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Back to the Past

PETER O’CONNOR
Staff Columnist
oconnor@lbknews.com

Some might say that almost everything we say or write is about the past.

Maybe so, but I’ll try something specific, and maybe with present value.

Last Saturday, June 10th Pat and I set out for breakfast at our favorite local spot, The Cortez Café.  That’s close-by in the Village of Cortez, just over the bridge from Anna Maria Island.  The food is good, the coffee hot, and the company vibrant.  After that brief repast we headed east and south to Sarasota for a specific shopping errand.

I had read a review of a new book that caught my eye, namely HUE’1968 by Mark Bowden.  The Reviewer called this The Bloody Pivot – Twenty-four days of nonstop urban battle that turned the tables in Vietnam.  At the close of my tour in Vietnam and in that war, I served in Hue’. It was long ago, but I still think that my memories of that time and place are vivid.  I had to read this book, without waiting for the Library.  So it was off to Barnes & Noble Booksellers on Tamiami Trail in our city, Sarasota.

To set the scene for this column; I’ll not attempt to review this book  by Bowden.  That was done by Karl Marlantes (The Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday, June 3 – 4, 2017).  I

I served in 1967 – 1968 as a Navy Civil Engineer Corps Lieutenant in The Republic of Vietnam.  The Navy was the construction agent for all the services in Country, and in Thailand.  Our Boss was in Pearl Harbor; we worked for MACV, the Military Assistance Command Vietnam in Saigon. My boss was a CEC Captain in Danang.  Our customer was primarily the USMC, although in the months before this time  (the TET Offensive) we  were engaged in a large dredging project south of Hue’.  This was preliminary to the landing of literally hundreds of Army helicopters in prior rice paddies.  I left Vietnam just after the commencement of the Tet Offensive (via Danang to Saigon to California to Home).  I came not wounded but a lot smarter and experienced.  I think still that I can say I became a Soldier in that year in Vietnam.

We drove back to LBK from Sarasota.  I’m told by my Librarian Daughter that there are not very many of these stores left – Amazon has won!  The thick book even smelled good.  I guess we all grew up with a respect and maybe a love of books.  This one felt good.  I started with the Glossary.

About those twenty-four days: “Some 20,000 combatants; 10,000-plus fatalities; 80% of the old capital damaged or destroyed.”

From Bowden’s account:  “The Battle of Hue’ began during the pre-dawn hours of Jan.31,1968, the first day of the Lunar New Year, known in Vietnam as Tet.  Hue’ (pronounced ‘hway’) was  Vietnam’s capital from 1802 to 1945; in 1968, it was Vietnam’s  third-largest city and the largest near the demilitarized zone dividing the communist North and the American – supported South.

By mid – 1967, the government in Hanoi had begun planning its so-called Tet Offensive, a coordinated series of surprise attacks on the South by the National Liberation Front, a coalition force comprising members of the North Vietnamese  Army and the Viet Cong, the South’s anti-government guerrilla group.  The taking of Hue’ was the Tet Offensive’s  chief objective, a bold move that Hanoi hoped would win the war.”  It helped, but not for several more years.

The United States named a ship after the battle, The USS Hue’ City, a Ticonderoga Class Guided Missile Cruiser.  The ship has been decommissioned; time passes.

From Mr. Marlantes ’review: “ If there is an antagonist in Hue’1968, it is arrogant  leadership: generals and politicians blindly issuing orders from their offices in Hanoi, Saigon, Washington and other positions of safety.”

That may be true.  It certainly was the popular view in our Country.  I was no where near the level to know for sure.  I shared the ‘”scuttlebutt” with my shipmates and with the grunts.

Every sailor, marine, and civilian that I encountered in Vietnam  gave the full measure of devotion.  (Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863)

SEMPER FIDELIS

 

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