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.
On 10 October 1965, in "Operation Shiny Bayonet", the First Team initiated
their first brigade-size airmobile action against the enemy. The ARVN 22nd
Division was to make the initial contact and drive the Viet Cong toward the
3rd Brigade, deployed as a blocking action. The air assault task force
consisted of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 7th Cavalry, 1st Squadron, 9th
Cavalry, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry and the 1st Battalion, 21st Artillery.
Rather than standing and fighting, the Viet Cong chose to disperse and slip
away. Only light contact was achieved. The troopers had but a short wait
before they faced a tougher test of their fighting skills; the 35-day Pleiku
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 17 December, after a short rest, the 3rd Brigade went into action to conduct a four day operation known as "Clean House" in the vicinity of Binh Khe, in Binh Dinh Province's Soui Ca Valley. From a position northeast of the valley, troopers moved down from high ground to sweep through suspected VC areas. In the first 17 days of 1966, the 1st and 2nd Brigades were airlifted west of Pleiku and Kontum for Operation Matador.
On 25 January 1966, "Masher/White Wing", which were code names for the missions of the 3rd Brigade, began in Binh Dinh Province. The mission ended 06 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, Operation Crazy Horse, another search and destroy mission began in the jungle hills between Suoi Ca and Vinh Thanah valleys. Initial contact was made by Company "B", 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry. Soon the entire 1st Brigade was involved in bitter engagements in tall elephant grass and heavily canopied jungle. Once the enemy was surrounded, all available firepower was concentrated on the area. The Viet Cong regiment was hit with artillery, aerial rockets, tactical air strikes by F-4s and bombs from high flying B-52s. Many of the enemy soldiers, trying to flee the devastation, were cut down in Cavalry ambushes.
The Medal of Honor was bestowed upon Specialist Four David C. Dolby, a machine gunner in "B" Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry for actions above and beyond the call of duty on 21 May. After his platoon's commander was mortally wounded, Dolby took command of the unit and covered its movement with his M-60. Repeatedly, he dodged fire from Viet Cong heavy machine guns and crawled forward close to enemy positions and hurled smoke grenades that market them as targets for aerial rocket artillery. He carried wounded soldiers to safety and repeatedly wiped out Viet Cong machine guns until he and his men were ordered to withdraw.
When Crazy Horse was concluded on 05 June 1966, the bodies of 507 Viet Cong soldiers were counted and another 380 were believed killed. Many important military documents, detailing the Viet Cong infrastructure in Binh Dinh, were discovered.
Thayer I was the largest air assault yet launched by the 1st Cavalry Division.
Its mission was to rid Binh Dinh Province of NVA and Viet Cong soldiers and
the Viet Cong'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 east of Kim Song Valley in the Highway 506 Valley.
The use of combat "call names" to improve radio communications originated in 1967, when several companies, working a single mission together, became confused by the rapid "chatter" which occurs during battle. "D" Company of the 2nd Battalion became known as "Angry Skipper". The platoons were designated "White Skull", "Rifle Range" and "Wild Cat". The weapons/reconnaissance platoon became "Lethal Weapons". These call names stayed with the units through the end of the Vietnam involvement in 1972.
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
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 Viet Cong invaders were driven from
Hue by late February. The Tet offensive was over. The NVA and Viet Cong 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.
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. On 21 April 1971, "D" Company, 2nd Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment ("Angry Skipper") became engaged in a very sharp action just north of FSB, Fanning near Gia Rai Mountain. They hit a NVA rear service unit holed up in a bunker complex. which was protected by a heavy security force. During the initial battle, four troopers were killed in action and eighteen wounded, including all of the leadership of the 2nd platoon, commanded by 1st LT Bill Bott. After three days of fighting by the remaining company forces and using a combination of ground probes, heavy artillery and air strikes, they were finally able to enter and capture the bunker complex. During this action by "D" Company, "A" Company was inserted into blocking positions and were able to kill and capture a significant number of the enemy who were trying to escape the bunker complex.
Two additional 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.
The efforts of the 8th Cavalry Regiment 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.
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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