Photo from the David Douglas Duncan Collection, MCHC.
A lone combat boot and helmet are seen among the debris where a Marine's "hootch" stood before it was destroyed when a 122mm rocket hit the nearby ammunition dump.
Nightfall brought no respite for the defenders of Khe Sanh. At 1950, the 2d Platoon, Company L, 3d Battalion reported about 35 North Vietnamese crawling toward its wire near the western end of the airstrip. The Marines opened fire with grenade launchers and light antiarmor weapons (LAAWs)." When the action ended an hour later the North Vietnamese were seen dragging away casualties and 14 enemy dead remained in the wire.20
The fighting and shelling of 21 January resulted in 14 Marines dead and 43 wounded. Combined with the ammunition dump explosions, the shelling destroyed a Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter, all of the weather monitoring equipment, most of the airstrip's night lighting system, many field telephone lines, bunkers, engineer equipment, generators, the post exchange, a mess hall, and other facilities.21**
III MAF immediately moved to replenish the ammunition lost in ASP
Number 1, but the task was complicated by damage to the airstrip. With
only 1,800 feet of the 3,900-foot runway open, large-capacity cargo
aircraft could not land. Further, the damage to the night lighting system
and poor weather added to the problem. Nonetheless, six Fairchild C-123
Provider light cargo aircraft of the 315th Air Commando Wing landed
ar Khe Sanh after dark on 21 January under artillery illumination, bringing
in 26 tons of much needed ammunition. After midnight, a 1st Marine Aircraft
Wing Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter delivered whole blood after
an extremely dangerous landing on the "socked-in" airstrip.22
The Fall of Khe Sanh Village
Almost simultaneously with the attack on the main base, the North
Vietnamese launched an assault against the Regional Force troops and
Combined Action Oscar units in Khe Sanh Village about 3,000 meters to
the south.*** Early on the morning of the 21st, under cover
* The M72 Light Antiarmor Weapon (LAAW) is a 66mm antitank rocket system
in which a projectile is prepackaged in a disposable launcher. In Vietnam,
the Marines used these weapons against enemy bunkers and as on this
occasion even against infantry.
** Colonel William H. Dabney, who as a captain commanded Company l
on Hill 8H1S, recalled that as well as the main base being bombarded,
"several rounds of 120mm mortars struck" Hill S81S, wounding several
Marines, and that "as they were being evacuated, several more rounds
struck the helicopter zone, killing the company corpsman and two other
Marines and destroying a CH-34 helicopter and wounding its crew." Col
William H. Dabney. Comments on draft, n.d. [Dec9-l] (Vietnam Comment
File), hereafter Dabney Comments.
*** Marine records state that the attack on Khe Sanh Village occurred
at 0630 on the morning of the 21st while Colonel Bruce B. G. Clarke,
USA, who was the senior U.S. Army advisor for Huong Hoa District, in
an account he wrote in April 1968, scares that the NVA attack began
at 0500. See 26th Mar ComdC, Jan68, and Capt Bruce Clarke, untitled
account, dtd Apr68, attached to Col Bruce B. G. Clarke, Comments on
draft, n.d. [Apr95] (Vietnam Comment File).