1st MIBARS In Vietnam!

The Tet Offensive 1968

"I will not be afraid of death and bane,

'Till Birnam Forest Come to Dunsinane"


-- Macbeth, 1605

Photo Credit: Daryl Tucker, "B" Detachment, Reproduction Section, 1967 - 1968

Above:  Residents fleeing the fighting in a village just south of the I Corps Compound during the Tet Offensive on January 30, 1968.  Tet is/was an important Vietnamese festival which took place at the beginning of the lunar new year.  It was believed that the events of the first two weeks of the year would determine the individual's or the family's fortunes for the year.  It was characterized by religious observances, visits to cemeteries, noisemaking and, sometimes with respect to Vietnamese military personnel, the firing of weapons into the air.  Left:  An unidentified officer -- a major, undoubtedly a member of the Military Assistance Command - Vietnam (MACV) advisory team for I Corps, looks on with concern as a Vietnamese Air Force Douglas A-1 Skyraider drops a 500-lb bomb some 200 yards away in defense of the I Corps Compound.

. . . Or 'Till The Viet Cong Bring the Jungle War To the I Corps Compound and "B" Detachment

The Delivery Platoon's Crew Chief

"We were not at the Compound when I Corps was overrun.  The CQ [Charge of Quarters, a non-commissioned officer who manned the operations area after hours], a staff sergeant whose name escapes me, and his orderly, name also unremembered, were there.  I think I remember them saying the sappers [Viet Cong explosives specialists or engineers] came over the wall where our buildings were.  I do remember they were scared when we arrived the next morning for duty.  They had crawled over the supply room wall to get shelter.  I seem to remember a few dead VC in the Compound area.  None of our MI equipment was destroyed.  The sappers' target was the main HQ [ARVN headquarters] area.  I don't recall who pushed them back out but when we arrived, they were trapped in the village across the East wall.  I do remember being assigned a fighting position on the wall across the street from the village by MAJ Hogan.  The sappers were finally killed by air strikes.  I recall being in this hole built by a Vietnamese troop, looking behind me at a F4C, seeing it release its bomb load and watching these bombs travel over my head into the target.  I remember the concussion and just knowing the hole I was in was nowhere deep enough."

Bob Crowell, "B" Detachment, Delivery Platoon, 1966-1968.

An Imagery Interpretation Specialist

"In the lead-up to TET, the unit reviewed many missions over the Khe Sanh area, as this Marine base was surrounded and under siege during January '68.

The I Corps Compound was attacked during the night of January 30th with several VC killed inside the Compound.  I don't believe any Detachment B personnel were working that night.  During the next morning, the unit was on alert as fighting was still going on in the village immediately behind the southern end of the Compound.  An old WWII prop plane was involved in the battle as I recall it strafing the village and dropping some bombs.  After the end of the engagement, enemy dead were brought to, and laid out, on the helipad directly across the street from the Detachment B area when the local residents could view them for a day or two before they were taken away.

On the night of the 31st, the Detachment was on alert all night at its barracks across the street from the DaNang Hotel as rumors were there was to be an attack on the hotel from the direction of the fishing village north of the barracks.  Nothing happened that night or on succeeding nights, but the unit increased ammo for all from five rounds to five full clips.

Workload, i.e - the number of missions [rolls of aerial imagery processed by the II Section], increased significantly during this time, and work hours increased to 18 hours on and 12 off, seven days a week if I remember correctly.  Also during this time frame, the size of the unit increased with a contingent of Michigan National Guardsmen joining the unit.  They came with M-16's -- we still had M-14's.

A significant number of missions reviewed were over Hue.  It was during this timeframe that several members volunteered --or were volunteered -- to be sent to Phu Bai."

Gene Pianka, "B" Detachment, Imagery Interpretation Section, 1967-1968.

The Reproduction Section's Lead Photo Lab Specialist

"The Tet Offensive began a day early at Da Nang, 30 January, 1968.  There is a military axiom that there is always someone who doesnít get the word.  Evidently the Viet Cong units tasked with attacking Da Nang werenít notified that the offensive had been delayed until the 31st.  I believe the assault began at 0430. We were greeted by a great deal of noise when we jumped from the deuce-and-a-half at I Corps Headquarters.

I climbed up on the wall that surrounded the compound to get a better look.  There was black smoke billowing from the village just to the south.  It was along Route 1, that the French, in their war, had called the Street Without Joy.  A squad of tired looking Marines was beginning to move down the dirt road toward the village. One of their number lay dead on the helo [helicopter] landing zone. A squadron of ARVN M-113s [armored personnel carriers] was deployed in a dry [rice] paddy and advancing toward a tree line 300 or 400 meters away.

A lot of rounds were zinging overhead but not too close.  There was an extremely loud smacking detonation that may have been a 500 lb. bomb.  Refugees ran by from the village, including a family, which I photographed.  In 1974 I was in Saigon at the AP office on my way to Cambodia to freelance as a combat photographer. When I showed some photos around Vietnamese photographer Nick Ut saw the image of the fleeing family and said "Thatís Da Nang, the Tet Offensive. I lost my eye there."  In 2005 he was a photographer for the L.A. Times.As the ARVN APCs got closer to the tree line they suddenly took a lot of fire. They all did an about face at the same time and took off.  Gradually the firing died down as the trapped VC were killed off.  The next day about 34 were spread out near the helo pad.  Well, after the shooting was over I saw the B Detachment commander . . . drive up. The battalion commander . . . was supposed to fly in that morning for one of his IG inspections, but due to unforeseen circumstances, it had to be cancelled.

Later in the day I was talking to a lieutenant who was an advisor with the ARVN Ranger battalion. He said he had lost several of his Rangers during the fighting. He looked like he was about to cry so I left him to his grief.  I often thought, over the years and wars, that I had a rendezvous [with death] in some flaming town, but it was not to be."

The Action Just Over the I Corps Compound Wall On January 31, 1968

Below:  With Vietnamese villagers streaming across a hedgerow from the left in the background and ARVN armored personnel carriers in the distance charging out from the I Corps Compound toward the source of the attack, an ARVN soldier abandons his disabled truck and joins civilians fleeing the fighting along the road adjacent To "B" Detachment's operations area of the compound.

Below:  A bicyclist joins civilians headed toward the safety of DaNang City during the attack on the I Corps Compound.

Photo Credit: Daryl Tucker

Photo Credit: Daryl Tucker

Daryl Tucker

And Memories of Tet Offensive From Saigon -- Still Vivid

"The TET Offensive of 1968 is my most vivid memory of my three month's assignment at Headquarters, 1st MIBARS, Saigon. From our headquarters midway between Tan Son Nhut [airport] and downtown and our nearby BOQ [bachelor officers' quarters] tucked away on a back street in the Gia Dinh section of Saigon, we could clearly see the action of the gunships rocketing and machine gunning the Viet Cong who were boxed in when they tried to over-run the airfield.

VC [Viet Cong] rockets did hit the airfield and the civilian passenger terminal, but missed our photo lab and imagery interpretation huts. There was very little activity at our battalion headquarters or BOQ as we had advance notice about attacks coming during Tet, but were surprised by the intensity all over South Viet Nam.  MIBARS had one casualty at Detachment C [Can Tho]. . . [who was] on guard duty and died defending the front gate. He was in-country less than one month and had just turned 26 years old.  My roommate . . . went down to collect the personal effects, a very emotional experience.

Downtown the US Embassy was badly hit.  The MP [military police] Guards took most of the action there and throughout the city guarding the BOQ hotels.  I attended St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, next to the embassy.  Our elderly priest from Cleveland was so frightened he went back to the states and a number of us took over the services as lay readers.  Today that church is a Korean restaurant and the Embassy is a rebuilt consulate with the US Embassy relocated in Hanoi.

Our BOQ. was also USARLE [US Army Research and Liaison Element -- a unit designation most openly used on 1st MIBARS vehicles to disguise the battalion's military intelligence role] School of which I was commandant. We offered intensive in-country training for the newly-arrived imagery interpreters who were more familiar with Europe and large, land-area war zones, not triple canopy jungle.  It was entirely different from what they learned at Fort Holabird [the Army Intelligence School]. We took them to MACV [Military Assistance Command -- Vietnam, which provided "advisors" to Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) units and Regional Force and Popular Force militias in the countryside] Headquarters, and the CMEC Museum [Combined Material Exploitation Center -- a technical intelligence organization whose museum is now located at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland -- Site Administrator] where they saw the camouflaged tunnel entrance to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a must-see attraction today.

[The Commanding Officer's] motto was: "The Mission and then Some More."  He developed the 1st MIBARS hand-held camera program in which our photo people would go up in an O-1 Air Force Birddog and fly at tree-top levels with a map and a hand-held Pentax camera looking for VC activity.  We got some remarkable photo intelligence, shooting with a telephoto lens and marking the coordinates on the map for later targeting.  Most remarkable was a VC hospital with the hammocks hanging from the trees, but there were other shots of massed troops encamped, and other valuable intelligence producing shots -- all in the days before digital photography.  This filled an important need. The high-performance RF4C Jets produced a huge amount of imagery, some of it usable, but not with the detail or precision of the hand-held photos, where the photographer could get in under the foliage.  We then produced the 1st MIBARS Aerial Reconnaissance Handbook for Viet Nam. This was distributed to imagery people in the field, who could not come to the school, and to infantry and other tactical units. It gave a really good view of the type of conditions we were fighting under.

At MIBARS, my work was challenging and I worked with some really terrific officers and men.  I look back on that as an important phase of my personal development and I am proud to have served with you all."

Charles Chauncey Wells, HHC Reproduction Section and USARLE School Commandant, 1967 - 1968

Vietnamese women and children,  turned out of their homes with only the clothes on their backs, 

run towards safety in the City of DaNang during the Tet Offensive of 1968

Photo Credit: Daryl Tucker

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