The morning of 22 January 1968 dawned bright and quiet. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces were gone. There was a sense of exhilaration in the District Headquarters—the attack had been stopped!
Patrols were launched to determine the damage and collect information on the enemy. There were numerous blood trails and bodies found. Over 150 weapons and 3 Rocket Propelled Grenade Launcher 7s (the first seen in South Vietnam) were recovered. Many of the weapons still had cosmoline (a substance obtained from petroleum that is similar to petroleum jelly that is applied to machinery, especially vehicles or weapons, in order to prevent rust on them while in shipment or storage) as they must have just been issued.
As the Marines and District Forces were conducting their limited patrols LT Stamper (Combined Action Company Commander) was boarding and flying by helicopter to the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB). He was not to be seen again. He radioed back to the Marines to pack their stuff as they were being evacuated.
Colonel Lownds (KSCB commander) sent a radio message to the Advisory team that he could no longer provide artillery support to the District forces. Both CPTs Nhi and Clarke reported this to their superiors in Quang Tri. Bob Brewer, the Province Senior Advisor, said that there was a long meeting. No one wanted to evacuate the District Headquarters as it would be the first governmental headquarters ever surrendered. In the end the order was given to evacuate.
All of the Marines, SFC Perry, with all of the wounded, LT Taronji, his assistant and SFC Kaspar were evacuated by helicopter. SFC King and CPT Clarke worked with CPT Nhi to organize the withdrawal from the village. The small force of about 140 men followed a little-known trail to reach KSCB. Throughout the trek CPT Clarke was coordinating with the Special Forces in FOB-3 for mortar coverage along the route and a reception when they got to KSCB. (The Marines had told the advisors that armed Vietnamese and montagnard soldiers could not enter their compound.)
The small force reached FOB-3 and were assigned defensive areas on the it’s perimeter to prepare fighting positions. Little did they know that this was going to be home for over 77 days.
CPT Clarke reported all of the weapons that had been captured and left behind in the rush to evacuate. The Special Forces quickly organized a raid to get back into the District Headquarters to recover the NVA weapons and destroy anything else of worth that was there. CPT Clarke was the second in command of this raid and led the Special Forces into the compound after they were landed in the wrong spot (in at least 10 year old French mine field).
The weapons were loaded and hauled off. The warehouse full of bulgur wheat and vegetable oil was rigged for destruction. After evacuating the weapons, the helicopters returned for the raiding force. As they were leaving, CPT Clarke remembers lying on the floor of the last UH-1 helicopter out and emptying his 30-round magazine at an NVA patrol that was approaching the village from the west.
Later the charges set in the food warehouse exploded as did the grenades that CPT Clarke had used to booby trap the food in the Advisor’s store room.
The battle of Khe Sanh village had ended. Just over 55 years ago, but sometimes it seems like yesterday.
Post Scripts: The Special Forces at Land Vei offered what was called a Mike Force to re-secure the village, but this request was never acted upon. When the 37th Army of Vietnam Ranger Battalion was sent to Khe Sanh the original intent was for it to be used to re-secure the village, but the Marines would not support such an attack.
General Westmoreland’s grand plan was to draw the NVA into a fixed, firepower intensive battle. The village of Khe Sanh, its inhabitants and defenders were expendable in this grand strategy. The political loss of a seat of government was of little consequence to the attrition strategists.
Bruce, great narrative……felt like I was there with you
Many years ago, about this time we all worked together as a team at Khe Sanh, and we are still alive and kicking.
God bless you and thank you!