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of fog, elements of the 66th Regiment, 304th North Vietnamese
Division
struck the Huong Hoa District headquarters in the village
complex. The mixed group of defenders included two platoons of the 915th
Regional Force Company, the small four-man U.S. Army advisory group
headed by Army Captain Bruce B. G. Clarke, and two Combined Action Platoons
of Combined Action Company "Oscar," commanded by Marine First Lieutenant
Thomas B. Stamper. The total strength of the allied force consisted
of approximately 175 soldiers and Marines. Combined Action Platoon Oscar-1
(CAP O-1) consisting of 10 Marines and l Navy corpsman, headed by Sergeant
John J. Balance, and about an equal number of Bru tribesmen, was in
the headquarters hamlet. The second Combined Action Platoon, Oscar-2
(CAP O-2), led by Sergeant Roy Harper, at about the same strength, was
in a nearby hamlet about 200 yards to the west.

With Captain Clarke and Lieutenant Stamper coordinating artillery
and air support from the headquarters command bunker, CAP O-1 and the
RF troops stood off the initial attacks in fierce fighting.* While eventually
forced to give up most of the hamlet, the two units established a final
defensive perimeter in the headquarters compound. CAP O-2 also managed
for that first day to stave off the NVA in their sector.


As the fog lifted about midday on the 21st, the intensity of the combat slackened somewhat. While the North Vietnamese continued to place pressure upon the defenders with mortar and RPG bombardments, they limited their infantry action to small arms fire and probes. Helicopters attempted to resupply the embattled headquarters compound, but could not land. According to Corporal Balance, the crews managed, however, to kick out some much needed ammunition.

Two relief expeditions also failed in their attempts. In the first,
the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines from the Khe Sanh base sent out a platoon
from Company D to the village. The platoon reached Hill 476 overlooking
Khe Sanh Village and could see North Vietnamese troops deploying. Receiving
new orders that the relief mission was too dangerous, the platoon returned
to base. The second expedition was a disaster. The U.S. Army 282d Assault
Helicopter Company attempted to bring in that evening the South Vietnamese
256th Regional Force Company from Quang Tri City. Unfortunately, in
a series of mishaps and misunderstandings, the aircraft came down in
a landing zone near the abandoned French Fort, 2,000 meters east of
Khe Sanh, the former home of FOB-3, and now a North Vietnamese stronghold.
It was a near slaughter: the North Vietnamese killed over 25 of the
American pilots and crew and 70 or more of the RF troops. Among the
dead was the expedition leader, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Joseph
Seymoe, the deputy advisor for Quang Tri Province. According to authors
John Prados and Ray Stubbe, this failed expedition "in terms of proportionate
casualties and equipment losses ... would be the worst military debacle
of the entire campaign at Khe Sanh."23

During the night of 21-22 January in Khe Sanh village, the situation
remained tense but relatively quiet, except for some enemy sniper fire.
During this time, the Marines and surviving Bru of CAP O-2 to the west,
fought their way to the headquarters compound.** The Marines sustained
several wounded but no dead. On the morning of the 22d, Sergeant Balance,
who was later awarded the Silver Star for his part in the fight, led
a patrol towards the Old French Fort, hoping to find survivors of the
aborted relief mission. At the bottom of the hill upon which the fort
was situated, Balance turned back, fearing he was being set up for an
ambush after seeing some Vietnamese in strange uniforms. Upon approaching
the western sector of the headquarters compound. Balance and his men
recovered what he claimed to be 150 weapons, including RPGs and assault
rifles, many of them


* Captain Clarke was on a separate advisory radio net from Lieutenant
Stamper. Clarke managed to keep in radio contact with Robert Brewer,
the Senior Quang Tri Province Advisor in Quang Tri City, and more importantly
established radio contact with an Air Force forward air controller who
called in repeated air strikes against the North Vietnamese. Lieutenant
Stamper had direct radio contact with the 26th Marines and was able
to call in artillery support and Marine air through the Marine radio
net. Col Bruce B. G. Clarke, USA, Comments on draft, n.d. (Apr95) (Vietnam
Comment File), hereafter Clarke Comments; Capt Bruce Clarke, untitled
account, dtd Apr68, attached to Clarke Comments. According to Prados
and Stubbe, Captain Clarke was out on an early morning patrol just before
the enemy onslaught on the 21st, but "miraculously got back to the perimeter
and under cover" to help coordinate the defense. John Prados and Ray
W. Stubbe, Valley of Decision, The Siege of Khe Sanh (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Co, 1991), p. 258.

** Former Navy Corpsman John R. Roberts, who served with CAP O-2,
recalled that Sergeant Harper, although badly wounded, continued to
coordinate the defense. Roberts wrote that most of the other Marines
in the CAP were also wounded. Despite their wounds, the CAP-2 Marines
decided that the only choice they had was to break out and attempt to
reach CAP-1 in the headquarters compound, which they successfully did.
John R. Roberts, "The Bastard Sons of Khe Sanh, the Marines of CAP,
Oscar II," ms, attached to John J. Balance, Comments on draft, dtd 15Nov94
and 5Apr95 (Vietnam Comment File).





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