General William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam, briefs officials at the Pentagon and says that the battle around Dak To was “the beginning of a great defeat for the enemy.”
The battle for Dak To began on November 3 when 4,500 U.S. troops from the U.S. 4th Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade engaged four communist regiments of about 6,000 troops in the Central Highlands. The climax of the operation came in a savage battle that began on November 19 on Hill 875, 12 miles southwest of Dak To. The 173rd defeated the North Vietnamese, causing them to abandon their last defensive line on the ridge of Hill 875. However, it was a costly victory for the Americans, who suffered the loss of 135 men. In the 19 days of the battle in and around Dak To, North Vietnamese fatalities were estimated at 1,455. Total U.S. casualties included 285 killed, 985 wounded, and 18 missing.
In his briefing at the Pentagon, Westmoreland stressed the positive outcome of the battle. He revealed that a document removed from the body of a dead North Vietnamese soldier on November 6 stated that the Dak To battle was to be the beginning of a winter/spring offensive by the Communist B-3 Front. This document also revealed that the main objective of the action at Dak To was the destruction of a major American unit. The communists came close but ultimately failed in this objective. The Americans, despite heavy losses, defeated the North Vietnamese, mauling three enemy regiments so badly that the they had to be withdrawn from South Vietnam to Cambodian and Laotian sanctuaries for refitting.
Westmoreland was reportedly brought home from Vietnam by President Johnson to fulfill a public relations task and revive flagging morale throughout the country. His message on U.S. military prospects in Vietnam was continually optimistic, as he emphasized that progress was being made in the fight against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. These public statements came back to haunt him when the communists launch a massive offensive during the Tet New Year holiday on January 30, 1968.