FREDERICK, MD. — (WDVM) When North Vietnam and the Viet Cong staged a series of coordinated attacks on key provincial capitals, cities, towns, and military installations below the Demilitarized Zone at the end of January in 1969.
A young Army Captain from Frederick, Maryland sounded the alarm that South Vietnam, including its capital in Saigon, was going up in smoke.
“I was the Systems Control Officer for the Defense Communications Agency in Washington, D.C.,” said retired Army Colonel George Bolling. “That’s the organization that oversees telecommunications around the world, and I was based at Tan Son Nhut Air Base just northeast of Saigon.
“Our mission was to monitor telecommunications links throughout the country, numerous ones, probably sixty different nodes,” said Bolling.
Suddenly, the situation board in the control center lit up like a pinball machine.
“We noticed that the green lights were turning red, and that alarmed my crew of eight enlisted personnel,” said Bolling who happened to be on the Trans-Pacific telephone cable with DCA in Washington when rockets and mortars began to fall on Tan Son Nhut Air Base.
Bolling dived under his desk and told officials on the other end of the line that something big was happening.
“Rockets were often fired into the airbase, but when you start getting rifle fire, you know the enemy is inside the wire,” said Bolling who remembers rifle and machinegun fire going in one side of his office and out the other side of the tin-roofed building.
Later, Captain Bolling learned that the Viet Cong was able to infiltrate the base by dressing up in South Vietnamese army uniforms. “We were in clear and present danger,” said Bolling whose men grabbed their weapons and joined South Vietnamese soldiers in turning the tide of battle in their favor.
More than 1,000 Viet Cong were killed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base on the first day of the ill-fated offensive that was aimed at fomenting revolution in the South. Some still wearing camouflage South Vietnamese uniforms were buried in a mass grave at the end of the main runway.
More than 1,000 American soldiers died during the first month of Tet. Although Hanoi claimed victory, Tet was a stunning defeat for North Vietnam and the Viet Cong.
Colonel Bolling said the U.S. and South Vietnamese kicked the enemy butt in every battle after the Tet Offensive, “But we lost the war.” said Bolling.
Returning stateside after the war, Bolling worked on deep secret projects for three Presidents; Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, but Bolling can’t say what the on-going projects involved.
Colonel Bolling also served three tours at the Pentagon and commanded the 57th Signal Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas.
While still in uniform and a student at the National Defense University in Washington, Bolling wrote the first book on the breakup of communications giant, AT & T, a book that is still used today at institutions of higher learning.
Bolling retired from the Army in 1985 and went to work for Martin-Marietta in Bethesda as Director of Advanced Programs in the telecommunications field and later as Vice President of Advanced Programs at COMSAT.