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Tet – 1968

Posted by on January 28, 2015

As much as it pivots on politics, strategy and tactics, much of military history is keyed to specific dates. America’s wars – long, short or somewhere in between – are linked to the calendar. There’s the Day of Infamy Dec. 7, 1941 when Japanese forces attacked U.S. Naval facilities at Pearl Harbor vaulting America into World War II. D-Day, June 6, 1944 is indelibly etched into the study of that war in Europe and June 25, 1950, when North Korean forces stormed across the 38th Parallel, is the date usually marked as the beginning of the short, brutal and indecisive American “police action” in Korea. Those dates and many others are the landmarks and milestones by which most students and many veterans of our wars in the 20th Century ponder the narrative of military history or celebrate service and sacrifice.

And then there’s Tet 1968, the shifting lunar observance of the Buddhist calendar, that Americans who were alive, aware or in uniform at the time, consider in a different light. Most historians studying our long, frustrating struggle in Vietnam consider Tet 1968 as the pivotal point of America’s military involvement in Southeast Asia. Tet, which occurred at the very end of January and ran through the first week of February in 1968, may have been an American victory or bloody embarrassment, depending on which pundit does the evaluating, but there’s no question that it empowered the anti-war factions in the U.S., turned worldwide public opinion against the war and eventually became a major propaganda boon for South Vietnamese insurgents and the communist regime of North Vietnam.

For those of us who fought through it and survived the major battles throughout the country that Hanoi unsuccessfully planned as a general uprising in support of their conquest, Tet 1968 is etched in memory as the time when our war shifted from long patrols and sporadic contact with an elusive enemy into a full-blown grind against conventional forces fighting with nearly suicidal fanaticism. After Tet 1968, the days of hunting and fighting little groups of guerillas in black pajamas ended. Our battlefield experiences became head-on smashes into formations of well-equipped and well-trained NVA forces willing to stand and fight to a bloody end.

There were Tet battles around allied enclaves and in most of the country’s major cities – notably Saigon, the South Vietnamese capitol – but one of the bloodiest struggles took place in Hue, the ancient seat of the Vietnamese emperors located in the northern part of the country, where upwards of three NVA regiments overran and held sway for nearly a month as U.S. Marines struggled to dislodge them from the southern and northern parts of a once-beautiful city divided by the Perfume River. It was in Hue during Tet 1968 that I became convinced, if I ever had any illusions to the contrary, that war in Vietnam was a very deadly game and it was way too easy to die playing it, no matter how skilled you were or how highly motivated you were to survive.

For me and the other Marines who fought there, Hue was a shock and a hard school where the tuition was paid in blood. We had been trained and had some hard-earned experience in jungle fighting

but the battles in the mean streets of Hue City was a different deal. It was a house-to-house, close combat gang-fight and barroom brawl where you often saw the bloodshot eyes of your enemy and where every round fired or explosive detonated was double-deadly due to flying concrete or rock shards that could kill or wound as easily as bullets or shrapnel. Fortunately, we had a few – very few – old salts in our ranks who had fought through similar conditions during the struggle to re-take Seoul during the Korean War and offered a few tips, but for the most part we had to fight in the urban sprawl of Hue on the fly, with major lessons learned at the cost of dead Marines. We eventually got it together sufficiently with experience on the south side of the city to attack and eventually dislodge the NVA from bastions inside Hue’s huge Citadel, a Southeast Asian version of a medieval castle, on the north side. It’s a massive understatement to say that no one who fought in Hue will ever forget that battle during Tet 1968. It’s likely why so many books – including my own “Run Between the Raindrops” – have been written about it.

It was a surreal experience; even more surreal than other battles during the war in Vietnam in which the enemy ambushed American forces in spooky jungle redoubts or stubbornly held the high ground on shell-blasted hilltops. For those of us who survived the battle for Hue City, this time of year holds a special meaning beyond the end of the first month of a new year. When we turn the page on our calendars from the end of January to the beginning of February, we do it with a shiver that has nothing to do with winter weather.

9 Responses to Tet – 1968

  1. John F Traynor

    Thank you so much the the change in the way veterans are protrayed. I am a Marine. I was with 3rd bn 26th Marines. I am proud of my time and now because your your work I talk about it more. I also Brag about you. Do U believe that the veterans with ptsd due to combat should get the medal of Honor for their would,.. isnt a mental wound just as painful
    Thank You Sir
    Semper Fi

  2. John F Traynor

    Oh Wow I didnt mean medal of honor I ment purple Heart…forgive the typo

  3. Bud Duncan

    Mr. Dye,
    I’ve enjoyed your acting portrayals, but what a shocker to learn you are a retired Marine with 2/3 in Vietnam. I too was in 2/3, 1965-1966. To coin your phrase “rent a Battalion”, I felt the same way.
    We were called a Special Operations unit back then. Keep up the good work.
    Bud Duncan

  4. Charles G McMahon

    Dear Dale, Thanks for what you have done to improve the public view of the military via “Hollywood”. In early March I attended a reunion of warriors who fought in Hue. The crew of the USS Hue City hosted a Hue City weekend at the Mayport, FL Naval Station. We had Marines, Army and of course our Navy Corpsman attended.
    The Captain of the USS Gonzales (DDG66) spoke about the Valor of Sgt. Freddie Gonzales, Alpha 1/1, Medal of Honor awardee and how his legacy inspire his crew to excel.
    Colonel Thompson, CO of 1/5 also spoke and representatives of the Vietnamese Hue Society related the many Communist murders of civilians which occurred during the battle. The Vietnamese thanked the veterans for fighting in Hue. Hope you can make one of these reunions some day. S/F, Charlie McMahon, Hotel Co. 2/5.
    PS: You may find this story of interest, I was on the reaction force for this convoy

  5. Billy Bones

    Hey Dale. Just got done reading Run Between the Raindrops. Overwhelming, dude! It’s guys like you and those who fought there that always make me proud to say that I was a Marine. Last week, my wife and I were at a big Asian veggie market and I saw another old Marine wearing a USMC jacket. Never saw the guy before in my life but I said, ” Hey Marine. How’s it hangin’ ” He said ” All the way to the left.” without missing a beat. Thanks again for the awesome read and take it easy. -Bill

  6. David M White

    Hello, I was a military police staff Sargent in Saigon on the morning of January 31, 1968. Just got off graveward patrol, we heard some gunfire in the direction of the US embassy. We snuck into an, alley were we could observe area and spotted a DOA MP near a hole blown in the outer wall. Headed back to base, arms room was locked and First Sargent shot lock off door with his .45 and started handing out M-16s. The rest is us against them in the battle of Saigon and us retaking the embassy back. The marines were fighting from the roof down and we were fighting from the ground up, pinning the many bad guys in middle. We also had a CIA agent with his Swedish K submachine gun helping. Hell of a day.

  7. Joe Tiscia

    Sir, just watched Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. Good Movie, one of my favorite. I was with you when you got to Phu Bai 2/5. We shared some Boze before we left for the war at Hue. We have a good website below. We were on a convoy headed to the Rock Crusher and brought supplies. On the way back 50 marines on 18 vehicles were attacked by 400 NVA. We fought day and most of the night. 21 Marines KIA and the rest of us sustained multiple wounds. Saved by a react force from 2/5 Phu Bai.

  8. Rick Martin

    Big Daddy DA, DYE, Had lots of good times with you and others at the Press Center 69-70

  9. Joe Tiscia

    Dale, did Gutsav Hasford (Joker) come with you to Phu Bai/ Hue? I know we shared some booze before heading out the next day for Hue. Was he with you that night? Gustav wrote a great book “Full Metal Jacket”; but his views later were less than stellar for us vets. He said we would be remembered as suckers. I do not feel as such. We raised our right hands and promised allegence to our country, even if it meant death. Our country did not give us the means to win this war; and now we are damned with less than stiller health care; and are dying at an alarming rate from the effects of Agent Orange. Gustav Hasford was a victim of Agent Orange,dying in 1993 from Diabetes. We are not suckers; but victims of a government that has thrown our lives away We are a forgotten generation.. Road to the graveyard

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