For most Americans, April 1967 represents a slice in time no more or less significant than any other. For those who set foot in the Que Son Valley 43 years ago, however, it represents a painful reminder of a battle won and friends and innocence lost.
To look at the lush expanse of Vietnam’s Que Son Valley today, it is hard to imagine a time when some semblance of peaceful prosperity didn’t envelop the region. Covering 273 square miles, the populous, rice-rich valley serves as an agricultural center for the now-stable Southeast Asia nation. Beginning in April 1967, however, the area known as “The Valley, ” would serve as host to one of the bloodiest series of battles in modern military history.
Overshadowed at the time, and in the decades to follow, by the iconic battles that took place at Khe Sanh, Hue City, and Saigon in the early months of the Tet Offensive, the bloody back-and-forth engagements taking place in the Que Son Valley from April-November 1967 would prove to be some of the heaviest and costliest of the entire war. On one side was the 2nd NVA Division, a group of largely veteran soldiers hardened by years of ferocious combat. On the other, the 1st Marine Division, the Old Breed, heir to the most glorious history in the entire U. S. Marine Corps. Six months of combat would find American forces victorious, but far from unscathed.
Now, on the anniversary of this largely untold battle, the story of the U. S. Marines’ harrowing combat of the Que Son Valley campaign is coming to light for the first time in a new book from retired U. S. Marine and two-tour Vietnam veteran Otto J. Lehrack, Road of 10,000 Pains: The Destruction of the 2nd NVA Division by the U. S. Marines, 1967 (Zenith Press, ©2010).
In the book Lehrack recounts the battle through the words of the men who experienced the deadly engagements firsthand. While overlooked both then and today by the media and countless historians, the Que Son Valley campaign would be viewed as a momentous and war-changing victory for the American military, it would also prove to be one of the most costly.
“One of the Vietnamese I interviewed told me matter-of-factly that he and his comrades had killed more Americans in the Que Son Valley than at any other time and place in the entire warm, ” Lehrack states. “ I read all of the Marine Corps’ after-action reports and believe this to be true. ”
It was the Vietnamese veteran’s disturbing statement, combined with the lack of coverage for the historically important campaign, that motivated Lehrack to tackle the herculean task of tracking down the Que Son Valley’s veterans and telling their stories. Himself a two-tour Vietnam veteran and retired Marine, Lehrack felt it was his mission to give the men who served so bravely an opportunity to tell the story so few others were willing to tell.
“I tell people that I write for minimum wage, and that is not far from the truth, ” Lehrack recently said. “ In reality, I write because I want to tell as many stories as I can about the courage and sacrifices the Vietnam veteran exemplifies. I hope that readers will be moved to tears, I know that I am, and will shake their heads in wonder at the outstanding performance of these young men. ”
If Cpl. Bill Clark’s words about his service in the Que Son Valley campaign mean anything, Lehrack can consider his latest mission accomplished.
“I have never been able to adequately describe my feelings about that period of my life, ” Clark states in the book. “ I saw men perform acts of profound and unselfish bravery for which they expected and received no honors or awards. They did this for each other and because of that bond that ties us together as Marines. These things never leave me, and not a day of my life has passed without remember them and the things they did. ”
Road of 10,000 Pains is available at bookstores and online retailers everywhere or at www.zenithpress.com.