hand, was to "conduct pre-assault and distant post-assault reconnaissance in support of a landing force."21
1st Force Reconnaissance Company, The Early Days
Early beach reconnaissance efforts of Captain David Whittingham's Subunit l, 1st Force Reconnaissance Company were textbook examples of proper employment of the company. On 23-27 February, Subunit l, in conjunction with Underwater Demolition Team 12, operating from the USS Cook (APD 130), accomplished the reconnaissance of RED Beaches l and 2 at Da Nang. As a result, RED Beach 2 was selected as the landing beach for BLT 3/9, the first element of the 9th MEB to land in Vietnam.
The period 15-20 March was devoted to the reconnaissance of the beaches and terrain near Phu Bai. Subunit 1's reports resulted in 3d MEB's decision to send its first BLT to Phu Bai by way of the river approach to Hue and then overland to Phu Bai. The proposed landing beaches were backed by impassable lagoons which made exit almost impossible. For Subunit l, this was its first real test. The VC were active in the area, but the mission was accomplished without loss and with excellent results.
Eight days later. Subunit l undertook the reconnaissance of the beach which was to be the site of the 3d MEB landing, Chu Lai. Its reconnaissance was finished on 30 March, again with excellent results.
On 20 April, 18 days before the Chu Lai landing, the force reconnaissance Marines started a survey of a beach south of the Tra Bong River 10 kilometers southeast of the proposed 3d MEB landing beach. On the 22d the reconnaissance party encountered light resistance. That was not the case the next day. Five Marines on the beach were caught in the crossfire of 25 VC, Corporal Lowell H. Merrell was wounded twice and two sailors in the beach party's LCVP also were hit; all three subsequently died. The 1st Force Reconnaissance Company had lost its first Marine to VC fire. In memory, the new force reconnaissance camp would be named Camp Merrell.
In May, Subunit l teams were sent to Special Forces camps to serve as patrol leaders for CIDG patrols. Other teams were assigned to reconnaissance-in-force patrols composed of U.S.- and Australian-led Nungs* which operated from Da Nang. A third mission was to provide quick response patrols to act as security for downed Marine helicopters. Initially, all force reconnaissance reports and debriefings were coordinated by the III MAF G-2, Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Gruenler.
On 10 July, another platoon reinforced Subunit l, and during July and August the two platoon subunit operated from the 4th Marines' Chu Lai base. Another force platoon was conducting beach surveys for the Commander, Task Force 76; still another platoon was assigned to the SLF; while the rest of the company was still at Camp Pendleton.
On 11 August, Major Malcolm C. Gaffen, the company commander, arrived and relieved Captain Whittingham as subunit commander. During Operation STARLITE, in August, Subunit l was attached to the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines, and the 3d Platoon, attached to the SLF, landed with BLT 3/7. At the conclusion of STARLITE, Subunit l returned to Da Nang.
The company headquarters and a fourth platoon arrived on 24 October while the subunit was participating in Operation RED SNAPPER with the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines north of Da Nang. At the conclusion of RED SNAPPER, the four platoons were reunited at their Camp Merrell base on China Beach south of Da Nang. The China Beach site had been selected because of its ready access to the ocean for amphibious training and because it provided enough room for parachute requalification.
The arrival at Camp Merrell of two-thirds of the company and the fact that the 5th and 6th Platoons had moved west to Okinawa suggested that soon the company would be operating as an independent force unit carrying out the "distant port-assault reconnaissance" specified in the table of organization.
During the summer and fall, company units had experienced a variety of operational difficulties. Communications problems were rampant. The force
* Nungs are ethnic Chinese, residents of Kwangsi Province, but an appreciable number inhabited northern North Vietnam. They are noted for their martial skills. As such, many served, willingly, under the French, and, for this reason, emigrated to South Vietnam in 1954. At one time after the formation of the Republic, the South Vietnamese Army included a division of Nungs, but it was broken up because of its potential threat to the incumbent government. Nungs, hired on as mercenaries, eventually came under the domain of U.S. Special Forces and other agencies involved in unconventional warfare.
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