SSG Faircloth joined the Army at age 17, and died serving his country nine years later. he was the first man off the chopper in the first major engagement by the 101st ABN in Vietnam in 1965. The 101st launched Operation GIBRALTAR, an air assault aimed at VC and North Vietnamese units headquartered at An Ninh, a tiny village located about 28 kilometers east-northeast of the Brigade's base at An Khe. The 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (three maneuver battalions, 2nd Bn, 502nd Infantry, 1st and 2nd Bns, 327th Infantry) arrived at Cam Ranh Bay on 28 July; at the end of August it was moved to An Khe in the Central Highlands and assigned two tasks - securing a base area for the soon-to-arrive 1st Cavalry Division and keeping Highway 19 open between the port city of Qui Nhon and the Central Highlands cities of Pleiku and An Khe. During its first six weeks at An Khe the 1st Bde gained little experience with the North Vietnamese Army, a situation that would be rectified at An Ninh. The 1st Bde had few helicopters, but the 52nd Aviation Battalion at Pleiku City had UH-1s and the Marines at Qui Nhon had UH-34s - not many of either type, but enough to provide the 1st Bde with limited air mobility. Once the 1st Cav arrived and set up shop in and to the west of An Khe, 1st Bde, 101st Abn turned its attention to the Highway 19 problem. By mid-September recon patrols and air surveillance had established that a VC/NVA unit was using An Ninh as a training ground, with emphasis on anti-helicopter operations. Radio intercepts suggested that the 95th NVA Battalion was based around An Ninh, a situation that caused 1st Bde to plan an air assault on the village. The original plan was to place elements of the 327th Infantry north of and the 2/502 south of An Ninh, with the intent of having 2/502 sweep north, pushing the VC/NVA into the 327th's blocking forces. Operation GIBRALTAR was underway. GIBRALTAR was executed on 18 September. While 2/327th Infantry was lifted into place as expected in two locations 2 kilometers NE and NW of the village, the Commanding Officer of 2/502 made an in-flight decision to land just at the southern edge of An Ninh, thereby eliminating the 2 kilometer approach march for 2/502 and hopefully increasing the assault's shock value. As it turned out, the decision was a bad one - the helos carrying 2nd Bn, 502nd Infantry landed in the midst of the 95th NVA Bn's training ground. Even worse, the selected site was a set of small rice paddies surrounded on three side by hills, and the VC/NVA held the high ground. The Americans did have surprise on their side and the first wave of troops were landed without significant opposition - but there weren't enough helicopters to move two battalions of troops (well over 1000 men, including attachments) into place quickly. By the time the second wave of 2/502 troopers arrived the NVA had recovered from their initial surprise and took the helos under heavy fire. While they could not halt the landings, the VC/NVA could and did disrupt them, with the result that elements of the 2/502 were landed erratically rather than in a smooth stream of paratroops inserted according to plan. The US position quickly deteriorated further. The supporting artillery battalion was moving by road, the road wasn't very good, and the 2/502 paratroops were 2 kilometers further north than expected. The result was that the initial landing, and much of the day's fighting, was accomplished without artillery support. Anticipated fixed-wing air support did not arrive until mid-afternoon1 so that only the few helicopter gunships were available for initial support. 2/502, inserted incompletely and in piece-meal fashion, was on its own. The main body of 2/502 - about 200 men - was in place on the southern edge of An Ninh. A much smaller group from Alpha 2/502, roughly a platoon, had been landed on a small hill about a kilometer distant before the helo insertions were halted by enemy fire. When the 2/327's blocking force northwest of An Ninh was directed to move toward the 2/502 position they found they had been landed 4 kilometers rather than 2 kilometers from the village and had to make a forced march toward An Ninh. While en route this group was reinforced with additional elements of 2/327 as well as soldiers from the 1st Cav Div's 9th and 17th Cavalry Regiments - but they could not close on An Ninh before nightfall and were forced to set up a defensive perimeter about a mile distant. The VC/NVA emplaced on the surrounding hills had clear fields of fire into the LZ area and had heavy machine guns to exploit their advantage. It was obvious to the 2/502 men that these positions had to be cleared before there could be any realistic hope of securing the LZ - and they were taken by means of an up-hill bayonet charge. The resulting reduction in fire into the LZ permitted the resumption of helo operations, now predominantly 1st Cavalry Division helos operating from An Khe. By midafternoon the 1st Cav Div's airlift platoons were bringing in the remainder of 2/502's paratroops, while their heavy-lift helos moved two artillery batteries into position. Bien Hoa-based fixed wing aircraft also had arrived, providing heavier air support than could the helicopter gunships. The increasing weight of US supporting fires and the increasing number of paratroopers on the ground gradually turned the tide, and by nightfall 2/502 had cleared the village proper and established a defensive perimeter. Even so, there were more VC/NVA than US soldiers in the area and sporadic, close-in fighting continued through the night ... but after dawn on the 19th the 2/327 soldiers moved into the village area without making contact with the VC/NVA; they had disappeared. About 250 enemy dead were left on the battlefield; by comparison 16 Americans are known to have died in the fighting, and another died 11 years afterwards. This comparison fails to reflect the reality, though, because a great many of the US soldiers who actually fought the battle were wounded - the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry was victorious but at considerable cost. The 17 US soldiers known to have died as a result of the battle at An Ninh. SSG Faircloth was awarded the Silver Star for his actions in this battle. The citation reads: The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Silver Star Medal (Posthumously) to Johnnie William Faircloth (RA-14608232), Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving with Company B, 2d Battalion, 502d Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Staff Sergeant Faircloth distinguished himself by heroic action on 18 September 1965 while serving as a rifle squad leader in an airborne infantry battalion on two heliborne search and destroy operations in the Republic of Vietnam. Almost immediately after landing, Sergeant Faircloth's element was pinned down by enemy small arms fire. The unit received instructions to move forth to link up with the main force approximately 800 meters away. With enemy sniper fire coming from the west, and knowing the small unit was completely surrounded by enemy forces, Sergeant Faircloth, with complete disregard for his own personal safety, led the first element of the unit north. After moving approximately 20 meters, the element came under a heavy volume of small arms and machine gun fire. Sergeant Faircloth was wounded and fell to the ground, signaling the other members of the element to return to the unit's positions. He refused to accept medical aid for himself knowing that it might result in another casualty. Sergeant Faircloth was wounded several more times by enemy machine gun fire and died on the battle field. His fearlessness and genuine concern for his subordinates in the face of his own peril was an inspiration to the entire unit. Staff Sergeant Faircloth's unimpeachable valor in close combat against numerically superior forces was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.