Screaming Eagles Through Time


16 May 1969 - 13 August 1969

For Screaming Eagles of the 1st Brigade, May 14 was just another day in Vietnam. Short-timers pulled out their pens and calendars, while newcomers derived satisfaction in knowing another day had passed. Near the Laotian border, Geronimo and First Strike troops of the 1st Bns. (Ambl.), 501st and 502nd Infs. - under control of the 1st Brigade - dug foxholes, checked communications and coordinated defensive concentrations with C Btry., 2nd Bn. (Ambl.), 320th Arty., at Fire Base Pike. Another night of squinting into darkness and fighting sleep lay ahead.

In the rear at Camp Eagle, off-duty personnel checked movie schedules, visited clubs or answered letters with a brief paragraph about an uneventful day.

At 0045 hours on May 15 an operation order broke the prevading silence. Weary troops on radio watch grabbed handsets and listened intently as word was pushed along FM channels throughout the 1st Brigade's areas of operations: "Build a landing zone and prepare for redeployment by 0600 hours. Your unit will move to the Americal Division." Stomachs tightened and young eyes stared into darkness. Old rumors died abruptly, killed by rumored answers to an endless flow of new questions.

"There must be beaucoup NVA down there," one trooper said. Down there?! Down where? Somebody injected that the 2nd NVA Division was down there. Another mentioned Duc Pho, having read about it when the 1st Brigade fought along side the Americal back in 1968. But murmurings ceased when the sun rose above the ridgeline, burning away the morning fog. There was not time for breakfast, let alone, discussion.

Alpha Co. was the first to arrive at FB Pike, followed by Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo of the 1st of the 501st. Charlie Btry., 2nd of the 320th Arty. had already begun closing down. Near FB Lash of the 1st of the 502 made preparations, for they would follow a day later. The "Yellow Brick Road," Route 614, was closed; another rendezvous awaited.

The scene erupted as "Chinooks" cranked engines and began lifting the advance party to tiny Tam Ky airstrip, northwest of Americal Div. Headquarters at Chu Lai. Jeeps, 2-1/2 and 5 ton trucks were stuffed with footlockers and field desks. Field desks? Optimists only packed a rucksack and water-proof bag. "Somebody said we would be down there for about 20 days." Later they would bring it all.

Marshalling points were established at Phu Bai and Corregidor Pad at Camp Eagle. Conexes, artillery, rucked-up troops and vehicles waited to board C-130s and C-123s bound for Tam Ky airstrip. Tam Ky? Only a few with the "need" knew where it was; most just followed the flow or the license plate in front of them.

Higher up plans for deployment were hastily drawn and distributed. Brigade S-4 coordinated with the Air Force, which would eventually male 69 C-130 and C-123 sorties in three days. At 0830 hours the 1st Brigade liason team arrived at Americal Div. Hqs., and was briefed by the general staff.

FB Professional, southwest of Tam Ky had come under increased pressure from elements of the NVA's 2nd Div. American intelligence feared they had plans to take Quang Tin Province Hqs. located at Tam Ky. The NVA had pushed their way from the mountains into the foothills and were still moving. The 1st Bn., 46th Inf. was in trouble and the "Always First" Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) was called in to add another chapter to its nomadic history.

The 1st of the 501st arrived with its legions at 1400 hours, an hour and 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Along with the 1st Brigade's security platoon, they fortified a perimeter around half the airstrip, while staff sections set up tents and commo platoons began putting together a temporary supply and service element - composed of detachments from 801st Main. Bn., 326th Med. Bn., 326th Engr. Bn. and 426 S&S Bn. - arrived by convoy from Chu Lai, where they had been ferried by Navy LST. Their support would prove vital.

The sense of urgency and purpose was contagious. Headquarters personnel found themselves eating and sleeping next to the men they supported. Gradually there emerged an understanding - the relative hardships they suffered were small in comparison to what the infantryman would go through. Few complained... there wasn't time. Airmobility and the Airborne spirit resulted in teamwork.

At 1542 hrs. Col. Richard A. Bresnahan, 1st Brigade commanding officer, reported to Maj. Gen. Charles Gettys, commanding general of the America1 Div. Operation Lamar Plain had begun.

Upon arrival at Tam Ky, Light Observation Helicopters (LOH) - white teams - were joined by combined Cobra-LOH pink teams from B Trp., 2nd Sqdrn. (Ambl.) 17th Cav. Together they began flying visual reconnaissance into enemy areas. C-130s and C-123s continued to arrive until by late May more than 159,000 lbs of supplies and 751 men had been brought to Tam Ky.

Scores of helicopters from 101st Avn., Bn. (AHS) (Ambl.) arrived a day later, blasting the camp with dust and debris. But no one complained. Outside the perimeter Geronimo troops were grouped alongside the airstrip, five to a helicopter.

Thirty-eight hours after alert orders were given, Geronimo troops combat assaulted north of FB Professional. Immediately there was a painful introduction to change. Cool mountain air was a blurred memory. Temperatures reached 120 degrees. The stale, stagnant air was broken by gasps. For the next 18 days they would sweat, fight and suffer in these foothills and valleys.

On May 19 the 1st of the 502nd combat assaulted into New Hau Duc, setting up a blocking force west of Professional. Enemy elements fragmented by Geronimo troops to the north failed to escape First Strike fire teams when they fled.

The enemy was fortified, motivated and abundant. Hooches and heavily constructed bunkers were discovered and destroyed. Ensuing contact was sporadically heavy. Air support was harassed by communist anti-aircraft gunners, who fired their .51 and .30 caliber machineguns at anything from an F4 Phantom to a LOH. Fifteen positions were spotted by air reconnaissance. Six were destroyed by Phantoms, four by helicopter gunships and one by Recon, 1st of the 501st. The fighting was characterized in this extraction from an after action report for May 21, the day Geronimos took Hill 270:

"1st Brigade elements engaged in heavy contact as the 1st Bn., 501st Inf. fought a day-long struggle against a determined, well dug-in enemy. At 0500 C/1-501 detected movement outside their night defensive position (NDP) and engaged the suspected enemy with M-79 and hand grenades. A first light sweep disclosed 2 VC KIA. At 0642 B/501 received intensive small arms fire and heavy machinegun fire from an enemy force of unknown size. The contact continued throughout the day. C and D Cos. and Recon 1/501 observed 4 NVA with 12.7mm HMG and engaged the enemy position. At 1000 D/1-501 joined the bitter fighting by engaging an enemy force in the area. The fighting continued throughout the day as the enemy tenaciously defended from steel-reinforced concrete bunkers. Tactical air, artillery and air cav. support was used throughout the afternoon. As the elements disengaged, the enemy fled leaving 25 KIA on the battlefield."

From its location on FB Young, C Btry, 2nd of the 320th Arty, fired 6,000 rounds in support of the 1st of the 501st during the first week. Many of these rounds were fired while the battery was receiving incoming mortar fire. The heaviest barrage, between 75 and 150 rounds, didn't stop the determined Redlegs.

During the first week of Lamar Plain 90 enemy were killed, three POWs taken and 26 weapons and 500 lbs of rice captured. By June 12, 1st Brigade troops had secured the area around FB Professional. The 1st of the 501st was brought in for a well-deserved stand-down and the 1st of the 502nd combat assaulted from their blocking position to the bitterly contested foothills.

By late June the enemy was avoiding contact, his ranks depleted. The 1st of the 502nd uncovered the largest cache of the operation when a Scout Dog named Prince alerted members of recon (Bad Boys). Five huts measuring 15 X 12 feet, containing 10 tons of weapons and ammunition were found. The cache included: 29 SKS rifles, 72 AK-47s and one M-1; three 60mm mortars and thirty-seven 122mm rounds; 13 cases of AK-47 ammunition, thirteen 75mm recoilless rifle rounds, 284 blasting caps and numerous mortar fuzes. Close by, C Co., 1st of the 502nd found a small lean-to containing two hundred 82mm mortar rounds and 78 rocket propelled grenades.

While Lamar Plain was essentially a ground action, troops of the 101st and Americal Divs. received air and ground support vital to the operations success. During the intense ground fighting, Air Force F4 Phantoms, under the direction of 1st Brigade forward air controllers (FACS), were responsible for killing 94 enemy, destroying 530 bunkers, 392 structures, six 12.5mm positions, two mortar emplacements and for producing 197 sustained fires and 70 secondary explosions.

B Trp., 2nd of the 17th Cav., provided aerial and ground reconnaissance and fire support for troops in contact. They also provided a ready reaction force for downed helicopters and other emergency-type missions. And the 4th Bn. (Ambl.), 77th ARA was on station with the fury of Cobra miniguns and rockets, firing in support of ground troops and medical evacuation helicopters

The field supply and service element programmed and rigged between 10 and 30 CH-47 "Chinook" sorties per day, frequently operating from forward field positions such as FB Professional. Because of the intense heat, troops were forced to lighten their rucksacks, carrying two days rations instead of five. This put the pressure on the supply elements and the 159th Avn. Bn. (AHS) (Ambl.), but even under intense enemy fire troops were supplied with food, water -sometimes ice- and ammunition. At the rear logistics base, a former rice paddy, conditions were not ideal. A cloud of red dust hung over Camp Pape from early morning till, at times, 1000.

Nobody was very happy choking dusty air, but personal discomfort never delayed a mission. Reflecting a spirit evolved during the First Brigades two-and-a-half years fighting alone in Vietnam, rear echelon troops became emotionally involved with an operation. Clerks and cooks who before seldom suffered more than a shortage of water in the showers- were living in foxholes, filling sandbags and carrying out their duties in stuffy tents. Twice rain threatened to bring supply operations to a standstill. Tents were under water and troops had to swim after their boots as they floated by. With everyones help the obstacles were overcome. There was a friendly atmosphere of self-protection and unit pride.

The dedication of Camp Pape and Camp Perriera further dramatized this feeling. Captain John Pape was killed shortly after his company, B Co., 1st of the 501st, combat assaulted into an LZ beneath Hill 187. Shortly after arriving in country, Capt. Pape was wounded on a reconnaissance patrol, just prior to taking command of C Co., 1/501. His wounds were inflicted by more than 40 claymore fragments and three AK-47 rounds.

The captain refused amputation of his leg, a change in branch of service, evacuation to the U.S. and a profile. Instead he requested to be returned to the 101st. After recovering from his wounds, Capt. Pape got his wish, becoming S-3 air for the 2nd Brigade. Still, Pape wanted to return to the field and finally persuaded his brigade commander to give him command of B Co., 1st of the 501st.

Pfc. Lloyd Perriera, A Co., 1st of the 502nd, gave his life while saving the lives of his buddies. His platoon was pinned down by heavy machinegun fire from a bunker complex and began to pull back. Perriera charged toward the bunker complex with his M-16 and a grenade, eliminating the obstacle and saving the platoon.

Operation Lamar Plain was more than a tactical redeployment of troops and a head to head meeting with the enemy. Lamar Plain was a feeling of unity, pride and sorrow. Troops arriving at Camp Eagle with orders for Tam Ky were dismayed by reports about primitive conditions, but it wasnt long after arrival before they found a place and more importantly, a purpose. Sometimes it was hard to tell an infantryman from a clerk. They were all together defending a reputation which began July 29, 1965 when the 1st Brigade came to Vietnam.

Written by Spec. 5 E. P. Boice, Fall 1969 edition of Rendezvous With Destiny magazine.