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Historical Resources Branch
U.S. Army Center of Military History
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The following document from the collections of the Historical Resources Branch is presented as a sample of one of the types of historical documentation created during the Vietnam War by deployed combat historians.
During the peak years of that conflict, each division or separate brigade (including equivalents such as the 11th Armored Cavalry; the 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces; and the 1st Aviation Brigade) had one military history detachment (MHD) attached to it. Other MHDs supported higher headquarters. Each nominally consisted of one officer and one enlisted man in conformity with Table of Organization and Equipment (TOE) 20-017, although actual size could be considerably larger if the supported commander chose to augment it. The officer would not only command the detachment but would also serve as the division historian; the enlisted man was supposed to be a stenographer, but frequently also acted as a combat historian.
One of the major tasks assigned to each deployed MHD by the Office of the Chief of Military History (now the Center of Military History) required the detachment to monitor combat operations while they were in progress, and to prepare detailed narrative reports based especially on personal observations and oral interviews conducted using the techniques invented during World War II. These Combat After Action Interview Reports (CAAIRs) served to provide important information to supplement the normal staff journals and radio logs, and were explicitly intended to benefit future historians.
Work began on the Renegade Woods report while the operation was still in progress. Major Ralph Ballway, the Commander of the 18th Military History Detachment and 25th Infantry Division Historian dispatched Sergeant Robert Wright to work with the division's Ranger company and cavalry squadron as soon as the first radio reports of the original engagement reached the division headquarters. Sergeant Wright carried out the majority of the work, including preparing all of the maps and overlays; Major Ballway and other members of the detachment provided support when their other duties permitted. Captain Paul Schierholz (the Ranger company commander) graciously allowed the detachment to copy some of his personal photographs to help illustrate the report, while the division commander approved the use of a photographic reconnaissance OV-1 Mohawk aircraft to gain specific overhead imagery.
In addition to monitoring daily situation reports (SITREPS) and intelligence summaries (INTSUMS), the 18th Military History Detachment received complete access to all company, battalion, brigade, and division documents. It also worked closely with the 25th Administration Company to obtain various types of personnel statistical data. The heart of the research, however, remained a massive commitment of man hours to carry out oral history interviews with various participants. Every effort was made to gain as many different perspectives on the actions as possible. Ground combat troops' views are balanced by aviators' and a 'joint' flavor came through the cooperation of the forward air controllers of the 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron permanently stationed at the division's Cu Chi base camp. Interviews were conducted with individuals and with small groups; they were not tape recorded because the 18th Military History Detachment's organic reel to reel tape recorder was broken. In the case of the Rangers and the air crews from Troop D involved in the original fight, the 18th carried out individual interviews with each survivor, and then brought the group together for a second review to reconcile discrepancies.
The Center offers this document on our home page primarily to encourage serving soldiers and airmen to exploit history as a means of enhancing their professional skills. It is also hoped that the document will be used by academics, schoolteachers and veterans to enhance their understanding of the Vietnam War. Other documents in our collections will follow. Researchers are reminded that the Center's holdings of original materials are limited by regulation to only those items generated by the combat historians for use by the historians of the Center, and that the vast majority of Vietnam War documents created by the Army are now in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration as Record Group 472.
The original report has been digitally scanned and the result reviewed by the author to ensure accuracy. Several format changes were made from the original to adapt to the requirements of Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML). The only substantive change from the report as written in April 1970 has been the removal of Social Security Account Numbers (SSAN) --a change required to comply with the provisions of the Privacy Act. The second change is the elimination of the original classification markings to reflect the fact that the original is now unclassified; the original markings applied in 1970 were CONFIDENTIAL.