A hardy salute is in order to all that were in country 50 years ago on Feb. 1, and whose constant companion was an M16, M60, M79 or the cyclic and a 45. The 1968 Tet Offensive, anyone wishing to get a taste of the Vietnam War, voluntarily or not, would find that the period around this Tet was the experience magnified.
The 1968 Tet offensive was to last through May 1968. Most obvious was the scale of action all across the country. It was also when Charlie, who generally liked to pick and choose his fights, then disappeared into the night, changed tactics and stood and fought. The little man was a formidable enemy indeed.
Even as a PFC, with 337 and a wake-up, I can testify that while the scale and scope of the 1968 Tet may have been something of a surprise, the attacks themselves were not. My battalion was returned to base camp in late January from a fracas along the Cambodian border on New Year’s Day (incidentally, this battle was the source for the story line in the movie Platoon, as Oliver Stone was there).
I made a notation in my diary on Jan. 27, which said our battalion was on red alert for expected trouble around Tet. On Feb. 1, the battalion moved south, closer to Saigon. We went on search and destroy sweeps the next few days without incident other than snipers and getting mortared every night. On Feb. 5, business picked up considerably, booming in more ways than one.
The newsreel highlights of Tet generally talk about Khe Sanh, Hue, the Tan Son Nhut Airbase and the Saigon Embassy. By contrast, the causality lists and my experience suggest the intensity of the fighting was spread across most of the country. Per the Comptroller, Secretary of Defense, there were two months during the war that had greater than 2,000 killed in action. The first was February (2,124) and the other May (2,169) 1968. For Kern County’s part — the county’s finest — there were 25 KIAs during the first six months of 1968. This compares to (equivalent six-month period) six in 1966, 11 in 1967, 15 in 1969 and 15 in 1970.
As a token and to commemorate 50 years, I will leave you with the words I had cast on a bronze plaque and left at the Vietnam Memorial, at the base of Panel 42 E, Veterans Day 2011, in memory of fallen platoon mates during the 68 Tet period.
“Einstein once said that God does not play dice
Those of us that have walked into the ambush kill zone know
That in the minutes after the first shot rings out
God and the devil himself do”
To all that did not return from that God-awful place, may you rest in eternal peace. To my brothers who did return, welcome home. We, to this day, sometimes find peace, like Charlie, disappearing into the night.
— Andy Wahrenbrock of Bakersfield served in the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry
25th Infantry Division.