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VFW Magazine January 2018 : Page 18

Marines Earn Navy Crosses at Khe Sanh The nearly three-month long siege of the Marine base at Khe Sanh actually started more than a week before the Tet Offensive. The Leathernecks’ stout defense resulted in two Navy Crosses, the mili -tary’s second-highest award for valor in combat. • Marine 2nd Lt. Thomas Brindley*, India Co., 3rd Bn., 26th Marines • Marine Col. David E. Lownds, commander, 26th Marines. * posthumous January 1968, he and his men started seeing “a lot of increased activity” near the DMZ. “We intercepted a lot of formations of North Vietnamese heading south towards Hue,” said Lehrack, a member of VFW Post 11575 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. ÔA BEAUTIFUL CITYÕ The scale of fighting in Hue exceeded all other urban battles of the Vietnam War. Hue, just 65 miles south of the DMZ and six miles west of the South China Sea, was the former imperial capital and cultural epicenter of Vietnam. The city had about 140,000 inhabitants and didn’t experience much of the war until the Tet Offensive. Then-Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Wallace, a 106mm gunner with Headquarters and Support Co., 1st Bn., 1st Marines, said he traveled through Hue on a truck caravan heading from Quang Tri to Phu Bai about a week before the battle. “I remember us remarking what a beautiful city it was,” Wallace said. “That all changed. Just a few days later, we were back in the truck caravan heading into Hue.” Wallace, who was VFW’s Commander-in-Chief in 1991-92 and is currently the AP WIDE WORLD PHOTO Combat Base for the Tet Offensive. “We had inter-rogation subteams all over northern I Corps and throughout South Vietnam,” explained Kent, the current quartermas-ter of VFW Post 9972 in Sierra Vista, Ariz. For 77 days, Marines slugged it out with communist troops at Khe Sanh and suffered 205 KIA and 852 WIA. On July 5, a few months after the battle, MACV commander Army Gen. Creighton Abrams ordered the Marines at Khe Sanh to abandon the base. “The whole purpose of [the attack at] Khe Sanh for the NVA was to tie up the United States Marine Corps [during the Tet Offensive],” Kent said. FIGHTING NEAR THE DMZ While some of the best known confronta-tions of the Tet Offensive happened in the urban areas of Vietnam, U.S. troops also fought extensively in the countryside. Marines of India Co., 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines, were situated on the McNamara Line near the DMZ at a strongpoint called Alpha 3. To the east was Gio Linh, location of Alpha 2, and to the west was Alpha 4 at Con Thien. “It was the closest outpost to the DMZ in all of South Vietnam,” said Lehrack, a former Army captain who was the com-mander of India Company. “We caught [NVA troops] coming into and out of South Vietnam all the time.” Lehrack said that toward the end of During the Battle of Khe Sanh, one of the most important battles of the Vietnam War, 6,680 Marines withstood repeated assaults from 20,000 NVA regulars over a period of 77 days. Mortar, rocket and artillery fire was a daily occurrence, producing extreme mental fatigue among the Americans. Eventually, massive airstrikes by Air Force, Navy and Marine aircraft, plus reinforcements, brought the siege to an end. 18 • VFW  • JANUARY 2018

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