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CHAPTER 5

SHUFLY at Soc Trang

The Decision-Deployment to Soc Trang-Mekong Delta Combat Support Operations-Preparations and Redeployment-Accomplishments

 

 

One of the most important developments in the chronicle of U.S. Marine activities in South Vietnam during the early 1960s occurred shortly after the creation of MACV. In mid-April 1962, a Marine medium helicopter squadron was deployed to the Mekong Delta to provide support for the Government of Vietnam forces in their battle with the Communist guerrillas. The significance of the squadron's arrival went beyond the added mobility that it afforded those Vietnamese units attempting to hold the rice producing delta region. Coinciding as it did with the increases in the number of Marines serving on the MACV staff and under the MAAG, its arrival indicated that the Marine role would expand in direct proportion to the widening U.S. effort to defend the Republic of Vietnam.

The Decision

The decision to deploy the Marine aviation unit to the combat zone originated in the immediate aftermath of General Taylor's report to President Kennedy. On 17 January 1962, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed the Commander in Chief, Pacific (CinCPac), Admiral Harry D. Felt, to prepare for increased operations in South Vietnam. This order implied that the Pacific command should stand ready to deploy additional helicopter units to Diem's republic in the eventthat it became necessary to augment the Army companies already operating there. (By now the number of Army helicopter companies in South Vietnam stood at three.) CinCPac was also instructed to explore South Vietnam's requirements for additional helicopter units beyond the Army companies already present.1

Shortly afterward. Admiral Felt advised the Joint Chiefs of Staff that a valid requirement for additional helicopter support did exist in the

Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam. He recommended that a fourth U.S. Army light helicopter company be deployed to the area. Included in the admiral's recommendation was a proposal to support the aviation unit with a composite maintenance, avionics, and medical group.2 Admiral Felt's recommendations were approved by the Secretary of Defense on 6 March. The Joint Chiefs immediately assigned the responsibility for providing the support package and helicopter unit to the Army. In turn, Army authorities alerted the 33d Transportation Light Helicopter Company at Fort Ord, California for the move. Its departure date was set for 18 April.3 Unknown to the officers and men of the alerted unit, the plans for its deployment to combat were being reconsidered at the time the orders were received. Two days before Admiral Felt's recommendation reached the Joint Chiefs, a proposal to augment Army helicopter units with Marine pilots had been advanced by General Timmes, the MAAG chief. This proposal triggered a brief but eventful debate within U.S. military circles. With General Harkins' concurrence, Timmes recommended that nine Marine helicopter pilots be assigned to the Army aviation units in Vietnam for periods of 60 to 90 days. This arrangement, he pointed out, would enable the Marine pilots to become familiar with the nature of the combat support operations in South Vietnam and would provide them with transitional training in the Army's Piasccki-built tandcm-rotored H-21 helicopter (nicknamed the 'Flying Banana').4

Admiral Felt turned to the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific (FMFPac), Lieutenant General Alan Shapley, for his comments on the MAAG chief's plan. Shapley in turn instructed Major General Carson A. Roberts, the Commanding General, Aircraft, FMFPac to study the proposal

 

 

 

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