Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam 1969 -1972 by Brigadier General Edwin Simmons USMC (Retired)

By Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)

May 1973

On 30 April 1971, at Camp Pendleton, California, more than six years after the first ground combat Marines landed at Da Nang, the President of the United States welcomed home members of the 1st Marine Division on the Division’s “official” return to the United States. From 1965 through 1971, nearly half a million Marines served in Vietnam. And after 1971 was long past, some Marines were still at war in that country.

General Simmons began his series of essays on Marine Corps participation in the Vietnam War with “Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam 1965-1966,” which appeared in Naval Review,1968. This first piece began with the landing of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Da Nang on 8 March 1965 and ended with the large scale actions of the III Marine Amphibious Force against North Vietnamese regulars who had crossed the Demilitarized Zone in the fall and winter of 1966.

The second article in the series appeared in Naval Review 1969 and covered the events of 1967, a year which saw Marines fighting in all five provinces of I Corps Tactical Zone and III MAF grown to the equivalent of a field army with the 1st and 3d Marine Divisions, and the U. S. Army’s Americal Division, supported by 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, under its operational control. It was a year that also saw the first battle for Khe Sanh fought in April and heavy fighting around Con Thien.

The third article, published in Naval Review 1970, covered 1968, the year of the momentous Tet offensive, the bitter fight for Hue, the climactic battle for Khe Sanh, and successively weaker enemy offensives. During this year the U. S. 1st Air Cavalry Division and 101st Airborne Division were deployed to the northern provinces and came under the operational control of III MAF. Marine strength in Vietnam peaked in September 1968 at over 85,500 Marines, more than had served ashore at either Iwo Jima or Okinawa. Strengths began to turn downward in that month with the departure of Regimental Landing Team 27.

“Marine Aviation in Vietnam” by the late General Keith B. McCutcheon, USMC, appeared in Naval Review 1971 and in the following year, Naval Review 1972 included “A View From FMF Pac of Logistics in the Western Pacific, 1965-1971” by Colonel James B. Soper, USMC (Ret.). Taken together, these articles, and General Simmons’ series—including this concluding article, which discusses the systematic withdrawal of Marine air and ground forces—provide a valuable record of Marine Corps operations in Vietnam.

As 1969 began, III Marine Amphibious Force, then commanded by Lieutenant General Robert E. Cushman, Jr., estimated that there were about 90,000 enemy either in I Corps Tactical Zone (Icrz) or poised on its borders. III MAF’s assessment of the enemy order of battle showed 89 battalions of widely varying strengths within ICTZ itself.

 Along the DMZ, Major General Raymond G. Davis’s 3d Marine Division was enjoying its quietest month since it entered Quang Tri province in July 1966. Davis’s estimate was that the three independent North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regiments out in front of him were charged with screening the DMZ but were avoiding serious contact. The 3d Marine Division was under the immediate operational control of the U. S. Army’s XXIV Corps which also had the 1st Brigade, 5th Mechanized Infantry Division in eastern Quang Tri province, and the 101st Airborne Division in Thua Thien province.

In Quang Nam province, Major General Ormond R. Simpson’s 1st Marine Division guarded the approaches to Da Nang, and the 2d Brigade, Korean Marine Corps, continued its responsibility for its own area of operations radiating from Hoi An. Further south, the large American Division was operating in Quang Tin and Quang Ngai provinces. Backing the ground troops, Major General Charles J. Quilter’s 1st Marine Aircraft Wing had fixed wing groups at Da Nang and Chu Lai and helicopter groups at Marble Mountain, Phu Bai, and Quang Tri.

Also present in the northern five provinces, but somewhat overshadowed by the overwhelming U.S. presence, was the Army of Vietnam’s I Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Lam, and including the 1st Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Division in Quang Tri and Thua Thien provinces, the 51st ARVN Regiment in Quang Nam province, and the 2d ARVN Division in Quang Tin and Quang Ngai provinces.

Taylor Common

South and southwest of Da Nang, Operation Taylor Common, begun on 7 December 1968, was continuing under control of 1st Marine Division’s Task Force Yankee, commanded until 14 February, by Brigadier General Ross T. Dwyer, Jr., and then by Brigadier General Samuel Jaskilka. Task Force Yankee at this time included Colonel James B. Ord, Jr.’s 5th Marines and the 1st and 3d Battalions of Colonel Michael M. Sparks’ 3d Marines, the latter regiment being on temporary loan from the 3d Marine Division. Cooperating with TF Yankee was the 1st ARVN Ranger Group and the two Civilian Irregular Defense Groups at Thuong Duc and Nong Son. Taylor Common’s area of operations included the An Hoa basin (the area drained by the convergence of the Thu Bon and Vu Gia rivers which combine to form the Song Ky Lam), as well as the high ground to the west and southwest of An Hoa which harbored the enemy’s Base Area 112. Most of the resources and effort of Taylor Common were devoted to a deep thrust into this base area using fire support base techniques. The purpose, of course, was to destroy enemy base camps and caches and in this, the operation was reasonably successful. Heaviest enemy contact was in the “Arizona Territory,” a piedmont agricultural area made desolate by the war, lying between the Vu Gia and Thu Bon rivers northwest of An Hoa.

 On 15 January, Colonel Sparks and Lieutenant Colonel Ermil L. Whisman, who commanded Sparks’ direct support artillery battalion, 1st Battalion, and 12th Marines, were killed southwest of An Hoa when their helicopter was brought down by enemy ground fire. On 23 February, the 3d Marines were returned to Quang Tri province, and, on 8 March, Taylor Common was brought to an end, TF Yankee headquarters was dissolved, and responsibility for the An Hoa area was returned to the 5th Marines.

Bold Mariner

Meanwhile, on 13 January 1969, Battalion Landing Teams 2/26 and 3/26 had landed by helo and landing aircraft in the Van Tuong area on the northern face of Batangan peninsula, 12 miles south of Chu Lai. It was the old Starlite battlefield1 revisited and this operation, called Bold Mariner, with both Special Landing Forces Alpha and Bravo involved, would be the largest Special Landing Force effort of the war. The Americal Division, in a coordinated operation, Russell Beach, moved a two-battalion task force onto the peninsula to cut off the southern exits. The soldiers and Marines joined hands in a cordon and together swept toward the sea, scooping up as they went all Vietnamese civilians for screening. Resistance was minimal, and as usual, when operating in populated rural areas, most casualties were caused by antipersonnel mines. By 24 January, Battalion Landing Team 2/26 had been squeezed out of the tightening perimeter and reembarked in its Seventh Fleet amphibious shipping. BLT 3/26 followed aboard on 9 February. The joint Army-Marine effort had killed 239 enemy. In addition, some 12,000 Vietnamese had been screened and 256 of them were identified as Viet Cong infrastructure or cadre (VCI).

There would be eight more SLF operations during the course of 1969, all in three southern provinces of I Corps Tactical Zone.

Dewey Canyon I

 Also, as the year began, the enemy was busy filling up Base Area 611 in Da Krong valley in Quang Tri’s southwest corner. Base Area 611 was fed by Route 922 coming in from Laos and, in turn, fed Route 548 through A Shau valley, from where men and supplies could be funneled eastward toward Hue or southeastward toward Da Nang. The enemy must have felt relatively immune to ground action. Not only was the area a remote one, but also the monsoon weather continued to mask his activities.

On 22 January, General Davis sent three battalions of the 9th Marines into the Da Krong in Operation Dewey Canyon. Colonel Robert H. Barrow’s 9th Marines were to be completely dependent upon helicopters for logistic support, a particularly disquieting prospect in view of the always uncertain flying weather. The North Vietnamese, on the other hand, with a tonnage requirement only a fraction of the Marines, had usable trails and roads running back into Laos. The convolutions of the Laotian border protected the enemy’s back and a portion of his flanks from ground attack and he had—something of a rarity for in-country operations—a number of artillery pieces of up to 122 mm. caliber. His base area was also well-seeded with light antiaircraft weapons.

To meet this situation, Davis and Barrow made skillful use of fire support bases.2 The 9th Marines initially developed FSBs Shiloh, Razor, and Riley, and then, as the regiment advanced, other FSBs were opened in leapfrog fashion. Enemy resistance began to stiffen on 2 February, with the heaviest fighting taking place between 18 and 22 February, involving the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, in the center of line. Soon some of the largest caches of the war were being uncovered. By the time the operation ended on 19 March, the base area was cleaned out, at least for the time being. Enemy dead had been counted at 1,617, and 1,461 weapons and hundreds of tons of ammunition, equipment, and supplies had been taken.

There were two near-concurrent complementary operations. The 101st Airborne Division had moved into the A Shau valley on 22 February and commenced Massachusetts Striker. On 15 March, the 3d Marines, under Colonel Paul D. LaFond had begun Maine Crag south of Khe Sanh (where the Laotian border makes a curious loop, creating a salient). Maine Crag went on until 2 May. Not as spectacularly successful as Dewey Canyon, it nevertheless cost the enemy a considerable price in men, weapons, and rice.

Tet 1969

 Tet 1969, when it came, was only a pale shadow of the violence of Tet 1968.3 The 24-hour Tet truce began at 1800 on 16 February. There were the usual Tet season terrorist acts, rocket and mortar attacks, and scattered ground action. The enemy’s major effort in ICTZ came on 23 February when he attempted, once again, a full-scale coordinated attack against Da Nang, a nut he had never been able to crack. His attack plan contained few surprises: as it had been during Tet 1968 and again in August 1968, the city was infiltrated, an attack was made up from the south through the heavily populated lowlands, and a thrust with major units came out of the mountains west of Da Nang.4

Shortly after midnight the enemy attempted to seize the two highway bridges which carry Route One over the Song Cau Do in Hoa yang district south of Di Nang airfield. Infiltrators north of the river formed one prong of the attack while other columns emerged from the endemically Viet Cong hamlets south of the Cau Do. The attackers were met and roughly handled by the 1st Military Police Battalion and elements of 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, and by morning were on their, way south again, pursued and harried by the ARVN and Colonel Robert G. Lauffer’s 1st Marines.

Meanwhile, sappers had tried unsuccessfully to get to the command posts of the 1st Marine Division and 26th Marine regiment on the reverse slope of Hill 327, hoping apparently to disrupt command and control while their heavier columns debouched from the hills to the west and crossed the valley drained by the Tuy Loan river. This attempted crossing precipitated a three-day fight with Colonel Robert L. Nichols 7th Marines which cost the enemy 289 killed.

Pacification and Rural Development

The Government of Vietnam’s 1969 Pacification and Development Program began on 1 February, close on the heels of 1968’s generally successful Le Loi or Accelerated Pacification Campaign.5 As the 1969 program got underway, 86% of ICTZ populated area was considered to be under government control and 74% of the population was judged to be living in secure areas. The objective for the year was to bring all populated areas of the five provinces under Government of Vietnam (GVN) control and to raise the security level of the population to 90%. There was also to be full-fledged recruitment for the People’s Self Defense Force (PSDF). The idea behind PSDF was that, as security improved, the people would be armed for their own self-defense. The goal of ICTZ was 300,000 PSDF, only a fraction of whom, however, would be armed. The recruiting base was more urban than rural and the objectives more psychological than military.

 Pacification plans tended to work well in the northern two provinces, Quang Tri and Thua Thien, where security was good and the population generally prosperous and pro-GVN; but not so well in the southern three provinces, Quang Nam, Quang Tin, and Quang Ngai. Prime movers for the program were the Rural Development (RD) teams. There were not enough of these 59-man cadres to go around so the number of teams available was doubled by halving the size to 30 men and assigning to each team a Regional Force, Popular Force, or National Police Field Force6 platoon to perform the security function. The 30-man RD teams could then concentrate on identifying Viet Cong infrastructure, establishing the People’s Self Defense Force, starting self-help programs, and organizing local elections. During the four successive Sundays in March, elections were held for village council members and hamlet chiefs. In ICTZ, 88% of the eligible voters turned out.

Of to all the efforts by III Marine Amphibious Force to provide security to the rural areas and to assist in pacification, perhaps the most successful was the Combined Action Program. The building block for this program was the combining of a specially selected and trained Marine rifle squad with a Popular Force platoon so as to enhance hamlet and village security. From its beginnings in 1965 at Phu Bai,7 the program by 1969 had grown to four battalion-sized Combined Action Groups, one each at Da Nang, Chu Lai, Phu Bai, and Quang Tri. Under the Groups were 19 Combined Action Companies and these in turn administered 102 Combined Action Platoons.

Nickerson for Cushman

On 26 March 1969, Lieutenant General Herman Nickerson, Jr., succeeded Lieutenant General Cushman as Commanding General, III Marine Amphibious Force. This was General Nickerson’s second Vietnam tour. On his first tour he had commanded the 1st Marine Division from October 1966 until May 1967 and then had been Deputy Commander, III MAF, until October 1967. (General Cushman, after his return to the States, would become the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and, on 1 January 1972, the 25th Commandant of the Marine Corps.)

3d Marine Division Operations

 Things had remained relatively quiet along the DMZ for the first three months of 1969. On 28 February the books had been closed on the long-term area operations, Kentucky and Scotland II—Kentucky being in the vicinity of Con Thien and Scotland II in the vicinity of Khe Sanh. In March, the USS New Jersey (BB-62) left the firing line for good. Since arriving at the end of September 1968, she had fired 3,615 16-inch shells and nearly 11,000 rounds of 5-inch, mostly in support of 3d Marine Division operations along the DMZ. Her departure was somewhat offset by the arrival of sufficient self-propelled 175-mm. guns, M107, to re-arm the three separate gun batteries which until now had been equipped with the aging 155-mm. gun, SP M53.8

Virginia Ridge

In April, in the central DMZ, the 36th Regiment, 308th NVA Division (not to be confused with the 36th Regiment, 4th Front, in Quang Nam province) replaced the battered 27th NVA Regiment. First contact with the fresh regiment was on 9 April northwest of Cam Lo. Action was sporadic until the 21st when the 9th Marines encountered heavy resistance between Cam Lo and the Rockpile. The operation was formalized as Virginia Ridge beginning 30 April.

The 3d Marine Division’s second front continued to be the Laotian border, at right angles to the DMZ. Base Area 611 did not go long unattended. Passing control of Virginia Ridge to the 3d Marines, the 9th Marines, now commanded by Colonel Edward F. Danowitz, went back into the Da Krong valley with two battalions on 10 May in Operation Apache Snow, while to the south a brigade of the 101st Airborne and a regiment of the ARVN re-entered the A Shau. The Marine portion of the operation ended 31 May with the commitment of the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 9th Marines to a new operation, Cameron Falls, against elements of the resurgent 304th NVA Division in the old familiar Khe Sanh salient south of Route 9- The Army and ARVN stayed in the A Shau another week, coming out on 7 June.

On 12 June, the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines teamed up with a task force from the 1st Brigade, 5th U. S. Mechanized Division, near Khe Sanh itself for Operation Utah Mesa. This operation was directed by Brigadier General Regan Fuller from his Task Force Hotel headquarters at Vandegrift Combat Base. It would be 1st Battalion, 9th Marines’ last battle in the Vietnam War. On 23 June, the battalion (which had landed at Da Nang on 17 June 1965) moved to Vandegrift combat base to get ready for embarkation to Okinawa.

 The first major troop withdrawal had been announced: 25,000 American servicemen were to be out of Vietnam by 31 August. Of these, 8,388 would be Marines. Scheduled to leave were the 9th Marines, along with proportional shares of combat support and service troops, and a slice of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. The 3d Marine Division would be left with the 3d and 4th Marine Regiments in Quang Tri province.

Air Operations

From the Wing, vmFA-334 departed with its F-4J McDonnell Phantoms for Iwakuni in Japan, and HMM-165, with its CH-46A helicopters, left for Futema on Okinawa. Both squadrons would be joined to MAG-15, air component of the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade. Another August departure was the 1st LAAM Battalion, a light antiaircraft missile unit armed with the Hawk, which had been in-country since February 1965 without ever having to be called upon to fire against a live target. HMM-362 the last of the UH-34 squadrons in-country, also left in August but this was a rotation rather than a redeployment. The Marine Corps had begun the war with the UH-34 as it standard medium helicopter and the tough old birds had logged nearly a million combat sorties. HMM-362’s place was taken by HMH-361 which brought up to three the number of squadrons equipped with the heavy CH-515.

Earlier, in April, the first detachment of AH-1G Bell Cobras had arrived. These were the Army-model, single-engine, two-place helicopters armed with 7.62-mm. mini-guns and 40-mm. grenade launchers. Before the end of the year the Marines would have 24 Cobras in-country, they would have flown over 20,000 missions, most of them as transport helicopter escorts or for close-in supporting fires, and would more than have proved their worth.

On 11 July 1969, Major General William G. Thrash relieved Major General Quilter as Commanding General, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. The Wing at the time of the change in command had six aircraft groups with 26 flying squadrons and was operating from five major airfields. Farthest north was Provisional MAG-39 at Quang Tri with two CH-46 squadrons and VMO-6, a light observation squadron equipped with the UH-IE “Huey” and the fixed-wing Ov-ioA “Bronco.” MAG-36 was at Phu Bai with three medium, one light, and one heavy helicopter squadron. MAG-16 was at Marble m Mountain with a similar mix of three medium, one light, and one heavy helo squadron plus VMO-2.

 From the big field at Da Nang, mAG-11 operated an F-4 squadron, two squadrons of A-6As, and VMCJ-1 with its mixed complement of long-legged reconnaissance aircraft. (In October the last of the old EF-10Bs, the durable “electronic whales,” would be phased out in favor of an increasing number of EA-6As, the reconnaissance version of Grumman’s highly successful A-6 Intruder.) MAG-12 and MAG-13 were both at Chu Lai, MAG 12 with three squadrons of A-4 Douglas Skyhawks and one squadron of A-6As and mAG-13 with four squadrons of F-4s. In all, as of mid-summer 1969, the Wing inventory totalled about 225 helicopters and 250 fixed wing aircraft.

1st Marine Division Operations

There was a visible sign of better times in Quang Nam province when, on 30 March, the 825-foot Seabee-constructed Liberty Bridge was opened across the Thu Bon river just south of Dai Loc. The bridge replaced a 60-ton pontoon ferry which the 1st Bridge Company had been operating since October 1967 when the monsoon flood had washed away an earlier bridge. The new bridge, designed to be monsoon-proof (but lacking sufficient length during periods of high water), completed a direct highway link between Da Nang and An Hoa.

The same day that the bridge was opened to traffic, Colonel Nichols’ 7th Marines began Operation Oklahoma Hills up on Charlie Ridge, thought to be the base area of the 31st, l4lst, and 368th NVA Regiments. Two battalions of the 51st ARVN Regiment cooperated with an attack northward against the ridge from Thuong Due corridor. The scheme was to form a box around the suspected base area with an FSB roughly at each corner of the quadrangle. The Marines encountered few firefights but many mines. A regimental-size base camp was found and destroyed.

There was some logistics bad luck on 27 April when a grass fire ignited in Ammunition Supply Point One, two miles southwest of Da Nang airfield. The whole ASP went up, 38,000 tons of ammunition, valued at approximately $75 million, was destroyed, along with 20,000 drums of fuel. This was about 40% of the Force Logistic Command’s ammunition.

 On 5 May, south of the 1st Marine Division’s area of operations, below Hoi An, Special Landing Force Alpha—now made up of BLT 1/26 lifted by HMM-362,— landed on “Barrier island” in an area boxed off on the land side by a cordon of ARVN, Korean Marine, and elements of the Americal Division. Barrier Island, a sandy waste dotted with poverty-stricken fishing villages, had been swept repeatedly, but the Viet Cong presence was never completely eradicated. This operation was called Daring Rebel and the SLF stayed ashore 15 days. Like Bold Mariner, Daring Rebel was an amphibious application of the County Fair conceptand it proved once again the effectiveness of large-scale cordon-and-search operations in disrupting Viet Cong control. A substantial number of prisoners and significant amounts of rice and weapons were captured. Regrettably, the results were not permanent.

On 9 May, while Daring Rebel was rampaging on Barrier island, the 5th Marines, now commanded by William J. Zaro, intercepted a large enemy force attempting to cross the “Arizona territory.” This familiar area was not only a much-traveled route for the enemy as he debouched from the mountains but also the site of rice and com “markets” from which he drew his sustenance. Surveillance of the Arizona required the continuing attention of at least a battalion. In this particular action the enemy seemed headed for Hill 67, a 7th Marines’ combat base across the river. By 12 May, the focus of the fighting had shifted to the axis of Route 536 which runs from An Hoa to Liberty Bridge. Flight after flight of Marine air pounded the bewildered and pocketed enemy. For the three days fighting, the 5th Marines claimed a body count of 233; Colonel Zaro was certain in his own mind that enemy casualties were much higher.

An attack force next surfaced immediately south of Da Nang in the corridor formed by Highway One on the east and the railroad on the west. It was the old familiar attack route, leading to the Cau Do bridges and thence to Da Nang airfield. In a two-day battle, 12-13 May, the 1st Marines, the 51st ARVN Regiment, the 59th RF Battalion, and the 21st and 39th Ranger Battalions engaged the attackers and killed 292 of them.

Then, on 7 June, the 5th Marines made contact with the newly-arrived 90th NVA Regiment in the Arizona territory. In the next 11 days, 320 enemy dead were counted. After that, the sorely-mauled 90th NVA withdrew into the hills to regroup.

Pipestone Canyon

 The 1st Marine Division had begun Operation Pipestone Canyon in the Go Noi island area on 26 May. Go Noi had been fought over before, most notably in Operations Allen Brook and Meade River.10 It was the portion of the Ky Lam delta which lay between Route One on the east and the abandoned railroad on the west, roughly five miles long by two miles wide.

The objective of Pipestone Canyon was to rid it of the 36th NVA Regiment and to clear it once and for all. In terms of maneuver battalions involved and the complexity of the scheme of maneuver and fire support, it was probably the most significant 1st Marine Division operation in 1969.

Four Marine battalions were used in coordination with the 37th and 39th Rangers, two battalions of the 51st ARVN Regiments, and a battalion of the Korean Marine Brigade. The “clearing” operations were literal: a U. S. Army engineer company with gigantic Rome plows followed behind the Marines, and the land was cleared and plowed under at the rate of 200 acres a day.

At this time, mid-summer 1969, the 26th Marines were west of Da Nang and the 1st Marines south of the airfield and Marble Mountain, the two regiments concentrating on saturation patrolling of the “Rocket Belt,” the arc swung around Da Nang at the extreme range of the 122-mm. and 140-mm rockets. The 7th Marines had its command post on Hill 55, well south of Da Nang, and its operations fanned out from there. The 5th Marines was south of the Vu Gia and Thu Bon rivers operating from its combat base at An Hoa.

On 20 July, the 5th Marines began Operation Durham Peak, pushing up into the Que Son mountains south of An Hoa with three battalions. The 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, obligingly covered the Arizona for the absentee 5th Marines, and, on 12 August, ran into two battalions of the resurgent 90th NVA Regiment and a battalion of the 368B Rocket Regiment. A two-day fight ensued in which 255 North Vietnamese were killed at a cost of 20 Marines dead, 100 wounded and evacuated.

 Durham Peak was brought to an end on 13 August. The boundary between the 1st Marine Division and the Americal Division was being shifted southward as of 20 August so as to give the Marines responsibility for most of Que Son valley, first entered by them in December 196511. This called for a major rearrangement of the respective areas of operation for the 5th and 7th Marines.

The geography of southern Quang Nam province requires some study if the problem facing the 1st Marine Division is to be understood. The Que Son mountains are a spur running from southwest to northeast toward Hoi An from the main mountain mass. Green, incredibly beautiful, with hundreds of sparkling streams and tumbling waterfalls, and honeycombed with thousands of caves, the mountains offered the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese a ready-made bastion from which to sally forth against the lowlands. The Que Sons, effectively, are the natural geographic boundary between the Quang Nam and Quang Tin provinces, but the actual political boundary goes along the valley floor, following the trace of the Song Ly Ly, and this was the new boundary between the Americal and 1st Marine Divisions.

Near the head of Que Son valley (or the Nui Loc Son basin as it is also called) a number of streams come together to form the Song Thu Bon which then passes northward through the western Que Sons into Nong Son valley and” then north through another cut into An Hoa basin. Two roads come off at right angles from Highway One into Que Son valley. The southern road, Route 534, starts at Thang Binh and, during the period under discussion, was in the Americal zone. The parallel northern road, Route 535, begins at the intersection of the Ly Ly with Highway One and goes just beyond Que Son district headquarters where it branches. Route 535 goes south and joins Route 534. The northern fork is Route 536. Unused by vehicles and degenerated into a foot path, Route 536 goes through a saddle in the Que Sons, then drops down into “Antenna” valley (no one seems to remember how it got that name) which in turn comes in at right angles to Nong Son valley.

The 7th Marines began moving into Que Son valley on 15 August, displacing the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. There were two major combat bases12 to be taken over from the Army: LZ Baldy, at the intersection of Highway One and Route 535, and FSB Ross, west of Que Son village, where Route 536 forks off to the northwest. By the 18th, the 7th Marines had joined the 196th Brigade in a major fight outside Hiep Due, another district headquarters, some 18 kilometers southwest of Ross. The enemy was the 2d NVA Division and, by the end of the month, the united Army and Marine effort had killed more than a thousand of them. Meanwhile, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, operating from Baldy, had joined a Regional Force company in still another sweep of Barrier island.

3d Marine Division Redeploys

 In the north, Colonel LaFond’s 3d Marines had been continuing Operation Virginia Ridge in the central DMZ area. There had been a sharp action on 17 June near Gio Linh in which the 3d Battalion had killed 193 enemy at a cost of 18 Marines dead, 26 wounded, and evacuated. Virginia Ridge was brought to a close on 16 July and succeeded by Idaho Canyon in the vicinity of Con Thien and the Rockpile. There was a last nasty fight above the Rockpile on 17 September in which 48 enemy dead were counted against a total of 25 Marines killed, 47 wounded, and the operation was ended on 25 September. It was now time for the 3d Marines to stand down and get ready to sail for home. The 4th Marines would not be far behind. The 1st Brigade, 5th U. S. Mechanized Division, would be left in Quang Tri province along with about half the 1st ARVN Division to guard the DMZ and the Laotian border approaches into ICTZ.

The second increment of the U. S. troop withdrawal had been announced on 16 September. Of a total of 45,000 Americans to be redeployed by mid-December, 18,483 would be Marines, essentially the rest of the 3d Division together with a proportional share of aviation and service units. Headquarters, 3d Marine Division, and the 4th Marines were to go to Okinawa; the 3d Marines to Camp Pendleton. For its 40 months of combat, 3d Marine Division could claim 28,216 enemy killed, 499 prisoners taken, and 9,626 weapons captured.

Major General William K. Jones, Commanding General of the 3d Division, left for Okinawa on 7 November where he would also be Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Force. I MEF, a counterpart of III MAF, was established to control those Fleet Marine Force air and ground elements in the Western Pacific that were not committed to Vietnam. Also on 7 November, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (Rear) was activated at Iwakuni under command of Brigadier General William G. Johnson. Headquarters, MAG-36, under Colonel Noah C. New, was moved from Phu Bai to Futema on Okinawa where it would pick up control of the helicopter squadrons plus VMO-6 and the KC-13os of VMGR-152. Colonel Owen V. Gallentine’s Provisional MAG-39 at Quang Tri was deactivated. VMA(AW)-533 took its A-6As from Chu Lai to Iwaknuri where it joined MAG-15. HMM-265 went to Santa Ana with its CH-46s. HMM-164, another medium helicopter squadron, went to Okinawa along with HMH-462, a CH-53 squadron.

All helicopter squadrons remaining in Viet Nam were now under MAG-16, commanded by Colonel James P. Bruce, at Marble Mountain. For the time, three squadrons would continue to be based at Phu Bai, but responsibility for operating the airfields at Dong Ha, Quang Tri, and Phu Bai had been passed to the Army.

Special Landing Force Operations

 During this time, as the III Marine Amphibious Force regrouped, combat operations continued at a low ebb. The enemy had reverted almost completely to guerrilla and terrorist activity. Most of the contact, such as it was, with main force units was in the area held by the 7th Marines, particularly in the Que Sons and in Antenna valley.

Defiant Stand

On 7 September, BLT 1/26, lifted by HMM-265, landed south of Hoi An on Barrier island in what would be the last Special Landing Force operation of the war. Operation Defiant Stand was unique in that it was a combined landing with the Korean Marines. The 3d Battalion, 2d ROKMC Brigade, had established a blocking position across the island. BLT 1/26 had landed by helo on LZ Eagle and across Green Beach by landing craft, south of the blocking position, and had swept north, joining the 3d ROKMC Battalion. A provisional Korean Marine battalion landing team then landed on the north edge of the island and swept south against the combined U. S.-Korean blocking position which had faced about. In all, 293 enemy were killed, 121 weapons captured, 2,500 civilians processed—of whom 11 were classified as VCI. SLF Alpha re-embarked on 19 September and reverted to Pacific Command reserve. The ceiling strengths placed on the number of Marines in-country by the withdrawal plan were not an absolute bar to the future employment of the SLF Vietnam. If the situation had so required it could have been landed, and, in fact, in the next two years, did frequently cruise, close to the coast so as to be ready if needed, but such an emergency never arose.

Since 1965, the Seventh Fleet had conducted 62 Special Landing Force operations against the Vietnamese coast. Of this number, 53 had been in I Corps.

The enemy never elected to do more than lightly harass a landing. There were no classic beach assaults, no great flaming battles fought at the water’s edge.

 On the other hand, the computer recorded that the landings had resulted in 6,527 enemy killed, 483 prisoners taken, and 774 weapons captured. The most successful Operations had been those where the SLF had been used as a highly mobile and self-sufficient reserve with which to exploit opportunities developed by on-going, in-country operations. This was particularly true of the big battles fought by the 3d Marine Division along the DMZ in 1967 and 1968. Coastal operations, such as the repeated visits to Barrier island, helped keep these areas sanitized and rounded off the Navy’s Market Time blockade of infiltration from the sea. Barrier island and Batangan peninsula, for example, with their Viet Cong-oriented fisherman populations were long-time transshipment points for supplies landed from the sea and then moved inland to mountain base areas. The SLF landings undoubtedly did much to dry this up.

Most important of all, perhaps, was that the landings not only kept the amphibious art alive, but also actually advanced it by providing testing and training in a combat environment. A large number of Marines and Navy men were exposed to the doctrine, procedures, and techniques of amphibious operations which they otherwise would have missed.


Once again it was monsoon season in I Corps. Pipestone Canyon which had begun on 26 May 1969, was brought to an end on 7 November 1969. One easily perceived result of the five-and-a-half-month effort to cleanse the Dodge City-Go Noi island area was that Route 4 was open to traffic, relatively free of harassment, from Hoi An to Dai Loc—and more venturesome types could proceed west from Dai Loc to Thuong Due.

In November also, the 1st Marine Division had begun an augmentation of the Combined Action Program named, somewhat clumsily, the Infantry Company Intensive Pacification Program (ICIPP). Under the ICIPP concept, rifle companies (the Americal Division was pursuing a similar experiment) would be assigned the primary mission of pacification and deployed much like CAP units, the chief difference being that regular Marine rifle squads would be used, with a modicum of orientation, rather than specially selected and trained Combined Action Platoon squads. The program began with Company M, 1st Marines, sending squads into three contested hamlets near Hill 55, to be paired off, CAP fashion, with the local RFs and PFs.

 The Combined Action Program itself had grown during the year by another company headquarters and 13 platoons for a total investment of 1,710 Marines and 119 Navy corpsmen. During the year, the CAPS had made nearly 150,000 short-range patrols, three-quarters of them at night, and together with their PF and RF counterparts had killed 1,938 enemy, taken 425 prisoners, and captured 932 weapons.

On 15 December, Major General Edwin B. Wheeler, who, as a colonel, had commanded the 3d Marines when it first came into the country in 1965 and who had been back in Vietnam since June 1969, serving as Deputy Commanding General, XXIV Corps, succeeded Major General Simpson as commander of the 1st Marine Division.

Summing Up for 1969

Throughout I Corps, the pacification program seemed well on course. The year’s goal of having 90% of the population secure was reached in October and the percentage was up to an estimated 94% at the end of the year.

Nearly 60,000 enemy dead had been counted in I Corps during 1969- American forces, Army, and Marine, had submitted a total count of 30,803. The Vietnamese and Korean combined count was 27,440. In addition, 10,567 enemy had been captured or defected. These losses, unfortunately, were not reflected proportionately in the estimate of the enemy’s remaining strength in ICTZ. At the end of the year, his strength was put at 77,000 in I Corps, of whom some 51,000 were considered combatants. The number of infantry battalions (more properly thought of as the equivalents of a rifle company) was believed to have grown from 89 to 97.

 On the American side, troop withdrawals had changed not only the size but also the makeup of III Marine Amphibious Force. The year had begun with 79,844 Marines, 3,378 Navy, and 59,403 Army in III MAF. It ended with 54,541 Marines, 2,144 Navy, and 61,792 Army.

1970: The New Year

Shortly after midnight on 6 January 1970, about a hundred members of the 409th NVA Sapper Battalion, up from Quang Tin province, attacked FSB Ross, which was occupied chiefly by the headquarters of 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, two rifle companies, and two batteries of supporting artillery. It was a rainy night, in the dark of the moon, and three sapper teams got through the perimeter wire behind a barrage of about 250 rounds of mortar and RPG fire. Of the sappers, 38 were killed and three were captured. Marine losses amounted to 13 killed and 40 wounded and evacuated. There was a lesson there. Although the enemy more and was avoiding large-scale engagements and limiting himself mostly to terrorist and harassing actions (the Tet surge when it came was minimal) he still had a capacity for nastiness.

The Government of Vietnam’s 1970 Pacification and Development Plan had gotten underway officially on 1 January. The goal for the year was security for 100% of the population. A revised Hamlet Evaluation System, with more stringent criteria, had caused a statistical drop in I Corps security. Even so, by the end of January, 86% of the five provinces 3,021,633 persons were living in hamlets considered secure. Of the remainder, 8% were in contested areas, 2% were in areas under Viet Cong control, and 4% were in hamlets or villages which were unrated.

The new system attempted to measure political, social, and economic gains as well as physical security. The dimensions measured by the new system, in addition to territorial security, included numbers of VCI neutralized, progress in the training and arming of the People’s Self Defense Force, progress in the development of local government, successes in the Chieu Hoi or “open arms” program for returnees, psychological operations, and a broad effort to provide a better life called “Prosperity for all.”

 In January also, Colonel Theodore E. Metzger, who had been the Director, Combined Action Program, was redesignated the Commanding Officer, Combined Action Force (CAF). Thus, the four Combined Action Groups were put under a regimental-equivalent headquarters. Colonel Metzger found it a much more effective organization, one that very profitably could have been established earlier.

The companion Infantry Company Intensive Pacification Program was given the more manageable title of Combined Unit Pacification Program, or CUPP, Company M, 1st Marines, had expanded its share of the program to eight hamlets around Hill 55. Company A, 7th Marines, had nine squads in place along High way One from Ba Ren bridge south to Baldy and from Baldy west along Route 535 to Ross. Company K, 26th Marines, had six squads out in hamlets south and west of Nam 0 bridge, and Headquarters Company, 5th Marines, had three squads in hamlets along Route 4 west of Dai Loc. In all, then, the 1st Marine Division had 26 rifle squads, roughly two-thirds of a battalion, deployed as CUPPs.

Third U. S. Redeployment

Preparations for the Marines’ share of the third increment of U. S. withdrawal also began in January. This time there was to be a reduction of 12,900 Marines by 15 April 1970. The core of this reduction would be Colonel James E. Harrell’s 26th Marines which had been operating west and north of Da Nang and which now would be going home to Camp Pendleton for deactivation. Among the reinforcing units which were also being redeployed were the 1st Antitank Battalion (the Ontos with its six 106-mm. recoilless rifles was fast nearing the end of its service life and the possibility of the enemy using armor was increasingly remote), the 1st Tank Battalion (less one company of M-48 medium tanks which would remain in-country), the 3d Amphibian Tractor Battalion (six LVTH-6 tractors mounting 105-mm. howitzers would stay behind), and the 1st Shore Party Battalion (less one company which would remain, chiefly to work helicopter landing zones).

This redeployment took out most of the tracked vehicles remaining to the 1st Marine Division and this recognized that they had little role to play in the low-intensity combat of Quang Nam province. The remaining tanks and the 105-mm. howitzer amphibians were mainly for the support of the Korean brigade who liked them and whose sandy area of operations between Marble Mountain and Hoi An was well-suited to tracked vehicle operation. Departure of the Shore Party Battalion and the Amphibian Tractor Battalion underscored how far the Division had moved from its original amphibious configuration and mission. The Tractor Battalion’s LVTP-5s were also nearing the end of their service life, having been in the Marine Corps’ inventory for nearly 20 years. Early in the war, they had been used experimentally as substitutes for armored personnel carriers. This had proved too dangerous; their soft underbellies made them easy prey for mines. They had then settled down to a useful life as cargo carriers; they could swim and they were good at crossing sand and mud. At home, their successor, the LVTP-7, was beginning to come off the assembly lines.

 Four tactical squadrons—one of them a helo squadron, the other three fixed-wing—left the country as part of the third increment. VMA-223 with its A-4Es and  VMFA-542 with its F-4Bs flight-ferried home to El Toro, HMH-361 embarked its CH-53s in the USS Tripoli (LPH-10) and went to Santa Ana. MAG-12’s headquarters, commanded by Colonel James R. Weaver, and VMA-211 with its A-4Es went to Iwakuni.

This left the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing with three operating groups. MAG-11 at Da Nang had VMg-1, two A-6A squadrons—VMA(AW)-225 and VMA(AW)-242—and VMO-2 with its OV-10As. MAG-13 at Chu Lai had VMA-311 and three F-4B squadrons—VMFA-115, VMFA-122, and VMFA-314. The last two medium helicopter squadrons at Phu Bai had come down to Marble Mountain Air Facility so that MAG-16 had at that field four medium squadrons equipped with the CH-46D, one heavy squadron with the CH-53, a light squadron with UH-1Es, and another light squadron with AH-1Gs. In all, the Wing had about 170 fixed-wing and 210 helicopters after the deployments were completed. The Wing also continued to operate Air Support Radar Teams (ASRTs) at five sites: Quang Tri, FSB Birmingham in Thua Thien province, Da Nang, An Hoa, and Chu Lai. These ASRTs provided a radar bombing system, incorporating ground-controlled flight path guidance and weapons release, which ensured all weather direct air support coverage throughout ICTZ.

A Navy departure in the third increment was the USS Repose (AH-16), near and dear to the Marines. She had come on-station 16 February 1966 with her 560-bed hospital. She left on 13 March 1970 for home and deactivation. In her nearly four years in Vietnamese waters, she had admitted nearly 25,000 patients, mostly Marines, of whom close to 10,000 had been battle casualties. Many of the rest had had malaria or fevers of undetermined origin.

Command Changes

At its peak in 1968, before the redeployments had begun, III Marine Amphibious Force had included two Marine divisions plus two Marine regimental landing teams, a very large Marine aircraft wing, a large Force Logistics Command, a U. S. Army corps headquarters, three Army divisions, and an Army mechanized infantry brigade. After the redeployment of the 3d Marine Division, the Army, not the Marine Corps, was the dominant U. S. service, in numbers, in 1 Corps. The third increment redeployments further increased the disparity in size between the Army and Marine Corps components.

 In recognition of this, on 9 March 1970, upon the detachment of Lieutenant General Nickerson as Commanding General, III Marine Amphibious Force, the roles of XXIV Corps and III MAF were reversed, with XXIV Corps becoming the senior U. S. command in ICTZ and picking up most of the functions which hitherto had been performed by III MAF. Lieutenant General Melvin Zais, U. S. Army, moved his Corps headquarters from Phu Bai to the old III MAF compound at Camp Horn, and Lieutenant General Keith B. McCutcheon, the new commanding general of III MAF, in turn, moved to Camp Haskins on Red Beach. This would be a second Vietnam tour for General McCutcheon.13 From June 1965 until June 1966 he had served as Commanding General, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, and Deputy Commander, III Marine Amphibious Force.

III MAF would continue as a separate service command under MACV but for operations in ICTZ it was essentially a division-wing team, under the operational control of XXIV Corps, with its area of responsibility limited to Quang Nam province. In the air, the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing would continue to roam farther afield with its fixed-wing aircraft, strike and reconnaissance operations continuing under the single managership of the Seventh Air Force.14 For the time, also, MAG-13 would continue to be based at Chu Lai.

A Smaller Battlefield

The actual TAOR, or tactical area of responsibility, assigned III MAF included not only Quang Nam province but also a slice of Thua Thien province on the north, so as to include all of Hai Van pass, and a bit of Quang Tin province in the south in Que Son valley. The total area was 1,054 square miles. In the TAOR lived an estimated 970,000 people including 418,000 in Da Nang. Most of the rest in the coastal lowlands or river valleys, with a very few—Montagnards—in the mountains.

Redeployment of RLT-26 had brought the 1st Marine Division down to a more normal configuration and strength. It had its three organic infantry regiments, the 1st, 5th, and 7th Marines; its artillery regiment, the 11th Marines; and the usual combat support and combat service support battalions. It had been somewhat denuded, as described earlier, of its amphibious capability but had been beefed up with extra engineers, artillery, and motor transport. Strength was about 21,000 Marines and 1,200 Navy men.

 The Division’s overriding mission continued to be that of providing a shield for the populated area of Quang Nam province, which meant keeping the North Vietnamese forces at arm’s length from Da Nang. The Division had no responsibility for the Da Nang vital zone itself. This responsibility continued to be discharged by III MAF, primarily through the 1st Military Police Battalion as an airfield base defense force and by coordination of all the myriad Free World Military Force tenants in the Da Nang area.15

The Division’s responsibility picked up at the boundary of the Da Nang vital zone. The Division’s dispositions were roughly a series of concentric circles. First, there were the Northern and Southern Sector Defense Commands, forming a belt extending from the Cau Do bridges clockwise around to the Force Logistic Command at Red Beach. The spine for this defense was the high ground, beginning with Hill 327, called “Division Ridge,” a 12-kilometer ridgeline which offered almost the school solution to defending the western approaches to Da Nang. This high ground had first been occupied by the Marines when they came in-country in March 1965, and, although it had been probed by the enemy, it had never been seriously threatened. The ridgeline’s defenders came primarily from Division headquarters and service units. Located at Hill 34 within the Southern Sector was the base camp of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, which had been designated as the Division reserve. During the spring and summer of 1970, its most important contribution was in Pacifier operations, and quick-response helicopter operations of platoon or company size. The Pacifier “package” was used on an average of four times a week against pre-planned or immediate targets.

The next ring beyond the Defense Sectors was the so-called Rocket Belt. With the departure of the 26th Marines, the 1st Marines had the whole belt. This meant drawing in a little tighter towards Da Nang, The 1st Marines turned over their old CP on Hill 55 (which had been a Marine regimental command post since being occupied by the 9th Marines in the spring of 1966) to the 51st ARVN Regiment and moved to the CP vacated by the 26th Marines close to the Division headquarters.

South of the 1st Marines, the Korean Marine Brigade continued to hold sway in its own TAOR, almost autonomous in its operations although “operational guidance” by III MAF continued. West of the ROK Marines and southwest of the 1st Marines, the 5th Marines, (less the 1st Battalion), with its CP and combat base at An Hoa, continued to cover the Arizona territory and the Thuong Duc corridor. And finally, the 7th Marines, with its CP at Baldy, continued to work its battalions in the Que Sons and Que Son valley. (There was a ground attack against Que Son district headquarters, a mile and a half from FSB Ross, early on the morning of 6 May. Marines from 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, counterattacked and drove out the attackers, killing 40.)

Major General Wheeler broke his leg in a helicopter crash on 18 April. The new Division commander, who arrived on 27 April, was Major General Charles F. Widdecke. He had won the Navy Cross on Guam and had commanded the 5th Marines when it first came in-country in 1966.

 Go Noi Resettlement

In March 1970, the Quang Nam province chief announced the government’s intention to resettle the Go Noi island area. It was believed that the rich alluvial soil, which had once been planted in mulberries for silkworm culture, would support a market garden economy. The plan called for housing 17,000 refugees in three hamlets before the beginning of the fall monsoon. The area actually lay in the Korean TAOR and security was to be provided by the Koreans, the ARVN, and the RF and PF. General Zais asked the 1st Marine Division to assist in getting things going. General Widdecke, in turn, assigned the project to his ADC, Brigadier General William F. Doehler. Execution got underway in late May. By 25 June, Marine engineers had opened a road from Highway One and put a 346-foot pontoon bridge across the Song Chiem Son. The Marine contribution was essentially complete by the first week in August. Eight kilometers of road had been pioneered, two defensive compounds had been built, and a portable sawmill had been set up which cut a quarter-million usable feet of lumber for housing from salvaged dunnage. Meanwhile, the Seabees had improvised a 440-foot permanent bridge from surplus components.

On 11 June, not very far from Go Noi, the Viet Cong struck at Thanh My on the south side of Ba Ren bridge. Behind a curtain of 200 rounds of mortar fire, two companies of sappers came into the hamlet, shooting, throwing grenades, and dropping satchel charges into the villagers’ bunkers. Defending the hamlet was a mixed bag of RF, PF, PSDF, RD cadres, and National Police, plus a Marine CUPP.16 Two more CUPP squads arrived as reinforcements but before the attackers could be driven out, 300 houses had been destroyed. In addition to three Vietnamese combatants being killed and 19 wounded, 74 civilians lost their lives and 63 more men were wounded. Marine losses were one killed and 10 wounded.

On 28 June, province council elections were held and in Quang Nam, there was an 83% turn-out of eligible voters. Municipal council elections were conducted in Da Nang on the same day with a 73% turnout. This was taken as an indicator of increasing government effectiveness.

The Force Logistic Command turned over the Hoa Khanh Children’s Hospital to the World Relief Commission on 30 June. The 120-bed hospital, beautifully designed and of masonry and tile construction, was probably the finest children’s hospital outside of Saigon. Built near Red Beach within the Camp Brooks perimeter, the hospital was PLC’s principal civic action project and had cost $300,000 in donations and countless hours of volunteer work.

 On 2 July, President Thieu, with the objective of improving unity of command and territorial security, announced that henceforth the Corps Tactical Zones would no longer necessarily be tied to provincial boundaries, and the RF and PF would become part of the Army of Vietnam. I Corps Tactical Zone became Military Region 1 and, in Quang Nam province, the province chief was given greater responsibility for territorial security. In addition to these changes, the Civilian Irregular Defense Groups at Thuong Due and Nong Son were to be reorganized into Ranger Border Defense Battalions.

Summer Offensive

General Lam, knowing that further U. S. troop withdrawals from Military Region 1 were imminent, gave much thought in the early summer months of 1970 to what might well be the last large-scale combined offensive in his military region. With the concurrence and support of Lieutenant General James W. Sutherland, Jr., U. S. Army (who on 18 June had succeeded Lieutenant General Zais as CG XXIV Corps) General Lam decided upon a generally westward attack on a broad front throughout Military Region 1 into the enemy’s base areas. In Quang Nam province he had the 51st ARVN Regiment, his Ranger Group, and, temporarily, the 258th Vietnamese Marine Brigade, which was fresh from successes in Cambodia. The Vietnamese Marines were veterans of much fighting in the deltas in the south but new to the mountains of the northern provinces. General Lam launched his attack on 6 July. The 51st ARVN Regiment sent its battalions into Base Area 127 on Charlie Ridge above Thuong Due. The 258th Vietnamese Marine Brigade and the Ranger Group were helo-lifted into the western edges of Base Area 112, the mountains drained by the Song Cai, west and southwest of Thuong Due.

Pickens Forest

Colonel Edmund G. Derning’s 7th Marines, with two battalions, followed behind Lam’s westward thrust in a supporting operation, Pickens Forest. The 7th Marines were going into the western and southern part of Base Area 112 with the expectation of disrupting the enemy’s logistics flow. Some 1,500 enemy were thought to be in the objective area, members mostly of the 38th NVA Regiment, the 577th Rocket Battalion, and the 490th Sapper Battalion. Beginning at 0730 on 16 July, Derning, with a regimental command group, a rifle company, and a 105-mm. battery entered the Song Thu Bon valley south of Nong Son and set up FSB Defiant. The same day, the 1st and 2d Battalions went into Fire Support Bases Mace and Dart in the mountains to the west and began their company-size sweeps. On 9 August, the 2d Battalion made a long jump westward to FSB Hatchet above the Song Cai. Pickens Forest ended on 24 August. Contact was limited, but the 7th Marines had found a sizable number of caches of weapons and supplies.

 Fourth U. S. Redeployment

On 20 April 1970, President Nixon announced a 150,000 reduction in U. S. authorized troop strength to be accomplished by 1 May 1971. A total of 41,800 of these reductions were to be Marines. The original plan was for III MAF to reduce 18,600 Marines by 15 October 1970 (Increment IV), another 10,600 by 1 January 1971 (Increment V), and the remaining 12,600 by the deadline of 1 May (Increment VI). That would clear out all Fleet Marine Force Marines from Vietnam. The Marines planned to organize the 12,600 who were to stay until May into a Marine Amphibious Brigade with an activation day fairly soon after 15 October.

The principal ground unit scheduled to leave in the fourth increment was the 7 th Marines, now commanded by Colonel Robert H. Piehl. This meant that after 15 October two Marine regiments in Quang Nam province would have to do what four Marine regiments had been doing prior to April. This recognized, of course, that the enemy had been greatly weakened and the ARVN was growing progressively stronger.

Imperial Lake

But, before the 7th Marines left, it would begin one more named operation. Between 0702 and 0928 on 31 August, attack aircraft of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing delivered 77 tons of ordnance, mostly 1,000-pound bombs and napalm, into the Que Sons in 27 sorties. This followed an all-night drumfire artillery preparation in which Colonel Edwin M. Rudzis’ 11th Marines had shot 13,000 rounds into the target area. The 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, then was helo-lifted into a ring of landing zones which had been quietly reconnoitered by the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. Imperial Lake would keep the Que Sons neutralized for the remainder of the 1st Marine Division’s stay in Vietnam. It also would yield some spectacular intelligence finds as to the Viet Cong infrastructure in Quang Nam province.

 Catawba Falls

The 7th Marines operations in Pickens Forest had developed some inviting fixes as to the location of the 38th NVA Regiment in the rugged country west of Nong Son. Colonel Clark V. Judge, commanding the 5th Marines, recommended an attack with his regiment against the 38th. There was a complication in that the stand-down of the 7th Marines began on 7 September and the 5th Marines were scheduled to move into their vacated area of operations on 21 September.

The Division order for Catawba Falls resembled that for Imperial Lake. It called for a two-phase operation; first a heavy air and artillery attack by fire beginning 18 September, and then an infantry assault by the 5th Marines on 21 September. A composite battery of 105s and 155s was lifted up onto FSB Dagger, a spectacular flat-topped peak 1,031 meters high, called Ban Co by the Vietnamese. In the three-day attack by fire, 11,346 artillery rounds were shot and 141 tons of bombs dropped. Then, on 21 September, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 5th Marines boarded their helicopters, leaving An Hoa, Hill 65, and Hill 37, but not for Catawba Falls. The second part of the operation had been a ruse, deliberately leaked to get an enemy reaction. The 5th Marines moved, not west to Dagger but southeast to Baldy and Ross, to take up positions vacated by the 7th Marines. Meanwhile, the 38th NVA Regiment’s base area was being given a final pounding by five B-52 strikes. Later intelligence indicated that the 38th Regiment had been numbed by the unexpected ferocity of the attack by fire and bewildered by the failure of the expected infantry assault to materialize.

Change in Redeployment Plans

Meanwhile, with Increment IV redeployments fairly well underway, it was learned that available Army manpower could not support the originally planned Army troop level in Vietnam and Marine redeployments would have to be stretched out. The Marines who were scheduled to leave in Increment V, that is, from 15 October until 1 January, now were to stay until Increment VI, from 1 January until 30 April 1971, The brigade would then be formed of the residue and there was no firm decision on how long it would remain in-country, perhaps it would be out by 1 July 1971, perhaps it would be staying longer.

 All of this caused a last minute reshuffling of units as III MAF geared itself for a longer stay in-country than planned. The actual number of Marines to be reduced by 15 October was changed to 17,021. By the time these decisions were reached it was already too late to modify the departure of some of the heavier support units. On 22 August, the last two Force Engineer Battalions, the 9th and most of the 7th, had begun embarkation. This left the Marines with the 1st Engineer Battalion organic to the 1st Marine Division and Company A, 7th Engineers, in general support of III MAF. Increment IV also saw the departure of the last battery of 175-mm. guns and the last company of tanks.

Aviation Changes

On the aviation side, Major General Alan J. Armstrong had replaced Major General William G. Thrash at Wing commander on 1 July 1970. VCMJ-1, the composite reconnaissance and electronic countermeasures squadron, had stood down at the beginning of July, having flown some 14,500 combat sorties, many of them out of country, since 1965. Its new base would be Iwakuni, Japan. VMA-311 moved up from Chu Lai to Da Nang with its A-4s, transferring from MAG-13 to MAG-11. HMM-161 departed in August with its CH-46s for Santa Ana. VMFAs 122 and 314 left in September with their F-4s for Kaneohe and El Toro. VMA(AW)-242 departed the same month with its A-6s for El Toro. By October, Colonel Lawrence J. Stein’s MAG-13 was left at Chu Lai with no operating squadrons. The base was turned over to the U. S. Army and the MAG headquarters redeployed to El Toro. In ten months, 16 Marine tactical squadrons had left country. Remaining in Vietnam were two groups: Colonel Lewis C. Street’s MAG-16 at Marble Mountain with about 150 helicopters and Colonel Albert C. Pommerenk’s MAG-11 at Da Nang with about 80 fixed-wing aircraft.

Ever since arriving in Vietnam in 1965, Marine infantry and helicopters had been combined into various quick reaction “packages.” Sparrow Hawk, Bald Eagle, and Pacifier were all variants on the same theme. The standard ‘helicopter package in early 1970 was four transport helos and two gunships on 24-hour call at Marble Mountain, a 30-minute standby from 0700 to 1830, and a one-hour standby at night. When the 5th Marines moved to Baldy they were given a helicopter package of six CH-46s, four Cobras, and one UH-1E, all of which could get in the air in a matter of minutes. “Pacifier” was dropped as a designator, but Quick Reaction Force rapidly became QRF pronounced “Querf.” The old package of four transports and two gunships continued to be maintained at Marble Mountain for the 1st Marines. Both would get much use against the small, elusive, and transitory targets that characterized the waning war in Quang Nam province.

Profitable close air support missions in support of the 1st Marine Division were becoming increasingly scarce, but MAG-n’s attack and fighter aircraft still had their share of the war. Marine F-4s continued to fly combat air patrols over Laos in support of the 7th Air Force and over the Gulf of Tonkin for Task Force 77 of the Seventh Fleet. Marine A-6s, because of their all-weather capability, were a great favorite of the Seventh Air Force for targeting against “movers”—NVA trucks on their way south along the Ho Chi Minh road complex in Laos. Both the F-4s and the A-4s were also used for interdiction missions in Laos, particularly against the choke points offered by the passes at Mu Gia, Ban Karai, and Ban Raving.

 Combined Action Program Reduced

The Increment IV redeployments had brought about a drastic constriction in the Combined Action Program. The 4th CAG, headquartered at Quang Tri, was disestablished in July. By the end of August, 1st CAG in Quang Tin and Quang Ngai provinces and 3d CAG in Thua Thien province also had been deactivated. On 1 September, operational control of the Combined Action Force, which had gone to XXIV Corps on 26 March, reverted to III MAF control. Scope of operations was now down to 2d CAG in Quang Nam province with six companies and 38 platoons. On 21 September, Colonel Ralph F. Estey’s Combined Action Force headquarters was dissolved.

There were also rearrangements in the complementary CUPP program. With the 7th Marines going home, the 5th Marines picked up its CUPP mission, replacing Company A, 7th Marines, with Company G, 5th Marines, along the road from Ba Ren Bridge to Baldy to Ross. Actually, over 50% of 7th Regiment’s CUPP Marines, as individuals, stayed in place, simply being transferred from the 7th Marines to the 5th Marines. (As with all the redeployments, there was a “mixmaster” of personnel in accordance with redeployment criteria. This assured equity insofar as individual tour lengths went but played hob with unit integrity.)

To fill in behind the two battalions of the 5th Marines which had gone south to Baldy and Ross, the area of operations for Colonel Paul X. Kelley’s 1st Marines was extended to include Charlie Ridge, Hill 37 at Dai Loc, and Hill 65 in the Thuong Due corridor. Company M, 1st Marines, stayed in place with its CUPPs near Hill 55 but operational control reverted from the 5th Marines to the 1st Marines, Company M getting back to its parent regiment after a lapse of nearly a year. The 1st Marines also picked up the three CUPPs west of Dai Loc from the 5th Marines.

Typhoon Kate

 Elements of the 51st ARVN Regiment were to take over at An Hoa from the 5th Marines. They did not immediately arrive. Besides, the ARVN wanted only a quarter of the sprawling combat base and, according to the rules then applying to the disposal of facilities, the rest of the base had to be dismantled completely. The work at An Hoa soaked up a good portion of the remaining engineer capability. The monsoon rains had begun, the ground was bull-dozed into a sea of red mud, and the engineers barely got their heavy equipment out before the rains made the road and Liberty Bridge impassable.

The October rains came to a climax with Typhoon Kate which caused Quang Nam to have its worst floods since 1964. From the Cau Do river south to Baldy and as far west as Thuong Due was almost an uninterrupted lake. Most of Routes 1 and 4 were under three feet or more of water. The wooden-piling “London Bridge” just north of Dai Loc on Route 540 was badly damaged. Liberty Bridge proved virtually monsoon-proof, but there were as much as 25 feet of water over its decking. The 1st Wing’s helicopters, assisted by Division units, particularly the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, evacuated perhaps 30,000 civilians to safety. The Quang Nam province chief later estimated that as many as 10,000 Vietnamese might have perished if it had not been for the American rescue effort.

The floods probably hurt the enemy in Quang Nam more than they did the government. His supply lines were disrupted. Many of his rice caches were flooded and spoiled. There was much evidence of low morale. Marines working in the Que Sons in Imperial Lake began finding increasing numbers of unburied bodies and unprotected caches of food, equipment, and documents.

Hoang Dieu

The effects of the monsoon were in addition to the results General Lam was getting with Operation Hoang Dieu. After bringing the 51st ARVN Regiment and the Ranger Group back from their foray into the enemy base area, Lam concentrated them, along with his Regional and Popular Forces, in a lowlands saturation campaign which had as its objective the systematic search of every hamlet in Quang Nam province for VCI. Virtually all of the 1st Marine Division’s efforts, other than Imperial Lake and deep reconnaissance, were dedicated to the support of Lam’s operation which began on 22 September. By the time Hoang Dieu ended on 30 November, there was a total count of 1,180 enemy killed, and 200 weapons captured. General Lam then began Hoang Dieu 101 which the Marines joined on 17 December.

 1971: The Final Year

III MAF had celebrated the 195th birthday of the Corps on 10 November with a tremendous pageant staged in one of the hangars on the west side of Da Nang airbase. Lieutenant General McCutcheon had been nominated by the President for a fourth star and to succeed General Walt as Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps on 1 February 1971.

Then, on 11 December, General McCutcheon, who had been feeling unwell since about the time of the Marine Corps Birthday, returned to his headquarters from on board the USS Sanctuary, where some exhaustive tests had been taken. He called together the general officers assigned to III MAF and told them he was leaving on 13 December for hospitalization at Bethesda. His plane left at 0755 on Sunday. It was a fine bright morning with a fresh breeze blowing. General McCutcheon had asked that there be no departure ceremony, but there was no preventing a spontaneous sincere send-off. Always slight, he looked gaunt and tired as he shook hands and said goodbye.17

Donn J. Robertson, who had commanded the 1st Marine Division in 1967 and 1968 and who was now the Director of the Marine Corps Reserve, was quickly promoted to lieutenant general and moved to the Western Pacific, arriving in Da Nang on 23 December and assuming command of III MAF the next day.

The level and intensity of ground combat for the 1st Marine Division, even after allowing for the reduced strength of the Division, had declined almost as a straight-line progression during 1970. Of the 403 members of the Division killed in 1970, 283 had died in the first six months of the year. Similarly, of the 3,625 men wounded during 1970, 2,537 were hit during the first six months. The 1970 casualties, 403 killed and 3,625 wounded, in turn, were less than half the 1969 casualties, 1,051 killed and 9,286 wounded.

 The enemy had also lost fewer men. The Division claimed 9,643 killed in 1969, 5,225 killed in 1970. Enemy strength in Quang Nam province had declined, by Division estimates, from 15,500 in January 1969 to 25 in January 1971.

Division artillery, with 174 tubes in January 1969, fired 178,200 rounds (and a total of 2,017,700 rounds for the year) as compared to 35,400 rounds from 74 tubes in January 1971 (and a total of 1,333,000 rounds for 1970).

Quang Da Special Zone

On the Vietnamese side, the ARVN forces in Quang Nam province needed, but never had, a division-equivalent headquarters to direct their action, a need the Marines had perceived as soon as they entered ground combat in the province in 1965. While I Corps headquarters never really did relinquish operational control of ARVN units in Quang Nam province, a headquarters called Quang Da Special Zone (pairing off with Da Nang Special Zone and somewhat confusing because the Viet Cong also called their headquarters Quang Da Special Zone or Sector) had come into being, which, while not adequately staffed to perform division-level command and control, did exert coordinating control over assigned ARVN units. Nurtured by III MAF, and most particularly by 1st Marine Division, combined weekly conferences were held by the commanders of Quang Da Special Zone, 2d ROKMC Brigade, and 1st Marine Division, at which agenda items of mutual interest were considered. These conferences were paralleled by combined staff action. Quang Da Special Zone suffered a notable setback in August when its commander, the highly-capable and well-liked Colonel Nguyen Van Thien, was killed in an air crash on his way to Saigon to receive his star as a brigadier general. Then, on 1 January 1971, Quang Da Special Zone was redesignated the 1st Mobile Task Force and given clear-cut operational control of the 51st Regiment, the 1st Ranger Group (21st, 37th, and 39th Battalions), a squadron of the 1st Armored Brigade, and the 78th and 79th Border Ranger Defense Battalions (successors to the CIDGs at Thuong Duc and Nong Son).

Campaign Plan 1971

 The great change in the Combined Campaign Plan for 1971 was the conceptual one that substituted “tactical areas of interest” (TAOI) for “tactical areas of responsibility.”18 s.”18 Henceforth, TAOIs, not TAORs, normally would be assigned to the Free World military assistance forces (FWMAF). The essential difference between a TAOI and a TAOR was that the commander was not charged with primary tactical responsibility and was not expected to conduct operations throughout the TAOI on a continuing basis. Instead, he would have an “area of operation” (AO) for a specific operation for a specific period of time. The TAOI would include the secure area, the consolidation zone, the clearing zone, and the border surveillance zone. The secure area and consolidation zone would be under command of the province chief. The clearing zone and border surveillance zone would be under the ARVN field commander. FWMAF areas of operation could be in any of the zones.

For the 1st Marine Division, this meant that they no longer, in theory, would bear primary responsibility for security of Quang Nam province (for years their TAOR had been the eastern third or practically all the populated area of the province). The Marine rifleman, patrolling the paddy dikes south of Da Nang and stepping high to avoid tripwires, probably never heard of the shift from TAORs to TAOIs, but he was soon aware that he no longer was ranging quite so far afield and he was conscious that there were more ARVN patrolling the “villes” and out in the bush.

The Hoang Dieu series of operations, which had already moved the ARVN toward an increased responsibility for territorial security, had continued, although at somewhat reduced vigor. Hoang Dieu 101 ended 19 January. The combined effort had resulted in a claimed 538 enemy killed, 87 prisoners, 45 Hoi Chanhs, and 171 weapons captured. Hoang Dieu 103 began 3 February and ended 10 March. Ill MAF’s participation added 82 enemy killed to the totals. Tet 1971 had brought a slight increase in combat over preceding months but nothing like the surges experienced in previous years.

Visit by CG FMFPac and CMC

Lieutenant General William K. Jones, who had succeeded Lieutenant General Henry W. Buse, Jr., as Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, on 1 July 1970, was in Vietnam from 9 to 11 January 1971 on one of his periodic swings through the Western Pacific. Most of the conferences centered on Increments VI and VII and the tidy departure of III MAF from Vietnam.

 At the beginning of 1971, III Marine Amphibious Force was authorized 24,811 Southeast Asia Program Marines. (Actual III MAF strength on 31 December 1970 was 24,715 Marines plus 1,010 Navy men.) For reasons already discussed, there had been no redeployments of Marines in Increment V. For Increment VI, 11,207 would be redeployed during the period 1 January to 30 April. The remaining 13,604 would be organized into the 3d Marine Amphibious Brigade. By the first of the year, Increment VI seemed firm: RLT-5 with corresponding slices of aviation and logistic support would go home. III MAF headquarters would also depart. But what of the 3d Marine Amphibious Brigade? Would it be out of Vietnam by 30 June 1971 as part of Increment VII or would there be a requirement to stay? This was an unanswered question.

Close on General Jones’ heels came General Leonard F. Chapman, Jr., for his last visit to the combat zone as Commandant. Visiting III MAF from 15 to 17 January, he, too, charged that the Marines would come out of Vietnam in good order, leaving nothing behind worth more than “five dollars.”

There was also a great deal of more formal guidance forthcoming on how the Marines would come out if 1 Vietnam. For example, on 30 January, FMPac told III MAF that “It is policy that all principal end items with future economic potential for the Marine Corps be retrograded or redistributed to other WestPac units

Upshur Stream

Colonel Kelley’s 1st Marines on 11 January began an operation called Upshur Stream, the 1st and 3d Battalions moving up into the Charlie Ridge area to look for the elusive rocketeers of the 575th NVA Artillery Battalion. The operation went on until 29 March Contact was small (13 enemy killed, 32 weapons captured) and most of the friendly casualties were from “surprise firing devices,” the euphemism for the enemy’s diabolical collection of land mines. But the of rocket attacks against the Da Nang vital area remained low, possibly because of this and other vigorous actions to get at the rockers before they could be moved into launching position. (There was a standing offer that any Marine finding a rocket got a mini-R&R to Hong Kong or Bangkok.) In 1970, a coral of 228 rockets was flung against Da Nang and its environs. (This total is less impressive when it is realized that the 122-mm. and 140-mm. rockets are nothing much more than self-propelled artillery shells.) None were received in January 1971, 21 in February, and 36 in March (the rise probably being the inevitable result of the thinning of American forces in the Rocker Belt).

 Lam Son 719

By mid-January, ARVN preparations for some kind of large scale offensive were highly visible.

But the first the III MAP subordinate commanders and their staff knew officially about the impending incursion into Laos was on 30 January when they were briefed on the essentials of the operation. I Corps was going to enter Lao, they were told, to clean our Base Areas 604 and 611. There were thought to be 24,000 North Vietnamese in the objective area including the 2d NVA Division and a total of 11 regiments. Lam Son 719 was to be a spoiling action to offset what increasingly appeared to be an intention on the enemy’s part to launch a large-scale offensive into the northern provinces of Military Region I. There were to be four planned phases to the operation. In Phase I, which began at 0001, 30 January, the 1st Brigade, 5th U.S. Mechanized Division, would open Route from Vandegrift to abandoned Khe Sanh and thence to the Laotian border. This was to rake five days. In Phase II, I Corps would move west along the axis of Route 9, cutting across the many-channeled Ho Chi Minh trail complex in a series of essentially heliborne operations a far as the ruined town of Tchepone 40 kilometers inside of Laos. In Phase III, I Corps would conduct systematic search-and-destroy action in Ba e Area 604 in the vicinity of Tchepone. Phase IV would be the withdrawal, looping southward through Base Area 611.

General Lam (who had operated along Route in Laos as a junior officer under the French) moved his command post up to Dong Ha initially and then west to Khe Sanh. For the Laos incursion, he had the 1st ARVN Division, the 1st Armored Brigade, his Rangers, and sizable formations of Airborne troops and Vietnamese Marines. Support of the operation (initially called Dewey Canyon II) by XXIV Corps was to stop at the border except for air. This meant, among other things, that the American advisers had to be left behind.

Marine Corps involvement was to be small. The 1st Marine Division was asked to provide extra security along Route One, particularly in the Hai Van pass area, to prevent harassment of the north-south lines of communication, and a company of five-ton trucks from the 11th Motor Transport Battalion along with some forklifts and operators was to go north. The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing was to provide a heavy-lift capability by way of its CH-53S, and, through Seventh Air Force, would be tasked for tactical air support.

 1st Marine Aircraft Wing support of the operation began on 31 January with CH-53DS from HMH-463 moving gear for the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) into staging areas near Quang Tri. Subsequently, they worked westward to Camp Carroll and Khe Sanh, which were re-opened for the operation.

On 8 February, the ARVN crossed over into Laos, initially against little or no opposition. Within a few days, however, elements of three NVA divisions, four artillery regiments, and a tank regiment materialized. On 8 February, eight Marine CH-53S lifted over a million pounds of cargo into Khe Sanh. Throughout February, Marine-provided lift continued at a level of from two to eight CH-53S. (The Army had no exact equivalent of these heavy lifters. The CH-54 Crane was a special-purpose helicopter. The CH-47 Chinook did not have the capability of lifting 155-mm. howitzers and D-4 bulldozers as was done routinely by the CH-53.)

A typical daily “package” provided Lam Son 719 was four CH-53S escorted by four AH-1G Cobras or newly- arrived AH-1J Sea Cobras. The four AH-1Js had arrived for combat “evaluation” on 17 February and were attached to HMI.-367. The twin-engined Sea Cobra could fly higher and faster than the single-engined AH-1G and it could stay in the air if one engine failed. It’s three- barreled 20-mm. “Gatling Gun” in a chin turret gave it significantly more firepower than the original Cobra’s 7.62-mm. machine gun and 40-mm. grenade launcher. The Sea Cobra’s first combat mission was flown 2 March with Lam Son 719 providing a relatively high-intensity ground fire environment. The Sea Cobras, with their heavier firepower and twin-engined reliability, quickly proved their combat worth.

The package would leave Marble Mountain early in the morning and stage through LZ Kilo near Khe Sanh. Escort by the Cobras was in keeping with Marine doctrine and, although there were many heavy lifts into Laos (the farthest west being to FSB Sophia near Tchepone, 40 kilometers inside the border) only one Marine heavy helicopter was lost to enemy fire. That was by a chance mortar round as the CH-53 sat down in a “hot” landing zone. In February the CH-53S flew a total of 2,045 sorties lifting 4,436 tons of cargo and 968 passengers in support of Lam Son 719.

By the end of February,19 General Lam could reasonably claim to have preempted the expected large-scale offensive into the northern provinces. He had cut the Ho Chi Minh trail complex and had engaged the enemy in a major battle. The pull-back, which now began, also required Marine heavy helo lift to get out guns and other heavy equipment. In March the CH-53S flew 980 sorties in support of the operation, lifting 1,491 tons of cargo and 1,556 troops.

 Marine fixed wing aircraft meanwhile were flying 509 sorties and dropping 1,183 tons of ordnance in February in support of Lam Son 719, followed in March by 436 sorties and 1,447 tons of ordnance. The Quang Tri Air Support Radar Team was helo-lifted to Khe Sanh on 23 February. Put into operation the same day, it controlled nearly a thousand sorties, flown by the full gamut of Free World aircraft, before returning to Quang Tri on 31 March.

Some of the problems of supporting Lam Son 719 were never solved. The enemy seemed to know every move in advance. Aerial support was hampered by the weather which delayed getting started each day. Enemy antiaircraft fire, although limited to light AA guns and automatic weapons, was never adequately suppressed. NVA artillery hammering away at the bull’s eyes of the ARVN fire support bases was difficult to locate and never silenced. The absence of American advisers on the ground created some difficulties in battlefield liaison and communications.

Ultimate casualties for Lam Son 719 were reported, as of 9 April, as being 13,636 enemy killed, 5,066 individual and 1,934 crew-served weapons taken; 1,483 ARVN killed, 5,420 wounded, and 691 missing. U. S. support of the operation had cost 176 Americans killed, 1,048 wounded, and 42 missing.

Increment VI

The 5th Marines were returning to Camp Pendleton, but after the usual personnel “mixmaster,” in nothing more than cadre strength. On 15 February, the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, stood down, coming out of the Que Sons and moving its rear from FSB Ross to Hill 34, south of Da Nang, which was to be used as a staging area for the infantry battalions as they got ready to leave country. Ross was turned over to I Corps. FSB Ryder, the superb artillery battery position on the ridge above Ross overlooking Antenna valley, was razed for lack of a tenant. (Directives from MACV and XXIV Corps concerning disposition of unwanted facilities used the term “abandon;” 1st Marine Division, however, was insistent that it was “dismantling” facilities and “razing” tactical installations. Nothing of possible value to the enemy was left behind and a high standard of police was rigidly enforced.) The 3d Battalion was followed in short order by the 2d Battalion and the 5th Marines regimental headquarters from Baldy.

 As yet there had been no adjustment in the size of the Division’s area of operations. The 1st Marines, the sole remaining infantry regiment, put a bob-tailed battalion into the Que Sons to continue Imperial Lake and also to provide security at Baldy until the Vietnamese were ready to take over the base.

As late as the end of February, MACV was asking for changes to the Marine aviation forces remaining in-country. With Lam Son 719 still going on, MACV was concerned over the impending departure of additional Marine helicopters and attack aircraft and the loss of the radar bombing capability embodied in the ASRTs. Some departures were already irreversible.

VMFA-115, the last Marine F-4 squadron in-country, flew its last mission on 22 February and then stood down preparatory to moving to Iwakuni. In three tours in-country since October 1965, the squadron had flown 30,083 sorties and dropped 583,345 tons of ordnance.

HMM-364 redeployed to Santa Ana with its CH-468 on 11 March. HMM-364 also had three tours in-country (the first two while equipped with the UH-34) and since February 1964 had flown 256,450 sorties, lifting 3 77,600 passengers and 14,425 tons of cargo, and making 25,570 medevacs.

VMO-2, the aerial eyes of the 1st Division, departed for Camp Pendleton on 8 April, leaving behind a detachment of four OV-10A for duty with the Brigade While in Vietnam, VMO-2 had logged over 120,000 sorties and controlled more than 3,000 airstrikes plus spotting for innumerable artillery missions.

 Headquarters, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, stood down officially on 28 March but continued flight operations and essential staff functions. The Wing’s Direct Air Support Control Center (DASC), which was collocated with the Division’s Fire Support Coordination Center (FSCC), had controlled at least 150,000 helo missions and was staying in Vietnam as part of the Brigade.

On 15 March, the major ground ammunition supply point, ASP-2, was turned over to the U.S. Army. On 27 March Camp Faulkner near Marble Mountain, home of the 1st Engineer Battalion, went to a mechanized cavalry element of the 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division. Baldy, a great sprawling combat base, went to the Vietnamese on the same day.

Battle for Duc Duc

Toward the end of March, there was hard intelligence that the enemy was going to launch his “K-850″ offensive in Quang Nam the night of 28/29 March. “Open fire,” it was said, was to be from 2300 on the 28th to 0200 on the 29th. Despite the forewarning and reasonably effective countermeasures (including the incentive mentioned earlier of an R&R for every Marine who found a rocket), the enemy managed to sprinkle Da Nang and its environs with 23 rockets during the course of the night, the highest daily total in a year. There were also mortar and ground attacks against four district headquarters: Dien Ban, Dai Loc, Que Son, and Duc Duc. The explicit propaganda message was “If we can do this while the Marines are still here, what will it be like when they have gone?”

The most serious attack was against Duc Duc.

 On 29 March, the 38th NVA Regiment surfaced for the first time in months. Coming out of the hills beyond An Hoa in a two battalion attack, the 38th tried to seize Duc Duc district headquarters. Phu Da and Thu Bon hamlets were heavily damaged—1,500 dwellings were destroyed, 103 civilians were killed, 96 wounded, and 37 kidnapped—and the VC flag was advanced almost to the gates of the District headquarters compound, defended at a cost of 20 PFs killed, 26 wounded. The 51st ARV Regiment counter-attacked and in four days of fighting, without help from U. S. ground forces, ejected the 38th NVA Regiment.

Scott Orchard

Partially in response to the arrack against Duc Duc, the 1st Marines on 7 April made a last foray, called Scott Orchard, into the base area in the wild country west of An Hoa. Combining some of the aspects of Pickens Forest and Catawba Falls, a composite 105-mm. and 155-mm. battery was set up on precipitous FSB Dagger and five companies under control of 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, were inserted into the target area. There was almost no contact, four enemy were killed and 12 weapons captured, and the raid was ended on 12 April.

III MAF Departs

The 14th of April 1971 was the day that III Marine Amphibious Force, after just short of six years in-country, left Vietnam.20 Lieutenant General Robertson took his flag and headquarter to Okinawa. Major General Widdecke departed with the 1st Marine Division colors for Camp Pendleton.21 The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing colors went to Iwakuni but without Major General Armstrong who was to stay behind as Commanding General, 3d Marine Amphibious Brigade.

 3d Marine Amphibious Brigade

The much-postponed 3d Marine Amphibious Brigade, task organized from the air, ground, and logistic units, some 13,600 Marines, that were to stay behind, was activated for planning on 1 March and for operations on 14 April. It included a ground element (essentially a regimental combat team built around Colonel Kelley’s 1st Marines, a fixed-wing group (Colonel Pommerenk’s MAG-11), a helicopter group (Colonel Street’s MAG-16), and the remainder of Brigadier General James R. Jones’ Force Logistic Command. There was also the 2d Combined Action Group (all that remained of the Combined Action Program) and the 1st Military Police Battalion (airfield security plus armed forces police and war dog duties formerly performed by 3d Military Police Battalion which had gone home in Increment IV).

The 196th Light Infantry Brigade, which would ultimately be the last U. S. ground combat element in Quang Nam province, moved into the Que Sons on 13 April, putting a battalion command post on Hill 510. Everything south of Phase Line Blue, a line drawn along the Vu Gia—Thu Bon rivers was now the responsibility of (or, in the new terminology, “of interest” to) the Army.

The operational life of 3d MAB would be short. On 7 April, President Nixon announced the numbers of American troops to be out of country by 30 June. The 3d MAB would be amongst those to be redeployed. The 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, and an artillery firing battery had stood down on the 13th, so the brigade had actually lost a third of its ground combat strength a day before it became operational. VMA(AW)-225, the last A-6 squadron, stood down on 20 April and by the end of the month was flight-ferrying all of its planes back to El Toro.

The CUPP program ended in April with the redeployments. The CAP program was down to three companies with 18 platoons and all were to be deactivated by 7 May. Possibly because of the thinning out of Americans at the hamlet and village level, there was an upsurge of terrorist activity in Quang Nam province: 28 assassinations, 101 kidnappings, and 15 bombings in March; 16 assassinations, 132 abductions, and 5 bombings in April.

 End of Combat

On 1 May, 3d MAB responsibility receded to Phase Line White, essentially Hoa Vang District.

The one named operation still underway was Imperial Lake. As the Marine’s area of operations had contracted, the focus of the operation had shifted from the Que Sons to Charlie Ridge. It terminated on 7 May 1971.

Along with Imperial Lake, all ground and air combat ended for the 3d MAB on 7 May. On that day, the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, the last infantry battalion in the field, stood down. Raymond Davis, now a four-star general and Assistant Commandant, was visiting and had lunch with Company F south of the Song Cau Do, close to where the 9th Marines had first crossed the river in July 1965. Also at noon, two companies of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade relieved the Provisional Company from 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, which had been manning Division Ridge (where Company I, 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, had first climbed on 10 March 1965) and Battery B, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, drove away from Hill 55 with its six 105s and two 155-mm. in convoy. Last rounds had been fired the day before by Battery C at the Northern Artillery Cantonment. As soon as the last two firing batteries’ 105-mm. howitzers were cleaned and inspected they were turned over to the Vietnamese Marines. The 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, in its more than five years in-country had shot over 2.5 million rounds. On this same day, 7 May, 16 A-4s from VMA-311 flew their last strike into Laos, the four remaining OV-10As flew their last reconnaissance, HMM-262 stood down its CH-46S, the ASRT on Hill 327 began to dismantle its radars,22 the 1st Military Police Battalion relinquished its airfield security mission to a Regional Force group, and 2d CAG pulled in its last CAPS from Dien Ban district. On 7 May also, the 3d MAB headquarters cantonment was transferred to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade although the 3d MAB headquarters would stay on as tenants until 26 June.

On 10 May, the Northern Artillery Cantonment was transferred to the government of Vietnam as was Camp 14, which had been the picturesque and comfortable base camp for the now-departed 3d Battalion, 1st Marines. On 15 May, the remaining ammunition supply point, ASP-i, was turned over to ARVN. On 21 May, Colonel Pommerenk released MAG-n’s facilities on the west edge of the Da Nang air base (developed to a point where they would have been unrecognizable to the original Shu Fly occupants) to the U. S. Air Force. New home for MAG-11 would be El Toro where it would become part of the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing.

 By 26 May, all of the last infantry unit, the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, were off of Hill 34, and on their way to Camp Pendleton. The 26th of May was also the last day for helicopter operations, remaining CH-53S of HMH-463, UH-IEs of HML-167, and Cobras of HML-367 standing down. On 1 June the transfer of Marble Mountain Air Facility by Colonel Street’s MAG-16 to the U. S. Army was completed and the last members of the Group headquarters were on their way to Santa Ana where MAG-16, like MAG-11, would be assigned to the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing. On 4 June, Brigadier General Jones released the Force Logistics Command’s Camp Books—its remaining Butler buildings now starkly empty—to the ARVN 1st Area Logistical Command.

With all operations over, there was now nothing left for the service and service support units to do but complete their own preparations for departure. The last surface element sailed on 25 June in the USS Saint Louis (LKA-116) and included some members of Company A, 1st Medical Battalion (who had maintained a 60-bed hospital through the operational life of the Brigade) and hard-working Company A, 7th Engineers, acting as cargo riders for their administratively-loaded equipment. On 26 June, Major General Armstrong boarded, a Marine KC-13oF with the last ten members of 3d MAB’s headquarters. His destination was Okinawa, first leg to Hawaii and deactivation.

This left only a “transitional-support” force of about 500 Marines still in Vietnam. The largest number were members of the 1st Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, parceled out in teams from just below the DMZ down to the southern tip of the peninsula. There was also a Marine advisory unit of about 60 officers and men with the Vietnamese Marine Corps which had grown to a three-brigade light division. The rest, except for a few in the MACV structure, were guards with the U. S. Embassy and consulates. There would continue to be a scattering of casualties, but those who remained were performing essentially liaison, advisory, staff, and guard functions. It was thought that the air-ground war for the Marines in Vietnam had ended. Then came the North Vietnamese Eastern offensive.

Easter Offensive, 1972

On 30 March 1972, the North Vietnamese began their three-pronged attack. In the north, two NVA divisions attacked, one slicing across the DMZ while a second rolled east along Highway 9 into Quang Tri province. A third division moved east from the A Shau Valley toward Hue. The initial NVA attack in Quang Tri province was supported by as many as 200 tanks td and large numbers of 122 mm. and 130-mm. field pieces. His SAMs— the big surface-to-air missiles—were moved south, close to the DMZ, from where they could cover much of Quang Tri province. His other anti-aircraft weapons ranged from 12.7-mm. to 57-mm. and, something new, there was the SA-7, a Russian-made ili5 heat-seeking missile similar to the Redeye. With strength, he overwhelmed the new and green 3d ARVN Division, and the old, familiar combat bases—Khe Sanh, Camp Carroll, Con Thien, Gio Linh—began to fall, one by one.

At this time, two Vietnamese Marine brigades were under the operational control of the 3d ARVN Division. Brigade 14723 was operating out of Mai Loc, west of Dong Ha, and Brigade 258 was operating out of Dong Ha. Brigade 147 was heavily hit at Mai Loc and Nui Ba Ho and at FSBs Holcomb and Sarge. By 2 April, the brigade commander, out of contact with the 3d ARVN Division, had come to a reluctant conclusion that he would have to fall back to Quang Tri city. Meanwhile, Brigade 258 was hit hard at Dong Ha but held all positions. The 3d VNMC Battalion was holding the bridgehead at Dong Ha and on 2 April, as the enemy’s armored column reached the bridge, Captain John W. Ripley, the battalion’s advisor, personally blew up that structure and won himself the Navy Cross. Brigade 258 then withdrew to positions near Quang Tri city.

On 3 April, the Joint General Staff ordered the Marine Division headquarters and Brigade 369 north from Saigon. The Vietnamese Marine Division at this time was commanded by Lieutenant General Nguyen Le Khang. His senior U. S. advisor was Colonel Joshua W. Dorsey, III, who had commanded the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, in Vietnam in 1965-66. The Division located its command post in the Hue Citadel where it was joined by Brigade 147 which required re-fitting. Brigade 369 went into action near FSB Nancy.

Elsewhere in South Vietnam, the other two prongs of the NVA general offensive were making themselves felt. In the south, three NVA divisions came out of Cambodia along the axis of Route 13 and were stopped at An Loc. In the center, in mid-April, two NVA divisions launched themselves from Laos against the Central Highlands, moving south through Dak To toward Kontum.

The 3d ARVN Division, including Brigade 147 which had gone up to relieve Brigade 258, now occupied a rough line along the Cua Viet river and it held until 27 April when it broke under a fresh NVA attack. On 30 April, Brigade 147 was given the mission of covering the withdrawal of the 3d ARVN Division from Quang Tri city. Quang Tri city fell on 1 May. Brigade 369 took up a line along the My Chanh river which marks the boundary between Quang Tri and Thua Thien provinces. On 2 May, Brigade 147 moved through Brigade 369’s defensive positions and on into Hue to regroup. By 4 May, all of Quang Tri province was lost. By this time the 3d ARVN Division was no longer combat-effective and was falling back, eventually to reform in Quang Nam province, moving into camps once occupied by the 1st Marine Division.

Brigade 258 was now moved into the My Chanh line west of Brigade 369’s positions. In addition to its own three brigades, the Vietnamese Marine Division now had operational control of the 1st Ranger Group and the 2d Airborne Brigade. These were all that stood between the North Vietnamese army and the northern approaches to Hue.

 U. S. Marine Support

At sea, by the end of the first week in April, the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade under Brigadier General Edward J. Miller, four battalion landing teams and two composite helicopter squadrons embarked in Seventh Fleet amphibious shipping, had taken station. No ground combat troops were to be landed. The Brigade was there to provide helicopter and amphibian tractor support to the embattled Vietnamese Marines.

On 6 April, MAG-15, commanded by Colonel Keith O’Keefe, was ordered to move with two F-4J squadrons to Da Nang. The Group arrived with VMFAs 115 and 232 began combat operations on 9 April. A third squadron, VMFA-212, came in from Kaneohe on 14 April. Most of MAG-i5’s sorties would be flown in Military Regions 1 and 2. VMA(AW)-224 with its Grumman A-6A Intruders was on board the USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) at Yankee Station, but most of its missions were being flown to Laos and North Vietnam.

For naval gunfire support, every available cruiser and destroyer in the Seventh Fleet took its turn on the line. ANGLICO teams were involved in all four military Regions but most were working in Military Region 1.

MAG-12, under the command of Colonel Dean C. Macho, was alerted on 12 May to move with two of its A-4 squadrons, VMAs 211 and 311, to Bien Hoa air base in Military Region 3. This was not a field from which Marine air had worked before. The move to Bien Hoa began on 16 May and first combat sorties were flown three days later. MAG-12 would concentrate its operations on the southern half of South Vietnam and along the Cambodian border while MAG-15, flying out of Da Nang, would concentrate on the northern half of the country and along the Laotian border. With few exceptions, all close air support missions were being controlled by airborne forward air controllers. It was estimated that half the enemy tanks destroyed and half his personnel casualties were the result of tactical air.

 After taking Quang Tri province the enemy paused to regroup. Toward the end of May, he resumed his drive against Hue, but was stopped along the line of the My Chanh by the determined defense of the Vietnamese Marines and Airborne troopers, and to the west of the city by the veteran 1st ARVN Division, all supported by great quantities of U. S. naval gunfire and tactical air. On 24 May, the Vietnamese moved north of the My Chanh with an amphibious assault by Brigade 147, landing at Wunder Beach, 16 kilometers from Quang Tri city, and sweeping south between the sea and Highway One.

Marine air support continued to expand. Task Force Delta was reactivated under Brigadier General Andrew W. O’Donnell, the Assistant Wing Commander of 1st MAW, and sent to northern Thailand to open an airfield at Nam Phong. First echelons of the Marine logistic support group and the 30th Naval Construction Regiment arrived there in mid-May. Nam Phong, 300 miles from Da Nang and about the same distance from Hanoi, had been begun five years earlier as a standby facility. Never completed, it offered a 10,000-foot runway, taxi strip, parking apron, six nose docks (which were being used as improvised barracks by the Thais), and not much else. The Marines promptly named it the “Rose Garden” in derisive reference to the current recruiting slogan,24 but the Seabees went to work (in temperatures of 110 degrees) and soon there were “Wonder-Arch” rocket shelters for the aircraft, a chapel, 300 strong-backed tents, and a mess hall which boasted better food than Da Nang.

VMFA-115 re-deployed from Da Nang to Nam Phong on 16 June and combat flight operations began the next day. MAG-15 headquarters and VMFA-232 followed on 20 June. VMFA-212 was detached to return to Kaneohe, but VMA(AW)-533 arrived at Nam Phong with its all-weather A-6s and flew its first combat mission on 24 June.

Something new was added in the way of sea-based tactical air on 20 June when a detachment from HMA-369 began operating its AH-1J Sea Cobras from the decks of the USS Denver (LPD-9) off the North Vietnamese coast. Prime targets for the Sea Cobras were the lighters being used to ferry cargo ashore from the ships anchored outside the minefields.


 By 28 June, the South Vietnamese forces north of Hue were ready to begin their counteroffensive. A two-division attack jumped off, Airborne Division on the left flank, Marine Division on the right flank, next to the sea. The attack rammed its way back up High-, way One and then slowed in the face of North Vietnamese determination to hold Quang Tri city and its Citadel. Twice during July, the Saigon government announced, prematurely, the recapture of the provincial capital. The Airborne Division was relieved on 27 July and the burden of completing the fight for Quang Tri fell to the South Vietnamese Marines.

Then, southwest of Da Nang, a fresh NVA column came out of the mountains into Que Son valley (of bitter Marine Corps memory) and, on 19 August, the 5th Regiment, 2d ARVN Division, withdrew from Combat Base Ross and Que Son district headquarters The North Vietnamese were eventually driven out of Ross and the town of Que Son, but the valley remained infested with their presence.

In the north, the Vietnamese Marines were literally up against the 15-foot walls of the 50-acre Citadel. As September began, Brigade 258 was on the Division’s left front, Brigade 147 on the right; the brigades separated by the Vinh Dinh river. On 7 September, the 1st Ranger Group was moved into Brigade 147’s positions, freeing 147 to attack Quang Tri from the northeast. The jump-off for the final assault came at 0500 on 9 September, six battalions from the two brigades in the attack. By 11 September, a platoon from 6th Battalion, Brigade 258, had found its way through a hole blasted by American jets in the south wall. The rest of the battalion followed and took the southeast quadrant of the fortress. Other Marines came over the north and east walls. By nightfall on the 15th the Citadel had been cleared and at noon on Saturday, 16 September, the red-striped yellow flag of the Republic of Vietnam went up over the ruined west gate.

As The Year Ended

As 1972 neared its end and as Dr. Kissinger and Le Duc Tho continued their meetings in Paris, at least a state of equilibrium if not victory had been reached in South Vietnam: An Loc and Kontum had survived, the threat to Hue had been pushed back, and Quang Tri, the only provincial capital to fall to the North Vietnamese, had been recaptured.

 Vietnam had been the longest and, in some of its dimensions, the biggest war in Marine Corps history. At its peak strength in 1968, III Marine Amphibious Force had had 85,755 Marines, more than a quarter of the Marine Corps and more Marines than were ashore at Iwo Jima or Okinawa. In World War II, our largest war, 19,733 Marines had been killed and 67,207 wounded. In Vietnam, from 1 January 1961 through 9 December 1972, enemy action had caused the death of 1 2,936 Marines—28.4% of the 45,915 U. S. killed or dead as the result of enemy action. Another 1,679 Marines had died of non-battle causes. Wounded in action total 88,589, of whom 51,389 required hospitalization—33.5% of the 153,256 U. S. WIAs hospitalized. Only 26 Marines were known to be prisoners—4.7% of the 554 known U. S. prisoners. Another 93 were MIA—8.0% of the 1,156 Americans missing in action. Fourteen more were simply “missing”—12.0% of the 117 Americans thus accounted for.

In turn, the Marines had taken 4,098 prisoners (judged bona fide enemy fighting men, not just detainees) and 22,879 weapons. Moreover, they claimed 86,535 enemy killed in the period from March 1965 to May 1971.

The Corps’ peak strength during Vietnam was 317,400, far under the peak of 485,113 reached in World War II, but during the six years of Vietnam some 730,000 men and women served in the Corps as opposed to some 600,000 in World War II. The reason for the lower peak strength yet higher total number serving was, of course, that Vietnam was fought using peacetime personnel policies. A man was not held for the duration; he served his time and then was discharged. Marines served a 12- or 13-month tour in Vietnam and then came home. Some 9,000 to 10,000 replacements were needed each month in the Western Pacific. To keep this going, some 85,000 to 120,000 Marines entered and left the Marine Corps each year. It is estimated that nearly half a million Marines served in Vietnam itself.

Most of these Marines, as they went up the ship’s gangplank or the aircraft’s ramp on their way home, probably left Vietnam with a feeling that they and the Marine Corps had done the job assigned to them. Most may also have left with a feeling of cautious optimism insofar as the future of Vietnam was concerned. Few, however, would take exception to the judgment of Keyes Beech (himself a Marine Combat Correspondent in World War II) leaving Vietnam after ten years of reporting on the war:

“In closing, I would like to offer a salute to that skinny little Viet Cong somewhere out there in the jungle shivering in the monsoon rains. . . . He is one hell of a fighting man.”


1 Operation Starlite 18-24 August 1965, was the first regiment-sized. U.S. combat since the Korean War. See “Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam, 1965-1966,” Naval Review, 1968. pp. 18-19, and O. F. Peatross, “Application of Doctrine: Victory at Van Tuong Village,” Naval Review, 1967, pp. 3-13.

2 Under the fire support base (FSB) concept, pioneer and reconnaissance elements would go in first. A helo landing zone would be quickly cleared. Infantry would come in to provide security. Engineers would land to develop the site, first with hand tools and demolitions, and then with helicopter- transportable power equipment including a remarkably useful and versatile mini-dozer. No two FSBs were exactly alike, either in Dewey Canyon, Taylor Common, or elsewhere, but typically an FSB would provide room for a battery of artillery (often a mixed battery of 105-mm. and 155-mm. howitzers and 4.2-inch mortars), an infantry battalion command post, a logistic support area, and an aid station. When perched on top of a mountain, these FSBs were easy to defend, seldom tying up more than a platoon of infantry.

3 Tet 1968 is discussed in some detail in “Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam, 1968,” Nava/ Review, 1970, pp. 298-302.

4 This same attack pattern against Da Nang was tried during Tet 1968 and again in August 1968. Nava/ Review 1970, pp. 299 and 313-314.

 5 The Le Loi campaign had as its primary objective the mending of the damage done to pacification by the 1968 Mt offensive. Naval Review, 1970, p. 318.

6 The U.S. AID-supported National Police, often disdainfully dismissed As the “white mice,” had in fact by this time developed a significant constabulary capability.

7 For the evolution of the Combined Action Program see “Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam, 1965-1966,” Naval Review, 1968, pp. 25-26. Also Naval Review, 1969, p. 141, and Naval Review, 1970, p. 320.

8 The 175-mm. M107 has now replaced the 155-mm. M53 as the Marine Corps’ heavy gun. Range for its 147-pound shell is 32,700 meters as compared to the 95-pound 155-mm. shell with a range of 23,500 meters. Tube life was originally 300 rounds; this has now been improved to 1,200 rounds as compared to the M53’s tube life of 700 rounds. The 175-mm. weighs a third less than the 155-mm.—62,100 pounds as opposed to 96,000. Nevertheless, both are big, cumbersome guns. Both, however, can be carried in LCUs and thus can travel in LSDs. They can also be loaded and unloaded across the stern gate of the new 1179-class LSTs.

9 County Fair techniques are discussed in “Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam, 1965-1966,” Natal Review, 1968, pp. 28-29.

 10 Allen Brook (4 May-24 August 1968) did much to pre-empt enemy attack efforts against Da Nang. See “Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam, 1968,” Naval Review, 1970, p. 306. Meade River (20 November-9 December 1968) was an outstandingly successful application of County Fair techniques. Ibid. p. 318.

11 Operation Harvest Moon. See “Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam, -1966,” Naval Review, 1968, p. 26.

12 Both Baldy and Ross had long since, outgrown their original respective designations as a “landing zone” and a “fire support base.” A landing zone, by definition, is simply a place where aircraft can land. In Vietnam, it came to have the specific meaning of an improved landing site for helicopters. A fire support base, in the Vietnam context, usually meant an artillery battery position. Once, however, a location was labeled on “LZ” or “FSB” the appellation tended to stick, as in the case of Baldy which had grown into a full-fledged brigade or regimental-size combat base, and Ross which easily accommodated a battalion.

13 Lieutenant General Keith B. McCutcheon’s “Marine Aviation in Vietnam, 1962-1970,” appears in Naval Review, 1971.

14 Ibid, pp. 136-138. See also “Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam, 1968,” Naval Review, 1970. pp. 302-303.

 15 The problems of air base defense are discussed in “Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam, 1965-1966,” Naval Review, 1968, p. 19.

16 In microcosm, Thanh My illustrates the command and control problems of the Vietnam War, wherein cooperation had to be substituted for unity of command.

17 Keith Barr McCutcheon, one of the Marine Corps’ most distinguished aviators, was placed on the retired list with the rank of four-star general on 1 July 1971, and died of cancer 13 July 1971.

18 By JCS Dictionary definition, tactical area of responsibility is “A defined area of land for which responsibility is specifically assigned to the commander of the area as a measure for control of assigned forces and coordination of support. Commonly referred to as TAOR.” Thus a division, regiment, or battalion could have a “TAOR,” however, in the Vietnam context the term ordinarily applied to the area of operational responsibility assigned to a U. S. division.

19 Debates as to the success or failure of the Laos Incursion and its consequences, military and political, lie outside the purview of this article.

20 III Marine Expeditionary Force was activated 6 May 1965. Next day the designation was changed to III Marine Amphibious Force. See “Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam, 1965-1966,” Naval Review, 1968, p.10.

21 The 1st Marine Division was officially welcomed home by President Nixon on 30 April in nationally televised ceremonies.

22 The Quang Tri and Da Nang ASRTs stood down on 8 May but the ASRT at FSB Birmingham remained operational until 30 May to support ARVN and U. S. Army units in Lam Son 720 being run in A Shau valley.

23 Vietnamese Marine brigades take their designations from their original infantry battalions; thus, in the case of brigade 147, it would be the 1st, 4th, 7th Battalions. However, IS with U.S. Marine regiments, Vietnamese battalions are often moved in and out of the operational control of their parent brigade. For example, on 30 March, Brigade 147 had the 1st, 4th, and 8th Infantry Battalions and the 2d Artillery Battalion.

24 The slogan: “We don’t promise you a rose garden.”