Military Review English Edition September-October 2014 - Page 50

standing next to the tank, and the monkey was perched on the cupola. Otis looked at the commander and then the monkey. He asked jokingly if the monkey was in command of the tank. The commander said it was not, and he wondered why Otis had asked. Otis said he heard a lot of squeaking when he listened to talk from this tank on the C Troop net. Now that he had seen the monkey near the cupola, he assumed it was the tank commander, and the squeaking on the net must have come from it. The Tet Offensive. Except for a few keen observers, the Tet Offensive came as a surprise to U.S. forces. At first, it was thought to be a diversionary action before a major North Vietnamese offensive in the Khe Sanh area along the demilitarized zone. Instead, the action was a carefully planned country-wide offensive including both North Vietnamese and Viet Cong units. When Otis was ordered to respond to enemy contact near the southwest corner of Tan Son Nhut Air Base, he had no idea of the magnitude of the carefully planned North Vietnamese attack, nor did the major U.S. and Vietnamese commands. The air base was one of five major facilities targeted in the Saigon area. In their road security mission, elements of Otis’ cavalry squadron still were distributed at key points along the 50 miles from the southwest portion of Saigon north to Tay Ninh. When Otis received the order to deploy the squadron south, only two platoons of C Troop along with D Troop (the air cavalry unit) were available at Cu Chi, but there was initially nothing to indicate the attack on the air base was anything more than a hit-and-run raid by a small guerrilla unit. However, the enemy force attacking Tan Son Nhut numbered some 2,665 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army soldiers. The small but powerful force from 3-4 Cavalry charged head-on into the lead elements of a major offensive. The battle that followed remains a testament to the bravery and courage of Otis and the troops assigned to 3-4 Cavalry. The commander of C Troop led the way. Many awards for valor were presented afterward. C Troop took the heaviest toll as thousands of green tracers, along with a multitude of rocket-propelled grenades, hit the men and armored vehicles making contact at the point of the penetration at the air base. Otis quickly took command of the entire battle in the Tan Son Nhut area. 48 As B Troop joined the fight at a critical time of the engagement, Otis recommended to its commander that he maneuver the troop to hit the attacking enemy from the flank. In his notes, the troop commander recounted that Otis routinely would tell subordinate commanders that he recommended certain actions—rather than directed them. Otis left the detailed decisions to his subordinate commanders, allowing them the flexibility to modify the plans on the fly if they found it necessary. According to verbal accounts of soldiers who were in the combat zone, Otis’ helicopters were shot down as many as seven times. A specialist who was with him when a helicopter crash landed tells of Otis stepping out of the broken aircraft in the midst of the ongoing battle with bullets flying left and right. He walked a few yards away and waited for the next bird to pick him up. He remained cool and calm, as if he was in New York City waiting for a taxi. Miraculously, he was able to walk away from these damaged aircraft without serious injuries. During the Tet Offensive, Otis often was flying a few hundred feet above his troops. He arranged resupply of ammunition to the embattled C Troop and evacuated the wounded in his helicopter. He stayed in the midst of the battle from the beginning to the end. Four of his aircraft were downed during the battle for Saigon. A private seriously wounded during the battle referred to Otis as a problem-solving, decision-making, loyal, and brawling lieutenant colonel. Despite his genuine concern for individual soldiers, Otis was no pushover. An event during the battle for Tan Son Nhut Air Base illustrates how assertive he could be. The battle was growing larger, and reinforcements began to arrive. The senior commander, a full colonel, called by radio to say that he was an O-6, Otis was only an O-5, and that Otis had to provide a situation report so the colonel could take control of the field. Otis replied that he would not relinquish control of the field until the battle was over. He said the colonel was in support of his unit. The colonel hesitated and then agreed, asking where Otis wanted the incoming troops. A farewell. Glenn Otis first was wounded 31 January 1968 during the Tet Offensive. He was wounded again in May and medically evacuated. He wrote a farewell letter to the members of the squadron in June. Although he claimed he did not want the letter to drip September-October 2014  MILITARY REVIEW