LtCol. William R. Corson
The following introduction was taken from the jacket of:
by Lt. Col. William R. Corson
W.W. Norton Company, 1968
Colonel Corson has been a combat Marine. He has a B.B.A., M.A., and Ph.D., with degrees from the University of Chicago and the American University in Washington, D.C. He has held fellowships at the University of Miami and the University of Wisconsin. A trained physicist, he is currently taking a doctorate in Red Chinese money and finance. He has lived, worked, and traveled in Japan, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia throughout the cold-war years and speaks the languages of these nations. He has fought the hot war (most recently as a tank commander) in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. For the past few months Colonel Corson was on duty in Washington as a Systems Analyst in the area of Pacification and Insurgency in the Southeast Asia Programs Division. He worked with both Pentagon officials and top White House advisers. Five days before the publication of The Betrayal he retired from the Marine Corps after twenty-five years. He lives with his wife and family in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
LtCol. William R. Corson
The creation, nurturing, and growth of the CAP Unit Veterans Association by Jim Duguid, Russ Longaway, Phil Ovelman, Lenny Pugliese, Charlie McMahon, and many others has been one of the bright lights in my life. The CAP Marines are, indeed, unique in the history of our Corps.
Here are some of my thoughts about the early history of the Marines Combined Action Program in I Corps, South Vietnam, the people involved, the ideas, dreams, and the performance of the finest Marines who stood tall in the accomplishment of, perhaps, the most ambiguous, not in the book, military operation in the history of our Corps. I offer these thought to my former colleagues and friends who repaid every day and in every way my faith in their ability as men and Marines.
Lt. Col. W.R. Corson
Several years ago I examined the draft manuscript of Chapter 29, Pacification, taken from the complete manuscript: U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1968, which wraps up the Marine Corps' official operational series on the Vietnam War. It was, at least in the draft version, in my opinion seriously, if not fatally, flawed.
Admittedly, Chapter 29 is simply a part of one slice of the continuum concerning the U.S. Marine Corps operations as an institution, in Indochina during the so-called Vietnam War. As such, there is some justification for using a chonological narrative approach to the events taking place during the designated time period. However, that narrative also purports to be "history", i.e., to provide explanatons for the events rather than merely to announce that on a certain date so many individuals participated in those events. If history is to go beyond that which is found in Unit Diaries and Command Diaries, you have to answer, either directly, or by deduction, why and how certain events, decisions, etc., took place or were made. Similarly, the context of these events and decisions requires relating them to exogenous variables and assessing the impact of the variables on the observable outcomes. Here, the form of the ciscourse selected, of necessity, must include the techniques of exposition, description, narration, as well as argumentation. Thereunder, if you are to avoid the trap of using the term "pacification" like the jurist who said about pornography that he couldn't define it, but he knew it when he saw it, there is a necessity for your discussion to include a logically consistent definition of the term. It's not my intention to provide the CAP Marines with a Platonic type of dialectic about pacification. However, I do believe that the definition I used in Vietnam can stand up under any kind of logical attack. More of that below.
I am also aware that anyone is severely constrained in writing "official history" by the terms which authorized it. Here, I am not referring to some kind of official or quasi official Marine Corps bias which says that the Corps can never do any wrong, but rather to the difficulties one faces due to the fact that many of the events that decisions referred to often took place outside of the Marine Corps context, or effective control. In this regard, none of the decisions made by outside elements during the Vietnam War that affected the Marine Corps were made solely on the basis of military necessity. Rather, because the Vietnam War was a political war with ever shifting objectives, the Marine Corps was often yanked between Scylla and Charybdis by armchair warriors with little or no appreciation of the reality of Vietnam's combat, and by political generals who had their eyes on the next star rather than the challenges posed by Vietnam.
In the hamlets of Vietnam, the only thing that stood between the respective combatants and the peasants who only wanted to be left alone were the young Marines whose lives were placed at risk due to the vainglorious ambitions of our political leaders (elected and appointed) who counted on our obedience and "can do" spirit to "win" a war they had made "unwinnable" because of their incredible arrogance and stupidity. The final costs to our nation for going along with the fools and knaves who orchestrated the Vietnam War for all the wrong reasons have yet to be paid.
Having said this, I know there is no way that anyone can write a "unified field" theory about the Marines in Vietnam. However, this is not to say that you should overly rely on tainted sources to make the Marine Corps' case. I say tainted because some of the persons quoted or cited in the draft chapter had personal axes to grind, as well as an urge to engage in self-serving after-the-fact alibi propaganda. Reliance on these kinds of sources weakens any attempt to make a valid historical analysis of the CAP effort.
It was not my intent or desire to line edit or rewrite Chapter 29. However, for those of you who might have looked at the final official version, I'll try to set part of the record straight and give some ideas about achieving a better balance. Leaving aside, at least partially, my personal feelings about Westmoreland, I think it is worthwhile to expose the fraudulent assertions of his "damning with faint praise" attack on the CAP program.
General Westmoreland and the U.S. Army Command felt that the CAPs were a diversion from the principal mission of fighting main force units, and "opposed expanding the CAP concept to the other corps zones, believing that it would drain the strength of maneuver battalions (even though in all of the 114 CAP units there were only 2,000 U.S. personnel), duplicate the advisory effort and make the territories (rural population) dependent on American support." (See: Clarke, Advice and Support: The Final Years, 1965-73, P.181)
In his memoirs, A Soldier Reports, Westmoreland says that although the Marines "achieved some noteworthy results" with the CAP program, "I simply had not enough numbers to put a squad of Americans in every village and hamlet. That would have been fragmenting resources and exposing them to defeat in detail."
This is and was patently ridiculous, but don't accept my protest. Instead, listen to Andrew W. Krepinevich, The Army and Vietnam (Balitmore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1986).
Krepinevich, an active serving officer, states (pp. 175-176) that Westmoreland's argument is not supported by the facts: "First, it was not necessary to place Army squads in every village simultaneously; indeed the 'oil spot' principle called for gradual expansion outward from selected areas. Westmoreland's argument is more reflective of the Army's impatience with quick results in a conflict environment that would not produce them. Second, even if encadrement of every village and hamlet had been the requirement, a 1967 DOD report found that it could be met by utilizing 167,000 U.S. troops, far fewer than the 550,000 eventually assigned to South Vietnam." Within the 550,000 ceiling, Krepinevich says, there could have been a CAP force together with several Army divisions to counter any moves by major Communist forces, and "Casualties would have been minimized, and population security enhanced."
Without over editorializing about Westy's weakness in this, and other regards, I might suggest that your citations on the point about the CAP program as a valid strategy include references to arguments set forth in: Doug Blaufarb's The Counterinsurgency Era; David Donovan, Once A Warrior King; Thomas John Ferguson, American Perceptions of the Vietnam War in Popular Literature; (Ph.D. dissertation [University of Hawaii, 1986]); and Stuart Herrington, Silence Was a Weapon: The Vietnam War in the Villages. There are other works which speak to this point, but these and Krepinevich especially establish that the CAP concept was not in error but not tried at the level where it might have made a difference. That is another argument and perhaps beyond the scope of your study. Another case in point involves the opinion of Daniel Ellsberg who in a report to his boss, Ambassador Porter, after an extended visit with CAP platoons said, "The CAP program is (circa 1967) the only pacification program in Vietnam which works. All other approaches which have been tried or are contemplated by the US mission are doomed to failure."
Although I intend to jump around in my analysis of our early history, let me land on the lead sentence on Page 1 in the draft version of the "Pacification" chapter in the History of the Marines in Vietnam: From the beginning of its commitment of regular units to Vietnam at Da Nang, III MAF was involved in pacification."
On March 7, 1965, on the CBS-TV program Face the Nation, Secretary Rusk was asked whether the Marines would "be available for combat duty." He replied,
The purposes of those Marines is to provide local close-in security for the Marines who are already at Da Nang with the Hawk missiles and other American personnel there in connection with aircraft. It is not their mission to engage in the pacification operations.
Again he was asked, "Do you exclude the possibility of their getting into action against the Viet Cong. He replied,
Oh, I think there is no doubt that if they are shot at, they will shoot back. But their mission is the security of the Da Nang base. (Department of State Bulletin, March 29, 1965)
I don't have the time or inclination to disabuse the nonsensical solipsism embodied in the rest of the paragraph. Suffice to say that whoever wrote it not only doesn't understand very much about Vietnam, and even less about "pacification" in the context of the Vietnam War.
References about the use and viability of the HES to measure the performance of the Combined Action Platoons are misleading and inaccurate. As the Commander of the 1st. Marine Division Southern Sector, and later as the CAP Program Director, I refused to participate in the fraud of tasking you to gather so-called HES statistics. We had better things to do with our time, and we had far more accurate, albeit anecdotal in nature, measures concerning the degree of pacification in a given hamlet than spurious statistics. In a theoretical frame of reference, it is clear that pacification could not be expressed as a linear function, nor could it be frozen in time as the HES required. I exposed the HES fraud in 1969 or 1970 for Congressman Tunney and his subcommittee which released a report outlining the spurious basis of the system.
Be carful in reading anyone's words about the use of PsyOps in connection with the CAP concept of pacification. This is a much more complicated apsect of our effort than the official history suggests. The fact of the matter is that too many of the heralded techniques, largely created by the CIA, were counter-productive.
The chronology in the official history of the events which led to the decision by Generals Greene, Krulak, and Walt to opt for the CAP program is misleading. Both General Greene and Krulak had experience in China which was relevant to understanding the discrete nature of the problem in Vietnam. The official chronology suggests an ad hoc kind of approach which, like Topsy, just sort of grew up out of the "security needs of the Marine Battalion in the summer of 1965"... There is some truth to this view, but the greater truth lies in Krulak/Greene's perception of the flawed strategy involved in the war itself...and more importantly, what they chose to do in defiance of that strategy. It's important not to get hung up on the "lessons learned" during the Marines experience in Latin America. If Pete Ellis had been alive during the Vietnam War, he would have said, "Whoa!" to the National Security pacification spokesmen and their half-baked schemes.
In the summer of 1965 I returned to Vietnam on an alter-ego Ulysses type of mission for President Johnson to determine, among other things, whether he was being lied to by his military commanders and espiocratic advisors about the current situation and the prognosis for the future. The evidence I gathered demonstrated that he was being systematically deceived by most of his civilian and military advisers concerning the situation and their prognosis for "success." He was not particularly happy with my report, but that's the lot of the "messenger". That report is locked deep in the bowels of the LBJ library and is unlikely to ever see the light of day. Because of its classificaiton, I can't go into specific details. However, I can vouch for the truth involved in an imortant sentence in General Krulak's book, First To Fight, Pge. 198.
And something else--the American's conduct of search and destroy operations would be hampered by the fact that more often than not, the enemy would know in advance what we were going to do.(Emphasis added.)
In point of fact, the enemy routinely knew in advance when, where, and what the Marine line organizations, as well as the Army units, were going to do after Operation Starlite. This op forced a change in the rules which literally eliminated our freedom to plan and execute an operation without placing the information in the ARVN's hierarchy whereby, in point of fact, warning orders sent to US units often were in the hands of the communists before they reached our units. This gave the communists an advantage they exploited with devastating success throughout the rest of the war.
Directly to this point, Krulak made a visit to Vietnam in December, 1965, to see for himself how well or badly the war was going, and how the Marines were faring. Krulak was essentially "stiffed" by Westmoreland for reasons which go to the heart of why we lost the war in Vietnam, but are avoided in scholarly prose or in institutional histories. Krulak was right and Westmoreland was wrong. Westmoreland was the wrong man for the job of COMUSMACV, and the system which selected him for that assignment was equally wrong. The Army had the right general for the job, but for reasons best left unsaid at this time, he was denied the post. More about this truly great soldier later. Maybe. The tragedy in this situation is that many, too many, young Americans had to die because of Westy's ineptitude, arrogance and stubbornness.
Krulak first took his case for a changed strategy for the Marines to Admiral Sharp after he was rebuffed by Westmoreland. Sharp, aided and abetted by General Greene's support, passed Krulak along to McNamara. Krulak, as you know, had a prior relationship with McNamara in his role as SACSA. That prior relationship got Krulak in the door. However, he got nothing but a vague promise from McNamara to bring Krulak to meet LBJ for the purpose of hearing his report on the goings on in South Vietnam and the mis-use of Marines in the war. The meeting between Krulak and McNamara took place in January, 1966.
General Greene was not so easily shuffled, and he arranged for Krulak to meet with LBJ in August, 1966, and give the president the bad news. The meeting, on August 1, lasted 40 minutes and ended abruptly when Krulak mentioned the mining and bombing of North Vietnamese ports. At that point, according to Krulak, "Mr. Johnson got to his feet, put his arm around my shoulder, and propelled me firmly toward the door." (See also Krulak's report, A Strategic Appraisal, Vietnam, December, 1965.) Note: although bits and pieces of this report have found their way into the unclassified public domain, it's my feeling that some of the material contained therein is still classified.
The inability to get Westmoreland, McNamara, and LBJ to focus on the strategic realities in Vietnam drove the concept for the CAP program, which we finally adopted. Two practical points were involved.
One, there was no way the Marine Corps, here read that to include Walt, Krulak, Greene, and later Nickerson, could establish an official authorized, full TO&E organization called a CAP Program. In the face of COMUSMACV's adamant opposition to the CAP concept, control over the flow of personnel to Vietnam and force levels, as well as designated units, was vested in the ASD for Systems Analysis. Thus, if the Marine Crops wanted a CAP program, it would have to be created out of the hide of our authorized TO&E units. This was done, and I was carefully admonished not to stir up, or draw undue attention to, the pot by begging too briskly for CAP Marines from my classmates, peers, etc. It was my task to convince my friends that it was in their and their unit's best interests, to support the CAP effort with able troops. I might add that I found out who among my "friends" were willing to subordinate their own ambitions to the security needs of their troops and those of the Vietnamese in their TAORs by giving up some of their Marines to the barely proven CAP concepts we had tested in the Southern Sector Command. There was no time to try and replicate those experiments to determine their applicability throughout I Corps. The deteriorating tactical situation dictated that we had to go with what we had learned and, with confidence in the ingenuity and integrity of the individual marine, we set forth on an interesting journey.
The other practical point involved that of "beans and bullets". As all of you know so well, Marines in Vietnam were not embarrassed by riches in terms of the logistical requirements. Both General Walt and Nickerson looked the other way as we begged, borrowed, and stole from the Army, Navy, and Air Force to enable our CAPs to function. Out of this effort emerged what was called the "Da Nang Mafia". Although midnight requisitions have long been a part of the Marine Corps way of doing business, I must say that the officers and SNCOs in the CAP headquarters raised that tradition to a new and higher standard, or "take". Also, I should acknowledge the monumental contribution of a classmate, and a former comrade in the Korean War, who had become a supply officer in the interim between Korea and Vietnam. As you may know, a number of regular line officers were ordered to an SDO or COMMO tour during that period. My friend chose to forsake his line MOS and go supply after completing his forced tour. When he hit Vietnam he was placed in charge of the Machine Records element. In this role he pilfered and provided me with in excess of 5,000 blank MR cards which enabled us to requisition a wide variety of material under several (non-Marine Corps) fake unit designations.
We broke every rule in the logistical book, and Lew Walt never even blinked when he visited a specially exposed CAP and saw light and heavy mortars, as well as 50 caliber machine guns in the hamlet. He also never blinked when he saw eleven year old Vietnamese children armed with M-2 carbines, provided by our friends in the USN, helping in the defense of their hamlet. A fact that was based on an act of deliberate insubordination on my part whereby I elected to arm the Vietnamese civilians in direct violation of COMUSMACV orders. The Vietnamese "people", i.e., those we were expected to protect in the hamlets, were considered to be unreliable and the weapons would "fall into the hands of the Communists." That was nonsense. None of the weapons we provided the Vietnamese people, to help provide for their common defense, ever turned up in the hands of Communists. The Da Nang Mafia also "liberated" 12X12 lumber from the USAF which saved Marine lives and helped the CAPs to defend their hamlets by providing them with much needed essential overhead cover during the TET offensive. This wasn't "stealing" because according to McNamara's automated DOD supply system, there were no 12X12s in-country. They were on "back order".
I'll never forget the night we brought 84 truckloads of "hot" 12X12s to the CAP school. I was directing traffic from the hood of a jeep, and General Nickerson, in his silk robe, came striding up from his cottage and asked me, "What are you doing?" I replied, "We just knocked off the 7th. AF's lumber yard, and we're hiding the wood until we can get it to the CAPs." Nick waved his hand in a kind of exasperation and went back to bed. These things we did as a matter of course, and out of necessity, in order to fulfill our mission.
I might add that Barney Koren, who became the I Corps CORDS Director, gave me the keys to the USAID-USOM warehouse which we periodically "looted" to get the humanitarian supplies to the peasants in our hamlets before they were diverted to the blackmarket by the ARVN. Some of my officers and SNCOs became quite adept at using a fork lift. Koren went along with my plea because I reminded him about the days in China when Fiorello LaGuardia refused to turn the UNRRA goods over to the ChiNats, who promptly sold the supplies and pocketed the proceeds. LaGuardia, out of a sense of outrage, refused to go along with this nonsense in the name of kowtowing to the idea of Chinese "national sovereignty". Instead, the "Little Flower" asked the Marines if they would kindly make sure that this material with the handshake pictured on the bags, and with words indicating the material was from Americans, go to the intended recipients...the Chinese people.
Although the mission of the CAPs, as we deduced it to be, was simple to state, it was difficult to accomplish. Stated simply, it was to keep the Vietnamese peasants and Marines in a given hamlet alive. In so doing, security was maintained from the two predatory elements the Marines and peasants faced. Namely, the Communists and the ARVN/GVN. Once this condition of security was established, much was possible. But, without that condition, nothing in terms of real "pacification" was possible, no matter how the term was defined. The CAP Marines understood this essential fact of our effort. Some more than others. But, as a general rule, our goals were understood by the Marines who worked incredibly hard to make them happen.
This is where I split with the pacification warriors in Saigon and Washington who never made an honest effort to understand the hopes and fears of the Vietnamese people, as well as their culture and history. Let me be clear about the difference between my views about pacification in the Vietnam case and those held by the chair-borne pacification warriors. These people, many of whom have gone on to profit greatly by fouling up other socio-economic challenges in the US, looked upon pacification as a kind of left wing, liberal social welfare credo. That is, to mix the metaphor, our bureaucratic social engineers, by giving the Vietnamese the "Great Society's War on Poverty" equivalent to food stamps, AFDC stipends, "training programs", etc., the Vietnamese were supposed to give their hearts and minds to those who provided them with the dole. There was a place for genuine relief assistance in connectnion with pacification, but unthinking before-the-fact welfare relief was counter-productive. Some Vietnamese indeed became the rough equivalent of rice bowl Christians as a result of the welfare/relief ideology of the bureaucrats in USAID, but the results clearly demonstrate that these peasants often remained witting, or tacit tools, of the communists. For an extended apologia concerning the failure of the social engineers and their welfare approach to pacification, you might take a hard look at the report, The American Experience With Pacification In Vietnam, 3 vols., prepared by the Institute for Defense Analyses for the Advanced Research Projects Agency, Report R-185, March, 1972. In this study the CAPs only received a passing mention. It would seem that we weren't involved with pacification.
The CAP Marines, on the other hand, actually won the "hearts and minds" of the folks in their hamlets, not by providing handouts, but rather by their willingness to give their lives in the protection of the Vietnamese people. This is more complex than it appears in the saying. To wit: Vietnamese people in some of the hamlets still, twenty five plus years after-the-fact, hold annual memorial services for the young men who died to keep them and their children free. See Jim Duguid's comment about feeling that he had come home when he returned to "his" hamlet. Apropos of this sense of the CAP Marines sense of empathy with the Vietnamese, I recently received a letter from Andy Lewandowski's daughter. Quoting from her letter:
As the years have gone by, my father has had one wish, one dream, which he has been building up to. This dream is being realized right now. Yesterday, my mom, grandmother, and I took him to the airport and put him on a plane which will eventually end up in Vietnam as its final destination. He is planning to go back to his old village and visit some of the people who still live there. He is also planning on traveling to Dien Bien Phu and Hue."
Dick McGonigal, a Navy Chaplain who's heart, mind, and soul were totally committed to the CAP Marines, deserves more credit than any single person associated with the program. Besides his Seminary training at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, he holds two MAs in sociology and counseling. Dick's personal response survey gave us a road map in our selection process of CAP recruits. It was a useful tool which enabled us to keep our efforts focused on the objects of our efforts: the Vietnamese people. But more to the point, it provided a means to anticipate the human problems connected with the interaction of our young Marines and the Vietnamese people. Dick's wisdom enabled us to be forewarned and to handle the disappointments when the Vietnamese, upon occasion, let us down, or when tragedy struck a CAP hamlet. As Major General Fred Haynes, the 3 MAF G-3, said to me on one of the long nights of waiting, "Corson, your kids are going to be the only ones in this war who will know why we were here." Sometimes that knowledge was painfully acquired at high personal cost, but, in spite of that fact, it provided the CAP Marines with the means for their personal growth and development and to accomplish their mission.
Dick McGonigal and I often prayed over our charges, both Vietnamese and Marines. Dick prayed for their souls, and I prayed for the wisdom to guide them through the complicated and ambiguous military experience we had placed them in. The Lord heard our prayers. The Marines who died knew why they had died, and those who survived knew why they were in Vietnam and what they were trying to do. The foregoing was the general impression of the Marines who served in the CAP program. Admittedly, there were those who came away from their service with a less than sanguine view about the CAP effectiveness. Part of this was due to the experience of their specific hamlet, and part was due to the foreshortened expectations of these young men at the most stressful period in their lives. Consider the comments of Ed Palm, as set forth in the Gazette Article (and reproduced in the Papa 3 Section of the CAP Web Site). Ed only came to understand, in my opinion, what he and the CAP experience was all about when he acknowledged in Our War Was Different...
My only regret is that I didn't extend my tour. I rotated in early January, 1968, and I've never been able to learn how Papa Three fared during the Tet Offensive. I still feel guilty about leaving when I did and also about missing that patrol on December 4, 1967."
Ed's comrades stood tall during the TET offensive and kept their villagers free and safe.
Consider Igor Bobrowsky. He was an outstanding CAP Marine. He also was too honest for his own good in that he became a cause celebre when PX Kelley said no, no a 1,000 times no, to Bobrowsky's attempt to become a commissioned officer. The reason being that Bobrowsky acknowledged, when asked in connection with his attempt to become a commissioned officer, that he smoked marijuana once in Vietnam. However, it made no difference that this experiment with a "dangerous" drug took place before Igor went into the CAP program where he served with distinction. From Kelley's point of view, there was no room in the MC officer corps for the likes of Bobrowsky who served with distinction in Vietnam, returned to college, acquired a degree with honors in order to qualify to serve as a Marine officer. Igor was intelligent enough to know that the criterion I tried to use in selecting Marines for the program could not be applied in an absolute manner due to the fact that the pool of likely candidates was neither deep enough nor broad enough. The point being, in addition to the chronic shortage of personnel was, of course, that the CAP program was not for all Marines. We made some mistakes in the selection process, but these were acknowledged, and the men who couldn't, or were unable to measure up, were returned to their units without prejudice.
I might add that, unlike most line units in Vietnam, the CAPs were not plagued with the problems of drugs and assaults, violence, "date" rape circumstances, etc. Two factors account for this behavior. First, we made it clear through the Sergeant "platoon commanders" that their platoons were generally beyond the reach of any so-called "reaction force" to come to their rescue, in real time, if they were under serious attack. (Occasionally, due to some forewarning about impending trouble...see below about intel...reaction forces were able to get to the CAP in time. But that was the exception.) Therefore, the sergeant's individual survival, as well as that of the platoon, depended on each and every marine's full time commitment to their mission. I told the CAP platoon leaders that it was their problem to solve. Further, if they found someone who didn't heed the word, all they had to do was let me know and the miscreant was gone from the platoon with no questions asked. I might suggest you contrast this approach with the conventional wisdom about relieving someone. That is, the reliever is implicitly tagged with the rap of failing to "lead" the relievee into the paths of military righteousness. There was no time in the CAP program to put up with that nonsense.
You should remember that although we referred to the CAP "program", it was neither feasible nor desirable to take a strict programmatic approach in solving all the problems of the program or its individual platoons. These problems were episodic and varied substantially between provinces and areas therein. For example, when I sketched out for Lew Walt my intention to put a couple of CAPs in the Khe Sanh area, he countered by saying that I had lost my mind. That may well have been true, but the performance of those CAPs for the period before, during, and after TET, as well as during the seige, is a story in itself. You might want to talk with John Balanco who served with the CAP at Khe Sanh. Balanco is the kind of man Vedergrift extolled in his tribute to those who fought and died on Iwo Jima.
The search for a measurement of success for the CAP program is elusive. Remember, the United States lost the war. Did the CAPs make a difference? The answer is an unhesitating YES! On the quantative side there are many thousands of Vietnamese alive today who would have either not survived the war or been able to procreate if not for the CAPs. On the qualitative side, the young men who exceeded my greatest hopes, and those of Lew and the Brute, were forever changed for the better by their experience in "their" hamlets. One cannot attend a CUVA reunion without a sense of pride in knowing men such as those kids. In recent years some wives and children have attended our reunions. My conversations with those folks are treasured memories.
The discussion about "designated priority province" in the official history is part of the errant nonsense promoted by Saigon bureaucrats in their quest for a "unified management structure concrened with pacification". The point being, of course, that a so-called designated priority province only makes sense if the goals of the US and the GVN are one and the same. They weren't. I convinced General Krulak and Walt that the main, or initial, thrust of the CAP effort should be directed into Quang Nam province. The reasons were several. However, the most significant one...which convinced Krulak and Walt...was my contention that if we could succeed in Quang Nam where the communists were more deeply ensconced than elsewhere in I Corps, we could succeed anywhere in Vietnam. All the reasons for my contention about Quang Nam and its historical/political background are beyond the scope of this commentary. I might add, however, that the reasons which provoked the Yen Bay uprising/mutinies were deeply shared by the people in Quang Nam. I often spent long hours with some village elders to elicit their opinions about the communist revolution which emerged out of the Yen Bay uprisings.
The TET Offensive in 1968 adds an important note to the CAP history. As you know, Da Nang was the only city in South Vietnam that did not fall, at least for a while, to the communists. This was due to the courage of two CAP platoons which held the high ground and denied the communists the route into Da Nang. The holding lasted long enough for regular Marine Corps units to fix and destroy the communists. All but one of the members of those platoons were killed. But more to the point was that the platoons were reconstituted with new Marines within a matter of a few days.
Parenthetically, I think there is a need to clarify the point about only one CAP unit being overrun. This is slightly misleading. Some CAP platoons were overrun. That is, the VC was able to eliminate, or drive off the Marines and the PFs. However, like the search and destroyer soldiers on our side, the VC didn't continue to occupy the hamlet. Instead, they terrorized the folks in different ways and then returned to their lairs to attack another day and a different hamlet. As a result of some of these attacks, we beefed up the ordnance available to the platoon. As mentioned above, this included mortars with illumination rounds, bangalores, booby traps and a host of "goodies" such as sniper rifles with starlite scopes given to us by my friends in the CIA.
In my Pentagon job, after I returned from Vietnam for the last time in 1967, it fell to me to determine, after the fact, whether "we", the US Government, had before-the-fact intelligence information, aside from comint sources, that the communists were planning to attack the cities. There was an eerie aspect to this task. It took on the air of looking at the events (intelligence collection) leading up to the Battle of the Bulge. The signal to noise ratio was so weak to be almost inaudible. The tons, quite literally, of "captured documents" had hints, but not much in the way of conclusive information which should have prompted a reiterative set of EEIs. On the other hand, buried among this chaff was the consistent reporting of the CAPs which reflected the tell-tale signs of major offensive preparations. This information, like most collected in the Marine units themselves, was given less than adequate consideration, largely due to the fact that the people in charge of III MAF were not attuned to the potential of the information and the record of the CAPs in providing useable intelligence information to the line units operating in their general area. Secretary Clifford was pained to know that we did, in fact, know that the bad guys were coming and failed to act on that information.
That's water long since under the bridge. I'll return to it a bit later, however, for the purpose of my rewiew there is a necessity to speak to the broad issue of intelligence and the CAPs. One anecdote will make the point. It involves the visit, in the spring of 1967, of Dr. Finn Larsen, Assistant Secretary of Defense, with responsibility for that which goes under the name of Comint, Sigint, etc., to Vietnam, especially to see me and the CAP Marines on the ground. Dr. Larsen was accompanied on the visit by Col. Henry Aplington, USMC, who was DIRNSA for SEA. The long and the short of this matter is that Dr. Larsen wanted to know why I was still allowed access to all source intelligence, and, more importantly, what was I doing with it. Hank Aplington smiled when I replied that I was using it to keep Marines and Vietnamese alive.
The use was specific. When the intelligence I had access to indicated that the bad guys were going to be moving through, or causing mischief in, an area where one of our platoons was located, either myself, McGonigal, or one of the Da Nang Mafia, communicated my "suggestion" to the CAP marine platoon leader to pay especially close attention tonight, the next night, or so on. Hank Aplington had helped by targeting the necessary resources to find out that kind of information for me. Although this system was outside the rules, it worked to help keep the Marines and the Vietnamese alive. Dr. Larsen wasn't too happy, but after he talked with the CAP leader, Sgt. Carol Soape, and found out that the information he had been given had indeed saved lives and taken those of the enemy, he told me, "Okay, but be careful." Soape thought I had some kind of crystal ball and never tumbled onto where the info had come from.
I mention this because my "handpicked successor", Francis R. Hittinger, Jr., LtCol., USMC, was similarly cleared and was aware of the special intelligence relationship he would inherit when he took over the CAP program. Russ, who handled back channel matters for General Greene, was a fine human being. He wanted the job because he knew that the CAP program, indeed, was making a difference. He did not come to Vietnam to get his tickets punched. He came to Vietnam because he believed in what the CAP Marines were trying so valiantly to do. By virtue of his talent and service to General Greene, he could have had any job he wanted in Vietnam, command or otherwise. No matter. He chose the CAPs because he had become a true believer from seeing the kids in action and handling the back channel traffic which told the tale of the Marine Corps battle in the corridors of the Pentagon, the White House, and at COMUSMACV Headquarters.
Russ was a marked man. Marked by the communists, that is, from the moment he hit Vietnam. The communists knew who he was and what he was about to do. McGonigal tried to warn him on the fateful day of his death to vary his schedule and pattern of movement out into the field. Ed Danowitz learned and acted on the lesson of Russ' death. Russ was impatient, and the communists were waiting. He, along with thirteen other Marines, were killed by a command detonated communist mine on their way to reinforce a CAP hamlet that had been an especially painful thorn in the enemy's side for more than a year.
One other point about intelligence gathering in the CAP area of operations merits mention. As noted above, the effect of establishing empathy with the Vietnamese through accomplishment of the security function and being good neighbors was integral to the overall effort. In the case of intelligence, I told the Marine "platoon leaders" to go slow in trying to get intelligence from the people. My judgment was that the intelligence would come after the Marines demonstrated their good faith and empathy. The point being that once the people felt genuinely secure, they slowly became unafraid to provide the CAP platoon leader with intellignce about the bad guys. The common sense point about this can be seen in every metropolitan city in the US. The people should cooperate with the police to help rid the neighnorgood of the hoods, right? However, the people in our cities are either afraid to trust the cops, or look on the cops as an enemy. Having said this, the people in the hamlets didn't come over to our way of thinking because they were anit-communists. The necessary trust and support of the people required hard work and consistent behavior on the part of the Marines.
General Nickerson wasn't too sure about this technique. However, when it resulted in VC defections to our CAP Marines, he became a convert. We integrated a number of these defectors into the local CAP platoon in the area from which they had been recruited by the VC, rather than simply turning them over to the Kit Carson and Chieu Hoi effort. It goes without saying that these defectors not only were a source of good intelligence, but they were also good instructors to the CAP Marines about VC tradecraft, tactics, etc. These defectors were also very helpful in providing on-the-job language training, as well as in helping the CAP platoon in the interrogation of prisoners. (Here, I might add, the CAP language deficiency is grossly overstated. In point of fact, by August, 1967, we had in excess of 35 Marines who were quite fluent. This secret was guarded very carefully because if it had been known these young men would have been press ganged into service in Saigon. The 600 plus man CIA station in Saigon had only one Vietnamese speaker.)
This low key system of intelligence gathering mentioned above was, in conjunction with that provided by the hamlet residents themselves, responsible for the lion's share of the CAP intelligence information mentioned in connection with the TET offensive. In essence, either myself or one of the officers in our headquarters impressed on the CAP platoon leaders the importance of protecting their intelligence sources, and the methods used to gather the intelligence and exploit it, as well as transmit it to the appropriate Marine Corps unit or headquarters. I made sure that some of the more zealous members of the Army interrogation platoons were not able to try and work their ways in any of the CAP hamlets. Also, we kept the ARVN at arms length because of the fear they raised in the hearts and minds of the peasants, and the important fact that the ARVN had been thoroughly penetrated by the communists, either directly or indirectly.
In this regard there is another aspect about the barriers to the CAP program other than those posed by the communist "enemy" which deserves mention. That is the so-called Phoenix program. This program threatened not only the well-being of the Vietnamese people we were trying to protect, but, more importantly, the lives of the Marines who were committed to that objective. The Phoenix effort was nothing more or less than a bounty program organized and led by Chinese ethnic Nung brigands who were paid in American dollars for killing people, with little or no regard for the "guilt" or "innocence". This was the logical fall out from the game of fake "body counts" which were used by unscrupulous commanders to win medals and commendations.
Almost immediately in the wake of the first operations of the Phoenix hit squads in I Corps, the rapport in the CAP hamlets between the Marines, the PFs, and the people, as well as the intelligence flow dried up. Upon examination we found out that the people and the PFs were scared shitless that the Phoenix hoodlums would come and take them away, or kill them. The Phoenix tactics reeked of the same kind of terrorism practiced by Ngo Dinh Nhu's thugs in the Delta region during the early 60s, and I knew it had to be stopped, at least in the CAP hamlets. First point of contact was with Ambassador Barney Koren who shared my concerns. However, as he pointed out, it was a CIA program, and he had little or no authority over its operations. I received the same kind of reaction from the III MAF intelligence and operation people. Their view was that the CIA was not under Lew Walt's opcon, and that there was little that could be done. Both General Walt and Nickerson sympathized, but also said that their hands were tied. I asked for, and received, their blessing to try to change the situation.
Then I got lucky. The CIA official in I Corps who was responsible for, among other things, the Phoenix effort was a man named Robert Linthicum. Bob Linthicum had been one of my platoon commanders during the Korean War. He had left the Corps after Korea to go to law school and then, after boredom with torts and lawsuits set in, he opted to enter the CIA and its clandestine service. Bob sympathized and agreed with me about the counter-productive aspect of the Phoenix "Murder Incorporated" approach to ferreting out communist sympathizers, but he said that there was little he could do by himself to thwart "official policy". The bottom line of this discussion was that Bob and I went to Saigon to meet with the CIA guru in charge of the Phoenix program. My pitch was simple. I told him to keep his goons out of my hamlets and their surrounding territory, and that if he failed to do so, I would personally lead the necessary patrols to wipe out every Phoenix team in I Corps. I added that, as far as I was concerned, every member of the Phoenix mob was a greater enemy to the Americans in Vietnam than any member of the VC or NVA. He got the message. He ordered Linthicum to make sure that the Phoenix elements gave all the CAP hamlets a wide berth. Years later I am not sure the the CIA personnel in Vietnam ever really came to grips with what they agreed to when they set the Phoenix program in motion. No matter the CIA metaphysical intransigence. The plain fact is that the Phoenix program was a dirty stain on American's reputation.
Another problem partially related to the excesses of the Phoenix program was the inability to curb the "pacification" efforts of the Koreans. In the Batangan (sp.) peninsula area the Koreans pacified the Vietnamese by putting them behind barbed wire, torturing them and starving them. When this area was vacated, I made a reconnaissance to look for suitable CAP hamlets. It was an appalling sight. I had some of the same feelings held by those who liberated Auschwitz. In response to my SOS, General Walt made a recon of the area and directed a major relief effort to assist these people who had been so badly abused by our Korean "allies". One day some historian will take a long look at the secret deals carried out by LBJ's henchmen to bring the Koreans into the Vietnam War. We paid a hell of a price to maintain the facade of an international response to the Communist threat. Parenthetically, the US Marine Officer who was the Senior Laison officer to the Korean Marines became an alcoholic over his revulsion to what the Koreans had done to the Vietnamese.
When Generals Walt and Nickerson named me to the III MAF Deputy Director for Combined Action, we moved off into the deep water. The formal SOP I wrote set off a buzz saw of reaction because it took the CAPs completely out of the formal line unit chains of command. I might add that the SOP was totally illegal in that only the CMC (Commandant Marine Corps) can create a new organization. However, with General Nickerson's support we did it, no matter the legality. The Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, Colonel Bob Neville, said to me, "Willie, you can't do this. It is a violation of federal law." He laughed when I told him that I was aware of the fact, but that by the time anyone caught up with me, General Nickerson, and General Walt, the war would have been long gone and lost. The changeover took place very quickly, the MR cards were reprogrammed to the new designated CAP organization, and we were on our way. The CAGs followed in rapid order as we tried to decentralize the headquarters kind of support that was needed.
The regimental commanders bitched to high heaven, but to no avail. They were very unahppy with the thought that there would be Marine elements in "their TAOR' who were beyond the pale of their command authority. The ambiguity of the command control of the CAPs, i.e., these were Vietnamese units, provided the trump card to shut the Marine regimental commanders up. Many of these regimental commanders privately believed that the CAP program was Walt's folly, but none dared challenge him or General Nickerson. The point of that SOP, of course, was make clear not only the autonomous nature of the CAPs, but also where the decentralization of authority finally ended up. This is what truly made the Marine CAP concept revolutionary. It said, in essence, that the way to fight the Vietnam War required decentralization and recognition of the fact that no one size fits all, as in the systems analysis approach to warfare. What made this even more incredible, in the view of the Army, was that we were giving autonomous command authority to a "mere" enlisted man. I never lost faith in "my" Marines. They never let themselves and their Vietnamese charges down. Their pride of purpose and performance under incredible odds is without peer in the history of the Vietnam War.
Before I get to some final thoughts, I do believe that we achieved the 114 platoon level by the end of 1967. McGonigal visited each one of them, and that was his number as well as what was shown on his map. Also, plans were in place by the time I left country which called for moving some CAP units to another nearby area, and leaving the original hamlet security with the PFs who had been trained and were ready to do the job on their own. This planned movement may be the cause for the difference in the total count. I hasten to add that the moves of the Marine squads to another hamlet we planned, and which were approved by General Lam and his staff, took clear account of the need to provide the means by which the moved Marines could remain close enough, as a nearby presence, in the minds of the folks. It was important that, although the PFs would be on their own, they not feel abandoned by the CAP Marines. Also, bear in mind that the Vietnamese the Marines had befriended in hamlet #1 were friends in the true meaning of the term and were genuinely concerned about how those folks were getting along. This plan was, along with some others concerning more training time, at the top of Russ Hittinger's agenda. But it, like Russ himself, was blown away as a result of TET which signalled the bereftness of Westy's strategy.
I don't know how much good can come of trying to sort out the misconceptions about the circumstances surrounding publication of my book, The Betrayal, but I'll try.
When I returned from Vietnam in September, 1967, it was my intention to take leave, put in my papers for immediate retirement and say "Sayonara" to the Marine Corps. I had already thanked and refused a generous offer from General Krulak to join his staff in Hawaii. The personal reasons for this decision to call it a career are not germane to this discussion, save for the fact that I could have avoided going to Vietnam in 1966 but went because someone in the Marine Corps I respected above all others asked me to come to Vietnam. In the course of putting together my retirement request, while on leave, the adjutant at Headquarters Battalion told me that my records had been flagged and that the Chief of Staff would like to see me when I turned up.
I called and went by to see the Chief of Staff, General Buse. To make a long story short, he asked me if I would reconsider my decision to retire and take a special assignment, "just for a year". This was another in a long line of exotic clandestine assignments. It involved a "penetration" of the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Analysis in order to provide early warning intelligence about his, and Secretary McNamara's plans for the Corps. The word was that McNamara's "whiz kids" were about to pull a 1948 Key West assault on the Corps. I thought at the time that this assault was just one more in the continuing attempt by the know nothings in politics and/or our "sister services" to do us in. I asked General Buse, "Why me?" He replied, like the reason you were asked to come to Vietnam last year, you are the only one we can come up with to get into the Systems Analysis bandbox. It seems that Alain Enthoven and/or McNamara had turned down 10 or 11 colonels HQUSMC had nominated for the billet.
Our conversation was interrupted when General Buse had to take a phone call. After he hung up, he asked, "Will you do it, Bill?" I wasn't enamored by the prospect of returning to the non-lethal combat in the Pentagon. I stalled by asking how soon he had to know my answer. His reply: "ASAP." I stood to leave and General Buse handed me one of those little pink sheets with a message which said, "Please stop by after you finish up with General Buse."
The next day I had an interview with Alain Enthoven...McNamara poked his nose in as we were talking and added, "...glad you'll be back on board." That was on a Thursday. On Monday I reported for duty in the Office of the ASD for Systems Analysis and was assigned/given the grand title of Program Director for Intelligence Systems Analysis. So much for my leave. I reported in to the Pentagon before I was able to use up my authorized travel time. Besides my clandestine assignment in Systems Analysis, there was much to do and learn. In many ways we used analytical techniques like modern day necromancers to prove that we were winning the war in Vietnam. Like coming up with the numbers to "flesh out" Westy's vision concerning the light at the end of the tunnel. Another involved my efforts as a co-conspirator to create a history of the US participation in the Vietnam War. The purpose was to come up with a single document we could affix to each of the supplemental budget requests we had to "justify". This effort almost produced a revolt among my immediate staff. These folks all had special assignments, and then, with the history project, they were overloaded. One in particular, Major Dale Vesser, who went on to become a 3 star general and PX Kelley's J-3 in the "Quick Reaction Force", told me that I couldn't get the same kind of loyalty/performance from the civilians on the staff that I could from my Marines.
Dale was right. As a consequience, we looked around for some loose change in DOD so that we could hire some outside consultants to do the job. The money was easily found in the black program being run by ARPA. With the money in hand, we privatized the history project by hiring pieces of RAND, RAC, and IDA to do the job. One of the think thankers who came our way was Daniel Ellsberg, who I had to fire for falsifying the record concerning what General Krulak had said to President Kennedy. The person we tagged to handle the overall editing was Les Gelb, a pedestrian journalist and an even more pedestrian historian. The work effort later came to be known as the "Pentagon Papers", but that's getting ahead of the story.
TET ended the more egretious efforts of the Systems Analysis spin doctors. The fact that the US high command had been surprised made a mockery out of Westy's reference in his heralded speech to a joint session of Congress which made mention of a light at the end of the tunnel. After TET, the joke went around the rings of the Pentagon that what Westy had seen was no light. It was an oncoming train. Several results flowed in the wake of TET. One involved sending McNamara to the World Bank showers, and the other saw the pratfall of LBJ's tearful announcement not to seek the nomination of his party for another term. The beat went on, however, to the extent that the new SecDef Clark Clifford wanted to find out just how fouled up the war had become. As part of the educating of Clifford, it fell on my shoulders to brief him that yes, indeed, there was in-country intelligence which clearly suggested that the attack was coming, and that this intelligence was ignored. That fact, plus the fact of Westy's call for another 200,000 troops effectively forced a focus on the actual, as opposed to the advertised, results of Westy's search and destroy strategy. As a sidebar to this frenzied activity to find the truth, the whiz kids who aspired to do in the Marine Corps followed McNamara out the door, back to the think thanks and foundations from whence they had come. Thus the reason for my agreeing to "one more year" had been overtaken by events.
TET opened the door for some fresh air and truth in dealing with Vietnam. I was torn between my desire to get on with the rest of my life and the chance to shine some light on the travesties in Vietnam. I sought some advice from several generals. Unfortunately, the quadrennial madness associated with the search for a new commandant made sound advice hard to come by. In the course of my own search for guidance, I acquired the incidental, but hard intelligence, that the next CMC was going to be Krulak. The information was accurate. LBJ had, indeed, offered Krulak the job and he had accepted. How and why this deal fell through is a not unsurprisingly fascinating aspect of the bureaucratic fall out from the Vietnam War. No matter the specifics, the fact that LBJ opted to avoid open warfae in the Marine Corps by appointing Leonard Chapman as Commandant, and Lew Walt as the Assistant Commandant played well in holding the Marine Corps on line in anticipation of the upcoming shoot out for the Democratic presidential nomination. Here, again, the politics of Vietnam shot Krulak in the foot.
The E Ring politics being played about the war enabled me to nudge along the official acceptance of the CAPs as a TO&E organization. With this in hand, mine and Russ Hittenger's successor, LtCol. Brady, didn't have to break the law to take care of the CAP Marines. This fact, in turn, enabled Brady to help the CAP Marines to get the awards and decorations they had been denied in the early days of the program. Once the CAPs were legal, it was no longer possible for Westy and/or recalcitrant Marine officers to block the CAP Marines from getting awards for heroism. To wit, as a result the CAP Marines were awarded a dozen Navy Crosses and one Medal of Honor, as well as a large number of Silver Star Medals and Bronze Star Medals. The Navy Crosses awarded were a special mark of the CAP Marines routine heroism and courage in the face of incredible combat odds. In fact, this exceeds the per capita rate for this award in all the Marine ground units by 450%. Purple Hearts were awarded from the get go, but not so the other awards.
The E Ring politics also enabled me to push a PUC along for the CAPs. They earned it, and it's interesting that Vice President Humphrey was the force who finally made it happen. I know that some Marines who served in the early period when it was not possible to receive awards for valor feel embittered over this slight. However, they know, as do I, that their heroism was not unappreciated by the Vietnamese people, and the comrades whose lives were also influenced and often saved due to that heroism. In thinking about the daily heroism of CAP Marines, I am reminded of Shakespeare's words about the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
We few, we happy few, we band of
For he today that sheds his blood with
Shall be my brother.
In the TET post-mortem, as the layers of the onion were peeled away, Clark Clifford's sense of rage was dampened by the political reality that the Democratic Party, not just LBJ, was going to take the big fall for Vietnam. Thus, near the end of March, an attempt was begun to put a proper spin on the events at TET. To prove how great an event it had been for our brave soldiers and the ARVN, Westy was made the Army's Chief of Staff. And others of his foul up entourage were rewarded with additional stars as a price of keeping their mouths closed...tight. By calling TET a victory it became possible to provide unearned awards instead of holding those responsible for the debacle accountable for their sins of omission and commission.
As Secretary Clifford sought out information about the extent of the rot in the Defense Department and the armed forces, he became cautious. The spin mode was adopted once again, and the party line was recast to reassure the anxious members of the public who were becoming skeptical and cynical about our government's war propaganda. Simple deceptions such as stretching out and staggering KIA notices was only one aspect of the sleight of hand we used to deal with Westy's call for 200,000 more troops to finish the job. My disillusionment was hastened by becoming aware of the strategy to be pursued in the Paris Peace Talks. The febrile brains of those who created this monstrosity made a mockery of the good men who died or left their innocence in Vietnam.
This sense of angst led me to seek out the wise counsel of General David M Shoup. Among other things, Dave Shoup allowed me to read his correspondence with Marine General Jack Chaisson ... the only Marine general that Westy thought was up to the task. Those letters, both to and from General Shoup, confirmed the feelings and opinions I held. I also sought out Senator Ed Muskie for his advice and good counsel. Finally, the Army General I mentioned earlier in this paper asked, "Okay, Willie, what are you going to do about it?" I said, "I don't know." He said, "Write a book. Shoup is going to testify before the Foreign Relations Committee and is writing an article , and Muskie is trying to get the Senate to pay attention." This was the genesis for Betrayal.
The actual writing didn't begin until mid-to-late March. The rest is not simply history because some persons in the Marine Corps who got wind of my efforts did a kind of Watergate break-in to filch a copy of the uncorrected galleys of the book from a file cabinet in my Pentagon office. No one who tried to stop publication of the book ever acknowledged how they got the galleys. Similarly, as a result of General Shoup's advice, I did file a request to be placed on the retired list as of 1 July. This was granted by the Secretary of the Navy and then rescinded on the assumption that I might have violated some DOD administrative regulation, rather than legally based regulations such as Navy Regulations which are federal law. The backing and filling got a little Kafkaesque until my attorneys filed a writ of mandamus directing the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy to show cause why my approved request for retirement was rescinded. This led to the decision by LBJ to let me go. Feelings were preserved, and some of those responsible for the farces in Vietnam were able to save face and their reputations. The niceties of military "justice" were maintained, and the Marine Corps was able to avoid the absurd spectacle of court martialing one of their officers for writing a book. Neither Dave Shoup or I achieved our objectives. The war went on, and 26,000 more men died before the United States was driven out of Vietnam.
Before I take leave of this historical critique, let me give you my definition of pacification, i.e., the one which I used to guide the activities of the Combined Action Program and those wonderful Marines who gave of themselves to the people in the hamlets of South Vietnam.
Pacification includes a number of processes. However, it is not defined simply as a process. A better term is that it is descriptive of a condition. In the case of the hamlets in South Vietnam, it was the belief and perception of the Vietnamese people that they were safe in their own homes. This idea, or feeling of safety, was the sine qua non without which there was no "pacification purpose", or potential gain simply from providing the humanitarian assistance that the indigenous government had never provided. The CAP Marines, by virtue of their willingness to stand and die to protect the Vietnamese from their twin enemies, i.e., the Communists and the GVN [South Vietnamese Government] made believers out of the Vietnamese peasants. Once that had occurred, the hamlet had been "pacified". In one very important sense, this speaks to the people's "state of mind". If the people's state of mind was such that they believed they were safe, or at least would be protected, the essential condition to proceed with visible pacification/rehabilitation efforts was in hand and in place. Without it, everything was just to much dross. I can't emphasize too strongly that the desired state of mind had to be achieved first. Parenthetically, I observed on many occasions following a heavy VC attack which had been finally beaten off after a toll of lives and physical destruction, a spirit of unity between the CAP Marines and the people as they set about the task of rebuilding the hamlet and getting ready for the next attack or problem. In sum, security and it acquisition is not simply the erection of barricades.Editor's Footnote
There is neither time, nor do I have the inclination to attempt to resolve the question about fixed and mobile CAPs. The putative reasons for going to the mobile concept have less to do with valid military analysis than the politics of MACV. On the other hand, the politics which drove part of that decision were unstated and unacknowledged by those who issued, or acquiesced, in the orders. Namely, that by the time the mobile concept had been adopted, the war had been effectively lost. It (this decision) can be used to prove that our use of the CAP concept, beginning in 1966, was doomed to ultimate failure because it was at least two years too late. I knew that before I went to Vietnam, but I agreed to take on the job because, as I mentioned above, my purpose was to save Marine and Vietnamese lives. Lives, in my opinion, that would have otherwise been lost in the pursuit of a futile military and political strategy.
That's as much of the story I'm willing to tell at this time. I share it with you, my former comrades in arms, because you are entitled to know the truth about what we did, and tried to do. As a nation we have not been able to come to grips with Vietnam. It overhangs most of what passes for our current political discourse and has had a deleterious influence on our overall social psyche. The CAP Marines are, as a group, the only persons who have come to grips with the Vietnam War. This is not to say that all of them have come all the way back. But they are bound together by a shared experience that their countrymen can only envy if they take the time to understand it. And it's part of our responsibility to be there when those who have not been able to come back reach out for our assistance.
Editor's Footnote: the following best depicts the spirit of co-operation possible, I think, only in a CAP Village.
On May 12, 1967, CAP Papa 2 came under attack by a reinforced company of the 442nd. NVA Corps of Engineers. Details of the battle are superflous to this discussion. Specific stories of the heroic Marines and PFs are posted on the CAP Web Site "Units Histories & Personal Experiences" page under the Papa 2 section.
What is critical to this dissertation is the reaction of the villagers in Lai Phuoc and Phuoc My hamlets.
At 0410 hours, as the battle commenced, the villagers in both Lai Phuoc to the north, and Phuoc My to the south, were startled awake. Unable to see anything in the darkness, they sat and awaited the outcome. As the sun came up, and the Viet Cong broke off the attack, those villagers with a view of the Papa 2 compound saw that the Marines were still in control of the island. Word spread throughout the hamlets, and the village women got busy.
As we busily tended to the wounded and cleaned up the debris from destroyed buildings and bunkers, we couldn't help but notice as a long procession of villagers came walking down Highway 1 toward the compound. The women were all carrying baskets.
As the procession entered the front gate of the compound, and the women began to set up what was in their baskets, the Village Chief approached Sgt. Phil Prince. The villagers, it seemed, were concerned that we had far too many other things to worry about that morning. So they got together, pooled their limited resources and brought breakfast to "their Marines".
CAP Papa 2, 1967