Top 10 Units in the Vietnam War

In today’s post, I’m going to share what I believe are the top 10 units in the Vietnam war. These are American units from all branches of service.

The Vietnam war was a long engagement for United States forces who were aiding the South Vietnamese against the North Vietnamese being backed by Communist sources. Vietnam lasted from 1964-1975. Over 2,500,000 Americans served in the military in Vietnam.

While there was much resentment that the United States was involved in this conflict, we must always remember that was a decision of politicians. The Soldiers who served showed courage and loyalty to the United States.

Many people claim that the U.S. lost the Vietnam War. I must say that is a false notion. We pulled out and because they did not have the resources, the South Vietnamese actually lost the War. One fact everyone should always keep in mind…no military units ever surrendered during this entire War.

top 10 units in the vietnam war

Top 10 Units in the Vietnam War

In the paragraphs below, I will provide my opinion of the Top 10 units in the Vietnam War. We will count down from #10 to #1. This list was compiled from independent research online. Of course, the list is very subjective. By all means, we can agree to disagree.

# 10: The 9th Infantry Division

The 9th was reactivated in 1967 in Fort Riley, Kansas and spent 2-years in Vietnam. The 9th was primarily used on the waters of the Mekong Delta. The 9th Division’s nickname was Old Reliables and they lived up to this reputation during Vietnam. There were well over 30 units under the 9th Infantry Division. The movie “Forrest Gump” was about a man who served with the 9th. Chuck Hagel who was the Secretary of Defense also served with the 9th during Vietnam.

Operating deep within the Viet Cong–controlled Delta, the 9th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army was charged with protecting the area and its population against Communist insurgents and ensuring the success of the South Vietnamese government’s pacification program. ~ Kentucky Press

# 9: The 20th Engineer Brigade

The 20th Engineer Brigade was reactivated in 1967 in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Former Vice President Al Gore was a member of the 20th Engineer Brigade. They were responsible for clearing over 500,000 acres of jungle, building highways, and also bridges. The 20th was comprised of 14 battalions and 31 companies.

The brigade provided all non-divisional engineer support in Military Regions III and IV during eleven campaigns. Units cleared more than one-half million acres (2,000 km²) of jungle, paved 500 kilometers of highway, and constructed bridges totaling more than six miles (10 km) in length. As American forces were withdrawing from Vietnam, the brigade was inactivated 20 September 1971. ~ Wikipedia

# 8: The 18th Military Police Brigade

This brigade was activated at the start of Vietnam. With headquarters in Sembach, Germany, these Soldiers took control of all policing duties in Vietnam. They evacuated POWs, were the security of ports, and security at military installations. During the TET offensive, it was the 18th that stopped the Viet Cong from taking over the United State’s Embassy.

Activated during the Vietnam War, the Brigade oversaw all Military Police operations in the country for a large portion of the conflict, undertaking a wide variety of missions throughout the country and providing command and control for other military police groups in the region. ~ Wikipedia

# 7: The 11th Calvary Regiment

Known as the Blackhorse Regiment, this division performed with fearless abandonment during Vietnam. They were the first to use Sheridan Aluminum Tanks during the war, and they did so quite successfully. This division destroyed a huge amount of Viet Kong tunnels and hideouts. One of the most famous was Operation Manhattan.

From the summer of 1967 until the winter the regiment was led by Col. Roy W. Farley. Operation Emporia I & II was a road clearing operation with limited RIF missions by the 1st and 3rd Squadrons in Long Khánh District. Operation Valdosta I & II was a regimental size operation. Its purpose was to provide security at polling places during elections and to maintain reaction forces to counter VC agitation. As a result of the operation 84.7% of eligible voters cast ballots in Long Khánh District in the first general election and 78% in the second. ~ Wikipedia

# 6: The 1st Infantry Division

Known as The Big Red One, this division is the oldest continuous operating Army division. Based in Fort Riley, Kansas, these Soldiers fought long and hard in the jungles of Vietnam. Throughout this war, the 1st had 20 taken as prisoner, over 16,000 wounded, and over 6,000 Soldiers killed.

During the enemy Tet Offensive of 1968, the 1st Infantry Division secured the Tan Son Nhut Airbase the primary hub for air operations within all of Vietnam.  They returned to their home at Fort Riley, Kansas in 1970. ~ Sons of Liberty Museum

# 5: The 1st Brigade-5th Infantry Division

These Soldiers were reactivated after the TET Offensive to fill the shoes of a Marine division who was brought home. The Red Devils helped many South Vietnamese when floods overran the Quang Tri Province. They also helped get North Vietnamese away from the Laotian border. This division called Fort Carson, Colorado home.

The 5th Division’s 1st Brigade was alerted for deployment to Vietnam on 25 March 1968. At peak strength the brigade had over 6,000 personnel assigned and was one of the most potent fighting forces in the Republic of Vietnam. In June, the Red Devils received stand down orders with Stateside redeployment to commence on 1 July 1971. ~ Global Security

# 4: The 173rd Airborne Brigade

The Sky Soldiers as they were called, were predicted to completely win the Vietnam War. They certainly tried too. The 173rd is greatly known for their fierce fighting in the battle of Dak To. It was a very costly battle, and the 173rd lost many Soldiers, but they created a fear in Viet Cong forces. The headquarters of the 173rd is in Vicenza, Italy.

The lead element of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (“Sky Soldiers”), stationed in Okinawa, departs for South Vietnam. It was the first U.S. Army ground combat unit committed to the war. Combat elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade included the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Battalions, 503rd Infantry; the 3rd Battalion, 319th Airborne Artillery; Company D, 16th Armor; Troop E, 17th Cavalry; and the 335th Aviation company. ~

number of soldiers that died in the vietnam war

# 3: The 101st Airborne Division

The Screaming Eagles are based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The Soldiers of the 101st were involved in 15 major campaigns in the 7-years they spent in Vietnam. The ones that are highly remembered are the Battle of Hamburger Hill and Firebase Ripcord. The great Buffalo Bill lineman, Bob Kalsu was a member of the 101st and was killed in Vietnam.

In the Republic of Vietnam, the 101st Airborne Division fought in 45 operations, spanning nearly seven years. Throughout South Vietnam, the division demonstrated its strength and spirit as a fighting unit, but the 101st also discovered some individual heroes. Seventeen Screaming Eagles earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for actions in combat. ~ Screaming Eagle

# 2: The 25th Infantry Division

It all started for the 25th in 1963 when the division sent 100 helicopter door gunners to Vietnam. From there, many more were sent. They were known as Tropic Lightning and they were both thunder and lightning in Vietnam. Just consider the fact that 22 Medals of Honor were awarded to 25th Infantry Soldiers.

In December 1965 Tropic Lightning answered another call to fight against communism and deployed to fight in the Vietnam War. In a massive airlift, the 3d “Bronco” Brigade deployed to the central highlands at Pleiku; while the Division headquarters, along with the 1st “Lancer” and 2d “Warrior” Brigades, were transported by sea. By April 1966, all division units were in country with the headquarters established in Cu Chi district, 20 miles northwest of Saigon.

The Vietnam War was unlike previous conflicts; the enemy fought from the shadows and hid among the population. During its five years in South Vietnam, the 25th Infantry Division engaged in operations to destroy their elusive enemy, to include fighting during the Tet Offensive of 1968, and offensives against enemy sanctuaries in Cambodia during 1970. By April 1971 all Division units had returned to Hawaii after a seven year fight in Southeast Asia. ~

# 1: The 23rd Infantry Division

This was the largest division in Vietnam. Nicknamed Americal, if you speak to any Vietnam Veteran, there is a very good chance they were a member of this division. This division was one of the first to arrive in Vietnam, and they had the last unit withdrawn from Vietnam. The amount of top awards earned by Soldiers of the 23rd are numerous for their heroic actions in Vietnam.

The Americal Division (23rd Infantry Division) was formed from elements of Task Force Oregon in Chu Lai, Southern First Corps, Republic of South Vietnam on 26 September 1967. The division, although designated as the 23rd Infantry Division, was most often referred to as the Americal Division in keeping with its jungle fighting lineage from World War II.

Among its many units were three independent light infantry brigades: The 11th Light Infantry Brigade “Jungle Warriors” from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii served primarily in the Duc Pho area; the 196th Light Infantry Brigade “Chargers” from Ft. Devens, Massachusetts served primarily in the Tam Ky area; and the 198th Light Infantry Brigade “Brave and Bold” from Ft. Hood, Texas served primarily in the Chu Lai area.

The division became the largest infantry division in the Vietnam War and its heavily contested area of operations in Quang Ngai and Quang Tin Provinces included more territory than any other division in Vietnam. ~ Americal Foundation

Final Words

In review, these are the top units in the Vietnam War, as I see it.

I had several family members who spent time in the jungles of Vietnam. I give a huge thumbs up to my Uncle Kenny who managed to come home alive, but in distress mentally and emotionally.

Maybe we didn’t need to go to Vietnam, but we did. Many brave Soldiers stood for us and risked their lives and limbs. May God bless all these Soldiers, and if you are a Vietnam Veteran, I must give you a hearty thank you from the bottom of my heart.

For those of you that feel the need to comment, please do so below. Tell us what you think are the top units in the Vietnam War. I look forward to hearing from you.

Here are a few books I recommend if you want to learn more about the Vietnam War. 

  1. When I Turned 19: A Vietnam Memoir
  2. America’s Longest War
  3. The Vietnam War: An Intimate History
chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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14 thoughts on “Top 10 Units in the Vietnam War”

  1. James (Jim) Bridges

    I was in Vietnam 1966 I was one of the first replacements for Charlie Company Second of Seventh First Cav. Division. Charlie Company went into the Irang Valley battle with 109 men and came out with only 9. I was assigned to the third platoon and I found it very strange that there wasn’t even enough men to make a full squad. It was meany years after the war before I discovered a reason behind Charlie Company severe understrength position. Third platoon was often attached to the first platoon because of this. I could’ve been issued three Purple Heart but I turn down two of them and did not report the third. Does that make me brave? Hell no it makes me stupid.
    I was an 18 year old 11 bravo jump qualified GRUNT, that maned an M-16 bulled louncher. The Irang Valley battle wasn’t the only bloody battle that the Second of the Seventh got into.
    Working on my autobiography at this time with the larger section being about my one year and three day paid vacation in 1966 Vietnam during the war.

    1. To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with this term “dustoff” until I read your comment. Here is what I found online:

      Dustoff in Vietnam was a crew of four dedicated (and most people would likely say, “certifiably insane”) men that flew unarmed helicopters to the front line and beyond. to rescue wounded soldiers.

      Based on that definition, I would put that near the top of my list. Those medics, pilots, and crew were very brave to do those missions.

  2. I thank all my brothers that served in Vietnam. As a member of the 11th Infantry Brigade of the Americal (23rd) Division I am proud to have servrd It was sad how our country treated us when we got back. Even now 48 years later though I suffer from different agent orange cancers and am on 100% disability I don’t regret serving. God bless all my Vietnam brothers

    1. Arthur Frederick alias TT Bear

      I served with 11th brigade 3/1infrantry Bravo company 1st platoon 68-69 welcome home to all the brothers we served well thank you for your service and God we made it out and thank all who gave all we lost a lot of good guys.

  3. Great write up, Greg. Of all the units on this list, I still the one that really sticks out to me is the 1st Cavalry Division, especially from the movie “We Were Soldiers.”

    All of these units had an important role. My Uncle Pete recently passed away and he was a disabled veteran. He lost both legs when he stepped on his mind. He never talked much about the war, but he sure was proud of his service.

    1. Thank you Chuck. It was both interesting and heartbreaking performing the research for this article. I give a huge thanks to all the soldiers who fought in Vietnam. Many came home unwelcome, and that saddens me greatly.

    2. What about MACV SOG??? I know that we were not a unit persay but I can tell you their wasn’t anything we couldn’t accomplish.I don’t know how “BAD” we were,but “BAD” never fucked with us!!! How about the 14 recon teams that vanished never to be heard or seen from heart still goes out to their families still to this day.No closure or remains still to this day 1/3/2022.I’m 100 percent nuts,I mean disabled VA SERVICE CONNECTED.I am truly grateful to be alive and thankfull for everything that god has done for me.

      PS: and yes I would do it again!!!!!!!

    3. William O'Keeffe

      Sgt. William O’Keeffe
      C 3/1 11th LIB Americal
      Quang Ngai Valley, RVN

      The best years of my life and the worst. I watched boys grow to men and fight for each other in a manner that should have made our country proud. The way we were treated was a shame on them, but not on us. We knew we had done our very best and had no reason to be ashamed.

      I loved all my brothers and mourned too often the young men who never survived to see their family, wives or children again.
      I can still see the faces of Charlie Company when we were young, but doubt we could reconize one another now.

      I keep my pledge to remember those I served with. They were the very best , God Bless Them !

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