Tet 2

But as they watched Westmoreland’s supposedly reassuring per¬formance on their television screens, Americans at home could also see the carnage wrought by the offensive in the vicinity of Saigon. The Communists had hurled a division against the U.S. base at Bienhoa, north of the capital, and they had attacked Westmoreland’s own headquarters as well as the South Vietnamese general staff offices, both situated at the Saigon airport. Their rockets ripped into Locbinh, the suburban center of General Fred Weyand’s corps command, blow¬ing an ammunition dump sky-high, and they blocked roads to prevent American and South Vietnamese reinforcements from entering Sai¬gon. In undertaking so widespread a drive, however, the Communists had stretched themselves thin, and inside the capital their squads con¬tinued to assault police posts, army barracks, prisons and other in¬stallations with almost hopeless desperation. Nevertheless, the dimensions of their offensive dazzled American officers; one of them, as he tracked the assaults on a map of the Saigon region, thought it resembled a pinball machine, lighting up with each raid.
Hardly had television crews finished covering the fight for the U.S. embassy than another skirmish erupted nearby. American and South Vietnamese units, their dead lying in the street, were blasting an enemy band of thirteen men and a woman barricaded inside an apartment house after a reckless bid to break into the presidential palace, the most heavily fortified building in the capital. Not far off, cameras concentrated on the siege of Saigon’s main radio station, grabbed by Vietcong commandos during the night. That evening, as they watched the battle on television, American audiences heard the staccato voice of a correspondent on the spot, doing his best to explain the chaotic images. “There are an undisclosed number of Vietcong inside,” he sputtered. “They’re surrounded by South Vietnamese troops, and they’re pinned down inside.”
Western correspondents could not, of course, report from the Com¬munist side during the offensive. Years after the war, though, a Viet¬cong veteran of the operation against the Saigon radio station, Dang Xuan Teo, related his version of the episode—and his account re¬vealed, among other things, the ability of the Communists to prepare a campaign of such magnitude without detection by either the U.S. or South Vietnamese authorities.
A slim, sinewy man, Teo had escaped death or capture in early 1966, when a massive American force, during Operation Cedar Falls, bombed and bulldozed the Vietcong sanctuary in the so-called Iron Triangle, an area of jungles and rubber plantations near the Cambodian border north of Saigon. But there, as in other regions from which they had been eliminated, the Communists gradually rebuilt their strength, and, within eighteen months, they were poised to spring on the capital. In November 1967, Teo’s commanders directed him to train a fourteen-man squad to attack the radio station, terming the job a “once-in-a-lifetime” assignment. They were to seize the building and hold it for two hours, after which Vietcong regulars would relieve them. The members of the team sensed that it would probably be, for most of them at least, an “end-of-a-lifetime” mission.
Teo understood the difficulties involved. The radio station, a crucial communications facility, had been a prime objective in every attempt to overthrow the Saigon regime. Having studied the coups, Teo knew that his commandos could easily overcome the platoon of government troops guarding the station and gain control of the place. “The real problem,” he recalled, “would be to occupy it until help arrived.”
Teo celebrated the Tet holiday two days early, paying respect to his departed ancestors in ritual fashion. Then he went into action. Years before, Vietcong agents had acquired a villa two hundred yards from the radio station, stocking its cellar with weapons for terrorist activities and other contingencies, such as the present assault. Teo’s comrades, infiltrating into the city separately on buses, trucks and motor scooters, assembled at the villa—where they discovered to their dismay that the wooden gunstocks had been eaten through by ter¬mites. It was to late to obtain fresh arms. They wrapped rags around the guns as (Substitute stocks. At three o’clock on the morning of January 31, just as other Vietcong squads were attacking elsewhere, they started off.
They burst into the courtyard of the radio station by ramming a car filled with dynamite through its gate. Then, pouring into the building, they quickly annihilated a platoon of guards, most of whom were sleeping. The fighting ended within ten minutes, and they were in control. At that stage, however, the operation began to go wrong. They had brought along tapes recorded beforehand to broadcast a proclamation announcing the liberation of Saigon and other propa¬ganda. But the attack had triggered a signal that cut the station off from a transmitter fourteen miles away, and they never went on the air. Instead, South Vietnamese government technicians at the trans¬mitter played an incongruous medley of Viennese waltzes, Beatles tunes and Vietnamese military marches—the only music available at the transmitter site. Nor did the relief force of Vietcong regulars arrive on schedule. By daylight, the Communist commandos were trapped inside the station by South Vietnamese troops and, as Teo recalled, their prospects looked dim. “We were down to eight men. We still had some explosives, but our ammunition supply was depleted. We didn’t know whether to continue to hold the place or destroy it. The comrades decided that I should try to get away, report to our superiors, and return with orders. I managed to escape. Soon afterward, though, they detonated the explosives, blowing up the building and sacrificing themselves.” American television audiences could see the aftermath on their screens: grinning and giggling South Vietnamese soldiers scavenged the Vietcong corpses for money and other valuables, looted the radio station itself, and stole any equipment still intact.

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