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On 12 Dec 67, the first C-141 Starlifter carrying 10,356 paratroopers of the 2nd Brigade
involved in operation
EAGLE THRUST, screeched to a halt on the runway of the
Bien Hoa Airbase. The
operation made military history as the largest and longest airlift directly into a combat zone. The Screaming Eagles were
ready for action. Within a matter of days,
2nd Brigade units were forming for in-country training at their Cu Chi base camp
southwest of Saigon. Next they moved to Phuoc Vinh to prepare a base camp for the 3rd Brigade. Until late Jan the 2nd
Brigade paratroopers spent long hours under the hot tropical sun. Using the
25th Infantry's tunnel, mine and booby trap course in Cu Chi, the 2nd Brigade paratroopers polished their skill in
Vietnam-style combat and
acclimatized themselves to the rigors of their new environment.
Small unit leaders who lacked combat experience accompanied
elements of the 25th Infantry Div on search and destroy missions. On 12 Dec 67, a 4.2 projectile slide down a mortar tube
and blasted over the Cu Chi perimeter to become the Brigade's first official round fired at the enemy. In Jan, combat
missions began. The local VC began to feel the sting of the Brigade's presence as the paratroopers became more sure of
their ground. 216 insurgents fell under airborne guns during the 1st month of combat. By mid Jan word came that the 165th
NVA Reg was operating around the village of Chon Thanh near the Cambodian border. The NVA were terrorizing the surrounding
area and quickly bringing it under their sway. 2nd Brigade paratroopers were to link up with 11th Armored Cav elements and
sweep through the area. Operation CASEY was underway.
Late in Jan, just prior to the TET Offensive, camouflaged C-130 transport planes carried the 2nd
Brigade 500 miles north to Hue/Phu Bai in I Corps where they joined the 1st Air Cav Div in
launching Operation JEB STUART I. Initially landing and setting up at the Phu Bai airfield, the 2nd
Brigade troopers started search operations immediately and soon moved north to LZ Sally.
The NVA Tet attack on the provincial capital of Quang Tri began on the night of 30 Jan 68 when the 812th Reg, 324th NVA
Div launched a two-pronged attack, mortaring the cavalry and ARVN firebases and occupying the city.
The following day on 31 Jan 1968, the enemy launched the largest single attack of the war, the Tet offensive.
2nd Brigade paratroopers under
the operational control of the 1st Cav in the battle of Quang Tri and Hue, blocked the
approaches to the city and 2nd Brigade troopers killed 94 enemy trying
through the ring. During the following weeks, the score of enemy killed and captured mounted as 2nd Brigade paratroopers
cleaned out resistance in numerous villages between Hue and Quang Tri.
In Saigon, one platoon from the 2nd Brigade was making a
roof-top assault, storming the American Embassy, which was then under attack by VC commandoes. A firebase, Birmingham, was
established 16 km from the NVA stronghold, to support the driving paratroopers, who continued to push westward through the
mountains. Enemy supply routes were cut, troop movements were interrupted, and arms caches were uncovered by the onrushing
Continuing the fight for the area around Hue, the 2nd Brigade rejoined the division after participating in Operation
JEB STUART I near Quang Tri City, to join the 82nd, 17th Cav and 58th Inf (LRRP) in Operation
CARENTAN I. The campaign was directed against insurgents in Thua Thien province, north of
Camp Eagle, the new forward base camp. It succeeded through a series of cordons and night ambushes.
Late in the evening of March 21, members of the 2nd Bn., 501st Abn. Inf. repulsed an attack on their night defensive
position, sometimes resorting to direct artillery fire to kill 22 enemy.
CARENTAN I terminated on 31 Mar 68, with the launching of Operation CARENTAN II. The new
operation was conducted in the same area, northwest from the coastal plains; south from Hue; due west to the
A Shau Valley.
Operation CARENTAN II proved to be a testing point for the Screaming Eagles. During this
operation, the 2d Brigade, 101st ABN Div soldiers
heroically attacked and destroyed enemy rear bases and forward headquarters, thus preventing the enemy from attacking the
city of Hue. North Vietnamese
paratrooper forces almost daily. The normal tactic of hit and run was absent from the enemy's fighting strategy.
The Screaming Eagles earned a reputation among the enemy units. Those who wore the Eagle patch on their shoulder
were to be avoided. The mission of CARENTAN II was to continue driving hostile forces from the
area around Hue, and to
begin clearing operations toward the A Shau Valley for a possible future raid into that area. The first major battle occurred
on the famous "Street without Joy" on 11 Apr 68. Assisting the 17th Airborne Cav in the "Street" sweep were 2nd Brigade
the 2nd Bn., 501st Abn. Inf. - A, B & D Companies. A sweep of the Phong Dien village after a night cordon and artillery
bombardment resulted in
66 enemy dead and 26 weapons captured.
Operation CARENTAN II terminated on 17 May 68. "Relieve the pressure from the area around Hue,"
was their standing order and
the Airborne infantrymen did just that as their highly mobile fighting units continually maintained pressure on the enemy
and discouraged any future attack of the Imperial City. As a prelude to Phuoc Yen, the classic cordon operation of the
Vietnam war, paratroopers from the 2nd Bn., 501st Abn. Inf. followed two Viet Cong into the village of Thon Kim Doi. An NVA
company was waiting for the onrushing Screaming Eagles. The paratroopers were joined by the batteries of the 21st Artillery
, helicopter gunships and Air Force fighter-bombers and by the morning of the fifth day, became the largest NVA force to
surrender en masse to an American unit in the history of the war.
Operation NEVADA EAGLE was the largest single campaign ever fought by the 101st Airborne
Division. During this operation the 2d Brigade, 101st ABN Div soldiers not only protected the local inhabitants' crops but
also inflicted heavy losses upon the Viet Cong units and entirely destroyed the 803d Regiment/324th-B Div of the NVA. This
operation, designed to secure the coastal lowlands (Thua Thien Province)
in I Corps from the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, began on 17 May 1968 and lasted 288 days until 28 Feb 1969.
Thua Thien Province was captured and enough rice was removed to feed ten enemy battalions
for the next year. Through these splendid achievements, the soldiers of the 2d Brigade, 101st ABN Div contributed
significantly to the fight against Communism to preserve freedom in Vietnam and, at the same time, displayed the
indomitable will and the heroic tradition of the US Armed Forces. For its
actions, the 101st received the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm.
One of the most important Viet Cong and North Vietnamese supply and staging areas was the
A Shau Valley, which ran along the western edge of the Thua Thien Province. Upon the
completion of NEVADA EAGLE, the 101st again attacked the
A Shau Valley. In a series of operations known individually as MASSACHUSETTS STRIKER,
APACHE SNOW, and MONTGOMERY RENDEZVOUS, the Screaming Eagles cut North
Vietnamese supply lines, destroyed base camps, and seized tons of supplies. The Division cleared the way for the first
friendly armored vehicles to enter the valley and reopened temporary airstrips abandoned years earlier.
On 20 Jun 68, in
Hue, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu presented the 2nd Brigade Commander and his paratroopers with the
Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry w/palm, for their combat record since deploying to I Corps in early Feb 68. At the time of
the award, the paratroopers had killed 2,382 enemy, captured 257 prisoners and 724 enemy weapons.
A CHANGE IN NAMES
1 July 1968
While NEVADA EAGLE was going on, the 101st Airborne Division
name to the 101st
Air Cavalry Division on 1 Jul 1968. A year later, on 29 Aug 1969, the Screaming Eagles became the 101st Airborne
Division (Airmobile), becoming the Army's second airmobile division, in recognition of the transition from parachutes to
helicopters. OPERATION SOMERSET PLAIN was a 17-day raid into the valley designed to cut off enemy supply routes from the
west. The Screaming Eagles defeated the enemy where they found him, but there was still that foreboding aura hanging over
the valley--of darkness, of evil lurking. Now the valley was becoming a dangerous place for the enemy also. The men with the
eagle on their shoulders had destroyed base camps, discovered caches of weapons, ammunition and supplies. They would
return, Maj. Gen. Melvin Zais, then Division commander, promised.
Photo courtesy of Curt Knapp,
taken in Summer '68 between the 2d Bde TOC (sometimes called the The Head Shed) and the Bde VIP Helicopter Pad. The VIP
Parking sign in the foreground is for Jeeps and other ground vehicles. The 2 guys in the front of
the entourage walking in from the helicopter pad are Col John Hoefling, the 2nd Bde commander, and Maj Gen Melvin Zais,
the 101st Air Cav Division commander. Their respective Huey command and control helicopters are seen in the background.
The big white sign on the right welcomes you to the 2nd Brigade " Ready to Go ! " of the 101st Air Cav Division.
The little placard on the top is a quotation from a VC prisoner, captured earlier. He was referring to the Eagle
patch on our shoulders when he said, "That little bird is real mean!" One other interesting thing about this photo is
that many years after returning to The World, Curt got reaquainted with now-General Hoefling, and sent him a printed
copy of the slide. Then during 2000 Eagle Week while being guided through the 2nd Bde Museum at
Ft. Campbell, there...there on the wall...was this picture in a frame!
On 13 Nov 1969 Geronimos of the 2nd Bn 501st Inf boarded 15 Chinook helicopters and began a journey to
the blasted wastelands just south of the DMZ. Here elements of the 1st Bde 5th Inf Div had been engaged in heavy fighting
against the 27th NVA Regt. The journey first took the Geronimos to Quang Tri, the jumping off
poing for a battalion air
assault to the DMZ by UH-1H slicks. As wave after wave of helicopters dropped the Screaming Eagles on the barren landscape,
men already on the ground set up a defensive perimeter. For the next five days, the troops uncovered NVA base camps, a
small cace and finally, found and engaged the enemy in an all night battle. In two days of action 29 NVA were killed. On
18 Nov 69 the Geronimos again boarded Chinooks, this time for the trip home. The six days south of the DMZ had been days
of rough fighting and persistent effort and few Geronimos would ever forget the barren and twisted landscape where they had
met and overcome the enemy.
Field action throughout 1969 and 1970 centered around support of civil operations in the pacification program. Operation
RANDOLPH GLEN was a departure from the more conventional use of combat forces in South
Vietnam. The 101st provided technical assistance to government officials of Thua Thien Province
. Elements of the 101st worked with the Army of The Republic Vietnam (ARVN) Ist Infantry Division providing security
against outside Communist pressure. Operations TEXAS STAR and
JEFFERSON GLEN followed with increased emphasis on the Vietnamization of the war effort. Using a network of fire support
bases and aggressive patrolling, the Screaming Eagles thwarted enemy thrusts into Thua Thien
Province. For its involvement in the many civil affairs programs, the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) received the
Vietnamese Civic Action Medal on 23 May 1970.
Although a small task force from the 101st participated in a limited incursion into Cambodia from April to June 1970, the
most important test of the airmobile concept came in February 1971 during Operation LAM SON 719.
During this operation, the 101st supported Vietnamese forces in their attack across the Laotian border. Designed to cut enemy
infiltration routes and to destroy North Vietnamese staging areas in Laos, the operation began on 8 February as the 101st
and other American aviation units airlifted South Vietnamese troops into Laos. For many years, the enemy had controlled the
area of Laos adjacent to South Vietnam and had built up extensive defenses. When the operation ended on 9 April 1971, less
than one Allied aircraft for every thousand sorties was lost, despite the increased enemy use of anit-aircraft weapons,
artillery, and armor.
South Vietnamese soldiers of the ARVN 1st Infantry Division, supported by the 101st, invaded the
A Shau Valley in Operation
LAM SON 720, from April to August 1971, to cut enemy supply lines which cost the enemy both men and equipment.
While in Vietnam, the B-2/501st participated
in a total of 34 operations.
6 April 1972
In late 1971 and early 1972, the 101st withdrew from Vietnam and returned to the United States. It was the last United
States Army division to leave the combat zone in Vietnam. Seventeen Congressional Medal of Honor awards were given to
individuals from the 101st. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew and Army Chief of Staff General William C. Westmoreland welcomed
the 101st home during official homecoming ceremonies on 6 April 1972 at Fort Campbell.