The last North Vietnamese attack of the January Tet offensive began on March 10, 1968, when NVA soldiers scaled a cliff at Phou Pha Thi, Laos, to destroy an American radar site that directed airstrikes on North Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Lima Site 85 was manned by the Air Force 1st Combat Evaluation Group. They were ordered to continue operations despite intelligence that said an assault was imminent.After an artillery bombardment and commando assault on the radar transmitters, more than 3000 North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao overran the site. Facing impossible odds, the Americans displayed unimaginable courage to destroy their equipment rather than evacuate; almost every one of them died. The only American survivors were one forward air controller, five technicians, and two CIA personnel.
The destruction of this site made freedom of movement on the Ho Chi Minh trail much easier and enabled North Vietnam to organize a second offensive, called Tet II, that struck all over South Vietnam, beginning in May.
While the Tet offensive was a brutal military defeat for the communist forces, Tet had unintended consequences. Rather than agree to begin peace negotiations, the North rejected diplomacy because of a perceived weakness in the American public’s support of the war. And, more immediately, American combat units wanted revenge.
On March 16, this story of revenge, titled Courage, and Hope, will be published for subscribers to First Draft. If you don’t already subscribe to First Draft, sign up here or send me an email at email@example.com and I’ll make sure you get it. – Jack