On 20 February, General Momyer came to Da Nang to brief both Generals
Cushman and Norman Anderson on his proposed plan to modify the air control
situation. At the outset of the meeting, Momyer stated that he was there
to discuss General Westmoreland's desire to have a single manager for
air and to bring back to the MACV commander the III MAF perspective.
In a sense, the conferees generally talked past one another.* The Marine
generals emphasized responsiveness to the ground forces while General
Momyer and his staff members stressed the need "to mass more of our
efforts." In some frustration and obviously as a jab at the Air Force,
General Cushman stated it made as much sense to centralize control of
helicopters as that of fixed-wing aircraft. The Marine general knew
very well that Momyer had no desire to take on the Army on this subject.
The Seventh Air Force commander merely stated that helicopters were
another matter and had "to be treated separately." According to the
proposed outlines of the MACV plan, Momyer in his dual capacity as Commanding
General, Seventh Air Force, and the MACV Deputy Commander for Air Operations,
would have the responsibility for most Marine fixed-wing aviation.13
General Cushman immediately protested and forwarded his concerns to General Westmoreland. On 22 February, the MACV commander attempted to placate Cushman and told him that as the ground field commander in I Corps, the III MAF commander would still retain the "tactical air assets available to support your forces, subject to modifications that I might invoke as the situation dictates." At the same time, Westmoreland stared that his air deputy, Momyer, "would have general direction ot all routine matters relating to the procedures for requesting, fragging and controlling air support." On the cover sheer of the message from Westmoreland, a Marine staff officer penned in green ink: "These two positions are in direct contradiction in my opinion." In Saigon, a week later. Brigadier General Chaisson jotted down in his diary: "AF [Air Force] is doing real job on III MAF. Will get op con [operational control] of wing. Very unprofessional work." The Marines had lost the fight in Saigon.14
Photo courtesy of Office of Air Force History
Adm U. S. Grant Sharp, CinCPac, nearly at end of
his tour of duty, acquiesced to Gen We stmoreland's request for "single
manager" control of air after rejecting previous proposals.
The battle had shifted to Honolulu and Washington. In Washington, on 21 February, Marine Corps Commandant Leonard F. Chapman sent a memorandum to General Earle G. Wheeler, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, protesting General Westmoreland's proposed action as abrogating the Marine air-ground team and in violation of JCS directives establishing "III MAF as a separate uni-Service command directly subordinate to MACV." Wheeler in turn forwarded a copy of the memorandum to the MACV commander. As expected, Westmoreland denied that this was the case. He insisted that Marine air would support the Marine ground forces when "the tactical situation permitted." Westmoreland argued that he had now, including the Marine divisions, the equivalent of a field army in I Corps. He mentioned that the air support of these forces required large elements of the Seventh Air Force as well as the Marine aircraft wing. Because ot the air campaign in support of both Khe Sanh and the allied forces in the northern two provinces, the MACV commander contended that "Marine air therefore, has become a junior air partner in the total air effort. . . ." According to Westmoreland the problem was one of "coordination and directing all of these diversified air elements so that the air support can be put where and when needed in the required quantity." This needed, the MACV commander asserted, "a single airman [obviously General Momyer] I can hold responsible for coordinating all the air effort that is made available to me." Westmoreland maintained that his proposed
* Among the participants in the meeting were Air Force generals Momyer and
Blood and Marine generals Cushman, Norman Anderson, and Earl E. Anderson.