As the battle for Dak To drew to a close, the enlisted men of the 4th Infantry Division (not the officers) continued to be entertained by the presence of a high-ranking civilian—me—in their midst pretending to be one of them. My cover was that I was an enlisted grunt, and as I reported earlier, I lived with them and ate C-rations sitting beside them in the dirt. They decided to treat me to a slamming ride along the perimeter in an armored personnel carrier (APG), and of course they took snapshots of me in my uniform they had paid a tailor to decorate with name tags, my rank, and the unit crest. The ride ended unceremoniously when the guy driving went over an “unexpected” rise at top speed, and I flew completely out of the APG.
I left the highlands in December when the offensive was all but over. Occasional artillery and rocket attacks continued (one destroyed the tent in which I’d been working), but intercept showed withdrawal, regrouping, and preparations for a nation-wide offensive which was launched the following January, the Têt Offensive. The night before I left, there was to have been farewell party, but it had to be replaced by a quick get-together in the operations tent. Everybody was too busy to take time out. After that, I knew the noble men I worked with would never change.
I moved south to support U.S forces near Bien Hoa, just north of Saigon. When I got there, I saw all the same communications indicators we were picking up in the highlands. U.S. signals intelligence units all over the country were seeing the same patterns. We realized that an offensive was going to occur throughout the country starting at the end of January. NSA pulled together all the evidence and foretold the Têt Offensive.
I warned General Westmoreland, commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). He didn’t believe me and didn’t prepare.
The Cassandra Effect writ large.