Khe Sanh and Beyond: Col. (ret) Joseph Abodeely Interview | HistoryNet MENU

Khe Sanh and Beyond: Col. (ret) Joseph Abodeely Interview

By Gerald D. Swick
8/26/2010 • HistoryNet Interviews, Interviews

At Col. Joe Abodeely's Base Camp near Maricopa, Arizona, each year the flag of South Vietnam is raised along with the U.S. flag. 'We forget that we went to South Vietnam to help the Vietnamese people,' Abodeely says. Courtesy Base Camp Website.
At Col. Joe Abodeely's Base Camp near Maricopa, Arizona, each year the flag of South Vietnam is raised along with the U.S. flag. 'We forget that we went to South Vietnam to help the Vietnamese people,' Abodeely says. Courtesy Base Camp Website.

Retired Army Colonel Joseph Abodeely’s Website, Straight Talk with Joe, describes him as “a native Arizonan who has some strong opinions and ideas about his state, the nation, and the world.” Many of those opinions were forged in combat, both in the military and in the courtroom.

During Operation Pegasus, the April 1968 airmobile operation to relieve the besieged U.S. Marine firebase at Khe Sanh, South Vietnam, he led the first Air Cavalry platoon that reached the firebase, after seven days fighting its way through.

Col. (ret) Joseph Abodeely, 2000. Courtesy Joseph Abodeely.
Col. (ret) Joseph Abodeely, 2000. Courtesy Joseph Abodeely.
Since that time he’s served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps and written policy papers that provided guidelines for U.S. military police worldwide. As a civilian, he’s been a prosecuting attorney and a defense attorney. In addition to his Website, he had a radio talk show and a program on Phoenix Public Access Channel 98 for over 10 years.

Of Lebanese descent, he’s a past president of the Arab American Cultural Association in Phoenix. For many years, he’s served as president of the board for the Arizona Military Museum, an all-volunteer group dedicated to preserving the area’s military heritage from the days of the Spanish Conquistadores to the present-day wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On August 19, 2010, the retired colonel spoke with HistoryNet in an exclusive interview.

HistoryNet: You led an Air Cavalry platoon that was the first relief unit to reach the besieged Khe Sanh firebase in 1968. As you entered the firebase, you blew “Charge” on an old bugle. Tell us a little about your role in Operation Pegasus, and why you decided to sound “Charge.” (Col. Abodeely’s personal account, Breaking the Siege at Khe Sanh, appeared in the October 2010 Vietnam magazine. Click the link to read the article online.)

Col. (ret) Joseph Abodeely: I was the leader of 2nd Platoon, D Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 3rd Brigade, 1st Air Cav. Our job was to do infantry missions—patrols, ambushes, kill the enemy by fire and movement. We worked south of Hue while the battle was going on there (during the 1968 Tet Offensive). When we got word we were going to Khe Sanh I was worried because I’d been reading about what was going on there, and I thought it must be hell on earth.

We landed at LZ Stud, on a mountaintop. We could see a river below and Arc Lights in the distance. (Arc Light refers to bombing strikes by B-52 Stratofortresses.)

I was senior platoon leader in the company, so our platoon frequently got tasked with some of the more difficult missions, but that day we were the last platoon in the order of movement. When the lead elements encountered heavy resistance, however, the order of march was reversed and we were airlifted to become the lead platoon in clearing the road to the firebase at Khe Sanh.

Joseph Abodeely with captured AK-47 near Khe Sanh, 1968. Courtesy Joseph Abodeely.
Joseph Abodeely with captured AK-47 near Khe Sanh, 1968. Courtesy Joseph Abodeely.
Earlier we had found what was probably a regimental-sized bunker complex, but the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) had cleared out. There were lot of craters from the B-52s’ bombs, and several bodies with blood coming from ears and noses (from the concussions). We found stockpiles of weapons and equipment and an AK-47 rifle and this old bugle the NVA had used, which I took with me.

All the way in from that campsite to Khe Sanh was lined with bunkers. Now we were heading for the goal line—were they going to do a goal-line stance? But the last two miles we had no contact. When we reached the firebase, one of the Marines came out to shake our hands. We had been ordered not to go inside the wire yet, so we set up camp outside.

When we started into the firebase the next day, my company commander said, “Hey, 2–6 (2 = 2nd Platoon, 6 = leader), can you play ‘Charge’ on that?” I said, “Well, I played trumpet in high school. I can probably play it.” So I played “Charge” as we walked through the gate.

HN: You remained involved with the military until 1995. After earning a law degree from the University of Arizona in 1971, you were part of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Didn’t you write some policy papers for JAG?

JA: When I came back from Vietnam, I thought I was done, but I got a letter from my “uncle” (Uncle Sam), saying, Boy, you still owe me some time. So I joined the National Guard. I was in the military police in the Guard and became a reserve officer Judge Advocate of 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade under the 82nd Airborne Corps, a rapid deployment force. Later in my Reserve career, I became Chief of the Law Branch of the Military Police Operations Agency at the Pentagon, a policy group for military police operations around world, under the G-3 (Operations) for the Army at the Pentagon.

I wrote a paper for the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) to make sure the Army had a policy for dealing with local police. During Desert Storm I was on active duty, and I did research and wrote an informational paper clarifying the role of the Army in prosecuting war crimes.

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19 Responses to Khe Sanh and Beyond: Col. (ret) Joseph Abodeely Interview

  1. […] Cavalry platoon to reach the firebase at Khe Sanh during the Vietnam War. To read an interview with Joseph Abodeely about Khe Sanh, the Arizona Military Museum and more, click the link. Help Armchair General by […]

    • Joe Abodeely says:

      General Tolson’s report said he ordered Colonel Lownds to send Marines to Hill 471. That is not inconsistent with what the article says. There just isn’t as much detail.

  2. bill rider says:

    1st.Bn. 9th Mar. Regt. 3rd Mar. Div was the Marine unit that attacked and held Hill 471 on April 4th for 2 days. On April 5th at 5am we were assaulted by a Bn. of NVA and fought them til 9am and kicked their ASS. You are insulting the spirits of brave Marines who later lost their lives on Hill 689 on April 16th—-get your facts straight.–Bill Rider,Sgt. 2nd plt. 1 Bn., 9th Mar. Regt.(WALKING DEAD)

  3. Tom Foster says:

    What is your e-mail. I have some interesting data about Vietnam that I think you may be interested in.
    You Cav. guys did a bang up job of breaking the seige of Khe Sahn.
    I was in Mech. infantry with the 25th Infantry Division during
    Tet 1968. The action was fast and furious . I am now retired and busy !
    Hope to hear from you soon
    All the best
    Tom Foster
    Marietta, Ga.

  4. Doug Knab says:

    Thank you for the information and thank you for your service to our country.

  5. Joe Abodeely says:

    The Marines were under siege until the 1st Air Calvary Division’s Operation Pegasus relieved them on April 8, 1968. They did not fight their way out of the siege (as some Marines claim) as they could not go up and down highway 9 until the airmobile infantry (augmented with some Marines and ARVNs) cleared the road to the Khe Sanh Fire Base. They had to be resupplied by the Air Force with LAPE methods. The Air Force had bombed the AO around KSFB with fantastic bomb tonnage, and the NVA were still there keeping the Marines from sending two companies per the contingency plan to aid Lang Vei Special Forces camp when it was attacked by NVA tanks. Air Force bombing did not drive the NVA away as some USAF proponents claim. If the NVA left before the 1st Air Cavalry conducted Operation Pegasus (because they “heard about it”)–when was that? And if they did–so much the better. The art of war is not defeating your enemy in a hundred battles–it is putting him in a position whereby he must capitulate. (Sun Tzu). Even the famous History Channel with its recent Vietnam series comments that the air force drove the NVA away so the 1st Cavalry Division could relieve KSFB. When did the Air Force drive them away because we were still fighting them in Operation Pegasus? USAF bombing was important, but not decisive. The 1st Air Cavalry “boots on the ground” are what drove the NVA away, cleared Route 9, and relieved the Marines from the siege at Khe Sanh Fire Base.

  6. terrance p girard usa retired says:

    Thank you joe. had to be there for that to know the truth. and what you said was very right. we the cav ran the nva off. I was with D company 2/7th was the first to the wire that day. it was a mess up there.
    Thanks joe

    • Joe Abodeely says:

      Terry: Thanks for the comment. We need to get more Cav guys to speak up. A lot of misinformation is our there. Some Marines say they were never even under siege or that THEY fought their way out or that there were no NVA left when we cleared Route 9 to the wire at Khe Sanh. I was second platoon leader of D company 2/7. Garry Owen.

  7. terrance p girard usa retired says:

    Some of D company troopers are coming to florida in feb. will send you some pics of khe sanh later. I was in 3rd plt.D 2/7th. Lt. little was our Plt Leader. we are not trying to Insult anyone. our job in the cav was to releive troops that were pinned down or what ever. we kept the nva on the move as much as we could. lost some good men that day going into khe sanh. I will never forget them.
    thanks joe

  8. Joe Abodeely says:

    Terry: I remember Lt. Little. I thought he was a good officer. I often thought we had some friendly competition going, but he was a good officer. What ever happened to him? Did he stay in or go back to school like I did? If you can get email addresses of guys who were in 2nd platoon for Khe Sanh, I’d appreciate it. I know Captain Stevens is still around. I had RTOs named Snyder and Pee Wee. I’d like to know what happened to them.

  9. Roger (Doc) Lutz says:

    Terry sent me the link and mentioned that you had written about the Khe Sanh operation. I enjoyed reading the account. I certainly agree that there is a lot of misinformation running around. Yet I also realize that many of those that participated did not have the total picture–only their perspective as viewed from a small part of the action.

    I was a medic in that mess–and one of my prouder moments was to be able to serve not only the guys in the 2nd of the 7th, but to also act as a Marine Corpsman taking care of those precious marines as well.

    As you, I stayed in the active reserves (Air Force) and retired in 2000. I did tours in Desert Storm as well as flew alerts and missions to most parts of the world. My civilian career as a water engineer has allowed me to serve in projects in Asia, the South Pacific and of course here in my home state of California as well. As you well know Vietnam is a detail that has become part of each of us–and find myself drawn back to various locations in both North and South Vietnam on a regular basis.

    It is certainly a pleasure to communicate with you! I had met Col Ron LIttle in 1988 as I remember he stayed in the military–and I believe he retired not too long after we met. I have not heard from him since. The other names are but memories—and I have not communicated with any except Lee Craig–I believe he was in the 2nd Plattoon and now lives in Redding Ca.; Ron Halvarson who lives in Chicago; Pat Nardi–lives in El Sobrante CA.; Sammy Johnson that lives in Florida; Steve Banko; –Terry and a few more that evade my memory at the moment.

    Garry Owen and welcome back I agree with your statement of spurning the war—but not the warrior.

    Let me know how to contact you and I will send you an email

  10. Joe Abodeely says:

    Roger: Welcome home. I don’t want to put my email on line, but Google me, call my office, leave your contact info, and I’ll contact you to give you my info. Joe

  11. Mike Hullinger says:

    Joe, Terrance, Roger,

    My Uncle, Stan Simmons, was a sargent ( and at some point a platoon leader) in D Co, 2nd Bn, 7th Cav during his second tour from January 18, 1968 until he was KIA on July 25, 1968. I had just turned 10 years old at the time. Did you know him, or could you direct me to how I might find out more about his serivce during that time period? Uncle Stan would stay with us on his state side leaves. I still have memories of his visits, and the 1st Cav patches and Gary Owen pin he gave me.
    Thank you for your service and sacrfices for our country!

  12. Joe Abodeely says:

    Mike: I became the Assistant S-4 for the 2/7 Bn in June, 1968–so I missed serving in the field with your uncle. Find the platoon leaders in the company at that time and that may help you. Good luck.

  13. John Halvorson says:

    Col Joe………however you where my 2-6 and I was your Medic in Nam and damn proud to serve with you. I try not to mention my time in Nam as it tends to bring back some very strong feelings and I only want to remember the guys I was there with.

    • Joe Abodeely says:

      Doc: Good to hear from you. Yes, you were my medic and a great one at that. I wrote a sory about the action we had February 27, 1968 called “Firefight”, and you’re in it. Yes, we saw some terrible things, but I still think we were right in helping the South Vietnamese–we won Tet 1968, we kept all of S.E. Asia from going Communist, and we won the war in 1973 with the Peace Accords which got our POWs back and concessions for the South. We promised to aid the South if the North acted up, and Congress broke that promise; the North invaded in 1975 after we left–and we were made the scapegoats. I served over 30 years in the military–active, Guard, and Reserve–and the best unit in the history of the Army was the 1st Air Cavalry Division. And you and I were part of it. Welcome home, brother. Remember–If you ain’t Cav, you ain’t s**t! Garry Owen. 2-6.

  14. Steve says:

    Colonel Joe: We were from A/227th and our helicopter was LTC Roscoe Robinson’s C/C for that last push into KSCB. We flew out from LZ Stud Apr 4 to LZ Thor with LTC Robinson and his staff only to find the movement halted along Route 9 with heavy contact and numerous casualties. The medivac aircraft was shot up and the gunship shot down. LTC Robinson asked if we would get his wounded out. Needless to say we agreed, dropped him at Thor and jumped over to the contact site 2 kicks west. Long story short we got the 6-7 most seriously wounded out, lost the aircraft due to heavy fire but managed to land it back at Thor. LTC Robinson put the crew in for DFCs which MG Tolson awarded a few days later. My co-pilot was on his first mission (flying on C/C was supposed to be safe) received a DFC as well but was KIA a few weeks later north of Dong Ha. And then we went into the A Shau….but thats another story. Garry Owen

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