Visiting Vietnam War Sites: The Rockpile on Highway 9.

Visiting Vietnam War Sites: The Rockpile on Highway 9.

Above Photo: A helicopter approaches the wooden landing platform on top of the Rockpile. (© Bill Collier)

On my way to Khe Sanh recently, as part of my BACK-related Vietnam War sites and sights tour, I stopped at The Rockpile, a rocky limestone outcrop north of Route 9 and south of the former Vietnam War Demilitarized Zone, which separated North and South Vietnam.

Because it towers over Route 9 and was largely inaccessible except by helicopter, during the Vietnam War the Rockpile was used as a US observation post and artillery base, when it was manned by the Marines.

My photo of the Rockpile today, as I headed to Khe Sanh along Highway 9.

My photo of the Rockpile today, taken as I headed to Khe Sanh along Highway 9.

Looking at it today, through rain and cloud, it is hard to get an idea what life on top of the Rockpile must have been like for its former inhabitants, who could only get on to it – and off it – by chopper, and who were surrounded day and night by North Vietnamese soldiers and the Viet Cong.

The Rockpile seen from a helicopter during the Vietnam War.

The Rockpile seen from a helicopter during the Vietnam War. Highway 9 is on the left of it, heading towards Laos in the distance.

Because there was no place for a helicopter to land on the top, skillful flying was needed to steady visiting choppers, which had to set one wheel down on the tiny wooden landing platform while supplies and men were loaded or unloaded. Later in the war the wooden landing zone was expanded and strengthened so that helicopters could briefly land.

A helicopter lands on the wooden landing zone on top of the Rockpile (popasmoke.com)

A helicopter lands on the wooden landing zone on top of the Rockpile (popasmoke.com)

The Rockpile was recognized for its strategic importance as early as May, 1966.

Located at the junction of five major valleys, about seven miles south of the DMZ, it commanded spectacular views over all five valleys, which were infiltration routes from north Vietnam into the south.

Surveillance over a considerable area was possible from the top of the Rockpile (Life)

Surveillance over a considerable area was possible from the top of the Rockpile. (Life)

As the Stars & Stripes commented: “An enemy force attempting to climb it might reach the top in five hours, exhausted, cut and bleeding from the sharp, coral-like rocks. Even then, they would be reduced to single file squads.

There is just one reasonable access and this is by helicopter, which at times also proves unreasonable. Frequently resupply choppers are unable to get in because of rain, fog and the ever-present winds which often reach 50 m.p.h.”

A US soldier climbs up the steep side of the Rockpile.

A US soldier climbs up the steep side of the Rockpile.

I discovered a number of quotes on a website (www.swanassoc.com) from former inhabitants of the Rockpile, which accurately covey what life was like at the top during the war:

Ted Dudley

“There was no way off that darn pile of sharp jagged rocks that tore your boots, clothes, skin and beat up your M-14, other than another UH-34 with an experienced crew who could pull it off.

Another shot of the Rockpile from a chopper (Life)

Another shot of the Rockpile from a chopper on a murky day (Life)

With the sun baking you during the day, and the enemy keeping us up at night trying to probe our position, steal our grenades, trip flares and claymores we had set up as our perimeter warning on the South side, sleep was a welcome commodity when it was available.

A sunnier view during the war (Bill McGighan).

A sunnier view during the war (Bill McGighan).

Fire fights in the valley below, B-52 raids on the Razorback and illumination rounds most nights made for an interesting mixture of excitement. When the Grunts would fire illumination for us, it would light up the dark nights and we would watch the flares slowly descend to the valley floor on their parachutes. Then total darkness again as our ears strained to reach out as far as they could for any noise.

Today: A Vietnamese flag flies on the top of the Rockpile.

Today: A Vietnamese flag flies on the top of the Rockpile.

One night, a lone NVA soldier made it through the maze of trip wires and release wires which were all tied into a system of flares, grenades and claymores that were place along the south side of the Rockpile to warn us of any impending danger. To this day I don’t know how he managed it…”

See also: The Adventures of a Helicopter Pilot: Flying the H-34 helicopter in Vietnam for the United States Marine Corps: https://amzn.to/2qCxwAt

See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.

For POWs left behind in Laos, see:

© Peter Alan Lloyd

BACK Parts 1 and 2:

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Front cover of BACK Part 1.

Front cover of BACK Part 1.

Front cover of BACK Part 2.

Front cover of BACK Part 2.

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7 Comments

  1. Glenn Short

    I calibrated the artillery there once in 1968

    Reply
  2. mark 2nd bat 94th arty hhq batery

    I was there on 2 different occasions in 1967, I was a surveyor/ fo with the 175s @ camp Carrol, never upon the top but we brought our guns there at the base to reach out & touch a little further

    Reply
  3. pyusmc66

    Was there multiple times in 1966 with 3/4; including (Operation Prairie) the assault on Nui Cai Tre. (Became Mutter Ridge 400 and 484) Also close by during Hastings in the Song Gnan river valley. (Helicopter valley). Our company was in the original perimeter at the base of Razorback Ridge multiple times in late 66 and early 67. The arty area came later in 67. A spooky place on a cold, miserable monsoon night. Semper Fi to others who were there.

    Reply
  4. Bill Fesler

    I was Stationed at the Rockpile artillery base in Fire Direction Control FDC in June, July, August and Sept of 1969 and was pulled out in Sept ’69 by president Nixon–3rd Mar Div. I was a chart operator in FDC

    Reply
  5. Keri De Vita

    My father is the one climbing on the side of the Rockpile. Cpt. Barry C. De Vita Sr.

    Reply

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