Robert Leach, Vietnam veteran
Latham, NY, USA
In 1965 I was a Major in the Regular Army, a graduate of West Point, with a rudimentary knowledge of Vietnamese language and training in civil affairs duties. I was assigned to the Military Advisory Command, Vietnam (MACV) and after arriving at Tan Son Nhut Airport in Saigon and having a few days of orientation, was further assigned to the III Corps in Pleiku. When I arrived there by plane they had just undergone a mortar attack on the airstrip and there was an understandable air of tension. The Pleiku installation was one of metal huts and sandbagged bunkers, but included a tennis court!
I was further assigned to the Provinicial Advisory Team at Qui Nhon, Binh Dinh Province. I was driven from the highlands over dirt roads to Qui Nhon on the sea coast. We were billeted in hotel-like accomodations and worked in offices at the Provincial Hqs Compound. The team had a half dozen officers in Qui Nhon and 6-man advisory teams in each of the Districts of the Province. Our task was to help the Vietnamese Provinicial and District government official perform their tasks most effectively. All of the Province and District offices were headed by military and staffed with civilians. My direct counterpart was Major Vo Van Be, the Deputy Province Chief and nominal commander of 7,000 paramilitary soldiers of various degrees of training and effectiveness ranging from hamlet defense platoons to regional force companies.
Viet Cong irregular forces were active in more remote parts of the Province and had caused many villagers to come to Qui Nhon where they lived in refugee camps, supported by the government.
A Republic of Vietnam (RVN) Division was stationed in Qui Nhon and conducted operations against the Viet Cong. A few days after I arrived the US First Cavalry Division arrived in the port and came ashore to much media coverage as the first US combat unit to arrive. They moved inland and had to fight for their base camp. Within a few weeks they were conducting operations in the highlands and in Binh Dinh Province with their helicopter air-mobile forces.
A few months later a South Korean Infantry Division arrived to carve out a base in the Province. So now we had three regular divisions and 7,000 militia in a relatively small area. None of these units were in any way responsible to the Province Chief and conducted operations at will. It was a nightmare of activity and, so far as we were able to determine, made no appreciable difference in VC activity in the Province. They were still able to hide in the jungle and in tunnels and attack small RVN and militia forces with ambushes and night attacks that were successful.
The US Agency for International Development had an office in the Province and provided materials and advice to villages that were thought to be secure so that medical dispensaries and schools could be built. Agricultural aid was also available to farmers. Various crafts businesses were supported. The VC, who lived among the populations of the villages, attempted to disrupt all these efforts in every possible way. They killed villagers who cooperated in these efforts and blew up school and medical buildings.
It was frustrating. When I ended my tour in 1966 the situation was worsening, with larger NVA units beginning to infiltrate the Province.
We hoped we were doing a signal service for the people of South Vietnam. It was not to be.