A book was released in 1996, titled BATTLE for SAIGON TET 1968. It was written by a hack writer by the name of Keith William Nolan. In this sorry little opus is an account of the battle of Widow's Village. There are falsehoods that must be addressed, slights to the first platoon's honor that must be rectified, and to be rid of this knot of resentment that is clogging my gut and has been ever since I read this little travesty.
Nolan interviewed two officers for this chapter, one of whom was our Lieutenant Henry Jezek and with whom I have no quarrel. The other officer was from another unit. It has been my experience that when someone has to belittle someone for self-aggrandizement, that person is one sorry (I will let you fill in the blanks).
During the early morning of Jan. 31st, 1968, the first platoon was sent in to clear out a few snipers in Widow's Village. We found no snipers but did run into a battalion of VC/NVA. The first platoon at that time consisted of twenty-odd troops. Some fellows were on R&R and they had as they say, impeccable timing. 1-4 track ran into a trench full of the enemy. PFC Huie manned the fifty until he was simultaneously shot in the head and RPG'd. Here is a direct quote from a certain officer:
The hamlet was a scene of mass confusion. Several superficially wounded GIs were crouched behind the disabled Bravo One APC, screaming at the reinforcements to take cover. None of their weapons were operative. They were in such a panic that they'd forgotten their training on how to clear jammed weapons. I took charge of those people and they responded. It was just a matter of them seeing some leadership.
My hero! What gallantry! What leadership! What total horseshit! It was the Bravo Four track that was knocked out. I was a rifleman who was a crewman on Bravo One but then I was just an enlisted man, what the hell do I know. Was there ever a battle that was not mass confusion?
Another piece of fiction that must be addressed. Several superficially wounded GIs: The driver of the track was a kid called Corrilla, he was severely wounded. A crewman of the track, Donald Matchee, was wounded so badly that he nearly died. I spoke with him last year and to this day he cannot remember the unit he was with.
Another lie to be addressed is that their weapons were inoperative. Bullshit! I went up to their position during a lull in the fighting. In the frantic first moments of contact, they had to get two severely wounded troopers out of the track. They managed to take a 45 and a grenade launcher back to the trench where they took cover. They beat back two attempted assaults. I saw the body of one NVA with his shoulder and part of his chest blown away. One of the "panicked" first platoon troopers nailed him with the grenade launcher. What was the ground element of the First Platoon, twelve troopers excluding the drivers and fifty gunners. Most of us held up at a woodpile until we were reinforced. No one I could discern was in a state of panic. We took cover and returned fire. When this officer's platoon showed up, we got in line and assaulted the enemy until they broke contact and retreated. Lieutenant Colonel John B. Tower thought highly enough of the first platoon that everyone was put in for a decoration. Not everyone received one but Sergeant Norman Erbland did, FO Unger, and Sergeant Van der Pan. Panicked? In a pig's asshole! No one advanced until we got gunship support, that was the saving grace of that day. Some of those troops that fought in that action were killed later on in their tours; rest in peace, Norman Erbland and Antonio Delacerda Jr. Others were maimed and sent home, Hasty comes to mind.
In conclusion, I just want the true facts to be known and the main fact is that the first platoon did exactly what they were supposed to do and that was to hold on until we were reinforced. I realize that the twelve of us could have advanced against a battalion of enemy but we weren't Lieutenants full of ourselves. We were just grunts fighting a holding action.
J. Driessler, 2000
Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2001 09:33:42 -0600
Apparently, my memory is not as perfect as I once thought, as my recollections of events that occurred over 30 years ago have been called into question, my motives for what I recalled have been impugned, and sense of honor and integrity have been ridiculed. What resulted in a portion of the book by Keith W. Nolan, one of the most respected military historians of the Vietnam war period, was a personal narrative that I had written for my own cathartic purposes. I had been working with a group of fellow Vietnam veterans, and we were asked to write a story about our most traumatic events that we witnessed and participated in. Obviously for me, the events of Tet 1968 had to rank as the number 1 trauma in my entire career. This was also the same time that I was released again from active duty, having been called back to participate in Desert Shield/Desert Storm; part of the unit I was in at the time was assigned to the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, CA, and was tasked to provide Battle Staff Training to units scheduled to be rotated to the Saudi peninsular.
After I had penned my recollections, I sent copies to several of my friends who had also been in my platoon at the time of this battle, and whose opinions, memories, and friendships I trusted and cherished. I also contacted Henry Jezek, a fellow Texan, fellow warrior, and former fellow Texas Army Guardsman; I asked for their feedback, criticism, comments, corrections and anything else they had to offer, so that we could help write an accurate history of how our battalion won one of the most decisive battles of the entire war. In written and telephonic form, these corrections and comments were incorporated in my narrative that eventually was mailed to Nolan as part of his research for his book. Nolan and I had several long telephone conversations about the narrative, and about others' viewpoints; early on in our conversations, I told him that obviously, my recollections were tainted by time, a long history of alcohol abuse (which by the Grace of God, ended on 1 November 1987), and the human limitation that I could only see a small part of the entire battle at one time.
If what I wrote and was ultimately printed in modified form in Nolan's book has offended anyone, I extend my apologies. One of my main purposes in my initial writing was to bring long-overdue honor and recognition to those brave warriors who participated in this battle, and to honor their magnificent contributions to a noble cause.
Brice H. Barnes
More historical insight by Mr. Driessler