Today is the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Tết Offensive launched by the North Vietnamese in South Vietnam. I was there and caught up in the midst of it. The attacks ran on for days. On January 31, 1968, a squad of communist guerillas attacked the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. The soldiers seized the embassy and held it for six hours until an assault force of U.S. paratroopers landed by helicopter on the building’s roof and routed the Vietnamese communists.
The reaction of U.S. forces and those of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) were slow because everyone was off celebrating the lunar new year holiday. Before that, every year there had been an undeclared ceasefire during Tết because both the communists and the non-communists agreed to opt out of fighting during the holiday festivities.
In the long term, the U.S. and Republic of Vietnam won the many battles throughout the country and inflicted huge losses on the North Vietnamese. But friendly losses were also staggering. In effect, both sides suffered overwhelming casualties but no territory changed hands.
North Vietnam gained in a way we didn’t understand at the time. The Tết Offensive and two other offensives launched later that year began the conversion of the American public to opposition to the war. Over the next several years, that antagonism became more pronounced until it forced us to withdraw and, for the first time in our history, to lose a war.
That loss was a wound to my heart that has not healed to this day.