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VFW Magazine January 2018 : Page 15

THIS MONTH MARKS THE 50-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE TET OFFENSIVE, NORTH VIETNAM’S AMBITIOUS PLAN TO CONQUER ITS SOUTHERN NEIGHBOR. U.S. TROOPS CRUSHED THAT HOPE, DEALING THE COMMUNISTS A RESOUNDING MILITARY DEFEAT. BY DAVE SPIVAOINT’ T ABOVE: Marines of the 1st Bn., 5th Marines rest alongside a wall of Hue’s imperial palace after battling for the Citadel during the Tet Offensive. U.S. forces lost 147 Marines and 69 soldiers during the Battle of Hue. he first two months of 1968 proved to be a watershed point of the Vietnam War. Up until January 1968, U.S. troops had maintained a strong presence in South Vietnam. Afterward, troop lev-els would begin to decrease as political opposition to the war mounted. Militarily, though, the Americans fighting in Vietnam continued to per-form admirably. Throughout the war, U.S. troops inflicted far greater casual-ties on the communists than they suf-fered on the battlefield. The same holds true for the Tet Offensive, North Vietnam’s grand plan to overrun the south. The campaign thrust more than 80,000 North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong troops — the exact number is unclear — in coordinated attacks throughout South Vietnam. The NVA and Viet Cong received heavy casualties during the offensive. More than half who took part in the Tet Offensive were killed, wounded or captured, accord-ing to The Vietnam War: An Intimate History , by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns. And although it was a massive military defeat for North Vietnam, the ferocity and scope of the operation stunned the American public. More importantly, a majority of Americans had begun to lose faith in how U.S. politicians were prose-cuting the war. According to a February 1968 Gallup poll, 57 percent of respondents disap-proved of the Johnson Administration’s handling of the war. “It was the [political] turning point of the war,” said Otto Lehrack, an author and former Marine officer who served two deployments in the Vietnam War. Tet was a costly fight for Americans, too. In fact, more U.S. servicemen were killed — 246 KIA — on Jan. 31, 1968, at the beginning of the offensive, than any other day of the war. The deadliest week of the Tet Offensive — and at that point of the Vietnam War — was Feb. 10-17, 1968, which had 543 KIA and 2,547 WIA throughout South Vietnam, according to VFW magazine’s Combat . Being the most popular holiday in Vietnam, Tet sym-bolizes the solidarity of the Vietnamese people, regardless of their religion. The holiday was traditionally observed as a ceasefire, called the Tet Truce. But com-munist forces broke tradition in 1968. The communist armies planned coor-dinated attacks on more than 100 cit-ies and military bases in South Vietnam on the Lunar New Year. And the attacks were perhaps not as coordinated as their planners had originally intended. In August 1967, North Vietnam’s time zone changed to coincide with Beijing’s, which is one hour ahead. As a result, North Vietnam’s Tet occurred one day before South Vietnam’s holiday, which possibly confused some communist troops who planned to attack in the south. Whether it was confusion or a dis-traction from the main offensive, many attacks happened after midnight on Jan. 30, the day before the South Vietnam holiday. Most of the Tet Offensive attacks, however, came the next day, with the U.S. Embassy in Saigon as one of the targets. SECURITY FORCES BATTLE IN SAIGON The fight in Saigon was one of the more well-known battles of the Tet Offensive. Thousands of Viet Cong entered South Vietnam’s capital in the weeks leading up to the holiday. In one of its first attacks, JANUARY 2018   • WWW.VFW.ORG • 15

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