The site of the most famous siege of the American War, the USA’s Khe Sanh Combat Base was never overrun, but saw the bloodiest battle of the war. About 500 Americans, 10,000 North Vietnamese troops and uncounted civilian bystanders died around this remote highland base. It’s eerily peaceful today, but in 1968 the hillsides trembled with the impact of 1000kg bombs, white phosphorus shells, napalm, mortars and endless artillery rounds, as desperate American forces sought to repel the NVA.
The 75-day siege of Khe Sanh began on 21 January 1968 with a small-scale assault on the base’s perimeter. As the marines and South Vietnamese rangers braced for a fullscale ground attack, Khe Sanh became the focus of global media attention. It was the cover story for both Newsweek and Life magazines, and made the front pages of countless newspapers around the world. During the next two months the base was subjected to continuous ground attacks and artillery fire, and US aircraft dropped 100,000 tonnes of explosives in its vicinity. But the expected attempt to overrun the base never came.
On 7 April 1968, after heavy fighting, US troops reopened Hwy 9 and linked up with the marines, ending the siege.
It now seems clear that the siege was an enormous diversion to draw US attention away from the South Vietnamese population centres in preparation for the Tet Offensive, which began a week after the siege started.
Today the site is occupied by a small museum, which contains some fascinating old photographs, plus a few reconstructed bunkers and American aircraft. Most of the area is now planted with coffee, and vendors offer high-grade local Arabica beans for sale at the entrance.
Khe Sanh is 3km north of the small town of Huong Hoa.