|All The Way Brigade Executive Team
Garry Bowles, Bill Lord, Jack Peevy, Ed Polonitza & Jay Snyder
History of the 1st Airborne Brigade, 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile) (1965-1966)
Jumping Mustangs --- Ft. Benning and Vietnam History of the 1st Airborne Infantry Brigade, 1st Air Cavalry Division,
Airmobile (1965-1966). The following article was written by Col. Kenneth D. Mertel (Mustang 6) who commanded
the 1st Bn (ABN) 8th Cav during its first year in Vietnam.
The 1st Airborne Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, Airmobile has one of the shortest peacetime and wartime
histories of any of the Airborne units of the United States Army.
The Brigade was activated at Fort Benning, Georgia 1 July 1965, sailed to Vietnam in August and September of that
year as part of the 1st Air Cavalry Division, Airmobile. The Division and the Brigade engaged in its first action against
North Vietnamese Army Divisions in the Highlands, based out of An Khe in the II Corps Area. The 1st Air Cavalry
Division was the first full division size unit deployed to Vietnam.
One year after activation, the 1st Airborne Brigade ceased to exist as an Airborne unit, continuing in action as an Air
Mobile unit with the remainder of the Division. All personnel on jump status within the brigade, continued in that
status and drew jump pay throughout their tour. The following historical facts come from the book, "Year of the
Horse, Vietnam", published in 1968 by Exposition Press; re published in 1989 by Ballantine Books as a pocket book;
re published again in 1996 in hard back by Schiffer Publishing Company. Author is Colonel Kenneth D. Mertel, US
Army Retired, who served as the first Commander of the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry, Airmobile, Airborne, Air Assault
and later as Deputy Brigade Commander of the 1st Airborne Infantry Brigade.
Original plans called for the 1st Air Cavalry Division to be both Airmobile and Airborne in its entirety. The Chief of
Staff of the Army Harold K. Johnson opposed any airborne for the Division, however Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
Wheeler insisted on at least one brigade, thus only a brigade slice of the Division became Airborne.
First mission for the Brigade was to become Airborne. All straight legs (non-airborne) in the Brigade were
encourage to volunteer for Airborne training. Most of the men volunteered and a few of the younger sergeants as
well as most of the 2nd and 1st Lieutenants. Special airborne classes were set up by the Jump School at Ft Benning
for the three Infantry battalions of the brigade (1/8, 2/8 and 1/12, artillery and the division slice of Division
Support and Combat Support Units. The Brigade went through training as a unit, the first time this had occurred
since World War II, under supervision of its own officers. Physical and disciplinary training was conduct by
respective battalion commanders of the brigade, thus the Jump School was in charge only of the airborne training.
All troops were housed in their own respective billets.
During the airborne training, airborne company commanders and many of the staff received from the respective
advanced courses. Senior non-coms, to include most of the platoon sergeants, first sergeants and sergeant majors
came from the 101st Airborne Division. Battalion Commanders and other senior officers were from former
paratroopers already part of the former 11th Air Assault Division, now the 1st Air Cavalry Division, Airmobile.
8 July 1965 marked the first parachute jump for those paratroopers already qualified as jumpers. This was a
brigade level jump from C-130's, spilling out over the wet fields on the Alabama side of the Chattahoochee at 1845
hours. No injuries in this first jump, with all participants becoming charter members of the 1st Airborne Infantry
Brigade. Several other jumps were made by all members of the brigade as the budding new paratroopers made each
of their qualifying jumps. By the end of the month, the 1st Brigade was truly an Airborne Infantry Brigade, ready
for what ever combat role would be required in Vietnam.
Incidentally, the first jump in the Airborne Brigade was made from a HUEY D Model by the Brigade Commander,
Colonel Elvey Roberts (later three stars); Robert Shoemaker, Commander of the 1st of the 12th Airborne, Airmobile
Battalion (later four stars) and Kenneth D. Mertel, Commander of the 1st of the 8th Airborne, Airmobile Battalion.
Architect, father and Commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, Airmobile was Maj Gen Harry W. 0. Kinnard, (later
three stars). The two Assistant Division Commanders were Brig Gen Jack Wright, (later three stars) and Brig Gen
Richard T. Knowles, (later three stars).
The 1st Airborne Brigade sailed for the most part on the USNS Geiger from Savannah, Georgia on 20 August 1965.
Up anchor at 1745 hours, down the Savannah River to the Atlantic Ocean, then around through the Panama Canal,
with stops in Hawaii and Guam, finally debarking in Qui Nhon, Vietnam 30 days later. The rest of the Division sailed
on other ships including an aircraft carrier to carry the 435 helicopters and other aircraft organic to the Division.
The Brigade engaged in maximum weapons training, including firing off the ship's fan tail, constant and continuous
physical conditioning and squad and platoon level skull sessions. Thus upon arrival in Vietnam, the paratroopers of
the 1st Airborne Brigade where ready for killing communist or whatever the mission might be.
The troopers were ferried by helicopter from ship side to An Khe to join the rest of the Division at the Division Base.
First missions were defending the base, and securing the area from any prowling Viet Cong or regular troops of the
North Vietnamese Army.
Numerous battalion level skirmishes occurred over the next few weeks as the 1st Airborne Brigade improved its
combat ability and professionalism. The first major engagement of the Brigade and the 1st Air Cavalry Division,
Airmobile, was the Ia Drang Valley Campaign, 23 October 1965 to 26 November 1965 where the first Presidential
Unit Citation was earned in the initial use of Airmobile Warfare to destroy the major portions of two or more regular
North Vietnamese Army Divisions and drive them from the II Corps Tactical Zone. All elements of the 1st Airborne
Infantry Brigade participated in this action, with A Company, commanded by Captain Ted Danielsen, 1st of the 8th,
making the first combat night air assault in the history of Airmobile Warfare.
In November and December of 1965, the 1st Airborne Brigade participated in a series of Search and Destroy
missions clearing the area East of An Khe to Qui Nhon, an area previously a safe haven for both Viet Cong and
regular North Vietnamese Army units. This was a most important mission for the 1st Air Cavalry Division Base at An
Khe was primarily supplied overland via Highway 19. In addition, the same highway was cleared to Pleiku, thru
Mang Yang Pass, to the West of the Division Base, the scene of the destruction of French Mobile Group 100 in earlier
years. The Airborne Brigade initially opened this pass, committing the 1st of the 8th Airborne, Airmobile Battalion.
During this same time frame, A Company, 1st of the 8th was selected as the typical rifle company in Vietnam for
filming of the famous ABC Television Production, "I am a Soldier", one hour in length, a most pro Army and pro
Vietnam movie film. Aired in March of 1966 in the US, this film focused much attention on the Airborne Brigade, and
especially the 1st of the 8th. This film became a training film for the US Army, widely used by units going to Vietnam.
It also covered the first and only training jump of the brigade in Pleiku, when a series of training jumps were
conducted by most elements of the brigade. While not conducted as an airborne assault, they were used to position
the units for a series of search and destroy missions.
In January of 1966, it was widely believed by the US media, that the 1st Air Cavalry would make an attack into
Cambodia, long used as a safe haven for supply points, hospitals, training areas and headquarters of major elements
of the North Vietnamese Regular Army. The Brigade was inundated by reporters and photographers. The 1st of the
8th was overwhelmed with over 30 media people, four or five in each assault rifle company. Although the media and
the troops were ready for the air assault into Cambodia, which might have ended the war early on, this was not to
be due to timidity on the part of US political leaders and fear of further Russian and Chinese involvement. The attack
into Cambodia would not take place until 1970, when the 1st Air Cavalry Division, Airmobile, led the assault into
Cambodia capturing tens of thousands of tons of vital weapons, ammunition and other supplies that had been
brought in from China and Russia via the long haul by elephants, pack bicycles and trucks over past years.
The 1st Airborne Brigade continued a series of search and destroy and clearing operations in the area along the
China Sea Coast. It was here that the Airborne Brigade won its first Medal of Honor (second for the Division in
Vietnam) by David Dolby of B Company, 1st of the 8th, commanded by Captain Roy Martin. In this same action,
Captain Martin won a Distinguished Service Cross as did his successor a few weeks later, Captain Jerry Plummer
won a Silver Star. These were examples of the many demonstrations of heroism in combat shown by members of
the Airborne Brigade and the 1st Air Cavalry Division.
Although no longer on airborne status as of 1 July 1966, the Brigade continued to lead the way in the many other
famous battles in which SKY SOLDIERS of the 1st Air Cavalry Division, Airmobile, participated in leading the way in
the highly successful AIRMOBILE warfare.
KENNETH D. MERTEL,
Colonel, Airborne Infantry
US Army, Retired
|Jumping Mustangs - Honor and Courage
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