The Vietnam war exploded into the American consciousness 55 years ago, January 30, 1968. Known as the Tet offensive, it was a coordinated surprise attack by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces that caught American and South Vietnamese troops by surprise and inflicted serious casualties. And it opened the eyes of the American public not just to the truths about the Vietnam war, but to the lies they were being told by their leaders. The politicians and military brass who had cheerfully insisted we were winning the war and that there was “light at the end of the tunnel,” were revealed to be scoundrels and con artists with only their self-interests at heart. They were willing to sacrifice the best of American youth to a futile and unwinable war for bragging rights that America stopped the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. We didn’t.
The Tet offensive is largely forgotten today, along with the soldiers who fought and died in it. This is a great American tragedy.
My friend, John Huddleston, one of the few survivors of those dark days, refuses to allow the Tet offensive and the overall horror of the Vietnam war to flush down the American memory hole. John was one of 100 Army medics assigned to support Marine troops. He was the sole surviving medic. John’s story is one of courage, pain, and sacrifice, fighting hand-to-hand alongside the Marines, and struggling in the aftermath of the battles to patch up the wounded and comfort the dying.
During my second tour to entertain troops in Vietnam, John and I crossed paths in Pleiku in the central highlands—a dangerous and godforsaken place. John and his friend Rick saw my show in Pleiku and were, according to John, changed by it. But that is a story for another time. John’s story of the war, how he survived and returned, and how he was unable to endure the scorn of his fellow Americans deserves more than this short memorial. In due time it will be part of my next book.
For now, remember Tet in 1968 and those who survived or died. Shed a tear for them and for the loss of innocence the war inflicted upon us. Vietnamese monk and Buddhist Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, was once asked what terrible karma the Vietnamese people committed to cause the Vietnam war to happen to them. He replied, “The Vietnam war didn’t happen to the Vietnamese people. It happened to all of us.” Peace.