Vietnam: It's cost, and it's legacy
Vietnam remains one of the most controversial
periods of our nation's history, and even now, more than 30 years after the last American soldiers returned home, it still
can bring emotions to a boiling point. My purpose for presenting this history is not to try and place blame, or to attempt
to give absolution, for I do not have the power or the right to do either. More than 58,000 Americans and untold numbers of
Vietnamese lost their lives during the years between 1965-1973, but so much more than that was also lost, and there was no
victor in this war. Only lessons learned at a very dear cost that we can never allow ourselves, as a nation, to forget.
Hear me more plainly.
have in equal balance justly weigh'd
What wrongs our arms may do, what wrongs we suffer,
And find our griefs heavier
than our offences.
(William Shakespeare, 2 Henry
Post World War Two and Korea
The 101st remained in Germany serving occupation duty until November, 1945 when they
were deactivated in France and shipped home. Between 1945 and 1956, the 101st was activated and deactivated three times as
a training unit at Camp Breckinridge, KY and Fort Jackson, SC. They were responsible for training the 11th Airborne Division which served with honor in Korea. In March, 1956, the 101st transferred to Fort Campbell,
KY where they remained in active service but at reduced manpower levels. In the early '60s, the Army predicted a larger involvement
in Southeast Asia and began building up the 101st in addition to several other units. In July of 1965, the 101st was ordered
Vietnam... The Odyssey
(Please note: Text in bold print are links to pages of additional
pictures and information.)
Late in the winter of 1965 the decision was made in Washington to commit American troops to combat in the Republic of Vietnam.
The Marines were in first, around Da Nang, then the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade. In the spring the 101st Airborne Division
at Fort Campbell, Ky., was alerted to send a brigade of infantry plus support troops to Vietnam.
The men were flown from Fort Campbell on the evening of July 6, 1965, and arrived at San Francisco, where they took buses
to Oakland Army Terminal. Here they were greeted by an Army band, Red Cross "Donut Dollies," and a gray ship.
The USNS General Leroy Eltinge: 510 feet long, every inch painted gray. It seemed too short to have such high smokestacks.
"Gee," remarked a trooper from Arizona, "I wonder what battle General Eltinge lost to have it named after him?" A voice from
the crowded deck informed him, "He was Custer's S-2."
The "shipborne" brigade arrived at Cam Ranh Bay on July 29, and two former commanders of the 101st Airborne Division were
there to greet them: Maxwell D. Taylor, Ambassador to Vietnam, and General William C. Westmoreland, commander of MACV.
For a map of Vietnam showing the locations and operations of the 101st, click here.
The first major action, Operation Highland, was to secure a base at An Khe and the road from Qui Nhon to An Khe for the arrival of the 1st Air Cavalry
Division. The 1st Brigade was still rootless unlike other units it did not immediately establish a base camp. The brigade
was on its way to earning the nickname, "Nomads of Vietnam."
The 1st Cav arrived safely, and the 1st Brigade in August and September continued to provide security. In mid-September,
elements of the 2nd of the 502nd won the honor of first defeating a Viet Cong main force unit, before any other U.S. unit.
The troopers of one-and-a-half companies air assaulted into what was later determined to be a VC battalion command post.
The paratroopers found themselves completely surrounded and outnumbered, but the assault had caught the enemy by surprise.
The Americans took the offensive and badly mauled the VC battalion. When the battle ended three days later, after the arrival
of reinforcements, 226 enemy dead were left on the field.
Following Operation Gibraltar, the 1st Brigade moved to Qui Nhon to provide security for the incoming Korean Tiger Division.
In early November, the brigade found a home of sorts. Phan Rang is 175 miles up the coast from Saigon, and there a mile-square
base camp was set up. But except for a few hundred support troopers inhabiting a corner of the base, Phan Rang was deserted
for all but 21 days in two years. The Nomads were always on the move.
Among the names that strike a chord in military history, Dak To ranks along side Khe Sanh, Con Thien, A Shau and Dong Ap
Bia. In the central highlands the month of June 1966 meant monsoon rains, and under its cover came a major enemy offensive.
Operation Hawthorne became the classic spoiling attack as it blunted the NVA offensive in Kontum Province.
The "Above the Rest" and "Strike Force" troopers unloaded from their C-130s at Dak To and looked around them. They were
in the beautiful green jungle of the cool highlands, but as they looked to the left and right, then in front and rear, they
saw a ring of mountains all around them, and behind those even taller jungled mountains. "I've never seen Dien Bien Phu,"
said one trooper, "but this sure looks like the description."
It was one of the most viciously contested battles of the Vietnam War. Once the battle was joined, the fighting was continuous.
Day and night the battle raged, moving from bunker to trench line, to spider hole, to bamboo thicket, to stream bed and finally
to victory. In a brilliant scheme of maneuver, the two Screaming Eagle battalions executed a double envelopment against the
entrenched 24th NVA Regt. The 1st of the 327th attacking north and the 2nd of the 502nd attacking south. All this was supported
by massive fire-power including artillery (27,000 rounds) and bombs (473 Air Force sorties)
A/2/502nd - Operation HAWTHORNE, June 1966
At the end of Hawthorne, the 24th NVA Regt. had been destroyed - it suffered more than 1,200
dead - and the offensive stopped dead in its tracks. Lt. Gen. Stanley R. Larsen, then commanding general of I Field Force,
publicly stated that the 1st Brigade was the "best fighting unit in Vietnam."
Tiger Force - Dak Tan Kan Valley, June 1966