It was January 31st, 1968. 3am. That’s when the shelling began.
I was stationed at the III Corps HQ near Saigon. Of the 4 Corps of the Army of South Vietnam, III Corps had the most Americans. I was 22 at the time, ranked 2nd Lieutenant supply officer, and at the time, I had been in Vietnam for 3 months.
The Tet Offensive was a coordinated attack by North Vietnamese forces on 300 locations simultaneously.
It was a complete surprise.
I was startled out of my sleep by a volley of rockets raining down on us. Immediately I pulled on my flak jacket, and jumped out of the second story billet I was in, landing on concrete, flat on my feet. I made a dash for a ditch that was filled with water, rockets whistling and landing all around me. That’s a sound I will never forget.
If there was a silver lining, it was that the shelling had put us all on high alert, and gave us time to respond. Without that, the NVA might have cut through the wire fence and overrun the place.
For roughly 15 minutes, a jeep armed with an M60 machine gun held them off, giving us just enough cover to find our own. I had all of a .45 pistol to protect myself, which, if you know much about those weapons, wasn't much protection at all.
We had just moved into these headquarters. We didn’t have any bunkers. We assumed we were safe at III Corps…until we weren’t.
Backup came 14 hours later in the form of the 11th Armored Cavalry, with an Australian regiment serving alongside. More than 100 Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) ringed the whole headquarters.
When they arrived, it was an emotional moment for all of us as they provided the much needed security we didn’t have at the time. The 11th Armored Cav regiments and the Australian Task Force secured the headquarters and surrounding area over the following week.
For two weeks, these reinforcements kept the Vietnamese forces at bay, until the Tet Offensive was over, and prevented them from breaking through. Consequently, we didn’t have any casualties.
Who knows how things would have turned out without the support of these men.
During this time, I got to know one of the members of the Australian tank unit. As a parting gift, he gave me his hat, a black beret with his regiment’s insignia. To this day, I display it prominently in my office. It’s one of my most prized possessions.
I didn’t know this man before January 1968. And unfortunately, I haven’t been able to keep up with him since.
But I salute him.
Because in that specific place, at that specific time, some 56 years ago, he and his fellow soldiers stepped into my life and helped protect it.
This is a story of service that is personal to me. And I know there are many more that are personal to you, that have gone unrecorded and unrecognized.
It’s why my spouse Lin and I co-founded WeSalute as Veterans Advantage 25 years ago, to honor and reward those with the strength of character to serve.
And it’s why every time I look at that beret, I am reminded not just of his service, but also of yours, and your family members’.
So on behalf of Lin and myself, we salute you.
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