Veterans Revisit 1968 Tet Offensive War Zone 50 Years Later
The Greatest Generations Foundation
Last year, my good friend Jim Hackett, was selected to join me as an ambassador by Timothy Davis, founder of The Greatest Generations Foundation. This superb organization has honored America’s WWII combat Veterans for many years by sponsoring their South Pacific and European battle sites. In 2016 TGGF began sponsoring Vietnam combat Veterans to their battle sites. For combat Veterans to step foot on the very ground where they fought, bled and suffered losses of their friends and fellow warriors long ago has immeasurable therapeutic benefits.
1968 Tet Offensive
Recently, I met Jim Hackett at Valencia’s Corner Bakery to discuss his visit to Vietnam last month with TGGF and 14 combat Marines and a Navy Corpsman who fought in the 1968 ferocious Tet Offensive launched by North Vietnam’s communist forces violating an agreed upon cease fire. In the late hours of January 30th, 80,000 NVA and Viet Cong soldiers unleashed a wave of surprise attacks throughout South Vietnam striking more than 100 towns and cities, including 36 of 44 provincial capitals. This offensive was the largest military operation conducted by either side to that point in the Vietnam War.
The Battle of Hue City
During the Battle of Huế City, intense fighting lasted 25 days, resulting in the city’s destruction and the massacre and execution of thousands of Huế citizens by the NVA. The battle of Huế became one of the longest and bloodiest single battles of the Vietnam War. U.S. 1st Marine Division grunts and 1st ARVN Division troops cleared the city room by room, house by house and street by street. It was brutal combat and those Marines were trained for jungle warfare not urban combat. 216 American troops were killed in action and another 1,300 wounded. Throughout the Tet Offensive, communist forces suffered an estimated 50,000 North Vietnam and Viet Cong troops killed, missing, or captured. At and around the hills at Khe Sanh, fighting lasted from January 31 to July 9, 1968, resulting in 274 Americans killed and 2,541 wounded at Khe Sahn alone. Over 100,000 tons of bombs were dropped by US aircraft and over 158,000 artillery rounds were fired in defense of the base. In the vicinity of Khe Sahn, NVA and Viet Cong Forces suffered approximately 10,000 to 15,000 casualties.
Most Trusted Reporter in America
On February 27, 1968, during the Tet Offensive, and following a visit to South Vietnam, renowned CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite stated the following on National Television: “On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy’s intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.” President Lyndon B. Johnson soon stated, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America”, so on March 31, 1968, LBJ called for cessation of bombing North Vietnam and he called for peace negotiations. Meanwhile, LBJ left our troops locked in combat while America had endured roughly 20,000 troops killed in action at that point and resulted in over 38,000 more lost by the Vietnam War’s conclusion years later.
Tet Offensive’s 50th Commemoration
On February 23, 2018, Timothy Davis of The Greatest Generations Foundation, with his ambassadors USMC Vietnam combat Veterans, Jim Hackett and Steve Bernston travelled from Los Angeles International Airport to Danang, Vietnam with 14 Vietnam combat Marines and one combat Navy Corpsman. TGGF’s hotel of choice was spectacular Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa at Kaanapali like China Beach. These men all battled in the legendary 1968 Tet Offensive in furious combat at Danang, nearby Monkey Mountain, An Hoa, Charlie Ridge, Arizona Territory, Goi Noi, and Red Beach. Several of the Marines fought in Hue City’s brutal 25 day battle. Jim Hackett reported that the first leg of this extraordinary mission focused on areas near Danang and each combat Veteran was video interviewed by TGGF’s film crew and an embedded Stars and Stripes reporter. Of course, TGGF’s remarkable photographer John Riedy was along taking spectacular photographs and writing his now famous true grit summaries and posting them on Face Book. A TGGF documentary is in process.
At Hill 55 in Quảng Nam Province near Danang, Timothy Davis and Jim Hackett led a poignant “last roll call” ceremony that honored 12 fallen warriors from Jim’s Mamaroneck High School, New York City. Jim’s ole high school classmate and Navy Corpsman, Buzz Baviello, who fought at Hill 55 was in attendance. While these warriors stood at attention in formation, Timothy, as Company Commander, bellowed, “Sergeant Hackett, call the roll.” Hackett replied, “Aye aye sir.” As Hackett called each Marine’s name, they replied, “Present.” Then Hackett called one by one the 12 fallen warrior’s names to absolute silence. On cue, Timothy then played Taps. Jim said, “Our memorial was quite moving and so appropriate, especially since we purposely faced away from an old communist propaganda monument touting their alleged magnificent defeat of US Marines”.
The Last Roll Call
Here we stand in formation
To honor a brother who served his nation
One by one our names are read
As the tears begin to shed
His name is called there is no sound
Just solemn faces all around
Three times in all his name is said
But he cannot answer for he is dead
Billabong Aussie Bar
While enjoying Danang’s colorful nightlife scene, the Marines bumped into several Aussies which delighted Timothy Davis as he’s a native born Australian. Naturally, beers were hoisted as they learned one of the Aussies owned a bar at China Beach appropriately named Billabong. As it turns out, the Aussie owner’s brother was the last Australian soldier killed during the Vietnam War so clearly this is now the bar of choice for future TGGF visits to Danang.
Imperial City of Hue
Next stop for these proud Marines was Hue City’s enchanting La Residence Hotel and Spa, once home to French Colonial Governors, on the banks of the fabled Perfume River. This five star hotel is endowed with opulence, warmth, excellence, and art deco architecture. La Residence was the perfect hotel selection for these valiant Marines who fought and spilled their blood in Hue City 50 years ago. Each day, Timothy Davis and his ambassadors led the group to visit their old stomping grounds starting with Hue City’s historic and majestic Citadel built between 1805 and 1832. They also toured Khe Sahn and the Rock Pile. Timothy ordered 22 cyclos (rickshaws) for the boys to tour Hue City and to the Citadel. Jim said, “That cyclo convoy and our Marines waving to the Vietnamese was quite a sight to see”.
USMC Richard Prince
While in Hue City at the Citadels’ Dong Ba Gate Tower, Richard retraced his footsteps and conveyed to his pals the gruesome day he risked his life to save three wounded Marines. First, Richard dragged one wounded Marine to safety and then he pulled two more wounded Marines out of danger. However, shortly afterwards Richard was shot in his throat by an NVA sniper earning him a Purple Heart and subsequent Medical Discharge. Richard should’ve, at a minimum earned a Silver Star for valor, but it was not to be. To TGGF and Stars and Stripes’ great credit they are endeavoring to correct this mistake.
On the final day of their Vietnam experience, Jim Hackett led most of the Marines to Project Renew, a program dedicated to clearing unexploded ordinance in Quang Tri Province. Meanwhile, Timothy Davis escorted Marines Bill Hutton and Gunny Stermolle to the Rockpile where they fought in 1968. While emotionally reminiscing their brutal combat experiences near the Rockpile, local villagers looked on in awe as it was explained what these strange Americans were doing. Afterwards, those friendly Vietnamese invited the three men for lunch in their quaint home while showering them with hospitality. Bill Hutton told Jim Hackett, “It was such a surprise and an awesome experience when they invited us into their home”.
Once again, Timothy Davis demonstrated how TGGF goes the extra mile to indulge Veterans to the most unique experience of their lives. As a surprise, during their flight home from Danang stopping at Seoul, Korea for a layover, Timothy arranged a visit to the DMZ. Their mission was to give Rocketman, the California Salute (if you get my drift). Jim Hackett said, “It turns out that was one strange day mingling with South Korean border troops and then learning that a potential thaw in relations between the USA, South Korea and North Korea was in process”.
Back in the USA
During their long journey home from Seoul, these Marines chatted among themselves and thanked their lucky stars that The Greatest Generations Foundation had sponsored them for such a memorable and meaningful chance of a lifetime. Arriving at LAX, they experienced the coolest reception ever. L.A. Airport Police and Customs Border Control Officers escorted them off their airline ahead of all other passengers and expedited them through a large crowd at the customs booths… a perfect conclusion to their extraordinary experience.
The Greatest Generations Foundation:
Timothy Davis, Founder & CEO
USMC Vietnam Veteran Jim Hackett, Ambassador
USMC Vietnam Veteran Steve Berntson, Ambassador
U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam Veterans:
Bill Hutton, Paul “Buzz” Bavieillo, Steve Haas, Glen Griswold, Bob Bayer, Joe Silva, Terry Hughes, Ron Tingle, Lynn Stermolle, Joe Getherall, Jorge Azpeita, Richard Prince, and Ed Niederberger
Medal of Honor (one pending) – Silver Star, two – Bronze Star w/V Device, four
Purple Heart, fifteen