Khe Sanh, Vietnam
30 March 1968. The most vicious battle of the Vietnam War is coming to a close. My Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment will depart the Khe Sanh Combat Base pre-dawn this day. A large percentage of our 120-man company are new replacements as we had been mauled badly on 25 February by the Communist North Vietnamese Army. Nearly thirty Marines had been killed during an unescapable ambush and we were ordered to leave them lie some 800 meters to our front.
It would be five long years before we were told that one of our fellow Bravo Company Marines, Sgt Ronald Ridgeway, whom we thought had been killed that day, was actually captured, and held prisoner, and survived the war.
Today, 30 March 1968, the score will be settled tenfold on what will later be known as the “Payback Patrol,” but at the cost of over a dozen more brave young Marine Warriors.
It begins with overhead artillery and what is known as a “Rolling Box Barrage” with the use of multiple batteries of heavy artillery. After the initial prep fires, the end of the box opens up as Bravo moves in to engage what turns out to be a battalion of Communist troops. Once in, the box closes behind us, trapping Marines and NVA alike inside. It becomes a fight of virulent fury.
To see those young Marines—some of whom only six weeks before had been home with their families—charging machine gun bunkers with their flamethrowers, satchel charges and fixed bayonets is a sight to behold. The Communist troops quickly learn what the Germans had learned at Belleau Wood some 50 years before when the German High Command asked: “Wer sind diese Teufelshunde? (Who are these Devil Dogs?)”
When it seems to be coming to a close, hours later, we begin to pull back, collecting our dead and wounded. We realize what a price we just paid. We have fought a very determined, well-disciplined enemy who will always command our respect as fellow warriors.
When our enemies try to reinforce, it is at that point, as they are bearing down on us, that we come to appreciate those Marines who are part of our “Air Wing,” as the F4 Phantoms scream in at treetop level with their napalm bombs, dropping so close we feel the heat of the inferno adjacent to our positions. As one of the pilots rolls his jet around to the left, we see him give us all a “Thumbs Up.”
Our company commander, Captain Ken Pipes, who is seriously wounded and loses most of his command group, maintains contact with the air and artillery and masterfully coordinates their firepower to our benefit.
After attacking numerous bunkers within the enemy complex, Donald Rash, one of our newest members, lays down on the edge of a bomb crater to cover our withdrawal, knowing full well he will never get up again. That kind of heroism and dedication to one’s fellow Marines brings a whole new meaning to the verse in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
In the end, Bravo would suffer more casualties (56 KIA’s) at Khe Sanh than any other company of the 26th Marine Regiment (REIN). For their valor, they would earn three Navy Crosses, our nation’s second highest award. Only one Marine would live to collect his medal. Don Rash’s mother would be handed a folded American flag along with his Navy Cross.
Ten Silver Star medals and fourteen Bronze Star medals with V for valor were awarded as well. Over two hundred Purple Heart medals were awarded, as many were wounded on multiple occasions. Numerous Navy Commendations were earned, and they contributed greatly toward the entire regiment earning the prestigious Presidential Unit Citation (PUC).
April brought new leadership to the company as many of our officers had been wounded or killed. New men arrived and the wounded were evacuated. Our fallen Marines from the patrol of 25 February’s remains were recovered within days.
It has now been nearly fifty years and those men, those brave young Marines will live in my memory forever. I hope the world will always remember as well.
Where do we get such men? What a privilege and an Honour it was to have served with and to have known them.
Semper Fidelis and may God always hold them in His arms
Michael E. O’Hara, Bravo Company 1/26 USMC 1967-1970
Michael E. O’Hara grew up and continues to live in Brown County in Southern Indiana.
Michael graduated in May 1966 and by April 1967 had voluntarily enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
Michael “went for four” and served one tour overseas during the Vietnam war with the 26th Marine Regiment, 1st Battalion, Bravo Company during the “Siege ” of Khe Sanh.
Upon returning to the States Michael became a Primary Weapons Instructor for the Marine Corps 2nd Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Pendleton, Ca. Michael was Honorably Discharged on the early release program a year early.
Michael and his partner Maxine have been together 41 years having raised five children, nine grand kids and have two great grand children.
Michael is a retired custom home builder and has spent much of his life dedicated to Veterans affairs and in particular to those with whom he served. He is a life member of the Khe Sanh Veterans Organization.
Michael now spends most of his free time with two of his four smallest granddaughters flying R/C airplanes.