General Westmoreland started reinforceing the Special Forces team,
and sent Navy Seabee's to extend the length of the airstrip and make
needed repairs. He also wanted the Marines to deploy a battalion to
reinforce Khe Sanh. General English, assistant commander of the 3rd
Marine Division didn't like the idea because the base was too isolated
to be adequately supported.
Westmoreland got his way, and in October 1966 the 1st Battalion, 3rd
Marines arrived at Khe Sanh, and the Special Forces camp at Lang Vei
was also reinforced, Lang Vei was 7 miles from Khe Sanh Combat Base.
It wasn't but a few days later elements of the 3rd Marines was ambushed
while on patrol near hills 881N,881S and 861, a series of savage battles
took place on the hills during the following week(s). Not long after the 3-
rd Marines took control of the hill's Khe Sanh was turned over to the 1st
Battalion, 26 Marine, With Colonel Lownds in charge.
Well I knew a few guys in 3rd Recon,so I ask them about what the Special
Forces Sergeant had told us, and they said it was true,but the Colonel don't
believe us,he thinks we are just out in the bush goofing off and smoking dope.
He'll find out, we know what we saw and heard was for real when the gooks
come down on us like the Mexicans did at the Alamo.
I made friends with a few Special Forces solider's at Khe Sanh and myself
and a couple of other Marines would go to their area and play poker and
drink Crown Royal, these guys had everything, underground concrete and
steel bunkers, refrigerators and an AM/FM radio. One night while we were
playing poker one of the Special Forces Sergeants said did you jarheads
know the hills are crawling with NVA(North Vietnamese Army) and the base commander has been informed of it by us and your Recon and he still don't
believe any of it. The base commander thinks there are only a hand full of
Viet Cong running around in the hill's. The S.F. Sergeant said there could
be at least two NVA Divisions dugin out there, they could overrun us at any
time. Well I was thinking,this guy is really blowing smoke in my ear, I was
thinking he was trying to impress us because he was Special Forces.
After the hill battles were over Khe Sanh wasn't all that bad until January
1968. I had made several trips to Khe sanh village, we stopped along the
way and spent a little time at the coffee plantation each time we made the
trip, have a little small talk with the Frenchman who owned the plantation.
In the mid April 1967 a couple of platoons from the 9th Marines, I think it was 1/9 (Walking dead motto) kinda fits, was ambushed on hill 861 by NVA
troops, all hell broke loose, air strikes were called in. Our jets dropped a few
bombs on the Marines,killing more of the Marines than the Gooks did. This
is called friendly fire, not to darn friendly if you ask me, or the Marines on
the receiving end of it didn't think it was very friendly.
I helped unload wounded and dead Marines from CH-46's and Huey's
helicopters at Charlie Med area during this time of the battle going on in the
hill's. I recall one black Marine we had just taken off a medivac chopper
on a streacher and set it on the ground, he looked up at me and asked, am
I going to die?, I said hell know man you'll be ok, I hadn't gotten the words
out of my mouth hardly when his eyes glassed over and he was gone. He
looked to be about 19 years old, smooth face,looked like he never shaved
in his life, that bugged me for a long time, because he looked like a high
school freshman. I was about 4 years older than most of them, being the
old man of 23 and being on my 2nd enlistment in the Corps these guys were
kids to me.
What I hated the most was the fog that seemed never to go away and the
monsoon rains that keep you wet and cold and pitch black nights where
you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. Then there was the big
rats that could pack an M-79 grenade launcher off and come back for the
ammo and take your C-rations with him all at the same time.
We sometimes would meet some Bru tribesmen and their bare chested women
from the tribe. Most of the Vietnamese mama son's had black teeth because
they always chewed bettlenut. Anyway what teeth they had looked like tar.
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When I arrived at Khe Sanh from Dong Ha in mid January 1967 there were only
about 200-250 of us there, there wasn't any type of perimeter fences around the
compound. The U.S. Army had pulled out of Khe Sanh because the MarineCorps
and Army brass had a fewd over who was incharge. But there was some Special
Forces, SOG (special operations group) still at Kah Sanh.
A few times I was assigned to ride shotgun on the garbage truck (6x6 truck) to
keep the local villagers from crawling all over it and fighting for the best parts
of the garbage, had to fix bayonets to keep them off until we dumped the crap
over the side of the truck. They would almost kill for the garbage we dumped.
What a sad site to see, people eating garbage off the ground and fighting to eat.
Sometimes several of us would take a large cardboard box full of unopened "C"
rations and pitch a few cans to them along the way,mostly kids and old people.
This was very close to the time, a day or so, when an Airforce jet dropped some
napalm bombs on the village of Lang Vei not far from the camp, killing over a
hundred men,women and children. Some who survived walked to our camp for
medical treatment for burns all over their bodies. The dead Monagnards (Bru)
bodies were brought into Khe Sanh and were laying around the airstrip for days,
a smell filled the air that would make a buzzard throw up.
The nights when I had perimeter guard I was always wide eyed awake, to afraid
to fall asleep. There were two Marines in every foxhole, we could take turns sleeping, who ever was in the foxhole with me could sleep all night if they wanted to do so
because there was no way I was going to sleep, if the gooks were on the move
toward our position I darn sure wanted to see them coming, I don't like surprises.
If I'm going to die, I want to see it coming, it might suck to wake up dead.
I called the Sergeant of the guard on the field phone, no answer, my mind started
thinking a lot of things, one was that Charlie (Vietcong) had crawled up and got in
the bunker with him and killed him or took him as a prisoner, I was thinking he was most likely dead. I told Cpl. Bill Copeland who was in the foxhole with me, I
was going to check on the Sergeant of the guard, his bunker was a few hundred
yards from our position. It was slow and careful going, I didn't want to be shot
by mistake by a gung ho Marine. To make a long story short when I made it to
the SOG bunker, I heard him snoring like crazy, they both were asleep.
One night we could hear and see movement a few hundred yards from us, it was a
once in a life time where we could see at night. I used the field phone to call for a
few flares to light up the night to get a better look at our field of fire, and to get a
look at what was in front of us. Waiting for it seemed a lifetime, no flares, waited
some more, still no parachute flares. I called the mortar crew again and asked for
illumination. This time I was told that the Sergeant of the guard had to request it
before they could send up any illumination, I said when in the hell did this take
place, we always got illumination when we needed it. The answer on the other end
was darn if i know,thats what I was told.
I was on perimeter duty almost every night, just a hole dug in the ground, you can
call it a fox hole if you like,I called it an upright grave. There was always water in
it during the monsoon rains. We were probed every night by the Vietcong and or
NVA. When daylight came it was a great relief, we would secure our positions and
get some coffee and spam sandwiches. Before we secured our positions we had to
pick up our claymore mines that we placed in front of our foxholes before the fog
and darkness rolled in, sometimes they would be turned around and be facing our
position, or they might be gone,stolen by the gooks during the night, we never did
hear or see them, but they were there and very close.
Not knowing how to handle this problem and not wanting anyone else knowing
that the SOG and the other marine in the bunker were both sleeping on post, I
pitched a Willie peter grenade out in front of his bunker, it lit up the darkness like
day light, then everyone on the perimeter opened up firing their weapons like we
were in a war, and out of no where appearing in the sky was several flares lighting
up our area like noon day, we had illumination off and on the rest of the night.
There were a few old concrete bunkers close to the airstrip, we all thought that they
were built by the French, I found out years later they were built by Special Forces in
early 60's. I don't that to be a fact.
Then there was a helicopter crash and the rotor blade went flying through the tent area
cutting through tents like a hot knife through butter, couldn't believe no one got hit by
the flying blade.
Then there was the time when a Marine KC-130 was dropping our supply's in by para-
chute, I watched the air delivery team jump out first, 3 of them one after the other all
3 had a roman candle, there chutes never opened, they were jumping from around 300 feet, no time to use a reserve, I think all 3 died.
Early one morning when the fog was very thick a Marine KC-130 transport plane for
some reason hit the end of the airstrip, no wheels down, there was an explosion and
a fire ball skidding down the airstrip. When the crew got there the whole thing was engulfed in fire, couldn't get any of the crew out alive, the load master on the 130 had been dragged behind the plane attached to a parachute, I was at China Beach on R&R
when this took place.
Everything smelled like mold, our tents, our boots, our clothes, because everything
was molded because of winter monsoons and summer monsoon rains nothing ever
dried completely. Then there was the very nice smell of burning poop from the 4 and
6 holers along with diesel fuel that was used to burn it.
The dirt at Khe Sanh was red, then when monsoon rains started it became red clay
that stuck like glue to your boot and everything else. When it was dry,there was red
dirt in the air all the time, if it wasn't the choppers it was the KC-130's kicking up dust. Everything became red, cloths,tents,equipment, tanks,trucks,jeeps, you name it,
it was covered with red dirt. Our hair stayed red, we all used a scrub brush with soap
and water just to wash our faces to get the red off. We hired mama son's to wash our
clothes, they would hang them up to dry and a chopper would come it and cover the
clean clothing with red dirt again, they were never really clean. We had no showers, so
we would wash up the best we could along side the water tank on wheels, fill our canteen cups with water and pour it over us, soap down and pour more water to rinse
off,this took a while.
One day a large sworn of bee's invaded our area, and a large amount of them decided to make their home inside LT. Warnack's tent. Being the great bee keeper
he decided the only way to get them out was to smok'im out. So he decided to use
a smoke grenade to rid his tent of the uninvited guest. He shouts some body bring
a smoke grenade, I don't know who got the grenade for him but it turn out to be a
antipersonnel willie peter grenade and handed it to LT. Wornack. He pulls the pin,
tosses what he thought was a smoke grenade into his tent, there was an explosion,
with a white blinding light. The tent caught on fire and what wasn't burned had holes
throughout. I said "Sir", Think you got rid of the bee's should we do a bee body
count. He never said a word, just walked off shaking his head. From that day on LT.
Warnack was know as the great bee keeper of Khe Sanh.
Photo by Dick Swanson
Background BY:Dennis Kibler
Khe Sanh Combat Base South Vietnam was in the corner of Quang
Tri Province 18 miles south of the DMZ and 8 miles east of Laos in mountain terrain. The base was a blocking position to stop the NVA
from moving men and supply's into the south along Route 9. An air
strip for resupplying troops and for recon flights over the Ho Chi Minh
trail. In mid 1966 the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) increased their
infiltration into the hills around Khe Sanh.
The Sea Bees built a shower house for us and my tent area was at the other end oftthe compound, we had to walk down what we called Main street to get to the finesshower house. Well to make a long story short, while I was taking a shower for the first time
in many months someone took my towel. We all walked to the shower from our tent
area with just a towel wrapped around our bare butts. So I had to walk down Main
street in broad daylight butt naked. I got wolf whistles, hoots, hollowers, from every
one that saw me. One LT. stopped me on Main street and ask me "are you just trying
to show off, or have you lost your mind". I said Sir, if I lost my mind would that give
me a ticket back home, he just smiled and said, I think we all have lost our mind or we
wouldn't be in this place now would we?
Memorial service for all that were killed at Khe Sanh,Vietnam.
Rest in peace my brothers you served your country with Honor.