1968, Bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War!
Story and photos by Bruce M. Geiger
© 1998


Khe Sahn Napalm Khe Sanh Combat Base, site of the most famous siege (and one of the most controversial battles of the American Vietnam War), sits silently on a barren plateau surrounded by vegetation-covered hills often obscured by mist and fog. It is hard to imagine as you stand in this peaceful, verdant land that in this very place in early 1968 took place the bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War... But little things help you picture what the history books say happen here. The outline of the airfield remains distinct (to this day nothing will grow on it). In places, the ground is literally carpeted with bullets and rusting shell casings. -- Vietnam, A Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit (Click to see large photo!)

"There is no feeling in the world as good as being airborne out of Khe Sanh", wrote Michael Herr in Dispatches, one of the Vietnam War's most celebrated books, but that was thirty years ago. Today, travel guides beckon tourists to visit Khe Sanh Combat Base. It's one of several abandoned combat bases, including Con Thien, Camp Carroll and the Rockpile, that you can visit as part of a day trip, provided you have a good four-wheel drive. Buy a travel permit for ten dollars at the Quang Tri Province Tourist Office in Đông Hà and follow National Highway 9, which parallels the old DMZ, west out of Đông Hà toward Laos. Turn northwest at the triangular intersection just before you reach Khe Sanh Town. The base is on the right-hand side of the road, two and a half kilometers from the intersection.

Author, Bruce GeigerForty years ago, I led a column of Dusters and Quad 50s out of Khe Sanh at the end of a 75-day siege. Most Vietnam vets who were fortunate enough not to have left the combat base in body bags probably figure their one trip to Khe Sanh was enough to last a lifetime.  But I'd love to drive a Jeep Cherokee up Route 9, stand in the middle of the abandoned combat base and remember that "I was a soldier once and young."

My route to Khe Sahn was a circuitous one that started in a Nike Hercules fire control center and led to a Duster turret.  My military career began during the summer of 1966 when I received my commission at the U.S. Army ROTC training facility in Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, after I graduated from Rutgers University.  I embarked on active duty in October 1966 as a second lieutenant at the U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery School, Fort Bliss, Texas.  Upon completion of the Officers Basic Course I was assigned to the Air Defense Artillery School Battalion as a battery commander and served for about six months while eagerly awaiting orders to a Nike Hercules unit at some exotic destination in Europe.

In July 1967, after a Pentagon advisor assured me that I would remain in my current duty assignment for the duration of my two-year active duty commitment -- I received my orders to Vietnam.  Five weeks later after completing a thirty-day crash course in ADA automatic weapons, I was still in shock.  I took a thirty-day leave to visit with my family before reporting to Fort Lewis, Washington, in early October 1967 for debarkation to Vietnam.

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