By Morgan Montalvo
This weekend marks the beginning of the Asian New Year - Tet in Vietnamese - and a half century since a series of ceasefire-period Communist surprise attacks shook America's resolve to win the Vietnam War.
At Stinson Airport on San Antonio's south side veterans, history buffs, reenactors, and Vietnam-era aircraft and vehicle owners on Saturday will unite for "Tet '68 Plus 50," a 50th anniversary observance of the Tet Offensive, a tumultuous near-month-long period in early 1968 that survivors hauntingly refer to simply as "Tet."
"Tet '68 Plus 50" is presented by the Commemorative Air Force's San Antonio-based "Tex" Hill Wing; the International Bird Dog Association; the Texas Military Forces Museum's "'G' Co." Living History Detachment; and area members of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association.
John Eli served in Vietnam as a combat infantryman during Tet, and today is part of a G Co. living history troupe that elected to recreate his wartime unit: a contingent of the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Division known as "The Wolfhounds."
"We'll have all of our uniforms, weapons, gear and equipment out there on display," Eli says.
G Co.'s living historians, Eli says, "take this hobby pretty seriously. They do research, and I am amazed how much they know about the equipment, the uniforms, and the tactics - everything that went on in that time period."
They know more about some of this equipment than I do," Eli says. "They do their homework."
Like Eli, former Army artillery officer and aviator Steven Frushour remains connected to his Vietnam experience "hands-on" - in his case, via a restored Cessna O-1 "Bird Dog" light aircraft, the same type he flew over Southeast Asia.
Frushour is head of the Bird Dog owners and pilots group scheduled to appear at Stinson.
"Observation - spotting targets was its primary mission," Frushour says of the two-place warplane, adapted from a post-World War Two civilian design. "Its slow speed was what made it so great."
Frushour says Bird Dogs were also widely used to coordinate searches for downed aircrews, and to relay communication from elite teams conducting rescue or reconnaissance missions deep behind enemy lines.
"Just as they were saving us, we were saving them," Frushour says. "Knowing they had somebody to watch over them was very special, and to me it was a more fulfilling mission than just trying to find a target to shoot at."
Tet '68 Plus 50 is not a typical Commemorative Air Force activity, says Larry Stacy, leader of the CAF's local "Tex" Hill Wing.
"With this event," Stacy says, "we're exploring the expanding Commemorative Air Force charter to preserve and promote military aviation beyond World War Two.
"The Vietnam Generation is far past time to be recognized and honored, and what we'll do Saturday is small in scope, but big in heart, for those who sacrificed so much," says Stacy.
Tet '68 Plus 50 runs from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Admission is free.