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When Saigon was shaken to its core

As America’s recent experience in Iraq has reminded us, military activity in any hostile urban environment is fraught with danger. The potential for death and destruction lurks around every corner. Heavily populated cities make inviting targets for guerrillas and terrorists alike, where chaos can be unleashed and the morale of the populace undermined. In May 1968, just weeks after the Tet Offensive had played out, the Viet Cong, with strong support from the North Vietnamese Army, launched another drive against the South. Because it had many fewer targets than the earlier onslaught, the May offensive is widely known as mini Tet. With proposed peace talks in the offing, this second wave of assaults was largely an effort on the part of Hanoi to ratchet up pressure and show that despite huge Communist losses during Tet, it retained the ability to infiltrate and spread mayhem virtually anywhere. For much of May, Saigon was a city in chaos as Communist forces penetrated inside the capital, waging a terror campaign of bombings and ambushes, forcing massive evacuations that clogged the city’s streets with refugees and provided cover for even more guerrilla infiltration.

British photojournalist Tim Page, along with hundreds of other reporters and photographers, were in Saigon in May 1968. The brutal urban warfare caught many of them off guard, and in its earliest hours journalists, accustomed to getting around the city in relative safety, were suddenly in dangerous territory. Several were killed and wounded, trapped in ambushes or simply stopped on the street and summarily executed by Viet Cong. In our cover story, through his eyewitness accounts and extraordinary images, Tim Page provides a glimpse of the madness of mini Tet and its devastating impact on Saigon.

Also in this issue, we recount one of the most amazing feats of skill and courage of the Vietnam War. Marine Captain John Ripley’s nearly singlehanded action to stop some 20,000 invading North Vietnamese troops in their tracks on Easter morning 1972 was a singular act that dramatically affected the course of the war— and may have extended the life of South Vietnam by three years.

As was Ripley, Ben Crosby was an American military adviser working side by side with South Vietnamese commanders. Crosby’s first-person account of his advisory team’s success in the heart of an enemy-dominated district—and its harrowing battle with a North Vietnamese Army regiment sent to destroy it—is a poignant and timely reminder that winning over hearts and minds of the populace is among the American military’s most potent weapons.


Originally published in the October 2009 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.