FORT BENNING, Ga. — It had been nearly 50 years to the day since the last time many of them had stood on the field at Doughboy Stadium.
Fifty years ago on July 3, 1965, the men were young troopers in the newly activated 1st Squadron, 9th Air Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), standing in formation as their commander, Lt. Col. John Stockton, reviewed the troops from horseback, wearing his iconic, black “Cav Hat.”
“Little did we realize that 50 years — plus a day — that such a legendary organization was being born,” said retired Lt. Col. Billy Williams, a former member of the “Bullwhip Squadron” who spoke during a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the unit’s activation here July 2.
Gathered on the field for the ceremony were Vietnam-era veterans from the squadron, local Fort Benning leadership, current members of the First Team’s honor guard and band, and family members of fallen troopers from the squadron.
The squadron was the first of the division’s units to be activated as airmobile — a revolutionary new concept in warfare at the time.
“I’m humbled and honored to be a part of this event,” said Col. John Cushing, commander of the 194th Armor Brigade and the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment commander from 2009 to 2011.
Cushing addressed the crowd, reflecting on his time with the squadron, now nicknamed the “Headhunters,” providing an update on the unit — currently deployed to Korea with 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team as part of the U.S. Army’s first ever rotational brigade to the peninsula.
“Once again, the Headhunters are leading the way,” he said.
Before the ceremony, Cushing reflected on the legacy of the squadron, and especially on the bond they share with the Vietnam veterans who came before.
“It truly reminds us that we are part of something larger than ourselves,” he said.
During Vietnam, the troopers of the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, participated in 13 campaigns, accounting for more than half of the enemy killed by the division, and earned three Presidential Unit Citations and five Valorous Unit Citations. Three troopers from the squadron also earned the Medal of Honor during Vietnam — all posthumously.
“I’m very proud of my brother, I’m very proud of the men he served with, and I’m very proud of the present 1st Cav,” said Karen Poxon Beckwith, the sister of 1st Lt. Robert Poxon, one of the fallen troopers recognized that day.
Poxon was just 22 years old when he was killed during fighting in Tay Ninh Province on June 2, 1969. His actions in aiding a wounded comrade and assaulting and eliminating an enemy bunker — despite being seriously wounded several times — resulted in him earning the Medal of Honor.
“I have never been around so many heroes in my life,” said retired Sgt. 1st Class Walt Titchnell, who also recalled his experiences both training at Benning and later in Vietnam. “Old Bullwhip 6 trained us well right here.”
Describing the harsh living conditions and the brutality of combat to the audience, he said that the experience brought him and his comrades-in-arms together in a bond that few share.
“It was for the original guys, that’s why we did it,” said retired Col. Joe Bowen, the Bullwhip Squadron association president and fellow 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, Vietnam veteran. “We’re closer than family.”