(1968: The Defining Year)
Department of Defense (USMC) Photo A190186
A typical Bru villlage smith of Khe Sanh
has simple houses built on stilts to he above the ground and with grass roofs
for protection from the elements. One of the aboriginal tribes who inhabited the
Vietnamese highlands and whom the French called Montagnards. The Bru had been
resettled largely along Route 9 near Khe Sanh by the South Vietnamese
itself were ethnic Vietnamese.* A simple honest people without even a written language, the Bru cared little for the authority of the national government or for the political upheavals of the war, preferring to remain neutral, or at most, to sympathize half-heartedly with whichever side controlled their village at any particular moment. While their original territory covered most ot the district, as well as equally large areas in Laos and North Vietnam, the South Vietnamese government resettled most of the Bru of Huong Hoa District along Route 9 to prevent the enemy from recruiting among them.
In addition to the Bru and Vietnamese, a few French coffee planters and American missionaries inhabited the area in the vicinity of Khe Sanh. Some of the Bru were employed by the former and a few even received a rudimentary education from the latter.
The Early Days
The history of Marines at Khe Sanh predates their involvement in the Vietnam War by three decades. Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak, who served as the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific during the war, remembered that while stationed in China in 1937, his battalion commander. Major Howard N. Stent, visited the area to hunt tiger. Like many visitors to Khe Sanh, Major Stenr was impressed with its beauty, and returned to China with stories of the tall, green mountains, waterfalls, abundant game, and the peaceful Bru tribespeople.4
In August 1962, MACV established a Special Forces CIDG camp at an
old abandoned French fort, about two kilometers east of the village
of Khe Sanh and just below Route 9, for border surveillance and anti-infiltration
operations.** In November 1964, the Special Forces team moved from the
French fort to a light-duty airstrip, built by French forces in 1949
on the Xom Cham Placeau, above Route 9 and about two kilometers north
of their former base. This new site, which eventually became the Khe
Sanh base, had sev-
*The Montagnard (a French word meaning "mountaineer") tribes
were not Vietnamese by descent or culture, bur rather, an aboriginal
people who inhabited the highlands. Unworldly, poor, and apolitical,
the Montagnards were often viewed by the Vietnamese as a lesser people
and sometimes were treated with contempt. Colonel Knight wrote char
the Vietnamese name for the tribesmen was Moi which meant savage.
He explained that the term Montagnard came into use "at the insistence
ot Ngo Dinh Diem who deplored the common Vietnamese usage . . . ."
Knight Comments. Chaplain Stublie noted the sharp contrast between the
houses in Khe Sanh Village made of concrete and wood where the ethnic
Vietnamese lived and the homes of the Bru made of bamboo with grass
roofs and on stilts in the surrounding "villes". Stubbe Comments.
**CIDG is an acronym for Civilian Irregular Defense Group. The CIDG
consisted of local militia, armed, trained, advised, and, in fact, led
by U.S. and South Vietnamese Special Forces personnel. Such camps were
scattered throughout the country. This French fore sice was later referred
to by the American forces at Khe Sanh as the "old French Fort."