July 1968:  The First Brigade goes to Viêt Nam

On 22 July 1968, the First Brigade of the 5th. Infantry Division [Mechanized], left Fort Carson, Colorado, under the command of Colonel Richard Glikes.  Forward elements of the Brigade had been shipped out earlier to stake our claim to I-Corps.  The heavy stuff, tanks and APCs and the likes had been shipped out in May and June.  For the rest of us, we were to fly all the way.  The last movie I saw on post was Elvira Madigan.  

The Red Devil Brigade included four armor companies from the 1/77th., six infantry companies from the 1/11th., 5 companies from the 1/61st. Mobile Infantry [Mechanized], 5 batteries from the 5/4th. Artillery loaded primarily with 155-mm and 105 mm, A Troop from 4/12th. Cavalry, 5 support companies [finance, personnel, medical, transport and supply and maintenance] from 75th. Support Battalion, Alpha Company from 7th. Engineers, and the 517th. Military Intelligence Detachment.  Thus, the move involved the transportation of approximately 5,500 newbies to the Nam, switching from huge MACV transports to C-130's at Da Nang and landing at Quang Tri on a rather short PSP runway. [our own aircraft had to make three passes before successfully coming to a halt within the length of that runway.  Of course, there being no windows, and since we had been circling a short while before attempting to land, it seemed to us that maybe we were coming under fire already].  Of course, after having been trained so thoroughly for jungle warfare during the blizzard of '68, we felt perfectly prepared to handle whatever was thrown at us.  But actually landing with a sharp jolt, slamming on the brakes and then hearing the engines rev up as we took off again with a sharp bank, and then repeating this sequence a couple of times just did not inspire confidence.  There was, in this plane, a palpable feeling of concern, or perhaps fear is a more accurate term.  A fleeting thought came to my mind: "Wouldn't it just suck if we all died on arrival because of a plane crash?"  But our faces were all so safely masking with a display of fake bravado, that turmoil inside, and that tightening of the gut awaiting the order to lock and load.  Then, we came to a halt and deplaned.  Darkness was already falling on this land, and Fort Carson's best had finally arrived in the Year of the Monkey - I was born also in a Year of the Monkey.

An e-Mail from Harvey Hahn, Bravo Company, 1/11th., received 23 March 2001, notes on a wry note: ".... The fact that the Army in Vietnam didn't know that we were coming and had no place to put us told us a lot about how things really were right away."

During the first week or so, the Third Marine Division played host.  The Brigade was spread out around the area of Quang Tri City, and besides building tent cities, and filling sand bags, setting up concertina wire, our excursions also took us to Dong Hà, Cam Lô and the Rockpile.  We also became acquainted with Wunder Beach -- we being quite distinct from the marines, who frolicked in their shorts in the water, while we wore our flack jackets and helmets as we transferred supplies, our red diamond patch on our shoulder probably easily visible for hundreds of yards.  Of course, it only took us a few days to wizen up and tear them off, or cover them with black ink from laundry pens.  It's very hot, it's very humid, and the air smells oppressively bad.  This land is very lush, and a paradise for insects and other undesirable creatures.  It is a place of green, in the grass, in the trees, in the bushes and in the moss that grows everywhere.  It is a place of red, in the stripes of their flag and ours, in the baked cracked clay that passes for ground, and in the blood-stained tears that will soon irrigate it - poetry cast in stone-like clay.  This will be a place of death.

Excerpt from page 7 of the Annual Historical Supplement 1968, 1st. Battalion, 11th. Infantry, APO San Francisco 96477 - The Pioneer Battalion "The First Team" copy received from Sidney Collins on 13 November 2000 and authored by Emil N. Tepsitch, Command Sergeant Major, Unit Historical NCO.

"... To further mark the completion of training and to bid a temporary adieu to the advance party, a battalion-wide steak and beer party was held and all hands, including Brutus T. Bear, the Pioneer mascot, were vociferous in song, profound in military tactics, and above all permeated with the obvious desire to 'get over there and get with it!'.

Maximum leaves were granted and full advantage of this pleasant respite was taken by all.  Word affirming the safe arrival of the advance party was greeted with satisfaction and the advice rendered, via mail by this group to the main body, proved invaluable in tying up those "loose ends" which invariably arise during a major military troop movement.

July found those individuals not actually on leave, continuing to complete debarkation procedures and preparations to return to Fort Carson control of those facilities which would remain at home station when the Pioneers departed for the assigned combat area.

On July 21, 1968, the culmination of all previous efforts were vividly demonstrated when the National and Battalion Colors were cased for the final time at Fort Carson and ceremoniously placed aboard the first of many giant C-141 Starlifters to serve as a symbolic vanguard for the Pioneer Battalion.  Utilizing diverse routes and intermediate stop-over points, the main body proceeded towards their primary destination and purpose - Combat!

The trans-oceanic flights terminated at the Da Nang, Vietnam, military complex where the troops off-loaded onto C-130 Cargo Transports for the final leg of the long flight which would eventually terminate at Quang Tri, the future home of the Pioneers.

An operations base was established at LZ Sharon, YD 334485 ... under the auspices of the 1st Brigade, 1st Air Cav, and incountry shakedown of the maneuver elements was implemented ...

The month of July closed with no major enemy contacts, although sporadic sniper fire, resulting in no friendly casualties, but an increased awareness that this was realistic training beyond question."  

Go to Next Month

Go to MJMR's home page

Go to the Viêt Nam War Museum Home Page