On the evening of January 2, six men were captured outside the fences of the US Marine base at Khe Sanh, in the Quang Tri province of Vietnam, apparently performing reconnaissance for a planned North Vietnamese attack.
A defector carried information about the attacks to the US forces on January 20, and the attacks themselves began the following day. The US and allied forces quickly joined battle, but were surrounded and besieged. For the next two months, the siege went on, until American forces broke through and relieved the base in March.
The American forces recorded a total of 730 soldiers killed in action, with a further 2,642 wounded and 7 more missing in action. Casualties on the North Vietnamese side are estimated as between 10,000 and 15,000.
Thomas Patrick Melady was not, in the general run of things, a man given to hyperbole. He was one of the longest serving diplomats working for the United States, and a respected authority on African and European affairs after his retirement from active service. Among his greatest accomplishments was influencing the Vatican (during his term as Ambassador to the Holy See, from 1989 – 1993) to recognise the nation of Israel. He was a serious man, is what I’m saying.
His first ambassadorial role was as US Ambassador to Burundi from 1969 – 1972. He then had the misfortune to become the new Ambassador to Uganda in 1972, a post he left the followiung year. In this role, he watched the early days of Idi Amin’s rule with mounting horror, describing the man in a telegram he sent to Washington on January 2, 1973, as “racist, erratic and unpredictable, brutal, inept, bellicose, irrational, ridiculous, and militaristic”. The United States closed its embassy in Uganda 38 days later, and did not reopen it until 1979.