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namese Marine Corps. In 1966, Khang and his Marines sided with the central government against the "Struggle Movement" in I Corps and helped to subdue those ARVN units loyal to the former I Corps commander, Lieutenant General Nguyen Chanh Thi.54


By January 1968, Khang, now a lieutenant general, not only was Commandant of the Vietnamese Marine Corps, but according to his count, wore as many as six different "hats." In addition to his Marine Corps command, he was the Commander of the Capital Military District which included the city of Saigon and its immediate vicinity; he was the commanding general of the South Vietnamese III Corps Military Tactical Zone;


and also was a member of the National Leadership Council, which "in effect ruled the country." Moreover, as III Corps commander, he was the "governor-delegate for administration" or III Corps administrator, and as commander of the Capital Military District, he was the military governor of Saigon. Despite these various responsibilities, Khang considered that his "main job was still command of the Marines."5''


While Khang still held overall control of the Vietnamese Marine Corps, he relied on his assistant and chief of staff, Colonel Bui Thi Lan for the day to day running of the headquarters. The two task force commanders, for the most part, had direct operational control of the infantry battalions. In January 1968 prior to Tet, Task Force Alpha consisting of two infantry battalions and an artillery battalion was committed to the Bong Son area in II Corps, encountering only light and sporadic resistance. The other task Force, TF Bravo, also with two battalions, was attached to the 7th ARVN Division in the IV Corps sector. Of the remaining two Marine infantry battalions, one remained under the direct control of the Capital Military District just outside of Saigon and the other had retired to its base camp at Vung Tau.56*


This all changed in the early morning hours of 31 January, when the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army launched their country-wide Tet offensive. In Saigon, Viet Cong sappers had entered the Embassy compound while other Communist units struck the Vietnamese Joint General Staff headquarters, the adjoining Tan Son Nhut airbase, and other military bases on the outskirts of the city. After the initial surprise, mixed U.S. and South Vietnamese forces in and around the city regrouped and began the counterattack.57


The Vietnamese Marines quickly became enmeshed in the fighting. At the outset of the enemy offensive the only Marine unit anywhere near Saigon was the 3d Battalion, attached to the Capital Military Command, but committed to an operation several thousand meters west of the city. When the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff began to realize the intensity of the enemy effort, they immediately called upon the Marine units to reinforce the ARVN units already in Saigon. At 0430 on the 31st, the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff alerted the 4th Battalion, which was "more or less {in] a standdown" at its base camp at Vung Tau for air movement into Tan Son Nhut Airport on the outskirts of the city.58 Because of ground fog and enemy ground fire near Tan Son Nhut, the aircraft carrying the Marines did not land until 0930. After an initial briefing, the battalion then moved to reinforce the Joint General headquarters south of the airbase. Although killing a reported 20 Viet Cong but sustaining 9 wounded, the battalion was unable to close with the enemy out of concern of "inflicting excessive civilian casualties." Engaging in a desultory fire fight until 1430 with Communist troops who had penetrated the JGS compound, the battalion received orders to move north in the Gia Dinh sector of Saigon to relieve the ARVN Phu Dong armored base that was under attack.5?


The battalion arrived at its destination, 4,000 meters north of its previous position, about 1630. It immediately mounted a two-company assault, supported by ARVN tanks, and two U.S. helicopter gunships providing limited air support against the ARVN compound, now held by an estimated NVA battalion. The enemy commander warned the Marines that his troops would kill the South Vietnamese civilian dependents, being held as hostage. After the supporting tanks in the lead "blew a large opening" in the surrounding wall, the Vietnamese Marines entered the armored compound headquarters "with machine guns blazing" and found the charred bodies of the dependents heaped in a large pile. Among the dead were the wife and eight children of the base commander, an ARVN lieutenant colonel, who also had been murdered. With enemy forces still in strength in the sector, darkness coming on, and the inability to provide continuing air support, the South Vietnamese JGS ordered the battalion commander to withdraw to more defensible positions. For the day, the battalion had sustained



*Lieutenanr Colonel John J. Hainsworth, who as a captain served as an assistant battalion advisor to the Vietnamese Marines, noted that "many of these VNMC Battalion assignments were politically sensitive and motivated within the VNMC hierarchy and the Joint General Staff." LtCol John J. Hainsworth, Comments on draft, dtd 12Dec94 (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Hainswotth Comments.







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