In February 1968, in response to massive assault of the Tet Offensive, Gen. William C. Westmoreland, CG, United States MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam), requested that additional combat forces be deployed immediately from the US. He specified that a portion of these units be composed of airborne troops, reflecting his faith in the achievements and proven ability of these highly mobile, hard-fighting troopers. Gen. Westmoreland was aware that the only stateside element that these troops could be drawn from was the 82d Airborne and he asked for them – the entire division! President Johnson gave him only one brigade, but he gave him the cream of “America’s Guard of Honor”!.
In response to General Westmoreland’s request, the division was directed to prepare one brigade for immediate deployment to Southeast Asia. MG Richard J. Seitz, CG, had his Division “Ready Force”, the 3d Brigade, primed for a contingency mission, since the division had attained a high readiness posture a few weeks before during the “Pueblo Crisis” in Korea. In this incident, the North Koreans had seized the surveillance ship “Pueblo” and held its crew captive.
The Brigade was officially alerted for deployment on Monday, 12 February, at 1730 hours, and everyone plunged into the monumental task of preparing to move the entire organization within thirty-six hours. The destination was unannounced, but inferences could be drawn from the headlines, the cancellation of school quotas and training, and the fact that cold weather clothing was replaced with an issue of brand new M-16’s, jungle fatigues and boots.
Shortly after the alert was received, a team of specialists from XVIII Corp, came to assist. In the case of the 3d Brigade the entire deployment planning had to be accomplished in only a few hours. The team, with U.S. Air Force loadmasters, proved an indispensable aid during the deployment Because of the urgent situation, General Seitz directed that every asset within division was to be used to assure the rapid, efficient deployment of the 3d Brigade Task Force.
The Brigade’s advance party departed Pope Air Force Base by C-141 Starlifter at 1730 hours Tuesday, 13 February, 1968 – exactly twenty-four hours after the formal alert was received.
The Brigade’s first step was to configure its units and equipment to accomplish any mission that it would be assigned on arrival in the combat zone. The configuration plan was simple, 5 task forces and order of movement permitting immediate departure.
Task Force 1 consisted of the 2d Bn (Abn), 505th Inf., commanded by MAJ. Jake J. Privette; Btry A, 2d Bn (Abn), 321st Arty; 2d Plt Co C, 307th Eng Bn; one squad of the 3d Plt, 82d MP Co; an AF Air Control Party; elements of the 82d MI Det; 358th Radio Research Unit, and 82d Admin and Finance sections.
Task Force 2 was composed of the lst Bn (Abn), 508th Inf., commanded by LTC Archie Carpenter; Btry C, 2d Bn, 321st Arty; 3d Plt, Co C, 307th Engr Bn; one squad of the 3d Plt, 82d MP Co, and an Air Control Party.
Task Force 3 was built around the Brigade’s HHC, commanded by Lt. David R. Hale. It consisted of the headquarters sections, the 3d Forward Area Signal Platoon, 82d Signal Bn, 82d MI Det, a Plt of the 358th RRU, a Staff Judge Advocate, PIO, and part of the AGs office.
Task Force 4, commanded by LTC Howard C. Jelinek, was designated as the Provisional Battalion. Its units were HHB, 2d Bn, 321st Arty, HQ Co C, 307th Eng Bn, Trp B, 1st Sqdn, 17th Cav, the Bde Aviation section, Co D, 307th Med Bn, a detachment from the 782d Maint Bn, and a detachment from the 582d Supply Company.
Task Force 5 was built around the 1st Bn (Abn), 505th Infantry, commanded by LTC John G. Jameson, Jr. This included Battery B, 2d Bn, 321st Arty, the 1st Plt, Co C, 307th Eng Bn, a squad of the 3d Plt, 82d MP Co, and an Air Control Party.
The Brigade was required to deploy with a minimum of 90 per cent of personnel and equipment, and personnel resources were drawn from the 1st and 2d Brigades of the 82d Airborne Division. Filler personnel arrived in platoon-size increments to maintain unit integrity. At the time of deployment, the Brigade’s strength had reached ninety-five per cent, of which eighty percent had served at least one tour previously in the Republic of Vietnam. Many of the senior Officers and men had also served in WWII, Korea, Dominican Republic or the Congo. This was a combat tested unit if there ever was one!!!
On Valentine’s Day, 14 February, twenty-four hours after the departure of the advance party, the massive airlift of the Brigade began. Troop-laden vehicles, flat-bed trucks, fork lifts, and equipment of all descriptions jammed the roads and ramps at Pope Air Force Base and the streets from Fort Bragg, as the giant C141 transports arrived. The first Starlifter manifest was loaded and prepared to taxi when Pope Tower flashed a hold on the operation, Air Force One” was inbound.
A short time later, the troopers of the Brigade were assembled on the ramp at Pope listening to an address by Lyndon Baines Johnson, President of the United States.
The Commander-in-Chief’s remarks were short. He expressed his own high regard for the professional competence and preparedness of the “All Americans”. He extended his best wishes to every man in the Brigade, As he concluded, the stillness was shattered as 3600 voices sounded off with, “All the way, Sir! ” The President replied, “Airborne!”. Visibly moved, he reviewed the troops, personally talking with many of them. He then visited Womack Army Hospital, a stateside facility caring for Vietnam wounded with General Seitz as his escort.
With the protocol complete, the C141’s rolled down the runway to start their 10,000 mile journey. The process continued smoothly for the next ten days adhering to a schedule that assured a steady flow of troops and equipment into the Republic of Vietnam.
The advance party, led by Colonel Bolling, consisted of twenty eight officers and men and three vehicles, including Sergeant Major John Pearce and a representative of each staff section and subordinate unit. Their flight plan set a pattern to be followed by the rest of the Brigade. The first day was an eight and one half hour trip from Pope AFB to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. After refueling, the big plane was airborne again for eight hours, touching down in Yokota, Japan. The final two and one half hours carried them to the Chu Lai Air Base, RVN, south of Da Nang at 1100 hours, 15 February. This grueling trip took about 30 hours total. C-131’s arrived in Chu Lai with 3rd Brigade Troopers – One plane landed every 30 minutes for a week.
On 21 February, the Brigade sustained its first battle casualty while Company C, 2-505 Infantry was enroute to the fire base, at 1905 hours, Private First Class Frankie Anderson was wounded by a sniper.
While the 2-505 Infantry marshaled at the air base, the 1-508 Infantry motored from Chu Lai to LZ Gator, south of the complex, and set up a fire support base to initiate combat operations. The battalion had Battery C, 2-321 Arty in direct support, the unit which gave the Brigade its first enemy kill.
Back at Chu Lai, Major Privette faced several problems. He decided to take all his equipment north. Unfortunately, there were only thirty C130 aircraft available for the lift, since priority resupply of the besieged garrison at Khe Sahn was in progress. As a result, the task force could take only part of its equipment, most belonging to the direct support artillery battery. With necessary adjustments made, the task force began its air movement to Phu Bai, just south of Hue, at 0900 hours, 22 February, completing the lift by 1800 hours, 23 February. On arrival at Phu Bai, the task force came under the operational control of the lst Marine Division’s Task Force X-Ray.
Even as the 2-505 Infantry was en-route north, the final task force arrived at Chu Lai and completed its orientation training. This task force, built around 1-505 Infantry, assumed the mission of the 2-505 Infantry in the FSB Fat City area. It was here that the Brigade suffered its first combat fatality. Co C, 1-505 Inf., operating in the vicinity of Fat City, made contact with enemy snipers. Staff Sergeant Joe Rodriguez maneuvered his squad against the snipers who were firing from Hill 76, leading his men, he detonated an enemy booby trap, which killed him instantly. In memory of this fine soldier, the Brigade would dedicated its first real home, Camp Rodriguez.
Meanwhile, General Westmoreland and General Creighton W. Abrams, his deputy commander, conducted a meeting with Colonel Bolling and discussed the critical need for the entire Brigade in the Hue Phu Bai area. The onslaught of North Vietnamese forces in that area had presented a serious threat to the security of the northern provinces. Air movement of the Brigade would require many aircraft which were not available at the time. Highway 1, the only road, had been cut in eighty-six locations by the North Vietnamese to prevent resupply vehicles from moving north. The deteriorating tactical situation demanded immediate deployment to Hue.
To be continued . . .