During the height of the Vietnam War, Army Spc. Doris Allen studied signs of a build-up of Vietcong and North Vietnamese troops in late 1967 within the flow of reports she monitored as an Army intelligence analyst. She told her bosses an attack was coming. She was right, and — almost to the day she predicted it — the Tết Offensive sent shockwaves through South Vietnam and the American war effort.

But Doris Allen’s reports mostly fell on deaf ears, as the almost universally white men who made up the officers above her ignored the warnings from the black enlisted woman.

Dr. Doris Allen died June 11 at 97. Though her warnings prior to Tết went unheeded, her example led to a massive re-evaluation of how the Army used intelligence and she retired as a legend in the field in 1980. Today, NCO awards are named after her and she is in the Army Intelligence hall of fame.

“I just recently came up with the reason they didn’t believe me —  they weren’t prepared for me,” Allen told the Army in a 2012 interview. “They didn’t know how to look beyond the WAC, black woman in military intelligence. I can’t blame them. I don’t feel bitter.”

Allen spent three decades in the armed forces, with some of her most important work during the Vietnam War, where she did three tours. “Lucki,” as she was known, went from an entertainment specialist to a military intelligence expert. The New York Times first reported on her death.

Born in El Paso, Texas on May 9, 1927, Doris Ilda Allen graduated from the then-Tuskegee Institute in 1949, using her bachelor’s degree in physical education to teach P.E. to high school students. However she was only briefly a teacher. In 1950, she joined the military as part of the Women’s Army Corps. Her career initially focused on entertainment and media, spending the Korean War editing a military newspaper in Japan and organizing shows and events for soldiers. 

Allen did not stick with that field. She learned French and then went through the Prisoner of War Interrogation course at the U.S. Army Intelligence School, becoming the first woman to do so. She then served at the US Continental Army Command Intelligence Center in then-Fort Bragg (now Fort Liberty). She volunteered to go to Vietnam, initially serving as an interrogator. She moved into intelligence, working as Senior Intelligence Analyst for the Army Operations Center in Long Binh, Vietnam.

During her time in Vietnam, she took notice of a buildup of North Vietnamese forces in late 1967. She saw approximately 50,000 troops massing, and she concluded a major attack was coming, targeting major South Vietnamese cities and bases. Her report even predicted when it would take place: during the Vietnamese lunar new year, Tết Nguyên Đán, in January 1968. The Tết Offensive, as it was known, kicked off on Jan. 30, 1968, just one day prior to Allen’s prediction. 

Retired Army Col. Keith Nightingale, a member of the Ranger Hall of Fame who served two tours in Vietnam, compared Allen to Oscar Koch. Koch was Gen. George Patton’s intelligence officer during World War II who correctly predicted the German counteroffensive that became the Battle of the Bulge. Other intelligence chiefs dismissed the possibility, but Patton headed Koch’s warnings and analysis. 

Doris Allen. (photo courtesy U.S. Army)

“What [Allen] did was very analogous,” Nightingale said. He said that at the time, many intelligence reports were “massaged” to make the situation look better than it was, or cater to certain commanders’ wishes. Allen’s contrarian warning was proven correct. Whoever her commander was, he added, should have earned the Legion of Merit for sending Allen’s analysis up the chain of command, even if it was ignored. 

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Unlike Koch, Allen and any other warning was not taken seriously. The Tết Offensive was devastating, taking American and South Vietnamese forces by surprise. Northern forces were able to push deep into the South, briefly taking some cities, before being repelled. The U.S. and South Vietnam did win, but only after months of intense fighting and more than 9,000 killed. 

The intelligence failure leading up to the Tết Offensive led to an “agonizing reappraisal” of what military intelligence was doing and what it was missing, Nightingale told Task & Purpose. 

During her time in the service, she faced prejudice for both her race and her gender, leaving her passed over for assignments or ignored. 

“I guess the thing that really sticks about Vietnam is knowing you give them reliable and valid intelligence, but biases can creep through,” Allen wrote in her entry for “A Piece of My Heart,” which collected the accounts of women service members during the Vietnam War. “There are a lot of things that they might have been biased about with me. I was a specialist as opposed to being a sergeant. I was black instead of being something else. I was enlisted instead of being an officer — especially in the milieu [Army Operations Center] where there were only two enlisted people, and I was a WAC.”

Despite being ignored, Allen stuck with the service and intelligence work. While in Vietnam, Allen was promoted to Specialist 7, becoming one of only 22 people to ever hold the now-defunct rank. One of her reports in 1969 warned of a planned North Vietnamese attack on troops using chemical mortars. Using her intelligence, 101 Marines were able to avoid casualties from the attack. 

Allen was later promoted to warrant officer in 1970 and started her third tour in the war. She left Vietnam that same year, after learning she was on a North Vietnamese list of assassination targets. She remained in the Army for another decade.

Doris Allen retired from the Army in 1980, after 30 years of service. She later earned a Ph.D. in Psychology and Organizational Development. For her service, Dr. Doris Allen was awarded the Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters, among several other honors tied to her time in Vietnam. In 2009 she was inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame. 

Dr. Doris Allen passed away in a hospital on June 11 in Oakland, California.

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