In April 1965, the “All-Americans” entered the civil war in the Dominican Republic. Spearheaded by the 3rd Brigade, the 82nd deployed in Operation Power Pack.
A year later, the 82nd went into action in Vietnam. During the Tet Offensive, which swept across Vietnam in January 1968, the 3rd Brigade was en route to Chu Lai within 24 hours of receiving its orders. The 3rd Brigade performed combat duties in the Huế – Phu Bai area of the I Corps sector. Later the brigade moved south to Saigon, and fought in the Mekong Delta, the Iron Triangle and along the Cambodian border, serving nearly 22 months. While the 3rd Brigade was deployed, the division created a provisional 4th Brigade, consisting of 4th Battalion, 325th Infantry; 3d Battalion, 504th Infantry; and 3d Battalion, 505th Infantry. An additional unit, the 3d Battalion, 320th Artillery, was activated under Division Artillery to support the 4th Brigade.
The units assigned and attached to the 3d Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division were as follows:
- Brigade Infantry:
- 1st Battalion (Airborne), 505th Infantry
- 2d Battalion (Airborne), 505th Infantry
- 1st Battalion (Airborne), 508th Infantry
- Brigade Artillery:
- 2d Battalion (Airborne), 321st Artillery (105mm)
- Brigade Aviation:
- Company A, 82d Aviation Battalion
- Brigade Reconnaissance:
- Troop B, 1st Squadron (Armored), 17th Cavalry
- Company O (Ranger), 75th Infantry
- Brigade Support:
- 82d Support Battalion
- 58th Signal Company
- Company C, 307th Engineer Battalion (Airborne)
- 408th Army Security Agency Detachment
- 52d Chemical Detachment
- 518th Military Intelligence Detachment
The deployment of the 3d Brigade took place with significant problems and controversy. In The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1965–1973, author Shelby L. Stanton describes how, other than the 82d, only two under-strength Marine and four skeletonized Army divisions were left stateside by the beginning of 1968. MACV, desperate for additional manpower, wanted the division to deploy to Vietnam, and the Department of the Army, wishing to retain its “sole readily deployable strategic reserve, the last real vestige of actual Army divisional combat potency in the United States left to the Pentagon,” compromised by sending the 3d Brigade. As Stanton wrote:
The division had been so rushed to get this brigade to the battlefront that it ignored individual deployment criteria. Paratroopers who had just returned from Vietnam now found themselves suddenly going back. The howl of soldier complaints was so vehement that the Department of the Army was soon forced to give each trooper who had deployed to Vietnam with the 3d Brigade the option of returning to Fort Bragg or remaining with the unit. To compensate for the abrupt departures from home for those who elected to stay with the unit, the Army authorized a month leave at the soldiers’ own expense, or a two-week leave with government aircraft provided for special flights back to North Carolina. Of the 3,650 paratroopers who had deployed from Fort Bragg, 2,513 elected to return to the United States at once. MACV had no paratroopers to replace them, and overnight the brigade was transformed into a separate light infantry brigade, airborne in name only.
In his book on war crimes committed in Vietnam, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, author Nick Turse included this incident involving the 3d Brigade during its Vietnam deployment:
Sometimes, when units were short of “kills,” prisoners or detainees were simply murdered. On September 22, 1968, for example, members of the 82d Airborne Division captured a wounded Vietnamese in Thua Thien Province. “I got on the radio and told the CO [commanding officer] that the man was wounded, unarmed and had surrendered,” said Lieutenant Ralph Loomis. According to Loomis’s testimony to an Army criminal investigator, his superior officer, Captain John Kapranopoulous, replied, “Damnit, I don’t care about prisoners, I want a body count.” Although Loomis ordered his men not to execute the prisoner, his radioman, Specialist Joseph Mattaliano, “opened up with a burst of automatic fire from his M-16 killing the Vietnamese instantly.”
At roughly the same time, a second Vietnamese man, a civilian, was also detained. He had his hands tied behind his back and was forced to kneel. The unit’s forward observed recalled the Sergeant Alexander Beard “called the CPT [captain] on the horn and told him the man had no papers and the CPT replied that the man was a gook or dink ‘and you know what to do with him.’ The group of GIs left the prisoner and walked away about 5–6 yards and then I heard one weapon fire a burst and I saw the prisoner fall… I then saw the group approach the dead prisoner, remove the rope from his arms and roll him over into a ditch.”
Unit member Johnny Brinson told investigators that it had been a standing order for months not to take prisoners.
1967 Detroit Riot[
On 24 July 1967, shortly before midnight, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the U.S. military into Detroit to boost the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police, the Wayne County Sheriff, and the Michigan National Guard in curtailing the city’s ongoing major civil disorder. At 1:10 am, 4,700 paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, under the command of Lieutenant General John L. Throckmorton, arrived in Detroit and began working in the streets, coordinating refuse removal, tracing persons who had disappeared in the confusion, and carrying out routine military functions, such as the establishment of mobile patrols, guard posts, and roadblocks.
Later that night, rioting peaked in high intensity, and the 82nd worked alongside with the 101st to secure east of Woodward, while the National Guard took to the west of Woodward. Incidents began to decline, as the paratroopers constantly patrolled the perimeter with M16 rifles, M60 machine guns, and M48 tanks, and the police began making arrests on those violating curfew regulations or who were caught looting. On 27 July, with a sense of normalcy returned to the city, in part due to the presence of Army and National Guard troops, the riot was officially declared over. The Army began to scale down in order to return to their normal duties, leaving the control back to local authorities.
Although Army paratroopers exercised great restraint on firepower due to being racially integrated as well as their combat experience in Vietnam (as opposed to the mainly white and inexperienced National Guard troops), the 82nd was responsible for one death and the only riot fatality associated with federal troops. On 29 July, two days after the riot officially ended, 82nd Captain Randolph Smith fatally shot a 19-year-old black man, Ernest Roquemore, who inadvertently stray into the line of fire east of the alley, as the paratroopers and the police were firing at a man allegedly armed with a gun (it was later found out to be a transistor radio). Three other individuals were injured by shotgun fire from police in the same incident. The Army and Detroit Police were on a joint patrol in order to recover looted items within the vicinity where the shooting took place.
On 30 July, the 82nd and the 101st completely left Detroit and moved back to Selfridge for redeployment to their home stations, a process that continued gradually until 2 August.
From 1969 into the 1970s, the 82d deployed paratroopers to South Korea and Vietnam on more than 180DBT (Days Bad Time) for exercises in potential future battlegrounds. The division received three alerts. One was for Black September 1970. Paratroopers were on their way to Amman, Jordan when the mission was aborted. In May 1971 they were used to help national guard and Washington DC police to round up and arrest protestors. Nine years later in August 1980, the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 504th Infantry was alerted and deployed to conduct civil disturbance duty at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, during the Cuban refugee internment. War in the Middle East in the fall of 1973 brought the 82nd to full alert. In May 1978, the division was alerted to a possible drop into Zaire. In November 1979, the division was alerted for a possible operation to rescue the American hostages in Iran. The division formed the nucleus of the newly created Rapid Deployment Forces (RDF), a mobile force at a permanently high state of readiness.