"MACV [mac vee]"
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.
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
- 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
- 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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