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weeks of 1962 heavy fighting broke out anew, this time on a general scale, and precipitated a new and more intense crisis. For U.S. observers the situation seemed to reach its critical point in early May when Pathet Lao forces, backed by North Vietnamese formations, routed a major element of Phouma's army from Nam Tha, a town located east of the Mekong River in extreme northwestern Laos. Following this action, Phoumi's forces retreated southwestward across the Mekong into northern Thailand. Now in full control of the east bank of the Mekong, the Communists appeared poised for a drive into Thailand, a full-fledged member of SEATO. The collapse of Phoumi's military forces, moreover, seriously threatened the U.S. bargaining position at the ongoing Geneva talks.

The American Response

In the face of the situation along the Laotian-Thai border, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff instructed CinCPac to upgrade the readiness of Joint Task Force 116 for possible deployment. Accordingly, on 10 May Admiral Felt directed Major General John Condon, the Commanding General, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, to activate the joint task force headquarters, assemble its staff, and refine its deployment plans. The Amphibious Ready Group of the Seventh Fleet, carrying the Special Landing Force, promptly sailed into the Gulf of Siam.

Both to reassure Thailand of theU.S. commitment to its defense and to discourage further Communist advances on the Southeast Asian Peninsula, President Kennedy ordered U.S. forces deployed to Thailand on 15 May. Admiral Felt moved immediately to execute this decision. In simultaneous actions CinCPac designated Army Lieutenant General John L. Richardson, then serving as Deputy Commander in Chief, U.S. Army, Pacific, to replace Major General Condon as Commander, JTF 116 and instructed Richardson to execute CinCPac Operations Plan 32-59, Phase II (Laos). Felt's instructions to the new Commander, JTF 116 were explicit. General Richardson's command was to act in such a way that would leave no doubt as to American intentions to defend Thailand. Through these same actions JTF 116 was to exert a 'precautionary impact' on the situation in Laos. Furthermore, the Commander, JTF 116 was directed to position his forces in a manner so that they could respond to any armed Communist threat to Thailand.

Concurrently with the order to deploy JTF 116, CinCPac instructed the Commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, General Harkins, to establish and assume command of a U.S. Military Assistance Command, Thailand (USMAC-Thai). Thus Harkins, in a dual role as ComUSMA-CV and ComUSMACThai, was to be responsible to CinCPac for all U.S. military activities and operations in both Thailand and South Vietnam. Once it became operational in Thailand, JTF 116 plus the already existing Joint U.S. Military Advisory Assistance Group, Thailand (JUSMAAG), were to come under Harkins'.purview. Until USMACThai and the JTF staffs could become operational, however, the various task force components were to report to the Chief JUSMAAG, Thailand, Major General J. F. Conway, U.S. Army.

One element of the joint task force was already in Thailand when President Kennedy issued the order to commit U.S. forces-the Army's 1st Brigade, 27th Infantry. At the time this infantry brigade was participating in a SEATO exercise near Korat, a town located about 130 miles northeast of Bangkok in the central portion of the country. In response to CinCPac orders it promptly moved into bivouac at a position 40 miles west of Korat.

The Marine Corps Role

Operations Plan 32-59, Phase II (Laos), called for a U.S. Marine expeditionary brigade composed of a regimental landing team (three reinforced infantry battalions), a jet attack squadron, a helicopter transport squadron, and supporting units, to operate from Udorn, a provincial capital located nearly 350 miles northeast of Bangkok. Strategically situated only 35 miles south of Vientiane, the political capital of Laos, Udorn was the site of a 7,000-foot concrete runway. A 300-man Marine aviation support unit. Marine Air Base Squadron 16, had actually been positioned at this airstrip for over six months during 1961. While at Udorn the MABS-16 Marines had provided maintenance support for helicopters which were assisting General Phoumi's forces in Laos. A Royal Thai regiment had provided security for the

 

 

 

Page 88 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)