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Unit History

 

 

 

On 12 July 1965, the 2d Brigade of the Big Red One landed at Cam Ranh Bay and Vung Tau, making it the first element of an Infantry Division to arrive in Vietnam. As the rest of the Division arrived, it was separated into five base areas: Division Headquarters and the Support Command were at Di An; the 1st Brigade, at Phuoc Vinh; the 2nd Brigade at Bien Hoa; the 3rd Brigade at Lai Khe; and Division Artillery at Phu Loi. Initial combat operations were devoted to securing the immediate area of the base camps and establishing the 1st Infantry Division's area of influence. By 1 November the entire division, under the command of MG Jonathan O. Seaman, was operational. Eleven days later, near Bau Bang on National Highway 13, the Big Red One fought its first major battle in Vietnam. Here, elements of three Divisional units overcame an estimated VC regiment. In the next big engagement, that of Ap Nha Mat, on 5 December, the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry, defeated the Viet Cong in the Michelin Rubber Plantation, northwest of the Division's Lai Khe base camp. By the end of 1965 the Division had participated in three major operations: Hump, Bushmaster I and Bushmaster II.

In early 1966, the Division took part in Operations Marauder, Crimp II and Rolling Stone. On 15 March 1966 MG William E. DePuy became the Division commander. Under its new commander, the BIG RED-ONE moved to prevent a suspected enemy monsoon offensive. During Operation Birmingham, huge supplies of rice, salt and other essentials needed by the Viet Cong for their offensive were captured. MG DePuy also instituted several tactical innovations such as cloverleaf patrolling and a new style of defensive positions. In June and July the Division defeated large numbers of Viet Cong in 5 major battles on or adjacent to Highway 13, in the battles of Ap Tau O, Srok Dong and Minh Thanh Road. The 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry distinguished itself during this period. In September the 2nd Brigade headquarters was relocated to Phi Lois. From 5 through 25 November, the Division participated the in Operation Attleboro. During the Battle of Ap Cha Do, the 1st Battalion 28th Infantry defeated numerous enemy.

On 8 January 1967, the Division launched Operation Cedar Falls, a multi-division search and destroy mission in the infamous Iron Triangle, 30 miles north of Saigon. On 10 February, MG John H. Hay assumed command of the Big Red One. Next came Operation Junction City and 52 continuous days of pounding enemy forces in War Zone C. Units either organic to or under the operational control of the Big Red One accounted for numerous Viet Cong and North Vietnamese casualties. The biggest single battle victory achieved by the Division since its arrival in Vietnam took place at Ap Gu, and involved the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry in two days of heavy fighting, 31 March and 1 April. Operation Manhattan began on 23 April and uncovered one of the largest weapons and ammunition caches of the war. A Hoi Chanh (former Viet Cong) led the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry to the find, which included 350 weapons and 314,450 rounds of ammunition. On 29 September, the Division initiated Operation Shenandoah II, one of the most significant operations of the war. Within two weeks, Big Red One units fought two violent battles with the 271st VC Regiment. By the end of October, the focal point of the operation became Loc Ninh, a little village situated in a rubber plantation 40 miles north of Lai Khe. Here the VC were attempting to overrun the Special Forces/Civilian Irregular Defense Forces (CIDG) compound. The operation ended on 19 November.

On 31 January 1968 during the Vietnamese celebration of the Lunar New Year (Tet), the Viet Cong launched a series of simultaneous ground and mortar attacks against most of South Vietnam's major cities and allied military installations. In response to the attacks, the Division was summoned to help secure the sprawling Tan Son Nhut Air Base. By 13 February, units of the Big Red One had engaged and defeated numerous Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers. On 8 March MG Keith L. Ware became the 39th commanding general of the Division. Three days later, the Division entered into a multi-division operation called Quyet Thang (Resolve to Win. On 7 April 1968, the Division embarked on the largest operation of the Vietnam War: Operation Toan Thang (Certain Victory), which involved all allied troops throughout the III Corps Tactical Zone. One of the primary missions of this two-part operation was to stop the infiltration of the enemy into the Saigon area. During the early days of September, Loc Ninh again became the focal point of Big Red One operations. Hard fighting broke out on 11 September when a Special Forces compound was hit by a heavy barrage of mortar fire. In the next three days units of the Division and cavalrymen of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment engaged and defeated many North Vietnamese Army regulars. On 13 September, the Division Commander, MG Ware, was killed in action when his command helicopter was shot down by hostile fire. MG Orwin C. Talbott moved up from his position of Assistant Division Commander to assume command of the Division.

During the first six months of 1969, the Division conducted extensive reconnaissance-in-force and ambush operations in the Iron Triangle and Trapezoid jungle areas as well as in the vicinity of An Loc. On 18 March, the Big Red One joined with the 25th Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions in a joint operation northwest of Lai Khe called Atlas Wedge. Meanwhile pacification operations were being conducted in such villages as Chanh Luu and An Dien. In late May and early June several elements of the Division were involved in the Battles of An Loc I and II. In June 5th ARVN Division and Big Red One soldiers constructed and opened the 90-kilometer road from Phuoc Vinh to Song Be - a milestone in the struggle for freedom in South Vietnam. During the latter part of the year, the Division's participation in the "Dong Tien" (Progress Together) increased. This joint US and South Vietnamese military program was designed to enable the South Vietnamese Army to take on a more demanding part of the Vietnam conflict. Fire Support Bases were jointly manned; joint operations were conducted; patrols contained soldiers of both armies; tactical operations centers were jointly manned; training in each others tactics and techniques were conducted; and ARVN units were introduced to Big Red One support capabilities. These aggressive steps forward lead the way for other joint military partnerships in Vietnam. On 10 August 1969, MG A. E Milloy assumed command of the Division. In August and September, elements of the Division were involved in several Battles along Thunder Road (National Highway 13) as enemy forces tried to disrupt convoys or attack Fire Support Bases. During October and November, Big Red One units discovered numerous enemy base camps and caches of weapons and supplies.

On 12 January 1970 it was announced that the Big Red One colors would soon be returning to Ft Riley. The reason, as stated by the Division Commander, MG Milloy, was " We have worked ourselves out of a job!" The Big Red One returned to Ft. Riley in April 1970. For nearly five years, the First Infantry Division soldiers battled against an aggressive enemy who made expert use of the dense jungles and inaccessible countryside. During this conflict, the First Infantry Division had mastered the use of helicopters as one of the best means of countering the jungle and the lack of roads; gained significant experience in resupply operations, medical evacuation and the tactics of the air mobile assault; instituted numerous other tactical innovations; and provided extensive civic action support to the South Vietnamese people. The Division suffered 20,770 casualties during this war. Eleven Big Red One soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their heroic actions. Eleven Campaign Streamers and two Decorations were added to the Big Red One colors.