Tet Pix Fix
The caption to the picture on page 33 (“Tet in the Mind’s Eye”) in the February issue misidentifies the U.S. adviser carrying the ARVN Ranger, who had been shot in both feet, as 1st Lt. Gary D. Jackson. It is actually me, Captain Robert A. Reitz, senior adviser to the 35th Ranger Battalion, ARVN. Gary, who had joined me on Jan. 27, 1968, was engaged in fighting at Phu Tho Racetrack at the time. He was severely wounded on February 9. He passed away in 1975 as a result of his wounds.
Robert A. Reitz
Talking Rock, Ga.
Editor’s note: When AP photographer Dang Van Phuoc’s photo of Reitz first appeared in Newsweek in 1968, Reitz was simply identified as a “GI.” Subsequent publication of the picture had identified Reitz as Gary Jackson. The AP has now corrected the photo’s caption information.
From Hue With Love
I truly enjoyed the article “Tet in the Mind’s Eye” in the February issue. I had my own personal combat experiences during Tet, and I appreciated the many points of view explaining the mostly iconic photographs of that time. The only exception to my enjoyment was the (maybe innocent?) antiwar editorializing that Dick Swanson wrote about the house-to-house fighting that we experienced in Hue City. Mr. Swanson chose the Life photo of the Alfa Company, 1st Tank Battalion Headquarters blade tank (A-52) as it ferried wounded Marines to an aid station. To correct Mr. Swanson, the house-to-house combat was not “futile,” other than in the fact that the U.S. military did not properly prepare its Marines in Hue or soldiers in Saigon in the most effective techniques of urban combat. With regard to “unspeakable horrors” of war, if the United States and its allies had not drawn the line in the sand in Vietnam, perhaps today’s world would be under the jackboot of Russian-inspired communism.
The famous photo of the Marines crowding behind the tank in Hue City, which appeared on Vietnam’s table of contents page, has more of a story than your caption told. The tank was an M-67A2 flamethrower commanded by Corporal Charles West and driven by Lance Cpl. Bradford Goodin. The tank’s designation was F-32 and the name painted on the gun tube was Toy u ahn, which is Vietnamese for “I Love You.” Several days after this photo was taken, West was wounded in action and I then joined the crew. When the fighting on the south side of the Perfume River was over, we changed the name of the tank to Crispy Critters.
New Hope, Pa.
Tet: Winning While Losing
Thanks for the interview with my fellow Texas Aggie James Willbanks and for Lien Hang T. Nguyen’s “War for Peace” article on the peace negotiations in Paris in your February edition. I found both articles insightful, but I was also struck by the lack of emphasis in each on the full impact of the Tet Offensive on North Vietnam’s leadership. For deeper insight on this, one should carefully study the interviews of NVA Colonel Bui Tin in the Wall Street Journal (Aug. 3, 1995). Bui served as General Vo Nguyen Giap’s military secretary, and he also took the surrender of Saigon in 1975. His discussions with U.S. Army Colonel Harry Summers at the Paris Peace Talks are also enlightening.
Bui acknowledges that Tet was initially seen as a disastrous and costly loss by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam leadership because of the huge and debilitating NVA losses, and the fact that the Viet Cong movement was decimated— and that consideration was being given to purging and liquidating Giap as the scapegoat. That, according to Bui Tin, would be followed by a general withdrawal of NVA forces from South Vietnam, and long-term and quiet covert efforts to replace and rebuild the cadres of the Viet Cong movement. This thinking was reinforced by the fact that Giap had tried the same simultaneous uprising offensive strategy against the French in 1950, and had failed completely, also with significant losses. So in essence, North Vietnam was about to suspend hostilities in the immediate post-Tet period. Then Walter Cronkite declared Tet was an American defeat, and that the war was“unwinnable.”The radicals in the streets and the press bolstered those notions in the United States. In North Vietnam, Giap was saved from his disgrace and restored as a heroic figure.
If there are lessons to learn in this version of history, it is, first, that victory often comes to the side that does not blink when both sides are on the ropes; and second, war is not about high-tech superiority, it is and will always be about national will.
Catching Lightning Bugs
I really enjoyed the article on the drones in the February issue (“Lightning Bug War Over North Vietnam”). I was stationed onboard the USS Sumner County during 1968 as the leading radar man, and we were anchored in Da Nang harbor, waiting for our next assignment, when the USS Rich came steaming in and picked up a Lightning Bug, which had landed in the water next to us in the harbor. I was able to take a picture of it. Keep up the good work on the magazine.
St. John, Ind.
Of Nurses and Heroes
While enjoying all the articles in the February issue, I was particularly touched and jolted into a pleasant flashback when I read the “My War” story about the beautiful Army Captain Elizabeth Allen. I spent 15 straight months in various military hospitals after I was shot up during the Tet truce violation of Feb. 11, 1967, the year before Captain Allen jumped into the fray during Tet 1968. My left thigh was broken by a three-round burst of AK-47 fire during an attempt to revive my friend Marcus Delmar White, who died in my arms.
Eventually, after more than three months in traction in a hospital in Japan, I was flown back to the States and to Valley Forge Army Hospital in rural Phoenixville, Pa. The huge orthopedic ward was divided into side D, for amputees, and side C for all the other broken and shattered bodies, like mine.
In command of both sides was this gorgeous, dedicated and kindhearted woman we called Major McCloud.I don’t recall her first name. It was unheard-of and too disrespectful to call her anything else but Major, or Ma’am.We all loved her. She also saw combat action in some distant field hospital in Vietnam.To us as teenagers,she seemed like an older woman, but I guess she was in her mid-30s, if not younger. Under her command was Captain Patricia Dunn from the Philadelphia area who had just a few months earlier finished a dramatic tour at the 85th Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon.She had great stories about being shelled by 120mm mortars, describing how the nurses had to cover patients with bed mattresses in an attempt to protect them. Captain Allen and the heroic nurses who cared for my wounded comrades and me deserve our gratitude and respect. All of them are heroes.
Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.