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where he observed several occasions when CS or CN riot-control ammunition could have been most effectively employed in routing the VC from shelters and tunnel complexes. He suggested the use of tear gas for this purpose when he and Wilson briefed Lieutenant Colonel Utter on STOMP. When a thorough review of his orders and message traffic revealed nothing prohibiting the use of such munitions, the battalion commander approved and ordered the execution of the operation.
Operation STOMP unfolded according to plan. Company H made its LVT assault through the mud flats of Qui Nhon bay while Company F landed by helicopter to cut off the VC avenues of retreat. The two companies closed their cordon around the Viet Cong, killing 26 and capturing three. With escape denied, the enemy went underground, taking many local peasants with them for use as human shields. During the mop-up of the area, a much-publicized action occurred. As the Marines slowly and methodically searched out a complex of tunnels, they threw in tear gas grenades to flush out the occupants. Seventeen VC were forced from hiding in this fashion, as well as more than 300 women, children, and old men, not one of whom was harmed.
When the story broke, the Communist propaganda machines went to work. Radio Hanoi broadcast on 8 September that the ' 'U.S. Marines imprudently used toxic gas, killing or seriously affecting many civilians."3 Both the Communist China News Agency and Russian TASS organization made similar charges.
USMACV headquarters in Saigon was surprised by the news. One of General Westmoreland's subordinates stated that although BLT 2/7 had not been told that tear gas was prohibited, nonetheless, "Everyone knew how Westy felt about it and had permission been asked to employ it, such permission would have been denied.'' Lieutenant Colonel Utter, fearing the worst, later recalled that he ''already had his farewell remarks to his troops in mind."4
General Larsen's headquarters conducted an investigation following which the general backed the battalion commander's decision. Larsen declared that had he been asked about the use of tear gas in this operation, he not only would have approved, he would have directed that it be used. He went on to state that the use of tear gas was the most humane way to handle the tactical situation and that he was in receipt of no restrictions on its use. Major Wilson later wrote that the order for the operation had been "submitted to and approved by General Larsen's headquarters prior to enactment. Although in all fairness, it is doubtful that it was read by anyone other than [the] 2/7 liaison officer to the task force."5
A New York Times editorial of 11 September perhaps best expressed U.S. public opinion, declaring:
If the government prohibits the use of tear gas it will thereby order to certain death or injury more Americans and Vietnamese than the absolute necessities of war demand. Nonlethal riot-control gases can be far more humane and will cause far less casualties than many of the weapons now being used in Vietnam.6
By the end of the month, the Washington authorities acceded to a request from General Westmoreland that U.S. forces be permitted to use riot-control ammunitions in tunnel-clearing operations. In October while on a visit to Qui Nhon, General Westmoreland told Lieutenant Colonel Utter that it was the successful use by his battalion of nontoxic gases that had altered world opinion to accept their employment in combat.7
In I Corps, III MAF increased the number of battalion-size operations against VC main force elements outside of the Marine TAORS, but with disappointing results. For the next two months, the Viet Cong refused to give battle, except on their own terms. During October, the Marines mounted six attacks far afield from their enclaves, but they resulted in few Communist casualties. Typical of these were Operation RED SNAPPER and LIEN KET-10.
Operation RED SNAPPER was a coordinated USMC/ARVN search and dear operation conducted on the Phu Gia Peninsula overlooking Dam Lap An Bay, 20 miles north of Da Nang. From this region, the Viet Cong threatened Route l, the vital main road link between Da Nang and Phu Bai.*
The operation involved two companies of Lieutenant Colonel Cement's 2d Battalion, 3d Marines and one company from the 3d Battalion, 4th
*The strategic Nam O Bridge, which was Da Nang's only northward link over the Cu De River, the Esso storage facilities, and the Hai Van Pass were all on this route, all good targets for the VC.
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