Peter Brush at Khe Sanh

Elizabeth Evenson as PFC in WWII

Peter Brush arrived at Khe Sanh Combat Base on December 17, 1967.   When he got back home he earned a bachelor and master of arts in history.

“Yep, my mother was a Marine. Still is – you know how that goes.

Peter Brush in dress blues

During his service as a librarian he has earned another degree in information science. As a teenager at Khe Sanh he had kept records for Marine artillery.

My father Frederick Brush was a lifer. I grew up on Marine bases. If I told someone I volunteered to go to Khe Sanh and they said I was an idiot for that, I’d understand.

Camp Carroll

He was at the base for the whole time the People’s Army attacked with rockets and shells. The engagement was a focus of American strategy, then journalism, then history.

I was bored out of my skull at Camp Carroll… I asked my boss, the battalion adjutant, if I could get transferred somewhere else…  He said the only place he could send me was Khe Sanh.

 Click.

Peter is the witness who writes history from records he helped create, with an ear for what a citizen will ask a librarian. What were the rats like?

So I volunteered to go to Khe Sanh and told my parents what a good place I was in. Next thing you know Khe Sanh is on the cover of Life and Newsweek magazine and on 50% of the CBS evening newscasts for the next 11 weeks.

Firing up a Camel with the Zippo after starting coffee with C-4

If it was a siege how did supplies get in? Where did all those helicopters come from?

I sent this [Polaroid] to my mother in maybe February 1968. I think she carried it in her wallet for a long time, wore it out. It’s the sort of ‘happy camper’ picture we’d send home so parents wouldn’t worry.

Khe Sanh Combat Base

You mean the Marines cooperated with the Army and the Air Force? Did they fly water in?

Note the two tubes sticking out of the ground on the left, just above the road. Those were piss tubes, 175mm artillery powder charge cannisters stuck in the ground with screen covering the top.

4.2″ mortar

Why didn’t we just kill all those Vietnamese? How many of us did they kill?

I was in a mortar battery. Our mortars were manufactured by Whirlpool, which struck me as an odd thing for them to make. But that’s what it said on the plate riveted to the mortar.

Shower

How did you all finally get out of there? What is it like to be a Khe Sanh veteran?

We were all amateur carpenters. Everything was made from ammo boxes and pallets, mostly ammo boxes… Ammo boxes came with hinges and latches.

Another shower

His “The Battle of Khe Sanh, 1968” is not the only professional account by a participant but it is the one that leads to all the others. Articles and books have piled up but the artilleryman who volunteered there thirty-four years ago tomorrow is still the man to ask.

I’m leaning against a trailer that has shrapnel scars in it. The tall structure in the background is a homemade shower. The chimney is from a device that could heat the water using kerosene.

 Going home

Peter’s focus on Khe Sanh and the Marines sharpens debate on how the United States sought to defend the Republic of Viet Nam.  Other articles apply his lens to related topics such as civic action, the McNamara Line and the Vietnamese Marines.

I’m a VERY happy camper because I’m just about to get on the plane to come home. That was maybe the best day of my life.”

Click for Peter Brush’s page at Vanderbilt University.

When several Marines pointed out that I had neglected to mention Karl Marlantes in our Marine Corps Birthday post Peter volunteered to redress my oversight.  He is preparing a discussion of Karl’s novel and book of essays in light of Marine tactics in Viet Nam to publish here in 2012.

Viet Nam Literature Project blogs about our encyclopedia, our comics and translations as we develop our university program. Donors receive our print newsletter and annual comic book.

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One Response to Peter Brush at Khe Sanh

  1. http://thundering-third.org/ says:

    This was for the Marine 3/4 site I belong to: Return to Khe Sanh Combat Base–1993 By Peter Brush
    I just read the above for the first time. This is an excellently written piece and I felt like I was there with him.
    Although many of us have no desire to return, we are still tied to that place by our memories and unanswered questions. Often our membership will make comments about the then and now which take us back to those times.
    I remember one comment in particular that a member made; He never passes by a cold water fountain, even if he is not thirsty he stops for a cool drink of clean water.
    Since reading that comment I have consumed a great deal of cold water reminding myself of times when I had no water at all.

    Peter Brush mentions Route 9 at Dong Ha (the hill) /Camp Carroll.
    That took me back to the first night back at Dong Ha Hill after Hastings around July 19, 1966 I think. Scouts were sent on a night time patrol along Route 9. That stretch of asphalt just didn’t belong there any more than that patrol made any sense to me, but there we were. I saw the ghostly images of us walking down that paved road and knew if we were hit, we were dead.

    I think you will find something about yourself in the white spaces between Peter Brush’s writing.

    Vann, M.L. 3/4 Scout
    S/F

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