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jooishgsz -p tonight on "war storiee," one of the most blistering and bloody battles of the vietnam war. >> wasn't that i thought i was going to die. i kind of knew i was going to die. >> 6,000 marines and soldiers fighting for their lives cuttoff by 20,000 north vietnamese hell bent on victory. >> a joung l outpost, the most bombed place on the face of the earth. the siege of khe sahn. that's next on "war stories."
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here in northwest iraq, american troops are fighting the war on terror and helicopter gunships such as this armed uh-1-234 are essential for the troops fighting a fe moeshs adversary. 1968 half a world away, this aircraft's predecessors supported 6,000 marines and soldiers in the northwest corner of another country. vietnam. vastly outnumbered, the americans stood firm for 77 days enduring unrelentless attacks, heavy casualties and dwindling suppliee. it's a story i know well because i was a rifle platoon commander on a ridge overlooking khe sahn not long after the siege. tonight, those who lived throug% the hell of the siege at khe sa sahn. u.s. military action in vietnam
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was near the peak in early 1968. american troops strength passed the half million mark and the hum ber of americans killed in action soared to nearly 20,000. at home, protests against the war were bigger and louder. >> american helicopters are used to transport the south vietnam troops, the show of strength intimidates the reds. >> u.s. military involvement had begun in earnest in 1961 when president kennedy sent 3,000 military addisers and those helicopters to the little known southeast asian nation. the aim, prevent it from falling into the hands of the communist north vietnamese. >> wasn't much question the loss of vietnam would protend into the loss of southeast asia. >> riply would end the naval
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cross. in 1972, he destroyed a key bridge and helped stop dead a major communist invasion. in 1967, he was a marine rifle company commander just south of the demilitarized zone. >> overwhelmingly, a majority of the war was fought along the dmz understandably. the closeness to the enemy. and north of route 9 which roughly paralleled dmz and then to the border in laos. >> most of the action was in this part of vietnam and control of route 9 was critical. >> north's arm took up positions on the hills and down at the and they would put land mines, personnel mines, shoot at you with rpgs. >> not far from the border was -pthe base at khe sahn. describe what we were facing as you were leading a marine rifle company into this part of viettam. >> it's generally known as an
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airfield surrounded by very dominating hills. one could even say mountains. >> defending it would take a lot of americans, mostly marines. tony from new york city was one of them. when he arrived. old captain >> graduated villanova. joined because my uncle had been a corporate during the battle of okinawa in world war ii and i had his uniform in my closet growing up and it stayed there until i joined the marine corps. >> i thought the ma reens would be the way to get to vietnam quickest. >> dennis wusz 21 arriving at khe sahn. he would serve with kilo company on hill 861. >> beautiful in terms of the valley and the scenery. ♪ >> khe sahn was beautiful.
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1,500 feet elevation, often cloaked in misty clouds. the hills around the base covered in dense bamboo thickets. coffee groves tended by tribes men kkown as the brew. some of the only inhabitants of this remote shan gra la. controlling the hills with us essential for the base in the plateau below. there was 861 alpha, forth and south, 950 and 1015. the north vietnamese showed how much they wanted them with a blistering attack in late april '67. it started when engineers assigned to ripley's company trying to secure route 9. >> every man, every vehicle was lost. >> this was the beginning of what came to be known as the hill fights. they raged from april 25th to may 5th, 1967. >> no one i feel certain in saying was prepared for the ve
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rossty, the extraordinary commitment that the enemy made to not just take the hills but to hang on to them. it was a seminole point in the war. >> 168 marines were killed in action in the hill fights. things quieted down in may but trouble wws still brewing in the rugged highlands. >> it seemed peaceful but you knew after that it could erupt at any time so there was always this apprehension. >> ray stubbe was a chap tin and arrived just after the hill fights ended. >> i'd have a little church service when the platoon would come back and it was quiet and the whole companyywas there. and then i'd take the next flight and the next morning to the next hill and do the same thing. >> general william west more land in vietnam had big plans for khe sahn. >> it was busy in the sense of bringing in people and supplies every day. >> huge logistic s requirement.
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almost impossible. >> they wanted to cut the supply route of who chin min trail. for years the enemy used it as an end run around the dmz. fall of '67, intelligence reports indicated that the north moving massive forces into the khe sahn region. >> you knew something was coming. >> general westmoreland was convinced it could be the turning point in the war and had 6,000 troops at the hard to supply remote outpost. >> i teach at a high school. they know that two kids might have a fight and the administrators, teachers, kids know it. sometimes they stop it but usually they can't. and it was the same there. the whole world knew that there was this fight coming. but it just wasn'' two kids in a school cafeteria. it was thousands and thousands
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of heavily armed people. despite a defectors tip and a hill northwest of the base are nearly overrun. the jackie: i was point-five credits away from completing high school and i didn't do it. my support team never stopped pushing for me to be better because they knew who i could become as a person. group: surprise! jackie: i've been given an opportunity and i'm just thankful for it. narrator: find free adult education classes near you at finishyourdiploma.org.
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from 1946 to 1954, the french fought a losing war in vietnam. capped by a famous defeat. 3,000 french troops lost their lives in this bloody 55-day battle and the man that defeated the french, the same general who was now fighting the americans. >> this was virtually a right plum ready for picking from the general's standpoint, the vaulted marshall of north vietnam, the great he roy a the french nicknamed him volcano under the snow. the placid exterior hid a fierce determination to win at any
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cost. you ann i have talked to north army officers in the aftermath of this war. it's clear to them at least that he saw this as another opportunity. >> oh, there's no question of that, yes. trap the enemy in a very remote, pifficult to resupply location and close the noose. >> he never counted on the air strikes. >> correct. >> tactical air, b-52s. the u.s. had overwhelming air superiority in vietnam. something the french had lacked. general westmoreland personally visited the base in the build-up. he planned to use it as bait and use the massive air power like a plug to pummel them. >> westmoreland told me
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personally, well, we knew they were coming and what better place to engage them than in a nonpopulated area? >> innovative new intelligence collection methods allowed the american command to track the movements more closely than ever before. planes dropped sensors. >> it looked like a plant sticking out of the ground which were antennas and these antennas pick up, obviously, voice in one case they could distinguish human presence by urine, by chemicals in the body, passing nearby. >> intelligeece units could not only detect enemy movement but hear their conversations. >> there is a recording of a conversation being had between a north vietnamese lieutenant and some troops trying to get to one of these sensors hanging in a tree on a parachute and the whole conversation is what is this thing? their hands on it.
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it explodes. >> dennis mannion was a forward observvr. his job was to call in artillery strikes. for a first couple of weeks he was on daily patrols off the hill. >> 15th or 16th, we received word not to go outside the wire anymore. >> what dennis, ray and the others didn't know then is a defector surrendered at the base that morning. >> taken in and debriefed and gave the whole battle plan ahe said thaa night at midnight 861 will be attackee, 881 south attacked at midnight and 5:00 in the morning the base would be attacked. >> it stunned those on khe sahn put on 100% alert and rocketed up the chain of command hours to the pentagon. >> early part of the evening of january 20th you could hear them outside the wire. pou could hear them talking. you could hear the pin of the
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barbed wire. it didn't stop them. ttey kept on cutting the wire and cutting the wire. an eerie feeling to know that 60 wire in the darkness were people planning to come get you. >> just after midnight, gunners unleashed a barrage of rockets, mortars and rpgs on hill 861. >> we were prepared for them and yet they were still able to put scores and scores of people on to the hill going through the bar shed wire. >> dennis and radio operator reached a marine gunner. >> you have to get by that guy in the trench and i said what do you mean? he said there's a soldier laying in the trench right outside the bunker. >> the enemy soldier throwing grenades. they couldn't see him at all. they thought he was probably wounded. >> and i thought for a second, maybe we can just get by him. i couldn't take that chance so i
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took a .45 and stuck it in the darkness and felt the top of his head and touched his head, his head lifted up. as i knew it was and i took the hand away and pulled the trigger until the point 45 was empty an% machine gunner and moved up. that's how we got by him. still haunts me. >> by dawn, kilo company toughed it out and driven the enemy from the hill and no time for rest or celebration. just after 5:30 a.m., the north vietnamese resumed the attack. targeting the combat place. >> boom. just all of a sudden, just boom. and light to the one side of charlie med was we call the lsu. logistics supply unit.
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which had sandbags, sea rations, all that kind of stuff. it was in flames. >> you could hear the big guns over in laos in a mountain open up and the base started taking heavy incoming. >> all of a sudden this huge explooion. so they had hit the ammo dump. and it -- it wasn't one explosion. this was like maybe two hours of explosions. >> at the same time, the village of khe sahn home to about ,200 civilians came under attack. >> just south of the base maybe four miles south. >> the marines and soldiers didn't know it but the grueling saenlg of khe sahn had begun. everyone and everything at the base is a target. fresh troops and supplies is only accomplished with choppers forced to fly but barrage of fire. one of the fresh troops was tony
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latore. >> it was me and three 500-gallon gladders of fuel that were chained down on the inside of the aircraft. >> he hitched a ride on a c-130 that supplied the base. >> finally, the crew chief came over to me and yelled in my ear, khe sahn's under attack again. we're not stopping. we're dropping the ramp. did a quick touch. dropped the ramp. let go f the dogging chains, the bladders shot out of the rear of the aircraft. i had a willie peter bbg. a protective bag with the personal belongings and my pack. i threw them out. jumped out the back, rolled and i was looking at a wooden sign that marines had made that said welcome to the khe sahn combat base. under constant enemy fire, the marines and soldiers move underground. underground. life in the
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it all adds up to our most reliable network ever. one that keeps you connected to what matters most. ♪ general westmoreland was confident and morale was high at the base. but the troops knew the victory could be paid in their blood. >> i have full confidence that we were going to win the battle of khe sahn because we had the means. >> wasn't that i thought i was going to die. i kind of knew i was going to die up there. i juss thought it would happen. you know? and for some reason just pure fate it didn't. >> our mission had been early on at any fire base to provide
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perimeter security, particularly during the evening. during the day normally we were out on the roads. >> first lieutenant bruce geiger of new jersey a 23-year-old army platoon leader attached to the 26th marines. he had the heaviest armor at the base. >> we had dysers, cannons mounted on a light tank chassis. it was a walker bulldog tank and in addition we had two quad 50s, four 50-caliber machine guns. >> dug in surrounding the base the largest and best equipped force ever mustered by the enemy. >> above ground you were a target. >> incoming is constant and sometimes 1,000 rounds or more rained down on the base. >> incoming would happen and people would flop down for a few seconds and then just get up. >> if you've seen the tv show "m.a.s.h." and radar on the loud speaker announcing the movie for tonight, we had that system seto
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up. >> this system was used to save lives. >> typically, the rounds were coming from a place called corock. and the marine gets on the horn and start sending arty, arty, arty corock. and everybody went into a first hole they could find. >> my troops used the tease me all the time. they used to kid me about being uniform always dirty. red clay all over the front of the uniform. i could go from vertical to prone in a millisecond. >> life on the base lived under cover. >> no safe place at khe sahn. we all knew this by the time the siege started. there could be craters to stand in aad your head below the surface of the grrund. >> i had a bunker covered in aircraft aluminum and sandbags on top and probably could have taken a direct hit. >> the troops spent hours and hours digging in deeper and
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deeper. some bunkers 18 feet deep. >> we had a 106 rifle built on the edge of a 2,000 bomb crater and just sat up there like a sore thumb and the night we got overrun on the 21st there, 20th, one of the first soldiers that survived the wire ran into that gun position, probably with dynamite on the back and blew himself up and blew up not only hhmself but the entire gun position. just wrecked it. >> for the men fighting for their lives at khe sahn, the c-130 hercules cargo planes were their lifeline but it was harder and hard tore keep the lifeline open. >> you could count on incoming picking up hen the markt was approaching. you could set your clock by it. >> february 10th, the marines' luck ran out. a c-130 carrying fuel supplies hit by mortar fire and burst into flames. six aboard died in the blazing
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innerno. afterward, jen westmoreland banned the landings and the marines would have to find other ways to get supplied. there were a number of aircraft lost there on the runway. how did you deal with that? >> you get used to working in an is situation that's sometimes devoid of sense. it's little bit of survival but it's everybody working towards a common goal. there was just grit, determination. it wasn't a fun place but you put up with it and you dealt with it. >> here horseheadswivellychair.com it could be the next big thing i should totally get that domain name... get your great idea online too... get your domain today, and get... ...a free trial of gocentral from godaddy
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sfx: loud poorly played electric guitar that sounds awful seriously, awful but a lot better than last week ♪rock guitar music ♪we weren't born to follow
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power to prosper.

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