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 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

# 9: 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

# 8: 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

# 7: 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

# 6: 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

# 5: 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. ~ History.com

number of soldiers that died in the vietnam war

# 4: 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

# 3: 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. ~ Home.Army.mil

# 2: 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

# 1: First Cavalry Division (First Team)

Due to the hundreds of concerned emails and comments I have received from website visitors over the past two years, I have updated this list and ranked the 1st Cavalry Division as the # 1 unit in the Vietnam War. The First Cav Division has a strong, proud tradition. Their service in the Vietnam War was phenomenal.

The 1st Cavalry Division, popularly known as the “First Team,” was the only American division to fight in all four corps tactical zones. The bulk of the division began departing Vietnam in late April 1970, but the 3rd Brigade remained until June 1972. The 1st Cavalry Division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation and “First Team” soldiers won 25 Medals of Honor, 120 Distinguished Service Crosses, 2,766 Silver Stars, 2,697 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 8,408 Bronze Stars for Valor. ~ USAStruck.com

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
Sincerely,
chuck holmes







Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)
Publisher, Part-Time-Commander.com
Email: mrchuckholmes@gmail.com

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

  1. I had the privilege of commanding “A” Company of the 229th Ave. Bn. 1st Can. Div. All my aviators were just out of flight school but with different dates of rotation which means they flew with experienced pilots before becoming aircraft commanders. These young men made me proud. The dangers they endured but never once complained. Well, maybe once they did but our goal was to give the best support to our Infantry units as possible.
    I often told them they all had good Mommas as they always did what they were asked to do and more. We worked daily with the infantry, our heroes.

    1. That’s awesome, Gene. It’s amazing how many young men and women stepped up to the plate as officers and NCOs during the Vietnam War to get the mission done. It sounds like you had some great people serving with you. Thanks for your service.

  2. Interesting that only one Marine Corps unit was represented herein and that was in a comment. Most places in Viet Nam where the US Army operated had a Marine Corps presence first. Marine Corps units were moved elsewhere when relieved by Army units.

    1. The Marines did a great job. What Marine units do you think should be added to this list? I’ll go and do some additional research on them and consider updating my list.

  3. Randy L Brooks

    No mention of the 9th Infantry division. Mekong delta? Served at Bear Cat and Dong Tam. 1968- 1968. Great Division.

    1. Great division. This is definitely a subjective list. Ask 100 people and you would probably have 100 different rankings and units. The 9th ID definitely played an important role though. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Anne Smith Biscoe

    My husband – SSGT Perry M. Smith was in the 5th SF in 67-68 and again in 70-71
    They called him Smitty
    He was only 24 years old and was already a SSGT-E-6
    He was with HQ& HQ out of Nah Trang
    He passed in January 71
    Breaks my heart- he apparently took his own life
    He was the radio operator of a 5 man team

  5. I honor all my Herd Bros and all legs Bros. Nam is over but the Vets live it every day. We made it home. We fought hard. Proud of my brothers. 1/503 173rd ABN. 67-68

  6. Kenneth Fendley

    I arrived in Vietnam mid 71, after a year and a half commanding infantry units with first infantry division in Germany. I was assigned to the 196 light infantry brigade, and for the first few months commanded a rifle platoon patrolling the mountains around Da Nang. We would be inserted by helicopter, patrol for 2 to 3 weeks, come home clean up and wash rinse and repeat. Late in 1971, Lieutenant Colonel Clyde Tate, the battalion commander, told me that I was his new mortar platoon leader and I spent my last few months on LZ Maude commanding the four deuce platoon. I returned home at the end of March, 1972. I turned down a promotion to Captain in order to get an early release, wanting to get home to my wife and three-year-old daughter.

  7. I got there with the 1st Infantry shortly after the Tet Offensive. There wasn’t much to do for my year. We had won. The NVA was defeated. The politicians then lost it.

  8. I served with the fourth infantry division from October 68 to May 69. I am very proud to have served with the 4th ID, Company D, 318th Infantry, third Platoon. One of the very best units to have served in Viet Nam. Steadfast And Loyal and to all Vietnam vets, welcome home!

  9. No doubt every unit mentioned experienced major combat sometime while in Vietnam and deserve to be on the list. I am terribly disappointed and shocked that the 1st Air Cav Div was not mentioned. They won every major battle they were in and how can you not remember the major battle at ladrang, LZ X-ray and LZ Albany. At one time of all the helicopters in Vietnam the Cav had over half of them. Won numerous Presidential Unit Citations. Their AO was from South China Sea to Laos/Cambodian border. I was with the 1st Air Cav 1966-67. Damn proud to have served with them. The best of the best.

    1. Love and concur with your comment Ron. I served with 7th Cav from Jul 66 to Jul 67. Was wounded in an ambush Sep 1966, my first firefight, where we had two KIA’s the same day. Proud to have served with this fine bunch of fellow soldiers.
      Mike K.

  10. William Wasil Solomko

    The best thing that came out of Nam was me and the Cannabis I brought back with me. I went back a second tour so I could gather and bring some home with me. Easy too. No check points. No dogs sniffing. Walked in and out of airports with a sea bag full of weed . A lot of my fellow Stoner Soldiers had the same idea. They, or most of them came home with a pocket full of miracles. Now the whole world is setting up for legalization. Thank you Vietnam Veterans.

  11. Theodore R Little, Jr

    I appreciated the info on outfits that participated in the Vietnamese conflict and their various contributions. However, l want to offer a plug in for those of us – Embassy Marines in Saigon. And for over 57 years l have kept quiet. Yet, March 30 has been a constant companion for me. I still hear my driver saying he would wait outside for me. He is still waiting! The words of his wife and the look of his family are still as vivid today when they asked why l did not get killed.

    The Agent Orange effects are a constant reminder of the lasting effects of the Vietnamese Conflict. But in spite of it, l am blessed to now be approaching 84.

    I do wish someone would offer a sliver of remembering what those of us inside the Embassy experienced on March 30, 1965 at 11:30 A.M.

    Tedd Little
    USMC

  12. 🇦🇺🇺🇸
    Hi, I’m an Australian. Never served in the military, but I’m Vietnam-era age and so have always been moved by the stories of those who served so courageously on and over foreign soil at the bidding of politicians. I just read Mike Mullane’s ‘Dead Men Flying’. It’s a stand-out book. Taught me a lot about myself, while I was learning about Mike’s war, the demons he faced, and how he dealt with them. After coming across your site, I thought I’d at least bring it to your attention.
    Best regards.

    1. Such a waste of American lives and resources ,
      It was a poor mans war , rich kids had deferments, and excuses, I hold a grudge to this day, politicians should really be proud of themselves, heartless bastards 173rd 1768 !

      1. If the politicians would have kept their nose out of Vietnam we would have won hands down. I was with 5th Special Forces and spent 3 and half years in Vietnam. When we had a fire mission it took 3 days for approval, by that time the Vietcong were gone. Thanks to the stupid politicians.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

      1. Robert Stasiak

        Thanks for your service, I remember we had an alias named bear from California who carried a m60. I was also in the 11th infantry 3/1 Bravo company outside of Duc Pho 68,69.
        Welcome back.
        .

  15. 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 again.my 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!!!!!!!

      1. My father Sgt Jay Welch was LRRPS, his tour was 69-69, or 69-70. Can’t remember much w out looking at his 214, but was told he went on over 150 missions, including “those other countries” as told. Have always wanted to know more that he didn’t tell. He is now deceased due to AO Comps. Jan 2007. SF, you guys were known more by the enemy than your own team in the war knew about you. Thank you all so very much for being the silent heroes. You have my UPMOST RESPECT!

    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 !

    4. Bruce W Arnold

      Yes, it is a good list, but I wonder why the 1st Cav isn’t on it. They should definitely be in the top 5!

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