This article was forwarded to me by my friend, R J Del Vecchio via e-mail. Its’ author, Don Taylor, originally posted this on 1/29/2018 on Free Republic dot com and didn’t include photos…those you’ll see within the essay were added by me for this posting. This is an excellent report on what one man saw on the eve of TET and shows how many of the signs were discounted as “normal”. In the final two paragraphs, he slides into politics a bit further than perhaps some will like, but he is entitled to his opinion on that. This is what he had to say:
As we approach its 50th Anniversary, please allow me to share with you my memories of the Vietnam War’s 1968 Tet Offensive, and the “Butterfly Effect” spawned by this Tet Offensive.
The Chinese New Year celebration was called Tet in Vietnam and it was the only holiday they celebrated during the year. Tet celebrations lasted for two weeks, and it wasn’t just a time for drinking, feasting, and partying, it was a time for family reunions where Vietnamese traveled great distances to be with their families during those two weeks.
Prior to Tet 1967, a truce had been negotiated with the Communists, and both sides had agreed to a cease-fire during the two weeks of Tet in 1967. The Communists had honored this mutually agreed upon truce and had maintained a cease-fire throughout the 1967 two week Tet celebration, but we had observed them blatantly moving troops and equipment in the open without fear of attack from us.
In 1968, the South Vietnamese Government negotiated another truce with the Communists and both sides agreed to another cease-fire again for Tet 1968. The Communists had profited greatly from the previous Tet 1967 cease-fire when they had used the cease-fire to resupply and refit their units in the field without interference from U.S. air and artillery strikes, so we fully expected them to honor their agreed upon Tet 1968 cease-fire, as it was fully to their advantage to do so, or so we thought at the time.
However, the Communists used this 1968 mutually agreed upon cease-fire to infiltrate its Viet Cong combat units into all major cities in South Vietnam under the cover of the extensive pre-holiday travel that preceded Tet, when many Vietnamese returned home to be with their families during the Tet holidays. This infiltration was in preparation for simultaneous attacks throughout South Vietnam at midnight on January 30, 1968. An estimated fifteen Viet Cong battalions, to include the entire Viet Cong 9th Division with its 271st, 272nd, and 273rd Regiments, were infiltrated to positions in and around Saigon with the intent of capturing South Vietnam’s Capitol. For some reason, we had all forgotten that all Communists are “Ends Justify the Means” liars, and in the end, it cost the South Vietnamese their freedom from Communism.
As luck would have it, I flew into Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base outside Saigon on the afternoon of January 30, 1968 returning from leave, and that day was Chinese New Year’s Eve with the Tet Holiday beginning at midnight. I couldn’t get a flight out to return to my Special Forces A-Camp at Chi Linh until the next day, so I decided to phone my old friend Glenn Forsythe and ask him to come out to Tan Son Nhut and pick me up.
Glenn Forsythe and I had gone through Special Forces Training together at Fort Bragg, NC in 1963, and after SF Training, Glenn remained at Fort Bragg with the 5th Special Forces Group, but I transferred to the 1st Special Forces Group in Okinawa. We met again in Vietnam in 1967 when Glenn was assigned to the Special Forces Camp at Loc Ninh and I was thirty kilometers away at the Special Forces Camp at Chi Linh. When Glenn transferred to a classified unit in Saigon, he gave me his phone number and invited me to call him whenever I was in Saigon, and I did just that.
Glenn drove an M-151 Jeep out to Tan Son Nhut, picked me up and took me back to the hotel where his unit was located. Glenn’s unit, Special Forces Detachment B-57, had taken over a four story hotel off Tran Hung Dao Street in down town Saigon, not far from the Presidential Palace, and had turned it into a very secure compound, so we spent the evening drinking in the hotel bar and listening to the Vietnamese celebrate New Year’s Eve. As usual, the Vietnamese were celebrating the arrival of Tet with firecrackers and shooting in the air with every weapon they had. We did notice that this year they had added grenades and other explosives to their usual celebratory shooting and they didn’t stop at midnight like they usually did, but what the heck, we thought they were just celebrating a little harder this year.
Even with the sounds of what we thought were Tet celebration still ongoing long after midnight, we called it a night and went to bed, as we had to get up early the next morning and return to Tan Son Nhut to catch our flights; I had a flight to An Loc in Binh Long Province, and Glenn had a flight to 5th Special Forces Group Headquarters in Nha Trang. When we got up shortly before sunup the next morning, what we thought to be celebratory firecrackers and shooting, to include explosive detonations, hadn’t stopped, but we ignored it. We took an M-151 Jeep, along with a Nung driver, and drove off toward Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base five miles away.
It wasn’t quite sunrise when we turned off Truong Minh Gian Street onto Doan Thi Diem Street and passed by the Philippine Embassy. The gates to the Embassy compound were blown off and several bodies were lying in the street, but we ignored it and considered it just another everyday occurrence in Saigon. We thought the Philippine Embassy attack was just another isolated terrorist attack that occasionally happened around Saigon, and these terrorists never hung around after sun up because they knew if they did, they’d be killed. We just knew it couldn’t be anything more than that, because the Communists had agreed to a cease-fire, or so we thought at the time.
When we turned onto Hai Ba Trung Street, usually the busiest street in Saigon, the sound of celebratory firecrackers and shooting still continued around us, but the usual hustle and bustle of Saigon’s morning traffic was nowhere to be seen; ours was the only vehicle on the street, and there were no people to be seen anywhere. The streets of Saigon were absolutely deserted and they should have been filled with people celebrating the New Year.
We continued driving north on Hai Ba Trung Street in our topless Jeep clearly visible as two U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers driving toward Tan Son Nhut, and we met no other vehicles or saw anyone on or near the street as we drove the five miles to the air base. When we approached the front gate to Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base, we found the entrance blocked by concrete barricades and concertina barbed wire, but no one was visibly guarding the entrance. At the time, we had no way of knowing the north, east, and west sides of the Air Force Base were currently under full attack by elements of the Viet Cong 9th Division, and the air base was anticipating an attack from the south, the direction from which we were approaching.
I was in the front passenger seat as we drove up beside one of the five-foot tall concrete barricades blocking the entrance, and I noticed the barrels of automatic weapons protruding from the firing ports of the two bunkers on each side of the entrance, and the weapons were aimed directly at us, but I still saw no one around the gate…until I looked down. Lying in the dirt near the bottom of the concrete barricade was a U.S. Marine Corps Master Sergeant with a M-16 rifle aimed at me, and he was in full summer dress Tropical Worsted uniform, complete with ribbons and badges, as he looked up at me and I looked down at him. I was so taken aback by what I saw and what it meant, that for a moment I was speechless, and then I said, “We’re going to have to move these barricades; we have a plane to catch,” but the Marine looked up at me as if I was an apparition (or a clueless idiot) and replied, “You ain’t going anywhere; Charley owns the other end of the runway.” The continuous “celebratory” gunfire, the destroyed Embassy, the bodies lying in the street, and the deserted streets hadn’t alerted us to the fact that something was terribly amiss that morning, but the sight of that USMC Master Sergeant in Summer Dress uniform complete with ribbons and badges and in the low-crawl in the dirt told us without a doubt that there was no cease-fire and war had unexpectedly come to Saigon.
We turned around and drove back into Saigon, but this time we didn’t take Hai Ba Trung Street (Never return the same way you came), we took Cong Ly, an adjacent street. Cong Ly Street was just as deserted as Hai Ba Trung Street had been; until we came upon a lone U.S. Army Special Forces soldier running down the center of the street ahead of us. We overtook and pulled up beside him, but before we could ask if he needed a ride, he jumped into the back of the Jeep and shouted, “Go! Go! Go! They’re all around us.”
I could see he was unarmed and frightened out of his wits, so I asked him, “Who’s all around us?” He shouted back at me, “The VC!! I was staying at my girlfriend’s house, and last night around midnight the VC came down the street where she lived pulling people out of their homes and shooting them, so I took off running and they’ve been chasing me all night.”
We drove back into Saigon, dropped off the Special Forces soldier at the Special Forces compound on Pasteur Street, and then we returned to Glenn’s compound on Tran Hung Dao Street. By that time, Glenn’s unit had been alerted to the fact that the city was under attack, and we took up defensive positions on the unit’s perimeter. Apparently, Glenn’s Special Forces unit (B-57) was so highly classified that they were out of the “loop” and didn’t receive timely alerts from IDC (Installation Defense Command), or IDC failed to realize the cease-fire agreement had been broken and the city was under attack. The Viet Cong probably didn’t know B-57 was there, and Glenn’s unit was never attacked during what came to be called the Tet Offensive, but we had a ring-side seat as the Tet Offensive raged around us. Initially, none of us completely understood what was happening, but when we observed air strikes from the hotel’s rooftop and saw the U.S. Air Force bombing targets and conducting strafing runs in the middle of Saigon, we began to understand the seriousness of the situation.
During the next two weeks, reports continued to come in and we were eventually able to piece together what had occurred on the morning of January 31, 1968. When we drove away from Glenn’s compound that morning, the U.S. Embassy had already been attacked and penetrated by the Viet Cong; the Presidential Palace was under attack a few blocks away, as was Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base and every other military compound and Embassy in and around the city, and these attacks were simultaneously occurring in every city throughout the country. Fifteen battalions of Viet Cong had been broken down into squads and platoons and fanned out across Saigon led by Communist agents who lived in Saigon. These Communist agents had prepared name and address lists of all military and police officers in the city, and these squads and platoons systematically went to these officer’s homes, pulled them out into the street and shot them in front of their families.
With the number of Viet Cong troops known to be in Saigon the morning of January 31, 1968, how Glenn Forsythe and I managed to drive through Saigon all the way to Tan Son Nhut AFB and back again without incident remained a mystery, but the real puzzler was intelligence reports stated the two bridges we crossed going and coming from Tan Son Nhut had been under communist control since midnight of January 30, 1968.
It was two weeks before Saigon and Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base could be cleared of Communist forces and I could return to my comparatively quiet Special Forces Camp on the Cambodian Border. The Cambodian border areas were quiet then simply because the Viet Cong units we had been in combat with for the previous two years had all been elements of the Viet Cong 9th Division, and the Viet Cong 9th Division no longer existed. It had gone into Saigon with its 271st, 272nd, and 273rd Regiments and they never came out; they had died almost to a man.
The 1968 Tet Offensive was a coordinated “Do or Die” attack by every Viet Cong unit in Vietnam on the night of January 30 and the morning of January 31, 1968 that simultaneously struck every South Vietnamese City, village, and military installation in an attempt to win the war in one country wide attack; they failed and they paid the price for their failure; they died. The annihilation of Viet Cong units was carried out by American and South Vietnamese combat units throughout South Vietnam and was a disaster for the Communist insurgency, as it never recovered from its losses. The war was carried on after Tet 1968 by invading North Vietnamese, and North Vietnam could never move sufficient troops down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to ever hope to defeat the United States effort in South Vietnam, so they resorted to their favorite Communist tactic; they lied.
1968 was a Presidential Election year, and the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) attempted to use the Tet Offensive to influence the election by claiming it was a Communist victory and the war was lost. The CPUSA organized an anti-war movement and assembled enough strength through this movement to seize control of the Democrat Party that summer during the 1968 Democrat Convention in Chicago. These Communists attempted to nominate a Presidential candidate who would quit the war and they failed, but the CPUSA still retained control of the Democrat Party, and this Party managed to elect enough Leftists to Congress to cut funding for the Vietnam War, pulled all U.S. Forces and materiel support out of South Vietnam, and the war was then lost, so in this way the 1968 Tet Offensive was indeed a Communist victory.
And I’ll always wonder about how that Marine Master Sergeant came to be crawling around in the dirt in his summer dress uniform at the Main Gate of Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base the morning of January 31, 1968.
Thank you for your service and sacrifice, Donald J. Taylor! Welcome Home!
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