Tag Archives: Phan Thiet

SFC James Albert Bunn

SFC James Albert Bunn

by john harrison

On February 2, 1968 Sergeant First Class James Albert Bunn was killed while serving in the Republic of South Viet Nam. He was my platoon sergeant, 2nd Platoon, Company A, 3rd Battalion, 506th (Airborne) Infantry Regiment (aka the “Band of Brothers”), 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. This is a rather long way of saying that he was also my friend.

I gave him the order that resulted in his death. It was Tet ’68.

We knew that we were moving to contact with the enemy that day. It was a question of where and when we hit the enemy, not if. Even as we moved there were already very loud pitched battles going on all over the place, all around us. We expected to hit a well entrenched, well prepared enemy, and we did.

We were looking for the 482nd Viet Cong Mainforce Battalion, near Phan Thiet on the coast of the South China Sea. As the lead platoon we made contact with the enemy first. Early that morning we moved up to a small house. After searching the small house I sent a fire team into the larger blue house next door to the right to clear it too.

They ran into the VC inside the house almost immediately. The last man in the fire team was shot as they ran out of the front door of that blue house. He fell on the front porch and laid there bleeding. He was hurt bad, but alive. Although not that far away, I could see that the porch would be a bitch to get to and then to get away from. I can’t tell you how frustrating that day was or of how many different ideas we tried to get our man off of that porch.

At one point I ordered Sergeant Bunn to take a squad and to see if he could get into the back of the blue house since the front of the blue house was swept by constant rifle and machine-gun fire from several directions. We were literally being shot at from 360°, rifle fire, machine-gun fire, mortars, rockets. You name it; they shot it at us, and we returned the compliment. The level of enemy fire that day was absolutely incredible.

While Bunn tried to get in the back of the house I set about using air strikes, gun ships and artillery to clear out the enemy from our front and left flanks so that I could turn the platoon right and get our man off that damn porch.

Jerry Berry in his excellent book, My Gift to You, (available on Amazon) tells Jim Bunn’s story:

PSG Bunn and Sergeant Stacy Raynor’s squad made their way around the three barbed wire fences that separated the two houses and carefully approached the back of the house. Just before reaching the back of the house PSG Bunn set up the squad in a supporting position and then moved on to the corner of the blue house on his own.

The enemy fire was intense, with heavy fire coming from all directions. With bullets striking all around him, PSG Bunn ran to the back door, threw a hand grenade inside the house and followed it up with several bursts from his M-16 rifle. While standing in that doorway PSG Bunn was shot several times. He was killed instantly.

It took a while, but we finally got our man off that porch and we brought Jim Bunn back as well. The Airborne recovers its dead.

Jim Bunn left his wife Rachel and three young daughters. His name appears on Panel 36E at the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial. He is interred in Riverside Cemetery in Oklahoma.

I think about Jim Bunn just about every day. This and Memorial Day are his days. He earned them both, full and complete on February 2, 1968.

Tet ‘68 was a long time ago. It was yesterday. I remembered him today, and everyday. Platoon Sergeant James Albert Bunn. My friend, a brave and good man. Airborne!

bunn

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The Wall

The Wall

by: RonFord

I sit and cry and think of his grave,
I wonder what Andy missed today.
He gave his life a world away
In a small hamlet on that dark day.
Tet was the party old Charlie gave
That sent way too many to the grave.
Andy left the world in good company
Bunn, Chaison,and Brooks went with him that day.
The Screaming Eagles fought bravely in that dreadful war
Just like their fathers in the big war before,
Some day I will go to Washington DC
My friends are in granite I have to see.
Andy’s name on that wall will tear me apart
The tears that you see will be straight from my heart.

Ron Ford
CURRAHEE
101st Airborne
Vietnam 67-68

shame

shame

by: RonFord

2003

Blood Guts and Pain
Was it all in Vain?
Old Gory Waves
and I can See
My Buddy was Killed,
Glad it was not me.
He gave his life
and I was spared.
Yet nobody Cared
Some day,
I will be SET FREE
My buddy will be Glad To See Me
We will Hug, Laugh,
and Cry.
And all my Shame Shall,
Die.

Blog Note: Ron Ford was a member of the Second Platoon, Company A, 3rd Battalion (Abn.), 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. He was also the assistant patrol leader of the night patrol. He was probably the most junior E5 on the patrol, but he was second in command because he was the best man to bring the guys home. I am proud that he accepted my invitation to publish his poem here for the first time. I hope he continues to write.

Sample- The Special Patient, a love story

by john harrison

The large mud and wattle house with a traditional grass roof was burning fiercely. It had been the dry season for a long time and that helped the fire. They had started the fire with a standard red railroad flare held to the grass roof around the edges and then tossed the flare on top. The small Vietnamese man was very excited. He was gesturing wildly with both arms, but it was all too late. They had found arms in his house, so his home was burning. You could feel it, and smell it as you watched it disappear.

The American soldiers had already moved on in a classic open infantry formation. They were ready to fight in any direction. The young officer in charge of the platoon, named Marty Stone, moved them around to the left around a grave yard and toward a small house next to a big blue house.

The lead squad moved carefully through the trees, brush and cover to the left of the graveyard. The graves had mounded up earth on top in serried rows not unlike a military formation Stone reflected as they warily walked by.

Stone’s platoon cautiously walked up to the smaller house to the left of the big blue house. As they approached, a young man came out of the small house dressed in black pajamas. Actually he was pulling on the pajama bottoms as he walked. He was not wearing anything except the pajama bottoms and they seemed to be too big for him. They kept sliding off his hips. He seemed nervous, but anyone in this country of military age and in good physical shape was probably nervous at the approach of soldiers from either side.

There was a lone machine-gun firing off in the distance to the West and a full scale battle going on to the South. Stone and probably all of his men immediately recognized the machine-gun as an American M-60. The noise to the South was indistinct.

Some more people came out of the small house. There was also an old woman, her lips were stained blood-red by constantly chewing beetle nut, a mild natural narcotic. She would be the grandmother.  The beetle nut, when chewed, is a mild narcotic that is used almost exclusively by older people in Vietnam. As a grandmother she was entitled.

A young woman and some kids of various ages came out of the small house next. The old red mouthed grandmother and the young woman and kids stood together almost as a group, but the thin well muscled young man stood apart. The kids seemed excited by the soldiers, by their guns, and by the casual yet definite sense of purpose they displayed.

The American soldiers were young, but they were paras and they knew their business. These paras knew that they did not have to be cruel to be effective. War was already cruel enough and in any event being cruel did not make you any better or tougher, it just took longer. The young American paras were very practical, not cruel, selectively deadly, not random at all in their killing.

“Take you fire-team and check that house.” Stone said to a sergeant standing near him. He pointed to a big blue house next to the small house that the people had just come out of. The other fire-team from the squad was already going into the small house in front.

“Then set up there, until we move out again.”

“Roger L-T.” the sergeant replied and motioned to his fire-team to move out.  So far that day it had been quiet for them, but there were battles exploding all around them. So they were being careful.

The firing to the West picked up in intensity. Now explosions and heavy small arms fire joined the M60 machine-gun.

The rest of the platoon, staying more or less in formation, set up a perimeter anchored by the two houses in front. Stone sat down with his back to a small tree and took out a pack of unfiltered Camel cigarettes. He offered one to his radio operator and then lit one for himself.

The Vietnamese family was lined up against the small house near its back door. The young man was closest to the door way. Stone watched the fire team walking toward the big blue house. As he did, he leaned back against the tree and closed his eyes, just for a moment to relax.

“Jesus Christ!” Stone said as the air around him filled with bullets, shrapnel and noise.

Automatically Stone flipped over to his knees and looked over at the big blue house where the fire team had gone. All he could see there was the big blue house and dust from bullets slamming into it from many directions. He reached back and his RTO (Radio telephone Operator) slapped the black plastic radio hand set into his palm.  .  .

Sometimes you can tell the truth better in fiction. The link below takes you to the rest of this short story. It is only available on Amazon in Kindle. What you have read so far is the lead up to a story about an Army nurse and her “special patient”. It is a romance, because even in war there can be love. This is only a sample, just the first part of the Kindle short story “The Special Patient”. If you have enjoyed this preview and want to find out what happens next, you may read the rest at:

http://www.amazon.com/Special-Patient-story-Women-Without-ebook/dp/B0169GQYYE/ref=la_B016FSEKQ0_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1445175114&sr=1-3

My Mother’s Machine-gun

by: johneharrison

In October of 1967 my unit, the fabled 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment of World War II, Band of Brothers fame, deployed to Vietnam as part of the 101st Airborne Division. Although we did not know it then, we would be there for the bloodiest year of that conflict.

After a short orientation at Phan Rang, we were sent to the field, Search and Destroy the Army called it; but to us we were chasing Charlie as the saying went even though we rarely caught up with him at first. Since we were resupplied either every three, four or even five days in the field, and since I did not want my Mother to become accustomed to getting a letter from me on some regular basis, I purposefully wrote to her spasmodically, rather than regularly.

A few months later, I was sitting on an LZ in the field near Phan Thiet on the coast and more or less the center of Vietnam waiting for a resupply when I realized that I owed my Mother a letter. It had been two re-supplies already, over six days, since I had last written. However, I could not think of anything to say to her.

As usual, I had started the letter with the date in the upper right hand corner followed by approximately where I was in Vietnam. So, I wrote “January 25, 1968”, followed by “Phan Thiet, RVN”, but that was as far as I could get. Then, I looked down at the last page of a Stars & Stripes newspaper in my lap and it had a small article about a strike at the Colt Patent Firearms Company plant in Connecticut that made the M-60 machine-guns we used. Each platoon usually carried three of them but since one of mine was in for repair, I was in the field with only two machine-guns.

So, I started the letter, “Here I am in Vietnam short one machine-gun for my platoon and these Bozos are sitting safe at home and are out on strike while we are fighting a war. . .” That got me started and I went on with the letter talking about how quiet it was where we were, how hot the temperature was, how beautiful the South China Sea was, how safe Phan Thiet was, then some more about the missing machine-gun and so forth. Then, I sealed it; ran it to the helicopter, and thought no more about it.

When my Mother arrived home from her job at Georgetown University on February 3, 1968, she was already worried and wanted to watch the evening news.  The battles of Tet ‘68 had started and they led the news. Therefore, she was particularly happy to see a letter from me in the day’s mail. She got herself a glass of wine, turned on the television to the CBS evening news, and sat down to read my letter.

She opened my letter only moments before Walter Cronkite’s face appeared on the screen; she just had time to read the date, and location when Cronkite’s famous voice intoned his lead story:

“Today in Phan Thiet, Vietnam, there was savage fighting as the Viet Cong tried to seize the normally sleepy provincial capital. Units of the 101st Airborne Division met the enemy head on in a series of exceptionally violent battles that started early in the morning and continued all day. There were heavy casualties on both sides. . .”

My Mother sat there stunned. She read the top of my letter again; she read the name of town on the screen; she read the top of my letter again; she read the name of town on the screen. She started crying. Then, mercifully the news program broke for a commercial. The news from Vietnam actually got worse from there. She continued to cry, and sip her wine.

For those of you that do not remember, CBS’s Walter Cronkite was a god, an oracle of truth at the time, and unfortunately he was not at all upbeat about the chances of even the legendary 101st Airborne Division to hold on to the town of Phan Thiet under such a ferocious assault by a well armed, well supplied and numerically superior enemy.

It was about the only time Phan Thiet made the national news, but we made it big time that night. According to Cronkite the fighting was severe everywhere, up and down the coast of Vietnam, so there was no possibility of reinforcements for the embattled 101st Airborne Division in Phan Thiet. This dire prediction was his close off line for the extended news program.

Except getting up for more wine during commercial breaks, my Mother watched it all. Then, she sat there in her living room staring at the now blank TV screen.  She cried for a while, then she finished reading my letter and the rest of her bottle of wine, her dinner forgotten. Her son was in trouble, and he needed a machine gun. She was sure of that.

A little after midnight my Mother called her mother in Savannah, Georgia. A Depression era baby, it was a testament to her worry that my Mother did not once think of the cost of the long distance call. She had opened a new bottle of wine as well.

They talked for a while. They both cried for a while. They talked about machine-guns repeatedly but not very knowledgeably, but they knew all about war. Both had lived through World War II and the Korean War by then. Finally, around two in the morning, her mother, my grandmother said:

“Let’s call Dickie.”

It turned out that “Dickie” was Senator Richard B. Russell, Jr., the senior senator from the State of Georgia and probably the most powerful Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee ever. However, many years before he had been a young boy in my grandmother’s, then Miss Varina Bacon’s class for two years at the Seventh District Agricultural and Mechanical School in Powder Springs, Cobb County, Georgia. In addition, Senator Russell’s mother, Ina Dillard Russell, was a teacher and was my grandmother’s best friend.

That was probably why my grandmother had Senator Russell’s home phone number, which she talked an AT&T operator into making a conference call to at about 3:00 AM. The two women just cried on the phone together as they waited for the call to be put through.

With Senator Russell on the line now, the three of them discussed machine-guns, and why Lieutenant Harrison’s platoon, did not have enough of them. My grandmother wanted to know exactly what Senator “Dickie” Russell was going to do about this problem of national importance, how had he let it happen in the first place and could he also see to it that the strikers were put in jail, or better yet, shot.

After midnight, both my grandmother and particularly my Mother could be of a seriously violent inclination. My Mother was the one that suggested shooting the strikers.

My father had always said that United States District Court Judges, United States Senators and any truly pissed off American mother could cause more trouble than anything else in the world. Here we had two angry, very scared American mothers and a powerful but sleep deprived United States Senator. Things were sure to be interesting in the morning.

Although the majority of our training was for combat patrols in the jungle, the majority of the fighting we actually did during Tet '68 was street fighting in the cities and towns of Vietnam.

Although the majority of our training was for combat patrols in the jungle, the majority of the fighting we actually did during Tet ’68 was street fighting in the cities and towns of Vietnam.  This is what it looks like.  We were using trucks this time because the VC had shot up so many of our helicopters we were saving the ones we had left for Dust Off.  Photo by Jerry Berry.

Meanwhile, the battles in Vietnam continued. Luckily, my missing machine-gun had been repaired and returned before the start of Tet because we had been busy. Finding Charlie was no longer the problem.

JEH Under Fire

We were actually being shot at when this picture was taken.  One of my men sent it to me several years ago.  I am left middle in front of my RTO, Hal Dobie of Yakima, Washington.  That is “Bull” Gergen, a full blooded Cherokee Indian member of the Ranger Hall of Fame and our First Sergeant, coming up on the right.  It was his second war, third tour.  James Philyaw third from right.  I am standing looking over a hedgerow.  We are on our way back into Phan Thiet.

A day or so after the telephone call to Senator Russell my platoon was embroiled in some of the fiercest house to house fighting of the war in downtown Phan Thiet when my RTO (Radio Telephone Operator) Hal Dobie of Yakima, Washington, handed me the radio hand set saying there was a man that said he was a Colonel on the radio asking for “Lieutenant John Harrison” in the clear. This violated so many Army rules and regulations that he had not answered the transmission.

I truly did not know what to do. After the third time I heard him identify himself as Colonel something or other, I have forgotten his name, and again asked for Lieutenant John Harrison I just said “Yes.” rather than saying, “This is Alpha 2-6”, meaning, Alpha Company 2nd platoon leader, as I usually would have identified myself.

The Colonel then said he had a machine-gun for me and where could he put his helicopter down so he could deliver it to me. I said I was pretty busy at the moment—after all a lot of people were shooting at us.

He reminded me that he was a Colonel, that I was 2nd Lieutenant and he demanded in the most forceful manner a landing zone, immediately.

Since he was so insistent, I said that the area in front of my platoon was wide open, plenty of room to land a helicopter, but then I had to warn him that he would be under heavy fire, both machine-guns and rockets as he landed. His choice. I think the pilot talked some sense into the demanding Colonel and he decided to leave the machine-gun back at our base camp, LZ Betty.

When we finally got back to LZ Betty a couple of days later, the Company armorer was still cleaning that machine-gun. The Colonel had tried to deliver an M-60 machine gun, to an active firefight, encased in a wooden box, enveloped in thick plastic shrink wrap, and full of thick cosmoline, but with no ammunition.

It took our armorer, Carl Rattee, three days and a tub of gasoline to get the machinegun ready to fire. But when he was done, it was beautiful.

My nick name for the gun was

My nick name for the gun was “instant fire superiority”, and all but one time that was true.

Strangely, unlike every other weapon in the battalion this particular machine-gun was assigned directly to me, to Lieutenant John Harrison. It was my very own machine-gun, from my Mom. I liked it and when the Army made me give it back when I left Vietnam, I thought about calling her, but then, I thought it might make her angry.  .  .

Tet ’68–Battle Won, Victory Lost

 TET ’68–Battle Won, Victory Lost

by: john harrison

Although the majority of our training was for combat patrols in the jungle, the majority of the fighting we actually did during Tet '68 was street fighting in the cities and towns of Vietnam.

Although the majority of our training was for combat patrols in the jungle, the majority of the fighting we actually did during Tet ’68 was street fighting in the cities and towns of Vietnam.  This is B/3/506th in Phan Thiet during the battle. Photo: Jerry Berry PIO 3/506th.

The largest battle of the Vietnam War, Tet ’68, was also among the two or three biggest infantry battles that American armed forces have ever fought. In spite of all the bad press, we clearly won that battle. Tet ’68 was a bigger battle and a bigger victory in pure military terms even than the justly famous Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

While these numbers are subject to some dispute, it appears that there were about 500,000 Americans actively involved in both Tet ’68 and in the Battle of the Bulge.  During Tet ’68 there were about one million total allied soldiers involved and they suffered a total of about 75,000 casualties (KIA, WIA, MIA).  At the Bulge there were about 720,000 total allied soldiers involved and they suffered about 90,000 casualties.  The German casualties during the Battle of the Bulge have been estimated at 67,000 to 100,000.  The corresponding estimates for Tet ’68 are that the VC/NVA casualties totaled at least 115,000 dead, wounded and missing and more likely as many as 150,000.❋  Most of the VC/NVA casualties were dead.

The differences were that in Vietnam during Tet, the Army, Marines and allies were engaged in almost continuous combat throughout the country for a much longer period of time, and Khe Sahn was a true killing field, leaving stacks of NVA dead.

In addition, while in Bastogne itself at the Battle of the Bulge there not was a rear area, for the majority of units fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, there was a rear area,  Even during the height of the battle, there were always American troops that were not directly engaged with the enemy surrounding Bastogne.  They were behind other troops in support, or reserve, or were on their way to the front and thus were not yet actively engaged by the enemy.

However, like Bastogne itself, there was no “behind” anywhere in Vietnam during Tet ’68.  For example, a battalion of Vietnamese paras in transit at Tan Son Nhut airport were called in to repel an attack on the airport itself before they could leave.  The only reserve during Tet ’68 was the 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division in Fayetteville, N. C., which was all in the air within hours after the battles started, and engaged on the ground within hours after they landed in Vietnam.

Nevertheless, the issue as they say in the history books was never in doubt during Tet ‘68. Even while the VC/NVA were attacking, allied counter attacks were meeting them, sometimes before they even made it to their lines of departure. It was a fight, a big, hard, ugly at times, fight, but it was never in doubt who would win that fight.

Literally the NVA and particularly the VC never recovered from that battle. Many of the VC that had fought for years were now dead, and that meant that even the Main Force NVA units now blundered about the county because they no longer had knowledgeable local VC guides.

While the Vietnam War is still portrayed as an insurgency, a guerrilla war, the Battle of Tet ’68 was a straight up, conventional, mostly infantry, slugfest. Since, Tet ’68 does not fit the storyline that was told to America at the time and since, i.e., that we lost a guerrilla war to General Vo Nuguen Giap and those fellows in black pajamas, other than dwelling on the brutality of war in cities full of civilians, the actual Allied military victory during Tet ’68 has been almost completely ignored, both in 1968 and since then. Other than the picture of General Loan executing an NVA franc-tireur on a street in Saigon with his revolver, or the one of the great seal of the United States of America lying broken on the embassy grounds, or the street fighting in Hue, the real battles of Tet ’68 and their outcome still have been largely discounted by historians even today.

Moreover, it was not VC guerrillas that ultimately defeated the South Vietnamese government over two years after all of the American troops had left Vietnam. After Tet ’68 the VC were mostly broken or dead laying on a street in Phan Thiet or Hue or Saigon. It was not the NVA units that had been infiltrated in country that did it either. They were lost in the jungle, and literally dared not come out of the jungle even assuming they could find their way, or most likely, they were hiding in sanctuaries in Cambodia or Laos.

Contrary to what most people believe, what finally toppled South Vietnam was a traditional, full-scale, tank-led, conventional, combined-arms invasion from North Vietnam essentially using its entire million man army. Ultimately, this army went right down Route 1, the “street without joy” in Bernard Fall’s felicitous phrase, all the way to Saigon in 1975.

In addition to the wide spread ignorance about the Battle of Tet ’68 it has always been very curious to me that for a while much was made of the fact that in Vietnam the army required a 12 month tour, the Marines required a 13 month tour, but WW II service was for the duration. Few have tried to find out why this was so. Moreover, most Americans are unaware that the war in Europe was over about 11 months after the landings in Normandy at D-Day. During that 11-month period every American division was pulled out of the line for a time and “rested” in a secure area.

The Army had long ago determined that 12 months of combat was about all a sane person could really take and remain sane. Therefore, it limited the tours in Vietnam to 12 months and it used rotation of units to achieve the same end, for the same reason in Europe during World War II. According to some reports, and while some served for a longer period, because of constant rotations of units, the average time in combat for an infantryman in the Pacific for example during World War II was about 40 days. On the other hand, mostly because of the mobility provided by thousands of helicopters, the average time in combat for an infantryman in Vietnam was about 240 days during his year of service.

Personally, I am not sure which is more stressful, combat or the anticipation of combat. You feel it on the way in to combat, but once the shooting starts you are too busy to notice. However, I doubt that being too busy to notice is a real protection from stress. When it was over I would always be unbelievably tired, others were euphoric, either way and every way in between it was a reaction to stress, experienced but not yet fully felt.

Two statistics will serve to bring this issue into focus: the 101st Airborne Division suffered almost twice as many casualties in the Vietnam War as it did in World War II, and the United States Marine Corps also suffered more casualties in Vietnam than it did in all of World War II. In the case of the 101st Airborne Division, this was in spite of the fact that only about one-third of the Division, the First Brigade, was deployed in Vietnam from July 29, 1965 until the rest of the division came over at the end of 1967. This was a hard fought, a really big war.

This information is readily available, but I have not seen it in the mass media, only sometimes the implied slur that the infantry in Vietnam had it easier because they only served for a year while in World War II they served for the duration. Like the idea that the Vietnam War was fought mainly by draftees while World War II was supposedly fought mainly by volunteers, it is not only wrong, the exact opposite is true. Vietnam was a big, violent, long war fought mainly, about 66%, by volunteers. While World War II was a big violent, fairly short war, at least for America, fought mainly, again about 66%, by draftees.

And, later when the Wall in Berlin fell, and the Cold War was won very few paused to remember as hearty congratulations were passed around that it had been a hot war for a while in Korea, and that it was hotter still, and for much longer in Vietnam.

Also generally unknown, both the Soviet Union (3,000) and China (320,000) had troops stationed in North Vietnam during the war, as did North Korea and Cuba. In addition to these troops, all during the Vietnam War the Soviet Union required its satellites to provide for free much of the war material for North Vietnam’s war effort. Other than some food and a lot of soldiers, there was almost nothing produced in North Vietnam that was actually used in the war by North Vietnam.

There were guns and ammunition from the justly famous Skoda Arms Works in Czechoslovakia. There were field glasses from East Germany’s Steiner and ships from Gdansk, Poland to carry it all to Haiphong, North Vietnam or to Sihanoukville, Cambodia, and then into South Vietnam.

Anyone that has studied economics knows that this support of North Vietnam’s war effort was highly inflationary for the captive nations of eastern Europe. While Moscow may have thought that it was making its “allies” carry some of the economic burden of helping North Vietnam, it was actually helping create the economic conditions in those satellite countries that ultimately led to the downfall of communism.

Given this, it should be no surprise that the beginning of the end for communism started among the shipyard workers of Gdansk, Poland. These workers had made a great deal of money from the Vietnam War that they could not spend in the state controlled economy of communist Poland.

Contrary to general belief, revolutions usually happen when things are getting better, but the improvements are not progressing fast enough for a lot of people. These were the conditions in the captive nations of Eastern Europe when the rumblings of change started, and the result was as predictable in coming as it was unpredictable and surprising that it would succeed essentially without violence.

I think, because we can now see the Cold War as an immense, sustained act of American moral courage and leadership that we should also be able to see that the bloody sacrifices in Vietnam, and Korea were a significant part of that moral leadership and sacrifice. Those two brutal conflicts played a substantial role in the containment policy’s ultimate success in the Cold War.

However as yet, we do not recognize the very real contributions made by American fighting men in these wars. America still does not generally recognize even the valor of those that fought so well for so long in Vietnam, just as it ignores that their significant contribution in this hot war led in part to the successful, ultimately peaceful, end of the Cold War.

While Vietnam may not be our best example of Americans at war in the sense that many of the policies and strategies pursued over the 8 years of the conflict were seriously flawed, e.g. the claiming of progress in war on the basis of “body counts” is squalid, stupid and worse, often misleading, or that allowing the murder of Diem and his brother demeaned the brave soldiers that were fighting the war at the same time it made their job more difficult. There are many other bad examples from the Vietnam War, including the tragedy at My Lai.

Unfortunately, it is these bad examples that received most of the attention then. Therefore, these bad examples often continue to receive most of the attention from historians even today because this is what they see in their research of the war years. Finally as historians continue to dig deeper, this is beginning to change.

The use of “body counts” in an insurgency situation in modern times began with the British in Malaysia. Malaysia is one of the relatively few historical situations in post WWII times in which a major insurgency, using guerrilla tactics which was extensively supported and supplied by an outside force was nonetheless defeated.

The components of success were that the communists in Malaysia were generally limited to the ethnic Chinese minority living in Malaysia and most important the British and Malaysians were able through the use of superb intelligence work to identify the insurgents. Much of this intelligence work was conducted by Metropolitan Police Forces on loan from London and Hong Kong, who not only found out how many communist insurgents there were in Malaysia, but also in many cases they knew who they were.

A large part of the success in Malaysia came from treating the problem as a police/political problem as much as possible. This limited the contact between the civilians and soldiers to only those times where it was absolutely necessary and thus forestalled the unfortunate effect of aggressive, often violent, anti-terrorist military operations which tend to generate more new terrorists than they eliminate. Thus, the use of body count in Malaysia indicated a real diminution in the number of terrorists and was therefore a meaningful number.

When the use of body counts as an indicia of progress was applied to Vietnam such numbers were meaningless, or worse, misleading. Unlike the British in Malaysia who could identify their enemy, except for the NVA who generally fought in uniform, and during Tet ’68 as well as other times when the Viet Cong were caught with their weapons, we were often not absolutely sure that the dead body reported after a firefight was that of an insurgent.  We were only certain that it was dead.

The British tried very hard to identify who it was that they had killed in Malaysia.  Only if they had reliable information that the body was that of an active terrorist did the British add it to their body count in Malaysia.

Unfortunately where the insurgency is constantly fed new fighters from abroad, like in Vietnam from North Vietnam and today in Iraq and Afghanistan from radical Islamic groups mostly from Saudi Arabia and Iran, an increase in the body count would not necessarily mean that you are winning, rather it could mean that the other side has the people and the will to engage in an increasing amount of direct, violent action. This is simply not a good sign, it is entirely the opposite. But few noticed this reality in the Vietnam War.  They just counted the bodies.

Worse, historians that should know better often still repeat the lie that these body counts in Vietnam were inflated. They continue to repeat this base canard even though the North Vietnamese admitted years ago to the essential accuracy of the American body count figures; that is, North Vietnam officially stated that about one million, one hundred thousand VC/NVA were killed during the war. This North Vietnamese figure actually exceeds by a little the numbers reported by MACV during the war. The essential accuracy of the MACV and North Vietnamese casualty figures have also been confirmed by objective, academic, research. (See: Rummel, R. J. “Statistics of Vietnamese Democide”)

Thus, the overall casualty statistics for the VC/NVA were originally reported by the military, they were later officially confirmed by government of Vietnam after the war, and later by independent scholarly research. Against this, some still say that they “disbelieve” the total casualties reported, but they have no absolutely objective basis for that disbelief other than some anecdotal stories reported by the media at the time. Of course, some still disbelieve that the earth is round, and using similar unscientific methods some still deny global warming.

Similarly, most histories of the Vietnam War, mainly the ones written soon after the war, do not recognize, in fact they simply ignore the many American successes in that war, in particular they ignore the tremendous feat of arms that was the American, allied nations and South Vietnamese response to the Tet ‘68 Offensive. While almost all of the more recent Vietnam War histories now pay at least lip service to the idea that Tet ’68 was a “tactical win” for the Allied forces, there is always a “but” and then a much longer reference to later political changes in America which they attribute to the aftermath of Tet ’68.

However, in 1968 there was no Dien Bien Phu at Khe Sahn. In spite of news reports to the contrary, the VC sappers never got into the American Embassy itself in Saigon, only into the embassy compound where they were all captured or killed early that same morning. Only in Hue, Saigon and Phan Thiet did the first waves of the Tet battles last for more that a few days. Moreover, everywhere in Vietnam there were literally piles of enemy dead and stacks of captured enemy weapons that told the real story of the outcome of the Tet ’68 offensive.

The battle of Tet ’68 was a textbook example of American courage, American mobility and the use of firepower and maneuver to absolutely dominate a battlefield that stretched up and down the entire country of South Vietnam. In a word it was: victory. It was a classic military battle of annihilation, a victory of truly historic proportions. Unfortunately it is also a victory that is still almost unknown to the American public.

Although some were wiped out, I do not believe that even a squad of Americans, much less a larger unit, ever surrendered during the Vietnam War, even during Tet ’68 when the communist attacks were at their fiercest. There is no question that during Tet ’68 that the VC/NVA attacks had some local successes, particularly at Hue and in Cholon in Saigon. However, the Americans fought, then they died or they retreated still fighting, and then they counter-attacked.

It is important to remember that while during the Battle of the Bulge some 23,000 Americans were captured by the Germans or were declared missing after the battle, in Vietnam in the entire year of 1968 including the Tet offensive, there were only a total 158 Americans declared to be captured or missing in action. No American nor significant South Vietnamese Army unit surrendered during the Tet ’68 Offensive. They fought. They fought well and ultimately, they won that battle.

The numbers when taken together show the very similar totality of the two victories in stark detail, but only one is thought of today as an American victory—Why?

 

Description                                                      Battle of the Bulge                Tet ‘68

Total US strength 541,000 540,000
Total US KIA 19,000 7040
Total US WIA 62,500 31,204
Total US captured, missing 23,500 158
Total German-VC/NVA strength 449,000 500,000
Total German-VC/NVA casualties 67,459-125,000 110,000-150,000
Total NVA/VC captured, missing (included above) 5,070

 

Most of the South Vietnamese Army was a draftee army. Literally, it was a cross section of the sons of the people of South Vietnam.  While it often suffered from bad leadership and high desertion rates, during Tet ’68 the South Vietnamese Army fought and they often fought hard for their country, particularly their elite Ranger, Marine and Airborne battalions and brigades.  Contrary to the expectations of the North Vietnamese Politburo not a single ARVN unit defected to the enemy during Tet ’68. These startling facts are routinely ignored by many histories of the war.

The truth, that the Communists attacks during Tet ’68 were bloodily, speedily, crushed, still has not been generally acknowledged by Western historians of the war. Most Americans still do not know the extent of the American, Allied, Tet ’68 victory.  Unfortunately, most Americans probably still do not even know that it was our victory, not theirs.

The picture, you may remember it as well, that stands out in my mind from Tet ’68 is the one of an MP, probably named Paul Healy, throwing a Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol up to Col. George Jacobson, USA, Ret., an Embassy officer, who was hanging out a window at his house in the US Embassy compound so that Jacobson could turn around and use it to kill the VC/NVA that was banging away at his bedroom door. This was the last VC/NVA that had made it into the embassy compound that morning.  All of the other VC/NVA that had made it into the Embassy grounds in Saigon were dead or captured the very same morning that they blew their way through the Embassy compound’s walls. It took longer in Cholon, Hue, and Phan Thiet to root them out, but the outcome was the same.

The VC/NVA took their best shot during what they called the “Tet Offensive“, and they lost miserably. They literally achieved none of their military objectives. While after the battle the NVA rapidly infiltrated replacements for their horrific losses during Tet ’68, many with “Born in the North, To Die in the South” written on the helmets, the VC simply never recovered from their extraordinarily bloody defeat during Tet ’68.  The VC were never able to replace their appalling losses from the battles up and down Vietnam, and all of their units, including even their elite Main Force VC units, soon contained far more NVA than Southerners.

As a result of the severe battle losses among both the VC and NVA units General Giap even took the extraordinary step to reassure the surviving VC/NVA units that these types of stand-up, slugfest battles with the deadly Americans would never be attempted again. Based on the results of the battle General Giap thought that this was necessary to try to restore his soldiers’ morale which had truly been shattered by American and allied steel during Tet ’68.

However, in spite of all the news coverage it received, when I returned from Vietnam in the fall of 1968 after all of the battles of Tet were over, and there had been ample time to judge their results, I was not asked once about our great victory in the Battle of Tet ’68, but I remember being repeatedly asked, how many people I had killed. My answer never varied:

“More of them than they did of me.”

Read the numbers. We really kicked their ass. You would have thought that someone would have noticed; that someone would have cared.


❋ For example the Tactical Department, General Staff, NVA, reference: No. 124/Tgi, document No.1103, dated February 14, 1969 reported a total of 123,394 casualties from stages 1 and 2 of the Tet ’68 Offensive. There were three stages.