Khe Sanh Map Readers
The Khe Sanh issue (August) brought back a memory. The siege took place while I was a student at the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk,Va.We were away from our home bases and all we knew about Khe Sanh was what we read and saw in the news, which was all gloom and doom. One day a guest speaker, the vice chief of staff of the Army, took questions, and someone asked about Khe Sanh. His response was classic:“You are all military professionals. You can read a map. What do you think?”
That was the problem. We could read a map and thought that so long as the airstrip remained operational, Khe Sanh could hold out.Why, we wondered, was the news dwelling on Dien Bien Phu? The cases were not parallel. It was just another instance of the media’s distortion of the war.
Col. Joseph P. Martino, USAF (ret.)
Green Berets Shoeshine
I enjoyed the article on John Wayne and the making of the film The Green Berets (August). I was reminded that I met Robin Moore, the author of the book the movie was based on, at Fort Bragg in fall 1963 while attending the Special Forces Officers Qualification Course. Moore was a classmate of mine, having been given permission to attend the course in order to get material for his upcoming book. One day, he took his boots to the PX shoeshine concession to have them polished. When he picked them up, he asked how much it cost, whereupon the employee quoted a price that greatly surprised Moore. When asked why it cost so much, the person told Moore, “When you train with the ‘best’ you should expect to pay the ‘best’ price.”
Ricks Wrong on CIA
Thomas Ricks provides constructive insight to deficiencies of U.S. strategy and generalship during theVietnam War (“The Collapse of Generalship,”June). As a Vietnam War vet who served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 5th Special Forces Group, and Special Security Detachment, Laos, I do, however, take exception to Ricks including the CIA’s caustic judgment of military strategy and leadership in Vietnam. The CIA leadership was as confused and disjointed as the military’s, probably more so. It was more problem than solution, and its often-indiscriminate Phoenix Program—intended to seek out and eliminate the VC command structure—did more damage than good. As a chief example of contrast, the NSA predicted Tet, the CIA did not…and did not listen.
Col. Don E. Gordon, USA (ret.)
State College, Pa.
Joint Chiefs Letdown
In April of this year I reluctantly took out a two-year subscription to Vietnam. I received my first issue, June 2013, and was blown away by the honesty of your article “The Collapse of Generalship.”I had always blamed the civilians for the restrictions placed upon our forces. Surely President Johnson played a role in tying our hands, but to discover how General Maxwell Taylor sabotaged the efforts of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and blocked their communications was a shock. Being a native Texan, I’ve always compared the Vietnam War to our late beloved coach Tom Landry telling the Dallas Cowboys to go out and give 110 percent to beat the Washington Redskins— then stating that there’s just one catch: You can’t cross the 50 yard line. I’m amazed at the quality of your articles. I’ve moved from skeptic to fan! Keep up the good work.
Travesty on Hill 488
I served in a mortar platoon in Bravo Company, 2/1st, 196th Infantry Brigade in 1971-72. After reading the article on Hill 488 in the June issue, I am irate at the command mistakes made and am pained for those brave soldiers who were left to die. First, knowing the enemy was in the area in huge numbers and not providing a barrage of firepower before they sent out recon teams and larger groups like the one on 488 was criminal. Second, it was a tactical error to not send bombers to cover the Special Forces unit or drop in a reaction force. Someone should have lost his job over this, and every officer in any capacity during this battle should have had his career ended right then and there. We had no strategy on entering the Vietnam War and no exit strategy, but we also had the wrong people running the war.
I read with great interest the My War story by William L. Doyle in the April issue. I, too, was in the USAF from May 1966 to April 1970. In September 1967, I arrived on Guam for temporary duty and was assigned to the 4133rd Strategic Wing (Provisional), 3rd Air Division, where I worked in the bomb assembly building. One of our missions was to install primary delay units (PDU) on bomb fuzes, which controlled ground penetration. On at least one occasion, sometime between January and March 1967, bombs were brought back from the flight line to have the PDUs changed to increase the delay. Later, we were told that cement underground bunkers had been found and that the extended-delay PDUs allowed the bombs to penetrate them. I thank Mr. Doyle for his article. It provided a level of detail on logistics and planning that I was not aware of but that directly affected my efforts.
3rd Field Memories
I’ve been a subscriber since Issue 3 and always read Vietnam cover to cover as soon as it arrives. I especially enjoyed the portfolio of photos by Tom Johnson, “Saigon ’66,” in the April issue, which depicted a time between my two tours. The caption to a photo of the 3rd Field Hospital mentioned that it was converted from a school, which hit home with me. In 1964-65, I was with a unit that provided guard personnel for security at the school, the province of American children dependents of highranking military and diplomatic personnel. On my second tour in 1968-69, I lived for some months in the Newport“Hotel,”next door to the 3rd Field Hospital. Tom Johnson’s pictures were a great memory jog.
Yellow Spring, W.V.
I received my June issue five days after returning from a 12-day stay in Cholon, Vietnam. I spoke old French from South Louisiana and could talk to most Vietnamese while serving with the 1st Cav in the mid-1960s. Vietnam veteran John Kerry spoke neither French nor Vietnamese, and he only showed his ignorance when he testified before Congress. The Vietnamese lost their country in 1975, but the United States has gained some of their best. I’ve helped more than 120 Vietnamese refugees find jobs, housing and food.We did this with no government help but with respect for the brave soldiers who stayed fighting until the last day of the war.
Correction We regret that we ran the wrong photograph as part of our story on photojournalist Robert Ellison in the August 2013 issue. The person in the photo on page 28 is Oliver Noonan, another skilled photographer killed in the war. Those who knew both men said they were similar in more than appearance. Both were drawn to Vietnam and suffered untimely deaths. Noonan, who was on leave from the Boston Globe, was killed in August 1969 when a helicopter he was riding in was shot down near Da Nang. He was 29. Ellison, shot down at Khe Sanh in 1968, was 23.
Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.