When the North Vietnamese army and Vietcong unleashed the Tet Offensive in January of 1968, American supported military bases and cities were simultaneously attacked at the end of January. We had a customary three day cease fire for the lunar New Year holiday, but General Giap of the north thought the surprise attacks would be successful. He forgot the strength, will, and valor of use, the fighting men in Vietnam.

I was a Marine stationed near the ancient city of Hue, the former imperial city of the 1800s. The North Vietnamese took the city on January 31, raising their yellow starred flag over the Citadel, an ancient fortress in the center of the town. It would take the South Vietnamese and three Marine battalions almost four weeks to tear that flag down in what became some of the fiercest fighting of this war – or any war, for that matter.

As we entered the city by crossing the Perfume River, we were pretty unprepared for this new type of warfare. “We were accustomed to jungles and open rice fields, and now we would be fighting in a city, like it was Europe during World War II. One of the beautiful things about the marines is that they adapt quickly, but we were going to take a number of casualties learning some basic lessons in this experience.” The enemy was holed up behind houses, walls, and buildings – or what used to be houses, walls, and buildings. The fighting was fierce, as we faced sharpshooters, machine gunners, and mortar fire falling like rain. We measured our success bring by brick, foot by foot. “There were burnt-out tanks and trucks, and upturned automobiles still smoldering. Bodies lay everywhere, mostly civilians. The smoke and stench blended like in some kind of horror movie – except that it lacked weird music.”

As we crawled through the city, we finally received support from aerial bombers and choppers spraying napalm. Our tanks helped clear the city streets as we crouched low and advanced on the Citadel. We finally swept onto the long south wall overlooking the Perfume riverbank, a position that gave us sturdy positions on each wall of the Citadel. Within hours of that move, the Citadel fell to our allies, and they raised the red and yellow flag of the south.

The battle was like no other I had ever seen, or hope to ever see again. We lost around 150 Marines, while the South took losses around 400. We head that the commies lost almost 5000 men in the siege of the city – for nothing. The city, so beautiful in years past I imagine, was turned to rubble. Later on, mass graves were discovered, full of civilian bodies destroyed by the Communist forces. They were supposedly “enemies”. If that’s what they do to innocent enemies, then our victory was necessary.

The North failed with their Tet Offensive. They hoped they could end the war. They hoped to get the South Vietnamese people to turn and support the communist forces. They hoped to break the will of the American forces fighting in the south. They failed in Vietnam. But I imagine that the television crews that followed us showed America what war was really like, and it was awful. As my buddy said when he was interviewed as the battle raged, “the whole thing stinks, really.”