CHRONOLOGY OF KEY MARINE CORPS
EVENTS IN THE VIETNAM WAR, 1962 – 1975
9 April 1962 - The leading elements of Marine Task Unit 79.3.5, a helicopter task unit codenamed Shufly and commanded by Colonel John F. Carey, arrived at Soc Trang, Republic of Vietnam.
Significance: This was the first squadron-sized Marine unit, together with a small security force, to deploy to Vietnam as a result of the establishment of the U.S. Military Assistance Command on 8 February 1962. They were to provide helicopter support to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in its campaign against Communist Vietnamese forces, called Viet Cong (VC)
The Buildup 1965
On 22 February 1965, General William C. Westmoreland, USA, Commander, US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, requested two Marine battalions to protect the key airbase at Da Nang from increasing threat by the Viet Cong to U.S. installations. In response, on 8 March 1965, the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) landed at Da Nang. By the end of March, nearly 5,000 Marines were at Da Nang, including two infantry battalions, two helicopter squadrons and supply and logistics units. In April the U.S. Government agreed to deploy still more Marines to Vietnam and to permit those at Da Nang to engage in counterinsurgency operations.
In June, Major General Lewis W. Walt arrived to take command of the newly formed III Marine Amphibious Force (MAF), comprising both the 3d Marine Division and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW). By mid-summer, the Marines had moved outside their cantonment at Da Nang and expanded their Area of Responsibility (AOR) to include the Viet Cong infested villages to the south. Marines landed at Chu Lai, allowing the 1st Wing to expand to new facilities there and at Marble Mountain, home of Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 36, while MAG-16 remained at the airbase at Da Nang.
In August, Marines engaged in their first major offensives against the Viet Cong, Operation Starlite, which included the 7th Marines, the vanguard of the 1st Marine Division. The action destroyed one Viet Cong battalion and badly mauled a second. By the end of the year, Gen Walt commanded 42,000 Marines. Despite operational successes, pacification in the densely populated areas in the Marine’s AOR remained a difficult process. With no end to the war in sight, the prediction of a Vietnamese soothsayer would come true: 1966 would be a year of a “lot of fighting and killing.”
8 March 1965 - The 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), commanded by Brigadier General Frederick J. Karch, landed at Da Nang, Vietnam. The brigade consisted of two Marine battalions, one arriving by air and the other over the beach. The following day, the MEB assumed control of Marine Task Unit 79.3.5 at Da Nang, which became Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 16.
Significance: This was the first deployment of a battalion-sized U.S. combat unit to Vietnam. Although the mission of the 9th MEB was limited to the defense of the airbase at Da Nang, it was indicative that the U.S. advisory phase in the Vietnam War was to be transformed into more direct U.S. participation.
May-June 1965 - On 6 May, the 9th MEB was transformed into the III Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which became the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF) the next day. III MAF consisted of the forward elements of the 3d Marine Division and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW). Major General William R. Collins commanded both III MAF and 3d Marine Division. He was relieved on 4 June 1965 in both capacities by Major General Lewis W. Walt. Major General Paul J. Fontana established the 1st MAW headquarters on 11 May, 1965 and was relieved by Brigadier General Keith B. McCutcheon on 24 May. By this time, III MAF had established three bases at Da Nang, Chu Lai and Phu Bai. The commanding general, III MAF, was responsible for all U.S. military activity in South Vietnam’s I Corps, consisting of the five northern provinces. The total strength of III MAF at the end of June was more than 18,000 personnel.
Significance: This was the formation of the Marine Corps command structure in Vietnam that was to remain in place to the departure of the Marine units in 1971.
1 August 1965 - The Joint Action Company was officially formed at Phu Bai, consisting of four South Vietnamese Popular Force platoons, each reinforced by a U.S. Marine infantry squad. These platoons eventually became known as Combined Action Platoons.
Significance: This event initiated what eventually became the Combined Action Program, which assigned these combined South Vietnamese and American platoons into various villages in the III MAF area of operations. This was a unique Marine program and largely successful contribution to the U.S./South Vietnamese pacification program in the countryside.
3 August 1965 - Company D, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines conducted a one-day operation in the vicinity of Cam Ne, south of Da Nang. A CBS television crew accompanied the company and filmed a Marine setting fire to a Vietnamese thatched house. This film, which was shown on the evening news, led to a debate in the press about U.S. tactics in Vietnamese Villages.
Significance: The relationship of the media, especially the television media, and the military was to be an acrimonious one during much of the Vietnam War. The so-called “Cam Ne incident” set much of the tone of this relationship.
18-24 August 1965 - The 7th Marines conducted an amphibious and helicopter assault and defeated a large Communist force, the 1st VC Regiment, in Operation Starlite, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy in heavy fighting on the Van Toung Peninsula south of Chu Lai.
Significance: This was the first battle of American troops against a large main force VC unit.
An Expanding War 1966
In 1966, the size of U.S. Marine forces in the Republic of Vietnam continued to increase as the remaining units of the 1st Marine Division, commanded by Major General Lewis J. “Jeff” Fields, arrived from Okinawa to assist in pacifying the southern areas of I Corps. Even with its influx of Marines, a manpower shortage plagued III MAF, compounding an already difficult mission. Senior Marine commanders expressed strong disagreement with the conduct of the war by the leadership of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. The Marines pushed for a small-scale unit pacification program along the populated coastal areas, while the Army leadership in Saigon advocated large unit search and destroy operations against North Vietnamese units. These disagreements further hindered the ability of III MAF to conduct effective combat operations.
Despite these problems, the Marines continued to carry the fight to the enemy with several operations, most notably Operations Utah and Texas in southern I Corps and Operation Prairie in the north of I Corps. The Marines continued to refine a novel organizational concept, Combined Action Platoons, which merged a local Vietnamese militia platoon with a Marine infantry squad. The month of March saw the first arrival of CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters as a replacement for the aging Sikorsky UH-34, when HMM-46 landed at Marble Mountain, deploying from the USS Valley Forge. Meanwhile, Marine fixed-wing aircraft continued to strike targets as far north as Hanoi and Haiphong.
The year had brought a major buildup of U.S. Marine forces in Vietnam. Nearly 70,000 Marines were now in country; almost double the number from the pervious year. The hopes of the Marine commanders that increased troop strength would defeat the enemy proved unrealistic. The coming year would find the two divisions of III MAF fighting increasingly different wars. The 3d Marine Division was fighting a more conventional campaign against the North Vietnamese Army near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the north of I Corps while the 1st Marine Division engaged in more counter-guerrilla operations in Southern I Corps.
1 March 1966 - The 26th Marines was activated at Camp Pendleton, California initiating the formation of the 5th Marine Division.
Significance: For the first time since World War II, the Marine Corps was to have four infantry divisions on active duty. By the end of June, the Marines were authorized more than 278,000 personnel, a Corps larger than that of the Korean War.
4-7 March 1966 - The 3d Marine Division Task Force Delta defeated the 21st North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Regiment, inflicting heavy casualties upon the enemy in heavy combat in Operation Utah south of Chu Lai.
Significance: This was the first engagement by Marine units against NVA units.
10 March 1966 - South Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky removed Lieutenant General Nguyen Chanh Thi from his position as ARVN I Corps commander. This led to a series of strikes and political unrest, especially in I Corps, that saw a succession of I Corps commanders into June 1966. Much of the heaviest unrest was in the Da Nang sector, which often placed III MAF in the middle between troops loyal to the central government and those who supported Thi and the Buddhist dominated “Struggle Group.” General Walt often served as a mediator between the two groups.
Significance: This unrest undermined the authority of the Vietnamese government, which had grave implications for American participation in the war.
29 March 1966 - Major General Lewis J. Fields established the 1st Marine Division Headquarters at Chu Lai.
Significance: III MAF now officially consisted of two Marine infantry divisions and a reinforced MAW.
7 July - 2 August 1966 - The 3d Marine Division Task Force Delta conducted Operation Hastings just south of the so-called Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Vietnams. The Marine task force successfully repulsed the 324 NVA Division in its attempt to move into northern Quang Tri Province.
Significance: This marked the beginning of the North Vietnamese effort to move in strength directly through the DMZ. It eventually resulted in the move of the entire 3d Marine Division northward to establish a forward headquarters at Dong Ha in northern Quang Tri Province.
29 November 1966 - The Marines establish a one-battalion base area near the U.S. Special Forces Camp at Khe Sanh in northwestern Quang Tri Province.
Significance: This was the first establishment of a permanent Marine base at Khe Sanh.
Fighting the Vietnamese 1967
While Marines continued conducting pacification and counter-guerrilla operations, most of the heavy fighting in 1967 raged in the north of I Corps along the DMZ. The 3d Marine Division engaged in heavy conventional fighting around the former Special Forces camp at Khe Sanh in the northwestern I Corps, to “Leatherneck Square” in the eastern DMZ. Simultaneously, Marines began construction of the “McNamara Line,” a series of strong points, sensors and obstacles designed to deter and detect Communist incursions across the DMZ. Never completed, the McNamara Line drained III MAF of scarce men and materiel. To counter it, the North Vietnamese conducted numerous attacks to destroy it in its infancy, all supported by heavy artillery fire. This resulted in several major engagements during the second half of 1967, most notably at Con Thien. All the while Marine air played a pivotal role in providing fire support, CH-46 and UH-34 helicopters remained the workhorses for logistics support, augmented that year by the first squadron of CH-53 Sea Stallions.
By year’s end, III MAF had blunted the North Vietnamese push across the DMZ. In all, U.S. Marines conducted 11 major operations of battalion size or larger and more than 356,000 smaller unit patrols and killed nearly 18,000 enemy. But the cost had been high, with 3,000 Marines killed including the 3d Marine Division commander, Major General Bruno A. Hochmuth. Despite augmentation by the Army’s Americal Division, III MAF remained stretched in both men and material. But the Marines believed they had made significant strides toward pacification during 1967. However, as 1968 approached, there were ominous indications of an even larger enemy invasion.
21 February 1967 - Dr. Bernard Fall, noted historian of the French combat experience in Indochina, died in an explosion of an enemy mine. Dr. Fall was accompanying the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines in Operation Chinook.
Significance: Dr. Fall was a recognized expert on Vietnam and ironically died in an area near the so-called “Street Without Joy,” which he had so carefully portrayed in his writing.
27 February 1967 - NVA rocket troops launched 140 mm rockets against the Da Nang air base. More than 50 rockets hit the base in less than a minute. The rockets had a range of 9,000 meters.
Significance: This was the first known use of large tactical rockets in South Vietnam. The use of these weapons forced III MAF to extend its protective patrolling at Da Nang to 9,000 meters, which added to the drain on Marine infantry manpower.
18 March 1967 - The first woman Marine to serve in Vietnam, Master Sergeant Barbara J. Dulinsky, arrived in Saigon for assignment to the United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (USMACV) combat operations center.
26 March 1967 – Commander, USMACV ordered III MAF to prepare a plan for locating, constructing and occupying a strongpoint obstacle system south of the DMZ to prevent the North Vietnamese from infiltrating through that zone into South Vietnam.
Significance: III MAF eventually began building this strongpoint system later in the year while under fire by North Vietnamese artillery. This anti-infiltration effort, also known as Dye Marker and Project Nine, was labeled by the Media as “McNamara’s Wall,” after U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.
20 April 1967 - U.S. Army Task Force Oregon, under Major General William B. Rosson, USA, established its headquarters at Chu Lai and came under the operational control of III MAF to reinforce the Marines in I Corps. On 20 September, Task Force Oregon became the U.S. Army Americal Division under Major General Samuel W. Koster, USA.
Significance: III MAF became truly a U.S. joint command with a sizable army contingent under its operational control.
24 April - 11 May 1967 - The “First Battle of Khe Sanh” or “Hill Fights” took place. In extremely bitter fighting with North Vietnamese troops, units of the 3d Marine Division cleared Hills 8881S, 881N and 861 overlooking the Khe Sanh combat base.
Significance: Khe Sanh began to take on more importance as a Marine outpost. The American command insisted it be held and the North Vietnamese continued to probe and try to isolate the garrison.
31 May 1967 - Lieutenant General Robert E. Cushman, Jr. succeeded Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt as III MAF’s commanding general.
Significance: General Walt, who had become identified with the Marine Corps pacification campaign including the Combined Action Program, was relieved after two years in command of III MAF. Walt’s successors as III MAF would continue to emphasize pacification as a central component of the Marine effort in South Vietnam, especially in the heavily populated area around Da Nang.
2-14 July 1967 - The 9th Marines conducted Operation Buffalo to counter a North Vietnamese offensive near the Marine base at Con Thien just south of the DMZ. In very intensive fighting with heavy casualties on both sides, the Marines repulsed the North Vietnamese.
Significance: The North Vietnamese in the eastern DMZ begin to escalate the war in the north and would continue to mount attacks against Con Thien.
19-27 September 1967 - In a massive attack by artillery fire on Con Thien, the North Vietnamese fired more than 3,000 heavy artillery, mortar and rocket rounds against the Marine battalion at Con Thien. In response, U.S. artillery returned 12,577 rounds, Navy gun ships fired 6,148 rounds and U.S. fighter/attack aircraft flew 5,200 missions against the enemy firing positions.
Significance: This was one of the heaviest North Vietnamese artillery bombardments against American troops during the war and was the first phase of the Communist 1967-1968 Winter Spring Campaign that would culminate in the 1968 Tet offensive.
The Defining Year 1968
The year 1968 proved to be the decisive year for the Marines in Vietnam. Instead of the traditional cease-fire for the Tet Lunar New Year, the Communists launched a massive offensive against 105 cites and towns throughout South Vietnam. In the north, enemy forces attacked all the major population centers, including Da Nang and the old Imperial city of Hue. U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese forces repulsed all the attacks except at Hue. It would take 26 days of dogged house-to-house fighting to expel the North Vietnamese regulars from the city, as Marines, more accustomed to fighting in the steamy jungle, learned the difficult and bloody lessons of urban warfare.
While Tet raged, another drama was being played out at Khe Sanh. For 77 days the 26th Marines, commanded by Colonel David E. Lownds, held the embattled base against intense pressure by the North Vietnamese, who hurled as many as 1,000 shells a day into the Marine position. President Lyndon B. Johnson became so concerned over the siege that he had an exact model of the Khe Sanh base built to monitor the situation on the ground. But Marine tenacity and American air power inflicted grievous losses upon the enemy. On 6 April, the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division broke the siege.
1968 marked a turning point for the war in Vietnam. While the enemy had been defeated on the battlefield, American public opinion turned against the war. Television images of the fighting in Hue and Khe Sanh, and even at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, eroded public support for the war. After three years of fighting, the enemy still appeared far from beaten. For many Americans, thoughts turned from escalation to winding down war in Vietnam.
21 January 1968 - General William C. Westmoreland, USA, Commander, USMACV, ordered a temporary halt to work on the “McNamara Line,” the barrier and anti-infiltration system south of the DMZ.
Significance: This for all practical matters ended the work on the McNamara Line, which officially terminated on 22 October 1968.
21 January - 15 April 1968 - NVA troops began shelling the base at Khe Sanh and the strongholds in the surrounding hills. This rocket, mortar and artillery barrage initiated the siege of Khe Sanh.
Significance: The siege of Khe Sanh would be one of the defining battles of the Vietnam War. Supplied by air and supported by massive artillery and air bombardments, including B-52 strikes, the 6,000-man Khe Sanh garrison would hold out against elements of an estimated two North Vietnamese Divisions until relieved by U.S. forces on 14 April.
30 January - 28 February 1968 - Communist forces launched a countrywide offensive during the Vietnamese Tet holidays. On 30 January, their main force units launched an aborted attack upon Da Nang. Units from the U.S. Army Americal Division would reinforce the 1st Marine Infantry Division at Da Nang. Fighting in the Da Nang sector would continue sporadically until the end of February. Communist offensives also would occur in Hue, Quang Tri City, Hoi An and Quang Ngai City in I Corps.
Significance: While providing the Communists with some political and propaganda successes, especially in the United States, the defeat of their nation-wide offensive would cost the Communist forces dearly in manpower in both their regular forces and especially among their Viet Cong infrastructure and local forces.
31 January - 2 March 1968 - In the battle for Hue City, the North Vietnamese captured most of the city except for small pockets of resistance. Elements of the 1st Marine Division Task Force X-ray, the South Vietnamese 1st ARVN Division and the U.S. 1st Air Cavalry Division, in month-long house-to-house fighting, retook the city with significant losses suffered by both sides.
Significance: The capture of Hue, the ancient Imperial capital of Vietnam, had significant symbolic reverberations throughout the country and was the one partially successful element of the enemy Tet offensive. The defeat of the Communist forces at Hue prevented them from possibly taking the two northern provinces of South Vietnam.
9 February 1968 - MACV (Forward), under General Creighton W. Abrams, Jr., USA, Deputy Commander, USMACV, is established in I CTZ at Phu Bai as a forward headquarters to monitor operations in the two northern provinces. The two divisions in the sector, the U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division (Air Mobile) and the 3d Marine Division, remain, however, under the operational control of III MAF.
Significance: There is some concern among Marine commanders that MACV plans to assume direct command of all forces in the north and reduce the role of the senior Marine command.
12 February 1968 - The 27th Marines receive orders to deploy to Da Nang from the U.S. as part of the reinforcements requested by General Westmoreland and the JCS. President Lyndon B. Johnson made extensive reductions to original recommendations of MACV and the JCS.
Significance: President Johnson limited the number of U.S. reinforcements to Vietnam as a result of the Tet offensive and disapproved the JCS recommendation for a call up of major U.S. Reserve units for the war. In effect, he placed an upper limitation upon the U.S. combat involvement in Vietnam.
13 February 1968 - The headquarters and combat elements of the 101st Airborne Division arrive in I CTZ.
Significance: III MAF now has three U.S. Army Divisions under its operational control as well as two reinforced Marine Divisions and a reinforced Marine Aircraft Wing in I Corps.
7 March 1968 - General Westmoreland issued a “Single Manager” for air directive officially placing with the Seventh Air Force the “responsibility for coordinating and directing the air effort throughout Vietnam, to include I CTZ and the extended battle area.” III MAF was to make available to the Seventh Air Force commander all strike and reconnaissance aircraft and that part of the Marine air command and control system that related to the employment of these aircraft. Marine fixed-wing transports, observation aircraft and helicopters were exempted from the directive.
Significance: The Marine command protested this decision claiming the directive placed undue restrictions upon Marine fixed-air in Marine ground forces support missions. While never withdrawn during the war, the directive was amended several times, and by the end of the war, III MAF in effect regained its control over its fixed-wing aviation.
10 March 1968 - U.S. Provisional Corps, Vietnam was created under the command of Lieutenant General William B. Rosson, USA, to replace the MACV (Forward) Headquarters. The new command had under its operational control the 3d Marine Division, the 1st Cavalry Division (Air Mobile) and the 101st Airborne Division and was a subordinate headquarters to III MAF. The U.S. Provisional Corps becomes XXIV Corps on 15 August 1968.
Significance: III MAF became one of the largest commands in Marine history. It had assumed in effect the role of a Field Army with a MAW attached to it.
30 April - 2 May 1968 - Marine BLT 2/4 engaged and defeated elements of two enemy regiments from the 320th NVA Division in the small hamlet of Dai Do in the 3d Marine Division Cua Viet sector near Dong Ha. Both the Marine battalion and the enemy sustained heavy casualties in the intensive three-day battle. Two of the Marine company commanders were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during the battle.
Significance: The battle of Dai Do forestalled a larger NVA offensive aimed at taking the large Marine headquarters and logistic base at Dong Ha. This was part of the renewed Communist offensive labeled “Mini-Tet” that occurred throughout much of South Vietnam at this time.
June - October 1968 - The 3d Marine Division, now under Major General Raymond G. Davis, undertook an aggressive counteroffensive against North Vietnamese forces in the northern border section below the DMZ.
Significance: Employing new helicopter mobile and firebase tactics and no longer confined to securing defensive outposts, the 3d Marine Division swept the 320th NVA Division out of its forward positions in South Vietnam.
5 July 1968 - The last Marine forces officially closed out and departed the Khe Sanh Base.
Significance: With U.S. forces employing more mobile tactics in the north, Khe Sanh was no longer required as a major base.
The close out of the base was more of symbolic significance than of any military strategy.
12-16 September 1968 - The 27th Marines redeployed from Vietnam to the United States.
Significance: This was the first withdrawal of U.S. forces sent to reinforce the U.S. command in Vietnam during Tet. While not considered a reduction of U.S. forces, it was a harbinger the U.S. was looking to reduce its combat forces in Vietnam.
7 December 1968 - 9 March 1969 - The 1st Marine Division Task Force Yankee conducted Operation Taylor Common in Base Area 112 southwest of Da Nang, accounting for extensive North Vietnamese casualties.
Significance: Incorporating mobile helicopter and firebase tactics used by the 3d Marine Division, the 1st Marine Division entered the North Vietnamese base areas, destroying much of the enemy main force logistics buildup and clearing the 2nd NVA Division elements which had taken refuge there.
High Mobility and Stand Down 1969
From the outset, the new President, Richard M. Nixon, committed his administration to reducing the level of U.S. forces in Vietnam. For the Marine Corps this meant a gradual reduction of forces in Vietnam. Incrementally, the Marine Corps began redeploying units, and by the end of the year, the entire 3d Marine Division had returned to Okinawa.
As planning to reduce force level in Vietnam continued, Marines continued to engage the enemy throughout I Corps. Colonel Robert H. Barrow’s 9th Marines began Operation Dewey Canyon, perhaps the most successful high-mobility regimental-sized action of the war. Over a two-month period, the Marines operated in the A Shau/Da Krong valleys. By 18 March, the enemy base area had been cleared out, killing more than 1,600 enemy. The Marine air-ground team proved its worth in greatly reducing enemy 122 mm rocket fire into Da Nang. Marine infantry, transported by helicopters, cleared out enemy positions in the rugged “Happy Valley” and “Charlie Ridges” areas, all supported by effective Marine fixed-wing aircraft.
22 February - 18 March 1969 - The 9th Marines, under the 3d Marine Division, conducted Operation Dewey Canyon, a mobile helicopter and fire base operation in the Da Krong Valley in western Quang Tri Province. During the course of the operation, Marine units crossed the border into Laos.
Significance: Not only was this the first acknowledged and deliberate entry into Laos by a large American unit, it resulted in the uncovering of extensive enemy supplies, arms and ammunition.
4 July - 4 - 7 November 1969 - In accordance with a Presidential order in the reduction of U.S. troop strength in Vietnam, the 3d Marine Division redeployed from Vietnam to Okinawa.
Significance: The 3d Marine Division was the first U.S. division to depart Vietnam in accordance with U.S. plans for the eventual withdrawal of American combat units from Vietnam.
November 1969 - With new command arrangements, the Special Landing Force (SLF) Battalions of the Seventh Fleet could not be committed to South Vietnam without specific authorization of the JCS.
Significance: Up to this point, from 1965 to 1969, MACV could request the Seventh Fleet for deployment to South Vietnam of its SLF battalions as a matter of course. Many SLF battalions remained ashore for months on end, and in effect, were part of the total MACV strength. This was no longer the case and meant a further reduction of forces immediately available to the MACV commander.
Vietnamization and Redeployment 1970-1972
Throughout 1970, U.S. Marine forces continued to withdraw from Vietnam. The new policy emanating from Washington was “Vietnamization.” With U.S. airpower and advisors, the ground war was increasingly turned over to the South Vietnamese. While the invasion of Cambodia was the major military undertaking of 1970, only a limited number of Marine aviation assets were involved. Marines still conducted aggressive campaigns against the enemy, most notably Colonel Edmund G. Derning’s 7th Marines participation in Operation Pickens Forest and Colonel Paul X. Kelley’s 1st Marines actions near Da Nang. But by the end of 1970, more Marines were leaving than arriving as replacements. On 14 April 1971, III MAF redeployed to Okinawa, and two months later the last ground troops, the 13,000 men of the 3d MAB, flew out from Da Nang.
Although Marine combat units were no longer in Vietnam, Marine advisors remained to assist the South Vietnamese. During the North Vietnamese 1972 Easter Offensive, Marine advisors played a pivotal role in repelling the Communist attacks. Captain John W. Ripley, Captain Ray L. Smith and Captain Lawrence H. Livingston each won the Navy Cross for their heroic contributions in stopping the enemy advances.
28 January - 19 March 1970 - Redeployment of Marine units from Vietnam, now codenamed Keystone Robin, continued to include the 26th Marines, MAG-12, and several aviation squadrons.
Significance: U.S. redeployment plans called for III MAF units to be among the first U.S. units to depart Vietnam.
9 March 1970 - III MAF turned over command of U.S. units in I Corps to XXIV Corps, thus becoming a subordinate command of XXIV Corps.
Significance: This again is indicative of the future reduced role for Marines in Vietnam and their pending departure.
30 April - 29 June 1970 - U.S. and South Vietnamese units entered the Cambodian fishhook area to attack the Viet Cong command headquarters and logistics base maintained across the border. Two Vietnamese Marine Brigades, together with their U.S. Marine advisors, participated in the action. Marine advisors were restricted to 25 miles inside Cambodia. No U.S. Marine ground units participated in this incursion.
Significance: While the operation was successful militarily, it led to widespread student and anti-war demonstrations and unrest in the United States. For the Marine Corps, it was indicative that Marine advisors to South Vietnamese units were beginning to have a more active role than the Marine units in Vietnam.
1 October 1970 - The 7th Marines departed Vietnam.
Significance: The continuing redeployment of Marine units from Vietnam in accordance with the Keystone Robin plans.
30 January - 6 April 1971 - On 30 January, the South Vietnamese begin Lam Son 719. In Phase 1, which lasted to 8 February, the South Vietnamese, supported by allied forces, opened up the Khe Sanh base. In Phase II, the South Vietnamese forces, which included the Vietnamese Marine Corps Division, moved through the American units into Laos. U.S. advisors, including U.S. Marine advisors, were not permitted to accompany their units into Laos; they were allowed, however, to coordinate supporting fires. A Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) remained off the Vietnamese coast, but was not committed.
Significance: Militarily, this operation was much less successful than the Cambodian incursion and called into question the capability of the South Vietnamese command to coordinate division-size forces. Again U.S. Marine units in Vietnam played almost no role in Lam Son 719 as they redeployed or planned to redeploy from Vietnam.
25 March 1971 - The 5th Marines departed Vietnam.
Significance: The continuing redeployment of Marine units from Vietnam in accordance with the Keystone Robin plans.
14 April 1971 - The III MAF headquarters, the 1st Marine Division headquarters and the 1st MAW headquarters departed Vietnam. The 3d Marine Amphibious Brigade replaced III MAF at Da Nang and totaled 1,322 Marine and 124 Navy officers and 13,359 Marine and 711 Navy enlisted men. It consisted of the 1st Marines, MAG-11 and MAG-16, and the 2nd Combined Action Group Headquarters.
Significance: This was to be the last command adjustment before the final departure of Marine units in Vietnam.
11 May 1971 - The Combined Action Group headquarters was deactivated.
Significance: This ended the Marine Corps pacification and civic action campaigns in Vietnam.
27 June 1971 - The 3d Marine Amphibious Brigade was deactivated.
Significance: This ended the major Marine participation in the Vietnam War with a few exceptions. Marine advisors continued to be assigned to the Vietnamese Marine Corps and Marines of Subunit 1. Ship gunfire and naval air support continued to be coordinated by 1st Air/Naval Gunfire Liaison Company for U.S. Army and ARVN units in Vietnam.
30 March - 27 June 1972 - On 30 March, the North Vietnamese launch their Nguyen-Hue (known in the U.S. as the Easter Offensive) and after extensive losses in I Corps, South Vietnamese forces stabilize their lines at the My Chanh River north of Hue. In the retreat of the Vietnamese Marine Division, U.S. Marine advisors played a major role in helping to rally the Vietnamese Marines after the initial setbacks. On 6 April, the Marine Corps deployed MAG-15 to Da Nang and on 16 May, MAG-12 deployed to Bien Hoa in III Corps. Both Marine aircraft groups operated under the Seventh Air Force in support of South Vietnamese Forces. On 16 June, MAG-15 redeployed from Da Nang to Nam Phong, Thailand, where the group continued to support operations of the Seventh Air Force against the Communist forces both in Vietnam and Cambodia. MAG-12 would remain in Bien Hoa until February 1973. The 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade (MAB) was embarked on board Seventh Fleet amphibious shipping and arrived in the Gulf of Tonkin on April. The MAB remained embarked and Marine infantry units were not committed.
Significance: Although Marine ground units remained ready for redeployment to Vietnam, the Marine Corps’ participation was limited in the renewed fighting to aviation support and in an advisory effort.
The Bitter End 1973-1975
Following the failure of the Communists’ Easter Offensive and an intensive bombing campaign of North Vietnam, a peace treaty was finally signed in Paris on 27 January 1973. The U.S. agreed to withdraw all its forces from South Vietnam. The North, in turn, returned all the U.S. Prisoners of War, including 26 Marines. Unfortunately, peace was short lived in Vietnam, and in 1974 fighting resumed in both Cambodia and South Vietnam. By the spring of 1975, the situation became desperate for the U.S. backed governments in both Phnom Penh and Saigon. On 12 April, the 31st MAU, commanded by Colonel John F. Roche, executed a non-combatant evacuation, Operation Eagle Pull, the abandonment of the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh prior to the city’s capitulation to Communist Khmer Rouge forces. Three weeks later, Marines were called upon to evacuate another embassy, this time in Saigon. Marines of the 9th MAB successfully executed Operation Frequent Wind, which safely removed hundreds of Americans and Vietnamese civilians prior to the fall of South Vietnam.
No sooner had the Marines evacuated the embassies than they were ordered by President Gerald R. Ford to rescue the crew of the USS Mayaguez, which had been taken by the Khmer Rouge. On 15 May, a Marine Task Force under the command of Colonel John M. Johnson recovered the Mayaguez and her crew, but not without high losses.
America’s longest war was costly to the U.S. Marine Corps. From 1965 to 1975, nearly 500,000 Marines served in Southeast Asia. Of these, nearly 13,000 were killed and 88,000 wounded; nearly a third of all American causalities sustained during the war.
14 March 1973 - With the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973 between North Vietnam and the United States, Subunit 1, 1st ANGLICO redeploys.
Significance: This was the last Marine tactical unit to leave Vietnam.
29 March 1973 - U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam was deactivated.
Significance: This ended the U.S. military advisory effort at the unit level with the South Vietnamese military and included the deactivation two days earlier of the U.S. Marine Advisory Unit to the South Vietnamese Marine Corps.
14 August 1973 - U.S. Congress ceased the funding of all U.S. military action in Southeast Asia and halted combat air operations from Thailand.
Significance: This concluded all U.S. air action in Cambodia flown by U.S. aircraft based in Thailand, including that of the Marines. The last elements of Marine Task Force Delta at Nam Phong departed Thailand on 21 September.
12 April 1975 - Marines of the 9th MAB executed Operation Eagle Pull, the evacuation of American and other foreign nationals from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, just before the fall of the city to the Communist Cambodian Khmer Rouge.
Significance: This ended U.S. involvement and support of the Cambodian regime of Lon Nol, the general who had overthrown Prince Nordom Sihanouk in 1970. The Khmer Rouge assumed control of Cambodia and its government.
29 April 1975 - Marines of the 9th MAB executed Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of Americans, foreign nationals and various Vietnamese officials and citizens associated with Americans from Saigon to ships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet.
Significance: This ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The 9th MAB, in effect, conducted the last U.S. troop operation of the Vietnam War. The following day, Saigon fell to North Vietnamese troops and organized South Vietnamese resistance to the Communist forces of North Vietnam ended. The Communists unified Vietnam under their regime.
12-15 May 1975 - On 12 May, a Khmer Rouge gunboat seized an American ship, the USS Mayaguez, in the Gulf of Thailand and detained its crew. Two days later, USAF helicopters landed Marines of BLT 2/9 on Koh Tang Island off the Cambodian coast where the crew was believed to be held. Marines from Company D, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines boarded the Mayaguez to find it deserted. The Khmer Rouge released the Mayaguez crew, who were picked up by a U.S. destroyer at sea. On 15 May, with the recovery of the ship and its crew, the Marines withdrew from Koh Tang Island. The American forces sustained total casualties of 15 killed, 3 missing in action (later declared dead), 49 wounded and 23 other personnel killed in a related helicopter crash. Khmer Rouge casualties were unknown.
Significance: This concluded the entire combat involvement of the United States military forces in the former French Indochina.
History and Museums Division
United States Marine Corps