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.
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