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Posted on Jul 18, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Memories of Vietnam

By Stephane Moutin-Luyat

The 1st Cavalry Division was alerted for departure on July 28, 1965 and on August 15 the 3d Brigade boarded the USNS Rose for a 4 weeks trip to Vietnam, I guess those 15 days must have been frantic, the Division was the first unit to be sent there as a whole and it must have been a logistical nightmare to ship 16,000 men and 400 helicopters overseas. How did you felt through this period? I’m guessing it must have been a great excitement and also a leap in the unknown?

I think that all of us knew that we would be going to Viet Nam at some point. So the question was not "if" but "when". I took leave shortly after the 1st Cav activation ceremony. I knew that I would not get an opportunity if we were deployed on short notice.


If a Viet Nam deployment was obvious to the troops it must have been obvious to the leadership as well. And I suspect the wheels were in motion long before the President made his deployment decision. One indication of this is replacements. Shortly after we were alerted we started receiving replacements. Some came on short notice. But many had been on orders for some time. And, in a typical SNAFU, all of them had the same reporting date. Can you imagine the chaos that the virtually simultaneous arrival of several thousand new troops caused. Commercial transportation to Columbus and Ft Benning were overloaded. I was company charge of quarters that evening and we had replacements coming in after midnight, men who had been waiting for hours at Division for unit assignments. It was a crazy day.

And I don’t think the fleet of Military Sea Transport Service and Navy ships was assembled on three weeks notice. Not that it could not be done. I just think they had some advanced insight.

During our training the Division had deployed to the Air Assault II exercise in the Carolinas with all it’s gear so we knew how to do it. Deployment was certainly more difficult for the aviation, engineering and maintenance units. But "air mobility" also means "light". All of the units were organized and equipped for air lift. Which means packing up for a sea born deployment was not as difficult as, say, moving a mechanized unit. Perhaps the most difficult logistical aspect of the move was getting the helicopters ready for sea transport. They had to be protected from salt air corrosion and there were over 400 of them to do.

When we boarded the Rose we had our individual weapons, field gear, and a limited amount of personal items extra clothing. The rest of our personal gear was packed in duffel bags which were shipped in CONEX containers. I think the containers were shipped over on the Rose with us along with containers of unit equipment and an initial supply of expendables and tools for clearing the unit area and our assigned section of the "Green Line". I know that our CONEX containers arrived at Camp Radcliff shortly after our arrival.

The duffel bags were another SNAFU. In typical Army fashion we were told what items we would carry with us and what items would be shipped in our duffel bags. The problem was the lists kept changing. We packed our bags according to the first list and they were loaded. Then we took them out and, per the second list, took some items out and put some different items in. We did this several times. It got to be a joke.

Somewhere in all of this we received our M-16s and had an opportunity to fire them for familiarization.

As for my mental state I did not have much time to think about it. We were working to hard to give it much thought. No soldier wants to go to war, but if you are a professional and there is a war going on you want to be involved. At that point, I was more concerned about how I would perform than I was about going.

USNS Rose in New York, 1965
(photo courtesy of Ronnie Guyer)

If I’m correct, 1/7 Cav landed at Qui Nonh on 15 September 1965. What was your first impression of Vietnam? I guess life at Camp Radcliff must have been quite rudimentary in the first few days.

When the Rose dropped anchor in Qui Nhon none of us had any idea what would come next. We had done a lot of "what if" exercises. Everything from helicopter assaults to an over the beach amphibious attack. But we really did not have a clue.

The Brigadier General who commanded the Division advanced party came aboard and briefed the leadership. And it proved to be a well organized administrative move. We debarked from the Rose in LCMs (landing craft medium) and landed on a secure beach. We were greeted by an assortment of US and Vietnamese military dignitaries and some very attractive young ladies in traditional dress handing out flower garlands.

A short distance from the beach we boarded CH 47 Chinooks for the flight to Camp Radcliff.

At Camp Radcliff we landed at out designated battalion area, pitched shelter half tents, dug latrines trenches and settled in for the night. After 30 days at sea we were "in country" at last.

The camp was located in a shallow valley just outside An Khe, a substantial town on Highway 19, the route from Qui Nhon to Pleiku. There was an old French airfield there that we used until a strip was constructed at Camp Radcliff. The Division shower point was also established there.

When we arrived An Khe was sleepy but it quickly became a GI town with bars, laundries and stores selling trinkets.

When we arrived Camp Radcliff had been laid out by the advanced party and some clearing had been done. The center was the helicopter landing zone with pads for the Divisions 400+ aircraft. This expanse was called the "Golf Course". The main supply route or MSR ran around the Golf Course. Each unit had a bivouac or rear area on the MSR. Support units were on the inside and combat units were on the outside. The entire camp was surrounded by the Green Line, with barbed wire, observation posts, and defensive fighting positions.

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  1. Armchair General staff cannot respond here. Please read
    disclaimer just above this text box before posting.
    i was with the 1/7 hhc still don’t know where i was . my job was
    bring amo on an army mule , i wes every where i was there
    68/69 i was discharg on dec 2 /1969 i had return to states in nov
    69 i brought many wonded & dead back i hated my job gil

  2. I’m searching for more info on my dad, Gaston P. Ruiz. He was a LRP in E
    company, 20th infantry. In country between 65/66-69.

  3. looking for info on my uncle pfc charles e frederick, 1/7 . k.i.a. 1/31/66 during operation masher. he recieved a bronze star posthumosly and was originaly listed as m. i. a.