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  Page 61 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)    

MACV and military authorities in III Corps, the tactical zone which encompassed the entire Mekong Delta and the transition zone between the delta and the highlands. All operational planning, security, external communications, and administrative matters also were to fall under his cognizance. This arrangement would allow Lieutenant Colonel Clapp and his squadron to concentrate on daily flight operations and aircraft maintenance. Lieutenant Colonel Eldridge's MABS-16 sub unit would be responsible for all normal base support and airfield operations.16 General Condon's report to Admiral Schoech concluded with a rough outline of the schedule for the task unit's deployment. On 9 April-only eight days after the termination of the SEATO exercise in the Philippines-Marine transport aircraft from the 1st MAW, augmented by three transports from the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing (3d MAW), would begin airlifting the task unit headquarters and the MABS-16 detachment from Okinawa. The Marine general anticipated that all "housekeeping" facilities would be in position at Soc Trang within five days. Lieutenant Colonel Clapp's HMM-362 would fly into Soc Trang from the amphibious assault ship (helicopter carrier) USS Princeton (LPH-5) on the morning of 15 April. The proposal that the helicopters be flown ashore satisfied a Department of Defense requirement that conspicuous unloading activities were to be avoided in the Saigon area.

Admiral Schoech approved the 1st MAW's proposed plan on 3 April and ordered Task Unit 79.3.5 to be transferred to General Harkins' command on 15 April. He then instructed the Commander, Task Group 76.5 (the Amphibious Ready Group) to provide SHUFLY with whatever supply and administrative support it might require for the movement. At the same time the fleet commander ordered appropriate subordinate commanders to provide an escort of destroyers for the USS Princeton and an inconspicuous air cover when the LPH arrived and began unloading HMM-362. Accordingly, the covering aircraft were instructed not to approach within 20 miles of South Vietnam unless the situation around Soc Trang endangered the Marine helicopters.17 The day following Schoech's approval of the Marine plan, the carrier task unit was formed to transport HMM-362 to South Vietnam. SHUFLY was activated simultaneously and given orders which reflected General Condon's planning. Colonel Carey was instructed to establish his headquarters at the Marine Corps Air Station, Iwakuni, Japan, in order to prepare for the deployment. The task unit commander was advised that he would receive more detailed instructions relative to administration and logistics at a later date.

Colonel Carey's task group headquarters in Japan had only one week in which to complete preparations for the move to the Republic of Vietnam. His staff's responsibility for coordinating between units located at Atsugi, Japan, and Futema, Okinawa, made this task even more difficult. Carey's officers worked out the details of the airlift with the staff of Marine Aerial Refueler-Transport Squadron 152 (VMGR-152), the GV-1* unit assigned to carry the MABS-16 sub unit and the task unit headquarters to Soc Trang.

The airlift portion of the movement began as scheduled on 9 April with the MABS-16 detachment being transported from Futema directly to Soc Trang. At 0800 Colonel Carey and part of his staff landed at Soc Trang in a twin-engine Douglas R4D Skytrain. As planned, the 400-man ARVN battalion had already established a perimeter around the airfield. Using the R4D's radio, the crew provided landing instructions for the GV-ls of VMGR-152 and VMGR-352 which began landing and unloading their cargoes at half hour intervals. Several key American and Vietnamese military officers were on hand to watch the lead elements of SHUFLY arrive. Major General Condon, the 1st MAW commander, flew the first GV-1 into Soc Trang but departed after the aircraft had been unloaded. General Harkins and Brigadier General Le Van Nghicm, the Vietnamese commander of III Corps, also made appearances at the airstrip to welcome Colonel Carey and his Marines.

Lieutenant Colonel Eldridge's MABS-16 detachment began readying the airfield for HMM-362's arrival shortly after the first transport aircraft had unloaded. To serve as living spaces the Marines raised 75 strongback tents, all with plywood decks. They set up a water purification system and began trucking water from the town of Soc Trang, about two and a half miles away. Within two days, 9,000 gallons of water had been purified. Other con-

*The GV-1 (later KC-130), a four-engine, turbo-prop refueler-transport built by Lockheed, is the Marine refueling version of the Air Force C-130.

 

Page 61 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)