1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment
The year 1966 began with the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry remaining at Phan Rang to conduct Operation Seagull in Ninh Thuan Province, while the remainder of the brigade moved to Tuy Hoa on Operation Van Buren. Following the rice harvest, extensive sweeping and patrolling operations were carried out in surrounding jungle regions and into the treacherous mountains during a new operation called Harrison. The largest encounter of Operation Harrison occurred when elements of 1-327 once again locked in heavy combat with regulars of the 95th NVA Regiment. The battle took place southwest of Tuy Hoa near the hamlet of My Phu. It started slowly, as did most engagements, but the sporadic fire steadily increased in volume to the high pitch of a major fire fight. Unlike other enemy forces, this regiment was truly professional and this was to be a battle between the professionals. Using one company as a base of fire and one as the maneuver element, the “Above the Rest” battalion moved relentlessly forward. In perhaps the Brigades’ first night airmobile assault under fire, the tiger force was successfully inserted into a blocking position on a one-helicopter landing zone. Next morning when the smoke had cleared from the battlefield, the troopers of 1-327 dominated the enemy positions, counting 118 enemy dead.
Following Operation Harrison, the Brigade conducted Operation Fillmore. This was another search and destroy mission in an expanded area of operations in Phu Yen Province. Night patrolling and ambushes were again the rule, but a new twist was also added. Clandestine entry of company size units as immediate reaction forces to capitalize on information gained by small reconnaissance elements. The technique was successful, for in one battle alone, the 1-327 killed 47 VC by body count and an additional 29 were estimated killed.
On April 12, 1966, arriving by C-130 aircraft and LST the brigade immediately began an unusual mission of conducting search and destroy operations astride the Vietnamese II and III corps boundary, an area reported to contain a Viet Cong redoubt. The “Above the Rest” troopers found themselves on long and tiring patrols, and the shortage of potable water in the area made Operation Austin II most arduous. The troopers used water bags for the first time which decreased the requirement for daily re supply. The battalion conducted the brigade’s second night airmobile assault. In this operation there were 21 enemy killed and seven weapons captured.
On April 25, 1966, 1-327 began another leg of its odyssey, this one to the monsoon swept jungles of Quang Duc Province, 85 miles northwest of Saigon. The mission was to conduct spoiling attacks against North Vietnamese Army concentrations along the Cambodian border astride the II-III Corps boundary prior to the onslaught of the monsoons. The operation was dubbed Austin VI. At first it seemed as though the rumor of the Viet Cong not wanting to engage the brigade was going to hold true. For six days the 1-327 and 2-502 both operating clandestinely, scoured the thick jungles along the Cambodian border with no contact. A report reached the brigade intelligence nerve center that enemy activity was taking place near Bu Gia Map in Phuoc Long Province. The 2-502 was helo lifted to begin search and destroy operations while 1-327 was shortly thereafter committed to back them up. Later the 45th Army of the Republic of Vietnam Regiment linked up with 1-327 on a massive sweep. On the 10th of May, 1966, the 1-327, while sweeping to the south and east, overran and destroyed a large and elaborate Viet Cong complex consisting of a provincial headquarters, and a prisoner of war camp. Although many valuable documents were taken, one American prisoner was not; the VC moved him 30 minutes before the troopers entered the enclosure. The Viet Cong Provincial Headquarters and prisoner of war camp were destroyed.
Northeast of Saigon in the center of Vietnam along the mosquito-infested lowlands of the Eapa River nestles Cheo Reo. Here the 1-327 had a great battle with the elements as the skies opened up and literally turned the camp into a river of mud as its mission was part of the brigade’s reserve force for I Field Force Vietnam. The stay at Cheo Reo was short as the brigade received orders to move to Dak To in the northern Kantum Province.
In the Central Highlands, the month of June meant the monsoon rains and under its cover came a major enemy offensive. The first mission of Operation Hawthorne was to relieve the beleaguered mountain outpost of Toumorong. The 1-327 teamed up with elements of the 42nd ARVN Regiment and the 21st Ranger Battalion to accomplish this phase of the operation. The intelligence reports received indicated a major enemy drive was under way to overrun the Central Highlands: first at Toumorong on the high ground overlooking the Dak Kan Valley, next, Dak To, and finally Kontum itself. Toumorong was the focal point in the initial enemy offensive to capture the North Central Highlands. On the morning of June 7, 1966, North Vietnamese Battalion of the 24th NVA Regiment savagely attacked an artillery-infantry-engineer position in the valley west of Toumorong. This was the beginning of two weeks of the most violent fighting of the war in Vietnam. The position was manned by “B” battery, 2nd Howitzer Battalion, 320th Field Artillery; “A” Company, 2-502 IN; and elements of Company “A”, 326th Engineer Battalion. The charging enemy was able to penetrate the perimeter but the ensuing battle left 86 enemy bodies, 13 of them inside the artillery position.
The “Above the Rest” Battalion after relieving the Toumorong outpost, struck north to attack the blood-stained enemy. Another bitter battle erupted, this time engaging all three of the battalions infantry companies at one time, each in separate fire fights. It was to last for six bloody days. As the battle raged, 1-327’s elite Tiger Force was hard hit and almost overrun by an estimated two companies of heavily armed, well trained, NVA regulars. The battle for the valley and Kontum Province was on and the enemy prayed for one thing: rain. The 2-502 was helo lofted into a blocking position where they would begin a sweep south to link up with their heavily engaged sister battalion. They too were hit and hit hard. The enemy had heavy machine guns and automatic weapons dug in all along the valley wall. He had been there a long time preparing for this battle. Now all the infantry companies of both paratrooper battalions were heavily engaged. As the battered but courageous 2-502 companies regrouped on Ncoc Run Ridge and the 1-327 continued their relentless attack from the south, a decision was made – bring in the big ones – let the B-52 bombers batter Dak Tan Kan Valley before the brigade moved in for the final kill. By now the battle was seven full days old and the whole world new of the fight. The artillery had pounded the enemy, the air strikes had constantly pelted the enemy and now the B-52 bombers would set the stage for the final destruction of the 24th NVA Regiment. On Monday morning, June 13, 1966, while the mountain mist was slowly rising from the valley, 24 waves of bombers created a maze of craters below. As the 1-327 and 2-502 swept into the hills to clean up what was left, they found a systematic series of tunnels, some going as deep as 50 feet, but they also found among the dead and dying, several score who fought on. The final act of Operation Hawthorne was ferreting out and killing or capturing the die hard’s. The 24th NVA Regiment was rendered ineffective as a fighting unit, suffering over 1200 casualties by body count. The ratio of enemy to friendly dead was 10 to 1 and the capture of 88 individuals and 24 crew-served weapons. Most significantly a major North Vietnamese offensive to seize the North Central Highlands was blunted with a classic spoiling attack.
After fighting at Dak To, the Eagles returned to Tuy Hoa opening Highway 1 south to Vung Ro Bay. Search and destroy operations were continued in the Tuy Hoa Valley as the highway clearing took place.
On Halloween, 1966, Operation Geronimo was launched by surrounding an NVA battalion. As a result of a ground psychological operation effort, 36 enemy surrendered to elements of the brigade in one day. Total enemy killed during the action were 150.
Six weeks later the troopers of 1-327 returned to Kontum Province, setting a record by moving the entire brigade by air in 48 hours. Christmas was spent in Kontum and then the troopers moved south to Ninh Thuan Province in late January 1967.