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Noble's skivy shirt, a practice aboard carriers of the Fleet, carried over to our shore-based carrier ops.'23*

Later in the day, on 1 June, four other A-4s from Lieutenant Colonel Bernard J. Stender's VMA-311 arrived at the field. The Chu Lai-based aircraft flew their first combat sorties that same day. At 1315, the four VMA-225 aircraft, with Lieutenant Colonel Baker in the lead, conducted air strikes in support of ARVN units six miles north of the field.

Although the field was operational, it was still unfinished and soil stabilization would continue to be a problem, espedally during the rainy season. Eventually the field had to be rebuilt. Lieutenant Colonel Baker observed:

... for a week or so before the rains came, this aluminum field was as flat and even as a pool table-the smoothest, bump-free surface I ever flew from. Later with rain cavitation the laterite was pumped up through the matting forming a slipping roller coaster effect.

Baker exclaimed:

But we flew! The Chu Lai operation used every capability my squadron had . . . We were trapped on landings, jato'd on takeoff. Refuelled by our GV's en route to our primary target. Loaded to the hilt with ordnance, we couldn't take off with much fuel. We did close air support ... in all weather and flew [radar controlled missions] all over the area in foul weather conditions day and night.24

USMC Photo A184616

Major General Lewis W. Walt {left) relieves Major General William R. Collins (right) as Commanding General, III Marine Amphibious Force in an indoor ceremony at Da Nang on 4 June 1965. The ceremony was held indoors because the American colors were not permitted to be displayed outside.

The SATS concept worked, but as Colonel Hardy Hay, the III MAF G-3, later remarked: '... no one will ever know what the [Chu Lai] project did to men and equipment unless they were there.'25

III MAF in Transition

The ID Marine Amphibious Force and its ground and air components experienced major changes of command within their first six weeks in Vietnam. Generals Collins and Fontana were near the end of their 13-month overseas tours and the Commandant, General Greene, appointed Brigadier General Lewis W. Walt, newly selected for promotion to major general, to replace Collins and Brigadier General Keith B. McCutcheon, also selected for promotion to major general, to be Fontana's replacement.** Walt looked the part of the football lineman that he was in

 


*General McCutcheon also told the story that General

Krulak had bet Major General Richard G. Stilwell, the MACV Chief of Staff, a case of scotch that a squadron would be operational within 30 days. General Krulak paid off the bet' 'on the basis that a full squadron was not operating there in the forecast time, only half of one.' McCutcheon, 'Marine Aviation in Vietnam, ' p. 129.

**According to Colonel O'Connor, the 1st MAW chief of staff at the time, the question of who was to be CG III MAF was discussed several times. O'Connor recalled that 'General Fontana earnestly desired to have that assignment. He and General Collins were both nearing the ends of their overseas tours, and that General Collins would leave first. He talked to General Krulak about the matter several times ... He [Fontana] even volunteered to extend his overseas tour one year to take command of III MAF. General Krulak was very understanding, but explained that General Greene had already selected General Walt. This did not stop Fontana. He was senior to Walt, and stressed the doctrinal point that either an aviator or a ground officer could be in command . . . Finally he realized that the Commandant's decision would prevail . . . when he realized his time was limited in the Far East, he decided to take his last opportunity to command a wing in combat ... he would go to Da Nang to command the wing until he was forced to leave.' Col Thomas J. O'Connor, Comments on draft MS, dtd 27Nov76 (Vietnam Comment File).

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