19 February 2013
The Battle of Khe Sanh
Khe Sanh, a plateau in the northwest corner of South Vietnam, was a U.S. Marine Corps base and airstrip. Located where North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Laos came together, the Khe Sanh base was important for American forces, as it enabled troops to gather information about the traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. However, the Communists also admired the region around Khe Sanh, since it could act as an avenue into Southern Vietnam. General Westmoreland, who would come to play a major role in the future battles, immediately felt this “crucial importance” (Brush) of Khe Sanh when he first arrived there.
Although General Westmoreland’s initial innuendo was ultimately true, Khe Sanh didn’t become important until the spring of 1967, nearly five years after Americans first arrived there. It was Khe Sanh’s natural worth that made it a tempting target for communist Ho Chi Minh; by seizing the area, he could secure the Ho Chi Minh Trail and push east towards the coast, cutting South Vietnam of its northernmost provinces, draw American forces away from the cities, weakening their defense, and establish the makings of another Dien Bien Phu, which was a Vietnamese victory under Vo Nguyen Giap over the French and a battle that “marked the end of France in Indochina” (Bowman). Many, in addition to Westmoreland, were aware of this area’s importance, and thus became suspicious when, in early spring, Special Operation Forces observed increases in traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Shortly after, in April 1967, a Marine Corps Patrol was ambfoldushed near one of Khe Sanh’s surrounding hills. From then on until May 12, 1967, the Marines performed several major assaults and a bombing campaign on three hills surrounding Khe Sanh that were occupied by the communist North Vietnamese Army. The assaults “produced fierce hand-to-hand fighting that left 160 marines dead and 700 wounded” (American History), but the Americans...