Tet Offensive: One soldier’s ongoing battle

Tet Offensive: One soldier’s ongoing battle

Rick Fox was 19 years old when he landed in Vietnam in July 1967 for a one-year tour.

“I fought my ass off,” said Fox, who lives in Cannon Falls, Minn., the same small town from which the draft board had plucked him a half-century ago.

“I’d been through some firefights, but when that Tet come, I mean, we were fighting every day,” he said. “I got to where I didn’t know if I was going to make it home.

“It’s a lot of trauma, and it changes you for life,” he added. “It’s with me. It will never leave me. It changed me.”

Assigned to the Army’s 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 25th Infantry Division, Fox was stationed at Cu Chi Base Camp, just north of Saigon. He drove an armored personnel carrier — which the soldiers called “tracks” — and the squadron was prized for its capability of getting to trouble spots in a hurry.

On the first day of the Tet Offensive in late January, the squadron was rushed 15 miles southeast to Tan Son Nhut Air Base on the edge of Saigon.

“We got there and C Troop had been ambushed,” Fox said. “Their tracks were on the road, burning.”

“There were [North Vietnamese fighters] running all over the place,” he added. “There were no lines.”

It was the beginning of two months of daily combat in the towns, villages and forests north of Saigon. It took five days of continuous assault to retake one village, Fox recalled.

Rick Fox poses for a photo during his one-year combat tour in Vietnam from July 1967 to July 1968 at Cu Chi Base Camp. Courtesy of Rick Fox

“You’re fighting all the time and you get to the point where you don’t really care anymore,” he said. “Everybody’s afraid to die, but I’d made peace.”

At night, his unit would circle the personnel carriers and tanks “like the old Western wagon trains,” he said.

Fox recalled the “worst firefight” was the night the encircled bivouac was attacked, and by morning 13 of the 32 men inside were killed or seriously wounded.

But the attack that has replayed over and over in his brain for 50 years is one his mind won’t let him finish.

The troop was circled at night, and he was asleep on a stretcher behind his track, when the rocket-propelled grenades started coming in. The soldier on watch atop Fox’s track was hit, his foot pretty much blasted off.

Fox could see the muzzle flash of an enemy machine gun that was slicing through the encampment. He didn’t want to fire his rifle at it for fear the machine gunner would too quickly hone in on him.

“I started throwing hand grenades where the machine gun was,” he said. His memory goes blank there.

“I was throwing hand grenades, but then I can’t remember from then until I was sitting on the back of my lieutenant’s track, and it was daylight,” he said. The lieutenant sent him to base camp to remove shrapnel from his leg.

He never told a soul about the lost memory for more than two decades. The two to three hours remain missing.

Fox was sent home in July 1968 with a buck sergeant’s stripes and a case of post-traumatic stress that would not be diagnosed until the 1990s.

“It’s an ongoing battle,” he said.

By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 17, 2018