The 57th Assault Helicopter Company (AHC) "Gladiators," arrived in Viet Nam in early October 1967, in time to participate in the Battle of Dak To, and the bloody battle for the infamous Hill 875 of 173rd Airborne Brigade fame. Initially stationed in the Central Highlands city of Kontum, the 57th flew missions in support of Northern II Corps area. Flights in support of the 24th Special Tactical Zone (STZ), MACV, Special Forces Camps, ARVN II Corps, and the 4th Infantry Division in the Dak To area were the normal day's assignments. In January 1968 the 57th began preparations for assuming the FOB II Special Forces mission from the 119th AHC, a normal rotation that occurred every 60 days within the units of the 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion.
The FOBII mission, later called CCC for Command and Control Central, consisted of supporting Special Forces reconnaissance efforts monitoring the movement of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops and equipment infiltrating South Viet Nam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. However, weather conditions and other factors caused the 57th to stay on the mission well beyond the normal rotation. Such became the experience level and reputation of the Gladiator slicks and Cougar guns of the 57th AHC that there was no longer a question of their assignment to the FOB mission; henceforth they were requested. "Prairie Fire," the Special Forces equivalent of aviation's "MAYDAY," became a common term heard in Gladiator headsets.
The 57th AHC served in Viet Nam from October 1967 through March 1973, and was the last United States Combat Helicopter unit to leave Viet Nam. It was also the largest with three slick platoons, each having eleven lightly armed UH-1 Hueys, and a full compliment of eight heavily armed AH1G Cobra gunships.
The 57th AHC was just one unit of one of the largest aviation Battalions ever formed, the 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion (CAB) "Dragons," which in turn was subordinate to the 17th Combat Aviation Group (CAG). The 17th CAG was in turn subordinate to the 1st Aviation Brigade, the largest Army Aviation organization formed since World War II. The 1st Aviation Brigade was comprised of several Groups, themselves having several Battalions.
At the top of this page is one of the the patches we wore on our shirt pockets signifying assignment with one of the slick platoons. "Slick" means relatively unarmed troop lift ships, as opposed to the heavily armed gunships. The primary function of a "slick" platoon is troop lift, with the ever present priority on medical evacuation. The job of armed escort and suppressive rocket and machine gun fire fell to the gun platoon called the "Cougars." Their job was to provide close air support for the "slicks" while we assaulted troops into often hot Landing Zones (LZ), or when withdrawing troops from "Hot" pickup zones (PZ); they got to do all the shooting, and they did their job well. Business was good!
Now if your are thinking, "My but that Cougar patch looks familiar," you are right. When the 57th was formed at Fort Bragg, N.C. in 1967 an enterprising member of the newly formed gun platoon, the "Cougars," exercised a little initiative and made a request to the Ford Motor Company. As the story goes, Ford was thrilled that a military unit would carry their "colors" into combat, gave it their blessing along with a generous supply of "pocket patches," and the rest is history.
The "Gladiator" patch you see depicted here is of recent manufacture and for a very good reason; it is the only version to be massed produced my automated machines. When the 57th was originally formed they elected to call themselves "The Avengers." In as much as all these "nick-names" are unofficial to begin with, there was, of course, no central agency that controlled what unit members decided to call themselves, and no one knew there already was a unit called the "Avengers" in country. The original pocket patches, of course, said Avengers instead of Gladiators. Once on the ground in Viet Nam and the faux pax was discovered the name Gladiators was selected. New "pocket patches" were obtained locally and hand sewn. As a footnote here, some of those original "Avenger" patches should be quite valuable to serious collectors.