Journey Back to Khe Sanh
04/27/2014: Introduction by Ed Timperlake
Khe Sanh has an important place in the Vietnam War.
For Marines, the epic battle is how they remember the name.
In a remote mountain stronghold in 1968, six thousand US Marines awoke one January morning to find themselves surrounded by 20,000 enemy troops.
Their only road to the coast was cut, and bad weather and enemy fire threatened their fragile air lifeline. The siege of Khe Sanh — the Vietnam War’s epic confrontation –was under way.
For seventy-seven days, the Marines and a contingent of US Army Special Forces endured artillery barrages, sniper fire, ground assaults, and ambushes.
For others, a return to Vietnam years later was about honoring Marines who fought at that epic battle and to build toward the future with new American-Vietnamese dynamic, building schools and teaching a new generation.
The great Tennyson Poem “Ulysses” has a passage at the end that captures the experience of former Marines returning to the scene of one of the epic Marine Corps battles in a fighting force forged in combat defending America since our founding.
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Like Ulysses and his warriors a group of Khe Sanh Marines and their families made it their mission to strive, seek and not yield.
Their journey back to a distant battlefield to visit a successful school project they created and their former bunkers and fighting holes is presented eloquently by Judd Kinne and in doing so he also pays homage to David Douglas Duncan.
Journey Back to Khe Sanh
By Judd Kinne
Climbing to the top of Hill 881 south, Khe Sanh was not something George Barczay had anticipated doing when he and his wife Kati (who was born and raised in Hungary) decided to tour Vietnam. It was almost 46 years to the day that George, then a Marine radioman in India Company 3rd Battalion 26th Marines (Capt. Bill Dabney’s Company), had left 881after several months of intense fighting and incoming from NVA batteries in Laos.
George and I and our wives and my 16-year-old daughter had come to Huong Hoa District, Quang Tri Province, near to the Khe Sanh Combat Base to attend ceremonies opening two new kindergartens for which we had donated funds to Saigon Children’s Charity.
“Eliminating Poverty Through Education” (www.saigonchildren.com)
These schools are located in “Bru”ethnic minority villages, some of the most impoverished in Vietnam today. The idea for this project came to me several years ago when I first met the director of SCC, Paul Finnis and asked if his charity could build schools in Quang Tri province where I too had served in 1967/68 with Kilo Company 3rd Battalion 1st Marines.
At that time, Paul didn’t feel confident that SCC had the experience or resources to manage building projects far from Saigon where they have successfully operated for more than 20 years.
However, things changed by the end of 2012, and SCC and I were ready to proceed. Construction began in August 2013 and the Opening Ceremonies were held on April 15th.
We had a wonderful few hours with the Bru children, who sang and danced, their parents, teachers and local authorities who contributed not only the land but also cash.
At the start of this project, I wanted to honor my good friend David Douglas Duncan (universally known as “DDD”) who was a Marine in WWII and has had a distinguished career as a photojournalist for LIFE magazine.
Finally, after considerable negotiation with the Vietnamese authorities (who are very sensitive to references to the “American War”), we received permission to dedicate the schools to DDD and to place two bronze plaques (one in English and one in Vietnamese) above the doors.
In 1953, David first came to Vietnam to photograph a story for LIFE magazine. He visited Hanoi and Saigon and concluded that the French would lose the Indochina War, which they did the very next year. The title of his article was “Indochina All But Lost.”
Then in late 1967 and 1968, David returned again to Vietnam also taking photos for LIFE. He covered three areas in I Corps; the Cua Viet River, Con Thien and Khe Sanh at the height of the Tet Offensive, taking photos and writing about Marines. He published two books (dedicated to his beloved Marines);“War Without Heroes”and“I Protest”.
David now is 98 years old and he and his wife live in Valbonne France. He would have liked to come to the Ceremony but felt the journey was a bit too arduous. Nonetheless, he is thrilled that his name is associated with these schools in villages near to Khe Sanh and the bitter fighting he documented 46 years ago.
Khe Sanh Today
Following the opening Ceremonies, George, Kati, their friend Sharon and I began the climb accompanied by a local guide who had been authorized by the Quang Tri security police to take us to the top of 881S. It was quite a tough hike along a road that has been cut in recent years through pine trees as this area is now a major reforestation reserve.
Other than some cattle and a lone ranger, we met no one else on the trail.
In 1968 these Khe Sanh hills were virtually bare having been defoliated and blasted by B-52’s and artillery rounds.
David Douglas Duncan a Marine for the ages:
Lest America forget here is a series of photos made by “DDD” from his book I Protest.
The first four photos were shot during the opening ceremony dedicating the new schools in Vietnam built by the project.
The fifth photo shows George Barczay and Judd Kinne during their return to Vietnam for the ceremony.
The final photo shows the plaque placed on the school discussing the project and support to build the school.
These photos are credited to Judd Kinne. The school is named for David Douglas Duncan or DDD.
The remaining photos are some of those shot by “DDD” and included in his book I Protest and published with his permission.
Back in the United States, he published ”I Protest!” a paperback that included 122 images along with text denouncing not only the American tactics but also the entire rationale of the conflict.
He charged $1 for the book and sold 250,000 copies.
He earned the right to protest the VietnamWar, he was a highly decorated Marine Officer in WWII. As a USMC combat photographer he went behind the lines in the Solomon’s Campaign and flew with USMC aviation units in Okinawa battles.
His decorations included a Legion of Merit, Purple Heart, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and three Air Medals