Awards, creature comforts, and rest and recuperation trips undoubtedly improved the spirits of many Marines, but none of these outweighed the most important policy influencing morale: the 13-month tour in Vietnam. While an R&R might be eagerly anticipated or an award appreciated, the most important thing to almost every Marine was his rotation date. This policy also ensured that every unit rotated around a tenth of its total strength every month.*
The individual replacement policy has been criticized by many, but the Marine Corps had little choice. The Marine Corps could not keep 80,000 Marines in Vietnam through unit rotation without tripling its overall strength. Nor was the policy an unmitigated evil. Predetermined tour lengths had a positive effect on morale. Unlike the soldier of World War II, who felt (with a great deal of justification) that his only hope of escape from combat lay in death, severe wounding, or the end of the war, the 13-month tour gave the Marine in Vietnam a realistic goal. The benefits generated by the set tour length probably outweighed the reluctance of "short-timers" to take risks.61 In any case, it is unlikely that many men could have lasted much more than a year in combat zones.62 Navy doctors concluded that the policy of set tours significantly reduced the number of psychiatric casualties among Marines in Vietnam.6?" The Aviation Shortage
As its Vietnam commitment increased, the Marine Corps could and did expand its ground forces fairly rapidly, albeit with growing pains. Unfortunately Marine aviation, which relied on a very long training pipeline, could not be expanded fast enough.
In fact, the Marine Corps suffered a shortage of pilots as early as the mid-1950s. Officers volunteering for flight training had to agree to remain on active duty well beyond the normal period of service, a daunting prospect for those not committed to a Marine Corps career. To alleviate this concern, the Marine Corps instituted a number of commissioning programs which allowed an officer to bypass the Basic School and go directly to flight school.64
Well before 1955, the Marine Corps accepted a number of graduates from the Navy's Naval Aviation Cadet (NavCad) pilot training program. These men went through flight training as cadets, and received their wings and commissions on the same day. After completion of flight training, they reported directly to a squadron.65 In 1955, the Marine Corps instituted the Aviation Officer Candidate Course, and by 1957 the Platoon Leader's Class (Aviation) had been added.66 Upon completing brief training periods at Quantico, men in these programs received their commissions and reported directly to flight school. In 1959, the Marine Corps stopped accepting NavCad graduates and created the Marine Aviation Cadet Program (MarCad), which operated in the same manner as NavCad.67 As a result of these programs, by 1965 the majority of Marine naval aviators had not attended the Basic School.68
With these new sources of aviators, the Marine Corps barely managed to meet its requirements for naval aviators. The Marine Corps' expansion after the 9th MEB landed in Vietnam in March 1965 threatened these hard-won gains. In an effort to keep the disruption from rapid growth to a minimum, on 13 August 1965, the Commandant announced that the retirement and resignations of regular officers would be delayed for up to 12 months.69 This helped to prevent an immediate shortage of pilots. In the summer of 1966, the number of qualified aviators fell just 45 short of the authorized total of4,284.70
-Colonel Poul F. Pederson, the III MAF G-l, observed that the 13-month tour "to the day was a single stable element." He noted that as a general policy, "about two weeks prior to rotation the Marine would be sent to the 'rear with the gear.' Some believed that as the rotation date approached the Marine got anxious. If he remained in combat, he might be too aggressive or overly reluctant. In either case he could be a detriment to the unit." Pederson Comments. General Chapman remarked that all manpower considerations were "driven by the 13-month tour decreed by DOD . . . ." Gen Leonard F. Chapman, Comments on draft, dtd 27Dec94 (Vietnam Comment File). In late 1965 III MAF instituted Operation Mixmaster, which transferred Marines among units to ensure that all Marines in a given unit would not rotate at the same time. See Shulimson and Johnson, U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1965, p. 117.
**Lieutenant Colonel Merrill L. Bartlett, an intelligence officer who served with the 13th Interrogation and Translation Team in Viet-
nam, related that he "considered extending for purely professional reasons. By then, I couldn't imagine many officers who knew as much about the enemy order-of-battle or who could interrogate as well. I also reali2ed that personally I had become calloused beyond belief; the death and destruction no longer bothered me. I recall spending the entire night in the intensive-care ward of the Naval hospital, interrogating a wounded NVA officer and seemingly oblivious to the horrible mutilation of the wounded Marines in the other beds. I can also remember interrogating POWs in the ARVN hospital in Da Nang amidst indescribable filth and suffering. By the end of my tour, sifting through the pockets of dead NVA or VC, searching for documents, no longer affected me. Perhaps it was time 'to return to the world.' Even so, the Marine Corps would have been better served and I would have served it better by remaining in-country rather than by protecting Camp Pendleton from a seaward invasion from whatever." Bartlett Comments.