Search and Destroy Missions

Much of the grunt work done by American GIs involved search and destroy missions, in which soldiers, often dropped off by helicopter, hunted for Viet Cong guerrillas or NVA regulars to protect villages and slow infiltration. Many search and destroy missions took place in the Mekong Delta, where patrol boats were used like helicopters to deliver troops and draw enemy fire.

There were very few conventional battles in Vietnam and much of the fighting took place during search-and-destroy missions in which American GIs were frequently ambushed by Viet Cong guerrillas who found many good hiding places in the lush jungles, swamps and high grass, moved freely at night, and often received food and assistance from local villagers.

On November 2, 1962, David Halberstam wrote in the New York Times Magazine: “recently American and Vietnamese officials, in an attempt to change the pattern of the war with the north, designed a new tactic: The idea was to strike quickly into the heart of the mountains, defy the laws of guerilla warfare (the laws say you don’t attack the enemy unless you have a 7-to-1 manpower edge, but heck it should be more like 10-to-1), hit a larger enemy force by surprise, tear him—and run like hell.”

American units were constantly harassed by sniper fire. Describing a sniper attack, in 1967, Tom Buckley wrote in the New York Times, “The siesta ended with the buzz-buzz-buzz of bullets passing close and the crack of distant rifles. ‘Snipers!’ someone shouted. The men in the squad rolled over cautiously. They put on their helmets and reached for their rifles. From the other side of the big house Bennet shouted: ‘Here, here!’ The squad followed the sound. It came from a hut that looked as though it were about to fall down. The child, a girl of around 2, was held tightly by her mother. She was a thin, worn woman, barefoot…Here eyes were expressionless…In her face was only intense fatigue.”

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