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Advisors to the Vietnamese Marine Corps


The largest Marine advisory effort was with the South Vietnamese Marine Corps. Beginning with one U.S. Marine advisor in early 1955, the U.S. Marine Advisory Unit (MAU) to the South Vietnamese Marine Corps had by January 1968 grown to an authorized strength of 33 personnel consisting of 27 Marine officers, a Navy doctor, four enlisted Marines and a Navy corpsman. Commanded by Colonel Richard L. Michael, Jr., who held the title, Senior Marine Advisor, the MAU was part of the Naval Advisory Group in the U.S. MACV advisory organization. In Saigon, Michael maintained a small headquarters which consisted of the Assistant Senior Marine Advisor, Lieutenant Colonel Glenn W. Rodney, and a small administrative staff. The rest served in the field with the deployed units of the Vietnamese Marine Corps.49


Outside of the supply, ordnance, artillery, and amphibious specialist officers, the remaining 16 U.S. Marine advisors served with the two South Vietnamese Marine task force headquarters or the six infantry battalions. Each task force was allotted a U.S. Marine major and captain as an advisor and assistant advisor. A U.S. Marine captain and first lieutenant were assigned to each of the battalions as the advisor and assistant advisor to the commander. For the individual Marine infantry individual advisor, it meant a continued "nomadic lonely life." As one Marine officer wrote it was not "unusual for a Marine advisor to report aboard;


undergo in-processing of two or three days; and join a deployed unit not to return to the Advisory Unit for months at a time." A senior advisor to one of the Vietnamese battalions, Captain Jerry I. Simpson, commented that while serving with the Vietnamese he subsisted "on the same rations" as the Vietnamese Marines and would not see any Americans, including his assistant advisor, "for several days at a time."50


As could be expected, the South Vietnamese Marine Corps attempted to pattern itself after the U.S. Marine Corps model. It consisted of a Lieutenant General Commandant and a small central headquarters in Saigon, two combat task forces, Task Force Alpha and Task Force Bravo, six infantry battalions, an artillery battalion, an Amphibious Support Battalion, and a training center. Most of the Vietnamese Marine field officers and many of the company grade officers had attended at least the U.S. Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico, Virginia. A few of the more senior officers also graduated from the more advanced U.S. Amphibious Warfare School at the U.S. Marine base. By January 1968, the Vietnamese Marines numbered over 7,300 men and prided itself like its sister service in the United States on its elan and its reputation as one of the country's elite fighting force.51


Despite the similarities between the two Marine Corps, there were important differences. While its officers and some of its enlisted men had received amphibious warfare training, the South Vietnamese Marine Corps actually participated in very few amphibious operations. Having its origins in the Vietnamese commando and riverine companies under the French, the Vietnamese Marine Corps at first operated much in the French tradition after its establishment in 1954. In fact until May 1955, a French officer remained in command of the Vietnamese Marines. With the growing American influence, the Vietnamese Marine organization tended to reflect the U.S. Marine Corps with a growing emphasis upon the amphibious mission. Still, from the very beginning of their existence, the Vietnamese Marines were committed to campaigns against the Viet Cong. While still continuing riverine operations, especially in the MeKong Delta and in the Rung Sat sector south of Saigon, there was little call for assaults across a defended beach.52


The basic advantage that the Vietnamese Marines offered was their national character. Recruited from the nation at large, rather than from any one region as most of the South Vietnamese Army divisions were, they could be deployed anywhere in Vietnam when the situation demanded. Together with other specialist units such as the South Vietnamese rangers and airborne, the Vietnamese Marines formed the National General Reserve. Operating directly under the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff (JGS), these units became in effect fire brigades to rush to the most urgent hot spots and put out the flames. In one sense, the most important quality of the Vietnamese Marines was their demonstrated loyalty over time to the central government and the Joint General Staff.53


Given the dominance of the Vietnamese military in the central government, no South Vietnamese military organization could be entirely divorced from internal politics. In the coup against then-President Diem in 1963, Vietnamese Marines played a decisive role in toppling the regime. While the Vietnamese Commandant, Le Nguyen Khang, did not take an active part in bringing down the government, he was aware of the plot and took no action to prevent it. Following the coup, Khang became the South Vietnamese military attache in the Philippines, but in three months he once more resumed his duties as Commandant of the Viet-







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