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USMC Photo A185799

A Combined Action Company patrol moves across a dike near Phu Bai showing the complete integration of Marines and PF.

got up in the morning. He was to pay particular attention to all deviations from the daily pattern. When there was a break in the routine, it was his job to find out the reason why. Eventually the Marines were able to talk with the people, at first using a combination of sign language, and then 'pidgin' Vietnamese and English.

The main obstacle to the establishment of mutual trust between the Marines and the Vietnamese was the sub rosa control that the VC maintained in the area. They did not rule with a tight rein, but would come into the villages several nights a week to distribute propaganda, make speeches, and collect taxes. According to Ek, the understrength Vietnamese territorial forces were unable to cope with the VC. The government troops appeared to lack the initiative to go after the Communists. Ek suspected that some of the Vietnamese village chiefs and the VC commanders had reached informal, unwritten agreements, not as a conspiracy, but as an understanding of the realities of the situation. The Communist troops had the freedom to move during the night, and, in turn, offered no interference to government operations during the day.

Once Lieutenant Ek's combined force began to enter the hamlets, much of the collusion stopped. During the first weeks, the joint platoons saturated the area with patrols, day and night. They introduced several innovations in population control. One of the most successful was accomplished with the aid of the local Vietnamese National Police. The PFs and Marines would enter a hamlet just before dawn and gather the people in the village street. The troops would first apologize to the inhabitants for disturbing them, but then state that it was necessary to check their identification cards in order to protect them from the Communists. The actual identification and questioning of the people was done by an accompanying force of policemen.

The allied commands were unsure how the VC would react to the U.S. Marines living in the hamlets. Ek believed that the Communists had two alternatives. They would either attack the hamlets and wipe out the joint platoons, or ignore the Americans altogether. The VC chose the latter course. As the Marines lived among the people, in time the Americans were able to sense if they were welcome or not. They had to be especially careful in hamlets where the inhabitants were overly friendly. That usually meant that the people had something to hide, and that something usually turned out to be VC.

The first significant engagement between a combined action unit* and the Viet Cong occurred

*The name of the joint action company was changed to combined action company by III MAF in October since 'joint' pertains to two or more services of the same country and 'combined' means services of different countries. See Mullen Study, p. C-H. Captain John J. Mullen, Jr., became the commanding officer on 25 September when Lieutenant Ek completed his overseas tour and left Vietnam.

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