Page 035

 
Page 35(The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)  


merly worn in Indochina by French commando units. Although designed and procured primarily for use in steamy tropical jungles, the colorful uniform came to be worn in garrison with a dark green beret. Along with the newly adopted emblem, which was worn as a patch over the left breast pocket, this uniform became the distinguishing mark of the Vietnamese Marine and his U.S. Marine advisor. Together, the uniform and emblem did much to set the VNMC apart from the other South Vietnamese armed services.'

 

Vietnamese Marine Corps Emblem.

Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson instigated another change during this same period which did much to improve the effectiveness of the Marine advisory program. Since the sect rebellion of 1955 American policy had prohibited all U.S. military personnel from participating in combat with South Vietnamese forces. Because the prevailing restrictions prevented his assistants from accurately assessing the combat capabilities of the Vietnamese Marine battalions, Wilkinson requested that they be allowed to accompany their units into action. After some study. General Williams, still the MAAG Chief, approved this request with the stipulation that the U.S. Marines were to act strictly as non-participating observers.11 This privilege was not extended to other MAAG personnel. Wilkinson and his assistants, therefore, became the first American servicemen to witness actual combat operations against the Viet Cong. So through an informal and relatively unknown arrangement, a handful of Marine advisors were able to insure that principles being stressed in training were being applied in combat. Now operating alongside the Vietnamese Marines in action, the advisors were also able to obtain a better appreciation of the terrain and enemy and a more thorough understanding of the frustrating problems being encountered by the VNMC units.

 

 

The first half of 1960 brought changes in both the leadership of the Vietnamese Marine Corps and the U.S. Marine advisory program. In May President Diem relieved Major Hung as Senior Marine Officer. His replacement was Major Le Nguyen Khang, an officer who spoke fluent English and who had been the first Vietnamese Marine graduated from the U.S. Marine Amphibious Warfare School at Quantico. A capable and inspiring officer who had formerly commanded a landing battalion in combat against the Viet Cong, Khang was to head the VNMC for over three years. The following month Lieutenant Colonel Clifford J. Robichaud relieved Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson as Senior Marine Advisor. Like Khang, Robichaud had seen combat previously. A former master sergeant, he had been commissioned during World War II and had fought as an infantry unit leader on Guadalcanal and later in Korea. Like all U.S. Marines assigned as advisors to the VNMC after I960, Robichaud was scheduled to serve only a one year tour in South Vietnam.

Combat assignments against the Viet Cong continued to dominate the VNMC's activities during the remainder of I960. With Communist forces now capable of battalion-sized operations in some areas, the Joint General Staff began deploying government forces to the provinces in multi-battalion strength. By late 1960 the Vietnamese Marines were conducting two-battalion operations controlled by a task force headquarters. Khang, now a lieutenant colonel, normally commanded these Marine task forces.

It was during one such operation, in which the 1st and 2d VNMC Battalions were operating together in the provinces south of Saigon, that



Page 35(The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)