Howie Roak | The Battle of Hue City

February 4 1968, Hue, South Vietnam
U.S. Marines keeping low because of intense sniper fire,

battle communist units which seized two thirds of the ancient Imperial Capital.
Photo courtesy Kyoichi Sawada • Bettmann/CORBIS

 

The Battle of Hue (also called the Siege of Hue), was one of the bloodiest and longest battles of the Vietnam War. In February 1968, in the South Vietnamese city of Hue, 11 battalions of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), two U.S. Army battalions, and three understrength U.S. Marine Corps battalions, for a total of 16 battalions, defeated 10 battalions of the People’s Army of Vietnam(PAVN or NVA) and the Viet Cong (VC). (Wikipedia)

 

Howie Roak | August 12, 2017

This editorial is in response to George Will’s recent column proclaiming that the Battle of Hue City during the Tet ’68 Offensive was the turning point of the Vietnam War. I posit that the battle of Hue City wasn’t a turning point. It was but a small portion of the truer battle, which was greater than the Battle of the Bulge, the ‘Tet 1968 Offensive’. Only the Russian-German Battle of Kursk covered as much land, or had as many combatants as the Tet ’68 Offensive. There were no "safe zones" for Vietnamese, Americans, or anyone involved.

The Battle of Tet 1968 was the largest battle in the history of American arms. It covered an area greater than the entire western front in World War II. It involved more combat troops, had more skirmishes (battles and smaller fights) than any battle in our history. Along the DMZ, Khe Sanh through Qua Viet was a series of outposts that engaged more front line troops against American forces than the Germans in the battle of the Bugle. Below the DMZ, in the I Corps alone we were like the outposts – surrounded by the enemy in larger numbers (NVA and Viet Cong). We defeated them all in overwhelming numbers. Similar to the Russians and the Germans at the Battle of Kursk with the same results; however, unlike the Russians we did not follow up and win.

Yes, we Marines suffered the greatest casualty rate in American history for a longer period of time -from September 1967 through March 1968 the Marines suffered 1 man killed or wounded, per squad, per platoon, per company, per battalion, per regiment, per division PER DAY (including the losses by the Marine Air Wing). BUT we inflicted almost a 100 to 1 kill ratio upon the enemy. And that was just in the I Corps. The American and Vietnamese Army achieved the same ratio in the other tactical areas, albeit with lower casualties, except in several concentrated skirmishes (battles) in a shorter time frame.

February 1968, Hue, Vietnam — Evacuation of wounded American troops during the battle for Hue. (photo courtesy Christian Simonpietri/Sygma/Corbis)

The skirmish called ‘Battle of Hue City’ was but a part of the overall ‘Tet ’68 Offensive’. The Mark Bowden book describing the Battle of Hue that George Will based his recent column upon, is a total misrepresentation of what went on during those days, and of the overall American victory achieved during the Tet ’68 Offensive. The US Army alone moved more men and equipment in shorter time frames across longer distances, than General Patton’s famous pivot of WWII. Then add in the Vietnamese Army, Korean Marines… and, we U.S. Marines. We crushed the enemy totally… absolutely crushed the Viet Cong. They ceased to exist as an effective force after the Tet ’68 Offensive. The NVA was so badly damaged post Hue, that they could only stage short and localized fights in its aftermath; more importantly, the NVA only engaged when forced to after the Battle of Hue. Sure battles like Hamburger Hill, the Ashau Valley and Cau Viet garnered some attention and headlines, but it took the NVA almost 5 years to recover, re-arm, and lead another offensive of even a quarter of that magnitude following the Battle of Hue. Those later NVA offensives were unopposed by American arms, and thus were successful.

I was in country on four different tours, spanning June 1964 through June 1969. I almost lost my life when Tet ’68 started. I am alive today because of the fortunate placement of some sandbags, that provided protection when the Tet ’68 Offensive’s initial salvo of rockets hit the 5th Marine Regimental compound at Phu Bai. But that is tale for another day.

Why do I refer to the battle as the Tet ’68 Offensive? Because a year later, I was in country for the Tet ’69 Offensive, albeit a smaller version of the ’68 battle, but they still wrecked havoc for a few days. Again I almost lost my life when they hit the 26th Marines. So yes, I remember those battles and the sub-battles called the Hilltops (Khe Sanh thru Con Thein), Phu Bai, Dong Ha, and Chu Lai — I re-live my part in them nightly.

After I got out of the Marines in 1969, I delved into many aspects of the war to try and understand it, to put my experiences into perspective, to understand the loss of my friends, and understand my own actions. George Will, Mark Bowden, et al haven’t a clue about what they write or pontificate on. They are too blinded by their own 1960 anti-war bias. They can not even recognize the scale of the Tet ’68 Offensive and the victory achieved by American, Vietnamese and Korean arms. To them, it was a parlor game. But to those that were there, it was neither a game, nor is it ancient history — it was but a moment ago!

former SSGT, USMC
1962-1969

 

Aerial view of Hue in ruins after the Battle of Hue during the Tet Offensive. (Department of Defense photo)

 



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