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A Puzzling War

III MAF January 1968-MACV and Command Arrangements-South Vietnam and I Corps The Enemy-Focus on the North-MACV Vis-a-Vis Marines-An Ambivalent Outlook


III MAF January 1968

After more than two and a half years since the commitment of major U.S. combat forces to the war in Vietnam, the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF) entered 1968 with portents of a possible climax to the conflict. American intelligence indicated a buildup of enemy forces throughout South Vietnam and especially in the northern border region. Regiments from three North Vietnamese Army (NVA) divisions massed in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Vietnams and in Laos near the isolated Marine base at Khe Sanh. To counter this threat, the American command prepared to reinforce the Marines in I Corps Tactical Zone (ICTZ), the five northern provinces in South Vietnam. Although 1967 ended and 1968 began with the usual holiday truces between the opposing forces (more honored in the breach than in the observance), the Marines girded themselves for future heavy fighting.

With its headquarters at the sprawling and centrally located Da Nang base. III MAF at the beginning of January 1968 numbered more than 100,000 Marines,sailors, and soldiers. Lieutenant General Robert E. Cushman, Jr., Naval Academy Class of 1935 and Commanding General, III MAF, since the previous June, had under his command two reinforced Marine divisions, the 1st and 3d; a U.S. Army division, the Americal; the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW); and the Force Logistic Command. Supplementing these units and temporarily attached to III MAF were the nearly 3,000 Marines of the Seventh Fleet's two special landing forces (SLFs). Part of the U.S. Pacific Command's strategic reserve, the SLFs each consisted of a Marine battalion landing team (BLT), a battalion reinforced by supporting elements and a helicopter squadron. In addition, the III MAF commander had "coordinating authority" over the tour-battalion Republic of Korea (ROK) 2d Marine Brigade (meaning orders to the Koreans took the form of requests). Including the ROK Marines, General Cushman had available 40 infantry battalions and 23 Marine aircraft squadrons in the III MAF area of operations, extending some 220 miles from the DMZ in die north to the border with II Corps Tactical Zone in the south.1

Department of Defense Photo (USMC) A192347

Marine LtGen Robert E. Cushman. Commanding, General, III Marine Amphibious Force, returns a salute during a ceremony at Da Nang. By January 1968. III MAF. the senior U.S. command in l Corps, the fire northern provinces of South Vietnam, equalled a field army in size.

The 53-year-old Cushman, commanding nearly a field army in size, had multiple responsibilities which had grown apace with the expansion of III MAF from the original Marine contingent, the 5,000-man 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (9th MEB), which had landed at Da Nang in March 1965. As the senior U.S. general officer in I Corps, General Cushman wore several "hats." As well as Commanding General, III MAF, he was both the U.S. I Corps "Area Coordinator" and "Senior Advisor." In one capacity or another he was responsible for all U.S. forces in the northern five provinces.2

Well respected in the Corps, with a reputation for intelligence and political adroitness. General Cushman brought a broad background in both military and national affairs to his duties at III MAF. The native Minnesotan, a battalion commander in World War II, was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism at Guam. Following the war, he served as an instructor at the Marine

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