quinta-feira, 29 de março de 2018

Fifty years ago, they were young and they were at Khe Sanh


Fifty years ago, on March 1968, at least four North Vietnamese Army (NVA) divisions – around 40 thousand soldiers and support - besieged, during 77 days, two regiments of US Marines, supported by some elements of the US Army, Air Force and also a small number of South Vietnamese Army, at the base of Khe Sanh. 3,000 of those US Marines were deployed inside the base and the other 3,000 were stationed on four nearby hilltop positions surrounding the area, identified by numbers – the most famous and bloody being Hill 861. The fighting started “officially” on January 21st 1968 and raged until July 9th that same year, when the base was abandoned, for lacking strategic interest.
On February 1968 NVA forces launched the “Tet Offensive”, catching American commanders by surprise. From a military point of view, the offensive was a failure, with heavy casualties for the NVA forces, but had a strong influence over USA public opinion, increasing the opposition to the war. Many experts believed the siege of Khe Sanh was just a diversion to attract the attention of USA top commanders and open the way for the “Tet Offensive”. Many of those of my age probably still remember some lyrics of one of the first big hits of Bruce Springsteen, “Born Ithe USA", from 1984:
I had a brother at Khe Sanh / Fighting off the Viet Cong / They're still there; he's all gone / He had a woman he loved in Saigon / I got a picture of him in her arms, now...”
During the fighting at Khe Sanh, the Marines lost 205 killed and 1,600 wounded. Then a further 97 US and 33 South Vietnamese were killed in the relief efforts. The North Vietnamese lost as many as 15,000 casualties during the siege of Khe Sanh.
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