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War Stories

The Battle for Saigon 1968 (TET)

Please help by sending any input on this article to the Centaur Society - Update 19 Mar 2017

See the many email comments concerning TET

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On 30 Jan 1968 forces of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army launched the "TET Offensive" against South Vietnam, the United States, and their allies. The attacks included military and civilian commands and control centers throughout South Vietnam.

For the Centaurs, the battle began a few days earlier. See the Battle of the Hobo Woods - 28 Jan 1968.

Author Keith Nolan wrote up the battle in his book "The Battle for Saigon". He included a bit of the Hobo Woods Battle in his book.

"Mounted Combat in Vietnam" by General Donn A. Starry presents a high level account of the battle. Click on the title and go to our War Stories Essay section for a summary, or click on Vietnam Studies to read the online book.

The 3/4 Cav and the Centaurs were heavily involved. Most historic stories sort of poo-poo the deeds of the D Troop (Air), as they were only providing support. We know it was much more than that and need to have our stories told.

Pat Eastes Gun Pilot, tells what happened before and during TET 68 - "Year of the Rat"

Mike Siegel tells of the heroic resupply missions in his story "Very Hot Resupply & Medevac TET 68".

Woody Gardner's story about being hit by a 51 cal "The Driveshaft and the 51 Cal Round".

Jim Ashabranner tells of flying Command and Control in an OH-23 with Glenn Otis the Squadron Commander

Dan Wright, XO of C Troop gives his on the ground story

Woody Gardner's story of "First Resupply after TET 68 - Ambush"

Bill Hull gives "Another View of TET 68".

Tom Fleming provides a Troop Commander's input to Keith Nolan in "Battle For Saigon Book Input - 1968"

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Email Comments:

Dale Dow - 9 Dec 2011: 'Memory Jogger" - Gentlemen,
Since some of the older Centaurs seem to be having a hard time remembering much about what they did during the Tet ’68 adventure, I thought I would put together a memory jogger to help some of you to recall what was going on and what you may have been doing.

Back in the summer of 1993 Keith Nolan contacted me for information about the Aerorifle battle in the Hobo Woods on 29 – 30 Jan 68. Nolan wanted to start his story of the Tet Offensive at Saigon with the Aerorifle battle. Since that was a couple of days before I took the platoon, I wasn’t able to give him much information. The only Centaurs that I had any information on were Tom Fleming, Lee “Smokey” Burgess, and Mike Siegel, so I referred him to them. Based upon interviews with them, Nolan put together a blurb about the battle.

He also included some of Siegel’s activities during the 3/4 Cav battle at Tan Son Nhut. Using interviews with Gen (Ret) Glenn Otis (Sqdn Cdr), LTC (RET)Charles K. Flint (Arty LNO), LTC (Ret) Malcom D. Otis, LTC (Ret) Leo B Virant II, COL (Ret) Thomas E. Fleming, COL (USAR Ret) Leland H. Burgess, and Michael D. Siegel, Nolan put together a generic story of what the Centaurs did during the battle around Tan Son Nhut. Unfortunately, the only Centaur identified by name in the book is Siegel. The other pilots and crews are not identified

......we need to be able to identify the pilots and crewmembers who flew in support of the squadron...... fill in as many names as you can recall. Since some of the actions are discussed in general terms, try to add all the details that you can recall.

Bob Taylor 9 Dec 2011 Dale: Like Eastes, I distinctly remember the factory and at least one of the 50’s. I talk about that on our DVD and how badly damaged 444 was. After we were lifted back to Cu Chi my memory of any additional flights is a total blank. I do remember building sand bagged defensive positions right in the Troop area but that could have been a day or so after Tet.

bunkerLarry Patterson 9 Dec 2011 i remember one rocket attack , in our new unit area, where i was outside our houch, and a rocket hit in our area and i looked up over the sandbags, that we had filled to protect our houches, to see a jeep that had been hit by the rocket and it seemed to spin, in slow motion, about 15 feet into the air......................didn't see it hit the ground because my cace was flush with the ground by that time....
yes, those rocket/mortar attacks were hell....

I have pics of our Cu Chi defensive positons" (with the trenches and half culverts) that we built.........and i look back now and think....we would have been shooting into the Squadron Hdq if someone had fired a shot at us...............but at the time we thought it was a great idea.

Rick Arthur 11 Dec 2011 Charlie,
A memory of you and I in a Hog late morning on the 29th of Jan,68. After a lot of confusion (then and now) and mix up of aircraft and crews and missions over the night of the 28th. You and I ended up single ship off the departure end of runway 27L/R at Tan Son Nhut (can’t remember why we didn't have a wing man. I think a some point we were just out of aircraft). We were looking for 51’s; had climbed up to altitude, probably 2,000 ft looking over the area. Spotted one of those round emplacements with a 51 that could swivel 360 deg. Our first mistake was rolling in on him over the runway (the airport was shut down) attacking from east to west. Just what he expected (I think) anyway he worked us over bad. I was in the right seat and missed with the rockets (probably to high to be accurate). Had to drop to low level after the rocket run to avoid his fire. I think we only took a round or two. I remember Crew Chief Goode in left door.(sorry if I didn’t spell his name correct. What was his aircraft tail number?). We then worked around low level to the west and rolled in east to west staying about 50’ above the brush. We got him on that pass and over flew him.

I wish I still has the picture of you and I with a 51 standing at Centaur Flt Ops. The Squadron had brought one back as a trophy after their sweep of the area over the next few days. We at least claimed that one as ours.

Charlie Johnson 10 Dec 2011 Rick:

Good recall. I had forgotten that episode but I do recall another event that day.

You were correct as to why we were single ship - too many shot up and worn out gunships to keep a team flying together.

I don't know if you and I were still flying together later that day but do you recall when we went at another .51 cal in one of those donuts and heard on our Troop FM frequency: "Centaur 6 this is Sabre 6. Centaur 40 is messing with those 50 calibers again." Followed, immediately, by another call on our Troop FM frequency: "Centaur 40 this is Centaur 6. You leave that 50 caliber alone and that's an order." That was followed by, on the same frequency: "Centaur 6 this is Centaur 40. Roger, Wilco." I recall being both embarrassed and pissed-off about being ordered to not do what I thought it was our job to do. We probably should have just called in some artillery on them, if there was any artillery available at that time.

That is probably the only time I recall ever disagreeing with anything Sabre 6 wanted us to do. I really wanted to kill those anti-aircraft gunners after what they had been doing to us.

LTC Otis probably saved some Centaur lives though. Those .51s were a bitch. I recall their tracer rounds getting very big, really quick, at that low altitude. I recall hearing about Cobras being shot down and Cobra pilots being killed by those same .51s that day. We were probably the equivalent of slow motion target practice for those guys in our little C Model tadpoles. They sure made a different sound flying past us than the standard automatic weapons with which we were used to getting shot at.

Pat Eastes 11 Dec 2011 Bruce, Rick, Charlie, etc,
One of the ground troops brought the AA gun back from one of the numerous battles of Tet. Rick's email mentions that it might be the one that he and Charlie took out on the first day of Tet. I just remember that we were told that the troop had the weapon, and several of us who were having too much fun getting shot at by these AA guns went over to the Saber area and checked it out. I think they may have had another one or two AA guns that they had captured, as well. I'm guessing that this was early Feb of 68. We were all pretty tired of getting hosed by those things, and were glad that there was one less in the TO and E of the NVA. (See the Eastes Mypage, Textphotos number 8 & 9. Also on the Kelly Mypage TextPhoto number 6.)

Rick Arthur 11 Dec 2011 Agreed it was good to see one of these out of the hands of the NVA. The pictures were taken in front of our flight ops. I knew Squadron had policed this one up. It made me feel good to think it was the one that we got but don’t know if it was that particular gun.

Pat, On second look; that doesn’t look like our flight ops area. That’s a different picture of a similar gun than the one I was thinking. The pictures I was thinking were of a gun that someone set up in front of our flight ops. We had a similar session of looking through the sights etc.
Sorry but It’s been too many years for old memories.

Pat Eastes 9 Dec 2012: During the first morning of Tet, I was on the ground, having been flying the night before. I didn't get back in the fight until that afternoon, and I'm pretty sure that I was flying through that first night of Tet, but it all became pretty much a blur for a month or so. I remember night flying where Spooky would fire, get shot at by 50s, and then the C47 would climb as the 50s kept shooting at them until their tracers were actually burning out above us, where we were flying at probably 1000 feet or so. I remember flares popping and our guns having a virtual field day hosing VC/NVA in the open on several occasions, and this was, to the best of my recall, between Cu Chi and Saigon. I very distinctly remember rolling in on the factory that was mentioned, and blowing the crap out of it. I remember all too well an ARVN unit that had a US advisor that had been shot; this was in a villa, and the American was trying to get the ARVNs to get him out, but there was a 50 that kept them at bay, and I and whoever was my wing destroyed the 50, only to have the American die. I seriously considered rolling in on the ARVNs at the time; glad that I didn't now. I remember NVA bodies stacked up on a perimeter of one of the ground troops after we had made several runs on them, and that one was in broad daylight.
I also remember doing a dust off after we had expended because the Dust Off bird (not one of ours, some Med Evac pilot) refused to pick up the wounded because he thought it was still too hot; you certainly didn't see that very often. It seems to me that this was during Tet, but may have been later, but it was for one of our ground troops.
As mentioned earlier, a lot of Tet is a blur of flying a lot, much of it at night, getting shot at almost constantly, and expending an awful lot of ordnance, and several fights with NVA 50s, to the point of hardly noticing when just being shot at by AKs.


Chapter 2: We all have to remember the seemingly never ending rocket attacks; scared the crap out of me every time. When you were in a firefight, at least you could shoot back, but with the rockets you just cringed in a ditch or a bunker and hoped that a direct hit didn't end it all. Of all the frightening things that we endured, those damn rockets were the scariest for me.

Pat Eastes 5 Feb 2014: Something that I left out of this story: our night was over, but Bobcat Charlie 6 and his guys were still out there in the shit. I gained such respect for the Grunts, who slogged it out in miserable conditions. At least we got to sleep on cots and in hooches most nights. They were out in Indian country, sleeping when and where they could and dealing with not only the enemy, but snakes, driving rain, mosquitos and other such wonders of Vietnam.
Juaquin