Camp Radcliff and the Golf Course

Posted on January 7, 2011


As you all know, I served in Charlie Troop however I was very ignorant of the 1st of the 9th History. In some ways. this was good. Because I was so ignorant I had to ask for information.  The following information was forwarded to me by Earl Reece and Van Bailey.  The website this information came from is at the beginning. We do give credit where credit is due.

I have recently been contacted by a Ray Bows who said I copied this word for word from his book. I DID NOT. I had never heard of Ray Bows nor his book until I received his comment. Just to do what is right: There is a book titled “VIETNAM MILITARY LORE – ANOTHER WAY TO REMEMBER” written by a Ray Bows that talks about the same thing.

Major Dona;d Radcliff was the first 1st Cavalry Division Casualty.

Major Dona;d Radcliff was the first 1st Cavalry Division Casualty. Major Radcliff was Charlie Troop Commanding Officer until LTC Stockton selected him to head the Advance Party  going to Vietnam.

Radcliff, Donald G., MAJ, U.S. Army

CAMP RADCLIFF, “THE GOLF COURSE,” An Khe, Binh Dinh Province

Camp Radcliff was the home to the 1st Cavalry Division beginning in August

1965. Major Donald G. Radcliff was the executive officer of the 1st Squadron,

9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, and a member of the site selection team

that scoured the countryside around Binh Dinh Province to find the ideal

location for the 1st Cavalry Division’s base camp. While the main force of

the division journeyed from the east coast of the United States by ship with

Vietnam as their destination, the site selection team, under the direction of

Brigadier General John M. Wright, Jr., traveled across the Central Highlands

and visited prospective locations, including remote outposts and Special

Forces camps.

When it was learned by the site selection team that the 7th Marines were

planning a major strike against the enemy, Major Radcliff volunteered to fly

a mission in support of Marine troop lifts. Intelligence indicated that the

1st VC Regiment was massing for an attack on the Marine base at Chu Lai in

Quang Tin Province. Rather than prepare defenses and brace for the attack,

the Marines decided to meet the enemy on their own terms and launch a

preemptive attack, code-named Operation Starlite. Operation Starlite, the

largest planned U.S. military operation to that time, was to be a combined

amphibious/air assault operation against the Viet Cong regiment twelve miles

south of Chu Lai. The assault included two amphibious landing sites and three

helicopter landing zones named LZ Red, LZ White and LZ Blue.

At dawn 18 August 1965, the quiet shoreline of southern Quang Tin Province

suddenly erupted in a volley of explosions from artillery and offshore guns,

followed by massive aerial bombardment. At 0630 the Marines hit the beaches

while an armada of helicopters swooped in from the west. The Marines

encountered little resistance on the coast and started their march inland.

The troops arriving at Landing Zone Red met almost no resistance and

disembarked without incident. At LZ White the Marines drew fire from a nearby

ridge line but managed to land and clear the area quite readily.

Landing Zone Blue, however, was a different story. Major Radcliff was

piloting a UH-1B helicopter gunship in escort of the LZ Blue airmobile

assault. Unbeknownst to the trooplift, the landing zone was surrounded by the

60th VC Battalion, lying in wait. As the aircraft arrived at the landing

zone, Radcliff realized that the lead troop-carrying aircraft was the target

of heavy automatic weapons fire. He immediately pinpointed the Viet Cong

position and placed accurate, devastating, suppressive fire on the opposing

enemy forces. With his quick reaction, Major Radcliff saved countless lives

and enabled the troop transport to land. As the troops deployed on the

landing zone, Radcliff hovered nearby to insure their safety. Heavy fire was

directed at the major’s helicopter, and as bullets tore through his aircraft,

Major Radcliff was mortally wounded. The gallant, thirty-seven year old

officer lost his life at the controls of his gunship during his baptism by

fire in Vietnam.

A message was sent from General Harry W. O. Kinnard, the division commander,

to Lieutenant Colonel John B. Stockton, who was on the USNS Darby with the

main force of the 1st Cav. The message read,


Although thousands of miles from the combat zone, the men and officers of the

1st Cavalry Division mourned the loss of their first comrade to fall in

battle in memorial services on the deck of the Darby as it passed through the

Panama Canal, 20 August 1965.

In late August a one-thousand-man advanced party of the 1st Cavalry Division

arrived in Vietnam. Some flew into Qui Nhon while others flew into Nha Trang.

Senior NCO’s and field grade officers were sent to the newly selected base

camp at Am Khe as 850 men set up supply lines between An Khe and the coast.

General Wright had selected a site in a remote valley in the shadow of Hon

Cong Mountain, surrounded by the hills of the Central Highlands, to

accommodate the 450 helicopters of the 1st Cavalry Division. The location was

ideal because of near perfect climatic conditions for an airmobile unit, and

the strategic location allowed for the defense and control of the Central

Highlands. The general knew that a dirt airstrip would create dust storms

during takeoffs and landings so the underlying grass and brush would have to

stay, but be cut close to the ground. General Wright, not anticipating that

the advanced party would only include 150 personnel of mostly upper ranks,

called a formation shortly after their arrival. “Gentlemen,” he began, “you

will all be issued a machete or a grub hook; they both do exactly the same

job. We are going to cut brush until we have a ‘golf course’ here. You may as

well hang your rank insignia on a tree because until this area is

transformed, we will all avail ourselves to this manual task. When the golf

course is completed, you may then put back your rank insignia.”

The “golf course” extended from the center of the helicopter landing area in

all directions, beyond cantonment areas to the defense perimeter known as the

“green line.” While everyone from officers and senior NCO’s to Privates swung

grub hooks to clear the six-square kilometer area, soldiers on loan from the

1st Brigade, 101st Airborne, guarding the perimeter, looked on. A report

later submitted made strong recommendations that the 8th Engineer Battalion,

a 1st Cav unit, be included in any future division advance party if the

division again had to move to another undeveloped area.

On 1 September 1965, Major Radcliff was posthumously awarded the

Distinguished Flying Cross on U.S. Army Vietnam General Orders Number 372.

The United States ambassador to Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, flew from Saigon

to officially dedicate the new base as Camp Radcliff in formal ceremonies on

21 February 1966. The nickname “the Golf Course,” synonymous with Camp

Radcliff, stood as a tribute to the tenacity and “can do” spirit of the 1st

Cav’s Advance Team, many of whom later lost their lives in combat.

Major Donald Gordon Radcliff, US Army, was born 4 January 1928. His home of

record was Louisville, Kentucky. He was killed in action 18 August 1965. His

name is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the east wall, panel

2E, line 59.