Press-Republican

Tuesday

April 1, 2014

Khe Sanh today

Pete Conroy remembers hacking through jungle, dodging bullets in Vietnam

DA NANG, Vietnam — For five months and 18 days in the first half of 1968, the world watched as U.S. forces held and defended the U.S. Marine Base at Khe Sanh in northwestern South Vietnam.  

Commander Gen. William Westmoreland’s strategy at the time was to draw enemy forces into that area and destroy them.

The plan from the Vietnamese side was to distract the American military at Khe Sanh so they could pull off the Tet Offensive of 1968, the largest battle of the Vietnam War.  

While large numbers of U.S. forces were occupied at Khe Sanh, the Vietnamese were able to more easily attack every major city in the south from Quang Tri to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, including the major southern city Saigon.

8 MILES FROM LAOS

In Vietnam touring such sites, Plattsburgh-area U.S. Army veterans Neil Tallon, Corky Reinhart, Pete Conroy and I, accompanied by well-known writer and humanitarian Le Ly Hayslip, set out one morning from Hue, driving to Quang Tri and from there on the major Vietnamese route into the mountains toward Laos.  

The site of the old U.S. Marine base at Khe Sanh is along this route, 8 miles from the Laotian border.

Reinhart, a retired professor who had been stationed in Germany during the Vietnam era, has not been in this part of Vietnam before.  

“I’ve never seen such beautiful country,” he said. “But I’d not want to be marching up and over these mountains with a rifle and a full pack.  

“No way.”

HACKED THROUGH JUNGLE

Pete was a soldier in the U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division during the Khe Sanh siege and part of Operation Pegasus. 

The mission was to clear the area around Khe Sanh of enemy soldiers, especially the neighboring Au Shau Valley, which was the largest North Vietnamese Army sanctuary in South Vietnam.

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