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Military History Chapter 21b Vietnam War. Vietnam War (part II- 1965-1975): Escalation & Stalemate (1965-68). By’65 SVN Gov appeared on verge of collapse: NVN shifts to large scale military attacks Operational strategy : destroy SVN main forces

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Military History

Chapter 21b

Vietnam War


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Vietnam War (part II- 1965-1975): Escalation & Stalemate (1965-68)

  • By’65 SVN Gov appeared on verge of collapse:

    • NVN shifts to large scale military attacks

    • Operational strategy: destroy SVN main forces

  • Shift to stage 3 was strategically premature – why?

    • US response: (1965 =>’68) major force ?_______________

  • Fortunately for NVN, US force escalation was gradual:

    • LBJ incrementally increased pressure (Ltd War Theory)

      • But NVN able to absorb pain & rebuild/re-supply

      • Made minor tactical adjustments & continued war


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Rolling Thunder’s Impact

  • Rolling Thunder’s limited impact:

    • Gradually increased IAW Limited War Theory

  • Result:

    • Failed to meet operational objectives:

    • NVN continued to infiltrate & re-supply/reinforce VC insurgents in the south

      • All along well established Ho Chi Minh Trail

  • General Westmoreland’s Operational Strategy on the ground:

    • Halt enemy’s momentum =>

    • Provide security to cities

    • Then: major search & destroy operations:

  • Aim:

    • Punish main force units & break NLF rural lead

    • Subsequent to above – stabilize & pacify South

    • Compel enemy to negotiate terms with US


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Battle of Ia Drang (Nov’65)

  • Central Highlands:

    • 1st major direct clash between US & NVA

  • NVA corps executes series of ops in Pleiku area:

    • Aim: “knock out blow to SVN”

  • Plan: conduct diversionon SF camp near Plei Me

    • Then ambush the relief column

    • Classic lure & ambush tactic


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Execution

  • 1st stage – NVA diversion is successful:

    • NVA springs ambush on ARVN relief column

  • Then US & SVNunits launch sharp counterattack

    • Gain fire superiority withinfantry, Arty, & CAS air strikes

    • NVA plan defeated => conduct tactical withdrawal

  • Interim Result:

    • NVA:850 KIA & 1700 WIA

  • Westy sent 1st Air Cavalry to search & destroy of enemy:

    • Series of violent clashes ensue

    • 14 Nov: largest encounter at LZ X-ray(Map)

    • Fierce & heroic fighting ensued at individual platoon level*


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Medal of Honor

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. As a platoon leader in the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), 1st Lt. Marm demonstrated indomitable courage during a combat operation. His company was moving through the valley to relieve a friendly unit surrounded by an enemy force of estimated regimental size. 1st Lt. Marm led his platoon through withering fire until they were finally forced to take cover. Realizing that his platoon could not hold very long, and seeing four enemy soldiers moving into his position, he moved quickly under heavy fire and annihilated all 4. Then, seeing that his platoon was receiving intense fire from a concealed machinegun, he deliberately exposed himself to draw its fire. Thus locating its position, he attempted to destroy it with an antitank weapon. Although he inflicted casualties, the weapon did not silence the enemy fire. Quickly, disregarding the intense fire directed on him and his platoon, he charged 30 meters across open ground, and hurled grenades into the enemy position, killing some of the 8 insurgents manning it. Although severely wounded, when his grenades were expended, armed with only a rifle, he continued the momentum of his assault on the position and killed the remainder of the enemy. 1st Lt. Marm's selfless actions reduced the fire on his platoon, broke the enemy assault, and rallied his unit to continue toward the accomplishment of this mission. 1st Lt. Marm's gallantry on the battlefield and his extraordinary intrepidity at the risk of his life are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.


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US Counterattack

  • As NVA attack – US counterattack with superior fire power

    • Arty bombardment from other LZs (8K rounds expended)

    • F-105 & B-52 CAS (friendly fire cas result)

    • Bitter “danger close” fighting last 2 days

      • (LTC Moore declared: “Broken Arrow”)

    • Then NVA withdraw & set ambush

  • Next day 2nd Battalion of 7th Calvary ambushed & suffer heavy casualties at LZ Albany

    • Casualties: NVA – 3K KIAUS: 300

  • Impact on Giap & Westy’s conclusion about their Strategy?


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Strategy of Attrition – Flaws?

  • Westy concluded his strategy of attrition would work

  • Assumption: US can inflict unbearable losses on NVA

    • while keeping US casualties within acceptable limits

  • Historic experience: all ran counter to previous events:

    • WWII & recent experience in Asia:

    • Recall US campaigns in Japan (Oki & Iwo) & Korea

    • Recent French experience in Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu

  • Enemy sacrifice: Giapwill sacrifice as many as it takes:

    • Willing to sacrifice any amount of casualties necessary to win

    • NVN’s Protracted War strategy = based on sacrifice

    • To what extent was US willing to go same distance?

  • NVA control of losses: can chose when & where to strike

    • Retained strategic & tactical initiative

    • Await US to depart op area => then reoccupy

    • Result: No lasting operational solution=> fluid & dynamic sitcom


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Political Dimension

  • Political aspect gained importance over time:

    • While military situation bogged down

  • Saigon government in state of flux

    • Coup recently ousted (assassinated) Diem

    • Power struggle among SVN generals sucked all oxygen out

    • Series of coups & counter-coups follows

  • War refugees crowd city

    • Corruption/black market/vice escalate

  • American society became divided over war with time:

    • Anti-war protests escalate

    • Both Hawks vs. Doves want out

      • “Go all the way militarily” vs. “give peace a chance”


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Tet’68 & Battle for Hue

  • Battle Prep:

    • Spring/summer’67 NVA prepare for major offensive

  • Operational Aim:

    • Break deadlock of current operational situation

  • Operational Strategy (NVA) & concept of operations:

    • Diversion: lure US to remote areas away from cities

    • Launch coordinated NVA/NLF strike on major cities

  • Strategic Objectives & ultimate strategic aim:

    • Weaken SVN government & spark general uprising

    • Concurrently pursue negotiations w/US -objective?

    • Get US to halt ?_______ & ?____________ allies/weaken SVN

    • Shape favorable coalition government & US departure


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Execution – Phase I

  • NVA attackCon Thien, Loc Ninh, Song Be, Dak To

    • NVA lay siege on Khe Sanh (USMC/SF) outpost

  • Westy reacts as NVA expected him to

    • (Eager to confront NVA in major battle):

    • Immediately dispatches re-enforcements & disperses forces to sound of guns

    • (Major intelligence failure =>managed perception by NVA)

  • Result: major cities left vulnerable =>

    • US combat troops deployed out of urban areas to field


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Execution- Phase II

  • NVA/NLF launch coordinated strikes on cities

    • All timed but poorly coordinated

    • Attack 36 capitols, including assaults on:

    • AMEMB, Tan Son Shut, & Hue

  • Following initial shock=> US/ARVN counterattack

    • Inflict heavy casualties & recover all cities except?


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Battle for Hue (31 Jan-2 Mar’68)

  • Background: cultural & religious capital of Vietnam

    • Hue became major battle w/fierce conventional combat

  • Order of Battle:

    • NVA: 2 infantry regiments & 2 NLF (VC) Battalions

    • US: 8 USMC Battalions ARVN: 13 Battalions

  • Battle Preparation (NVA):

    • Extensive pre-battle preparations:

    • NVA pre-stage ammo/supply

    • Elite advance units (sappers) clandestinely inserted prior to Tet attack


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Execution

  • NVA Advance units seize & hold key tactical objectives:

    • Await reinforcements who arrive as planned

  • Soon NVA/NLFcontrol most of Hue & its Citadel

    • Threaten US Military Command HQ

    • Total tactical surprise achieved

  • Initial US/ARVN counterattacks fail:

    • Brutal deadly fighting & close quarter battles ensue


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Assaults & Counterattacks

  • NVA conduct pre-set ambushes & inflict heavy casualties

    • 1 Feb: resist USMC major assault

    • NVA well entrenched

    • Conduct effective counterattacks

  • Firm decision to take Hue back results in destruction

    • 7th Fleet A/C & Arty bombardNVA positions in Hue

    • Hue’s ancient historical treasures heavily damaged

  • Finally Hue & Citadel retaken after bitter fighting & high causalities


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Military & Political Impact of Tet & Hue

  • NVA & NLF militarily defeated

    • Forced to withdraw from initials gains

    • No uprising of populace against SVN government

    • No other planned objectives achieved

  • NLF units (VC)devastated

    • Would not recover for long time

  • Tactical victory for US & ARVN forces- but at high costs:

    • Heavy casualties suffered by US in retaking Hue

      • US: 1100 KIA ARVN: 2300

  • But brutality of the war would be bought home to America on TV


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Strategic & Political Impact of Tet & Hue

  • Major US domestic political impact:

    • Tet was major surprise to all Americans

    • Westmoreland & LBJ viewed by Americans as not credible

  • Weeks prior launched PAO effort in US:

    • Aim: convince all we had “turned the corner”

    • Administration assessments overoptimistic

  • Political disaster for LBJ:

    • Public support for war plummets

    • LBJ approval rating drops to 26%!

      • Drops out of 1968 presidential election

  • LBJhalts bombing & & ends gradual escalation policy

    • Indicates desire to negotiate with NVA

    • Only Tactical move=> strategic objective remained – which was?


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Stalemate: Negotiating & Fighting (1968-1975)

  • Nixon takes over Whitehouse in Jan 1969

    • Claimed to have secret plan to end war – he didn’t

  • Following failure of Kissinger's initial secret diplomacy, to include:

    • Military threats (ignored) & covert activities

    • US resorts to “Vietnamization” strategy *

  • Meanwhile=> NVN conduct strategy of “fighting while negotiating” (like in Korea)

    • Closely coordinates military & political actions:

      • Intensify maximum pressure to affect US home front

    • Aim: Divide & worsen US-SVN differences


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Nixon’s Secret StrategyThe “Carrot & Stick”

  • Nixon sends Kissinger to begin talks with NVN representative:

    • Conveys strong desire for peaceful settlement

    • Proposed mutual withdrawal& restoration of DMZ

    • Followed by secret bombing of NVAsanctuaries

      • In Cambodia & along Ho Chi Minh trail

  • To Public:

    • Nixon announced Peace Plan to withdraw 25K troops

  • Through Soviet & French contacts=>

    • Threatens dire consequences if NVN rejects proposal

  • How did NVN respond to Nixon’s carrot & stick proposal


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NVA Response

  • NVN rejected Nixon’s carrot & stick proposal:

    • Called Nixon’s bluff

    • Concluded Nixon’s offer is really nothing new =>

    • Virtually the same as LBJ’s previous one

  • But NVN also hurting badly from battle damage from Tet’68 repulse:

    • Must return to guerilla warfare & strategic defense (stage 1)

  • NVN Strategy: consolidate & rebuild political structure

    • Drag out negotiations with US & ignore Nixon’s threat

    • Wear Nixon down (like LBJ)

    • Try to persuade Nixon to halt bombing


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Vietnamization – or “Exit Strategy”

  • Strategy to implement:

    • US Advisors step up preparation of SVN counterparts

    • Aim: get ARVN ready to take-over combat ops

    • Build-up SVN military strength & equipments

  • Vast re-supply effort initiated:

    • New/modern weapons & equipment provided to SVN

    • SVNalso substantially increased its own forces

  • Nixon mobilized public support forVietnamization

    • Gives speeches & makes direct appeal to Americans

    • Also attempted to persuade NVN to talk with US now

    • (Rather than later with SVN)


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US & SVN conducted series of raids on Cambodian sanctuaries (done with acceptable execution)

Required US CAS & advisors support

When leaked=> Nixon attempted to explain on TV

Backfired into major protests

Kent State became a symbol of student distrust & frustration

Cambodian “Incursion” (April 1970)& Political Fall Out


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1972 Easter Offensive

  • NVN prepared for “final military offensive” to topple SVN

  • Meanwhile=> Nixon & Kissinger pursued Triangular Diplomacy(?)

  • Purpose & strategic objective of Triangular Diplomacy?

    • Detach NVN from its Soviet & PRC supporters

    • Force NVN to negotiate seriously with US

USSR

PRC

NVN


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Execution

  • Mar’72: NVA launch conventional offensive into SVN:

    • Infiltrate along Ho Chi Minh trail route into south:

      • Strike, Kontum, Saigon, & Quang Tri

  • NVA attackARVNmain force units:

    • Force ARVN to abandon Quang Tri & Kontum

    • ARVN still able tohold An Loc

  • Take advantage of US combat troop withdrawals:

    • US unable to provide combat ground support:

    • SOF advisors only US combat ground troops available

    • US still provides extensive combat air support (CAS)


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Nixon’s Response: Linebacker I

  • Nixon initially taken by surprise by aggressive offense:

    • Orders B-52 strikes across DMZ ASAP

    • Linebacker I begins

    • Also orders mining of Haiphongharbors

  • NVN shot down many US Air Craft– exhaust their supply of SAMs

    • US scrambled to rescue downed pilots – but how & with what?

  • Only US combat ground troops available in Quang Tri are a few SOFadvisors (Vietnamization)

    • So they will have to do (later)*

  • But NVA LOCs stretched to limit

    • Re-supply too hard (bombing toll)

  • ARVNacquit themselves well

    • Heavy casualties for both sides

  • “Big Picture” type events often turn on individual actions…



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1973 Paris Peace Agreement

  • Following failed Easter Offensive

    • Stalemate continues

  • US Domestic politics:

    • Nixon faced re-election in Nov’72:

      • Sought to fulfill campaign promise of ’68 campaign:

      • End war with “honor”

    • Air War became more of a political problem – why?

    • More sorties = more shoot downs = more ?_______________

  • Still NVN becoming more & more isolated from sponsors:

    • Triangular Diplomacy on NVNhaving desired effect

    • NVNconcludes Nixon likely to win 1972 re-election

      • Better to deal with him before than after election


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Breakthrough?

  • Both sides moved slowly toward compromise:

    • Major US Concession: NVA allowed to remain in place

      • Following Cease Fire (in place)

    • In return=> NVN: dropped insistence on Thieu’s ouster

    • SVN: resisted terms & obstructs settlement – why?

      • What do they expect will happen without the US presence & direct support in SVN?

  • Kissingermore interested in concluding any settlement

    • Downplayed Thieu’sobjections=> wants US to sign anyway

    • Nixon sympathized with Thieu’s concerns & rejected Kissinger’s proposal => wants additional modifications to agreement

  • Nixon ordered Kissinger to get NVNto accept amendments

    • K then attempted to modify conditions already accepted by NVN

  • NVNsoundlyreject attempt to modify agreed to version


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“Peace is at hand” (?)

  • Progress on the settlement then stalled a week before US Presidential Elections:

    • NVNretreated to their prior hard-line position

    • Released news of previously agreed upon deal to Press

  • Kissinger was forced to “clarify” NVN’s statement to press

    • Results in his now famous quote of 31 Oct 1972:

    • “Peace is at hand”

  • But events on the ground that very same day were anything but peaceful…


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Linebacker II – the Christmas Bombing (Dec 1972)

  • NVN became recalcitrant & restated their previous positions:

    • Nixon & Kissinger become frustrated with continued NVN stalling

  • Nixon then ordered renewed & more aggressive bombings

    • Nixon to CJCS:

      • “ now’s your chance to win militarily”

    • Linebacker II (The “Christmas Bombing”) began

    • SOF advisor-teams resume clandestine combat operations against NVA & VC


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Agreement Reached

  • NVN exhaust remaining SAMs with little chance of re-supply from Soviets or PRC

    • Agree to resume serious talks w/US

  • Nixonpromised Thieu US will stand firm for SVN

    • Made secret commitment to protect SVN if Truce is violated

    • Convinced Thieu to agree to settlement terms

      • He has little choice…

  • US & NVNcome to terms & sign essentially the same earlier agreed upon settlement in Jan’73:

    • US troops return along with most of US POWs

    • But 2500 MIA remained unaccounted for


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Final Offensive

  • Following US withdrawal => tensions mount

    • Both SVN & NVN jockey for advantage & position

    • NVNbide their time & await opportunity to strike

  • Meanwhile US continues support to SVN

    • Civilian (CIA contract) advisors replaced military

  • Early 1975: NVA launch final offensive to South:

    • ARVN resist=> withdraw => retreat => panic => & finally become routed

    • Thieu ordered re-establishment of defense line to South

  • But ARVN Troops see hand writing on the wall

    • Nobody wants to be last soldier to die in failed war

    • Army soon collapsed

    • Thieu then resigned & departed Vietnam for good


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Fall of Saigon (30 April 1975)

  • President Ford & Kissinger desperately try to gain Congress support for SVN

  • Congress refuses to allow Air (ground is nonstarter) support

    • Not about to fulfill secret Nixon promise they were unaware of

    • America had had it in Vietnam

  • Americans begin evacuation of US citizens & select SVN

    • Emergency evacuation operation to USN ships takes many but not most of SVN refugees trying to flee

  • NVA tanks then enter Saigon

    • City falls 30 April 1975


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The Vietnam War’s Legacy

  • Ambiguous & unclear

    • Open to many interpretations

  • US Tactics validated:

    • Helicopter & its role in future operations

    • Smart bombs for precision guided strikes

    • New era of air warfare rises (B-52 CAS)

  • NVN strategy vs. US industrial power debated:

    • Agricultural society defeats major industrial power?

    • Questionable NVN claim of victory model for future

  • Contrasting strategies evaluated:

    • People’s protracted war strategy (Giap willing to go to limit)

    • US strategy of attrition (Search & destroy tactics not effective)

    • Military versus political objectives (Political Will is essential)



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Conflicting post-War Analysis

  • Several hard lessons were learned as a result of Vietnam

  • For some=> we simply backed the wrong horse:

    • US Military power & $$$ support never be enough regardless=>

    • Military & $ pwr couldn’t prop upRVN’s corrupt & failed regime

    • Local revolutionary war fought for nationalistic & political aims

      • Therefore US caught in middle of bitter civil war

  • For others: war too hard to win under political constraints:

    • War considered integral part of global Cold War threat

    • Key political concern for LBJ administration: avoid escalation

      • Both in intensity of fighting & geographic region

  • Result: US attempted to fight limited conventional war

    • Without a coherent & realistic operational strategy

    • While applying separate poorly chosen tactics to support it


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Serious Strategic Disconnect

  • US approach to war appeared to have serious disconnects:

    • Political Aims were unrealistic given the military constraints set

    • Operational Strategy poorly matched to those strategic aims

    • Tactics employed served a failing strategy

  • Result: Tactical success served a poor operational strategy

    • Which in turn attempted to achieve Unrealistic strategic aims =>

    • Which ultimately resulted in political failure at the end of the day

  • Political decisions makers failed to realize until too late:

    • That superior American military power can’t make up for what?

    • American people’s lack of political will to continue war indefinitely!

  • These failures would affect many in different ways

    • Including foreign policy decisions taken following the Cold War


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Review of Vietnam’s Lessons

  • Long term status of Communism vs. capitalism

    • Capitalism is alive and well (even in China & Vietnam)

  • Review of Vietnam’s Lessons Learned:

    • CI vs. Conventional warfare

      • Role of battle environment? (which favors which?)

      • Plans & deserts vs. jungles & mountains (& now cities)

    • Political constraints on US military power

      • (was military victory precluded by the politicians?)

    • Assessment of Limited War Doctrine:

      • Incremental & graduated response failed big time


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Modern Hi-tech Military Advances

  • Flexible Response strategy required expansion & modernization of US conventional forces

    • SECDEF McNamara played a major role in modernizing US forces

    • Established “Brush War” capability (like for Vietnam)

  • USAF & USN build-up:

    • WWII BBs refitted & updated (USS New Jersey)

    • CV/CVN on Yankee Station in Tokin Gulf launch F-4 & A-4 strikes

    • B-52 (Guam) & F105/F-4 (Thailand): Rolling Thunder


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Weapons Technology Advances

  • High Tech Equipment development included:

    • Radar units small & portable developed

    • Sniffers detect infiltrators’ odors

    • Sensors & passive transmitters alert SF teams

    • IBM 1430s computers predict enemy movements

    • Puff (AC-47 gunships) & AFSOC AC-130 SpecterGunships provide devastating fire support


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Troops, Weapons, & Equipment

  • Troops: best ever trained & equipped to date:

    • 1 Million men combat ready & divisions expand:11 to 16

    • Airlift & equipment stockpiles expanded

    • Army reorganization:

      • Task oriented for specific jobs

  • Direct ground support weapons & equipment:

    • Armor Personnel Carriers

    • Weapon advances: (M-60, M-16, Stoner LMG, M-79)

    • Helo & its role: UH-1, Cobra, CH-47, 1st Air Cavalry


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Strategy of Attrition: Search & Destroy

  • Operational strategies often involve individual actions and consequences for those who must implement them

  • For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Seeing indications of the enemy's presence in the area, S/Sgt. Morris deployed his squad and continued forward alone to make a reconnaissance. He unknowingly crawled within 20 meters of an enemy machinegun, whereupon the gunner fired, wounding him in the chest. S/Sgt. Morris instantly returned the fire and killed the gunner. Continuing to crawl within a few feet of the gun, he hurled a grenade and killed the remainder of the enemy crew. Although in pain and bleeding profusely, S/Sgt. Morris continued his reconnaissance. Returning to the platoon area, he reported the results of his reconnaissance to the platoon leader. As he spoke, the platoon came under heavy fire. Refusing medical attention for himself, he deployed his men in better firing positions confronting the entrenched enemy to his front. Then for 8 hours the platoon engaged the numerically superior enemy force. Withdrawal was impossible without abandoning many wounded and dead. Finding the platoon medic dead, S/Sgt. Morris administered first aid to himself and was returning to treat the wounded members of his squad with the medic's first aid kit when he was again wounded. Knocked down and stunned, he regained consciousness and continued to treat the wounded, reposition his men, and inspire and encourage their efforts. Wounded again when an enemy grenade shattered his left hand, nonetheless he personally took up the fight and armed and threw several grenades which killed a number of enemy soldiers. Seeing that an enemy machinegun had maneuvered behind his platoon and was delivering the fire upon his men, S/Sgt. Morris and another man crawled toward the gun to knock it out. His comrade was killed and S/Sgt. Morris sustained another wound, but, firing his rifle with one hand, he silenced the enemy machinegun. Returning to the platoon, he courageously exposed himself to the devastating enemy fire to drag the wounded to a protected area, and with utter disregard for his personal safety and the pain he suffered, he continued to lead and direct the efforts of his men until relief arrived. Upon termination of the battle, important documents were found among the enemy dead revealing a planned ambush of a Republic of Vietnam battalion. Use of this information prevented the ambush and saved many lives. S/Sgt. Morris' gallantry was instrumental in the successful defeat of the enemy, saved many lives, and was in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.


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