Khe Sanh village existed as a result of the presence of French coffee planters. It began with EugènePoilane, a son of peasants, born at Saint-Sauveur de Landemont, France, on March 16, 1888. Poilane, by profession an “artillery worker,” arrived in South Vietnam, then the French protectorate of Cochinchina, in 1909.
He worked at the naval arsenal for some years, until he chanced to meet naturalist AugusteChevalier, who after the First World War appointed Poilane as a prospector for the Botanical Institute. In 1922 Poilane became an agent of the Forest Service of Indochina.
Eugène Poilane first passed through what became Khe Sanh village in 1918, when it consisted of only one house, that of the engineer supervising construction of Colonial Route 9, the first metaled road to Laos. Like the Americans who followed, he was captivated by the lush vegetation and thought the red soil as fine as anything in Tuscany.
He returned in 1926 to start a coffee plantation, importing chiaricoffee trees and tending them for the ten years they need to become productive. His plantation extended throughout the area subsequently occupied by Khe Sanh combat base. In fact, the access road from the base airfield to Route 9 was Poilane’s private thoroughfare. His motorcar was the first vehicle in the region.
Not only did Poilane establish the first plantation, he fulfilled his avocation of botanist with aplomb, traveling throughout Indochina, even to the borders of China and Burma, in behalf of the Forestry Service. Poilane collected specimens that he sent to the museum at Saigon. Until 1947 his submissions numbered between fifteen hundred and five thousand a year, for a total of more than thirty-six thousand, and he was credited with having discovered twenty-one species of plants and producing the second known specimens of nineteen others. The [genera] Poilania [in the Asteraceae] and Poilaniella [in the Euphorbiaceae] will forever give homage to this venturesome man. Poilane began an experimental orchard, attempting to introduce numerous types of fruit trees native to tropical and even temperate climates. He imported grafts from France, Japan, and other countries.
As the trees grew, so did the Poilane family. Madame Bordeauducq, Eugène’s formidable first wife, who bore him 3 children, kept her maiden name to show her independence. Indeed, when Poilane divorced her, Bordeauducq merely moved a kilometer down the road and started a plantation of her own. Then, he then had 2 other children with another vietnamese woman (he did not marry her) and after the 5 other children with his second wife. (*)
(*): Jean-Marie grandson of Eugène Poilane