Wednesday, April 6, 2011

From The Editor: Deployment of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), 25 August - 20 September 1965

The U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) was the first full division to arrive in Vietnam, and its movement from Qui Nhon to its base camp at An Khe challenged MACV J-4 and Movements Branch.  As Clark recounted in his diary, the arrival of the 1st Air Cav was not without its contentious moments.

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:

"About half way across the Pacific Ocean, I received a cable from the commander of the divisional task force to which my squadron was assigned on two of the three contingency plans to become effective on arrival in Vietnamese waters. Following instructions he had in turn received from high headquarters, Colonel Ray Lynch directed me to be prepared to fight my way ashore!  I remember to this day the stupefaction with which I received Colonel Lynch's message. Like the remainder of the division, my squadron had been loaded administratively. Our 90 helicopters were on board three freighters and a Navy aircraft carrier. Similarly, our 120 wheel vehicles, both combat and administrative, were spread among another half dozen Liberty ships which were God knows where in the Pacific. All I had on board the troop ship with me was the bulk of my officers and men, together with their individual weapons—perhaps a total of 600 people, or three quarters of the actual strength of the squadron. The rest were parcelled out on the other ships with our equipment, guarding it and preparing to offload it on arrival in Vietnam.

"When in July I had been informed that we would be shipped to the combat theater of operations in the most convenient manner instead of the most tactically sound manner, I screamed loudly and vociferously, along with every other commander in the division, to anyone in authority whose ear I could catch. General [Harry W. O.] Kinnard [commander of the 1st Air Cav]was as concerned about this as the rest of us, but we were all defeated by the machinery of inertia at those reaches of the Defense Department concerned with the military shipment of people and things.  Regardless of the fact that we had no tools with which to fight as cavalrymen, my orders from Colonel Lynch were explicit. Together with my valiant troop commanders, I worked out a scheme for making an assault landing in the Qui Nhon area with the assets we had on hand.

"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.

"Fortunately, as it turned out, our disembarkation was conducted peacefully and without interference by the simple procedure of using shallow draft vessels to lighter us ashore from our anchorage. Had it been otherwise, though—had there been trouble when we arrived—the 1st Cavalry Division could easily have been decimated before even a soldier of its main fighting component set foot on dry land. Even from the vantage point of more than two years of hindsight, I still shudder at the recollection."

Helicopters of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) aboard the USNS Boxer at Qui Nhon, South Vietnam9 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)


  1. Thank you for posting this. My father was a crew chief on board a Huey and worked at the Avionics shop in the 15th Transportation Corps Battalion of the 1st Air Cav at Camp Radcliff An Khe. My father passed away this last January 15th, 2014 without telling me much of anything about his time in Vietnam in late 1965-66. What you have written here gives me a time line as to when he arrived in Vietnam. Thank you. Sincerely, Louis Edward Rosas III

  2. Wow, as a "passenger" on the USNS Geiger, I never knew it was being discussed that we'd possibly be making an amphibious landing under fire.
    I was a Medic with the 1st. Airborne Brigade, 2nd Bn., 8th Cavalry. I don't really remember disembarking from the ship, but I DO remember waiting on the beach for the CH-47's to pick us up and take us to Camp Radcliff.
    Funny thing, though, when we were in the Caribbean, passing close to Cuba, we all joked that an invasion of that island was our REAL mission and that they'd soon be putting the nets over the side for us to board the landing craft.

  3. I was a clerk in the 394th Transportation Battalion when we unloaded the 1st Cav. There were others such at Korean Marines that came across the beach at Qui Nhon. All with LOTS operations and no dock. I don't think Col. Emery and his staff got the recognition they deserved for pulling off a great job that no one had done since WW II.

  4. I was the Personnel Administrated clerk for the 71st Trans Co (TS)when we arrived in Qui Nhon,Vietnam in August of 1965. Our company never was recognized for the outstanding job we did being up and operational in less than a month of our arrival in Vietnam. Nothing was there when we arrived we started from scratch and lived in 2 man tents enduring 12 hour shifts to make this port ready to unload the men & supplies of the 1st Cav.

  5. I was HHD 394th T Bn mail clerk in 65 -66 and handled all the mail for the troops that came in until they got set up . There were many truck loads and did have good help .

  6. Any one know the where abouts of Joe Pasternick the Finance maven of the 71st Trans Co? contact Tony Grasso @ thanks

  7. I was with the 71st 65-66 I remember working 24 hours a day to get the port in tip top shape.and that is a fact that we never got a thank you from any of the troops that we unloaded I could say how rude the officers were but I will leave it alone. E4 Ralph Korb OHIO

  8. Dates of Ship arrival are not correct. I was on the USNS Upshire (Voyage #164) Capt. J.J. Trick, Military Sea Transport was the Master
    Lt Com Anderson, US Navy Commanding Officer-Military Dept.
    Lt Col Thomas V. Buchanan, US Army Senior Unit Commander - Embarked Troops and Passengers.

    Other personnel I note from a little troop news paper produced on memograph machine.

    Chaplain Charles Nichols Lt Col Division Artillery
    Chaplain Edwin R. Andrews Maj. Support Command
    Chaplain Thomas F. Egan Maj. Support Command
    Chaplain Lee V. Fox Capt Support Command
    Chaplain S.C. Schade Lt. (Navy) Mil Dept.

    CWO Sidney C. Cowan A Company 229th AHB (must have been part of ad hoc editors of the little troop news paper)

    I was in the 15th TC Bn. and supported the electronics (Radar, IR, etc) on the OV1-B and OV-1C Mohawks. We went down the net and onto an LST
    which took us to the beach and CH-47s waiting to take us to An Khe area for a pup tent and sleeping bag for a few days. SSG C. Blackwell

  9. Date of the USNS Upshire arrival was Tuesday Sept 17,1965
    Editor and staff of the troop paper :

    Chaplain S.C. Schade, Lt US Navy Senior Advisor
    Capt Harold L. Shortney US Army Editorial Advisor
    1st Lt Victor J. Fenhwick Jr US Army Advisor
    SP5 Jim Graham US Army Editor
    SP4 Paul Mirage US Army Typist
    PFC Julio H. Revollo US Army Artist
    PFC Anthony Brockman US Army Typist
    PFC Robert L. Morrow US Army Production and Distribution

    C. Blackwell