The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
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No Safe Place At Khe
BY RAY W. STUBBE, CHAPLAIN AT
at Khe Sanh mirror the gash of war in our souls. We want to avert
our eyes but cannot. The trenches themselves, reddish dirt walls
holding men with hands on heads, evoke memories of World War I;
all fixed in a web from which they cannot extricate themselves.
North Vietnamese soldiers (the same unit that overran Dien Bien
Phu) unrelentingly dug a zigzag network.
At Khe Sanh, we dug ever deeper and deeper. Deadly incoming - up
to 1,600 rounds a day - instantly leveled all above-ground
structures and sculpted moonscape devastation. Marines dug. One
wrote on a piece of cardboard outside his trench: "Home is where
you dig it." We could stand in craters with our heads below the
surrounding surface, craters that gazed their deep void into our
souls. We all knew: There was no safe place at Khe Sanh.
We knew the location of every trench, ditch, bunker. Occasionally,
a close incoming round collapsed a trench or bunker, suffocating
those who sought refuge. The trench became their grave, dug six
feet deep. Frantically, buddies dug with bleeding hands, canteen
cups - whatever they had - to extricate and revive them with
Bob Ellison, who took this picture of our life that will remain
forever with those of us who were there, lived for several weeks
in the trenches with the Marines of Bravo Company, First
Battalion, 26th Marines. When he left Khe Sanh and delivered his
rolls of films to his boss in the rear, he was warned not to
return to Khe Sanh. He replied, "I don't want to leave there until
those Marines do. I will march out with them."
So he returned to Khe Sanh on March 6, 1968. His aircraft was on
its approach to the Khe Sanh airstrip when it was waved off to
allow the landing of a small aircraft piloted by a Vietnamese who
didn't have radio communications. As it circled, the American
plane crashed into a nearby hill, killing all aboard - including
23-year-old Ellison. His father had been killed in World War II,
also 23 years old.
Bob never saw the cover of Newsweek dated March 18, 1968,
which carried one of his
photographs with the words, "The Agony of Khe Sanh."' It contained
eight pages of striking photographs documenting the extent of the
price paid and burden borne by its defenders. The price is their
lives; the burden is haunting memories of unending night. Yet, in
those trenches we gained a glimpse into a core of humanity, an
enriching comradeship of having lived with the best we've ever
Those who died are not buried in the ground, but in our very
being. As long as we live, they live in us.
||Robert Ellison, "Marines in a
trench in Khe Sanh, 1968"
©Robert Ellison/Black Star
Museum-quality prints of this photo and others in a series
entitled "Under Fire: Images From Vietnam'" are available for
www.pieceuniquegallery.com This image is the fourth in a series initiated by combat journalist
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