Clint Bestor arrived in Vietnam in December 1967 and had Christmas dinner there. The specialist four celebrated his 21st birthday in January 1968. And then all hell broke loose.
“I was there for the Tet Offensive of 1968 and the Tet Offensive of 1969,” the retired engineer said.
In the 1968 offensive, the Viet Cong emerged at night from the tunnels they had dug under his brigade’s landing zone. They attacked relentlessly and hurled satchel charges at the American Soldiers.
“They basically overran the camp for about two hours,” Bestor, who was a field radio mechanic with the 11th Light Infantry Brigade at Duc Pho, said. “And after serious fighting, we got the upper hand.
“Turns out the leader of the VC was the barber at the camp. We shot him and found a map where he had all that stuff drawn up. That was a bad thing.”
He recalled that Tet Offensive 1969 wasn’t as bad. “They didn’t come inside the perimeter. They just shot mortars and stuff,” he said.
The West Palm Beach, Florida, native was stationed at Scofield Barracks, Hawaii, when his entire brigade got shipped to Vietnam. Bestor’s yearlong tour lasted 15 months.
But with his ham radio license background, his role changed in June 1968. He was still assigned to the headquarters company but his duty became setting up the Military Auxiliary Radio System and training new operators.
In this era before cellphones and the Internet, MARS radio was the only way other than mail that Soldiers could communicate with their loved ones back home.
“It was nice to hear your family’s voice back in the states,” Bestor said. The MARS station was atop a hill in the middle of the base camp. Bestor’s shift went from 4 p.m. until 4 a.m. Soldiers in the brigade who wanted to call home would contact the MARS station which then arranged to patch their call through to the U.S.
“It was pretty much a morale thing,” Bestor said. “They did give me a Bronze Star because I was instrumental in setting up the MARS station and training new operators.”
He left Vietnam in March 1969 and had a medical procedure done before leaving the Army that April as a specialist five after two and a half years in uniform.
“I would say overall it was positive,” he said of his 15-month tour. “You had the camaraderie. We had a good group of guys we were working with. Had competent officers leading our company, our group. The living conditions weren’t deplorable. It was a war zone, you’ve got to make concessions. On the other hand, it could’ve been a lot worse – we weren’t in the jungle. Compared to what it could’ve been, I had no complaints at all.
“The strongest memory I have was the night our LZ was overrun (in Tet Offensive 1968). That was probably the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life.”
He also remembers the mortar attacks. “You don’t hear mortars coming. That scares the heck out of you, too. Since you don’t hear them coming, you don’t know where to hide,” he said.
In a shopping center in Titusville, Florida, he experienced the verbal abuse that many returning service members encountered during that era of widespread antimilitary sentiment. A man walked up to Bestor and called him a “baby killer.”
“What you learned is you never mentioned to anybody you were a veteran,” Bestor said. “It’s just been the last couple of years I’ve actually talked about it.”
He went back to school on the GI Bill and earned his bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Mississippi State in 1973. He worked for Intuitive Research and Technology until he retired in 2013.
Bestor and his wife of 48 years, Mary, who he met at Mississippi State, reside in Lacey’s Spring. They have two sons, Charles and Michael, and three grandchildren. Both sons are engineers in Huntsville.
At 72 his main hobby is radio-controlled model airplanes. He volunteers as a military docent at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, setting up a table there each Friday to recruit for Aviation Challenge. He has been doing that for the past three years in honor of his father, George Bestor Sr., who was an engineer on the launch team for Apollo 11 which landed the first two people on the moon.
“On the one hand, I’m disappointed with how things turned out in Vietnam,” Bestor said. “But on the other hand, I’m grateful that veterans now are treated with respect and a certain amount of dignity that we were not accorded when I came out. So I think in that respect, American attitudes have changed in the last 50 years to give veterans the honor that they really deserve.”
Editor’s note: This is the 212th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.