2009 Student-Faculty Fellows: University Of Wisconsin, Eau Claire

Linking Landscape Recovery and Land-Use Patterns to Disturbances Associated with the Second Indochina War: Khe Sanh, Vietnam

Mentor: Joseph Hupy
Students: Justin Berg, Thomas Koehler


The group has a ‘hot pot’ dinner with some Vietnamese friends in Hue.

Project Abstract

Scooters were the mode of transport in Khe Sanh. At first the team did not have enough scooters, and the only helmet Prof. Hupy was able to procure happened to be pink.

In May of 2009, two students and their mentor travelled to Khe Sanh, Vietnam to conduct research related to establishing recovery patterns on the landscape of the Khe Sanh battlefield after this area was dramatically impacted by explosive munitions during the 1968 siege. Data collection went smoothly, with only a few setbacks due to local government officials and equipment failure. While our survey of microtopography has revealed that the cratering rendered by explosive munitions on the landscape remains in place, reestablishment of vegetation is mainly a facet of human land use patterns. Soils within the craters were found to support more, and healtier vegetation than surrounding soils, and moisture contents were also higher in the craters. We met up with and were assisted by three U.S. veterans who were at the siege. The research that was undertaken changed many of the theories previously held by the mentor in order to take into account the impact of current land use practices on the topography of the area. The richness of the data secured during this research visit provides hope for future grant funding and as least several additional student research projects.

Justin Berg

Justin Berg holds prism rod in mortar round crater.

This research experience enabled me to study landscape disturbance patterns along with current agricultural practices and vegetative regeneration associated with the Second Indochina War. Equally important to my research was the understanding gained about a culture exposed to post-war tribulations of the local people. What the study seeks to examine is the ability of a landscape to recover after exposure to a catastrophic anthropogenic disturbance. The primary goal of this project is to obtain raw data pertaining to physical soil characteristics across select areas. Areas of interest included the Khe Sanh Plateau, formally known as the Khe Sanh Combat Base, Hills 558, 861, and 881. Observations confirmed that dense vegetation now covers this area and that the outer perimeters of craters, trench lines and fighting positions hold rich organic material and water holding capacity which facilitates vegetation growth. Vegetation within depressions equal or surpass the height of vegetation adjacent to them. It is clear that slow growth and areas devoid of vegetation are now more likely to be attributed to the anthropogenic influences of the rural farming population including slash and burn techniques, over grazing of cattle, and the development of coffee plantations. This experience as an undergraduate has provided me with a solid research foundation for graduate level study.

Thomas Koehler

Tom Koehler examines a piece of a flak jacket at the Khe Sanh Combat Base, now a large coffee plantation.

It is commonly thought that the countryside of Vietnam remains deforested due to the long lasting effects of explosives and herbicides. Our goal for this research trip was to determine the degree to which explosive munitions and land use patterns impact ecological recovery in the Khe Sanh battlefield in Vietnam. After rigorously collecting data from this area, we believe that the current landscape of Khe Sanh is now primarily being influenced by agricultural land usage. This research experience also enabled me to come in direct contact with Vietnamese culture and to expand my view of the world. I hope to present some of our findings at a future Association for American Geographers (AAG) conference and through publications in scientific journals.

Mapping the contemporary road network was part of the research. Here Prof. Hupy and Tom Koehler discuss the many new roads with two Khe Sanh Veterans, Tom Ford (far left) and Glenn Prentice (second from left).
Tom Koehler attempts to camouflage himself from possible NVA during a the survey.
Because of the narrow window in which we were presented to conduct our survey, the work went on through rain or shine. Working in the rain, which came in waves throughout the day, was better than working in 120F heat index weather.
Justin Berg holds prism rod within 700lb bomb crater. The lack of vegetation is due to heavy cattle grazing, not from the bombing.
Tom Koehler shows Glenn Prentice some modern GPS technology while Glenn shows him some old school navigation methods.
Tom Koehler and Prof. Hupy pause for a photo op.