The following information was obtained from the 2012 Officer Candidates School Student Outline.
TERMINAL LEARNING OBJECTIVE
1. Without the aid of references, identify significant events in Marine Corps history without omission. (MCCS- HIST-1002)
ENABLING LEARNING OBJECTIVE
1. Without the aid of references, identify significant events in Marine Corps history during the period 1959-1980 without omission. (MCCS-HIST-1002g)
1. A FORCE IN READINESS
a. Following the Korean War, the Marine Corps’ reputation as a “force in readiness” made them the quick- response agency for the United States. There has been a significant amount of turmoil in the world in the latter half of the twentieth century and the Corps has been involved in many actions and conducted many operations, in both combat and non-combat roles.
b. With the cease-fire in Korea, the Marine Corps focused on further developing the Fleet Marine Force as the force-in-readiness sanctioned by the passage of the Douglas-Mansfield Act/Public Law 416. The most important development of the Korean War, the vertical assault doctrine was improved and the Navy began building ships capable of carrying Marines, landing craft, and helicopters to distant shores. The Marine Corps kept its third division and wing, and command element of III MAF and I MAW (overseas on Okinawa) to further counter Communist moves in Asia. The three division-wing force structure was paired by law to Marine Corps Cold War roles and missions.
c. Marine Corps Operations Prior to Vietnam.
(1) In the time period between the Korean armistice in July 1953 and the Marines’ landing at Da Nang, South Vietnam in March 1965, Marines faced a series of crises around the world. These included protection of American citizens in Guatemala and disaster relief in numerous countries.
(2) Marines landed in Lebanon on 15 July 1958. As part of Operation Bluebat, Marines landed on Beirut’s resort beaches in the midst of sunbathers to prevent an outbreak of civil war. They occupied Beirut International Airport for 102 days. American diplomats offered the withdrawal of the Marines as a reward for moderation by radicals in the Lebanese government who threatened civil war if they did not get their way. Diplomacy prevailed, and the Lebanese crisis subsided.
(3) Marines deployed to the Dominican Republic during this time. In April of 1965, Marines landed in a Latin American country for the first time in 40 years. They were there in response to the assassination of the Dominican dictator. The U.S. feared that Fidel Castro’s Communist influence would cause the creation of another Communist state in the Caribbean. There was some fighting but eventually an Inter-American Peace Force was constituted of contingents from five different Latin American countries and by 6 June all of the Marines had left.
2. PRE-1965 U.S. INVOLVEMENT IN VIETNAM
a. American military advisors, including Marines, were also deployed to South Vietnam as part of the Military Assistance Advisory Group.
b. American involvement in Vietnam was a sequel to the French defeat by a people’s army, the Viet Minh. Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia comprised the French colony of Indochine from the late 1800’s until 1954, when the French defeat at Dien Bier Phu destroyed French public support for continuation of the guerrilla war that had begun in 1945 after the Japanese withdrawal. The Geneva Accords ended the war, splitting the country along the 17th Parallel. France withdrew, leaving Ho Chi Minh in control of the Communist North Vietnam, and a South Vietnamese Catholic named Bao Dai in charge of the South.
c. U.S. presence was substantially increased in 1962 as more advisors and equipment were sent into Vietnam. Marine involvement included the 1st Radio Company, FMF, and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 362 (HMM- 362). The U.S. supported the South Vietnamese government against the communist threat from the north.
3 THE VIETNAM WAR
a. Gulf of Tonkin Incident.
(1) As early as 1952, Americans were involved in South Vietnam. By 1955, sufficient American military personnel were present in Vietnam to form the United States Military Assistance Advisory Group. In 1962 a Marine helicopter squadron was ordered into Vietnam with the mission to support the Vietnamese in their struggle against the Viet Cong. The buildup had begun, and by 1964 there were approximately 16,000 Americans in Vietnam, in both advisory and support positions.
(2) North Vietnamese PT boats fired upon the destroyer USS Maddox on 2 August 1964. Two days later, North Vietnamese forces also attacked another American war ship, the USS Turner Joy. This became known as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. In both instances, American forces repelled the enemy craft, and there has since been debate about whether the second attack ever actually occurred. In any case, the incident gave President Lyndon Johnson the ammunition he needed to go to congress, and ask for forces to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.
(3) The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress in August 1964, authorized the President to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” It allowed the President to use force to assist any member of the South East Asia Treaty Organization.
b. Da Nang.
(1) The first tactical Marine units went into Vietnam in March 1965 as the 3rd Battalion 9th Marines landed unopposed on the beach north of Da Nang. The rest of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade would soon follow.
(2) Their mission was to provide security to the Da Nang Airbase and the Marine squadrons operating from the base. They secured the airfield and a ridgeline overlooking the base. By mid-June, they had taken over 200 casualties.
(3) The remainder of the III Marine Amphibious Force soon arrived and was assigned I Corps. I Corps comprised the northernmost provinces of South Vietnam, up to and including the DMZ.
(4) As the policy of advising and securing coastal bases failed to halt VC attacks, U.S. forces were ordered to go into the jungle to root them out. With this change in policy for American troops in Vietnam, Marine and Army tactics changed as well. This also opened the door to a continued build-up of American forces in Vietnam.
c. Beginning of Offensive Operations.
(1) Search and Destroy: The Army pioneered a “search and destroy” strategy against the Viet Cong. Army units patrolling the countryside destroyed and burned any structures, occasionally entire villages that appeared to be used by the Viet Cong
(2) Clear and Hold: The Marines attempted a “clear and hold” or “ink blot” strategy, which relied on clearing coastal enclaves, such as Da Nang, of enemy presence and then gradually moving out into the countryside to “clear and hold” villages one by one. Neither of these strategies met particular success, and both demanded increasing numbers of troops in order to achieve any success. The Marines then tried a new approach, one designed to “win the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese and defuse the emotional attraction of Communism.
(3) Marine Pacification: One of the most effective tactics the Marines used in winning the trust of the Vietnamese people was pacification waged through the Combined Action Program (CAP). The concept created units of Marines and Vietnamese, known as Combined Action Platoons. Each platoon held three squads of local Vietnamese militiamen, and a U.S. Marine rifle squad with a corpsman. Because the CAPs lived in the villages, the villagers gained confidence in the CAPs fighting ability and appreciated the security and labor the platoon provided.
d. Operation Starlite, 18 August 1965.
(1) In late July of 1965, Marine intelligence learned that the 1st Viet Cong Regiment, some 2,000 strong, had concentrated its forces on a narrow peninsula just 15 miles from the large city of Chu Lai, 55 miles south of Da Nang. Marines began planning the first regimental sized operation since the Korean War.
(2) On 18 August 1965, Operation Starlite started as Regimental Landing Team 7 launched a multi-axis attack. One battalion attacked from the north, another battalion conducted a heli-borne assault from the west, and a third conducted an amphibious assault from the southeast. Almost 1,000 Viet Cong were killed in the battle that ensued. Operation Starlite was a huge success. The Marines dealt the Viet Cong their first major defeat of the war and denied them a sanctuary along the coast.
e. In March of 1966, Marine units fighting Operation Utah blundered into a regimental-sized enemy force. In the battle that ensued the enemy troops proved better disciplined and better trained for combat than the VC the Marines had fought previously. They were men of a regular North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regiment, trained and equipped by the Soviet Union.
f. Khe Sanh, April – May 1967.
(1) The South Vietnamese province, which borders the DMZ, is named Quang Tri. One of the key pieces of terrain in the province is a mountain plateau near the Laotian border named Khe Sanh. The Marines built an airstrip on the plateau and established a firebase there. The NVA could not control the province without destroying the base. In late April 1967, a North Vietnamese Army regiment seized three hills overlooking the base, named Hills 861,881 North, and 881 South. From the hills they began pouring rocket and artillery fire into the valley below. Another NVA regiment then surrounded and attacked the base. The battle that followed is called “the Hill Fights” and lasted from April into May, 1967.
(2) Understanding the enemy’s intent and the advantage of holding the hills, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 3rd Marine Regiment airlifted into Khe Sanh and drove the NVA off the high ground in a series of brutal, hand-to- hand night battles called the Hill Fights. The 3rd Marines took over 600 casualties. The 9th Marines then broke the siege in the second week of May—the NVA division escaped across the border into Laos.
(3) The Hill Fights cost the NVA 940 well trained troops. The Marine victory denied the NVA control of Quang Tri province and at the same time enhanced the security of Khe Sanh.
g. During the rest of 1967, the III MAF squared-off against four NVA divisions along the DMZ. The war developed into a stalemate. Marines and NVA dug trench lines and bunkers into hills, shelled each other, and launched trench raids and all-out attacks in a war much resembling World War One. The year ended as it began. In 1967 alone, the Marines counted 17,000 enemy soldiers killed, while 3,452 of their own were killed and 25,994 wounded. The pacification program met mixed success, much of it blunted by the NVA invasion.
h. The Tet Offensive, January – February 1968.
(1) As 1968 approached. General Giap, commander of the North Vietnamese armies, and Ho Chi Minh sought a means of turning the tide of the war. The battles along the DMZ had worn down their best army units and the VC were making few real gains. They needed a stirring victory; one that would destroy ARVN and American morale the way Dien Bien Phu shattered the French. A large-scale operation to coincide with the Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration – called Tet – was planned. The objective of this offensive was to start a general uprising among the people of South Vietnam to overthrow the government and to capture the Vietnamese cities of Saigon, Hue, Khe Sanh, and Da Nang. To start the revolt, NVA and VC forces would infiltrate and simultaneously attack every American base, every provincial and district capital, and symbolic targets such as the U.S. Embassy while ARVN forces were celebrating the New Year.
(2) The Siege of Khe Sanh, 21 January -6 April 1968
(a) As 1968 began, the 3 rd Marine Division was entrenched along the northeast border of South Vietnam, lacing North Vietnam. The Marines were tasked with preventing NVA forces from infiltrating south and destroying those enemy forces already in I Corps. The Khe Sanh Combat Base secured the left flank of these Marine units. Senior military officials believed that if the Khe Sanh Combat Base fell, the North Vietnamese would be able to outflank the Marine units. Moreover, many on both sides saw Khe Sanh as a potential Dien Bien Phu and as a symbol of U.S. determination to see the war through to its conclusion. On the night of 20 January 1968, the base was defended by Colonel David Lownds’ 26th Marines. They were aware of NVA concentrations moving for the base. An entire NVA division attacked Marine positions on Hills 881 and 861, while another division surrounded the plateau. The 26th Marines were surrounded.
(b) For 77 days enemy artillery pounded the base. On the first day, the ammunition dump was destroyed. At the height of the siege, over 1,200 rounds struck inside the Marine perimeter each day. Patrols probed Marine lines, while occasionally they launched human wave attacks into the wire. Marine and Air Force aircraft flew daily re-supply and attack missions. In the first week of April, the NVA quietly melted into the mountains. They left behind several thousand bodies, the NVA held no new territory, and not one village in Quang Tri province rose against the government. At the cost of two divisions, the enemy killed 205 Marines and wounded 1,668.
(3) Hue City, 31 January — 24 February 1968
(a) The city of Hue is located in the Thua Thien province about sixty miles southeast of Khe Sanh. The main supply route from Da Nang to the Marines on the DMZ runs through the city. Until Tet, both sides had spared the city of heavy fighting, partly out of deference for its tradition as the center of Vietnamese culture. Only a handful of ARVN troops defended it. The NVA easily seized the city, and began systematically slaughtering its civilian inhabitants. A Marine company based in nearby Phu Bai marched up the road to retake the city. Just as they approached the bridge to enter the city, the NVA sprang an ambush. The entire company rushed across the bridge and secured a toehold. In the morning, they began the methodical chore of clearing the NVA soldiers out of the ancient city, as reinforcements were rushed in.
(b) Marines fought house-to-house for the first time since the Korean War. At first, they were denied air and artillery support because senior military commanders did not want to destroy the ancient imperial capital. But when casualties mounted and the Marines faced assaulting the Citadel, (the ancient palace, with walls several feet thick), air support was approved.
(c) By 14 February, the last NVA were driven from the old city. Marines counted over 5,000 bodies in the rubble, 142 Marines had died and 857 were seriously wounded. Again, vocal elements of the American population chose to see a military defeat out of another convincing victory by Marines.
(4) Results of the Tet Offensive: U.S. forces estimated the enemy suffered over 15,000 killed and 65,000 wounded during the four month offensive. Militarily, the enemy was spent. Politically however, Tet was a major victory for the Communists. The Tet Offensive is viewed by many as the point at which American attitudes turned decisively against the war.
(5) Richard M. Nixon, in the autumn of 1968, replaced President Johnson. He ran on a promise to stop the draft and to end the war “with honor.” Despite this pledge, the war continued on for several more years. The Marines continued to take the initiative and carry on the fight.
i. Continued Offensive Operations.
(1) Operation Dewey Canyon, January – February 1969
(a) The 9th Marines and two battalions of the Vietnamese lst Army Division moved into the mountains in the southwestern comer of the Quang Tri province near the Laotian border in late January 1969. Along the thickly forested mountain slopes Marines uncovered formidable defenses and tremendous stockpiles of arms and supplies.
(b) The enemy reacted slowly to this bold excursion. But in mid-February, they struck back at the Marines with superior forces. Dewey Canyon was one of the Marines’ best operations. While the grunts slugged it out on the jungle floor, helicopters braved monsoon rains. The Marines were entirely supported by helicopters in the trackless area.
(c) Marine gunners in helos leapfrogged across the mountains to keep pace with the infantry sweeps, turning mountain peaks into firebases. The Marine air group flew 1,617 sorties in support.
(d) The operation is considered one of the best applications of the Marine Air/Ground Task Force concept. In Dewey Canyon, 130 Americans were killed and 932 were wounded. The Marines killed over 1,600 enemy and destroyed numerous enemy caches of weapons and supplies.
(1) In 1969, President Nixon announced his plan for “Vietnamization” of the war. He intended to gradually phase U.S. troops out of the country as the war effort was turned over to the South Vietnamese government.
(2) In the summer of 1969, III MAF began its withdrawal from Vietnam. Marines worked to turnover their operations to the South Vietnamese Marine Corps and ARVN. Meanwhile, the pacification program received renewed effort, and reached its peak in the winter of 1969-1970 with 1,700 Marines and Navy corpsmen. The NVA fell back across the borders to await the end of the U.S. withdrawal. The VC spent the fourth phase largely buying time as well, avoiding Marine forces and content with launching occasional ambushes and artillery attacks. By the end of June 1971, the last Marine combat troops left Vietnam.
4. THE POST-VIETNAM MARINE CORPS
a. The Fall of Saigon.
(1) Until the fall of Saigon in 1975, about 60 Marines remained in South Vietnam as advisors to the South Vietnamese Marine Corps.
(2) Operation Eagle Pull: At this time there were also Communist forces fighting for control of Laos and Cambodia. In April of 1975, Communist forces in Cambodia routed the National Government’s troops and moved on the capital of Phnom Penh. American civilians were in danger. The embassy called for the evacuation of all Americans on 12 April. Two companies from 2nd Battalion 4th Marines were helo-lifted into Phnom Penh. As Marines secured several landing zones, civilians boarded the helicopters. In two hours, the Marines evacuated several hundred civilians and left Phnom Penh to the oncoming Communists.
(3) Operation Frequent Wind: In March of 1975, the North Vietnamese Army began their final offensive of the war. As NVA armor entered the outskirts of the city and NVA artillery landed around the U.S. Embassy, U.S. Forces launched Operation Frequent Wind, the final evacuation of Saigon. It proved to be a much more complex operation than Eagle Pull due to larger numbers of people. The evacuation had been going on for several days with Marines acting as security aboard ships. However, on 30 April, large numbers of Americans and Vietnamese still remained to be evacuated. Over the next 20 hours, Marine helicopters flew 530 sorties, evacuating almost 7,000 people from Saigon. Marine ground units provided security during the evacuation. Four Marines lost their lives in the operation. They were the last Marines to die in Vietnam.
(1) The Marine Corps has always relied on its elite image. Maintenance of this image included a reliance on volunteers, but the heavy losses in Vietnam and downturn in military-service acceptance forced the Corps to accept draftees in the late 1960s.
(2) The other services began appealing to youth by offering civilian career training and beer in the barracks. The Marine Corps continued its image with marketing slogans such as “A Few Good Men” and “We Never Promised You a Rose Garden.” This hampered recruiting in a society bent on immediate self-gratification. The Marine Corps also struggled to meet its recruiting goals in the early 1970s. In 1973, only 46% of all Marines held a high school diploma, and over 55% were of age 20 or younger (for comparison, as of 30 September 1992, over 99% of Marines held a diploma, and 34% were 20 or younger). Fiscal year 1974 saw a 10,000 Marine recruit shortfall. Young men were not interested in volunteering for military service.
(3) In 1975, General Louis H. Wilson, Medal of Honor winner on Guam, became Commandant and threw his weight behind “The Great Personnel Campaign,” which to this point had been waged by SNCOs and officers without much effective direction from Headquarters. He stopped the downward spiral of the Corps’ culture by stressing quality over quantity and by instituting numerous policy changes that improved life for all ranks. The Marine Corps recovered its esprit de corps and fine public image in time for the 1980s.
c. Marine Scout Sniper Program.
(1) Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock, a Marine sniper with 93 confirmed kills, gained notoriety for his outstanding marksmanship. He once recorded a kill from 2,250 meters (1.47 miles) using a personally modified M2 .50 caliber machinegun. North Vietnam even put a bounty of $30,000 on his life.
(2) The Viet Cong called him “Long Trang,” or the “white feather sniper,” because of one he wore in his cover. He only removed the feather one time while he was sniping an NVA General.
(3) Late in life, Gunnery Sergeant Hathcock received a Silver Star for an incident in which he singlehandedly, over the space OF SEVERAL DAYS, killed 16 North Vietnamese soldiers.
(4) He and other Marines clearly demonstrated the worth of snipers as a cost efficient and highly effective tool in combat. As a result, sniper training became a permanent part of the United States Marine Corps.
d. On 12 May 1975, Communist Khmer Rouge naval forces seized an American owned merchant ship in international waters near Cambodia. The ship, the SS Mayaguez, was a container vessel on a routine voyage to Thailand. The communists moved its crew to a nearby island, named Koh Tang, and turned the ship towards a Cambodian port. President Gerald Ford led international diplomatic pressure on the communist.s for three days. With no Marine amphibious units afloat in the area, the American military commander in Thailand mustered eleven Air Force helicopters and two Marine battalions, 151 Battalion 4th Marines and 2,ld Battalion 9th Marines from Okinawa to rescue the crew and retake the ship. The operation began at dawn on 15 May and was a failure. The ship’s crew had already been released without the knowledge of the rescue team. The joint team went ashore at Koh I ang and fought Khmer Rouge soldiers without a solid plan. Several helicopters were shot down. It was a costly operation and by the time the last Marines withdrew from the area, 41 Americans were dead and 50 wounded. Eleven of the dead were Marines.
e. Operation Eagle Claw.
(1) Since the end of WWII, Iran had been a stable U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf. The Shah tried to westernize its society, but corruption, the repressive nature of his regime, and Islamic fundamentalism provoked a revolution. On 4 November 1979, a mob, driven by Islamic fundamentalists, stormed the U.S. Embassy and the Marine House and seized 13 Marines and 52 American civilians. Iran fell into the firm control of a religious Ayatollah, Khomeini, who referred to America as “The Great Satan” and held the Americans hostage in order to force concessions from President Jimmy Carter.
(2) By April 1980, President Carter had grown impatient with failed diplomatic attempts to free the hostages. He ordered a joint services team to rescue them with military force under the code name “Operation Eagle Claw.” On the night of 24 April 1980, the rescue operation began. The mission was very complex and became a disaster. Helicopters, enroute to a rendezvous point, encountered a sand-storm and several turned around. At the rendezvous point, the Army mission commander, who was at the scene, aborted the mission due to several lost helicopters. During withdrawal of the aircraft, a C-130 collided with an RH-53D. Five airmen and three Marines died in the fiery wreckage. The aftermath of this poorly executed mission led to the formation of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
f. The Marine Corps Security Guard (MSG) Program.
(1) The MSG program began in 1948 following the assassination of U.S. Consul General T.C. Watson in Jerusalem. The MSG program and the Corps entered into a relationship with the Department of Slate to provide security guards at U.S. Foreign Service posts. By 1991, 1,281 Marines were serving in 119 countries, as well as with traveling delegations of American diplomats. The Marines are handpicked, trained here at Quantico, and then sent to a detachment. Each detachment is normally led by a SNCO, but under operational control of a State Department civilian. The years following Vietnam have especially challenged these small bands of Marines.
1. Marine Corps Values: A User’s Guide for Discussion Leaders – MCRP 6-1 IB
2. SEMPER F1DELIS, The History of the United States Marine Corps -ALLAN R. MILLET