Fallen heroes remembered at 50th anniversary of Sky Soldiers

The 173rd Airborne Brigade, the first U.S. combat unit in the Vietnam War, lost 48 paratroopers during intense fighting on Nov. 8, 1965. Those soldiers and others were remembered Saturday as hundreds gathered at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center.

“The 173rd was the unit they deployed to hot areas,” said retired Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Doran of Enterprise, Ala. “You were never sitting in a back room. I served with three units, and that unit tried to kill me more than any of them.”

Doran, 63, joined a group of veterans from the brigade to clean their huge monument on the Memorial Walk of Honor behind the Infantry Museum. It was part of a series of events marking the 50th anniversary of the brigade re-established in 1963 and the 10th anniversary of the brigade’s parachute assault into Iraq.

During the 1965 battle, the brigade known as Sky Soldiers was part of “Operation Hump” when paratroopers were ambushed by 1,200 People’s Liberation Armed Forces. The battle is remembered in a song by country music duo Big & Rich called 8th of November.

In 1968, Doran was an 18-year-old specialist when he was assigned to the 173rd Brigade in Vietnam. The unit had finished a fire fight in Tuy Wa when he and other new soldiers arrived. His platoon sergeant took him to the creek where the soldiers had been fighting.

In the creek bed was a dead North Vietnamese soldier. “He pointed to him and said if you guys mess up, this will be you,” Doran said. “That was my memorable story. That was my first day in the field.”

Doran said he is still recovering from his experiences. “I do get some counseling,” he said. “I don’t talk about it much.”

Tarlon Mobley of Winterfield, N.C., said the fighting reached a point he faced his fear.

“I got to that point where I said I was tired of being scared and I wasn’t scared anymore,” Mobley said. “My thought was ... ‘if I get hit, let it be quick and clean so I won’t suffer.’ Then I went on about my business. Everybody has their own way of coping with it. That was just my way of coping with death.”

Mobley, 64, said he had many close encounters, but there was one that stuck with him. A helicopter had just dropped soldiers into the central highlands of Vietnam onto a sloped hill with shoulder-high elephant grass. A soldier immediately stepped into an area laden with damaging punji sticks. He immediately was evacuated to a hospital.

Later on patrol, Mobley said he scrambled for cover near a tree after the point man told ordered them to stop.

“I moved over to the tree, got down on my knees and something was rubbing against my leg,” he said. “I thought it was just a piece of grass. My impulse was to brush it away, but something told me to look down. It was a trip wire. On this side of the tree was a Bouncing Betty mine.”

After moving away from the explosive, Mobley said he realized that soldiers were in a booby trapped area.

“We were just fortunate that nobody else got hit,” he said.

The 50th anniversary ends today with a prayer service at the memorial.