Screaming Eagles Through Time
Vietnam - Page 3
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Back in the lowlands Carentan II was continuing. A five-day cordon of Phuoc Yen began April 28. Intelligence had reported 8th Bn., 90th NVA Regt., operating in the area, Five companies, drawn from the "First Strike" battalion and the two "Geronimo" units, killed 429 enemy soldiers and captured 107 prisoners - and lost only five killed and 31 wounded.

Carentan II was terminated May 17. In 47 days the paratroopers of the 101st and the 3rd Brigade of the 82nd had killed 2,100 NVA, captured 157 and taken 581 weapons.

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Operation Nevada Eagle, which would last 288 days, started May 17 in I Corps. The operation was designed to separate the enemy from the rice crop soon to be harvested in the lowlands of the Thua Thien Province. Its larger purpose was to drive the enemy out of the plains and into the mountains where they could be tracked down and destroyed.

Four days after Nevada Eagle started, the enemy launched a sapper attack against Camp Eagle, directing it against the 1st Brigade's perimeter at Gia Le.

A mimeograph-machine operator, Spec. 5 Dennis Breutzman, was in his tent when he heard the firing. He picked up his M-16 and dashed outside. One sapper squad of 10 men had penetrated the barbed wire and was setting up rocket launchers on the brigade helipad, nearly half a mile inside the perimeter. Alone, Breutzman routed them, chasing them down a hill. "Somebody had to do it," he commented later.

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The rice denial program was successful. In the fourth week of Nevada Eagle, Co. D, 1st Bn., 502nd Abn. Inf., entered a village and discovered 35 tons of rice. "Ive seen rice caches before, but never anything like this," said Capt. Jackie Justice. "We walked into that village and we were literally surrounded by rice." The same day cavalrymen of the 2nd Sqdn., 17th Cav., found 12,000 pounds. The 2nd of the 501st uncovered 3,100 pounds, while the 1st Bn. found 2,400 pounds. The Cav's B Trp. then located a nine-ton cache; then Co. C., 1st of the 501st, found 19,000 pounds. That was the way it went for weeks.

After two months of Nevada Eagle, with more than 1,100 enemy killed, 235 enemy captures, nearly 2,000 weapons taken, and 280 tons of rice discovered, Maj. Gen. O.M. Barsanti, the division CG, passed the colors to Maj. Gen. Melvin Zais. "Bold Eagle" had shown much personal bravery in seven months in Vietnam, receiving the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars and five Purple Hearts. During the five-day Phuoc Yen cordon, General Barsanti spent most of his time on the ground, moving from position to position, advising subordinate commanders and bolstering morale.

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On July 1, 1968, the division had a red-letter day in its organizational history. That day it was redesignated the 101st Air Cavalry Division - a name change that lasted 11 weeks - and became an airmobile division, losing its airborne status. The 15,000 or so parachutes would eventually be replaced by more than 400 helicopters as the division joined the 1st Cav in pioneering the airmobile concept.

Then it was August, and the Screaming Eagles were going back into the A Shau for the second time. Operation Somerset Plain started August 3 with the 2nd Bn., 502nd Abn. Inf., and the 2nd Bn., 327th Abn. Inf., combat assaulting into the A Shau, landing on the valley floor near the old A Luoi and Ta bat airstrips. The main objective was to break up the enemy activity that might lead to an assault toward the lowlands. Two battalions of the 1st ARVN Division and the Screaming Eagles 1st Bn., 327th Abn. Inf., joined the battle later. In the 17-day raid, 170 NVA were killed, four were captured and 58 weapons captured.

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The next month, September, saw the "classic" cordon operation of the Vietnam War carried out by the Screaming Eagles. The 1st Bn., 501st Abn. Inf., participated in the 11-day combined cordon of Vinh Loc Island, a 24 kilometer-long peninsula lying lazily in the South China Sea. The VC had moved in after Tet, using the district as a recuperation area and supply base. In the early morning of Sept. 11, the "Geronimos" and 1st Bn., 54th SRVN Regt., air assaulted on the eastern coast and the 3rd Sqdn., 7th ARVN Cav., armored personnel carriers came from the north. The U.S. Navy's Swift Boats and the Hue River Security Group sealed off the island on the seaward side.

The paratroopers and ARVN soldiers made a systematic search of the southern half of the island, rounding up VC suspects. One group of 213 detainees was set down at a collection point after its first helicopter ride. An imaginative National Policeman noticed their puzzlement and decided to exploit it. "All members of the K-4 Battalion over here, those with the C-118 over there!" Sixty-three suspects promptly fell in as directed, simplifying the job of the interrogators.

Eleven days later, the operation was over, 154 enemy had been killed, 178 weapons captured and 126 members of the VC Infrastructure on the island captured. In addition, 53 Chieu Hois had rallied to the government.

Cordons were extremely successful. With minimal use of artillery and firepower, coupled with surprise, speed and detailed searches, combined forces uncovered large portions of the VC "shadow government" in the area around Hue. In one series of cordons the enemy lost 1,178 men - against 32 losses by friendly forces.

After September Nevada Eagle action largely shifted westward in Thua Thien Province.

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The winter was largely a time for sweeps in the mountains and continual ambushes and patrols in the coastal plains. The 1st Brigade was honored in early November with a Presidential Unit Citation, awarded for the extraordinary heroism in Operation Hawthorne in June 1966 near Dak To.

Tet 1969, to everyones surprise, was peaceful. But the day after the three-day holiday ended, the enemy started hitting all over Vietnam - except in the Screaming Eagles AO. It was not until three weeks into the post-Tet offensive that Hue received some rockets, causing little damage. It all proved that Thua Thien Province was largely pacified. It had become "Eagle Country."

At the end of February, Operation Nevada Eagle ended. It had been successful beyond most hopes. Paratroopers killed 1,915 Viet Cong and 1,384 North Vietnamese the equivalent of eight 400-man battalions. Seven hundred and ninety-eight VC and 55 NVA had been captured - the equivalent of two more battalions. Another two battalions - 714 communists - rallied under the Chieu Hoi program. At the same time paratroopers captured enough weapons - 3,702 - to arm nine enemy battalions. Most important of all, the enemys pantry was broken into and 668 tons of rice captured - enough to feed the men of 10 battalions for about a year. General Zais said of his troops, "They are truly men to match the mountains and jungles."