Friday, July 21, 2006

Khe Sahn

The battle for Khe Sahn was interesting because it ended a non event relative to what might have been. Situated near the Laotian boarder, a major route south for the North Vietnamese Army, it became a “must win” symbol for both sides.

The 26th Marines and select Army Special Forces units such as those at Lang Vei had endured and returned a tremendous amount of punishment centered on what was to become a historic remote outpost in the most north/eastern corner of the country. In the end over 40,000 NVA/VC facing 15,000 1st Cav and Marines. Their numbers against our firepower. Beginning in mid March 1968 ending in mid April, the final toll for the 1st Cav was 59 KIA, 250 wounded and 5 MIA (this did not include Marine or South Vietnamese causalities) against a confirmed 638 NVA/VC killed. The expected decisive battle never came, likely because the other side realized they would be beaten. As suddenly as it began it was over and we were off to air assault A Shau Valley.

The accompanying pictures of the kids are at a school within 5 km of the former firebase. Pictured with me is one who took me the last 200 or so yards to the very spot I had been some 27 years before he was born. This is why I came. All in contrast to the dark days of 1968 when we were all digging in for whatever lay ahead. Replace dark memories of soldiers with color images of kids. How great is that?

And then in 1999 I return to a pastoral landscape devoid of everything. No indication of the siege the Marines endured, our positions, nothing. It’s as if we had never been there and I can't think of a better legacy.