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Full text of "Pentagon Papers"

Declassified per Executive Order 13526, Section 3.3 
NND Project Number: NND 63316. By: NWD Date: 201 1 



IV.C F.volution of the War (26 Vols.) 
Direct Action: The Johnson Commitments, 1964-1968 

(16 Vols.) 
4. Marine Combat Units Go to DaNang, March 1965 




Declassified per Executive Order 13526, Section 3.3 
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UNITED STATES 



1945 



1967 








VIETNAM TASK FORCE 



OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE 






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IV. C. k 



EVOLUTION OF THE WAR 






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MARIN2 CCMEM UII1TS GO TO T±\ EAEG 



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MARCH 1965 






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MARINE COMBAT UNITS GO TO DA NAM? — MARCH 196$ 



SUMMARY 

On March 8, 1965 > *^° United States Marine Corps Battalion Landing 
Teams arrived at Da I7ang with the Mission to help secure the air base 
and associated installations. What was the rationale behind the decision 
to put the first U.S. ground combat units into Vietnam? Was this a 
conscious prelude to U.S. assumption of a ground combat role in the 
Vietnam war? 

On February 22, 1965, COMUSMACV, General Westmoreland, recommended 
the landing and the mission. The United States at the time was already 
conducting Flaming Dart airstrikes against the DRV. Since Da I7ang was 
supporting those strikes in addition to concomitant air activity within 
SV1T, there was concern in many quarters that Da Nang might suffer the 
same fate as had Bien Hoa the previous November. Ambassador Taylor 
supported Westmoreland T s request for the Marines, but with serious reser- 
vations. He saw this deployment as the removal of the last barrier to 
U.S. assumption of the ground war. In addition, he argued that two Marine 
BLTs would not be able to guarantee base security and that "white-faced" 
troops would be unable to assimilate and would have great difficulty 
identifying the enemy, a/ There is no documentary evidence to indicate 
that any of the other decision-making principals shared Ambassador Taylor/ s 
reservations. 

Approval to send the Marines, contingent on GfVN concurrence, came 
on February 26, 1965, and, except for an abortive attempt by the Defense 
Department to substitute Army airborne troops for the Marines at the 
last minute, all progressed smoothly through the landing of the Marines 
and the preparation of their defensive positions. 

Estimates of the political/military situation in SVN in early 19o5> 
both from the official viewpoint and from other observers, were uni- 
versally gloomy. No one foresaw ultimate US/CVN victory without reversal 
of the then-current trend. The GVN was seen to be well on its way to 
complete collapse. The most optimistic estimate was that the VC would 
take over within a year. . 

Prior to the request for Marines, the principal advisors to the 
President had, for some time, been debating possible U.S. courses of 
action in SVN. The possible use of ground forces for security and as 
deterrent or reaction forces against possible DRV/CPR ground action in 
SEA was included in these discussions, and indeed both CIKCPAC and 
CCMJSMACV had prepared detailed contingency plans in expectation of a 
decision to so employ ground forces. However, no plan to engage U.S. p 
ground forces in offensive action against the Viet Cong had been con- 
sidered. From the documentary record, it appears that the U.S. offensive 



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role was to be limited to airpower. On February 7, 1965, for example, 
McGeorge Bundy sent to the President a memorandum "which outlined the 
policy of graduated reprisal airstrikes against the DRV. There is no 
reference in that memorandum to the use of ground troops in SVH, despite 
the fact that it was a major document outlining what was to become U.S. 
strategy. 

. While it appears as though all the principals in the decision- 
making process, including Ambassador Taylor and CHICPAC, chose to view 
the Marine deployment as an isolated phenomenon rather than as part of 
a sequence, there is evidence to indicate that COMQSMA.CV saw it as the 
first step presaging a U.S. ground force build-up in SEA. A fair pro- 
portion of the newspaper writers at the time were equally prescient. 

Regardless of what was said or believed at the time the Marines 
were landed, it was obvious to them from the outset that they had 
neither the capability nor the flexibility to adequately secure the 
airbase at Da Naag, and they believed that the restrictions placed on 
them were ill-considered. 



a/ 



Back in August 196U, when he was less well-acquainted with the 
Vietnamese war and the proclivities of the side we were supporting, 
Ambassador Taylor was more readily inclined to recommend prudent 
actions involving the deployment of U.S. ground forces to Vietnam. 
He is on record in Embtel ^65 of 18 A.ugust I96U, as being in favor 
of "taking such visible measures as introducing U.S. HAWK units to 
Da Nang and Saigon, /and/ landing a Marine Force at Da Hang for 
defense of the airfield and beefing up MACV's support base...." , 

There is no agonizing over "white-faced" soldiers and their diffi- 
culties in Embtel 465. The cable contains the discussion of two 
specific courses of action, labeled appropriately A and B, aimed at 
increasing the pressure on North Vietnam through the use of American 
air and naval power primarily. Course of Action A presumed that the 
government of General Nguyen Khanh would respond to the input of 
increased American assistance, get itself organized and make enough 
military progress to "free Saigon from the VC threat which presently 
rings it and assure that sufficient GVN ground forces will be avail- 
able to provide, a reasonable measure of defense against any DRV 
ground reaction which may develop in the execution of our program 
and thus avoid the possible requirement for a major U.S. ground 
force commitir ent." Course of Action B was based upon the inability 
of Khanh government to overcome its difficulties or make any sig- 
nificant-military progress in the South. Course of Action B pre- 
sumed that the U.S. would go ahead with its program to increase 
pressure on the DRV notwithstanding; "however, it increases the 
likelihood of U.S. involvement in ground action, since Khanh will 



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have almost no available ground forces "which can "be released from pacifi- 
cation employment to mobile resistance of DRV attacks." 

In anticipation of having to proceed with Course of Action B, Taylor 
recommended "raising the level of precautionary military readiness" by- 
deploying forces as described above. He did not address the involvement 
of U.S. ground forces in the war against the insurgents in the South, 
but rather was concerned with the possibility of provoked DRV aggression 
from the North, and the necessity to counter it if it occurred. 



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DECISION STUDY: MARINE COMBAT UNITS GO TO DA NMG; MARCH 1965 

Table of Contents and Out-line 

Page 



SUMMARY 



CHRONOLOGY vi 

I. INTRODUCTION ■ 1 

Two USMC BLT T s land at Da Kang on 8 March 1965 with 
the mission to secure the Da Kang Air Base and 
associated installations. 



II. TEE DECISION 



A. CCMUSMACV's Request 



1. After a visit to Da Bang, General Throckmorton 
recommends U.S. troops for its protection. 

2. General Westmoreland requests through CHICPAC 
the landing of a MEB(-) at Da Bang. 



B. The Ambassador T s Ctoinion 



1. Ambassador Taylor reluctantly supports the landing 
of one Marine BLT at Da Kang for security. 1 

2. Taylor raises serious objections to further U.S. 
troop commitment and predicts the opening of the 
floodgates.- 

C. CINCPAC's Support h 

1. Admiral Sharp urges earliest possible deployment 
of the Marines. 

2. Sharp addresses some of the Ambassador ! s objections 
to U.S. troop commitment but does not mention the 
floodgate prediction. 



D. Contingent Approval 



1. The Ambassador is advised that the Marines will 
land if the GVN approves. 

2. Taylor discusses his approach to the GVN leaders 
and then secures their 'approval. 



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E • Eleventh Hour Chang e 6 

1. Assistant Secretary of Defense Lie Naught on pro- 
poses that the 173z"cL Airborne Brigade from 
Okinawa "be deployed to Da Nang instead of the 
Marines. 



2. Objections to that idea are immediately advanced 
by MACV, the Embassy, and by CINCPAC. 

F . Final A p proval 8 

1, The Department of Defense tells the press about 
the Marine landings as the JCS order them ashore. 

2. A day later Secretary of State Rusk elaborates on 
the Marines' mission over nationwide radio and TV. 

III. THE SITUATION * 10 

A. Da Nang Local 10 

VC reported capabilities describe something like 
a state of seige in the Da Nang environs. 

B. GVN Instabilit y 10 

The GVN. in early I9S5 is rapidly deteriorating. 

C . Enemy Capabilities 11 

The VC are poised in early I965 to launch a con- 
certed campaign designed to cut.SVN in two. 

D. Contemporary Accounts 12 

Newsmen and other writers see early 1965 as a 
time of dramatic decision. 

IV. THE DECISION PROCESS . l4 

A. Proposals for Actions Before the National Security 

Council Working; Croup, Late 196*1 l*f 

1. Ground forces are mentioned as collaterals for 
security of bases supporting air activity and 
as deterrents. 

2. No proposal seriously- posits U.S. ground combat 
action against the Viet Cong. 






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B. Th e Fccus of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 15 

1. The -Chiefs gear up to propose ground troop 
deployments . 

2. Chief of Staff of the Army Johnson returns 
from Saigon ready to support ground force 
deployments 

C. Attitudes West of COEUS 17 

1. CINCPAC and COMJSMACV prepare for the imple- 
mentation of contingency plans requiring ground 
troops in Southeast Asia. 

2. CINCPAC continues to rely on airpower to stem 
the tide. 

3. Both the Ambassador and General Westmoreland 
View the Marine deployments as a beginning with 

. the former very pessimistic about the outcome. 

V. EXPECTATIONS 19 

While the Ambassador and General Westmoreland 
both expect the Marines to presage further U.S. 
troop commitment and CINCPAC continues *to align 
contingency plans while emphasizing airpower, it 
seems that everyone involved in Washington, with 
the possible exception of the Army Chief of Staff, 
sees the Marines as a one-time shot to meet a 
specific and limited need. 

VI; ANALYSIS t 20 

The landing of the two Marine BLT's at Da Nang 
is compatible with a variety of rationales, some 
of which were offered at the time. 

VII. FOOTNOTES 22 






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DATE 






18 Aug 6^ 



EVENT OH 
DOCUMENT 

EMBTEL U65 



1 Oct 6k 



SNIE 



3 Nov 6U 



William Bundy 
Memorandum for 
the NSC Working 
Group 



13 Nov 6^ 



Draft Memorandum 



23 Nov 6h 



JCSM 982-6H 



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DESCRIPTION 

In a discussion of proposed U.S. air and 
naval action to increase pressure on ■ 
North Vietnam, Taylor told State that as 
a hedge against the failure of the GVN 
to do its part, the U.S. "should raise 
the level of precautionary military 
readiness (if not already done) by tak- 
ing such visible measures as introduc- 
ing U.S. Hawk units to Da Wang and 
Saigon, /and/ landing a Marine force 
at Da Wang for defense of the airfield 
and beefing up MACV T s support base...." 

The National Intelligence Board expected 
the political situation in South Vietnam 
to continue to decay, the war effort 
gradually peter out and the Vietcong 
to seek a neutralist coalition which 
they could easily dominate. Two latent 
strengths of the GVN were cited: the 
endurance of the people and the ability 
of "administrators to carry out routine 
tasks without guidance from Saigon. 

Convening a new group on Southeast Asia, 
Bundy menti.oned three courses of action 
open to the U.S. in Vietnam -- none of 
which involved the use of U.S. ground 
troops except in response to overt 
CHICOM/DRV attacks as called for by 
CINCPAC OPLANS 32-6U and 39-65* 

William Bundy said he did "not envisage 
the introduction of substantial ground 
forces into South Vietnam or Thailand 
in conjunction with these initial 
actions" -- the three courses of action 
•then under study. The use of U.S. 
ground troops for base security was 
not mentioned although sending a multi- 
lateral force to northern SVN was sug- 
gested. 

# 

This first JCS proposal for sending 
U.S. ground troops to Vietnam suggested 
Marines go to Da Nang, other ground 
troops to Tan Son Nhut Airbase for 
security and deterrence. 



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DATE 



30 Nov Gh 



1 Dec 6U 






1 Jan 65 






EVENT OR 
DOCUMENT 

"Alternatives to 
Air Actions on 
North Vietnam" 



Presidential 
Decision 



OPLAN 32-6^ 



Jan and Feb 
1965 






MACV Monthly 
Evaluation 
Reports; CIA 
Situation 
Reports 









DESCRIPTION 

(State Dept) A proposal to use ground 
troops "in support of diplomacy": 
deploy them to prove U.S. resolve, then 
launch a major diplomatic offensive. 
This paper -was considered by the NSC 
Working Group, but went no further. 

President Johnson approved the recom- 
mendation of Ambassador Taylor and NSC 
principals to implement the Working 
Group's "Course of Action A"; after 
about a month and after GVN progress in 
certain areas, Course C -- a program 
"principally of progressively more 
serious air strikes" against NVN would . 
be initiated. Again, ground troop 
commitment was not discussed. 

The "alert" or first phase of the plan 
•in effect. (MACV Command History shows 
planning had begun for the dispatch of 
U.S. ground troops into South Vietnam in 
connection with this and other contin- 
gency plans . ) 

General Westmoreland said recently 
initiated "Flaming Dart" air campaign 
against the North was beneficial for 
morale in South Vietnam. He called GVN 
social and political institutions 
"remarkably intact" despite the "disin- 
tegrating blows" of political upheaval. 
(Huong's government fell in January; 
Premier Quat's regime was shaky.) But 
enemy gains continued. The Viet Cong 
struck Pleiku and other bases in early 
February; 12 battalions (6000 men) had ■ 
reportedly moved into the I Corps. 
Westmoreland hoped air attacks in North 
and South Vietnam would be enough to 
reverse the trend. 

CIA assessments were more pessimistic. 
In February Binh Dinh Province was said 
to be just about lost to the enemy. 
Intelligence indicated the Viet Cong 
might try to take Kontum Province and 
split the GVN through II Corps during 
the rainy season. 



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DATE 



• 7 Feb 65 



EVENT OR 
DOCUMENT 

McGeorge Bundy 
Memorandum for 
the President 



M 



7 Feb 65 



McNamara News 
Conference 



11 Feb 65 



JCSM 100-65 



18 Feb 65 



SNIE 



DESCRIPTION 

Bundy felt the GVN would collapse by 
1966 witt out substantially more U.S. 
help and action. To avert collapse 
and to counter latent anti-Americanism 
and the growing feeling among Viet- 
namese that U.S. was going to quit, 
Bundy recommended a policy of gradu- 
ated, continuing air strikes against 
North Vietnam. He did not mention a 
base security problem; he did not 
suggest deployment of U.S. ground 
troops — then or in the future. 

• 

(This document — and the absence of 
others — supports the interpretation 
that the forthcoming Marine deployment 
to Da Nang was intended as a one-shot 
response to a particularly serious 
security problem, not as the first in 
"a planned series of U.S. troop com- 
mitments.) 

The Secretary announced elements of a 
USMC HAWK missile battalion would be 
deployed to Da Nang to improve security 
against air attack. 

A proposal for the first eight weeks of 
military action against North Vietnam. 
As expected, air strikes were paramount 
but the JCS recommended collateral de- 
ployment of a Marine Expeditionary 
Brigade (MEB) to Da Nang and an Army 
brigade to Thailand -- not for counter- 
insurgency duties but to deter overt 
DRV/CEECOM retaliation to the air 
.strikes, to improve U.S. ability to 
respond if retaliatory attacks were 
launched. 

A new ingredient in the still critical 
situation in South Vietnam was to be 
the inauguration of the Rolling Thunder 
air campaign. This evaluation showed 
Viet Cong attacks against U.S. bases 
would probably. continue at about their 
present level of intensity despite in- 
creased air action against North Vietnam 






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DATE 



22 Feb 65 



EVENT OR 
DOCUMENT 

MA.CV Msg to 

CTNCPAC 

2207U3Z 



22 Feb 65 



EMBTEL 2699 



DESCRIPTION " 

General Throckmorton, Deputy COMUSMACV, 
visited Da Nang, called the situation 
grave, and doubted ARVN's ability to 
provide adequate security. Throckmorton 
recommended that the entire 9th MSB be 
sent to Da Nang, but General Westmoreland 
cut this to two Battalion Landing Teams 
(BLTs) with a third to be held off-shore 
in reserve. The troops -were to assist 
GVN forces in guarding Da Nang against 
enemy ground attacks. 

Ambassador Taylor voiced several strong 
reservations to the idea of sending 
Marines to Da Nang: 

— It reversed a long-standing policy of 
avoiding commitment of ground combat 
forces in SVN. Taylor was sure the 
GVN "would "seek to unload other ground 

* force tasks upon us"; he was sure 
this deployment would invite requests 
for more troops to meet additional and 
ultimately defensive offensive require- 
ments. 



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-- Two BLTs would not release significant 
numbers of ARVN for mobile operations 
against the Viet Cong; the Marines 
would simply be performing static 
defense tasks inadequately done by 
ARVN in the past. 

-- Anticipating that using U.S. troops 
for active operations would grow more 
attractive, Taylor warned against it. 
The "white-faced" soldier cannot be 
assimilated by the population, he 
cannot distinguish between friendly 
and unfriendly Vietnamese; the Marines 
are not armed, trained or equipped for 
jungle guerrilla "warfare. Taylor 
prophesied that the U.S. -- like France 
— would fail to adapt to such condition. 

— Two BLTs could help but could not make 
Da Nang secure. The entire MSB might 
significantly improve things , but no 

force could prevent surprise mortar 
attacks, a favorite VC tactic. 

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DATE 



EVENT OR 
DOCUMENT 






22 Feb 65 



MACV Message 
to JCS 






2k Feb 65 



CINCPAC Message 
to JCS 



2k Feb 65 



JCSM 130-65 



DESCRIPTION 

However, because Westmoreland "was so 
concerned about Da Nang's safety and 
because Taylor felt security was a 
legitimate mission for U.S. troops; 
although he objected to it, the Am- 
bassador would support MACV's recom- 
mendation for one BLT. He suggested 
GW approval be sought prior to the 
Marine deployment . 

Claimed the Marine deployment to Da Nang 
would free four Regional Force companies, 
one tank platoon and another RF battalion 
then being formed for active anti-VC 
operations. (The March MACV Evaluation 
Report showed only two RF companies had 
been released.) 

Recommended immediate deployment of two 
BLTs; recommended one squadron of F-^s 
be sent to Da Nang for close air support 
*of the troops and "for other missions 
along with the primary mission." The 
tone was urgent: deploy now "before the 
tragedy" of a Viet Cong attack. 

CINCPAC disagreed with Taylor; called 
attention to the Marine Corps' dis- 
tinguished record in counter insurgency 
operations; claimed U.S. presence would 
free ARVN for mobile patrol operations 
and make Da Nang a tougher target for 
enemy forces. 

Forwarded and supported CINCPAC f s recom- 
mendations. 



26 Feb 65 



DEPTEL 18^0 



28 Feb 65 



EMBIEL 2789 



.Approved the deployment; said the Marines 
were on their way and instructed Taylor 
to secure GVN approval. 

Taylor agreed to seek GVN concurrence "go 
the deployment — and planned an approach 
designed to stress U.S. reluctance to 
deploy any men even temporarily, empha- 
size the limited mission of the Marines 
and discourage GVN hopes for further 
commitments. Taylor would open by 



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DATE 



EVENT OR 
DOCUMENT 



> 






J0V* G 






DESCRIPTION 



1 Mar 65 



CJCS Letter to 
SecDef (forward- 
ing JS0P-70) 



2 Mar 65 



DOD Tel 6l66 



2 Mar 65 



EM3TEL 195^ 



3 Mar 65 



CUTCPAC Message 



o 



to JCS 030230N 



discussing the severe security problem 
at Da Kang and USG concern about it. 
Although he wished more GTOi battalions 
could be sent there, Taylor would say 
he knew AEVN troops were chronically 
short in I Corps and he knew any rede- 
ployment would impose prohibitive costs 
to security in other areas. Thus, he 
would say "the USG has been driven to 
consider a solution which we have 
always rejected in the past: the intro- 
duction of U.S. ground combat forces to 
reinforce the defense of Da Nang until 
GV2I forces become available for the 



purpose 



n 



General Wheeler said the JCS were address- 
ing Southeast Asia force levels separately 
because that was a "specific problem area" 
.requiring a "near term and long term 
solution." This suggests the JCS prob- 
ably had been considering deployment of 
U.S. troops to Vietnam — perhaps for 
active operations — before the Marine 
deployment to Da Nang. 

ASD(ISA) McZ.aughton cabled Taylor that the 
173d Airborne Brigade (then on Okinawa) 
would be deployed to Da Hang instead of 
the Marines. (This last minute change 
may have been Mr. McZT aught on f s attempt to 
emphasize the limited, temporary nature 
of the U.S. troop deployment and to reduce 
the conspicuousness of the U.S. presence. 
Airborne troops carry less equipment and 
look less formidable than the Marines. 'plus 
they have no history of peace-keeping' 
intervention in foreign wars.) 

Taylor and Westmoreland -- who argued that 
the Marines were more self-sustaining than 
"the airburne -- objected to the proposed 
substitution of Army airborne, for Marine 
troops . 

CIIICPAC strongly objected to Mr. McITaughton'; 
proposal. It. denied him the only airborne 
assault force in the theater and, more 



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DATE 



EVENT OR 
DOCU7<3EET 



3 Mar 6? 



DEPTEL I876 



3 Mar 65 



EMBTELs 20lU 
and 3112 



k Mar 65 



JCSM 100-65 



DESCRIPTION 

import ant ly, completely upset his con- 
tingency plaais for combat operations in 
Southeast Asia, CUTCPAC said that since 
1959 when OPLAN-32 was approved, the 
24arines had "been scheduled for deploy- 
ment to Da Rang; seven CIKCPAC and SEATO 
contingency plans plus many supporting 
plans, rested on this. All the prepara- 
tions had "been made for the landing of 
the BLTs — and some forces were already 
embarked. CINCPAC concluded: "The 
situation in Southeast Asia has now 
reached a point where the soundness of 
our contingency planning may be about 
to be tested* " Some 1300 Marines were 
then in Da Rang; tasking of new forces 
had been completed; logistics, communi- 
cations, command arrangements had been 
set. It would be "imprudent to shift 
•forces in a major sector and to force 
changes in U.S. contingency posture for 
other parts of Southeast Asia." (The 
McRaughton proposal was killed.) 

State requested Taylor's views on the 
possible use of an international force 
in Vietnam. 

Taylor first reported the views of the 
Australian envoy to the GVH on a multi- 
lateral force -- views which Taylor 
supported. It would heighten Vietnamese 
xenophobia; it might cause the SVH to . 
"shuck off greater responsibility onto 
the USG." In his second message Taylor 
said he had no idea what the GVR attitude 
toward a MLF might be, said many problems 
were involved which had yet to be faced. 
(The MLF was just a concept at the time 



— but Taylor readily looked beyond im- 
mediate tactical needs to the long-term 
ramifications of such a move just as he 
had in evaluating the proposal to deploy 
Marines to Da Rang.) 

The proposal for an eight-week air strike 
program (and possible deployment of some 
grpund troops) was resubmitted to the 



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DATE 



5 Mar 65 



6 Mar 65 



6 Mar 65 



7 Mar 65 



11 Mar 65 









EVENT OR 
DOCUMENT 



CIKCPAC Eyes Only 
Message to Wheeler 



OSD(PA) Hews 
Release 



JCS Message 
CIKCPAC 



to 



Statement by 
Secretary of State 
to National TV 
Audience 

"Estimate of the 
Situation in SVN" 
Saigon Air gram to 
State 



DESCRIPTION 

Secretary. Again, the use of U.S. troops 
for active ant i- insurgent operations was 
not mentioned. 

This said the 9th MEB was needed as soon 
as possible for base security, to boost 
the GVN war against the Viet Cong, to 
provide insurance in case the GVN was 
unable to resist collapse in the critical 
Da Nang area where so much was already 
committed. CIKCPAC said the "single most 
important thing we can do quickly to im- 
prove the security situation in South 
Vietnam is to make full use of our air 
power . 



T! 



Announced two USMC Battalion Landing Teams 
— 3500 men — were being deployed to 
Vietnam on a limited mission: to provide 
base security and. relieve GVM forces for 
pacification and offensive operations 
against the Viet Cong. 

Ordered the BLTs to commence landing. 



Secretary Rusk said the Marines would 
shoot back if shot at, but their mission 
was to put a tight security ring around 
Da Nang — not to kill Viet Cong. 

The Mission Council reported insurgency 
would grow unless "...NVN support is. 
checked, GVN military and paramilitary 
resources increased, pacification goals 
and concepts refined, administrative - 
efficiency improved and an adequate 
political-psychological base created.... 
Only U.S. resources can provide the 
pressures on NVN necessary to check 
Hanoi 1 s support although some measure 
of C-VN armed forces participation will 
be required for psychological reasons; 
the other measures and programs required 
to stem the tide... are largely internal 
to SVN but even here success will require 
a marked increase in U.S. support and 
participation." 



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DATE 



14 Mar 65 



EVENT OR 
DOCUMENT 

• 

General Harold 
Johnson's "Report 
on Trip to South 
Vietnam" 



DESCRIPTION 

General Johnson, in SVN from 5-12 March, 
-was as impressed "by the gravity of the 
situation — particularly in I Corps — 
as were Saigon officials. He submitted 
several proposals -- including deploy- 
ment of additional U.S. ground troops 
-- for attaining U.S. objectives (per- ' 
suade NVN to abandon support and direction 
of the insurgency, defeat the insurgents, 
create a stable GVN) . He said more U.S. 
action was necessary because "what the 
situation requires may exceed what the 
Vietnamese can be expected to do." 

To release ARVN for offensive action, 
General Johnson proposed sending a U.S. 
division either to the Bien Hoa/Tan Son ' 
Nhut area plus some coastal enclaves or 
to Kontuni, Pleiku and Darlac Provinces 
in the highlands. Both General Johnson 
and Mr. McNamara preferred the second 
alternative — but McNamara found neither 
efficient in terms of ARVN released per 
U.S. input and he also favored a ROK 
division rather than U.S. troops. 



20 Mar 65 



JCSM 20^-65 



General Johnson recommended the SEATO 
Treaty be invoked and a four-division 
MLF be deployed across the DMZ "from 
the South China Sea to the Mekong River" 
to counter infiltration.. 

Finally he said to evaluate MACV's re- 
quests properly a policy decision "must 
be made now to determine what the 
Vietnamese should be expected to do for 
themselves and how much more the U.S. 
must contribute directly to the security 
of South Vietnam," Mr. McNamara noted 
in the margin: "Policy is: anything that 
will strengthen the position of the GVLT 
will be sent. . . 



IT 



The JCS proposed that U.S. troops be 
deployed to South Vietnam for active 
operations against the Viet Cong. 






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DATE 



27 Mar 65 



EVEHT OR 

DOCUMENT 

• 

MACV Message 
t) CITTCPAC 



6 Apr 65 



NSAM 328 



DESCRIPTION 

Westmoreland submitted his estimate of 
the situation and his request for U.S. 
troops for offensive action against the 
Viet Cong. Preparation of both estimate 
and troop input recommendation had begun 
on 13 March (five days after the Marines 
arrived; one day after General Johnson ■ 
completed his trip) . 

President Johnson approved General 
Johnson's specific proposals for more 
U.S. action. This meant more U.S. in- 
volvement in terms of money, ships, 
aircraft, materiel and advisors, but 
deployment of ground combat units of 
division size "was not approved at this 
time (2 additional Marine BLTs were 
approved) . 



r 



■^s 



/ 



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( 



I. Introduction 



MARINE COMBAT UMTS GO TO DA MG -- MARCH I965 



At approximately nine o'clock on the morning of 8 March 1965, the 
United States Marine Corps 1 Battalion Landing Team 3/9 splashed ashore 
at Da Nang on the mainland of Southeast Asia. Although there -were 
already over 20,000 American servicemen in Vietnam, this was the first 
time that U.S. ground combat units had been committed to action. The 
mission assigned 3/9 a ^d its companion battalion 1/3 (which landed by 
air later the same day) was "to occupy and defend critical terrain 
features in order to secure the airfield and, as directed, communica- 
tions facilities, U.S. supporting installations, port facilities 
landing beaches and other U.S. installations against attack. The U.S. 
Marine Force will not, repeat will not, engage in day to day actions 
against the Viet Cong." l/ The overall responsibility for the security 
of that base complex was to remain within the purview of the ARVN Com- 
mander of the I Corps Tactical Zone, General Nguyen Chanh Thi. It was 
hoped that with the provision of reinforcements for Da Nang security, 
General Thi would be able to release some of his own troops from that 
mission to undertake offensive action against the Viet Cong. 2/ In 
light of subsequent events, it would be facile to conclude that the 
modest input of some 3,500 Marines at this juncture presaged the massive 
buildup of U.S. fighting power in Vietnam which brought American military 
strength in country to over 180,000 by the end of 1965. Except for 
C0MU8MACV who did see it as a first step and welcomed it and Ambassador 
Taylor who saw it as an unwelcome first step, official Washington re- 
garded the deployment as a one shot affair to meet a specific situation. 



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II. The Decision 






A. COMUSMACV r s Request- 



On 22 February 19o5, after a visit to Da Nang by General 
Throckmorton, then Deputy COMUSMACV, General Westmoreland cabled CINCPAC 
.requesting two Marine BLT T s to assist in protecting the base against Viet 
Cong raids, sabotage, and mortar attacks. 3/ As a result of his visit, 
General Throckmorton told General Westmoreland that he questioned the 
capability of the Vietnamese to protect the base and recommended the 
deployment of the entire 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, h/ General 
Westmoreland concurred with the security evaluation but requested only 
two of the three BLT r s organic to the 9th MEB with the third BLT to be 
held offshore as a reserve. 5/ 

B. The Ambassador 1 s Opinion 

!■»•» ——* ■^■■^■■i 1 ■ .. . ■■■- I » — » — ^— ^— a—— 1 — *— ^— ^ ■ m — ■■ — 

Ambassador Taylor sent to the State Department on the same day 
the following cable: 

"The ref cable requests CINCPAC, MACV and Ambassador 1 s 
views as to requirement for force deployments to this area 
in view of security situation of SVN. General Westmoreland 
I agree that there is no need to consider deployments to SVN 
at this time except possibly for protection of airfield at 
Da Wang. 



>v 



"As I analyze the pros and cons of placing any consider- 
able number of Marines in Da Wang area beyond those presently 
assigned, I develop grave reservations as to wisdom and 
necessity of so doing. Such action would be step in reversing 
long standing policy of avoiding commitment of ground combat 
forces in SVN. Once this policy is breached, it will be very- 
difficult to hold line. If Da Nang needs better protection, 
so do Bien Hoa, Ton Son Nhut, Nha Trang and ether key base 
areas. Once it becomes evident that we are willing assume 
such new responsibilities, one may be sure that GVN will seek 
to unload other ground force tasks upon us. Increased numbers ; 
of ground forces in SVN will increase points of friction with 
local population and create conflicts with RVNAE over command 
relationships. These disadvantages can be accepted only if 
there is clear and unchallenged need which can be satisfied 
only by US ground forces. Turning to possible uses for addi-' 
tional Marines in Da Nang area, I can see several which are 
worth examining. First, they could be used to reinforce 
protection of Da Nang airbase against Bien Hoa-type of attack 
by fire or against combined VC fire and ground attack. 

"More ambitious mission would be readiness to engage in 
mobile operations against VC in Da Nang area to keep VC units 
at distance from base and make positive contribution to pacifi- 
cation of area. Such US forces would concurrently be available 
to join in conventional defense of area if DRV army moved 
southward in resumption of formal hostilities. 

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"In defense of the Da Nang airbase against surprise 
attack by fire, it would be necessary for Marines to be in 
place on ground in considerable strength. (MCV has estimated 
that about six battalions would be necessary to keep 8lmm mor- 
tar fire off large airfield.) Even if whole MEB were deployed , 
they could not provide complete assurance that surprise mortar 
fire by small groups attacking at night would be kept off field. 
Protection of field against VC ground attack would be consider- 
ably simpler and would require fewer Marines. It is hard to 
imagine an attack on field by more than VC regiment and even 
an attack in those numbers would be extremely risky in face of 
superior friendly air and ground fire. To meet such an attack, 
battalion of Marines supported by local ARW forces should be 
sufficient. On other hand, as indicated above, effective 
perimeter defense agains.t mortar fire would require at least 
whole brigade of Marines . 

"it has been suggested that an ancillary benefit to 
deployment of additional Marines to Da Nang would be freeing 
of ARVN units for- use elsewhere in mobile operations. While 
some ARVN troops of order of battalion might be so relieved, 
number would not be sufficient to constitute strong argument 
for bringing in Marines. Generally speaking, Marines would 
be performing task which has not been done adequately in 
past.. 

"The use of Marines in mobile counter-VC operations has 
the attraction of giving them an offensive mission and one of 
far greater appeal than that of mere static defense. However, 
it would raise many serious problems which in past have appeared 
sufficiently formidable to lead to rejection of use' of US ground 
troops in a counter-guerrilla role. White- faced soldier armed, 
equipped and trained as he is not suitable guerrilla fighter for 
Asian forests and jungles. French tried to adapt their forces 
to this mission and failed; I doubt that US forces could do much 
better. Furthermore, we would have vastly complicating factor 
of not running war and hence problem of arranging satisfactory 
command relationships with our Vietnamese allies. , Finally, 
there would be ever present question of how foreign soldier 
would distinguish between a VC and friendly Vietnamese farmer. 
When I view this array of difficulties, I am convinced that we 
should adhere to our past policy of keeping our ground forces 
out of direct counterinsurgency role. 

"if there were any great likelihood of DRV forces crossing 
the Demilitarized Zone in conventional attack, there would be' 
no question of need for strong US Ground force to assist ARVM 
in defense of coastal plain. However, this situation would not 
arise suddenly and we should have ample time to make our 
deployments before situation got cut of hand. 



/ 



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i 






"In view of foregoing considerations , I conclude that 
only mission worth considering now for additional Marines 
in Da Nang area is to contribute to defense of base against 
mortar fire and ground attack. However , to defend against " 
fire would require at least full brigade and I do not be- 
lieve threat and possible consequences of mortar attack are 
' so great as to warrant pinning down so valuable force in 
static defensive mission. However, in view of General 
Westmoreland's understandable concern for safety of this 
important base, I would be willing to recommend placing in 
Da Nang Marine battalion landing team. Such force would 
strengthen defense of base and, at same time, would be 
manageable force from point of view of accommodating it on 
base and absorbing it into Da Hang community. Such force 
with those Marines already present should remove any sub- 
stantial danger of VC ground attack and in conjunction 
with available ARVN forces provide an acceptable level of 
security against attack by fire. 

"If Washington decision is to introduce additional 
Marines into ^Vietnam, it should/, of course, be made con- 
tingent upon getting concurrence of GVN. It would be 
useful and, I believe, not difficult to get GVN to initiate 
request for additional forces to which USG could then 
accede. Taylor." 6/ 

C. CINCPAC's Support 

« 

CINCPAC cabled the JCS on 2h February and recommended immediate 
deployment of two Marine BLT's, one over the beach and one by air and 
surface. He advised, in addition, that a squadron of Marine fU's be 
deployed to Da Nang simultaneously. Those aircraft would be for close 
air support of the defenders and could be used "for other missions 
along with primary mission. . . . All CBTCPAC contingency plans for 
SEA provide for employment of Marine aircraft from Da Hang." The tone 
of CINCPAC r s cable was urgent. He encouraged deployment now "before 
the tragedy," and he added that were the base to be attacked before 
the BLT's were put ashore, the landing force afloat would be unable, 
because of the time required to get forces to the scen'e, to influence 
the outcome. One of the references cited in this lengthy CBTCPAC cable 
was the Ambassador's message of 22 February. In addressing that 
reference, CINCPAC disagreed openly with Ambassador Taylor and cited 
the Marine's "distinguished record," saying: 

"in ref F the Ambassador discusses the pros and cons 
of deploying the MEB to Da Nang. The Ambassador comments 
on the difficulty of providing complete assurance of 
security" from surprise mortar fire even with the whole of 
MEB. This is true and consequently, what we are obliged to <- 
do here is to reduce within the limits of our capability 
the hazards to our people. I believe that the vulnerability 



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of the U.S. investment in Da Nang is as apparent to the 
VC/DRV as it is to us. With a strong mobile force in the 
area providing a tight defense of the airfield complex and 
good security of U.S. outlying installations, I "believe that 
two ancillary "benefits will emerge. First, the RVNAF will * 
be encouraged to use the forces thus freed for patrol and 
security operations, and second, the VC/DRV will be obliged 
to regard Da Nang as a tougher target. Finally, the 
Ambassador rejects the usefulness of U.S. ground elements 
in a counter -guerrilla war because of our color, armament, 
equipment and training. This stands athwart past performance 
in this function. The Marines have a distinguished record in 
counter -guerrilla warfare." J_/ 

The JCS forwarded to the Secretary of Defense the substance of CINCPAC T s 
recommendations in JCSM-130-65. 8/ 

D. Contingent Approval 

On 26 February the State Department cabled Ambassador Taylor that 
the Marines were on the way, and that he was to secure approval from the 
Government of Vietnam for their deployment to Da Nang. 9/ Ambassador 
Taylor cabled the State Department in reply on 28 February and said: 

"After discussion of Ref A with Johnson and Throckmorton 
(Westmoreland was temporarily unavailable), we have decided 
to proceed as following. 

"I shall seek an appointment with Quat at first oppor- 
tunity (probably- tomorrow March l) and raise the matter of 
our concern (but not alarm) over the security of the Da Nang 
airfield and environs along following lines. It is the most 
important military installation in the country which is 
indispensable in air defense and in support of air and sea 
operations against the DRV. It must be at or near the top 
of the target list which the VC/DRV wish to destroy. I 
visited Da Nang on February 27 for the first time in several 
months and am deeply impressed with the increasing magnitude 
of the security problem as are General Westmoreland and his 
principal military colleagues. 

"Except for the chronic shortage of GVN forces in I 
.Corps, we would be inclined to urge GVN to allocate several 
additional battalions to the Da Nang area. But we know that- 
such forces could not be made available except as prohibitive 
cost to the security of other areas in SVN. For these • . 
f reasons, we are driven to consider a solution which we have 
always rejected in the past, the introduction of US ground 
combat forces to reinforce the defense of Da Nang until GVN 
forces become available for the purpose. In spite of many 



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cogent reasons against this solution. General Westmoreland 
and I are now reluctantly prepared to recommend it to 
Washington if the EM so desires and requests. 

"Quat may agree at once hut is likely to want to take 
time to discuss the matter with Thieu and Minh. Even if he 
should acquiesce, I would suggest another meeting on the sub- 
ject with Quat, Thieu, Minh and Thi at which Westmoreland and 
I would emphasize the limited mission of the Marines and their 
non -involvement in pacification. 

"If all goes well and concurrence is received, there should 
be no problem about a press release. We would envision this 
to be a short, joint GW/US statement issued at once to the 
effect that, at the request of GVTT, the USG is landing two 
battalions of Marines to strengthen the security of the Da Nang 
area until such time as they can be relieved by GW forces. The 
first BLT could then land at once and the second on call from MACV. 

"I strongly urge a deferment of decision on landing in 
remainder of MEB until the first two 3LT T s are ashore and in 
place. By that time we will have around 7300 U.S. military 
personnel in the Da Nang area and I doubt ability to absorb 
or usefully employ the rest of the MEB. We can tell better 
after the two BLT's are shaken down. Taylor." 10/ 

In a subsequent meeting with GVN officials, Ambassador Taylor secured 
their approval for the deployment. Generals Thieu and "Little" Minh ex- 
pressed their concern about the possible reaction of the populace in the 
Da Hang area and asked that the Marines be "brought ashore in the most 
inconspicuous way feasible." ll/ \ 

E. Eleventh Hour Change 

One final obstacle to the Marine deployment was raised when Assistant 
Secretary of Defense Mcllaughton cabled the Ambassador in Saigon on 2 March 
stating that the 173^d Airborne Brigade, then stationed on Okinawa, would 
be substituted for the Marines. 12 / Other than exchange of cables, there 
is no documentary evidence in the files to indicate what might have been 
the rationale behind the belated attempt to deploy the 173rd Airborne to 
Da Rang in place of the Marines. One can only surmise the reasons behind 
such a move, but certain characteristics of the two forces may provide a 
clue. The Marines present prima facie a more formidable appearance upon 
arrival on the scene. They have organic a complement of heavy weapons, 
amphibious vehicles, and various other items of weighty hardware, in- . 
eluding tanks, in contrast to the smaller and lighter airborne. Together 
with their accompanying armada of. ships, the Marines might be seen as a 
more permanent force than the airborne. This, coupled with the common 
knowledge that the Marines have a long history of interventions in foreign 
countries for purposes of peacekeeping and stability, might have influenced 
someone in the decision apparatus to consider using' the airborne in their 



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stead as a positive signal that the Da Wang deployment was to be of short 
duration. If this was indeed the case, it suggests that there were still 
high-ranking people in Washington who were hoping to make the deployment 
of U.S. troops temporary and limited. 

General Westmoreland objected to the proposed change on the grounds 
that the Marines were more self-sustaining and the Ambassador agreed with 
him. 13/ CINCPAC, in objecting to the proposed change, sent the following 
telegram to the JCS: 

"The action outlined in Ref A, which would place the 
173rd Airborne Brigade, a two-battalion brigade, at Da Nang, 
embodies several features which are undesirable. A light and 
flexible airborne force would be committed to a fixed task 
depriving CINCPAC of his air mobile reserve. It is the only- 
airborne assault force in the theater. A comprehensive array 
of plans and logistic preparations which affect many of our 
forces, and the forces of other countries, would be under- 
mined. The action would employ units which are less adequately 
constituted for the purpose. 

"Since the origination of OPLAN 32 in 1959, the Marines 
have been scheduled for deployment to Da Nang. Seven CINCPAC 
and SEATO contingency plans and a myriad of supporting plans at 
lower echelons reflect this same deployment. As a result, there 
has been extensive planning, reconnaissance, and logistics 
preparation over the years. The CG, 9th MEB is presently in 
Da Nang finalizing the details of landing the MEB forces in 
such a way as to cause minimum impact on the civilian populace. 
The forces are present and ready to land, some now embarked, 
with plans for execution complete. The deployment has been 
thoroughly explored by Amb Taylor with Prime Minister Quat and 
the method in which the Marines would be introduced was mutually 
agreed upon as pointed out in Ref B. ^ 

"Another practical consideration is the fact that 1300 
Marines are already at Da Nang. The Marines have been there in 
varying numbers for more than two years and thus have long since 
established the logistics and administrative base for future 
Marine deployments. They have a long standing and effective 
local relationship with the populace and the RVNAF. Then, there 
is the matter of adaptability for the task. Da Nang is on the 
sea coast. Each Marine BLT has its own amphibian vehicles, 
which are adaptable to continuing seaborne supply. Each one has • 
a trained shore party to insure the the flow of material across 
the beach in an area where port facilities are marginal. They 
• embody amphibious bulk fuel systems which serve as a cardinal 
stand-by in case of interruption of commercial fuel supply. 
Their communications equipment and procedures axe compatible 
with the hawks, helicopters and other Marine formations now 



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in Da Nang and their organic heavy engineer equipment will 
be effective in developing the defensive works needed for 
accomplishing the task. The Marine MEB includes tanks and 
artillery. The airborne, "battalions, on the other hand, 
being designed for a different task, are deficient in each 
of these important particulars --in varying degrees -- and 
are thus less desirable for the assignment. 

" The situation in Southeast Asia has now re ached a point 
where~he soundness of our contingency planning may be about 
to be tested . The tasking has been completed. Logistic 
arrangements and lines of communication are establishing and 
operating. Command arrangements have been made and agreed 
upon and plans for landing and disposition of forces ashore 
have been made and these forces are ready to execute them. 
It therefore seems imprudent, at this time, to shift forces 
in a major sector and to force changes in contingency 
posture for other parts of Southeast Asia. /Emphasis added/ 

• 

"Whatever force is landed, its strength should be -ade- 
quate for the job. The airborne force, if selected, would 
require substantial and diverse augmentation to achieve the 
desired combat capability. 

"If the final decision is to deploy and /si£7 Army Brigade 
instead of the MEB to Da Hang, then I would recommend a one 
Brigade Task Force of the 25th Infantry Division. This would 
provide a ground combat capability reasonably similar to the 
ground elements of the MEB. The command and control elements 
and the initial light infantry elements of this task force 
could be airlifted to provide some early security at Da Nang. 
Achievement of a more adequate capability similar to the MB 
would require air and sealift from Hawaii and CONUS augmenta- 
tion of some support units for the task force. The" DAZED should 
not be used since it is an essential element of other contin- 
gency plans. 



"I recommend that th; 
viously planned." lk/ 

F. Final Approval 



MEB be landed at »Da Nang as pre- 



The objections were sustained, and on 6 March 19^5 the Pentagon 
issued the following news release: 

"WO U.S. MARINE BATTALIONS TO BE DEPLOYED IN VIET NAM. 
After consultation between the governments of South Vietnam and 
the United States, the United States Government has agreed to 
the request of the Government of Vietnam to station two United 
States Marine Corps Battalions in the Da Nang area to strengthen 
the general security of the Da Nang Air Base complex. 






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"The limited mission of the Marines will be to 
relieve Government of South Vietnam forces now engaged 
in security duties for action in the pacification pro- 
gram and in offensive roles against Communist guerrilla, 
forces/' 




On the same day the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered CIXTCPAC to commence 
the landing of the BLT's, 16/ and on 7 March Secretary of State Rusk 
told a national television and radio audience that the Marines would 
shoot back if shot at, but their mission was to put a tight security 
ring around Da Hang Air Base, thus freeing South Vietnamese forces for 
combat. 17/ 






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III. The Situation 



A. Da Nans Local 



Prior to the landing of the Marines, Da Nang had yet to "be attacked 
by the VC, but the official estimates of enemy intentions and capabili- 
ties in the I Corps area were none too encouraging. There were reported 
to be- 12 battalions numbering some 6,000 men within striking distance of 
the base, and on the night of 7 March the town of Mieu Kong, three miles 
south of the airfield, had been probed by a VC unit of unknown size. 18/ 
General Throckmorton 1 s estimate of ARVN lack of capability to prevent Viet 
Cong depredations against the sizeable and expensive stocks of U.S. equip- 
ment on the base was colored, no doubt, by recent Viet Cong attacks at 
Pleiku and Qui Nhon and by the raid on Bien Hoa airfield on 1 November 
1964. In all of these attacks, the GVN security forces had not been able 
I to prevent a determined Viet Cong attempt to penetrate the defenses around 

important installations. Moreover, it was apparent that U.S. personnel 
• in South Vietnam were vulnerable. With the beginning of the Flaming Dart 
air strikes against North Vietnam in early February 1965, communist retalia- 
tion against the bases which supported those strikes became a distinct 
probability. In order to cope with possible communist reprisal air attacks 
on Da Nang, elements of a Marine HAWK Missile Battalion were ordered to 
that base on 7 February. 19 / However, communist air attacks were less 
probable and offered higher risk than a ground attack by Viet Cong forces 
in country,, and Da Nang, which was heavily supporting air activity over 
North and South Vietnam, was a lucrative target. If, as General Westmore- 
land reported in his February 19^5 Monthly Evaluation, the air strikes in 
North and South Vietnam were having a beneficial effect on morale in the 
GVN, then it was highly likely that the Viet Cong would at least make an 
effort to stop or slow down the frequency of the raids. 20/ 

I B - GVN Instability 

Both the CIA and MACV were sober and somber in their estimates of 
the political situation in South Vietnam in. early 1965. 21/ The fall of 
the Huong government in January and the confused events of 16-21 February 
which culminated in General Khanh T s departure from Vietnam made any 
predictions .difficult at best. The CIA thought Quat T s government was 
shaky, 22 / and the Chairman of the* Joint Chiefs of Staff in a message 
to General Westmoreland conveyed his fears that despite U.S. actions 
• against North Vietnam, the GVN might collapse. General Westmoreland T s . 
reply to the Chairman stated in part : 

"History may well record that the real significance of 
196^ was net major VC advance and corresponding GVN retro- 
gression but rather that South Vietnam 1 s social and political 
institutions remained remarkably intact under the powerful 
disintegrating blows to which subjected -- most of them not 
of VC making... Nonetheless, we do have the very real 
asset of a resilient people and this gives hope that there 
is more time available than we might think; time in which, 
if properly exploited, the needed national leadership could 

♦ evolve..." 23/ 



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CINCPAC added a telling note to General Westmoreland's comments 
when he said we needed the 9th MEB for insurance should the GVN be un- 
able to resist collapse in the critical area of Da Nang where so much 
was already committed. 2k/ 

C. Enemy Capabilities 

Despite some encouraging signs in January 1965, the official assess 
ments of the military situation emanating from Saigon were bleak. The 
GVN aimed forces had suffered a major defeat at Binh Gia Phuoc Tuy 
Province, in late December-early January. There, the Viet Cong fight- 
ing for the first time with coordinated units of regimental size had 
stood off the best that ARVN could offer and held their ground. To 
many observers, including General Westmoreland, Binh Gia signaled the 
long-expected beginning of Phase III of the insurgency. The Viet Cong 
were confident enough to abandon their hit-and-run guerrilla tactics 
and engage the GVN armed forces in conventional ground combat. 

Although the rate of Viet Cong activity in January was the lowest 
in 11 months, it was surmised that they were merely regrouping and 
planning their next steps. Sure enough, during the month of February 
the VC reappeared in force and carried out a series of successful, raids 
and attacks, including those on the U.S. installations in Pleiku and Qui 
Nhon. The CIA in its February Sitrep was prompted to declare that the 
critical province of Binh Dinh in the II Corps area was just about lost 
to the Viet Cong. 25/ Binh Dinh is a key province for a number of 
reasons. Highway 1, the major north-south road artery connecting the 
I Corps with Saigon, runs the length of Binh Dinh. Of equal importance 
is Highway 19 which runs west from Qui Nhon through An Khe to the city 
of Pleiku. Qui Khon, a coastal city at the eastern end of Highway 19, 
offers one of the few viable port alternatives to Saigon and is a major 
logistical base for resupply to the upland bases and camps. Loss of 
control of Highway 19 dictates that friendly forces in the highlands 
be resupplied entirely by air --a staggering prospect. Finally, the 
large population in Binh Dinh, numbering some 800,000, offers great 
prospects for manpower and sustenance to the side able to control the 
province . 26/ * 

Intelligence estimates began stating that the coming rainy season 
would be accompanied by a major Viet Cong attempt to cut the country 
in half in the II Corps. It. was quite possible that the VC would 
attempt during such a campaign to seize complete control of one of the 
highland provinces, most probably Kontum, and would then proceed to set 
up a NLF government therein. The political and psychological effect 
of such a move might, some observers feared, SDund the death knell for 
the GVN. General Westmoreland, in his February Monthly Evaluation added 
plaintively that he hoped the air activity in North and South Vietnam 
would help reverse the trend. 2j/ . > 

In October of 19^, the National Intelligence Board in Washington 
had published a grave picture of the situation in South Vietnam. In 



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summary, they said that the political situation "would continue to decay 
with a gradual petering out of the war effort. Coup after coup, intrac- 
table Buddhists, Montagnard revolt, and strikes were all evidence of 
the lack of leadership, and no charismatic leader was in sight. The 
Viet Cong were unlikely to make an overt "bid to seize power as things 
were going their way, and they were looking for a neutralist coalition 
which they could easily dominate. The endurance of the people and the 
ability of the administration to carry on routine duties without any 
guidance from Saigon were cited as latent strengths as was the fact 
that no identifiable power group had yet called for an end to the fight- 
ing or had sought accommodation with the Viet Cong. 28/ 

The events of the next few months added no new ingredients to this 
gloomy picture until the decision to initiate Rolling Thunder. In esti- 
mating probable communist reactions to the latter, the National Intelli- 
gence Board stated "we accordingly believe that the DRV/VC reaction to 
a few more air attacks like those of early February would probably be 
to continue their pressures in the South more or less on the scale of 
recent weeks... It is possible that they would, for a week or two, 
refrain from direct attacks on U.S. installations, but we cannot esti- 
mate that such restraint is probable." 29/ 

MacGeorge Bundy in his Memorandum to the President dated 7 February 
1965 estimated that without additional U.S. action, the GVN would collapse 
within the next year. He saw latent anti-Americanism near the surface 
in South Vietnam and detected- amongst the Vietnamese the attitude that 
the U.S. was going to quit. Bundy recommended the initiation of a policy 
of gradual and continuing reprisal, but he did not even mention the 
question of U.S. installation security nor did he mention the possibility 
of committing U.S. ground forces. 30/ 

D. Contemporary Accounts 

Contemporary accounts of the situation in South Vietnam from the 
non-official viewpoint are unanimous in their recognition of the continu- 
ing decay in the political and 'military capacity of the GVN to resist. 
The prospect for success if the U.S. did not change its approach to the 
war was nil. The Viet Cong were clearly winning. To writers like Halber- 
stam and Mecklin, the choice for the U.S. boiled down to two alternatives; 
either get out or commit land forces to stem the tide. 31/ Neither of 
these writers was likely to view the arrival of the Marines as anything 
else but indication of a decision to take the second course. Shaplen 
treated the landing of the Marines as an isolated incident, but he did 
not accept the rationale that they were in Vietnam for strictly defen- 
sive reasons. In commenting on the subsequent arrival of more Marines 
and the concomitant expansion of their mission to include offensive 
patrol work, he says: "...and sooner or later, it was surmised, they 
would tangle directly with the Viet Cong; in fact, it was obvious from 
the outset that in an emergency they would be airlifted to other areas 
away from their base." 32/ 



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A glance at some of the commentary of early March 19&5 ^ newspapers 
and periodicals gives clear indication that the landing of the two Marine 
BLT's was seen as an event of major significance. Analysis of the import 
of the event varies, as would be expected, from writer to writer, "but 
almost without exception they read more into the deployment than was made 
explicit by the brief Defense Department press release. By-lines from 
Saigon, where reporters had ready access to "reliable sources" in the U.S. 
Mission, give clear indication that there had been a major shift in atti- 
tude as regards the use of U.S. ground forces in Asia. Ted Sell, a Los 
Angeles Times staff writer, wrote on 10 March 1965. "The landing of the 
two infantry battalions is in its own way a far more significant act than 
were earlier attacks by U.S. airplanes, even though those attacks were 
directed against a country — North Vietnam — ostensibly not taking part 
in the direct war." Speaking after the Marines were ordered in, one high 
official said of the no -ground-troops -in- Asia shibboleth, "Sure, it's 
undesirable. But that doesn't mean we won't do it." 33 / It is especially 
significant that among the writers attempting to gauge the extent of U.S. 
resolve in the Vietnamese situation, the deployment of ground forces was 
somehow seen as a much more positive and credible indication of U.S. de- 
termination than any of the steps, including the air strikes on the DRV, 
previously taken. 






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IV. The Decision Process <&* 

A. Proposals for Actions Before the National Security Council 
Working Group, Late 1964 

Events in the late 1964 -early 1965 period moved at such a rapid 
: pace as almost to defy isolated analysis. On 3 November 1964 just 

two days after the Viet Cong successfully attacked the U.S. air base 
and billet ting at Bien Hoa, Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy 
convened the newly established NSC Working Group on SVN/SEA. Member- 
ship in the group included the State Department, OSD/lSA, the JCS, 
and CIA. 34/ Debate within the group centered around three proposed 
courses of action, none of which contained a major U.S. ground troop 
commitment to SVM. 35/ Ground troop commitment was addressed in draft 
papers circulated within the group by the principals, but it does not 
appear that anyone was thinking in terms of a major U.S. effort on the 
ground in counterinsurgency operations. William Bundy T s own papers 
mentioned CINCPAC OPLAN 32-64 and CINCPAC OPLAN 39-65, both of which 
contingency plans provided for the input of US ground combat forces 
into SEA in response to Chicom or DRV aggression or a combination of 
the two. 36/ In a draft dated 13 November 1964, Bundy discussed ground 
troop commitment and said in part that he did "not envisage the intro- 
duction of substantial ground forces into South Vietnam or Thailand in 
conjunction with these initial actions." 37/ The initial actions to 
which he referred were the three basic options under consideration at 
the time by the Working Group. Bundy went on in the same draft memo- 
! randum to state that the question of ground troop involvement needed 

i further consideration, including the possibility of the introduction 

! of a multilateral force into the northern provinces of South Vietnam. 

In discussing the pros and cons of ground troops, Bundy did not mention 
the security of bases but he did suggest that the presence of troops 
in South Vietnam might invite Viet Cong activity against them. 

Other drafts circulated in the NSC Working Group dealt with ground 
forces. In a memorandum to the Working Group dated 30 November 1964, 
and entitled "Alternative to Air Attacks on North Vietnam: Proposals 
for the Use of U.S. Ground Forces in Support of Diplomacy in Vietnam," 
Messrs. Johnson and Kattenburg of the State Department proposed the 

f introduction of a token ground force to provide proof of our resolve 

as a prelude to a major diplomatic offensive. 38 / The Joint Chiefs 
of Staff also made a proposal for the introduction of ground troops in 
their 23 November 1964 memo to the Secretary of Defense. 39/ In that 
JCSM, which was principally concerned with analysis of various courses 
of action to increase pressure on the DRV, the JCS recommended the 
collateral deployment of Marine units to Da Nang and other units from 
Okinawa to Ton Son Nhut Air Base for purposes of security and deterrence ' 
in accordance with CINCPAC OPIANS. There is no documentary evidence, 
however, that these drafts were in any way included in the memo sent to 
the President. 

. 

^^^^ On 1 December 1964, the President approved the recommendations of 

Ambassador T3.ylor and the NSC Principals to proceed with the implementa- 
tion of the Working Group's Course of Action A and, after 30 days or 

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more and with some GVN progress along specified lines, to enter a second 
phase program consisting "principally of progressively more serious air 
strikes/ 1 as in Option C. ko/ Again, the U.S. focus was on the air war, 
not on the ground. 

3. The Focus of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 
«»■■■■■ ... . . . ., . i . ■ , i 

In forwarding on 11 February 1965 their proposed program for the 
first eight weeks of military actions against North Vietnam, the JCS 
told the Secretary of Defense that their plan called primarily for air- 
strikes but also included the collateral deployment of a MEB to Da Hang 
and an Army Brigade to Thailand, kl/ Neither of these deployments were 
for purposes of counterinsurgency but rather were intended to deter any 
overt DRV/Chicom retaliation and to put us in a better posture in case 
the deterrent failed. The JCS forwarded this proposal to the Secretary 
again on k March 1965, still without mention of the possibility of ground 
combat action against the Viet Cong, k-2/ The first proposal from the 
JCS that U.S. troop units be sent to SVN for active operations against the 
Viet Cong came on 20 March 1965, veil after the landing of the Marines at 
Da Nang. k3_/ That the JCS were considering such a proposal before the 
Marines were landed is indicated obliquely in Chairman Wheeler 1 s cover 
letter to the Secretary of Defense of 1 March I965, under which he for- 
warded the JS0P-70 and in which he said: "In arriving at the proposed 
force levels the present situation in Southeast Asia was only indirectly 
considered, and had little, if any, influence upon the JS0P-70 force 
levels. This is pointed out to identify a specific problem area that 
requires a near term and long term solution. By separate action the JCS 
are addressing the problem and will provide you with their views on this 
subject." kk / While the Marines were landing at Da Nang, a key man from 
the Washington scene was a visitor in Saigon. Although his visit was 
unconnected with the Marine landings per se , his actions, on return to 
Washington provided a fair measure of the attitudes prevalent in the 
U.S. community in Vietnam at that juncture. 

General Johnson, Chief of Staff of the Army, was in Vietnam from the 
5th through the 12th of March 19^5 . He was given a thorough briefing on 
the situation by General Westmoreland and other members of the United 
States mission, and he brought back to Washington detailed situation 
reports prepared by MACV and the Ambassador. The view from Saigon, as 
reflected in those reports, was very grave indeed. A succinct summation 
of the views of the entire U.S. Mission Council in Saigon appeared in the 
Ambassador's Sitrep forwarded to the State Department on 11 March 1965: 

"Unless (and this is primary), NVN support is checked, 
GVN militaiy and paramilitary resources increased, pacifica- 
tion goals and concepts refined, administrative efficiency 
improved, and an adequate political -psychological base 
created, there is little likelihood of stemming the tide of t 
the VC insurgency. Only U.S. resources can provide the 
pressures on NVN necessary to check Hanoi ! s support, al- 
though some measure of SVN armed forces participation will 
be required for psychological reasons; the other measures 
and programs required to stem the tide of VC insurgency 



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are largely internal to SVN, "but even here success -will 
require a marked increase in U.S. support and participa- 
tion/ 1 J+5/ 

There is little doubt that General Johnson was impressed by the gravity 
of the situation in SW as presented to him at the very time the Marines 
were landing at Da Nang. The report k6/ which he submitted to the 
Secretary of Defense on ik March contains specific proposals, including 
some for deployment of additional U.S. ground combat forces , which 
Johnson felt should be implemented if the U.S. was to realize its ob- 
jectives in SVN. Those objectives as seen by Johnson were: (l) to 
persuade the DRV to abandon its support and direction of the insurgency, 
(2) to defeat the Viet Cong insurgents, and (3) to create a stable GVN. 
In accord with the Ambassador, General Johnson called for U.S. action 
because "what the situation requires may exceed what the Vietnamese can 
be expected to do." To arrest the current deterioration Johnson pre- 
sented a list of 21 specific actions to be taken. The upshot of these 
21 points was greater U.S. involvement in terms of money, ships, air- 
craft, advisors, and assorted hardware, but no ground combat units were 
involved. They meant essentially more of the same, and all 21 points 
were approved by the President on 1 April I965. jjT/ There was more 
! to the Johnson recommendations, however. To release RVNAF for offensive 

action, he proposed deploying a U.S. division either to defend the Bien 
Hoa/Ton Son Nhut airfield complex plus some coastal enclaves or to 
defend the highland provinces of Kontum, Pleiku and Darlac. Johnson 
obviously preferred the latter alternative because the enemy in the 
Montagnard populated highlands would be more easily identified by U.S. 
forces. The Secretary of Defense in commenting on the proposed 
deployment also preferred the second alternative although he thought 
neither- afforded an efficient return in terms of RVNAF forces released 
per U.S. force input (alternative 1 called for 23,000 U.S. forces to 
release 5,000 ARM; alternative 2 ratio was 15,000 U.S. to 6,000 ARW) . 
Secretary McNamara directed the JCS to consider the 2d alternative while 
emphasizing that he preferred an R0K division to one of our own. ^-8/ 
The culmination of General Johnson's report was his recommendation that 
the SEAT0 treaty be invoked to get allied participation in a four 
division force counter-infiltration cordon to be placed across the DMZ 
and the Laotian panhandle from the South China Sea to the Mekong River. 
In closing his report, General Johnson observed: 

"In order for the USG to evaluate his /COMUSMACV r sj 
requests properly when submitted, a policy determination 
must be made in the very near future that will assure the 
question: What should the Vietnamese be expected to do 
for themselves and how much more must the U.S. contribute 
directly to the security of South Vietnam?" 

In reference to this observation Secretary McNamara wrote that the , 
"Policy is: anything that will strengthen the position of the GVN 
will be sent. .." kg/ 

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I* ? 

C. Attitudes West of COMJS 

Both CINCPAC and General Westmoreland were very much concerned 
during early 1965 with the possible implementation of existing con- 
tingency plans, at least two of which as already mentioned, called 
for the input into Southeast Asia of U.S. troop units. The alert 
(Phase I) of OPLAN 32-6 1 *- was in effect as of 1 January 1965. CINCPAC 
clearly indicated that his thinking was geared to contingency plans in 
his cabled objections to the proposed deployment of the 173rd Airborne 
vice the Marines into Da Nang. 50/ All of his OPLAN s had buildup pre- 
dicated on the Marines T use of Da Nang as a base. CINCPAC is equally 
clear in his cable traffic of this period, however, that he is not 
immediately thinking in terms of the commitment of U.S. ground forces 
in operations against the Viet Cong. In a cable to Chairman Wheeler 
on 5 March 1965 he said that "the single most important thing we can 
do quickly to improve the security situation in SVN is to make full 
use of our air power." He went on in the same cable to say that the 
MEB should be deployed to Da Nang as soon as possible for security 
and also to give the GVN a boost and the Viet Cong a warning. 51/ * 

General Westmoreland and his staff had been concerned with 
planning for the. input of U.S. ground troops into South Vietnam in 
conjunction with the aforementioned CINCPAC contingency plans since 
late I96J+. 52/ In view of the enemy's capabilities and the obvious 
deficiencies of the ARVN, both of which were all too apparent to ob- 
servers in Vietnam (by early 19&5) > it is hard to see how the military 
planners in MACV could have disassociated the deployment of the Marines 
from further troop input. In the MACV Command History for 1965 there 
are several statements which would tend to confirm sequential thinking 
in the MACV staff. On the day the Marines were landing at Da Nang it 
is said in the History that "thus step one in the buildup of forces had 
been taken and subsequent steps appeared to be assured." .53/ The 
History also states that "the Phase II, RVN, portions of OPLAN 32-6^ 
were essentially implemented by the U.S. buildup during 19&5> although 
on a larger scale than planned." 5V On 27 March 19&5* General 
Westmoreland forwarded to CINCPAC his estimate of the situation in 
Vietnam and his recommendation for U.S. troop Input for offensive 
action against the Viet Cong. In that cable COMUSMACV states that his 
staff commenced preparation of the estimate and troop recommendations 
on 13 March, five days after the Marines went into Da Nang, and the 
day after the Army Chief of Staff r s departure from Saigon. _55/ 



Ambassador Taylor was not enthusiastic about any continuation of 
troop buildup after the landing of the Marines. He had already stated 
his reasons in the lengthy cable of 22 February contained herein. On 
3 March, in response to a Department of State query regarding the 
possible employment of an international force, Taylor conveyed the text 
of a conversation about the MLE between Ambassador Johnson and the 
Australian envoy to South Vietnam. The Australian had voiced fears 
similar to Taylor's in that he foresaw an increased manifestation of 
Vietnamese xenophobia with the input into South Vietnam of foreign 
troops, and he feared such a move would cause the GVN "to shuck off 



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greater responsibility onto USG." 56/ Taylor told the Secretary of 
State in another cable on the same day that he had no idea what the 
GVU attitude toward a MLF might be and that there were many problems 
involved with such a move that had yet to be ironed out. 57/ The MLF 
was clearly only in the talking stage, 58/ while the Marine BLT's were 
a fact. The discussion of the MLF is included to illustrate that the 
Ambassador was consistent in looking beyond the immediate tactical need 
to support a faltering GW -- a need which Taylor saw just as clearly as 
did MACV -- to analyze the long-term ramifications of the introduction 
into Vietnam of foreign combat troops, Taylor's warnings in this regard 
were, in light of the present situation in SVN, prophetic indeed. 



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V. Expectations 















There seems to be sufficient evidence to conclude that General 
Westmoreland and his staff saw in the deployment of the Marines the 
"beginning of greater things to come. The 1965 Command History says 
as much , and the rapidity with which the staff followed on the Marine 
BLT's with more proposals would tend to back up such a conclusion. 
It hardly seems a coincidence that General Johnson, immediately 
following his briefings by MACV, returned to Washington and recom- 
mended, among other things, that a U.S. division be deployed to SVN. 
CINCPAC, although obviously concerned with OPLANs and their focus 
on troop deployments, comes out clearly in his cable traffic for 
reliance on air power for the moment and for troop commitment to 
secure bases only. The JCS, because they had yet to address the 
overall question of U.S. ground force deployments, necessarily saw 
the Marine deployments as a stopgap measure to insure the security 
of U.S. lives and property in case of a partial or total GVN 
collapse. Traffic between the Embassy and the Department of State 
indicated that further ground force deployments as a deterrent to 
NVN invasion were in the thinking but were not yet in the proposal 
stage, and the Ambassador clearly had serious objections to further 
troop input. It appears that for the moment, with the possible 
exception of General Westmoreland, his staff, and perhaps an im- 
portant ally in the person of General Johnson in Washington, the 
Marine deployment was taken at face value and that the official 
Washington hopes were pinned on early NVN response to the Rolling 
Thunder pressure, then just in its beginning stages. 






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.VI. Analysis 



This paper has raised basically two analytical questions. First, v 
what was the significance of the landing of the two Marine battalions 
rather than other units, such as the 173rd. Aiiborne? Second, what was 
the mix of objectives behind the deployment, and did the deployment meet 
these objectives? 

The significance of putting the Marines into Da Nang turns on whether 
this deployment was intended or was viewed (l) as the first elements in 
a phased build-up of U.S. ground combat forces, or (2) as a one-shot re- 
sponse to a peculiar security need at Da Nang. There is evidence for 
both propositions. 

There are two pieces of evidence in support of the phased build-up 
proposition. First, no less than seven CINCPAC contingency plans treated 
Da Nang as a base for U.S. Marine Corps activity, and at least two of 
those plans provided for major Marine ground forces in the I Corps tacti- 
cal zone of South Vietnam. Except for Phase II of OPLAN 32-6U, however, 
contingency plan build-ups of force were predicated on overt DRV or Chi- 
nese Communist action. At the time of the initial landings, such overt 
action was anticipated in the OPLAN but had. not yet occurred. It was 
a fact, on the other hand, that some sort of action was needed in the 
South to halt the course of the insurgency there, and that two Marine 
BLT T s would not do the trick. 

The second piece of evidence was the last minute attempt by Ass't 
Secretary of Defense McNaughton to substitute the 173^3. Airborne for the 
Marines, and CINCPAC 1 s strong reaction against this attempt. The only 
apparent rationale for the McNaughton move is as a blocking measure against 
expected pressures for further build-ups as embodied in the contingency 
plans. The substitution would have created planning tangles for the Chiefs 
and. CINCPAC and, therefore, would have d.elayed pressures for further de- 
ployment pending the development of new plans. CINCPAC T s vigorous response, 
based on administrative and logistic arguments, coupled with concern for 
the loss of an airmobile reserve force, persuaded. Washington and thwarted 
the McNaughton effort. It is interesting to note, in this regard, that 
McNaughton, at least on the record, did not receive any support for his 
attempt. Conceivably, Ambassador Taylor, who had. expressed, serious res- 
ervations about the implications of the ground, force deployment, could, have 
joined, forces with McNaughton. Taylor's failure to do so was probably 
based on the fact that he did. not believe the pressures could, be signi- 
ficantly thwarted, by the substitution, and. that, therefore, it made much 
more military sense to proceed, as planned. 

The evidence against the phased build-up proposition and for the 
. one-shot-^ecurity hypothesis rests on one major document., and paradoxically, 
on the absence of other documents. The major document is the McGeorge Bundy 
Memorandum for the President of February J, 19o5» In this memorandum, 
Bundy reviews the entire situation in Vietnam without any reference to 
future ground force deployment — even -though the request for the Marine 

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BLT T s was only two weeks away. Moreover, the usual flood of documentation 
preceding a decision of significance is not to be found. In other words, 
it appears that the key decision-makers in Washington are not focusing 
hard on the importance of the deployment. The attention-getter, as the 
Bundy memo indicates, was the impending air war against North Vietnam. 

The significance of the Marine BLT deployment must also he measured 
up to the objectives intended by the deployment. There were four dis- 
tinguishable rationales: • 

(1) Freeing ARVN forces from static defense to base security; 

(2) Providing added security for U.S. air bases being used in the 
air war against North Vietnam; 

(3) Signaling Hanoi with increased U.S. determination to pay a 
higher price in meeting its commitments; and 

(k) Bolstering GVN morale. 

The first objective was the one most stressed publicly -- to release 
RVNAF for offensive action against the Viet Cong. General Westmoreland 
cabled the JCS on 22 February saying that the deployment of the Marines 
to Da Nang would result ultimately in freeing four RF companies, one tank 
platoon, and another EF battalion then being formed. 59/ The MACV 
Monthly Evaluation of March 1965 stated that only two EF companies had in 
fact been released. 60 / It is apparent, then, that this objective could 
not have been taken very seriously. While it can be argued that any slight 
improvement in the local force ratios vis-a-vis the Viet Cong was desir- 
able; even the most optimistic prediction of releasable RVNAF units would 
not have had much importance 

A second rationale was the notion of security for a major U.S. air 
base being used in bombing operations against North Vietnam. Da Nang 
was exposed and the probability of a Viet Cong attack on it could not 
be ignored. While the two Marine BLT deployment, by itself, was recog- 
nised as being insufficient for high level of confidence about base 
security, there can be little doubt that U.S. troops did make that im- 
portant base more secure . In retrospect, it could be construed that this 
was the first sign of U.S. awareness of RVNAF inadequacy . There is, 
however, n.o documentary evidence available to support this view and, in 
fact, the real extent of this ineffectiveness was not recognized until- a . 
few months later. 

A third obj active may have n oeen to signal Hanoi with the seriousness 
of the UoS. resolve in Vietnam. Notwithstanding the relatively minute 
combat power imposed in two battalions, the very fact that they were de- 
ployed would be a much clearer sign to Hanoi of U«S. determination in the 
fleeting appearance of a few jet aircraft or the shadowy presence off- 
shore of a mighty fleet of ships. Taken in conjunction with the well- 
known U.S. shibboleth against involvement in a major Asian land, war, the 



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deployment should have been a highly visible step unequivocal in its 
meaning to Hanoi, Yet, there is no evidence that anyone in the U.S. 
government intended the deployment to convey such a signal and there was 
no discussion of what responses we expected from Hanoi. If this indeed 
were an unspoken objective, it made little dent on NVN designs. If any- 
thing, it may have aided those in Hanoi who wanted to send additional 
regular NVA units into SVN. 

' A fourth U.S. objective was bolstering morale within the GW and the 
concomitant willingness to carry on the fight. It was quite reasonable 
to assume that the Marines, like the air strikes on NVN that preceded 
them, did have a beneficial effect on morale. It is equally obvious, 
however, that any such effects would be transitory. Long-term improve- 
ments in morale could only come with dramatic and lasting alteration of 
the situation, and the two Marine battalions did. not have that capability 
by themselves. 

It seems from this vantage point that only the objective of base 
security really made sense. The deployment of the Marines to Da Nang might 
have deterred an attack on the base by a regiment of main force Viet Cong. 
The Marine Infantry were dug in on commanding terrain facing the North 
and West along the most likely avenues of approach. The security of the 
base was by no means assured by their presence, however, as by their own 
admission they were in no position to prevent determined attack -- or, 
especially, raids and. mortar attacks -- the kind that had done so much 
damage to Bien Hoa the year before. 6l/ The U.S. forces only had re- 
sponsibility for half of the base complex, and it was doubted that the 
KVHAF could prevent the Viet Cong infiltrating sabotage squads through 
the heavily populated areas on the GVN side. The Marines did not, as 
Secretary Rusk said they would, put a tight security ring around, the 
base. The ring was not closed until considerably later, and. even then, 
the Viet Cong successfully penetrated the defenses and caused, considera- 
ble damage in a raid on 1 July 1965 — the first of a series of raids 
that have continued up to the present. 

The landing of the Marines at Da Nang was a watershed event in the 
history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. It represented a major deci- 
sion made without much fanfare — and without much planning. Whereas the 
decision to begin bombing North Vietnam was the product of a year's dis- 
cussion, debate, and a lot of paper, and whereas the consideration of 
pacification policies reached talmudic proportions over the years, this 
decision created less than a ripple. A mighty commandment of U.S. foreign 
policy — thou shall not engage in an Asian land war -- had. been breached. 
Besides CJNCPAC and General Westmoreland who favored, the deployment, Am- 
bassador Taylor who concurred with deep reservation, and ASD McNaughton 
who apparently tried to add a monkey wrench, this is a decision without 
faces. The seeming ease with which the Marines were introduced and the 
mild reaction from Hanoi served to facilitate what was to come. It also 
weakened the position of those who were, a few scant months later, to 
oppose the landing of further U.S. ground combat forces. 



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VII. FOOTNOTES 



1. Msg, JCS to CINCPAC, 6 March 1965. 

2. Msg, CINCPAC to JCS, 2k February 1965. 






3. Msg, MA.CV to CINCPAC, 220743Z February 1965. 

4. MA.CV Command History 1965, p. 30. 

5. MACV Msg 220743Z February 1965. 

6. EMBTEL 2699, 22 February 1965. 

7. Msg, CINCPAC to JCS, 2k February 1965. 

8. JCSM-130-65 dated. 24 February 1965. 

9. DEPTEL 1840, 26 February 1965. 

10. EMBTEL 2789, 28 February 1965. 

11. MACV Command History 1965, p. 31. 

12. DOD Tel 6l66, 2 March 1965. 

13. MACV Command. History 1965, p. 31 and EMBTEL 195^, 2 March 1965. 
I&. Msg, CINCPAC to JCS 030230Z March 1965. 

15. OASD (PA) News Release, 6 March 1965. 

16. Msg, JCS to CINCPAC, 6 March 1965. 



17. Simmons, E.H., "The Marine Corps Response to Vietnam and 
Santo Domingo," Monograph 15 May 1967, p.l. 

18. Op. cit ., p. 2. 

19. News Conference of Hon. R. S. McNamara, 7 February 1965 
(OASD (PA) release of text). 

20. MACV Monthly Evaluation Report, February 1965. 

21. CIA Situation Reports and MACV Monthly Evaluation Reports for 
January and February 1965. 

22. Op. cit , (CIA) 

23. MACV Command History 1965, pp. 31, 32. 



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* 

2k* Msg, CINCPAC Eyes Only to Wheeler, 5 March 1965. 

25. CIA Situation Report, February 19&5- 

26. Dept of the Army Pamphlet No. 550-40, "USA Handbook for Vietnam," 
GPO 1964. 

27. MACV Monthly Evaluation Report, February 1965. 

28. National Intelligence Board, Special National Intelligence 
Estimate "The Situation in South Vietnam," 1 October 1964. 

29. National Intelligence Board, Special National Intelligence 
Estimate "Communist Reactions to Possible U.S. Courses of 
Action against North Vietnam," 18 February 1965. 

30. Special Assistant to the President McGeorge Bundy: Memorandum 
for the President, 7 February 19o5» 

31 • Halberstam, David, ■ The Making of a Quagmire (New York: Random House) 

1965. 

Mecklin, John, Mission in Torment (New York: Doubleday & Co.) 19&5- 

* 

32. Shaplen, Robert, The Lost Revolution (New York: Harper & Row) 1965 5 
p. 328. 

33. Sell, Ted, "Marines in South Vietnam Give War New Aspect," Los 
Angeles Times , 10 March 1965. 

3^. Bundy, William, Memorandum to Members, National Security Council 
Working Group, 3 November 196*4-. 

35. Ibid . 

36. NSC Working Group File - The Bundy Papers. 

37. Op* cit ., Draft Memorandum dated 13 November 1964. 

38. NSC Working Group File - Paper dated 30 November 196*1-, and prepared 
by R. H. Johnson and P. M. Kattenburg. 

39. JCSM 982-64, dated 23 November 1964. 

1*0. JSC Working Group File - Attachment to Memorandum for SEA 
Principals, 29 November 1964. 

kl. JCSM 100-65, dated 11 February 1965* 

1+2. Msg, JCS to CINCPAC, 5 March 1965. 

43. JCSM 204-65, dated 20 March 1965. 



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kh. JCS Chairman Wheeler, letter dated 1 March 1965, forwarding 
JSOP-70. 

1+5. "Estimate of the Situation in SVN" (signed, by the Ambassador 
and concurred in by all members of the mission), 11 March 1965 
j (Dept of State Airgram from Saigon to State, 11 Mar 1965)* 

■ 

1*6. Johnson, Harold K., Gen., "Report on Trip to South Vietnam" 
j • (Memo to SecDef and others), 14 March 1965. 

1*7 . Special Assistant to the President McGeorge Bundy, Draft NSAM 
(contained in Memo to SecDef and others), 5 April 19^5 • 



i+8. McWamara, Robert, Secretary of Defense. This and. following quota- 
tions are taken from SecDef marginal comments on The Johnson Report, 
original copy (SecDef files). 

1*9. Ibid . 

50. Msg, CINCPAC to JCS 030230Z March 1965. 

51. Msg, CINCPAC Eyes Only to Wheeler, Info Westmoreland, 5 March 1965. 

52. MACV Command. History, 1965* p. 30. 

53. Op. cit .3 p. 32. 
5I+. Op. cit ., p. 157. 

55. Msg, COMUSMACV to CINCPAC, 27 March 1965. 

56. EMBTEL 3112, 3 March 1965. 

57. EMBTEL 20lU, 3 March 1965. 

58. DEPTEL I876, 3 March 1965. 

59. Msg, COMUSMACV to JCS, 22 February '196 5- 

60. MACV Monthly Evaluation Report, March 1965- *- ' 

61. FMFPAC, Operations of The III Marine Amphibious Force Vietnam, 
March-September 1965* p-17 and p. 33. 



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