ST. CLOUD, Minn. — A Minnesota veteran who was once part of the elite Marine Security Guard protecting U.S. embassies around the world recalls the deadly night 50 years ago when the U.S. Embassy in Saigon was attacked.
Enemy combatants tried to break into the embassy with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on Jan. 31, 1968, the St. Cloud Times reported . Five Americans and 19 Viet Cong guerrilla fighters died during the attack.
Historians say the attack was an important point in the Vietnam War and illustrated that the fight was far from over.
Ronald Harper joined the Marines in 1965 after a friend suggested they enlist together.
“I felt it was my duty,” Harper said. “I was always very patriotic. It was in my heart all my life. I loved my country. I still do.”
Harper, 20 years old at the time, was delivering coffee to fellow servicemen on the night shift when the Viet Cong soldiers blew up an exterior wall.
“The sky just lit up in a big explosion,” Harper said.
Harper rushed back to the embassy and began to lock the doors. He helped keep four civilians safe during the hours-long skirmish.
“You’re tense,” Harper said of the six-hour skirmish. “You didn’t know what was going to happen in the next minute.”
Harper said the adrenaline kept him awake for two days after the attack. The shock he was experiencing led him to initially overlook some shrapnel injuries he received.
Harper earned a Bronze Star for his service.
He’s now 70 years old and has nine children with his wife, Cathy. Harper runs his own business, Quality Appliance and TV Center in Waite Park, Minn.