History and Traditions
Of the 15th Medical Battalion
The 15th Medical Battalion, as it is known today, was organized. at Fort
Bliss, Texas, on 1 June 1926, as part of the 1st Cavalry Division, in
accordance with General Orders Number 5, War Department, 23 March 1925. It
was designated as the 1st Medical Squadron. The distinctive insignia, coat
of arms and motto "Standing By", were adopted in July 1929.
One of its first missions other than non-training and maneuvers was during
the Escobar Revolution in Mexico during October, 1929. The 1st Medical Squadron
supported troops of the 1st Cavalry Division that were stationed along the
Mexican border as far west as Arizona.
During the year 1933, many members of the medical squadron were on duty with
the Civilian Conservation Corps, performing physical examinations and furnishing
medical aid and ambulance service to the various camps.
During the intervening years until the beginning of World War II, the 1st
Medical Squadron participated in all 1st Cavalry Division maneuvers. The
training was of the specialized type found in mounted medical units involving
not only its basic knowledge required of the combat medical soldier, but also
the duties and skills of the expert horseman and cavalrymen. This training
enhanced, augmented and made practical the learning acquired through reading,
study, troop training, and troop schools by disclosing deficiencies,
limitations, and values of men and equipment.
With the advent of Wools War II, the unit was assigned the additional
duty of training newly organized hospital units, many of which subsequently
served overseas in combat. In the latter part of 1942, the Cavalry Division
gave up its horses and began training as an infantry type division. This
reorganization also effected changes in the medical squadron with an ensuing
period of intensive unit training for future infantry combat operations. On
26 June 1943, the unit left the continental United States from San
Francisco, California, for an overseas tour destined to include at least two
wars, five years of occupation duty in Japan and ten years foreign service.
On 11 July 1943, the unit landed at Camp Strathpine, Australia, and spent
the remainder of the year undergoing intensive combat training including
The 1st Medical Squadron moved right along with the 1zt Cavalry Division
on its campaigns through the southwest Pacific to Japan. The names of New
Guinea, Los Negras, Bismarck Archipelago, Luzon, Leyte, and Antipoli as well
the path of war and sacrifice taken by the division and medical squadron and
are indelibly written in the history of this medical unit.
The 15th was originally constituted as the 1st Medical Squadron on 23
March 1925 and assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division. It was activated on 1
June 1926 at Fort Bliss, TX and redesignated on 25 March 1949 as the 15th
In November 1951, the Battalion, together with the division, returned to
Japan for the defense of the strategically located northern island of
In the fall of 1957, the division was reassigned to Korea replacing the
24th Infantry Division on the DMZ. The Battalion, with the vital mission of
maintaining the general health and welfare of the members of the 1st Cavalry
Division, stands among the best of many battle-scarred and time-honored
units of the US Army Medical Service.
The 1st Cavalry Division became the first Airmobile Division in the
United States Army because of exercises conducted beginning in 1963 to test
the concepts recommended by the Army Tactical Mobility (Howze) Board in
August 1962. The 11th Air Assault Division (Test), which was the name given
to the then inactive, 11th Airborne Division, was chosen to test the air
mobility concept. The new Division was activated in the Fort Benning, GA
area on 15 February 1963. The Division gained substantial air assets through
the attached 10th Air Transport Brigade (Test) and spent the next two and
one-half years testing air mobility concepts.
After individual and small
unit training, there were two Division-controlled exercises. Eagle Strike
and Eagle Claw, and a field test, Air Assault I, held in the area around
Fort Stewart, GA, from 23 September to 15 October 1963. In late 1963 and
early 1964 were additional problems, Hawk Assault I and II and Hawk Star I.
On 2 July 1964, a brigade-size unit from the 2nd Infantry Division as
attached to the 11th Air Assault. Between summer and 15 November 1964,
extensive tests under the name Air Assault II were held in the Carolinas.
One element of the Division's Support Command was the 11th Medical
Battalion. It traced its origin to the 221st Airborne Medical Company of the
WWII 11th Airborne Division. The 221st was reorganized and redesignated as
the 11th Medical Battalion in July 1949. In keeping with the air mobility
concepts of the Division, the 11th Medical Battalion included UH-1Bs
helicopter ambulances. These aviation assets and their crews were formed
into an Air Ambulance Platoon. The mission of the platoon was not only air
evacuation but crash rescue and related firefighting. The Platoon was
divided into an eight-ship evacuation section and a four-ship crash rescue
section. The crash rescue section trained extensively in firefighting, using
the Kaman fire suppression kit, known as the "Sputnik" for its shape. The
Sputnik was to be moved to crash sites by sling load under the Hueys. Field
tests in late 1964 demonstrated that the fire suppression kit was virtually
useless as it was too heavy for the UH-1Bs to move, and the system required
substantial upkeep. Nonetheless, the Platoon deployed to Vietnam with the
fire suppression kits.
On 1 July 1965, the colors of the 11th Air Assault Division were retired.
The 2nd Infantry Division colors were transferred to Korea, where the 2nd
replaced the 1st Cavalry Division in place. The colors of the 1st Cavalry
Division were flown to Fort Benning, and the 11th Air Assault Division
became the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). Simultaneously, the 11th
Medical Battalion became the 15th Medical Battalion.
The Division prepared for deployment to Vietnam, which commenced on 26
July 1965. The Division aircraft departed by ship from Mayport Naval
Station, FL, and Mobile, AL. The 15th Medical Battalion departed Fort
Benning, GA, on 15 August. Most of the Air Ambulance Platoon's aircraft and
personnel were onboard the USNS Card. Officers departed by ship from
Savannah, GA and enlisted personnel departed by ship from San Francisco Bay.
The Platoon's aircraft arrived at Qui Nhon harbor in Vietnam on 12 September
1965, where the first two were flown to An Khe on that date. The first
medical evacuation mission was flown the next day. The main body and the
remainder of the aircraft arrived a couple of weeks later on 25 September.
The Air Ambulance Platoon consisted of twelve UH-1D Bell helicopters,
twenty-six pilots, and supporting enlisted soldiers. The Platoon was organic
to the 15th Medical Battalion. The Sputnik fire suppression systems and the
mission of firefighting were transferred to Division CH-47 cargo
helicopters. This change of mission meant all twelve UH-1Ds were available
for air evacuation missions. The Sputniks were sited at various refueling
sites but in the first two years were never used to extricate anyone from a
The Division advance party arrived in Vietnam on 25 August and was
escorted to its new home at An Khe by a battalion of the 1st Brigade, 101st
Airborne Division. An Khe was an old French airstrip approximately 35 miles
inland from Qui Nhon. BG John S. Wright, Jr. Assistant Division Commander,
did not want to strip the vegetation away around the airfield, fearing huge
dust clouds or mud, depending on the season. He explained to his senior
staff that the final product, a rectangle approximately 2 km by 3 km, would
have beautiful green grass, "like a golf course." Leading by example, he led
the assembled officers and enlisted men into the scrub armed with machetes
where they attacked the grass and bushes. The name stuck, and Camp Radcliff,
at An Khe, was thereafter known as the Golf Course.
The Air Ambulance Platoon was located at the Golf Course with the HHC of
the 15th Medical Battalion. The Platoon pilots adopted the call sign,
"Mercy," from their mission of "Angels of Mercy." But within two years, the
call sign was changed to "Medevac." At this time, the Platoon had no rescue
hoist capability because the UH-1Ds, fully loaded with crew and armament,
had no excess lift capability. Since the Medevac didn't have rescue hoist
capability, hoist missions were performed by the Division's CH-47s. Rescue
hoist missions didn't occur until UH-1H aircraft arrived in 1967 since they
had sufficient lift capacity. After 1967 the Platoon performed many hoist
The Platoon's aircraft were unarmed during the first three months in
Vietnam. After that, unlike the separate helicopter ambulance detachments
and companies, they were armed with two .30 caliber machine guns on
improvised mounts. By 1966 Medevacs were armed with two M-60 machine guns
free-fired on bungee cords, and later, the guns were hard mounted. The crews
included a gunner, usually an infantry soldier (11B MOS), a pilot, copilot,
medic, and crew chief. The gunner and the crew chief operated the machine
guns. Usually, each crewmember had one or two additional individual weapons.
Division gunship support was used when available when pick-up sites were
considered insecure. But most crews tried to get in as quickly as possible
to avoid enemy ground fire. After 1968 it became standard Division policy to
have all Medevac missions accompanied by gunship escorts.
During the first two years in Vietnam, it was typical to have two to four
aircraft supporting brigade-sized operations. Crews would move out with a
brigade and be sited at the brigade command post or a medical company
clearing station. One Platoon officer was designated Officer-in-Charge of
the Medevac element for each of the three brigades. This arrangement
increased the efficiency of medical support and increased rapport with the
supported infantry units.
The Platoon experienced several fatalities among its crews during the
first year in Vietnam. CPT Charles F. Kane, Jr., an aircraft commander, was
killed on 12 October 1965 when he was struck in the head by enemy automatic
weapons fire while on final approach to a patient pick-up site 19 miles
northeast of An Khe. Although the site was reported as insecure, he
attempted the approach since there were casualties on the ground in serious
need of evacuation. He died shortly after in the 8th Evacuation Hospital.
WO1 George W. Rice was killed on 18 December 1965 when hit in the head by
enemy fire during a pick-up. PFC Rudolph Jacymack was killed in a non-combat
related crash on 4 May 1966. CPT Donald C. Woodruff, aircraft commander, 1LT
Dennis B. Easley, copilot, SP5 Charles S. Ridout, medic, SP4 Clifford S.
Bretcher, gunner, and PFC Douglas M. Kyser, crew chief, were killed on 20
July 1966 when their aircraft crashed and burned while encountering
inclement weather on a night mission.
By July 1967, the Platoon was organized into sections making sure each
section had at least one rescue hoist (there were eight in the Platoon by
then), which was always moved to the first up aircraft. Each air ambulance
section and its aircraft supported a field site. Field sites were located at
Camp English on the Bong Son Plain and LZ Two Bits about five miles south of
English. During this time, the red crosses painted on the aircraft were in a
subdued shade of red, so there was little to distinguish the Medevac
aircraft from other helicopters. The gunners were most useful, providing
another set of "eyes" during hoist missions and missions where it was
critical to keep the helicopter tail rotor clear of obstacles. Most patients
were flown to the 15th Medical Battalion at Camp Radcliff, and backhauled
from there to other hospitals, using aircraft from the 498th Medical Company
at Lane AAF near Qui Nhon. When aircraft from the 498th were unavailable,
patients were flown directly to hospitals by the Air Ambulance Platoon.
Patients were evacuated to the 2nd Surgical Hospital at Camp Radcliff until
May 1967. After that, they were flown to the 18th Surgical Hospital and the
71st Evacuation Hospital at Pleiku at Chu Lai, and the 85th and 67th
Evacuation Hospitals at Qui Nhon. In 1967 the Air Ambulance Platoon
evacuated 10,070 patients.
In January 1968, the Division, along with elements of the Air Ambulance
Platoon, moved to Phu Bai AAF. Most of the patients were delivered to the
Marine, medical company located next to the runway. After spending only one
night at the airfield, the Division moved to a field site name, "Tombstone."
The first night at Tombstone, the units were mortared. Soon the Division
Headquarters, the Support Command and the 15th Medical Battalion and its Air
Ambulance Platoon moved to Camp Evans, a former Marine camp. The maintenance
section of the Air Ambulance Platoon was set up at Red Beach at Da Nang.
Headquarters and one section air ambulances were supporting Company C, 15th
Medical Battalion at Camp Evans. One section of aircraft supported Company
A, 15th Medical Battalion at LZ Jane, and one section supported Company B,
15th Medical Battalion at LZ Nancy. The early months of 1968 were a busy
time for the 15th Medical Battalion. In February 1968, the Battalion
provided support to the Battle of Hue during the Tet offensive. In April
1968, the 15th Medical Battalion supported Operation Pegasus to relieve the
siege of Khe Sanh and Operation Delaware, attempting to clear the A Shau
In October 1968, the Division moved from Camp Evans and the northern
provinces to the northern III Corps with its new headquarters at Camp Gorvad
at Phuoc Vinh. The 15th Medical Battalion and the Air Ambulance Platoon were
also headquartered there and supported the Division in Phouc Long, Benh
Long, Tay Ninh, and Binh Dong Provinces.
Support for the three brigades of the Division came from two aircraft
sited with each medical company. Company A was principally at Tay Ninh,
Company B at Lai Khe, and Company C at Quan Loi. Patients were transported
to the 2nd Surgical Hospital at Lai Khe, the 45th Surgical Hospital at Tay
Ninh, the 12th Evacuation Hospital at Cu Chi, the 24th and 93rd Evacuation
Hospitals at Long Binh, and the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon. In mid to late
1969, the 15th Medical Battalion established special medical reaction teams
call Emergency Medical Teams (EMTs). Each team consisted of officers,
medics, Medevac aircraft and crews, supplies and equipment. These teams
could establish a complete medical triage and treatment facility with short
notice. During 1969 teams were deployed to LZ Cadwell, Duc Phon Special
Forces Camp, and Bo Duc.
During the invasion of Cambodia in May and June 1970, Medevac aircraft
were positioned to support the operation. One aircraft was positioned with
the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at Quan Loi, and one was at Katum with an
EMT supporting the 3rd Brigade and ARVN forces. Additionally, one helicopter
was at Bu Dop (an EMT was added on 6 May), one at FSB David, two with
Company B at FSB Buttons, and one at Tay Ninh. One aircraft was at Phouc
Vinh, and three aircraft were at Quan Loi supporting Company C. During the
invasion, enemy fire destroyed four aircraft and damaged fourteen. There
were 1320 patients evacuated from Cambodia during the operation in addition
to patients evacuated in South Vietnam. A substantial number of hoist
missions were flown. In May, 182 hoist missions were reported eclipsing the
previous high month of 104 hoist missions.
Company A of the 15th Medical Battalion operated from Tay Ninh through
June 1970 and then Bien Hoa from July through December. Company B operated
from FSB Buttons for the entire year, and Company C operated from Quan Loi
until September 1970 and then FSB Mace from September through December 1970.
The Air Ambulance Platoon moved to Bien Hoa, and the 15th Medical
Battalion stood down on 15 April 1971. The Division stood down on 29 April
1971, leaving a task force known as the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division
(Separate), which operated in the same area of operations as the entire
Division had. The headquarters for the 3rd Brigade and the 215th Support
Battalion, which contained a medical company, were at Bien Hoa. The Air
Ambulance Platoon was reduced to four aircraft and supported the separate
The Air Ambulance Platoon returned to the United States with the 1st
Cavalry Division (less 3rd Brigade) at Food Hood, TX. The four ships of the
Air Ambulance Platoon remained in Vietnam at Bien Hoa until the 3rd Brigade
stood down on 26 June 1972. The aircraft were painted white was started in
October 1971 as an effort to identify Medevac aircraft as non-combatants
with the hope that aircraft losses could be reduced. The Air Ambulance
Platoon was requested to remove the M-60 machine guns from its four
aircraft, which it did by 9 January 1972. The 15th Medical Battalion was
inactivated on 15 September 1985.
For its participation in Vietnam, the Battalion would earn
thirteen campaign streamers, a Presidential Unit Citation, two Valorous Unit
Commendations, and three Meritorious Unit Commendations.
New Guinea, Bismarck Archipelago (with arrowhead)
Leyte (with arrowhead) and Luzon campaigns of WWII
UN Defensive, UN
Offensive, CCF Intervention, First UN Counteroffensive, CCF Spring
Offensive, UN Summer-Fall Offensive, and Second Korean Winter campaigns in
In Vietnam for Defense, Counteroffensive, Counteroffensive, Phase
IV, Counteroffensive, Phase V, Counteroffensive, Phase VI, Tet 69
Counteroffensive, Summer-Fall 1969, Winter-Spring 1970, Sanctuary
Counteroffensive, Counteroffensive, Phase VII.
Streamer, Meritorious Unit Commendation, embroidered KOREA, 1st Ambulance
Streamer, Meritorious Unit Commendation, embroidered KOREA, 1st Clearing
unit was awarded the
Presidential Unit Citation for Pleiku Province, Valorous
Unit Award for Vietnam 1969 and Fish Hook,
Meritorious Unit Commendation
for Pacific Theater, Pacific Theater 1944 and 1944-1945, Vietnam 1967-68,
Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Korea
Presidential Unit Citation for Waegwanoo-Taegu,
Bravery Gold Medal
of Greece for Korea,
Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm
for Vietnam 1965-69, 1969-70, 1970-71
Republic of Vietnam Civic Action
Honor Medal, First Class for 1969-70.
Distinctive Unit Insignia
Symbolism - The colors of the shield, white and maroon, are the Army
Medical Department colors. The bluebonnet, the Texas State flower, indicates
the unit was organized in Texas.
Background - The distinctive unit insignia was originally approved for
the 1st Medical Squadron on 11 July 1928. It was redesignated for the 15th
Medical Battalion on 29 December 1950. It was redesignated for the 15th
Support Battalion with the description and symbolism revised on 22 April