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eral advantages. Militarily, it was on relatively level ground and
offered good fields of fire in all directions. The terrain provided
both good drainage and stable soil, mostly consisting of "laterite clay
or weathered iron/aluminum rock." It also contained a "few basalt outcroppings,
at what was later called the 'Rock Quarry.'" At their new camp, the
Special Forces and CIDG personnel built a number of bunkers which the
Marines later at Khe Sanh would refer to, erroneously, as "old French
bunkers."5

Earlier, in the spring of 1964, Major Alfred M. Gray, later the 29th
Commandant of the Marine Corps, arrived in the Khe Sanh sector with
a signal intelligence detachment and an infantry platoon and established
a radio monitoring site atop Dong Voi Mep, better known to the Marines
as Tiger Tooth Mountain, north of the CIDG camp. The composite force,
designated Marine Detachment, Advisory Team 1, was "the first actual
Marine ground unit to conduct independent operations in the Republic
of Vietnam." After its position had been compromised in July, the team
redeployed to Da Nang.6*


In 1966, III MAF carried out two battalion-sized operations near Khe Sanh to search for North Vietnamese units reported by Special Forces personnel. The 1st Battalion, 1st Marines arrived in April and established a camp around the airstrip from which to conduct Operation Virginia. After searching the mountains around the CIDG camp for a week without finding a trace of the enemy, the battalion marched back to the coast along Route 9, becoming the first "major force" to accomplish this feat in at least eight years.7


In late September 1966, Lieutenant Colonel Peter A. Wickwire's 1st Battalion, 3d Marines arrived at Khe Sanh as part of Operation Prairie, beginning 22 months of continuous Marine presence in the area. The monsoon was upon Khe Sanh by this time, and the Marines experienced temperatures as low as 40 degrees and winds which gusted to 45 knots. The bad weather caused the airstrip to close frequently and when aircraft could not land at the combat base, some types of supplies reached dangerously low levels. After four months of vigorous patrolling, the Marines found little in the way of enemy forces, claiming only 15 dead North Vietnamese.8

During Operation Prairie, the Special Forces personnel relocated their
CIDG camp to the village of Lang Vei on Route 9 between Khe Sanh and
the Laotian border. A detachment known as Forward Operating Base 3 (FOB-3),**
first located in Khe Sanh village, moved to the old French fort, and
then, in the latter part of 1967, deployed to newly built quarters adjoining
the Khe Sanh combat base. A small MACV advisory team remained at the
district headquarters in Khe Sanh village.9


In February 1967, III MAF had established Combined Action Platoon O to work with the Bru in the area. "CAP Oscar," as it was called, was the only unit in the Combined Action program to work with a Montagnard tribe. The CAP headquarters was in Khe Sanh village from where they patrolled the surrounding Bru hamlets.10


By this time, February 1967, the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines had departed for Okinawa, but Company B, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines took the battalion's place to protect a detachment of Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 10 which was assigned to extend and improve the airstrip. The company patrolled the hills and valleys for any sign of Communist forces. Within a month, increased contact led the 3d Marine Division to reinforce Khe Sanh with a second company and in late March the Marines became engaged with a powerful enemy force. The 3d Marine Division assigned control of the forces at Khe Sanh to the 3d Marines on 20 April 1967. Within a matter of days, the Marines encountered strong North Vietnamese forces in fortified positions on the hills to the north of the Khe Sanh Combat Base, prompting the commanding officer of the 3d Marines, Colonel John P. Lanigan, to deploy his 2d and 3d Battalions to the area. The ensuing battles to eject the North Vietnamese from the commanding terrain overlooking the combat base became known as the "Hill Battles" and lasted until 11 May. In some of the most vicious fighting of the war, Marines wrested control of Hills 861, 881 North, and 881 South from the enemy.***


The fighting in the First Battle of Khe Sanh was savage and costly for both sides. Marine casualties



*The Marines would later establish in late 1966 a radio relay station on Hill 950, about 3,500 meters north of Khe Sanh and 9,000 meters southeast of Tiger Mountain. Prados and Stubbe, Valley of Decision, p. 128. See also Stubbe Comments.

**FOB-3 was an element of the Studies and Observation Group (SOG),
which trained Nung, Muong, and Bru Montagnards for clandestine operations
against Communist forces along infiltration routes.

***For detailed accounts of the Hill Battles, see Telfer, Rogers,
and Fleming, U.S. Marines is Vietnam, 1967, Chapter 4 and Prados
and Stubbe, Valley of Decision, pp. 83-105.





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