35th Infantry Regiment
"Cacti Vietnam KIAs Stratification"
by Dick Arnold
This analysis is based on 616 data points representing the brave men of the 1/35 and 2/35 infantry battalions (25th and 4th Infantry Divisions) who perished while serving their country during the Vietnam War. At the time of this writing, we estimate we have identified 99% of all Cacti deaths. Any add-ons would most likely come from the 1969-70 era, but would not be enough to skew the data.
The Cacti were in Vietnam from late December 1965, until November of 1970. The 1/35 battalion left in April of 1970, with the 2/35 staying until November. The Cacti were originally part of the 25th Division, but on August 1, 1967 were transferred to the 4th Division.
Where applicable, comparisons with published criteria have been referenced. However, there should be no assumptions made that this study is representative of all infantry battalions that served in Vietnam.
The author considers the information to be in the public domain and all, or parts, may be used as appropriate.
The basis used in this study was the Combat Area Casualties Current File (CACCF) and The Adjutant General Center (TAGCEN). This was buttressed by testimony from fellow veterans who could speak to particular criteria. This was especially true in "Cause of Death" where veteran input resulted in much greater, and more accurate, stratification than shown in the CACCF/TAGCEN. In general, preference was given to veteran recollections when they did not match what was shown in CACCF/TAGCEN.
"Long live their names, long live their glory, and long may their stories be told."
There were 26 medics killed. There were a very few soldiers that, either through clerical mistakes or disciplinary actions, were shown as E1s or E2s at time of death. However, in honor of their supreme sacrifice I chose to list them as E3s.
Year of Death
(August 1, 1967 representing the official switch from 25th to 4th Division)
It is easy to see that after mid-1969, the intensity of fighting dropped-off dramatically. March of 1967 with 43 deaths is a bit skewed as 21 were from one company. The 42 in February 1968 represent of course Tet. Also of interest is September 1968; of the 37 deaths only one was in the 1/35—the rest were from the 2/35 in operations around Duc Lap (Quang Duc Province) The biggest surprise to me is May of ’67 with 36. This was doing the Cacti’s initial operations in the Duc Pho area when the Viet Cong were trying to wrest the initiative. Many are not aware of the intensity of the fighting in this time frame. Further, the 36 deaths were distributed among eight different companies.
Deaths per Company
A display of pure numbers of deaths for the eight line Companies show the following range; surely just due to luck—or bad luck as it were. The two lower numbers are from the two Deltas, whom did not come into existence until August/September 1967.
A more accurate way of displaying the same data is to figure casualties per month which takes in to account both the different dates the two battalions left Vietnam and the later involvement of the two Delta Companys. That method shows a range of:
That same method restricted to 1966-68 results in: (The Deltas not included in this analysis)
Finally, the cyclic nature of Vietnam combat can be illustrated by these anomalies:
One Company experienced 23% of its total deaths in one 48-day period
One Company experienced 41% of its total deaths in just two incidents
Another Company experienced 34% of its total deaths also in just two incidents
And yet another suffered 30% of its total deaths in just two incidents
One Company went from 11/13/68 to 2/19/70 without a death of any kind
Another had no combat deaths after 5/12/69
This is consistent with published data that shows that there were more twenty-year-olds killed then any other age; followed by 21 and 19.
The average age in days of all deceased was 8,202 (22 years, 5 months, and 22 days). The median was 7,759 (21 years, 3 months, and 4 days)
Published data shows the average age is 22.8 years, which equates to 8322 days
The average age for the Draftees killed was 7,842 (21 years, 5 months, and 27 days); median was 7,675 days (21 years, 10 days).
For this study, I considered 1st and 2nd Lieutenants as Regular Army though technically most were Reserve. There may have even been some that were Drafted and then went to OCS, but not enough to skew the data.
Regular - 243
Drafted - 373 (60.5%)
The only published data I have seen indicates that overall Army deaths were 50.5% Drafted. Since this would include Army aviators and such—is seems reasonable that a pure infantry unit would have a greater number of Draftees.
A further breakdown of age groups is interesting. Since the maximum Draft age was 26, no one who died at 28 or older was Drafted.
The youngest Cacti to die was Morris of B 1/35 at 18 years, 5 months, and 6 days
The sole 18 year-old Draftee to die was Kelby, also B 1/35, at 18 years, 11 months, and 17 days.
A breakdown by rank shows:
A breakdown by year shows:
It is reasonable to assume that the initial Cacti deployment in December of 1965 would contain a greater number of Regular Army then in later years and the data bears that out.
Taking away 1966, the % of Draftee deaths is 67.8%
Per cent Draftee deaths by Line Company:
Days In-Country At Time of Death
Average was 136 days, roughly 4.5 months. Average for Draftees was 134 days. Numbers broken down by deaths per month in-country:
As a guidepost, in a perfect world without any bias the numbers would be 51.3 per month. (616/12)
Published data shows 46% died in their first three months and 71% in their first six months. Our comparable numbers are 38.2% and 69.5%
Clearly, months two and three were lethal and month seven perhaps an anomaly; after which death rates dropped dramatically. I tend to think that this underscores that experience was useful as well as some few getting jobs in the rear toward the end of their tours. I have also heard theories that the FNGS were more apt to be put on point, LPs, and other known dangerous tasks but I can testify that was not so in my platoon; would be interested in other thoughts.
Coupled with age at time of death, and assuming the KIAS were representative, we can calculate age when tour started. For all data points that would be 8,202 days minus 136 days equals 8,066 days (22 years, one month, six days). For Draftees, it would be 7,842
days minus 134 days equals 7,708 days (21 years, one month, thirteen days). So much for
that oft-quoted canard that we were "19 years old compared to 26 in WWII." (and that WWII age is not right either)
Home of Record
Columns represent number of Cacti killed, % of Cacti total that represents, and in ( ) the historical % for all Vietnam KIAS.
No Cacti were killed whose Home of Record was Alaska, American Samoa, Canal Zone, Virgin Islands, Delaware, or Vermont.
Notable deviations from norm would seem to include Georgia, Iowa, Puerto Rico, and Pennsylvania. But this is a relative small sample number so some anomalies can be expected. At first I suspected Georgia’s high numbers might be from career soldiers with Fort Benning/Gordon as addresses. However, that scenario only applied to five names; 16/30 were drafted and many others were from various small towns. The six states of California, New York, Michigan, Texas, Ohio, and Georgia accounted for nearly 40% of Cacti deaths.
I would like to expound a bit here as this continues to be a sensitive area and one where much misinformation can be found.
First, to the oft-quoted 5-15% for Hispanics. Where that figure derived from may have been thin air because the government did not track "Hispanic"; it is not a separate Race.
The Black 16.4% is higher than their proportion of total Vietnam deaths—12.5%; I have seen no published reference particular to infantry units. That 12.5% was greater than their 10.5% of America’s population and has often been quoted to allege a racial profiling of whom fought the war. (Though actually Blacks were 13.5% of the Draft-age population) Often overlooked is that fact that many Blacks were in Vietnam due to courage and patriotism and not because they were "Drafted as cannon fodder by a racist government." The greatest per cent of Black deaths compared to total was 16% in 1965 with the majority of those being volunteers in elite units.
A study of our Cacti data shows similar results. Of the 100 Blacks killed, 51.4 % were Drafted compared to 63% for Caucasians. The % of Blacks death versus total per year:
For all years, the % of Black Drafted deaths versus overall Drafted deaths %
The above data shows that over one-third 38/101 of Black deaths occurred in 1966 with the vast majority (73%) being Regular Army. This scenario has been earlier noted for the overall 1966 deaths due to more Regular Army being in the original deployment. The 1969 100% of Black deaths being Draftees is based on only seven data points and may be an anomaly.
In 1967 there were 36 Black deaths, combined with the 1966 number of 38, means 74% of all Black deaths (74/100) occurred in those two years compared to 57.8% overall. As noted above, in the remaining years their % of killed more nearly equaled their % of population; 11.5%, 10%, 6%.
All this data would seem to counter the charge that Black’s were Drafted and put in the infantry at a greater rate then their Caucasian counterparts. The only remaining question is whether a conscious effort was made after 1967 to reduce their exposure to combat; this had been alleged happening as a result of criticism by Dr. King. This is impossible to answer without knowing the racial makeup of the two battalions at each point in time. Clearly though, if one assumes that KIAS are representative of racial makeup—Blacks were over-represented in 1966 and to a lesser extent, 1967. Military historian and author SLA Marshall noted in reference to his 1966 visit to Vietnam, that he was struck by the large numbers of Blacks in Infantry units. Again, it is unknown whether this is due to patriotic Blacks volunteering for infantry assignments, or the Army purposefully placing them there. The data one really needs is numbers of Blacks both Regular and Drafted versus numbers in Nam in the Infantry, per annum. All of which is food for thought and speculation.
Province of Death
The biggest surprise for many may be that Quang Ngai has more Cacti deaths than Kontum. Whereas many of our well known fights occurred in Kontum—the Operation Sam Houston fights in March of 1967, Mile High and Hill 1062 in April ‘68—neither battalion spent long periods of time in the province. However Quang Ngai saw the 1/35 there continuously from mid-April ’67 to October ’67, and the 2/35 there from mid-April ’67 to the end of the year. The 2/35 also spent a few weeks there in 1970. The deceptive thing about Quang Ngai was the nature of the fighting; the most men lost in a single engagement was four. Big, memorable fights were not the norm but attrition through snipers and booby traps certainly was. It was a very dangerous place. The three I Corp provinces of Quang Ngai, Quang Tin and Quang Nam accounted for 32% of Cacti deaths. Both Quang Duc and Quang Nam are also notable for the high number of deaths compared to the time spent there.
Cause of Death
This is the area where interaction with fellow Cacti was of enormous advantage. Especially regards the official cause of "multi-frag" This was a catchall used to describe fragmentation wounds where the exact origin was unknown. Despite best efforts of all involved, we still ended-up with 28 multi-frags but that is down significantly from what we started with.
Other causes can lend themselves to various interpretations. For instance, a mortar is accidentally dropped in a pit killing three soldiers. For the person who dropped it, that might be "accidental self-destruction", for the other two it could be "accidental homicide", or it could be a "misadventure" for all three. I simply tried to be consistent and have further stratified the data where possible. All "friendly fire" incidents were by artillery, mortars, or helicopter gunships.. If firearms were involved, that was classified under "accidental homicide."
All twelve accidental homicides involved small arms
Four accidental self-destructions involved small arms
Two accidental self-destructions involved grenades
One accidental self-destruction involved a mortar
One accidental self-destruction involved a claymore
One accidental self-destruction involved a recoilless
Six of the helicopter related deaths involved a medivac being shot down.
One misadventure incident involved a grenade being accidentally detonated in a hooch full of soldiers (4 deaths)
One misadventure incident involved a mortar accident in the pit (three deaths)
One misadventure incident involved a Chinook hitting a truck (two deaths)
One misadventure incident involved a tree falling on an individual (one death)
One misadventure incident involved a soldier hit by a run-away tow motor (one death)
One misadventure incident involved a soldier falling out of a helicopter (one death)
The three malaria deaths seem statistical significant as there were only 112 reported for the whole war. However, I would imagine the majority of those were from infantry units; so perhaps the three Cacti malaria deaths is not that much out of the norm.
For the hepatitis death, the disease was contracted from a tainted blood transfusion given in response to a combat wound.
Whereas the overall % of booby trap deaths was 9.2 (57/616), in Quang Ngai that % was 28.4 (31/109)
Nature of KIA Incidents as Judged by Number of Casualties
Perhaps nothing highlights the peculiar nature of our war better than looking at the number killed per incident. For this study I counted those men who later DOW as part of the original incident. These numbers are per Company/per day. There were a few incidents where multiple Companies suffered deaths in the same battle, but most of our combat revolved around the Company-level. In addition, an incident is further defined as all manner of deaths per day. For instance, a battle that saw two deaths from small arms and three from a medivac shot down—is still defined as one incident. A handful of battles involved deaths in the same Company for more than one day but these were very rare. The five medical-related deaths are not counted in this study, all other categories are.
One incident in which 21 died
One incident in which 20 died
One incident in which 13 died
Two incidents in which 11 died
Two incidents in which 10 died
Three incidents in which 9 died
Two incidents in which 7 died
One incident in which 6 died
Ten incidents in which 5 died
Sixteen incidents in which 4 died
Twenty-five incidents in which 3 died
Forty-eight incidents in which two died
One Hundred Eighty-three incidents in which 1 soldier died.