April 1971 - August 1971
As the ARVN participation in combat operations increased, the BN became more involved in "People to People Programs" and civilian area protection. This did not mean the war was over for the troops of 1/61. Ground contact near the DMZ was a regular occurence for units of the BN. And sometimes we were our own worst enemy, even with friends.
122mm RocketsHelo Pad at C 2 After
During the spring of 1971 the NVA launched frequent and heavy indirect fire attacks against Fire Support Bases A4 and C2. During an attack on C2, May 21, 1971, the BN suffered it's heaviest casualties during a single engagement. One 122 mm rocket penetrated a bunker and exploded inside. The rocket caused the death of 29 troopers and wounded an additional 33.
Units of the 1st BDE 5th DIV conducted operations during this period as part of the BDE Operation Montana Mustang. Excerpts from the BDE After Action Report and radio logs as they pertain to the 1st BN 61st INF are presented as an appendix.
With the Vietnamazation of the battle, in early summer of 1971 the BN was directed to stand down and prepare itís tracked vehicles for use by the Army of Vietnam. In August 1971, with the return of the BDE to the US, the role of the 1st BN 61st INF (MECH) as a combat unit in Vietnam was finished. For its actions in Vietnam the BN colors carry 8 new battle streamers.
By 1972 the last American combat unit (196th BDE, AMERICAL Division) had left Viet Nam. For us the war was over. American blood colored the soil of another country, casualties were high but in this battle political decisions overruled military victory.
During the two and one half years the BN had been in Vietnam it had seen five different battalion commanders, over twenty five company commanders and an even greater number of platoon and squad leaders. Each, in his own way, had contributed to the success and history of the unit. Each walked proud for he knew he was among THE BEST.
(LEFT) ARC LIGHT
(RIGHT) TOC at C-2
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For many "Home Coming" ended before it started. The Freedom Birds landed in California and in Washington and the trip from there to a new unit or to home became a nightmare. Traveling by bus or train or sometimes hitch hiking, the returning men were swallowed up in the social and political rebellion of the 60s and 70s. There were no parades because there were no units, just returning soldiers. In many places there was open contempt for the work they had done and for the blood they had spilled. Coming home was not a happy return to a heroes welcome. Another wound on top of so many. In time it too would heal.
With the passage of time the memories of combat in VIETNAM have faded but the memories of comrades and fellowship remain. A number of veterans, having served in the 1st Battalion 61st Infantry, have joined the Society of the Fifth Division and attend both unit and Division reunions annually. Old friends reunite and new friends are made. The spirit remains and grows stronger. The Band of Brothers lives.
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England, now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
HENRY V Shakespeare