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emergency airlift from Saigon. Major Morgan later wrote: "Lieutenant Colonel Smith and I almost lost our sanity until matters were straightened out."6

On 22 March, the ships carrying the seatail of the 9th MEB entered the port. They were unloaded at the ramp near the base of Monkey Mountain, across the Song Han from the airfield. Since the bridge spanning the river had been destroyed by the Viet Cong the year before, the Marines had to rely on a ferry to carry the supply-laden trucks to the airbase. Despite the complicated unloading, the arrival of its seatail ended the MEB's first logistic crisis.

In this transitionary phase of U.S. involvement, some confusion existed as to whether the MEB was to subsist from Marine Corps and Seventh Fleet mount-out stocks, or whether MACV would assume part of the logistic burden. MACV apparently believed that the Marine Corps had received permission from the Department of Defense to use its mount-out supplies, which was not the case. This authority was not given until June. (See Chapters 3 and 12). Marine Colonel Webb D. Sawyer, who headed the MACV J-4 Plans Branch, later provided a MACV perspective of the situation in the following comment:

When the Marine Brigade landed at Da Nang I had a representative from my J-4 office there, an Air Force Officer, Major Robinson. When Robby returned to Saigon, he brought a very long, very complete, listing of all types of supplies that were being requested by the Marine Brigade. I knew that most of the items were in the Code Plan stocks [mount-out stocks] aboard the shipping that had brought the Marines. I asked Robby why the Marines weren't using the Code Plan supplies. His reply was that the Marines said those supplies were for an emergency. My reaction was that the Marines had just participated in the emergency.7

General Karch later recalled that for days the air was filled with messages regarding rations and ammunition. At the end of March, General Westmoreland declared that his command could take on the task of supplying the Marines with basic rations and ammunition for the time being. Although the question was not resolved at this time, the Marines were equipped, armed, and fed; supplies were unloaded and stockpiled; and the MEB was functioning.8

During this same period, Colonel King reorganized MAG-16, the air arm of the MEB, to reflect the changes in his command. On 14 March, the headquarters sections became Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron 16 (-) (H&MS-16) under Major John J. McMasters while the housekeeping section became Marine Airbase Squadron 16 (-) (MABS-16) under lieutenant Colonel Thomas E. Vemon. Colonel King also retained the LAAM battalion as well as the two helicopter squadrons.

The Marine helicopters continued to operate under MAG-16 much the same as they did when under SHUFLY. Most of their missions were flown in support of the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) forces throughout I Corps. Initially, after the landing of the 9th MEB, most of these flights were made by Lieutenant Colonel Norman G. Ewers' HMM-163. The newly arrived squadron, HMM-162, under Lieutenant Colonel Oliver W. Curtis, became operational on 12 March, but at first was confined to support of the MEB. By the end of March, both squadrons were supporting the Marines and the ARVN.

In support of the ARVN operations, the Marine pilots flew both resupply and strike missions. The former missions, consuming a majority of the flight hours, involved moving troops and cargo to outposts located throughout I Corps. The resupply cargo was a mixture of military supplies, as well as pigs, cows, chickens, and other items required by the sometimes isolated Vietnamese detachments. Strike missions consisted of lifting company- or battalion-size ARVN units in helicopter assault operations.

These strike missions produced the only significant enemy contact experienced by Marines during this period. On 31 March, the group flew helicopter support for ARVN Operation QUYET THANG 512. A force of 17 UH-34Ds from HMM-163, 2 UH-34D SAR/maintenance* helicopters from HMM-162, and 7 U. S. Army Bell UH-1 'Huey' gunships was assigned to lift 465 troops of the ARVN 5th Airborne Battalion. The air task force was to move the ARVN paratroopers from the vicinity of Tam Ky in Quang Tin Province to a landing zone (LZ) about 25 miles south of Da Nang.

Led by Lieutenant Colonel Ewers, the helicopters encountered such heavy antiaircraft fire when they approached the landing zone that Ewers later remarked that the squadron might have flown into a

 

 

*SAR/maintenance teams are search, rescue, and maintenance teams used to expedite the recovery of downed aircraft. These teams, composed of mechanics and infantry, were placed on board helicopters which remained well above the strike force, or acted as decoys during the initial assault.

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