The accession of John F. Kennedy to the Office of
the President of the United States, in 1960, brought
about profound changes that affected Army Aviation
– particularly as far as using the helicopter. The
military and political doctrine of "massive
retaliation," espoused during the 1950s, no
longer was an option.
This doctrine asserted that, if the then existent
Soviet Union attacked the United States, and/or its
allies, the United States would retaliate with a
massive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union.
Supposedly, the massive retaliation was to have been
a nuclear quid pro quo.
Thus, the possibility of a nuclear strike was
enough to serve as a deterrent. Actually, what
happened was that the two superpowers realized the
use of strategic nuclear weapons would serve no
purpose other than the mutual annihilation. So
massive retaliation, if not extinct, was at best
Another reason for the diminishing influence of
massive retaliation was the nascence of
"brushfire wars." These were small wars
fought with conventional weapons in Third World or
nonaligned regions and involved using guerrilla
and/or paramilitary forces. Such a war was already
taking place in Southeast Asia at the time of John
F. Kennedy’s inauguration. As we know, the region
was Indo-China and was compromised of two countries
North and South Vietnam. The former was aligned with
the Soviet Union; the later with the United States.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the United
States and the Soviet Union were caught up in a
mutual frenzy of supplying arms, advisers, and
equipment to support their respective allies in
Indo-China. In 1961 the U.S. Army sent its first
helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft to support South
Vietnam. By 1963, the United States had 21,000
military advisers (the equivalent of a reinforced
division) in South Vietnam.
As an aside, one of the most significant
fixed-wing aircraft in the Army’s inventory in
South Vietnam was the CV-2 Caribou, a twin-engine,
medium transport. It served the Army well and had a
short field landing and takeoff capability;
therefore, it was suitable for incountry use.
However, in April 1966, the Caribou was relinquished
to the USAF as part of a memorandum of agreement
(MOA) which, in turn, no longer claimed and
suzerainty over tactical helicopters in South
The military and political activity taking place
in South Vietnam in 1960-1962 time frame showed the
need for the Army to examine its helicopter
requirements and tactics – particularly as far as
Lieutenant General Gordon B. Rogers, U.S. Army,
in 1960 chaired a Board with the primary mission of
upgrading Army Aviation to meet any tactical
contingencies like brushfire wars or what it would
later be referred to as low – or mid-intensity
Akin to the upgrading was the Board’s
recommendation that the soon to be ubiquitous UH-1
Huey helicopter become the primary helicopter in the
Army’s active aircraft inventory. The Rogers Board
also recommended procurement of the CH-47 Chinook
cargo helicopter. Both of these aircraft acquitted
themselves well in the ensuing Vietnam War.
In 1962, the Secretary of Defense, Robert
McNamara, decided to conduct a study on the tactical
mobility of the Army ground forces, particularly
airmobility – the use of helicopters to transport
troops to a given area and as a means of CAS.
Mr. McNamara later instructed General Hamilton H.
Howze, the Army’s first Director of Aviation, to
establish and chair a board to implement this study.
The Howze Board, as it was known, convened at Fort
Bragg, No. Car., in 1962.
The Board members performed numerous tests and
studies, and posited the thesis that Army aircraft,
particularly helicopters, could provide airmobile
assets needed to enhance the combat effectiveness of
ground forces. The Board also recommended fielding a
cavalry combat brigade to fight brushfire wars.
The DOD, however, deferred the action on this
recommendation. But DOD decided to create and test
an air assault division replete with an organic
The 11th Air Assault Division was
established at Fort Benning, Ga., to test all facets
of airmobility. The Division passed is airmobility
tests by the end of 1964. On 1 July 1965, it assumed
operational status as a tactical division and was
renamed the 1st Cavalry Division
(Airmobile). "The 1st Cav," as
it became known, had its own organic aircraft; it
could provide its own tactical and logistical
support. The Division’s activation was none too
Because of the military and political
disturbances in South Vietnam in the spring of 1965,
President Lyndon B. Johnson decided to deploy
tactical units to South Vietnam. In July 1965 the 1st
Cavalry Division received its orders for deployment.
It deployed in August 1965, arrived in South Vietnam
in September 1965, and became the Army’s first
division-size unit to engage the enemy.
The Division spent more than 2,000 days in South
Vietnam – thus making it the longest serving Army
unit in country during the war. It received numerous
citations and awards for its combat activity. The
Marines, however, were the first to be sent to South
Vietnam with the deployment of the Third Marine
Division in April 1965.