One Day at Khe Sanh

The battle for Khe Sanh began on 21 January 1968; it was one of the longest, deadliest, most publicized, and controversial battles in the Vietnam War. Khe Sanh was 14 miles below the demilitarized zone (DMZ), six miles from the Laotian Border. It became a strategic location when the Commanding General, Third Marine Division realized that the old French outpost could be used as a jumping off point from which the Marines could cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The battle began with a brisk firefight involving the 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines and a North Vietnamese battalion entrenched between two hills northwest of the outpost. The next day, the NVA overran the village of the same name and then began an intense artillery barrage on the outpost itself hitting its main ammunition storage dump and detonating 1,500 tons of explosives. A siege ensued lasting 66 days.

LCpl Gary D. Scribner USMC
LCpl Gary D. Scribner USMC

It was around 1815 hours on 24 January 1968 when the enemy renewed its artillery barrage, employing 152mm shells with deadly accurate skill. At that moment, a Marine was carrying gear across an open area within the perimeter —he was suddenly exposed to a deadly situation. Massive explosions erupted everywhere he turned to escape, but then from within a bunker, twenty-year old Lance Corporal Gary Scribner shouted, “Get your ass over here —move it!”

The Marine dropped all the gear he was carrying and sprinted toward the bunker. Once inside, he found several Recon Marines who jostled him deeper and lower into the bunker. The Marines were typically eating wolf-cookies: “You call this shit well-placed fire?”

The bravado ended with a loud thump and a sound no Marine wants to hear: Zzzzt. It was the sound a delayed fuse makes … and then a humongous blast that literally blew four Marines into tiny parts; Scribner was one of these four Marines. The blast wounded 18 more.

Lance Corporal Scribner enlisted in the Marine Corps at Memphis, Michigan. Before leaving for Vietnam, he married his sweetheart, an airline stewardess. He was twenty years old —48 years and five days ago, today.

The Marine to whom Scribner called to the bunker survived the blast, albeit with serious injuries. In spite of these kinds of daily punishments, the Marines of Regimental Landing Team (RLT) 26 refused to relinquish Khe Sanh to the North Vietnamese.

Not everyone who lost his life in Vietnam died there;

Not everyone who came home from Vietnam ever left there.

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Retired Marine, historian, writer.

5 thoughts on “One Day at Khe Sanh”

  1. You honor them all, sir. A horrendous way to get killed. I tell my two local buds thank you every time I see them for doing their duty in ‘Nam…unlike a former president we know. I still think about Gunny each day.


  2. A sobering post, that reveals much in few words. We know how mistakes can kill you in war (was that ammo dump protected as well as can be, or just covered over with a tarp?). But at this level isn’t so much just luck?

    My father-in-law commented on hearing the V-2 rockets tick by overhead in WW2. When the ticking stopped you knew they were coming down and ran like hell.


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