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Advisors and Other Marine Activities

Marine Advisors to the Vietnamese Marine Corps-Marine Advisors to the Rung Sat Special Zone-U.S. Marines of the I Corps Advisory Group-Marines Serving with MACV Headquarters in Saigon-Company L, Marine Support Battalion-Embassy Marines

Marine Advisors to the Vietnamese Marine Corps

The Marine Corps principal advisory effort outside of I Corps was with the Vietnamese Marine Corps. Headquartered in Saigon and under the operational control of the MACV Naval Advisory Group, the Marine Advisory Unit, commanded by Colonel William P. Nesbit, functioned as the advisory liaison link between the South Vietnamese Marines and the American command. At the beginning of 1965, the Marine Advisory Unit had an authorized strength of 19 officers and one enlisted man. The Marine Advisory Unit consisted of the senior Marine advisor, his deputy, 5 major or captain infantry battalion advisors, l captain artillery advisor, and 10 lieutenant advisors, 6 of whom served as assistant advisors to the battalions. The remaining four lieutenants served as motor transport, supply, communications, and engineer advisors. One noncommissioned officer served as the unit's administrative assistant.*

At this time the South Vietnamese Marine Corps consisted of a Marine brigade (VNMB) of five infantry battalions supported by its own artillery and amphibious support battalions. The Commandant, Brigadier General Le Nguyen Khang, who had led the Vietnamese Marines since 1960 except for a short three-month period following the Diem coup, was also the Commander of the Capital Military Region, Saigon and the surrounding area, and reported directly to the Joint General Staff.** The Vietnamese Marine battalions together with the South Vietnamese airborne brigade made up the nation's strategic reserve, and normally operated as 'fire brigade' reinforcements wherever needed in Vietnam. One Marine battalion always remained near Saigon, ostensibly to protect the capital. Although Khang was responsible for administrative and logistic support of his units, he had operational control only over those battalions in the Capital Military Region.

The South Vietnamese Marine Corps (VNMC) had suffered its worst defeat of the war on 31 December 1964, when the 9th VC Division eliminated the 4th Battalion of the VNMC as an effective fighting force near Binh Gia, a Catholic resettlement village 40 miles east of Saigon.*** Major Lane Rogers, advisor to the 3d VNMC Battalion, who had volunteered on l January to go to Binh Gia and assist with the evacuation of the dead and wounded, recalled:

The next three days were spent searching for bodies; we found more than 100 (friendlies) and no VC. . . . The body hunt was a mess. It was stinking hot and you could not get away from the smell. . . . The third day, after finally getting body bags ... we bagged up the 4th Battalion bodies.1

Rogers remembered that Colonel Nguyen Thanh Yen, the Assistant Commandant of the Vietnamese Marine Corps, was in charge of the body recovery operation and had issued 'vats of local saki' to the

*MACV strength reports of 31 December 1964 listed the actual strength of the Marine Advisory Unit as 22 officers and seven enlisted. Seven of these Marines were performing temporary duty as on-the-job trainees from the 3d Marine Division. This program ended in April 1965.

**On 5 January, the Vietnamese Marine Corps became a separate service from the Vietnamese Navy, although for a two-week period in April General Khang also served as the Navy CNO when the Joint General Staff ousted the then CNO, Rear Admiral Chung Tan Cang.

***See Whitlow, U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1954-64, for a detailed account of the Binh Gia battle.



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