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prepared for any eventuality and ready to land at Da Nang or Saigon as the situation required.
By the end of February, President Johnson had made the decision to commit a two-battalion Marine expeditionary brigade to Da Nang with the mission of protecting the base from enemy incursion. General Karch and members of his staff once more visited General Westmoreland on 25 February to discuss plans for a Marine landing at Da Nang. The MEB commander left Saigon two days later for Da Nang where he coordinated his plans with the South Vietnamese I Corps Commander, Major General Nguyen Chanh Thi, the virtual warlord of South Vietnam's five northern provinces. Karch later recalled:
On our way back into Thi's headquarters a jeep came out with a New York Times reporter in it. Westmoreland's J-3 [BGen William E. DePuy, USA] turned to me and said, "That is bad news." When he got in he had a phone call from Saigon saying, "Get Karch and his staff out of the country as quickly as posible.''15
General Karch and his staff immediately departed Da Nang for Subic Bay and then Okinawa.
On 27 February (26 February, Washington time), the Department of State cabled Ambassador Taylor that the Marines were to be landed and that he was to secure approval from the Government of Vietnam for this eventuality. On the afternoon of the 28th, Ambassador Taylor met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Huy Quat to discuss with him the proposed American landing. The following day, 1 March, the Ambassador met with the Minister of the Vietnamese Armed Forces, General Nguyen Van Thieu and the Vietnamese Chairman of the Joint General Staff, General Tran Van Minh ("Little Minh") to discuss the details of the deployment of the 9th MEB. The two Vietnamese officers posed no objections to the proposed commitment of American combat troops. They did, however, express concern about the reaction of the Vietnamese population and requested that the American forces be brought into Da Nang "in the most inconspicuous way feasible."16
Evidently this "inconspicuous way" statement had some effect on U.S. officials in Washington. On 3 March, Ambassador Taylor received a message from Assistant Secretary of Defense John T. McNaughton stating that it was desirable to deploy the Army's 173d Airborne Brigade by air from Okinawa instead of the 9th MEB.17 Some Washington planners obviously believed that the light infantry of an airborne brigade landing at Da Nang airfield would be a "quieter arrival" than the more formidable appearance of a Marine brigade with its tanks, amphibian tractors, and other heavy weapons arriving in an armada of amphibious ships. General Westmoreland, supported by the American Ambassador, immediately objected to the proposed change. Both considered that the Marines were more self-sustaining. Admiral Sharp, Commander in Chief, Pacific, cabled the JCS:
Since the origination of OPLAN 32 in 1959, the Marines have been scheduled for deployment to Da Nang . . . contingency plans and a myriad of supporting plans at lower echelons reflect this same deployment. As a result, there has been extensive planning, reconnaissance, and logistics preparation over the years. The CG, 9th MEB is presently in Da Nang finalizing the details for landing the MEB forces in such a way as to cause minimum impact on the civilian populace ... I recommend that the MEB be landed at Da Nang as previously planned.18
The objections to the MEB landing were overruled and on 7 March 1965 (6 March 1965, Washington time) the JCS sent the long-awaited signal to land the 9th MEB at once with two of its three BLTs.
The days before the landing were a hectic period for General Karch and the Marines of the brigade. General Karch and his staff had completed 9th MEB Operational Plan 37D-65 for the amphibious landing of a BLT and the airlift of another battalion from Okinawa to Da Nang on 26 February. The MEB staff then conducted a command post exercise (CPX) on Okinawa. According to Major Ruel T. Scyphers, the MEB G-1, the operations order for the deployment of the MEB, "was put together following a non-stop 48 hour CPX ... we got word about 2000 [27 February] and armed with a staff manual and some borrowed clerks we put together an order and had it boxed about 0300...."19
Still on Okinawa at the beginning of March, General Karch scheduled a two-day map exercise of the Da Nang area beginning on 2 March and a briefing for Lieutenant Colonel Herbert J. Bain,* commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, whose battalion was slated to fly to Da Nang. On the
* Lieutenant Colonel Bain was a combat veteran of World War II. He had earned a battlefield commission in November 1944 and later was awarded the Silver Star for his heroic actions during the Okinawa campaign in 1945.
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