Empire Press Publications
February 1991 Issue
by Richard K. Kolb
First to fight in Korea,
the "Gimlets" of the Army's
21st Infantry were the last
Infantry unit in Vietnam.
First to fight in Korea,
Note: This is a transcript of a "small portion" of the larger article!
The 196th Infantry Brigade occupied the outskirts of Da Nang in April 1971 under the tenets of the dynamic defense doctrine.
Enclosed by mountains, the terrain was divided into strips of pock-marked land characterized by a series of populated enclaves.
Rice fields dotted the coastal region and rain forest blanketed the interior. It was here - where American involvement began -
that the Gimlets stood their last guard.
Line companies of the 21st Infantry combat-assaulted into their new areas of operations (AOs), and the battalion tactical
operations center was located atop Hill 510 that spring. For over a year the unit combed the Antenna and Khe Son valleys.
During this time the 3rd Battalion earned its third Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. The 3/21 was separated from the 196th, when
the brigade left Vietnam on June 20, 1972, and remained behind to provide continued security for Da Nang airfield.
For the 1,043 men of 3/21, G Battery of the 29th Field Artillery and supporting medical attachment, the war was to last
another 54 days. On August 5, 240 grunts saddled up for one final walk in the sun. An area eight miles west of Da Nang was
patrolled - the same radius to which Marines were initially restricted when they first arrived in 1965.
As was typical of many missions in Vietnam, the patrol did not make contact with the enemy. Two GIs were wounded by booby traps,
earning them the dubious distinction of being the last U.S. infantry casualties of the war. Delta Company arrived in the rear on
August 8. Reporters were on hand to record comments of some of the returning grunts.
"Why did they send us out on a four-day mission," asked Spc. 4 Garry Hoffman, a 20-year-old from Spokane, Wash. "After all these
years, four days won't make much difference." Specialist 4 Michael Fields of Pine Top, Ky., felt differently: "Myself, I'd rather
stay out in the bush. I like it out here." The sentiments of both men were fairly representative of the feelings of infantrymen
throughout the war.
A South Vietnamese artillery salute and a Sousa march by the band marked the finale. On August 11 the battalion officially stood
down. Most of the men were sent home - their DEROSs (date expected to return from overseas) had finally arrived. Those with job
specialties still needed in Vietnam, and men with less than six months in-country were reassigned to finish the remainder of their
tours. On August 23, 1972, the 21st Infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. Rocco Negris, was inactivated at Oakland, Calif. The infantry
war was over.
Note: A small mystery develops with this story! G Bty (SLT), 29th Field Artillery was inactivated on 1 October 1971. Since this
story begins in June 1972, and ends in August 1972, G-29 should have been long gone. Or, did DA create some sort of PROVISIONAL
G-29 during the time frame concerned? Still, there are many "questions" unanswered!