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Da Nang fell into the hands of enemy forces, altering all plans to evacuate that region. The task force received new orders to sail instead to Qui Nhon and Nha Trang.


Once there, the new plan called for the battalion to aid and assist in the humanitarian evacuation of the area. The Marines of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines would then assume responsibility for the internal security of the ships assisting the refugees. The new directive describing this role, although somewhat confusing, had an undeniable effect on the organization and make-up of the battalion. Rather than a BLT, all that would be required was a small battalion command group and the rifle companies organic to the battalion. Thus BLT 1/4 would deploy as a "light" battalion, specifically tailored for the task at hand. Most of the Headquarters and Service Company of the battalion as well as the normally attached units would remain behind. The amphibian tractor platoon carrying the battalion's 106mm recoilless rifle platoon, already on board the Dubuque, was unloaded, The 81mm mortar platoon, which had assembled at the Camp Hansen helicopter landing zone, found out only moments after its arrival that it had become a last-minute "cut" from the troop list. The frenetic and seemingly chaotic pace of the embarkation reflected, if nothing else, the battalion's flexibility, a trait it would exhibit time and time again in the ensuing weeks. If this event appeared confusing and haphazard to the participants, imagine the wonderment and disbelief of the spectators. The S-3 of the 9th Marines, one of those watching that Easter morning while the Dubuque laid to off Okinawa in Ora Wan Bay, related his observations:


On my way to the Officers Mess that Sunday morning. I paused to watch as 1/4's 106s were loaded into LVTP-7s and then che LVTs splashed into the water and swam out 10 the Dubuque. After a leisurely brunch, I left the Mess about 90 minuces later and headed for the regimental command post. As I walked along the road bordering the hay, ro my astonishment I observed the same LVTs swimming away from rhc Dubuque still fully loaded. They were heading for the LVT loading ramp at the foot of their tractor park and the Dubuque was getting underway, headed in the direction of White Beach. I immediarely quickened my pace, curious 10 find out the latest change and the reason for the return of 1/4's heavy gear.4


During that Sunday afternoon, on 30 March, the Dubuque got underway from White Beach, Okinawa for Vietnamese waters. The Dubuque carried the battalion command group; Companies A, B, and C; and HMM-165(-) (seven CH-46s). Also on board were elements reinforcing the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines: First Lieutenant Joseph J. Streitz's detachment from the Military Police Company, 3d Marine Division; a platoon from the 3d Engineer Battalion led by Second Lieutenant Paul Melshen; the 3d Counterintelligence Team (3d CIT), commanded by Captain Charles J. Bushey; and the 17th Interrogator-Translator Team (17th ITT) commanded by Chief Warrant Officer Alien F. Kent.5


On 31 March, the 33d MAU was redesignated the Amphibious Evacuation RVN Support Group to emphasize the humanitarian nature of the mission. Colonel Dan C. Alexander, the Chief of Staff, 9th MAB, became its commander. The renamed group was assigned task designator 79.9, thereby consummating a major shift in plans to accommodate the rapidly changing situation in South Vietnam.6


Originally, Colonel Alfred Gray had been ordered to remain at Okinawa and reconstitute a new 55d MAU to be built around Lieutenant Colonel Lynn Bond's BLT 1/9, the airborne contingency BLT, and Lieutenant Colonel Herbert M. Fix's HMH-463. Fix's squadron was already embarked on the USS Hancock. (CVA 19), outward bound from Pearl Harbor, steaming hard for the Western Pacific. Due to the fact that the rapidly changing situation m South Vietnam could make plans instantly obsolete, this idea never matured beyond its formative stage.


Overcome by events and the exigencies of the moment, the original plan was scrapped and replaced with the one calling for a shipboard security force. The modified concept received its initiation under Major Gcnera.1 Kenneth J. Houghton, the 3d Marine Division commander, who also had observed the embarkation and departure of Colonel Alexander's force. General Houghton expressed the desire that this force-on the verge of a new and unique mission-make the best use of its company grade and lower leadership echelons.


Success, however, did not come without proper planning and to serve that end, on 51 March 1975, Joint Operations Order 76.8/79.9 was published. Although Task force 76 retained its task designator, Admiral Whitmire activated the 76.8 designator to distinguish those involved in the special evacuation operation from the rest of his forces. Admiral Whitmire, himself, took command of Task Group 76.8. The order he and Colonel Alexander issued covered the group's anticipated activities and directed the placement of Marine rifle companies, describing their command relationships.7 One company would be placed on each









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