Robert A. Klyman: Honors Thesis

An Alternative Not Taken

Robert A. Klyman
Honors Thesis
Department of History
The University of Michigan

Copyright 1986
Robert A. Klyman


 I am deeply indebted to BGen E.H. Simmons (USMC, Ret.) and his staff at the Marine Corps Historical Center in Washington, D.C.  The historians there gave freely of their time and advice, and the reference librarians made written and oral histories easily accessible.  My greatest debt at the Center goes to Mr. Jack Shulimson, Head of the Histories section, without whose help this thesis would not have been written.  LtCol Wayne Babb (USMC) also lent important aid at the outset of my research.  The Marine Corps Historical Foundation provided me with a research grant in exchange for a bibliography of sources.  The opinions expressed in this thesis are not necessarily those of the Marine Corps Historical Center or Foundation.

Three retired Marine officers provided me with invaluable interviews:  Col John Greenwood, LtCol William R. Corson, and LtCol J.R. Day.  In addition, several retired Marines responded to a questionnaire: Col C.R. Burroughs, Col Don R. Christensen, Col D.J. Ford, Col Ted Metzger, Col George Robillard, Col J.J. Tolnay, Col David H. Wagner, LtCol   I.L. Carver, and LtCol J.R. Day.

I would also like to thank the people who commented on a draft copy.  The following retired Marine Corps officers
provided me with insights based on their own experience: Col Don R. Christensen, Col Ted Metzger, Col George
Robillard, Col J.J. Tolnay, Col David H. Wagner, and LtCol I.L. Carver.  Lam Ha, a Vietnamese interpreter, also
provided comments.  Jack Shulimson and Dr. Keith Fleming of the Marine Corps Historical Center polished my introduction
and conclusion.  At the University of Michigan, Professor John Shy and Tom Collier lent their experience to make this.
thesis a much better product.  Professor Bradford Perkins advised this thesis and was, of course, instrumental in its origin and development.

The responsibility for any errors is my own.

Robert Klyman
March 1986


By late 1964, official attitudes in Washington were drifting towards increased American participation in and expansion of the Vietnam War.  Something had to be done to shore up the unstable South Vietnamese regime and to counter the growing enemy strength.  Along with air attacks on North Vietnam, this "something" was the introduction of American ground forces into Vietnam.  General William C. Westmoreland, commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV),1 determined that, faced with deteriorating Vietnamese political and military situations, two Marine battalions were needed for security at Da Nang, one of South Vietnam's most important airbases.  Consequently, in March, 1965, the Marines landed by sea and air.  They were soon followed by 38,000 more Marines deployed to South Vietnam as the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF),2 under the command of Major General Lewis W. Walt.3

 MACV and the Marines had differing views of what it would take to win the war.  Westmoreland's major goals included finding and destroying North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the Viet Cong (VC) battalions, and denying them territory regardless of the density or sparseness of its population.  Further, he emphasized the need for "spoiling attacks" to unsettle the enemy.  The Marines, while admitting that Westmoreland's concerns had merit, felt that his priorities neglected the importance of pacifying the villages.  In this vein, LtGen Victor H. Krulak, Commander of Fleet Marine Force Pacific (FMFPac), stated to Admiral U.S.G. Sharp, Commander in Chief Pacific (CINCPac), "It is our conviction that if we can destroy the guerrilla fabric among the people, we will automatically deny the larger units the food and the intelligence and the taxes and the other support they need. . . . [T]he real war is among the people and not among [the] mountains."4

It was within this context that the Marines instituted pacification tactics designed to win the support of the South Vietnamese rural population.  Among the most successful of these efforts was the Combined Action Program (CAP), in which squads of Marines and a Navy corpsman moved into a village or hamlet and combined forces with a South Vietnamese Popular Force (PF) platoon of 20 to 35 men.5

The Combined Action Program has been neglected in the historiography of the Vietnam War.  The secondary literature
is scant.  There are, however, two works, F.J. West's The Village and William R. Corson's The Betrayal6, that were
important points of departure for my research.  Each is a first-hand account of experiences with CAP (although Corson also focuses on other problems of conducting the war). However, the authors did not examine the primary source material that forms the crux of this essay; nor did they sufficiently, if at all, address all of the questions this thesis seeks to answer.7

A special type of secondary literature is the official histories published by the Marine Corps Historical Center in Washington, D.C.  Although using some of the primary sources  I used, these histories only devote a few pages to CAP; this situation is understandable since the histories cover the entire spectrum of Marine Corps operations, while the CAP was only a small part of those operations.  These publications provided me with a base upon which to construct my narrative and were essential in filling in the chronological gaps left by my primary sources.

I relied heavily on three collections of primary sources, each of which has its limitations.  First, I used FMFPac Reports8 to construct a chronological narrative of the Combined Action Program's development.  Originally classified as secret, each report covers one month's operations of all Marine Corps units in I Corps.  I experienced three problems with them.  Because these reports were designed in part to convince MACV and influential civilians and soldiers in Washington of the merit of the CAP, one cannot find criticism of the program within them. Furthermore, known then and now as "Krulak's Fables", the validity of the statistics provided is open to some question.  Finally, the reporting on some years is sketchy; as a result, I had to rely on secondary sources to complete the narrative for those years, most notably 1970 and CAP's deactivation period.

My second primary source was oral histories, taped interviews of men who served in the program.  There are several limitations here.  The interview program focused mainly on 1966 to 1968; I found few interviews either before or after this period.  Thus, I have little such oral commentary regarding the "mature" years of the program when it was most effective.  Second, the interviewers are frequently of higher rank than the interviewee.  The potential exists that the interviewee was intimidated by this situation and may have slanted his commentary.  This "self-censorship" may also have occurred if the interviewee were planning to make a career in the Marine Corps and feared that sometime in the future a promotion board would listen to the tape.9  And last, according to Colonel John Greenwood, CO 1st CAG,10 sometimes a Marine may have
exaggerated the difficulty of his tour for one reason or another.11

The third primary source I used was reports and studies commissioned during the war by the Marines.  These reports were both carried out by independent researchers and individual Marines.  Their major limitations are that they usually only covered a specific year and one should be wary about the complete objectivity of reports by Marines (or any other soldier) on a Marine program.

Although my sources have built-in limitations, they are the only major primary sources available.12  I am therefore forced to examine the CAP chiefly through a Marine Corps perspective.  I have used these sources to seek answers to the following questions about the Combined Action Program:

This thesis is not an attempt to compare the Combined Action Program to any other program; time constraints have forced me to consider the CAP in relative isolation.  Nor is it a recreation of a typical day in the life of a platoon; F.J. West has already done that splendidly in The Village. Rather, I am looking at a broader picture, from different perspectives.  I think that the CAP, because of its success, is worth writing about.  This thesis tells its story.  

Birth of the CAPs: History and Implementation of a Workable Idea

In 1965, Col William Taylor, commanding officer of the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines (3/4), stationed in Phu Bai, needed reinforcements to guard a 10 square mile area directly east and west of an airfield recently added to his tactical area of responsibility (TAOR}.  The airstrip was extremely vulnerable to mortar attack from hamlets lying no more than several hundred meters away; these hamlets were known Viet Cong (VC) areas.  The solution to this problem lay in the implementation of 24-hour security.1   When the reinforcements did not materialize, Taylor, at the suggestion of Maj. C.B. Zimmerman, Capt. John J. Mullen, and Lt. J.W. Davis, decided to integrate South Vietnamese Popular Force (PF) soldiers with Marines to defend the airstrip on round-the-clock basis.2

Uniting with indigenous forces was in the residual institutional memory of the Marines, (i.e. Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic), so this was by no means a revolutionary idea.

By agreement with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam3 (ARVN), operational control of six PE platoons within the 3d Battalion's TAOR4 was given to Taylor; the platoons were formally united with the appointment of an ARVN lieutenant as company commander.  Under the command of a Marine lieutenant, Paul Ek, these Vietnamese platoons joined four Marine squads and became the first Joint Action Company (JAC).5  Ek was selected for this position by Gen Walt and Col. Wheeler, CO of the 3d Marines.  Wheeler had operational control of 3/4.  Ek was chosen in part "because he had attended counter-insurgency school and had some language capability in Vietnamese.6

Before the two forces were joined in this fashion, however, Ek spent a week training his handpicked Marines.  A primary subject of the training was the Vietnamese political and military structure.  According to Ek, it was important that these Marines understood "their position when they were in a village with a village chief and . . . a Vietnamese Captain . . . just where they stood in this little grouping and who they called 'sir' and who they called 'you'. This cross-cultural training was continued in subsequent weeks.8  The Marines were also thoroughly briefed on how they were to conduct intelligence and counterintelligence operations.  Combined with patrols, the Marines hoped to utilize these operations "to deny the Vietcong access to the people."

After initial training, the PFs and Marines formed the first Joint Action Platoon on 1 August 1965.  "Ek's concept of operations of the PF with Marines was patterned on the organization of the VC infrastructure, using 'assistance rather than terror to win the people's loyalties.'  He believed that as the PFs and Marines built their 'infrastructure . . . they would be destroying that of the Viet Cong.'  The combined force would have several basic assignments:  'security, counterintelligence, obtaining the good will of the people. . . .  These formed the spokes of the wheel while training was the hub of the entire program.'"  Training thereafter became a joint process.  The Vietnamese instructed the Marines in local customs, peculiarities of the terrain, and language, and provided details on the whereabouts of the Viet Cong.  The Marines, on the other hand, taught discipline, tactics, and civilian population control.10  "We conducted classes with the PFs on scouting and patrolling, hand and arm signals, ambush techniques, tactics, population control, intelligence needs and collection, marksmanship. . . Things that were necessary for both the Marines and the PFs to understand and to do together."11  Although Ek trained the initial PF platoon with great autonomy, III MAF, in December, signaled its belief in the importance of these local forces by assuming greater responsibility for the PF.  Moreover, operational control of additional PF platoons was transferred to the 3d Marine Division.12

Initially, the JAC only entered a village during daylight; they ignored civic action and did not seek to get to know the people on a personal basis, preferring to concentrate on security measures.  As newcomers to the villages, it was critical for the JAC Marines to learn the routines of the villagers.  In this way, they could be on the lookout for any deviations in patterns, changes which might signal planned or ongoing Viet Cong activity.  "Each man kept a small notebook and . . . diary each day which was compiled by the squad leader into a combat diary for the squad. . . .  We were looking for daily routines, daily patterns:  what time the buffalo boys took their water buffaloes out; what time the people moved out into rice paddies; what time they got up in the morning; why on one day no one went to the paddies in one area, but they did in another.  Through this association and determining these patterns, then, we could note changes in these patterns and then try to find out the reasons why."13  The JAC also conducted daytime patrols.

Once the Marines felt somewhat acclimated and secure, the JAC made an effort to form a relationship with the people and be accepted as members of the village community. In this spirit, "the evolved command structure was unique. The District Chief regarded Lt Ek as his equal; Lt Ek treated him as his superior.  The four Village Chiefs regarded Lt Ek as their superior; Lt Ek treated them as equal."14  Moreover, the cultural training the Marines received at the outset proved to be invaluable, as this
knowledge facilitated their cultivation of a relationship with the Vietnamese.  As a result, the Marines could live in and be treated by the village "not as an occupational force, but as members of that village, [while] at the same time carrying out their primary mission of military capability."15

The mission of these platoons was to eliminate VC control of the village.  After the first week, the joint patrols ran day and night operations, spending several nights a week in the village.16  Along with the local Vietnamese National Police, the PFs and Marines implemented population control measures.  For instance, they would enter a village in the pre dawn hours and assemble the people in the street.  The police would then check IDs after the JAC had explained that this was a protective measure and apologized for the inconvenience.17  Those found to be without ID cards were considered VC and taken in for
questioning.18  Eventually, the JAC became adept at spotting Viet Cong infiltrated areas.  By being sensitive to the "attitudes" of a village, Ek's men learned to determine which areas were influenced by the VC.  "We found . . . that through the attitudes of areas we could pinpoint Vietcong activity within that area.  If you walk into an area and the people just go about their business and conduct normal daily routines with a fair amount of friendliness....things are pretty quiet.  Many times an area will be overly friendly, too friendly.  There's a reason for this . . . possibly Vietcong in the area at the time or [they] have just been there and
[told villages] to be friendly to Marines. It's an attitude you feel, more than anything else."19

They also conducted civic action; it was during this period that the Marines began to form friendships with the people.20  "We wanted to raise [their economy] by helping to repair their roads so that they could get more of their rice to market faster, increase fresh water that they could spend more time working in their rice fields and less time hauling fresh water. . . . We tried to look for projects that would benefit the area as a whole, rather than specific individuals."21

Ek thought the Viet Gong could react in one of three ways.  First, they could have tried to overrun the platoon, given the small size of the unit and the PFs' reputation for cowardice (the VC knew "they could push the PFs over any time they wanted to"22), and thereby discredit the Marine effort.  Second, the VG could have harrassed the JAG with weapons fire or probing attacks.  But they chose a third alternative:  they left the JAG alone.  Ek guessed that the Viet Cong probably was hoping that "we would make the mistakes that can be made . . . and gain disfavor of the people. .   .  I guess they thought that with such a small unit we couldnst do much militarily or, actually, physically in combatting them...expecting that they would still be able to come in and work in the area at night."23

Two aspects of this program stand out.  The first aspect was temporary but still merits comment:  South Vietnamese forces were placed under American operational control, although administrative control was retained by the South Vietnamese. Usually, the ARVN retained command of South Vietnamese troops.  Here, however, the 3/4's operational control of the PF platoons enabled it to provide tpe leadership that the PFs desperately needed.   The commands of the Battalion were implemented through the Commander of the Joint Action Company via the Marine Squad leaders.24  Ek credited the success of this move to the individual squad leaders: 'The sergeants that we had were outstanding men and anything less than the caliber of people they were and I don't think this operation would have been successful.25

Second,, the Marines, unlike many other American troops, did not attempt to implement sudden radical changes in village life.  As one PF put it, according to Ek, "when we [the Marines] came we didn't try to impose a new way of doing something on them; we took their old ways and tried to show them how they could do it better.26

Perhaps because Ek's accomplishment was so visible, the Marines expanded the aims and objectives of the CAP,  recommending a new mission concept:

After Ek rotated home in September 1965, his successor, Capt J.J. Mullen, intensified operations:

While the platoons did not kill many VC in this early implementation period, they did accomplish their primary mission of protecting the airbase and villages, mainly through intense and frequent patrolling.29  According to the reports filed by the Battalion at Phu Bai, "the presence of Marines in the villages has denied the VC the use of areas" from which the Battalion had been susceptible to VC observation and attack.30  As a result, moreover, the Marines increased the experience and confidence of the PFs.31

Furthermore, the platoons became a tenable source of information for the Battalion. Prior to their implementation the Battalion never received "concrete or timely intelligence't from the surrounding villages.  The Joint Action Company's permanent presence and its active patrolling, however, "relieved the people of fear of VC retaliation and intelligence information has been freely offered since that time."32  "People began to bring in information, first through the village chief, then direct.

By November 1965, seventy-five percent of all operations were based on intelligence "33

The village officials also began living in their own homes during the hours of darkness, and VC tax collection and propaganda ceased.34  According to 3/4, propaganda leaflets were rarely found and VC lectures stopped completely.  Thus, the advent of the CAC35 put an end to what had been common enemy practice.36  Instead, the CAC initiated psychological operations of its own.  Although the Marines distributed some propaganda materials, the most effective method was, as Ek put it, to toot "our own horn, letting the people know we were around and that it wasn't the Marines alone who were doing this but the CAC.  Instead of actual paper material   . . most of it was by word of mouth "37

This program was considered so worthwhile by the CAC Marines that forty of the sixty-six Marines assigned at Phu Bai extended their tours to remain in the program.38  But they were hardly the only Marines to consider it a meritorious progam.  As a result of the success of the CAC in the Phu Bai tactical area, MajGen Lewis Walt, CC III MAF, decided to expand the program.  He conducted a study in November 1965 that determined that various American commanders favored a step-up in combined operations with the PF.  This information prompted an agreement between him and CC I Corps (ARVN), MajGen Nguyen Chanh Thi, to combine Marine and PF units throughout the Danang area, using the CAC at Phu Bai as a model.  According to FMFPac, the purpose of this action was to strengthen PF platoons in their security role around the air base, improve their communications, and provide the PF with "supplementary combat experience by actual practice on the battlefield.39

After several months' experimentation, General Thi expanded the concept to all Marine tactical zones in I Corps during January 1966.40  He published a memorandum detailing the value of the CAC system and Marine leadership in individual units in terms of improving PF morale and "fighting spirit", mobility, and increased understanding between the Marines and PFs.  In addition, due to PF influence, Thi believed that "the mistakes made by Allied troops which have proved to be harmful to the people have
been decreased."41  From this point onward, the number of Combined Action units increased steadily.

Quick Growth and Early Success
By 1966, the combined action program had "developed into an integral component of the Marine pacification strategy."  Generals Krulak, FMFPac, and Walt, CG III MAW, both of whom believed in the value and appropriateness of this concept, tried to persuade MACV to replicate CAPS throughout Vietnam.1

To add weight to their arguments, FMFPac assembled some impressive statistics.  According to this official view, the PF performance in CACs was far more satisfactory than that of PFs operating outside the program.2  For example, in the five month period, 1 August to 31 December 1966, nearly 40,000 PF soldiers deserted from regular PF units throughout Vietnam; this represents a loss of more than 25 percent.  In the CAC units, however, there were not any PF desertions during that same period.  According to FMFPac, this signaled the improved military ability and dedication of PFs who, up until this point, had been poorly led and trained.  Under Marine leadership, the PFs are "finding leaders who are qualified and who take a personal interest in them."3  Furthermore, some PFs had even begun to conduct patrols without Marines.4  Moreover, the PF ffectiveness in killing the enemy was substantially greater in the CAC units than in regular PF platoons.  For example, the kill ratio of CACs in 1966 was 14 to 1, while the regular PF forces' kill ratio was merely three to one.5

The villages as a whole obviously benefitted from this kind of increased performance; FMFPac sought to demonstrate these advantages by using a quantitative scale created by III MAF (known eventually as the Hamlet œvaluation System (HES).  These statistics are dubious, but they are the only ones available.  For example, "24 of the 39 villages with CACS in place, including 9 which had been initiated within 3 months of the study, reached 80 percent on the III MAF scale or else have improved at least 10 percent since the CAC's implementation."6

The impact of the expanding CAC program could, FMFPac believed, be seen throughout the area where CACs were operating.  For instance, 2,800 Vietnamese refugees moved into Phuoc Trach, a hamlet near Danang, when a CAC was established there. Due to the Marine presence, the refugees considered it the safest location in the area.  In addition, the CACs prevented sabotage of Route 1, the main line of communication between Chu Lai and Tam Ky.  There were no incidents in a six month period after the establishment of the CACs in these two villages in December 1966.  Often, villagers became dependent on the security provided by the CACs.  For example, in Ky Bich village, near Chu Lai, villagers had been moving 3 miles each night to a safer location to avoid VC harrassment.  After the implementation of the CAC, however, the villagers began sleeping in their own homes.7  Throughout I CTZ the impact of the CAC also extended beyond military action.  The CAC corpsmen played an important role in civic action.  In Danang area, for example, they treated 15,000 villagers monthly.  As a result of the effort of the CAC Marines, according to FMFPac, "the Viet Cong have never been able to reestablish control over an area once security has been established by a Combined Action Platoon.  Based on experience to date in this
endeavor, the presence of a CAP in a village complex has removed that village from further use as a Viet Cong sanctuary.8

The quick growth of the Combined Action Program (from 1 to 57 platoons, consisting of 729 Marines and 1,482 Vietnamese
PFs, by the end of 1966) resulted in several problems, relating primarily to personnel shortages.  No official slots had been created to fill the CAC billets; as a result, the Marines were forced to take men out of their battalion manning levels.  Not surprisingly, battalion commanders were often reluctant to transfer their best men into the program "while receiving no direct recompense in return."9  This was unfortunate, as the Battalions did receive important, albeit indirect, benefits from the CAP (i.e. increased intelligence information, rear area protection)   Often, men were "volunteered" into the program by their ommanders. According to Colonel G.E. Jerue, former CO, 9th Marines, "Although the requirement states that they should be
volunteers, it doesn't demand volunteers.  We more or less had to go to the rule of thumb that if the man doesn't object he is a volunteer for it."10 (see also below) Nonetheless, the success of the CACs continued into 1967.

Development and Maturation of the CAP
The Combined Action Program continued to progress in 1967 as it had in the first two years of its existence.  The major developments were related to its rapid expansion of 1966-67. During 1967, the CAP expanded from 57 platoons and 8 companies in the beginning of the year to 79 platoons, 14 companies, and 3 groups by 31 December 1967.1  Although this
represents a substantial growth, it did fall below the goal; of 114 platoons set in 1966.2

As a result of this growth, several command and procedural changes were implemented.  In June 1967, for example, CG III MAF implemented a Combined Action Group (CAG) Headquarters at Danang to supervise the training and support of Combined Action units.  The second command and procedural change occurred in July, when III MAF activated two more Combined Action Groups to improve control of and coordination of support for the platoons in the Phu Bai and Chu Lai areas.3 Operational control of the individual platoons still rested with the nearest Marine battalion, with the division commander continuing to have command authority of any units in his TAOR.4

Third, recognizing the potential of the CAP concept, Gen Robert Cushman, then CC III MAF, took command of the program in October, 1967.  Supervisory authority was to be assumed by the Deputy CG III MAF, then MajGen Herman Nickerson, and implemented through the newly created position of Director, Combined Action Program.  The first Director, CAP, was LtCol William R. Corson.

Also in October, the command of combined action units in a given TAOR was transferred from the divisions to the Combined Action Groups.  The Commanding Generals of the First and Third Marine Divisions and the Americal (U.S. Army) Division, which had recently been deployed to I Corps, opposed this move.  They argued that since "the division still retained responsibility for limited logistical support and reaction forces for all Combined Action Platoons [it] should also retain operational control."  To CC III MAF, however, the need for centralized control and administration of a burgeoning number of CAPs overrode this consideration.5  Furthermore, according to LtCol Corson, the typical battalion commander did not understand what was necessary to succeed in pacification:  "He was there to kill enemy.  . .  His mission was two up, one back, hot chow. Battalion commanders were not in Vietnam to win the hearts and minds of the people. . . . They were playing the game of  . . search and destroy.  They didn't understand the nature of the war they were involved in."6  Operational control of
the CAPs by the battalion commander, therefore, would have been detrimental to the pacification effort of the program.
To train Marine CAP replacements, III MAF created a school.7  Initially, under the supervision of LtCol William R. Corson, the school's sessions lasted two weeks; besides basic weapons training, Corson was dedicated to keeping Marines alive by teaching them how not to culturally offend the Vietnamese.  According to Corson, "we gave [the CAP Marines] skills that didn't belong in any military manual," such as teaching them how to eat in a Vietnamese household or how to sit properly.  For example, if one sat with his legs crossed, showing the sole of his shoe to his Vietnamese host, he would be giving a terrible insult to his host. Corson was committed to "cultural education."

"What I was telling them was that what your life really depends on is knowing not to put your foot over your leg.  Doesn't that sound strange, that your life depends on not doing that?  Why?  Because [the Vietnamese] say, "he doesn't think much of me."  And when the VC come around and say, "what do you hear, what do you say?"--"Well, the Americans are going to go out on patrol, they're going to be down here at the corner Saturday night at ten o'clock."  And then at ten o'clock on Saturday we had . . .  an ambush because you put your foot over your leg.

The CAP school was not a "cure-all." Unfortunately, when the Program had the time to train Marines adequately, for example, by sending them to language school so that they could fit better into Vietnamese society, it did not have the assets to do so.  When it finally received sufficient assets, according to Corson, it no longer had enough time to take men out of the field.9

The length and content of the CAP school varied over time. Some Marines said that they attended a two-week school that concentrated primarily on military procedures;10 others spent as little as a week to nine days, learning about Vietnamese religion and beliefs as well as weapons operation.  The greatest transformation, and the most unfortunate since the biggest problem experienced by the CAP Marine was in the area of culture [see below] , was the reduction in the number of hours devoted to instruction on South Vietnam itself.  By 1969, the school only was devoting six hours (and in some cases less) to cultural instruction.

The general consensus was that the CAP school was a worthwhile, successful program ("It kept me alive," said one Marine11)  Several Marines, however, questioned what they considered misplaced priorities.  According to one, the CAP school spent six hours teaching the Marines a Vietnamese game, similar to chess.  "They said  it's a traditional game and everybody plays it . . . and we learned it.  I've been here a little over 3 months now and I have not yet sat down and played a game. . . .  In fact, I'd venture to say I haven't even seen a game . . . since Itve been here." Corson, on the other hand, considered the elephant chess
game and other Vietnamese cultural aspects an essential part of the training.12  Another complaint was that not enough time was spent on training in everyday language.  "They spent two hours . . . teaching the Marines a song.  You don't learn how to say 'the first PF is on watch from 8 to 12'  . . .  And this is the type of language we have to get across. "13

Problems continued to result from the rapid expansion of the previous year.  First, the necessary growth in the organizational structure (see above) resulted in "less personal leadership on the lowest level."14  This was a problem because many basic decisions still had to be made by the NCO in the platoon.  The villages of Vietnam were not homogeneous; the weather, terrain, economy, and intensity of enemy operations differed from village to village.  The difficulty occurred when "blanket" orders were issued without considering the differences between areas.15  In one instance, a platoon was intructed to organize material for "agricultural farming and raising pigs.  This didn't go too good . . . because ours was a fishing village.  They didn't
want anything to do with pigs.  They have them now, but they don't want pig farms."16

Second, because of the relatively large influx of new Marines and their need for equipment, the overall level of training and requirements for recruitment into CAP declined.17  A few CAPS failed to accomplish their mission during this period of expansion.  For example, LtCol Max McQuown, Co 3/1, had nothing but disdain for the two platoons in his TAOR. Few of the Marines assigned to these two CAP units had prior ground combat experience. . . . The leaders, and the marines under them in these CAP units, lacked skills in scouting and patrolling, mines and booby traps, map reading, observed fire procedure, basic infantry tactics and VC tactics and techniques. Further, they had scant knowledge of the Vietnamese language and were unfamiliar with the social and religious customs of the people they were living with.18

(This feeling, however, seems to have been more the exception than the rule.)  Furthermore, it was not even until late in 1967 that the program received its own Table of Organization and Equipment, necessary to get supplies such as guns and radios through official channels.

The progress of CAP continued throughout 1967, despite the problems it encountered.  By the end of 1967, the Combined Action platoons were providing security to nearly 10 percent of the population in I CTZ.19  28 villages experienced an increase in security on the III MAF evaluation scale.  Several experienced radical improvement, including Lac Dien, southwest of Phu Bai, which gained 56 points in 12 months and Son Ninh, southwest of Danang, which increased from a zero to a 62 percent rating in less than six months after the deployment of a CAP there.20  FMFPac summed up its evaluation of progress made by the program in 1967:

By late in 1967 the criteria for selection to the Combined Action Program had crystallized.  fly most accounts, the rigor of the criteria was nearly unparalleled in other programs:

Unit commanders were instructed to "establish and maintain current rosters of personnel who meet the above criteria" and use these personnel to fill necessary quotas.22  As we have seen above and will see below in more detail, however, some commanders ignored these criteria and instead "volunteered" men into the program.

The Tet Offensive and the shift to a Mobile Concept
1968 was probably the roughest year for the CAPS. After having been battered by the Tet Offensive, the program integrated a physically exhausting mobile concept.  III MAF also instituted Mobile Training Teams, designed to provide "two weeks of basic combat instruction to more than 70 I Corps Popular Force platoons."  Throughout the year, moreover, twenty-three new CAPs were activated, bringing the total to 102.  Also activated in 1968 were the 4th Combined Action Group (CAG) headquarters in the Quang Tri-Dong Ha-Cam Lo area, and five company headquarters.  At the end of the year, 1,763 USMC and 3,036 PF personnel were assigned to the CAP.1

Tet constituted one of the finest hours of the Combined Action Program.  According to FMFPac, "Combined Action units made a vital contribution to the ultimate friendly success, as these small Marine/Popular Force units, remaining in place to protect the villages . . . often made the initial enemy contacts, thereby providing larger units the opportunity for exploitation."2

There are many examples of the heroism of individual CAP units.  For example, two CAP units stopped an enemy contingent from attacking Danang.  According to General Krulak, Danang was the only city out of thirty-eight primary VC/NVA targets during Tet "at which the enemy's effort turned out to be a total failure."  He credited the success to the CAPs.3  LtCol Corson corroborated this:  the Marines of these two units held long enough for American reinforcements to arrive and destroy two NVA regiments. These Marines fought to the last man; only one from the platoons survived the attack.4  Many more instances of CAP determination are cited by FMFPac.  These reports summarize the impressive enemy casualty rates suffered when the VC/NVA forces engaged a CAP.5  After the initial enemy attacks, moreover, CAPs often provided continued protection and
order.  In Binh Son District, for example, eight CAPs were credited with maintaining the safety of the districtes 73,100 inhabitants.6

One must recognize, however, that although most CAPS were attacked,  not every CAP [was].  According to one platoon leader, the VC/NVA bypassed his CAP to hit a city nearby instead.7 On the opposite side of the spectrum, some CAPs
were hit, and hit hard, by the NVA.  The CAP was a unit designed to combat small guerrilla forces, not enemy  regiments.  When a CAP was overrun, a further danger existed:  would the villagers respect a rebuilt CAP that had been slaughtered by the enemy?  The results were mixed.8

After Tet came the introduction of a mobile concept. Previously, CAPs had patrolled from a fixed compound; now the compound was abandoned and the platoons moved constantly throughout their TAOR.  Within a year, over eighty-nine
percent of the CAPs had been switched to mobility.

The mobile CAP did have some disadvantages as compared with the compound concept.  For instance, although FMFPac
claimed that by relocating once every 24 hours and running patrols at night the mobile CA? "avoids routines and defensive pitfalls which may provide a lucrative target for the enemy....Colonel John Greenwood, Director of the 4th CAG in 1968 and an avid supporter of the mobile CAP concept, admitted that this was not so easily accomplished. According to him, he had a terrible time getting Marines to break habits and routines.  For example, running nightly patrols conflicted with the normal dinner hour.  By the time the Marines finished eating, it was dark; often the VC established an ambush before the Marines arrived at their own positions.10

Greenwood also could appreciate the material benefits of a compound CAP.  The Marines could construct a sturdy living area, a place to store equipment, and a shelter to protect them from the elements.  The lifestyle in a Mobile CAP, although safer, was much more rigorous, as the men could only use what they could carry on their backs.11

Although the compound CAP had advantages in regards to comfort, most Marines were enthusiatic about the change, primarily because greater mobility led to increased safety and effectiveness.  According to one CO, "With its mobility the CAP can keep the VC guessing . . . they [VC] don't like to come after you unless they've had a chance to get set and do some planning.  The mobility throws this off.  It also means that the CAP can be found anywhere outside a village or hamlet and they don't like this."12  The change to mobility was in part motivated by the fact that so many CAP Marines were killed during the Tet Offensive; with mobility, the CAP no longer lost entire platoons in a single action.13

This feeling was shared by the men who served. According to one such Marine, since the CAP compound was easily identifiable by its sandbags, bunkers, and wire, and since the VC could study the CAP and probe it for weaknesses, "it only takes about 3 seconds to overrun... a small perimeter."9  Mobility eliminated the enemy's ability to fix the position of the CAP for mortar or rocket attacks. As he summed it up, "if the enemy can't fix you, they cannot hit you."14  Furthermore, the ompound CAPs represented "an overhead to the Marines who occupy them."  Since fifty percent of the Marines were required to defend them at all times, fewer were available to patrol the areas under their protection.15

The switch to a mobile concept also led in most instances to greater contact with the villagers, as the CAP Marine was on the move through the village at night, but rested in a different villager's house each day. Furthermore, the shift improved relations between the PF and the Marine elements of the CAP.  As Colonel E.F. Danowitz, Director of CAP in 1969 described it,

 Only a few Marines seemed to oppose the transformation of the CAP to a mobile program.  One, Colonel David Wagner,
Deputy Director, CAP, 1967-68, argued that "the CAP presence in the villages was to show U.S. involvement at the village
level.  Many civic programs . . . relied upon the entree the CAP units provided."17

Another notable opponent was the first Director, CAP, LtCol William R. Corson.  According to him, if the CAPs were doing their job correctly, working with the villagers, gaining their trust, the CAPs would receive good intelligence information.  The threat to the compound would be minimized, rendering the shift to mobility superfluous.  It was important to have a compound to provide tangible evidence of the Marines' commitment to the village.18

While Corson's and Wagner's arguments have merit, an overriding factor must be considered.  According to MajGen E. E. Anderson, LtGen Robert Cushman implemented this mobility to preserve the Combined Action Platoons from falling to bureaucratic infighting. As Anderson analyzed it at the time,

At this time, General Abrams, the U.S. Deputy Commander in Saigon, wanted to improve the training and capabilities of the PF;  he felt the best way to accomplish this was by utilizing the Combined Action Program.  When the number of CAPs expanded to 114, 11 of these were redesignated as Mobile Training Teams (MTTs).  They conducted a "12 day course (which) stressed aggressive patolling and ambushing and additional leadership training to PF platoon leaders to make them more effective and even more confident in their own ability."20

The results of this training program were mixed, rising or falling with the discipline and ability of the various PF units.  Although the benefits to be reaped by the PFs were obvious, sometimes they "refuse[d] to participate in our practical applications of the classes [or] don't [even) want to listen in the classes we give."21  This situation did not hold true for all PFs, however, and some improved dramatically as a result of Marine training.22

The language barrier also limited the effectiveness of some of the training.  As one Corporal put it, "any training [the PFs] can get is good.  They need the basics.  The Marines know it, but due to a lack of language they have trouble communicating it."23  (For further discussion, see "Problems," below.)

The MTTs were designed to train PF units in I CTZ until the Army had outfitted and organized Mobile Advisory Teams. (MATs) to undertake such training.  By August 1969, 45 MATs had been established; the CAPS returned to limiting their
training of PFs to ordinary CAP activities.24


The Most Active Year and a Reassessment of Selection
In 1969, the Combined Action Program expanded to its authorized strength of 4 groups, 20 company headquarters, and 114 platoons, adding one company headquarters and 13 platoons in the process.  Manpower levels now stood at 1,710 USMC, 119 USN, and 2,991 PF personnel.  Coupled with the mobile concept, which now had been implemented in virtually every platoon, this increase in size resulted in 1969 being the most active operational year ever for the CAPS. Although the platoons conducted over 145,000 patrols and ambushes (double the number for 1968), the "attrition of enemy strength--1,938 NVA/VC killed, 425 taken prisoner, and 932 weapons captured--was lower."1  According to FMFPac, these statistics showed that the enemy was finding it more difficult to "penetrate the pacification areas."2  It remains an open question, however, whether these statistics reflect that the war had changed from a guerrilla to a main force unit war--Tet had substantially reduced the power of the VC.  If we were fighting the NVA, the CAPs, located in outlaying areas and presenting relatively insignificant targets, would receive less action.  One CAG commander sugqested that the number of contacts made was a measure of success.3  Based on this criteria the CAPs were less successful in 1969.  According to Col Ted Metzger, on the other hand, CAPs were more successful.  "CAP mobility increased CAP security and resulted in fewer contacts than that experienced during the year of Tet."4

By 1969, the existing selection system, with its rigorous criteria, had been in place for several years.  The inadequacies of this system had become evident (but were not serious enough to impair the program's success).  The first problem had to do with "the frequency with which these elaborate guidelines were ignored by commanding officers in filling their quotas."5  Although dismaying, one can understand that a commander would be hesitant to recommend his most capable men for transfer to other duty.  Many of the CAP Marines had been "volunteered" for duty by their COs.  Unfortunately, many battalion commanders regarded CAP quotas as a depository for his misfits.  Some CAG commanders disputed the harm in this "allocation of misfits."  For example, Col J. R. Day, CO 2d CAG, 1968, considered that the misfits were so labelled because they were independant
thinkers and tried to seek creative solutions to problems.6 Although Day appreciated individual initiative in the platoons, one disruptive Marine could instantly destroy the goodwill established by a CAP with its village. Furthermore, while the screening process was designed to filter out "undesirables," men could slip through by saying that they "want[ed] to help the people."7  Many attempted to do this because they had heard CAP duty was easier than life in a line unit.

A second, more subtle problem was that to the typical "grunt", a Vietnamese face was considered a source of danger, an enemy.  CAP duty, on the other hand, required a desire to help and protect these Vietnamese "faces."  This shift, according to one commentator, "required a fundamental shift of conditioned attitudes too profound for many to manage."  The men would confess this problem freely--"We've been up in the mountains for months where it's been kill, kill, kill; now we come down here and are told we're supposed to love them all.  It's too much to ask."8 Interestingly, according to Colonel Jerue, CO 9th Mar, the reason that the CAP Marines were taken from Division billets in the first place was that the CAG commanders wanted to
give them a chance to become acclimated to Vietnam and the Vietnamese people.  As he points out, however, it was rare that an infantry Marine (outside of those placed in CAP units) ever got to know a single Vietnamese.9  According to LtCol Corson, however, it was important for a Marine to become acclimated to the environment (weather, terrain, enemy) through service in a line unit before joining a combined action platoon.  In addition, this exposure to the population gave a Marine a first-hand view of the general antipathy that the people felt towards the Americans.  This exposure to the people was designed to prevent the development of the ethnocentric view that the Vietnamese "should be grateful;" such a view might alienate the villagers in a CAP's TAOR.10

A third problem was that the necessity to have served in combat significantly reduced a Marine's length of service in a CAP.  Frequently, the Marine's rotation date arrived just as he was beginning to know, understand, and become friends with the villages (as compared with a typical grunt" who rarely got to know a single Vietnamese). Extensions of CAP service did not always solve this problem, "since some Marines   . . extended for inappropriate reasons (e.g., to ensure that they don't get a second tour), and in fact problems with extenders have become so common in some areas that commanders have been known to (informally) discourage extension."11  According to Colonel E.F. Danowitz, then Director of the Combined Action Program,
nearly one-third of those Marines seeking extensions were rejected.12

In an effort to alleviate these problems, in May 1969 the selection process became a random one of choosing CAP Marines from the Staging Battalion in the United States. According to Col Metzger, the pool from which CAP Marines were chosen  represented the top ten percent of  replacement Marines" taken from the draft.13  To ensure the selection of the highest-quality Marines, "All selectees have their records screened by the CAP Director's staff (grounds for rejection include . . . disciplinary problems, incidence of venereal disease, etc.) and all selectees with the rank of Corporal or above are interviewed personally,
--frequently by the CAP Director h imself.."14  Selectees initially sent to CAP training school and then directly to a CAP without serving in an infantry unit first.  About twenty percent of those chosen were rejected during CAP school.15

Two problems, however, must be considered.  The first issue was whether a new recruit without prior combat experience would panic in a firefight.  According to a study commissioned by the Marines, the seriousness of this question was discounted by experienced Marines, who pointed out that "each battle is a new and unique experience for everyone."16  According to one of the first leaders of a platoon, Capt J.J. Mullen, however, to "assign untrained, inexperienced C C C personnel to combined action units would be highly detrimental to the program."17  LtCol Corson argued against this type of selection for a different reason, contending that it was important that CAP Marines had been involved in combat, or "blooded."  According to him, "before you can go about the infinitely more complicated task of saving lives [which was a goal of the
CAP], you have to know what it means to take a life."18

The second potential problem was that behavioral and disciplinary problems seemed to increase as a Marine's rotation date grew near.  It has not been determined, however, whether this had to do with his "thinking about home" or, instead, whether a limit exists to the period of a CAP Marinets effectiveness.  If the latter reason is valid, then sending a Marine to a CAP for his full Vietnam tour might have been self-defeating.  No material has been produced to adequately meet this question.19

Peak and Decline: the Creation of the CAF

During 1970, the Combined Action Program reached its peak in size and strength (of 2,050 enlisted USMC and 3,000 PF
personnel) before cutting back to match III MAF personnel reductions.  The most notable administrative change occurred on 11 January, when III MAF created the Combined Action Force (CAF) as a headquarters for the four Combined Action Groups.  The CAF was placed under the operational control of  XXIV Corps.1  Since the Marine strength in Vietnam was
declining, this change, according to FMFPac, "was necessary to assure effective support of the CAPs by the U.S. Navy and
ARVN."2  According to one CO, "designation of a Combined Action Force Command strengthened the program since it took
it out of the realm of a staff function and gave it the status of a command.  [As a result,] I think that the change improved personnel and logistics support and increased the support available from the various staff sections of III MAF."3  The Director of the Combined Action Program, then Col Theodore E. Metzger, became Commanding Officer of the Force and ran the CAF schools for Vietnamese language and new CAP training.4

Although under operational control of III MAF at the outset, CAF eventually became subordinate to XXIV Corps (U.S. Army) in March when that organization assumed operational control of all U.S  military personnel and operations in I CTZ. This change in command, however, did not alter the everyday operations ofthe individual platoons.  LtGen Melvin Zais, Commanding Officer of XXIV Corps,  ensured operational continuity by instructing that the CAP was to "continue as previously ordered by CG III MAF..."7

As III MAF cutbacks increased, parallel reductions were implemented in the CAP.  As the program's strength and influence shrank, in September control reverted back to III MAF.  Deactivation of individual CAP units began in June 1970; in July, the 4th CAG in Quang Tri  was disestablished. By late August, only Quang Nam had functional CAPs. Finally, CAP Headquarters rotated out of Vietnam in September.  The remaining effort was concentrated exclusively in the 2d CAG in Quang Nam with 34 CAPs.  The number of Marines and Navy corpsmen reached a temporary equilibrium of 633 personnel; coupled with only 806 PF and RF troops, this represented a major drop from the peak totals of only six months previous--approximately 2,000
Marines and 3,000 PFs and RFs.8

In preparation for their imminent departure, the Marines placed heavy emphasis on training the PFs and RFs. Thus, for the first time, PF soldiers began to consistently conduct patrols without Marine participation.  According to official statistics, this method of operation seemed to work:  "[d]uring the first quarter of 1970, for example, the CAP PF platoons, representing about 12 percent of the total number of PFs in I Corps, accounted for about 29 percent of the enemy killed by PFs and about 40 percent of the weapons captured."9

During March, a study group in CORDS, the pacification branch of MACV, recommended that the ~CAP chain of command be integrated into CORDS."10  Although praising the program's success in providing security and increasing the
performance of PFs, the study criticized the CAP chain of command as inconsistent with "that required by GVN and US national directives."11  According to the CORDS report, the CAP PFs bypassed the village chief to rely on direction from
the district.  Further, it claimed that by operating outside the CORDS structure the CAP Commanders were duplicating efforts of CORDS District and Province Senior Advisors, thereby weakening the "single management concept" advocated by the CORDS people.12

Colonel Metzger replied to this critique, disputing the notion that "CORDS has a monopoly interest in pacification and . . . should control the CAF in the interest of single manager effectiveness."  Furthermore, he argued that the "CAF is a tactical military unit assigned a security mission [and] CORDS possesses no capability to direct or support military Operations."1  His recommendation, that CAF remain a separate entity from CORDS, prevailed with CG XXIV Corps.13

As had been done in 1969, the CAF continued to get personnel straight from the staging battalion in the United States.  Most had not volunteered, although clean disciplinary records and high scores on intelligence tests were prerequisites to CAP duty.  Colonel Metzger, as CO CAF, exercised his right to reject replacements he considered unfit.  This amounted to approximately twenty-five percent of incoming Marines.  As one commentator put it, Metzger "gave particular care to the selection of NCOs for the critical position of CAP squad leader."14  The rationale behind this scrutiny, according to Metzger, was that:

As III MAF reduced its in-country levels, the CAF suffered from shortages of personnel. Fourteen men per CAP, the desired troop level, was seldom realized in 1970. Furthermore, due to a shortage of qualified sergeants, one-third of the CAPS were commanded by corporals or lance-corporals, many still in their teens and "few with previous Vietnam combat experience."  In addition, because of low troop levels, few men could afford to take leave to attend language school;  the CAF, therefore, was dreadfully short on Marines fluent in Vietnamese.16  Reduced personnel levels afflicted the headquarters staff as well, as "we very seldom were able to achieve [officer] overlap, which in the CAF is a critical requirement."17

Although relatively successful in implementing its mission of enhancing village security, the program suffered two major problems beyond those created by manpower shortages.  First, the CAF requirement that line units seek approval to enter a CAP TAOR from both the Combined Action Company and district chief was inefficient; time taken to acquire such approval often hampered battalion operations based on CAP intelligence.18

Another difficulty arose when the Vietnamese began using Regional Forces (RF) as replacements in some units. The RFs, unlike their PF counterparts who "had no higher military organization and were answerable directly to the village chief, . . . had their own companies, group, and battalions, the commanders of which were not controlled by the district chiefs but [by] the province chief."19  This organizational structure, according to LtCol J.J. Tolnay, made personnel problems with the RFS, "and there were many," difficult to resolve.  According to him, relations "deteriorated to the point where my only recourse was to
pull a CAP when the RFs refused to operate in a sound tactical manner or refused to provide us with the number of personnel necessary to conduct operations."20

In the years since the program's inception, 93 CAPs had relocated to new villages and hamlets from those considered able to defend themselves.  According to FMFPac and Colonel Metzger, no such village ever reverted to VC domination.21 While this was true, according to Francis McNamara, American Consul in Vietnam and political advisor to XXIV Corps, the quality of PF performance slipped dramatically once the Marines pulled out.22  This did sometimes occur for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that American Marines were reluctant to provide firepower to a Vietnamese calling on a radio.  The danger that the VC was calling in mortars on a Marine position was too great. In addition, as noted above, the village officials were unenthusiastic about having PFs be mobile.  Without Marines present, the PFs tended to remain within the village, thereby curtailing their effectiveness.  FMFPac, on the other hand, believed in the residual efficacy of the Combined Action Program, 23 as did the Directors of the CAP, one of whom called the continuity of village security the "proof of the program."24

Deactivation: the CAPs Come Home

In late 1969, the Marines devised a deactivation plan for the Combined Action Force.  The CAPs, they decided, would be deactivated and redeployed in proportion to cutbacks in other Marine units.  Several factors informed this decision.  First, III MAF's authorized manpower ceiling included CAF Marines. Thus, if the number of platoons were not reduced, the imminent reduction in the ceiling would cause too great a decrease in conventional units' personnel and strength.  The CAPs relied on these units for support, logistic supply, and reinforcement against attack; recognizing the limited importance given this program by MACV (see below), the Marines preferred not to have to rely entirely on the U.S. Army and the ARVN for such assistance. As a result, a balance between CAPs and other Marine units had to be struck.1

Furthermore, LtGen Herman Nickerson, CO III MAF, was reluctant to withdraw too many conventional forces because he regarded their higher headquarters as providing necessary be supervision" to the CAF units.  Without this close and constant watch, Nickerson believed that discipline, and with it effectiveness, would erode in these isolated, relatively independant platoons: ". . . those damn Marines go bamboo on you .   . unless you can get out there and kick ass, take names, and be sure that they're up to snuff.  One Marine batting a gal on the ass is going to do more to discredit the Marine Corps and the Combined Action I had to come to the hard conclusion that we had to take them out as the Marine Poppa units left."2

The Marines began reducing their CAF contingents despite the fact that the U.S. Army "had no comparable organization with which to replace the CAPs and in spite of great ARVN reluctance to lose these particular Marines."3 As aGen Leo J. Dulacki, Nickerson's Chief of Staff, put it, "one of the things that (the Vietnamese generals) are worried about.  . . are the CAPs.  This is going to be a trauma to them. . . .  One of the final words General Troung gave to me was,  I don't care what else you do but please don't take the CAPs. . . .  [if (they) have their way, the CAPs  would probably stay there indefinitely."4

A major problem in the deactivation process was the fear and insecurity created in the villages when a CAP left. The Marines utilized psychological warfare teams, posters, leaflets, and loudspeaker trucks to inform and reassure the villagers.  Two themes pervaded these efforts:  "that the Marines were leaving because they were needed more elsewhere and that the local RF and PF could beat the Communists without American help."5  In addition, each CAP deactivation was preceded by a formal ceremony; the presence of distinguished guests (e.g., a CAG commander or district chief) was designed to convince the villagers they were not being abandoned.  All parties involved, however, recognized that continued confidence could result only through PF and RF performance and success.6  Although the PF's and RF's had some notable successes working without the Marines to support them,7 the amount of reassurance felt by the villagers is difficult to ascertain.  Army Province Reports give no indication of PF's success or failure when the Marines pulled out, although the quality of PF performance sometimes dropped without Marines present. (see above).

On 21 September 1970, CAF was formally disestablished and operational control of the remaining platoons was passed from XXIV Corps to III MA?.  In Quang Nam province, the 2d CAG coordinated the surviving units.8 This group maintained operations until 17 May 1971; its deactivation brought to a close one of the most successful programs implemented during the Vietnam War.

The View From the Ground: Major Problems and Difficulties
From beginning to end, the Combined Action Program faced problems, problems often more apparent to Marines directly involved in the daily operations of a CAP than to generals and commanding officers.1  The major area of concern to CAP Marines revolved around their general relations with the Vietnamese and the PFs, including difficulties resulting from a language barriers and cultural misunderstandings.  This area was the major problem of the program, since the CAP's success or failure rested on cooperation and trust between the American and indigenous elements.  Although not discussed by FMFPac, the Marines on the ground had plenty to say on this topic.  One must remember, however, that generalizations did not hold true in
Vietnam, as the ability of PFs, intra-platoon relations, and the attitude of villagers towards the CAPs varied from village to village.  This chapter will only present the problems; the success of the program, alluded to above in the narrative, will be discussed in the next section.

A continuous problem was the fact that a language barrier existed between American Marines and Vietnamese PFs. A language school was established and language training provided, but often classes were not long or intense enough to be sufficient.  CAPs with one Marine who could communicate in Vietnamese were considered fortunate; some had to rely on children as interpreters;2 and in others, the Marines and PFs developed hand and arm signals to communicate.  While this latter practice proved relatively effective during the daytime, for obvious reasons it was inefficient during nighttime patrolling.

As serious, and sometimes a direct outgrowth of the difficulties in communication, were cultural misunderstandings that led to tension and hostility between Marines and Pr's and villagers.  The greatest source of this hostility was the different perspective of the Americans and Vietnamese with regard to theft.  Whereas the former believed in the sanctity of personal property, the
Vietnamese did not consider borrowing an "unused" object to be a wrongdoing.  According to one CAP Marine, for example,
during monsoon season,

While such an occurrence may seem humorous to the outside observer, constant theft by the PFs was a serious problem in
nearly every platoon.4  Furthermore, if a Marine accused a PF of stealing, the PF often would get insulted, sulk, and neglect his responsiblity to the platoon.  Although most Marines entered the program with a sincere desire to help the Vietnamese, the stealing created such tension that "it just . . . wears them (the Marines) down and they get to have a hate for these people."5  In addition, the resultant hard feelings led some Marines to lessen their commitment to the program in general.  According to one private, in his platoon the PFs' stealing resulted in "real bad hard feelings, which only last a couple of days because then you
say, 'So what?  They can't stop the clock on me.  I'll be leaving pretty soon.'  And that's how come a lot of Marines start to slack off on their seriousness about this CAP program.".6

Hostility also occasionally flared when modern methods used by the Marines to help the villagers clashed with ancient religious practices.  For example,

Unintentional cultural insults were commonplace as well, not surprising based on the lack of cultural preparation given the CAP Marines.  The Marines, upon arrival, had a tendency to offend PFs without realizing it. According to one Marine, the PFs were

The main problem, however, occurred when Marines felt that the PFS were not contributing a reasonable amount of effort.  Voicing a commonly held complaint, one captain said that the PFs "tend to be lazy and. . . .  I'd say the Marines do the lion's share, about 75 percent, of the working that goes on in the area. . . .  The Marines work around the clock . . . and the PF always takes his three-hour siesta at noontime..."9 Understandably, since the Marines saw the Combined Action Platoons as a
50-50 proposition, the PFs' "laziness" raised tremendous tension.

In addition, many Marines questioned the PFs' motivation in combat.  Although one of the missions of the CAP was to train PFs, the PFs often would skip classes held by Marines.  According to one sergeant, training was difficult to accomplish "when you have to find where they are and . . . they have no ambition to learn [because] they're fairly well scared of the V[iet] C[ong]."10 Once trained, however, no guarantee existed for PF cooperation. "When he doesn't want to go out, he'll fake a . . . cough and if he's made to go out . . . when he gets out into an ambush site . . he will bring up this cough.  [Then] there's no sense in even being out there because [he is] giving your position away and you can be ambushed yourself."11  Another Marine felt that "we have 30 PFs with us, and approximately three or four of these PFs are fighting men.  The rest of them are just toy soldiers in green uniforms with rifles."12  This feeling was understandable, for in several platoons, the PFs never became "combat ready."  For example, one PFC complained that whenever his platoon was attacked by the enemy, the PFs won't fire at the VC, they'll fire straight up in the air.... They say it scares the VC away. . . . They take it as a big joke.13

A constant threat to the CAP Marines was the possibility that the PFs were either Va themselves or had reached an accomodation with the VC.  This was more common than one might imagine.  One CAP squad leader estimated that of the PFs,

Danger also presented itself when the PFs had made a deal with the Viet Cong.  One vital Pr contribution was that they knew the local terrain to such an extent that they could point out booby-traps or trip wires planted by the VC.  As a result, the Marines always took PFs on patrol with them. When a PF-VC arrangement had been concluded, the PFs would not patrol past a certain point, leaving the Marines to proceed unaided.15

Although in some villages intelligence information and gestures of friendship towards Marines were commonplace, not all CAP units experienced such a friendly atmosphere.  Four reasons were the root causes of this latter situation. First, many villagers' sons and daughters had joined the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese army.  As a result, they would endanger the lives of their offspring if they gave information on the whereabouts of the NVA to the Marines. Furthermore, the villagers' sons and daughters served as hostages that precluded cooperation with the Marines.  As one corporal described it, "A lot of [villagers] have got sons in the VC or NVA.  They just don't want to have anything to do with us.  A lot of them won't even look at you when you try to talk to them . . . they just won't cooperate.16

Second, some CAPS had difficulty establishing credible security.17  It took time for the CAPs to learn the local terrain, become effective, and start killing Viet Cong. When they became effective, intelligence information and village friendship usually developed.  But the danger always existed that the Viet Cong would try to reestablish its position in the village.  Although never permanently successful, VC efforts sometimes weakened the bond of trust and security between the villager and the Marine.

A third cause of village non-cooperation, and one that every CAP had to fight against, was pure apathy.  Sgt Theodore C. Zoutis, a platoon leader, put this problem into perspective:  "... the villagers have been over here a lot longer than we have.  We've only been here... maybe two years for a tour of duty; these villagers have been here for 20, 30, 40, or 50 years, and they're getting tired of the war. . .19  Nonetheless, the Marines perservered with the attitude that, despite this situation, "it's our job to show these people how they can help themselves when this war ends" through civic action projects such as building wells, schools, and improving sanitation.20

Lastly, one could not expect all Vietnamese villages, some hundreds of years old, to quickly open their arms and welcome foreigners.  Even though the Marines sought to help the villagers, it was no surprise that in some areas, "the understanding out that the Vietnamese do not identify with us, do not like us to the point where they will never tell on another Vietnamese."21

Evaluation: A Success
It is difficult to measure with precision the success of the Combined Action Platoons since the validity of statistics is open to question and, in a general sense, every U.S. program in Vietnam was a failure:  Saigon is now Ho Chi Minh City.  Further, CAPs were generally implemented in villages that were either pro-U.S or at least neutral. By using four perspectives, however, CAP's success can be assessed, albeit from a Marine Corps viewpoint.1   The first is what the man on the ground throught about the program and his participation in it, and evaluate its success from his viewpoint. Second is the South Vietnamese villagers' point of view.  Third is an analysis of Viet Cong and NVA reaction to the platoons as a measure of success.  The next chapter will present the feeling of U.S. Army officers about the program and speculate as to why MACV limited the number of
manpower slots available to the CAPs.

Nearly every CAP Marine interviewed believed the program to be a huge success.  Those who felt otherwise in part contended that while the CAP theory was fine, in practice the individual units were too small to handle VC attacks and too scattered to provide an interlocking network of support.2  These are valid complaints but not sufficient to justify low marks for the program as a whole.

Why?  The prevalent feeling of the men who served in a platoon was that "[i]f we could get a CAP unit in every ville in Vietnam . . . we could eliminate the problem of the VC.  We could also eliminate the supplies which the [VC and) NVA rely on most;"3 or, "I feel that this type of program is going to win this conflict in Vietnam.  Maybe not now or in the next five years or even in the next ten years.  But the children that we're helping now are going to remember who helped them..."4 and finally, "I know this program works.  I see it work every day and I see improvement every day.  I feel . . . that this is one of the answers to solving the problems we have here in the Republic of Vietnam."5

This feeling of success was justified.  For example, under the protective umbrella of the CAPs, villagers could live their lives without harrassment from the VC/NVA..  In one platoon, the Marines built a large concrete warehouse with tin roofing and
the people brought in their harvested rice and stored it there.  When this platoon came into the area, this was the first time in . . . almost a decade that these people had been able to keep all of their rice and not have to give any sort of a tax levy to the Viet Cong. Of course, this meant a great deal to the people because the price of rice was rising in Danang and they were able to send their children to school, buy their transistor radios and bicycles.  And this was something they hadn't done in a long time.

(The villagers were very appreciative of Marine efforts [see below].  In the situation described above, "at Tet, the
Marines of this village were receiving 15 to 20 invitations a day to eat with the Vietnamese in the village.  Now this
is the way the Combined Action Platoon Program is supposed to work!")7

A fundamental ingredient in the maintenance of this security was active patrolling by the small platoons. According to one captain, a single platoon often recorded as many enemy "kills" as an entire U.S. Army battalion:

Such success that resulted from the CAP strategy raises questions as to why the Army did not adopt such a program itself or at least expand the Marine Corps' effort.  I will address this issue below.

Despite hazardous odds and the probability of suffering causualties,9 it is a tribute to the program and demonstrative of the importance attached to it that (at least through mid-1968) "approximately three out of four CAP Marines extended their Vietnam tours one or more times.10 One private summed up the feeling of others:  "I volunteered to come back.  I didn't have to come back but I wanted to...just to . . . see if I can't help to end this war. Problems with some extenders aside (see above), such motivation reflects the hope and confidence felt by the man on the ground..

Vietnamese villagers also regarded the CAPs as successful.  This was demonstrated in three notable ways. (As noted above, the problems the Marines encountered with the villagers occurred in only a minority of instances.) First, the villagers welcomed the Marines into their homes. This suggests that they apparently considered the CAPs as protectors, not occupiers. For example, one sergeant commented that "when walking through the village we have a hard time going on day patrols because everybody wants you to stop and lunch with them or have something to eat or at least have a glass of tea. . .12  Another CAP Marine reinforced the idea that the Vietnamese welcomed the Marines by pointing out that

The second way the Vietnamese revealed their gratitude to the platoons was through the flow of intelligence information on Viet Cong activity in the village.  Two actors, one essentially negative and the other positive, ncouraged the provision of this information to the Marines. Obviously, the CAPS had to provide credible permanent security; once safety was established, the villagers could provide information without fear of VC retribution.  The importance of permanent security in stimulating a flow of intelligence is summed up by a captain who served both in a regular line outfit and a CAP:

The civic action program, which also drew the Vietnamese closer to the Americans, was the second factor encouraging the flow of intelligence.15  Ranging from English classes to sanitation classes, digging wells to building schools, civic action represented to the Vietnamese the American commitment to improving the way of life in the village. According to one sergeant, civic action was just as important as military protection:  "Patrolling will stop the Victor Charlie, but my civic action . . . turns the program on," drawing the villagers to the Allied side.16  It was important, however, for the Marines to have the Vietnamese build schools and dig wells themselves:  this reduced the likelihood that the VC would destroy them.  The VC recognized that if they demolished something that the villagers had built they could only earn village hostility. If the Americans had built it alone, its destruction would have been met with indifference.17  Most notable among civic action efforts was the Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAPS). Through this program, whereby a Navy corpsman established a medical aid station, the villagers came to trust the corpsman and, by extension, the CAP Marines.18 This trust often resulted in villagers providing useful intelligence information.

This information usually took one of two main forms. One was active participation by the villagers in the capture of VC/NVA.  In one village, for example, "the village chief turned out the entire village with their torches" to search for VC infiltrators.19  In another, the villagers set up a home guard which guarded the village entrance gate.  They used Buddha drums as a warning alarm to the Marines. "[E]very hour on the hour they'd give us a check:  they'd start real slow tapping . . . and then . . . work it up to a fast tap and then quit.  That's their signal of all clear...that everything's still secure.  But if anyone did try to get in there the drum would be beat at a fast rate."20

And, to give a final example, "the village chief personally led a Marine patrol to get an NVA soldier that was hidden and walked up within five feet of him and fingered him, showing the Marines exactly where he was."21  More often than not, however, the flow of information was done in a second, more subtle fashion, using the PFs or village children as conduits of intelligence.

The third way that the Vietnamese demonstrated their appreciation and faith in the program was by moving into a CAP's TAOR.  Although the movement of a few families at any given time was most common, several Marines related how entire villages and hamlets moved into their CAP's area of security.22

The Viet Cong and NVA, according to CAP Marines, also recognized the value of the CAPs and regarded them as a threat.  One sergeant described a regular enemy document that "was uncovered that had a map and it had [our village] blocked off and said that the people there don't give the VC any more cooperation ... and that the Marines there have the area too well patrolled, to stay out of it."23

As a result, the VC/NVA often tried to break up or eliminate the platoons.  One way they attempted was to scare the Popular Forces into abandoning their commitment to the CAPs.  According to one sergeant, the VC "had a loudspeaker and they came around the compound and warned the PFs not to have anything to do with us."24  A more common enemy reaction was full-scale attack.

The majority of CAPs, however, were able to hold off much larger attack forces than themselves until American reinforcements were able to arrive.26

Coupled with FMFPac data, the three perspectives provided in this chapter demonstrate the success of the Combined Action Program.  From the perspective of FMFPac, it was an unqualified success, providing security to many villagers of South Vietnam and training the PFs to ensure continued protection.  The man on the ground also regarded the CAP as a success espite some of the problems that troubled the program throughout its existence.  The Vietnamese, from villagers to the VC/NVA, also regarded the CAP as a significant, important American effort.  After all, no village that had had a platoon ever reverted to VC domination.   It remains to be seen, however, why no more than 2000 Marines were allocated to CAP at any one time. The next chapter seeks to meet this issue.

Conclusion: The Limitation of the CAP

The Marines and Vietnamese were not alone in praising. the CAP; Army officers endorsed the CAP concept as well. According to several Marine Corps colonels, many Army officers believed that the CAPs were a viable method of winning the war.1  According to one, "the Army officers that I've encountered in many of the areas have told me that the only final way to win this thing is to use the Marine Corps methods. . .    You just can't go bashing about the bush and take off.  You've got to stay there and gain the confidence of the people if we're ever going to make this pacification thing work."2  Another was perplexed by the Army's reluctance to increase the program since "the Army officers in I Corps who come in contact with it are completely sold on it and . . . cannot understand why the Army in the other Corps areas will not adopt similar programs."3

MACV documents and studies also praised the Combined Action Program.  Headquarters USMACV wrote that "CAPs have
provided a type model for sustained integrated operations with territorial forces.  This technique has proven to be effective and economical."4  Another MACV report commented that the Combined Action Program [offered] the prospect for a modest investment in US forces yielding a major improvement in local security.  To the extent that this was the final goal of all military operations in SVN, and the task which was proving to be the most difficult, every opportunity for achieving that goal should be pursued."5 CORDS, the pacification arm of MACV, reported that "the tangible benefits of the CAP program have included better intelligence and increased security for the 88,000 people in the CAP hamlets.  The CAP hamlets have an average security score of 2.95 on the Hamlet Evaluation System (HES) scale of 5.0 . . ., the average security score for all I Corps
hamlets is 1.60. . ."6  A year later, after evaluations by its district advisors (HES), CORDS reported that "[hlamlets having US Marine Corps Combined Action Platoons . . . nearby  . . outperformed other I CTZ hamlets in terms of the [HES] ratings. . . . [D]evelopment scores rose .16 in CAP hamlets, but fell .13 in non-CAP hamlets."7  Furthermore, this latter evaluation report demonstrated that "CAP hamlets outperformed non-CAP hamlets on every HES indicator but one."8  Another example of CORDS' (and by extension MACV's) recognition of the program's value can be found in its analysis of CAP performance during the Tet Offensive:  "The HES ratings . . . also indicate that CAP hamlets survived the Tet offensive better than hamlets not protected by these units."9

It was not just a few district advisors who favored the CAPs, but also the top people in the CORDS hierarchy. Robert Komer, who headed CORDS, reacted favorably to the Combined Action Platoons.10  Two of Komer's top aides, Carl Fritz and Alex Firfer, also felt stongly about the value of the program.  Fritz even suggested that we would have been more successful if we had done this kind of thing all over Vietnam."11  Even a 1970 joint CORDS - Consulate survey suggested that CAP was a viable means of achieving victory, concluding that "it makes a significant contribution to pacification and security and specifically to the improvement of the Popular forces. . . . [The US Army [should] give serious consideration to developing a similar

General William C. Westmoreland, CG, MACV, also considered the Combined Action Program a worthwhile program.
According to him, "the Marines who lived and fought with their PF counterparts . . . contributed greatly to the allied effort and deserve the greatest credit and admiration."13  The question remains, however, why, if officers of the Army, the institution in charge of the day-to-day operations of the war, and CORDS, its pacification branch, felt so favorably about the CAPs, the
program was not expanded beyond a mere 114 platoons or adopted by any Army units.

The explanation given by the Army, Westmoreland, and Komer was that it would have been too expensive to put a platoon in every village.  According to CORDS, "countrywide expansion the CAP program to cover all of the 10,454 unsecured hamlets in SVN would require 22,712 PF and 167,264 U.S. at an annual cost of about $1.8 billion."14 This, however, is a simplistic way of examining the proposition, assuming as it does that every hamlet would receive a CAP.  Why not expand the CAPs throughout I Corps, as LtCol Corson had suggested?15  Why not an additional one or two hundred platoons?  No one argued that CAPS alone should completely saturate South Vietnam.16  One Marine Corps LtCol noted that one would always need a "conventional force to buck heads with the NVA and break them down into manageable size elements . . . that a CAP could handle."17

It may be that Westmoreland had his hands tied somewhat by Saigon, whose inefficiency and corruption flourished at the village level, and he may even have been constrained by troop shortages, but this does not explain why the CAP was limited.    When one examines Westmoreland's strategy, these explanations become superfluous.  Even if he had had access to more men, Westmoreland's philosophy of "search and destroy" warfare ran counter to that of the CAP.  He was nearly solely concerned with killing enemy soldiers and deemphasized the importance of gaining village support. Although the Combined Action Program had only proven itself in relatively friendly confines, its success, as compared with the majority of the rest of the war effort, merited expansion.  Such expansion by itself probably would not have won the war, but, in combination with other successful programs, might have helped to achieve such an objective. The fact that CAP remained a small force testifies to
Douglas Blaufarb's claim that "the commanders were unable or unwilling to accept the conclusion implicit in the success of the CAPs, which was that their vast resources, equipment, and technology were essentially irrelevant to the kind of war they faced."19  CAP, an alternative not pursued, was a bright spot in the U.S. war effort.  Its limitation leaves open important strategic quetions.



"MACV was a joint command with other services represented on its staff, although commanded by an Army general and an
Army-dominated staff." (Jack Shulimson comments on draft MS dtd 8 Jan 86 (hereafter Shulimson commentsj)

"Although solely a Marine command intially, by 1968 (III MAFJ included three Army divisions, two Marine divisions, and the Marine aircraft wing."  This command was responsible for the five northern provinces which made up I Corps. (Ibid.)  III MAF was under the command of MACV (commanded by General William C. Westmoreland).  "General Westmoreland in turn was responsible to Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, Commander in Chief, Pacific (Cincpac) in Hawaii, and through Sharp to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in Washington." From Jack Shulimson and Charles Johnson, The Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the Buildup, 1965, Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S.  Marine Corps, 1978 (hereafter Shulimson, 1965), p.xi.

Ibid., p.xi.

Edward Doyle, ed., America Takes Over, Boston:  Boston Publishing Company, 1982, pp.61-65.

The Popular Force soldiers are comparable to the Minute Men of the American Revolutionary War era.  CAPs were generally
implemented in villages that were either pro-U.S. or at - least neutral.

F.J. West, Jr., The Village, New York:  Harper and Row, 1972; William R. Corson, The Betrayal, New York:  W.W. Norton & Co., 1968.
Corson's book, especially, prompted me to examine the U.S. Army's reaction to the Combined Action Program.
U.S. Marine Corps, Fleet Marine Force Pacific.  Operations U.S. Marine Forces in Vietnam (hereafter FMFPac Reports).

Of the Marines with whom I discussed this issue of intimidation, only Col George Robillard, CO 1st CAG (1970), disputed me here.  He argued that a promotion board only considered an individual's qualifications (Robillard comments on draft MS dtd 17 Jan 1986 [hereafter Robillard comments]).  It remains open to question, however, whether it was so perceived by the individual Marine being interviewed.

For a discussion of what a CAG is, see second paragraph of chapter entitled "Development and Maturation of the CAP."

Interview with author, 23 July 1985.

I did use other primary and secondary sources, but relied on them to a lesser degree.  See Bibliography for details.

I am considering Marines with Captain's rank and below as "men on the ground."  Marines above this rank did not consistently close contact with village units, although "captains and lieutenants did not serve in the villages in CAP platoons." (Dr. Keith Fleming comments on draft MS dtd 8 Jan 86 [hereafter Fleming commentsj)

An interesting question, and one which I could not answer due to lack of source material and time, is what was the impact of the CAPs on the Vietnamese political system?  How did province and district chiefs react to the loss of complete operational control over their PFs?  Often a district chief would, to reassert his power, suddenly and without notice, withdraw the PFs from a CAP.  Beyond this, my sources do not comment.

Birth of the CAPs:  History and Implementation of a Workable Idea

Bruce C. Allnutt, Marine Combined Action Capabilities: The Vietnam Experience, McLean: Human Sciences Research, Inc., 1969, p.9; capt John J. Mullen (USMC), Student Staff Study, Amphibious Warfare School, "Modifications to the III MAF Combined Action Program in the Republic of Vietnam," 19 December, 1968, p.C-S (hereafter "Mullen Study").

Shulimson, 1965, pp.133-138.

According to Jack Shulimson, Head, Histories Section, Marine Corps Historical Center, Gen Chuan, CC 1st ARVN Division actually initiated the offer. (Shulimson comments)

"The Marine Combined Action Program, Vietnam,'t FMFPac Study, (hereafter "The Marine CAP"), p.29.

3/4 Command Chronology (ComdC) Sep-Oct 1965.  The information presented in these chronologies should be taken with a bit of scepticism, because each commander who wrote one wanted to look good to his superiors.

Ek was selected for this position by Gen Walt and Col Wheeler, CO 3d Marines (Wheeler had operational control of 3/4).  Ek was chosen in part "because he had attended counter-insurqency school and had some language capability in Vietnamese." (Shulimson comments)

Lt Paul Ek interview (No. 46, oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC), dtd 10 Fedb 66 (hereafter Ek interview)

"Mullen Study," p.C-?.

Ek interview.

Shulimson 1965, pp.133-138.

Ek interview.

FMFPac Reports 30 Dec 5 (read December 1965, p.30)

Ek interview.  It is interesting that the PFs could not tell the Marines the reasons "why."  On the other hand, perhaps the Marines initially did not trust PF information.


Ibid.  This analogy might be overdrawn, although JAC Marines were invited to participate in many village activities.

"Mullen Study," p.c-S.

Shulimson 1965, p.136.

This questioning was conducted by the South Vietnamese police.  With the corruption of these civil servants (see Corson: The Betrayal), it may have hurt the program that the JAC Marines did not control this critical aspect.  This is speculation on my part.

Ek interview.

"Mullen Study," p.C-8.

Ek interview.



3/4 Comdc Sep-Oct 1965.

Ek interview.


"Mullen Study," pp.C-9,10.


Shulimson 1965, pp.133-138; "Mullen Study," p.C-8.

3/4 Comdc Sep-Oct 1965.

"Mullen Study," p.C-8.

3/4 Comdc Sep-Oct 1965.

"Mullen Study," p.c-b.


The name of the program was changed in October 1965 to Combined Action Company (CAC), according to Mullen, "since
armed forces of two countries conducted 'combined' rather than 'joint' operations."  "Mullen Study," p.C-li.

3/4 Comdc Sep-Oct 1965.

Ek interview.

Shulimson 1965, pp.133-138.

"The Marine CAP," p.31.


Gen Thi Corps Order 1022/TM3/1 in "The Marine CAP," p.34.

Quick Growth and Early Success

Jack Shulimson, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: An Expanding War, 1966, Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division., Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1982, p.239 (hereafter Shulimson 1966).  Note that Gen Walt departed Vietnam in 1967, Krulak retired in 1968 (Fleming comments).

"The Marine CAP," p.140.

Ibid., p.14.

Ibid., p.17

Ibid., p.15.

For further examples, see "The Marine CAP," pp.8-9.  A major problem to this type of measurement was that the system was "attemptinq to measure what to many was unmeasurable:  how to quantify security or . . . a man's devotion to a cause. . .  The reports were able to furnish general trends in a given area, but could not be an absolute replica of reality, and indeed in most cases were inflated." (Shulimson 1966, p.258)  Further, according to one Marine colonel,


Who knows? (Col R.R. Miner, No. 3068, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Ntis Div, HQMC, 1967-68)

Another reiterated this feeling:

"The Marine CA?," p.16.

Ibid., p.17.  Although FMFPac studies are often filled with hyperbole, this claim was corroborated by others.

Shulimson 1966, p.240.

Col G.E. Jerue, No. 2862, Oral Hist Coll, Hist a Mus Div, HQMC, 1967.

Development and Maturation of the CAP

Unfortunately, end-year personnel figures were unavailable. By rnid-1967, however, with seventy-five platoons in place, there were 1247 Marines and 2129 P? personnel.. (FMFPac Reports, 63 Dec 67)

The name of the individual units was changed to the Combined Action Platoons (CAPs) because the acronym CAC denoted a vulgarity in Vietnamese.

FMFPaC Reports, 57 Jun 67.

Maj R.C. Raines, "An Analysis of the Command and Control Structure of the Combined Action Program (CAP)", Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Quantico, Virginia, 1968-1969, p.13-6 (hereafter Raines).


Interview with author, 5 August 1985.

FMFPac Reports, 45 Jun 67.

Corson interview with Jim Duouid, in my possession.

Interview with author, 5 August 1985.

For example, see Cpl David R. Vinyard, No. 3491, Oral Hist Coil, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1968.

PFC Robert A. Reed, No. 2341, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1967.

For a description, see The Betrayal.

Cpl William Corcoran, No. 2079, Oral Mist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1967.

"Mullen Study", p.4.

Ibid., p.B-5.

Cpl M.M. Salis, No. 2599, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1966-67.

"Mullen Study," p.8-4.

LtCol Max McQuown, comments on draft MS of Maj Gary L. Telfer, LtCol Lane Rogers, and V. Keith Fleming, Jr., U.S. Marines in Vietnam: Fighting the North Vietnamese 1967, dtd 20 May 81  (Vietnam comment file, MCHC, Washington, D.C.)

What was occurring in the other ninety percent is open to some question but beyond the scope of this paper.

As Dr. Keith Fleming, historian at the MCHC points out, "I am always skeptical about statistics showing improvements in pacification.  They were too easily manipulated to present a rosy picture.  Ideally there would be a source or sources that would substantiate FMFPac's claims, but I am willing to concede that none probably exists." (Fleming comments)

FMFPac Reports, 65 Dec 67.

SOP CAP, 22 Jun 68, p.12.  These criteria applied as well to the CAP in 1967.

The Tet Offensive and the Shift to a Mobile Concept

FMFPac Reports, 66 Dec 68.

Ibid., 22 Jan 68.

Col Don H. Blanchard, "Pacification: Marine Corps Style," Thesis for the U.S. Naval War College, School of Naval
Warfare, 15 May 1968.  Also see The New York Times, 13 May 68, p.1:8, Providence Journal-Bulletin, 5 March 68, p.3:2.

According to Jack Shulimson, however, this is giving "too much credit to the CAPs.  Individual CAP units may have played a valiant role, but I believe it is hyperbole to attribute to them the failure of the enemy offensive at Da Nang--At Da Nang the enemy troops jumped the gun and their efforts were poorly coordinated." (Shulimson comments)

Interview with the author, 5 August 85.

See FMFPac Reports, 22, 48 Jan 68.

1st CAG Comdc Jan 68, pp.6-7.

Cpl R.W. Hayes, No. 2693, Oral Hist Coil, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1968.

According to LCpl Thomas Foler, "When this CAP unit got overrun [during Tet, they lost a lot of respect for us."  On the other hand, Cpl Carl M. O'Dell's unit received a different reaction:  "It seems like they respected us because they felt that we as a small force would run and we fought back. . . . They thought we were . . . pretty brave for what we did." (Foler, No. 2g26; O'Dell, No. 2724, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC.)

FMFPac Reports, 27 Apr 69.

Interview with the author, 23 July 85.

Col John Greenwood, No. 3480, Oral Hist Coil, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC (hereafter Greenwood interview).

Col T.E. Metzger, No. 4899, Oral Hist Coil, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC.

Col Metzger letter to author, dtd 26 Aug 1985.

Lt Avel, No. 3295, Oral Hist Coil, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC,

Greenwood interview.

Col E.F. Danowitz, No. 4085, oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mug
Div, HQMC.

Col David Wagner letter to author, dtd 25 Aug 1985.

Interview with author, 5 Aug 1985.

MajGen E.E. Anderson, No. 3578, Oral Hist 0011, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC.  Interestingly, Robert Komer told me that he
really liked the program and thought the Marines were doing a great job:  "I was a big fan of the CAPS." (Telephone conversation with Ambassador Robert Komer, 29 July 1985.) As Dr. Fleming of the DICHO adds, "There appears to have been a bureaucratic battle over turf." (Fleming comments)

LtCol Byron F. Brady, No. 3061, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1968.

Cpls Steven Cooper and Francis M. Boyd, No. 3296, Oral Hist Coil, Hist & Mus Div, HQNC, 1968.

Sgt W.H. Oxley, Ibid.  Herein is an example of the problerns in using oral history.  Cpls Cooper and Boyd (see previous note) and Sgt oxley are from the same squad, yet they contradict each other.  According to Col J.J. Tolnay, CO 2d CAG 1970-71, "The Sergeant] told the Col(onel] what the CO wanted to hear." (Tolnay comments 6 Jan 86)

Cpl. John T. Fenstermacher, No. 3679, Oral Hist Coil, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1968.

FMFPac Reports, 31 Aug 69.

The Most Active Year and a Reassessment of Selection

FMFPaC Reports, 33 Dec 69.


Author's telephone conversation with Col J.R. Day, 23 Oct 1985.

Metzger comments.

Allnutt, p.C-2.

Author~s telephone conversation with Col J.R. Day, 23 Oct

Allnutt, p.C-3; also Capt Edward F. Palm, interview with Mr. Jack Shuijinson and Robert A. Klyman, MCHC, 9 July 1985.

Allnutt, p. C-3.

Col G.E. Jerue, No. 2862, Oral Hist Coll, Mist a Mus Div, HQMC, 1967.

Interview with author, 5 August 1985.

Allnutt, p.C-3.  Unfortunately, no details of these problems were provided in this study.

Col E.F. Danowitz, No. 4085, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1969.

Metzger comments.

Allnutt, p.C-4.


"Mullen Study", p.B-3; SSgt J.C. Butler, No. 3679, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1968.  According to LtCol
I.R. Carver, CO 2d CAG, 1967-ES, "I definitely feel that the Marine coming into the CAP need[edj combat experience, especially in patrolling and ambush and good NCO leadership because . . . they were on their own most of the time." (Carver comments on draft MS, dtd 14 Jan 1986)  Col Metzger, on the other hand, argued that the "apparent undesirability of receiving Marines without previous combat experience is not valid.  Inexperienced Marines in the CAPs did exactly what their ounterparts in the infantry battalions did: they learned from their peers, NCOs and officers." (Metzger comments)

Interview with author, 5 August 1985.

Allnutt, p.C-4.  According to Dr. Fleming, "III MAF instituted a survey in 1966 of Marines' attitudes toward Vietnamese.  As I remember, after 10 months in Vietnam there was a declinee in the number of Marines who would say they "liked" the Vietnamese.  CAP Marines were also interviewed." (Fleming comments)  In this survey, only ten percent of all Marines were questioned; one can speculate that as a result, few CAP Marines were surveyed.

Peak and Decline:  the Creation of the CAF

XXIV Corps was composed of two Army divisions "which had moved into I Corps early in 1968 to counter the enemy's Tet
offensive." (Shulimson comments)

FMFPac Reports, 30 Dec 70.

Col Don R. Christensen letter to author, dtd 4 Sept 1985; Col D.J. Ford, CO 4th CAG, 1969, letter to author, dtd 23 Aug 1985.
Graham A. Cosmas, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: Vietnamization and Redeployment, 1970-71, draft MS (hereaftere Cosmas 1970-71), Washington, D.C.:  Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1983, p.173; also Metzger letter to author dtd 26 Aug 1985.

FMFPaC Reports, 30 Dec 70.

Zais's headquarters were under the operational control of III MAF  (Shulimson comments)

Cosmas 1970-71, p.173.

FMFPac  Reports, 32 Dec 70.

Cosmas 1970-71, p.178.

Consul F.T. McNamara, Political Advisor to CC XXIV Corps, letter to LtGen Melvin Zais, dtd 14 Mar 1970, in CAF History and SOP Fldr1 Box 2 Pacification Study Docs (hereafter McNamara letter).



Col T.H. Metzger, letter to CG XXIV Corps via C/S XXIV Corps, Subj:  Consulate-CORDS survey of CAP Villages, comments concerning, dtd 24 Mar 1970, in CAF History and SOP Fldr, Box 2 Pacification Study Docs (hereafter Metzger

Cosmas 1970-71, p.175.

Ibid., p.178.

Ibid., p.176.

Col T.E. Metzger, No. 4899, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1970.

Cosmas 1970-71, p.179.

Ibid., p.188.

LtCol J.J. Tolnay, No. 5099, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1970.  (hereafter Tolnay interview)

Metzger letter; Cosmas 1970-71.

McNamara letter.

FMFPac Reports, 6 May/June 71.

Danowitz interview.

Deactivation: the CAPS Come Home

Cosmas 1970-71, p.183.  See pp.183-84 for a detailed description of deactivation.

LtGen Herman Nickerson, No. 6000, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC.  On the other hand, however, Cpl Don R.
Christense, CO 2d CAG, 1970, points out that "such supervision was not exercised in the 2nd CAG through September of 1970.  Supervision of the CAPS was exercised by the CAF through the CAG commander.  While conventional units did provide hot meals once a day if they were nearby, they had no other authority over the CAPs.  In most cases commanders of these units did not want such authority and in all cases, as the CAG commander, I would not permit it." (Don R. Christensen comments on draft MS, dtd 29 Jan 1986)

Cosmas 1970-71, p. 183.

Gen Leo J. Dulacki, No. 4853, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1970.  Some of the CAPS were withdrawn before
they had accomplished their mission.

Cosmas 1970-71, p.185; Tolnay interview.

Cosmas 1970-71, p.186.

FMFPac Reports; "Operations of U.S. Marine Forces, Vietnam: Overview and Index," p.3g.

Cosmas 1970-71, p.186.

The View From the Ground: Major Problems and Difficulties

Unfortunately, I am restricted by my sources to concentrating on the years before 1969.

LCpl Corey Lee Hester, No. 3679, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1967-68.

SSgt David M. Thompson, No. 2341, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1967. (hereafter Thompson interview)

For example, see LCpl. Gregory L. Crossland, No. 1995; PFC Arther J. Sackes, No. 2613; Sgt Manuel Fuentes, No. 2716;
LOpi Thomas Foler, No. 2926; PFC Lester F. Katz, No. 3125; Capt John L. Matthews, No. 3480; and 1st Lt William M.
Murphy, No. 3679, Oral Hist Coil, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC.

Sgt Gerald V. Young, No. 3125, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1968.

PFC Anther J. Backes, No. 2613, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1967-68. (hereafter Backes interview)

Cpl Robert Cummings, No. 3493, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mug Div, HQMC, 1968.

Capt P.E. Dawson, No. 753, Oral Hist Coil, Hist & Mug Div, HQMC, 1966.


Sgt Theodore C. Zoutis, No. 2613, oral Hist Col, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1968. (hereafter Zoutis interview)

Thompson interview.

LCpi Mark A. Domnici, No. 2613, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1967.

Backes interview.

Sgt D.D. Stinnett, No. 2367, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1967. (hereafter Stinnett interview)

Palm interview.

Cpl Edward A. Zielonko, No. 2613, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1968.

As Col George Robillard pointed out, however, this was only a problem when CAPs were first instituted. (Robillard comments)

LCpl Daniel L. Yates, No. 3221, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1968.

Zoutis interview.


1st Lt William M. Murphy, No. 3679, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1968.


Evaluation: A Success

Again I am limited in time frame by my sources.

See, for example, Palm interview; Sgt D.D. Stinnett, No. 2367; Sgt Richard Yarbrough, No. 2388, Oral Hist Coll, Hist
& Mus Div, IIQMC.

LCpl Henry B. Berry, No. 1995, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1967.

SSgt Gary L. Smith, No. 815, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1966-67.

Capt William D. Kent, Jr., No. 2304, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1967. (hereafter Kent interview)

Capt Lewis I. Dale, No. 2251, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HOMC, 1967. (hereafter Dale interview)


Kent interview.

Duty in a Combined Action Platoon was extremely hazardous. "The odds are against a CAP Marine since only 14 Marines and one Navy corpsman are against 100, maybe 200, or even 300 Victor Charlies . . . on a mission to overrun a CAP compound." (Syt Theodore C. Zoutis #2613 1967-68)  A widely held belief was that "there's never been in any war a more demanding job." (Capt Lewis I. Dale #2251 1967)  According to the first Director, Combined Action Program, "each CAP Marine knows there is an 80 percent probability that he will be wounded at least once and a 25 percent probability that he will be wounded twice.  Finally, he knows that one out of eight CAP Marines will 'buy the farm'  (be killed) before he completed his tour." (The Betrayal p163)  These numbers seem to me to be high, but I have no data to support this assumption.

The Betrayal, p.183.

PFC Lester F. Katz, No. 3125, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1966.

Sgt Alexander W. Wirt, No. 2341, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1967.  As Jack Shulimson points out, however, "I would be suspicious of attempting to base the Vietnamese attitudes towards the CAPS based solely on the interview of Marines. . . .", (Shulimson comments)  Unfortunately, I did not find any other sources and must use a Marine perspective.

Cpl Joseph A. Turner, No. 2341, Oral Mist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1967.

Kent interview.

"There was much less Civic Action when the CAPS became mobile." (Shulimson comments)

Sgt James C. Moore, No. 3679, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1968.

PFC George H. Flournay, No. 3221, Oral Mist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, MQMC, 1968.

Kent interview; Cpl Michael A Giustina, No. 2079, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1968.

Cpl William Corcoran, No. 2079, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, MQMC, 1967.

Sgt Gerald V. Youngblood, No. 2571, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1967.

Capt Peter D. Haines, No. 2534, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1968.

Sgt Alexander W.  Wirt and Cpl Joseph F. Schoenbeck, No. 2341; Cpl Roosevelt Johnson, No. 3679, Oral Hist Coil, Hist
& Mus Div, HOMC, 1966.

Sgt L.T. Ward, No. 2009, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1966.

Sgt Ronald E. Shepherd, No. 2341, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1967.

Kent interview.  Kent claims that two or three battalions attacked the platoon.  That is over 1000 men attacking 39
non-communist forces.  The accuracy of such a claim seems to be open to question.

Although the Marines claimed that the VC/NVA regarded the CAPs as a threat, a claim which I believe, the information
presented above is the only support I could find. Unfortunately, the veracity of oral history is not always credible.

Conclusion: The Limitation of the CAP

Unfortunately, I am relegated by a lack of sources to examine this issue through a Marine Corps perspective.

Col J.C. Fegan, No. 1366, Oral Hist Coll, Hist a Mus Div, HQMC, 1967.

Col George C. Knapp, No. 4088, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1969.

Lessons Learned #80, p.6, found at the Center for Military History (CMH).

MACJO3, F.G. Miller, p.10 (at CMH)

Southeast Asia Analysis Report, July 67, p.33 (at CMH). (hereafter SEA Report)  The reader is once again cautioned against placing too much faith in these statistics. Unfortunately, for the purpose of writing the history of CAP, I found no sources to cross-check these numerical scores.

SEA Report, June 68, p.52.


SEA Report, Nov 68, p.14.

Komer telephone conversation with author.

Carl Fritz, No. 6328, Oral Hist Coil, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC.

McNamara letter.

Adm U.S.G. Sharp, USN, and Gen W.C. Westmoreland, USA, Report on the War in Vietnam as of 30 June 1968, Washington, D.C.: Government Printi~ Office, 1968, p.1251

SEA Report, July 67, p.34.

Interview with author.

BGen E.H. Simmons, interview with author, 16 Aug 1985; Col J.R. Day, interview with author, 24 Oct 85.

LtCol J.J. Tolnay, No. 5099, Oral Hist Coll, Hist & Mus Div, HQMC, 1971.

These possible explanations were suggested to me by Mr. Jack Shulimson and Dr. Keith Fleming of the Marine Corps Historical Center.

Douglas S. Blaufarb, The Counterinsurgency Era:  U.S. Doctrine and Performance, New York:  The Free Press, 1977.


With Selected Annotation


Unless otherwise noted, all material can be found at the Marine Corps Historical Center in Washington, D.C.

a) Combined Action Group Command Chronologies

Since May 1965, the basic source for operational histories of Marine Corps units has been the command chronologies, reports prepared and submitted periodically by all commands of battalion/squadron - size up through -regiments, brigades, divisions, and higher commands, as well as by all independent unjits.  Marine Corps Order 5750.XE sets forth the requirements for command chronologies and explains their content.

The Combined Action Groups did not establish a formal reporting system until 1968.  Before 1968, references can be found in other chronologies in a hit or miss fashion (i.e. 1st MarDiv ComdC July 1966; III MAF Comdc Jan 66, Enclosure 6)

1st CAG

1968:  Jan-June; July-Oct; Nov; Dec

1969: Jan; Feb; Mar; Apr; May; June; July; Aug; Sep; Oct; Nov; Dec

1970: Jan; Feb; Mar; Apr; May; June; July; Aug; 1-13 Sep

Deactivated 13 September 1970
See SOP Tab 5, 18 October 1968

2d CAG

1968:  Oct-Nov; Dec

1969: Jan; Feb; Mar; Apr; May; June; July; Aug; Sep; Oct; Nov; Dec

1970:  Jan-Dec
1971:  Jan-Mar; 1-14 Apr; 14-30 Apr; 1-11 May
Deactivated 11 May 1971

3d CAG

1968:  Oct; Nov; Dec

1969: Jan; Feb; Mar; Apr; May; June; July; Aug; Sep; Oct; Nov; Dec

1970:  Jan-Aug; 1-7 Sep
Deactivated 7 September 1970
See SOP 10 June 1969

4th CAG

1968:  Oct; Nov; Dec

1969: Jan; Feb; Mar; Apr; May; June; July; Aug; Sep; Oct; Nov; Dec

1970:  Jan-June; 1-25 July
Deactivated 25 July 1970

b)  Combined Action Force Command Chronologies

1970:  11 Jan.-21 Sep.
Deactivated 21 September 1970

c) Fleet Marine Force Pacific Monthly Reports

 These are monthly reports of operations of USMC forces in Vietnam.  (The first citation, for example, is read as "November 1965, page 2.")

d} FMFPAC Reports on CAP

1) Operations of U.S. Marine Forces, Vietnam, Overview and Index, 1965 - 1971, pp. 35 - 39.

2) The Marine Combined Action Program, Vietnam, August 1965- January 1967.

3) The Marine Combined Action Program, Vietnam, 1965 - 1968.

e) III MAF Daily Operations Summary

f) III MAF Journal File  1966-71

 Journal and message traffic files of the III MAF combat operations center

g) III MAF CAG Headquarters, "Organization, equipment, functions, and concept of operations", 20 June 1967.

Weller Pacification Documents, CAF History and SOP Folder, Box 2.
ArmyDocumentation at the Center of Military History
Southeast Asia Analysis Report, July 1967; Sept 1967; June 1968; Nov 1968.

h) HQMC Status of Forces

This is a listing of units commanders, operations, areas, and intelligence information, reflecting changes on a daily basis.  Volumes are indexed.


These are taped interviews with marines who served with the Combined Action Program.  The majority of them are housed at the Federal Records Center in Suitland, Maryland.  All tapes are part of the Marine Historical Center's archival collections.

46 Lt Paul EK 1965

486 Sgt A.L. CURRY Mission and functions of Combined -Action Company B-22. 15Dec66-12Feb67

550 Col R.L. DOMINICK Debrief, former Asst. G-3, 6 Mar 67 1st MarDiv.

573 Capt D.C. DEMPSEY Operations and functions of a CAC Platoon 20Jul66-18Jan67

638 GSgt J.D. BROCKWAY Mission and functions of CAPs #1 and #2, H&SCO, lstBn, 26th Mar. Sep66-13Mar67

650 HM3 G.N. MORSE Medical/Civic Action Program. N/A

661 Col W. MOORE Debrief, former 0-5, 1st MarDiv. Jan66-7Feb67

679 Col T.J. JOHNSTON Debrief, former CO of H&SBn, 3d MarDiv, and 1/12. Feb66- Mar67

707 lstLt T.H. EAGEN  Combined Action Company D-1. Nov66-7Mar67

752 2dLt A.J. MEDNIS  Camp Brooks security missions of CACs 2 and 3. 16Nov66-4Mar67

753 Capt P.S. DAWSON  CAC units under the 1st HP Bn. Feb-Jun66

797 MajGen W.B. KYLE  Debrief, former Commanding General, 3d MarDiv. N/A

814 LCpl D.C. FISHER  Duties of a sentry dog handler. Sep66-Jun67

815 SSgt G.L. SMITH   Mission of CAC #2. 1Aug66-6Mar67

837 Sgt B.O. BENTON Experiences of CAC AT-4. l4Jan-15Apr67

876 Cpl T.C. ZOUTIS Activities of a CAC platoon. Dec66-25Apr67

886 Cpl R.J. KEELING A Combined Action patrol. 23May67

915 PFC R.A. KNUTSON Enemy ambush of a CAP. 12Apr67

916 Cpl R.F. RODNEY Enemy ambush of a CAP. 13Apr67

917 Sgt C.D. BROWN A CAP ambush. 5Apr67

931 LtCol P.G. STAVRIDIS Mission, organization, and  functions of 1st MPBn. 1Dec65-3May67

952 Cpl R.K. TYLER A combined unit patrol. 24Mar67

959 LCpl D.A. CLARK Removing casualties from Hill 861. 23-27Apr67

1003 Sgt D.H. UNDERWOOD A combined action patrol.  3Mar67

1004 PFC E.B. GRISSOM  A combined action patrol. 23Apr67

1005 PFC J.L. JONES Night ambush of enemy force. 21Apr67

1032 Cpl R.A. REDDEN   The concept and organization of a Combined Action Platoon.  Dec66-Jun67

1033 Cpl R.A. REDDEN Civic action programs conducted by a Combined Action Platoon. Dec66-Jun67

1091 Cpl R.H. HORD VC attack on a CAC unit. 28May-17Jun67

1106 2dLt W.J. LYONS Experiences of three platoon 2-4Jun67

Commanders in Operation UNION II.

1118 Col S.J. ALTMAN Debrief, former C/S, 1st MarDiv. 5Jun67

1120 Cpl R.J. KEELING  A combined action platoon makes enemy contact. 7Jun67

1123 PFC W.L. ROPER First VC contact by a CAP. 10May67

124 Sgt R.W. BOWE Establishment of a CAP. 8May-3Jul67

1138 Cpl J.W. BARKER A CAP enemy contact. 5Jun67

1139 Cpl F. GARCIA A CAP enemy contact. 4Jun67

1140 Cpl W.E. MURRAY A CAP enemy contact. 10Jun67

1176 Cpl R.A. MILLER Activities of 1/3/7 in RVN. 19Dec66-27Jun67

1160 1stLt F.T. FREY Activities of K/3/7 Operations. 2Jan-28Jun67

1271 Cpl L. HADDEN Enemy ambush of CAC platoon. 25Jun67

1272 Sgt C.D. BROWN A combined action patrol. 5Jul67

1273 Cpl R.J. AIRWYKE A CAC patrol enemy contact. 4Jul67

1366 Col J.C. FEGAN Debrief, former Deputy Director, Combat Operations Center, MACV. Aug66-Jul67

1387 L.F. SNODDY Debrief, Col SNODDY, former CO F.C. LANG 7th Marines, and Opero III MAF; A.L. PHILLIPS Col LANG, former 1st MarDiv Air Officer; and Col PHILLIPS, former Executive Officer for MAG-16 and 36. 8Jul67

1452 Cpl R. FARIA Mission, organization, and HM3 T.P. MOORE functions of CAP T-7. 27Mar-15Aug67

1507 Col E.R. MCCARTHY Debrief, former AC/S, 0-5, 3d MarDiv. N/A

1544 Cpl A.R. SElLS The role of an interpreter. 1Nov66-Jul67

1545 Maj J.R. DAY Mission of the CAG - Chu Lai 10Aug67

1546 Sgt J.C. BUTLER Formation and mission of the Combat Youth Platoon. 1Jul67
1550 Cpl L.K. HILLIS   Infantry Operations. 1Apr66-May67

1581 Cpl R.G. JOHNSON Operations of CAP Echo-3. HM3 G.N. MORSE N/A

1582 LCpl M. MATUSIAK History of CAP Echo-2 Nov66

1587 Sgt R.J. BELLAM Reaction Force assists a CAP. 13Sep67

1644 Cpl C.E. GOODBAR  Description of a CAC compound. Mar66-Jul67

1746 Col R.H. THOMPSON Debrief, former CO, 4th Mar and AC/S, G-3, 3dMarDiv. 5Sep66-3Sep67

747 Sqt R. HENDRICKS  Activities of a Combined Action Unit during Vietnamese national elections 3Sep67


1780 Cpl J.B. HAWKINS  A CAP ambush. 14-l6Aug67

1790 2dLt T. TERRELL Infantry intelligence operations. Jan66-Feb67.

1815 Sqt R. ROSSI / Sgt R.E. SHEPHERD Enemy attack on CAPs A-6 and A-9. 11Sep67.
1825 Col J.A. GALLO Debrief, former XO, Camp Butler;  CO, SLF ALFA; and AC/S, G-5, 6Sep66-5Sep67

1966 Capt W.R. SWENSON Relocation of G/2/7. l4Sep-13Oct67
1995 Cpl O.B. JACKSON Operations of CAP Q-1, CA Co Q,  2d CAG, III MAF. 1Jul-30Nov67 

1996 Sgt S.T. HARRIS Same as previous. lOAug-30Nov67

2009 Sgt L.T. WARD C/1/3 operations. Nov65-Sep66

2056 MSgt W.D. ABBOTT Operations of the 3d Marines Sniper Platoon.  Jul-Oct67

2058 LtCol E.J.A. CASTAGNA Camp Carroll operations. 11Oct67
2079 Cpl M.A. GIUSTINA Mission, organization, and function of CAP Q6, 2nd CAG, III MAF. Jan-Dec67

2080 Cpl D.J. SCHULTZ/LCpl J.D. WEBSTER VC reaction force attack on  a CAP (1/3/7).  8Nov67

2104 LCpl P.K. CHRISTENSEN Operations of CAP H-8, 3d MarDiv. 3lOct-2Dec67

2141 Sgt R.A. CARBON/M3 J.B. CURRY Mission, function, and organization of CAP B-5, 2d CAG, III MAF. 1Jan66-2Jan67

2143 lstLt J. WILLIAMS Mission and organization of the Northern Sector Defense Command (11th Mar, 1st MarDiv) N/A

2181 Sgt J.L. BLICK Duties of a combat photographer. 30Dec66-24Nov67

2197 2dLt J.P. HECTUS Operations of HaSCO, 1st Amphibian Tractor Bn in the Cua Viet TAOR.  l8Jul-16Nov67

2202 SSgt D. THOMPSON Operations of CAP-3, CAC-A, 3d CAG. 2-60ct67

2208 Maj J.A. SPARKS Battalion executive officer staff analysis of conflict in RVN.  Aug66-Sep67

2215 Sgt B.J. BENNETT CACO 7 & 11 in Operations PRAIRIE I, DECKHOUSE VI, DESOTO,

2218 Syt M.J. RICHTER  Operations of E/3/9. N/A

2236 LCpl F. SMITH VC attack on CAP Q-2, and reaction force. 4Jan68

2237 Sgt R.A. CARBON Mission and function of CAP Program in 2d CAG. 6Dec67-4Jan68

2251 Capt L.I. DALE Combined Action Platoons Apr-Jun67

2276 Capt J.K. HALL Enemy attack on a CAC. 7-9Jan68

2304 Capt W. KENT, JR. Mission and organization of the 1st CAG. N/A

2341 Cpl J.A. TRAINER  Operations of 3d CAG platoons. 1May-23Nov67

2367 Sgt D.D. STINNETT Experience as a CAP squad leader. 10May66-5Dec67

2388 PFC D.M. CONER Mission and activities of CAP C-3, CACO C, 2d CAG, III MAF. N/A

2462 Cpl K.C. WALKER Patrols and ambushes conducted by CAP-6, 3d CAG.  21-24Dec67

2466 Sqt T.E. DIDLO Activities of CAP Q-4 during Tet. 30Jan-4Feb68

2472 PFC G.D. TRIMBLE/Sgt J.H. LOFLAND VC ambush of a CAP-5 patrol. 11Jan68
2478 LtCol A. VAN WINKLE Mission, function, and activities  of Task Force x-Ray, 1st MarDiv. 3-26Jan68

2534 Capt P.D. HAINES  Operations of a CAC. 2Feb-9Mar68

2571 Sgt G. YOUNGBLOOD Duties of an NCO in charge of a CAP unit. N/A

2599 Cpl M.M. SALIS Civil action and popular forces. Jun66-Dec67

2609 Capt W. LOCHRIDCE Experiences as a tank pit leader.     Mar66-Nov67

2613 Sgt T.C. ZOUTIS   Mission and activities of CAP G7. 18Mar68

2614 Cpl J.E. SMITH Mission, function, and activities of CAP G-2. 1965-68

2670 Cpl G.L. TROESCH  Mission and activities of CAP 2-2-1.  Apr67-Apr68

2693 Cpl R.W. HAYES 1968

2716 Sgt M. FUENTES Combined Action Program 1Aug67-18Feb68

2724 Cpl C.M. ODELL Duty with Combined Action Plt 2-1-2, CAC 2-1. 14Oct67-8Apr68

2725 Cpl N. STRANAHAN  Experiences of a radio operator. 23Jan67-5Mar68
2729 Sgt M.E. MURPHY Experiences of an infantryman. 20Jan-31Aug66

2754 Col H.L. OPPENHEIMER Debrief, III MAF Deputy for Special Projects.  4Jan-19Apr68

2773 Cpl J.T. WORTHEN  Mission and activities of CAP 2-8-3. 1966

2809 LCpl L.M. POWERS  Mission, function, and activities of CAP 2-7-5. N/A

2819 MajGen W.J. VAN RYZIN Debrief, former Dep Cdr, IIIMAF. N/A 

2862 Col G.E. JERUE Debrief, former CO, 9th Mar; and AC/S, G-1, 3d MarDiv.  Jun67-Jul67

2896 LtCol S.A. BRUNNENMEYER Debrief, former Director, CAP,  3d MarDiv.  Aug-Dec67

2912 R.D. BOHN/ R.L. SHUFORD Debrief of Col BOHN, former AC/S,  G-3, and Col SHUFORD, former Dep
AC/S, G-3, 1st MarDiv.  Jul67-Jul68

2926 Sgt J.T. RIVOSA Mission and functions of CAP 2-1-1, CACO 2-1, 2d CAG, III MAF. N/A

2963 Cpl R.W. HAYES Duty with India 4 CAP. Nov67-Mar68

3028 Cpl G.D. BARNES Duty with 3d CAG. Nov67-Aug68

3042 SSgt W.H. CARDEN Problems of leadership and training in the CAP. N/A

3061 LtCol B.F. BRADY  Formation of CAG-4 and the III MAF CAP. Sep67- Jul68

3068 Col R.R. MINER Debrief, former CO, 7th Mar, and AC/S, 0-5 1st MarDiv.   Jul67-Aug68

3087 Sgt I.H. MONTEZ Cam Lo CAG daily operations. 1May-22Jun68

3117 Sgt W. WILLINSHAM Mission, function, and activities of CAP 2-8-2. N/A

3125 Sgt G.V. YOUNG Mission and functions of CAP 2-8-3, CACO 2-8, 2d CAG, III MAF. N/A

3137 Col H. PRESTON Debrief, former 0-3 Plans Officer, 1st MarDiv.   Jun67-Jul68

3217 Capt R.B. BROWN Experiences of a platoon leader with B/1/4 in RVN. May65-Apr66

3221 Cpl H.W. DOVEL Mission and activities of "H CAP-7'1, 3d CAG.  N/A

3222 LCpl R.D. PAYNE Mission and activities of "H CAP-6", 3d CAG.  N/A

3228 PFC O. STAULECKER Mission and activities of CAP 2-7-5 in 2d CAG. N/A

3232 Sgt B. DENSON Mission and activities of CAP 2-1-5, 3d CAG.  N/A

3295 LCpl S. ORNDORFF  Activities of CAC 3-4 in Huong Tra. Jan68-Sep68

3296 Sgt W.H. OXSLEY Operations of a Mobile Training Team. May-Oct68

3480 LtCol  J.E. GREENWOOD 4th CAG activities. 20Jul68-25Sep68

3486 Cpl G.W. SMITH Operations of CAP 4-2-2 (3d MarDiv).  1Sep68-10Oct68

3491 Cpl D.R. VINYARD  2d CAG operating procedures. Sep68

3493 Cpl R. CUMMINGS 3d CAG operations. Feb-Aug68

3578 MajGen E.E. ANDERSON N/A

3667 Cpl R. FURLONG Mission and activities of CAP 2-7-5. N/A

3673 Cpl R.A. SANDNESS Mission and activities of CACO 2-1. N/A

3679 lstLt T.B. RAINEY Operations of 1st CAG. Feb-Nov68

3736 Capt W. KENT, JR. Debrief, former CO, Co I, 1st CAG. 17Jul67-7Aug68

3750 Cpl E.W. KINNELL  Activities of CAG 1-3. Jan69

3751 LtGen R.E. CUSHMAN III MAF Monthly Commanders Conf. Jan69
3758 MajGen E.E. ANDERSON Debrief, former C/S, III MAP. Dec67-Dec68

3985 Cpl C.R. BUONANNO The Combined Action Program. May68-Oct68

4085 Col E.F. DANOWITZ The Combined Action Program. 1965-28Apr69

4088 Col G.C. KNAPP Debrief, former Chief, Plans and Programs Branch, CORDS Joint Staff, I Corps. Mar68-Apr69

4099 lstLt S.E. SHORE  Small unit action. 18Feb68-14Mar69

4123 BGen w. WEINSTEIN Debrief. 5Mar-2May69

4260 Col P.D. LAFOND   Debrief, former AC/S, 0-3,  3d MarDiv, and CO, 3d Mar.  Jul68-Jun69

4315 SSgt R.P. FITZPATRICK The role of 1st Pit, F/2/26 as a reaction force in support of a CAP unit. 1Jun69

4406 Dr. E. BAIRDAIN The Combined Action Program in I Corps (HSR study) . 15May-31Jul69

4418 W.M. WENTWORTH Combined Action operations, lstLt 0/2/26; 4th CAG. 7Dec67-18Oct68

4485 Col C.R. BURROUGHS Debrief, former Director, Combined Action Program. Apr-Oct69

4732 Col R.A. HEYWOOD  Debrief, former Co, 26th Mar; C/S, FMFPac.  Jan-Dec69

4735 Capt D. ROBINSON  M/3/1 in the CUPP. 19Nov69-18Jan70

4848 lstLt T. CALVERT  Activities of the CUPP. 1Mar-27May70

4853 BGen L.J. Dulacki 1970

4868 lstLt T. MILLER 1st Plt, "A" CUPP. 11Jun70

4892 Col N. HEFFERNAN  Debrief, former CO, lstMar; Dep AC/S, G-3, III MAF; AC/S O-3, III MAF.  Jul69- Jun70

4899 Col T.E. METZGER  Debrief, former CO, CAF. Aug69-Jul70

4956 Col C.J. PEABODY  Debrief, former AC/S, 0-5, III MAF.  Sep69-Sep70
4958 Col E.G. DURNING, JR. Debrief, former DepAds, 0-4, III MAF and Co, 7th Mar. Aug69-Aug70

4979 Col R.F. ESTEY Debrief, former Commander CAF and AC/S, 0-3, 1st MarDiv. Nov69-Dec70

5009 LtCol J.J. TOLNAY Debrief, former Co, 2d CAG. Sep70-May71

6000 LtGen H. Nickerson N/A

6177 Maj A.F. LUCAS The Combined Action program. 1966-Sep67

The next list of interviews was conducted by Martin Russ, under a grant from the Marine Corps Historical Foundation.  They can be found at the Marine Corps Historical Center in Washington, D.C.  These are essential for an understanding of the CAP, as many of the "original actors" are herein interviewed.

6308. Lane ROGERS, LtCol , USMC: Some observations on the war in Vietnam

6309. James BROWN,  LtCol, USMC: The Combined Action Program in RVN

6310. William R. CORSON, LtCol, USMC (Ret):  Observations on the war in Vietnam and the Combined Action Program

6311. Albert LUCAS, Maj, USMC: Observations on the Marine Corps Combined Action Program

6312. Herman NICKERSON, JR., LtGen, USPIC (Ret): Comments on the war in Vietnam, the Combined Action Program


6314. Mr. Edward T. LONG:  A former CORDS official's comments on the pacification effort in II Corps, RVN

6315. David WAGNER,  Col, USMC: Comments on the Combined Action Program

6316. William a. CORSON,  LtCol, USMC (Ret): Additional comments on the war in Vietnam and the Combined Action Program

6317. Ralph F. LEVEL,  MSgt, USMC (Ret) : Comments on the Combined Action Program in RVN

6318. Mr. Henry KOREN: Comments on the pacification effort in I Corps, RVN

6319. Fred HAYNES,  MajGen, USMC: Comments on the war in Vietnam, the Combined Action Program

6320. Mr. Willard LOCKRIDGE: Comments on the Combined Action Program in RVN

6321. John CAMPANELLI, Maj, USMC: Comments on the Combined Action Program

6322. Robert NEVILLE, Col, USMC (Ret): Comments on the war in Vietnam, the Combined Action Program

6323. Alex FIRFER, Mr./ Carl FRITZ, Mr.: Comments on the pacification effort in I Corps, RVN

6324.Edwin H. SIMMONS, BGen, USMC (Ret): Comments on the war in Vienarn and the pacification effort
6325. Edwin H. SIMMONS, BGen, USMC (Ret): Additional comments on the Vietnam War and the pacification effort

6326. John MULLIN, JR, Maj, USMC: Comments an the inception of the joint/combined action units in the Hue-Phu Bai TAOR (3/4)

6327. Edward LANSOALE, MajGen. USAF (Ret): Comments on the pacification effort in RVN

6328. Mr. Robert W. KOMER: Comments of a former CORDS chief on the pacification effort in RVN

6329. L. F. CHAPMAN, JR, Gen, USMC:. Comments on the war in Vietnam

6330. Lewis W. WALT, Gen, USMC: Comments on the war in Vietnam and the pacification effort

6331. Mr. William E. COLBY: Comments of the former CORDS chief on the pacification effort in RVN

6332. Don WYCOFF, Col, USMC (Ret): Comments on the war in Vietnam and the pacification effort

6333. Thomas FIELDS, Col, USMC: Comments on press relations in I Corps, RVN

6334. Jonas M. PLATT, MajGen, USMC: Comments on the war in Vietnam

6335. Edwin H. SIMMONS, BGen, USMC (Ret): Further comments on the Vietnam War

6336. John CAMPANELLI, Maj, USMC: Additional comments on the Combined Action Program

6337. Henry STACXPOLE, LtCol, USMC: Debrief of former I Corps Information Officer re/I Corps Relations with the Press

6338. William ft. CORSON, LtCol, USMC: Further comments on the Vietnam War and the Combined Action Program

6339. Edwin LANSDALE, MajGen, USMC: Additional comments on the Vietnam War and the Pacification Effort in RVN

6340. Jean SAUVAGEOT, LtCol. USMC: Comments on the Revolutionary Development Cadre Prograrn in RVN

3) Reports/Studies

Alnutt, Bruce C., Marine Combined Action Capabilities: The Vietnam Experience, McLean: Human Sciences
Research, Inc., 1969.

Blanchard, Colonel Don H., Pacification:  Marine Corps Style, Newport:  Naval War College, 1968.

Corson, LtCol William R., "Marine Combined Action Program In Vietnam", III MAF Civic Action articles, 1969-70.

Hunter, LtCol. Earl R., The Combined Unit Program, Quantico: Marine Corps Command and Staff College,

Johnson, Major Robert E., Retention of the Combined Action Program, Quantico:  Marine Corps Command and Staff
College, 1969.

Mullen, Capt. John J., Jr., Modifications to the III MAF Combined Action Program in the Republic of Vietnam, Quantico: Marine Corps Development and Education Command, 1968.

Personal Response Project, FMFPAC (FWD), Sept., 1966 and Feb., 1967.

Raines, Major R.C., An Analysis of the Command and Control Structure of the Combined Action Program, Quantico:
Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 1969.

Scarr, Harry A. et. al., Marine Combined Action Capabilities: Training for Future Contingencies, McLean: Human Sciences Reseach, Inc., 1971.

West, Capt F.J., Jr., "Something of Significance", 1st MarDiv CommC, Jan 1967, tab F.

4) Books

Blaufarb, Douglas S., The Counterinsurgency Era: U.S. Doctrine and Performance, New York:  The Free Press,

Corson, William R., The Betrayal, New York: W.W  Norton & Co., 1968.

Doyle, Edward, ed., America Takes Over, Boston: Boston Publishing Co., 1982.

Gallucci, Robert L., Neither Peace Nor Honor, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975.

Krulak, Victor H., First to Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps, Annapolis:  Naval Institute Press,

Lederer, William J., Our Own Worst Enemy, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1966.

Shulimson, Jack, and Johnson, Charles, The Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the Buildup, 1965, Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1978.

-Shulimson, Jack, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: An Expanding War, 1966, Washington, D.C.:  History and Museums
Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1982.

Stolfi, Russel H., United States Marine Corps Civic Action Efforts in Vietnam, March 1965 - March 1966,
Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1966.

Telfer, Gary L.; Rogers, Lane; and Fleming, V. Keith, Jr., U.S. Marines in Vietnam: Fighting the North Vietnamese, 1967, Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1984.

Walt, Lewis W., Strange War, Strange Strategy, New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1970.

West, F.J., Jr., The Village, New York: Harper & Row, 1972.

5) Articles

Marine Corps Gazette

Admire, LtCol John H., "Understanding Limited WarTM, Jan., 1983, p.50.

Clement, LtCol David A., "Le My: Study in Counterinsurgency" July, 1967, p.18.

Davis, MajGen R.G., "Combined Operations with ARVN", Oct., 1969, p.18.

Evans, LtCol D.L., Jr., "USMC Civil Affairs in Vietnam", Mar., 1968, p.20.

Holmberg, Maj William C., "Civic Action", Oct., 1969, p.20.

Platt, MajGen J.M., "Military Civic Action", Sept., 1970, p.20.

Wagner, LtCol David H., "A Handful of Marines", Mar., 1968, p.44.

West, Capt F.J., Jr., "Fast Rifles", Oct., 1967, p.38.

Williamson, Capt R.E., "A Briefing for Combined Action", Mar., 1968, p.41.

Wilson, MSgt George, "Combined Action", Oct., 1966, p.28.

Sea Tiger


"Combined Action Company:  great melting pot in miniature", 24 May, p.7.

"CAC squad repels night attack by VC", 7 June, p.4.

"Battle of the empty soda cans", 28 June, p.4.

"CAC patrol repels daytime vo attack", 28 June, p.6.

"Marines feed Ho Chi Minh", 28 June, p.7.

"Comradeship cooperation key to success for CAC", 26 July, p.7.
"A winning combination", 16 Nov., p.4.

"CAC-8 prtects Loc Son village", 14 Dec., p.7.

"Combined Action Companies ending Viet Cong terrorism", 28 Dec., p.9.


"CAC unit likes work", 18 Jan., p.3.

"Combined action companies", 18 Jan., p.11.

"Camp Dedicated to Young CAP Marines", 20 Oct., p.9.

"Expansion Underway of Area CAP Units", 20 Oct., p.12.

"CAP Marine Saves Buddy From Death", 3 Nov., p.1.

"No meal Please! says CAP outfit", 1 Dec., p.11.

"CAC News":  A Monthly Supplement", 1 Feb.; 1 Mar.; 5 Apr.; 5 May; 2 June; 7July.

"CAP News":  A Monthly Supplement", 4 Aug.; 1 Sep.; 6 Oct.; 3Nov.; 1 Dec.


"CAP Units Withstand Massive NVA Assault", 26 Jan., p.5.

"CAP School Prepares Students for Important Job Ahead", 26 Jan., p.2.

"CAP Leathernecks Escape from NVA Imprisonment", 9 Feb.,  p.1.

"Marine Mobile Training Teams", 27 Sept., p.6.


I was unable to review these two years.


"Former CAG Marine Finds Home in Vietnam", 29 Jan., p.3.
"CAP Corpsman Spends Time Of f Directing Medevac of Viet Girl", 19 Feb., p.6.


Beardsley, Sgt Frank, "Combined Action", Apr., 1968, p.20.

Freeman, MSgt Herb, "CAC", Apr., 1967, p.6.

6) Speeches

General Victor H. Krulak

General Lewis W. Walt

Return To: