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tended Pentagon debate which lasted over several months concerning the building of an expeditionary airfield south of Da Nang. The proposal for the construction of the expeditionary field originated with General Krulak. Krulak had selected the Chu Lai site on an inspection tour the previous year and gave the future base its name. According to the FMFPac commander, a naval officer accompanying him on the trip remarked that the place looked good, but was not marked on the maps. Krulak replied that the name was "Chu Lai" but later explained: "In order to settle the matter immediately, I had simply given him the Mandarin Chinese characters for my name."35 In any event, Krulak suggested that the Chu Lai airfield be built according to a Marine Corps concept still in its early stages which employed metal runways and taxistrips. The program, called short airfield for tactical support (SATS), had been developed to meet Marine Corps requirements for the rapid construction of short expeditionary airfields, in effect shore-based carrier decks. Although the proposed field at Chu Lai would not qualify as "short," it would make use of SATS components including catapults and arresting gear.*

On 30 March 1965, Secretary McNamara tentatively approved the building of the SATS field at Chu Lai but the final decision, according to General Krulak, was not made until late April after the high-level Honolulu Conference. At this conference, representatives from the U. S. Pacific Air Forces command had made a presentation stating that it would take about 11 months to build a concrete airfield. General Krulak then described the SATS concept after which, Krulak remembered:

[Secretary of Defense] McNamara, in his characteristic bottom line manner, said "how long?" I hesitated for a moment and then said, "25 days." Keith McCutcheon had to live with my estimate.36

After the McNamara decision of 30 March, Major General Paul J. Fontana, the commander of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Japan, briefed his senior officers about the proposed Chu Lai airfield. He selected the MAG-12 S-1, Major Frank P. Costello, Jr., who had worked with SATS since its inception at Quantico, to be the wing project officer.

On 3 April, Major Costello accompanied General Carl, members of his staff, and the 1st MAW engineering officer, Lieutenant Colonel Charles L. Goode, on a reconnaissance of the Chu Lai site. While making their inspection, the Carl party happened upon some markers apparently placed there by a civilian airfield survey team. According to Lieutenant Colonel Denny, Carl's operation officer:

I recall that we ... were to meet a civilian survey party on the beach at Chu Lai. They didn't show. General Carl found some markers . . . and then because we "had to get on with it" stepped off the SATS field . . . ."37

Lieutenant Colonel Goode remembered that the Carl party remained on the site for only two hours and, "From this very brief reconnaissance and from the available maps and photographs of the area, the location of the runway and supporting facilities was determined and detailed planning commenced. "38

After completing the reconnaissance, General Carl reported to General Westmoreland in Saigon and mentioned the survey markers found at Chu Lai. The MACV Commander replied that he did not know the specifics of the civilian survey and suggested that the selection of the exact location for both the SATS field and a later permanent airfield would require further study.

Lieutenant Colonel Goode and Major Costello returned to Japan where they developed the plans for the operating areas of the airbase. It was determined that approximately 1,400,000 square feet of aluminum matting would be required for the runway, taxiway s, and supporting areas.** The end results would be an airfield with an 8,000 by 102 foot runway, a 7,916 by 36 foot parallel taxiway, four 300 by 36 foot cross taxiways, and parking and maintenance facilities for three tactical squadrons.

On 25 April, President Johnson approved the recommendation of the Honolulu Conference to land Marines at Chu Lai for the construction of the airfield

 

 

*According to Lieutenant Colonel Charles L. Goode, who was the 1st MAW engineering officer:' 'The concept of a short Airfield for Tactical Support (SATS) is for a runway 2,000 to 3,000 feet long by 72 feet wide, with a parallel taxiway and the necessary parking space for aircraft. It was envisioned that the Chu Lai field would be required to be in operation for a longer period of time, and would be required to support many more aircraft; therefore, the design was made accordingly. The final design specified a runway 8,000 feet long by 102 feet wide. Obviously this could no longer be termed a Short Airfield for Tactical Support. It was sometimes facetiously referred to as a LATS-a Long Airfield for Tactical Support." LtCol Charles L. Goode, Comments on draft MS, dtd 70ct76 (Vietnam Comment File).

** The 1,400,000 square feet of matting was every plank the Marine Corps had in the Far East. LtCol Frank P. Costello, Jr., Comments on Shulimson, "U.S. Marines in Vietnam, pt 2," dtd 17Feb70 (Vietnam Comment File).

 

 

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