Supervisor Janet Nguyen’s Candlelight Vigil commemorating 40th Anniversary Battle of Khe Sahn

This afternoon I attended OC Supervisor Janet Nguyen’s Candlelight Vigil commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Battle of Khe Sanh. My estimate is that there were around 150 Marine and Vietnamese veterans, and their families, at the service. This battle lasted for 77 days in which 4,000 US Marines, supported by around 2,000 Vietnamese allies, held off an army of 20,000 to 30,000 North Vietnamese troops under horrific conditions.

The vigil was held at the Westminster Vietnam War Memorial. Arriving before the program began I walked around the Memorial Park where I noticed two large statues depicting an American and a South Vietnamese serviceman. There are cascading waterfalls around a circular walkway as well as numerous memorial plaques.

Although it was drizzling as I approached the Beach Blvd. exit off the 405 the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds as I arrived at the vigil.

Andrew Do, Supervisor Janet Nguyen’s Chief of Staff, provided a recap of the events of the battle. This was followed by the presentation of colors. Westminster Mayor Margie Rice led us in the pledge, Pastor Van Tran followed with the Invocation and Westminster Councilman Frank Frey recited the Warriors Prayer (Psalm 91).

The Supervisor thanked all for attending stating we are “here to pay homage to those who fought at the Battle of Khe Sanh and to remember those who gave the last full measure.” She went on to say that “as the years pass, it is important that we do not let examples of heroism, such as those demonstrated at the Battle of Khe Sanh, fade from our memory.”

Prior to the Keynote speech, South Vietnamese Brigadier General Tran Van Nhut, Commanding General 2nd Infantry Division, thanked the U.S. Marines who “gave up their tomorrow’s for our today’s.” He closed by saying “we admire your sacrifice to defeat Communism.” He is a graduate, Marine Corps, High Command and General Staff in USA 1962.

Assemblyman Jim Silva flew down from Sacramento to introduce the keynote speaker, the honorable Judge David O. Carter, U.S. District Court. Judge Carter joined the USMC and participated in that 77 day battle during which he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal. He was later released as a First Lieutenant. He opened by saying “we are losing a lot of veterans due to age” adding “regardless of where you served we are all brothers and sister in arms.” This was a reference to all of the wars in which we have lost men and women. David shared the overwhelming challenges faced by our brave troops who were down to one meal a day and ended up eating coffee grounds. His battalion was nicknamed the “Walking Dead.” There were fighting to protect and hold the high ground. Hills 861, 881 north and 881 south, may only be numbers on a page but the significance of holding those hills is only known to those who withstood the siege by an overwhelming number of the enemy during those 77 days between Jan 21st and April 8th forty years ago. I would venture to say that an all expense trip to places like Hill 861 was no spring break vacation. In addition to fighting the VC the Marines had to cope with rats and the bubonic plague.

David said we had round the clock B-52’s flying at 40,000 feet dropping bombs all around us. The enemy, trying to get closer to our lines and get away from the air strikes, dug tunnels clear up to the allied lines. We would put coffee cans to the ground and hear people digging tunnels below us. He mentioned that we also had tactical fighters dropping napalm. During these 77 days the enemy had 100 artillery pieces in Laos, which was only four miles away, firing mortars into our area. Freedom is not free. In mentioning the allied victory of Khe Sanh Judge Carter reported that “we lost 200 Marines and suffered 1,600 wounded.” He said the North Vietnamese losses at an estimated 10,000 killed.

He also praised the army while sadly reporting that 24 Green Berets were killed taking out enemy tanks while the Marines were unable to help them.
This was a major conflict. At one point David said President LBJ considered dropping an atomic bomb to thwart the enemy onslaught.

Judge Carter briefly mentioned “Puff the Magic Dragon.” For those not familiar with “Spooky” they are AC 47 gunships with 3 gattling guns that fire 6,000 round per minute per gun. The VC and the NVA were no fans of the fire power Spooky reined down on them. Yes, I would say the USAF did provide air support during this campaign.
In closing Judge Carter said he laid in a hospital for a year recuperating from his wounds.

After a 21 gun salute and taps we lit candles in memory of those who served.

My final comments. This was not a political event. We owe it to the “greatest generation” and all those who follow, our sons and daughters who put on the uniforms of the United States military to serve our country regardless of how we may feel about those who send them into harms way. This event was a very deserved tribute.

About Larry Gilbert