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The Vietnam War, the longest war of the 20th Century
Images from Vietnam, Photos from the era and afterwards.
The photo right pays tribute to a true hero, Richard 'Rick' Rescorla, a Cornishman of Irish descent, who served with the US 7th Cavalry in the Battles of the Ia Drang Valley, South Vietnam, in 1965. He was described by Col. Hal Moore, as "the finest platoon commander I ever had". He survived the war only to lose his life many years later, on September 11, 2001. He was senior security officer in the 2nd Tower of the WTC and is credited, through courage and taking control in crisis, in saving the lives of some 2900 people. He did not save himself. A memorial to his memory was unvieled in 2002, at his home town of Hayle , Cornwall, on the anniversary of his death. "Greater Love Hath no Man"
VIETNAM Conflict . The post WWII Vietnam War lasted from 1945 (the French) until 1975 (United States and Allies), some of that story is told below.
Sounds from AFVN (Armed Forces Vietnam Network.)
"From the Delta to the DMZ"
You've heard the stories of Yanks trudging through the ' J ', with their trannies blaring, well, its true & we all did it. Well, at least the Aussies used an ear piece, otherwise you would have got shot by your own blokes. Heres something about AFVN (Armed Forces Vietnam Network), the 'in country' radio & TV network that was heard and seen throughout the country, in the bush, at HQ's, air bases, on the seas, army camps, remote outposts, and fire support bases, bringing news, information, music and entertainment, and providing a bit of normality "From the Delta to the DMZ"
Vietnam was the The Rock and Roll war.....
"There's something happening here, What it is ain't exactly clear,
There's a man with a gun over there, tellin' me I've got to beware."
To most soldiers, the Vietnam War has a rock and roll soundtrack. Almost every novel, film, memoir or oral history of the war mentions the music heard by the troops throughout Vietnam. All the songs of the '60s were part of the life in the combat zone. Troops listened on Sony radios, Akai stereos and Teac tape decks and pocket transistors. Many of the sound clips below were recorded on a reel to reel recorder in Vietnam. They were then sent home and transferred to cassette. The sound quality is not the best but it sounded good to us back then.
Follow this link to hear more sounds, songs, and music from the Vietnam War: http://chu65nang67.us/nam/vietnam.html
For AFVN R & R ad. click HAWAIIR_R.mp3
Vietnam was Australia's longest conflict, running from 1962 to 1972. Some 47,000 military personnel saw service in South Vietnam during that period including 17,500 National Servicemen (Draftees). Australian casualties totalled 494 killed and 2398 wounded. The estimated cost of the conflict to The Australian economy was A$500 million dollars.
Thiry Australian advisors left for duty in 1962. The Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) was to become the most highly decorated (Australian) unit in South Vietnam, including four recipients of the Victoria Cross. The team was composed of experienced professional soldiers from the Malayan and Borneo campaigns, mostly senior Warrant and Commissioned Officers and became highly regarded, working with units of the Republic of Vietnam. By 1965 this force had increased to 100 men. The 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) was committed in May 1965 and served with the 173 Air Cavalry Division, US Army, based at Bien Hoa. Dissatisfaction with 'wasteful' American tactics resulted in Australia taking responsibility of Phuoc Tuy Province and establishing the First Australian Task Force (1ATF) with a base at Nui Dat with a logistic support unit (1ALSG) at Vung Tau on the coast.
An observer described the Australian tactical area of responsibilty as "....a rich farm area dotted with villages and hamlets, a long coastline, a complex delta area of mangrove swamps and numerous canals and channels, isolated ranges of very rugged mountains and a large area of virtually uninhabited jungle containing all the most loathsome combinations of thorny bamboos, poisonous snakes, insects, malaria, dense underbrush, swamps and rugged ground conditions that the most dedictaed guerilla warfare expert could ask for."
Phuoc Tuy Province (right) was the main area of responsibility for the Australian Task Force with its base at Nui Dat although operations were also conducted in neighbouring provices.
To meet the increased demands on the Army, conscription (National Service) was introduced in Australia 1965 . All eligible Australian males were required to register in the six month period in which they turned twenty years of age. A ballot was then conducted with birthdates being drawn to select those that would be required to serve. A total of 804,000 registered for National Service between 1965 and 1972 when the Labour Government abandoned the program. 64,000 males were called up with just under 20,000 seeing service in Vietnam. Although there was some superficial rivalry between the Conscripts and Regular Army Enlistees this blend disappeared in Vietnam. National Serviceman accounted for almost half the battle casualties which was proportionate to their numbers.
At the height of the Australian committment personnel in the Australian Forces Vietnam (AFV) numbered 8300, of which 40% consisted of three infantry battalions including SAS units. Supporting fighting forces included an amoured brigade, engineers and artillery. In addition New Zealand contributed infantry and artillery which operated with the Australians. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) had Canberra jet bombers based at the American base at Phan Rang in central Vietnam. The Canberra crews gained a reputation for accurate bombing. At the height of the build up the Americans had some 565,000 men 'in country' serving from the Mekong Delta to the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone).
* Standard Australian service medals relating to service in South Vietnam include (from left to right) , 1945-1975 Active Service Medal, Vietnam Medal, South Vietnamese Campaign Medal, the Clasp above the ribbon is the Infantry Combat badge for 90 days service in combat).
America's Vietnam - an overview
The Vietnam War was the longest and most unpopular war in which Americans ever fought. And there is no final reckoning the cost. The toll in suffering, sorrow, and national turmoil can never be tallied. And for many of the more than two million American veterans of the war, the wounds of Vietnam will never heal. Fifty-eight thousand Americans lost their lives and the losses to the Vietnamese people were appalling. The financial cost to the United States was something over $150 billion dollars.
Direct American involvement began in 1955 with the arrival of the first advisors. The first combat troops arrived in 1965 and fought the war until the cease-fire of January 1973. Today it just seems a story from the olden times.
The end of World War II opened the way for the return of French rule to Indochina. Despite the ties Ho Chi Minh had forged within the American Intelligence community and assistance given to the Allied cause by the Viet Minh, and his professed respect for democratic ideals, he was ignored by Washington in his attempts to seek American assistance to establish the legitimacy of his independence movement against the French. French generals and their American advisors expected Ho's rag-tag Viet Minh guerrillas to be defeated easily. But after eight years of fighting and $2.5 billion in U.S. aid, the French lost the crucial battle at Dien Bien Phu - and with it, their Asian colonies. With the Cold War in full swing and a public goal of stopping the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, America replaced France in South Vietnam - supporting President Ngo Dinh Diem until his own generals turned against him in a coup that brought political chaos to Saigon. With Ho Chi Minh determined to reunite Vietnam, President Kennedy and then President Johnson determined to prevent it, and with South Vietnam on the verge of collapse, the stage was set for massive escalation of the undeclared war. In two years, the Johnson Administration's troop build-up dispatched 1.5 million Americans to Vietnam to fight a war they found baffling, tedious, exciting, deadly and unforgettable. Despite appearing to gain the upper hand in 1966 and 1967 the massive enemy 'Tet' offensive in early 1968 shocked American leadership and although decimating the Communist forces in the field, led to the beginning of America's military withdrawal from Vietnam. Under a program called 'Vietnamization' President Nixon began troop pull-outs, stepped-up bombing of the North and huge arms shipments to Saigon and left GIs wondering which of them would be the last to die in Vietnam. In the early 1970's while American and Vietnamese soldiers continued to clash in battle, diplomats in Paris argued about making peace. After more than four years, they reached an accord that proved to be just a preface to further bloodshed. Through years of controversy, stalled negotiations and violence, US casualties mounted, victory remained elusive, and American opinion moved from general approval to widespread dissatisfaction with the War. South Vietnamese leaders believed that America would never let them go down to defeat - a belief that died as North Vietnamese tanks entered Saigon on April 30, 1975, and the long war ended with South Vietnam's surrender.
* Standard US service medals relating to service in South Vietnam include (from left to right), National Defence Medal, Vietnam Medal, South Vietnamese Campaign Medal).
Comparisons between US and Australian operations
The Australians were highly thought of as jungle fighters by the Americans, even if there tactics were not fully understood. One US General thought "we should be making more use of the Australians, they rely on small agressive patrols without the reliance on saturation artillery and bombing". Yet other Americans felt the Australians spent too much time creeping around the jungle without confronting Main Force VC (Viet Cong). This should be seen in context of the different operational philosophies and resources of the two allies. The Americans entered World War One in 1917 and while no doubt their contribution was valuable it probably had little influence on the outcome . However the Second World War was very different. Recovering from initial losses at Pearl Harbour and in the Phillipines, by 1943 the industrial might of the United States had moved into top gear. Their ability to produce war supplies, munitions, ships, aircraft, all manners of supplies needed to sustain war on a global level was truly awesome. Few in the Axis powers had any idea of this capacity. If they had it is unlikely they would have started the war. This ability to supply has coloured American tactical doctrine ever since. Massive bombing, land and sea borne artillery support is frequently readily available, certainly on a scale not available to their opponents , and even their allies! And there is the rub. Reliance on such overwhelming force also produces a belief that it will always prevail. But it failed in Vietnam, Americas' second most costly war of the 20th Century in terms of casualties and most costly politically. It has worked in the early stages of the Iraq War although the doctrine of minimisation of civilian casualties for political and humanitarian reasons has provided restraint in the application of such power not previously seen. However there still seems to be an alarming number of 'friendly fire' incidents. Despite satellite and computer guidance systems, IFF (Indentification, Friend or Foe) techniques apparently still have some way to go at the lower tactical level. 'Friendly fire' was a Pentagon euphimism, like 'collateral damage', that gained widespread use in the Vietnam War. The Irag War would seem to be history repeating itself. Like Vietnam, ultimately the Coalition Forces will have to go home and any final resolution will be effected regardless of the occupation.
Australians, with much smaller forces and more modest objectives have been driven by the need to be frugal with limited resources and thus our tactics have evolved along different lines. Also with the exception of the Western Desert, the Australian experience in the second half of the 20th Century has been in jungle fighting, so that the knowledge that massed bombing and armour are of limited value in jungle warfare forms an inherent part of operational planning. The operational accent has thus been aimed at denying the enemy access to supplies and influence over the civilian population.
Interesting comparisons existed at the troop level. American units were resupplied by individual rotation. That is, as soldiers completed their tour of duty they were replaced on individual basis. Thus the US Army First Infantry Division (the 'Big Red One') may be 'in country' for the duration of the war while the soldiers came and went. Australian main Infantry Battalions used ' unit rotation'. The Battalion trained as unit, went over and served as a unit and returned as a unit at the end of the tour. While reinforcements (known as REO's) did replace losses during the course of a tour, most of the Battalions retained the bulk of their original compliment. This undoubtedly contributed to the high level of esprit de corps enjoyed by the Australian units together with the generally tighter control exercised by officers. Further I maintain that it is unlikley that any Australian combat soldier could have got to Vietnam without at least seven months training, even a National Serviceman (called a Draftee in the US military) who went over as a reinforcement would have had to have done three months basic training, three months corps (infantry) training and one month at the tough Jungle Training Centre (JTC) at Canungra in Queensland. A member of a Battalion would be more likely to have had nine or twelve or even more months of training before embarkation. Thus by the time he got to Vietnam the Australian soldier would be about as well trained as you could expect for a first world regular soldier. By contrast an American draftee could be in Vietnam within six weeks of being drafted and installed into a main stream unit. While there is no doubt that American troops exhibited great bravery and aggressiveness, particuarly the Marines, by 1969 serious problems affecting unit cohesiveness began to appear. Racial differences, poor control by junior officers, inequities in the draft system, divisions at home and the ambiguity of the war created serious moral problems leading increasing incidents of fragging, desertion, and drug abuse. The small size of Australian force, unit rotation and tighter controls as previously mentioned, and a 'beer' culture rather than a drug culture which was almost non existent in Australia in the '60's meant that we seem to experience far less of the problems that plagued our American allies.
Lest some of the above comments may offend the American veteran, they should not be seen as a slight against the skill & bravery of the individual troops. The Americans for many years fought bravely in savage battles in hostile country against a resourceful and determined enemy. Names of places such as Con Thien, the DMZ, the Parrots Beak, Hue, the A Shau Valley, haunt the memories of many veterans, while Khe Sanh achieved a sort of 'Stalingrad' like grimness for holding out. Any Australian 'Digger' will testify to the skill & bravery of the American chopper pilots on medivac missions. Rather, any failure in a American understanding and execution of the war was systemic, driven politics, ideological dogma, and economic interests at home. The 'grunt' had to fight and survive inspite of the 'Hawks', sitting safe at home in America watching John Wayne in drivel like "The Green Berets" and thinking it was the real thing. On the other side, the 'Doves' pilloried the returning vet.
Americas' Vietnam - Close up
Because of its limited role, small size and well defined area of responsibility, the Australian involvement is much easier to examine than the American experience. In an overview of the execution of its wartime tasks, Australia's role could be seen as efficient and mechanistic, with the command, officers and soldiers going about the job they were trained for in a workmanlike manner. A job was there to be done and it was done well with the resources available, and in spite of increasing confusion and dissent at home which never rose above 50% of the population against the war. But this was an American war. As implied in the foregoing, the American experience is much more complex when trying to establish an overview for the duration of the war. In the earlier stages of main force involvement, it was almost an in built belief that they would prevail. The thought of actually losing the war was probably not even entertained, because it was incomprehensible. How could a peasant army, from some rag tag country, few Americans knew the location of , let alone cared about, defeat the economic and military might of the USA, country that was equipped to take on a far more powerful adversary like the Soviet Union?
The first hint that this was not going to be easy or clear cut came in November 1965 in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. Units of the US 7th Cavalry (Airmobile) came into contact with large units of the PAVN, (Peoples Army of Vietnam, sometimes called the NVA, North Vietnamese Army). In the ensuing battles both sides incurred heavy losses and the American field commanders realised for the first that this was a determined, well trained and disciplined adversary that they would have to overcome. This message did not get through to the higher commands and political leadership, or if it did, was disbelieved, as it did not match their preconceptions. Throughout 1966 and 1967 statements came out of the US military and political command centres, from people like General William Westmoreland & Defence Secretary Robert McNamara to the the effect that "the war had been militarily won", that "there was light at the end of the tunnel". A preoccupation with numerical statistics prevailed, defections, numbers of captured war materials, arms & food caches, head counts, kill ratios etc, to support the official view and strategy. The big shock came in early 1968 when the American command was holding onto the belief of the war being 'won' in a military sense, and also, by a cunning ruse by General Giap, being pre-occupied with the beleagured outpost of Khe Sanh. The Tet Offensive, launched by combined units of the PAVN and the Viet Cong, went on the offensive throughout the country. For a force that was supposed to be spent this came as a savage shock both in a military sense and to the credibility of the US administration. After much savage fighting the enemy was defeated in the field, but the American cause never recovered, it was a major political defeat. From then on, and this is where I am leading, the American involvement took on a grimness, an increasing sense of frustration, futility and hopelessness despite the efforts and sacrifices of the troops at the 'sharp' end. A desperate administration became increasingly frustrated by an enemy that did not realise it was beaten, by increasing dissent at home, both from political extremists finding fertile ground in a growing anti-war sertiment, and the mainstream American public, wondering where this was all going with communities all over America seeing their boys come home in body bags.
My own recollection of this grimness is very clear. After returning from SVN and then following the war in Time magazine & Newsweek etc., the increasing gap between the Administration and the public and the fighting men became glaringly evident. Reports from war correspondents reflected the futility and pointlessness of the war as more and more units were fed into the meat grinder. The Marine Corp became known by some "as the finest instrument ever devised for the killing of young Americans". Nowhere is this grimness and futility better expressed than in the accounts described in Michael Herr's book 'Dispatches' which gives an extraordinarily vivid if dark account of the war from the perspective of the 'grunt'.
Out of all this a macabre and cynical humour often arises. Some of the passages below will hopefully convey the feelings and attitudes that prevailed at that time.
A medic told a correspondent "if you get hit, we can chopper you to a base hospital in twenty minutes; if you get hit real bad, well have you in Japan in twelve hours; if get killed, we'll have you home in a week"
When asked about what their patrol was like a trooper replied, "Oh, you know, it was a normal type of patrol, we killed some of them and they killed some of us".
When asked what happened, when a battalion of the 173 Airborne got sprung in an ambush while assaulting Hill 875, one of the survivors replied, "what the fuck do you think happened? We got shot to pieces." As the correspondent was writing it down, the paratrooper said, "Make that little pieces".
A battle weary corpsman at Khe Sanh remarked, "if it ain't the fucking incoming, it's the fucking outgoing. Only difference is who gets the fucking grease, and that ain't no fucking difference at all".
"Two hundred yards away, facing the Marine trenches, there was an NVA sniper who shot at the Marines from a tiny spider hole. During the day he fired at anything that rose above the sandbags, and at night he fired at any lights he could see. You could see his position clearly from the trench, and even see his face through a scope. The Marines fired on his position with mortars and recoilless rifles, and he would drop into his hole and wait. Gunships fired rockets at him,and when they were through he would come up again and fire. Finally, napalm was called in, and for ten minutes the air above the spider hole was black and orange from the strike, while the ground around it was galvanised clean of every living thing. When it all cleared, the sniper popped up and fired off a single round, and the Marines in the trenches cheered. They called him Luke the Gook, and after that no one wanted anything to happen to him."
This sign outside a US base clearly illustrated wars dehumanising influence:
There remains much conflict in the minds of the veteran about who won the war, questions that really reflect 'were all our sacrifices and hardships in vain?'. Hard questions for any man to answer or to give up asking. The hard answer of course is does it really matter. Well, it matters to the vet that he finds some answers, some closure to it all, too many have gone on fighting with all the self destruction that brings. Truth is that the individual soldier can fight the battles but cannot win a war alone. Whatever the outcome of a single battle, at some time the American had to go home, after which any outcome was beyond their control. Some of the comments from the definitive battle of Khe Sanh below reflect the veterans perspective:
In the last analysis, within the context of the Tet Offensive, I really don't see how you can call Khe Sanh a PAVN [People's Army of Vietnam, i.e. "the enemy"] victory. In the period of months afterwards, well, that's debatable. I don't see the PAVN dictating the change in strategic policy by American forces - rather it was the change in the domestic political scene. Certainly, Tet had a lot to do with that, so I will concede an indirect effect. But I think Westmoreland was living in a pipe dream about his Inchon type hook above the DMZ [demilitarized zone] and incursion into Laos. (John R. Tegtmeier, Co B, 3/21, 196th LIB and Aeroscout Company, 123rd Aviation Battalion, Americal - 1967/1968
"A war like the war in Viet Nam is as much a political war as it was a military one. We won the military one, and lost the political one. And because we lost the political one, we lost the whole war." By John Boy in a message posted to the newsgroup soc.history.war.vietnam on August 16, 1996
"Our books say we won, theirs say they won. We got a higher body count. Was that a victory? We said we would never abandon Khe Sanh. But we did, soon after the end of the siege. Snuck out under cover of darkness. The Communists made staying too expensive for the Americans. We could not supply it without great difficulty, even after Route 9 was reopened in April 1968. In the end Khe Sanh was a NVA base, not a Marine or even U.S. base. If I had to say, I'd say they won at Khe Sanh." Peter Brush in a reply message to the soc.history.war.vietnam newsgroup, August 1996.
'Marines who had fought at Khe Sanh, the men who had held the place by dint of bravery and resourcefulness, were furious that the combat base would be abandoned [ in June, 1968]. Some Marines with 1/26 [1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment] blamed Westmoreland for the withdrawal and were almost in open revolt...The truth may never be known, although the weight of the evidence indicates that Westmoreland intended to hold Khe Sanh indefinitely, Equally likely is that the seed for the withdrawal was planted by Maxwell Taylor and cultivated by Lyndon Johnson.' John Prados & Ray W. Stubbe, Valley of Decision: The Siege of Khe Sanh. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, MA.; 1991.
"Khe Sanh appears to have served the NVA's [North Vietnamese Army] purpose." General Earl Wheeler on March 27, 1968.
Officially the number of individuals killed during Khe Sanh related combat is a combined 1,807 (205 Marines; 1,602 enemy). [Reference: Capt. Moyers S. Shore, The Battle For Khe Sanh. USMC. 1969]
Unofficial estimates place the American casualty figures at 1,000 dead and 4,500 wounded. Estimates of enemy casualties span the range from 10,000 to 20,000 killed in action.
On May 5, 1965, the Brigade deployed to South Viet Nam as the first US Army ground combat unit in that war.
Upon arrival, one battalion of the Royal Australian Army and a battery from New Zealand were attached to the Brigade -- making the 173d Airborne the only multi-national combat unit in the war.
Initially headquartered in Bien Hoa, the Brigade operated in the four provinces around Saigon. (Xuan Loc, Long Khanh, Phuoc Long & Phuoc Tuy), but (in its roll as a "Fire Brigade") also went to the Central Highlands (Pleiku/Kontum) to fight Viet Cong.
The 173d also conducted constant operations against the southern stronghold of the VC Main Force in the legendary Iron Triangle in War Zone D. The 1/503rd battalion won the brigade it's first unit citation of the war on November 8,1965 in War Zone 'D' during Operation Hump better known as the Battle of Hill 65. By then, two menbers of the brigade had already won the Medal of Honor. A third was won during Operation Hump [Information provided by John 'Dutch' Holland, B/1/503 65-66].
The 4th Battalion (4/503) originally was an Airborne Infantry Battalion (1/501st) that had been part of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. They arrived in Vietnam by ship and became a part of the 173rd. The 4th Battalion was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for operations near Da Nang and elements of 4/503 helped secure the Junction City drop zone mentioned below. [Information provided by Roger Braycewski, B/4/503 66-67]
At 0900 Hours, February 22, 1967 (during Operation Junction City) over 800 paratroopers jumped into the rice paddies at Katum in War Zone C. The same unit (plus attached combat engineers and artillerymen) that had made the famous jump on the Island of Corregidor (2/503d) during WW2, made the first and only full-sized combat jump by an American unit (there were Vietnamese jumps of course and some small unit jumps by USMC's Force Recon as well).
Once on the ground, the paratroopers joined the Brigade in cutting off VC units fleeing a massive sweep by the 1st, 4th, and 25th Infantry Divisions, and the 11th Armored Cavalry regiment.
In the summer of 1967, the Brigade saw extensive and bloody action in the Central Highlands near Kontum, Pleiku, Dak To.
In mid-November of 1967, the 2d Battalion of the 503d Airborne Infantry pushed units of the 1st and 10th North Vietnamese Army Divisions towards the Cambodian/Laotian borders. To cover their retreat into these sanctuaries the elite NVA 174th Infantry Regiment was deeply entrenched in a complex of fortified bunkers on Hill 875, near Dak To. On November 6th, two companies from 4th battalion encountered elements of the NVA 66th Regiment south of Ben Het and in a fierce firefight lost 7 men. On November 11th (Veteran's Day), Charlie Company and two platoons from Delta Company 1/503 were ambushed with 20 killed and 154 wounded. PFC John Barnes received the CMH for his actions during this ambush.
On November 19th, 1967, the 2d Battalion of the 503d Airborne Infantry was ordered to clear Hill 875. Resistance by the communists was intense and the 4th Battalion of the 503d joined 2nd battalion in its efforts.
Four days later, on Thanksgiving Day, after some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, the survivors of the 2d and 4th Battalions finally reached the summit. Chaplain Watters and PFC Carlos Lozada received the CMH for their heroism on Hill 875. The 2nd battalion lost 107 men killed and 282 wounded and 10 MIA.
In 1968 the majority of the Brigade was stationed in the province of Binh Dinh. Operations were also conducted in the Central Highlands and near Ban Me Thout.
For the next four years the Brigade conducted operations against VC/NVA forces. Not as frequently noted as it should be, the Herd also provided security for medical teams involved in MEDCAP; training of indigenous forces for self-defense; and other programs designed to undermine the VC infrastructure in the rich rice-growing lands of the Coastal Plain. Emphasis was on small unit patrols and combined operations with ARVN/MSF/RF-PF units.
The 173d Airborne Brigade took part in 14 designated campaigns in RVN. It remained in combat longer than any other American military unit since the Revolutionary War. It earned four unit citations, had 12 Medal of Honor winners, 1601 Sky Soldiers were killed in action and another 8,435 were wounded in action.
The 10,041 casualties incurred by the Brigade were five times greater than those suffered by the 187th Airborne Regiment in Korea, four times greater than those suffered by the 11th Airborne Division in the Pacific during World War II, more than twice those suffered by the 101st Airborne Division in Europe in World War II, and two-thirds of those suffered by the entire 82nd Airborne Division in WW2.
In September 1971 the Brigade was redeployed to Fort Campbell, Kentucky and subsequently on January, 14, 1972 was deactivated.
Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN)
The ARVN was often described in the most derisive terms by its allies. Often poorly led, poorly equipped, and subject to the machinations of its military and political leaders, it was consistently seen, at least in the Western media, as 'underperforming'. However those who worked closely with the ARVN recognized that with determined and capable leadership, the ARVN could be an effective fighting force.
Two Fighting Generals
Generals Do Cao Tri and Nguyen Viet Thanh
Great generals lead great armies, or so it has seemed throughout history. In Vietnam neither the fledgling ARVN nor its often corrupt and highly politicized leadership appeared destined for greatness. Yet to succeed in building an army capable of withstanding the North Vietnamese, ARVN needed generals able to inspire war-weary troops, leaders who could somehow stretch their own personalities to help fill the gaps left by the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
When MACV issued a "report card" on Vietnamese division commanders in early 1970, many of the ARVN generals received failing grades. Quoting anonymous U.S. senior advisers, the report minced no words in its descriptions. A few of the evaluations read, "coward," "super defensive," "weak," "the Vietnamese generals... hate his guts,", and "domineering-scares his commanders." Paradoxically, an effective and popular general with loyal troops often came to be considered a political threat in a country that had experienced more than its share of military coups. "This is a country that won't allow anyone to remain a hero very long," an American observer in Saigon explained. "But they sure could use one."
For a time, ARVN got its hero; in fact two outstanding fighting (as opposed to political) generals emerged from the packs of mediocre officers to take command of III and IV Corps shortly after the 1968 Tet offensive. Both young, confident, and aggressive, Lieutenant General Do Cao Tri and Major General Nguyen Viet Thanh proved themselves capable military strategists and inspiring leaders.
In the post-Tet shakedown of the ARVN officer corps- part anticorruption campaign, part political maneuver by President Thieu to remove officers loyal to Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky- Generals Tri and Thanh received command of the two densely populated and politically sensitive southern corps tactical zones. They faced daunting problems. Though rated best of the three divisions in IV Corps, the 7th Division, from which General Thanh was promoted, was unable to shake the reputation it had picked up as the "Search and Avoid Division." The other IV Corps divisions, the 9th and the 21st performed no better.
Despite the 7th's lackluster record, Thanh had earned high praise from General William C. Westmoreland as the best ARVN division commander. Westmoreland and senior U.S. advisers had high hopes for him, but they feared that obvious American "sponsorship" might taint Thanh in the eyes of political and military leaders in Saigon, Fortunately, President Thieu not only recognized Thanh's dynamic leadership, but he also appreciated his lack of political ambition and so backed the general wholeheartedly.
Thanh (pictured right) commanded the loyalty of his troops, and during the Tet offensive Thanh's popularity nearly cost him his life. In an attempt to exploit the 7th Division's devotion to its commanding general, Vietcong troops took Thanh and his family prisoner, hoping to induce the demoralized troops to defect. But their ploy failed, and, curiously, Thanh was released unharmed.
General Thanh's senior IV Corps adviser in 1968 and 1969, Major General George S. Eckhardt, recounted another tale of Thanh's popularity. On one occasion the two generals flew to My Tho, Thanh's former divisional headquarters, in search of a quiet lunch. But when word of their arrival got out, townspeople crowded into the restaurant to welcome their former commander. For forty-five minutes Gen. Thanh bowed and shook hands with the stream of well-wishers; most South Vietnamese senior officers never fraternized with their peasant soldiers or with the rural population.
In III Corps Tactical Zone to the north, Gen. Do Cao Tri struggled to work his corps' ragged divisions, the 5th, 18th, and 25th, into shape. One U.S. general dismissed the 5th Division as "absolutely the worst outfit I've ever seen," And the 25th Division had the ignominous distinction of being considered by one adviser "the worst division in any army anywhere."
Gen. Tri had the personality to achieve the near-impossible. Having survived three assassination attempts, a mid-1960s exile at the instigation of Nguyen Cao Ky, and a barrage of corruption charges, Tri thrived on adversity. Not one to be deterred by Saigon's displeasure, Tri spent months trying to replace two incompetent division commanders, who were favorites of Thieu's. He succeeded. Tri promised to have his three infantry divisions in fighting trim by the end of 1970.
The two generals and their infantry divisions face their greatest challenge with the Cambodian incursion of May 1970. President Thieu awarded Gen. Tri command of the ARVN operation to clean out enemy bases in the Parot's Beak and appointed Gen. Thanh to lead four infantry-armor task forces from IV Corps on a sweep north to link up with Gen. Tri's troops. The infantry units selected for the two operations were mustered in part from the improved 5th, 25th, and 9th Divisions.
On the first day of his troops' operation, Thanh flew to the battlefield as usual, knowing that his presence insured a disciplined and speedy advance. Ten miles inside Cambodia, his helicopter collided in midair with a U.S. Cobra. No survivors escaped the fiery crash. Thanh's death cast a pall over operation. As if to repay his dedication to them, Thanh's troops performed with an unexpected agressiveness in Cambodia.
As reports of ARVN success reached Saigon, Thanh's death was overshadowed by the exploits of Tri, who catapulted to the status of national hero. Hard work and careful planning were as much a part of his accomplishment as his inspiring presence on the battlefield. Tri achieved effective results with his use of armor. A sound tactician, he was not satisfied unless he personally directed the battle. More than one hesitant tank commander found the excited three-star general in camouflage jungle suit, baseball cap, and sunglasses dashing through machine-gun fire, shouting "Go fast, man! Go fast." For men starved for leadership, the assurance that Tri's helicopter might set down whenever they were in trouble or stalled worked marvel with their morale. "Tri was a tiger in combat, South Vietnam's George Patton", Gen. Westmoreland later wrote in admiration.
His flamboyant style of command, however, irritated many of his fellow ARVN generals. They cited Tri's actions during the battle for the Chup rubber plantation in Cambodia - Tri had nonchalantly taken a dip in the plantation pool in the midst of the fierce fighting - as evidence that Tri cared more for his own heroics than for sound military judgment. His extravagant lifestyle and growing wealth fueled jealousies and raised suspicions in Saigon. Called "flagrantly corrupt" by two South Vietnamese senators, Tri was accused of being a partner in a money-smuggling ring even as Saigon still buzzed with news of his victories in Cambodia.
Despite controversy over his private life, Tri's renown as South Vietnam's best field commander continued to grow after the Cambodian incursion. Under his direction, ARVN troops repeatedly performed well in their cross-border raids into Cambodia. When the ARVN incursion into enemy strongholds in Laos in 1971 began to flounder, President Thieu turned to Tri. Calling him to Saigon, Thieu ordered him to assume command of the Laotian operation. His new orders in hand, Tri boarded his helicopter. Shortly after leaving Bien Hoa, his helicopter lost power and plummeted to the ground, killing Tri and the other passengers.
"When the ARVN troops were well led they fought as well as anyone's soldiers," recalled Brigadier General George Wear. "They simply needed commanders who would support them properly and who could win their confidence and make them believe that their cause was worth risking their lives for." Generals Tri and Thanh had been two such commanders.
Source: David Fulghum, Terrence Mailand
South Vietnam on Trial - The Vietnam Experience.
Boston Publishing Company
It is seen by many military scholars as one of the great battles of the 20th century -- and a defining moment in the history of Southeast Asia. And yet the Battle of Dien Bien Phu receives rarely more than a passing mention in most history texts.
After World War II, France was able to reinstall its colonial government in what was then known as Indochina. By 1946 a Vietnamese independence movement, led by communist Ho Chi Minh, was fighting French troops for control of northern Vietnam. The Viet Minh, as the insurgents were called, used guerrilla tactics that the French found difficult to counter.
In late 1953, as both sides prepared for peace talks in the Indochina War, French military commanders picked Dien Bien Phu, a village in northwestern Vietnam near the Laotian and Chinese borders, as the place to pick a fight with the Viet Minh.
"It was an attempt to interdict the enemy's rear area, to stop the flow of supplies and reinforcements, to establish a redoubt in the enemy's rear and disrupt his lines," says Douglas Johnson, research professor at the U.S. Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute. "The enemy could then be lured into a killing ground. There was definitely some of that thinking involved."
Hoping to draw Ho Chi Minh's guerrillas into a classic battle, the French began to build up their garrison at Dien Bien Phu. The stronghold was located at the bottom of a bowl-shaped river valley, about 10 miles long. Most French troops and supplies entered Dien Bien Phu from the air -- either landing at the fort's airstrip or dropping in via parachute.
Dien Bien Phu's main garrison also would be supported by a series of firebases -- strongpoints on nearby hills that could bring down fire on an attacker. The strongpoints were given women's names, supposedly after the mistresses of the French commander, Gen. Christian de Castries. The French assumed any assaults on their heavily fortified positions would fail or be broken up by their artillery.
The size of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu swelled to somewhere between 13,000 and 16,000 troops by March 1954. About 70 percent of that force was made up of members of the French Foreign Legion, soldiers from French colonies in North Africa, and loyal Vietnamese.
Viet Minh guerrillas and troops from the People's Army of Vietnam surrounded Dien Bien Phu during the buildup within the French garrison. Their assault on March 13 proved almost immediately how vulnerable and flawed the French defenses were.
Dien Bien Phu's outlying firebases were overrun within days of the initial assault. And the main part of the garrison was amazed to find itself coming under heavy, withering artillery fire from the surrounding hills. In a major logistical feat, the Viet Minh had dragged scores of artillery pieces up steeply forested hillsides the French had written off as impassable.
The French artillery commander, distraught at his inability to bring counterfire on the well-defended and well-camouflaged Viet Minh batteries, went into his dugout and killed himself.
The heavy Viet Minh bombardment also closed Dien Bien Phu's airstrip. French attempts to resupply and reinforce the garrison via parachute were frustrated -- as pilots attempting to fly over the region found themselves facing a barrage from anti-aircraft guns. It was during the resupply effort that two civilian pilots, James McGovern and Wallace Buford, became the first Americans killed in Vietnam combat.
The supply planes were forced to fly higher, and their parachute drops became less accurate. Much of what was intended for the French forces -- including food, ammunition and, in one case, essential intelligence information -- landed instead in Viet Minh territory. Meanwhile, the Viet Minh steadily reduced the French-held area -- using what their commander, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, called "a tactic of combined nibbling and full-scale attack."
Closed off from the outside world, under constant fire, and flooded by monsoon rains, conditions inside Dien Bien Phu became inhuman. Casualties piled up inside the garrison's hospital.
Dien Bien Phu fell to the Viet Minh on May 7. At least 2,200 members of the French forces died during the siege -- with thousands more taken prisoner. Of the 50,000 or so Vietnamese who besieged the garrison, there were about 23,000 casualties -- including an estimated 8,000 killed.
The fall of Dien Bien Phu shocked France and brought an end to French Indochina.
"The very first memory I have of talking foreign affairs with my father was when Dien Bien Phu fell," Anil Malhotra, a World Bank official from India, said in a recent interview. "It was a source of great pride in the developing world. A small Asian nation had defeated a colonial power, convincingly. It changed history."
Following the French withdrawal, Vietnam was officially divided into a communist North and non-communist South -- setting the stage for U.S. involvement.
In 1963, as Washington was deepening its commitment in Vietnam, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made a telling remark to a U.S. official.
"If you want to, go ahead and fight in the jungles of Vietnam," Khrushchev said. "The French fought there for seven years and still had to quit in the end. Perhaps the Americans will be able to stick it out for a little longer, but eventually they will have to quit, too."
Source:By Bruce Kennedy CNN
Allied Troop Levels - Vietnam, 1960 To 1973
|Country||Peak Troop Stength||Deaths|
Communist Troop Levels
|Units||Peak Troop Stength||Deaths|
|NVA* & Viet Cong||300,000||924,048|
* NVA, North Vietnamese Army
Humour at War
Out of war, as in all adversity, humour often arises. Sometimes trivial, sometimes sutble that can understood only by those involved, at other times cynical and introspective, but seldom far away.
Vietnam War Movies & Books
Go Tell the Spartans (1978)
This is one of the best war movies ever made,
even though there are few battle scenes and the focus is on
circumstances and personalities. The setting is southern Vietnam
in 1964, before large numbers of American ground troops were
committed. The Americans were still in an "advisory"
and support role, although they were already fighting and dying.
Burt Lancaster is superb as a hardened major trying to keep a handle on a senseless situation. His explanation of why he is still a major after so many years is one of the classic scenes in all of film. He deadpans a hilarious scene very well as he describes an incident with the wife of a superior.
All of the absurdity of the American involvement in Vietnam appears in the movie. Ordered to garrison a useless post against his wishes, Lancaster complies and then the post is abandoned, leaving the troops to fight their way out and back to base. An extended family of Viet Cong sympathizers are found and befriended, over the objections of the experienced American and Vietnamese troops. The na´ve Americans talk about "winning the hearts and minds" only to be proven wrong.
This is very likely the most historically accurate movie about the Vietnam war ever made. "Civilian" Viet Cong soldiers fighting and dying, the bribing of opulent Vietnamese officers to get them to fight what is their war and frustration at the pointless policies combine with superb performances to make it one of the best "historical" movies ever made.
I agree with the above review and only stumbled across this movie by accident years ago. It never achieved the popular acclaim it should have, probably becauce it told the truth at a time when the overwhelming sentiment was to forget about the war.
The Odd Angry Shot
The activities in combat and at leisure of a group of Australian regular soldier on a year's tour of duty in Vietnam in the late 1960's forms the basis of Tom Jeffery's 'The Odd Angry Shot'. In the tradition of 'Platoon' and with an all-star cast headed by Graham Kennedy, John Hargreaves, Bryan Brown, John Jarrett and Graeme Blundell 'The Odd Angry Shot' contains combat sequences that are reputedly among the best ever filmed. For my own part this was about as close as I've seen a fiction movie capture the Australian experience in Vietnam. Making allowance for artisitic license it captures something known only to vets, that war is mostly long periods of extreme boredom interspersed by short periods of extreme fear.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
In the First World War it was called 'Shell Shock'. WW1 was the first modern war. Continuous exposure to massed artillery and machine gun fire confronted soldiers daily with the constant threat of death, often without individual combat. There were over 3000 cases of desertion under fire in the British Army that resulted in charges being laid for 'cowardice in the face of the enemy'. Over 300 of these cases resulted in the death sentence. In the Second World War & Korea it was called 'Battle Fatigue'
We now know that combat veterans, and other victims of trauma are vulnerable to a condition called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People with PTSD suffer from a range of symptoms that interfere with their capacities to enjoy normal life.
According to its definition, PTSD may result when a person suffers an event or situation that is outside the range of normal experience, exceeds the individuals perceived ability to meet its demands, and poses a serious threat to the loss of life.
If one has the opportunity to view the 1979 Bruce Beresford's film Breaker Morant (as adapted from Kit Denton's book The Breaker) one can clearly see the symptoms of PTSD. When the Australian actor Jack Thompson summed up the defence for Breaker Morant, Witton and Hancock in the film what he was really describing were the symptoms of PTSD:
"War changes men's natures. Abnormal men seldom commit the barbarities of war. The tragedy of war is that these horrors are committed by normal men in situations in which the ebb and flow of everyday life have departed and been replaced by a constant round of fear and anger and blood and death. Soldiers at war are not to be judged by civilian rules."
It is fascinating that the author of the book had such an incredible insight into man's reaction to combat. The book was written and the film made well before the 1980 introduction of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which at the time was the psychiatrist's main reference to the diagnosis of PTSD.
".......going back to living the way the rest of the world lives gives combat veterans serious problems. Other people have not had their experience. In being blooded, the soldier has become a member of an exclusive club, which has high membership fees".
The impact of PTSD upon relationships can be profound. Partners of trauma sufferers may find themselves taking on major responsibility for the family and for the management and control of the trauma survivor's symptoms. For example, in the case of the combat veteran's family, the partner may learn that keeping the peace at all costs is the most efficient way to control the emotional (often angry) responses of her veteran partner. However, no matter how successful this strategy can be it is usually at the expense of her own needs. The partner can also feel responsible for the veterans' behaviour. Self-blame is a common response for the partner, who may think that by doing something different her husband would not react in the way he does. Again, this different behaviour is often at the expense of her needs.
The impact of years of control and self-blame can have a damaging effect on the partner's feelings of self worth and esteem. The veteran may often have difficulties with intimacy and trust and the partner may come to feel isolated and lonely within her relationship. Poor communication patterns may develop, with both husband and wife having difficulties talking through problems and being able to support each other. The consequences for the partner may be that she feels as though she has little support and there is no-one with whom she can speak who understands what both she and her family are dealing with. Fear of being judged in a negative manner can also contribute to the reticence of the partner to seek support for herself and her family.
If the veteran experiences irritability and angry outbursts the atmosphere within the family can become a volatile one. Veterans' anger and aggression can be triggered by seemingly minor things and can result in the veteran having a reduced capacity to control their aggressive feelings. These feelings are typically directed at the family, often verbally and occasionally physical violence may result. The impact for the partner may be that she ends up feeling unsafe within her relationship and that she learns to once again to keep the peace at all costs as she may feel powerless to change the seemingly entrenched ways of communicating.
"The spouses of many vets complain that the men are cold and uncaring. The vet, himself, will recall an incident when he felt little or no emotion on the death of a comrade in battle or having returned to civilian life, felt nothing on the death of a friend or relative. He would rather deal with tragedy in his own way. Similarly, he cannot express the joys of life and will often describe himself as being emotionally dead.
It has often been said to me by veterans that since returning from Vietnam they have never achieved the same sense of intimacy or closeness with their partner as they did when they shared a shell scrape with their mate. This intimacy stemmed from the knowledge that both your lives depended upon each other and often lives were lost. This level of responsibility and purpose is rarely achieved in any other type of relationship. Another reason for this numbness is because once you experience the hurt of losing a comrade, you may never want to get close to his replacement to avoid being hurt again."
PTSD literature list the following conditions that are commonly found among veterans :
Authors Note: "The above was mainly experienced by US servicemen who were rotated on an individual basis, as opposed to Australia which rotated mainly on a unit basis."
Links for Further information on PTSD
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