Operation Badger Catch in the Cua Viet sector from 23-26 January. Badger Catch became Operation Saline and then Operation Napoleon/Saline. Unti1 June, both SLF battalions remained ashore in the DMZ sector, often transferring from one operational area to another. In effect, both BLTs functioned as any other infantry battalion of the 3d Marine Division in the north.*
By June, the situation in the DMZ had clarified to the extent that both ComUSMACV, now General Abrams, and General Cushman believed that it was time for the SLFs to be reconstituted. A member of General Cushman's staff, Colonel Franklin L. Smith related that III MAF wanted them back on ship: "Once you get people . . . Nobody wants to leave them go." Complicating the situation was the attitude of the Seventh Fleet amphibious commander, Commander Task Force 76, whom Smith believed had been intimidated by the Operation Badger Tooth experience. According to Smith, "Badger Tooth scared the hell out of the guy. ... As soon as the battalion goes ashore, he wants to dump it."16**
Despite the various reservations, in early June 1968, BLT 3/1, now under Lieutenant Colonel Daniel J. Quick, and HMM-164, under Lieutenant Colonel Robert F. Rick, reconstituted SLF Bravo, under Colonel Warren A. Butcher, and reembarked upon the TG 76.5 (ARG) amphibious shipping.- From 7-14 June, BLT 3/1 conducted Operation Swift Saber in Elephant Valley, a known VC infiltration route just northwest of Da Nang, under the operational control of the 1st Marine Division. At the end of the operation, in which the Marines encountered only slight resistance, the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, under Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Mueller, and HMM-265, under Lieutenant Colonel Roy J. Edwards, relieved BLT 3/1 and HMM-164 respectively as the infantry and helicopter components of SLF Bravo.17****
Taking a respite, the newly reconstituted SLF Bravo departed for the new SLF training and rehabilitation encampment at Subic Bay in the Philippines. After a brief stay at Subic, the SLF Bravo units returned to Vietnam for a one-week operation, Eager Yankee, lasting from 9-16 July, in Thua Thien Province near Phu Loc. Operating in support of Task Force X-Ray's Operation Houston, the SLF Marines reported killing 9 of the enemy and captured 6 prisoners while sustaining casualties of 8 dead and 34 wounded. On 16 July, BLT 2/7 joined the 5th Marines in Operation Houston and on 22 July reembarked on its amphibious shipping. After reembarking, BLT 2/7 landed the following day at Da Nang in Operation Swift Play which lasted from 23-24 July in the Go Noi Island area."*" On the 25th, the 27th Marines assumed operational control of the BLT which would remain in the Hoi An sector through October.18
In the meantime, BLT 2/4, the SLF Alpha battalion, remained in the DMZ sector as part of Operation Lancaster II."**** On 13 August, BLT 2/26 relieved the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines as the SLF Alpha infantry component. This was largely a paper transfer. The SLF BLT
*See Chapters 7,13, and 15 for the description of the fighting and the activities of the SLF BLTs in the north during this period. Colonel McQuown, the former commander of BLT 3/1, wrote that the two "SLF's should have been tremendous assets for III MAF. However, in order ro realize their full potential the III MAF Command would have had to insist that the using command select objectives based on hard intelligence, and just as important, follow the Marine Corps Amphibious Doctrine. Properly employed, the SLF's could have responded rapidly to requests from the 1st and 3d Divisions and would have been the '911' forces during the Vietnam War." He believed, however, they were "seldom employed with sound tactics ..." and that the 3d Marine Division in particular "had a myopic view of the use of the SLF's." He, nevertheless, granted that his BLT's operations in the Cua Viet sector in January and February were a "profitable use of a potent fighting force." McQuown Comments.
**Colonel Butcher, the SLF Bravo Commander, agreed with Colonel Smith about the attitude of the amphibious task force commander. Butcher wrote that while in the "sea cabin of CTF 76 (who was a deep-selected, 'frocked' rear admiral with expertise in the nuclear field), . . . [Butcher} was told the conditions under which the landing force would 'chop' ashore . . . Basically, the Admiral's idea was to toss the ball ashore as soon as the helicopters went 'feet dry.'" Butcher Comments.
***The ships of TG 76.5 now consisted of the USS Valley Forge (LPH 8), Vancouver (LPD 2), Thmnaston (LSD 28), and Washhum (AKA 108).
****InJuly, USS Tripoli (LPH 10) replaced the Valley Forge as the helicopter carrier of TG 76.5. On l September 1968, HMM-165, under Lieutenant Colonel George L. Patrick, relieved HMM-265 as the SLF Bravo helicopter squadron. On 28 December 1968, HMM-164, now under Lieutenant Colonel Richard T. Trundy, once again became the SLF squadron in place of HMM-165.
*****See Chapter 17.
***iie*;t;p^[^r_^^ commanded by Major James L. Harrison, relieved HMM-362 on 6 September 1968 as the helicopter squadron for SLF Alpha. Lieutenant Colonel Walter H. Shauer, Jr., who commanded HMM-362 during this period, nored that "we were fragged to support our BLT 2/4 ashore, and other division units . . . ." With its maintenance support on board ship, the squadron was "able to achieve maximum aircraft availability each day averaging over 20 H-34s available for Frags. During our SLF A tenure we flew over 46,000 sorties, and set the record on board rhe LPH 5 Princetm for the most shipboard carrier landings, 285 in a 24-hour period and supported 25 major operations." LtCol Walter H. Shauer, Jr., Comments on draft, dtd lNov94 (Vietnam Comment File). Colonel Warren A. Butcher, the SLF Bravo commander, wrote about the advantages for the Marine Corps to have the helicopters on board ship as the SLF squadrons "benefitted from the more sterile conditions on board the LPH and, from, whar rhe squadron commanders told me, a more responsive supply system." Butcher Comments.