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My Memories of Tet
By Michael Peterson
I had just arrived in-county around the last of December, '67- early January of '68, so I was an F.N.G. My MOS was 2531 (Field Radio Operator), and was assigned Communications Co, HQ Bn, 1st Marine Division. But I didn't have the heart to be stuck in Headquarters 1st Mar. Div. Combat Operations Center, so I volunteered for guard duty whenever possible. We (Radio platoon) had "the duty" of guarding behind Division C.O.C, occupying the stretch of land between Hills 200 and 244 (for those of you in "the know," that same complex of hills was behind Hill 360, "Freedom Hill," the site of vast P.X. complexes including Freedom Hill Theater).
The upshot was, I was on guard duty in late January. Each "mount" of the duty lasting a day. I was off guard duty for two days when either VC or NVA sappers attacked us and we suffered one KIA and two WIA. But the surprising thing was (and only later I learned of it) that the VC/NVA in the Da Nang area were mistakenly alerted a week early from the nationwide "General Offensive" later. If the higher-ups at MACV had their shit together, the Da Nang experience would have given them a clue. This was confirmed by the 2nd Combined Action Group's (Da Nang Tactical Area Of Responsibility) heavy action throughout the Da Nang general area. I learned of this MUCH later, when I was writing my thesis on the "Combined Action Platoons: The US Marines' Other War in Vietnam."
My memories of Tet itself are disjointed and fragmentary. For example, I have the memory of sacking out on guard mount several days later (it must have been!). All was quiet then. I awoke to sheer cacophony: Every rifle and M-60 on the hill had opened up, including a .50 cal. heavy machine gun. Eventually things quieted down (I think: My memories are THAT disjointed), and my memory fades appropriately.
My most vivid memory of all was that the VC/NVA had overrun Hue city, and they held the "Citadel" (Hue city's old Imperial Capital, home of the Nguyen dynasty). I remember thinking: "What the hell (or the F-word may be appropriate) is going on here..." The Third Marine Division was located six miles to the south, at Phu Bai. If the enemy can come so close to an American division—an entire DIVISION—things must be very bad indeed!
I held on to my rifle very close at that time!
Michael Peterson is a Vietnam vet and member and supporter of VVAW.