1st MIBARS In Vietnam!


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"Why Are We Here?"

Photo Credit: MIV

Suck It Up, Troop!  "B" Detachment squares away for the First Shirt on the I Corps Compound, in DaNang, Republic of South Vietnam, during the Summer of 1967

What Did You Do In the War, Daddy?  The traditional response to this question stereotypically asked by young boys in the 20th Century was often silence -- daddy just wouldn't talk about it.  Well, many "baby boomer" dads are changing all that -- book store shelves and web sites are now brimming with first-person accounts of the Vietnam War written by people who were there and most definitely want you to know about it.

Aging Vietnam vets, mellowed perhaps by time and facing their own mortality, seem anxious to relate their wartime experiences while opportunity remains.  Thanks to their efforts, we can, for the price of a paperback book or internet access, vicariously hump with the grunts from I Corps to the Delta; cut loose nightly with streams of tracers from observation points along the DMZ; don ghillie suits with snipers in areas named for the lawless territories of the American West; go to afterburner with fighter pilots flying the route packages to targets in the north, always perilously close to feet wet or bingo fuel; clear fast movers in hot with Ravens and Coveys who spot the enemy from low-flying Bird Dogs and Oscar Deuces; swing those twin fifties along river banks with sailors of the Brown Water Navy; chop the collective with helicopter pilots following popped smoke in their dust offs and slicks and gun ships to contested landing zones, watch nurses bravely caring for the sick and wounded, and even smile at donut dollies seeking to bring some semblance of home to the battle weary.  But what of those others whose role in the war was far less dramatic, far less perilous, and far less apparent but who -- nevertheless -- went to Vietnam, did their jobs, and acquitted themselves with honor?

One such group of men was assigned to "B" Detachment of the 1st Military Intelligence Battalion (Air Reconnaissance Support).  No band of brothers in the sense of today's popular culture, "B" Detachment was not a combat unit and few of its members trained extensively together prior to deployment.  In fact, in the parlance of infantrymen of modern times, MIBARS troopers were in the category of "REMFs," a pejorative acronym that we will euphemistically translate here as "rear echelon mellow fellows."  That meant that they were perceived to be holed up in as safe a place as one could be in a war without front lines such as Vietnam.  Yet the 1st MIBARS owes no apologies for its place in the Order of Battle for the Vietnam War.  Like other soldiers, its members were subjected to the same life-disruptions of the war; its men willingly took chances not required by their jobs in order to contribute to success on the battlefield; its troopers faced close combat when the I Corps Compound and other military installations were attacked during the Tet Offensive of 1968; its personnel were injured, and some died, during the course of its operations, and its Intelligence Service, Signal Corps, and other specialists were constantly vulnerable to the Viet Cong's random roadside grenade attacks and in-town shootings -- tactics that were commonly applied in cities throughout South Vietnam.  While the 1st MIBARS' role in the war is not expansive or exciting enough for a book or a motion picture, it is still worthy of documentation.

A Word About REMFs:

"There was a young Marine at [Camp] Hothmuth that went to take a [use the latrine] one day and took a direct hit with a 122[-mm rocket].  I'd never call him a REMF.  Lots of folks think they have a good idea what a hero is and I would never want to diminish their notion, especially those that have paid the ultimate price.  But let me give you another thought about a different kind of hero . . . a guy scared to death, but does it anyway . . . every day . . . he just does it again and again!  . . . If you were in Phu Bai and it rained mortars on you one night . . . you would have done exactly what everyone else did . . . got hit or didn't get hit!  If you got hit, you would make it or you wouldn't and if you didn't get hit . . . you wait for the sappers to come!   . . . One of the things that worked against us [1st MIBARS, in analyses of the military intelligence effort in the Vietnam War] is not what we may have done or not done, or whether we were important or not . . . a lot of guys have that problem, our problem was a complete lack of history."

Terry Wheeler, 45th Military Intelligence Detachment [subsequently Detachment E, 1st MIBARS, 1968-1969], posted to Camp Hothmuth, a III Marine Amphibious Force installation at Phu Bai.  Via E-Mail, November 9, 2007.

General Joseph McChristian's comprehensive summary of military intelligence activity in Vietnam, referenced on this site, addresses the country-wide mission of the 1st MIBARS in Vietnam, and 1st MIBARS In Vietnam! provides an altogether unique opportunity to match the former USARV intelligence chief's assessment of the battalion's work with graphic representations of some of the actual people, places, situations, and equipment.


From General George Patton's "Blood and Guts" Speech Of World War II

"All of the real heroes are not storybook combat fighters, either. Every single man in this Army plays a vital role. Don’t ever let up. Don’t ever think that your job is unimportant. Every man has a job to do and he must do it. Every man is a vital link in the great chain. . . . Every man serves the whole. Every department, every unit, is important in the vast scheme of this war. . . . These men weren’t combat men, but they were soldiers with a job to do. They did it, and in one hell of a way they did it. They were part of a team. Without team effort, without them, the fight would have been lost. All of the links in the chain pulled together and the chain became unbreakable.

George S. Patton, War As I Knew It, as quoted in James F. Dunnigan, The World War II Bookshelf: 50 Must-Read Books, Barnes and Noble, 2004
From A Marine's Memory of Battle On Peleliu In 1944

"In our myopic view we respected and admired only those who got shot at, and to hell with everyone else.  This was unfair to noncombatants who performed essential tasks, but we were so brutalized by war that we were incapable of making fair evaluations."

E.B. Sledge, With the Old Breed, 2010, Presidio Press

Vietnam veterans of the 1st MIBARS probably cannot make the claim that they helped make the world safe for democracy, nor can they point to participation in a great victory.  There are no thrilling stories here, only the snapshot of a group of ordinary people -- some career military, some plucked temporarily from civilian life -- sharing the experience of war.  So, aside from any historical value that this site may have, 1st MIBARS In Vietnam! is primarily for those who served in "B" Detachment some 40 years ago.  It's a trip back in time -- a sentimental journey from an arm chair intended to respond to lingering curiosity that seems to have taken more than a few Vietnam veterans back to the former war zone in recent years as tourists.  It's a chance to renew old friendships, if only through faded, spotted and grainy photographs.  An opportunity, perhaps, to relive youthful -- or not so youthful -- triumphs or indiscretions.  A flashback to one's coming of age -- those first inescapable encounters with fear, mortality, responsibility, accountability, duty or lingering sadness.    Or maybe an occasion to give in to regret, or to pride, or to examine long-suppressed feelings of survivor guilt over the 58,000 or so fellow Americans who didn't make it back, the 1,700 or so who remain unaccounted for, or those additional men who returned disabled in body, mind or spirit.  

Perhaps 1st MIBARS In Vietnam! might even provide a window to a sort of summing-up -- could that inconvenient and annoying one-year tour of duty in hot, dirty, poverty-stricken and backward southeast Asia have quietly influenced the subsequent course of one's life -- for better or for worse -- even for a soldier posted to a rear echelon?   Could simply having been a part of the vast and awesome military machine of the Vietnam War and its brotherhood of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen have turned out to be the defining experience of a lifetime, leaving subsequent life experiences pale by comparison? Well, to each his own.  In the end, 1st MIBARS In Vietnam!, here in the digital age, might do nothing more than provide a convenient URL to toss to pesky children when the beer is cold and the Game of the Week is interrupted by persistent questions like, "What did you do in the war, Granddaddy?"  Any or all of the above reactions will validate this site.


The 1st MIBARS in Vietnam – Service Near the End of An Historic Era for the US Army

"Today . . . a unique American species is beginning to disappear: . . . the men who served in the US armed forces in the 1950s and early ‘60s. . .the last links to an era of mandatory national service that helped shape mid-20th-century America. From the 1940s through the early 1970s, a generation of Americans accepted compulsory military service as a responsibility of citizenship in war and in peace, Americans of different economic classes and ethnicities served together. . .  With today’s all-volunteer force, our military is more professional, but the mixing of different groups has diminished, and American society has lost the sense of the virtue of national service.

The vets were a civilian band of brothers who often fondly remembered their Army service as the last moment of freedom before the unending responsibilities of adulthood . . .  My father . . . like millions of his buddies . . . saw a world that he otherwise would not have encountered and one that, due to the demands of family and career, he would never revisit . . .   America in the 1970s. . . a time not only when World War II veterans were in their prime, but also when almost everyone’s father had served in peacetime, and when the older boys in the neighborhood were just returning from Vietnam.  Retired military presence was everywhere.  Our grad school principal, our rabbi and our local shopkeeper had all worn the uniform . . .   My friends and I knew that these were men far more experienced than we, and we all instinctively gave them our respect, if not always our obedience.  Back then, every family included at least one war veteran whose dark refusal to talk about combat only emboldened our young imaginations.

Nearly 1.5 million men were drafted during the Eisenhower and Kennedy years, and they were the last to soldier in a time when the idea of national service was universally accepted . . .  My father and his [contemporaries] are grandfathers now, in their mid-70s, and there is no one with the same experiences left to follow them.  Even the all-volunteer force in place since 1973 is different.  It was created after widespread Vietnam-era protests against the draft broke down the long-standing consensus in favor of compulsory service . . .  The vast majority of our government leaders, grade-school teachers and university professors, media elites and top chief executives have no military experience.  Today, only one-fourth of the members of Congress are veterans, compared with the 75 percent who had served three decades ago.  There is little doubt that the public strongly supports the military, but some studies also indicate that it views the all-volunteer force as a foreign culture.

Their professional status undoubtedly gives our current armed forces a greater cohesion than anything the old draft could have accomplished.  And yet the self-selecting nature of today’s warriors is a constant reminder that most of us owe our freedoms to a select few who are willing to protect them.  Unlike our fathers, we are not called to give even a small portion of our lives to the defense of our country, and I, like most of my generation, chose not to do so.  It is unclear whether a large, diverse society can survive indefinitely without that sense of service to the nation and that experience in social bonding; this experiment is only a few decades old, and the results are not yet in."

CSGM Jeff Mellinger, Last Vietnam-era Conscripted Soldier, Retires From the Army in 2011

"Mellinger's happy with the set-up of today's all-volunteer force, but he does think the contributions of draftees have been forgotten, particularly since there's such a romantic notion that after the bombing of Peal Harbor in World War II, everyone 'ran down to the recruiting station.'  In reality, thousands were drafted in that war and many others, he said.  . . . 'Draftees are pretty maligned over time,' he said, 'but the fact is they are part of every branch of service up to 1973, and when you look at what those military branches accomplished over time, I'll let the record speak for itself.'"

Kimberly Hefling, Last Vietnam-era Draftee Is Retiring From Army, MSNBC.com, July 3, 2011 

Michael R. Auslin, "The Lasting Bonds of the Last Draftees," The Washington Post, May 24, 2009.

1st MIBARS:  We're Here To Help In This Fight!

Photo: Commanding Officer's commitment to assist/improve 1st MIBARS operations in support of the fighting in Vietnam.

Republic of Vietnam, Aerial Reconnaissance Information Booklet, 1st MI BN (ARS), 1 September 1967


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