dent upon keeping open the vital waterways, especially the Cua Viet and the Perfume River. This necessitated the extensive convoying of the various river craft including LCUs, LCMs, and barges bringing supplies into the embattled city of Hue on the Perfume River and, further north, up the Cua Viet from the port facility to the 3d Marine Division's main base at Dong Ha in Quang Tri Province.
While the river clearing and convoy system was a closely coordinated effort employing both air and ground forces, the Navy's "brown water" fleet played an important role. Since the previous year. Task Force 116, the U.S. Navy, Vietnam's River Patrol Force, had kept River Section 521 at Tan My where the section had established its headquarters on a floating barge complex. Thus at the breakout of the Tet offensive and assault upon Hue, the section was in position to support the flow of water-borne supplies up the Perfume River. With its mainstay consisting of four-man crew PBRs (patrol river boats) powered by Jacuzzi jet pumps and capable of maneuvering at speeds of 25 to 29 knots and equipped with surface radar, four machine guns, and a grenade launcher, the Navy unit cleared the waterway to Hue. Smaller boat detachments operating on the Cua Viet also kept that passage open. For its participation in the Tet offensive, River Section 521 received the Presidential Unit Citation.22
Given the importance of these riverine operations in the fight for Hue and the Cua Viet, Rear Admiral Kenneth L. Veth, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam, together with General Cushman, decided to establish a separate Navy river task force directly under the operational control of III MAF in northern I Corps.* On 24 February, Veth assigned Navy Captain Gerald W. Smith as commander of the new task force, designated Task Force Clearwater. Smith originally established his headquarters at Tan My, but then on the 29th moved his mobile base to the Cua Viet Port Facility. Through the course of the year. Task Force Clear-water would consist of armored river "monitors," PBRs, PACV (Patrol Air Cushioned Vehicles), minesweeping craft, and other diverse watercraft. Among its attached personnel were Marines from the 3d Marine Division's 1st Searchlight Battery and soldiers from the U.S. Army's 63d Signal Battalion. Organized eventually into two river groups, the Hue River Security Group and the Dong Ha/Cua Viet Security Group, Task Force Clearwater protected and kept open the two major water routes in the north-the Cua Viet and the Perfume Rivers.23
One area in which the Navy retained prime responsibility was medical support for the Marine command. Navy doctors and medical personnel manned the battalion and squadron level aid stations. At an even lower echelon. Navy corpsman were assigned to Marine infantry units down to the platoon level. Navy doctors commanded the 1st and 3d Medical Battalions which supported respectively the 1st and 3d Marine Divisions. These battalions ran the intermediate medical facilities at Dong Ha, Phu Bai, and Da Nang, reinforced by the 1st Hospital Company and 1st, 3d, and 11th Dental companies."
In addition to these medical organizations, NSA, Da Nang maintained a 750-bed hospital at Da Nang, the equivalent of a general hospital. Finally during 1968, two Navy hospital ships, the Repose (AH 16) and the Sanctuary (AH 17), remained off the coast each with a capacity of 350 beds that could be doubled if needed, and within a 30-minute helicopter flight from shore.24 According to statistics maintained by the Marine Corps, out of 100 Marines that were wounded, 44 were treated in the field and returned to duty, while 56 were admitted to a hospital. Of those admitted to a hospital, only nine would remain in county and the rest would be evacuated. Approximately 7 percent would receive disability discharges, 5.5 percent would require long-term care, but a remarkably low percentage, 1.5, would die of their wounds.25
In one other area, heavy engineering and construction support, the Navy greatly supplemented Marine capabilities. Since the spring of 1965 when Navy mobile construction battalions (NMCB), popularly known as Seabees, helped to build the airfield at Chu Lai, the Navy augmented the Marine engineering effort in Vietnam. By January 1968, the Navy had established the 3d Naval Construction Brigade, under Rear Admiral Robert R. Wooding, which while under the operational control of Naval Forces, Vietnam, made its headquarters at Da Nang. Under his control, were two naval construction regiments in I Corps, the 30th at Da Nang, which directed the Seabee construction efforts there, and the 32d at Phu Bai, which coordinated those projects in the northern two
*HI MAF eventually delegated operational control of Task Force Clearwater to Provisional Corps, Vietnam (later XXIV Corps), when that command was established in the northern two provinces of I Corps in March 1968. See Chapter 13.
**During the siege of Khe Sanh, a detachment from Company C, 3d Medical Battalion, better known as "Charlie Med," operated the dispensary there.