By the 1960s the teachings of Mao Zedong and Che Guevara became relevant to an understanding of the nature of "peoples wars” or “wars of national liberation.” The most effective strategy for opposing communism in wars of this type was of a dual nature. The destructive phase would address the conventional force threat, while the constructive phase was concerned with the political, economic, social, and ideological aspects of the struggle.
The Marines understood this duality best and made a serious attempt to achieve permanent and lasting results in their tactical area of responsibility by seeking to protect the rural population. The US Marine Corps adopted a strategic approach that emphasized pacification over large-unit battles almost from the outset of their arrival in Vietnam. Previous Marine deployments as colonial infantry in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and especially Nicaragua had elements of civil development and an emphasis upon the training of local militia.
Shortly after the arrival in force of the Marines in 1965, a program called Combined Action Program was initiated. Each CAP unit consisted of a fifteen-man rifle squad assigned to a particular hamlet in the Marine tactical area of responsibility. CAP units worked with platoons of local Vietnamese militia (Popular Forces, or PFs). These combined units conducted night patrols and ambushes, gradually making the local Vietnamese forces assume a greater share of responsibility for village security. Their mission was the destruction of the National Liberation Front infrastructure, organization of local intelligence networks, and the military training of the PFs. CAPs were immediately successful. There was a direct correlation between the time a CAP stayed in a village and the degree of security achieved, with CAP-protected villages progressing twice as fast as those occupied by the Popular Forces militia alone.
Between 1954 and 1962 the US Marines provided a small advisory group to work with the South Vietnamese Marine Corps. Headquartered in Saigon and under the operational control of MACV Naval Advisory Group, the Marine Advisory Unit consisted of 19 officers and one enlisted man at the beginning of 1965.
First Force Reconnaissance Company was deployed to Vietnam in 1965, while Second Force Reconnaissance Company remained behind at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and trained new recruits. Force Recon Marines are fully capable of operating independently behind enemy lines conducting deep reconnaissance, and direct action (DA), using combined methods of heliborne and waterborne insertions and extractions. During the war, forty-four Marines of First Force Recon were killed or missing-in-action. Third Force Reconnaissance Company was also formed and deployed to Vietnam during this time. First Force Recon continued in the engagement until 1974.
The Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army would prove to be elusive targets, quickly fading back into the jungle or scattering among the local population. Demonstrating their ability as Marines to quickly adapt to a change in terrain or a tactical situation, Force Reconnaissance Companies initiated the Stingray Patrol Program in 1966. Stingray Patrols usually consisted of five or six lightly armed Marines from Force Reconnaissance Companies or Division Reconnaissance Battalions. Equipped with a radio, they were inserted into enemy territory by helicopter. After insertion, they would observe trails, stream crossings or other locations where the enemy would pass and, rather than engaging directly, would call in artillery fire or air strikes on the enemy.
General Lewis W. Walt: Lieutenant Walt completed The Basic School at Philadelphia, and in April 1937 was assigned to the 6th Marine Regiment a machine gun platoon leader. Embarking for China in August 1937, he took part in the defense of the International Settlement of Shanghai, China.
Early in 1942, Captain Walt volunteered to join the 1st Marine Raider Battalion and in April 1942 arrived with the battalion on Samoa. On 7 August 1942, as commander of Company A, 1st Raider Battalion, he landed his company in the assault on Tulagi Island in the British Solomon Islands. He was awarded the Silver Star Medal for conspicuous gallantry during the landing.
Promoted to major general in 1965, he assumed command of III Marine Amphibious Force and 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam. He was also Chief of Naval Forces, Vietnam and Senior Advisor, I Corps and I Corps Coordinator, Republic of Vietnam. General Walt felt that many of the lessons learned in the Banana Wars in the Caribbean were applicable to Vietnam for their elements of civil development and an emphasis upon training local militia. General Walt initiated the Combined Action Company which sent squads of Marine volunteers into the countryside to assist local part-time militia men known as Popular Forces. His CAC units all had the same orders: help protect the villages, get to know the people, find the local Communist infrastructure and put it out of business.
General Alfred M. Gray, Jr: Gray enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1950. He served overseas with the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, attaining the rank of sergeant before being commissioned a second lieutenant in April 1952. General Gray is known as the Cryptologic Warrior by Marines in the Intelligence Community due to his pioneering efforts over four decades of service. In his early career he restructured USMC cryptologic operations and developed doctrines for Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) support to combat units. He was instrumental in the establishment of what is known today as the Marine Cryptological Support Battalion. General Gray emphasized training and the development of a high foreign language proficiency for Marine Corps SIGINT personnel. Gray commanded the first Marine Corps ground SIGINT unit to deploy to Vietnam in 1962, and refined the doctrine and practice for direct support to combat units in Southeast Asia. In November 1968 he was tasked with the development of the doctrine for the employment of sensor technology in the Marine Corps. In 1969 LtCol Gray returned to Vietnam in conjunction with surveillance and reconnaissance matters in the I Corps area.
As Gray advanced to higher rank in the Marine Corps, he continued to promote the development of SIGINT capabilities strongly focused on direct support to the deployed forces.
General Paul X. Kelley: In February 1958, Kelley was assigned to the newly activated Second Force Reconnaissance Company, Force Troops, Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, Camp Lejeune, where he served as the Executive Officer and then Commanding Officer. From September 1960 to May 1961 he was the US Marine Corps Exchange Officer with the British Royal Marines; becoming one of the few foreigners to earn the Royal Marines Commandos’ green beret. During this tour he attended the Commando Course in England, and served as assistant Operations Officer with the 45 Commando in Aden, and as Commander of 42 Commando in Singapore, Malaya, and Borneo.
In 1965 he deployed to Vietnam. He first served as the Combat Intelligence Officer for the III Marine Amphibious Force, FMF, Pacific. In 1966 he was given an promoted to lieutenant colonel, and as a battalion commander he earned the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit with Valor device and two awards of the Bronze Star with Valor device for his combat actions.
Commanding the 1st Marines from 1970 to 1971, which was the last Marine Regiment in combat in Vietnam, Colonel Kelley earned a second Legion of Merit.
In February 1980, Kelley was promoted to lieutenant general and named as the first Commander of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force and spearheaded the initiative which eventually culminated in its re-designation as the US Central Command. On 1 July 1981 he was promoted to the rank of General and became the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps and succeeded General Robert H. Barrow as Commandant of the Marine Corps on 1 July 1983.
Gunnery Sergeant Jimmie E. Howard: Howard was a Medal of Honor recipient. While serving as Platoon Leader with Company C, First Reconnaissance Battalion, First Marine Division, in the Republic of Vietnam, Gunnery Sergeant (then Staff Sergeant) Howard and his eighteen-man platoon were occupying an observation post deep within enemy-controlled territory when shortly after midnight on 16 June, 1955, a Viet Cong force of estimated battalion size launched a vicious attack. Throughout the night, during assault after assault, Gunnery Sergeant Howard by his courageous example and firm leadership inspired and motivated his men to withstand the unrelenting fury in a seemingly hopeless situation. Through his extraordinary courage and resolute fighting spirit, Gunnery Sergeant Howard was largely responsible for preventing the loss of his entire platoon.
Colonel John W. Ripley: In May 1965, 1st Lieutenant Ripley was transferred to 2d Force Reconnaissance Company where he completed Airborne, Scuba, Reconnaissance and Jumpmaster courses. In October 1966, Captain Ripley joined 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, just below the demilitarized zone n the northern sector of South Vietnam, I Corps, and commanded “Lima” Company known as “Ripley’s Raiders.” Ripley returned to South Vietnam in 1971 and served as Senior Advisor to a Vietnamese Marine Battalion. During his two terms of Vietnam service, he participated in 26 major operations and received the Navy Cross for his heroic action on Easter morning 1972. Ripley blew up the Dong Ha bridge to stop a major North Vietnam invasion of South Vietnam by dangling for three hours beneath the bridge to plant 500 pounds of explosives.
Following his tours in Vietnam, Ripley served with Marine Force Reconnaissance, was an exchange officer with the British Royal Marines, and earned the ‘Quad Body’ distinction for making it through four of the toughest military training programs in the world: the Army Rangers, Marine Reconnaissance, Army Airborne, and Britain’s Royal Marines. He was the only career Marine officer to be inducted in the US Army Ranger Hall of Fame.
General Walter E. Boomer: He attended the short Advisors Course at Fort Bragg in 1971 and returned to Vietnam as an advisor to a South Vietnamese Marine Infantry Battalion. While serving this tour of duty, he was involved in the Easter Offensive, North Vietnam’s largest assault on South Vietnam.
In February 1985 Colonel Boomer assumed command of the Marine Security Guard Battalion and, and while serving in this capacity, was selected for promotion to brigadier general. In 1990, Lieutenant General Boomer deployed to Saudi Arabia where he served as the Commanding General, US Marine Forces Central Command and I Marine Expeditionary Force during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
On 22 April 1991 he returned to Camp Pendleton and assumed the duties of Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Force/Commanding General, Marine Corps Base. He was promoted to General on 1 September 1992, and assumed his last duty assignment as Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Colonel Gerald H. Turley: He began his active duty with the recall of Marine reserves in 1951, and served with the Air Wing during the Korean War. After completing college under the “boot strap” program, he was commissioned and served as Supply Officer of the First Force Reconnaissance Company 1961-1967. The supply problems of the Company were legion at that time since new gear was being developed for submarine and parachute missions and Turley threw himself into the job. He quickly realized that in order to be sensitive to the supply needs of the Company, he had to complete jump school, and did so as an outstanding graduate although older than most other Marines of the Company.
It was during his second tour of duty in Vietnam in 1972, while serving as Senior Military Advisor Vietnam, that he ordered Captain Ripley to blow the bridge at Dong Ha during the Easter Offensive. Colonel Turley directed US ground, air, and naval fire in support of South Vietnam’s embattled Marine and Army units stationed along the DMZ. As a result, the Communist invasion was halted.