Battle of Fire Support Base Ripcord
The Battle of Fire Support Base Ripcord was a 23-day battle between elements of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division and two reinforced divisions of the North Vietnamese Army from July 1, 1970 until July 23, 1970. It was the last major confrontation between United States ground forces and North Vietnam of the Vietnam War. Three Medals of Honor and six Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded to participants for actions during the operations.
President Nixon secretly began the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam early in 1969. As the only full-strength division remaining in Vietnam in early 1970, the 101st Airborne Division was ordered to conduct the planned offensive Operation Texas Star near the A Shau Valley.
On March 12, 1970, the 3rd Brigade, 101st under the command of Major General Ben Harrison, began rebuilding abandoned Fire Support Base Ripcord which relied, as with most remote bases at the time, on a helicopter lifeline to get supplies in and the personnel out. The firebase was to be used for a planned offensive by the 101st to destroy NVA supply bases in the mountains overlooking the valley. Located on the eastern edge of the valley, and taking place at the same time as the Cambodian Incursion, the operation was considered covert.
As the 101st Airborne Division planned the attack on enemy supply bases, the North Vietnamese army (NVA) was secretly observing their activities. From March 12 until June 30, the NVA was sporadically attacking the firebase. On April 29, President Nixon launched the Cambodian Incursion which was officially concluded on June 30 when the last U.S. troops left Cambodia. Immediately after this, the United States made one final attempt to block the Ho Chi Minh Trail. After weeks of reconnaissance by the North Vietnamese, on the morning of July 1, 1970 the NVA launched a mortar attack on the firebase. During the 23-day siege, 75 US servicemen were killed, including Colonel Andre Lucas, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor; and First Lt. Bob Kalsu, the only contemporaneously active pro athlete to be killed during the war.
Losses of US forces were so great that officers began asking for volunteers from other units to go to Ripcord and reinforce the firebase. Finally , command realized that the position was not defensible, and the decision was made to withdraw. Fighting from four hilltops, surrounded, and outnumbered nearly ten to one, U.S. forces caused heavy losses on eight enemy battalions, before an aerial withdrawal under heavy mortar, anti-aircraft, and small arms fire. After the U.S. Army withdrew from the firebase, USAF B-52 heavy bombers were sent in to carpet bomb the area. Major General (ret) Ben Harrison, then the commander of the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne at FSB Ripcord, is of the opinion that perhaps the NVA losses at Ripcord, just as their losses of their major offensives of the Ia Drang in 1965 and Tet in 1968, crippled the offensive capability of NVA for two full years, resulting in the delaying of their Easter Offensive from 1971 to 1972.
- 2nd Battalion (Currahees), 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). The main US infantry unit involved.
- 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
- 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
- 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
- Battery A, 1st Battalion 39th Artillery, self-propelled 8in Howitzers, and 175mm Self-Propelled Guns.
- Battery A, 2nd Battalion 94th Artillery, XXIVth Corps, self-propelled 8in Howitzers, and 175mm Self-Propelled Guns.
- 2nd Battalion, 319th Artillery, 105mm Howitzers.
- 2nd Battalion, 320th Artillery, 105mm Howitzers.
- 2nd Battalion, 11th Artillery, 155mm Howitzers.
- 4th Battalion, 77th Artillery, Aerial Rocket Artillery.
- 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry.
- 158th Aviation Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). Assault and Gunship companies.
- 159th Assault Support Helicopter Battalion. Medium Lift companies (CH-47) and Heavy Lift company (CH-54)
- 58th Scout Dog Platoon, 101st Airborne Division.
- G Battery, 65th Artillery Quad 50
- Elements of the 326th Engineer Battalion
- 2nd and 3rd platoons of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company "Catkillers" flying O-1G Bird Dogs
- 287th Ordnance Detachment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal).
- Pathfinders 101st Airborne Division
- 3rd Platoon of the 265th Radio Research Company (Airborne) (Company name / designation was deliberate misinformation), U.S. Army Security Agency
- Kelley, Michael P. (2002). Where We Were In Vietnam. Hellgate Press. pp. 5–442. ISBN 1-55571-625-3.
- Lander, Erik (29 January 2002). "Bob Kalsu". Find A Grave, Inc. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
- "Bombers Hit N. Viet Camps Near Ripcord". Washington Post. 1970-07-25. pp. A12. Retrieved 2007-04-04.
- Harrison, Benjamin (2004). Hell on a Hilltop. iUniverse Press. p. 181.
- 265th RRC (ABN) unofficial Unit History published as The Sentinel and the Shooter, Wingspan Press, 2010.
- "Ripcord: Screaming Eagles Under Siege, Vietnam 1970" by Keith W. Nolan, Presidio Press, 2000, ISBN 0-89141-642-0
- "Hell On A Hill Top: America's Last Major Battle In Vietnam" by Major General Benjamin L. Harrison, iUniverse Press (available from Ripcord Association)
- "The Price of Exit", by Tom Marshall, Ballantine Books, 1998. ISBN 0-8041-1715-2
- "The Sentinel and the Shooter", by Douglas W. Bonnot, 2010. ISBN 978-1-59594-418-4
- "Siege at Firebase Ripcord", War Stories with Oliver North, Fox News Productions, product # FOX25004600
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