Life is funny at times. I grew up in the sixties and going to Vietnam was a destination that one wanted to avoid. It is hard to believe but that war, actually just a military action, occurred so long ago. Many of the guys who came back are gone now. Old age has taken a lot of the starch out of that generation. For the people of today the marches on the streets in protest of this war are a figment of their imagination. But I lived through that time and I remember the tension was in the air. I remember the Tet massacre. On that day a long time ago, the Vietcong hit our air bases and killed over five hundred men.
I remember the draft. It was mandatory. I remember the physical I went to. I remember guys freaking out. I remember the lottery system which was implemented towards the end of the war. And worse I remember how we treated our soldiers who got back as if they were lepers.
The Tet Offensive was a coordinated series of North Vietnamese attacks on more than 100 cities and outposts in South Vietnam. The offensive was an attempt to foment rebellion among the South Vietnamese population and encourage the United States to scale back its involvement in the Vietnam War. Though U.S. and South Vietnamese forces managed to hold off the attacks, news coverage of the massive offensive shocked the American public and eroded support for the war effort. Despite heavy casualties, North Vietnam achieved a strategic victory with the Tet Offensive, as the attacks marked a turning point in the Vietnam War and the beginning of the slow, painful American withdrawal from the region.
In February 1968, in the wake of the Tet Offensive, the respected TV journalist Walter Cronkite, who had been a moderate and balanced observer of the war’s progress, announced that it seemed “more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.”
And that was the last straw. Walter Cronkite was the main news guy and if he said it was going to end in a stalemate that meant the American public was hit in the face with a loss. We had never lost a war. All our weapons and all our men could not put the country of South Vietnam together again.
But perhaps nothing captured the horror of the Tet offensive and the war itself more than the photograph of South Vietnam’s national police chief, pistol in outstretched hand, executing a suspected Vietcong guerrilla with a bullet through the head on a Saigon street as fighting raged in the city.