In 1968, several squads of U.S. Marines headed out from the Khe Sanh garrison in Vietnam on a mission to end a North Vietnamese siege. Shortly into the sortie, they were ambushed by the enemy.
Unfortunately, the Marines were heavily outnumbered. Two separate squads were ambushed by the North Vietnamese and almost entirely eliminated, with only a few Marines surviving.
Thus, the patrol would come to be known as “The Ghost Patrol.”
One of the many Marines lost that day was Pfc. Ronald L. Ridgeway, though his body was never recovered. The Marine Corps and his family believed he’d been killed in the ambush and held a memorial service for him.
However, he was not actually dead…
Khe Sanh Battle
The Khe Sanh garrison was a combat base positioned along the border between Vietnam and Laos. Leading up to the fateful battle, Army General William Westmoreland predicted the North Vietnamese would attack and fortified the garrison.
He upgraded the airfield and deployed additional men and resources. However, when the attack finally happened on Jan. 21, 1968, these efforts proved not to be enough.
The base only had about 6,000 troops. Unknown to them at the outset of the attack, they faced about 20,000 – 40,000 enemy forces. To make matters worse, their munitions were decimated by an artillery attack early in the siege.
Westmoreland believed the base should be defended at all costs and was able to get President Lyndon B. Johnson on board. The result was a 77-day battle with a massive supply line effort to keep the Marines and soldiers in the fight.
The battle was continuous, with Westmoreland constantly trying to gain an upper hand over the North Vietnamese. On February 25, a patrol went out to capture or kill the North Vietnamese troops.
They had no idea what they were walking into.
An inexperienced lieutenant was the leader of the patrol. As they moved through the bush, his men observed enemy fighters fleeing and he decided to follow them. This turned out to be a very poor decision as the fleeing men were bait for an ambush.
The ambush was a nearly perfect crescent shape, a particularly deadly setup because the subject of the ambush takes fire from three sides.
The Marines were immediately overwhelmed and while they fought valiantly, it’s incredibly difficult to survive after rushing headlong into a well placed ambush formation.
Despite a storm of grenades raining down on them, a few of the Marines, were able to break off from the ambush and began retreating towards base. However, Pfc. Ridgeway and another Marine refused to leave one of their wounded brothers behind and all three were taken down by machine gun fire.
Ridgeway was the only survivor, though he was barely holding onto life. He was captured when a Vietnamese soldier went to steal his watch and realized he was alive.
In September, Ridgeway’s family was one of the nine Marine families participating in a burial of unidentified remains from the battle.
But Ridgeway was not dead. Instead, he was brutally tortured at the Hanoi Hilton. He finally made it home as a part of a prisoner transfer five years later.
After coming home, he visited the site where his fellow Marines were buried. Eventually, his name was removed from the list, and a new memorial was put in its place.