CHRONOLOGY OF KEY MARINE CORPS EVENTS IN
VIETNAM WAR, 1962-1975
9, 1962 - The leading
elements of Marine Task Unit 79.3.5, a helicopter task unit code named Shufly
commanded by Col John F. Carey arrived at Soc Trang, Republic of Vietnam.
Significance: This was the first Marine squadron-sized 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 February 8, 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
March 8, 1965
- The 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) commanded by BGen Frederick J.
Karch landed at Da Nang, Vietnam, consisting of two Marine battalions, one
arriving by air and over the beach. The following day, the MEB assumed control
of the Marine Task Unit 79.3.5 at Da Nang which became Marine Aircraft Group (MAG)
Significance: This was the first deployment of U.S. battalion-sized
U.S. combat units to Vietnam. Although the mission of the 9th MEB was limited
solely to the defense of the airbase at Da Nang, it was, nevertheless,
indicative that the U.S. advisory phase in the Vietnam War was to be
transformed into more direct U.S. participation.
- On May 6, the 9th MEB was transformed into the III Marine Expeditionary
Brigade which the next day became the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF).
III MAF consisted of the forward elements of the 3rd Marine Division and the
1st Marine Aircraft Wing. MajGen William R. Collins was commanding general of
both III MAF and the 3rd Marine Division and was relieved on June 4, 1965 in
both capacities by MajGen Lewis W. Walt. MajGen Paul J. Fontana established
the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing headquarters on May 11, 1965 and was relieved on
May 24, by Brigadier General Keith B. McCutcheon. 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 over 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 from Vietnam in 1971.
Aug 1, 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, which platoons eventually became known as Combined Action
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 and largely successful contribution to the U.S. /South
Vietnamese pacification program in the countryside.
Aug 3, 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, accompanying the
company, 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 TV 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.
August 18-24 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.
“See Sponson Box article
March 1, 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 over 278,000 personnel, a Marine Corps larger than
that of the Korean War.
March 4-7, 1966
- The 3rd 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
North Vietnamese Army units.
March 10, 1966
- South Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky removed LtGen Nguyen Chanh Thi
from his position as ARVN I Corps commander. As a result 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.
Significance: This unrest undermined the authority of the Vietnamese
government which had grave implications about American participation in the
March 29, 1966
- MajGen Lewis J. Fields established the 1st Marine Division Headquarters at
Significance: III MAF now officially consisted of two Marine infantry
divisions and a reinforced Marine Aircraft Wing.
July 7- August 2, 1966
- The 3rd 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 324B 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 resulted eventually in the
move of the entire 3rd Marine Division northwards and establishing a forward
headquarters at Dong Ha in northern Quang Tri Province.
November 29, 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.
February 21, 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. He was one of the South Vietnamese
February 27, 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
Significance: This was the first know use of large tactical rockets in
South Vietnam. The use of these weapons forced III MAF to extend its
protective patrolling at Da Nang out to 9,000 meters, which added to the drain
on Marine infantry manpower.
March 18, 1967
- The first woman Marine to serve in Vietnam, M/Sgt Barbara J. Dulinsky,
arrived in Saigon, for assignment to the MACV combat operations center.
March 26, 1967
- ComUSMACV 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 the name of the U.S.
Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.
April 20, 1967
- U.S. Army Task Force Oregon under Major General William B. Rosson (USA)
establihsed its headquarters at Chu Lai and came under the operational control
of III MAF to reinforce the Marines in I Corps. Eventually on September 20,
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.
April 24 - May 11, 1967
- The "First Battle of Khe Sanh" or "Hill Fights" took place. In extremely
bitter fighting with North Vietnamese troops, units of the 3rd 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 that it be held and the North
Vietnamese continued to probe and try to isolate the garrison.
May 31, 1967
- LtGen Robert E. Cushman, Jr. succeeded LtGen Lewis W. Walt as Commanding
General III MAF.
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.
July 2-14, 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.
September 19-27, 1967
- In a massive attack by 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.
Sponson Box article re-printed from “Leatheneck”
January 21, 1968
- General William C. Westmoreland, 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 October 22, 1968.
January 21 - April 15, 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 April 14.
January 30 - February 28, 1968
- Communist forces launched a country-wide offensive during the Vietnamese Tet
holidays. On January 30, 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 would
also occur in Hue, Quang Tri City, Hoi An, and Quang Ngai City in I Corps
Significance: While providing the Communists with the 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.
January 31 - March 2, 1968
- In the Battle for Hue City, the North Vietnamese in Division strength on
January 31 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 over the two
northern provinces of South Vietnam.
February 9, 1968
- MACV Forward, under General Creighton B. Abrams, Deputy Commander USMACV, is
established in I CTZ at Phu Bai. It is 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 3rd 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.
February 12, 1968
- The 27th Marines receive orders to deploy to Da Nang from the U.S. as part
of the reinforcements requested by General William C. Westmoreland and the JCS.
President 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
February 13, 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.
March 7, 1968
- General Westmoreland issued a "Single Mananger" 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 that
the directive placed undue restrictions upon Marine fixed-air in mission of
support form Marine ground forces. While never withdrawn during the war, the
directive was amended several times, and by the end of the war, III MAF in
effect basically regained its control over its fixed-wing aviation.
March 10, 1968
- U.S. Provisional Corps, Vietnam was created under the command of Lieutenant
General William B. Rosson, USA, to replace the MACV (Fwd) Headquarters. The
new command has under its operational control the 3rd Marine Division, the 1st
Cavalry Division (Air Mobile), and the 101st Airborne Division and is a
subordinate headquarters to III MAF. The U.S. Provisional Corps becomes XXIV
Corps on August 15, 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 Marine
Aircraft Wing attached to it.
April 30 - May 2, 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 3rd 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 3rd Marine Division, now under MajGen 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 3rd Marine Division
swept the 320th NVA Division out of its forward positions in South Vietnam.
July 5, 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 strategic one.
September 12-16, 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 harbinger that the U.S. was looking to reduce
its combat forces in Vietnam.
December 7, 1968 - March 9, 1969
- The 1st Marine Division Task Force Yankee conducted Operation Taylor Common
in Base Area 112 southwest of Da Nang, accounting for extensive North
Significance: Incorporating mobile helicopter and firebase tactics used
by the 3rd 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
February 22 - March 18, 1969
- The 9th Marines under the 3rd 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 was the first acknowledged and
deliberate entry into Laos by a large American unit, it resulted in the
undercovering of extensive enemy supplies, arms, and ammunition, spring
offensive in northern Quang Tri Province.
July 4 - November 7, 1969 - In accordance with Presidential order in
the reduction of U.S. troop strength in Vietnam, the 3rd Marine Division
redeployed from Vietnam to Okinawa.
Significance: The 3rd 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.
- 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
January 28 - March 19, 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 call for III MAF units to be
among the first U.S. units to depart Vietnam.
March 9, 1970
- III MAF turned over command of U.S. units in I Corps over 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.
April 30 - June 29, 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
Significance: While the operation was successful militarily, it led to
wide-spread 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.
October 1, 1970
- The 7th Marines departed Vietnam.
Significance: The continuing redeployment of Marine units from Vietnam
in accordance with the keystone Robin plans.
January 30 - April 6, 1971
- On January 30 the South Vietnamese begin Lam Son 719. In phase 1 which
lasted to February 8, 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. 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 (ARG)/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.
March 25, 1971
- The 5th Marines departed Vietnam.
Significance: The continuing redeployment of Marine units from Vietnam
in accordance with the Keystone Robin plans.
April 14, 1971
- The III MAF headquarters, the 1st Marine Division headquarters, and the 1st
Marine Aircraft Wing headquarters departed Vietnam. The 3rd Marine Amphibious
Brigade replaced III MAF at Da Nang and totaled 1,322 Marine and 124 Navy
officers and 13,359 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.
May 11, 1971
- The Combined Action Group headquarters was deactivated.
Significance: This ended the Marine Corps pacification and civic action
campaigns in Vietnam.
June 27, 1971
- The 3rd MAB 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, 1st Air/Naval gunfire
liaison company continued to coordinate ship gunfire and naval air support for
U.S. Army and ARVN units in Vietnam.
March 30 - June 27, 1972
- On March 30, 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 April 6, the Marine Corps deployed MAG-15 to Da Nang and on May
16, MAG-12 deployed Bien Hoa in III Corps. Both Marine aircraft
groups operated under the Seventh Air Force in support South Vietnamese
Forces. On June 16, 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 1993. The 9th 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 its
participation in the renewed fighting to aviation support and in an advisory
14 March 1973
- With the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973 between North
Vietnam and the United States, Sub-unit 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
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
12 April 1975
- Marines on the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade (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
Significance: This ended U.S. involvement and support of the Cambodian
regime of Lon No1, the general who had overthrown Prince Nordom Sihanouk in
1970. The Khymer Rouge assumed control of the Camobidia and its government.
29 April 1975
- Marines on the 9th MAB executed Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of
Americans, foreign nationals, and various Vietnamese official 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, Saigoan 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 Khymer Rouge gunboat seized an American ship, the SS 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 is believed to be held. Marines from Company D, 1st
Battalion, 4th Marines boarded the Mayaguez only to find deserted. The Khymer
Rouge released the mayaguez crew who were picked up by a U.S. destroyer at
sea. On 15 May, wit the recovery of the ship and its crew, the Marines
withdrew from Koh Tank 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. Khymer Rouge casualties
Significance: This concluded the entire combat involvement of the
United States military forces in the former French Indochina.