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KEVIN LYLES
VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

SP4 1st INFANTRY DIVISION

The 1st Infantry Division landed in Vietnam during the summer of 1965. Deployed from Fort Riley, Kansas, it arrived at Bien Hoa on the banks of the Dong Nai river outside Saigon. The 1st Infantry Division was one of the rapidly escalating regular Army combat formations despatched to Vietnam. Collectively known as the 'Big Red One' after its distinctive shoulder insignia, the Division would prove to be one of the Army's hardest fighting outfits. The 1st Battalion of the 2nd Infantry was one of the Army's oldest and proudest units. Established in 1808, it fought in the War of 1812, the Mexican and Civil Wars as well as World War 2. The soldiers of the 2nd Infantry represented the vanguard of a superbly trained and equipped battle-ready army of soldiers anxious to earn their Combat Infantryman's Badges.

This Specialist, Fourth Class - newly arrived, tired and bewildered, at Bien Hoa - typifies the appearance of the many thousands of combat troops who would land in Vietnam over the coming months. His uniform and personal equipment are worn as per regulation, and would remain unchanged until the adoption of the tropical combat uniform. OG107 utilities are worn over a white undershirt, with shirtsleeves neatly rolled and trousers bloused into black combat boots. The black web trouser belt with brass roller buckle was worn with all Army work and field uniforms. Full-colour insignia are worn, including the shoulder sleeve insignia of the 1st Infantry Division adopted in the last days of World War 1.

Headgear is the hated 'baseball' utility cap, here one of the many better-quality examples which were widely available through Stateside Post Exchanges. It was a common practice, especially during large scale deployments, to affix the unit's enamelled 'Distinctive Insignia' or crest to the front of the cap - here that of the 2nd Infantry.

Personal equipment is the Army's M1956 Individual Load Carrying Equipment (LCE) introduced in 1957 with the M14 rifle that this man carries. Also suited to the new M16 rifle, the M1956 gear would be standard throughout the war. Made from olive green cotton-canvas with blackened alloy fittings, the M1956 system introduced a number of new concepts to personal equipment. First was the 'vertical slide-keeper' method of attaching items to the belt, which eliminated the bounce effect of the old double hook system by securing items against the belt rather than hanging them from it. Secondly, the equipment included an integral Combat Field Pack which, in theory, eliminated the need for a separate rucksack. In practice it became apparent that the field pack was wholly inadequate for operations of any length. The equipment is illustrated here in textbook configuration for an infantry soldier.

The Individual Equipment Belt and items thereon are supported by the Belt Suspenders or 'H-harness', which was lightly padded to spread the weight across the shoulders. Two Universal Small Arms Ammunition Cases are worn on the front of the belt and additionally secured to a D-ring on the suspenders. These universal pouches were designed for the M14's 20-round magazine, but could also accomodate M16 magazines and a variety of other ordnance, from shotgun shells to grenades. The Combat Field Pack, universally known as the 'butt pack', is centred on the rear of the belt and supported by the suspenders. At this stage the old style aluminium canteens were still on issue and were carried in pile-lined M1956 Canteen Covers fitted with slide-keeper attachments. The M1951 Combination Tool or 'entrenching tool' is worn in its M1956 carrier, which featured a leather attachment tab and web strap to secure the M6 bayonet in its M8A1 scabbard. The First Aid/Compass Case could be worn on the belt, attached to a universal pouch or to the suspenders, as here.

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