THE HILL FIGHTS: The First Battle of Khe Sanh

Edward F. Murphy, Author . Presidio $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-89141-810-8

The vicious fighting that took place in and around Khe Sanh for more than a year before the infamous January–April 1968 siege by the North Vietnamese Army is a largely untold story of the Vietnam War. Murphy (Vietnam Medal of Honor Heroes) rectifies that with this valuable addition to the military history canon. The heart of the book consists of intimate, detailed depictions of firefights, ambushes and other battlefield action told from the point of view of the U.S. Marines who were in the thick of it. Murphy interviewed dozens of survivors of the Hill Fights (what Marine Gen. Victor "Brute" Krulak called "the toughest fight we had in Vietnam"), and he retells their stories well, presenting evocative, in-the-trenches re-creations of the particularly brutal warfare amid the high elephant grass in the hills around Khe Sanh. To his credit, Murphy does not whitewash the story. He points out individual shortcomings, as well as individual acts of heroism and compassion. The former are especially telling, because the Hill Fights were not among America's finest efforts in the war. More than 600 Marines and Navy personnel were killed, wounded or missing in action against a determined NVA foe. Murphy makes a strong case that the blame for what he calls "at best a stalemate," along with the subsequent Khe Sanh siege fiasco, rests primarily on the shoulders of Gen. William Westmoreland. The commanding general of American forces in Vietnam was wrongly convinced that the enemy intended to make Khe Sanh into a version of the 1954 French catastrophe at Dien Bien Phu and therefore imposed wrongheaded and inadequate tactics and strategy upon the Marines. The situation was not helped by problems with the newly issued M-16 rifle, which failed with distressing regularity. Murphy, who served in the Vietnam War, tells his story forcefully and with empathy for the American fighting men on the ground. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/10/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
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FORMATS
Hardcover - 368 pages - 978-0-89141-747-7
Compact Disc - 978-0-7393-0328-3
Book - 978-0-7393-1834-8
Mass Market Paperbound - 368 pages - 978-0-89141-849-8
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