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veniences improved the camp's living conditions. A field laundry and a mess hall were set up and by 12 April, hot meals were being served to the Marines. A post office began operations and telephones were installed to connect living and working areas.

By 14 April, the day before HMM-362 was scheduled to arrive at Soc Trang, most of the airfield facilities were ready to support flight operations. An old hangar, which had been constructed by the Japanese during their World War II occupation of Indochina, had been repaired to house some of the squadron's aircraft and equipment. The MABS-16 communications section was operational and had established radio and teletype links with MACV in Saigon and MAG-16 on Okinawa. The TAFDS had been assembled and filled with aviation fuel and MATCU-68, the air traffic control unit assigned to SHUFLY, was prepared to control flight operations. The Amphibious Ready Group (TG 76.5) steamed from Okinawa on 10 April withHMM-362, its reinforcements, and HMM-261 embarked on the USS Princeton. The task group arrived off the coast of South Vietnam in the early morning hours of 15 April. At dawn Lieutenant Colonel Clapp, who had seen action as a fighter pilot during the Iwo Jima and Okinawa campaigns in World War II, led the first flight of helicopters from the deck of the Princeton. The operation proceeded smoothly with aircraft from both squadrons ferrying HMM-362's equipment inland to the Soc Trang airstrip. Far out at sea, jets of the Seventh Fleet orbited, ready to provide protection to the Marine helicopters. They were not needed, however, as the Viet Cong made no effort to oppose the movement. By mid-afternoon the airlift of HMM-362's personnel and equipment to the Soc Trang airfield had been completed. HMM-261 returned to the Princeton where it continued to function as the helicopter element of the Special Landing Force.

The day after arriving at Soc Trang, Lieutenant Colonel Clapp's squadron, nicknamed "Archie's Angels," was prepared to support the ARVN. Since the squadron's combat support was not required immediately, the pilots and crews began flying missions to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings. They learned that their operations were to be conducted over the vast expanse of South Vietnam which stretched from just north and east of Saigon to the nation's southernmost tip, the Ca Mau Peninsula, and from the South China Sea westward to the Cambodian border. Their initial flights over the Mekong Delta revealed a predominantly flat and monotonous landscape. Parched by the long dry season, the dusty brown rice paddies stood in sharp contrast with the verdant mangrove swamps which abounded near major streams and along the coast. Numerous hamlets, most enclosed by dense hedgerows and treelines, were scattered across the countryside. Thousands of canals and trails and a few crude roads completed the rural landscape in which the Viet Cong guerrilla thrived. Larger towns, such as Soc Trang, Can Tho (located about 80 miles southwest of Saigon), and My Tho (located about half way between the capital and Can Tho) were under the control of the Government of Vietnam.

While the pilots and crews of HMM-362 were acquainting themselves with the geography of the Mekong Delta, Colonel Carey and his staff met in Saigon with U.S. and Vietnamese officers from the MACV and III Corps headquarters. There, they established liaison with the three ARVN divisions subordinate to General Nhgiem's III Corps-the 21st, the 7th, and the 5th-and discussed operational matters. After several conferences, the final details of the command arrangements were completed. It was agreed that all Marine missions would require the approval of MACV, III Corps, and the task unit commander. This arrangement would enable General Harkins' command to retain actual operational control of the Marine helicopters even though they would be supporting III Corps exclusively. Final approval of all mission requests for Marine support would rest with the Joint Operations Center (JOC) at JGS headquarters in Saigon. Manned by U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, ARVN, and VNAF officers, this agency was part of a recently instituted Tactical Air Support System, the purpose of which was to provide positive control over all military aircraft in South Vietnam. To insure maximum coordination at lower echelons, Marine liaison officers were assigned to the corps headquarters and to the 21 st ARVN Division. It was anticipated that this division, headquartered at Can Tho, only 35 miles northwest of Soc Trang, would require more Marine helicopter support than

 

 

Page 62 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)