|Vietnam Veterans of America|
There are lots of reminders every year about the Tet 1968 Offensive. I was a squad leader in AIT at Ft. Lewis while that was underway. I remember our drill sergeants telling us that training might be cut short because we might be needed as reinforcements in Vietnam sooner than expected. That didn’t happen thanks to the courage of those who responded to those massive attacks. They must be respected and remembered for that.
What bothers me is that histories of U.S. involvement in Vietnam usually skip over the next two major offensives by the VC and NVA that year. I arrived at the 9th Infantry Division in-country training facility at Bear Cat (“The Old Reliable Academy”) in late April 1968. We were issued M-16s and had some range time. Excellent classes were taught by combat veterans near the end of their tour of duty, and we went on an actual night patrol in the nearby Michelin rubber plantation.
I arrived at the 9th Division’s basecamp at Dong Tam at the end of April as a replacement. My new platoon was out on operations, and I became acquainted with another FNG from Omaha. Our first night in the rice paddies ended with Medal of Honor recipient Jim Fous dead and me wondering how anyone could survive a year of this. We learned that Saigon was under attack (again) in early May and elements of the 9th Division were moved into and around the capital again and took part in house-to-house fighting. My platoon was south of the city, sweeping to intercept enemy units moving in and out of that area. I watched a B-52 strike and felt the water-logged Mekong Delta move as if by an earthquake.
We debarked from our Armored Personnel Carrier and hit an ambush soon after. I was platoon RTO and our replacement platoon leader, 1st Lt. Thomas S. Hughes, was killed a few feet away from me. I managed to survive that day, but by the end of May we were down to twelve men. We joked about being the “Dirty Dozen” to relieve the stress and grief.
May 1968 saw the highest monthly number of U.S. casualties of the Vietnam War. There wasn’t the drama of LBJ hanging up his spurs or Walter Cronkite stating the obvious that there was no possible victory in sight. But to those who survived it, those days forever altered our lives.
Why is this rarely mentioned in summaries of our ten years in Vietnam? I don’t know and I hope future documentaries give credit to those of us who fought during that dirty, bloody month.
My luck finally ran out in August during the Phase III Offensive. The NVA had trained and equipped a special heavy weapons unit to try to knock out my part of the 9th Infantry Division. The 2nd Brigade was called the Mobile Riverine Force. We had been effective and persistent, and had attracted the attention of the NVA leadership. I was in a river ambush on August 18, 1968, when my platoon was all but wiped out. Once again I was a survivor, this time with wounds patched up in the field. I insisted on staying to finish the operation—not so much from raw courage as from watching one of the dustoff choppers shot down. This bloody fighting is described in the last chapter of Muddy Jungle Rivers by Wendell Affield.
Some Vietnam veterans imply that they won the war by crushing the Tet Offensive. I can only assume that they are under that mistaken impression because they went home and didn’t experience the next two offensives.
I am here to tell you that there was never a possibility of U.S. and allied forces “winning” in Vietnam. Remember Korea? Both nations share a border with China and no amount of bombs and bullets would ever have achieved any sort of victory. Read The Pentagon Papers or listen to the tapes of LBJ admitting that there was no plan for victory—only trying to hold that tiger by the ears.
I have no fight with my fellow Vietnam veterans or those who opposed that unwinnable war. It is long over except in our nightmares and in our troubles relating to “normal” life. Hang in there, be kind every chance you get, stick with the truth even if it is not in your comfort zone, and let us turn down the heat in our attitudes toward each other.
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