Skip to comments.1968 Tet Offensive
Posted on 01/30/2014 5:28:07 AM PST by DJ Taylor
January 30, 1968 is a very important date in American History, but very few Americans are aware it. Since the birth of our Republic, there have been a number of significant events that have drastically affected our countrys future development and wellbeing. Some of these events were immediately recognized as significant but others took more time, and the damage caused to our country by the Butterfly Effect spawned by the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War is just now beginning to be realized by a few of us who were there. Those who were there know all too well the meaning of Tet and what occurred during Tet 1968 and its aftermath, but for those who werent there, let me explain.
During the Vietnam War, the Chinese New Year celebration was called Tet and it was the only holiday the Vietnamese celebrated during the year. The Tet celebration lasted for two weeks, and it wasnt just a time for drinking, feasting, and partying, it was a time for family reunions where Vietnamese traveled great distances to be with their families during these two weeks.
Prior to Tet 1967, a truce had been negotiated with the Communists, and both sides had agreed to a cease-fire during the two weeks of Tet in 1967. The Communists had honored this mutually agreed upon truce and had maintained a cease-fire throughout the 1967 two week Tet celebration, but we had observed them blatantly moving troops and equipment in the open without fear of attack from us.
In 1968, the South Vietnamese Government negotiated another truce with the Communists and both sides agreed to another cease-fire again for Tet 1968. The Communists had profited greatly from the previous Tet 1967 cease-fire when they had used the cease-fire to resupply and refit their units in the field without interference from U.S. air and artillery strikes, so we fully expected them to honor their agreed upon Tet 1968 cease-fire, as it was fully to their advantage to do so, or so we thought at the time.
However, the Communists used this 1968 mutually agreed upon cease-fire to infiltrate its Viet Cong combat units into all major cities in South Vietnam under the cover of the extensive pre-holiday travel that preceded Tet, when many Vietnamese returned home to be with their families during the Tet holidays. This infiltration was in preparation for simultaneous attacks throughout South Vietnam at midnight on January 29, 1968. An estimated fifteen Viet Cong battalions, to include the entire Viet Cong 9th Division with its 271st, 272nd, and 273rd Regiments, were infiltrated to positions in and around Saigon with the intent of capturing South Vietnams Capitol. For some reason, we had all forgotten that all Communists are Ends Justify the Means liars, and in the end, it cost us the war.
As luck would have it, I flew into Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base outside Saigon on the afternoon of January 29, 1968 returning from Christmas leave in the United States, and that day was Chinese New Years Eve with the Tet Holiday beginning at midnight. I couldnt get a flight out to return to my Special Forces A-Camp at Chi Linh until the next day, so I decided to phone an old friend who was stationed in Saigon and ask him to come out to Tan Son Nhut and pick me up.
My friend drove out to Tan Son Nhut in an M151 Jeep, picked me up, and took me back to the hotel where his unit was located. His unit, Special Forces Operational Detachment (SFOD) B-57, had taken over a four story hotel on Truong Minh Gian Street in down town Saigon, not far from the Presidential Palace, and had turned it into a very secure compound, so we spent the evening drinking in the hotel bar and listening to the Vietnamese celebrate New Years Eve. As usual, the Vietnamese were celebrating the arrival of Tet with firecrackers and shooting in the air with every weapon they had. We did notice that this year they had added grenades and other explosives to their usual celebratory shooting and they didnt stop at midnight like they usually did, but what the heck, we thought they were just celebrating a little harder this year.
Even with the sounds of what we thought was Tet celebration still ongoing long after midnight, we called it a night and went to bed, as we had to get up early the next morning and return to Tan Son Nhut to catch our flights; I had a flight to An Loc in Binh Long Province, and my friend had a flight to 5th Special Forces Group Headquarters in Nha Trang. When we got up shortly before sunup the next morning, what we thought to be celebratory firecrackers and shooting, to include explosive detonations, hadnt stopped, but we ignored it. We took an M-151 Jeep, along with a Nung driver, and drove off toward Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base five miles away.
It wasnt quite sunrise when we turned off Truong Minh Gian Street onto Doan Thi Diem Street and passed by the Philippine Embassy. The gates to the Embassy compound were blown off and several bodies were lying in the street, but we ignored it and considered it just another everyday occurrence in Saigon. We thought the Philippine Embassy attack was just another isolated terrorist attack that occasionally happened around Saigon, and these terrorists never hung around after sun up because they knew if they did, theyd be killed. We just knew it couldnt be anything more than that, because the Communists had agreed to a cease-fire, or so we thought at the time.
When we turned onto Hai Ba Trung Street, usually the busiest street in Saigon, the sound of celebratory firecrackers and shooting still continued around us, but the usual hustle and bustle of Saigons morning traffic was nowhere to be seen; ours was the only vehicle on the street, and there were no people to be seen anywhere. The streets of Saigon were absolutely deserted and they should have been filled with people celebrating the New Year.
We continued driving north on Hai Ba Trung Street in our topless Jeep clearly visible as two U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers driving toward Tan Son Nhut, and we met no other vehicles or saw anyone on or near the street as we drove the five miles to the air base. When we approached the front gate to Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base, we found the entrance blocked by concrete barricades and concertina barbed wire, but no one was visibly guarding the entrance. At the time, we had no way of knowing the north, east, and west sides of the Air Force Base were currently under attack by elements of the Viet Cong 9th Division, and the air base was anticipating an attack from the south, the direction from which we were approaching.
I was in the front passenger seat as we drove up beside one of the five-foot tall concrete barricades blocking the entrance, and I noticed the barrels of automatic weapons protruding from the firing ports of the two bunkers on each side of the entrance, and the weapons were aimed directly at us, but I still saw no one around the gate until I looked down. Lying in the dirt near the bottom of the concrete barricade was a U.S. Marine Corps Master Sergeant with an M-16 rifle aimed at me, and he was in full summer dress Tropical Worsted uniform, complete with ribbons and badges, as he looked up at me and I looked down at him. I was so taken aback by what I saw and what it meant, that for a moment I was speechless, and then I said, Were going to have to move these barricades; we have a plane to catch, but the Marine looked up at me as if I was an apparition (or a clueless idiot) and replied, You aint going anywhere; Charley owns the other end of the runway.
The continuous celebratory gunfire, the destroyed Embassy, the bodies lying in the street, and the deserted streets hadnt alerted us to the fact that something was terribly amiss that morning, but the sight of that USMC Master Sergeant in Summer Dress uniform complete with ribbons and badges and in the low-crawl in the dirt told us without a doubt that there was no cease-fire and war had unexpectedly come to Saigon.
We turned around and drove back into Saigon, but this time we didnt take Hai Ba Trung Street (Never return the same way you came), we took Cong Ly, an adjacent street. Cong Ly Street was just as deserted as Hai Ba Trung Street had been; until we came upon a lone U.S. Army Special Forces soldier running down the center of the street ahead of us. We overtook and pulled up beside him, but before we could ask if he needed a ride, he jumped into the back of the Jeep and shouted, Go! Go! Go! Theyre all around us.
I could see he was unarmed and frightened out of his wits, so I asked him, Whos all around us? He shouted back at me, The VC!! I was staying at my girlfriends house, and last night around midnight the VC came down the street where she lived pulling people out of their homes and shooting them, so I took off running and theyve been chasing me all night.
We drove back into Saigon, dropped off the Special Forces soldier at the Special Forces compound on Pasteur Street, and then we returned to my friends compound on Truong Minh Gian Street. By that time, SFOD B-57 had been alerted to the fact that the city was under attack, and we took up defensive positions on the units perimeter.
Apparently, SFOD B-57 was so highly classified that they were out of the loop and didnt receive timely alerts from IDC (Installation Defense Command), or IDC failed to realize the cease-fire agreement had been broken and the city was under attack. The Viet Cong probably didnt know SFOD B-57 was there, and the unit was never attacked during what came to be called the Tet Offensive, but we had a ring-side seat as the Tet Offensive raged around us. Initially, none of us completely understood what was happening, but when we observed air strikes from the hotels rooftop and saw the U.S. Air Force bombing targets and conducting strafing runs in the middle of Saigon, we began to understand the seriousness of the situation.
During the next two weeks, reports continued to come in and we were eventually able to piece together what had occurred on the morning of January 30, 1968. When we drove away from the B-57 compound that morning, the U.S. Embassy had already been attacked and penetrated by the Viet Cong; the Presidential Palace was under attack a few blocks away, as was Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base and every other military compound and Embassy in and around the city, and these attacks were simultaneously occurring in every city throughout the country. Fifteen battalions of Viet Cong had been broken down into squads and platoons and fanned out across Saigon led by Communist agents who lived in Saigon. These Communist agents had prepared name and address lists of all military and police officers in the city, and these squads and platoons systematically went to these officers homes, pulled them out into the street and shot them in front of their families.
With the number of Viet Cong troops known to be in Saigon the morning of January 30, 1968, how we managed to drive through Saigon all the way to Tan Son Nhut AFB and back again without incident remained a mystery, but the real puzzler was intelligence reports stated the two bridges we crossed going and coming from Tan Son Nhut had been under communist control since midnight of January 29, 1968.
It was two weeks before Saigon and Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base could be cleared of Communist forces and I could return to my comparatively quiet Special Forces Camp on the Cambodian Border. The Cambodian border areas were quiet then simply because the Viet Cong units we had been in combat with for the previous two years had all been elements of the Viet Cong 9th Division, and the Viet Cong 9th Division no longer existed. The Division had gone into Saigon with its 271st, 272nd, and 273rd Regiments and they never came out; they had died almost to a man.
The 1968 Tet Offensive was a coordinated Do or Die attack by every Viet Cong unit in Vietnam on the night of January 29 and the morning of January 30, 1968 that simultaneously struck every South Vietnamese City, village, and military installation in an attempt to win the war in one country wide surprise attack; they failed and they paid the price for their failure; they died. The annihilation of Viet Cong units was carried out by American and South Vietnamese combat units throughout South Vietnam and was a disaster for the Communist insurgency, as it never recovered from its loses. The war was carried on after Tet 1968 by invading North Vietnamese, and North Vietnam could never move sufficient troops down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to ever hope to defeat the United States effort in South Vietnam, so they resorted to their favorite Communist tactic; they lied.
1968 was a Presidential Election year in the United States, and the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) attempted to use the Tet Offensive to influence the election by claiming it was a Communist victory and the war was lost. The CPUSA organized an anti-war movement and assembled enough strength through this movement to seize control of the Democrat Party that summer during the 1968 Democrat Convention in Chicago. These Communists attempted to nominate a Presidential candidate who would end the war and they failed, but the CPUSA still retained control of the Democrat Party, and this Party managed to elect enough Leftist Democrats to Congress to cut funding for the Vietnam War, American troops were withdrawn, and the war was then lost, so in this way the 1968 Tet Offensive was indeed a Communist victory.
After using the Tet Offensive to gain control of the Democrat Party, the Communist Party USA never lost control, and when a few decades later they managed to elect an avowed Marxist Communist to the Presidency of the United States, it made the 1968 Tet Offensive the greatest Communist victory of all time.
Now, every American will learn what I learned on the morning of January 30, 1968:
All Communists are ends justify the means liars (period)
How soon we forget.
The Communist Party took over the Democratic Party in 1932 with the election of FDR.
The never could have pulled it off with Cronkite and CBS.
“All Communists are ends justify the means liars (period)”
The same goes with Muzzies. Collectivists and Muzzies are two peas in a pod.
The Democrats have the blood of at least a million on their hands Because of the deaths of those who tried to flee from the communists in Vietnam.
This link takes you to a Marxist website, “In Defense of Marxism”, not “Personal Experience”.
Thank you Walter Cronkite, you old leftwing quisling.
I was in Saigon recently. People as young as their twenties acknowledged to me that you, Sir, are a Hero. Evidentally the reeducation camps had failed. The truth always wins and is winning more and more everyday.
Today's Vietnamese government still considers itself Communism. It's a token more than anything these days. A a symbolic token that says "we beat the strongest nation in the world". Beyond that, their recent actions are proving more and more that the fight for their system of government was a mistake.
Recently the Viet Cong has placed the tourist industry and other industries under the control of the private sector admitting that government control has failed.
Everywhere you go in Saigon there are free markets on the streets, capitalism growing.
Sadly, while Vietnam moves more towards to what we once were, we are moving more towards what they were fighting against us to become. This is a bad message we are sending present and former communist governments of the world. This time, I hope they do realize it's stupidity on our part.
While there is still work to do in Vietnam, I can assure you that even today the people know your true intentions and they were good.
They may have won the political war, but their actions show that they have indeed lost the argument.
I thank you for your service and thank you on behalf of the many people I have met who were born long after you left that place called Vietnam I thank you.
I’m sorry that I confused you, but posting on FR requires a http:// source or your post won’t be accepted.
I tried N/A in the block requiring a source and FR wouldn’t accept it, so I used a website relevant to the subject.
Apparently, personal experience isn’t an acceptable source of information on FR.
A few lesser known details of the Tet Offensive.
At the head of the list, the Viet Cong really had no choice to carrying out the Tet Offensive, first because the at-the-time almost unknown Phoenix (counterinsurgency) Program, was devastating them, tearing them apart. They had only weeks or months left before they were annihilated.
The second reason was that they were ordered to carry out the Tet Offensive by the North Vietnamese Army, who had lost patience with the Viet Cong and wanted them to either win by overthrowing the southern government, or to die trying.
The bottom line is that despite their best efforts, after the Tet Offensive, the Viet Cong were effectively wiped out. While indeed caught off guard, the Americans and the South Vietnamese ARVN responded forcefully and effectively and destroyed the Viet Cong utterly.
My brother fought with the 1st Marine Division in Hue City. He had just returned from R&R the day before and his company was sent out from Phu Bai to relieve the MacV compound in Hue which was under siege.
They barely made it to the compound and the 2/5 was called in to assist and help clear the area south of the Perfume River. After they were decimated the 1/5 was brought in to clear the north side and the Citidel. The Marines were actually outnumbered by NVA regulars and placed under firepower restrictions early on so not to destroy the city. He rarely talks about it to this day.
I was in Viet Nam a year later but thanks to his council I stayed out of the Infantry and was in transportation. I was lucky enough to visit Hue then. It was called New Hue as it had been rebuilt with US tax dollars. I was only there for an afternoon but heard about the mass graves north of town where thousands of South Vietnamese, murdered by Communist Cadre when they took over the city, were being unearthed.
My older brother volunteered for the draft—and was a driver —of a ball-buster /Tank Hauler was there during TET. When I enlisted in 69 my brother came to see me off— and the US Army types ushering us into the system deferred to his experience —but seemed a bit upset that he had come -especially given his “what are they goin’ to do —Send me to ‘Nam” attitude.
Your link is interesting.
And the Communists erroneously thought that the Tet Offensive would trigger a general uprising of the South Vietnamese people who would rise up and throw out the Americans. They thought they would win and this would be their final offensive.
That is why they murdered with impunity over 3 thousand South Vietnamese civilians in Hue and buried them in mass graves north of town. Of course, no uprising happened and the local VC forces were decimated by our guys. But the mass murders at Hue were a sign of things to come later when the communists finally got control in 1975
I was at Camp Pendleton then, scheduled to end my enlistment in July....they were rushing troopies over there left and right, some with as little as three months remaining on their term.
Fascinating and well-written account.
Yes, Tet 1968 does mark the time that the Democrat party went from the party of JFK to the party of Bill Ayers.
There are a LOT of older democrats (my parents included) that still think that the democrats emmulate JFK. Obama has been an eye-opener for some of them, but not enough.
I remember seeing a 60 Minutes interview of a fellow who had been in the North Vietnamese Army. During the interview he said that all the men in North Vietnam had been sent to fight in South Vietnam. Chinese troops had taken their place in North Vietnam.