My tour in Vietnam
By Kevin Dunne
United States of America
I was in Viet Nam from August 1966 through September 1967. I served as a rifleman in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, C Company, 4th Battalion, 503 Parachute Infantry Regiment. Notice the Saint Christopher medal I am wearing around my neck. It was given to me by a family member as I went off to Vietnam. I still wear that medal around my neck today, 35 years later.
I was wounded when our Observation Post (OP) was overrun in the vicinity of Dak To. The enemy hit me with a machete across my throat. He was close in hand-to-hand combat. I dispatched him with three shots to his chest.
I was medivaced to CONUS (Valley Forge Army Hospital, Pa). I spent the next year in a variety of military hospitals and was discharged in October 1968. I was wounded 3 days short of my DEROS (end of tour). It was the SOP in the battalion that you could not leave the field for DEROS until your replacement was physically present in the squad (“ass in the grass”).
The 173rd Airborne was considered an “elite” unit tracing it’s lineage thru the 503rd Parachute Regiment. This was the unit that jumped on the island of Corregidor during W.W.II. Reconstituted after the war as the 173rd Airborne on the island of Okinawa it was used as a quick reaction force for “hotspots” in Asia. As such it was the first Army ground combat unit deployed to Viet Nam.
The Brigade made the first battalion size helicopter assault, the only American mass combat jump and fought in one of the major battles in the war (Dak To) taking Hill 875 with a bayonet charge. This battle cost 107 KIA, 282 WIA, 10 MIA. The 173rd was a small unit. In my day it had only 3 infantry battalions, we were always under strength. I estimate maybe 500 grunts per battalion.
The 173rd Airborne served approximately 6 years in Viet Nam. Members of the unit earned 12 Medals of Honor, 6000 Purple Hearts, and sadly 1600 Killed in Action. The colors of the 173rd were retired January 1972 at Fort Campbell, Ky. The Brigade was reactivated in 1999 and is stationed in Italy with essentially the same mission it was assigned in Asia i.e. a quick reaction force, this time in the Mediterranean theater.
Because of it’s small size, The Brigade has never received the popular recognition of the larger airborne formations such as the 82nd and 101st. This has caused some frustration among its veterans. However within the Airborne fraternity the Brigade and its accomplishments are legend. During the Vietnam War, being assigned to the 173rd Airborne was considered a death sentence.
An authorized unit history is available thru Turner Publishing Co. 502-443-0121. Also available in paperback is an excellent history titled “DAK TO.” I have seen the latter in Fred Meyers, Borders and other area bookstores. Also on the web click here