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several flights of "Navy and Air Force birds handed off" to him when
Corporal Niuatoa suddenly "spotted a flash and then several others."
A few seconds later, the Marines on the hill heard the rounds going
overhead and then saw them impacting on the main base. This time, Dabney
contacted a Marine airborne forward air controller codenamed Southern
Oscar flying a Cessna light single-engine fixed-wing O-1E. Turning over
control of the aircraft given to him to Southern Oscar, Captain Dabney
described to the airborne controller the nature of the target and relayed
to him Corporal Niuatoa's directions. When Southern Oscar had one of
the aircraft drop his bombs on a ridgeline and ask for an adjustment,
Dabney recalled the corporal's response: "Left a click, add two ridge
lines." Given these new bearings, the air controller spotted first one
gun and then several others. While not sure because of enemy antiaircraft
fire, Southern Oscar believed that the resulting airstrikes took out
four of the guns. Dabney wanted to call in B-52 strikes on these positions,
but declared that one of his everlasting frustrations was that nothing
ever came of his recommendations.36*

While there may have been some question about the location of the
enemy guns, there was little dispute that enemy rockets, especially
the 122mm Soviet type, posed possibly an even greater threat to the
Khe Sanh base. Used in great volume and difficult to suppress, the enemy
gunners fired them from west of the base which offered "the long axis
of the base" as a target. Given the limited range of the missiles, Hill
881 South was in a strategic position. From the hill, the Marines of
Company I could observe the NVA gunners shoot off their rockets, usually
in sheaves of 50 rockets firing simultaneously towards Khe Sanh. This
permitted Dabney to give the main base about a 10-second warning to
sound the alarm and for the Marines there to take cover. While unable
to suppress the rockets when they fired because of their sheer volume,
Dabney's Marines were able to take countermeasures. According to the
Company I commander, the North Vietnamese regularly used the same sites
over and over so he employed his mortars and 106mm Recoilless Rifles
against them "at night while they were setting up sometimes producing
secondary explosions." The Marines also called in air strikes against
the sites, but with mixed results because of the weather.37


An ominous indication of an even more extensive North Vietnamese campaign against the Marine base occurred in mid-January. On the morning of the 24th, Communist tanks overran the BV-33 Battalion, Royal Lao Army, at Ban Houaysan, an abandoned airfield on Route 9, just across the border in Laos. The appearance of NVA tanks outside North Vietnam was extremely unusual. Later the same day, an air observer reported sighting a MiG aircraft 10 to 15 miles west of Khe Sanh.


Closer to home, the 3d Platoon, Company F, 26th Marines engaged an NVA company only one kilometer north of the battalion's position on Hill 558. The Communist troops were equipped with helmets and flak jackets and used whistle signals. They were not afraid to leave their positions to maneuver, at one point sending 50 men against the Marines' flank. The Marines reported that the enemy fought tenaciously, refusing to withdraw even after "four hours of pounding" by artillery and aircraft. One North Vietnamese machine gunner remained at his post until killed by rifle fire at a range of only five meters.38


In light of the major battle anticipated at Khe Sanh, General Westmoreland requested that Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Lam, the I Corps com-

*In his comments. Colonel Dabney wrote: "For what it's worth, the folks in
the Khe Sanh COC [Combat Operations Center] never realized how the NVA
artillery was emplaced and employed, but then, they never came up to
[Hill] 881S and looked." He believed that they were unnecessarily fixated
upon Co Roc. Although respecting the abilities and brilliance of Captain
Mirza M. Baig, the 26th Marines Target Intelligence Officer, Dabney
believed the latter too engrossed in his "technological acquisition
goodies" and "forgot he had . . . eyeballs working for him." In supporting
his viewpoint, Colonel Dabney asked why would the North Vietnamese employ
their Russian-made 130mm guns with a 27,000 meter range from Co Roc
which was only 12,000 meters from Khe Sanh and risk losing them. He
observed that Hill 881 South was three to four miles off the gun target
line from Co Roc, and "if we could hear [emphasis in the original] the
rounds whistling over, they couldn't be coming from Co Roc!" Instead,
he believed the main enemy guns were located about five kilometers north
of Co Roc and about 15,000 meters west of Hill 881 South. Instead of
emplacing them in battery positions, they placed individual guns "along
the gun-target line, about 500 meters apart, since the target (Khe Sanh)
was fixed, they had only to adjust each gun for range based on its location.
Deflection was a constant." He concluded: "It made sense, really, to
put their artillery, guns firing at extreme range ... to the west, where
they could fire down the long axis of the target. That way, 'over and
shorts' still had effect on target." Dabney Comments. Captain Bernard
D. Cole, USN, after reading Colonel Dabney's comments, wrote: "I do
not dispute that Col Dabney was able to spot arty firing at Khe Sanh
from positions other than Co Roc, but I certainly disagree that "Co
Roc was a myth.' We obviously knew about and targeted non-Co Roc arty,
which we located through 'all source' intelligence-although Harry Baig
regularly went out to the perimeter (without helmet or flak jacket!),
our job in rhe FSCC was of course not observation but fire support coordination.
I simply think that Col Dabney is basing his conclusion on inadequate
information." Captain Cole also insisted that "If anyone called in a
viable Arclight target, we would hit it... ." Cole Comments, dtd 23Jun96.





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