Page 084

  Page 84 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)    

landing zone near the ambush site. The relatively short amount of time consumed in the reaction did not prevent the Communist attackers from vanishing into the surrounding jungle. Generally, however, the tactic was more successful, particularly when the reaction force was used to reinforce a threatened static position or to establish hasty blocking positions in support of ground offensive operations that were already underway.

While the task unit encountered few major problems during the early operations from Da Nang, minor difficulties were commonplace. Most often these developed during the execution phase of combat support missions. One that particularly concerned the Marine commanders was the tendency of South Vietnamese units not to prepare properly for scheduled helilifts. To the dismay of the Leatherneck helicopter crews, ARVN activities at the pickup points were usually characterized by confusion. More often than not the Vietnamese unit scheduled to be helilifted had not been organized into heliteams prior to the arrival of the transport aircraft. Given the fact that heliborne operations were still somewhat of a novelty to most ARVN small unit leaders (and to many U.S. advisors) at this stage of the war, these circumstances were perhaps understandable. Nevertheless, lack of prior preparation at pickup points on the part of the ground units often threatened to disrupt the timing of preplanned operations.

To help remedy this situation and to insure that their helicopters were not overloaded, the U.S. Marines began designating one of the squadron's noncommissioned officers as " loadmaster." Equipped with a radio, the loadmaster would arrive at the assembly area on board the first helicopter, whereupon he would disembark and supervise the entire loading process. This technique was particularly valuable during operations in which ARVN units were being helilifted from the field. In such cases the loadmaster performed the same function as did those who supervised the loading process at secure assembly areas. This, of course, required that the Leatherneck remain in the landing zone until the last Vietnamese troops had boarded the final helicopter. Although dangerous, this technique enabled the Marines to eliminate many problems which might otherwise have occurred.

By early November the monsoon season had begun to settle over the northern portions of South Vietnam. Unlike the summer rains in the Mekong Delta in which Lieutenant Colonel Rathbun's crews had managed to set new helicopter flight records, the winter monsoons that struck the northern provinces seriously restricted flight operations. Heavy fog and low clouds frequently made it impossible to conduct air operations in the mountainous areas; therefore, the squadron was forced to concentrate most of its operations in the coastal plains. In an effort to maintain his support at a maximum level. Lieutenant Colonel Rathbun began dispatching an OE-1 to the objective area prior to scheduled missions in order to obtain a current report on the local weather conditions. Despite these efforts, the monsoon rains, which often moved in quickly from the South China Sea, still disrupted flight operations. A typical weather-related incident occurred on 13 November when a scheduled troop lift was cancelled because of heavy fog after 200 Vietnamese Special Forces troops had loaded onto 20 Marine helicopters for an early morning operation.

Several unrelated changes in official designations occurred at approximately the same time that the monsoons began affecting operations in the northern provinces. In November all Marine aircraft were redesignated in accordance with a Department of Defense order which standardized aircraft designations throughout the U.S. armed services. Thereafter, SHUFLY's HUS helicopters would be known as UH-34Ds, its OE-ls as 0-lBs, and its R4D as a C-117. In another adjustment, the Joint General Staff in Saigon ordered the realignment of South Vietnam's tactical zones. A fourth corps tactical zone (IV CTZ), which encompassed the entire Mekong Delta, and a Capital Military District, which included Saigon and its environs, were created. The composition of I Corps was affected by the adjustments as the new alignment shifted Quang Ngai Province into II Corps. The Marines, however, continued to provide helicopter support to the province, which was relatively isolated from the remainder of II Corps.

More important than either the new aircraft designations or the realignment of the tactical zones were several internal changes within the Marine task unit. On 6 November the task unit was redesignated Marine Task Element That same day Lieutenant Colonel Alton W. McCully, who had been functioning as Colonel Ireland's executive officer, assumed command of the task element. Ireland returned to Okinawa where he took command of Marine Aircraft Group 16, which, under the new arrangement, became responsible for both the administrative and logistical support of SHUFLY.

Manne People-to-People Program

The concept of the People-to-People Program, which had been initiated with a degree of success in the Mekong Delta, was brought to Da Nang by Colonel Ireland and his Marines. During the fall and early winter of 1962, as weather caused flight operations to subside, the Marines were able to increase the tempo of the program. SHUFLY's men actively supported an orphanage in Da Nang which was maintained by an American missionary family. On Christmas day the Marines participated in a "Father-For-A-Day" program which had been arranged by the task element chaplain, Lieutenant Richard P. Vinson, U.S. Navy. Each orphan spent the day with a Marine who had volunteered to serve as his "father." The Vietnamese children were treated to dinner in the mess hall, presented with Christmas gifts, and then joined in singing carols with the Marines. At the conclusion of the festivities, Chaplain Vinson presented the director of the orphanage with a gift in Vietnamese currency equivalent to over 800 dollars-money which the men of ehe task element had donated.

In addition to their activities associated with the orphanage, the Marine officers taught English to a number of Vietnamese civilians. Held three


Page 84 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)