Today is the 43rd anniversary of the beginning of the Siege of Khe Sanh and we will note the date with a guest blog by Michael E. O’Hara who served with Bravo Company, 1/26, at the siege.
January 2011, 43 yrs Later
I first heard that term, Lead in Their Pack, nearly twenty years ago in an article written for the Khe Sanh Veterans Newsletter by Col. John Kaheny USMC (RET). It is a metaphor for the emotional baggage, pieces of broken hearts that Warriors carry with them always. It’s a heavy burden.
Why is Bravo (Company) so different you might ask? For beginners let’s look at the stats you will never see. Bravo represented about 2.5 per cent of the total population at the Khe Sanh Combat Base. All told about sixteen rifle companies. Bravo took roughly 27 per cent of the total KIA’s. Nearly half the company was lost and virtually everyone else was WIA, some more than once. While other companies most certainly had their hands full going toe to toe with Charlie, it was usually when Charlie brought the fight to them. Bravo met the enemy on three occasions during the Siege. Each time we took the fight to Charlie and it was up close and personal. We got in Charlie’s trench. The first time, February 25th, was a disaster. Twenty-seven Marines were lost and we were forced to withdraw. It was the beginning of an American tragedy.
The third platoon had been lost some 800 meters to our front. That is within the range of a good set of eyeglasses. We were ready to saddle up at first light the next day and continue the fight. We were told to stand down. The tactical thing to do was to run airstrikes over the ambush site. What? There were still many Marine bodies which needed to be recovered. We were denied. It would be nearly a month before we were allowed by the Brass (Washington) to reconnoiter the area for a possible raid on the site. We again took the fight to Charlie in his trench but on this occasion he chose to retreat. We suffered around 20 casualties but no KIA’s.
Finally on the 30th day of March we would be given the opportunity to avenge our fallen. Make no mistake, we slaughtered Charlie wholesale that day but we lost another twelve good Marines and many more had been maimed. The remains of the fallen were recovered days later (imagine) and interned in a mass burial in St. Louis. In 1973 we found out one had been taken POW and had been imprisoned over five years in Hanoi. He survived the war.
For Marines, to leave your Brothers on the field of battle like that is a cardinal sin. Even though as Marines we follow orders we still carry those awful feelings with us today. It is an eternal pain. We call it “Lead in your Pack”. What tempers the pain in my heart is the memory of their faces, so young and hardy, and yet so willing to die for “each other.” I have stated many times and it is worth repeating, “It was my distinct privilege and high Honor to have known, and to have walked such Hallowed ground alongside such Brave and Courageous young Marines.
Now being in the “Autumn” of my years I know my tears will soon cease and my heart will rest as I get closer to the wire where I will enter the Main Gate after my final patrol.
Godspeed and Semper Fidelis to Marines everywhere.
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 37 years having raised five children, nine grandkids and have two great grandchildren.
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.