UPCOMING EVENTS

The Tet Offensive Anniversary on VBC Happy Hour – Monday, January 30 @ 7pm ET

Date: January 30, 2023
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
All Events | Online Events | VBC Happy Hour
Walter Cronkite in Vietnam with CBS News, February 1968 (NARA)

 

Fifty-five years ago this day–January 30, 1968–the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) launched surprise attacks upon American and South Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam.

The attacks came when all sides had agreed upon a truce for Tet, Vietnamese Lunar New Year and a traditional holiday for return to home villages. More than 80,000 enemy troops struck more than 100 towns and cities, including the capital city of Saigon, where VC penetrated the outer wall of the US Embassy. They also hit Hue City, and the NVA occupied the ancient citadel there.

The offensive was the largest military operation conducted by either side up to that point in the war, and by any military measure, it was an utter failure on the part of the enemy. US and ARVN troops took back every single location that the enemy occupied and killed the enemy at a ratio of 2:1, at least. Estimates are that the NVA and VC lost 58,000 men killed during the 8 months of Tet Offensive (almost exactly how many Americans killed the whole 15 years of war).

Although the offensive was a military defeat for North Vietnam, it was a psychological and long-term political victory for the enemy largely because it shocked the US public and eroded American support for the war. The American people had been led to believe that the North Vietnamese were being defeated and incapable of launching such an ambitious military operation. In November 1967, General William Westmoreland, commander of American war effort in Vietnam, gave a series of speeches in which he said there was “light at the end of the tunnel” for the Vietnam War. By the end of the year, polls showed that over 50% of Americans believed progress was being made, and they were confident the war would soon be won.

Then came Tet. The horrible images in living color showed that the enemy was capable of launching large-scale attacks and continuing the war despite enormous casualties. Of all turning points during the Vietnam War, Tet was the most dramatic.

We invite all veterans who served during 1968 to join us and share their memories of this time.

Joining us also will be Ray Gleason, author of A GRUNT SPEAKS: A ’Devil’s Dictionary’ of Vietnam Infantry Tales And Terms.

PFC Ray “Frenchy” Gleason, August 1968, a grunt on “LZ Jackie” near Ban Me Thuot, Republic of Vietnam. While in Vietnam, Gleason was a rifleman, i.e. grunt, 11 Bush, ground-pounder, with A Company, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry (“Cacti Blue”), and he was also a Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) team leader with the 75th Infantry (Ranger). During his military career, he was an infantry company commander, an armored cavalry squadron XO, and a division and army-level staff weenie. Gleason has been awarded the Combat Infantry Badge (CIB), Bronze Star for Valor, Purple Heart, Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm. He still has his poncho liner and P38.

Sponsored by D&D Auto Salvage and Tobacco Free Adagio Health.  Simulcast to Facebook and YouTube.

The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II – Wednesday, February 1 @ 6:30pm ET

Date: February 1, 2023
Time: 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
Location: Zoom
All Events | Greatest Generation Live | Online Events

Glenn Flickinger kicks off Black History Month with a talk about the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. The VBC is hosting this event with Upper Saint Clair Township Library. Glenn presents the history through the story of one its youngest pilots: Colonel Harry Stewart

Registration is required. Space limited to 100.

Who were the Tuskegee Airmen?

Three years before the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the Roosevelt administration launched the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) to boost the nation’s pool of licensed pilots in case of war. The need for skilled airmen was so great that few noticed that the enabling legislation included funding for Black pilot training.

Over 2,500 colleges and flight schools participated in the CPTP, including the historically Black Tuskegee Institute, Hampton University, Virginia State University, Delaware State University, and Howard University. As the war approached, the need for military pilots, combined with twenty years of political pressure by Civil Rights activists, compelled the War Department to train African Americans as officers and pilots in racially segregated facilities.

The all-Black 99th Fighter Squadron started training at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama on November 15, 1941 and graduated its first class of aviators in the spring of 1942. The squadron saw its first combat flying from bases in French Morocco, North Africa in April 1943. It continued combat service in the air war for Sicily and the invasion of Italy. In February 1944, as more Black pilots arrived from training, the USAAF joined the 99th Squadron with three other fighter squadrons (the 100th, the 301st, and the 302nd) into the all-Black 332nd Fighter Group commanded by Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. Flying P-47s and P-51s, the fighter group became legendary for escorting 15th Air Force bombers from their bases in Italy.

Over the course of the war, 355 Tuskegee pilots flew combat missions from the Mediterranean Theater. Eighty of them died in service, and 31 others were taken prisoner.

But what we call the “Tuskegee Airmen” also included thousands of Black men and women who trained and served as navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, nurses, cooks, and technicians of all sorts. Taken together, about 15,000 men and women took part in what the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. calls the “Tuskegee Experience” from 1941 to 1949.

The Veterans Breakfast Club is proud to have captured the stories of two remarkable Tuskegee Airman. Lt. Col. Harry Stewart, Jr., flew 43 combat missions as a P-51 pilot, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross as a result of three dogfight victories in a single day in 1945. Harry joined our Greatest Generation Live program on May 25, 2021.

We were also fortunate enough to interview Wendell Freeland, who joined the Army Air Corps in 1943 as a student at Howard University. Wendell served as a bombardier on a B-25 with the all-Black 477th Bomb Group.  But, despite his rank, he remained a second-class citizen in Army. He was arrested twice for defying the Army’s strict segregation policies.

The second arrest occurred at Freeman Field, Indiana, when Wendell and other black officers entered the all-white officers’ club and waited to be served.  When Wendell refused to sign, read, or even acknowledge the regulation strictly separating white and black officers, he was charged with mutiny, a crime punishable by execution.  Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall eventually ordered the charges to be dropped for most of the men, including Wendell.  The Freeman Field Mutiny was an early blow against official segregation in the armed forces, an important step in the Civil Rights Movement.

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