The Post-Tet Offensive, Feb 22-23, 1969

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The night of 22-23 February 1969:

I slept in til two in the afternoon, threw on my civilian clothes over my swimming trunks and took off for the pool to work on my tan. On my way down I ran into the same lifer I'd met a few days earlier, during Tet, when the general order had been that no one was allowed to wear civilian clothes because of the imminence of attack. Well, there I was, happily tripping down to the pool in my white pants, tennis shoes, and bright orange shirt, and this lifer comes up out of nowhere and says, "Hey, where do you think you're going dressed like that?" I said to the pool, and he drew himself up to his most self-righteous height of 5'5" and said "Now you know better than that! This is Tet, man! No one is supposed to be wearing civilian clothes!!!"

"Ah, yes," I countered, "but there is a letter from USARV headquarters--" I pointed vaguely towrd the direction of the company and the orderly room "--that states that civilian clothing may be worn in the immediate vicinty of the company area and while going to and from the pool." As I walked casually away I heard him mutter, "Well, I'll just have to see about that." When I ran into him again on my way to the pool, I said, "Hiya, sarge, how's it goin'?" But he just looked at me blankly and I knew that he didn't know me from Adam.

When I got back to the company I was told that there would probably be an alert that night since intelligence had reported three regiments of VC/NVA moving to within ten miles of Long Binh. Right after dark H--- came in with news of a conference call he'd just taken that there were unconfirmed reports of a group of twenty men, one of whom spoke fluent Chinese, who were spotted carrying a long cylindrical object at two map coordinates that we looked up on our map and found them to be less than two miles away. Things looked tense.

Meanwhile B--- had gotten word on his promotion to sergeant and he and W--- and P--- (one of the AJ squad leaders) were out getting smashed to celebrate. J--- came over to the orderly room with his hotplate and we were cooking up the usual evening meal of french fries and hamburgers when The Lieutenant walked in, so there was nothing to do but offer him one. When he was almost ready to leave we heard the sound of loud singing and raucous laughter coming from in back of the orderly room, moving along the side to the front and stopping outside. The voices stopped for a minute, then started up again and their owners came through the door singing that old favorite, "99 bottles of beer". It was B---, with P--- on his shoulders, and when they saw The Lieutenant they both stopped singing at the same time, in mid-word, got the funniest expressions on their faces, and then B--- backed out the door and P--- pulled it shut after them. J--- and I cracked up, The Lieutenant sat down laughing, and B--- and P--- disappeared.

About 1:30 someone came by and told us there was a fire across the road toward Cogido. J--- and I ran for our cameras The Fire in Cogido Village from TC Hill and then dashed across the hill to the perimeter road in front of 6th Bn HQ to take pictures of the fire, which looked like it was less than a half a mile away. We learned the next day that Charlie had hit a tank truck that had been coming out of Cogido village, although we didnít remember hearing an explosion. But the night was more crowded than usual with artillery explosions and B52 strikes and we probably heard it and ignored it.

About 20 minutes after we came back from the perimeter and the fire we heard a series of very loud very close explosions and there was no mistaking them -- we were under attack. J--- killed the light in the OR and then we had to do the low crawl out the front door -- which faced the perimeter!!! -- and around to my room to get my flak jacket and steel pot, and then I had to come back out the front door of my hooch -- again facing the perimeter -- and run back between my hooch and the OR toward the armory, which was in the section behind the orderly room in the same hooch, draw my weapon and then J--- told me W--- was in the sack and wouldnít get up. I ran over and tried to shake him awake by telling him we were under attack, but he didnít believe me and said he was too drunk to get up for a practice alert. I told him if he didn't get up and The Lieutenant caught him it'd be his ass, but he just rolled over and ignored me.

J--- and I went out behind the supply hooch and sat in the jeep listening to the radio, to Bien Hoa Arty (the air traffic controller in our sector) talking to the Tracer rounds over TC Hill various chopper pilots and other attack planes, and all the while all hell was breaking loose in Tanker valley, a transportation outfit much like TC Hill except they haul oil and gas in tank trucks, which was about a mile away from us toward the east, along the road to Bearcat and Vung Tau, and every so often one of our guard towers would cut loose with a blast from their machine guns in a recon by fire. Bien Hoa Arty was talking with a chopper pilot who said he spotted 20 VC carrying a rocket tube and requested a spotlight plane to accompany him in his search for them, but there wasn't one to spare.

Then, over in the opposite direction from Tanker Valley, over by where we'd seen the fire that began the night, some more hell broke loose and we could see the Chopper over TC Hill tracers flying up from the ground toward two choppers that were circling around up in the air, and then the choppers went in for a strike with their machine guns blazing away, spewing red tracers down at the ground and ripping the air with their buzz. After that it was quiet over there, so we assumed they'd got their man. Then, just as suddenly, the sky over Tanker Valley was ablaze with flares and there was a hell of a lot of shooting from the air to the ground and from the ground back up. The tracers made a fantastic pattern and, since the war was happening on both sides of us but had seemed to have passed us by, I decided to run back to my hooch and grab my camera, cursing myself because I hadn't the foresight to get it in the first place.

I made a mad dash back to my room, slipped in the front door, grabbed the camera and slung it around my neck and under my arm, and dashed back out the door and between the hooches. Just as I was coming back Chopper over Tanker Valley across the sidewalk that separated the two rows of hooches there came a terribly loud growling noise accompanied by the buzz of shooting out of the sky right above my head and I knew in a split second that my time had come and I was being shot. Time seemed to expand suddenly, the way it does at times like that, and I was conscious of several things within the space of no more than two seconds: one was that a cobra gunship was right over my head firing, two was that hot things were hitting me on the head and back and all around my feet, metal things that I first thought were bullets, which was why I thought we were being fired upon, and three was that someone (possibly Bien Hoa Arty?) had given a cobra gunship the wrong map coordinates and he was strafing our company. At the same time these thoughts went through my head I was dropping to a squat and doing a fast duckwalk in between the second row of hooches. Then I figured out that the metal things were cartridge casings from his miniguns and that he was actually a good thirty feet above our heads and not shooting at us at all but at the sand pit the other side of the east perimeter. Relief gave way to new anxiety, however, when I realized that if he was shooting at our sand pit, then Charlie must be really close to our perimeter.

Our guards were going crazy: every guard bunker was spitting out fire like crazy. The cobra made three more passes over the company and on the fourth one he kept going up the road, strafing on either side of it as he went, and joined several other helicopters Chopper over TC Hilland a 'spooky' plane up at gate 10 where the real action was. We hadn't gotten any ground fire back since we went out to position, so J--- and I decided to fall back behind the hooches and find out what was happening. We went back to where the jeep was and heard on the jeep radio that they had broken through the perimeter over by gate 10, so we climbed up on top of the water truck to get a better view of the area. It was all lit up with flares and a lot of air support was circling round. One plane had a searchlight attached to it and it would circle around with that bright swath of light aimed at the ground and every few seconds it would spew out an incredible number of bullets down at the ground below it. I was taking pictures wildly and so was J--- and nobody even noticed us sitting up there. A flare goes down over Tanker Valley We could hear the jeep radio from where we were and heard that bases all over Vietnam were being hit by rocket and mortar and by ground action and from all indications it looked like another Tet offensive for 1969. I couldn't believe that only a week earlier I had said that Charlie would be stupid to attack during Tet this year, when everyone would be armed to the gills and ready for him, but would be smarter to wait for a few days after the holidays when everyone was relaxed and off his guard and not expecting anything. And here he was, true to my prediction. We heard Bien Hoa Arty say that one of the gates at the air base was being probed and they needed air support, and that every place in our area except Saigon, Vung Tau, and Cu Chi were being hit.

About three-thirty or so there was a lull in the battle and The Lieutenant made a sweep through the barracks and found W--- still in bed and out cold. I thought "uh-oh, this is it for him" but The Lieutenant just rolled him out on the floor and ranted and raved and chewed him out and threatened to make him a PFC again and W--- fell out with his combat gear on, but he didnít look too happy about it. He was still drunk. We found B--- sitting on the front steps of the orderly room about four o'clock in his trousers, T-shirt, thongs and helmet, with his head in his hands. He was still drunk, too.

At dawn the fight was still going on down by Tanker Valley and gate 10, and there were still flares in the sky. Flares at dawn These had been fifteen or more in the air over the area all night, and they cut them down gradually as dawn broke, a lovely peach-colored dawn that made the clouds soft and rosy and made ironic comment on the war that was raging less than a mile away from us, right in the teeth of Aurora. I took a picture of the flares against the beginning dawn, counted twenty-seven pictures I'd taken that night, and after daylight came the fighter-bombers came in from Tan Son Nhut and began pummeling the area with their bombs. We couldn't see the bombs, but we could watch the planes dive in and pull out at the last possible moment, climbing up to escape the bright orange blast and puff of ugly black smoke that they left behind them. A few seconds later the sound would reach our ears and the concussion would press in on our eardrums and whip at our ankles and knees. They did that for about ten minutes, first circling around and then diving in, just missing the tree tops or so it looked, and then they apparently were satisfied and disappeared back in the directiin of Saigon. All day, though, several choppers and a Spooky circled the area and strafed it occasionally.

We heard on the civilian-type radio from AFVN that over 100 bases & towns had been hit during the night and 80 mortars and rockets had landed within Long Binh post, followed by a ground attack that was repulsed by US forces, 20 VC/NVA killed; 5 Americans dead, 63 wounded in the attack. Saigon also hit by rocket and mortar, and even that bastion of security up the coast, Cam Ranh Bay, got a few rockets during the night, for the first time since 1830 or something like that.

[All in all, 111 VC/NVA were killed down by Tanker Valley the night of the big attack -- according to official body count -- and the ones that were taken prisoner stated they were told that Long Binh would be a pushover because there was nothing here to defend us but clerks and cooks and other "chairborne rangers" and all the food in Vietnam was here and all they had to do was break through the perimeter and we would all be so scared that we would lay down our rifles and surrender and then the Vietnamese would have all of our food. See the news story that appeared a few days later.]

© 1969, 2002 Dennis Mansker