By relying on experienced NCOs with temporary commissions, rapidly trained lieutenants, and quickly promoted short-service NCOs to lead Marines in combat in Vietnam, the Marine Corps followed a familiar path. The same policies had been used in World War I, World War II, and Korea. Vietnam, however, differed from these conflicts in one crucial respect: during the Vietnam War, almost none of the newly trained and experienced officers and NCOs remained to lead Marines in combat for a second tour. By 1968, even the pre-war senior NCOs began to leave in alarming numbers. Rather than continually adding to its pool of combat-tested leaders, the Marine Corps had constantly to recreate it. Discipline*
The exodus of young officers and NCOs also meant that the older mustang officers [officers with prior enlisted service] and pre-war career NCOs provided most of the continuity, experience, and senior leadership at the company level. This tended to exacerbate the differences between short-service Marines of all ranks and "lifers," placing a further strain on the cohesion and discipline of small units.** At the beginning of 1968, men on four-year enlistments still comprised the bulk of the Marines in Vietnam.*** As short-service Marines with minimum training arrived and career Marines left in increasing numbers, signs of declining combat discipline began to appear.
In April 1968 Major General Donn J. Robertson, the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, tartly informed his subordinate commanders that it was "almost unbelievable to receive reports of incidents in which Marines while on patrol, have gone off and left members of the patrol." General Robertson blamed leaders of all ranks for their failure to keep strict personnel accountability.38
In August, the new commanding general, Major General Carl A. Youngdale, again lectured the 1st Marine Division on basic discipline. This time the subject was accidental discharges. In all of 1967, the units of the 1st Division reported 200 accidental discharges, with 156 Marines wounded and 16 killed. By 18 August 1968, Marines in the division had already fired 218 accidental discharges, wounding 189 and killing 26. A division bulletin noted that every incident resulted from negligence.39 In October, the 1st Marine Division issued another bulletin addressing the same problem, noting that in September, 4 Marines died from accidental discharges, and another 18 were wounded.40 Yet another bulletin came out in March 1969. In 1968, Marines of the 1st Division committed 323 accidental discharges. These incidents killed 40 and wounded another 309 men, more than twice the number of casualties inflicted in 1967.41
As the year progressed offenses also increased, particularly drug offenses. In the first four months of 1968, military authorities investigated 160 Marines for marijuana use, compared to 142 for all of 1967. Marijuana use was heaviest in Vietnam and the West Coast.42 Still, in July 1968, a Marine staff paper prepared for the annual General Officers' Symposium contained the observation that
While the presence of marijuana and drug users in the Marine Corps is a problem-even the use of drugs by one Marine must be considered a problem-the number of drug users in the Marine Corps is not considered alarming or threatening to the combat efficiency or the public image of the Marine Corps.43
Shortly after this symposium, the drug problem increased markedly. In the first six months of 1968 the 1st Marine Division's Criminal Investigation Division opened a total of 17 investigations into the use of illegal drugs. In the last third of 1968 this divi-
*For a description of how the issues described in this section developed later in the war, see Cosmas and Murray, U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1970-1971:
Vietnamization andRstleployment, Chapter 20, Morale and Discipline.
**"Lifers" refers to career Marines of all ranks. There are natural frictions between leaders and the ranks as the former require the latter to perform unpleasant but necessary tasks, such as digging-in or wearing hot, heavy body armor. See Charles R. Anderson, The Grunts (San Rafael, CA:
Presidio Press, 1976), Chapter 13, hereafter, Anderson, The Grunts. In Vietnam: The Other War (Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1982), Anderson describes the difference between "lifers" and short-service Marines. He also notes that many of the Marines who actively sought rear area assignments were careerists, and many were on their second tour in Vietnam (pp. 17-21). Some of the "short-timer" versus lifer animosity transcended the officer-enlisted barrier. Both James Webb in Fields of Fire (Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice-Hall, 1978) and Philip Caputo in A Rumor of War (New York: Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston, 1977), portray reserve lieutenants who are close to the riflemen they lead and hold careerist officers in contempt. In Gustav Hasford, The Short Timers (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), all of the principal characters are on their first enlistment.
***As of 24 February 1968, 12.5 percent of all Marines in Vietnam were career Marines and 50.6 percent were on four-year enlistments. Only 13.1 percent had two-year obligations. AC/S G-1 memo to CMC, Sub): Replies to Questions, dtd 20Feb68, attachment, tab I-E, CMC Reference Notebook, 1968. The proportion of Marines with two-year obligations in Vietnam must have risen dramatically during the year as result of the large increase in two-year enlistments. Although the exact figures are not available, by December 1968, men with two-year contracts probably accounted for around half of all Marines in Vietnam.