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Steve Houghton's 71St LRP and M Co 75th Ranger Site
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The following is not the official history of the 71St LRP Detachment, but rather my synopsis. To know the history of the 71St, one must know a little about the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. The 199th was formed because of, and for the war in Vietnam. It was shaped around three historical Infantry units, and was desiginated on March 23rd 1966, as the 199th (Seperate) Light Infantry Brigade. It's motto was to become, "Light, Swift, and Accurate". After some state side training periods at Fort Benning and Fort Shelby, the 199th was deployed to Vietnam in Nov 1966. It set up headquarters in the Long Binh area of Vietnam. It's primary mission was the defense of Saigon. The 199th distinguished itself during the four years it was deployed in Vietnam. The men of the 199th became known as "Redcatchers". The name was derived from both it's colorful shoulder patch, and the units effectiveness against the "Reds", or communists. The destinctive patch is shown at different locations on this web site, and a detailed history of the units exploits can be found on several different web sites devoted to the history of the 199th. I have linked some of those sites on the related military unit page.

But as good as the the 199th was, one thing it didn't have when it arrived in Vietnam was any Long Range Patrol assets. That's where the history of the 71st begins.

The Army had been developing the concept of small 4-6 man independant operating reconnassiance gathering units since the late 1950's. They were developed in post war Germany as part of the U.S. commitment to NATO. Their style was influenced by the SAS, (British Special Air Services). The SAS used effctively, in World War II, small independantly operating deep reconnaissance patrols. Soon the need for and advantage of, these stealthy type, intelligence gathering units, was realized in Vietnam. The 199th realized it's need, and on Dec 20, 1967 formed the 71st Infantry Detachment (Long Range Patrol). The 61 men, who made up the 71St, did not just appear out of thin air. They were chosen by General Forbes from the ranks of Company F, 51st Infantry. Soon the 71st was up and operational, and within a month, doing recon work in the Long Binh, Binh Hoa area. The effectiveness and value of the 71St to the 199th was soon obvious. One hour short of midnight on Jan 31st 1968, (can you say Tet!) a lrrp team of the 71st reported large enemy troop movements in the Long Binh area. An hours notice proved very valuable to the "Redcatchers" of the 199th. History records the reaction of the 199th to the Tet offensive in it's area of operation. In a nut shell, the 199th kicked ass!
For the next six months the 71St continued to patrol in this same area. Then the 199th was deployed to an area southwest of Saigon, known as "The Pineapples". The 71St went too, based at "Horseshoe Bend". This swampy area was an approach corridor to Saigon for the VC. It was a area of nipa palm, rice paddies, elephant grass, aboandoned pineapple fields, mud flats, and reed covered banks of the Song Vam CO Dong, and the canals that connected to it. For approximately the next year, the 71St put teams into this area to watch footbridges, trails, canals, etc. Approximately half way through this campaign, I joined the 71St. Many times we went out just overnight to monitor a canal for VC traffic. The VC were ingenious at using the tide effected canals to move supplies in and out of the Siagon area. We often worked from Navy PBR's. Patrol Boat River to be exact. These were my favorite Navy craft. They had radar to help us find our exact drop off points. It had a "twin fifty" up front, besides a M-60 and a grenade launcher. We sometimes went out in a big open boat powered by an outboard motor. We didn't go far in these, with the PBR's being used most of the time. We used choppers to from time to time, but mostly PBR's. The longest patrols I remember were only 3 days long in this area of operation. We seldom went out on patrol without seeing or hearing the VC. This area was heavily booby trapped, and many "Redcatchers" were wounded in this area of operation. I became the Teamleader of team 1-3 during this time. It was during this time that the 71St was expanded and became M Company (Ranger) 75th Infantry.

In June of 1969, the Area of Operation changed. The 199th move northeast to Long Khanh province. The unit settled at Fire Support Base Blackhorse. The terrain and enemy were both different. In the "Pineapples" the VC were local cadre type, not as trained and disciplined as the VC of the 274th VC Regiment. There was also the 33rd NVA Regiment to contend with. The mines and booby traps of the "Pineapple" region were gone, but they were replaced with a tougher enemy. The Redcatcher Rangers now patroled the rain forests of Trang Bom, Dinh Quan, and the river banks of the Lga Nga and Dong Nai. Initial contact with these more professional soldiers took some getting use to. They didn't fold up as easy as the ones they were use to fighting in the "Pineapples". They were elusive, and would stand and fight when cornered, or when occuping good positions. A series of sharp clashes ensued as the Rangers kept up incessant raiding pressure on the supply lines of these to enemy units. They were so effective that by Feburary of 1969 the 33rd NVA Regiment withdrew from Long Khanh Province, and the 274th VC Regiment was reduced to eating bananas and roots. The Rangers followed the 33rd NVA into Binh Tuy province. The longer patrols now called for some teams being placed on remote mountain tops to act as radio relays. This was dangerous work for those Rangers, as they braodcast radio signals from static locations, anf the patrols were longer, with teams going deeper into North Vietnamese strongholds. In mid July of 1970 the Redcatcher Rangers were moved to Fire Supportbase Mace, near Gia Ray in Binh Tuy province. They were preparing to go deeper into NVA country when they got the word that their mission was about over. The 199th had received orders to stand down. It was time for the South Vietnamese units to assume their share of the fighting. It was time for the Redcatchers to go home. The Rangers were shipped back to Camp Frenzell Jones in Long Binh and started stand down procedures. By Sept 24th, they were reduced to zero strength, and on Oct 12th, 1970, were deactivated. The 71st LRP - M Co (Ranger) 75th Infantry, ceased to exist.

Whatever a person may think about that whole thing, summed up in one word, Vietnam, is personal. One thing for sure, everyone has their own opinion. Did we lose, or just quit?
Should we have been there or not? Who really knows, and at this pont in time, It really doesn't matter. The one thing I do know for sure is, I will never forget it! And I'll will never forget what it was to be a LRRP!

toughguys.jpg

What was the LRRP/LRP mission in Vietnam? In a few words....to gather intelligence on the enemy. How did we do that? By being sneaky, small and quiet! Usually these teams were 4 to 6 men in strength. Sometimes as small as two, and sometimes as large as twelve. The larger teams were "Hunter Killer" teams. I was part of a team like that once, in Dec 1968. We went into enemy held territory in a variety of ways to do our work. The 71St was often inserted by Navy PBRs, (Patrol Boat River) to be percise.
But helicopter insertion was also used. Usually after several fake insertions, touch and go's, by the chopper to confuse the enemy, a team was let off. Some teams walked in, and one method that proved especially effective for the 71St was the "stay behind" technique. We would mix in with a infantry unit of the 199th. We would go in with them on a sweep, and sort of disappear into the bush as they moved off. We stayed put as the infantry moved off on their sweep. Usually after the choppers came back to pick them up, or when they moved far enough away for "Charlie" to relax, we would site the VC. It worked everytime, and I mean EVERYTIME. It was after the first time I was involved in one of these stay behind operations, that I truly realized how dangerous a job the Infantry had. The enemy always knew where the infantry was. The units were simply to noisy. Charlie heard them coming, and knew when they left. I watched VC climb trees to watch the choppers come back and pick up the infantry after a sweep! Usually Charlie fought the infantry on his terms. I have talked to infantry vets who said they seldom saw the enemy they fought. We always saw the enemy. I talked to a vet from the 199th, who said he didn't know how we could move around in such small units, and that he felt a certain security in the numbers of the bigger units. He told me that the infantry had nothng but respect for us LRRPs. I told him I had nothing but respect for the Infantry. They had the toughest job in Vietnam. Sure, we could get into trouble, and six men can't hold out for long against a big unit. But by God, we could put up a fight! And we had great support.
But we usually didn't have to fight. The most dangerous time on a Long Range Patrol was the insertion. If we didn't land on top of Charlie as we got off the choppers or boats, they didn't find us unless they stepped on us. And if they did, we hit hard, broke contact and got the hell outta there! The artillery and gunships were always there for us, and we knew it. To this day, I know that volunteering for the LRRPs was the smartest thing I did in Vietnam.

The Legend of the LRRPs

It's been reported that "Charlie" called us the "Men with painted faces". The enemy hated all the units in Vietnam, but he had a special hatred for us. The men in floppy hats and Tiger stripes who moved like cats through the jungle, put a hurt on him. He didn't like being ambushed deep in his own territory, or have artillery rain down on him from out of the blue. When it came from nowhere, he knew some LRRPs or Rangers were nearby. He'd come looking for us if he thought we were near. We heard about the bounties on our heads, and we knew there was no future if we were captured. There was a certain pride in being able to go the enemy and put a lick on him in his own back yard. It was reported that a LRRP team once ambushed a VC class deep in the jungle, that had the subject written on a chalkboard, "Beware of the Long Range Recon Teams" or something to that effect. And Company G, 75th Rangers reported capturing an NVA officer that claimed under interrogation, that he had been trained in China on how to destroy Ranger-LRRP teams, because they caused to many disruptions to the NVA and VC supply lines. He apparently wasn't to good a student! There were a lot of good units in Vietnam. You won't talk to many veterans who won't say they "were part of the best damned outfit in Vietnam". But units like Special Forces, Special Operations Group, Seals, Rangers etc, were, well special, and us Army LRRPs, well we don't have to bow our heads to any of them.