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South Viet Nam: Unexpected Guts

2 minute read

While nightfall across much of South Viet Nam brought the fear of Red at tack, the capital of Saigon used to sleep undisturbed. But the Viet Cong guer rillas have moved ever closer, and skirmishes occur regularly near the city’s outskirts. Last week Saigon was literally jolted awake by the closest major clash yet— only twelve miles away.

Breaking a six-week lull in the war, a 600-man Viet Cong battalion stormed the district capital of Duchoa (pop.7,000) west of Saigon before dawn, ran into determined resistance by the outnumbered, 140-man garrison. Vietnamese Rangers barricaded inside a day nursery stopped one Viet Cong company at the edge of town. When the guerrillas opened fire on two U.S.-made 105-mm. howitzers defending the local military headquarters, the platoon of Vietnamese artillerymen shortened their fuses to 2 sec., slammed shells into the breaches, and blasted away pointblank at anything that moved—firing an awesome 322 rounds in an hour. The barrage turned back the enemy, who left 13 dead v. the government’s 15 killed. Said a surprised American adviser who arrived shortly afterward: “Somebody threw something into the balance that the Viet Cong had not expected—guts.”

It was the sort of thing that had not happened often enough during the last 21 years, when General Paul D. Harkins had the difficult and troublesome post of U.S. military commander in Viet Nam. Last week Harkins, 60, left for home and retirement. His successor: Lieut. General William Childs Westmoreland, 50, West Point graduate (’36) and combat veteran of World War II and Korea. Back from a trip to Malaya, where he hopefully studied techniques the British used to win the twelve-year Malayan anti-Communist struggle, Westmoreland insisted cautiously that the job in Viet Nam could be done with “spirit, patience, and techniques seldom before experienced.” Then he sat down behind Harkins’ desk and got to work.

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