By the spring of 1972, the Vietnam War – in which my U.S. Army brother and I both served – was supposed to be “winding down.” President Richard Nixon’s commitment to “Vietnamization” – training, equipping & “supporting” the South Vietnamese government & military – was well underway.
In February 1972, the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne – the last U.S. ground combat division in The Republic of Vietnam – headed home. By March 1972, U.S. combat troop levels “in country” had dropped from a high of 500,000 American Soldiers & Marines in 1969 to just two Army brigades guarding fixed installations and a few thousand U.S. “advisors” embedded with South Vietnamese forces.
With President Nixon facing re-election – and making overtures to Beijing & Moscow – North Vietnam’s General Vo Nguyen Giap convinced the Politburo in Hanoi that the spring of 1972 was the “perfect time” to strike a devastating blow against the U.S. supported government in Saigon. Giap chose noon, Thursday, 30 March – the eve of Good Friday and Easter weekend and the holiest of holidays for Christians in South Vietnam – as “H-Hour.” His intent was to make this assault an even greater propaganda victory than “Tet 1968.” He nearly succeeded.
Tens of thousands of North Vietnamese troops and hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles poured across the Demilitarized Zone and raced toward a strategic bridge U.S. Navy “Seabees” had built over the Cua Viet River near the town of Dong Ha, less than 8 miles south of the DMZ. It was there that a battalion of Vietnamese Marines and a handful of American advisors were all that stood in the way of the enemy.
Among them – U.S. Marine Captain John Ripley – was determined to keep the North Vietnamese Army from crossing the river. The raw courage and personal resolve he showed has become legend in the annals of American military history.
To make this riveting documentary, our War Stories team returned to Vietnam with my dear departed Marine friend, Colonel John Ripley. We retraced the epic battle & walked ground we both defended when we served in 3rd Battalion 3rd Marine Regiment. You’ll also meet the South Vietnamese Marine Battalion Commander – Major Nguyen Binh – whose men fought to the death beside Captain Ripley in Dong Ha during the Easter ’72 offensive.
If you’re not moved by the accounts of the eyewitness participants in this bloody fight, seek immediate medical attention. Your heart may have already stopped. That’s an order!