Vietnam – The Marines at Khe Sanh 1968

| October 17, 2020

File:Usaf-vietnam-map.jpg | Vietnam war, Vietnam vets, Vietnam

The 2nd link below is to a video regarding the 1968 Battle for Khe Sanh, a USMC base built in the northern highlands of Vietnam.  The video is narrated and is restored color, transferred to video.

The attack on the Khe Sanh base came ahead of the Tet Offensive, starting on 21 January 1968 and essentially ending 30 March 1968, but actually lasting until 9 July 1968. In retrospect, it may have been a distraction that Giap used initially to cover his setups for Tet. He reported to Thanh, and disagreed with Thanh’s plans, but was not prohibited from starting the attack on the Tet base, and later, the start of the Tet offensive.

Westmoreland wanted 200,000 more troops sent to Vietnam. That got squelched.

The engagement would be one of the deadliest days at Khe Sanh for the men of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion26th Marine Regiment, with 27 killed, one taken prisoner and 19 wounded, according to survivors and official reports.

When the ammo dump was hit during the initial VC/NVA shelling and exploded, it was as bad as if the barrage by the NVA and VC had been within 10 feet of the base instead of in the surrounding jungle. The shelling at night was bad enough, because the NVA and VC had their artillery on wheels and could move around at will, but the rocket launches also gave away their positions because of the flash at launch. It was worse in the daytime. And because it was winter, and the bitter cold winds of the north blew down off the Annamese Cordillera, it also rained or occasionally snowed up in the north.



Category: Historical, Marine Corps, Marines, Vietnam

Comments (11)

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  1. 5th/77th FA says:

    Marine at Khe San….”They got us surrounded, the poor bastards.”

    Thanks for the linky Ex…other than having to hear LBJ running his mouth. Remember following this story as a teenager, watching a very fuzzy picture from the Columbus GA TV Station. The local (CBS) was all gloom and doom that them boys were toast. We had local boys in that fight, several that didn’t make it, and even more that was part of the Air Cav Relief Troops.

    • David says:

      by ’68, I seem to recall that almost all of the US broadcast media was against the war, and slanted their “they’re DOOMED!” coverage of our guys accordingly. Every analysis I have ever read of the Tet offensive says that as a battle, the North lost convincingly… but as a propaganda offensive, they won just as handily, mostly courtesy of the US media.

  2. AW1Ed says:

    LBJ is quoted as stating “I don’t want any damn Dien Bien Phu,” seeking assurances from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that Khe Sanh would not be overrun. He’s referencing the French defeat by the Viet Minh in March of 1954.

  3. timactual says:

    Odd there was no mention of the Lang Vei special forces camp just to the west of Khe Sanh which was overrun at the beginning of the battle.

    I remember when we flew into the Khe Sanh area the helicopters flew at an unusually high altitude. Evidently it was determined there was an unusually high risk of ground fire.

    When we landed at LZ Wharton there was some urgency to dig in. Orders came down pretty quickly to build overhead cover on all positions. This was unusual. It wasn’t long before we found out why. Unfortunately, but typically, no materials or instructions were provided.

    Earned a Kerry Purple Heart the first night. Lying on the edge of my subterranean condominium (too crowded inside) when a shell came over and hit fairly far away. A second or so later felt a Thwack! on my shoulder and just rolled over and dropped into my condo, right on the heads of the two guys already there.I lay there, wrapped in my poncho, on the heads of my two friends sitting in the position, shaking and farting (not much to eat, fortunately), I managed to say “I think I’ve been hit”. The next few minutes were spent trying to untangle and get ourselves organized. Me being wrapped in my poncho didn’t help in that confined space.

    Eventually we sorted things out. There was a hole in my poncho and my shirt, a small red swollen spot on my shoulder, and I had a nice souvenir; a piece of still warm piece of shrapnel about 1 in. X 1/2 in. X 1/4 in. I lost the souvenir, along with my rucksack, in a flood a few months later.

    Unfortunately that round had landed on a unit further down the ridge. They had not dug in. Also unfortunately, in that area at that time the ground fog doesn’t lift until about noon. Thus no medevacs until about noon.

    Also at Wharton I jumped into a garbage pit once as a message from our friends to the west flew over. I learned that Army powdered mashed potatoes (there’s an “e” in that!) are much less gooey and sticky than civilian mashed potatoes.

    Ah, good times.

  4. rgr769 says:

    In June or July of 1971, I had a bird’s eye view of Khe Sanh, anyway what was left of it. I was in the back seat of an OV-10 FAC aircraft. My pilot was showing me the Ho Chi Minh Trail and we flew over Khe Sanh on the way back to Da Nang. The airfield runway was blocked with trenches and had barbed wire fences erected across it so it couldn’t be used to land aircraft.

    • timactual says:

      There was lots more of the Ho Chi Minh trail you flew over but didn’t see.

      We spent a lot of time working the mountains south of Khe Sanh, and one day we stumbled upon a couple of completed sections of road. Beautiful work, all done with hand tools. Carved out of the sides of the mountains, nice and wide, downhill slopes covered with rip rap, shelters dug into the mountainsides, invisible from the air. I am sure that road served them well in 1972.

      They also had a telegraph system running through those mountains. Well made “T” poles with two strands of heavy gauge copper wire, running up some pretty steep slopes.

      Say what you will about the VC/NVA, they did some beautiful civil and military engineering. By hand. We could (and should) have learned a lot from them. Filling and stacking sandbags seems to be the limit of our expertise.

      • rgr769 says:

        The Ho Chi Minh Trail I saw wasn’t a trail. It was a massive unpaved road network which was right in the open on bald ridgelines because we had blasted off all the vegetation with our bombing. Yes, it was some serious engineering. I was told that when we blasted holes in the roads, they were repaired or the road was routed around the large bomb craters within 24 hours. So what you describe doesn’t surprise me.

        • timactual says:

          “Trail” is certainly an understatement. The parts I saw were certainly not a “trail”. I’ve seen tanks use worse roads in Germany.

          From what I have read some of their construction and repair units took as many or more casualties than infantry units. A real modern marvel of organization and management. Deserves a book of its own.