Fifty-three years ago, during the month of February, one of the heaviest, most hard-fought battles of the Vietnam war was underway in Hue City, the old imperial capital city of Vietnam. It was the first time the Marines had been involved in urban warfare since the battle for Seoul during the Korean War. They had not been trained in urban warfare techniques, so they had to make it up as they went.
Hue City was beautiful. It was the old imperial capital centuries ago, long before Vietnam was split in two at the 17th parallel by the Geneva Accords signed in 1954. It is located on the beautiful Hue (Perfume) River, and it was also a university city.
But all of that was shattered on the 30th of January, 1968, when the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the Viet Cong (VC) launched an intense, widespread surprise attack up and down the full length of South Vietnam. The Khe Sanh siege had begun a week earlier in an attempt to draw U.S. and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces away from places like Hue, Da Nang, Phu Bai, Saigon, and dozens of other cities and important provincial towns. It was on the 30th that they opened up the full fury of what we have come to call the Tet Offensive.
In this first video, you will hear now-retired Lt. General Ron Christmas as he gives some of the details of the battle from his perspective as a battalion commander at the time of the Tet Offensive battle for Hue City. He will tell how the Marines had to adjust on the fly each and every day to the urban battlefield they found themselves engaged in.
The fight was extremely intense. Our men were up against a large, well-equipped, well-trained, and well-supplied enemy force that took the city with speed and fierce intention. Christmas explains how the fight was up-close and personal, a 35-meter fight, block to block, house to house. He and his Marines had to be adaptive. They had to use their imaginations and be innovative. You will get a sense of this when he talks about having to use weapons at their disposal that were not designed for this kind of battle zone.
But Christmas’s leadership and his ability to think outside the box made his 2nd Bn., 5th Marines an effective and determined counterpoint to the experienced and focused forces they were up against.
As commander of the 2nd Bn, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, at Hue, Christmas’s leadership, his heroism, and his inspirational qualities in the battle for Hue would later be recognized by the awarding of the Navy Cross. He was seriously wounded during the battle and evacuated ultimately to Philadelphia Naval Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The second video gives you the perspective of this battle from the point of view of one of the Marine grunts who fought there. His name is Richard Prince and I think you will be very moved by his personal integrity, character, and personal account of his own experiences there.
Prince was a Lcpl. with Delta Co. 1st Bn., 5th Marine Regiment, at Hue. In the middle of the old imperial city was a beautiful complex called the Citadel. It was in the old part of the city, and the Citadel was the fortress that was built to protect the old city back in Imperial times. Its iconic landmark was the Dong Ba Tower.
This was the place of some of the most focused, intense, and deadly fighting of the battle for Hue. Prince’s Delta Co. was given the mission of taking the Dong Ba Tower.
It was a chaotic battle with sniper nests everywhere. The buildings had been turned into piles of rubble by the intense exchange of large and small weapons fire and aerial support. The Marines needed to take the Dong Ba Tower, which was the highest point in the city, in order to get a strategic advantage. The Marines of Delta Co. had to launch several charges in the effort to take the tower.
By the end of the fight, Delta had lost 6 Marines KIA and 50 wounded. They pulled 24 enemy bodies from the rubble as well. Prince was among those who were wounded in the fight. But before he was wounded he had helped recover, dig out and remove wounded Marines from the rubble under intense enemy fire several times.
Listen as he tells this story, not from the strategic perspective of the commanding officer above, but from that of a grunt in the middle of the madness, in the center of the storm. When he was wounded, he was hit in the neck. That wound has stayed with him for the rest of his life, as you will hear in his voice. I think you will be as moved as I was when you hear him tell the story of that day.
The Veterans Site honors those who fought in the month-long battle for Hue City during the Tet Offensive, from January 30 to March 2, 1968. We remember those who fell there and remain Semper Fidelis to all. We are Fratres Aeterni. Oorah!Whizzco