The Vietnam War – one of the subjects that lured me into exploring and loving history. I can never read enough about this war – everything from the failed strategy to the individual acts of valor on the battlefield. Gregg Jones takes his turn at documenting the events surrounding the siege of Khe Sanh in Last Stand at Khe Sanh: The U.S. Marines’ Finest Hour in Vietnam.
The book generally covers the fighting between the Marines and the North Vietnamese Army from January until April 1968, when the siege was lifted. This coverage includes the many hill fights surrounding the main base. Jones draws upon the personal accounts of the thousands of Americans who fought in the battle. NVA accounts are sketchy due to the lack of material – although Jones does draw on some captured NVA documents.
There are plenty of books written on Khe Sanh (Valley of Decision is one that is excellent), but this is one of the most recent books to chronicle the battles. Jones provides great insight into the men who fought and shed blood in the hallowed grounds surrounding Khe Sanh. This insight is from countless interviews and letters from the combatants.
Jones includes many stories of bravery, including the actions of artillery forward observer Dennis Mannion as he directed artillery fire upon the North Vietnamese as they tried to capture Hill 861. Conversely, Jones also writes about some of the stupid decisions made during the fighting. This includes the higher command’s approval to send a small patrol out of Khe Sanh and the field officer’s decisions in the ambush of a Marine platoon that left more than 20 killed.
The personal stories of loss are the hardest parts of war books. It is easier to read about five or six men killed in the abstract rather than knowing the names and stories of those five or six individuals. Jones includes tales of grizzled veterans cut down and men in-country for a few days who lost their lives.
Simply put, an excellent book on the Battle of Khe Sanh.