Battle of Hue City - Tet Offensive
by U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kerstin Roberts
February 26, 2020
Imagine you are in a foreign land fighting, not only for your life, but for the lives of the Marines to the left and right of you. The Vietnam War, which began on November 1, 1955 and did not end until April 30, 1975, was full of chaos and unfamiliar challenges.
Yet, through all of the turmoil, Marines exemplified what it means to be truly selfless.
One of the most infamous events of the Vietnam War was the Tet Offensive. “Tet,” the Vietnamese New Year, is one of the most important national holidays in Vietnam. Tet was a time of recognized ceasefire between the opposing forces. The North Vietnamese Army, ignoring this ceasefire, attacked the United States and their allies all over the country.
This strike was a turning point in the war. Lasting nearly a month, January 30 until February 28, in 1968 ... the subsequent battles were marked by carnage and chaos but also gallantry and courage. The United States successfully repelled the attacks without losing any strategically important ground.
That is with one exception ... Hue City.
Hue City is a cultural and religious center of Vietnam. During the conflict, the city’s cultural significance made it a strategically important territory for U.S. forces to hold. Losing this ground meant one thing to Marines ... they had to do everything in their power to get it back.
The Battle of Hue City began 31 January 31, 1968. After the initial attack from the North Vietnamese Army on United States forces and their allies on 30 Jan. 1968, United States Marines began a 26 day battle in the city of Hue in central Vietnam. (U.S. Marine Corps image by Lance Cpl. Broc Story)
The battle of Hue City had begun.
For 26 days, Marines went house-to-house, street-to-street, conducting urban operations. Hue proved difficult for Marines to operate in, as it was divided by the Perfume River and, in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, no air support could be provided for the first ten days.
This battle is significant to Marine Corps history and is taught to all new Marines. From the onset of training Marines are taught “Hue City: house to house street to street,” screaming it until their voices are sore. This battle has cemented itself in Marine Corps lore as Marines proved their abilities to adapt from jungle to urban terrain.
Hue City is an excellent example on how quickly Marines can live up to the montra of “adapting and surviving“. The Marine Corps’ values of honor, courage, and commitment was clearly witnessed throughout the battle.
Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Maj. John L. Canley was awarded for his courageous actions during the battle of Hue City. Canley was a Gunnery Sergeant at the time, stationed on Camp Pendleton and assigned to 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division.
Acrylic painting of retired SgtMaj. John L. Canley in Hue City, Vietnam painted on September 26, 2018. President Donald J. Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to Canley during a White House ceremony, October 17, 2018, for his heroic actions during the Battle of Hue City while serving in Vietnam. (U.S. Marine Corps illustration by Sgt. Elize McKelvey)
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On Jan. 31, 1968, his company commander was injured by a rocket upon the initial assault into the city. The unit was pinned down by machine gun, rocket and mortar fire. After noticing the injuries that his company commander had sustained, Canley stepped up to lead his company for six days. Canley was in charge of keeping his company alive. During those six days, he stepped in the line of fire countless times to save his fellow Marines.
“In one instance after another, John risked his own life to save his Marines,” said President Donald J. Trump. “He just continued to face the enemy with no regard for his own life.”
Sgt. Maj. Canley’s story is but one of many examples of selflessness displayed, not only through the Battle of Hue City, but during the Tet Offensive as a whole. Five Medals of Honor were awarded for heroic actions during the battle of Hue City alone. Every year we remember the sacrifices that were made during these battles. The actions of every Marine during this battle exemplifies sacrifice and valor.
Today, Marines aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton pay tribute to those that served before them. By honoring these important dates in our Corps’ history we ensure the survival of the legacy of these great warriors, never forgetting those who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that others may live.
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