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from firing positions at Dong Ha, Camp Carroll, Gio Linh, Khe Sanh,
and Quang Tri.*

By the end of 1967, the DMZ front symbolized the frustrations of the
American war in Vietnam. The bloody battle for the outlying hills surrounding
Khe Sanh in April and later the struggle for Con Thien highlighted the
fighting for the year. As casualty figures mounted on both sides senior
commanders voiced their concern. At the height of the fierce contest
for Con Thien, General Krulak observed that in September the Marines
had suffered 956 casualties and for the year nearly 5,000 dead and wounded
in the DMZ alone. Both General Krulak and Admiral Sharp concluded that
such a rate could not be sustained and that "the operational benefits
now being achieved in the area ... are not consistent with the losses
incurred."1

As early as July, General Krulak had warned about the disadvantages
of waging the war in the DMZ sector. He told American commanders that
they must face "the brutal facts" that the Marines were "under the enemy's
guns." Krulak believed the enemy's purpose was:

...
to get us as near to his weapons and to his forces as possible, drench
us with high angle fire weapons, engage us in close and violent combat,
accept willingly a substantial loss of life for the opportunity to kill
a lesser number of our men, and to withdraw into his North Vietnam sanctuary
to refurbish.2

In a message on 23 September, General Krulak outlined to General Cushman
the limited options on the northern front available to the Marine command.
III MAF could withdraw its forces to defensive positions further south,
out of the range of the North Vietnamese artillery north of the Ben
Hai. Krulak rejected this move, although tactically sound, as carrying
"too large a price." The enemy could claim a propaganda victory, and
moreover it meant abandoning the barrier and strongpoint obstacle system.
He noted "whatever criticism may have been directed at the concept before,
it is now an official U.S./GVN endeavor, and to back away from it now
could not conceivably be identified with progress in the war." Another
alternative was to invade North Vietnam, which also was not feasible,
because of logistic and political ramifications. Krulak believed the
only remaining viable choices were the reinforcement of the 3d Division
in Quang Tri and the intensification of American air and artillery bombardment
of the enemy in and immediately north of the DMZ.3

General Krulak's message more or less reflected the thinking of both
General Westmoreland at MACV and General Cushman at III MAF of the situation
in the north. None of the American commanders seriously considered the
abandonment of the U.S. positions north of Dong Ha or Route 9. General
Westmoreland established a small group in his headquarters to examine
the possibility of an amphibious landing in conjunction with an overland
sally through the DMZ into North Vietnam. These deliberations, however,
went no further than the planning stage.4 Thus, left with
rather a Hobson's choice, Westmoreland and Cushman elected their only
remaining courses of action. General Westmoreland in early October reinforced
III MAF with a brigade from the 1st Cavalry Division, which permitted
General Cushman to redeploy the 1st Marines from Da Nang to Quang Tri
City. At the same time, III MAF received the bulk of available B-52
strikes and naval gunfire support. By 12 October, General Westmoreland
reported to Admiral Sharp that "our successful application of firepower
through B-52 strikes, tactical air, and extensive artillery fires has
caused the enemy to suffer heavy casualties which coupled with increasing
flood conditions to his rear renders his massed posture in the vicinity
of Con Thien no longer tenable."5

Although the action in the DMZ sector abated somewhat during October
and November, the situation was again tense by the end of the year.
Just before Thanksgiving 1967, General Krulak alerted General Cushman
that the enemy was once more moving men and material into the Demilitarized
Zone, improving his artillery, and "preparing the battlefield."6
At MACV Headquarters, General Westmoreland expressed his concern in
early December about the enemy buildup. He disagreed with President
Thieu's assessment that the North Vietnamese were creating "a diversionary
effort" in the DMZ to mask their real objective, the Central Highlands.
Westmoreland believed that the next enemy move would be in the northern
two provinces of Quang Tri and Thua Thien Provinces.7 On
16 December, he once more directed that I Corps for the next 30 days
receive priority of the B-52 Arclight strikes. At the same time, he
ordered the immediate preparation of contingency plans to reinforce
III MAF with Army troops and the development of logistic facilities
to accommodate those forces.8

* Lieutenant General Louis Metzger noted that the operational names
had little significance for the Marines who were there: "It was all
one big battle. For most of us, one so-called operation looked just
like another." LtGen Louis Metzger, Comments on draft chapter, dtd 17Oct94
(Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Metzger Comments.








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