Corps. Although he had not participated in the November coup, Khang had been a political appointee of President Diem and as such was viewed as a potential threat to the new regime. After being promoted to colonel, he was assigned to the Philippines as the Republic of Vietnam's Armed Forces Attache. Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Ba Lien, who had been serving as Assistant Commandant and Chief of Staff of the VNMC, was appointed as Khang's successor. He assumed command of the Vietnamese Marine Corps on 16 December. Vietnamese Marine Brigade units continued operations against the Viet Cong following Khang's relief but fought no major engagements. Near the end of December, with the nation drifting into political uncertainty and its own top leadership changed, the morale of the Vietnamese Marine Corps plummeted. Lieutenant Colonel Noren saw this unfortunate trend as a by-product of the general political instability which was beginning to grip the country rather than a reflection of Lien's leadership. Indeed, Noren thought the new VNMC commandant to be an extraordinarily capable officer.4 In any case, as 1963 ended the U.S. Marine advisors were reporting climbing desertion rates in almost every battalion.
Even though 1963 closed upon a discouraging note, the Marine Advisory Division could report
THE ADVISORY AND COMBAT ASSISTANCE ERA, I954-I964
positively on its own activities. At the urging of the Senior Marine Advisor, the Vietnamese Marine Corps had reinstituted multi-battalion combat operations. Steps had also been taken to cut the VNMC's last formal ties to the ARVN by creating a separate Marine Corps recruit training facility. When activated this training center was expected to provide VNMC battalions with a stream of enlisted men who would possess a background of higher quality basic training. As for personal achievements, the U.S. Marine advisors had accompanied their units in every combat operation during 1963 except the November coup. No advisors had been killed in the 12-month period and only four (two of whom were on temporary assignment from the 3d Marine Division) had been wounded. The first combat decorations other than Purple Heart Medals for wounds were also approved and awarded to the advisors during the year. On 13 December, Captains Don Chris-tensen and Frank Zimolzak, former advisors to the 4th and 3d Battalions respectively, were awarded the Bronze Star Medals with the Combat 'V' for meritorious service. Captain Richard Taylor, an advisor with the 2d Battalion, earned the first Silver Star Medal during the same period for 'conspicuous gallantry' between November 1962 and October 1963. Captain Joseph N. Smith, advisor to the 2d and 4th VNMC Battalions, earned the second Silver Star for gallantry displayed between October 1963 and April 1964.*
*Both Silver Star Medals were awarded during 1964.
Page 110 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)