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from the Michael Tymchak collection

First Day of the Tet Offensive, 1968
Daryl Tucker, Det B Repro and Hand Held, 5/67 - 8/68

The Tet Offensive began a day early at Da Nang, 30 January, 1968. There is a military axiom that there is always someone who doesn’t get the word. Evidently the Viet Cong units tasked with attacking Da Nang weren’t 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 landing zone. A squadron of ARVN M-113s was deployed in a dry 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 "That’s 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, Major Hogan, drive up.
The battalion commander, LTC Wetherill, was supposed to fly in that morning for one of his I.G. 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 in some flaming town, but it was not to be.
Vietnamese family just outside the Det B compound fleeing the first morning of Tet, Photo by Daryl Tucker

TET Offensive 1-30-68.jpg
Det B personnel guarding compound wall morning of Tet offensive. Photo by Daryl Tucker? Provided by George Zervos

Memories of Tet Offensive of 1968 Still Vivid
Charles Chauncey Wells, HHC Repro and USARLE School Commandant, 10/67 - 2/68

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 and downtown and our nearby B.O.Q. 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 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 B.O.Q 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, PFC Leroy Johnson. PFC Johnson was on guard duty and died defending the front gate. He was incountry less than one month and had just turned 26 years old. My roommate, Rafael Sallas, from San Juan, Puerto, went down to collect the personal effects, a very emotional experience.
Downtown the U.S. Embassy was badly hit. The MP 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 U.S. Embassy relocated in Hanoi.
Our B.O.Q. was also USARLE 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. We took them to MACV Headquarters, and the CMEC Museum where they saw the camouflaged tunnel entrance to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a must-see attraction today.
LTC Matta'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 O1 Air Force Birddog and fly at tree-top levels with a map and 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.
Graduating from Michigan State University before coming into the Army, I worked at The Chicago Tribune where I was a writer and editor. My Signal training was in managing a repair and maintenance shop for radios and signal equipment--no training in photography or MI. A position opened up in downtown Saigon with the 5th Psychological Operations Battalion as propaganda development officer, better fitting my background. LTC Matta wrote a letter of recommendation for the transfer and recommended me for the Bronze Star Medal for my work in MIBARS.
In mid-January, I transferred to their headquarters in a railroad repair shop just down from the Saigon passenger station. There we produced leaflets and other ad-agency items to get the VC and NVA to surrender rather than fight. Some leaflets did get NVA/VC to "rally to the national just cause." My eventual job was to develop an employee magazine called Thong Cam for the 160,000 Vietnamese nationals employed by the U.S. Forces.
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. Today my son Col. Charles Andrew Wells is assigned to the Joint Chiefs, J-8 Capabilities and Acquisitions, at the Pentagon in the Procurement Branch.