Monday, June 22, 2015

Phase Three

Phase three of my investigation/research seemed easier than the first two, and it was, but it also became a History addict's paradise.  (By the way, if anyone is wondering what happened to phases one and two, you've read them already.  I changed the title of this last installment because after two weeks I was growing tired of the same heading.  No other reason.)

At this point, I had finished reading Stanton's and Moore's books, but I still hadn't found a specific area or battle in Vietnam.  "The Event".  In fact, at one point I almost backed out of the Green Berets, because their training was too long, close to six months.  Thanksgiving 1967 was around the corner and although Matthew and Brian were near the end of their training, they were still in American soil.  However, Matthew didn't care about my troubles, this was his outfit, he had volunteered to serve in the Special Forces and it was up to me to figure out the details. Unlike today, men of draft age in the 1960's didn't have many choices.  Without a military deferment, which lasted until the men were out of school, they either waited to be called, enlisted or flee the country. Matthew was absolutely correct, I had to respect his choice.

Let's face it History is an unforgiving elephant  And if you are focused on one fact, detail, or key moment you can't see the forest, for the proverbial trees. I was obsessed with the infamous Tet Offensive at the end of January—the one catastrophic, deal breaker event, I really wanted to stay away from and I kept panicking.

 If interested, there is a plethora of articles on the internet regarding Tet and the violation of the cease-fire.  I would recommend watching the History channel's excellent documentaries.

But Matthew insisted, he continued with his nonstop whispers, "the right skirmish will appear" he promised.  To the non-writers, this phase can also be titled "Confessions of a Schizophrenic".  The worrying looks I got from my husband indicated I might be suffering from such an ailment. Someone was looking out for me, and on a fortuitous day, something unexpected happened, I chanced upon an article written by a very popular writer (who will remain anonymous), explaining how her characters, one, in particular, spoke to her and dictated the direction of the story.  Eureka!

My relief was boundless.  That also meant I might have missed something.  I went back, flipping like a maniac through the dogeared pages in Stanton's book, unfortunately, the battles were either too early, too late or in the wrong location.  So I went back to Amazon.   This time I ran into Hans Halberstadt's War Stories of the Green Berets.  Unlike Robin Moore, Mr. Halberstadt did not train with the Special Forces, he did serve as a helicopter door gunner in Vietnam. In my humble opinion, a terribly dangerous position. Sure the gunner has the upper advantage, but he's also a sitting duck of sorts, all of which, I'm sure, imparted Mr. Halberstadt with a fantastic sense of humor.

In his collection of stories, I found the missing puzzle pieces to Destiny's Plan.  It began with Moore's book.  In a chapter that resonated and moved me beyond words, a distinction had been made between serving up North or fighting in the Delta.  In his book, Halberstadt discusses submerged bridges and defective LAW's  (light, antitank, weapons), along with the most incredible practices, such as northern patrols going on classified missions without any, zip, nil, nada, rien American identifying signs.  If taken by the enemy these men were left without any recourse.

Finally, I found in Stanton's book one section dedicated to the "Tragedy at Lang Vei" — the pages must have stuck together or something because I didn't see it during the first and second pass.  Lang Vei was a small camp a few miles away from the Laos border and just as close to the Marine base in Khe Sanh. The bombardment of Khe Sanh began January 21, the Tet offensive exploded Jan 30, and Lang Vei was overrun on Feb 6, 1968.  Three events back to back and the least known would be crucial to Matthew and Brian story. I'd found the mother lode.

Lang Vei may not be famous, but it should be required reading for any student of US Contemporary War History.
"A poignant lesson in human courage and military professionalism, this detailed account of the tragic Battle of Lang Vei will make you proud of being an American—and will break your heart."
~ Gary A. Linderer Author of the Eyes of the Eagle.  
I agree with Mr. Linderer. Reading and studying about Lang Vei broke my heart and brought me to the simple conclusion that this tragic loss of life could have been averted.  Unfortunately for us in our nation, and for those in the military, not everyone who's in command should be.  Just because a person has risen through the ranks to a decision-making position, doesn't mean he or she (these days) are qualified, especially when they're opinionated and so full of themselves they're not open to suggestions or sound advice from their underlings. The tragedy at Lang Vei proved it.  No one in Saigon listened to the rumors of tanks traveling south, the pitch, and the Annamese mountainous territory precluded the use of such heavy equipment.

As a placating, shut your whining, gesture, the High Command in Saigon sent to Lang Vei, "untested"— yep read it and weep — anti-tank equipment.  On the night of February 6th, 1968, those non-existent, mythical NVA tanks rolled over Lang Vei, like bullies trampling a children's park with nothing to stop them, except for the sacrifice and valor of the men in camp.

In addition to the books already mentioned, here is a reading list for those who might wish to learn more about Lang Vei.

Night of the Silver Stars, by William R. Phillips
Tanks in the wire: The first use of enemy armor, by David B. Stockwell
War Story - The Magnificent Sacrifice  (article at VG War Story - outstanding and fully detailed)

Well.  In the heat of the Lang Vei discussion, I realized I have gone longer than I expected.  There will be a Phase 4, obviously.  (wink)  Next time the conclusion of Matthew and Brian's jungle scene and the promised "real interview with a distinguished Vietnam vet".   See ya then.

Victoria Saccenti

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