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  Page 74 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)    

Billy S. Watson, a crew chief, was slightly wounded. Troop lifts from Soc Trang continued until 1740 on 13 September when helicopter support operations were ended and the final preparations for the move to Da Nang began.

On the evening of 14 September, the first of the Marine GV-ls slated to transport the task unit arrived at Soc Trang from Okinawa. At dawn the next morning, the refueler-transports began shuttling Marines and their equipment to Da Nang and the Army's 93d Helicopter Company to Soc Trang. By the end of the day much of the airlift had been completed. The crews and helicopters of Lieutenant Colonel Rathbun's squadron, however, did not begin displacing northward until the 16th when 12 HUSs made the seven-hour flight to Da Nang with three en route refueling stops. The 12 remaining helicopters arrived at SHUFLY's new base of operations the next day. The move was completed on 20 September when the last cargo carrying GV-1 landed at Da Nang.

Accomplishments

As SHUFLY's Marines began preparing for their impending operations in the northern provinces they could look with pride on their accomplishments at Soc Trang. Since their arrival in the Mekong Delta in April the Leathernecks had clearly demonstrated their ability to conduct sustained and effective helicopter operations in support of non-English-speaking ground forces. While it could not be said that their presence had completely transformed the complexion of the GVN's struggle to control the critical Mekong Delta region, the Marine helicopters had provided the ARVN units operating there with a degree of mobility they had not previously possessed. This new-found mobility in turn had helped generate a new offensive spirit within government units assigned to southern III Corps. In his letter to ComUSMACV requesting the retention of the task unit at Soc Trang, Colonel Porter, the Senior U.S. Advisor to the corps tactical zone, reported: 'Now they [ARVN forces] have a taste of victory and for the first time are beginning to believe there is a possibility of defeating the Viet Cong.' 23

During the course of their operations throughout South Vietnam's southern provinces, the SHUFLY Marines displayed an instinct for recognizing and coping with the challenges of unconventional warfare. Confronted by a war without front lines in which an elusive, highly mobile enemy blended readily with the local populace, the task unit's leaders devised new and successful helicopter tactics. Likewise, SHUFLY's Marine and Navy personnel moved to prevent a possible conflict of cultures and to discredit Communist propaganda through the initiation of the People-to-People Program. Although only an informal beginning, this program would serve as a foundation upon which the U.S. Marine Corps would later build a doctrine defining the relationship between Marines on duty in Vietnam and the Vietnamese people.

Beyond the innovative thinking of its leaders, much of SHUFLY's success in III Corps was produced by hard work on a sustained basis. For this the individual Marines, particularly the maintenance crews which often worked around the clock in primitive surroundings to keep the helicopters airworthy, deserved heavy credit. Although unglamorous, their daily contributions underwrote the success of the combat support operations. So, functioning as a team, the task unit's members blended innovation, hard work, and technical expertise with perseverance and courage to carve out a reputation for themselves in the faraway rice lands of the Mekong Delta.

 

 

Page 74 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)