Copyright© 2010 by Terriblethom
I know many of you thought I would end this series with a big battle and blood and gore and etc., but I thought I would end it in a different way.
I know all of you have heard of the Tet Offensive and I described some of it in the previous mission, and I will throw a few things in to describe it a little more, but I mainly wanted to give you my impression of my time incountry. I stepped off the plane in Vietnam at the ripe old age of 171/2 years old because some remf screwed up my paperwork. When the confusion was all done with the brass decided I couldn't enter the bush because my GI Insurance didn't cover me until I turned 18. I was then separated from my unit and assigned to the coffin loading detail on the tarmac. Hell I thought I knew it all but that needless to say was an eye opener.
I spent two weeks doing this eight hours a day and to say it crushed my soul would be an understatement. Being so young I just couldn't believe that there were so many dead being flown back to the states. It was during this time that I came to the attention of Sgt. Major Henderson, USMC. Saying we hit it off would be a lie but it set the course of my learning curve for the rest of the time I spent there. I was reassigned to train with an old Gunny named Pappas who I immediately started calling pops. At first he gave me hell about it, but the name stuck for some odd reason and later when everyone called him that he got a big kick out of it. I spent almost 6 months learning about the war and how to survive it. He had been in WW2 as well as Korea so even with my stupidity I came to realize he definitely knew what he was doing. What he taught a smartass young kid saved my sorry ass more times than I cared to think about. I know some of you were wondering how come since I was in the Army I was under direct control of the Marine Corps. That's an easy explanation because back then the Jarheads ran everything. (no offense intended) If it had to do with planes, choppers or cargo they controlled it all. The Sgt. Major was the armorer for the whole base and he ran a tight ship the whole time I knew him.
I will jump back now to the morning of the Tet Offensive which I promised to do. The morning of Tet we were under heavy artillery from the NVA and this continued for several hours with only one rush by the VC which was easily repelled. Off and on for the next two days it was just about all artillery pounding the runways and buildings. Of course as we heard later Saigon was a living hell for the people as well as our own troops. ARVN troops, as I heard from General Brown later, did one hell of a job fighting the VC entrenched in the streets and shacks throughout the outskirts of the town. Knowing what I knew and my experience with them over three tours this was one hell of a surprise to me. Other than that my team's experience in the whole Tet Offensive was dull and boring as hell. We mostly slept and ate the great food cookie made sure we got on a regular basis. The fighting around Saigon and up north continued for several days but we had nothing to do with it. We did finally get relieved by the Captain, and we immediately went to the main village to see what damage there was. The whole village was destroyed and there was over a hundred dead VC. The booby traps and claymores that Chung and Ling had set up did their job with deadly efficiency. We spent two days piling and burning the bodies to clean it up. The hidden village was never compromised nor had the VC even got close to it and that's where my men and their families stayed for the rest of the time I spent there. That was my whole experience with the Tet Offensive. I personally think that this is when the US Troops finally became aware that we were being commanded by a bunch of idiots and we weren't supposed to win just make the politicians rich and cement the careers of a lot of the HQ Brass. We did our jobs but in the end we got the shaft like a lot of the wars or as the politicians liked to call police actions. I have a lot of self made opinions on the brass and the electorate but I better not get into that because I could write a novel on what I know and suspect. As a final note our rules of engagement didn't begin to coincide with the VC way of doing things. We were called many names by our own people in the world, but if they could have seen what Charley did we would be called saints instead of baby killers. Personally I can proudly say I never killed any children nor women unless they were shooting at me or were attacking us as VC. I have proudly given my last bit of food or water to a mother or baby that was hungry because the VC had taken any food they had. My men never hesitated to give all they had to feed villagers that had been attacked by the VC nor did we hesitate to help anyone who needed it. Also I better note here that the so called Geneva Convention was only used by our side as the VC and NVA never knew anything about it. I know this because I had the chance to question an NVA Colonel and he said that his troops were told that that was a round eye rule and that since they were fighting for Hanoi they could disregard such a false document and do anything they could to kill or torture round eyes. Needless to say he died of his wounds since I didn't think we should treat him according to his own orders.
I am going to take the time to describe and mention some of the great men I had the honor to serve with. I am not going to try to personalize this as I would be here all day trying to describe the feelings and honor I felt by knowing these men. A lot of them I will not give their real names because I don't feel comfortable doing so without their permission. I will instead use the nicknames I used in the stories.
Gunnery Sgt. Major Henderson USMC = I purposely changed the spelling of his name because he played such an important part in my life and not to mention him would be doing him and myself a great injustice. This man was not only my friend, but also the father figure I never had until later in my adult life. He knew everyone in theatre almost by name I think, and he looked at all the men regardless of what branch of service as his men. He was my mentor and the wisdom that kept me alive many times. He was a veteran of WW2 and Korea and had more medals for bravery than many of the so called leaders and officers I ever met. He was a hard but fair man who was loved and respected by almost every man he came in contact with. To me he was the father I never had and I was proud to call him my friend. I think every officer in the country knew and respected him. When I left 10 months into my third tour we had celebrated his 30 years of service. He was buried with full honors at Arlington and to my shame I never attended his services. The Corps was his only family, and he was proud of the service he spent his life doing. Semper Fi my Friend!