Musical duo Big & Rich are normally known for their flashy country songs — tunes you'd be accustomed to hearing at big parties and tailgates. But in 2006, the two country stars took their music down a different path with a soulful song that remembers and honors Operation Hump — one of many costly battles that American soldiers saw themselves engaged in during the Vietnam War.
Titled "8th of November," a reference to the official start of Operation Hump, the song brings to life the story of one Master Sgt. Niles Harris, now retired from a lengthy career with the US Army. Harris got his first taste of combat in the mid-1960s in Vietnam, deploying as a Sky Soldier with the legendary 173rd Airborne Brigade's 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment.
On the 8th of November, 1965, as the song goes, a combined force of 400 soldiers from the regiment's 1st Battalion, Australian and New Zealander units, were ordered to step out on a search-and-destroy mission where they would root out and strike Vietcong irregulars with the hopes of pushing them out of the region.
Within hours of beginning their move towards Hill 65, a key objective, 1st Battalion's C Company was ambushed by a massive force of Vietcong, dug in on the side of the hill, and hidden in the dense jungle surrounding the American-led force.
Paratroopers taking fire from Vietcong during Operation Hump (Photo Wikimedia Commons)
B Company, also sent out on the mission, began making its way towards Charlie with the hope of relieving the beleaguered Sky Soldiers, taking heavy fire from VC fighters. The fighting was so close at times that B Company infantrymen often found themselves fixing their bayonets to deal with surprise close-in guerrilla attacks.
As it turns out, these 400 soldiers had stumbled onto an entire regiment of Vietcong. Settling into the battle, B Company called in a number of highly successful artillery strikes that forced away the VC fighters...albeit temporarily.
Instead of retreating, the VC commander ordered his troops to outflank the American element, which was now in the process of recovering its fallen and entrenching itself for a prolonged battle. By positioning his guerrillas close to the wary Sky Soldiers, he theorized that the American units would be unable to call in more artillery strikes, giving the VC an advantage.
Members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in combat on Hill 875 during the Vietnam War (Photo Wikimedia Commons)
However, even in the midst of the fierce battle, with soldiers at times having to engage in hand-to-hand combat, the men of the 503rd held their ground and successfully repelled the Vietcong. Hill 65 was now theirs for the taking. A full evacuation would take place the following morning, on the 9th.
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Even with the American victory, the battle still took its toll on the 503rd, with 49 Sky Soldiers killed in action, and considerable numbers listed wounded in action. The Australian/New Zealander detachment also sustained two fatal casualties of its own.
In the years that followed, the song sparked a larger remembrance of the battle, however. This culminated with the unveiling of a large mural in 2009 at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum at Ft. Bragg, with a significant portion dedicated to Operation Hump and the 49 Sky Soldiers who lost their lives that fateful day.