Mark Bowden, Contributing Editor, Vanity Fair, National Correspondent, The Atlantic, Author, Black Hawk Down and Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam
Maj. Gen. Raymond Smith (Ret.), Former Company Commander at the Battle of Hue, United States Marine Corps—Moderator
Mark Bowden hasn’t written a book about a military battle since his No. 1 New York Times best seller Black Hawk Down. His most ambitious work yet, Hue 1968 is the story of the centerpiece of the Tet Offensive and a turning point in the Vietnam War.
By January 1968, despite an influx of half a million American troops, the fighting in Vietnam seemed to be at a stalemate. Yet Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of American forces, announced a new phase of the war where, he stated, “the end begins to come into view.” The North Vietnamese had different ideas. In mid-1967, the leadership in Hanoi had started planning an offensive intended to win the war in a single stroke. Part military action and part popular uprising, the Tet Offensive included attacks across South Vietnam, but the most dramatic and successful would be the capture of Hue, the country’s cultural capital. At 2:30 a.m. on January 31, 10,000 National Liberation Front troops descended from hidden camps and surged across the city of 140,000. By morning, all of Hue was in Front hands save for two small military outposts.
The commanders in country and politicians in Washington, D.C. refused to believe the size and scope of the Front’s presence. Capt. Chuck Meadows was ordered to lead his 160-marine Golf Company against thousands of enemy troops in the first attempt to reenter Hue later that day. After several futile and deadly days, Lt. Col. Ernie Cheatham would finally come up with a strategy to retake the city, block by block and building by building, in some of the most intense urban combat since World War II.
With unprecedented access to war archives in the United States and Vietnam and interviews with participants from both sides, Bowden narrates each stage of this crucial battle through multiple points of view. Played out over 24 days of terrible fighting and ultimately costing 10,000 combatant and civilian lives, the Battle of Hue was by far the bloodiest of the entire war. When it ended, the American debate was never again about winning, only about how to leave. Come hear a conversation about this pivotal moment and how it changed the American debate from a discussion on winning to one on how to leave.
Bowden, an Atlantic Monthly national correspondent, is an author, journalist, screenwriter and teacher. His book Black Hawk Down was an international best seller that spent more than a year on The New York Times best-seller list. Bowden is also an adjunct professor at Loyola College of Maryland, his alma mater, where he teaches creative writing and journalism.
Smith, the program moderator, served actively in the Marine Corps from 1965 until his retirement in 1999. From September 1967 to October 1968, during his first tour in Vietnam, he served with the 1st Battalion 1st Marines in Alpha Company. His personal decorations include the Navy Cross, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal, two Silver Stars, two Legion of Merit awards, the Bronze Star Medal with “V," and three Purple Hearts.
Location: Marines’ Memorial Club, the Commandant’s Ballroom, 609 Sutter St., San Francisco
Time: 6 p.m. check-in, 6:30 p.m. program, 7:30 p.m. book signing
Notes: In partnership with Marines’ Memorial Association; photo by John Olson
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