Tet Offensive


 

The Tet Offensive is often considered one of the biggest turning points of the Vietnam War up to that point. Beginning on January 31, 1968, the Tet Offensive is named for the Vietnamese holiday during which it took place. It was the largest offensive made by either the United States or the Vietnamese Communists until that time. With North Vietnam wanting a push for the end of the war, the Communist forces of both the north and the south launched coordinated attacks on major cities and population centers across South Vietnam during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year celebration. Beverly Deepe Keever was in Saigon, one of the cities that was attacked during the Tet Offensive, and experienced one of the most defining moments of the war.

Tet is one of the most important holidays in Vietnamese culture. It’s a celebration of the new year and involves various celebrations throughout both North and South Vietnam. Prior to 1968, both sides commonly accepted that no fighting would occur during Tet, considering it an unofficial cease-fire in order to celebrate the holiday. The People’s Liberation Armed Forces of South Vietnam (also known as the Viet Cong) and the People’s Army of Vietnam (also known as the North Vietnamese army) began a simultaneous attack throughout the entire country on Jan. 31. This action, the Tet Offensive, caught the South by complete surprise. The Viet Cong used the fireworks and other loud noises from the celebrations as cover for stealth attacks. Communist fighters were able to penetrate even the most secure areas of South Vietnam.

Early in the morning of January 31, Viet Cong troops infiltrated the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon. The Viet Cong did not intend to completely overrun the city; rather the plan was to just attack a few key targets of political or military importance. One of these targets, and probably the most famous, was the United States Embassy. Newly completed in September 1967, the six-story, four-acre compound demonstrated that the Americans were going to support South Vietnam indefinitely. At around 2:45 a.m. on January 31, 19 Viet Cong troops attacked the compound. The Viet Cong blew a hole in the outer wall and began their assault. Eventually, 18 of those Viet Cong were killed in the attack and the remaining soldier was wounded and taken prisoner.

Beverly Deepe Keever was just a few blocks away from the embassy in her apartment that night. In the following days, she and many other western correspondents worked to dissect the offensive; its causes and the results of the Viet Cong actions. According to Keever, the Tet Offensive proved much bigger than anyone could have anticipated. Her book, Death Zones & Darling Spies, describes military briefings she attended and her shock in discovering the scale of the operation conducted by the Communists. Keever recorded the personal stories of the people that lived in Saigon and how they were personally affected. Among the stories she recorded were those from housewives or widows that would find Viet Cong in their homes in Saigon or a story about a mother who lost three of her children during the offensive after Viet Cong troops were seen in her yard and an American helicopter opened fire on the home. Keever’s reports focused on the every-day person in Vietnam and how their lives were affected by the war.

The Tet Offensive is considered to be a major turning point in the Vietnam War as it showed the United States as vulnerable and that the  Communist forces would attack the heart of South Vietnam and the American presence there. Many people began to question America’s involvement in this conflict and whether it could be won. Keever experienced all this in her seven years as a journalist covering the Vietnam War. Her stories in Death Zones & Darling Spies and all of her surviving documents from Vietnam are available in the Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.

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