CAP Veterans Association
VA Phase II Symposium on the Treatment of Vietnam Veterans
Las Vegas, Nevada
February 25, 1985
James G. DuGuid, Director
CAP Unit Veterans Association
Or Happy New Year. This is TET. And as the Director and founder of the CAP Unit Veterans Association, I would like to take this opportunity to say a few words concerning the survivors of the Combined Action Program.
The Combined Action Program was conceived and operated by the United States Marine Corps from 1965 to 1971. It was designed as a pacification program. In its six year history the program was rarely known outside of its own members and a few Marines fortunate enough to have had some contact with it. Following the end of the War, the program was all but forgotten, except, of course, by its survivors.
The reasons for this lack of recognition are varied. However, the major reason lies within the nature of the unit itself. At the height of the Combined Action Program, there were 114 units, each comprised of 14 Marines, 1 Navy Corpsman, and approximately 20 Popular Force troops. These units were strategically scattered from Chu Lai to the DMZ. Each unit was located within a village or hamlet and was, in essence, completely on its own with regard to its pacification activities, and, more importantly, its security and defense. There existed virtually no artillery nor air support for these units. Medevacs frequently waited 6 to 8 hours after enemy contact before evacuating the wounded. Indeed, so remote and isolated were some CAP units that often Marines would go 6 months without seeing an officer, or returning to a rear area.
The consequences of having been a volunteer in the Combined Action Program are perhaps made clear by the following information, gathered in the past three years of my research:
Armed with this limited knowledge, and an overpowering belief that their individual participation in this program might shorten the war, and ultimately save lives, these men--these heroic young men--risked their lives and never lost their humaneness.
Of the approximately 5,000 Marines who went into this program, less than half survived. Of the survivors, it has been estimated that 70% were wounded once, 40% were wounded twice, and approximately 65% received decorations for heroism. In 1968, the Combined Action Program comprised less than 3% of all U.S. personnel in the I Corps area, yet they accounted for 43% of the enemy KIA's. This program was the smallest combat unit existing in Vietnam, but it was also the most highly decorated.
We recently held our first reunion in San Francisco where 23 members, a little more than 25% of the membership, attended. Of the 23 attending, 4 were officers. During the reunion all indicated that they are suffering in some degree from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, all members also agreed that the CAP Unit Program was the most positive thing that happened to them in Vietnam. Since the reunion, I have been in contact with approximately half of the participants. In my discussion with each of them, they have related that they have experienced symptoms of delayed stress from the reunion, but felt that it was positive and beneficial.
It should be noted that these elite survivors are just that--elite. With almost all whom I have talked to about attending veterans Rap Groups, or similar therapeutic programs, one strong reservation stands out. That is the CAP Unit veterans do not identify with other Vietnam veterans, especially around the issues of experiences with and attitudes toward the Vietnamese people. The CAP volunteers lived intimately with the villagers and formed powerful relationships which were traumatically severed upon their return to the states. This has resulted in feelings of loss equally as strong as those feelings of loss concerning their fellow Marines. Often these feelings are compounded by a sense of having abandoned the villagers who depended on them.
Last November I traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend SALUTE II and to try and locate other CAP Unit Veterans. The trip was a huge success. While in Washington I managed to obtain 86 names and addresses of CAP veterans. More importantly, I gathered a total of 54 thoroughly completed questionnaires. The questionnaire was kept to a minimum number of questions in order to facilitate responses. The following are some significant statistics compiled from the questionnaire:
What all this indicates, in a nutshell, is that those estimates previously mentioned are again reflected here in the questionnaires. The above numbers indicate that more than 50% of the respondents were wounded, more than 20% were in units that were over-run by the NVA or VC forces, and, interestingly, the ratio of officers to corpsmen is precisely that of the unit ratio in Vietnam.
So what does all this mean? To me it means that you, as professionals, should be on the lookout for these CAP Unit survivors and recognize that these are not typical of Vietnam combat veterans. The men volunteered above and beyond the call of duty for the most righteous of reasons--to help save lives. The men were "Peace Corps Volunteers" with guns. They gave everything they had and yet they are totally alone. They cannot share their experiences with those who understand because there just aren't that many still alive (maybe 2,000 spread throughout the nation).
I would like to ask each one of you to do me and all of us survivors a favor, and that is to put us in touch with each other. If you know of someone who was a CAP Unit Marine, then please encourage him to contact us. We know what it means to be a CAP Unit Veteran, and we are learning to be survivors with a history. We are currenlty preparing for our Second Annual Reunion to be held in Washington, D.C., on November 8 - 14, 1985. In addition, we publish a sporadic newsletter which contains all names and addresses of CAP Unit Veteran members. We now number over 170 members and are steadily growing. Approximately 7% of our members have managed to contact someone they knew through the newsletter. These contacts facilitate healing, and our evergrowing history restores pride to these men.