Vietnam & TET 1968
– my memories

In Feb. of 1968 I was in the giant replacement depot in Oakland, CA. A huge facility filled with thousands of men coming/going mostly to Vietnam. Though I was unaware of the reason, the whole place went into overdrive. Giant speakers were constantly rumbling with lists of men to report immediately to such & such location.

The cause of the uproar was of course the Viet Cong (VC) TET offensive. In a massive operation the VC backed with North Vietnam regulars had pulled-off what American Commanders had assured the President & Congress was impossible: the VC pushed into large cities, took-over hamlets & whole providences and confined most military forces.

After a few days our military establishment realized the extent of the situation reinforcements into the country were to be sped into Vietnam.

That was the cause of the massive buzz at the Oakland RePo Depot. Tossing my new kit of clothing (jungle fatigues) onto a wagon and taking a seat I was off onto quite an adventure.

As the plane refueled in Hawaii a couple of us made it to the tower bar & sat looking at the last calm civilization we would see for months.

Just prior to landing the captain of the 727 noted over the intercom that we needed to buckle-up as he would be landing in a close spiraling motion due to several aircraft taking fire from enemy forces in the past week. He then proceeded to turn the plane on a wing tip and spiral down in a spring-like motion. A stomach churning indication that I was going into something I might not really like to go.

After a few days relative calm in the massive Tan Son Nhut Air Base I was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division, artillery. There had been several mortar attacks on the air base & sirens screamed numerous times a day but due to the size of Tan Son Nhut the risk to any individual was small.

A short version of a school bus was loaded with men and their gear headed for the Bearcat main base of the 9th Div. somewhere off NW of Saigon. The windows of the bus were covered by two layers of common cyclone fence. The driver said it was because of kids trying to throw grenades through the windows. As we rode the children yelled & made signs they wanted candy or cigarettes. We wondered how many has explosives at the ready to toss at us. The fencing would not be very effective if anybody out there carried an AK-47.

Along the road most of the buildings were shot literally to “rag dolls”. Our driver also informed us that the entire area was under VC control a couple of days before. He said we would be going over highway under control by Americans only during the day.

One memorable stretch held several piles of dead bodies. Most were composed of 2 to seven or eight dead VC. They were loosely piled. In a couple of places we witnessed massive piles of 25-30 bodies piled like cord wood. Every second row was placed lengthwise to keep the pile from collapsing…that little detail froze the scene in my mind forever.

Eventually, we reached Bearcat without violent incident. The thunder of exploding artillery and air bombardments surrounded us the entire trip. In several places we heard the frightening, to a cherry, sounds of firefights in progress. Some of the shooting sounded just beyond the ever present jungle greenery surrounding the highway. Indeed, it was quite close. Nighttimes were constantly filled the sounds of exploding warfare.

Except for actual combat, I really cant think of a more horrendous introduction to America’s latest little police action. Devastation & death…that would pretty well summarize the months to come.

But there would be comradeship with my fellow soldiers the degree of I would never find again. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…” wrote Shakespeare…how very, very true.

And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for ?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam.
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.

…Country Joe McDonald and the Fish 1968


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