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

Memories of Vietnam

By Stephane Moutin-Luyat

For the following year we developed and tested air assault tactics and techniques. Our schedule was very intense and included a large free maneuver in the Carolinas (Air Assault II) and additional training at Ft Stewart near Savannah, Georgia. During this period I was a FO in the section that habitually supported C Company and when we were in the field I was with one of C Company’s rifle platoons. C Company was almost over run at LZ XRay and sustained heavy casualties. I knew almost every one of the wounded and killed.

The air assault tests were successful and the Army ordered the activation of an "Air Assault Division" at Ft Benning. What happened was the colors and unit designations of the 2nd Infantry Division were swapped out with the colors and unit designations of the 1st Cavalry Division in Korea. At Ft Benning the colors of the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) were retired and all of the assets of the division were combined with the residual 2nd Infantry Division units to form the 1st Cavalry Division (Air Mobile). The 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment became the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. At the same time the TO&E of D Company was changed. The three mortar sections that habitually supported individual rifle companies were moved out of D Company and into the companies that they supported. My section went to C Company but I was now a "Senior" FO and stayed in D Company as a member of the "Heavy" mortar platoon. In essence, I went from being a platoon level FO in C Company to a company level FO habitually attached to Company A. This small change most likely saved my life. All of C Company’s FOs were casualties in the Ia Drang.

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The concept of the First Cav was truly innovative for its time, and met a lot of opposition and disbelief in the Army, but how was it for the individual soldiers? What was your first thought when you learned that you would be going into battle in an helicopter?

I was sitting with some other soldiers in the company day room (recreation room) watching TV when Lyndon Johnson announced the deployment of the "Air Mobile Division" to Viet Nam. We were not surprised. CONEX containers, large metal shipping boxes, had been accumulating at locations around Ft Benning for several days. So we knew something was up.

By then we had been testing and developing the Air Mobile concept for over a year. It was a rare week when we did not conduct some sort of air mobile exercise that involved flying. In fact flying had become so routine that a tactical lift during an exercise became a few minutes of nap time. We had confidence in our air crews and their equipment and we were competent it the tactics and techniques that we would be using.

I went to Viet Nam with soldiers that I had known and trained with for over a year. I was confident in them, my leaders and myself. Flying into combat was not a concern. But I did worry about measuring up and not letting my friends down.

The Viet Nam war was going on during the air mobile testing at Ft Benning and there is speculation that the goal was to build a unit tailored to counter insurgency warfare. Our focus, as evidenced by our training and the scenarios of our exercises was conventional war in Europe. We did not do any specific counter insurgency training until we received our deployment notification.

As a soldier in the ranks I was not concerned with the nay saying that was going on. Air mobility may have been new and untried in combat but it was also true that helicopters and their capability had advanced significantly since the Korean War. Any military intellect could see that they would be an integral part of modern combat. The core of the air mobile concept is landing ground troops on or close to an objective under heavy supporting fires. Most of the controversy was about the ability of the helicopter to survive in this role. And the Air Force was concerned about encroachment on their airlift and ground support missions. But all of this was, as we say, well above my pay grade.

You say you were confident in your leaders, can you tell us about CPT Ray LeFebvre, CO D-1/7? Also, what was your first impression of LTC Harold G. Moore, the legendary CO of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry?

CPT Ray LeFebvre graduated from the Infantry Officer Advanced Course at Ft Benning about the same time we were alerted for deployment. He came out to the battalion and asked LTC Hal Moore for a job and more specifically, command of a rifle company. The battalion had its full compliment of officers and all of the company commander positions were full. LTC Moore offered to take him as an over strength asset with the prospect of company command at a later date. CPT LeFebvre agreed and he deployed with us as a staff officer.

During our deployment and after our arrival in Viet Nam I had one or two contacts with CPT LeFebvre. But nothing that would cause me to form an opinion of him.

Command of a company in combat is every captain’s desire. And for infantry officers, command of a rifle company is the most desired. D Company was not a rifle company, it was composed of the reconissance, heavy mortar, and anti-tank platoons. Our commander when we left Ft Benning was CPT Joel Sugdinis. CPT Sugdinis wanted a rifle company and pushed to get one. A few days before the Ia Drang fight command of A 2/7 became available. CPT Sugdinis was transferred and CPT LeFebvre assumed command of D 1/7.

As a heavy mortar platoon FO I was habitually attached to A 1/7. When CPT LeFebvre assumed command we were in pursuit of the NVA force that had attacked Plei Me Special Forces camp and I was humping with CPT Tony Nadal and A 1/7. CPT LeFebvre was wounded during D 1/7’s assault into LZ XRay. He was immediately evacuated. I think he was my company commander for four days and I never really met him.

That is the history. Today, as a result of our reunions, I have become close to Ray LeFebvre. He is a first rate gentleman and I am confidant he was an outstanding officer. I note that although he was badly wounded and never full recovered the use of his arm the Army did not transfer him to the disabled retired rolls. He was allowed to stay until regular retirement, a very rare exception to policy.

First impression of Hal Moore? Well, not exactly the first impression, but the one that fixed him in my mind came on the parade field in the Spring of 1964. The 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment was at Kelly Hill and the 1st Battalion was at Sand Hill. In recognition of the Regiment’s activation and service it was decided we would have an "Organization Day" parade. In preparation both battalions met at the parade ground early in the morning a day or two in advance to rehearse. We did a couple of practice reviews and the 1st Battalion marched off. When they were gone LTC Moore had a little chat with us. Apparently, we all had two left feet and could not stay in step or properly aligned. We were a disgrace to our regiment and the Army. But we were going to fix that. And we marched and we marched. Up and down the parade field. At noon we were fed out of mermite cans. And then we marched some more. Given our exertions there was no way we could have been improving. But we kept practicing until finally we were pronounced tolerable and allowed to returned to our barracks. At that point I was just a tad put out by LTC Hal Moore. That would change. And I know now that the colonel was simply using this opportunity to let his new command know he was boss and that he had high standards. And, incidentally, we won the organization day parade honors.

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LTC Harold G. Moore, CO 1/7 Cav at An Khe, 1965
(photo courtesy of Ronnie Guyer)

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3 Comments

  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.
    Thanks!

  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.

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