(1968: The Defining Year)
The day after receiving his briefing, 11 October 1966, General Westmoreland met with Secretary McNamara in Vietnam. He recommended his alternative to the Washington plan. The Secretary, after flying over the DMZ, was receptive to the Westmoreland proposal. He directed that MACV should continue with its planning effort and at the same time charged General Starbird's Washington group with the production and delivery of the munitions and sensors to support these measures. Planning would also continue on the development of air-delivered munitions and sensors in Laos to augment the anti-infilrrarion system to be constructed in South Vietnam. The Seventh Air Force would be responsible for the aviation aspects while III MAF together with the MACV Combat Operations Center were to draw up the designs for the barrier and strongpoints within South Vietnam.
Despite their wishes, the Marine command would be at the center of the barrier developments. Very early, Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt, then III MAF commander, made known his unhappiness with the barrier concept. It was his belief and that of his commanders that if lie had the additional forces projected by the barrier planners, 'a far better job of sealing the DMZ could be accomplished without the barrier itself.' It was the Marine position that a barrier defense 'should free Marine forces for operations elsewhere wit freeze such forces in a barrier watching defensive role.' With their objections overruled, the Marine commanders had no choice bur to comply with their directives.21
III MAF submitted its formal operational plan for the barrier at the
end of December 1966 and MACV incorporated the Marine concepts, with
some modifications, in its Practice 9 Requirements Plan of 26 January
1967. The Marine plan had established a deadline of 1 August 1967 for
the construction and manning by an ARVN regiment of the eastern portion
of the barrier. III MAF would have started work on a road network and
the dredging of the Cua Viet to support the project. A Korean division
was to assume responsibility for the area west of Dong Ha Mountain on
l August 1967 as well, and the 3d Marine Division would then be free
of the barrier defense. MACV, in its changes, pushed back the final
completion dace of the eastern section to 1 November and postponed the
entry of additional forces into the western defile area unti1 November.
The original plan had called for a deadline of 1 November for the building
of the western strongpoints, which MACV changed to read, "the remainder
of the system in this area will be completed subsequent to 1 November
1967." Marines, however, were to construct a strongpoint at their
Khe Sanh base. MACV did make some cosmetic revisions in wording: anti-infiltration
system was substituted for barrier, since the latter had the connotation
of an impregnable defense. More importantly, MACV requested an additional
division and regiment specifically earmarked for the strongpoint system
in the Demilitarized Zone, to supplement its forces already in Vietnam.22
Despite not acting upon Westmoreland's request for additional units
for the barrier, which became caught up in the Washington review of
overall MACV manpower needs during the spring of 1967, Secretary McNamara
approved in early March the basic MACV strongpoint proposal. He authorized
General Starbird to procure the necessary material to build and equip
the strongpoints and base camps for a 10-kilometer "trace"
in the eastern DMZ. The Secretary also ordered work to begin on the
improvements of Route 1 and the ports near Hue and on the Cua Viet.
At the same time, the State Department arranged with the South Vietnamese
Government to discuss the necessary land purchases and the resettlement
of the civilian population in the area of the trace.
Photo from 12th Mar ComdC, Jan69
In aerial photograph, Strongpoint A-4 at Con Thien
is marked by the cross hairs. Less than 160 meters high and located
two miles south of the DMZ. Con Thien still dominated the surrounding