Stephen H. Gaymon

June 3, 1966

Corcoran, California

On March 2, 1966, the United States announces that US Forces in South Vietnam now reaches 215,000 and that another 20,000 troops readied to be inserted. Pfc Stephen Gaymon will be part of the infusion in an ever-growing escalation.

Only one year earlier, 173rd Airborne Brigade (US Army) deployed to SVN as the first US Army ground combat unit in the war. It had undergone extensive jungle training on Okinawa and further parachute jumps in Taiwan. It was here that the Unit was nicknamed ‘Tien Bing’, Chinese for Sky Soldier….a name that would follow them for many years. Deployed to SVN in May, 1965, it took over operational control of a Battalion of the Royal Australian Army (RAR) and became the only multi-national combat unit in the war.

Pfc Gaymon would arrive on May 25th, 1966 and be infused immediately to Company A of 1⁄503 of the 173rd. Located SE of Saigon, headquarters were at an idyllic location – Vung Tau – a postcard city situated on the South China Sea. (In later years Vung Tau would end up being the in-country R&R site for Army fatigued soldiers). Young and combat-ready, he would have been just as confused as everyone thrown into a new world not knowing what to expect.

But in May⁄66, the war was only evolving. Although allies, the Australians and the Army had plenty of inter-rivalry bickering, and the Communist VC’s still owned the general area. Only one week earlier OPERATION HARDIWOOD had commenced for this joint effort to sweep through and take control of Phuoc Tuy Province. There were bitter firefights from May 16-23, and replacements were needed immediately. To make matters more confusing, the first tour of the 1st RAR was over and a new Australian Battalion (6th RAR) took command on May 23. New US troops were coming in to replace Sky Soldiers that had already spent a long year of fighting.

1⁄503 had taken a large toll during fighting in the Nui Dat (Vietnamese for small hill) area. Many only had days before rotating back home, and these Sky Soldiers were clearing out a large area that would become the new headquarters for the AustralianRAR. The task force concentrated on this area with US casualties reaching 20KIA and over 150WIA. New, unseasoned soldiers were being infused as fast as they could be found to support the Operation. By June 2⁄66, the VC would be pushed back with thenew RAR-HQ being established on 5 June.

This defeat by the VC was devastating. They had ‘lost face’ and immediately made plans to recapture the area. On June 1-2, the VC quickly set up scout teams to set up mines, traps, and gather intelligence to plan their attack. On June 3, while out on a routine patrol of the area, Pfc Gaymon became the fatality of a tripped booby-trap. He had been in South Vietnam for 9 days. Like many men thrown into some fierce firefights that erupted, most never got the opportunity to develop any friendships.

Pfc Stephen Gaymon’s name is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall at Panel 8E, Line 5.

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