“Escape From Saigon” Coauthor Michael Morris Recalls Vietnam’s 1968 Tet Offensive On Its 50th Anniversary
A Painful Anniversary for Vietnam Veteran Michael Morris who recalls the 1968 Tet Offensive and the lasting impact it had on him and the war
Few episodes from America’s decade-long war in Vietnam stand out as starkly as the Tet Offensive, a countrywide assault by the North Vietnamese communists that began on January 31, 1968, in an attempt to turn the tide of war in their favor.
“Although it was later shown to be a military disaster for the North, Tet proved to be a strategic and political defeat for the U.S., and it marked a turning point that ultimately led to the withdrawal of all American forces from the war,” observes Michael Morris, a Vietnam veteran who not only fought in the war but endured the savagery that occurred during the Tet Offensive. His recollection of the days during and immediately following Tet are still vivid.
“On the 50th anniversary of that bloody debacle—in which more than 2,000 American, 5,000 South Vietnamese and 40,000 North Vietnamese combatants died, along with an uncounted number of civilians—it is not surprising that this milestone is again in the news,” adds Morris.
Tet figured prominently in the recent PBS documentary, The Vietnam War, and is the central subject of a current best-selling book, “Hue 1968” by Mark Bowden.
The Vietnam War continues to resonate as a key historic event for many Americans. The conflict divided our nation, tainted the administrations of four presidents, killed more than 58,000 U.S. servicemen and caused untold pain for the families of the fallen and its surviving veterans.
With fellow Vietnam veteran Dick Pirozzolo, Morris coauthored “Escape from Saigon – a Novel” recently published by Skyhorse Press, New York. The novel depicts the final chapter of the war and is told through the lives of ordinary people who were trapped in Saigon during April 1975 and their quest to escape.
“As in previous years,” he recalls, “we and the North Vietnamese had agreed to a ceasefire during Tet, the Buddhist Lunar
New Year holiday that ran from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5 in 1968. Meanwhile, the North was infiltrating thousands of fresh troops into South Vietnam, especially in the region below the demilitarized zone, but our commanders saw this as part of a general buildup for an offensive that would follow Tet. My infantry unit was moved into the mountains just west of Da Nang, one of the big coastal cities, to serve as a blocking force to protect the city and the thousands of troops, aircraft and supplies we had stationed there.
“We thought we’d get a few days of relative rest during the ceasefire. We had no idea that the North Vietnamese were planning a massive assault to coincide with Tet. It turned out to be pretty horrific. By that point I had been in combat almost an entire year and I had never seen anything as bad. We killed a lot of their men but we took plenty of casualties ourselves and spent the next few weeks in constant battles, sometimes just trying to stay alive,” he says.
“Then, after the fighting intensity died down, we were shocked to learn that American newspapers and TV news outlets were calling Tet a big victory for the communists, saying they were able to mount a major offensive throughout the country when our leaders—President Johnson and General William , Westmoreland, who headed Military Assistance Command in Vietnam—were telling us just the opposite. A month before, Westmoreland actually said the end of the war ‘was coming into view.’
“After Tet, you could see things starting to change. No one believed the war was winnable. It was like the tide was going out. I returned to the States shortly after and it was even more noticeable at home. The anti-war protests got bigger and louder. President Johnson said he wouldn’t run for re-election. The war wasn’t over by a long shot but you could see the writing on the wall. Tet was the watershed, the battle that literally ended the war,” notes Morris who now lives with his family in Savannah, Georgia after an illustrious career as a journalist in New York.
To arrange an interview with author Michael Morris contact: Dick Pirozzolo firstname.lastname@example.org