Military Police in Tet 1968
I thoroughly enjoyed the February edition, which was devoted to remembering the Tet Offensive of 1968. It is gratifying to see that the soldiers who served during that offensive are not forgotten. When I received my copy of the magazine, I looked forward to reading your article on the Battle for Saigon. It was well written, but I think you missed a very important fact of this battle.
I served with the 716th Military Police Battalion in Saigon during Tet and found little mention of the involvement of that unit in your story. In Saigon, in late January of 1968, there were virtually no combat units available in the city. When the Tet Offensive began, it fell to the brave soldiers of the 716th MP Battalion to defend Saigon until help arrived. To the best of my knowledge, no MP unit had ever before been directly involved in armed combat against the enemy as a unit, and I am not sure it has happened since.
During Tet, the 716th MP Battalion lost 27 men killed in action and suffered 44 wounded. Members of the 716th were also awarded: one Distinguished Service Cross, one Silver Star, 89 Bronze Star Medals, 71 Purple Hearts and 64 Army Commendation Medals, for their service during the Tet Offensive. In addition, the 716th was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, again the only unit to be so recognized in the history of the MP Corps.
No facility in Saigon fell to the enemy during Tet, even though these defenders of Saigon were greatly outnumbered. The 716th MP Battalion was made up of Companies A, B and C, the 527th MP Company, the 90th MP Detachment, and C-52nd Infantry, attached for Security Assignments. It was because of these fine soldiers that the Battle for Saigon was not lost. The 716th performed admirably until help arrived, several hours after the initial engagements had commenced.
There are no men more deserving of recognition for their courage and fighting ability than those who served in the 716th MP Battalion during Tet. I am proud to have served with each of them and just thought you ought to know “the rest of the story.”
Michael L. Young
Tet and the Media
I was disappointed in Don North’s article, “VC Assault on the U.S. Embassy.” The former ABC reporter who wrote the article clearly showed his bias against the American war effort in Vietnam, at the same time that he was attempting to deny biased reporting on the war. He admitted that he was editorializing on the significance of the battle when he wrote, “…the capture of the US embassy for almost seven hours is a psychological victory that will rally and inspire the Viet Cong.” But the fact is that the embassy was attacked but not taken. What qualified him to draw such a broad conclusion? He rushed to get his story out without checking the facts.
His admiration for AP reporter Peter Arnett sheds more light on North’s attitude than it does on Arnett’s reporting. Arnett’s anti-American bias was evident through out his reporting career. In 1998 he falsely accused the U.S. government of using lethal nerve gas during a mission to kill American defectors in Laos during the Vietnam war in 1970. This report turned out to be completely unfounded.
I was home on leave before going to Vietnam. I saw the events unfolding on TV, but I didn’t think the battle was a psychological defeat. I read and heard about that when I returned home from ‘Nam.
Lake Forest, Calif.
Prior to Tet 1968, the press realized that with selective reporting it could manipulate the public perception of the war. The news became conflicted: MACV said one thing and the press another. In this duel of views, the press became antagonists, then propagandists. Contempt bred arrogance within the press corps. They closed ranks against “the follies” and the war. America’s pre – eminent journalist called the war a loser, and the public’s support for the war waned.
The press’ hold on the public mind brought President Richard Nixon down. Empowered, the press became the self-anointed moral conscience and compass of the nation. The distance between the headlines and the editorial page blurred. Hard, objective, truthful reporting became all but extinct. The press slipped the leash of the moral and public responsibility, and has run amok ever since. The losers were the troops and the nation.
Don North highlights the military hostility toward the press: “The fallout is still with us.” Indeed it is. The press’ performance in both Gulf Wars shows us that with some exceptions, the press is still venomously antimilitary. However, rebounding on the press, mistrust and hostility is shared by the military and an ever-growing number of the populace.
The military rebuilt itself magnificently. The press has yet to start.
Tet in Go Vap
I thoroughly enjoyed your Tet special.
Overlooked by history is the fight for the artillery at Go Vap (pages 28 and 29). In addition to the Vietnamese Artillery Headquarters, the ARVN 61st FA Battalion was at Go Vap. The 61st had been formed the previous fall and was to direct the support for the 5th ARVN Ranger Group, which had been assigned the mission of Saigon defense. The 61st was in its last stage of training and was to take its final readiness test after Tet. I had the honor of being the adviser to the battalion commander, Captain Nguyen Van Dat. The battalion camp was next to the ARVN Artillery Headquarters. We had six howitzers emplaced and 12 in the gun park.
On the first day of Tet, the 61st had only a small detachment, as most of the soldiers were off for the holiday. I was in my quarters in Saigon. The VC may not have realized that the 61st was in its location when they overran an adjacent ARVN housing compound, killing all the inhabitants. They surrounded the 61st, and the battalion managed to hold and kept them from advancing past Go Vap.
The second day of Tet, I managed to convince a warrant officer Huey pilot to drop me off at the 61st camp. (My first attempt had failed when a captain refused to go near the camp due to the heavy firing.) All that day, I provided support for the 4th Vietnamese Marine Corps Battalion, which was fighting its way to us. After dark, the VC intensified their assault on the camp. I directed AC-47 and Huey gunships to fire at the assault and kept the VC away until just before dawn. The VC then started their final charge.
I notified my headquarters that I was in a direct fire mode with the howitzers. (My S-3 asked if I had “air clearance.” I answered that my maximum ordinate was six feet and dropping.) I then manned the assistant gunner’s seat on a howitzer, with Captain Nguyen Van Dat in the gunner’s seat. The VC got through the fence and within 10 meters of the gun line. We were firing high-explosive rounds at the sides of buildings to activate the fuzes. The VC retreated, and the Vietnamese marines finally linked up. At dawn, there were two forward air controllers overhead, and they fired on the fleeing VC. The adviser to the Vietnamese marines was kind enough to write to my superiors and recommend me for a decoration. In time, I received the Silver Star. The 61st was awarded a Unit Citation— prob ably setting a record for the shortest time between activation and unit award. Captain Nguyen Van Dat was given a spot promotion to major.
As you can see, there was more to the battle than the removal of firing locks.
Exequiel R. Sevilla Jr.
Lt. Col., U.S. Army (ret.)
That Notorious Tet Photograph
I enjoyed your special issue on the Tet Offensive, but I must point out one glaring omission on pages 6 and 7 of the issue, where you published the two-page picture of Lt. Col. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong terrorist.
At the time that I viewed this incident on television, I too thought that the ARVN were a corrupt, undisciplined bunch of thugs that America was backing. Only years later did I reconsider that, when I saw an interview of photographer Eddie Adams, and heard him say he regretted the photo because the press did not print the “why” of Colonel Loan’s actions. It turns out, as reported in numerous places, that the VC terrorist Bay Lop had just killed a South Vietnamese colonel and his family.
Not surprisingly, the American news media, along with the rest of the world press, has ignored the “why” of this incident for the past 40 years. The Hanoi Communists have made out this terrorist as a martyr and a national hero. I can understand the American news media’s bias, since they wanted to undermine the American war effort while ignoring Hanoi Communist atrocities; thus their indifference to the Hue massacre for the past 40 years.
By not printing the “why” of this picture, you have done your readers a great disservice, especially the younger ones who were not born yet and are now studying this history. Frankly your readers deserved a lot better than they got.
Agent Orange in North Vietnam?
In the News section of the April issue, there is a story about U.S. government workers and service members saying they were in Guam when U.S. Air Force B-52s dropped Agent Orange on North Vietnam.
I find it hard to believe that the United States would have dropped Agent Orange on North Vietnam, and it is really hard to believe that if they did, the B-52 was the aircraft of choice.
11TH ACR, 1967-69
The Editor replies: You are correct. We regret the editing error in the news report.
Ace of Spades Trumps Again
Your October 2007 article about the origin of the use of the Ace of Spades brought back a lot of memories.
For a short time in May and June 1968, I was with a small group of soldiers from the 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry, 9th Infantry Division, assigned to river boats for re supply and ferry work. We would meet infantry units at prearranged map points. On almost every trip, we received fire from the banks. It made us feel like ducks in a shooting gallery.
Our biggest problem was trying to keep the kids off of the boats. Every time we beached, they seemed to pop up from no – where; if you weren’t on your toes they could strip your boat clean in about three minutes. Someone had to sleep on the boat when we were away from base camp.
We had heard that the Vietnamese were afraid of the spade symbol. We didn’t know why that was so, but we needed help.
The decks of spades were handy, but they didn’t keep the kids away. So I wrote home and asked my mother to make us some flags to fly on the boats. When we put them up, we were amazed at how well they worked. The spade made those kids sit on the bank, and they wouldn’t approach our boat even when we tried to coax them close. It was a relief not to have to worry about that anymore.
My mother heard a newscast that a helicopter had crashed into a river. The pilot was rescued by a small boat flying an Ace of Spades flag. She wrote and told me she knew that I was all right, but that I wasn’t keeping my head down. Mothers just seem to know.
The other use for a deck of 52 cards was to cut up one card every week. I still have my coming-home card: the Ace of Spades.
On page 39 of the April issue, in “Big Catch in the Fishhook,” an AH-1 Cobra gunship was referred to as an AG-1 Cobra gunship.
Originally published in the June 2008 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.