VIETNAM: GROUND ZERO SHIFTING FIRES BY ERIC HELM

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tarzan

Copyright 1989.

In January 1968 the Marine base at Khe Sahn came under siege. Twenty thousand NVA troops attacked the garrison of 6,000 Marines for seventy-seven days. It was General Giap’s plan to replicate his decisive victory over the French at Dien Bien Phu. President Johnson became obsessed with the battle. A lost of Khe Sahn would be a crushing victory. So he had a scale model built at the White House of the battlefield. Massive airlift of supplies and around the clock bombings against the NVA. Captain Gerber and Sgt. Fetterman are assigned a mission. They are to lead a team to the suspected headquarters in Laos and assassinate General Giap.

The second Super Ground Zero book in the series. This one dealt with the battle of Khe Sahn. Actually this book is mainly about that famous siege. Most of the book tells the story through various people that participated. A Marine who fights on the line at Hill 861. The Air Force pilot that pilots the C-130 resupply. The Army Colonel who is assigned to the White House to monitor and keep President Johnson up to date on the latest intelligence. President Johnson is portrayed as obsessed with the battle believing that another Dien Bien Phu would bring down his presidency and the war. In fact the North Vietnamese only success was overrunning the Special Forces camp at Lang Vei. They used PT-76 Soviet amphibious tanks. The LAW rockets proved useless against the tanks. In fact the Marines had problems with their M-16s. The gunpowder used caused them to jam.

The plot involving the assassination attempt was sort of just thrown in. Historically Giap was in Hanoi and history is not changed in this book. The guys do manage to assassinate a high ranking officer. Their main purpose seems to be showing the reader what is going on outside the battle. The stacks of bodies and devastated landscape from massive B-52 bombing. The overrun camp at Lang Vei. This actually contradicts the account in Red Dust where they heard about it for the first time. In this book they are there witnessing it. The problem of having other writers come in on this series.

The battle was a victory for the Americans. The Marines lost a few hundred while the NVA lost thousands. The massed artillery and airpower prevented them from ever massing their troops and couldn’t properly overrun the camp. The NVA eventually lost interest and the siege that Johnson was so obsessed with ended in a whimper instead of a bang. The base was a few months later abandoned and bulldozed down by the Marines. So the base that thousands died for became irrelevant. This was a very interesting book for its depiction of this battle.

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