Thursday, July 26, 2007

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Rehash?

During April, 1967, Khe Sanh, that remote, perilous outpost manned by a battalion of Marines, was attacked by a large force of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong.

It took ten days of battle and dozens of dead and wounded Marines to beat back the attackers. The enemy had the air field bracketed with artillery, and took a heavy toll upon the resupply and reinforcement flights. Only ceaseless American artillery fire and hundreds of air strikes kept the Marines from being overwhelmed. Enemy casualties totaled more than 1,000.

Anti-war rallies increased in number and magnitude. The largest rally came April 15, 1967, at New York City, with 100,000 participants. Congressional support for the war was rapidly eroding.

The President imposed a 10% surtax to help pay for the war, and raised the troop ceiling to 525,000 men.

Secretary of Defense McNamara resigned, weary of the war. We now know he commissioned a secret study of the war by Pentagon experts that June. The results of that study were to become known as the "Pentagon Papers" after their clandestine release and publication began in The New York Times during June, 1971. Anti-war protesters stormed the Pentagon October 21, 1967.

1967 ended with more than 485,000 Americans serving in Vietnam. Combat casualties to date totaled 16,021, 9,377 for the year, including 264 Hoosiers. The snarling tiger stalked in ever constricting circles around the elephant. It struck more often, cut deeper, drew more blood, and became emboldened.


On January 21, 1968, under cover of fog and rain, NVA and VC forces launched a major offensive against Khe Sanh and the more than 6,000 Marines stationed there. Within days, enemy forces attacked almost every city and town in South Vietnam in the Tet Offensive.

The Marines at Khe Sanh held out in a siege which lasted 70 days, suffering 205 killed in action and more than 800 wounded. A total of 24 aircraft were lost to enemy gunfire when weather permitted resupply and reinforcement flights to Khe Sanh.

Only heavy artillery support, around the clock, and endless air support missions, when planes could fly, prevented Khe Sanh from being over run. An estimated 20,000 enemy troops with huge numbers of cannons, rockets, and mortars, encircled and besieged Khe Sanh. It is believed the enemy suffered more than 10,000 killed and wounded in the attempt to conquer Khe Sanh.

Only a short while after the battle for Khe Sanh ended, the Marines were ordered to withdraw. Khe Sanh was abandoned...its strategic importance was down graded.

In two attacks on Khe Sanh, the tiger inflicted hundreds of bleeding wounds.

Elsewhere in Vietnam, by Feb. 24, Hue, the last city held by the enemy, was cleared, and the Tet Offensive declared over. During the week of Feb. 10 to 17, an all-time high in casualties was reached...543 killed in action, 2,547 wounded.

Enemy casualties were estimated at more than 21,300 killed and wounded. American forces suffered more than 1,000 killed and 10,000 wounded.

American officials declared Tet a total defeat for the enemy. The enemy, however, was not defeated. The tiger had caused America and its ally, the South Vietnamese, to bleed heavily.

The increased blood shed prompted increasing numbers of anti-war demonstrations. Public support for the war vanished.

President Johnson, his public and congressional support vaporized and beleaguered by anti-war demonstrations, announced March 31 he would not run for office again. At the Star, we published news of the war as presented by the wire services. Some were anti-war in nature, but no strong position was taken by the paper.

Hubert H. Humphrey was named the Democratic party nominee at Chicago during August in the midst of a riot between anti-war demonstrators and police. Richard M. Nixon, a peace advocate, was elected President.

1968 ended with more than 536,000 Americans serving in Vietnam. U.S. battle deaths to date totaled 30,610, 14,599 for the year, 437 of whom were Hoosiers. The huge cat roared defiance as it prowled around the dazed, bleeding, but yet erect elephant.

I resisted every temptation to stand up and yell at the city editor, "How about a rehash?"

The years from 1968 to 1973 were marked by intense demonstrations of dissent, including the May 4, 1970 deaths of four students at Kent State University at the hands of Ohio National Guardsmen. Though American troops were being withdrawn in growing numbers and peace talks were an on-again- off-again matter, the war and the deaths continued.

The relentless Asian tiger continued to stalk, circle, and slash the elephant.

By the end of 1973, 46,163 Americans died of battle wounds. Another 10,000 Americans had been killed in non-battle incidents, and more than 250,000 suffered wounds.

A total of 1,513 Hoosiers, according to available records, died in Vietnam before the war ended.

Though he pledged to be a peace candidate, during Richard M. Nixon's presidency, 15,553 Americans died in Vietnam between 1969 and 1973.

After protracted negotiations, peace became official Jan. 27, 1973, ending the longest war in American history.

Civil unrest, dissent, draft dodgers, riots, demonstrations, and the chaos created by opposing factions, blasted a gulf, separating Americans, the breadth of which had not existed since the Civil War.


It was a sickening site to watch the evacuation of Saigon on television. Thousands of Vietnamese, hoping to escape their the country, surrounded the American Embassy and other sites from which American personnel were being evacuated. In panic, the Vietnamese ruthlessly pushed and shoved each other in desperate efforts to escape. They commandeered aircraft of every sort to fly toward the American aircraft carriers in the South China sea. Others took boats and escaped down river to the sea. Some drove to the coast and took small boats to escape.

Though able to sense their fears, I knew few of them had battled half so intently to save their nation.

To the people of South Vietnam, we pledged our lives, our fortune, and our sacred honor. We gave them more than 58,000 lives, untold billions of dollars, and our considerable efforts to honor our pledge to preserve their government.

Exodus by the Americans left a nation and its remaining people held hostage on blood drenched soil; a land gashed and blackened by napalm, pock marked by rockets, artillery, and bombs; a land littered with the baggage and debris of war; a land where huge regions of lifeless trees grasp hopelessly with gnarled limbs toward the sky, where not a blade of grass grows, a bird sings, or a snake crawls, because we chemically defoliated the jungle to eliminate hiding places for the enemy; a land where almost every city and town has bombed out, burned and bullet riddled buildings; a land of numerous bare, torn, flat patches where villages once stood; a land honeycombed by caves, tunnel complexes, and redoubts, from which the enemy tigers launched their attacks; a land dotted with the mass graves of thousands of nameless dead from both sides, who rest together in a peace they never enjoyed while they lived.

For the people of South Vietnam, the end was a whimpering disgrace and a defeat which sentenced them to continued subjugation.

To this nation and its people, Vietnam had become an American Waterloo.

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