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This is Part III of an eight-part series. John Paul Vann, if not in the American descent into Vietnam. Although Vann retired from the army in summer , he could not leave the country or the war alone, and he returned there, serving as a civilian pacification expert and in other responsibilities, until June Just after the battle of Kontum, in which, as a foreign service officer with the highest grade, he had command over American forces, he was killed in a helicopter accident.
Vann never gives up believing that the war can be won, but he disagrees strongly with the likes of Robert McNamara and General William Westmorland that a war of attrition can be successful against either Viet Cong or North Vietnamese regulars. In that battle, the Vietnamese forces to which Vann is attached as an adviser have the chance to surround and annihilate a battalion of Viet Cong forces, who have decided to make a stand near a hamlet on the edge of a rice paddy outside the provincial town of My Tho in the Delta.
A small museum is on the spot, although the staff is clueless about the battle. For the battle and his Vietnamese soldiers, Vann orchestrated the backup presence of American helicopter gunships and amphibious half-tracks, to support the attack of the infantry across a broad rice paddy see the above photograph.
But Vann cannot fight the battle all on his own, and his South Vietnamese soldiers turn a potential victory into a humiliating defeat. In the fighting for Ap Bac, American helicopters are shot down, attacks against the Viet Cong are avoided, and the enemy is allowed to skip out the back. Vann is furious and leaks his frustration to the American press in Saigon, including Sheehan, who was an early eye witness to the after-action of the fighting.
The local U. As they tell the war stories, it confirms the nobility of American assistance in Vietnam and the courage of our allies, even though few had engaged the enemy at Ap Bac. When, however, American reporters, including Sheehan, visit the battlefield in the aftermath and question the lack of enemy dead or the doomed American helicopters lying on their sides, they are denounced for aiding and abetting the enemy, and for not keeping up with the tunes of the patriotic marches.