History of the "Indiana Rangers."
Just under 7000 Army National Guardsmen served in the Vietnam War. Of these, only one unit would stay together from activation and serve in combat as a National Guard unit. Company D (RANGER) 151st Infantry, was the only National Guard Infantry unit to serve in Vietnam.
In November 1965, the Indiana National Guard's newly-formed, 1st Battalion (Airborne) 151st Infantry, and its parent 38th Infantry Division were members of the Selected Reserve Force(SRF). SRF units were to be among the first selected in the event of a wide-spread reserve call-up by the president. The 38th Infantry Division fully expected to be called to active duty, and the inclusion of an airborne battalion was thought to be highly valued. However, despite the Joint Chiefs of Staff's recommendation for reserve forces to be mobilized for service in Vietnam, the Department of Defense decided not to use them and no large-scale call-up of reservists ever materialized. As a result of the DOD's reorganization of the National Guard, in 1967, several National Guard Divisions were broken up and realigned. Although the 38th Infantry Division survived, it was forced to lose its coveted airborne infantry battalion. Indiana Adjutant General, John S. Anderson was able, however, to retain enough airborne qualified personnel to form two long range patrol(LRP)companies, under the auspices of the Military Department of Indiana(MDI). This resulted in the formation of Delta & Echo Companies (LRP), 151st Infantry. The assets of the two units were later used to form a single company; designated Company D. The company headquarters plus one platoon were based in Greenfield, Indiana, with two others stationed in Muncie, and Evansville, Indiana.
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. These events laid the political justification for D/151 and some 20,000 other National Guardsmen and Reservists to be activated. Quite unexpectedly, Company D was informed that summer camp training for 1968 would be held in March, at the Army's Jungle Warfare Training Center, in the Panama Canal Zone. Many of the men could not quite believe it when the cadre of the jungle school informed them that they were headed for Vietnam. Three weeks after achieving a 98 percent graduation rate in Panama, President Johnson activated the unit. On Monday, May 13, 1968, the same day that peace talks began in Paris, 8 officers, 1 warrant officer and 195 enlisted men departed the Indiana National Guard Headquarters at Stout Field, in Indianapolis, and convoyed in WWII-era trucks to Ft. Benning, Georgia.
GEN William Westmoreland, the recently appointed Army Chief of Staff, directed the United States Army Infantry School to provide the company with all available assets, and attached the company to the 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry, 197th Infantry Brigade, on Kelley Hill, for administration and logistical support. Upon arrival, the company began 26 weeks of intensive unit and individual training. All members of the unit were already airborne qualified, and after a brief administration period, the men of Company D attended a variety of Army schools. Many graduated from the Ranger, Pathfinder, Jump Master, RTO and other courses. During this period, the unit began to receive regular army(RA)and draftee(US)replacements to fill losses due to expirations of enlistment, training and security clearance failures, sole surviving sons, brothers and other men deemed unqualified for ranger service in Vietnam. After the company finished individual training, the Ranger School established a modified three-week ranger training program for the entire unit. Additionally, the company received training from the British and Australian SAS, at Eglin AFB, in advanced patrolling and tracking concepts. Company D was declared by the Infantry School as the best trained unit in its history. Just prior to deployment, the unit's commander, CPT Kenneth Himsel, was promoted to Major and sent to Vietnam as an individual replacement. His newly promoted brother, CPT Ronald Himsel, became Company D's commander. On 20 December 1968, an advance team left to set up the company's new home, Camp Atterbury(EAST), located adjacent to Camp Frenzell-Jones, in Long Binh. The compound was the former home of Battery B, 6th Battalion, 56th Air Defense Artillery, and was secured to provide a base camp for D/151. On 28 December 1968, the remainder of the company departed Ft. Benning's Lawson Army Airfield on C-141A Starlifters in three contingents and arrived in Vietnam on 30 December 1968.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff had tentatively planned for D/151 to join XXIV Corps, in the I Corps Tactical Zone (I CTZ). Troop ceilings, however, caused these plans to be changed. Due to Company D not being infused, as other Guard units were, United States Army Vietnam (USARV) was directed to deactivate Company F (LRP)51st Infantry and replace it with D/151. Company D was assigned to II Field Force Vietnam(IIFFV)with the mission of conducting long range patrols in War Zone D, in the III Corps Tactical Zone(III CTZ). The 199th Light Infantry Brigade conducted a one week orientation course with the unit, and Company D received four more weeks of intensive, mission-specific training from the provisional II Field Force Long Range Patrol Company(formerly Company F(LRP), 51st Infantry). F/51 instructed its successor unit in patrolling concepts unique to the capital area battlefield. F/51's commander, MAJ George M. Heckman, assumed command of D/151 due to his experience and vast knowledge of long range patrol operations. By mid January 1969, Company D personnel were going on patrol with F/51 for long range patrol orientation and were deemed operational on 23 JAN 69. On the unit's very first patrol with Company F, a team from first platoon made contact with the enemy and M-60 machine gunner, Gerry Brantley, earned the company's first purple heart. It is extremely doubtful that D/151 would have achieved its staggering battlefield reputation without the professionalism and competence of F/51.
On 1 FEB 69, the Department of the Army(DA)reorganized all regular army LRP units to "letter" Ranger companies of the 75th Infantry. DA also issued a general order that increased the authorized strength of D/151 from 214 to 230 personnel. This action increased the number of patrol platoons from three to four, increased the number of patrol personnel from five to six, and authorized a Major as commander. The order also changed D/151's parenthetical designation from "LRP" to "RANGER." Additionally, USARV was directed to secure 20 slots in each of the first three MACV recondo classes, beginning in January, and unit members began to attend this highly elite school run by the 5th Special Forces in Nha Trang, following the completion of unit training with F/51.
On 8 FEB 1969, the "Indiana Rangers" began patrolling into AO INDIANA, in southern War Zone D, in Long Khanh and Bien Hoa Provinces. D/151 had trained as a reconnaissance unit at Ft. Benning. This changed quickly as the Indiana Rangers now found themselves under the operational control of the II Field Force G-3 operations section. The G-3's most accepted method of intelligence gathering were ambush patrols along trails, and adjacent to the Song Dong Ngai and Song Be rivers. Company patrols sometimes also ventured into the "Heart-Shaped Woods" and "Iron Triangle" areas of Binh Duong Province. Company D's principle enemy was the infamous "Dong Ngai Regiment," and many D/151 patrols locked horns with NVA/VC units of the Dong Ngai in bunker complexes and base camps throughout III CTZ, with the Indiana Rangers at a considerable numerical disadvantage.
Army aviation was paramount in contributing to the remarkable combat record of D/151. Insertions and extractions, frequently under fire, were performed by the "Annie Fannies" of the 117th Assault Helicopter Company. Cobra gunship support, often the Indiana Rangers' most effective method of breaking contact with a larger, determined enemy force came courtesy of the "Playboys," of the 334th Armed Helicopter Company. Both companies were members of the 145th Combat Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Brigade, and had rotating sections assigned to Company D on a permanent basis. The all vital communication relay and aerial observation was performed by the "Aloft" pilots, as they were known, of the 74th Reconnaissance Aviation Company. The men of the 74th RAC provided constant radio-relay from the teams to the Company's tactical operations center(TOC)back at Camp Atterbury(EAST), in Long Binh, and were the first to know of enemy contacts and problems with the teams. Countless Indiana Rangers are alive today because of the valor, courage and raw determination of these three Army aviation units. Tragically, the only air loss during D/151's tenure was due to a mechanical problem in the company command and control helicopter, resulting in the death of all aboard, including aviation section leader, CPT Michael "Iron Mike" Reitz; 3rd platoon leader, Indiana Ranger, 1LT George Kleiber; and his replacement, Indiana Ranger, 1LT Kenneth Cummings, who had arrived to the company just two days prior. Today, thirty years later, they are still sadly missed.
III Corps Tactical Zone contained the capital, Saigon, as well as most of South Vietnam's industrial and logistical areas. Company D patrols were also used to provide early warning of enemy movements into these vital areas, including the giant Long Binh-Bien Hoa logistical base. 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 others were killed by helicopters, Air Force tactical aircraft and artillery. 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. One mission, in May 1969, led by Indiana Ranger team leader, SSG Jon Ellis, a National Guardsman from Anderson, Indiana, counted 600 NVA as they advanced south. The staff officers, clerk-typists and other II Field Force rear echelon personnel were getting their early warning. On this particular night, SSG Ellis did not pull his team back to a remain-overnight-position, but elected to stay within visual sight of the enemy trail. Forced to initiate due to enemy movement, SSG Ellis engaged the massive enemy formation while directing artillery and aviation assets upon the enemy. SSG Ellis was able to safely evade the enemy and extract his team with no friendly casualties.
RA and US soldiers recruited to take their place, replaced National Guard losses due to death, wounds, hardships and early-outs for college. These new members were first required to successfully complete an in-country training program staffed by a cadre of veteran Rangers. The new men also had to be approved by all members of the team to which they were assigned. In early November, the 73 remaining National Guard members were moved from the base camp at Long Binh to Bien Hoa in preparation for the unit's return to Indiana.
On 20 November 1969, Company D (RANGER), 151st Infantry commenced stand-down procedures and returned home to a grateful state and nation. Indiana Governor, Edgar G. Whitcomb, declared 26 November 1969 as "Unity Day" and ordered all state and county offices closed in recognition of Company D's homecoming ceremony held that evening at Tyndall Armory, in downtown Indianapolis. Company D was also awarded the "key to the city" by Indianapolis Mayor, Richard Lugar. The emotional highlight of the ceremony took place when the Rangers of Company D stood at rigid attention as the names of their killed in action were read aloud.
Four members of Company D made the supreme sacrifice on Ranger missions, with two additional deaths resulting from a helicopter crash. 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.
Aug 12 2000 03:59:59:000PM