Page 122

Page 122(1965: The Landing and the Buildup)  

present command relations as long as the Marines operated only in I Corps. In October, the MACV commander established an interservice steering committee to study the problem. The committee reported on the 19th and recommended that the command structure remain basically the same; General Walt, as Commanding General, III MAF would report directly to General Westmoreland for operations in I Corps while General Larsen would retain a similar responsibility in II Corps.10

Command relationships with the South Vietnamese were just as sensitive. Here, too, no basic change was made in the fundamental understandings that had been worked out with the South Vietnamese. In the new Letter of Instruction furnished to subordinate commands in November, Westmoreland continued to stress coordination and cooperation. The MACV commander told the Joint Chiefs of Staff that any mention of a combined headquarters was politically infeasible at the time. Colonel Wyckoff, the 3d Division G-3, recalled that after briefing General Westmoreland on one occasion, the general

. . . gave quite an extensive rundown on his feeling regarding the conduct of the war where his major thrust was getting the GVN and the ARVN on their own feet with the proper leadership and the proper attitude so they could carry on the war more as a unilateral thing, rather than depending on the support of the United States.11

Under the guidelines furnished by ComUSMACV, III MAF developed its own special expedients for operating with the South Vietnamese. The Marines made few formal agreements with their Vietnamese counterparts, but, on the other hand, several informal understandings emerged. There was nothing in the MACV directives that prevented temporary "tactical direction" of Vietnamese forces by U.S. commanders under certain circumstances. One of the more important ingredients of the Marine relationship with the Vietnamese authorities of I Corps was the mutual understanding and friendship which formed between General Thi and General Walt. The Marine general realized that the ARVN desired American assistance and cooperation, as long as the Vietnamese retained their pride and face. The Marine Corps concept of operations was based on these factors.12

Expanding the TAORs

An indication of the growing coordination between the III MAF and the I Corps commands was the continued extension of the Marine tactical areas of responsibility. From the eight square miles around the Da Nang Airbase that constituted the Marine area of operations on 8 March, III MAF had extended its influence into the rich coastal plain in all three enclaves, containing a total area of 804 square miles. This area was populated by 506,732 people living in more than 100 villages which included nearly 550 hamlets. Most of this population lived in the fertile farming area south of the Da Nang Airbase.

By the end of August, the 9th Marines had completed its TAOR extension south of the Cau Do according to the terms of General Thi's letter of 20 July.* On 13 September, General Walt asked the I Corps commander for a further extension of the Marine Da Nang TAOR. This time Walt requested that the Marine area of operations be extended to the La Tho and Thanh Quit Rivers, three kilometers south of the former boundary. Walt pointed out that the Marines would have the advantage of a natural boundary and would be in position to help the South Vietnamese drive the Viet Cong out of the rice-rich region.13 Eight days later. General Thi granted permission for the larger Marine TAOR, but cautioned General Walt to closely coordinate his forward movement with local Vietnamese authorities and forces. The I Corps commander noted that the area was densely populated and he wished to "avoid deplorable incidents to the local people."14

Anticipating the enlargement of its TAOR, the 3d Marine Division began an adjustment of lines. In August, the 3d Marines, now under Colonel Norman R. Nickerson, the former III MAF G-4 who assumed command on the 16th, positioned the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines to cover the movement of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines south of the Tuy Loan River. The following month, the 9th Marines, now under Colonel John E. German,** began Operation RICE STRAW, which was the first of a three-phase move in which the regiment eventually planned to reach the Ky Lam River. It was during this operation

* See Chapter 6 for the details of this letter.

** Colonel Nickerson recalled that he and Colonel German were platoon leaders of sister platoons in Company A, 1st Parachute Battalion in the capture of the island of Gavutu during World War II and now some 23 years later, "both officers were in command of sister regiments at the same time." Col Norman R. Nickerson, Comments on draft MS, dtd 270ct76 (Vietnam Comment File).

Page 122(1965: The Landing and the Buildup)