Theodore's World: Screaming Eagle leader dies at 87

« Obama's FBI Pressures Internet Providers To Install Eavesdropping Surveillance Software - which violates the 4th Amendment!!! | Main | Chaffetz talks about "Phony Scandals" on Hannity »

August 04, 2013

Screaming Eagle leader dies at 87

Sidney Berry commanded the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell in 1973-74. He is also known for his leadership of the Division during Vietnam at Firebase Ripcord.

The Fort Campbell Courier

Sidney Bryan Berry, who led the 101st Airborne Division in the last major battle of the Vietnam War between the U.S. Army and North Vietnamese Army, died in Kennett Square, Pa., July 1 at age 87. Berry died of Parkinson’s disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease.

Berry was a highly decorated Soldier in the U.S. Army who served in combat for more than three years in Korea and Vietnam and was twice promoted on the battlefield. He retired as a lieutenant general in 1980.

The last major battle between the U.S. Army and NVA was the evacuation of Firebase Ripcord in July 1970. Berry was serving as assistant Division commander for operations in the 101st Airborne Division and since the actual commander of the Division was on a 30-day leave at the time, Berry assumed command of the Screaming Eagles.

Berry also commanded the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell in 1973-74. He later summarized his service with the Division during that year:

“During [Berry’s] command and over his objection, the Department of the Army took the Division’s Soldiers off parachute or ‘jump’ status. Berry moved swiftly to forestall a decline in the troopers’ morale and esprit and to emphasize the 101st Division’s uniqueness with its 400-plus helicopters as the world’s only helicopter-borne Division. He organized an Air Assault School, approved award of an Air Assault Badge to the school’s graduates, and modified the division’s name to 101st Airborne Division. Today, the Army has several Air Assault schools modeled after that of the Screaming Eagles, and thousands of Soldiers proudly wear the Air Assault Badge.”

Berry’s most difficult assignment was the one after Fort Campbell, when he served as superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point from 1974 to 1977. Recent obituaries of Berry in The Washington Post and The New York Times have focused on the two widely publicized challenges Berry faced there in 1976: the admission of women into the Corps of Cadets July 1, 1976, and the widespread violations of West Point’s Honor Code on a take-home electrical-engineering test that resulted in the expulsion of 152 cadets, although 98 were subsequently reinstated, generally a year later. The Honor Code violations were the subject of a Time magazine cover story and Harvard Business School case study.


The helicopters of the 101st Airborne Division were instrumental in Berry’s two major operations with the Division during his service there as assistant Division commander for operations from 1970 to 1971.

The first of these operations was the evacuation of Firebase Ripcord, situated on a mountain overlooking the A Shau Valley in Vietnam, in July 1970. The Americans were surrounded by a full-strength division of the North Vietnamese Army, who began the assault on Ripcord July 1, 1970. On July 18, a U.S. Chinook helicopter carrying a load of fuel to the firebase was shot down and crashed onto an ammunition dump.

“I was flying in the area at the time,” Berry reported in his lengthy interview in 1983 for the U.S. Army Military History Institute’s Senior Officer Oral History Program at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. “It appeared that the whole hilltop was exploding – like a Mount Vesuvius.”

Berry, who was the acting Division commander of the 101st at the time, eventually ordered the evacuation of all the 350 troops, artillery and other materiel from the firebase by helicopter. After many trips by Huey and Chinook helicopters, the U.S. Army completed the extraction of men and materiel, July 23, 1970.

“It was in one sense a highly successful operation,” Berry said.

“It was a withdrawal under fire by airmobile means carried out under extremely difficult circumstances” – in what turned out to be the last major battle of the war between the U.S. Army and the North Vietnamese Army.

“Our casualties were minimal compared to what they could have been. But, on the other hand, we gave up ground that we had held for a couple of months.”

The battle took the life of battalion commander Lt. Col. Andre Lucas, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, which Berry recommended.

Years later, in 2006, Berry visited the elementary school at Fort Campbell named after Lucas.

A Soldier’s Soldier

For Berry’s fellow Soldiers, Berry was above all a Soldier’s Soldier, one who repeatedly fought in combat, was wounded twice (once in Korea and once in Vietnam), and reached out to the Soldier in the field. Four times Berry was awarded the Silver Star Medal for “gallantry in action” and “valorous acts” against an enemy in combat; twice he awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (accompanied by 42 Air Medals) for “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight,” as Army regulations define the awards.

Berry “loved Soldiers and loved soldiering and all that goes with it,” Jim Campbell, who served with Berry in Vietnam, later wrote.

The men of Company B, 501st Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, still gather and remember the day in October 1970 when then Brig. Gen. Berry and his pilot, 1st Lt. John Fox, and the brigade commander, Col. Benjamin Harrison and his pilot flew in to extract them from the jungles of Vietnam. After drinking bad water, nearly three-quarters of the 85-man company were sick from vomiting, diarrhea and high fever. Isolated in the bush and beaten down by the 45 inches of rain that fell that month during the monsoons, the men had eaten their last C-rations two days earlier. The clouds were moving in, but Berry and Harrison each made five-round trips to ferry the men to safety. The foot Soldiers were astonished to learn that a general and a colonel had extracted them.

“As those unshaven, soaked, grimy, fatigued, smelly Infantrymen approached the helicopter that was to remove them from the jungle and take them back to some degree of comfort and security, it was a pleasure to see their faces light up, their broad grins, their thumbs-up symbol,” Berry wrote his wife, Anne Hayes Berry, who survives her husband of 64 years. Sometimes in Vietnam Brig. Gen. Berry would spend the night in the field with the Soldiers to get a better sense of how things were on the ground – a practice at variance with official Army policy, which did not want its general officers to be captured by the enemy.

Books in Berry’s life

Berry was a faithful Christian who began and ended each day, in war and in peacetime, by reading Scripture.

“General Berry was very open about his personal faith – I appreciated that,” said Ken Miller, First Captain of the USMA Class of 1977. Berry sometimes cited Psalm 46 – “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” - during the troubled times at West Point, Miller said.

Berry was an avid reader of history and literature and a copious writer of letters and reports. When, in the 1990s, he turned to writing his own book, he chose as his topic his experiences as commander of Able Company in the Korean War. The book, “Able Company Is My Home,” was recently edited by Lt. Col. (Ret.) Douglas Johnson, Berry’s aide during his last tour of duty, as commander of V Corps in Germany. Johnson, who lives in Carlisle, Pa., is affiliated with the U.S. Army War College.

In August 1949, Berry was posted to Japan, where he joined Able Company, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. In June 1950, while Anne Berry was en route to Japan to join her husband, the Korean War broke out when the North Korean Army invaded South Korea. Berry was wounded in Korea on Sept. 2 and hospitalized in Japan for three weeks (where Anne Berry was living) before returning to his company in Korea.

The War College in Carlisle also figures in another of Berry’s literary contributions, his championing of Anton Myrer’s 1968 novel “Once an Eagle.”

“The [novel’s] protagonist, Sam Damon, is a Soldier’s Soldier, a hard-fighting commander filled with concern for his troops,” wrote Elizabeth Becker in “The Officer” magazine. “His antagonist, Courtney Massengale, triumphs over Sam Damon by manipulating the political system in Washington and making all the right career moves, even though he disdains the rank-and-file” Soldiers.

“Myrer’s Sam Damon is a Soldier to admire, love and emulate,” Berry wrote, and “Courtney Massengale, a Soldier to despise and avoid.” The novel was named No. 1 on the professional reading list by and for company-level officers, reported “Army” magazine in February 2012.

Berry and Myrer became friends after Berry invited the novelist to an Army football game at West Point in 1975. After Myrer died in 1996, his widow and literary agent, Pat Myrer, gave the Army War College Foundation complete ownership of the book.

Wild Thing's comment.............

R.I.P. and thank you Sidney Bryan Berry.

Posted by Wild Thing at August 4, 2013 01:50 AM


Any officer of any rank who cares foremost about his troops is a hero in their eyes. Sydney Berry was one of these officers. I had a battalion commander in Vietnam, Col Jack Dempsey, who was that type of officer. He was KIA on Easter Sunday 1967 while trying to rescue a downed helicopter crew.

And yes, there are officers who play the system, broen nose superiors and sacrifice the welfare of their troops for promotion. I've suffered those type officers also.

Posted by: TomR,armed in Texas at August 5, 2013 12:25 PM

Tom thank you so much for sharing that.

Posted by: Wild Thing at August 6, 2013 12:56 AM