infantry replacements from April into March and adding another 400 men to the scheduled replacements for April.116
Despite these efforts, in the spring of 1968, the Marine Corps could not find enough replacements to keep up with the high rate of casualties and normal rotations. The Deputy Secretary of Defense approved a new manpower ceiling for Vietnam, Program 6, on 4 April, calling for the number of Marines in Vietnam to increase to 87,700 by 30 June 1968. Instead of rising to this goal, however, the number of Marines in Vietnam declined slowly, but steadily, through the spring of 1968.
Midsummer marked the nadir of manpower for the year. In June, infantry battalions averaged only 1,043 Marines. At the end of June, rifle companies averaged 179.6 Marines. An average of only 158.5 Marines was actually present, or 73.4 percent of the T/O strength. The 1st Marine Division continued to bear the brunt of the manpower shortage, averaging just 1,005 Marines in its infantry battalions in July.
Naturally, some companies were worse off than others. On any given day, sick call, working parties, and other routine requirements siphoned off a number of Marines counted as "present," exacerbating the problem. In the early summer of 1968, senior officers returning from Vietnam spoke of the fighting strength of rifle companies averaging 120 men, and sometimes falling as low as 80 or 90 men.117*
In contrast to the field units, the Marine Corps "got awfully heavy at [its] headquarters levels in Vietnam."118 The personnel situation improved on each succeeding rung of the chain of command. Infantry battalion headquarters and service companies averaged 91.8 percent of the T/O allowance of 329 Marines; regimental headquarters companies, 94.9 percent of their authorized strength of 218; and division headquarters battalions, almost 150 percent of their T/O strength of l ,248 Marines. Taken together, the headquarters overages of III MAF and the two divisions amounted to 1,568 Marines, nearly half the shortfall among the infantry battalions in country.
Much of this overmanning could not be helped. The tables of organization for headquarters units did not provide for many crucial billets, such as instructors for sniper, NCO, engineer, and other vital in-country schools."s Task forces placed a further drain on headquarters assets, particularly the creation of Task Force X-Ray in January 1968.120 Still, many Marines were assigned to headquarters units more as a matter of convenience than necessity." Whether combat requirement or unnecessary luxury, since the Marine Corps could never reach its programmed strength in Vietnam, every extra Marine in a headquarters unit in effect came out of an infantry squad.
This situation concerned both Lieutenant General Henry W. Buse, General Krulak's replacement as Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Pacific, and General Chapman, the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Between 15 and 18 July, General Buse held a manpower conference at his headquarters to address this and other problems. After the conference, General Buse reported to the Commandant that while he could not tell how much or how soon effective rifle company strength would improve, except for Marines with medical limitations and certain overriding requirements, all infantrymen were being assigned to infantry and reconnaissance units.12'
According to the MACV strength report, on 31 July 1968, III MAF included 82,871 Marines, 2,069 fewer than its authorized strength of 84,940. The two divisions combined, however, fell 4,130 below their authorized strength, and the SLF's contained 164 Marines less than their manning levels called for. Much of the difference could be found in Combined Action groups, which included 1,951 Marines. As in January,
*There were questions among the different commands as to what amounted to effective strength of rifle companies. For example, Major General Raymond G. Davis, then commanding general of the 3d Marine Division, did not want to count as effective, personnel who were on light duty or awaiting transportation for TAD (Temporary Attached Duty) or R&R (Rest and Recreation)leave, but were still in the company sector. III MAF disagreed and was backed up by FMFPac. See BGen E.E. Anderson Itr to LtGen W. J. Van Ryzin, dtd HSep68, End, Gen Earl E. Anderson, Comments on draft, dtd 18Dec94 (Vietnam Comment File). Colonel Pederson, the III MAF G-l, remembered that the term "foxhole strength" caused "a stir at various levels. The media reported what. . . [they} saw and in an indicting fashion reported that many were absent from the battlefield. When the story hit the streets reporters milked it with questions posed at SecNav, CMC, CGFMFPac. These officials shot messages to CGIIIMAF for info[rma-tionl. By then several days had passed. The same unit observed in the first place was now up to strength (T/O manning level etc.) . . . [but now] further reduced by combat casualties, transfers, etc. Massaging numbers did not solve much. Commanders at all levels were aware of personnel shortages, some of which were caused by assigning 'trigger pullers' to base-type functions such as R&R and China Beach R&R, out of country R&R. Our Combined Action Platoons used up more trigger pullers. There seemed to be some variation in casualty reporting, some counted by operation and experienced difficulty in accuracy when reporting daily by unit." Pederson Comments.
^For instance, in the summer of 1967, in the midst of a critical shortage of combat engineers, the 3d Marine Division had five combat engineer NCOs building an officer's club at its base camp. Marsh intvw.