immediately, Heller & Molina were wounded by a hand grenade thrown from a spider hole.  You spotted the hole and told Corky Dill and myself to eliminate the gook.  I covered Dill who I believe shot through the top of closed spider hole, then rolled a grenade into the hole.  If we had any other casualties at this time, I do not remember.


It appeared that we were being attacked from our immediate front and right flank.  You ordered one squad forward and one to right.   I and the rest of my squad stayed adjacent to you and the radio.  It is probably at that time I learned that Lima Company was coming to join the fight.


Within minutes one of the men sent to front position came running back.  He was wounded in the arm and advised you that all the other Marines were either dead or wounded.


You then ordered me and a 3 man machine gun section to that position.  I believe the gunners name was Ellis or Ellison.  If I remember correctly he had crooked teeth.  I used to call him Snaggle Tooth.  We got into position and just waited.    


In short order I remember men coming through the high elephant grass. They were waving at us.  Initially we thought it was Lima Company.  As they got closer, we realized it was an assault.  It seemed like a million, but it was probably closer to 20 or 30.


For some odd reason I remember being in the sitting position and shooting at the gooks.  I was sweating so profusely that my glasses slipped off my head.  I kept firing at figures not men.  I changed magazines several times.  During one of the changes my rifle jammed. I cleared my weapon and resumed firing.  However, I was in an extreme panic state while un-jamming my rifle.


All of a sudden, it was quiet.  We waited for a second assault that never came. 


I crawled to of one of the Marines who had initially been sent to the position.  He was wounded in the foot and ankle.  Before I could do anything the Marine yelled that there was another gook running back towards the elephant grass.  From the kneeling position I shot and hit the gook in the back just below his head with a tracer. 


I was stunned. I remember that my mouth and eyes were wide open. I looked at the wounded Marine, who just shrugged his shoulders.  This incident seemed to have taken place in slow motion.  Ellis’ accuracy was the main reason for our success.


Almost immediately after this I was joined by Dill, a big Mohawk Indian named Brooks from upstate NY.  I don’t remember the 3rd man.


For some unknown reason we counter-attacked.  We captured a machine gun from a position, which had been knocked out by Snaggle Tooth.  We kept firing at the gooks; however I honestly don’t believe we hit any of them.


We then observed Sgt Burton signal us to come back.  While doing so we came upon a wounded gook.  I placed my weapon on automatic and shot him from his crotch to the head, Dill did the same.


After returning to our position believe Frenchy (Marcel DeSaulnier) & I observed the 1st platoon in action on the opposite ridge.   


I remember being hungry and shared pound cake with someone.  I told this Marine that I felt bad that killing someone didn’t bother me.  He told that is B.S. for the movies.  To this day, it still doesn’t bother me.


As we were getting reorganized I remember you on the radio.  The Medivac pilot was questioning you why the number of casualties had increased since the initial alert.  You told him to come over and find out.


I don’t remember how many choppers came in. I don’t remember placing anyone on the choppers.  I do remember all the dead begin collected in one area.  I don’t know when they were removed, nor did I help place them on a chopper.


Marcel (Frenchy) was very upset that his best friend Tony DiCesare had been killed.  He was a nice guy from Jersey. 


That night I and another Marine were in a hole.  The elephant grass was thick and there was a fog or haze.  Periodically during the night some Marines would throw a grenade.  I remember neither one of us slept.  It was a long night.


I don’t know if the next incident occurred immediately after the firefight or the next day.  Santana captured a big Chinese adviser, who had been wounded.  I couldn’t believe how big the guy was.


The next morning there was brass coming in from every place.  Due to their presence we had to policy the area.  This just annoyed the hell out of me.


Don’t remember how we got off the hill or when.  Do remember when we got back to Khe Sanh there was a memorial service.  My two closes buddies, Heller and Molina had been medivac’d out.




Account of Thomas F. Peavey, 2nd Platoon, I Company 3/26 


(Submitted by then LCPL Padula on 2/28/2008 at 8:51:08 P.M. PST to LTCOL "Tony" Anthony, edited by F. J. Taylor)

 

Dear Tony,

 

I remember the night before a few of us were singing and that is when the rockets started coming in to the air strip. I don't know for sure where they landed but it sure woke everyone up. 


The next day they sent 1st and 2nd plts out toward 689 and 3rd plt went up to 918 and started to search that ridge line. I remember we were looking up toward the hill where we were heading and we saw the NVA running across the saddle from the right to the left, and everyone was getting excited. I also remember that we had to keep shooting off pop flares so the jet air craft would not bomb us. 


I remember we came to the edge of the jungle and you told everyone to fix bayonets and that this is where we earned our combat pay. Then you said follow me and took off in a run up the last 25 to 30 meters and we followed you and then we hit the top we got on line there were only 5 of us then as far as I know. You, your radioman (name escapes me), Mo, Cpl Williams and myself we started to sweep forward and that's when Mo, Cpl Williams and your radioman were wounded and then the rest of the plt came up behind us.  Then that NVA tried to run down the opposite side of the hill and everyone was yelling kill the bastard and they did. Then you gave me the radio and told me to watch the tree line over to the right  and you took off with the rest of the plt. Then you came back got me and we went back toward where the plt was and came across that small fighting hole in the tall grass and you told me to frag it and I did, but got knocked down by the blast but was ok and you ran up and pulled me back to my feet and asked if I was ok. That is about all I can tell you, except you should have gotten a Medal that day you was everywhere. Thank God we had you for a PLT LDR

 

Thomas F. Peavey





Account of  Teruo ("Skosh") Yorita,  H & S Company, 3/26


(From a series of E-mails from the late Teruo ("Skosh") Yorita  [see In Memoriam] of I 3/26, to F. J. Taylor.)


"I was assigned to India Company as a Bn. Radio Operator (2533), from 3/26 H&S, humping those hills and in this particular action, we had to climb a steep hill (one step up, two steps sliding down type) to get to the CAC unit, in trouble.  I think Lima was helo lifted, but can't be sure. All I know is that India took number of casualties, including 6 or 7 KIA.  I believe Lima 6 (Ed. Note: the CO) was KIA, as well.

 

One of the KIA from India Company happened to be a Hispanic Marine named Alejandro Godinez from L.A.  


Alex is one of the few Marines I remember well, as a friend and a comrade in arms.  We had some mutual acquaintances in East LA and I got to know him fairly well, although you don't want to make friends with too many people, as the loss is more than painful, to say the least.  However, in case of Alex, we talked about the Roosevelt High, his religious upbringing and school.  I believe he was a member of the "White Knight" (?) 


His death has affected me to this day, though mostly my memories of him were pleasant, as he still lives in my heart and mind, until the day I depart this world.  


He died in my arms, despite my very best efforts to revive him with CPR (Mouth to Mouth) while Doc worked on heart massage.  He lost a lot of blood from his wound and he just went into shock.  Based on the wound, I do not think he would have made it, unless he received transfusion, immediately.  Alex's last word was a cry for his mother, as he was dying.  I guess its true, when you are about to pass from this world, you do cry out for the loved one.

 

What I do remember is that when one of our guys flushed out the "sniper" who was getting to many of our guys, and was immediately "blasted" by many M-16s.  I am very ashamed to admit, I cheered, like during a Football games, when we finally got him.  I guess I have to live with that memory, for rest of my life.

 

So much for my war story.  Although difficult, I finally was able to face my "Demons" and am now fairly active in Veteran's activities, including Marine Corps Support Unit, here in Seattle, Wa. area."





Summer, 1967 

Things became relatively quiet for Oscar Company after the action on Hill 689, despite the enemy build-up that was clearly going on in the area.  Patrols, LPs (listening posts) and ambushes were being run, and some contact was made.  However, as noted in Ray Gray's account, there was only one significant assault on the Sub-District HQ / O-1 compound, in late August 1967, which was beaten back. (In retrospect, this may have been an attempt by the NVA to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of the garrison, and a "dress rehearsal" of the attack that was to come on January 21st, 1968.)

The following is mainly based on conversations with Ray Gray and other members of Oscar Co. who were there at the time, and by personal recollections of the time after I arrived.  I would be glad to have someone who was there help fill in the gaps.

Oscar went through several officers during this period,  although I am not certain of the exact sequence or chronology, but here is what I believe was the sequence - however, I am open to correction.

As noted, the unit was originally commanded by SGT Roy Williams. He established O-1, followed quickly by O-2 and O-3.  He was replaced later in February 1967 by LT William Sermeus, who was still in command as of mid-to-late June 1967.  (I am unsure if LT Sermeus was a 1st or 2nd LT at this time. He later made CPT.)

LT Sermeus was replaced by 1st LT Ernest Elmore.

1st LT Elmore was in turn replaced by CPT Peter D. Haines who was in command when I arrived in late September of 1967.

During this period, things were relatively quiet after the ambush, despite the activity that was obviously going on in the area.  Patrols, LPs (listening posts) and ambushes were being run, and some contact was made. (I believe this was mainly because the NVA did not want to tip their hand until all their men, weapons and supplies were in place for the kick-off.) 

I arrived at O-2 in late September of 1967, and found things were rather calmer than I had expected them to be.  I was new to "real-life" scouting and patrolling, having been assigned as a clerk and later (briefly) to Fire Direction Control (FDC) assigned to HQ 3/12, but I remembered the basic infantry concepts from ITR (every Marine, whatever his MOS, is considered a rifleman first and thus all receive rifle and infantry training). Also the veteran men there were quick to teach me the ropes.  In our unit, CPL Joe Potter, LCPL Donald Gullickson,  and others gave me much valuable training on how to operate in the bush.  



A Note About Weapons and Equipment

Of course, as FNG, I got to hump the radio.  As I recall, these were originally mostly the older PRC-10s, which were fairly useless unless you were in line of sight of a tower or relay, or on top of a hill.  They were old, cranky, heavy, and much of the time they were malfunctioning.  I believe we eventually got some of the "newer" PRC-25s, but they still were of limited use in the high mountainous region around Khe Sanh.

We were originally armed with the sturdy, reliable, M-14, but we later received the M-16. I got a very worn XM16E1. 
I was later told that the X stood for "experimental" and that this would have been a very early prototype model. How and why it was in the field in combat is beyond my comprehension, but the Marines have historically often gotten old and worn gear, and CAP units always got even worse gear -- the junk nobody else wanted -- when we got anything at all.

I was very sorry to lose my M-14, because despite the weight, it always functioned.  The M-16 was very subject to jamming, especially the old pieces of junk we were issued.  Most of us were in the habit of taping an assembled bore punch (cleaning) rod to the side of the stock to facilitate clearing the frequent jams. 

I soon came to deeply despise my M-16, and "acquired" a .45 (with 4 extra magazines) and also carried a sack of grenades.  I also sometimes carried the shotgun (especially at night) or one of the WW II / Korean War vintage weapons we had for the Bru) At least I knew these would sustain me when the inevitable jam occurred.  

I think that I can say without fear of contradiction that the "pucker factor" - ever present in combat - is at an all-time peak when your weapon fails to function. Of course, as one of Murphy's Laws of Combat remind us; "Never forget that your weapons were made by the lowest bidder." 

Just for the record, I have heard many men tell the same sort of story. Several Marines who were in the Hill Fights at Khe Sanh earlier in 1967 said that they were issued their weapons shortly before they went into action, and given only a short familiarization lecture, if that. Nobody knew how to operate or clean them, and there seems to have been a number of incidents of Marines being killed while trying desperately to get their weapons to function, with some of the weapons being in various stages of disassembly. 

I can state for certain that our weapons frequently malfunctioned.

I have had this discussion with many troops, Marine and Army, and although some tolerated or even liked the weapon, the bulk of the men I knew who used them in combat didn't. The ones who did were usually armed with the newer "improved" versions, which had addressed at least some of the malfunction issues the weapon had. 

(Interestingly, in recent years, I have heard from Marines and other forces who have been engaged in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that although much improved over our version of the weapon, the light 5.56 mm [.223] round won't penetrate the cinderblock, cement, and mud-brick construction common in the region, and the talcum-powder fine sand soon finds its way into every nook and cranny, despite ingenious attempts [such as a condom placed over the muzzle] to keep it out.  According to report, the troops were attempting to acquire old M-14s, as well as .50 MGs and sniper rifles, and other weapons that pack more punch. As for those who say 
"They just have to be cleaned properly" - I was raised around guns. My dad was a WW II Marine and hunter, as were most of my family. I KNOW how to shoot AND clean weapons - I have been doing it since age 9.  Any combat weapon that finicky is, IMO, BS, and I consider the adoption and distribution of this weapon without proper testing and evaluation, and in such a half-assed manner, to be nothing short of criminal.)


 
A Firefight Near O-2

As a FNG with better than average night vision and hearing (despite years of playing the bagpipes),  I was put on point one night, and fortunately heard the enemy before they detected us. I couldn't see anything - it was in part of the Poilane plantation to the southwest of our compound and as black as could be.   

LCPL Donald Gullickson (aka "Gully") was leading the patrol. Gully was already an experienced Marine who had seen heavy combat as a Scout-Sniper with 2/26 on Operation Hickory and other operations prior to coming to CAP.

 "Gully" came quietly up as I halted the patrol to see what was going on. 

I indicated by hand signs the presence and apparent direction of the enemy. He nodded and prepared his favorite trick - an air burst with a grenade. Pulling the pin, he popped the spoon and held the grenade for what seemed to me an interminable time - then let fly. It burst in the area we believed them to be in, and we all opened up with everything we had. The enemy was apparently as surprised as we were, and may have been stunned and perhaps wounded by the airburst and heavy volume of fire.  They returned sporadic fire at first, but got their act together and soon were putting out a good volume of fire . 

However, in a matter of minutes, ALL the M-16s had jammed, one after another - if the Bru hadn't been armed with M-1s and a BAR and I hadn't had my .45 and grenades, the enemy might have easily waxed us. However, the Bru quickly went through their meagre supply of ammo. (They were issued 90 rounds a MONTH, as I recall, supplemented by us as we were able.)

The BAR man was a small but sturdy Bru we called "Popeye" because (as I recall), his Bru name sounded similar to that of the cartoon sailor, he had a bit of a squint, and he smoked a small pipe, and wore his USMC soft cover at a jaunty angle, all of which reminded us of the iconic cartoon sailor. 

The Browning Automatic Rifle, a .30 caliber fully automatic weapon of WW II and Korean vintage that, as the name implies, was something of a cross between a machine gun and a rifle.  It is large and heavy, with a heavy recoil, but our small friend still managed to control it and keep putting out rounds!

Finally, "Popeye" and I were the only ones still firing, though some of the others were still throwing grenades.  

We beat a fighting retreat to the road, in reverse order of our entry, with Popeye and me covering the others, popping rounds off in the general direction of the foe.  Once on the road, we regrouped, and started moving back towards camp, awaiting the reactionary force that soon came pounding out in support - fortunately, we hadn't gotten very far from camp when the action occurred, and they came running!  

However, the enemy had already decamped.  We found little evidence of their presence the next day when we "swept" the area - they typically left a very tidy battle-ground, both because they could ill spare the equipment, and because they wanted to prevent us from gathering information on them.

(Ed. Note:  We have recently been fortunate enough to get in touch with LCPL Gullickson, and after he read the above incident, he verified it as being substantially the same as he remembered, but with a rather interesting twist. Apparently, in the excitement, he was under the mistaken impression that the grenade was an illumination grenade rather than an anti-personnel fragmentation grenade. He had intended to throw an "illum" behind the enemy to outline them for our fire.  The illumination grenade has a longer fuse, thus Gully was counting down for an illum, and only found out at the last possible moment (as he shifted his grip to throw) by feeling the "lip" around the grenade, which differed from the illumination grenade, that he held an armed and "live" frag.  What I had construed as combat savvy combined with major cojones was in fact a technical error — and one that, had he not realized it and had held it a moment or two longer, would have certainly killed or maimed him (and your present interlocutor).  Of such little things are wars battles, and even rather small firefights often made up of. The engagement can be a disaster, or a success - all based on luck .  It is said that Bonaparte was once asked what he looked for when selecting a field commander -- bravery, tactical or strategic skill - he replied; "I look for the man who is lucky."  That said, Gully was lucky — though he did have exemplary courage  as well. )

(Oscar-2 members: Does anyone remember who else was on this patrol and the reaction force?)

We often used the weapons meant to be issued to the PFs - these were WW II and Korean War surplus weapons and ammo sent to Vietnam as part of the military aid program.  They included small arms like the M-1 rifles and carbines (as well as the M-2 fully automatic carbine), the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), .30 machine guns, 60 MM mortars (aka "the company commander's personal artillery"), M3A1 "grease gun" and other such implements of destruction.  

We would sometimes carry these weapons on patrol in lieu of the despised M-16s. (I personally favored the Browning pump riot shotgun with 00 buckshot, especially at night.)  Here is a picture of Rick Valdes ready for a patrol as point man. Note he is wearing (totally unauthorized) jungle camouflage utilities with matching bush hat, and shotgun, and shotgun ammo waist belt with several grenades.  We often wore what we wished, as uniform regulations were very loosely enforced in CAPs, due to their usual remoteness (esp. Oscar Co.) and an almost total lack of knowledge among other Marines and Army units about who we were and what we did. Some thought us some type of "Special forces" (we weren't!) while others thought we were some sort of CIA (which we also weren't). Some envied us because of our opportunity (in those days) to sleep in hard-back huts on camp cots with inflatable mattresses and covers, and have hot showers and hot food regularly - and this we generally did have - prior to Tet 1968.

Others have told me that while they envied our living conditions, they did not want to be us - because we were only small units of Marines, with slightly larger forces of native troops (which they considered untrustworthy), generally operating away from major bases and often with little to no support if we were hit. (Also true.)

I have often thought of and described the CAP experience as a sort of armed and militarized Peace Corps - first providing security for the people, and arming and training their militia in defending themselves, and also providing much-needed "hearts and minds" work such as medical care, assisting them with schools, infrastructure, and other useful programs - and I believe they were working - until the larger war caught up with us at Tet.



Ennrique "Rick" Valdes, O-2, November 1967



 "Gungy" picture of Doc Roberts with a .45 "grease-gun"  

(Both photos used courtesy of HN "Doc" John Roberts, O-2)

As to uniforms, except for the weekly inspection, when we would turn out in field "uniform of the day" CAP units could be pretty casual.  


Inspection, Sub-Unit 4, 1967

(Note the original CAP patches, embroidered cloth on leather, later replaced by the enameled pins as seen at the top of this page. See CAP History for details.)


When I was at Cam Ranh Bay, trying to get back to KSCB after the Tet Offensive started, I was wearing what I had been med-evaced in - a worn-out set of "jungle" trousers and combat boots, a green wool Marine issue cold weather shirt over a Navy issue (but not to me!) black "watch" sweater, and a Scottish Balmoral "bonnet"  with a Rampant Lyon cap badge that a  girlfriend had sent me. (And, as noted elsewhere, I got a ration of s_ _ _t about it from a beefy Army MP REMF while I was at the air station, trying to get a ride back to Khe Sanh after Tet started.)


 
The Big Sweep

In October, shortly after my arrival, we formed part of a major sweep of the surrounding hills. All the CAPs participated, as did Marines from the combat base, and some of the Army Special Forces were also involved.  The idea was that we would comb the hills and (ostensibly) "flush" the enemy, or locate him (and / or act as a "blocking force") and then the line units would converge to engage them more heavily.

The patrol itself was fruitless and arduous - like most military events. We didn't even get a peep at the enemy. 
I remember we returned exhausted, soaking with sweat, and pissed off at making such a long and grueling sweep for nothing.  

Of course, we were probably pretty fortunate in one respect - those hills were undoubtedly full of  NVA troops moving into position for Tet even then.  
I assume either we were lucky enough not to bump into them, or they were keeping a low profile until they were ready to move. 

War is sometimes depicted as a glamorous enterprise  (usually by those who know nothing of it), but nothing is farther from the truth.  

It has been truly said that war is 90% boredom and 10% sheer terror.  To that I would add that the soldiers' lot throughout history (judging from my own experience and a life-long study of war) has been much the same. The weather is often hot and muggy, or freezing (depending on the region and season).  There are usually insects and  creatures ranging from the merely annoying to the nasty and deadly.  A soldier's life is also often exhausting, and usually damned uncomfortable. 

As the noted seventeenth century philosopher and proto-economist Thomas Hobbes wrote, "Life in an unregulated state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."  I would submit that we other than the fact that we, as a Marine unit, were fairly "regulated" Mr. Hobbes' assessment would also sum up the nature of warfare nicely.  

Starting very early in the morning, we formed up as a company, all in one group, for what I believe was the first and only time. "Doc" Roberts of O-2 was an inveterate "shutter bug" carrying several cameras and rolls of film. I used to chide him about having more camera gear than medical gear, but he said; "Some day you'll be glad I took these pictures!"  (When we reunited after 23 years, I asked him if he still had the pictures. He did, and I reminded him of our conversation, and told him he was right!) "Doc" convinced CPT Haines(who had taken command by that time) that we should take a company picture, and he agreed. Doc and the NCOs arranged the shot, and he then zeroed it in, giving the camera to an RF (I believe), and then joining us.  The result was the picture below (and elsewhere on this site). I believe it to be the only picture extant of Oscar (and possibly any other Combined Action Company) in one group, as we were usually dispersed by squad in the villes.



(Photo courtesy of HN "Doc" John Roberts, O-2)

We went up one steep hill and down another, the slippery mud, wait-a-minute weeds, and other obstacles and hazards causing us much trouble as we slid back two steps for every three gained.  In a short time, we were hot, wet, sweaty, filthy, and exhausted. (If you saw the patrol scene in "Platoon," you have a picture of what such a patrol is like — though only "humping the hills" can really acquaint one with the experience.) Many of us bore extra ammo for the machine guns and mortar rounds. However, as the day wore on and the sun grew even hotter, some of this extra weight was surreptitiously relegated to the depths of the jungle or river by some of the unwilling bearers. Thankfully, we didn't meet Mr. Charles that day, which might have caused them to regret "losing" the ammo. 



Climbing a hill.  The steep, wet, clay slopes were so slippery that we often pulled one another up like this.
(Photo courtesy of CPT Peter D. Haines)

We crossed a stream.  As we waded through the water, most of us took the opportunity to fill our helmets with the water and pour it over our heads, soaking us even more, but cooling us briefly. Since we were already sweat-soaked, it hardly mattered!  



Crossing a stream
(Photo courtesy of CPT Peter D. Haines)

The leeches, ever present and ever ready, began swimming out to meet and attach themselves to us.  Some of them found a home on exposed skin, and as they hit the other bank, some of the guys amused themselves by applying a lit cigarette or some alcohol from the doc's med kit to the leeches to make them back out.  

I remember some of the guys also used to make bets on the leeches' swimming abilities, size, and other characteristics and attributes.  Marines (and servicemen in general) will bet on anything!

At the end of an exhausting day of "breaking brush" we finally came down to the road where trucks were ready to meet us and ferry us back to our compounds.  

We were more than ready.  This picture shows Rick Valdes, Doc Roberts, and others at the end of that grueling day.  (Notice Rick's uniform is literally black from sweat! He was carrying the radio as well as his own gear!)


Returning from the sweep that occasioned the picture of the entire company seen on the Home and In Memoriam pages.  
As you can see from Rick's soaked utilities, even in October the heat and humidity were high. 

Doc Roberts,  (L.) Rick Valdes (R.) 

(Photo courtesy of HN "Doc" John Roberts, O-2)


 



 
The Calm Before the Storm

Things went on in the same way for some time - patrols, ambushes, LPs and OPs (listening posts and observation posts), civic action work including MedCaps, etc.  Sometimes, we'd make contact - most times we saw or heard nothing, but it seemed that the activity and numbers of the enemy we did spot were increasing. 

On at least one occasion, one of our patrols pursued a small enemy unit west, and crossed the border into Laos before they were aware of their position.  As this was not within the scope of our duties, the patrol broke off pursuit and returned.  (Probably a good thing, as by this time, large numbers of the enemy were in or entering the area.)

We were aware from at least October on that the enemy was ramping up his operations in the area, and the patrols and other activities became even more important.  

This didn't stop us from making the best of our situation.  When things were quiet (most of the time then), the men would engage in activities and games when not upgrading or repairing the defenses.  Here is a picture of the men engaged in a  game of horse-shoes at O-2.


(Courtesy of HN "Doc" John Roberts, O-2)

The Marines in O-2 attended a feast at one of the Bru villes.  As civic action personnel, we had to "do as the Romans do."  This meant eating the choice delicacies they very generously offered us, including rat, par-boiled pig, and rice, rolled into a ball from the communal bowl by the village chief, whose hands, it seemed, were seldom washed except by accident or in the rainy season.  This resulted in a grayish rice ball of less than savory appearance, and probably crawling with bacteria of all sorts.  However, as their guests, we were expected to eat what was offered, as it would have been a serious insult to turn it down.  

We off-set the germs with a very unsavory (to me at least!) alcoholic beverage that I seem to recall was called "drang." I believe it was some sort of potent rice wine or whisky, similar to sake, but with a vile taste and color. (As I remember it was "urine yellow").  However, I reckoned that the alcohol would off-set the germs, and after a few servings, I no longer cared about them, the taste, etc.  In fact, I remember very little of that evening other than the beginning!

We also prepared for the upcoming Christmas holidays by getting a small local tree (rubber, I believe), and "decorating" it with grenades and ammo belts.  We popped a couple of colored smoke grenades to "flock" the tree and give things a festive holiday appearance.  Here is a picture of LCPL Gullickson lugging the "Christmas tree" back to our camp. (Figure in background with Highland Balmoral and shovel is the editor.)  Note that the Marine  (perhaps SGT Harper?) "flocking" the tree has wrapped the smoke grenade in his utility jacket to keep from being burned -- smoke grenades get HOT

    


(Both photos above courtesy of Donald Gullickson)

 
It was about this time that we all took another set of the usual "gungy" photos , taking turns posing with various weapons.  I believe we also did a group photo, but I don't have a copy of this.  (Anybody out there have one?)  As with many of the  photos on this site, Doc John Roberts gave me the ones shown here.

One of the camera film companies was offering a deal on photo Christmas cards, so some of us sent our "hero" photos in to be processed, and when they returned, we mailed them to families, friends, and others - including Secretary of Defense McNamara and President and First Lady LBJ. (We actually received a polite thank you from the Johnson's - though it was only a printed signature, we thought it was nice of them to respond - McNamara didn't!)


 

PFC F. J. ("Bagpipes") Taylor, O-2




 
(Courtesy of HN "Doc" John Roberts, O-2)








"Big Tet" - The Assault on the Khe Sanh village CAPs and District HQ


(Ed. Note:  I had contracted a simultaneous case of vivax malaria and pneumonia in late December 1967. Our Corpsman at CAP 2, "Doc" John Roberts, made what turned out to be a very accurate field diagnosis, but the Chief Hospital Corpsman at "C" Med (apparently an incompetent old sot and a "lifer" of the worst type - unlike our own "doc" and other Corpsmen I have encountered over the years) who saw me was convinced it was just "jungle fever" and / or that I was a "malingerer." He gave me two aspirins and a cold shower, and sent me back to my unit.  This happened several times, with our Corpsman sending me in recommending med-evac, and the Chief sending me back to the field.  So I remained in the field, and tried to continue my duties as best I could, getting sicker and weaker by the day. My NCOIC, SGT Roy Harper, was sympathetic, and tried to give me light duty around the compound and radio watch instead of patrols, but not wishing to have my already short-handed and over-tasked comrades keep taking my patrols, I went back out again. However, due to being so ill at this point, I passed out and collapsed several miles out. Fortunately, we were not too far from a road and my comrades carried me and my gear back to where I could be loaded on our unit's Mike truck. Though the Chief wanted to send me back to the field again (he called me a "malingerer" and a "goldbrick"), but fortunately, a real doctor saw me at this point as I sat in an ambulance waiting to be sent back to my unit. (Go figure!)  Looking at me and asking a few questions, he did a rapid diagnosis, and asked me where I was going. When he heard what had happened, he called the Chief over and told him in no uncertain terms that I was to be put on the next plane out to Da Nang.  This was on or about January 10th, 1967.  I was med-evaced to the NSA Da Nang hospital, and their expert treatment soon put me right.  I remained there during the rest of the month and was therefore not in the village for the initial assault of the 1968 Tet Offensive, which preceded the Siege of Khe Sanh.  I returned about January 25th or 26th, 1968, a few days after the company had been  pulled back to KSCB.  Therefore, I will rely on official and eye-witness accounts for that eventful period.)

First, a word about why the North Vietnamese were interested in our small compounds. As much as they disliked the success of the CAP units, and would overrun and wipe one out If possible, both we, and the larger Marine and Special Forces commands at Lang Vei and FOB 3 (adjacent to the Khe Sanh Combat Base) were more or less mere irritants, rather than a real threat.

Likewise, Khe Sanh village was at that time very small and relatively insignificant, and its CAPs were relatively minor irritants. (However, control of Rt. 9 and the passes around Khe Sanh could be strategically significant, as mentioned elsewhere).

The main reason for attacking and capturing the village was political.  The military HQ in Khe Sanh village was also (as mentioned above) the political headquarters of Huong Hoa 
Sub-Sector
,  which made it a ripe symbolic and political plum, just as their objectives in Saigon and Hue were -- Hue was
 the ancient imperial capital, and was considered the cradle of Vietnamese culture, while Saigon was the seat of power of the RVN government, as well as of the American Embassy and military HQs.  Like Hue and Saigon, Khe Sanh stood as a psychological prize for the North.  Given its position and geography, it was also a logical strategic and tactical prize, as a potential entry point for an army of invasion from the North.
 
To gain an insight into the importance of this psychological warfare in the strategy of the North, it is interesting to note that at a strategy meeting in Honolulu in  
February 1966, President 
Johnson asked GEN Westmoreland what he might do if he were the enemy commander. 

"Capture Hue." Westmoreland answered. He then went on to explain that it was a historic symbol of a united Vietnam "Taking it would have profound psychological impact on the Vietnamese in both the North and the South, and in the process the North Vietnamese might seize the two northern provinces as bargaining points in any negotiations." 

Two years later, his prophetic words came true --  the NVA overran Hue and held much of it for almost a month, while simultaneously seizing Quang Tri and other key points, and even striking at the heart of Saigon, the seat of power of the US and their client state. 

There were many warning signs prior to the assault. Despite this, it seemed to us that little notice was being taken of the information we and other outlying and reconnaissance elements were providing. There have been accounts that indicate Westmoreland and the command staff were aware of the build-up and were ignoring it in order to encourage the enemy to give battle. Other sources say they were caught unawares.  Since I was not privy to command decisions (or for that matter, at any level), I leave that debate to the historians.
 
However that may be, little was done to reinforce the combat base, deepen and harden its fighting positions, or provide secure magazines for the ammunition. The ammo dump for the artillery remained uncovered until the offensive began, and was (predictably) blown up shortly after the fighting commenced, destroying a large portion of the on-hand ammunition needed to resist. (This was one of the reasons that the outlying units, such as Oscar, were pulled in.)  The dump was still burning and "cooking off" rounds when I arrived back at KSCB, adding considerably to the danger -- not only were you exposed to enemy small arms and mortar fire, but to the possibility of shrapnel from a "cooked-off" US shell!

On Jan. 2, 1968, a Marine listening post at Khe Sanh Combat Base called in that they had movement. A patrol was sent out to reinforce the LP.  They encountered the enemy, and there was an exchange of gunfire.

In the sweep of the area following the engagement, the bodies of five North Vietnamese officers, apparently a regimental commander and his staff were found. They were believed to be reconnoitering the position.    

On Jan. 20, a day before the assault on Khe Sanh began, a patrol from India 3/26 was sent to 881 N. They were ambushed by a large NVA force, and after a ferocious full day action, India withdrew to 881 S. 

On the same day,  LT La Thanh Tone, officer of the 14th Anti-Aircraft Company, 325th Division of the PAVN (NVA) defected. He walked up to the perimeter and gave himself up. He said he was upset that another officer in his company had been promoted over him (after 14 years service).  He also told his captors of the plans for the planned NVA attacks, and that the campaign was to be an important one for the North Vietnamese. However, the intelligence section was not entirely convinced of his truthfulness, some arguing that he was a "dis-intel" plant.  As this was being argued over, the enemy commenced major combat operations.

Just after midnight, an outpost on hill 861 was assaulted. Though the Marines beat back the NVA, they suffered casualties.

There is a divergence of opinion on when the initial assault on Khe Sanh village began.  

The attack on Khe Sanh Combat Base is generally given as 0530, and the 26th Marines' Command Chronology for January 1968 states that the attack on the District HQ in the village occurred at 0610 on the morning of the 21st of January,1968.  

However, CPT  (later COL) Bruce B. G. Clarke, who was the U.S. Army District advisor for Huong Hoa, wrote in April 1968 that the attack began at 0500. If so, that would make the village the first unit attacked.  (Others who were present at the HQ have offered slightly varying times, but all around 0500.)  Likewise, the Marines of O-2 give similar estimates to CPT Clarke's. 



CPT Bruce B. G. Clarke, Army District Advisor, 1967

( Photo courtesy of COL B.B.G. Clarke, USA Ret. )

It is possible that both assaults were meant to be coordinated, but due to the fortunes of war and the difficulty of coordinating separate major actions in such rough terrain, one possibly "went off" too soon (or too late).  In any case, the assault on the CAP compounds let the Marines know for sure that the enemy was out in force.

(A Marine line infantry officer once told me at a reunion; "We loved the CAPs!"  I registered surprise, as I had heard that many line commanders thought CAPs were a waste of time, money, and resources.  He responded with a grin; "They made great trip flares!")
 
The US forces at the HQ and surrounding area included by Combined Action Company Oscar's HQ and O-1, consisting of 12 Marines and a platoon of their Bru counterparts, with the recently arrived SGT John J. Balanco as NCOIC, and commanded overall by USMC 1st LT Tom Stamper, a "mustanger" (a former enlisted man commissioned from the ranks), who had recently replaced CPT Haines, with SSGT Robert Boyda acting as company GYSGT.  (1st LT Stamper later retired from the Marines as a CPT, and SSGT Boyda eventually retired as a SGTMAJ.)

There were also two platoons of the 915th Regional Force Company, commanded by CPT (later MAJ) Nhi Tinh (Vietnamese District Chief), and the four-man U.S. Army advisory group led by US Army Captain Bruce B. G. Clarke, consisting of SFCs King, Perry (unit medic), and Kasper. (Sp4 Gerke was also a member of the Team but was on R&R at the time of the attack.)  
 
The CAP Oscar HQ / 1 Marines who manned the defenses were CPLs Verner R. Russell , Stanley J. Dilley and John ("Lou") Loshelder, LCPLs William  A. Breedlove, Richard  E. Dahler, Jose Ramos, Ulysses Reyes, Antonio Vera, 
Howard C. McKinnis, Clarence E. ("Butch") Still, and 
PFC Donald W. Powell. (Powell's first name has also been given to me as "Charlie" but I can find no mention of this in the records, so it  may be a nick-name or faulty recall.) 

The total strength of the defense force at the HQ compound consisted of approximately 178 men. 

CAP 0-2, led by Sergeant Roy R. Harper, also had a squad of Marines and one Navy Corpsman, HN John Roberts, but was separated from the HQ and CAP 1, lying about 200 meters to the West on Hwy. 9 at the edge of the village of Khe Sanh.  (See the account of the O-2 fighting [below] for more details.)

(ED. NOTE:  The above list of personnel who were definitely present during the assault are as correct and complete as I can make them based on all extant records and accounts by those present. However, there are a number of people who also claim to have been in the ville on the night of the attack.

Two 
of these, 
LCPL Larry Woolverton [one of the "plank-holders" and perhaps the longest-serving member of O-1] and PFC Charles David Stanker have also stated to me that they were there during the battle. Both these men were
 definitely
 
members of Oscar-1. I personally remember both of them, and they appear on several of the unit MPRs (which run from Feb. 1967 through Aug. 1967, and again from March through April 1968).   They were both still there at the time I left for the hospital in late December, and on FOB 3 upon my return.
 For my own part, I am willing in the meantime to accept their word, since I know they were definitely members of Oscar Company before and after the assault, and were both definitely there at the time of my departure and upon my return.  Larry has recently written a book about his tour entitled "Memories of a Khe Sanh Marine" giving his version of his experiences [available from Amazon].

Other claims include a person
 who was a member of 26th Marines communications has written a book about Khe Sanh.  While undoubtedly an excellent writer, as well as perhaps having been a member of the 26th Marines Radio Relay Team [whose members rotated through the District HQ camp on a regular basis],
 
there is no verified evidence or recollection of his presence
by those who were verifiably present when the assault was launched.  
Every living verified participant from that action who I have been in touch with has denied  this gentleman's presence or his self-described deeds, and several have submitted sworn statements to that effect. However, he does have support from a friend (also in 26th Marines) who says he was in touch with him by radio during the battle. 

He also has a very realistic-looking citation for a Vietnamese Cross of 
Gallantry 
for service to the CAP unit though the date is incorrect. 
The actual date of the assault on KS ville was January 21st, 1968. There was no action on January 20th, the date of the assaults.
 However, MAJ (then CPT) Nhi Tinh, then senior RVN officer and District Chief, sai
d that normally a recommendation for any Vietnamese award would have been initiated by him, either directly, or at the behest of one of the US officers. He has stated that he didn't make any such recommendation, and that he did not see this person in the command bunker or doing any of the things he claims to have done. 
The US officer's signature on the English version of the citation [a "C. A. Zimmerman"] was not an officer, SNCO, or NCO of Oscar or the AAT, and was not there before, during or after the assault, and nobody who was verifiably there remembers seeing or citing him for anything. 
 
His story seems to be largely based on one or more of the extant written accounts of the action [and possibly conversation with one of those who were there]. However, there are certain factual errors that appear in some published accounts of the action written by those who weren't there.  Only the men who were actually there that night would know this particular information. [I am not at liberty to divulge the specific information, in case legal action is undertaken.]
 
SGT Balanco and COL Clarke and the others who were verifiably there have offered to meet or speak with him personally on this matter, but he has so far chosen not to respond. SGT Balanco has also categorically refuted several specific items and claims in his account. 

Another claimant was a man who was genuinely a CAP Marine as of March 1968, although I am uncertain which unit, as the rosters for the period do not denote unit. However, his claim of being at O-1 during the assault has been categorically denied by all those verifiably present, including SGT Balanco, who this gentleman cited as having been his inspiration to have joined CAP. While this may have been true, SGT Balanco [who this gentleman apparently believed dead when he gave an interview on the subject] has stated in no uncertain terms that this gentleman was NOT  at O-1 during the assaults.

Two more claimants are a LT James Taronji and the late SGT George Amos, who claim to have been members of a covert team from the JTAD [Joint Technical Advisory Detachment].  COL Bruce Clarke, after examining their statements and records, and some period letters and photographs which he states are authentic, has decided to accept their presence.  

However, since I was not there at that time due to my hospitalization, I am reliant on records and the accounts of personnel who were indisputably and verifiably there. )  

The District HQ / O-1 compound was arranged in a compartmentalized fashion to limit enemy movement and damage if they penetrated the wire. The main compound was a square containing the District HQ building, the Command bunker, and various other bunkers and fortified positions. 


Main Bunker, O-1 / District HQ (1967). Bru RF w/  radioman LCPL Charles D. Stanker  
( Photo courtesy of Charles D. Stanker)

To the west of the compound was a picturesque local Bhuddist shrine that the Marines called the "pagoda." (This "pagoda" would later become cover for the enemy during the assaults.)  To the east lay two vehicle sheds and a warehouse. 

Behind the District HQ compound to the south was a triangular fortification from the French era with a dry "moat" around it. The 915th RF was on the south and CAP 0-1 was on the north. 


Aerial Photo of Khe Sanh ville Taken in early 1967 by MAJ Jim Whitenack, USA, then AAT District Advisor showing Houang Hoa District HQ and O-1 (center-right). 
Note the trianglular fortification on right.  Hwy. 9 is the red clay road that runs from East (top of picture) to West (bottom of picture).
 
(Photo courtesy of MAJ Whitenack and LCDR Ray Stubbe)

CPT Clarke, LT Stamper, and the Vietnamese commander, and CPT Nhi (who was also the Vietnamese District Chief) shared the command bunker, which was located In the middle of the triangle.  The rest of CPT Clarke's Advisory Team shared a bunker in the front of the HQ building.

On the morning of the 21st of January, under cover of one of the dense fogs that often blanketed Khe Sanh at that time of year, the 7th Bn. and sapper elements of the crack 66th Regiment of Thai Dung Co’s 304th Division of the PAVN (NVA) attacked the Huong Hoa 
Sub-Sector
 HQ and Oscar CAPs 1 and 2, in and around Khe Sanh Village under cover of fire from their artillery (located on Co Roc Mountain in Laos), mortars, and rockets.  Estimates of the numbers of the force vary widely depending on sources but have run as high as 2400. The PAVN leader, Nguyen Van Thieng, threw his men into action.

The garrison didn't know it, but they had the good fortune of the attacking force having been delayed and disrupted by an earlier B-52 Arc Light bombing that had severely impacted the units as they were getting under way.  The bombings caused deaths, injuries, and confusion, and tore up the landscape to the extent that the entire attack was delayed until the early morning hours of the 21st. Had the enemy been able to gain their jumping-off points earlier with less disruption, and launch on time (during the night) the outcome of the battle might have been very different.

(NOTE: The Marine official account states that 1st LT Stamper, the CO of Oscar Company, conducted the defense and called in fire.  However,
 COL Clarke, SGT Balanco, MAJ Nhi Tinh and the USAF FAC, CPT Ward Britt, have all stated on several occasions in writing and conversation that only 
CPT Clarke called the fire missions, and
 that he simultaneously maintained radio contact with Robert Brewer, the CIA's Senior Quang Tri Province Advisor, then located in Quang Tri City
.  

Others (including the gentleman mentioned above) have also made claims to have called in the fire.  However, as noted,
 every verified participant  from that action who we have been in touch with has specifically and categorically denied  the above-noted gentleman's presence, and his claim to have called in the fire.  T
he only people who were definitely and verifiably in and around the command bunker [including SGT Balanco, and MAJ Nhi Tinh] have expressly said or written on multiple occasions that 
CPT Clarke was the only person that they saw calling in the fire missions.
 CPT Ward Britt, the USAF FAC, also stated in an E-mail to me dated 4 / 29 / 2011; "I only recall talking to one person, Col. Clarke."

Since COL Clarke was the senior US officer present, and a West Point graduate who had been specifically trained in calling supporting arms, this makes sense from a military standpoint. He was the best qualified man in the compound to do the job. COL Clarke has stated that 
 SGT Balanco directed the actual ground defense while he [Clarke] called in fire, which SGT Balanco has also stated to me in several conversations and E-mails. SGT Balanco's Silver Star citation bears out his conduct of the ground defense. 
COL Clarke has written a book detailing his version of events, entitled "Expendable Warriors."  SGT Balanco has also written of his experience, but his version is not in print, other than as quotes given at various time. It is to be hoped that his account of the action will be made available at some point.)




Map of Khe Sanh ville showing Houang Hoa District HQ / O-1 compound, O-2 compound,  the "French Fort" and Lang Vei 



Detail from a PAVN ("NVA") battle map showing Khe Sanh ville, the direction of attack 
of the 7th Bn. of the 66th Regt. of the 304-C PAVN and HQ of the 304 C (Lower L.)

(Courtesy of COL B. B. G. Clarke.  
The entire map can be seen in his 
book on the battle, "Expendable Warriors" available in hard-cover and paperback. See Bibliography for details ) 

As illustrated above, the assault was actually three-pronged, with the main thrusts being against the Houang Hoa District HQ / O-1 compound, and secondary envelopments on the right and left (O-2).  Meanwhile, the PAVN's 9th Regiment had been deployed as a blocking force farther east on Hwy. 9 to catch any reinforcements the combat base might send out. 
 
The assaults came in waves, with the heaviest fighting  during the early morning hours, when the dense fog (so common at Khe Sanh that time of year) was still thick. According to eyewitnesses, 
the camp was being assaulted repeatedly for up to six hours. In addition to their small arms fire, the enemy was liberally supplied with mortars and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenade), and their support artillery in Laos appeared to have never let up. 

However, despite the bravery and unrelenting onslaught of the men of the 66th, the CAP Marines and their native counterparts were inflicting heavy damage on the enemy, as were the air and artillery supporting arms fire.

CPL Russell manned an M-60 machine gun in the north-east corner of the compound, one of the places the NVA concentrated their assaults.  Assisted by a Bru A-gunner, Russell killed a great number of the enemy, who at times penetrated to within 30 feet of his position. Eye-witness accounts state that the enemy dead were literally piled up in front of his position. CPL Russell later received the Silver Star for his actions.

To Russell's left, LCPL Whiting held one bunker, while CPLs Loshelder and Dilley were on the north-west corner. 

Behind their position, on the west, stood LCPL Reyes' bunker, with LCPL Ramos on the southwest.  LCPL Vera's bunker was on the eastern center, and SSGT Boyda shared a bunker with LCPL Breedlove on the south-west corner.

Meanwhile, SGT Balanco covered the entire perimeter, moving from position to position, carrying ammo and supplies to the men, and ensuring that the lines held, while fortifying their morale with humor, often 
cracking jokes to ease the tension.

While on one such round, SGT Balanco was moving across open ground to another bunker (nearest the pagoda) when mortar shells started coming in all around him, wounding him in the head, hands, and left foot.  

Meanwhile, the two platoons of the 915th RF Co. had come under heavy attack on the southwest portion of the lines, and were receiving heavy fire and incurring casualties, including their immediate commander, LT Ly, who was killed near the beginning of the fight along with several other RFs and Bru. These casualties would continue to mount during the fight, resulting in six Vietnamese and five Bru KIA, and 28 wounded. These casualties would keep the Army medic, SFC Jim Perry, busy throughout the fight, stacking the dead in an unused bunker, while attending the wounded.



 

Co Cha and SFC Jim Perry conducting medical care in a Bru ville, 1967

( Photo Courtesy of the late SFC Jim Perry )

(Fortunately for the Americans, there were few in O-1 who were seriously wounded, other than SGT Balanco, who continued his duties despite his wounds.)

After checking in at the command bunker, SGT Balanco went to check the lines around 0700.

Seeing that the faltering RFs needed stiffening, SGT Balanco asked (rather than ordered) LCPLs McKinnis and Still to join them. Whatever doubts these two Marines might have had were overcome by their sense of duty, and both went to the RF positions, one at each end, where their mere presence and valiant example gave a much-needed inspiration to the exhausted and demoralized Vietnamese and Bru fighters.

SGT Balanco returned to the bunker whenever possible to update CPT Clarke and LT Stamper on the situation. 

Approximately 0900, as SGT Balanco came up on the southwest side of the 915th RF Co., he noticed a tall sandbag bunker with a machine gun mounted. The gun had jammed, causing the RF troops to abandon the exposed position.

SGT Balanco intended to pull the pin from the tripod in order to pick up the MG and carry it down to try to repair it.  However, the enemy fired an RPG, and the resulting explosion lifted both him and the machine gun and tripod, driving them forcefully back into the opposite wall, and injuring him severely.
 
Despite the severity of his injuries, and his great pain, Balanco called for a nearby M-79 40mm grenade launcher
 and fired a direct hit on a group of enemy about forty feet distant, inflicting great damage on them. 

LCPL McKinnis then started firing, and the RFs of the 915th also stood and delivered heavy fire at the NVA, causing them to break off their assault and retreat once again.  According to SGT Balanco, LCPL McKinnis looked up and they both smiled. Balanco described McKinnis in his story of the fight as "One hell of a Marine!"  

I have been told that a radio tuned into the PAVN frequency could hear the NVA commander calling again and again for reinforcements, until no more men were available. The NVA commander himself (Thieng) bravely (and perhaps desperately) went in with the last of his men and fell in battle. One of his companies lost nearly all its command group. There were so many casualties among the leadership that the unit's political officer To Cong Kien (already wounded and with a broken arm), led the assault after Thieng fell. (Political officers are not usually combat leaders. They are, as the name implies, responsible for the political aspects of the unit.)  

The defenders of the compound fought and fired until the last men of the assaulting forces dropped - just short of their positions. Despite their spectacular display of tenacity and courage in the face of the withering fire from the Marines and RFs, and the continuing barrage of artillery and air supporting arms, the brave men of this unit were stopped by the defenders, many falling just short of their goal.

Although the exact number of casualties and the nature of their demise have been a matter of debate  (see below) and will almost certainly never be truly known, at a minimum, the 7th Bn. and its attachments, plus the reinforcements thrown in, had been for all practical purposes destroyed as an effective unit. It is COL Clarke's opinion (as stated in his book, Expendable Warriors) that these losses suffered in this action rendered the entire 66th hors de combat until late in the war.

SGT Balanco was nominated for the Navy Cross, but eventually received the Silver Star (apparently a result of having ticked offed a senior CAP officer at Phu Bai). His citation reads in part:

Disregarding his own safety, Sergeant Balanco fearlessly maneuvered about the fire-swept terrain from one position to another directing the fire of his men. Repeatedly exposing himself to the hostile fire, he rapidly redistributed ammunition and ensured that each sector of the perimeter was effectively coordinated into the defense of the position. Continuing his determined efforts for thirty-six hours, he aggressively directed his men in repulsing the enemy attack until the North Vietnamese soldiers were forced to withdraw. His heroic actions and bold leadership inspired all who observed him and were instrumental in his unit accounting for over forty enemy killed and numerous weapons captured.

CPL Verner Russell, who had manned the machine gun at the front of the compound (also heavily assaulted) was also awarded the Silver Star medal. His citation reads in part:


"The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star Medal to Verner R. Russell (2225712), Corporal, U.S. Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving with Combined Action Platoon 0-1, in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam on January 21, 1968. By his courage, aggressive fighting spirit and steadfast devotion to duty in the face of extreme personal danger, Corporal Russell upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."


Sadly, CPL Russell passed away in 1973. (See In Memoriam),


LT Stamper also received a Silver Star. 

SFC Jim Perry of the Army advisory team, who had bravely and competently led the medical response, was nominated for a Silver Star, but received a Bronze Star w / V (for valor). Many years later, this award was posthumously upgraded to the Silver Star that he should have received in 1968, mainly as the result of the 
efforts 
of COL Clarke
 and SGT Balanco's unceasing efforts, and was awarded to his widow.

CPT Clarke received a Bronze Star w / V and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

It is considered by most historians and participants alike that without the heavy supporting fire, the compounds would have been over-run by the well-planned and ferocious attacks of the enemy, despite the indubitable valor of their defenders, who were prepared to sell their lives dearly, if need be.  In the event, it turned out to be a devastating and costly opening gambit for the NVA. Although the NVA forces courageously assaulted strongly several times during the course of the battle, they were slaughtered in great numbers without achieving their objective.

I am uncertain if the RF and Bru defenders received any medals for their part, but I believe that they should have, especially given that they suffered both the brunt of the attack and the most casualties.  

Meanwhile, CAP 0-2 was also being assaulted, though the main focus of the NVA assaults seemed to have been the HQ to the east.  O-2 lay about 200 meters west of O-1 on the end of Khe Sanh village on Hwy 9.  The unit consisted of one squad of Marines (minus several men in hospital and on leave), one Navy Corpsman, and ten Bru PFs. 

They were led by SGT Roy Harper, and included: CPLs Ronald L. Harper, Barry G. Hardin, Lawrence P. ("Jinx") Harding, and Al Terry Sullivan,  LCPLs Donald Gullickson, George B. Sargent, Jerry L. French,  Jimmie J. Tyson, Joseph Zudor, and PFC Steven K. Biddle, plus HN John Roberts.

(CPL Potter and others were on leave and R&R at that time, and I was in the hospital at Da Nang, but I and some of the others returned to Khe Sanh after the CAPs were evacuated to the Combat Base. Others were re-assigned.)
 


"Doc" John Roberts and SGT Roy Harper, 1 / 6 / 1968, just prior to Tet.




CPL Joe Potter, 1967








LCPL Joe Zudor, December 1967

(Above photos all courtesy of "Doc" John Roberts, O-2)



LCPL Jerry French,  c. 1968, KSCB

( Photo courtesy of Jerry French ) 

Although they lacked the numbers of O-1, their courage and determination was great. The pre-set fields of fire also included their position.

As "Doc" Roberts said; "The Marines' job was to take lives - the Corpsman's job was to save them." Doc Roberts would treat the Bru as well as his Marines, but also helped in the defense as needed.  (However, he has said that when he threw a grenade that fell far too short, he was admonished to stick to first aid.)

According to "Doc" Roberts, CPL Al Sullivan and LCPL Don Gullickson manned the bunker nearest the road (Rt. 9), and that was the first position hit in the initial assault by an RPG. 

"Doc" said that Sully "fought like a madman" firing first his M-16, and then a BAR after the M-16 malfunctioned. (An all-too-common occurrence with that weapon.)  Sully later told me that he was "scared as hell" the entire time, and that one reason he had kept firing was because he couldn't take his finger off the trigger.  (If that was the way he fought when scared, it was well for the enemy that he wasn't any more frightened!)

Meanwhile Gullickson fired and reloaded over and over, laying heavy fire on the enemy lines. Gullickson told me that when the snipers opened fire, and the supporting fire from KSCB and O-1 slacked off, he and "Doc" Sargent began using the 60mm mortar that was at O-2.  The enemy was so close that they fired almost straight up 
and not adding any increments (the extra propellents normally used on mortar shells).  They adjusted by hand, and aimed for the snipers' positions, then ducked back in the bunker after firing 2 or 3 rounds, then out again and repeat. They also got a call from O-1 to try for the recoilless rifle that was firing on 
O-1.  They did, and took out the gun.
 
SGT Roy Harper was wounded at the outset, but returned to the fight after "Doc" Roberts rendered some hasty first aid. 

"Doc" Roberts and LCPL French both related that during the course of the fighting, a shell (possibly American) scored a hit near LCPL French's position. "Frenchy" told me that he was manning an automatic weapon (it may have been the M-60), and had just leaned down to get something when the shell struck. He was buried alive by the dirt and debris, and "Doc" and another Marine had to dig him out. When they released him, he couldn't hear because of the damage he had received to his ear-drums, but was still ready to fight. He was also "mad as hell" because they had destroyed his weapon, but he deployed one of the WW II or Korean vintage BARs we had for the Bru RFs, and was
 soon laying down deadly fire on the attackers.

Gullickson recently told me that when French's position was hit, he took some shrapnel in his back, legs, and left hand, and his flak jacket and helmet cover were shredded. 
 He also got a concussion and was in a state of shock for a while, stating later, "That really rang my bell!" He remembers feeling very cold despite being wrapped in a blanket, and Doc was worried about him.

"Doc" went back to patching up the wounded, and assisting the Marines wherever needed. 

The Bru fought well, and when their scant supplies of ammo were exhausted, they reloaded for the Marines.  Gully stated that the Bru we called "Popeye" was firing his BAR out of the window of the French building that Doc's office was in. 

I have only a few first-hand accounts of this fight, but all the O-2 men seem to have given a good account of themselves, as witnessed by the numbers of enemy dead in their fields of fire.  Many of the Oscar defenders were already seasoned Marines who had come from infantry regiments and had a good deal of prior combat service. For example, at O-2, CPL Hardin and LCPL Gullickson had been in 2/26, CPL Harding had been in 1/9, etc.

O-3, which lay nearer to the combat base, was not assaulted, although they received some fire and remained on full alert. O-3 was commanded by SGT Armand Maranda, and at this time included CPLs Joe Potter, Frank Iodice, Bruce Brown, Tom Corcoran, Dan Kelley, and LCPLs Lacey Lahren, and Ken ("Tex") Walker, with HN Dale W. Faidley. 

About midday on the 21st, the fog lifted and the intensity of the assaults were reduced. However, the NVA continued to place pressure upon the defenders with mortar and RPG fire, but limited their infantry action to small arms fire and probes. 

Helicopters attempted to resupply the HQ compound, but could not land because of the enemy fire. However, the crews managed to hover low enough to kick out some sorely needed ammunition.

Two relief expeditions were then dispatched from the Combat Base, one Marine force and one air assault with a mixed Army and Vietnamese force.  They also failed in their attempts to relieve the beleaguered garrisons in the village. 

The Marine force consisted of a platoon from D Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines.  However, when the platoon reached a hill overlooking the village, they could clearly see North Vietnamese troops deploying.  COL Lownds, decided that the relief mission was too dangerous and ordered the platoon to return. 

(This was wise, because later information from former NVA who were present confirmed the presence of units whose specific job was to ambush any relief elements.  The same was also true for the fall of Lang Vei later.)

The second expedition was a heliborne operation mounted by the Army, which unfortunately ended in one of the worst disasters of the Siege, and indeed the war.

According to Ray Stubbe (in his book, "The Final Formation") Robert Brewer, the senior CIA representative in Quang Tri Province and Senior Provincial Advisor, called a council of war to decide upon a relief effort.  Although the units in the village or the village itself were not of great strategic or tactical concern per se, the fact that the village contained the District HQ was a primary consideration - not so much for its tactical or military value {other than its position astride Hwy. 9}, but for its propaganda value.  

The NVA was well aware of that value, which is why so much energy and so many troops were expended in the initial drive to seize the village, and why Brewer and the political operatives were so determined to keep it if possible. They therefore determined to send an aerial relief force comprised of ARVN troops, and led by LTCOL Joseph Philip Seymoe of MACV Det. #19, Brewer's deputy.

The relief effort, though gallantly intended, was an unmitigated disaster. LTCOL Seymoe, instead of landing in the Khe Sanh village HQ, landed in the area known to us as "the old French Fort" which had formerly been a Special Forces FOB and earlier had actually been a French prison (in which Ho Chi Minh, his wife, and General Võ Nguyên Giáp had been imprisoned at one time during their struggle against France). However, the position was by that time in enemy hands,  garrisoned by well entrenched and camouflaged NVA.



Aerial Photo of Tho'ung Van (aka "The Old French Fort")
 Taken in early 1967 by MAJ Jim Whitenack, USA, District Advisor of Houang Hoa Sub District, Quang Tri Province, RVN

(Photo courtesy of MAJ Whitenack and LCDR Ray Stubbe)

The relief force found itself in serious trouble as soon as it landed. Ultimately, 13 pilots and 14 enlisted crewmen, as well as LTCOL Seymoe, and the South Vietnamese RFs were killed or missing.

A few men somehow managed to escape, getting help from the nearby French planter, Felix Poilane, but were unfortunately "captured" by Marines of CAP 0-3 who initially thought they were Russian "advisors" which they had been warned about. They were held in painful captivity until the next morning when they finally convinced the CAP members that they were American.  

(NOTE:  While some might see this as excessive caution, we had been told at various times that various European nationals, including Russians, East Germans, and others were operating with the enemy, sometimes pulling "Trojan Horse" routines on isolated units. Whatever the truth of this, the Russians and other Soviet Bloc countries including East Germany certainly had advisors and observers in country.) 

Seymoe's remains, and a number of the others, were only recovered following the Siege by the 1st Air Cavalry.  Several remain MIA to this day.

A number of explanations have been advanced for this fiasco.  One factor may have been that LTCOL Seymoe, a Korean War veteran, had damaged hearing from an old injury, and that he misunderstood the coordinates.  

LCDR Rev. Ray Stubbe (in his seminal and still authoritative work on Khe Sanh "Valley of Decision") stated that LTCOL Seymoe's relief attempt was; "...in terms of proportionate casualties and equipment losses ...  ...the worst military debacle of the entire campaign at Khe Sanh."

(NOTE: With no disrespect to any of the participants, this action and others, such as the fall of Lang Vei, have received far more attention {and in the case of Lang Vei, far more decorations} than the defense of the Sub-sector HQ, one of the most successful fights of that war.)
 
Meanwhile, the men of O-2 had left their compound, and were working their way to the HQ in the center of Khe Sanh ville.  Most of the eyewitness accounts state that they made tactically sound fire team rushes from point to point. Thankfully, they met no resistance and made their way to HQ.  

The Marines and Army men at the compounds had sustained several lightly wounded casualties, and, most amazingly, no dead, given the great numbers of the enemy and the ferocity of their attacks. 

Unfortunately, the ARVN and Bru soldiers suffered a number of casualties. SFC Jim Perry of the Army team treated twenty-five wounded with the aid of Vietnamese nurses including Co Cha. Twelve RF Vietnamese soldiers and seven Bru were KIA. 

The behavior under fire of all participants was excellent, and demonstrates the bravery of the indigenous troops when ably led. 

During the night (21 to 22 January 1967), the situation in the compound in Khe Sanh ville  was fairly quiet, although they received NVA sniper fire. 

On the morning of 22 January 1967, SGT Balanco, despite serious misgivings, was ordered to lead a patrol towards the "French Fort", hoping to find survivors of the aborted relief mission. However, they turned back at the bottom of the hill upon seeing some Vietnamese in "strange uniforms."  SGT Balanco gestured for them to come down, and they in turn gestured for him to come up - which he wisely declined to do.  These troops were undoubtedly NVA seeking to lure him into an ambush.

Upon his return, SGT Balanco's patrol recovered at least 150 weapons from the enemy KIA, including RPGs and assault rifles, many of them brand new.  SGT Balanco described seeing; "hundreds of mutilated and mangled NVA."  He believes there were at least 300 and possibly 500 bodies there.  They used ponchos to slide the captured enemy gear into the HQ compound, because there was too much to carry.

SGT Balanco later wrote in an article on this action;

"On the eleventh of February, 1969, over a year later, when I was awarded my medals, I wrote to the Marine Corps and protested the amount of enemy killed which had been credited in my citation.  Our small group had killed three to four hundred NVA, with just small arms firing within fifty feet from our wired perimeter.  The rest were killed by our air and artillery strikes taking the total enemy killed to over one thousand.  All this was validated by CPT. Britt, the Forward Air Controller (FAC).  But the responding correspondence from the Corps stated that they had decided to credit over ninety percent of the enemy killed to the air & artillery strikes.  The men at Khe Sanh Village that day know the real truth and that is all that counts!"

(Note: CPT Britt also reported seeing and calling in fire on PAVN porters carrying out the dead and wounded the next day. He reported them as looking from the air like "long lines of ants" stretching all the way to Laos. His statement and that of the air support who effected the attacks strongly supports both SGT Balanco's estimates, and indicates that the official PAVN records were probably at least as much understated as US casualty reports commonly were.)

Also, CPL Russell's MG position was reported to me by men who were there to have a huge heap of enemy corpses in front of it, and
 the extant photos clearly show hundreds of dead NVA in and around the compounds, so I am inclined to believe SGT Balanco's account. 

Among SGT Balanco's many battle trophies was a rare Fairbairn-Sykes British Commando knife.  He had taken it out of the boot of one of the NVA they had killed. It had markings on the blade that, when I traced them, told an interesting story.  

Apparently, it was one issued by the British during WW II to the Free French Forces (mostly Foreign Legion) under De Gaulle before Normandy.  How it got to Khe Sanh in 1968 is unknown but since the main forces defending Dien Bien Phu were Foreign Legionnaires, its original owner was possibly one of those the knives were issued to.  Perhaps his knife had been "liberated" by a Viet Minh, who in turn had wound up at Khe Sanh.  We'll never know, but, as so often is the case when I handle old weapons, I wish that they could tell their tale.

The Oscar 2 Marines also reported many bodies and much equipment, though they brought little, even of their own  belongings, out with them, let alone mine.  However, 
PFC Jimmie J. Tyson, saw the Royal Scottish  Standard which had been displayed above my bunk.  He later said that as he was grabbing the little gear they were allowed to take out, he thought; "Taylor will want this if he ever gets back!" and stuck it in his pack. He later gave it to me when I returned from the hospital. (See below for the rest of the story on this flag.)

An abortive attempt to re-supply the defenders of O-1 and the HQ with much-needed small arms ammo by helicopter fell afoul of a few remaining PAVN snipers. Unable to land, they attempted to drop the cans from the air, but they fell outside the wire and some of the cans broke open. 

Likewise, an attempt by COL Lownds to reinforce them by land was aborted when the relief force, then on top of Hill 471, reported seeing a great many enemy forces in the area (probably the blocking force formed by the 9th Regt. of the PAVN). The release force wisely decided not to proceed - a decision which probably saved many lives. 

Late on the morning of January 22nd, a Marine helicopter took LT Stamper to Khe Sanh to report to Colonel Lownds the area commander, about continuing the defense of the ville.
 
COL Lownds later stated; "...after long consideration and proper evaluation of the facts, I decided to evacuate the units."  

This move has generated discussion to this day, but was in my opinion the only logical decision. Despite the propaganda value of the District HQ, and the demonstrated ability of the defenders, it had no real tactical value.  In addition, the village was too remote, and too difficult to continue to defend without tasking the artillery and other support elements at KSCB greatly. COL Lownds was of the opinion that he would soon need all his rounds for the main command, but even he  didn't know how correct this would prove - the artillery ammunition dump would soon become a blazing inferno. In addition, the weather at that time of year would often preclude the use of air support, as we later came to see.

SGT Balanco said; "We received an agonizing radio message from LT Stamper telling us to pack up."  LT Stamper also told him that "no R.F.'s or Bru with their weapons would be allowed on the helicopters to return to the combat base."  (Indeed, to the Marines' disgust, no Bru or ARVN were allowed on the flights at all!  They were inclined not to leave their brave counterparts, but they were ordered to do so, and, being Marines, complied.  (It would not be the last order we would obey against our will at Khe Sanh.)

The evacuation was chaotic, and included NVA shelling. Six evacuation missions flew out.  As the choppers took off, frightened Vietnamese civilians rushed to try to board.  SGT Balanco, knowing that they would overload the aircraft and cause them and their crews and the wounded to be lost as well, fired a few M-79 rounds in the opposite direction, to hold them back.  (The WIAs were Americans, including two U.S. Army NCOs from the Advisory Group). 

SGT Balanco stated that he departed on the last helicopter out. Despite the valiant and heroic stand of the Marine CAP team garrisons and their Bru counterparts, the Army assistance team personnel, and the valiant 915th RFs, and their destruction of all the enemy forces thrown against them, the place was still going to be handed over to the PAVN. However, there was really little choice. Without re-supplies, reinforcements, and above all, supporting arms fire, they would have had no chance of withstanding any more assaults, especially if they were as determined as that of the 7th Bn. of the 66th PAVN.

Meantime, CPT Clarke also had received orders (from Robert Brewer, the CIA agent), to evacuate. According to CPT Clarke, Brewer had wanted to try to hold the village, but without Marine artillery support, agreed that was not possible.

However, CPT Clarke declined to board the choppers. He had no intention of leaving the loyal Vietnamese counterparts to the unlikely mercy of the NVA.    

Instead, he and SFC King organized the remaining men of the 195th RF Company and a number of the Bru PFs, and marched back to the FOB-3 compound along a back  trail, though fortunately encountering no enemy, who were doubtless too stricken to assault even this small force, especially in broad daylight.   (
CPT Clarke later received a Bronze Star w / V for his actions, and probably deserved a higher award.)

LT Stamper later received a Silver Star. 

SFC Jim Perry of the Army advisory team bravely and competently led the medical response. He was nominated for a  Silver Star, but received a Bronze Star w / V (for valor), which was many years later posthumously upgraded to a Silver Star, mainly as the result of the 
efforts 
of COL Clarke.  

It is considered by most historians that without the heavy supporting fire, the compounds would have been over-run by the well-planned and ferocious attacks of the enemy, despite the indubitable valor of their defenders.  However valuable the supporting fire, all the participants at O-1 and O-2 have reported to me that a great many of the slain attackers were killed at clsoe range by the defenders' small arms and automatic weapons and mortars.  In the event, it turned out to be a devastating and costly gambit for the NVA. Although they assaulted strongly several times during the course of the attack, they were slaughtered in great numbers without ever achieving their objective or getting through the wire.

O-3 had not been attacked, but they also were ordered to evacuate their Bru hamlet of Ta Con (north of Khe Sanh) and returned to the combat base.

There, the CAC Oscar Marines regrouped, and rejoined the RF troops and the Popular Force Bru at the southern edge of the FOB-3 compound.  However, here they found another unpleasant surprise - the Marines refused to allow the Bru and Vietnamese troops on their portion of the combat base, probably because they feared they harbored spies among them.  The CAP Marines, already distraught at having been ordered to retreat without their Bru, were truly in a quandary.

However, the Special Forces command at FOB-3 (which was separate from and not subject to the orders of the Marine CO), already had many Bru among his CIDG teams.  They happily accepted our Bru counterparts - in fact, they were so glad to get them, they even accepted the Marines - though much less happily, I have been told.  However, the guns along the Marine lines at FOB 3's rear were aimed squarely at FOB 3 - and several Special Forces men and Marines have told me they were told that if any of the Bru or Vietnamese proved to be enemy plants during any future assaults, or tried to run, they would not hesitate to fire. So much for comradeship.

Although I was not aware of any spies or plants among our Bru, there apparently were some at the Special Forces Camp at Lang Vei which fell later, and Dan Kelley, our main American interpreter, who has since been back to see the Bru at Khe Sanh has said that there apparently were some VC sympathizers or agents among them.

There has been some debate as to who actually gave the orders to abandon the Bru and Viet troops. COL Lownds (in a Marine Oral History interview), said he had ordered the aerial evacuation of the Bru CAPs and RFs, but that they and CPT Clarke chose to walk out. However, the accounts of CPT Clarke and SGT Balanco make it clear that the orders came from the Marine command post at KSCB, relayed by LT Stamper. (Of course, COL Lownds' orders may have been misunderstood or misinterpreted by LT Stamper or the pilots.)

It has also been speculated that it could also have been a decision of the pilots due to the chaotic situation in the LZ as Vietnamese and Montagnard troops and civilians struggled for a place on the choppers. However, it again seems from CPT Clarke's and SGT Balanco's accounts that the command was generated earlier at a higher level.

Later that afternoon, Captain Clarke led a Special Forces unit in by chopper from FOB-3. They salvaged what they could, and destroyed everything of value to the enemy in the headquarters.

Despite the great valor of the defenders and their repulse of superior numbers of NVA, inflicting heavy losses upon them, this unit has never gotten more than a footnote or a paragraph or two at most in any histories I have read. (Ray Stubbe's "Valley of Decision" being one of the rare exceptions.)  Two small units one of less than 20 men, the other less than 200, fought off with few losses large elements of one of the finest regiments the NVA could throw at them, then marched back through the midst of the NVA.  This was one of the most impressive stories of that campaign.

When you compare the actions of the defenders at Khe Sanh Ville with some of the other actions at Khe Sanh, you see a strange dichotomy - a small force (the CAPs) waged a successful fight against vastly numerically superior force of the NVA with relatively few losses, while inflicting heavy losses on the enemy, whereas the defenders of Lang Vei, for example, (and no disrespect is intended here) failed to repulse the enemy forces, lost their base, and lost a large number of KIA, WIA, and MIA / POW.  Despite this, they and their rescuers received one Medal of Honor, 2 Distinguished Service Crosses, 21 Silver Star Medals and 19 Bronze Star Medals, while the forces at Khe Sanh village HQ received two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars (one posthumously upgraded to a Silver Star years later), and a few Purple Hearts.  Oscar 2 received no personal awards whatsoever - probably because there were no officers present.  A number of the defenders at Oscar 1 and 2 almost certainly should have been awarded a medal, or received a higher one than they eventually got - but this sort of thing happens quite often in war. 

However, the entire CAP program was belatedly issued a Presidential Unit Citation (deemed the equivalent to a Navy Cross for every man in the unit for combat units) and Navy Unit Citation (deemed the equivalent of a Silver Star for every man in a combat unit) for the period of the Tet assault. 

The Marines in Vietnam (including the CAP units) also received the Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallantry Cross Color) with Medal and Frame, for the period from March 8th, 1965 through September 20th 1969, and the Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Civil Action Color with palm and frame) ribbons.



     

   



The Siege 

As mentioned above, I had been med-evaced to NSA Da Nang with malaria and pneumonia before the assaults on Khe Sanh. Toward the end of my hospitalization, I was scheduled to be re-assigned to Cam Rahn Bay to the Army recuperation center there for a further 30 days, but as Tet had already begun, I wanted nothing but to return to my unit and learn the fate of my comrades, sharing it with them.

I first had to convince the admitting doctor that I was fit to fight.  That was difficult, as I wasn't and obviously looked it. However, I was determined to get back. While trying to wheedle, cajole, and verbally brow-beat the admitting doctor around to my way of thinking, I noticed men who seemed to be patients filling sand bags. I asked the doctor if they were expecting an assault (and sweating the prospect, because my weapon had been turned in at Khe Sanh before I left). He chuckled and said, "No. The general likes to have sandbags along the sidewalks -- he thinks it makes the place look military. We treat it as 'occupational therapy.' "  I replied, "Sir, if I am going to be filling sand bags, I want to be filling them to cover my bunker and my buddies' -- not to make some general happy!"  That seemed to turn the trick. He replied cheerfully, "You Marines are all crazy!" and wrote me back to duty, checking me out before I had even checked in! 

However, it took me three more days to get any transport, due to the huge onslaught of the NVA nationwide during this offensive. The flights were crammed -- going out with fresh troops, as well as the "Three Bs" every fighting unit needs -- "Beans, Bullets, and Bandage" and coming back with casualties. 

I ran into an obnoxious Army MP, while I was trying to get a flight back. He had pressed and ironed (possibly starched) jungle utilities (aka "fatigues") and spit-shined jump boots, and was packing a lot more pudge than he would have been if he had humped a few klicks with a pack and war-gear out in the bush.  

Looking at my hodge-podge uniform, which at the time I was med-evaced consisted of a pair of worn-out jungle boots, a rather tight pair of tiger-stripe indigenous utility trousers (meant for the native troops), a Marine green wool cold weather shirt, a Navy watch sweater, and my Scottish balmoral, he looked at me with suspicion and disdain, and asked; "What kind of uniform is THAT supposed to be, and what is your unit?" I repressed the strong urge to tell him to go use himself for a sex partner, and instead just told him I had come down from Khe Sanh for a hospital visit and was trying to get back. He grudgingly accepted this, but said if I wasn't out of there soon, he'd write me up.  He was clearly a REMF of the worst kind. Many men in the rear are there because they are ordered to be, not because they want to be. I have no problem with them. They were doing necessary jobs. He obviously was not one of those men, but a petty little apparatchik.  
 
As anxious as I was to get back to my unit, I cannot say that the real beds and clean sheets, hot showers, hot chow, cold drinks and air-conditioned night-club (with live bands and strippers) at the air base were hard to take.  Nevertheless, I still got the first flight to Khe Sanh I could get aboard - a chopper inbound with ammo, rations, and me.  We came in and were immediately taken under fire.  The chopper crew threw off their load and the passengers ran to the nearest trenches, all quickly learning the infamous "Khe Sanh Shuffle" en route to avoid becoming a casualty.  Welcome back to Khe Sanh!

According to my SRB, I was returned to duty on January 24th. That seems about the right date for my arrival and subsequent datable events.  

Locating my unit (who as mentioned above had been relocated on FOB-3 adjacent to the Khe Sanh Combat Base), I quickly learned about the events that had recently transpired - and that my own gear (except my Scottish Standard) had been left behind in the evacuation.

My comrades were very surprised to see me, the more so when I told him about the great conditions I have been living under for the past couple of weeks. More than one of them said then (and still say) that if they had the good fortune to be there, they would be there still, and called me a damned fool (among other less printable epithets) for coming back. Though I soon realized that they were probably right, I did not regret my rejoining them - though I was more than a bit jealous of the NVA guns, belts, knives and other souvenirs of the fight that they had acquired, and indeed, I was jealous of the magnitude of the battle they had fought and won. Little did I know that my own day of action was coming fast, although it would not leave me with any such colorful souvenirs (though the "souvenirs" I did acquire later have lasted a lifetime).

As noted above, PFC Jimmie Tyson had grabbed my Scottish Standard when they evacuated the O-2 compound, and returned it to me upon my return. I asked him why, when he had doubtless left behind much of his own gear. He replied simply, "I saw it and thought, if Taylor gets back, he'll want this."  He was right. I did want it - and it was a kind, indeed noble, thought and action at a time when I am sure he was shaken by the tremendous battle they had just survived. 

I was assigned to a corner bunker on the SW corner of FOB-3 already occupied by Special Forces 1st LT Grenville Sutcliffe, who was glad of the extra gun and the company - even of a Marine "enlisted puke" as he somewhat jocularly (?) referred to me.   


Map of Khe Sanh Combat Base & FOB-3 during the Siege
(Yellow high-lighted area shows the wire and trenches where Oscar Co. men were deployed after withdrawal from the ville, and O-3's former village of Ta Cong.)


Before the Siege, and even at the onset, many tents (and later bunkers) on Khe Sanh Combat Base flew state flags.  I asked 1st LT Sutcliffe if he would mind if I flew my Standard. He was more than happy to oblige, and even got a tent pole to use as a flagstaff. 

This Standard became (I believe) the last flag other than the US flag to come down at Khe Sanh, and only then under direct orders from the command, as they said it was being used as an aiming stake. (Which it doubtless was.)  It had by then sustained several shrapnel holes.  I have it to this day - the only thing I have left from Khe Sanh - other than my memories.



Royal Scottish Standard that flew at Khe Sanh

Unfortunately, neither PFC Tyson nor any of the others had recovered my bagpipes (whether because they were severely limited to what they could take, or possibly a lack of appreciation for that musical genre or my own fledgling skills, I am still not sure). 

When LT Sutcliffe found out, he told me that he loved bagpipes, and volunteered to retrieve them for me when he went on a mission to reconnoitre Khe Sanh ville on 26 January, soon after the evacuation.  

However, he and the patrol found a very warm reception from Khe Sanh's new occupants (see below for that story) so the pipes remained a "combat loss" along with most of my personal gear and souvenirs.  (I have often wondered if they survived the Siege, and if so, whether they are now gracing some Vietnamese mantle, with the owner telling "war stories" about how he had captured it, and 
 what a fight it had put up!) 

I also learned that my rifle had either been turned in when I went to the hospital, or possibly left behind (hopefully destroyed)  when they evacuated the village). Likewise, my pistol had disappeared. There were initially few weapons to be had, as the Marines of the combat base did not want to give us much of anything, and the Special Forces wanted to reserve their weapons for themselves and their native troops. 

As bad as that M-16 had been (having jammed multiple times in firefights), it had at least been some kind of weapon.  I ended up scrounging a very old, dirty, and rusty M1 rifle that might well have been issued to some Marine or soldier in World War II or Korea. I was not at all sure it would even fire, and if it did I was not at all sure it might not explode. Eventually, someone obtained an old M-16 for me, but it was in only marginally better condition than the M1. I  obtained a few magazines and some ammunition, and a rusty and dirty old bayonet, cleaned the relics up the best way I could (with almost no cleaning gear or solvent), and hoped for the best. 

Later, I would gather a very nice collection of very deadly weapons ranging from a .45 pistol to an M1 carbine  in decent shape, a Kabar knife, an M-79 grenade launcher with the stock cut off at the pistol grip and part of the barrel sawed off (which I wore when outside the wire as a sort of blunderbuss pistol, loaded with flechette), and of course, a bag of grenades. In our corner bunker, I also had a Browning .30 A4 air-cooled MG of Korean War vintage with a pistol grip that had been originally intended for the Viet indigenous forces.  All of these made me feel a bit more secure - despite knowing that the countryside and hills around us (other than those the marines had secured) were alive with NVA. How many, we weren't sure but the rumor mill put their numbers at as much as three divisions. If so, we were decidedly outnumbered - but I (and I believe most of us) were determined not to be outfought - at least not without exacting a steep price. 

While I had been gone, Khe Sanh Combat Base had become a source of political as well as military unease.  Comparisons had already been made with the French Foreign Legion defeat at Dien Bien Phu, and President Johnson (possibly because he was a Texan who "Remembered the Alamo") was perhaps even more sensitive to the political and military ramifications. He had allegedly declared that "Khe Sanh ain't gonna be any goddamned Din Bin Phu!" and was definitely micro-managing the situation, having a sand box model he reportedly examined daily. It is certain that he instructed GEN Westmoreland and the USMC commanders to not lose Khe Sanh at any cost, and ordered that no Marine patrols venture any further than 500 meters outside the wire of the Combat Base, and that the Marines button up and let the USAF and other air assets do the fighting. 

However, few battles have ever been won by air power alone, and no commander can wage a battle without solid regular intel, so the patrolling devolved to the MACV-SOG Special Forces troops manning FOB 3, who were under no such strictures - and sometimes, also to the CAP Marines who were now manning their lines, since we didn't come under the scrutiny of the Marine command next door at the Combat Base.  A few patrols were mixed, due to the fact that we CAP Marines often knew the local area better (the SOG men usually operating much farther out), and that we constituted an extra American gun.

The following is a description of one such "mixed" patrol that went out soon after my return. Since I was not a participant, I have used the recollections of those who were on that mission to draw upon. These include CPT “Rip” Van Winkle of HF Denver (whose account is based on his own and other recollections, and I believe on at least one After Action report done on or shortly after the day of the action, as well as on LCPL Lacey W. Lahren’s account written some time afterwards, and MSGT Bill Wood’s account, which, though written years later (4 Jan. 1997), is quite detailed and includes maps. 

I will also be posting Lacey’s version of events along with Rip’s and Bill Wood’s full accounts - all of which, like most of the first-person accounts I have read, differ from one another in some respects. This seems typical of such accounts, not just from this war, but as far back as I have been able to trace throughout the ages. 

Rip once said in one of his letters (while we were trying to collect and collate and reconcile the various accounts of our own action together (on Hill 471) that being the target of gunfire concentrates the mind wonderfully on one’s own situation. Very true, in my experience. As Bill Wood said in his letter to Rip regarding this action, “The problem with any biographical narrative is that the relator can only tell what he did and saw, himself.  He usually has scant knowledge of what went on elsewhere.  That's why S.L.A. Marshall's mass debriefing technique is so valuable for finding what really happened during any given operation.“  Though Marshall’s methodology and accuracy has sometimes been questioned, my own experiences in trying to collect, verify and collate these stories bears out these assessments of the difficulties of trying to make an accurate historic account - and trying to get some of those who experienced these events to share their experiences is sometimes akin to herding cats.

SF SOG Mission to Khe Sanh, 26th January 1968 
 
Shortly after my return to Khe Sanh, COL Lowndes, (the Marine commander) requested MAJ Lucian Campbell (the FOB commander) to send a patrol into Khe Sanh village to ascertain its status and confirm reports that it had been occupied by the NVA.  MAJ Campbell designated the men of Hatchet Force Denver, led by CPT Harlan E. ("Rip") Van Winkle, and consisting of  Van Winkle, his incoming replacement 1st LT Grenville Sutcliffe, SFC James Fusco, SGT Craig Lansing, SGT Don Rumph, and SP5 John Frescura and twenty-four of their Bru C.I.D.G. counterparts, including one of the Bru leaders, A’Den. 

Joining this veteran Special Forces SOG unit was a Marine volunteer "straphanger” LCPL Lacey W. Lahren of O-3, who had recently returned from “R&R”to Bangkok, Thailand, 
a period which he has called “The best five days of my life.”  

(Ed. Note: To a Vietnam veteran, “R & R” doesn’t stand for “Rock & Roll” [as this acronym is interpreted by most of our generation], but a week-long “Rest & Recuperation” leave to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, or other exotic places in the region [though I don’t think most of us got any “rest” during these leaves, which usually amounted to week-long binges & orgies]. There were a variety of places to choose from, such as, which were served by military or contracted civilian airlines.)  

Lacey had become acquainted with one of the Special Forces SOG men upon his return,  SFC Fusco (aka “Fuzzy”), and told him that he wanted to go along, offering as incentives the facts that he was an expert rifleman who had been point man and led patrols for six months; knew all the local trails and fighting positions; was a qualified radio operator and A-gunner on mortars and machine guns; and was proficient with every weapon that he had (in his words) “stolen from the Army SOBs.” His closing argument was; “And besides, I’d just been to Bangkok!” 

Whatever the reason(s), he was accepted by the HF Denver team and went out with them. 


LCPL Lacey Lahren & CPL Bruce Brown, Khe Sanh, 1968
(I believe this picture was taken some time after LCPL Lahren's return from the USS Repose.)
(Photo Courtesy of Lacey Lahren)
 
There was also what the SOG call a "Tack-On" mission - a walk-in insertion by one of the FOB’s Spike (Recon) teams consisting of a small group of US Army Special Forces soldiers and a unit of C.I.D.G. troops (Civilian Irregular Defense Groups were essentially mercenaries trained and led by SF troops and paid by the CIA.)

This Spike Team was led by MSGT Bill Wood, and included SSGT Gary Crone (a medic), and a full complement of Bru C.I.D.G. troops, including Xon, who was the 1st Sgt. of the Bru Company, and Tu, who was carried as the interpreter and had been through some training to qualify him for that position. (However, Wood used Xon as his interpreter, though Tu had the title so as to give him more money.

At the team leader's discretion, the Spike Team would break away from the Hatchet Force and proceed on a separate reconnaissance mission. However, events soon dictated otherwise. (MSGT Wood’s team would also play a major and tragic role in another SOG / Marine hybrid mission two days later on Hill 471.)


MSGT Bill Wood (R., glasses) & SSGT Gary Crone (L., cigarette) & team, Khe Sanh, 1968

SFC Fusco was leading the point element consisting (according to Rip’s version) of SFC Fusco, LCPL Lahren, SP5 John Frescura, and eight Bru including the Bru leader, A’Den, with the rest of the patrol staggered out along the route. 

LCPL Lahren recollects the point as consisting of Fusco as number two man on the left with three Bru, with Lahren on the right with two more Bru as the trailing element, but this may have been the “tip of the spear” as Rip states that SP5 Frescura and three more Bru were the trail element of the point)
 
They exited on foot from the east gate of the Marine base and proceeded through the garbage dump, then South-East along the ridge through the coffee plantation to Highway 9 (the main road running East and West). At that point they would turn southwest and follow the highway into Khe Sanh. 

The patrol moved out from the Marine base and though about 2 kilometers of the coffee plantation without incident, and the team connected with Highway 9 about 1.5 kilometers northeast of the “old French fort” and about 2.5 kilometers from Khe Sanh village. They by-passed the fort and proceeded directly to Khe Sanh (thus probably missing a potentially deadly encounter with NVA elements remaining from the Seymoe debacle, since reinforced with anti-aircraft guns.) The patrol then entered the village from the east on the south side of Highway 9. 

According to MSGT Wood’s account, his Spike team “married up with” Rip’s Hatchet Force somewhere around this point;  “I know we were tagging onto the tail of your column before we reached the small cement bridge (just big enough for a chopper pad) more or less in the middle of Khe Sanh town.”


Aerial Photo of Khe Sanh Ville 1967, showing District HQ compound (center, right). Hwy. 9 is the red dirt road running E. to W.  
(Taken before the Siege by MAJ James Whitenack, provided courtesy of him and LCDR Ray Stubbe)




Map of Khe Sanh village showing the key elements in MSGT Wood's narrative.
(Drawn by and courtesy of the late MSGT Bill Wood, 1997)

Legend:

A.  District Headquarters Building.  Large, hip-roofed stucco or cement bldg.  1 stories high,  w/ all fire coming from ground-floor windows, which were maybe 1 ft. from ground.  Surrounded by clear yard, 75-100 meters wide on all sides.  A few tall trees but no brush or low cover.

B.  Bunker, about 10-15 meters from corner of bldg.  Sometimes I picture it clearly, other times I'm just as positive that it didn't exist.

C.  Wire 3 or 4 strand cattle fence, about 3-4 foot tall, w/ thin hedge growing in it.  Cut by driveways.  Lower, maybe 2-3 feet in front of District Hq.

D.  Shallow ditch, 1-2 feet deep, cut by driveways running over culverts maybe 1 ft. in diameter.

E.  Route #9

F.  Row of buildings.  Seemed to be shops on ground floor w/ living accommodations upstairs.  All shops closed, all people gone.

G.  Steep slope down to

H.  Small stream, maybe 3-4 ft. wide,  - 1 ft. deep

I.  Buildings (Shacks?) set 10-15 meters from fence-hedge, w/ outbuildings around and behind them.  I think this was the upscale section of Khe Sanh, but the buildings were flimsy.  I recall no brick or even stucco construction.

J.  Lane or alley behind Distr. Hq. Compound. Don't know where it led.

K.  Where my Spike team moved to initially, so as to put flanking fire on those firing from Distr. Hq. Bldg.  Routes to & from indicated.

L.  After being recalled so gunships could be brought in I took position here, with Crone standing above me, Xon and Tu just outside District compound fence to my left rear, and most of Bru spread down the ditch to my rear.  Since the Bru (gunner) was not operating the M-60 I took it to give covering fire so as to get back across the driveway the 6 or 7 guys stuck over there.  Eventually fired up all the ammo the Bru had for that gun, and all the people got back across the driveway.

M.  Railless cement bridge that made a pretty good chopper pad for casualty evacuation.

N.  Path that ran from about this point to the road to our & the Marine camp gates, joining that road some hundreds of yards N. of the Plantation.  After the casualties were evacuated, we returned to camp by this route while you & the Hatchet followed Hwy #9 and the road past the plantation.

O.  Hill 471 & pimple, about 450-500 meters.

P. Bunker about 5-600 meters to the west, where the road curved to the left, and that an MG (or at least an AK or two with very fast magazine changers) was firing down the road at us from there.

Q. Approximate location of those stuck  west of the driveway.

R. Approximate position of Rip & party.  I thought they were upstairs, but Rip says they were hidden behind the 4x4 posts in front of a shop.

Fusco then signaled Van Winkle  to come up, and the decision was made to send the point up the highway about fifty meters to the patrol’s front to the MACV compound, while Rip and 1stLT Sutcliffe with eight BRU moved through the houses on the north side of the highway, while MSGT Wood would take his team to the south side of the highway (to include the south side of the MACV compound).  SGT Craig Lansing and SGT Don Rumph would move out about seventy-five meters behind the point and act as a reserve element.  

Moving carefully and slowly, they advanced to a point approximately 150 meters east of the MACV compound. Rip later wrote that he “had almost come to the conclusion that if the NVA were there. they weren't there in strength.” (As in many American conclusions about the PAVN, this would soon be proven to be in error.)

The point element proceeded to move out with Fusco "number two" in line on the left with three Montagnards, and LCPL Lahren with the radio on the right point with two Montagnards, and SP5 Frescura and his team trailing.

Here the versions again begin to differ somewhat. Van Winkle describes the point as moving to within about twenty meters of the gate leading into the MACV compound when heavy firing broke out from small arms and two machine guns inside the compound, but that nobody was hit during the initial fire. 

However, LCPL Lahren describes Fusco as initiating “recon by fire” - e.g., firing random bursts at nearby buildings or possible enemy positions in an attempt to elicit return fire, but not receiving any until they reached the near vicinity of the former MACV compound, home of the sub-sector and CAP HQs - upon which the heavy firing opened up, and Lahren was hit shortly afterwards, a glancing blow on the knuckle that drew blood and then almost immediately again in the right shoulder. He also saw a Bru being hit, and all of the point ended up in the scant shelter afforded by a narrow and shallow ditch to their left.  Lahren describes the ditch as being from “12 - 14 inches deep” and says the heavy fire was “plowing the front edge away.” He was also annoyed by the fact that Fusco wanted his magazines, because every time Fusco opened fire, the other side would respond with a fusillade which had so far resulted in Lahren’s being hit - and he was “tired of getting shot.”)

Lahren stated he knew they needed to get someone in position across the road, but as he prepared to attempt to rush it, he was hit again, this time in the left thigh. Lahren states that as Fusco was enquiring about his wounds, and asking for more magazines, Fusco also was lightly wounded in the neck. Fortunately, the wound was not as serious as Lahren’s, but things were looking rather glum at this point - and then the “cavalry” arrived, in the form of Van Winkle and Lansing. 

MSGT Wood’s account of this period states: “About the time the head of the column reached the District Hq. Bldg. a few caps popped and everyone got into the shallow ditch that ran along the left (south) side of Hwy #9.  Considerable shouting, etc. but no firefight, so after finding out where the fire was coming from I took my Spike through yards east of  Distr. Hq. to the SE corner of the Distr. Compound, more or less - being careful to guard against NVA on my left.  There were none, which sort of amazed me. 

As I recall, there were no openings in the E. end of the Distr. Hq. Bldg.  We put some fire on the doors and windows in the back (S. side), about a magazine apiece, but got no return fire.  Then your radioman called us back to Hwy #9;  you were calling in gunships.  After some futile argument (I felt we were in a psn. that could cause the NVA some trouble) we fell back to the Hwy and most got into the ditch along with everyone else.

I wandered up toward the head of the column to find 6 or 7 people (including the Marine, about whom more later) stuck on the other (west) side of the 1st driveway into the Distr. Hq. Compound.  No one seemed to be shooting so I laid out a few rounds w/ my CAR-15, without noticeable effect.

Van Winkle’s account states that when the firing broke out, he had been moving through some houses on the north side of Highway 9 with four Bru, and was able to move to a point directly across the road from Fusco where they located at least two enemy positions. Van Winkle also related a “black humor” incident, typical of those that can occur in war.

The four M-16s they could bring to bear were “not making much of an impression” so they decided to try the M-79, which they obtained from the wounded Lahren who had been carrying it. The problem was a high fence running past the compound less than twenty feet from Fusco and one of the Bru. Van Winkle was about twenty yards from the fence. 
The gunner was unable to lob rounds over the fence to effectively bring fire on the NVA positions, so Fusco was beginning to feel the heat and said he would appreciate more action.

Van Winkle took the M-79, told Fusco to get his butt down and attempted to fire directly through the fence. The round didn't make it through, detonating in the wire. 

(Ed. Note: This may have been a case of being “hoist by his own petard” as the barbed wire had been augmented by chicken wire, which, while it would do little to nothing to stop intruders, had been demonstrated to have the salubrious effect of detonating incoming rockets and [apparently] M-79 rounds before they reached our bunkers, thus reducing the penetration power of the shaped charges. It had been installed as part of the defensive improvements initiated some time before Tet, and served the defenders well during the initial assaults. Unfortunately, our forces were now trying to get back in to the previously abandoned works, which the enemy had occupied in the interim. Thus all the carefully and laboriously prepared defenses were now working against the Americans who had built them. C’est la guerre.)

The next instant Fusco was cussing and saying; "Damn it! Captain. You shot me!" The next round made it through the fence and took out the enemy position. 
(However, it was later learned that in fact an enemy round had inflicted the damage.) 

Bill Wood’s account states: “about this time someone fired an M-79 round into the fence/hedge beside the ditch in front of Distr. Hq.  This brought loud, outraged yells of accusation from those across the driveway.” 

Meantime, Van Winkle states that "SP5 John Frescura had commandeered an M~60 machine gun from the Bru gunner and charged up the middle of the highway laying down a solid base of fire
(He was later awarded the Silver Star for this action). Under the cover of his fire and some belated gunship support, they were able to extract Fusco and the rest of the point element.


SP5 John Frescura c. 1967
(Provided by and used courtesy of John Frescura)


According to MSGT Wood’s account, he was also firing an M-60. 

“I took an M-60 from a Bru who wasn't using it, got into the ditch at the driveway, and called across to the guys on the other side.  I'd fire a burst, and as I was firing, one of them was to dash across the gap.  Crone came up with Xon  (my 01) and Tu (carried as my interpreter).  

The 2 Bru got inside the fence along the Hwy. into the yard just E. of the District Compound & Crone either straddled me or stood up next to the fence.  I shouted, we all 
fired, and those west of the driveway came across, one at a time.  I think you were firing at this time, too, and possibly some others.  But most of the Bru were strung out down the ditch behind me, where they  couldn't bring fire to bear on the Distr. compound.

The first two across, I think, were Bru, then US's, w/ maybe another Bru or so mixed in (I was fairly busy, and it seemed more important to make sure they all got back, rather than who they were.)  The first or second US across was the Marine, who was shot through the face or neck, below the jawbone but not in the throat.  You wrote that this was one of your men, Fusco.  I remember the Marine as being a heftier fellow than most of us, and with more throat below the jawbone.

(Ed. Note: It is doubtful that Lacey was the “hefty” one - he was quite thin despite his five days R&R.)

Wood continues; "About this time Tu left - I think he was out of ammo - and I told Crone (who was a medic) to take a look at the guy with the wound, and he left, too.  A Bru crawled up with another couple of belts for the M-60.  A few more long bursts and everyone was back across the driveway.  Xon left somewhere along here too, also out of ammo.  I seem to recall that some more of the returnees were wounded slightly, and I think one of the US's coming back was being helped by a couple other Americans.  Some  more shouting that I didn't really pay much attention to.  I laid out a couple more bursts, found I was getting low on ammo, and looked around to find I was all alone.  Everyone else was gone.  

Cursing mightily I started to pull back, and as I got up I noticed the muzzle flash from an apparent MG that was firing from a bunker where Hwy # 9 bent to the left, about 600 meters to the west.  By the time I'd moved 150-175 meters back,  I'd started down the slope to the bridge & he couldn't see me anymore.  But I was also out of ammo, and became aware of someone moving among the houses on the S. side of the Hwy, back about 12-15 meters from the road.  What's worse, they were shooting at me.  I took to diving across the remaining driveways, but still, whoever it was (I think there was only one, or at most 2 of them) put a bullet through my boot, just above the sole at the instep.  Fortunately, I was wearing a thick, Army issue arch support, which the bullet destroyed.  Hurt my foot, too, but didn't break the skin.

The patrol finally got some heavy air support when CPT Lee Dunlap (back on FOB 3) called a "Prairie Fire" emergency. 

(Ed. Note: Bill Wood remembers the air as coming prior to the M-79 incident recounted above. Van Winkle wrote that he later learned that Lee was arrested by MAJ Wills, USMC Assistant Operations Officer for "unauthorized use of air assets” [!!!]  As Van Winkle says, “…the only reason Lee had to use those assets was because the Marines refused to fire their artillery in support of the operation as requested, because some misguided soul thought there were still some "friendlies" in Khe Sanh village.” 

Rip also stated; “...the political bureaucracy which we had to contend with in order to do the job was almost overwhelming. It would have been funny had it not been so tragic. COL Lowndes arrived on the scene just in time to defuse the situation. I don't think Lee was going to be taken alive.” CPT Dunlap would also call in a Prairie Fire for Rip a few days later - again saving his team from almost certain destruction by a numerically superior enemy force. I was on that patrol, and can say for all of us who survived as a result, “THANK YOU, Lee!!!”)


Hatchet Force Denver on eastern outskirts of Khe Sanh village. 
(This seems to have been taken during or immediately after the air support mission as the unit exited the ville - note what appears to be a napalm or HE bomb explosion.)
( Photo courtesy of LCPL Lacey Lahren [?] ) 

 
After being in contact for the better part of three hours the teams were able to withdraw and evacuate their dead and wounded. Lahren and Fusco was evacuated back to the MCB. Lahren wished to walk out, but was ordered to board the med-evac flight. In Lahren's own words:

Fireballs rolled through the village fifty yards in front of us and we sighted down our rifles looking for targets, payback, payback.  I asked if we were going back in to take the compound and I got a pretty emphatic no. ‘As soon as the medevac chopper gets you and Fusco out we're going back to the base.’  I said, ‘I feel fine I'll walk.’  ‘As soon as the chopper gets you and Fusco out we're going back.’  ‘I feel fine.’  ‘You're getting on the chopper.’ ‘Fine.’ “

A CH-34 helicopter whop-whopped us back up to FOB 3 and in minutes we were in the command bunker.  SF medics fished a slug out of my thigh and probed my shoulder wound.  They couldn't get at the round in my shoulder and said I would have to be medevaced to DaNang.  I said, ‘It’s just a little hole, give me a shot and a bandage, I feel fine, I'll come back if it bothers me.’   ‘No, the round has to come out and the wound needs to be debrided, we can't do that here.’ ‘But I feel fine.’ ‘You're going to DaNang.’ ‘Fine.’ “

 Van Winkle wrote; “…in addition to Fusco's and Lahren’s wounds, A'Den, the Bru platoon leader that had replaced Lua, had been killed along with two other Bru. There were several other minor wounds but nothing to stop us from walking the five kilometers back to the FOB."

Wood wrote; “I came down to the bridge, where everyone was gathered, and grabbed my Spike members.  Put 2 or 3 of them to watching up the road and the rest to guarding against any hostilities from the houses on the S. side.  Someone had already called  for Medevac.  A couple officers were talking as I came up to the group, and one said: "So-and-So was the last man out."  (I can't remember the name; may have been Bru.)  Being still shaky from getting left behind, and from getting shot at when I was out of ammo, I remarked with some heat: 'No, by God, he was not.  I was!'

The medevac bird arrived - I think it was a Marine H-34 - and the casualties were put aboard.  I insisted that Crone go, too, as he had some small fragment wounds in his forearms, I think, face.

The Hatchet shook itself out and started down Hwy #9, toward the old French Fort.  I gathered up my Spike and took a path that ran from just E. of the bridge to the road to camp, coming out there about 1/3 of the way from the Plantation to the turn-in to our camp gate.  (An interesting speculation is, were the NVA on Hill 471 and the pimple just to the SE of it?  If so, they could see us plainly, but we had no inkling of their presence.)  

We turned onto the road to camp and got a radio call from the FOB: Was that us coming onto the road? Seems that the FOB CO had dispatched a support force to back us up.  That force had met or seen you turning from Hwy #9 onto the road to camp, and had turned back.  They saw my Spike entering the road, and wanted to know were we friend or enemy?  I popped a panel at them, which seemed reassuring.  And without further adventures we walked in the camp gate and down to our part of the perimeter on the west side, close to the southwest corner.  When the rocket barrage started we were snug in our trench and bunkers.

Van Winkle continued, “Just as we reached the gate at the FOB we were greeted by a heavy rocket barrage from the NVA. One of the hardest things I did all day was to keep all of the HF members from trying to run into the FOB compound and seek shelter in the bunkers. Obviously the safest place for us was on the outside of the perimeter. 

When the incoming rounds seemed to have ceased we moved into the compound. MAJ Campbell and MAJ Quamo said that FOB radio operators had been monitoring the NVA radio net and that NVA leaders were concerned about still holding Khe Sanh, and were sending a larger force with which to reinforce. I commented they were welcome to it, that my mission had been to confirm they were there. They were.

…One cannot express the relief I felt when I was later informed the surgeon had removed an AK-47 round from his neck. We were both sure that it was fragments from the exploding M- 79 round that had caused his wound. We never considered the possibility of his being shot by an NVA rifleman at the exact moment I fired the M-79 into the fence. (Fusco survived that wound only to die of a heart attack while hunting shortly after his retirement.)

Meanwhile, LCPL Lahren had also been seen, but though they extracted a round in his leg, they had to send him on to Da Nang for further treatment, and from there was sent to the USS Sanctuary, a hospital ship off the coast. Of these events Lahren wrote;

Things weren't going my way, maybe they hadn't all day but I just hadn't noticed it.  As I stepped out of the bunker I came face to face with an SF Major who had some rhetorical questions about the gunfight.  ‘Where's your gear?’  All I had left was my rifle and some magazines.  ‘How many times you get hit?’ ‘Twice sir.’  ‘Twice! you know how many times I've been shot?’  He stuck a beefy hand with fingers splayed in my face. ‘Five times. I've been shot five times and I've never left my gear behind.’  Just what I needed, a role model who gets shot all the time. "

(Ed. Note: I don’t know who that major was, but I think his indictment was a bit harsh. While I can’t speak for him, I can state that during my subsequent expedition with the Special Forces, I was amazed at how much gear they jettisoned as we fought our way down 471. Marines, being on a much tighter budget, couldn’t afford to be so free, and we had been taught to not leave anything behind for “Mr. Charles” to come along and hoover up, because it might come back to bite us in the rump. See my account of 471 [below] for further details.)

Lahren continued; “Four Marines from my platoon had walked up behind me, they looked pretty grim, things were about to go high order. I walked off a few feet with them and showed them the slug from my leg, all I had to show for the day.  They passed my trophy around, expertly assessed that it was probably a 30 caliber round, acted duly impressed, and the last one flicked it off  his thumb like a booger.  Damn.  What they didn't know, what the Major didn't know, was that in the left pocket of my shirt, at the bottom of the river, was a pair of panties given to me by a girl named Lucky in Bangkok. Irony upon irony.

Fuzzy and I were taken to a sandbagged hootch near the airstrip where a Navy Corpsman was tending the wounded waiting for a medevac to the Naval Support Activity Hospital in DaNang. Fuzzy was on a stretcher, semi-conscious and muttering and I was trying to keep him company.  I was feeling a little shot up and a lot shit upon when I looked up and saw three heavily armed figures silhouetted in the glare of the nearly horizontal rays of the afternoon sun.  Van Winkle, Crone, and another Green Beret had just returned from the patrol and had come to check on Fusco and me.

Van Winkle thanked me for my help and said he was putting me in for the Bronze Star.  I couldn't answer, I choked up.  What a rollercoaster.  Fusco tried to raise up off the stretcher and said, "Captain, where are my boys, did I get my boys killed, where are my boys Captain".

Three days later Crone was killed on Hill 471 and Captain Van Winkle took shrapnel in the legs.  I never saw the team again. 

(Ed. Note: In addition to Crone, 471 cost the lives of SFC Chuck Tredinnick and several more of our Bru counterparts, as well as the serious wounding of 1st LT Sutcliffe and several Bru. This was followed by the almost immediate rotation of Van Winkle and his team, which caused more confusion, due to his family being incorrectly notified first that he had been KIA or seriously WIA. Between the confusion and the fact that he had lost a close friend (Tredinnick), his intention to put Lahren (and later me) in for a medal had been completely blown out of his mind.  Furthermore, he did not have much information about us, having only known us for a few hours on the days of the actions. When I located him in the early ‘90s, he said he had been “remiss” in not putting us in. However, I can understand the confusion surrounding both the fights and the events thereafter. 

MSGT Wood also spoke in his letter to Rip of a medal for Lacey, writing in his usual droll fashion, “I suggested to a couple of your (Rip’s) NCOs that they put that guy in for a medal, deserved or not, for his efforts w/ us. Preferably an ARCOM. (Army Commendation Medal)  That, I figured, would send the Marine Corps into orbit.”  It is quite likely it would have.
 
It is obvious that Rip thought Lacey’s efforts worth a medal, and told me as much when we had our first reunion in 1993. But not everyone who deserves one gets a medal, which are largely distributed, as Napoleon (one of the first commanders to distribute medals to enlisted men) intended them [like executions for cowardice or desertion, in the words of Voltaire], “Pour encourager les autres” - for the encouragement of others.  Likewise, not every person who gets one deserves it.)

Lahren continues; “The last time I saw Fuzzy he was slabbed out in Da Nang and three Corpsman were trying to get me back on a gurney.  He asked me about his boys.  I lied to him.  Two Bru died of wounds on that patrol.  They told me Fuzzy would be all right and that he was being flown to Japan.”
                                                            
LCPL Lahren was later sent on to the Hospital Ship USS Sanctuary. He wrote of this period:   

The tinny smell of oxidizing blood and the congealing puddle on my plastic sheet alerted me through my anesthesia.  I whispered corpsman, and a couple pints of plasma were drained into me as they wheeled me out of the darkness and moans of the recovery room and back into the glare of the operating room.  Nobody's fault.  During the night a nicked artery had ruptured in my shoulder wound. 

After three days I was ambulatory and assigned to run the elevator that took the incoming wounded from the flight deck down to x-ray, the first stop.  Therapy I guess.  Make you feel useful, a part of things.  I saw Marines die on my elevator, I saw the light go out in their eyes.  It was a very busy time, Tet.  I asked to get off the ship.  They said three weeks.  In twelve days I was back in Phu Bai.

The 3rd Combined Action Group had reassigned me to Alpha Company in the Phu Bai area.  They said nothing was going back to Khe Sanh except food and ammunition.  Nothing was coming out except wounded, not even the dead.  It took me five days and three aborted landings to get back to Khe Sanh.

I made new friends on the SOG teams and I patrolled until my platoon rotated out of Khe Sanh in April.  I had a new pair of jungle boots, both size nine, I had time in country, and this was just another work day.


LCPL Lahren at the end of his "work day" awaiting med-evac for his multiple wounds to Da Nang, January 26th, 1968
(Courtesy of LCPL Lacey W. Lahren)


Bill Wood’s letter to Rip summarized his thoughts on the day. “I don't think there were more than 1 plt. of NVA in Khe Sanh town on the day we were there. (This is hindsight speaking.  On that day I'd have said considerably more.)  But no one was outflanking me, until the very last moments of the fracas--but if Charlie  had any men at all, he'd flank you by the time the second round was fired! The fire I took from the houses S. of the road was, I think, from 1 or at most 2 (probably 2--Viets usually did NOT operate alone) people.   And yet, we could easily have been outflanked, either down the ravine behind the houses you were in/around, or into the houses S. of Hwy 9.”

MSGT Wood's assessment of enemy numbers is probably not too far off the mark, as the elements of the 66th Regiment who had assaulted the village had, as noted above, been largely decimated. It is probable that the NVA were neither prepared for such a large loss as they suffered nor willing to risk more immediately, as they doubtless expected further attempts to regain the District HQ compound, such as those proposed and desired by Robert Brewer, the CIA agent for Quang Tri. They were probably also lying low to avoid the devastating American air and artillery missions. However, since the Marines were both unwilling and (after the explosion of the ammo dump) unable to support any outlying positions, it is unlikely the the compound could have been held even if it were retaken. 


(To be continued)

 


 



 





















(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, their 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. 

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