1996 by Peter Brush

In 1993 a monument was dedicated in Arlington National Cemetery to the Marines who fought at Khe Sanh, arguably the longest and most bitterly contested battle of the Vietnam War. This formally acknowledged the enduring relationship between Khe Sanh and the Marine Corps. However, it was not only Marines who faced the North Vietnamese Army; the defense of Khe Sanh was very much both a joint and combined effort.

The first American troops at Khe Sanh worn the Green Berets of the Army Special Forces. The first Marine unit of any size was 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, arriving in April 1966. That summer members of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 10 (Seabees) improved the existing airstrip with aluminum matting. By January 1968, Khe Sanh Combat Base was the home of the 26th Marine Regiment (Reinforced). Detachments of four Seabee battalions maintained the airstrip. Besides elements of the 5th Special Forces Group, various Army units provided artillery and communications support. US Air Force detachments operated the aerial port and provided other combat support services. The last infantry battalion to arrive before Tet was the South Vietnamese 37th Ranger Battalion.

The combination of air support and firepower provided the key to the defense of Khe Sanh. Before the siege was officially declared over, almost 90,000 tons of bombs were dropped by aircraft of the US Air Force, Navy, and Marines, as well as planes of the South Vietnamese Air Force. 1 To the forces on the ground, however, air support meant more than the massive numbers of B-52 and tactical bomber sorties. Aerial supply was crucial to the defense of Khe Sanh. This article details how the US Army 109th Quartermaster Company (Air Delivery) came to play a vital role in the defense of the Khe Sanh Combat Base.

The 109th Quartermaster Company (109th QM) had its beginnings in 1914 when its direct predecessor was organized as a unit of the Regular Army. After serving in New Guinea in World War II, it was inactivated on Okinawa in 1946; reactivated during the Korean War; and finally, in 1955, assumed the unit designation it carried in Vietnam and was assigned to Fort Lee, Virginia. Practically all the men of the 109th QM at this time were either jump qualified or completing the jump qualification course at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. 2 Many of the NCOs were veterans of airborne combat operations in World War II and Korea. The unit’s first sergeant, Master Sergeant Thurman L. Weaks was involved in parachute operations from the very beginning. In 1941 Weaks was one of 41 men selected by the Army to test the possibilities of parachuting soldiers into the battle zone. 3 Later, some veterans of the 109th participated in the delivery of supplies to French forces in the Plain of Jars during the First Indochina War. 4 According to First Sergeant Ferald D. Adams, the 109th QM was the first company put on alert for the Cuban missile crisis. During this period the unit moved from Fort Lee, Virginia, to Opa Locka, Florida. 5

The mission of the 109th QM was to provide parachute packing, temporary storage, and rigging of supplies and equipment for aerial drop by aircraft of all services. In addition the 109th was to render technical assistance in the recovery and evacuation of the unit’s air drop equipment. At full strength the unit would be capable of preparing 200 tons per day of material for delivery by free, high velocity, or low velocity drop techniques. The 109th QM was prepared to assist in the loading and ejecting of supplies from aircraft in flight, and to assist other units engaged in similar missions. 6

During the early part of 1965 about one dozen personnel of the 109th QM were sent on temporary duty to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. This contingent supported Air Force personnel in the development of an air delivery technique called the low-altitude parachute extraction system (LAPES). 7 This system required cargo planes to fly a few feet above ground level. A drogue parachute was released, pulling the palletized cargo out of the aircraft and onto the drop zone. A related system was the ground proximity extraction system (GPES) in which the cargo was yanked from the aircraft by a hook which snagged a cable traversing the runway.

In September 1965 the 109th QM was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky under the operational control of the 101st Airborne Division. Morale was high; most personnel were volunteers. The company did not participate in regular exercises or maneuvers. 8 The primary mission was in support of US Air Force crew training, and consisted of rigging heavy drop loads, assisting in loading these materials onto C-130 aircraft, providing personnel to fly with the aircraft, and recovering the loads and equipment from the drop zones. LAPES/GPES training continued and was conducted during hours of darkness. One officer of the 109th QM feels this was due to the secret nature of the LAPES system while another held that LAPES was still an unauthorized system: public disclosure during a training accident was to be avoided. 9 During the first six months of 1966 the 109th QM completed almost 600 training missions. These exercises ceased in June 1966 when the 109th QM received overseas movement orders.

In July 1966, the main body of the 109th left Fort Campbell by commercial aircraft. On July 23, the unit embarked onboard the USNS General John N. Pope at Tacoma, Washington. A separate detachment, acting as an advanced party, left Fort Campbell Army Airfield on August 2 aboard an Air Force C-130. These twenty soldiers arrived at Cam Ranh Bay and began preparations for the arrival of the main body and equipment. The main body arrived at Cam Ranh Bay on August 12 1966. It established a position on the Cam Ranh Peninsula about four miles north of the airfield in the vicinity of the 6th Convalescent Center. By November the establishment of its operational area was complete. The 109th QM was responsible for the maintenance and storage of approximately 5,000 cargo parachutes to be used in support of a variety of contingency plans. Additionally, the 109th QM had adopted materials from the Air Force to support LAPES-type missions in Vietnam. A number of kits to accomplish these missions were also maintained. 10

While the 109th QM was establishing itself in Vietnam, events transpired further north which would guide future missions. The summer and fall of 1966 saw the buildup of large North Vietnamese Army (NVA) units in the area along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). In response, the commander of US forces in Vietnam, General William C. Westmoreland, ordered Marine units northward to meet this threat. Positions were established just south of the DMZ to act as blocking forces to impede NVA infiltration. Khe Sanh was the western anchor of this defensive line.

General Westmoreland made his feelings quite clear when he stated, "There is no more important airfield in Vietnam from a tactical standpoint than Khe Sanh." 11 The original airstrip was a 1,500 foot runway built by the French. This was later extended and improved by engineers who installed World War II-era steel matting. Navy Seabees were ordered to undertake a crash program to upgrade the base’s airstrip. The mission of the first large Marine unit at Khe Sanh was directly linked to the airfield; indeed, the work of the Seabees was delayed by the arrival of this Marine security force. In October 1966, Seabees closed the airstrip and installed 1,385 bundles of AM-2 aluminum runway matting. 12

The 109th QM was now fully operational. During November air drops in support of combat operations were made that included over 100 tons of aircraft fuel and almost 20 tons of combat rations. These were heavy drop missions. During an emergency resupply mission in December over 40 tons of supplies were delivered. Two personnel of the 109th QM parachuted in with the supplies to act as recovery supervisors. 13 In February 1967, the 109th QM parachuted supplies to the 196th Light Infantry and 173rd Airborne Brigades during Operation Junction City. Again, 109th QM personnel parachuted in to assist in recovering loads.14  During 1967, having given rigging and air delivery training to Army of the Republic of Vietnam personnel, several men from the 109th QM received authorization from the Vietnamese government to wear their parachute badge on their uniforms.

In the north, Khe Sanh was proving difficult to resupply. Military commanders endeavored to keep on hand a fifteen day stock of all classes of supplies. During December and January one senior Marine commander reported there were only six days when the weather was good enough for aerial resupply. Rations and fuel occasionally were reduced to less than one day’s supply. Rain made road travel almost impossible. 15

In April 1967, NVA sappers cut the only highway to Khe Sanh from the east to prevent overland reinforcements. An enemy regiment moved into Hills 861 and 881 northwest of the base and constructed fortified positions. The North Vietnamese planned to launch a regimental-sized ground assault from the west and seize the airfield. Marine attacks on April 28 drove the enemy from their hill positions before they could launch their own offensive to overrun the combat base. In the bitter fighting that followed the Marines lost 155 killed and 425 wounded. NVA losses were 940 confirmed killed. 16 These "Hill Fights" illustrated the seriousness with which both sides viewed the area around Khe Sanh.

The 109th QM began experiencing problems inherent in Westmoreland’s policy of limiting the tours of duty for Army personnel in Vietnam to twelve months. In July 1967, Major Albert B. Lanier assumed command. Within one month, the 109th QM lost over 75% of its men through rotational losses, including all its experienced warrant officers. Nevertheless, the unit was able to deliver "ever increasing air drop support to units throughout the Republic of Vietnam without confusion or interruption."

In August 1967, LAPES test drops were conducted, even though the system was still considered to be in an experimental stage. Major Lanier instituted changes that improved the efficacy of the LAPES technique. 17 Given this capability, the fortunes of the 109th QM and the Marines at Khe Sanh were about to converge.

The airfield at Khe Sanh was in poor condition in spite of the efforts of the Seabees. C-130 cargo planes had a landing weight of almost sixty tons. Rainfall had saturated the ground. When a heavily-laden C-130 landed, water was forced up from the soggy ground. This process created voids. The runway had collapsed in a number of places. On August 17 1967, the runway was closed for repairs. Seabees removed the metal surface, laid down a base of crushed rock, coated it with asphalt, and replanked the surface. Given that Khe Sanh was dependent on aerial supply due to its isolated location, it was essential that the airstrip be returned to operational status as quickly as possible. During early September, the 109th QM, using LAPES techniques, accomplished an emergency resupply of over 550 tons of construction materials for the Marines at Khe Sanh, including the asphalt and aluminum planking. Army riggers were assisted by the Marine Corps Air Delivery Platoon, a 33-man unit whose members were graduates of Army parachute school at Fort Benning plus parachute rigging school at Fort Lee. The Marines used an M-48 tank to drag the seven-ton LAPES loads from the extraction zone to where they were needed. 18

These materials were delivered by the USAF 315th Air Division. General Westmoreland was a paratrooper by specialization and had long been supportive of innovative air delivery techniques. The 109th QM responded by delivering supplies using LAPES and Container Delivery System (CDS) techniques on twenty-seven of thirty days during the period from the end of September to the end of October. In addition to the Marines at Khe Sanh, the 109th QM also dropped supplies to the nearby Special Forces camp at Lang Vei as well as a 1st Cavalry Division position on Hill 63 near An Truong. 19

On September 3 1967, the unit dispatched 53 riggers with LAPES and CDS equipment to Da Nang Air Base. The mission of this detachment was in direct support of the Marines at Khe Sanh. A small number of Marines at Da Nang provided manpower for the labor intensive air delivery missions. They loaded supplies by hand into containers and palletized supplies in order that Army riggers, who did the bulk of the work, could prepare the loads for aerial delivery.

On October 15 a C-130 crashed at Khe Sanh, resulting in the death of Specialist Fourth Class Charles L. Baney of the 109th QM. Baney was on board the aircraft as an inspector to insure the proper rigging of the loaded supplies. 20

By the end of 1967 American intelligence sources learned that large numbers of North Vietnamese Army forces were deploying in the area around Khe Sanh. One enemy unit was the 304th NVA Division which had fought the French at Dien Bien Phu. This force included infantry, artillery, and tanks. General Westmoreland estimated its size at between fifteen and twenty thousand men. 21

This buildup of enemy forces caused the US command to conclude that reinforcing Khe Sanh was the only feasible alternative to abandoning it. Westmoreland ruled out abandonment because to do so would cooperate with the Communist plan to seize the two northern provinces of South Vietnam. Additionally, with enemy infiltration impeded by the fortified allied positions along the DMZ, a presence at Khe Sanh blocked the ability of the North Vietnamese to circumvent the DMZ barrier and bring the war into the populated coastal plain. Most of Westmoreland’s advisors concurred with his decision to reinforce Khe Sanh. The only ones who did not were French officers who had been involved with Dien Bien Phu. 22

In fact, General Westmoreland wanted to fight the North Vietnamese. The area around Khe Sanh was relatively unpopulated by civilians. This would allow lavish and unrestricted use of US firepower and further the US strategy of attrition by killing large numbers of enemy soldiers. Khe Sanh would be reinforced on a limited basis for two reasons: limited and gradual reinforcement would not scare off the North Vietnamese, and only as many Marines would be brought in as could be resupplied by air. By January the allied force at Khe Sanh totaled about 6,000 men. 23 On January 21, the siege of Khe Sanh began.

At approximately 0530 hours that morning Communist gunners scored a hit on the main ammunition dump. 98 percent of the dump’s contents, 1,500 tons of munitions, was destroyed in the ensuing explosions. This caused an immediate request for "tactical emergency air supply," the designation for the highest aircraft priority. 24

Available US aircraft included C-130’s (20 ton payload), C-123’s (8 ton payload), and C-7A’s (3 ton payload). The C-130’s were the logical choice to quickly replenish ammunition stocks. However, the fact that shrapnel from the ammunition dump explosion covered half the runway precluded their use. C-123’s delivered 130 tons of supplies in the next 36 hours, even flying and unloading at night by the light of Marine artillery flares. By January 23 the runway was cleared of debris, permitting the return of the C-130’s. In a single day (January 27), Air Force C-130’s delivered 310 tons of cargo. The emergency caused by the ammunition explosion was over. 25 Both sides began to settle in for a fight of indeterminable duration.

Enemy gunners continued to fire rockets, mortars, and artillery into the combat base. As with the Marines on the ground, so too with air transport crews: life was very dangerous. On February 11 a Marine KC-130 was hit by enemy fire on its approach run. The pilot managed to land the aircraft, which finally burst into flames. Six men burned to death. Additionally, through February 10, seven Air Force C-130’s were hit by gunfire or shrapnel. A C-130 struck by enemy fire on February 11 spent two days on the runway before it could be flown out of Khe Sanh. Upon arrival in Da Nang mechanics counted 242 holes in this aircraft.

Air Force commanders felt the C-130’s, at $2.5 million each, were too valuable to risk unnecessarily. C-123’s and C-7A’s lost enough speed upon landing to allow them to make a 90-degree turn that led to the unloading area. C-130’s required a longer roll after landing, forcing them to proceed to the end of the runway and turn around before proceeding to the unloading area. This situation gave enemy gunners a considerable amount of time in which to target them. Consequently, the use of C-130’s was severely restricted. During the period February 12 through the end of March, Air Force C-130’s landed at the Marine base on only four days.

The smaller C-123’s and C-7A’s proved unable to deliver a sufficient volume of supplies. Enemy gunners and bad weather simply would not permit a sufficient number of landings of these aircraft. In order to survive, the Marines would have to be supplied in the same manner as the French at Dien Bien Phu -- by parachute. C-123 and C-7A airlandings would continue because some cargo could be delivered by no other means. This category included incoming passengers, medical supplies, special munitions, and the evacuation of casualties.

Bulk cargo such as ammunition, rations, and fuel would be delivered using the container delivery system. A ton of supplies was prepared by riggers as described below. A C-130 could transport 14 to 16 of these loads. At a height of 600 feet over the drop zone the restraints holding the loads were cut. The pilot raised the nose of the plane and applied power to the engines. The cargo moved rearward on floor rollers and then out of the plane. A small parachute was attached to the aircraft’s anchor line cable. This cable deployed the large cargo parachute that carried the bundle to the ground.

Riggers of the 109th QM often flew with the cargo planes to ensure proper delivery. Several personnel landed at Khe Sanh in order to retrieve parachutes and other drop materials for future use.

The normal source of supplies for the Marines at Khe Sanh was Da Nang. However, as the situation worsened, it became clear that Da Nang alone lacked the rigging and dropping capabilities necessary to sustain the beleaguered base. Resupply missions originated at Da Nang, Tan Son Nhut, Cam Ranh Bay, Tuy Hoa, and Nha Trang. The majority of C-130 flights originated at Cam Ranh Bay, headquarters of the 109th QM. 26

The riggers of the 109th QM geared up to meet the challenge posed by events at Khe Sanh. Initially, riggers at Cam Ranh Bay worked three days and two nights continuously without rest. This was followed by shifts consisting of 24 hours on duty followed by a six hours rest break.

Tractor trailer drivers received loads from the supply depot. These were delivered to the "Rigger Line." Fork lifts transported the material from the trucks into Rigger Line tents. Energy absorption material was placed on pallets. These pallets were placed on a platform, which was positioned on conveyor rollers. A layer of plywood went on the prepared pallet. This was topped off by the supplies. Netting secured the cargo to the pallet. The parachute was then attached to the finished load. The entire process was like a "drive through car wash." The rigger line moved quite quickly. Each rigger had a particular function; each man had to be ready to accomplish his task as the load rolled into his area. Prepared loads went back onto trucks, were hauled to the runway area, and loaded onto waiting aircraft. The rigging of ammunition mandated that the process be accomplished within the confines of the ammunition supply point. 27

It was exhausting work at the point of origin. Sometimes it was also dangerous business at the point of delivery. Aircraft were fired upon as they made their approaches and departure. Transports on the ground were shelled in attempts to destroy them. Men doing the work of unloading and retrieval were harassed by shelling and recoilless rifle fire. Each morning the Marines swept the drop zone for enemy mines and snipers.

Occasionally pallets landed in nearby trees or minefields, adding difficulty to the retrieval effort. On February 21 a LAPES-loaded C-130 inadvertently bit the ground. The load extracted prematurely and broke apart, killing one man and injuring another. Three weeks later, a load platform deplaned. The parachute was cut free prematurely, allowing the malfunctioning load to overshoot the runway and crash into a bunker. One man was killed. One week later a container drop landed in a bunker area, causing five casualties.

These loads were not dropped within the main base perimeter. To do so would necessitate the complete closing of the airstrip during drops. An additional concern was injury to equipment and personnel from falling loads. The area chosen for the drop zone (DZ) was a 300-yard-square area one thousand yards beyond the end of the runway.

The security of the DZ was a critical concern of the Marines. As it was situated beyond the base perimeter it was abandoned to the enemy each night. Engineers swept the area each morning for enemy mines. Bundles were not left overnight for fear the North Vietnamese would booby trap them. Supplies were parachuted into this DZ with good accuracy. Still, some drops missed the DZ and drifted into enemy territory. These loads were destroyed by airstrikes or Marine artillery to prevent their utilization by the enemy. Bulky equipment was difficult to handle quickly due to shortages of forklifts and truck transportation.

The constant enemy shelling forced the Marines to dig underground for protection. To further this move, the Marines requested an emergency supply of large timbers for bunker construction. Because of the size and handling difficulties involved, low level extraction was chosen over airland or container delivery.

On February 16 a C-130 loaded with timbers flew down the long axis of the Khe Sanh runway. The pilot maintained an airspeed of 130 knots at an altitude of five feet. A parachute, constrained to a 48" diameter, was attached to the load and projected out the rear of the cargo door. Upon reaching a precisely calculated point, a crew member fired an electrical device that allowed the parachute to open to a diameter of 28 feet. This sudden force broke the restraints attaching the timber load to the floor of the aircraft. The plane continued, essentially flying out from underneath the palletized timbers, which coasted to a stop close to the proposed bunker construction sites. This was the successful execution of a LAPES mission as perfected by the 109th QM. A total of 52 LAPES deliveries were made during the siege of Khe Sanh.

LAPES was a good solution to the problems posed by the precision delivery of bulky cargo loads. Larger scale use of LAPES was not possible due to the lack of sufficient LAPES components in the airlift supply system. Additionally, Marine commanders expressed concern over damage to the runway by the heavy LAPES pallets. Within the next month it became evident that LAPES’ deliveries were indeed destructive to the runway surface. Gouges were made in the planking by the pallets. Some of the metal sections were bent to an extent they could not be repaired. Although in lessening frequency, LAPES deliveries continued until April 2. The shortage of components such as electrical firing devices for the parachutes and special steel pallets caused logistics specialists to turn to the ground proximity extraction system (GPES).

During the mid-1960s, GPES was felt to be inferior to LAPES because it required heavy ground equipment at the point of delivery. It was deemed suitable for the particular situation at Khe Sanh because the loads came to rest in a precise spot with no danger of runaway pallets. It would reduce damage to the metal runway material. While GPES gear was rushed from the United States, air crews practiced the delivery technique at Naha Air Base in Okinawa.

On March 30 a C-130 began rolling down the runway at Khe Sanh. Attached to the cargo pallet was a boom with a hook at the free end. The rear cargo door was open. The airplane rolled across the arresting cable which traversed the runway and was moored to the ground at each end. The cable rose, engaged the hook, and yanked the cargo out of the plane. The pilot applied power and took off. In all, 15 loads of cargo, mostly construction materials, were delivered to Khe Sanh using GPES. Air crews appreciated the safety aspects of the cable extraction system. The cargo could not be released either too late or too soon, there was no parachute to malfunction, and the loads were easier to recover quickly. A single set per flight of GPES hooks, bands, and clevises were easily thrown aboard the next plane that landed. LAPES parachutes had to be stripped from the individual cargo loads, bundled up, and placed on the next aircraft in a more time consuming process.

The 109th QM deployed personnel to Khe Sanh to assist in this equipment recovery process. Often cargo recovery personnel, working under enemy fire, would cut the rigging straps rather than taking the time to unhook and release the D-rings. The team from the 109th QM, consisting of one officer and one NCO, tried to discouraged recovery personnel cutting the equipment. They also sorted it and prepared serviceable items for reuse. Damaged materials were sent to the parachute repair facility at Cam Ranh Bay. There the 623rd Quartermaster Company (Aerial Equipment Repair), working with the 109th QM, kept the Rigger Line up and running. 28

American logistics personnel showed impressive ingenuity and versatility in accomplishing the airlift to Khe Sanh. The combination of airland, container drop, parachute and ground extraction delivery techniques meant the garrison could hold out indefinitely. Large-scale Communist infantry movements were constantly disrupted by allied air and artillery firepower.

During the period from January 21 until April 8, 1968, Air Force C-130’s made 273 landings at Khe Sanh, 496 container drops, 52 LAPES and 15 GPES deliveries. These accounted for over 90 percent of the 12,430 tons of supplies delivered by the Air Force. Over 8,000 tons of the total amount were delivered by parachuting, As early as March 15 the number of supply drops into Khe Sanh exceeded the total for all of Vietnam up to that time. 29

On April 1, Army airmobile units working in concert with Marine infantry and engineers began Operation PEGASUS to reestablish the overland supply link to Khe Sanh. This force linked up with the base on April 6. Salvage work began, including retrieval of ground proximity extraction gear and parachutes. The Marine logistics support area was allowed to deteriorate. By July the base has dismantled and abandoned.

The Marines who had been at Khe Sanh went on operations elsewhere. Mobile Army assets created for PEGASUS gave the US command the opportunity to venture into the A Shau Valley. In nine days the combination of Air Force C-130’s and riggers of the 109th QM delivered 2,300 tons of supplies in 165 drops. On April 30, 380 tons were dropped, greatly exceeding the March 18 single-day airdrop maximum at Khe Sanh. 30

And so it went for the Army riggers in Vietnam. The Da Nang platoon of the 109th QM rigged 350 tons of fuel, rations, and ammunition for the 1971 invasion of Laos. Another air delivery unit aided in dropping 4,853 tons of supplies in 369 sorties into An Loc during the 1972 Easter Offensive. 31 Like Khe Sanh before it, the defenders at An Loc held their ground.

Air Force and Army leaders never embraced extraction delivery methods with much enthusiasm. Indeed, Army commanders in the US withheld their approval of these systems. It was General Westmoreland who ensured that the capability would be available for use in Vietnam. Except in special circumstances, airdrop delivery was considered superior to extraction. Problems associated with airdrop included loads damaged or lost and the need to recover and return parachutes. When practical, delivery by helicopter was favored over delivery by parachute. 32

But Khe Sanh was a special case. The advent of cheap surface-to-air missiles means the situation will not repeat itself. Before 1968 the Communists had never concentrated their forces to the degree they did at Khe Sanh. The base garrisoned a large number of US personnel. The siege lasted eleven weeks. It would have been impossible to resupply the base solely by using slow-moving helicopters. Once encircled by the North Vietnamese, there was nothing the Marines could do except dig in and fight. Certainly there was no quick way out. The overland supply was cut again in mid-1967. Assuming no interference from the enemy, engineers estimated it would take two weeks to repair this land link. 33

Supply levels at Khe Sanh are better described as adequate for survival rather than abundant. The Marines sometimes went weeks without hot meals (defined as heated C-rations). Rations were frequently limited to two meals per man per day, and one report puts the ration at one meal per day for several days. 34 As the encirclement affected eating patterns, so too did it determine the nature of Marine artillery fires. Initially, the Marines tried to prevent Communist forces from getting too close to the base. Constant, overwhelming volumes of artillery could have blocked infiltration toward the base. It was not possible to air deliver this volume of artillery shells. Consequently, Marine intelligence recommended that the enemy be allowed to move in close to the base and pursue their siege tactics. This would provide more concentrated targets for the shells available to the Marine artillerymen. 35

It would not have been possible to evacuate the American garrison overland. As General Phillip Davidson points out in Vietnam at War, "A single reinforced marine regiment cannot fight its way on foot through two or three NVA divisions when the latter have the initiative, superior numbers, and every terrain advantage." Emergency evacuation by air would have resulted in a sacrifice of half the garrison. 36

In January 1972, the 109th QM was inactivated while still in Vietnam. 37 During the 1972 invasion the South Vietnamese were forced to relinquish the area around Khe Sanh to the North Vietnamese. The Communists eventually constructed positions at the site of the former Marine base; even the airstrip was reestablished for their use. This feat was something the NVA was unable to accomplish during the American presence in Vietnam. The flexibility, technical expertise, and untiring efforts of aircrews and logistics personnel such as the 109th Quartermaster Company (Air Delivery) enabled the Marines to successfully resist the Communists’ best efforts: the ongoing attacks against the Khe Sanh Combat Base during the period January through April, 1968.


1. John Prados and Ray W. Stubbe, Valley of Decision, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), p. 297.

2. "109th QM Aerial Supply Co. Figures Prominently in Modern War Concept," The Lee Traveler, April 3, 1959, Petersburg, VA, p. 1.

3. Ibid.

4. Communication from Eldon C. Anderson, Commanding Officer, 109th Qm Co (AD) 1957-1959, to Ray Anderson, dated June 20, 1966. Anderson provided a copy of this letter to the author.

5. Electronic communication from Ray Anderson to the author dated July 6, 1996

6. Carmelo Meletiche, "Annual Historical Supplement of the 109th Quartermaster Company (Air Delivery): 1 January 1966 - 31 December 1967," (Carlisle Barracks , PA: US Army Military History Institute), p. 1. (Hereafter, Annual Historical Supplement).

7. "Unit History 1 January 1965 to 31 December 1965," 109th Quartermaster Company (Air Del), Fort Campbell, Kentucky, 30 March 1966, p. 2.

8. Ibid., p. 3.

9. Electronic communication from Ray Anderson to the author dated June 23, 1996. Mr. Anderson, who served with the 109th QM in Vietnam, has accumulated many historical materials concerning the 109th QM.

10. Much of the historical background of the 109th QM in the period 1966-67 is from Annual Historical Supplement, pp. 2-6.

11. Quoted in Prados and Stubbe, p. 52.

12. Ibid., p. 51. Bernard C. Nalty, Airpower and the Fight for Khe Sanh, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Air Force, 1973), p. 8.

13. Annual Historical Supplement, pp. 6-7.

14. Ray L. Bowers, Tactical Airlift, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Air Force, 1983), pp. 277-278.

15. Prados and Stubbe, pp. 53-54.

16. Moyers S. Shore, The Battle for Khe Sanh (Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1969), pp. 10-17.

17. "Recommendation for Decoration for Valor or Merit" for Major Albert B. Lanier, Jr., by LTC Edwin G. Laub, Jr., dated March 15, 1968, p. 2.

18. Bowers, p. 291. Gary L. Telfer and Lane Rogers, U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1967, (Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps), 1984, pp. 228-229.

19. "Recommendation for Decoration for Valor or Merit," pp. 2-3; Robert Pisor, The End of the Line, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1982), p. 75.

20. Supplement to Unit History, 1 January 1967 - 31 December 1967, p. 3, Annual Historical Supplement.

21. Shore, p. 29. William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976), p. 339.

22. Ibid., pp. 338-339.

23. Ibid.

24. Burl W. McLaughlin, "Khe Sanh: Keeping an Outpost Alive," Air University Review, Nov-Dec 1968, p. 58; Bowers, p. 297.

25. For general discussions of the airlift, see Nalty, pp. 43-59; McLaughlin, pp. 58-77, and Bowers, pp. 295-317.

26. McLaughlin, p. 68.

27. Electronic communications from Ray Anderson to the author dated June 26 and July 10, 1996; electronic communication from 109th QM rigger Al Burk dated August 8, 1966.

28. This description of the 109th QM at Khe Sanh and the 623rd QM are from Ray Anderson, electronic communications to the author, July 16 and 17, 1996.

29. Nalty, p. 58; Bowers, p. 315

30. Bowers, p. 339.

31. Electronic communications from Ray Anderson to the author dated July 22, 1996.

32. Ibid., pp. 259-261, 282, 652.

33. Bowers, p. 295.

34. Stubbe, p. 282.

35. Shore, p. 111.

36. Phillip B. Davidson, Vietnam at War, (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1988), p. 569.

37. Letter from U.S. Army Center of Military History to Ray Anderson dated April 25, 1966 with subject "109th Quartermaster Company in Vietnam;" copy provided to author.