“Sky Soldiers,” Members
of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team,
By Stuart Morgan
Columbia, S.C. — Members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team — “Sky Soldiers” — gathered from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9, at Fatz Café on Forest Drive in Columbia to listen to a special presentation on their brigade’s role in the rescue of the Vietnamese 8th Airborne Battalion at the Battle of Dak To almost 47 years ago.
The battle (a series of major engagements) occurred Nov. 3-22, 1967, in Kon Tum Province within the Central Highlands of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. However, the action at Dak To — a series of People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) offensive initiatives — began during the first week of August. (See Wikipaedia)
“This was one of the best meetings we’ve ever had,” said James Dresser, a retired U.S. Army first sergeant who served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
The presentation was special, because the speaker, John M. Lenti, was among those rescued during the battle. As a young U.S. Army captain in 1967, he was responsible for advising the Vietnamese 8th Airborne Battalion that had been air-lifted into the U.S. Army Special Forces Camp at Dak Seang (20 kilometers north of Dak To) in early August that year.
Lenti described how the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team — under heavy ground fire from the enemy — supported his battalion with artillery, supplied his battalion with ammunition and subsequently rescued him along with his battalion as North Vietnamese (NVA) forces overran the camp during the first week in August 1967. He also described how during the night attacks, his battalion received fire support from U.S. Air Force Spooky gunships, C-47 transports mounting 20 mm mini guns. (See Wikipaedia's detailed description of the fighting that Capt. Lenti participated in at Dak Seang here.)
Capt. John M. Lenti (third from
He recounted the experience like it happened yesterday.
“Lenti’s presentation was very inspiring as he painted a vivid picture of the events that took place leading up to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team coming to the rescue of his comrades,” said Lester Yeargin, President of Chapter 30, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which hosted the meeting. “To hear someone speak about their appreciation for what our brigade did for them after so many years removed from the battlefield was so inspirational. Members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, who were present to hear the speech, were deeply touched by what they heard.”
“Lenti’s presentation was very
inspiring as he painted a vivid picture of the events
that took place leading up to the 173rd Airborne Brigade
Combat Team coming to the rescue of his comrades.”
“Lenti’s presentation was very inspiring as he painted a vivid picture of the events that took place leading up to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team coming to the rescue of his comrades.”
— Lester Yeargin, President of Chapter 30, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team
The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team has the distinction of conducting the only parachute assault during the Vietnam War that was reminiscent of the Normandy Invasion that occurred on June 6, 1944 (D-Day) during W.W. II. The brigade was also the first major U.S. Army ground unit deployed in Vietnam, and served there from 1965 to 1971. During 1967, it conducted operations to disrupt NVA infiltration from the north along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Currently, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team is stationed in Vicenza, Italy, where it serves as the U.S. European Command’s conventional airborne strategic response force for Europe.
Lenti, a graduate of West Point, retired as a colonel from the U.S. Army in 1986 and as a major general from the S.C. State Guard in 1994.
He is now Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Celebrate Freedom Foundation (CFF). The CFF, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, founded in 1999 and headquartered in West Columbia, educates children, promotes patriotism and honors veterans ─ past, present and future.
Lenti’s presentation provided an opportunity for the CFF to explain its mission.
At 2 p.m., following his presentation, members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and their wives visited the CFF’s hangar at Columbia Metropolitan Airport where the Foundation houses its Cobra helicopters, Maggie and Annie.
Larry Russell, Executive Director of the CFF, described his experiences as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War.
Russell and Bob Day, Program Manager, CFF, also explained the Foundation’s SOaR™ Program.
CFF’s Project SOaR (School/Student Opportunities and Rewards) is an academic outreach program that supports STEM courses (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in middle and high schools. Utilizing subject matter experts, like Russell, the program stimulates career choices by describing positions in the aviation industry.
“SKY SOLDIERS” VISIT CFF HANGAR — Members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and their wives visited CFF’s hangar at Columbia Metropolitan Airport after listening to John Lenti’s speech. Shown standing next to Maggie, CFF’s AH-1 Cobra Helicopter, are (front, left to right) Wayne Bowers, Walt Cook, Lester Yeargin, Art Coogler and Allen Lohmann; and (back, left to right) Top Dresser and Jesse Beacham. Also visiting the hangar but not shown were Betty Cook, Harriet Lohmann and Pat Coogler.