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As a result of this decision. General Houghton ordered the 3d Marine Division to constitute a series of specially configured ships' security detachments to replace the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines."


General Houghton published a letter of instruction to his division in which he designated specific regiments and certain battalions to form these detachments and prepare them for deployment. Fourteen days would pass before they would be activated and ordered to replace the Amphibious Evacuation RVN Support Group. In the intervening two weeks, the 1st battalion, 4th Marines continued as the evacuation security force. During that delay, the decision co move the Marines to Military Sealift Command ships was implemented.


On the evening of 4 April, the security force received its first call for assistance from an MSC ship. Company B on board the Frederick received orders to place a reinforced Marine rifle platoon on board a distressed Military Sealift Command ship, the SS Pioneer Contender. The platoon, commanded by Second Lieutenant Robert E. Lee, Jr., was assigned this difficult task with minimum notice in less than ideal conditions. The SS Pioneer Contender, fully loaded with refugees and steaming south from Cam Ranh Bay en-route to Phu Quoc island, had no prior notice either. Having started its journey in Da Nang where it embarked thousands of panic-stricken refugees from that devastated city, the Pioneer Contender never established control of its passengers. The ship's captain, fearful of a complete breakdown in order and discipline, sent out a call for assistance. His urgent request translated into Lieutenant Lee's orders to prepare to disembark.


As night settled over the coast of South Vietnam, Lieutenant Lee and his platoon, reinforced with one interpreter, a machine gun squad, and two corpsmen, went over the side of the Frederick and down the wet net. For most of these young Marines, this was their introduction to amphibious-related operations, made more memorable by the seemingly tiny LCM-6, bobbing and pitching in seas so wild that all refugee operations had been cancelled. From this start, there followed a harrowing ride in complete darkness and swelling seas to a slightly, but only slightly, more stable platform, the Pioneer Contender. Lieutenant Lee and his men, each laden with 50 pounds of equipment and consumables, made a precarious ascent up a jury-rigged Jacob's ladder suspended from the leeward side of the ship's stern. Following this feat, the Marines struggled to the ship's superstructure, totally oblivious to the teeming mass of refugees, nearly invisible in the dark. After a quick orientation by the ship's

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