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US Marines in Vietnam: 1968 The Defining Year

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months earlier in April 1966, in order to meet the demands of the Vietnam buildup.17* According to Thomas D. Morris, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower in 1966, the high rejection rate for men in Mental Group IV created a serious problem when draft calls increased to support the Vietnam buildup. In his opinion, Project 100,000 would not have been implemented if the need for increased manpower had not existed, nor would it have been launched if it had been solely a social welfare program.18

After Project 100,000 began, the Marine Corps undermined its contention that this program forced it to turn away better qualified recruits by consistently exceeding its quotas of both Mental Group IV s and New Standards men by considerable margins.19 In fact, the Marine Corps had already lowered enlistment standards in November 1965, well before Project 100,000. Indeed, between November 1965 and October 1966 the Marine Corps, while barring some non-high school graduates who still met the minimum standards for induction from enlisting, accepted high school graduates who scored too low on the entry tests to be drafted.20 This, combined with the fact that at the end of 1968 the Marine Corps was again forced to rely on the draft to fill its ranks,** suggests that the Marine Corps could not in fact attract enough higher quality volunteers.

While the proportion of Mental Group IV's among new Marines increased, the proportion of high school graduates decreased. From the summer of 1965 to the summer of 1967, 65 percent of all new Marines had high school diplomas, 10 percent more than male civilians aged 18-19. In late 1967, while the proportion of civilian males graduating from high school remained fairly stable, the proportion of Marine recruits with diplomas declined. From July 1967 to June 1968 only 57.4 percent of new recruits possessed a diploma. This decline continued until fiscal year 1973, when only 49.6 percent of new male recruits had high school diplomas.21

Project 100,000 and the pressing need for new recruits forced the Marine Corps to lower its entry standards, but these standards remained considerably higher than those in effect in either World War II or Korea. In World War II, men in Mental group IV were accepted without complaint or comment, and about 25-30 percent of enlisted Marines fell in this group. The Marine Corps did provide remedial instruction for the roughly 5-10 percent of Marines in Mental Group V*** Men in Mental Group IV constituted 40.5 percent of all Marine male recruits during the Korean War.22 The Korean era Mental Group IVs included men who would have been excluded under Project 100,000. At the height of Project 100,000, between July 1968 and June 1969, 25.7 percent of all new Marines scored in Mental Group IV, with New Standards men comprising 13.8 percent of all recruits.23

From 1965 to 1968, the educational level and test scores of new Marines declined. This decline, however, did not necessarily translate into poor combat performance. Former Marine lieutenant Lewis B. Puller, Jr., related in his memoir that he had in his platoon one older man, called "Pappy" by his fellow Marines, who had entered the Marine Corps through Project 100,000. Puller noted that "Pappy" could keep up with the younger members of his machine gun team and they took care of him, although the Marine officer wondered how the man's skills with a machine gun "were going to help him earn a living after the Marine Corps."24 The quality of the leadership and training a Marine received counted for a great deal. As Lieutenant Colonel Howard Lovingood, who saw combat in Vietnam as both a senior enlisted man and company grade officer, recalled, "I looked on it as any other Marine leader would . . . you take the Marines and train them to the best of your ability and get on with the job."25 Unfortunately, the manpower demands of Vietnam forced the Marine Corps to devote less time to training its new recruits.

*President Johnson introduced the term "Great Society" in a speech given in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 22 May 1964. The phrase soon came to refer to the numerous social welfare programs created by the Johnson administration.

**During 1968, the Marine Corps made three draft calls: in April for 4,000 men. May for l ,900 men, and December for 2,500 men. Starring in February 1969, the Marine Corps made a draft call every month, with the exception of July and August 1969> unti1 February 1970.

***Although records of the exact mental group distribution of Marines are sketchy at best, Selective Service distributed men to all of the Services in roughly the same proportions. Even after President Roosevelt ended all voluntary enlistments beginning in February 1943, the Marine Corps managed to ensure a source of quality recruits by enlisting 17-year-olds into the Reserve and encouraging promising young men to volunteer for induction into the Marine Corps. The Army Air Corps also used these techniques, which probably kept the Army and Marine Corps' overall mental distribution fairly close. In World War II approximately 9 percent of all enlisted soldiers were in Mental Group V and 29 percent in Mental Group IV. Mental Group Vs did not serve in Korea or Vietnam, having been barred from service by law in 1948. Mark J. Eitelberg et al,. Screening/or Service'. Aptitude and Education Criteria for Military Entry (Washington, D.C.:

Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense [Manpower, Installations, and Logistics], 1984) pp. 24-25.



Page 560(1968: The Defining Year)
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