Myths and Legends: Mobilization
of the California Army National Guard during the Vietnam War By
SGM (CA) Dan Sebby
Historian, California Military Department
2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of
what was the start of one of the most controversial times of
the California National Guard.
At that time, a large portion of the Regular Army was being deployed
to Vietnam and it became clear that more Army units would also
be deployed to Southeast Asia. This left few units ready to deploy
to counter possible moves by the Soviet Union in Europe, the
Chinese against Taiwan or the North Koreans against the Republic
With this in mind, the Army leadership selected specific Army
National Guard and Army Reserve units to be part of a newly formed
"Selected Reserve Force" (SRF). These units would be
equipped with the latest equipment and receive additional funding
for training and were allowed to recruit above their authorized
During the Vietnam era, service in the reserve components was
particularly popular with young men as a way to meet their military
service obligation without having to serve on active duty in
general and Vietnam in particular. The extra training proved
an easy way to make a little extra money so SRF units were mostly
manned at above full strength levels.
However members of two units, the 1st Squadron, 18th Armored
Cavalry Regiment headquartered in Burbank and the 40th Aviation
Company from Long Beach, found out about the downside of being
in a SRF unit. In May of 1968 both of these units were alerted
and mobilized for service overseas.
What happened in 1968 is obscured by myth, legend and outright
misinformation. Reading the contemporary press accounts, particularly
the left wing underground press, someone would think that most
of the 1,100 members of the cavalry squadron were in open revolt
to their being called to active duty and that there was a massive
failure in leadership. However, when a full review of the historical
record is conducted, a completely different picture of the events
of 1968 becomes clear.
1st Squadron, 18th Armored Cavalry Regiment
1st Squadron, 18th
Armored Cavalry Regiment, led by Headquarters Troop, passing
in review during the monthly review, Gray Army Airfield, Fort
Lewis WA circa 1968.
In 1968, this unit was headquartered in Burbank with troops in
Burbank (Headquarters Troop and Troop A), Sylmar (Troop B), San
Fernando (Troop C) and Lancaster (Troop D). The squadron was
equipped with M113 armored personnel carriers and a troop of
M48 "Patton" tanks. It was made up of a lot of long
serving career Guardsmen as well as the sons of many of Hollywood
and Los Angeles elite families who had joined the National Guard
to avoided being drafted.
The unit received its official mobilization orders on 13 May
1968. However, news had leaked out when a local congressman learned
of the mobilization and called one of his political supporters
who he knew had a son serving as a staff officer in the squadron
headquarters. That officer immediately tried to resign his commission,
but did not accomplish this in time and he was ordered to active
duty. This officer was a leader of an extremely small cadre of
unit members who tried to stop their orders by legal means which
in the end proved fruitless. A handful of this small group, which
never numbered more than 50, did desert when the squadron reached
Fort Lewis, Washington. The rest of the group of dissidents resigned
themselves to their fate and decided to soldier on. However many
family members, including many of Southern California's leading
families, anti-war groups and the left wing press continued to
agitate for the unit's demobilization throughout 1968 and 1969.
Almost all of the soldiers of the squadron knew the possibility
of mobilization and deployment and accepted it as professionals.
There were also many Guardsmen who tried to transfer into the
unit so as to deploy and serve in Vietnam. However, once the
unit was notified of mobilization, transfers into and out of
the unit was restricted.
Between the mobilization notification and arriving at Fort Lewis,
rumors abound as to the unit's status. One was that Governor
Ronald Reagan had requested that the squadron not be mobilized
so that it could be used for state missions. Keep in mind that
the Watts Riots had occurred in 1965 and there were several protests
in 1968. Another rumor was that Lieutenant Governor Robert Finch,
who was a close friend of Richard Nixon, was lobbying the President-Elect
to have the unit sent home rather than deploy.
Once the 18th arrived at Fort Lewis, the squadron was attached
to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) for preparation for
their deployment to Southeast Asia. Once they settled in, they
started the business of training. During their time at Fort Lewis,
they did as well as any Army unit on the post. This included,
contrary to many of the myths, doing well on Army Training Tests.
During their stay there, the squadron was recognized on several
occasions by the 3rd ACR and higher headquarters for its professionalism.
Due to the strategic situation changing in Vietnam, the Commander
of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, General Creighton
Abrams requested that 1st Squadron, 18th Armored Cavalry Regiment
not deploy to Vietnam. However, their equipment was to be supplied
to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the unit members
were made available for deployment as individual replacements
worldwide. Although the Joint Chiefs of Staff were concerned
that this action might appear that as 'caving in', his request
was approved by Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander and
the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Most, if not all of the squadron's soldiers went on to serve
with honor in Vietnam with some choosing to transfer to the Regular
Army after their active duty orders ended.
The squadron was returned to state service and reconstituted
in the California Army National Guard on 13 December 1969 after
serving honorably as part of the United States Army.
It should be noted that when conducting research on this unit,
there are several references to an 18th Armored Cavalry Squadron
serving in Vietnam. This unit was a reconnaissance squadron in
40th Aviation Company
Aircraft of the 40th
Aviation Company at the Long Beach Airport, circa 1968
If the mobilization of the cavalry squadron
had a fitful start, the activation of the 40th Aviation Company
was quiet and without controversy. Also mobilized on 13 May 1968,
the company arrived at Schofield Barracks on 27 May 1968 and
was immediately attached to the US Army Garrison.
Long associated with the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Separate
Infantry Brigade, including being designated as the 29th Aviation
Company from 1 November 1965 to 29 January 1968, the 40th was
attached to the brigade to augment its organic aviation company.
During this time the brigade, which was also ordered to active
duty, was US Army Pacific's contingency force in case additional
forces were needed in the Western Pacific.
The company spent its time on active duty flying in support of
the 29th Separate Infantry Brigade's mission and training as
well as any other mission tasked by US Army Pacific.
As with the cavalry, the 40th was released from active duty on
12 December 1969 and reconstituted in the California Army National
Guard the following day at the Long Beach Airport.
Too often the National Guard is criticized for its lack of participation
during the Vietnam War, but these two units show that if needed,
the National Guard could have served in theater with honor. The
fact that the Guard and other reserve components weren't given
a larger role in theater by President Johnson is a topic for
another, possibly political history.
I wish to thank Colonel (Ret) Ross Moen and CSM (Ret) John Gillis
for their help in preparing this article.