The Five O’clock Cocktail.

A short talk on America in Vietnam.

America, like a man in a glutinous swamp was sucked into the Vietnam War.

China had become Communist in 1949 and North Korea had invaded the South in 1950 accompanied by communist revolts in Malaya and the Philippines. By 1960 President Kennedy saw Vietnam as a pending threat. The Domino Theory was reiterated many time stating ‘if Vietnam goes it would be very difficult or impossible to hold South East Asia.’ Kennedy’s Special Military Adviser General Taylor like so many of the military saw Vietnam as a purely military experience. State Department William Jorden observed South Vietnamese officials and soldiers had already lost confidence in the Diem regime. While Sterling Cottrell thought it would be a mistake as the war was being waged in the villages, where foreign forces themselves could not win.     

Aid and more aid given to the South Vietnamese government of Ngo Dinh Diem resulting in increased corruption. This led to America becoming involved in the internal politics of the country.

GI with Mortar in VietnamUS Special forces found themselves fighting that same government to save the Montagnards of the Highlands. Diem was assassinated and by ARVN officers by the express permission of the American Ambassador. The report of his death found Kennedy at a meeting. When told, he leapt to his feet and rushed from the room in shock. A few weeks later Kennedy himself was assassinated and years of enquiry began. For Diem there was none. 

Kennedy’s successor President Johnson decided he would not let Vietnam fall into the communist hands.

Early in 1964 plans were drawn up to spy and sabotage in North Vietnam including bombing raids in Laos.

Johnson expected the secrecy of the missions to hide the truth from the American People and the rest of the World. As aggression increased American advisers were being used as combat troops. When Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964 it gave the President the authority to take the necessary measured force to protect American involvement. Johnson called the resolution ‘grandfathers nightshirt covering everything.’

The second incident in the Tonkin Gulf was caused by a thunderstorm which attributed to the malfunctioning of the sonar and radar of the USS Maddox.This gave the excuse to allowed attacks by air on North Vietnamese coast targets. Johnson knew that the second incident was a farce, in his own words as dumb stupid sailors firing at flying fish. Johnson called the attacks on the North as ‘The positive reply’ .

Big guns firing from a US battleship off VietnamThis may have suited the aspirations of Johnson to make aggressive war, but in truth he was not convinced and restricted the attacks to that day. American global credibility was now on the line and the defence of South East Asia paramount. To avoid the charge of colonisation any military action had to be done through a pliable South Vietnam and according to Dean Rusk ‘done with persuasive intrusion in to their affairs.’ Johnson began to realise the South Vietnamese did not have the will and discipline to take on the Communists. He was not going to lose his reputation nor the honour of his country, so it was time to Americanise the war. It was now time to subdue ‘that dammed little puissant country.’   

 The path was now set to storm the beaches and rebuild an Vietnamese Nation along Western lines.

The old American airbase of Da Nang on the morning of the 8th of March 1965 was strewn with wreckage. The Japanese bunkers were still evident and the empty pillboxes of the French lay beside the dilapidated runway.

At sea the American Marines were preparing for a frontal assault. 3,500 men were given the order to return fire if necessary. Task force 76 had endured weeks of the lousiest weather ever in the South China Sea according to General Karch. He was a veteran of Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima and expected a resisted landing. The young marines remembered the World War Two movies and were tensed on hearing the Viet Gong were in Da Nang.

The town was mobbed by refugees walking in the morning drizzle far from the war. On the beach in just over an hour 1,4000 Marines had landed expecting big trouble.

  The Major of Da Nang welcomed them taking pictures with his Polaroid camera. TV Cameramen took in the action awaiting the impressions of the marines. Banners flew marked Vietnam welcomes the US Marine Corps and Welcome to the Gallant Marines. School girls threw garland of flowers on the invaders. General Karch was not very amused at being warmly welcomed and covered in flowers. The landing were not only to show how things were done by the Marines, but to act as a warning to Russia and China. America was here on business.

A Pentagon press released declared the Marines were sent on request of the South Vietnamese Government.

The story did not grab as much attention as expected even the communists wrongly assumed Johnson would not authorise enormous expenditure. But General Westmoreland had been sent a blank cheque guaranteeing no limitations in funds.

 At first the Marines were restricted to defence of installations and Us bases which contained vast amounts of beer, cigarettes and chocolate. 

Westmorland wanted to go out into the country and Johnson agreed. A Marine C.O. agreed ‘they would start killing Vietnamese instead of just sitting on their ditty box.’

Everything seemed to be just fine and for a few days there were no great disruption. This was due to an unresponsive Vietcong regrouping in strength.

In Saigon before the marines arrived special forces could nip out for an quick patrol or fire fight and return to base for a five o’clock cocktail. But casual activities were drawing to an end as pitched battles became common place. An attack near Binh Hoa lasted six hours. It was estimated 500 Vietcong died throwing themselves against the perimeter wire.

On a dark night on October 31st 1964 the Vietcong disguised as farmers in boats floated by the air base at Bien Hoa.

A sudden mortar attack on the base left four Americans dead and five bombers destroyed and eight damaged.

At 0200 in February at Da Nang seven Americans were killed and one hundred wounded. Us soldiers were waiting to see Bob Hope at a Christmas show at the Brink Hotel in Saigon when a parked truck exploded Killing two and wounding 70 others.

Da Nang airstrip was vital and the Marines settled in to defending it, carrying out only short patrols. Two marines on such a patrol got lost and found themselves behind the third marine who shot both of them.

Although Operation Starlite by the Marines had outmatched the Vietcong where 614 were killed to the American 45 solved nothing. They began to worry about the enemy choosing their own ground in the forests and the paddy fields. Also the South Vietnamese troops seemed to know their business according to Lieutenant Hering but when they started lighting up cigarettes and  listening to jazz music on their Transistors while on patrol, it shook us up a little.

  Late in 1965 in an unfinished letter to his mother just before being killed near Peiku in McNamara’s War a VC soldier wrote ‘How devastating and poignant this war is! It has stolen the vernal spring of our lives, we fledglings who knew nothing except our school books. I did not expect to be so wretched. If I see you again I will tell you every detail. If not, please calm your grief and do not mourn me.’

On the other hand a quote often used by the American Officers appertaining to the Vietnamese, was, ‘I wish they were on our side.’

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