Vietnamese Marines search dense jungle for Viet Cong base areas. (Photo courtesy of Lieutenant Colonel Michael ]. Gott, USMC).
Province in the first week in August. Supported by Battery A (a 75mm howitzer unit) of the artillery battalion, it joined the 43d ARVN Infantry Regiment in an attempt to locate and destroy Viet Cong forces operating around Phan Thiet, the provincial capital, located on the coast 95 miles east-of Saigon. Following the conclusion of this operation on 22 August, the Marine units reverted to the control of the Binh Thuan province chief. In this capacity they assisted in clearing and resettlement operations being conducted in conjunction with the Strategic Hamlet Program. Between 4 August and 15 October, when its assignment in the province ended, the 4th Battalion reported 12 Viet Cong killed and seven captured. Vietnamese Marine casualties were one killed and five wounded. During the assignment the Marines resettled some 600 civilians in fortified hamlets.2*
In the last week of September General David M. Shoup, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, arrived in Saigon to begin a four-day tour of South Vietnam. Shoup, who held the Medal of Honor for his actions as a regimental commander on Tarawa in World War II, was recognized as one of President Kennedy's most trusted military advisors. Acting in his role as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Commandant was scheduled to visit a number of U.S. and South Vietnamese installations, including several strategic hamlets.
*Major Croft, the Assistant Senior Marine Advisor during this period, later recalled that province chiefs tended to misuse the Marine units by assigning them unproductive missions such as static security. (Col Alfred J. Croft, Comments on 2d Draft MS, Whitlow, 'Marine Activities in Vietnam, 1954-1964,' hereafter Croft Comments.)
AN EXPANDING WAR, 1962
After a series of briefings at MACV and MAAG headquarters in Saigon, the Commandant and his party journeyed by automobile to the base camp of the 3d Vietnamese Marine Battalion at Thu Due on the outskirts of the capital. There, accompanied by Lieutenant Colonels Brown and Khang, Shoup reviewed a Vietnamese Marine honor guard and inspected the 3d Battalion. Impressed with the units he had seen, General Shoup commended President Diem on the status of his Marine Brigade. 'From my observation,' he wrote from Washington, '' the Vietnamese Marine Corps is in an excellent state of readiness from the standpoint of equipment as well as the degree of training of its members.' 'Indeed,' he added, 'your Corps of Marines seemed to be a splendid and competent fighting organization.' 3
The Commandant was less complimentary of the Strategic Hamlet Program. After visiting several of the developments, he concluded that the government's effort to concentrate the Vietnamese civilians into defended communities was counterproductive to the program's stated objective of winning the allegiance of the rural population. As Shoup reported to the Joint Chiefs of Staff upon his return to Washington, the forced resettlement of the peasants from their native hamlets and villages into what amounted to fortified camps seemed to be generating antagonism rather than good will.4
At the close of 1962 Vietnamese Marine commanders reported a total of 192 Viet Cong killed, 77 wounded, and another 158 taken prisoner. U.S. Marine advisors felt that even these moderate figures were inflated. They estimated that only about 98 enemy soldiers had been killed, 27 wounded, and roughly half as many actual Viet Cong