Copyright 2003: Richard P. Guthrie. All rights reserved. (Copy permission at bottom)

Webmaster's Introduction The 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 50th Infantry arrived in Vietnam in September 1967 and was attached to the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) under the command of MG John J. Tolson (lower right of picture, below). LTG Tolson later wrote, "When I received the 1st Battalion, 50th Mechanized Infantry (in September 1967), I decided not to treat this battalion as an orphan child to be held in reserve for some particular contingency, but rather to totally integrate it into the 1st Cavalry Division and to train its troops completely in airmobile tactics. We rounded out the battalion with a fourth rifle company from headquarters and supply units and placed their armoured personnel carriers at a central position near landing zone UPLIFT. The companies would go out on airmobile operations just as other companies of the Division and if a mission appeared that needed a mechanized unit, we extracted the troops to landing zone UPLIFT and deployed them in their primary role. The 1st Battalion, 50th Mechanized Infantry proved to be a very valuable asset and, when we had lost our attached tanks to their parent organization, we often employed the Armoured Personnel Carriers with their .50 caliber guns in tank-like formations. In using the mechanized battalion in this manner, we felt we enjoyed the best of both worlds. We had the additional troops which were completely trained in air assault tactics and we had the mechanized capability when the terrain and situation demanded.

GEN Westmoreland addressing the 1/50(M).
Photo by Thurman Olan Pike.

It was a steamy morning and the entire battalion lined up for the move north to our new Area of Operations. We were arrayed on both sides of the access road to the small Quartermaster compound, with B Company in the lead. As I walked the line of our twenty armored personnel carriers (APC's) lining the narrow dirt road, I took satisfaction from the fact that in three short months we had metamorphosed from being the problem company I had taken command of at Fort Hood, to being the one trusted with leading the battalion's first overland movement in the combat zone. 2LT Brian Thomas' first platoon would be the lead platoon in my lead company. He would later say: "I must admit that I felt extremely proud on that day. I felt so proud of my men who had worked so hard."

Line of Departure (L.D.) Time came and went, but we didn't move. This violation of a cardinal rule was justified on the grounds that we were "holding in place" for the arrival of a visitor, whose identity was not announced for security reasons. He had to be very important, because -- in that Army at least -- one simply did not blow L. D. Time without strong cause. And eventually, sure enough, a shiny, Simonized UH-1 helicopter circled overhead, and I got a radio call to pop a smoke grenade at a good Landing Zone near the road at the head of the column. I did as requested, and the Huey came in and landed. The rotors were still turning fast as the tall, slender, erect, handsome general jumped down and strode towards us.

I double-timed to meet him and reported. General Westmoreland had not aged much since the day he'd handed me my diploma at the West Point Field House a little over four years earlier. He returned my salute and gave my hand a single cursory shake as he stalked purposefully towards the column of vehicles behind me. I hurried along, to his left and slightly behind him as prescribed by customs and courtesies.

"Tell me about this unit, Cap'n."

"Sir, this is the First Battalion, Mechanized, 50th Infantry. We have just come from Fort Hood by ship, and we're moving north to operate with the Second Brigade of the First Cav Division."

"What about your equipment?"

"Sir, this APC is the newer M113, the A-1. As you can see up there, we have the normal .50 Caliber Machine Gun in the Track Commander's cupola, but we also have the two kits with the M-60 machine guns and protective armor plate mounted on either side of the cargo hatch. This gives one of my rifle squads more firepower than a platoon had in Korea. My company probably has more fire power than a battalion had in the Second World War." I thought I saw my last boast raise an eyebrow, but he did not otherwise react.

"What else about these Tracks?"

"Well, the armor is more effective. The improved alloy means the skin is not as vulnerable to penetration by small arms fire as the older models. This one also has a diesel engine, which gives it greater cruising range, greater autonomy, and there's less likelihood of it catching on fire if it takes a hit."

As we walked, he was nodding to the troops assembled on their vehicles and returning salutes and reports from the platoon leaders. He'd grunt now and then, but I was pretty sure he wasn't even listening to what I told him. I also was plenty grateful that all the troops kept their helmets on, and that none of the Bravo Braves' Mohawk haircuts came to the attention of the highest ranking General in Viet Nam.

We got to the end of my Company's column and the next Commander reported to him. Without breaking stride, he returned the salute, shook the hand, and kept on walking up the road between the rows of boxy M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers.

At the top of the hill the road widened at the entrance gate to the compound we had used for a couple of days. There, the general jumped nimbly up on the hood of our Battalion Commander's Jeep, and, fully erect, turned to face the troops he had just passed.

"Gather 'round... gather 'round." he said, gesturing with both arms. Even the soldiers out of earshot understood, and soon the space around the jeep was packed with armed soldiers in bright green jungle fatigues. He swept the crowd with an intense glare that gave him the appearance of an eagle in the wild.

"Meeuhn", he said, "I asked for this unit, the First Battalion, Mechanized, of the Fiftieth Infantry, to be brought from Fort Hood, because I need you here in Veet Nam. I wanted you here, because your Battalion is equipped with the latest Armored Personnel Carrier, the M-113, A-1. With this APC, you have improved armor protection, so small arms won't penetrate, and with those extra machine gun kits added, you have a lot more firepower. In fact, one of your rifle squads has as much firepower as a platoon had in Korea. The diesel engine is safer, and less likely to catch fire, and it gives you greater cruising range. I asked for you, with your new equipment, to come to Vietnam and chase that Viet Cong day and night. Chase him until he doesn't have time to stop and take a crap! Then I want you to close in on him, better protected, and destroy him, with your increased firepower."

Corny though it may have sounded to me, the troops loved it, and the humid morning air throbbed with their cheering. Undeniably, the General's welcome took the sharp edge off of being the newest unit in country. If The Commander in Chief himself said he was glad to have us on board, then we didn't have to worry quite so much about proving ourselves.

Copyright 2003 Richard P. Guthrie,

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