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Battle of Khe Sanh

On Jan. 21, 1968, elements of 3rd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, came under heavy mortar, rocket and artillery fire at the Khe Sanh Combat Base in Quang Tri province, Republic of South Vietnam. In the initial volley, both of the base ammunition dumps were hit by incoming artillery destroying most of the Marines’ ordnance supply. The bombardment was constant, making resupply life-risking. The Marines had 77 arduous days of hell ahead of them.

In order to keep Marines fighting, Col. David E. Lownds, the base commander, estimated by mid-January that 60 tons of supplies per day were needed. This figure was later raised to 185 tons after reinforcements arrived. Delivery of supplies was inhibited by impassible of nearby major roads and winter monsoon weather. Aircraft were subjected to anti-aircraft fire on approach and take-off, as well as North Vietnamese army mortar and artillery fire after landing. Despite the tremendous challenges, Marines found a solution with the “super gaggle,” massing 12 A-4 Skyhawk fighter-bombers to provide suppression and 12-16 helicopters to bring in supplies.

In response to the events at Khe Sanh, the U.S. Seventh Air Force initiated Operation Niagara, Jan. 22, 1968, an extensive bombing campaign where Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy pilots flew more than 24,000 combat missions, dropping 103,000 tons of explosives on NVA positions surrounding the base. One type of air strike, known as an arc light, utilized B-52F Stratofortress bombers and their 30-ton ordnance capacity to blanket the enemy in pure destruction.

“We had around nine arc lights a day, along with 200 to 300 sorties,” said retired Col. Richard D. Camp Jr., company commander of Company L, 3rd Bn., 26th Marines, who was a captain at the time. “It felt like there was hardly a daylight moment where there wasn’t an aircraft flying around.”

Various strategic hills and villages around the base were also hit hard by North Vietnamese troops, causing a high number of casualties. The village of Lang Vei, where a Special Forces camp was located, was overrun by NVA troops and tanks.

“The worst of Khe Sanh was at the village of Lang Vei,” said former Marine Lawrence W. Hale, a Khe Sanh veteran. “The whole village, children and all, were killed. I listened and relayed their messages asking for help. The sounds of their desperation still echo in my ears, as if I still had my headset on.”

Throughout the siege, Marines enhanced their defenses daily patrols, halting enemy probes and effectively holding off NVA forces, in conjunction with air and indirect fire support.

Operation Pegasus, a plan to send a relief force of Army, Marine and South Vietnamese army units, began in April 1, 1968. At 8 a.m., April 8, elements of the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, entered the Khe Sanh Combat Base, officially relieving the Marines.

“We were able to wash the red dirt of Khe Sanh from our bodies,” said Hale. “However, the memories will always be with us. Memories of all who fought – many gave away all of their tomorrows. Some came home with scars deep in their hearts.”

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23 Responses

  1. Matt Brown says:

    my uncle,Bryan Brown was a Marine recon that was on patrol when it came under seige and barely made it to base. He never spoke much about it but did tell me they ran in from the jungle. Picked up a shovel and dug for weeks.Semper fi.

  2. Littlevillagetile says:

    Charlie Battery, 1st of the 44th Air Defense Aritllery ( C-1/44 ) had two M-42A “Dusters” in position for the entire seige. One of the tracks was the very last vehicle to leave once the base was abandoned. The Duster was the old Walker Bulldog tank with two BOFOR 40mm guns mounted on an open turret. Each gun fired 120 rpm, allowing 240 rounds of solid kick a$$. Joe Belcaro was the squad leader of the last track. I joined the unit in June 1969, worked operations all along the DMZ for a year, was on one operation back into Khe Sanh, a very powerful memory.

  3. Shortrnd says:

    I was with Fox 2/26 1st platoon 1st squ;ad,   0351, hills 558 and 881, as stated earlier, first time since ww2 that all three battalions of the 26th was together in one spot

  4. Shortrnd says:

    I was with fox 2/26 on hills 558 and 881 north, would be honored to give you any info you may need

  5. SchoolNut says:

    Im doing a project on the Battle of Khe Sanh. If one of you veterans could help me out and tell me what the major weapons of this battle were that would be awesome. (EX. Artillery, Airsupport, Ground fire)

  6. Lima2326 says:

    the 1st, 2nd and 3rd battalion were all there. First time all the 26 th Marines were committed to one battle since Iwo Jima.

  7. Jbarnerd74 says:

     my son was hit about this time. i wonder if you may have known him.
    mike barnerd was his name. 3rd recon. he was picked up by a courageous helicopter pilot. who couldn’t even land…had to hoover (under fire) to do it.
    ended up with losing an arm, almost a leg, and was completely deaf. he was a dedicated marine.
    jack barnerd

  8. Tori Walker says:

    my father was also there u sound jus like him George Hillhouse,did u know him?thanks,proud to be daughter of a marine,he was my hero

  9. Tori Walker says:

    my father was also there u sound jus like him George Hillhouse,did u know him?thanks,proud to be daughter of a marine,he was my hero

  10. Tori Walker says:

    my dad was there in 68 too he was one of the 77 did u know him?George Hillhouse?

  11. Tori Walker says:

    my dad was there in 68 too he was one of the 77 did u know him?George Hillhouse?

  12. Gary McRae says:

    I was in Khe Sahn in 1968 but have never really talked about it.  I was operating the Radio Relay unit which is recognized in pictures by the two parobolic antenna along the runway.  Does anyone remember?  We were some of the last to leave in 68 since we were providing communications.
    Gary McRae

  13. Retelescope says:

    Hey Scooter, my brother was there, he is retired now and enjoying his grandchildren thank’s to men like you.God bless Rickey Elmore

  14. Grandpadee says:

    we were there, M-3/26  , up on hill 881 

  15. Ystcloud says:

    My father died at Quang Tri South Vietnam on April 7, 1968.  

  16. SCOOTER says:

    I was one of the crew about 35,000 ft. above Khe San and dropping ordinance around the perimeter and prayed constantly that I was saving American lives. It’s been a long time since those days but I will never forget them.

  17. Anonymous says:

    In 1978 I was stationed with a staff sergeant who was in Khe Sanh and. a Lt who was in the relieving force.  We newbies found that a great way to get both going and hear good war stories was to approach either one and tell them the other had related how they were getting their butts kicked while the other was sitting on theirs. Great guys both, Semper Fi  

  18. Thomas Buchleitner says:

    respect to those who fought there. Semper Fi

  19. tommy says:

    i wasn’t there but i can imagine the bravery of the marines as of that time as well as their courage.SEMPER FI.

  20. Sonobpk says:

    certainly a battle won and supplied from the air

  21. Ronnie Waters says:

    I was there in the summer of 1967 for one day building 2 new huts for the Marines, but it appears that they didn’t last long.  Cpl. Ronnie Waters USMC combat engineer, Lcpl. Larry Shaulk was there with me along with a few other Marines who I don’t remember their names. At the time other Marines there told me that they got shelled with mortors  every night, we got in and out in one day and built two living quarters 16 x 32. I have a few pictures if you want to see what it looked like before they were

  22. Recon2434 says:

    I was there did that got hit feb 1968! I will never forget SEMPER FI

  23. Jon DeWitt says:

    I was there for the battle at Khe Sanh. It was a rough time for all of us. We had C rations two times a day. One tends to loose a weight and I did not have any extra to loose. Remember going to Danang on my way home and eating real food for the first time in 70 days. It made me sick because it was so rich. Now 100% disabled Marine. I loved my time in the Corps. Semper Fi