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In Saigon, Taylor and Rostow were quickly apprised of the deteriorating military situation. Taylor sent a series of cables to the President alerting him to the gravity of the situation. On 3 November, 1961, Taylor cabled a recommendation that three helicopter squadrons - roughly seventy-five helicopters -be sent to Vietnam to provide badly needed mobility to ARVN ground forces; he privately recommended that some 8,000 U.S. ground combat forces be sent as well. Taylor's cables sparked the beginning of the buildup of U.S. combat forces in Vietnam, but at the same time the President was receiving proposals from Under Secretary of State Chester Bowles and Averell Harriman, Chief American Negotiator at Geneva that a negotiated solution might be worked out along the lines of the Geneva Formula for Laos. Kennedy split the difference, opting to increase the U.S. military presence in Vietnam, though not by as much as Taylor had recommended and in ways calculated to preserve a relatively low political profile.


By late November, the first Air Force C-123 transport aircraft specially equipped to spray defoliants had departed the U.S. for South Vietnam. Potent AD-6 Skyraider fighter-bombers were given to the VNAF (Vietnamese Air Force). Amphibious M-113 APCs (armored personnel carriers) were provided to the ARVN, and were to prove useful in the waterlogged terrain of coastal Vietnam and the Mekong Delta. The Air Force sent a small number of hand-picked Air Commandos to Vietnam to train the fledgling VNAF and, under cover of their training role to provide air support for government forces. The first armed T-28 piston-engined trainers arrived in November, shortly followed by twin-engined B-26 bombers. On 11 December, the escort carrier USS Card docked at Saigon transporting two U.S. Army helicopter companies equipped with a total of thirty- three CH-21 troop-transport helicopters between them. They were to be followed in April by a third squadron, this one provided by the Marines. Early in 1962, the Army introduced turbine-engined UH-1 "Huey" helicopters modified to carry machine guns and rockets, the first helicopter in Vietnam. On 23 December, 1961, U.S.Army helicopters carried ARVN troopers in a raid on a suspected Viet Cong radio transmitter west of Saigon. Though not billed as such at the time-officially American military personnel were advisors, not combatants - it was the first U.S. helicopter combat assault operation. Early in 1962, the U.S. Army introduced turbine-engined UH-1 "Huey" helicopters specially modified to carry machine guns and rockets, which were the first purpose- built helicopter gunships to see operational service. In April, a Marine helicopter squadron equipped with UH- 34s joined the Army helicopter units.


U.S. advisors encouraged their Vietnamese counterparts to pursue the war against the elusive Viet Cong aggressively, and for a time air power and helicopter mobility gave the government forces a significant edge. Captured documents later indicated that the Viet Cong were hard pressed during 1962, and that same year the government initiated an ambitious Strategic Hamlet Program. Based on successful British experience in combating a communist-supported insurgency in Malaya, the Strategic Hamlets were intended to remove the peasantry from guerrilla-infested areas and concentrate them in large, well defended villages. Time was to reveal fatal shortcomings in the program, but for the moment it offered real promise.




Page 19 (America in Vietnam)