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.

VIDEO TRIBUTE: Vietnam 50 Years Later — All Gave Some Some Gave All

As a Vietnam combat veteran, who served with the 101st Airborne Division during Tet of 1968, I believe it is both fitting and important to remember that America must fight tyranny where ever it is found. The Communist tyranny was confronted in Vietnam and still exists today in places like Russia, Cuba, and Venezuela.

As with all wars all gave some some gave all. It is important to learn from wars like Vietnam. Our fight for the Far East was won by our soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines on the battlefield but lost in the halls of the U.S. Congress. Today history is repeating itself with a 1400-year old form of tyranny rising in the Middle East. Tyranny is always lurking in the shadows waiting to strike America and the free world. History tells us so.

The United States Department of Defense has instituted a nationwide program to remember those who fought and died in Vietnam on its 50th Anniversary – November 1st, 2015.

The below video, featuring the voice of renowned actor Mr. Sam Elliott, is a tribute to the 7.2 million living veterans and the 9 million families of all who served from Nov. 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975. Thank you for your service and sacrifice!

Thinking About China

Napoleon Bonaparte purportedly said “Let China sleep, for when China wakes, she will shake the world.”

Cover - China ChallengeAs Thomas J. Christensen, the author of his recently published “The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power”, reminds us, “For millennia China was arguably the greatest civilization on the planet and for many previous centuries its most powerful empire.”

China is no longer an empire, but it remains a huge nation geographically and huge in terms of its population.

From the website, we learn:

Christensen is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Currently he is the William P. Boswell Professor of World Politics and director of the China and World Program at Princeton University. After reading his book, you might well conclude that there is little about China and Asia he does not know.

We are mostly dependent on various news stories about China to have any idea what is occurring, but the fact remains that just as the U.S. has its optimists and pessimists, conservatives and liberals who influence policy the same exists for China, so a lot depends on who is being quoted. Generally, though, it is only the top leaders who are. That means we are getting the Chinese “party line” and the occasional general or admiral warning against any aggression.

China did not begin to awaken as a modern nation until after the death of Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, a Communist with a capital “C.” Christensen notes that, while keeping its political ideology, the leader that followed him made a “peaceful transformation launched under CCP leader Deng Xiaopping in 1978 and the collapse of the superpower Soviet Union thirteen years later that made China appear to stand tall again among the great powers.” The transitition was to a capitalist-based economy.

These days the Chinese and the Russians are making efforts to achieve areas of cooperation and, in particular, their militaries. They hold drills together for common defense strategies.

Christensen believes that “China’s return to great power status is perhaps the most important challenges in twenty-first century American diplomacy”, but to put that in context he points out that “China’s per capita income is only one fifth that of the United States” and “though a true trade superpower, many of its exporters are controlled at least in part by foreign investors.”

“Still, the pessimists do not give enough credit to the sustainability of U.S. leadership in Asia,” says Christensen. “For example, they often underestimate the value of American’s unparalleled network of allies and security partners.” You can be sure that the Chinese leadership does not.

They also have, as one would expect, concerns about U.S. military power in their area of the world, but they feel the same about Japan and South Korea as well. “China is not currently an enemy of the United States,” says Christensen, nor is it likely to be for a long time to come.

“It does not need to be contained like the (former) Soviet Union. Nor should China become the kind of regional or global adversary that we have faced in the past, although that outcome, unfortunately, is still a distinct possibility.” That possibility depends on China’s leadership now and in the future. For now they are concentrating on their economy and are likely to do so for many years to come.

Chinese Money“China’s economic clout is real and growing rapidly, especially since the 2008 financial crisis. China has been the main engine of growth for the world’s economy since that time and, by some measures, has become the world’s number one trading state.” There is only one reason why the U.S. has not yet recovered from the financial crisis and his name is Barack Obama.

I suspect that Obama is held in disdain by the Chinese leadership despite all the public handshakes. For one thing, China weathered the financial crisis far better than the U.S. “One of the burdens the new Obama administration inherited in early 2009 was a China bearing a mix of cockiness and insecurity that would negatively influence its policies in 2009-2010,” says Christensen and as the U.S. foundered in Afghanistan and Iraq “American power inspired less awe.”

“Sometime in 2012, the ‘Asia pivot’” of the Obama administration “would be jettisoned in Washington for the more subtle ‘Asia rebalance.’” If you get the feeling that the Obama administration has no real China policy or one that will have little influence, you are right.

With regard to China, It likely does not matter what the Obama administration does for its remaining one and a half years in office.

Various scholars and diplomats will continue to keep a watchful eye on China and most surely many corporate leaders and U.S. entrepreneurs will do so as well given its huge population as a marketplace. It’s already a great tourist destination.

Napoleon was right.

© Alan Caruba, 2015


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I Fought For You

A moving, patriotic tribute to our military, past and present. Thank you for your service! This video was produced by The Sound Tank.