'He who knows when he can fight and
when he cannot will be victorious.' When Sun Tzu wrote those words more than two
thousand years ago he succinctly presented a principle of warfare that still
applies today and aptly describes the U.S. Marine Corps' experience in Vietnam.
From the beginning, in 1954, with the assignment of the first Marine advisor,
Lieutenant Colonel Victor J. Croizat, to the departure of the last Marine Corps
officer to assist and advise the Vietnamese Marine Corps, Lieutenant Colonel
Anthony Lukeman, the quality of the Corps' experience in Vietnam depended upon
where and when it was allowed to fight.
The Marine Corps presence in Vietnam
gradually escalated between 1954 and 1965. Its first sizeable increase occurred
in April 1962 when the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing deployed a headquarters element,
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 362 (HMM-362), and a sub-unit of Marine Air
Base Squadron 16 (MABS-16) to Soc Trang. Within three years of their arrival,
the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade landed at Red Beach 2, northwest of Da
Nang. At 0903, 8 March 1965, 11 Marine amphibian tractors unloaded the first
elements of BLT 3/9. The 9th MEB soon became the III Marine Amphibious Force
(III MAF), eventually consisting of two reinforced divisions and a reinforced
Marine aircraft wing.
By late summer 1965, the United States
had established the command structure, which save for a few minor exceptions,
would govern and control Marine Corps operations for the remainder of the war.
Ill MAF came under the operational control of the commander of the U.S. Military
Assistance Command, Vietnam (ComUSMACV). For logistical and administrative
matters, the Marines remained under the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force,
Pacific (CGFMFPac). Under this arrangement. III MAF prosecuted the war until its
departure in 1971.
The sizeable Marine Corps force in the
Republic of Vietnam attained its highest strength in 1968 when it numbered
nearly 86,000 Marines ashore, or more than one-fourth of the Corps' total
strength. In that year, III MAF withstood the test of the North Vietnamese
Army's best efforts at Hue City and Khe Sanh. By the end of the year, the
Marines had assumed the offensive.
In 1969 the Marine command undertook
its most ambitious operation, Dewey Canyon. The 9th Marines conducted a series
of assaults against the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) in the Da Krong Valley and
enemy Base Area 611, netting 1,600 enemy killed and more than 1,400 weapons
By the end of 1969, the Marine Corps
had begun to withdraw units as pan of President Richard M. Nixon's plan of
'Vietnamization,' but continued the pacification efforts that Marines had
emphasized since soon after their arrival at Da Nang. Dedicated to ridding the
rural areas of Viet Cong, part of the effort included Marine Corps civic action
and the imaginative combined action program which placed reinforced squads of
Marines with South Vietnamese local militia units in the countryside. At the end
of May 1971, the U.S. Marine Corps operational presence in South Vietnam ended.
For most Marines, it meant the last
time Vietnam would be part of their active vocabulary. But for the Marines of
the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade on board ships in the Western Pacific, and the
1st Marine Aircraft Wing, at Iwakuni, Japan, and on Okinawa, the call to arms
rang twice more, both times on an Easter weekend. The first was in 1972 when the
NVA launched the 'Easter Offensive,' forcing the United States to deploy Marine
Corps aircraft squadrons quickly from Iwakuni and Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. The
second and last time occurred in April 1975, when the NVA'S 'Spring Offensive'
resulted in victory for the North.
During the months between the
withdrawal of the last operational units and these two offensives, the Marine
Corps advised and assisted the Vietnamese Marine Corps (VNMC). U.S. Marine
advisors wore the Vietnamese Marine uniform and provided on-scene operational
advice and assistance. After the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in January
1973, the Marine advisors were replaced by a single billet in the new Defense
Attache Office with the title. Chief, VNMC Logistic Support Branch, Navy