Unlike other U.S. units in Vietnam, the 1st Brigade did not immediately establish a base camp in its first operational area. This gave birth to the nickname, "Nomads of Vietnam," as the Brigade moved out on Operation HIGHLAND. This nickname followed the troopers as they moved the length and breadth of Vietnam.
In Operation HIGHLAND the Brigade was to secure a base at An Khe for the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). To allow the cavalry to safely debark, deploy to An Khe, and achieve a combat configuration, three area required attention. First, Qui Nhon, where unopposed debarkation was essential; second, Highway 19 connecting Qui Nhon and An Khe; and finally, An Khe, the location for the base camp of the newly arrived sky soldiers.
Task Force Collins, which consisted of the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry, moved overland from Cam Ranh Bay to Nha Trang and from there was airlifted to An Khe on the 24th of August. Between August 22d and the 25th all other elements of the Brigade moved by truck from Cam Ranh Bay to Nha Trang, then by LST to Qui Nohn.
The initial landing at Qui Nhon was made by elements of the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry, who along with 2d Battalion, 502d Infantry, assaulted west to clear infamous Highway 19 in the Qui Nhon area. This phase of Operation HIGHLAND was successfully completed when a heliborne assault by the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry, secured the critical An Khe pass - the same pass where previously the French Mobile Group 100 had been virtually annihilated.
While the Brigade guarded the 1st Cavalry Division's lifeline from Qui Nhon to An Khe there was no loss of life or equipment due to enemy action.
While providing security for the incoming 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), the troopers of the 1st Brigade used a system of overlapping patrols and a series of sweeping operations designed to find, fix and destroy the enemy. Twenty-three such operations were conducted utilizing company size or larger forces. In mid-September one of the sweeps turned into the first major contact for the Brigade and the first conquest of a Viet Cong (VC) main force unit by any U.S. Army element in Vietnam. The operation was dubbed GIBRALTAR and consisted of a battalion minus heliborne assault carried out by the 2d Battalion, 502d Infantry.
Landing at 7:00 o'clock in the morning, in what was later determined to be a Viet Cong battalion command post, the troopers found themselves completely surrounded and outnumbered. Only one company and a half were able to set down on the landing zone; the remaining assault force was waved out of the area by a captain on the ground who was later killed by heavy ground fire. But as reinforcements arrived it was quite evident the original assault had caught the enemy completely by surprise, and he was never able to reorganize his force. This was compounded by the courageous actions of the surrounded troopers, who took the offensive and badly mauled the confused Viet Cong. When the battle ended three days later, 226 enemy bodies were left on the battlefield.
By September 28th the 1st Cavalry assumed responsibility for the An Khe area and the Screaming Eagles once again moved on, this time to Qui Nhon to provide security for the incoming Republic of Korea Capital Division.
Highlights - The Brigade's first major operation was successfully completed, and its first major battle was an overwhelming victory. The courage, aggressiveness, and stamina of the Screaming Eagles were made evident by their heroic actions during Operation HIGHLAND and GIBRALTAR.
Excerpt from: Vietnam Odyssey: The story of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, in Vietnam. Copyright 1967 by the 101st Airborne Division Association.
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