The band of peaks to the west of Highway 14 en route to Pleiku, and the rugged terrain buttressing them, constituted one of the American War’s major combat theatres. It was an NVA (North Vietnamese Army) attack on Pleiku, in February 1965, that elicited the “Rolling Thunder” campaign; the war’s first conventional battle of any size was fought in the Ia Drang Valley, southwest of Pleiku, eight months later. Hundreds of Americans died at Ia Drang, but many times more Communists perished, spurring America to claim victory by dint of a higher body count. A decade later, in March 1975, Pleiku was abandoned when NVA troops overran Buon Ma Thuot. As the South’s commanding officers flew by helicopter to safety, two hundred thousand Southern soldiers and civilians were left to make their own way down to the coast, hounded at every step by NVA shells.

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