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, to 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.
On 23 October 1965, the first real combat test came at the historic order of General Westmoreland to send the First Team into an air assault mission to pursue and fight the enemy across 2,500 square miles of jungle. Troopers of the 1st Brigade and 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry swooped down on the NVA 33rd regiment before it could get away from Plei Me. The enemy regiment was scattered in the confusion and was quickly smashed. The troopers inflicted many hundreds of casualties. Hundreds of NVA troops died in the blistering, precision bombing of B-52's.
More savage fighting erupted about a week before the campaign ended. The
second Battalion, 7th Cavalry was ordered to move toward a location named
"Albany". Encountering a NVA battalion from the 66th Regiment in the dense
jungle they slugged it out in grim determination. The 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry
surged into the battle and the vietnamese decided to cut their losses and run.
When the Pleiku Campaign ended on 25 November, troopers of the First Team had
killed 3,561 North Vietnamese soldiers and captured 157 more. The troopers
destroyed two of three regiments of a North Vietnamese Division, earning the
first Presidential Unit Citation given to a division in Vietnam. The enemy had
been given their first major defeat and their carefully laid plans for
conquest had been torn apart.
On 16 May, the next major mission, Operation 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 Virt Cong were massing in a natural corridor known as the "Orgeon Trail", planning to attack the Special Forces Camp on 19 May; the birthday of Ho Chi Minh. Initial contact was made by "B" Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry at LZ Hereford. "A" Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry 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 Viet Cong 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. 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. Hill 534, on the southern portion of Chu Pong Massif near the Cambodian Border, was the location of the final battle of Operation PAUL REVERE II. It began on 14 August, after "A" Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry suddenly ran into a North Vietnamese battalion and "B" Company, 2nd Battalion began slugging it out with enemy troops in bunkers. A total of two battalions of Skytroopers were committed to the fight. When it ended the next morning, 138 NVA bodies were counted.
Operation 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 blocking positions to take the attack. This last action broke the strong resistance of the enemy and mission was completed.
On 31 October, Operation PAUL REVERE IV was launched by the 2nd Brigade. Its units included; 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry; 2nd Battalion, 12 Cavalry; "B" Company. 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry and the 1st Battalion, 77th Artillery. The operation called for an 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, "C" Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry was searching south of Duc Co along the border. Suddenly the 2nd Platoon began trading fire with a NVA force of significant size. The 3rd Platoon went to the aid of the 2nd Platoon. The two units, outnumbered by large numbers of North Vietnamese, fought desperately.
The 3rd Platoon was overrun in fairly short order with only one man surviving
- it happened before they were able to call in any effective artillery or air
support. The 2nd Platoon took over 50% casualties but was not overrun - they
had 13 or 14 KIA and about as many wounded. As was typical in the early days
of the Vietnam war, many of their M-16s had malfunctioned early in the fight.
With the dense foliage, neither artillery nor helicopter gunships were very
effective in providing support. The remnants of 2nd Platoon was saved by the
arrival of a flight of Skyraiders equipped with napalm. They were accurate
enough to put the canisters right on the attacking NVA. The 1st Platoon
arrived a few minutes after the airstrike and linked up with 2nd Platoon.
Except for a few stray rounds from the departing NVA, the battle was over. The
foliage was too thick to cut an LZ and the wounded were lifted out one by one
by hueys equipped with winches. The KIA's were placed in a cargo net and was
lifted out by a Chinook. "A" Company located the ambush site of 3rd Platoon
and medevaced the one survivor. 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 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.
The Division began 1968, by terminating Operation PERSHING, the longest of the actions by the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam. 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 1,500 individual and 137 crew weapons had been captured or destroyed.
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 12 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.
On 19 April 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.
On 27 June, as part of Operation JEB STUART III, the 3rd Squadron, 5th (Armored) Cavalry, 9th Infantry Division operating under the control of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, had been assigned the mission of securing the Wunder Beach Complex and the access road to Highway 1, not far from Camp Evans. At 0900 hours "C" Troop, 3rd Squadron, 5th (Armored) Cavalry and "D" Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry came under Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) fire as they were engaged in a detailed search of an area known as "The Street Without Joy". As an indication of a battle to come, the residents of the nearby seacoast village of Binah An, Quan Tri Province, began to flee the area. In the attempt to detain and question the villagers, a NVA solder, hiding among the crowd, was captured and interrogated. He revealed that the entire 814th NVA Infantry Battalion was in the village. "A" and "B" Troops of the 3rd Squadron, 5th Cavalry along with "D" Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry closed on the village, joining "C" Troop, 3rd Squadron. There was no good way of the enemy to escape during daylight hours due to the clear view and superior firepower of the surrounding forces.
In addition to the control fire directed at the enemy in the village, additional firepower of aerial rocket and Marine artillery, from Quang Tri, was made available along with Tactical Air Control (TAC) aircraft from Da Nang and a naval destroyer, with five inch guns, offshore. In the next seven hours, all of the firepower pounded the enemy to reduce the position of the enemy. During the afternoon, "D" Company, 1st and "C" Company, 2nd Battalions, 5th Cavalry, airlifted into an adjacent LZ and closed on the village. Due to the possibility of the enemy infiltrating the lines during the night, it was decided to overrun the position of the enemy and destroy their capability for effective operations during the night. The guided missile cruiser USS BOSTON arrived at dusk and in an all night bombardment her basic load of eight inch shells were exhausted. It was a nervous night for the enemy soldiers within the tight cordon. Unorganized, some of the survivors attempted individual escapes and were soon rounded up with tanks having turret mounted searchlights and two swift Navy patrol boats operating close to the shoreline. At 0930 hours, the next morning, a final assault was made on the enemy. In the after battle assessment, two hundred thirty-three of the 814th NVA Infantry Battalion were KIA and forty-four were taken as Prisoners of War (POW) with the 5th Cavalry units experiencing only three causalities. (Editor's Note: This was the first time that lineage elements of the original "A", "B" and "C" Troops, 5th Cavalry Regiment had fought as a consolidated unit since 1943 in World War II.
In late 1968, the Division moved and set up operations in III Corps at the
other end of South Vietnam. In late 1968, and the beginning of 1969, found the
1st Cavalry Division and the ARVN forces engaged in Operation TOAN THANG II.
In the first three weeks of fighting, skytroopers killed nearly 200 enemy
troops and uncovered one of the largest caches of munitions found in the
Vietnam War. Also in January, Air Cavalry Troopers briefly became known as
"Nav Cav" as they boarded river boats and helped patrol the Vam Co Dong River
and Bo Bo Canal network. 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, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry 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, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry 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 timely movements of the Brigade had thwarted the enemy build up north of Xuan Loc.
By 31 March 1972, only 96,000 US troops remained to be 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 recall of the Division 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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