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meeting heavy Communist resistance.* Three kilometers to the east
of Hill 881 South, Company K sat atop Hill 861. The 2d Battalion's main
position was on Hill 558, just over a kilometer east of Company K, overlooking
the Song Rao Quan valley. Further still to the east, and almost four
kilometers north of the combat base, the 2d Platoon of Company A sat
high atop the dominant precipice known as Hill 950 to guard the radio
relay site there. At the combat base proper, the 1st Battalion and Company
L, 3d Battalion defended the airstrip with the headquarters elements,
and the firing batteries of the 1st Battalion, 13th Marines.


Adjacent to the combat base and just north of Route 9 was the massive bunker complex of the secretive SOG Forward Operating Base 3 (FOB-3) whose members conducted clandestine anti-infiltration operations in Laos and along the border. Outlying defensive positions further south included those of Combined Action Platoons Oscar and the 915th Regional Force Company protecting the hamlets of Khe Sanh Village as well as the smalt MACV advisory team at the district headquarters located there. Further to the southwest was the Lang Vei Special Forces CIDG Camp located on Route 9, nine kilometers from the combat base and only two kilometers from the border with Laos.**

In every position, the defenders continuously worked to prepare for
the coming battle. Following a visit to Khe Sanh, General Cushman directed
that all fighting holes have overhead cover capable of withstanding
direct hits from 82mm mortars and that the ammunition supply point be
reorganized to provide better protection for the ammunition stocks,
much of which were outside the revetments.2 Fortification
material was in short supply, but the Marines used many field expedients,
including damaged portions of the airstrip's steel matting and metal
pallets used for air delivery of supplies. Rolls of "German tape," with
its razor-like edges, were added to the multiple layers of protective
barbed wire ringing the combat base and the hill outposts in a band
25 meters wide in many places. Marines placed explosives inside rolls
of barbed wire to produce boobytraps which, when activated by a tripwire
or detonated on command, would send sharp shards of twisted metal flying
in every direction. In some places, the defenders emplaced drums offougasse,
a mixture of gasoline and diesel fuel detonated by plastic explosive
which produced a wall of flame certain to discourage even the most determined
attacker. Still there were shortcomings in the Marine defenses. Former
Washington Post correspondent Peter Braestrup, who served as a Marine
officer during the Korean War, remembered that after he visited Khe
Sanh at the end of January, 1968, "I saw on main base [that] many perimeter
trenches were waist high, no more. Marines don't like to dig. "3***


In addition to the physical preparation of the ground at Khe Sanh, higher headquarters entered the picture to assist in the defense of the combat base and its outlying positions. General Westmoreland ordered that Khe Sanh receive maximum support from Boeing B-52 Stratofortress heavy bombers and ordered the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division to prepare to deploy to I Corps Tactical Zone on 24-hour notice. General Cushman directed the 3d Marine Division to shift heavy artillery units for better support of Khe Sanh and requested that the 3d Brigade, 1st Air Cavalry Division be alerted for deployment to the Hue-Phu Bai area on 24-hour notice.4


Logistical preparations went forward at the same time. By the third week in January, Khe Sanh had at least a 30-day supply of ammunition for all of its



*A detachment of three 105mm howitzers from Battery C, 1st Battalion, 13th Marines was attached to Company I on Hill 881 South to provide additional fire support for the base. Colonel Kent O. W. Steen, who served with the 1st Battalion, 13th Marines as a young officer in 1968, wrote: "There were times when these three artillery pieces were all that could be brought to bear on attacks on the . . . main base." Col Kent O. W. Steen, Comments on draft, dtd lDec94 (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Steen Comments; 1/13 ComdC, Feb68.

** See Chapter 4 relative to the activities and establishment of these
organizations in the Khe Sanh sector.

*** For discussion of Marine vulnerabilities at Khe Sanh see Chapter
4. See also LrGen Philip B. Davidson, Vietnam at War, The History:
1946-1975
(Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1988), pp. 554-56; LtCol
Frederick J. McEwan, Comments on draft, dtd 7Dec94 (Vietnam Comment
File); and William J. O'Connor, Comments on draft, dtd 29Nov94 (Vietnam
Comment File), hereafter O'Connor Comments. See also the references
to Marine shortcomings in building fortifications and bunkers in Chapter
l, especially with reference to comments by Major Gary E. Todd who served
on the 3d Marine Division intelligence staff in 1968 and Colonel John
C. Studt. Colonel Studt, who as a lieutenant colonel took over the 3d
Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh in March 1968, observed that "the
first thing I undertook was a total reconstruction of our defensive
positions starting with the company commanders building a proper bunker
wirh me." Col John C. Studt, Comments on draft, dtd 22Nov94 (Vietnam
Comment File). From another perspective, Colonel Kent O. W. Steen, an
arrillery officer at Khe Sanh, commented, "we did homemade bunkers not
because we wanted to or didn't know better, but that there weren't enough
airlift and construction resources in Vietnam to provide the materials
we need once the threat was understood." Steen Comments.




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