Hill Fights

Hill Fights

4.9 12
by Edward F. Murphy

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While the seventy-seven-day siege of Khe Sanh in early 1968 remains one of the most highly publicized clashes of the Vietnam War, scant attention has been paid to the first battle of Khe Sanh, also known as “the Hill Fights.” Although this harrowing combat in the spring of 1967 provided a grisly preview of the carnage to come at Khe Sanh, few are aware of


While the seventy-seven-day siege of Khe Sanh in early 1968 remains one of the most highly publicized clashes of the Vietnam War, scant attention has been paid to the first battle of Khe Sanh, also known as “the Hill Fights.” Although this harrowing combat in the spring of 1967 provided a grisly preview of the carnage to come at Khe Sanh, few are aware of the significance of the battles, or even their existence. For more than thirty years, virtually the only people who knew about the Hill Fights were the Marines who fought them. Now, for the first time, the full story has been pieced together by acclaimed Vietnam War historian Edward F. Murphy, whose definitive analysis admirably fills this significant gap in Vietnam War literature. Based on first-hand interviews and documentary research, Murphy’s deeply informed narrative history is the only complete account of the battles, their origins, and their aftermath.

The Marines at the isolated Khe Sanh Combat Base were tasked with monitoring the strategically vital Ho Chi Minh trail as it wound through the jungles in nearby Laos. Dominated by high hills on all sides, the combat base had to be screened on foot by the Marine infantrymen while crack, battle-hardened NVA units roamed at will through the high grass and set up elaborate defenses on steep, sun-baked overlooks.

Murphy traces the bitter account of the U.S. Marines at Khe Sanh from the outset in 1966, revealing misguided decisions and strategies from above, and capturing the chain of hill battles in stark detail. But the Marines themselves supply the real grist of the story; it is their recollections that vividly re-create the atmosphere of desperation, bravery, and relentless horror that characterized their combat. Often outnumbered and outgunned by a hidden enemy—and with buddies lying dead or wounded beside them—these brave young Americans fought on.

The story of the Marines at Khe Sanh in early 1967 is a microcosm of the Corps’s entire Vietnam War and goes a long way toward explaining why their casualties in Vietnam exceeded, on a Marine-in-combat basis, even the tremendous losses the Leathernecks sustained during their ferocious Pacific island battles of World War II.

The Hill Fights is a damning indictment of those responsible for the lives of these heroic Marines. Ultimately, the high command failed them, their tactics failed them, and their rifles failed them. Only the Marines themselves did not fail. Under fire, trapped in a hell of sudden death meted out by unseen enemies, they fought impossible odds with awesome courage and uncommon valor.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The saga of the intense combat surrounding the Marine Corps outpost at Khe Sanh in early 1968 is a staple of Vietnam War military history. Books on the subject are a curious combination of heroic account and controversial statement that the combat for the heights aimed to achieve an objective that was not critical to the U.S. war effort. Murphy (Semper Fi-Vietnam), a U.S. Army veteran of the war and a recognized historian of the conflict, has written this original and complete history of the "first" Khe Sanh-the largely unknown 1967 Marine Corps struggles in the hills that served as the focus of North Vietnamese attempts to control the area. From the opening ambush of Sergeant Harper's patrol of the 9th Marines, Murphy brings the reader into the firefights in a manner that will not fail to hold the attention of specialist and student alike. He has interviewed a large number of marines and manages to tell the story of small units while simultaneously keeping the reader aware of the larger tactical and strategic issues. This is a necessary purchase for Vietnam War collections in both academic and public libraries.-John R. Vallely, Siena Coll. Lib., Loundonville, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Random House Publishing Group
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Meet the Author

Edward F. Murphy is a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War. He is the author of a three-volume series on Medal of Honor recipients: Heroes of WWII, Korean War Heroes, and Vietnam Medal of Honor Heroes, as well two highly acclaimed Vietnam War histories: Dak To and Semper Fi—Vietnam. He lives in Mesa, Arizona.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Hill Fights 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Took me back to my youth in Nam
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Umm im here *has a confused look on his fsce*
Guest More than 1 year ago
Definitely recommend. The book makes you feel like you are there, and helps you realize that these were real people, doing courageous things.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fast moving, fascinating, accurate, well informed, well researched, detailed account of what we went through and why. You will face reality walking through these pages with us. Well done!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i thought that we were soliders... was the best book on combat i've ever read,it makes you feel like you were there.the hill fights does the same.i could not put this book down.edward f murphy is one of my favorite writers and does some of the best writeing on war i've come across.he does for vietnam what gerald astor does for ww2.if you like a combat story that puts you there , on that hill, jungle or firefight dont pass this book up. mr murphy also adresses the problems with the m16 and follows up the soliders lives after the war as well.good job and well written.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book from the fire team, squad and platoon viewpoint of vicious fighting and death. The book covers events in 1967 of fighting in the hills surrounding the Khe Sanh airbase. The author provides a brief overview of how the Marines got into the Khe Sanh area at the insistence of General Westmoreland, MACV Commander. And the problems that move caused for the Marines fighting a long way from their support in difficult terrain. Most of the book provides in great detail the actions by individuals, NCOs and junior officers of their terrible hardships and blood shed in those hills and jungle. The author also covers the serious problems the Marines had with their M16 rifles which had just been introduced into the field prior to the Hill Fights. Thirty-six years later the M16 works a lot better in combat, but in 1967 it failed our Marines in the hills. The appendix provides a short bio of the key individuals mentioned and what happened to them after the fighting in their later years.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Another fine informative read that places you right on the HILL with fellow Marines! To think of the lives lost that might still be with us, because of the faulty M16s!!! What chance did our Marines have? They might as well have been handed squirt guns to defend themselves with. So so sad!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended to me while I was doing some research on a fallen family member (2LT Stephen Hepner, KIA Hill 881S) who lost his life during the famous 'Hill Fights' in Khe Sanh. This book was very well researched by the author and has many first hand accounts of the battles for hills 881S, 881N and 861. The writer brings you into the battles and you feel like you are there fighting with the Marines. I personally had the opportunity to meet several of the survivors mentioned in this book, to include (then) Captain Jerry Giles, CO, Kilo Company 9th Marines. Anyone that enjoys books on war or about the war in Vietnam should not pass the chance to read this one. Semper Fi!