HISTORY OF THE 173d AIRBORNE BRIGADE (SEPARATE)

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J. L. Peoples

 

 

In  salute to these silent ranks, 2d Battalion, 503rd Infantry honors its dead at Dak To.

On a dusty knoll near Dak To, survivors of Hill 875 stood in salute. Before them, arranged in the Army tradition, were 98 pairs of boots--one pair for each man of the Second Battalion, 173d Airborne Brigade, who died on that hill and nearby ridges. In all, the month-long battle of Dak To had taken the lives of 280 Americans--and 1,641 North Vietnamese. As the battalion commander read aloud names of the dead, a sergeant who had lost four buddies collapsed and sat weeping in the red dust.

LIFE Magazine, December 8, 1967

 

Sky Soldier, was the term used by the Nationalist Chinese in reference to paratroopers who made thousands of parachute jumps in dozens of different Pacific area countries. Those Sky Soldiers were part of the 173d Airborne Brigade which was activated on the island of Okinawa on March 26, 1963. Before leaving the island the men of the 173d adopted for their unit the nick-name of the "Herd," which rhymes with 173d. They picked that name because of Colonel Boland, the 1st Battalion Commander, who, by playing Rawhide over a loud-speaker, provided the men with certain inspiration. Legend has it that the Colonel was walking past a quonset-hut when he heard someone playing Rawhide on a record-player and bought the record. Later the Colonel used the song to announce all battalion formations, and the song became the units theme song. Decades later, the men still identify themselves as "Herdmen" or "Herdmember." Some wives and women who love the men of the "Herd" identify themselves as, "Herdwomen" or, in one case, "Herdlady."

Brigadier General Ellis W. Williamson was the units first Commander who, through excellent leadership, established the Brigade as an aggressive and unique unit to be used as a "strike-force" throughout the Pacific Region. In May, 1965, the Brigade became the first US Army combat unit sent to the Republic of South Vietnam.

Their first mission was to secure the air base at Bien Hoa, just outside Saigon, that was taking a terrible pounding from enemy rockets and mortars. In the combat operations to follow, the paratroopers demonstrated their strength against a well trained enemy and difficult circumstances, including blistering heat, too much water--or not enough, a steady diet of food from cans, snakes, leeches, jungle-rot, and no (for many reasons) sleep.

One of the 173d's first assignments in War Zone D was destroying enemy base camps, a task the paratroopers became well aquatinted with. Later, they implemented the use of long range patrols. During the Iron Triangle battles in the Tay Ninh Province, the 173d made the first and only parachute assault of the war. In the summer and fall of 1967, some of the bloodiest fighting of the war erupted at Dak To, culminating with the capture of Hill 875. The paratroopers lost nearly 300 men and had over 675 wounded. In addition to using parachutes, elements of the brigade conducted an amphibious assault against NVA and VC forces, clearing much of the rice-growing lowlands.

The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Battalions of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, with the 1st Mechanized Battalion/50th Infantry, Troop E of the 17th Cavalry, Company D of the 16th Armor plus the First Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, and the 105 Field Battery of the 1st RAR Australian Group made up the brigade. In addition, the 3rd Battalion of the 319th Artillery and a battery of the 161st New Zealand Artillery provided the brigade with artillery support.

Overall, the 173d Airborne Brigade took part in 14 designated campaigns in the Republic of Vietnam and remained in combat longer than any other American military unit since the Revolutionary War. During more than six years of continuous combat, 8,435 paratroopers from the brigade were wounded and 13 Sky Soldiers had earned the Medal of Honor medal. The number of casualties sustained by the 173d Airborne Brigade, was two-thirds of those suffered by the entire 82nd Airborne Division in all of WWII.

Johnnie L. Peoples
A/1/503
65/66
As a unit, the Brigade earned 14 campaign streamers and 4 unit citations. And of the men who came home ... well, they wear their combat ribbons and awards with great pride ... as over 1,743 of their brother paratroopers paid the ultimate sacrifice by laying-down their lives for their country.

      The Brigade was deactivated at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky on January 14, 1972.

 

 

 

 

         

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