He wore that guilty, almost-dry, slightly-lumpy canine accident-behind-the-new-divan look on our blue-black and white seventeen inch screens, right around lunch time as I recall. His Texas suntan, his drawl, those odd reading-glasses and the coonhound ear lobes confused us as a nation, I believe. He wasn't a leader, he was more like a flapjack entrepreneur, but his political roots ran deep, and his intelligence and Washington savvy were formidable.
Lyndon Baines Johnson was standing in for dear dead JFK and his numbers weren't too good. He needed a ratings boost, and he needed it quick.
"We will stand in Vietnam," he intoned gravely, making a promise he knew he could never hope to keep, even as he continued: "I have today ordered to Vietnam the Air Mobile Division."
Air Mobile. The guys from Apocalypse Now. LBJ was sending in the cavalry, but instead of horses they were riding helicopters. It had never been done before, and it changed the face of warfare forever.
General Earle Wheeler was the Army Chief of Staff in those days. Less than two months after President John Kennedy's assassination, he ordered Brigadier General Harry Kinnard, the assistant division commander of the 101st Airborne Division, to study the concept of infantry and helicopters working in tandem as a new sort of military offense.
Kinnard had seen the elephant. West Point. Airborne. Normandy. Distinguished Service Cross. Promoted to full colonel at the precocious age of twenty-nine. He created the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) at Fort Benning, Georgia.
He started with three thousand men, less than a fifth of a standard combat division, and he added 125 helicopters, brand new models— the CH-47 Chinook and the legendary Bell UH-1 Iroquois, the chopper that came to be known as the "Huey." There were no "Standard Operating Procedures." There were no rules, no tactics, no real proof that the idea would even work at all in combat conditions. Supply, maintenance, staffing, how to configure the machines—it all had to be brainstormed from scratch.
Throughout 1963 and 1964 the air mobile concept was tested in a continuing series of war games that culminated in the largest post-World War II maneuvers ever conducted in the United States. The results were more than encouraging, they were phenomenal. By now, flush with taxpayer's cash and esprit d' corps, Kinnard's troops called themselves "Sky Soldiers," and the combination of air power coupled with Airborne Infantry was irresistible to the Pentagon. The (Test) appellation was retired and the 11th Air Assault Division became the historic 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). They were the first full-strength army division to be ordered to Vietnam—16,000 men and four hundred helicopters.
Four aircraft carriers. Six troop ships. Eleven cargo ships. 3100 vehicles, 19,000 long tons of cargo, and the hopes and dreams of America, seduced by the paternal imperative of good old LBJ.
On October 23, 1965, the 1st Air Cav saw its initial combat. General William Westmoreland ordered the attack of the 33rd Regiment of the North Vietnamese Army near Plei Me. The enemy, having never encountered "Sky Soldiers" before, was routed
On November 14th, the 1st Air Cav assaulted into the Ia Drang Valley, site of the first major battle of the Vietnam War and the subject of the recently released Mel Gibson film We Were Soldiers. The first Congressional Medal of Honor awarded in the Vietnam War was given to 2nd Lieutenant Walter J. Marm. But in the most intensive ground combat in the history of the infantry units assigned to the Division, by the end of the offensive, known as the Pleiku Campaign, over 300 Americans were killed.
The 1st Cavalry (Airmobile) had, however, dealt the enemy his first major defeat, destroying two of three North Vienamese regiments, and once again living up to its nickname—"The First Team."
The complete history of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in Vietnam is long and illustrious. In the end, however, in addition to the thousands of Airborne troopers who lost their lives, it must be noted that by the end of the Vietnam War, 926 helicopter pilots and 2,005 crewmen would be killed by hostile fire.
Taking Fire, Ron Alexander and Charles W. Sasser, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001.
We Were Soldiers Once...and Young, Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore, USA (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway, New York: Random House, 1992.
- I was a prisoner in a Mexican Whorehouse
- A long time gone
- How to brush your teeth in a combat zone
- Libber and I go to war
- Fate takes a piss
- Thanks For the Memory
- Back in the Shit
- LZ Waterloo
- Saturday Night, Numbah Ten
a long commute
Andy X Kirby True
a tale of two Woodstocks
Buy a Gun
Dawn at The Wall
Feat of Clay
I was a free man once, in Saigon
The Joint Chiefs of Staff
the shit we ate
Combat Infantryman Badge
Firebase Mary Ann
the 1st Cav
The Highest Traditions
Those Who Forget
Under the Southern Cross
Whither the Phoenix?
A Bright Shining Lie
Apocalypse Now Redux
Hearts and Minds
We Were Soldiers