A Combat Veteran Remembers the Greatest Battles of the Vietnam War

I recently received an inquiry from Jim Taylor, a fellow combat veteran of the War in Vietnam. Jim sent me a link to an article about combat veteran Sergeant John Ross who served in 1968 with the 173rd Infantry Brigade (Airborne) in Vietnam. Sergeant Ross was part of the battle for Dak To in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. The article was written by Don Moore and titled “Sgt. John Ross in 173rd Airborne, took part in biggest battle in Vietnam War“.

Jim questioned whether the battle for Dak To was in fact the “biggest battle of the Vietnam War.”

For every soldier the battles they were involved in are, at the time, the biggest ones, and as time goes on they become even bigger. Our fellow U.S. Army airborne soldiers should be commended for their bravery in combat, and we should never forget our surviving and fallen comrades sacrifices. All gave some and some gave all.

The Vietnam War website column “What were major Battles of the Vietnam War?” lists the following battles as major:

Battle of Ap Bac (January 2, 1962)

Battle of Ap Bac was the first major battle in the Vietnam war. It was fought by the ARVN and NVA at Ap Bac – a village in Dinh Tuong province, approximately 50 miles southwest of Saigon on January 2, 1962. The battle resulted in heavy casualties on a much more superior South Vietnamese troops with American assistance in weapons and planning. It exemplified poor performances in both fighting ability and spirit of the South Vietnamese forces in compared to the Viet Cong.

Battle of Ia Drang Valley (October 26 – November 27, 1965)

Battle of Ia Drang was the first major battle between regular U.S. and People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) troops. The 2-part battle occurred from November 14 to November 18, 1965 at the Landing Zone X-Ray and Albany in La Drang Valley, Central Highlands of South Vietnam. Despite heavy casualties on both sides, both claimed the battle was a victory of their owns. As a matter of fact, Ia Drang Valley battle was considered essential  as it set the blueprint for tactics for both sides during the conflict. American troops continued to reply on air mobility and artillery fire to achieve their battlefield objectives – victory of the so-called “body count”. On the other side, the Viet Cong learned that by quickly engaging their combat forces close to the enemy (fighting at close range), they could neutralize American advantages.

Battle of Khe Sanh  (January 21 – April 9, 1968)

The Battle of Khe Sanh took place in Quang Tri province, North-western South Vietnam from January 21, 1968, when PAVN troops began a heavy artillery bombardment on the U.S. Marine garrison at Khe Sanh. For the next 77 days, ARVN and U.S. Marines fought an extensive fight until Operation Pegasus ended the siege. Khe Sanh turned out to be one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.

Aftermath, both sides claimed victory despite heavy casualties on the communists and the fact that the U.S. had to abandon a key combat base due to enemy pressure for the first time. Although the U.S. officials expected a full-scale offensive from the North Vietnamese troops, it never came. Instead, Battle of Khe Sanh seemed a diversionary tactic to distract American & South Vietnamese forces from the Viet Cong build-up in the South for the so-called “Tet Offensive”.

2LT Rich Swier, Tet 1968 – Battle for Hue, South Vietnam

The author, a 2nd Lieutenant with the 101st Airborne Division during the 1968 Tet Offensive – taken during the Battle for Hue, South Vietnam. Photo by the author.

The Tet Offensive (January 30 – March 28, 1968)

While the U.S. and South Vietnamese were still focusing on Khe Sanh, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops surprisingly launched the Tet Offensive – a series of aggressive and coordinated surprise attacks on over 100 major towns and cities throughout South Vietnam on January 30 – the first day of Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year).

Despite its surprise and initial success, the communists were quickly repelled within several hours or days except for Saigon, which took around 2 weeks and particularly Hue, which took the PAVN nearly a month to recapture the former capital city of Hue.

The Tet Offensive was, in deed, a massive military defeat for the North communists. However, the offensive could be seen as a “strategic”, “psychological” win and a turning point in the war for them as it shocked the U.S. government and public at home.

What’s the difference between biggest and major? The battles impact on the outcome of the war!

I served with the 101st Airborne Division and was in Vietnam for the 1968 Tet Offensive. It was a major battle that turned the tide of the war against the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army. I know, I was there. It was a clear North Vietnamese defeat on the battlefield.

Cronkite vietnam

Walter Cronkite in Vietnam.

However, Walter Cronkite called it a loss for our military and the Tet Offensive of 1968 was the beginning of the end of our involvement in Vietnam. In his National Interest article “Cronkite’s Vietnam Blunder“, Robert W. Merry writes:

Douglas Brinkley’s new biography of Walter Cronkite has sparked an intriguing controversy about the CBS anchorman’s famous trip to Vietnam in February 1968. That’s when, as legend has it, Cronkite was so shocked at the devastation of the communists’ Tet offensive that he went over to see for himself what was really going on. And he concluded the war was a stalemate, probably unwinnable.

Brinkley buys the argument, put forth by the late David Halberstam in his characteristically portentous manner, that Cronkite’s February 27 [1968] broadcast, “Report from Vietnam,” played a major role in turning Americans against the war and inducing President Lyndon Johnson to abandon his reelection campaign.

Read more.

This lead to increased calls to exit Vietnam and eventually gave North Vietnam their final victory in Paris, France. Congress capitulated, the South Vietnamese were abandoned. The Christian genocide in Vietnam began.

I, to this day, say that our military won the war on the ground in Vietnam but lost the war on the streets of Washington, D.C. and in Congress due to the protests. We won the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people but lost the hearts and minds of the American people. Each battle during the Tet Offensive, from Khe Sahn to Dak To to the the battle for Hue, were part of the larger war against the Communist forces aligned against the armies of the free world.

Vietnam was a proxy war in the greater global war fought between the former Soviet Union and the Free World.

We continue to relearn that lesson today as we see the war in Iraq now lost and so too in Afghanistan. History is repeating itself. The players are the same, just the names of the battles have change – from the Battles for Fallujah in Iraq to the 101st Airborne Division in the Hornets Nest (watch the below video) in Afghanistan.

Winning the battles inextricably will lead to winning the war. That was true up until Vietnam. Since then the dynamic has changed, for the worse.

It’s the will of the American people that counts, not the victories on the battlefield by our soldiers. Sad but true.

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is of American soldiers near the ancient city of Hue in the Northern province of the former South Vietnam, taken during the Tet Offensive of 1968. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

7 replies
  1. Lindsay Wheeler
    Lindsay Wheeler says:

    First off, I want to thank you for your service. Vietnam was won BY the US Military and lost by the traitors in the media and in academia! The Tet Offensive was a total victory for the US. I watched it all on TV as a kid. I was only 10 when I was consciously aware watching it on TV, on national news. It broke my heart and I cried when the Democratic congress refused to aid the struggling South Vietnamese. We stabbed these people in the back. It was one of the biggest tragedies of morality I have ever witnessed. Not to speak on the refusing to honor 50,000 men who sacrificed themselves and we gave it all up. It breaks my heart. And I am mad as hell and I am a staunch anti-communist to boot. (I went in the Marines in 1978 at the age of 18. Our Battle Group, USS Coral Sea, pulled Vietnamese refugees from the South China Sea. Proud of that.)

    Reply
    • Dr. Rich Swier
      Dr. Rich Swier says:

      Lindsay,

      I thank you for your service to the nation. Thank you for your commenting. The South Vietnamese people will always have a special place in my heart and the hearts of every Vietnam veteran. They fought bravely till the end.

      Reply
  2. Phillis Johnson
    Phillis Johnson says:

    Dear sir. Thank you for your service. The picture shown here has my late husband Sgt Freddie L Johnson in it. He is the soldier leaned back facing the camera. He fought at Dak To with the 173rd. And many more battles. He was awarded the Silver Star for his service during Hamburger Hill He served 3 tours in Nam. He lost his battle with Agent Orange March 21 2015. Please keep all our boys that went through that hellish time in your prayers.

    Reply
  3. Paul Brown
    Paul Brown says:

    We were doomed before we even went to that war. The DEMONcraps only think about themselves and what is good for them and the hell with everything and everyone else. We fought with all our might in that war, yes, I was there also. I saw many guys that looked defeated, but still kept getting up and going right back in, not for this country, but for each other. We gave our all for our buddies and those innocent people that the DEMONcraps decided to leave behind. Those poor people paid the ultimate price for those filthy pigs in Washington and the media, they paid with their lives.

    Reply
  4. Cynci Schwdf
    Cynci Schwdf says:

    My husband was in combat in Vietnam when he was 1o years old. Will never talk adout it. He wad drafted into the Army but joined the Marines. I want to thank all the men and woman who served. GOD BLESS YOU ALL!!

    Reply

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