Tet Offensive - January 30, 1968

By Larry Kortuem

I had been in Vietnam about nine months.  By Vietnam terms I was well seasoned having been through all the scenarios that presented danger and the probable best course of action.  Our outfit was a Service Battery that supplied ordnance to the big guns in our battalion.  It involved transfer of powder projectiles and fuses enough to keep sixteen guns stationed next to the western border of Vietnam.  It was a point where the Ho Chi Min Trail came close to the country’s West border. We could shoot about 21 miles into Cambodia. At the time of the Tet Offensive I had returned to Long Binh Post. I operated a heavy five ton wrecker weighing in at 22 thousand pounds. I had inherited the job because Mankato (Minnesota)Vocational school had taught me to weld as the wrecker operator had to know how to weld. We had returned from a convoy about two days before and were repairing anything that had failed while we were gone. Activity in the area had picked up in November and we were a bit more trigger happy than usual.  Our area from the Cambodian border to the South China sea was already considered a “Perpetual Siege” region.

As I remember the Tet Offensive began in the early morning of Jan. 31. Some of the enemy had tunneled under the fence and exploded an ordnance pad in the huge ammo dump. Long Binh ammo dump was one of the biggest ordnance storage areas in the country. The first explosion was 2,400,000 pounds of 8 inch high explosive artillery projectiles. When it went off my first thought was that it was a nuclear explosion because of the light dome that rose from the explosion. Then things started falling out of the sky.  First was sand then bigger “stuff”.  My Sergeant was already tucked under a 5 ton truck parked about 50 feet from the petroleum dump immediately next to our position. He started yelling “Kortuem! Kortuem! Get under! Get under!” After what seemed like forever the big pieces stopped.  Some were complete projectiles weighing 200 pounds. The mushroom cloud slowly dissipated after hours of secondary explosions.

Now the fight was on. The North Vietnamese Army had circled around Bien Hoa Airbase and headed toward our post of Long Binh, then known as “Widows Village”. Binh Hoa Airbase was lucky they were not the main target because they were outnumbered 5 to 1.  Attacking Long Binh was a logistical mistake because the perimeter was so heavily armed and the perimeter was still intact.  When the shooting started it carried on into that night with tracers flying everywhere.  I remember that my right shoulder and chest were black and blue from the recoil of my M14.  About two days later one the huge fuel bags next door at the petroleum dump ruptured and fuel flowed down the ditch in front making it dangerous to return fire. Somehow the foam trucks from the airbase made it too us in the daylight and foamed the ditch for about 1/3 mile

All this carried on for about three maybe four days and the dead bodies across the road began to bloat into a grotesque scene. The chrome bore in my M14 barrel had begun to flake off and the wooden stock was charred. It had been over two days and many of us had no sleep.  I remember being giddy and my brain was asking “What is wrong with me?”

 About a month earlier I had been “loaned out” to weld the razor wire on the top of LBJ (Long Binh Jail). It was probably one of the best deals I had been “Used” for because the agreement was that the stockade prisoners would pitch our sandbags, help build bunkers, and help pick up the dead enemy across the fence.  The offensive continued until the end of the month in the North part of the country where resupply was easier for the enemy. Of course you never find all the dead so the countryside smelled like a scene from The Waking Dead. 


SP4 Lawrence Korteum  Then and Now
Service Battery 6/27th Artillery
1968 - 1969

To See Lawrence's Service Battery Photos - Click Here


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