Sign Here for Sacrifice: The Untold Story of the Third Battalion, 506th Airborne, Vietnam 1968
“As the Vietnam-era veterans begin to fade away, it is important that their stories of service and valor not be lost.”
One of the persistent myths of the Vietnam War is that all the troops who served there were reluctant draftees. While it is certainly true that a great many were, there were also a large number of Regular Army troops who volunteered for service in Vietnam, often for repeated tours, for their own reasons.
Ian Gardner, author of three previous works on the 3rd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Regiment in World War II, now presents the story of the successors of this storied regiment, made famous in the book Band of Brothers, as they carry on the traditions of their fellow airborne soldiers into the jungles, mountains, and rice paddies of Vietnam. Using numerous personal and recorded interviews of veterans, he weaves together a gritty tale of what combat was like against a determined and experienced North Vietnamese and Viet Cong foe.
The battalion, deactivated after the end of World War II, was recommissioned in May 1967 to participate in the growing effort in Vietnam. Drawing upon both veterans of previous tours, senior officers with combat experience in World War II and Korea, and new personnel eager to serve in country, the battalion quickly started forming companies and platoons to begin the arduous task of creating a brand new maneuver unit for deployment. After several months of training, exercises, and transport, the battalion is stationed in the II Corps Zone of the country encompassing the Central Highlands along the Cambodian border in the fall of 1967.
Even though the troops conducted extensive training, there were still many lessons to be learned as their initial deployments began. From the harsh terrain and climate of the countryside to the need to carry nearly twice as much ammunition on operations than initially planned, the soldiers quickly learned the harsh reality of operating in an unforgiving environment. The battalion immediately began conducting “search and destroy” missions seeking out Viet Cong guerillas and their supply bases, participating in several major operations in the fall of 1967 and suffering their first casualties.
As the battalion conducted operations closer to the Cambodian border, they also began encountering North Vietnamese troops in larger numbers, noting a large buildup of both troops and supplies into the early days of January 1968. Most of these actions were small unit operations conducted at the platoon and company level, placing a heavy burden on the junior officers and sergeants responsible for leading their troops.
The enemy forces they detected launched what is now known as the Tet Offensive, and the battalion was in the middle of the action, conducting operations in January and February 1968 that included not only combat in mountainous and jungle terrain, but urban operations in the coastal city of Phan Thiet. The battalion was in nearly continuous enemy contact throughout this period, conducting both offensive and defensive operations against large numbers of enemy troops.
In addition to fighting in combat, the troops also dealt with the growing indifference and burgeoning anti-war sentiment at home, in addition to latent racial tension in the ranks as turmoil from home made its way to the field, particularly the effect the assassination of Martin Luther King in April 1968 had on the numerous minority soldiers in the ranks.
The author’s narrative continues to follow the battalion until October 1968, although he notes the battalion continued to serve in Vietnam, incurring dozens more casualties until it was once again decommissioned in May 1971.
The afterword follows his main interviewees in their post-war life, where quite a few of them continued their military service until retirement, while others, like many Vietnam veterans, struggled to reintegrate into an America that neither appreciated nor honored their service for years after their return.
As the Vietnam-era veterans begin to fade away, it is important that their stories of service and valor not be lost. Gardner has definitely shown that the sons of the original Band of Brothers continued their fine tradition of heroism and sacrifice when their country called.