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
In 1963, anticipating the need for additional military support in the troubled areas of Vietnam, the Reorganizational Objective Army Divisions (ROAD) concept was implemented - the divisional companies were expanded into battalions consisting of a general support company and an airmobile company. The general support companies assumed the aerial surveillance, reconnaissance and liaison and utility missions of the old divisional aviation companies while the airmobile companies augmented with armed escort helicopters, performed the mission of air movement of troops and material. In addition, the Air Assault Division was established to test the ideas developed in the previous year by the US Army Tactical Mobility Requirements Board (or Howze Board, named after its president, Lt. General Hamilton H. Howze).
On 05 October 1963, the Buddhist monks immediately began protesting in the
streets, and in Saigon 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, USS Maddox, in the Gulf of
Tonkin that resulted in congress enacted the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted the
president broad war powers.
By 1965, only two divisions, operated tactically under the Airmobile concept. The 11th Air Assault Division which was inactivated and replaced by the 1st Cavalry Division along with the 101st Airborne Division were reorganized, with organic aviation groups of three battalions of rotary-wing aircraft and a fixed wing aviation company.
On 28 July, the ground war was also escalated as President Lyndon Johnson announced to the world: "I have today ordered to Vietnam the AirMobile Division." Work accelerated to a torrid pace as the First Team prepared to leave for its historic deployment. Troopers turned in their M-14 rifles and qualified on the new M-16E1. Specialized training was stepped up. The Airborne School at Ft. Benning graduated 659 new paratroopers for the division in just 10 days, which allowed the round out of the new airborne brigade which had just been approved.
In a matter of three and one-half weeks the newly formed division, organized into a 16,000 man division along the lines of the 11th Air Assault Division (Test), with a total of 434 helicopters, was prepared to enter combat, the ultimate test of its capabilities. Actual movement of personnel was called Operation PAT and was scheduled in three increments; an Advanced Liaison Detachment; an Advanced Party and the Main Body.
On 09 August the first echelon of the Division to depart was the Advanced
Liaison Detachment composed of 32 officers and men. The Detachment arrived in
Vietnam two days later. Beginning on 14 August, for six days, the Advanced
Party of 1,040 officers and men left Ft. Benning and, along with their
equipment cargo of 132 tons, including nine UH1-B helicopters, were deployed
by C-124 and C-130 aircraft of the Military Airlift from the Warner Robins
Air Force Base at Macon, GA. Flying via Travis Air Force Base, CA. Hickman
Field, Hawaii and Clark Air Force Base, Philippines; they arrived in
intervals at Nha Trang between the 19th and 27th of August 1965. Joining with
the Advance Liaison Detachment, they established a temporary base camp near An
Khe, 36 miles inland from the coastal city of Qui Nhon.
The focus of the facilities of the camp was on the helipad which needed to be
built. It would become the biggest helipad in the world and would soon become
the hub of activity for the 1st Cavalry Division. Surrounded by flat terrain,
except for Hon Cong Mountain on the western perimeter, the area was covered
by a dense undergrowth, bamboo trees, thorn thickets and ant hills twelve feet
high. It would be cleared and contoured smooth as a "golf course" without the
use of bulldozers or power equipment. The use of earth moving equipment in its
construction would have stripped the land of its protective natural grasses,
creating a vast dust bowl or a gigantic mud pie, depending on the season.
Events surrounding base camp construction would lead to the camp being officially designated as Camp Radcliff on 21 February 1966, in honor of the first casualty of the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam. In August 1965 Major Donald G. Radcliff was the executive officer of the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, and a member of the site selection team that scoured the countryside around Binh Dinh Province to find the ideal location for the base camp of the 1st Cavalry Division.
When the site selection team was advised that the 7th Marines were planning a major strike against the enemy, Major Radcliff volunteered to fly a mission in support of Marine troop lifts. Intelligence indicated that the 1st Viet Cong (VC) Regiment was massing for an attack on the Marine base at Chu Lai in Quang Tin Province. Rather than prepare defenses and brace for the attack, the Marines decided to meet the enemy on their own terms and launch a preemptive attack, code named Operation STARLITE. Operation STARLITE, the largest planned US military operation to that time, was to be a combined amphibious/air assault operation against the VC Regiment twelve miles south of Chu Lai. The assault included two amphibious landing sites and three helicopter landing zones named Landing Zone (LZ) Red, LZ White and LZ Blue.
At dawn on 18 August 1965, the quiet shoreline of southern Quang Tin Province suddenly erupted in a volley of explosions from artillery and offshore guns, followed by massive aerial bombardment. At 0630 hours the Marines hit the beaches while an armada of helicopters swooped in from the west. The Marines encountered little resistance on the coast and started their march inland. The troops arriving at LZ Red met almost no resistance and disembarked without an incident. At LZ White the Marines drew fire from a nearby ridge line but managed to land and clear the area quite readily.
LZ Blue, however, was a different story. Major Radcliff was piloting a UH-1B helicopter gunship escorting the LZ Blue airmobile assault. Unknown to the trooplift, the landing zone was surrounded by the 60th VC Battalion, lying in wait. As the aircraft arrived at the landing zone, Radcliff realized that the lead troop-carrying helicopter was the target of heavy automatic weapons fire. He immediately pinpointed the VC position and placed accurate, devastating, suppressive fire on the opposing enemy forces. With his quick reaction, Major Radcliff saved countless lives and enabled the troop transport to land. As the troops deployed on the landing zone, Radcliff hovered nearby to insure their safety. The VC directed heavy fire at Major Radcliff's helicopter, and as bullets tore through his aircraft, he was mortally wounded. The gallant, thirty-seven year old officer lost his life at the controls of his gunship during his baptism by fire in Vietnam.
General Harry W. O. Kinnard, the Division Commander, sent a message to Lieutenant Colonel John B. Stockton, who was on the USNS Darby with the main force of the aviation units of the 1st Cavalry. On 20 August 1965, although thousands of miles from the combat zone, the men and officers of the 1st Cavalry Division mourned the loss of their first comrade to fall in battle in memorial services on the deck of the USNS Darby as it passed through the Panama Canal.
For the Main Body of the division, deployed by sea, four weeks provided little idle or recreational time. The days were filled with additional training, preparation for jungle warfare and physical fitness drills. Weapons testing and familiarization continued from the aft decks of the USNS Buckner and USNS Maurice Rose, with homemade targets towed behind the ships. Two weeks before arrival in Vietnam, weekly doses of malaria suppressive tablets began -- a routine that became a favorite method of counting off the passing months in the jungle.
On 05 September, two of the troop transport ships, USS Alexander M.
Patch and the USNS Upshure arrived at the port of Qui Nhon,
Vietnam. The USS Alexander M. Patch carried an advanced party of Headquarters
and Headquarters Company, Security Platoon who moved quickly on to An Khe. The
USNS Upshur carried the main body of the "Red Legs" (the Division
Artillery), that consisted of the 2nd Battalions, 19th and 20st Artillery, the
1st Battalion, 21st Artillery and the 1st Battalion, 77th Artillery. Their
first task was setting up unit headquarters at the Division Base camp at An
|Camp Radcliff, At An Khe, Binh Dinh Province, Vietnam|
On 09 September, the aircraft carrier USNS Boxer arrived with the giant CH-47 Chinooks of the 228th Helicopter Battalion which would be used in transporting much of the later arriving troops and cargo to An Khe. Landing preparation had begun several days before, at sea, with the partial removal of the cocooning materials. On 11 September, completely checked out, the first CH-47 took off from the deck. Sixty-nine hours later, the last CH-47 departed. Over the next week and a half, an organic air movement from Qui Nhon to the golf course, involving twenty-one CH-47 Chinooks daily and over 1,100 flying hours, was completed on 22 September.
On 12 September the Division Support Command arrived in Vietnam, The Support Command units consisted of the 15th Medical Battalion, responsible for the health and life saving needs of the soldiers on and away from the battlefield, the 15th Transportation Corps Battalion, responsible for aircraft maintenance, the 15th Supply and Service Battalion, responsible for supplying everything from meals complete with toothpicks to gasoline, and the 27th Maintenance Battalion, responsible for performing timely maintenance of the ground vehicles and weapons of the Division. The functions of each unit were integrated into individual support organizations called Forward Service Support Elements (FSSE). Three of these elements were distributed throughout the operational areas of the 1st Cavalry Division.
On 13 September, the first contingent of the elements of the 11th Aviation
Group (Airmobile) assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division arrived in Vietnam. The
11th Aviation Group consisted of the 227th, 228th, and 229th Aviation
Battalions and the 1st Squadron (Reconnaissance), 9th Cavalry Regiment. The
11th Aviation Group was soon operating at full capacity and its missions of
providing tactical mobility for combat troops and transporting equipment and
supplies to units of the Division. The operational methods of these aviation
elements had an enormous impact on the expansion of Army Aviation that took
place during and after the Vietnam War.
On 14 September, the 2nd Brigade disembarked from the troop ship USNS Buckner and marched ashore at Qui Nhon. The brigade consisted of three infantry battalions, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 5th Cavalry and 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry. The Brigade loaded quickly into helicopters and moved inland to the main base camp of the Division at An Khe.
On 20 September, the 1st Brigade, with brief port stopovers at Honolulu, Hawaii and Guam, disembarked from the troop ship USNS Geiger and marched ashore at Qui Nhon. The brigade consisted of three airborne infantry battalions, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 8th Cavalry and 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry with the 2nd Battalion, 19th Artillery acting in direct support unit. The Brigade loaded quickly into helicopters and moved inland to the main base camp of the Division at An Khe.
On 20 September, the 3rd Brigade disembarked from the troop ship USNS Maurice Rose and marched ashore at Qui Nhon. The brigade initially consisted of two infantry battalions, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 7th Cavalry. (Note - The third element of the brigade, the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, activated and assigned on 01 April 1966, would not arrive until 20 August 1966.) The Brigade loaded quickly into helicopters and moved inland to the main base camp of the Division at An Khe.
The Airmobile soldiers of the "First Team" had returned to war wearing the famous and feared patch of the 1st Cavalry Division. The "First Team" had prepared and was ready to enter its third war -- and the longest tour of duty in combat history for any Army unit.
Now, the whole Division was on hand to establish the perimeter, to complete
the clearing of the helipad and to erect buildings, tents, storage facilities
and field fortifications. These efforts, undertaken in an oppressive climate,
adverse jungle conditions and a hostile environment, were successful only
through the intense and dedicated efforts of the troopers.
The date for the 1st Cavalry Division to officially assume complete control and responsibility for defense of An Khe and the surrounding Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) was set for 28 September. However, the skytroopers wasted little time getting into action. The 1st Cavalry Division began its combat career on 18 September, when the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry was put under the Operational Control (OPCON) of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division to assist in the initiation of Operation GIBRALTAR. This OPCON relieved the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry, of the An Khe area defense responsibility to permit its commitment into the Vinh Thanh Valley, 10 miles northeast of An Khe. The 11th Aviation Group assembled all available aircraft to lift troops of the 101st Airborne Division into the operational area. "B" Battery, 1st Battalion, 77th Field Artillery was moved to support the operation while other batteries of that Battalion provided direct support for the 2nd Brigade in its assigned sector in the Base Camp defenses.
On 20 September the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry replaced the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry, assuming the OPCON responsibility to the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division for its operational control for the An Khe base security. It remained until the 28th of September when the 1st Cavalry Division formally took over its Tactical Area Of Responsibility (TAOR).
The original method of operation of the 1st Cavalry Division was that only two brigades would be deployed in the field at a time an the other would remain at the base camp. For the most part, the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion (AHB) supported the 3rd Brigade and the 229th (AHB) supported the 1st Brigade and both battalions shared in the support of the 2nd Brigade. The 228th Assault Support Helicopter Battalion (ASHB) was employed in general support of the Division. The mission of 11th General Support Aviation Company was to furnish aviation support for the Division Headquarters and other units within the Division without organic aircraft. The group and its subordinate units soon proved to be able to provide continuous support (day or night) during marginal visual and weather conditions.
On 10 October 1965, in Operation SHINY BAYONET, the First Team initiated their first brigade-size airmobile action against elements of the NVA 325th Infantry (Song Lo) Division located in the Soui Ca River Valley about 275 miles northeast of Saigon, near An Khe in Binh Dinh Province. Special agents and ARVN sources had located the base camp of two battalion of the Viet Cong 2nd Main Force Regiment. Operation SHINY BAYONET called for the ARVN 22nd Division to make initial contact and drive the VC toward the elements of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division who were deployed as a blocking force.
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 Campaign, Operation SILVER BAYONET.
In early October 1965 General Vo Nguyen Giap had launched the full North
Vietnamese Army Division concentrated in western Pleiku and nearby Cambodia,
including the NVA 32nd, 33rd, and 66th Regiments, in a sweeping offensive
against the thinly-guarded II Corp area west of Pleiku in the Central
Highlands of South Vietnam. On 19 October, at Plei Me, in a western part of
Pleiku Province, a strong force of NVA Regulars suddenly surrounded and
besieged an outpost manned by US Special Forces and a South Vietnamese
Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG). This handful of soldiers and thirty
miles of rugged, jungle terrain were all that stood between the onrushing NVA
and their objective, the strategic town of Pleiku.
Putting the Plei Me camp under siege was a trap to lure a relief column into a massive ambush. The NVA 32nd Regiment was hidden all along the road leading from Pleiku to Plei Me, near the entrance to Ia Drang Valley. The enemy commanders thought that by smashing the relief column, the Americans and ARVN Forces remaining at Pleiku would not be strong enough to protect the other towns and villages of the Central Highlands. The ARVN intelligence had been able intercept radio messages, decipher the scheme and establish an alternate counter attack. A column of South Vietnamese armor was dispatched to relieve the defenders at Plei Me. The ARVN armored column fought its way into Plei Me and two of the three enemy regiments broke contact and began to withdraw. Desperate to hold back any counterthrusts of Communist soldiers, the South Vietnamese II Corps commander requested American reinforcements.
On 23 October 1965, the 1st Cavalry Division, bivouacked at nearby An Khe,
rushed to the aid of the beleaguered garrisons. Their first real combat test
came at the historic order of General Westmoreland to send the First Team into
an air assault mission, Operation SILVER BAYONET, to pursue and fight the
enemy across 2,500 square miles of jungle. With its complement of over four
hundred combat helicopters, the 1st Cavalry was completely air mobile. While
the helicopter's mobility guaranteed quick movement and ready supply, it did
not guarantee victory.
Ground fire was intense on all reinforcement, resupply, and evacuation choppers, and seven ships were hit by hostile fire. By 1700 hours, "B" Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry joined in the battle. The enemy regiment was scattered and quickly smashed. The troopers inflicted many hundreds of casualties. This operation cost the NVA 33rd Regiment its aid station, many patients, and a significant amount of important medical supplies, as well as ninety nine killed and an additional 183 estimated wounded.
On 02 November, Division intelligence learned that a third regiment, the 66th had already arrived in South Vietnam and would move into assembly areas in the Chu Pong-Ia Drang area to join in the NVA Field Front. On the night of 3-4 November, rifle platoons of the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry again drew blood in a well executed ambush. A heavily laden NVA unit, estimated at company strength moving along an east-west trail, deciding to take a break just 100 meters short of an ambush site. The column loitered outside the killing zone for 90 minutes, while the troopers of the 9th Cavalry lay quietly in wait. At 2100 hours the NVA unit moved noisily along the trail westward. The first element was allowed to pass, and then the trap was sprung with eight Claymores along a 100 meter kill zone. It was perfectly executed and the weapons platoon of the enemy, with machine guns, mortars, and recoilless rifles was caught in a wall of lead as the 9th Cavalrymen fired continuously for two minutes. There was no return fire.
The troopers returned immediately to the patrol base and went to work to
strengthen its perimeter. By 2230 hours the base perimeter was under heavy
attack by an estimated two or three companies of NVA regulars. By midnight
the perimeter was in grave danger of being overrun, but reinforcements of "A"
Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, on stand-by alert at the Duc Co Special
Forces (USSF) Camp, 12 miles of roadless jungle to the north, were alerted
for commitment and were on their way. The operation was unique in that it was
the first time a perimeter under heavy fire had been reinforced at night by
heliborne troops air assaulted into an LZ where none of the assaulting forces
had previously seen. It was also the first time that Aerial Rocket Artillery
(ARA) had been employed at night within 50 meters of the friendly troops. By
dawn the enemy attack had lost momentum, and contact diminished to occasional
sniping from surrounding trees. The tangible results were 98 NVA killed by
body count, 10 captured, two 82mm mortars, along with three 75mm recoilless
rifles destroyed in place, as well as 100,000 rounds of 7.62 ammunition and
large quantities of mortar and recoilless rifle ammunition evacuated. The
implications of an ambush deep within what was expected to be secure territory
must have stunned the NVA high command.
Within two days, Companies "B" and "C", 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry became
heavily engaged with another NVA battalion located toward the northeast of the
Chu Pong Massif. Close-in fighting diminished as darkness fell and other
cavalry reinforcements were brought in. The enemy suffered another 77 dead,
and many of the wounded were carried and dragged away from the battlefield.
On 09 November, after the completion of the search of the 1st Brigade
throughout the operational area, the 3rd Brigade took control of Operation
SILVER BAYONET. Five days later, on 14 November, the 1st Battalion, 7th
Cavalry, reinforced by elements of the 2nd Battalion, air assaulted into the
Ia Drang Valley near the Chu Pong Massif. During the insertion, with only two
of the rifle companies on the ground, they were attacked by North Vietnamese
regulars. Suddenly LZ X-Ray was "hot" from the start and only by heroic
efforts of the lift ship pilots from the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion
were the remainder of the battalion and the first reinforcements from the 2nd
Battalion, 7th Cavalry able to land, At LZ X-Ray, the fighting was the most
intensive combat in the history of the Division, from bayonets used in
hand-to-hand combat, to artillery and tactical air support. During the
engagement of the first day, the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry was reduced to
approximately 340 officers and men; none missing. NVA casualties were much
higher due to the awesome American fire support; six enemy are captured and
On the same day and battle, Major Bruce P. Crandall, while serving with "A" Company, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), was lifting troops for a search and destroy mission from Plei Me, Vietnam, to Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley. On the fourth troop lift, the airlift began to take enemy fire, and by the time the aircraft had refueled and returned for the next troop lift, the enemy had Landing Zone X-Ray targeted. As Major Crandall and the first eight helicopters landed to discharge troops on his fifth troop lift, his unarmed helicopter came under such intense enemy fire that the ground commander ordered the second flight of eight aircraft to abort their mission. As Major Crandall flew back to Plei Me, his base of operations, he determined that the ground commander of the besieged infantry battalion desperately needed more ammunition. Major Crandall then decided to adjust his base of operations to Artillery Firebase Falcon in order to shorten the flight distance to deliver ammunition and evacuate wounded soldiers. While medical evacuation was not his mission, he immediately sought volunteers and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, led the two aircraft to Landing Zone X-Ray. Despite the fact that the landing zone was still under relentless enemy fire, Major Crandall landed and proceeded to supervise the loading of seriously wounded soldiers aboard his aircraft. Major Crandall's voluntary decision to land under the most extreme fire instilled in the other pilots the will and spirit to continue to land their own aircraft, and in the ground forces the realization that they would be resupplied and that friendly wounded would be promptly evacuated. This greatly enhanced morale and the will to fight at a critical time. After his first medical evacuation, Major Crandall continued to fly into and out of the landing zone throughout the day and into the evening. That day he completed a total of 22 flights, most under intense enemy fire, retiring from the battlefield only after all possible service had been rendered to the Infantry Battalion. His actions provided critical resupply of ammunition and evacuation of the wounded. Major Crandall's daring acts of bravery and courage in the face of an overwhelming and determined enemy are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army. For his valiant action, Major Bruce P. Crandall received the Medal of Honor.
It was during the battle at LZ X-Ray that "A" Company, 7th Cavalry was moving through the valley to relieve a friendly unit surrounded by an enemy force of estimated regimental size. First Lieutenant Walter J. Marm led his platoon through withering fire until they were finally forced to take cover. Realizing that his platoon could not hold very long, and seeing four enemy soldiers moving into his position, he moved under heavy fire and annihilated all four. Then, seeing that his platoon was receiving intense fire from a concealed machine gun, he deliberately exposed himself to draw its fire. Locating its position, he attempted to destroy it with an antitank weapon. Although he inflicted casualties, the weapon did not silence the enemy fire. Disregarding the intense fire directed on him and his platoon, he charged thirty meters across open ground and hurled grenades into the enemy position, killing some of the eight insurgents manning it. Although severely wounded, when his grenades were expended, and armed with only a rifle, he continued the momentum of his assault on the position and killed the remainder of the enemy. For his valiant action, First Lieutenant Walter J. Marm was awarded the Medal of Honor.
In the early morning hours of the next day of the fight, 15 November, reinforcements immediately began to cover the battle at LZ X-Ray. A mortar and a reconnaissance platoon of "D" Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, located at LZ Victor - about 2 miles away, air assaulted into LZ X-Ray, arriving around 0900 hours. The LZ was under heavy fire as the units jumped from their hovering helicopters. They were directed to get in a position behind the perimeter of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry to reinforce their firepower. The balance of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment force marched from LZ_Victor, arriving at LZ X-Ray before noon.
Joining in with the main body of "C" Company, 7th Cavalry, the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry continued on unopposed to rescue their cut-off platoon. They brought the platoon back with all wounded and dead. Of the twenty-nine man platoon, nine were killed and thirteen were wounded. Survivors of "C" Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry was replaced on line by the fresh "B" Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry. The battalions formed a strong perimeter and prepared for more action in the night.
On 16th November, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, having seventy-nine men killed and one hundred-twenty one wounded was ordered back to the rear for reorganization. The battle continued for two more days. With the help of reinforcements and overwhelming firepower, the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry and 1st and 2nd Battalions, 7th Cavalry forced the North Vietnamese to abandon their attack and withdraw back into Cambodia.
By 1500 hours, the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry turned over LZ X-Ray to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry and 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry. After helping clear the area, the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry and the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, less "A" Company were airlifted to the Camp Holloway airfield at Pleiku City.
On the morning of 17 November, with the close out of action at LZ X-Ray, the
2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, with "A" Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry
attached, walked out of LZ X-Ray and headed for a location, identified as LZ
Albany, to set up blocking positions to reinforce the exhausted skytroopers
and prepare for extraction from the battle area and get out of the area
targeted for an impending B-52 strike.
|"Click" On Image To Enlarge|
|Ground Zero, Operation ARC LIGHT|
Early in the afternoon of 17 November, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Command Group and "A" Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry reached LZ Albany. The column was 550 yards long. "C" Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry and "A" Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry put out flank security. Not known at the time, NAV soldiers of the fresh 8th Battalion, 66th Regiment (which had not seen action) deployed down the northeast side of the column. Survivors of the 33rd NAV Regiment deployed at the head of the 2nd Battalion column. As they drew near LZ Albany, the exhausted troopers was ambushed by the NVA units.
At 1320 hours mortar rounds exploded in the clearing and down the length of the column followed by a violent assault which fragmented the column into small groups. When the firing began, the troopers drop into the tall elephant grass where it is impossible for the soldiers of either side to identify friend or foe except at extremely close range. Within minutes, the situation becomes a wild melee, a shoot-out, with the gunfighters killing not only the enemy but sometimes their friends just a few feet away.
For the next two hours, the battle roared. Douglas A-1E Skyraiders were brought in to drop napalm and 250 pound bombs which slowed down enemy actions. Artillery was brought in. By dark, "B" Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry had landed to reinforce LZ Albany. There was a small perimeter at LZ Albany and one at the tail of the column. In between troopers were being hounded and killed throughout the night. Also, in the night, a few isolated troopers escaped trying to make it to the artillery position at LZ Columbus.
On 18 November daylight broke over a quiet and tense battlefield. Survivors began the grim task of recovering the dead from the intermingled bodies of both sides. By the 19th of November, evacuation of the wounded and dead was complete. On 20 November, after 3 days and nights on that bloody, hellish, haunted battleground, the survivors of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry were airlifted out. The casualties for the NVA was reported as 403 dead and 150 wounded. Total First Team casualties at LZ Albany were reported as 151 killed, 121 wounded and 4 missing in action. Nearly half of the 300 men killed in the Pleiku Campaign died at LZ Albany.
When the Pleiku Campaign of SILVER BAYONET ended on 25 November, troopers of the First Team had paid a heavy price for its success, having lost some three hundred troopers killed in action. However, they 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 awarded 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 River Valley. From a position northeast of the valley, troopers moved down from high ground to sweep through suspected VC areas. By the Christmas Holidays, the 1st Cavalry Division returned to its original base of operations at An Khe on Highway 19.
Soon, the intelligence sections recommended a return to the Western Highlands early in 1966 in hopes of encountering the enemy reassembling in the unpopulated jungles. However a new threat emerged in Binh Dinh Province, a region of abrupt mountains and populated coastal plains. The Army of the Republic Vietnam (ARVN) 22nd Division, responsible for that area, was spread thin trying to keep Highway 19 open and secure. The intelligence staff of the 1st Cavalry Division had confirmed that the 2nd Regiment, Vietcong Main Force and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) 18th and 19th Regiments were operating in the area. These three regiments comprised the NVA Division known as the "Sao Vang" or "Yellow Star" Division.
On 04 January 1966, Operation MATADOR began in response to the intelligence reports. The 1st and 2nd Brigades were airlifted west of Pleiku and Kontum Provinces to begin a search and destroy mission. Conducted on the Vietnamese side of the Ton Le San River, this was the first time US troops actually went right to the Cambodian border. Previously they were under orders not to enter the three mile buffer zone along the border. During this operation, the 1st Cavalry saw the enemy flee across the border into Cambodia, confirming that the enemy had well-developed sanctuaries and base camps inside Cambodia. Operation MATADOR was closed out on 17 January.
The Chinese Lunar New Year begins on the phases of the moon and each of the years in the a 12 year cycle is named after an animal. The Chinese year of 1966, the year of the "Horse", began on 21 January 1966. Just before midnight more than 400 helicopters of the 1st Cavalry Division flew over the darkness of the Central Highlands. One of the helicopters broadcast a message to the unseen people of the surrounding area. "Attention members of the National Liberation Front. It is the Year of the Horse. It is also the year of the Horse Division. The 1st Cavalry Division will continue to strike from the sky as a constellation of death to all those who support Godless Communism. It will thunder across the heavens and strike everywhere, no matter where you hide. At midnight listen for the New Year and the thunder the heralds your destruction." At midnight a 66 round mass barrage of high explosives was fired to bring in the New Year - followed by white phosphorus rounds for their pyrotechnic qualities. The year of the Flying Horsemen had began in Central Highlands.
On 25 January 1966, following the truce for the Tet holiday and Lunar New Year, MASHER/WHITE WING, which were the code names for the operations of the 3rd Brigade in Binh Dinh Province, began. The 3rd Brigade gathered its gear and weapons and began to move by highway and air to staging areas in Eastern Binh Dinh Province. The opening phase of the mission included the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 12th Cavalry as well as the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry -- a reconnaissance unit of scout, gun and infantry heliborne elements. The 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry reconnoitered ahead of the convey and along both sides of the road, searching for potential ambushes.
On 28 January, Operation MASHER, the first phase, began, The 3rd Brigade assaulted North of Bong Son and LZ Dog and soon encountered heavy resistance by the NVA. Contact by the enemy diminished in the first two days of February as the North Vietnamese continued their withdrawal to the north and west. In the first week of combat, the division had lost seventy-seven troopers and the enemy losses amounted to an estimated 1,350 killed in action. Two battalions of the NVA 22nd Regiment had been rendered ineffective.
On 07 February, Operation WHITE WING began the second phase of the "search and destroy" mission. On 16 February, following heavy enemy engagement, the battle weary 3rd Brigade, returned to the Division's home base of An Khe and was replaced in the field by the 1st Brigade. While the 1st Brigade patrolled in the valleys around LZ Bird, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 5th Cavalry and 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry, of the 2nd Brigade encircled the "Iron Triangle", the regimental headquarters of the NVA. Aided by artillery and air support, the three battalions continued fighting for four days against a tenacious enemy defense.
On 17 February, "B" Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry air assaulted into a
LZ located in the "Crow's Foot" area of the Kim Son Valley and by 0915 hours
came into contact with a VC company armed with heavy weapons and a large
number of automatic weapons. Two additional companies of the battalion were
quickly committed to exploit the contact. A third company assaulted to the
southeast and immediately engaged another heavily armed unit. Intensive tube
and aerial artillery fire were delivered on the area throughout the day. By
1800 hours, a sweep through the vacated defensive positions of the enemy
revealed 127 KIA. A large number of mortars and recoilless rifles were left
behind. It was concluded that the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry had fought and
decimated the anti-aircraft battalion of the Yellow Star Division as well as
the signal company of the 2nd VC Main Force Regiment.
On 01 March the final phase of WHITE WING commenced, moving into the jungle covered Cay Giep Mountains. B-52s blasted openings in the thick jungle canopy, permitting engineer teams to descend from helicopters to clear out landing zones for the 2nd Brigade. Sweeping down the slopes of the Cay Giep Mountains, the 2nd Brigade encountered little resistance as the main body of the NVA 6th and 18th Battalions had fled, departing two days earlier, following the first air assault.
On 06 March 1966, Operation MASHER/WHITE WING ended and was, by all tactical measures, pronounced a military success 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. The 1st Cavalry Division had once again made an effective use of mobility and firepower. Helicopters airlifted entire infantry battalions a total of seventy-eight times and moved artillery batteries fifty-five times. During MASHER/WHITE WING the 1st Cavalry Division had maintained constant contact with the enemy for the forty-one day operation, an unprecedented feat in the Vietnam War. In the actions, the Division clashed with all three regiments of the Sao Vang Division and rendered five of its nine battalions ineffective for combat.
On 06 May, in the midst of two more Operations, LEWIS and CLARK and DAVY CROCKETT, the Division experienced its first change of command when Major General Harry W. O. Kinnard turned over his post to his replacement, Major General John Norton. General Norton, a veteran paratrooper, was no stranger to the First Team or airmobility. He had commanded a battle group in Korea in 1959-60 and later, on the Howze Board had help pioneer airmobility.
On 16 May, the next major Operation, CRAZY HORSE, commenced during the hot summer, with the temperature soaring to 110 degrees. The search and destroy mission extended into the heavy jungle covered hills between Soui 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 LZ Hereford. Company "A", 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry was airlifted to a nearby point to join the battle. The two companies held off superior enemy forces throughout the night. The next morning more elements of the 12th Cavalry 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. 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, if not killed outright by the devastation, were cut down by heavy crossfire. Many important military documents, detailing the Viet Cong infrastructure in Binh Dinh Province, were discovered.
On 18 May, in the course of the fighting, a squad leader with "B" Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry, Staff Sergeant Jimmy G. Stewart, demonstrated the leadership and courage necessary to engage and destroy the enemy. Early in the morning, a reinforced North Vietnamese company attacked "B" Company, which was manning a defensive perimeter. The surprise onslaught wounded five members of a six man squad caught in the direct path of the enemy's thrust. Sergeant Stewart became a lone defender of vital terrain -- virtually one man against a hostile platoon. Refusing to take advantage of a lull in the firing which would have permitted him to withdraw, Sergeant Stewart elected to hold his ground to protect his fallen comrades and prevent an enemy penetration of the company perimeter. As the full force of the platoon-sized man attack struck his lone position, he fought like a man possessed; emptying magazine after magazine at the determined, on-charging enemy. The enemy drove almost to his position and hurled grenades, but Sergeant Stewart decimated them by retrieving and throwing the grenades back. Exhausting his ammunition, he crawled under intense fire to his wounded team members and collected ammunition that they were unable to use. Far past the normal point of exhaustion, he held his position for four harrowing hours and through three assaults, annihilating the enemy as they approached and before they could get a foothold. As a result of his defense, the company position held until the arrival of a reinforcing platoon which counterattacked the enemy, now occupying foxholes to the left of Sergeant Stewart's position. After the counterattack, his body was found in a shallow enemy hole where he had advanced in order to add his fire to that of the counterattacking platoon. Eight enemy dead were found around his immediate position, with evidence that fifteen others had been dragged away. The wounded, whom he gave his life to protect, were recovered and evacuated. For his valiant actions, Staff Sergeant Jimmy G. Stewart received the Medal of Honor.
On 21 May, in a second major engagement of Operation CRAZY HORSE, the platoon
of Sergeant David C. Dolby, a member of "B" Company, 1st Battalion, 8th
Cavalry, suddenly came under intense fire from the enemy located on a ridge
immediately to the front. Six members of the platoon were killed instantly and
a number were wounded, including the platoon leader. Sergeant Dolby's every
move brought fire from the enemy. However, aware that the platoon leader was
critically wounded, and that the platoon was in a precarious situation,
Sergeant Dolby moved the wounded men to safety and deployed the remainder of
the platoon to engage the enemy. Subsequently, his dying platoon leader
ordered Sergeant Dolby to withdraw the forward elements to rejoin the platoon.
Despite the continuing intense enemy fire and with utter disregard for his own
safety, Sergeant Dolby positioned able-bodied men to cover the withdrawal of
the forward elements, assisted the wounded to the new position, and he, alone,
attacked enemy positions until his ammunition was expended. Replenishing his
ammunition, he returned to the area of most intense action, single-handedly
killed three enemy machine gunners and neutralized the enemy fire, thus
enabling friendly elements on the flank to advance on the enemy redoubt. He
defied the enemy fire to personally carry a seriously wounded soldier to
safety where he could be treated and, returning to the forward area, he
crawled through withering fire to within fifty meters of the enemy bunkers and
threw smoke grenades to mark them for air strikes. Although repeatedly under
fire at close range from enemy snipers and automatic weapons, Sergeant Dolby
directed artillery fire on the enemy and succeeded in silencing several enemy
weapons. He remained in his exposed location until his comrades had displaced
to more secure positions. His actions of unsurpassed valor during four hours
of intense combat were a source of inspiration to his entire company,
contributed significantly to the success of the overall assault on the enemy
position, and were directly responsible for saving the lives of a number of
his fellow soldiers. For his valiant actions, Sergeant David C. Dolby received
the Medal of Honor. On 05 June 1966, Operation CRAZY HORSE was concluded.
On 02 August 1966, Operation PAUL REVERE II was launched to deny areas of the rich rice fields to the famished Viet Cong. 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.
On 02 August, the main body of the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry departed Ft. Carson, flew to the port of embarkment at Oakland, California and boarded the USS Gaffey. Following this movement, the advance party of the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry departed Peterson Field, Colorado on 08 August and arrived at Qui Nhon on 11 August. The main body made a brief stop at Okinawa on 15 August for a brief shore leave and after 20 days afloat, arrived at Qui Nhon on 20 August. They disembarked into LSTs and moved ashore. "HHC" and "D" Company joined in a wheeled vehicle convey to Camp Radcliff at An Khe and the remainder of the Battalion were flown in by C-130s. The 5th Battalion, rounding out the 3rd maneuvering element of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, began its initial training exercises at An Khe. On 05 September, following their first exposure to the jungle environment, the Battalion deployed for an additional training/operation mission of road security along Highway 19 from An Khe to Pleiku, with the Battalion Command Post (CP) located atop Mang Yang Pass. The first major deployment of the 5th Battalion was to LZ Hammond in preparation for Operation IRVING.
On 15 August Operation PAUL REVERE II ended with the battle of Hill 534, on the southern portion of Chu Pong Massif near the Cambodian Border. The operation had begun on 02 August, after Company "A" 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry suddenly ran into a North Vietnamese battalion and Company "B", 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry 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.
At the end of PAUL REVERE II, which had killed a total of 861 of the enemy, a task force of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry was organized for Operation BYRD. The task force was dispatched to Binh Thaun Province, in the southern area of II Corps, to support the Revolutionary Development Program and bring the long months of Operation BYRD to a productive finish.
At that time the heavily populated province of Binh Thaun was almost totally under the power of two Viet Cong Battalions. The South Vietnamese government controlled little more than the provincial capital, Phan Thiet, a coastal town known for its fishermen and its fish sauce manufacturing industry. In sixteen months the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry had fanned out from Phan Thiet and cleared the enemy from the populous "triangle" area that stretched north and west of Phan Thiet. They also cleared provincial roads that had been closed by the Viet Cong. Most significantly, the troopers reopened Highway 1, an action that restored commerce to life between Phan Thiet and Saigon.
On 13 September, Operation THAYER I began. It 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 political infrastructure of the Viet Cong. 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.
On 21 September, near Bon Son in Binh Dinh Province, part of the squad of Private First Class Billy L. Lauffer, "C" Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, was suddenly struck at close range by an intense machine gun crossfire from two concealed bunkers astride the squad's route. Private First Class Lauffer, the second man in the column, saw the lead man fall and noted that the remainder of the squad was unable to move. Two comrades, previously wounded and being carried on litters, were lying helpless in the beaten zone of the enemy fire. Reacting instinctively, Private First Class Lauffer quickly engaged both bunkers with fire from his rifle, but when the other squad members attempted to maneuver under his covering fire, the enemy fusillade increased in volume and thwarted every attempt to move. Seeing this and his wounded comrades helpless in the open, Private First Class Lauffer rose to his feet and charged the enemy machine gun positions, firing his weapon and drawing the enemy's attention. Keeping the enemy confused and off balance, his one man assault provided the crucial moments for the wounded point man to crawl to a covered position, the squad to move the exposed litter patients to safety, and his comrades to gain more advantageous positions. Private First Class Lauffer was fatally wounded during his selfless act of courage and devotion to his fellow soldiers. His gallantry. at the cost of his life, served as an inspiration to his comrades and saved the lives of an untold number of his companions. For his valiant action, Private First Class Billy L. Lauffer received the Medal of Honor.
In the closing phases of Operation THAYER I and the prelude to Operation IRVING, enemy elements of the 7th and 8th Battalions, NVA 18th Regiment had been reported in the village of Hoa Hoi. On 02 October, at about 8:00 hours, a "Blue Team" platoon of "A" Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, flying a routine reconnaissance mission, was diverted and ordered to land and access the degree of enemy build up. Entering the village, they engaged a heavy concentration of the enemy forces and as the battle wore on, they called for backup at about 1000 hours. Quickly, the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry, deployed to encircle the village. At 1200 hours, "B" Company, 12th Cavalry, the first of the backup units to arrive, air assaulted into a landing area 300 meters east of the village in the face of heavy resistance. Immediately, the units came under intense small arms and mortar fire. "A" Company, 12th Cavalry landed to the southwest and began a movement northeast to the village. In the meantime, "C" Company, 12th Cavalry landed north of the village and began moving south.
The arrival of the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry took pressure off the "Blue Team" platoon of "A" Troop and, still heavily engaged with the entrenched enemy and taking heavy fire, were able to withdraw and make it back to the LZ, taking their dead with them. By late in the afternoon, "A" and "B" Companies, 1st Battalion had linked up and established blocking positions which prevented the enemy from slipping out of the village. During the course of the evening, "A" and "C" Companies, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry 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 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 which were braced in strong blocking positions to take the attack. This last action broke the strong resistance of the enemy and mission was completed.
Lasting from 02 - 28 October, Operation IRVING was one of a trio of operations launched by Americans, South Vietnamese and South Korean Forces. The mission was established to entrap Viet Cong soldiers who were fleeing Operation THAYER I. The mission was to trap the enemy in a pocket between a group of hills and the coastline of Binh Dinh Province. The operations were complicated by a heavy concentration of civilians living in the operational area, but 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 was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for valor and aggressive pursuit of the enemy on 02 October, after reinforcing a "Blue Team" platoon from "A" Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry that was heavily engaged and outnumbered.
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.
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" Troop. 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.
It was during this action that the platoon of Private First Class Lewis Albanese, "B" Company, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry was advancing through the densely covered terrain to establish a blocking position. The platoon received intense automatic weapons fire from close range. As other members of the platoon maneuvered to assault the enemy position, Private First Class Albanese was ordered to provide security for the left flank of the platoon. Suddenly, the left flank received fire from enemy soldiers located in a well-concealed ditch. Realizing the imminent danger to his comrades from this fire, Private First Class Albanese fixed his bayonet and moved aggressively into the ditch. His action silenced the sniper fire, enabling the platoon to resume movement toward the main enemy position. As the platoon continued to advance, the sound of heavy firing emanated from the left flank from a pitched battle that ensued in the ditch which Private First Class Albanese had entered. The ditch was actually a well-organized complex of enemy defenses designed to bring devastating flanking fire on the forces attacking the main position. Private First Class Albanese, disregarding the danger to himself, advanced one hundred meters along the trench and killed six of the snipers, who were armed with automatic weapons. Having exhausted his ammunition, Private First Class Albanese was mortally wounded when he engaged and killed two more enemy soldiers in fierce hand-to-hand combat. His unparalleled actions saved the lives of many members of his platoon who otherwise would have fallen to the sniper fire from the ditch, and enabled his platoon to successfully advance against an enemy force of overwhelming numerical superiority. For his valiant action, Private First Class Lewis Albanese received the Medal of Honor.
On 17 November, as part of Operation PAUL REVERE IV, rifle companies "A", "B" and "C" of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment air assaulted into three widely dispersed LZs in the southwestern corner of Pleiku Province, LZ Lime, LZ Hawk and LZ Fatima, each contiguous to the Cambodian border. Previous missions into this area, a long used infiltration route from Cambodia, had failed to turn up any enemy ammunition caches, assembly areas or well traveled trails. At 1300 hours the first sighting and contact with the enemy was made by the 2nd platoon of "A" Company which resulted in a limited firefight.
Following four days of searching the area with minimal enemy contact, the 1st Battalion was still widely separated. "A" Company was located at LZ Lime, the main body of "B" Company was 13 kilometers south of Duc Co at LZ Fatima and "C" Company was nearly 2 kilometers south of LZ Hawk. By 21 November, "C" Company had three platoons in the field with the following strength; 1st platoon, 30; 2nd platoon and Command Post Group, 45; 3rd platoon, 35. The 4th platoon of 22 had remained at LZ Hawk. Before moving to a new location to the east, 13 men of the 3rd platoon evacuated a sick man and a cache of enemy weapons captured in an engagement of the previous night.
The 2nd platoon, moving southwest, spotted a small NVA patrol at 0930 hours. Following recon fire they called for supporting artillery fire in the direction of the enemy along the border. As the enemy fled into Cambodia, the 2nd platoon observed another group of NVA moving around a knoll and into an open area at 1005 hours. The 2nd platoon moved through the tall jungle grass, positioned themselves and began small arms fire on the enemy. In response to the intensity of the return fire which continued to build, artillery fire was directed at the knoll and surrounding open areas. Simultaneously the 3rd platoon moved forward to block any movement of the enemy toward the 2nd platoon, As soon as they were in position, they found themselves in an ambush and began to receive arms fire from the enemy on its three sides.
Following a delay in getting artillery to cover them, the 3rd platoon requested that the artillery fire continue. This was the last communication heard from them. In addition to the artillery fire, several Aerial Rocket Artillery (ARA) helicopters responded and made their first pass at 1105 hours. Additional aerial support was provided by A1E Skyfighters, scrambled from Pleiku, who dropped napalm on the enemy at 1205 hours followed by F-100 Super Sabers giving ground cover with Cluster Bomb Units (CBU) and twenty millimeter cannon fire at 1235 hours. Except for a few stray rounds from the departing NVA, the battle was over.
In the hour that it had taken to get the close air support, the 2nd platoon had remained heavily engaged with the enemy until the area was cleared by the aerial actions. "A" Company located the ambush site of the 3rd platoon and a search revealed that the 3rd platoon had suffered nineteen killed in action and three wounded. One later died of his wounds, leaving only 2 survivors. The 2nd platoon experienced fifteen killed in action and ten wounded. The foliage was too thick to cut an LZ and the wounded were lifted out one by one by Hueys equipped with winches. The killed in action were placed in a cargo net and were lifted out by a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.
The next morning, a search of the battle area revealed 27 enemy bodies in the vicinity of the position of the 2nd platoon and an additional 118 enemy bodies in the vicinity of the artillery barrage and airstrikes. Documents taken from the enemy identified them as from three companies of the 5th Battalion, 101C NVA Regiment which was on its way to attack the artillery positions located in Duc Co. The reconnaissance of force by the three platoons of "C" Company had detected, interrupted and aborted the attack plan of the NVA as it had lost the element of surprise.
On 09 December the Division launched Operation ROVER to evacuate all civilians from the Kim Son Valley. By 14 December, the valley was clear and all civilians had been evacuated from the area, bringing Operation ROVER to a close with the valley being declared a "free-fire" zone. Now the heavy work of the troopers had just began as they moved in to drive the elusive enemy from the area.
On 17 December, heavy contact was made in the Highway 506 Valley just east of the Kim Son Valley. "C" Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry observed an enemy squad moving into the valley and went after them. Air support was called in to help and drew ground fire from several positions. The Infantry Platoon of "A" Troop 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry made an air assault into the valley and encountered heavy resistance. The 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry was also brought in, along with four infantry companies and two platoons of the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry.
They attempted to encircle the enemy force of a "dug in" battalion. Night fell and an Air Force ship kept the area illuminated, but the encirclement was not complete and many of the enemy managed to escape. At least ninety-five did not as their bodies were found in a final sweep of the battle area on 19 December. On 27 December, Operation PAUL REVERE IV was closed out and 2nd Brigade troopers added their strength to Operation THAYER II.
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, whom were all 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:
It was also during this engagement on 27 December, Staff Sergeant Delbert Jennings, "C" Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry was defending an artillery position when attacked by a North Vietnamese Army regiment supported by mortar, recoilless-rifle, and machine gun fire. At the outset, Staff Sergeant Jennings sprang to his bunker, astride the main attack route, and slowed the on-coming enemy wave with highly effective machine gun fire. Despite a tenacious defense in which he killed at least twelve of the enemy, his squad was forced to the rear. After covering the withdrawal of the squad, he rejoined his men, destroyed an enemy demolition crew about to blow up a nearby howitzer, and killed three enemy soldiers at his initial bunker position. Ordering his men back into a secondary position, he again covered their withdrawal, killing one enemy with the butt of his weapon. Observing that some of the defenders were unaware of an enemy force in their rear, he raced through a fire-swept area to warn the men, turn their fire on the enemy, and lead them into the secondary perimeter. Assisting in the defense of the new position, he aided the air-landing of reinforcements by throwing white phosphorous grenades on the landing zone despite dangerously silhouetting himself with the light. After helping to repulse the final enemy assaults, he led a group of volunteers well beyond friendly lines to an area where eight seriously wounded men lay. Braving enemy sniper fire and ignoring the presence of booby traps in the area, they recovered the men who would have probably perished without early medical treatment. The extraordinary heroism and inspirational leadership of Staff Sergeant Jennings saved the lives of many of his comrades and contributed greatly to the defeat of a superior enemy force. For his valiant action, Staff Sergeant Delbert Jennings received the Medal of Honor and would later go on to become the Command Sergeant Major (CSM) of the 1st Cavalry Division.
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.
As 1967 dawned, the 1st Brigade began making new contacts with the enemy units in central and southern Kim Son Valley. The 2nd Brigade began a sweep to the north, flushing the enemy from their position in the north end of the valley as well as the Crescent Area, the Nui Mieu and Cay Giep Mountains. On 27 January, as part of Operation THAYER II in the east central Hoai Nhon District of the Bin Dinh Province, the units of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry, 227th Assault Helicopter (AH) and 228th Assault Support Helicopter (ASH) Battalions and elements of the 40th ARVN Regiment and Vietnamese Marine Task Force Bravo conducted Operation BULLSEYE V.
Operation BULLSEYE V was initiated as a result of intelligence reports that
there was a large concentration of enemy forces moving into position to attack
the new logistical base at English Airfield and the artillery base at LZ Dog.
Such an attack would cause general disruption to the area by destroying the
Bong Song Bridge which would have impacted the success of THAYER III. In a
three day sweep, supported by fire from US Naval gunships, the enemy 7th and
8th Regiments and a local VC Company, D-21, were routed out and scattered
causing them to make a hasty and unconditional withdrawal from the area. In
THAYER II, the enemy once again had suffered punishing losses of 1,757 men.
On 14 February, the command post of the 1st Cavalry Division was moved to LZ Two Bits, its new home until the conclusion of Operation PERSHING, the fourth phase of the Binh Dinh Pacification Campaign. ARVN soldiers familiar with the methods of the Viet Cong operations in the Bong Son Plain helped the skytroopers locate and eliminate the numerous caves and tunnels infiltrated by the enemy. Skytroopers also met up with numerous North Vietnamese hiding in ditches and wells. The enemy units of the 3rd NVA Division had taken such heavy casualties that they were desperately trying to avoid contact until they could be reinforced.
On 16 February, in the Bong Son Plain Private First Class James H. Monroe, "C" Company. 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry was deployed in a night ambush when the position was suddenly subjected to an intense and accurate grenade attack, and one foxhole was hit immediately. Responding without hesitation to the calls for help from the wounded men Private First Class Monroe moved forward through heavy small arms fire to the foxhole but found that all of the men had expired. He turned immediately and crawled back through the deadly hail of fire toward other calls for aid. He moved to the Platoon Sergeant's position where he found the radio operator bleeding profusely from fragmentation and bullet wounds. Ignoring the continuing enemy attack, Private First Class Monroe began treating the wounded man when he saw a live grenade fall directly in front of the position. He shouted a warning to all those nearby, pushed the wounded radio operator and the platoon sergeant to one side, and lunged forward to smother the blast of the grenade with his body. Through his valorous actions, performed in a flash of inspired selflessness, Private First Class Monroe saved the lives of two of his comrades and prevented the probable injury of several others. For his valiant action, Private First Class James H. Monroe received the Medal of Honor.
On 20 March, in the Binh Dinh Province, Specialist Fifth Class Charles C. Hagemeister, "A" Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry was engaged in combat operations against a hostile force, The platoon of Specialist Fifth Class Hagemeister suddenly came under heavy attack from three sides by an enemy force occupying well concealed, fortified positions and supported by machine guns and mortars. Seeing two of his comrades seriously wounded in the initial action, Specialist Fifth Class Hagemeister unhesitatingly and with total disregard for his safety, raced through the deadly hail of enemy fire to provide them medical aid. Upon learning that the platoon leader and several other soldiers also had been wounded, Specialist Fifth Class Hagemeister continued to brave the withering enemy fire and crawled forward to render lifesaving treatment and to offer words of encouragement. Attempting to evacuate the seriously wounded soldiers, Specialist Fifth Class Hagemeister was taken under fire at close range by an enemy sniper. Realizing that the lives of his fellow soldiers depended on his actions, Specialist Fifth Class Hagemeister seized a rifle from a fallen comrade, killed the sniper, three other enemy soldiers who were attempting to encircle his position and silenced an enemy machine gun that covered the area with deadly fire. Unable to remove the wounded to a less exposed location and aware of the efforts of the enemy to isolate his unit, he dashed through the fusillade of fire to secure help from a nearby platoon. Returning with help, he placed men in positions to cover his advance as he moved to evacuate the wounded forward of his location. These efforts successfully completed, he then moved to the other flank and evacuated additional wounded men despite the fact that his every move drew fire from the enemy. Specialist Fifth Class Hagemeister's repeated heroic and selfless actions at the risk of his life saved the lives of many of his comrades and inspired their actions in repelling the enemy assault. For his valiant action, Specialist Fifth Class Charles C. Hagemeister received the Medal of Honor.
On 01 April, in the midst of Operation PERSHING, Major General John J. Tolson, a veteran paratrooper, aviator and career soldier of 31 years, became the new commanding officer of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). Major General Tolson took over command from General Norton.
In early April planning began for Operation LEJEUNE. The principal reason
behind this operation was an urgent Marine requirement to free up some of
their troops in Quang Ngai for further movement north. Operation LEJEUNE
combined the efforts of four military services: The US Army, Marine Corps, Air
Force, and the Navy. The tactical air force support was substantial. The Duc
Pho area had been effectively controlled by the communists for more than ten
years. Over the years the Viet Cong and its political arm of the South Vietnam
Communists, the National Liberation Front (NLF), had increased their power by
political indoctrination, torture, and terrorism until now had a
well-developed infrastructure from the sea coast as far inland as Ba To.
It was immediately obvious that the first requirement in this area would be the building of a heavy duty airstrip for support by Air Force aircraft. The decision was made to build a C-7A Caribou strip immediately at LZ Montezuma which could be expanded to accommodate C-123 aircraft.
On 07 April, "B" Company, 8th Engineer Battalion arrived at LZ Montezuma and immediately began a thorough reconnaissance of the airfield site. During the next two days, 31 pieces of heavy engineer equipment weighing over 200 tons were airlifted into Duc Pho. This move required twenty-nine CH-54 "Flying Crane" sorties and fifteen Chinook sorties. Much of the equipment had to be partially disassembled to reduce the weight for transportation. By the evening, enough equipment was on the ground to begin work. The earthmoving commenced and continued throughout the night by floodlights. By midnight, six hours after construction had begun, 25 percent of the Caribou strip was completed.
On 08 April the remainder of the 2nd Brigade Task Force deployed into the LEJEUNE area of operations and assumed operational control of the area. The remainder of the Marine task force was placed under operational control of the 2nd Brigade until such time as they could be moved north.
LZ Montezuma was composed of light sandy soil; and the heavy rotary wing traffic soon generated monumental, semi-permanent dust clouds. This in turn generated a severe maintenance problem in the rotor heads of the helicopters. Peneprine, an oil-base dust palliative, was spread on the helipads and refueling areas as fast as it became available and helped reduce this problem. A concurrent problem was the air traffic control necessary for the hundreds of aircraft arriving with the Air Cavalry combat and combat support units being lifted into LZ Montezuma throughout the day and the Marine aircraft beginning the outward deployment.
Air traffic at the landing zone was at best confusing and at worst downright hazardous. A three-man pathfinder team from the Pathfinder Platoon of the 11th General Support Aviation Company controlled daily the more than 1,000 arrivals and departures of OH-13, UH-1B, UH-1D, CH-47, and CH-54 helicopters along with the fixed-wing aircraft. The team initially stood on the hood of a quarter ton truck in the dust storms churned up by rotor turbulence and with a single radio controlled traffic with nearly the efficiency of an air conditioned tower at a large US airport.
By the afternoon of 08 April, the 1500-foot Caribou strip was completed. Work continued on the strip to expand it to 2,300 feet for C-123 use. The first Caribou airplanes that landed carried a mundane cargo of 30 tons of culvert, which was unloaded by the side of the runway since no parking ramp had yet been prepared. Work continued through that night again under glaring searchlights.
On 13 April, the 8th Engineers began the construction of the second Caribou airstrip parallel and west of the completed C-123 strip. This was necessary to allow the C-123 field to be improved and surfaced to meet C-130 criterion. The second strip was finished in 25 hours after 4150 cubic yards of earth had been moved and graded.
It was apparent right from the beginning that the enemy in that area had never before been challenged by airmobile tactics. It was several days before they began to appreciate the versatility and flexibility of the operational capability of the 1st Cavalry Division. The enemy chose to disperse and hide. Contact was only sporadic with the heaviest combat action on 16 April.
On 16 April, near Duc Pho, Specialist Fourth Class George A. Ingalls, "A" Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry accompanied his squad on a night ambush mission. Shortly after the ambush was established, an enemy soldier entered the killing zone and was shot when he tried to evade capture. Other enemy soldiers were expected to enter the area, and the ambush was maintained in the same location. Two quiet hours passed without incident, then suddenly a hand grenade was thrown from the nearby dense undergrowth into the center of the position of the squad. The grenade did not explode, but shortly thereafter a second grenade landed directly between Specialist Fourth Class Ingalls and a nearby comrade. Although he could have jumped to a safe position, Specialist Fourth Class Ingalls, in a spontaneous act of great courage, threw himself on the grenade and absorbed its full blast. The explosion mortally wounded Specialist Fourth Class Ingalls, but his heroic action saved the lives of the remaining members of his squad. For his valiant action, Specialist Fourth Class George A. Ingalls received the Medal of Honor.
At noon on 22 April, Operation LEJEUNE was terminated. Although contacts were primarily light throughout the operation, 176 of the enemy had been killed and 127 captured. Operation LEJEUNE was unique in many ways. The deployment of the 2nd Brigade to the I Corps Tactical Zone was the first commitment of any large US Army unit in that area. More importantly, the engineering effort, including the lifting of 30 tons of equipment to build two tactical fixed-wing airstrips in a matter of a few days, was unparalleled in Army engineering history. Finally, the demonstrated "fire brigade" reaction capability of deploying a large task force in a day and a half to an entirely new area of operations proved again the flexibility of the airmobile concept. At Duc Pho the 1st Cavalry left behind two airstrips, an impressive line of communications, several critical connecting roads, and a damaged Viet Cong infrastructure. In light of the limited mission, Operation LEJEUNE was an unqualified success.
On 31 May a major engagement occurred when the 22nd NVA 9th Battalion came out of the mountains near An Qui to search for food. Nearly 100 died in the battle and those losses were soon followed by two other significant defeats near Dam Tra-O Lake and Soui Ca Valley. Captured NVA and VC soldiers revealed that morale was falling sharply within their units.
On 21 June, in the Binh Dinh province, Specialist Fifth Class Edgar L. McWethy Jr. "B" Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, serving as a medical aidman, accompanied his platoon to the site of a downed helicopter. Shortly after the platoon established a defensive perimeter around the aircraft, a large enemy force attacked the position from three sides with a heavy volume of automatic weapons fire and grenades. The platoon leader and his radio operator were wounded almost immediately, and Specialist Fifth Class McWethy rushed across the fire-swept area to their assistance. Although he could not help the mortally wounded radio operator, Specialist Fifth Class McWethy's timely first aid enabled the platoon leader to retain command during this critical period. Hearing a call for aid, Specialist Fifth Class McWethy started across the open toward the injured men, but was wounded in the head and knocked to the ground. He regained his feet and continued on but was hit again, this time in the leg. Struggling onward despite his wounds, he gained the side of his comrades and treated their injuries. Observing another fallen rifleman lying in an exposed position raked by enemy fire, Specialist Fifth Class McWethy moved toward him without hesitation. Although the enemy fire wounded him a third time, Specialist Fifth Class McWethy reached his fallen companion. Though weakened and in extreme pain, Specialist Fifth Class McWethy gave the wounded man artificial respiration but suffered a fourth and fatal wound. Through his indomitable courage, complete disregard for his safety, and demonstrated concern for his fellow soldiers, Specialist Fifth Class McWethy inspired the members of his platoon and contributed in great measure to their successful defense of the position and the ultimate rout of the enemy force. For his valiant action, Specialist Fifth Class Edgal L. McWethy Jr. received the Medal of Honor.
On the same day, and same action of 21 June, near Binh Dinh Province, Specialist Fourth Class Carmel B. Harvey Jr., "B" Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry distinguished himself as a fire team leader during combat operations. Ordered to secure a downed helicopter, his platoon established a defensive perimeter around the aircraft, but shortly thereafter a large enemy force attacked the position from three sides. Specialist Fourth Class Harvey and two members of his squad were in a position directly in the path of the enemy onslaught, and their location received the brunt of the fire from an enemy machine gun. In short order, both of his companions were wounded, but Specialist Fourth Class Harvey covered this loss by increasing his deliberate rifle fire at the foe. The enemy machine gun seemed to concentrate on him and the bullets struck the ground all around his position. One round hit and armed a grenade attached to his belt. Quickly, he tried to remove the grenade but was unsuccessful. Realizing the danger to his comrades if he remained and despite the hail of enemy fire, he jumped to his feet, shouted a challenge at the enemy, and raced toward the deadly machine gun. He nearly reached the enemy position when the grenade on his belt exploded, mortally wounding Specialist Fourth Class Harvey, and stunning the enemy machine gun crew. His final act caused a pause in the enemy fire, and the wounded men were moved from the danger area. Specialist Fourth Class Harvey's dedication to duty, high sense of responsibility, and heroic actions inspired the others in his platoon to decisively beat back the enemy attack. For his valiant action, Specialist Fourth Class Carmel B. Harvey Jr. received the Medal of Honor.
In September, a fresh fighting unit linked up with the First Team. Now the bewildered enemy also faced the rumbling Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) of the 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 50th Infantry Division. The APCs figured prominently in the battle of Tam Quan in December. The lumbering vehicles eased the task of assaulting the bunkers and entrenchments of the NVA. Other units involved in the smashing victory Tam Quan included 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, "B" Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry and the ARVN 40th Regiment.
On 15 December, near My An, Binh Dinh province, Sergeant Allen James Lynch, "D" Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry distinguished himself while serving as a radio telephone operator. While serving in the forward element on an operation near the village of My An, his unit became heavily engaged with a numerically superior enemy force. Quickly and accurately assessing the situation, Sergeant Lynch provided his commander with information which subsequently proved essential to the unit's successful actions. Observing three wounded comrades lying exposed to enemy fire, Sergeant Lynch dashed across fifty meters of open ground through a withering hail of enemy fire to administer aid. Reconnoitering a nearby trench for a covered position to protect the wounded from intense hostile fire, he killed two enemy soldiers at point blank range. With the trench cleared, he unhesitatingly returned to the fire-swept area three times to carry the wounded men to safety. When his company was forced to withdraw by the superior firepower of the enemy, Sergeant Lynch remained to aid his comrades at the risk of his life rather than abandon them. Alone, he defended his isolated position for two hours against the advancing enemy. Using only his rifle and a grenade, he stopped them just short of his trench, killing five. Again, disregarding his safety in the face of withering hostile fire, he crossed seventy meters of exposed terrain five times to carry his wounded comrades to a more secure area. Once he had assured their comfort and safety, Sergeant Lynch located the counterattacking friendly company to assist in directing the attack and evacuating the three casualties. For his valiant action, Sergeant Allen James Lynch received the Medal of Honor.
On 12 January 1968, in the vicinity of Que Son Valley, Heip Duc Province, Sergeant William D. Port, "C" Company, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry was engaged in combat with the enemy. As the platoon of Sergeant Port was moving to cut off a reported movement of enemy soldiers, they came under heavy fire from an entrenched enemy force. The platoon was forced to withdraw due to the intensity and ferocity of the fire. Although wounded in the hand as the withdrawal began, Sergeant Port, with complete disregard for his safety, ran through the heavy fire to assist a wounded comrade back to the safety of the platoon perimeter. As the enemy forces assaulted in the perimeter, Sergeant Port and three comrades were in position behind an embankment when an enemy grenade landed in their midst. Sergeant Port, realizing the danger to his fellow soldiers, shouted the warning, "Grenade," and unhesitatingly hurled himself towards the grenade to shield his comrades from the explosion. Through his exemplary courage and devotion he saved the lives of his fellow soldiers and gave the members of his platoon the inspiration needed to hold their position. For his valiant action, Sergeant William D. Port received the Medal of Honor.
For nearly a year the Division scoured the Bong Son Plain, An Lo Valley and the hills of coastal II Corps, seeking out enemy units and their sanctuaries. Although many may consider Operation PERSHING to have become a tedious, unglamorous mission that produced eighteen major engagements and numerous minor skirmishes in the eleven month campaign, it also revealed the bold, unselfish dedication to duty and country demonstrated by members of the First Team. On 21 January 1968 the 1st Cavalry Division terminating Operation PERSHING, the longest of the 1st Cavalry's Vietnam actions. When the operation ended, the enemy had lost 5,401 soldiers and 2,400 enemy soldiers had been captured. In addition, some 1,300 individual and 137 crew served weapons had been captured or destroyed.
On 22 January, Operation JEB STUART began in the Quang Tri area. It covered
the initial move of major elements of the 1st Cavalry Division into northern
I Corps following Operation PERSHING. Launched as a search and destroy mission
aimed at enemy Base Areas 101 and 114, it had another goal of reinforcing the
Marines in I Corps. The battles associated with the upcoming Tet Offensive
would quickly over shadow the search and destroy nature of JEB STUART. As a
result of Operation JEB STUART, the 1st Brigade was near Quang Tri City and
was able to move quickly to support the Tet defenders.
On the day the Tet Offensive began, 31 January, Chief Warrant Officer Fredrick E. Ferguson, "C" Company, 227th Aviation Battalion overheard a call from wounded passengers and crewmen of a downed helicopter under heavy attack within the enemy controlled city of Hue. He unhesitatingly volunteered to attempt an evacuation. Despite warnings from all aircraft to stay clear of the area due to heavy antiaircraft fire, Chief Warrant Officer Ferguson began a low-level flight at maximum airspeed along the Perfume River toward the tiny, isolated South Vietnamese Army compound in which the crash survivors had taken refuge. Coolly and skillfully maintaining his course in the face of intense, short range fire from enemy occupied buildings and boats, he displayed superior flying skill and tenacity of purpose and landed his aircraft in an extremely confined area in a blinding dust cloud under heavy mortar and small-arms fire. Although the helicopter was severely damaged by mortar fragments during the loading of the wounded, Chief Warrant Officer Ferguson disregarded the damage and, taking off through the continuing hail of mortar fire, he flew his crippled aircraft on the return route through the rain of fire that he had experienced earlier and safely returned his wounded passengers to friendly control. For his valiant action, Chief Warrant Officer Fredrick Ferguson received the Medal of Honor.
On 02 February, the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry made an initial assault outside of an ARVN outpost named PK-17, ten 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 over one-thousand 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. The battalion was laying in open rice paddies, more or less pinned down. However, they were able to maintain their perimeter and hold off the enemy, even though they were short on ammunition, food and water. During the night the enemy surrounded their position.
In the morning, by the time they had fought to the tree line at the other side of the open field, nearly half of the 400 man battalion became casualties. Nine hours afterwards, the artillery units support fire began. The weather was lousy with monsoon rains, low clouds and fog, that there was great difficulty in trying to get casualties medevaced out. Finally, during the evening of the second day of the battle, two gunships of the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry were able to get in and airlifted some of the most seriously wounded to Camp Evans. That night, the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel 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. Days later, the 2nd Battalion found their casualty rate was over 60 percent of its combat strength.
Following fierce fighting at Thon La Chu or "The Battle of Tee Tee Woods", the 3rd Brigade had been given the difficult mission of driving the Communists from Hue and the surrounding areas. The battle for Thon La Chu was far from being finished. They traded fire for two days and nights, then the skytroopers eluded 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. That they fought again for many more days is a tribute to inspired leadership and the fighting spirit of the young men. After the 1st Battalion,7th Cavalry overcame severe resistance, the southwest wall of the city was soon taken and they linked up with the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry.
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. By late February the NVA and Viet Cong invaders were driven from Hue ending the Tet Offensive. The NVA and Viet Cong had suffered a massive defeat, with 32,000 killed in action and 5,800 others captured.
Following the liberation of Hue, the 1st Cavalry Division began repositioning its forces to allow for the arrival of its other elements from the Central Highlands who had began their move north for a consolidation in I Corps in Thua Thien Province, the northeast province of South Vietnam. As the Tet offensive operations were being concluding at the end of February 1968, the last elements of the 1st Cavalry Division left the Central Highlands and completed their move north into the I Corps Area of Operation (AO).
The 1st Brigade continued security of Quang Tri and conducted operations south and west of the city. The 2nd Brigade, upon its arrival conducted operations to clear the enemy elements in the Hai Lang-My Chanh area. On 01 March, the 3rd Brigade, moved north of Hue City, along Route 1, and assumed the mission of base defense for Camp Evans, the center of operations the new headquarters of the division. The facility had been originally constructed by the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion One (NMCB1) for the 4th Marine Regiment. The new immediate mission of the 1st Cavalry Division was to keep pressure on the enemy units attempting to withdraw and escape from the Tet Offensive.
To accomplish the mission, the 1st Cavalry Division was augmented by the non-divisional units of the 1st Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Regiment, III Army of the Republic of Vietnam Airborne Task Force and the 37th Army of the Republic of Vietnam Ranger Battalion.
It became evident during the planning that the construction of an airstrip in the vicinity of Ca Lu would be a key factor for the entire operation. The airstrip, which became known as LZ Stud, had to be ready well before D-day (01 April 1968). Also, it was necessary to upgrade Highway Nine between the "Rock Pile" and Ca Lu to allow pre-stocking of supplies at LZ Stud. Construction of the airstrip and road improvements were assigned to a team of the 1st Cavalry Division engineers, the Seabees USN Mobile Construction Battalion #5, and the 11th Engineer Battalion,
Having established a forward base of operations, the second key element to the success of this plan was the closely integrated reconnaissance and fire support effort of the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry and air, artillery, and B-52 arc light strikes which were carried out during the 6 days preceding the launch of the main attack.
On 30 March the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry began operations from LZ Stud in gradually increasing concentric circles up to the Khe Sanh area, working with air cover from the 7th Air Force or the 1st Marine Air Wing. The Cavalry Squadron was almost the only means available to pinpoint enemy locations, antiaircraft positions, and strong points that the division would try to avoid in the initial assaults. The squadron was also responsible for the selection of critical forward landing zones. Their information proved to be timely and accurate.
At 0700 hours, on 01 April the attack phase of Operation PEGASUS commenced as the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry was airlifted by Chinooks and Hueys into LZ Stud in preparation for an air assault into two objective areas further west. Weather delayed the attack until 1300, when the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry air assaulted into LZ Mike, located on prominent ground south of Highway 9 and well forward of the Marine attack. The 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry followed into the same landing zone to expand the position. The 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry air assaulted into an area north of Highway 9 approximately opposite LZ Mike.
The bad weather of D-day was to haunt the 1st Cavalry throughout Operation PEGASUS. "Good weather" was considered to be any condition when the ceiling was above 500 feet and slant range visibility was more than a mile and a half. The bad weather further proved the soundness of establishing LZ Stud as the springboard for the assaults. Troops, ammo and supplies could be assembled there ready to go whenever the weather to the west opened up. Marshalling areas further away would have drastically deteriorated response time.
On 02 April, the 1st Marine Regiment continued its ground attack along the axis of Highway 9. Two Marine companies made limited air assaults to support the Regiment's momentum. The 3rd Brigade air assaulted the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry into a new position further to the west while the other two battalions improved their positions. The 2nd Brigade moved into marshalling areas in preparation for air assaults the next day.
The initial thrusts had met less enemy resistance than expected. As a consequence, the 2nd Brigade was thrown into the attack a day earlier than the original schedule with its three battalions, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 5th Cavalry and 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry, moved into two new areas south and west of our earlier landing zones. Under enemy artillery during the assaults, their objectives were secured without serious difficulty.
On 04 April, the 2nd Brigade assaulted one battalion into an old French fort south of Khe Sanh. Initial contact resulted in four enemy killed. Continuing the attack the next day, heavy resistance was encountered.
On 06 April, units of the 1st Brigade entered the operation with the 1st Battalion air assaulting into LZ Snapper, due south of Khe Sanh and overlooking Highway 9. The circle began to close around the enemy. As units were airlifted into the various LZs along Highway 9, they did not have the knowledge of the final operational plans. It had been decided by the 1st Cavalry Divisional Tactical Operation Center (DTOC), at Camp Evans, to only provide for their general distribution once all of the units were at final attack positions. With all units in position, a courier was dispatched to carry the plans to the commands of all units and the Marines at Khe Sanh.
The heaviest contact on that date occurred in the 3rd Brigade's area of operation as the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry continued its drive west on Highway 9. Enemy blocking along the highway offered stubborn resistance. In a day-long battle which ended when the enemy summarily abandoned his position and fled, the battalion had accounted for 83 enemy killed, captured one prisoner and 121 individual and ten crew-served weapons. The troops of the 1st Cavalry Division were airlifted to Hill 471 relieving the Marines at this position. This was the first relief of the defenders of Khe Sanh. Two companies of troopers remained on the hill while two other companies initiated an attack to the south toward the Khe Sanh Hamlet.
The 1st Cavalry Division forces on LZ Snapper were attacked by an enemy force utilizing mortars, hand grenades, and rocket launchers. The attack was a disaster for the enemy and twenty were killed. At 1320 hours the 84th Company of the Vietnamese 8th Airborne Battalion was airlifted by 1st Cavalry Division aircraft into the Khe Sanh Combat Base and linked up with elements of the 37th Ranger Battalion. The lift was conducted without incident and was the official link-up in forces at Khe Sanh.
On 07 April, the South Vietnamese III Airborne Task Force air assaulted three battalions into positions north of the road and east of Khe Sanh to block escape routes toward the Laotian border. Fighting throughout the area was sporadic as the enemy attempted to withdraw. American and South Vietnamese units began picking up significant quantities of abandoned weapons and equipment. The old French fort which was the last known enemy strong point around Khe Sanh was completely secured.
At 0800 hours on 08 April, the relief of Khe Sanh was effected and the 1st Cavalry Division became the new landlord. The 3rd Brigade airlifted its command post into Khe Sanh and assumed the mission of securing the area. This was accomplished after the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry successfully cleared Highway 9 to the base and effected link-up with the 26th Marine Regiment. The 3rd Brigade elements occupied high ground to the east and northeast of the base with no enemy contact. At this time it became increasingly evident, through lack of contact and the large amounts of new equipment being found indiscriminately abandoned on the battlefield, that the enemy had fled the area rather than face certain defeat.
On 09 April, all 1st Marine Regiment objectives had been secured and Highway 9 was repaired and secured with only scattered incidents of enemy sniper fires. Enemy mortar, rocket and artillery fire into Khe Sanh became increasingly sporadic. Mop up operations continued.
On 10 April, pursuing the retreating North Vietnamese, the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry recaptured the Special Forces camp at Lang Vei, four miles west of Khe Sanh and seized large stockpiles of supplies and ammunition. This action became the last major encounter with in Operation PEGASUS as later in the day, orders were received to extract the 1st Cavalry Division as soon as possible to prepare for Operation DELAWARE/LAM SON 216, an assault into the A Shau Valley. Advance units started the pull out the next day and returned to the base areas at Quang Tri City and Camp Evans.
Limited operations continued until 15 April when Operation PEGASUS was officially terminated. The 1st Cavalry Division had scored a major airmobile victory by quickly reaching the besieged Marines Khe Sanh bastion without setbacks or heavy losses. The careful planning and preparation preceding the raid was backed up by aggressive and innovative tactics during its execution. The final statistics of Operation PEGASUS totaled 1,259 enemy killed and more than 750 weapons captured.
The next major encounter of the 1st Cavalry Division began with the strategic preparations for an assault into A Shau Valley. During the period 14 to 19 April, over 100 B-52 sorties, 200 Air Force and Marine fighter sorties and numerous aerial rocket artillery missions were flown against targets in the valley. In parallel, the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry of the 1st Cavalry Division began an extensive aerial reconnaissance of the A Shau Valley to select flight routes, locate antiaircraft and artillery weapons, and to develop targets for tactical air and B-52 strikes.
On 19 April, Operation DELAWARE/LAM SON 216 was launched into the cloud shrouded A Shau Valley. A Shau, located within 15 Kilometers of the Laotian border and 45 kilometers west of Hue, was situated between two high mountain ranges on the western edge of the Republic of Vietnam. On both sides of the valley, the mountains were over 1,000 meters in height, with the angle of slopes varying from 20 to 45 degrees. Three abandoned airfields were spread along the valley floor which ran northwest to southeast. The North Vietnamese forces had been in control of the valley since March 1966 when they overran the Special Forces camp located at the southern end. Since that time the valley had become a North Vietnamese Army base which was a major way-station and supply route known as the Ho Chi Minh trail which was used for the infiltration of personnel and supplies from North Vietnam through Laos along Route 547 into Thua Thien Province and the northern I Corps Tactical Zone.
A Shau Valley had been the jumping-off point for the Tet offensive against Hue. No free world forces had penetrated A Shau Valley since a Special Forces Camp pulled out of the area in 1966 and the NVA began to think of it as an inviolable sanctuary. Operation DELAWARE/LAM SON 216 was a coordinated airmobile and ground attack using elements of three divisions - the 1st Cavalry, the 101st Airborne, and the 1st Army of the Republic of Vietnam Division. One prong was to be the attack along and astride Routes 547 and 547A, while the main attack was the assault into A Loui and Ta Bat on the valley floor.
For Operation DELAWARE/LAM SON 216, the 1st Cavalry Division utilized the 1st
and 3rd Brigades and controlled coordination with the 101st Airborne and the
3rd Army of the Republic of Vietnam Regiment. The 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry
Division remained in the Khe Sanh area to secure the base and continue limited
operations in that area. This left the Camp Evans area almost completely void
of combat units. Consequently, the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal
Division was given the mission of defense of the base at Camp Evans under
operational control of the 1st Cavalry Division. As a further mission the
196th Light Infantry Brigade was also designated as a reserve unit for the I
In the third massive heliborne assault within a month, the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion (AHB), 228th Assault Support Helicopter Battalion (ASHB) and 229th AHB prepared to commit their maximum available resources in support of the operation. The plan of operation was to assault into the A Shau Valley and simultaneously to insert a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol to secure Signal Hill, a 4,879 foot peak 5 kilometers northeast of A Luoi Airfield to be used as a communications relay station. The weather, which played a harassing part throughout the twenty-nine day operation, was a heavy overcast on the plains and solid overcast above the valley floor. The cloud tops at about 4,500 feet. surrounded the top of Signal Hill.
With the main assault aircraft on a temporary weather hold, "B" Company, 227th AHB, with four UH-1 helicopters, a command and control ship, and two escort gunships from "D" Company were suddenly in the position of the lead assault element. They departed Camp Evans, climbed through the thin overcast, and were vectored to the initial landing zone. The first view of the LZ showed it to be a bomb crater on a 40 degree slope surrounded by fifty foot trees. Touchdown was impossible and the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRPs) would have to be rappelled from about thirty feet. The lead aircraft, unable to maintain a position over the LZ, made a "go around." The second aircraft attempting the drop, lost power and crashed into the LZ, sliding down the hill into the trees. The lead aircraft shifted its approach axis from west to east. On its second approach, the troopers successfully rappelled and extracted a miraculously uninjured crew of the downed aircraft. A total of fourteen sorties were lifted onto Signal Hill without further incident. From the initial assault it looked like a milk run, with no significant anti-aircraft fire being encountered.
Once on the valley floor, the intelligence efforts of the 1st Cavalry Division was supplemented by a small unit composed of electronic experts from the Department of Defense. Working quickly, they buried a then-newly developed acoustic sensor in the A Shau fields. These sensors, through triangulation of sound waves, propagated through the ground, to listening devices - in a manner as in underwater sonar, provided the team with data on locations of enemy troop movements which supplemented other real time intelligence capabilities during the operation. Other sensors were permanently installed, remaining unattended, so that enemy movements could be monitored after US forces left the area.
On 20 April, the second day of the assault into the A Shau began with a hold
due to a low overcast and fog on the valley floor. At approximately 0900
hours, "A" and "C" Companies, 227th AHB left to assault a ridge line four
kilometers southwest of LZ Tiger to establish a third fire base, LZ Pepper.
The helicopter approach was made from the north along the ridge into a slope
studded with stumps. Again the aircraft experienced power loss at a hover and
crashed, closing the LZ. Troopers of 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry rappelled with
chain saws to expand the LZ. Upon resumption of the lift, the new lead
aircraft came too close to the trees on take off and also crashed. The crew
got out unhurt and remained on Pepper for two nights due to bad weather that
restricted any further flying into the valley. Only one infantry company was
airlifted into LZ Pepper before the deteriorating weather halted all flight
On 24 April, "A" and "B" Companies, 227th AHB, each with six aircraft, joined the 229th AHB to air assault elements of the 1st Brigade into LZ Cecile, two kilometers south of A Luoi Airfield. Again weather played a significant part forcing the lifts to climb as high as 11,000 feet to clear the cloud tops. Once over the valley and through the holes in the overcast the aircraft quickly maneuvered to the new LZ Cecile located at the southern end of a ridge about 2,200 feet high. All aircraft were exposed to sniping fire on the approach and to automatic weapons positioned about 500 meters down the ridge as it departed no matter which way it broke. Very few aircraft sustained hits and none were lost as the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry completed its liftoff to LZ Cecile prior to 1400 hours.
On 25 April, Captain James M. Sprayberry, "D" Company, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, distinguished himself by exceptional bravery while serving as Executive Officer. His company commander and a great number of the men were wounded and separated from the main body of the company. A daylight attempt to rescue them was driven back by the well entrenched enemy's heavy fire. Captain Sprayberry then organized and led a volunteer night patrol to eliminate the intervening enemy bunkers and to relieve the surrounded element. The patrol soon began receiving enemy machine gun fire. Captain Sprayberry quickly moved the men to protective cover and without regard for his own safety, crawled within close range of the bunker from which the fire was coming. He silenced the machine gun with a hand grenade. Identifying several one man enemy positions nearby, Captain Sprayberry immediately attacked them with the rest of his grenades. He crawled back for more grenades and when two grenades were thrown at his men from a position to the front, Captain Sprayberry, without hesitation, again exposed himself and charged the enemy-held bunker killing its occupants with a grenade. Placing two men to cover his advance, he crawled forward and neutralized three more bunkers with grenades. Immediately thereafter, Captain Sprayberry was surprised by an enemy soldier who charged from a concealed position. He killed the soldier with his pistol and with continuing disregard for the danger, neutralized another enemy emplacement. Captain Sprayberry then established radio contact with the isolated men, directing them toward his position. When the two elements made contact, he organized his men into litter parties to evacuate the wounded. As the evacuation was nearing completion, he observed an enemy machine gun position which he silenced with a grenade. Captain Sprayberry returned to the rescue party, established security, and moved to friendly lines with the wounded. This rescue operation, which lasted approximately seven and one half hours, saved the lives of many of his fellow soldiers. Captain Sprayberry personally killed twelve enemy soldiers, eliminated two machine guns, and destroyed numerous enemy bunkers. For his valiant action, Captain James M. Sprayberry received the Medal of Honor.
On 25 April, the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry secured the abandoned airfield at A Luoi, enabling the 1st Brigade to land safely in the valley floor. Meanwhile, as the troopers moved out from the LZ, found stocks on ammunition and abandoned anti-aircraft guns mounted on flatbed trucks. The retreating soldiers had attempted to take as much of their stores as possible.
On 29 April, the 8th Engineer Battalion began working on the airstrip at A Luoi with heavy equipment that had been brought in by CH-54's. The field was actually ready to accept short take off and landing Caribou aircraft by noon on 01 May. However, it was not until the following day that the first cargo aircraft, a C-7A Caribou, landed at nearby LZ Stallion at 1120 hours. The 8th Engineers continued making runway improvements, working on the A Luoi airstrip so that it could handle the larger C-123 and C-130 cargo aircraft for resupply and extraction phases of the mission. Their task of upgrading the A Luoi airstrip to a C-130 capacity was completed on 03 May.
On 04 May, in A Shau Valley, First Lieutenant Douglas B. Fournet, "B" Company,
7th Cavalry distinguished himself in action while serving as rifle platoon
leader of the 2nd Platoon, "B" Company. While advancing uphill against
fortified enemy positions in the A Shau Valley, the platoon encountered
intense sniper fire, making movement very difficult. The right flank man
suddenly discovered an enemy claymore mine covering the route of advance and
shouted a warning to his comrades. Realizing that the enemy would also be
alerted, First Lieutenant Fournet ordered his men to take cover and ran uphill
toward the mine, drawing a sheath knife as he approached it. With complete
disregard for his safety and realizing the imminent danger to members of his
command, he used his body as a shield in front of the mine as he attempted to
slash the control wires leading from the enemy positions to the mine. As he
reached for the wire the mine was detonated, killing him instantly. Five men
nearest the mine were slightly wounded, but First Lieutenant Fournet's heroic
and unselfish act spared his men of serious injury or death. For his valiant
action, First Lieutenant Douglas B. Fournet received the Medal of Honor.
For the remainder of the extraction phase of Operation DELAWARE, the aircraft of the 227th AHB gave maximum air support to the ground commanders. With the rains increasing as they left, the 1st Brigade destroyed its firebases and left by the way they came, by helicopter. The skytroopers had thoroughly disrupted the favorite Viet Cong sanctuary and denied its use for any preemptive strike preparations. On 17 May Operation DELAWARE/LAM SON was closed out.
Completion of DELAWARE/LAM SON created a lull in operations which did not last long. On the night of 19 May, North Vietnamese Army rockets slammed into the ammunition supply dump area of Camp Evans. The secondary explosions of ammunition, creating a fireball which topped out at nearly 15,000 feet, caused significant damage to the helicopters on the flight line which was located directly across from the ammunition supply dump. Immediately after the explosion, the artillery launched a helicopter in an effort to determine the direction of the attack. It remained up all night with only brief refueling stops. Damage to the remaining helicopters of the 227th AHB and 228th ASHB was so severe that there was only one flight out the next morning for emergency supplies.
Shock waves and flying debris of the blasts created a lethal environment, burning many of the tents, damaging bunkers of the pilots and caving in many of the roofs. Damage estimates that the big blasts (7 of them) were entire ammunition revetments being ignited internally after being exposed to the intense heat of the surrounding fires. Each blast was 200,000 pounds of explosives going off at once, with the second blast being the largest. In all, there was 10,800,000 pounds of ammunition destroyed that night. In addition to the ammunition explosions, there was a Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants (POL) supply dump for vehicles on the south by the main road going thru Camp Evans, and a POL supply dump to the north for aviation gas which, when ignited by the rocket attacks and surrounding ammunition blasts, added to the conflagration. The damage, although extensive to the facilities and equipment, resulted in only one causality. The entire 1st Cavalry Division operations was nearly brought to its knees by the direct hit of a few rockets.
Immediately after the initial explosions, security guards on the perimeter began to fire at the retreating intruders. For the remainder of the night, the camp was inundated with explosion after explosion. With the return of the early morning calm, security levels were increased and no indigenous people were allowed on Camp Evans at night. Utilizing the recent learning experiences of locating hazard materials in the proximity of personnel and critical equipment, the new ammunition and POL supply dumps were relocated to one of the most remote areas of Camp Evans.
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.
On 28 June, in Quang Tri Province, Specialist Fourth Class Hector Santiago-Colon, "B" Company, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry distinguished himself at the cost of his life while serving as a gunner in the mortar platoon of "B" Company. While serving as a perimeter sentry, Specialist Fourth Class Santiago-Colon heard distinct movement in the heavily wooded area to his front and flanks. Immediately he alerted his fellow sentries in the area to move to their foxholes and remain alert for any enemy probing forces. From the wooded area around his position heavy enemy automatic weapons and small-arms fire suddenly broke out, but extreme darkness rendered difficult the precise location and identification of the hostile force. Only the muzzle flashes from enemy weapons indicated their position. Specialist Fourth Class Santiago-Colon and the other members of his position immediately began to repel the attackers utilizing hand grenades, antipersonnel mines and small-arms fire. Due to the heavy volume of enemy fire and exploding grenades around them, a North Vietnamese soldier was able to crawl, undetected, to their position. Suddenly, the enemy soldier lobbed a hand grenade into Specialist Fourth Class Santiago-Colon's foxhole. Realizing that there was no time to throw the grenade out of his position, Specialist Fourth Class Santiago-Colon retrieved the grenade, tucked it in to his stomach and, turning away from his comrades, absorbed the full impact of the blast. His heroic self-sacrifice saved the lives of those who occupied the foxhole with him, and provided them with the inspiration to continue fighting until they had forced the enemy to retreat from the perimeter. For his valiant action, Specialist Fourth Class Hector Santiago-Colon received the Medal of Honor.
On 14 July, command of the 1st Cavalry Division was transferred from General Tolson to Brigidier General Richard L. Irby, a veteran of World War II and Korea, who was serving as Assistant Division Commander. This change of command was soon followed by the passing of the reins, on 19 August, to Major General George I. Forsythe. General Forsythe had served both in the Pacific and Europe in World War II and then commanded the 502nd Airborne Infantry in 1956-57. In 1958 he had been assigned as senior advisor to the South Vietnamese Army.
On 25 October, the 1st Cavalry Division received orders to move to the III Corps Tactical Zone, a huge area around Saigon, which stretched west and north to the Cambodian border. From 28 October to 15 November, in Operation LIBERTY CANYON, the equivalent of a small sized town, packed, took wings and strategically repositioned itself at the other end of South Vietnam. The First Team established Division Headquarters at Phouc Vinh, assuming control and mission responsibility in four provinces; Phouc Long, Binh Long, Tay Ninh and Binh Duong. In a change of tactics, the brigades were deployed in a 150 mile arc north of Saigon. The 3rd Brigade established its base of operations at Quan Loi and the 2nd Brigade set up their base camp at Tay Ninh. The 1st Brigade set up its operations at a central location firmly between the 2nd and 3rd Brigades. The Division now confronted four enemy divisions; the 1st and 7th NVA and the 5th and 9th VC.
On 03 December, near Quan Loi, Sergeant John N. Holcomb, "D" Company, 2nd
Battalion, 7th Cavalry distinguished himself while serving as a squad leader
during a combat assault mission. Sergeant Holcomb's company assault had landed
by helicopter and deployed into a hasty defensive position to organize for a
reconnaissance-in-force mission when it was attacked from three sides by an
estimated battalion-size enemy force. Sergeant Holcomb's squad was directly in
the path of the main enemy attack. With complete disregard for the heavy fire,
he moved among his men giving encouragement and directing fire on the
assaulting enemy. When his machine gunner was knocked out, Sergeant Holcomb
seized the weapon, ran to a forward edge of the position, and placed withering
fire on the enemy. His gallant actions caused the enemy to withdraw. Sergeant
Holcomb treated and carried his wounded to a position of safety and
reorganized his defensive sector despite a raging grass fire ignited by the
incoming enemy mortar and rocket rounds. When the enemy assaulted the position
a second time, Sergeant Holcomb again manned the forward machine gun,
devastating the attacking enemy soldiers and forcing them to again break
contact and withdraw. During the enemy withdrawal an enemy rocket hit Sergeant
Holcomb's position, destroying his machine gun and severely wounding him.
Despite his painful wounds, Sergeant Holcomb crawled through the grass fire
and exploding mortar and rocket rounds to move the members of his squad,
everyone of whom had been wounded, to more secure positions. Although
grievously wounded and sustained solely by his indomitable will and courage,
Sergeant Holcomb, as the last surviving leader of his platoon, organized his
men to repel the enemy, crawled to the platoon radio and reported the third
enemy assault on his position. His report brought friendly supporting fires on
the charging enemy and broke the enemy attack. For his valiant action,
Sergeant John R. Holcomb received the Medal of Honor.
|1st Cavalry Area Of Responsibility - 1969|
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 operation the skytroopers netted one of the largest caches of munitions ever found in the Vietnam War. The spoils included more than 100,000 AK-47 rounds, 643 mortar rounds, 35,000 heavy machine guns rounds, and over a ton of explosives.
In February 1969, Operation CHEYENNE SABRE began in areas northeast of Bien Hoa with the mission to straddle and cut enemy infiltration routes. Most of the contact was light, but the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry engaged the enemy, netting more than six hundred enemy killed. The spring and summer actions were punctuated by many North Vietnamese and Viet Cong attempts to overrun 1st Cavalry Division firebases.
On 21 March, in Tay Ninh Province, Specialist Fourth Class Donald R. Johnston, "D" Company. 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry distinguished himself while serving as a mortarman, at a fire support base in Tay Ninh Province. His company was in defensive positions when it came under a devastating rocket and mortar attack. Under cover of the bombardment, enemy sappers broke through the defensive perimeter and began hurling explosive charges into the main defensive bunkers. Specialist Fourth Class Johnston and six of his comrades had moved from their exposed positions to one of the bunkers to continue their fight against the enemy attackers. As they were firing from the bunker, an enemy soldier threw three explosive charges into their position. Sensing the danger to his comrades, Specialist Fourth Class Johnston, with complete disregard for his safety, hurled himself onto the explosive charges, smothering the detonations with his body and shielding his fellow soldiers from the blast. His heroic action saved the lives of six of his comrades. For his valiant action, Specialist Fourth Class Donald R. Johnston received the Medal of Honor.
On 05 May, the 1st Cavalry Division welcomed its fifth Vietnam War commander,
Major General E. B. Roberts. General Roberts was a newly minted aviator and
former commander of the 1st Brigade. He had previously been assigned as Chief
of Staff, 11th Air Assault (Test) Division.
On 19 May, the 3rd Brigade moved to engage the 5th Viet Cong Division, which was trying to move toward the heavily populated of Long Binh and Bien Hos. The 3rd Brigade killed a total of 132 VC and captured many tons of food and ammunition before returning to Quan Loi in June.
On 02 June, in Tay Ninh Province, First Lieutenant Robert L. Poxon, "B" Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry distinguished himself while serving as a platoon leader on a reconnaissance mission. Landing by helicopter in an area suspected of being occupied by the enemy, the platoon came under intense fire from enemy soldiers in concealed positions and fortifications around the landing zone. A soldier fell, hit by the first burst of fire. First Lieutenant Poxon dashed to his aid, drawing the majority of the enemy fire as he crossed twenty meters of open ground. The fallen soldier was beyond help and First Lieutenant Poxon was seriously and painfully wounded. First Lieutenant Poxon, with indomitable courage, refused medical aid and evacuation and turned his attention to seizing the initiative from the enemy. With sure instinct he marked a central enemy bunker as the key to success. Quickly instructing his men to concentrate their fire on the bunker, and in spite of his wound, First Lieutenant Poxon crawled toward the bunker, readied a hand grenade and charged. He was hit again but continued his assault. After succeeding in silencing the enemy guns in the bunker he was struck once again by enemy fire and fell, mortally wounded. First Lieutenant Poxon's comrades followed their leader, pressed the attack and drove the enemy from their positions. For his valiant action, First Lieutenant Robert L. Poxon received the Medal of Honor.
On 18 July, Tay Ninh Province, Sergeant Rodney J. Evans, "D" Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism while serving as a squad leader in a reconnaissance sweep through heavy vegetation to reconnoiter a strong enemy position. As the force approached a well-defined trail, the platoon scout warned that the trail was booby-trapped. Sergeant Evans led his squad on a route parallel to the trail. The force had started to move forward when a nearby squad was hit by the blast of a concealed mine. Looking to his right Sergeant Evans saw a second enemy device. With complete disregard for his safety he shouted a warning to his men, dived to the ground and crawled toward the mine. Just as he reached it an enemy soldier detonated the explosive and Sergeant Evans absorbed the full impact with his body. For his valiant action, Sergeant Rodney J. Evans received the Medal of Honor.
On the night of 12 August the VC threw simultaneous attacks against Quan Lai, LZ Becky, LZ Jon, LZ Kelly and LZ Caldwell. The VC were thrown back, experiencing heavy losses and more were gunned down by helicopter gunships as they fled in retreat. In all, the VC lost seven hundred men.
On 14 September, near Song Be, Sergeant Donald S. Skidgel, "D" Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry distinguished himself while serving as a reconnaissance section leader. On a road near Song Be in Binh Long Province, Sergeant Skidgel and his section, with other elements of his troop, were acting as a convoy security and screening force when contact occurred with an estimated enemy battalion concealed in tall grass and in bunkers bordering the road. Sergeant Skidgel maneuvered off the road and began placing effective machine gun fire on the enemy automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade positions. After silencing at least one position, he ran with his machine gun across sixty meters of bullet-swept ground to another location from which he continued to rake the enemy positions. Running low on ammunition, he returned to his vehicle over the same terrain. Moments later he was alerted that the command element was receiving intense automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenade and mortar fire. Although he knew the road was saturated with enemy fire, Sergeant Skidgel calmly mounted his vehicle and with his driver advanced toward the command group in an effort to draw the enemy fire onto himself. Despite the hostile fire concentrated on him, he succeeded in silencing several enemy positions with his machine gun. Moments later Sergeant Skidgel was knocked down onto the rear fender by the explosion of an enemy rocket-propelled grenade. Ignoring his extremely painful wounds, he staggered back to his feet and placed effective fire on several other enemy positions until he was mortally wounded by hostile small arms fire. His selfless actions enabled the command group to withdraw to a better position without casualties. For his valiant action, Sergeant Donald S. Skidgel received the Medal of Honor.
In the closing months of 1969, the 3rd Brigade successfully stymied enemy infiltration of the roads, trails, and narrow paths of the "Serges Jungle Highway" hidden beneath the triple-canopy jungle.
In November, an important discovery, that proved costly to the enemy, was made 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.
On 02 December, in Phuoc Long Province, Second Lieutenant Robert R. Leisy, "B" Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry distinguished himself while serving as platoon leader during a reconnaissance mission. One of his patrols became heavily engaged by fire from a numerically superior enemy force located in a well-entrenched bunker complex. As Second Lieutenant Leisy deployed the remainder of his platoon to rescue the beleaguered patrol, the platoon also came under intense enemy fire from the front and both flanks. In complete disregard for his safety, Second Lieutenant Leisy moved from position to position deploying his men to effectively engage the enemy. Accompanied by his radio operator he moved to the front and spotted an enemy sniper in a tree in the act of firing a rocket-propelled grenade at them. Realizing there was neither time to escape the grenade nor shout a warning, Second Lieutenant Leisy unhesitatingly, and with full knowledge of the consequences, shielded the radio operator with his body and absorbed the full impact of the explosion. This valorous act saved the life of the radio operator and protected other men of his platoon who were nearby from serious injury. Despite his mortal wounds, Second Lieutenant Leisy calmly and confidently continued to direct the platoon's fire. When medical aid arrived, Second Lieutenant Leisy valiantly refused attention until the other seriously wounded were treated. His display of extraordinary courage and exemplary devotion to duty provided the inspiration and leadership that enabled his platoon to successfully withdraw without further casualties. For his valiant action, Second Lieutenant Robert R. Leisy received the Medal of Honor.
Although many of the First Team had made notable, personal sacrifices in the heavy engagements of 1969, the year ended on a high note for the 1st Cavalry Division. The Division had thoroughly smashed the domination of the enemy over the northern areas of III Corps.
Success of the local interdictions brought about by the Operations of KENTUCKY COUGER that were held in late 1969, led the North Vietnamese to put on a show of strength in neighboring Cambodia and Laos as well in South Vietnam. In the opening months of 1970, several pitched battles were fought with the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong who attempted to overrun bases. In every instance, the enemy was thrown back with heavy losses. There had been a slight increase in the fighting during the first week of each month. Many considered that the North Vietnamese were attempting to improve their bargaining position at any peace negotiations. These attacks shattered a general lull that had prevailed over the battlefield since the previous September. The shellings and ground assaults of the North Vietnamese proved that the enemy had retained the capacity to inflect heavy casualties. On 01 to 04 February, two hundred twenty-eight enemy troops died in a major attack on FSB Tina.
On 10 February, in Phuoc Long Province, Specialist Fourth Class John P. Baca, "D" Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry distinguished himself while serving on a recoilless rifle team during a night ambush mission. A platoon from his company was sent to investigate the detonation of an automatic ambush device forward of his unit's main position and soon came under intense enemy fire from concealed positions along the trail. Hearing the heavy firing from the platoon position and realizing that his recoilless rifle team could assist the members of the besieged patrol, Specialist Fourth Class Baca led his team through the hail of enemy fire to a firing position within the defensive perimeter of the patrol. As they prepared to engage the enemy, a fragmentation grenade was thrown into the midst of the patrol. Fully aware of the danger to his comrades, Specialist Fourth Class Baca unhesitatingly, and with complete disregard for his own safety, covered the grenade with his steel helmet and fell on it as the grenade exploded, thereby absorbing the lethal fragments and concussion with his body. His gallant action and total disregard for his personal well-being directly saved eight men from certain serious injury or death. For his valiant action, Specialist Fourth Class John P. Baca received the Medal of Honor.
In response to the attacks of increasing intensity by the North Vietnamese, the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry opened and closed seven Fire Support Bases (FSB) in as many weeks; 11 to 25 February, FSB Jamie; 25 February to 02 March, FSB Garyowen; 02 to 05 March FSB Heather; 05 to 08 March, FSB Victor; 08 to 13 March, FSB Flasher; 13 to 17 March, FSB Drum; 17 March to 02 April, FSB Illingsworth. Each firebase of the week was christened by choking, black dust as helicopters landed, each under hundred degree temperatures and each was soon littered by hundreds of empty artillery canisters.
Both FSB Illingsworth and FSB Jay, a similar stronghold to the south manned by the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, were only a hike away from Cambodia and were situated on a heavily trafficked infiltration routes of the "Dog Head" area. The disruption of these routes caused by patrols originating from FSB Illingsworth and FSB Jay was invaluable, but soon became a targeted objective of the North Vietnamese. It was anticipated that the enraged NVA would be tempted out of their sanctuary and openly attack the two positions.
At 0415 hours on 29 March, a tripflare suddenly ignited on the southern line of FSB Jay, and the firebase was suddenly deluged by rocket, mortar, recoilless rifle and rocket propelled grenade fire. The first rounds of the NVA barrage hit the antennae of the Command Post and artillery Fire Detection Center (FDC). All communications with FBS Jay ceased and the Brigade and the Division were not aware of the attack until FSB Illingsworth reported the glow of flares and flashes of explosives on the horizon.
A battalion of the 272nd NVA Regiment swarmed out of the trees and met the stiff resistance of "A" and "E" Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry and "B" Battery, 2nd Battalion, 19th Field Artillery. The NVA attack fell apart before dawn, and at first light, the dust-caked, bedraggled survivors of FSB Jay began standing up again. Fifteen of the troopers were killed and fifty-three were wounded. The remains of seventy four of the enemy were scattered over the firebase.
FSB Illingsworth was situated on the boiler pan of a dried up lake bed and surrounded by jungle. During the day, bulldozers and crews from the 8th Engineer Battalion were airlifted to the base to construct ammunition bunkers. In addition to its own "C" and "E" Companies, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, the firebase was protected by "B" Battery, 2nd Battalion, 19th Field Artillery, one quad 50mm guntrack from "B" Battery, 5th Battalion, 2nd Field Artillery (-), three 155mm SP Howitzers from the 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery, two 8 inch SP Howitzers, from "A" and "D" Batteries and two 175mm from "B" Battery, 32nd Field Artillery (-), six 105mm Howitzers from "B" Battery, 77th Field Artillery, a search light jeep from "I" Battery, 29th Field Artillery and support of "A" Troop, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.
Given the circumstances that FSB Jay was overrun only two days before, the
firebase commander scheduled an alert exercise every two hours after midnight.
Crews of the PP-55 Ground Surveillance Radar, upon detecting any movement
beyond the perimeter would initiate calls to the 2nd Battalion, 19th Field
Artillery Center at Tay Ninh who would initiate a prearranged exercise fire.
Along the perimeter berm, the M-60 machine guns would display a beautiful show
of tracers as they were being prepositioned. The woods, outlined by artillery
flashes, became silent and soon the radar crew could detect no more movement.
However at 0218 hours on 01 April, there was a different ending, the NVA was
making a full frontal assault. A battalion of the 272nd NVA Regiment had
deployed from behind the wall of the jungle that faced FSB Illingsworth on
three sides. From their hidden locations, the NVA opened fire with automatic
weapons and launched more than 200 rounds of mortar, rocket grenades, 107mm,
122mm and 240mm rockets that rained down on the base before they began to move
in on the perimeter.
During this engagement, on 01 April, in Tay Ninh Province, Sergeant Peter C.
Lemon, "E" Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry distinguished himself while
serving as an assistant machine gunner during the defense of Fire Support
Base Illingsworth. When the base came under heavy enemy attack, Sergeant Lemon
engaged a numerically superior enemy with machine gun and rifle fire from his
defensive position until both weapons malfunctioned. He then used hand
grenades to fend off the intensified enemy attack launched in his direction.
After eliminating all but one of the enemy soldiers in the immediate vicinity,
he pursued and disposed of the remaining soldier in hand-to-hand combat.
Despite fragment wounds from an exploding grenade, Sergeant Lemon regained his
position, carried a more seriously wounded comrade to an aid station, and, as
he returned, was wounded a second time by enemy fire. Disregarding his
personal injuries, he moved to his position through a hail of small arms and
grenade fire. Sergeant Lemon immediately realized that the defensive sector
was in danger of being overrun by the enemy and unhesitatingly assaulted the
enemy soldiers by throwing hand grenades and engaging in hand-to-hand combat.
He was wounded yet a third time, but his determined efforts successfully drove
the enemy from the position. Securing an operable machine gun, Sergeant Lemon
stood atop an embankment fully exposed to enemy fire, and placed effective
fire upon the enemy until he collapsed from his multiple wounds and
exhaustion. After regaining consciousness at the aid station, he refused
medical evacuation until his more seriously wounded comrades had been
evacuated. For his valiant action, Sergeant Peter C. Lemon received the Medal
On 26 April 1970 Major General Elvy B. Roberts, the 1st Cavalry Division Commander, received instructions from Lieutenant General Michael S. Davison, Commanding General, II Field Force Vietnam, to prepare plans for a coordinated attack to neutralize the Central Office South Vietnam base area in the "Fishhook" of Cambodia. He was also told that the 1st Cavalry should be prepared to implement this operation within 72 hours of notification.
During the period 26 to 28 April, the 1st Cavalry Division and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam Airborne Division conducted joint planning for the operation. The major consideration at that time was the allocation of sufficient forces to insure successful accomplishment of the mission while continuing to conduct tactical operations within the III Corps Tactical Zone. The Allied forces that were to be used for the Cambodian Campaign were then deployed against the northern tier of III Corps Tactical Zone. The 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry was deployed in the far western War Zone "C"; the 3rd Army, Republic of Vietnam Airborne Brigade was placed in central War Zone "C"; and the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry, were in the eastern portion. The 9th Regiment, 5th Army, Republic of Vietnam Division was operating in Binh Long Province with the 2nd Army of the Republic of Vietnam Airborne Brigade to their east. The 2nd Brigade of the Cavalry was in Phuoc Long Province. The 1st Cavalry Division Artillery Commander was responsible for the defense of a large sector centering on the Division headquarters at Camp Gorvad.
Essentially, an attack into Cambodia meant little change in the operations of the 1st Cavalry. The Division had been moving progressively up to the border and expanding its interdiction operations both to the east and the west. Small hasty fire bases, each established only for a few days, had become the method of operation. Company and platoon-size airmobile units fanned out through wide areas of jungle and forest, traveling light, receiving resupply only once every three days. Since the Division was already concentrating on fast-moving, light operations, leap-frogging from one small hasty fire base to the next, orders for the Cambodian campaign simply told it to do more of the same.
On 28 April, the Division was further directed to be prepared to commence operations within 48 hours of notification. It had been decided that a combined task force would make the initial assaults into Cambodia. Command and control of this operation was given to the Assistant Division Commander for Maneuver, 1st Cavalry Division, Brigadier General Robert M. Shoemaker. A combined US and Army of the Republic of Vietnam staff was assembled at this time and prepared the final plans for the "Cambodian Campaign," hereafter officially entitled "Operation TOAN THANG 43, TOAN THANG 45, and TOAN THANG 46."
In the early hours of 01 May 1970, the day for symbolic parades of military
might of Communists countries, six serials of B-52's dropped their heavy
ordnance on hard targets within the primary objective area. The last bomb was
dropped at 0545 hours. Fifteen minutes later an intense artillery preparation
began with the priority to the objective areas of proposed landing zones in
the 3rd Army, Republic of Vietnam Airborne Brigade. "D-day had arrived".
|1st Cavalry Incursion Into Cambodia|
At 0630 hours the 1st Army of the Republic of Vietnam Cavalry Regiment began its movement from the northwest of An Loc toward the border. At the same time a 15,000 pound bomb, with an extended fuse designed to detonate about seven feet above the ground, was dropped to clear the jungle at LZ EAST. This was followed fifteen minutes later by a similar drop at LZ CENTER. Shortly after on pre-planned targets, shifting to the objective areas of the 3rd Army, Republic of Vietnam Airborne Brigade during the period from 0700 to 0800 hours.
The 1st Squadron, 9th Air Cavalry began aerial reconnaissance operations early
on D-day and by 0740 hours had established contact. Five North Vietnam Army
soldiers and their 2-ton truck became the first recorded casualties of the
operation. At 0800 hours the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry conducted a landing
zone reconnaissance which was followed ten minutes later by the combat assault
of an Army of the Republic of Vietnam airborne battalion into LZ EAST. The
landing zone was secured and became a fire support base when six 105mm
howitzers and three 155mm howitzers were inserted shortly thereafter. During
this air assault, three companies of 2-34 Armor, 25th Infantry (OPCON to the
Division) and the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (OPCON to the Division) had
moved out of their staging area and crossed the line of departure, moving
north. In the 3rd Brigade area, "C" Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry
(Mechanized) crossed the Cambodian border at 0945 hours.
During the afternoon of D-day, two companies of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry made a combat assault into Objective X-RAY in the northern portion of the 3rd Brigade area of operation. This movement had been tentatively planned by General Shoemaker and, due to the relatively light resistance throughout the area, he ordered its execution as the final combat assault of D-day.
The enemy reaction to the opening of the Allied Offensive took the form of a confused, milling crowd, ill-prepared to deal with the massive onslaught that was unleashed. Tactical surprise was complete. The enemy had not left the area, nor had they reinforced or prepared their defenses. The heliborne assault forces were not greeted with heavy anti-aircraft fire but rather only with small arms fire from a few individuals. Nowhere in evidence were the heavy machineguns from the three antiaircraft battalion-size units known to be in the area. While later evidence showed that while some strategic preparations had been made hedging against a possible allied thrust, the enemy tacticians had not taken steps to counter an air assault. Airmobility had again caught the enemy off-balance. The results were evident, as noted in the following official excerpts of the day's activities:
On 03 May Task Force Shoemaker was reinforced with elements of the 2nd Brigade. Multiple small caches were being discovered by the ground units while the first large weapons cache was observed from the air by "A" Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry. This area was engaged with gunships and Tactical Air resulting in the destruction of seven 2-ton trucks, thirteen 1-ton trucks, and three jeeps. Another truck park in the nearby area was discovered and the Cavalry Troop destroyed nine trucks with their own gunships.
On 04 May 1970, "B" Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry observed numerous bunkers and military structures in a densely vegetated area northwest of the current ground operations. Additional aerial reconnaissance teams further reported that these structures and bunkers were connected with bamboo matted trails. One pilot also reported seeing numerous antennas in the southern part of the complex. On 05 May, "C" Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, in response to the aerial reconnaissance sighting reports, displaced into the northern half of the complex which had been dubbed "the city". Immediately upon entering the suspected area, the Cavalry troopers reported finding numerous storage bunkers measuring 16 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 8 feet deep. Subsequent reports indicated that most of the bunkers contained large quantities of weapons and munitions and that the enemy had just recently evacuated the area. Throughout the period 05 to 13 May, 182 storage bunkers, 18 mess halls, a training area and a small animal farm were discovered in the area.
The logistical storage bunkers contained clothing, food stocks, medical supplies, weapons and munitions. The bulk consisted of ammunition. Generally, all types of equipment and supplies were in an excellent state of preservation and in good operating condition when discovered. "The city" covered approximately three square kilometers and consisted of a well-organized storage depot that was capable of rapid receipt and issue of large quantities of supplies. Judging from the general condition of the oldest bunker and from translation of supply documents found in the area, it was apparent that the storage depot had been in operation for two to two and one-half years. Some bunkers had been constructed within the last six months.
Captured supply records indicated that the supply depot primarily supported the 7th North Vietnam Army Division. Based on the discovery of classroom facilities, numerous mess halls, firing ranges, as well as large stocks of items of personal clothing and equipment in the cache site area, it was determined that "the city" was also used to provide refresher military and political training to recent replacements from North Vietnam.
Selected items of equipment captured at this cache site complex included:
Throughout the Cambodian campaign, Allied forces would uncover other major
caches of provisions and equipment which proved that this area was truly one
of the most important logistical bases of the enemy. For example an element of
the 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division discovers a 170-ton rice cache 19 km
northwest of Memot, Cambodia. On 25 May, a large automotive parts cache was
discovered by "A" Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry which was the first of
a series of caches of various supplies discovered in the area from 25 May to
09 June. One of these, a communications depot, discovered by "D" Company, 2nd
Battalion, 8th Cavalry, indicated that the enemy did not have time to evacuate
his most valuable communications equipment. Considering the critical nature of
enemy signal equipment, it was felt that the equipment would have received top
priority for evacuation. Like "the city" cache site, this area also had
supplies segregated, by type, to facilitate storage and distribution to
receiving units. Equipment and supplies were for the most part new and in
Stores of caches of North Vietnamese arms that were found in Cambodia arms were safely handled and airlifted out for safe disposal. Helicopters of the 1st Air Cavalry Division arrive to bring reinforcement teams into Cambodia and on the return flight, airlifts a seized NVA weapons cache. As purple smoke was released, it rises to mark a safe LZ landing zone, Soldiers of the 1st Air Cavalry Division standby as a UH-1D helicopter lands with a squad of soldiers aboard. As it takes off, a CH-47 Chinook (cargo) helicopter moves in, hovering over the LZ and prepares to land near the weapons cache pile.
Unlike the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the Cambodian caches were filled with material
transported for the most part by truck. Truck repair centers and spare parts
were part of the logistics complex. The 1st Cavalry had deprived the enemy of
over 305 vehicles in its Cambodian operations. While a few of these were
primarily for passengers, such as a captured Porche, Mercedes-Benz and jeeps,
the vast majority were cargo carriers. These trucks had a total capacity of
442 tons. Intelligence showed that the captured vehicles were only a small
part of the North Vietnam Army truck inventory in Cambodia. During the early
days of the operation the Air Cavalry Squadron reported that many Cambodian
roads showed heavy use of trucks away from the area of operations. Obviously,
they had been among the first items to be moved out of the area.
On 29 June, the withdrawal of the 1st Cavalry from Cambodia, although the most critical of all the operations, was executed in a truly classic manner. The withdrawal sequence was time-phased to allow for the redeployment of one fire support base each day. This phasing would allow for even utilization of aircraft assets, particularly the CH-54 Cranes of the 273rd Aviation Company which were required for the movement of bridges, 155mm. howitzers, 2½-ton trucks, and bulldozers. On the second day of extraction, while lifting the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry from Fire Support Base DAVID, the aviation units ran into extremely poor weather with ceilings at zero, fog and rain. The Chinooks from the 228th Assault Support Helicopter Battalion showed the ultimate in professionalism by flying at extremely low levels through the valleys, skirting the fog-covered hills, and extracting the unit. On 24 June, while extracting Fire Support Base BRONCHO, one aircraft was downed and five others were hit. At the same time the fire support base was taking indirect fire regularly throughout the day. Using all possible suppressive fires from the armed helicopters, Fire Support Base BRONCHO was extracted at last light.
While in Cambodia, Major General George W. Casey, who had served as Assistant Division Commander of the 1st Cavalry Division during the final stages of the Cambodian interdiction, became Division Commander.
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.
On 07 July Major General George W. Casey was reported missing in action while enroute to visit wounded skytroopers in a field hospital at Cam Ranh Bay. His death was confirmed. Brigadier General J. R. Burton assumed temporary command until 20 July when Major General George W. Putman, Jr, a former First Team artillery commander and division chief, took over the command and led the Division through its final days in Vietnam.
Sweeping through III Corps through the remainder of 1970 and early 1971, the troopers searched out and engaged enemy forces and captured caches of supplies, weapons and ammunition. 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 performance, the Division was awarded two presidential Unit Citations, the Valorous Unit Citation, Vietnam Civic Action Medal and the Cross of Gallantry with Palm.
On 26 February Captain Jon E. Swanson, "B" Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, distinguished himself in support of a ARVN reconnaissance mission of searching for enemy regiments who had fled North to Cambodia. Captain was flying an OH-6A aircraft on a close support reconnaissance mission in support of Army of the ARVN, Task Force 333. in the Kingdom of Cambodia. Two well equipped enemy regiments were known to be in the area. Captain Swanson's mission was to pinpoint precise enemy positions. To accomplish this, he was required to fly at treetop level at a slow airspeed, thus making his aircraft a very vulnerable target. The advancing ARVN unit came under heavy automatic weapons fire from the enemy bunkers in a treeline approximately 100 meters to their front. Captain Swanson, completely exposing himself to enemy anti-aircraft fire, immediately engaged the enemy bunkers with concussion grenades and machine gun fire.
After destroying five bunkers and successfully evading ground-to-air fire, he discovered a .51 caliber machine gun position. He had expended his heavy ordnance on the bunkers and did not have sufficient explosives to destroy the positions. Consequently, he marked the position with a smoke grenade and directed a Cobra gunship attack on the position. Upon completion of the attack, he again returned to the area to assess the battle damage. Captain Swanson found the weapon still intact and an enemy soldier crawling over to man it. He immediately engaged the individual and killed him. His aircraft was then taken under fire by a second .51 caliber machine gun position. Although his aircraft had sustained several hits, Captain Swanson engaged the position with his aircraft weapons, marked the target, and directed a second Cobra gunship attack. He volunteered to continue the mission despite the fact that he was critically low on ammunition and his aircraft was crippled from the hits it sustained. While approaching the target area, Captain Swanson was taken under fire by yet another .51 caliber position. In an effort to mark the position with smoke, he again flew into the objective area. Although his aircraft was taking heavy fire, he continued to fly to the .51 caliber position. It was at this point that his aircraft exploded in the air and crashed to the ground. Captain Swanson's courageous actions resulted in at least eight enemy killed and the destruction of three enemy anti-aircraft positions, which would have been responsible for the destruction of many more helicopters and crews.
The valiant acts of Captain Jon E. Swanson clearly distinguished him
conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and
beyond the call of duty, For this action, Captain Jon E. Swanson received the
Medal of Honor.
On 05 May, the colors of the 1st Cavalry Division, minus those of the 3rd Brigade (Separate), were moved from Vietnam to Ft. Hood, TX and were passed to the commander of the former 1st Armored Division, Major General James C. Smith. After twenty-seven years of outstanding service, hardships and dedicated service overseas, the major part of the 1st Cavalry Division was back in Texas where it had been organized over fifty years ago.
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 to remain "in country". On 30 April, a 3rd Brigade (Separate), known as the "Garryowen Task Force", was organized and activated to carry out the continuing mission of the 1st Cavalry Division. The mission of the unit, composed of experienced, specialized fighting units, was to continue the interdiction of enemy infiltration and supply routes in War Zone D, known as "Cav Country".
To carry out the mission, the 3rd Brigade was assigned to a very large area encompassing thirty-five hundred square miles and defensive responsibility for the eastern approaches toward vital Siagon and Long Binh. As a result the Brigade was reconstituted with seven recycled battalions as well as sixteen companies and platoons.
|3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (Separate)|
2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment
1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment
2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment
1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment
|Brigade Aviation Units|
1st Aviation Platoon
"F" Troop, 9th Cavalry (Air)
229th Aviation Battalion
362nd Aviation Company
365th Aviation Detachment (04 Mar, 1972)
|Brigade Artillery Units|
1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery
"F" Battery, 26th Artillery (Prov)
"F" Battery, 77th Artillery, Aviation
"F" Battery, 79th Artillery (ARA) "Blue Max"
|Brigade Support Units|
14th Military History Detachment
26th Chemical Detachment
215th Support Battalion
501st Engineer Company
525th Signal Company
|Temporary Duty Unit|
2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry
34th Inf Platoon, (Scout Dog Patrol)
62nd Inf Platoon, (Combat Trackers)
75th Infantry Rangers, "H" Company
191st Military Intelligence Company
2nd Bn, 327th Inf Regiment, 101st AB Div
405th Radio Receiver Detachment
483rd Military Police Platoon
Radio Research Detachment (Prov)
By 14 December, 1971, the 3rd Brigade began an infusion with a rash of transferred units from other redeploying Divisions, such as the 101st Airborne, at a rate of 500 soldiers per week. Regardless of "Bush" time, the new arrivals were sent through the Brigade Combat Training Center. By the end of 1971, the 3rd Brigade had an assigned strength of 7,632 soldiers and continued its four fold mission of defending the Saignn and Long Binh military complex, training Vietnamese soldiers, ready to move into other military regions as a security fire brigade and preparing to execute various late-war contingency plans.
The 3rd Brigade became well equipped with helicopters from the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion and later, a battery of "Blue Max" aerial field artillery units and two air cavalry troops. A Quick Reaction Force (QRF) - known as "Blue Platoons", was maintained in support of any air assault action. The "Blues" traveled light, fought hard and had three primary missions;
"Blue Max", "F" Battery, 79th Aerial Rocket 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 US Air Force and 3rd Brigade gunships, the troopers captured the complex. Fifteen days later, helicopters of "F" 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.
On 30 March 1972, General Giap of the North Vietnamese Army began an offensive across the DMZ in a final attempt to unify the North and South. By 03 April, these thrusts became a full scale attack. More than 48,000 NVA and VC troops hit Loc Ninh. Two days later, on 05 April, the North Vietnamese threw heavy assaults against An Loc and announced that by 20 April, An Loc would be the new capital of the South for the North Vietnamese.
In April and May, stepped up bombings by B-52's helped blunt the North Vietnamese invasion. Large groups of enemy soldiers were caught in the open fields and entire NVA units were destroyed. Helicopters and gunships from the 3rd Brigade saw heavy action at An Loc and Loc Ninh, engaging heavy armor as well as ground troops. The intensity of the fighting took a heavy toll on them. For example, on 12 May, five Cobra Ships were destroyed in less than 30 minutes by Chinese Surface to Air (SA-7) Missiles.
On 15 May, relief units, moving down Highway 13, broke through and helped lift
the bitter siege of An Loc. The North Vietnamese were reeling from huge losses
and began to withdraw to their sanctuaries in Cambodia and Laos. Their spring
offensive aimed at cutting South Vietnam in half and capturing Saigon had been
decisively smashed. The helicopter air effort of the 3rd Brigade had turned in
a magnificent performance in support of the remaining advisors with the ARVN
units. During the period of 05 April through 15 May 1972, more than one
hundred T-54 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and anti-aircraft guns were
knocked out in the area around An Loc.
By 31 March 1972, only 96,000 US troops were involved in the combat operations in Vietnam. In mid June 1972, the stand-down ceremony for the 3rd Brigade was held in Bien Hoa and the colors were returned to the United States. The last trooper left from Tan Son Nhut on 26 June, completing the Division recall that had started on 05 May 1971. With the 3rd Brigade completing their withdrawal, the 1st Cavalry became the first US Army Division to go to Vietnam and the last to leave.
The service of the 1st Cavalry Division in the Vietnam War was not without a price. As a grim reminder of their remarkable legacy, the 1st Cavalry Division experienced causalities of 26,592 Wounded and 5,464 Killed In Action.
Fighting between South Vietnamese and Communists continued despite the peace agreement until North Vietnam launched an offensive in early 1975. The requests of South Vietnam for aid were denied by the US Congress, and after Nguyen Van Thieu, the President of South Vietnam, abandoned the northern half of the country to the advancing Communists, a panic ensued. South Vietnamese resistance collapsed, and North Vietnamese troops marched into Saigon on 30 April, 1975. Vietnam was formally reunified in July, 1976, and Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.
After a 20-year hiatus of severed ties, the US initiated formal normalization of diplomatic relations with Vietnam on 11 July, 1995. The cornerstone of this relationship is based upon the continued cooperation of Vietnam on the issue of Americans missing from the war. As of September 2000, 1,506 Americans who were killed in action with bodies not recovered remained unaccounted for in Vietnam. The US is actively pursuing 913 missing Americans in Vietnam. Since 1973, 412 Americans have been accounted for in Vietnam and since January 1993, the remains of 140 individuals have been repatriated and identified and returned to their families. Additionally, the Department of Defense has confirmed the fate of all but 41 of 196 individuals who fall under the "Last Known Alive" priority discrepancy cases in Vietnam. The US considers achieving the fullest possible accounting of Americans missing and unaccounted for to be its highest priority with Vietnam.
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