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 People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) that took place from 1 to 23 July 1970. It was the last major confrontation between United States ground forces and the PAVN during the Vietnam War. Three Medals of Honor and six Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded to participants for actions during the operations.
President Nixon 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 Sầu Valley.
On 12 March 1970, the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne under the command of Colonel 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 PAVN 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 PAVN was observing their activities. From 12 March until 30 June, the PAVN was sporadically attacking the firebase. On 29 April, President Nixon launched the Cambodian Incursion which was officially concluded on 30 June 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 PAVN, on the morning of 1 July 1 the PAVN launched a mortar attack on the firebase. During the 23-day siege, 75 US servicemen were killed, including Lt. Col. 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 U.S. forces were so great that officers began asking for volunteers from other units to go to Ripcord and reinforce the firebase. Finally, the U.S. 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 101st Airborne withdrew from the firebase, B-52 bombers were sent in to carpet bomb the area. Harrison claimed that the PAVN losses at Ripcord, just as their losses of their major offensives of the Ia Drang in 1965 and Tet in 1968, crippled their offensive capability for two full years, resulting in the delaying of their Easter Offensive from 1971 to 1972.
- Kelley, Michael P. (2002). Where We Were In Vietnam. Hellgate Press. p. 5–442. ISBN 1555716253.
- Lander, Erik (29 January 2002). "Bob Kalsu". Find A Grave, Inc. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
- "Bombers Hit N. Viet Camps Near Ripcord". Washington Post. 25 July 1970. pp. A12. Retrieved 4 April 2007.
- Harrison, Benjamin (2004). Hell on a Hilltop. iUniverse Press. p. 181. ISBN 9780595327300.
- "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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