Remembrances of Khe Sanh
By Jim Wodecki
USMC, FLC, FLSG-A, Khe Sanh 66-67


Note: some of these pictures are quite large and will take several minutes to load

In addition to Jim Wodecki's comments and images below, the following two Galleries are linked here:


"Memories of the Khe Sanh Hill Battles"

By Lieutenant Jim Epps and provided by Jim Wodecki.


"Cliff Treese at Khe Sanh"

Chilling text and wonderful images.

Thanks, Jim, for also sending this material to us. With your invaluable help, we are able to preserve and learn from some firsthand history about Khe Sanh. Thanks for once again helping your Brothers of Khe Sanh.


Introduction and Background by Jim Wodecki

Through the words and pictures in this gallery I would like to show the world what living at Khe Sanh was like. I still believe to this day there were two different wars in Vietnam: the war before '68 Tet and the war after.

After Tet, everything changed: clothes, weapons, food, life style, liberty, planes...even the Enemy. The tactics of the NVA and the V.C. were very different. With the introduction of Chinese advisors in the hills around Khe Sanh, we found the first evidence of the Chinese; and the commie Russians were involved by December of 1966. We saw Russian spy planes and helicopters armed with rockets which were no match for our choppers . We had captured Chinese belt buckles taken from KIAs with Chinese unit numbers on the back. The ordnance all had "chi-com" stamped on it.

And I still can't figure out why the Army and Marines had a feud at Khe Sanh before the Hill Battles and after the Siege in 1968 Tet. Before the Hill Battles, the Army had a perimeter around the base along with the 9th Marines. They couldn't decide who would be in charge of operations; so the Army got up and left the base, leaving about 250 or so of us to fend for ourselves. That's when the NVA first tried to overrun us on March 3rd of 1967.

After shelling almost every square foot with mortars and RPGs, they caught us with our pants down good.

At about this time, Con Thien was also under attack by the NVA. The poor bastards could only move from hole to hole playing games. When a mortar round hits, it will blow all the sand bags off the top of the bunker. Rattle your brain a little; you'll probably live but with parts of the thing probably still inside some of us.

When a shell from an artillery piece hits the bunker, it lifts it up ten feet, then drops it back down killing all. By the way, a lot of Chi Com ordnance failed; and to this day, unexploded ordnance is still at Khe Sanh. It wasn't uncommon to find shells later and detonate them where they lay after an attack.

Sometimes, there could be as many as 1,500 rounds a day incoming. We could muster up quite a few rounds ourselves all day and all night. Now, I don't know if this was possible; but I don't think I slept from March '67 till June of '67 when I left the base at Khe Sanh.

By the way, our ordnance would sometimes fail also and come down inside our compound. This was fun, but it made one a little nervous for a few hours after the second "short round" (as they were called). We blew up the rest of the lot in the woods nearby. There are some holes just outside the base that have holes bigger than any B-52 Bomb could make. I suppose that's my signature which I left behind at Khe Sanh...a big Hole!!

Back to the Army leaving in 1967... We at the Base were outnumbered 10 to 1, and yet we held the base under heavy mortar and artillery fire.

Let me diverge for a second and tell you about March 2nd, 1967. A USAF plane, returning from the North, mistakenly dropped Napalm on the Village of Lang Vei. 116 Bru Monagnards were killed, and 200 or so were badly wounded. We had bodies lying on the runway for 2 days. People walked to the base with flesh hanging from them, burnt bad. That's another Khe Sanh smell that will never leave me. We lost 2 Marines killed and 17 wounded.

On March 16th, E/2/9, B/2/9, and B/1/9 on Hill 861 (in one of my pictures) were ambushed by the NVA. 18 were killed and 57 were wounded, 18 very serious.

On the 30th of March, 1967, 2nd/Lt. Edward Joseph Keglovits crashed his USMC F-4 after receiving hostile ground fire. On the 24th of April, the 3/9ers took it bad again: 14 killed, 18 wounded, and 2 MIA. (I wonder why they call them, the 1/9, the Walking Dead.)

On April 25th, K/3/3 found the enemy at Hill 861: 9 Marines Killed, 8 wounded, 4 MIA. On April 26th of 1967, the 9th and the 3rd on Hill 861 lost 22 men Killed, on the 27th one KIA, the 28th one KIA, the 29th two KIA.

On the 30th of April, 1967, the Marines on Hill 881 came under attack. 43 Marines were killed, and some of these had to be left on the Hill to be recovered later. Another 109 were wounded from M/3/3, K/3/9, G/2/3, H/2/3, and M/3/9 on both 881-N and 881-S.

On Hill 881-N on the 2nd of May, G/2/3, K/3/3, and G/2/3 had 5 Marines killed. On the 3rd of May, 1967, E/2/3 and F/2/3 suffered 27 KIA and 84 wounded with 137 NVA KIA confirmed and 120 more probables. On the 9th of May on Hill 881, one Marine died. On the 10th, 5 recon men from A/3 Recon (Team Breaker) were killed.

On the 21st of May, two men from A/1/26 were KIA. 5 Men from a FOB (Army SF) team were killed on the 3rd of June; and on the 6th, 8 Marines were killed on Hill 960. On the 7th of June, B/1/26 was overrun on Hill 950 with 18 Marines killed, 27 WIA, and 59 NVA killed.

On the 8th of June, my DEROS was up; and I was headed out of there.


This is picture of Main street at Khe Sanh.

Nice and neat in 1966, we would have our states' flags on both sides of the dirt street later. Notice the nice butt cans and trash barrels there. We were going on patrol this day but saw no enemy. We would patrol no more than 10,000 meters. The range of 105 howitzers. Later we received 155 howitzers and could patrol up to 15,000 meters. In October of 1966 the monsoons came, and being resupplied in the mornings was impossible with the Crachin, a mixture of fog and clouds that filled the valleys. We often got down to one days supply of food and fuel. The soggy soil became unstable, and bunkers would collapse. Roads became quagmires. That's when the M-76 "Otters" (a tracked vehicle) really were life savers ... it was the only way to get water from the Roa Quan river. Unfortunatly, like all our equipment, we had no parts to fix it when it broke down. We ended up pumping water up 90 ft. over 800 ft. to the base.

I would like to mention the seabees. What a job they did constructing bunkers and the airstrip made of AM-2 matting. In one day they shut down the runway and installed the runway in a miserable, cold rain. The bunkers they built saved many Marines lives. My hats off to them. Ward Jarvis was one of those seabees.


In this picture, I'm about 3 mi. out from home (Khe Sanh Base) looking at Hill 861.

It was Oct. 1966, and we were on an E.O.D. (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team blowing up huge stock piles of captured weapons and ammo captured by recon raids to prove there were North Vietnamese troops surrounding Khe Sanh. There were approximately 250 to 300 of us stationed at the Airfield at this time.

You can tell I'm relaxed--no flak jacket, smoking a cig., with no enemy to be seen. This would soon change in 1967.


This is a picture of me at the end of the runway at Khe Sanh, waiting for a C-130 to land.

A lot of these pictures are of nice skys. I will send some of the foggy days soon. I've got the original Snake and Rat story for the books. This was the way it really happened.

In Dec. of 1966 I went to Danang on a mail run; we had to get our own mail. Well, it was so foggy I couldn't return to the base for 3 days. My CO reprimanded me and made me dig a new latrine hole for my punishment. The next day, Recon brought back this huge snake. I presume it was a Boa Constrictor. It was about 12 ft. long. The unused latrine hole was the perfect place to put it. The latrine hole was in the middle of rat trails, and rats often fell in the hole feeding the Boa. A few days later, I looked into the 8 ft. hole and saw a live rat and a dead Boa Snake. Go Figure; now, imagine how large the rats were there.

We also had a little snake about the size of a pencil and dark green. I believe it was a Bamboo snake. We would see how high it could jump by teasing it. It could leap upwards about 2 feet. We were playing with the snake when the corpsman came into the tent and killed the snake immediately, telling us if it bit us, we might have time to smoke a cigarette before we died.


This picture is of the fog at Khe Sanh.

This was pretty much all winter and in the summer mornings. It was a day like this on Hill 881, about 15 miles from the DMZ and 5 miles from Laos, that Marines of 2/3 ran into the NVA, about 2 battalions (1,000 men) dug into the ridge line. 2/3 had about 180 men scouting ahead of the main Co. Fighting broke out within frag range. In two days' fighting on May 2 and 3, the 2/3 scouting party killed 186 NVA and suffered 49 KIA and 84 wounded.

You could sit in you chair at the base about 6 mi from 881N and see the fighting. Marine fighters plastered the ridge with bombs. We fired our 105-mm and 155-mm howtizers; and twelve miles away, Camp Carrol fired thier big 175-mm guns. They bombarded the Hill through the night.

In the morning of the 3rd, the Marines attacked again and ran off the NVA. On the 3rd of May, we saw 50 B-52 bombers dump their wares on the Hill. By nightfall, 2/3 had captured the Hill. Once a wooded area, the top of 881 was a wastland from the shelling. How any NVA survived the 1,000 pound bombs was beyond me; for, when the Marines tried to move out, they ran into NVA dug in in bunkers after all that bombing. They wised up though and let the shelling do its job instead of hand to hand combat. They secured the Hill with 4.2 inch mortars and a battery of 105-mm howitzers. We were there to stay for awhile.

We discovered some pamphlets left behind that said, in English, "Showing a Vietnik demonstration at home, with a women holding a sign saying: "My son died in vain. Don't fight. Go to prison."

The NVA would use tricks on the Marines, calling for a corpsman then killing him; and a few fell for it.


This is a picture of a concrete bunker at Khe Sanh Combat base.

When I arrived, there were 4 bunkers there. Two were old and had been there for some time. They told me they were from the French when they were there. The one I'm looking out of the top was taken on Ground Hog Day, Feb. 1967, to see if I could see my shadow.

This bunker was about 2-feet thick of concrete. We used it to keep our small arms ammo dry and sleep in it when heavy mortar fire came in. They would call us the "Cellar Dwellars" at the base. It would save my life when they first hit the base in 1967 with RPGs and mortars.

The other bunkers -- one was for the brass and traffic controllers, CIA, CID. I think their walls were 3-foot thick. Another was for radio communication for Forward Observers and men in the field. One more was for small arms ammo, also a small 15' by 6'. From what I gathered, only one of these was left by 1968. CBs said they built two of the bunkers, so I assume two were there from the French when they occupied the area in the 50s.

The village of Khe Sanh was a short drive away. I would go to the village often to deliver the mail to the CAC unit station there. They were all Green Berets at that time. SF. I would also pick up the Montagnards for work at the base. They worked for a cup of rice a day and all the rats they could catch and take back to the village. When they saw a rat, they would catch it, smash out their teeth, and take them back to the village. They would put them in a cage for future food. YUK!

While in the village they would give me some coffee grown there. Expresso with a piece of short, bamboo stick in it, which gave it sugar and turned it cream color. That was the best coffee I've ever had and can still imagine the taste after 30 years. So, if your in the neighborhood of the base, get a cup of coffee and think of me ... Jim Wodecki


This is a picture of A-13 (Alpha Battery,13th Marines) area, with a 155mm Howitzer not in pit yet.

The cannisters you can see are powder charges for the gun; the projectiles are separate. What a target the NVA would have in 1967. Notice the ammo boxes behind the gun. This is the way ammo was stored at this time.

Those tents! Still after 30 years can smell them. Khe Sanh had its own smell: moldy tents, moldy shoes, moldy bunkers, gunpowder, Flare residue, Diesel fuel, A-1, C127 and C130 exhaust. All blended together by the Huey and Chinook Rotors. You hated the fog, for then it got worse. All this in about maybe 50 acres of space.

Then there was the mud, dark red mud; your clothes were red, your hair was red, your skin was red. And the cold. Ice would form on the runway, and we would skate down it. No cold weather gear was issued to us. No jungle boots yet. Then there was the hot and muggy season, and there were monsoons.

We still used the M-14 with selector switches for everyone. M-3s were popular then, along with Thompson machine guns, M60s, and M-1 carbines. We had BARs, shotguns with (top secret) flechettes, sidearms, Quad 50s mounted on Trucks. We had a 60 MM quad tank, 106s mounted on mules, 81mm Mortars (we even had a captured 82mm), M-60s, K-Bars; all this, but we had no parts for anything if it broke, including tires for the trucks. We at Khe Sanh were very poor Marines when it came to supplies.

The other half of our two parts was always in Danang. We had no mess halls, no post office, no hot food, only 1946 and 1947 C-Rats to eat. Thanksgiving and Christmas, they brought up some food in big green cans that had been on the chopper for at least an hour or more.

This was my Home then and, for some reason, still is today.


This picture was taken early 1967 Jan. Hill 950 is a little right of center. Hill 1015, the inverted tea cup, is in the clouds to the rt. of center. Hills 881 N and 881 S are left of picture.

On 18 Jan., 1967, a good friend of mine, Cpl. Michael Scanlon USMC ran into 30 to 40 NVA. He was killed by an NVA grenade. He was the first KIA at Khe Sanh.

Most don't realize at this time that there was no perimeter wire around the base. To the North was one company of 9th Marines. The South was defended by our company of supply jockeys, ammo techs, and administrative Marines. We held our own, though, even through the hill battles to come in April and May of 1967.

Our perimeter at the time was less than 50 yards from the runway. That made for some anxious moments. We were constantly probed at night and when it was so foggy you could't see 50 feet in front of you.

I must tell a little story. Our claymores were reset at times by the VC or NVA and turned around at us. The next day we would plant a frag (grenade) under the claymore mine. We killed a few trying to turn them on us. When they figured this out, we pulled the frag's blasting cap out and put in a mouse trap device that, as soon as the handle was pulled, the frag went off. It was cat and mouse (trap) games we played with the enemy.


The hills were under attack when I got the word to go out to the runway and meet two Chinook choppers from Dong Ha with resupplies of small arms ammo.

It was about 10:00 p.m. on the 27th of Jan., 1967; and we just had had a bad day with incoming. Our buddies out in the hills were just about out of ammo and desparately needed some before morning. It was cold and foggy, and no one wanted to go out; but we did. We heard them coming before we saw their lights, so we ran over to the LZ.

Just about 100 ft. before we got there, the first chinook came in right on top of a Marine huey helicopter parked on the side of the runway. One of the huey's rotors came loose during the night and was hanging out on the runway. Usually they were tied to the rear of the chopper. The Chinook helicopter veered to the right, slid, and crashed on the other side of the runway. (The runway in '67 was made of steel mats locked together, not concrete).

The next moment, the second chopper came in right behind the first, and it also crashed. Both ships were on fire, with rounds going off in all directions. My platoon ran over under heavy fire and rescued the pilots from the first chopper. Both men were alive, one seriously injured. The pilots from the second chopper were uninjured. Both choppers burnt to nothing on the side of the runway.

The Pilot of the H-46 was Captain Thomas C. "Tee-Cee" McAllister, Call sign "Bonnie-Sue 20-4." Copilot was First Lt. Jerry Piatt. (From the book "Bonnie Sue" written by Marion F. Sturkey, HMM265 pilot who took the picture of McAllister's ship the day after crash at Khe Sanh.)

We then had to run across the runway and help the huey pilots disarm their gunships; so that if their ships went up, they would not destroy the tents near by. It was a real, bad disaster; and we stopped it before it got worse. It was about 1:00 a.m. when we finally returned to our tent.

To our amazement, our tent was no longer set up. During the crash, one of the blades from one of the three helicopters went flying about 120 yards to our tent, then through it about 2 feet high, cutting the tent poles off. We all just looked at each other, shook our heads, and found a place to sleep under the downed tent.

For our actions that night, we were awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallentry with oak leaf. I think this is the only medal awarded by our peers. Also, 3rd Marines (reinforced) at Khe Sanh, from March 1965 'till Sept. 1967, was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty in action against the North Vietnamese and Vietcong. We also received a Combat Action Medal and Naval Unit Citation.


This is me, Jim Wodecki, standing in the shed with captured ordnance.

The day this picture was taken, General Westmoreland came to the base. We had captured documents and weapons, which he inspected. I'm holding an NVA artillery shell, one of thousands that would end up at the base, but in a different way ... fired at us. There are some bamboo (chi-com) torpedoes on the left and mortar rounds, machine gun belts, a cooking pot, medical supplies, (opium), RPGs, and land mines. This shed would be completely destroyed when the ammo dump was hit by the NVA.


This is a picture of a 155 Howitzer at Khe Sanh.


This is a picture of the ammo dump in early 1967 before a RPG hit it sending rounds everywhere.

Tom Winston was near the dump when it blew, causing him severe injuries. He finally received his Purple Heart last year. He has Huntington's Disease and doesn't have long to live.

It was my job to get the ammo dumps buried underground. In Dec. of 1966 they sent us barrels of CS gas in a powdered form. We used the barrels to shore up the sides of the ammo dump; of course, when it blew up, we had a bad case of CS gas to deal with. Our CO, a green second Lieutenant, decided one day that he knew what to do with the CS. He put some in front of a claymore mine and set it off. It worked great 'till the wind shifted and chased us out of the area real fast. Back to the "drawing board," he said.


This is an aerial view of Khe Sanh Valley in late 1967. It was taken by a 101st Airborne Helicopter pilot, Rusty Wings.

Some other aerial views of the mountains hiding the A Shau Valley and the area from Khe Sanh to Dong Ha taken by Rusty.


This was taken by Rusty Wings in 1968. This is what the base would look like after I left and a nice picture taken by Rusty from his UH-1D.


Anyone wanting more information on Khe Sanh can contact me at: jim_pj_texas@mindspring.com

The Khe Sanh Veterans Home Page has associate memberships open to the dependents, parents, and significant others of anyone who served at Khe Sanh. Regular memberships are open to anyone who served there, in all branches of the service.

Khe Sanh will probably go down in history as one of the most important battles of the Vietnam War. At Khe Sanh, we learned how to resupply an Army by helicopters and planes. Many of the methods used at the Khe Sanh airbase were used during Desert Storm. It is also sad to me that so many died there. Rush the hill, take the hill, then abort the hill and give it back.


Khe Sanh Picture Gallery by Jim Wodecki and Rusty Wings

Some of these pictures are the same ones that are integrated into the stories above. They are provided here as an option to viewing them within the story. More will be added, however; so please check through this listing periodically.

Hills of Khe Sanh

Hill 1050

Hills

Ammo Dump

Hills

Ammo Dump 66

Bunkers

Jim KS 66 (pcx format..may not load)

Jim on the Runway

Jim May 66

Khe Sanh 67

Mountains hiding A Shau Valley

To Khe Sanh from Dong Ha

Khe Sanh Valley

Khe Sanh Valley from Laos

Sheds

The fog envelops Khe Sanh

"Main Street, Khe Sanh Combat Base 1967"

"Helicopters at the end of the runway, Khe Sanh Combat Base 1967"

"The Snake"

"An M-60 tank carrying troops on Route 9 east of Khe Sanh"


Copyright © 1998 By James Wodecki, All Rights Reserved

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