Historical Era : Vietnam
16TH INFANTRY ASSOCIATION REGIMENTAL HISTORY
VIETNAM : 1965-1970
In 1965 the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment was alerted for shippment to Vietnam as a part of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas. The battalion departed on the USS Gordon for Vietnam on 14 July 1965. This marked the first time since the Philippine Insurrection that the "Rangers" set foot on Asian soil.
The "Rangers" immediately began to the task of building a new base camp at Long Binh. While the construction was going on at the aptly named Camp Ranger, platoon-size operations were taking place to the Southeast of Long Bihn. In July Staff Sergeant Frank M. Semens, Company A, 2nd Battalion was leading his squad when they were surprised by a small group of Viet Cong in a clearing. In the brief firefight that ensued, one Viet Cong was killed, marking the first confirmed V.C. killed by the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.
During the last week in August the "Rangers" started a series of operations which never seemed to end. The initial phase took place just across the river from Bien Hoa Air Base in an area infested with bunkers, booby traps and tunnels. The V.C. in one bunker put up exceptionally tough resistance, but SP4 Wayne Beck of Rolla, Missouri refused to be kept pinned down. With complete disregard for his own safety, he charged the bunker aperture, pulled the trigger of his flame-thrower, and completely gutted the emplacement. For this act of valor and courage he received the first Silver Star awarded to a Big Red One soldier since their arrival in Vietnam.
In the many operations that followed, the "Rangers" continued to distinguish themselves, fighting in perhaps some of the most difficult conditions known to an infantryman. The enemy had to be found before he could be destroyed and to find him the troops had to remain almost constantly in the field. "Search and Destroy" operations such as operations MASTIFF, ABILENE, BIRMINGHAM, EL PASO, ATTLEBORO, CEDAR FALLS, and JUNCTION CITY found the unit operating as far as 70 miles from its base camp. In the thick, nearly impenetrable jungles of Tay Ninh near Cambodia, the "Iron Triangle" near Lai Khe, and northeast of Bia Gia towards the South China Sea, the "Rangers" inflicted heavy losses on enemy supplies and manpower.
There were times, however, when the price of victory was often costly. On Easter Sunday afternoon, 11 April 1966, C Company became engaged in one of the toughest battles of the Vietnamese War. Facing an estimated battalion of North Vietnamese Regulars in a well-fortified base camp, the "Rangers" fought fiercely, often hand to hand, for hours into the night. Although they suffered heavy casualties, the "Rangers" held their own until a relief force arrived the following morning. The Viet Cong however, had paid an even heavier toll. With close to 150 killed and their base camp destroyed, they were once again forced to flee to a new location and recuperate from their losses.
Toward the end of 1966, the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry began a series of pacification or revolutionary development operations. The overall mission of these operations was to move into a semi-populated area and conduct extended operations. During operations ALLENTOWN and FAIRFAX, the battalion inflicted significant losses among the local guerrillas in the provinces of Gia Dinh, Thu Duc, and Lai Thieu.
Shortly after the New Year, the "Rangers" participated in Operation LAM SON in the Phu Loi area. This pacification operation had been continuously maintained by one of several infantry battalions for over six months prior to the arrival of the 2nd Battalion. The operation made use of practically all infantry tactics used in counterinsurgency operations, including day and night ambushes, village seal and search, heliborne assault, search and clear, and search and destroy. During the operation, the battalion compiled an impressive record and it was stated that the "Rangers" were the most successful infantry battalion to conduct such operations since the start of LAM SON. The Vietnamese showed their appreciation by recommending ten (10) individuals within the battalion for Vietnamese decorations.
On 10 October 1965, the 1st Battalion 16th Infantry arrived in Viet Nam with the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division and was stationed initially at Bien Hoa. BUSHMASTER I was the first major operation that the battalion was involved in. Its mission was to clear a zone along Highway 13 between Lai Khe and Ben Cat in Phouc Vinh province. The unit conducted numerous air assaults during BUSHMASTER and earned a reputation for flexibility, mobility, and aggressiveness. This was followed closely by BUSH MASTER II and the battalion's mission changed to "search and destroy." Operations centered around the Michelin Rubber Plantation, an area with which the battalion would become intimately familiar over the next four years. In the first two months of operations, the battalion had killed or captured over 1600 NVA or VC soldiers.
In January 1967, the 1st Battalion participated in Operation CEDAR FALLS. This operation was a joint effort by the 1st and 25th Infantry Divisions, the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the 11th ACR to imposed severe casualties on VC units in Military Region 4, the "Iron Triangle." This was followed by Operations TUCSON in February, BILLINGS in June, and SHENANDOAH in October. The year 1968 was also an eventful one for the 1st Battalion. It accounted for over 300 enemy KIA or captured and thousands of weapons and several tons of equipment and food destroyed or captured. Additionally in October 1968, the battalion was reorganized as mechanized infantry and adopted the nickname "Iron Rangers."
In 1969, the "Iron Rangers" were involved the Vietnamization process, yet combat in and around areas like the Iron Triangle, Michelin Rubber Plantation, the Catcher's Mitt, Ben Cat and Lai Khe, and participation in Operations BEAR TRAP, FRIENDSHIP, KENTUCKY COUGAR, IRON DANGER, and TOAN THANG IV accounted for an additional 426 enemy soldiers killed or captured. Ambush patrols and the sealing off of villages characterized operations during the year.
The last four months in Viet Nam saw the battalion working closely with its ARVN counterparts as it concurrently prepared to redeploy to Fort Riley. Combat activity did not abate, however, as the "Iron Rangers" conducted 690 ambush patrols in January, and 803 in February. March 3, 1970 saw the cessation of combat activities in the Republic of Viet Nam for the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry. The battalion stood down and the personnel headed home. The battalion remained nominally active as the colors and records were shipped to Augsburg, Germany where it was reorganized at full strength as part of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division in April 1970. The battalion remained there until its participation in Desert Storm in 1991, after which it returned to Fort Riley, Kansas where it remains today, the only active element of the 16th Infantry Regiment.
The operations were typical of the aggressiveness, drive and competence shown by both battalions of the 16th Infantry during their tour of duty in the Republic of Vietnam. Today, as they have since the organization of the regiment over 135 years ago, the "Rangers" continue to be one of the finest units in the United States Army and stand ready to defend "Old Glory" when their nation calls.