The publication of my article on the battle of Dak To in the New York Times forced me to recognize that it has been fifty years since I worked with the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade in that conflict. I was in the Vietnam highlands doing signals intelligence—the intercept and exploitation of the communications of the invading North Vietnamese—in support of U.S. forces.
The highlands is a mountainous area along the Laotian and Cambodian borders populated by few Vietnamese and many Montagnard tribesmen. The name, Dak To, is not Vietnamese but is derived from one of the Montagnard languages—there were many tribes, each with its own language. The Vietnamese attempted render the name as Vietnamese, slightly changing its spelling and adding tones and diacritical marks so that it became Đắc Tô. For me, it remained a Montagnard name.
As I mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I’m surprised and somewhat resentful when my writing about my own experiences is termed “historical.” I am, after all, alive and kicking. I don’t feel like a figure from the past. And the Vietnam war doesn’t seem all that long ago.
But there it is. The battle began more than fifty years ago, on 4 November 1967. It was one of the bloodiest of the war, engulfing not only Kontum Province, where Dak To is located, but the entire highlands. Yet in the end, no territory changed hands. And my memory of it is as sharp as if it were yesterday.
Readers can find my article at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/03/opinion/vietnam-tet-offensive.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-right-region®ion=opinion-c-col-right-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-right-region