A Christmas Bombing in Saigon During The Vietnam War.
Above Photo: Moments after the car bomb detonated at the Brink Hotel, Saigon (© Bill Fabianic pbase.com)
On December 24 1964, two Viet Cong guerillas detonated a car bomb underneath the Brink Hotel in Saigon, which then housed scores of US military officers.
The explosion killed two American soldiers and injured 60 others, including military personnel and Vietnamese civilians.
The Viet Cong wanted to send a message to the US that no matter how heavily guarded Saigon was, they could infiltrate their defences and cause significant casualties. It was also designed to show that no matter how much the US trusted their South Vietnamese allies, they were unable to protect them in South Vietnam.
The two Viet Cong guerillas who perpetrated the bombing escaped uninjured and were never caught. They had reconnoitered the hotel for a month, observing it from the busy street outside.
They saw that South Vietnamese officers mixed freely with Americans, so they obtained South Vietnamese army uniforms. One bomber disguised himself as a military chauffeur, while his partner dressed as a South Vietnamese major. Before the bombing they mingled with the real South Vietnamese officers so that they could copy their mannerisms, speaking style and even their way of smoking.
The Vietcong pair then procured two cars and explosives that were needed for the operation.
In later life, one of the bombers said that the number of American officers at the Brink Hotel had swelled on Christmas Eve because they were using the building to coordinate their celebrations, and that the attack would therefore cause more casualties than on a normal day, which is why they chose Christmas Eve.
The bombers stashed explosives weighing approximately 90 kilograms (200 lb) in the trunk of one of the cars, and set a timing device to trigger the bomb at 17:45, during happy hour in the officers’ bar at the hotel.
Then the pair drove their vehicles into the hotel’s grounds.
Knowing from their intelligence that a certain American colonel had returned to the US, the Viet Cong bomber dressed as a major lied and told the hotel clerk he had an appointment with the American officer. The “major” then parked his vehicle in the car park beneath the hotel, before ordering his chauffeur to leave and fetch the American with the other vehicle.
He then left the hotel grounds, asking the guard to tell the American colonel to wait for him. The “major” claimed that he had not eaten all day and was going to a nearby café.
While the “major” was at the eatery, the bomb detonated, killing two American officers, and injuring up to 58 people (US military and Vietnamese civilians).
Apart from the steel girders, which supported the building, the explosion completely destroyed the ground floor because several trucks were in the underground car park with gas canisters ready for delivery.
The attack surprised American officials and policymakers on Vietnam, who were confident that the South Vietnamese government was in control in Saigon and that the Vietcong were only a threat in rural areas.
The US thought about bombing North Vietnam in retaliation, but decided against it for PR reasons, but the in-fighting amongst their South Vietnamese allies at this time should have sent a clear warning to the US that they were not to be relied on in the future.
In January 1965, the Vietcong secretly held a conference in South Vietnam and concluded that in failing to retaliate, “the Americans lacked the will to strike North Vietnam or shield South Vietnam from the mortal blow”
The attack unfortunately led many of President Johnson’s advisers to believe that American combat troops were needed on the ground, although even at that stage many in the Administration were against deepening the US’s involvement in Vietnam, and they were also arguing against escalating the conflict.
Today, the site houses a huge Park Hyatt hotel and there is a mealy-mouthed memorial to the bombing outside.
In fact, the commemoration stone looks more like a memorial to a car being blown up than to the people who were killed and injured on the site, but I suppose that’s what happens when the victors write history and make memorials, as has happened since time immemorial.
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© Peter Alan Lloyd
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