Vietnam is a time in our history that has a serious tendency to raise hackles on both sides of the aisle. There are those who continue to insult and demonize the American soldiers involved in Vietnam – soldiers who were almost entirely nothing but young, minimally-trained boys – and those who believe the support of our troops is a must, regardless of opinion of military actions, and that regardless of the ending of Vietnam…well, this isn’t the time for a soapbox. There is one particular military action during Vietnam tacticians and military history buffs like to rehash, and for good reason, because it was one of the biggest campaigns of the entire war. This campaign came in three phases, spanned nine months, and resulted in overall casualties soaring well into the six-digit stratosphere – not to mention wounded. Those with some knowledge of Vietnam may realize we’re about the hit the 47th anniversary of this campaign; the preliminary actions setting the groundwork for the campaign began on January 21st, 1968, while the action itself officially began on January 30, 1968. If you know your history, you’ve been repeating this name for the last two hundred words, if not, here it is: it’s the Tet Offensive, and it’s the subject of this week’s American Heroes focus.
If you’re wondering how a massive military campaign could be the subject of an American Heroes piece, well, it’s quite simple, really. The Tet Offensive technically succeeded, from a tactical standpoint – albeit at monumental losses – and the reason for that tactical success can be pinned on one man: Major Drew Dix. Dix recently celebrated his 70th birthday – it was on December 14th – and it seems it’s high time he was recognized for his vital part in planning such a massive campaign. But he wasn’t just a planner, either. Drew Dix was a soldier, first and foremost, and a serious badass; Drew Dix was a Green Beret.
Drew Dix was born on December 14, 1944, in West Point, New York, but he grew up in Pueblo, Colorado. He was a driven young man; he didn’t just want to join the military, he wanted to be a hard-charging SF operator. So when he turned 18 in 1962 he marched into the recruiter’s office and enlisted. Due to his age he was initially turned down for SF and ended up spending three years with the 82nd Airborne Division. During his time with the 82nd he did a tour in the Dominican Republic as part of Operation Power Pack. When he got back stateside, his skills had advanced to a point where getting into SF was a logical step, and in no time he’d earned the Green Beret he’d coveted for so many years. And then, then it was time for Vietnam, but Drew Dix wasn’t going in the capacity you might expect, because he’d been loaned out to the CIA. The men in black wanted the Green Beret for his tactical knowledge and myriad talents, because even at that young age, Drew Dix was a game-changer, and they knew it.
In 1968 Dix was a Staff Sergeant, and the powers that be decided to assign him as a military advisor. But he wasn’t advising just anyone, he was working with the ARVN, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, located in Chau Phu, which was right near the Cambodian border. Among his many responsibilities was keeping track of enemy movements on the infamous, blood-soaked Ho Chi Minh Trail, something he not only excelled at but enjoyed. No doubt the CIA made it clear this was all an “at your own peril” situation, and if anything went wrong they’d probably claim they had no idea who he was, but Dix didn’t care, because he was finally doing what he’d dreamed of all along: kicking ass, taking names, and, oh yeah, making a mark on history.
The Tet Offensive’s beginnings can be easily summed up: it was time for the Vietnamese New Year, and the North and South Vietnamese each agreed to a brief cease-fire. After all, it was a holiday, right? The North Vietnamese took advantage of the apparent gullible nature of the South to take that golden opportunity to launch a series of horrific surprise attacks against both military and civilian locations throughout the country. The first attacks took place in the middle of the night on January 30th, 1968, and for whatever reason major defensive measures weren’t immediately taken. But the next morning, when over 80,000 enemy troops moved against 100 cities, it was clear this was a stunningly large attack – and a well-coordinated one, at that – the Tet Offensive truly began.
When the initial attacks began, Drew Dix was actually on a recon mission with a pair of Navy SEALs, because there had been some intel that the North was up to something. But since he was off in a boat on the river, it was going to take a bit of time for him to return and start fighting back. And it wasn’t going to be simple to return to Chau Phu, but these are SF operators we’re talking about, and they were all determined to get some payback.
The team of operators arrived back at Chau Phu, finally, and were faced with an entirely changed landscape. They couldn’t just stroll on in, either, because the entire area had been reinforced with sandbags and machine gun emplacements. It was going to be a battle just to land their boat, but they decided not to be subtle. No, they simply revved up the motor and crashed onto the shores, not caring at all about the searchlights washing over them or the gunfire filling the air. Dix later described that first rush into combat as “a little like Normandy” which seems a bit off considering the intense firepower of the enemy was focused not on a coming wave of soldiers but on a trio of SF operators in an inflatable boat. But, Normandy-like or not, he was going in, and he was going in hot.
After breaching the wall while ducking grenades and flying bullets, Dix and the SEALs were finally in the city, and it was ugly. Buildings were burning, explosions were bursting at random throughout the area, and the enemy was everywhere, shooting anything and everything that moved. The men had their work cut out for them, and Dix was about to prove his life-long dream of being a Green Beret was pretty darn well thought out.
Word of an American nurse being held by the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) reached Dix, and he wasted no time in figuring out where. Locating the house, he and the two SEALs charged in, wiped out the enemy, and saved the nurse, who was rescued before serious harm came to her. After the rescue, the SEALs needed to get to their own men, which meant Dix was going to be on his own, but no matter because Drew Dix could gather his own army of men. No problem. And he did.
Dix wasn’t going to be picky; he was going to take whoever he could get. With that in mind he proceeded to recruit every able-bodied South Vietnamese man he could find, as well as some who were probably a bit less than able-bodied. Some of those men were already members of the ARVN, but others were not, and of course not everyone had a gun. This was, after all, Vietnam. But they armed themselves to the best of their abilities, and Dix proceeded to give them a crash course in tactics and mounting a proper defense. And then it was time for action, not instruction.
The rag-tag team of fighters Dix had assembled willingly followed him into battle, and he had a target in mind: an office building in downtown Chau Phu that was under attack. The randomly outfitted, hastily-assembled army charged the building with surprising success, not only fighting off the enemy but rescuing eight civilians who had been trapped inside. A short time later, Dix chose another target, which was heavily guarded by the enemy. He instructed his army of men to lay down cover fire using what weapons they had, and as they did he went off alone, slipped around the back of the building, and carried out his own personal assault. In a matter of minutes he killed eight enemy soldiers with his M16 and a knife before saving a pair of Filipino aid workers who had been trapped inside.
Score: Drew Dix, 11, NVA, 0.
There was a side benefit – and undoubtedly a planned one – to these assaults. Weapons were retrieved from the enemy, and as a result Dix’s little army of men was becoming increasingly more well-armed. By the time the sun began to set they were ready for Dix’s real plan: taking out enemy headquarters. After all, Green Berets don’t think small, and why should they?
Finally it was time, and Dix gave the men yet another crash course in urban combat, teaching them to clear rooms (pretty much right on the spot) while he moved towards his target. The NVA was using a hotel and theater as their headquarters in Chau Phu, but you know that theater had never seen an action movie anything like the real-life events playing out right there in real time. The men epitomized the use of extreme violence as they cleared the structures bit by bit, and Dix drew on his tactical knowledge to make the mission a success. When some of his men were wounded, he left them behind in easily-defensible positions to watch his back and hold their position, moving as quickly as possible since there’s not really anything stealthy about blasting your way through a building with grenades and rifles. It took hours of fighting, but Dix and those men – many of whom were farmers – not only took headquarters but captured the commander of the NVA in Chau Phu along with 19 NVA officers. Now you think he’s done, right? Nope.
After taking over enemy HQ, Dix was told the house of the South Vietnamese deputy province chief had been taken by the enemy. The politician’s family was being held hostage, and Drew Dix was just the man for the job. At this point he was done being polite – okay, who are we kidding, he’d never been polite – so he carried out an assault on the house that was quick, bloody, and a success. The wife and children of the province chief were saved – all pretty much unscathed. Needless to say, Dix had had a pretty successful day. Oh, no, wait, this wasn’t one day, this was a couple of sleepless days.
Dix had been battling the NVA for 56 hours and, thanks to him, the city of Chau Phu had been taken back from the enemy. But he wasn’t done. He would be fighting in Vietnam for some time to come, and his acts of heroism and valor would continue unchecked.
Down the road, when the powers-that-be decided to award Dix the Medal of Honor, he wasn’t sure what he was being awarded for, specifically. That tells you what kind of man he was, because he didn’t see any of his actions as being particularly noteworthy – and he continued that hard-charging, teeth-baring fighting throughout the war. But, yes, the MOH award was for his successfully taking back the city of Chau Pau.
From the official citation:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. SSG. Dix distinguished himself by exceptional heroism while serving as a unit adviser. Two heavily armed Viet Cong battalions attacked the Province capital city of Chau Phu resulting in the complete breakdown and fragmentation of the defenses of the city. SSG. Dix, with a patrol of Vietnamese soldiers, was recalled to assist in the defense of Chau Phu. Learning that a nurse was trapped in a house near the center of the city, SSG. Dix organized a relief force, successfully rescued the nurse, and returned her to the safety of the Tactical Operations Center. Being informed of other trapped civilians within the city, SSG. Dix voluntarily led another force to rescue eight civilian employees located in a building which was under heavy mortar and small-arms fire. SSG. Dix then returned to the center of the city. Upon approaching a building, he was subjected to intense automatic rifle and machine gun fire from an unknown number of Viet Cong. He personally assaulted the building, killing six Viet Cong, and rescuing two Filipinos. The following day SSG. Dix, still on his own volition, assembled a 20-man force and though under intense enemy fire cleared the Viet Cong out of the hotel, theater, and other adjacent buildings within the city. During this portion of the attack, Army Republic of Vietnam soldiers inspired by the heroism and success of SSG. Dix, rallied and commenced firing upon the Viet Cong. SSG. Dix captured 20 prisoners, including a high ranking Viet Cong official. He then attacked enemy troops who had entered the residence of the Deputy Province Chief and was successful in rescuing the official’s wife and children. SSG. Dix’s personal heroic actions resulted in 14 confirmed Viet Cong killed in action and possibly 25 more, the capture of 20 prisoners, 15 weapons, and the rescue of the 14 United States and free world civilians. The heroism of SSG. Dix was in the highest tradition and reflects great credit upon the U.S. Army.”
Drew Dix was the first SF soldier to be awarded the MOH. When he finally retired, he was a Major, and passed the time working as a civilian as a security consultant as well as for homeland security. Today he resides in the state of Alaska.
Major Drew Dix was a Vietnam-era American Hero, one whose bravery resulted in the rescue of 14 civilians and the taking back of an entire city. The motto of the Green Berets is De Oppresso Liber, which roughly translates as “to free from oppression.” Drew Dix took that motto to heart, and his actions undoubtedly saved countless lives in the long run. Some like to toss around the phrase “how operator are you, bro?” and I’ve just got to say, it’s the rare man who is anywhere near as operator as Drew Dix. Thank you for your service, Major Dix, and I’m sure the people of Chau Phu thank you as well.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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