III Corps Fighting

July 30, 2014 at 5:35 PM

III Corps Fighting

(from 101 airborne 1968 VIETNAM yearbook)

From 101 airborne 1968 VIETNAM yearbook; submitted by Gene Overton (C Co, 1st BN, 1967-1968)

The Wandering Warriors of the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade finally returned home to stay on October 2, 1968.

Rain fell in a soft drizzle as a C-130 aircraft settled to the airstrip at Hue-Phu Bai, and the Screaming Eagle band struck up "Rendevous with Destiny." Command elements of the brigade headquarters and their direct artillery support battalion, the 2nd Battalion., 319th Artillery, moved toward Major General Melvin Zais, the division commanding general, halted, and the tall, slender colonel leading the formation saluted and said, "Sir, the 3rd Brigade reports for duty."

With this message, Colonel Joseph B. Conmy Jr., commanding officer of the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division reunited his brigade with the Division from which it had been separated since February.

As the new base camp was under construction, the maneuver battalions moved out to begin familiarizing themselves with their new AO (area of operations).

It was all old hat to the wanderers, who had seen action in all four tactical zones. Such names as Bien Hoa, Phuoc Vinh, Song Be, Dak To, Dak Pek, Cu Chi and Dau Tieng are all familiar. Each has seen elements of, if not the entire brigade, fighting on its terrain.

When the Warriors arrived at Bien Hoa Air Base in December 1967, under the command of Colonel Lawrence Mowery, the first move was made to Phuoc Vinh. In-country training began and quickly turned into full scale combat against the Viet Cong located in the edge of War Zone D and south of Phuoc Vinh.

The young Paratroopers gained confidence and battle savvy; they became Warriors who were to wander and fight throughout Vietnam.

As the first sounds of gunfire of the Tet Offensive broke over the sprawling Bien Hoa complex, the 2nd Battalion, 506th Airborne Infantry was loaded on helicopters to be set down to the rear of the 101st Division headquarters. Fifty meters beyond the headquarters, the first enemy contact was made, and 36 hours of persistent fighting began, which resulted in over 150 enemy deaths. The title "Warriors" was earned.

The 1st Battalion, 506th Airborne Infantry had their first extensive contact in a vicious battle at Song Be, 60 miles north of Bien Hoa, near the Cambodian border. Paratroopers of this battalion were tested--and proven as they dealt the enemy a severe blow.

Rakkasans from the 3rd Battalion, 187th Airborne Infantry made first contact by destroying a regimental base camp near the Dong Nai River south of Phuoc Vinh, killing more than 120 enemy.

The Brigade, now weaned in battle, was ready to wander. Placed under operational control of II Field Forces when the remainder of the Division moved to I Corps, it became the first brigade sent where the action was. In that capacity, company-sized elements fought south of Saigon with the 9th Infantry Division in the IV Corps Delta region.

In May, the brigade moved to Dak To in the Central Highlands of II Corps to join the 4th Infantry Division. The "Wandering" segment of the brigade nickname was beginning to form.

At 2 a.m., 10 days after arriving at Dak To, the Fire Brigade was loaded aboard Air Force C7A aircraft for flight to relieve the surrounded Special Forces camp at Dak Pek. Arrival and dispersion to the fire bases on the high mountain tops around Dak Pek coupled with extensive B-52 strikes within 1500 meters of the perimeter, silenced the NVA threat. Again., the paratroopers loaded up to return to Dak To.

June's first week brought intelligence reports that the enemy had left the mountainous, triple-canopied area. So word to move came again to return to Phuoc Vinh.

Equipment not yet unloaded, word came to the Wanderers, ". . move to Cu Chi to join the 25th Infantry Division."

Operation Toan Thang (Complete Victory), Phase II, opened for the brigade June 13 with immediate contact with NVA regulars. Neither the new foe nor the new rice paddy and hedgerow terrain hampered the 3rd Brigade troopers.

Wandering was again the word as the brigade soon moved on to Dau Tieng and spread out through the surrounding rubber plantation to fight the NVA and VC forces in small, vicious firefights before returning to Cu Chi.

Towns in the Cu Chi area that had been VC-controlled for years came to recognize the Screaming Eagle patch. Combat assaults and cordon missions made the villages of Go Dau Ha, Trang Bang, and Trung Lap aware that the "White chicken men with black rifles" would come at a moment's notice in their flock of helicopters. As a result, the infiltrators from Cambodia toward Saigon soon discovered paths blocked and supply routes and food caches discovered and destroyed.

Word for the move via Phuoc Vinh to rejoin the division came just as the brigade terminated three months around Cu Chi. The Fire Brigade was to replace the 82nd Airborne.Division's 3rd Brigade and return home to the Division in I Corps.

Just beginning to settle in at Camp Eagle and to learn the AO, the call came for yet another move, their 12th for the fighting third. This time the move was to Camp Evans, north of Hue, the former home of the camp and a division-sized AO which included the "Street without joy."

The battle-hardened warriors had wandered one more time; with the same fixed purpose as before--to destroy the enemy. In its first year in country, the brigade killed 1987 enemy, captured 62 prisoners, 375 detainees, 293 individual and 138 crew-served weapons, and 282,285 pounds of rice.

The Wandering Warriors of the 3rd Brigade have traveled from south of Saigon to the DMZ. As Cololonel Conmy said, "I reported to General Zais that we were ready for combat when we arrived. We have proven we can move, and above all, we have proven we can fight; either one at a moment's notice."

The colonel's words echoed the motto adopted by the brigade--"Ready to move and ready to fight." They have done both well.

Article submitted by Gene Overton (C Co, 1st BN, 506th, 1967-1968)

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