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