Preparations for the arrival of the 1st Air Cav began in late June and early July, when Clark traveled aboard C-123s that landed over 200 tons of airstrip construction materials at the site of the division's base camp location at An Khe. In operations Clark described in his diary in late July and early August, six South Vietnamese and American battalions cleared and fortified strong points along Highway 19, the main supply route that linked Qui Nhon with An Khe. Clark arranged to airlift an advance party of the division that assembled at Nha Trang on 25 August 1965. Accompanied by 900 troops of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, vehicles, and considerable equipment, the group moved by C-130 to the base camp. The party hacked out bivouac areas, a defensive perimeter, and the then-largest helicopter landing area in the world. The site lay in a bowl-shaped area of terrain about thirty miles inland from Qui Nhon on Highway 19.
|The U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) base camp at An Khe, 1965. (Photo courtesy Richard P. Clark, Jr. collection)|
The U.S. Army 1st Logistical Command and its subordinate unit at Qui Nhon, the 394th Transportation Battalion, were responsible for offloading the division's troops, vehicles, and cargo. The 1st Log transportation officer, Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Dolan, and the battalion commander of the 394th, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Emery, repeatedly assured MACV that they could safely and efficiently carry out the debark and offload of the 1st Air Cav.
It thus came as an unwelcome surprise when, in mid-August 1965, the Joint Chiefs of Staff director for logistics advised the JCS Military Logistics Council, Pacific Command, and MACV that U.S. military port capacities at Qui Nhon were "critical," and would be the determining factor in carrying out the planned movement of the 1st Air Cav to An Khe. The JCS report on port status at Qui Nhon caused an uproar at MACV headquarters that inspired Clark to comment on 27 August: "I am sure that never have so many panic buttons been pushed in such a short period of time!" Three days later, the decision of whether or not the the 1st Air Cav could or should deploy was still in doubt. Clark confided to his diary that "we went all the way up the chain of command to General Westmoreland himself to get the decision made. It is no fun to be grilled up the chain of command by a bunch of stars. Kinda high pressure."
On 4 September Clark reported that General Crowley, the MACV J-4, called a conference that included Colonel Robert W. Duke, the commander of the 1st Log, Dolan, and Emery, "to try to settle things. It was not a success, I'm afriad that I did not make many friends at the conference, but all concerned got my honest views anyway. We have another conference set up tomorrow but that one probably won't settle anything either." Clark inspected port operations at Qui Nhon and was skeptical of the bland assurances Duke, Dolan, and Emery gave General Crowley that their units were fully prepared to receive the 1st Air Cav.
Clark was also angry with Crowley for his equally bland acceptance of the 1st Log's claims when both he and Crowley knew the port situation at Qui Nhon was bad. The next day he vented to his diary, ""there are a lot of instances of namby-pamby, covering up of inefficiency, and service politics which I have to endure. My boss is poorly qualified in transportation and through his and others’ ineptness, we are apt to put the US in a bad light here. While we had a big conference here today to try to correct some things, they just get messed up worse. So far, I’ve tried real hard to be a winner over here, but apparently I don’t understand that the Army must be protected at all costs on the grossest sort of errors. I really care about trying to win over here and if the Army goofs up, I’m pretty hard on them. Seems like most others don’t care about much but avoiding responsibility and protecting the Army at all costs---a no-win attitude."
Clark fumed, "In spite of assurances things are not good, am going up to Qui Nhon personally to gather the true facts. Can’t believe all the rosy things people are saying, as I have evidence to the contrary."
The 1st Cavalry Division, still en route in the Pacific Ocean, felt the sense of chaos and panic that pervaded MACV headquarters over the division's arrival. U.S. Army Colonel John Stockton, commander of the Air Cavalry Squadron, described the environment:
"This done, I made a call on the ship's master, informing him of the instructions I had received and requesting that he break out the disembarkation nets we would have to use to get over the side so that we could practice with them. Here I was stupefied for the second time within a matter of less than 24 hours. Not only were there no assault landing nets on board, but the master had not even been informed of his sailing destination! He honestly thought that we might be going to Korea or possibly to the Philippines. In either event, he was sure that he would be tied up to a dock for unloading in the usual fashion. I finally persuaded this splendid seaman that we were in fact headed for battle-torn Vietnam. Neither he nor any of his officers had sailed in those waters for a dozen years. They were astounded at the prospect and assumed that their destination would be some location where adequate dock facilities existed for discharging their cargo. I was altogether unable to convince the master that we were in fact headed for Qui Nhon harbor where no unloading facilities of any kind were available.
|Helicopters of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) aboard the USNS Boxer at Qui Nhon, South Vietnam, 9 September 1965. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)|
As it turned out, Clark needlessly worried about the situation at Qui Nhon and probably unnecessarily provoked resentment among his fellow Transportation Corps officers. The 1st Logistical Command and the 394th Transportation Battalion successfully carried out the debarkation of the division over a span of fifteen days. Movements Branch's movement of the division involved 15,000 troops, 3,100 vehicles, 470 aircraft, and 19,000 tons of cargo.
On 05 September, the "Red Legs" of the Division Artillery sailed into Qui Nhon aboard the USNS Upshur. The Division Artillery consisted of the 2nd Battalion, 19th Artillery, the 2nd Battalion, 20th Artillery, the 1st Battalion, 21st Artillery and the 1st Battalion, 77th Artillery. Their first task was setting up unit headquarters at the Division Base camp at An Khe.
On 9 September, the USNS Boxer arrived at Qui Nhon with giant CH-47 Chinooks of the 228th Helicopter Battalion which would be used in transporting much of the later arriving troops and cargo to An Khe. Landing preparation had begun several days before, at sea, with the partial removal of the cocooning materials. On 11 September, completely checked out, the first CH-47 took off from the deck. Sixty-nine hours later, the last CH-47 departed. Over the next week and a half, an organic air movement from Qui Nhon to the golf course, involving twenty-one CH-47 Chinooks daily and over 1,100 flying hours, was completed on 22 September.
On 12 September the Division Support Command arrived at Qui Nhon. The Support Command units consisted of the 15th Medical Battalion, responsible for the health and life saving needs of the soldiers on and away from the battlefield, the 15th Transportation Corps Battalion, responsible for aircraft maintenance, the 15th Supply and Service Battalion, responsible for supplying everything from meals complete with toothpicks to gasoline, and the 27th Maintenance Battalion, responsible for performing timely maintenance of the ground vehicles and weapons of the Division. The functions of each unit were integrated into individual support organizations called Forward Service Support Elements (FSSE). Three of these elements were distributed throughout the operational areas of the 1st Cavalry Division.
On 13 September, more elements of the 11th Aviation Group (Airmobile) assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division arrived at Qui Nhon. The 11th Aviation Group consisted of the 227th, 228th, and 229th Aviation Battalions and the 1st Squadron (Reconnaissance), 9th Cavalry Regiment. They were soon operating at full capacity in its missions of providing tactical mobility for combat troops and transporting equipment and supplies to units of the Division.
On 14 September, the 2nd Brigade disembarked from the troop ship USNS Buckner and marched ashore at Qui Nhon. The brigade consisted of three infantry battalions, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 5th Cavalry and 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry. The brigade loaded quickly onto helicopters and C-130s and moved inland to the main base camp at An Khe.
|The 1st Cavalry Division lands at Qui Nhon, 14 September 1965. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)|
On 20 September, the 1st Brigade, with brief port stopovers at Honolulu, Hawaii and Guam, disembarked from the troop ship USNS Geiger and marched ashore at Qui Nhon. The brigade consisted of three airborne infantry battalions, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 8th Cavalry and 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry with the 2nd Battalion, 19th Artillery acting in direct support unit. The brigade boarded helicopters and C-130s and was airlifted to the base camp at An Khe.
On 20 September, the 3rd Brigade disembarked from the troop ship USNS Maurice Rose and marched ashore at Qui Nhon. The brigade initially consisted of two infantry battalions, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 7th Cavalry. The brigade was airlifted by helicopter and C-130 to An Khe.
|Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) prepare to board C-130s for airlift to An Khe, 14 September 1965. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)|