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KEVIN LYLES
VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

PARATROOPER, 173RD AIRBORNE BRIGADE

The 173rd Airborne Brigade was the first Army ground combat unit deployed to Vietnam. The Brigade's three Battalions arrived in May 1965, initially on a temporary basis until the arrival of the 101st Airborne Division, though the proposed take-over never occured. Known to its paratroopers as 'The Herd', the 173rd would become the Army's longest serving formation in the war. In 1967 the Brigade was to make the only large scale combat jump of the war during Operation 'Junction City'.

The operation, one of the largest of the entire war, was directed against the VC bastion known as War Zone C close to the Cambodian border. On 22 February the 173rd jumped its 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, onto Katum, signalling the start of the operation. After several weeks of hard fighting in the heavy jungle of War Zone C the 'Sky-Troopers' of the 173rd were pulled out, though 'Junction City' would continue until mid-May. 'Junction City' would stand as a hallmark for large-scale US operations, and although War Zone C was not entirely neutralized at least three VC regiments were temporarily destroyed.

The helmet is fitted with an Ml-C parachutist's liner for airborne personnel. The web chin-cup would be fastened during the jump and loosened, as here, or discarded once on the ground.

The tropical combat uniform is shown here in its third version. Fabric and basic design were the same although, starting with the second pattern, all pocket buttons were now covered to prevent snagging on foliage - a problem with the exposed buttons of the first uniforms. In this third variation the shoulder straps, gas flap and side tightening tabs were omitted from the coat. The trousers lost the tie-down tapes in the thigh pockets, and the buttoned tightening tab at the waist was replaced by a metal buckle. Camouflage or 'subdued' insignia were authorized for wear on all work and field uniforms in Vietnam beginning 9 June 1966. The changeover would take some time, and a mixture of full-colour and subdued insignia, as here, was common during this period. Locally-produced subdued insignia were widely available and worn alongside issue types. This Private's chevrons are typical of Vietnamese-made insignia, being black velvet on green twill.

The issue Olive Green Towel was often worn around the neck as shown, so that it could be used to wipe the face free of sweat as well as protecting the neck and shoulders from heavy equipment.

The Lightweight Rucksack was standardized in November 1965 and was issued in Vietnam in the following year to replace the unsatisfactory field pack or 'buttpack'. The water resistant nylon bag and its tubular aluminium frame weighed just three pounds. Featuring one large compartment and three external pockets, the lightweight rucksack offered over twice the carrying capacity of the butt pack. The rucksack was issued as here, fixed to the bottom of the frame, though it could be field modified to hang from the top. Additional items could be attached to the various straps of the frame - here two one-quart and a first pattern two-quart canteen in its nylon carrier.

Having no need for ammunition pouches, this machine gunner has dispensed with any web gear except for an M17 Chemical-Biological Field Mask in its carrier, correctly worn strapped to the left hip. Anti-riot agents were commonly used to clear VC/NVA tunnels and bunker complexes and US troops employed masks as routine protection.

The 7.62mm ammunition for his M60 General Purpose Machine Gun is draped around the torso in belts of disintegrating link. Though exposing the rounds to dirt and corrosion, this was the most common way to carry machine gun ammunition. A 100-round belt is loaded into the feed tray and draped over the left forearm ready for use.

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