Ia Drang: the First Battle

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While it has been almost fifty years since the United States became involved in Vietnam, and almost twenty years since the Fall of Saigon, it is those first major engagements that took place over forty years ago that provide the most portraits of what American soldiers would endure during their tours in Vietnam. Master military theorist Karl Von Clausewitz in the 1830s could have been talking about Vietnam when he discussed the nature and conduct of war by saying, "the confused and confusing welter of ideas that one so often hears and reads on the subject of the conduct of war. These have no fixed point of view as they lead to no satisfactory conclusion: they appear sometimes banal, sometimes absurd, sometimes simply adrift in a sea of vague generalization." Clausewitz's "vague generalization" on the "fog of war" is a problem as it fails to provide specifics, however if specifics help provide answers, a good answer would be the first major engagement of the U.S. Army in Vietnam, The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley (IDV).

Many members of the U.S. 7th Cavalry (7th Cav) battalion landing via helicopter in Vietnam's IDV on November 14th 1965, were expecting "a walk in the sun." The enemy force they were hunting, the men figured, probably would not be there, but the rationale was that if the enemy were there, the U.S. 7th Cav would search out the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and destroy every last one of them. The 7th Cav also thought this battle would be like others previously fought against the enemy; a quick strike (usually by Viet-Cong forces) and then, once realizing they were outnumbered and outgunned, the enemy would retreat back into the woods. On both counts they figured wrong. The choppers deposited 457 Americans amid more than 3,000 NVA regulars, and their fight--the first major American battle of the Vietnam War--would rage for three days and two nights. This engagement provided a glimpse into the agony and anguish soldiers on each side of the battlefield would endure until U.S. military forces completely pulled out of Vietnam in 1975.

This battle was of great importance as it reflected the first engagement between U.S. forces and regular North Vietnamese forces. With any battle, it is the soldiers who provide first hand accounts into what took place, and in some cases what went wrong. Through their eyes, many can learn what it was like for these men to fight an implacable foe in the dense jungle and brush of the IDV, and how some of them managed to survive. By looking at the decisions made by both the 1st Battalion, 7th cavalry Commander Lt. Col. Hal Moore, and Sr. Lt Col Nguyen Huu An, the NVA Battlefield Commander at Ia Drang, it presents insight into the horrors of this battle. Other junior officers, senior Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), and junior enlisted soldiers also provide an account into what took place by describing what they witnessed, and also display their own leadership and heroism. It is these stories which relate the fear and horror of war. Although soldiers fought and died during this battle, the equipment, tactics and strategies used on both sides would ultimately define this engagement. This battle shaped further subsequent and NVA strategy as each side had now a sense of each other's warfare methods, strategies and tactics and would attempt to exploit any of each other's weaknesses in future battles.

Strategy and tactics have always been the determinants of any battle and the Battle at IDV was no exception. Old and new concepts of war would be used by each side during this battle. For the U.S. Army, the creation of a brand new Army organization, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), would provide a new way to transport troops into battle. Over four hundred aircraft were assigned to the division, including "Hueys" (from the acronym UH1D- Utility Helicopter Model 1D), to transport infantrymen in a combat assault, "Chinooks" (From CH47- Cargo Helicopter Model 47) to move artillery...
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