HISTORICAL BACKGROUND, 3RD BRIGADE, 4TH
DIVISION, (THE BASTARD BRIGADE), 1966-67
How the unit received this unusual designation is an interesting
footnote to a war that produced a number of ironic circumstances.
The unit earned this infamous title as soon as it arrived in
Vietnam, but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The story begins in December of 1965 in two different parts of the
world. In Vietnam, General Westmoreland, commander of allied forces in
country looks at his maps of his theater of operations and realizes that
Vietnam could be cut in two by the enemy. The Central Highlands was the
area of concern and he knew that in spite of a staunch defense by units of
the 1st Air Cavalry, the area was ripe for exploitation by the enemy. In
fact, North Vietnam had also identified the Central Highlands as a primary
target and was moving to take advantage of the vulnerability of the zone.
Westmoreland moved to bolster the defense of this region by deploying the
newly arriving 3rd Brigade of the 25th Division to
Pleiku. That was where the unit remained for the duration of its tour in
Vietnam. When the two additional brigades of the 25th arrived
in January to April 1966 they were assigned to a forward base set up at Cu
Chi. Once there, they were to serve as an interdiction for enemy units
operating in the area just north of Saigon who were routinely harassing
Saigon and tying up South Vietnam troops in pursuit.
story now moves stateside where thousands of inductees across the country
are reporting for duty. At Fort Lewis, Washington, the 4th
Infantry Division, is receiving these raw recruits in order to bring its
readiness up to combat level. In October 1966 the Division is at a level
of less than 30% strength. By January of 1966 division size is bolstered
to 110%. Training begins and intensifies over the next few months with the
deliberate purpose of training the division to carry the fight to the
enemy in the Central Highlands later in the year. In late spring, with
this assignment in mind, the Brigade is trucked to the rugged mountains of
the Cascadian Range for conditioning to the environment expected upon
deployment in the war zone.
By July the first unit from the 4th Division arrived in
Vietnam. This would be the lead element of the 2nd Brigade of
the Fourth, a unit of regimental strength. It was immediately sent to
Pleiku. It was followed by additional units until the entire 1st and 2nd
Brigade were in place there. This was completed by October 1966.
Meanwhile the 3rd Brigade left Seattle by ship in mid-
September and arrived at Vung Tau on October 8th, 1966.
THE BREACH, ARRIVAL IN VIETNAM
landing, the unit was trucked to Bear Cat, a basecamp built by the 1st
Division a year earlier. They were now situated in the same general area
of operation as the 25th Division, just north of Saigon. At
this point in time the 4th was at Pleiku with a brigade of the
25th Division, while the 3rd Brigade of the 4th was
in the south with the 25th Division. Both units came under
operational control of the larger division units. Both were to be
stepchildren to their parent Division until the situation was rectified in
August of 1967. Yet the 3rd Brigade of the 4th
Division distinguished itself gallantly in a string of high profile
engagements with the enemy during this period.
A/2/12 of the third Brigade had the distinction of being one of the
U.S. Army units that marched in the annual National Day Parade in Saigon
on November 1st. This was not without it’s dangers, as the
night before the parade, two tons of explosives were discovered within the
confines of the city, presumably to be used by VC sappers to disrupt and
discredit the regime. The next day the parade went on like clock work
until we heard the whoosh of recoilless rifle rounds pass over us as we
marched and landed two streets away from us. The company never lost a step
and proceeded to march past the reviewing stand where Premier Nguyen Cao
Ky and US Ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge stood symbolically side by side.
On November 2nd, a day after the parade and a month after landing,
the brigade assumed the defense of Phuoc Vihn, a base east of Saigon that
the 1st Division had abandoned to pursue the enemy into the
area known as War Zone C. This
operation was to be known as OPERATION ATTLEBORO and was the first major
probe into the Vietcong sanctuary known as War Zone C, an area long
exploited by the VC coming out of Cambodia for attacks in the populous Tay
Ninh Province. It was during this mission that a significant amount of
enemy activity was discovered operating out of the Michelin Rubber
Plantation near Dau Tieng. With the dry season coming on and
Westmoreland’s planned major offensive set to take place, it was decided
to move the Brigade to this area and establish a major base there that
would be named CAMP RAINIER, after the mountain in Washington, where the
unit formed before it’s deployment. This maneuver took place on November
Attleboro and Cedar Falls
OPERATION ATTLEBORO was the largest U. S. Operation to date and was
conducted by the 1st Division, 3rd Brigade of the 4th,
173rd Airborne Brigade, and several ARVN Battalions. Enemy
casualties were confirmed at 1,106 dead. In addition, Americans had seized
2400 tons of rice, large ammunition caches with over 24,000 grenades, 600
mines, and 2,000 pounds of
explosives; and destroyed 68 enemy base camps. Even more important, the
operation served as a model for the more ambitious campaigns that were in
the final planning stage
The next Operation, OPERATION CEDAR FALLS was an encirclement of
the IRON TRIANGLE, North of Saigon. It was determined that the area should
be neutralized before another venture into War Zone C.
To accomplish this, it was decided to completely depopulate the
Iron Triangle area and turn it into a Free Fire Zone. In particular, MACV
was determined to destroy the village of Ben Suc, long a VC stronghold
north of the Hobo Woods. After the village was secured, a captured VC
platoon leader confirmed that no less than 4 companies operated out of the
village. The village also had an extensive underground tunnel complex. The
entire population of the village was evacuated, the tunnels filled with
acetylene, and detonated, collapsing the network. All structures above
ground were also leveled. Ben Suc was given up to the surrounding jungle
and remained so for the duration of the war.
3rd Brigade of the 4th Division served as a support
and diversionary force, working out of Dau Tieng during most of this
campaign. Its mission was to
fan out in company size formations and generally confuse the enemy into
thinking a new probe into War Zone C was imminent. This allowed the units
in the south to move without compromising their real intention.
During this campaign, on January 27, at an action that occurred
near Tri Tam, A company, 2/12 of the Third Brigade stumbled into a
reinforced bunker complex. The lead point man was immediately put down by
small arms fire and a ferocious battle ensued. Spec 4 Donald Evans Jr., a
Company Medic, braved enemy fire to administer life saving treatment to
two downed soldiers, dragging a third to safety through a savage hail
storm of enemy fire. Returning to treat additional fallen comrades, he was
wounded by grenade fragments himself.
In spite of his painful injuries he successfully evacuated another
fallen comrade. Told to report to the rear, he refused and successfully
moved another wounded person across another dangerous open area.
He once more returned to the hostilities, where finally he was
felled by small arms fire. Donald had made the supreme sacrifice and was
awarded the first Medal Of Honor, posthumously, that the 4th
Division earned in Vietnam.
CEDAR FALLS succeeded in killing over 700 insurgents, seizing 200
prisoners and 500 ralliers ,
making it the first operation in III Corps during which the enemy who
surrendered equaled the number killed. Evacuating the Iron Triangle
resulted in 5, 987 refugees who were relocated to Phu Cuong. Eventually,
after 5 long months, they were moved to a government resettlement area ten
kilometers to the south. The entire Iron Triangle now was vacant of
civilians. Enemy equipment losses totaled 23 crew served weapons, 590
individual weapons, and over 2800 explosives such as mines, grenades,
etc., 60,000 rounds of small arms ammunition and 7500 uniforms.
Operation Gadsden Prelude to the Big One
OPERATION GADSDEN followed on February 2nd.
This would be a prelude to Operation JUNCTION CITY and was an
attempt to tempt the 9th VC Division into moving into War Zone
C , where superior forces
would be brought to bear in them later.
The 3rd Brigade of the 4th and the 196th
Light Infantry Brigade were assigned to enter AREA 354 or western War Zone
C and search for the 271st Regiment and engage it. Preceded by
B52 strikes, the 8 battalions seized two abandoned border villages Lo Go
and Xom Giua which served as enemy supply conduits from Cambodia. The
operation had the added advantage of interdicting the supply routes during
the Tet Holiday, Feb 14th -18th denying their use
for assaults into the populated areas to the south.
the Operation was not successful in flushing out the 271st
Regiment, the intelligence it was able to secure was invaluable. The
operation was able to confirm the presence of the 271st, 70th
Guard, and the 680th Training Regiment in the Logo Woods.
addition, US Forces were able to capture nearly 300 tons of rice and
smaller quantities of assorted military equipment. Death count for the
enemy was 160 killed at a cost of 29 American lives.
GADSDEN ended on February 21st and the 3rd
Brigade was deployed in blocking positions along Highway 22, in
preparation for OPERATION JUNCTION CITY.
Operation Junction City
JUNCTION CITY was to be a gigantic encirclement of
the of WAR ZONE C with the intent of trapping units operating in that area
and depriving them an exit into Cambodia. 3rd Brigade was in a
blocking mode along Highway 22, (see shaded area) while other units would
sweep the enemy into them. Twenty-two
battalions were utilized as the attacking force. Seventeen artillery
battalions and over 4000 Air Force sorties provided support for the
expedition. The layout of the assault resembled a gigantic horseshoe.
With the Third Brigade in place along Highway 22 on the morning of
Feb. 22nd, the aerial fireworks began within the horseshoe by a
devastating B52 assault. I can personally remember that morning when the
bombs fell. We were warned in advance that the B52’s would be attacking
and the area of attack would be close by. We were told that it would be
the closest that the B52’s had ever dropped their payload near an
American ground force. They
weren’t kidding as evidenced by the ground troops on the ground. When
the first bomb went off in the series, we joked by grabbing hold of nearby
trees to steady us, but it was a terrifying experience to feel the ground
shake so violently. We prayed that those bombardiers had us properly
plotted. In ten minutes or so the air assault was over and the incursion
of the ground troops began. In addition to the helicopter troop
deployment, the 173rd Airborne Brigade undertook what would be
the only parachute assault of the entire Vietnam War in the northeast
sector of the horseshoe.
By 1800 hours all units were in position, with little enemy
activity observed. The next morning, the assault units moved into the
horseshoe to engage the enemy trapped within it. Between the 22nd
and 27th, the sweep produced little. Despite the secrecy and
tactical surprise of the assault, the main Central Office for South
Vietnam(COSVN) headquarters still managed to escape into Cambodia. Many
enemy bases were discovered and destroyed within WAR ZONE C and later
intelligence reports indicated that COSVN did not appreciate the rude
invasion of it’s domain and ordered it’s units to attack adjacent
areas to divert attention away from the main thrust area. A cat and mouse
game continued for the next few days without any major contact occurred
until the 28th when a company from the 1st Division
engaged a battalion from the 101st VC Regiment. The firelight
resulted in enemy losses of 167 dead at a cost of 25 dead Americans and 28
By March 1st, frustrated at the lack of success, the 25th
Division moved it’s 1st and 2nd Brigades back to Cu Chi and
Tay Ninh, respectively. The 3rd Brigade was directed to remain
along Highway 22 as the 11th Armored Cavalry swept towards
them. They were not successful during the next 10 days in engaging any
major units of the enemy. But that would change dramatically during the
following week. The Battle of Suoi Tre, sometimes referred to as the
attack on FIRE SUPPORT BASE GOLD, was on the horizon. The Third Brigade, 4th
Division, would engage the 271st VC Main Force Regiment
reinforced by two additional battalions. A total of 2500 troops would
attack an isolated artillery battalion supported by a battalion of
infantry and the resulting carnage would produce the largest enemy body
count of the war.
Operation Junction City, Phase II
On March 15, the 3rd Brigade of the 4th was
ordered back to Dau Tieng and told to stand down until Phase 2 of the
Operation was begun. Phase II of the Operation began on March 18th
when the commander of the Third Brigade, Col. Marshall B. Garth, sent a
mechanized force to a clearing 25 kilometers north to a clearing where he
intended to secure with the armor and use as a landing zone. The following
morning he intended to airlift the rest of his brigade to the secured
clearing and establish a large fire support base there. The mechanized
force failed to reach its objective due to a number of reasons and Garth
was caught in a dilemma. If he waited another day for the ‘mech’ to
reach the appointed area he risked losing his element of surprise. If he
flew in the remainder of his Brigade in an unsecured area, he chanced
sending his unit into a hot landing zone with no support on the ground. He
chose the latter, and on the 19th sent his troops into an
alternate landing zone after a 30 minute artillery barrage.
The first wave hit the clearing without incident but when the
second lift hit the ground, a mine was detonated just as the choppers were
setting down. Two more explosions greeted the next company that arrived.
The explosions destroyed 3 helicopters, killing 7 crewmen and 10
infantrymen. Colonel Garth was in a situation that he couldn’t escape
from easily. He already had too many men on the ground to call off the
assault so he was forced to continue the deployment.
I was in a chopper heading to the LZ when the second mine went off.
My Company Commander, Captain Allyn Palmer was on board with me. I
can clearly remember the chopper pilot turning to him and briefing him on
the conditions that were being played out on the ground. I turned to the
others in the chopper, knowing what lay in wait for us and wondered if our
luck would run out. It hadn’t and we arrived along with the rest of the
brigade without further incident.
The possibility of further danger was evident when the LZ was
further searched for mines and 21 additional unexploded mines were
uncovered. Why the mines were never set off is anyone’s guess. At last
the LZ was cleared. In spite of the fact that the enemy was very well
prepared for our assault on the clearing, Col. Garth decided to build his
support base right on the landing site. The fire support base was named
FIRE SUPPORT BASE GOLD was completely in place by the evening of
March 20th and manned by approximately 450 men from the 3/22nd
Infantry minus 1 Company, and 2/77 Artillery. The rest of the brigade
moved out and established defensive positions. The 2/12 Infantry to the
northwest and the 2/22 Mechanized were to the west separated from the
firebase by a stream( see map on page 6). That evening orders were sent to
these forces to sweep to the north and west searching for a 40 man enemy
unit that Garth had observed from his helicopter. That evening went
quietly for the units except for a report of heavy movement along
‘Gold's’ position by listening posts just outside the firebase. In
spite of the report of these activities just outside ‘GOLD’, nothing
transpired during the darkness. As dawn neared and no attack took place, a
sense of relief took hold as VC units rarely attacked fortified positions
in the daylight. This would be the exception, as a major assault would
explode around FIREBASE GOLD at daybreak.
The Battle Of Suoi Tre
0631, the mortar barrage began followed by an all out assault by
the 272nd Regiment. In addition to ‘Gold artillery units,
units from two additional firebases laid down barrages.
In their attempt to take out the mortars that were pounding
FIREBASE GOLD, units from supporting units began zeroing in on areas that
were earlier targeted as possible mortar sites in the event of a major
assault as had taken place at ‘GOLD’. In one of the many tragedies of
the war, A/2/12, my unit, was sitting on top of one of those areas,
unbeknownst to the artillery unit attempting to quell the shelling at
was situated just in the woodlines in the northwest corner of a clearing,
some 3 kilometers to the west of FIREBASE GOLD on that fateful morning.
The previous day our company had spent the day looping around west of GOLD
where we seemed to be going out of our way to be seen. We purposely walked
directly through the middle of clearings. I assumed this was to sucker the
9th VC Division to mass for an attack on the support base.
had just awakened and Captain Palmer was receiving his orders for the day
from the Battalion Commander. Some of the troops had taken the time to
fill in their foxholes. I hadn’t. We were situated on some land that was
unusually easy to dig into and we had a rather large hole that evening and
we were in no rush to fill in. We heard the carnage that was taking place
somewhere to our East, and it became evident to us that FIRE SUPPORT BASE
GOLD was coming under a major attack.
I believe that Palmer was interrupted in his transmission from
Battalion HQ as the battle began. After a short time we heard in the
distance artillery being fired. Then we heard the whistle and the missiles
went silent indicating to us that we were the recipient of the barrage.
Everyone reacted in different ways. Some jumped into their foxholes,
others tried to redig theirs while others tried to hide behind trees.
Lieutenant Willenbring, the Artillery Forward Observer jumped into a
foxhole with his RTO and began trying to check the incoming fire. There
were about 6 of us in my hole and I can remember a tense period during
which, approximately 25 rounds of artillery landed within our perimeter,
then the firing stopped. There were several casualties from this accident.
One of the troops was killed as he frantically attempted to open up his
filled foxhole. He was hit by flying shrapnel from an airburst. The
Company, now demoralized, gathered their wounded and dead and moved them
to the clearing where a chopper arrived and took them away. Then the race
was on to reach the beleaguered ‘GOLD’ force. It wasn't until years
later we learned that we were sitting right on top of a pre-registered
site that the artillery had targeted a day earlier in the event
"GOLD' came under rocket attack.
Meanwhile at FIRE SUPPORT BASE GOLD things were becoming frantic.
They were still under a blistering mortar barrage and a determined human
wave attack. At 0655 Colonel Garth ordered the rest of the brigade to
GOLD. A few minutes later the VC force penetrated the perimeter. A sortie
of jets stopped the advance but events were progressing rapidly out of
control. An additional strike targeted the eastern limit of the clearing
but ended prematurely when enemy fire shot down the Forward Air Controller
who was directing that fire. At 0800, a wave of Vietcong broke through on
the southeast quadrant, targeting the artillery pieces. The artillerymen
lowered their guns and volleyed beehive rounds right into this assault and
stopped it cold. Then the action switched to the northeast of the clearing
where another major assault took place. Lt. Colonel John A. Bender, the
Regimental Commander of the 3/22nd, (the infantry unit protecting the
firebase), ordered a fallback to establish a new line of defense just in
front of the artillery. He understood the importance of preventing the
artillery from falling into enemy hands. This move successfully defended
the artillery position.
Luckily, just as this maneuver was taking place, a new Forward Air
Controller arrived at the site along with several F-100 Super Sabres in
tow. The Air Force liaison officer on the site, Major Bobby J. Meyer,
noted that their were more than 500 of the enemy heading right towards his
position just as the jets arrived. He tells of how Napalm was dropped on
this force and they disappeared as if by magic. Events remained chaotic as
VC Commanders were determined to keep the pressure on the embattled
artillerymen and their infantry support.
While this carnage was taking place at ‘GOLD’, other units were
frantically crashing through the jungle desperately trying to reach the
action. My Company, moved out smartly at 7:30 am after evacuating their
dead and wounded from the earlier attack. As you can see from the above
map, the battle took place due east of our position, but our way was
obstructed by thick bamboo jungle. The enemy knew our position and assumed
we would make a beeline to that trail just to the north, which ran
directly into the battle clearing. Luckily, our Company Commander was wise
enough to avoid trails and we hoofed it through the thick undergrowth. The
decision saved the unit from an ambush that was set up along that northern
trail. It was spotted from above and after Col. Garth was assured that we
were 500 meters south of the booby trap, an aerial assault was initiated,
destroying the waiting ambush site. We continued towards the rampage
taking place to the east after crossing the Suoi Samat River.
To the south of the battle, the 2/22nd was bivouacked on
the banks of a river. Viet Cong forces
located the unit and reasoned the unit would
be faced with a very formidable obstacle, namely that same Suoi
Samat River, in any attempt
to reinforce the Fire Base. That proved to be the case as at one point I
overheard the Brigade Commander on the radio ordering the Mech unit to
sink an APC and drive over it if it couldn't find a crossing site soon
after several failed attempts at crossing. Luckily, the lead unit found a
shallow point in the river and the order was never implemented. I spoke to
Richard Ambler, an Artillery Forward Observer, attached to that column and
he told me that the bamboo was so thick heading north to rescue the base,
that the column was constantly losing lead vehicles to the jungle and
required them to abandon the vehicle and move forward. He told me there
was a trail of broken down APC's leading all the way up to GOLD.
In the meanwhile, things heated up at ‘GOLD’ again as the
northern end of the perimeter was collapsing, allowing enemy forces to
overrun a Quad Fifty machine gun and were preparing to turn it towards the
Americans. An artillery unit using a high explosive charge took this out.
0900 hours the situation was still desperate but the perimeter was holding
and reinforcements were about to lead a counter offensive. The VC were
still not ready to disengage yet. By
this time enemy soldiers that were advancing were seen wearing bandages
from earlier wounds that had suffered earlier in the assault. Some were so
badly wounded that they could not walk and were being carried piggyback
into the attack by their comrades.
Alpha Company, 2/12th, was first to arrive at the western end of
the clearing at 9:00 am.
came out of the wood line shooting into the flank of the attacking VC. We
were being prepared to reinforce the perimeter, when at 0912, C Company,
2/22nd burst though the southern end of the clearing. This unit
would lead the charge, passing through the A/2/12 Infantry with the
attached armor from the 2/34th. Some of the units raced up the
right side of the VC to flank them and the rout was on. The armor pursued
the escaping VC up to the northern end of the field until they were able
to melt away into the jungle.
It was time to clean up. It became apparent what devastation took
place that March morning. The 272ND VC Regiment was decimated
and could not reform into a fighting unit again for almost 9 months . This
is when it would play a part in the attack on Fire Support Base Burt, the
second deadliest for the VC on the war. Then it was ravaged for a second
time and for the remainder of the war was manned by NVA soldiers coming in
from the North instead of the local VC Cadre that manned it previously.
casualties of the 272nd VC Regiment were 647 killed and a
bulldozer was sent in to plow a grave for the remains. 94 individual and
65 crew served weapons were captured that day. This was no haphazard
attack. Everything needed for the attack was waiting nearby for the trap
to close. It was suspected that the VC goal was to overrun of a major
American unit on the initial day of meetings being held in the Philippines
by allied leaders. President Johnson had assembled representatives from
all the allied forces fighting in South Vietnam to shore up support for
the continuation of the war. If the attack on the base had been successful
it would have been a major embarrassment and political victory for the
North. Instead it served notice to enemy commanders that massing large
forces against a superior force which could bring massive amounts of
firepower to bear would be very costly to his units.
American losses that mornings were 31 killed and 109 wounded.
Enemy losses would prove to be the largest of any one-day battle of
the Vietnam Conflict and the 3rd Brigade, 4th
Infantry would hold its place in history forever. All Third Brigade units
participating in the battle, including A/2/12, my Company, received the
Presidential Unit Citation, the highest award authorized to any armed
forces unit in combat. Ironically, this same 272nd VC Regiment
along with the 271st VC Regiment and the 3/22, 2/22. 2/77th
Artillery of the third Brigade would once again be engaged in a major
battle at Fire Support Base Burt on the evening of Jan 2, 1968, 9 months
later, less than 10 miles to the northeast. This would result in the
second largest loss of the Vietnam War for the Vietcong, 401 enemy dead.
Oliver Stone, the Hollywood Director, was an infantryman in B3/22 when
this battle took place and he portrayed the attack in the climatic battle
scene in the movie 'PLATOON'.
On the exact day of the big battle, changes took place that would
break up the Brigade and restructure it somewhat. The Brigade was almost
exactly at the six month point since it had left Seattle and advanced
maneuvering needed to begin to allow the return of the troops at the end
of their tour in an orderly fashion.
It became apparent that the brigade would be deployed well after
the 12-month rotation began. If everyone left at the same time it would be
impossible to maintain the strength of the unit. The situation was even
more critical with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade which had
arrived in country in June, and needed to start their rotation within a
couple of months. For the 196th, the importance of maintaing
unit level with experienced troops would be underlined by the fact that
the unit was being moved to Chu Lai, in the north to defend the I Corps
area. It was expected that the seasonal changes that were shifting the dry
area to the north and rainy season to the south would mean enemy activity
would also shift their focus to that area and Westmoreland intended to
meet the threat by beefing up the northern units. With all of that in
consideration, a number of front line troops from the 3rd
Brigade were reassigned to the 196th on the very day of the
Battle of Suoi Tre. There were several from my company alone who I would
lose contact with for decades until a recent reunion would fill in the
blanks of what had happened to them. At the time they had no idea that
they were actually being shifted to an area where the combat intensity
would be maintained while in the south, the rainy season would make enemy
More changes were in store for the brigade upon the return to Dau
Tieng on April 8th. The units would lose some of their
experienced officers to rear duty to allow the army to rotate their green
officers into front line troops so they also would attain combat
experience. This ‘getting their ticket punched’ program was a source
of poor morale in the units as the grunts had established a rapport with
their commanders that took time to earn. Some in the units had little
confidence in new commanders, who to them hadn’t earned the right to
lead them. It didn’t help when some of these Lieutenants came on board
with high expectations and vigor, while the average grunt, worn down from
months of jungle warfare, just wanted to do their jobs the best they
could, survive and go home. Even our Brigade Commander, Colonel Marshall
B. Garth, was replaced by Colonel Kenneth E. Buell during this transition.
After the clean up at FIRE SUPPORT BASE GOLD the Brigade conducted
a sweep towards Dau Tieng looking for the tattered remnants of the 272nd
VC Battalion but as usual, the enemy had melted away into the jungle. As
we conducted this search south, our Company ran into rear guard action
from the remnants of the battered 272nd Regiment. We heard
several locating shots from weapons that the enemy was using to locate
lost members from their battered units. This march back to Dau Tieng took
until April 8th to complete. As for the enemy, they just
vanished into the jungle, licking their wounds as they were denied the
victory they so wanted to humiliate the allied leaders meeting in the
I noted in my personal diary that I carried with me during my tour
that the first rain arrived on April 2nd at DauTieng. When the
rain came, it seemed to open a new phase of operation in War Zone C. The
enemy, smarting from major losses that he suffered during the last 6
months, broke down into smaller units and remained that way emboldening
the American forces to do the same. This allowed the brigade to fan out
with many smaller units, covering a greater area to gather intelligence
and allow for Pacification to accelerate.
When the 196th Infantry redeployed to Chu Lai, becoming
part of TASK FORCE OREGON, the 3rd Brigade of the 4th Division
assumed the defense of Tay Ninh in addition to their Dau Tieng Base Camp.
This was a huge area of responsibility, encompassing all of Tay Ninh
Province and the western sector of Bihn Duong Province.
Part of the brigade moved to Tay Ninh West and from both these jump
off points, it initiated a third sweep of the Zone, called Junction City
III on April 12th. By April 20th, when this phase
ended, it became apparent that enemy activity had shifted away from War
Zone C, as little was seen of the VC insurgents.
On April 22nd, a new operation, called OPERATION
MANHATTAN was taken on by the Brigade. Pacification was proceeding
rapidly, and MACV (U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) turned their
attention to the security of Saigon. It was once more time to pay a visit
to the famous IRON TRIANGLE area just north of Saigon to determine if it
had been resettled into after the focus turned north to War Zone C. The
Brigade swept south through this territory for three exhausting weeks.
Little was achieved during this probe except for small unit skirmishes
that were bleeding companies with little to show for their pain.
It’s important to note that although enemy activity seemed to be
down during this period, transitions were taking place, which would
introduce a new enemy force into the area. The 7th PAVN
(People’s Army Of Vietnam), replacing the old 9th VC Division
was preparing to take on the 3rd Brigade as soon as it could
muster of enough replacements. The 7th was initially used to
bolster other units that were decimated in earlier American sweeps. It was
now gaining in size and would become a formidable foe for the Brigade. The
7th Division contained two seasoned regiments in the 101st
and the 141st Regiments.
The Brigade’s initial introduction to the 101st
Regiment took place in June. That’s when a large cache of rice was found
in west Dau Tieng in an area OPERATION ATTLEBORO initiated its sweep. A
guard captured at that site claimed he was told that a new battalion was
due to move into the area sometime later that month.
Thus began a stake out of the site with ambush patrols. A few days
later a firefight broke out during which several North Vietnamese troops
were killed. On their person were documents that identified the unit
moving in as the 2nd Battalion, 101st Regiment. This
outfit was a recon unit that had been ordered to direct a search of
possible attacks on nearby installations. Their paperwork specifically
targeted 3rd Brigade’s base at Dau Tieng.
It wouldn’t be long before this target was attacked. Two weeks
later, on June 24th, over 80 mortars were fired into the Dau
Tieng Base Camp, damaging 27 helicopters and injuring 49 troops. This
attack produced the catalyst for a new initiative that would send a major
American force deep into Tay Ninh Province. The code name for this
exercise was OPERATION DIAMOND HEAD. In addition to the mortar attack,
there was additional intelligence gathered earlier in May that
necessitated this response. MACV had learned of COSVN’s intention of
launching at least two new battalions into Tay Ninh Province in July.
intelligence had also determined that the enemy was shipping war material
and ammunition to Svay Rieng, in Cambodia. From there it was being
transported across the border somewhere along the Angel’s Wing sector
into an area just west of Cu Chi. This added contraband needed to be
intercepted before a strong offensive could be mounted against Saigon or
The initial maneuver to address the threat of war material making
it’s way into Tay Ninh province would be the deployment of two regiments
from the third Brigade, the 2/12thand the 3/22nd, to
be sent to the suspected area. The 2/22nd Mechanized stayed
behind at Dau Tieng to provide base security.
Before my Company would join the major push of OPERATION DIAMOND
HEAD it was ordered into the Michelin Plantation with Regional Forces to
raid a village in that area. The plantation was laced with numerous
villages and was a gold mine for intelligence gathering. Later in the
conflict there was a forced eviction of all those villages. There were
just no way to control VC activity originating there and so it was decided
to vacate the hamlets.
The raid took place on June 27th, 3 days after the
mortar attack on the base camp. I remember that day because something
unusual happened. This exact village was visited by my company when we
first arrived in Dau Tieng in December and one of my buddies had lost his
automatic pistol there just outside the village. He had to pay for that
lost weapon and got a harsh dress down from the company commander. Well
stranger than it seems possible, he checked in the nearby jungle outside
that village that day and actually recovered that pistol he lost 7 months
earlier, less than two meters off of a well traveled path.
At any rate, nothing came of that raid other than scaring a few old
men, ladies and children that occupied the hamlet. This was fairly typical
in the area. Only the frail and young were discovered living in the
Contrary to the history books I used to research this piece, my
personal diary specifically states OPERATION DIAMOND HEAD began for my
unit, the 2/12th, on June 28th. They indicated that
the operation began on July 11th. I am not sure of the reason
for the discrepancy, but perhaps we were sent out earlier in preparation
for the major assault.
On July 11th, the two Infantry Regiments entered the
border region and began a futile search that came to a complete halt on
July 15th. On the night of the 14th a formidable
sized unit from the VC 7th Division attacked and overran a
government outpost between Dau Tieng and Tay Ninh West. Colonel Buell
immediately ordered his two Infantry Regiments to strike to the east as
quickly as possible. He had
been concerned about a major move from the 7th VC Division,
which he had been earlier warned about, and thought that this could be the
initial phase a of a serious assault to the densely populated cities he
was responsible for.
Realizing that the Infantry Regiments would be slow reaching the
threatened territory, Co. Buell ordered his reserve unit, the 2/22nd Mechanized,
into the region to firm up the defense of the area that had been assaulted
the evening before. The armor was able to intercept two VC companies when
it arrived, but upon discovery, the enemy disengaged and melted into the
jungle. It seemed that the enemy had no intention of engaging the
Americans when they arrived. This strike, and retreat tactic was the norm
for this period. They would choose the time and location that suited them
There was speculation that the intelligence warning of a major
attack on Tay Ninh West and the attack on the outpost was a ploy to pull
the two regiments out of the border areas so the supplies could be
transported in unmolested.
In any event, these types of hit and run attacks were frustrating
to the troops as it was bleeding the line companies without producing any
major engagements with the enemy. This was attested to by the casualty
count that the 3rd Brigade had suffered since the end of
operation Junction City, which ended 3 months earlier. The actual enemy
body count confirmed for that period was 69 enemy dead, at a cost of 32
American troops by the end of August. This type of results continued more
or less the same through the end of October.
The American Heritage History of The English Language defines the
word ‘Bastard’ as “illegitimate, irregular, inferior, or of dubious
the moment the unit dropped anchor outside of Vung Tau, the Brigade was an
attachment to a unassociated Division. Circumstances were such that it was
seemed that it would be subservient to the 25th Division and
would remain the stepchild of the Division.
It wasn’t until early August that the 3rd Brigade was
allowed to wear the colors of the 25th Division, which it would
ultimately do to this day. After reading the glorious way the old 3rd
Brigade performed during this transition period, I suspect that you will
agree with me that the ‘Bastard Brigade’ was proudly welcomed into the
25th Division and at last had found a home.
This historical collection was assembled primarily from a
government archives and from personal collections obtained from the men
who were there. I would
personally like to extend my gratitude for the help and encouragement I
received from my wife, Chris. In the month that I researched and assembled
this work she saw me sparingly and never complained. I met a good one when
I came courting you. Last, but not least, I’d like to thank the buddies
from my old unit, A/2/12 who helped me when my memory failed me. To them I
dedicate this history. You were the best then, the best now. We’re home.
Comeau, RTO, A/2/12, 66-67
General Bernard William Rogers.
Studies Cedar Falls- Junction City: A Turning Point, Dept.
Of The Army, Washington, D.C., 1989
L. MacGarrigle, Combat
Operations, Taking The Offense, October 1966 to October 1967, Center Of Military History, U.S.
Army Washington, D.C., 1998
Colonel Robert L. Hemphill, U.S. Army(retired), VC Onslaught at Fire Support Base Gold, Vietnam Magazine,
Hymoff, Fourth Infantry Division in Vietnam,, 1967 yearbook, Turner Publishing
Edmund C. Stone, Narrative for Presidential Unit Citation, Battle of Suoi Tre
( Fire Support Base GOLD), 2/12th Archives, now in safekeeping of
Alpha Association Archives, courtesy of First Sgt. Tsuzuki Kimura
buddies from A/2/12 who pitched in for this account, Gary Barney, Ron
Bergeron, George Hanna, Jim Deluco, Joe Kirkup, Henry Osowiecki, and
Porter Harvey. You guys kept my e-mail box stuffed with great material.