The 9th MEB in Vietnam
The First Weeks-Estimate of the Situation-More Marines Arrive-An Expanded Mission-Chu Lai
The First Weeks
Despite the arrival of the 9th MEB, the Marine intervention in Vietnam was still of a limited nature. The Joint Chiefs of Staff made this very clear in their landing order of 7 March which directed that ''the U.S. Marine Force will not, repeat will not, engage in day-to-day actions against the Viet Cong.'' General Westmoreland gave the 9th MEB the responsibility to protect the vital Da Nang Airbase from enemy attack but declared that 'overall responsiblity for the defense of Da Nang area remains a RVNAF [Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces] responsibility.'1
To carry out this limited mission, General Karch had nearly 5,000 Marines under his command, including McPartlin's and Bain's infantry battalions, two helicopter squadrons, and limited logistic and combat support forces. The brigade had absorbed the former Marine Unit Vietnam (MUV), or Task Unit 79.3.5, better remembered as SHUFLY. On 9 March the MUV became Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 16. Colonel John H. King, Jr., the former MUV commander and veteran Marine aviator who had commanded a helicopter squadron in Korea, assumed command of MAG-16.
The 9th MEB air-ground team at Da Nang faced a difficult logistical situation. General Karch later recalled:
In late February, Bob Oddy [Colonel Robert J. Oddy, CO, 3d Force Service Regiment] came to me and said, 'Your biggest problem is going to be logistics and I am going to find you the best people I have to get you through this test.'' And bless old Bob, he did just that, otherwise the Brigade would have been flat on its back.2
The 3d Service Battalion and Force Service Regiment on Okinawa provided the personnel for the Brigade Logistic Support Group (BLSG). According to Colonel Oddy, 'When the time came to embark the Brigade, we split the Service Battalion 50/50, and supported by personnel from the Force Service Regiment, we were ready to launch the fledging BLSG.'* Original plans called for a BLSG in excess of 1,000 men, but because the Joint Chiefs imposed a personnel ceiling on the number of Marines who could be brought into Vietnam the group had been cut to 660 men. Colonel Oddy recalled in 1976, 'The personnel ceiling resulted in an extremely austere staff group that made service and support a big question mark . . . .'3 General Karch remarked that there were several contingency plans which fitted the situation in Vietnam better than the one that was used.4
The only representatives of the brigade logistic group who participated in the first phase of the landing were the executive officer, Major Pat Morgan, and 11 other Marines. They arrived on 10 March by air with elements of BLT 1/3 and assumed control of the entire logistic operation, but the advance echelon could accomplish very little 'except to console the MEB that supplies were on the way.'5
Despite the activation of the BLSG on 12 March and the arrival of its commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel George H. Smith, six days later, the first two weeks for the MEB were a logistic nightmare. The entire brigade subsisted on the 15 days of rations that had landed with McPartlin's battalion and an
*Colonel Oddy wrote in 1976:' . . . this was a time when unrestricted officers with infantry MOSs could be assigned command of service units. This was fortunate for me as I had previous command experience with infantry platoons, companies and battalions and it seemed unlikely I would command one of the infantry regiments of the Division. Command of a large service organization and the opportunity to formulate from scratch a larger task organized service and support group was certainly a major high point in my career.'' Col Robert J. Oddy, Comments on draft MS, dtd 25Oct76 (Vietnam Comment File).
Page 16 (The 9th MEB in Vietnam )