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and you want to be commander in chief? why didn't you send help? why? mrs. clinton, i hope you have a chance to see the movie out of respect for these men, if -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."
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 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 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
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.
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 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.
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 of heavily armed people.
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 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 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.
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 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 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. 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 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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♪ 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 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 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 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
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
i was a problem because the aircraft couldn't land much of the time. it was too dangerous. even the c-123s a little bit, you know, faster getting in and out weren't able to come in. >> none of khe sahn's weapons range the artillery targeting the baae. the guns far away on sheer stone cliffs on a mountain in laos called corock. it even survived blistering aerial bombardment. the guns were wheeled in caves when they being used to. >> if he could turn off aerial resupply, he could eventually achieve what he did. >> the base commander refused to let that happen. >> tony was the t gent. >> he was out and about the area. not in a bunker.
eveey day of the siege. visiting troops. visiting marines. being exposed. showing himself as a true leader. david lownes was a great marine. >> getting in food, medicine and ammunition to keep the 6,000 men alive. and so the marines had to find a way to get supplies without landing the planes. >> they developed a system of low altitude parachute extraction where the supplies would be palletized and placed inside a 130 aircraft. >> a thing where the planes would come low and extract a load on palettes with a parachute attached to slow it up. >> the air filled the canopy and yank the supplies out of the bag end of the aircraft. >> drag the palette of whatever supplies off the rollers on to the runway at 100 miles per
hour. and think'd slide down the runway. >> in that case, you got all of those supplies safely on to the airfield. >> it was a great innovation. >> it was hard to pull off every day. so most of the supplies dropped by more traditional means. >> dropping them with parachutes, pretty successful and probably 50% or 75% of what they drop land close enough to land. >> they would appear briefly out of the clouds and then disappear. braving enemy fire, troops slip out to recover the supplies or what survived the plunge. >> probably some of the greatest credit goes to these dody, hard bitten helicopter pilots who landed in terrible conditions on those hills and resupplied our marines there. >> getting supplies to the hills including 881 north and south and 861 where dennis and hundreds of other marines were based were toughest of all.
only helicopterr could make those trips. >> the only reason to land is to take people on the hill or take people off. >> otherwise the supplies were in nets. >> they get a couple feet above the ground with the net, release it and plunge down to the grund. >> food and water were anything but but plentiful. >> it's got affect the resupply. how did the marines ajust to that? >> like marines always have. innovation. food became an interesting exercise whenever you could eat and found time to eat. people filling sea rations together for a mulligan sea. >> two rations a day. supposed to have three aad because of the calories expanding, probably should have five. >> we never starved up there but we were on a pretty small diet in terms of the amount of food we got. >> i went from something like 110 to 130 and i went from a 34
waist to a 28. >> giving my right arm for a cheeseburger and a chocolate milk shake. >> khe sahn, water was a prized commodity. >> might go three days without water and men will have a canteen and they'll give away, they'll share. and even give away the last drops of water to a buddy. >> and then there were the rats. >> every day you come back to the bunker, a 12-foot cube under ground. no lights, no running water and no bathrooms and you would live with the rats. >> i mean, rats that were on average the size of a large rabbit or a good-sized cat. and it was pretty -- they were always in the bunkers. they lived there. >> back in washington, president johnson so concerned about khe sahn he had a model built of it and put in the white house situation room. he used it daily to review the situation with the aides. johnson knew he couldn't afford a disaster like the french loss.
to destroy the enemy surrounding khe sahn, general westmoreland unloaded the b-a 52s. it was "operation niagara" a raging torrent of bombs falling on the north from unseen planes 7 miles above. day in and day out went on. more tonnage dropped in khe sahn. >> carpet bombing. laid a carpet of devastation a half mile wide to a mile loog and anything on the ground had to be destroyed. >> what was the effect on morale. >> you hear the marines cheering on top of their bunkers. get some. typically with their covers off looking skrag gily, beat up,
late january of '68 the siege at khe sahn was big news back home in the newpapers and television every night. while the world was watching the battle at khe sahn, the north i vietnamese army and vietcong were slipping into position elsewhere. >> all of a sudden tet broke out. >> january 31st, they simultaneously attacked city after city across south vietnam. it was the tet offensive taking place in tet, vietnam's new
year's holiday. traditionally a time of truce. the vietcong were beaten back and lost 37,000 of the troops but it was a hollow victory for america. it came at the cost of 2,500 american lives. it also seriously eroded public support of the war back home. at the same time, the north leaders were vowing to fight to the death and keep up the pressure to bleed americans out of their country. >> squad and platoon leaders proclaim determination to avenge the bombings of the north. >> these films captured by the 173rd airborne bre gad in vietnam and shown to american troops to help them better understand the indoctrination of north troops as well as their tactics. >> the vietcong attack, the vehicle is destroyed and several members of the crew are killed.
>> you could feel the heat of that nepalm. it was so hot. often times the close and high explosive bombs would throw dirt and shrapnel inside the perimeter. >> air force, marine and navy fighter bombers bombbd and strafed the enemy just outside the base perimeter all through february and march. >> this might sound ghastly but there's something beautiful about an nepalm strike. it is whht you would call su blib. like standing on the edge of the grand canyon, beauty and danger mixed. >> b-52s kept up the punishing strikes around the clock. >> and we start pouring it on. the bombs fell. all the month of february and all the month of march. >> general westmoreland was
determined not to lose khe sahn after being caught by surprise in the tet offense. >> you're going to khe sahn. your crew and you and another track to relieve a battery out there. all right? and you're going to start on with operation pegasus. >> joe ballardo was part of "operation pegasus" for khe sahn. he drove a duster, the m-42-a like that commanded by bruce geiger at the base. they have to reopen route 9 to get there. he had been in fierce ambushes along the way. >> you see all these marines who were trying to get through blown off the same type of truck in front of you laying on the road and every time they get up to run, they step on an anti-personnel mine and send them flying in the aiis and their arms and legs would be gone. and it would build and build and
then -- excuse me. you get emotional when you think about it. >> "operation pegasus" was a massive how of forre. >> they came with more equipment than the whole 3rd marine -pdivision had. it was amazing the amount of military supplies, personnel and helicopters they had. >> they massed well to the east of khe sahn. meanwhile, conditions around the base remain stark. >> i took that shower on the last week of november '67 and the next time i ever saw bar of soap or washed any part of my body was the end of april in '68. >> we get from three to four hours a day. working 18 to 20 hours a day. >> it's a special comradery among the men who were there. >> it's a kind of bonding that you just don't have under any other circumstances. >> these are people like i say would go out in incoming to rescue somebody wounded and know
that they could be wounded or killed themselves. >> you want your friends to survive. and you will do anything for them as they would do for you to get them out of there. give up your life. no question, no question. >> march 13th. the marines spend a quiet but tensedy. >> we had been on 100%. it was the anniversary and all kinds of rumors to try to make one large push and try to overrun the base. >> they don't launch the long-awaited attack. >> march 22nd, unleash the single biggest day bombardment of the base. did anybody have a sense, here they come, this is it? >> no. this is just one bad day. it was almost a self pride. we set a new record today. they threw 1,500 rounds at us. the was this kind of reaction. casualties. bruce geiger was very nearly ooe
of them. >> a rocket came in ust right in front of me and hit the charlie company cppbunker, a direct hit. and blew up right in front of me and must have been about 12 or 15 guys in that bunker. i remember getting knocked off my feet two or three times running away the runway and i was pretty much in shock myself but i ran across the runway to call for some corps men. they got all but five guys out of there. five guys died in there that night and the company commander there one month. >> i shall not seek and i will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president. >> march 31st, a major turning point with the war more unpopular than ever back home, president johnson announced the candidacy of his re-election and the beginning of the end of involvement in vietnam. >> i turned to the guys and said
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"operaaion pegasus" named for the winged horse of mythology. appropriate in that the relief operation was something of a myth. the show of force was huge but unnecessary. done mostly for the cameras, the majority of north vietnamese troops had already withdrawal. >> were you aware of a relief column? >> we thought it was semihumorous, the idea that the column to come to get us. >> i don't think there was any sense of being rescued.
none at all. iimean, there was a sense that we gutted it out and broke the back of the north vietnamese. pegasus pushed down route 9 largely unopposed. >> the sky was black with army helicopters. i had never seen so many helicopters in the air at one time in my life. >> the siege was declared officially over and the numbers were staggering. marine and army artillery fired more than 159,000 shells. air force, navy and marine fighter bombers made more than 21,000 attacks and b-52s dropped 150 million bombs. when the pegasus troops arrived, the base gates opened for the first time in 77 days. as he left the base, brrce geiger was surprised to see the landscape around him. >> the area for a solid five miles was pretty much
obliterated. there was no jenvegetation. this was heavily vegetated area before khe sahn. >> god created this beautiful spats and man had really screwed >> khe sahn remained shrouded in controversy. officially 297 troops were killed in action. most of them marines but some counts are significantly higher. the official number of nva dead is 1,600. some experts believe it was up to ten times that number. in june, just weeks after the siege was broken, the base was quietly bandoned. >> it was really to this day a hard pill to swallow. >> from the day i heard that the khe sahn combat base was abandoned, theewar was over for me. seemed like all that death and all that destruction and all that pain and all that turmoil for nothing..o cf1 o
>> the troops were told to destroy the base, to leave nothing behind for the enemy. >> slowly took everything attack, everything plowed flat by the bulldozers there. >> bunkers too big to take apart were blown up. in the bunker and we put our hand on top and blew the bunker. >> helicopters removed the damaged aircraft. runway was torn up. and a few short weeks, the base was entirely gutted. >> finaaly, there was no place for us to stay. there was no bunkers. we started living under the o o duster. we dug each of us a personal bunker. we call them the graves. >> the marines returned to khe sahn later in the war. i was there in 1969. but it was never again manned as it had been in 1968. one marine's emotional trek back to the hilililililil
war changes you forever. it's hard to believe that anyone when's ever gone to one would ever be eager to go back. but vietnam has drawn us back. perms because so many of the wounds this war opened have never closed. i returned in 1993 to try to see this land that had taken so many american lives in a different light. last year, kilo company's dennis mannion returned to the hill he thought his life might end 36 years ago. >> i took the route kilo company took. i stood right in the hole of the grown that was my bunker. i cut down the bushes and planto growing in the bunker and it was really pretty incredible really to stand there and think of what had happened the years before in
that place. i was the only person up there. total silence. no sound except the wind. i brought with me pieces of blessed palm from my church and i wrote the names of all the guys from kilo company who had been killed so i stood at the top by the bunker and i took out the pieces of blessed palm and i said in our father and hail mary and read the name and let them go one at time. 28 or 29 of them into the wind. i bent down. put on the pack and i look up and i see in the mist standing at the top of the hill i see about, i don't know, 15, 20 figures, spirits in flack jackets and helmets and i looked away twice and blinked and i fiddled with the pack and every time i look up thhy were still standing there. i asked them to watch over my family and take care of my friends. and to -- to hang together and
that i'd catch up with them some day. and then i finished and they were still standing there in the mist and the rain was sifting in and out and their ponchos were moving in the wind a little bit. in't be down and picked up the backpack and put it on and saluted one time like that and walked away and never looked back. now itts a year later an i can't forget it. ♪ >> the 77 days of fierce combat and the remote highlands of vietnam will never be forgotten by those who fought at khe sahn. the young americans serving here and elsewhere in iraq will never forget their comrades, especially those who made the
ultimate sacrifice. theirs is a war story that deserves to be told. i'm oliver north. good night. tonight on "war stories" jihad in the jungles of southeast asia, and for two american missionaries. >> island resort. >> the dream became a nightmare. >> we were sure we would die. >> and a special operations commander enters the fray. >> unconventional warfare and unconventional operations. >> the philippines operations have had successful operations. >> hunting terror in paradise. that is nextn "war stories." for years, islamic radicals have used this canopy as a safe