Khe Sanh Hill Fights of ‘67
Compiled by Ray Stubbe
All Rights Reserved by the Author
Attacked From Within 04 May 1967
At 040330H, Lang Vei Special Forces Camp (XD 795360) came under mortar attack that lasted 1015 minutes followed by a ground attack through the village by an estimated enemy battalion. The attack was aided by several VC infiltrators who had posed as recruits. After killing the guards, the enemy force which had broken through the wire by bangalore torpedoes under the leadership of the VC infiltrators inside the camp proceeded systematically to destroy the comm center, the command bunker and to eliminate the key personnel, including the CO and XO.
The insider enemy agent, Dinh Nhon, a ClDG-recruit, joined the force at Lang Vei and recruited Sam Boil A third insider, A Loi, made a sketch of the camp, and a fourth, Sang Dinh, reported on supplies brought into the camp. On the night of the attack, Nhon and Sam Boi killed the CIDG guards on the northwest positions of the camp, and then Nhon led the NVA force through the wire and remaining mine fields into the camp perimeter.
The Team Leader of the Special Forces "A" Camp, Bill Steptoe, had just returned from a 30-man patrol north of the DMZ:
"We had been cut off a couple of times. We had a terrific firefight and almost got trapped. I made contact with the enemy outside of 881 and when I reported it to the Marine Colonel at Khe Sanh-we called him 'CYNTHIA' - I had already been in a running fight a week or better with the leading forces of the enemy. When I told him that there were division-size units there, he said, 'No,' that I was full of it."
Upon his return, there was a new CO, Capt William Anderson Crenshaw, an Afro-American, who had been in country 2 weeks. "I told him we were being followed. I'd been in contact all the way back." His XO, 1stLt Franklin Delano Stallings, was also Afro-American. "I heard the first rounds come in. They came in at 3 o'clock. I was in the team house asleep on the lower bunk with Stallings in the team house. I ran down the team house steps, and mortars were coming in and rockets.
"As I went down the steps in my underwear, a man jumped up and fired at me and I dodged, and the bullets hit Stallings. He fell, hit in the chest. I shot at this man. I don't know whether I hit him. I kept going. Stallings was sprawled upside down. By that time there were skirmishes going on the fence line. Our own CIDG were responding. I went directly to the main bunker to make sure that the CO had notified our 'C' Detachment and Khe Sanh as to what was going on.
"As I hit the main bunker, a mortar hit me, blew off a finger, and got me as I dove through the door. And once I was in there I talked to Crenshaw who was standing up against the wall. I had my back to the bunker, and I told him that people were in the camp. At that time a burst from an AK-47 got me in the left arm and shoulder. The same bullets that got me killed Crenshaw.."
Initial requests for fire support by Khe Sanh were made about 0330H. However the Comm Chief Sgt had no map available to him and no knowledge of preplanned artillery concentrations. In addition, he had the only radio that was operational and frequently changed channels to talk with two patrols still in the field. There was one patrol 2000 meters west of the camp. The concentration list had been destroyed in the command bunker and the Comm Chief could not observe or adjust any of the fires. The comm difficulties were resolved by employing a nearby SOG unit to relay, but there was never a clear picture of what was happening nor the locations or status of friendly troops in the area.
Up until first light, when Capt James Whitenack, the MACV District Advisor, raced down to Lang Vei from Khe Sanh Village in a jeep with his relief force of 4 men followed by Lt Nhe (the District Chief) and the remainder of the relief force, Bill Steptoe assumed he was the only American alive in the camp.
Bill Steptoe's wounds were such that he spent the next year hospitalized in Valley Force, and was medically retired. [He died 7 Feb 93 from a heart attack]
Results of the attack were 2 USA KIA (the CO and XO), 2 WIA, 20 CIDG KIA, 34 CIDG MIA, 7 NVA KIA (conf.)
During the Lang Vei attack, the absence of unified command was painfully apparent. When Maj Golden arrived at Khe Sanh: ", .there were several different groups within the KSCB..There were some super secret personnel! whose exact mission I never found out who kept wandering in and out of the base and in the hills. This Marine LtCol had no command authority over anyone except the Marines. This presented quite a problem to the Marine LtCol. He couldn't control the movements of these people; they moved pretty much as they pleased. We never knew what they were doing. The answer to this problem is very simple, is a unified command when you have various services working together."
During 4 May, 3/3 searched Hill 881-S and 2/3 oriented its companies for the final assault of Hill 881N.
Cpl Thomas Murl Jaggers was a "short-timer" in G/2/3, a southern-accent speaking Marine from Mississippi, and given the option of remaining aboard ship (2/3 was the SLF) or to on the operation. He chose to be in the field with his friends. "We had just gotten a resupply of food, and Jaggers had been transferred out of a line company to Supply and took charge of all of the food from the helicopter. He filled his hole with cases of C-rations. I remember we were all sitting around his hole, and while we were talking and he was giving us our individual food some artillery rounds started falling in. They were our own rounds, and some of them landed short. Jaggers was killed and another guy lost his leg. Jaggers tried to get into his hole, but his hole was all filled-up with all these cases he'd put inside. So he laid on top of them as best he could, and he was decapitated."
At 1530H, F/2/3 and E/2/3 commenced an assault of Hill 881-N. Movement, however, was slow and methodical and only the southern edge of the objective was secured by nightfall. During the day, Co C/1/26 began arriving at 1350H by fixed wing from Phu Bai, completing its movement by 1610H, as the first element of the 26th Marine Regiment to Khe Sanh.