Terrain & Climate

Oscar Company was stationed in and around Khe Sanh, the HQ of the Houng Hoa sub-sector in Quang Tri Province, in the military zone called I Corps, Republic of Vietnam.   
Like much of Vietnam, Khe Sanh is very beautiful, and like many of us who were in-country, I often thought that if there was not a war on, Vietnam would be an excellent place for holiday resorts, and subsequent events have borne out this potential.  Even the restrictive and repressive regime has not stemmed the tide of tourism, some there for the beauty of the land and others for the historic aspects, including a brisk trade in veteran tourism, and non-vets with a military interest, seeking to view the places history was made. 

Some of my comrades have made the trip at least once, and others have been back several times.  Some have set up or worked with agencies seeking to assist both our former allies (like the Bru) and even our former foes -- and of course, the many children born since the end of the war, many injured by ordnance left by both sides, or by chemical and other environmental damage done by substances like Agent Orange. 

The mountains around the Khe Sanh area are somewhat cooler than the lowlands, due to their elevation and the fact that they were at that time heavily forested. (Military action and subsequent population increase in the years since, mainly from an influx of Vietnamese settlers into the region, have resulted in the deforestation of a substantial area.) 

The dominant terrain feature is the limestone Annamite mountain range, locally called the Truong Son. This range was formed millions of years ago when the Kontum Massif impacted the shallow sea in the region now known as Laos. The chain is approximately 800 km (497 miles) long, approximately 50-300 kilometers (31-186 miles) wide, and approximately 500-2,500 meters (1640-8200 feet) high. 
In the Khe San area, there are some peaks nearly 1828 meters (6000 ft.) 

This range features steep and mountainous terrain in the north and central parts with steep slopes on the eastern (Vietnamese) side and a relatively gentler slope on the western (Laotian) side, with dissected hills and rolling-to-hilly plateau in the south. 

The rough terrain still makes travel extremely difficult. There are only a few viable passes through the mountains, such as the D'ai Lao at Lao Bao, to the west of the former combat base, an historic route for invading armies. This military access route, combined with the fact that Khe Sanh's status as a provincial sub-sector HQ made the town strategically and politically more important than it appeared.

Routes still generally follow rivers and streams. Among these is National Route 9 (still the only major road), which remains the principal route to and from the mountains to the coast. 



Aerial Photo of Rt. 9 crossing the Rao Quan southeast of Khe Sanh. 

(Photo courtesy of Larry Larsen of SU # 5) 

Part of this journey, from just west of Huong Hoa, formerly was made by water to the coast at Quang Tri. 


Aerial Photo of a waterfall on the Rao Quan

(Photo courtesy of Larry Larsen of SU # 5) 

The roads, including Highway 9, were difficult to keep clear of mines and booby-traps during our time there, due to the nature of the terrain surrounding it, despite intensive clearing efforts by the engineers. 

There are monsoons in summer (May to October) from the southwest, and in winter (November to January) from the northeast. 

Summer rainfall ranges from over 60 inches at lower elevations to more than 150 inches on the higher elevations and slopes. 

For those who have never experienced one, a monsoon rain is something difficult to describe. The rain literally pours down, as though a bucket was upended, sometimes for days or even weeks at a time. Nothing can dry out, and so you are generally soaked most of the time. 

Even if you wear rain gear, you get wet, because the heat under the rubberized ponchos or rain suits causes you to sweat. In any case, many of us abandoned the rain gear, which was noisy, especially at night, and just wore our utilities (field service uniform) and our Marine utility "covers" (hats) or a "jungle hat" aka "bush hat." 

However, this abundant rainfall supports a rain forest and local agriculture, including rice, and coffee plantations. 

Higher elevations featured a "primary" rain forest, (tree height average approx. 80 ft.), which forms a top layer known as a "canopy". Where primary rain forest has been cleared and left uncultivated, secondary rain forest develops. Below the top canopy are smaller trees (approx. 55 ft.). These trees are small and close together, with an abundance of ground growth including seedlings, saplings, orchids, liana vines, and other plant life.  In some cases, lone encounters "triple canopy" jungle, which is unbelievably difficult to traverse.

Little light penetrates the double canopy, (and even less in the triple canopy) and there is not much ground growth.  In the dry season, travel is relatively easy, but more difficult in the wet season, as the soil turns to slippery mud. (See  CAC Oscar History for photos of a patrol through such jungle) Travel through the forested hills is difficult, often requiring the use of a machete. 



(Note: This site represents the result of many years of investigative work and research. I have tried to be as accurate throughout as possible, but there is no such thing as 100% perfect. In cases where I was not present, I have relied on the accounts of those who were present and / or  official records, correspondence, statements from comrades, friends and family, and other sources. Statements, quotes, poems, or any material other than my own reflect the views of those who made them. Neither this author nor this site assumes any responsibility for any errata made in good faith, nor for any of the views expressed other than my own. All the photos, documents, text, and other materials are copyright, and they belong solely to the authors, photographers, etc., who retain all rights to the materials.  All material is copyright, and may not be used without express written permission of the owners or their heirs and assigns. All material used with the express permission of the owners, who are named where known. Unattributed material will be attributed when the owner contacts me.)



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