October 17, 1966
Saigon, South Viet Nam--The morale of American troops here is at a high level.
They know, one high ranking officer said, that they have kept the Viet Cong from winning this country and that we now hold the edge.
"But," the officer added quickly, "we're a hell of a long way from winning it, too."
The Military Assistance Command in Viet Nam goes to great lengths to explain the problems of fighting the war and Communism in this country, which has known little but turmoil for 30 years.
Rumors persist that Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara's recent visit here with Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and meetings with the key leaders in this country could lead to a negotiated peace at a summit conference.
Other views blot out that hope and explain that McNamara's trip was based on determining whether more United States forces are needed to whip the Viet Cong soundly and force them into surrender.
In press briefings Navy, Marine, and Army spokesmen discussed the methods used by the Viet Cong in their struggle to overcome the country.
In the rich Mekong Delta, which is the operational field for the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam, much of the area is ruled by the Viet Cong.
By day, the farmers appear loyal to their country, but at night, the Viet Cong visit each of the farms and extract from each family a tax, in rice, or other foodstuffs, with the promise that someday, soon, the farmers, not absentee landlords, will own the land.
As a result, many farmers are feeding the forces which threaten their nation's liberty.
The current Operation Irving, being conducted by the 1st Cavalry (Airmobile) Division north of Qui Nhon, presents a perfect picture of how far the Viet Cong will go in attempting to get enough rice to feed their starving forces.
The Viet Cong made a diversionary movement toward Pleiku with a large force. But Instead of reaching Pleiku, the VC ran headlong into a crack Republic of Korea division and were driven back.
Military analysis of the Viet Cong move was that the Viet Cong attempted to draw the 1st Cavalry Division away from the defense of the Qui Nhon area to defend Pleiku. Viet Cong forces had moved south to steal the rice harvest in the Qui Nhon region.
Instead, the Korean forces nearly wiped out the diversionary force and the 1st Cavalry threw a noose around the Viet Cong troops, which were to have stolen the rice harvest.
Communiques reach headquarters here daily regarding the discovery of large caches of rice and weapons by Vietnamese and U.S. Patrols.
At one of the briefings it was announced that a large cache of rice, weapons and mines had been unearthed just a few miles south of Saigon.
Marine Corps Major Samuel Gipson of Terrell, Tex., explained a few facets of the treachery of the Viet Cong when he said, "They rule by fear. If they come into a village and want a share of the rice, they chop off a head or a hand to show they mean business. They take their tribute and disappear."
The military made it clear that they would like nothing more than to mop up the Viet Cong entirely but concealment and geography make it nearly impossible.
Gipson said, "It's hard to fight this war and build the country too...When we move out the Cong move in behind us...But the recent elections are proof that the Cong can be controlled. Vietnamese soldiers moved into villages and stayed there until the elections were over... The Cong stayed out.. It can be done."
Concerning the concealment, combined allied forces begin their move toward a Viet Cong stronghold and the Cong disappear. Then the Cong move back when the allied troops withdraw.
"Every now and then we catch a large group in a pack," Gipson said, "and they get chopped up. But usually, the Cong move in small groups and do their damage and vanish before we can move in."
Gipson also explained how the Viet Cong lay ambushes and traps everywhere with makeshift weapons.
The VC, he said, may get an old tin can, partially fill it with high explosive and then fill the remaining space with bits of chain, scrap metal, pieces of wire or glass. They place this device in the fork of a tree or in high grass and detonate it electrically from the undergrowth.
"The guys I'd really like to meet," Gipson said with a sharp nod of his head, "are the VC who recover dud 105 howitzer shells. Those guys remove the fuses and make mines or directional weapons out of them. Those guys have got to be more than just brave," he said incredulously.
Air Force Lt. Col. E.E. Fraley voiced pride in the two crack divisions of Republic of Korea troops which are fighting in Viet Nam.
"Those boys are tough, well trained and well disciplined," Fraley said.
"And any time I get disgusted with the way things are going over here I remember that Korea was in nearly the same condition when fighting broke out there...Now, the Koreans are coming along by themselves.
I like to think the Unites States did its homework with Korea and we'll be able to do the same things for VietNam. "