Unit included permanent billets for 24 officers and men (18 officers and six enlisted men). Another important aspect of the overall Marine advisory program was altered in the closing months of 1964. Since Lieutenant Colonel Croizat's tour with the Vietnamese Marines in the immediate post-Geneva period, most Marine advisors had attended French language courses prior to departing for service in Vietnam. As French influence in Vietnam faded during the late 1950s, however, the requirement for the language had gradually diminished, particularly as French maps were replaced by American ones. By the early 1960s this situation had prompted several Marine advisors to recommend that instruction in French be replaced by Vietnamese language training. Primarily through the persistence of Colonels Moody and Noren, the policy was revised in 1964. The arrival of the new advisors in the fall marked the first time that Marine officers had received formal Vietnamese language training before beginning their tours. Colonel Nesbit, who had the advantage of commanding advisors trained in both languages, saw the change as 'a marked step forward,' in improving the advisory effort.5
The Vietnamese Marine Brigade
At the beginning of 1964, the 6,109-man Vietnamese Marine Brigade, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Ba Lien, experienced a crisis of morale. The recent command changes that had occurred at almost every echelon and a soaring desertion rate combined to undermine the brigade's combat readiness. In February the Khanh government recalled Colonel Le Nguyen Khang from the Philippines, promoted him to brigadier general, and reinstated him as commandant in an attempt to restore the unit's spirit. A veteran Marine who had been instrumental in the development of the VNMC since its inception, Khang commanded confidence throughout the corps. Following his return, increased attention was given to the welfare of the individual Marine and his dependents in order to reduce the climbing desertion rate. Under the close supervision of the senior Vietnamese officers and their American advisors, the morale problem was gradually overcome.
Throughout the year the Vietnamese Marine Brigade continued to share the role of South Vietnam's general reserve force with an ARVN airborne brigade. Normally at least one Marine battalion was held in the vicinity of Saigon, ready to respond to tactical emergencies while others operated nearby in support of the Hop Tac campaign. Still, the brigade's infantry battalions managed to see action in every corps tactical zone except I Corps, which was the farthest removed from the capital.* Although sometimes combined into regimental-sized task forces for specific operations, the individual Marine battalions normally were attached to either a corps, a province, or an ARVN division for combat operations. When so attached, the Vietnamese Marines often were assigned to clear particularly hazardous or difficult terrain. At times they served as a reserve force, responding to crucial situations to either recoup or exploit actions initiated by other government units.
In early January, the Vietnamese Joint General Staff assigned a Marine task force to a pacification mission in Go Cong and Long An Provinces, located just southeast of Saigon. Two VNMC battalions, controlled by a task force headquarters, moved into the operations area later in the month and remained until mid-September when the operation was terminated. The object of the Marine unit's presence was to reestablish government control over the region through systematic small unit operations designed to deny the enemy his usual freedom of movement. Despite the length of this particular deployment, the Vietnamese Marines fought no major engagements. Furthermore, they had not translated their improved morale into an effective pacification operation. While desertions and unauthorized absences remained low considering the duration of this particular assignment, Colonel Noren later recalled several flaws in the campaign. These operations, he
*South Vietnam's corps boundaries were adjusted again in late 1964. The southern boundary of I Corps was moved south to include Quang Ngai Province. The southern border of II Corps was also moved southward to include eight provinces formerly encompassed by III Corps. Under the new arrangement, III CTZ formed a narrow strip across the nation which centered roughly on Saigon. The Capital Military District, the boundaries of which coincided with those of Gia Dinh Province, formed an enclave within III Corps. The southermost tactical zone, IV Corps, encompassed the entire Mekong Delta.
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