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Khe Sanh: Final Operations and Evacuation 16 April-11 July 1968

To Stay or Not to Stay-The
'Walking Dead'-Operation Scotland II-Operation Robin Razing Khe Sanh:
Operation Charlie

To Stay or Not to Stay

General Westmoreland originally had ordered the defense
of Khe Sanh as a block to enemy infiltration along Route 9 and as a
possible 'jump-off point' for a planned invasion of Laos.1
By the end of the siege, the Paris negotiations with the North Vietnamese
had ended all thoughts of expanding the war into Laos. With the increased
availability of additional mobile forces following the defeat of the
enemy's Tet offensive, Westmoreland faced an entirely new tactical situation.
As he recorded later:

It was clear . . . that the base had
outlived its usefulness. We now had the troops and helicopters to control
the area,. .. and we had the logistics and a secure forward base at
Ca Lu to support these operations.2

In light of these new developments, Lieutenant General
Cushman, the III MAF commander, and Army Lieutenant General William
B. Rosson, the Provisional Corps commander, pressed for the evacuation
of Khe Sanh immediately. According to General Rosson, he had prepared
a plan which General Cushman had endorsed and that he thought had the
tacit approval of General Westmoreland. Rosson had proposed the immediate
redeployment of the 1st Air Cavalry Division to operation Delaware,
and the 'progressive deployment eastward' of the 3d Marine Division
units. As he recalled, he talked personally by telephone with Westmoreland
and told the MACV commander that the Marine and ARVN units would remain
at Khe Sanh only to ensure security for the 'removal of supplies' during
the proposed 'inactivation of the base.' In Rosson's opinion, 'General
Westmoreland understood the plan that General Cushman and I had agreed
upon,' and offered no objection.3

On 15 April, this understanding, if there was such
an understanding, fell apart at a commander's conference that General
Rosson hosted at his headquarters at Phu Bai. Rosson had called the
meeting which originally was to include the 3d Marine Division and 1st
Air Cavalry Division commanders and various staff members 'to finalize
the plan and issue orders.' As a courtesy, Rosson invited his immediate
superior, General Cushman, who in turn had invited General Westmoreland.
The Provisional Corps commander remembered that he had just finished
outlining the concept and had asked for comments when: 'General Westmoreland-to
Cushman's and my own surprise and embarrassment-stated that Pegasus
would not be terminated.' While permitting the greater part of the 1st
Air Cavalry Division to redeploy to Operation Delaware, one brigade
of the Air Cavalry and Marine and ARVN units would continue 'to comb
the area' using Khe Sanh as their base of operations. Any decision to
curtail 'these activities,' dismantle the base, or redeploy the remaining
forces 'would await further developments.' General Westmoreland later
would say that he basically agreed with Rosson's plan, 'but not its
timing.' General Rosson remained puzzled:'In
essence, I either misunderstood General Westmoreland's approval, or
he had second thoughts. . . . Why he did not communicate his disagreement
to us prior to the conference continues to perplex me.' In any event,
while Operation Pegasus did officially end on 15 April, U.S. units would
continue to operate in and around Khe Sanh, for the time being, under
the operational name of Scotland II.4**

* Like the meeting on 8 March (See Chapters 8 and
14) the participants had different interpretations about General Westmoreland's
demeanor at the April meeting. According to Marine Brigadier General
John R. Chaisson, who headed the MACV Combat Operations Center, when
General Westmoreland learned that General Cushman, the III MAF commander,
and General Rosson, the Prov Corps commander, planned to evacuate the
base, 'Westy lowered the boom. He was so mad he wouldn't stay around
and talk with them. Instead he told me what he wanted and left me to
push it with Rosson and Cushman.' BGen Chaisson Itr to Mrs. Chaisson,
dtd 17Apr68 as quoted in Ronald H. Spector, After Tet, The Bloodiest
Year in Vietnam
(N.Y, N.Y: The Free Press, 1993), p. 129. On the
other hand. General Rosson wrote: 'General Westmoreland certainly did
not 'lower the boom' on me when he learned of the plan during our telephone
conference. Nor did he do so during the commanders conference. While
he was incisively firm in expressing himself on that occasion, he did
not exhibit anger. Moreover, he remained after the conference for a
short time to converse informally with various commanders, key staff
officers, Cushman and myself. I frankly do not remember John's [Chaisson}
remaining to 'push it with Rosson and Cushman.'' According to Rosson,
he rather recalled 'resuming the conference after General Westmoreland's
departure to forge a new course of action and revise the orders.' Gen
William B. Rosson, USA, Comments on draft, dtd 29May95 (Vietnam Comment
File), hereafter Rosson Comments, May95.

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