Khe Sanh veterans recall Vietnam battle's start 50 years ago Sunday

Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the start of one of the most significant battles of the Vietnam War – the Battle of Khe Sanh.

Across the U.S., groups of Vietnam veterans will gather to commemorate the 77-day battle, in which some 6,000 U.S. Marines defended a small combat base from tens of thousands of North Vietnamese fighters.

Others are making plans to attend a reunion of Khe Sanh veterans scheduled for August in Washington, D.C.

One such gathering Sunday is planned in Oroville, Calif. Its organizer is Tom Horchler, 71, who served at Khe Sanh as a lance corporal with the 1st Battalion 13th Marines Headquarters Battery Motor Transport Section.

“They say it was the Marines who fought there,” Horchler told the Chico Enterprise-Record, “but just about every branch of the service was there.

“There are not many battles in history where guys from different branches fought shoulder to shoulder,” he added, “but Khe Sanh was one of them.”

"There are not many battles in history where guys from different branches fought shoulder to shoulder, but Khe Sanh was one of them.”

- Tom Horchler, U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served at Khe Sanh

In Michigan, the Oakland Press reported that Chaplain Ron Rayner, 71, of Oakland County, is trying to reach local Khe Sanh veterans who can accompany him to the Washington event.

He and other members of Khe Sanh Veterans Inc. will participate that week in a washing of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall.

In Maine, Khe Sanh veterans Ralph Sargent and Evan Plourde told the Kennebec Journal they were making plans to attend the Khe Sanh commemoration in Washington.

Sargent, 82, was a gunnery sergeant in Khe Sanh – and, at 33, an “old man” among a group of guys in their 20s.

Plourde, 70, was a Marine private first class who carried an M60 machine gun during his time at Khe Sanh.

Plourde told the Journal about a brutal attack that occurred Feb. 23, 1968.

“We were in our foxhole for hours,” he said. “When we came out and picked up the pieces, there were a lot of casualties.”

Both men said they feel lucky to have survived the battle.

“There was just somebody out there looking over me,” Plourde told the newspaper. “I sure wish that happened for the guys we lost.”