(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY U.S. GROUND FORCES IN VIETNAM 1965-1973"

in ii inn linn ii in 



cl 

QQ ^^ 

p m 



1O3 611 



The Rise and 

of an 
American Arm? 

US. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1965 




Flic* I^isc.* in id F'a.ll 

of mi 
A.iiioriea.11 A r iiiv 



The Rise and Fall 

of an 
American Army 

U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam 
1965-1973 

Shelby L. Stanton 



Copyright 1985 by Shelby L. Stanton 

Published by Presidio Press 

31 Pamaron Way, Novato CA 94947 



All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or uti- 
lized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including 
photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval 
systems, without permission in writing from the Publisher. Inquiries 
should be addressed to Presidio Press, 31 Pamaron Way, Novato, CA 
94947. 



Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data 

Stanton, Shelby L., 1948- 

The rise and fall of an American army. 

Bibliography: p. 

Includes index. 

1. Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975 United States. 
2. United States. Army History Vietnamese Conflict, 
1961-1975. L Title. 

DS558.S73 1985 959.704'342 84-26616 

ISBN 0-89141-232-8 



Printed in the United States of America 



Dedicated to the United States Soldiers and Marines 

who served in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, 

and Laos from 1961-1975. 




"The Call To Arms", by Auguste Rodin 



Contents 



Foreword x 

Introduction xv 

PART ONE: 1965 

Chapter 1. Advisors and Special Forces 3 

1. Advisors at War 3 

2. Special Forces at War 8 

3. Special Forces Under Siege 11 
Chapter 2. An Army Girds for Battle 18 

1. An Army Enters Vietnam 18 

2. A Battle for Troops 24 
Chapter 3. Marines at War 29 

1. "Send in the Marines!" 29 

2. The Marines Land 31 

3. The First Battle 35 

4. A Battle in the Monsoon 40 
Chapter 4. An Army Goes to War 45 

1. The Rock Regiment 45 

2. The Eagle Brigade 48 

3. The 1st Cavalry Division Goes to Vietnam 52 

4. The la Drang Valley Campaign 56 

PART TWO: 1966 

Chapter 5. The Build-Up 65 

1. Higher Headquarters and More Battalions 65 

2. The 1st Marine Division Arrives 67 

3. The 4th Infantry Division Goes to War 69 

4. The Raising of the 199th Infantry Brigade 70 

5. The 25th Infantry Division Deploys 71 



VI 



CONTENTS vii 



6. The llth Armored Cavalry Adds Armored Punch 74 

7. The 196th Infantry Brigade Is Diverted 76 

8. The 9th Infantry Division Goes Over 78 
Chapter 6. The Area War 81 

1. 1966 Campaign Strategy 81 

2. Army Tactics in 1966 85 

3. Air Assault 88 

4. Helicopters at War 91 

5. A Crisis of Pilots 95 
Chapter 7. The Central Front 97 

1. Battles for Base Camps, Plantations, and Roads 97 

2. Battles for Jungles, Valleys, and Plains 109 
Chapter 8. The Northern Front 117 

1. The Marine Offensive 117 

2. Trouble in I Corps Tactical Zone 120 

3. Guarding the DMZ 125 



PART THREE: 1967 

Chapter 9. The Year of the Big Battles 133 

1. 1967 Command Performance 133 

2. A Matter of Muscle 137 

3. The 101st Airborne Division Flies In 140 
Chapter 10. Battle for the Saigon Approaches 142 

1. Saigon Defense and the Iron Triangle Attack 142 

2. Into War Zone C 147 

3. Enterprising in Long An Province 153 
Chapter 11. Battle for the Highlands 157 

1. Western Battles 157 

2. Guarding the Border 164 

3. The Battle of Dak To 168 
Chapter 12. Holding the Line 179 

1. The DMZ Spring Campaign 179 

2. The DMZ Campaign Continues 183 

3. The Marine Coastal Campaign 189 
Chapter 13. Battle for the Coast 191 

1. A Task Force Named Oregon 191 

2. Battle for the Bong Son Plains 197 



viii CONTENTS 



PART FOUR: 1968 

Chapter 14. Year of Crises 205 

1, 1968: Military Posture in Vietnam 205 

2, 1968: Military Posture at Home 211 

3, Other Vietnam Military Considerations 215 
Chapter 15. The Battles of Tet-68 219 

1. Tet-68: Saigon 219 

2, Tet-68: Capitol Command Battles Beyond Saigon 227 

3. Tet-68: I Corps and Hue 231 

4, Tet-68: Countrywide 240 
Chapter 16. Siege and Breakthrough 247 

1. Khe Sanh: The Siege Begins 247 

2. Khe Sanh: The Pressure Mounts (Lang Vei) 250 

3. Khe Sanh: Siege and Relief 254 
Chapter 17. Counteroffensive 260 

1. Into the A Shau Valley 260 

2. Action Along the DMZ 264 

3. Incidents on the Northern Front 269 

4. Mini-Tet and Beyond 273 

PART FIVE: 1969 

Chapter 18. One War 283 

1. One War and Vietnamization 283 

2. The 1969 Post-Tet Offensive 287 

3. Convoy Battles 289 

4. Decline of an Army 293 
Chapter 19. One War in the Northern Provinces 295 

1. Guarding Borders 295 

2. Guarding the Coast 303 
Chapter 20. One War in the Southern Provinces 308 

1. Guarding the Cambodian Frontier 308 

2. Guarding the Saigon Approaches 319 

3. 1969 Army Field Performance 323 

PART SIX: 1970-1973 

Chapter 21. A Changing War 335 

1. Cross Border Attack 335 



CONTENTS ix 



2. War at Large 342 

3. An Army in Transition 346 
Chapter 22. An Army Departs the War 350 

1. Into Laos 350 

2. "Dynamic Defense" 355 

3. An Army Retreats 361 

4. Conclusion 363 
Guide to Unit Organization and Terms 369 
Sources and Bibliography 371 
Index 395 

MAPS 

Annual Campaign maps (following Part openers): 

Part 1 South Vietnam, 1965 

Part 2 South Vietnam, 1966 

Part 3 South Vietnam, 1967 

Part 4 South Vietnam, 1968 

Part 5 South Vietnam, 1969 

Part 6 South Vietnam, 1970-1973 
Battle Maps (following page 368): 

U.S. Military Presence in Vietnam 

The DMZ Front 

Hue and the A Shau Valley 

Phuoc Ha-Que Son-An Hoa Valleys 

la Drang Valley 

Junction City and Cedar Falls 

The Dak To Battlefield, 1967 

The Saigon-Bien Hoa-Long Binh Area 

Khe Sanh Area and Lam Son 719 Offensive 



FOREWORD 



On the wall of the War Plans Directorate in the Army General 
Staff used to hang a poster of a World War II infantryman with 
fixed bayonet advancing against the enemy. Underneath was the 
caption, "At the end of the most grandiose plans and strategies 
is a soldier walking point." It was a warning that if the soldier 
leading the attack could not carry the day, or if the mission was 
beyond his capabilities, then the plans and strategies were 
worthless. One of the terrible tragedies of the Vietnam war was 
that the reverse of that saying also proved to be true. No matter 
how bravely or how well the soldier on the point did his job, 
if the plans and strategies were faulty, all the courage and 
bloodshed were for naught. 

Since the end of the war, several works have been published 
examining the grievous faults of America's Vietnam war plans 
and strategies. Some of these accounts written, it is important 
to note, by self-proclaimed "experts" who never set foot in Viet- 
nam itself, much less on the battlefield have unconscionably 
extended these faults to the soldiers who fought the war. Tarred 
with the brush of America's defeat, their bravery, their dedi- 
cation, and their sacrifices have been denied, ignored, and for- 
gotten. Now for the first time Captain Shelby L. Stanton, a 
Vietnam combat veteran decorated for valor and now retired as 
a result of wounds suffered on the battlefield, gives us the full 
story of those soldiers on the point. 

In so doing, Captain Stanton exposes some of the more per- 
nicious myths that have distorted our understanding of the Viet- 



FOREWORD xi 



nam-war battlefield. Born at the highest levels, these myths be- 
gan to develop even before Army combat forces were committed 
to Vietnam. By the early 1960's, guerrilla war had become ro- 
manticized and quite fashionable among intellectual circles. Per- 
ceived as "a whole new kind of warfare," it was to be met with 
an equally romanticized response counterinsurgency. Subse- 
quently ordered into execution in 1962 by President Kennedy 
himself, then Army Chief of Staff General George H. Decker 
tried to explain to the President that "any good soldier can han- 
dle guerrillas." The President responded that "guerrilla fighting 
was a special art," and soon thereafter General Decker was re- 
moved from office. But from a lifetime as an infantry officer, 
General Decker knew something that President Kennedy's so- 
phisticated civilian advisors could never know: that for the ri- 
fleman, there is only one kind of war total war where the 
stakes are kill or be killed. In Washington and in higher military 
headquarters, the fine academic distinctions between general war, 
limited war, revolutionary war, or guerrilla war may make some 
sense, but at the foxhole level such distinctions are meaningless. 
But because these realities of war were dismissed as old- 
fashioned and out-of-date, the mythology of guerrilla war col- 
ored America's perception of the war. It created the impression 
that the war in Vietnam was a relatively minor struggle against 
simple, black pajama-clad peasants armed with bamboo stakes. 
However, with his series of vignettes on actual battlefield op- 
erations, Captain Stanton vividly illustrates that front-line com- 
bat in Vietnam was remarkably similar to the battles fought by 
those soldiers on the point who charged the Bloody Angle at 
Spotsylvania, who stormed the Nazi fortifications along the Sieg- 
fried Line, who broke through the Japanese defenses before 
Manila, and who assaulted the Chinese and North Korean en- 
trenchments on Pork Chop Hill. The casualty figures tell the 
story. The 1st Cavalry Division, for example, suffered some 30,253 
troopers killed or wounded in action during the Vietnam war, 
half again as many as the combined casualties it suffered during 
World War II and the Korean War. The 1st Infantry Division, 
which had led the assault in North Africa, Sicily, and the D- 
Day Invasion in Normandy during World War II, suffered more 
casualties in Vietnam than it did in that war. The 101st Airborne 



xii FOREWORD 



Division, which had won fame for its jump into Normandy and 
who held the line at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, 
suffered twice as many casualties in Vietnam as it did in World 
War II. 

Another reality of war dismissed as old-fashioned and out-of- 
date was the histories and the traditions of the units involved. 
But just as Caesar's legions fought and died for their Imperial 
Eagles, so soldiers and Marines in Vietnam fought and died for 
the honor of their regiments. As Captain Stanton puts it, "These 
divisions and combat brigades had distinctive personalities which 
somehow reflected their essence. . . . Soldiers could sense it, 
and often these collective divisional and brigaded entities seemed 
tied to destinies which predetermined their combat perfor- 
mance/' Bringing this critical and too often overlooked moral 
force to life, Captain Stanton draws on his earlier masterpiece, 
Vietnam Order of Battle, to describe not only the battles these 
units fought but the heritage of the units themselves. 

One of the important but unstated conclusions of The Rise 
and Fall of an American Army is that General Decker was right, 
a fact too long obscured by the mythology of guerrilla war. Cap- 
tain Stanton's compelling narrative of battle actions in Vietnam 
makes clear that "any good soldier" could, and did, "handle 
guerrillas," and American Army and Marine infantrymen han- 
dled this enemy the same way they had always handled the en- 
emy not by any new and esoteric techniques of guerrilla war 
but by the age-old infantry method of closing with the enemy 
and destroying him by fire and maneuver. Much has been made 
of the "horrendous" use of American firepower against poor, de- 
fenseless peasant revolutionaries. But, as Captain Stanton points 
out, the truth of the matter was that at the fighting level the 
war in Vietnam usually involved infantry assaults against well- 
armed Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army forces entrenched 
in fortified positions. The terrain in Vietnam, as in the hedge- 
rows of Normandy in World War II, gave the defender an enor- 
mous advantage. Fields-of-fire, invisible to advancing infantry- 
men, could be cut in the dense jungle undergrowth only a few 
feet off the ground. Caught in such "killing zones," entire com- 
panies could be wiped out in a matter of seconds. As in World 
War II, tactics changed from the traditional method of using 



FOREWORD xiii 



firepower to fix the enemy and hold him in position so that he 
could be destroyed by maneuver i.e., by infantry squads at- 
tacking on his flanks to a tactic of using maneuver to find the 
enemy fortifications and then using massive firepower to destroy 
them. 

The results of such tactics were revealed by the North Viet- 
namese Army's battlefield commander General Vo Nguyen Giap 
himself in a 1969 interview with the Italian journalist, Oriana 
Fallaci. Giap admitted that from 1964 to 1968 the North Viet- 
namese had lost over 500,000 soldiers killed in action on the 
battlefield. As a percentage of their population, University of 
Rochester Professor John Mueller has pointed out, this was a 
casualty rate "probably twice as high as those suffered by the 
fanatical, often suicidal Japanese in World War II." 

For those on either side involved in fighting it, Vietnam was 
not a minor war. With his gripping descriptions of the Vietnam 
battlefields, Captain Stanton has not only shed new light on the 
ferocious intensity of the war, he has also reminded us of the 
timeless nature of the infantry. Too often fascinated by bright 
and shiny technologies of war, it is well to be reminded that it 
was the infantry what has been called "the old-fashioned sol- 
dier on foot, the ancient and unglamorous 'Cinderella " of war 
who, for the United States and the North Vietnamese and Viet 
Cong as well, proved to be the decisive force on the battlefield. 

The yet-to-be-built monument to the Korean war, no matter 
how artistic or well constructed, can never hope to equal the 
memorial provided by T. R. Fehrenbach's This Kind of War. 
Written ten years after the war by a former tank platoon leader 
and company commander in combat there, this memorial honors 
the men who fought and died in Korea much more than any 
stone monument ever could. While the stone monuments to the 
war in Vietnam including the monument in our Nation's cap- 
ital now complete with its "Three Fighting Men" statue are 
important remembrances of our fellow countrymen who served 
with honor and distinction in that unpopular war, the enduring 
memorial to that war is only now coming into existence. But 
with the publication of The Rise and Fall of an American Army, 
the foundation has been laid. Writing, like Fehrenbach, ten years 
after the end of the war, former Special Forces advisor and 



xiv FOREWORD 



combat infantry platoon leader Shelby Stanton has provided a 
lasting tribute to the men who fought and died in Vietnam. Those 
who served there and those who would understand those who 
served there owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. 

HARRY G. SUMMERS, JR. 

Colonel of Infantry 

Army War College 

Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania 

7 December 1984 



INTRODUCTION 



The Rise and Fall of an American Army is a battlefield history 
of the United States ground forces in the Vietnam war from 
1965 through 1973. This book covers both the U.S. Marine Corps 
and the Army, since the term American Army is being used in 
a larger sense to signify the combined military land forces of a 
nation. 

This battlefield history concentrates on how the United States 
Army and Marine Corps raised combat units and deployed them 
to Vietnam, and then how these units were employed and fought 
during the war. The book highlights significant military factors 
which affected unit performance in Vietnam. To provide conti- 
nuity within the framework of overall United States military his- 
tory, the historical backgrounds of most line regiments fielded 
in Vietnam have been briefly summarized in the footnotes. Thus, 
matters of smaller unit heritage do not infringe upon the nar- 
rative, but are still readily available for the interested reader. 
Although the fall of Saigon and the fall of an American Army 
are two separate themes, the allied efforts in Vietnam were so 
intertwined that they directly impacted on American combat 
performance. The South Vietnamese actions and operations de- 
scribed in this work are believed necessary to tell the complete 
story. 

The book is arranged chronologically, so that each of its six 
parts covers a specific span of time. The first chapter within a 
part gives the overall strategic campaign background for that pe- 
riod. The remaining chapters are divided so that each covers 



XV 



xvi INTRODUCTION 



military activity during that time in a certain region of the coun- 
try. Although this arrangement is somewhat imperfect, since 
January events in the northern sector of Vietnam are discussed 
after December battles elsewhere are concluded in a previous 
chapter, the geographical pattern of area warfare in Vietnam was 
most appropriately described using this organization. 

Casualty statistics for specific actions and operations have been 
deliberately avoided in this narrative because of their general 
unreliability. Accurate assessments of North Vietnamese Army 
and Viet Cong losses were largely impossible due to lack of dis- 
closure by the Vietnamese government, terrain, destruction of 
remains by firepower used, and the fact that allied ground units 
were often unable to confirm artillery and aerial "kills." The en- 
tire process of accumulating valid casualty data was also shrouded 
by the shameful gamesmanship practised by certain reporting 
elements under pressure to "produce results." American losses 
were subject to statistical manipulation as well. For instance, 
dying soldiers put aboard medical evacuation helicopters were 
often counted as only wounded in unit after-action tables. The 
author has relied instead on describing the intensity of a given 
battle, and quoting valid munitions expenditures to give the 
reader a fair gauge of the severity of actions included in the 
text. 

The information in this book was derived primarily from the 
original unit records of the United States Army and Marine Corps. 
I owe a great debt of gratitude to the able personnel of the 
military history detachments who served in the Vietnam War. 
All sources utilized are arranged by chapter and section in a 
special section at the back of the book, where original Vietnam 
materials are further identified with their individual document 
accession codes. In this manner background data is fully de- 
scribed for each section without resort to extensive footnoting 
within the main narrative. 

I also wish to acknowledge the assistance and suggestions 
given by the staffs of the Army Chief of Military History and 
Marine Corps History Division; the Directorate of Freedom of 
Information and Security Review of the Assistant Secretary of 
Defense; Dr. John Henry Hatcher; Mr. T. M. Colkitt; Ms. Wanda 
Radcliffe; Brigadier General E. H. Simmons, U.S. Marine Corps; 



INTRODUCTION xvii 



Dr. Jack Shulimson; Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr., U.S. Army; 
Lieutenant Colonel John F. Sloan, U.S. Army, Retired; Colonel 
Robert V. Kane, U.S. Army, Retired; and Mr. Richard W. Marsh, 
Jr. Finally, this book would not have been possible without ex- 
pertise of my editor, Adele Horwitz; the encouragement of my 
father, Samuel Shelton Stanton; and the loving cooperation of 
my wife, Kathryn. 



SB* 




in.,*" 1 V 




PART 1 

1Q65 



DMZ 

Bo HoSu 



Ben Hai River 



Hue , 
Phu Bai 



. Hai Van Pass 



Da Nang 



' Monkey Mountain 



Marble Mountain 
Phuoc Ha 
Valley 

Hiep Due 
Route 534 



JTiang Binh 

Ky 
Chu Lai 

Van Tuong 

Peninsula 
/ 

Ba Gia 
Quang Ngai 




Highway 19 
Pleiku 

la Drang Valley I Due Co 



An 



KEY TO OPERATIONS 

1 - STARLITE 

2 - HARVEST MOON 
3- HUMP 

4 - GIBRALTAR 

5 -SILVER BAYONET 



LZ X-Ray ^ 
Chu Pong Massif I 



Camp An Khe 
Holloway Qui Nhon \ 

Plei Me 



Thuan Loc Rubber Plantation 
Dong Xoai 



9 Song Be 



Cam Ranh Bay 



War Zone C 



Bien 



[War Zone D 



Saigon 



BinhGia 



Phan Thiet 



Vung Tau 



Soc Trang 



5,0 



100 



scale miles 

Map by Shelby L Stanton 



-N- 



South Vietnam - 1965 



CHAPTER 1. 



ADVISORS AND SPECIAL 
FORCES 



1. Advisors at War 

To many Vietnamese, their narrow S-shaped strip of land 
stretching along the seaward rim of Southeast Asia resembled a 
dragon facing the equator. The head and mane formed the 
southern region, with front legs thrust out into the Gulf of Siam, 
and the slender body curved around the Gulf of Tonkin to coil 
its massive tail against China in the north. Since the Geneva 
Conference on July 21, 1954, this dragon had been chopped in 
half, divided at a line of demarcation along the 17th parallel. 
This was the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and 
South Vietnam. Vietnamese geomagicians were quick to point 
out that, in the position described, the Vietnamese dragon was 
a portent of national reunification. 

Vietnam's southern half was officially the Republic of Viet- 
nam, a thin 1,500-mile crescent-shaped country more commonly 
known as South Vietnam. Its long outer coasts are washed by 
the Pacific Ocean, and its interior mosaic of mountains, jungles, 
plains, and swamps are hedged in by the spine of the Chaine 
Annamitique, a western mountain range, which fades south into 
a vast alluvial plain created by the delta of the Mekong River. 

Palm-lined white sand beaches fringe coves and bays where 
coral reefs can be clearly seen through the glassy sea. A vibrant 



4 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



green mantle of rice paddies extends inland. These stretch al- 
most endlessly across the flat delta, crisscrossed by ribbons of 
canals. At the time of the war, many areas of South Vietnam 
remained a wild and exotic wilderness. Mountain slopes dropped 
deep into luxurious growths of tropical flora, bracken, tuft-twisted 
bamboos, and majestic jungle trees. Silver rivers and waterfalls 
laced the deep rain forests. These were steeped in a wonderful 
variety of folklore and legend. Large rubber and coconut plan- 
tations stretched across rolling plains, and tigers stalked pine- 
forested plateaus. 

Tropical monsoons allowed only two seasons; hot and dry 
and hot and rainy, and the alternation of the monsoons and dry 
seasons determined the pattern of life. The majority of the 
eighteen million inhabitants lived in the open lowland plains and 
rice-bearing deltas. Their hamlets and villages were generally 
self-governing. An old proverb states that the Emperor's law stops 
at the village gate. The people had existed through the centu- 
ries by cultivating rice on lands irrigated by primal pumps and 
sluices. The rugged uplands region was left to the ethnically 
alien and primitive mountain tribes. 

South Vietnam was at war with a North Vietnamese-spon- 
sored Viet Cong insurgency that was aimed at toppling the Sai- 
gon regime. The death of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh 
Diem and the collapse of his regime in the military-led coup of 
November 1963 ushered in a series of coalition governments re- 
plete with successive plots and counterplots. These political up- 
heavals crippled central authority, while the division of military 
leaders between opposing cliques caused fatal turmoil in the 
armed forces. In the meantime, the Viet Cong were scoring ma- 
jor victories on the battlefront. The South Vietnamese Army's 
morale was wrecked, and its combat effectiveness was practically 
nil. In the majority of rural areas where governmental authority 
had collapsed altogether, the Viet Cong enjoyed firm control. 

As 1965 was being ushered in, a newly formed and well- 
equipped VC division overran Binh Gia near Saigon and then 
stood its ground to challenge and destroy counterattacking South 
Vietnamese units during a four-day period. 1 In previous en- 

1. The 9th VC Division attacked and captured Binh Gia on December 27, 



ADVISORS AND SPECIAL FORCES 5 



counters the VC had withdrawn shortly after attacking, and such 
a bold success was deeply troubling to South Vietnam's principal 
ally, the United States. 

America's field advisory element of its Military Assistance 
Command, Vietnam (MACV), contained over 4,700 officers and 
sergeants during 1964, and their professionalism and dedication 
was the glue holding the South Vietnamese Army together as 
the year closed. They could be seen accompanying ARVN sol- 
diers on routine patrols and in combat assaults, their tall lanky 
figures crowned with maroon berets or faded green, sweat-soaked 
baseball caps; while strapping shoulder holsters and World War 
II carbines. Wearing utility shirts adorned with brightly colored 
Vietnamese and American rank insignia crowding their gold-let- 
tered U.S. ARMY tapes and white name tags, they represented 
an era that was rapidly slipping into oblivion on the eve of the 
"big war," These were the pioneers of a rising United States 
involvement in Vietnam, the pathfinders in a war destined to 
consume an entire American Army. 

The military advisor's job was incredibly difficult and haz- 
ardous. The very nature of his work exposed him to constant 
political pressures and extremely dangerous situations. His re- 
sponsibilities often extended beyond pure instruction to include 
combat planning, linking up needed communications, assuring 
the availability of medical assistance, and arranging for logistical 
support. He was given no command authority yet often had to 
provide direct leadership on the battlefield. In the midst of 
combat he was depended on to provide cool-headed advice and 
a steadying presence, as well as to ensure critical liaison with 
decisive American airpower. In many cases it fell upon his 
shoulders personally to rally units on the brink of panic. 

One of these advisors was Capt. Donald R. Robinson, who 
was attached to the 51st ARVN Regiment's 1st Battalion, part 
of an undeclared war that was looming larger and more dan- 
gerous every month. A company of the battalion, dwarfed by 
oversized American helmets and clutching cumbersome Amer- 



1964. Despite intense American helicopter gunship attacks, the Viet Cong 
demolished the 33d ARVN Ranger Battalion, which managed to reach the 
edge of the village, and the 4th VNMC Battalion sent in to assist. 



6 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



ican Ml rifles, nonchalantly patrolled a road near the small hamlet 
of Ba Gia west of Quang Ngai on May 26, 1965. Captain Ro- 
binson's Son Tinh district was one of those backwater areas that 
had not seen battle, and he had been told the Viet Cong in the 
region were a bunch of ragtag guerrillas incapable of sophisti- 
cated military action. He had been gravely misinformed. 

The Viet Cong of the 1st Regiment, Region V Liberation Army 
had carefully prepared their attack positions. They had estab- 
lished a series of strategically placed ambush zones designed to 
annihilate this battalion as well as expected relief columns. When 
the lead company walked into the killing zone, the peaceful drone 
of tropical insects was shattered by a deafening fusillade of com- 
bined rifle and machine-gun fire which cut through the frail 
company ranks like a scythe. 

Even at this point the trouble seemed to be little more than 
a hit-and-run ambush, which by 1965 could be expected any- 
where in the Vietnamese countryside. The battalion command- 
er immediately dispatched a second company to the scene of 
combat, but midway there it was bushwhacked from another di- 
rection. Leaving a small reserve behind, the rest of the five 
hundred-man battalion now went to the relief of its two engaged 
companies. The VC closed in from all sides, and the battalion 
disintegrated under a hailstorm of grenades and automatic weap- 
ons fire. In less than twenty minutes it had been wiped out. 
Only sixty-five soldiers and three advisors managed to escape. 

It wasn't until four days later that a three-battalion ARVN 
relief force finally sauntered out of Quang Ngai, escorted by a 
mechanized troop of armored personnel carriers. The battalions 
advanced in three widely separated drives, intending to con- 
verge on the original ambush site. The Viet Cong were well 
prepared for any countermoves and had covered each approach 
route. 

The 39th ARVN Ranger Battalion moved into its selected 
objective area without incident on May 30, but at two o'clock 
in the afternoon it was subjected to a furious barrage of recoil- 
less rifle and machine-gun fire. The 2d Battalion of the 51st ARVN 
Regiment was ordered to reinforce the rangers, but before it 
could move it was also attacked. When the 3d South Vietnam- 
ese Marine Corps (VNMC) Battalion came under simultaneous 



ADVISORS AND SPECIAL FORCES 7 



attack all three battalions were effectively locked in isolated bat- 
tles for survival. 

Throughout the rest of the day each separate battalion pe- 
rimeter was hit by numerous ground assaults. Viet Cong 75mm 
pack artillery howitzers sent shells crashing into the broken de- 
bris of foliage and toppled trees. Fallen soldiers from the 51st 
ARVN Regiment's second battalion were strewn all over the 
roadway. The tracked carriers hammered the tree line with heavy 
machine-gun fire as they coughed out clouds of engine exhaust 
and clanked into reverse. The infantrymen stumbled backwards, 
some exchanging desultory rifle fire but others tossing away 
weapons in dazed discouragement. Using the armored personnel 
carriers as cover, the decimated battalion managed to break away 
and retreat toward the town. 

The other battalions were unable to pull back. Their circular 
defensive positions, hastily set up in fallen timber and clumps 
of vegetation, were caving in as the Viet Cong pressed their 
relentless attacks. With the onset of darkness, mortars began 
pounding the provincial capital of Quang Ngai and its airfield. 
The 39th ARVN Ranger Battalion had suffered particularly high 
losses. Swarms of Viet Cong, some clutching German burp guns, 
charged forward through the shattered thickets and into the 
shrunken ranger lines. They stormed past the dead and wounded 
defenders of the center company and overran the battalion 
headquarters. 

Since that afternoon fighter aircraft had been roaring down 
to hurl bombs in the burning jungle below. Next came strafing 
runs over the forested battlefield. These aerial attacks continued 
throughout the night. Finally, just before daylight and after en- 
during 446 aircraft sorties, the VC broke off further combat. Air- 
power alone was credited with saving the South Vietnamese force 
from complete annihilation. This battle convinced Captain Rob- 
inson of the military proficiency of the Viet Cong and of the 
swiftly changing nature of the Vietnam War. 

Viet Cong formations were attacking targets throughout the 
country, and the deteriorating South Vietnamese armed forces 
were being beaten in a series of sharp reverses. The United 
States decided to remedy the alarming situation by introducing 
large American combat formations in early 1965. This decision 



8 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



would stave off the total defeat of the Republic of Vietnam for 
ten years. 

2. Special Forces at War 

The United States Army first sent its Special Forces com- 
mando-advisors to Vietnam in 1957 as the vanguard of American 
front-line military assistance efforts. For nearly a decade they 
had been waging a localized guerrilla war through the battle- 
scarred tropical forests and delta marshlands of South Vietnam. 
There they had forged a lengendary reputation as one of the 
finest, yet most unorthodox, formations of the United States 
military. The new year of 1965 brought the realization that their 
antiguerrilla tactics were hopelessly outclassed by the increased 
tempo of conflict. The former, limited "Special Forces war" was 
ending, and they were now caught up in the full hurricane of 
conventional warfare. 

The Army Special Forces was popularly known simply as the 
"Green Berets," in tribute to its trademark the green beret 
awarded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. President Ken- 
nedy's enthusiasm had been the guiding force behind its crea- 
tion as the elite nucleus of his counterinsurgency strategy. How- 
ever, the Special Forces was not the ranger strike force that its 
heritage implied. 2 Instead it was a flexible grouping of highly 
trained sergeants and officers, designed to carry out a novel mil- 
itary doctrine being labeled "unconventional warfare." This 
complex program of guerrilla wars and countersubversion quickly 
translated into a very ancient military policy; the art of training, 
advising, and supporting foreign regular and irregular armed 
forces. The Army's Special Forces proved to be just the right 
combination for implementation of these training missions on a 
global basis, and so it came early to the tropical rice-and-jungle 
countryside of South Vietnam. 

In the shadowy years of 1961 through 1964, before massive 
American military intervention in Vietnam, the Army Special 

2. In its zeal to give the new Special Forces a solid heritage of special unit 
lineages upon its creation in 1952, the Department of the Army bestowed 
upon it the honors and lineage of the joint U.S. -Canadian mountain com- 
mando 1st Special Service Force ("Devil's Brigade") and the ranger battalions 
of World War II. 



ADVISORS AND SPECIAL FORCES 9 



Forces had evolved into a unique and invaluable extension of 
American combat power. Traditional Special Forces orientation 
was the training of resistance forces in enemy territory. In Viet- 
nam, the Special Forces mission was to teach government-spon- 
sored forces in "friendly" territory. Instead of practicing guer- 
rilla warfare, it found itself defending conventional fortified camps 
against Viet Cong insurgents. Slowly its influence permeated the 
remotest areas of South Vietnam, and the Special Forces be- 
came a mainstay of American presence. It was able to affect the 
battlefield in an all-encompassing manner unknown to conven- 
tional strategy. 

The fundamental Special Forces responsibility throughout the 
Vietnam War was actually the Civilian Irregular Defense Group 
(CIDG) program, which had been started on November 1, 1961, 
under the operational control of the U.S. Central Intelligence 
Agency. 3 Begun as an experimental effort with the Rhade tribe 
of Darlac Province, the aim of the program was continued to 
gain the loyalty and cooperation of the isolated ethnic minority 
groups of South Vietnam, over which the Saigon regime had 
little or no control, and to create paramilitary (i.e., nonregular 
army) forces from their ranks. Hardworking teams of stalwart 
Special Forces members living under the most primitive con- 
ditions, disdainfully suspected as having "gone native" by senior 
military authorities, transformed hamlet militia and tribal bow- 
men into their beloved CIDG "strikers." By sharing common 
bonds of danger and hardship, a rare and lasting personal re- 
lationship was cemented between the gruff, burly Special Forces 
Americans and the small, wiry tribesmen. 

The trend toward establishing Special Forces camps closer 
to Vietnam's rugged frontiers had been initiated by a U.S. Cen- 

3. The CIDG (pronounced sid-gee) was the South Vietnamese country-wide 
Civilian Irregular Defense Group, civilian irregulars recruited from the local 
areas around the camps on a paramilitary basis by Special Forces. They were 
capable of conducting local security and limited reconnaissance operations, 
and were organized into 150-man light infantry companies. Their performance 
varied greatly depending on the amount of training and equipment they had 
received. While the 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam boasted of 19,900 
CIDG under arms at the beginning of 1965 (and 28,200 by year's end), these 
forces lacked the fire support, motivation, and inherent leadership to qualify 
them as conventional units. 



10 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



tral Intelligence Agency border surveillance program cranked up 
in June of 1962 and dumped in the laps of the Special Forces 
a year later. The Montagnard tribal "trailwatchers" and "moun- 
tain scouts" inherited with this new mission were assimilated 
into a kaleidoscopic array of Special Forces-led native contin- 
gents. The four CIDG border surveillance camps of November 
1963 had mushroomed to eighteen by mid-1964. 

By the fall of 1964 the Vietnam War had heated up to the 
point where the Army decided to transfer the 5th Special Forces 
Group (Airborne) from the pines of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 
to Nha Trang, Vietnam. The personnel of the group wore a solid 
black cloth "flash," or recognition patch, on their coveted green 
berets. The colors of the South Vietnamese flag were now sewn 
diagonally across the black background of the flash. The 5th 
Special Forces Group (Airborne) became synonymous with Spe- 
cial Forces duty in Vietnam. 4 There all training was put to the 
actual test of war. Already by the beginning of 1965, three out 
of every four Special Forces soldiers assigned to the group had 
a previous tour of combat in Vietnam behind them. They had 
received the best antiguerrilla experience possible by fighting 
the Viet Cong guerrillas themselves. 

In its formative years the CIDG program had been defen- 
sive in nature, the small camps being susceptible to overruns 
by swift Viet Cong attack. In 1965, in tune with the Army's 
buildup and offensive posture, the Special Forces role and the 
CIDG effort assumed an increasingly aggressive stance. "Eagle 
Flight" reserves designed to reinforce camp defenses were soon 
expanded to larger mobile reaction forces called "Mike Forces." 
Special missions, such as the long-range reconnaissance patrol- 
ling under Project LEAPING LENA, were formalized as part 
of the expanding hand of trump cards Special Forces could play. 
LEAPING LENA became Project DELTA, and a headquarters, 

4. The 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was a Regular Army unit which 
was activated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on September 21, 1961. By that 
time Special Forces personnel were heavily engaged in action in South Viet- 
nam. In September 1962 there was enough need for a group-sized Special 
Forces presence that the U.S. Army Special Forces, Vietnam (Provisional), 
was established. The 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) arrived in Vietnam 
on October 1, 1964, and took over the missions and assets of the old pro- 
visional group, which was discontinued. 



ADVISORS AND SPECIAL FORCES 11 



Detachment B-52, was organized in June to control it. Project 
DELTA operations would range throughout South Vietnam dur- 
ing the course of the war locating NVA/VC units and installa- 
tion, gathering information, directing air strikes, conducting 
special raids, reinforcing camps, and performing a host of top 
secret assignments. 

In theory the U.S. Army Special Forces was supposed to 
advise a South Vietnamese clone called the LLDB (Lac Luong 
Dae Biet), which would actually run the CIDG program. In reality 
the ineptitude of the South Vietnamese Special Forces permit- 
ted the Americans no choice but to continue full leadership 
themselves. Although it improved during the war and there were 
numerous individual exceptions, the LLDB in general suffered 
from a number of deficiencies, among them lack of training and 
capability. However, the American Green Beret soldiers most 
resented the unwillingness of LLDB personnel to lead CIDG 
soldiers in battle, and the racial animosity and distrust the Viet- 
namese expressed toward the Montagnards and other tribal mi- 
norities. These factors prevented the planned successful turn- 
over of the CIDG program to the Saigon regime. The envisioned 
ability of the U.S. Army Special Forces to "work itself out of a 
job" never really materialized. When, in 1970, the 5th Special 
Forces Group (Airborne) was finally forced to turn over its camps 
and formally return to the United States, it left much unfinished 
and unresolved. 

The Special Forces also worked a serious drain on the Ar- 
my's leadership resources, which the Army could not afford after 
the big Vietnam buildup. The retention of thousands of excel- 
lent sergeants in such an elite organization, especially after the 
Army's expansion (which had created a grave shortage of non- 
commissioned officers), deprived the Army's regular units of valu- 
able combat leadership at a most critical time. The hardship 
was so acute that the lack of available line sergeants, with their 
potential discipline and experience, ended up being a major fac- 
tor in the Army's decline. 

3. Special Forces Under Siege 

By the summer of 1965, the blazing perimeters of Special 
Forces garrisons glowed throughout the length of South Viet- 



12 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



nam like brushfires under the darkening storm of total war. On 
the overcast night of May 10 a heavy barrage of mortar and 
recoilless rifle fire crashed into the compound of Special Forces 
Control Detachment B-34 at Song Be. Behind this wall of ex- 
ploding dirt and steel four battalions of Viet Cong regulars surged 
through the town and overwhelmed the scattered positions of 
the 36th ARVN Ranger Battalion. 

The Special Forces defenders put up a resolute defense of 
the American compound, sandwiched between the ARVN ranger 
barracks and the province chiefs home, but one sapper squad 
was able to fight its way across the barbed wire and storm the 
mess hall. The mess hall had been converted into a medical aid 
station and was now filled with aidmen frantically working on 
the wounded. Suddenly the Viet Cong squad burst inside where 
the fighting continued with grenades and pocket knives. 

The low cloud cover had negated initial air support, but heli- 
copters had flown through the swirling mists and were now 
overhead. However, they were initially unable to direct their 
rockets and aerial machine guns due to the smoke and confusion 
of the raging battle below. Around the compound hand-to-hand 
combat was deciding the outcome, and as dawn filtered through 
the cloud-banked sky the Special Forces was able to evict the 
Viet Cong who had broken through. A sudden spasm of action 
erupted around the mess hall as the VC squad survivors were 
killed making a break for open ground. 

The Viet Cong force retired inside the center of Song Be 
where it entrenched itself in the town market and temple area. 
A hasty charge conducted by the reconsolidated 36th ARVN 
Ranger Battalion failed to dislodge the defenders. A reinforced 
two-battalion South Vietnamese reaction force cautiously ap- 
proached the town the next day. En route a ranger battalion 
detected and avoided an elaborate ambush trap two miles in 
length. While the main infantry force was not ambushed, it did 
have to fight a running engagement with another VC force. After 
further combat, punctuated by repeated air strikes, the Viet Cong 
finally withdrew from Song Be. 

On June 9, 1965, another successful Viet Cong attack was 
made, this time on the Dong Xoai Special Forces camp in the 
same province. The camp was defended by Operations Detach- 



ADVISORS AND SPECIAL FORCES 13 



ment A-342, backed up by local Vietnamese and tribal contin- 
gents with several artillery howitzers and six armored cars, and 
a U.S. Navy Seabee construction team. Just before midnight an 
intensive mortar barrage blanketed the post, followed by a ground 
assault a half hour later. 

The mixed Special Forces and Vietnamese troops, native sol- 
diers, and American sailors manned their gun pits and foxholes, 
firing furiously as detonations rocked the blazing skyline. Al- 
ready groups of Viet Cong sappers were cutting through the 
mesh of barbed wire entanglements wrapped around the com- 
pound. Machine-gun fire riddled the Viet Cong assault pi- 
oneers, but others leaped forward to take the places of the fallen. 
Black-garbed bodies draped the broken wire, and crew-served 
weapons on both sides barked across the perimeter. Then ban- 
galore torpedoes were shoved into the protective barrier and 
exploded. 

The VC stormed through the smashed wire at 2:30 that 
morning. A hail of gunfire and exploding grenades blasted the 
air as the tumult spilled into the camp itself. Half of the ar- 
mored cars were damaged and inoperable, but the Viet Cong 
scrambled into the other three. They spun crazily through the 
camp, raking it with machine-gun and cannon fire. Later on 
aircraft were used to destroy them. The surviving defenders 
fought backwards into a small cluster of positions. By daybreak 
this final defensive perimeter within the camp was closely sur- 
rounded. 

At 9:40 that morning helicopters set soldiers from the 1st 
Battalion, 7th ARVN Regiment, into a landing zone north of 
Dong Xoai. These infantrymen were quickly overrun in a savage 
fifteen-minute skirmish. The remainder of the battalion then be- 
gan airlifting into the Thuan Loi rubber plantation farther north. 
There the helicopter crews had to abort the landings after put- 
ting only eighty men on the ground, due to the terrific volume 
of mortar and automatic weapons fire directed against them. 
Within just twenty minutes all contact with the landed force was 
lost. 

The 52d ARVN Ranger Battalion was landed on the road 
south of the compound following an intensive aerial bombard- 
ment late that afternoon. As they approached the camp the 



14 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



rangers came under heavy fire. A series of air strikes were called 
in on the camp's ruins, and then the rangers charged forward 
to take it, after a final sharp skirmish. On the morning of June 
11, the 7th ARVN Airborne Battalion was helicoptered in near 
the recaptured compound and moved, against scattered resis- 
tance, to the ill-fated landing zones of the previous day. By this 
time the Viet Cong, subjected to continuous aircraft bombing 
and strafing, had started to withdraw. The district town of Dong 
Xoai was once again in South Vietnamese government hands. 

Both battles had been extremely significant as they not only 
underlined the deepening crises in South Vietnam, but also 
highlighted the upgraded Viet Cong tactics of using large forces 
to overrun and hold district and province towns and setting up 
well-prepared ambushes to destroy relieving units. In such an 
atmosphere the Special Forces, tactically limited as training ad- 
visors, had to expand and conventionalize its combat resources 
in order to survive. 

The Battle of Plei Me, fought in the fall of 1965, marked 
the first transition of the Vietnam battlefield from guerrilla clashes 
to a war between national armies. Instead of Viet Cong, the 
32d, 33d, and 66th NVA Regiments would be used to assault 
this Special Forces campsite thirty miles south of Pleiku. In re- 
sponse the newly arrived American 1st Cavalry Division would 
be pitted against North Vietnamese regulars in the la Drang 
Valley, fully engaging the American military in another major 
war. 

The Special Forces camp at Plei Me was garrisoned by the 
twelve-man Operations Detachment A-217, fourteen LLDB 
troops, and 415 Jarai, Rhade, and Bahnar tribal CIDG soldiers. 
On October 19, 1965, the camp had a large combat patrol of 
eighty-five CIDG strikers led by two Americans sweeping the 
area to the northwest. Local warning security was provided by 
five eight-man ambush teams and two regularly posted twenty- 
man outposts. 

After nightfall had cloaked the surrounding tree line in dark- 
ness and introduced a new cycle of jungle noises, a muffled clat- 
ter of rifle fire suddenly erupted and then died away. An ad- 
vancing NVA infantry column had brushed past one of the ambush 
positions. Later another distant crash of gunfire exploded the 



ADVISORS AND SPECIAL FORCES 15 



tropical night, this time accompanied by a barrage of mortar 
shells and recoilless rifle rounds sending up geysers of dirt 
throughout the compound. The NVA overran the southern out- 
post in barely twenty minutes. Shortly after midnight the North 
Vietnamese charged the camp itself. 

The North Vietnamese shock troops ran forward, shouting 
and firing rapid bursts from their assault rifles. The bunkered 
machine guns rattled out concentrated bursts of grazing fire aimed 
at the first wave of sappers busily piercing the perimeter's bar- 
riers. Pith helmets and kit bags rolled across the open prewire 
zone as the bullets picked up running figures and flung them 
to the ground in writhing agony. Bodies were piling up like 
driftwood around the bent posts and bails of twisted barbed wire. 
Swiftly the NVA rammed explosive-filled pipe sections through 
the obstacles, and a series of detonations shook the fringes of 
the camp. 

The NVA came pouring through the smoking gaps pitching 
grenades and blazing away with their submachine guns. Red tracer 
lines of machine-gun fire murderously converged to hammer 
against these packed clusters of onrushing attackers. Scores of 
men were skimmed from their ranks, collapsing and staggering 
as they fell behind to topple onto the battered earth. Flares and 
rockets flashed brilliant mixes of shifting colors and crossed 
shadows as they lighted the blackened landscape. At 3:45 A.M. 
the afterburners of jet engines could be seen darting through 
the darkened, overcast skies. Exploding yellow- white globular 
balls of jellied gasoline spewed over the jungled outskirts of the 
camp. 

The northwest corner bunker was under direct assault. Its 
defenders desperately fought off each charge from behind shrap- 
nel-riddled sandbags and blood-washed logpiles. A red dawn 
smeared with smoke and haze flooded the battlefield with the 
half-light of morning. At six o'clock a recoilless rifle round burst 
through the bunker aperture. Splintered wood and limbs were 
thrown into the air, and a final NVA lunge for the key position 
was made, The exhausted Special Forces, their jungle fatigues 
ripped and their webbing stripped of grenades, ordered tired 
and bloodstained tribesmen into the breach. The bunker man- 
aged to hold. 



16 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



At daybreak a flight of unmarked medical evacuation heli- 
copters arrived, escorted by several gunships. They descended 
into the smoldering camp to drop off a surgeon and pick up 
some of the wounded. Suddenly one of the hovering helicopters 
was hit and spiraled into the jungle below, The weary Special 
Forces team scratched together a rescue party, and sent it out 
in a vain attempt to reach the downed aircraft. After a harrow- 
ing encounter with an NVA machine-gun nest, during which one 
of the Special Forces sergeants was mortally wounded, the shaken 
survivors fell back into camp. By contrast the larger combat sweep 
patrol was notified to rejoin the camp and walked back through 
the gates without incident. 

Maj. Charlie A. Beckwith's Special Forces unit known as 
Project DELTA, reinforced by two companies of the special 91st 
ARVN Airborne Ranger Battalion, received word to reinforce on 
the afternoon of October 20. They closed into Pleiku airfield at 
five o'clock that evening, just thirty minutes after a 1,200-man 
ARVN mechanized relief force headed south on Highway 14. 5 
The mechanized group would run into a major ambush halfway 
to Plei Me, would suffer considerable personnel and vehicular 
losses, and would not reach the camp until October 25. Lack 
of helicopter lift forced Major Beckwith to spend the night plan- 
ning. On the morning of October 21, Project DELTA was air- 
lifted by a series of three flights into the thick tropical forest 
four and a half miles outside Plei Me. 

Major Beckwith wisely decided to move his men due east a 
few miles before turning south toward the camp. The force slowly 
cut its way through the dense, vine-tangled jungle. The tortur- 
ous trek was extremely difficult, and soon broken arms and heat 
exhaustion were reducing the strength of Beckwith's command. 
In mid-afternoon they ran into a three-man NVA recoilless rifle 
crew. As a result they turned deeper into the jungle. By five 
o'clock they were only thirty-five minutes from Plei Me, but the 
rangers couldn't decide what to do. Major Beckwith personally 
went forward with his machete and started cutting trail to con- 



5. The relief force consisted of the 3d ARVN Armored Cavalry Squadron with 
M41 tanks and M8 armored cars, the 1st Battalion of the 42d ARVN Regi- 
ment, and the 21st and 22d ARVN Ranger Battalions. 



ADVISORS AND SPECIAL FORCES 17 



tinue the advance. As night fell they formed a perimeter and 
prepared to enter camp the next morning. 

At 1:40 A.M. on October 22, an Air Force A-1E Skyraider 
was shot down over the camp. The pilot was seen parachuting 
out but was never found. A second plane was lost, but its pilot 
was eventually rescued. Early that morning Project DELTA 
pushed through a brief firefight to move into the camp, where 
Major Beckwith took over command. At one o'clock in the after- 
noon a three-company force from the camp passed their wire 
and got into a skirmish line to clear a nearby hill. A bypassed 
heavy machine gun suddenly ripped into them, throwing the 
force into confusion, killing Special Forces Captain Thomas Pus- 
ser and twelve indigenous soldiers, and wounding scores more. 
The rest of the composite clearing force retreated. 

The 91st ARVN Airborne Ranger Battalion's shortcomings 
continued to plague their performance the next day. During an 
assault on two other machine-gun positions, one NVA soldier 
suddenly charged the force. Before he was killed, the rangers 
fled back in disorder. On October 24, a recovery party managed 
to pull in the bodies from this botched attack. On the morning 
of October 25, a commando squad, led by two Special Forces 
flamethrower sergeants, charged light machine guns surround- 
ing the camp. Although the flamethrowers malfunctioned, the 
commandos destroyed one of the bunkers. That evening the ar- 
mored-infantry task force from Pleiku arrived in the camp. 

Although clearing operations would continue for several days, 
the battle was over. The morning after the ARVN mechanized 
force showed up, a helicopter touched down at the camp car- 
rying several United States Army combat officers. Col. Elvy B. 
Roberts, commander of the 1st Brigade (Airborne), 1st Cavalry 
Division (Airmobile), stepped onto the sun-scorched clay of the 
Plei Me Special Forces camp at nine o'clock on the morning of 
October 26, 1965, for a full briefing. He had moved an entire 
American infantry brigade to Camp Holloway outside Pleiku, and 
the rest of the division was now located at An Khe. The conflict 
in Vietnam was no longer a Special Forces affair. The 1st Cav- 
alry Division's full-fledged efforts to punish the North Vietnam- 
ese attackers at Plei Me would transform it into a "big unit war," 
and the future conduct of miltary operations in Vietnam would 
leave the Special Forces in the background. 



CHAPTER 2. 



AN ARMY GIRDS FOR 
BATTLE 



1. An Army Enters Vietnam 

The beautiful South Vietnamese landscape, agrarian nature, and 
tropical climate posed a tremendous headache to American mil- 
itary planners faced with increasing support requirements as the 
expanding war erupted into full-scale conflagration. They be- 
moaned the lack of ports, terminals, warehouses, communica- 
tions facilities, industrial complexes, or transportation networks, 
The United States had been fielding military advisors to South 
Vietnam since the French had pulled out ten years earlier. This 
military advisory effort was at the forefront of a massive Amer- 
ican investment of money and material in an attempt to create 
a viable South Vietnamese state. However, the modern United 
States armed forces were tied to complex logistical considera- 
tions and a level of sophistication that required the overseas im- 
port of all supplies, equipment, and trained manpower. As more 
advisors, signal units, aircraft, aviators, and Special Forces were 
sent into the countryside, their support became increasingly dif- 
ficult, 

A logistical command, for U.S. Army Military Assistance 
Command Vietnam (MACV), had been recommended for Viet- 
nam when the military had created the top headquarters there 
on February 8, 1962, but nothing had been approved. By the 

18 



AN ARMY GIRDS FOR BATTLE 19 



end of that year over twelve thousand American military tech- 
nicians, advisors, and pilots were assigned to Vietnam duty. 1 At 
the beginning of 1965, Gen. William C. Westmoreland's MACV 
command had grown to over 14,700 Army and 700 Marine per- 
sonnel, 2 and the need for immediate and responsive combat ser- 
vice support became more urgent. 

American units were still principally located in the cities. 
They occupied the bustling capital of Saigon and adjacent Bien 
Hoa, the northern anchorage of Da Nang tucked underneath 
Hai Van (Clouds) Pass, the southern delta rice-farming town of 
Soc Trang, the beautiful beach town of Nha Trang, and the misty 
Central Highland crossroads of Pleiku. 3 These forces were mainly 
helicopter units, which were used to ferry ARVN troops and to 
provide aerial rocket and machine-gun fire in their support. It 
was just a matter of time before the Viet Cong would strike 
back at the bases housing these aviation resources. 

In the early Sunday morning darkness of February 7, 1965, 
a cascade of mortar rounds blasted the American compound of 
Camp Holloway and the airfield of Pleiku. Viet Cong sappers 
charged through the flare-lighted night to hurl demolitions charges 
into barracks and planes. Nine servicemen were killed and 128 
wounded, and scores of aircraft destroyed or damaged. Three 
days later the Viet Cong exploded the hotel billets in Qui Nhon, 
killing twenty-three American soldiers and wounding twenty-two 
others. 

For years MACV headquarters had been urging that Amer- 
ican combat units be sent to Vietnam to protect U.S. bases there. 
These two Viet Cong attacks had graphically demonstrated this 

1. In December 1962 the major U.S. forces in Vietnam were U.S. Army 
Special Forces, Vietnam (Provisional), 45th Transportation Battalion, Utility 
Tactical Transport Aviation Company, and Marine Task Force Shufly (the ma- 
rine medium-helicopter squadron HMM-163). The last three were helicopter 
outfits. 

2. Gen. William C. Westmoreland had replaced Gen. Paul D. Harkins as 
MACV commander in June 1964. 

3. Major U.S. forces in January 1965 were the Marine Unit, Vietnam (the 
Shufly force consisting of medium-helicopter squadron HMM-365), and the 
Army 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and 13th, 14th, 52d, and 145th 
Aviation Battalions. 



20 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



need. The United States government also believed that strong 
American forces in South Vietnam would defeat the Viet Cong 
and discourage North Vietnam from continuing the war. On 
February 11, 1965, the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided that the 
173d Airborne Brigade on Okinawa would be alerted for emer- 
gency Vietnam duty, and that a brigade of the 25th Infantry 
Division in Hawaii would be sent to Thailand. 

General Westmoreland wanted a number of port and airfield 
centers along the coastline defended with American fighting 
troops. Ammunition and supplies could be dumped into these 
areas, artillery cannon and antiaircraft missiles installed, and for- 
tifications carved out. Such enclaves would insure that a United 
States presence could be maintained in Vietnam, even if the 
South Vietnamese Army crumbled to the point of total ineffec- 
tiveness. American units could then take over offensive activity 
from such bastions while the South Vietnamese armed forces 
were rebuilt. This strategy was tagged the "enclave concept" 
(the troops called it "ink blot") and it was adopted despite Pen- 
tagon misgivings that it might lead the South Vietnamese forces 
to relax and lose interest. Da Nang would be garrisoned by Ma- 
rines first, but plans were under way for other enclaves at Sai- 
gon, Bien Hoa, Vung Tau, Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, Tuy Hoa, 
Phan Thiet, and Chu Lai. To guard vital central Highway 19, 
which stretched through the jagged ridgelines from Pleiku to 
Qui Nhon, the llth Air Assault Division (Test) at Fort Benning, 
Georgia, was targeted for insertion at An Khe. 

The first Army troop arrival in response to the buildup de- 
cision was the 716th Military Police Battalion, which was flown 
into Saigon March 1921, 1965, several days after two Marine 
combat battalions had landed at Da Nang. A platoon was im- 
mediately dispatched to each of Vietnam's four corps tactical 
zones. It heralded the arrival of a rapidly escalating number of 
regular Army combat formations in South Vietnam. 

The increased American involvement had created a logistical 
nightmare, which was being resolved on a temporary emergency 
basis since planning envisaged an early reduction of this military 
commitment. Supply lines from Hawaii and Okinawa, six thou- 
sand and two thousand miles away, were already stretched to 
the limit. Suddenly an about-face was ordered. As the military 



AN ARMY GIRDS FOR BATTLE 21 



situation deteriorated during 1965, logistics planners were di- 
rected to prepare for expanding troop levels instead of the ex- 
pected withdrawals. They were also served notice that America 
expected to keep up the material comforts of its soldiers. The 
necessary facilities and bases would have to be built. 

Practically overnight a major logistical foundation would have 
to be created in an undeveloped country, where all areas were 
subject to Viet Cong observation and attack. United States con- 
tingency plans for global situations requiring large-scale military 
response, which the conflict in Vietnam now threatened to be- 
come, assumed the National Guard and Army Reserves would 
be placed on active service. These were counted on to provide 
most of the special support units the Army would need in war- 
time. Even in the United States, combat units relied on a post's 
civilian supply and maintenance facilities. The Army's few mo- 
bile logistics units were oriented for a European battlefield, not 
tropical terrain. 

President Lyndon B. Johnson announced on July 28, 1965, 
that United States forces in Vietnam would be expanded im- 
mediately to 125,000 men. The administration made it clear that 
it intended to meet these growing overseas requirements with- 
out mobilization. New soldiers would be gained through more 
drafting and increased enlistments. This political decision en- 
gaged the military in a major war without any of its anticipated 
National Guard or Reserve component assistance. The peace- 
time standing Army had a very thin crust of engineers, signal- 
men, logistics supervisors, and service units. Soon a crisis de- 
veloped in supply and support of the combat formations going 
to Vietnam. The adverse consequences were legion, but this ba- 
sic governmental policy never really changed. 4 

The ammunition situation was so chaotic that the 173d Air- 
borne Brigade arrived in Vietnam with only fifteen days' worth 
of bullets. Daily cargo flights from Okinawa were instituted just 
to keep rifle magazines full. Ammunition for other deploying 
units was being sent on ahead and off-loaded, a good practice 

4. Even the "mini-mobilization" that transpired after the Pueblo Incident in 
April 1968 only affected a small fraction of National Guard and Reserve com- 
ponents, hardly alleviating a chronic shortage of skilled manpower in critical 
service support jobs. 



22 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



which was undone whenever the units were diverted from their 
original destinations. As a result ammunition crates and stacks 
of shells were piled up all over the beaches at Cam Ranh Bay 
and aboard leased sampans and barges floating on the Saigon 
River. The lack of transportation truck companies, another type 
of basic logistical unit, prevented ready transfer of such stock- 
piles to where they were needed. 

A number of mad scrambles typified early logistical experi- 
ences in Vietnam, One of the worst happened during the sum- 
mer deployment of the 2d Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, from 
Fort Riley, Kansas, to Vietnam. The unit was directed to secure 
the coastal town of Qui Nhon, where a natural harbor promised 
an ideal enclave site. Supplies were loaded by truck and aircraft 
at Saigon and hauled 250 miles north. Two days before arrival 
in Vietnam, the ships were diverted so that the brigade could 
secure the Saigon area. 5 A battalion was off-loaded to defend 
Cam Ranh Bay until the programmed American garrison (the 
1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division) could get there, and 
the rest of the brigade then proceeded to Bien Hoa. A frantic 
last-minute relocation of supplies was made in an effort to get 
the tons of materials back south. The 1st Infantry Division's 2d 
Brigade arrived at Bien Hoa, located on the banks of the Dong 
Nai River outside Saigon, on July 16, 1965, minus large quan- 
tities of its supplies. 

The only port worth its name in Vietnam was the bustling 
commercial dock fifty miles inland at Saigon. Its deep draft piers 
were in such demand that freighters were soon anchored the 
length of the channel for weeks on end. Warehouses and storage 
areas were scarce, and sabotage and pilferage abounded. Over- 
worked logistical personnel often spent days searching through 
mountains of general cargo dumped at dockside for specific ur- 
gently needed items. Viet Cong sappers were having a field day 
destroying massive quantities of supplies, but no one could mea- 
sure the losses. Without inventory control no one knew what 
was there. At Saigon the entire logistical command and control 

5. Qui Nhon was secured briefly by the Seventh Fleet Special Landing Force, 
the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, from July 1-7, 1965. It was then relieved by 
the 2d Battalion of the 7th Marines, which stayed until relieved in turn by 
Korean troops on November 4, 1965. 



AN ARMY GIRDS FOR BATTLE 23 



structure consisted of a U.S. Army major allotted one jeep and 
a briefcase, and he was seeking authorization to hire a driver. 

The Vietnamese were uncooperative. When the first ship ar- 
rived at Cam Ranh Bay with desperately needed provisions, the 
South Vietnamese stevedore union balked at sending people to 
unload it. The entire ship was emptied by one transportation 
lieutenant and a handful of engineer soldiers dragooned from 
the local American garrison. 

As the American buildup continued through the year, the 
ratio of service support units to combat forces kept slipping. At 
the Honolulu Conference of September 27, 1965, MACV de- 
cided to accept maneuver formations as they became available, 
even though their initial logistical support would be marginal. 
By December this calculated risk could no longer be accepted. 
All further tactical unit deployments were delayed as support 
components were rushed to Vietnam. 

The 1st Logistical Command had unfurled its flag in South 
Vietnam on the last day of March 1965. It eventually grew in 
size to become one of the largest Army organizations in the world. 
Its superb support efforts soon dumped stacks of paper plates, 
hot meals, ice cream, and mountains of beer and soft drinks in 
the forward battle areas. The American Army quickly lost its 
appreciation of the harsh demands of a combat environment. 
The insistence upon large, luxurious base camps with snack shops 
and swimming pools erased the spartan lifestyle of the early ad- 
visors and Special Forces troops. In the end it greatly eroded 
the soldier's willingness to forego such comforts in extended field 
operations. 

Even in the hard-driving line units, where the foot-slogging 
infantryman was not privy to such conveniences, too much of 
everything eroded combat prowess. In direct contrast to early 
ammunition shortages, a wealth of ordnance began to choke for- 
ward supply points. The American Army was making unbridled 
use of firepower. One could always find the officer who bragged 
that he would use any amount of supporting fire to save one 
American soldier. Since it sounded great, no one was ever faulted 
for saying so. However, casualties were taken while loading, un- 
loading, transporting, and protecting the massive amounts of 
munitions required for such prodigious firepower. It led to cat- 



24 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



astrophic accidents in ammunition storage sites throughout the 
war, So many munitions were fired that alarming accident rates 
developed. Ammunition often killed or maimed the soldiers it 
was designed to protect. Commanders developed the habit of 
calling for artillery, gunships, and fighter-bombers to silence even 
the lightest opposition. More often than not, by the time this 
support was coordinated and arrived, the NVA or VC were gone. 
The expanding American Army in Vietnam built a frightfully 
expensive but magnificent support system, capable of providing 
the wealth of resources needed to avoid any material sacrifice, 
la fact, its logistical achievement was unparalleled in the history 
of warfare. In so doing, the Army helped bring about its own 
decline. 

2. A Battle for Troops 

The United States Army had 970,000 soldiers worldwide on 
January 1, 1965. Just over half of them were stationed in the 
continental United States and the rest in various overseas lo- 
cations scattered from Korea to Germany, including South Viet- 
nam. 6 The Army was technically in a state of national emer- 
gency, still in effect since Korea, and depended mainly on draft 
calls for its soldiers. At this point the Army was in very good 
shape, having been put into fighting trim by three recent crises 
of the first magnitude: the Berlin crisis of 1961, the Cuban mis- 
sile crisis of October December 1962, and the assassination of 
President John F. Kennedy in November 1963. Each of these 
had placed the Army on a virtual wartime footing. 

Generous budgetary allocations had produced high quality 
training programs, an expensive test division being personally 

6. In January 1965 the U.S. Army had its major forces disposed as follows: 
Continental United States 1st and 2d Armored Divisions, 1st, 2d, and 4th 
Infantry Divisions, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), llth Air Assault Di- 
vision (Test), 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions, 194th Armored Brigade, 197th 
Infantry Brigade, llth Armored Cavalry (Regiment), and 3d, 6th, and 7th 
Special Forces Groups; Panama Canal Zone 193d Infantry Brigade and 8th 
Special Forces Group; Alaska 171st and 172d Infantry Brigades; Hawaii 
25th Infantry Division; Okinawa 173d Airborne Brigade and 1st Special Forces 
Group; Korea 1st Cavalry Division and 7th Infantry Division; Vietnam 5th 
Special Forces Group; Germany 3d and 4th Armored Divisions, 3d, 8th, 
and 24th Infantry Divisions (Mechanized), 2d, 3d, and 14th Armored Cavalry 
(Regiments), and the 10th Special Forces Group. 



AN ARMY GIRDS FOR BATTLE 25 



pushed by Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, quantities 
of helicopters and other aircraft, and very modern technical 
equipment. The Army also had a considerable number of com- 
bat-experienced leaders and pilots, the result of years of advi- 
sory efforts in Vietnam. Senior officers and sergeants had World 
War II and Korean experience under their belts. While the Army 
still considered its most likely threat to be the European arena, 
its new airmobile doctrine being field-tested by the llth Air 
Assault Division (Test) was unmistakably Asia-bound. 

Basic and advanced individual training of soldiers was the 
responsibility of the Continental Army Command. The Army of 
1965 had been on the brink of possible global war for the last 
four years. Recent experiences had led to emphasis being placed 
on realistic battle training. As a result instruction was serious, 
strenuous, and thorough. Although units were still expected to 
fight on a conventional European battlefield, their training was 
applicable to any combat situation. The best- trained units would 
be the first ones into Vietnam. However, the combat-experi- 
enced personnel of these initial units were lost after their first 
year in country. From then on units were filled over and over 
again by new replacements fresh from the States. 

The military's training programs were geared in case of war 
to rely on mobilized Reserves and the federalized National Guard 
to provide sufficient cadre. This support never materialized, and 
as the war lengthened, the entire system of training soldiers in 
the Continental Army Command had to be altered. A major ef- 
fect was the tremendous expansion of training facilities, their 
raison d'etre now being the production of battlefield proficiency 
in the jungles and tunnels of Southeast Asia. Even as barracks 
doors stood ajar in posts across the United States, the former 
garrisons having departed for overseas service, "smokey bear"- 
hatted drill sergeants marched rows of fresh trainees down as- 
phalt camp streets. U.S. Army infantry training center brigades 
dominated ten installations by the height of the Vietnam War. 7 

7. In February 1969 Army infantry training center brigades were located at 
Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Campbell, Ken- 
tucky; Fort Gordon, Georgia; Fort Dix, New Jersey; Fort Jackson, South Car- 
olina; Fort Lewis, Washington; Fort McClellan, Alabama; Fort Ord, Califor- 
nia; and Fort Polk, Louisiana. 



26 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Training courses were chopped several weeks in order to as- 
sign trained soldiers rapidly to alerted units. While wartime 
conditions in Vietnam put more emphasis on training, they also 
produced a number of problems. Training still enjoyed very high 
priority, but now the number one priority for the Army was 
unquestionably the ongoing war in Vietnam. Sergeants and of- 
ficers needed for training purposes were in even more demand 
for leading soldiers through the rice paddies and jungles of 
Southeast Asia. Training standards slipped due to rapid turn- 
over. Many career soldiers even avoided training duty as not 
the choicest of assignments. Compressed and accelerated train- 
ing programs became the order of the day, a situation further 
aggravated by the declining quality of incoming recruits as the 
war progressed. 8 

As the seemingly interminable Vietnam War dragged on, 
personnel turbulence grew more prevalent throughout the Army. 
Individual morale and discipline suffered. Stateside units, al- 
ready skeletonized by the war's incessant replacement demands, 
were undermined by further demands from Continental Army 
Command's training establishments. Units in Europe, Alaska, 
Hawaii, and Panama were ruthlessly stripped. The battle-ready 
Army of 1965, its spit-shined shoes gleaming and full-color in- 
signia neatly stitched on starched fatigues, had been replaced 
by a war-weary Army by 1969, with dull boots and peace beads 
draped under rumpled tunics. 

Specialized training suffered most. One of the major hin- 
drances to successful advisory performance was the absence of 
any requirement to communicate in Vietnamese or French. 
Vietnamese proved very hard for the few United States advisors 
who endeavored to learn it. While syntactically simple, it was 
a tonal language that proved to be phonetically difficult for 
Americans. Even those who diligently took lessons for months 
could only produce toneless, hence unintelligible, utterances. 
General Cao Van Vien stated, "Even later, over the war years, 

8. The Marine Corps also reduced recruit training time from twelve to eight 
weeks beginning September 1, 1965, in an effort to process 30,000 additional 
men newly authorized without an increase in instructors or existing facilities. 
The Marines began drafting in January 1966. 



AN ARMY GIRDS FOR BATTLE 27 



I know of no single instance in which a U.S. advisor effectively 
discussed professional matters with his counterpart in Vietnam- 
ese." 9 

Equitable management of many critical skills was impossible. 
Some expertise required in Vietnam could not be filled by short- 
term training, and comparable civilian occupations were nonex- 
istent. As a result individuals were ordered on involuntary sec- 
ond and even third tours of duty in Vietnam. Units fought over 
the limited skilled people available. Helicopter units urgently 
needed in Vietnam competed for the same quality personnel 
sought by equally needed aviation maintenance units. The lack 
of mobilization was soon taking its toll on the continued effi- 
ciency of the regular armed forces. 

The one universal troop factor throughout the Vietnam War 
was the fixed "hostile fire area" tour, the combat zone service 
requirement of one year. The Army found it increasingly diffi- 
cult to sustain this fixed tour length as the war dragged on. Unit 
readiness in the rest of the world was eroded, and personnel 
retention and combat effectiveness in Vietnam suffered. Many 
argued that just as a soldier was becoming a skilled tropical war- 
rior he was yanked out, to be replaced by a green soldier who 
had to learn it all from the beginning. A popular military adage 
summed it up: the United States never fought in Vietnam ten 
years, it fought in Vietnam one year ten times over. 

The American soldier tried to adapt to the climate and ter- 
rain of Vietnam and to fight courageously against a tough and 
battle-wise adversary. For the most part, he continued to ex- 
hibit good morale despite an inequitable draft system, training 
problems, high personnel turnover rates, occasional inadequate 
leadership, racial and drug problems, and a growing lack of pub- 
lic support at home. These took a larger toll of the American 
Army as the years exacerbated the effects, dulling the Army's 
fighting edge and ultimately reducing the combat potential of 
entire divisions and brigades. 

For the individual American soldier, the overriding concern 
was how much time he had remaining in Vietnam. Daily "short" 

9. General Cao Van Vien et al., The U.S. Advisor, U.S. Army Center of 
Military History, Washington, D.C., 1980, p. 31. 



28 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



calendars were meticulously ticked off on everything from hel- 
met covers to pin-up posters, Barring death or serious injury, 
every soldier knew his exact departure date as soon as he stepped 
on Vietnamese soil. His primary purpose became simply to reach 
his personal DEROS (date expected to return from overseas) 
intact. The fixed length of the hostile fire tour, for all its draw- 
backs, had undeniably overwhelming morale value. 

The eager soldier of 1965, anxious to earn his Combat In- 
fantryman's Badge, was replaced by the hardened but decorated 
Vietnam "survivor" of later years. By that time the privates and 
junior officers of the pre-Vietnam Army were the platoon ser- 
geants and battalion commanders. 



CHAPTER 3. 



MARINES AT WAR 



1. "Send in The Marines!" 

The United States Marine Corps, the nation's amphibious strike 
force, is the corps d 'elite of the American military, As a premier 
fighting organization, the Marines also have the role of pro- 
tecting American interests on a global basis. 

This dual responsibility has produced a rich and varied leg- 
acy extending from the first Marine landing in the Bahamas in 
1776 to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. In between, the Ma- 
rines had captured a pirate fortress at Tripoli, taken the Mex- 
ican national palace, participated in the Civil War, defended 
Shanghai and Peking, cleared entrenched German troops from 
French forests, fought through a maze of Caribbean conflicts, 
stormed Japanese island bastions, landed on Korean shores, and 
defended Lebanon. This heritage had produced a common gov- 
ernmental response to military emergencies throughout the 
country's history: "Send in the Marines!" 

As the situation in Vietnam began to unravel, the Marines 
were in a very high response posture. This was largely due to 
the triple crises of Cuba, Thailand in 1962, and the assassination 
of President John F. Kennedy the following year. During 1964, 
Marine capability was further tested and sharpened by a series 
of rigorous exercises extending from Norwegian Tremso, three 
hundred miles inside the Arctic Circle, to mock battles with 
French Marine commandos in the Mediterranean. That year 
training was conducted in Corsica, Sardinia, Spain, Norway, 

29 



30 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Puerto Rico, Cuba, Panama, North Carolina, New York, Cali- 
fornia, Hawaii, Taiwan, and the Philippines. 

Gen. Wallace M. Greene, Jr., who became commandant of 
the Marine Corps on January 1, 1964, stated on March 26 that 
the Marine Corps had "reached its best state of readiness in 
many years." On New Year's Day 1965, actual Marine strength 
stood at 188,505. They were poised for action anywhere in the 
world. l 

In late 1964, the Pentagon considered strengthening the 
northern portion of South Vietnam by moving the Seventh Fleet's 
Marine Special Landing Force and a Marine antiaircraft missile 
battalion to guard Da Nang. Once the colorful French colonial 
city of Tourane, constant war had reduced it to a squalid, ref- 
ugee-packed town. The crucial military significance of Da Nang 
was obvious. Its bay, hemmed in by the Chaine Annamitique 
spur of the Hai Van Mountains and Mon Ky (Monkey) Moun- 
tain, was one of the few good deep-water harbors in the coun- 
try, and its single ten thousand-foot concrete runway was con- 
sidered a major air base. By mid-February of 1965, MACV 
determined that the South Vietnamese military was no longer 
able to defend the area's installations against determined attack. 
It was imperative that the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, 
on board naval ships in the South China Sea, be moved to Da 
Nang. The 1st Marine Brigade at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, pre- 
paring to outload for Exercise SILVER EAGLE in California, 
would be sent to Okinawa as backup. 

The U.S. Marines became responsible for the five northern 
provinces known as I Corps Tactical Zone. At the upper bound- 
ary was the demarcation line separating North and South Viet- 
nam. This was marked by the Song Ben Hai River until it reached 
Bo Ho Su, from which point the line ran straight to the border. 



1. In January 1965 U.S. Marine Corps infantry was disposed as follows: Con- 
tinental United States 1st Marine Division (1st, 5th, 7th Marines) and 2d 
Marine Division (2d, 6th, 8th Marines); Okinawa 3d Marine Division (3d, 
9th Marines); Hawaii 1st Marine Brigade (4th Marines); Mediterranean Sea 
1st Battalion Landing Team, 2d Marines; Caribbean Sea 3d Battalion Land- 
ing Team, 2d Marines; South China Sea 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade 
(1st and 3d Battalion Landing Teams, 9th Marines); Vietnam Company D, 
1st Battalion, 3d Marines. 




New flags are unfurled during the official activation ceremonies for 
the 199th Infantry Brigade (Light) at Fort Benning, Georgia, on June 
24, 1966, as the United States Army goes to war. (Fort Benning Signal 
Photograph Laboratory) 




Helicopters arrive over Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to ferry soldiers of 
the 199th Infantry Brigade (Light) into their final training exercise on 
October 1, 1966, prior to departure for Vietnam. (Fort Benning Sig- 
nal Photograph Laboratory) 




Marine Ontos vehicle, mounting six recoilless rifles, rolls ashore at Da 
Nang during the landing of the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, on March 
8, 1965. (U.S. Marine Corps) 




U.S. Army soldiers disembark from a medium landing craft at Cat 
Lai in 1966. (U.S. Army) 




^V^^^-IV-ri''-:,^ .-/I ' '!'! .- ,- 
^^^ 

Marines of the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, come under fire while mak- 
ing an assault during Operation HARVEST MOON on December 12, 
1965. (U.S. Marine Corps) 




A recoilless rifle mounted on top of an amtrac of the 1st Amphibious 
Battalion, with the 3d Marine Division, fires at opposition west of Da 
Nang on August 19, 1965. (U.S. Marine Corps) 




Paratroopers of the 173d Airborne Brigade combat assault near Bien 
Hoa in 1965. (Bell Helicopters) 




Infantrymen of the 1st Infantry Division take automatic weapons fire 
from a treeline during an early search and destroy mission on October 
4, 1965. (U.S. Army) 



MARINES AT WAR 31 



Precipitous border mountain ranges, with peaks eight to ten 
thousand feet high, formed the region's western frontier. This 
natural barrier reversed the monsoon seasons from what the rest 
of Vietnam experienced. Summers were mainly hot and dry, but 
the winters were warm and rainy. 

I Corps Tactical Zone was also physically and culturally sep- 
arated from the rest of South Vietnam. A series of ridges ex- 
tended to the sea, dividing the inhabited coast into small moun- 
tain-ringed valleys wherever rivers washed out to sea. The old 
Mandarin Road, now called Route 1, connecting Da Nang to 
Saigon, had most of its bridges down. The trans-Vietnam Rail- 
way had large sections of track removed throughout its length. 
I Corps Tactical Zone was also traditionally part of old Annam, 
aloof from lower areas once known as Cochin China. The largest 
city of the region, Hue, was once the splendid Annamese im- 
perial capital when Saigon was just a backward fishing hamlet. 

The South Vietnamese commander and military governor of 
I Corps Tactical Zone was the former parachutist brigade leader, 
two-starred Gen. Nguyen Chanh Thi, the "Warlord of the North." 
Headquartered in the handsome yellow- and brown-trimmed 
French colonial compound near the Da Nang airfield, he had 
placed his 1st ARVN Division in the upper two provinces near 
the DMZ and the 2d ARVN Division in the lower two. The 
separate 51st ARVN Regiment was posted to central Quang Nam 
Province. 

The 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade landed at Da Nang 
on March 8, 1965. On April 10, a second landing force of Ma- 
rines went ashore and began building a base farther north at 
Phu Bai. Nearly a month later, on May 6, still more Marines 
landed and began their southernmost installation in I Corps Tac- 
tical Zone at Chu Lai. By the end of the year they had estab- 
lished three operational enclaves, and the largest Marine force 
to be in combat since World War II was fully engaged in South 
Vietnam. 

2. The Marines Land 

The landing craft carrying the drenched Marines of Brig. Gen. 
Frederick J, Karch's 9th Expeditionary Brigade bobbed in the 
rough waters of Da Nang Bay. Overhead a cold, cloudy sky sent 



32 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



a stiff wind with drizzling rain across the harbor. An armada of 
warships clustered around the flagship USS Mount McKinley 
(AGC-7) disgorging tank-laden boats and amphibious tractors into 
ten-foot swells. Battle-equipped Marines grimly clambered down 
violently swaying nets. Mooring lines were snapping between 
the pitching landing craft and their mother ships. 

The 3d Battalion of the 9th Marines had been embarked in 
naval ships off the Vietnamese coast for two months. On March 
8, 1965, twenty years after the "Striking Ninth" had hit the 
beaches of Iwo Jima, four assault waves of the battalion landed 
through high surf in Vietnam. 2 They were greeted on the beach 
by General Thi, surrounded by a bevy of pretty college girls 
who draped the Marine vanguard, including Brigadier General 
Karch, with garlands of flowers. As the Marines were landing 
across the beach another battalion, the 1st Battalion of the 3d 
Marines, was en route from Okinawa in Marine KC-130 cargo 
planes. Since the territory just to the south of the airstrip was 
controlled by the Viet Cong, any aircraft approaching Da Nang 
had to run a gauntlet of VC ground fire. The planes flew past 
sniper rounds to begin landing the battalion at one o'clock that 
afternoon. 

The Da Nang airfield, located in the middle of a densely 
populated area, was overcrowded with quantities of airplanes of 
all descriptions. These included Marine helicopters, stationed 
there since September 1962, and their company of Marine se- 
curity. A Marine antiaircraft battalion had arrived that Febru- 
ary. 3 Now it was becoming even more glutted with Marine in- 

2. The 9th Marines had been part of the great expansion of the Marine Corps 
during World War I. It was activated November 20, 1917, at Quantico, Vir- 
ginia, and posted to Cuba and then to Galveston, Texas. During World War 
II it fought in Bougainville, the northern Solomons, and Guam, before land- 
ing on Iwo Jima February 24, 1945. There it had captured Motoyama Airfield 
#2, broken the main line of Japanese resistance on the Motoyama Plateau, 
and made the final breakthrough to the island's northeastern shore. In 1948 
it occupied Tsingtao and Shanghai, China, and had been posted between Ja- 
pan and Okinawa since 1953, training in Korea, Formosa, and Borneo. In 
May-July 1962 elements had been sent to Udorn, Thailand, to counter the 
worsening situation in Laos. 

3. The 1st Light Antiaircraft Battalion was activated at Twenty Nine Palms, 
California, as the Marine Corps's first HAWK missile battalion on May 2, 
1960. It had been shipped from the United States for Vietnam duty in De- 
cember 1964 but was held up in Okinawa due to facility construction costs. 



MARINES AT WAR 33 



fantry and artillery. Two companies secured hilltops enabling 
several HAWK missile batteries to leave the congested airbase 
and move beside them. 

The five-thousand-man 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade sent 
to Da Nang was assigned a single task; defend the airfield. The 
air base fence line was generally the boundary between friendly 
control and a strong pro- Viet Cong population. For several weeks 
the entire brigade had to subsist on fifteen days of rations one 
battalion had brought ashore and one emergency airlift from Sai- 
gon. The Marines felt besieged, A nearby undisciplined ARVN 
firing range, which routinely sent shots in their direction, and 
the scorching heat made them uncomfortable. Despite repeated 
pleas to extend aggressive patrolling, General Thi denied per- 
mission for the Marines to go outside a narrowly confined de- 
fensive perimeter. The only visible accomplishment seemed to 
be the revived sales of marble ashtrays, made from nearby Mar- 
ble Mountain seven miles to the south and sold as souvenirs. 

On April 10, the Marines in Da Nang were reinforced by 
the 2d Battalion of the 3d Marines, fresh from training in south- 
ern Thailand, followed by the regimental headquarters of the 
3d Marines out of Okinawa. The reinforced 3d Battalion of the 
4th Marines arrived from Hawaii via Okinawa on April 14. They 
were helicoptered to garrison Phu Bai, seven miles south of Hue, 
where a critical MACV electronic spy station and communica- 
tions facility was located. 

Another important enclave was established at Chu Lai, about 
sixty miles south of Da Nang, where the Marines were ordered 
to build an airstrip. 4 The headquarters of the 4th Marines along 
with its 1st and 2d battalions and the 3d Reconnaissance Bat- 
talion landed on the beaches May 7, 1965. A large sign had 



It was on a firing exercise when President Lyndon B. Johnson announced 
over national television he had ordered it to Vietnam, After a hectic drive 
through the morning rush hour, it was shoved aboard planes at Naha Air Base 
and landed in Da Nang February 8, 1965. 

4. The site had been selected by Marine Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak, the 
commanding general of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, on a 1964 inspection 
tour. The naval officer with him agreed the place looked good, but it wasn't 
marked on the map. Krulak gave him the Mandarin Chinese characters for 
his own name, saying it was called Chu Lai. The name stuck. 



34 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



been put up by the Ly Tin district Army advisors which read, 
"Ahoy Marines! Welcome Aboard, Area Secured." The area looked 
deceptively like Marine Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, but 
the terrible heat and bottomless, sugary sands ended the sim- 
ilarities as equipment was struggled ashore. Five days later they 
were joined by the 3d Battalion of the 3d Marines. 

General Westmoreland had told the Marines to rename their 
headquarters, as the word expeditionary was unpalatable to the 
Vietnamese because of its French colonial association. The 9th 
Marine Expeditionary Brigade was folded down. The III Marine 
Amphibious Fox-ce (MAF) assumed control of Marine activities 
in Vietnam on May 7, 1965. The previous day the command 
group of the famed 3d Marine Division had arrived in Vietnam 
from Okinawa. Maj. Gen. Lewis W. Walt arrived in Vietnam 
at the end of the month to assume command of both III MAF 
and the division. 

The 3d Marine Division was the westernmost United States 
Pacific response division. Originally formed in 1942 for World 
War II service, the division was highly regarded for its fierce 
1945 battle at Iwo Jima, where it had earned the Presidential 
Unit Citation, Deactivated that December, it was reraised in 
California in 1952 and went to Camp Gifu, Japan, the next Au- 
gust. Since February 1956 it had been stationed at Camp Court- 
ney, Okinawa. Known as a hard-training division, its proximity 
to Korea, Taiwan, South Vietnam, and Thailand had always kept 
troops and material at a high level of readiness. It was naturally 
the first American division into combat during the Vietnam War. 

At 1:30 A.M. on July 1, a Marine sentry near the Da Nang 
air base fence line heard a suspicious noise. He tossed an il- 
lumination grenade into the darkness. It exploded, triggering a 
furious VC mortar barrage that swept across the Air Force side 
of the field. A squad of Viet Cong sappers, with an officer from 
the 3d Battalion, 18th NVA Regiment, dashed through the pe- 
rimeter fence and heaved satchel charges into a number of parked 
aircraft. As the demolition team scurried away, several groups 
of Marines scrambled over the concrete ramps toward the fence 
line. A short gunfight broke out between the Marines and Viet 
Cong. Two Marines were hit and went down. A recoilless rifle 
round crashed into a bunker. Then suddenly it was over. Flares 



MARINES AT WAR 35 



and burning aircraft lit up the broken wire and bloodied grass 
in the blazing aftermath of the spectacular attack. 

That month unrestrained authority for Marine offensive op- 
erations was granted. The headquarters of the 9th Marines landed 
in Da Nang on July 6, and the headquarters of the 7th Marines 
and the two remaining battalions on Okinawa were landed at 
Chu Lai on August 14. The III MAF now had four infantry 
regiments, and planned to swing immediately into action against 
the Viet Cong. Operation STARLITE was about to begin. 5 

3. The First Battle 

For five months after the Marine landings at Da Nang, the 
Viet Cong had carefully avoided combat. However, by midsum- 
mer a major clash between the Marines and Viet Cong main 
force units was inevitable. The III MAF had steadily expanded 
its tactical enclaves at Da Nang, Chu Lai, and Phu Bai. The 
area actively patrolled by the Marines had grown from eight 
square miles in March to over six hundred square miles by Au- 
gust. 

The Marine battalion, built to be part of a self-sustaining 
landing team designed to assault and hold a beach, was ideally 
suited for the fluid area warfare of Vietnam. A carefully struc- 
tured and powerful force, it could be projected at considerable 
distance by the Marines's own helicopters and covered by the 
Marines's own jet aircraft. However, the Marines had been un- 
able to employ their battalions this way in Vietnam. Then they 
were given an extremely crucial bit of intelligence information. 
The 1st VC Regiment was pinpointed by a Viet Cong deserter 
on August 15, 1965. It was occupying hamlets in the vicinity of 
Van Tuong Peninsula, just fifteen miles south of Chu Lai. 

The headquarters of Col. Oscar F. Peatross's 7th Marines 
with its 1st Battalion had just arrived to reinforce Chu Lai. The 
battalion was posted to base defense, but the command group 

5. The infantry dispositions of III MAF would remain basically unchanged 
from mid-August until the end of 1965. These were Phu Bai 3d Battalion, 
4th Marines; Da Nang 1st and 2d Battalions, 3d Marines; 1st, 2d, and 3d 
Battalions, 9th Marines; Chu Lai 3d Battalion, 3d Marines; 1st and 2d Bat- 
talions, 4th Marines; 1st Battalion, 7th Marines; Qui Nhon 2d Battalion, 7th 
Marines (under Army control); Special Landing Force 3d Battalion, 7th Ma- 
rines. 



36 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



of the 7th Marines was put in charge of the operation to hit the 
peninsula. The ground troops would be the seasoned Marines 
already in Chu Lai. Plans were drawn up to make a regimental 
assault. One Marine company would move overland from the 
north and dig in along the Tra Bong River as a blocking force. 
Shortly after dawn the next day a battalion would be landed by 
helicopter, simultaneously with a battalion hitting the beach in 
tracked amphibian vehicles. The Viet Cong would be driven be- 
tween the seaborne and heliborne forces either into the block- 
ing force or up against the coastline, where they would be trap- 
ped and eliminated. 

A floating reserve battalion landing team could be provided 
by the Seventh Fleet Special Landing Force, but it was at Subic 
Bay in the Philippine Islands. Major General Walt insisted the 
reserve be present. The operation was scheduled to kick off based 
on its anticipated arrival off the coast of Vietnam. That would 
be daybreak, August 18. Fortuitous naval shipping for the sea- 
borne attack battalion was readily available; a host of vessels were 
unloading reinforcements at both Chu Lai and Da Nang. They 
were quickly mustered for the operation. Plans were frantically 
put together, and in the rush the operational code name SAT- 
ELLITE got mistakenly altered to STARLITE by a clerking er- 
ror, the result of typing by candlelight after the electrical gen- 
erators went down. 

D-day for the seaborne assault battalion of the 3d Marines 
was August 18, 1965. 6 Marine A-4 Skyhawks repeatedly strafed 
the landing beaches as gargantuan forty-ton amtrac landing ve- 
hicles wallowed toward shore. The morning light reflected off 
the combing waves as the square-hulled titans thrashed across 
the beach, churning sand and grass as they moved inland. The 
machines jerked to a stop, their eleven-foot-high silhouettes 
towering stark against the rising sun like massive stone blocks 

6. The 3d Marines was activated December 20, 1916, at Santo Domingo, 
Dominican Republic, where it served six years until deactr Cation, Raised again 
for World War II service, it was rapidly deployed to the Pacific, assigned to 
the 3d Marine Division, and invaded Bougainville and the northern Solo- 
mons. The 3d Marines went on to recapture Guam and take Iwo Jima in 
extremely hard fighting. It later occupied North China until 1949, and had 
been in Okinawa since March 1957. 



MARINES AT WAR 37 



left by some giant at water's edge. Dozens of green-clad war- 
riors ran out of the gaping frontal ramp jaws. The men of the 
3d Battalion, 3d Marines, formed up in long lines and advanced 
in open formation toward the seaside clusters of thatched huts, 
but there were no Viet Cong. 

Out to sea, Marine-crammed landing utility craft backed out 
the well deck of the USS Cabildo (LSD-16), their dirty exhaust 
fumes mixing with salt spray to cloud the stern of the landing 
ship. Two other landing craft had sailed under their own power 
to the beaches and swung down their ramps. Big fifty-ton M48 
main battle tanks and M67 flametanks rumbled onto shore, their 
turrets grinding around to swing long gun barrels from side to 
side. Nimble nine-ton beetlelike Ontos vehicles scurried down 
the beaches, their slender-barreled recoilless rifles balanced in 
triple mountings on each side. Vietnamese fishermen were put- 
ting their wooden boats into the water. Marine supplies were 
stacking up on the dunes, and already it was becoming a swel- 
tering tropical day. Except for occasional pesky sniper fire, the 
operation was proceeding smoothly on the seaward side. 

Company K was steadily advancing up the coast when it came 
under intense fire. VC machine guns and mortars were nestled 
into a fortified hill just ahead of it, and company attempts to 
maneuver forward were brought to a standstill. Company L was 
sent in to help, along with naval gunfire. The six-inch guns of 
the light cruiser USS Galveston (CLG-3) carefully measured but 
direct shots, each blast lighting the ship's tall array of antennas 
and lattice masts. The shells crashed against the hillside in dev- 
astating upheavals of dirt and timber. 

The heat was unbearable. The noon sun beat down merci- 
lessly on the sweltering Marines as they prepared to charge again. 
They refixed bayonets snugly into rifle sockets, and pulled spare 
bullet-filled magazines out of shirt pockets drenched in sweat. 
Then they surged forward through a smoking rubbish of vege- 
tation, running past smashed trees riddled with shards of steel 
shrapnel. Suddenly a hail of deafening automatic weapons fire 
exploded from the Viet Cong trenchworks. Men sagged and 
dropped as bullets tore into them. The Marines leaped into the 
first VC trenchline where individual rifle shots and knifepoint 
dispatched the defenders. Dead Viet Cong gunners and Marine 



38 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



riflemen clogged the bottoms of weapons pits. The wounded from 
both sides, moaning for water, littered the collapsed trenches. 
The Marines continued to fight their way up the hill, and by 
mid-afternoon it was secured. 

Action was intense on the landward side also. Early that 
morning the 2d Battalion of the 4th Marines had clambered 
aboard squat, green UH-34 helicopters for the flight to its west- 
ern landing zones. The craft skimmed over flat rice paddies and 
dry fields dotted with hamlets, streams, and little wooded hills. 
The helicopters set down on three scattered sites, shortly after 
the first assault waves had crossed the beaches two and three 
miles distant. Company E immediately ran into a Viet Cong 
ridgeline off the landing zone. The Marines fixed bayonets on 
their M14 rifles and went into the attack. After a brief firefight 
the hill was taken. 

First Lt, Homer K. Jenkins's Company H choppered in be- 
side a small knoll, unaware that it had practically landed on top 
of a VC battalion occupying the adjacent hilltop. The first hel- 
icopters landed safely, but a furious fusillade of mixed rocket- 
propelled grenades and machine-gun fire met the next group. 
Jenkins pulled his men back into a small perimeter while Army 
helicopter gunships rocketed and strafed the wooded rise. He 
sent a platoon against the hill, but it was quickly pinned down 
by entrenched automatic weapons and couldn't get up the slope. 

Three tanks and three Ontos vehicles were brought up, and 
jet aircraft roared down to send bombs plummeting into the dense 
shrubbery. Then Company H attacked again, working its way 
up the steep hillside against direct machine-gun fire. Grenades 
and bursts of rifle fire marked the advancing Marines as they 
closed the summit. Hill 43 had been taken, and Jenkins now 
advanced east with his tracked armor between two other small 
hamlets. 

The hamlets, Nam Yen #3 and An Cuong #2, were strongly 
fortified with tunnels and trenchlines weaving through hedge- 
rows laced with bamboo thickets. The latter had already been 
cleared, but Jenkins thought both were in Marine hands. 7 Mid- 

7. Company I of the sea-landed 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, had secured An 
Cuong #2, the other hamlet in Jenkins's area. Capt. Bruce D. Webb's men 



MARINES AT WAR 39 



way across the rice paddy fierce machine-gun fire suddenly cut 
down the rear squads. A withering mortar barrage then rolled 
across the unit. The armored tanks and self-propelled recoilless 
rifles were bogging down. Jenkins desperately formed a mobile 
defensive circle with the vehicles and retreated back to the 
landing zone. Casualties had been heavy, and one platoon was 
cut off trying to reach medical evacuation helicopters. However, 
the separated group happened across another detachment of 
Marines sent after a downed helicopter. They combined into 
one defensive perimeter. 

Meanwhile an amtrac resupply force with three flame tanks 
was moving inland from the beach to resupply Company I of 
3d Battalion, 3d Marines, which was now pulling back from An 
Cuong #2. The column became disoriented in the maze of trails 
and ambled into a Viet Cong ambush. A series of jarring ex- 
plosions swept the column, followed by an intense barrage of 
self-propelled grenades, recoilless rifles, and mortars. A hur- 
riedly gathered task force of Marine infantry from Company I, 
several Ontos vehicles, and one M48 battle tank sallied out to 
rescue the beleaguered column. This relief group was also hit 
by concentrated fire as it neared the ambush area. The M48 
tank was knocked out, and dead and wounded piled up as Ma- 
rines attacked the fortified villages and tree lines. By the end 
of the action, Company I had taken so many losses it had to be 
pulled out of the battle. The supply column managed to hold 
its positions through the night, killing scores of Viet Cong sol- 
diers who tried to overrun the amtracs and tanks. 

The reserve Special Landing Force, the 3d Battalion of the 
7th Marines, had arrived offshore on the helicopter carrier USS 
Iwo Jima (LPH-2) that morning. Companies from this unit were 
flown off the decks and helicoptered beside the other Marine 
units pushing steadily forward toward the coast. During the night 
the Marines halted on line. Naval warships fired star shells to 
keep the darkness flooded by artificial candles until morning. 



moved into the innocuous-appearing village, but as they searched the huts a 
VC grenade was tossed into the midst of the command group, killing him 
instantly. An intense spasm of grenades and gunfire erupted, but the Marines 
were already inside the hamlet and took it after a sharp firefight. 



40 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



The next day saw pockets of last-ditch resistance mopped up as 
the Marines pushed to the ocean. 

Operation STARLITE had been a resounding Marine suc- 
cess. The 1st VC Regiment had been taken by surprise and 
pushed against the sea, where it was systematically destroyed 
by Marine infantry, air power, and naval gunfire. The inherent 
flexibility of Marine doctrine was underscored by the timely in- 
sertion of the Special Landing Force, a move which completed 
the entrapment. The operation was also significant because it 
was the first battle between the United States and Viet Cong 
main forces. It was followed by Operation PIRANHA, another 
regimental amphibious-heliborne assault mounted on September 

7, 1965, by the same Marine force, which was highlighted by 
the destruction of a large Viet Cong cave. 8 

Following Operations STARLITE and PIRANHA, Viet Cong 
main force units successfully avoided large scale engagements 
with the Marines for two months. That December the Marines 
would again clash with a revitalized 1st VC Regiment on the 
battlefield, this time in the Phuoc Ha Valley in an operation 
called HARVEST MOON. 

4. Battle in the Monsoon 

By November the monsoons, which had arrived in I Corps 
Tactical Zone the previous month, had washed out roads and 
flooded facilities. Gray, misting clouds rolled down lush moun- 
tainsides to disgorge torrential sheets of rain that blotted out the 
horizon and socked in entire valleys for weeks. In this season 
of overcasts and downpours, the Viet Cong began a renewed 
offensive. On October 27, a night sapper raid hit the Da Nang 
airfield, causing heavy damage. 

The district capital of Hiep Due was overrun on November 
17 as cloudbursts soaked the battlefield. Two battalions of the 
5th ARVN Regiment were airlifted into landing zones that hap- 
pened to be right under the heavy machine guns of an NVA 
flak battalion, sited on a commanding ridgeline. Twenty of thirty 

8. Marine engineers exploded the cavern on Batangan Peninsula after the 
Viet Cong inside refused to surrender. While 66 Viet Cong were killed in 
the blast, six Marines searching it afterwards were overcome by oxygen star- 
vation. 



MARINES AT WAR 41 



Marine helicopters involved were shot up by the 195th NVA 
Antiaircraft Battalion attached to the 1st VC Regiment. After a 
raging two-day battle, the 5th ARVN Regiment was ordered back 
to Quang Ngai, abandoning hard-won Hiep Due in the process. 
The VC moved on into their base area in the Phuoc Ha Valley, 
and the Marines planned to trap them there. 

Operation HARVEST MOON was to be a combined Marine- 
South Vietnamese search and destroy mission, the largest Ma- 
rine operation since their arrival in Vietnam. Briefly, the plan 
called for three ARVN battalions to move overland from Thang 
Binh southwest into the Phuoc Ha Valley on December 9. At 
the same time two Marine battalions would be helicoptered to 
the rear and flanks of the Viet Cong, completing their entrap- 
ment. Another battalion of Marines, serving as the fleet Special 
Landing Force, would be a ready reserve on naval warships just 
off the coast of Vietnam. 

The South Vietnamese forces were unable to make the road 
march into the area without getting ambushed. On the after- 
noon of December 8, the column was moving down both sides 
of Route 534, the llth ARVN Ranger Battalion on the right and 
the 1st Battalion, 5th ARVN Regiment, on the left. Suddenly 
the right-hand battalion was hit by a withering concentration of 
machine-gun fire and grenade blasts. Waves of VC then charged 
them from all sides, firing assault rifles into the midst of the 
startled rangers. Ranger dead and wounded fell in twisted clumps, 
rifles and helmets clattered to the ground, and in fifteen min- 
utes the battalion had disintegrated. The ranger commander was 
wounded, hit again, and carried out on the back of an American 
advisor. In another fifteen minutes the broken rangers were 
streaming to the rear, and the battalion was no longer in the 
war. 

The 1st Battalion of the 5th ARVN Regiment couldn't get 
across the road. The roadway was exploding under a wall of up- 
turned clay and chunks of pavement hurled through the air by 
an intense VC mortar barrage. Screams, shouted orders, and 
small arms fire mixed in a din of crashing shells and roaring 
jets. Marine fighter-bombers thundered down to pound the other 
side of the road with cannon fire and an onslaught of exploding 
bombs. The 1st Battalion of the 6th ARVN Regiment was heli- 



42 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



coptered into the positions held by the remnants of the ranger 
battalion, and the Viet Cong broke off the action during the 
night. The next morning both of the other South Vietnamese 
battalions were assaulted. The 5th ARVN Regimental head- 
quarters and its 1st Battalion were overrun. The regimental 
colonel was killed in the desperate fighting. 

At 10:00 A.M. the Marines stepped in. The flak-vested 2d 
Battalion, 7th Marines, was air-assaulted five miles from the bat- 
tle to occupy a key hilltop and get behind the Viet Cong. Find- 
ing few VC there, they consolidated. That afternoon the 3d Bat- 
talion, 3d Marines, was helicoptered into a landing zone slightly 
south of the fragmented South Vietnamese positions, and pushed 
overland in an attempt to reach the 5th ARVN Regiment's lines. 
Company L immediately ran into a running engagement, which 
lasted until evening when firing ceased. The next morning the 
Marines linked up with the remnants of the South Vietnamese 
regiment. 

The Marine counterattack continued early on the morning 
of December 10, as the two Marine battalions continued to 
compress the Viet Cong from two directions. Resistance was 
heavy, and the advance over hedgerows, jungle-covered hills, 
and rice paddies was slow and difficult. It was decided to com- 
mit the Special Landing Force. The men of the 2d Battalion of 
the 1st Marines donned full battle dress, drew rifles, and grabbed 
extra magazines of ammunition. They scrambled onto the flight 
deck of the old World War II aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge 
(LPH-8), which had since been converted into a helicopter car- 
rier. This fresh battalion of reserves was to be inserted halfway 
between the two Marine battalions already on the battlefield. 
Loaded with the accoutrements of war, their rifles held firmly 
in their hands, they marched across the open deck in the stiff 
sea breeze to climb into fifteen UH-34 helicopters. 

Captain James F. Page's Company F went in first. The heli- 
copters whirled over flooded rice fields outlined by long dikes, 
neatly dividing them into an assortment of liquid boxes. The 
landing zone had been bombed and rocketed in advance, but 
as the troop-laden helicopters hovered close to earth they were 
met by a hail of Viet Cong machine-gun fire. The Marines dived 



MARINES AT WAR 43 



out into a spray of bullets, and lunged into the shallow paddy 
water behind earthen berms. Mortar rounds started dropping 
among them. Crumpled bodies were strewn over the muddy 
fields, among them Captain Page. (He was left for dead but the 
next day medical corpsmen, checking through the bodies, picked 
up a very faint murmur of a possible heartbeat and flew him 
out. He later recovered.) The Marines desperately called for re- 
inforcements, but the rest of their battalion had landed to the 
west. 

Company E of the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, fought its way 
forward to the pinned company. It took heavy losses, but finally 
managed to get a position to support the depleted Marines with 
covering fire. The trapped Marines wriggled back toward the 
relief force in bounds from dike to dike, Machine guns and rifles 
were waterlogged but still firing. Boots, open flak jackets, and 
shirts were drenched a muddy brown. Their painful withdrawal 
was marked by a trail of doubled-over comrades half sunk in 
the paddy ooze, and groups of naval corpsmen clustered over 
wounded propped up half out of the water beside dikes. Finally 
the two battered companies joined up and formed a defensive 
perimeter. Another reinforcing company arrived as darkness fell. 

Throughout the next two days all three Marine battalions 
continued their steady advance against the southern rim of the 
valley. The Viet Cong pulled out of the entrapment, conducting 
effective harassing fire tactics. Four B-52 strategic bomber strikes 
were made December 12-14. Marines inserted to check out the 
effects of these bombings met only slight resistance. However, 
they uncovered extensive VC tunnel complexes containing large 
amounts of supplies and manufacturing equipment. Repeated 
sweeps of the entire operating area continued to draw only light 
Viet Cong fire. The battle was over except for one last parting 
shot. 

On December 18, 1965, the 2d Battalion of the 7th Marines 
was ambushed by a large Viet Cong force west of Tarn Ky, but 
a violent Marine counterattack and liberal use of artillery and 
air support routed the VC. Operation HARVEST MOON marked 
the Marines's last battle of the year, as well as their last major 
engagement during the rainy season. The 3d Marine Division 



44 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



was already drawing on elements of the 1st Marine Division, 
which had the 7th Marines and two battalions of the 1st Marines 
committed to Vietnam. The next year MACV planned to bring 
in the rest of the division as part of a continuing Marine buildup 
in an expanding war. 



CHAPTER 4. 



AN ARMY GOES TO WAR 



1. The Rock Regiment 

Brigadier General Ellis W. Williamson's 173d Airborne Brigade 
on Okinawa was the Army's own compact, two-fisted response 
force for the western Pacific, designed to drop in under cano- 
pies of silk and seize immediate objectives until something big- 
ger could reinforce the situation. Its two fists were the 1st and 
2d Battalions of the 503d Infantry (Airborne), which was the first 
parachute infantry regiment into the Pacific during World War 
II. There it had pulled off a dramatic parachute assault on top 
of fortified Corregidor Island, known as The Rock. This service 
gave the 503d Infantry a Pacific legacy and the appellation "The 
Rock Regiment." 1 The 173d Airborne Brigade enjoyed a close 
camaraderie, and in Vietnam would always be known to the troops 
as "The Herd," while its high percentage of blacks and racial 
cooperation would add another shibboleth, Two Shades of Soul. 
General Westmoreland wanted the elite 173d Airborne Bri- 
gade in Vietnam as part of his enclave concept at once and got 
the green light on April 14, 1965. There was one proviso. The 

1. The 503d Parachute Infantry was activated at Fort Benning, Georgia, on 
February 24, 1942, and arrived in Australia that November. It fought in New 
Guinea, Leyte, Luzon, and the southern Philippines. Its dashing airborne 
assault onto the small but well defended Japanese fortress island of Corre- 
gidor on February 16, 1945, was one of the most daring paratrooper assaults 
of history. The battalions were assigned to the separate 173d Airborne Bri- 
gade when it was formed on March 26, 1963. In Vietnam the brigade was 
later expanded to contain all four battalions of the 503d Infantry (Airborne). 

45 



46 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



brigade was understood to be in Vietnam merely on temporary 
duty and would later be replaced by another airborne brigade 
from the States. The paratroopers arrived in Vietnam on May 
5, heavy duffel bags swung over their shoulders and full-color 
"flying butterknife" (a winged bayonet) shoulder patches on their 
sleeves. The first order of the day was rolled-up sleeves; the 
tropical heat blasted them like an open oven. 

The brigade was the first Army ground combat unit to arrive 
in South Vietnam. It was headquartered at Bien Hoa, outside 
Saigon, where it expected to be used as a countrywide fire bri- 
gade. Instead, one battalion was detained to pull guard duty at 
Vung Tau, the landing point for Army units arriving by sea, and 
its other battalion dug in around the Bien Hoa air base as se- 
curity. Then in early June the brigade was put back together, 
given a third maneuver battalion, the crack 1st Battalion of the 
Royal Australian Regiment, and ordered to start training for of- 
fensive combat. 

The paratroopers had to be turned into a new kind of sky 
soldier: the airmobile infantry. They rehearsed day and night. 
They learned how to jump off helicopters and dash toward the 
tree lines in the right direction, firing from the hip. They learned 
to trust the helicopter gunship pilots zooming in just over their 
heads. They stopped mistaking the rain of falling cartridge links 
for bullets tearing into their own positions. 

On June 27, 1965, the brigade's three battalions divided into 
hundreds of small clusters on the runway at Bien Hoa. Dozens 
of helicopters warmed their engines on the airstrip as the first 
lifts began soaring into the dense, humid skies. It was the larg- 
est airmobile operation to date in the Vietnam War, involving 
144 helicopters, the 173d Airborne Brigade reinforced by two 
ARVN airborne battalions, and the 48th ARVN Regiment. They 
were helicoptered into the jungles of War Zone D, a large swath 
of Viet Cong-controlled territory just to the north of Bien Hoa, 
which no allied unit had entered in over a year. 

The 173d Airborne Brigade stayed in the area until June 30. 
It simultaneously pulled out of three different landing zones within 
close distance of each other. It was a hectic experience for the 
green brigade. Artillery rounds sailed through the air to crash 
into the thick forests, troop helicopters flew underneath to pick 



AN ARMY GOES TO WAR 47 



up shrinking bands of infantry deliberately collapsing their pe- 
rimeters, and gunships orbited in tight circles firing machine 
guns and rockets. As the young paratroopers clambered into the 
wildly vibrating open cargo bays of the Huey helicopters, their 
helmets sprouting rather exotic combinations of tropical leafage, 
they grinned at the door gunners. There hadn't been much ac- 
tion, but they were now veterans. That August the new sky 
troopers were taken off temporary duty orders. The brigade was 
in Vietnam on a permanent change of station. 

The 173d Airborne Brigade had made another excursion into 
War Zone D on July 6 in conjunction with the 48th ARVN Reg- 
iment. The brigade was moved to Pleiku on its first mobile re- 
sponse mission on August 10, after the attack on the western 
border Special Forces camp of Due Co. There it held Thanh 
Binh Pass on Highway 19 as South Vietnamese units retreated 
through it on August 17. After other sweeps around Kontum it 
moved back to Bien Hoa on September 6. A month later on 
October 8, back in War Zone D, the brigade pushed through 
heavy jungle and the shattered remnants of rain forest, where 
B-52 bombing strikes had reduced massive timber to broken 
deadfall littering gigantic craters torn out of the earth. Constant 
sniper fire and occasional ambushes plagued the sweltering 
paratroopers. 

By the time the 173d Airborne Brigade went into War Zone 
D on its fifth incursion November 5, 1965, the exhilarating edge 
of war had long worn off. The pugnacious soldiers even gave 
the operation a petulant title, HUMP. The soldier's term for 
marching under the heavy weight of rucksacks crammed with 
extra rations, water, and ammunition, their straps biting into 
shoulders already burdened by equipment harnesses loaded with 
pouches, canteens, and grenades, was "humping." The search 
and destroy missions to find, fix, and destroy Viet Cong per- 
sonnel, supplies, and installations were becoming instead long 
and exhausting "walks in the sun." 

The operation began with two airmobile assaults by the 1st 
Battalion of the 503d Infantry (Airborne) and the Australian bat- 
talion. The two units established separate fire bases without any 
major contact. For several days they toiled through the dense 
forests, finding tunnel systems, fortifications, and abandoned huts, 



48 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



but no Viet Cong. At eight o'clock on the morning of November 
8, the 503d Infantry's 1st Battalion ran into the VC in force in 
thick jungle composed of trees 250 feet high. The soldiers fought 
in a hail of fire raking their lines from the wall of jungle. Pla- 
toons were cut to pieces by close range machine guns and 
charging swarms of VC soldiers. Snipers aloft fired down with 
automatic weapons and pitched grenades. Rockets exploded, 
showering dirt and steel through the ruins of vine and torn bark. 

The battle rapidly escalated in brutal intensity. The para- 
troopers desperately called in for air support. All that could be 
granted were blocking fires; the fighting was too close. They 
radioed for immediate employment of 2d Battalion, the brigade 
reserve. Reinforcements were impossible; there were too few 
helicopters to fly them in. Soldiers grappled in hand-to-hand 
combat, swinging axes and entrenching tools as ammunition ran 
out. The perimeter became a jagged ring of paratrooper squads 
flat against the roots of jungle trees. Assault after assault was 
made by the Viet Cong against the battalion's lines. 

In the late afternoon the Viet Cong attacks began subsiding. 
Although the battalion sustained heavy fire for the rest of the 
day and through the night, they were able to hack out a landing 
zone on November 9 for evacuation of the wounded. By seven 
o'clock that night the entire battalion had been extracted, and 
the 173d Airborne Brigade's first battle in Vietnam was over. 
Over 117 Air Force tactical air strikes and 1,747 helicopter sor- 
ties had been used. By this time, however, the 173d Airborne 
Brigade wasn't the only American paratrooper force seeing heavy 
combat in South Vietnam. They had been joined in the mean- 
time by the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, which had 
originally gone to Vietnam so that the 173d could return to Oki- 
nawa. 

2, The Eagle Brigade 

When the 173d Airborne Brigade was expedited to South 
Vietnam in May of 1965 the Pentagon planned to pull it back 
to reconstitute the Pacific response force, as soon as another bri- 
gade from the United States could get into country. The 1st 
Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division was selected by General 
Westmoreland as its permanent replacement, and it arrived at 



AN ARMY GOES TO WAR 49 



coastal Cam Ranh Bay on July 29, 1965. Like the 173d, this 
brigade was fully paratrooper-qualified, but it was somewhat 
stronger, having three intrinsic airborne infantry battalions. 

The 1st Brigade was part of one of the most famous divisions 
in the United States Army; the 101st Airborne Division, which 
had held the key town of Bastogne during the German Ar- 
dennes counteroffensive of World War II. The paratroopers wore 
a Screaming Eagle shoulder patch, an insignia so lionized that 
the division never adopted a subdued version when the Army 
mandated that all formations adopt camouflaged insignia in com- 
bat. Eventually the entire division would be committed to Viet- 
nam, but initially only one brigade was called for. The division 
sent three of its finest battalions, among them the 2d Battalion 
of the 502d Infantry (Airborne). 2 

Col. James S. Timothy moved his brigade north in August. 
His orders were to open up the stretch of Highway 19 between 
Qui Nhon on the coast and the inland town of An Khe. This 
clearing operation was designed to permit the 1st Cavalry Di- 
vision (Airmobile) to deploy peacefully to An Khe one month 
later. The paratroopers moved to An Khe and began Operation 
HIGHLAND. The sweep proceeded smoothly and the operation 
concluded without incident. However, a Viet Cong main force 
battalion of the 2d NVA Regiment had been reported in the Song 
Con River valley to the north of An Khe Pass, and Colonel Tim- 
othy wanted to get a crack at it. On September 18, 1965, he 
set Operation GIBRALTAR into motion. 

The ground arm of the operation was to be a mechanized 
column, which would move north beside the Song Con River. 
The airmobile force consisted of the 2d Battalion, 502d Infantry 
(Airborne), under Lt. Col. Wilfrid K. G. Smith. It was to air- 
assault the jungled hinterlands near An Ninh, consolidate its 
landing zone, and then push the Viet Cong into the advancing 
armor of the other task force. As it turned out, the air-assault 
battalion became heavily engaged and needed rescue, but the 

2. The 502d Parachute Infantry had been formed from a battalion activated 
at Fort Benning, Georgia, on July 1, 1941, and was one of the 101st Airborne 
Division's original components of World War II. It had gained fame making 
a spectacular bayonet charge at Carentan, France, shortly after parachuting 
in on D-Day in 1944. 



50 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



composite armored-infantry force couldn't get to them. It en- 
countered great difficulty moving its armored personnel carriers 
and heavy tanks forward in the soggy terrain. 

The paratroopers of the 2d Battalion, 502d Infantry (Air- 
borne), boarded a medley of Army and Marine helicopters for 
the air assault. The airmobile force made a swift morning flight 
and set down on the marshy rice paddy landing field which had 
been selected near An Ninh. Lieutenant Colonel Smith and 
Company C unloaded the craft shortly after seven o'clock and 
established a perimeter to await the second lift. Occasional rifle 
shots rang through the air. 

The second flight of helicopters swung low into the approach 
and started to set down. Their blades twirled impatiently through 
the dank air as door gunners crouching behind pedestal-mounted 
machine guns nervously scanned the tall trees. The paratroopers 
began to scramble out. Suddenly intense automatic weapons fire 
swept the landing zone. Splashing water and dirt exploded among 
the wobbling helicopters as their brownish frames were ham- 
mered by shells. Doors and windows were shattering, and pilots 
slumped in blood-splattered seats. Paratroopers were being killed 
and wounded as they tumbled out of the helicopters and fell 
into the thrashing water. Dead and dying mounds of equip- 
ment-laden men were peppered by the storm of ground fire. 
Other men slithered desperately across the flat killing zone. 

Helicopters struggled into the air as door gunners fired fe- 
verishly back into the surrounding jungles, their smoking guns 
cranking through long belts of linked ammunition. Other door 
guns were silent, swinging jerkily to the motion of the helicop- 
ters gaining altitude, the gloved arms of their crewmen dangling 
out the cabins. 

The additional helicopters carrying the rest of the battalion 
had to be waved off, aborting what remained of the rest of the 
planned airmobile assault. The commander of Company B had 
been hit before he could get off his craft, and the single sur- 
viving officer was a second lieutenant who took over the deci- 
mated company. Capt. Robert E. Rawls of Company C directed 
him to use his men to plug gaps in the perimeter. Without air 
reinforcement they would have to hold on to the landing zone 
until the ground column reached them. Then the combined force 
could clear the area sufficiently to permit safe evacuation. 



AN ARMY GOES TO WAR 51 



Lieutenant Colonel Smith looked about the field. Smoking 
helicopters sat dizzily in the water, broken skids and shattered 
blades tilting them like capsized boats. He had exactly 224 men, 
many of them wounded, in a tattered circle of paddy dikes and 
tree line. Their positions were pounded by concentrated mortar 
barrages. A platoon that had clawed out some room on a nearby 
ridge was forced to pull back to an earthen berm on the side 
of the rice field. Then another platoon was brought back in to 
the shrunken perimeter. As it was being maneuvered, Captain 
Rawls was killed. Armed helicopters overhead maintained a shield 
of rocket detonations and machine-gun fire all around them. Ar- 
tillery was called in to form a barrier of exploding shells. At 
nine o'clock Air Force fighter-bombers arrived to begin their 
incendiary bombing runs. 

Twenty minutes later another air assault to the south was 
tried by Company A and the aborted portion of Company B. 
They were only able to get thirty-six live soldiers on the ground, 
and in the process the battalion lost another company com- 
mander. They were forced to form a separate perimeter, which 
was held until morning when rescued by paratroopers advancing 
overland. Three more helicopters were added to the ground 
wreckage. The others were nursed back to the takeoff point at 
Khu Pho, often by crewmen or severely wounded pilots. Short 
of power and riddled with bullets, many helicopters were strug- 
gling just to make the fifteen-minute return flight. Some crashed 
on landing. Every one of the twenty-six helicopters of the failed 
reinforcement attempt had to be scrapped or grounded due to 
battle damage. 

The hill was now becoming the center of a prolonged series 
of charges and counterattacks as the VC fought to get in closer 
to the Americans. Medical evacuation helicopters continued to 
try to dash in during slack periods, pick up wounded, and race 
out before concentrated fire was directed at them. During one 
such attempt the crew chief of a Marine Sea Knight helicopter 
was killed and the copilot wounded. Late that afternoon another 
battalion and the ARVN rangers were air-landed over a mile 
away without incident, and began moving overland to link up. 

Throughout the night, flares kept up illumination. Although 
the perimeter was probed, it was never attacked en masse. As 
morning arrived, the Viet Cong withdrew, and at 6:15 A.M. the 



52 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



ground force reached Smith's lines. During the battle over a 
hundred tactical fighter sorties had been flown and some eleven 
thousand artillery rounds fired. Two shattered companies of the 
1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division had managed to hold 
on to their perimeter against heavy odds. While the United States 
government was labeling its Vietnam involvement a "police ac- 
tion," early Army operations like GIBRALTAR quickly dem- 
onstrated that the American Army was actually caught up in a 
full-scale war. 

3. The 1st Cavalry Division Goes to Vietnam 

At Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara's insistence a 
new test formation, tentatively titled the llth Air Assault Di- 
vision, was formed in February of 1963 at the infantry school 
post of Fort Benning, Georgia. McNamara was convinced that 
a new type of division could move rapidly about using large 
numbers of helicopters. He wanted the test unit (actually a bri- 
gade in size) built so he could "fill in the facts and figures" as 
justification for it. Many senior Army generals were adamantly 
against the idea. They weren't sure helicopters were thick-skinned 
enough to survive on the battlefield, but they were sure such 
a conglomeration of expensive gadgets would eat up the Army's 
budget. There was also a nagging fear that the Air Force was 
somehow scheming to get in the picture. 

The Defense Department never gave the Army a chance. 
The Howze Board was set up under a couple of high-ranking 
believers, and McNamara handed out deadlines so short the Army 
couldn't do anything but say yes. One of the staunch supporters 
was Maj. Gen. Harry W. O. Kinnard, handpicked by the Sec- 
retary of Defense to head up the project. He would later take 
the first air assault division into the maelstrom of war and make 
airmobility a household Army word. 

The Army staff was both right and wrong. The llth Air As- 
sault Division turned out to be frightfully expensive, but on the 
other hand, the new production models of Bell helicopters, being 
called Hueys, were proving fairly dependable. The division 
members worked day and night with their three carefully nur- 
tured battalions and crusading nucleus of officers and sergeants. 
This was their baby. They took it up to the pines of North Car- 



AN ARMY GOES TO WAR 53 



olina in the cold fall of 1964, and then moved back to Fort Ben- 
ning to prepare for spring and summer exercises in the northern 
swamps of Florida. The plans for this third-phase test, called 
Operation GOLDFIRE, were never used. The division would 
receive its final test instead in the western Highlands of Viet- 
nam. 

Fort Benning was filled with soldiers in June of 1965. The 
2d Infantry Division, the school's 197th Infantry Brigade, the 
llth Air Assault Division (Test) with its associated 10th Air 
Transport Brigade, and the parachute school swelled the post's 
green-fatigued legions. Then came the first call for Vietnam 
troops. It barely shook the Army tree and never touched the 
reserves, but it whirled through Fort Benning like a hurricane, 
leaving it a naked oak stripped of every leaf. Later Vietnam would 
send its gales through other posts, then through cities, and fi- 
nally through every hometown in America. 

On June 29, 1965, the flag of the 1st Cavalry Division at 
Tonggu, South Korea, was put on a plane and presented to the 
small band of test soldiers of the llth Air Assault Division at 
Fort Benning on July 1. The test unit finally had a Regular Army 
name; it was redesignated the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). 
The ex-cavalrymen in Korea were handed the Indian head patches 
of the 2d Infantry Division; they now became the new 2d In- 
fantry Division. The 2d Infantry Division at Fort Benning dis- 
appeared in one gulp as the embryo 1st Cavalry Division (Air- 
mobile) filled to wartime strength. The parachute school was also 
denuded; the new airmobile division needed pathfinders and 
enough parachutists to make its first brigade "airborne." 3 The 
only unit left -intact at the post was the school's own brigade, 
the 197th Infantry Brigade. It was turned upside down for every 
deployable soldier, "recycled" with the nondeployable ones the 
1st Cavalry Division couldn't use, and became known as the 

3. The airborne brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division ended soon enough in 
Vietnam. With the inroads the 5th Special Forces Group was making on para- 
troopers, the Army was hard pressed to keep its two airborne brigades al- 
ready there (173d Airborne Brigade and 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne 
Division) filled. Things were made worse by the fact that paratroopers liked 
to fight, which meant that they usually got killed and wounded faster, and 
that more replacement paratroopers were needed to replace the higher losses 
in their units. 



54 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



"Dollar Ninety-Worst" 197th Infantry Brigade. It never went 
overseas. 

Soldiers hurriedly tacked on their new, oversized 1st Cav- 
alry Division insignia. The big patch shields featured a horse 
head over a diagonal black bar slashing through the bright cav- 
alry-yellow cloth. Functionally designed by an officer's wife to 
be large enough to be spotted through the Fort Bliss, Texas, 
dust which the horses used to kick up, it was a reminder of the 
days when the 1st Cavalry Division was truly cavalry. As a re- 
sult the division was sometimes known as the Blanket Division. 
Officers and sergeants frantically in-processed soldiers into com- 
panies, out-processed them for overseas duty, inventoried 
equipment, organized units, and drew up training schedules. The 
Army had given them only thirty days to get the entire division 
formed and ready to go overseas. 

Every shortcut possible was used or invented as the division 
rushed to meet its deployment date. Soldiers arrived at all hours 
on buses and planes. They were dispatched to the divisional 
replacement center, given a hot meal and forms to fill out, and 
were then trucked off to their assigned companies almost as fast 
as they turned in their trays. Some arrived with orders in hand 
and their families at their sides. They inquired about housing, 
looking forward to a comfortable change of station at Fort Ben- 
ning. The dependents were advised to go back home; the sol- 
diers would be overseas in a month. 

The men of the 1st Cavalry Division heard about their ul- 
timate destination on television two weeks before the Army told 
them officially. Less than twenty days before the division shipped 
out, some were still on emergency riot duty in the Dominican 
Republic. They were quickly rushed back to Georgia. Three 
hundred critically needed new aviators arrived July 15. Their 
manifest of origin represented almost every Army post, arsenal, 
and depot in the world, even some the sergeant majors hadn't 
heard of. They shook their heads in bewilderment; the Army 
must have scoured the entire globe for them. In fact the Army 
had done just that. There was already an aviator shortage and 
the war was just starting. 

Actual training was largely out of the question for the time 
being. Weapons firing and even squad tactics would be re- 



AN ARMY GOES TO WAR 55 



hearsed on the decks of ships carrying them across the Pacific 
Ocean. Things got worse during out-loading. The accommoda- 
tion assignments led to hopeless overcrowding on the naval 
transport ships MSTS Kula Gulf (T-AKV-40) and Card (T-AKV- 
8), old World War II merchant hulls converted to escort aircraft 
carriers and now finishing their days unceremoniously as cargo 
ferries. Last-minute transfers had to be made in the mass con- 
fusion at dockside. To alleviate crowding, the Army decided to 
utilize unused portions of the crew billeting area. The civilian 
crews balked and refused to sail. The Army relented. The di- 
vision literally sailed into the sunset, heading west on the high 
seas toward the Republic of Vietnam. 

Brig. Gen. John M. Wright, the divisional assistant com- 
mander, was already in Vietnam with a small advance party. He 
was told the division was going to safeguard the rugged central 
heartland of the country, the western badlands of Pleiku and 
Kontum provinces. He decided to locate it outside a small town 
along key Highway 19 near the Mang Yang Pass where excellent 
flying weather usually prevailed. The town was called An Khe, 
presently occupied by a Special Forces camp that had seen hard 
fighting that February. 

The division advance group decided its base camp would have 
to be heavily fortified, accommodate a heliport for the division's 
four hundred fifty aircraft, and yet be as small as possible. Within 
three days they had laid it out. On August 25, one thousand 
advance troops of the 1st Cavalry Division arrived and were put 
to work with shovels and picks building the camp. Everyone 
from full colonels to privates toiled clearing brush. The com- 
position of the advance party was rank-heavy with senior ser- 
geants and officers who had at least one thought in common. 
They all wished they had sent over the engineers first. 

On September 21 the bulk of the division arrived at the new 
campsite. Soon a full division and a borrowed engineer battalion 
were constructing everything from showers to mess halls. Five 
wire barriers and two cattle fences were strung around the new 
base. When Maj. Don G. Radcliff became the first person from 
the division to lose his life in Vietnam, it became Camp Rad- 
cliff. On October 1, 1965, the 1st Cavalry Division assumed re- 
sponsibility for its new An Khe base and most of Highway 19. 



56 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



The men continued to build. On October 19 they received word 
that a Special Forces camp at Plei Me had been hit hard by 
the NVA. At last the relabeled llth Air Assault Division was 
about to undergo a combat test of the airmobile concept. 

4. The la Drang Valley Campaign 

Maj. Gen. Harry W. O. Kinnard's 1st Cavalry Division (Air- 
mobile) was providing traffic security along Highway 19 with both 
heliborne and dismounted sweeps, when it was called into ac- 
tion as a result of the North Vietnamese Army attacks against 
Plei Me, south of Pleiku. The division would call it Operation 
SILVER BAYONET, but its airmobile actions over the fifteen 
hundred-square mile battlefield of western South Vietnam would 
be registered in military history as the la Drang Valley cam- 
paign. 

The Chu Pong massif marked the southwestern corner of the 
division's area of responsibility. Dense tropical forests, extensive 
grasslands, and red clay typified the geography. Clear blue, 
cloudless skies and starry nights offered optimum weather for 
massive helicopter flights which typified the air cavalry's most 
successful engagements. On October 23, the division committed 
a battalion, which was quickly reinforced to a brigade. Four days 
later, this force was told to search and destroy everything be- 
tween Plei Me and the Cambodian border. The 1st Cavalry Di- 
vision (Airmobile) was at war. 

The 1st Squadron of the 9th Cavalry, the division's air re- 
connaissance arm, was unleashed across the landscape. The scout 
helicopters swarmed over the woods and streams of the rolling 
country, spotting and firing at isolated bands of soldiers below 
who sometimes fired back. The NVA were moving back to their 
base camps in the Chu Pong Mountain area, and were taking 
considerable harassment from the ranging aerial cavalrymen. 
However, they were unsure of what to do about it. This air- 
mobile screening was as new to them as it was to the Ameri- 
cans. 

On November 9, 1965, Col. Thomas W. Brown's fresh 3d 
Brigade with its three cavalry battalions arrived in the area of 
operations to relieve the 1st Brigade. By now the North Viet- 
namese regiments had returned to their mountainous base area. 



AN ARMY GOES TO WAR 57 



The new brigade would have to go in after them to execute the 
destruction phase of its assignment. The first few days were spent 
flying battalions around to get them into position for further of- 
fensive movement. Just before midnight on November 12, the 
brigade command post and aviation refueling point were sub- 
jected to a heavy mortar barrage. The next day was uneventful, 
and on November 14 Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore, Jr/s 1st Bat- 
talion of the 7th Cavalry landed at Landing Zone X-Ray, adja- 
cent to the Chu Pong range. 

The 7th Cavalry was perhaps the most well-known Army unit 
in American history. It was the one that went down at Little 
Big Horn River, in Montana, in what is known to the public as 
Ouster's Last Stand, when it dared attack the Sioux Indian bands 
of Chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull during the Indian Wars. 4 
Now in Vietnam, deep in NVA territory, it was about to undergo 
another jarring experience. 

Just before eleven o'clock in the morning, Company B touched 
down at LZ X-Ray, and an hour later most of the battalion had 
joined it. With Company C securing the landing zone, Capt. 
John D. Benin's Company B moved north and west up a heav- 
ily jungled ridge extending from the Chu Pong hill mass. Shortly 
after noon one of the platoons was pinned by heavy ground fire, 
and another platoon was sent in to assist. This second platoon, 
led by Lt. Henry T. Herrick, spotted some other NVA soldiers 
along a well-traveled jungle trail and decided to pursue. 

His soldiers crossed a dry creek bed and were moving for- 
ward toward a large anthill when a volley of automatic weapons 
fire ripped into them. Several soldiers were spun around by the 
bullets and thrown to the ground. The other cavalrymen man- 
aged to dive into the red dirt as the hail of bullets tore through 
shrubbery and grass only inches above them. Many were hit in 
several places and painfully wounded. The officers and senior 

4. The 7th Cavalry had been formed on September 21, 1866, at Fort Riley, 
Kansas, for the express purpose of fighting Indians. Actually, only Troops C, 
E, F, I, and L under the command of Lt. Col. G. A. Custer were destroyed 
on June 25, 1876. Troops A, B, D, G, H, K, and M under Maj. M. A. Reno 
took heavy losses but survived. The regiment later participated in the Mex- 
ican Expedition of 1916-17 and fought as foot infantry in the Pacific in World 
War II and in Korea. 



58 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



sergeants were either dead or so badly wounded they were un- 
able to move. The men laid their rifles flat against the ground 
and sprayed the grass in front of them whenever they heard 
movement. All attempts by Captain Herrin's company to force 
its way across the creek bed and link up with the pinned pla- 
toon were repulsed with heavy losses. This westerly platoon would 
remain an isolated island of resistance until it was retrieved the 
next day. Although several night attempts to overrun them were 
made, intensive artillery protective fires formed a ring of blazing 
steel that broke up the North Vietnamese attacks. 

As Company B became heavily committed to securing its 
separated platoon, mortars started shelling the landing zone and 
rocket-propelled grenades slammed into the cavalry lines. Com- 
pany A was moved into position alongside Company B and be- 
came tied down in a firefight countering an NVA infantry assault 
across the tall grass. The firing was so furious that the rest of 
the battalion helicopters had to be waved off. 

Company C moved off the landing zone to the east. Machine 
guns opened up and two companies of North Vietnamese reg- 
ulars charged them. Company D was thrown into the fray. Air 
strikes and massed artillery were frantically called in, almost up 
to their positions. This horrendous series of closely packed, earth- 
filled explosions from rockets and shells shattered the NVA as- 
sault. By three o'clock the rest of the battalion landed and was 
fed into the eastern fringes of the landing zone. They began 
digging in. Company B from the 7th Cavalry's 2d Battalion was 
helicoptered into the fire-swept landing zone after dark and held 
as the battalion reserve, Ringed by the NVA, the cavalrymen 
formed a tight circular defense around LZ X-Ray. Parachute 
flares floated gently through the night sky, casting moving shad- 
ows on the ground, underneath the shifting variety of colored 
lights. 

At first light, the battalion ventured small scout teams out 
immediately in front of its positions. Shortly before seven o'clock 
that morning Company C's lines were swept by heavy automatic 
rifle fire and then stormed by the North Vietnamese. The charg- 
ing groups of NVA infantry bounded forward through the ex- 
plosions of rocket artillery and into the American positions. There 
the combat was hand to hand, 

The other portions of the perimeter were also under attack 



AN ARMY GOES TO WAR 59 



and the landing zone itself was in a crisscross of grazing fire. 
The reserve was thrown into the breach of Company C's crum- 
bling ramparts. Thick colored smoke was set off to mark the 
battle line's forward edge. Helicopters strafed and rocketed as 
artillery was used to form a curtain of explosions just yards from 
the billowing clouds of pinkish smoke. The fresh cavalrymen 
moved in firing short bursts from their rifles and then resorted 
to knives and shovels in close-quarters combat. American dead 
and wounded lay sprawled across the dirty, bloodstained khaki 
of North Vietnamese bodies. Every one of Company C's officers 
had been killed or wounded. 

By nine o'clock that morning the threat against Company C's 
portion of the perimeter had subsided. The shambles of smoking 
grass and scalloped dirt in front of its positions was strewn with 
broken corpses and equipment. About one o'clock that afternoon 
the 2d Battalion of the 5th Cavalry, which had trekked overland 
to reach the beleaguered 7th, walked in from the east. The 66th 
NVA Regiment had left, and the battle of LZ X-Ray was over. 

Strategic B-52 bombings were made on November 17. That 
day the 2d Battalion of the 7th Cavalry, less elements lost at 
LZ X-Ray, was sent out through dense jungle to skirt the B-52 
strike area and then turn north to a grassy clearing coded LZ 
Albany, It was temporarily loaned Company A from the 1st Bat- 
talion of the 5th Cavalry as substitution for its missing compo- 
nents. The new company was put to the rear of the file. It hacked 
and cut its way through the tropical foliage, picked up two NVA 
prisoners too startled to offer resistance, and reached the pre- 
determined landing zone site. 

The lead elements passed through the clearing without in- 
cident. Then a sudden fusillade of machine-guns mixed with ri- 
fle and grenade fire cut into the 7th Cavalry's column. Soldiers 
toppled lifelessly to the ground. Others quickly dropped to fire 
back with automatic rifles, light antitank weapons, and their own 
machine-guns. The North Vietnamese regulars came charging 
across the brush, shouting and firing their assault rifles from the 
hip. They ran straight into Companies C and D and fought their 
way through the battalion's ranks. Company A and the recon- 
naissance platoon made a stand on the landing zone itself. The 
rear of the column was cut off. 

Soldiers desperately fought individual battles at point-blank 



60 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



range. Helicopters circled helplessly, unable to call in tactical 
air support or artillery because of the general melee going on 
below them. Slowly the Americans started falling back into clus- 
tered perimeters, and the spotting aircraft could distinguish 
enough semblance of the flow of the battle to call in air strikes. 
The first runs were made by low-flying, rocket-spitting helicop- 
ter gunships which raked the NVA soldiers still pressing the 
attack. Then fighter-bombers swooped down to discharge loads 
of napalm, which tumbled through the tree lines and engulfed 
at least one entire North Vietnamese company in rolling balls 
of jellied fire. 

Lt. Col. Robert A. McDade, Jr/s battalion remnants had 
formed a tight circular perimeter on LZ Albany. Company B 
was helicoptered in after dark, when the firing against the smol- 
dering clearing had slackened. The perimeter experienced gun- 
fire and periodic assaults, but illumination by Air Force flare 
ships and a continuous ring of artillery fire held the NVA at 
bay. Groups of soldiers made a number of forays outside their 
perimeter during the night. They carried back scores of Amer- 
ican wounded. From midnight to dawn there was sporadic snip- 
er fire, but the major threat was over. 

It had been a sanguinary initiation for the 1st Cavalry Di- 
vision. A smaller attack was mounted November 18 against an 
artillery fire base, which proved to be the last contact of the la 
Drang Valley campaign. It had lasted thirty-five grueling days, 
during which time the division had used its airmobile flexibility 
to the utmost advantage. The NVA regiments had been forced 
from the area and defeated in open combat. Despite damage to 
fifty-nine helicopters, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) had 
demonstrated that its sturdy aircraft could survive on a modern 
battlefield. The division's bold tactics and hard-fighting resolu- 
tion displayed during the first big Army battles gained it a nick- 
name it would carry throughout the Vietnam War: the First Team. 

On November 26, 1965, the air-assault troopers moved back 
to An Khe. They left behind fields littered with empty C-ration 
tins, expended ammunition boxes, and water cans. Even as the 
last helicopters droned drowsily into the distance, North Viet- 
namese Army soldiers cautiously moved back to reclaim the ter- 
ritory. However, the American Army was not attempting to 



AN ARMY GOES TO WAR 61 



physically occupy Vietnam's trackless wilderness. Instead, for- 
mations like the 1st Cavalry Division were seeking battlefield 
destruction of NVA and VC units wherever they could be found. 
The la Drang Valley campaign proved that punishing blows could 
be swiftly administered in retaliation for assaults made on allied 
installations, even in remote areas such as the Plei Me Special 
Forces camp. MACV hoped that enough military victories of this 
nature would cause North Vietnam to desist in its war against 
the South. 



PART 2. 

1966 



Helicopter Valley 
Mutter's Ridge - 



Dong Ha 



Phu Bai ' 



AShau 
Special Forces camp^ 

KEY TO OPERATIONS 

1 -CRIMP (Ho Bo Woods) 

2 - MASTIFF (Boi Loi Woods) 

3 - MALLET 

4 - UNIONTOWN 
5- ABILENE 

6- BIRMINGHAM 

7 - LEXINGTON III (Rung Sat Special 

8 - EL PASO I and II Zone) 

9 - ATTLEBORO 

10 - MASHER-WHITE WING / 

DAVY CROCKETT / 



Da Nang 



> Chu Lai 



An Hoa 



Quang Ngai 



THAYER / IRVING 



la Drang Valley 
Chu Pong Massif 



11 -GARFIELD 

12 - PAUL REVERE 

13 - HAWTHORNE 

14 - CRAZY HORSE 

15 - DOUBLE EAGLE 
16 -NEW YORK 

17 -TEXAS 
18 -HASTINGS 
19 -PRAIRIE 

KEY TO TOWNS 

a - Quan Loi 

b - Minh Thanh and Minh Thanh Road 

c - Dau Tieng 

d - Bien Hoa war zone c <, Loc Njnh 

e - Long Bmh \ Route 13 ffi^ S rok Dong 

-HonQuan 




Pleiku 

DragoTTMtn. 
Due Co 

Plei Me 



Mtns 
AnKhe 

Qui Nhon I 



Tuy Hoa , 



Vung Ro < 



Ban Me Thuot 



NhaTrangJ 



Tay Ninh^ 
Route 22- 
Go Dau Ha : 



I War Zone D 



Xuan Loc 



Tan Son Nhut Airbase^T 

IV Corps Tactical Zorv 
(Mekong Delta) 



Vung Tau 



50 



100 



-N- 



scale miles 

Q Saigon 

Map by Shelby L. Stanton 

South Vietnam - 1966 



CHAPTER 5. 



THE BUILD-UP 



1. Higher Headquarters and More Battalions 

After the la Drang Valley campaign, the North Vietnamese Army 
avoided further major confrontation during the 196566 dry sea- 
son, and concentrated instead on expanding and rehabilitating 
its forces. Since the American military was engaged in the same 
process, and both sides were trying to formulate acceptable stra- 
tegic doctrine to cope with the military capabilities of the other, 
1966 was spent largely in mutual buildup. 

The United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, 
already had 116,700 Army soldiers and 41,000 Marines in Viet- 
nam as 1966 began, and more battalions and troops would con- 
tinue to pour in throughout the year. To the 3d Marine, 1st 
Cavalry, and 1st Infantry Divisions would be added, in the course 
of the year, the 1st Marine, 4th Infantry, 9th Infantry, and 25th 
Infantry Divisions. To the separate Army 1st Brigade of the 101st 
Airborne Division and 173d Airborne Brigade would be added 
the llth Armored Cavalry Regiment, and the 196th and 199th 
Infantry Brigades. As a result, MACV spent much of 1966 re- 
aligning the assets represented by this flood of American combat 
forces and getting new units settled in. The huge buildup of 
1966 set the stage for large-scale field operations and escalating 
combat levels on the eve of 1967. 

Vietnam had been blocked off into four military areas, the 
U.S. Marines responsible for the north and the South Vietnam- 
ese for the far south. This left the Army with one field force 

65 



66 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



headquarters handling the two middle regions. II Field Force, 
Vietnam, became operational March 15, 1966, at Long Binh to 
work the III Military Corps Zone, which included Saigon. These 
larger headquarters were being designated "field forces," in- 
stead of corps to avoid confusion with the Vietnamese corps zone 
concept, as well as being flexible command-and-control forma- 
tions not tied to particular size limitations. 1 Personnel for this 
new field force were pulled out of the III Corps headquarters 
at Fort Hood, Texas. The Army gave this new structure the 
lineage of the old XXII Corps of World War II Europe fame, 
and the main shipment of men arrived in Vietnam on March 
28. The commander of the 1st Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. Jon- 
athan O. Seaman, was promoted to head the new headquarters, 
which was given initial control over his old division, the 25th 
Infantry Division, the 173d Airborne Brigade, and an artillery 
and an aviation group (the 23d and 12th). At the same time the 
previous field force, already in Vietnam since the preceding No- 
vember under Maj. Gen. Stanley R. Larsen, was redesignated 
as I Field Force, Vietnam, at Nha Trang. 

The fighting edge of this enormous American buildup leaped 
from the twenty-two Army and thirteen Marine infantry and tank 
battalions of January 1966 to fifty-nine and twenty-four, respec- 
tively, by the end of the year. President Johnson and Defense 
Secretary McNamara had decided by mid year to reject any call- 
up of the reserves due to political ramifications, but still planned 
to have 390,000 troops in Vietnam by the end of 1966. The 
commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Wallace M. Greene, 
Jr. , mirrored the sentiments of many high-echelon military lead- 
ers when he later stated that the decision not to use the re- 
serves was a "fatal mistake." 2 

The Marines and the Army shared a common dilemma: there 
wasn't enough manpower. In addition to new units being raised 
or brought up to strength and shoved into the combat zone, 

1. The Army was also probably copying the title of the successful III Marine 
Amphibious Force, which seemed to have harmonized easily with its in- 
creased command, advisory, and Vietnamese counterpart responsibilities in I 
Corps Tactical Zone. 

2. Jack Shulimson, U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1966, An Expanding War, 
Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C., 1982, p. 283. 



THE BUILD-UP 67 



individual replacements still had to be provided for those al- 
ready there. Due to shortages of critical skilled personnel, cer- 
tain scheduled aviation and logistical units could not be formed 
or deployed on time. Combat units were forced to operate in 
the field with far fewer riflemen than they were authorized to 
have. For example, 1966 saw many Marine infantry companies, 
with a normal strength of six officers and two hundred ten en- 
listed men, down to one officer and only one hundred ten men. 
Already the ability of the United States to respond on a global 
basis was being largely negated, and in Vietnam combat re- 
sponse was being hampered. Furthermore, the continued dizzy 
deployment of divisions and brigades into Vietnam was absorb- 
ing the cadre needed to sustain the training base in America. 
This vicious cycle threatened future military posture as well as 
any Vietnam replacements or reinforcements. 

In the meantime, 1966 witnessed a steady flow of new units 
into the Vietnam battlefield. These divisions and combat bri- 
gades had distinctive personalities that somehow reflected their 
essence. This would vary from war to war, and from commander 
to commander. It could even be manipulated by replacement 
policies and compositional changes. However, their larger being 
was a product of so many years and so much tradition that it 
became almost fused into a soul-like quality. Soldiers could sense 
it, and often these collective divisional and brigaded entities 
seemed tied to destinies which predetermined their combat per- 
formance. 

2. The 1st Marine Division Arrives 

Maj. Gen. Lewis J. Fields's 1st Marine Division headquar- 
ters had transferred from Camp Pendleton, California, to Camp 
Courtney, Okinawa, in August 1965, At the beginning of 1966 
the division already had its 7th Marines, with artillery support, 
and two battalions of the 1st Marines in Vietnam. 3 Late in 1965 
the Secretary of Defense had recommended doubling Marine 
forces in Vietnam during 1966, and the 1st Marine Division was 
tagged for Chu Lai. 

3. The 1st and 2d battalions of the 1st Marines were actually in Vietnam as 
part of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, intratheater rotation system, allowing 
two other Marine battalions to be rested and refitted. 



68 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



The 1st Marine Division, called The Old Breed in the Corps, 
was not only a premier Marine division, but also one of the 
finest formations of the United States military. It was the direct 
descendant of the Marine Advanced Base Brigade activated at 
Philadelphia in 1913 to serve in the troubled Caribbean area. 
There it had engaged in the Banana Wars from Vera Cruz, Mex- 
ico, to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It was given its pres- 
ent title on February 1, 1941, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as 
the first division in Marine Corps history. The 1st Marine Di- 
vision initiated the ground offensive against territories held by 
the Imperial Japanese forces of World War II. It gained im- 
mortality on Guadalcanal and went on to victory through eastern 
New Guinea, New Britain, Peleliu, and Okinawa. Afterward it 
participated in the occupation of North China and the Korean 
War, and had sent elements to assist in the Cuban missile crisis 
of 1962. The 1st Marine Division's six years in Vietnam would 
confirm its reputation as a first-class fighting formation. 

The division embarkation officer was alerted to the sched- 
uled deployment at a Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, conference 
held in Honolulu during December 1965. He briefed General 
Fields five hours after arriving back on Okinawa on December 
27. Some thirty ships would be needed over a 2 l /% month pe- 
riod. There were doubts whether the Navy could in fact provide 
such support. These matters were resolved at a later meeting 
between division representatives and the Seventh Fleet Am- 
phibious Force at Subic Bay, Philippines. The Navy indicated 
the job could be done "with judicious scheduling." The 1st Ma- 
rine Division met every shipping date and deadline and arrived 
in Vietnam exactly as planned. 

The incremental deployment of the 1st Marine Division into 
Vietnam heightened the buildup of forces in southern I Corps 
Tactical Zone. The insertion of this division freed the 4th Ma- 
rines from the Chu Lai sector to counter a new NVA threat in 
the Phu Bai area. That sector was also reinforced by two bat- 
talions of the division's 1st Marines and the Korean 2d "Blue 
Dragon" Marine Brigade, enabling Marine reinforcements to 
continue flowing undiverted into Da Nang and Chu Lai. On 
January 17, 1966, the headquarters of the 1st Marines arrived 
at Chu Lai to reinforce the 7th Marines which had been there 



THE BUILD-UP 69 



since August 1965. Throughout the first three months of the 
year more elements of the division continued to arrive. Plans 
to establish a division rear headquarters on Okinawa were dropped 
in order to avoid administrative and fiscal complications. Major 
General Fields moved his command post to Chu Lai at the end 
of March, and the 5th Marines arrived in April. 

By June, the 1st Marine Division was firmly planted in the 
Chu Lai vicinity and busily engaged in numerous small-unit ac- 
tions that typified activities there during late spring. Less a bat- 
talion serving as the Seventh Fleet's Special Landing Force and 
a regiment dispatched to the Da Nang area, by June 1966 the 
division had over seventeen thousand men to include all its ar- 
tillery, engineer, tank, amphibious tractor, antitank, and recon- 
naissance elements. Ill MAF finally had the two-division ground 
force with which it would fight during the major part of the 
Vietnam War. 

3, The 4th Infantry Division Goes to War 

The 4th Infantry Division was a good, solid Regular Army 
outfit popular with its men. For ten years, since 1956, it had 
been stationed at Fort Lewis, at the southern end of Washing- 
ton's Puget Sound region. There, in the tranquil wooded fringes 
of the snow-topped Olympic Mountains near Tacoma, it had 
trained for atomic and mechanized warfare. Its shoulder patch 
was of World War I vintage and featured four green ivy leaves. 
This design gained it the simple title Ivy Division, which the 
troops fondly modified to the Poison Ivy Division. Its other 
nickname, The Famous Fourth, had likewise been modernized 
by the soldiers to The Funky Fourth. The 4th was a dignified 
veteran of two world wars, and at first it appeared that Vietnam, 
like Korea, would leave it undisturbed. 

The 3d Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division had been rushed 
into its future area of operations, the Central Highlands around 
Pleiku, in December 1965. The Hawaii-based 25th was the Pa- 
cific response force, and one infantry brigade had been deemed 
large enough to tame that portion of Vietnam wilderness. The 
war in Vietnam heated up fast, however, and Westmoreland's 
incessant demand for more battalions soon tagged the western 
highlands as requiring the presence of a full American division. 



70 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



In April 1966, the 4th Infantry Division commander, Maj. Gen. 
Arthur S. Collins, received word his division was going over. 
By July 11, the division's advance planning party was set up in 
Vietnam, and the three brigades were dispatched as soon as they 
could be shipped. 

The division move unfortunately put them into their new 
base camp at Dragon Mountain outside Pleiku in the midst of 
torrential rains and fog brought by the southwest monsoons. The 
2d Brigade was airlifted into Pleiku in August, and the rest of 
the division arrived by early October. Its 3d Brigade was di- 
verted south, its last units arriving at Dau Tieng on October 18, 
1966. It was being exchanged for the 25th' s 3d Brigade, which 
had already been posted to the highlands where it was now well 
established. By August 1967, after some Army infighting over 
lineage considerations, the swap became permanent. Maj. Gen. 
William R. Peers was officially slated to take command of the 
4th Infantry Division on January 3, 1967. His command later 
included three full brigades a complete division and he was 
anxious to gain mastery over Pleiku and Kontum provinces. 

4. The Raising of the 199th Infantry Brigade 

In the hectic summer of 1966, a new Army separate brigade 
was formed at the infantry school post of Fort Benning, Geor- 
gia. The 199th Infantry Brigade (Light) was activated that June 
expressly for Vietnam duty. The Army's timetable scheduled the 
unit to be overseas that November. Things became too rushed 
as a result. To save time, the Army raised the unit without the 
usual cadre development period, The brigade was created in a 
confused spasm of simultaneously activating, equipping, and 
training. 

The newborn brigade command post was, /planted in the pines 
on the post's remote Kelley Field. In the red clay, dust, and 
sweltering heat, the serious business of training for real war be- 
gan. The grueling program kept its soldiers in the field every 
week, with one third of their time spent on night exercises. At 
the beginning of September everyone was piled into commercial 
buses and sent off to the rejuvenated World War II post of Camp 
Shelby, Mississippi. There the brigade crashed through ad- 
vanced unit training, although handicapped by lack of assigned 



THE BUILD-UP 71 



soldiers. One of its battalions, the 3d of the 7th Infantry, had 
less than half of its authorized personnel. 

However, the brigade was now rapidly starting to take shape. 
It was given its own shoulder patch, a flaming spear, and was 
dubbed the Redcatchers, a macho nickname so ludicrously self- 
exalting that it stuck. Under intense pressure to deploy as close 
as possible to schedule, its men moved by sea and by air in five 
groups. It arrived through the port of Vung Tau and closed its 
Long Binh staging area on Christmas Day. Since a permanent 
base-camp site was lacking, the brigade would remain at Long 
Binh indefinitely. 

Despite the fact that the brigade's heavy equipment was still 
in transit and would not arrive until January, its battalions were 
farmed out immediately in Operation UNIONTOWN. There in 
Vietnam the brigade continued its wartime preparation on the 
field of battle. For example, its very first airmobile mission was 
an actual combat air assault conducted December 17 by the 4th 
Battalion of the 12th Infantry in Vietnam itself. 

5. The 25th Infantry Division Deploys 

The Army's Pacific reserve was the 25th Infantry Division, 
stationed at time-honored Schofield Barracks on the diamond- 
shaped Hawaiian island of Oahu. The post was pleasantly sand- 
wiched on the central plateau between two volcanic mountain 
ranges. It was built to protect the Pearl Harbor naval base, ten 
miles distant, from possible enemy landing on the northwest coast. 
The 25th Infantry Division was a lineal descendant of the old 
Hawaiian Division established in 1921, and it had been thrust 
into World War II twenty years later by Japanese aircraft de- 
scending to strafe its neat palm-lined barracks parade fields. The 
division had earned a rugged reputation for hard jungle fighting 
in that war, from Guadalcanal through Luzon in the Philippines 
which was summed up by its proud nickname, Tropic Light- 
ning. Its destiny irrevocably tied to United States interests in 
the Pacific area, it was rushed into the Korean conflict from 
occupation duty in Japan. It had returned to spend two decades 
again in Hawaii, where it had been modernized for trouble- 
shooting throughout the Orient. 

It was no secret that the 25th Infantry Division was slated 



72 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



for some sort of Southeast Asian duty; the only question was 
where. While it had been providing helicopter door gunners to 
Vietnam since January of 1963, the division as a whole was pre- 
paring for deployment to Thailand where it had briefly posted 
a battle group in 1962. MACV proposed the division be moved 
to Vietnam at once, but there was concern over stripping the 
Pacific reserve, which couldn't be replaced for two years. How- 
ever, when a stateside airborne division was slated to assume 
this role, the green light was given for accelerated deployment 
of the 25th. 

Fifty-five tons of maps that had been issued for other con- 
tingency areas were burned as the division's 3d Brigade boarded 
planes for direct airlift into Pleiku Province, central Vietnam, 
on December 23, 1965. There it would shore up the highlands 
region, which had seen heavy fighting against the 1st Cavalry 
Division that fall. As the planes taxied off the runways, the di- 
vision's Hawaiian Jungle and Guerrilla Warfare Center was put- 
ting the 2d Brigade through twelve Vietnamese village training 
sites on a crash basis. The 2d Brigade boarded ship just after 
the New Year, landed at Vung Tau during the last week in Jan- 
uary 1966, was airlifted to Bien Hoa, and was then trucked on 
to Cu Chi. The 2d Brigade was immediately committed to com- 
bat to secure the base area, which would be used by the di- 
vision to guard the western approaches to Saigon for the next 
five years. 

Back in Hawaii the Dependents' Assistance Center was 
working on a twenty-four-hour basis, and soldiers were turning 
in their private cars around the clock at a special "vehicle bone- 
yard" with or without "post decals." Almost one hundred pilots 
and fifty-seven aircraft were requested at once to make up for 
shortfalls. Meanwhile various other division elements continued 
traveling all over the Pacific in the hectic but upbeat rhythm of 
a major force optimistically heading toward a new war. The 1st 
Battalion of the 69th Armor arrived in Ryukyuan Okinawa on 
February 6 where it was outfitted with new M48 Patton tanks 
and armored personnel carriers. Two new battalions arrived in 
Hawaii from midwinter Alaska to join the 1st Brigade on Jan- 
uary 30. Both were at full strength with high morale, and the 
moderate Hawaiian climate provided an ideal intermediate ad- 



THE BUILD-UP 73 



justment en route to Vietnam. 4 The remaining original divisional 
infantry battalion in Hawaii, the 2d Battalion of the 14th Infan- 
try, had been stripped to fill vacancies in the 2d and 3d Bri- 
gades. Now it was refilled with new replacements. 

On January 23, General Westmoreland requested that the 
rest of the 25th Infantry Division be speeded up to Vietnam, 
with special emphasis on the cavalry squadron and the engi- 
neers. Two of the cavalry troops had already been sea-lifted to 
Okinawa and were being given brand-new tracked Ml 13 vehi- 
cles. When the hastily refreshed 1st Brigade arrived in Vietnam 
on April 29, it completed the move of Maj. Gen. Fred C. Wey- 
and's division into country some five months ahead of the orig- 
inal schedule. 

The only real confusion was occasioned by MACV's indeci- 
sion regarding the employment of the armor. Initially the 69th 
Armor's 1st Battalion had been programmed for Pleiku, but in 
mid-February it was decided to move it, less a company, to Cu 
Chi. This was due as much to the VC threat there as to traffica- 
bility and divisional integrity considerations. Late in April, 
alarmed at NVA strength in the highlands region, MACV or- 
dered the battalion to proceed from Cu Chi to Pleiku at once 
in order to beat the upcoming southwest monsoon season. 

Major General Weyand vehemently protested. He had in- 
sisted on deploying his armor battalion to Vietnam in the first 
place over the loud howls of Army staff planners in both Viet- 
nam and the Pentagon. Through his foresight a valuable asset 
had been brought over, and it was being yanked away from him. 
He was told simply that the decision had already been made. 
The tanks reached Pleiku on May 22. As the monsoon season 
approached, however, General Westmoreland decided to give 
Weyand the needed tank battalion at Cu Chi after all. To do 
so, Westmoreland now asked that the armor battalion from the 
deploying 4th Infantry Division be diverted to replace the one 
that had gone to the highlands. 



4. These were the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry from the 171st Infantry Brigade 
and the 4th Battalion, 23d Infantry, from the 172d Infantry Brigade. At the 
time these were the two combat brigades stationed in Alaska, and each was 
reduced to provide a full battalion for Vietnam service. 



74 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



6. The llth Armored Cavalry Adds Armored Punch 

General Westmoreland's concept for the use of army tanks 
in Vietnam dated from 1965, when the llth Armored Cavalry 
stationed at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, had been re- 
quested for highway security along Route 1 operating out of Xuan 
Loc as part of the 1966 buildup. Since he now desired to use 
this regiment on missions beyond road security, he became con- 
cerned over its organization, maintaining it was too heavy for 
Vietnam's heavy rains, difficult terrain, and shaky bridges. Late 
in 1965 he suggested that the Department of the Army replace 
its medium tanks with M41 light tanks (or armored personnel 
carriers in its cavalry platoons), substitute armored cars for cer- 
tain other armored personnel carriers, and delete the armored 
vehicle-launched bridges. The Pentagon replied that since its 
scheduled deployment was already fixed as mid-1966, such a 
radical equipment change was out of the question. They also 
agreed with Pacific command that such modifications were prob- 
ably unnecessary anyway. 

General Westmoreland replied that in that case he preferred 
a mechanized infantry brigade in Vietnam instead of the ar- 
mored cavalry. He stated flatly he had no need for two more 
tank battalions, which the 132 tanks of the regiment in fact rep- 
resented. Continental Army Command noted that the 199th In- 
fantry Brigade, then training at Fort Benning, could be mech- 
anized, but in turn the llth Armored Cavalry would have to be 
inactivated. As this would cost additional training time and cause 
greater complications to the programmed assembly of units for 
Vietnam duty, the Pentagon compromised. The llth Armored 
Cavalry would go, but with certain changes that had the effect 
of cutting its strength down to fifty-one tanks. The warning or- 
der that it was going to Vietnam was sent to the llth Armored 
Cavalry on March 11, 1966. 

The llth Armored Cavalry was known as The Blackhorse 
Regiment, and a rearing stallion dominated the red and white 
shield of its patch. It had been organized at Fort Myer, Vir- 
ginia, in March of 1901, saw service in the Philippines and ren- 
dered notable service along the Mexican border in 1916. During 
World War II, this cavalry regiment was used as a basis for the 



THE BUILD-UP 75 



llth Armored Regiment of the 10th Armored Division, and a 
new cavalry group by the same number was raised thereafter. 
Both saw extensive combat service across France, Belgium, and 
Germany. After the war they were consolidated as the llth Ar- 
mored Cavalry, since the the Army combat arms regimental sys- 
tem had dropped the use of the word regiment as part of titles. 
This official Army directive on terminology was usually ignored, 
and the unit in fact always continued to refer to itself as the 
llth Armored Cavalry Regiment often shortened to the pop- 
ular abbreviation, llth ACR. 

The Blackhorse Regiment was, at one-third strength, busy 
training 988 newly assigned soldiers and trying to get its re- 
cently reactivated 2d Squadron in shape. It was headquartered 
at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, twenty miles equidistant 
from Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington, D.C. Its orders to 
Vietnam came simultaneously with a reorganization directive 
the second since the previous October. The substitution of up- 
gunned armored personnel carriers for tanks was not well re- 
ceived by most armor officers, and in fact the alteration was 
later regretted as an unfortunate diminishing of needed armored 
shock power in the Vietnam War. Still short over eighteen 
hundred men, its updated April orders to achieve personnel 
readiness by May 7 were simply scoffed at. It continued intense 
but scattered training at Camps Pickett and A. P. Hill, Virginia, 
since any stateside maneuver room was now at a premium. One 
of the many last-minute equipment switches did prove most 
beneficial: everyone was issued a brand new black, lightweight 
rifle called the M16. 

By June a regimental planning team was in Vietnam. Hosted 
by the 1st Infantry Division, the 919th Engineer Company ar- 
rived by air August 16 to prepare a base site. The main portion 
of the regiment went to Friendship Airport outside Baltimore 
and got on planes bound for Oakland, California. There they 
boarded three transport ships and, after several weeks at sea 
debarked at the port of Vung Tau on September 7-19, 1966. 
Surmounting serious problems due to lack of consistent guid- 
ance, constant changes in personnel deployment criteria, and a 
drop in morale due to the loss of over four hundred individual 
finance pay records, the llth Armored Cavalry was firmly in 



76 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Vietnam by the end of the month. It was a highly potent com- 
bat force of tremendous value. Now forty-two hundred strong 
with attachments, the regiment was moved to Long Binh under 
Col. William W. Cobb, a World War II veteran of the 503d 
Parachute Infantry in the Pacific. 

The llth Armored Cavalry would become one of the Army's 
finest units in Vietnam. It rapidly moved beyond conventional 
expectations regarding armor's ability to cross difficult tropical 
terrain. Often parceled out in squadron increments to avail larger 
commands of its precious armored firepower, the regiment would 
see action in many areas, with many different units. A series of 
excellent commanders and aggressive flak-vested cavalrymen 
would ensure that the llth ACR gained an enviable combat rep- 
utation far out of proportion to their actual numbers. Combined 
with the exploits of the 1st Cavalry Division, the handful of air 
cavalry squadrons, and divisional and brigade components, the 
prestige of modern cavalry, whether in a ground or air mode, 
would reach a new zenith as a result. 

7. The 196th Infantry Brigade Is Diverted 

The 196th Infantry Brigade was activated as the Army's first 
light brigade on September 15, 1965. The unit was designed to 
be an infantry stability force for peacekeeping duty in the Do- 
minican Republic. The 196th was organized at the wooded, lake- 
dotted Massachusetts post, Fort Devens, forty miles inland from 
Boston. It was given two thousand recruits from Fort Knox, 
Kentucky, and Fort Dix, New Jersey, along with a depleted tank 
battalion turned into infantry and artillerymen from the rem- 
nants of the 2d Brigade, 5th Infantry Division. 5 

While awaiting the arrival of the first recruits in mid-Octo- 
ber, the brigade tried to prepare for its anticipated training dif- 
ficulties, The billets and training areas were prepared for the 
influx of new soldiers. To eliminate unnecessary administrative 
processing, prior arrangements were made with the two recep- 
tion stations on post. The brigade's small cadre was hopelessly 
insufficient for the task at hand. The shortage of basic unit lead- 



5. The other two infantry battalions of the 2d Brigade, 5th Infantry Division, 
at Fort Devens were being shipped out for Vietnam service with the 1st 
Infantry Division. 



THE BUILD-UP 77 



ers was so acute that selected recruits had to be immediately 
promoted to privates and privates first class, to take the place 
of missing noncommissioned officers. The colorful patch being 
issued to the raw trainees of the new brigade featured a yellow 
twisted match on a blue shield enflamed at each end, symbol- 
izing the old matchlock musket days when the match was lighted 
at both ends to ensure readiness. 

Personnel problems were further aggravated when three high 
priority levies stripped the brigade of 120 critical sergeants and 
officers who were doing most of the training. Since the ranges 
and training areas at Fort Devens were too cramped for brigade 
preparation, Camp Edwards on Cape Cod had to be used to 
provide the expanded terrain necessary for advanced training re- 
quirements. In late December, 1965, the 196th Infantry Brigade 
was secretly alerted to begin planning for possible overseas 
movement, contingent on the results of upcoming June elections 
in the Dominican Republic. There it would replace elements of 
the 82d Airborne Division, which the Army wanted off the is- 
land. While the brigade was told to be combat ready by May 
15, the expected pace of Caribbean duty lessened any opera- 
tional anxiety. The Secretary of Defense intended to make the 
move on July 15, 1966. 

The entire unit reported to Camp Drum, New York, on 
March 30. There it rehearsed brigade maneuvers on the vast 
training site, assisted by a U.S. Army Special Forces Opera- 
tional Detachment A for added realism in counterguerrilla war- 
fare. The 196th returned to Fort Devens on May 17. After many 
months of training, it assembled as a full brigade for the first 
time to march in the Armed Forces Day parade. By now its 
movement to the Dominican Republic was well known, and all 
ship-loading plans and movement schedules were finalized on 
June 23. However, a week earlier the Defense Department de- 
cided that the 196th was no longer required in the Caribbean 
area and offered it to MACV either in substitution for the 199th 
Infantry Brigade or in addition to it. Such an unexpected boost 
to Army strength in Vietnam was considered a godsend by Gen- 
eral Westmoreland. He immediately replied that the unit could 
be accepted as soon as it was available, and that it should be 
in addition to the 199th. True to form, he also asked that its 
closure date be expedited. 



78 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



On June 24 the brigade was told it was going to Vietnam. 
Three weeks of frantic activity followed. Soldiers were offered 
preembarkation leaves; nondeployable personnel were reas- 
signed; radios were exchanged for more modern types, and M14 
rifles were traded in for M16s once qualification on the new 
weapons was completed. The brigade had to be practically re- 
built in a matter of days. The main body left Boston on the 
USNS Patch and the USNS Darby July 15, 1966, and arrived 
at Vung Tau a month later. 

Meanwhile MACV was happily deciding where to place this 
unexpected reinforcement. It had been initially slated for the 
security of Tuy Hoa. However, it was decided better use of the 
brigade could be made in the Tay Ninh area where it could 
open and secure Route 22 from Go Dau Ha to Tay Ninh city, 
and prepare for large-scale operations in War Zone C. Its pres- 
ence in that vicinity could add further pressure against the Viet 
Cong northwest of Saigon, allowing the 25th Infantry Division 
to concentrate on what was proving to be a very troublesome 
Hau Nghia province. By August 16 the brigade had been air- 
lifted to its Vietnam camp at Tay Ninh, and the 25th Infantry 
Division's 1st Brigade provided initial security and joint training 
as the 196th prepared its base site. 

8. The 9th Infantry Division Goes Over 

The 9th Infantry Division was the first Army division acti- 
vated, organized, equipped, and trained for deployment into a 
combat theater in two decades. Formed for operations in the 
Mekong Delta, it had originally been scheduled under the coded 
designation Z Division. Approval for activation of the division 
was issued by the Department of the Army on January 26, 1966, 
and Maj. Gen. George S. Eckhardt was placed in command. 
The division began organizing at Fort Riley, Kansas, on the first 
day of February as a standard infantry division with eight in- 
fantry battalions and one mechanized battalion. That Septem- 
ber, as a last-minute predeployment change, the 2d Battalion of 
the 47th Infantry was reorganized to a mechanized mode, giving 
the division two mechanized battalions. 

The 9th Infantry Division was known as The Old Reliables, 
a fitting salute to its Regular Army background. The florid oc- 



THE BUILD-UP 79 



tofoil shoulder patch represented the heraldic symbol of the ninth 
son. The Vietnam generation of soldiers referred to the strange- 
looking design as Flower Power, or the Psychedelic Cookie. The 
9th was in training for World War I but an outbreak of Asian 
flu prevented its deployment overseas. It was reconstituted at 
Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1940, and became one of the 
Army's finest divisions in World War II. The 9th Infantry Di- 
vision participated in the campaigns for Algeria, Tunisia, and 
Sicily, and landed in France during June, 1944, to fight into 
Germany. After postwar service at Fort Dix in New Jersey, 
Germany, and Fort Carson in Colorado, it was inactivated in 
1962. Four years later it was being raised again, this time on 
the historic post of Fort Riley, Kansas. Its final selection as the 
planned Z Division was largely a result of General Westmore- 
land's extensive service with the division in World War II. He 
had commanded the 60th Infantry Regiment and had served as 
divisional chief of staff. 

Due to a shortage of men and equipment, the division was 
formed in increments. The division headquarters, support com- 
mand, and brigade headquarters were activated first. Battalions 
of each brigade were phased for activation according to a sched- 
ule commencing in April for 1st Brigade, May for 2d Brigade, 
and June for 3d Brigade. The division began training on April 
4, but the post staff of Fort Riley had to double as divisional 
staff until late June. The division was very short on signal equip- 
ment and ammunition during training. 

The authorized cadre strength of 3,301 was insufficient and 
serious training problems resulted. By late March only nine 
hundred had been provided, and many were inexperienced, low 
in rank, and of low physical quality. Fortunately, during Feb- 
ruary two thousand soldiers being trained at Fort Riley for as- 
signment to Fort Carson, Colorado, were transferred into the 
division. Most of these were placed immediately in schools and 
used to fill vacancies not provided by cadre allocations. Another 
two thousand unprogrammed soldiers arrived in March and April 
and alleviated a crisis in forming the 15th Engineer Battalion. 

Initially the 9th Infantry Division was formed as an ordinary 
stateside division. However, some officers assigned directly from 
Department of the Army staff knew that it was being built to 



80 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



serve in the southern wetlands and canal-crossed marshes of 
Vietnam. As a matter of fact, its training schedule was com- 
pressed by shaving off twelve weeks in order to move the di- 
vision to Vietnam in December 1966, so that arrival in the Delta 
area would be at the beginning of the dry season. In early May 
the division was formally alerted for movement to Southeast Asia 
at the end of 1966. Its 15th Engineer Battalion had to be in 
Vietnam by September to help prepare the base camp. 

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, increasing NVA pressure in I Corps 
Tactical Zone was causing MACV to have second thoughts on 
its delta deployment. It considered diverting the division in its 
entirety to the northern portion of the country, and by the mid- 
dle of October some sort of decision on location was becoming 
urgent. Finally, it was decided to move it in as originally planned. 
The majority of the division arrived aboard eight troop trans- 
ports. On December 19, 1966, as divisional support personnel 
debarked from the USNS Barrett at Vung Tau, the 9th was of- 
ficially declared completely in Vietnam. 

The 9th Infantry Division marked the last major unit arrival 
for the year. For MACV, 1966 had been a year of great expan- 
sion and critical choices. While many of these concerned troop 
deployment, decisions had also been reached regarding area 
warfare strategy and the use of military airmobility. These are 
discussed in the next chapter. 



CHAPTER 6. 



THE AREA WAR 



1. 1966 Campaign Strategy 

The battlefield of Vietnam was far different from the continuous 
fronts of both world wars and the Korea War. Traditional mil- 
itary doctrine, based on seizing and holding a series of succes- 
sive terrain objectives, was largely inapplicable. The multidi- 
rectional, nonlinear nature of military operations in Vietnam was 
being given a new label, "area warfare/' Since Army dogma and 
training were still oriented toward conventional warfare, Army 
strategy had to be redefined, Exactly how area warfare would 
be fought was still evolving, and additional tactics and tech- 
niques were being assiduously developed. Goals were redefined 
and inevitable setbacks experienced. Such directional changes 
were questioned by civilian government policy interpreters, who 
frequently cited operational failures. In actual fact Army strat- 
egists were simply trying to adjust to the conflicting demands 
and novel principles of area warfare. 

Army combat commands arrived in Vietnam eager for open 
confrontation with the VC and the NVA. They wanted to bring 
superior American firepower and new airmobile flexibility to bear 
on the open battlefield, winning a decision in the classic sense 
where they could "find, fix, and finish" the enemy. The frus- 
tration of warfare in Vietnam stemmed from the inherent dif- 
ficulties posed by antipartisan warfare. While Americans looked 
to French and British experiences in subduing native revolt, the 
war of liberation in Vietnam was no longer a squabble between 

81 



82 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



midnight partisans and colonial police. Both North Vietnamese 
and United States armed forces represented excellently equipped, 
professional modern armies. By 1966 the war in Vietnam had 
moved well beyond the guerrilla warfare skirmishes that typified 
the pre-1965 battlefield, although there was just enough local 
Viet Cong activity to compound problems. It was now a regular 
war being fought between two main-force armies with divisional 
establishments, although the basic "frontless" nature of it con- 
founded traditional linear-bound solutions, 

MACV strategy from 1965 through 1966 was dictated by the 
initial necessity of supporting and protecting its buildup. This 
consisted of unit deployment matters, protecting the multitude 
of military installations being constructed, organizing logistical 
support, and securing main lines of communication. Until late 
in the year this essentially static posture was broken only by 
limited "spoiling attacks/' Available forces had to ensure stabil- 
ity in selected areas first. 1 Only with the advent of additional 
large combat formations would MACV have enough battalions 
to mount any truly punishing offensive. Despite the desire to 
break away and openly confront the NVA and VC main force 
elements, the United States military was tied to base and lines- 
of-communication considerations. 

As 1966 began the South Vietnamese armed forces were 
largely combat-ineffective. The string of 1965 military defeats, 
lopsided combat losses, skyrocketing desertion rates, and wide- 
spread draft evasion had deteriorated ARVN manpower further. 
Military inefficiency and corruption were rife. Food and clothing 
allowances were being embezzled, Much time would have to be 
spent in rehabilitation to bring units up to levels of basic combat 
proficiency. The Vietnamese had a saying, "Using a man is like 
using wood." All wood, whether rare, common, hard, or soft, 
is beneficial if used properly. However, from 1965 through 1968 
a lot of wood was disappearing, and good wood was being wasted. 

1. At the beginning of January 1966 major U.S. forces in Vietnam consisted 
of 3d Marine Division (reinforced), 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), 1st In- 
fantry Division, 173d Airborne Brigade, 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne 
Division, 3d Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, and 5th Special Forces 
Group. The 1st Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment and Korean Cap- 
ital Division and 2d Marine Brigade were also in Vietnam. 



THE AREA WAR 83 



A Joint General Staff Honor Battalion and the regimental-sized 
crack Palace Guard, all under the Capital Security Group, were 
guarding the Independence Palace, various guest quarters in plush 
vacation camps, and the president's house. 

The ten regular ARVN divisions were little more than static 
security formations. The latest, titled the 10th Division in a so- 
ciety where the number ten had come to signify the very worst 
imaginable, and under a commander who relied on an inept as- 
trologist for military advice, was sent to a critical area near 
Cambodia outside Cu Chi. Its performance was so miserable that 
it later had to be withdrawn to Xuan Loc, redesignated the 18th 
Division, and completely overhauled. The marginal 5th and 25th 
ARVN divisions were also ineptly led, and both suffered from 
a steady stream of deserters to the capital, a situation so com- 
mon it was being termed "the Saigon syndrome." 2 Even the re- 
liable 1st ARVN Division was to be seriously undermined by 
the political furor in Hue and Da Nang that spring. 3 

Taking all these factors into consideration, the annual com- 
bined United States/South Vietnamese Campaign Plan coded AB- 
141 went into effect on the last day of 1965, with the optimistic 
hope that serious inroads could be made into NVA and VC com- 
bat capacity by the end of 1966. Four "national priority areas" 
were established in heavily populated regions inclusive of Sai- 
gon and adjacent areas, the middle of the Mekong Delta, and 
two selected coastal plains areas around Qui Nhon and Da Nang. 
The American military would establish and defend major bases, 
serving as a shield while South Vietnamese units were tasked 
with defending governmental centers and resource security. Of 

2. The South Vietnamese commanding general of the 25th ARVN Division 
was so upset at adverse reports about his unit that he published an order of 
the day castigating his senior advisor, which ended quoting a poem referring 
to the Vietnamese expulsion of the Mongols, interpreted as a reference to 
the Americans. 

3. In July 1966 the regular South Vietnamese military consisted of the Air- 
borne, 1st, 2d, 5th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 21st, 22d, 23d, and 25th Divisions, Palace 
Guard (Regiment), 51st Regiment (Separate), lst~7th and 10th Armored Cav- 
alry Squadrons, lllth and 301st LLDB Groups, lst-5th Marine Battalions, 
twenty ranger battalions (llth, 21st-23d, 30th~39th, 41st-44th, 51st, and 52d), 
six separate artillery battalions (28th, 34th-38th), and five separate infantry 
battalions (JGS-Honor, 10th, 12th, 14th, and 16th). 



84 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



that army, only the airborne, ranger, and marine battalions were 
to be consistently employed in offensive operations. Except for 
special circumstances, other ARVN battalions would serve on 
garrison duty and support rural development. The exception was 
IV Corps Tactical Zone the Mekong Delta area where the 
South Vietnamese would continue full offensive operations, 
However, during 1966 the low, flat, and poorly drained Mekong 
Delta experienced major flooding which curtailed military op- 
erations there. 

During the Honolulu Conference of July 1, 1966, the Sec- 
retary of Defense outlined six major goals in Vietnam by year's 
end for Adm. U.S. Grant "Oley" Sharp, the Commander in Chief 
Pacific, who replied that the first three were hopelessly far- 
fetched under current conditions. By the end of 1966, the NVA 
and VC forces were to be attritioned at a rate as high as their 
capacity to place men in the field, Forty to fifty percent of all 
North Vietnamese and Viet Cong base areas were to be elimi- 
nated and fully half of all critical roads and railways were to be 
opened, Sixty percent of the South Vietnamese population was 
to be secured, the four national priority areas were to be paci- 
fied, and finally, defense was to be insured over all military bases, 
political and population centers, and food-producing areas under 
governmental control as of February 8, 1967. 

Guidance concerning restrictions on border operations in the 
DMZ and Cambodian and Laotian frontiers was fragmentary and 
tardy. After July, the Joint Chiefs of Staff authorized aerial, na- 
val, and artillery bombardment of, and troop incursions into, 
the southern half of the DMZ if it was in actual or imminent 
danger of enemy contact provided no public disclosure was made 
and the Pentagon was immediately notified of each case. Ad- 
ditionally, in December permission was granted for artillery 
counterbattery fire across the DMZ, 

At the beginning of 1966, no rules of engagement had been 
established for combat operations near the Laotian border. 
Therefore, unit commanders operating in the area were told that 
with prior approval they could act in "self-defense" against any 
attack launched from Laos. In emergency situations, as deter- 
mined by the field commanders, no prior approval was re- 
quired. Washington was to be kept closely informed of all in- 



THE AREA WAR 85 



stances in which American troops returned fire, attacked Laotian 
towns, or maneuvered troops into Laos under this guidance, and 
this information, or knowledge of it, was to be highly safe- 
guarded, Guidance covering Cambodia issued by MACV in the 
last month of 1965 was similar, except that restrictions on at- 
tacking populated areas were tighter. 

In the fall of 1966 the United States first field-tested its new 
search and destroy pattern of area warfare. Coded Operation 
ATTLEBORO, it was designed to penetrate War Zone C in 
northwestern Tay Ninh Province along the Cambodian border 
and root out NVA and VC forces located to the west of the 
Michelin plantation. Initiated by a single infantry brigade, the 
196th, on September 14, 1966, it rapidly expanded to include 
the 1st Infantry Division, the 3d Brigade of the 4th Infantry 
Division, the 173d Airborne Brigade, and the llth Armored 
Cavalry Regiment. Terminated toward the end of November, its 
results led to the foundation of a new strategic cornerstone. Search 
and destroy operations on a multidivisional corps level might 
provide a key to solving the riddle of area warfare, thereby en- 
suring military success in South Vietnam. The test would come 
in 1967. 

2. Army Tactics in 1966 

Wider area warfare strategy faded on the actual battlefields 
themselves, as American soldiers approaching, or inside, tree 
lines found themselves face-to-face with Viet Cong or North 
Vietnamese Army Regulars. In these instances, ten-man squads 
and thirty-man platoons (often at half strength) decided the out- 
come of skirmishes by fire and maneuver. Their faces soiled by 
the heat and toil of combat, infantrymen huddled around twisted 
brush and fallen trees, blazing away with rifles and grenade 
launchers. This was the "base of fire." Standing fast and often 
reinforced by comrades, they waited for any stoppage or slack- 
ening in enemy return fire. They crawled or dashed forward by 
bounds; advances often measured six yards at a time. With enough 
firepower, teamwork, and luck the advance would either drive 
the enemy from their defensive positions or close with them. 
Even a small drive could result in a toll of dead and wounded. 
Actions were finished by point-blank rifle fire, grenade, and 



86 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



knifepoint. The Army called the means to accomplish this hell- 
ish job, "tactics," and tactical proficiency could only be gained 
by battle rehearsal, time, and actual combat exposure. 

In 1966 the United States Army was still striving for tactical 
proficiency. Statistically, Army operational reports revealed 88 
percent of all fights were being initiated by the NVA or the VC, 
and half of these (46 percent) began as ambushes. These reports 
also showed that some 63 percent of all encounters were against 
bunkers and fortified trenches. Units collided into combat against 
North Vietnamese and Viet Cong entrenched in streams laced 
with foxholes, rice field dikes lined with spider holes, and even 
nests in giant anthills. The NVA and VC forces were able to 
seek or break off combat with relative freedom, using rocket and 
mortar attacks if their front-line losses became unacceptable in 
a given area. Their aggressiveness resulted in bushwhacked 
landing zones and halted units unable to move forward, yet they 
also possessed an uncanny ability to fade into nearby woods and 
avoid a fight. The American military found the situation mad- 
dening; the battlefield initiative was still in the hands of the 
enemy. 

Actually, the real problem was that the American soldiers 
being fielded were simply green, and faring poorly as a result. 
Lessons had to be learned the hard way. Command groups, 
readily identifiable by collections of radio antennae protruding 
out of tall grass and dense undergrowth, took critical losses until 
they dispersed. Treetops had to be liberally sprayed with au- 
tomatic weapons and grenade fire to shake out sniper teams. 
Close jungles compressed companies into single files with ex- 
posed flanks. Soldiers were frozen and pinned by the unex- 
pectedly heavy fire initially received in engagements, and their 
equally inexperienced officers and sergeants were not taking 
charge. Unpredictably high ammunition expenditures forced sol- 
diers to rely on their machetes and cutting tools instead of bul- 
lets midway through fierce firefights. Even medical evacuation 
of wounded sometimes led to panic on the line if nearby sol- 
diers thought they had missed getting word to withdraw. 

Slowly the military adjusted its tactics to cope with this new 
battlefield. Soldiers learned to accept the fact that the Viet Cong 
would usually have the advantage during the first five or ten 



THE AREA WAR 87 



minutes of any clash, since they were initiating the combat from 
prepared positions at a time and place of their choosing. Officers 
and sergeants became firm as they called in air strikes and heavy 
artillery, and the combat odds began to shift rapidly in their 
own favor. The profusion of American technological firepower 
became a casualty-preventing mainstay, and burning napalm, 
phosphorous, and exploding steel were used in mass quantities 
to shatter resistance. 

Some lessons were harder. Viet Cong snipers capitalized on 
the American habit of immediately going to the aid of injured 
comrades by deliberately wounding a soldier and then killing 
several would-be rescuers. In the midst of combat it was found 
that little more could be done for casualties beyond foxhole help. 
In order to keep the perimeter intact and every available man 
shooting, wounded were evacuated later. Since the Viet Cong 
were well versed in delay tactics, which allowed time for further 
preparation of ambush and defensive positions or escape, the 
Americans learned to press the attack. Sergeants had to use all 
their forceful professionalism to drive wearied troops on. Situ- 
ation miscalls and underestimations of enemy strength were in- 
evitable and produced unfortunate results. Ability to guess en- 
emy capability or intentions intelligently could only be gleaned 
from fighting experience. 

Battalion and company commanders learned to expect water 
obstacles and other hazards, not shown by maps or observable 
from the air, underneath jungle canopies. Night positions had 
to be constantly patrolled. Large captured rice caches impossi- 
ble to remove were found to be destructable if gasoline, diesel 
oil, or artillery powder was mixed in. Work priorities in defense 
became digging positions and cutting fields of fire. 

The 1st Infantry Division was having difficulties reminiscent 
of its first experiences in North Africa in World War II, when 
it was trounced by German desert warriors at Kasserine Pass in 
1943. The division was also painfully assimilating jungle warfare 
experience through trial and error. Lack of divisional battle 
prowess caused several unfavorable situations where on-hand re- 
serves were either unprepared for immediate commitment, not 
under control, or lacking altogether. Personnel turnover, illness, 
and battlefield losses threatened to undo the lessons mastered. 



88 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



In March 1966 General Westmoreland put his MACV chief of 
operations, Maj. Gen. William E. DePuy, in command. General 
DePuy immediately began relieving so many subordinate offi- 
cers that the Army Chief of Staff expressed open concern. De- 
spite a temporary loss of morale, the 1st Infantry Division slowly 
mastered its tactical problems. Under Maj. Gen. DePuy, the 
"Big Red One" was soon living up to the combat performance 
expectations it had earned in two World Wars, and became one 
of MACV's hardest-fighting outfits. 

3. Air Assault 

Perhaps the most novel tactical innovation of the Vietnam 
War was the air assault. In these attacks the smoldering green- 
gray wash of earth and sky would tilt dizzily as helicopters banked 
into their final approaches toward the blazing, smoking landing 
zone ahead. Huddled four to a side on the edge of doorless 
cargo compartments, legs dangling into space, young American 
infantrymen sucked in deep gasps of the charred jungle air as 
they flipped their rifles off Safe onto Full Auto. Eruptions of 
artillery could be clearly seen exploding down one side of an 
assault corridor while last minute air strikes ripped up the other 
side with fragmentation bombs and intense 20mm-cannon straf- 
ing. Armed helicopters lazily suspended in the sky poured con- 
centrated rocket and machine-gun fire into the far and rear ap- 
proaches. Sergeants had explained this landing zone preparation 
and how it had to be of critical intensity to maximize shock ef- 
fect. At a time like this, though, all their teaching slipped past 
senses too dazed to think. The blurred tropical landscape flashed 
by eyes singed by burning gunpowder. Ears were pounded by 
the roar of whirling rotor blades and detonations. For the vet- 
erans of previous "hot LZs," battle instinct surfaced, but, for 
the newer soldiers, whatever rudimentary drill they had re- 
ceived in stateside training mills had to suffice. Such superficial 
training became overwhelmed by the impact of actual war. 

Flak-vested door gunners hammered the blazing tree lines 
with a steady stream of tracer-laced machine-gun fire. The air- 
crews secretly prayed that nervous grunts wouldn't accidentally 
fire their weapons or drop loose grenades. Many helicopters had 
been lost due to careless rifle discharges through cabin roofs or 



THE AREA WAR 89 



unsecured grenades rolling across metal floors. As the helicop- 
ters slowed and descended, some soldiers lowered themselves 
to stand on the outboard skids while still clinging to the aircraft 
sides. Then the soldiers leaped out and the transport helicopters 
swiftly left the corridors by executing roundabout turns and tak- 
ing off downwind in the same direction they had entered. 

The sudden availability of rugged, dependable helicopters in 
mass quantity allowed these craft to dominate the battlefield. 
They became the basis of a new doctrine airmobility a po- 
tentially devastating means of battlefield technology. Slightly over 
fifty aviation companies and air cavalry troops had been sent to 
Vietnam by the end of 1965, and they would be joined by twenty- 
two more in 1966. Most of these were helicopter units, and for 
the first time ground commanders were being offered massive 
vertical assault capabilities, extra aerial firepower, and a degree 
of mobility never before experienced in warfare. Airmobility 
meant attacking from any direction, striking targets in otherwise 
impossible terrain, overflying barriers, bypassing enemy posi- 
tions, and achieving tactical surprise. It was counted on to re- 
solve the problems of area warfare since the rapid tempo of 
fighting operations, unhampered by normal ground restric- 
tions even in marginal weather gave the U.S. commanders 
great flexibility in employing their soldiers very quickly from a 
variety of distant locations, 

Bold and aggressive use of massive combat power, linked 
with a choice of unexpected times and places for attack, had 
been instrumental in securing success for the 1st Cavalry Di- 
vision in the la Drang Valley campaign of 1965. As a result, 
airmobile tactics were perfected quickly, and all Army maneu- 
ver battalions became skilled in their use. Soon throngs of green- 
clad warriors, garbed in rip-stop cotton and loaded with ban- 
doliers of ammunition, were departing their base areas on waves 
of helicopters. Shepherded by armed helicopter escorts, they 
assaulted predetermined landing zones which were already un- 
der artillery and aerial fire bombardment. Like everything in 
Vietnam, this airmobile thrust entailed considerable risk, since 
it could lead to an unwanted general engagement under unfa- 
vorable conditions if it mistakenly tripped a hornets' nest. 

Airmobility was most effective when it was used as the cav- 



90 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



airy it had replaced had been used. It reigned supreme in ex- 
ploitation and pursuit, after an enemy force had been broken 
or enveloped. Its purpose then became to destroy the oppo- 
nent's ability to reconstitute and conduct an organized defense. 
While small-scale exploitations seemed insignificant, especially 
if local setbacks were experienced, their cumulative effects could 
be decisive, Introduced whenever the enemy was perceived as 
having difficulty maintaining its position, ruthless execution could 
block withdrawal and complete the destruction. The NVA and 
VC became adept at avoiding entrapment this way by abandon- 
ing ground at opportune times, Flexibility, speed, and a hunch 
for enemy intentions were required to maintain pressure on such 
a proficient adversary. 

One of the finest scout formations that excelled in this type 
of work was the 1st Squadron of the 9th Cavalry, the air re- 
connaissance arm of the 1st Cavalry Division. Descended from 
the famed "Buffalo" cavalrymen of the Indian Wars and previ- 
ously an all-Black unit, it was the first air cavalry into Vietnam. 4 
On August 19, 1966, two light observation helicopters from Troop 
B spotted ten NVA soldiers hiding in tall grass beside a trail. 
Two helicopter gunships joined them four minutes later, and 
the troop's rifle platoon was sent aloft. The troop commander 
raced into his helicopter and was overhead in fifteen minutes. 
He marked a landing zone 150 feet away by dropping smoke, 
and the riflemen who arrived ten minutes later were set down. 
Meanwhile the two scout helicopters kept the NVA corralled. 
One made a low orbit, keeping them in constant sight, while 
the second flew a wider circle. The scout observer in the first 
craft discouraged two attempts at escape by firing short bursts 
from his M16 rifle. 

The rifle platoon formed a diamond with its four squads and 
moved up to within fifty meters of the NVA, guided by the 
scout helicopter crew, who could see both groups. The platoon 
then swiftly fanned out into a line with one squad dropping back 

4. The 9th Cavalry had been first organized in October 1866 at Greenville, 
Louisiana, and fought Comanches and Utes out West. It garrisoned Texas, 
New Mexico, and Colorado until 1881, when it moved to secure Kansas and 
Indian Territory. It had also seen action in the Spanish- American War, the 
Philippine Insurrection, and in Korea. 



THE AREA WAR 91 



for rear security, and charged the pinned NVA soldiers. Thirty 
modern cavalrymen lunged forward with guns firing from the 
hip, and the cornered North Vietnamese infantrymen blasted 
back. One trooper fell dead in the charge but the others pressed 
forward. Through the din of battle, the helicopters whisked 
overhead and radioed instructions. Two hours and twenty min- 
utes from the first sighting the skirmish was ended. Sixteen NVA 
lay dead and nine wounded gave themselves up. 

Scouting and screening were natural helicopter missions, and 
entire air cavalry squadrons exclusively dedicated to this func- 
tion were raised and dispatched to Vietnam in 1967. To the 1st 
Cavalry Division's 1st Squadron of the 9th Cavalry, would be 
added another divisional aerial reconnaissance cavalry squadron, 
the 2d Squadron of the 17th Cavalry, for the 101st Airborne 
Division (Airmobile). Three separate air cavalry squadrons also 
served: the 7th Squadron of the 1st Cavalry, and the 3d and 
7th squadrons of the 17th Cavalry. 

4. Helicopters At War 

For the Army, the widening war in Vietnam promised to be 
like no other in its potential airmobile success over nearly all 
terrain restrictions. With enough helicopters and their intrinsic 
lift capacity, there seemed no end to the possibilities. Every 
Army concept seemed to mesh with their remarkable versatility, 
from troop and cargo hauling to firepower assistance and sur- 
veillance. Commanders were quick to cram their cargo com- 
partments with radios and use them as airborne command posts. 
Soon the squat, olive drab Army aerial workhorse, the ever 
present Bell Corporation Huey helicopter, became an integral 
part of nearly all Vietnam missions. The incessant, pulsating 
whoosh of their rotor blades labored continually through the hu- 
mid Southeast Asian skies. 

Armed helicopters were especially reassuring to the "crunch- 
ies," the ground infantrymen who depended on them to deliver 
accurate supporting fire whether conducting raids or in "deep 
serious" trouble trying to disengage. In their own peculiar jar- 
gon, the soldiers called the UH-series Huey gunships Hogs, and 
the later, sleeker AH-1G Cobra attack helicopters Snakes. Both 
delivered high concentrations of destruction whether using run- 



92 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN AIRMY 



rung fire delivered in forward flight, hovering fire, or stationary 
fire while grounded. Their armament came in various combi- 
nations of dual or singular machine guns, 2.75-inch rocket 
launchers, 40mm grenade-launching systems, 20mm automatic 
guns, miniguns, and mine dispensers. These weapons were fit- 
ted onto the helicopters using side mounts to nose turrets. 

In fact the armed helicopters were so powerful, fast, and 
effective that they created control problems that became ex- 
tremely critical, especially in poor weather. In an effort to guide 
the lethal and rapid fire into enemy targets and safely around 
friendly forces, soldiers used smoke grenades, visual panels, flare 
devices, all types of star clusters, tracer ammunition, and radio 
communications . 

To command and control the tremendous Army aviation forces 
in Vietnam, the 1st Aviation Brigade was created in May 1966. 
It eventually became one of the largest military commands there, 
with over 24,000 men and 4,230 aircraft of all descriptions or- 
ganized into a multitude of aviation groups and battalions as well 
as air cavalry squadrons. During the course of the conflict some 
142 separate Army aviation companies and air cavalry troops 
participated in the most lavish airmobile effort in history, but 
its toll of helicopter personnel was staggering. Nearly six thou- 
sand helicopter pilots and crewmen were killed in aircraft losses 
over Vietnam. 

While the advent of airmobility allowed the Army unparal- 
leled ability to surmount many of Vietnam's jungled obstacles, 
flying conditions often remained severely restricted. Weather and 
geography were foremost in determining range and power. South 
Vietnam's landscape varied from the flat, open rice fields of the 
Mekong Delta, where lack of dense vegetation gave antiaircraft 
gunners excellent opportunities, to the rugged mountains of the 
Central Highlands where suitable landing zones were difficult 
to select and high trees presented numerous flying hazards. The 
coastal plains resembled delta areas except for their fewer and 
poorer roads and the east-west mountain ridges extending in- 
land from the shore. Added to these terrain difficulties were the 
northeast monsoons between September and April, and the 
southwest monsoons between April and September. The former 
brought heavy clouds along the coastal mountains and hot, dusty 



THE AREA WAR 93 



conditions to the Delta and mountain areas, while low cloud 
ceilings and poor visiblity prevailed over the Central Highlands 
and the Delta during the southwest monsoon period. 

The maximum distance airmobile units could travel was based 
on the helicopter's ability to deliver its assault forces and then 
return to the nearest refueling or rearming point. In Vietnam 
such operations were conducted anywhere from less than a mile 
up to roughly forty miles from pickup to landing zone. Seldom 
was there enough aviation available to meet demand, and con- 
trol between ground and air units was often difficult. Aircraft 
fuel was consumed in tremendous quantities; for example, a utility 
aircraft on an average day consumed over four thousand pounds 
of fuel. Ammunition was expended rapidly. Maintenance was a 
major effort that received the highest command emphasis in 
Vietnam. As a result the 34th General Support Group was formed 
at Tan Son Nhut air base in January 1966, specifically to handle 
aviation supply and support. Due to the lack of qualified mili- 
tary personnel, the group had to be heavily augmented with 
civilian mechanics hired on a contractual basis. 

All those associated with airmobility faced grave personal 
hazards apart from enemy action and mechanical failure. In or- 
der to achieve surprise and escape ground fire, helicopter pilots 
were forced to skim over Vietnam at treetop level. The Army 
termed this "nap of the earth," or terrain/contour, flying, and 
all agreed it left little margin for error. Other general hazards 
became associated with helicopter employment. Hovering heli- 
copters wallowed in their own toxic engine exhaust gases, mag- 
nified by downward rotor wash. Crew members had their 
breathing stifled by the visible haze and cordite odor of side 
machine-gun fire, despite ventilation through open cargo doors. 
Pilots suffered from spatial disorientation episodes, magnified by 
a helicopter's peculiar ability to produce total viewing changes 
instantly. Shuddering helicopter motions produced vibrations that 
played havoc with eyesight. Main rotor noise swamped low fre- 
quency ranges and combined with higher frequency antitorque 
system noise to devastate eardrums, which were further aggra- 
vated by sounds from open doors and windows. Loss of auditory 
response threatened the safety of soldiers in battle, as leaders 
might not be heard or orders understood. 



94 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Early on, the helicopter was employed to evacuate the 
mounting toll of combat wounded. By locating three litters on 
each side of the transmission support structure, six seriously in- 
jured soldiers could be carried and the center forward-facing troop 
seat used for the medical attendant. Two blood-bottle hangers 
were placed on the inside of the cabin roof and electrical re- 
ceptacles furnished direct current for heated blankets. Addition- 
ally, rescue hoists with electrically operated winches and "forest 
penetrator" litter devices were installed to allow extraction of 
wounded from jungles where landing was impossible. Resusci- 
tators, telescoping splints, and surgical instrument sets were 
shoved into the aircraft in an effort to save soldiers suffering 
from shock, severe bleeding, multiple burns, and wounds to the 
head, chest, or abdomen. In such circumstances survival was 
directly linked to the skills of aidmen and crew chiefs, working 
feverishly to open air passageways or tie tourniquets, and to the 
flying ability of pilots who shaved minutes off the time sepa- 
rating their wounded from medical facilities. The feats of these 
"Dust-Off" crews, so called in tribute to the call-sign of the first 
medical evacuation helicopter lost in Vietnam, were legendary 
and resulted in a number of awards of the Medal of Honor, the 
highest United States decoration for valor. 

Special medical air ambulance companies and detachments 
were introduced as fast as crews and helicopters became avail- 
able. Each company consisted of four air ambulance platoons 
totaling twenty-four helicopters, while detachments contained 
six aircraft. These units operated in conjunction with ordinary 
helicopters on call, and soon Americans hit on the battlefield 
had a good chance of receiving quicker first-class medical aid 
than highway accident victims back home. However, problems 
constantly hampered this airmobile answer to prompt medical 
evacuation. Not only did surrounding terrain and climatic con- 
ditions limit lift capacity, but pressured ground troops often called 
in urgent requests before the wounded were collected, or in 
areas too small for the helicopters, or not yet clear of enemy 
fire. This sometimes resulted in downed medical helicopters and 
more casualties. 

Whatever advantages airmobility had, the fighting soldier 
valued the promise of speedy medical evacuation the highest. 



THE AREA WAR 95 



He realized that a wounded man's condition could worsen in 
seconds, that shock was quick to set in, and that only aerial 
evacuation could prevent potentially overwhelming death rates. 
Line units were suffering grievous casualties in close combat, 
and these were occurring in some of the most rugged terrain 
on earth. The soldier viewed helicopter evacuation as an abso- 
lute necessity and its ready availability became an accepted, 
overriding morale consideration. 

5. A Crisis of Pilots 

If aviation was the key component of airmobility, then cer- 
tainly the number of available pilots was a key determinant of 
the possible extent of airmobile presence. MACV was already 
aware that its airmobile potential wasn't keeping pace with 
growing troop strength because of a widespread shortage of avia- 
tors. Now this lack of personnel was so acute that the entire 
promise of airmobility was in danger of foundering. Already field 
operations were being premised on the amount of helicopters 
on hand, rather than on whatever objectives or enemy threat 
existed. 

In January 1966, the Department of the Army had informed 
General Westmoreland that all aviation sources had been ex- 
hausted, and that nearly five hundred aviation-qualified Vietnam 
veterans were being recycled back overseas. The rapid deploy- 
ment of Marine aviation units had likewise precipitated a critical 
shortfall. By October the Marine Corps was deferring both re- 
leases and retirements and shortening its helicopter courses. 

The Army squeeze was underlined by the 9,700 pilots on 
hand compared to its June requirement for 14,300. A rash of 
letters went out begging previous aviation personnel to come 
back as part of a voluntary recall, but the response wasn't prom- 
ising. Of nearly two thousand individual letters mailed in the 
first half of 1966 inviting nonactive aviators back in, only sixty 
were answered. In Vietnam itself urgent steps were taken which 
trimmed any aviator requirements in nonflight jobs, and posted 
everybody up to and including the rank of major in actual flying 
assignments. 

Still more drastic measures were required beyond stepped- 
up pilot training and abbreviated flying courses. In order to beef 



96 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



up the Southeast Asian war zone, the Defense Department re- 
duced global manning levels in other areas to only a fourth of 
that authorized. Even this dangerously low profile was sliced by 
a further emergency withdrawal from Europe and Korea in May. 
By the end of spring, for instance, there were only thirty-four 
Army pilots on the entire Korean peninsula. Any aviator below 
the rank of lieutenant colonel was informed that his time be- 
tween Vietnam tours was being cut to a year. 

At this point the Army's aviation school at Fort Rucker, Al- 
abama, was geared solely to cranking out as many pilots as pos- 
sible for Vietnam duty. The Army was now desperately seeking 
officer pilot material from all sources. Graduates in the upper 
portion of advanced individual training courses were being called 
into the offices of their training commanders. There they were 
reviewed as potential volunteers for flight training. Some re- 
called the questions being hardly more than whether they could 
read, see without glasses, and ever thought about racing cars or 
flying. If response was positive, they were packed off to Fort 
Rucker as new warrant officer candidates. 

To the Army's surprise, these young soldiers who often 
possessed no college background or career aspirations, but only 
the desire to fly proved to be just the answer. Full of zeal, 
and bold to the point of recklessness, young and unmarried, 
they became the best helicopter pilots in the business. As young 
as eighteen, their chests soon adorned with dozens of distin- 
guished flying crosses and air medals, they were heroes to the 
military, district, and province chiefs of South Vietnam, to the 
front-line combatants and support personnel, to unit command- 
ers and planners, and to anyone else connected with the allied 
cause. Their efforts and dedication enabled airmobility to flour- 
ish, and by mid-1968 increased school output and force leveling 
combined to alleviate the pilot crisis. 



CHAPTER 7. 



THE CENTRAL FRONT 



1. Battles for Base Camps, Plantations, and Roads 

The American military focused its 1966 campaign efforts in the 
critical regions north and west of Saigon, on securing base areas 
for its incoming units, and opening lines of communication 
through threatened areas. Regular Army forces were summoned 
into battle wherever outlying South Vietnamese and U.S. Army 
Special Forces garrisons were threatened, and maintained as much 
pressure against known VC sanctuaries as assets permitted. As 
the year progressed and more units became available, larger op- 
erations were initiated in suspected Viet Cong fortified zones. 
In the Central Highlands and coastal areas the swift and pow- 
erful 1st Cavalry Division conducted all-out efforts to locate and 
destroy NVA and VC concentrations. 

The "Tropic Lightning" 25th Infantry Division was emplaced 
west of Saigon at the start of the year, and its 2d Brigade as- 
sumed operational responsibility for the future divisional base 
camp near Cu Chi. The division's placement directly challenged 
the prime Viet Cong lifeline to Cambodian supply points, which 
was guarded by a maze of VC fortifications and tunnel networks. 
Hau Nghia and Tay Ninh provinces represented a dangerous 
slice of terrain covered by swamp and jungle, which was never 
effectively subdued throughout the length of the Vietnam War. 

The security of the Cu Chi vicinity had top priority. The 2d 
Brigade contained the famed 27th Infantry "Wolfhounds," whose 
1st Battalion was tasked with clearing the southwest portion of 

97 



THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



the perimeter to a distance sufficient to prevent any mortaring 
of the compound. 1 Thus a large abandoned village a mile west 
of the base camp became a battalion objective. The village con- 
tained rows of bamboo thickets around each hut, as well as an 
elaborate tunnel system. For four days the battalion's companies 
took turns assaulting the village, and each was repulsed and took 
heavy losses in turn. Although air and artillery bombardment 
would precede the infantry, each charge would inevitably be 
met by withering machine-gun and automatic rifle fire and 
stopped cold. Then the Viet Cong would break off the action 
by splitting into small groups and fading in the jungle. Return- 
ing later from another direction, they would suddenly shoot up 
soldiers trying to search through the empty houses. 

Company B was determined to clear the place once and for 
all. Air Force fighters, helicopter gunships, howitzers, and bat- 
talion mortars were called in. The infantrymen advanced toward 
the village behind a moving curtain of exploding artillery rounds. 
The Viet Cong rapidly lobbed their own mortar shells to burst 
among the Americans, and the line started to waver because 
men suspected their own artillery was falling short. The cool- 
ness of a platoon sergeant prevented a rout, and slowly the vil- 
lage was closed. As suspected hot spots around it were hit by 
continued artillery fire, the soldiers began pitching thermite 
grenades into the structures. Aerial rocket fire was directed at 
bamboo thickets containing snipers. The company then with- 
drew behind a smokescreen which was mixed with high explo- 
sive shelling to prevent VC use of its concealment. A stay-be- 
hind ambush team was left in place to discourage Viet Cong 
return. 

The clearing process was slow and tedious. In late July the 

1. The 27th Infantry was one of the most renowned Regular Army regiments. 
Its traditional designation, "The Wolfhounds," commemorated its service in 
Siberia after World War I, and the insignia of the American Siberian Ex- 
peditionary Force a giant wolf head and the motto Nee Aspera Terrant 
(Frightened by No Difficulties) were embossed on the regimental shield. Or- 
ganized in February 1901 at Plattsburg Barracks in New York it had rendered 
outstanding service during the Philippine Insurrection, especially in the Lake 
Lanao Expedition. Assigned to the Hawaiian Division in 1921, it had been 
part of the 25th Infantry Division in the Pacific during World War II and 
the Korean War. 



THE CENTRAL FRONT 99 



division's base camp was struck by an intense recoilless rifle and 
mortar attack. In the meantime, other "Wolfhound" elements 
were probing deeper into Viet Cong territory. On July 19, 1966, 
Company A of the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, was airlifted to 
the edge of the Ho Bo Woods. They immediately ran into en- 
trenched elements of the 1st Battalion, 165A VC Regiment, 
complete with camouflaged uniforms and steel helmets, and a 
furious five-hour battle resulted. The length and intensity of these 
early encounters convinced Army planners that the Viet Cong 
would fight tenaciously if forced to defend their base areas. This 
experience later shaped operational directives, which massed al- 
lied formations against certain areas in the hope of inducing de- 
cisive engagements. 

MACV directed the 1st Infantry Division and the 173d Air- 
borne Brigade into several other western areas of III Corps Tac- 
tical Zone. The paratroopers of the 2d Battalion, 503d Infantry 
(Airborne), from the airborne brigade, air-assaulted into sharp 
action along the Oriental River during the first week of the year 
(Operation MARAUDER), and on January 8 they stabbed into 
the Ho Bo Woods (Operation CRIMP). The 1st Infantry Division 
swept the Boi Loi Woods (Operation MASTIFF) and the Long 
Than district (Operation MALLET) in February. "The Herd" 
173d Airborne Brigade ventured into the Be River area north- 
west of Saigon on March 7, which triggered a fierce four-hour 
counterattack. In these early 1966 encounters the price of entry 
was costly, but then the pace of action fizzled out. The slow 
and deliberate clearance of bunkers and tunnels, always a haz- 
ardous and painstaking procedure, began. The large amounts of 
material captured and earthen fortifications razed seemed to in- 
dicate that Viet Cong capabilities were being seriously eroded. 
The violence of sudden firefights in the sunless, vine-choked 
tropical forests cheered MACV into believing they were offering 
the VC no respite, 

Company C of the 1st Infantry Division's 2d Battalion, 16th 
Infantry, was decimated by the D800 VC Battalion in deep jun- 
gle on April 11 while engaged in Operation ABILENE sweeping 
coastal Phuoc Tuy Province. 2 They had been hacking their way 

2, One of the traditional regiments of the 1st Infantry Division, the 16th 



100 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



through the jungle against sporadic rifle fire when a "friendly" 
artillery round fell short and burst in the tree-masked canopy 
overhead, spraying their ranks with shrapnel. The company halted 
to evacuate the two dead and twelve wounded Americans, un- 
aware that they had selected a spot only yards from the VC 
battalion's base camp. Automatic rifle and grenade fire suddenly 
swept their perimeter. During the night the soldiers desperately 
fought off three main charges as 1,086 rounds of artillery plum- 
meted down through the trees in support. Reinforcements were 
pushed toward the beleaguered company but were forced to wait 
for first light before attempting a linkup. Early the next morning 
engineers and medical personnel reached the unit, descending 
through the jungle canopy on "Jacob's ladders" dropped from 
the rear of hovering CH-47 Chinook helicopters. Only then were 
the engineers able to carve out a landing zone so the wounded 
could be lifted out by evacuation helicopters. 

The 1st Infantry Division, the "Big Red One," went north 
of Tay Ninh in Operation BIRMINGHAM commencing April 
24, but only squad- and platoon-sized encounters were made. 
MACV considered minor actions only irritants and directed the 
division to make more substantial contact with the Viet Cong. 
The climax of the drive was to be a four-battalion surprise in- 
fantry air assault on the suspected South Vietnamese communist 
headquarters May 7-9, secretly coded HOLLINGSWORTH. The 
hot, parched weather suddenly evaporated into a violent series 
of thunderstorms which dumped so much rain that helicopter 
operations had to be suspended. With that cut in mobility, MACV 
was forced to cancel out. 

The division sent units into some of the most inaccessible 
regions of Vietnam as it strived to produce significant combat 
results. The infantrymen of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, 
sloshed through mud up to their hips during Operation LEX- 



Infantry had a long history of desperate fighting. At the Wheatfield and Dev- 
il's Den in Gettysburg during the Civil War, it had lost approximately 50 
percent of its effective strength. It had been initially formed in Massachusetts 
in February 1862, and was consolidated as the 16th Infantry from the llth, 
16th, and 34th Infantry Regiments in 1869. It had also seen intense combat 
during the storming of Fleville, France, on October 4, 1918, during the Meuse- 
Argonne Offensive of World War I. 



THE CENTRAL FRONT 101 



INGTON III, fought April 17-June 9, 1966, in the mangrove- 
choked swamps of the Rung Sat Special Zone. While sampan 
kills proved easy in the murky nightly marsh gloom, results were 
limited since the companies had to be rotated every other day 
to avoid immersion foot. Finally, with the approach of the sum- 
mer monsoons, the 1st Infantry Division was urged to deal a 
punishing blow somewhere, in order to forestall a suspected VC 
offensive with the onset of the rains. 

In early May a Viet Cong lieutenant was killed southeast of 
Loc Ninh, and a search through his possessions turned up a 
plan to attack both the town and its Special Forces camp. As a 
result the 1st Infantry Division spent the month fruitlessly 
sweeping the area in Operation EL PASO I. Maj. Gen. William 
E. DePuy was looking for battle, so he decided to strike deeper 
into Viet Cong-dominated territory. With the commencement of 
June he pushed his 1st Infantry Division into War Zone C. This 
operation, EL PASO II, was designed to block the 9th VC Di- 
vision from taking the offensive northwest of Saigon during the 
upcoming monsoon season. The area heated up fast, and in less 
than a week the 9th VC Division had sprung into action, de- 
termined to repel this major United States intrusion. 

On the afternoon of June 8, Troop A of the 1st Squadron, 
4th Cavalry, was churning down Route 13 with its tanks and 
armored personnel carriers. As the cavalry passed through Tau- 
O toward Hon Quan, the 272d VC Regiment conducted a mas- 
sive ambush. Troop A's lead tank was hit by recoilless rifle fire, 
and the rear of the column was also disabled. The Viet Cong 
then charged the vehicles trapped in between. Fierce combat 
raged for four hours before the assault was finally broken off. 

Three days later action erupted at the rubber plantation 
northwest of Loc Ninh. Company A of the 2d Battalion, 28th 
Infantry, was ordered to clear plantation village #10 by a com- 
bined ground-air assault. The day promised to be fair and hot, 
but heavy morning fog delayed the helicopters two hours. After 
it dissipated, helicopter gunships made a five-minute "gun run" 
across the landing zone, followed by two platoons which were 
airlifted in. The remainder of Company A moved into the area 
by foot to establish blocking positions. Rifle fire from a small 
hill wounded three of these advancing soldiers and the battle 



102 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



was on. Before it ended the entire 2d Battalion of the 28th In- 
fantry became involved. 3 

Company A immediately fired off a barrage with its light 
mortars, while the heliborne troops shifted their village ap- 
proach to move against the hill. By now bunkered machine guns 
were causing trouble, and the company hurled an attached South 
Vietnamese CIDG platoon, led by one Special Forces advisor, 
into the attack. This impromptu charge was repulsed. Company 
C was alerted to join the fight, but it ran into more entrenched 
defensive positions on another hill. At noon the battalion's re- 
connaissance platoon was ordered in to assist. The 28th Infantry 
was up against a dug-in battalion of the 273d! VC Regiment. 

After intensive artillery bombardment and considerable anti- 
sniper work, Company C got into line formation and assaulted 
the Viet Cong trenchlines on the second hill. The recon platoon 
was attached as ordinary infantry to bolster the left side of the 
advance. The platoon started receiving intense automatic weap- 
ons fire. As grenades showered down from the rubber trees they 
began to fall back in disorder. The VC quickly moved around 
them, and sited a machine gun by the trenchline occupied by 
reconnaissance members providing covering fire for their re- 
treating comrades. The gun suddenly fired down the trench and 
killed all its occupants. A serious reverse was avoided as Com- 
pany C threw its reserve platoon into the fray. By late afternoon 
the Viet Cong had been pushed off the hill. 

Meanwhile, repeated attacks by Company A had failed to 
dislodge the Viet Cong on the first hill. Another CIDG unit, a 
company that happened to be wandering nearby on patrol, was 
grabbed to help encircle the Viet Cong position. During mid- 
afternoon Lt. Col. Kyle W. Bowie committed his final reserves, 
Company B. At this juncture the interpreter of Company A's 
attached CIDG platoon was killed by VC gunfire, and the pla- 
toon bolted from the battlefield. The Special Forces sergeant 

3. The 28th Infantry was officially known as "the Lions of Cantigny," having 
been the attacking regiment at Cantigny in the ancient province of Picardy, 
France, during World War I. The regiment had been formed in Vancouver 
Barracks, Washington, during March- June 1901 and sent to the Philippines. 
It fought in World War I with the 1st Expeditionary Division (later 1st Di- 
vision), but served with the 8th Infantry Division in World War II. 



THE CENTRAL FRONT 103 



stayed to fight with Company A, but a gap had been created 
around the hill. 

Following a sixteen-volley artillery barrage, accompanied by 
an equal number of sorties from Air Force and Navy aircraft 
dropping incendiary and fragmentation bombs, the fresh troops 
of Company B charged the hill. Bunkers were stormed in fu- 
rious hand-to-hand combat. The Viet Cong scattered, many 
making their escape through the hole that the missing CIDG 
platoon had created. The battalion consolidated, evacuated casu- 
alties, resupplied its ammunition, and policed the charred sham- 
bles of the plantation. 

The next encounter, on June 30, was destined to be one of 
the classic engagements of the Vietnam War, the Battle of Srok 
Dong. For the previous two weeks the 2d Battalion, 18th In- 
fantry, combined with the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, to sweep 
the Quan Loi vicinity. A destroyed bridge on Route 13 limited 
this ability, and the banks of the stream had to be prepared to 
support an armored vehicle-launched bridge near the demol- 
ished structure. A threefold operation was planned in order to 
get the bridge site repaired. Lt. Col. Leonard L. Lewane, the 
cavalry squadron commander, was given the mission. 4 

Both sides of the road were heavily forested, the only open- 
ings formed by rice paddies and streams, where chest-high grass 
grew up to the edges of the road. The tropical weather was 
clear and hot as the armored scissors bridge arrived at the stream. 
Troop B was returning down Route 13 to Loc Ninh when re- 
coilless rifle and machine-gun fire ripped through the column 
as it crossed a rice paddy. Wearing a variety of khaki, green, 
and black uniforms, the 271st VC Regiment had lined the west- 
ern side of the road and was firing from log piles and the thick 
tangle of jungle hardwood. The troop's four tanks were quickly 



4. The 4th Cavalry was one of the Army's finest. Formed in March 1855, at 
Jefierson Barracks in Missouri to fight Indians in Kansas, it was involved 
throughout the Civil War where it gained honors storming the entrenchments 
at Selma, capturing Hood's artillery, and routing Confederate cavalry at Mur- 
freesborough. The Bud Dajo campaign against the Philippine Moros was still 
represented by a triumphant sabre across the volcano on the 4th Cavalry's 
regimental crest. As a mechanized cavalry group it had seen action across 
northern Europe in World War II. 



104 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



neutralized by repeated hits which blasted the turret-top cu- 
polas, decapitating commanders and killing or wounding their 
crews. 

The armored personnel carriers of Troop B replied with heavy 
machine-gun fire. Artillery was called in and armed Huey and 
Chinook helicopters made strafing and rocket passes up and down 
the fringes of the road. The armored personnel carriers of Troop 
C raced toward the action, with infantrymen piled on top. A 
sudden rain of mortar shells started blowing soldiers off the ve- 
hicles. A checkpoint with some armored mortar carriers and in- 
fantrymen had been established earlier at a crossroad. This road 
junction was under mortar fire and jammed with vehicles from 
Troop B, bringing in wounded and replenishing ammunition, as 
well as Troop C vehicles trying to maneuver through. 

As Troop C's vehicles pulled around the clogged checkpoint 
to reach the ambush area, the turret of the lead tank took a 
direct hit. The seriously wounded commander and loader were 
taken out, and the tank-led line of carriers continued on. The 
brush was so thick on both sides of the road that the vehicle 
crews just lobbed grenades over the sides. The tank was hit a 
second time, and the gunner was wounded badly. He was re- 
moved and the tank driver kept going. Troop C's column finally 
arrived at the tail of Troop B's stranded position. All power to 
the tank turret was gone, but three more men joined the ser- 
geant inside. With a replenished crew, the tank stormed through 
the burning wrecks in the ambush site. The sweltering substi- 
tutes manually swiveled the cannon around to point northwest 
and fired off all sixty rounds of ammunition. Meanwhile the rest 
of the reinforcing armored personnel carriers rumbled along both 
narrow shoulders of the road to form a shield around the bat- 
tered remnants of Troop B. 

Troop B's operable vehicles retreated to the checkpoint. There 
a lieutenant of Troop C had been left behind with several ar- 
mored personnel carriers to guard the crossroad and assist in 
the evacuation of dead and wounded. He now moved his mech- 
anized platoon forward to clear a landing zone for troop-laden 
helicopters arriving to reinforce the battle area. As he stood in 
the hatch, a VC bullet hit him in the chest. Several more men 
were wounded and the armored personnel carriers were unable 



THE CENTRAL FRONT 105 



to break contact. A mechanized flamethrower rammed through 
the snarl of underbrush and high grass and lashed the VC strong- 
point with a fiery tongue of spray in an effort to extract the 
lieutenant's vehicles. 

For a week prior to the battle, the 2d Battalion of the 18th 
Infantry had kept Company B on thirty-minute alert to reinforce 
any armored cavalry trouble spots. After a mix-up getting heli- 
copters, they hopped in twelve small 3/4- ton trucks and drove 
to Quan Loi. Helicopters had already lifted Company A, which 
was there previously, into the battle. Company B turned its trucks 
north on Route 13 and headed to an alternate pickup zone. 
However, it was full of medics frantically collecting dead and 
wounded, and medical evacuation helicopters buzzing in to re- 
trieve them. The company was diverted to another spot and fi- 
nally lifted into action. One of the helicopters landing in the 
last lift struck a dud cluster bomblet and burst into flames. Its 
crew and passengers managed to scramble out. The company 
went into action, but by this time the Viet Cong were already 
leaving the battlefield. 

Lieutenant Colonel Lewane pushed Companies A and B across 
the smoking road. They soon ran into sharp resistance at a nearby 
creek. Two more infantry battalions, the 1st Battalion, 2d In- 
fantry, and the 2d Battalion, 28th Infantry, arrived in the battle 
area the next morning. July 1-2 would be marked by continued 
sporadic fighting, accented by nocturnal attacks on American 
overnight positions. As contact faded, the Battle of Srok Dong 
was declared ended. Major General DePuy would brief General 
Westmoreland in July: 

This was a complete surprise .... U.S. forces nearly lost this 
battle. However, air superiority proved to be the deciding factor 
and inflicted severe losses on the enemy. 

On July 9 the cavalry went out again, this time as bait. A 
feint was made to the northeast with a B-52 bombing strike, 
and information was leaked through the local Vietnamese that 
one cavalry troop would be coming down the road. However, 
two cavalry troops with infantry were sent, and the result was 
the Battle of Minh Thanh Road. The mixed column of tanks and 



106 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



troop-filled armored personnel carriers waited until fog and 
overcast dissipated, moved out, and was hit one hour before 
noon right where expected. Due to the tremendous volume of 
fire from the vehicles and the denseness of the jungle, the over- 
head command helicopters were initially confused as to the main 
direction of the 272d VC Regiment's attack. As the column com- 
pressed under the fury of the onslaught, the helicopters darted 
out of the way so that a wall of artillery fire could blanket the 
north side. One CH-47 Chinook helicopter was brought down 
but managed to force-land on the roadway to the southwest. It 
was later retrieved by a CH-54 Flying Crane. 

The second troop moved back, closing the column by dou- 
bling it. While 22,200 rounds of artillery saturated its targeted 
area, 99 air strikes blasted the south. At one time five flights 
of Air Force fighter-bombers were stacked up waiting for their 
turn to go in. The Viet Cong dug deep into foxholes with over- 
head cover and used the roadside drainage ditches as fire lanes. 
The 1st Infantry Division prepared to move three reaction bat- 
talions into the battle the 2d of the 2d Infantry by road, the 
1st of the 28th Infantry by air, and the 1st of the 18th Infantry 
overland. The latter immediately set out on a difficult cross-jun- 
gle trek that pitched them right into a web of Viet Cong for- 
tifications. The soldiers of the 18th Infantry, just back from nearly 
two months of swamp combat, started doggedly fighting their 
way forward. 5 Meanwhile action in the ambush site continued 
unabated, and the VC swarmed out to charge the stranded ve- 
hicles. One tank and four armored personnel carriers were com- 
pletely destroyed, and many others were crippled by this time, 
The other tanks replied with devastating canister fire. 

The 1st Battalion of the 28th Infantry had been moving par- 
allel to the road to reinforce but had also run into strong de- 
fensive works. The 1st Battalion of the 16th Infantry was now 
brought forward to try to close a ring around the battle area. 

5. The 18th Infantry was organized for Civil War duty in July 1861, at Camp 
Thomas, Ohio. After campaigning in that war with Sherman through Atlanta 
and the southern heartland, it went to Wyoming. It was posted back south 
for a ten-year span of occupation duty and returned west to Montana in 1879. 
It later fought in the Spanish-American War, in the Visayas during the Phil- 
ippine Insurrection, and in the Soissons Offensive in World War I. It was 
one of the traditional regiments of the 1st Infantry Division. 



THE CENTRAL FRONT 107 



In a sharp engagement in the forested tangle of undergrowth, 
its commander, Lt. Col. Rufus G. Lazzell, was wounded. The 
2d Battalion, 2d Infantry, finally closed the area by road march. 
They then discovered the dust had completely clogged their new 
M16s, and cursed the absence of their old trusted M14 rifles. 
The Viet Cong, however, had failed to overwhelm the column 
and were now rapidly retreating from the battlefield. The heavy 
jungle enabled their escape from a tightening ring of advancing 
American infantry struggling in from different directions. By the 
next day the battle had faded into a series of inconsequential 
running skirmishes. 

The 9th VC Division moved into well-concealed base areas 
and was rebuilt with North Vietnamese Army replacements. In 
early November it moved back around Michelin plantation, west 
of Tay Ninh, where it planned to attack the Special Forces camp 
at Suoi Da and other targets in the province. Instead it collided 
into the 196th Infantry Brigade (Light), which happened to be 
in the area searching for Viet Cong rice and sundry supplies 
under a new concept being called search and destroy. The en- 
suing battle, fought through the snarled thickets of War Zone 
C, highlighted both Operation ATTLEBORO and the Army's 
1966 campaign in III Corps Tactical Zone. 

Operation ATTLEBORO had been initiated by Brig. Gen. 
Edward H. DeSaussure's light infantry brigade with a single 
battalion air assault by the 2d Battalion, 1st Infantry, on Sep- 
tember 14, 1966. Only light contact resulted, and the brigade 
shifted its attention to operations around Dau Tieng. A month 
later,, on October 19, the brigade reentered the area to look for 
more supply caches. The next day considerable quantities of rice 
were discovered and continued probing uncovered even larger 
amounts. Acting on documents found in a sweep of the Ten Cui 
plantation on the last day of the month, the 196th moved jnto 
deeper woods. The attached 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, had its 
Company C cut off in high elephant grass after it had landed 
uneventfully but then stumbled into the 9th Reconnaissance 
Company of the 9th VC Division on November 3. 

Moving down a trail through gnarled jungle forest to aid 
Company C, Company A itself ran into a well-concealed bunker 
line. It was suddenly engulfed in a furious hail of machine-gun 



108 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



and rocket fire that took down scores of Americans, wiped out 
radio contact, and prevented anyone from reaching them. After 
several hours of hard fighting, the company continued its push 
forward. These clashes of November 3 rapidly absorbed the 
available reinforcements (both battalions of the .attached 27th In- 
fantry "Wolfhounds" from the 25th Infantry Division), and by 
the next day all American companies on the operation were en- 
gaged in heavy fighting. 

November 4 brought increasing action. The 1st Battalion of 
the 27th Infantry was engaged in a grisly, sustained battle for 
survival. By afternoon its commander, Maj. Guy S. Meloy III, 
had been wounded, and Company A fought for its positions 
against three major frontal assaults. Lt. Col. William C. Barott, 
who had just taken over the sister 2d Battalion of the 27th In- 
fantry that August 22, was killed leading a squad in an attempt 
to link up the battalions. A full company of his battalion had 
been isolated and surrounded by Viet Cong regulars. When 
medical evacuation helicopters descended into the shattered lines 
after dark, they flicked on landing lights. An immediate mortar 
attack resulted. Major Meloy angrily told them to come in blind 
and land by flashlight or wait until morning. The response from 
the helicopter pilots was typical of their dedication: the landings 
were made blind. 

Shortly after midnight the Suoi Cau Regional Force camp 
was attacked by the 272d VC Regiment. Bangalore torpedoes 
and satchel charges were carried in a pitched charge, but the 
assault was repulsed. The 196th Infantry Brigade command post 
was also plastered by mortar fire. The Wolfhounds held on as 
combat renewed on November 5. Six massed Viet Cong frontal 
assaults surged out of fortified bunker lines to crash against the 
1st Battalion, 27th Infantry. Infantrymen of the brigade's 2d 
Battalion, 1st Infantry, and 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry, navi- 
gated toward the 27th Infantry by the sound and smoke of bat- 
tle. By now the 70th 9 271st and 272d VC Regiments and the 
101st NVA Regiment were in action. Losses were mounting, and 
help was needed at once. 

The 1st Infantry Division dispatched a battalion, then a rein- 
forced brigade, and by moving all night managed to assemble 
near Dau Tieng. It took over direction of the battle and sent 
two of its own brigades into action on November 6, keeping 




The elite 1st Squadron of the 9th Cavalry, the aerial reconnaissance 
arm of the 1st Cavalry Division, picks up troopers in Quang Ngai 
Province during summer operations north of the Bong Son Plains on 
June 9, 1967. Helicopter is a Bell Huey. (U.S. Army) 




The hazards of aeromedical evacuation clearly demonstrated by the 
loss of this Bell Huey helicopter during 25th Infantry Division oper- 
ations in Long An Province on September 26, 1966. (U.S. Army) 




A fo#at;t/ Zi/t CH54 Sky crane helicopter prepares to pick up a 5-ton 
truck loaded with equipment for movement with the 101st Airborne 
Division (Airmobile). (U.S. Army) 




Powerful gunship support to ground troops was offered by rocket- 
firing AH-1G Cobra helicopters such as this one from the 1st Squad- 
ron of the 10th Cavalry (4th Infantry Division) west of Ban Me Thuot. 

(Army News Features) 




Tfte Bflfo of Minh Thanh Road, fought July 9, 1966, by the 1st In- 
fantry Division, was one of the years roughest encounters. The downed 
CH47 helicopter mentioned in the text is clearly seen after force-land- 
ing on the roadway. (Author's Collection) 




Armored Personnel Carriers of the 2d Battalion, 2d Infantry, move 
up to reinforce the Battle of Minh Thanh Road on July 9, 1966. (Au- 
thor's Collection) 




Marines of the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines, struggle up "Mutters Ridge" 
(Nui Cay Tre) during Operation PRAIRIE in September, 1966. One 
Marine carries forward a rocket round while his comrades work their 
radio and compass in the heat of action. (U.S. Marine Corps) 






















Casualties are lifted out on the double by the 2d Battalion, 7th Ma- 
rines, after combat near Due Pho on December 30, 1966. (U.S. Ma- 
rine Corps) 



THE CENTRAL FRONT 109 



another in reserve. The 3d Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division 
and the 173d Airborne Brigade (reinforced by two ARVN bat- 
talions) also arrived, and the 25th Infantry Division moved up 
to screen. With such overwhelming concentration of force now 
mustered on the scene, the 9th VC Division refused further 
combat and retreated west. By November 15, contacts were 
sputtering out, and late that month Operation ATTLEBORO, 
the harbinger of things to come, was over. 

For the hastily deployed 196th Infantry Brigade, diverted at 
the last minute from its expected Caribbean duty, Operation 
ATTLEBORO had been a particularly rough initiation to full- 
scale Vietnam combat. By the closing days of the battle, MACV 
reluctantly came to the conclusion that the brigade had "cracked," 
posted Brigadier General DeSaussure to field force artillery, and 
appointed Brig. Gen. Richard T. Knowles to command of the 
196th on November 14, 1966. The American Army, forced to 
rush more and more units into Vietnam without the benefit of 
orderly mobilization planning or reserve component assistance, 
was already beginning to show signs of strain under fire. 

2. Battles for Jungles, Valleys, and Plains 

The twelve provinces of II Corps Tactical Zone remained 
untamed, and a host of operations were unleashed on the region 
during the year. These were designed to safeguard installations 
and to secure the national priority area of Binh Dinh Province. 
Some, conducted in the thick bamboo and forested slopes of 
rugged mountain valleys, would result in bloody battles of great 
violence. 

Maj. Gen. Harry W. O. Kinnard's 1st Cavalry Division (Air- 
mobile), stationed at Camp Radcliff outside An Khe, was or- 
dered to clear four important valleys located along the coastal 
plains of northeastern Binh Dinh Province. Reinforced by the 
ARVN Airborne Brigade, 22d ARVN Division, and the 1st Reg- 
iment of the Korean Capital Division, Col. Harold G. Moore 
Jr.'s 3d Brigade entered combat there on January 25. It was 
followed by the 2d and, later, 1st brigades. On February 4, Op- 
eration MASHER was redubbed WHITE WING to mollify 
President Johnson's concern over public opinion. Militarily it 
would become known as the Bong Son campaign. 

For forty-two days the First Team division hopped across 



110 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



the mountain ridges crowding the South China Sea, the waves 
of helicopters depositing battalions of cavalrymen into sandy for- 
tified villages and lush, verdant jungle strongholds. In marginal 
weather typified by driving rain, skirmishes abounded, and the 
2d VC and 18th and 22d NVA Regiments fought with determi- 
nation against the aerial onslaught. Company C of the 2d Bat- 
talion, 7th Cavalry, air-assaulted January 28 into a hamlet-stud- 
ded landing zone at Phung Du. It was quickly pinned by a vicious 
cross fire from a battalion of entrenched Viet Cong, and its sis- 
ter company, Company A already decimated by the loss of forty- 
two members killed in a C-123 aircraft crash on the operation's 
first day at Deo Mang Pass had a hard time getting across an 
intervening rice paddy. The next morning both companies had 
to be bailed out by the 2d Battalion of the 12th Cavalry. Mas- 
sive heavy artillery barrages using delayed fuses and tear gas 
were employed to root out such entrenched village defenders. 

On the morning of February 15, Company B of the 2d Bat- 
talion, 7th Cavalry, encountered opposition along a jungle-banked 
stream off the Soui Run River in the Son Long Valley. Two 
platoons were rapidly locked in an escalating firefight against 
entrenched and well-camouflaged positions. As artillery and aer- 
ial bombing runs were directed on the defensive works, the 
company's 3d Platoon fixed bayonets and prepared to attack. Just 
before noon, as the shuddering echoes of the last bomb explo- 
sions reverberated through the battered landscape, the signal 
was given and the men stood up and bounded forward. At a 
point only forty yards from the VC line they surged together at 
a dead run, yelling at the top of their lungs, their bayonets 
gleaming starkly in the sunlight. The unnerved Viet Cong broke 
and ran into a lethal cross fire laid down by the supporting pla- 
toons. Their position was quickly rolled up. 

The operation was terminated on March 6, 1966, as the di- 
vision completed its full circle of airmobile sweeps around Bong 
Son to arrive back in the Cay Giap Mountains. As a grand finale 
cavalrymen rappelled on ropes and clambered down Chinook 
helicopter-launched Jacob's ladders, dropped through holes 
bombed out of the jungle canopy of this suspected mountain 
fortress. The NVA had already left the vicinity, but the division 
was destined to return several times throughout the year in Op- 



THE CENTRAL FRONT 111 



erations DAVY CROCKETT, CRAZY HORSE, IRVING, and 
THAYER. 

The other American formations in the zone, the 3d Brigade 
of the 25th Infantry Division at Pleiku and the 1st Brigade of 
the 101st Airborne Division near Tuy Hoa, were also active. 
The former dallied northwest of Ban Me Thuot in the Darlac 
Plains during Operation GARFIELD, instituted shortly after its 
arrival in Vietnam, and then struck west toward the Chu Pong 
Mountains on the Cambodian border. Already General West- 
moreland had requested permission to maneuver troops around 
this range and into Cambodia to block escape avenues, but was 
refused. Now I Field Force, Vietnam, requested permission again 
to employ this option for Operation PAUL REVERE. In view 
of State Department sentiments on widening the war, MACV 
decided against making a further request to Washington. There 
would be no major Cambodian incursions until 1970. 

Operation PAUL REVERE was initiated by the brigade on 
May 10, 1966, to counter possible NVA offensive activities dur- 
ing the southwest monsoon season against Special Forces border 
camps at Due Co and Plei Me, It was the first time large Amer- 
ican units had entered the Chu Pong-la Drang River area since 
the campaign of 1965. The 1st "Yellow Star' NVA Division was 
all around the U.S. forces, but resorted to long-range obser- 
vation and light contact. On June 24, the 1st Battalion of the 
35th Infantry got into a heavy firefight, but disengaged due to 
the proximity of the international border. A platoon of Company 
B, of the same battalion, which had been further divided into 
patrols, was surrounded and cut up in early July, A mechanized 
assault with armored personnel carriers enabled the rest of the 
company to combine into one defensive perimeter. Survivors from 
both patrols were extracted with help of liberal artillery and air 
power. On August 1, the 1st Cavalry Division was called in to 
assist and Operation PAUL REVERE II began, later followed 
by III and IV. 

The elite 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division com- 
bined with the tough Korean 2d "Blue Dragon" Marine Brigade 
to protect the Tuy Hoa rice plains as the Korean Capital Di- 
vision closed its last elements into Qui Nhon. In May, Brig. 
Gen. Willard Pearson's paratroopers scoured the vicinity around 



112 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Phan Thiet, but contacts were negligible. Minus a battalion (the 
2d of the 327th Infantry operating around Tuy Hoa), the air- 
borne brigade was moved west into Kontum Province to begin 
Operation HAWTHORNE on June 2. The brigade mission was 
to withdraw the Tou Morong Regional Force outpost back to 
Dak To. 

The separate 24th NVA Regiment had the locality completely 
surrounded; a normal pullout was impossible. The 1st Battalion 
of the 327th Infantry (Airborne) was helicoptered northeast of 
Tou Morong, and the 1st Battalion of the 42d ARVN Regiment 
and the 21st ARVN Ranger Battalion fought past moderate re- 
sistance by June 6 to rescue the garrison and truck them out. 
This left the battalion of the 327th Infantry (Airborne) alone at 
the abandoned camp that evening, with a detached company 
and artillery battery farther out 2 1/2 miles away in the adjacent 
jungle. 6 

The detached company was commanded by Capt. William 

5. Carpenter, Jr., who in West Point had been an All- American 
football player nicknamed the Lonesome End. Beginning on the 
evening of June 6, his company was attacked with mortar and 
grenade fire, and waves of NVA regulars incessantly stormed his 
positions. The situation rapidly worsened and Captain Carpenter 
called in air strikes on his positions. Fighter-bombers streaked 
down to blast the jungle battlefield with rolling, exploding balls 
of napalm. Americans and North Vietnamese alike were singed 
and burned in the blazing inferno, but the NVA assault was 
defeated, By 8:45 on the morning of June 7, the NVA had pulled 
back. 7 

The rest of the 1st Battalion of the 327th Infantry (Airborne) 

6. The 327th Infantry (Airborne) was the "Bastogne Bulldogs," a title officially 
bestowed by the Army in recognition of its defense of the encircled town of 
Bastogne during the German Ardennes counteroffensive in December 1944. 
It was considered one of the finest units in the United States Army. The 
327th Infantry had been originally formed for World War I duty in Septem- 
ber 1917, at Camp Gordon, Georgia, and served in the St. Mihiel, Meuse- 
Argonne, and Lorraine campaigns. It was reorganized in August 1942 as a 
glider infantry regiment, and after World War II as a paratrooper unit. 

7. Capt. ? William S. Carpenter later received the Distinguished Service Cross, 
America's second-highest award for valor, for his heroism. 



THE CENTRAL FRONT 113 



formed two columns and plunged into the twisted jungle to cut 
through to the isolated company. Immediately they ran into well- 
entrenched NVA soldiers. The 2d Battalion of the 502d Infantry 
(Airborne), in reserve at Dak To, was air-assaulted to the north 
and closed into the battlefield. To ensure better odds against 
the North Vietnamese regiment, the 1st Battalion of the 5th 
Cavalry and a provisional brigade paratrooper company were in- 
serted into the action, as well as a rifle company from the 2d 
Battalion, 327th Infantry (Airborne), flown in from Tuy Hoa. 
Unrelenting combat continued against the tropical earthworks as 
the combined forces hacked through tangled undergrowth to take 
out NVA strong-points one at a time. A total of 463 air strikes 
were delivered around the clock. 

Trimming safety margins to a bare minimum, thirty-six stra- 
tegic B-52 bombing sorties were used. On June 13, the brigade 
dumped nine hundred CS gas grenades in the center of one 
North Vietnamese Army position. Then, for twenty-seven min- 
utes B-52 bombers pounded the target with high explosive bombs, 
which shook the entire jungle with their earth-shattering deto- 
nations. Within thirty minutes after the last bomb fell, the bri- 
gade was on top of the NVA lines and finished the killing task 
with rifles and axes. On June 20, 1966, as NVA resistance crum- 
bled and the regiment withdrew, Operation HAWTHORNE was 
ended. 

The 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Brigade, then turned its at- 
tention to coastal Phu Yen Province, securing the Vung Ro Bay 
vicinity during August and guarding the rice harvest around Tuy 
Hoa that September. Labeled Operations JOHN PAUL JONES 
and SEWARD, respectively, the latter would be marked by an- 
other company mishap. Operation SEWARD was typified by 
saturation patrolling through the mountainous jungles, rolling 
hills, sandy beaches, and rice paddies, and a lot of stay-behind 
night ambushing. On the night of September 17, the command 
post of Company B, 2d Battalion, 327th Infantry (Airborne) was 
suddenly overwhelmed by a surprise attack from an estimated 
VC company and overrun. Among the dead were the company 
commander, executive officer, and artillery observation officer. 

Maj. Gen. John Norton took over the 1st Cavalry Division 
on May 6, 1966, as Operation DAVY CROCKETT was under- 



114 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



way. It recombed the same area near Bong Son fought over in 
earlier Operation MASHER/WHITE WING. Again the NVA and 
VC offered resolute resistance, often entrenched or firing out of 
large, hardened clay anthills. This operation terminated May 16. 
The day previous, a local CIDG patrol had ambushed a Viet 
Cong mortar team, discovering plans for an attack against their 
Vinh Thanh Special Forces camp. Under threatening storm clouds 
the next day, the 2d Battalion of the 8th Cavalry air-assaulted 
its Company B into a patch of elephant grass on the highest 
nearby mountain. As it walked the ridgeline, the forward pla- 
toon suddenly had a squad overrun, and the company was rap- 
idly engulfed in combat. Operation CRAZY HORSE had begun. 

Capt. John D. Coleman's command group of Company B 
was also under fire as he tried to deploy more men to assist 3d 
Platoon, which was now in full retreat. Dead and wounded were 
all over the place, and local counterattacks to retrieve them were 
defeated by concentrated automatic weapons fire. A heavy 
downpour washed out the horizon, but two helicopters of the 
division's 2d Battalion, 20th Artillery, edged up the side of the 
mountain and discharged volleys of rockets just yards from the 
trapped company's collapsed perimeter. That broke the attack 
long enough for sister Company A to reach them after nightfall. 
Early next morning the position was blasted with recoilless rifle 
and grenade fire, and for two hours ground assaults closed the 
weakening lines. Only the approach of a relief column from 
Company C saved the force from ultimate annihilation. 

The 1st Cavalry Division had entered the most difficult ter- 
rain in the province. Steep forest-cloaked mountains peaked to 
razor-backed summits three thousand feet above sea level. Heli- 
copter landing zones were often suitable for only one craft at a 
time, and descents through the triple-canopy jungle resembled 
sudden elevator drops to the cavalrymen. Many insertions were 
made using Chinook helicopter Jacob's ladders. The big prob- 
lem was determining how long such operations were beneficial. 
Though it was obvious the Viet Cong were there, the division 
would shut down the operation on June 5. Moving on to Kon- 
tum and Phu Yen Provinces, it would leave Binh Dinh Province 
until fall. 

On September 18, the 1st Cavalry Division returned to Binh 



THE CENTRAL FRONT 115 



Dinh Province. It commenced activities there in Operations 
THAYER I and II, and IRVING. The latter was aimed at clear- 
ing out the Phu Cat Mountain area, and the THAYER series 
kept pressure on the 5th NVA Division. These operations would 
continue to spark heavy combat in Binh Dinh Province through- 
out the rest of 1966. One of the fiercest battles occurred when 
the 22d NVA Regiment nearly overran the 1st Cavalry Division's 
Landing Zone Bird on December 27. 

Landing Zone Bird was established as an artillery support 
site southwest of Bong Son. It contained two howitzer batteries 
and a depleted company of infantry recovering from intense pre- 
Christmas combat. 8 The uneasy Christmas Truce of December 
24-26 was spent with the knowledge that the NVA was planning 
something for immediately after the truce, and both batteries 
had been warned of impending attack. As a result, December 
26 had been spent firing blindly at the surrounding palm trees 
in an effort to break up possible troop concentrations. 

The North Vietnamese soldiers crawled up to edge of the 
landing zone's perimeter by evading two outposts, slicing the 
thin wires leading to command-detonated claymore mines, and 
silently defusing trip flares. At one o'clock on the rainy morning 
of December 27, they surged forward with fixed bayonets as a 
concentrated mortar barrage smothered the American positions 
under the swift impact of multiple explosions. The NVA quickly 
overran the cavalry lines and charged into the gun positions, 
where combat was hand-to-hand. Several howitzer crews were 
overpowered making last stands around their weapons, and the 
defenders were forced back to final defensive positions around 
the three remaining howitzers. At that point a battery executive 
officer fired two Beehive rounds point-blank into a dense throng 
of NVA preparing to charge. 9 That stopped the assault, and the 
North Vietnamese retreated as helicopters arrived overhead and 
began dropping flares. 

8. Units stationed at LZ Bird were Battery C, 6th Battalion, 16th Artillery 
(155mm); Battery B, 2d Battalion, 19th Artillery (105mm), and Company C, 
1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry. 

9. The Beehive was a 105mm shell composed of 8,500 steel flechettes. De- 
signed after the Korean War to stop massed infantry assaults, its powerful 
burst maimed and killed in a most devastating manner. 



116 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



The action had lasted one hour, but LZ Bird was in sham- 
bles and losses had been severe. While all three units were later 
presented the Presidential Unit Citation in light of the remark- 
able valor displayed against overwhelming odds, larger ques- 
tions of adequate security and preparation remained unsettled. 
The American Army ended its 1966 campaign on a somber note, 
and similar incidents continued to plague its performance for 
the duration of the Vietnam War. Military laxity and combat 
inexperience, the latter a product of the one-year tour policy, 
continued to invite surprise attack. In many such cases, total 
disaster was only averted by superior artillery munitions and 
readily available air support. 



CHAPTER 8. 



THE NORTHERN FRONT 



1. The Marine Offensive 

The Marine 1966 campaign was centered around the defense of 
the three northern I Corps Tactical Zone base enclaves of Chu 
Lai; Phu Bai, outside Hue; and Da Nang. The Marines were 
also actively engaged in combat operations in Quang Ngai Prov- 
ince just south of Chu Lai and, as more reinforcements arrived 
during the year, guarding the Demilitarized Zone in upper Quang 
Tri Province against North Vietnamese Army units moving south 
across the border. During the year the security of the Marine 
zone would be jeopardized by a large South Vietnamese upris- 
ing in I Corps Tactical Zone against the Saigon regime, and the 
loss of key Special Forces camps on the western frontier. 

The Marines initiated the campaign from its Chu Lai base 
enclave, which was garrisoned by two reinforced regiments, the 
4th Marines and the 7th Marines. The area surrounding Chu 
Lai was a Viet Cong stronghold and contained at least two North 
Vietnamese Army divisions, the 2d, to the west, and the 3d, to 
the south. The Marines assembled a three-battalion amphibious 
strike force to move into Quang Ngai Province just below Chti 
Lai in conjunction with the 2d ARVN Division. The operation 
was coded DOUBLE EAGLE. It was to be launched as part of 
MACV's converging efforts to entrap large NVA and VC forces 
in a vise between the Marines and the ongoing Army 1st Cav- 
alry Division/22d ARVN Division operations in the next prov- 
ince to the south, Binh Dinh. 

117 



118 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



The battle started on the Marine front on January 10. The 
1st Force Reconnaissance Company, searching the extremely 
rugged western portion of the upcoming operational area, fought 
a savage jungle action on Hill 829. As a result DOUBLE EA- 
GLE was launched on the sullen, rainy, overcast day of January 
28, Landing craft buffeted by heavy seas unloaded two Marine 
battalions on the rocky sand coast at Thach Tru, twenty miles 
south of Quang Ngai. Huge bow-doored LST landing ships nosed 
onto the beach in worsening weather as amtracs and dozers, 
half-buried by mounds of sand, struggled to discharge their cargo. 
Two days later the Marine Special Landing Force battalion was 
helicoptered off the rolling decks of the USS Vattey Forge (LPH- 
8) into an old French fort five miles west of the beaches. 1 

The Marines moved inland through punji-filled gullies and 
steep forested slopes, their rain ponchos draped over flak vests. 
The operation was hampered by foul weather, which prohibited 
the widespread use of helicopters until it cleared toward the 
end of February. The ponchos disappeared. Sleeves were rolled 
up and extra canteens were strapped onto web belts. The Ma- 
rines then split into helicopter search teams, which bounded 
from hilltop to hilltop, striking deep into suspected Viet Cong 
regions of southeastern Quang Ngai Province. Sniper fire was 
intermittent as the Marines toiled up grassy knolls, bent under 
the weight of mortar baseplates and tubes, recoilless rifles, and 
ammunition shells strapped to their packboards. At the begin- 
ning of March, after weeks of frustrating searches and few solid 
contacts, DOUBLE EAGLE was terminated. 

The Marine enclave at Da Nang had been heavily mortared 
at the end of January. The Marines stationed at Phu Bai saw 
hard fighting barely a month later. A composite Marine battal- 
ion known as Task Unit Hotel (built around the 2d Battalion, 
1st Marines) had been formed there as a special reserve for the 



1. In the early years of Marine involvement in Vietnam, battalions from dif- 
ferent regiments were often put together in composite task forces. The sea- 
landed battalions were the 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, and the 2d Battalion, 
4th Marines. The 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, was serving as the Special Land- 
ing Force. Part of a fourth Marine battalion, the 2d Battalion of the 9th Ma- 
rines, was moved in to search B-52 bomber strike areas after the weather 
cleared several days later. 



THE NORTHERN FRONT 119 



1st ARVN Division in nearby Hue. On the evening of its ac- 
tivation, the division had scrambled the unit into an emergency 
night heliborne air assault on an objective that proved deserted. 
In less than twenty-four hours, on the night of February 27, the 
South Vietnamese were calling again for its immediate employ- 
ment. A battalion of the 3d ARVN Regiment was in the thick 
of battle with the 810th VC Battalion on "pacified" Phu Thu 
Peninsula, just outside Phu Bai, and needed help. The Marines, 
tired and hungry, had just returned to their base when they 
were alerted for a second night air assault. They wearily shuffled 
back to their helicopters, silhouetted in the glare of airfield 
floodlights. The mechanical birds lifted vertically into the dark- 
ness and then set down just two miles away under the illumi- 
nation of multicolored flares. Operation NEW YORK was on. 

It was two o'clock in the morning of February 28 as the 
Marines arrived on the battlefield. The South Vietnamese troops 
stepped aside; they were assigned blocking positions. The three 
Marine companies formed up in one frontal skirmish line and 
began moving across the peninsula's powdery sand, sparse grass, 
and pine barrens. The Marines on the right began taking sniper 
fire, which was mixed with a rising crescendo of mortars, ma- 
chine guns, and rocket grenades. The Viet Cong, who were dug 
into strong defensive positions, held their fire until Marine squads 
had advanced nearly on top of them. Then they cut loose with 
a heavy dosage of bullets and grenades that sent the exhausted 
Marines into the dirt. The depleted groups of Marines returned 
fire, called in artillery and fighter-bombers, and slowly crawled 
forward to clean out the opposing weapons nests. 

Bunker after bunker was methodically assaulted. The ex- 
pertly camouflaged, earth-level logworks were arranged in a maze 
of mutually supporting positions, which often caught advancing 
Marines in lethal cross fires. The Marines discovered the bunk- 
ers extended to a depth equal to the length of two football fields. 
As the artificially lighted night faded into a murky, smoking dawn, 
the VC battalion withdrew. The operation dwindled to sporadic 
contacts as the peninsula was searched for another week. 

The Marines began encountering North Vietnamese Army 
infantrymen in early March south of the Chu Lai base. Several 
Marine battalions were air-assaulted into Operation UTAH, 



120 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



northwest of Quang Ngai city, after South Vietnamese para- 
troopers had helicoptered into a hot landing zone brisk with ma- 
chine-gun fire on March 4. More Marine and ARVN reinforce- 
ments finally forced the 36th NVA Regiment to retreat after a 
hard two-day battle. 2 

Another battle, Operation TEXAS, was triggered on March 
19 in the same area when the 1st VC Regiment attacked the 
South Vietnamese Regional Force outpost of An Hoa, just fif- 
teen miles south of Chu Lai. Marine helicopters became in- 
volved immediately, delivering ARVN reinforcements and evac- 
uating wounded. By evening it appeared doubtful that An Hoa 
could hold through the night. Nevertheless, plans were made 
to reinforce the garrison with Marines and paratroopers at first 
light, After dawn on March 20, the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, 
and the 5th ARVN Airborne Battalion were landed and went 
into action. When the Viet Cong started withdrawing, the 2d 
Battalion of the 4th Marines was quickly helicoptered south of 
the fort to intercept, The VC were sandwiched between the al- 
lied units and largely decimated in the ensuing battle. 

2. Trouble in I Corps Tactical Zone 

The mobile Marine success in rapidly eliminating NVA/VC 
threats against vital areas on the northern front was countered 
by two crises in early spring. The most serious was caused by 
the South Vietnamese and imperiled all American efforts in the 
northern five provinces. 

In April 1966, political violence and civil disorders erupted 
in Hue and Da Nang due to Premier Ky's dismissal of Major 
General Thi, the result of severely strained relations between 
Saigon and I Corps Tactical Zone. Near the large Marine bases 
there were riots, demonstrations, and confrontations between 
Vietnamese that verged on combat. Not far distant, South Viet- 
namese regular military units refused orders and exchanged fire 
with other South Vietnamese Army units. The 1st ARVN Di- 
vision, long considered the second-best division in Saigon's in- 



2. Marines engaged, in order of insertion, were the 2d Battalion, 7th Ma- 
rines; 3d Battalion, 1st Marines; 2d Battalion, 4th Marines; 1st Battalion, 7th 
Marines; and a company of 2d Battalion, 7th Marines. 



THE NORTHERN FRONT 121 



ventory (the Americans judged the ARVN Airborne Division as 
first), declared itself in sympathy with the antigovernment 
"struggle forces." To their shock and dismay, all United States 
advisors were pulled out. The division was out of the war for 
the time being. Divided South Vietnamese forces made moves 
and countermoves in the Da Nang vicinity. There was deep 
concern over the worsening situation at the highest levels in 
Washington. 

On April 9, South Vietnamese planes struck a dissident 
mechanized column moving toward Da Nang. This reckless act 
infuriated the Americans; the vital United States military facility 
was surrounded by anti-Saigon ARVN troops. The Marines insis- 
ted that the airfield not be used for such purposes, and the 
South Vietnamese Air Force resentfully consented. Meanwhile, 
the mechanized column was blocked from moving its 155mm 
howitzers within range of the Da Nang air base by a Marine 
truck deliberately blocking the bridge. The South Vietnamese 
gunners broke out ammunition and started fusing rounds. Their 
commander, Col. Dam Quang Yeu, was told that if he fired on 
the airfield, he would endanger American lives and Marine ar- 
tillery would fire on his artillery. By that time Marine rounds 
had been chambered and Marine F-8 Crusader jets were flying 
overhead. Colonel Yeu, a Harvard-educated officer very con- 
versant in English, threatened to fire. Marine Captain Reckew- 
ell replied, "I'll see those 155s and raise you two F-8s." After 
about an hour the Vietnamese leveled two howitzers at the truck 
blocking the bridge instead. The Marines then aimed the re- 
coilless rifles of two Ontos vehicles at the howitzers. After a 
brief but tense period, the ARVN gunners elevated their tubes. 
The incident was over. 

The political turmoil continued to affect adversely all Marine 
operations throughout the next three months. The Marines took 
an active part in defusing a number of potential flash points as 
the troubled weeks continued. Ammunition dumps and bridges 
became scenes of standoffs which were only settled by Marine 
intervention. During the March-June crisis, the Marines evac- 
uated American civilians once from Da Nang and twice from 
Hue. 

Heavy street fighting costing hundreds of lives erupted in 



122 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Da Nang on May 12, That same day the new III MAF com- 
mand headquarters was hit by eight South Vietnamese mortar 
rounds, wounding eight Marines. On May 21, the building was 
"accidentally" strafed by South Vietnamese aircraft. Six days later 
the United States Consulate in Hue was sacked and burned. 
These events proved to be the high-water marks of outward anti- 
American activity, and by June 19, continued organized resis- 
tance to the Saigon regime had collapsed. 

The North Vietnamese also forced the abandonment of sev- 
eral Army Special Forces camps along the western border, and 
wrested control of the A Shau Valley from the allies. Although 
the Marines initially considered this setback an "Army prob- 
lem," the NVA developed the remote region into an important 
staging base for strong incursions into the populated cities of I 
Corps Tactical Zone. MACV never regained control over the 
valley and in later years had to resort to massive raids contin- 
gent on favorable weather. Some of these became milestone hat- 
ties of the Vietnam War. 

The isolated A Shau Army Special Forces border surveil- 
lance camp was located two miles from Laos, in the southwest- 
ern corner of Thua Thien Province, It sat astride three major 
NVA infiltration routes leading east into the A Shau and A Loui 
valleys. The only inhabitants in the region were highly secretive 
and hostile Katu tribesmen. Tbe camp and its Operations De- 
tachment A-102 had always been in imminent danger. The South 
Vietnamese LLDB had already abandoned two nearby camps at 
A Loui and Ta Bat on December 8, 1965. 

The A Shau Special Forces camp was surrounded by old 
minefields, long since overgrown by the dense, eight- and twelve- 
foot high elephant grass that covered the entire valley floor. Steep 
jungle-covered mountains towered above to disappear into a vault 
of rain-swollen clouds, the parting storms of the monsoon sea- 
son. The camp was shrouded by thick ground fog in the morn- 
ings. Patrols and overflights detected increasing NVA buildup 
around the site, and the camp commander, Capt. John D. Blair 
IV, requested reinforcements. 5th Special Forces Group (Air- 
borne) headquarters at Nha Trang dispatched a mobile strike 
force company, which was flown into the compound on March 7. 



THE NORTHERN FRONT 123 



With them Captain Blair had exactly 434 people. 3 

In the morning darkness of March 9, just before 4 A.M., the 
carnp was blanketed by a heavy and accurate mortar barrage 
which lasted for two and a half hours. The Special Forces team 
house, supply area, and water supply were blown to pieces. 
Communication was temporarily lost. Casualties had been heavy; 
a quick count tallied ten dead, including two Special Forces ser- 
geants, and forty-seven wounded. Two companies of North Viet- 
namese regulars stormed the south wall a half hour after the 
mortaring started, but they had been quickly repulsed by heavy 
machine-gun fire. Sniper and mortar fire continued through the 
gloomy daylight. 

Since A Shau was beyond the range of friendly artillery, the 
camp defenders had to rely on air support. Heavy antiaircraft 
fire and marginal visibility made this extremely difficult, An Air 
Force AC-47 "Puff the Magic Dragon" fire support plane was 
shot down in flames that day. Two light observation planes man- 
aged to fly through the low cloud ceiling to attempt an emer- 
gency ammunition resupply and medical evacuation. They took 
intense ground fire and were only able to get one wounded master 
sergeant out. Two UH-34 Marine helicopters also got into the 
camp, but one was hit in the oil line and crashed. The other 
Marine helicopter picked up the downed crew and managed to 
whisk them away to safety. Three resupply drops were made by 
CV-2 Caribou aircraft, but the parachutes drifted both inside 
and outside the camp. Recovery parties, braving constant au- 
tomatic weapons fire, were only able to retrieve part of the pre- 
cious water and ammunition that had fallen beyond the wire. 
Just before dark an Air Force CH-3 helicopter lifted out twenty- 
six more wounded. 

The overcast night sky of March 10 was lit by continuous 
flares. Then, at four o'clock in the morning the camp received 
another pasting from extremely accurate mortar and close-in 

3. The camp defense strength was 17 Army Special Forces members, 51 ci- 
vilians, 6 LLDB, 7 interpreters, 143 indigenous Mike Force, and 210 CIDG. 
Of this total, 172 would be known dead, 248 missing or presumed dead, and 
the rest wounded. As the Katu tribesmen were all Viet Cong, Captain Blair's 
CIDG company members were not natives of the area. 



124 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



57mm recoilless rifle fire. Most structures were leveled, and over 
half the defenders' mortars and machine guns were knocked out. 
One hour later, a massive NVA ground assault swept across the 
runway and onto the east wall. The south wall was hit at the 
same time, Many CIDG company irregulars manning the south- 
east corner of the perimeter suddenly turned their weapons on 
their Special Forces sergeants and other camp defenders. The 
Americans and Mike Force soldiers made a fighting withdrawal 
to the north wall and communications bunker, a hard three-hour 
struggle in which they fought hand to hand against both North 
Vietnamese regulars and former Vietnamese comrades. 

Armed with machine guns, M16 rifles, and two mortars, the 
camp survivors defeated another mass attack on the bunker that 
came at 8:30 A.M. Captain Blair was forced to request bombing 
and strafing of the entire camp, including the American bunk- 
ered strong-point. Although a heavy volume of ground and mor- 
tar fire continued to blast the remaining Special Forces portion 
of the compound, the ground attacks stopped. The Special Forces 
and Mike Force soldiers then made several local counterattacks 
to regain the southern wall but were defeated. By afternoon it 
was apparent the camp was lost. The cornered defenders not 
only lacked the ability to retake lost areas, but their very sur- 
vival was questionable. They had been without sleep, food, or 
water for thirty-six hours, and their ammunition was about out. 

At three o'clock that afternoon Captain Blair decided A Shau 
would have to be abandoned. Marine helicopters made a har- 
rowing rescue approach underneath the cloud bank and im- 
mediately came under intense ground fire. Two helicopters were 
shot out of the sky, and twenty-one of the twenty-four others 
were so badly shot up they later had to be scrapped. 

An ugly episode awaited them on the ground. The South 
Vietnamese panicked, dropped their weapons, and stormed the 
descending helicopters, trampling over the wounded. The hys- 
terical pack of Vietnamese reached the craft and started clawing 
and shoving among themselves to get on. One wounded Amer- 
ican was yanked out of a helicopter and thrown to the ground. 
The Special Forces began clubbing them with rifle butts in or- 
der to restore order. Finally both Army Special Forces and Ma- 
rine crewmen began firing into the mob. Sixty men were evac- 



THE NORTHERN FRONT 125 



uated that day, including seven downed Marine airmen and one 
Special Forces defender. 

The next morning the Marine helicopters returned to lift out 
more of the camp personnel. Another panic-stricken South Viet- 
namese dash ensued. It ended when one of them pitched a gre- 
nade into a mass of struggling fellow soldiers, killing ten in the 
explosion. By March 12, the rescue mission was over, having 
taken out 186, mostly wounded, defenders. Marine helicopters 
scouring the camp and vicinity for another few days could not 
locate any further survivors. 

3. Guarding the DMZ 

The Marines were soon forced to focus attention on the crit- 
ical military situation developing along the Demilitarized Zone. 
In July the 324B NVA Division moved across the Ben Hai River 
into Quang Tri, the northernmost province of South Vietnam. 
The thrust of Marine combat activity now shifted from the 
southern tip of Quang Ngai Province north to the DMZ almost 
250 miles away. Guarding this region would become a prime 
Marine mission, with large conventional formations confronting 
each other in reference to a fixed battle line. During 1966 the 
Marines resorted to mobile fire brigade tactics, sending units 
into action in response to specific intrusions. 

Both Quang Tri and Thua Thien provinces had been watched 
closely by the Marines for over a year. Rumors of large North 
Vietnamese Army formations infiltrating across the Demilitar- 
ized Zone had always been rampant, but evidence was lacking. 
Aft er W eeks of combat scouting by the 3d Reconnaissance Bat- 
talion, intelligence and captured documents confirmed the ac- 
tual presence of the NVA division. The Marines established a 
large forward base at Dong Ha on Route 9 and then helicop- 
tered forces into Cam Lo, near the seven-hundred-foot pinnacle 
of the Rock Pile. Six Marine and five ARVN battalions were 
propelled by sea and air into Operation HASTINGS, the largest 
combined offensive of the Vietnam War up to that time. 

Inside the twin-rotored Marine CH-46 helicopters approach- 
ing the Ngan River, rows of Marines adjusted helmet chin straps 
and equipment belts, and rechecked watches. They were from 



126 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 4th Marines. 4 It was nearly eight 
o'clock in the morning on July 15. Preceding them, Marine 
F-4 Phantom and A-4 Skyhawk aircraft made their final napalm 
bombing and strafing runs over the landing zones. 

The helicopters began descending into the Ngan Valley. As 
they set down, two collided, their blades spinning off to slice 
Marines in half as they scrambled out. Another helicopter 
smashed into a tree and yet another was suddenly flamed by 
ground fire, The place was christened Helicopter Valley. The 
3d Battalion pushed slowly through dense jungle and elephant 
grass in the sweltering tropical humidity. Company K was re- 
pulsed assaulting across the Song Be River, surrounded during 
the night and hit hard by repeated NVA ground assaults. For 
two days the two battalions relied on close Marine air strikes as 
heavy combat continued. 

On the afternoon of July 28, the Marines were leaving the 
valley. Foxholes had been filled in. Engineers, protected by 
Company K, were preparing to blow up the downed helicop- 
ters. Suddenly, after a brief but furious mortar barrage, a massed 
one thousand-man NVA human wave assault hit the Marines. 
Bugles rang through the air as hundreds of soldiers charged for- 
ward, Company K machine gunners and riflemen fired as fast 
as they could. The Marines could see banners falling above the 
tall grass as North Vietnamese flag bearers ran into the hail of 
bullets. 

Suddenly the khaki-clothed NVA infantrymen were in the 
Marine lines. Groups of bypassed Marines fell back in fire-team 
clusters that blazed a bloody pathway through swarms of NVA 



4. The 4th Marines were known as the China Marines, one of America's most 
colorful regiments, Formed in response to the 1914 Mexican Revolution, the 
4th Marine Regiment had been hurled into the Dominican Republic Civil 
War and then used as a special western U.S. Mail Guard force during the 
robbery epidemic of 1926. It was sent to Shanghai, China, the next year 
where it served until November 1941, becoming forever linked with guard 
duty at the American settlement and along the international barricades. The 
regiment was lost soon afterward at Bataan as Japanese forces captured the 
Philippine Islands. Reraised from the crack 1st Raider Regiment in February 
1944, the 4th Marines stormed Guam and fought on Okinawa. The regiment 
had been stationed at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, for ten years previous to its 
arrival in Vietnam in 1965. 



THE NORTHERN FRONT 127 



regulars, cutting down North Vietnamese officers who were 
blowing whistles and shouting orders. Company K bayoneted, 
clubbed, and shot its way back while carrying its wounded. Ma- 
rine dead had to be left where they fell. Company L doubled 
back to provide covering fire from high ground. The Marines 
called in artillery fire and directed napalm as close as fifty feet 
away to drive the NVA off. After a four-hour battle the rear 
guard Marines managed to retreat and join the two-battalion pe- 
rimeter of the 4th Marines. Helicopter Valley was abandoned. 

After the battle of July 28, the operation continued in a se- 
ries of hill fights and smaller skirmishes. Three more Marine 
battalions had reinforced the battleground, while the Seventh 
Fleet Special Landing Force secured the eastern seaward flank. 5 
All these battalions saw considerable action, and HASTINGS was 
ended on August 3 as further contacts with the 324B NVA Di- 
vision faded out. Three Marine battalions remained in the area 
to guard against reentry, and the North Vietnamese division at- 
tacked again. The battle went into a second round, which the 
Marines named Operation PRAIRIE. 

As action intensified in early September, the Marines added 
a fourth battalion to the PRAIRIE forces, increased their re- 
connaissance efforts, and again requested that the east flank be 
secured by amphibious assault. On September 16, 1966, the 
Special Landing Force, the 1st Battalion of the 26th Marines, 
reinforced by the 3d Reconnaissance Battalion, made heavy con- 
tact after coming ashore. The battle raged for seven days in the 
Cua Viet River valley just south of the DMZ. North Vietnamese 
Army fortifications, consisting of covered trenches, bunkers, and 
tunnels, were reduced by ground assault; air, artillery, and na- 
val gunfire; and direct fire from tanks. On one occasion three 
Marine companies launched a coordinated attack under a rolling 
barrage to envelop an NVA company. The Special Landing Force 
drove the NVA back across the Ben Hai River and the Marines 
reembarked on their warships on September 25. 

For the other battalions involved in Operation PRAIRIE, the 

5. The Special Landing Force, composed of the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, 
landed at Pho Hai. The 1st Marines sent in its 2d Battalion on July 16 and 
1st Battalion on July 20. The 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, was committed on 
July 22. 



128 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



latter half of September would be marked by violent battles 
ranging far into central and western Quang Tri, Maneuvering 
by helicopter and by foot, the Marines systematically isolated 
North Vietnamese groups defending well-prepared strong-points, 
One of the fiercest battles was the attack on Nui Cay Tre, de- 
fended by elements of the 324B NVA Division. The hill was 
nicknamed Mutter's Ridge by the Marines. On September 8, 
the 1st Battalion of the 4th Marines had just returned from Dong 
Ha to the Rockpile, where it relieved the 2d Battalion, 7th Ma- 
rines, on line. On September 15, two of the 4th Marines com- 
panies moved out in column toward the ridgeline, with Com- 
pany D at the front. 

Suddenly an ambush caught Company D halfway through its 
file. Men went down in a burst of grenade and automatic weap- 
ons fire. Other Marine platoons were shoved desperately into 
the fight as Companies B and D formed a defensive circle, dug 
in, and tried to carve out a landing zone. Captain McMahon 
radioed back, "We have 'em just where we want them, they're 
all around us!" The 2d Battalion of the 7th Marines managed to 
link up with the two companies on September 18, two and a 
half days later. 

Mutter's Ridge itself was assaulted on September 22. The 
3d Battalion of the 4th Marines was helicoptered in to the east 
and struggled for days through dank, vine-tangled triple-canopy 
jungle as it approached the heights. Bamboo forests rose to min- 
gle with trees eight feet in diameter, forming a solid ceiling of 
vegetation, which choked off sunlight. The Marines of point 
companies K and L had discarded all equipment except for their 
rifle, two canteens, one poncho, and socks stuffed with canned 
rations, which were crammed into their pockets. Working their 
way up the steep jungled slopes against dogged NVA .rear-guard 
resistance, the Marines managed to secure part of the ridge by 
September 26. 

Company K was counterattacked as it continued the advance 
on the morning of September 27. North Vietnamese infantry- 
men surged downhill into its lines. The Marines dropped be- 
hind bomb-blasted tree trunks, clinging onto branches to keep 
from slipping downhill themselves, and opened up at point-blank 
range. NVA riflemen tumbled down into the gulleys. Twisted 



THE NORTHERN FRONT 129 



clumps of scorched foliage broke their fall down the sheer slopes. 
Grenades careened down, bouncing madly into the air to spin 
into the Marine positions and explode. Machine guns tore splin- 
ters out of tattered logs and pitched them through bodies like 
wooden stakes. Marines draped with belts of ammunition fed 
chains of bullets into their machine guns, which were propped 
up at dizzy angles in order to fire uphill. After an hour of hard 
fighting the groups of NVA soldiers pulled back to their rein- 
forced bunkers, which were built flush into the ground. 

Heavy fighting continued for days as the Marines worked 
their way up the higher hills composing Mutter's Ridge, using 
a wall of advancing artillery to shield their methodical advance. 
On October 4, Company M of the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines, 
carried the crest of Mutter's Ridge in a sharp fight that ended 
at 1:30 that afternoon. The ridge was secured, but Operation 
PRAIRIE would continue into 1967. 

Marine operations along the Demilitarized Zone in 1966 had 
been characterized by a number of small unit engagements, with 
occasional large encounters. Well-trained and determined North 
Vietnamese regulars were pitted against Marine assault troops 
in locked combat. In each case the Marines had sent their NVA 
opponents retreating north with heavy losses into areas safe from 
pursuit. There they regrouped with fresh manpower and equip- 
ment before recrossing into South Vietnam. This pattern set the 
tone of the DMZ campaign, which would engage the Marines 
in continual combat until their departure from Vietnam. 



PART 




1967 



LAOS" 



NORTH VIETNAM 



3d Marine 
Division 
Tchepone 

Savannhakhet Route 9 

Khe Sanh 



Con 
Thien 



DMZ 

Dong Ha 

Carn^ ^vTham Khe 
Lo 



1st Cavalry 
Division 



Ubon 

9 

3rd Royal Thai 
Division 




ARVN Rainbow Division 
(Airborne) 



} Valley 

Highway 1 ' 



LAOS 



Saravane 
1st Cavalry 

Division it-* ^V 

Plateau des Bolovens \j 

4th Infantry /v 
Division MC 

Hill 875^ 



Chu Lai ' 



Quang Ngai 



, Hill 1338 

Dak To 





CAMBODIA 



Nam Sathay River 

Se San River 

Chu Coungot Chu Yam Mountains 
Projected Operations into Laos Due CO 

la Drang Valley 
KEY TO OPERATIONS 

1 - KLAMATH FALLS 

2 - FAIRFAX 

3 - ALA MOANA 

4 - CEDAR FALLS 

5 -JUNCTION CITY 

6 - ENTERPRISE 

7 - SAM HOUSTON 

8 - FRANCIS MARION 

9 - GREELEY 

10 - MACARTHUR 

11 -UNION 
12 -UNION II 



Plateau Gi 
Kontum 
Plei Djereng 
Pleiku 



la Muer Valley 



CAMBODIA ) SOUTH VIETNAM 



Tuy Hoa ( 



War Zone C 
Iron Triangle 



Dong 
SXoai 



13-MALHEUR 
14-PERSHING 



e*; 



Song Be 

War Zone D 



Highway 1 



/PhuocVinh| 





Highway 1 



scale miles 

Q Saigon 

Map by Shelby L. Stanton 



South Vietnam - 1967 



CHAPTER 9. 



THE YEAR OF THE BIG 
BATTLES 



1. 1967 Command Performance 

The new year arrived on a rising flood tide of American ground 
forces that had already tasted blood in the limited country-wide 
battles of 1966. These had culminated in the multibrigade No- 
vember confrontation in Tay Ninh Province during Operation 
ATTLEBORO. MACV already visualized that engagement as 
providing the key to large-scale destruction of North Vietnamese 
Army and Viet Cong main force units, and forged jumbo op- 
erational plans as the dominant pattern of strategy for the up- 
coming year. 

After a decade of military advisors to South Vietnam la- 
menting the absence of "just one good American battalion" dur- 
ing a multitude of preintervention battles between the ARVN 
and VC, General Westmoreland now had seven United States 
divisions, two paratrooper and two light infantry brigades, one 
armored cavalry regiment, and a reinforced Special Forces group. 1 
Two and a half Korean divisions and one mixed Australian-New 



1. The U.S. 1st and 3d Marine, 1st Cavalry, 1st, 4th, 9th, and 25th Infantry 
Divisions, the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division and the 173d Air- 
borne Brigade, the 196th and 199th Infantry Brigades (Light), the llth Ar- 
mored Cavalry Regiment, and the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). 

133 



134 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Zealand force added another excellent boost in combat power. 2 
The burgeoning South Vietnamese forces included eleven divi- 
sions, a number of separate units, and a welter of territorial 
forces, police forces, and the like. 3 He hoped to fuse this poly- 
glot military command into a blade honed to a fighting edge of 
American units. The very design of the MACV shoulder patch, 
which consisted of a white-bladed sword thrusting upwards 
through a red field to pierce a yellow wall, incorporated this 
symbolism. 4 General Westmoreland confidently looked forward 
to wielding this multitudinous force to open Highway 1, cam- 
paign along Vietnam's borders, neutralize War Zone C, disrupt 
War Zone D, eradicate the Iron Triangle, force NVA and main 
force VC contingents away from populated areas "into a vul- 
nerable posture," and police the South Vietnamese population. 
1967 would be the year of the big battles. 

II Field Force Vietnam, the headquarters with geographical 
responsibility for that slice of country including the targeted war 
zones and triangle area, planned to begin with a major excursion 
into War Zone C. After some last-minute wrangling over ob- 
jective areas, and against the advice of his 1st Infantry Division 
commander, Lieutenant General Jonathan O. Seaman substi- 
tuted a preliminary thrust into the Iron Triangle January 8-26. 
Dubbed Operation CEDAR FALLS, it represented the first 
corps-sized American mission of the war as well as the first ma- 

2. The Korean Capital and 9th Infantry divisions and 2d Marine Brigade, and 
the 1st Australian Task Force with a New Zealand artillery battery. 

3. The South Vietnamese regular military in July 1967 consisted of the Air- 
borne, 1st, 2d, 5th, 7th, 9th, 18th, 21st, 22d, 23d, and 25th Divisions, 42d 
Infantry Regiment (detached) and 51st Infantry Regiment (separate), Marine 
Brigade (six marine and one artillery battalions), Palace Guard (Brigade), 1st- 
10th Armored Cavalry Groups (redesignated from squadrons May 1 but still 
battalion-sized), twenty ranger battalions (llth, 21st-23d, 30th-39th, 41st- 
44th, 51st, 52d), six separate artillery battalions (34th-39th), and the LLDB 
Command, 

4. The pattern and colors of the MACV command insignia had been carefully 
chosen. They also reflected early American military sentiments; the impli- 
cations of "red" communist hordes and the "y e U w> ' wall of China being bla- 
tantly represented, 



THE YEAR OF THE BIG BATTLES 135 



jor combined U.S.-ARVN operation involving formal planning. 5 
While defoliants, bombings, and land-clearing Rome Plow doz- 
ers carved an extensive network of pioneer approaches for fu- 
ture area access, this ephemeral foray was insufficient to jeop- 
ardize continued Viet Cong utilization. 

Operation JUNCTION CITY, the move against War Zone C, 
was supposed to follow immediately on the heels of Operation 
CEDAR FALLS, but got off a month late. Finally begun on 
February 22, it was planned to remedy the deficiencies of its 
predecessor. To eliminate a repetition of the Viet Cong escape 
apparently managed through the cordon around the Iron Tri- 
angle, South Vietnamese presence was reduced (only four ARVN 
battalions being trusted to participate). To ensure more lasting 
and destructive results, it became a far larger and more ambi- 
tious search and destroy operation, lasting a quarter of the year. 

The militarily successful results of JUNCTION CITY had 
disturbing long-range strategic consequences. Aware that the in- 
violability of their base areas in South Vietnam had evaporated, 
the main force Viet Cong began moving their supply depots and 
headquarters into adjacent Cambodian sanctuaries. Instead of 
pushing the NVA/VC into the "vulnerable posture," as MACV 
had envisioned, the 9th VC Division had simply been pushed 
into Cambodia, where it was immune to any attack whatsoever. 
It joined the NVA division base areas already firmly entrenched 
along the Laotian and Cambodian sides of the Vietnamese bor- 
der, where refurbishment could be effected unimpeded. 

Rules of engagement for Cambodia and Laos remained strin- 
gent. While the Pentagon gave MACV permission to fire artil- 
lery against valid military targets inside Laos beginning Feb- 
ruary 23, only in emergency situations requiring force preservation 
could U.S. troops maneuver into these nations, and no Cam- 
bodian village or populated area could be attacked regardless. 

Both during and after the Vietnam War some senior officers 
felt that MACV should have been allowed the strategic ability 



5. South Vietnamese participation in CEDAR FALLS consisted of the 1st 
Airborne Brigade, elements of the 5th Division's 7th and 8th Regiments, and 
one ranger battalion. 



136 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



to pursue opposing conventional forces to their destruction, pre- 
venting their reappearance on South Vietnamese territory. Un- 
der the circumstances MACV remained hopelessly mired in a 
defensive campaign with the negative aim of wearing the NVA 
and main force VC units down through attrition. The larger pa- 
rameters of the conflict had been fixed by American govern- 
mental policy, and the United States military was limited to a 
ground war within the geographical boundaries of South Viet- 
nam until 1970. 6 

Plans for sealing South Vietnam off from northern attack al- 
together had been in the works for years, as well as various 
plans for far-reaching ground operations into adjoining coun- 
tries. In 1966 General Westmoreland had considered planting 
the 1st Cavalry Division on the Bolovens Plateau of Laos for a 
drive north toward Saravane and then on to Savannhakhet, while 
the 3d Marine Division headed due west along Highway 9 into 
Tchepone (the later route of the ill-fated ARVN drive into Laos 
during Operation LAMSON 719 in 1971), and the 4th Infantry 
Division and an ARVN division pushed into Laos from Pleiku 
and the A Shau Valley. On October 27, he began forming the 
reinforced ARVN "Rainbow Division," based on a nucleus of the 
ARVN Airborne Division, for employment against Laos in case 
permission was granted for a South Vietnamese incursion with 
the change of presidential administrations foreseen in 1968. An- 
other contingency plan was produced for a Laotian invasion in- 
volving a Thai division from the west and two ARVN divisions 
and one U.S. division from the east. All these plans came to 
naught, until the 1970s. 

6. Larger strategic questions are considered from a military standpoint by 
Gen. Dave Richard Palmer, Summons of the Trumpet, Presidio Press, No- 
vato, California, 1978; and Col. Harry G. Summers, Jr., On Strategy: A Crit- 
ical Analysis of the Vietnam War, Presidio Press, Novato, California, 1982. 
An interesting theoretical military solution to the war proposed by Gen. Bruce 
Palmer, Jr., former deputy commander of U.S. Army, Vietnam, is presented 
on p. 76 of the latter work. It proposed a tactical offensive along the DMZ 
across Laos to tie into U.S. positions in Thailand, thus isolating South Viet- 
nam from NVA intrusion. This was claimed as possible without mobilizing 
reserves or invading North Vietnam, thus avoiding the risk of Chinese in- 
tervention. The logistical reality of this plan and whether it would have en- 
tailed indefinite American defensive presence, as still exists on the Korean 
DMZ thirty years after that war, are not discussed. 



THE YEAR OF THE BIG BATTLES 137 



Although the United States was unable to follow retreating 
or staging North Vietnamese forces into neighboring lands, nei- 
ther could the NVA or VC divisions remain indefinitely in other 
countries if victory was to be pursued inside South Vietnam. In 
this manner MACVs powerful army well endowed with the 
wings of airmobility became committed to ranging throughout 
the country in an effort to defeat the NVA/VC wherever their 
forces could be found. 

The general MACV doctrine of employment tied American 
divisions and brigades to specific geographical areas inside South 
Vietnam, which were called tactical areas of responsibility. 
Whenever a major operation such as JUNCTION CITY packed 
several of these formations into a given locality, especially for 
any duration, it drew them away from their normal assignments 
and exacerbated difficulties elsewhere. 7 An expanded war of big 
battalions seeking out NVA divisions inside South Vietnam re- 
quired exploiting forces of tremendous flexibility, which could 
respond and "pile on" top of contacts. As 1967 began there was 
only one airmobile division capable of delivering such concen- 
trated punch, the 1st Cavalry Division, Although envisioned as 
a country-wide exploiting force, the deteriorating situation around 
Khe Sanh had forced its deployment north beginning in Octo- 
ber. The commander of MACV wanted a second airmobile di- 
vision to back it up. 

2. A Matter of Muscle 

Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara still favored forming 
a second airmobile division either by converting the remainder 
of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky (its 
1st Brigade was already in Vietnam), converting an infantry di- 
vision in Vietnam, or bringing together three infantry brigades 
there. On April 18, 1967, General Westmoreland decided against 
converting the 9th Infantry Division, preferring to make a tri- 
phibian division out of it (consisting of one brigade of three riv- 
erine battalions, one brigade of two mechanized battalions, and 

7. The MACV formula for neutralization of war zones required massing 25- 
30 battalions in "sustained operations/' but competing requirements for avail- 
able units did not permit long-term operations of such magnitude. 



138 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



one brigade of four airmobile-capable infantry battalions). The 
101st was selected to be this second airmobile division but lack 
of aviation resources postponed the full transition until July of 
1969, by which time the war in Vietnam had regressed to en- 
clave security. 

As 1967 began, the III Marine Amphibious Force had its 3d 
Marine Division around Phu Bai and the 1st Marine Division 
divided between Da Nang and Chu Lai. The Korean 2d Marine 
Brigade had been moved to III MAP control on September 1, 
1966, and was presently reinforcing the Chu Lai sector. As more 
Army forces were moved into the southern portion of I Corps 
Tactical Zone the Marines concentrated their forces in the 
northernmost three provinces for the DMZ campaign. 

The Pacific command reserve in the western Pacific con- 
sisted of the two Special Landing Forces of the 7th Fleet. Each 
was composed of a Marine Battalion Landing Team and a Ma- 
rine helicopter squadron, and their versatile striking power had 
been used to conduct forty-four amphibious landings along the 
South Vietnamese coast by the end of September 1967. How- 
ever, the Special Landing Forces were also charged with main- 
taining the ability to respond to contingencies anywhere in the 
western Pacific Ocean area. After a special landing force am- 
phibiously assaulted Vietnam and completed its mission there, 
it would return to sea and resume its readiness posture. 

The 26th Regimental Landing Team from Camp Pendleton 
and Twenty-Nine Palms, California, had reconstituted the two- 
battalion 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade at Okinawa in this sta- 
tus on August 21, 1966. This also enabled resumption of the 
intratheater battalion rotation system. In April of 1967 its bat- 
talions were directed to Vietnam. To provide a controlling reg- 
imental headquarters, the headquarters of the 26th Marines was 
airlifted to Da Nang on April 25 and attached to the 3d Marine 
Division the next day. On May 16, 1967, it was announced that 
the Marine intratheater battalion rotation system was again sus- 
pended. 

To further facilitate Marine buildup along the DMZ, in April 
the Army formed Task Force Oregon to secure the southern 
portion of I Corps Tactical Zone. However, this stripped the 
Army of its II CTZ mobile fire brigade, the 1st Brigade of the 



THE YEAR OF THE BIG BATTLES 139 



101st Airborne Division. General Westmoreland dispatched the 
173d Airborne Brigade to Pleiku on May 24 to fill its place, with 
the understanding that it could not be committed to action with- 
out his permission. That came soon enough, and the 173d would 
be consumed in the frightful Battles of the Highlands and Dak 
To before the year was out. 

In the meantime the Army was still experiencing great dif- 
ficulty in prying soldiers out of rear echelons and replacing losses 
in line units. A MACV survey of its divisions found each com- 
fortably above authorized strength but the number of foxhole 
infantry in combat companies at critically low levels. The 1st 
Cavalry Division's 920-man battalions were commonly fielding 
less than 550 men, and rifle companies were persistently short 
at least a third of their allowances. 

The South Vietnamese Army was plagued with grave deser- 
tion and leadership problems, but the massive introduction of 
American troops and material was shoring up belief in ultimate 
victory. As a result its forces began to exhibit better battlefield 
performances, and by May of 1967 U.S. advisors were rating 
148 out of 153 battalions as combat-effective. During that month 
the 2d ARVN Ranger Group conducted an airmobile operation 
deep into the rugged jungles of central Vietnam, a feat U.S. 
advisors considered an impossibility just six months earlier. 

In the fall, the 1st ARVN Division's 2d Regiment was re- 
trained to take over a portion of the DMZ defensive line. Far- 
ther south in Phuoc Long Province, the 3d Battalion of the 9th 
ARVN Regiment successfully staved off a midnight attack by the 
88th NVA Regiment at Song Be on October 27. Two days later 
half of Loc Ninh fell, but reinforcements from the previously 
lackluster 5th ARVN Division managed to pin the Viet Cong in 
close combat. The 1st Infantry Division was called in and bat- 
tled through adjacent plantations and dense scrub brush, where 
the soldiers of "The Big Red One" defeated the VC several days 
later. 

In Vietnam's delta region, the 21st ARVN Division launched 
an attack up the Kinh O Mon Canal near Vi Thanh in Chuong 
Thien Province on December 8. Supported by Air Force AC- 
47 Spooky gunships and plenty of artillery, the division and its 
attached 42d, 43d, and 44th ARVN Ranger Battalions distin- 



140 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



guished themselves in a spectacular battle. As a result MACV 
decided to reward them with special recognition they would 
receive priority on issuance of the M16 rifle. 

3. The 101st Airborne Division Flies In 

As 1967 came to a close, General Westmoreland, very op- 
timistic about the war's progress, became concerned about the 
possibility of an extended holiday moratorium over the 1968 New 
Year which might result in an agreement between North Viet- 
nam and the United States freezing force levels. Before he left 
in November for a public relations pitch in the United States, 
he wanted the 101st Airborne Division's deployment to Vietnam 
accelerated. On October 21, McNamara approved special aerial 
flights to get the rest of the division in country as fast as pos- 
sible. 

Maj. Gen. Olinto M. Barsantfs 101st Airborne Division had 
been originally scheduled for departure to Vietnam in June of 
1968. Located on the rugged post of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, 
five miles north of Clarksville, Tennessee, on the state line, it 
had fielded a brigade in Vietnam since July 1965. The 101st 
Airborne Division enjoyed a glorious heritage of tough para- 
trooper action on the battlefields of France and Germany in World 
War II, as well as a close personal connection with General 
Westmoreland, who had commanded the division in 1958. The 
division insignia consisted of the famous Screaming Eagle shield, 
over which a black tab was arched with AIRBORNE lettered in 
gold. 

When Barsanti received notification on August 2 that the en- 
tire division would go over, the 101st was hardly more than a 
cadre-level nucleus feeding replacements to Vietnam-based par- 
achutist brigades. It was located on two separate areas of Fort 
Campbell. Just to fill its two remaining brigades to 75 percent 
strength would require more than forty-five hundred men. The 
bulk of enlisted filler personnel would have to come from reg- 
ular Third Army assets; there was no way to get more para- 
troopers. A series of dispatches kept moving up the division's 
deployment date, compressing an already tight schedule. 

The battalions were filling up quite unevenly. There was 
considerable noncooperation from other commands tasked to send 



THE YEAR OF THE BIG BATTLES 141 



personnel to help fill the 'division. More last-minute frustration 
resulted when the Army suddenly levied the division for 450 
emergency paratrooper replacements for the 173d Airborne Bri- 
gade. These were urgently needed due to that unit's losses in 
the Battle of Dak To. The division was unable to meet its pro- 
jected deployment strength, but it was going anyway. 

MACV meanwhile had tasked the 1st Infantry Division as 
its sponsor. The lead brigade of the 101st Airborne Division into 
Vietnam was planned to go to Phuoc Vinh, and the second to 
arrive would go to Dong Xoai. However, the 1st Infantry Di- 
vision couldn't open the road between the two towns. It was 
decided to switch the 2d Brigade to Bien Hoa, and truck it to 
Cu Chi for in-country training there instead. In view of the 
changes, Major General Barsanti now wanted his projected com- 
mand post location changed to Bien Hoa. When the last troop- 
crammed planes arrived on December 19, 1967, the division 
was scattered from Bien Hoa to Phuoc Vinh to Cu Chi, while 
its 1st Brigade was off on Operation KLAMATH FALLS in Binh 
Thuan and Lam Dong provinces a hundred miles away. 



CHAPTER 10. 



BATTLE FOR THE 
SAIGON APPROACHES 



1. Saigon Defense and "Iron Triangle" Attack 

The 199th Infantry "Redcatchers" Brigade began patrolling the 
villages and hamlets around Saigon during January 1967, Small- 
scale airmobility and river transport gave the brigade ability to 
seal off villages and search them, sweep around the flat coun- 
tryside, and check roads and waterways. However, the brigade 
activities were often typified by nothing bigger than extensive 
night ambushing. The emphasis was on magic words such as 
"revolutionary development" and "pacification," techniques more 
suited for the South Vietnamese government than for American 
combat units designed to combat the North Vietnamese Army 
and main force Viet Cong. The smattering of ARVN airborne, 
marine, and ranger battalions in the area were tasked to help 
out. This assistance was given another fancy catchword, "the 
double force," which meant that for every U.S. unit engaged in 
operations, a similiar-sized ARVN unit was also supposed to be 
shouldering the load. 

The 5th ARVN Ranger Group was given new M16 rifles and 
American food, promised a lot of help from artillery and aircraft, 
and shoved outside the city gates. The whole thing was called 
Operation FAIRFAX, and it lasted throughout the year, phasing 
in the South Vietnamese as the primary participants that No- 

142 



BATTLE FOR THE SAIGON APPROACHES 143 



vember. The first test came soon enough. On the night of May 
14, a battalion command post of the 50th ARVN Regiment was 
overrun by the Viet Cong. The 3d Battalion of the 7th Infantry 
had to conduct an airmobile assault to retake the compound. 
The resulting "battle" lasted for the next two days, netting a 
total of twelve VC killed, Things were so shaky that a combined 
force had to be inserted into Tan Binh during a bold night air- 
mobile operation on May 20 to protect the western approaches 
to the sprawling Tan Son Nhut Air Base. From May 24 to 28 
these forces searched through the pineapple area of western Binh 
Chanh, destroying empty bunkers and killing less than a dozen 
Viet Cong. An antisampan offensive was conducted next. 

The brigade found the duty routine, the results elusive, and 
any surprises invariably unpleasant. On the afternoon of August 
7, Company E from the 4th Battalion of the 12th Infantry, and 
a 30th ARVN Ranger Battalion company, jointly air-assaulted into 
Nhi Binh in the Hoc Mon district. Upon landing, they were hit 
by rifle and automatic weapons fire from a Viet Cong company 
of the 2d Local Force Battalion concealed in bunkers and spider 
holes around the landing zone. The VC concentrated their fire 
on the hovering helicopters, damaging seventeen and destroying 
two. Each battalion sent in reinforcements, which reached the 
area that evening. Brigade companies ended up spending six 
days clearing out a forty-man VC contingent. In this slow and 
imperturbable manner the 199th Infantry Brigade continued its 
operations outside Saigon. The lethargic pace was one the at- 
tached ARVN forces could keep up with, and on September 24 
the brigade parted ways with the 5th ARVN Ranger Group and 
each returned to independent sweeps. On December 14, the 
South ^Vietnamese took over responsibility completely. 

The 199th Infantry Brigade's joint 1967 effort with the ARVN 
Rangers was one of the earliest experiments in what was to be- 
come known two years later as Vietnamization. The brigade's 
dual task, training South Vietnamese soldiers to defend Saigon 
and ferreting the Viet Cong out of densely populated areas with- 
out undue civilian damage, all under the immediate command 
scrutiny of MACV, was immensely difficult. The brigade must 
be given due credit for good performance under such trying cir- 
cumstances. However, the main objective enabling the South 



144 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Vietnamese to defend their own capital was never attained, 
General Westmoreland was in too much of a hurry to get the 
199th out of the camera s eye so that he could claim the 5th 
ARVN Ranger Group responsible for Saigon defense. Only one 
month after the 199th left the South Vietnamese totally in charge, 
Saigon was subjected to major Viet Cong infiltration and attack 
during Tet-68. Unfortunately, MACV never learned from this 
early failure at putting the ARVN forces in charge of their own 
territory. Later the same inadequate combat familiarization cycles, 
teaming up other American formations with counterpart ARVN 
units, were repeated in rushed programs aimed at token satis- 
faction of political pressure to "Vietnamize" the war. 

The 25th Infantry Division was busy trying to keep the Viet 
Cong away from the rice-producing areas adjacent to the "Ho 
Bo" and Boi Loi Woods, an operation begun on the first of De- 
cember, 1966, and coded ALA MOANA in fitting tribute to the 
Tropic Lightning Division's Hawaiian home. By the first of the 
year, the action had shifted to Due Hoa in Hau Nghia Province. 
On February 26, its 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry, and the divi- 
sional reconnaissance squadron, the 3d Squadron of the 4th 
Cavalry, ran into a tough fight in the Filhol Rubber Plantation. 
However, larger events in the area would soon overshadow these 
events. 

General Westmoreland was going after bigger game. Two 
Army divisions, one infantry and one paratrooper brigade, and 
one armored cavalry regiment prepared to assault the fortified 
Viet Cong sanctuary known as the Iron Triangle. Located fairly 
close to Saigon itself, this sixty square-mile chunk of territory 
was interspersed with dense forests and wet, open rice lands. 
The area had been dominated by the Viet Cong since anyone 
could remember, and previous efforts to uproot them had failed. 
This time it was determined that systematic destruction of 
everything in the Iron Triangle might do the trick. The entire 
civilian populatioh was to be evacuated, and twenty thousand 
air-dropped leaflets advised them to leave. 

The "Iron Triangle" was generally bounded by the winding 
Saigon River, Thanh Dien Forest of Binh Duong Province, and 
the Song Thi Thinh River. The plan was to move the 25th In- 
fantry Division and 196th Infantry Brigade against the Saigon 



BATTLE FOR THE SAIGON APPROACHES 145 



River to form an anvil. The 1st Infantry Division, 173d Airborne 
Brigade, and the llth Armored Cavalry Regiment would then 
crash right through the Iron Triangle from its eastern side, split- 
ting it in two, and hammer the enemy against the anvil. The 
operation was dubbed CEDAR FALLS, The 9th Viet Cong Di- 
vision simply eluded the area during the mass American sweep, 
rather than get hammered against anything. However, several 
significant underground complexes they left behind were un- 
covered. 

The weather was most favorable in January. For four days 
Air Force B-52 bombers devastated the region. On January 8, 
twenty battalions moved into the Iron Triangle. Operation CE- 
DAR FALLS had begun. The elite paratroopers of the 173d Air- 
borne Brigade and the famed 3d "Iron Brigade" of the 1st In- 
fantry Division spearheaded the drive, looking for action. The 
key Viet Cong fortified village of Ben Sue was the first target. 

In the darkness of early morning, January 8, a sergeant from 
the 1st Aviation Battalion stood on die Dau Tieng airstrip, armed 
with an oversized flashlight and two baton lights. He waved his 
beacons and directed the landing, loading, and lift-out of sixty 
troop-packed helicopters and their ten armed gunship escorts. 
In an airmobile move timed to the second, he safely got all of 
them into the air by 7:25 A.M. With twenty minutes allocated 
to form two giant V formations, each containing three flights of 
ten helicopters, pilots jockeyed their craft over, under, and be- 
tween the other ships. The helicopters were less than fifty feet 
apart. Then the massed flight headed toward Ben Sue. 

The helicopters, loaded with soldiers of Lt. Col. Alexander 
M. Haig's 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, roared over the forests 
at treetop level. Skipping the usual preparatory bombardment 
to achieve surprise, they landed in the midst of the village and 
cordoned it off The Viet Cong were too stunned to react, though 
the unit suffered losses from sniper fire and minefields. A thor- 
ough search of the hamlet uncovered a massive supply complex. 
Three levels of carefully concealed storage rooms were discov- 
ered under some houses. Chinook helicopters and South Viet- 
namese patrol boats dragged the six thousand villagers away, 
and the 1st Engineer Battalion bulldozed their dwellings into 
the ground. Viet Cong continued to pop out of the tunnel net- 



146 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



works and were taken prisoner. The first objective of Operation 
CEDAR FALLS had been accomplished Ben Sue haid ceased 
to exist. 

The rest of the 1st and 25th infantry divisions sealed off the 
other legs of the Iron Triangle. Then the armored personnel 
carriers and tanks of the llth Armored Cavalry Regiraeirt plunged 
west from Ben Cat; the hammer had swung into acti on. They 
were beefed up by advancing paratroopers of the 173d Airborne 
Brigade, one company of which was riding captured VC bicycles 
found in a cache. Both within the Iron Triangle and on its fringes, 
soldiers of most participating units were stumbling across in- 
creasing amounts of stored supplies, base complexes, and tun- 
nels. Numerous small skirmishes ensued. The 25th Infantry Di- 
vision swept along the Saigon River, pushing dowsa Lts waters 
in open boats. They probed darkened shores with sesarchlights 
and raked riverbanks with machine-gun fire. 

On January 19, along the banks of the Rach Son stream near 
a rubber plantation, soldiers of the 1st Battalion of tLc 5th In- 
fantry, 25th Infantry Division, found elaborately camouflaged 
tunnel openings. 1 The battalion formed "tunnel rat" teams to 
investigate. These tunnel soldiers carried silencer-equipped .38- 
caliber pistols to clear out any remaining Viet Cong, Deep in- 
side the tunnels, caverns opened up to reveal rooms for hos- 
pitals, mess halls, munitions factories, and living quarters. What 
they saw had taken twenty years to build. It was part of the 
Viet Cong military headquarters controlling activities throughout 
a large portion of South Vietnam, including Saigon. StuEJed among 
forty pounds of recovered documents and maps were detailed 
diagrams of the U.S. billets in the capital. For six day^s the 5th 
Infantry soldiers slowly probed the four-level labyrinth of pas- 
sages and chambers carved beneath the jungle floor, 

1. The 5th Infantry was one of the Army's oldest, dating back to L 608. It was 
also one of the Army's most distinguished Indian-fighting regiments. It had 
escorted the Westward movement from Tippecanoe to Montana, amd the only 
Civil War action it saw was in New Mexico. Led by the legendary Col. Nel- 
son A. Miles, and famous for riding captured Indian war horses, the 5th had 
racked up glory for its pathfinding ability to track Indians from S ioux to Co- 
manches. In Panama from 1939 to 1943, it was trained as a juntgle warfare 
regiment before being sent to Europe in World War II. It also served in 
Korea. On January 19, it had been in Vietnam exactly one year to the date. 



BATTLE FOR THE SAIGON APPROACHES 147 



On January 26, Operation CEDAR FALLS was terminated. 
The excursion into the Iron Triangle had turned up significant 
finds but few Viet Cong. The VC had successfully avoided com- 
bat, and would infiltrate back when the soldiers and helicopters 
left. The Army wasn't especially worried about that now. With 
the large units now at its disposal, a sojourn under the code- 
name JUNCTION CITY was planned less than a month away 
in another Viet Cong bastion, War Zone C. It was destined to 
be one of the largest U.S. operations of the war, and this time 
there would be a fight. 

2. Into War Zone C 

War Zone C occupied a flat and marshy corner of Vietnam 
which gradually faded into thin-forested rolling hills as the re- 
gion closed the Cambodian border. Heavy jungle prevailed, and 
the solitary 3,235 foot-high Nui Ba Den Mountain dominated 
the landscape. Like the Iron Triangle, this war zone had been 
Viet Cong-controlled since South Vietnam had been formed. The 
military hoped a multidivisional pounding would crush War Zone 
C as a continued threat, and evolved a complex plan of attack. 
Basically, the 25th Infantry Division would block west along the 
Cambodian frontier, and the 1st Infantry Division would block 
the eastern side of the zone along Route 4. On the first day of 
the operation, the 173d Airborne Brigade and a brigade from 
the 1st Infantry Division would move to seal off the northern 
portion. When all blocking forces were in place, a giant inverted 
horseshoe would result. A brigade of the 25th Infantry Division 
and the llth Armored Cavalry Regiment would then be "pitched" 
into the horseshoe from the south. 

During February, the 1st and 25th infantry divisions posi- 
tioned themselves along the east and west sides, and on Feb- 
ruary 22, Operation JUNCTION CITY began as the north side 
was enveloped. Led by Brig. Gen. John R. Deane, Jr., the 173d 
Airborne Brigade jumped its 2d Battalion, 503d Infantry (Air- 
borne), out of aircraft over Katum, less than seven miles from 
Cambodia. Parachutes blossomed under the tropical blue skies 
as the troopers glided to earth without incident. It was to be 
the only major U.S. Army combat jump of the Vietnam War, 
but some saw it as a "glory" exercise in reminiscence of the last 



148 THE RISE AND FALL OF ^N AMERICAN ARMY 



big jumps in Korea. Although mass parachute landing was still 
a viable military doctrine, as the jpostwar Grenada expedition of 
1983 demonstrated, airmobility may have sufficed here. 

February 22 witnessed one of "the largest mass helicopter lifts 
in the history of Army aviation . Over 249 helicopters were used 
in the eight battalion-sized airmoTnle assaults required to com- 
plete the northern rim of the horseshoe. The rest of the 173d 
Airborne Brigade was helicoptered into its preselected landing 
zones. At the same time, the^st Brigade of the 1st Infantry 
Division was airmobiled in. The troops had already coined a 
phrase for the upcoming battles, They called it "Playing horse- 
shoes with Charlie." 

The next day the 2d Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division 
and the llth Armored Cavalry Regiment swept north. Things 
started happening on February 28. The 173d Airborne Brigade 
discovered the Viet Cong Central Information Office, complete 
with an underground photographic laboratory containing 120 reels 
of film, stacks of photographs, an<l busts of communist leaders. 
Farther south, toward the westermi tip of the horseshoe, the 1st 
Battalion of the 16th Infantry tripped into battle off Route 4 
near Prek Klok. The outfit was led by Lt. Col. Rufus Lazzell. 2 
Capt. Donald S. Ulm's Company B had been moving over thick 
deadfall from trees and jungle brush, and was approaching the 
Prek Klok stream, when it clashe d with the 2d Battalion, 101st 
NVA Regiment. The point platoo was temporarily cut off, and 
Company B was engulfed by connbat 

As soon as the company started taking concentrated rocket 
and machine-gun fire, Captain LJlm called in artillery and air 
strikes. The company formed a. circular defensive perimeter. The 
fighting was intense. Airdropped cluster bomb units (CRUs) ex- 
ploded with terrible effect at treelop level. The blast waves tore 
through the woods and toppled rwien and trees. At around mid- 
night, after fifty-four Air Force tactical bombing sorties, the Viet 
Cong broke off the action. Air power had decided the firelight, 
and the Army had employed this support to good effect. 

At Prek Klok, the 168th Engineer Battalion was busy con- 

2, Lt. Col. Lazzell had been wounded commanding the same battalion in the 
July 1966 Battle of Minh Thanh Eoad; see Chapter 7. After recovery in the 
United States, he had asked for lis old command back. 



BATTLE FOR THE SAIGON APPROACHES 149 



structing a future U.S. Army Special Forces camp and an air- 
field. The mechanized 2d Battalion of the 2d Infantry protected 
the 168th by forming a giant "wagon train" circle out of its ar- 
mored personnel carriers, with foxholes in between. On the night 
of March 10, after a thirty-minute mortar and recoilless rifle 
barrage, a battalion of the 272d VC Regiment attacked the east- 
ern half of the perimeter. It was mowed down by crushing re- 
turn fire from the heavy vehicle-mounted machine guns, over 
five thousand rounds from the 2d Battalion of the 33d Artillery 
inside the circle, and a hundred Air Force air strikes. The night 
sky was made brilliant by continuous pyrotechnics and bomb 
bursts. Helicopters darted in to deliver ammunition and take 
out wounded, their landing light beams stabbing through dust 
and smoke. At five o'clock the next morning the lopsided battle 
.was finally over. Once again the American Army had utilized 
its prodigious artillery and aerial resources to ensure absolute 
victory on the battlefield. 

On March 18, Operation JUNCTION CITY entered a new 
phase. The action shifted east with the construction of a new 
Special Forces camp northeast of Tay Ninh. The 173d Airborne 
Brigade was pulled out, and a brigade of the 9th Infantry Di- 
vision was brought in to substitute. All units involved were now 
given sectors and began search and destroy operations. The llth 
Armored Cavalry Regiment was escorting about two hundred 
trucks a day during convoy runs up Route 13 to An Loc. Along 
Route 13 a fire base was posted by Troop A of the 3d Squadron, 
5th Cavalry, with six tanks and twenty-three armored personnel 
carriers. 

The 5th Cavalry was known as the "Black Knights," and its 
3d Squadron was the 9th Infantry Division's reconnaissance arm. 
It had been in Vietnam barely a month, but circular "wagon 
wheel" fights were part of its heritage. 3 The 273d VC Regiment 

3. The 5th Cavalry was organized in 1855 at Louisville, Kentucky, and it had 
charged Longstreet's Confederate lines at Gaines Mill, Virginia, in 1862 a 
charge that saved the Union artillery. After the Civil War, the 5th Cavalry 
had a most distinguished career in the Indian campaigns, where it fought just 
about every tribe from Comanches and Apaches to Cheyennes. It served in 
the Philippine Insurrection, participated in the 1916-17 Mexican Expedition, 
helped to clear New Guinea and the Philippines in World War II, and had 
served in the Korean War. 



150 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



initiated its attack on this unit during the night of March 19 in 
a bizarre fashion. A wheel-mounted machine gun was rolled down 
a stretch of abandoned railroad track near the destroyed village 
of Ap Bau Bang. At ten minutes past midnight it furiously opened 
fire on the armored cavalry troop. 

Tank-mounted searchlights soon pinpointed it and the gun 
was blown to pieces. Then a VC ground assault surged forward 
and was met with crippling fire from heavy machine guns, mor- 
tars, tank cannons, and artillery. However, Viet Cong soldiers 
succeeded in swarming in on the 5th Cavalry lines. Armored 
personnel carrier crewmen frantically buttoned up their vehicles 
as VC infantry swarmed over them. Artillery cannister rounds 
were fired directly at the armored vehicles, and dozens of at- 
tacking soldiers were blown off the carriers. Foxholes were being 
overrun in hand-to-hand combat. Machine guns were being 
stripped off wrecked armored personnel carriers, some of which 
were now on fire. 

Troop A urgently radioed to its sister troops that it needed 
help. They crashed past preset ambushes and blasted their way 
in to help sustain the shrunken American positions. Eighty-seven 
Air Force bombing runs under flareship illumination pounded 
the continuous Viet Cong attacks. The 5th Cavalry held their 
lines and repulsed the charge. Again, armored personnel car- 
riers packed in a tight laager, liberally supported by artillery 
and aircraft, had proved their ability to survive in isolated out- 
posts. 

The foot infantry was having a more difficult time. Near the 
center of War Zone C, near Suoi Tre, Fire Support Base Gold 
had been established by the 3d Battalion of the 22d Infantry 
and the 2d Battalion of the 77th Artillery. On March 19, heli- 
copters began to descend into the jungled clearing, which had 
been doused with Agent Orange. As they touched down, five 
explosive charges tore through the small open area, destroying 
three helicopters and badly damaging six others. Strewn through 
the smoldering wreckage littering the landing zone were fifteen 
dead and twenty-eight badly wounded Americans. 

Throughout the rest of the day the 272d VC Regiment con- 
tinued to take helicopters under accurate fire. Claymore mines 
were set off against the infantrymen as they dug in positions. 



BATTLE FOR THE SAIGON APPROACHES 151 



Clearly there would be trouble ahead. On the morning of March 
21, a small night patrol of the 22d Infantry was returning to the 
fire base, when it was overrun by a mass VC attack behind an 
advancing mortar barrage which suddenly blanketed the area. 
Heavy return fire, air strikes, and artillery failed to stop the 
waves of attackers. Company B on the western edge of the pe- 
rimeter was overrun, and artillerymen began desperately ram- 
ming Beehive flechette canister rounds into their leveled how- 
itzer tubes. 

Fire Support Base Gold positions caved in under the melee 
of close combat. Fighting was conducted with entrenching tools, 
chain saws, and bowie knives. The battalion's crucial quad .50- 
caliber machine gun was captured. The Viet Cong scrambled to 
turn the four-barreled gun around on the surviving American 
positions. The artillery crewmen of a remaining howitzer fran- 
tically chambered a round to destroy the swiveling multi-bar- 
reled machine gun. The howitzer managed to fire first, and the 
threatening gun was destroyed. Other howitzers had created a 
wall of steel by continuous Beehive discharges, but now the 
precious ammunition was suddenly exhausted. The few rounds 
of high explosive were being shot off as a final gesture, when 
reinforcements suddenly appeared. Soldiers of the 2d Battalion 
of the 12th Infantry took up positions alongside them. 

The Viet Cong reassembled and counterattacked the new 
American force. Disabled VC soldiers were being carried pig- 
gyback into the attack, both bearer and rider firing submachine 
guns. The situation was again worsening for the defenders when 
a second relief force appeared out of the jungle, this time tanks 
of the 2d Battalion of the 34th Armor escorted by an entire 
battalion of mechanized infantry in armored personnel carriers. 
At 10:45 that morning the battle was ended. 

The final large engagement of Operation JUNCTION CITY 
was fought on March 31 between Lt. Col. Alexander M. Haig's 
1st Battalion of the 26th Infantry, and the combined 271st VC 
Regiment and 1st Battalion, 70th VC Guards Regiment. On March 
26, under threatening storm clouds, Haig's infantrymen had air- 
landed in the tall, meadowlike grass near the Cambodian bor- 
der. Signs were found nailed to trees, with warnings in English 
not to venture out. Even though they were deep in War Zone 



152 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



C, they had obviously been expected. The battalion would shortly 
see one of its most violent actions in Vietnam as a result of 
relentless pursuit of the enemy. 4 

On March 31, the soldiers set out from LZ George to sweep 
their assigned area. At noon the battalion's reconnaissance pla- 
toon was hit hard, resulting in the loss of the platoon lieutenant, 
and everything started becoming unglued. Americans had learned 
by now not to advance without a shield of artillery and aerial 
support all around them, but due to lack of control, Company 
B ran off to assist without proper preparatory fires. Lieutenant 
Colonel Haig wasn't aware of the extent of Company B's actions 
until he was aloft in a helicopter, Company B was pinned and 
unable to move, under intense fire and low on ammunition and 
its wounded commander was in shock. Haig was forced to land 
in its midst and take over the battle personally and managed to 
avert disaster. 

Company A was directed in to extract its sister company from 
the rapidly worsening firefight, By five o'clock the two compa- 
nies were able to break contact and retreat back to the perim- 
eter. In the meantime the landing zone had been reinforced by 
another battalion, the 1st Battalion of the 16th Infantry. In the 
morning darkness of April 1, a mortar barrage heralded a mass 
Viet Cong assault on the American lines. Rushing through a hail 
of bullets and artillery explosions, the VC quickly engaged the 
infantrymen in close combat. Air Force strikes loosing antiper- 
sonnel bomblets and napalm, artillery and mortar supporting fires, 
and helicopter minigun fire enabled the perimeter to defeat the 
attackers soundly. 

In mid-April the big-battalion phase of Operation JUNC- 
TION CITY ended. A third phase was tacked on, in which a 
"floating brigade" composed of a mechanized battalion of the 

4. The 26th Infantry was one of those Army units formed at the turn of the 
century, which had picked up most of its heritage from World War I. The 
insignia of the regiment was dominated by a giant Mohawk arrowhead se- 
lected by its World War I commander, Col. Hamilton A. Smith, to indicate 
tne regimental spirit of courage, resourcefulness, and relentless pursuit of the 
enemy, Colonel Smith was killed shortly afterwards, leading the regiment in 
the farst great offensive in which it took part. It later served in World War 
11, and had been in Vietnam since October of 1965. 



BATTLE FOR THE SAIGON APPROACHES 153 



25th Infantry Division combined with an ARVN battalion would 
rove throughout War Zone C. For the next month constant 
sweeps revealed only . empty countryside, and the operation was 
terminated on May 14. The 196th Infantry Brigade, which had 
originally been intended to garrison War Zone C, had been sent 
north to bolster military efforts in I Corps Tactical Zone. 

Operation JUNCTION CITY remained a hallmark of the 
Vietnam War. The multidivisional attack was destined to be the 
apex of Army efforts in III Corps Tactical Zone in 1967. Al- 
though War Zone C was not neutralized, three regiments of the 
9th VC Division had been temporarily shattered. Corps-sized 
Army forces had demonstrated their ability to mass and use great 
mobility in tackling any area of Vietnam. However, due to later 
enclave and pacification strategies, the mobile shock power of 
such a colossal effort was rarely repeated. 

The 25th Infantry Division kept pressure going to the north- 
west of Saigon throughout the rest of the year in a series of 
operations that were insignificant in contacts produced, but were 
marked by extensive jungle-clearing efforts. On December 8, 
the major strength of the division was committed through Op- 
eration YELLOWSTONE back into War Zone C. Through the 
end of 1967, this operation was marked by frequent Viet Cong 
mortar attacks but light ground action. However, it did prove 
that War Zone C was still being used as a major VC logistical 
base. 

3. Enterprising in Long An Province 

The 39th Infantry arrived in Vietnam in January 1967 as part 
of another massive dose of American power injected into South 
Vietnam: the 9th Infantry Division. The regiment took its motto 
and most of its history from service to France. 5 This French 
connection remained unbroken as it entered a country French 
interests had shaped, and it prepared to take up the fight against 
an old French enemy. 

5. The 39th Infantry regimental motto was D'une Vaillance Admirable (With 
a Military Courage Worthy of Admiration). Five French Croix de Guerre dec- 
orations for heroic action had been bestowed on the 39th from the Maine 
front of World War I to Cherence le Roussel in World War II. It had been 
formed in June 1917 at Syracuse, New York. 



154 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



When its 3d Battalion slipped into Long An Province to the 
south of Saigon during February as the first 9th Division force 
to dwell there, the area was undisputed Viet Cong territory. As 
soon as the Americans planted their flag at Rach Kien they came 
under harassing fire, and any platoon or company that moved 
350 yards outside the camp could count on a good-sized fight. 
The 3d Brigade of the 9th Infantry Division was colocated there, 
while the division's mechanized 2d Battalion of the 60th Infantry 
was stationed at Binh Phuoc. A long-term operation labeled EN- 
TERPRISE was initiated by these elements on February 13, 1967, 
to clear Long An Province. During April 9-11, the 3d Battalion 
of the 39th Infantry was airlifted into battle just outside Rach 
Kien, coming under heavy fire from the 506th VC Battalion upon 
touchdown at the landing zone. The 2d Squadron, 10th ARVN 
Cavalry, and two battalions of the 60th Infantry were tossed into 
this battle along the Rach Dia River. Rapid shifting of forces in 
lightning airmobile assaults kept the Viet Cong off balance. 
Company-sized sweeps were executed for three days, but the 
VC managed to escape despite considerable loss. Six months of 
hard combat in the adjacent countryside may have scattered the 
Viet Cong, but it hadn't made a dent in their popularity. They 
continued to travel at will, depending on local villagers for in- 
formation on U.S. movements. Determined to take a swipe at 
these farmer-soldiers who melted into the population every twi- 
light, Lieutenant Colonel Anderson of the 3d Battalion, 39th In- 
fantry, banded together his most trusted sergeants and formed 
a "killer patrol" under Capt. Donald Price. 

On August 16, 1967, the battalion's Company A made a large 
sweep of the rice paddies around Rach Kien. The patrol clam- 
bered into a helicopter and landed in the midst of hundreds of 
Company A soldiers at one o'clock that afternoon. Captain Price 
picked out positions near a suspect cluster of huts and old bunk- 
ers near the thickly vegetated Rach Doi Ma River. The men of 
the patrol sweated through the afternoon preparing hidden po- 
sitions, stringing wires for their claymore mines through the 
bushes, and covering up their gear. Meanwhile, the other sol- 
diers made a lot of noise and tramped all over the place like a 
herd of elephants. The plan was simple but the risk was great. 
When Company A left for the night it was hoped nobody would 



BATTLE FOR THE SAIGON APPROACHES 155 



notice six men left behind and dug into a perfectly camouflaged 
ambush site. 

At six o'clock that evening six men and women began work- 
ing the rice paddies, a signal to the Viet Cong that everything 
was safe. An hour later eight VC ambled around them, and shortly 
afterward two more entered the area and one of them stayed. 
He was armed with an M79 grenade launcher. Crossing the log 
bridge, he squatted on the far bank and looked right at Captain 
Price and his patrol sergeant, who were standing in the corner 
of a hut. Already it was fairly dark. They nervously exchanged 
stares, but the Viet Cong couldn't figure out who was there. A 
minute later he rose and, keeping his weapon ready, walked 
into their hut and squatted down in the far corner. Although 
Captain Price had his M16 rifle beside him, he didn't reach for 
it for fear the Viet Cong would fire first. He was counting on 
his sergeant, who had his AR15 rifle in his hands, to shoot the 
intruder. However, the patrol sergeant was shaking so badly when 
the VC came in that he didn't know what to do. 

Suddenly the Viet Cong realized who the strangers were and 
with lightning speed fired a grenade at them and bolted for the 
door. The 40mm round bounced off the sergeant's leg and cut 
through the wall of the hut without exploding, since it never 
had time to arm. 6 The sergeant leaped behind the running VC 
and shot him twice in the back. The enemy soldier fell, mortally 
wounded, and the two men dragged him back into another cor- 
ner. 

Another team member who heard the gunfire had the sick- 
ening feeling his comrades had been hit. He was in the middle 
of tall grass and very nervous. When they had set up in the 
daylight he had been confident. After dark the whole thing looked 
different, and he wasn't sure he could see everything necessary. 
After getting no response to several whispered calls he crawled 
over to talk to the patrol sergeant and then went back to his 
own position. Everybody was now set for more Viet Cong, and 
fifteen minutes later two came down the eastern dike. Captain 

6. The American 40mm grenade round was deliberately set to arm at a cer- 
tain distance from the launcher, a result of early Vietnam experiences with 
rounds that bounced off trees and flipped back into Army positions during 
close jungle righting. 



156 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Price had claymore mines set in position to kill them, but never 
triggered the electrical devices because he was hoping the VC 
would enter the main hut. There he had planted a GI rucksack 
and several Playboy magazines as bait, and he was hoping they 
would call in more of their friends. 

The two Viet Cong walked right past the hut and the patrol's 
lieutenant spotted them next, fifteen yards from his own posi- 
tion. He could see their faces clearly in the moonlight. He picked 
up his .45-caliber automatic pistol and followed them for five 
feet. Then he thought to himself, "Naw, I can't hit the broad 
side of a barn with a AS." So he turned around, picked up his 
M16 rifle, and followed them another five feet until he realized 
they were entering another claymore mine killing zone. He 
dropped back and in the dark had to guess when to fire his 
mines. He set off the device but they had stepped off the dike. 
The explosion dazed and wounded them, but both were able to 
run away. 

The explosion apparently discouraged any more Viet Cong 
activity in the area that night. The patrol members quietly lis- 
tened to the familiar night noises of the delta frogs croaking, 
crickets, and rats moving about in the rice paddies. That morn- 
ing the patrol laid out their one kill and rifled through his pock- 
ets. The wallet had pictures of his friends, a girl, and a certif- 
icate honoring him for killing nine American soldiers. When the 
patrol sergeant was later asked if he thought the killer patrol 
tactic was valid, he could only quip, "I hope so; it took a lot 
out of me." 

The 3d Battalion of the 39th Infantry continued its partici- 
pation in Operation ENTERPRISE, though contact with the Viet 
Cong was to remain at a low level throughout the year. As their 
French associates had already experienced, time ran out for the 
men of the 9th Infantry Division long before a war of attrition 
could ever pay dividends. 



CHAPTER 11. 



BATTLE FOR THE 
HIGHLANDS 



1. Western Battles 

Major General William R. Peers took command of the 4th In- 
fantry Division two days after it had marked its first New Year's 
Day in Vietnam. He moved it into the western portion of the 
Central Highlands plateau, a dangerous area occupied by both 
1st NVA and recently formed 10th NVA Divisions. Tagged as 
Operation SAM HOUSTON, two infantry brigades would be 
pushed into the steep-walled valleys and rugged jungles falling 
off the Chaine Annamitique mountain spine which marked the 
Cambodian border, 

The 4th Infantry Division was one of those divisions that 
mirrored the distinctive slogan officially bestowed upon it. The 
motto, Steadfast and Loyal, reflected the division's image per- 
fectly. It was dignified, traditional, and definitely Regular Army. 
Perhaps that was needed in the rough, mountainous western 
wilderness of South Vietnam, Anyway, in case more gunslingers 
were needed to help out, the paratroopers of the elite 173d Air- 
borne Brigade could always be slammed in. 

The first phase of the operation was a piece of cake. Con- 
ducted over the rolling tropical plains of Pleiku and Kontum 
provinces, the only resistance encountered was occasional mor- 
taring and road mines. January was spent uncovering tunnel 

157 



158 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



complexes and fortifications and then demolishing them. Ar- 
mored cavalry personnel carriers hauled in captured rice, and 
infantrymen spent their time pitching riot-gas grenades into the 
mouths of caves. February began with the division dispatching 
a tank platoon to Due Co, a Special Forces camp located in the 
southern portion of the Kontum plateau astride Highway 19. 
There the U.S. Army Special Forces was engaged in a confron- 
tation with their South Vietnamese LLDB counterparts inside 
the joint compound. Only intervention on February 3 by high- 
ranking officers on both sides restored order. However, General 
Peers was determined that his "steadfast and loyal" 4th wasn't 
going to be a glorified police division. He looked northwest to- 
ward the mist-shrouded ridges of the Cambodian border to de- 
termine the future axis of advance. In mid-February a brigade 
was moved into the heavy jungle west of the Nam Sathay River 
to fight the NVA. There the battles that would typify Operation 
SAM HOUSTON were decided. 

This region contained some of the most difficult tropical ter- 
rain in the world, consisting of continuous rain forests with huge 
250-foot hardwood trees seven feet in diameter, which crumpled 
chain saws and defied small clearing explosives. Where the sun- 
light filtered through the canopy of trees, the jungle floor was 
covered with dense undergrowth restricting visibility to a matter 
of yards and making any movement extremely difficult. Valleys 
intersected the area, caged in by jagged mountains rising as far 
as six thousand feet above them. Daylight temperatures soared 
above 105 degrees, and nighttime temperatures could plunge to 
45 degrees. Since it was the end of the dry season there was 
very little available water except in the valleys, and the troops 
were forced to carry at least a two-day supply with them. Wad- 
ing through the seasonably low waters of the Nam Sathay, men 
of the division's 12th and 22d Infantry entered NVA territory. 

On February 15, soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion of 
the 12th Infantry, began patrolling around their landing zone 
across the river. 1 As the men moved outside their new fire base, 



A T n 6 J 2 ^ Infa * tr y was a g od A y regiment, forged at the beginning of 

M 6 n v ^ ^ here !t f ecured fame durin its first engagement at Gaine's 
Mill, Virginia. Twin moline crosses still decorated its insignia, representing 
the iron fastening of a millstone and recalling the crushing losses it had sus- 



BATTLE FOR THE HIGHLANDS 159 



the jungle exploded with intense automatic rifle fire. One squad 
was trapped in a ravine and unable to move for an hour. Only 
the heroic actions of one wounded private, killed covering the 
others, enabled the rest of the squad to rejoin its company. 
Dozens of NVA soldiers now charged the surrounded landing 
zone. Concentrated rifle fire tore through their ranks. Artillery 
and air strikes were called in closer and closer to the belea- 
guered defenders, and the attacks were finally beaten back. The 
rest of the 12th Infantry's first battalion was now airlifted into 
the battle. Helicopters coming in were subjected to murderous 
ground fire, but eventually another company was landed. Com- 
pany B immediately sallied forward but was hit hard and soon 
had two of its own platoons cut off and pinned down. 

By late afternoon Company A, accompanied by the battalion 
heavy mortars, had been successfully landed. It charged forward 
to form a corridor through which Company B could evacuate its 
dead and wounded. Fighting was especially fierce in the gath- 
ering twilight, and soldiers used knives and entrenching tools 
as ammunition supplies ran out. Earth and vegetation was thrown 
into the air by blocking fire from the battalion's mortars. By 
eight o'clock that night the battered companies had managed to 
pull themselves back to the landing zone. To keep the NVA at 
bay through the night, the jungle around them was saturated 
by artillery and bombing runs. 

The next day, in another sector of the battlefield, a platoon 
of the 2d Battalion, 8th Infantry, came under enemy fire at noon. 
Underestimating the force being engaged, the soldiers returned 
fire and began moving forward. In minutes the platoon was being 
swept by a storm of bullets and grenade shrapnel. It gathered 
in a tight circle and desperately called for artillery, but the thick 
morass of twisted jungle made accurate placement impossible. 
Charging NVA soldiers were killed in close combat. Only the 
efforts of the platoon sergeant, who was slain in the action, saved 
the unit from total annihilation. A relieving company was soon 



tained that day in June 1862 over 50 percent of its strength. It served in 
the Indian Wars, captured the blockhouse at El Caney, Cuba, during the 
War with Spain, participated in the Philippine Insurrection, and assaulted 
France during D-Day in World War II. 



160 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



hard-pressed itself by well-equipped NVA concealed in the jun- 
gles. Air strikes were called in so close that deadly fragments 
rained down on both sides. 

Elsewhere other soldiers, this time from the 22d Infantry, 
were moving west. The point squad ran into an NVA unit mov- 
ing east. Taking advantage of the extremely dense undergrowth, 
the North Vietnamese opened up with a hail of submachine-gun 
fire and sent snipers aloft into the trees. Soon the entire com- 
pany was taking casualties. The Army had issued the grenadiers 
the new dual purpose rifle with grenade launcher located un- 
derneath (the XM148), promising the advantages of both meth- 
ods of fire. Now they were having great difficulty loading, cock- 
ing, and firing the launcher portion. Cursing the loss of the 
traditional M79 and its trusted firepower, they were reduced to 
ordinary riflemen. Napalm and cluster bomb units shattered the 
jungle in front of them, and a relief force was able to link up. 
The tempo that dominated the battle for the highlands had been 
set. 

Every day more soldiers, their torn jungle fatigues frayed 
and drenched with salt and sweat, went forward. They were 
under constant physical strain and mental pressure, painfully 
aware that every step in the jungle could bring death if they 
didn't react quickly enough. Individuals were overloaded by 
rucksacks crammed with additional ammunition, extra gear, ra- 
tions, and water; and survival equipment such 1 as mosquito re- 
pellent, head nets, and ponchos. Minimized "essential loads" still 
required each soldier to "hump" from forty to sixty pounds. The 
constant exertion demanded of troops hacking and moving through 
dense jungle day after day exhausted their fighting ability. Search 
patterns had fancy military names, "cloverleaf," "starburst," and 
"zig-zag," but the infantrymen only cursed as they struggled to 
push on ahead and keep within sight of their comrades. To keep 
oriented in the deep forests, units were forced to periodically 
drop artillery rounds along their route of advance. 

Thin olive drab ribbons of men moved like ants, slowly toil- 
ing through the natural maze of green jungle. They were care- 
fully tracked by NVA reconnaissance teams and trailwatchers, 
often moving behind them or in parallel directions. Snipers would 
suddenly open fire, the sharp crack of their rifles reverberating 



BATTLE FOR THE HIGHLANDS 161 



through the foliage. Bursts of submachine-gun fire also sprayed 
advancing personnel, dropping key leaders and radiomen. The 
soldiers responded with a fusillade of automatic rifle fire and 
shotgun canister rounds that tore through the trees. Splintered 
branches, leaves, and other debris were hurled through the air. 
Such skirmishes could last for hours, caused serious delays, and 
often masked larger NVA troop movements. 

At the end of each day, the weary, aching soldiers had to 
dig in and construct individual shelters consisting of at least one 
layer of overhead sandbags to ward off the inevitable nighttime 
mortar attacks. Only then could they settle down to a night too 
frequently punctuated by the terror-filled cries of "Incoming!" 
followed by the crash of dreaded explosions. Deprived of decent 
sleep and drained of energy, the soldiers had to move out every 
morning. Sergeants maintained brutal pressure to keep their men 
combat-ready. Accidents became more frequent, and the haz- 
ards of jungle warfare increased. Throughout February, fire- 
fights were sudden and unexpected, engulfing units in a whirl- 
wind of death and confusion. 

The 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade was helicoptered into 
Plei Djereng, and two full brigades were now committed in the 
area. The new brigade assumed responsibility for the lower Plei 
Trap and Nam Sathay valleys, while the 2d Brigade pushed far- 
ther west toward the Cambodian border. Throughout the rest 
of February and March, the American units experienced the most 
dreaded pattern of Vietnam jungle marching and fighting. The 
North Vietnamese Army regulars would attack moving rifle com- 
panies at times and locations of their own choosing. The assault 
would close too quickly for the defenders to call in effective 
supporting fire. Mortars and snipers would try to drive the sur- 
rounded unit into smaller fragments. Invariably, counterattack- 
ing the prepared NVA brought intense flanking fire from posi- 
tions established in depth to the right and to the left. The entire 
2d Battalion of the 35th Infantry was subjected to such an attack 
on March 12. Only after dark would the NVA break off the bat- 
tle, using short ropes and hooks, if needed, to retrieve their 
dead and wounded comrades. 

These actions only lasted from one to six hours, but the vi- 
olent force of the enemy attack, combined with a feeling of 



162 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



claustrophobia resulting from the dense jungle, created an un- 
bearably high degree of tension. This strain worsened with prox- 
imity to the Cambodian border. Americans found they could no 
longer count on massive dosages of firepower to break resis- 
tance. As usual, generous use of available artillery and air power 
was made, but its effectiveness was diminished by the rugged 
terrain. Smoke grenades and flares could not penetrate the tri- 
ple-canopy jungle, and units could not be located by aircraft 
seeking to deliver supporting ordnance. 

Although thirty-one B-52 ARC LIGHT bombing runs were 
brought against the NVA, even this formidable weapon failed to 
assure results when needed. The NVA knew that a troop safety 
distance of three thousand meters was required before the B- 
52 bombers could be used, and initiated close-quarters combat 
inside these bounds. They also took full advantage of the Cam- 
bodian border to rush a few companies into Vietnam, mount 
mortar barrages, and get back across. One of the fire bases was 
hit by twelve separate mortar attacks in a day and a half, taking 
three hundred rounds. 

There were so few suitable areas for landing helicopters that 
North Vietnamese Army forces could pick them out and prepare 
them in advance. Pilots soon expected every landing site to be 
"hot and mined." NVA ingenuity was remarkably efficient. One 
device had several grenades tied to a ten-foot board with a charge 
placed underneath. As the helicopters descended for landing, 
the charge would be set off by an observer, tossing the grenades 
up to explode in the midst of the aircraft. Strong bunkers were 
dug in around the periphery of open areas, ringed by command- 
detonated mines. In fact, the jungle was so heavy that a road 
had to be constructed westward to establish a series of fire bases 
from which operations near the Cambodian border could be 
supported. Only the airlifting of D-4B dozers into remote areas 
made this effort possible. 

From March 16 through the end of the month, both bri- 
gades moved back east from their areas west of the Se San River 
in the face of continued ambushes and firefights. When they 
moved, units habitually left their fire bases cluttered with ac- 
cumulated litter ranging from empty ration boxes to shell car- 



BATTLE FOR THE HIGHLANDS 163 



tridges. NVA forces then entered such areas to clean up the 
wealth of material left behind, much of which was put to good 
use. All efforts to educate Americans to this fact failed, and de- 
serted bases remained piled high with "trash." The military fi- 
nally decided to take advantage of it. For the first time, anti- 
personnel mines were sewn across selected areas by Air Force 
A-1E Skyraiders. Recondo patrols were inserted to report on 
the losses the NVA suffered as a consequence of entering the 
freshly abandoned fire support sites. 

The next major action of the operation erupted when radio 
contact with a reconnaissance patrol was lost on March 21, and 
the 1st Battalion of the 8th Infantry was sent to search for it 
the next day. At 7:30 in the morning Company A, moving in 
two columns, suddenly came under intense machine-gun fire. 
While trying to maneuver their company, the captain and the 
artillery forward observation officer were both blown to pieces 
by a direct hit from a B-40 rocket. Without leadership, com- 
munications, or the ability to direct supporting artillery fire, the 
company broke in two. Men discarded equipment and rucksacks 
and fought from separate perimeters. 

The company first sergeant raced over to the point of heav- 
iest contact and adjusted the lines. He then directed artillery 
fire and aircraft by running over to a clearing where he could 
be spotted, climbing a tree, and tying an identification panel 
from its highest branches. A relief column, composed of Com- 
pany B, moved toward them on line, keying on the sound of 
battle for direction. Then it too came under attack. It was also 
split, but managed to reconsolidate. The NVA eventually left 
the field, but losses had been heavy. 

The 4th Infantry Division's extra tank battalion, the 1st Bat- 
talion of the 69th Armor, was useless in the jungled mountains. 
During Operation SAM HOUSTON it was engaged in road se- 
curity to keep Highway 19 open. The tanks were also used to 
drive cattle from villages to new relocation sites. 

The foot soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division were thor- 
oughly fatigued. On April 5, Company C of the 3d Battalion, 
8th Infantry, was firing mortars when a deflection error sent the 
rounds exploding in American positions. Twelve U.S. service- 



164 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



men were wounded as a result. Operation SAM HOUSTON was 
terminated that midnight. The division's after-action report rue- 
fully commented: 



The most difficult tactical problem found in fighting the NVA in 
large areas of difficult terrain is finding the enemy. That is, find- 
ing him without having tactical units shot up and pinned down 
by automatic weapons and snipers, also armed with automatic 
weapons, at close range. 



2. Guarding the Border 

With the advent of the summer monsoon season, Major 
General Peers nestled two brigades of his depleted 4th Infantry 
Division up against the Cambodian border in the flat rolling hills 
of western Pleiku Province south of the Se San River, The 1st 
Brigade covered the area from Due Co north across forested 
plains into the rugged Chu Goungot-Chu Yam massif and Plei 
Djereng, while the 2d Brigade worked south of Due Co through 
the la Drang Valley. There he hoped to stop the 1st and 10th 
NVA Divisions if they tried to push into South Vietnam's west- 
ern heartland. This frontier guard duty turned out to be arduous 
and costly, but it did stifle NVA attempts to cross large forces 
through that particular area during most of 1967. 

The 4th Infantry Division relocated in these areas on April 
6, 1967, the day after Operation SAM HOUSTON ended. The 
new operation was labeled FRANCIS MARION, and before it 
ended in October the division would fight eight hard battles. It 
must be mentioned that in April many soldiers who had de- 
ployed with the division were scheduled to rotate home. Line 
companies were fielding less than one hundred men, and almost 
all the officers and sergeants were brand new. This would have 
considerable impact on combat in the coming months. 

Border brushes with NVA recon parties became common in 
late April. The 2d Battalion of the 8th Infantry was being mech- 
anized that month and was trying out its new armored person- 
nel carriers. The 8th Infantry had never been spectacular, but 



BATTLE FOR THE HIGHLANDS 165 



it enjoyed a reputation for steady dependability. 2 On the last 
day of April, Company A got off its tracked vehicles and began 
moving slowly along the la Muer River on foot. 

Early that morning one of its platoons scattered thirty NVA 
by hasty ambush, the stunned North Vietnamese soldiers pick- 
ing up their wounded without firing a shot in return* The rest 
of the company moved up to destroy an apparently small enemy 
patrol on the run. The NVA tried to set up a defense line in 
order to treat those injured, but the pursuit was so hot that the 
casualties were abandoned. The chase continued toward a tree 
line which suddenly spattered the field with machine-gun fire, 
pinning two squads in the open. Half the company became en- 
gaged in the searing tropical heat, and over three hours were 
spent trying to pull back the dehydrated squad members. 

After napalm and bombs blistered the tree line, a combined 
late afternoon attack was made behind two armored personnel 
carriers of the battalion scout platoon. They were almost to the 
trees when a volley of automatic weapons fire ripped across the 
company front. The soldiers scrambled back as the tracked car- 
riers shifted into reverse. They were up against the 2d Battal- 
ion, 95B NVA Regiment. All night long, artillery explosions lit 
up the forest. Captain William R, Harvey used the darkness to 
bring up all his armored personnel carriers, as well as two tanks 
from Troop B, 1st Squadron, of the 10th Cavalry. 

After intensive air and artillery preparation, the company 
moved forward in the morning, passing through the initial am- 
bush site of the previous day. Sniper fire erupted over the noise 
of diesel engines, and the tanks roared into line beside each 
other, their steel tracks tossing back clods of dirt. Two squarish 
armored personnel carriers, top-heavy with cupolas and gun- 
shields, kept up on the left, and four churned alongside to the 

2. The 8th Infantry was organized in Detroit, Michigan, in July 1838 and 
served in both Mexican and Civil wars, occupied the Carolinas, and moved 
to fight Indians in Arizona during 1872. It invaded Cuba during the war with 
Spain, and in June 1913 fought the four-day Battle of Bagsak Mountain on 
Jolo Island, Philippines, which ended the long struggle against the fierce Moro 
pirates. It assaulted Normandy, France, in World War II and deployed to 
Vietnam in August 1966. 



166 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



right. One of the carriers threw a track and drunkenly ground 
to a stop. Its soldiers scrambled out, quickly dismantled its guns, 
locked hatches and doors, and clambered onto other advancing 
vehicles. 

As the war machines relentlessly neared the tree line, NVA 
soldiers raced out to heave grenades under their tracks. The 
medium tanks blasted back with powerful 90mm cannister rounds, 
throwing out great clouds of smoke-filled death which chopped 
through men and shrubbery, Personnel carriers swung their ar- 
mored cupolas around to hose clinging NVA soldiers off other 
vehicles with machine-gun fire. Resulting sparks flew wildly off 
the sides of blood-streaked tank turrets, Tanks looked like iron 
beasts emitting electrical discharges in the thick haze of the bat- 
tlefield. Their crushing weight beat down the dense under- 
growth, and the company drove through the tree line. 

The mechanized onslaught carried them into a large bunker 
complex. NVA soldiers desperately tried to aim anti tank rock- 
ets, but the dense jungle and the flow of battle obstructed their 
efforts. Cannister discharges and machine guns swept the foliage 
like scythes, and slaughtered gunners were strewn like broken 
dolls over unused B-40 rockets. Topside bunkers were blown to 
pieces by point-blank cannon fire. The mechanized infantrymen 
periodically opened the back doors of their carriers and emerged 
to stalk the jungle and grenade remaining lunkers. Mechanized 
firepower had given the men of the 8th Infantry a mailed fist. 

Its sister 1st Battalion of the 8th Infantry, was normal foot 
infantry. On May 18, Company B \vas trudging through the un- 
dergrowth of light tropical forest, composed of trees ranging from 
fifteen to seventy-five feet in height. A platoon was detached to 
check out a well-traveled trail, spotted a lone khaki-clad NVA 
soldier, and started pursuit. Lieutenant Allen, the company 
commander, radioed the platoon to rejoin him. A "lame duck" 
ambush was then triggered by the K4 Battalion, 32 d NVA Reg- 
iment between them, and the platoon was trapped. The rest of 
Company B was unable to break through to the isolated men. 

Seven platoon soldiers ran over to a small creek bed where 
all but one were immediately killed by a machine-gun. The NVA 
initially tried to overrun the rest of the platoon from the creek, 
but were repulsed. Continuous machine-gun fire raked the pinned 



BATTLE FOR THE HIGHLANDS 167 



men, and the platoon lieutenant, sergeant, and radioman died 
in rocket explosions. The NVA then moved across the shattered 
platoon in perfect line formation, firing as they advanced. They 
stopped at each body, kicked it several times in the back and 
ribs, and then searched through clothing and rucksacks. Hands 
were stripped of watches and rings. They spent forty minutes 
gathering weapons, ammunition, canteens, and other gear. The 
only survivors were seven soldiers who played dead or were 
unconscious from their wounds. Company B had a total of twenty- 
nine killed, one never found, and another thirty-one wounded. 

The next two days passed with only light contact. On the 
night of May 20, however, the entire battalion was attacked in 
its hilltop defensive positions. After an intense mortar barrage, 
three waves of soldiers from the K5 Battalion of the 32d NVA 
Regiment stormed up the slopes bathed in the ghostly, discor- 
dant flarelight. Planes illuminated the battlefield. The shifting 
glare of their airborne searchlights swept the hill. Blinding bursts 
of ignited powder silhouetted broken wire, heaving earth, and 
maimed men. The assault was defeated at heavy cost to the 1st 
Battalion of the 8th Infantry. 

The neighboring 3d Battalion of the 12th Infantry was or- 
dered to link up and reinforce the 8th Infantry. As the men left 
their defensive positions on the morning of May 22, they were 
showered by enemy mortars. Soldiers of the 66th NVA Regi- 
ment then charged down from a high ridgeline. Under concen- 
trated grenade and rocket fire, infantrymen were shifted from 
one side of their perimeter to the other to meet the onslaught. 
Soldiers dropped under the furious shelling as they dashed over, 
but enough made it to shore up the line and prevent a breach. 
They were dangerously low on ammunition and requested im- 
mediate resupply. As U.S. artillery fire was temporarily shifted, 
Air Force fighters arrived and made low-level bombing runs. 
Helicopter gunships followed, strafing and rocketing the jungle 
up to the very edge of the perimeter. After the gunship attack, 
artillery fire was brought back all around the perimeter, and 
helicopters delivered two loads of vital ammunition. Shortly af- 
terwards, the North Vietnamese broke off their attack. 

The NVA initiated a series of mortar and rocket attacks against 
strategic Pleiku city itself beginning on June 9, but the 4th In- 



168 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



fantry Division refused to budge from the Cambodian border. 
Fierce actions there continued, and on July 12 in the rock-cov- 
ered hills south of Due Co two companies from the 1st Battalion 
of the 12th Infantry ran into a hard fight again with the 66th 
NVA Regiment. Company B was attempting to reinforce a sur- 
rounded platoon. Instead, it was drrven from the field toward 
its fire base position, The rest of the battalion combined to stop 
the NVA assault. 

The last significant encounter of tie operation took place on 
a torrid July 23, when a platoon oat of the 3d Battalion, 8th 
Infantry, became separated from its company just south of Due 
Co. Both the platoon leader and the radioman were killed by 
NVA riflemen aiming at radio antemnae, and the platoon was 
practically wiped out. A battalion of the 32d NVA Regiment 
charged forward, and the shattered company dodged behind 
bushes in the light forest. They hastily set up extra claymore 
mines, which were detonated in the face of the NVA attack. 
Twice the North Vietnamese charged their lines. Jet fighters 
darted through the clear skies to pulverize the massed NVA bat- 
talion in great explosions of spewing: napalm and phosphorous. 
Both attacks were hurled back, and a second rifle company rein- 
forced their position. Twelve Air Force fighter strikes were used 
during the course of the action, ^hich not only demolished the 
attacking NVA battalion, but also annihilated the reserve bat- 
talion just a thousand yards away. 

This border guard duty was destined to remain under the 
code name FRANCIS MARION only until October 12. By Oc- 
tober it was apparent that the main North Vietnamese Army 
effort was being made in western Kontum Province, directly to 
the north. Consequently, FRANCIS MARION was consolidated 
vrith Operation GREELEY, taking place there. Both tasks then 
became Operation MAC ARTHUR., which encompassed the 
greater portions of Kontum, Pleiku, and Phu Ban provinces. 
History would subordinate the name MAC ARTHUR to its piv- 
otal battle which decided the highlands campaign: the Battle of 
Dak To. 

3. The Battle of Dak To 

The opening rounds of the Battle of Dak To actually started 
in June 1967 when the U.S. Army Special Forces camp at Dak 



BATTLE FOR THE HIGHLANDS 169 



To, situated in the towering mountains of central Konturn Prov- 
ince, was pounded by mortars. Then its local garrison sent out 
a patrol force which was bushwhacked. The monsoon season 
blanketed the region with low clouds and moving ground fog, 
but two paratrooper battalions of the crack 173d Airborne Bri- 
gade managed to airlift into Dak To on June 17. The operation 
would be initially tagged GREELEY. It would span a rugged 
wilderness covered by thick double- and triple-canopy jungle. 
The only clearings in the mountainous primeval rain forest were 
choked with bamboo fifteen to twenty feet high. 

On June 22, a company of the 2d Battalion, 503d Infantry 
(Airborne), clashed with the 6th Battalion, 24th NVA Regiment 
in one of the most violent battles of the Vietnam War. That 
morning, Company A left its night position in the triple-canopy 
jungle and began threading its way down a steep ridgeline. It 
planned to reach the brigade command post at Dak To that 
afternoon. The point squad collided with a North Vietnamese 
Army force, and the battle quickly engulfed the parachutists. 
Artillery fire crashed down and helicopter-delivered rockets 
pierced the dank green foliage. All failed to check the assault. 
Two platoons were fed into the tangled jungle cauldron. At eleven 
o'clock all contact was lost with the forward platoons. Then a 
band of disheveled, wounded troopers stumbled into the com- 
pany lines. Their shredded tropical combat uniforms, the cloth 
jump wing insignia blackened and bloodied, and exhausted faces 
told the story. The rest of the company scrambled back up the 
smoking ridge, and began frantically cleaving a landing zone out 
of the thick vegetation. 

Companies B and C were ordered forward at once. The for- 
mer air-assaulted a distance away, but was shot up as soon as 
it tried to leave the clearing. Company C was able to reach the 
area by two o'clock that misty afternoon. However, when the 
fresh company tried to get down to the overrun area of the lost 
platoons, heavy fire repulsed it. The next day the weary para- 
troopers managed to sweep the area where the platoons had 
made their last stand. Littering the trampled underbrush, bro- 
ken trees, and the clutter of war debris, were the crumpled 
bodies of seventy-six dead parachutists. 

The rest of Brigadier General Deane's elite brigade moved 
to Kontum city a week later, along with Colonel McKenna s 3d 



170 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division. The hard-fighting South 
Vietnamese paratroopers of the 5th and 8th ARVN Airborne 
Battalions and a battalion of the 42d ARVN Regiment were also 
moved in. A forward tactical command post of the 4th Infantry 
Division was set up to control activities. The gunslingers that 
General Westmoreland needed to subdue the Central Highlands 
had arrived. 

The next few months were spent in grueling marches into 
the western depths of Kontum Province, where the NVA were 
firmly entrenched in bunker complexes. The paratroopers suf- 
fered mounting losses in attacks on these fortifications. The 
bunkers were always covered by mutually supporting machine- 
gun positions, undetectable until they suddenly blazed into life. 
The supporting 299th Engineer Battalion struggled through tor- 
rential rains to replace the blown bridges along Route 14, the 
single road linking Kontum and Dak To. Despite its best efforts, 
the monsoons turned land routes into impassable quagmires. At 
times Dak To had to subsist on aerial delivery of supplies for 
days on end. Aircraft crashed and burned with alarming regu- 
larity. 

A particularly grisly aspect of this fighting involved the con- 
stant discovery of human skeletons from past battles. On June 
20, 173d Airborne Brigade paratroopers found the osseous re- 
mains of two Special Forces, eight of their indigenous CIDG 
strikers, and one NVA soldier. Three days later the bones of a 
missing radioman from one of their own patrols was found. Still 
more skeletal corpses of Army Special Forces and their CIDG 
soldiers were discovered throughout the period. Ghosts seemed 
to haunt every tropical mist-shrouded sepulcher, and the un- 
nerved parachutists freely admitted the whole area "spooked them 
out." 

The 3d Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division systematically 
searched north of Kontum throughout July. A combined Special 
Forces-CIDG force working out of its Plateau Gi camp am- 
bushed a withdrawing NVA unit on July 12. 1st Cavalry Divi- 
sion artillery supported the action. Near Dak Seang, on August 
3, the South Vietnamese airborne battalions helicoptered into 
combat. A battalion of the 42d ARVN Regiment was hung up 
on a bunkered hilltop it had assaulted. In a sanguinary night 



BATTLE FOR THE HIGHLANDS 171 



engagement on August 6, the tough South Vietnamese para- 
troopers of the 8th ARVN Airborne Battalion threw back five 
mass attacks of the 2d Battalion, 174th NVA Regiment. Ten days 
later the combat-fatigued ARVN airborne battalions left Kon- 
tum, followed by the bulk of the 173d Airborne Brigade which 
departed for coastal Tuy Hoa. On October 11, Operation 
GREELEY was folded into Operation MAC ARTHUR. At the 
end of the month, the 1st Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division 
was air-landed at Dak To. Attached to it was the 4th Battalion 
of the 503d Infantry (Airborne) from the 173d Airborne Brigade. 
The decisive Battle of Dak To was about to commence. 

The town of Dak To lies on a valley floor next to a river, 
ringed by mountains covered by tall, thick trees capped by tri- 
ple-canopy jungle soaring a hundred feet off the ground. These 
peaks and ridges sloped steeply up to elevations of over four 
thousand feet. Throughout the first two weeks in November, 
west and southwest of Dak To, a series of attacks would be 
launched against the well-prepared, fortified NVA positions on 
the ridgelines. At the beginning of the battle only five battal- 
ions, two of them ARVN, were stationed near Dak To. By mid- 
November the numbers had tripled, and Dak To became a ma- 
jor logistical support site. 

On November 4, at a spot only a thousand yards from the 
173d Airborne Brigade's fierce June action, the 3d Battalion of 
the 12th Infantry from the 4th Infantry Division ran into an NVA 
position on a high ridge. Since the unit was unable to take it 
frontally, forty air strikes were used to paste the area. The sol- 
diers then advanced over the shattered defensive works. Mean- 
while, on November 6, the 4th Battalion of the 503d Infantry 
(Airborne) got into heavy combat on Hill 823. Losses were mak- 
ing major inroads into combat power; one 164-man company was 
down to 44 men. 

Brigadier General Leo H. Schweiter, who had taken over 
the 173d Airborne Brigade on August 24, moved his paratroop- 
ers back into Dak To at once. Along with the brigade came 
eleven teams of the 39th Scout Dog Platoon. The dogs were 
used as part of point elements. These scout dogs went ahead of 
the point man in open terrain, while in tropical forest they moved 
just behind him. In this manner the canines' energy was saved 



172 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



by having the trail broken for them. Their endurance was also 
stretched by having handlers carry them over more difficult jun- 
gle obstacles. The dogs kept up a lively interest in these varied 
regions, and alerted their masters to enemy presence, tunnels, 
food caches, and bunkers. Once a battle was joined, the dogs 
were moved to the rear as the din of mortar, artillery, and 
bombing nullified their keen hearing. 

The 4th Battalion of the 503d Infantry (Airborne) had suf- 
fered so many losses south of the Ben Het Special Forces camp, 
that the decision was made to replace it. The paratroopers of 
its sister 1st Battalion had to fight through entrenched NVA 
bunkerworks just to get to them. On November 12, the 2d Bat- 
talion was also combat-assaulted into the spreading battle. That 
night the North Vietnamese began mortaring the lucrative tar- 
get that supply-packed Dak To airfield now presented. On No- 
vember 14 the confrontation was enlarged as the 42d ARVN 
Regiment crashed into NVA forces northeast of Dak To. It was 
promptly reinforced by South Vietnamese paratroopers of the 
elite 2d and 3d ARVN Airborne Battalions. 

The 4th Infantry Division was pushing its 3d Battalion, 12th 
Infantry, from ridge to ridge. By the time the soldiers reached 
Hill 1338, they resorted to standard procedures: after striking 
bunkered positions, massive air and artillery fire were used to 
obliterate hilltops. The 173d Airborne Brigade was also moving 
down one ridge, crossing a valley, and then climbing up the 
next ridge. Riflemen strained under full rucksacks crammed with 
extra ammunition, smoke grenades, trip flares, and claymore 
mines. 

On November 13, Company B of the 2d Battalion, 503d In- 
fantry (Airborne), was checking out a potential mountainside for 
a suitable night defensive position. They were taking the usual 
intermittent sniper fire, when two bunkers were spotted. They 
had been carrying a large 90mm recoilless rifle and twenty-two 
rounds of ammunition for it, a real hardship in the mountain 
jungles. Now they saw their chance to put it into action and 
brought the gun forward. After one cannister round was fired 
into the NVA bunker, the gunners looked back toward one of 
their squad members. He was sitting on his rucksack to make 
sure no one was in the back-blast area of the gun. Suddenly he 



BATTLE FOR THE HIGHLANDS 173 



tipped sideways and fell over, shot through the head. A furious 
barrage of small-arms and rocket fire swept through the entire 
company. Radiomen and officers were quickly gunned down. The 
remaining men managed to set up a hasty perimeter as the 3d 
Battalion, 174th NVA Regiment attacked. 

The 90mm recoilless rifle crewmen quickly shot off their last 
rounds as hand grenades exploded around them. They crawled 
back to a pile of logs which was already being clipped by vicious 
cross fire. North Vietnamese soldiers tried to close in on the 
logs. One private got off a shot which missed, raised his head 
to fire again, and was shot between the eyes. Another para- 
trooper was hit in the chest and died as a medic administered 
first aid. Then the log pile was shaken by the blast of a B-40 
rocket, and the NVA bounded forward. Again the paratroopers 
repulsed the charge. 

Hand-to-hand combat, rocket and grenade blasts, and clat- 
tering automatic weapons filled the bamboo thickets and shrub 
brush. The right flank of Company B collapsed under the NVA 
assault. Shouted orders to withdraw were impossible to execute; 
breaking contact was no longer a viable option. American stand- 
bys such as artillery and air support were useless in such close 
combat. The bamboo was so thick many parachutists believed 
their M16 bullets weren't penetrating the jungle. Company A 
fought its way inside the perimeter to help hold it as darkness 
descended. 

All night long the two companies were raked by heavy NVA 
weapons. Ammunition was air-dropped into a large bomb crater 
near the position's center by helicopters, which were guided in 
by flashlight. Both sides tried to recover their wounded com- 
rades from the fringes of the battle line, and more dead were 
added in the thin space separating the two forces. No flares were 
fired for fear of silhouetting positions. At dawn the NVA with- 
drew. The fighting had been so intense that one log was found 
in the morning with six dead paratroopers on one side and four 
dead NVA soldiers sprawled out on the other side. At the end 
of the log were two more NVA, one of them an officer who still 
clutched a captured M16 rifle taken from one of the Americans. 

On November 15 a major U.S. setback for the ongoing Bat- 
tle of Dak To occurred when a mortar attack on the Dak To 



174 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



airfield touched off the ammunition dump there. Exploding ord- 
nance threatened the entire base camp, and the accumulated 
ammunition supplies required to continue the battle were lost. 
Additionally, two C-130 cargo planes were destroyed. Disaster 
was averted by emergency airlift of massive quantities of re- 
placement ammunition during the next few days. Heavy fighting 
on both sides of Dak To flared up again on November 17 and 
soon became centered on Hill 875. The fight for Hill 875 would 
ultimately climax the Battle for Dak To, as well as the 1967 
campaign for the highlands. The weather was now excellent, but 
mountain temperatures still ranged from a daytime 91 degrees 
to lows of 55 degrees at night. 

On November 18, the 26th Special Forces Mobile Reaction 
(Mike) Company ran into a large North Vietnamese Army force 
entrenched on the east slope of Hill 875, about twelve miles 
west of Dak To. Encountering a complex system of intercon- 
necting bunkers and trenches manned by the 174th NVA Reg- 
iment, the company quickly retreated. It was later determined 
that these defensive works even included tunnels between 
bunkers and had been constructed three to six months previ- 
ously, allowing ample growth of concealing natural vegetation in 
the meantime. The next day Lt. Col. James R. Steverson's 2d 
Battalion of the 503d Infantry (Airborne), the combat-jump vet- 
erans of the parachute assault into War Zone C that February, 
drew the tough mission to "move onto and clear Hill 875." 

Companies C and D of the battalion tackled the tree- and 
bamboo-covered northern slope of Hill 875 on the morning of 
November 19. After four hours of increasingly heavy return fire, 
they were abruptly assaulted by waves of North Vietnamese Army 
infantrymen of the 174th NVA Regiment, the hill's defenders. 
The paratroopers dropped their rucksacks and retreated in the 
thick underbrush. Desperately they clawed into the ground with 
knives and helmets to carve out a defensive line. The NVA gave 
them no respite, rushing the troopers in groups of twenty to 
thirty men. The NVA attackers were well camouflauged, their 
faces painted black and their weapons wrapped in burlap. Ma- 
chine guns, rifle grenades, mortars, and well-placed snipers rid- 
dled the paratroopers of the two lead companies. 



BATTLE FOR THE HIGHLANDS 175 



Company A was in reserve at the bottom of the hill cutting 
a landing zone out of the jungle. Waves of screaming North 
Vietnamese Army regulars charged through its positions in such 
force that two platoons simply evaporated. Now split and under 
fierce assault, the battalion's reserve was in imminent danger of 
being overrun as well. Most of the paratroopers there were al- 
ready dead when the six-man command group was completely 
wiped out in hand-to-hand combat. 

The rain of steel was mowing down parachutists so fast all 
seemed lost. A sergeant was hit and the medical specialist dragged 
him over to a tree, where the latter was shot through the head 
himself. One private had his M60 machine gun blown out of his 
hands by a rifle grenade. Their lieutenant tried three times to 
get to the sergeant and was hit each time. The sergeant died 
crying, "For God's sake, Lieutenant, don't come out here; there's 
a machine gun behind this tree!" He had been shot seven times. 
With scores of paratroopers already killed, many missing, and 
hundreds wounded, the survivors of the shattered battalion tried 
to shore up their front with an emergency perimeter. 

As fallen and severely wounded men were being dragged 
into the relative safety provided by the center of the perimeter, 
a bomb from an Air Force fighter plummeted into their midst. 
There it exploded in a horrendous blast which tossed limbs and 
pieces of clothing over the entire area. Twenty men literally 
disintegrated, and another thirty were horribly wounded. The 
battalion had lost most of its leaders; even the chaplain was 
mortally wounded. 

As fast as the paratroopers fired, the NVA appeared in more 
numbers on all sides. The 335th Aviation Company had six of 
its helicopters shot out of the sky as they started to descend. 
Supporting artillery fire was now starting to hit the battalion, 
and a platoon sergeant went from shattered radio to radio until 
he found one that worked. Frantically he turned the frequency 
knob, trying to raise any friendly station. He happened to turn 
it to the artillery fire direction center network and was able to 
adjust the errant shells. 

The night was filled with more terror. Soldiers hollered on 
both sides and tossed grenades across the burning boundaries 



176 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



of the perimeter. The NVA were yelling, "Now You Chieu Hoi, 
G.I.T 3 The sister 4th Battalion, spent the night preparing to 
move up Hill 875 to break through to its fellow paratroopers. 
They stuffed their rucksacks and pockets full of ammunition. 
Everything else was left behind except for one meal, one can- 
teen, and one poncho for carrying dead and wounded. 

On the morning of November 20, Lt. Col. James H. John- 
son's 4th Battalion started up the slope. They found it littered 
with empty C-ration tins that the NVA had captured. Bloodied 
Chinese first-aid dressings and expended ammunition cans dot- 
ted the hillside. By one tree a young paratrooper was found 
dead in a pile of empty shell casings, still clutching his jammed 
M60 machine gun. They began passing so many dead Americans 
that soon some of the advancing men wondered openly if there 
was anyone left alive to link up with. However, there was no 
resistance and seven thousand yards up the hill the 4th Battal- 
ion reached the worn perimeter at ten o'clock that night. The 
survivors of the 2d Battalion openly cried as the union was fi- 
nally made. 

The following day a new landing zone was cut out of the 
twisted jungle, and for the first time the brigade was able to 
lift out its wounded from the November 19th battle. For seven 
hours Hill 875 was plastered with every artillery and air asset 
available. Air strikes streaked in every fifteen minutes, scorch- 
ing the crest with seven and a half tons of burning napalm. Then 
the paratroopers made an afternoon attack. They prepared to 
advance by forming ranks behind a wall of last-minute artillery 
fire which pounded the hillside. Suddenly an NVA mortar coun- 
terbarrage rained down. The men dove into their foxholes as 
the explosions tore through their positions. Crowded six or seven 
to a hole, direct hits decimated the attackers before they could 
even begin the climb. 

At three o'clock the attack began, but return fire reduced 
the advance to a crawl. The paratroopers found themselves up 
against mutually supporting bunkers built flush to the ground, 
with up to fourteen feet of protective dirt and logs piled over- 



3. Chieu Hoi was the "open arms" program promising clemency and financial 
aid to guerrillas who stopped fighting and returned to live under South Viet- 
namese government authority. 



BATTLE FOR THE HIGHLANDS 177 



head. These defensive works were usually spotted only after they 
opened fire, and then had to be painfully reduced one by one. 
Ordinary grenades, flamethrowers, and recoilless rifles proved 
useless. One group of troopers fired twelve antitank rockets di- 
rectly into a bunker aperture and then charged forward to clear 
it. They were met by a hail of grenades and submachine-gun 
fire from the bunker occupants, who had taken refuge in a con- 
necting tunnel during the rocket attack. The battalion resorted 
to sending individuals forward to heave twenty-pound satchel 
charges through bunker openings or dump concentrated napalm 
mixture inside and then ignite the substance with grenades. 

The tenacious NVA defenders responded by firing rockets, 
which skidded along the ground and slid into the paratroopers 
who were huddled behind logs and mounds of dirt. There they 
went off, killing and wounding dozens. Fortunately for the 
Americans, the Chinese grenades also sprinkling their pinned 
ranks were almost all duds. The NVA even managed to charge 
the flanks and rear of the battalion. After two trenchlines were 
captured in close combat, the advance finally ground to a halt 
within 250 feet of the top of the hill. After darkness the word 
to "hold in place" changed to "fall back." More intensive air and 
artillery bombardment was used the next day. 

Throughout November 22, continuous air strikes pummeled 
Hill 875 and the surrounding area with bombs, napalm, and 
rockets. The top of Hill 875 had been blown bald by the terrific 
bombardment, which continued throughout the night. The 4th 
Battalion was reinforced by fresh soldiers airlifted into the valley 
near the southeast slope. These infantrymen were from two fresh 
companies helicoptered in from Darlac Province by the 4th In- 
fantry Division's 1st Battalion of the 12th Infantry. They com- 
bined and spent the night under mortar fire preparing to assault 
the hilltop the next morning. They prepared for the renewed 
attack by checking weapons and distributing more ammunition 
and satchel charges. 

The final attack was launched against Hill 875 on November 
23. The paratroopers and infantrymen started back up the hill, 
but this time there was hardly any opposition. They scrambled 
past empty man-deep trenches and huge bunkers. The NVA had 
left, their covering mission completed. At 11:55 that morning 
the paratroopers reached the abandoned summit. They cheered 



178 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



with the chants they yelled when jumping out of aircraft, slo- 
gans inherited from the victories of World War II "Airborne!" 
and "Geronimo!" However, their shouts were tempered by the 
realization that many gold-starred veterans of Vietnam's only 
parachute assault were now dead. Other soldiers reaching the 
hilltop simply sat down in the dust and charred wood splinters 
around them, opened their cans of C-ration turkey loaf, and had 
lunch. 

The Battle for Hill 875 was over, and by November 28 it 
was obvious that the 1967 Battle for the Highlands was over 
also. The battered 1 st NVA Divisions 32d and 66th Regiments 
had retreated beyond the South Vietnamese borders, shielded 
by the division's Laotian War veteran 174th Regiment. From 
October 25 through December 1, a tremendous military effort 
had been waged by some of the Army's best units. They had 
crossed some of the most hostile territory in South Vietnam and 
battled against some of the finest light infantry in the world. 
The expenditures matched the stakes involved; 151,000 rounds 
of artillery, 2,096 tactical air sorties, and 257 B-52 bombing strikes 
had been used. The losses had been high also. The 179th Avia- 
tion Company, which flew recovery Chinook helicopters, picked 
up over forty carcasses of downed helicopters. 

The Battle of Dak To had driven the NVA off the field of 
battle into Laos and Cambodia. The Army had secured victory 
by surmounting great logistical difficulties to close with and de- 
feat an entrenched first-class opponent. As 1967 closed, the abil- 
ity of the NVA to stage major operations in the Central High- 
lands had been largely negated. However, as events in 1968 
were to prove, the long-range effects were less satisfactory. The 
setback the NVA had sustained was temporary, and the 1967 
Battle for the Highlands had caused extremely heavy losses to 
both the 4th Infantry Division and the 173d Airborne Brigade. 



CHAPTER 12. 



HOLDING THE LINE 



1. The DMZ Spring Campaign 

On February 26, 1967, Army heavy artillery planted on the 
scraped laterite of Hill 158, at the Con Thien Marine fire base 
two miles below the Demilitarized Zone, unleashed a deafening 
cannonade that stirred up miniature whirlwinds of red dust. The 
174-pound projectiles were being fired over the DMZ, and the 
North Vietnamese counterbatteried the next day. Con Thien and 
Gio Linh were shelled, while Camp Carroll farther south was 
subjected to a fierce rocket attack. These opening salvos initi- 
ated a savage artillery exchange that would last throughout the 
year, thunderclaps in the storm gathering over the northern 
fringes of South Vietnam. 

The entire Marine DMZ campaign was hinged on the com- 
bat bases hugging the length of Route 9, from western mist- 
shrouded Lang Vei, past Khe Sanh, the Rockpile, Camp Car- 
roll, and Cam Lo, to the key Marine command post of Dong 
Ha. Four Marine battalions had been skirmishing in the terri- 
tory beyond this line since the previous August as part of Op- 
eration PRAIRIE. Only two fortified outposts had been thrust 
closer to the DMZ, Con Thien and Gio Linh, both forward gun 
positions under the shadow of the zone itself. Desultory local 
actions were waged against the 324B NVA Division through the 
drenching winter monsoons, but the tempo quickened as the 
artillery duels intensified and the dry season approached. 

The North Vietnamese Army periodically infiltrated large 

179 



180 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



combat formations directly south into Quang Tri Province through 
the DMZ. The 3d Marine Division, lacking the strength phys- 
ically to cover the length of South Vietnam's northern border, 
resorted to a mobile defense. It depended on a roving advance 
guard to detect crossing NVA forces, which were counterat- 
tacked by Marine elements stationed at the major bases along 
Route 9. In this manner a reconnaissance patrol from the 4th 
Marines tripped over the advancing 812th NVA Regiment in the 
scrub brush outside Cam Lo on February 27. One of the tanks 
accompanying the relief company (Company L, 4th Marines) 
threw a track in the dense undergrowth, forcing the advancing 
Marines to laager overnight deep in hostile jungle. 

Daybreak was accompanied by an intense mortar barrage 
which sent geysers of dirt tearing through the Marine positions. 
As clumps of earth and grass were still falling to the ground, 
waves of North Vietnamese soldiers stormed out of the jungle. 
Rocket-propelled grenades exploded against two tanks, setting 
one on fire. The Marine defenders defeated three determined 
NVA infantry charges with the help of massed close artillery 
support. The North Vietnamese pulled away as Lt. Col. Victor 
Ohanesian of the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, reached the stranded 
company with reinforcements later that morning. 

Another company of the 4th Marines had also been sent in 
from another direction. It was now ordered to take a hill block- 
ing the suspected North Vietnamese withdrawal and unwittingly 
sallied up the slope directly into perfectly camouflaged fortifi- 
cations. The NVA abruptly opened up at point-blank range, kill- 
ing the company commander and forcing the Marines back un- 
der a vicious cross fire. Another line company was helicoptered 
north of the hill and began moving toward the stricken unit. 
That afternoon Ohanesian's group also set out toward the new 
scene of action. Since the disabled tanks were still stuck, Com- 
pany L was left in place as security. 

Lieutenant Colonel Ohanesian's column was beset by a thick 
snarl of jungle and began moving down a trail just beyond Com- 
pany Us lines, confident that the NVA forces had departed. The 
North Vietnamese triggered a massive ambush along the trail, 
showering the Marines with a hail of grenades and machine-gun 
fire which tore the entire column in shreds and killed both 



HOLDING THE LINE 181 



Lieutenant Colonel Ohanesian and his Sergeant Major. Tightly 
bunched in platoon clusters and under heavy fire from the dense 
walls of vegetation on each side, the Marines desperately crawled 
over abandoned equipment and dozens of dead comrades, drag- 
ging their wounded back to Company L. The North Vietnamese 
then kept the armor-supported perimeter under such devastat- 
ing rifle and grenade fire that medical evacuation helicopters 
were unable to land. 

Marine units throughout the area were redirected toward the 
remnants of Ohanesian's group. The North Vietnamese soldiers 
left the battlefield, and the Marines consolidated without inci- 
dent. They swept the entire vicinity, but the tropical forest around 
Cam Lo was now deserted. Maj. Gen. Bruno A. Hochmuth took 
over the 3d Marine Division on March 20, as the Special Land- 
ing Force battalion came ashore south of the Gio Linh fire base. 
That battalion fought a week-long battle through a maze of in- 
terconnecting North Vietnamese tunnels between Gio Linh and 
Con Thien. 

The next threat that Hochmuth's division faced was sparked 
along the western part of Route 9 near Khe Sanh. The Khe 
Sanh combat base consisted of an airstrip carved from a small 
plateau overshadowed by Dong Tri Mountain. The surrounding 
territory was composed of a tangle of piedmont hills with jungle- 
webbed slopes, which disappeared in groves of bamboo and saw- 
toothed elephant grass. Four peaks covered by sixty-foot-high 
tropical hardwood trees dominated the most advantageous 
northwest approaches, Hills 558, 861, and 881 North and South. 
Khe Sanh was being defended by solitary companies on a ro- 
tating basis, which pushed reconnaissance patrols into the rug- 
ged hills around it. On March 16, 1967, a platoon from Com- 
pany E of the 9th Marines was ambushed returning from an 
overnight patrol position on nearby Hill 861. Another platoon 
was sent to help, and both were badly shot up trying to get 
casualties out of an emergency landing zone. The opening shots 
in the incipient struggle for Khe Sanh had been fired. 

On April 24, a Marine forward observation party from Com- 
pany B, 9th Marines, was bushwhacked in a bamboo thicket on 
the slope of Hill 861. The action engulfed several platoons in 
heavy combat on the hillside, and a company from the 3d Ma- 



182 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



rines was sent in from the Rockpile. The new Marines were fed 
into the battle the next day, but the well-fortified NVA bunkers, 
supported by mortars on the reverse slopes, stopped all further 
advances. Instead of another brief patrol engagement it devel- 
oped into the first of The Hill Fights, which lasted until mid- 
May. 

After Khe Sanh was heavily shelled during the night of April 
25, it became apparent that the 325C NVA Division was also in 
command of other hills overlooking the base. The next morning 
another company from Camp Carroll joined in the attack up Hill 
861, but it was also repulsed. In the meantime Company B had 
also attempted to link up, but was decimated and pinned in 
place. The battalion pulled back down the hillside at sundown 
and was able to extract the remnants of Company B under the 
cover of rain showers and night fog. 

Colonel John P. Lanigan, commander of the 3d Marines, ar- 
rived at Khe Sanh to take charge. The regiment's 2d Battalion 
was made available from the Quang Tri area by closing out its 
role as Special Landing Force. Together with several companies 
of the 9th Marines, he had roughly three rifle battalions com- 
mitted. 1 They were outfitted with an unfamiliar weapon, which 
was about to undergo its first Marine test in battle. The 3d Ma- 
rines had exchanged their reliable wooden M14 rifles for light- 
weight black M16s. 

More Marines slipped into muddy positions on the battle 
line in the nightly downpours. Incessant air strikes and heavy 
artillery pounded Hill 861 into a smoking, cratered heap of up- 
turned earth and shrapnel-riddled, branchless tree stalks. The 
North Vietnamese soldiers abandoned their positions, and the 
Marines met no resistance as they marched to the hilltop on 
the afternoon of April 28. The 3d Battalion of the 3d Marines 
tackled the next NVA strong-point, Hill 881 South, on April 30. 
It had also been worked over by intensive bombardment. Two 
platoons had almost reached the summit when perfectly cam- 

1. The exact Marine units and arrivals in The Hill Fights were Company M, 
3d Marines (April 27); 2d Battalion, 3d Marines with Companies E, F, G, H 
(April 26); 3d Battalion, 3d Marines with Company K (April 25); Company 
B, 9th Marines (already at Khe Sanh); Company E, 9th Marines (May 1); 
Company K, 9th Marines (April 25); and Company M, 9th Marines (April 



HOLDING THE LINE 183 



ouflaged, earthen-timber casemated defensive works struck the 
Marines on all sides with machine-gun and grenade fire. Men 
were spun around and thrown into the broken ground before 
they could return a shot. Mortars added to the carnage, and 
snipers finished off the screaming wounded. Helicopter gun- 
ships and fighter-bombers carved out a channel of exploding 
ordnance, through which the battalion managed to retreat down 
the hill. Company M of the 3d Marines had been rendered 
combat-ineffective . 

Another day was devoted to massed aerial and artillery dev- 
astation, which raked the hill and flattened scores of bunkers. 
The battalion attacked again and took Hill 881 South on the 
afternoon of May 2. That same morning, after extensive clearing 
skirmishes, the 2d Battalion had worked its way into attack po- 
sitions against the single remaining NVA hillsite, Hill 881 North. 
The Marines toiled up the slippery clay in driving rain. NVA 
machine guns and rockets suddenly blazed through their ranks 
and the attack faltered, then stalled, and finally stopped for the 
night. 

In the early morning darkness of May 3, the battalion suf- 
fered a sharp reverse. A North Vietnamese Army counterattack 
overwhelmed Company E and reoccupied several bunkers. More 
waves of North Vietnamese attackers were disclosed under flare- 
light, and direct Marine 106mm recoilless rifle fire was used to 
break up the charge. The battalion spent the next day painfully 
reducing each recaptured bunker with close-in assaults and 
demolition charges. Hill 881 North was plastered by air and ar- 
tillery bombardment, and the Marines pressed to its summit in 
the afternoon of May 5. Mopping up and final destruction of 
the extensive fortified positions continued for another week, but 
The Hill Fights were over. On May 13, 1967, the 1st Battalion 
of the 26th Marines took over the defense of Khe Sanh, and 
they were reinforced by the 2d Battalion the next month. Their 
mission would become a harrowing ordeal when the regiment 
was besieged there during 1968. 

2. The DMZ Campaign Continues 

Con Thien, the Marine forward artillery post perched on a 
small knoll near the DMZ, soon developed secret strategic sig- 
nificance in addition to its crucial observation role. It was des- 



184 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



tined to be the western terminus of an infiltration barrier ex- 
tending to Gio Linh, which Defense Secretary Robert S. 
McNamara planned to stretch across Vietnam and eventually Laos. 
Initially coded Project PRACTICE NINE, but popularly known 
as the Electric Fence, this mine-sewn, sensor-saturated, obsta- 
cle-swamped swath of bulldozed land was to be backed by a 
feed system of elaborate strong-points. 2 The Institute of Defense 
Analysis had sold the idea to the Defense Department, and 
General Westmoreland noted it could potentially substitute for 
additional troop requirements. 

The Marines were bluntly opposed to the whole concept, 
which they considered impractical and immensely expensive, and 
which relegated them to building and manning futile static de- 
fenses. However, the McNamara Line had the highest national 
priority, and a trial segment was ordered emplaced by the end 
of the year. The 3d Marine Division began devoting most of its 
energy to the preparatory clearing and construction of this pre- 
liminary section. The enormous construction resources required 
placed a tremendous strain on Marine logistical support. That 
April, Army Task Force Oregon had been created at Chu Lai 
to free several Marine battalions for mobile area warfare. In- 
stead, barrier security consumed all additional Marine man- 
power assets made available. 

Con Thien, conceived as a key PRACTICE NINE Barrier 
strong-point, quickly developed into a magnet for NVA shellings 
and maneuvering. It dominated operations in the DMZ area, 
and an entire line battalion was stationed there to guard the 
engineers razing the surrounding countryside. On May 8, 1967, 
the base was hit by a predawn mortar barrage followed by a 
sapper-led ground assault. North Vietnamese soldiers pierced 
the perimeter wire with bangalore torpedoes and raced through 
a hail of automatic weapons fire to leap into the trenches of 
Company D, 4th Marines. NVA flamethrowers scorched bun- 
kered machine guns as close-quarters combat raged through the 
Marine lines. Two armored amphibious tractors sent into the 
breach were knocked out by satchel charges and rocket-pro- 

2. Project PRACTICE NINE was relabeled ILLINOIS CITY in June 1967, 
and DYE MARKER on July 14, 1967. 



HOLDING THE LINE 185 



pelled grenades. The Con Thien defenders managed to eject the 
assailants after a bitter fight lasting most of the morning. 

The Marines began large sweep and clearing operations for 
the PRACTICE NINE barrier in the second half of May. For 
the first time in the war, a multibattalion attack was launched 
into the southern half of the Demilitarized Zone. The drive be- 
gan early on May 18 under an umbrella of helicopter gunships 
and fighter-bombers. 3 To the east a motorized South Vietnamese 
force dashed straight up Highway 1, reached the border and 
Ben Hai River at first light, and wheeled around to sweep back 
south. Shortly after the South Vietnamese jumped off, the Ma- 
rine Special Landing Force Battalion hit the beaches near the 
mouth of the Ben Hai River and drove inland against en- 
trenched resistance. 

The western prong of the drive was launched by Marine bat- 
talions near Con Thien north into the zone, while another bat- 
talion air-assaulted just south of the Demarcation Line. Its ma- 
jor purpose was to evacuate the civilian population from this 
region so that the barrier could proceed. Hard fighting devel- 
oped immediately. Bunker complexes and fortified hills, well built 
and camouflaged to blend into the ground, presented formidable 
obstacles to the Marine advance, but the NVA pulled back un- 
der pressure. After two raging battles on Hills 117 and 174 dur- 
ing the last week of May, the operation was successfully con- 
cluded. 

The Marines continued to scour the southern DMZ after- 
wards, pulverizing massive bunker and tunnel emplacements 
through early June. Afterwards, company-sized ambuscades pre- 
vailed in the lower zone area. Lt. Gen. Robert E. Cushman, 
Jr., took over III Marine Amphibious Force on June 1, and 
throughout the summer and fall the main arena of conflict re- 
mained Con Thien. Increasing artillery and rocket barrages against 

3. The South Vietnamese portion, consisting of five battalions, was called Op- 
eration LAM SON 54. The Special Landing Force Alpha (1st Battalion, 3d 
Marines) portion was Operation BEAU CHARGER. The western prong was 
Operation HICKORY, executed by the 2d and 3d Battalions, 9th Marines, 
and 2d Battalion, 26th Marines, from the Con Thien, with an aerial insertion 
of the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines, north near the Ben Hai River. Later the 
2d Battalion, 3d Marines, was also committed. The NVA 31st, 32d, and 812th 
Regiments were engaged. 



186 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Marine fire bases were coupled with violent infantry clashes. 
Operation BUFFALO was among the fiercest. 

Capt. Sterling K. Coates's Company B of 1st Battalion, 9th 
Marines, was ambushed along hedgerow-lined Route 561 within 
earshot of Con Thien on July 2. North Vietnamese soldiers of 
the 90th NVA Regiment, backed by flamethrowers and massed 
artillery, shattered the Marine attempts to disengage. Pinned 
platoons were rapidly cut up and in minutes the company was 
destroyed. The rest of Lt. Col. Richard J. Schenning's tank-sup- 
ported 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, counterattacked. Tanks ex- 
ploded in minefields, ferocious mortar barrages blistered heli- 
copter insertions, and artillery on both sides blasted infantry 
movements. After considerable fighting, the Marines reached the 
remnants of Company B. Staff Sergeant Leon R. Burns reported 
to the relief column, "Sir, this is the company, or what's left of 
it." Out of three hundred men, only twenty-seven shaken sur- 
vivors were able to walk out. With the company suffering nearly 
two hundred severely wounded and another hundred dead, it 
had been one of the worst Marine battle disasters of the Viet- 
nam War. 

Colonel Schenning's battalion was still locked in heavy com- 
bat, and two more battalions were shoved into the battle (3d 
Battalion, 9th Marines, and 1st Battalion, 3d Marines). Heavy 
artillery exchanges continued as the Marines swept north. One 
152mm shell impacted directly on top of a 9th Marine battalion 
command post on July 5. The violent ground fighting culmi- 
nated in a massed NVA regimental attack on July 6. Aircraft 
swooped down to strafe and bomb lines of fully combat-equipped 
North Vietnamese regulars. Artillery shellfire blanketed the bat- 
tlefield with smoke and burning powder. Many North Vietnam- 
ese soldiers reached Marine positions despite horrendous losses, 
hurling blocks of TNT before they were gunned down or stabbed. 
Two days later the battle was over, leaving hundreds of torn 
North Vietnamese corpses and acres of demolished equipment 
crushed into the smoking earth. 

Dong Ha was subjected to a fierce rocket and artillery attack 
in August which exploded both the ammunition and fuel dumps, 
and left them burning for days. Marine medium helicopter 
squadron HMM-361 had so many of its aircraft destroyed and 



HOLDING THE LINE 18? 



severely damaged that it was temporarily put out of business. 
As a result, III MAF was forced to relocate Marine Aircraft Group 
16 (Forward) to Quang Tri, which was outside NVA artillery 
range. 

By the end of August, the Marines had completed much of 
the test barrier section, but work on this massive undertaking 
continued. In September events moved to a climax at Con Thien. 
During the month the Marine fire base was pounded by one of 
the most intense shellings of the Vietnam War. In one week, 
that of September 19-27, Con Thien was lashed by 3,077 rounds. 
Occasional NVA ground attacks struck the base but were stopped 
at the wire. Outside the perimeter several Marine battalions tried 
to keep the NVA forces at a safe distance from the base. These 
efforts produced frequent, sharp firefights. 

In the fading twilight of September 10, 1967, the 812th NVA 
Regiment, garbed in Marine helmets and flak jackets, struck the 
perimeter of the 3d Battalion, 26th Marines, near Con Thien. 
Circling aircraft flashed across the darkening sky, tumbling bombs 
that crashed across the attacking formations in gushing explo- 
sions of jellied napalm. As the NVA infantry ran forward a me- 
dium battle tank and a flame tank unleashed a torrent of can- 
nister projectiles and scorching fire. Both armored vehicles were 
rocked with salvos of rocket-propelled grenades. The flame tank 
disintegrated in a tremendous blast which left its hulk blazing 
through the night. The other tank rolled into a ditch. The Ma- 
rines hammered the onrushing North Vietnamese soldiers with 
claymore mines, machine guns, and automatic weapons. The 
Marines fell back to a final defensive position and called in a 
solid curtain of protective shellfire, which broke the NVA at- 
tack. 

At the end of the month the bombardments of Con Thien 
began tapering off, and on October 4, 1967, MACV declared 
that the siege of Con Thien was over. One segment of the 
McNamara Line section was largely implanted before the mid- 
October torrential monsoon rains drenched the northern prov- 
inces with flooding waters. Roads were turned into red ooze, 
and mud caked equipment and weapons. While fighting became 
light and intermittent the next month, the 3d Marine Division 
lost its commander. Major General Hochmuth's helicopter ex- 



188 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



ploded and crashed en route to Dong Ha on November 14, 1967, 
and two weeks later Maj. Gen. Rathvon McC. Tompkins arrived 
to take his place. 

The last action of the 1967 DMZ campaign occurred in late 
December when the 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, ran into a heav- 
ily fortified beach village in trouble-plagued Operation BADGER 
TOOTH. Naval landing craft had brought the Marines ashore 
the previous day to search several seaside hamlets in southern 
Quang Tri Province. Captain Thomas S. Hubbell's Company L 
spent the night at Tham Khe and then moved out to search 
other villages. At noon it was ambushed trying to reenter Tham 
Khe. Two companies of the 716th NVA Regiment had infiltrated 
behind them. 

Although the village was literally in the middle of the Ma- 
rine battalion, there was an inordinate amount of confusion trying 
to coordinate an attack. The fighting was intense, several com- 
panies were stuck, and NVA mortar fire was blocking attempts 
to link up. Company L was cut off and unsure of its exact lo- 
cation, precluding fire support. Its captain had been killed and 
communications were gone. After a bitter, bloody struggle the 
battalion managed to consolidate at midnight. The North Viet- 
namese had slipped back out in the meantime. Shortly before 
noon on December 28, 1967, after a nightlong aerial and naval 
bombardment, the Marines entered the demolished village. 

Several NVA attempts to shove large units south of the DMZ 
had been defeated in heavy combat. The Con Thien section of 
the barrier designed to prevent such incursions had been re- 
named PROJECT DYE MARKER and had been emplaced at 
great cost. Defense Secretary McNamara envisioned the bar- 
rier's installation in successive stages with an air barrier pro- 
jected across Laos and the first land stages stretching from Cua 
Viet to Dong Ha, thence westward. However, the barrier was 
never realized. The system's ultimate doom was sealed by the 
loss of western Route 9 after the fall of Lang Vei and the aban- 
donment of Khe Sanh the next year. The results of the massive 
scientific effort supplementing the barrier plan, especially in the 
field of electronic monitoring devices, were later placed to ex- 
cellent use elsewhere on the Vietnam battleground. 



HOLDING THE LINE 189 



3. The Marine Coastal Campaign 

During the DMZ border battles the 1st Marine Division was 
heavily engaged in the rice plains and coastal sands of the lower 
three provinces of I Corps Tactical Zone. The Viet Cong strong- 
hold in that area was between Chu Lai and Da Nang in the 
densely populated, fertile Phuoc Ha Valley, which by 1967 was 
an old Marine battlefield. 4 Isolated South Vietnamese forces had 
been consistently cut up trying to outpost the area. The Marines 
lacked the assets to control the valley and placed a reinforced 
company (Company F of the 1st Marines) on a critical hill mass 
overlooking it. On April 21, this company was moving along a 
ridgeline when it was hit by concentrated volleys of automatic 
weapons and grenade fire from the 3d NVA Regiment outside 
Binh Son. 

The division responded by air-assaulting two battalions from 
Da Nang into action the next morning. One of them was air- 
mobiled into a hornet's nest of North Vietnamese infantry and 
was forced to fight a major action getting beyond its landing 
zone. The reinforcements reached Binh Son, but combat was so 
intense all along the front that another battalion was helicop- 
tered in from Chu Lai that evening. Operation UNION, under 
direction of the 5th Marines, had commenced. 5 

Fighting was heavy through April 25, and then the North 
Vietnamese began exfiltrating the battlefield. The Marines pur- 
sued, but contacts were infrequent. Then, on May 8, the 1st 
Battalion of the 5th Marines ran into steadily increasing resis- 
tance on the northern side of the valley. Hill 110 was taken on 

4. Also called the Que Son Valley or Nui Loc Son Basin, this area was the 
operational confines of both 1965 HARVEST MOON and 1966 COLORADO. 
It was located just south of the border between Quang Nam and Quang Tin 
provinces near Tarn Ky and became the haunt of the 2d NVA Division. 

5. The 5th Marines had gained fame storming the German trenches at bay- 
onet-point in Belleau Wood during World War I. It was activated in June 
1917 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and had fought in France, Nicaragua, 
Guadalcanal, New Guinea, New Britain, Peleliu, Okinawa, and Korea. It had 
been in Vietnam since March-May, 1966. Initially the 1st and 3d battalions, 
1st Marines, and 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, were involved in Operation 
UNION. On April 25, the 5th Marines took over entirely. 



190 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



May 10, but NVA troops entrenched in nearby caves and sugar- 
cane fields chewed up several other Marine companies coming 
to assist. In a fierce daylong battle, marred by accidental aerial 
rocketing of Marine positions, the battalion pushed the North 
Vietnamese out of their defensive positions. 

Three days later the 5th Marines entered a running battle 
with NVA companies and platoons in the valley basin. On April 
15, the 3d Battalion encountered another fortified bunker area. 
Marine air strikes and artillery pummeled the complex while 
the riflemen pushed into assault positions. The fight continued 
through the evening and then gradually subsided as the Marines 
overran the main entrenchments around midnight. Two days later 
Operation UNION was terminated. 

Operation UNION II was designed to trap the 21st NVA 
Regiment in the same general area, and was initiated with a 
main heliborne assault on May 26, 1967. Driving south from 
their landing zone, the Marines ran into the main trenchworks 
of the North Vietnamese regiment the first day, located on the 
hillsides north of Thien Phuoc. The 3d Battalion of the 5th Ma- 
rines charged up the fire-swept slopes to overrun the North Vi- 
etnamese lines at bayonet-point. Another large battle developed 
June 2 in the rice fields and hedgerows outside Vinh Huy, and 
a day after Maj. Gen. Donn J. Robertson took command of the 
1st Marine Division, he was forced to commit an emergency 
composite battalion into the action. This extra reinforcement 
tipped the ground firepower scales, and the NVA broke contact. 
It was the last engagement of the UNION operations. 

The Marines continued the campaign against the 2d NVA 
Division through airmobile drives closely coordinated with am- 
phibious assaults conducted by the Seventh Fleet's Special 
Landing Force. However, at this stage strong Army forces were 
also taking on this same North Vietnamese division in the Chu 
Lai area, as Task Force Oregon tackled the rugged inland jungle 
and numerous fortified villages hugging the coast. 




Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division push deep into War Zone D dur- 
ing June of 1967. (Author's Collection) 




Soldiers of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander M. Haigs 1st Battalion of 
the 26th Infantry (1st Infantry Division) mark their forward fighting 
positions with smoke during the battle of April I, 1967, in Operation 
JUNCTION CITf in War Zone C near the Cambodian border. (Au- 
thor's Collection) 




Soldiers of the 3d Battalion, 8th Infantry (4th Infantry Division) guard 
their perimeter after repelling a North Vietnamese Army attack in the 
mountains west of Kontum near the Cambodian border. (Army News 
Features) 




Soldiers from the 1st Battalion of the 16th Infantry (1st Infantry Di- 
vision) collect their dead and wounded on a battlefield near Xom Do 
in War Zone D during June, 1967. (Author s Collection) 




Massed helicopter insertions, such as this one by the 2d Battalion of 
the 8th Cavalry on October 29, 1967, typified 1st Cavalry Division 
operations during Operation PERSHING in the coastal provinces. (U.S. 
Army) 




Grim paratroopers of the 173d Airborne Brigade prepare to continue 
the assault up Hill 875 during the Battle of Dak To in November, 
1967. (U.S. Army) 




Marines of the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, take cover as Viet Cong 
automatic weapons open up on January 27, 1967, in Quang Ngai 
Province. (U.S. Marine Corps) 




This M67 flamethrower tank engages North Vietnamese Army posi- 
tions with fire as it supports Marine infantry of the 1st Battalion, 3d 
Marines. (U.S. Marine Corps) 



CHAPTER 13. 



BATTLE FOR THE 
COAST 



1. A Task Force Named Oregon 

In February 1967, action promised to become intense along the 
DMZ, and MACV decided shock troops like the U.S. Marines 
should be freed from all coastal security duties. One of the 
problem areas of the Marine district was the southern half of I 
Corps Tactical Zone, more specifically, the Viet Cong-infested 
Quang Ngai Province. The Marines needed more troops on the 
Demilitarized Zone, where major battles were being waged 
against North Vietnamese Army regulars. 

In February 1967, General Westmoreland decided to throw 
together three orphan Army brigades into a containing force for 
southern I Corps, to relieve the Marines of secondary problems 
in that portion of their zone. The task force was coded Oregon, 
and with any luck it would provide security in the coastal area, 
open Route 1 and the railroad, and relieve pressure in northern 
Binh Dinh Province as well. To replace the Marine presence as 
well as was possible with Army troops, it was decided to build 
the framework of this divisional-sized force around elite stiff- 
ening. The separate 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division 
was used for this purpose. In early April, the 196th Infantry 
Brigade was yanked out of Operation JUNCTION CITY and sent 
to Chu Lai. The 3d Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, al- 

191 



192 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



ready in the area under the control of the 1st Cavalry Division, 
was ordered to Chu Lai by the end of the month. Odds and 
ends from all over Vietnam were logistically scraped up to sup- 
port Task Force Oregon, and on April 20, the package was given 
to III Marine Amphibious Force. 

On May 11 the task force launched its first combat opera- 
tion, MALHEUR, with its airborne brigade near Due Pho. Sup- 
ported by generous air strikes, the paratroopers fought eighteen 
separate firefights and uncovered large food and ammunition 
caches. Light fighting typified by ambushes and vigorous pa- 
trolling continued through July. However, MALHEUR II was 
concluded August 2 without any success in coming to grips with 
the elusive VC and NVA forces in the area. 

Both the 196th Infantry Brigade and the 3d Brigade of the 
25th Infantry Division were in poor condition. The former was 
filled with green replacements as its initial veterans headed home, 
and the latter was severely short of sergeants and interpreters. 
That brigade was hastily beefed up with extra aviation and tanks 
and then directed to move against Viet Cong main forces ce- 
mented in Quang Ngai Province. 

Although the 2d ARVN Division was stationed at Quang Ngai 
itself, the Viet Cong enjoyed free run of this, as well as two 
adjacent, provinces. In fact, scores of weapons-toting VC were 
defiantly crossing the fertile rice paddies in broad daylight, much 
to the chagrin of local MACV advisors. This kind of insolent 
behavior not only mocked the Saigon government, but also dis- 
rupted travel along national Highway 1 and menaced various 
other activities. Most of these Viet Cong belonged to the com- 
bat-hardened 2d VC Regiment. The 3d Brigade would end up 
fighting them throughout the year. 

The brigade discovered that the regular Viet Cong were highly 
trained and ready to fight. Their fortified villages contained 
communications trenches, air-raid tunnels, and fighting bunkers, 
embellished by booby traps and punji pits. The initial fighting 
in April was light and sporadic. Relentless pressure by large 
groups of American infantrymen, usually mechanized or heli- 
coptered in from out of nowhere and accompanied by fierce na- 
val bombardment and pounding B-52 bomber strikes, finally 
caused many of the regular VC to disperse into the nearby jun- 



BATTLE FOR THE COAST 193 



gle-covered mountains. Afraid and tired, some of the local vil- 
lage Viet Cong began turning themselves in. 

Many villages continued to resist. A tank-riding reconnais- 
sance platoon of the brigade was searching the beachside village 
of An Tho on the breezy, clear morning of August 20, 1967. 
Shortly after eleven o'clock a resupply helicopter was buffeted 
by ground fire, and the American tanks rumbled north after two 
Viet Cong running toward the nearby hamlet of An Thach. There 
a sixty-man company of the 97th Battalion, 2d VC Regiment oc- 
cupied a maze of trenchlines winding among the bamboo thick- 
ets and cactus hedgerows, which boxed in small plots of open 
farmland. 

The tanks' steel-encased machine guns opened fire and cut 
down one of the VC dodging into the sandy brush. Then the 
hidden trenchline spewed out an uneven racket of automatic ri- 
fle fire. Although the Viet Cong had no antitank weapons, they 
were determined to defend the village with grenades and other 
weapons. The rest of the combined force at An Tho was swiftly 
pushed into the skirmish. Suddenly one of the tanks was jarred 
by an explosion. Although the tank itself was undamaged, its 
crew had been wounded by the force of the blast. Helicopter 
gunships hovered above the tanks and infantry as they worked 
in close conjunction to clear the first trenchline. The crescendo 
of machine-gun fire was periodically stifled by the boom of tank 
cannonade slamming point-blank into the hedgerows. 

Lt. Col. Norman L. Tiller decided to airlift two more com- 
panies of his 2d Battalion, 35th Infantry, into An Thach. The 
35th Infantry was particularly well suited to this combat; its reg- 
imental shield was emblazoned with a giant cactus and its nick- 
name was the Cacti, derived from its original service along the 
Mexican border. Now the unit was heavily engaged amidst the 
bloodstained cacti surrounding An Thach. 1 

The Viet Cong were fighting desperately from bunkers and 
trenches to hold on to their positions. As they became com- 
pletely encircled they realized their predicament and decided 

1. The 35th Infantry was organized in July 1916 at Douglas, Arizona for 
guard duty against Mexico and moved in 1922 to Hawaii. Since then its des- 
tiny had been in the Pacific, where it fought through both World War II and 
the Korean War. It had been in Vietnam since January 1966. 



194 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



to break for the west. They moved from trench to trench, paus- 
ing only long enough to fire a few bursts before moving again. 
Through the haze of close combat they saw more and more heli- 
copters discharging green-clad, equipment-laden Americans who 
were closing off all exits. Low-flying helicopters buzzed down 
the fortified avenues, their machine guns ripping up earth and 
structures into whirlwinds of dust and smoke. Some Viet Cong 
clutched their automatic rifles and made frenzied charges against 
the hated armor-plated monoliths which dominated the square 
patches of open ground. 

The soldiers of the 35th ruthlessly pressed forward as the 
lopsided battle inevitably deteriorated. The Viet Cong company 
was broken into smaller fragments under the weight of the tank- 
infantry assault. Several VC were killed hiding in holes under- 
neath their houses. About two o'clock the gunfire rose to a brief 
climax as Army riflemen and machines rammed through the last 
real resistance, a cluster of fourteen soldiers who died in close- 
quarters combat. Thereafter, the afternoon was punctuated by 
bursts of rifle fire at ten-minute intervals as surviving VC were 
flushed out. A flurry of helicopter activity overhead finished eight 
Viet Cong trying to flee across open rice paddies. Only a single 
five-man bunker was left by evening. The reinforcing companies 
had already started shuffling back to their helicopters, which took 
them to the beach to spend the night. 

The Viet Cong company had been annihilated. The day's ac- 
tion was typical of those military victories in Vietnam in which 
the Army could muster overwhelming power and crush an op- 
ponent incapable of meaningful response or flight. This was war 
as it had existed in every century: uneven, cruel, and reduced 
to a ritual of slaughter. The warriors' success was measured by 
violent destruction, in which prompt and systematic elimination 
of the enemy meant the loss of fewer comrades. The terror and 
shock of bayonet-point battlefield reality remained the ultimate 
finishing school of first-class soldiers. 

The 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division was search- 
ing for the Viet Cong inland through saturation patrolling and 
ambushing. Companies were air-assaulted into multiple landing 
zones and, once on the ground, patrolled in three or four areas 
which were within mutual striking distance in case reinforce- 



BATTLE FOR THE COAST 195 



ment was required. To allow the companies to fade into the 
tropical rain forest, up to seven days' rations were issued before 
operations. The brigade seldom moved at night since controlled 
movement through the jungle became very difficult. During hours 
of darkness, the paratroopers settled into ambush positions along 
trails that they had found during the day. 

Task Force Oregon was being transformed by mid-August 
The 3d Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division was redesignated 
as the 3d Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, and this change 
of title brought it a step closer to rejoining the latter division 
in the Central Highlands. With the 1st Brigade of the 101st 
Airborne Division looking forward to recuperating at its Phan 
Rang home base, only the 196th Infantry Brigade was left with- 
out a sponsor. Although the 23d Infantry Division (Americal) 
had its genesis in Task Force Oregon, only the 196th served 
both. Daily contacts between small opposing groups continued 
under a variety of code names well into November. During that 
time, however, Task Force Oregon was becoming a legitimate 
Regular Army division. 

On September 22, 1967, Task Force Oregon was redesig- 
nated the Americal Division. The name Americal was chosen 
partially in deference to Marine Corps-Army working relation- 
ships. The old Americal Division of World War II had been 
formed from Army units on New Caledonia to support the Ma- 
rine offensive on Guadalcanal. The name was derived by com- 
bining the words American and Caledonia, and it became offi- 
cial. The name Americal had another connection. It was the only 
division during World War II to be formed outside United States 
territory, an act being repeated in Vietnam by the conversion 
of Task Force Oregon. 2 

The Chu Lai security 196th Infantry Brigade initially had to 
serve as the backbone of the new division. Resulting problems 
that the Americal Division experienced stemmed mostly from 

2. The military in Vietnam also was attracted to the notion that it was the 
Army's only named division, but this was not strictly the case. The Depart- 
ment of the Army had assigned it the numerical designation 23 after World 
War II, and Americal was now only an agnomen which could be placed in 
parentheses. MACV conveniently ignored this officialese whenever it could, 
and the division was simply known in Vietnam as the Americal Division. 



196 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



the two poorly trained brigades added as soon as they landed 
in Vietnam. The 198th Infantry Brigade, another castoff in- 
tended for police duty in the Dominican Republic, was given 
to the Americal Division after it was nixed for duty on the Ca- 
ribbean island. The llth Infantry Brigade arrived to join the 
division in late December. The brigade had been formed to re- 
constitute the Pacific reserve on Hawaii. The unit was not fully 
trained or equipped when it suddenly received orders for de- 
ployment to Vietnam. This extremely tight scheduling pre- 
cluded smooth transition to a battlefront role. Predeployment 
inspections revealed over thirteen hundred men incapable of 
deploying. Many filler personnel were hastily added to the bri- 
gade to meet these shortfalls, and in fact replacements contin- 
ued to arrive up until the very date of departure. The turmoil 
and confusion were detrimental to both its predeployment prep- 
aration and its ultimate combat performance. 

On Thanksgiving Day of 1967, as paratroopers and infantry- 
men were scrambling up Hill 875 in the Central Highlands, the 
196th Infantry Brigade was fighting another fortified position in 
Quang Tin Province near the South China Sea. The morning 
was overcast with light misting rain as the 4th Battalion, 31st 
Infantry, 3 moved out against Hill 63. The hillock island, rising 
from the flat rice paddies, was covered with thick brush and 
jumbled boulders. Numerous small houses on these hillocks were 
surrounded by dense ten-foot high hedgerows dividing vegeta- 
ble plots. 

The hill was defended by soldiers of the 2d NVA Division 
entrenched in foxholes and hedgerows. Sudden bursts of close- 
range submachine-gun fire started cutting down the advancing 
armor-vested infantrymen. Tanks from the 1st Squadron, 1st 
Cavalry and armored personnel carriers from Troop F, 17th 

3. The 31st Infantry was known as the "Polar Bears," a title gained after 
service in the ill-fated Siberian expedition of 1918-19. Formed in the Phil- 
ippine Islands in 1916, it had surrendered to the Japanese 14th Army on 
Bataan early in World War II. Reorganized in Korea after the war, where it 
stayed until inactivation in 1957, the regiment did not set foot in the United 
States until 1965 when it was reformed in Massachusetts as part of the 196th 
Infantry Brigade. The 4th Battalion had been sent overseas again, to Vietnam, 
less than a year later. Large, menacing polar bears still decorated the unit's 
distinctive insignia. 



BATTLE FOR THE COAST 197 



Cavalry, plowed forward. A rocket-propelled grenade struck the 
ammunition box on one vehicle and a spectacular explosion rocked 
the area. By noon the fighting had become general and more 
infantry and armored reinforcements were committed. Some tanks 
became mired in the monsoon mud. 

The battle degenerated into a deadly game between infantry 
and bunkered positions. The foot soldiers encountering a bunker 
fired tracer rounds into it, showing the tank commanders where 
to aim. The tanks resorted to firing two rounds per bunker: a 
high explosive round with a delayed fuse to kill the NVA inside, 
followed by another high explosive "superquick" shot to open 
up the bunker's sides. Their tracked tonnage crushed in many 
defensive works. One particular bunker held out for over an 
hour. Finally, some soldiers tied eight pounds of TNT to a twelve- 
foot bamboo pole and shoved it in the rear entrance. The blast 
caved the bunker in on its occupants. 

Fifteen tons of bombs and ten tons of napalm plastered the 
surrounding countryside, as the infantrymen were taking fire from 
across the rice paddies also. The next day dawned cloudy and 
humid, and the mission was expanded to clear the rest of the 
islands. Early that morning heavy automatic weapons fire ripped 
into the armored-infantry teams, announcing the NVA's contin- 
ued presence. Artillery and air strikes saturated the area, in an 
attempt to block all avenues of escape. Sweeps across many is- 
lands failed to disclose all the hidden positions. Bypassed NVA 
gunners would fire point-blank into the backs of soldiers moving 
beyond them. By November 25, the North Vietnamese had been 
pushed out of the area, and the battle was over. The 196th In- 
fantry Brigade and the new Americal Division would continue 
to face a determined, resilient foe for the duration of their ef- 
forts in Vietnam. 

2. Battle for the Bong Son Plains 

Maj. Gen. John Norton's 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) 
had been fighting against the 3d NVA Division in lush, densely 
populated Binh Dinh Province since early 1966. As 1967 opened, 
the cavalry was engaged in Operation THAYER II, part of a 
continuing series of maneuvers designed to maintain pressure in 
that coastal province. Reinforced by a 25th Infantry Division 



198 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



brigade, it continued to comb the rice and sugarcane fields around 
the Bong Son lowlands and its adjacent valleys. The North Vi- 
etnamese and main force Viet Cong were highly elusive, and 
contact was difficult. As a result, opposition remained light dur- 
ing the operation, and the only notable action occurred on Jan- 
uary 27. The 2d Battalion of the 12th Cavalry air-assaulted into 
a hornet's nest four miles northwest of Bong Son while con- 
ducting a reconnaissance sweep. Its descending helicopters came 
under fire from two battalions of the 22d NVA Regiment, and 
the rest of 2d Brigade leaped into action. However, the North 
Vietnamese quickly fled the battlefield before blocking forces 
could reach the scene. 

On February 11, during the Tet 1967 holidays, Major Gen- 
eral Norton kicked off Operation PERSHING, with the avowed 
purpose of finishing off NVA forces in northern Binh Dinh Prov- 
ince. Reinforced by swarms of news camera teams, his division 
began sweeping hamlets and flushing the VC out of tunnels, 
wells, and hidden bunkers. Light skirmishing also flared along 
the high ground to the west of the Bong Son plains. During the 
first week of March, the 2d Brigade tangled twice with the 18th 
NVA Regiment in the Crescent Mountain area. On March 19, 
the 1st Battalion of the 8th Cavalry clashed unexpectedly with 
a large North Vietnamese force, and two battalions of the 5th 
Cavalry joined the three-day battle before the North Vietnam- 
ese slipped away. 

All three brigades of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) 
were concentrated in Binh Dinh Province on Operation 
PERSHING soon after Maj. Gen. John J. Tolson III took com- 
mand of the division on the first day of April. With the excep- 
tion of one detached battalion, the entire division was together 
for the first time in over a year. At the same time the attached 
brigade from the 25th Infantry Division was freed to join Army 
Task Force Oregon. During the next month the cavalry's 3d Bri- 
gade pushed north into the former Marine trouble spot of Quang 
Ngai Province. Embedded in the jungled, cave-studded hills it 
found Viet Cong strongholds which often covered the flat, open 
rice paddies with grazing fire. 

The 2d Battalion of the 8th Cavalry air-assaulted into the 



BATTLE FOR THE COAST 199 



Viet Cong bastion of Song Re Valley on August 9. 4 Following a 
brief artillery barrage, one company of cavalrymen helicoptered 
onto a ridgeline which turned out to be bristling with camou- 
flaged North Vietnamese fortifications. Immediately upon touch- 
down they were greeted by a combined onslaught of heavy au- 
tomatic weapons, mortar, and recoilless rifle fire which blasted 
several helicopters out of the sky. Close combat raged for more 
than four hours before the troopers were able to pull back far 
enough to call in supporting air strikes. After forty-six tactical 
Air Force sorties and concentrated aerial rocket fire, the NVA 
withdrew. Cavalry reinforcements were unable to regain con- 
tact. 

During September, a number of firefights erupted in both 
the Bong Son and An Lao valleys. The newly arrived mecha- 
nized 1st Battalion of the 50th Infantry was attached to give the 
1st Cavalry Division some armored firepower. By November, 
Operation PERSHING was reduced to a holding action as the 
division channeled forces in to bolster the Battle of Dak To. 
During the last month of the year the division returned to win 
an important victory over a fortified village complex near Tarn 
Quan, along the seacoast of Binh Dinh Province. 

Scout helicopters from the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, spot- 
ted a radio antenna sticking out of the ground near Tarn Quan 
on December 6. When the flight leader fired rockets at it, he 
was answered by machine guns. One of the squadron's aerial 
rifle platoons was landed at once astride Highway 1. It reached 
the edge of Tarn Quan village before being pinned down by 
accurate fire from trenchlines interlaced with spider holes which 
were covered by logs and dirt. The hamlet was situated on a 
large paddy island covered by palm trees and dense bamboo 
thickets separated by numerous hedgerows, and the trench net- 
work was constructed along the edge of this island. Another rifle 
platoon was air-assaulted into an adjacent rice paddy, but it also 

4. The 8th Cavalry was one of the Army's post-Civil War regiments raised 
at the Presidio of San Francisco to tame the West. It fought Apaches, Co- 
manches, and other Indians, most notably in Arizona. After twelve years of 
Texas duty to 1888, it served in Cuba and the Philippines and fought in both 
World War II and in Korea with the 1st Cavalry Division. 



200 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



became pinned in place as night was approaching. 

The 1st Battalion of the 8th Cavalry was air-assaulted into 
the maelstrom to extract the two platoons just prior to dark. As 
the cavalrymen moved out, the Viet Cong suddenly opened fire 
from well-concealed spider holes. Company B consolidated on 
its landing zone as night fell, and armored personnel carriers 
from the 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry, were added around its pe- 
rimeter. Deep ditches around the paddy island had prevented 
the tracked carriers from getting around resistance. The sky was 
illuminated by constant flares and aircraft searchlights, and the 
aerial cavalry scouts were able to pull back under fire to the 
laager. As standard insurance, continuous artillery fire was used 
to pound the surrounding area. 

The next morning rocket-firing helicopters doused the vil- 
lage with nonlethal riot-control gas, and self-propelled antiair- 
craft Duster guns lumbered in to use their automatic twin 40mm 
guns to rip through the thick shrubbery concealing the defend- 
ers. Artillery fire softened up the objective. The 40th ARVN 
Regiment pushed south of Dai Dong to complete the encircle- 
ment. At nine o'clock the 1st Battalion's cavalrymen, bolstered 
by several armored personnel carriers, charged across the marshy 
rice paddies. They were battered and repulsed by fierce inter- 
locking defensive fires. More artillery bombardment was di- 
rected into the fortifications. That afternoon two flame-throwing 
armored personnel carriers arrived, and the battalion was sent 
in again to dislodge the entrenched Viet Cong. 

The cavalrymen went forward with two companies on line 
and armored personnel carriers interspersed through their ranks. 
Recoilless rifle fire and rocket-propelled grenades slammed into 
the advancing troops. One carrier exploded, but a gush of smoke 
from the backblast of the Viet Cong antitank rifle exposed the 
weapon site. A burst of flame from one of the special armored 
personnel carriers scorched the position. As the troopers closed 
in to the first line of bunkers, dozens of grenades bounced off 
the rumbling vehicles. Many VC were crushed by the grinding 
mechanized tracks clanking over the trenches. Combat engineer 
bulldozers churned into the area to throw a causeway over the 
soggy battlefield, bury trenchlines, and clear areas for aerial 
medical evacuation. 



BATTLE FOR THE COAST 201 



That same afternoon a company of the mechanized infantry 
tried assaulting the nearby village of Dai Dong, They crossed a 
wide rice paddy but were quickly bogged down in the dikes 
around the hamlet. The battle raged for the next several days, 
the Americans pulling back each evening to night laagers ringed 
with armored vehicles. Reinforcements were urgently required, 
and the 1st Battalion of the 12th Cavalry had to be airlifted into 
the fight all the way from Dak To. Dai Dong was finally overrun 
on December 9 as the VC defenders were splintered into small 
groups that were methodically eliminated in small firefights 
throughout the area. The battle continued across the Bong Son 
River where the last organized resistance was crushed at An 
Ngheip by the 2d Battalion of the 8th Cavalry. This final en- 
gagement was marred by the inability of the armored personnel 
carriers to cross the swift-flowing, mud-banked river. 

The Battle of Tarn Quan was costly to both sides. Only three 
Viet Cong surrendered, and hundreds of bodies were uncovered 
in the charred wreckage of bunkers and collapsed trenchlines. 
Army and ARVN forces had suffered grievously as well. How- 
ever, as a result of 1st Cavalry Division efforts during Operation 
PERSHING, Binh Dinh was one of the least affected provinces 
in Vietnam during the upcoming NVA/VC Tet-68 Offensive. 



..iff 




PART 4 

1968 



* Con Thien 

-Nhi Ha Dai Do area 

Dong Ha 

Camp Evans 
Hue 

Hoa Vang 



KEY TO OPERATIONS 

1 - YELLOWSTONE 

2 - NEVADA EAGLE 

3 - WHEELER / WALLOWA 



Filhol Plantation 

FSB Pope 

Dau Tieng 

FSB Burt 

Ben Cui Rubber Plantation 



FSB Buell 
Tay Ninh 
Trang Ban 
CuChi 




Phu Bai 

Phu Loc 

A Shau . 

Da Nang 
Hoi An 



Tam Ky * 
Chu Lai 
Son My My Lai 




Ben Cat 
Phu Cuong 
I yLam Son 
.* i/ Bien Hoa 

I Xuan Loc 

Hoi* O V. LongBinh 
Tan An. Can Duoc /ongjhanh 
MyTho. ^J^.BaRIa 



Phan Thiet 



** 

Van Kiep Naval Training Center 



5,0 



100 



scale miles 

Saigon 

Map by Shelby L Stanton 

South Vietnam - 1968 



-N- 



CHAPTER 14. 



YEAR OF CRISES 



1. 1968: Military Posture in Vietnam 

The Vietnam Tet Offensive hit the American military like a 
thunderbolt. MACV had been expecting trouble, but not on a 
country-wide scale. On the eve of Tet-68, January 31, the United 
States had nine divisions, one armored cavalry regiment, and 
two separate brigades committed to Vietnam. This force totaled 
331,098 Army soldiers and 78,013 Marines, concentrated in a 
hundred infantry and mechanized battalions. 1 MACV also had 
several strong formations from other countries in Vietnam, most 
notably the 1st Australian Task Force, a Royal Thai Army Reg- 
iment, two Korean divisions (the Capital and 9th), and a Korean 
Marine Corps brigade. 

During January MACV's concerns in Vietnam were riveted 
on the northernmost provinces, upon which the high command 
had developed a fixation. The Marine Corps had already in- 
vested twenty-one infantry battalions, of its total thirty-six 
worldwide, into this I Corps Tactical Zone. The 3d Marine Di- 
vision was defending parts of Defense Secretary McNamara's 



1. The U.S. forces and their actual strengths on January 31, 1968, were 1st 
Marine Division (22,466); 3d Marine Division (24,417); 1st Cavalry Division 
(18,647); 1st Infantry Division (17,539); 4th Infantry Division (19,042); 9th In- 
fantry Division (16,153); 23d Infantry (Americal) Division (15,825); 25th In- 
fantry Division (17,666); 101st Airborne Division (15,220); 173d Airborne Bri- 
gade (5,313); 199th Infantry Brigade (4,215); llth Armored Cavalry Regiment 
(4,331); 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) (3,400). 

205 



206 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Project DYE MARKER barrier, and stretched out along the Route 
9 trace of strong-points that paralleled the DMZ. The 1st Ma- 
rine Division was emplaced in Da Nang, Phu Bai, and Quang 
Tri. One regiment of the 5th Marine Division, the 26th Ma- 
rines, had garrisoned the western anchor bastion of Khe Sanh. 

General Westmoreland had been reshuffling his deck of 
available combat resources northward for some time. The trend 
had been set as early as August 1966, when the Korean Marine 
Brigade had been shipped into Chu Lai. By 1967, major op- 
erations in the rest of Vietnam were being curtailed, as field 
forces sacrificed major units in the rush to shift more Army for- 
mations north. Alarming year-end intelligence reports of a major 
NVA effort brewing in the border province of Quang Tri were 
followed by events at Khe Sanh. There the frightening results 
of a mid- January patrol action verified that the Marine combat 
base was surrounded by at least two dug-in NVA divisions. With 
the 26th Marines cut off at Khe Sanh, and both 1st and 3d Ma- 
rine divisions tied down in hard combat, the situation in I Corps 
Tactical Zone appeared to be fast shaping up as a major disaster 
unless enough reinforcements could be pushed into the area 
during January to secure it. 

The Army s new 23d Infantry (Americal) Division, charged 
with taming the two southern provinces of the zone, was still 
forming and did not carry much offensive clout. Its most recent 
component was the poorly trained and equipped llth Infantry 
Brigade (Light), which had just disembarked in Vietnam in De- 
cember. Already divisional soldiers were calling it "The Metre- 
cal Division sponsored by General Foods," hardly a phrase re- 
flective of high morale. During the height of the Tet-68 offensive, 
Marine commanders balked at General Westmoreland's recom- 
mendation to use it to reinforce Da Nang. 

Airmobile striking power was rammed north when the crack 
1st Cavalry Division in Binh Dinh Province was moved to III 
Marine Amphibious Force control. The 3d Brigade had been 
helping the Americal Division there since October, and it re- 
joined the divisional headquarters and 1st Brigade in the Hue- 
Phu Bai area on January 21, 1968. The division's other brigade 
did not move north until March, so the 2d Brigade of the 101st 
Airborne Division arrived as a temporary supplement. The 1st 



YEAR OF CRISES 207 



Cavalry Division immediately began operations around Quang 
Tri. 

If any Army unit could perform airmobile magic, it was this 
one. Known as the First Team, it was a division forged precisely 
for the Vietnam style of area warfare. Led by the dynamic Ma- 
jor General Tolson, a paratrooper who had made almost every 
Pacific jump of World War II, it had been beefed up well be- 
yond average divisional power with lavish amounts of aviation. 
It was the only division with its own helicopter group, hundreds 
of assault and rocket-firing choppers that excelled in lifting the 
veteran sky troopers into the hottest landing zones in Vietnam. 

The 1st Cavalry Division not only had dash and experience, 
but more importantly, its men demonstrated an uncanny will- 
ingness to knock heads with the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. 
The division enjoyed a reputation for repeated success on the 
battlefield. Popularly known as Sky Cav, the division staged sur- 
prise air assaults so startling that VC mortar crews had been 
caught firing unarmed rounds, the shipping plugs still inserted, 
at the cavalrymen pouring out of helicopters. The 1st Cavalry 
Division's umbrella of aerial war wagons mauled the NVA at 
Quang Tri, helped crush the opposition in Hue, and leaped into 
Khe Sanh during the spring of 1968. 

However, divisions of the 1st Cavalry Division's caliber were 
the exception by this time. The famed 101st Airborne Division 
had recently arrived in Vietnam, but it was airborne in name 
only and a shadow of its prewar eminence. Drained by years of 
maintaining its top-notch 1st Brigade in Vietnam, the division's 
ranks contained a mere sprinkling of parachutists. On January 
10, U.S. Army, Vietnam, completed a paratrooper availability 
study which projected difficulties in retaining even the 173d 
Airborne Brigade in such a mode. The Army decided to take 
the 101st off jump status and turn it into a second airmobile 
attack division, but at the moment requisite aviation and train- 
ing for such a conversion were lacking. In the meantime, the 
steady influx of ordinary soldier replacements both in Kentucky 
and Vietnam had transformed it into a standard division. 2 

2. The Department of the Army redesignated both the 1st Cavalry Division 
and the 101st Airborne Division on June 27, 1968, as the 1st and 101st Air 
Cavalry Divisions, respectively. This created a lot of fuss and bother among 



208 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



The "Screaming Eagles" 101st Airborne Division had ini- 
tially been programmed as a concentrated shot in the arm for 
III Corps Tactical Zone. However, it became an early candidate 
for General Westmoreland's northern buildup. A brigade flew 
north to reinforce the 1st Cavalry Division in January. At the 
same time other units of the division searched around Song Be 
and probed the southern part of War Zone D and the Filhol 
plantation. On February 19, 1968, the division headquarters and 
1st Brigade scurried north to the vicinity of Hue, allowing the 
1st Cavalry Division to get into position to relieve Khe Sanh. 
On that day the Army divisions in the area outweighed the Ma- 
rine divisions three to two. The big move left III Corps Tactical 
Zone with only the 3d Brigade, which had been parceled out 
in several Tet-68 reaction battles. 

This 3d Brigade then became the basis for one of MACV's 
most ambitious surprise moves to bag the North Vietnamese in 
central South Vietnam. It was alerted to an undisclosed location 
in the highlands. The anticipated move was so secret that the 
contingency plans were not mentioned to "foreign" personnel. 
All divisional patches were ripped off and helicopter and other 
markings erased. The 3d Brigade deployed to Kontum on May 
25, but all its deceptiveness failed to impress or entrap any- 
body, and in fifteen days it was on its way back south. In Oc- 
tober the entire division was put back together in I Corps Tac- 
tical Zone. 

Due to the accelerated northern buildup, 1968 operations in 
the central portion of South Vietnam were generally relegated 
to a holding pattern. During January, "The Herd" 173d Air- 
borne Brigade continued to }>rush against light opposition in the 
mountains as it phased into the former 1st Cavalry Division base 
camp at An Khe. After serving as a general Tet-68 fire brigade, 
the elite paratroopers scoured the coastal plains of Binh Dinh 
Province during March. The experienced "Ivy" 4th Infantry Di- 
vision continued its security of the Central Highlands against 
light and scattered resistance, broken only by the fierce Tet bat- 



the traditionalists, and on August 26, 1968, the Army Chief of Staff altered 
the titles to 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and 101st Airborne Division (Air- 
mobile). 



YEAR OF CRISES 209 



ties at Pleiku and Kontum. The Korean Capital and 9th "White 
Horse" divisions maintained effective control of the coast from 
Phan Rang to Qui Nhon. 

Two brigades of the "Tropic Lightning" 25th Infantry Divi- 
sion had gone back into War Zone C to locate Viet Cong in- 
stallations in December of 1967 in Operation YELLOWSTONE. 
At midnight on New Year's Day, Col. Leonard Daems's 3d Bri- 
gade got into a bad scrape at Fire Support Base Burt The pe- 
rimeter was defended by the armored personnel carriers and 
men of the 2d and 3d Battalions, 22d Infantry, against an all- 
out assault by soldiers of the 271st and 272d VC Regiments 
charging behind a wall of machine-gun, recoilless rifle, and rocket 
grenade fire. 3 

The fighting was savage and desperate, lasting throughout 
the night with plenty of Beehive rounds and massive, close-in 
aerial napalm strikes. Tracked carriers and self-propelled 40mm 
antiaircraft guns were burning fiercely as the Viet Cong blasted 
their way into the infantry lines. Reserves rushed from other 
sides of the perimeter managed to hold the circular wagon wheel 
defense intact, and at dawn the VC withdrew. Operation YEL- 
LOWSTONE ended on February 24, 1968. The division's 2d 
Brigade was involved in heavy fighting along the Cambodian 
border south of Tay Ninh during this time. 

The "Big Red One" 1st Infantry Division had just driven a 
wedge between War Zones C and D as it finally succeeded in 
opening Route 13 to Quan Loi. It would continue to secure this 
highway and sweep around the Saigon area during the upcom- 
ing storm of Tet-68. The "Redcatchers" 199th Infantry Brigade 
had turned over security responsibilities for the greater Saigon 
area to the 5th ARVN Ranger Group. The brigade then sortied 
into War Zone D in Operation UNIONTOWN, a mission which 
placed it in excellent defensive positions near Bien Hoa and in 
proximity to the llth Armored Cavalry Regiment. 

3. The 22d Infantry was redesignated in September 1866 in the Dakota ter- 
ritory from units raised at the end of the Civil War. It was a veteran of 
numerous Indian campaigns from the Dakotas to Montana, later fought in 
Cuba, and was shipped to the Philippines in February 1899. The regiment 
missed World War I but served in Europe during World War II. The two 
battalions had been in Vietnam since October of 1966. 



210 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



The 9th Infantry Division had shifted to cover the southern 
approaches to Saigon, while its mobile riverine force had fused 
with Navy Task Force 117 to cover the northern watershed of 
the delta. The 1st Australian Task Force commenced its first 
operation outside Phuoc Tuy Province just east of Bien Hoa on 
January 24 with Operation COBURG. This incidentally placed 
it in excellent response positions to several Tet-68 trouble spots. 
The Royal Thai Army Volunteer Regiment was also operating in 
Bien Hoa Province. 

The extent and fury of the NVA/VC Tet-68 Offensive at the 
end of January caught the American military off guard, with its 
resources stretched to the limit by the logistical and tactical strain 
of the northward shuffle. At the same time eventual success in 
the northern provinces seemed assured by this large infusion of 
extra Army assets in the area. MACV responded to the large 
battles raging there by sending in unprecedented amounts of 
war materials and additional manpower. Over sixty-five logistical 
and support units alone were moved north during January and 
February. 

General Westmoreland's deputy and successor, Gen. 
Creighton W. Abrams, flew to the Hue-Phu Bai vicinity on 
February 9, 1968, to set up an emergency advance headquarters 
tagged MACV Forward. He brought an entourage of logisti- 
cians, statisticians, and tacticians garnered from the multitude 
of desks and chart rooms of Pentagon East. The critical situation 
called for drastic measures, and General Abrams made it clear 
that it wasn't business as usual, although his loud pronounce- 
ments about slicing "nonessentials," such as PX items, beer, and 
furniture, were mitigated by the provisional company of per- 
sonal limousines that he brought along for headquarters use. 

Front-line losses in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive of 1968 
were staggering. United States combat deaths climbed 56 per- 
cent in 1968 to 14,592, while total Army and Marine helicopter 
losses were up 53 percent, with heaviest losses incurred during 
the intense combat of Tet-68 and Mini-Tet. The number of 
American deaths was already running twice the number in- 
curred in 1967, the year of the big battles. The magnitude of 
Tet-68 was also reflected in aircraft destruction, which had dou- 



YEAR OF CRISES 211 



bled over the previous year. NVA/VC determination and combat 
capability were considered most ominous. The allied combat re- 
sources on hand in Vietnam were transfixed by the conflagra- 
tion. As a result, MACV suddenly made a grab for anything that 
could be stripped out of the United States. These demands were 
personally handed to Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, the chairman of 
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during his February 22-25 visit to South 
Vietnam. At the top of the list was a requirement for the im- 
mediate deployment of twelve maneuver battalions and eight 
tactical fighter squadrons. However, in the United States the 
military cupboards were already almost bare as a result of the 
spreading quicksand of the Vietnam War. 

2, 1968: Military Posture at Home 

While the war had escalated into a major conflict, the De- 
fense Department was coping with the possibility of internal in- 
surrection in the United States itself. Increasing racial and civil 
disturbances at home continued unabated. During the first nine 
months of 1967, over 150 cities reported disorders ranging from 
minor demonstrations to the major crises of Newark, New Jer- 
sey, and Detroit, Michigan. In most cases the National Guard 
had been able to handle the situations, but in several incidents 
federal troops had to be employed. 

One of the worst city riots had erupted on July 23, 1967, 
with its own ironic connection to the raging Vietnam War. A 
predawn police raid was made on the Blind Pig, an upstairs 
speakeasy in the black ghetto of Detroit, Michigan, where a party 
was being hosted for several servicemen, two of whom had just 
returned from Vietnam. A crowd began pitching rocks at the 
police, who were putting the club's patrons into police wagons. 
The rioting quickly spread over eleven square miles, and by the 
next afternoon Lt. Gen. John C. Throckmorton had forward bat- 
talions of both the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions on the scene. 
The Detroit riots lasted ten days before the paratroopers unfixed 
bayonets and withdrew from the fire-swept, sniper-threatened 
urban ruins. Another five days would pass before the area would 
completely return to civil authority. It had been a grisly, ugly 



212 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



confrontation with a great deal of command and control confu- 
sion and a high death toll. 4 

Army and Marine troops went into action again during the 
Anti-Vietnam Demonstration at the Pentagon in October 1967. 
The major attack of the massive demonstration was made by a 
two thousand-strong group, some of whom wore gas masks and 
were armed with ax handles. They stormed the east side of the 
Pentagon behind a barrage of rocks and bottles and crashed 
through the lines of the 30th and 504th Military Police Battal- 
ions. They were repulsed at the entrance to Corridor 7 of the 
Pentagon underneath billowing clouds of tear gas. 5 

The Department of Defense was not only plagued with dis- 
sension across the country, but the beginning of January un- 
leashed a wave of military hostilities in Korea. Trouble along its 
demilitarized zone had been heating up through 1967, and the 
2d Infantry Division north of the Imjin River was suffering heavy 
losses as patrols were ambushed, trucks were mined, and North 
Korean hunter-killer teams grenaded and machine gunned out- 
posts. 6 On January 23, 1968, the North Koreans captured the 
USS Pueblo and its crew. 

Then Vietnam exploded. Immediately following the NVA/VC 
Tet Offensive, General Westmoreland pleaded for additional forces 
to stem the tide. Since June of 1966 the Marines had been 
struggling to get their newly activated 5th Marine Division in 
shape at Camp Pendleton, California. The 26th Marines had been 
yanked out first, and now MACV was insisting on another in- 
fantry regiment, the newly formed 27th Marine Regimental 
Landing Team. The 27th Marines was whisked out of El Toro, 

4. At the height of the Detroit, Michigan, riots on July 29, 1967, a total of 
15,339 federal and national guard troops were stationed at Detroit, and 9,613 
had been committed into action. 

5. During the Pentagon Riots of October 21-23, 1967, a total of 10,346 Ma- 
rine and Army troops were placed in the Washington, D.C., area. Three 
battalions were posted inside the Pentagon itself. The United States Strike 
Command flew in the 1st Brigade of the 82d Airborne Division from Fort 
Bragg, North Carolina. 

6. The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved recommendations for combat pay in 
certain areas of Korea on February 27, 1968, and the House Appropriations 
Committee made it effective from April 1, 1968. 



YEAR OF CRISES 213 



California, on February 17, 1968, and landed at Da Nang. It 
remained in defense of the key port until withdrawn from Viet- 
nam that September. 

The elite, all-volunteer 82d Airborne Division was drilling 
on the icy pine-fringed lanes of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It 
was preparing for another hard year of riot control. With the 
exception of the 82d, the United States had only two under- 
strength Marine and four skeletonized Army divisions left state- 
side by the beginning of 1968. The 82d Airborne Division was 
the sole readily deployable strategic reserve, the last real ves- 
tige of actual Army divisional combat potency in the United States 
left to the Pentagon. 7 It was composed of tough paratroopers 
who constituted a fanatically reliable formation, which became 
indispensable to the government during the racial and political 
revolts of 1968. 

Suddenly, in the wake of Tet-68, even the 82d Airborne Di- 
vision was no longer immune to MACV's incessant appetite. The 
fiction of paper flags on senior officer briefing maps was fast 
folding, and the Department of Defense could not spare the 
most reliable Army division in its inventory. Clearly, the ability 
of the armed forces to react was being stretched to the breaking 
point. The Pentagon finally compromised and agreed to release 
one third. As the 3d Brigade was being jumped on a routine 
training exercise over Florida on January 22, their orders for 
immediate Vietnam duty were being stenciled. The entire di- 
vision was stripped to round out one full-strength paratrooper 
brigade, and the advance party left a cold, wind-swept Pope Air 
Force Base next door to Fort Bragg on February 13. On the 
afternoon of Valentine's Day, the huge emergency airlift of men 
and equipment went to Chu Lai. 

The division had been so rushed to get this brigade to the 

7. Forces in the United States in January 1968 were the 2d Marine Divi- 
sion Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; 5th Marine Division (partial) Camp 
Pendleton, California; 1st Armored Division (partial) Fort Hood, Texas; 2d 
Armored Division (partial) Fort Hood, Texas; 5th Infantry Division Fort 
Carson, Colorado; 6th Infantry Division (partial) Fort Campbell, Kentucky; 
82d Airborne Division Fort Bragg, North Carolina; 6th Armored Cavalry 
Regiment Fort Meade, Maryland; 194th Armored Brigade (School Sup- 
port) Fort Knox, Kentucky; 197th Infantry Brigade (School Support) Fort 
Benning, Georgia. 



214 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



battlefront that it ignored individual deployment criteria. Para- 
troopers who had just returned from Vietnam now found them- 
selves suddenly going back. The howl of soldier complaints was 
so vehement that the Department of the Army was soon forced 
to give each trooper who had deployed to Vietnam with the 3d 
Brigade the option of returning to Fort Bragg or remaining with 
the unit. To compensate for the abrupt departures from home 
for those who elected to stay with the unit, the Army authorized 
a month leave at the soldiers' own expense, or a two-week leave 
with government aircraft provided for special flights back to North 
Carolina. Of the 3,650 paratroopers who had deployed from Fort 
Bragg, 2,513 elected to return to the United States at once. 
MACV had no paratroopers to replace them, and overnight the 
brigade was transformed into a separate light infantry brigade, 
airborne in name only. Many of those returning would be fight- 
ing in Washington, D.C., that April, huddled in burnt-out laun- 
dromats and returning sniper fire from open jeeps, as their com- 
rades pushed through dense tropical jungle against bunker lines 
overseas. 

With the February 26 arrival of the 7th Squadron of the 1st 
Cavalry (First Regiment of Dragoons), a welcome 850-man heli- 
copter search and attack unit from Kentucky, the immediately 
available military resources in the United States were com- 
pletely exhausted. Two more major units were still programmed 
to go to Vietnam, where they were needed to bolster the ex- 
treme northern provinces. The 1st Squadron of the 18th Ar- 
mored Cavalry, a California National Guard unit, was ordered 
into active federal service at Burbank on May 13, 1968, and 
scheduled to arrive in Vietnam that August. There was consid- 
erable political and antiwar turmoil in California, and MACV 
canceled the request for the California cavalry on September 25, 
1968. The 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Fort Carson, 
Colorado, was tasked to send its 1st Brigade to replace the 27th 
Marines. The division became embroiled in the Chicago and 
Washington, D.C., riots of April, and was hard pressed to get 
its brigade reorganized and combat-ready. The brigade was rushed 
to Vietnam's I Corps Tactical Zone on July 25 in order to meet 
Army scheduling deadlines. It moved to the Quang Tri area but 
was not deemed combat-ready until September 1, 1968. 



YEAR OF CRISES 215 



Events in the United States slipped from bad to worse. At 
the end of March, President Johnson announced over national 
television that he would not campaign for a second term. In 
April of 1968, seething racial unrest in Washington, D.C., Chi- 
cago, and Baltimore flared into major violence following the as- 
sassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The forces needed 
to subdue the resulting large-scale riots in all three cities in- 
cluded most of the Regular Army formations left in the United 
States, as well as massive numbers of National Guard troops. 8 
The year also tapped large Army contingents at events such as 
the Democratic National Convention in Chicago during August, 
although local authorities quelled the disorders without the need 
of actual federal intervention. 

Changes of the guard were taking place both in Washington 
and in Vietnam. On March 1, 1968, Clark M. Clifford became 
the new Secretary of Defense as Robert S. McNamara stepped 
down. One of the most profound changes of the conflict in Viet- 
nam transpired when General Westmoreland departed as MACV 
commander to become the new Army Chief of Staff on July 3, 
1968. General Abrams would bring far-reaching directional 
changes to the Vietnam battlefront, primarily in an effort to re- 
duce United States combat losses and get the South Vietnamese 
Army back into the war's mainstream. 

3. Other Vietnam Military Considerations 

Military strategy in Vietnam during 1968 was still directed 
toward sustained offensive operations to defeat the NVA/VC 
forces, although much of its momentum was in reaction to NVA/ 
VC-initiated events on the ground. City security became a ma- 
jor concern following the battles of Saigon and Hue. Although 
large offensive operations continued in certain critical areas, these 
operations were tempered in less essential areas as die military 
went on the defensive (termed "economy of force"). To com- 
pensate for exorbitant American casualty rates in the first six 

8. Major Regular Army units involved in April 1968 riot combat were: Chi- 
cago-ad Brigade, 1st Armored Division; 3d Brigade 5th Infantry Division; 
Baltimore-XVIII Corps Artillery; 197th Infantry Brigade; Washington D.C.- 
82d Airborne Division; 2d Brigade, 5th Infantry Division; 6th Armored Cav- 
airy Regiment. 



216 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



months of the year, operational zeal slackened in order to re- 
duce U.S. losses. However, most significant was an April 16, 
1968, directive to the Joint Chiefs of Staff announcing that the 
Defense Department had embarked on a course of gradually 
shifting the burden of the war to the South Vietnamese military. 
Although the word Vietnamization was not coined until 1969, 
the planning had already started. 

The South Vietnamese armed forces were not militarily self- 
sufficient, a problem rooted in years of U.S. technical and com- 
mand control and in America's direct conduct of the war since 
1965. The South Vietnamese had started to perk up after it be- 
came apparent that the United States might do the lion's share 
of the fighting. War weariness set in again after the blows of 
Tet-68, which fell hardest on the ARVN defenders. This con- 
dition was manifested by crippling desertion rates and little ag- 
gressive battlefield leadership. The South Vietnamese Army was 
still lacking essential modernization. For example, at the begin- 
ning of 1968 only the ARVN Airborne Division, Marine Bri- 
gade, 51st Infantry Regiment, and 21st, 30th, 33d, 37th, and 
39th ranger battalions were equipped with M16 rifles, which 
allowed firepower equal to the communist assault rifles. 

The South Vietnamese force structure was strengthened as 
the year progressed. The llth ARVN Airborne Battalion, which 
had been cut up by the Tet attacks on Van Kiep Naval Training 
Center, was declared operational March 30 and sent to Saigon. 
This completed the expansion of the elite ARVN Airborne Di- 
vision. On October 1, the dependable and rugged South Viet- 
namese marine establishment, which had been operating two 
three-battalion brigades, was given a little extra artillery and re- 
designated a division. 

The ten regular South Vietnamese divisions continued to 
perform *wy unevenly during 1968, though in some cases heavy 
losses accounted for declining abilities. The 1st ARVN Division 
at Hue maintained its reputation as one of the best. The 2d 
ARVN Division at Quang Ngai, historically prone to high de- 
sertions, displayed so little combat spirit during Tet that it was 
tagged as a major problem. The Lam Son-based 5th ARVN Di- 
vision was considered barely effective, a rating shared by the 
7th ARVN Division at Can Tho. The 9th ARVN Division posted 



YEAR OF CRISES 217 



to Sa Dec was the poorest of all. The trouble-plagued 18th ARVN 
Division at Xuan Loc remained combat-ineffective despite close 
command scrutiny. The 21st ARVN Division, located at Bac Lieu, 
was one of Saigon's better divisions. Both the 22d ARVN Di- 
vision at Ba Gi and the 23d ARVN Division at Ban Me Thuot 
had problem regiments (the 41st and 44th respectively), but there 
had been aggressive assaults on well-entrenched VC positions 
north of Pleiku city. The 25th ARVN Division at Due Hoa im- 
proved once it was issued M16 rifles and M60 machine guns. 

MACV had also been directed to start a civilianization pro- 
gram on September 15, 1967. South Vietnamese workers would 
be substituted for U.S. military support personnel in certain lo- 
gistical units. There were many advantages. American man- 
power could be trimmed as technical expertise was shared. 
However, MACV was dismayed at the prospect of losing its sol- 
diers in exchange for labor problems and potential sabotage. 

Most large construction, and many service, projects in Viet- 
nam were already in the hands of civilian companies. For ex- 
ample, Pacific Architects & Engineers, Inc., handled the repair 
and utilities support for the Army, and employed over twenty- 
four thousand civilian personnel. Other examples were the Vin- 
nell Corporation, which built and maintained central power plants 
and electrical systems, the Philco-Ford equipment yards, and. 
the Alaskan Barge and Transport Company, which provided 
stevedore, trucking, and intracoastal barge service. 

Work stoppages and contractual disputes were already a con- 
stant headache requiring frequent Army intervention. As an ex- 
ample, in late 1967 some two thousand Korean employees of 
the Vinnell Corporation began rioting at the major installation 
of Cam Ranh Bay. The primary cause appears to have been dis- 
satisfaction with the food served them, particularly the shortage 
of rice. The Koreans refused to eat their Saturday evening meal 
on November 18, and went to the Vinnell mess hall where they 
turned over tables and attacked several Americans. They forced 
the American project manager to eat some of their food to show 
him how bad it was. A Vinnell Corporation civilian took out his 
gun and shot three Koreans. He was then mobbed and severely 
injured, and a Korean shot another American. 

The Army military police stormed the area, but the Koreans 



218 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



counterattacked with bulldozers and trucks which they rammed 
into trailers and buildings. Military guards on the vital power 
ships (converted T-2 oceanic tankers) anchored in the harbor, 
posted against VC combat-swimmers, managed to repulse Ko- 
rean attempts to take over the vessels. However, Korean em- 
ployees in Nha Trang hijacked a number of medium landing 
craft, and sailed to Cam Ranh Bay harbor in support. The riots 
were finally broken four days later, following intervention by 
the Korean Embassy and senior Army officers. 

Fighting to retain its level of military authorization in com- 
bat service support units, MACV was openly dismayed with civ- 
ilianization inroads. Much of this attitude stemmed from adverse 
experiences in Tet-68, during which the majority of the Viet- 
namese laborers never showed up for work at American instal- 
lations. By the end of February, radio and television spot an- 
nouncements were begging the Vietnamese to return to their 
United States contractors. An important incident occured on May 
9, when 90 percent of the 1,046 local employees at the 506th 
Field Depot in Saigon left work in mid-afternoon without no- 
tice. Shortly thereafter (and not so incidentally according to Army 
reports) the Newport Bridge in Saigon was attacked by the Viet 
Cong. 

The Army was fighting another losing battle. Civilianization 
was an inevitable by-product of Vietnamization, and as large 
numbers of Army support units were withdrawn from Vietnam 
commencing in 1969, civilianization replaced the majority of their 
functions. 



CHAPTER 15. 



THE BATTLES OF 
TET-68 



1. Tet-68: Saigon 

MACV had decided as a matter of political feasibility to shift 
responsibility for Saigon area security to the South Vietnamese. 
As a result Saigon was only defended by the South Vietnamese 
5th Ranger Group, and three regional forces, two service, and 
two military police battalions. The 1st and 8th ARVN Airborne 
Battalions, the last South Vietnamese high command reserves, 
had been programmed to move north to I Corps Tactical Zone 
on MACVs insistence that the DMZ be reinforced for the Tet 
period. However, a shortage of aircraft had delayed their out- 
flights, leaving both parachutist battalions fortuitously in Saigon 
when the crucial Tet offensive started. 

On the night of January 30, 1968, the capital of Saigon was 
alive with the celebration of the Vietnamese Tet Nguyen Dan 
lunar new year holidays, Throughout the city thousands of tra- 
ditional firecrackers were noisily popping. The long government 
wartime ban against fireworks had been lifted to heighten the 
festivities. Large imported Hong Kong Specials, a favorite with 
the wealthier Vietnamese, boomed incessantly with a grenade- 
like din. Chains of smaller linked firecrackers went off in a rat- 
tling spectrum of tumultuous sparks that sounded faintly like 
distant machine-gun fire. 

219 



220 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



There had been scattered indications of an imminent Viet 
Cong offensive. However, any reports of major Tet truce vio- 
lation, much less of attacks on cities, were discounted by South 
Vietnamese officials, President Thieu departed Saigon on Jan- 
uary 29, 1968, to celebrate Tet with his wife's family in My Tho. 
In view of disturbing intelligence reports, he reluctantly agreed 
to cancel the truce in the extreme northern part of the country. 
Even after the tocsin of country-wide attack sounded as Da Nang, 
Nha Trang, Ban Me Thuot, Kontum, and Pleiku were struck on 
January 30, alert orders to ARVN units in Saigon were issued 
without any sense of urgency. Orders canceling leaves either 
came too late or were simply disregarded. Soldiers on special 
Tet passes mixed in holiday reunion with their families in Sai- 
gon, far from their barracks and weapons. 

The people, of Saigon reveled in joyous enthusiasm, reflect- 
ing boundless optimism as the Vietnamese Year of the Monkey 
was ushered in. American assistance had brought a great boom 
in jobs and prosperity. The fortunes of war apparently now fa- 
vored South Vietnam, and government-distributed gift parcels 
contained Munchausen horoscopes promising the brightest of fu- 
tures. War and politics always took a back seat to the excite- 
ment of the Tet celebrations, and Saigon itself always seemed 
aloof from any battlefront. 

Just before midnight, fully armed soldiers in palm-leafed 
helmets and Binh-Tri-Thien black rubber sandals jostled through 
crowds of jubilant Saigon celebrants, then disappeared down al- 
leys, slinking back into the shadows. The people shrugged, per- 
haps another coup was under way. The first flashes of gunfire 
in the early morning of January 31 simply faded into the crash- 
ing echo of Tet fireworks. The Viet Cong had achieved com- 
plete surprise as they initiated simultaneous rocket, mortar, and 
ground attacks against buildings and installations throughout the 
capital. 1 

At two o'clock in the morning a bus came to a sudden stop 
in front of Gate #5 of the ARVN Joint General Staff compound. 
A score of VC sappers scurried out. Already their comrades were 



1. Initial Viet Cong attacks in the Saigon-Cholon area were conducted by the 
1st, 3d, 4th, 5th, and the 6th, 267th, 269th, 506th Local Force Battalions, 
2d Independent Battalion, and C-10 Sapper Battalion. 



THE BATTLES OF TET-68 221 



in supporting positions inside the Long Hoa Pagoda. The gate 
had momentarily swung open for a South Vietnamese general, 
but as the sappers dashed across the street to rush the guard- 
house, a U.S. military police jeep happened along. The Viet 
Cong opened fire, the jeep spun to a stop, American military 
police from a nearby building ran out to join the gunfight, and 
the ARVN sentry slammed the gate and returned fire from his 
bunker. The botched attack on Gate #5 fizzled into a general 
exchange of gunshots. 

At 9:30 A.M. the 1st and 2d VC Battalions knocked down 
northern Gate #4 with B-40 rockets. They charged into the Joint 
General Staff compound, a vital installation defended by the 
ARVN Honor Guard Battalion and a company of tanks. In the 
initial confusion the Viet Cong could have occupied vital com- 
munications and command centers. However, they were con- 
fronted with a host of fancy general headquarters signs marking 
the location of the headquarters support company, which they 
mistook as the main complex. They dug in to defend their prize, 
and elements of the 8th ARVN Airborne Battalion arrived to 
counterattack. Finally, after the paratroopers were reinforced by 
South Vietnamese marines and more tanks, they cleared the oc- 
cupied buildings. By 10:30 A.M. on February 1, the Viet Cong 
had been chased out into the neighboring city blocks. 

The C-10 VC City Sapper Battalion was composed of Saigon 
inhabitants, including cyclopousse and taxicab drivers. Nineteen 
members .had been given a most important mission: seizure of 
the United States Embassy on Thong Nhat Boulevard. The two 
American flak-vested military policemen managed to close the 
gate after a taxi opened fire on them, but the Viet Cong breached 
the ambassadorial wall with satchel charges. They killed the 
guards, but the heavy teakwood entrance doors slammed shut, 
leaving the assailants to pepper the main chancery building with 
rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons fire. The 
company-sized U.S. Marine Saigon Guard Detachment and 
American government officials held the VC at bay^by firing sub- 
machine guns and revolvers from open windows. 2 



2. The Marine detachment was armed with 9mm Beretta submachine guns, 
Smith and Wesson .38-caliber revolvers, and 12-gauge Remington shotguns 
loaded with 00 buckshot shells. 



222 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



At 5:00 A.M. helicopters from Bien Hoa tried to land a pla- 
toon from Company C, 1st Battalion of the 502d Infantry (Air- 
borne), on the embassy roof. Army military police, crouched be- 
hind trees across the avenue, watched as heavy gunfire exploded 
from the courtyard. The helicopters took several hits, a door 
gunner was wounded, and the airmobile assault was postponed. 
Finally, at eight o'clock the helicopters managed to make the 
insertion, and within one hour the entire band of sappers was 
annihilated. 

Another platoon of the same VC battalion, occupying a high- 
rise hotel under construction on Nguyen Du Street, hit the staff 
entrance gate of Independence Palace with B-40 rockets and 
machine guns. The Presidential Security Brigade, national po- 
lice, two tanks, and a contingent of U.S. military police cor- 
doned off the unfinished building. The minisiege lasted two days 
before the Viet Cong were flushed out. 

The Viet Cong temporarily seized Saigon's National Broad- 
casting Station, 3 shelled American officer quarters at Splendid 
Hotel and three other locations, and attacked the Korean Em- 
bassy as well as the Vietnamese Naval Headquarters. The Phil- 
ippine Chancery was held briefly. Two district police stations 
had fallen in Cholon, the Chinese sector of the capital. 

The reinforced 716th Military Police Battalion was charged 
with antiterrorist security and law enforcement in the greater 
Saigon-Cholon-Tan Son Nhut metropolitan area. Its duty uni- 
forms consisted of starched fatigues and glossy helmets banded 
with wide red and white stripes blocking off large "716'* nu- 
merals. Its main concerns were static guardposts, VIP escorts, 
traffic accidents, and the Saigon Police Boy Scouts Association. 

When the first reports of Viet Cong activity started flooding 
the switchboards, Lt. Col. Gordon D. Rowe, the battalion com- 
mander, implemented the "disaster plan." Tet-68 in Saigon was 
certainly a disaster, but the plan was designed for emergencies 
such as riots or isolated bombings. Platoons of twenty-five men 
with sketch maps were dispatched on open trucks into unknown 
situations throughout the largest city in South Vietnam. One of 

3. The actual transmitting portion of the station was located at Quan Tre 
several miles away. The power to the Saigon studio was quickly shut down, 
and broadcasting continued from an alternative studio with prerecorded pro- 
grams, enabling Radio Saigon to function without interruption. 



THE BATTLES OF TET-68 223 



the first groups was immediately wiped out when their 2V2-ton 
cargo truck was rocked by an explosion, followed by a hail of 
machine-gun bullets, satchel charges, and grenades hitting the 
troop benches. On the night of January 30, 1968, the battalion 
was blasted into the front lines of the Vietnam War. 

After the battle began, the 716th Military Police Battalion, 
already responsible for over a hundred buildings housing Amer- 
icans scattered all over Saigon, received calls from dozens of 
unknown government billets, villas, and private dwellings. In 
many cases the military police took losses just trying to locate 
and gain entrance to them, The individual occupants, often ner- 
vous and under no one's apparent direction, soon produced every 
conceivable type of weapon in response to perceived threats to 
their billets. A pandemonium of gunfire erupted everywhere. 
Indiscriminate shooting was being directed at streets, buildings, 
rooftops, fellow Americans, military police, most South Viet- 
namese, and even dogs scrambling down alleys. The military 
police found it just as dangerous to try to tell the occupants to 
stop firing as to confront the Viet Cong. This problem was never 
resolved until the firing died of its own accord several nights 
later. 

The 89th Military Police Group sent two V-100 commando 
cars to reinforce Saigon, giving the military police their first real 
firepower. In one instance a VC machine gun in the upper floor 
of a building had two joint patrol jeeps pinned down. The ar- 
mored cars "buttoned up," drove around a large traffic circle 
with rounds ricochetting off their sides, and charged the build- 
ing with their turreted twin machine guns blazing. As soon as 
one car was alongside the structure, a crew member popped out 
of his hatch and fired his M79 grenade launcher directly into 
the window, The explosion set the room on fire, silencing the 
machine gun. 

The hectic nightmare of city combat eradicated the nocturnal 
celebrations. By daybreak Viet Cong forces had effectively pen- 
etrated much of western and southern Saigon, and were in firm 
control of several precincts in Cholon. Helicopter gunships 
greeted the dawn with renewed aerial rocket sorties against sus- 
pected VC strong-points. A pall of smoke hung over the smol- 
dering urban sprawl of greater Saigon. 

Early that morning the Viet Cong assaulted the Quan Trung 



224 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



infantry training camp in the urban suburbs between Hoc Mon 
and Go Vap, and swept through the central police station and 
the Co Loa artillery base. Although twelve 105mm howitzers 
were captured, the retreating South Vietnamese had dismantled 
the firing blocks. By ten o'clock the Armored Command head- 
quarters was also in VC hands. They had brought along specially 
trained personnel to use the tanks ordinarily stationed there, 
but all the armor had been removed two months earlier. The 
4th VNMC Marine Battalion regained the artillery and armor 
areas by nightfall. However, the going was tough in downtown 
Hoc Mon district. There the 1st Battalion of the 27th Infantry 
was air assaulted into combat during the afternoon, but unable 
to make much headway against the stiff resistance. 

The Phu Tho racetrack had been seized by the 6th VC LF 
Battalion. The hub of several main roads, it was a good rallying 
point for Viet Cong unfamiliar with the city, and its use as a 
helicopter landing zone was denied to the Americans. It became 
the focus of another battle. Brig. Gen. Robert C. Forbes's 199th 
Infantry Brigade (Light) was hard pressed defending the huge 
Long Binh complex, but he dispatched Company A from the 3d 
Battalion, 7th Infantry, to regain the racetrack. 4 At eight o'clock 
on the dismal morning of'January 31, eight armored personnel 
carriers from the brigade reconnaissance troop and several trucks 
moved the soldiers downtown toward the objective. 

Six blocks from the racetrack, heavy automatic weapons fire 
opened up from rooftops and houses lining the boulevard. The 
column gingerly went forward another two blocks as the Viet 
Cong fire intensified. A rocket slammed into the lead tracked 
command carrier, killing the cavalry platoon leader and two 
crewmen. Company medics and truck drivers, aided by the bat- 
talion chaplain, frantically evacuated dazed and wounded sol- 

4. The 7th Infantry was an old frontier regiment organized in 1812 in Ten- 
nessee, Georgia, and adjacent territories and known as the Cottonbalers, hav- 
ing once stood behind cotton bales to mow down marching British Redcoats 
at the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. It was famed for strong- 
point assaults at Telegraph Hill during the Battle of Cerro Gordo in the Mex- 
ican War, and against the stone wall at the Battle of Fredericksburg in the 
Civil War, It also served in the Indian Wars and the Spanish-American War, 
on Samar in the Philippine Insurrection, in Europe in World Wars I and II, 
and it saw intense action in Korea. 



THE BATTLES OF TET-68 225 



diers out the back side as flames spread through the demolished 
vehicle, cooking off belts of linked ammunition. Viet Cong small 
arms, machine-gun, and grenade fire hammered the column as 
the advance continued. Dismounted infantrymen fought from 
building to building. Recoilless rifles blasted holes through walls, 
grenade launchers were fired through the jagged cavities, and 
then soldiers clambered into the smoking entrances. 

Hundreds of panic-stricken civilians fled past the armored 
carriers as the battle raged on. The column continued to contest 
the Viet Cong in fierce house-to-house fighting as it pressed closer 
to the racetrack. Gunships swooped down to blast apart struc- 
tures with minigun and rocket salvos. By one o'clock that after- 
noon the company had advanced two more city blocks. Then 
the Viet Cong withdrew to positions dug in behind concrete 
park benches, backed up by heavy weapons located in concrete 
towers on the spectator stands inside the racetrack itself. 

The men of Company A reloaded their rifles and machine 
guns, pushed helmets low over their foreheads, and charged the 
barricades. A deafening crescendo of machine-gun fire and gre- 
nades swept the avenue, leaving it clogged with fallen riflemen 
and discarded equipment. The first American charge had been 
repulsed, but the company grimly regrouped to try again. Clus- 
tered in squads around their sergeants, they lit cigarettes with 
bandaged hands. The grueling city fighting had soiled and frayed 
their jungle fatigues, and cotton ammunition bandoliers sagged 
heavily across their tunics. 5 Some still had light antitank weap- 
ons strapped across their backs, but most of the single-shot, dis- 
posable tubes had already been expended. 

The company decided to charge the racetrack from the 
southeast. Gunships and recoilless rifles pounded the VC posi- 
tions as the sweating infantrymen surged forward. At 4:30 that 
afternoon the Viet Cong, overwhelmed by this tremendous sup- 
porting firepower, fled the field. Just after dark, Companies B 
and C of the 3d Battalion, 7th Infantry, were airlifted into the 

5. Soldiers were still experiencing high malfunction rates with their M16 rifles 
during normal field operations. Many problems could be traced to dirt and 
mud which accumulated in their ammunition magazine pouches. As a result 
cotton bandoliers were issued, but these were difficult to obtain in early 1968 
and often used beyond the point of serviceability. 



226 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Phu Tho racetrack to set up the battalion's forward command 
post. The next day, February 1, they were reinforced by two 
companies of the mechanized 5th Battalion, 60th Infantry (from 
the 9th Infantry Division), and the 33d ARVN Ranger Battalion. 
This composite group then ventured out to subdue the general 
racetrack vicinity. 

The combined allied force cautiously moved down the city 
blocks surrounding the racetrack. Company B of the mecha- 
nized battalion was moving along a narrow street three blocks 
away. Suddenly the last three armored personnel carriers were 
hit by heavy machine-gun fire and rockets from an adjacent 
graveyard. Two were destroyed and one was heavily damaged 
and on fire. However, its crew stood at their machine guns fir- 
ing into the tomb markers until their dead and wounded were 
removed. Company B backed out of the ambuscade, and joined 
Company C in response to a frantic call for assistance at the 
Phu Tho racetrack. A large Viet Cong force was attacking from 
the west. The added firepower of the two arriving armored-in- 
fantry companies broke the counterattack. The fighting around 
the racetrack ebbed and flowed for several days as the Viet Cong 
troops continued to attempt to rally there. Eventually personnel 
from every Viet Cong unit in the Saigon offensive was identified 
in the area. 

Clearing operations in Saigon were originally designed to be 
a South Vietnamese show, with American units limited to block- 
ing actions and screening operations in the suburbs. By Feb- 
ruary 5, 1968, ARVN forces had taken the offensive in Saigon 
coded Operation TRAN HUNG DAO. Action was particularly 
intense in the densely populated Cholon area assigned to the 
5th ARVN Ranger Group. 6 Large fires at the government rice 
depot at Binh Duong and a paper mill at Phu Lam sent billow- 
ing clouds of black smoke across the city, hindering aerial ob- 
servation and fire support. 

The 3d Battalion of the 7th Infantry had been pulled out of 

6. By February 3, 1968, principal ARVN forces in the Saigon area were the 
30th, 33d, 35th, 38th, and 41st Ranger Battalions; 1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, and 6th 
VNMC Battalions; and 1st, 3d, 6th, 8th, and llth Airborne Battalions. At 
this time the U.S. Army had one military police, seven infantry battalions 
(one mechanized), and six artillery battalions engaged. 



THE BATTLES OF TET-68 227 



the Phu Tho racetrack in accordance with South Vietnamese de- 
sires. By February 9, the South Vietnamese high command was 
calling for its reinsertion, and the battalion returned to the race- 
track and the Cholon battlefront. On February 12 this unit, act- 
ing on ARVN intelligence, found the main Viet Cong command 
post in the Phu Lam communal temple. Surrounding it, the bat- 
talion destroyed the VC defenders and claimed to have killed a 
top communist general. 7 

Although a renewed Viet Cong assault was made February 
17-18, with fifty-seven rocket shellings and ten firefights erupt- 
ing inside Saigon and Cholon, the second wave effort quickly 
sputtered out. The Tet-68 Battle for Saigon ended after a final 
fierce battle between ARVN rangers and main force Viet Cong 
in the Cholon sector on March 7. The Vietnam War had come 
to Saigon with a vengeance, and it would be hit again that May 
on a smaller scale. This latter Mini-Tet counteroffensive would 
be defeated almost exclusively by South Vietnamese capital de- 
fense forces. 

2. Tet-68: Capitol Command Battles Beyond Saigon 

The Long Binh area fifteen miles north of Saigon was a cru- 
cial American military logistical and headquarters complex, con- 
taining the command posts of both II Field Force, Vietnam, and 
the III ARVN Corps. The 199th Infantry Brigade (Light), backed 
by a mechanized battalion from the 9th Infantry Division in re- 
serve, was i n charge of the areas defense. 8 At 3:00 A.M., Jan- 
uary 31, the Viet Cong attack was heralded by an intense rocket 
and mortar barrage directed against the infantry and field force 
headquarters. A half hour later the mechanized reserve was or- 
dered forward. The 275th VC Regiment launched a ground as- 

7. Supposedly they had killed General Tran Do, the communist political chief 
who was in command of all Viet Cong forces attacking Saigon. A subsequent 
fingerprint check on the body proved this to be untrue, but the results were 
never made public to avoid dampening ARVN spirits. See Col Hoang Ngoc 
Lung, The General Offensives of 1968-69, U.S. Army Center of Military His- 
tory, Washington, B.C., 1981, p. 74. 

8. The 2d Battalion of the 47th Infantry (Mechanized) near Bear Cat was the 
mechanized battalion. During the actions described, Company A swept Ho 
Nai village, Company B secured the ammunition storage area, and Company 
C was sent to the relief of III ARVN Corps headquarters. 



228 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



sault through Ho Nai village across Highway 1 against the 
northern perimeter of Long Binh. At the same time U-l VC LF 
Battalion engaged the eastern perimeter in order to divert at- 
tention from sappers who penetrated the main ammunition dump. 
The Long Binh bunker line returned fire, and the 199th In- 
fantry Brigade counterattacked both on foot and from armored 
personnel carriers. Helicopter gunships (from the 3d Squadron, 
17th Cavalry) blasted Viet Cong foxholes and crew-served weap- 
ons in front of the soldiers. The VC were also attacking in other 
areas, but were slowed by thick bamboo between the compound 
and the ammunition dump, and defeated in an attempt to over- 
run the runway of the 12th Aviation Group. 9 Meanwhile, tracked 
vehicles of the mechanized reserve, escorted by military police 
gun-jeeps, protected the main Long Binh compound. However, 
sappers had infiltrated the ammunition dump there. Army ex- 
plosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams frantically worked under 
the cover of armored carrier machine guns to strip demolition 
packages off the ammunition pads. Despite their efforts four 
bunkers in the one hundred-pad storage area detonated at eight 
o'clock that morning. 

Company B of the 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry, was forced 
to make a helicopter assault under fire on the grassy helipad 
across from the II Field Force, Vietnam, headquarters building. 
The infantrymen quickly cleared the area and moved against an 
adjacent village which was taken after a daylong struggle. Aside 
from Viet Cong resistance in the hamlet, the battle at Long Binh 
was concluded as daylight ground sweeps were accompanied by 
aerial and artillery bombardment. With the arrival of the llth 
Armored Cavalry Regiment that evening, after a twelve-hour 
forced road march, the Long Binh area was secured from fur- 
ther danger. 

At the same time Long Binh was first struck, the Bien Hoa 
air base received twenty-five rockets followed by a mortar-sup- 
ported ground attack. The 274th VC Regiment charged into the 
east bunker line, which was manned by a platoon of South Vi- 
etnamese and the U.S. Military Police base reaction force. The 

9. MACV later had Rome plow dozers destroy the bamboo grove "to remove 
the concealment offered near friendly installations." Ironically, this bamboo 
had slowed the momentum of the Viet Cong attack during Tet-68. 



THE BATTLES OF TET-68 229 



Viet Cong breached the perimeter wire, but did not get onto 
the airstrip. At daybreak the 2d Battalion, 506th Infantry, ar- 
rived by helicopter to reinforce the strategic airfield. The bat- 
talion attacked out the east gate to clear the surrounding area. 
The nearby III ARVN Corps headquarters was under attack 
by the 238th VC LF Battalion, and armored personnel carriers 
of the reserve mechanized battalion were dispatched into the 
battle. The column fought right through the middle of the 275th 
Regiment astride Highway 1 and plowed into the flank of the 
274th Regiment attacking Bien Hoa air base. Heavy machine guns 
on the armored personnel carriers sent blazing paths of tracered 
light careening into the Viet Cong, who fought back with rocket- 
propelled grenades. Explosions and flares ripped through the 
darkness as the tracked cavalry roared onto the battlefield. 

Meanwhile another mechanized cavalry troop of the 9th In- 
fantry Division fought a running battle past roadblocks and ex- 
ploding bridges down Highway 1 into Bien Hoa. The mecha- 
nized cavalry inflicted and suffered heavy losses, but managed 
to link up with the 2d Battalion of the 506th Infantry. The latter 
battalion then teamed up with the llth Armored Cavalry to sweep 
Ap Than, adjacent to the air base, against the blocking positions 
of the South Vietnamese 58th Regional Force Battalion. The vil- 
lage was taken house by house in heavy fighting on February 
1. This cleared the last pocket of organized VC resistance be- 
tween Bien Hoa and Long Binh. 

At the same time Long Binh and Bien Hoa were hit, the 
Viet Cong D16 and 267th Battalions and a battalion from the 
271st Regiment occupied the Vinatexco textile mill directly across 
Highway 1 from the sprawling Tan Son Nhut airbase. They em- 
placed heavy weapons in the doors and windows and posted flak 
guns on the roof. At precisely 3:21 A.M. they attacked the air- 
field. While secondary assaults were hurled against eastern Gate 
#10 and northern Gate #58, waves of Viet Cong stormed the 
fence line at western Gate #51. Rockets slammed against the 
bunkered guardhouses and smashed down the gateway. The 
massed assault force poured into the breach. Surging past the 
wreckage of wire and concrete, three full VC battalions spilled 
into the airport and raced toward the main runway. 

The commander of the Tan Son Nhut "Sensitive Area" des- 



230 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



perately scratched together one of the oddest battle groups ever 
fielded, and shoved it forward to defend the airstrip. 10 After fu- 
rious fighting, this heterogeneous defense began to fall back un- 
der the sustained Viet Cong onslaught. At 4:15 A.M., Tan Son 
Nhut requested urgent reinforcement, but most of the ARVN 
airborne strategic reserve had already been parceled out in other 
emergency firefights throughout the city. Only two companies 
of the 8th ARVN Airborne Battalion were left, and they were 
ordered to counterattack immediately. 

The South Vietnamese paratroopers charged over the open 
expanse of the runway right into the onrushing Viet Cong. Gre- 
nade blasts and streams of bullets tore gaping holes in their ranks. 
Dozens of men pitched forward as their weapons clattered across 
the concrete. Then the frenzied countercharge closed the VC 
lines. The black uniforms of Viet Cong and bright green cam- 
ouflage of the paratroopers clashed in a vortex of hand-to-hand 
combat. Losses were extremely heavy, but the momentum of 
the Viet Cong attack was blunted. In the meantime, just as any 
American Western pulp novel would have it, the U.S. Cavalry 
was on the way to the rescue. 

Lt. Col. Glenn K. Otis's 3d Squadron of the 4th Cavalry was 
the armored reconnaissance unit of the 25th Infantry Division. 
Just before dawn, he ordered Troop C, stationed at Cu Chi fif- 
teen miles away, forward at once. It raced down Highway 1 as 
Colonel Otis flew overhead in his command helicopter dropping 
flares and guiding it around possible ambush sites. The tanks 
and armored personnel carriers suddenly crashed right into the 
rear of the Viet Cong at Gate #51. Rocket-propelled grenades 
and machine guns raked the steel-hulled vehicles, and the col- 
umn screeched to a halt. The thunder of multiple explosions 
jarred the front vehicles. Crewmen leaped out as flames shot 
into the air, and hastily cut loose with automatic weapons fire 
from roadside ditches. Four tanks and five armored carriers were 
lost and one third of the column destroyed. However, they had 

10. The Tan Son Nhut battle group was composed of the U.S. Air Force 
377th Security Police Squadron, two platoons of U.S. Army Vietnam head- 
quarters guards, and a mixed bag of South Vietnamese units including na- 
tional police, the 52d Regional Force Battalion, the 2d Service Battalion, and 
Vice-President Ky's bodyguard. 



THE BATTLES OF TET-68 231 



succeeded in cutting off the trailing VC battalions from their 
source of weapons and ammunition in the mill. This proved to 
be the deciding action which defeated the main Viet Cong as- 
sault on the Tan Son Nhut air base. 

As the morning light flooded the smoldering battlefield an 
armada of low-flying helicopter gunships darted through the skies 
to rocket and strafe targets throughout the area. Run after run 
was made on the Vinatexco plant, leaving it in shambles. Troop 
B of the cavalry squadron arrived to finish off the Viet Cong 
around it. Shortly past noon an American master sergeant ral- 
lied a mixed contingent of U.S. and South Vietnamese soldiers 
and led a final counterattack against the decimated Viet Cong 
inside Tan Son Nhut. As the contingent reached Gate #51, the 
battle for the air base ended. 

3. Tet-68: I Corps and Hue 

The Tet-68 Offensive swept the length of South Vietnam like 
a cyclone, ripping through cities and military installations in a 
three-day cataclysm of furious proportions. The national capital, 
36 of 44 provincial capitals, 5 of 6 autonomous cities, and 64 of 
242 district capitals were hit by its violence. South Vietnamese 
units, assigned defensive duties near populated areas as part of 
"pacification," bore the brunt of this onslaught. Due to the Tet 
holidays they were universally undermanned, averaging 50 per- 
cent understrength. 

The very shock of such a massive Viet Cong coup de main 
produced incredulity before rational response. When one of the 
first Tet hammer blows struck Da Nang shortly after three o'clock 
in the morning of January 30, South Vietnamese Col. Nguyen 
Duy Hinh frantically telephoned Lt. Gen. Hoang Xuan Lam, 
the commander of I ARVN Corps. General Lam kept inter- 
rupting him over the phone, "Baloney! Baloney!" 

Da Nang had been pelted the night before with 122mm 
rockets, and the Marble Mountain Marine air base had been 
mortared. Now elements of the 2d NVA Division, spearheaded 
by the 402d Sapper Battalion, were striking the I ARVN Corps 
command building. A Marine combined action platoon and the 
headquarters duty staff were forced to defend alone until rein- 
forced by a smattering of South Vietnamese and Marine military 



232 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



police. The sappers were driven back in a chaos of gunfire and 
individual combat. Two Marine battalions (3d Battalion, 5th Ma- 
rines, and 2d Battalion, 3d Marines) intercepted other division 
elements before they could reach the amorphous firefight. 

Hoi An, the provincial capital of Quang Nam nineteen miles 
to the south, was held only by the determined resistance of the 
102d ARVN Engineer Battalion in the early morning darkness 
of January 30. A tumultuous seesaw battle ensued. The 1st Bat- 
talion, 51st ARVN Regiment, pushed the Viet Cong out, but the 
VC regained and lost the town again on February 5. Other I 
Corps clashes on the eve of Tet occurred at Hoa Vang and Chu 
Lai. Lunar New Year's Day was spent in prompt repulse of these 
intrusions, but Tet night on January 31, 1968, brought another, 
more forceful wave of Viet Cong attacks. 

Quang Ngai, Tarn Ky, and Quang Tri were successfully de- 
fended. In the latter town, the 1st ARVN Regiment and 9th 
ARVN Airborne Battalion waged a fierce city battle against the 
812th NVA Regiment and 10th VC Sapper Battalion. Col. Don- 
ald V. Rattan's 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division (Air- 
mobile) took advantage of the worsening situation to execute a 
swift, classic airmobile counterthrust. He airlifted two battal- 
ions, the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, and the 1st Battalion, 12th 
Cavalry, out of dense fog to smash into the rear of the attackers 
the next day, and the battle was over by noon on February 1. 

A bizarre spear-rifle attack was mounted February 1 on the 
Ba To district headquarters by some seven hundred Viet Cong, 
about half of whom were only armed with spears and knives. 
The camp strike force from Special Forces Operations Detach- 
ment A-106 joined the Regional Forces defenders, but they were 
unable to prevent the breach of the town perimeter. After de- 
stroying the province chiefs home and several bunkers, the VC 
withdrew, leaving behind twenty spears, thirty-five knives, and 
one carbine. 

The third largest city in South Vietnam, the ancient walled 
imperial capital of Hue, was infiltrated and seized just after the 
Tet New Year midnight rites. Unlike the struggle for most Tet 
objectives, the battle for Hue was protracted from January 31 
through March 2, 1968. Two North Vietnamese Army regiments 
and two Viet Cong sapper battalions would be pitted against 



THE BATTLES OF TET-68 233 



eight American and thirteen South Vietnamese infantry battal- 
ions in one of the most savage battles of the Vietnam War. 11 
Although the NVA/VC realized their hold on Hue was subject 
to ultimate defeat by vastly superior forces, the gamble to make 
a battleground of Hue was well reasoned, and based on the 
knowledge that great propaganda value would accrue to that force 
able to seize and hold, however temporarily, the cultural and 
religious center of the nation. The furor of the Tet-68 Offensive 
would become symbolized by the catastrophic destruction in- 
curred in this grim city struggle. 

The determined North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers 
were in excellent condition, backed by prodigious stockpiles of 
ammunition and supplies already in place. Large elements ap- 
pearing in Hue on January 31 had been there for some time, 
while others were surreptitiously infiltrated into the city, masked 
by the normal Tet crowds. The well-coordinated plan achieved 
complete tactical surprise. Key positions were simultaneously 
taken within the city, as more reinforcements entered under the 
early-morning mortar attack signaling the assault. 

As in all Tet-68 attacks, timing coincided with the holiday 
leave of the bulk of ARVN troops and national police. Within 
Mang Ca compound inside the northeast corner of the city, Brig, 
Gen. Ngo Quang Truong's 1st ARVN Division headquarters staff 
and the elite Hac Bao (Black Panther) reconnaissance company 
were at less than half strength. The 3d ARVN Regiment, which 
would fight harder than almost any other unit and absorb crip- 
pling losses in the upcoming battle, was located five miles to 
the northwest, similiarly undermanned. 

In a matter of hours after the first volleys reverberated through 
the city, the NVA/VC controlled all of the Citadel (with the ex- 
ception of 1st ARVN Division headquarters), and that part of 
Hue below the Perfume River, which contained the MACV 
compound, the provincial administration facilities, public utili- 
ties, the university complex, and a densely packed residential 
section. Well armed with mortars, rockets, and automatic weap- 

11. The initial NVA/VC forces employed at Hue were the 4th and 6th NVA 
Regiments, and the 12th VC and Hue City VC Sapper Battalions. Addition- 
ally, a total of 2,500 prisoners were released from the local jail, and over 500 
of these joined the Viet Cong ranks. 



234 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



ons, and confident other coordinated attacks throughout the 
country would inhibit any rapid allied countermove, the NVA/ 
VC consolidated their gains and waited for major reinforcement, 
They were clearly prepared to stay, and at eight o'clock that 
morning raised the flag of the National Liberation Front on the 
stately Midday Gate's majestic flagpole. 

The defense of Hue, like that of most cities, was a South 
Vietnamese responsibility, and General Lam initially intended 
to recapture it with ARVN forces. A South Vietnamese response 
force convoy fought its way to the battlefront through a major 
ambush at An Hoa. Badly battered, a troop of the 7th ARVN 
Armored Cavalry Squadron and two airborne battalions, the 2d 
and the 7th, managed to reach sector headquarters that after- 
noon. Half of the 3d ARVN Regiment was safely off-loaded at 
riverside piers toward evening after being ferried down the Per- 
fume River, but its other two battalions traveling by road were 
decimated fighting their way out of an encirclement. 

Ill Marine Amphibious Force was concerned about the im- 
mediate danger to the MACV compound, and rushed two rifle 
companies from the nearest Marine base at Phu Bai by heli- 
copter and truck. These were joined by tanks and went into 
combat under the control of the headquarters of 1st Battalion, 
1st Marines. 12 They cleared the MACV compound area and then 
tackled the adjacent Truong Tien Bridge extending across the 
Perfume River into Hue. In spite of heavy losses, the Marines 
secured the bridge at 4:15 P.M. The city was enclosed by the 
Citadel wall, twenty feet thick and thirty feet high, surrounded 
by a water-filled zigzag moat. Past this barrier was an inner brick 
wall. Attempts to gain these fire-swept earthen stone ramparts 
were repulsed, and the Marines turned over their hard-won 
bridge sector to South Vietnamese troops. They returned to 
southern Hue at twilight. Plans were made to attack at dawn, 

12. The 1st Marines was one of the most illustrious regiments in the Marine 
Corps, having battled tropical fortifications and ambushes from the Caribbean 
Banana Wars to the Pacific in World War II. It was activated at Philadelphia, 
Pennsylvania, in November 1913, being first designated as the 1st Marines 
in 1930. It fought in Vera Cruz, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic 
from 1914-1924; in Guadalcanal, Eastern New Guinea, New Britain, Peleliu, 
and Okinawa in World War II, and throughout the Korean War. 



THE BATTLES OF TET-68 235 



destroy the citadel defense, and recapture the city by nightfall 
the next day. 

At first light on February 1, the combined American-South 
Vietnamese counterattack against Hue was launched. The two 
South Vietnamese airborne battalions and the 7th ARVN Cav- 
alry Squadron recaptured the Tay Loc airfield. Two Marine 
companies attacked southwest to secure the areas south of the 
Perfume River, while South Vietnamese forces moved into the 
Citadel from the north. Fierce resistance from well-selected for- 
tified positions during the initial hours of the assault soon va- 
porized illusions of any speedy reconquest. More Marine rein- 
forcements would be required immediately. During the next two 
days heliborne arrivals increased Marine strength to battalion 
size, and this force was doubled again within another forty-eight 
hours. South Vietnamese stakes were raised by two more air- 
lifted battalions. 13 On February 4, the 1st Battalion of the 3d 
ARVN Regiment stormed the An Hoa gate, taking the north- 
west wall. 

As the misting drizzle turned into a cold, soaking downpour, 
the four Marine rifle companies maintained the momentum of 
an attack measured in yards. They grimly advanced house by 
house down lanes choked with demolished brick, timber, and 
wreckage toward the provincial headquarters and jail. Many 
homes in the residential area were surrounded by barbed wire- 
laced hedgerows, covered by sinister crew-served weapons jut- 
ting out of windows and doorways, Backed up by mortars and 
recoilless rifles, the riflemen maneuvered to isolate them and 
finish them off with grenades and rapid M16 bursts. By Feb- 
ruary 6, they had recaptured the Thua Thien sector headquar- 
ters, prison, and hospital. However, that night a North Viet- 
namese counterattack using grappling hooks drove the 4th 
Battalion, 2d ARVN Regiment, off the breastworks on the re- 
cently recaptured southwest wall. 

13. Company A, 1st Marines, and Company G, 5th Marines, entered combat 
at Hue on January 31. Companies F and H, 5th Marines, arrived February 
1 and 2. By February 4, the command group of Col. Stanley S. Hughes's 1st 
Marines, the 2d Battalion of the 5th Marines, and Company B, 1st Marines, 
were also present at Hue. South Vietnamese reinforcements on February 2 
included the 9th ARVN Airborne Battalion from Quang Tri, and the 4th Bat- 
talion, 2d ARVN Regiment, from Dong Ha. 




Soldiers of the 716th Military Police Battalion maneuver closer to the 
United States Embassy during the Viet Cong attack on Saigon, Jan- 
uary 31, 1968. (U.S. Army) 




Military Police move forward behind a V100 Commando Car to clear 
Viet Cong out of a bachelor officer barracks during the fighting in 
Saigon on January 31, 1968. Note the open cargo truck which had 
been ambushed while carrying U.S. reinforcements. (U.S. Army) 




The formidable Viet Cong defensive bastion at the Phu Tho racetrack 
in Saigon had to be frontally assaulted by the 3d Battalion of the 7th 
Infantry during Tet-68. (U.S. Army) 







Soldiers of the 199th Infantry Brigade, having captured the Phu Tho 
racetrack in Saigon, grimly sweep the densely populated areas around 
it on February 5, 1968. (U.S. Army) 




A gutted M48 main battle tank stands as mute testimony to the fury 
of combat during the Battle of Hue on February 16, 1968. (U.S Ma- 
rine Corps) 




A Marine rifleman prepares to assault through a blasted wall during 
heavy action in the Battle of Hue on February 4, 1968. (U.S. Marine 
Corps) 




Lieutenant Colonel Daniel 
Schungel presents an in- 
terim Bronze Star Medal 
for Valor to Sergeant Al- 
len on February 24, 1968, 
as the survivors of the 
Lang Vei battle are hon- 
ored. (Author's Collec- 
tion) 




The Army Special Forces camp at Lang Vei the morning after being 
overrun, showing one demolished North Vietnamese tank outside the 
ruined command bunker where several Special Forces soldiers held 
out. (Author's Collection) 



236 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



The Marines resorted to tank guns, aerial rockets, and air- 
craft 20mm cannon strafing, but initial restrictions ruled out 
heavier firepower, since General Lam had requested city de- 
struction be minimized. The use of artillery, bombs, and napalm 
during the first three days of the battle was precluded, but any 
sentiments of forbearance were soon abandoned. Beginning on 
February 5, the awesome warship guns of the Seventh Fleet 
were used in sledgehammer blows to pound Hue with an av- 
erage of two hundred shells a day. Marine naval gunfire spotters 
radioed targets as armor-piercing rounds fired up to fourteen 
miles away zoomed overhead like express trains to obliterate de- 
fensive bunkers virtually impervious to other weapons. By the 
end of the battle 4,780 naval shells and 48 Marine aircraft attack 
sorties would be used. 

The 1st Cavalry Division's 3d Brigade helicoptered into 
blocking positions to the west of the city on February 2. The 
foot cavalry sloshed through muddied paddy water as they ad- 
vanced east toward Hue. The 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry, was 
given the mission of making a forced march through the chilly, 
fog-shrouded night of February 4 behind Viet Cong lines to seize 
a critical hill. 14 Exhausted and many shaking with fever, the 
cavalrymen reached the hilltop the next day. From its summit 
four miles west of Hue they could see the entire valley before 
the city, and all major VC infiltration routes feeding the raging 
battle. 

On February 7, the 5th Battalion of the 7th Cavalry smashed 
into the first of a series of Viet Cong trench networks. The 2d 
Battalion of the 12th Cavalry was called forward, passed through 
the 7th Cavalry's lines, and charged into fortified Thong Bon 
Tri. At daybreak on February 21, the 12th Cavalry men re- 
newed the assault in the La Chu area as the brigade advanced 
on a four-battalion front behind air strikes, naval gunfire, and 

14. The 12th Cavalry was organized February 8, 1901, at Fort Sam Houston, 
Texas, and had cut its teeth on Moro kampilan knives and war clubs during 
the Philippine Insurrection, returning to those islands in World War II as 
part of the 1st Cavalry Division. Inactivated in 1949, it missed the Korean 
War, but was reactivated in 1957 with the same division. Two battalions had 
been in Vietnam since September of 1965. 



THE BATTLES OF TET-68 237 



heavy artillery which pulverized VC defenses. By dark they were 
three miles from the city, and still facing strong opposition. 

In the meantime, the Marines had reclaimed southern Hue 
by February 9.. On the north side of the Perfume River, at- 
tacking South Vietnamese units controlled three fourths of the 
Citadel. The NVA/VC forces were still in firm possession of the 
southeastern portion of the Citadel, including the key Imperial 
Palace, and manned a series of strong-points along the west wall. 
The Marines began firing CS tear gas rounds, and the NVA re- 
sponded with their own mortar-delivered CS. Hue was one of 
the few battles in the Vietnam War in which both sides fought 
wearing gas masks. Streets were barricaded by overturned trucks 
and piles of household furniture. Civilians had been impressed 
into service digging fighting holes and bunkers, and local cadre 
wearing red arm bands directed North Vietnamese regulars 
scurrying through the maze of alleys and residential courtyards. 
Additional replacements were funneled into the city by travers- 
ing the waterways and fortified hamlets to the west. Although 
this area was covered by the advancing 3d Brigade of the 1st 
Cavalry Division (Airmobile), these reinforcement and supply 
avenues were never effectively sealed off. 

The defenders constantly lashed back against the attackers. 
In one spectacular night attack Viet Cong combat-swimmers used 
floating mines to drop two spans of the Truong Tien Bridge. On 
February 10, a strong counterassault was made against the 1st 
ARVN Division, effectively destroying one of its battalions. Two 
days later the 1st and 5th VNMC battalions were moved from 
the fighting at Go Vap in Saigon by naval transport and un- 
loaded at the Bao Vinh landing in Hue. The South Vietnamese 
Marines moved into line and relieved the mauled airborne bat- 
talions. The same day the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marines was 
landed by helicopter and river-assault craft at the Citadel, join- 
ing ARVN forces pushing through the staunchly defended heart 
of metropolitan Hue. 

The 3d ARVN Regiment and Hac Bao (Black Panther) Com- 

15. Fresh units infiltrated into Hue during the battle included elements of 
the 416th Battalion, 5th NVA Regiment, and 324B Division. 



238 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



pany were placed in the center and given the signal honor of 
recapturing the Imperial Palace. In order to appease South Viet- 
namese concerns over the sacred "Throne of Kings," U.S. Ma- 
rines were prohibited from entering the palatial grounds. The 
Marines moved on the left into the Citadel's tough eastern sec- 
tor, and the South Vietnamese Marines were assigned the right, 
western flank. Attacking generally to the southwest, the com- 
bined force encountered fierce resistance at every turn, from 
gateways to schoolhouses. The 4th VNMC Battalion arrived from 
the Battle of My Tho in the Delta to reinforce the allied drive 
on February 16. Marine eight-inch howitzers, Ontos recoilless 
rifle vehicles, and aircraft were supporting all South Vietnamese 
attacks. 

The Marines moved forward through rain and fog, fighting 
at bayonet-point as they assailed ruined houses and stark, smol- 
dering city parks. Marine medium tanks, holed several times 
and driven by replacement crews, lumbered forward in the ur- 
ban shadows as flak-vested riflemen, crisscrossed by ammunition 
bandoliers, followed in their wake. Machine-gun fire and rocket- 
propelled grenades ripped into the grime-caked machines and 
cut down drab green-uniformed men as they clawed their way 
forward a block at a time. Flamethrowers snuffed out NVA strong- 
points with tongues of liquid fire. Marine scout-sniper teams 
waged individual contests to the death against accurate NVA 
snipers nested on both the Citadel and palace walls. 

The swift, dependable Ontos, mounting twin triple-tubed re- 
coilless rifles, proved crucial in close city assault. Suddenly ap- 
pearing in debris-clogged streets, the sturdy little vehicles would 
instantly blast bunkered positions with their six-gun volley, then 
dash behind corners. The NVA developed a respectful distaste 
for their bold direct-fire tactics, and the Ontos became prime 
targets. Sometimes return rocket fire would catch these stinging 
self-propelled weapons. One Ontos of Company A, 1st Antitank 
Battalion, was detracked by a chance round and hit by eleven 
more B-40 rockets. It stood its ground before finally disappear- 
ing in a tumultuous explosion. 

The carnage of close combat was typified by the casualties 
taken among the platoon leaders of the 1st Battalion, 5th Ma- 
rines. The battalion had been continuously committed in the 



THE BATTLES OF TET-68 239 



Phu Loc area twenty-four miles south of the city since Decem- 
ber 29, when it was thrown into the Hue fighting on February 
12. It assaulted the rows of shattered buildings held by the 6th 
NVA Regiment. Nine days later its ten rifle platoons were being 
led by three second lieutenants, one gunnery sergeant, two staff 
sergeants, two buck sergeants, and two senior corporals. 

Each overmastered bunker took its toll. The forward edge 
of the battle line relentlessly pressed on through the shambles. 
Slain attackers were aligned in poncho-draped rows across muddy 
street puddles. Medical collecting points were reduced to triage. 
The Marines reached the inside wall and water-filled moat of 
the Citadel on February 21. General Lam had first authorized 
bombing of the Citadel on February 5. On February 22, he 
decided air strikes would have to be used against the Imperial 
Palace. Early that morning, a massed NVA charge had surged 
out of the southwest wall and caught the leading South Viet- 
namese contingents before a storm of artillery fire tore it apart. 
By the end of that day, the Marines had terminated organized 
resistance in their zone of action, and the 21st and 39th ARVN 
Ranger Battalions arrived to sweep the island across Dong Ba 
Bridge and Eastern River. 

The following night soldiers of the 2d Battalion, 3d ARVN 
Regiment, made a surprise attack along the citadel wall at a 
dead run. Although the North Vietnamese quickly recovered, 
the charge sallied past their weapons pits. Fighting hand to hand 
in the light of wild tracer streams, flares, and explosions, they 
reached the imperial courtyard. At 5:00 A.M., February 24, 1968, 
the battered battalion tore down the Viet Cong banner and raised 
the South Vietnamese flag over the Citadel. 

That afternoon the Hac Bao (Black Panther) Company suc- 
cessfully assaulted and seized the Imperial Palace. At the same 
time the South Vietnamese Marines compressed the last de- 
fending remnants into the southwest corner of the Citadel, and 
the Army's 2d Battalion, 7th Cavalry, advanced to link up. Mop- 
ping up continued, but Hue was declared secure on February 
25. For another week, until March 2, Marine, Army, and South 
Vietnamese troops continued to crush isolated pockets of strag- 
glers in the general vicinity. Once the most beautiful city in 
Vietnam and previously unscarred by the war, Hue had been 



240 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



blasted into corpse-strewn rubble. The battle became one of the 
fiercest city actions the American military had fought since World 
War II. 

4. Tet-68: Countrywide 

The critical central twelve provinces of South Vietnam were 
under the military control of I Field Force Vietnam, where ten 
major ground attacks of the Tet Offensive rolled through seven 
provincial capitals, the autonomous city of Dalat, and the two 
key military towns of An Khe and Ninh Hoa. With the excep- 
tions of Phan Thiet and Dalat, all were cleared during the first 
week of fighting. 16 

At Tuy Hoa a battalion of the 95th NVA Regiment attacked 
the airfield, the provincial prison, and American artillery posi- 
tions. By dawn on January 30, 1968, a paratrooper company from 
the 4th Battalion, 503d Infantry (Airborne), reinforced by a bat- 
talion of the Korean 28th Regiment, had reached the scene of 
action. In a sharp twenty-four-hour firefight they surrounded and 
destroyed most of the North Vietnamese soldiers. Two battal- 
ions of the ARVN 47th Regiment moved against the remaining 
North Vietnamese stronghold in the center of Tuy Hoa on Feb- 
ruary 5 and captured it the next day. 

At Ban Me Thuot the 33d NVA Regiment, supported by the 
301E VC LF Battalion, attacked the 23d ARVN Division head- 
quarters, the MACV compound, both airfields, and numerous 
other targets including the bank. Initially they were only op- 
posed by local South Vietnamese militia (a Regional/Popular 
Forces training center was located there) and Special Forces 
Operations Detachment B-23. By midday on January 30, the 8th 
ARVN Cavalry Squadron and the 45th ARVN Regiment were 
also engaged. The house-to-house fighting was so intense that 
the 23d ARVN Ranger Battalion was committed February 1. The 
rangers were quickly consumed by the slaughter, and the next 

16. The ordei of the city battles in II Corps Tactical Zone and their dates 
were Tet Eve, January 30 Ban Me Thuot (Jan. 30~Feb. 6), Kontum (Jan. 
30-Feb. 4), Nha Trang (Jan, 30-Feb. 1), Ninh Hoa (Jan. 30-Feb. 4), Qui 
Nhon (Jan, 30-Feb. 5), Pleiku (Jan. 30-Feb. 4), Tuy Hoa (Jan. 30-Feb. 6); 
Tet Night, January 31 An Khe and Bong Son (attacks on installations only), 
Phan Thiet (Jan. 31-Feb. 23); Second Tet Night, February 1 Dalat (Feb. 
1-11). The italicized battles are summarized in this section. 



THE BATTLES OF TET-68 241 



day American paratroopers of the 1st Battalion, 503d Infantry 
(Airborne), were flown in from Pleiku. Four major NVA assaults 
were hurled against Ban Me Thuot during the course of the 
battle, but by February 6 the town was cleared. Over one third 
of the city had been reduced to smoking rubble. 

Pleiku was stormed by the Viet Cong 15H LF and 40th Sap 
per Battalions, crossing an expanse of open field at great cost. 
Heavy fighting raged around the Pleiku sector headquarters, the 
MACV compound, 71st Evacuation Hospital, the prisoner-of-war 
compound, both airfields, and a Montagnard training center. The 
3d ARVN Cavalry Squadron and the 22d ARVN Ranger Battal- 
ion, backed up by a company of medium tanks from the 1st 
Battalion, 69th Armor, responded immediately. Two mobile strike 
force companies from Company B, 5th Special Forces Group 
(Airborne), were added to the street fighting. Finally the 4th 
Engineer Battalion doubled as infantry, grabbed machine guns, 
and hastened into the inferno of close combat. By February 3 
this amalgamated force was mopping up. 

Kontum was also struck early on January 30 and the 24th 
NVA Regiment, the 304th VC Battalion and the 406th Sapper 
Battalion crashed into the MACV compound, post office, air- 
field, and 24th ARVN Special Tactical Zone headquarters. Some 
of the most ferocious combat of Tet-68 transpired in Kontum 
city. The initial assault was met by two Montagnard scout com- 
panies, which were rapidly brushed aside, and the 2d Battalion 
of the 42d ARVN Regiment, which fell back. The compound of 
Special Forces Operations Detachment B-24 was penetrated at 
several points. At noon the Americans rustled up the ground 
crews of the aerial 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry, fused them with 
the 1st Battalion of the 22d Infantry, and gave them tanks from 
Company C of the 1st Battalion, 69th Armor. This composite 
task force was shoved into the heart of the city, but the fierce 
tempo of urban fighting was sustained five more days. 

The city perimeter of Phan Thiet in lower Binh Thuan Prov- 
ince was assaulted by the Viet Cong 482d LF and 840th MF 
Battalions just after 3:00 A.M. on January 31, 1968. The MACV 
compound, water point, and sector headquarters were all hit. 
The 3d Battalion, 506th Infantry, and two battalions of the 44th 
ARVN Regiment were soon forced to counterattack in various 



242 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



other sectors as well. Several school buildings in the northern 
part of the city and a large pagoda in the western portion be- 
came focal points of extended fighting. The heaviest fighting was 
over by February 4, but sporadic skirmishing flared over the 
next six days. A renewed VC assault carried the city prison on 
February 18. After another grueling week of block-by-block 
combat the Viet Cong were ejected from the town. 

The final city to be struck in the region was the innocuous 
mountain resort town of Dalat, nestled in the pine forests of 
Tuyen Due Province. The Viet Cong 145th and 186th Battalions 
attacked one hour after midnight on February 1. They quickly 
entered Dalat and took the central marketplace. Two armored 
cars, two regional forces companies, engineering cadets, and a 
helicopter gunship repelled the VC, who then retreated to for- 
tified positions in the Pasteur Institute. Combat was renewed 
when the depleted 23d ARVN Ranger Battalion arrived Feb- 
ruary 5. It was backed by the camp strike force company of 
Special Forces Operations Detachment A-233 from Trang Phuc. 
A week later the llth ARVN Ranger Battalion also arrived. Dalat 
was finally declared secure on February 11. By that date only 
Hue and Saigon were still embroiled in continuing Tet combat. 

In the lower half of South Vietnam the Tet-68 Offensive had 
hit numerous other localities in addition to the Capital Military 
District. Major ground attacks in the surrounding provinces of 
III Corps Tactical Zone were initiated against Ben Cat and Due 
Hoa on January 31, 1968. On February 1, the Viet Cong launched 
three more attacks, against the engineer school at Phu Cuong, 
and the towns of Cu Chi and Ba Ria. The latter locality was 
retaken by various South Vietnamese elements spearheaded by 
the 3d Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment on armored 
personnel carriers. That afternoon a Viet Cong assault on Xuan 
Loc, headquarters of the 18th ARVN Division, was broken up 
by concentrated artillery fire and air power. The next day an- 
other, similiar attack on Xuan Loc was defeated the same way. 

On the night of February 3, the 273d VC Regiment, already 
battered from an unsuccessful attack on Thu Due the previous 
day, attempted to blow up the large Newport Bridge linking 
Saigon and Bien Hoa. The Viet Cong were able to overrun a 
number of bunkers and took the eastern end of the bridge. A 



THE BATTLES OF TET-68 243 



relief force composed of elements of the 720th Military Police 
Battalion, fighting as infantry and backed by a mechanized com- 
pany of the 5th ARVN Cavalry Squadron, counterattacked the 
key structure. At 2:50 A.M., in heavy combat lighted by a bril- 
liant cross fire of tracers and burning houses reflected in the 
lampblack waters, Newport Bridge was recaptured. 

Tay Ninh city was targeted for February 6, but by that date 
the Viet Cong were expected. Their advancing columns were 
ambushed and the survivors stung by orbiting helicopter gun- 
ships. They fled the field, leaving it strewn with parade banners 
for the victory march. The second wave of Tet attacks, which 
befell Saigon and Cholon, also struck Song Be, Tan An, and An 
Loc. They were feeble by comparison to the first round of Tet 
attacks. 

The 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) 
was operating in the Song Be area when the 211th and 212th 
VC Infiltration Groups captured the western portion of the city. 
The 31st ARVN Ranger Battalion, assisted by the 2d Squadron, 
17th Cavalry (Armored), and 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry, de- 
feated the Viet Cong in acrid combat fought block by block 
through the hovel-choked town. Song Be was practically de- 
stroyed in the process. 

The defense of the low, marshy plain known as the Delta 
had always been the primary responsibility of the South Viet- 
namese. Although devoid of NVA troop support, the Viet Cong 
Tet-68 Offensive was most extensive in this area. Within the 
Delta region thirteen of the sixteen province headquarters were 
attacked within the first forty-eight hours. 17 The main highway 
in the Delta, Route 4, was interdicted at sixty-two locations and 
six bridges were dropped. It wasn't until a final mud roadblock 
was cleared on May 15 that Route 4 was reopened along its 
entire length. 

At My Tho in the upper Delta region the Viet Cong em- 
ployed their 261st, 263d, and 514th Battalions to pin the 32 d 

17. Major attacks in IV Corps Tactical Zone were made on the night of Tet, 
January 31, at Cai Be, Cai Lay, Can Tho, My Tho, Soc Trang, True Giang, 
and Vinh Long. Other attacks the same night or shortly thereafter were con- 
ducted at Chau Phu, Moc Hoa, Phu Vinh, Quan Long, Rach Gia, Sa Dec, 
and Tri Ton. 



244 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



ARVN Ranger Battalion outside town and enter the city. There 
they fought to within two hundred yards of the 7th ARVN Di- 
vision command post before being beaten back. Navy Task Force 
117 landed the 2d Brigade (Riverine) of the 9th Infantry Divi- 
sion on the southern edge of My Tho on the morning of Feb- 
ruary 1. The South Vietnamese lashed back in conjunction with 
the 3d Battalion, 47th Infantry. The mobile riverine troops were 
subjected to the harsh house-to-house fighting that typified Tet- 
68. Supported by massed artillery fire and air strikes, they ad- 
vanced room by room and from door to door under intense ma- 
chine-gun and rocket fire. By nightfall the western half of the 
city had been cleared to the main canal. The following day the 
3d Battalions of both the 47th and 60th Infantry attacked north 
astride the city reservoir. At 6:00 P.M. on February 2 they had 
linked up with South Vietnamese forces, and My Tho was once 
again in allied hands. 

True Giang was attacked on Lunar New Year's Day by the 
S16th and 518th VC Battalions, which took the town and sur- 
rounded its MACV compound. The reinforced 3d Battalion of 
the 39th Infantry airmobiled into a landing zone south of the 
city on the night of February 1, and broke through to the be- 
sieged American camp. The Viet Cong were eliminated inside 
the city two days later, but True Giang's environs were not 
cleared until the middle of the month. 

The 9th ARVN Division guarding Vinh Long was considered 
a weak division, with two of its regiments rated as only mar- 
ginally combat-effective. On January 31 the Viet Cong 306th, 
308th and 857th Battalions attacked Vinh Long city and its air- 
field. Both South Vietnamese reinforcements and the 2d Bri- 
gade (Riverine) of the 9th Infantry Division were required to 
regain the area. On February 4 the mobile riverine force an- 
chored north of town on the Mekong River. The 3d Battalion 
of the 47th Infantry conducted river-assault probes while the 3d 
Battalion of the 60th Infantry conducted an airmobile assault south 
of the city. Two days later, two companies of this battalion, sup- 
ported by helicopter gunships and assault patrol boats, made 
beach landings on the banks of the Rach Cai Cam. After heavy 
combat, the city was retaken on February 8. 

The 21st ARVN Division was busy defending both Can Tho 



THE BATTLES OF TET-68 245 



and Soc Trang. A major four-day engagement, in which Com- 
pany D of the 5th Special Forces Group took an active part, 
shattered Can Tho. On February 5, the Viet Cong were routed 
out of the university buildings, and the battle was terminated. 
Chau Phu, a provincial capital on the Cambodian border, was 
infiltrated by small groups of Viet Cong who established them- 
selves in key locations. They were opposed by some of the 
roughest allied combatants in Vietnam, who were posted there 
on special missions. The counterattack was made by small but 
lethal teams from Detachment B-42 of the Army Special Forces, 
a provincial reconnaissance unit of Project PHOENIX, and a Navy 
SEAL contingent. The fight lasted a tough thirty-six hours; mass 
civilian casualties resulted and a fourth of the city was burned 
to the ground, but the Viet Cong were utterly defeated. 

The country-wide NVA/VC Tet-68 Offensive achieved a pos- 
itive psychological effect and worldwide publicity, but only tran- 
sient success on the ground. The Viet Cong had performed most 
of the assaults and took such heavy losses that they were largely 
destroyed as an effective military menace to the South Vietnam- 
ese government. Thereafter, VC activities would be confined to 
minor ambushes and raids, and main force Viet Cong formations 
had to be completely rebuilt using regular North Vietnamese 
replacements. All chances of "liberating South Vietnam from 
within" were thoroughly defeated with the bloody military re- 
verses suffered by the Viet Cong in Tet-68. 

The South Vietnamese forces had taken the brunt of the Tet- 
68 attacks and had been shaken and cut up by its unexpected 
violence. Although a considerable number of soldiers returned 
to their units as soon as practicable, desertions in February sky- 
rocketed. The superb South Vietnamese Airborne and 1st Divi- 
sions, as well as the llth, 21st, 23d, 37th, and 39th Ranger 
Battalions, had so many casualties that they were out of com- 
mission for most of the year, Throughout the ARVN military, 
losses in key officers and sergeants had been severe. However, 
the South Vietnamese armed forces had performed well consid- 
ering the intensity of combat and confusion resulting from the 
surprise. In many regions of the country it had been the heav- 
iest combat ever experienced. Tet-68 thrust the ARVN back into 
the forefront of the war, and a General Mobilization Law pro- 



246 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



mulgated on June 19, 1968, allowed the army to slowly regain 
its cohesion. 

The American forces had wreaked absolute havoc on the North 
Vietnamese and Viet Cong attackers, bringing superior arma- 
ments and mobility to crush entire units. Although Tet-68 had 
been a great military victory, most of its potential as such was 
lost, since the American public never got over its initial shock 
at the apparent ability of the Viet Cong to strike and hold tar- 
gets throughout Vietnam. The battles fought during those hectic 
weeks had been vicious and costly, but the strategic possibilities 
raised by their successful conclusion were lost to a government 
dazed by the surface carnage. As a result, great pressure was 
brought against the military to curtail further casualties. This 
command desire to cut further losses inhibited any chance of a 
ruthless follow-up campaign aimed at finishing off the VC rem- 
nants and discouraging future NVA activity in South Vietnam. 



CHAPTER 16. 



SIEGE AND 
BREAKTHROUGH 



1. Khe Sanh: The Siege Begins 

The ambush of a platoon from Company I, 3d Battalion, 26th 
Marines, on January 19, 1968, on a ridgeline just south of Hill 
881 North, was like a recurring nightmare of the previous year's 
ambuscade in the same area, which had touched off The Hill 
Fights around Khe Sanh. This time, however, both reinforced 
304th and 325C NVA Divisions were in the immediate vicinity. 
Instead of the localized firefights of 1967, the resulting battle 
for Khe Sanh would become the highest strategic military con- 
cern of the United States government. 

Colonel David E. Lownd's 26th Marines defending the key 
Marine combat base of Khe Sanh were thinly spread, protecting 
both the main bastion and several nearby hills deemed critical 
to its survival. 1 These hill strong-points had been carved out of 
the tree-splintered, upchurned earth left by the massive Amer- 
ican bombardments used in taking them the previous spring. 
The trees had been so riddled with metal shrapnel shards that 

1. The 26th Marines had been forged in the heat of World War II at Camp 
Pendleton, California, in January 1944, and its heritage consisted of only one 
battle, Iwo Jima. There the regiment's valiant performance on Nishi Ridge 
earned it fellowship with older Marine units. It had been deactivated in March 
1946 and called back to the colors to fight in Vietnam, where elements had 
been quickly lifted into Khe Sanh. 

247 



248 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



engineers attempting to cut them for bunker timber only ruined 
their chain saw blades. The Marines had ringed Khe Sanh and 
its hills with triple rows of wire, deep trenches, and sandbagged 
mortar-proof bunkers. The men struggled through torrential 
monsoon rains which washed away barrier obstacles, collapsed 
trenches, and caved in bunkers. They toiled under sniper fire 
to string barbed wire and razor-sharp German wire, emplace 
mines and personnel detectors, and shore up fortifications. They 
sent out daily patrols into the jungled ravines and elephant grass 
in constant sweeps that often brought sudden death, and then 
sent other patrols to retrieve the bodies and avenge the fallen. 

The six hilltops guarding Khe Sanh were themselves exposed 
islands of resistance tenuously connected by helicopter airlift only. 
Already their slopes were cluttered with aircraft wreckage. Heli- 
copters alighting on the elevated landing zones dumped cargo 
and lifted out seriously injured Marines in seconds, as intense 
mortaring bracketed them with geysers of dirt, Casualties were 
run out on stretchers carried by Marines who sometimes had to 
be evacuated with the wounded, as the helicopter-evoked shell- 
ings inevitably injured the litter bearers as well. When the hill- 
tops were buried in cloud cover they were totally isolated, 
sometimes for weeks. 

In the night mists of January 20, the North Vietnamese at- 
tacked up Hill 861. Sappers ran bangalore torpedoes into the 
defensive barriers, and soldiers poured through the gaps. Mor- 
tar explosions tore into the packed groups of onrushing men as 
the Marine defenders flayed them with red tracer-lined streams 
of machine-gun fire. Fougasse barrels splattered the attackers 
with burning concoctions of diesel fuel and gasoline. Twisted 
fencing and barbed wire were piled high with smashed bodies 
riddled by hot steel, hideously lighted by brilliant flashes of det- 
onating shellfire. More NVA infantry dashed up the slippery mud 
as explosions erupted along the entire slope, and jumped into 
the trenchlines of Company K, 26th Marines. 

The Marines desperately fought back in close-quarters com- 
bat, knifing and clubbing the North Vietnamese in a melee of 
individual fighting. Some bludgeoned assailants were flung over 
the sides of the ditches and rolled to their deaths down the fire- 



SIEGE AND BREAKTHROUGH 249 



swept hill. Other Marines, relying on their flak vests, simply 
dropped grenades as the attackers swarmed over them, and curled 
up to absorb the shrapnel fragments in their legs and armor. 
Marine mortar tubes on supporting hills were overworked until 
they glowed red in the dark. Finally the North Vietnamese at- 
tack broke, and Hill 861 remained in Marine hands. 

At dawn on January 21, the North Vietnamese plastered Khe 
Sanh airstrip with a barrage of rockets and mortars. Almost 
everything above ground at the base was flattened or damaged 
by the combination of the shelling and the destruction of the 
main ammunition dump, which burned furiously for two days. 
The 1st Battalion of the 9th Marines was flown to Khe Sanh the 
following day. On January 27, the 37th ARVN Ranger Battalion 
arrived at the camp, a symbolic gesture from the South Viet- 
namese government. 2 These five battalions would endure the siege 
of Khe Sanh, along with artillery, five tanks, two Ontos pla- 
toons, and a CIDG company with their Special Forces advisors. 

The bleak situation had many of the overtones of Dien Bien 
Phu, the great communist battlefield victory which had closed 
the curtain on French rule in Indochina and created the two 
Vietnamese states. There was widespread fear that this Marine 
base might be overrun also, giving North Vietnam a similar mil- 
itary and political triumph. Although the situation was not a car- 
bon copy of the former siege, since the Marines at Khe Sanh 
were entrenched on a small plateau and controlled adjacent high 
ground, the parallels were certainly there. The Marine predic- 
ament at Khe Sanh was extremely precarious. They were sur- 
rounded by at least two crack North Vietnamese divisions, one 
of which was the home guard 304th NVA Division, which had 
fought at Dien Bien Phu (and was destined to conquer Da Nang 

2. Concerning the commitment of the 37th ARVN Ranger Battalion, Col Hoang 
Ngoc Lung states, "Not until the fighting had been in full progress did the 
RVN decide to deploy one ARVN Ranger battalion to the base, more for 
political than tactical reasons, evidently." (The General Offensives of 1968- 
69, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington, D.C., 1981, p. 11). 
General Westmoreland was more blunt: "To assure ARVN participation in 
what I deemed to be an important fight, I insisted that the South Vietnamese 
contribute an ARVN Ranger Battalion." (A Soldier Reports, Doubleday & 
Company, 1976, p. 339). 



250 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



on March 30, 1975). Since Route 9 had been cut, the base had 
to subsist entirely on aerial resupply, a chancy business in the 
monsoon season. 

Hill 861A was assaulted in the morning darkness of February 
5. Exploding bangalore torpedoes ripped through the wire and 
the North Vietnamese surged up the slope. Captain Breeding's 
Company E of the 26th Marines unleashed an unrestrained tor- 
rent of machine-gun, claymore mine, and grenade fire to an- 
nihilate the first groups storming through the sapper lanes. Then 
the NVA gained the summit and took the northernmost trench- 
line. They stopped momentarily to loot the dead Marine de- 
fenders, giving the rest of Company E a chance to reform and 
counterattack. The assault was so sudden that the North Viet- 
namese had no time to react. The savage fighting was hand to 
hand as searing grenade blasts lighted the fisted blows, kicks, 
and knifings in white-hot, blinding flashes. The fury of the as- 
sault ejected the North Vietnamese from the redoubts. 

Two days later, the North Vietnamese would overrun an Army 
Special Forces camp only six miles to the west along Route 9. 
This time they would use tanks for the first time in Vietnam. 

2. Khe Sanh: The Pressure Mounts (Lang Vei) 

The Special Forces camp of Lang Vei, located along Route 
9 only a mile and a half from the Laotian border, was just south- 
west of the Khe Sanh base. Although the camp was not part of 
the Marine defenses, it was tied into Marine artillery and re- 
action forces for support. Lang Vei was the last Special Forces 
border surveillance camp along the northwestern Vietnam bor- 
der, and its loss terminated fixed American presence in that 
critical region. Its destruction by North Vietnamese armor also 
marked the final transition of the war from one of guerrilla tac- 
tics to a classic, conventional struggle between national armies. 

The camp was unexpectedly reinforced by the 33d Laotian 
Volunteer Battalion (Elephant) on January 24, 1968. They had 
been overrun the previous day at Ban Houei San in Laos. Al- 
though there had been disturbing reports of North Vietnamese 
tanks, Capt. Frank C. Willoughby, the commander of the Lang 
Vei Special Forces Detachment A-101, did not expect the armor 
actually to attack the camp except in a fire support role from 



SIEGE AND BREAKTHROUGH 251 



the jungle. As a result training with the hundred light antitank 
weapons was limited to a dozen Americans and ten indigenous 
troops, leaving seventy-five of the one-shot, disposable weapons 
on hand. 3 

Special Forces Lt. Col. Daniel F. Schungel had been posted 
to the camp on February 6, after the Laotian colonel there re- 
fused to listen to lower-ranking Americans. He arrived to ex- 
perience an intense camp mortaring at six o'clock that evening. 
One hour before midnight two North Vietnamese PT-76 am- 
phibian tanks escorted by infantry from the 66th NVA Regiment 
rumbled over the outer wire. Their headlights swept the ground 
in front of them as they fired their cannon and machine guns 
at the camp defenses. CIDG riflemen shot out the lights, and 
a Special Forces-manned 106mm recoilless rifle swiveled around 
to destroy each tank in turn. Three more tanks then swung into 
view, roared around the disabled vehicles, and rolled over the 
camp's ramparts. 

Lt. Col. Schungel led bands of Special Forces troopers, armed 
with light antitank weapons, chasing after the clanking tanks. 
They exploded one tank and gunned down three crewmen clam- 
bering from the smoking hatches. However, more tanks were 
now appearing on the road leading into camp, and the antitank 
rounds were either misfiring or scoring direct hits with little 
effect. A fourth tank was destroyed by the 106mm recoilless rifle 
position. It then fired three rounds of Beehive ammunition be- 
fore being knocked out. By 2:00 A.M. the sole remaining re- 
coilless rifle position was also destroyed. Special Forces and in- 
digenous troopers were desperately climbing the sides of the 
fifteen-ton steel vehicles and trying to pry open hatches to gre- 
nade them. Most were killed or wounded by North Vietnamese 
shock troops following behind them and firing assault rifles. NVA 
sappers were using satchel charges, tear gas grenades, and 
flamethrowers to tear into the inner compound. 

The outer fringes of the camp were overrun despite a tough 

3. On February 7, 1968, Lang Vei Special Forces camp had 1,007 troops: 24 
Special Forces, 14 LLDB, 161 Mike Force, and 282 CIDG Bru tribal sol- 
diers, 6 interpreters, 520 Laotian Ca tribal soldiers, and 2,200 Laotian civil- 
ians. Not counting the Laotians (the reports are blank as to their fate), the 
camp forces suffered 219 killed (10 U.S.) and 77 wounded (13 U.S.). 



252 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



defense (with the exception of the Laotian Ca tribal soldiers, 
whose commander wanted to "wait to fight until morning"). The 
cloud cover and rolling ground fogs combined with communi- 
cations difficulty to preclude accurate air support. Sergeant First 
Class Ashley, five other Special Forces sergeants, and fifty CIDG 
soldiers kept low to the ground as the tanks lumbered past them 
and then escaped outside the wire to hide in bamboo clumps 
and dry creek beds. When the Special Forces troops tried to 
organize a counterattack from the outside, using the throngs of 
panicked indigenous soldiers now streaming out of the camp, 
no one stopped at their orders. 

Lieutenant Colonel Schungel and several Special Forces and 
LLDB personnel ran back to the main bunker looking for more 
light antitank weapons. They were surrounded by sappers. The 
LLDB troops dodged into the bunker, but Lieutenant Colonel 
SchungeFs Americans manned positions behind dirt- and stone- 
filled fifty-five-gallon drums around the fortification. A tank 
rumbled to a stop in front of the barricade. The Americans fired 
a light antitank round, but it bounced off. The tank blasted back 
with its 76mm main gun. The force of the explosion knocked 
Schungel down, tossed a barrel on top of a lieutenant, and blinded 
another Special Forces soldier with flying gravel. The men pulled 
back to sandbags at the bunker entrance. An LLDB officer nearby 
realized that the bunker was a prime target and that defending 
it was hopeless. He dashed off looking for a better place to hide. 
The lieutenant colonel and the lieutenant tried to follow, but 
the tank prevented their movement. 

It was 3:00 A.M. The tank began clanking around the bunker 
and shooting at the abandoned observation tower, which refused 
to collapse. Schungel pitched two grenades under the tank. The 
explosions did not harm it, but the tower structure fell over. At 
that point someone hit the tank with a light antitank weapon, 
and its turret hatch suddenly popped open. A hand appeared, 
and then slipped back inside as flames started shooting out the 
hatchway. 

Lieutenant Colonel Schungel and the lieutenant, both badly 
wounded, then killed a five-man sapper squad and managed to 
crawl underneath the dispensary. They hid for the rest of the 
night under a blanket of sandbags, while a platoon of North 



SIEGE AND BREAKTHROUGH 253 



Vietnamese set up positions overhead. Meanwhile, Captain Wil- 
loughby and the small group of Americans and LLDB in the 
underground level of the main bunker now believed they were 
the only ones left alive. They had no communications, as all 
their outside antennae were cut down by the victorious North 
Vietnamese swarming over the compound. The men, covered 
with splinters and rubble, positioned themselves behind over- 
turned furniture. 

The NVA kept pitching incendiary and riot gas grenades into 
the bunker, and the defenders either had to put on gas masks, 
handkerchiefs, or vomit. Then they shouted out in Vietnamese, 
"We are going to blow up the bunker, so give up." At this com- 
mand the LLDB captain and his four LLDB soldiers in the 
bunker walked out with their hands up and were summarily ex- 
ecuted. Although the NVA kept tossing grenades in the door- 
way, they never stormed the bunker interior. Captain Wil- 
loughby, seriously wounded, lost consciousness at 8:30 A.M., still 
holding a flak jacket in front of him. 

Meanwhile Sergeant Ashley and two other Special Forces 
troopers were walking up Route 9 pleading with fleeing Laotians 
and CIDG Bru tribesmen to counterattack the camp. They fi- 
nally mustered sixty Laotian volunteers and twenty CIDG, got 
in touch with aircraft by radio, and attacked. The Bru native 
warriors bolted after receiving machine-gun fire and had to be 
coaxed back. Sergeant Ashley's composite contingent assaulted 
three different times attempting to reach the main bunker. Each 
time they were repulsed. Fighter-bombers were raking the in- 
side of the camp with rockets and cannon fire. 

At 9:30 A.M. Schungel and the lieutenant decided that the 
NVA had vacated the dispensary because there was no longer 
return fire against the air strikes hitting the camp. They pain- 
fully hobbled out and saw two blackened tank hulks, apparently 
hit by aircraft, standing just outside the doorway. Both men 
walked out the east gate of the camp. A half hour later the main 
bunker reestablished outside communications, and at eleven 
o'clock Captain Willoughby, whom everyone had thought dead, 
regained consciousness. By this time Sergeant Ashley's group 
was in its fourth try to break through. Between each assault the 
Americans had to round up the reluctant CIDG soldiers, and 



254 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



each attack stalled as the indigenous soldiers ran off again down 
the road. On the fifth and final assault, Sergeant Ashley was hit 
in the chest and mortally wounded. 

The camp survivors were now ordered to evacuate the com- 
pound, which was only lightly held after hours of blistering air 
attacks. The bunker group stumbled out of its position in a move 
closely coordinated by radio with Skyraider fighters, which were 
making final bombing and strafing runs. Captain Willoughby's 
dazed and bloodied column reached the main gate at Route 9. 
There the LLDB officer was waiting in a jeep. He had been 
captured by the North Vietnamese, had escaped, and had then 
run all the way to old Lang Vei (450 yards from the present 
camp) where he had found the vehicle. 

The Americans, South Vietnamese, and Bru and Laotian Ca 
warriors assembled on the old Lang Vei landing strip for aerial 
extraction. The Marine helicopters landed, but attempts at or- 
derly evacuation were rendered impossible when the Laotians 
and indigenous soldiers mobbed the Marine helicopters. How- 
ever, the Marine aircraft managed to get the wounded and the 
Americans on board. They flew back, suffering considerable 
damage from ground fire despite continuous overhead fighter 
cover. 

The rest of the Laotians and a horde of civilians, some six 
thousand strong, descended on Khe Sanh itself at eight o'clock 
on the morning of February 8. They had walked the entire dis- 
tance along the road. Behind them the North Vietnamese en- 
joyed full possession of Lang Vei, a critical Route 9 location. 4 

3. Khe Sanh: Siege and Relief 

At daybreak on February 8, 1968, the 101D NVA Regiment 
attacked Hill 64, held by Second Lieutenant Terence R. Roach, 
Jr/s platoon of Company A, 9th Marines. They rolled over the 
barrier wire on top of canvas and rushed the western trenches. 
Using liberal air and tank support, the rest of Company A re- 
captured the hill in vicious fighting later that morning. 

4. Army Special Forces reports were sharply critical of Air Force and Marine 
response, which was hampered by weather and larger tactical considerations 
as well as the ambush-prone nature of Route 9 connecting Khe Sanh to 
Vei. 



SIEGE AND BREAKTHROUGH 255 



The siege then became an extended standoff as the North 
Vietnamese began constructing entrenched approach works, sni- 
pers patiently waited for careless targets, constant shelling con- 
tinued, and Marine aircraft struggled to keep the base supplied. 
The weather and hostile fire mandated a total of 679 supply drops, 
as landings were prohibited. The air space above Khe Sanh was 
always crowded with droning cargo planes, whirling helicopters, 
darting light observation Birddogs, propellered Skyraiders, 
thundering Spooky aircraft, and shrieking jet fighter-bombers. 
The earth constantly rumbled with the distant mass explosions 
from B-52 bombers flying beyond sight and sound. The lush 
green hillsides, which had once supported the finest Southeast 
Asian coffee plantations, had been reduced to charred ochre slopes 
of cratered mud. 

Action intensified late in the month when Khe Sanh en- 
dured the heaviest barrage of the siege on February 23, and 
the loss of two patrolling squads from Company B, 26th Ma- 
rines, by ambush two days later. The 37th ARVN Ranger Bat- 
talion, defending the southern outer perimeter of the main base, 
was hit by a major ground assault on the night of February 29. 
The North Vietnamese infantry launched two assaults from three 
trenchlines in front of the ranger barrier wires. Both attacks were 
obliterated by the response to frantic South Vietnamese calls for 
protective fire which sent a devastating firestorm of artillery shells 
exploding over the entire front. This massive artillery barrage 
annihilated three waves of NVA soldiers before they could get 
past the barbed wire. Airbursts created an equally lethal hail- 
storm of shrapnel, which also swept throught the trenches and 
killed many of the soldiers before they could "go over the top." 

In March, blue skies replaced the monsoon clouds above Khe 
Sanh, bringing a consequent increase in air activity. The Ma- 
rines and the South Vietnamese rangers began vigorously 
sweeping the base perimeter. An upbeat mood prevailed with 
the change in weather and the decline of North Vietnamese 
pressure. The military looked forward to relieving the siege of 
Khe Sanh. Provisional Corps Vietnam, the precursor of XXIV 
Corps, had been activated at Phu Bai on March 10, 1968, under 
Lt. Gen; William B. Rosson, to continue the missions of MACV 
Forward. Although planning was stymied by a major interser- 



256 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



vice squabble over tactical aircraft direction and Army- Marine 
problems of coordination, it continued to direct the elimination 
of the Hue pocket, control the additional Army formations in- 
serted in "Marineland," stockpile war supplies, and prepare a 
breakthrough to Khe Sanh. 

General Westmoreland, dissatisfied with Marine air support 
arrangements for certain Army formations, demanded that the 
Seventh Air Force provide all tactical aircraft direction. A major 
high-level squabble erupted in the midst of the Tet Offensive, 
the Battle of Hue, and the Siege of Khe Sanh. The proposal 
became a focal point of Pentagon, Pacific Command, and MACV- 
III MAP bickering. Doctrinal debate exploded, General West- 
moreland considered resignation, and its final resolution (Air Force 
management of fixed-wing missions) came on March 8, 1968, as 
all three engagements were ending. Actual Air Force control 
was not implemented until April 1, 1968. 

The long-awaited allied drive on Khe Sanh, Operation PEG- 
ASUS/LAM SON 207, began at 8:00 A.M. on April 1, 1968. The 
jump-off point was the supply-packed staging fortress of Ca Lu, 
fifteen miles away from the Marine combat base. Columns of 
armor-vested, helmeted riflemen of the 2d Battalions of the 1st 
and 3d Marines trudged along both sides of Route 9 through 
thick morning ground fog. Behind them roared Marine dozers, 
trucks, and cranes of the llth Engineer Battalion, which would 
have to build culverts, emplace bridges, and carve out bypasses. 
The heavy construction vehicles and equipment of the Navy 
Seabees followed. 

To the rear of the moving frontage of men and vehicles was 
Landing Zone Stud, which the Seabees had turned into a major 
airfield. Although wrapped in foggy haze that delayed flight op- 
erations, it was a hub of hectic activity. Rows of helicopters were 
parked the length of the airstrip. That afternoon, crammed with 
battle-hardened troopers of the 7th Cavalry, they soared into 
the low-hanging clouds. Throngs of Marines marching along the 
roadway lifted their heads as the throbbing pitch of helicopters 
resonated over the clatter of equipment and the noise of vehicle 
engines. Waves of 1st Cavalry Division Hueys were racing over- 
head. In one spectacular hop the 3d Brigade launched a massive 
three-battalion heliborne assault directly into the critical terrain 



SIEGE AND BREAKTHROUGH 257 



midway between Ca Lu and the Khe Sanh combat base. The 
landings were virtually unopposed. 

The airmobile pace of Major General Tolson's 1st Cavalry 
Division quickened on April 3, as three battalions of the 2d Bri- 
gade helicoptered southeast of Khe Sanh. Again there was little 
resistance. The only firefights resulted from the North Vietnam- 
ese determination to retain certain high ground positions north 
of Route 9, in order to cover the withdrawal of their major forces 
to the south and west. 

At daybreak on April 4, Lt. Col, John J. H. CahilFs 1st Bat- 
talion of the 9th Marines attacked Hill 471, a critical piece of 
real estate two miles south of Khe Sanh that overlooked much 
of the valley. It had been occupied by NVA forces since Jan- 
uary, but the Marines were on top of it by late afternoon. They 
found only a few bodies of those killed by the artillery and air 
strikes delivered prior to the assault. The next day a battalion 
of the 66th NVA Regiment made a predawn attempt to retake 
the hill. After two hours of fighting on the slopes, the Marines 
mounted a savage, artillery-supported counterattack which re- 
pulsed this effort. Enjoying excellent fields of observation and 
fire from Hill 471 covering the advance of the cavalrymen, the 
Marines continued to attack to the northwest, 

Actions were delayed April 6, as the 2d Battalion of the 7th 
Cavalry fought west along Route 9 in a continuous day of com- 
bat against the North Vietnamese. The 1st Battalion of the 5th 
Cavalry ran into a strong-point at the Old French Fort, the last 
obstacle between the Army and the Marines at Khe Sanh. The 
position fell to the 5th Cavalry's 2d Battalion the following day. 
South Vietnamese paratroopers of the 3d, 6th, and 8th ARVN 
Airborne Battalions airmobiled to the west of Khe Sanh near the 
Laotian border on April 7. Meanwhile, the 2d Battalion of the 
26th Marines cleared bunkered resistance between the combat 
base and the northwestern outposts on Hills 861 and 881 South. 
Another objective was secured April 10. On that day the 1st 
Battalion, 12th Cavalry, swept into the ruins of the Lang Vei 
Special Forces camp. 

During the second week of April, the North Vietnamese 
launched only one major attack, an early morning attempt on 
April 8 to overrun the ARVN command post five miles south of 



258 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Khe Sanh. Supported by artillery and Marine fighter-bombers, 
the South Vietnamese paratroopers fought off the battalion-sized 
assault. The same day, the relief of the Khe Sanh combat base 
was formally accomplished as the 1st Cavalry Division helicop- 
tered Colonel Campbell's 3d Brigade command post inside the 
Marine compound. As the llth Engineer Battalion closed the 
base on April 12, it marked the first time since September 1967 
that an operational traffic lane existed over the forty-two road 
miles connecting Dong Ha to Khe Sanh. 

Wide-ranging air cavalry units continued to uncover large 
supply caches and other evidence of hasty withdrawal into 
neighboring Laos. The final battle occurred on Easter Sunday, 
April 14, in the same saddle between Hills 881 South and North, 
where the Battle of Khe Sanh had begun in January. Preceded 
by an extensive air and artillery bombardment, the 3d Battalion, 
26th Marines, attacked at first light and, after heavy fighting up 
the fortified slopes of Hill 881 North, secured the summit at 
2:28 P.M. Through the end of April, the Marines continued to 
clear the Khe Sanh vicinity in numerous slow and difficult com- 
pany- and battalion-sized operations. These sweeps uncovered 
abandoned North Vietnamese weapons and many dead, and 
generated sporadic contact with NVA stay-behind units. The forces 
that remained in western Quang Tri were small but well armed, 
and derived substantial combat advantage from the hundreds of 
well-prepared positions located throughout the Khe Sanh area. 

The siege had lasted seventy-seven days, during which time 
staggering amounts of war materials had been expended. Be- 
tween January 20 and the end of April, 110,022 tons of bombs 
had been dropped, 142,081 rounds of artillery fired, and over 
14,000 tons of supplies had been air-delivered. However, the 
end of the siege marked the end of Marine interest in retaining 
Khe Sanh. General Westmoreland deferred the touchy decision 
to his successor, Gen. Creighton W. Abrams. When he nodded 
approval, the Marines had already been dismantling the base 
for some time. By July 5, it was razed to the ground, and all 
the recently refurbished bridges along Route 9 were systemat- 
ically destroyed. 

Its abandonment created a storm of military debate and pub- 
lic furor. This was a natural consequence of the officially stated 



SIEGE AND BREAKTHROUGH 259 



military reasons for its defense in the first place, which had been 
put out largely as propaganda during a wartime siege. The real 
basis for its abandonment was the demise of Defense Secretary 
McNamara's barrier dream. The Marines, a mobile shock force 
by design and tradition, had an ingrained distaste for static de- 
fense, which was heightened by the Khe Sanh experience. While 
the destruction of Khe Sanh eradicated a strong-point of 
McNamara's extended DYE MARKER plan, it also promised a 
return to Marine mobility. However, by mid-1968, although 
limited tactical offensives abounded, the United States military 
participation in the war would soon be relegated to a strategic 
defensive stance. The South Vietnamese forces would shortly be 
directed to carry the burden of offensive combat. 



CHAPTER 17. 



COUNTEROFFENSIVE 



1. Into the A Shau Valley 

Following the Tet-68 onslaught of shock attacks, MACV moved 
to sweep and secure the regions adjacent to cities and instal- 
lations that had been targeted, and also launched several coun- 
teroffensives into suspected NVA/VC base camps along the bor- 
der. The devastating Battle of Hue convinced General 
Westmoreland of the need to strike deep into the North Viet- 
namese Army staging area of A Shau Valley, on the westernmost 
fringes of Thua Thien Province, in order to preempt the mass- 
ing of further attacks on the crucial city. The highly mobile 1st 
Cavalry Division, just north of the valley as a result of its spec- 
tacular Khe Sanh relief, was chosen as the sword of vengeance. 
The remote A Shau Valley was one of the most rugged and 
inaccessible regions straddling Vietnam's haunting western fron- 
tier. The valley itself was a flat strip of bottomland, masked by 
trackless, man-high elephant grass and deep, verdant tropical 
rain forest. It had been carved out of the jungle-wrapped, mist- 
ing mountain ranges towering five thousand feet on either side 
of the Rao Loa River, which flowed past the bones of the over- 
run A Shau Special Forces camp at its southern end to loop at 
Ta Bat and then west into Laos. This corner of highland wil- 
derness had been a haunt of the North Vietnamese since early 
1966, and MACV was unsure of the extent of fortification there 
or whether the NVA would stand fast and defend it. Since the 
valley's rocky outcrops and steep slopes were reinforced with 

260 



COUNTEROFFENSIVE 261 



batteries of heavy antiaircraft guns, the division would be facing 
the most concentrated air defense encountered in South Viet- 
nam up to that time. 

Aerial scout teams of the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, started 
working the area in mid-April. Scores of glassy, bubble-light ob- 
servation helicopters, sleek Cobra gunships, and slender Huey 
aerial workhorses darted alongside the valley walls in three days 
of excellent flying weather. Behind their whirling cameras and 
flashing machine guns came hundreds of Marine and Air Force 
jet fighters spilling napalm and bombs. B-52 stratofortresses 
pummeled the valley with a high-altitude heavy bombing blitz. 

The intensity of unsuppressed antiaircraft fire in the central 
valley caused Major General Tolson to shift his opening assault 
to the northern end with his division's 3d Brigade. On an over- 
cast April 19, troop helicopters filled with riflemen of the 1st 
and 5th Battalions of the 7th Cavalry helicoptered over the jag- 
ged peaks of several Chaine Annamitique ridgelines, and swung 
toward two landing zones being rocketed and strafed by last- 
minute air strikes and rocket runs. The helicopters veered into 
their final approaches, abruptly dipping like runaway roller coaster 
cars. The cavalrymen felt their stomachs flutter as they held onto 
the lurching aircraft and flipped their rifles onto firing mode. 
Many squad privates were raw stateside recruits; the division 
had absorbed some 6,104 replacements since the beginning of 
February as a result of hard fighting at Hue and Khe Sanh. 

These first air assaults of Operation DELAWARE/LAM SON 
216 planted the airmobile infantry near a valley trail on a nearby 
hillside. Explosives and engineer tools flattened trees and veg- 
etation, and soon the red earth was pitted by foxholes and lit- 
tered with piles of sandbags and munitions boxes. Then the NVA 
gunners suddenly opened up with their accurate 37mm and 23mm 
antiaircraft guns as more aircraft descended through the low- 
ering clouds. Flak bursts and machine-gun fire laced the thick 
humid air. Ten helicopters were shot down and another thirteen 
damaged. As drizzling rain set in, the division aborted the lift- 
in of a second artillery firing battery. That night the 7th Cav- 
alry's 5th Battalion spotted a large convoy of nearly a hundred 
trucks near their landing zone, and took it under fire with light 
artillery. 




General William C. Westmoreland 
from June 20, 1964 to June 1968 

(U.S. Army) 




General Creighton W. Abrams from 
July 2, 1968 to June 1972 (U.S. 
Army) 




President Lyndon B . Johnson bids farewell to paratroopers of the 3d 
Brigade, 82d Airborne Division, as they are rushed as emergency re- 
inforcement into Vietnam from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (Author's 
Collection) 




Soldiers of the 2d Battalion, 47th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division ad- 
vance on the Y-Bridge during the Mini-let Offensive in Saigon on 
May 11, 1968. The flak-vested soldier in the center carries the M79 
grenade launcher, while the soldier on the far right carries an M60 
machine gun. Others are armed with MI 6 rifles. (U.S. Army) 




Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division rappel into broken jungle as 
the Army takes the post-Tet offensive into Vietnam s border regions. 
(101st Airborne Division Information Office, Vietnam) 




Wounded troops of the 101st Airborne Division are rushed to medical 
evacuation helicopters as mopping up operations continue south of Hue. 
(Author's Collection) 




Armored Personnel Carriers of the 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division 
(Mechanized) cross over sixty-foot span of an Armored Vehick Launched 
Bridge near Khe Sanh. (U.S. Army) 




The flexibility of the Mobile Riverine Brigade of the 9th Infantry Di- 
vision is demonstrated as soldiers of the 3d Battalion, 60th Infantry, 
land from Armored Troop Carrier vessels in Kien Hoa Province of the 
Delta. (U.S. Army) 



262 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



For the next four days a late-season monsoon front passed 
through, bringing vile weather which jeopardized the entire op- 
eration. Dense fog and intermittent thundershowers obscured 
the rain-soaked jungle, and clouds blanketed the valley, Heli- 
copters leaving Camp Evans with supplies and reinforcements 
climbed through the murky mist on instruments, leveled out 
above the clouds, and then flew to the mountain peaks rising 
above the overcast like craggy islands. The young aviators of the 
llth Aviation Group then descended through the clouds and 
antiaircraft fire, and groped through the gloom at near zero vis- 
ibility to seek out American troop positions. Flights into the val- 
ley became impossible past noon of each day. In this harrowing 
manner the rest of the brigade was airlifted into the valley by 
April 23. Finally, when the weather improved, the low daytime 
ceilings never lifted above two or three thousand feet, covering 
the higher elevations. 

Meanwhile, the foot cavalry pushed out from their landing 
zones and began finding ammunition stocks and abandoned anti- 
aircraft guns mounted on flatbed trucks. The 7th Cavalry's 1st 
Battalion made a cross-country trek to secure an abandoned air- 
field outside A Loui, enabling the 1st Brigade to land there on 
April 25. The North Vietnamese soldiers were slipping away with 
as much material as possible, using their mobile flak guns to 
discourage close airmobile pursuit, and the cavalrymen were 
rapidly frustrated by these evasive tactics. A brief, indecisive 
skirmish on April 26, the result of a 5th Battalion company from 
the 7th Cavalry accidentally brushing against departing NVA in- 
fantry, was the first solid ground contact of the A Shau Valley 
sweep. 

Three days later the Americans secured Ta Bat in the mid- 
dle of the valley. The 3d ARVN Regiment was flown in to this 
site on the first day of May. They started moving along the Rao 
Loa River toward the old A Shau Special Forces camp, uncov- 
ering fresh stocks of ammunition, spare parts, and communi- 
cations equipment. The 1st Cavalry Division continued to re- 
connoiter the area and find more caches. The 8th Engineer 
Battalion repaired the A Loui airfield for use by fixed-wing cargo 
planes, but daily thunderstorms washed it out by May 11. The 



COUNTEROFFENSIVE 263 



division was forced to evacuate the valley the same way it en- 
tered, by helicopter alone. 

As the rains increased, the division began destroying its fire 
bases and preparing to leave. The first in were the first out, 
and the 3d Brigade departed May 10 followed by the South Viet- 
namese. The 1st Brigade's aerial extraction was completed by 
the middle of the month. Operation DELAWARE was over, and 
the Army quickly claimed a resounding success by citing bun- 
dles of captured war materials, including one PT-76 light tank. 
The actual results were less satisfying. The cavalrymen were ex- 
posed to intense North Vietnamese rocketing and heavy artillery 
shelling, and the helicopters had suffered grave losses due to 
weather and severe flak. Again the NVA had chosen not to fight, 
being content to offer only token resistance as the cavalrymen 
freely roamed the valley. By willingly giving up a quantity of 
military stores, they had gained the advantage of maneuvering 
their fighting forces elsewhere while the highly mobile 1st Cav- 
alry Division was occupied in the A Shau Valley. 

Major General Melvin Zais's 101st Airborne Division was or- 
dered into the A Shau Valley next. MACV hoped to bag North 
Vietnamese troops reentering on the heels of the cavalry raid. 
The planned operation, SOMERSET PLAIN/LAM SON 246, 
was delayed three days by unsuitable weather, but on August 
4 the clouds cleared enough for the division's 1st Brigade to 
airmobile in. They were guided by a troop from the ubiquitous 
1st Squadron of the 9th Cavalry, and brought along the 1st ARVN 
Regiment. The air assaults had to run the gauntlet of intense 
antiaircraft fire. Four gunships, one observation helicopter, and 
one Phantom fighter-bomber were shot down, and another four 
gunships and seven troopships were heavily damaged. The sol- 
diers were dropped off in the old northern and central cavalry 
sectors around A Loui and Ta Bat. The NVA resorted to delay- 
ing and harassing tactics, but did not carelessly leave many large 
weapons or ammunition caches behind. General Zais's divisional 
long-range reconnaissance team had to be content with emplac- 
ing booby-trapped mines and sensor devices. The allied force 
boarded outbound helicopters August 18-19. 

Both operations were feats of airmanship and logistics con- 



264 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



ducted over some of the world's most difficult tropical terrain. 
They were entirely air-supported and stand as milestones in 
evolving airmobile tactics. However, neither neutralized the tar- 
geted area, since North Vietnamese forces in neighboring Laos 
quickly moved back into the valley upon allied departure. The 
ephemeral excursions continued throughout the next year as 
MACV kept up the pressure against a permanent NVA return 
to the valley. Each operation was highly dangerous because of 
the unpredictable weather and the uncertainty of NVA reaction. 
Although the North Vietnamese usually retreated, American 
commanders could never be sure what reception their airmobile 
infantry would receive, and in 1969 the NVA chose to^ fight. 

2. Action Along the DMZ 

Throughout 1968 the Marines continued to seal the Demili- 
tarized Zone, blocking NVA movement south across it by coun- 
terattacking out of their fixed bases along Route 9. Since the 
American rules of engagement still permitted Marine sorties up 
to the demarcation line itself, the 3d Marine Division was get- 
ting ready to slam into the DMZ as part of MACV's Tet-68 
counteroffensive effort. Before the Marines could strike, the North 
Vietnamese hit first. 

The advancing 320th NVA Division was detected only four 
miles from the major Marine base at Dong Ha on April 29, 
1968. The 2d ARVN Regiment became enmeshed in a six-day 
road fight with elements of the division, but other North Viet- 
namese troops pushed around that battle and got into Dai Do 
village, over two miles closer to Dong Ha, on April 30. The 
NVA were then able to block an important logistical channel, 
the Cua Viet River, with mortar and rocket fire as well as long- 
range artillery from North Vietnam. A Marine battalion, sent to 
reinforce the Dong Ha area, was battered by a major ambush. 
The Marines attacked Dai Do with another battalion (2d Bat- 
talion, 4th Marines) from road and riverbank, supported by tanks 
and amphibious tractors. 

On May 1, the Army's 196th Infantry Brigade (Light), on 
loan as an emergency reserve from the Americal Division, air- 
mobiled its 3d Battalion, 21st Infantry, into blocking positions 



COUNTEROFFENSIVE 265 



northeast of the battlefield. 1 The battalion prepared to seal off 
the northeastern exits of the battleground, but became involved 
in a protracted battle at the fortified hamlet of Nhi Ha. They 
pressed their attack for two days through trenches and bunkers, 
supported by plenty of Marine aircraft. Nhi Ha fell May 4, but 
soon after the Americans left the NVA reoccupied it and con- 
structed new blockhouses and entrenchments. 

The Marines fighting near Dai Do began to make better 
headway after air observers put Marine jets on top of an NVA 
artillery spotting team on the morning of May 1. The riflemen 
rolled a barrage through the village, charged in behind it, and 
dug in positions on the northern side. The North Vietnamese 
soldiers counterattacked the Marines in force late in the after- 
noon, running forward behind a shield of artillery and mortar 
support. The Marines answered with machine guns, rifles, gre- 
nade launchers, and tank cannons, and desperately called for air 
strikes and heavy shelling. During the height of the action al- 
most every American artillery tube in northeastern Quang Tri 
Province was either firing counterbattery concentrations or cre- 
ating a wall of final protective fires in front of the Marines. The 
NVA assault ploughed through the fiery detonations and into 
the Marine lines, where it was defeated after a four-hour melee 
of hand-to-hand combat. 

The 320th NVA Divisions thrust toward Dong Ha was 
checked at Dai Do on May 2. That afternoon the NVA mounted 
a second counterattack against Dai Do. Artillery was active on 
both sides, and Marine aircraft made fourteen sorties. The Ma- 
rines repulsed the charge and followed in pursuit. The North 
Vietnamese troops suddenly turned and made a third counter- 
attack, the most violent of the battle. The 4th Marines fell back 
into a hasty perimeter as rocket and mortar explosions ripped 
through their ranks. Supporting air strikes were brought in as 
close as possible as napalm and cluster bombs tore through the 

L The 21st Infantry soldiers were known as the Gimlets. The regiment had 
been formed in occupied Virginia after the Civil War, and had fought its way 
west from Arizona in the Indian Wars, across the Zapote River in the Phil- 
ippine Insurrection, in Luzon in World War II, in Korea, and finally into 
Vietnam. 



266 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



jungle. The battalion held its ground through the evening in 
furious combat waged at close quarters. The following day the 
1st Battalion, 3d Marines, relieved them and continued the drive, 
meeting only fragmented opposition. The last major firefight oc- 
cured on May 5, when the Marines took final organized NVA 
positions in a daylong engagement. Although mopping up op- 
erations were characterized by several sharp company-sized ac- 
tions against rear-guard detachments, the 320th NVA Division 
successfully broke contact. 

Two weeks later, after refurbishment, the 320th NVA Di- 
vision returned and began advancing toward Dong Ha again. 
Aerial reconnaissance spotted North Vietnamese troops on May 
25, 1968, and a Marine company was sent to investigate. The 
Marines were stopped cold by the entrenched forces which had 
renewed the defenses at Nhi Ha. A classic frontal assault, made 
behind a rolling artillery barrage, carried the strong-points, but 
most of the defenders were able to escape through the swamp- 
ish bogs. The South Vietnamese had also run into units of the 
same division less than two miles from Dong Ha. Commencing 
May 26, the 3d and 9th Marines drove against each flank of the 
division, and after a week of bitter fighting the North Vietnam- 
ese abandoned their Dong Ha approach. 

The fixed Marine base camps guarding the Demilitarized Zone 
were frequently shelled but never to the extent that Con Thien 
had been during September 1967. However, daily patrols re- 
sulted in frequent skirmishing, and the Marines were looking 
forward to a promised mail-fisted Army brigade, being mustered 
in the United States to muscle up the eastern DMZ sector. 2 The 
open, grassy plains were ideal tank country, and Col. Richard 
J. Glikes's arriving 1st Brigade of the mechanized 5th Infantry 

2. The 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized) was stationed at Fort 
Carson, Colorado. It had just commenced reorganization for Vietnam duty on 
March 25, 1968, when it was assigned riot control tasks during Operation 
GARDEN PLOT April 7-13. After hurried combat training a flotilla of C-141 
Starlifter transports flew the entire brigade to Da Nang by July 31, where 
other aircraft immediately moved it to Quang Tri. The brigade shipped a total 
of 1,072 vehicles from its home base, and once in Vietnam it was given 140 
armored personnel carriers and 8 mortar carriers from Fort Hood, Texas; 25 
M48 medium tanks from Fort Knox, Kentucky; and 42 M48 medium tanks 
from the Letterkenny Army Depot at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. 



COUNTEROFFENSIVE 267 



Division contained one tank battalion and two infantry battal- 
ions, one of them mounted on armored personnel carriers. His 
formidable armored shock force was envisioned as an excellent 
deterrent to invading formations of North Vietnamese light in- 
fantry, and was moved to the front lines during August. 

The Marines were also delighted with the offshore arrival of 
the sixteen-inch-gunned battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62) on 
September 29, 1968. Her nineteen-hundred-pound shells could 
reach twenty-four miles, practically to Camp Carroll. On Oc- 
tober 4, the 2d Battalion of the 26th Marines ran into bunkers 
north of the Rockpile. The battleship rendered its first fire mis- 
sion in direct support of ground combat in Vietnam. The bunk- 
ers were flattened. 

The mechanized brigade got into real action about the same 
time. Although some elements started shooting on August 12, 
the unit was still completing shakedown. This had been com- 
plicated by the September monsoons, which washed out the main 
bridge along the line of communications to Cam Lo, temporarily 
cutting the unit off except by aerial resupply. When the tankers 
and soldiers of the 5th Infantry Division began sustained combat 
operations, their impact was immediate. The North Vietnamese 
in the DMZ vicinity had never battled true armored formations 
that combined mechanized momentum. Their experiences were 
limited to fighting Marine infantry who used occasional tank 
support. Initially the NVA tried to stand fast in their earthen 
fortifications, which led to violent firefights and certain destruc- 
tion. 

One of the roughest encounters took place northeast of Con 
Thien in response to a reconnaissance report on October 25. 
The 1st Battalion of the 61st Infantry (Mechanized) found itself 
opposed by a North Vietnamese bunker complex. 3 The mech- 
anized infantrymen dismounted their carriers and blasted their 
way into the trenches under a hail of machine-gun and rocket 

3. The 61st Infantry was formed in June 1917, at Gettysburg Park, Pennsyl- 
vania, and had served in World War I with the 5th Infantry Division, where 
it made a distinguished crossing of Meuse River near Dun in November of 
1918. Afterward it had been axed in the peace cuts and never served in World 
War II or Korea. Elements were reactivated as part of the combat arms reg- 
imental system in 1962, 



268 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



fire. In a seven-hour struggle, tanks of Company B, 1st Battal- 
ion of the 77th Armor, crushed the trenches and finished off 
bunkers at point-blank range. 

The North Vietnamese Army had suffered some serious de- 
feats along the Demilitarized Zone in 1968, but late in the year 
gained several advantages regardless. On November 1, 1968, all 
U.S. offensive operations were ordered discontinued inside the 
DMZ, with the exception of squad patrols (with platoon backup 
in case extraction assistance was required), which were permit- 
ted in the southern portion until December 4, 1968. The NVA 
formations had also learned to avoid pitched battles with the 
mechanized brigade. The pace of warfare slowed to the patrol 
and sweep actions typical of the rest of the country. Bold as 
ever, the mechanized soldiers began spreading their tracked ve- 
hicles out on line and covered the gaps with small four-man fire 
teams. They hoped to block continued NVA infiltration through 
the tropical savannah by such picketing, and depended on the 
speed of nearby armored carriers to bail out any team in trou- 
ble. The DMZ campaign had slowed to an indefinite stalemate, 
which was only broken by the American withdrawals later in the 
war. 

3. Incidents on the Northern Front 

Throughout South Vietnam, MACV's counteroffensive was 
typified by hundreds of battalion-sized operations and literally 
thousands of small unit actions conducted each week attempting 
to locate and destroy NVA/VC units. After the Battle of Hue, 
the 1st Marine Division initiated mobile sweeps in Thua Thien 
and Quang Nam provinces, taking advantage of the newly ar- 
rived 27th Marines reinforcing Da Nang. The division swept the 
provincial borders and secured the razor-backed Hai Van Moun- 
tain Pass area of Highway 1. The North Vietnamese were still 
able to get several combat units within the Da Nang area by 
August 18, 1968. On that day sapper and rocket attacks blasted 
several localities as the Marines were suppressing a major three- 
day riot in the III MAP detention compound. A lively action 
followed on August 23 when the 402d VC Sapper Battalion seized 
one half of Highway 1's key bridge leading into Da Nang. They 
had been stopped by the Marine 1st Military Police Battalion, 



COUNTEROFFENSIVE 269 



and the city garrison's 1st Battalion of the 27th Marines drove 
the Viet Cong out. 

The 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) commenced Oper- 
ation NEVADA EAGLE on May 17, 1968, in Thua Thien Prov- 
ince. Several days later, just after midnight on May 21, the di- 
vision base camp five miles southeast of Hue was pounded by 
an intense mortar and rocket barrage. The helicopters quickly 
scrambled into the air, and an NVA battalion stormed the length 
of the 1st Brigade perimeter. They broke through the outer pe- 
rimeter wires with exploding bangalore torpedoes and demoli- 
tion charges. As the North Vietnamese soldiers rushed the bunker 
line, the Americans frantically replied with machine-gun, heli- 
copter, and direct Beehive artillery fire. The attack was thrown 
back by first light. 

The division's field activities were typified by infrequent 
contact and increased booby-trap losses, punctuated by sharp 
clashes during airmobile assaults in the nearby mountains. Em- 
phasis was placed on protection of rice, scattered ambushing of 
suspected Viet Cong pathways, and offensive sweeps along roads. 
This tempo of fighting would continue into the next year. 

As American airmobility became commonplace in the north- 
ern provinces, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers were 
adapting to the tactics. By the middle of June, the level of air 
activity and the NVA/VC response was a far cry from the daz- 
zling 1st Cavalry Division intrusion of January. American heli- 
copters were no longer readily picking on opportune targets. 
The NVA started using small groups of men as bait. When at- 
tacked, these men would entice the gunships to fly over well- 
concealed sections of deadly antiaircraft machine guns. The 
Americal Division air commanders retorted by calling in massed 
artillery alongside any close air support. Helicopter losses were 
mounting in all units, but many of the crews survived the crashes. 
Often their lives depended on the speed and luck of units at- 
tempting to retrieve them. 

A 101st Airborne Division OH-6A light observation helicop- 
ter was overflying Thua Thien Province on the morning of Oc- 
tober 4, 1968, on a visual reconnaissance mission southeast of 
Phu Loc. In addition to the warrant officer pilot, an artillery 
captain was aboard. The helicopter was following a ridgeline which 



270 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



was crowned with four clusters of thatched dwellings. Farther 
down the slope the captain thought he saw a bunker with over- 
head cover, and several well-used trails connecting all the struc- 
tures. While turning back to fly over the area and adjust artil- 
lery fire on the huts, the little helicopter was suddenly peppered 
by four rounds of AK47 automatic rifle fire. The bullets all hit 
the engine compartment, and the craft nosed over to crash up- 
side down on a nearby hillside. 

The pilot had been knocked unconscious by the crash, which 
had broken his right leg, and was wedged in the helicopter's 
smashed cockpit. The artillery captain was in terrible pain with 
a fractured left leg and a right leg burned by hot gasoline from 
a ruptured fuel line. The captain pulled the pilot out of the 
wreckage, and after the latter had regained consciousness they 
crawled two hundred yards from the aircraft. They hid under a 
log in some thick underbrush, armed with only their .45-caliber 
pistols. As the tropical sun's torrid heat sapped their strength, 
they cut banana stalks and sucked out the scant moisture. 

Throughout the day, close artillery shelling and air strikes 
kept the Viet Cong away from their hiding place. After dark the 
two men crawled to a nearby stream and fell asleep on its banks. 
At various intervals throughout the night, they heard the faint 
noise of a hand-cranked generator being used to power a radio 
using morse code. With the coming of daylight the wounded 
pilot and observer crawled sixty more yards downstream and hid 
in a hollow under the mud ledge of the streambed. Later that 
morning the warrant officer saw a helicopter flying back and forth 
in the sky and crawled out into the open and waved his hand- 
kerchief and map in the air. He then hobbled back and dragged 
out the captain so the helicopter could see both of them. 

That afternoon gunfire erupted at a distance. They realized 
it was an American patrol fighting on the ridgeline. They stayed 
hidden in the streambed and counted the distinct noises of light 
machine guns and a few crackling rifles, guessing that only one 
VC delaying squad was involved. Nightfall descended and they 
moved to a flat area ten yards away and fell into a broken, ex- 
hausted sleep. 

At nine in the morning on October 6, they heard a group 
of Vietnamese voices. A half hour later they waved again at an- 



COUNTEROFFENSIVE 271 



other helicopter and then crawled back to their sheltered po- 
sition by the stream bank. The morning passed slowly. Then 
firing started again in the afternoon along the ridgeline, accom- 
panied by rifle shots from a downstream direction. At 5:00 P.M. 
another helicopter guided riflemen of the 2d Battalion, 505th 
Infantry, to their location. Both officers were put on a medical 
evacuation helicopter and flown directly to the 22d Surgical 
Hospital at Phu Bai. 

Maj. Gen. Samuel W. Koster's Americal Division was ac- 
tively patrolling the southern two provinces of I Corps Tactical 
Zone, including the beautiful but dangerous, cave-studded Phuoc 
Ha Valley. The division's primary operation was the yearlong 
WHEELER/WALLOWA, but there were several others. These 
sweeps were characterized by light, scattered contacts with a 
high rate of sniping, mine, and booby trap incidents. Villages 
were found to be fortified and deadly, but it was difficult to pin 
down the elusive Viet Cong. Battalions in the field encamped 
their artillery and headquarters on high ridges. From such fire 
bases their rifle companies would venture into the surrounding 
jungle, carrying a single 81mm mortar and always keeping within 
range of the fire base artillery. This was called "reconnaissance 
in force." If the companies ran into resistance they called in as 
much artillery, helicopter gunship, and Air Force tactical sup- 
port as possible. The battalion commanders usually arrived over 
trouble spots in command helicopters within five or ten minutes 
to direct actions personally, and the troops began calling them 
"flying squad leaders." Usually operations ceased at dark and 
contact with the NVA/VC was broken off as quickly as possible. 
The companies either returned to the fire base or set up in 
place. Each man in a company carried eight empty sandbags, 
and these were filled and pooled at night into three-man posi- 
tions. In this way, field fortifications of sorts were constructed 
rapidly, with less digging required. Small combat outposts would 
then be emplaced by company patrols, which were euphemisti- 
cally labeled "ambushes." 

The Americal Division suffered from grave command and 
control problems, stemming from poor training and a lack of 
leadership, from division down to platoon level, which permitted 
civilian mistreatment. Some elements of its llth Infantry Bri- 



272 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



gade (Light) were little better than organized bands of thugs, 
with the officers eager participants in the body count game. In 
March the brigade conducted a series of atrocities along the coast 
of Quang Ngai Province in Son My village, which the division 
and brigade staffs covered up by suppressing information or con- 
ducting sham investigations. When the rape, torture, and 
slaughter of civilians in what became known as the My Lai in- 
cident were finally exposed, it marked the first of a string of 
disasters that would blight the Americal Division's combat rec- 
ord. Meanwhile, in the field the llth Infantry Brigade had al- 
ready been ordained the Butcher Brigade by the soldiers. 

The Army discovered serious problems that stabbed at the 
very heart of the disciplined war machine that had initially gone 
into Vietnam. Within the Americal Division, dereliction of duty, 
ignored regulations, and hoodlum activity were more common- 
place than the Army had ever imagined. Although the official 
Army board of inquiry came up with a list of thirty persons, 
mostly officers (including the division's commanding general), 
who had known of various war crimes, the military submitted 
charges against only fourteen of them. Additionally, four of the 
officers and nine more enlisted men were charged with war crimes 
or crimes against humanity. All had their charges dismissed or 
were acquitted, with the exception of the most junior officer, 
1st Lt. William L. Galley, Jr., who was found guilty of mur- 
dering at least twenty-two civilians. His platoon alone was es- 
timated to have killed some two hundred innocent women, chil- 
dren, and old men. 

Actually, the My Lai massacre itself reflected the stark ter- 
ror of a war of attrition, in which military success, for lack of 
terrain objectives, was measured statistically by counting corpses. 
While casualty counts are valid measurements of war, in Viet- 
nam they unfortunately became more than yardsticks used to 
gauge the battlefield. Rather than means of determination, they 
became objectives in themselves. The process became so ghoul- 
ish that individual canteens were accepted as authorized sub- 
stitutes if bodies were too dismembered to estimate properly. 
Guidelines were even issued by MACV on factoring additional 
dead based on standard percentages by type of encounter and 
terrain. This appalling practice produced body counts that went 



COUNTEROFFENSIVE 273 



largely unquestioned, and were readily rewarded by promo- 
tions, medals, and time off from field duty. For example, Gen- 
eral Westmoreland had issued a special commendation to the 
llth Infantry Brigade based on its claim of 128 enemy killed at 
My Lai. 

4. Mini-Tet and Beyond 

Following the Tet-68 Battle for Saigon, American and South 
Vietnamese forces started scouring the countryside around Sai- 
gon in eleven separate operations. MACV consolidated all these 
ongoing operations under the TOAN THANG (Complete Vic- 
tory) Campaign, which started April 8, 1968, and would become 
the mainstay of all allied activity in that area for the duration 
of American combat presence in Vietnam. The major goal of 
TOAN THANG was the prevention of future armed incursions 
into Saigon, and a huge ring of units was formed around the 
capital. Some forty-two American and thirty-seven South Viet- 
namese infantry and tank battalions were immediately assigned 
to the task, and this initial investment was soon increased. 

When American and North Vietnamese negotiators an- 
nounced forthcoming peace conversations in Paris on May 3, 
defense of Saigon was heightened. The 3d Brigade of the "Old 
Reliable" 9th Infantry Division was given the screening respon- 
sibility for the southern approaches in Long An Province, a job 
which it held until departure from Vietnam years later. The 
"Tropic Lightning" 25th Infantry Division was operating as usual 
to the west of Saigon in the Cambodian border provinces. The 
199th Infantry Brigade "Redcatchers" patrolled beyond Bien Hoa 
to block movement from War Zone D, and the "Big Red One" 
1st Infantry Division guarded the northern approach. The 1st 
Australian Task Force at Long Thanh patrolled the eastern front. 
The South Vietnamese forces were deployed within the Capital 
Military District Command itself. With few exceptions, all the 
American troop assignments remained permanent until final re- 
deployment back to the United States. 

The jarring explosion of a taxi filled with a hundred pounds 
of TNT outside the Saigon television and radio station on May 
4, 1968, signaled the next Viet Cong onslaught against Saigon, 
which became known as Mini-Tet. That night several bombard- 



274 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



ments were followed by attacks on the key Saigon-Bien Hoa 
Highway Bridge which connected the two vital centers. South 
Vietnamese marine units repulsed these efforts throughout the 
next day. On May 6, the 25th Infantry Division and air cavalry 
formations trounced attacks on two villages near the Tan Son 
Nhut air base. All eyes were riveted on VC intentions in Saigon 
itself, and the following day another intensive struggle began in 
Cholon. The 267th VC LF Battalion, well equipped with flak 
guns and antitank rifles, seized a vital crossroad in Phu Lam 
district and dug in. The 38th ARVN Ranger Battalion would spend 
days of hard fighting trying to pry it out. The nearby Binh Tay 
Distillation Plant and the bridge at Binh Tien were also taken 
by the Viet Cong, and the 35th ARVN Ranger Battalion re- 
quired several days of tough combat to clear the built-up area. 
Tv^o Viet Cong local force battalions attacked the critical Y- 
Bridge over the Kinh Doi Canal, which separated downtown Sai- 
gon from the urban Nha Be district. The 9th Infantry Division 
sent two mechanized battalions, the 2d Battalion of the 47th 
Infantry, and the 5th Battalion of the 60th Infantry, into har- 
rowing city combat to counter this dangerous situation. 4 Every 
day the house-to-house fighting raged, and upgunned armored 
personnel carriers slowly churned through the debris-strewn 
streets. Entire blocks of buildings were in ruins and the four- 
lane bridge itself severely damaged. The infantrymen struggled 
forward under heavy machine-gun cross fire to take out one 
strong-point at a time. The Viet Cong defenders occupied multi- 
story buildings and strategic choke points in the rubble. They 
used great quantities of accurate B-40 rockets, but the American 
mechanized-infantry assault slowly crushed defensive positions. 
The tracked carriers fired their topside recoilless rifles in direct 
support of the advancing infantry assault teams. This methodi- 
cal, determined assault finally cleared the well-defended city 
blocks around the bridge site, allowing it to be recaptured. The 
successful six-day battle to regain the Y-Bridge marked the 

4. Both the 47th and the 60th Infantry had been organized in June 1917 for 
World War I service, and they had both served with distinction in the St. 
Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives. Later the two regiments fought side 
by side from French Morocco and Algeria to the heartland of Germany in 
the second World War. 



COUNTEROFFENSIVE 275 



toughest city combat American troops encountered during the 
Mini-Tet Offensive. 

The South Vietnamese Battle for Cholon was renewed May 
25 after the third wave of Viet Cong attacks on Saigon. In the 
violent inner-city clashes progress was measured in yards, and 
VC counterattacks often canceled hard-won gains. In the midst 
of this raging battle, on June 2, a technical mishap caused an 
American helicopter gunship to misfire two rockets which then 
struck a large group of senior South Vietnamese officers watch- 
ing the battle from positions in the Thuong Phuoc high school. 
Among those killed were the commanders of the Saigon police 
and of the 5th ARVN Ranger Group: Several other key person- 
nel were seriously wounded. At the time there was widespread 
belief among the South Vietnamese that the rockets had delib- 
erately cut down these officers, who were all confidants and ap- 
pointees of Vice-President Ky, in order to allow President Thieu 
to fill the slots with people of his own choosing. The unfortunate 
incident marked a new low in the Vietnamese public image of 
American assistance that was not easily erased. The battle con- 
tinued into early June in some old familiar sectors, including 
the Phu Tho racetrack vicinity, before South Vietnamese units 
finally crushed all remaining resistance. The combined victories 
in the capital fighting during the spring of 1968 assured the se- 
curity of downtown Saigon from all but rocket attacks for the 
next seven years. 

Mini-Tet had been, like the main Tet Offensive before it, a 
dismal failure for the participating NVA/VC ground troops. Much 
of the impact of Mini-Tet was negated by the success of Amer- 
ican formations in interdicting and destroying many Viet Cong 
elements before they could reach their targets. The Saigon in- 
cursions had been decisively defeated in the Cholon sector by 
South Vietnamese troops with minimal American support. Most 
other localities in the country suffered only rocket or mortar 
barrages, some 433 being recorded nationwide, since the VC no 
longer had the strength to mount widespread ground attacks. In 
fact the VC tactics displayed during Mini-Tet reflected their ma- 
jor Tet losses. Units broke down into small groups rather than 
risk large assaults with attendant casualties, and avoided direct 
attacks on American installations altogether. This second prac- 



276 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



tice reaped a certain communist advantage, as it further 
strengthened popular Vietnamese suspicions that the United States 
and North Vietnam were negotiating behind South Vietnam's 
back. The South Vietnamese leadership was already disdainfully 
calling the war "talk-fight/' 

In August, the 9th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade fought 
several major battles. These culminated in an encirclement ac- 
tion fought by the 2d Battalion, 39th Infantry, on August 12 
southwest of Can Duoc. Massive air strikes and artillery fire- 
power were used to annihilate a battalion of Viet Cong. The 
25th Infantry Division was engaged in several fire base defen- 
sive battles during the same month, notably at Fire Support 
Base Buell on August 18, and on August 24 at a battalion night 
defensive position west of Dau Tieng. These battles were all 
fought in conjunction with the last NVA/VC offensive of 1968, 
a weak thrust made in mid-August which was only a shadow of 
Tet or Mini-Tet. Fifteen ground attacks were managed, but only 
two of them involved battalion-sized units. Again, there was heavy 
reliance on rocket bombardments, with ninety-five initiated 
throughout the country, but Saigon was rocketed on just one 
day, August 22. 

The 9th Infantry Division had dedicated its 2d Brigade as 
the Army's unique mobile riverine force. This force was de- 
signed to work the canals and waterways of the upper Mekong 
Delta. Most of the regional villages were clustered along the 
banks of these twisting brown streams, and the dense forests 
and swampland were usually VC territory. Land traffic was im- 
possible during rainy periods and the Viet Cong used the water 
channels for movement of supplies and troops. The Army mo- 
bile riverine force was conceived and tailored to use this same 
water system to reach the Viet Cong, and to bring American 
military presence into these untamed areas. 

Dredges were put to work pumping mud from the bottom 
of the My Tho River into adjacent rice paddies, and soon a six 
hundred-acre division base was established in the tropical delta 
swales. The riverine force itself was housed on Navy barracks 
ships, which provided air-conditioned billets and operations cen- 
ters, topped with helicopter platforms. Barges tied alongside were 
used to deploy the soldiers on and off the host of smaller craft 



COUNTEROFFENSIVE 277 



which actually took them on operations. They were transported 
along the network of waterways by armored troop carrier "tango" 
boats, and escorted by assault-support patrol boats and moni- 
tors. These gunboats sported exotic armaments ranging from 
howitzers and 40mm guns to twin flamethrowers. Riverine ar- 
tillery, Army 105mm howitzers mounted on barges and landing 
craft, also reinforced naval gun power. Some strategists ques- 
tioned these operations as expensive Army experimentation. The 
floating brigade seemed to offer little advantage over airmobile 
infantry in reaching objectives. Others saw such a concept as 
potentially more rewarding with Marine Corps assets. 

While these land and river battles were being waged, smaller 
firefights prevailed throughout the year. Action in the Ben Cui 
rubber plantation west of Dau Tieng in August was representa- 
tive of these fierce skirmishes. A mechanized infantry company 
of the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry, was sent into the plantation 
to sweep along the southern side of Route 239, the main supply 
road to Tay Ninh. It left the base camp and crossed the Saigon 
River with fourteen armored personnel carriers. As the company 
advanced through the rubber trees, the battalion's scout platoon 
and composite American-South Vietnamese Combined Recon- 
naissance-and-Intelligence Platoon, with a self-propelled 40mm 
Duster flak gun, moved down the road itself. 

Upon entering the dense rubber plantation's undergrowth, 
the troops dismounted and fanned out in a classic V formation, 
led by a three-man scout dog team. The armored personnel car- 
riers were arranged in a formation that gave the best support 
with their shielded machine guns to the walking infantry. Sud- 
denly at 8:30 A.M., the scout dog on the point alerted, and his 
handler informed the captain of nearby VC personnel. The com- 
mander halted the formation and relayed the information to a 
senior battalion staff officer overflying the unit in an observation 
helicopter. The helicopter then dropped down to conduct a low- 
level reconnaissance. The company lobbed several rounds of 
mortar fire into the suspected area as a precaution and then 
continued the advance. 

As the mechanized infantry force continued west they saw 
a red star cluster rising over one of the villages. They had been 
in constant radio contact with the scout and recon platoons, which 



278 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



had moved through the villages a short distance away. The road 
group radioed that they had found no Viet Cong but had dis- 
covered several buildings used recently as sleeping quarters, and 
a classroom for combat instruction. One contained a drawing of 
an armored personnel carrier with two antennae. Shortly before 
noon the company started receiving sporadic rifle fire, which 
quickly increased in tempo. Then the forward troops began to 
see VC dodging from tree to tree and firing as they advanced. 
The company radioed immediately for helicopter fire support. 

The infantry fell back to the protection of the armored car- 
riers as the company swung into defensive positions. Firing was 
now at a high level, but there were difficulties getting clearance 
to fire artillery due to the proximity of populated villages. The 
company marked its positions with purple and yellow smoke for 
helicopter recognition, but combat elsewhere delayed aerial 
support. The unit held its initial position for thirty minutes. After 
three armored personnel carriers were knocked out by point- 
blank rocket-propelled grenade fire the company began a fight- 
ing withdrawal. Only eight vehicles made it to the new defen- 
sive positions. The infantry were desperately shooting off mag- 
azines as the remaining tracked carriers spit out concentrated 
heavy machine-gun fire. The dual antiaircraft gun was firing from 
the roadway across the company front with direct rapid-cannon 
fire. This withering firestorm had allowed the mechanized com- 
pany to regroup. Finally, heavy artillery rounds started falling 
on top of the advancing VC. 

The Viet Cong pressed their assault and three more armored 
personnel carriers were exploded by direct hits. These deto- 
nations caused the loss of the company commander as well as 
both artillery and mortar forward observers. A lieutenant took 
over as helicopter gunships appeared overhead to begin strafing 
and rocketing in front of their lines. The unit then retreated out 
of the rubber and into a clearing where it was joined by the 
road element. The concentrated artillery and aerial firepower 
forced the VC to break off the attack rather than pursue. 

Several battles erupted in the southern provinces of III Corps 
Tactical Zone during the fall. On September 3, the 3d Brigade 
of the 101st Airborne Division ran into a tough fight at a hot 
landing zone just east of Trang Bang which developed into a 



COUNTEROFFENSIVE 279 



three-day engagement. Fire Support Base Pope of the 25th In- 
fantry Division was assaulted and successfully defended on Sep- 
tember 1. Late in the year, III Corps Tactical Zone and the Sai- 
gon area were reinforced by the addition of two important 
American formations. The 3d Brigade of the 82d Airborne Divi- 
sion arrived in October to tighten the protective ring around 
the capital, followed a month later by the powerful 1st Cavalry 
Division. This airmobile division deployed south to take up du- 
ties facing the Cambodian border. 

The United States military began tagging its efforts as the 
Accelerated Pacification Campaign on November 1, 1968. As 
peace negotiations got underway in Paris, MACV increased its 
efforts to maximize the number of villages under Saigon control 
and to develop the South Vietnamese armed forces. Ground 
combat operations were becoming concentrated on pacification 
through village cordons and area security, and by keeping the 
North Vietnamese and Viet Cong main force units out of pop- 
ulated areas by a "protective shield of containment/* The strat- 
egy of attrition was abandoned as the American Army's conduct 
of the war took a new direction. 



PART 5 

1969 






KheSanh^CaLu 

"V 

Hill 937 (Ap Bia Mountain) r j 



Go Noi Island 

4 

Barrier Island 
Ky 
Lai 



KEY TO OPERATIONS 

1 - SCOTLAND II 

2 DEWEY CANYON 

3 - Task Force Remagen 

4 - MASSACHUSETTS STR IKER 

5 - APACHE SNOW 

6 MONTANA MAULER 
7 -FREDERICK HILL 

8 -DEFIANT STAND 
9 MONTANA RAIDER 
10 - ATLAS WEDGE 



1969 



Hoa Valley ___ 
Que Son Valley O 

Hiep Due 
FSB Siberia 
Tien Phuoc 



Highway 19 

*^^ 

Qui Nhon 



Task Force South 
HAWK Patrol Action 
o 



Phuoc Vinn 
Phu Loi 
Bien Hoa 

Long Binh 
o DiAn 



Phu Hoa Dong 
Night Ambush of 9 March 1969 



= Critical Convoy Battle Routes 
50 100 




Michelin Plantation -. 



LZ Jamie 
LZ Grant 
LZ Carolyn 
Dau Tieng 

Patrol Base Diamond 
FSB Crook 

FSB Frontier Cit 
Patrol Base Krotc 
5th Cavalry Battle of 8-9 March 



Navaho Warhorse 




scale 

Saigon 

Map by Shelby L. Stanton 



miles 



-N- 



South Vietnam - 1969 



CHAPTER 18. 



ONE WAR 



1. One War and Vietnamization 

In early 1969 General Abrams decreed that the largely separate 
war of the big battalions would be fused with pacification and 
territorial security in the One War concept. Both the MACV 
1969 Combined Campaign Plan and Pacification and Develop- 
ment Plan were consolidated into this One War plan, which be- 
came effective on February 1, 1969. In actuality, MACV control 
over battlefield strategy was already subordinated to the pow- 
erful Washington triumvirate composed of President Richard 
Nixon, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, and National Security 
Advisor Henry Kissinger. They speedily implemented the Nixon 
doctrine and its new Asia approach, which hinged on a rapid 
buildup of the South Vietnamese military so that American forces 
could be quickly withdrawn. An active political campaign of ap- 
peasement and negotiation was simultaneously conducted with 
North Vietnam. 

During the year, MACV's highest priorities shifted away from 
U.S. combat operations against the NVA/VC, and toward Viet- 
namization the accelerated improvement and development plan 
for the South Vietnamese armed forces. The broad program gov- 
erned the conduct of the war through the Army's final phaseout 
from the country. The transition year of 1969 intensified this 
trend as plans for further American divisional withdrawals were 
hastened and joint training operations with South Vietnamese 
units accelerated. 

283 



284 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



On the battlefront, critical priority was shifted to provincial 
protection for territorial pacification programs, and city security, 
a concern added as a result of the Tet-68 confrontations. Con- 
centrated offensives were to be mounted against NVA/VC troop 
and supply bases, with heaviest pressure directed toward the 
DMZ and the border regions of Cambodia and Laos. American 
formations were given orders to heighten border surveillance and 
reaction operations, and paired off with assigned ARVN units to 
perform combined operations. In the field these ARVN units 
were familiarized with American battle techniques, especially fire 
support. Beginning in 1969, the South Vietnamese military was 
to be given prime responsibility for maintaining the "protective 
shield of containment" within their country. 

The One War plan largely limited American military partic- 
ipation to a mobile defensive stance while preparing the South 
Vietnamese forces to take over their areas of responsibility. To 
do this job, MACV had a total of 359,313 Army soldiers and 
80,716 Marines in Vietnam on January 1, 1969. They were di- 
vided into 110 infantry and tank battalions. 1 On June 10, in line 
with low NVA/VC activity and the apparent success of both South 
Vietnamese pacification and mobilization efforts, President Nixon 
announced the start of U.S. troop withdrawals. The initial mil- 
itary response to the redeployment directives was slow, forcing 
Defense Secretary Laird to insist on daily troop reduction charts 
to meet deadlines in view of high public pressure in the United 
States. 

The first Army unit home was the 3d Battalion of the 60th 
Infantry from the 9th Infantry Division. On July 8, it was flown 
to McChord Air Force Base outside Seattle, Washington, pa- 
raded through town, and sent to Fort Lewis where it was im- 
mediately folded up. The bulk of the 9th Infantry Division fol- 



1. Major U.S. forces in Vietnam on January 1, 1969, were the 1st and 3d 
Marine, 1st Cavalry (Airmobile), 101st Airborne (Airmobile), 1st, 4th, 9th, 
23d (America!), and 25th Infantry Divisions; 1st Brigade of the 5th Infantry 
Division (Mechanized) and 3d Brigade of the 82d Airborne Division; 173d 
Airborne and 199th Infantry Brigades; llth Armored Cavalry Regiment; 5th 
Special Forces Group (Airborne); and three separate battalions: the 1st and 
2d Squadrons of the 1st Cavalry, and 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry (Mecha- 
nized). 



ONE WAR 285 



lowed, being inactivated in either Hawaii or Washington. A 
further troop pullout was announced by President Nixon on Oc- 
tober 16. This time most of the units were simply inactivated 
in Vietnam, although larger elements usually sent flag escorts 
home for ceremonial purposes. By the end of the year most of 
the 3d Marine Division was also out of Vietnam. 

The Vietnamization program was initially intended to build 
up the South Vietnamese military to the point where it could 
fight VC insurgent activities, once the major North Vietnamese 
and allied armies had left the country. After the June 1969 Mid- 
way Conference, Washington informed the Pentagon that the 
Saigon regime would be given responsibility for all aspects of 
the war, even if current NVA/VC levels persisted. As a result, 
Defense Secretary Laird revised all Vietnamization goals toward 
producing a self-sufficient South Vietnamese military capable of 
coping successfully with the combined NVA/VC threat. 

These were tall orders, since the war-weary South Vietnam- 
ese armed forces were still wracked with alarming leadership, 
morale, and desertion problems. Authorizations for new units, 
to expand the size and power of the ARVN, only offered paper 
solutions. 2 During the year there were over 107,000 deserters, 
a manpower loss equal to ten divisions. VNMC desertions were 
the highest, while ARVN desertions remained at crippling lev- 
els, especially in the Delta (IV CTZ) where they faced the Viet 
Cong largely alone without American combat presence. The South 
Vietnamese still lacked the technical know-how and logistical so- 
phistication necessary to absorb and properly use the massive 
quantities of American equipment now being thrust upon them. 

MACV thoroughly diagnosed the state of the South Viet- 
namese military during the year in a series of in-depth studies. 
It found that the South Vietnamese Army's fighting spirit was 

2. Major South Vietnamese combat units as of July 1969 were the Airborne, 
Marine (six VNMC battalions), 1st, 2d, 5th, 7th, 9th, 18th, 21st-23d, and 
25th Divisions; 42d and 51st Regiments (Separate); sixteen armored cavalry 
squadrons; and twenty ranger battalions. By the end of June 1970, the Marine 
Division would be brought up to full strength at nine battalions. Total ma- 
neuver battalions (including divisional armored cavalry squadrons) increased 
from 173 in 1968 to 185 in 1969, and to 189 in 1970. Artillery battalions 
climbed from 30 in 1968 to 47 in 1969, and to 58 in 1970. During the ex- 
pansion, the biggest gains were in Air Force and logistical units. 



286 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



low, a fact reflected in the devastating desertion rates. Lack of 
aggressive leadership remained prevalent, and combat staff sup- 
port, planning, and coordination was practically nonexistent. 
Promotion was slow and imbalanced. Most company command- 
ers were lieutenants, and battalions were still led by captains. 
Desertion losses forced trainees directly into the front lines as 
replacements. While some junior officers were confident of the 
ARVN's ability to replace U.S. troops, most of the experienced 
generals expressed open pessimism over South Vietnam's chances 
of survival without substantial American combat support. Most 
officers were only concerned about their welfare, and the en- 
listed men were discontented and discouraged. Neither ex- 
pressed much interest in either Vietnamization or the larger 
conflict. 

By 1969, the Vietnamization of the capital military district 
was essentially complete. All U.S. troops had been withdrawn 
except for a small number of radar and generator operators. In 
the northern I CTZ, the 1st and 2d ARVN Divisions and 51st 
ARVN Regiment were already initiating multibattalion opera- 
tions independent of American support. In the Central High- 
lands, South Vietnamese forces had assumed responsibility for 
Kontum Province. For example, the Battle of Ben Het in that 
province had been fought by ARVN ground troops supported 
only by some U.S. combat support and service elements. 

The results of Vietnamization on the battleground were mixed 
during the year but held promise. Large-scale issuance of M16 
rifles and M2 carbines was made in an attempt to upgrade the 
regional and popular militia forces (RF/PF), long held in utter 
disrepute. This gave them firepower equal to the Viet Cong, 
but their combat ability remained uneven. At the same time, 
RF/PF assumed an increasing share of pacification security. With 
fewer security missions, ARVN units could get into the field on 
combat operations. Likewise, a number of formations that had 
been problem units or that had reputations for chronic poor per- 
formance, namely the 2d, 5th, 9th, 18th, and 23d ARVN Di- 
visions, showed some improvement. 

The 1st Logistical Command became almost totally dedi- 
cated to redeployment matters, technical schooling of ARVN 



ONE WAR 287 



logisticians, and equipment transfer to the South Vietnamese 
military. While the majority of the equipment required to outfit 
the new ARVN units came directly from the United States, many 
American units (especially artillery and engineer units) were 
promptly relegated to fulfilling this need. As Vietnamization came 
to dominate U.S. efforts, more and more units were identified 
in a phased process to provide specialized training and turn over 
their material. After the units had been stripped, their flags were 
flown home. 

The American Army was subordinated to a supporting role, 
in which it provided much of the required material, technical 
experts, and advisors. The job of actually fighting the war was 
rapidly turned over to ARVN units, and U.S. forces were either 
given diminished combat assignments or began standing down 
for redeployment. A reevaluation of advisory assistance efforts 
led to a direct increase in the number of sergeants and officers 
assigned and to a reorganization of their tactical advisory ele- 
ments. This further eroded the capabilities of those American 
units that remained in the field. 

2. The 1969 Post-Tet Offensive 

The North Vietnamese Army had taken advantage of the U.S. 
Presidential decision that had halted all bombing on November 
1, 1968, to rush supplies south for a renewed offensive. MACV 
made sure that a powerful group of units ringed Saigon to pre- 
vent a repeat of the Tet-68 episode. This effort involved three 
and a half American divisions matched by an equal number of 
South Vietnamese military assets. These formations were kept 
in the field seeking military caches and sweeping known ave- 
nues of infiltration from Cambodia. There were only a few skir- 
mishes in January and early February, since both sides were 
restricting combat activity to extensive reconnaissance. 

The NVA/VC offensive was finally initiated, as predicted by 
allied intelligence, on February 23 and consisted largely of a 
week-long series of scattered rocket and mortar shellings across 
the country. In III CTZ only two significant ground attacks, 
against Long Binh and Bien Hoa, were made by the 9th and 



288 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



5th VC Divisions, respectively. 3 Both were handily defeated. On 
March 6, a more powerful NVA tank-supported thrust was made 
toward the Ben Het Special Forces camp, near Kontum in II 
CTZ. The fighting at Ben Het lasted until July, when the at- 
tackers were forced to withdraw. 

The 1969 Post-Tet Offensive was primarily aimed at dis- 
rupting the allied support network. This strategy was designed 
to retard the South Vietnamese Army rearming process, as well 
as deny combat units some of their mobility and reaction po- 
tential, As a result, attacks were concentrated on logistical in- 
stallations and supply lines. The NVA/VC avoided major con- 
frontations with allied troops, as the swift response and firepower 
of American tactical forces had defeated their Tet-68 attempts. 
The Post-Tet Offensive consisted mainly of attacks on shipping, 
convoy ambushes, pipeline interdiction, ground sapper assaults, 
and rocket barrages. It resulted in minimal damage to MACV 
support sites and caused light casualties. However, it did place 
many American logistical troops once again on Vietnam's front 
lines. 

Beginning in 1969, more service units found themselves hav- 
ing to defend their own areas as the American combat draw- 
down gathered momentum. Most soldiers in supply and service 
organizations were specialists inexperienced in tactical opera- 
tions, and the 1st Logistical Command initiated crash training 
programs to prepare them for combat contingencies. Provisional 
security units were hastily formed, but the situation only wors- 
ened during the years of declining American presence in Viet- 
nam. Too often the rear-echelon guards manning bunkers and 
perimeters were unqualified to operate the machine guns, rifles, 
and grenade launchers they were armed with. The increased 
exposure of once-secure logistical support sites, coupled with a 
rising inability to properly defend them, was a problem faced 
by rapidly retreating armies throughout history. 



3. The Viet Cong divisions were largely filled by regular North Vietnamese 
soldiers, since mounting wartime losses culminating in Tet-68 had left them 
VC in name only. The few actual Viet Cong forces involved were main force 
units, since most local force guerrilla organizations had been destroyed at this 
stage of the war. 



ONE WAR 289 



3. Convoy Battles 

The 1969 Post-Tet Offensive singled out logistical targets for 
attack and renewed the convoy battles. In II CTZ the most fre- 
quently ambushed route remained the Qui Nhon-Pleiku High- 
way 19 axis, while in III CTZ the Long Binh-Tay Ninh/Dau 
Tieng road net received the most attention. On April 15, on 
Highway 19 west of Cha Rang, a Korean convoy going west and 
a 54th Transportation Battalion convoy heading east were am- 
bushed while passing each other. Two weeks later a 48th Trans- 
portation Group convoy on Highway 13 south of An Loc was 
hit hard by rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. 

At the beginning of the Vietnam campaign, American wheeled 
logistical convoys offered lucrative targets with minimal risk to 
the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. The ambuscade expertise 
of the NVA/VC threatened most overland lines of support. The 
United States had not encountered this type of warfare to any 
extent either during World War II or the Korean War. In those 
more conventional wars the vast majority of Army convoy op- 
erations had been conducted behind the front lines in relative 

safety. 

MACV considered military traffic and road security critical. 
Most inland installations depended on convoy supply, and their 
disruption hampered ongoing field operations. Truck movement 
provided most of the support for more than a million Army troops 
dispersed over sixty-six thousand square miles. Airlift was only 
capable of emergency and temporary high-priority cargo deliv- 
ery. Convoy protection had to be improvised, as the military 
police that the Army assigned were too few in number to give 
adequate security. Early efforts were marked by a variety of 
transportation security measures, including attempts to make 
convoys too costly to attack and reliance on mobile reaction forces, 
which were geared to the MACV red-amber-green road classi- 
fications. Red lanes required infantry and engineer support to 

4 The 48th Transportation Group ambush of April 28, 1969 was particularly 
fierce Five fuel tankers, an ammunition truck, one armored car an armored 
personnel carrier, and a gun-jeep were destroyed. Numerous other vehicles 
were damaged. Two helicopters were also lost, one of them a Cobra gunship 
and the other a medical evacuation chopper. The 2d Battalion, 2d Infantry, 
reinforced the scene of combat and broke the attack. 



290 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



open them; amber lanes were frequented by NVA/VC activity 
and demanded high security; and green lanes could be used by 
vehicles during daylight hours with less caution. 

Beginning in September of 1967, the 8th Transportation 
Group took heavy losses from repetitious large-scale ambushes 
along Highway 19 connecting the port of Qui Nhon with the 
rugged interior city of Pleiku. It cleared large amounts of brush 
and undergrowth along the roadway and resorted to the "hard- 
ened convoy": cargo trucks were fitted with side and frontal ar- 
mor plating and sandbagged, while even the beds of the larger 
ones were floored with armor. The ideal support ratio was one 
gun truck for every ten cargo vehicles. These specially fitted 
gun truck escorts were jerry-rigged with heavier armor and fea- 
tured exotic combinations of weapons systems and quadruple 
rnachine-gun mounts. The gun trucks changed positions in the 
convoys daily and were supplemented by V-100 armored cars of 
the 18th Military Police Brigade. Normally only two of these 
excellent scout cars were available per convoy, since the mili- 
tary police were stretched thin throughout the country. This 
limited amount of standard protection was insufficient to cover 
convoys which were normally broken down into three or four 
serials to avoid road congestion. Gun truck conversions also ef- 
fectively meant a loss of one light truck company per transpor- 
tation group. Assignment of transportation personnel as ad hoc 
infantry further diminished operational manpower. 

Helicopters added a new dimension to available transporta- 
tion protection, but it was impossible to overfly every convoy. 
Helicopter gunships were normally placed on ground alert at 
their airstrips, but communication difficulties often prevented 
their timely appearance. Convoy commanders under fire were 
hard pressed to maintain continuing radio control of their con- 
voy, direct counterambush measures with their gun trucks, and 
give precise locational data for helicopter and artillery support. 
The internal order of the convoy was rearranged to minimize 
losses. Trucks loaded with subsistence items were put up front. 
This enabled the refrigerated "reefer" trucks to avoid convoy 
dust and allowed them more off-loading time at destination. 
Trucks loaded with clothing, construction materials, and mis- 
cellaneous items were placed next in the column. Trucks car- 



ONE WAR 291 



rying petrol, oil, and ammunition were put in the rear. In this 
manner explosive cargo detonations did not block other vehicles 
on the highway. 

The Viet Cong used ambush tactics against the Americans 
that had been perfected during the French-Indochina War. Ini- 
tial fire was concentrated on several vehicles within a convoy in 
order to destroy them and block further traffic. Trucks in the 
center were the preferred targets. Once segments of the convoy 
had been brought to a standstill by the swift and violent attack, 
mortar and rocket fire were directed against immobilized indi- 
vidual vehicles. Road ditches and adjacent brush were often mined 
to cause losses among dismounting troops trying to gain better 
defensive positions. Sometimes ground attacks were staged to 
overrun trapped portions of a convoy. Drivers were told to keep 
moving through sniper fire and to contact security forces at the 
first sign of trouble, but the military was working on better con- 
voy defensive weapons. 

When Troop A of the "Blackhorse" llth Armored Cavalry's 
1st Squadron prepared to make a sweep down Route 13 past 
An Loc on January 11, 1969, its six armored personnel carriers 
were secretly reinforced by a seventh machine just introduced 
to Vietnam; the Vulcan. This particular stretch of road was well 
known as an ambush alley, but this time the regiment intended 
to unleash a surprise of its own if the column was bushwhacked. 

Midway down the highway, the troop's vehicles were sud- 
denly hit by a storm of automatic weapons fire from both sides 
of the lane. Within the first fifteen seconds rocket-propelled 
grenades slammed into five of the square-hulled carriers. They 
skidded to uncontrolled stops under the onslaught of rapid fire 
and detonations hammering against their tracks and armor-plated 
sides. Several burst into flames, and none were firing back. The 
entire column was pinned by the gauntlet of VC attack. 

The third vehicle in line started churning jerkily around its 
immobilized sisters. It stopped to spin its sinister six-barreled 
gun to the rear. Aiming back down a drainage ditch, the weapon 
flashed continuously with devastating bursts of concentrated 20mm 
cannon fire. Inside the beleaguered armored personnel carrier 
Lieutenant Wright radioed headquarters that they were under 
attack. He knew another Vulcan was stationed there and could 



292 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



provide timely ammunition resupply. The ultimate fate of the 
stranded column depended on the singular ability of his weapon 
to break the ambush. 

He continued to fire the new Vulcan, designed for antiair- 
craft work, at the "slow" rate of one thousand rounds per min- 
ute, the recommended dosage for ground use. Within fifteen 
minutes the other Vulcan appeared down the road. Already Viet 
Cong fire from the ambush positions along the ditch had ceased. 
Other fire peppering the stricken column was becoming spo- 
radic. Both Vulcan carriers moved back to back. The Vulcan gun 
turret on Wright's vehicle was elevated to 45 degrees and trav- 
ersed over the driver's hatch, silent for the first time. As the 
second Vulcan flared into action and spit out a constant stream 
of packed steel, rear ramps were dropped and spare ammunition 
belts were rushed over to Wright. 

The Viet Cong ambush force was silent. Crippled and shocked 
by the intense volume of return fire from a previously unknown 
weapon, it had fled. This innovative weapons system had prom- 
ising convoy security potential, since the introduction of the 
powerful Vulcan rapid-fire antiaircraft gun could ensure a high 
degree of vehicular firepower. Its slow and tedious development 
seemed worth the wait, but it remained strictly experimental 
and was never made available for general use in Vietnam. The 
soldiers angrily suspected that the Army was simply using the 
battlefield as a testing ground, afraid to expose critical weapons 
to possible loss or capture in a war which, by 1969, was ob- 
viously dwindling in national importance. 

Convoy ambushes, sniping, and mines plagued 1st Logistical 
Command supply efforts throughout the year. The last major 
attack occurred on November 22, when a three-hundred-vehicle 
mixed engineer-48th Transportation Group convoy traveling north 
from Long Binh to Song Be was struck. However, attacks against 
Army convoys continued until the U.S. pullout absented them 
from the roads of Vietnam. The bravery of the long-haul drivers 
became so commonplace that MACV recognized a special, un- 
official Line Haul tab which was worn proudly over their 1st 
Logistical Command patches. One sergeant of the 48th Trans- 
portation Group earned the Medal of Honor during a late-1968 
ambush near Ap Nhi The convoy battles, which ranged from 



ONE WAR 293 



catastrophic defeats of entire convoys to botched failures to hit 
a single vehicle, became a legacy of American security and sup- 
port in a frontless war. 

4. Decline of an Army 

Vietnamization had a profound impact on American troop 
morale. The U.S. soldier was poorly indoctrinated with respect 
to changing national goals and generally did not understand his 
continued exposure to combatant conditions during the long 
withdrawal period. Since no one wanted to be the last killed on 
the way out, an understandable reluctance to engage in contin- 
ued front-line activity developed. 

The state of the American Army was showing other signs of 
stress and combat fatigue as well. The Selective Service system 
had produced a working class army heavily weighted toward the 
lower income groups, since it permitted easy draft avoidance by 
the more privileged members of society. Such serious and in- 
equitable flaws caused resentment among active-duty soldiers. 
Project One Hundred-Thousand, a social experiment designed 
to shove people of low intelligence into the armed forces (where 
most ended up as riflemen in Vietnam), and the willingness of 
many judges to send misfits and criminals into the Army for 
"rehabilitation," created severe disciplinary problems. The fact 
that a disproportionate number of ethnic minority members were 
drafted increased racial strife. 

The reserve components were largely filled with personnel 
avoiding active duty, and there was trouble when forty-three 
Reserve and National Guard companies and detachments were 
finally ordered to Vietnam for one-year tours. The units proved 
to be unsatisfactory upon alert and required extensive retrain- 
ing. Several, such as the 1002d Supply & Service Company, 
challenged the legality of their call-up. Although Justice William 
O. Douglas held up the unit's deployment to Vietnam in Sep- 
tember of 1968, the Supreme Court ruled the mobilization legal 
and it arrived in country on October 20. Once in Vietnam, where 
they remained through most of 1969, most of these components 
rendered a good account of themselves. 

The officer corps, which had been comprised mostly of West 
Point or college Reserve Officer Training Course (ROTC) grad- 



294 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



uates when the war started, had lowered standards in response 
to Vietnam escalation. The unpopularity of the war among uni- 
versity students caused a drastic reduction in ROTC enrollment 
and led to the outright expulsion of thirty-eight ROTC units from 
1969 through 1972. To fill the void, the Army resorted to in- 
creased outputs from the Officer Candidate Schools (OCS), which 
tapped persons of generally lower educational background. 

The noncommissioned officer corps had suffered an alarming 
quality decline in the rush to produce enough junior sergeants 
to fill expanding needs. Stateside "Shake V Bake" courses rushed 
promising privates directly through twenty-one weeks of ad- 
vanced training and slapped from three to four stripes on their 
uniforms upon completion. These young buck and staff ser- 
geants had considerable difficulty leading combat troops, and 
tended to be lax in efforts to win over their men. However, 
there were still not enough sergeants to go around, and many 
squads in Vietnam were simply led by specialists, fourth class 
a rank many enlisted men achieved either before or shortly after 
they arrived in country. 

By 1969 the U.S. soldier in Vietnam usually represented the 
poorer and less educated segments of American society. He was 
often being led by middle-class officers and inexperienced ser- 
geants, creating a wide gap between attitudes, abilities, and mo- 
tivation. This combined with increased idleness the result of 
lowered combat activity and overall frustration with obscure 
national goals, to produce severe morale problems. Continuing 
personnel turbulence, resulting from the combat-tour rotational 
policy, destroyed any of the stiffening that wartime unit cohe- 
sion traditionally offered. Once America began to pull its troops 
out of Vietnam, the average soldier simply wanted to get home 
alive and cared little for the ultimate fate of his formation or 
the accomplishment of the country's mission. Medals lost their 
gloss, officers forced to falsify after-action reports in order to 
preserve their careers or favorably reflect unit activities lost their 
confidence, soldiers lost interest, and the Army lost its fighting 
edge. The decline of the American Army was well under way 
by the end of the year. 



CHAPTER 19. 



ONE WAR IN THE 
NORTHERN PROVINCES 



1. Guarding Borders 

At the beginning of 1969, some of America's toughest fighting 
units were lined up inside the hotly contested northernmost 
provinces under Lt. Gen. Richard G. Stilwell's XXIV Corps. It 
contained the crack 3d Marine Division along with the tank- 
spearheaded 1st Brigade of the 5th Infantry Division (Mecha- 
nized) and the helicopter-endowed 101st Airborne Division (Air- 
mobile). With this force MACV felt confident that General S til- 
well could guard the DMZ while conducting major excursions 
deep into NVA base camp areas along the remote western fringes 
of the country. 

In late January, Maj. Gen. Raymond G. Davis's 3d Marine 
Division picked up the pace of combat near the rugged Laotian 
border. The 4th Marines stalked the Khe Sanh region in Op- 
eration SCOTLAND II, and the 9th Marines initiated Operation 
DEWEY CANYON against a main North Vietnamese supply route 
which crossed into Vietnam and curved through both the upper 
Da Krong Valley and the A Shau Valley just below it. Since the 
DEWEY CANYON operational area consisted of high mountain 
plateaus covered by dense double-canopy jungle, the reinforced 
9th Marines planned to jump off from two fire support bases on 
its northern rim and move south in a three-pronged advance. 



296 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



When they reached the limit of artillery support coverage, they 
would build new fire support bases and keep moving south. 

On January 22, 1969, the 2d Battalion of the 9th Marines 
air-assaulted into the upper valley, followed by the 3d Battalion 
three days later. Opening moves were relatively easy, and two 
landing zones were hacked out only four miles from the Laotian 
border. Shortly after the Marines moved into the jungle, nine 
days of foul monsoon weather locked the valley in. The Marine 
pilots depended on sheer flying heroics to keep the operation 
going despite thunderstorms and dense cloud cover. On the 
ground, squads maneuvered in the steaming jungles as the tor- 
rential downpours continued. The advance was stepped up once 
the weather cleared. On February 10, the 1st Battalion was 
committed in the center of the line, and the Marines pushed 
farther out from their fire bases toward the Laotian border. 

MACV intelligence had indicated that the North Vietnamese 
had ringed deeper landing zone sites with sophisticated antiair- 
craft weapons, A foot approach would be slow and laborious but 
it would negate the fearsome NVA flak advantage. The Marines 
began a tortuous overland trek, sticking to the ridgelines and 
toiling through the primeval rain forest overgrowing each jagged 
tor. The relentless tropical heat began taking its toll of the 
marchers, as men dropped from stroke and exhaustion. The Ma- 
rine advance continued inexorably forward. 

Only two ground attacks were mounted on the Marine fire 
bases. In these actions, the North Vietnamese sappers used 
bamboo mines and satchel charges to blast through the perim- 
eter wire, but both attacks were quickly repelled. Action inten- 
sified on February 17 as the Marines stumbled into vicious local 
counterattacks and fixed defenses. The 1st Battalion was halted 
by an extensive bunker system on February 23. Artillery and 
air strikes saturated the defenders with fire and shards of ra- 
zored steel, and then Companies A and D seized the fortifica- 
tions in heavy combat. The Marines were in no mood to con- 
done privileged NVA movements. On the night of February 21, 
Company H, 9th Marines, moved across the twisting Laotian 
border and bushwhacked a truck convoy on Route 922. General 
Abrams granted authority two days later for further limited Ma- 
rine operations across the boundary, and the 9th Marines con- 



ONE WAR IN THE NORTHERN PROVINCES 297 



tinued search and destroy missions on both sides of the border 
through early March. 

Marine perseverance was rewarded with some of the largest 
caches captured during the Vietnam War. Over 525 tons of 
weapons and ammunition were uncovered, including twelve large 
122mm cannons the first ever seen inside South Vietnam and 
probably brought down during the bombing halt imposed by 
President Nixon the previous November. That cessation of 
bombing had taken effect at the beginning of the dry season, 
enabling tremendous quantities of material to be moved unhin- 
dered and stockpiled throughout the NVA infiltration network. 
The Marines had surmounted great logistical difficulties at- 
tempting to destroy some of the buildup. Over thirteen thou- 
sand sorties had been flown under severe weather conditions. 
These often necessitated the use of special Marine-devised ra- 
dar-guided parachute supply drops. When the operation ended 
on March 18, the 9th Marines could justifiably claim a major 
setback had been meted out to the North Vietnamese. 

Lieutenant General Stilwell's XXIV Corps sent a mechanized 
task force to check out Route 9 as far as the Laotian border, 
which would also protect the northern flank of allied forces in 
the Da Krong and A Shau valleys. The 1st Brigade (Mecha- 
nized) of the 5th Infantry Division formed Task Force Remagen 
around the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor, and swung it out of Ca 
Lu down the dirt roadway toward Khe Sanh on March 16. l 

The task force was led by an engineer-reinforced scout pla- 
toon which gingerly picked its way through antitank mines on 
the upward-winding road. The tracked vehicles built bypasses 
around washouts, clanked up the narrow defiles , and spanned 
streams with their armored vehicle-launched bridges. Since there 
were no extra soldiers to guard the passes and the unfordable 
streams, the bridges were mechanically lifted back onto their 



1. Task Force Remagen was composed of two mechanized infantry companies, 
a tank company, a self-propelled 105mm artillery battery, armored engineers, 
and self-propelled antiaircraft guns. Later the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor, was 
replaced by the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry. Remagen was named in honor 
of the March 7, 1945, crossing of the Remagen Bridge over the Rhine River 
by the 9th Armored Division, which spearheaded the breakthrough into Ger- 
many during World War II. 



298 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



carriers after the column crossed. This isolated the advancing 
task force from overland resupply; causing it to be completely 
fed, fueled, and equipped by helicopters. Major repairs and 
overhauls were accomplished under arduous field conditions and 
eventually included replacing twelve engines, eighteen sets of 
tracks, and seven transmissions. Army and Marine cargo heli- 
copters airlifted all material. Precious fresh water was placed in 
containers ranging from "lug-a-lug" three-gallon collapsible drums 
to empty shell casings. 

Four days later, Task Force Remagen reached the aban- 
doned Khe Sanh Plateau. They encamped for the night, and 
then the tanks and armored personnel carriers rumbled west 
through the abandoned Special Forces campsite at Lang Vei on 
March 20. The column reached the Vietnamese border and looked 
across at the sinister Co Roc, a granite ridge running along the 
Laotian side of the boundary and overlooking the Khe Sanh 
Plains. The task force prowled around the region until the end 
of April. Only light resistance was encountered, but the mech- 
anized infantry was continually harassed by accurate mortar fire 
directed from the Co Roc ridge. 

In February, MACV Intelligence had reported another flurry 
of bunker and way station construction in the forbidding A Shau 
Valley. The "Screaming Eagles" 101st Airborne Division (Air- 
mobile) built two fire bases on the valley's edge, emplaced ar- 
tillery, and waited for a break in the weather. On March 1, 
1969, the day Operation MASSACHUSETTS STRIKER com- 
menced, rain and fog prevented airmobile assaults. However as 
the clouds cleared, a company of the 1st Battalion, 502d Infan- 
try, helicoptered into an immediate fight. The firefight promised 
good hunting in the A Shau Valley, but the hunting proved too 
good before the year was out. The 2d Brigade lifted four more 
battalions into the southern end of the valley. The first major 
items the soldiers discovered in the heart of the jungle were 
thirteen trucks on jacks. The engines and tires were removed 
and buried nearby. Further searches revealed a major depot 
stocked with everything from signal equipment to cod-liver oil. 

Throughout April, Maj. Gen. Melvin Zais's 101st Airborne 
Divison (Airmobile) kept finding more caches and evidence of 
considerable North Vietnamese logistical investment. On May 



ONE WAR IN THE NORTHERN PROVINCES 299 



1, the 1st Battalion of the 502d Infantry uncovered a well-sup- 
plied field hospital and a heavy-machine repair shop. When Op- 
eration MASSACHUSETTS STRIKER was concluded on May 
8, MACV decided to mount a bigger expedition into the North 
Vietnamese stronghold. Two days later the division's 3d Brigade 
teamed up with the 9th Marines and 3d ARVN Regiment to go 
back into the northern part of the valley under Operation 
APACHE SNOW. 

On May 10 a classic helicopter assault was made into the 
thickly jungled mountains along the Laotian border west of the 
A Shau Valley. The division also established a fire support base 
at Ta Bat, an abandoned village in the valley's center. There 
were only scattered bursts of gunfire the first day as the troops 
began sweeping eastward through the valley. 

The next day Company B of the 3d Battalion, 187th Infan- 
try, was pushing toward a series of ridges cloaked in lush, trop- 
ical forest. Platoon leaders checked their maps and found it 
marked Hill 937, known to the Vietnamese as Ap Bia Mountain. 
The soldiers took advantage of the orientation stop to readjust 
the straps of their rucksacks, which were loaded with canteens, 
ponchos, trip flares, and smoke grenades. Soldier slang would 
shortly dub the prominent terrain feature Hamburger Hill. 

The sergeants waved the men forward, and the soldiers 
pressed their M16 rifles close to sagging ammunition bandoliers 
as the advance resumed, The careful approach march up the 
tree-covered slopes was suddenly shattered by a fusillade of con- 
centrated machine-gun fire. It erupted from unseen bunkers, 
ripped through a snarl of vegetation, and cut down dozens of 
men in the lead ranks. Rucksacks were dropped as the soldiers 
fired back with light antitank weapons and rifles. They desper- 
ately dragged out their seriously wounded comrades as officers 
ordered them away from the hillside. Fortified positions would 
be doused with aerial and artillery bombardment first. The ten- 
day battle for Ap Bia Mountain had begun. 

Heavy artillery began its merciless pounding of the hillsides, 
and through the clouds of grayish smoke, jet fighters unleashed 
a rain of incendiary and high explosive bombs. Hour after hour 
through daylight and darkness the terrific shelling continued. 
Meanwhile, the soldiers of the 187th Infantry "Rakassans" grimly 



300 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



prepared to attack up the mountain again. 2 On May 13, two 
companies of the 187th Infantry's 1st Battalion stormed the 
northwest ridges of the mountain. They were repulsed by rocket 
and heavy automatic weapons fire from the tenacious bunker 
occupants of the 7th and 8th Battalions of the 29th NVA Reg- 
iment. They had built their practically indestructible fortifica- 
tions flush to the ground with deep overhead cover and had 
designed them to mutually converge and interlock their fire. 
During the night and early morning, artillery and aircraft again 
pummeled the ridgeline with high explosives and searing na- 
palm. 

The full battalion was sent up against the entrenchments on 
May 14, but the lead company commander was wounded and 
the radio silenced. The soldiers again retreated and called for 
heavy shellfire. At that point the 187th Infantry's battalion was 
reinforced by two other divisional battalions (1st Battalion, 506th 
Infantry, and 2d Battalion, 501st Infantry). A battalion of the 3d 
ARVN Regiment was also grabbed and thrown into the fight, 
and these forces were posted around the hill to seal it off. On 
May 18, after thirty-six straight hours of artillery barrage and 
tactical air strikes, two battalions frontally assaulted the heavily 
fortified North Vietnamese positions still controlling the moun- 
tain slopes. 

The 187th "Rakassans" pushed up the southeastern side and 
the 506th took on the northern slope. By mid-afternoon some 
platoons had reached the summit but a thunderstorm drenched 
the hill, visibility dropped to zero, and the soldiers were unable 
to keep their footing in the mud. A fourth withdrawal was then 
ordered. Finally, on May 20, after intensive cannon and aerial 
rocket bombardment, all four battalions attacked and the North 
Vietnamese were driven off the mountain fortress. 

2. The 187th Infantry had a proud heritage of amphibious assaults on the 
Philippines during World War II, and parachute assaults in Korea. The 187th 
Glider Infantry was activated for World War II service in February 1943, at 
Camp Mackall, North Carolina. It had been reorganized as the 187th Air- 
borne Infantry in 1949 and had made spectacular parachute drops at Sukchon 
and Munsan-Ni in the Korean War. Part of the 101st Airborne Division since 
1956, its battle groups had been considered some of the finest components 
of the Screaming Eagles. 




CH47 Chinook helicopter brings ammunition, sandbags, food, and other 
supplies to the 173d Airborne Brigade in the Central Highland* of 
Vietnam during January of 1969. (173d Airborne Brigade Information 
Office) 




A UH1D Huey helicopter rests upside down on Ap Bia Mountain after 
being hit by machine gun fire while attempting to carry reinforce- 
ments into the May 1969 battle, (Author's Collection) 




Typical Fire Support Base, this one named Lorraine I northwest of 
Saigon, as seen from the air. Note all-around defenses and artillery 
howitzers positioned in the center of the complex. (U.S. Army) 




Standard fighting bunker at a typical fire support base, this one named 
Picardy, northwest of Saigon, has frontal berm to deflect direct fire, 
firing ports, full overhead cover, and a low silhouette. The sleeping 
quarters were dug in directly behind the position. A water trailer is 
in the background. (Author's Collection) 




Weary soldiers of the 3d Battalion, 187th Infantry (101st Airborne 
Division), search through the debris on top of Dong Ap Bia Mountain 
("Hamburger Hill") after the Battle of May 20, 1969, in the A Shau 
Valley. (U.S. Army) 




Machinegunner of the 3d Battalion, 187th Infantry, of the 101st Air- 
borne Division (Airmobile) during the fighting in the A Shau Valley. 
(Author's Collection) 




A XXIV Corps yire support base on Hill 88 in Thua Thieu Province 
contains self-propelled artillery and aviation assets. (U.S. Army) 




Colonel George S. Pattons llth Armored Cavalry Regiment attacks 
toward the Michelin Rubber Plantation in Operation ATMS WEDGE 
during March of 1969. (Author's Collection) 



ONE WAR IN THE NORTHERN PROVINCES 301 



The Battle of Ap Bia Mountain, or "Hamburger Hill," ig- 
nited a storm of public controversy over military objectives and 
tactics in an increasingly unpopular war. The soldiers had fought 
bravely and had suffered heavy losses for an objective that was 
abandoned soon after being taken. The entire action seemed 
senseless and irresponsible, and many in the division could not 
understand their sacrifice. Zais claimed a tremendous victory, 
but his explanation sounded hollow: 

The only significance of Hill 937 was the fact that there were 
North Vietnamese on it. My mission was to destroy enemy forces 
and installations. We found the enemy on Hill 937, and that is 
where we fought them. 

Soon after the battle, disgruntled soldiers placed a $10,000 re- 
ward offer in an underground division newspaper for the assas- 
sination (or fragging) of officers giving orders for such attacks. 
Actually, the battle was part of the 1969 campaign to keep up 
mobile pressure against NVA staging bases, by destroying ma- 
terials and defenses in these strategic areas. Lacking the assets 
to physically occupy the terrain, MACV had hoped that the South 
Vietnamese would take over such chores as their muscle in- 
creased. Five days after the fall of Ap Bia Mountain, Maj. Gen. 
John M. Wright, Jr., assumed command of the division, and 
Major General Zais was promoted to command XXIV Corps. The 
rest of Operation APACHE SNOW consisted of extensive re- 
connaissance and search operations extending to the Laotian 
border. There was little action, and it was brought to a close 
on June 7, 1969. 

Action along the Demilitarized Zone itself was generally light 
during the first three months of the year, with the usual smat- 
tering of mortar and rocket rounds delivered nightly against de- 
fensive positions and landing zones. In late March, Col. James 
M. Gibson's "Red Devil" 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division 
(Mechanized), began meeting heavy NVA resistance just west of 
Con Thien as part of Operation MONTANA MAULER. The bri- 
gade was under 3d Marine Division control and served as a re- 
sponse force in case North Vietnamese forces were encountered 
in Quang Tri Province after crossing the DMZ. Its 1st Battalion 



302 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



of the llth Infantry was the airmobile reserve. 3 On March 26, 
the battalion became involved in sweltering fighting against well- 
defended trench networks, uprooting North Vietnamese fortifi- 
cations in temperatures of 105 degrees. Supporting air strikes 
were subjected to heavy automatic weapons fire as the battle 
went into its second day. 

A costly dawn assault cleared some bunkers, but a company 
that had air-assaulted north of the defenses was blocked by mor- 
tar fire and heavy resistance on Hill 208. A full armored cavalry 
squadron (3d Squadron, 5th Cavalry) had to be sent against the 
hill to assist the stranded company. The other battalion infan- 
trymen frontally assaulted more trenchlines that afternoon, but 
as each trench was taken a fierce counterassault was immedi- 
ately hurled back against the newly won ramparts. By that eve- 
ning one of the attack companies had lost all its officers and was 
being led by the artillery observer. The next day the infantry- 
men settled for destroying some of the bunkers that had already 
been isolated. 

The 2d ARVN Regiment agreed to airlift a battalion to the 
battlefield on March 29. That proved to be the last day of heavy 
fighting. Bunkers were taken at rifle-point and lead platoons were 
chopped off by sudden NVA charges. Hasty reinforcements and 
plenty of air support assured eventual American success. The 
South Vietnamese changed their landings to safer spots, meeting 
only sporadic rifle fire as the action ended. 

The DMZ front remained stable, although punctuated by 
scattered firefights. The level of combat dropped dramatically as 
bad weather set in during the last quarter of the year. During 
the second week of November, the 5th Infantry Division's 1st 
Brigade got into another scrape southwest of Con Thien. In the 
meantime the old DMZ frontier guardians, the 3d Marine Di- 
vision, departed Vietnam and redeployed to Camp Courtney, 



3. The llth Infantry had broken Santana's Kiowan arrows during its Western 
Indian fighting in 1874, and matched Filipino bolo knives in the Visayas dur- 
ing the Philippine Insurrection of 1900. It had been consolidated in 1869 from 
several previous units of Civil War vintage, spent seven years fighting Com- 
manches in Texas and Indian Territory, and then served a decade in Dakota 
and Montana. The regiment fought in Cuba, the Philippines and Europe in 
World Wars I and II. 



ONE WAR IN THE NORTHERN PROVINCES 303 



Okinawa. However, the overall level of combat activity re- 
mained very low and continued to taper off through December. 

2. Guarding the Coast 

The northern coastal regions were being garrisoned by two 
American divisions, the 1st Marine and Army Americal, which 
were engaged in small-unit patrolling and security operations. 
The NVA/VC Post-Tet Offensive of February 23, 1969, initiated 
the first real combat of the year. The Post-Tet Offensive, com- 
posed of a hundred rocket and mortar attacks scattered across 
the country, was not a large effort. However, the allied fuel and 
ammunition dumps at Da Nang were largely destroyed. 

Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gettys's Americal Division, based at 
Chu Lai, reacted to several Post-Tet Offensive incidents with 
its 196th Infantry Brigade and excellent armored cavalry ele- 
ments. Some of the heaviest fighting transpired as a result of 
the 3d NVA Regiment's attack upon Special Forces Detachment 
A-102's compound at Tien Phuoc, considered the most threat- 
ened 5th Special Forces Group camp in I Corps Tactical Zone. 
The 1st Battalion of the 52d Infantry was dispatched into attack 
positions along the Song Bon River, southeast of Tien Phuoc. 4 
It slugged its way forward against cleverly concealed North Viet- 
namese bunkers built to cover the high ground. Bitter fighting 
continued for eight days. On March 6, the 3d Battalion, 21st 
Infantry, was sent in to help. After three more days of intense 
combat, two more battalions were helicoptered in to the battle 
area, and the 196th Infantry Brigade took command. 

The battle was like many unwelcome affairs in Vietnam. 
Combat was waged under the direct fire of skilled NVA gunners 
dug into carefully selected positions with plenty of overhead cover 
and connecting trenches. The 196th Infantry Brigade responded 
with predictable American backup in the form of massive tac- 
tical air strikes and artillery. The 1st Battalion of the 46th In- 



4. The 52d Infantry was known as the Ready Rifles, a regiment raised at 
Chickamauga Park, Georgia, in June 1917 for service in World War I, where 
it had fought in Alsace. It was broken up into the 27th, 52d, and 60th Ar- 
mored Infantry Battalions in October 1943 and fought in Europe during World 
War II with the 9th Armored Division. The 1st Battalion had been in Viet- 
nam since February of 1968. 



304 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



fantry joined the fight to take the place of the 52cTs worn bat- 
talion and made a hasty river crossing in an attempt to block 
NVA escape routes. 5 

The main attack was pressed in advances that were met with 
intense fire from strong-points which held their fire until the 
soldiers were only ten yards distant. Combat engineers and in- 
fantrymen with flamethrowers crawled forward to demolish one 
bunker at a time. The Americal infantry methodically reduced 
the critical positions, and after the key terrain was captured, the 
North Vietnamese soldiers began withdrawing in small groups. 
Contact became sporadic, and by March 22 only snipers re- 
mained. The immediate threat to Tien Phuoc had been elimi- 
nated and the Americal Division pulled its units out. 

The Americal Division also saw heavy fighting in the Tarn 
Ky vicinity where it had posted its attached 1st Squadron, 1st 
Cavalry, to clear VC in the wake of the Post-Tet Offensive. 6 The 
armored cavalry squadron fought another battle in the Tarn Ky 
vicinity on May 12-19, 1969, during Operation FREDERICK 
HILL. It was ordered to move against a hilltop where the 1st 
VC Regiment had overrun a critical militia outpost. When initial 
counterattacks failed, the 3d Battalion of the 21st Infantry, old 
hands at destroying fortifications in the Demilitarized Zone, was 
air-assaulted into the battlefield. After air strikes and artillery 
literally blew the top of the hill off, the mixed armored-infantry 
force made several assaults up the fire-swept slopes and finally 
recaptured it. 



5. The 46th Infantry was known officially as the Professionals. Like the Ready 
Rifles, it was another tough old armored infantry veteran of World War II, 
having crashed through Normandy, the West Wall, and the Hurtgen Forest. 
It was organized at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, in June 1917, but missed 
World War I. In September of 1943 it had been broken up as the 15th, 46th, 
and 47th Armored Infantry Battalions of the 5th Armored Division for World 
War II service. The 1st Battalion had been in Vietnam since October 1967. 

6. The 1st Cavalry was organized in 1833 as the Regiment of United States 
Dragoons from the Mounted Rangers of the Black Hawk War. It had fought 
through Mexico, the Civil War, almost every Indian War, the Spanish Amer- 
ican War, the Philippine Insurrection, and World War II (as the 1st Armored 
Regiment and later 1st Tank Battalion). It was still technically part of the 1st 
Armored Division, having been detached from Fort Hood, Texas, for Vietnam 
service as a boost for Pacific theater armor assets in August 1967. 



ONE WAR IN THE NORTHERN PROVINCES 305 



Combat in the Americal Division sector was light during the 
summer months as Maj. Gen. Lloyd B. Ramsey took command 
of the division. He established common brigade-regimental tac- 
tical areas with the 2d ARVN Division and colocated their com- 
mand posts at the same base camps. The division began con- 
ducting combined operations and joint protection of supply lines. 
The Americal Division was transformed into a training security 
division and remained in this capacity until it was closed down 
in Vietnam. 

The few heavy actions fought by the division during the rest 
of the year transpired in the Hiep Due sector. There the 196th 
Infantry Brigade was matched up with the 5th ARVN Regiment 
in Operation FREDERICK HILL. On August 18, the 4th Bat- 
talion, 31st Infantry, ran into strong VC trench networks east 
of Hiep Due in two separate firefights. The battle became more 
than a grisly contest to capture dug-in positions. As the ground 
action was raging, a command helicopter carrying the battalion 
commander, Lt. Col. E. P. Howard, and several other key per- 
sonnel including an Associated Press correspondent, was hit by 
heavy machine-gun fire, exploded in midair, and crashed. 

Two companies of the battalion immediately combat- 
assaulted near the downed helicopter site but were blocked from 
reaching it by interconnecting machine-gun nests. The soldiers 
were pinned down until the evening of August 20. The follow- 
ing day several companies from 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry, and 
elements of the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, were airmobiled into 
the battle. Two more days of fierce fighting ensued as the sol- 
diers and Marines pushed forward through heavy resistance. At 
8:25 A.M. on August 24, the Viet Cong fire began to slacken, 
and Company C of the 21st Infantry battalion found the downed 
aircraft and recovered the bodies. Fighting continued for five 
more days before the battlefield was cleared. 

The Americal Division's last major engagement of the year 
occurred in the FREDERICK HILL sector on September 11, 
1969, the day after the communist cease-fire honoring the fu- 
neral of Ho Chi Minh ended. The 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry, 
repulsed a 60th VC Main Force Battalion attack on Fire Sup- 
port Base Siberia outside Hiep Due. Afterwards, the level of 
combat dropped dramatically as Typhoon Doris brought heavy 
rains and severe flooding. 



306 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Maj. Gen. Ormond R. Simpson's 1st Marine Division cov- 
ered the approaches to the vital city of Da Nang during 1969. 
This brought the Marines into considerable combat in the An 
Hoa and Que Son valleys and mandated extensive sweeps in the 
"rocket belt/' The belt area, guarded by the 1st and 5th Ma- 
rines during the year, was the strip of territory within NVA rocket 
range of Da Nang. Over a span of time incessant patrolling of 
the booby-trapped fields and villages produced a lot of casual- 
ties. Fighting in the valleys was more conventional. 

On April 21 a reconnaissance team from the 1st Battalion of 
the 7th Marines spotted a large Viet Cong force crossing the Vu 
Gia river northwest of An Hoa. The squad ambush held its fire 
as they called in artillery. Several fire support bases responded 
in quick succession, and an onslaught of concentrated steel sud- 
denly descended on the river crossing, catching the VC in sam- 
pans and on foot as they waded through the stream. The am- 
bush position joined the slaughter by firing automatic weapons 
into the confused mass of men and churning water. Hundreds 
of Viet Cong were killed by fire or drowned in the swift cur- 
rent. 

Later that month a grass fire touched off the entire am- 
munition supply point at Da Nang, demolishing thirty-eight 
thousand tons of munitions and twenty thousand drums of fuel. 
This dealt a major blow to operational stocks, but the 1st Ma- 
rine Division was soon relegated to guarding rice harvests in the 
An Hoa basin. The operation was marked by only a few skir- 
mishes. Ground action soon dwindled to extensive patrolling and 
occasional reconnaissance attacks by both sides. 

The Marines also worked over some islands that were ha- 
vens for Viet Cong activity along the coast south of Da Nang, 
islands suspected of being rocket crew refuges. In these tedious 
searches they were assisted by Korean Marines and South Viet- 
namese troops. On May 26, the Marines joined forces with the 
51st ARVN Regiment and the 2d Korean Marine Brigade to storm 
Go Noi Island, only twelve miles from Da Nang. The region 
was ringed and traversed by a maze of rivers and streams com- 
bined with a labyrinth of tunnels, caves, and trenches. Previous 
operations in the area had been unsuccessful at eradicating the 
Viet Cong installations and materials on the island. This time 



ONE WAR IN THE NORTHERN PROVINCES 307 



the Marines sent in engineer land-clearing equipment which razed 
6,750 acres, geographically transforming the whole island. 

The Seventh Fleet made its final combat landings on Viet- 
namese soil on another island sandy, squalid Barrier Island, 
thirty-four miles south of Da Nang. The 1st Battalion, 26th Ma- 
rines, had the landing force duty and attacked the island three 
times during the year, in early May, in June, and in September. 
Again joint amphibious exercises were conducted- with the Ko- 
rean Marines and the ARVN forces to attempt clearance. This 
last operation, DEFIANT STAND, transpired on September 7. 
This time the big amphibian tractors churning through the surf 
toward the beaches were carrying a battalion of Korean Ma- 
rines. The last of sixty-two Seventh Fleet Special Landing Force 
operations in Vietnam was also the first amphibious assault con- 
ducted in the twenty-year history of the Korean Marine Corps. 
The Special Landing Force air-assaulted inland while patrol craft 
cut off escape routes. The Viet Cong offered only light resis- 
tance and stayed low during the massive sweep. The next time 
U.S. Marines would use the Seventh Fleet offensively in In- 
dochina would be to evacuate American, Vietnamese, and Cam- 
bodian citizens as the capitals of Saigon and Phnom Penh fell 
in the spring of 1975. 



CHAPTER 20. 



ONE WAR IN THE 
SOUTHERN PROVINCES 



1. Guarding the Cambodian Frontier 

In Vietnam's southern provinces the Army's formations were in- 
creasingly engaged in joint training operations with the South 
Vietnamese Army as the year progressed. Along the Cambodian 
frontier this mission was tempered with the additional task of 
garrisoning the border areas and preventing large NVA incur- 
sions. The 4th Infantry Division screened the Central Highlands 
portion of the Cambodian front, while the 173d Airborne Bri- 
gade was fragmented under its Pair-Off mission between the 22d 
and 23d ARVN Divisions in II Corps Tactical Zone. The 1st 
Cavalry and 25th Infantry Divisions were committed along the 
Cambodian border in III CTZ, and by the end of the year both 
were primarily dedicated to combined static security roles. Bor- 
der defense remained a top MACV concern and produced some 
significant battles in the first half of 1969. 

Maj. Gen. George I. Forsythe's 1st Cavalry Division (Air- 
mobile) had been stationed northwest of Saigon across three 
provinces, and most of its line battalions were strung along the 
Cambodian border. Their triplex mission entailed covering the 
NVA infiltration routes, destroying forces encountered, and pro- 
tecting the vital Saigon-Bien Hoa area from westward attack. 
The 1st Brigade had one of the toughest areas, coded NAVAJO 
WARHORSE, a stretch of dry rice fields covered by six cavalry 

308 



ONE WAR IN THE SOUTHERN PROVINCES 309 



battalions on one side squared off against several secure North 
Vietnamese divisions on the other. The brigade posted its bat- 
talions in Indian-fighting style, safeguarding the frontier with 
screening patrols backed up by fire support base strong-points 
in lieu of wooden stockades. This was why Capt. David L. Par- 
ker's Company B of the 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry, was posi- 
tioned near the southern tip of a protrusion of Cambodian ter- 
ritory jutting into Vietnam known as the Angel's Wing. 

Major trouble started brewing on March 5, 1969, and from 
that date the battalion area sparked with sudden ambushes, light 
skirmishing, and fresh sightings of NVA soldiers. Three days later 
Company D had a tough run-in with the 272d VC Regiment 
north of Phuoc Lu, and a warning was flashed to all cavalrymen 
in the sector to expect combat, especially at night, with well- 
armed, fresh, aggressive North Vietnamese infantry coming out 
of Cambodia. 

Lt. Col. Jerry J. Burcham, commanding the 5th Cavalry's 
2d Battalion, told his company commanders to keep roving am- 
bushes moving at night and to change company locations after 
dark. It was hoped that night movement and deception would 
combine with ground radar to give his cavalrymen a continued 
advantage, one which could be rapidly reinforced by rocket-fir- 
ing helicopters, lots of artillery, and fighter-bombers. Foot mo- 
bility in the open paddies was rapid, and the companies would 
select their overnight positions during the day. They would move 
away from them, have hot chow flown in, rest, and then march 
to the predetermined locations at dusk. 

At sundown on March 8, Company B moved into its night 
perimeter and started breaking up. The 3d and Weapons Pla- 
toons began digging in and siting their ground radar and mortar. 
They also had brought along a big 90mm recoilless rifle with 
Beehive and high explosive rounds, and counted their firepower 
better than average. Unfortunately, neither radar nor recoilless 
rifle had been checked, and both proved inoperable. 

The 1st and 2d Platoons, with twenty-seven men each, moved 
out in different directions to their roving ambush sites. As the 
troopers prepared to leave the company lines they checked gear. 
Each carried twenty full magazines for his M16, two hand gre- 
nades, one smoke grenade, three heat tablets, and one trip flare. 



310 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



The nine squad claymore mines were divided among the men. 
Each of the platoons also had three machine guns with nine 
hundred rounds each, three grenade launchers, two radios, and 
one starlight scope. The cavalrymen slowly moved through the 
heavy ground haze to the sites and dug chest-high foxholes. The 
haze lifted at midnight and a cool, pleasant tropical breeze wafted 
through the starry darkness. Under the full moon even distant 
paddy dikes were stark and visible. 

Both platoons radioed the company headquarters that they 
were set up, but the 1st had great difficulty making the report 
because its radio was cranky. First Lieutenant Powell of 2d Pla- 
toon made his first spotting report a half hour after midnight; 
six suspects were approaching his lines. He called in a salvo of 
forty artillery rounds, and five North Vietnamese soldiers ran 
from the explosions right toward his position. A trip flare was 
thrown for illumination and the platoon fired for a solid minute. 
Then all was quiet, and the troops guessed that they had killed 
some but that others might have gotten away. The men decided 
not to change their position for the rest of the night so they 
could get a body count at first light. 

At 2:45 A.M. a private scanning the horizon from the anthill 
in 1st Platoon's perimeter spotted another five-man group that 
seemed to be coming out of a tree line. He awoke his com- 
mander, First Lieutenant Stevenson, who looked across the field. 
He saw the entire tree line moving, a huge mass of troops com- 
ing right at them. They quickly radioed for Blue Max, the rocket 
helicopters, and heavy artillery. A moment later they got a re- 
sponse. The helicopter was refused because they were not yet 
in contact. The cavalrymen watched breathlessly as the large 
force, numbering over two hundred men, stopped at a road and 
sent out scouts to secure a crossing. Suddenly a crashing wall 
of artillery rounds began exploding between the platoon lines 
and the NVA. 

The forward observer at the company site began walking the 
salvos into the North Vietnamese, who were now scrambling to 
get out of the shellfire. He tried to keep the artillery between 
the outlying platoons and the NVA. Then NVA mortar rounds 
began falling on the ambush platoons, and the forward observer 



ONE WAR IN THE SOUTHERN PROVINCES 311 



made a desperate gamble. He shifted the artillery to try to knock 
out the NVA mortar tube. Five minutes after the second urgent 
call for Blue Max, the armed helicopter was hovering overhead 
and requesting the platoons to mark their locations. For some 
unknown reason the helicopters were not on the right fre- 
quency, and radio contact was impossible. It was another one 
of those details bound to go wrong in a battle, a phenomenon 
often expressed as Murphy's Law. The howitzers had to stop 
firing as soon as the rocket helicopter was on station to avoid 
hitting it. 

Lieutenant Colonel Burcham got in his helicopter and was 
overhead also. He could see the platoons were not marking their 
postions well, and radio trouble was cropping up again. A Spooky 
aircraft was also in the air but having difficulty seeing the bat- 
tlefield for another reason. The lingering haze was reflecting the 
illumination. Colonel Burcham ordered the Spooky aircraft mini- 
guns to suppress machine-gun fire being aimed at the Cobra 
gunships. 

Five minutes after the helicopter had arrived, the 1st Pla- 
toon was pinned by heavy mortar and rocket-propelled grenade 
fire. Several men were seriously wounded and the radio was 
knocked out for good. Lieutenant Stevenson and his platoon ser- 
geant used the protection of the anthill to see a battalion's worth 
of flickering lights coming at them: machine guns, rockets, and 
assault rifles. Then two NVA suddenly ran at a foxhole and were 
brought down inside the perimeter. An instant later a B-40 rocket 
hit the lieutenant's foxhole and disintegrated the occupants. Pla- 
toon Sergeant Martinez took over and told the men to conserve 
their ammunition and to fire only at NVA who actually breached 
the perimeter. That was all he had time to say; the first mass 
assault was hurled against the platoon as NVA radio traffic echoed 
eerily through the fiery half-light of night battle. 

The troopers fir^d off their claymores and took well-aimed 
shots at the incoming waves of charging soldiers. Every time 
they flipped on automatic, a fusillade of B-40 rockets would strike 
in their direction. The NVA were obviously trying to knock out 
any automatic weapons. Sergeant Martinez was desperately trying 
to get the Spooky's attention, but the trip flares were three feet 



310 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



The nine squad claymore mines were divided among the men. 
Each of the platoons also had three machine guns with nine 
hundred rounds each, three grenade launchers, two radios, and 
one starlight scope. The cavalrymen slowly moved through the 
heavy ground haze to the sites and dug chest-high foxholes. The 
haze lifted at midnight and a cool, pleasant tropical breeze wafted 
through the starry darkness. Under the full moon even distant 
paddy dikes were stark and visible. 

Both platoons radioed the company headquarters that they 
were set up, but the 1st had great difficulty making the report 
because its radio was cranky. First Lieutenant Powell of 2d Pla- 
toon made his first spotting report a half hour after midnight; 
six suspects were approaching his lines. He called in a salvo of 
forty artillery rounds, and five North Vietnamese soldiers ran 
from the explosions right toward his position. A trip flare was 
thrown for illumination and the platoon fired for a solid minute. 
Then all was quiet, and the troops guessed that they had killed 
some but that others might have gotten away. The men decided 
not to change their position for the rest of the night so they 
could get a body count at first light. 

At 2:45 A.M. a private scanning the horizon from the anthill 
in 1st Platoon's perimeter spotted another five-man group that 
seemed to be coming out of a tree line. He awoke his com- 
mander, First Lieutenant Stevenson, who looked across the field. 
He saw the entire tree line moving, a huge mass of troops com- 
ing right at them. They quickly radioed for Blue Max, the rocket 
helicopters, and heavy artillery. A moment later they got a re- 
sponse. The helicopter was refused because they were not yet 
in contact. The cavalrymen watched breathlessly as the large 
force, numbering over two hundred men, stopped at a road and 
sent out scouts to secure a crossing. Suddenly a crashing wall 
of artillery rounds began exploding between the platoon lines 
and the NVA. 

The forward observer at the company site began walking the 
salvos into the North Vietnamese, who were now scrambling to 
get out of the shellfire. He tried to keep the artillery between 
the outlying platoons and the NVA. Then NVA mortar rounds 
began falling on the ambush platoons, and the forward observer 



ONE WAR IN THE SOUTHERN PROVINCES 311 



made a desperate gamble. He shifted the artillery to try to knock 
out the NVA mortar tube. Five minutes after the second urgent 
call for Blue Max, the armed helicopter was hovering overhead 
and requesting the platoons to mark their locations. For some 
unknown reason the helicopters were not on the right fre- 
quency, and radio contact was impossible. It was another one 
of those details bound to go wrong in a battle, a phenomenon 
often expressed as Murphy's Law. The howitzers had to stop 
firing as soon as the rocket helicopter was on station to avoid 
hitting it. 

Lieutenant Colonel Burcham got in his helicopter and was 
overhead also. He could see the platoons were not marking their 
postions well, and radio trouble was cropping up again. A Spooky 
aircraft was also in the air but having difficulty seeing the bat- 
tlefield for another reason. The lingering haze was reflecting the 
illumination. Colonel Burcham ordered the Spooky aircraft mini- 
guns to suppress machine-gun fire being aimed at the Cobra 
gunships. 

Five minutes after the helicopter had arrived, the 1st Pla- 
toon was pinned by heavy mortar and rocket-propelled grenade 
fire. Several men were seriously wounded and the radio was 
knocked out for good. Lieutenant Stevenson and his platoon ser- 
geant used the protection of the anthill to see a battalion's worth 
of flickering lights coming at them: machine guns, rockets, and 
assault rifles. Then two NVA suddenly ran at a foxhole and were 
brought down inside the perimeter. An instant later a B-40 rocket 
hit the lieutenant's foxhole and disintegrated the occupants. Pla- 
toon Sergeant Martinez took over and told the men to conserve 
their ammunition and to fire only at NVA who actually breached 
the perimeter. That was all he had time to say; the first mass 
assault was hurled against the platoon as NVA radio traffic echoed 
eerily through the fiery half-light of night battle. 

The troopers fii4d off their claymores and took well-aimed 
shots at the incoming waves of charging soldiers. Every time 
they flipped on automatic, a fusillade of B-40 rockets would strike 
in their direction. The NVA were obviously trying to knock out 
any automatic weapons. Sergeant Martinez was desperately trying 
to get the Spooky's attention, but the trip flares were three feet 



312 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



outside the foxholes. The men squirted insect repellent on the 
ground and lit it with matches, but this effort was met with such 
intense fire that it had to be abandoned. 

As the North Vietnamese moved steadily closer, setting up 
new rocket and firing positions, Sergeant Martinez and three 
men moved to new locations. Two were killed and the sergeant 
was severely wounded. The remaining man dragged him back. 
By now everyone in the platoon had been killed or wounded. 
The North Vietnamese were slipping in and overrunning fox- 
holes. Two troopers were unable to return fire at one such at- 
tack because of a berm. They heaved grenades which landed 
short on the berm just as the North Vietnamese popped up to 
emplace a heavy machine gun. The grenade blasts wiped the 
NVA crew out. 

Two assaults were made before daybreak. Both were re- 
pulsed by steady, deliberately aimed defensive fire. Frequently 
NVA soldiers simply walked forward in groups, and at other times 
they charged wildly. In the midst of the battle a crazy incident 
happened. A group of North Vietnamese soldiers suddenly ran 
across the battlefield, yelling and laughing at each other. The 
Americans watched in amazement as NVA officers tried to reach 
out and get them back in line. Firing stopped on both sides for 
a few seconds, At daybreak the North Vietnamese pulled back 
and broke off contact. The platoon expended all its ammunition 
and was down to the last magazines taken off the dead. 

The 2d Platoon underwent an equally vicious assault. There 
the men were badly hit in the opening mortar explosions and 
made a mad scramble for a drainage ditch that seemed to afford 
better protection. This sudden retreat abandoned the claymore 
mine protection as well as the trip flares which might have marked 
their positions. One machine gun was then destroyed by an- 
other mortar round. However, they suffered no wave assault. 
The NVA were using advance-by-bounds techniques, firing and 
moving in the manner of professional drill sergeants at Fort Polk. 
The platoon sergeant kept crawling up and down the ditch, giv- 
ing encouragement and assisting the growing number of wounded. 

Then the cavalrymen hit upon a marking solution. They be- 
gan stripping, taking off their shirts first and pouring insect re- 
pellent over them. After setting them afire, they heaved the 



ONE WAR IN THE SOUTHERN PROVINCES 313 



burning clothes into the air. Each time a flaming shirt left the 
ditch, a B-40 round screamed in on the man who threw it. 
However, the trick worked. Cobra gunships began strafing in 
front of their lines and broke the attack. 

With dawn the North Vietnamese began to withdraw. The 
battlefield was a smoking shambles. While losses had been very 
heavy, both platoons had managed to hold by sheer determi- 
nation and calm marksmanship. Many of the things that had gone 
wrong were serious, but errors and gremlins always pop up in 
the heat of battle. The cavalrymen were experienced enough to 
expect serious difficulties and innovative enough to work around 
them. 

Later it was discovered that the 1st Platoon had some un- 
intentional help in holding its perimeter. The North Vietnamese 
had also committed a grave blunder. The group attacking the 
2d Platoon was advancing in a direction uncoordinated with the 
other group. Rockets that sailed over the target were ripping 
into the other soldiers advancing on 1st Platoon. It was perhaps 
the only time in the war when an American platoon was re- 
ceiving effective direct support from NVA gunners. Battlefield 
reality remained a bloody constant throughout the prolonged 
American withdrawal from Vietnam. 

In mid-April, two brigades of the division initiated a series 
of operations commencing with MONTANA RAIDER against the 
1st and 7th NVA Divisions in the heavily fortified jungle of cen- 
tral War Zone C, while the 3d Brigade sortied into War Zone 
D against the 5th VC Division. Patrols and ambushes were 
overshadowed by larger field operations as Maj. Gen. Elvy B. 
Roberts assumed command in May. These operations were de- 
signed to follow in the wake of massed B-52 bombing runs, as 
infantry was air-assaulted into the stricken areas to seek out North 
Vietnamese supply and assembly points. These raids were part 
of the 1969 One War plan to maintain pressure on NVA base 
areas, and the 1st Cavalry Division was considered MACV's pre- 
mier mobile attack formation for these offensive assignments. 

Several NVA attempts were made to overrun isolated heli- 
copter landing sites, most notably at LZs Carolyn, Grant, and 
Jamie, in May, as the cavalry spent the wet, humid summer 
searching through trackless, arboreal wilderness. There well-for- 



314 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



tified strong-points tested the fortitude of the American front- 
line soldier. The bunker sets were invariably constructed in thickly 
vegetated bamboo groves and often bypassed due to their per- 
fect camouflage. When the bunker gunners abruptly opened up, 
leading company elements were often only able to break contact 
by exploding bangalore torpedoes dropped from helicopters. These 
ripped apart enough foliage to allow accurate counterfire with 
machine guns and light antitank weapons used for bunker 
suppression. 

Immediate retreat was required to save casualties, and men 
pulled back under heavy automatic weapons fire, dragging se- 
riously wounded and dying troopers with them. Positions were 
marked with all available smoke and white phosphorus, cre- 
ating smoke screens which both covered the withdrawal and en- 
abled aircraft to spot locations. Helicopters raked targets with 
rockets and riot gas bomblets. Then artillery shelled the area 
until Air Force fighters arrived with napalm and 750-pound 
bombs. After intensive bombardment the foot cavalrymen would 
have to go back in and assault the charred, blasted ruins at rifle- 
point. 

The 1st Cavalry Division enjoyed an excellent reputation for 
aggressive conduct under fire, but it too was in a transitional 
stage. By the end of the year II Field Force, Vietnam, had mated 
the ARVN airborne regiments with the division's brigades. The 
elite South Vietnamese parachute division was paired up with 
the crack 1st Cavalry Division to gain experience utilizing its 
large number of helicopters and sophisticated airmobility doc- 
trine. This task placed the 1st Cavalry Division in a sponsor 
capacity, which overshadowed its combat role as MACV'S mo- 
bile response force. Battlefield incidents became increasingly 
sparse as the year closed out. 

Maj. Gen. Ellis W. Williamson's 25th Infantry Division was 
also entrusted with a share of the Cambodian border duty. His 
division was paired with its adopted sister, the 25th ARVN Di- 
vision, west and north of Saigon in Tay Ninh and Hau Nghia 
Provinces. The "Tropic Lightning" division was engaged in some 
heated rubber-field fights, convoy skirmishes, campsite battles, 
and extensive riverine operations along the Saigon and Vam Co 
rivers. However, its main task was identical to that of the 1st 



ONE WAR IN THE SOUTHERN PROVINCES 315 



Cavalry Division: security of the western approaches to Saigon. 

Throughout the early part of 1969, the division's 1st and 2d 
Brigade border area patrol bases weathered several attacks. These 
started with the Post-Tet Offensive attack on Patrol Base Dia- 
mond I, occupied by the 2d Battalion of the 27th Infantry, on 
February 23. It was subjected to ten minutes of mortaring fol- 
lowed by a massive ground assault. In spite of tons of aerial 
bombs, rockets, and artillery shells, the North Vietnamese blasted 
their way through the perimeter wire and took three bunkers. 
Direct fire from artillery within the camp finally broke the as- 
sault. Elements of the same battalion again employed plenty of 
artillery, air strikes, and aerial rockets to break up a North Viet- 
namese Army probe against Patrol Base Diamond II on April 5. 

Capitalizing on the proximity of the Cambodian border to 
produce combat, the division established its fifth patrol base 
within two miles of the border. Patrol Base Frontier City was 
a well-entrenched company-sized outpost built in a flat, open 
area where observation was only hindered by two small wooded 
areas and a stream lined with dense brushwood, located over 
five hundred yards away. It was manned by Company C of the 
9th Infantry's 4th Battalion. 1 MACV had resorted to giving every 
inhabited area of Vietnam a report card called the MACV Ham- 
let Evaluation System Report, based on loyalty to the Saigon 
ime. In the latest report the nearby village of Long Khanh 
had only gotten a C. The division was looking forward to 
trouble. 

Work on the base began on the morning of April 24, and 
all defensive preparations were completed by dark. One dozer 
was brought in by a CH-54 Flying Crane, and the other was 
floated down the Vam Co River and the Rach Bao Canal on a 
raft, and then driven into camp. The position of the base was 

1. The 9th Infantry's motto Keep up the Fire! commemorated the marks- 
manship and guts demonstrated by the regiment at the Wagon Box Fight 
near Fort Kearney, Wyoming, on August 2, 1867. Thirty 9th Infantry soldiers 
had repulsed a mounted charge by 2,000 Sioux, killing several hundred In- 
dians while suffering only three casualties. It was first organized at Fort Mon- 
roe, Virginia, in March 1855, and participated in the Civil and Indian wars, 
fought in Cuba, the China Relief Expedition, the Philippine Insurrection, World 
Wars I and II, and the Korean War. The 4th Battalion had been in Vietnam 
since April 1966. 



316 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



selected and an engineer stake was driven at the center. A 130- 
foot rope was tied to the stake and walked around to form the 
circular trace of the bunker line. Twenty-four standard packages 
were helicoptered in and dropped off around the perimeter. Each 
contained a shaped demolition charge, two sheets of pierced steel 
planking, and a bundle of sandbags. After the explosives created 
the initial bunker holes, the infantrymen tackled the hard job 
of squaring off the hole and using the packaged materials to build 
their nine-foot bunkers. All twenty-four were completed in nine 
hours. 

As the bunkers were being completed, the dozers were 
pushing up berms of dirt between them. Other soldiers were 
busy clearing fields of fire, stringing rows of triple concertina 
wire, and setting up three hundred claymore mines. A prefab- 
ricated twenty-foot observation tower was flown in and set up 
in the middle of the patrol base. The tower was sandbagged and 
crowned with both a radar and starlight scope. Finally, two 
howitzers were flown in. Twenty-one sorties of Chinook heli- 
copters had been used to bring in the fortification packages, crew- 
served weapons, and ammunition. By sundown all barriers, mortar 
and howitzer pits, ammunition bunkers, troop positions, and the 
observation tower were ready for combat. 

Late in the night of April 25, the observation tower radar 
began to detect movement southwest of the base. As the move- 
ment increased, the defenders called for artillery fire on the woods 
southwest of the patrol base. Three Air Force Spooky and one 
Shadow minigun aircraft, twenty-two Cobra and Huey helicop- 
ter gunships, and four fighter-bombers arrived and started 
bombing, napalming, and rocketing all suspected approach routes 
to the American position. The NVA responded with a barrage 
of rockets, mortars, grenades, and antiaircraft fire. Illumination 
rounds blossomed into bursts of light over the battlefield as flares 
drifted through the clear night. 

One hour after midnight, a battalion of the 271st NVA Reg- 
iment charged across the open ground. Helicopters of the 25th 
Aviation Battalion rolled in to strafe the attackers as AC-47 fire 
support aircraft decimated targets marked with white phospho- 
rous rounds fired from the base mortars. Waves of North Viet- 
namese soldiers were mowed down, but eleven made it to the 



ONE WAR IN THE SOUTHERN PROVINCES 317 



wire, threw in a bangalore torpedo, and started to cross. The 
defenders then set off their claymore mines and took them un- 
der fire with a 90mm recoilless rifle and two machine guns. The 
attackers were killed in the hailstorm of combined weapons fire. 
Patrol Base Frontier City was receiving only sporadic rounds as 
the slaughter subsided. The 9th Infantry had only suffered one 
casualty, a man lightly wounded by shrapnel. 

The 25th Infantry Division had been experimenting with im- 
proved battlefield surveillance devices and armed Night Hawk 
helicopters equipped with night observation devices and xenon 
searchlights. These were put to the test during the all-out North 
Vietnamese Army assault against Fire Support Base Crook, de- 
fended by the 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry, on June 6-7, 1969. 
It was located northwest of Tay Ninh city about four miles from 
the Cambodian border in a flat but forested area. While dense 
jungle surrounded its northern and eastern sides, abandoned rice 
paddies extended in other directions. All approaches were cov- 
ered by sensor devices made available by the abandonment of 
McNamara's DMZ barrier, as well as radar mounted on the ob- 
servation tower. These detected large movement in the tree line 
around the base on the night of June 5. Artillery was imme- 
diately fired into those areas, and things quieted down until three 
o'clock in the morning, when the base began taking a heavy 
concentration of rocket and mortar fire. Most of the rockets sim- 
ply sailed over the base and went off outside the wire on the 
other side. One soldier was killed by a mortar round as a lis- 
tening post was pulled in, but within the base there were only 
minor injuries and little damage. 

The 272d NVA Regiment then charged the base from the 
south and east. The defenders answered with intense machine- 
gun fire as the base howitzers fired directly into the North Viet- 
namese attackers with lowered gun tubes. Heavier artillery 
pounded the woods and pathway of the assault. This concentra- 
tion of explosions and bullets dropped dozens of soldiers, but a 
sixteen-man group managed to breach the outer wire with ban- 
galore torpedoes before being killed by claymore mines and rifle 
fire. Although the charge had faltered, the majority of the NVA 
remained on the field and kept firing their assault rifles and 
rocket-propelled grenades. One hour after the attack started AC- 



318 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



47 and AC-119 aircraft came overhead and started circling Crook's 
perimeter, lacing it with devastating direct minigun and cannon 
fire. Helicopter gunships and fighter-bombers also arrived and 
annihilated the remainder of the exposed North Vietnamese 
troops, who had remained defiantly in the open. 

The next night the radar and seismic sensor devices detected 
an identical pattern of activity. The Americans were bewildered 
at the prospect that the North Vietnamese would try a second 
time after the overwhelming destruction of the first attempt. 
However, they grimly manned their bunkers as mortar and di- 
rect howitzer fire slashed into the tropical forest again. At two 
o'clock in the morning a Night Hawk helicopter detected large 
groups of soldiers moving toward the base on a road, and ar- 
tillery was shifted to shatter this formation. An hour later a re- 
newed barrage hit Fire Support Base Crook at the rate of 150 
rockets and mortar shells a minute. Three U.S. soldiers were 
wounded by this initial volley. For the next hour and a half the 
barrage kept up, but at a diminished pace. Then two battalions 
of the 88th NVA Regiment attacked from two tree lines in the 
north. As the North Vietnamese troops appeared out of the trees, 
they were strafed immediately by helicopters which had been 
hovering overhead. 

The base defenders replied with heavy automatic weapons 
fire and antipersonnel cannister fire from the lowered howitzer 
tubes. Again AC-119 aircraft blasted the area with minigun fire, 
as heavy artillery sent a torrent of rounds slamming into the 
path of the attack. One wave of attackers was broken up short 
of the wire, but the other force got into the first wire barrier 
before the last attacker was stopped. A retreat was attempted, 
but the violence of automatic weapons and bursting munitions 
chopped through the survivors while they were still in the open. 
By 5:30 A.M., those NVA soldiers that could had withdrawn, 
leaving the fields strewn with hundreds of dead. 

Then the unbelievable happened. On the night of June 7, 
an artillery barrage testing the same woods around the base 
prompted the North Vietnamese to make a third try. This 
halfhearted attack was quickly eradicated, and Fire Support Base 
Crook remained secure. Vietnam had reconfirmed the old World 
War I axioms governing the futility of charging fixed defenses 



ONE WAR IN THE SOUTHERN PROVINCES 319 



without strong armored or firepower backup. However, as the 
experiences of the 1st Cavalry Division had demonstrated dur- 
ing the spring, American tactics were premised on tremendous 
quantities of aerial rockets, bombing, and shellfire as a preface 
to assaults on far less sophisticated, earthen bunker systems. 

The 25th Infantry Division was fully engaged in the Dong 
Tien Progress Together program with its counterpart 25th ARVN 
Division by the latter part of the year. Combat fizzled out across 
the Cambodian frontier front as this joint training and opera- 
tions effort consumed the division's resources. Plans were un- 
derway to accelerate U.S. withdrawal schedules, and the 25th 
Infantry Division was tagged for return to Hawaii the following 
year. However, MACV was already drafting operational orders 
for a final, massive strike across the border to destroy the NVA 
staging bases inside Cambodia. It would take place in the spring 
of 1970. 

2. Guarding the Saigon Approaches 

While the 1st Cavalry Division and the 25th Infantry Divi- 
sion held down the western border approach, the remaining Sai- 
gon approaches were guarded by other large American forma- 
tions. The three provinces directly north of the capital were 
covered by the "Big Red One" 1st Infantry Division, reinforced 
by the bulk of the "Blackhorse" llth Armored Cavalry Regi- 
ment and the 5th ARVN Division. The southern approach through 
Long An Province was watched by the 3d Brigade of the 9th 
Infantry Division, which employed small-unit reconnaissance and 
special night patrols to saturate its sector throughout the year. 
In the meantime the rest of the 9th Infantry Division departed 
Vietnam, and the 25th Infantry Division absorbed control of the 
separate 3d Brigade. The eastern approaches to the city were 
covered by the 18th ARVN Division, the 1st Australian Task 
Force, and the Royal Thai Army Volunteer Force. Major Gen- 
eral Warren K. Bennett's 199th Infantry Brigade was heavily 
engaged in upgrading the 18th ARVN Division and pacification 
projects. It also conducted daily operations with South Vietnam- 
ese territorial militia and warded off small-scale attacks against 
hamlets and "Ruff-Puff" outposts northeast of Saigon. 

All maneuvers in III Corps Tactical Zone revolved around 



320 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Operation TOAN THANG II. This security operation had been 
going on since June of 1968 when it replaced the first serial by 
that designation, The 1st Infantry Division, the 3d Brigade of 
the 9th Infantry Division, the 199th Infantry Brigade, and the 
llth Armored Cavalry Regiment were all dedicated by MACV 
to its support. The operation entailed static defense of desig- 
nated tactical areas of responsibility, as well as limited recon- 
naissance expeditions to discourage NVA campsites and rocket 
positions within striking distance of Saigon. 

The biggest unit in the area was Maj. Gen. Orwin C. Tal- 
bott's 1st Infantry Division. During most of the year, combat 
was relatively light, and he focused on joint field operations with 
the 5th ARVN Division. The division watched over suspected 
hamlets as part of the pacification-imposed population control 
around Di An and Phu Loi. In mid-January the "Big Red One" 
became heavily involved in road clearance, as the 1st Brigade 
began an engineer-backed effort to open the route from Phuoc 
Vinh to the provincial capital of Song Be. The road had been 
closed for three years due to Viet Cong activity, necessitating 
the airlift of all supplies to several critical towns and bases. The 
division covered combat engineers as they cut 250-yard-wide 
swaths out of the vegetation on each side of the dry-weather 
single-lane pass, while other road construction engineer crews 
transformed it into a major highway. This was accompanied by 
extensive infantry patrolling in the Iron Triangle. When the her- 
culean effort was completed six months later in mid- June, it 
marked one of the division's major achievements in Vietnam. 

In March, Col. George S. Patton's llth Armored Cavalry was 
alerted that the 7th NVA Division was infiltrating toward Saigon 
through the Michelin rubber plantation. While the Michelin 
plantation was a typical rubber tree area, a lot of scrub brush 
had grown up between the trees since its abandonment. It was 
surrounded by thick jungle, but the month of March was hot 
and dry and the regiment took advantage of the excellent tank 
weather to initiate Operation ATLAS WEDGE on March 17, 
1969. Colonel Patton's observation helicopters were sent up in 
the clear blue skies and looked down to see large groups of 
North Vietnamese troops bicycling through the rubber. They 
made little or no attempt to hide and were clearly in a march 
formation, not expecting battle. 



ONE WAR IN THE SOUTHERN PROVINCES 321 



Throughout the rest of this first day the low-flying light ob- 
servation helicopters dodged return fire to bring artillery and 
tactical air strikes down on the soldiers. On the morning of March 

18, the helicopters returned but only spotted squads moving be- 
low. Closer examinations were met by intense antiaircraft fire, 
which wounded one observer. Armored personnel carriers of the 
1st Squadron moved off Fire Support Base Holiday Inn and drove 
west through the "great swath" cut by Rome Plow dozers, lead- 
ing from Highway 13 into the Michelin plantation. The 3d 
Squadron followed right behind. The vehicle movement was 
slowed at a ford as combat engineers carefully checked for mines. 

The tracked carriers and tanks were soon skirmishing in the 
marshy woods as they responded to helicopter sightings. Troop 
H was hit by delaying antitank teams which hit two of its battle 
tanks with rocket-propelled grenades. One tank blew up in flames 
and had to be abandoned. Troop L was hit in midstream, but 
the NVA antitank gunners did not have clear fields of fire, and 
most of the rounds exploded in the trees. In the process of ma- 
neuvering around this position two troopers were wounded, and 
a landing zone had to be cleared for their evacuation. The North 
Vietnamese concentrated intense fire on this site as the medical 
evacuation helicopter arrived. A lieutenant was killed and nine 
others were hit. As darkness fell, Troop L established a night 
defensive position at the landing zone. Troops B, C, D, and M 
also ploughed through underbrush in sharp action during the 
first day's drive, and laagered overnight next to their landing 
zones. 

Under an umbrella of Cobra gunships and observation heli- 
copters, the armored vehicles moved out on the morning of March 

19, a day marked by tedious fighting against bunker complexes 
which had to be destroyed one by one. The action continued 
into the night, fought in the glare of headlights and aircraft spot- 
lights. The battle intensified the following day. Troops L and 
M of the 3d Squadron became involved in a pitched battle after 
an aero rifle platoon became pinned down in two bomb craters 
by a large horseshoe-shaped fortification complex of the 320th 
NVA Regiment. A number of medium battle tanks arrived on 
the scene and began churning through the bunker-studded woods 
in a wide circle. The platoon leader's tank was suddenly hit by 
a rocket-propelled grenade which sent shrapnel over the turret 



322 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



and blinded the lieutenant. The tank lurched into a large B-52 
bomb crater on the far side of the bunker line, where it was 
stranded. Three more tanks were quickly destroyed by close-in 
rocket-propelled grenade fire. 

The one remaining tank no longer had a working radio. The 
squadron commander, Lt. Col. Lee D. Duke, landed his heli- 
copter and dashed over to order a last attack in the lengthening 
afternoon shadows. He directed the armored personnel carriers 
to go on each side of the tank and placed the infantry in line 
to the rear of the vehicles. The colonel then mounted the rear 
deck of the tank and with a wave of his arm the advance began. 
His center tank, flanked by tracked armored carriers, rumbled 
right into the midst of the North Vietnamese bunkers. A gre- 
nade was heaved on the tank's engine compartment, where it 
exploded and wounded Colonel Duke, but he continued to di- 
rect the mechanized infantry force through the bunkers and then 
back again. They passed the burning hulks of the tanks that had 
already exploded and one that was still blazing furiously as its 
ammunition cooked off. It was close to evening and the troopers 
pulled back to a night defensive position, recovered the tank in 
the bomb crater, and called in medical evacuation helicopters. 

The 1st Squadron took over the attack on March 21. By now 
only three light observation helicopters remained flyable and Huey 
troopships were being used for scouting. The fresh armored cav- 
alry unit took over the job of destroying the remaining bunkers 
in the base complex encountered the previous day. For the next 
five days, the llth Armored Cavalry continued to thrash through 
the Michelin plantation, but the battle was over. It also marked 
the last big operation for Colonel Patton, as that April he turned 
over the reins of the regiment to Col. James H. Leach. 

Maj. Gen. Albert E. Milloy took over the 1st Infantry Di- 
vision in August. It was heavily involved in upgrading the 5th 
ARVN Division, and most combat operations were of a com- 
bined nature. They consisted of small-unit ambushes, and ground 
reconnaissance, airmobile, and water operations along the Sai- 
gon, Thi Tinh, and Song Be rivers. Operations were typified by 
the cordon of Phu Hoa Dong during September 15-26 in south- 
ern Binh Duong Province. The 2d Brigade joined forces with 
the 7th ARVN Regiment and South Vietnamese field police to 
completely seal off the village and conduct night ambushes and 



ONE WAR IN THE SOUTHERN PROVINCES 323 



reconnaissance throughout the area. Each house was thoroughly 
searched as aerial broadcasts were made from helicopters, leaf- 
lets were dropped, and ground speakers set up to blare down 
the streets. For eleven days the villagers were confined to one 
of the four hamlets. During that period the Americans served 
2,200 noon rice meals, distributed sixteen bags of flour and four 
bags of meal, gave away 475 school kits and 3,200 bars of soap, 
and passed out fifty patriotism packages. The vilagers sat through 
fifteen hours of movies, sixteen hours of band music, two ma- 
gician shows, and a lottery in which nine pigs were given away. 
The children were carted off on three trips to the Saigon zoo. 
Since there had been an opening firefight trying to get into the 
village, which had destroyed several homes, the Americans also 
dumped sheets of tin and plywood off before leaving. Whether 
or not such pacification projects succeeded became irrelevant 
within five years. North Vietnam gained control over the south 
through military invasion, and population sympathies "the hearts 
and minds" long deemed central to all allied (and Viet Cong) 
efforts were in the end of no consequence to either side. 

The "Big Red One'* was alerted to begin a new operation, 
KEYSTONE BLUEJAY, on December 15. On that date, Major 
General Milloy received official word that his division was going 
home. KEYSTONE BLUEJAY was the first welcome operation 
in four years of combat. It governed equipment turnover and 
plane scheduling for return to the United States by April 15, 
1970. 

3. 1969 Army Field Performance 

The One War plan produced fewer large-scale operations and 
more small-unit patrolling and reconnaissance. The Vietnam 
conflict had always demanded a higher level of tactical capability 
than most conventional wars, since mobile area warfare doctrine 
broke normally massed formations down into independently op- 
erating battalions, companies, and platoons. The real tempo of 
the battlefield was at the platoon level, and Army proficiency 
was primarily measured in bands of five-man squads mustered 
into twenty-man platoons. The advent of Vietnamization intro- 
duced combined operations, and by mid-1969 most purely 
American combat missions became small-unit ambuscades. 

One of the better line units in the Army was the 25th In- 



324 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



fantry Division's "Wolfhounds": its two battalions of the 27th 
Infantry. The 2d Battalion was using scattered patrol bases to 
detect and ambush North Vietnamese Army elements crossing 
the border from Cambodia. Company B had been operating its 
three rifle platoons on a staggered three-day cycle which con- 
sisted of a daytime reconnaissance followed by a night ambush, 
a day of defending the local militia outpost, and a day of rest 
and training. 

On October 12, the nineteen-man 1st Platoon was alerted 
that some action against Patrol Base Kotrc seemed imminent, 
and they spent the day reconnoitering the muddy rice paddies 
and scattered hedgerows for prospective ambush sites. The sol- 
diers then returned to their outpost for supper, grabbed three 
South Vietnamese Popular Force militiamen, and grudingly set 
out into the darkness at seven o'clock that evening. Morale was 
low because the platoon had been making nocturnal sorties for 
months without contact against its highly elusive North Viet- 
namese adversaries. 

The platoon soldiers moved through the countryside just off 
a trail that they knew by heart. They had been in the area so 
long that they navigated by moonlight, spotting the familiar sil- 
houettes of fish screens and traps. The lieutenant set up the 
ambush north of the planned location because the soldiers had 
found a wide dry area near the trail with several rice dikes con- 
verging on it. The platoon set up in a rough triangle composed 
of the three squads, with machine guns in the corners sited to 
cover the dike approaches. Claymore mines were set up in a 
circle at fifteen paces, and by ten o'clock that night the platoon 
was silently in position. 

One hour later one of the machine-gun crews saw six North 
Vietnamese running along the rice dike leading directly into the 
position. The Americans waited breathlessly until the ammuni- 
tion bearer cut loose with his M 16 at a distance of only six yards, 
chucked out the spent magazine, and shoved another one in the 
rifle. He went through fifteen magazines back to back. The ma- 
chine gun clattered into action at the first shot, and grenadiers 
joined the action by firing illumination rounds into the sky. 
Claymore mines were detonated at once. The M60 jammed after 
going through 150 rounds, but the gunner quickly realized that 
the ammunition belts had become crossed. He unscrambled the 



ONE WAR IN THE SOUTHERN PROVINCES 325 



tangled bullet chains and had his machine gun firing again in 
seconds. He fired continuously for two minutes. 

Four of the North Vietnamese soldiers fell in the initial fu- 
sillade, and the last two soldiers ran off in different directions. 
Two of the fallen had been wounded and hobbled away. For 
another eight minutes the platoon fired in the direction of the 
escaping survivors. The grenadiers switched from illumination to 
regular high explosive rounds, as the rest of the platoon was 
sending up dozens of star clusters and parachute flares. A "Night 
Hawk" helicopter arrived overhead and flicked on its powerful 
searchlight. Its door gunner began blazing away at the ground. 
In fifteen minutes a shower of howitzer shells plummeted into 
the flat, open fields. 

The helicopter then radioed the platoon to check and see if 
the NVA soldier they had targeted was still alive. The lieutenant 
organized a "killer patrol" of five men who sallied from the pla- 
toon ambush site, passed the two broken bodies near the dike, 
and turned north. About a hundred yards out they saw one of 
the soldiers trying to crawl away, opened fire with everything 
they had, and quickly killed him. Another platoon "killer patrol" 
had gone south into the rice paddies and followed the helicop- 
ter's searchlight to another wounded soldier. They went over 
and found that he had been shot in the chest and landed the 
helicopter to perform a medical evacuation, The evacuated pris- 
oner later died from his wounds. 

After breakfast the next morning, the company commander 
led 3d Platoon into the area, along with several volunteers from 
the ambush platoon. They found the three bodies that had been 
located the night before and a fourth dead soldier. They also 
picked up homemade grenades, assault rifles, and ten bamboo 
field launcher tripods for 122mm rockets. The six who had been 
ambushed were part of an ammunition supply party. The 27th 
Infantry claimed a totally successful ambush. There had been 
no U.S. casualties. In fact, not one shot had been fired in re- 
turn. 

In late 1968 the Army had established a new composite unit 
to guard the boundary of II and III Corps Tactical Zones called 
Task Force South. One battalion of the rugged 173d Airborne 
Brigade was detached to join it, and the paratroopers brought 
their concept of hunter-killer HAWK operations with them. 



326 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



HAWK teams of squad size or larger were designed to search 
for and attack targets within their capability, while smaller teams 
sought out information or captives. Companies or platoons were 
assigned areas, which they patrolled with HAWK missions, backed 
with reaction forces. These teams were essentially night ambush 
positions. 

On March 29, 1969, the twenty-five-man 1st Platoon of 
Company B, 3d Battalion, 503d Infantry (Airborne), led by an 
experienced paratrooper platoon sergeant, was given a routine 
HAWK assignment. It had two rifle squads and a weapons squad 
with two machine guns, as well as a command section. Addi- 
tionally it had a forward observer from the battalion mortar pla- 
toon, a senior aidman, and a scout dog team. However, the han- 
dler had just acquired a new dog and was not yet familiar with 
him. 

The platoon members swept the jungle for seven days with- 
out contact. On April 5, the dog put them onto twenty Viet 
Cong moving along a trail, dressed in brand new uniforms and 
carrying new rucksacks. They called in artillery and began fol- 
lowing the trail, hoping to catch them. That night the platoon 
split into two HAWK teams, but^there was no combat. 

The next day they continued to follow the trail. At noon 
they discovered an old base camp and a shallow grave. They 
destroyed all the bunkers and then advanced. The scout dog 
was very nervous and kept alerting them, but they could see 
no one. The handler reasoned that the canine was agitated sim- 
ply because of the old base camp. Early in the afternoon, a 
soldier in the rear of the unit suddenly spotted a uniformed Viet 
Cong and both opened fire at each other. Nobody was hit. By 
mid-afternoon the platoon found itself on a well-traveled path- 
way. After stopping for water, the sergeant moved back to the 
ridge to establish a night position along the trail. 

The following day they were due to be resupplied, so he 
decided to maintain the platoon in one defensive perimeter. The 
paratroopers constructed four bunkered positions and several 
foxholes well before dark, making plenty of noise as they dug 
in. This was not in line for HAWK procedure, which was to 
move into smaller clandestine ambushes as silently as possible. 
The bunkers had no overhead cover, and no listening posts were 
set out beyond the perimeter. Two machine guns were placed 



ONE WAR IN THE SOUTHERN PROVINCES 327 



in two separate positions covering the trail, and five men were 
assigned to each emplacement. The two rifle squads were put 
in two positions on the other side of the trail. The platoon ser- 
geant and the others set up a command section in the center 
and set up trip flares and claymore mines beyond the perime- 
ter, 

The scout dog was beside himself by this time, and the han- 
dler had trouble trying to calm him. The dog's behavior made 
the troops nervous, but they decided not to fire illumination 
rounds. It rained off and on during the night, and several para- 
troopers thought they heard voices around them. At first light, 
the platoon sergeant made his rounds of the position through 
the dense morning fog that had rolled over the hill. The dog 
began to growl and the sergeant ordered some of his men to 
check beyond their lines. At this instant a trip flare went off, 
and the Viet Cong surged out of the jungle. They were wearing 
red bandanas and fresh uniforms, firing assault rifles and heav- 
ing grenades as they charged. They tried to rush the machine- 
gun position but were cut down. Then more VC began attacking 
the entire position. The forward observer called for artillery, but 
South Vietnamese howitzers were in support and could not fol- 
low his directions to adjust their round impacts. Throughout the 
battle, the ARVN artillery fell off in the distance. The observer 
was killed still trying to shift fire. Although there were three 
radios in the platoon, no one ever bothered trying to regain 
communications contact. 

As the attack continued, the paratroopers began to run out 
of ammunition. One of the machine guns ran out completely, 
and the other was hit by a B-40 rocket. The platoon sergeant 
ordered a retreat to the north. He was gunned down as he tried 
to muster the men. Another staff sergeant took over as grenades 
and automatic weapons fire laced the thick tropical vegetation 
with shrapnel and bullets. In the meantime the battalion com- 
mander had been alerted to the action by the artillery liaison 
section, and scrambled into a helicopter to locate them and de- 
termine a landing zone site for reinforcement. It was now twenty 
minutes since the action had started and all communications with 
the HAWK platoon had been lost. 

One half of the position was overrun, and the new platoon 
sergeant retreated down the ridge to the stream with the rest. 



328 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Only thirteen wounded men and the dog were left alive, and 
as they withdrew, the Viet Cong stopped their attack and broke 
contact. One of the wounded was unable to keep up and was 
left on the trail. Since the VC were not following, the Ameri- 
cans later found him still alive where he had collapsed. 

The battalion commander spotted the platoon remnants from 
the air when they began pitching smoke grenades, and imme- 
diately landed. He wanted to counterattack at once, but every- 
one was out of ammunition. He agreed to use the helicopter 
instead to lift out the seriously wounded. At eight o'clock that 
morning Company C was landed and moved back to the over- 
run American positions. They found most of the dead still in 
their foxholes. The rucksacks had all been quickly ransacked, 
but many valuable items had been left. Both machine guns and 
their crews were found where they had been close assaulted. 
One machine gun was covered with spent brass and had clearly 
gone out of ammunition. The other one still had 150 rounds left 
to fire. 

Numerous searches of the area by the battalion over the next 
several days failed to locate any Viet Cong, although they un- 
covered some grave sites and a camp area with hot coals still 
glowing. It had been a hard lesson in the unsoundness of mixing 
conventional tactics with ambush practice. The ambush derived 
its security from secrecy, whereas the defensive position derived 
its security from strength and defensibility. By attempting to 
combine the two, the platoon leader had sacrificed the security 
afforded by either. In appropriate ceremonies, the dog was later 
awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action. 

The Army was also sending patrols into the rice fields near 
Saigon. The 1st Battalion of the 2d Infantry was one of the Ar- 
my's oldest and proudest formations and, by March of 1969, was 
considered an old timer by Vietnam standards having arrived 
in October 1965, with the "Big Red One" 1st Infantry Division. 2 
However, the 1st Infantry Division was in its last year of Viet- 

2. The 2d Infantry originated in Pennsylvania in 1808, fought in both the 
War of 1812 and the Mexican War, garrisoned in California in the 1850s, 
battled from Bull Run to Petersburg in the Civil War, engaged Indians rang- 
ing from Seminoles to Nez Perces, fought in Cuba during the Spanish Amer- 
ican War, in the Philippine Insurrection, and during World War II, when it 
occupied Iceland and then fought from Normandy to Czechoslovakia. 



WAii IN 1HK SOUTHERN PROVINCES 329 



nam service and, like most Army formations of that year, was 
war-weary. The draftees in its ranks were already calling it the 
"Big Dead One." The commander of its 3d Platoon of Company 
D was an experienced and dependable first lieutenant who had 
served a previous Vietnam tour as a staff sergeant in the 1st 
Cavalry Division. When his outfit was selected to pull night am- 
bush duty in the Delta countryside outside the capital, nothing 
unusual was expected. 

The platoon helicoptered in and began a grueling march, ag- 
gravated by bizarre tides and tropical riverbanks, toward the se- 
lected area, the junction of four streams in unknown territory. 
This trek through knee-deep and waist-deep mud was so diffi- 
cult that a rubber boat was flown to the twenty-nine men. The 
soldiers finally reached the site that evening and chose a pinch 
of land jutting out into the Rach Giong tributary which was cov- 
ered with scrub and dominated by a lone tree. The lieutenant 
and his platoon sergeant, a national guardsman, took three ra- 
diomen and a medic and planted themselves under the tree. 
Surrounded by rice paddies and painfully aware of being in the 
middle of "Viet Cong country," the men settled into a tight egg- 
shaped ring of six fighting positions. Tired as they were, some 
soldiers nervously tried to differentiate between the sounds of 
lapping water and possible human movement along the water's 
edge. There, under a full moon, the platoon passed a restless 
but uneventful night. 

Early in the morning a Landing Craft, Mechanized (LCM), 
picked up the platoon and ferried it over to the rest of Company 
D. 3 The recombined company patrolled until noon, when it split 
up again. Directed back to its night ambush spot, the platoon 
sloshed across the river at low tide and spent the afternoon pa- 
trolling near a sandy graveyard behind its old positions. Several 
soldiers excitedly dug up graves and stuffed bones into their 
packs, an act which infuriated their officer. He ordered the graves 
covered up and, with several hours of daylight left, ordered the 
men into their previous area. During this time someone found 
a Sony transistor radio, tuned to a Vietnamese station, dangling 
from a bush. 

3. The LCM were used widely by the Army for lighterage and inland water- 
way traffic. The Army had approximately 150 of these 113-ton aluminum ves- 
sels in Vietnam at the time. 



330 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



One of the platoon's radiomen, a Specialist Fourth Class, 
mentioned the tree as they hunkered back down beside it. As 
was standard practice on ambush, no one dug in, but rather 
crouched or lay behind shrubs. "Well, you're right," the lieu- 
tenant replied. "It's sort of an aiming stake." But no one moved. 
Due to tidal conditions, protective claymore mines were only 
placed facing one direction, across the stream. The two machine 
guns were sited as before, with one covering the water and the 
other right next to the command post at the base of the tree. 
The exhausted men relaxed in their compact grouping. The last 
perimeter check the lieutenant made was a half hour before 
midnight, and he found several soldiers sleeping on guard. 

The Viet Cong had carefully surveyed the vicinity during the 
platoon's absence, and now took advantage of tall grass and bushes 
for their approach early in the morning of March 9. They also 
found the singular tree a most convenient reference point, and 
signaled the attack by slamming a rocket-propelled grenade into 
it. Hand grenades and automatic rifle fire ripped through the 
American positions at close range. 

"What was that?" the radio specialist on watch exclaimed as 
the first round exploded against the tree trunk. Dazed, he blurted 
out again, "What was that?" By now the firing was intense and 
the lieutenant scrambled past him, telling him to get away from 
the tree. The specialist could rot get to his radio; it was being 
peppered by enemy bullets. He then noticed that everyone in 
the command post was either dead or wounded. 

The sergeant in charge of rear security was a "shake 'n' bake," 
like all the squad leaders in the platoon. 4 The blasts of several 
explosions jarred him awake, and he yelled to return fire. His 
seven-man squad blazed away with their M16 rifles and M79 
grenade launchers, but no one actually saw any Viet Cong. The 
intensity of the action lasted only ten minutes. It was later ob- 
vious to him that the Viet Cong had preselected their targets 
and had come up so quickly and quietly that the platoon never 
stood a chance. 

The platoon leader awoke to the deafening explosion in the 
tree, which showered fragments through men and vegetation. 

4. "Shake 'n' Bake" was the term popularly describing a sergeant who earned 
his rank quickly through noncommissioned officer schools or other means with 
little time overall in the service. 



ONE WAR IN THE SOUTHERN PROVINCES 331 



Several grenades sailed into the position, and the platoon ser- 
geant lunged to hurl one back as it spun around on the ground. 
Still trying to regain his senses, the lieutentant stumbled over 
to the rear security squad sergeant, whom he noticed was re- 
turning fire. He checked another squad next, but most of the 
men were seriously wounded, including the platoon's Kit Car- 
son scout. Both machine guns were out, and this surprised him, 
since these were manned by particularly good soldiers with over 
six months of combat experience behind them. 

Then he heard a loud "No, don't!" from the direction of one 
of the silenced machine gun positions. Hollering at the top of 
his voice, the lieutenant dove forward and was hit immediately. 
For fear of hitting possible American survivors, he did not re- 
turn fire. The Viet Cong had gone forward to finish off the crew 
before slipping away with the captured weapon. After being hit 
a second time, he retreated back to a radio and called for heli- 
copter gunships which were overhead in minutes. A later count 
showed nine M16 rifles also missing. 

The attack had lasted only fifteen minutes. The Viet Cong 
melted away with the approach of rocket-firing, fire-spitting sup- 
port helicopters. Nine U.S. soldiers lay dead and eleven were 
wounded, and medical evacuation aircraft worked the next two 
hours taking them out. The 3d Platoon of Company D was shat- 
tered as a combat-effective organization, and the 2d Infantry's 
1st Battalion had suffered a sharp reverse. No casualties had 
been inflicted on the Viet Cong, who were credited with pulling 
off another classic raid on an ambush position. 

When the action was analyzed by Army staff, the lessons 
were only too clear: the selection of the same site two nights 
in a row with plenty of opportunity for VC observation in the 
interval, a command post situated under an obvious point of 
reference, the bunching of positions exposed to concentrated fire. 
The real problem was much more ominous the same mistakes 
and complacency indicative of untried troops were being made 
late in the war by experienced officers and men of good, solid 
American units. Although realistic Vietnam-oriented stateside 
training had fused with rigorous in-country unit combat courses 
to produce efficient jungle soldiers by 1969, field performance 
was being hampered by lowered morale, lack of motivation, and 
poor leadership. 



PART 6 

197O-1973 



N^ Con Thien 
DMZ 



Tchepone 



iong Ha 
Quang Tri 

Tan My 
Hue 



Phu Bai 



Chu Lai 



KEY TO OPERATIONS 

1 - TOAN THANG #43 

2 - TOAN THANG #44 
3-BINHTAY I 

4 - DEWEY CANYON II 

5 - LAM SON 719 

6 - TEXAS STAR 

7 -JEFFERSON GLENN 



Snoul 
Route 7 /J t ' Bu Dop 

An Loc 




scale 

Saigon 
Map by Shelby L Stanton 

South Vietnam - 1970-1973 



CHAPTER 21. 



A CHANGING WAR 



1. Cross Border Attack 

The year 1970 was marked by the headlong rush to get the South 
Vietnamese Army into big actions, and the American formations 
out of the country. Even with U.S. forces withdrawing as rap- 
idly as possible, the actual flow of the war expanded as major 
offensives were flung into Cambodia and planned for Laos. United 
States military goals in Vietnam for 1970 were fixed in sharp 
contrast to those set out in 1965. The top objective, Vietnam- 
ization of the war, was seconded by a duty to lower the number 
of U.S. casualties. Third in importance was the continued with- 
drawal of forces on schedule, while at the bottom were Amer- 
ican combat operations. These were only conducted if designed 
to "stimulate a negotiated settlement." There was no more men- 
tion of military victory. The first two goals were actually inter- 
twined since the casualty rate dropped as the Army became less 
active due to Vietnamization. The year was to be highlighted 
by the combined American- South Vietnamese cross-border op- 
erations into Cambodia, but characterized elsewhere by de- 
creased and smaller contacts with the NVA/VC. 

MACV still possessed a powerful striking force of 330,648 
Army soldiers and 55,039 Marines in Vietnam as 1970 began. 
These were concentrated in eighty-one Army infantry and tank 
battalions. However, many of these were either preparing to 
leave the country or expected to in the near future. As a result 

335 



336 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



many units were not actually available for combat during a great 
part of the year. 1 

By the spring, MACV had several U.S. divisions poised in 
short range of the Cambodian border, which had been drilling 
their counterpart ARVN formations in combined offensive ma- 
neuvers for over a year. With the exception of the 1st Cavalry 
Division, these American formations were already programmed 
to depart Vietnam. The allied command felt ARVN line units 
were now capable of sustained operations and was willing to put 
Vietnamization to the crucial test of open battle against the North 
Vietnamese Army on its own ground. 

Several large NVA/VC divisional base areas and support de- 
pots were located across the flat expanses of the Cambodian 
frontier within equally short striking distance of Saigon. They 
had been used as immune staging and supply points for NVA 
and VC activity in the south for years, and continued to pose 
a dangerous threat to South Vietnam's security. Intelligence re- 
ports verified recent stockpiling, and it was obvious North Viet- 
nam anticipated renewed employment of these strategic locales 
in future invasions after American military departure. 

MACV believed that a massive joint U.S. -ARVN "spoiling 
attack" would destroy the bases, gain maximum utilization of 
American combat assets prior to redeployment, and put Viet- 
namization to the ultimate test of battle. The American units 
were envisioned as cracking the tough early-on resistance, mak- 
ing the big depot finds, and providing the necessary support the 
ARVN forces would initially need. The large South Vietnamese 
formations that participated in the cross-border assault would be 
able to savor victory on a grand scale, since the Americans 
including advisors were only going in nineteen miles (thirty 
kilometers), on a limited time schedule. The ARVN forces would 



1. Major U.S. forces in Vietnam in January of 1970 were the 1st Marine, 1st 
Cavalry (Airmobile), 101st Airborne (Airmobile), 1st, 4th, 23d (Americal), and 
25th Infantry Divisions; 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), and 
3d Brigade, 9th Infantry Division; llth Armored Cavalry Regiment; 173d Air- 
borne and 199th Infantry Brigades; 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne); 1st 
Battalion of the 50th Infantry (Mechanized); 1st and 2d Squadrons of the 1st 
Cavalry, and 3d Squadron of the 5th Cavalry. 



A CHANGING WAR 337 



stay and continue to operate as long as required to accomplish 
the mission. 

The primary goal of the Cambodian venture was the eradi- 
cation of the sanctuaries and destruction of the NVA/VC regular 
forces defending them. This would free much of South Vietnam 
from future military danger once the U.S. combat forces had 
left. Additionally, it had the potential of favorably demonstrating 
the South Vietnamese Army's ability to challenge even the most 
critical NVA strongholds. The resulting favorable psychological 
impact promised great rewards in cementing a new foundation 
of pride and accomplishment for the South Vietnamese Army. 
As a collateral bonus, American units would have a tangible ob- 
jective which would invigorate morale and a sense of mission. 

Time was of the essence. The Cambodian border region was 
a low area, and its grassy fields and rice paddies were subject 
to swift inundation by monsoon rains. At the beginning of April 
the scattered, majestic palm trees lining the paddy dikes were 
starting to bake under the tropical sun. The large NVA head- 
quarters, rest areas, and supply centers were nestled into the 
jungles, light, leafy forests, and brackish swamps. Mobile op- 
erations capable of reaching them could only be conducted in 
the dry period during April and May. 

The South Vietnamese kicked off a preliminary three-day of- 
fensive in mid-April against the Angel's Wing. On April 29, sev- 
eral ARVN battalions went into the Parrot's Beak, the tip of the 
Cambodian land protrusion, located only thirty-five miles from 
the capital. The results were reminiscent of the frustrating 
searches through the old Vietnamese lettered war zones, and 
the NVA proved elusive and cagey. MACV consoled itself with 
the belief that the large number of overflights and reconnais- 
sance missions, which had preceded the drive, had tipped them 
off to allied intentions. However, it also served fiotice that the 
Cambodian border was no longer inviolable to conventional at- 
tack, and the North Vietnamese were quick to pack up in the 
face of potentially overwhelming offensives. 

At daybreak on May 1, 1970, heavy artillery boomed across 
the Cambodian border as the last bomb from six B-52 bombing 
runs crashed into the earth. Then the tanks and armored per- 



338 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



sonnel carriers of Maj. Gen. Elvy B. Roberts's 1st Cavalry Di- 
vision (Airmobile), clanked onto Cambodian soil. Task Force 
Shoemaker s Operation TOAN THANG #43 had as its objective 
nothing less than the field command headquarters for all com- 
munist activities in South Vietnam. 2 

Overhead the sky was filled with scout helicopters of the 1st 
Squadron, 9th Cavalry, buzzing over the patches of jungle and 
rolling landscape. First blood was drawn once they had spotted 
and destroyed several vehicles below. To the west, fighter- 
bombers zoomed through plumes of smoke drifting over the grassy 
plains. An armada of troop helicopters was already ferrying South 
Vietnamese paratroopers and American cavalrymen of the line 
battalions inland to pop ahead of the racing armor. Their land- 
ing zones were blasted out by colossal, earth-shattering Com- 
mando Vault fifteen-thousand-pound bombs. The troops landed 
and consolidated their positions. All along the front the only 
resistance was scattered rifle and desultory automatic weapons 
fire. 

The initial impression that Operation TOAN THANG #43 
would bring the NVA into open battle soon gave way to the 
realization that the North Vietnamese were evading again. Large 
groups of fleeing North Vietnamese troops were spotted by aer- 
ial observers throughout the day, and Cobra gunships raced to 
rocket and strafe them. However, they were already too far ahead 
to be caught by the allied infantry. The expectations of crushing 
battlefield victories vaporized as the long-awaited Cambodian in- 
cursion became a matter of seizing and destroying massive aban- 
doned supply dumps. The sizes of the depots being uncovered 
were beyond belief. One depot complex contained so many mil- 
itary stores and foodstuffs that it was promptly dubbed the City. 
The large storage areas were packed with incredible amounts of 



2. Participating forces in Operation TOAN THANG (Total Victory) #43 were 
the llth Armored Cavalry (Regiment) and 3d Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division 
reinforced by the 2d Battalion, 34th Armor (25th Infantry Division), and 2d 
Battalion, 47th Infantry (9th Infantry Division). The 1st ARVN Armored Cav- 
alry and 3d Brigade, 1st ARVN Airborne Division, composed the South Viet- 
namese portion of the operation. The task force was named after its com- 
mander, Brig. Gen. Robert H. Shoemaker, who was the deputy commander 
of the 1st Cavalry Division. 



A CHANGING WAR 339 



new supplies and cargo trucks, neatly arranged and obviously 
abandoned in a hurry. 

Major General Roberts's 1st Cavalry Division had reinforced 
its commitment to the operation with another brigade, and had 
thirteen tank and infantry battalions rolling across Cambodia 
within a week. Col. Donn A. Starry's llth Armored Cavalry 
passed through the ARVN lines and attacked straight up Route 
7. The tanks and armored personnel carriers raced past a string 
of rubber plantations at speeds up to forty miles an hour. In 
the mechanized trek they bridged three unfordable streams, the 
last after Colonel Starry found a suitable vehicle-launched bridg- 
ing site by personal reconnaissance. The 2d Squadron smashed 
into the grubby town of Snoul on May 5 and came under .51- 
caliber antiaircraft and rocket-propelled grenade fire on the local 
airstrip. The 3d Squadron joined the battle against the flak po- 
sitions, which were soon captured after a spectacular battle marred 
only by the accidental rocketing of forward armored cavalry ele- 
ments by a Cobra gunship. 

Maj. Gen. Edward Bautz Jr/s 25th Infantry Division ad- 
vanced its 2d Brigade over the border on May 9 against frag- 
mentary opposition. North Vietnamese rocket and mortar at- 
tacks, accompanied by some ground probing, were launched in 
greater intensity against night defensive bases about a week later. 
The NVA had regrouped, but overall action remained low be- 
cause U.S. forces were not going farther than nineteen miles 
beyond the Vietnamese border. The captured stocks were in- 
ventoried and carried out or destroyed, and by June 30 the op- 
eration was over. Although finds had been significant, the major 
communist headquarters had not been neutralized. 

The 25th Infantry Division prepared to cross its 1st Brigade 
into Cambodia on May 6 under Operation TOAN THANG #44. 
Tactical air power pummeled the border regions, and huge Air 
Force Commando Vault bombs were again used to blast out hel- 
icopter landing zones in the dense jungle. Two battalions were 
air-assaulted, one into the heart of the base area and one just 
across the shoreline boundary of the Rach Beng Go River. A 
float bridge was quickly thrown across and the 2d Battalion, 22d 
Infantry, roared into Cambodia the next day. Helicopters of the 
3d Squadron, 17th Cavalry, were busy gunning down the re- 



340 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



treating NVA soldiers as the division advanced west. The only 
ground action consisted of brief but violent skirmishes between 
small groups of fast-moving riflemen, and the operation was ter- 
minated on May 14. 

On May 6, the 1st Cavalry Division leaped into Cambodia 
on its second thrust by air-assaulting two battalions northeast 
of Bu Dop. Another huge depot was uncovered, and engineers 
had to build an overland road so the materials could be hauled 
out. It took nine days to empty and contaminate this supply 
area, which was nicknamed Rock Island East. Fire Support Base 
Brown was attacked May 12. It was defended by the 5th Bat- 
talion, 12th Infantry (199th Infantry Brigade), which repelled the 
determined ground assault, suffering only one fatality. The cav- 
alry division had sent every battalion into the front by the first 
week in June, and supplies were still being found faster than 
troops could be provided to eliminate them. Another fire sup- 
port base was hit by a ground attack in the second week of 
June. Rocket and mortar bombardments of American positions 
became general, and on June 20, the 1st Cavalry Division began 
pulling out. 

On May 6, Operation BINH TAY (Tame the West) I, car- 
ried out by Maj. Gen. Glenn D. Walker's 4th Infantry Division, 
reinforced with the 40th ARVN Regiment, marked the third 
MACV wave of Cambodian assaults. Six devastating B-52 bomb- 
ing runs preceded the thrust, but the 3d Battalion, 506th In- 
fantry (attached to the division), was driven away from its in- 
tended initial landing zone by heavy fire. Other units of the 4th 
Infantry Division also met fierce receptions at their opening 
landing zones and were forced to retire. The 3d Battalion of the 
8th Infantry ran into trouble after it had put only sixty men on 
the ground. One helicopter was shot down and two more dam- 
aged before the landing could be completed. 

In the face of more hot LZs, the division either landed at 
alternative sites or simply postponed the insertions. Once on 
the ground there was only one significant firefight, and the sol- 
diers searched out numerous caches. However, after only ten 
days the Americans bailed out and left the South Vietnamese to 
continue the operation on their own. There had been a noted 
lack of divisional aggressiveness in following through with air- 



A CHANGING WAR 341 



mobile assaults if opposed by any ground fire. While the divi- 
sion was under the usual MACV restraints on avoiding U.S. 
losses, the "Funky Fourth" seemed to be suffering from almost 
total combat paralysis. 

All American units were out of Cambodia by June 29, 1970, 
although several South Vietnamese operations continued. The 
operation had been militarily successful despite the fact that NVA/ 
VC main force units simply eluded the advancing allies. Large 
amounts of war booty had been captured or destroyed, buying 
as much as a year in South Vietnam's survival. Vietnamization 
was enhanced, but not to the degree that would have been 
achieved by a solid combat victory. Behind the facade of re- 
newed South Vietnamese military confidence and morale were 
laid the seeds of South Vietnam's ultimate defeat. Most South 
Vietnamese units performed in a timid and cautious manner, 
and overall command and control was still lacking. Much of this 
lack of ardor could be attributed to its being a new army still 
unsure of itself on the battlefield. Victory was still directly 
premised on the ready availability of an umbrella of American 
air power, something that the ARVN forces would not have in 
the spring of 1975. 

Vietnamization was still proceeding at a rate so rapid that 
the problems manifested during the Cambodian incursion were 
virtually ignored. Such deliberate disregard of lessons learned 
would invite disaster during the following year's Laotian incur- 
sion. This crash program to mold the South Vietnamese military 
overnight into an image of the self-sufficient, highly technical 
U.S. armed forces was doomed to failure. While MACV insisted 
on complex units in the ARVN inventory, such as long lines 
signal battalions, South Vietnamese field units were still expe- 
riencing difficulties in basic artillery support coordination. 

The Cambodian campaign gave the American Army a wel- 
come relief from routine operations and put a capstone on the 
service of several units scheduled for pending departure from 
Vietnam. While American aviation and armor played a vital and 
aggressive role, many infantry companies avoided combat and 
were hesitant in moving out to new locations. This was the last 
combat operation for many participating American units, and there 
was a considerable effort to minimize losses. Ironically, Maj. Gen. 



342 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



George W. Casey, who had taken over the 1st Cavalry Division 
on May 12, was flying on July 7 to visit wounded soldiers when 
his helicopter crashed, killing all aboard. 

2. War at Large 

While Cambodia grabbed the headlines, the northern five 
provinces of the country situated underneath the Demilitarized 
Zone in Military Region 1 were considered the most dangerous 
and contained the largest numbers of American troops. 3 On March 
9, 1970, the III Marine Amphibious Force was subordinated to 
the XXIV Corps, since the twenty-five Army maneuver battal- 
ions in the region outnumbered the nine remaining Marine bat- 
talions. Maj. Gen. Edwin B. Wheeler's 1st Marine Division 
guarded the greater Da Nang area. During the summer the di- 
vision lashed out again at the Que Son Valley, silencing it until 
Marine departure from Vietnam. 

While combat continued to decrease through 1970, there were 
still many violent actions in the region, but they mostly in- 
volved South Vietnamese units, The North Vietnamese Army 
tenaciously defended its mountain fortresses and waged battles 
throughout the lowlands. Rocket and mortar attacks against cit- 
ies and isolated fire support bases were common. Fierce fighting 
flared against an American unit on April 3 when the 1st Brigade 
of the 5th Infantry Division was hit in defensive positions south- 
west of Con Thien. The attacks were repulsed with air support. 
The next morning the night defensive position of the 3d Squad- 
ron, 5th Cavalry, near Cam Lo was hit by rocket-propelled gre- 
nades and automatic weapons fire. The firefight lasted nearly 
three hours before the NVA broke off the action. A Sheridan 
tank and two armored personnel carriers were destroyed, and 
several other vehicles were damaged. 

The Americal Division was engaged in security operations in 
Quang Ngai Province, and was taking a frustrating number of 
losses from booby traps and mines, including 250-pound bombs 
rigged as antitank mines. Just after Maj. Gen. Albert E. Milloy 
took over the division on March 22, one of the nastier surprise 



3. On July 2, 1970, the I-IV Corps Tactical Zones were redesignated Military 
Regions 1-4. 



A CHANGING WAR 343 



traps was set off. On the afternoon of April 15, a soldier from 
the 4th Battalion, 3d Infantry, tripped a 105mm artillery shell 
converted into a booby trap just south of Due Pho. The re- 
sulting explosion caused two 81mm mortar rounds to explode, 
which in turn caused claymore mines in some of the soldiers' 
packs to detonate, killing fourteen and wounding another thirty- 
two. 

American military strategy in Vietnam by 1970 hinged on 
fire support bases, which were self-contained islands of artillery 
firepower located on critical terrain features. Army units became 
so reliant on their security that they ceased to operate at any 
great distance from such artificial fortress islands, a condition 
dubbed "fire base psychosis." Army mobility and operational 
flexibility were generally lost as a result. 

The fire bases were deceptively efficient. They not only 
backed up infantry operations but served as ideal observation 
posts, and were often deliberately set up in remote areas to 
command approach routes or likely avenues of infiltration. They 
relied completely on helicopters for their construction, suste- 
nance, and evacuation. Fire support bases were often set up, 
occupied for a while, and then left. Departure from a fire base 
was commonly dictated by weather conditions, requirements for 
resources elsewhere, or NVA activity that exerted more pres- 
sure than the fire base was worth. Fire bases closed down were 
often reopened at later dates, especially if their closures had 
been determined by monsoon cycles. In some cases they were 
built with only future occupancy in mind and called Howard 
Johnsons by the troops. Mobile area warfare required a fluid, 
flexible system of interlocking fire bases that could be set up or 
left as circumstances warranted. 

Once the site for the future fire support base had been cho- 
sen and planned out, the combat engineer party was the first 
to be inserted. These rugged teams contained six to ten men 
armed with power saws, demolitions, and other tools. If a hel- 
icopter could not set them down, they rappelled in or used rope 
ladders. In most cases an infantry platoon was assigned as pro- 
tection. As the force touched down the foot soldiers moved into 
covering positions, and the engineers fanned out to cut defen- 
sive fields of fire and blast out foxholes. Immediately afterwards 



344 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



they would clear a rough landing zone and crater the gun pit 
areas with explosives to ease future dozer work. Next a Flying 
Crane helicopter would bring in a mini-dozer, and a Chinook 
followed, carrying the dozer blade and a drum of diesel fuel. 
The sweating engineers and infantry would manhandle the blade 
onto the dozer, which then began clearing the hilltop of debris 
and carving out the first gun pit. Meanwhile, a combined mini- 
scooploader/backhoe was helicoptered in to start construction of 
the earthen ammo berms. 

Waiting helicopters were radioed in once the gun pits were 
dug. The aircraft brought in the first cannoneers with their shells, 
artillery pieces, and fire direction equipment. The howitzers were 
set up and often ready to fire within five hours after the assault 
engineers had first arrived. As the howitzers were emplaced, 
the mini-dozer and scooploader were busy improving the land- 
ing zone, constructing bunkers, and digging trench networks. 
Soldiers and engineers joined together to string wire and set out 
mines. Soldiers stationed at a fire base were always toiling at 
the never-ending job of upgrading the habitability and defensive 
protection of their fortifications. 

Fire Support Base Ripcord was built in April 1970 by the 
101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) about twenty-five miles west 
of Hue in Thua Thien Province. It was a key forward artillery 
base in the division's summer offensive plans against the A Shau 
Valley. Like most fire bases, Ripcord was built as part of a net- 
work of individually isolated posts which garnered mutual pro- 
tection because they were within artillery range of each other. 
On March 13, after delays due to foul weather, Company A of 
the 2d Battalion, 506th Infantry, air-assaulted onto the future 
Ripcord hill. As soon as the unit landed, it was struck with in- 
tense mortar, automatic weapons, and recoilless rifle fire. The 
company evacuated the hillsite two days later. On April 1, after 
another period of bad weather Company B of the same unit air- 
assaulted onto the hill and was greeted with the same hostile 
reception. It moved off the hilltop and rejoined the battalion, 
which was operating close by. 

The 506th Infantry's 2d Battalion teamed up with the 1st 
ARVN Regiment to sweep the vicinity around Fire Support Base 
Ripcord for the next week. Then Company C went to the top 



A CHANGING WAR 345 



of the hill on April 11. On the same day engineers and the 
battalion command post were helicoptered in. For five days rain 
and clouds prevented helicopters from delivering the artillery. 

After the guns were brought to the hill, the battalion con- 
structed a fire support base. They worked unmolested until July 
1, when daily mortaring and rockets began to bombard them. 
By that time the positions were solid and impervious to all but 
the heaviest artillery. 

That day the base received a light peppering by mortars, 
but the next day a nearby night defensive position of the bat- 
talion was hit hard by elements of the 803d NVA Regiment, which 
used assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades, and satchel charges. 
It was a bitter firefight with high losses to both sides. Increased 
barrages and ground movements quickly disclosed North Viet- 
namese interest in knocking the base out. Fire Support Base 
Ripcord became the center of attention in Military Region 1 
during July. 

On July 18, a Chinook helicopter carrying a sling load of 
howitzer ammunition was shot down by antiaircraft fire while 
approaching the base. It crashed into the ammunition storage 
area, triggering an inferno which touched off a series of awe- 
some explosions. Six 105mm howitzers of the 2d Battalion, 319th 
Artillery, were destroyed and thousands of shells went off. Two 
recoilless rifles and the counter-mortar radar were lost as well. 
In the meantime American patrols around the hill were taking 
considerable losses in a number of sharp skirmishes. It was ob- 
vious by July 22 that the NVA were all around Ripcord in force, 
and another Khe Sanh-like siege was imminent. 

Maj. Gen. John J. Hennessey, commanding the 101st Air- 
borne Division (Airmobile), had no choice but to fold up the 
fire base. Further defense of an artillery post set up to cover a 
summer operation was foolish in view of the North Vietnamese 
buildup. Area warfare doctrine called for extraction. During the 
night of July 22-23, over 2,200 rounds of artillery pounded the 
adjacent hills and valleys. Navy, Air Force, and Marine fighter- 
bombers began flying seventy strikes commencing at daybreak 
on July 23. Fourteen Chinook helicopters dashed in to begin 
lifting out the 2d Battalion, 506th Infantry. 

Everything went smoothly at first, but at 7:40 A.M. antiair- 



346 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



craft fire scored against one of the helicopters. It crashed into 
the fire base and began to burn and explode, preventing the 
other helicopters from lifting out the rest of the artillery and 
heavy equipment. The infantry was being slowly pulled out by 
Huey helicopters. The heavy mortaring forced them to dart in 
one at a time to pick up the soldiers. The Ripcord extraction 
claimed four more Chinooks, shot up so badly they had to be 
scrapped, and another four were heavily damaged. Fire Support 
Base Ripcord was left abandoned to the North Vietnamese at 
2:07 P.M., July 23, 1970, 

Just northwest of Fire Support Base Ripcord was Fire Sup- 
port Base O'Reilly, which was on top of a critical mountain in 
Thua Thien Province eleven miles west of Hue. Beginning on 
August 6, 1970, NVA rockets and mortars increased the tempo 
of their attacks on O'Reilly, and by September 13 the fire base 
had sustained ninety-two barrages. The hilltop resembled a 
moonscape. Since this was the area of operations of the 1st ARVN 
Regiment, it had a battalion guarding the American howitzers. 
The North Vietnamese attacked uphill on September 9 on a 
probing mission. Four days later another assault was launched. 

At this time a tactical emergency was declared, and 137 tac- 
tical air missions were flown to pulverize the area around it. 
Nineteen B-52 bombing missions were flown to pound the North 
Vietnamese further off. Soon four battalions of South Vietnam- 
ese infantry were flown in to the hilltop, but bad weather com- 
menced on September 15. Dense clouds and thunderstorms could 
easily cut off the fire support base, and already a number of 
nearby fire bases were being closed down due to the monsoon 
storms. Fire Support Base O'Reilly was abandoned accordingly 
on October 7, 1970. Typhoons Kate and Louise wreaked havoc 
in the latter part of the year, and heavy monsoon rains curtailed 
activities throughout Military Region 1 during the last two months 
of the year. 

3. An Army in Transition 

Withdrawal during 1970 accelerated at a dizzying speed, tak- 
ing out formations that had served so long in Vietnam that they 
seemed an indelible part of that tropical landscape. Now at last 
they were coming home. The "Big Red One" 1st Infantry Di- 



A CHANGING WAR 347 



vision left the 5th ARVN Division in charge of its territory north 
of Saigon and went back to Fort Riley, Kansas. There it swapped 
pennants with the 24th Infantry Division to fill up again with 
new soldiers, draftees who would probably never see combat. 
The shadow of the "Ivy" 4th Infantry Divison never fell again 
over the woods it had left in Washington state. It turned over 
the Central Highlands to the 22d ARVN Division, and by De- 
cember had assumed a new posting near the foot of the Rockies 
at Fort Carson, Colorado. 

The "Tropic Lightning" 25th Infantry Division gave its Cam- 
bodian border sector to the 25th ARVN Division and went back 
to its halcyon Hawaiian station. There Schofield Barracks pa- 
tiently waited for its return from the latest of three overseas 
wars. The 199th Infantry Brigade, formed in the dust and heat 
of the big Vietnam buildup, reappeared at Fort Benning, Geor- 
gia, like a denizen. Its flag was folded up and its combat jour- 
nals, faded with the sun and mildew of a thousand days of pa- 
trolling the rice paddies around Saigon, were sent to the 
underground records vaults at Suitland, Maryland. 

The last brigade of the 9th Infantry Division returned and 
passed into temporary oblivion. Later the Army would reraise 
the 9th at Fort Lewis, Washington, but time had molded a new 
Army filled with volunteer men and women on the leading edge 
of modern warfare concepts. The 9th would become an ad- 
vanced test bed as the first Army High Technology Light Di- 
vision. Its Vietnam days of riverine combat and sniper teams 
seemed as ancient as the Union riverine expeditions of the 
Cumberland River during the Civil War. The 7th and 26th Ma- 
rine Regimental Landing Teams also came home in 1970, the 
latter to be scrubbed and the former to assume a new role in 
national defense. It relocated to Panama in mid-1972 as the first 
Marine regiment outside the United States in the post-Vietnam 
era. 

For those units that remained, the war was typified by pro- 
tective security and static defensive missions as levels of combat 
throughout the country dropped off and more South Vietnamese 
units assumed offensive field operations. These military tasks in- 
cluded guarding installations, towns, and roads. However, many 
troop units were still actively engaged in high-intensity combat 



348 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



sweeps and mobile reconnaissance efforts to detect NVA/VC forces 
before they could reach such areas. Infantry and tank forces were 
backed up by an array of artillery, tactical airpower, and massed 
B-52 bombing raids which could deliver overwhelming concen- 
trations of firepower on any threatened battlefield. 

The American Army of 1970 in Vietnam was unraveling like 
the war around it, and morale and discipline were steadily de- 
teriorating. With the loss of offensive combat missions, units were 
withdrawn into enclaves on the coast or into populated areas 
where they began processing for return to the United States. 
Boredom and corruption manifested themselves in increased crime 
rates, drug use, and racial tension. The Army tried to ease 
problems with a more tolerant attitude toward troop concerns. 
The previous seven-day rest and recreation (R & R) vacations 
to selected Oriental and Australian cities, permitted once during 
a combat tour, were extended to two weeks and included visits 
to the United States. 

The front-line soldiers of the 1970 Army in Vietnam were 
still tough, young, and lean. The Army did not experience 
breakdowns in unit cohesion until the final withdrawal period 
of 1971-72. The Cambodian incursion, as predicted, gave a re- 
newed sense of purpose to the soldiers. There they could be 
seen advancing with M60 machine guns strapped over their 
shoulders to hang at hip-level, their jungle fatigue shirts open 
in the sweltering heat to expose fashionable peace beads or re- 
ligious chains dangling across chests caked in dust and polished 
with sweat, with cut-down "bush hats" crunched over long hair 
that was tolerated as a front-line privilege. Line units were com- 
posed of men in excellent fighting trim, who exhibited great 
courage, resourcefulness, and dedication. Their insular unit 
scoffing (Electric Strawberry instead of Tropic Lightning, or 
Puking Buzzards instead of Screaming Eagles) turned to fierce 
fraternal pride when they were confronted by outsiders. Since 
Vietnam was a "frontless" area war, many soldiers outside the 
traditional combat branches shared the deep pride of battle-tested 
loyalty, from truck drivers in the long-haul convoys to signalmen 
on remote mountaintop relay sites. Perhaps some of the most 
dangerous duty during the war was that performed by advisors, 
combat engineers, and explosive ordnance disposal teams. 



A CHANGING WAR 349 



However, overall Army combat efficiency was continuing to 
slip compared to its record of performance prior to 1969. Added 
to the adverse impact generated by personnel discontinuity and 
loss of battle experience as a result of the one-year tour limit, 
was the ugly stain of combat disobedience. In the elite 1st Cav- 
alry Division (Airmobile), a unit carefully nurtured by the 90th 
Replacement Battalion to represent the better side of soldiering, 
there had been thirty-five instances during 1970 of refusal to 
fight. Some had involved entire units. 

The ingredient necessary to check the Army's decline, good 
leadership, was conspicuously absent. Senior officer attention was 
on the latest buzzword: Vietnamization. During the years of troop 
buildup and big battles, the prestige and promotions inherent 
in American unit assignments had taken many good officers and 
sergeants away from advisor duty. By 1970, however, the em- 
phasis was back on the advisory role as the crucial instrument 
of Vietnamization. Army advisors were being assigned in in- 
creasing numbers to modernize all facets of the ARVN struc- 
ture, from line battalions to logistical training schools. The 
American Army was competing for the same leadership re- 
sources, but coming in second behind the Army of the Republic 
of Vietnam. 




The site of the Viet Cong raid on the ambush position set out by the 
1st Battalion, 2d Infantry, on March 9, 1969. (Author's Collection) 




Aerial view of Phu Hoa Dong village which was cordoned off by the 
1st Infantry Division during September 15-26, 1969, and discussed in 
Chapter 20. (Authors Collection) 




Armored Personnel Carriers from the llth Armored Cavalry push to- 
ward Snoul inside Cambodia, spearheaded by M551 Sheridan recon- 
naissance vehicles. (U.S. Army) 




The llth Armored Cavalry Regiment rolls into Snoul against scattered 
resistance on May 5, 1970. (U.S. Army) 




fp^p**.. *<y.;;T^ /,! ', ^_;",_ . jt ..%!.'. \*ii* 



Fire Support Base Ripcord, the beleaguered 101st Airborne Division 
artillery base finally abandoned to the North Vietnamese Army on July 
23, 1970. (Author's Collection) 



' 




Typical late-war fire support base of the 101st Airborne Division in 
Military Region 1 of Vietnam's rugged interior. These came to rep- 
resent the final static bastions of American combat presence in that 
country. (Author's Collection) 




S^iaP 



Buddhist religious rites bless new 175mm guns before they are added 
to the arsenal of the 1st ARVN Division on November 15, 1971. (Au- 
thor's Collection) 




United States Army instructors supervise basic training of South Viet- 
namese Regional Force soldiers at Cat Lai. (U.S. Army) 



CHAPTER 22. 



AN ARMY DEPARTS THE 

WAR 



1. Into Laos 

The destruction of the Cambodian dumps had already paid 
handsome dividends in lowered NVA activity level throughout 
Military Region 3, and MACV was now planning a Parthian shot 
at an even bigger prize. In order to gain the most combat mile- 
age from remaining American formations, a hasty plan was thrown 
together using American aviation and artillery resources to bol- 
ster a South Vietnamese drive into the Laotian panhandle be- 
fore withdrawal made the U.S. supporting assets unavailable. A 
staged series of attacks would bring a powerful combined force 
to the Laotian border. From there the South Vietnamese would 
drive across to destroy stockpiles of war materials being staged 
in the Tchepone vicinity. 

The chance for success seemed bright, and a swift blow to 
NVA war stocks accumulated in Laos would also bring increased 
combat experience and confidence to the South Vietnamese mil- 
itary. Planners were optimistic that this thrust, like the Cam- 
bodian incursion, would be lightly opposed. Since vehicles and 
aircraft required dry season conditions, and American withdraw- 
als would leave little left by next dry season, nothing could be 
postponed. The rush impelled by impending American depar- 
ture, coupled with the desire for secrecy, gave units extremely 

350 



AN ARMY DEPARTS THE WAR 351 



short fuses for planning purposes. When the South Vietnamese 
went onto Laotian soil, for the first time American advisors would 
not be on the ground with them. Since the advisors were the 
conduits of essential air support, Vietnamese military interpret- 
ers were placed in each forward air control team and center. 

The plan called for the Americans to open Route 9 to the 
border. A South Vietnamese armored drive would then roll down 
Route 9 toward Tchepone. Inside Laos, the dirt road followed 
the east-west Xe Pon River through a narrow valley littered with 
boulders and rocky outcroppings and hemmed in by high, jun- 
gled mountains. The flanks of the road advance were to be cov- 
ered by a number of airmobile, leapfrogging fire support bases 
to be established by South Vietnamese paratroopers helicop- 
tered on the north side, and airmobile infantry paralleling the 
road to the south. An abundance of American airlift and aerial 
fire support, as well as the reinforced 108th Artillery Group, 
was made available. 1 

While no specific mention was made of termination dates, 
it was generally understood that the ARVN troops would scour 
the area and clean out caches until the start of the rainy season 
in early May. Tchepone was only an intermediate objective, be- 
cause a further advance would be necessary to actually reach 
the main North Vietnamese logistical complexes. Serious resis- 
tance was not expected; if fighting was required, the terrain past 
Tchepone meant pushing uphill through dense jungle and thorny 
bamboo thickets against probable bunker lines. 

The preliminary phase was the American Operation DEWEY 
CANYON II, designed to make Route 9 passable for heavy traffic 
all the way to the Laotian frontier. In the predawn darkness of 
January 30, the mechanized 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division, 
moved an armored cavalry-engineer task force down the road- 
way toward Khe Sanh. A dozer led the column with its head- 



1. The U.S. ground forces engaged in direct support of LAM SON 719 were 
the 108th Artillery Group (four battalions); 45th Engineer Group (two bat- 
talions); 101st Airborne Division with 3d Brigade reinforced with an engineer 
task force, and 1st Brigade in reserve; 101st Aviation Group (six battalions); 
1st Brigade of the 5th Infantry Division reinforced with two mechanized, one 
cavalry, one tank, and one airmobile infantry battalions; and the llth Infantry 
Brigade of the Americal Division with two infantry battalions. 



352 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



lights on full beam. The column soon had large numbers of 14th 
Engineer Battalion soldiers tearing out obstacles and toiling over 
bridges and culverts. The brigade's infantry helicoptered into 
the Khe Sanh area after daybreak, while armored personnel car- 
riers of the 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry, raced up to reconnoiter 
the border. By February 5, the road was secured behind them. 

The engineers were also active hacking a secondary pioneer 
road from mountainside cliffs paralleling Route 9, which was 
nicknamed Red Devil Road. The brigade protected the tracked, 
self-propelled long-range guns of the 108th Artillery Group, which 
began moving toward their forward support sites. The 101st Air- 
borne Division (Airmobile) launched a feint assault into the 
dreaded A Shau Valley. The preliminary stage of the offensive 
was going extremely well, and signs were bright for a splendid 
confirmation of Vietnamization on the Laotian venture. 

At 7:00 A.M. on a misting February 8, 1971, after a massive 
artillery bombardment and eleven B-52 bombing missions, the 
cross-border attack began. The South Vietnamese armor rum- 
bled into Laos against light resistance, churning around the 
ditches and craters in the roadbed. American helicopters ranged 
the mountains destroying guns and vehicles. Helicopters of the 
158th Aviation Battalion with paratroopers of the ARVN Air- 
borne Division set down at their first landing zones, as the 223d 
Aviation Battalion carried in a regiment of the 1st ARVN Div- 
ision. Poor weather usually ruled out morning airlifts, but the 
drive was only lightly opposed, casualties were few, and the 
westward road march seized many of the initial objectives. 

Air cavalry in the meantime was inflicting massive damage 
on staging depots, weapons sites, and moving troop columns, 
but the nature of the territory and weather impeded target de- 
struction. The highly mobile and modern North Vietnamese an- 
tiaircraft system was very active and was causing considerable 
difficulties. Helicopter missions flew in the face of intensive air 
defense fire which demanded that even single resupply helicop- 
ters be escorted by armed gunships. Lt. Col. Robert F. Moli- 
nellf s 2d Squadron of the 17th Cavalry was soon spotting so 
many tanks that it was running out of ammunition before it could 
strike them all. On February 18, his helicopters exploded two 



AN ARMY DEPARTS THE WAR 353 



giant petroleum pipelines, sending balls of flame shooting high 
into the air. 

Then the outer flanks of the advance started to come under 
counterattack. The 39th ARVN Ranger Battalion was mauled in 
a savage battle on February 19, and fire support bases were 
subjected to heavy antiaircraft, artillery, and rocket fire. Tank- 
supported North Vietnamese infantry stormed Fire Support Base 
Delta in another violent attack on February 25, and all dreams 
of easy conquest quickly faded. It was going to be a hard fight. 
South Vietnamese morale was still high as the offensive contin- 
ued to grind toward Tchepone, With ARVN troops grimly hang- 
ing on to the outer fire bases, and combat sharply escalating, it 
was decided to slam into Tchepone before momentum was lost. 
On March 3, a battalion of the 1st ARVN Division was air-as- 
saulted into a landing zone near Tchepone with the loss of eleven 
helicopters shot down and forty-four more hit by ground fire. 
Three days later the 2d ARVN Regiment airmobiled into the 
ruined ghost town of Tchepone, but there was only sporadic 
gunfire. 

Good flying weather and further discoveries of several sup- 
ply caches presented good reasons for the ARVN units to search 
out the area, but they were ready to leave on March 7. The 
determined North Vietnamese defense ruled out further ad- 
vances toward the supply belt of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Sus- 
tained artillery barrages were already threatening the continued 
existence of several fire support bases, and there were signs of 
more NVA reserves massing to counterattack. Since Tchepone 
had been reached, President Thieu could claim political victory. 

One of the most difficult tactical maneuvers in war is orderly 
withdrawal under heavy enemy pressure. This is the true mark 
of a professional army, but the quickest undoing of an unfin- 
ished one. Vietnamization had come too fast, with too little 
foundation, ever to give the South Vietnamese military a chance 
at executing an organized pullback under such perilous circum- 
stances, The withdrawal became a disorderly retreat, and finally 
collapsed into an uncontrolled rout. The fate of rear guards was 
typified by the early experience of a 1st ARVN Infantry Regi- 
ment battalion annihilated along the river while engaged in a 



354 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



covering assignment. As spirits plunged, other units fought less 
well, or simply ran away. 

The March 19 ambush of an armored convoy on the road 
set panic in motion. Tanks, engineer equipment, and artillery 
howitzers were abandoned. Helicopter gunships were desper- 
ately called in to destroy the vehicles before they fell into North 
Vietnamese hands. The Vietnamese armor was too restricted by 
terrain to maneuver adequately, and suffered the devastating 
consequences. The next day U.S. fighter-bombers, B-52 stra- 
tegic bombers, and helicopter gunships made thousands of sor- 
ties into the skies to lend all possible support. One battalion of 
the 2d ARVN Regiment was lifted out, but twenty-eight of the 
forty helicopters were damaged in its extraction. Plans to lift out 
another regimental battalion were aborted when the first heli- 
copter was exploded making the approach. 

The VNMC battalions were hanging on to several fire bases 
by their fingernails, and only the heroics of Army helicopters of 
the 14th Aviation Battalion kept them supplied with ammuni- 
tion. Route 9 was now littered with abandoned vehicles, and 
the fleeing armored force had to break jungle to get back into 
Vietnam. The "elite" ARVN Airborne Division, the showpiece 
of Vietnamization, performed so miserably that it not only lost 
key fire bases, but utterly failed in its flank security mission on 
the way out. The Vietnamese Marines abandoned several critical 
areas after halfhearted resistance, and were unable to control 
their elements. Panic seized several marines and paratroopers 
defending bases to the rear, and Army helicopters became 
mobbed. 

Only the bold, decisive use of American air power enabled 
the South Vietnamese forces to reach Tchepone and get back. 
Helicopters provided cover overhead, resupplied ammunition, 
and retrieved survivors by flying through a wall of flak. In the 
process, ninety-two aircraft were lost and over six hundred dam- 
aged. Twenty-five Commando Vault bombs were used to break 
up NVA troop concentrations and to cut landing zones. 

For the Saigon regime, the projected victory of LAM SON 
719 turned out to be a sour defeat, exposing grave deficiencies 
in planning, organization, leadership, motivation, and opera- 
tional expertise. The absence of calm, reasoned leadership can- 



AN ARMY DEPARTS THE WAR 355 



celed the tactical proficiency and gallant service of some indi- 
vidual ARVN units. Operation LAM SON 719 was a dismal failure 
that boded poorly for future encounters with the able NVA light 
infantry and tanks. Vietnamization had not brought the South 
Vietnamese military to the point where it could safely challenge 
NVA-defended base territory. 

2. "Dynamic Defense" 

The Laotian offensive of 1971, like the Cambodian incursion 
of 1970, dominated the military history of the year. MACV con- 
tained fifty-four American infantry and tank battalions when the 
year started, but most of these would shortly stand down in an 
exit posture. 2 Most of its 330,648 Army soldiers and 25,394 Ma- 
rines would spend the year helping prepare their units for the 
KEYSTONE series of redeployment operations. Only the unit 
flags were being sent home in most cases; a lot of closeout pa- 
perwork and equipment and property to be transferred to the 
South Vietnamese remained. 

Throughout 1971 there was little action inside South Viet- 
nam as the withdrawal continued. Some hunting expeditions were 
managed by the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) against NVA 
forces in the rugged Vietnamese frontier regions, but the latter 
remained too evasive for meaningful contact. The NVA units were 
still suffering from the combined Cambodian-Laotian shocks and 
making only a few highly selective rocket and mortar attacks. 
In Military Region 3, American contacts with the NVA were 
fleeting, except for encounters against bunker complexes, and it 
was obvious the NVA was avoiding Americans as a matter of 
policy. 

MACV stretched remaining combat assets through the final 
years of American redeployment by implementing another im- 
portant strategic change. The area warfare concept of "tactical 

2. Major U.S. forces in Vietnam in January 1971 were the 1st Cavalry Di- 
vision (Airmobile), 23d Infantry (Americal) Division, 101st Airborne Division 
(Airmobile), 1st Marines, 5th Marines, 1st Brigade of the 5th Infantry Divi- 
sion (Mechanized), 2d Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, 173d Airborne 
Brigade, llth Armored Cavalry Regiment, 5th Special Forces Group (Air- 
borne), and three separate battalions: 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry; 3d Squad- 
ron, 5th Cavalry; and 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry, 



356 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



areas of responsibility" was modified. These had always diluted 
available U.S. assets by requiring constant sweeping and pa- 
trolling of large slices of countryside. The campaign plan of 1971 
gave American commanders "tactical areas of interest" instead, 
which allowed them to focus on specific trouble spots. Vietnam- 
ization enabled territorial forces and ARVN line units to assume 
wider defense responsibilities in the larger regions assigned to 
the remaining Army and Marine units. The American soldiers 
noticed the change as their formerly far-ranging patrols were 
scaled down, and more South Vietnamese troops became visible 
stalking the brush. 

After the LAM SON 719 campaign, the 101st Airborne Div- 
ision (Airmobile) gradually disengaged from direct contact with 
North Vietnamese Army units in the jungled western regions, 
in consonance with the decreasing combat role of U.S. units. 
The division was actively engaged in Operation JEFFERSON 
GLENN, a long-term effort which had begun in September of 
1970. Three battalions established a series of fire bases around 
the coastal lowlands of Thua Thien Province. At the end of July, 
the operation was renamed OPORD 13-70, and it was termi- 
nated on October 8, 1971, as the last major American ground 
combat operation. 

The main scope of ground activity for U.S. units was con- 
centrated in patrolling and sweeping the rocket belts of various 
critical installations. Rocket belts were strips of land from which 
the NVA/VC could launch barrages into the cities. This security 
role was dubbed "dynamic defense" by the Army, and by the 
end of the year all U.S. formations had been phased into this 
new mission near critical installation complexes. 

In early March, the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) of- 
ficially returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Most of its per- 
sonnel actually remained in South Vietnam. They were ab- 
sorbed into a number of special units raised quickly to train the 
latest foreign army (from Cambodia), and continued conducting 
reconnaissance missions and raids under MACV's special oper- 
ations group. 

The "Blackhorse" llth Armored Cavalry Regiment began 
preparations to leave South Vietnam in the first week of Feb- 
ruary and departed during March. The 14th Armored Cavalry 



AN ARMY DEPARTS THE WAR 357 



Regiment, on German frontier duty, was retitled as the new 
llth, now oriented toward "modern" urban and mechanized 
warfare. By 1971 the Army had begun readjusting all its training 
and emphasis back toward the traditional European battlefield. 
It was rapidly extricating itself from Southeast Asia and seeking 
a return to the former worldwide responsibilities and status it 
had enjoyed prior to the big Vietnam buildup in 1965. How- 
ever, the disengagement was made with great difficulty. 

The Army had become extremely permissive as it tried to 
cope with changing societal attitudes, and standards of soldier- 
ing eroded proportionately. In Vietnam serious disciplinary 
problems resulted in disintegrating unit cohesion and opera- 
tional slippages. In the field, friendly fire accidents became more 
prevalent as more short rounds and misplaced fire were caused 
by carelessness. There was an excessive number of "accidental" 
shootings and promiscuous throwing of grenades, some of which 
were deliberate fraggings aimed at unpopular officers, sergeants, 
and fellow enlisted men. Redeploying units gave vent to years 
of frustration as their speeding army vehicles tore down the fre- 
quently ambushed highways, shooting and hurling rocks, cans, 
and insults at the Vietnamese alongside the roads. 

Widespread breakdowns in troop discipline forced the mil- 
itary police into a front-line role serving as assault troops against 
other soldiers. These actions were typified by two instances. 
Composite military police Whiskey Mountain Task Force was 
engaged in a rather spectacular standoff on September 25, 1971. 
Fourteen soldiers of the 35th Engineer Group had barricaded 
themselves in a bunker and were holding out with automatic 
weapons and machine guns. A homemade explosive device was 
exploded in the rear of the bunker, and all fourteen surrendered 
and were treated for wounds. Chinook helicopters had them in 
Long Binh Stockade the next day. A month later, on October 
27, 1971, another military police strike force air-assaulted onto 
the Praline Mountain signal site near Dalat. Two fragmentation 
grenades had been used in an attempt to kill the company com- 
mander two nights in a row. Initial escorts had proved insuffi- 
cient protection, and military police had to garrison the moun- 
taintop for a week until order was restored. 

MACV launched its Drug Abuse Counteroffensive in the 



358 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



summer of 1971. On June 17, President Nixon announced that 
the military effort in the drug program, as part of the national 
effort, would include the identification of heroin users in Viet- 
nam, By early July, Army sampling surveys disclosed high usage 
rates in many Vietnam-based units. Drug Treatment or Reha- 
bilitation centers were established in all regions. On July 7, the 
Army began testing units rotating back to the United States, 
and on August 1 expanded the testing to cover amphetamines 
and barbiturates. A secure drug abuse holding center was placed 
into operation at Long Binh on September 24 for recidivist drug 
abusers. 

The military police were soon stretched thin guarding the 
facilities. For example, on June 21, the 6th Convalescent Center 
established a Drug Treatment Center at Cam Ranh Bay. By mid- 
August, the 97th Military Police Battalion had to be reinforced, 
and finally the separate 127th Military Police Company was per- 
manently assigned. It was charged with protecting the lives of 
volunteer patients and medical staffers, preventing the entry of 
drugs and other contraband, stopping unlawful exits prior to de- 
toxification, and maintaining order at the center. Static guard 
posts had to be manned along all fence lines, and police ar- 
maments at gate entrances were increased to shotguns and sub- 
machine guns. The company guarded messing areas, occupied 
patient wards at night, and built a separation ward with one- 
and two-man cells. 

Lowered troop morale and discipline were manifested in in- 
creased crime, racial clashes, mutinous disregard of orders, anti- 
war protests, and monetary corruption in black market currency 
exchanges, as well as drug use. At the same time, some units 
tightened control and actually improved combat efficiency. The 
separate 2d Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, and the two with- 
drawing brigades of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), con- 
tinued to function brilliantly from February through March, up 
to the very day of their withdrawal from the jungle to their base 
camps for stand-down. In the last nine days before stand-down, 
with every man in the battalion knowing the exact date, the 1st 
Battalion of the 5th Cavalry fought fifteen skirmishes with the 
NVA. 

The 2d Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division rejoined its 



AN ARMY DEPARTS THE WAR 359 



parent division on Hawaii in April, the same month that the 
bulk of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) departed for Fort 
Hood, Texas. There the famed First Team was transformed into 
a test "triple capability" (Tricap) division composed of a mix of 
armor, helicopters, and infantry. The division left behind the 
very large seven thousand-man 3d Brigade in Vietnam, which 
became separately assigned to II Field Force, Vietnam, on the 
last day of March (passing to direct U.S. Army, Vietnam, con- 
trol on April 14, 1971). It was charged with operational security 
of northeastern Military Region 3, encompassing the arc of Binh 
Tuy, Long Khanh, and Phuoc Tuy provinces around Xuan Loc. 

The NVA was already stepping up activity in Military Region 
1. A devastating 122mm rocket bombardment pulverized Fire 
Support Base Charlie 2 in Quang Tri Province, causing a large 
number of U.S. losses. Three separate attacks were made against 
Da Nang during the first week in June, accentuating the re- 
duced security following the final departure of the 1st Marine 
Division. The first major Army unit to deploy from the region 
was the 1st Brigade of the 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), 
at Quang Tri just south of the DMZ. It was notified on June 
12, 1971, that it was going home and immediately began the 
difficult job of disengaging while still subject to front-line action 
against the NVA. Hard work and close scheduling enabled it to 
make a smooth break from combat and to transfer over one 
hundred miles to Da Nang for exit from Vietnam by the end of 
August. The new 3d ARVN Division, formed in October, took 
over its sector. The brigade rejoined its parent division, which 
had moved to Fort Polk, Louisiana. 

The unfortunate Americal Division was folded down in Viet- 
nam at the end of November, still in disgrace over its latest 
fiasco, the Fire Support Base Mary Ann incident, with its com- 
manding general and several other officers being recommended 
for punitive action. Fire Support Base Mary Ann had been hit 
on March 22, 1971, southwest of Tarn Ky in Quang Tin Prov- 
ince. The 196th Infantry Brigade's 1st Battalion of the 46th In- 
fantry failed to safeguard the perimeter, enabling fifty North 
Vietnamese Army soldiers to overrun the outpost. They roamed 
through the fire base, destroying one 155mm howitzer and dam- 
aging another, throwing satchel charges in the command bunker, 



360 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



knifing Americans in their sleeping bags, and wrecking the com- 
munications equipment. They killed and wounded nearly half 
the 250 soldiers there, who got only ten in exchange because 
they were cringing in their bunkers. After the defeat, the acting 
battalion commander flew into a rage and had five NVA bodies 
burned in the trash dump. General Westmoreland personally 
took over the investigation and found there was clear dereliction 
of duty, lax defensive posture with officers not in charge. Army 
Secretary Resor took formal disciplinary action against six offi- 
cers, including the division and assistant division commanders. 

For most of the year the Americal's llth Infantry Brigade 
continued dynamic defense operations in conjunction with the 
2d ARVN Division. During August it attempted to locate the 
Quang Ngai VC provincial headquarters without success. At the 
same time, the division's 198th Infantry Brigade was placed in 
a dynamic defense status inside the rocket belt area around Chu 
Lai. The 196th Infantry Brigade was selected to occupy the area 
adjacent to Da Nang, which had been vacated by III Marine 
Amphibious Force early in the year. 

The Americal Division was so jinxed that it could not even 
turn over its huge Chu Lai base to the 2d ARVN Division with- 
out severe damage. The base camp took the brunt of Typhoon 
Hester on October 23. The surprise storm was the worst ex- 
perienced by Vietnam in twenty-seven years. It flattened half 
the buildings and destroyed the airfield "typhoon-proof" han- 
gars, along with most of the divisional helicopters. These had 
been desperately needed by the llth Aviation Group. Once the 
Americal Division was shut down, XXIV Corps chose to retain 
the 196th Infantry Brigade as a separate dynamic defense guard 
force for the Da Nang rocket belt. 

In Military Region 2, "The Herd" 173d Airborne Brigade, 
left the country in August and was inactivated in January of 1972. 
This elite formation, retained as a fully qualified paratrooper unit 
throughout its Vietnam service, had long represented the best 
in American fighting spirit. It had been the first Army combat 
brigade into the country, and its departure hastened the real- 
ization that the American Army was in full retreat from the 
Vietnam War. 



AN ARMY DEPARTS THE WAR 361 



3. An Army Retreats 

A major three-pronged, six-divisional North Vietnamese in- 
vasion was made into South Vietnam at the end of March 1972, 
and became known as the Nguyen Hue Offensive. It raged 
through Quang Tri Province, smashed into Kontum, and stabbed 
toward Saigon. The Battle of Quang Tri itself commenced on 
April 27, and by May 1 most U.S. advisors were evacuated by 
helicopter, although eighteen elected to stay with their South 
Vietnamese units. Quang Tri was taken later that evening, and 
the entire province was in NVA hands the following day. While 
U.S. Marine and Army helicopters saw extensive action, and 
American installations at Da Nang were severely rocketed, U.S. 
ground forces were prohibited from participation. The 196th In- 
fantry Brigade was rushed up to reinforce Phu Bai and Tan My, 
but it was not in good disciplinary shape. Morale was low, and 
on April 12 a company of its 2d Battalion, 1st Infantry, refused 
to conduct a patrol into the hills around Phu Bai. Finally, after 
a lot of pleading and cajoling, the company conducted its mis- 
sion. 

The shattered 3d ARVN Division was rebuilt at Phu Bai as 
the 1st ARVN Division counterattacked into Quang Tri Province 
on May 5. The ARVN Marine Division conducted amphibious 
and airmobile insertions, and by the first week in July the ARVN 
Airborne Division had reached Quang Tri city. A prolonged bat- 
tle ensued, with organized NVA resistance inside the Quang Tri 
Citadel finally crushed by South Vietnamese paratroopers and 
marines on September 15. The North Vietnamese had still gained 
a considerable chunk of territory south of the DMZ and retained 
possession of Dong Ha and the old Marine Route 9 defensive 
lines. 

The North Vietnamese also won a major victory in the Kon- 
tum Battles and entrenched their forces in the northern Central 
Highlands. The NVA offensive northwest of Saigon had been 
blunted during the three-month siege of An Loc. The main as- 
sault on An Loc, May 10-15, was broken by massed American 
B-52 and tactical air strikes and helicopter gunships. Losses had 
been heavy, and Brig. Gen. Richard J. Tallman was killed by 



362 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



artillery there July 9, while visiting to finalize plans for relieving 
the 5th ARVN Division with the 18th ARVN Division. 

The U.S. Army continued to pull out throughout the midst 
of the Nguyen Hue Offensive, and it was apparent that Wash- 
ington now considered the war a Vietnamese affair. The 
"Screaming Eagles" 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), began 
its redeployment from Vietnam in November of 1971 and closed 
rapidly out of Da Nang just prior to the NVA invasion. The 
division formed a self-sufficient security force to cover its own 
withdrawal. This "roll-up force" turned over Camp Eagle and 
outlying protective firebases to the 1st ARVN Division and hur- 
riedly passed through Phu Bai. The division was reduced to one 
color-bearing battalion-sized increment, which departed Viet- 
nam in March and returned to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. 

Most of the men from the 101st Airborne Division were ac- 
tually sent south to the separate 3d Brigade of the 1st Cavalry 
Division. During January and February that brigade absorbed 
an average of five hundred soldiers a week and pushed them 
through its Combat Training Center, regardless of "bush time," 
for shipment to field units. The unit was still seeing some scat- 
tered action. On January 3, 1972, in a skirmish northeast of Xuan 
Loc, the airmobile cavalry reaction force, gunships, and medical 
evacuation helicopters all received heavy fire. Later that month 
the brigade was tapered to five thousand men and relinquished 
control of its operational area to the 18th ARVN Division. The 
1st Cavalry Division's 3d Brigade was assigned the dynamic de- 
fense mission of securing the critical Bien Hoa-Long Binh-Sai- 
gon rocket belt. 

The United States had been engaged in secret negotiations 
to end the war since August 1969, a period marked by increased 
governmental stress on the urgency of disengagement and the 
general decline of the American Army. President Nixon made 
these negotiations public on January 25, 1972, and remaining 
Army combat elements were hastened out of Vietnam. The 3d 
Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division departed on June 26, only 
a week past the resumption of the Paris discussions to end the 
war. The 196th Infantry Brigade in the northern part of the 
country was closed down three days later. Both left small gar- 
rison battalions which redeployed that August. The 3d Battalion 



AN ARMY DEPARTS THE WAR 363 



of the 21st Infantry and the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry, 
which departed within a day of each other, thus happened to 
be the last American infantry battalions to serve in Vietnam. 

The 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry remained in Vietnam 
until August 22, 1972. On that day the battalion colors were 
carefully furled and placed on an outbound plane for Texas. The 
flag was draped with campaign streamers harking all the way 
back to a hot summer day in June of 1876 when its troopers 
had fallen at the Little Big Horn River during Custer's Last 
Stand. Intermingled with the dazzling array of multi-colored rib- 
bons representing its service in a half dozen wars, were five 
silken blue Presidential Unit Citation streamers awarded for 
highest valor on the battlefield, One was embroidered simply 
PLEIKU PROVINCE, 23 OCTOBER-26 NOVEMBER 1965. 
The band of silk represented the terror-filled, searing tropical 
day when Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore's cavalrymen hurled back 
wave after wave of NVA infantry at Landing Zone X-Ray in the 
la Drang Valley of the Central Highlands one of the first big 
battles fought so valiantly by a rising American Army. 

The Paris Agreement, designed to settle the war, was signed 
January 27, 1973. Accordingly, all American Army presence in 
Vietnam was terminated at the end of March. Two years later 
a major NVA invasion overran the south, and the Republic of 
Vietnam ceased to exist as a nation on April 30, 1975. 

4. Conclusion 

In 1965, twenty years after the great allied victories of World 
War II, and just ten years after checking the advance of a hos- 
tile army into South Korea, the United States committed its 
regular ground forces to safeguard an ally in Southeast Asia. 

The Regular Army and Marine Corps of 1965 represented 
the active tip of a much larger potential national ground military 
machine. Behind this battle-ready crust of front-line forces were 
the National Guard and Reserve components, which had been 
programmed to provide the necessary round-out and backup in 
case of war. While the latter did not represent the instant fight- 
ing capability of the main force armed forces, they were counted 
on to serve as a training base in case of required expansion and 
to provide certain critical support elements. 



364 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



The United States government, for domestic political rea- 
sons, never mass -mobilized its reserves to fulfill this intended 
role. The country's active armed forces were sent into Vietnam 
and forced to expand quickly to meet the increasing require- 
ments for more troops. The resulting rapid expansion placed such 
severe strain on limited technical, logistical, and leadership per- 
sonnel, that the American Army became seriously impaired in 
its ability to carry out its combat missions. 

The American Army of 1965 was headstrong with confi- 
dence, sharply honed to a lethal fighting edge by years of ser- 
vice on the brink of global war and national crises, and well 
equipped with modern weapons. Spearheaded by an elite Spe- 
cial Forces and advisory effort on the forefront of international 
"New Frontier" policies, it was eager to field-test its newly ac- 
quired wings of airmobility. When the armed forces were sent 
to South Vietnam they had the relatively limited, simple objec- 
tive of providing a shield of protection while the South Viet- 
namese Army was rebuilt. This initial military objective was ful- 
filled, and in 1968 and 1969 a rejuvenated ARVN reentered the 
main battlefield. 

Once in Vietnam, the American Army began to pursue a 
policy of defeating the NVA and VC forces throughout the coun- 
try. This objective was hampered by the territorial confines of 
the war, since United States ground forces were prohibited from 
striking outside South Vietnam's borders. The NVA and main 
force VC were able to escape battlefield annihilation and retain 
intact supply channels through their access to cross-border ma- 
neuver. This self-imposed restraint effectively negated any pos- 
sibility of conventional military victory. 

America's military objective in Vietnam was now directed to- 
ward defeat of the NVA/VC through combat attrition. This re- 
quired more and more battalions, which the armed forces could 
not provide without increased draft calls. In the meantime, the 
government failed to declare a war, minimizing the real emer- 
gency, or explain its goals in Vietnam to the American public. 
The draft system safeguarded the affluent from the burden of 
military service, and the Army increasingly came to represent 
the poorer and more disadvantaged segments of society. The 
Army's own expansion and its insistence on the luxury of elite 



AN ARMY DEPARTS THE WAR 365 



units diluted available leadership resources. Although logistically 
it never lacked for material goods, the inefficiency and cost sur- 
rounding their acquisition and distribution further sapped the 
Army's strength. 

Although the American Army was still winning battlefield 
victories, combat was bitter and difficult against what proved to 
be a resolute, determined opponent. The American military was 
fighting well below its potential as a result of several factors, 
one of which was the one-year combat tour policy. This led to 
constant unit discontinuity and lack of combat proficiency. Dur- 
ing 1967, the year of the big battles, the war was a standard 
contest being waged between national armies using conventional 
tactics. At the same time, policy planners in Washington con- 
tinued to misread battlefield reality. They remained mesmerized 
by "counterinsurgency," which had effectively been terminated 
with the large-scale introduction of NVA and U.S. divisions to 
the battlefront in the previous year. 

As a result of Tet-68, the American Army finally won a 
crushing ground victory and largely eliminated the local force 
VC as an effective military threat. However, the shock of the 
communist offensive further dismayed the American govern- 
ment and public, and the reaction against the war more than 
offset any allied military gains. General Abrams, the new MACV 
commander, gave up attrition and pursued a policy of phasing 
South Vietnamese units into American tactical areas of respon- 
sibility. With the exception of a few selected attack divisions, 
this fixed U.S. units in place and canceled responsive mobility. 

By 1969, the American Army had been ordered to start 
withdrawing its combat forces from the war. Vietnamization was 
introduced, a concept designed to turn the war over completely 
to the South Vietnamese. This process was accelerated regard- 
less of the consequences, and America's military sword which 
had been thrust so quickly into Southeast Asia became dulled 
and eroded. Morale and discipline caved in on an escalating ba- 
sis, and combat performance declined. In 1970, by the time 
America had finally decided to penetrate NVA/VC sanctuaries 
in Cambodia, concern over losses brought a halt to aggressive 
Army tactics. 

Vietnamization proceeded at a breakneck pace, and the South 



366 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Vietnamese Army was abandoned before it had a chance to 
properly assimilate American equipment and military doctrine, 
In the last years of the Army's retreat, its remaining forces were 
relegated to static security. The American Army's decline was 
readily apparent in this final stage. Racial incidents, drug abuse, 
combat disobedience, and crime reflected growing idleness, re- 
sentment, and frustration. Already the Army was looking toward 
a "modern volunteer army" to ease the many problems it placed 
squarely on the country's draft system. Actually, the draft for 
all its faults was not the culprit. Public dissatisfaction with the 
war was simply evident in its war machine, which was still a 
democratic institution reflecting national attitudes. 

The military was faced with a terrible nightmare, an army 
pinned in the muddy, fiery jungled rim of Asia which consumed 
its own uniformed masses from every one of its ramparts and 
bastions. In an effort to fuel wartime operations with the Reg- 
ular Army and Marine Corps alone, the preparedness of the pre- 
Vietnam Army to meet its overriding security obligations was 
sliced to the thinnest margins of national safety. Deprived of the 
anticipated skilled manpower base that the reserve components 
represented, the Pentagon swelled its thin ranks of regular troops 
beyond their ability to absorb the drafted multitudes, and un- 
dermined the overall readiness posture of the military. 

More and more battalions were fed into the Vietnam caul- 
dron until, by mid-1968, the entire United States armed forces 
were reduced to nearly worldwide combat ineffectiveness out- 
side the Vietnam theater itself. By that year in Europe, only 39 
percent of the 465 reporting units had a personnel readiness 
equal to even their deliberately diminished assigned capability. 
Within the eight major combat units posted to Germany, rapid 
personnel turnover and shortages of experienced officers and 
sergeants prevented four divisions from meeting minimum com- 
bat standards. The 3d Armored and 3d, 8th, and 24th Infantry 
Divisions were all woefully undermanned. Even more chilling 
was the secret December 31, 1968, pronouncement by United 
States Army Europe, that none of its major combat units had 
met their operational training readiness conditions for the sec- 
ond straight year. Yet the state of European defenses worsened 
with the withdrawal of the entire 24th Infantry Division, during 



AN ARMY DEPARTS THE WAR 367 



1969, in a desperate effort to reconstitute the Army strategic 
forces in the United States. 

The Korean front in 1968 sparked with flashfires of combat, 
but the 2d and 7th Infantry Divisions stationed there were des- 
perately short of soldiers. The former had to hold its assigned 
section of the Demilitarized Zone, but reinforced with the Ko- 
rean 98th Regimental Combat Team, a Special Forces A-De- 
tachment, and a brigade from the 7th Infantry Division. I Corps 
had only five helicopters available for either training or opera- 
tions. The 7th Infantry Division, bolstered by a rotational com- 
pany of Royal Thai troops, was rated by the Army as only mar- 
ginally combat ready. 

In the United States itself, the Vietnam war had reduced all 
active military formations to understrength holding containers 
for Vietnam returnees, or tropical combat schooling mills. Ad- 
ditionally, all units were tasked with either actual riot duty or 
preparation. In June of 1968, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were forced 
to flunk every division and brigade on the continent with the 
lowest rating possible in all categories including personnel, 
training, and logistics, with the exception of the 82d Airborne 
Division (which had a brigade in Vietnam). The 1st and 2d Ar- 
mored Divisions, 5th and 6th Infantry Divisions, and 6th Ar- 
mored Cavalary Regiment were deemed unsuitable for combat- 
ant deployment. Army response had been stretched to the 
breaking point. The previous month a limited reserve mobili- 
zation brought the 29th and 69th Infantry Brigades onto active 
duty in Hawaii and Colorado respectively. Both had to be ex- 
tensively retrained, verifying the length of lead time and orderly 
processing required to transform reserve components into sat- 
isfactory line units. 

The dangerous drawdown on American global military ca- 
pability was a calculated risk which also impacted on the Viet- 
nam battlefield. The rapid deployment of fresh brigades, formed 
in haste without the proper training base that mobilization could 
have provided, directly impaired their combat performance. Most 
notably, the llth, 196th, 198th, and 199th Infantry Brigades and 
27th Marines had all suffered from inadequate preparation. 
Alarming personnel turbulence, critical shortfalls in leadership 
quantity and quality, and erosion of fighting skills were further 



368 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



manifestations of the same basic problem: the Regular Army and 
Marine Corps were extended far beyond their ability to wage 
and control a distant, full-scale war. 

The United States soldiers and Marines in Vietnam fought 
through some of the most difficult terrain in the world, and won 
some of the toughest encounters in American military history. 
However, they fought without benefit of the country's larger 
military machine programmed for their support in case of war. 
The Reserves and National Guard were notably absent in the 
Vietnam conflict. The magnificent courage and fighting spirit of 
the thousands of riflemen, aircraft and armored crewmen, can- 
noneers, engineers, signalmen, and service personnel could not 
overcome the fatal handicaps of faulty campaign strategy, incom- 
plete wartime preparation, and the tardy, superficial attempts at 
Vietnamization. An entire American army was sacrificed on the 
battlefield of Vietnam. When the war was finally over, the United 
States military had to build a new volunteer army from the 
smallest shreds of its tattered remnants. 





1 - An Giang 

2 - An Xuyen 

3 Ba Xuyen 

4 - Ban Lieu 

5 - Bien Hoa 

6 - Binh Dinh 

7 - Bing Duong 
8- Binh Long 
9 - Binh Thuan 

10-BinhTuy 
11 -Chau Doc 
12-Chuong Thien 

13 - Darlac 

14 - Dinh Tuong 
15-GiaDinh 
16 -Co Cong 
17-Hau Nghia 
18- Kien Giang 

19 - Kien Hoa 

20 - Kien Phong 

21 - Kien Tuong 

22 - Khanh Hoa 

Saigon 



Low U.S. military 
presence during war 



Medium U.S. military 
presence during war 



High U.S. military 
presence during war 

23 - Kontum 

24 - Lam Dong 

25 - Long An 

26 - Long Khanh 
27 -Ninh Thuan 

28 Phong Dinh 

29 Phu Bon 

30 Phu Yen 

31 Phuoc Long 

32 Phuoc Tuy 

33 - Pleiku 

34 Quang Due 

35 - Quang Nam 

36 - Quang Ngai 

37 - Quang Tin 

38 Quang Tri 

39 - Sa Dec 
40-Tay Ninh 

41 -Thua Thien 

42 - Tuyen Due 

43 - Vinh Binh 

44 - Vinh Long 



DMZ 



II Corps Tactical Zone 
IV Corps Tactical Zone 



IV Corps Tactical Zone 

25 50 75 




scale miles 

Map by Shelby L Stanton 



U.S. Military Presence in Vietnam 



scale miles 

Map by Shelby L Stanton 



***-*-* r 

Ben Hai River \ *^0 

IK// Dl 

r^!iA^ A 



South China Sea 




The DMZ Front 



\tf 

4 '~ & A -m oi *& "' ^>^V - 

a^^-^ s 'W 3?J*is& 

KSV-^Vl Taia, ^^^f 
L^ApBiaMtn (Hill 937) S &&. JitM , 
- v'HamburgerHill")-^^'^^^ 

V_W^ ^ 5 

A Shau S Valley i% * 

^^"X^sJ^N^cV 

J^V ^V-- _ ' ^^TL^^^s ^ C *&<*. * . *^ 

Lv^2 






Special 



r _1 %^ LAOS J^ VIETNAM 




South China Sea 



1 - MACV Compound 

2 - Mang Ca Compound 
3 -Imperial Palace 




Hue and the A Shau Valley 




An Hoa 



An Hoa Valley 



''/// v 

Route 534 



Khang River 
Tien Phuoc Special \ Forces camp 




Phuoc Ha-Que Son An Hoa Valleys 




Hon Giai 



South China Sea 




Map by Shelby L. Stanton 




la Drang Valley 



1 2d Brigade, 25th Infantry Division 

2 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment 

3 3d Brigade, 4th Infantry Division 

4 196th Infantry Brigade 



5 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division 

6 173d Airborne Brigade 

7 3d Brigade, 1st Infantry Division 



cM 



A JUNCTION CITY, PHASE I 
I JUNCTION CITY, PHASE II 



Forest-^- 
Boi Loi WK C ^kt^>^.r A 



N \ VamCo 

/ y *\ Parrot's \ Dong River 
Beak 




VIETNAM 
Map by Shelby L Stanton 



JUNCTION CITY and CEDAR FALLS 
(War Zone C and the Iron Triangle) 



1 J 173d Airborne 

3d Battalion, 8th Infantry 



| 3d Battalion, 12th Infantry 



/J\9th ARVN Airborne Battalion 



Dak To Special Forces camp 
Met Special Forces camp^\' 1 Jp* i |f ^ 




The Dak To Battlefield -1967 



Vietnamese Joint General Staff Compound 




The Saigon-Bien Hoa-Long Binh Ar 



Highway 1 




Khe Sanh Area and Lam Son 719 Offensive 



'' >y /L'~*' - . ". ,-!*"' ''-J,-' ~ "' * ","'''_, J? 

-'"J-".'- ^ jt> .:.' "jfr 
' i J.f - T' 
-Sir< . <- ; ^v -V ' 

^ 



&&&M:m^v^t 

"&ffiffi.^r T /:. r '" .*' ;-'rS . / " . r 'V^^-s!;::^ 

;J.- **?' r.<^',.' -' '. " ..-UL. r, ' , ' ^,'^^^r^!^ 



'j^y^s.-'--'-:?^-: 




^^^^mmmm 

ST^xx-'- 1 ' "'>.-' /:-;-;" ?;/,"':.-. -, . J ,f| 

V<. >^.-' fc . ' 4 " ,'. -' - ' ' ' T> - 

%^r^^:^^;^ 

'\^ ' -A 1 <"'^' 11 ... -'- :- ,.^-' /' " 

stSLt.tV^ ::/; Vu 1 >^ < ^ ;;-. -. 




. .-v 



>\;--^ i". <"'; ' ' -'--,^' : Aioui -/.v :;-.::".& 
lia \^"' v v> v;!/^ M jfflft-" : -'<^>/';-^-.i 
^ '>^\^ -^-^- T ,ali)-' : _ u;--.rr- 



-' .A 



* ^ %-:. 
1 '', "^ -s, >* -.- 

%J - \N :> " 



V\ 
,/\- 



, ^ 



i 



CAQ!A miiAO '-Sr^t-oo 1 ">/' "' !" '" ^- ' "?> ' Jfi'* <S'f 1 j' J '','' l "''-'.' /--' 't' 1 ".^ 

SCaie miles -.^^^^.V 1 ^^'^-- - -'/'',? /.;" ^> 1 . - -'-*"*! -j ^^fl- 

Map by Shelby L Stanton jrfjT^^jV',^,;^ ;;^,^ ' - .,' ,1 ; > ( - ^r', -$>$^ > '^^'*^ 

liiilif ^^ 

iv^-^l^^ 



1 - Hill 881 N 

2 . Hill 861 

3 . Hill 861 A 
4 -Hill 558 
5 -Hill 881 S 

g - Dong Tre Mountain 
7 . Hill 471 



ARVN Airborne Division 
| ARVN Ranger 



Vietnamese Marine Division 
1st ARVN Division 









Alnha : ' y-i-lBB/"^ -V-*.^"- _: -' Rrmte Q'Jk-'-'afl'-'-'J.y-'. J-' .- .": ^~ ~ - x 







Guide to Unit Organization and Terms 



This section briefly discusses the general pattern of United 
States ground force organization during the Vietnam War as a 
basic guide to some of the unit terms found in this book. 

The squad, which usually fielded five to ten soldiers in Viet- 
nam and was led by a sergeant, was the basic building block of 
the military infantry machine. Squad weapons ordinarily con- 
sisted of M16 rifles, pistols, and M79 grenade launchers. Weap- 
ons squads contained machine guns or heavier weapons, such 
as recoilless rifles. 

Ideally, there were four squads in each platoon (one of them 
a weapons squad), which was led by a lieutenant. Three rifle 
platoons and a weapons platoon composed the infantry com- 
pany, which was commanded by a captain or a lieutenant. Army 
rifle companies in Vietnam were authorized 164 men, but most 
operated at half this strength. As an exception to title, cavalry 
units retained the use of "troop" instead of "company," and ar- 
tillery used the word "battery." 

The Army infantry battalion in Vietnam was usually com- 
posed of four line companies (Companies A-D), a slightly smaller 
headquarters company, and one combat support company (Com- 
pany E). Battalions were commanded by lieutenant colonels and 
were authorized a total of 920 men. Most of the time they were 
lucky to have an assigned strength of five hundred, and not all 
of these would be present in the field. Again, cavalry retained 
the traditional title of "squadron" instead of "battalion." 

Marine battalions were part of regiments commanded by 
colonels, each regiment having three battalions. With one ex- 
ception (the armored cavalry regiments, consisting of three 
squadrons) there were no operational regiments in the Army 
during the Vietnam War. Army combat arms battalions had reg- 
imental associations, which permitted a continuation of heritage 
but the regimental designation in their titles was a matter oi 
honorary "paper" distinction. 

Army battalions were grouped into brigades, commanded by 
colonels. Brigades had from three to four battalions under them. 
Three Marine regiments or three Army brigades composed a 

369 



370 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



division, although there were several separate brigades, inde- 
pendent in their own right, which were commanded by briga- 
dier generals. 

The division was commanded by a major general. It had nine 
or ten battalions of infantry, four battalions of artillery, a re- 
connaissance cavalry squadron, a combat engineer battalion, and 
division support and aviation. Some divisions had brought their 
tank battalions with them to Vietnam; others had not. Divisions 
in Vietnam varied in size from fifteen to twenty-two thousand 
personnel, but most had around seventeen thousand soldiers. 
However, since only a fraction were actually line riflemen, their 
"foxhole strength" was very low in comparison. 

The two Army field forces, III Marine Amphibious Com- 
mand and XXIV Corps, were the higher headquarters that con- 
trolled these tactical formations in their respective regions of 
South Vietnam. They were commanded by lieutenant generals, 
and had large artillery and support assets under them. 

The U.S. Army Special Forces had a very complicated, unique 
structure in Vietnam. Basically its organization was tailored around 
a flexible combination of twelve-man (later fourteen-man) Op- 
erations Detachments A, or "A-teams," all the team members 
usually being sergeants or officers. 



Sources and Bibliography 

Primary Sources 

The majority of material for this book was compiled from the 
original documents of Vietnam-based American units, which are 
now housed in the Washington National Records Center, Suit- 
land, Maryland, by the General Archives Division of the U.S. 
National Archives and Records Service. The quarterly opera- 
tional reports, combat staff journals, command chronicles, and 
after action reports of major Army and Marine units were ex- 
amined. These are contained in Records Group 338 (Vietnam 
War: MACV/USARV records). To facilitate further research by 
interested readers, those original records used as principal sources 
are identified by their individual document accession codes and 
arranged by chapter and section. Published works listed below 
are also fully cited in Section 2, General Sources, Additionally, 
the mass of interviews and working papers prepared by the au- 
thor during the course of research for his Vietnam Order of Bat- 
tle (Washington: U.S. News Books, 1981) was extensively uti- 
lized. These notes and tapes are identified as Original Papers, 
Vietnam Order of Battle Project, 
Chapter 1. Section 1 

Principal sources used were Gen. Cao Van Vien et al., The 
U.S. Advisor, Indochina Monographs (Washington: U.S. Army 
Center of Military History, 1980); U.S. Military Assistance 
Command Vietnam RCS J3 Advisory Detachment, After Action 
Reports from Son Tinh District and III Corps Tactical Zone Senior 
Advisor, 1965; Department of the Army Pamphlet 550-55, Area 
Handbook for South Vietnam (Washington: Government Print- 
ing Office). 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were the 5th Special Forces Group 
Operational Briefing Narrative, "The Role of U.S. Army Special 
Forces in Vietnam," dtd 31 December 1965; Memorandum dtd 
22 April 1968, "Development of the CIDG Program, 1964- 1968," 
contained in 5th Special Forces Group, Operational Report, dtd 
15 May 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 682179; Col. Francis J. Kelly, 
U.S. Army Special Forces, 1961-1971, Vietnam Studies (Wash- 
ington: Department of the Army, 1973). 

371 



372 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Section 3 

Principal sources used were 5th Special Forces Group, Com- 
mand Report, dtd 15 January 1966, OACSFOR-OT-RD 65008, 
and Detachment B-52 Memorandum dtd 15 November 1965, 
Subject: Sequence of Events for Plei Me Operation for Period 
20-28 October 1965. 
Chapter 2. Section 1 

Principal sources used were 1st Logistical Command, Com- 
mand Report, dtd 15 July 1965, OACSFOR-OT-RD 650063; 
USARV, The Logistics Review, 1965-1969, Volumes I-VIII; Joint 
Logistic Review Board, Logistic Support in the Vietnam Era 
(Washington: Deputy Secretary of Defense, 1970), Volume II 
and Monographs 1-13; Lt. Col. William R. Fails, Marines and 
Helicopters (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 1978), Chapters 
2, 5, and 6; Original Papers, Vietnam Order of Battle Project. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were the Basic Study and Annexes 
A-J of Volumes I-IV, Army Strategic Mobility Requirements 
(Washington: Department of the Army, 1965); Thomas C. Thayer, 
editor, A Systems Analysis View of the Vietnam War (Washing- 
ton: Southeast Asia Intelligence Division, 1975), Volume 2; Of- 
fice of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, Study of the 12- 
Month Vietnam Tour, dtd 29 June 1970; USARV Report, Sum- 
mary of Lessons Learned, Volumes I and II, dtd 30 June/ 1966; 
Maj. Gen. George S. Eckhardt, Command and Control, Viet- 
nam Studies (Washington: Department of the Army, 1974), 
Chapter 3; Russell Weigley, The American Way of War (New 
York: Macmillan Co., 1973); BDM Corporation, A Study of 
Strategic Lessons Learned in Vietnam (McLean, Virginia: BDM, 
1980), Volumes III and VII; Gen. William C. Westmoreland and 
Adm. U.S.G, Sharp, Report on the War in Vietnam (As of 30 
June 1968) (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1968); 
Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, U.S. Army Training Base, 
1945-1971 (Washington: Department of the Army, 1971). 
Chapter 3. Section 1 

Principal sources used were A Chronology of the United States 
Marine Corps, 1965-1969 (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 
1971), Volume IV; Jack Shulimson and Maj. Charles M. John- 



SOURCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY 373 



son, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the Buildup 
(Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 1978), Part I. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were Jack Shulimson and Maj. Charles 
M. Johnson, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the 
Buildup (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 1978), Part I; De- 
fense Department, United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967 
(Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971), Volume 
4. 
Section 3 

Principal sources used were Jack Shulimson and Maj. Charles 
M. Johnson, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the 
Buildup (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 1978), Chapter 5; Fleet 
Marine Force Pacific, U.S. Marine Corps Forces in Vietnam, 
Volume I. 
Section 4 

Principal sources used were Jack Shulimson and Maj. Charles 
M. Johnson, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the 
Buildup (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 1978), Chapters 6 and 
7. 
Chapter 4. Section 1 

Principal sources used were Headquarters, Field Force Viet- 
nam, Command Report, dtd 14 January 1966, OACSFOR-OT- 
RD 650116; 173d Airborne Brigade, Operational Report for Pe- 
riod Ending 31 January 1966. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were Headquarters, 1st Brigade, 101st 
Airborne Division, Operational Report for Period Ending 31 
January 1966; Lt. Col. Albert N. Garland, editor, "Infantry in 
Vietnam'' (Fort Benning: Infantry Magazine, 1967), pp. 131-141; 
Field Force Vietnam, Command Report, dtd 14 January 1966; 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 660116. 
Section 3 

The principal source used was Headquarters, 1st Cavalry Di- 
vision, Quarterly Command Report, dtd 1 December 1965, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 650110. 
Section 4 

Principal sources used were Headquarters, 1st Cavalry Di- 



374 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



vision, Quarterly Command Report, dtd 10 January 1966, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 650109; and MACV Operations Report, Les- 
sons Learned 3-66: The Pleiku Campaign, dtd 10 May 1966. 
Chapter 5, Section 1 

Principal sources used were USARV, Operational Report, 
dtd 1 July 1966, OACSFOR-OT-RD 660114; USARV, Opera- 
tional Report, dtd 7 September 1966, OACSFOR-OT-RD 660546; 
USARV, Operational Report, dtd 10 February 1967, OACSFOR- 
OT-RD 660522; USARV, Operational Report, dtd 28 February 
1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 670243; Jack Shulimson, U.S. Marines 
in Vietnam: An Expanding War (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 
1982), Parts I and VII; MACV, Command History, 1966. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were Jack Shulimson, 17. S. Marines 
in Vietnam: An Expanding War (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 
1982), Chapter 1; Marine Corps History and Museums Division, 
The 1st Marine Division and Its Regiments (Washington: U.S. 
Marine Corps, 1981). 
Section 3 

The principal source used was 4th Infantry Division, Op- 
erational Report, dtd 22 December 1966, OACSFOR-OT-RD 
6604506. 
Section 4 

The principal source used was Headquarters, 199th Infantry 
Brigade, Lessons Learned, Operational Report for Quarterly Pe- 
riod Ending 31 January 1967, dtd 14 April 1967, OACSFOR- 
OT-RD 670222. 
Section 5 

The principal source used was Headquarters, 25th Infantry 
Division, Operational Report on Lessons Learned for the Period 
1 January 1966-30 April 1966, OACSFOR-OT-RD 660120. 
Section 6 

The principal source used was llth Armored Cavalry Regi- 
ment, Operational Report, dtd 31 October 1966, OACSFOR- 
OT-RD 660507; USARV, MACOV (Mechanized and Armor 
Combat Operations in Vietnam) Study, dtd 28 March 1967. 
Section 7 

The principal source used was Headquarters, 196th Infantry 



SOURCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY 375 



Brigade, Operational Report, dtd 8 March 1967 OACSFOR- 
OT-RD 660511, 
Section 8 

The principal source used was 9th Infantry Division, Op- 
erational Report, dtd 8 June 1967. 
Chapter 6. Section 1 

Principal sources used were Defense Department, United 
States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967 (Washington: Government 
Printing Office, 1971), Volume 5; Gen. William C. Westmore- 
land, A Soldier Reports (New York: Doubleday, 1976); BDM 
Corporation, A Study of Strategic Lessons Learned in Vietnam 
(McLean, Virginia: BDM, 1980), Volume VI; Col. Harry G. 
Summers, Jr., On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam 
War (Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1982); Gen. Dave R. 
Palmer, Summons of the Trumpet (Novato, California: Presidio 
Press, 1978); MACV, Command History, 1966; Original Papers, 
Vietnam Order of Battle Project. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were 1st Infantry Division, Funda- 
mentals of Infantry Tactics, dtd 1 February 1968, OACSFOR- 
OT-RD 682001; DA Operations Report 1-67, Observations of a 
Platoon Leader, dtd 30 January 1967; DA Operations Report 4- 
67, Observations of a Battalion Commander, dtd 7 June 1967; 
DA Operations Report 6-67, Observations of a Brigade Com- 
mander, dtd 27 December 1967; USARV Battlefield Reports, A 
Summary of Lessons Learned, Volume III, May 1967. 
Section 3 

Principal sources used were DA Operations Report 3-68, 
Aerial Observation Lessons Learned, dtd 15 July 1968; DA Op- 
erations Report 1-68, Summary of Lessons Learned, dtd 1 Feb- 
ruary 1968; Headquarters, 1st Cavalry Division, Operational Re- 
port for Period Ending 31 October 1966, p, 51, OACSFOR-OT- 
RD 660505; Original Papers, Vietnam Order of Battle Project. 
Section 4 

Principal sources used were Ballistic Research Laboratories 
Memorandum Report 2030, U.S. Army Casualties Aboard Air- 
craft in the Republic of Vietnam (Aberdeen Proving Ground: 
1970); Col. R. L. Cody, "U.S. Army Helicopters as Personnel 



376 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



and Material Carriers" and Lt. Col. E. Lail, "Helicopter Evac- 
uation in Vietnam," both contained in Aeromedical Aspects of 
Helicopter Operations in the Tactical Situation presented to 
Sessions I and II of the Advisory Group for Aerospace Research 
and Development in Paris, France, May 1967; Col. Spurgeon 
H, Neel, An Overall Survey of Helicopter Operations Problems 
(Washington: Office of the Surgeon General, 1967); Lt. Gen. 
John J, Tolson, Airmobility, 1961-1971, Vietnam Studies (Wash- 
ington: Department of the Army, 1973). 
Section 5 

Principal sources used were DA Study, Aviation Require- 
ments for the Combat Structure of the Army, dtd 6 June 1965; 
U.S. Congress, Senate, Hearings before the Preparedness In- 
vestigating Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services, 
90th Congress, First Session, 1967 (Washington: U.S. Govern- 
ment Printing Office, 1967). 
Chapter 7. Section 1 

Principal sources used were 1st Infantry Division, Opera- 
tions After Action Report: Operation ABILENE, OACSFOR-OT- 
RD 66X001; 1st Infantry Division, Combat Operations After 
Action Report: Operation BIRMINGHAM, OACSFOR-OT-RD 
66X232; Headquarters, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, After Action 
Report: Operation LEXINGTON III, OACSFOR-OT-RD 66X151; 
1st Infantry Division, Operational Report, dtd 15 August 1966, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 660291; 1st Infantry Division, Combat After 
Action Report: Operation EL PASO 11/111, dtd 8 December 1966, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 66X043; II Field Force, Operational Report, 
dtd 25 April 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 670228; Headquarters, 
196th Infantry Brigade, Operational Report for Quarterly Pe- 
riod Ending 31 January 1967, dtd 7 March 1967, OACSFOR- 
OT-RD 670221; Headquarters, 173d Airborne Brigade, Combat 
Operations After Action Report: Operation ATTLEBORO, dtd 
30 December 1966, OACSFOR-OT-RD 66X009; 25th Infantry 
Division, Operational Report: Operation ATTLEBORO, dtd 28 
April 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 66X012. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were MACV Operations Report 2-66, 
The Battle of Annihilation and the Bong Son Campaign, dtd 1 
April 1966; 1st Cavalry Division, Operational Report, dtd 5 May 



SOURCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY 377 



1966, OACSFOR-OT-RD 660119; Headquarters, 3d Brigade Task 
Force, 25th Infantry Division, Operational Report, dtd 1 June 

1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 660514; Headquarters, 1st Brigade, 
101st Airborne Division, Combat Operations After Action Re- 
port: Operation HAWTHORNE, dtd 22 July 1966, OACSFOR- 
OT-RD 66X102; Headquarters, 101st Airborne Division, After 
Action Report: Operation SEWARD, dtd 6 November 1966, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 66X201; Headquarters, 101st Airborne Di- 
vision, Operational Report, dtd 10 March 1967, OACSFOR-OT- 
RD 660508; 1st Cavalry Division, Operational Report, dtd 15 
August 1966, OACSFOR-OT-RD 660292; Infantry Field Histor- 
ical Team Alpha, Rattle for LZ Bird, supplement to 1st Cavalry 
Division, Operational Report for Quarterly Period Ending 30 
April 1967, dtd 27 October 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 670473. 
Chapter 8. Section 1 

Principal sources used were NAVMC Publication 2614, 
Professional Knowledge Gained from Operational Experience in 
Vietnam (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 1967); Jack Shulim- 
son, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: An Expanding War (Washington: 
U.S. Marine Corps, 1982), Part I; Fleet Marine Force Pacific, 
U.S. Marine Corps Forces in Vietnam, Volume I. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were 5th Special Forces Group, Com- 
mand Operational Report, dtd 10 May 1966, OACSFOR-OT- 
RD 660557; Jack Shulimson, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: An Ex- 
panding War (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 1982), Part II; 
Brig. Gen. Edwin H. Simmons, "Marine Corps Operations in 
Vietnam, 1965-1966," Naval Review (Annapolis: U.S. Naval In- 
stitute, 1968). 
Section 3 

Principal sources used were Jack Shulimson, U.S. Marines 
in Vietnam: An Expanding War (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 
1982), Part IV; Fleet Marine Force Pacific, 17. S. Marine Corps 
Forces in Vietnam, Volume I. 
Chapter 9. Section 1 

Principal sources used were USARV, Summary of Lessons 
Learned, dtd 18 January 1968; USARV, Operational Report 1 
Feb-30 Apr 67, OACSFOR-OT-RD 670461; USARV, Opera- 
tional Report 1 May-31 Jul 67, OACSFOR-OT-RD 670600; 



378 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



USARV, Operational Report, did 20 November 1967, OACSFOR- 
OT-RD 674175; USARV, Operational Report, did 24 April 1968, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 681044; Gen. Dave R. Palmer, Summons of 
the Trumpet (Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1978); Col. Harry 
G. Summers, Jr., On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Viet- 
nam War (Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1982); MACV, 
Command History, 1967, Volume I; Original Papers, Vietnam 
Order of Battle Project. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were Thomas C. Thayer, editor, A 
Systems Analysis View of the Vietnam War (Washington: South- 
east Asia Intelligence Division, 1975), Volume 6; Brig. Gen. Ed- 
win H. Simmons, "Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam, 1967," 
Naval Review (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute, 1969); I Field 
Force Vietnam, Operational Report, dtd 17 November 1967, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 670486; MACV, Quarterly Command Re- 
ports for 1967. 
Section 3 

The principal source used was 101st Airborne Division, Op- 
erational Report, dtd 29 May 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 681291. 
Chapter 10. Section 1 

Principal sources used were 199th Infantry Brigade, Oper- 
ational Report, Lessons Learned: 1 August-31 October 1967, dtd 
15 November 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 674237; MACVJ3-053 
Report, Hole Huntin Techniques to Detect, Neutralize and 
Destroy Enemy Tunnels, dtd 20 December 1968; II Field Force 
Vietnam, Operational Report, dtd 5 April 1967, OACSFOR-OT- 
RD 670228. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were II Field Force Vietnam, Op- 
erational Report, dtd 15 May 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 670751; 
1st Infantry Division, After Action Report: Operation JUNC- 
TION CITY, dtd 8 May 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 67X216; 1st 
Infantry Division, Operational Report, 1 February-30 April 1967 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 670468; DA Narrative, Battle of Ap Cu, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 67X074; llth Armored Cavalry Regiment, 
Combat After Action Report: Operation JUNCTION CITY, dtd 
1 November 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 67XO59. 



SOURCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY 379 



Section 3 

The principal source used was Headquarters, 3d Battalion, 
39th Infantry, Combat After Action Report, dtd 16 August 1967 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 67X076. 
Chapter 11. Section 1 

Principal sources used were the 4th Infantry Division, Com- 
bat After Action Report: Operation SAM HOUSTON, dtd 28 
June 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 67X030; I Field Force Vietnam, 
Operational Report, dtd 17 November 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 
670486. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were I Field Force Vietnam, Oper- 
ational Report, dtd 26 August 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 670622; 
4th Infantry Division, Combat After Action Report: Operation 
FRANCIS MARION, dtd 25 November 1967, OACSFOR-OT- 
RD 67X112. 
Section 3 

Principal sources used were 4th Infantry Division, Combat 
Operations After Action Report for Period Ending 11 October 
1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 67X117; 4th Infantry Division, Com- 
bat After Action Report: Battle for Dak To, dtd 3 January 1968, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 68X007; USARV, Seminar on Attack of For- 
tified Positions in the Jungle, dtd 31 January 1968, OACSFOR- 
OT-RD 68X002; I Field Force Vietnam, Operational Report, dtd 
15 November 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 674078; I Field Force 
Vietnam, Operational Report, dtd 15 February 1968, OACSFOR- 
OT-RD 681098. 
Chapter 12. Section 1 

Principal sources used were Fleet Marine Force Pacific, U.S. 
Marine Corps Forces in Vietnam, March 1965-September 1967, 
Volume I; Maj. Gary L. Telfer and Lt. Col Lane Rogers, U.S. 
Marines in Vietnam: The War of Attrition, 1967 (Washington: 
U.S. Marine Corps), Chapters 1 and 2; 3d Marine Division, 
Command Chronology Reports for February-April 1967. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were Maj. Gary L. Telfer and Lt. 
Col. Lane Rogers, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The War of At- 
trition, 1967 (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps), Chapters 5, 6, 



380 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



and 9; 3d Marine Division, Command Chronology Reports for 
May-December 1967. 
Section 3 

Principal sources used were Maj. Gary L. Telfer and Lt. 
Col. Lane Rogers, U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam: The War of 
Attrition, 1967 (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps), Chapters 3 
and 7; 1st Marine Division, Command Chronology Reports for 
April-June 1967. 
Chapter 13. Section 1 

Principal sources used were Headquarters, Task Force Or- 
egon, Operational Report, dtd 6 August 1967, OACSFOR-OT- 
RD 670802; Task Force Oregon, Operational Report, dtd 5 No- 
vember 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 670580; Americal Division, 
Operational Report, dtd 26 November 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 
674289; 3d Brigade Task Force, 25th Infantry Division, Oper- 
ational Report for Quarterly Period Ending 30 April 1967, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 670750; 2d Battalion, 35th Infantry, 3d Bri- 
gade Task Force, Combat After Action Report, dtd 20 August 
1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 67X186; USARV, Seminar on Attack 
of Fortified Positions in the Jungle, dtd 2 January 1968, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 68X002; Maj. Gary L. Telfer and Lt. Col. 
Lane Rogers, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The War of Attrition, 
1967 (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps), Chapter 4; Original Pa- 
pers, Vietnam Order of Battle Project. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were 1st Cavalry Division, Opera- 
tional Report, dtd 8 August 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 670226; 
1st Cavalry Division, Operational Report for Period Ending 31 
October 1967, dtd 20 February 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 674236; 
1st Cavalry Division, Lessons Learned: Operation PERSHING, 
dtd 30 December 1967, OACSFOR-OT-RD 67X199. 
Chapter 14. Section 1 

Principal sources used were Headquarters, Provisional Corps 
Vietnam, Operational Report, dtd 4 June 1968, OACSFOR-OT- 
RD 682349; Thomas C. Thayer, editor, A Systems Analysis View 
of the Vietnam War (Washington: Southeast Asia Intelligence 
Division, 1975), Volume 1; Lt. Gen. Willard Pearson, The War 
in the Northern Provinces, Vietnam Studies (Washington: De- 
partment of the Army, 1975); MACV Quarterly Evaluation Re- 



SOURCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY 381 



ports for 1968; USARV, Operational Report, dtd 24 April 1968, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 681044; USARV, Operational Report, dtd 
20 May 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 682297; USARV, Operational 
Report, dtd 12 August 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 683312; USARV, 
Operational Report, dtd 15 November 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 
684336; USARV, Operational Report, dtd 13 February 1969, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 691251; MACV, Command History, 1968, 
Volume I; Original Papers, Vietnam Order of Battle Project. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were Robert W. Coakley et al, Use 
of Troops in Civil Disturbances since World War II, Supple- 
ment II (Washington: Histories Division, Department of the 
Army, 1974); Paul J. Scheips et al., Army Operational and In- 
telligence Activities in Civil Disturbances since 1957, revised 
edition, OCMH Study 73 (Washington: Department of the Army, 
1972); Assistant Secretary of Defense Memorandum, Subject: 
Special Pay for Duty Subject to Hostile Fire Korea, dtd 1 April 
1968; Headquarters, 3d Brigade, 82d Airborne Division, Op- 
erational Report, dtd 12 May 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 682329. 
Section 3 

Principal sources used were Thomas C. Thayer, editor, A 
Systems Analysis View of the Vietnam War (Washington: South- 
east Asia Intelligence Division, 1975), Volume 6; 1st Logistical 
Command, Operational Report, dtd 14 May 1968, OACSFOR- 
OT-RD 682276; 1st Logistical Command, Operational Report, 
dtd 14 February 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 681160; MACV, 
Command History, 1968, Volume I. 
Chapter 15. Section 1 

Principal sources used were 97th Military Police Battalion, 
Operational Report, dtd 13 May 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 
682013; 716th Military Police Battalion, Operational Report, dtd 
12 February 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 681286; 716th Military 
Police Battalion, Operational Report, dtd 8 May 1968, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 681286; 18th Military Police Brigade Re- 
port, Lessons Learned During the VC/NVA Tet Offensive, dtd 
15 Feb 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 682144; 199th Infantry Bri- 
gade, Long Binh/Saigon Tet Campaign, dtd 4 June 1968, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 68X018; Col Hoang Ngoc Lung, The Gen- 
eral Offensives of 1968-69, Indochina Monographs (Washington: 



382 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1981); II Field Force 
Vietnam, Tet Offensive After Action Report, 31 January- 18 
February 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 68X039. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were 9th Infantry Division, Opera- 
tional Report, dtd 21 August 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 682266; 
II Field Force Vietnam, Operational Report, dtd 20 May 1968, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 682278. 
Section 3 

Principal sources used were 1st Cavalry Division, Combat 
After Action Report: The Battle of Hue, 2-26 February 1968, 
dtd 10 March 1968; 1st Cavalry Division, The Battle of Quang 
Tri, OACSFOR-OT-RD 68X050; Fleet Marine Force Pacific, 
Operations of U.S. Marine Forces in Vietnam, February 1968; 
Col. Hoang Ngoc Lung, The General Offensives of 1968-69, 
Indochina Monographs (Washington: U.S. Army Center of Mil- 
itary History, 1981); MACV I Corps Tactical Zone Senior Ad- 
visor, After Action Report: Tet Offensive, dtd 14 April 1968. 
Section 4 

Principal sources used were I Field Force Vietnam, Oper- 
ational Report, dtd 21 August 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 682112; 
5th Special Forces Group, Operational Report, dtd 14 August 
1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 682179; II Field Force Vietnam, Tet 
Offensive Combat After Action Report, dtd 5 August 1968 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 68X039; MACV, Quarterly SEER (System 
for Evaluating the Effectiveness of RVNAF) Reports for 1968. 
Chapter 16. Section 1 

Principal sources used were 3d Marine Division, Command 
Chronology Reports, January and February 1968; Capt. Moyers 
S. Shore II, The Battle for Khe Sank (Washington: U.S. Marine 
Corps, 1977). 
Section 2 

The principal source used was 5th Special Forces Group, 
Battle of Lang Vet After Action Report, dtd 12 August 1968 ? 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 68X037. 
Section 3 

Principal sources used were Capt. Moyers S. Shore II, The 
Battle for Khe Sank (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 1977); 



SOURCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY 383 



Provisional Corps Vietnam, Operational Report, dtd 4 June 1968, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 682349; 3d Marine Division, Command 
Chronology Reports, February-April 1968; 1st Cavalry Divi- 
sion, Operational Report, dtd 13 June 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 
682337. 
Chapter 17. Section 1 

Principal sources used were Provisional Corps Vietnam, Op- 
erational Report, dtd 20 August 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 683363; 
1st Cavalry Division, Operational Report, dtd 13 June 1968, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 682337; Lt. Gen. John J. Tolson, Airmobil- 
ity, Vietnam Studies (Washington; Department of the Army, 
1973), Chapter 9; 101st Airborne Division, Operational Report, 
dtd 22 November 1968, OACSFOR-OT-UT 684306. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were 3d Marine Division, Command 
Chronology Reports for April-December 1968; Fleet Marine 
Force Pacific, Operations of Marine Forces, Vietnam, reports 
for April-December 1968. 
Section 3 

Principal sources used were 101st Airborne Division, Op- 
erational Report, dtd 24 May 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 682315; 
101st Airborne Division, Operational Report, dtd 15 August 1968, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 683306; 101st Airborne Division, Opera- 
tional Report, dtd 22 November 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 684306; 
Americal Division, Operational Report, dtd 7 May 1968, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 682332; Combat Developments Command 
Trip Report, Combat Tactics of Americal Division, dtd 26 July 
1968; Lt. Gen. W. R. Peers, The My Lai Inquiry (New York: 
W. W. Norton & Co., 1979); XXIV Corps, Operational Report, 
dtd 15 November 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 684253; XXIV Corps, 
Operational Report, dtd 4 March 1969, OACSFOR-OT-RD 
691303. 
Section 4 

Principal sources used were II Field Force Vietnam, Op- 
erational Report, dtd 14 August 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 683289; 
II Field Force Vietnam, Operational Report for Period Ending 
31 October 1968, OACSFOR-OT-UT 684252; II Field Force 
Vietnam, Operational Report for Period Ending 31 January 1969, 



384 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



OACSFOR-OT-UT 691324; Maj. Gen. William B. Fulton, Riv- 
erine Operations, Vietnam Studies (Washington: Department of 
the Army, 1973), 
Chapter 18. Section 1 

Principal sources used were MACV, Quarterly SEER (Sys- 
tem for Evaluating the Effectiveness of RVNAF) Reports for 1969; 
MACV, Quarterly Evaluation Reports for 1969; USARV, Op- 
erational Report for Period Ending 31 January 1969, OACSFOR- 
OT-RD 691251; USARV, Operational Report, dtd 31 August 1969, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 693179; MACV, Command History, 1969, 
Volume I; Original Papers, Vietnam Order of Battle Project. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were USARV, Operational Report, 
dtd 11 May 1969, OACSFOR-OT-RD 690248; Col. Hoang Ngoc 
Lung, The General Offensives of 1968-69, Indochina Mono- 
graphs (Washington; U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1981). 
Section 3 

Principal sources used were ACTIV Project ACG-78F Re- 
port, Vehicle Convoy Operations in the Republic of Vietnam 
(Washington: Army Research Office, 29 January 1972); Army 
Combat Developments Command Trip Report 8-69, Convoy Se- 
curity, dtd 20 January 1969; Army Combat Developments Com- 
mand Report, Route and Convoy Security, dtd 5 December 1967; 
Combat Developments Command Trip Report 9-69, Vulcan Em- 
ployment in a Ground Combat Role, dtd 20 January 1969. 
Section 4 

Principal sources used were BDM Corporation, A Study of 
Strategic Lessons Learned in Vietnam (McLean, Virginia: BDM, 
1980), Volumes IV and VII; Douglas Kinnard, The War Man- 
agers (Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New En- 
gland, 1977); William L, Hauser, America's Army in Crisis (Bal- 
timore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973); Original 
Papers, Vietnam Order of Battle Project. 
Chapter 19. Section 1 

Principal sources used were 3d Marine Division, Command 
Chronology Reports for January-February 1969; XXIV Corps, 
Operational Report, dtd 4 June 1969, OACSFOR-OT-UT 692307; 
XXIV Corps, Operational Report, dtd 23 August 1969, 



SOURCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY 385 



OACSFOR-OT-UT 693291; MACV Combat Experiences 3-69, 
Task Force Remagen, dtd 7 September 1969; Headquarters, 1st 
Brigade, 5th Infantry Division, Operational Report, dtd 30 May 
1969, OACSFOR-OT-UT 692327; Headquarters, 1st Brigade, 5th 
Infantry Division, Operational Report, dtd 18 September 1969, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 692327; 101st Airborne Division, Opera- 
tional Report, dtd 20 August 1969, OACSFOR-OT-RD 693240; 
Lt. Gen. John H. Hay, Jr., Tactical and Material Innovations, 
Vietnam Studies (Washington: Department of the Army, 1974), 
Chapter 5. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were Americal Division, Operational 
Report, dtd 19 August 1969, OACSFOR-OT-RD 692339; Amer- 
ical Division, Operational Report, dtd 30 October 1969, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 693290; Americal Division, Operational Re- 
port, dtd 10 November 1969, OACSFOR-OT-RD 694285; XXIV 
Corps, Operational Report, dtd 9 February 1970, OACSFOR- 
OT-UT 694298. 
Chapter 20. Section 1 

Principal sources used were 14th Military History Detach- 
ment, Combat After Action Report: Battle of The Angel's Wing, 
dtd 25 March 1969, OACSFOR-OT-RD 69X005; 25th Infantry 
Division, Operational Report, dtd 1 May 1969, OACSFOR-OT- 
RD 692282; 1st Cavalry Division, Operational Report, dtd 30 
April 1969, OACSFOR-OT-RD 692094; 1st Cavalry Division, 
Operational Report, dtd 15 August 1969, OACSFOR-OT-RD 
693030; 25th Infantry Division, Operational Report, dtd 18 De- 
cember 1969, OACSFOR-OT-RD 693230; II Field Force Viet- 
nam, Operational Report for Period Ending 30 April 1969, 
OACSFOR-OT-UT 692303. 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were llth Armored Cavalry Regi- 
ment, Combat After Action Report: Operation ATLAS WEDGE, 
dtd 10 December 1969, OACSFOR-OT-RD 69X027; II Field 
Force Vietnam, Operational Report for Period Ending 31 July 
1969, OACSFOR-OT-UT 693332; 1st Infantry Division, Oper- 
ational Report, dtd 1 December 1969, OACSFOR-OT-UT 694230; 
1st Infantry Division, Operational Report for Period Ending 31 



386 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



January 1970, OACSFOR-OT-UT 701235; Headquarters, 2d In- 
fantry Brigade, Combat After Action Report: Village Seal of Phu 
Hoa Dong, dtd 29 September 1969. 
Section 3 

Principal sources used were 25th Infantry Division, Combat 
After Action Interview Report, dtd 19 November 1969, 
OACSFOR-OT-UT 701223; I Field Force Vietnam, Combat After 
Action Report: Hawk/Hunter, 1st Platoon, B Company, 3d Bat- 
talion (Airborne), 503d Infantry, dtd 15 May 1969, OACSFOR- 
OT-UT 69X011; 1st Infantry Division Memorandum, Subject: 
Night Ambush by 3/D/1-2 Inf., 9 Mar 1969, dtd 17 March 1969, 
as supplemented by 17th Military History Detachment Combat 
After Action Interviews. 
Chapter 21. Section 1 

Principal sources used were USARV, Operational Report, 
dtd 23 February 1970, OACSFOR-OT-RD 701046; USARV, Op- 
erational Report for Period Ending 31 July 1970, OACSFOR- 
OT-RD 703176; II Field Force Vietnam, Operational Report, 
dtd 14 May 1970, OACSFOR-OT-UT 702010; II Field Force 
Vietnam, Operational Report for Period Ending 31 July 1970, 
OACSFOR-OT-UT 703037; 4th Infantry Division, Operational 
Report, dtd 20 August 1967, OACSFOR-OT-UT 703083; 25th 
Infantry Division, Operational Report for Period Ending 31 July 
1970, OACSFOR-OT-UT 703026; 1st Cavalry Division, Opera- 
tional Report, dtd 14 August 1970, OACSFOR-OT-UT 703016; 
llth Armored Cavalry Regiment, Operational Report, dtd 23 
August 1970, OACSFOR-OT-UT 703255; MACV, Quarterly SEER 
Reports for 1970; Brig. Gen. Tran Dinh Tho, The Cambodian 
Incursion, Indochina Monographs (Washington: U.S. Army Center 
of Military History, 1979). 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were USARV, Operational Report, 
dtd 15 May 1970, OACSFOR-OT-RD 702054; XXIV Corps, Op- 
erational Report, dtd 23 May 1970, OACSFOR-OT-UT 702217; 
XXIV Corps, Operational Report, dtd 12 August 1970, 
OACSFOR-OT-UT 703010; XXIV Corps, Operational Report, 
dtd 12 November 1970, OACSFOR-OT-UT 704015; Americal 
Division, Operational Report, dtd 10 May 1970, OACSFOR-OT- 
UT 702210; 101st Airborne Division, Operational Report, dtd 



SOURCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY 387 



17 May 1970, OACSFOR-OT-UT 702186; 101st Airborne Divi- 
sion, Operational Report, dtd 15 August 1970, OACSFOR-OT- 
UT 703152; ACTIV Project ACG-80F Report, Fire Support Base 
Defense (Washington: Army Research Office, March 1972)- Maj. 
Gen. A. E. Milloy, Senior Officer Debriefing Report, dtd 10 
March 1971, OACSFOR-OT-UT 71B015; Brig. Gen. Edward H. 
Simmons, "Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam, 1969-1972," 
Naval Review (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute, 1973). 
Section 3 

Principal sources used were Maj. Gen. Verne L. Bowers, 
Deputy Chief of Staff, Personnel and Administration, Head- 
quarters, USARV, Final Report, dtd 10 September 1970 
OACSFOR OT-UT 70B038; Maj. Gen. George S. Prugh, Law 
at War: Vietnam, Vietnam Studies (Washington: Department of 
the Army, 1975); USARV, Operational Report, dtd 15 Novem- 
ber 1970, OACSFOR-OT-RD 704181; BDM Corporation, A Study 
of Strategic Lessons Learned in Vietnam (McLean, Virginia: BDM, 
1980), Volume VII; Gen. William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier- 
Reports (New York: Doubleday, 1976); Original Papers, Viet- 
nam Order of Battle Project. 
Chapter 22. Section 1 

Principal sources used were 101st Airborne Division, Final 
Report: Airmobile Operations in Support of Operation LAM- 
SON 719, dtd 24 April 1971, OACSFOR-OT-UT 71X010; XXIV 
Corps, Operational Report, dtd 17 May 1971, OACSFOR-OT- 
UT 711180; USARV, Operational Report, dtd 15 May 1971, 
DAFD-OTT 711022; Maj. Gen. Nguyen Duy Hinh, Lam Son 
719, Indochina Monographs (Washington: U.S. Army Center of 
Military History, 1979). 
Section 2 

Principal sources used were USARV, Operational Report for 
Period Ending 31 October 1971, DAFD-OTT 712033; ACTIV 
Project ACG-75F Report, Rear Area Security and Base Defense 
(Washington: Army Research Office, January 1972); Headquar- 
ters, 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division, Operational Report, dtd 
19 August 1971, OACSFOR-OT-UT 712182; 23d Infantry Di- 
vision, Operational Report, dtd 1 November 1971, DAFD-OTT 
712166; 101st Airborne Division, Operational Report, dtd 19 
November 1971, DAMO-ODU 712196; Lt. Gen. A. S. Collins, 



388 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Jr., Senior Officer Debriefing Report, did 1 March 1971, 
OACSFOR-OT-UT 71B013; Maj. Gen. Thomas M. Tarpley, 
Senior Officer Debriefing Report, did 13 July 1972, DAFD-OTT 
72B005; 97th Military Police Battalion, Operational Report, did 
28 November 1971, DAFD-OTT 712074; Original Papers, Viet- 
nam Order of Battle Project. 
Section 3 

Principal sources used were USARV, Operational Report for 
Period Ending 30 April 1972, DAMO-ODU 721090; 196th In- 
fantry Brigade, Operational Report for Period Ending 30 April 
1972, HQDA Ltr. 525-73-13; BDM Corporation, A Study of 
Strategic Lessons Learned in Vietnam (McLean, Virginia: BDM, 
1980), Volume VII; Col. William E. Le Gro, Vietnam from Cease- 
Fire to Capitulation (Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military 
History, 1981); Lt. Col. G. H. Turley, "Easter Invasion, 1972," 
Marine Corps Gazette (March 1973); Original Papers, Vietnam 
Order of Battle Project, 
Conclusion 

United States Army Europe and Seventh Army, Annual His- 
torical Summary, 1 January to 31 December 1968, RCS CSHIS- 
6 (R2); Ltr, USCONARC TO DA DCSOPS, 14 August 1968, 
Subject: Major Command Evaluation of Unit Readiness, RCS 
CSGPO-265 (R2); Directorate of Operations, J-3, Headquarters, 
U.S. Strike Command, Status of Forces; Headquarters, United 
States Continental Army Command, USCONARC /USAR- 
STRIKE Annual Historical Summary, Fiscal Year 1968, ATOPS- 
HST 90507; 2d Infantry Division, Operational Report for Period 
Ending 31 July 1968, OACSFOR-OT-RD 683302; 7th Infantry 
Division, Operational Report for Period Ending 31 July 1968, 
OACSFOR-OT-RD 683365. 
General Sources 

Barnes, Peter, Pawns, New York: Warner Paperbacks, 1971. 

Baskir, Lawrence M., and Strauss, William A., Chance and 
Circumstance, New York: Knopf, 1978. 

BDM Corporation, A Study of Strategic Lessons Learned in 
Vietnam, Volumes I- VIII and Executive Summary, McLean, 
Virginia: BDM Corporation, 1980. 

Blaufarb, Douglas S., The Counterinsurgency Era: U.S. 
Doctrine and Performance, 1950 to the Present, New York: The 
Free Press, 1977. 



SOURCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY 389 



Bonds, Ray, ed., The Vietnam War: An Illustrated History 
of the Conflict in Southeast Asia, New York: Crown Publishers, 
1979. 

Bouscaren, Anthony T., ed., All Quiet on the Eastern Front, 
New York: Devin-Adair, 1977. 

Boyle, Richard, Flower of the Dragon, San Francisco: Ram- 
parts Press, 1972. 

Cash, Maj. John A., Albright, John N., and Sandstrum, Lt. 
Col. Allan W., Seven Firefights in Vietnam, Washington: Gov- 
ernment Printing Office, 1970. 

Collins, Gen. James Lawton, Jr., The Development and 
Training of the South Vietnamese Army, 1950-1972, Vietnam 
Studies, Washington: Department of the Army, 1975. 

Cortright, David, Soldiers in Revolt: The American Military 
Today, New York: Anchor Press, 1975. 

Department of Defense, United States-Vietnam Relations, 
1945-1967, Volumes 1-12, Washington: Government Printing 
Office, 1971. 

Dunn, Lt. Gen. Carroll H., Base Development in South 
Vietnam, 1965-1970, Vietnam Studies, Washington: Depart- 
ment of the Army, 1972. 

Eckhardt, Maj. Gen. George S,, Command and Control, 
1950-1969, Vietnam Studies, Washington: Department of the 
Army, 1974. 

Ewell, Gen. Julian J. ? and Hunt, Maj. Gen. Ira A., Jr., 
Sharpening the Combat Edge, Vietnam Studies, Washington: 
Department of the Army, 1974. 

Fails, Lt. Col. William R., Marines and Helicopters, 1962- 
1973, Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 1978. 

Fox, Roger P., Air Base Defense in the Republic of Vietnam, 
1961-1973, Washington: Office of Air Force History, 1979. 

Fulton, Maj. Gen. William B., Riverine Operations, 1966- 
1969, Vietnam Studies, Washington: Department of the Army, 

1973. 

Gabriel, Richard A. and Savage, Paul L., Crisis in Com- 
mand: Mismanagement in the Army, New York: Hill and Wang, 

1978 r . LI 

Galvin, John R., Air Assault: The Development of Airmobile 

Warfare, New York: Hawthorne Books, 1969. 

Garland, Lt. Col. Albert N., "Infantry in Vietnam, Fort 



390 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Benning: Infantry Magazine, 1967. 

Goff, Stanley, and Sanders, Robert, with Smith, Clark, 
Brothers: Black Soldiers in the Nam, Novato, California: Presi- 
dio Press, 1982. 

Halberstam, David, The Best and the Brightest, New York: 
Random House, 1972. 

Hauser, William L., Americas Army in Crisis, Baltimore: 
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973. 

Hay, Lt. Gen. John H., Jr., Tactical and Material Innova- 
tions, Vietnam Studies, Washington, Department of the Army, 
1974. 

Helmer, John, Bringing the War Home: The American Sol- 
dier in Vietnam and After, New York: Free Press, 1974. 

Heiser, Lt. Gen. Joseph M., Jr., Logistic Support, Vietnam 
Studies, Washington: Department of the Army, 1974. 

Heitman, Francis B., Historical Register and Dictionary of 
the United States Army, Volumes 1 and 2, Washington: Gov- 
ernment Printing Office, 1903 (reprinted by University of Illi- 
nois at Urbana, 1965). 

Herr, Michael, Dispatches, New York: Avon Books, 1978. 

Hinh, Maj. Gen. Nguyen Duy, Lam Son 719, Indochina 
Monographs, Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military His- 
tory, 1979. 

Hoopes, Townsend, The Limits of Intervention, New York: 
David McKay Co., 1969. 

Johnson, Haynes and Wilson, George C., Army in Anguish, 
New York: Pocket Books, 1972. 

Johnson, Lyndon B., The Vantage Point: Perspective of the 
Presidency, 1963-1969, New York: Popular Library Edition, 1971. 

Just, Ward, Military Men, New York: Knopf, 1970. 

Kalb, Marvin and Abel, Elie, The Roots of Involvement: The 
U.S. and Asia, 1784-1971, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 
1971. 

Kelly, Col. Francis J., U.S. Army Special Forces, 1961-1971, 
Vietnam Studies, Washington: Department of the Army, 1973. 

Khuyen, Lt. Gen. Dong Van, The RVNAF, Indochina 
Monographs, Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military His- 
tory, 1979. 

Kinnard, Douglas, The War Managers, Hanover, New 



SOURCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY 391 



Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1977. 

Kissinger, Henry, White House Years, Boston: Little Brown 
& Co., 1979. 

Le Gro, Col. William E., Vietnam from Cease-Fire to Ca- 
pitulation, Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 
1981. 

Lewy, Guenter, America in Vietnam, New York: Oxford Press, 
1978. 

Loory, Stuart H., Defeated: Inside Americas Military Ma- 
chine, New York: Random House, 1973. 

Lung, Col. Hoang Ngoc, Strategy and Tactics, Indochina 
Monographs, Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military His- 
tory, 1980. 

, The General Offensives of 1968-69: Indochina Mono- 
graphs, Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1981. 

Mahon, John K. and Danysh, Romana, Infantry, Part I 
Regular Army: Army Lineage Series, Washington: Office of the 
Chief of Military History, U.S. Army, 1972. 

Marshall, Brig. Gen. S. L. A., Ambush, New York: Cowles 
Book Co., 1969. 

, Battles in the Monsoon, New York: Morrow, 1967, 

, Bird: The Christmastide Battle, New York: Cowles Book 
Co., 1968. 

, West to Cambodia, New York: Cowles Book Co., 1968. 

Moskos, Charles C., The American Enlisted Man, New York: 
Russell Sage Foundation, 1970. 

Oberdorfer, Don, Tetl, New York: Doubleday, 1971. 

Ott, Maj. Gen. David E., Field Artillery, 1954-1973, Viet- 
nam Studies, Washington: Department of the Army, 1975. 

Palmer, Brig. Gen. Dave R., Summons of the Trumpet, No- 
vato, California: Presidio Press, 1978. 

Palmer, Gregory, The McNamara Strategy and the Vietnam 
War: Program Budgeting in the Pentagon, 1960-1968, West- 
port, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1978. 

Pearson, Lt. Gen. Willard, The War in the Northern Prov- 
inces, 1966-1968, Vietnam Studies, Washington: Department of 
the Army, 1975. 

Peers, Lt. Gen. W. R., The My Lai Inquiry, New York: W. 
W. Norton & Co., 1979. 



392 THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ARMY 



Polner, Murray, No Victory Parades: The Return of the Viet- 
nam Veteran, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971. 

Prugh, Maj. Gen. George S., Law at War: Vietnam, 1964- 
1973, Vietnam Studies, Washington: Department of the Army, 
1975. 

Rogers, Lt. Gen. Bernard W., Cedar Falls-Junction City, 
A Turning Point, Vietnam Studies, Washington: Department of 
the Army, 1974. 

Santoli, A1 5 Everything We Had, New York: Random House, 
1981. 

Schandler, Col. Herbert Y., The Unmaking of a President: 
Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton 
University Press, 1977. 

Sherrill, Robert, Military Justice is to Justice as Military Music 
is to Music, New York: Harper & Row, 1970. 

Shore, Capt. Moyers S. II, The Battle for Khe Sanh, Wash- 
ington: U.S. Marine Corps, 1969. 

Shulimson, Jack, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: An Expanding 
War, 1966, Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 1982. 

Shulimson, Jack, and Johnson, Maj. Charles M., U.S. Ma- 
rines in Vietnam: The Landing and the Buildup, 1965, Wash- 
ington: U.S. Marine Corps, 1978. 

Simpson, Col. Charles M. Ill, Inside the Green Berets: The 
First Thirty Years, Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1983. 

Stanton, Shelby L., Vietnam Order of Battle, Washington: 
U.S. News Books, 1981. 

Starry, Gen. Donn A., Mounted Combat in Vietnam, Viet- 
nam Studies, Washington: Department of the Army, 1978. 

Stubbs, Mary L., and Connor, Stanley R,, Armor-Cavalry, 
Part I Regular Army and Army Reserve, Army Lineage Se- 
ries, Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, U.S. 
Army, 1969. 

Summers, Col. Harry G. ? Jr., On Strategy: A Critical Anal- 
ysis of the Vietnam War, Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1982. 

Taylor, Gen. Maxwell D., Swords and Plowshares, New York: 
W. W. Norton & Co., 1972. 

Tho, Brig. Gen. Tran Dinh, The Cambodian Incursion, In- 
dochina Monographs, Washington: U.S. Army Center of Mili- 
tary History, 1979. 



SOURCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY 393 



Tolson, Lt. Gen. John J., AirmoUlity, 1961-1971, Vietnam 
Studies, Washington, Department of the Army, 1973. 

Traong, Lt. Gen. Ngo Quang, The Easter Offensive of 1972, 
Indochina Monographs, Washington: U.S. Army Center of Mil- 
itary History, 1980. 

U.S. Marine Corps Historical Division, A Chronology of the 
United States Marine Corps, 1965-1969, Volume IV, Washing- 
ton: U.S. Marine Corps, 1971. 

U.S. Marine Corps History and Museums Division, The 1st 
Marine Division and Its Regiments, Washington: U.S. Marine 
Corps, 1981. 

U.S. Marine Corps History and Museums Division, The 3d 
Marine Division and Its Regiments, Washington: U.S. Marine 
Corps, 1983. 

U.S. Marine Corps History and Museums Division, The Ma- 
rines in Vietnam, 1954-1973: An Anthology and Annotated Bib- 
liography, Washington: U.S. Marine Corps, 1974. 

Vien, Gen. Cao Van, et al., The U.S. Advisor, Indochina 
Monographs, Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military His- 
tory, 1980. 

Vietnam Veterans Against the War, The Winter Soldier In- 
vestigation, Boston: Beacon Press, 1972. 

Walt, Gen. Lewis W., Strange War, Strange Strategy, New 
York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1970. 

Weigley, Russell F., The American Way of War: A History 
of the United States Military Strategy and Policy, New York: 
Macmillan Co., 1973. 

Westmoreland, Gen. William C., A Soldier Reports, New 
York: Doubleday, 1976. 

Westmoreland, Gen. William C., and Sharpe, Adm. U.S. 
G., Report on the War in Vietnam (As of 30 June 1968), Wash- 
ington: Government Printing Office, 1968. 

Winter Soldier Archive, Soldiering in Vietnam: The Short- 
Timer's Journal, Berkeley, California: Winter Soldier Archive, 
1980. 

Whitlow, Capt. Robert H., U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The 
Advisory & Combat Assistance Era, 1954-1964, Washington: U.S. 
Marine Corps, 1977. 



INDEX 



A Loui, 122, 262, 263 

A Shau, 122-124, 136, 260-263, 

295, 297-299, 344, 352 
Abrams, Gen. Creighton W., 210, 

215, 258, 283, 365 
Air Force, 17, 34, 48, 51, 52, 60, 
98, 103, 106, 123, 139, 148- 
150, 152, 163, 167, 168, 175, 
199, 254, 256, 314, 316 
Squadron, 377th Security Po- 
lice, 230 

Airmobility, 25, 27 46-48, 50-52, 

53, 56, 60, 81, 89-93, 100, 101, 

137, 142, 148, 207, 261-263, 

269, 314, 364 

Alaskan Barge & Transport Co., 

217 

Allen, Lt, 166 
An Hoa, 120, 234, 306 
An Khe, 17, 20, 49, 55, 109, 208, 

240 

An Lao Valley, 199 
An Loc, 149, 243, 289, 291, 361 
An Ninh, 50 
An Thach, 193 
An Tho, 193 
Anderson, Lt. Col., 154 
Ap Bia Mountain, 299-301 
Ap Bau Bang, 150 
Ap Nhi, 292 

Armed forces, United States, 
accidents, 24, 100, 110, 126, 
161, 163, 170, 175, 190, 275, 
339, 357 

body count problems, 272 
discipline, 11, 26, 27, 86, 87, 
223, 272, 293, 294, 301, 348, 
349, 357, 358, 360, 365, 366 
disputes between, 256 



drugs, 27, 348, 357, 358, 366 
global posture, 24, 26, 29, 30, 
96, 212, 213, 357, 364, 366, 367 
leadership, 11, 86-88, 98, 161, 
163, 271, 272, 293, 294, 331, 
349, 365, 367 

logistical problems, 18, 20-24, 
33, 67, 72, 82, 93, 123, 136, 
158, 160, 167, 170, 174, 178, 
184, 186, 192, 210, 217, 218, 
263, 264, 288-293, 298, 320, 
363-365, 367 

losses, concern over, 210, 215, 
216, 301, 335, 340, 365 
mobilization, 21, 27, 66, 109, 
364, 366, 367 

morale, 26-28, 75, 86, 95, 160- 
162, 170, 176, 206, 292-294, 

301, 331, 348, 358, 365, 366 
National Guard, 21, 25, 211, 
215, 293, 363, 367, 368 
organization, 369, 370 
personnel shortages, 26, 27, 53, 
54, 66, 67, 75, 79, 95, 96, 139- 
141, 171, 192, 207, 214, 294, 

302, 364-368 

personnel turbulence, 25-27, 

67, 72, 75, 76, 79, 95, 96, 140, 

141, 192, 196, 214, 294, 349, 

365-368 

proficiency, 85-88, 109, 116, 

153, 160-164, 188, 194-196, 

206, 263, 271, 286, 288, 293, 

323, 331, 340, 348, 349, 357, 

358, 365-368 

racial problems, 27, 293, 348, 

357, 366 

readiness of, 21, 24, 25-27, 29, 

30, 53, 67, 72, 93, 95, 96, 116, 

395 



396 INDEX 



140, 141, 196, 205, 211-214, 
266, 267, 363, 366, 367 
reserves, 21, 25, 66, 109, 293, 
363, 367, 368 

training, 25-27, 46, 54, 67, 70, 
74-80, 88, 95, 96, 196, 206, 
207, 213, 266, 271, 293, 363, 
366, 367 

units in Vietnam, 19, 30, 65, 
66, 82, 133, 205, 284, 335, 336, 
355 

withdrawal from Vietnam, 284, 
285, 288, 323, 335, 336, 346- 
348, 351, 355-360, 362, 363 
see also United States 
Army, United States, 8, 11, 18- 
28, 35, 52-54, 65, 66, 74, 78, 
86, 87, 95, 122, 133, 153, 157, 
179, 195, 201, 205-208, 211- 
218, 226, 239, 266, 284, 335, 
341, 342, 350, 355-363, 366, 
368-370 

see also Armed Forces 
Corps, 66 
Provisional, 255 
III, 66 
XVIII, 215 

XXIV, 255, 295, 297, 301, 342, 
360 
Field Forces, 65, 66, 206 

I, 66, 111, 240 

II, 66, 134, 227, 228, 314, 359 
Divisions: 

Americal (23d Infantry), 195, 
196, 197, 205, 206, 269, 271, 
272, 284,, 303-305, 336, 342, 
351, 355, 359, 360 
1st Armored, 24, 213, 304, 367 
1st Cavalry, 14, 17, 24, 49, 52- 
56, 60, 61, 65, 72, 76, 82, 89, 
90, 97, 109, 111, 113, 114, 117, 
136, 137, 139, 170, 192, 197- 



199, 201, 205-208, 232, 236, 

237, 256-258, 260, 262, 263, 

279, 284, 308, 313, 314, 319, 

329, 336, 338-340, 342, 349, 

355, 358, 359, 362 

1st Infantry, 22, 24, 65, 66, 75, 

76, 82, 85, 87, 88, 99-101, 106, 

108, 133, 134, 139, 141, 145- 

148, 205, 209, 273, 284, 319, 

320, 322, 323, 328, 329, 336, 

346 

2d Armored, 24, 213, 367 

2d Infantry, 24, 53, 212, 367 

3d Armored, 24, 366 

3d Infantry, 24, 366 

4th Armored, 24 

4th Infentry, 24, 65, 69, 70, 73, 

85, 109, 133, 136, 157, 161, 

163, 164, 170, 171, 177, 178, 

195, 205, 208, 284, 308, 336, 

340, 347 

5th Infantry, 24, 76, 213-215, 

266, 267, 284, 295, 297, 301, 

302, 336, 342, 351, 352, 355, 

359, 367 

6th Infantry, 213, 367 

7th Infantry, 24, 367 

8th Infantry, 24 

9th Infantry, 65, 78-80, 133, 

137, 149, 153, 154, 156, 205, 

210, 226-228, 244, 273, 274, 

276, 284, 319, 320, 336, 338, 

347 

llth Air Assault, 20, 24, 25, 52, 

53, 56 

24th Infantry, 24, 347, 366 

25th Infantry, 20, 24, 65, 66, 

69-73, 78, 82, 97, 98, 108, 109, 

111, 133, 144, 146, 148, 153, 

191, 192, 195, 197, 198, 205, 

209, 230, 273, 274, 276, 279, 

308, 314, 315, 317, 319, 323, 



INDEX 397 



324, 336, 338, 339, 347, 355, 

358 

82d Airborne Division, 24, 77, 

211-215, 279, 284, 367 

101st Airborne Division, 22, 24, 

48, 49, 52, 53, 65, 82, 91, 111, 
133, 137-141, 191, 194, 195, 
206-208, 211, 243, 263, 269, 
278, 284, 295, 298, 336, 344, 
345, 351, 352, 355-357 

Task Force Oregon, 138, 184, 

190-192, 195, 198 

Commands, 1st Logistical, 23, 

286, 288, 292 

Depot, 506th Field, 217 

Brigades: 

1st Aviation, 92 

llth Infantry, 196, 206, 271- 

273, 351, 360, 367 

18th Military Police, 290 

29th Infantry, 367 

69th Infantry, 367 

171st Infantry, 24, 73 

172d Infantry, 24, 73 

173d Airborne, 20, 21, 24, 45- 

49, 53, 65, 66, 82, 85, 99, 109, 
133, 139, 141, 145-149, 157, 
169-172, 178, 205, 207, 208, 
284, 308, 325, 336, 355, 360 
193d Infantry, 24 

194th Armored, 24, 213 
196th Infantry, 65, 76-78, 85, 
107-109, 133, 144, 153, 191, 
192, 195-197, 264, 303, 305, 
359-362, 367 

197th Infantry, 24, 53, 54, 213, 
215 

198th Infantry, 196, 360, 367 
199th Infantry, 65, 70, 71, 74, 
133, 142-144, 205, 209, 224, 
227, 228, 273, 284, 319, 320, 
336, 340, 347, 367 



Groups: 

8th Transportation, 290 

llth Aviation, 262, 360 

12th Aviation, 66, 228 

23d Artillery, 66 

34th General Support, 93 

35th Engineer, 357 

45th Engineer, 351 

48th Transportation, 289, 292 

89th Military Police, 223 

108th Artillery, 351, 352 

Hospitals: 

22d Surgical, 271 

71st Evacuation, 241 

Regiments, Armor: 

34th, 151, 338 

69th, 72, 73, 163, 241 

77th, 268, 297 

Regiments, Artillery: 

16th, 115 

19th, 115 

20th, 114 

33d, 149 

77th, 150 

319th, 345 

Regiments, Cavalry: 

1st, 91, 196, 214, 284, 304, 336, 

352, 355 

2d, 24 

3d, 24 

4th, 101, 103-106, 144, 230 

5th, 59, 113, 149, 150, 232, 

257, 302, 309, 336, 342, 355, 

358 

6th, 213, 215, 367 

7th, 57-59, 110, 236, 239, 256, 

257, 261, 262, 363 

8th, 114, 198-201 

9th, 56, 90, 199, 261, 263, 338 

10th, 165, 355 

llth, 24, 65, 74-76, 85, 133, 

145-149, 205, 209, 228, 229, 



398 INDEX 



284, 291, 319, 320-322, 336, 

338, 339, 355-357 

12th, 110, 115, 198, 201, 232, 

236, 257 

14th, 24, 356, 357 

17th, 91, 196, 197, 228, 241, 

243, 339, 352 

18th, 214 

Regiments, Infantry: 

1st, 107, 108, 361 

2d, 105-107, 149, 289, 328, 331 

3d, 343 

5th, 146, 277 

7th, 143, 224-226 

8th, 159, 163-168, 340 

9th, 73, 144, 315, 317 

llth, 302 

12th, 71, 143, 151, 158, 159, 

167, 168, 171, 172, 177, 340 

14th, 73 

16th, 99, 100, 106, 148, 152, 

18th, 100, 103, 105, 106 

21st, 264, 265, 303-305, 363 

22d, 150, 151, 160, 209, 241, 

317, 339 

23d, 73 

26th, 145, 151, 152 

27th, 97-99, 107, 108, 224, 315, 

324, 325 

28th, 101-103, 105, 106 

31st, 108, 196, 305 

35th, 111, 161, 193, 194 

39th, 153-156, 228, 244, 276 

46th, 303-305, 359 

47th, 78, 227, 244, 274, 338 

50th, 199, 284, 336 

52d, 303, 304 

60th, 79, 154, 226, 244, 274, 

284 

61st, 267, 297 

187th, 299, 300 

327th, 112, 113 

501st, 300 



502d, 49, 50, 113, 222, 298, 299 
503d, 45, 47, 48, 76, 99, 147, 
169, 171-178, 240, 241, 326 
505th, 271 

506th, 229, 241, 243, 300, 340, 
344, 345 
Battalions: 
1st Engineer, 145 
4th Engineer, 241 
8th Engineer, 262 
13th Aviation, 19 
14th Aviation, 19, 354 
14th Engineer, 352 
15th Engineer, 79, 80 
25th Aviation, 316 
30th Military Police, 212 
45th Transportation, 19 
52d Aviation, 19 
58th Transportation, 289 
97th Military Police, 358 
145th Aviation, 19 
158th Aviation, 352 
168th Engineer, 148, 149 
223d Aviation, 352 
299th Engineer, 170 
504th Military Police, 212 
716th Military Police, 20, 222, 
223 

720th Military Police, 243 
Companies: 

127th Military Police, 358 
179th Aviation, 178 
335th Aviation, 175 
919th Engineer, 75 
1002d Supply & Service, 293 
Utility Tactical Transport Avia- 
tion, 19 

Platoon, 39th Scout Dog, 171, 
172 

Army Special Forces, 8-19, 24, 
55, 56, 61, 77, 97, 101, 102, 
107, 111, 114, 117, 122-125, 
149, 157, 168, 170, 172, 174, 



INDEX 399 



249-254, 257, 262, 288, 298, 
364, 367 
1st Group, 24 
3d Group, 24 

5th Group, 9, 10, 19, 24, 82, 
122, 133, 205, 241, 245, 250, 
284, 303, 336, 355, 356 
Detachment A-101, 122, 250 
Detachment A-102, 303 
Detachment A-106, 232 
Detachment A-217, 14 
Detachment A-233, 242 
Detachment A-342, 13 
Detachment B-23, 240 
Detachment B-24, 241 
Detachment B-34, 12 
Detachment B-42, 245 
Detachment B-52 (DELTA), 10, 
11, 16, 17 
6th Group, 24 
7th Group, 24 
8th Group, 24 
10th Group, 24 

Ashley, SFC Eugene Jr., 252-254 
Australia, 46, 47, 82, 133, 134, 
205, 210, 242, 273, 319 



B-52 bombing, 43, 47, 59, 105, 
113, 118, 145, 162, 178, 192, 
255, 261, 313, 322, 337, 340, 
346, 348, 352, 353, 361 

Ba Gi, 217 

Ba Gia, 6 

Ba Bia, 242 

Ba To, 232 

Bac Lieu, 217 

Ban Me Thuot, 111, 217, 220, 240, 
241 

Barott, Lt. Col. William C., 108 

Barrier Island, 307 

Barsanti, Maj. Gen. Olinto M., 
140, 141 



Bautz, Maj. Gen. Edward Jr., 339 

Bear Cat, 227 

Beckwith, Maj. Charlie A., 16, 17 

Ben Cat, 146, 242 

Ben Cui Plantation, 277 

Ben Het, 172, 286, 288 

Ben Sue, 145, 146 

Bennett, Maj. Gen. Warren K., 

319 

Bien Hoa, 19, 20, 22, 46, 47, 72, 
141, 209, 210, 222, 229, 273, 
274, 287, 308, 362 

Binh Gia, 4 

Binh Phuoc, 154 

Binh Son, 189 

Blair, Capt. John D. IV, 122-124 

Boi Loi Woods, 99, 144 

Bong Son, 109, 114, 115, 197-199, 
201, 240 

Bowie, Lt. Col. Kyle W., 102 

Breeding, Capt., 250 

Brown, Col. Thomas W., 56 

Bu Dop, 340 

Burcham, Lt. Col. Jerry J., 309, 
311 

Burns, Staff Sgt. Leon R., 186 

Ca Lu, 256, 257, 297 

Cahill, Lt. Col. John J. H., 257 

Cai Be, 243 

Cai Lay, 243 

Galley, Lt. William L. Jr., 272 

Cam Lo, 125, 179-181, 267, 342 

Cam Ranh Bay, 22, 23, 49, 217, 
218, 358 

Cambodia, 56, 84, 85, 97, 111, 
135, 147, 151, 157, 158, 161, 
164, 168, 178, 209, 245, 273, 
279, 284, 287, 308, 309, 314, 
315, 317, 319, 324, 335-342, 
347, 350, 355, 356, 365 

Campbell, Col., 258 

Can Duoc, 276 



400 INDEX 



Can Tho, 216, 243-245 
Carpenter, Capt. William S. Jr., 

112 

Carroll, Camp, 179, 182, 267 
Casey, Maj. Gen. George W., 342 
Cay Giap Mountains, 110 
Central Intelligence Agency, 9, 10 
Cha Rang, 289 
Chau Phu, 243, 245 
China, 3, 134, 136 
Cholon, 222, 223, 227, 243, 274, 

275 
Chu Lai, 20, 31, 33, 35, 36, 67- 

69, 117, 119, 120, 138, 184, 

189-191, 195, 206, 213, 232, 

360 

Chu Pong Mountains, 56, 57, 111 
Clifford, Clark M., 215 
Coates, Capt. Sterling K., 186 
Cobb, Col. William C., 76 
Coleman, John D., Capt., 114 
Collins, Maj. Gen. Arthur S., 70 
Con Thien, 179, 181, 183-188, 

266, 267, 301, 302, 342 
Cu Chi, 72, 73, 83, 97, 141, 230, 

242 
Cua Viet River Valley, 127, 188, 

264 
Cushman, Lt. Gen. Robert E., 

185 

Dalat, 240, 242 

Da Nang, 19, 20, 30-36, 40, 68, 
69, 83, 117, 118, 120-122, 138, 
189, 206, 212, 220, 231, 249, 
266, 268, 303, 306, 307, 342, 
359-362 

Daem, Col. Leonard, 209 

Dai Do, 264, 265 

Dai Dong, 200, 201 

Dak To, 112, 113, 141, 168-174, 
178, 199, 201 



Dak Seang, 170 

Dau Tieng, 70, 107, 108, 145, 276, 

277, 289 
Davis, Maj. Gen. Raymond G., 

295 
Deane, Brig. Gen. John R. Jr., 

147, 169 
Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), 3, 30, 

84, 117, 125, 127, 129, 136, 

138, 139, 179, 180, 183-185, 

188, 189, 191, 206, 219, 264, 

266-268, 284, 295, 301, 302, 

304, 342, 359, 361 

Barrier Project, 184, 185, 187, 

188, 206, 259, 317 
DePuy, Maj. Gen. William E., 88, 

101, 105 
DeSaussure, Brig. Gen. Edward 

H., 107, 109 
Di An, 320 
Diem, Ngo Dinh, 4 
Dien Bien Phu, 249 
Dong Ha, 125, 128, 179, 186, 188, 

235, 258, 264, 266, 361 
Dong Xoai, 12-14, 141 
Douglas, William O., 293 
Due Co, 47, 111, 157, 164, 168 
Due Hoa, 144, 217, 242 
Due Pho, 192, 343 
Duke, Lt. Col. Lee D., 322 

Eagle, Camp, 362 

Eckhardt, Maj. Gen. George S., 

78 

Evans, Camp, 262 
Explosive Ordnance Disposal 

teams, 228 

Fields, Maj. Gen. Lewis J., 67- 

69 

Filhol Plantation, 144, 208 
Fire Support Base Brown, 340 



INDEX 401 



Fire Support Base Buell, 276 
Fire Support Base Burt, 209 
Fire Support Base Charlie, 2, 359 
Fire Support Base Crook, 317, 318 
Fire Support Base Gold, 150, 151 
Fire Support Base Holiday Inn, 

321 
Fire Support Base Mary Ann, 359, 

360 

Fire Support Base O'Reilly, 346 
Fire Support Base Pope, 279 
Fire Support Base Ripcord, 344- 

346 

Fire Support Base Siberia, 305 
Forbes, Brig. Gen. Robert C., 224 
Forsythe, Maj. Gen. George, L, 

308 

Gettys, Maj. Gen. Charles M., 

303 

Gibson, Col. James M., 301 
Gio Linh, 179, 181, 184 
Glikes, Col. Richard J., 266 
Go Dau Ha, 78 
Go Noi Island, 306 
Go Vap, 224, 237 
Greene, Gen. Wallace M., Jr., 30, 

66 

Hai Van Pass, 19, 30, 268 
Haig, Lt. Col. Alexander M., 145, 

151, 152 
Hamburger Hill, [see] Ap Bia 

Mountain or Hill 937 
Harkins, Gen. Paul D., 19 
Harvey, Capt. William R., 165 
Helicopter Valley, 126, 127 
Hennessey, Maj. Gen. John J., 

345 

Herrick, Lt. Henry T., 57 
Herrin, Capt., 58 



Hiep Due, 40, 41, 305 

Hill 63, 196 

Hill 64, 254 

Hill 110, 189 

Hill 117, 185 

Hill 158, 179 

Hill 174, 185 

Hill 471, 257 

Hill 208, 302 

Hill 558, 181 

Hill 823, 171 

Hill 861, 181, 182, 248, 249, 257 

Hill 861A, 250 

Hill 875, 174-178, 196 

Hill 881 North, 181, 183, 247, 258 

Hill 881 South, 181-183, 257, 258 

Hill 937, 299-301 

Hinh, Col. Nguyen Buy, 231 

Ho Bo Woods, 99, 144 

Hoa Vang, 232 

Hoc Mon, 143, 224 

Hochmuth, Maj. Gen. Bruno A., 

181, 187 
Hoi An, 232 
Hon Quan, 101 
Holloway, Camp, 17, 19 
Howard, Lt. Col. E. P., 305 
Hubbell, Capt. Thomas S., 188 
Hue, 31, 33, 117, 119-122, 207, 

208, 210, 215, 216, 232, 233- 

239, 242, 256, 260, 268, 269, 

344, 361 
Hughes, Col. Stanley S., 235 

la Drang Valley, 14, 56, 60, 61, 

65, 89, 111, 164, 363 
Iron Triangle, 134, 135, 142, 144- 

147, 320 

Jenkins, Lt. Homer K., 38, 39 
Johnson, Lt. Col. James H., 176 



402 INDEX 



Johnson, Lyndon B., 21, 33, 66, 
109, 215 

Karch, Brig. Gen. Frederick J., 

31, 32 
Katum, 147 

Kennedy, John F., 8, 24, 29 
Khe Sanh, 137, 179, 181-183, 188, 

206-208, 247-250, 254-259, 

295, 297, 298, 351, 352 
King, Dr. Martin Luther Jr., 215 
Kinnard, Maj. Gen. Harry W. O., 

52, 56, 109 
Kissinger, Henry, 283 
Knowles, Brig. Gen. Richard T., 

109 
Kontum, 47, 169-171, 208, 209, 

220, 240, 241, 288, 361 
Korea, 22, 24, 32, 34, 53, 133, 

212, 217, 218, 222, 289, 363, 

367 

Brigades, 2d Marine, 68, 82, 

111, 134, 138, 205, 206, 306, 

307 

Divisions: 

Capital, 109, 111, 134, 205, 209 

9th, 134, 205, 209, 240 

Regimental Combat Team, 

98th, 367 

Koster, Maj. Gen. Samuel W., 271 
Krulak, Lt. Gen. Victor H. 33 
Ky, Nguyen Cao, 120, 230, 275 

Laird, Melvin, 283, 284 

Lam, Lt. Gen. Hoang Xuan, 231, 

234, 236 
Lam Son, 216 

Landing Zone Albany, 59, 60 
Landing Zone Bird, 115, 116 
Landing Zone Carolyn, 313 
Landing Zone George, 152 
Landing Zone Grant, 313 



Landing Zone Jamie, 313 
Landing Zone Stud, 256 
Landing Zone X-Ray, 57-59, 363 
Lang Vei, 179, 188, 250, 254, 257, 

298 

Lanigan, Col. John P., 182 
Laos, 32, 84, 122, 135, 136, 178, 

184, 250-252, 254, 257, 258, 

260, 284, 295-299, 301, 335, 

350-352, 355 

Battalion, 33rd Volunteer, 250 
Larsen, Maj. Gen. Stanley R., 66 
Lazzell, Lt. Col. Rufus G., 107, 

148 

Leach, Col. James H., 322 
Lewane, Lt. Col. Leonard L., 103, 

105 

Loc Ninh, 101, 103, 139 
Long Binh, 66, 71, 227-229, 287, 

289, 292, 358, 362 
Long Thanh, 273 
Lownds, Col. David E., 247 

Marines, United States, 19, 20, 
26, 29-44, 50, 51, 65-69, 95, 
117-122, 124-129, 138, 179- 
191, 195, 205, 206, 208, 212, 
221, 231, 234-239, 247-250, 
254-259, 264-269, 277, 284, 
295-298, 301-303, 305-307, 
335, 336, 342, 347, 355, 356, 
361, 363, 366, 368-370, see also 
Armed Forces 

Amphibious Force, III, 34, 35, 
66, 69, 138, 185, 186, 192, 206, 
208, 234, 268, 342, 360 
Divisions: 

1st Marine, 30, 44, 65, 67-69, 
133, 138, 189, 190, 205, 206, 
268, 284, 303, 306, 336, 342, 
359 
2d Marine, 30, 213 



INDEX 403 



3d Marine, 30, 34, 43, 65, 82, 

133, 136, 138, 180, 181, 184, 

187, 205, 206, 264, 284, 285, 

295, 301, 302 

5th Marine, 206, 212, 213 

Brigades: 

1st, 30 

9th, 30, 31, 33, 34, 138 

Group, Aircraft 16, 187 

Regiments: 

1st Marines, 30, 42, 67, 68, 

118, 127, 188, 189, 234, 235, 

256, 306, 355 

2d Marines, 30 

3d Marines, 30, 32-37, 39, 42, 

118, 127, 180-183, 185, 186, 

231, 256, 266 

4th Marines, 30, 33, 35, 38, 68, 

117, 118, 120, 126-129, 180, 

184, 185, 264, 265 

5th Marines, 30, 69, 127, 189, 

190, 231, 235, 237, 238, 306, 

355 

6th Marines, 30 

7th Marines, 22, 30, 35, 36, 39, 

42-44, 67, 68, 117, 120, 128, 

305, 306, 347 

8th Marines, 30 

9th Marines, 30, 32, 35, 118, 

181, 182, 185, 186, 249, 257, 

266, 295-297, 299 

26th Marines, 127, 138, 183, 

185, 187, 206, 248, 250, 255, 
257, 258, 267, 307, 347 

27th Marines, 212, 214, 268, 

269, 367 

Battalions: 

1st Light Antiaircraft, 32, 33 

1st Military Police, 268 

3d Reconnaissance, 33, 125, 127 

llth Engineer, 256, 258 

Squadrons, Helicopter: 



HMM-163, 19 

HMM-361, 186 

HMM-365, 19 

Task Force Shufly, 19 

Company, 1st Force Recon- 
naissance, 118 

Detachment, Saigon Guard, 221 
Martinez, Platoon Sgt, 311, 312 
McDade, Lt. Col. Robert A., Jr., 

60 

McKenna, Col, 169 
McMahon, Capt, 128 
McNamara, Robert S., 25, 52, 66, 

137, 140, 184, 188, 205, 215, 

259, 317 

Meloy, Maj. Guy S. Ill, 108 

Michelin Plantation, 107, 320, 321 

Military Assistance Command 

Vietnam (MACV), 5, 18, 19, 23, 

30, 33, 44, 61, 65, 72, 73, 77, 

78, 80, 82, 85, 88, 95, 99, 100, 

109, 117, 133-137, 141, 143, 

144, 187, 191, 192, 205, 208, 

210-215, 217-219, 228, 233, 

234, 240, 241, 244, 255, 256, 

260, 263, 264, 268, 272, 273, 
279, 283, 284, 289, 292, 295, 
296, 298, 299, 301, 314, 315, 
319, 320, 335-337, 341, 350, 
355-357 

Milloy, Maj. Gen. Albert E., 322, 

323, 342 
Minh Thanh Road, Battle of, 105- 

107, 148 

Mini-Tet, 210, 227, 273-276 
Moc Hoa, 243 

Molinelli, Lt. Col. Robert F., 352 
Moore, Col. Harold G. Jr., 57, 

109, 363 

Mutter's Ridge, see Nui Cay Tre 
My Lai massacre, 272, 273 
My Tho, 220, 238, 243, 244, 276 



404 INDEX 



NAVAJO WARHORSE, Opera- 
tional Area, 308 

Navy, United States, 13, 31, 32, 
36, 37, 39-43, 68, 103, 118, 
127, 138, 188, 192, 210, 236, 
238, 244, 256, 267, 276, 277, 
307 

New Zealand, 133, 134 

Newport Bridge, 218, 242, 243 

Nha Trang, 10, 19, 20, 66, 122, 
218, 240 

Nhi Binh, 143 

Nhi Ha, 265, 266 

Nihn Hoa, 240 

Nixon, Richard M., 283-285, 358, 
362 

North Vietnam, 3, 20, 61, 140, 
249, 264, 273, 276, 283, 323 

North Vietnamese Army (NVA), 
11, 14-17, 24, 40, 56, 57-61, 
65, 73, 80-86, 90, 91, 97, 108, 
110-115, 117, 119, 122-129, 
133-137, 139, 142, 148, 157- 
192, 196-199, 201, 206-208, 
210-212, 216, 231-234, 237- 
241, 243, 245-255, 257, 258, 
260-269, 271, 275-277, 283- 
285, 287-290, 295-297, 300- 
304, 308-313, 316-318, 320- 
325, 335-341, 345, 346, 348, 
350-356, 358-362, 364, 365 
Divisions: 

1st, 111, 157, 164, 178, 313 
2d, 117, 189, 190, 196, 231 
3d, 117, 197 
5th, 115 
7th, 313, 320 
10th, 157, 164 
304th, 247, 249 
320th, 264-266 
324B, 127, 128, 179, 237 
325B, 125 



325C, 182, 247 

Regiments: 

3d, 189, 303 

4th, 233 

5th, 237 

6th, 233, 239 

18th, 34, 110, 198 

21st, 190 

22d, 110, 115, 198 

24th, 112, 169, 241 

29th, 300 

31st, 185 

32d, 14, 166-168, 178, 185 

33d, 14, 240 

36th, 120 

66th, 14, 59, 167, 168, 178, 

251, 257 

88th, 139, 318 

90th, 186 

95th, 240 

95B, 165 

101st, 108, 148 

101D, 254 

174th, 171, 173, 174, 178 

320th, 321 

716th, 188 

803d, 345 

812th, 180, 185, 187, 232 

Battalions: 

195th Antiaircraft, 41 

402d Sapper, 231 

406th Sapper, 241 
Norton, Maj. Gen. John, 113, 197, 

198 

Nui Ba Den, 147 
Nui Cay Tre (Mutter's Ridge), 128, 

129 

Ohanesian, Lt. Col. Victor, 180, 

181 
Operations, allied military: 

ABILENE, 99, 100 



INDEX 405 



ALA MOANA, 144 

APACHE SNOW, 299-301 

ATLAS WEDGE, 320 

ATTLEBORO, 85, 107-109, 

133 

BADGER TOOTH, 188 

BEAU CHARGER, 185 

BINH TAY I, 340 

BIRMINGHAM, 100 

BUFFALO, 186 

CEDAR FALLS, 134, 135, 

145-147 

COLORADO, 189 

COBURG, 210 

CRAZY HORSE, 111, 114 

CRIMP, 99 

DAVY CROCKETT, 111, 113 

DEFIANT STAND, 307 

DELAWARE, 261 

DEWEY CANYON I and II, 

295, 351 

DOUBLE EAGLE, 117, 118 

EL PASO I and II, 101-107 

ENTERPRISE, 153 

FAIRFAX, 142, 143 

FRANCIS MARION, 164-168 
FREDERICK HILL, 304, 305 
GARDEN PLOT, see United 
States civil disturbances 
GARFIELD, 111 
GIBRALTAR, 49-52 
GREELEY, 168, 169-171 
HARVEST MOON, 40-43, 189 
HASTINGS, 125-127 
HAWTHORNE, 112, 113 
HICKORY, 185 
HIGHLAND, 49 
HOLLINGSWORTH, 100 
HUMP, 47, 48 
IRVING, 111, 115 
JEFFERSON GLENN, 356 
JOHN PAUL JONES, 113 



JUNCTION CITY, 135, 137, 
147-153, 191 

KEYSTONE series, 323, 355 
KLAMATH FALLS, 141 
LAM SON 54, 185 
LAM SON 207, 256 
LAM SON 216, 261 
LAM SON 246, 263 
LAM SON 719, 136, 351-356 
LEXINGTON III, 100, 101 
MAC ARTHUR, 168, 171-178 
MALLET, 99 
MALHEUR I and II, 192 
MARAUDER, 99 
MASHER/WHITE WING, 
109, 114 

MASSACHUSETTS STRIK- 
ER, 298, 299 
MASTIFF, 99 
MONTANA MAULER, 301 
MONTANA RAIDER, 313 
NEVADA EAGLE, 269 
NEW YORK, 119 
PAUL REVERE I-IV, 111 
PEGASUS, 256 
PERSHING, 198, 199, 201 
PIRANHA, 40 
PRAIRIE, 127-129, 179 
SAM HOUSTON, 157-164 
SCOTLAND II, 295 
SEWARD, 113 
SILVER BAYONET, 56-61 
SOMERSET PLAIN, 263 
STARLITE, 35-40 
TEXAS, 120 
TEXAS STAR, 334 
THAYER, 111 

TOAN THANG series, 273, 
320, 338, 339 
TRAN HUNG DAO, 226 
UNION I and II, 189, 190 
UNIONTOWN, 71, 209 



406 INDEX 



UTAH, 119, 120 

WHEELER/WALLOWA, 271 
YELLOWSTONE, 153, 209 
Otis, Lt. Col. Glenn K., 230 

Pacific Architects & Engineers, 

217 

Page, Capt. James F., 42, 43 
Parker, Capt. David L., 309 
Patton, Col. George S., 320, 322 
Patrol Base Diamond I and II, 315 
Patrol Base Frontier City, 315-317 
Patrol Base Kotrc, 324 
Pearson, Brig. Gen. Willard, 111 
Peatross, Col. Oscar F., 35 
Peers, Maj. Gen. William R., 70, 

157, 158, 164 
Pentagon (Joint Chiefs of Staff), 

20, 30, 48, 73, 74, 84, 135, 212, 

213, 216, 256, 285, 366, 367 
Phan Rang, 195, 209 
Phan Thiet, 20, 112, 240, 241 
Philco-Ford, 217 
PHOENIX, Project, 245 
Phii Bai, 31, 33, 35, 117-119, 138, 

206, 210, 234, 255, 361, 362 
Phii Cuong, 242 
Phu Hoa Dong, 322 
Phu Lam, 227, 274 
Phu Loc, 269 
Phu Loi, 320 

Phu Tho Racetrack, 224-227, 275 
Phu Thu Peninsula, 119 
Phu Vinh, 243 
Phung Du, 110 

Phuoc Ha Valley, 40, 41, 189, 271 
Phuoc Lu, 309 
Phuoc Vinh, 141, 320 
Plateau Gi, 170 
Plei Djereng, 164 
Plei Me, 14, 16, 17, 56, 61, 111 
Pleiku, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, 47, 56, 



69, 70, 73, 111, 136, 167, 209, 
217, 220, 241, 289, 290 

Powell, Lt., 310 

Prek Klok, 148 

Price, Capt. Donald, 154-156 

Project PRACTICE NINE/ILLI- 
NOIS CITY/DYE MARKER, 
see Demilitarized Zone barrier 

Pusser, Capt. Thomas, 17 

Quan Loi, 103, 105, 209 

Quan Long, 243 

Quang Ngai, 6, 7, 41, 118, 120, 

216, 232 
Quang Tri, 182, 187, 206, 207, 

214, 232, 235, 266, 359, 361 
Que Son Valley, 189, 306, 342 
Qui Nohn, 19, 20, 22, 49, 83, 111, 

209, 240, 289, 290 

Rach Gia, 243 

Rach Kien, 154 

Radcliff, Maj. Don G., 55 

Ramsey, Maj. Gen. Lloyd B., 305 

Rattan, Col. Donald V., 232 

Rawls, Capt. Robert E., 50 

Reckewell, Capt., 121 

Rifle, M16, performance, 75, 78, 

90, 107, 140, 142, 182, 216, 

225, 286 

Roach, Lt. Terence R., 254 
Roberts, Maj. Gen. Elvy B., 17, 

313, 338, 339 
Robertson, Maj. Gen. Donn J., 

190 

Robinson, Capt. Donald R., 5-7 
Rockpile, The, 125, 128, 179, 182, 

267 

Rosson, Lt. Gen. William B., 255 
Rowe, Lt. Col. Gordon D., 222 

Sa Dec, 217, 243 

Saigon, 19-21, 31, 66, 72, 78, 97, 



INDEX 407 



99, 142-144, 153, 209, 210, 
215, 218-227, 237, 242, 243, 
273-276, 287, 307, 308, 314, 
315, 319, 336, 361, 362 
Schenning, Lt. Col. Richard J., 

186 
Schungel, Lt. Col. Daniel F., 251- 

253 

Schweiter, Brig. Gen. Leo H., 171 
SEAL, 245 
Seaman, Lt. Gen. Jonathan O., 

66, 134 

Sharp, Adm. U. S. Grant, 84 
Shoemaker, Brig. Gen. Robert H., 

338 
Simpson, Maj. Gen. Ormond R., 

306 
Smith, Lt. Col. Wilfrid K. G., 49- 

52 

Snoul, 339 

Soc Trang, 19, 243, 245 
Son Long Valley, 110 
Son My, 272 
Song Be, 12, 139, 208, 243, 292, 

320 

Song Re Valley, 199 
Soui Cau, 108 
Soui Da, 107 
Soui Tre, 150 

South Vietnam, 3-5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 
18, 20, 23, 24, 31, 34, 61, 65, 
117, 120, 133, 136, 137, 142, 
157, 164, 179, 205, 208, 211, 
222, 231, 238, 240, 242, 245, 
246, 276, 336, 337, 355, 361, 
363 

South Vietnam, Army (ARVN), 4, 
7, 20, 33, 46, 47, 51, 82-84, 
109, 111, 117, 119, 120, 124, 
125, 133-136, 139, 142-144, 
153, 170, 171, 185, 189, 201, 
215, 216, 219-222, 224, 226, 



227, 231-234, 239-245, 249, 

258, 259, 263, 273-275, 277, 

279, 283-287, 301, 306-308, 

314, 319, 324, 327, 335-342, 

347, 350-356, 361, 362, 364- 

366 

Marine Corps (VNMC), 83, 134, 

216, 221, 237, 238, 274, 354 

Special Forces (LLDB), 11, 14, 

83, 97, 122, 123, 134, 157, 251- 

254, 

Special Tactial Zone, 24th, 241 

Corps headquarters: 

I, 231 

III, 227, 229 

Divisions: 

Airborne ("Rainbow"), 121, 134- 

136, 216, 245, 285, 314, 338, 

352, 354, 361 

Marine, 216, 285, 361 

1st, 31, 83, 119, 120, 134, 139, 

216, 233, 237, 245, 285, 286, 

352, 353, 361, 362 

2d, 31, 117, 134, 192, 216, 285, 

286, 305, 357 

3d, 359, 361 

5th, 83, 134, 135, 139, 216, 

285, 319, 320, 322, 347, 362 
7th, 83, 134, 216, 244, 285 
9th, 83, 134, 216, 244, 285, 286 
10th, 83 

18th, 83, 134, 217, 242, 285, 

286, 319, 362 

21st, 83, 134, 139, 217, 244, 

285 

22d, 83, 109, 117, 134, 217, 

285, 308, 347 

23d, 83, 134, 217, 240, 285, 

286, 308 

25th, 83, 134, 217, 285, 314, 

319, 347 

Groups: 



408 INDEX 



2d Ranger, 139 

5th Ranger, 142-144, 209, 219, 

226, 275 

Regiments: 

Palace Guard, 83, 134 

1st, 232, 263, 344, 346, 352 

2d, 139, 235, 264, 302, 352, 353 

3d, 119, 233, 234, 235, 237, 

239, 262, 299, 300 

5th, 40-42, 305 

6th, 41 

7th, 13, 322 

9th, 139 

40th, 200, 240, 340 

41st, 217 

42d, 16, 112, 134, 170, 241, 285 

44th, 217, 241 

45th, 240 

47th, 240 

48th, 46 

50th, 143 

51st, 5-7, 31, 83, 134, 232, 285, 

286, 306 

Battalions: 

Honor Guard, 83, 221 

1st Airborne, 219 

1st Marine, 83, 226, 237 

2d Airborne, 172, 234, 235 

2d Service, 230 

2d Marine, 83, 226 

3d Airborne, 172, 226, 257 

3d Marine, 6, 83, 226 

4th Marine, 5, 83, 224, 238 

5th Airborne, 120, 170 

5th Marine, 83, 237 

6th Airborne, 226, 257 

6th Marine, 226 

7th Airborne, 14, 234, 235 

8th Airborne, 170, 171, 219, 

221, 226, 230, 257 

9th Airborne, 232, 235 

llth Airborne, 216, 226 



llth Ranger, 41, 83, 134, 242, 
245 

21st Ranger, 16, 83, 112, 134, 
216, 239, 245 

22d Ranger, 16, 83, 134, 241 , 
23d Ranger, 83, 134, 240, 242, 
245 

30th Ranger, 83, 134, 143, 216, 
226 

31st Ranger, 83, 134, 243 
32d Ranger, 83, 134, 243, 244 
33d Ranger, 5, 83, 134, 216, 
226 

34th Ranger, 83, 134 
35th Ranger, 83, 134, 226, 274 
36th Ranger, 12, 83, 134 
37th Ranger, 83, 134, 216, 245, 
249, 255 

38th Ranger, 83, 134, 226, 274 
39th Ranger, 6, 7, 83, 134, 216, 
239, 245, 352 
41st Ranger, 83, 134, 226 
42d Ranger, 83, 134, 139 
43d Ranger, 83, 134, 139 
44th Ranger, 83, 134, 139 
51st Ranger, 83, 134 
52d Ranger, 13, 83, 134 
52d Regional Force, 230 
58th Regional Force, 229 
91st Airborne Ranger, 16, 17 
102d Engineer, 232 
Squadrons: 

1st Armored Cavalry, 338 
3d Armored Cavalry, 16, 241 
5th Armored Cavalry, 243 
7th Armored Cavalry, 234, 235 
8th Armored Cavalry, 240 
10th Armored Cavalry, 154 
Company, Hac Bao Recon, 233, 
237, 239 

Special Landing Force, Seventh 
Fleet, 22, 30, 35, 36, 39-42, 



INDEX 409 



69, 118, 127, 138, 181, 182, 

185, 190, 307 
Srok Dong, 103, 105 
Starry, Col. Dorm A., 339 
Stevenson, Lt., 310, 311 
Steverson, Lt. Col. James R., 174 
Stilwell, Lt. Gen. Richard G., 295, 

297 

Ta Bat, 122, 260, 262, 263, 299 
Talbott, Maj. Gen. Orwin C., 320 
Tallman, Brig. Gen. Richard J., 

361 

Tarn Ky, 43, 189, 232, 304, 359 
Tarn Quan, 199, 201 
Tan An, 243 
Tan Binh, 143 
Tan My, 361 
Tan Son Nhut Air Base, 143, 222, 

229-231, 274 
Tau-O, 101 
Tay Ninh, 78, 107, 149, 209, 243, 

277, 289, 314, 317 
Tchepone, 136, 350, 351, 353, 354 
Tet-68 Offensive, 201, 205, 206, 
208-210, 212, 213, 216, 217, 
219, 220, 222, 228, 231-233, 
240, 242, 243, 256, 260, 264, 
284, 287 
Thach Tru, 118 
Thailand, 20, 29, 32-34, 72, 136, 

205, 210, 319, 367 
Tham Khe, 188 
Thang Binh, 41 
Thi, Nguyen Chanh, Maj. Gen., 

31-33, 120 

Thien Phuoc, 190, 303, 304 
Thieu, President Nguyen Van, 

220, 275, 353 
Thu Due, 242 

Thuan Loi Rubber Plantation, 13 
Tiller, Lt. Col. Norman L., 193 



Timothy, Col. James S., 49 
Tolson, Maj. Gen. John J. Ill, 

198, 207, 257, 261 
Tompkins, Maj. Gen. Rathvon 

McC., 188 
Tou Morong, 112 
Throckmorton, Lt. Gen. John C., 

211 

Trang Ban, 278 
Tri Ton, 243 
True Giang, 243, 244 
Truong, Brig. Gen. Ngo Quang, 

233 
Tuy Hoa, 20, 78, 111-113, 171, 

240 

Ulm, Capt. Donald S., 148 
United States, 

antiwar movement, 212, 214 

assistance to Vietnam, 5, 7, 8, 

18, 19, 121, 363 

see also Vietnamization 

civil disturbances, 211-215, 266 

contingency plans, 21, 136, 208, 

363 

draft, 21, 26, 293, 364, 366 

Embassy, Tet attack on, 221, 

222 

forces stationed in, 24, 30, 65, 

82, 211-215 

public opinion, 27, 109, 246, 

284, 294, 365, 366 

rules of engagement, 84, 85, 

135, 136, 268, 364 

strategy in Vietnam, 7, 8, 11, 

14, 17, 19, 20, 21, 52, 60, 61, 

65, 81-83, 97, 125, 133, 135- 

138, 140, 142, 153, 180, 183, 

184, 215, 216, 246, 247, 259, 

264, 273, 279, 283, 284, 301, 

313, 323, 335, 343, 347, 348, 

355, 356, 363-368 



410 INDEX 



see also Demilitarized Zone 

barrier 

war crimes, 272 

Van Kiep Naval Training Center, 
216 

Vi Thanh, 139 

Vien, Gen. Cao Van, 26 

Viet Cong (VC), 4-7, 9-14, 19- 
22, 24, 32-42, 46-48, 51, 61, 
73, 78, 81-87, 90, 97-108, 110, 
113, 114, 117-120, 123, 133- 
137, 139, 142-156, 189, 191- 
194, 198-201, 207, 209-212, 
215, 218, 220-234, 236, 237, 
239, 240-246, 260, 268-271, 
273-279, 283-285, 287-292, 
304-307, 320, 326-330, 335- 
337, 341, 348, 360 
Divisions: 
5th, 288 

9th, 4, 101, 107, 109, 135, 145, 
153, 287 
Regiments: 

1st, 6, 35, 40, 41, 120, 304 
2d, 49, 110, 192, 193 
70th, 108, 151 
165A, 99 

271st (later NVA), 103, 108, 
151, 209, 229, 316, 317 
272d (later NVA), 101, 106, 108, 
149, 209, 309, 317 
273d, 102, 149, 242 
274th, 228, 229 
275th, 227, 229 
Battalions: 

C-10 Sapper, 220, 221 
Hue City Sapper, 233 
U-l Local Force, 228 
1st Local Force, 220, 221 
2d Independent, 220 



2d Local Force, 143, 221 

3d Local Force, 220 

4th Local Force, 220 

5th Local Force, 220 

6th Local Force, 220, 224 

10th Sapper, 232 

12th Local Force, 233 

15H Local Force, 241 

D16, 229 

40th Sapper, 241 

60th Main Force, 305 

145th, 242 

186th, 242 

238th Local Force, 229 

261st, 243 

263d, 243 

267th Local Force, 220, 229, 

274 

269th Local Force, 220 

301E Local Force, 240 

304th, 241 

306th, 244 

308th, 244 

402d Sapper, 268 

482d Local Force 

506th Local Force, 154, 220 

514th, 243 

516th, 244 

518th, 244 

D800, 99 

800th, 119 

840th Main Force, 241 

847th, 244 
Vietnamization, 143, 144, 216, 

218, 283-287, 323, 335, 336, 

341, 349, 352, 354, 355, 365, 

368 

Vinh Huy, 190 
Vinh Long, 243, 244 
Vinh Thanh, 114 
Vinnell Corporation, 217 



INDEX 411 



Vung Ro, 113 

Vung Tau, 20, 46, 71, 72, 75, 78, 
80 

Walker, Maj. Gen. Glenn D., 340 

Walt, Maj. Gen. Lewis W,, 34, 
36, 

War Zone C, 78, 85, 101, 107, 
134, 135, 137, 147, 150-153, 
209, 313 

War Zone D, 46, 47, 134, 137, 
208, 209, 273, 313 

Westmoreland, Gen. William C., 
19, 34, 45, 48, 69, 73, 74, 77, 
79, 88, 95, 105, 111, 133, 134, 
137, 137, 140, 144, 170, 184, 
191, 206, 208, 210, 212, 215, 
249, 256, 258, 260, 273, 359 

Weyand, Maj. Gen. Fred C., 73 



Wheeler, Gen. Earle G., 211 
Wheeler, Maj. Gen. Edwin B., 

342 
Williamson, Maj. Gen. Ellis W., 

45, 314 
Willoughby, Capt. Frank C., 250, 

253, 254 
Wright, Maj. Gen. John M. Jr., 

55, 301 
Wright, Lt, 291, 292 

Xuan Loc, 74, 83, 217, 242, 359, 
362 

Y-Bridge, 274 

Yeu, Col. Dam Quang, 121 

Zais, Maj. Gen. Melvin, 263, 298, 
301 



In addition, tlie text is illustrated with over 
fifty unusual photographs, most of them 
from the author's private collection, and 
fifteen original maps. 




About ttie author t 

Shelby Stanton was on active duty in the 
U.S. Army for six: years. Me served as a 
combat rifle platoon leader in the 1st Bat- 
talion, 5O8th Infantry (Airborne) of the 3d 
Brigade, 82d Airborne Division; with U.S. 
Army Special Forces, Thailand, as a 
Ranger advisor to the Royal Thai Special 
\Varfare Center, and commanded a Special 
Forces reconnaissance team in Laos. 
\Vounded in action, he retired with the 
rank of captain. He then returned to 
Louisiana State University where he earn- 
ed a Nlasters in Educational Administra- 
tion, and a Juris Doctor. 

He lives with his wife and four children in 
Bethesda, N1D, devoting himself to a full- 
time career as military historian. Mis next 
book is a complete history of Army Special