On the night of January 30, 1968 the combined forces of the Viet Cong insurgents in the Republic of South Vietnam and the regular People’s Army of North Vietnam initiated a huge offensive push to take-over South Vietnam. It was ultimately very unsuccessful militarily but had immense long range consequence on the American side of the war.
I has ever after been referred to as the ’68 Tet Offensive. Unknown thousands of Vietnamese, both North and South, were killed. American troops suffered 543 killed and 2,547 wounded and 1968 became the year we had the highest total losses: 15,592 American troops killed.
I went in during Feb, ’68. On leave from Christmas through Feb 6, I believe…had lots built-up as I never took any. The last week I spent with my HS buddy in Coronado (he was navy). I had heard no news at all before I got a bunk @ the Oakland REPO Depo. That whole huge place was a hornets nest of rumors. Rumors went from we’re getting kicked out of the country & we are probably canceled to they are issuing m-16’s (which I’d never held much less fired) on the plane’s final approach…”gonna have to fight our way out the doors!”.
On the true final approach they did not issue rifles or ammunition. The pilot of the Boeing 727 did turn it up sideways on a wingtip and spiralled tightly down at an alarming rate. A stewardiss, we had them just like a New York to L.A. flight, informed us that some planes had taken hostile fire while approaching the landing strip so we were exposing ourselves as little as possible. That announcement did not go far in allaying our fears.
None of those rumors from Oakland were true of course. We got off @ Ton Sonut, burned into real cherries & were shipped-off to the 9th Infantry basecamp Bearcat. I did anyhow.
The bus ride was where I first saw Tet up close. That bus had brand new cyclone fence wrapped around it, “to keep the grenades our,” our driver stated.
The highway, on both sides, was pretty much destroyed. Buildings blown-up & old walls pocked by countless bullets.
The worst was the piles of Charlies. Ranching from a few scattered kills to piles of 50 or more. The big piles were stacked just like corded wood. To that day those bodies have what pops into my head when ‘war’ is mentioned.
When politicians speak of “punishment” for some foreign government…I see those piles of dead. When they speak of limited strikes or surgical strikes or any other sterilized military/political terms…I see those piles of dead.
As fast as we went down that highway, the smell of the bodies quickly rotting in the over-heated tropic sun, overwhelmed us. It was a new sensory experience which bei9came familiar too rapidly.
I never got into the Tet fight per se. We still had a week of orientation at the “Old Reliable” academy before we were released into the field.
They sent me straight on down to Dong Tam, a firebase quickly growing into the new 9th Div. basecamp. Each night we were mortared heavily & sniping was de jour daily.
Me Tho, a city of around a quarter million people, was just up the road from Dong Tam. It was burning when I went through in a truck to the base & it burned for a good many days afterward. Charlie briefly took over My Tho, Can Tho, Vihn Long & several other sizable towns in the Delta but they were quickly kicked back out as opposed to the occupation of Que which lasted a month or so. I don’t remember any mass atrocities in our region either though there could well have been some.
Such was my entrance into the boiling Indochina stewpot.