Page 048

[Image 1: Photo
courtesy of LtCol
William R. Melton,
USMC. Aerial
view of landing Zone
Hotel shows the
soccer field
shielded from
the east bank
of the Mekong
River by an apartment
building. Other
side of the river
is Khmer Rouge

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division. The 31st MAU could not provide the command element since the commander of USSAG had stipulated that the commander of the ground security force had to be prepositioned at USSAG Headquarters at least 72 hours prior to the start of the operation. His presence in Nakhon Phanom, the commander of USSAG felt, would allow the Marine commander to participate in last-minuie planning and liaison. In essence, the argument was that the command element from Okinawa was always available to meet this requirement, but because of ship rotations and weather, the MAU command element was not.28*

Other significant conference accomplishments pertained to logistics and communications. An emergency resupply of CH-53 pans was arranged, in effect a lateral shift of Air Force parts. The parts would be delivered to Utapao Air Base, Thailand, where they would then be picked up by a sea-based MAU helicopter. In the area of communications, USSAG assigned a block of frequencies to the landing force for its internal use, and sent it a draft copy of the communications plan. Through these efforts the Marine commanders gained valuable insight into the USSAG communications procedures, especially those involving the Air Mission Commander in the orbiting C-130. In addition the Marines gained a comprehensive understanding of what would be a complex operation.

The consensus at the joint command headquarters in Nakhon Phanom was that it would not receive the order to evacuate until the last possible moment. By that time, the ground situation would have deteriorated to the point that the helicopter landing zones would be the only available egress points and they would be available only if they could be secured by ground forces. To complicate and compound the question of when, the attitude at the Embassy in Phnom

*Colonel John F. Rochc III, the commanding officer of 31st MAU 25 of June 1974, provided an insightful recollection: "The conclusion that a command clement from the MAU would not be available at USSAG headquarters 72 hours prior to the operation because of ship movements and weather simply was not logical. Were the MAU not able to provide this clement, it probably would not have been able to execute the operation for the same reasons. Beyond that the state of communications among the concerned headquarters was such that real-time interactions were possible and did take place throughout (he planning period. I protested this arrangement vigorously until it was reaffirmed by CG, III MAF. Although this portion of history is accurate as a record, knowledgeable military planners will question its validity." Rochc Comments.

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