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 A Summary History of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam | MACV

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Vietnam Vietnam

"MACV [mac vee]"

MACV - United States Army(Updated 9-11-13)

The United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, known as MACV (pronounced "mac-vee"), was a joint service command under the Department of Defense. MACV was created on February 8, 1962 in order to increase assistance to South Vietnam as well as command and control all advisory and assistance efforts in Vietnam. The command was dissolved on March 29, 1973, after the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Vietnam. MACV was the highest level of command "in-country." Therefore, the history of MACV is really the military history of the Vietnam War.

Prior to WWII, the territory that is the modern country of Vietnam was part of French Indochina, a colonial possession of France. During the Second World War the Japanese occupied the country, temporarily removing French rule. At the end of the war the French returned to once again establish their authority over the region. However, a communist revolutionary movement under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, known as the Viet Minh, had established itself fighting the Japanese. Both the French and the Viet Minh were in a weakened state after the war, so both existed in what would become North Vietnam for several years. But Ho was a passionate Vietnamese nationalist and planned for an independent, united, and communist Vietnam.

In what is called the "Indochina War" in France, and the "Anti-French Resistance War" in Vietnam, the Viet Minh fought the French for control of North Vietnam from December 1946 until France's departure in August 1954. South Vietnam was granted independence in 1949 as the State of Vietnam, an anti-communist country whose capitol was established in Saigon. After the defeat of the French, the Viet Minh established the communist government of North Vietnam with their capitol in Hanoi.

During the Indochina War, the United States provided some limited military assistance to France, mostly in the form of military equipment, some naval and air support, and CIA covert operations. In September 1950, U.S. President Harry Truman sent the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) to Vietnam to assist our French and Vietnamese allies. With the departure of the French, the communist insurgency in South Vietnam continued to grow, and with it, U.S. military aid. For example, in 1961 military aid jumped from $50 million per year to $144 million. U.S. advisors were pushed down to the battalion level and their numbers increased from 746 in 1961 to over 3,400 when MAAG was placed under the command of MACV when it was created in 1962.Click to preview or purchase "The Boldest Plan is the Best" from Amazon.com

The commanding general of MACV (and MAAG) was General Paul Harkins. In May 1964, combat deployments became too complicated for an advisory group to control. Therefore reorganization was effected that expanded the role of MACV and absorbed MAAG mission and personnel. The following month General William Westmoreland took command of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. During his tenure, MACV would grow to command and control the following major command components:

  • United States Army, Vietnam (USARV)
  • I Field Force, Vietnam (I FFV)
  • II Field Force, Vietnam (II FFV)
  • XXIV Corps
  • III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF)
  • Naval Forces, Vietnam (NAVFORV)
  • Seventh Air Force (7AF)
  • 5th Special Forces Group
  • Civil Operations and Revolutionary development Support (CORDS)
  • Studies and Observations Group (SOG)
  • Field Advisory Element, MACV

The commanding general of Military Assistance Command Vietnam (COMUSMACV) was therefore responsible for four corps-sized maneuver commands, all naval and air assets within the territorial borders of Vietnam, all special operations assets, as well as all military advisors to South Vietnamese forces. At the height of American involvement in the war in Vietnam there were 9,430 Army personnel acting as advisors on the district and battalion levels training, advising, and mentoring Vietnamese in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), Republic of Vietnam Marine Corps, Republic of Vietnam Navy and the Vietnam Air Force.

The major special operations command within MACV was the Studies and Observation Group (SOG). Contrary to popular belief, the acronym "SOG" does not officially stand for "Special Operations Group." Although "Studies and Observation" was an attempt to hide what the command did, which was unconventional warfare and highly classified operations throughout Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. MACV-SOG was comprised of U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets), Navy SEAL teams, Air Force Combat Controllers, Marine Recons, Air Force Special Operations pilots of the 90th Special Operations Wing, and other special operations personnel.

Naval Forces Vietnam (NAVFORV) was made up of those naval forces which were in direct operational support to ground forces within the borders of South Vietnam. This excluded the aircraft carriers, amphibious ships, and naval gunfire support. However, it did include the Navy's units in the II, III, and IV Corps Tactical Zones. Over the course of the war the Coastal Surveillance Force (Task Force 115), River Patrol Force (Task Force 116), and Riverine Assault Force (Task Force 117) came under the control of NAVFORV. TF 116 and TF 117 were used in the joint Army-Navy Mobile Riverine Force. MACV, through the Commander Naval Forces, Vietnam (COMNAVFORV), also commanded the Naval Support Activity, Saigon and the NSA Danang. These bases provided logistical support to the naval and marine forces in South Vietnam. Also under NAVFORV was the Naval Advisory Group, the 3d Naval Construction Brigade (the Seabees), the Military Sea Transportation Service Office (coordinating sealift of supplies to Southeast Asia), the Officer-in-Charge of Construction (civilian construction projects), the Naval Research and Development Unit (testing new equipment in the field), and Commander, Coast Guard Activities, Vietnam.

The news of the enemy's Tet Offensive which began on January 31, 1968, proved to be contrary to what General Westmoreland had touted as "positive indicators" in the progress of the war. The American public's support for the war spiraled. In June 1968, General Westmoreland was replaced by General Creighton Abrams. While Westmoreland is best known for his prosecution known as "search and destroy," Abrams implemented the "winning of hearts and minds" and the "Vietnamization" of the war. Abrams was largely successful, demonstrated through the ability of the South Vietnamese Army to repel the NVA's Easter Offensive of 1972. However, public and political support for the war in Vietnam could never be regained after Tet. Abrams was replaced by General Frederick Weyand in June 1972 and, like Westmoreland before him, went on to serve as Chief of Staff of the Army.

General Weyand oversaw the drawdown of U.S. armed forces in Vietnam during the last half of 1972. The Paris Peace Accords that ended the United States' combat involvement in Vietnam were signed on January 27, 1973. The agreement provided for a 60-day ceasefire during which time all remaining American and other United Nations combat forces were required to be withdrawn from Vietnam. Therefore, with no forces to command, MACV was no longer needed. The command was disbanded on March 29, 1973. Any American military personnel remaining in Vietnam at that time came under control of the Defense Attaché Office (DAO) in Saigon.

The huge complex that was built to house MACV Headquarters and the ARVN Joint General Staff at Tan Son Nhut Airbase was dubbed the "Pentagon East" during the war. After the disbanding of MACV, Pentagon East housed the DAO. This compound was used as one of the two evacuation points for Operation Frequent Wind, the removal of American civilian and Vietnamese evacuees from Vietnam during the Fall of Saigon in April 1975 (the other was the U.S. Embassy, Saigon). It is also the site of the last American ground casualties in Vietnam. At 3:30 a.m. on April 29, 1975 a North Vietnamese rocket hit Guard Post #1 at the gate of the DAO Compound, killing 21-year old Marine Corporal Charles McMahon and 19-year old Lance Corporal Darwin Lee Judge.

 

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