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Letters from Readers - Vietnam magazine April 2012

By Vietnam magazine 
Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: March 19, 2012 
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Tet 'Quickly Overwhelmed?'
The February article by Rod Paschall about Tet 1968 in Saigon ("The Center of the Storm") notes the United States "swiftly crafted a crushing counterattack" that "quickly overwhelmed" the Viet Cong in the battle for Saigon. U.S. military reporting from the time shows a different picture. The fighting began on January 31. On February 3, allied casualties in the offensive were 983 KIA and 3,483 WIA. After five days, the VC still held their positions on the edge of the Saigon Airport. On February 6, the ARVN were using artillery and airstrikes in Saigon in attempts to dislodge the VC. That same day the VC overran the 8th Precinct police station. The next day the U.S. reported more VC were entering Saigon from the south and a VC battalion was still fighting at the Phu Hoa race track. On February 10, U.S. infantrymen were lifted by helicopter into Saigon to help clear VC in the Cholon section of the city. On February 11, ARVN paratroopers clashed with a sizable VC force on the fringes of Saigon. On February 14, 13 U.S. soldiers were killed fighting in Saigon. On February 21, ARVN spotted Communist forces moving antiaircraft guns into the outskirts of Saigon. On February 23, the U.S. command announced 543 Americans had been killed in Vietnam, the highest one-week toll of the war. On March 1, the VC attacked Tan Son Nhut Air Base with rockets for the fourth time. The next day the U.S. command announced ARVN paratroopers fought a bitter battle a quarter of a mile from the end of a runway at Tan Son Nhut. On March 4, 48 Americans were reported killed in an ambush four miles north of the airport. This does not sound like an enemy that was "quickly overwhelmed" by a "swiftly crafted crushing counterattack."

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Peter Brush
Nashville, Tenn.

Rod Paschall responds: Mr. Brush is quite right in asserting serious fighting continued for some time after the initial VC/NVA assault. I recognized that in my article: "Serious fighting continued in the city for the next 20 days and in one case, it would last into March." However, by noon, January 31, less than 12 hours after the initial assault began, we had not only discovered what the enemy's objectives had been, we also knew which enemy units had been assigned to achieve those objectives. And we knew we had already defeated many of those units and were in the process of defeating those that remained. There was no doubt among the soldiers I was with that our men had won a great victory.

 

I was with the 92nd Military Police Battalion that was stationed in an old French Compound near the front gate of Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Hours before the 1968 Tet attacks began, a friend and I were standing on the perimeter and we noticed an unnatural silence. The 92nd's mission was river patrol, supply convoy escort and port security at Saigon. It is interesting to read about the history of the attacks and how some of the information is misreported or not reported. In December 1967, the 92nd was ordered to tear down its bunkers because they were no longer needed. It is reported that the 716th was the only unit protecting Saigon at the time. True, that was its mission, but the 92nd, with its 800 MPs, was also involved in protecting and securing the BOQs/BEQs after the initial attacks.

Michael King
Epping, N.H.

 

Rod Paschall lucidly explained how the U.S. military won a decisive victory during Tet 1968. Those of us in the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) and probably every other brigade-size unit across Vietnam shared similar experiences. Numbers vary widely, but North Vietnamese sources after the war reported that more than half of the 80,000 attacking Communist forces, their best forces, were killed in the first 10 days. The Viet Cong was mostly destroyed. The subordinate units of the 313th Radio Research Battalion (RRB) provided ample warning and locations of most enemy units, their intentions, capabilities and identity to U.S. and allied tactical intelligence officers and commanders throughout the II Corps Tactical Zone. A private in the 404th RRB attached to the 173rd was awarded the Legion of Merit medal for outstanding achievement in that regard. The certain conclusion is the U.S. military was not defeated during Tet.

Colonel Don E. Gordon, USA (ret.)
Patton Township, Pa.

Noel Still Cheers Vets
I have a bit to add about everyone's favorite gal, Chris Noel ("Making a Date With Chris," February). I lived in South Florida for 30 years, near where Chris has a home for homeless Vietnam veterans called Vetsville Cease Fire House. I know she has a constant struggle with funding and often she suffers great personal loss just to keep the doors open. Since she tried to love all the military members serving in Vietnam, and since she is still trying to care for those in need, it may benefit her organization greatly if all the Vietnam vets know about this situation.

Don Saunders
Spencer, Tenn.

Editor's Note: For nearly 20 years Chris Noel has been working to support Vietnam veterans in South Florida through Vetsville Cease Fire House. Contributions can be made online at Vetsville.net or by mail to Vetsville Cease Fire House, Inc., 291 N.E. 19th Ave., Boynton Beach, FL 33435.

 

A Clearer Picture of Pace
I was pleased that the article in the February issue, "To Soldier On in a Dying War," shed new light on the behavior of the infantry at Fire Support Base Pace, which paints a much more favorable picture than was portrayed at the time. As can also be seen from William Shkurti's article, there was no shortage of danger for the aircrews that were supporting not just FSB Pace but also all the other firebases and Vietnamese infantry under pressure in the region.

Geoffrey Carr
Redwood City, Calif.

Mayor Story Misstep
A minor correction to the February article "The Rise and Fall of the American Mayor of Saigon." I served with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade from July 1966 to February 1967. The 196th was almost all draftees and was formed at Fort Devens, Mass., in September 1965. The brigade deployed to Vietnam in July 1966, arriving in Vietnam in August. Thus the reference "In the fall of 1965 the 196th Light Infantry Brigade overran a Viet Cong camp" is inaccurate. The operation to which you refer was in 1966, just outside of Tay Ninh City in Tay Ninh Province. This was the beginning of what became Operation Attleboro.

Henry W. Glaudel
Phoenix, Ariz.

Editor's Note: Thanks to Mr. Glaudel and others for pointing out the incorrect date of the 196th LIB action. The error was made during the editing of the article.

Non-Citizen Soldiers
I had an experience very similar to Joseph Kinney's, reported in his article "Garcia's Cadillacs" (June 2011). I was sent to Vietnam in 1968 as a replacement to the 27th Marines. I was just out of high school and scared to death. Upon arrival in Da Nang, I was assigned to a "flames and 106s" platoon. My squad leader was a young Cuban, very athletic and highly motivated. His name was Raul Figeroa, but everyone knew him as "Figgie." I never saw him without a smile on his face. Later on I found out that he was not a citizen of the United States and had volunteered for Vietnam. He took me and other new arrivals under his wing and helped us learn our way around. He seemed to enjoy being in the jungles and wilderness. Hardly a day goes by that I don't think of Figgie. After our unit pulled out, I lost contact and never found him again. Sometimes, I wonder if he was just an angel sent there to help me and others survive to get back home.

Glen Duncan
Casselberry, Fla.

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