The Indiana Rangers in Vietnam
When most people think of Vietnam they hardly every think of the National Guard. Military advisors to the South Vietnamese Army had been operating for several years in Vietnam when President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. By then 16,000 advisors were throughout the country.
In early August 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving President Johnson the authority, “to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force,” to defend South Vietnam (Doubler 2001).
In 1965 the U.S. committed 20,000 Army and Marine combat troops to South Vietnam. The President felt that calling out the National Guard and Reserves might send out the wrong message and prompt the Chinese and the Soviets to enter the war. The decision was made not to disrupt American society with a major mobilization like had been done in World War II.
The decision was made to conduct the majority of the war with expanded active duty forces and draftees. Throughout 1966 and 1967 repeated Department of Defense pressed for a call up of reserve forces. The White House remained fixed on the policy of “a limited war” in Vietnam (Doubler 2001). Finally by early 1968 a limited call up was passed.
The war in Vietnam continued to escalate and so did resistance to the war at home. Several states began using the guard to control demonstrations, especially on college campuses. The future for Company D took an ominous turn with the North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo and North Vietnam’s “Tet” incursion into many cities and villages of South Vietnam (Snook 2001).
The Call Up of the Indiana Rangers
On May 13, 1968, 12,234 Army National Guardsmen in 20 units from 17 states were mobilized for service during the Vietnam War. Eight units deployed to Vietnam and over 7,000 Army Guardsmen served in the war zone.
The only Army National Guard (ARNG) ground maneuver sent to Vietnam was Company D (Ranger), 151st Infantry, Indiana Army National Guard. It was a special unit with almost every member both parachute and jungle qualified (Doubler 2001).
The Rangers arrived in Vietnam in December 1968. As part of the II Field Force, the Indiana Rangers were assigned reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering missions. Operating deep in enemy territory from a base they called “Camp Atterbury East,” Ranger patrols engaged enemy units while conducting raids, ambushes and surveillance missions.
In just its first six months in Vietnam, D/151 fielded 573 patrols. The Indiana Rangers reported 134 separate enemy observations and participated in 94 combat engagements with 76 NVA/VC killed by direct fire. Many other enemy patrols were engaged and killed by helicopters, Air Force tactical aircraft and artillery, all from information gathered by the Indiana Rangers.
Several patrols reported a massing of enemy troops during Tet of 1969. Most patrols were made up of five or six man teams but many 12 man teams were conducted when previous information suggested that contact was likely.
Four members of Company D made the supreme sacrifice on Ranger missions, with two additional deaths resulting from a helicopter crash. The Indiana Rangers were decorated 538 times in Vietnam. 19 Silver Stars, 1 Soldiers Medal, 123 Bronze Stars (88 with “V” device for valor), 101 Purple Hearts, 111 Air Medals and 183 Army Commendation Medals (29 with “V” device for valor) were awarded for valor and achievement. No other single Army Infantry company was as decorated during a one-year period of time as the Indiana Rangers.
“Delta Company” achieved an impressive combat record during its tour in Vietnam. The gallant record of Company D, 151st Infantry symbolized the Army National Guard’s performance in Vietnam.
The Impact of Vietnam on the National Guard
On December 12, 1969 the last mobilized Guardsmen returned home. All together more than 9,000 Guardsmen served in Vietnam, either in units or as individual volunteers and replacements. The smooth transition of mobilized ARNG to overseas service in Vietnam vindicated the role of the ARNG in a time of national emergency as a both a strategic and operational reserve.
The ARNG’s Vietnam veterans would perform another heroic service. From their experience developed a group of seasoned officers and non-commissioned officers who, as leaders, would serve at the State and national level over the next two decades (Doubler 2001). When America found itself at war again the ARNG was ready to be called on, again, due to their continued service they had made the Guard a ready service.
Doubler, Michael D. I Am The Guard: A History of the National Guard, 1636-2000. Washington D.C. : U.S. Government Printing Office , 2001.
Snook, David L. History of the Iowa National Guard. New York : Simon & Schuster, 2001.
State University of New York, Albany. HIstory of the Army National Guard . Albany, New York : State University of New York Press, Albany , 2006.