A Viet Cong guerrilla on the Tet Offensive (1968)

Nguyen Tuong Lai was a Viet Cong guerrilla. Here he tells of his experiences during and after the Tet Offensive of 1968:

“During the Tet offensive of 1968, we attacked the Bien Hoa Airport. Tet was a great loss for the NLF forces. Our army had to be restructured afterward. There were three phases of fighting during the offensive:

During the first phase in my area, the NLF forces did the fighting. We lost too many men and in the second phase had to be reinforced by North Vietnamese units. And in the third phase, the fighting was done exclusively by North Vietnamese units, even in Tay Ninh and Saigon. The southern forces were decimated … and from that time on mostly served as intelligence, logistics, and saboteurs for the northerners.

In June 1968, I was assigned to attend the Tran Phu School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party at COSVN (North Vietnamese/NLF Headquarters) in Tay Ninh Province. During this time the American leadership changed from General Westmoreland to General Abrams. And due to our Tet losses and a change in American tactics, all of our units had to retreat into Cambodia.

During this time the war was fought on the border. Our orders were to launch all of our attacks from Cambodia, to which we could retreat and remain safely. We knew that the American commanders had strict orders from their higher echelon to respect the Cambodian border. That’s why we abused Cambodia’s neutrality. Whenever we were chased by the enemy, we knew we could retreat across the frontier demarcation into the safe zone and get some rest. We were protected by international law. Also, we knew there was a large antiwar movement in America who would not allow the American army to cross over the border.

We had to live in miserable conditions in the jungle. We were cold, wet, caught malaria, and did not have enough food when the supply section was delayed or disrupted. For example, in the Ma Da area of Binh Duong Province, for three months we had no rice. So we had to eat leaves and roots in the jungle — whatever we could find for survival. We would spy on the American firebases [temporary large artillery bases]. And when they would pull out, they left behind C-ration cans and wasted food. We would gather their leftovers. This helped us a great deal.”