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Abel Collection Photo

LtGen Robert E. Cushman, left, CG III MAF. pins the
Distinguished Service Medal on MajGen Rathvon McC. Tompkins at an award
ceremony at Da Nang. Gen Tompkins, who served as CG 5d MarDiv. and later
as Gen Cushman's deputy, was very much involved in the building of the
barrier and its problems.

man, General Tompkins was more concerned abouc the situation he confronted
in the DMZ sector.* In 1976, he wrote that he still did not understand
why the North Vietnamese "did not contain" the base at Khe
Sanh "and sideslip the rest of their formations" towards the
coast and more lucrative targets.15

The barrier or "McNamara Wall" was the other feature of the
war in the north that overrode most other considerations confronting
the 3d Marine Division. It determined both the disposition and the tactics
of the division along the DMZ. According to Colonel Stockman, both Khe
Sanh and the barrier had become "sacrosanct" by the end of
the year and that the latter "could not even be discussed, much
less argued, when I was G-3 . . . ." Stockman claimed that the
barrier "became an objective in itself, causing field commanders
co be committed to an unattainable act of juggling real tactical considerations
and [barrier] requirements."16

The Barrier

Although credited to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, the
concept of a defensive "barrier" between the two Vietnams
had many authors. As early as the late 1950s, President Diem asked his
senior U.S. Army military advisor, Lieutenant General Samuel T. Williams,
to assist in building "a series of strongpoints (concrete) each
to hold an infantry squad, across from the sea to Laos just below the
DMZ."17 A few years later, in the fall of 1961, General
Maxwell Taylor, President Kennedy's Special Military Representative,
on a visit to South Vietnam, directed Brigadier General Edward F. Lansdale,
the Air Force councerinsurgency expert who accompanied him on the trip,
"to do a study of fortifying the DMZ."18 In early
1965, before the commitment of major U.S. units to the Vietnam War,
Army Chief of Staff General Harold K. Johnson, proposed sending a "multinational
tour-division force ... to man defensive positions south of the DMZ
and to overwacch the Laotian border area to the west, thereby impeding
the movement of enemy forces from the north."19

The Defense Department, however, only began to give serious consideration to a DMZ barrier in the spring of 1966 when Secretary of Defense McNamara raised the question with the Joint Chiefs. He then directed the establishment of a special study group to examine the technical feasibility of such a plan. Sponsored by the Institute of Defense Analysis, 67 scientists participated in the study and released their findings, known as the Jason Report, on 30 August 1966. The report concluded that a unmanned air-supported barrier could be established in a year's time. This barrier was to consist of two parts-one aimed at individuals on foot and the other against vehicles. The former was to be along the southern edge of the DMZ while the latter was to extend into Laos. Both parts were to contain gravel mines (small mines with the purpose of crippling legs and feet on detonation), button bomblets (mines designed only to make a loud noise which could be picked up by an acoustic sensor) and both acoustic and seismic detectors (sensitive to sound and ground vibrations). Patrol and strike aircraft were to monitor and support the ground barrier.

Although many of the military had serious reservations, especially
CinCPac, Admiral Sharp, Secretary McNamara believed the proposal had
merit. He appointed Army Lieutenant General Alfred Starbird to head
a joint task force within the Defense Department


* General Metzger observed that General Westmoreland did not give
a direct order to General Tompkins to reinforce Khe Sanh. Although the
MACV commander "became perilously close" to violating the
chain of command "on his many visits with comments and suggestions....,"
he never "bypassed III MAF." Metzger Comments.




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