Ray Stubbe is a name that is not just known but honored and beloved among all who belong to the Khe Sanh Veterans Inc. Association.
As an ordained Lutheran minister, he was one of the brave Navy Chaplains who were there with us during the siege. At each year’s reunion his name comes up in the small group conversations that are had among the men from the various units that were there.
We all hope to see him at our reunions. He hasn’t been there of late, but many stay in touch with him. Those who were there, who endured those 77 days during the siege, knew him. He seemed to be everywhere, comforting, counseling, praying with them, or giving services around the base.
After the war, he would chronicle the history of the siege in a book based on the meticulous diary he kept during the siege, “Valley of Decision: The Siege of Khe Sanh”
Stubbe was born and raised in Milwaukee, WI. He joined the Navy Reserve in high school and would join the Chaplain Corps after being ordained in 1965. He had a Philosophy degree from St. Olaf College and had started a PhD program at the University of Chicago, but the war in Vietnam was heating up and he felt called to serve the Marines and Navy Corpsmen who were fighting over there.
He would arrive at the Marine base at Khe Sanh on July 17, 1967 and would leave it on February 29, 1968, but would come back at least once a week for the rest of the siege.
On Sunday morning, January 21, 1968 the base was hit with the first heavy barrage of artillery, rockets and mortars from the 20 to 40 thousand NVA forces that had surrounded the base. It was a particularly heavy barrage and, among other damage, one of the NVA shells hit the largest of our ammo dumps and its exploding munitions added to the terrible destruction of that day.
When the shelling subsided, he emerged from his shelter to survey the damage. He says that his first thought was a few lines from the prophet Isaiah, “The earth is crumbled in pieces…and reels…like a drunken man.” (Isaiah 24:20).
That, of course, was only the beginning. We would receive up to as many as 1,500 rounds of artillery, rocket and mortar fire on a daily basis whenever we were not socked in by the fog that was common at that time of the year in that part of Vietnam.
One of the worst of those days for Stubbe and all of us was February 23rd. A bunker down along the perimeter of the airstrip took a direct hit. Stubbe rushed immediately to the bunker from the nearby medical shelter he was in and what he found when he got there would seer itself into his memory for the rest of his life.
The Marines inside were torn apart. One was headless.
Stubbe carried what was left of another to a military ambulance. He would write in his journal later that day, “I carried a hand, and arm, a stringy piece of flesh intertwined with cloth and caked with mud. I knew them all.”
Yes, he knew them and would not forget them. He would list their names, their ages, their religion and their hometowns in his journal, something he did throughout the siege. That list was a powerful record, not only of the terrible loss, but of the incredible diversity of the men who fought and died there.
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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.