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[Image
1: Marine Corps
Historical Collection. LtCol
Anthony Lukeman,
pictured later as
a lieutenant general,
replaced LtCol Strickland
1974 as chief of
the VNMC LSB. In that year he was
concerned over
severe cuts in funds
for the Vietnamese Marines.]


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almost no interdiction from the air, the NVA wasted little time in exploiting this window of opportunity. The North Vietnamese Army's combat troops in South Vietnam, judged at the end of 1973 to be in excess of 149,000, grew in the next 12 months to over 185,000. Additionally 107,000 support personnel stationed in South Vietnam assisted the frontline troops by keeping the lines of communication open. Besides these regular soldiers, unofficial reports in January of 1975 placed 45,000 guerrillas in the Republic of South Vietnam.28


At first cautious, especially in the months immediately following the ceasefire, the North Vietnamese soon pursued their activities with impunity as the South Vietnamese showed themselves ineffectual in stopping the build-up. By its own admission, the North Vietnamese Politburo, which directed the military activities in South Vietnam, kept a weather-eye cocked toward the United States to gauge the reaction to each of its moves. They needed no reminder that a powerful U.S. Seventh Fleet in the South China Sea and an equally powerful U.S. Seventh Air Force based in Thailand were disconcertingly close. Yet what they did not see and hear, especially in the South Vietnamese skies, reassured them and encouraged much bolder actions in the days ahead.29


During Fiscal Years (FY) 1974 and 1975, the U.S. Congress slashed budget line items providing military aid to South Vietnam. Although not cut entirely, the funding equaled only 50 percent of the administration's recommended level. During FY 1973 the United States spent approximately $2.2 billion in military aid to South Vietnam. In FY 1974, the total dropped to $1.1 billion. Finally, in FY 1975, the figure fell to $700 million, a trend that was not misread in Hanoi. As General Dung very candidly phrased it, "Thieu [President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam] was forced to fight a poor man's war."30 Perhaps more distressing, as far as the recipients of the military aid were concerned, was the fact that by 1975 the dollars spent for certain items were buying only half as many goods as they had in 1973. For example, POL costs were up by 100 percent, the cost of one round of 105mm ammunition had increased from 18 to 35 dollars, and the cost of providing 13.5 million individual rations exceeded 22 million dollars. Considering the steady reduction in funding and the almost universal increase in prices, the South Vietnamese in 1975 could buy only about an eighth as much defense for the dollar as they had in 197 3.31


In June 1974, just before the start ofFY 1975, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Lukeman replaced Lieutenant Colonel Strickland as Chief, VNMC LSB. Almost immediately he began to notice the effects of the reduced funding, less than a third the size of the 1973 budget. In September, in a letter to HQMC, he penned his concerns:


Briefly, the current level means grounding a significant part of the VNAF [South Vietnamese Air Force], cutting back on the capabilities of the VNN [South Vietnamese Navy], and running unacceptable risks in the stock levels of ammunition, POL, and medical supplies. I am concerned it will mean, in the long run, decreased morale, because replacement of uniforms and individual equipment will start to suffer about a year from now. and the dollars spent on meat supplements to (he basic rice diet will be cut way back. At this point, the planners have concentrated (understandably) most of their attention on "shoot, move, and communicate" but have lost in the buzz words a feel for the man who will be doing those dungs.32


The South Vietnamese attempted to adjust to the decreased funding and rising costs, but each of these adjustments had the effect of placing them in a more disadvantageous position relative to the strengthened North Vietnamese forces. The tempo of operations of all services, most particularly the Air Force, was cut









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