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 amphibious maneuvers.

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 Medical Battalion.

In November 1951, the Battalion, together with the division, returned to Japan for the defense of the strategically located northern island of Hokkaido.

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 burning aircraft.

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 missions.

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 Valley.

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 Brigade.

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.

Campaign Streamers

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 Korea.
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 Company
Streamer, Meritorious Unit Commendation, embroidered KOREA, 1st Clearing Company

unit was awarded the following decoration

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, 1968-69, 1970-71
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.

15th Med Bn shield

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 1987.

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