August 1968:  First Brigade's First Casualties


According to the "Operational Report: Lessons learned of 1st Infantry Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mech) for Period Ending 1 November 1968, RCS, CSDOR-65 (RI).", Dated 7 March 1969, Page 2:

"From 1 to 15 August 1968 the battalions unpacked, conducted orientation and acclimatisation training, and prepared for combat. The units were initially positioned as follows:

1/11 Inf .......... LZ Sharon

1-61 Inf (M) ...... Wunder Beach

1-77 Armor ........ Wunder Beach

5-4 Arty .......... LZ Sharon

A/7th Engr ........ Wunder Beach

A-4/12 Cav ........ Wunder Beach

75th Spt Bn (-) ... Quang Tri CB

D 75th Spt Bn ..... Dong Ha

517th MI .......... Quang Tri CB

407 th RED ........ Quang Tri CB

86th Chem Det ..... Quang Tri CB

Bde HQ ............ Quang Tri CB


The first firefight of the Red Devil Brigade against the North Vietnamese Army [NVA] took place starting 11 August 1968, in the area known as "Leatherneck Square" - The Marines had already taught the enemy a lesson in these parts during the Têt, 1968 celebrations - [bounded by Côn Thiên {also known as LZ Alpha 4, and named for a no-longer existing village near Thôn Huong Thanh - later that area would be known as Kentucky a fairly high hill that also had been used by the French}, Cam Lô {resettled from its original site}, Ðông Hà; and Gio Linh] - when it overran the enemy bunker complex with the assistance of Alpha Company of the 1st. Battalion, 77th. Armor Regiment, and in which the enemy took well over 50 casualties.  The enemy retreated in complete disarray. The Marines had already taught the enemy a lesson in these parts during the Têt, 1968 celebrations, Excerpt from page 8 of the Annual Historical Supplement 1968, 1st. Battalion, 11th. Infantry, APO San Francisco 96477 - The Pioneer Battalion "The First Team" and authored by Emil N. Tepsitch, Command Sergeant Major, Unit Historical NCO.

"The early days of August gave rise to expectations of enemy contact as the Pioneer Battalion was granted an area of operations to exploit. The marriage of the soldier with his equipment has been consummated, acres of rice paddies had been traversed during the initial shakedown, and orders were received to sweep towards, and occupy, LZ Pedro, YD 249485, the first of many combat outposts that would be the home away from home for the Pioneers.

Utilizing LZ Pedro as a control base, the maneuver elements moved out in force to search and clear the battalion AO. The enemy tested the mettle of the Pioneers with minor harassment by periodically firing mortar rounds, but with no effect. First notable contact was made when Company A captured a lone VC armed with a carbine, but this achievement was soberly tempered by the same unit encountering an enemy booby-trap which resulted in the first Pioneer dying from hostile activity. In addition, six other soldiers received minor wounds. This was a portent of things to come as countless numbers of enemy booby-traps were repeatedly encountered during combat operations."

Monday 12 August 1968:  Alpha Company, 1/77th Armor was the first unit of the Red Brigade to be sent into combat, leaving its spa in Wunder Beach, moving basically Westward toward Cam Lô, then North to Côn Thiên, joining forces with the First Marine Regiment, 3rd. Marine Division.  Two of our guys have already died here, one by drowning and one to fatal illness.  Thus, that company became the first unit of the Brigade to be committed to tactical combat in the RVN.  Our first combat casualty was PFC William [Billy] Kent from Charley Company, 1/61st. Infantry - a 20-year old kid from Tennessee who was killed by sniper fire off the main trail right at the outset of an ambush northwest of Côn Thiên.  The 1/61st. Infantry is hanging out at Côn Thiên, a village completely destroyed last year, I think, which we call Firebase Alpha 4.  It's just a balded hill, made of red clay, and occupied mostly by rats and land-mines of all kinds.  I will try to keep track of our casualties, seems to be easier than trying to figure out who's still alive.  We carried out this {as well as some of our subsequent} operation as the first of 10 days jointly with the First Marine Regiment {3rd. Division} against NVA forces.  The enemy was routed and 80 of them were killed.

Fig. 1: August, 1968: Camp Red Devil (at LZ Sharon). View from the perimeter.
Fig 2:August, 1968: Camp Red Devil at the perimeter.
Fig 3: August, 1968: Camp Red Devil housing

According to the "Operational Report: Lessons learned of 1st Infantry Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mech) for Period Ending 1 November 1968, RCS, CSDOR-65 (RI).", Dated 7 March 1969, Page 3:

(1) First Blood: It was not very long before first blood was drawn. On 12 August 1968, the first major engagement was fought by A/1-77 Armor while OPCON to the 1st Marine Regiment near the DMZ. As the Marine's ready reaction force, A/1-77 Armor exploited a tactical advantage gained by infantry, killing 80 enemy while suffering seven friendly WIA.

On 17 August 1968, the Brigade moved Northward to the DMZ."

Tuesday 20 August 1968:  I think the entire Battalion is involved in this encounter with the NVA.  SGT Steven Martinez, a 21 year-old from Alpha Company 1/11th. Infantry, was killed by a land mine in the vicinity of Thôn Ái Tú, about 6 km SE of Ðông Hà West of the Tha?ch Hãn River (NE of Pedro and NW of Quang Tri).

Fig. 4: August, 1968: Camp Red Devil. Building supplies.
Fig 5: August, 1968: Camp Red Devil mortar refuge trench.
Fig 6: August, 1968: Camp Red Devil deluxe housing
Wednesday 21 August 1968:  We're getting an education from the marines [it's nice to have them fighting on your side because you tend to live longer that way -- although we will fight over a beer with them], and are more careful about covering our bright red diamond patches with black laundry ink.  Heretofore, the bright red diamond was proudly displayed on our shoulder, and we could quickly identify members of our unit, but so could the enemy, sometimes from far away.  Another Marine tip, cover the muzzle of the M-16 with plastic wrap to keep dust and moisture out of the barrel and maybe it won't jam so much.  Apparently they have experienced a lot of trouble, and many of them prefer to use the AK-47.  So, many of us now have plastic wrapped on the muzzle of our delicate weapon. It just melts away with the first round fired and kind of gunks up the flash suppressor.

Friday 23 August 1968:  PFC Chester Mc Clelland, a 24-year old {an elderly fellow in the midst of these youngsters, but the same age as I am} from Delta Company 1/77th. Armor was killed by artillery fire just South East of Cam Lô (NW of Pedro), when the NVA attempted to counter-attack the base with rocket and mortar fire.  He was a driver.

According to the "Operational Report: Lessons learned of 1st Infantry Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mech) for Period Ending 1 November 1968, RCS, CSDOR-65 (RI).", Dated 7 March 1969, Page 3:

"On 24 August 1968, the Brigade TOC moved to Dong Ha to control operations in Leatherneck Square, the contested area encompassing Con Thien, Gia (sic) Linh, Dong Ha and Cam Lo." {Note: US Army typewriters did not have accents for accented letters available}

Saturday 24 August 1968: Excerpt from page 8 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. "On 24 August 1968, a fever of expectancy encompassed the Pioneer ranks as the order was received to deploy to the Demilitarized Zone of Vietnam and occupy the forward fire base location near Côn Tiên (YD 115702). Designated in military parlance as A-4, the fire base became the focal point of what was to become an illustrious segment of an already distinguished combat history."

25 August 1968: Excerpt from 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: "A two-pronged battalion move was conducted on 25 August 1968 as the main force consisting of Companies B, C, D and E occupied A-4 and Company A was airlifted into another fire base designated as A-3 (YD 173723), the Eastern anchor of what could be termed (in traditional warfare) as the front line trace.  The battalion CP [Command Post] was sited at A-4 and an entirely new type of environment greeted the Pioneers as they took up residence below ground in heavily sandbagged bunkers with typical Pioneer humor and ingenuity the interiors of "Prairie Dog Village" were suddenly decorated with an assortment of provocative pin-up pictures and humerous slogans, though questionable in taste, most certainly lent color to an otherwise dismal abode."

26 August 1968:  We are in Leatherneck Square, outside Ðông Hà, and NVA and VC seem to be popping up out of nowhere and everywhere at once.  So, we kill them.   This began our first operation in fullforce. We were near Hwy 1 and watched 3 aircrafts spray Agent Orange North bound to the DMZ and then back the other side of the highway South bound.

Saturday 31 August 1968:  It is not a good day to be married in this man's world.  Our sister Company, Delta Company, 1/11th., lost SGT Keith Wilson, who was killed by AK-47 fire at Hill 158 0.5 miles North of Côn Thiên, and who became the first married man killed in our Brigade.  From the same company in the same engagement, CPL Anthony Miller was shot and killed.  He's our first black man casualty and he also was married, and had a family, we think.  Delta Company had been pinned down by well planned mortar fire.  Our sister platoon chased the enemy as Charley Company, 1/11th. Infantry joined up with the tanks from C Company, 1/77th. Armor to relieve a pinned down squad.  We're rather proud, and sort of exhilirated with over 52 kills today.  We're getting mean and thirst for vengeance to avenge our dead against the gooks.  Ah yes, the enemy has earned a distinguished promotion to a sub-human species.  They are now gooks, ripe for extermination.  If we don't think of them as human, we are less likely to hesitate about killing them, and too often it is that fraction of time spent in hesitation that gets one killed here.  The VC are running from us [Victor Charley on the air, stands for Viêt Cong, and we often called this unseen enemy Charley, or Mr. Charles when he earned our professional respect]."

Headquarters were installed at Camp Red Devil {courtesy of the Engineers}, outside and West of Quang Tri City, some 17 kilometers from the DMZ.  For the next two months, our Battalion, and indeed the Brigade as a whole, established a reputation for finding and routing the enemy in every single encounter.  This was not mentioned in the American civilian press, who probably looked upon our achievements with some dismay as it seemed pre-occupied with trying to headline instances of Communist successes.  So to the American public it must have seemed like Communist forces consistently won major victories rather than experiencing transient advances and massive losses.  And in the field we were killing them at a frightening pace.

Fig. 7: August, 1968: Camp Red Devil. Housing presidential suite.
Fig 8: August, 1968: Camp Red Devil local R&R after a jaunt in the field.
Fig 9: August, 1968: Camp Red Devil 3rd week in country

According to the "Operational Report: Lessons learned of 1st Infantry Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mech) for Period Ending 1 November 1968, RCS, CSDOR-65 (RI).", Dated 7 March 1969, Page 3:

Late August 1968 saw the conduct of a series of company and platoon operations throughout the Brigade AO. Techniques were perfected to employ all fire support means including naval gunfire TAC air and artillery."


Excerpt from 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.[Continued from 25 August segment]

"Humor wasn't one-sided however, as the enemy rendered an audible welcome by shelling both fire bases with rockets, mortars, and long range artillery.  The total effect resulted in a fierce determination of the Pioneers to personally confront the enemy as soon as possible to express their appreciation for the consideration shown by the enemy greeting committee.

This was accomplished in a striking manner on 31 August 1968 as a company size patrol of Company D received sniper fire.  The resulting action found the unit in contact with a numerically large enemy force, heavily equipped with automatic weapons.  Supported by air strikes, Company D closed with the enemy and by use of fire and maneuver killed fifty-two (52) of the enemy, captured his equipment, and rendered that particular NVA unit totally ineffective for immediate combat.  This remarkable action served as the battalion announcement that this designated portion of South Vietnam was Pioneer territory and intruders would be regarded as encroaching upon our right of eminent domain.

Plaudits and praise were bestowed upon the Pioneers by all echelons of major commands to include that of the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General William C. Westmoreland.  To mark the occasion, free beer and barbecue was made available to all hands and then it was back into the AO [Area of Operations] to literally look for a fight."

RIP: PFC William W. Kent, C CO, 1ST BN, 61ST INFANTRY, 1ST BDE, 5TH INF DIV (Mech), USARV, KIA 12 August 1968, 20 years old, fatal wound from sniper, 4-7 km North West of Côn Thiên, Quang Tri Province, RVN.

































RIP: SGT Steven C. Martinez, A CO, 1ST BN, 11TH INFANTRY, 1ST BDE, 5TH INF DIV (Mech), USARV, KIA 20 August 1968, Booby Trap, 6 km S-SE of Ðông Hà, Quang Tri Province, RVN.




















RIP: CPL Chester R. Mc Clelland, D CO, 1ST BN, 77TH ARMOR, 1ST BDE, 5TH INF DIV (Mech), USARV, KIA 23 August 1968, 22 years old, artillery and mortar fire, 4 km S-SE of Cam Lô, Quang Tri Province, RVN.

































RIP: SGT Keith L. Wilson, D CO, 1ST BN, 11TH INFANTRY, 1ST BDE, 5TH INF DIV (Mech), USARV, KIA 31 August 1968, 26 years old, during firefight, Hill 158 (~1 km north of Côn Thiên), Quang Tri Province, RVN.

































RIP: CPL Anthony Miller, D CO, 1ST BN, 11TH INFANTRY, 1ST BDE, 5TH INF DIV (Mech), USARV, KIA 31 August 1968, 26 years old, during firefight, Hill 158 (~1 km north of Côn Thiên), Quang Tri Province, RVN.
































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