North and returned to Hill 881 South at 1800. The company lost 7 killed
and 35 wounded. While withdrawing, it estimated at least 100 dead North
Vietnamese on the face of the hill.62*
The Enemy Plan Unfolds
While Company I battled what appeared to be a Communist battalion
for Hill 881 North, a rather bizarre and fortuitous event took place
at the combat base: the disclosure of the enemy plan for the attack
on Khe Sanh. At 1400 on 20 January the 2d Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion,
26th Marines reported that a North Vietnamese soldier was waving a white
flag near its position on the northeastern perimeter of the combat base.
The company commander, Captain Kenneth W. Pipes, took a fire team approximately
500 meters outside the lines where the Communist soldier willingly surrendered.
The battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel James B. Wilkinson, questioned
the prisoner immediately after his capture and was "impressed by his
eagerness to talk."63
The rallier,** as he turned out to be, was Lieutenant La Thanh Tone,
the commanding officer of the 14th Antiaircraft Company, 95C
Regiment, 325C Division. He freely provided detailed information
on the enemy's dispositions and plan of attack for Khe Sanh, including
the fact that the North Vietnamese would attack Hill 861 that very night.
Coming as it did on the heels of Company Is encounter with the enemy
on nearby Hill 881 North, the information was plausible. Colonel Lownds
dispatched an officer courier to 3d Marine Division headquarters with
the information. The combat base and the hill positions were as ready
as possible under the circumstances. There was nothing left to do but
*Army Colonel Bruce B. G. Clarke commented that on the 20th as well,
the Army advisors at the district headquarters led a small force and
patrolled an area to the south of the Khe Shan base, but withdrew to
make way for a B-52 strike. Clarke Comments.
**The term "rallier" was applied to North Vietnamese or Viet Cong who
availed themselves of the "Chieu Hoi" ("Open Arms") program to defect
to the Government of South Vietnam.