“D Troop 3rd Squadron of the 5th CAVALRY”
does not contain the word AIR.
It is debateable that D Troop was never an "AIR Cavalry" Troop of which there were so many designated during the Viet Nam War.
An Armored Cavalry Squadron and even Horse Mounted Cavalry of another age consisted of four combat maneuver Troops. They were labeled A, B, C and D Troops. The D Troop has always been the Reconnaissance Troop for the Squadron.
D Troop 3rd of the 5th Cavalry was deployed from Fort Riley Kansas to Viet Nam in 1966 with the 3rd Squadron of the 5th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the “Black Knights”. They had been one of the Brigades of the 1st Cavalry Division but were “fragged off” to become part of the 9th Infantry Division’s mobilization plan to fight “on the land, in the air and on the water” of South Vietnam.
That abandonment by the 1st CAV and their relationship with the Infantry Division spawned the nickname “The Bastard Cav” and it stuck.
The 5th Cavalry Regiment was eventually fragmented all over the country and D Troop became the “Little Bastards of the Bastard Cav”.
The lineage of the Regiment goes back to before the Civil War. With over 35 Congressional Medal of Honor recipients from the many engagements during it’s colorful history there was a tremendous amount of unit pride and espirit de’corps among the Troopers. When the 9th Infantry Division “Old Reliables” returned to the United States in 1969 the bulk of the 3rd of the 5th Cavalry ground troops went with them.
Already assigned to Dong Tam on the banks of the Mekong River in IV Corps’ Delta, D Troop was left behind. As part of the “Vietnamization” program for military forces throughout the country, the base at Dong Tam was turned over to units of the South Vietnamese Army. Left without a home, D Troop was reassigned to the 1st Aviation Brigade, 164th Combat Aviation Group and the 7th Squadron of the 1st AIR Cavalry. It probably became an "Air Cavalry" Unit at that time.
The new base at Vinh Long was just 20 miles west and up the river from Dong Tam and the unit’s AO really didn’t change that much.
In January of 1970 when D Troop first arrived at Vinh Long and became operationally controlled by the 7th Squadron of the 1st Air Cavalry there were some adjustment problems. That was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was that it would take so long for the Squadron to become accustomed to the somewhat unorthodox yet highly effective and proven tactics that D Troop brought with them. Especially in the way the War Wagons Scout platoon operated. Unwittingly, once again the Troop took little time to live up to its moniker, “The Bastard Cav”.
The 7th of the 1st already had of three Air Cavalry Troops. “A Troop”, called the Apaches, configured their scouts with a gunner carrying an M16 rifle and riding in the right rear cargo compartment door. “B Troop”, known as the Dutchmasters, carried their gunner, who manned an M60 machine gun, in the left front seat. “C Troop”, call sign Comanches, carried two gunners. Each armed with M16 rifles. One observed from in the left front copilot seat while the other rode in the right rear cargo door. None of their scouts were equipped with mini-guns. Their reconnaissance tactics and Squadron policies required the scouts to fly fairly high and quite fast.
In contrast, the War Wagons mounted the M134 Automatic Gun (mini-gun) in its designed place on the left side of the ship just below the cargo doorsill. The War Wagon gunners rode in the left copilot's’ seat. They hunted with infantry model M60 machine guns and carried an assortment of marking and explosive ordinance. The gunners were taught to fly the helicopters with short pieces of mop or broom handles that were stuck into the empty copilot’s cyclic stick receptacle. The War Wagon Scout pilots flew very low and slow to get in close to the enemy. Hovering at times to use the helicopter’s rotor wash to blow foliage in search of camouflaged fighting positions and hiding enemy. It was not uncommon for War Wagons to intimidate enemy soldiers into giving up and climbing aboard the skids of the Loaches and become prisoners of war. At one time there was even a small contest going among the Scouts to see who could “catch” the most POWs. The prizes were twenty-five cent credits toward beer in the unit’s small club. A lucky and successful scout could sometimes drink for free for weeks.
One day, not long after Lighthorse had started working out of Vinh Long and turning in battle damage statistics to the Squadron’s S-2 Intelligence shop, the War Wagons were working an area near Ca Mau in the U Minh Forrest that was literally like hunting dove over a “Baited Field”. There were NVA and VC running everywhere. By day’s end the tally of enemy troops killed by airstrikes (KBAs) was over 100.
The number of KBAs was too much for the Squadron Commander to digest and he virtually called us liars, accusing us of exaggerating the body count. He contended there was just no way we could have gotten that many kills. He said, “You guys couldn’t possibly have done all that and I’m going out to fly with you tomorrow. I’m going to check you boys out”.
So he did.
He rode in the left seat of the Trail Scout. He was really surprised when he was handed a chickenplate, then an M60 and refreshed on the use of it. Sitting there with a bag of frags between his feet he had no idea how our Scouts flew or what he had gotten himself into. Shortly after going low level the lead Scout had found some good stuff and began working a line of bunkers. After about a half an hour of our “up close and personal” style of reconnaissance by fire and offensive tactics he began to think that the left seat of a War Wagon Loach wasn‘t the ideal spot that he needed to be in "to get a better view of the action". Our guys were hovering up to the bunkers, firing miniguns and throwing grenades into them. Since he was flying trail gunner he was told to fire on the targets as the lead ship flew over them on grenade runs. He soon found himself shooting the M60, then going toe to toe with NVA.
Lead yelled on the radio, ”Taking fire! Taking Fire”! As the Scouts bugged out of the area the Lt. Colonel could hear the Cobras attacking the targets just yards behind them. He heard the loud crack of the exploding rockets followed by low pitched grumble of the miniguns. Even more unnerving was the sound of the gunship’s rotor blades popping as they broke from their rocket runs, pulling out at 200 to 400 feet above the enemy positions.
Suddenly he wanted to go to a safe place and land. He got out, took a leak then climbed aboard the C&C Huey. I guess he thought that had to be safer. The Trail scout gunner had been riding on C&C in anticipation of the CO’s action.
The Squadron CO then got another real thrill ride because our C&Cs got right down and over the thick of the action. Hell, half the time it was C&C that sic-ed the scouts on new targets they found from their higher view point and it wasn’t uncommon for their left side gunners to fire on enemy positions and throw smoke to mark targets for scouts to pounce on.
Our C&C pilots weren’t just good battle commanders they also had to posses terrific eyesight and a distinct feel and sensitivity for the terrain and the nature of the enemy in the area.
When the Squadron CO got back that night he flat put the word out, “ALL squadron scouts will fly 40 to 60 knots of indicated airspeed, C&C aircraft will stay above 1000 feet and Cobras will orbit above 1500 feet and break no lower than 500. There ain’t no room for discussion. That’s the way it’s going to be”. He just absolutely laid down the law; that was the way it was supposed to be.
A bunch of us in D Troop had lots of words about that shit. The general consensus was, “Fuck’em”! We believed in finding the enemy and taking the fight to him and we’d been successful in doing it our unique way since 1967 and we weren’t going to change now.
It was getting pretty obvious that we weren’t going to be popular in the Squadron or with the Airfield Commander either. We were told, “Loose the scarves”. We still wore our revered, bright yellow, triangular Cavalry scarves but when we were on the base we had to tuck them out of sight under our shirts. Once we were clear of the airfield boundary we pulled them out. The 7th of the 1st wore black Cav hats. We were the only unit in Viet Nam that wore tan colored (officially called Silver Belly) Stetson Cavalry hats. This hat was the "working" hat of the Cavalryman. They let it be known that our hats weren’t “uniform” with those of the rest of the Squadron.
We're sure that since our Troop Commanders had the balls to stand up to the pressure and wore their hats that Squadron never made positive move to actually ban them. But our hats and scarves branded us as different. We were the renegade non-conformists and we loved the reputation and continuously strived to live up to those guy’s expectations by fighting hard, racking up kills, partying hard, not putting up with Squadron bullshit and sticking together as a unit.
We were still the "Bastard Cav"
In 1970 one of our RLOs (Commissioned Officer or Real Live Officer, not a Warrant Officer) was working in the Squadron S2. At the end of each day the Troops would turn in tally sheets regarding aircraft hours flown and ammunition used by each platoon with in their Troops.
In one week the compared totals for the 4 Troops' Scout Platoons looked something like this:
A Troop 5.56mm = 500 rounds
B Troop 7.62mm = 3550 rounds
C Troop 5.56mm = 900 rounds
D Troop 7.62mm = 22,000 rounds
We killed 1340 enemy soldiers in 1970 and yes it had taken the 7th of the 1st Air Cavalry some time to get used to us. With the change of commands, which happened every six months during that war, came new COs who appreciated the way D Troop got things done.
We were given the shitty big jobs all over the Delta. We were even sent into other Cavalry Troop’s AOs (Dark Horse got wiped out in '71) to screw with the enemy.
We worked with the Army Special Forces and Navy Seals. We did many “special” missions with them. (We have pictures of downtown Phnom Phen)
In time we were tolerated to the point that we were permitted to wear our yellow scarves in plain sight. Our tan Cav hats were no longer openly ridiculed but there was lots of inter-troop rivalry and it was rarely friendly.
Oddly enough it seems there were always guys from the other Troops trying to transfer to D Troop.
I never knew of any D Trooper requesting to be reassigned to another Troop in the Squadron.
If the cliche had been popular at the time it would have been:
Light Horse Rules!