... A PLACE TO HANG OUR HAT ...
Though there is much history that has been recorded about the Vietnam War, the units that participated, and the actions that took place there, this much briefer article deals mainly with the places in that country in which the 1st Brigade of the 1st Air Cavalry Division and its Headquarters Company in particular operated. This is a brief chronological list of the few main bases, areas of operation, campaigns and even some of the Landing Zones frequented by the Brigade in its time in Vietnam.
In the Spring of 1955, the US sent a team of advisers to Vietnam to help the military forces of that country organize themselves to oppose the forces of North Vietnam. The main type of helicopter used at that time was the H-19. In the early 1960ís those advisers were allowed to accompany the Vietnamese troops into the field. The helicopters used by then were usually the CH-21.
On 1 July, 1965, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) was officially formed, its colors first being raised at Fort Benning, Georgia, on 3 July. On 28 July, this new unit was ordered to move to Vietnam; and in less than a month, this unit with 16,000 men and 434 helicopters was ready to enter combat. By September, the 1st Cav began arriving in Vietnam as the USís first fully committed division of the war. Though a few of the new UH-1 helicopters had arrived in Vietnam, it was the 1st Cav that took them into battle in any major way.
On 13 September, 1965, the first ship carrying elements of the 1st Cav arrived at Qui Nhon; and by the next day, the troops arrived at An Khe. Though other bases would be set up for periods of time and elements of the Cav would operate far and wide in various campaigns, it was An Khe that would remain the home of the 1st Cav for its stay in Vietnam. It was ironic that the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division, with their patch depicting the horseís head on it, would arrive in the Oriental year of the "Horse".
|rotor blade archway at An Khe - artwork by Nicola Zeuzem
An Khe, 1967 - by T. Winkler
In October, 1965, Operation "Shiny Bayonet" initiated the First Team into combat as the Pleiku Campaign started. The battle started near Plei Me and moved into the Ia Drang Valley near the Chu Pong Mountains. LZ X-Ray was "hot" from the time the Cav arrived, and this is where the first Medal of Honor for the Vietnam War was awarded. Action moved to LZ Albany where it is recorded that the most intensive combat in the history of the Division took place over a period of three days. This resulted in the first Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the unit during its time in Vietnam. The Cav returned to An Khe in November.
In late January, 1966, Operation "Masher" began as mainly the 3rd Brigade of the Cav moved into the Binh Dinh Province in search of the NVAís "Sao Vang" Division. This began at LZ Dog near Bong Son.
In early February, Operation "White Wing" began as the second phase of this engagement, and the 1st Brigade soon relieved the 3rd in this area around LZ Bird. This operation ended in early March.
Mid May saw the beginning of Operation "Crazy Horse" which took place in the hills between the Suoi Ca and Vinh Thanah Valleys. This action resulted in the discovery of many documents detailing the Viet Cong operations in the Binh Dinh area.
In August, Operation "Paul Revere II" began in the area of LZ Juliet. This operation lasted a couple of weeks, ending in the battle of Hill 534 in the Chu Pong Mountains near the Cambodian Border.
Operation "Thayer I" began in September as elements of the 1st Brigade met heavy resistance in the village of Hoa Hoi in the Binh Dinh Province. In October, Operation "Thayer II" began to continue the task of taking control of the Binh Dinh area.
In late December, a large attack on LZ Bird in the Kim Son Valley resulted in two days of fighting that saw the LZ almost over run by the enemy. Another Medal of Honor was won by a member of the Cav during this action. LZ Bird was moved to a better location after this battle.
In February, 1967, the 1st Cav set up a base camp at LZ English on the Bong Song plain and began working from there and from LZ MUSTANG in the nearby An Lo Valley. Thus began the eleven month campaign known as Operation "Pershing". This was to be the Cavís longest action, resulting in 18 major engagements and many minor skirmishes.
Bong Song base area, 1967
by F. Vanatta
January of 1968 saw the Cav move north into I Corps, setting up a base at Camp Evans which was about 20 kilometers south of Quang Tri. The 1st Brigade made Quang Tri their home, working out of LZ Sharon, while the Headquarters section was based at nearby LZ Betty.
|Quang Tri - LZ Betty, 1968
by F. Vanatta
The Tet Offensive of 1968 saw many areas of the country attacked by enemy units in a major offensive. Five battalions of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong attacked Quang Tri and the surrounding area. After ten days of fighting just east of the city at Thorn An Thai, Quang Tri had been liberated. While this was going on, the 3rd Brigade was re-taking the Capital of Hue farther to the south.
|Imperial city of Hue, 1968
by F. Vanatta
A group of about 3,600 Marines and ARVN soldiers had been under siege by some 20,000 enemy troops at the Marine base of Khe Sanh, inland of Quang Tri. On 1 April, Operation "Pegasus" began with a large air assault just eight kilometers from the base. After four days of fighting, the Cav marched into the base.
Approaching Khe Sanh, 1968
by F. Vanatta
|Khe Sanh, 1968
by F. Vanatta
On 19 April, the Cav was on the move again as Operation "Delaware" commenced. This saw the Brigade move into the A Shau Valley, about 45 kilometers west of Hue. This was a major supply base along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and was an area where no free world forces had been for about two years. Though this operation only lasted a month, a very large amount of weapons and supplies had been captured or destroyed.
A Shau valley, 1968
by F. Vanatta
In late 1968, the Division packed up and moved to the other end of the country, setting up camp in III Corps in the Southwest corner of Vietnam. From the Division Headquarters at Phouc Vinh, the Cav began to operate in the four main provinces of Phouc Long, Binh Long, Tay Ninh, and Binh Duong. The Headquarters Company of the 1st Brigade worked out of Tay Ninh. The unit was located at first in an area near what was known as "Stingray Pad", but it moved in to the Phil Cav (PHICAG - Philippines Civil Action Group) complex at the end of 1969. This area was the lap of luxury compared to the other living areas the unit had been in over the years - after the herd of cockroaches that took up residency there was convinced to leave. The area contained concrete bunkers that could withstand rocket attacks as well as indoor plumbing
LZs in Tay Ninh Province
by J. Shearer
The beginning of 1969 saw Operation "Toan Thhang II" result in the capture of one of the largest stockpiles of ammunition found in the war.
Operation "Cheyenne Sabre" began in February with the aim of disrupting the supply routes Northeast of Bien Hoa - an area known as the "Serges Jungle Highway". By August, the enemy was getting tired of this "interference" by the Cav, and they mounted attacks against Quan Lai, LZ Becky, LZ Jon, LZ Kelly, and LZ Caldwell. Not only were these attacks thrown back, but by the end of the year the Cav had totally destroyed the enemyís hold on that part of the country.
On 1 May, 1970, President Nixon gave the order for the Cav to move into Cambodia to smash enemy supply areas in what was known as the "Fish Hook", near the towns of Mimot and Snoul. This mission was completed at the end of June, and was to become one of the most successful operations of its type for the Cav. Countless amounts of weapons and ammunition were captured or destroyed, the items uncovered ranging from small arms to a Porsche sports car.
In June, 1970, the Headquarters Company of the 1st Brigade moved to Bien Hoa.
By this time, popular sentiment in the US was growing against further involvement in the war. Though there was more fighting to be done, the beginning of the withdrawal was commencing. By late March, 1971, the official duties of the 1st Cavalry Division ended. Though the majority of the Cav began to leave Vietnam, parts of the three Brigades were reformed to make up a new 3rd Brigade which was then headquartered at Bien Hoa. This group became occupied with the program of "Vietnamization", which was designed to help the Vietnamese people take control of their own future defense.
On 5 May, 1971, the colors of the 1st Cavalry Division, minus those of the 3rd Brigade, were officially moved to Fort Hood, Texas. Thus ends this brief collection of the exploits of the 1st Brigade.
Though the 1st Cav was reorganized and went on to perform other assignments and test new military concepts, and the 3rd Brigade continued to perform admirably in Vietnam until 21 June, 1972, that is another story.
compiled by Frank Vanatta