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 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 3rd Brigade joined the fighting on 09 November. Five days later, the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry air assaulted into the Ia Drang Valley near the Chu Pong Massif. Landing Zone X-Ray was "hot" from the start. At Landing Zone X-Ray, the Division's first medal of honor in the Vietnam War was awarded to 2nd Lt. Walter J. Marm of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry. The fighting, the most intensive combat in the history of the division, raged for three days. 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.
On 02 - 28 October Operation IRVING was established to entrap Viet Cong soldiers who were fleeing Operation THAYER I. Operation IRVING was one of a trio of operations launched by American, South Vietnamese and south Korean forces. The mission was intended to trap the enemy in a pocket between a group of hills and the coastline of Binj Dinh Province. The operations were complicated by a heavy concentration of civilians living in the operational area. Great care was taken to minimize civilian casualties.
Trapped in a tight cordon, the enemy lost 2,063 killed. The free World Allies captured 2,071 NVA and Viet Cong troops - an unusually large number in Vietnam fighting. The 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. It was awarded for valor and aggressive pursuit of the enemy on 2 October, after reinforcing a "Blue Team" platoon from "A" Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment that was heavily engaged and outnumbered.
On 31 October, Paul Revere IV was launched By the 2nd Brigade. Its units included - 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry; 2nd Battalion 12th Cavalry; Troop "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 October 25, Operation THAYER II continued the drive of pacification of the Binh Dinh Province. On 01 November troopers of "A" Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry and elements of the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry became engaged in a sharp fight with the 93rd Battalion and the 2nd Viet Cong Regiment. The action took place in the vicinity of National Route 1 and Dam Tra-O Lake south of the Cay Giep mountains. In Thayer II the enemy suffered a punishing loss of 1,757 killed.
A month later, as Thayer II continued, the infantry platoon of "C" Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry drew fire from a large enemy force in the Hamlet of Phu Huu. The embattled platoon was relieved 90 minutes later by two platoons from "B", Company 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry. These troops arrived on the run from a nearby operation to help engage the well entrenched enemy. The fighting continued through the day and into the night. On 02 December, the next morning the troopers advanced into the hamlet and found that most of their adversaries had fled. The wounded NVA revealed that three platoons had driven off an enemy battalion.
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 battle area on 19 December, 93 bodies of the enemy were found.
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 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.
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 05 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 advance, under small arms fire, was slowed due to the lack of artillery support. Finally, the pilots of two aerial rocket artillery helicopters bravely flew through the fog and blasted the enemy. The barrage opened the way for the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment to made its first gains against the invaders.
The battle for Thon La Chu was far from being finished. They traded fire for two days and nights constantly, then the skytroopers the enemy with a risky night march. At sunrise of 05 February, the brigade 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.
The 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry blocked the escape route to the west. Two more
battalions of the 1st Cavalry Division also joined in the fight. The 5th
Battalion, 7th Cavalry was stalled for a day by heavy enemy fire a kilometer
outside Hue. The artillery blasted the NVA positions and the "Garryowen" unit
linked up with its Bravo Company which had made an air assault into Hue. 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. In November, an important discovery, that
proved costly to the enemy, was along the border between II Corps and III
Corps. "B" Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry found another canopy-concealed
infiltration route and named it the "Jolley Trail" after the troop commander,
Major Charles A. Jolley. By jungle standards the Jolley Trail was an
elaborate, high speed roadway. It was paved with bamboo matting and lined
every hundreds of yards with bunkers and bomb shelters. The trail was blasted
by air strikes and patrolled repeatedly by 1st Cavalry helicopters and
troopers on the ground. 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 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 3rd Brigade (Reinforced), commanded by Brigadier General Jonathan R. Burton, included a battalion from each of the four cavalry regiments; 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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