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

(Ed. Note: I contracted simultaneous cases 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 apparently less adept Chief Hospital Corpsman at "C" Med who saw me was convinced it was just "jungle fever" and 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, I was 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. The Chief at Charlie Med wanted to send me back to the field yet again, falsely libeling me as a "malingerer" and a "goldbrick." Fortunately for me, a real doctor saw me as I sat in an ambulance waiting to be sent back to my unit yet again. Looking me over efficiently and asking a few questions, he made 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, where their expert treatment soon put me right. I remained there during the rest of the month, and was therefore not in the village during the initial assault of the 1968 Tet Offensive, which preceded the Siege of Khe Sanh. I returned about January 25th, 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.)

As much as the North Vietnamese 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 minor irritants, rather than a real threat.

However, control of Rt. 9 and the passes around Khe Sanh could be strategically significant, as mentioned elsewhere.

Another main reason for attacking and capturing the compound which O-1 was helping to defend was its political and propaganda value. The military HQ in Khe Sanh village was also (as mentioned above) the political headquarters of the Hướng Hóa Sub-Sector, which made it a ripe and symbolic political plum, just as the objectives in Saigon and Hue were -- Hue was the ancient imperial capital, and was considered the cradle of Vietnamese culture, while Saigon was the capitol and 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. Likewise, there are two possible explanations for the NVA build-up - one being that they planned a repeat of Dien Bien Phu, the other that their activities at Khe Sanh were a ruse to tie up US resources while they attacked the Southern targets, like Hue. We were not privy to command decisions (or for that matter, decisions at any level), so I leave that debate to other historians. However, it does seem that whatever the original intentions of both commanders, the enemy's inability to take or hold Khe Sanh early on may have led to its being placed on the "back burner" since it was definitely working to tie up US resources.

However that may be, little was done on the American side 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. (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.

The late LCPL William Allen Breedlove of O-1 was formerly in D Co. 1 / 26. In Sep. or Oct. 1967 they offered him a CAP quota. He took it and in Nov. 67 joined Oscar-1. The night before the assault he was sent down to check the bridge about 2 AM w / only a pistol and radio. There were 2 Bru at the bridge. He remembered feeling that something was "off" because there was no noise, no candles in the windows, no chickens, etc. His original post was in Whiting's bunker, in the front on the left as you came in.

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 discussed, 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 the Hướng Hóa Sub-District HQ and O-1 and O-2 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, 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 gave the time as being around 0500.) Likewise, the Marines of O-2 give similar estimates to CPT Clarke's.

CPT Bruce B. G. Clark

Army District Advisor, Khe Sanh, 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 (particularly since the enemy main assault force, the 7th Bn.. of the 66th Regt. had been held up due to a B-52 bombing the day before), they went off piecemeal. In any case, the assault on the CAP compounds let the Marines at Khe Sanh Combat Base know for sure that the enemy was out in force.

(ED. NOTE: A Marine line infantry officer once told me at a reunion; "We loved the CAPs!" I registered surprise, as I had heard 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 roughly 12 Marines and a platoon of their Bru counterparts, with a recently arrived SGT (who has requested anonymity) as NCOIC, commanded 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 his 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 their NCOIC, a SGT who had only recently arrived from one of the more southerly CAPs (and who has asked not to be named), 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.

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, consisting of: 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. O-2 was separated from the HQ and O-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 verifiably 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 arguably 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 Stanker was on FOB 3 upon my return. (Woolverton had been med-evaced)

For my part, I am willing 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. However, a SGT (who has requested anonymity) didn’t recall them being there, but in a phone conversation, he recalled that there was only one bunker he hadn’t entered directly during the fighting - the radio bunker - which, as trained radio operators, is where LCPL Woolverton and PFC Stanker would have been.

Add to that the fact that the SGT (who has requested anonymity) was fairly recently arrived, and that LCPL Woolverton was med-evac'ed shortly after, and it seems reasonable to suppose that he may have missed them. In my opinion, this solves the question, and LCPL Woolverton and PFC Stanker were indeed at their posts during the assaults. LCPL Woolverton has recently written a memoir about his time in the Marines 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, and has written a book about Khe Sanh. While undoubtedly an excellent writer, as well as 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 is in possession of a citation for a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for service to the CAP unit - but the date is incorrect. According to those who were verifiably there, the actual date of the assault on KS ville was January 21st, 1968. There was no action on January 20th. Also, MAJ (then CPT) Nhi Tinh, then senior RVN officer and District Chief, said 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 ["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. Nobody who was verifiably there remembers seeing or citing him for anything.

His version of the 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 during the action would know this particular information. [I am not at liberty to divulge the specific information, in case legal action is undertaken.]

The NCOIC (who has requested anonymity) 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. The NCOIC 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 the NCOIC, who this gentleman cited as having been his inspiration to have joined CAP. While this may have been true, the NCOIC [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 PF w/ radioman LCPL Charles D. Stanker

( Photo courtesy of Charles D. Stanker)

To the west of the compound was a picturesque local Buddhist 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, AAT District Advisor showing Houang Hoa Sub District HQ and O-1 (center-right). Note triangular fortification on right. This was the Bru/Viet area, and bore the brunt of the assaults.

Hwy. 9 is the red clay road that runs roughly 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 Hướng Hóa 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 run as high as 2400. The PAVN leader, Nguyen Van Thieng, threw his men into action.

The garrison didn't know it at the time, 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 or earlier in the morning) the outcome of the battle might have been very different.

(NOTE: The Marine official account and that of the late Robert Pisor in his history of Khe Sanh ("The End of the Line") states that 1st LT Stamper, the CO of Oscar Company, conducted the defense and called in fire. However, COL (then CPT) Clarke of the AA Team, the O-1 NCOIC at the time (who has requested anonymity), MAJ Nhi Tinh and the USAF FAC, CPT Ward Britt, have all stated on several occasions in writing and conversation that 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 man 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 that gentleman's presence, and his claim to have called in the fire. The only people who were definitely and verifiably in and around the command bunker [including the NCOIC 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 the anonymous NCOIC directed the actual ground defense while he [Clarke] called in fire, which the NCOIC has also stated to me in several conversations and E-mails. COL Clarke has written a book detailing his version of events, entitled "Expendable Warriors." The NCOIC has also written of his experience, but his version is not currently in print, other than as quotes given at various times. 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 Sub District HQ / O-1 compound, O-2 compound, the "French Fort" and Lang Vei

Detail from PAVN ("NVA") 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 from his book, "Expendable Warriors" available in hard-cover and paperback. See Bibliography for details )

The assault was three-pronged, with the main thrusts being against the RF and PF positions in the triangle adjacent to the Houang Hoa Sub District HQ / O-1 compound, and secondary envelopments on the right and left (attempting to assault through 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 assaulted repeatedly for up to six hours. In addition to 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 Regt. of the NVA, the CAP Marines and their native counterparts were inflicting heavy damage on the enemy, as were the air and artillery supporting arms fire.

CPL Verner Ray 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 (estimated by the NCOIC as a hundred or more), who at times penetrated to within 30 feet of his position. All eye-witness accounts state that the enemy dead were literally piled up in front of his position. CPL Russell later received the Silver Star medal 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, the NCOIC 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, the NCOIC 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.

Vietnamese nurse Co Cha, and AAT medic 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 the NCOIC, who continued his duties despite his wounds.

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

Seeing that the faltering RFs needed stiffening, the NCOIC asked 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.

LCPL Howard McKinnis spoke about his experience.

"I went through MCRD San Diego at the end of June, 1966. I remember the fireworks at the Navy base on the 4th of July.

After landing in Vietnam, I was in L 3/26 for 4 months, but I volunteered for CAP because I wanted to see more action, and heard that CAP got a lot. I went to CAP school, and was assigned to Oscar. On my first day in Oscar, Tet started (21 January 68).

I was in a bunker with a blonde guy who had told me that Tet would be a "big party." I lay down after my watch in a bunker on the pagoda side.

A short time later, the assault started, and I later gave my flak jacket and helmet to 2 ARVN. During the first assault, the blonde kid shot LAAWs at the pagoda, one malfunctioned twice, so he threw it into the wire - and it went off!

A short time later, we took a HE round (I was in the trenches) and I was blown ass over teakettle, had a ringing in my ears and I was bleeding from the eyes ears, and nose.

Near nightfall, the sergeant ook me from that position to the ARVN lines near the corner of the perimeter. He also brought in Butch Still from another place on the line, one at each end, to stiffen the ARVN lines.

One of the things that amazed me that the NVA had carried in loaded sandbags to serve as firing positions.

When I left, I had gotten an NVA helmet, knife, gas mask, AK and magazine, but I was booted from chopper outside the compound (in the midst of the dead NVA) because the chopper was overweight. I ran back to the compound over the punji ditch - the AK got snagged in wire, so I abandoned it, and got on the next chopper, which got me to the combat base."

The NCOIC returned to the command bunker regularly to update CPT Clarke and LT Stamper on the situation.

Approximately 0900, as the NCOIC 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 gun crew to abandon the exposed position.

The NCOIC 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, the NCOIC 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 the NCOIC (and McKinnis's) account, LCPL McKinnis looked up and they both smiled. The NCOIC described McKinnis in his story of the fight as "One hell of a Marine!"

I have been told that a radio tuned into the NVA 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 affairs 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.

The NCOIC 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 (name redacted by his request) 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. (See In Memoriam)

SFC Jim Perry (See In Memoriam) 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 the O-1 NCOIC'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 to other units.)

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

CPL Joe Potter, 1967

LCPL Jerry French, c. 1968

( Photo courtesy of Jerry French )

Although they lacked the numbers of O-1, their courage and determination was great. The pre-set fields of supporting 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, and helped in the defense as needed. (Doc has told me 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 Terry ("Sully") Sullivan and LCPL Donald 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 the 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. 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 M-60 parallel to the road (to the right of the "tower" bunker). On the 2nd day of fighting, he had just leaned down to get his lighter, which he had dropped, when a shell struck (which he believes may have been from an American gun) and he was literally buried alive by the dirt and debris.

"Doc" and the other Marines had to dig him out. When they released him, he was still alive, but couldn't hear temporarily because of the damage he had received to his ear-drums, but Frenchy was still ready to fight. He was also "mad as hell" because the blast had destroyed his weapon, but he deployed one of the Korean vintage BARs we had for the Bru RFs, and was soon laying down deadly fire on the attackers.

In a telephone conversation some years ago, French stated;

"I was addled. 'Doc' Sargent dug me out. After we were evacuated, I took that damned machine gun to Phu Bai. I thought they might give me another one."

We ran a short patrol out after the first attack. They pulled back for a little while. The field next to the pagoda was covered with bodies. One had a hole in the forehead, just a little hole, but the whole back of his head was missing."

LCPL Gullickson told me years later 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 "That really rang my bell." He remembers feeling very cold despite being wrapped in a blanket, and Doc was worried about him.

"Doc" Roberts 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 building that Doc Roberts' 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, CPL Hardin and LCPLs Gullickson and Biddle 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 sniper, mortar and RPG fire, but limited their infantry action, probably because most of their assault element had been decimated.

Following the repelling of the determined NVA assault on the Hướng Hóa Sub-District HQ and Oscar Co., the defenders were in a dangerous situation. Their ammunition was almost exhausted, and they had taken some casualties, but they were determined to hold their position if they could be resupplied. However, an attempt to fly in an ammunition resupply failed when the pilots, spooked by the sniper fire, refused to land or even hover low, and instead kicked the ammo off the bird when it was still high, resulting in most of it landing either in the wire or minefield or outside the wire. Little was recovered by the defenders.

An attempt was made by a Marine platoon from D Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines to reinforce them by land. However, when the platoon reached a hill overlooking the village, they could clearly see North Vietnamese troops deploying, and as their point element entered the ville, COL Lownds decided that the relief mission was too dangerous and ordered the platoon to return.

(Ed. Note: Some of the following material was gathered from Ray Stubbe's book "The Final Formation" and is used with his kind permission, and some details from the after action report.)

According to Ray Stubbe (in "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 74 ARVN troops flown in 9 UH-1E helicopters from the 282d Assault Helicopter Company ("Black Cats") squadron, led by LTCOL Joseph Philip Seymoe of MACV Det. #19, Brewer's deputy.

Brewer therefore decided on an attempt to relieve and reinforce the compound, and launched U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Seymoe of MACV Det. #19 (the deputy advisor for Quang Tri Province) from Quang Tri City en route to Khe Sanh, with a force of 9 UH-1E helicopters of the Army's 282d Assault Helicopter Company (the "Black Cats") containing seventy-four South Vietnamese R.F. soldiers of the 256th RF Company to reinforce Khe Sanh Ville.

The relief effort, though gallantly intended, was an unmitigated disaster. Seymoe, who had an old ear wound from Korea and did not hear acutely, may not have gotten the coordinates right in the briefing, but in any case, apparently mistakenly directed the lead pilot, CPT. Tommy C. Stiner to land his helicopter (#66-01027) at the position known as "the Old French Fort" (XD 860385), instead of the LZ in the Sub-District HQ / CAC Oscar compound,

This error was compounded by the fact that the area was now occupied by a strong and well-concealed force of NVA. The position had formerly been a Special Forces FOB and had actually originally 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 FOB had by that time been re-located to a position adjacent to the south of the Khe Sanh Combat Base, and the area was now in enemy hands, garrisoned by well entrenched and camouflaged NVA, and the flight immediately received heavy fire as the ARVNs attempted to disembark.

The pilot, perhaps in an attempt to escape the scathing fire, lifted off. As the chopper lifted off, a high explosive round, possibly from a 57-mm recoilless rifle, struck the right side of the chopper. All the glass was knocked out, the rotor blades damaged and stopped, and the aircraft pitched forward and slid some 75 meters down the side of the hill, landing upside down and burning.

A number of the crew and members of the relief force were killed or injured in the crash. The round that knocked the chopper down struck the aircraft at the gunner's (SGT Hill) position, probably instantly killing him, but he was also crushed by the airframe. In any case, he was undoubtedly dead, and his machine-gun was blown to pieces. The copilot, WO McKinsey, and the pilot, CPT Stiner, crawled out. Seymoe was alive, but unconscious, pinned by an aluminum bar used to secure stretchers. The pilots attempted to extricate him but were unable to do so. The fire was spreading, ready to explode, and the NVA began to descend upon them.

Meanwhile, the fire spread and the chopper was about to explode. In addition, the NVA were heading their way. McKinsey took up a prone firing position facing the stream of NVA coming down the side of the hill and began to deliver fire.

Another aircraft saw the crash, landed, and SP5 Danny Williams debarked and came to assist. Stiner took one of Seymoe's legs Williams the other, and they tugged. By this time, Seymoe was dead. Just as Stiner was about to take up a firing position next to McKinsey, McKinsey was struck in the back of his head by a bullet. It was approximately 1745.

PFC Jerry Elliott, gunner in the second aircraft, ran to reach CPT. Stiner to assist him along with the Crew Chief. In a matter of seconds, the Crew Chief returned to his aircraft and advised his pilot to takeoff, leaving Elliott on the ground.

LCOL Seymore, along with thirteen American pilots, fourteen enlisted crew members, and seventy-four R.F. soldiers were dead or missing. Seymoe's body and numerous others were recovered from the site months later by the First Air Cavalry Division. PFC Elliott remains among the MIA.

CPT. Stiner, who had been celebrating his 30th birthday just before he was ordered to launch, managed to escape, getting some help enroute to the combat base from the local Frenchman, Felix Poilane, but was unfortunately "captured" and tied-up by Marines of CAP 0-3 who thought he might be one of the Russian advisors we had been warned about, until the next morning when he convinced them he was an American.

(NOTE: While some might see this as excessive caution, we had been told at various times that various Europeans, 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.)

Aerial Photo of Tho'ung Van (aka "Old French Fort") Taken early 1967 by MAJ Jim Whitenack, USA,(Courtesy of MAJ Whitenack & LCDR Ray Stubbe)

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 tactical 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 US dead, given the great numbers of the enemy and the ferocity of their attacks. Sadly, our native counterparts, whose sector had been among the hardest-hit during the assaults (perhaps in the hopes they would be easier to break than the Marines) sustained 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.

Their behavior under fire was generally 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, the NCOIC, 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." the NCOIC 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 their return, the NCOIC's patrol recovered at least 150 weapons from the enemy KIA, including RPGs and assault rifles, many of them brand new. The NCOIC 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.

The NCOIC 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 the NCOIC'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 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, further validating the NCOICs account.

Among the NCOIC'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 had been 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 PAVN soldier, who in turn had wound up at Khe Sanh. (In support of this theory, it is worth noting that the 66th Regt. that assaulted the HQ was the same unit which had formed the "tip of the spear" on the final assault on Dien Bien Phu.) We'll likely never know for certain, but, as so often is the case when I handle old weapons, I wish that they, like the "talking swords" of Celtic legend, 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 told me that as he was grabbing the little gear they were allowed to take out, he thought; "Taylor will probably want this if he gets back." and stuck it in his pack. He later gave it to me when I returned from the hospital, a small act of kindness in trying times, for which I remain grateful, as it is one of the few things from that time that I still have. (See below for the rest of the story on this flag.)

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.

The NCOIC 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. The NCOIC, 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).

The NCOIC 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.

Meanwhile, some of the defenders of O-2 left or were med-evaced from the Combat Base. Jerry French told me that after leaving O-1 on the chopper under sniper fire that he (French), Sully, “Doc” John Roberts, LCPL Sargent, and two more Marines (either Donald Powell or Jimmie Tyson, and another man whose name he could not remember) decided that since the CAP HQ was in Phu Bai, they should go there, and caught a flight south. Then they went to CAP school, and got new clothes and a meal, and then they were ordered back by LT Stamper.

When they got back, LT Stamper chewed French out (although he was the most junior man).

SGT Harper and LCPL Gullickson were scheduled to be med-evaced because of their wounds, but the C-130 flying out was full. In desperation, they traded their captured weapons to the aiirr crew in return for a seat. (Gully says the air crew bumped two officers for them!)

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 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 posthumously upgraded to a Silver Star many years later, mainly as the result of the efforts of COL Clarke and the NCOIC of O-1.

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 close 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 or been involved in the fighting (other than their "capture" of the Black Cats survivor) but they also were ordered to evacuate their Bru hamlet of Ta Con 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 by the Marines behind their line 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.

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 the NCOIC 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 the NCOIC'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 (incl. Bru and Vietnamese counterparts), fought off with relatively small losses large elements of one of the finest regiments the NVA could throw at them, then marched back to the combat base 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 three 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.