[Sergeant LaVine at Nha Trang Air Base, South Vietnam, 1968]
Eye Witness Account of the 1968 Tet Offensive at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. South Vietnam.
Ending a 30 day leave I landed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon, South Vietnam. Hot humid air hit me in the face! Two commercial jets had landed and roughy 500 U.S. military, some wearing civilian clothes, disembarked.
A huge line formed to exchange U.S. dollars to South Vietnam money. While waiting, an Air Force Sergeant on the flight line to my left waved his arms and yelled "Form a line!" He kept yelling and two Air Force Officers walked over to see what it was about. Then they yelled "Form a line!" Everyone responded.
From the flight line--where tarmac meets the parking lot--we could see a huge number of enemy troops a mile or so in the distance. They looked like ants spread across the runways! Conex storage containers were opened. M-16s were handed out. We layed down on the edge of the tarmac, forming a 500 man line of American Soldiers. Officers gave commands. Sergeants barked orders. It didn't matter which service we were in. We were seasoned troops. Everyone obeyed. . . . The order was "Lock and load!"
We were being attacked by 2 North Vietnamese Army Divisions--34.000 enemy troops! At the time, however, we only knew they formed a solid line across the Tan Son Nhut runways. We waited for them to be within range.
The enemy was closing. We opened fire but our bullets only formed a gray haze some distance in front of the advancing enemy. I fired 'automatic fire' at a 45 degree angle. A dozen enemy on their front line dropped! Others saw what I had done and began elevating their fire. The enemy began dropping, only to be replaced by those behind them!
The enemy was running into a wall of bullets. Air Force officers and non-coms rushed out to two aircraft on the tarmac despite enemy fire. They manned a Gunship with 20 and 30 milimeter guns. Also, a pilot got into a Cobra Helicopter loaded with rockets. The enemy was even closer now! They were at the metal walls protecting the aircraft. The Gunship and the Cobra taxied for clear fire on the enemy-- no room for them to take off--while we continued firing at the wall of flesh closing on us!
When the Gunship's bullets hit the enemy in red beams (tracers), hundred of the enemy fell to the ground. A ghostly "Ooooooohhhh" could be heard as the bullets killed them. The Cobra Helicopter, still on the ground, fired rockets instantly creating large holes in the enemy formation. Several enemy were lifted up by the rocket's steel fleshetes and nailed to metal revetments. The enemy began to show fear. Some broke ranks to run but were shot by their own soldiers.
The enemy began getting close and underneath the Gunship and the Cobra Helicopter. Several of us concentrated fire on them. They had rifles and grenades and were trying to destroy our aircraft fighting from ground level. We shot them. Bodies littered the tarmac.
The enemy was very close. Enemy bullets cut through the air. Our Ammunition was nearly depleted. . . . Only a magazine or so left. The two aircraft continued to fire. The "Ooooooohhhh" sound continued in the background. The soldier on my left was out of ammo. Half a dozen enemy rushed him. I fired full auto! The enemy fell to the tarmac. Suddenly, there were a half dozen or so rushing me! I was out of ammo. I rose up with my M-16 to gun butt them. Then they fell to the ground as the man to my right hit them with full auto! Those with ammo fired to both sides of our line protecting those that were out of ammo.
Within minutes the enemy force lay dead! Bodies carpeted the runways and tarmac! We had only suffered a dozen or so casualities.
34,000 enemy had been defeated by roughly 500 American soldiers and sailors. The News Media reported we had a victory at Tan Son Nhut, but didn't mention how dramatic it had been. It equalled the Spartans at Thermopylae in Ancient Greece!
Jon Harold LaVine
[This video will give you some idea of the size of Tan Son Nhut Air Base! Unfortunately I couldn't find any videos of the Battle. No one was taking any pictures!]