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Interview with Myron Harrington, 1981

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Summary
Colonel Myron Harrington was a Marine captain at the Battle of Hue during the Tet Offensive, ostensibly an Allied victory that resulted in the destruction of the town and the killing of its residents—and marked the beginning of the loss of the American public’s support of the war. Harrington is credited with the quotation "Did we have to destroy the town in order to save it?” He recounts the battle in great detail, from the preparations to what exactly he saw, saying it is impossible to divorce oneself from the “horrors”.
Topics
Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Campaigns, United States--History--1945-, United States--History, Military--20th century, Urban warfare, Morale, Combat, Vietnam--History--1945-1975, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--United States, Military art and science, Tet Offensive, 1968, Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Hue, Battle of, Hue, Vietnam, 1968, United States--Armed Forces
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Transcript

Atmosphere of the Battle of Hue

Vietnam, SR 2644, Lt. Col. Myron Harrington.
This is tape roll one, Vietnam Project, WGBH, running seven and a half inches a second, 24 frames and 60 cycles. Clap sticks.
Interviewer:
This is Lt. Col. Myron Harrington who in January and February of 1968 was a company commander, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Looking back now Colonel oh thirteen years and some, to a city that’s as far away from here in distance as it may be from you, in memory as well, can you try to recreate for us verbally what the mood of Hue was during that battle? It may have been the most severe single sustained combat of the long, long Vietnam War. What was it like?
Harrington:
The participation in the, the battle of Hue during the Tet Offensive in 1968 is is a memory you know that is very difficult to to forget, Ahm. I think as any combat individual who has participated in combat you try to divorce yourself from the horrors ah of the situation and you try to concentrate more on ah for me the humor that sometimes you see ah in those type of actions.
As a company commander getting ready to go up to Hue, we were aware of course, with all the preliminary activity that was taking place during the Tet through ah the armed forces radio ah we were listening to that so we know ah how serious the situation was up in Hue and ah when we were told that we were going to go up there to reinforce the other Marines that were up there ah I’d I’d have to say that you know there was a great knot that developed in my stomach. Um. Not necessarily so much from fear though ah I’d have to admit that there’s a hell of a lot of the fear was there, but more the apprehension of of getting in to that type of environment ah within a built up area which we were unaccustomed during the Vietnam era to be to be fighting in. Um.
So, we realized the the seriousness of it and ah went into it knowing what we had to do and how difficult it was going to be. But, I think it was it was ah a period through of a great deal of confusion for a a company commander because the only word that we heard was what we heard from the radio and what we got from our scattered ah and small degree of intelligence that we were getting as to what was happening throughout ah Vietnam at that time because so much was happening all over ah that it was very difficult to say well, in your area there are...because they may be there today and then tomorrow they’d be some place else.
Interviewer:
What impressions did you have?
Harrington:
My general impressions ah going into Hue are we talking about now...Okay. The general impressions of as I went into Hue again we went in ahm my company went up in a convoy, were let off on the south side of the city which had already been cleared by the 2nd battalion, 5th Marines and the 1st battalion, 1st Marines, and we moved in. Of course, we were very nervous.
Ah. We got into the most tactical formation you’d ever want to see ah to cover ourselves as we moved in even though we knew that ah the area was was secure. Ah. But, I think the first impression that you got ah was the desolation ah, the smell of death that was hanging over ah the smoke it just looked like a almost like a movie set that you were walking into ah except the props were real. I mean the the burned out tanks, the trucks, the automobiles that were turned over.
In in many cases the bodies still laying around. So, it was very nerve racking and a little bit frightening when you walked in and you saw this kind of desolation and this sort of impact and you knew right away that you weren’t going in for a little picnic. It was going to be difficult.
Interviewer:
The weather?
Harrington:
Ah. The weather ah as we went into Hue was about the worse type of weather I think that you would ask for to conduct a military operation. It was wet, it was cold, which bothered us a bit. But, I I think the thing that bothered us the most was the ah low ceiling and the visibility ah which precluded any effective utilization of air support during the ah operations there in Hue.
Ah. On a couple of occasions I could hear planes, and on one day I actually saw a plane run an air strike when I was over with ah 2-5 and this was sort of a one of these situations where your coordination and your control and your communication ah you wonder who’s shooting at who ah because the air strike was run behind me, ah, as opposed to in front of me, so you wonder where they were. And, that was a little nervous for me there.
Interviewer:
Did air power... Well, let’s go back. Let's, let’s keep it in roughly chronological order, although it’s it’s quite all right for you to jump ahead...
Harrington:
Sure, okay.
Interviewer:
...and go back as, ah impressions occur. So, you and your men and I hope you’ll tell us how many, arrived in Hue and you saw this uh, this picture from a battle of ah some other war, something quite unlike anything you’d seen before. Would you describe your strength, your attitude and ah and your anticipation as you went in?
Harrington:
Well the Rifle Company that I commanded as we went into Hue consisted of about a hundred and twenty men, Marines, approximately ah and it was a very seasoned ah Rifle Company. Ah. It had participated in a number of the ah combat operations south of Danang, the Union Operation, Swift, and had recently been in a stand down type of position there in the ah Phu Bai and south uh area. Ahm.
They were very well experienced and many of them were veterans, had been there for quite a while and I was extremely pleased to take over ah such a company that did have high esprit and were seasoned and and I had a great deal of confidence ah in them. Ah. Prior to going into Hue we had ah conducted ah a number of operations ah down in ahm south of Phu Bai, down in that area ah which had, not only given me confidence in them, ah but had given me confidence in myself ah to lead these Marines and ah once I realized that and ah this was the first time I’d been a Rifle Company commander, so once I realized that hey I can do this and ah these Marines they they’re so good they make it easy for me, then I had ah all the confidence in the world ah in them.
Interviewer:
Excuse me. Stop.

Delta Company approaches the city

Clap. Two
Harrington:
Prior to going into the Battle for Hue I had been ah in Vietnam for approximately six months and ah had just taken over the ah Rifle Company in late January. In fact, I think it was about the 21st, 22nd of January that I took over the rifle Company. Ah. The company I took over, Delta Company, was a very seasoned company, consisted of approximately a hundred and twenty Marines ah that were on the rolls ready for duty when I assumed command.
Ah. Very seasoned, ah a number of campaigns and ah combat operations behind them as ah I had a great deal of confidence in their ability and ah fortunately I had an opportunity prior to going into Hue to be out in the field and participate in combat operations with them so ah they I think had confidence in my ability to protect them and to ah they recognized right away that I was a very conservative ah type of commander and was not going to take the type of risks that were not ah prudent in trying to get the mission accomplished and I didn’t want to ah waste lives as as some people might be prone to ah to say.
Ah. As we moved in ah to the ah Hue area and saw this great amount of desolation and ah death and the stench and ah the pall of smoke and the ah blending with the clouds and everything you just it really kind of was very eerie ah feeling because you ah it was almost not quite like a horror movie but ah if you could put some weird music with it ah you had that feeling that ah any minute that something was going to happen and you were you were constantly waiting for that surprise to occur when you just knew they ah were going to jump out all around you and and start shooting at you.
But, ah we ah moved into the city, joined up with ah 2-5 initially and ah spent about two and a half, three days ah operating in conjunction with them in the southern part of the city prior to getting the word to move over ah and join our parent battalion, 1st battalion over inside the citadel. Ah. This move was accomplished ah by going down to the LCU ramp located there in ah Hue which at this point was now back in ah our friendly hands, and ah getting aboard LCU’s and ah moving up the Perfume River and actually away from the citadel to come around ah from the rear where we would be somewhat protected.
Ah. As we moved ah I moved with my command group and a small security section in the first LCU and ah as we moved up the river there was a ah an island or maybe a series of islands out in the middle of the river and ah as we moved we were basically ambushed as we went up in that they were, the NVA and Viet Cong were on both sides of the river firing at us and ah we took several casualties as we went up ah including at least one or two of the ah Navy folks were hit...
Interviewer:
Sorry to cut you off there.
Clap. Three.
Interviewer:
Colonel Harrington uh, tell us how you got across the river with your company.
Harrington:
After spending a couple of days over with 2-5 we were ordered to move across and rejoin ah 1st battalion and ah we moved via the Perfume River, of course, because the bridge across the river ah had been knocked out. So, ah, we went down, got aboard some Navy LCU’s along with some other supplies to to move across.
Ah. We had to take a round about route. Ah. We couldn’t go directly across, of course, because the ah the NVA still controlled the ah north bank of the river. So we went up the river and ah came in from the the rear of the ah citadel and ah I had, went in the first LCU with a command group and ah a small security section with the remainder of the company to follow along.
Well, unfortunately we got hit as we went up ah the river ah which the Navy decided that they were going to be a little bit reluctant to, to continue ah move the LCU’s up there until they could get some air strikes or something on this island where the fire was coming from there in the middle of the river. As a result I was deposited ah on the north end of the ah citadel ah in a fairly congested area with civilians ah with my small command group and ah the small security section.
And, of course, having heard all the stories of what was occurring ah within ah the citadel and ah the fact that we at this point knew that there were many NVA that were dressed as civilians as well as dressed in ahm South Vietnamese soldiers we immediately, of course, did everything we could to throw up a very small little perimeter to ah provide our own internal security while we awaited the rest of the company.
Ah. It took most of the day and a great deal of frantic communication on my part being relayed through about three or four different sources to make contact with the remainder of the company and to organize their move up the river. Ah. They eventually joined up with me later in the afternoon and they were transported via some Vietnamese junks ah which were quite colorful to a certain degree. I remember ‘em having ah the the eyes painted on the ah brow as they as they came in. Ah. But once we we joined up, reconstituted the company, moved into the citadel area ah back through the ah rear end, of course, coming in and rejoining 1-5 ah after they had had two very tough days within the citadel trying to clear some of the ah very difficult areas within the city.
Interviewer:
Would you briefly describe the action on the river ah with just a bit of detail?
Harrington:
Well, I I I just remember ah the the action on the river ah I I I don’t really remember it being extremely intense. Ah. You have to keep in mind that almost continuously throughout ah the battle for Hue City ah that there was there was a constant ah noise in the air. Ah. There was a fire fight going on everywhere and in in many cases ah you really didn’t know that you were being shot at until you actually ah (1) someone was hit close by you or (2) you could hear the snap and the whiz or hear the thuds ah as the bullets hit into the ah the sides of this LCU, for example. So, ahm I just remember ah that we were shot at, we had folks that were wounded, and we returned the fire, and of course, this LCU was just chugging along as fast as it ah could go to get out of the ah the beaten zone.

Taking the wall tower

Interviewer:
Good. Now, would you please give us a description of ah of the fighting in the citadel itself? Um. What it was like, um. I mean what the taste of it was?
Harrington:
As as we moved into the citadel to rejoin ah 1-5 ah my my first thought was you know my God, look, look at this place, and it was already just in the little area that we were seeing. You know, almost utter devastation. You know, the houses just blown apart. Ah. Cars overturned. Still smoking and smoldering from the ah ah the debris of battle so to speak. Ah. There were still unfortunately bodies, civilians primarily, ah laying out in gardens, laying out in the middle of the street.
Ah. All in all it really gave it almost an unreal appearance. Ah. I think my most vivid memory as I as I went in was in talking with one of the other company commanders who had already ah been participating there ah in the action for a couple of days and ah in, in a very matter of fact way without a great deal of embellishment on his part ah he just frightened the hell out of me in telling me how bad ah it was ah and, and just looking around I could recognize that ya it was it was difficult and in particular he told me of a fortified position ah along the east wall there that for two days the battalion had been trying to ah to take and I thought in my mind right then and there that, you know, hey here I am with a fresh company and I knew without having to be told that what my mission was going to be ah the next day was going to be to go try to take this fortified tower position along the east wall.
And, it turned out that that was exactly what occurred. I turned to my gunnery sergeant at the time and told him “Gunny,” I said, “tomorrow morning we’re going to take that tower,” and sure enough that that evening when I went in to be briefed with the other company commanders on the next day’s operation, then Major Thompson, now Col. Thompson said ah and Delta Company. And, the thing that impressed me most of all is that ah he didn’t ah embellish it. Ah. He just said, Delta Company tomorrow you’re going to take that east wall. And, I said “aye, aye sir” and ah went at it.
Interviewer:
You ahm spent that night with your company. You had taken a few casualties already in in crossing the river. Would you ah tell us how you organized, briefly, and then actually fought for control of this tower cause that tower is pretty well known in the lore of the battle of Hue.
Harrington:
Well, the next morning as we prepared...
Interviewer:
Excuse me. I’m going to have to start you again without the, Well, the next morning...
Harrington:
Okay. The following morning as we commenced the attack I had with me two platoons and ah my command group with my mortar section attached. Ah. As anyone is familiar there with the ah the city and the citadel we were now at the north end trying to move south ah to clear the NVA and Viet Cong out of the ah southern portion of the city.
Ah. During this time I I must mention that ah we weren’t, of course, acting ah operating independent. Ah. We had Vietnamese army and Marine and airborne units ah who were fighting in conjunction with us on our right flank and ah to a certain degree over on our left flank though that was very exposed ah initially supporting ah the attack and ah these were all done, ah, independent of each other and from (the) best I could tell there was very little coordination ah as to who was attacking when and and where and everyone was was doing their own thing.
But ahm going back to the attack on the tower, I had these two platoons and this command group, as well as I had a ah a tank ah that was in support of me. Ah. My basic organization ah was a frontal attack because there was very little else that could be done and as we lined up we moved in and took full advantage of the debris, the the houses that were blown down ah the overturned vehicles, the walls, ah the hedgerows, the ditches ah and moved into these positions prior to ah moving out.
Ahm. When the signal was given to move out ah the heavy amount of preparation fire from both artillery and naval gun fire ah that had been going on ah for what sounded like hours but may have only been just for a few minutes because it, the noise just all blended together. Ah. A very intense amount of of noise. It it’s like being at a combination on the rifle range in an artillery impact area all at the same time with the ah just the noise almost indescribable relative to the the intensity of the sound of of the weapons and and ah the fire.
But ah on signal we moved out and ah as we did, one of the very common ah situations developed that is prevalent in this type of combat is the the control and coordination in communication. Ah. I found out later that one platoon as they moved out, ah the platoon commander moved up to advantage point to try to ah see ah his area in front of him and as he did ah his command group with the radio ah took a RPG round ah which seriously wounded the lieutenant and ah his radio operator, put the radio out of commission.
So, before we even started this attack I had lost ah contact ah with my platoon that was now on my ah right flank. Ah. But, needless to say, we continued the attack ah by moving Marines up on the the wall and then these Marines, super guys, ah went through ah crawling ah with hand grenades primarily ah up to the little spider holes ah positions that the ah NVA were in and through ah very accurate rifle fire and hand grenades we began to inch our way up towards the tower, ah fully supported by this tank and of course by the ah artillery and the mortars ah from the battalion.
Once we moved up ah and I got to a position where I could see the tower ah and we could could basically see what the enemy disposition was, where we were getting the most amount of fire from ah the terrain was such at this point ah that I could only put about eight to ten Marines up on the wall because...
Interviewer:
Excuse me.
End of SR 2644.
Vietnam, SR 2645, Lt. Col. Myron Harrington.
Tape roll two. Vietnam Project running seven and a half inches a second, 24 frames, 60 cycles. For WGBH. Claps.
Interviewer:
Col. Harrington ah approaching the tower ah perhaps we could just back up a little bit and ah and start with the moment when you could see it.
Harrington:
Well, I...
Interviewer:
Sorry, sorry.
You want to change...
Oh, no, God, what happened...
Claps. Four after false start.
Interviewer:
Okay.
Harrington:
Once we were able to maneuver into a ah position where I could see the tower and the the various enemy positions up there I was then able to disperse my Marines a little bit better to to try to gain some tactical advantage. Ah. The wall ah within the inner portion of the citadel at at this point was fairly narrow and ah the frontage up there was only large enough to put about ah a squad of Marines. I had about eight to ten Marines that were up on the wall ah maneuvering, creeping, crawling actually ah clearing these holes one by one as they moved up towards the tower.
Ah. This was right at an intersection of one of the major streets I think there in Hue. Of course, at that time you couldn’t tell because of the the devastation and debris that was all over. Ah. But we were able at this point now to cross the main street which we did basically in a platoon type rush of ah fifteen to twenty Marines all at once quickly across the street and got into a position where we now were able to ah face the tower from two sides.
Ah. From the north side and from the ahm west side. Ah. So we now were able to bring fire to bear on it from two sides and with with at this point we were able to assault the tower and the ah in particular the fortified positions behind it and ah once we got up there, we took those positions and then we occupied the tower, which of course, was a critical point because it was providing ah the flanking fire against ah our Marines ah as the battalion was trying to move ah to the south ah and we were then able to take ah the tower.
Ah. Once we took it we of course ah consolidated the position, tried to ah get ah the best advantage that we could of the ah cover ah what little there was up there. Apparently this area had been an area where the ah Vietnam, the poor Vietnamese were living because ah there was an awful lot of tin laying around ah and and you couldn’t see any other ah signs that they were there were structures and you could only imagine that ah these were the roofs and perhaps some of the the walls of some of these type of huts that they would have had there which were just blown to smithereens and you had just vast amounts of this tin corrugated sheeting.
So we dug in ahm put people up on ah the the tower as best we could and at this time we realized that across from us ah to the ah further to the east ah there were some high rise type buildings, ah, apartment building, office buildings or whatever, and then we begin to realize that we were beginning to get an awful lot of fire from these buildings. Fortunately, ah we were able to utilize artillery to neutralize this somewhat ah but for several days the ah the flanking fire that we were getting from ah the east across ah one moat into the another built up portion of the Hue area there ah caused us a great deal of ah problems.
Interviewer:
Would you tell us what dates the taking of the tower took place and how significant you thought it was, briefly?
Harrington:
We took the tower on the afternoon of the 14th of February and ah ah I considered ah the significance of that tower to ah rank very, very high in that as a Marine you’re always looking to take the critical terrain, the high ground, and this tower represented and was the high ground therein this portion of the citadel that ah the battalion was fighting in and ah our securing this was essential to further operations and moving the remainder of the battalion down through the ah the inner portions there of the citadel. So...
Um, yes, I would, the the securing of the tower at the time ah was certainly a turning point of of sorts but it would be difficult to say that was the turning point. It was certainly ah a turning point ah because once we were able to entrench ourselves up on the wall ah the Vietnamese never got us off the wall. So, I think we were able to ah ah move forward and if we had not ah secured this then it would have been extremely difficult. In fact, it would have been impossible ah to do.

Tactics and logistics of the battle

Interviewer:
Would you give us a general description of the remaining days of your combat operations in the in the citadel. In a very general way, taking the final objective. Ahm. And, include in that if you might the ah causes of all the devastation mentioning the kinds of weapons being used by both sides. Okay?
Harrington:
After securing the ah the arch tower ah the movement was extremely slow ah as we continued the attack to recover the the inner portions of the citadel there. The North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong supporters were heavily dug in ah entrenched. They had mutually supporting positions and, of course, they had the advantage of they knew the terrain and ah as a result they had all the ah avenues of approach extremely well covered.
Ah. They had their mortars ah and and they had almost every spot that was an open piece of ground was under under fire. Ah. As a result of their being so entrenched and utilizing the concrete type of buildings that we were running across ah it required for us to bring maximum fire power at our disposable, disposal to ah to eliminate them. As a result, we were using 106’s.
Ah. We were using our tank and its ah heavy ah weapon there, as well as its machine gun which was very, very effective. Ah. We were using all the artillery ah that we could get at our disposal. Ah. This was a little bit on the hairy side because we were on what you call the gun target line in that the artillery was firing from the south of us at Phu Bai and was firing directly at us.
Ah. But I had a superb ah forward observer, a staff sergeant who just did a fantastic job, and we would call this artillery in within ah fifty and in some cases twenty five meters of our ah location and we were working with the ah eighty inch batteries down in Phu Bai which would allow us to make these very minute ah adjustments and ah by this superb use of this artillery we were able to ah keep ah the attack going ah keeping the the NVA and Viet Cong down as we would try to move forward as well, of course, as ah destroying them and their positions as we we moved.
As a result of using ah the the heavy fire power, ah primarily the artillery there was a great amount of devastation that occurred within ah the citadel ah and this was in the the area that was more a residential section than a ahm office complexes. They were further ah to the south of the ah citadel. But ahm there was unfortunately a a great deal of destruction. Ah. Many homes were destroyed. Ah. It would be difficult to give an estimate of how many people lost their home but I’m I’m sure it was sizable.
Interviewer:
Lives?
Harrington:
Uhm. You, you...
Interviewer:
Civilian lives? We may perhaps get a little bit general here but if you could describe the type of fighting. Whether or not you were accustomed to it and what happened to civilians and and property?
Harrington:
A a a as we continued the attack, the fighting was extremely intense and it was very close. Ah. In many cases the the NVA and Viet Cong would be as close to us as ah twenty, thirty meters ah from us. Ah. On one occasion ah we had a sniper that was right in our company CP position, was killed no more than ten meters from where I had my little CP set up. So you were almost in the the face to face eyeball to eyeball confrontation ah with ah the NVA and I think the severity of the ah casualties that we were taking was a testimony to the intensity of the of the fighting because ah some of the casualties were ah very severe because of the close in nature of the fighting.
Uh. At this point in the fighting many of the civilians had already been evacuated or had made their way out of the citadel area. Ah. We did however as we moved south we would uncover ah civilians still alive who had ah gone in to their little bomb shelters ah their basements and whatever ah and had survived some of the artillery. Ah. Of course, many were were wounded which we would care for and would get immediately back to an Aid Station.
But, ah for the most part, the civilians ah had or had left the area as we went in. And, speaking of civilians one of the major problems we had was trying to control the civilians as they tried to move back into the area as we cleared it ah to get back into their home and to to try to regain control of their possessions what they might have been left at the time. And and this created a problem again because of the infiltration of the ahm the NVA. And, in fact, we had a a very sad incident in the ah the chaplain who...
Interviewer:
Sorry, to have to cut you off there.
Interrupt. Claps. Five.
Harrington:
In discussing overall strategy of the battle for Hue City ah looking at it strictly in a company commander’s perspective ah the only strategy that that I had was that I wanted to to keep as many of my Marines alive and accomplish our assigned mission as quickly as possible. Survival after a while becomes the name of the game ah because when you sit there and you see ah all your friends, your buddies ah getting hit, getting wounded, being evacuated, it is a very depressing thing.
And, ah, you do not want to to waste ah the lives and and you should always strive to try to be as protective as you can but keeping in, keeping in mind that ah that’s why you’re there and that you’ve got to accomplish a mission, and I think that Marines understand that. And, ah, again, if they have confidence in you and that you’re doing everything that you can do as a commander to protect them; i.e., you’re getting them artillery ah they know that they’re going to be Medivac’d via helicopter if they’re hit ah they’re going to get up and go. And so, I think from a strategy point of view or tactics if you will internally ah it’s survive, accomplish a mission, ah, protect your men.
Interviewer:
On the ah other questions. What was it like in in street fighting? Were you prepared for it and what role did did the air power play?
Harrington:
Street fighting was a entirely new experience ah for everyone in ah that company. Ah. Our last Marine Corps experience in street fighting had been in 1950 in Seoul, Korea ah and there were very few Marines left ah on active duty and those that were would have been too senior to participate in the Battle of Hue. So, we had to re-learn the lessons that the the army had learned in Europe and their fighting there and that the Marines ah had learned ah in WWII and in Korea. Ah. We had to re learn these all over again. Ah. And, one of the beautiful things about a Marine ah is his basic training is such ah, his leadership is very good, that he is adaptable, and that once he gets into a new environment, he adapts very quickly, and we were able to adapt. Unfortunately, we we took a number of casualties learning some of these basic lessons of not to bunch up, not to gather at obvious spots that were open and under fire, ah, not to go for a building just because it looked like it might be a good cover, to go for a ditch instead.
Ah. And, once we learned these, once we learned to ah gain control by going back to our old hand and arm signals, ah and using runners to to ah communicate with and using smoke ah to cover our moves ah to fire in and maneuver which is, of course, a basic tactic, we were able to be successful. But, it was an entirely different ah experience. Ah. The Marines had been accustomed to the rice paddies.
Ah. The open areas, the hills and the ah jungle type environment ah that we had experienced south and to the ahm west when we were operating out in the bush there. So, city fighting was entirely ah new experience. But, I must say that the morale the esprit de corps was super and one of the the things that we did until the battalion commander finally said no ah because it was too confusing is that we were using a number of the captured NVA weapons ah against them and ah the troops thought this was great sport and that we would be able to pick up the captured weapons and to ah utilize ah these. Of course, our own weapons were were perfectly good weapons. The M-16 was a a a very good rifle ah but there was some—something special about being able to pick up that AK that was your adversary’s and to fire it back at him. Ah. And, that really helped the morale of the ah troops.
Interviewer:
What uh role...?
Sorry, can I just stop you a sec.
Sure.
We've got another batch that's just collapsed.
Okay.
Don't know why.
Claps. Six.
Interviewer:
What was the role of air power in the battle of Hue? When and why was it brought in and did it cause a great deal of the destruction as in Ben Tre, destroying the city in order to save it?
Harrington:
During the battle for Hue City, the role that air air power played would, from my point of view, would be very difficult to assess. I only saw one air strike being run and this was over on the southern side of the city which may have been on this 13th of ah February when ah the sun was ah shining for a couple of hours.
But, over in ah our zone of action within the ah citadel, ah, air power, ah tactical air power; i.e., the fixed wing bombers attack type aircraft for close support missions ah did not play a significant role. Ah. In fact, I never...several times I asked for them because of the close proximity of our friendly troops ah to the enemy troops, the fact that we would have to withdraw over ground that was very, very hard fought in order to make a safety zone there for the aircraft to come in even if we could ah get them just made it not worth ah utilizing because of the close confines of the area.
Ah. Most of the devastation that that I observed appeared to have been ah from the artillery. Now, this is not to say that prior to our moving in to the citadel that there may have been air strikes ah in the area that would have caused ah devastation. Ah. The the air power, if you want to call it air power, that was of great use and ah we made maximum use of was, of course, our helicopters to resupply us to ah evacuate our our casualties and to bring in replacements.
But ah, I I really, from ah air power point of view ah on the periphery of the battle, out in the approaches to Hue, I’m sure that ah they were using saturation bombing and that ah there were other type of air strikes being run there to deny ah the NVA access into the city. But, within the city itself, ah, from my point of view, air power did not play a significant role.
Interviewer:
Was the weather a factor?
Harrington:
Ah. The weather ah was a primary factor that air power didn’t play a role ah because of the low ah ceiling and limited visibility which were below the minimums that ah even for combat conditions because of the safety of the troops and the ah close confines of the ah the NVA and the Marines being so close together that if if air strike did come in there was a good chance that you might be right in direct line of the bombs or the rockets. So, ah for those reasons as well we did not ah use the fixed wing air.

Character of Vietnamese soldiers in the battle

Interviewer:
Colonel, what’s your opinion ah what was it then, what is it now, of the ability of the enemy you were facing as fighting people?
Harrington:
The, the NVA as a ah fighting organization ah I think were extremely well disciplined. They had to be to ah face or suffer ah, not only the casualties that they took ah but the constant combat that they were in for the number of years that they were. Ah. I had had occasion prior to going in to the Hue of of being in contact with NVA and watching them maneuver against me, which is a very frightening experience as you you hear them their squad leaders, their commanders blowing the whistles, as you see the squad rushes and then you compare that type of training with ah some of our own training which ah, unfortunately, due to some of the circumstances, you couldn’t train as perhaps you would have liked to because you you were constantly ah in a combat environment, and it was difficult to to train...
Interviewer:
But...
Harrington:
But...
Interviewer:
I’m sorry to interrupt. But, in the Battle of Hue, in particular, what’s your assessment of the ah fighting ability, bravery, or lack of it, of of of the enemy?
Harrington:
During the Battle for Hue City I I I think as a as a combat ah individual, a Marine, I would only have to have great admiration ah for the tenacity of the the NVA ah their ability to stick in there. Ah. The fact that when this overwhelming amount of fire power in the form of artillery, uh, the tanks, ah, the fact that ah their indoctrination ah was such that they would come charging out against these tanks with these little RPG’s to to fire at them.
Ah. The fact that they would not desert their post. Ah. The fact that they would stay there and be killed, ah, in position, is a a strong indicator that they were thoroughly indoctrinated, instilled, if you will, with a ah desire ah to to defeat us. Ah. So, I think that they were extremely courageous. No more so than, of course, the individual Marines and army and ARVN that participated. But, I think ah as a participant ah you have to have a great deal of respect and admiration for your adversary ah during ah this type of fighting.
Interviewer:
What’s your assessment of the ah fighting ability, strengths or weaknesses of the ARVN uh friendlies who were engaged in the battle as well?
Harrington:
During the Battle of Hue, I had ah hardly any opportunity at all to observe the ARVN forces in action in that we were operating with them, but actually we were ah independent. Ah. From all indications that I heard and having seen some of the areas that they had to fight through, ah, I can only say that they did one hell of a job ah in taking the portions of the city ah that they did, which, I think, is a tribute to ah their leadership and and their tenacity ah in the bravery of the individual ARVN in trying to retake ah their city.
Of course, I think that ah for many of them who actually live there in in Hue and the environs, ah, it was an emotional thing. They were fighting for their home and in many cases ah probably participated in the ah destruction of their own home. Ah. Family ancestral home of no telling how many years old ah so I think that ah there was great deal of emotional involvement on their part whereas as a Marine, we went in and this was a job we had to do and ah we sort of divorced ourselves from the emotional aspect that we were destroying someone’s home.
Interviewer:
Okay. Did we get all of that?
No, we got to...
End of SR 2645
Vietnam, SR 2646, Lt. Col. Myron Harrington.
This is tape roll three of Vietnam Project, WGBH, running seven and a half CCIR, 24 frames, 60 cycles, crystal pulse.
Okay. I can’t see the numbers. Running. Clap sticks. Seven.

Rationale of the battle

Interviewer:
Colonel one of the Marines interviewed during the fighting said he wasn’t sure what he was fighting for. Why, what do you think you were fighting for in Hue?
Harrington:
What I was fighting for in Hue ah ah I think has a deeper meaning of why not, you know, why was I fighting period. And ah why was I in Vietnam and and why am I a Marine and and not a salesman for a soap company and and I think I would have to answer as to why I was fighting in that ah I’m just one of these guys that feel I have a very strong obligation to my country. Ah. The fact that a humongous number of folks have gone before me ah and made a hell of a lot more sacrifices than I’ve been called upon to make ah in order to ensure that I would be able to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.
Ah. So I think that you’d have to say I just have a strong belief in the traditional American values and a strong sense of obligation to my country. And, ah, where they send me to fight and ah what then ask me to do is up to the ah politicians and the generals and I’ll just follow the directions as ah as put forth. Ah. I think from a personal point ah I’ve certainly wanted to be in the military ah all my life. Ah.
My father ah was in WWI in France ah was too old for WWII and ah my father in law was a Marine and fought at Peleliu and Okinawa. So ah it’s not that I’m trying to keep any sort of family tradition going but I think ah you can see that I have a strong sense of values and a strong background of the military and and supporting the country in, in its role and its position in the in the world.
Eight.
Harrington:
In...in talking about the the feel for how it was inside the the city during this battle, I think one of the correspondents has described it as as seen out of WWI in that the the barbed wire entanglements ah the dust and the smoke from the ah artillery, the shells and ah the constant whine of the ah not only the artillery, but the small arms, that it seemed like for four or five days straight it was like being at a rifle range with with nothing but just small arms fire ah going all the time.
And, then off in the distance you would hear the artillery, ah, supporting another unit. Ah. You would hear the sudden burst of ah automatic fire as you knew another unit was moving off into the attack and throughout all of this ahm you know you had this horrible smell. I mean it you just cannot describe ah the smell of death especially when you’re you’re looking at it a couple of weeks along.
Ah. It, it’s horrible. And, I think that this was combined with the ah the semi darkness type of environment that we were fighting in because of the the low overcast, the fact that we didn’t see the sun ah the fact that it was, as I say, semi dark ah gave it a very eerie spooky ah look ah and and you constantly ah had this fear. Ah. Not so much that you were going to die because I think to a certain degree that was a given, ah, that something very seriously could happen to you. Ah. But, but you had this utter de devastation ah all around you.
Ah. You had this horrible smell. Ah. And, it was it was there when you ate ah your rations. Ah. It was almost like you were, you were eating death. Now, you you couldn’t escape it. Ah. And and you, of course, it permeated your clothes. We, water was very, very scarce. Ah. We couldn’t bathe. We couldn’t’ shave. There was a number of days before we even had enough water ah that we could ah shave much less take a bath.
So, ah, the the whole feeling during this time ah was was not one of depression though it sounds like that ah you could be depressed. Ah. We were very optimistic in our attitude because of what we were doing, how we were doing it, ah, the success that ah we were having. Ah. But, throughout ah it was a very dreary ah period. Ah. We were up ah for hours at a time. Ah. And, of course, as a as a commander ah sometimes I felt that I I never slept because of the ah the concern that something was going to happen and I was not going to be there ah when it happened.
So, I think I won’t say that you get into a zombie like trance because you didn’t ah because you still were aware and you had that mental discipline that you knew you had to be alert and you could not allow yourself ah to fall into any sort of trance. You could not allow yourself ah to relax ah for a moment. Ah. You you were tense, you were tight. Ah. You knew something was going to happen and and of course the NVA didn’t disappoint you.
Something did happen. Ah. And it was, it was a new ballgame. Almost every morning, every afternoon ah a different mode of attack. Something a little bit different happening and, of course, I think throughout this whole period the emotion uh that you were going through ah the fact that you were seeing your friends, your lieutenants, your sergeants, your corporals, your privates being hit, being evacuated.
Ah. Some of that you knew. Some that you didn’t know because of the fact that I’d only been there a short time. Ah. But you you went through the full range of emotions. But, again, you didn’t have time to feel sorry for that young Marine, ah, because you still had ah a whole bunch of other young Marines that you had to take care of and that you had to be concerned for. Ah. And, I think that probably the last person you thought about was yourself.
Ah. And, occasionally I’d sit there and I’d think about myself, but, ah, it was ah very ah few and far between that when you have that opportunity because as a commander you had so much else ah on your mind during this battle. Ah. The coordination of the fires, the coordination and the control of your ah your troops, the resupply, the evacuation. Being a company commander you’re just not fighting all the time. I mean though in Hue we were, but you ah had all these other details that you had to worry about.
Interviewer:
Excellent. On the questions of devastation, did Hue have to be destroyed to be saved?
Harrington:
Ah. Did we have to destroy Hue in order to save it? Well, I think that’s a very catchy term that was coined by the correspondents that you had to destroy the village, the city in order to ah liberate it. Ah. I think in the case of of Hue ah that it was required, ah, because the NVA ah wanted it. It was part, I think, of their grand strategy ah to hold Hue, to try to ah capture portions of the I Corps there to influence the Paris Peace talks, and I don’t think that they were about to give it up even if we had surrounded the city and and cut them off and tried to starve them out. I think eventually we would have had to go in and get them.
And ah I I don’t think there was any other way. I think going in digging them out was the way. And, I think the fact that ah we did destroy portions of the city, ah, but we had a tremendous victory, ah, and I think we showed that ah our adaptability and that we could fight, not only in the jungle and the rice paddie, but that we could fight in the city and that we could take care of it and that ah we would get in there and ah... We tried our best to avoid malicious damage, if you would. Ah, we just didn’t shoot at walls just to blow them down. Ah.
But, when we had to shoot at a house, we shot at a house. When we had to destroy a house, we destroyed it. But, we didn’t go in there with the ah express purpose ah that this is a wonderful opportunity to show how ah great our weapons are and how much destructive power they possess. Ah. But we were fortunate in that we did have the weapons that were capable of rooting the NVA and the Viet Cong out of their positions.
Interviewer:
Excellent.
Col. Harrington thank you very much.
Claps. Nine.
Harrington:
Delta Company as it went into the battle for Hue consisted of about one hundred and twenty Marines and as the battle progressed ah I lost a significant number of the Marines. I think I had around ah seventeen that were killed, ah and I don’t know how many were wounded.
Ah. At one point I was down to somewhere in the vicinity of around thirty Marines that were fit for duty which consisted of my my CP group and a mortar section of about thirteen Marines and two platoons of about a squad each. Ah. I got replacements in the form of a platoon that I had had detached out earlier returned to me, ah, and, unfortunately many of them ah were wounded and killed ah the first minutes they arrived in the ah the city and rejoined us in that we were moving in an attack as they joined us.
And, it was it was basically too late ah for anything and they moved out with us ah which is the true Marine ah spirit and ah many of them ah veterans of ah the rice paddies and the jungles and the hills were wounded as they charged forward there in the ah the city. Ah. At the end of the battle when I received some ah replacements, ah we received approximately fifty replacements and that brought my company’s strength up to around ah eighty, eighty five ah Marines.
And, I think that ah in my own case that I just have to ah wonder ah, you know, why I’m sitting here today because of the intensity of the the combat, the fact that I had folks go down ah on both sides of me, all around me. Ah. It’s not that I lead a charmed life or I’m destined for for something else. Ah. It’s jut ah fate, I guess.
But, I was very, very grateful that that I I was not hurt and, of course, I was grateful that I wasn’t killed, but ah, when, when I left there I had the tremendous feeling that hey, not only ah has this company accomplished something, but this ah has been a significant ah victory for, not only the Marine Corps, but for ah the US Forces ah here in Vietnam and I’ve later found out that in ah some circles that ah the Tet Offensive and the battle of Hue is listed as right up there as one of the decisive battles ah in history.
Interviewer:
Excellent. Thank you very much, Col. Harrington.
End SR 2646.
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