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CHAPTER 14

The Siege of Khe Sanh

Digging In-Opening Moves-'Incoming!'-The
Fall of Khe Sanh Village-Reinforcement and Fighting Back-Round Two-The
Fall of Lang Vei-The Intensifying Battle Settling the Score-Operation
Pegasus

Digging In

By late January, U.S. planners at every level were
determined to defend Khe Sanh, despite the suggested possibility of
'another Dien Bien Phu.'* General Westmoreland voiced numerous reasons
for defending the remote outpost. It was a valuable base for monitoring
North Vietnamese infiltration through Laos along the 'Ho Chi Minh' and
'Santa Fe' Trails.** It was also important to Westmoreland's planned
invasion of Laos by which he intended physically to cut the trails.
Moreover, Khe Sanh served as left flank security for the Strong Point
Obstacle System, also known as the Dyemarker Project. Finally, and vitally
significant when considering the unpopularity of the war to many Americans
by 1968, was the psychological significance of Khe Sanh. While it had
no intrinsic political importance, being neither a cultural nor economic
center, to relinquish it in the face of North Vietnamese pressure would
result in a major enemy propaganda victory.'' Admiral Ulysses S. Grant
Sharp, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, and Westmoreland's immediate superior,
concurred in this analysis, saying 'withdrawal from any portion of Vietnam
would make immediate and sensational news, nor only through the Western
news media, but also through the Communist capitals as a major propaganda
item.'1

At Khe Sanh, the 26th Marines had the responsibility
to prevent the base from tailing to the surrounding Communist forces.
With three infantry battalions, an artillery battalion, and a full range
of supporting units, including tank and antitank detachments, antiaircraft
weapons, engineers, shore parry, air control, communications, and a
host of others, Colonel David E. Lownds, the 26th Marines commander,
continued improving his defenses.

The Marine positions arced around the combat
base from the westnorthwest to the north, forming a line of heavily
fortified, mutually supporting strongpoints. Seven kilometers northwest
of the combat base. Company I and Company M occupied Hill 8S1 South,
from which Company I sortied on 20 January



Unnumbered Department of Defense (USMC)

Photo

An aerial view of the Khe Sanh Combat Base looking west was taken during

the siege. The runway of the airstrip can he seen below and in the top right of

the picture is what appears to be a rocket pod hanging below the aircraft taking

the picture.


* Sec Chapter-4 fora detailed discussion of the events
preceding the Battle for Khe Sanh.

** The 'Santa Fe' Trail was actually part of the Ho
Chi Minh Trail network, entering South Vietnam from Laos northwest of
Khe Sanh. See Chapter 3.

*** In his comments. General Westmoreland wrote that
'the abandonment ot that central terrain feature (Khe Sanh] would have
made available to the enemy a route to the populated area near the coast.
Our control of Khe Sanh forced the enemy to change his battle plans
and to reduce the threat to the coastal areas and its population.' Gen
William C. Westmoreland, USA), Comments on draft, dtd 18Oct94 (Vietnam
Comment File).




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