We are at another “exact” date in military history, depending on what side of the international dateline one is on and what source one believes.
We are at another "exact" date in military history, depending on what side of the international dateline one is on and what source one believes.
The Tet holiday in Vietnam is sort of like Christmas, New Year, and the Fourth of July all rolled into one. It is by far the biggest celebration in that country, and a time all people celebrate. So late in 1967 the National Liberation Front, a front organization for Viet Cong fighters, called for Tet to be observed by everyone in Vietnam, and for South Vietnamese soldiers to lay down their arms and go home for the holidays.
Allied intelligence suspected something was up, but found no conclusive evidence that a major offensive was imminent. Wrong again. The Tet holiday begins on Jan. 30, and the usually reliable Vietnam Almanac says "On January 30, 1968, the Tet holiday began, but shortly after midnight several cities in I Corps and II Corps were attacked and by noon Jan. 30 all U.S. units were placed on maximum alert. At 3 a.m. on Jan. 31 the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong launched what has become known as the Tet Offensive."
So take your choice whether it was Jan. 30 or 31. I was there, and was shaving when someone turned on a radio in the officers' tent and AFN made the announcement that the whole country was under attack.
Ah, hindsight. A few years ago I saw a documentary about Tet and Viet Cong film that showed smiling men in civilian clothes gleefully loading AK-47s and ammunition in caskets, to be carried unnoticed through cities to hidden cells. Makes one wonder sometimes about military intelligence.
Almost all big cities were hit, with Saigon and the ancient capital of Hue hit the hardest. After a few days fighting, the Perfume River that flows through Hue was red with blood, the blood of civilians butchered by the NVA and VC.
My cavalry squadron was at the 11th Armored Cavalry's camp near Xuan Loc, not far from Saigon, and the three combat troops sprang into action. Our Alpha Troop received the Presidential Unit Citation for saving Bien Hoa Air Base. It had been overrun by doped up Viet Cong, but they were no match for tanks that lined up side by side and ran over hundreds of VC on the runways.
The fierce fighting everywhere but in Hue lasted but a few days. The NVA and VC lost every gain they had made, and thousands were killed. The VC was decimated and was never effective again as a fighting force after Tet. U.S. forces did not lose a single battle during the fighting.
But America lost the propaganda and psychological war. Americans had been becoming more against the war since October 1967, and seeing images on TV nightly of dead Americans and burning American equipment proved the tipping point for public opinion.
President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek reelection. From Tet on, the strategy was not how to win the war, but how best to disengage. The war would continue for another seven years, but more and more U.S. troops began leaving, and were not replaced.
The South Vietnamese army had to take over, and the end was only a matter of time. The Republic of Vietnam fell, Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City, and the divided country became just Vietnam again.
How time changes things. For many years American veterans have been returning to their battlefields in Vietnam, and several years ago an office was established in Hanoi to jointly, with Vietnamese officials, seek American remains still unfound. Some have been found.
And for the first time since 1974, a Vietnamese student is back at CGSC. I haven't met Maj. Cuong Nguyen yet, but welcome him aboard and look forward to our first meeting.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.