The Geneva Accords stated that the division was to be temporary, and that national elections in 1956 would reunite the country. But the United States did not want to see Vietnam turn into a communist state, so the US supported the creation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, which provided defense for South Vietnam.
North Vietnam, then called the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, wanted a communist state, and South Vietnam, then called the Republic of Vietnam, wanted a non-communist state. In 1956, Ngo Dihn Diem, an anti-communist, won the presidential election in South Vietnam. But communist opposition in the south caused Diem numerous problems. And in 1959, southern communists decided to implement greater violence to try to oust Diem. This led to the formation of the National Liberation Front (NLF).
The NLF was a group of communists and non-communists who opposed diem and sought his ouster. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy sent a group to South Vietnam to determine what actions the US needed to take to assist them. When the group returned, they proffered recommendations in what became known as the "December 1961 White Paper" that indicated a need for an increased military presence; but many of the advisors of Kennedy wanted a complete pullout from the country.
In the end, Kennedy compromised and decided to increase the number of military advisors, but with the objective of not to engage in a massive military buildup. But in 1963, the government of Diem quickly began to unravel. The downfall began when Diem's brother accused Buddhist monks of harboring communists -- his brother then began raiding Buddhist pagodas in an attempt to find these communists
The Buddhist monks immediately began protesting in the streets, and in Saigon
on 05 October, 1963, one monk died by self-immolation. This incident caused
international outrage and Diem was soon overthrown and killed. On 02 August,
1964, North Vietnam attacked an American ship in the Gulf of Tonkin that
resulted in congress enacted the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted the
president broad war powers.
Lyndon B. Johnson was the president at the time, and the Gulf of Tonkin
incident and the resultant resolution marked the beginning of the major
military build up of America in the Vietnam War. In 1965, massive bombing
missions by the US in North Vietnam, known as Operation ROLLING THUNDER,
quickly escalated the conflict.
Within 90 days of becoming the Army's first air mobile division, the First Team was back in combat as the first fully committed division of the Vietnam War. An advance party, on board C-124s and C-130s, arrived at Nha Trang between the 19th and 27th of August 1965. They joined with advance liaison forces and established a temporary base camp near An Khe, 36 miles inland from the costal city of Qui Nhon. The remainder of the 1st Cavalry Division arrived by ship, landing at the harbor of Qui Nhon on the 12th and 13th of September, the 44th anniversary of the 1st Cavalry Division. In the Oriental calendar year of the "Horse", mounted soldiers had returned to war wearing the famous and feared patch of the First Cavalry Division. The First Team had entered its third war - and the longest tour of duty in combat history.
The newly arrived Skytroopers wasted little time in getting into action. From
18 - 20 September, troopers of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry and the 2nd
Battalion, 12th Cavalry supported the 1st Brigade of the 101 Airborne Division
in "Operation Gibraltar". The operation took place 17 miles northeast of An
Khe in the Vinh Thanh Valley; known as "Happy Valley" by the troops. "B"
Battery of the 1st Battalion, 77th Artillery, provided supporting fire.
25 January 1966 began "Masher/White Wing" which were code names for the missions in Binh Dinh Province. On 19 - 21 February, one of the main actions occurred in an area known as the "Iron Triangle", an elaborate, well fortified defensive position 12 miles south of Bong Son. During the interrogation of a prisoner, he revealed the location of the NVA 22nd Regimental headquarters. Elements of the 2nd Brigade advanced into the area and were met by fierce resistance. Units from the NVA 22nd Regiment attempted to reinforce the their headquarters, but they were cut down in the crossfire of two companies of the 1st Battalion, 12 Cavalry. For the next three days the area was saturated with artillery fire and B-52 strikes. The mission ended 6 March 1966, with the enemy losing its grip on the Binh Dinh Province, however its name would be heard again and again during the next six years.
On 16 May, the next major mission, "Crazy Horse", commenced during the hot summer, with the temperature soaring to 110 degrees. The search and destroy assignment extended into the heavy jungle covered hills between Suoi Ca and the Vinh Thanh Valleys. The 1st Brigade went into action against the 2nd Viet Cong Regiment. Intelligence indicated that the Viet Cong were massing in a natural corridor known as the "Oregon Trail", planning to attack the Special Forces Camp on 19 May; the birthday of Ho Chi Minh. Initial contact was made by Company "B", 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry at Landing Zone Hereford. They were finally reinforced by 130 troopers of Company "A", 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry who were airlifted to a nearby point to join the battle. The two companies held off superior enemy forces throughout the night. The next morning elements of the 12th Calvary and the entire 1st Brigade became involved in Crazy Horse. The fighting now consisted of short but bitter engagements in tall elephant grass and heavily canopied jungle. The battleground covered approximately 20 kilometers with the VC holed up on three hills. Once they were surrounded, all available firepower was concentrated in their area. If not killed by the devastation, those trying to flee were cut down by cavalry crossfire.
In the course of the fighting, a Squad leader with Company "B", 2nd Battalion, 12 Cavalry, Staff Sergeant Jimmy G. Stewart, won the second Medal of Honor awarded to the 1st Cavalry Division for action in Vietnam. Fighting "like a man possessed" according to the posthumous citation, Sergeant Stewart repulsed three attacks by a Vietnam platoon and saved the lives of his wounded men. In fours of battle, he killed as many as 23 Viet Cong and threw back several hand grenades before he was mortally wounded. On 05 June 1966, Operation Crazy Horse was concluded.
The need for rice by the famished Viet Cong was the catalyst for Operation Paul Revere II which commenced on 02 August 1966. Significant contact with the enemy did not occur until 08 August at LZ Juliett. Company "A", 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry came under heavy fire from a reinforced enemy battalion. In several hours of intense fighting, Alpha Company turned back repeated mass attacks. Timely artillery and air strikes eliminated the opportunity for the enemy to surround the Skytroopers. The roar of helicopters from two companies from the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry arriving at LZ Juliett frightened the enemy, causing them to flee.
Thayer I was one of the largest air assaults launched by the 1st Cavalry Division. Its mission was to rid Binh Dinh Province of NVA and VC soldiers and the VC's political infrastructure. On 16 September, troopers of the 1st Brigade discovered an enemy regimental hospital, a factory for making grenades, antipersonnel mines and a variety of weapons. On 19 September, elements of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry traded fire with two NVA combat support companies.
In the opening phases of Operation Thayer, enemy elements of the 7th and 8th battalions, 18th North Vietnamese Army Regiment had been reported in the village of Hoa Hoi. The 1st battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, in the face of strong heavy resistance, deployed to encircle the village. On 02 October, "B" Company was the first to be air assaulted into the landing area 300 meters east of the village. Immediately, the units came under intense small arms and mortar fire. "A" Company landed to the southwest and began a movement northeast to the village. In the meantime, "C" Company landed north of the village and began moving south. By this time "A" and "B" Companies had linked up and established positions which prevented the enemy from slipping out of the village during the night.
During the course of the evening, "A" and "C" Companies, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment were airlifted into an area east of the village to assist in the containment of the enemy. Additional support of artillery forward observers from "A" Battery, 2nd Battalion, 19th Artillery helped as the enemy locations were identified and called in during the night.
In the morning of 03 October, "C" Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry and "C" Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry attacked south to drive the remaining enemy forces into "A" and "B" Companies, 12th Cavalry who were braced in strong blocking positions to take the attack. This last action broke the strong resistance of the enemy and mission was completed.
On 31 October, Paul Revere IV was launched By the 2nd Brigade. Its units included; 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry; 2nd Battalion 12 Cavalry; Company "B", 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry and the 1st Battalion, 77th Artillery. The operation called for extensive search and destroy in the areas of Chu Pong and the Ia Drang Valley, as well as along the Cambodian Border. With only one exception only light contact with the enemy was achieved. In mid-morning of 21 November, Company "C", 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry was searching south of Duc Co along the border. Suddenly the 2nd Platoon began trading fire with a force of significant size. The 3rd Platoon tried to go to the aid of the 2nd Platoon but itself was surrounded by large numbers of North Vietnamese. The two units of outnumbered fought desperately. Artillery was called in on top of the position of the 3rd Platoon in a last ditch attempt to turn back the enemy. Both platoons were decimated by machine guns and grenades and overrun. One trooper, badly wounded. survived. The 101 "C" Regiment of the 10th NVA Division paid a very high price for its victory. It lost nearly 150 of their men. On 27 December, Operation Paul Revere IV was closed out and 2nd Brigade troopers added their strength to Operation Thayer II.
On 09 December, a five day effort to evacuate all the civilians from Kim Son Valley, "Operation Rover", was launched. On 17 December, heavy contact was made in the Highway 506 Valley, just east of the Kim Son Valley. "C" Company, 8th Cavalry Regiment spotted and went after an enemy squad moving into the valley. Aircraft, called in to help, drew heavy ground fire from several positions. The infantry platoon of "A" Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry made an air assault into the valley and ran into heavy resistance. The 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry was also brought in, along with four infantry companies and two platoons from the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry. The First Team units attempted to encircle the enemy force who had "dug in". The encirclement was not complete and many of the enemy troops escaped at night. In a final sweep of the area on 19 December, 93 bodies of the enemy were found.
The end of 1966 brought about an observance of a two day Christmas truce. On 27 December at 0105 hours, three NVA battalions of the 22nd Regiment, 3rd North Vietnamese Army used the two-day Christmas truce to move into position for a surprise attack on LZ Bird in the Kim Son Valley which was well away from their usual haunts in the Hoai Nhon Delta area. The enemy units threw fierce "human waves" of assaults, conducted simultaneously with an 82mm and 60mm mortar attack supplemented by 57mm recoilless rifle and machine gun delivered by regimental weapon units, at Landing Zone "Bird" in the Kim Son Valley.
The main attack came through the north end of the landing zone. The LZ was only defended by "C" Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry, two artillery batteries, Battery "B", 2nd Battalion, 19th Artillery and Battery "C", 6th Battalion, 16th Artillery and a detachment of the 11th Pathfinder Company, All were under strength. The NVA broke through the perimeter and occupied a few gun positions. The 12th Cavalry troopers fought back hand-to-hand and with everything they had. Finally, some of the 105s were cranked down to pointblank range and "beehive" rounds sliced through the attackers like scythes.
Initially the weather restricted air support operations. But as the battle within the perimeter of LZ Bird raged on, two other fire support batteries of LZ Pony, "B" Battery, 2nd Battalion, 17th Artillery and "A" Battery, 3rd Battalion, 18th Artillery covered the areas outside the perimeter until heavy air support could be brought in to suppress the onslaught of enemy troops. Units engaged in the air support were:
The enemy withdrawal started about 0215 hours as the 1st Platoon, "D" Troop, 9th Cavalry arrived at the landing zone and with troops from within the landing zone succeeded in clearing the LZ of all enemy soldiers. For the next two days, other troopers of the 1st Cavalry Division joined in and pursued the fleeing NVA and made contact several times. At least 266 NVA died in this battle. Of the original 199 who composed the LZ Base strength, 28 were killed in action, 87 wounded and 1 was reported as missing in action.
For their heroic action, "C" Company, 12th Cavalry and "C" Battery, 16th
Artillery were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for their heroic action
on 27 Dec 1966. Many ARA and armed CH-47 sorties were flown in support of this
battle. Not long after this battle, the site at the bend in the river was
deemed highly vulnerable and a new LZ BIRD was built on a hogback several
miles farther to the east.
The use of combat "call names" to improve radio communications originated in 1967, when several companies, working a single mission together, became easily confused by the rapid "chatter" which occurs during battle. "A" Company of the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry became known as "Ace High". The other companies; "B" was "Bad Bet", "C" was "Wild Card", "D" was Stacked Deck" and "E" was "Easy Money". These call names stayed with the units through the end of the Vietnam involvement in 1972.
On 13 February 1967, Operation Pershing began in a territory which was familiar to many skytroopers, the Bong Son Plain in northern Binh Dinh Province. For the first time, the First Cavalry Division committed all three of its brigades to the same battle area. Pershing became a tedious unglamorous mission that produced only 18 engagements in its 11 months. The use of Armored Personnel Carriers (APC's) of the 1st Battalion (mechanized) , 50th Infantry Division, figured prominently in the battle of Tam Quan in December. The lumbering vehicles eased the dangerous task of assaulting the NVA's bunkers and entrenchments. Other units involved in the Tam Quan actions that smashed the enemy were 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry; Company "B", 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry and the ARVN 40th Regiment.
The division began 1968 by terminating Operation Pershing, the longest of the
1st Cavalry's Vietnam actions. When the operation ended on 21 January, the
enemy had lost 5,401 soldiers and 2,400 enemy soldiers had been captured. In
addition, some 1,300 individual and 137 crew weapons had been captured or
The 1st Brigade was not far from Quang Tri when the attacks began and was soon called to help the ARVN defenders. Four companies of skytroopers from the 1st Battalions of the 5th and 12th Cavalry Regiments quickly arrived at hot LZs around the Valley of Thon An Thai, just east of Quang Tri. The troopers knocked out the heavy weapons support of the NVA and squeezed the enemy from the rear. The enemy soon broke off the Quang Tri attack and split into small groups in an attempt to escape. For the next ten days, they would find themselves hounded by the 1st Brigade.
In the meantime, the 3rd Brigade had been given the difficult mission of driving the Communists from Hue and the surrounding areas. On 02 February, the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry made an initial assault outside of an ARVN outpost named PK-17, 10 kilometers northwest of Hue. On 03 February, under dense fog conditions the battalion spotted the NVA troops at a rice farming hamlet named Thon La Chu. The strength of the enemy was estimated to be 1,000 troops. The 2nd Battalion started moving across the field just before noon, every man a target. The advance, under small arms fire, was slowed due to the lack of artillery support. The defenders had every advantage. By the time they had reached the tree line at the other side of the open field, nearly half of the 400 man battalion was a casualty. Nine hours afterwards, the artillery units began support fire, although the units remained desperately short of ammunition. The following night; the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Richard Sweet, made the decision to walk out of the encirclement under the cover of darkness.
That night, whatever force looks after infantrymen was with the remnants of the 2nd Battalion. The tattered limping column made it to a mountain top, where the NVA could not follow. At sunrise of 05 February, the battalion was positioned on a hill overlooking the North Vietnamese. By 11 February, the enemy was blocked both on the north and south, but remained too strong and well entrenched for a frontal attack. On 21 - 22 February, the brigade freed Thon La Chu and moved toward Hue where much of the fighting would be house to house. That they fought again for many more days is a tribute to inspired leadership and the fighting spirit of the young men. Days later, the 2/12th Cavalry found their casualty rate was over 60 percent of its combat strength. Strangely, their tragic episode disappeared from the official memory and relevant US Army records as though nothing had happened.
Following fierce fighting at Thorn La Chu, the 3rd Brigade moved toward
embattled city of Hue. The southwest wall of the city was soon taken after the
1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry overcome severe resistance and linked up with the
5th Battalion. At this point, the NVA and VC invaders were driven from Hue by
late February. The Tet offensive was over. The NVA and VC had suffered a
massive defeat, with 32,000 killed and 5,800 captured.
On April 19 1968, Operation DELAWARE was launched into the cloud-shrouded A Shau Valley, near the Laotian border and 45 kilometers west of Hue. None of the Free World Forces had been in the valley since 1966, which was now being used as a way station on the supply route known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The first engagement was made by the 1st and 3rd Brigades. Under fire from mobile, 37 mm cannon and 0.50 caliber machine guns, they secured several landing zones. For the next month the brigades scoured the valley floor, clashing with enemy units and uncovering huge enemy caches of food, arms, ammunition, rockets, and Russian made tanks and bulldozers. By the time that Operation DELAWARE was ended on 17 May, the favorite Viet Cong sanctuary had been thoroughly disrupted.
In late 1968, the Division moved and set up operations in III Corps at the
other end of South Vietnam. In February 1969, Operation CHEYENNE SABRE began
in areas northeast of Bien Hoa. The year 1969 ended in a high note for the 1st
Cavalry Division. The enemy's domination of the northern areas of III Corps
had been smashed - thoroughly.
The campaign had severe political repercussions in the United States for the Nixon Administration. Pressure was mounting to remove America's fighting men from the Vietnam War. Although there would be further assault operations, the war was beginning to wind down for many troopers.
The efforts of the 1st Cavalry Division were not limited to direct enemy engagements but also, using the experiences gained during the occupation of Japan and Korea, encompassed the essential rebuilding of the war torn country of South Vietnam. As a result of its' gallant performance, the regiment was awarded two presidential Unit Citations and the Valorous Unit Citation.
Although 26 March 1971 officially marked the end of duties in Vietnam for the 1st Cavalry Division, President Nixon's program of "Vietnamization" required the continued presence of a strong US fighting force. The 2nd Battalion of the 5th Regiment, 1st Battalion of the 7th Regiment, 2nd Battalion of the 8th Regiment and 1st Battalion of the 12th Regiment along with specialized support units as "F" Troop, 9th Cavalry and Delta Company, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion helped establish the 3rd Brigade headquarters at Bien Hoa. Its primary mission was to interdict enemy infiltration and supply routes in War Zone D.
The 3rd Brigade was well equipped with helicopters from the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion and later, a battery of "Blue Max", aerial field units and two air cavalry troops. A QRF (Quick Reaction Force) - known as "Blue Platoons", was maintained in support of any air assault action. The "Blues" traveled light, fought hard and had three primary missions; 1) to form a "field force" around any helicopter downed by enemy fire or mechanical failure; 2) to give quick backup to Ranger Patrols who made enemy contact; and 3) to search for enemy trails, caches and bunker complexes.
"Blue Max", "F" Battery, 79th Aerial Field Artillery, was another familiar aerial artillery unit. Greatly appreciated by troopers of the 1st Cavalry, its heavily armed Cobras flew a variety of fire missions in support of the operations of the 3rd Brigade. The pilots of "Blue Max" were among the most experienced combat fliers in the Vietnam War. Many had volunteered for the extra duty to cover the extended stay of the 1st Cavalry Division.
Most of the initial combat for the new brigade involved small skirmishes. But the actions became bigger and more significant. Two engagements in May of 1971 were typical operations. On 12 May, the third platoon, Delta Company, 2/5th tangled with enemy forces holed up in bunker complexes. With help from the Air Force and 3rd Brigade Gunships, the troopers captured the complex. Fifteen days later, helicopters of Bravo Troop, 1/9th received ground fire while conducting a reconnaissance mission over a large bunker complex. Air strikes were called in and the troopers overran the complex.
Early in June, intelligence detected significant enemy movement toward the center of Long Khanh Province and its capital, Xuan Loc. On 14 June, Delta Company of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry ran into an ambush in heavy jungle and engaged a company-sized enemy unit. The troopers were pinned down in a well-sprung trap. Cavalry field artillery soon pounded their North Vietnamese positions and heavy Cobra fire from Blue Max, "F" Battery of the 79th Aerial Field Artillery, swept down on the enemy positions keeping pressure on the withdrawing North Vietnamese throughout the night. The Brigade's timely movements had thwarted the enemy build up north of Xuan Loc.
By 31 March 1972, only 96,000 US troops were involved in the Vietnam combat operations. In mid June 1972, the stand-down ceremony for the 3rd Brigade was held in Bein Hoa and the colors were returned to the United States. The last trooper left from Tan Son Nhut on 21 June, completing the division recall which had started on 05 May 1971. With the 3rd Brigade completing their withdraw, the 1st Cavalry had been the first army division to go to Vietnam and the last to leave.
"Firsts" had become the trademark of the First Team.
On 27 January 1973, a cease-fire was signed in Paris by the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the National Liberation Front (NLF), the civilian arm of the South Vietnam Communists. A Four-Party Joint Military Commission was set up to implement such provisions as the withdrawal of foreign troops and the release of prisoners. An International Commission of Control and Supervision was established to oversee the cease-fire.
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