Battle Near Khe Sanh
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  1. #1

    Exclamation Battle Near Khe Sanh

    40 years later, Ganado veteran remembers the fight like it was yesterday
    April 24, 2007 - Posted at 12:00 a.m.

    GANADO - Early in the morning of April 24, 1967, Paul Kaspar, a 19-year-old Marine, was on a reconnaissance patrol at Hill 861, about a mile from the base at Khe Sanh, South Vietnam. His platoon ended up in a two-and-a-half day battle with North Vietnamese regulars that left them with a 60 percent casualty rate - killed or wounded in action.
    The lean-jawed kid in the Marine cap is buried in the man of today but lives nonetheless in his awareness.

    Kaspar's a round-faced, good-natured guy, ruddy, with gold-rimmed glasses. He retired a few years ago from 30 years as a mechanic at Alcoa, then ended up working security at Citizens Medical Center. He lives in a comfortable house in the town where he grew up.

    Kaspar's one of those men who found the definition of his entire life in his military service, but of late, he's found himself considering his experience. The upcoming 40th anniversary of the fight on Hill 861 has brought memories to the surface.

    "I remember it like it happened just yesterday, like it just happened," he said.

    There was one company of Marines, three platoons, based at Khe Sanh in April of '67. Kaspar's company, B Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, was that company.

    "There are three rifle platoons to a company, and the way we worked it, usually two platoons stayed in camp at Khe Sanh for security and one went out for reconnaissance. You were in for two days and out for one.

    "We were due to do a reconnaissance up on 861. There was a lot of cloud cover. We usually had spotter planes, but they couldn't fly with the cloud cover.

    "That was our deal ... we were going up to 861. We ran into the NVA up there. Khe Sanh is in the north and there weren't any Viet Cong up there, just North Vietnamese Army," he said.

    Kaspar said, "The only way you could get in or out was by C-130. When we came in there, I had a funny feeling about it. On other bases, things were built above the ground. At Khe Sanh, everything was underground."

    The following year, Khe Sanh was the site of a prolonged siege that began in January and ran more than two months. The base had strategic importance because of its proximity to Laos. The fights on Hill 861 and shortly after on Hills 881 North and South were called the Hill Fights.
    Hill fights

    Kaspar said, "I knew somebody would write a book about it and someone did. I got it because I wanted to understand what was going on then."

    The book is "The Hill Fights: The First Battle of Khe Sanh," by Edward E. Murphy.

    Kaspar said, "A lot of it was political. Gen. William Westmoreland was in charge of all the military in Vietnam. Gen. Lewis Walt was the commander of the Marines. Westmoreland wanted a battalion of Marines in there, but Walt thought one company of Marines could take care of Khe Sanh. The Marines were stretched pretty thin then and Walt wanted them somewhere else."

    Al Hemingway wrote in "VFW Magazine" in September 2004, "Khe Sanh, tucked away in the northwest section of South Vietnam, overlooked a major infiltration route during the war. In 1966, the Marines constructed a combat base in its vicinity of patrol Hills 861, 881S and 881N. With no initial hostile contact, it seemed enemy activity had subsided. Early in 1967, however, Leathernecks would discover that (an NVA division) had returned. ...

    "On April 24, a platoon from B Co., 1st Btn., 9th Marines, left Khe Sanh Combat Base (KCSB) and established an 81mm mortar position on Hill 700, just south of Hill 861. The mortars were to provide additional support for the remainder of the company searching for caves.

    "A five-man patrol climbed Hill 861 to establish an observation post. Nearing the top, the NVA ambushed the small party. Only one Marine survived. ...

    "Mortar and 105mm howitzers from KSCB pounded NVA positions atop Hill 861. Capt. Michael W. Sayers ordered his remaining platoons to hit the enemy from the rear. As the riflemen moved forward, bullets tore into their right flank."

    Kaspar's platoon stumbled onto North Vietnamese regulars on the hill, which he said was honeycombed with caves and bunkers to shelter NVA troops.
    Surrounded for three days

    Kaspar said after the fight broke out higher up the hill, his unit had gone up thinking they would take the NVA from the rear, but the enemy had circled around to catch them. "For three days, we were surrounded there on 861. The jungle was so thick up there you couldn't hardly see anything. We couldn't tell where they were.

    "There were so many NVAs they could have overrun us at any time, but they were more or less leaving us like bait in a trap.

    "After three days, we had to fight our way back down the hill. From the base of 861 to Khe Sanh it was about a mile. There were Marines lining the side of the road all the way.

    "They had set up a hospital tent by the runway there, like M.A.S.H. They put what was left of us on a C-130 and flew us to Dong Ha.

    "All three networks were there - NBC, CBS, ABC. Gen. Walt was there with his staff. I never saw so much brass," Kaspar said.
    Lasting Friendships

    "I had got close to a guy, Richard Knapp. He was from Port Lavaca, and we had that in common, we came from the same area, got to be friends.

    "The way we came in from 861, we came in little groups of four and five. I was there looking up the road from 861 to see if Knapp was coming. I remember he had a particular way of walking ... his gait, I'd know him anywhere. Finally, I picked him out coming down the road, knew he was all right.

    "Richard Knapp, Dick Knapp, black guy from Port Lavaca. He was killed a little later crossing a stream. His name's on the courthouse wall in Port Lavaca," Kaspar said. "I think he was living with an uncle there in Port Lavaca when he went in."

    Before he went into the Marines, Kaspar was a student at Wharton County Junior College, where he was dating the woman who would become his wife, Kay. They married in October 1968.

    Kaspar volunteered for the service. "They were about to draft me," he said, "and they had this buddy system where you'd enlist together. Seven of us from around here went in together."

    Kay put in, "Somebody in Knapp's family contacted us, but we lost the address. We were young. I know now how they'd like to know what we knew about it. We've tried to find them on the computer."

    Kaspar said, "My platoon commander was James Carter from Houston. He was an Aggie. Lt. Carter was killed later."

    Kaspar has found his old company commander. "I found Capt. Sayers on the computer a few years ago. He's living in Greenwood, Ark. I called him up. I told him, 'I'm glad you were making the calls there and not me.'

    "He remembered me and said he was glad that things had turned out in life for me."

    Kaspar's father and grandfather also had military service. A few years ago, their son, Jason, who is now 33, was talking to a Marine recruiter. Kay said, "He came to the house to talk to us. I asked him if he could guarantee that Jason wouldn't be in combat. He said he couldn't, and I said, 'He's not going.' He's the only one to carry on this family."

    Paul Kaspar made it through the rest of his tour without coming to harm. "In those days, you just got on a plane and came home. One day I was in Vietnam and the next day I'm looking down at the freeways in San Francisco. I think they're doing better these days. Lot of people came home with problems."

    The family went to see the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 1997. They found familiar names there, including that of buddy Richard Knapp.

    Paul Kaspar belongs to a group of Khe Sanh veterans and hopes to make one of the reunions, maybe the one in Washington this summer. He has a book from the vets with history and photos. In the back of the book, the names of the Khe Sanh American dead are listed, column-by-column in alphabetical order. There are two pages of Bs alone.

    Pat Hathcock is a special correspondent for the Advocate. E-mail him at,


  2. #2
    would you have remembered a marine 1/9 3rd division 9th marines Delta in 66 to 69 when he was killed in operation Dewey Canyon he was my brother Fred L.Pettigrew 3rd enlisted from Smithfield Virginia but was from Tampa, Florida born and raised need to find his friends that were there, He was a true American Hero and a 100 % US Marine. his sister Connie Gable

  3. #3
    Cpl Troy D Payne was at KSCB with B 1/9 when the Bn Cmdr flew in and told anyone attached to 1/9 to saddle up...David was KIA on Apr 26. David was the reason I joined.

    For he today, who sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother.

  4. #4
    Troy, Did you know him well? Did you grow up with him?Would you have a photo of him? I'm sorry if i'm asking so many questions but i have been searching for another Marine that knew him, My brother to was killed near there. I do understand all the Marines that fought in Vietnam were brother's, Could you please tell me about him and if i had a photo that would be of so much help to me I thank you for taking your time to E mail me back Connie

  5. #5
    Marine Free Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    North Charleston

    Reply to Connie

    I was with Delta co 1/9 from Jan 68 To feb 69 and I knew a marine named
    Pettigrew. I have a couple of photos of him that I would be glad to share.
    my email address is respectfully Odell L. price

  6. #6

  7. #7
    Marine Free Member twomey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Castleisland, Co. Kerry
    I am looking for information on Pfc Raymond L. Twomey Bravo 1/9 (mortars) who was KIA on 24 April 1967 on hill 861. If anybody knew him or has any photos of him could you please contact me at Thanks in advance for any and all information.

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