In all US wars throughout history, the US Army Infantryman has played a crucial role in the success or failure of every battle. Typically, in any major battle when a country has stood toe to toe with the Army Infantryman, they have failed. The 173rd Airborne Brigade during the Vietnam War was no exception. The 173rd Infantryman accounted for more kills on the battlefield in Operation Hump than any other US asset.1 In this paper, we’ll review the 173rd Airborne Brigades mission, objectives, situation and outcome of their success in Operation Hump.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade has a long and commendable history as the unit has been involved in many US conflicts. The unit made a name for themselves under General Patton during World War II (WWII) as they experienced extensive combat in Europe, and was involved in the Battle of the Bulge and the Rhine River Crossing. The most infamous time of the 173rd’s history was yet to happen.
The 173rd would come to be known as the “Sky Soldier” by the Chinese nationals after the unit was reactivated on the island of Okinawa in March of 1963 and made thousands of parachutes jumps across dozens of Pacific countries.2 In May 1965, the Brigade would be the first unit deployed into South Vietnam. Many combat operations would follow, including Operation Hump, fighting in the Iron Triangle, Dak To and capturing Hill 875. The Unit was also conducted the only major combat parachute jump in the Tay Ninh Area.3 The Brigade conducted the only US line combat parachute assault of the Vietnam War, and took part in 14 designated campaigns. The Brigade was very distinguished and earned four unit citations, 13 Medal of Honor (MOH) recipients, and over 130 Distinguished Service Cross recipients.4 On the other side of that, the Brigade lost over 1700 Sky Soldiers and over 8,000 were wounded in action during the Vietnam War.5
With US ground forces deploying for the first time in March, 1965 and taking up defensive positions, the US Army had not encountered any major fighting up to this point during Vietnam. In May, 1965, the Army deployed it first unit to Vietnam, the 173rd Airborne Brigade.6 Operation Hump started on the 5th of November and lasted until the 9th of November. Operation Hump, OPORD 28-65, was a search and destroy mission. The operation took place in War Zone D, near the Dong Nai River with approximately 400 US Soldiers fighting in the battle.
Planning and Preparation
There’s not much information about the planning and preparation phases of this mission. It was more of a “fly by the seat of your pants” type of mission due to the US forces not knowing what they would encounter. It is apparent that there was a lack of preparation due to the US Army not being able to use its own air assets to support the fight on the ground. No LZ’s were put in place as contingencies, and it was unsure where the pilots could insert troops.7 The US...