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Letter From October 2006 Vietnam Magazine

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: September 13, 2006 
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Tet in Bien Hoa and Long Binh
Thank you for Lt. Col. John Gross' story of the battles around III Corps and Long Binh (February 2006). I was there too, and we were very grateful for the mechanized infantry and people like Gross (a lieutenant in 1968), who met the beast face on.

There was also one item I found incredibly fascinating: the appearance of a Los Angeles uniformed deputy sheriff. In all the confusion and chaos, I saw this guy too — but later just chalked it up to combat delusion. I would really appreciate it if someone who knows could clue me in as to why the Los Angeles sheriff was in III Corps helping our MPs during Tet 1968. Talk about distant assignments!

Theodore F. Meyer
Santa Cruz, Calif.

An Hoa Combat Base, Revisited
Ronald J. Brown's comments in the August "Letters" column about my An Hoa article ("Fighting Forces," February 2006) made me realize that I had in fact misplaced the main part of the Arizona Territory by saying it was southwest. It was north of An Hoa, but the Arizona Valley covers a large area from the Song Vu Gia in the north down to the hamlets of An Bang, which are southwest of An Hoa.

In my defense, Route 4 was in my original copy for the article, and somewhere in the final edit "National Route" was added. As for Base 112, I just did not have space to mention it. Perhaps Ronald Brown or I could write an article about this area of enemy activity. The main thing is, the Marines who served at An Hoa are not forgotten, and I know Brown and I have tried to ensure that.

Alan Waugh
Suffolk, England

Editor's note: Our Authors' Guidelines are available at the addresses below.

M-24 Chaffee Light Tank
As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed your June issue. Christopher Miskimon's "Arsenal" column on the M-24 Chaffee light tank requires comment.

I don't doubt that the M-24 was much better than its predecessors in WWII, but it was far from a good light tank. It used the same short-barreled, low-velocity 75mm gun used by the North American B-25H — good for sinking Japanese trawlers, but not for demolishing medium tanks. When I joined the 14th Armored Cavalry in Germany in 1950 as a second lieutenant platoon leader, I inherited two M-24s — sorry excuses for tanks.

The 75s didn't have a prayer of pen-etrating a Soviet tank. We carried smoke rather than armor-piercing rounds, hoping to blind the enemy long enough to get out of the way.

The powertrain was another problem, with poorly synchronized separate engines and transmissions for the two sides. And the frontal armor was no match for Soviet tanks or AT guns. My own tank had been penetrated during WWII, and the welded patch in its front slope didn't instill confidence.

We were relieved when the new M-41 tanks with high-velocity 76mm guns and better powertrains arrived.

As mentioned in my article back in your October 2003 issue ("Armor Adviser to the ARVN"), when I arrived in Vietnam as a major in 1965, I encountered a "pillbox" in I Corps that had a familiar-looking patch in its front slope plate. On inspection of its gun book, it turned out to be my own M-24 tank from 15 years earlier!

Colonel Raymond R. Battreall (ret.)
Tucson, Ariz.

Christopher Miskimon states that the M-24 tanks were replaced in the mid-'60s by the M-41 Pershing. The Pershing was the M-26 medium tank and it came out in 1944, entering combat in Germany in 1945. It never served in Vietnam.

The M-41 was known as the "Walker Bulldog." It was a light tank that entered production in 1951. Those in Vietnamese service were M-41A3s, the final version of the tank, and they began arriving in Vietnam in January 1965. By the end of that year, five squadrons (equivalent to a U.S. company) had been reequipped. Vietnam received a total of 400 M-41A3s.

Twenty-two nations used the M-41; the M-42 "Duster," which also served in Vietnam, uses the same chassis.

Philip C. Gutzman
Middleton, Idaho

Battle for History
In "Battle for the History of the Vietnam War" (June 2006), Mark Stone was right to say that history is "often written by the victors." However, his concentration on today's Vietnamese propaganda, especially to tourists, is only the smallest and perhaps least important part of that battle.

The former North Vietnamese are not the only victors writing the war's history. Most of the academics and mainstream media who write, teach and comment on the war in the United States see their antiwar actions as good and noble. They portray their opponents — Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ngo Dinh Diem, Nguyen Van Thieu, William Westmoreland, Robert McNamara, etc. — as corrupt, evil and inept. They give Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Lao and Khmer Communist leaders a moral and practical pass even though the Communists were violent, unscrupulous, antidemocratic and militarist.

What were the VC fighting for? Nike shoe factories and Western tourists? I strongly believe that the Indochina of the future will be the free, democratic, prosperous land that Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, et al., envisioned, and that Ho and his cronies' sick dream of communism will be dead, no matter what the "victors' " histories say.

Raymond Paul Opeka
Grand Rapids, Mich.

In Mark Stone's article, the date May 29, 1973, in the picture caption on page 31 is not correct. The correct date should be March 29, 1973 — the day the last U.S. military forces departed Vietnam.

That date will never leave my mind; I boarded the next-to-last plane that left Saigon. I remember North Vietnamese Lt. Col. Bui Tin standing by the stairs as the last troops boarded the airplane. His face was stern and lacked emotion. He held a clipboard and made a mark for each person who boarded the plane. There was very little exchange of conversation between the U.S. troops and his party.

I enjoy your magazine and read every issue cover to cover.

Sr. Master Sgt. Arnold R. Lilly
U.S. Air Force (ret.)
White Plains, Md.

The victors usually but not exclusively write the history of war; however, nondemocratic regimes will often go to great lengths to portray a crushing defeat as a ringing victory. They do this to reinforce their position and maintain control over the population.

I am unsure of the figures, but I believe that a considerable majority of the population of the DRV were born after the war, and to maintain its grip, the regime in Hanoi has to constantly reinforce and rehearse a particular version of the conflict. There is, however, one fact that they need not fabricate: The forces of the PAVN triumphed over the ARVN.

There can be no more definitive image of defeat than the footage of the PAVN tanks running over the lawns of the Presidential Palace, or the images of the Air America Huey lifting off from the roof of the CIA station chief in Saigon. Whatever American political objectives were in Vietnam, they were not achieved. The simplest objective was the establishment and maintenance of a demo-cratic pro-Western RVN, and, sadly, that objective was always just out of reach. This is not to decry the stalwart efforts of the American fighting men or the considerable sacrifice made by the United States of America. It's simply a fact. The outcome may not be to our liking, but it was not inconclusive.

Of greater concern should be the lack of understanding of the war in the West, and in particular within the United States. I have had the privilege of visiting the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial on four occasions, and each time, I have been alarmed by the ignorance of the conflict I heard from other visitors. Incredibly, I heard a mother tell her children that she did not know which side America supported during the war.

To fully understand the war and why it occurred, it must be seen in proper context. Decisions made by the British government and the United Nations in 1945 influenced events in 1965 when the U.S. Marine Corps splashed ashore in Da Nang. French colonial policymaking during WWII would lead to the disaster of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Almost more than any other factor, the rise of the right within American politics and the associated obsession with confronting and halting the spread of communism directly influenced American thinking and decision making on Southeast Asia.

We should be less concerned about Vietnamese propaganda, and focus more on ensuring that the truth of the war, whatever it is, be fully understood by those who would want to know.

James McNeill
Glasgow, Scotland, UK

French Conquest of Saigon
I want to thank you for the excellent magazine. As a veteran of three tours of duty in Vietnam (and a few months in Cambodia), and a student of the history of Vietnam and its many wars, I find your magazine an outstanding source of information. I was especially pleased to see "The French Conquest of Saigon," by James Haley, in your June issue. Information on pre–World War II Vietnam seems very hard to come by, and this was a refreshing change.

Mark D. Raab
Reisterstown, Md.

 

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