Category Archives: Vietnam

Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive

Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive now has 23 5 star reviews including at least one from Canada. This is the most recent review:

“John Harrison does an eloquent job writing what it was like being in the infantry during the Vietnam war. I know, I was in the infantry in Vietnam. There is a statistic which states that only 1 out of 10 who served in Vietnam were in the infantry. All of us have been asked what that was like at one point since our return. It is an impossible question for most of us to answer in part much less in full. John Harrison manages to do this in his book, Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive. So, if you are inclined and wonder what it was like, or you want to tell someone else what you went through, buy this book. Show it to your friend. It tells that story. To, “LT” John Harrison- thank you Sir.Salute.”

Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle format. Please give it a look.

Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive

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More reader reviews. Eighteen 5 Star reviews, and now readers in Canada and Great Britain are buying my new book Steel Rain too.

Top customer reviews

Ronald G. Ford

February 8, 2018

Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase

Wow hell of a ride LT it’s hard to believe 50 years have past.Congrats on a great book I got it Tuesday evening and finished reading Thursday morning.The chapters I enjoyed the most were the ones I had no memory of.It seems my mind shut down for several months after 2/2/68 I know I was there and I’ve been told I did my job and fairly well but no memories of it yet February 2 is still sharp in my mind.i am very proud to call you friend without your leadership in and out of the field a lot of us would have never made it home.See you in D.C in a few days PS I had to smile reading about Gaffney with a bottle of Jack when the ammo dump blew up I can see that like it was yesterday the sky glowing with explosion and fire Captain G hollering and shouting orders and never letting go of that bottle.It always has reminded me of a scene out of Gone with the wind when Atlanta was burning.Maybe we should get a bottle of Jack and have a toast .Sound good ? Sgt Ron Ford

 

Amazon Customer

February 4, 2018

Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
John is the soldier speaking the truest story of Vietnam. I will confirm his action as I was in a different company same battalion, fighting the same battle.

Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive by  john harrison

The Problems With Media Coverage of the Vietnam War Were Only Increased by the Ken Burns PBS Documentary

by: john harrison

The true story of the Vietnam War is dying out. The men that made that history like those before them are now rapidly becoming history themselves. While the Vietnam War was incredibly poorly covered by print journalism, it was well photographed. Those photographs and particularly the information that has come out from North Vietnam since the Vietnam War ended have already given lie to many of the most popular myths about the war. Unfortunately, there are many more myths are still out there, still getting in the way of the real story of what was the Vietnam War.

Except for a few venturesome souls, even Ken Burns agreed in his recent documentary that the print journalists covering the Vietnam War mostly stayed safe in Saigon. They did not really go out and cover the war like the intrepid journalists of World War II. That was particularly true during the Tet Offensive. It is hard to say you are covering a war when you do not really ever go look at it, but that did seem to bother these journalists.

I think that this may have been the first war where it was specifically dangerous to just be a journalist. That is, not only were they subject to the same risks as everybody else in a war zone; the journalists themselves were also purposefully targeted. The photographers had always had that risk, so they did not care. According to Ken Burns the print journalists in the Vietnam War did not respond as well. There were of course numerous exceptions, but they, and their work, was generally ignored.

Part of the problem with sifting out the truth today is that these print journalists covering the Vietnam War were and are very smart. They knew that the winds of public approval would change sometime, because these winds always change. So, they planted a few bombs for later use when people complained about the pervasive bias in their coverage.

For example, before he left Vietnam after covering some of the Tet Offensive there, Walter Cronkite did say in one report that MACV had said that the VC were taking a beating in the Tet ’68 battles still going on. However, when he got home to New York in his one and only editorial comment, a major announcement that was itself big news, on the progress of the Vietnam War Cronkite said that the people that were saying that the VC were taking a beating in the Tet battles were the same ones that had misled America so many times before about the Vietnam War and that they should not be believed again. It was classic, “have my cake and eat it too” journalism. When he was attacked years after the war for bias in his coverage, Cronkite immediately trotted this quote out as evidence of the contrary but ignored his later, much more highly covered, editorial.

As someone who had reported on and lived through the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, Cronkite above all the other journalists reporting on the war should have known better. As America’s greatest living journalist, Cronkite should have done better. He should have done his job.

More recently, someone has analyzed the editorial content of the major newspapers during the Vietnam War and determined to their satisfaction that by far most of them supported the Vietnam War editorially. I don’t know whether that is true or not, but it is utterly irrelevant. It was the reporting on the Vietnam War that was defective, not the editorials. It was the constant claims of a “credibility gap” by the people covering the war from the comfort, and relative safety, of Saigon that was the problem.

These reporters, many of whom had never studied war, who had never gone to the field to look at the war for themselves, who were appalled by the bloody detritus that war churned up constantly, chose to simply disbelieve official reports and to substitute their own judgements. Just like Ken Burns, who presented only those veterans who were now ashamed, or dissatisfied in some way with their Vietnam service in his “documentary” when every poll shows that well above 80% of the veterans who actually served in Vietnam were proud of their service, these reporters too built a case, rather than filed a report on the Vietnam War.

There is a big difference between building a case and conducting a through investigation of facts as a reporter, and that singular difference is the principle problem with almost all of the reporting, and many of the books on the Vietnam War. It is not their “point of view” that is the problem, it is actual, willful, bias based on almost uniform ignorance of the war itself. No-one can reliably report on a battle in Phan Thiet from the rooftop bar of the Caravelle Hotel in Saigon, but that is what they demonstrably tried to do. Unfortunately, having made these ridiculous reports, they now feel compelled to defend them.

In a way it is similar to when the complaints started coming out about problems with the initial M16 rifle. The Army, in reply to numerous articles in several newspapers, put out a much hyped report that the M16 was X times more likely to fire the first shot than the vaunted AK47. All true, but that is a test of ammunition reliability, not a test of rifle reliability.

The problem with the first M16s surfaced only with the second or third shot, and they surfaced a lot. The true test of a rifle’s reliability is its ability to fire X rounds without a failure in a simulated combat situation. Had they made that test, the AK47 would have blown the M16 out the door. The AK probably still would, but even that does not make it a better infantry weapon, things like accuracy, rifle weight, weight of ammunition, bullet performance, ergonomics, ease of maintenance, etc., all come into play then. So, both sides played the same game, building a case rather than telling the truth.

The people making the M16/AK47 tests knew that they were functionally lying, they were after all real experts, but they did it anyway, just like Cronkite did when he made his famous “editorial comment”, just like Ken Burns did when he limited his “Vietnam War veterans” in his PBS documentary to only those of the anti-war persuasion even though they had to be harder to find.

It is a very real problem for actual historians of the Vietnam War that there is this sort of overlay of total crap out there, some from both sides, that they have to sift through to find the real stories still hidden down there somewhere, and now the real stories are all dying out as the Vietnam veterans ever more rapidly disappear.

 

At least one true story of our time in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive can be found in my new book, Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive which is available on Amazon both as a paperback and on Kindle. Please give it a look. See; https://www.amazon.com/Steel-Rain-Tet-Offensive-1968/dp/1977045448/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1517494115&sr=1-1-catcorr

 

Best reader review of my new book “Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive 1968”

on February 8, 2018
quite possibly the finest infantry in Vietnam book I’ve read. He puts you there and shares things the average person just doesn’t know but will find fascinating. Warning, when you start it, you will finish it.  https://www.amazon.com/Steel-Rain-Tet-Offensive-1968/dp/1977045448/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8

First Review for “Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive”

Got my first review for “Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive” on Amazon. (https://www.amazon.com/Steel-Rain-Tet-Offensive-1968-ebook/dp/B079G21L32/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1517670332&sr=1-7&keywords=tet+offensive) Thanks Jerry Berry. Reviews help as a fellow author Jerry knows that.

Jerry Berry 
5.0 out of 5 stars Continuing the Legacy
February 2, 2018

Format: Paperback

John and I have known each other since 1967, when we came together as members of the 3-506 at the unit activation in April of that year. While in training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, we trained together in the swamp of George, and the mountains, of Tennessee for combat in South Vietnam. As an airborne battalion, we deployed together aboard the USNS General William Weigel in October 1967, headed for combat together in Southeast Asia.
The Currahees of the 3-506 saw its first combat in South Vietnam on Veterans Day, November 11, 1967. As paratroopers, we fought and died together in the Central Highlands and Coastal Plains of a small, virtually unknown country named Vietnam to prevent the spread of Communism in that part of the world.
We cried together when fellow teammates died on the battlefield. Those of us who survived the horrors of the Vietnam War came home together, yet will never be whole again. A part of us will always remain behind in the blood-soaked ground of Vietnam, yet we still stand tall and proud as paratroopers and Americans soldiers. We continued the legacy of our proud unit and honor our WW II predecessors by answering the call to duty when our nation greatly needed our fighting skills, remembering with pride the profound words of Col. William H. O. Kinnard, who was the assistant chief of staff to Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe, commander of the 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagle” Division of WW II–“To those of you left to read this last daily bulletin–do not dwell on the disintegration of our great unit, but rather be proud that you are the ‘old guard’ of the geatest division ever to fight for our country. Carry with you the memory of its greatness where ever you may go, being always assured of respect when you say, ‘I served with the 101st.”’
I can attest to the validity of Lieutenant John Harrison’s detailed account of his tour of duty as a platoon leader and executive officer for Company A, 3-506, because I was there with him as we trekked through the jungles and rice paddies of South Vietnam in search of the enemy. AIRBORNE, SIR!
– Jerald W. Berry, paratrooper, rifleman, and battalion PIO, Vietnam 1967/68.
Author of “The Stand Alone Battalion”, “My Gift To You”, Twelve Days In May”, In The Company of Heroes”, and the soon to be released “They Called Us Currahees”.

Many of my Vietnam stories are now a book on Amazon–Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive 1968.

Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive 1968” is available on Amazon right now in paperback and Kindle format. Many of the stories have been re-written, added to and now are placed in the chronological order that they occurred. In addition, I have written a short piece for each story placing it in context. Please give it a look. https://www.amazon.com/Steel-Rain-Tet-Offensive-1968-ebook/dp/B079G21L32/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1517411515&sr=1-1&keywords=John+harrison

How To Hide Behind a Pebble

How To Hide Behind a Pebble*

by john harrison

Every combat infantryman knows how to hide behind a pebble, but they also know it’s not much use to do so. It is not that you can’t conceal yourself behind one so much as it is that even though most pebbles are really hard, they still can’t stop bullets. However, because they are so hard, pebbles make excellent secondary shrapnel should an explosion go off nearby. If you are an infantryman seriously considering hiding behind a pebble, a nearby explosion is almost a certainty.

6802861 - Feb 2 Pinned Down on Levy

This is pinned down, but given the need an infantryman could get even lower to the ground. If you look closely, you can see he is in a small depression. This was taken February 2, 1968, near Phan Thiet by Jerry Berry, PIO 3/506th (ABN).

Since a pebble is too small to protect you, but is solid enough to hurt you when it is driven into your body by an explosion, a good infantryman avoids them if possible. This is just one of the little things that you learn as an infantryman that serve to keep you alive in that place called battle.

The question of hiding behind a pebble also points out the difference between what the Army called “cover” and what it called “concealment” when I was in the service. If you can find good “cover” then you are safe from enemy fire. They may know exactly where you are, in a bunker for example, but if you have good cover then you are protected from their fire.

On the other hand concealment is exactly that. The enemy cannot see you. In fact they may not even know you are there. It is their lack of knowledge of your position that protects you.

Since you can be killed just as dead by random as well as by aimed fire, most times cover is better than concealment; but there are some exceptions to this. A bunker is usually safe against the fire of an AK-47 for example, but a bunker is an absolute death trap if the enemy has a few RPG rockets. It is a much better idea in that case to simply hide.

If you can’t be seen by the enemy, then the enemy can’t find you, and better yet if they can’t find you, they probably can’t kill you. This is a simple rule that the VC, and the Viet Minh before them, used to fight armies far more powerful than they were for years. Therefore, if your cover can’t protect you, then hiding is a much better idea than staying where you are. Like most decisions, it all depends on the particular circumstances that you face.

So, if it is not useful, why then does every combat infantryman know how to hide behind a pebble? Simple, because something is always better than nothing, and if you are a combat infantrymen nothing is often all that you have in the world.

SONY DSC

Pebbles

On the other hand, when you are talking about 2,000 pound, 16 inch naval gunfire, or a 750 pound Hi-drag bombs, there is no such thing as good cover. Only concealment and a little luck in being out of the blast range will work under those extremely challenging circumstances. Battle can be brutal.

I once told a civilian that I had often crawled into my helmet to hide while in combat. The civilian for some reason, doubted my story. He may have thought that he had a good reason for that doubt. I don’t really remember. I had been drinking for a while that night before we spoke, so it is entirely possible that I was not as clear as I should have been in my description of how that could happen. However, I have no doubt that I did indeed hide deep inside my steel pot repeatedly in combat.

If you have ever heard the sound, “thump, thump, thump” then you know exactly what I am talking about. “Thump, thump, thump” is the sound that three mortar rounds make when they are fired from their tube. You hear that sound, and you wait. Just that sound concentrates and focusses the mind wonderfully.

You wait and you listen for the explosions that you know are coming. You listen carefully because, you know that if you hear the mortar rounds explode, that means you are still alive. You will never hear the one that kills you. On the other hand, hearing the one that maims you for life is probably at best small comfort.

As an American the good thing is, you will rarely hear more than three or four mortar rounds fired unless they are yours. One of the very real advantages of being born American is the amount of ammunition that we send to the battlefield, and that we have helicopter gunship pilots who think that it is great sport to track down and then fire up the firing positions of enemy mortar crews. These gunship pilots can do that because mortar shells are mostly visible in flight. So if you are up in the air over the battlefield you can see pretty quickly, where the mortar shells are coming from and then hone in on them.

The abundance of ammunition means that American artillery always loves to fire, and they have literally tons of ammunition available to do exactly that. I always found massive American artillery fire to be very helpful on the battlefield.

Having gunships overhead also means that if the enemy mortar crew is not of the shoot and quickly scoot school of mortar crews, then that gun ship overhead will flat kill them with its first pass. The latter passes serve mostly to bust up their equipment, although it is said that some gunship pilots continue to fire purely for esthetic reasons. Not being a pilot I would not know, but I have always enjoyed watching that process unfold.

Before any of that happens though, other things occur. First you hear that “thump, thump, thump” sound. Then, your sphincter muscle tightens tighter than it ever has before in your life. It continues to tighten, or contract with each thump. According to doctors during contraction of a sphincter, or circular muscle, the lumen (opening) associated with the sphincter constricts or closes. This constriction is caused by the progressive shortening of the sphincter muscle itself. If the thumps continue, that sphincter muscle continues to shorten with each thump.

Again according to doctors, voluntary sphincters like the one in the anus are controlled by the somatic nerves. That is your brain actually orders the voluntary sphincter muscles in your anus to contract, or open by a conscious command from your brain. However, I would love to see someone down range that hears that  “thump, thump, thump” sound try to order their sphincter muscle not to contract. It simply can’t be done.

Of course, some will say that they have known people, never themselves of course, that have reacted very differently when under mortar fire. They will say that these people, usually just acquaintances, not even friends, have experienced severe, multiple spasms rather than a single continuous, progressive contraction. Invariably these spasms would lead to unfortunate, dark brown, stains, some permanent, on their uniform trousers. However, this just proves the point that sphincter muscles are not always voluntary since no one would chose to spasm that way on purpose, or at least not on purpose when their pants are up, and their boots are bloused.

Therefore, no matter what the doctors say, sphincter muscles are not always completely voluntary, as anyone who has ever fully experienced explosive diarrhea can also attest. Sometimes even a good, otherwise reliable, sphincter muscle seems to just have a mind of its own.

It is the shortening of the sphincter muscle that allows one to fit into that helmet. As the firing continues, it continues to shorten. You can look this up in any medical textbook describing the operation of sphincter muscles. They will all say that the sphincter muscle constricts by “shortening”.

When you are short enough, you will fit entirely into your helmet. Case closed.

 

There’s more, this story and twenty four more like it can be found in my new book, Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive which is available on Amazon both as a paperback and on Kindle. Use this book to tell your grandchildren what you did fifty years ago. Please give it a look. See; Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive 1968

Recent Reviews of Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive: “John Harrison does an eloquent job writing what it was like being in the infantry during the Vietnam war. I know, I was in the infantry in Vietnam. There is a statistic which states that only 1 out of 10 who served in Vietnam were in the infantry. All of us have been asked what that was like at one point since our return. It is an impossible question for most of us to answer in part much less in full. John Harrison manages to do this in his book, Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive. So, if you are inclined and wonder what it was like, or you want to tell someone else what you went through, buy this book. Show it to your friend. It tells that story. To, “LT” John Harrison- thank you Sir.Salute.”

“John Harrison’s book, Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive, is a series of short stories, told mostly in the first person, that weaves together the humor and violence that only a talented writer can accomplish. The result is a compelling book that is hard to put down. John’s words flow easily on the pages, making an easy read. I highly recommend this book to anyone that has been there and did that, or anyone wanting to know a personal record of one lucky Lieutenant in Vietnam and the people that made it possible for him to return home.
Dan Hertlein, helicopter mechanic with the 192nd AHC at LZ Betty 1968″

“John is the soldier speaking the truest story of Vietnam. I will confirm his action as I was in a different company same battalion, fighting the same battles.”


  • Title created by the poet RonGFord. Used with permission. The rest is all my fault; don’t blame Ron. You can read Ron’s poem the Wall here:  The Wall.