Cover image for West Dickens Avenue : a Marine at Khe Sanh
West Dickens Avenue : a Marine at Khe Sanh
Corbett, John.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine Books, 2003.
Physical Description:
xvi, 205 pages : illustrations, maps ; 22 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DS557.8.K5 C67 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



As well as showcasing work from young Swiss graphic designers, Pathfinder offers an itinerary through the regions, landscape and culture of a country that has a key place in graphic design history. A fold-out map offers a visual interpretation of the contemporary Swiss graphic landscape.

Author Notes

John Corbett returned home to Nyack, New York, following his service in Vietnam. He now lives in Key Largo, Florida

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Khe Sanh, in which some 6,000 marines were outnumbered seven-to-one by North Vietnamese regulars, has slowly assumed its place as one of the most famous of American battles. It occurred over 77 days, beginning in December of 1967. General Giap himself masterminded the siege, thinking the time propitious for a wholesale American collapse on the order of Dien Bien Phu. Corbett's is an eyewitness account, but he has sifted through every history he could find so that readers will understand both the enemy's movements and the thinking of the marines. The march of days saves mortars-specialist Corbett from his wandering structure so that, while he is no Philip Caputo, he develops suspense about whether he will make it through the battle unwounded, and which of his buddies will die. They die on nearly every page. The water is poisonous, the food nothing but C-rations, and it is impossible to sleep. Of course, the marines do survive, and their bravery lives on. Semper fidelis: 36 years later, Corbett does them proud. John Mort

Publisher's Weekly Review

Few Americans had it rougher in the Vietnam War than the 6,000 or so Marines who were caught at Khe Sanh during the infamous January-April 1968 siege by the North Vietnamese Army. Corbett was one of them. He had seriously considered fleeing from his hometown of Nyack, N.Y., to Canada to avoid serving in the Vietnam War. He abruptly changed his mind, though, and on a dare enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in the summer of 1967. By early January of 1968, Corbett found himself at Khe Sanh in a mortar platoon with the 26th Marine Regiment. Within days of his arrival at the remote outpost near the borders of Laos and North Vietnam, Corbett and his fellow Marines (along with a unit of South Vietnamese Army Rangers) were surrounded by elements of three divisions of North Vietnamese Army troops. The NVA soon launched three months of almost nonstop combat assaults and countless artillery, mortar and rocket bombardments, at one point succeeding in blowing up the Marines' huge ammunition supply depot. There also were intermittent sniper attacks. Corbett narrowly escaped death twice. Once, a sniper's bullet whistled through his hair; another time he was blown into a bunker by an artillery blast, but was miraculously untouched by the rain of shrapnel. In this short, readable account, Corbett describes his days at Khe Sanh in almost dispassionate prose and in great detail. His brief, staccato sentences effectively convey the siege from a Marine grunt's point of view. Corbett skips lightly over his last nine months in Vietnam, during which he saw plenty more combat action. His brief description of his less-than-overwhelming homecoming reception rings true. The book's odd title comes from a discarded American street sign Corbett found while digging his personal foxhole at Khe Sanh. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



1: Enlistment   Nyack, New York, July 1967   I left school during my first year of college. I romanticized about joining the French foreign legion, knowing I didn't even need to speak French. All I had to do was sign a five-year contract and they would teach me French. My youthful dreams of riding a camel across desert sand dunes, wearing a white kepi hat on my head, had faded. "Greetings," said Uncle Sam's draft notice that arrived in the mail. The United States wanted me for military service and undoubtedly would send me to Vietnam. I ripped up the draft notice in front of my mother and father at the dinner table. My act didn't go over well with my law-abiding, conservative, Irish-Catholic parents.   I decided to go to Canada and be a draft dodger. Canada is much closer than Corsica, where the foreign legion was. I wanted some adventure, but not the adventure my government wanted to provide, such as sending me to Vietnam.   I hadn't thought much about America's involvement in Vietnam. World affairs were just that, a world away, in my mind. I was rebellious and determined not to let Uncle Sam tell me what to do. I could dream about traversing sand dunes with the French foreign legion but not about being a drafted government-issue GI Joe.   I prepared to leave for Canada; I was going to Montreal. Even my high school French books were packed.   O'Donoghue's Tavern, 66 Main Street, Nyack, New York   The tavern was on lower Main Street, where the street slopes and terminates on the west shore of the Hudson River. The river is almost at its widest point here. The city of Tarrytown can be seen on the opposite shore, three miles across the river, night or day, except when fog enshrouds this section of the river valley. Nyack, my hometown, is twenty-five miles north of New York City. The river is not as clean as it was when Henry Hudson first discovered and explored it, sailing in his ship the Half Moon, but the river's towering majestic palisades haven't changed since Henry was here.   Sipping a beer, I glanced around at familiar surroundings. I wondered if I would ever see this place again. I wondered how I would do in Canada.   While pondering my future as a draft dodger, I saw a familiar face coming through the doorway of O'Donoghue's. The man walked with a limp that I didn't recall his having before. It was Tom Dunnigan, an old school chum. The last time I saw him, more than a year ago, he was leaving for Parris Island, South Carolina, the U.S. Marine Corps boot camp.   We had some beers together. He told me he had just been released from a naval hospital after months of convalescing from wounds suffered in Vietnam. His right side was partially paralyzed and he walked with a cane. He had a steel plate in his skull to close a hole inflicted by shrapnel. He was wounded in Vietnam by an enemy mortar shell. He had joined the Marines and was trained, shipped to Vietnam, and wounded, all within a year. Just months ago the parishioners at our local Catholic Church, Saint Ann's, where Tom and I were once altar boys, held a prayer service for him, because he wasn't expected to survive his wounds.   We had attended the same schools, played ball, fished, and gotten into mischief as we grew up. Conversation flowed easily that night. Over the beers I listened to his stories, one by one, about ambushes, about hills whose names were numbers on a military map, and about villages and provinces with funny-sounding names. He told me about Vietnamese people I didn't know. He said the Vietnamese had odd-sounding terms for their money: dong and piasters. I watched his eyes as he related his stories.   Tom's beers had gotten to him and he was all storied out. I was glad, because I was tired of listening to his Vietnam and Marine stories. I was ready to go home. Thoughts of Canada were still on my mind. There was a long silence at our small round table. He looked at me and stared into my eyes. Suddenly he spoke. "Jack, you don't have the balls to enlist in the Marines and go to Vietnam."   "Wanna bet, Tom?"   The Recruiter   There is courage in alcohol. I am here this morning with Tom Dunnigan at the Marine Corps recruiting station, which is nothing more than a trailer in the corner of a large parking lot at the shopping mall on Route 59 in Nanuet, a town just west of Nyack.   I am walking slowly, not because of apprehension but because Tom can't walk fast. He limps along slowly with his cane. We are an odd pair as we approach the trailer: a limping Vietnam veteran and me, sporting my 1960s-style long hair, a trademark of my rebellious generation.   This July 1967, the Marines are offering the option of enlisting for as little as two years of active duty. After two years, you are discharged. It's kind of a Vietnam War special. But there's a catch: If you enlist for only two years of active duty, you are sent to Vietnam with the infantry. A two-year enlistee receives no specialized training for a career when he becomes a civilian again. There would be no computer school, no air traffic control school, and no radar technician school. The two-year enlistee would be trained as infantry-- learning about rifles, machine guns, grenades, flamethrowers, bayonets, killing--and sent to Vietnam.   I'm face-to-face with the Marine recruiter sitting at his desk inside the trailer. The recruiter has been to Vietnam and wears ribbons and medals on his chest. He forewarns me, before letting me sign the proper papers, that as a Marine in the jungles of Vietnam it will be no party. He is saying there's a good chance I will be wounded or killed. To emphasize his point, he takes a long, hard look at Tom, who is sitting next to me at the desk. The recruiter is staring at the side of Tom's head that holds the steel plate to keep his skull closed. That's the wound he got in the country where I am going. The recruiter is trying to make sure I get the message before I sign. The message I am getting is this: Though the recruiter has an obligation to recruit, he is not in the meat business. The Vietnam War is escalating as I sit here. In Vietnam, more American soldiers are dying every day.   "Where do I sign?" The recruiter shakes his head in disbelief. I don't think he wants me to enlist. I sign the papers and he half-heartedly takes them from me, one at a time. He tells me I will be hearing from him when the necessary arrangements are complete, then he suggests I get drunk, and stay drunk, until I hear from him. So I do.   Tom and I are drinking beer again, and he has a big grin on his face as he tells me that I have no idea what I've gotten myself into, enlisting in the Marine Corps. He spends the afternoon trying to prepare me.   The Following Morning   Awakening at my parent's home on Mill Street, I break the news of my enlistment. My mother is disbelieving, upset, and worried about the possibility of losing me in Vietnam. She says I should have joined the army. My dad is proud but worried. American soldiers are dying in Vietnam.   Whitehall Street   I report to Whitehall Street in New York City. The government building has worn stone steps, and as I climb them I wonder how many thousands of men before me have come up this staircase. Draftees and enlistees from adjacent counties report here to receive a physical examination. Inside, the Whitehall building is a zoo. Men crowd the hallways: conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War, divinity students who have come for a deferral, married men with children to support, and men from apple pie America who think they are doing the right thing going to this war. There are long-haired hippies wearing love beads and several men talking to themselves, feigning mental illness. Others complain of back pain, which they probably don't have.   I have passed the physical, the hearing test, the sight test, and the grab-your-nuts-and-cough test. I have left barefoot prints in the powder in a black rubber tray on the floor. The impressions show that I am not flat footed. I can walk and march.   Destination Parris Island   Our bus from New York City crosses the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River, then carries us to Newark Airport in New Jersey. At the airport I board a propeller-driven commercial airliner that will take us to Charleston, South Carolina. This flight, my first ever, is bumpy.   It is scorching hot on the Charleston airport's tarmac. The Marines are sending a bus from Parris Island to transport us to their boot camp.   Excerpted from West Dickens Avenue: A Marine at Khe Sanh by John Corbett All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Mapsp. xiii
1 Enlistmentp. 1
2 Vietnamp. 11
3 Welcome to Khe Sanhp. 18
4 West Dickens Avenuep. 35
5 A Million-Dollar Woundp. 52
6 On the Job Trainingp. 71
7 Under Enemy Firep. 96
8 In Enemy Sightsp. 119
9 They've Come to Kill Usp. 130
10 Home Is Where You Dig Itp. 150
11 Seventy-Seven Days of Combatp. 166
12 Back to the Junglep. 191
13 I'm Leavingp. 195
Epiloguep. 201