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from the possibility that the Marine Corps might be required to replace the squadron from Okinawa with another in order to maintain the level of operational forces available to CinCPac-an eventuality which would upset long-range Marine Corps deployment schedules. General Shoup indicated that he, too, would oppose the deployment of a Marine helicopter squadron to South Vietnam if this proved to be the case.'

At this juncture in the debate, Admiral Felt journeyed to Saigon to discuss the matter more thoroughly with General Harkins. Following consultations, the two commanders jointly communicated their recommendations to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 14 March. They advised that it would be more desirable to deploy one of the Marine helicopter squadrons from Okinawa than either the Army unit already on alert in California or the one in Hawaii. This decision, Felt and Harkins informed the Joint Chiefs, was influenced heavily by the readiness posture of the various units under consideration. A Marine squadron, they pointed out, could be on station and ready for combat operations by 15 April-three days before the company already alerted by the Army could depart California.12

Admiral Felt and General Harkins then dealt with the CinCUSARPac contention that additional supply problems would be created by the deployment of a Marine unit to the Mekong Delta. The Pacific commanders advised that, in their opinion, the logistical support 'can be handled relatively easily by [the] Marines.' 13 They added that should requirements for a fifth helicopter unit arise in South Vietnam, the Army's 81st Helicopter Company would be selected for the assignment. It would be replaced in Hawaii by the 33d Transportation Light Helicopter Company from Fort Ord. Finally, Admiral Felt and General Harkins recommended that the Marine squadron be deployed initially to the Mekong Delta area of III Corps Tactical Zone (III CTZ). Later, when operational conditions in I Corps were more favorable, the Marines could replace the Army helicopter unit there.

After meeting to discuss the matter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the entire package of recommendations on 16 March. Admiral Felt immediately ordered the Pacific Fleet to deploy a Marine helicopter squadron to South Vietnam and authorized direct liaison between the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and ComUSMACV. In turn, Admiral Sides, the Commander of the Pacific Fleet, notified the Commander, Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral William A. Schoech, of the decision and directed him to take appropriate action.14

Deployment to Soc Trang

The Commanding General of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Major General John P. Condon, a Michigan native who had earned a Distinguished Flying Cross and three Legions of Merit for service during World War II and Korea, was informed of the impending deployment on 22 March. At the time, Condon, his staff, and elements of his command were participating in SEATO exercise TULUNGAN in the Philippines. The arrival of the orders proved timely for most of the affected units were in close proximity to the wing commander. As the Marine helicopter squadron and its supporting elements were scheduled to arrive in Vietnam just two weeks after the SEATO exercise ended, preparations for the move were begun immediately. General Condon quickly dispatched several officers to Saigon to establish liaison with USMACV.

The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing fortunately possessed a background which facilitated the rapid preparations for the movement. Since August of the previous year General Condon's command regularly had deployed a medium helicopter squadron (HMM) and its supporting elements with the Special Landing Force (SLF), a Marine air-ground team embarked on board the Seventh Fleet's Amphibious Ready Group. Since 1961 this naval task force had cruised Southeast Asian waters ready to implement U.S. contingency plans. These deployments had given the Marines of the wing a reservoir of experience which enabled them to make maximum use of the short period of time available for planning.

By 30 March, the wing's planning had progressed to the stage that General Condon could provide the Commander of the Seventh Fleet with specific recommendations for the entire operation. The general concept of the plan was that Task Unit 79.3.5, under the command of a Marine colonel, was to be built around a Marine medium helicopter squadron which was participating in Operation

 

 

Page 59 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)