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Picture of Camp Radcliff, An Khe, Binh Dinh Province, Republic of Vietnam
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 in Binh Dinh Province to find the ideal location for the 1st Cavalry Division's base camp. The team was in Vietnam in advance of the Division, who were still aboard ship, travelling across the Pacific. The site selection team was under command of Brigadier General John M. Wright.
When it was learned by the 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 US military operation in Vietnam 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 transports 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 of fire in Vietnam.
In late August of 1965 an advanced party of senior NCO's and field grade officers of the 1st Cav Division were sent to the newly selected base camp at An Khe. 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 accomodate 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 guarded the perimeter.
On 1 September 1965, Major Radcliff was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on US Army Vietnam General Orders Number 372. The US Ambassador to VIetnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, flew from Saigon to offically 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.
Donald Gordon Radcliff was born on 4 January 1928. His home of record was Louisville, Kentucky.
His name is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the east wall, panel 2E, line 59.