As discussed in this space earlier, U.S. Marines set up camp just outside Da Nang on March 8, 1965. According to http://www.history.com, this is the news from one day later:
“The 3,500 Marines of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade …continue to land at Da Nang. … Among the arrivals on this day were the first U.S. armor in Vietnam—a tank of the 3rd Marine Tank Battalion. More tanks, including those with flame-throwing capability, followed in a few days.”
Mission creep began from Day 1. And the story kept pace for 10 years.
“… During the course of the war, the Marine Corps deployed one corps-level headquarters, two Marine divisions, two additional Marine regimental landing teams and a reinforced Marine aircraft wing, plus a number of battalion-size Marine special landing forces afloat with the 7th Fleet.”
And that is Marine Corps data only. The numbers grow exponentially when the other services are included. With the application of arithmetic to gauging success in Vietnam the inevitable lying quickly ensued. King Propaganda boasted in superlatives about every aspect of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The biggest, longest lasting lie concerned antiseptic body count. The American public, along with politicians and other armchair generals, were fed the lie that in the latest encounter xxx enemy were killed, while we suffered “only” the deaths of yy. Here’s my perspective on just a few notions that whet the American appetite for being best at everything and having the best of everything.
- Body Count. Never knowing what, if any, piece of a larger operation we combat infantrymen were part of, the larger battle always shrunk with the myopic vision needed to confront the enemy immediately at hand. Such was the case with Operation Attleboro. I really don’t remember how many days my platoon/company spent in the field before we returned to base camp. (One day and night during that battle remains one of the worst of my life.) I was a drinker and when we returned to camp at Tay Ninh I got drunk. One of the guys read aloud an article from The Stars and Stripes about Attleboro and we all got a good laugh about how many VC and NVA regulars we were reported to have killed. Lie.
- Best Equipment, Clothing. Those desert fatigues soldiers wear today look awesome. Soldiers in Vietnam wore jungle fatigues and boots–eventually. The clothing and equipment issued to me and my brethren at Fort Dix in October 1965 were exactly what we wore and carried off the troop ship that deposited us onto the shore at Vung Tao in August 1966. That gear even took us through jungle training, includ raiding a VC village set up at Camp Edwards in a foot of snow. We were in-country for several months before swapping out our industrial strength clothes for proper attire. A disturbing sidebar to this humanitarian activity, however, is that the fighters were the last to receive light fatigues and boots with drains in them to help fight against dry rot and who knows what. Rear echelon cooks and truck drivers had them before us.
- Best Equipment, Rifles. I am told today how great the M-16 is. It wasn’t. First of all, my brigade, the 196th Light Infantry, trained for the better part of a year using the M-14 as our basic weapon. We shot it, dirtied it, cleaned it, zeroed it, qualified with it. Then, shortly before the day we boarded ships at Boston Harbor, Army Intelligence decided to have us turn in those weapons and swap ’em out for M-16s. All we learned in the states about that weapon was how to strip it, clean it, and put it back together in a hurry. We did not shoot a single round out of that weapon until, somewhere out in the South Pacific, we pinged garbage tossed off the fantail of the ship. Less than one magazine. For an entire year I carried and fought with a weapon I never zeroed. Worse than that, the sucker was prone to jamming, usually in the middle of a fire fight. Apparently, firing multiple rounds rapidly, as one is inclined to do when trying to achieve life over death, heats the chamber to a point of expansion and the spent round does not eject. (That happened to me, but that’s for another time.) Nonetheless, the maker–Colt, I believe–made millions through distribution of their weapon to users who had no choice, and some politician(s) surely rolled over for them. We grunts were Beta testers for a company whose profits climbed along the same slope as that which tracked the length of the war.
- Armor. This is nothing against armor soldiers, who can refute or verify my experience with their own. Whenever we grunts went out with and were thereby protected by the tremendous firepower of tanks, etc., something bad happened. Any track vehicle larger than an Armored Personnel Carrier either got stuck in mud somewhere inconvenient or it rolled over a land mine. Great machinery with big bangers were of little use in close-in combat.
War profiteers have always been around. That never changes. The flags they swathe themselves in are made from dollars and stock options. See the link below for full text of the excerpt that follows.
“War was just an experiment for two of the U.S. military’s oldest and most unusual warplanes. A pair of OV-10 Broncos—small, Vietnam War-vintage, propeller-driven attack planes—recently spent three months flying top cover for ground troops battling ISIS militants in the Middle East.
“The OV-10s’ deployment is one of the latest examples of a remarkable phenomenon. The United States—and, to a lesser extent, Russia—has seized the opportunity afforded it by the aerial free-for-all over Iraq and Syria and other war zones to conduct live combat trials with new and upgraded warplanes, testing the aircraft in potentially deadly conditions before committing to expensive manufacturing programs.
“That’s right. America’s aerial bombing campaigns are also laboratories for the military and the arms industry. After all, how better to pinpoint an experimental warplane’s strengths and weaknesses than to send it into an actual war?”
We never learn.