The 77-day siege at Khe Sanh

"Siege" Chronology

In late 1967, Allied intelligence noticed increasing infiltration of North Vietnamese forces into South Vietnam in spite of heavy allied bombing of the Ho Chi Min trails. Analysts also noticed that many of the North Vietnamese weren't continuing their march to the south -- they were stopping and moving into the mountains of eastern Laos, directly across the border from Khe Sanh.

On Jan. 2, 1968, a Marine listening post outside the defensive wire at Khe Sanh radioed a whispered report of movement. An eight man patrol was sent out to reinforce the L.P. There was an exchange of gunfire and the next morning the riddled bodies of five high-ranking North Vietnamese officers were found. They were believed to be a regimental commander and his staff.

On Jan. 20, India Company, 3/26 sent a patrol to 881N. It was ambushed by a large NVA force, and after a vicious all day fight, it withdrew to Hill 881S. While the fight at 881 N. was in full swing, a North Vietnamese officer, 1st Lt. La Thanh Tonc, commanding officer of the 14th Anti-Aircraft Company defected to the Americans. Upset that after 14 years of service another officer in his company had been promoted over him, he simply walked up to the perimeter wire at the Khe Sanh combat base and gave himself up.

He also gave up the complete plans for impending NVA attacks in the area. Shortly after midnight, the Marine outpost on hill 861 was assaulted. The Marines repulsed the attack but suffered many casualties.

On January 21 at 5:30 a.m. the NVA began heavy shelling of the combat base. All above ground structures were leveled, and the ammo dump took a direct hit. Fifteen hundred tons of stockpiled ammunition detonated. Also on the 21st, Khe Sanh village was attacked by the North Vietnamese 66th regiment. With most of his ammunition gone and his runway out of commission the base commander, Colonel Lownds, decided against sending a relief force. All he could do was turn his artillery against the attacking North Vietnamese. By the next morning the village had to be abandoned to the NVA.

On Jan 31, President Lyndon B.Johnson announced he "would not seek -- nor would he accept..." re-election.

On February 4, Hill 861 A. was attacked and overrun. The marines retook the position but lost many men.

On February 6, the Special forces Camp at Lang Vei was assaulted. Pleas for assistance from the combat base were ignored. For the first time in the war the communists used Russian made PT-76 tanks, apparently some were crewed by women.

The next day Hill 64 came under heavy attack and was overrun. Although the platoon lines were temporarily restored, Colonel Lownds decided to abandon the position.

On February 25, a patrol led by Lieutenant Donald Jacques was lured into ambush resulting in 47 casualties, 25 of them missing in action and not recovered for 35 days. Lt. Jacques was shot in the femoral arteries and bled to death while being dragged to safety. The HBO documentary, Letters From Home shows a photograph of the Lieutenant while a voice reads one of his letters home to his parents. There is also graphic footage of his body being dragged from the fighting.

On March 23, Westmoreland was re-assigned to the Pentagon.

Operation Pegasus, consisting of combined Marine and 1st Air Cavalry relief forces, was launched on April 1, and by April 15, the siege was declared officially over. Khe sanh was still being shelled and patrols were still being ambushed, but officially the "siege" was over.

In June, the base was demolished and then abandoned. In 1969, Moyers Shore gave the reason for abandoning the combat base in his official version of the fight:

The rational (for abandoning the base) was threefold. first, the enemy had reduced his forces and changed his modus operandi in the Khe Sahn area. Secondly , the NVA artillery in Laos had accurately targeted the base and access road which compounded the casualty and resupply problems. Finally and most important, General Cushman (area commander) had sufficient assets in June to pursue the mobile offensive strategy which he had advocated strongly for such a long time.

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