The Angels in Red Hats: MACV Team 162

The story of the Vietnamese Airborne Advisory Detachment is in many ways a study of America’s best efforts to support the democratic state of South Vietnam. The detachment, later known as the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) Team 162, became famous as the “Red Hats” during their long service in Vietnam. In fact, the Red Hats were the longest serving group of U.S. advisors in the conflict, arriving in 1962 and finally departing in 1973. It was created as a result of President John F. Kennedy’s decision to expand American military advice and support to the South Vietnamese government of President Ngo Dinh Diem in its fight against the Communist-led Viet Cong insurgents.

Team 162 constituted the largest U.S. advisory effort of the Vietnam War. Some 1,200 soldiers were assigned to Team 162 during its 11 years of service. Airborne experience was a prerequisite for assignment. Most team members had served with the 11th, 82nd or 101st Airborne Divisions. In addition, the team included U.S. Air Force forward air controllers. They were called “Red Markers” for their ability to mark targets during battle.

The Vietnamese parachute units advised by the Americans were among the best fighting units in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), with a long tradition of service with the French Army. Several Vietnamese paratroopers rose to the highest levels of ARVN leadership, including Tran Van Don, Cao Van Vien and Do Quoc Dongollater. American advisors were, themselves, and elite group. They were all volunteers and brought the Vietnamese units a high level of military skill and fighting spirit.

Captain Doan Van Nu, Commander, 1st Battalion, Vietnamese Airborne, with Captain Jim Lindsay, Senior Advisor to the Battalion, 1964.

The Red Hats’ initial efforts were technically oriented rather than tactical. They emphasized planning, training, equipment and logistical issues. In 1961, advisors began duty with combat battalions. Inevitably, casualties followed, beginning with Captain Don J. York, who died on 14 June 1962. Twenty other U.S. Army advisors subsequently joined Captain York on the Team 162 killed in action (KIA) list.

Vietnamese airborne troops search for enemy forces.

In 1965, the ARVN formed an airborne division. The Red Hats joined the Vietnamese division in some of the fiercest battles of the war, including Hue and Phu Cat (1966), Dak To (1967), and the Tet Offensive (1968). During Tet, airborne units killed over 2,000 enemy, protected the Presidential Palace in Saigon, and lost two American advisors.

Captured North Vietnamese and Viet Cong flags are proudly displayed by Captain Tai and 6th Airborne Battalion Commander, Major Phoul,
Dongha, Quang Tri Pronvince, 1968.

Beginning with the attack on Laos in 1971, the Red Hats no longer accompanied the Vietnamese into battle- a concession to mounting U.S. opinion against the war. By 1973, the remaining 42 Red Hats left Vietnam. But they remembered their former colleagues in the Vietnamese Airborne, and formed the Society of the Vietnamese Airborne to assist repatriated Vietnamese troopers in the United States.

Interested in learning more about Team 162? Visit the ASOM and view the MACV display!

MACV Display at the ASOM

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