January 27 marks the 37th anniversary of the 1973 signing of the Paris Peace Accords that ended the U.S. role in Vietnam as a fighting force. After that, U.S. forces held an administrative role in Vietnam until 1975.
The 101st Airborne Division deployed its first unit to Vietnam in July 1965. The 1st Brigade Combat Team deployed from Fort Campbell to South Vietnam where they operated independently from the rest of the 101st. The rest of the division, including division headquarters and what is now 2nd BCT and 3rd BCT, remained at Fort Campbell.
“From 1965 to 1967, the 1st brigade operated independently as sort of a fire brigade and earned the reputation as being called the ‘Nomads of Vietnam,’” said Capt. Jim Page, division historian. “They literally fought in every area of Vietnam from the [demilitarized zone] up north all the way down to the central highlands.”
In 1967, the rest of the division was ordered to the Republic of South Vietnam. They flew from the west coast during Operation Eagle Thrust into Bien Hoa Air Field.
“At that time that was the largest movement of American Soldiers by strategic air lift directly into a combat zone,” Page said.
The 1st Brigade continued to operate separately. The 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division deployed with them.
The rest of the 101st Airborne Division initially operated around the capital Saigon, but shortly after their arrival in January 1968, the North Vietnamese launched a New Year’s offensive on the Tet holiday, a traditional ceasefire.
“The 101st played a critical role in this,” Page said. “Some of the division remained in Saigon to protect the capital while the rest of the division went north to the ancient capital city of Hue and began fighting there along the Perfume River.”
After the Tet offensive was defeated, the U.S. Army consolidated the 101st Airborne Division into the north in Tua Tien province. This remained the division’s zone of action from 1968 until they came home in 1972, Page said.
“Most of the operations during this time were conducted in the Au Shau Valley along the border of Laos,” he said. “Their objectives there were to destroy North Vietnamese army depots and bunkers in the Au Shau Valley while simultaneously defending Highway 1 and the coastal regions.”
When President Nixon took office he emplaced a policy to begin “Vietnam-izing” the war, Page said. “Making the Vietnamese government more responsible for its own security and putting them at the forefront of the fighting.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Soldiers were used more to protect rice harvests and support the Vietnamese efforts to fight the communists in a decidedly secondary role.
“The 101st Airborne Division has the distinction of being one of the first units to go to Vietnam and we were among the last units to leave in 1972,” Page said. “The division, during this time, participated in 12 separate campaigns and 17 of the division’s Medal of Honor recipients are from this period of time – all this giving us a combat record unmatched by any other division.”