Veterans recall difficult days
Saturday, July 01, 2006
Staff Reporter

Two former Marines and a retired Army colonel nicknamed "Bulldog" sat around a table Thursday in the Riverview Plaza Hotel in Mobile, reminiscing about their service at Khe Sanh in the Vietnam War.

Khe Sanh was a strategic Marine Corps base close to the border separating South Vietnam and North Vietnam when it was battered in a 77-day siege by enemy forces, starting on Jan. 21, 1968.

The base, manned by some 6,000 Marines and assorted other American forces, was surrounded by more than 20,000 North Vietnamese Army troops, according to official military estimates.

"It was an unbelievable experience," said David C. "Bulldog" Smith 74, a retired Army colonel who underwent the entire siege while a major at Khe Sanh. "We were attacked by rockets, mortars, howitzers -- by everything. Day and night, night and day. Seventy-seven days of it."

Smith, who now lives in Trinity, N.C., shared his memories of Khe Sanh with Dan Fisher, 59, of St. Paul, Minn., and Russell Turner, 59, of St. Louis, who had served as enlisted men in the Marine Corps at Khe Sanh.

The three were in the downtown hotel taking part in the annual convention of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association which will conclude Sunday. About 250 Khe Sanh veterans are in town for the convention.

Fisher and Turner served at the base for a period of some five or six months, just prior to the official start of the siege. But they noted the base often came under fire from the enemy while they were there. Both men spent much of that time rotating service in combat patrols on nearby hills, and at the base, where they were lucky if they got a shower once in a month. Smith said their association considers Khe Sanh veterans to be anyone who served at Khe Sanh before, during or after the siege.

All three veterans said they were wounded in Vietnam and Smith received three Purple Hearts in that war.

The NVA failed to take Khe Sanh and the siege officially ended April 8, 1968. Several months later, U.S. forces abandoned Khe Sanh because of a change in U.S. strategy, officials report. The base had originally been used as a point from which to disrupt the flow of supplies from North Vietnam down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

According to Wikipedia, an Internet encyclopedia, the NVA sustained more than 9,000 casualties at Khe Sanh. Many of them were killed by American B-52 bombers.

Smith said he believes the B-52s were responsible for bringing the siege to an end and said he feels the NVA death total was substantially higher than official estimates.

Wikipedia reports there were 205 U.S. casualties at Khe Sanh, along with 443 wounded. The three veterans said they believe the U.S. casualties were higher, also.