‘The Odyssey of Echo Company:’ Tet Offensive 50 years later

This is the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, where the North Vietnamese orchestrated a barrage of assaults throughout South Vietnam. A book out in paperback on May 8 titled “The Odyssey of Echo Company: The 1968 Tet Offensive and the Epic Battle to Survive the Vietnam War” takes readers on the journey of Stan Parker. Americans need to be reminded of soldiers like Parker who fought patriotically for this country.

While in Afghanistan, researching another book, “Horse Soldiers,” Doug Stanton met Sgt. Maj. Stan Parker, one of the longest-serving soldiers. Parker convinced him to write a book about the stories of the men he served with in Vietnam.

Parker in 1968

He, like many in Echo Company, a recon company in the 101st Airborne Division, enlisted to fight for their country against the evils of Communism. They arrived mid-December 1967 in Vietnam just prior to Tet. Parker speaks to Stanton about the unending list of horrors, losses and miseries, not just overseas, but also on the home front, which he and his peers endured.

Unfortunately for many of those that fought overseas, they are still thinking, feeling and tasting the battlefield, but hide the experience, reluctant to talk about it because people are not receptive. Parker was injured three times, receiving two Purple Hearts, but turned down the third because once someone gets three they are returned home. The reason he wanted to stay was so his comrades would not think he deserted them. There was the realization that they might have to die so that their fellow soldiers could survive.

Many never considered the atrocities committed by the Viet Cong toward American soldiers and the South Vietnamese people.

“They wanted to instill fear in the villagers,” Parker said. “I think Stanton wrote the scene in the book correctly. I came upon a young Vietnamese girl and had the overwhelming desire to make her safe. I offered her a can of peaches before joining my buddies. Seconds later I hear gunshots and find the girl shot dead. The remorse I felt is unexplainable because I know she died for accepting the can of peaches from me, an American soldier. We were accused of being mean to the villagers, but the irony is if I showed her no compassion she would be alive.”

Compassion was something he never experienced from his fellow citizens. There are numerous quotes in the book about his homecoming from Vietnam. Just a few: “The scariest part of his military career was coming home from Vietnam,” and “It is the hate they felt back home in the states that haunts these guys.”

Even to this day, Parker cannot comprehend the reaction of his fellow Americans.

“I did not know why they were so hostile,” he said. “There was even a time we attended a White Sox baseball game and the crowd booed the guys there in wheelchairs. I thought how I had done my job, what was asked of me, and for some reason, everyone is mad at us. Another incident occurred as I left the Oakland Army Terminal. I felt as if I was walking down the jungle trail in Vietnam, unsure of what the next bend would bring. I knew how to defend myself over there, but not here at home. I was called a baby killer and could do nothing about it. Why? Because we were cautioned numerous times to not get in a fight or we will be detained in the stockade.”

He expected the same scorn, disdain and fear when coming home on leave from Afghanistan.

“In late ’68, people were very hostile,” he said. “I felt more at home in Vietnam than I did back home in Gary, Ind. Neighbors would wave at you but didn’t come over to talk because they didn’t want anyone to think that they were pro-military.

“Yet, decades later, returning from the War on Terror, I received a standing ovation on the plane and was offered a first-class seat. What a culture shock. It was very emotional for me. I did think where was this 40 years before when I returned home from Vietnam. If one ounce of kindness had been displayed, then it would have made a big difference.”

Stanton told American Thinker how “Stan admitted to harboring anger, fear, resentment and even hatred for the Vietnamese people.” Coincidentally, they journeyed back to Vietnam in 2013 and visited the village of Trung Hoa, where he was wounded in 1968 by a grenade. An NVA soldier walked over and pointed the barrel of his AK-47 at Stan’s face as he lay on the ground. Because he played dead, the NVA soldier went away. Now years later, as Stan spoke of the incident a Vietnamese villager walked up to them, Mr. Sinh, the enemy.

“I knew watching both of these guys that they had come to an acknowledgment of each other,” Stanton said. “Stan thought how ‘the enemy was willing to accept me compared to my own country whose people were not.’ They hugged each other, even though years earlier each tried to kill one another. Mr. Sinh told Stan that, ‘We were enemies, but now we are brothers.’”

Hopefully, this book will have people understand the sacrifices made by soldiers who answered their country’s call. Stanton wants the book to bring about “a reconciliation, an acceptance and a resolution with the American Vietnam veteran. We need to move forward and look at the rawness of the war recognizing these warriors as selfless and patriotic.”

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About the Author

Elise Cooper

Elise writes book reviews that always include a short author interview.