Remembering a South African killed in the Vietnam War

Yup, you’ll find the South African connection in nearly every major modern-day conflict, even in the Vietnam War,  Today we remember a South African of dual nationality who died during the Vietnam War, Lieutenant John Louis Molynaeux Jr. We’ll also recall the  tumultuous events surrounding his death, as this was the peak of the Vietnam War around period of the ‘Mini Tet’ offences which took place some months after the main ‘Tet offensive’ in 1968.

Background

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1st Lt John Louis Molynaeux Jr

John Louis Molynaeux Jr was born in Australia on the 13th January 1946 and grew up in South Africa as a naturalised South African – going to St. Charles College, Pietermaritzburg, Natal before returning briefly to Australia.  At the onset of the Vietnam War he went to the United States and volunteered to join the United States Marine Corps.

He was mustered into the 1st Battalion 5th Marines, known as 1/5 , these US Marines were deployed to some of the heaviest fighting in Vietnam. The 1/5 participated in action around Chu Lai, Danang and Quang Nam.  During the war Lt Molynaeux found himself as a Junior Commissioned Officer in A Company 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, III MAF.

Tet 

The Tet Offensive was a series of surprise attacks by the Viet Cong  (rebel forces sponsored by North Vietnam) and North Vietnamese forces, on scores of cities, towns, and hamlets throughout South Vietnam.  The Tet Offensive was the most defining battle of the Vietnam war, where planning and infiltration of North Vietnamese Army regulars into South Vietnam continued relatively unnoticed over an extended period of time, and it resulted in a multi-faceted and well-coordinated attack designed to destabilise the South and enact a complete people’s overthrow of South Vietnam, with all its American and the Allied forces included. It all kicked off on a day the American and South Vietnamese forces least expected it – on the evening of the 30 January 1968 during the Tet holiday festivities (the Vietnamese New Year).

The Tet Offensive was audacious to the say the least and it even included the ‘safe’ capital city of South Vietnam, Saigon – where insurgents even breached the embassy of the United States. The Tet offensive was to cumulate in the historic city of Hue, with its iconic Citadel and Imperial Palace as a backdrop.  The battle at Hue was a gruelling street to street, house to house affair not seen since World War 2 and it took place mainly between the US Marines alongside the South Vietnamese troops (ARVN) fighting in a ferocious battle against North Vietnamese Army regular troops (NVA) and Viet Cong irregulars. It was a desperate battle which literally flattened the beautiful city of Hue.

The intensity of the US Marines’ battle for Hue is seen in this short video clip.

In the middle of the battle for Hue, on 12 February 1968 was the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines as they joined the South Vietnamese Army (the ARVN), moving into the city from the north by helicopter and landing craft. The Marines went in on the left flank; the 3d ARVN Regiment was in the center, and the Vietnamese Marines, who had replaced the airborne battalions, were on the right flank. The attack ground inexorably forward. On 22 February, the Marines seized their final objective, the southeast wall of the Citadel.

By prior agreement, the Marines stayed out of the fight for the Imperial Palace. At dawn on the 24th, the South Vietnamese flag went up over the Citadel; and that afternoon, the Black Panther Company went into the now deserted Imperial Palace. Mopping up of the NVA remnants went on from 25 February until 2 March when the battle was declared over.

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Marines assaulting Dong Ba Tower in the City of Hue, Feburary 15, 1968. Photo By John Olson. (Photo Courtesy Atlantic Monthly Press)

Mini Tet

After the failure of the Tet Offensive in early 1968, the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong irregulars withdrew into the country side and regrouped.  By mid to late 1968 a second Tet Offensive opened up, phase 2 of the Tet Offensive, especially in areas surrounding the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). These offensives became known as ‘Mini Tet’.

The US Marines initiated two key operations using the 1/5 Marines (and other Marine Battalions) to seek and destroy the enemy during Mini Tet just south of Danang, Operation Allen Brook which was quickly followed by Operation Mameluke Thrust.

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Members of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Division Regiment on patrol (Marine Corps/National Archives).

From the 1st to the 31 August 1968, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines found themselves taking part in Operation ‘Mameluke Thrust’ in the Southern part Dai Loc and northern part of Duc Duc districts in the Quang Nam Province.  Known generally as ‘Happy Valley’ by the Marines  the ‘operation took place just southwest of Danang in August 1968

KIA

1-5_battalion_insignia1st Lieutenant John Louis Molynaeux Jr was tragically Killed in Action towards the end of Operation Mameluke Thrust on the 31 August 1968 when he detonated a Viet Cong ‘Booby-trap’ (now know as an Improvised Explosive Device or IED) whilst on patrol in Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam. He was 22.

The US Marines took a heavy toll during Operation Mameluke Thrust, in all the Marines had suffered 269 dead and 1730 wounded, however in the standard of the time of counting ‘death toll’ or ‘body count’ they saw it as a victory claiming the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong lost 2,728 killed and 47 captured.

Remembrance

Today 1st Lieutenant John Louis Molynaeux Jr (service number 0103695) is remembered by both The United States of America and Australia.   His name can be found on the Vietnam War memorial –  45W LINE: 015 for anyone to pay respects to him.

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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard takes a rubbing of John Louis Molynaeux Jr’s name the Vietnam War memorial in Washington DC.

The then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited the United States Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington on March 7, 2011 and she took the special time to take a rubbing of his name.  Sadly, no such tribute or recognition has been paid to him by his other country of naturalisation – South Africa.

USMC-Officer-EmblemNext time you are in Washington and visit the Vietnam War Memorial, be sure to look him up, the Observation Post salutes you John Louis Molynaeux Jr, may your memory be forever kept alive, under all the nation’s flags with whom you served and made your home, including South Africa.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

With thanks to Graham Du Toit for his on-going work in keeping memories of these brave South Africans alive on digital media.  Mast image shows marines on patrol in ‘happy valley’ in mid 1968 during ‘Mini Tet’ – Operation Allen Brook, it would have been on a similar patrol that John Louis Molynaeux Jr would be KIA by triggering a IED.

 

5 thoughts on “Remembering a South African killed in the Vietnam War

  1. A worthy offering as usual Peter; it is important to reflect on the many dual nationality soldiers who die with little or no recognition from one or other of their countries. Falling between the cracks of circumstance and history we are honour bound the remember their sacrifice if and when we can.

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  2. Always interesting – it’s a great sadness for me that South Africa’s war heros remain largely unregonised by their country of birth, with the stark exception of your laudable efforts. It stands in such contrast when compared with what happens here in Aussie. I salute your efforts.

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    • The problem we face in South Africa is that despite all our efforts fighting tyranny throughout the World, WE enforced the most horrific racial segregation (Apartheid) regime on the majority of South Africans for decades, if not centuries. This has ‘tainted’ our heroes of those times….sad, but true!

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