The 2nd ROK Marine Brigade "Blue Dragons"
Korean Marines prepare defensive positions near Tuy Hoa, RVN. Presented by US Army, Sp4 Robert Lafoon, USA
Addendum, August 16, 2015: Robert Lafoon has provided me with a marvelous set of photos of the 2nd Republic of Korea (ROK) "Blue Dragon" Marine Brigade in Vietnam. I have posted them at the close of this Blue Dragon article. Lafoon was a Sp4 with the US Army Special Photo Detachment, Pacific.
The ROK Marine Corps was only formed in April 1949 with an initial strength of 380 men, mostly volunteers from the ROK Navy and Coast Guard, with outdated Japanese weapons left over from WWII. It grew to two battalions by the end of 1949.
When the North Koreans invaded in June 1950, the allies were forced south to the Pusan Perimeter where they held. While that fighting was underway, in August 1950, a 3rd ROK Marine Battalion was created. The three battalions were organized into the 1st Korean Marine Corps Regiment and attached to the US 1st Marine Division (MARDIV). Following the Inchon landings, the ROK Marines occupied Inchon, enabling US forces to move toward Seoul.
In the spring of 1952, a decision was made to use ROK Marines to defend islands in the Yellow Sea and Sea of Japan. There are many of them, if you study a good map, and you'll see that many lie astride North Korea. As a result, the 2nd Marine Regiment was formed with three battalions, two deployed to the Yellow Sea islands, one to the Sea of Japan islands. Several US Marines have commented that while the ROKs were there to defend the islands, they frequently conducted raids into North Korea, not content to sit still on an island. Many of the islands are fairly close to the North Korean mainland, and have been a bone of contention and source friction.
The Corps quickly established itself as a potent fighting force in the Korean War, called the "Ghost Busters" by some, "The invincible Marines" by others, and "The Legendary Marines" by still others.
The Blue Dragon Brigade, evolving from the 2nd Marine Regiment, was also organized around three infantry battalions (1st, 2nd and 3rd) supported by a composite artillery battalion, a heavy mortar company, an aviation detachment, and the normal support.
Fast forward 12 years. The Blue Dragons are headed to fight communism in Vietnam.
President Park Chung-hee reviews the ROK Marine Corps' 2nd Brigade, the "Blue Dragons," which had been tabbed for deployment to Vietnam as a combat unit. Presented by East Asian Affairs.
The 2nd ROK Marine Brigade deployed to Cam Ranh Bay in late September and early October 1965, at about the same time the ROKA Tiger Division deployed to Qui Nhon to the north.
The Blue Dragon brigade was commanded by Brigadier General Yun Sang Kim, shown in this Defense Department photo presented by the USMC, "US Marines in Vietnam, 1967."
All the Blue Dragon brigade's officers had been trained by the USMC at Quantico or San Diego. One US Marine colonel at Hoi An is said to have remarked some years later:
"We taught them everything we know, and now they know it better than us."
We're sure our Marines would take issue with that, but the point is, the Korean Marines were good, damn good.
The main message of this map is that the Blue Dragons moved from Cam Ranh Bay in a series of steps until they got to "Marine Country" of the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF) in I Corps. The arrival of the ROK White Horse Division in 1966 enabled the ROK Marines to move north.
The brigade remained at Cam Ranh for a couple months. The Dragons then deployed to the Tuy Hoa area to lend a hand against the NVA 95th Division, which had disappeared for a while but then reared its ugly head in the rich rice regions around Tuy Hoa.
Rice transplanting, Tuy Hoa area. Presented by ibiblio.org
The land in much of the Tuy Hoa area was very fertile for rice, and as a result, a major target for the VC and NVA. The 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division went over to Tuy Hoa, and the two brigades, one Army, one Marine, one US, one Korean, worked together until the end of December 1965 when the 101st brigade had to get over to Phan Rang. That left Tuy Hoa in Korean Marine Corps hands.
This is a photo of a South Korean Marine from 1st Battalion, 2nd ROK Marine Brigade Blue Dragons escorting three Viet Cong prisoners captured during a search-and-destroy patrol near Tuy Hoa in April 1966. The prisoners were caught setting booby traps on the trail. Kim Ki Sam is credited with the photo from Stars & Stripes. Legend has it that it was not a good idea to be caught by the ROKs.
On December 31, 1965, and through January 17, 1966, the 47th ARVN Regiment joined with the 2nd ROK Marine Brigade to conduct Operation Jefferson, designed to secure the rice harvest in the Tuy Hoa valley. US Army and USMC helicopters supported the ground operation. This allied force engaged elements of the 95th NVA Regiment, opened Highway 1 and blocked sea infiltration routes in the area of Vung Ro Bay.
J. Hurley, 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, posing with a ROK Marine near Qui Nhon, 1966. Photo credit: J. Hurley. Presented by flying-circus.org
In one battle in January 1966, two battalions of NVA tried to overrun two ROK Marine companies. The fight lasted for three hours and the enemy suffered 400 dead outside the Marine perimeter.
When the 9th ROK White Horse Division arrived in fall 1966 and got settled in, it took responsibility for Tuy Hoa and the Blue Dragons were moved into I Corps, the responsibility of the III MAF. The Dragons were positioned in Quang Ngai Province south of Chu Lai, the southernmost province in I Corps.
I Corps, the northernmost corps straddling the DMZ and Laos, quickly became known as "Marine County" as the III MAF was assigned responsibility for it, the only corps assigned to a non-Army organization. As an aside, when the US Marine command structure was activated in Vietnam in May 1965, it bore the name III Marine Expeditionary Force, III MEF. On May 7, just two days later, its name was changed to III MAF in part because General Westmoreland had suggested to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the word "expeditionary" would ruffle the Vietnamese, stemming from the days of the French Expeditionary Corps.
Let's get back to the Dragon deployment to I Corps.
ROK Marine site south of Danang, RVN, 1969. Photo taken by USMC HMM-265. Presented by popasmoke.
In August 1966, the Chu Lai region was added to the Dragons' area of responsibility (AOR). They were placed under the common of the III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) which was at the time in charge of operations in the northern I Corps abutting the DMZ. The Dragon's 1st Battalion arrived about three miles south of Chu Lai on August 1, 1966. The 2nd Battalion arrived in September. This freed the 1/26 Marines to replace Brigade Landing Team (BLT) 3/5 Marines aboard the Special Landing Force (SLF), at the time, the USS Iwo Jima.
The Dragons and the US Marines set up an arrangement where the US Marines would provide air assets and the Marines assigned these air assets to the Dragons just as if they were an American unit. The Marines had an organization knob as the 1st ANGLICO, the 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company. The 1st ANGILICO assigned its sub-unit one for duty in Vietnam in 1965. Its mission was to plan, coordinate, and conduct terminal control of fires in support of joint, allied, and coalition forces. Sub unit one was deployed to I Corps to make sure there was an air umbrella over the Blue Dragon Brigade in and out of the field. A two man fire control team was assigned to each ROKMC infantry company at all times. Stephen Hardin, a former lance corporal, USMC, was assigned to sub unit one 1967-1968 in Quang Ngai and Hoi An. He told us:
“Teams of two (US sub-unit one Marines) accompanied every Korean company in the field, ran all air strikes (fixed wing and rotary wing), all re-supply, all medevac and called US naval guns and US guns when in the range. The call sign ‘Ham Salad’ ... was the ANGLICO call sign for the ROKMC first battalion. The position near Hoi An was called Ham Salad Alpha (and) was actually my position, Ham Salad Charlie (3rd company). At one point I had 5 helicopters down in our little LZ. We were surrounded.”
High aerial shot of Chu Lai. The southeast corner perimeter is not visible. Picture compliments of Leslie Hines, Americal Division Veterans Administration (ADVA) historian. Presented by the 176th Assault Helicopter Co.
The 5th ROK Marine Battalion arrived in 1967, to reinforce I Corps, which at that time was being strained by heavy NVA infiltration across the DMZ and from Laos. They arrived just in time. The year 1967 was a very hectic and active year for the allies in I Corps, and the Blue Dragons were in the thick of it.
Fire Support Base (FSB) Ky Tra, 1970-1971, at the time of this photo the home of 5/46th Bn, 198th Light Infantry Brigade (LIB). This FSB was northeast of Chu Lai and was constructed and occupied by the Blue Dragons, surrounded by booby traps, with only one safe trail down the hill. Photo contributed by Wallace Young. Presented by the 176th Assault Helicopter Co.
Lt Col James F. Durand, USMC, has presented an inspiring account of the incredible battle of Tra Binh Dong fought by the 11th Company, 3rd Brigade, 2nd ROK Marine Brigade, the 11-3 Blue Dragons in February 1967.
The approximately 300 11-3 ROK Marines at the village of Tra Binh Dong in the Chu Lai region were attacked by about 1,500 man NVA regiment on February 14, 1967 (we have also seen a figure of about 2,400 NVA). The Marines were attacked in two directions and the enemy managed to breach the perimeter defenses. SSgt Bae Jang Choon and his first squad, 3rd platoon, rather than abandoning their position, fought with bullets, then grenades, then entrenching tools, pick axes, and finally fists. Pfc Kim Myong Deok killed 10 enemy with his rifle as the enemy advanced on him. Sgt Lee Hak Won took hand grenades in both hands, waited for the enemy to approach, and at the very last moment, threw himself and the grenades on the advancing enemy killing himself and four NVA. Pfc Lee Young Bok lured the enemy to his position, slipped into a spider hole, then released several grenades as the enemy entered the trench.
Second Lt. Shin Won Bae, the 1st platoon commander, and his platoon sergeant, Gunny Sergeant Kim Yong Kil, gathered a force together to destroy an enemy mortar position. When they approached within 20 meters of the target, they threw grenades and advanced, threw more grenades and advanced, and kept doing so until they reached the objective and took the mortar tubes with them back to their own positions, leaving the dead enemy behind.
The NVA attacked with flame throwers, and the Koreans moved toward the flames, firing machine-guns and throwing grenades, killed the enemy and took the flame throwers.
Lt Gen Louis W. Walt, Commanding General (CG), III MAF, speaks with Capt Jung, Commanding Officer, 11th Company, the morning following the battle, surrounded by BGen Kim Young Sang, CG, 2d ROK Marine Brigade, and other senior Marines. Around their feet are plenty of dead enemy. It's hard to read facial expressions, but General Walt appears to be acting like Capt. Jung's coach, or even dad, and Capt. Young looks mighty proud. Photo courtesy of the Vietnam Veterans of Korea. Presented by Marine Corps Gazette.
And it just kept on like that until the Marines finally zeroed in their artillery, brought in USMC A-4s and some attack helicopters, and finished the battle. The NVA left 243 dead behind. There were over 100 NVA dead within the perimeter, and another 140 dead enemy straddled on the wire. Time magazine would say this in its article, "A savage week," February 24, 1967:
"It was knife to knife and hand-to-hand—and in that sort of fighting the Koreans, with their deadly tae kwon do (a form of karate), are unbeatable. When the action stopped shortly after dawn, 104 enemy bodies lay within the wire, many of them eviscerated or brained."
The US Marine Corps History and Museums Division, in a booklet entitled, The Marines in Vietnam 1954-1973, talks about this battle this way:
"The heroic defense by the ROK Marine Brigade's 11th Company against a regimental-size attack southwest of Chu Lai triggered a series of actions, which resulted in the destruction of much of the 1st Viet Cong Regiment and perhaps some of the 21st NVA Regiment . With the enemy fixed in the hook of the Tra Khuc River, two ARVN airborne battalions were heloed into position to the west and behind the enemy, more ARVN blocked along the river to the south, a battalion of the 5th Marines went into position in the foothills to the northwest, and the ROK Marines pushed southwest from their base camps along Route 1."
Make no mistake about it, however, the ROK Marines took casualties. As an example, the 1st Hospital Company, 1st Marine Division at Chu Lai, later Danang, received many wounded ROK Marines as patients. Most of them were badly wounded, far too many requiring limb amputations, many requiring bilateral leg amputations.
Left to right, Lt. Kim Joong Ho, Commander James S. Maughon and Lt. Commander Llewllyn examine Pfc Kim Jerng Sey following his operation. Photo credit: Gy Sgt Galden Pase, USMC. Presented by The Observer, January 3, 1968. Provided by Jim Kellogg.
This ROK Marine lying in bed at the 1st Hospital Co. at Chu Lai is Pfc Kim Jerng Sey, ROK Marine Corps, 21. He was shot through the heart and other vital organs. He was wounded on a night search and destroy mission with the 26th Co., ROK Marines on the Batangan Peninsula near Chu Lai. An AK-47 shot tore through his flak jacket and penetrated the pericardium, the small conical membrane sac that encloses the heart. It continued through the heart and the diaphragm, bounced off a rib, and cut through the liver, stomach and spleen, before exiting through his back.
A MAG-16 helicopter picked him up less than 30 minutes after he was hit, and he was on the operating table within 15 minutes of arriving at the 1st Hospital. When he arrived, two other operations were underway. Lt. Commander John L. Reed came right over and went to work, assisted by Army nurse 2nd Lt. Rodger Springer. Together they removed his spleen and repaired his stomach and liver wounds. The operating room called for help. The hospital commander, Commander Jim S. Maughon responded immediately and started working on the other wounds. Lt. Kim Joong Ho, a doctor with the ROK Marines, assisted. Kim took 14 pints of blood before the operation was over.
These three photos show Pfc Kim Jerng Sey following his surgery. In the second photo, you see two suction bottles removing excess fluids from his chest to the right side of his bed, and in the next photo, several more suction bottles moving fluids from his abdomen.
These photos were provided by Jim Kellogg, shown here, who worked in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the 1st Hospital Co. at Chu Lai. Jim took care of many ROK soldiers and Marines who came to the hospital, many, far too many, who had to have their legs or arms or both amputated. Jim has commented to us how valiant these men were.
That's Pfc Kim Jerng Sey on the left, during his recuperation period. Incredible! Americans who worked in the hospital said that these Marines, no matter how baldy hurt, demonstrated tremendous courage, many wanting to get back out there and kill enemy, even with limbs missing.
USMC CH-53 working with ROK Marines south of Danang, RVN. Photo presented by popasmoke
It should be mentioned here that by April 1967, General Westmoreland decided that considerable focus had to be shifted to I Corps. There was friction between Westmoreland and the Marines, and, in fairness, the NVA was infiltrating through the DMZ and from Laos at increased rates.
Task Force Oregon was deployed to the corps, consisting of three Army brigades of six infantry battalions sent mainly to Quang Tin and Quang Ngai, the two southernmost provinces, freeing the Marines to focus their attention on the northern three provinces in the corps. Task Force Oregon, by October 1967, would be reorganized into the Americal Division, the seventh Army division fighting in Vietnam. So the Army was now in Marine Country.
During the summer of 1967, the 2nd NVA Division and VC units were conducting major operations in the southern three provinces of I Corps, the southernmost being Blue Dragon Country. By this time, nine US Army battalions were operating in and around Chu Lai. Along with the three ROK Marine Battalions just to the south of Chu Lai, these combined units forced the NVA and VC main force units to withdraw from the populated areas and move back into the mountains. They continued to cause problems for allied forces from the mountains, but at least they were out of the major population centers.
During July 1967, US Navy (USN), USMC and Korean Blue Dragons had been watching movements by a NVA trawler (labeled Skunk Alpha) suspected of being loaded with ammunition sailing slowly southward along the coastline.
Disguised enemy supply craft on the open seas. Photo taken by Patrol Squadron One P2V Neptune, which flew close enough to the ship to get her hull number "459" and identify large crates on the deck, along with no running lights. July 1967. Photo presented by "Sa Ky River Victory."
The USN's "Market Time Northern Surveillance Group" had been tracking the trawler for several days, mainly using P2V Neptune patrol aircraft from Patrol Squadron One.
Map graphic presented by "Sa Ky River Victory."
When south of the Paracel Islands, "Skunk Alpha" turned directly toward the Blue Dragon coastal area, headed toward Cape Batangan (also known as Batagnan Peninsula) south of Chu Lai and Danang. She was spotted on July 11 fairly close to the shoreline. Skunk Alpha then turned away eastward, then northward back toward the Paracels. Then on July 13, she turned south again, then west and headed straight for Cape Batangan yet again.
The USN prepared a major operation to get this boat, wanting to do so before her crew could blow up the ship, a routine practice for the Skunks.
The 174th AHC "Dolphins and Sharks" was called in to support the operation. The Shark gunships would provide close air support while the Dolphins would bring in a ROK Marine air assault force to be used as needed. The details of the operation, along with very interesting photography and graphics, can be viewed in the article, "Sa Ky River Victory."
Once the trawler turned to shore, apparently hoping to off-load her cargo to VC waiting on shore, various naval vessels worked exceedingly hard to trap the ship, get a firm identification, and identify her destination. Once that was done, the appropriate USN Swift boat patrol craft were tasked; the 174th Shark gunships were given directions; the 174th Dolphins carrying ROK Blue Dragon Marines were told their beach assault destination; and US and RVN Navy ships were positioned, everyone waiting for Skunk Alpha to enter the 12 mile limit.
The weather was bad, it was night, seas were running at 8-10 feet, the winds were blowing above 30 knots, and Skunk Alpha was trying to get into the smooth waters of the Sa Ky River, get to the nearby VC reception point, and unload and escape under the cover of lousy weather and darkness.
The enemy, attempting to get to shore, spotted approaching ships and opened fire. Swift boats accurately targeted the pilot house, killing the crew, and preventing the enemy from blowing up the ship. Shark gunships also opened fire and dropped flares to light up the area. Shore-based Blue Dragons opened up with artillery fire.
Skunk Alpha disabled, adrift and smoking, July 15, 1967. Photo presented by "Sa Ky River Victory."
Following a short naval battle that required some pretty good coordination and seamanship in the rough waters, Skunk Alpha was disabled. It became apparent its entire crew was dead or very badly wounded, and she went aground on the rocks.
The 174th Dolphins were airborne carrying ROK Blue Dragon Marines. They air assaulted in to secure the beach site, and clear out any VC waiting for their ship to come in.
Skunk Alpha "berthed" at a dock at Chu Lai. The disabling hits on the pilot house were devastating to the trawler's crew.
Here you see a portion of the cache of weapons and ammunition the trawler was carrying to enemy waiting on shore. Both this and the previous photo are credited to Major Gerald Smith, USA, 174th AHC, and presented by that unit.
Raul "Bean" Herrera provided some interesting background on Skunk Alpha to Vietnam Magazine, published in February 1996, and revised by Larry Wasikowski. He said this
"Skunk Alpha had been well suited for her mission. Her holds were lined with fiberglass between the hull and its sheathing. She was also equipped with a high-capacity pumping system. Her engine was muffled for silent running. There was also 2,000 pounds of TNT strategically located aboard the vessel, that could be set off to self-destruct if she were to fail in her mission. Luckily (BM2 Bobby Don) Carver's mortar round had knocked out the detonation button. He saved thousands of Allied Forces' lives, including those of his crew. PCF-79 (patrol craft - Swiftboat) surely would have gone down in that explosion."
Throughout much of 1967, the NVA moved major force levels across the DMZ and into northern Quang Tri Province from Laos, most especially toward the Marines' Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB). The "Hill Battles of Khe Sanh" were fought throughout the year, an intensive and very difficult prelude to the major NVA assault on the base in 1968. The Marines assessed that as many as 12 full strength and fully supplied NVA divisions led by the 304th NVA Division intended to attack KSCB and destroy the US Marines located there. This was one of two major NVA objectives for 1968: Tet and Khe Sanh.
USMC CH-46 from HMM-263 heading back from the DMZ, returning with Korean Marines and seven or eight Viet Cong captured by Korean troops, taking them to Da Nang, April 1968. Photo credit: Ramiro Alvear, gunner. Presented by popasmoke.com
A South Korean Marine from 1st Battalion, 2nd ROK Marine Brigade (Blue Dragon Unit) escorts three Viet Cong prisoners captured during a search-and-destroy patrol near Tuy Hoa on April 15, 1966. The prisoners were caught setting booby traps on a trail. Presented by Stars and Stripes.
The Blue Dragons sent in a detachment of ROK Marines who specialized in jungle warfare. Their mission was to capture as many NVA regulars as possible for interrogation. The Blue Dragons did this with considerable dispatch, operating only at night. Marines write that the Dragons would always come back with prisoners.
Also in December 1967, the 11th Infantry Brigade arrived in southern Quang Ngai Province. That permitted the Blue Dragons to move north to the vicinity of Hoi An. That in turn allowed 1st MARDIV battalions to start moving farther north.
Then, on January 18, 1966 the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division arrived for what it called Operation Van Buren. They joined with the ARVN and ROK Marines to engage the enemy's 95th Regiment, which was reinforced by the 3rd VC Regiment and local VC militia. The operation continued, renamed Operation Harrison on February 21, through March 25, with the enemy's 95th Regiment incurring severe casualties. We have seen various numbers of 95th Regiment killed. They are all very high. The bottom line was the 95th was virtually taken out of business.
The Tet Offensive of 1968 was, of course, everywhere. On January 30, 1968, General Westmoreland sent Van Buren telegram to Admiral Sharp, CINCPAC and told him, among other things, the following:
"Timely warning of the attacks plus rapid reaction by US/ARVN/ROK forces has brought the situation in the Danang area under control at this time. Casualties so far list 89 enemy KIA and 7 friendly KIA. Noteworthy among the counteractions launched in the early morning hours was that of the ROK Marines, who, in response to an enemy ground attack in the Hoi An area, inserted a force by helicopter, engaged the enemy, killing 21 with no friendly casualties."
"Ham Salad Alpha." Korean Marine position south of Da Nang. Daily resupply mission for HMM-265. In the Spring of 1968 it was one of the hottest zones in I Corps. It took gun ships and fixed wing aircraft to get in and out. Presented by popasmoke.com
Pacific Stars and Stripes reported on March 20, 1968, that Brig. Gen. Yun Sang Kim, commander, 2nd ROK Marine Brigade, said that his troops arrived in the Hoi An area of Quang Nam Province one day before Tet. He decided that instead of bombarding the city, he would draw the enemy out of the city and then attack them. During the Blue Dragon effort in this area from January 30 - February 29, his forces killed 609 enemy, with his losses at 50.
The Blue Dragons conducted six "Victory Dragon" operations during 1968 in Quang Nam Province, and 12 more in 1969. Edwin H. Simmons, Brigadier General, USMC, has written a summary of "Marine Corps Operations in 1968" for the USMC History and Museums Division, in a booklet entitled, The Marines in Vietnam 1954-1973, and he writes this about these Victory Dragon operations in 1968:
"The ARVN had stood up to the test of the Tet offensive well. In 1968, they accounted for 26,688 enemy killed, more than double the 12,488 attributed to them in 1967. The ROK Marine Brigade in its Victory Dragon series had killed another 2,504 enemy. Added together, the Free World Military Forces in I Corps in 1968 had killed over 100,000 of the enemy, taken nearly 35,000 weapons."
It's worth noting that an enemy sergeant from the 31st NVA Regiment told his interrogators in 1968 that the mission of his unit was to "attack Hoi An, five times if necessary, and set up a liberation government." Their attacks failed.
Hoi An area. Courtesy of Google Maps.
Barrier Island, about 34 miles south of Danang, RVN, and just south of Hoi An, had long served as a haven for enemy units. It was fortified with bunkers, tunnels and fighting holes. Marines had fought there before and would fight there again. We have been unable to specifically locate Barrier Island. That said, we do know it is one of the islands shown on this satellite image of the Song Hoi An River just south of Hoi An, flowing west to east into the South China Sea.
In May 1969, HMM-362 lifted the 1/26 Marines to the island, setting them down in an area boxed off on the land side by the ARVN, Blue Dragons, and elements of the Americal Division. The Operation, known as Daring Rebel, yet again proved the concept of large-scale cordon-and-search operations in disrupting the VC.
Washtenaw County (LST-1166) at Naha, Okinawa in 1962, preparing to load for duty in the Republic of the Philippines. Presented by NavSource.
Then, on September 11, 1969, the target was once again the Barrier Island. The Washtenaw County, US Navy tank landing ship LST-1166, participated in the first combined US-ROK amphibious landing combat operation since 1953, the first ROK Marine amphibious landing in its 20 year history, and the last Special Landing Force (SLF) operation of the war. The assault was known as Operation Defiant Stand. Several units participated in this combined operation, including: USMC HMM-265 (from the ROK Blue Dragon standpoint appropriately nicknamed "The Dragons"), Brigade Landing Team (BLT) 1-26 Marines, the 3rd Battalion Blue Dragons, South Vietnamese patrol craft, and several 7th Fleet ships.
We've had a bit of a problem piecing the attack together, but we'll give it our best.
Just prior to the amphibious assault, the USS Vancouver group feinted an amphibious operation about 10 miles south of the real target to draw off defenders at the target.
HMM-265 lifted BLT 1-26 and some Blue Dragons aboard CH-46Ds from the USS Whetstone to the far side of Barrier island. The USS Whetstone was the primary control ship, controlling the landings across Red Beach. The USS Taussig, a destroyer, provided offshore fire support.
The Blue Dragons set up a blocking position across the island. The 1/26 Marines landed just south of that blocking position and moved north to join the Dragons. Then the Washtenaw County brought US Marines and the 5th and 6th Companies, 3rd Battalion Blue Dragon Brigade, ashore by amphibious assault on the northern edge of the island. This force then swept south to the USMC-ROKMC blocking position. In all, 293 enemy were killed.
Vietnamese patrol craft cut off escape routes from the island.
For the record, General Simmons was upbeat about prospects in I Corps. Yes, there had been Tet; but the enemy was soundly defeated in that offensive. Yes, there was the major siege of the Marines' Khe Sanh Combat Base in 1968, following over a year of Hill Battles against that same base. The enemy was soundly defeated during all attacks as well. General Simmons has said in his summary of 1968:
"Many of the Viet Cong main force and local forces, old opponents of III MAF, had been shredded by the long war and had been dropped from our estimates of his order of battle as being no longer combat effective ... Even with the NVA, quality was down. North Vietnamese prisoners were often extremely young and poorly trained. Battlefield discipline had declined. Dead and wounded were being left behind and so were weapons."
Simmons had good reason to feel optimistic in 1969. In I Corps, the pacification program was doing well, some 60,000 enemy had been killed, with the ARVN and Koreans combining to kill 27,440 of those, and 10,567 enemy had been captured or threw in the towel and defected.
This photo, presented by popasmoke, shows a USMC HMM-263 "Thunder Eagle" CH-53 helicopter on its side after hitting a ROK Marine camp bunker and crashing. One US Marine, Sgt. McNiel, was killed. John "JD" Barber flew into this camp south of Danang at about the same time of this crash to evacuate Blue Dragons during floods of fall 1970. He has said his aircraft was almost half submerged in the water while the Dragons waded through the water and boarded. His report indicates that the Dragons stood on top the bunkers because of the flooding.
In 1970, command arrangements started to change in I Corps. The US Army's XXIV Corps became the senior command in the I Corps Tactical Zone, vice III MAF. III MAF now fell under the operational control of XXIV Corps. The III MAF Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) included all Quang Nam province, a northern slice of Thua Thien Province, including the Hai Van Pass, and part of Quang Tin Province to include Que Son Valley. Danang was the major population center, accounting for 418,000 people of the 970,000 in the TAOR.
The 1st MARDIV's main job was to keep the enemy away from Danang. The division set up a series of concentric circles of forces. The division and its service units along with the 1-5 Marines took charge of the ring closest to Danang. The 1st Marines took charge of the next outer circle, called the "Rocket-Belt." The Blue Dragons retained control of their TAOR, in the Hoi An area up to the Marble Mountain area, while the 1-5 Marines and the 7th Marines were to the west and southwest of the ROKs. They successfully defended Danang.
We mentioned in a previous section how ROK Army martial arts experts would tour the villages to impress and teach the locals, and we said we would return to that subject.
It turns out that the Blue Dragon martial arts program and use of martial arts in close combat made a big-time impression on 2nd and then 1st Lieutenant James L. Jones, then a platoon and company commander with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines in the RVN's I corps.
General James L. Jones, USMC, is the current Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). Prior to that, when he was the Commandant of the Marine Corps, he adjusted previous martial arts training programs into one that continues today, called the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP).
He recalled how his Marines in Vietnam envied the skills demonstrated by their Blue Dragon colleagues. We mentioned earlier the Battle of Tra Binh Dong. You will recall the Dragons were engaged in a considerable amount of hand-to-hand combat in which they used their martial arts skills with great effect. Then Capt. Jung, who led the 11th ROK Marine Company in that battle, after retiring at the rank of lieutenant colonel, emphasized two areas in which martial arts influenced his Marines in that battle:
"First, the enemy suddenly overwhelmed our trenches and continuously piled up to the degree that we were unable to use rifles and bayonets as weapons. There were many instances in which we were pushing and pulling each other inside the trenches. At that time, Tae Kwon Do became the Korean Marines’ weapon and by hitting the enemy in his vital parts, we brought him under our control.
"Second, it can be seen that the courage to be unafraid when facing your enemy was trained through Tae Kwon Do. Although we didn’t have a path of retreat and had to stay in our position, the fortitude to fight bravely while exposed to the enemy led to victory at the Battle of Tra Binh Dong."
Retired Major General Shin Won Bae, who later commanded the Blue Dragon brigade agrees:
"Even though tactics call for fixing bayonets to rifles during close quarters to neutralize the enemy, our weapon at the time, the M–1 rifle, was not a weapon that could be wielded quickly. In urgent situations, the Marine in the front would fiercely strike the enemy’s face and vital parts using Tae Kwon Do, causing him to momentarily lose his will to fight. Then a second Marine would finish off the enemy with the rifle. Additionally, striking the enemy with an entrenching tool was highly effective in destroying the will to fight among the enemy’s lead elements. While Tae Kwon Do demonstrated its practical effectiveness on the battlefield, more importantly, martial arts training instilled the confidence to defeat the enemy in each Marine. I think this is the greater significance of Tae Kwon Do training."
You will be interested to meet Randall Arnold, Master Sergeant, USMC (Ret.), shown below, on the left, saluting his officer on the day of his retirement, July 1, 2005. When he retired, he was the last enlisted man in the Marine Corps on active duty to have served in Vietnam. There are no more. Hard to believe.
Assigned to Danang in January 1970, he worked as a communicator with the Communications Support Company, 7th Communications Battalion, III MAF. After pulling that duty, he was sent to support ground operations with the 2nd ROK Marine Brigade and the 2nd Marine Corps Combined Action Group at Hoi An. While there, the Blue Dragons introduced him to martial arts. He has said martial arts have since become a significant part of his life and family:
“That’s when I first started getting into martial arts. I used to watch (the ROK Marines) work out. Those guys train really, really hard, and they’re tenacious fighters. Their intensity impressed me so much that later on, when the battalion moved to Red Beach on Danang Bay, I continued to study under a Korean Army colonel. It opened up a lifelong passion.”
By the time Iraq came, our military forces, Marines and Army included, had developed many techniques to kill their enemies from a distance. But they still train in a serious way for knife and hand-to-hand fighting. You might wish to read, "MCMAP and the Marine Warrior Ethos," by Capt. Jamison Yi, USMC.
A modern-day US Marine demonstrates MCMAP take-down techniques. The insert shows the technique employed in an operation in Baghdad. Presented by "MCMAP and the Marine Warrior Ethos," by Capt. Jamison Yi, USMC.
Michael Yon, writing "Gates of Fire" published on August 31, 2005, tells of Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Robert Prosser's hand-to-hand, life-or-death experience one fine day in Mosul, Iraq. This is a must read, and it has terrific on-scene battle photography taken by Yon. Most important, it stresses that in modern urban warfare, the capacity to prevail in hand-to-hand combat will be crucial.
We'll finish our story with two photos.
These are some of the ROK Marines that flew the O-1 "Bird Dog" Forward Air Controller (FAC) missions with US Marines, 1970. We believe these men flew as observers in the back seat to help coordinate between the USMC pilot and the Korean Marines on the ground he was supporting. Presented by popasmoke.com
Yes, ROK soldiers and Marines are tough cookies. We have read one man's account of how his father, a Marine Gunny Sergeant, worked with ROK Marines in Korea, and would tell his son:
"Those guys are so hardcore one of 'em could get shot and think it’s a mosquito bite."
But, at the end of the day, this photo shows that a troop is a troop. God bless them all.
Let's finish with this proud photo:
Four ROK Marine Veterans, May 6, 2005, Chilgok, ROK. Presented by Easy Company, 2-7 Marines, 1st Marine Division.
Robert Lafoon has provided me with the following sets of photos of Blue Dragons in Vietnam and textual explanations. He took these photos as a private first-class, then Sp4, US Army, while stationed with the US Army Special Photo Detachment, Pacific in Vietnam. August 16, 2015
The officers seated here are being briefed on the tactical situation of "Operation Jefferson." This was a combined ROK 2nd Marine Brigade and paratroops of ARVN 47th Regiment search and destroy operation in Phu Yen Province, January 1-18, 1966. Phi Yen is a coastal province in the South Central Coast of Vietnam. It is the easternmost province of Vietnam's mainland. On December 31, 1965, and through January 17, 1966, the 47th ARVN Regiment joined with the 2nd ROK Marine Brigade to conduct Operation Jefferson, designed to secure the rice harvest in the Tuy Hoa valley. US Army and USMC helicopters supported the ground operation. This allied force engaged elements of the 95th NVA Regiment, opened Highway 1 and blocked sea infiltration routes in the area of Vung Ro Bay. Seated center left, Major General Stanley Larsen, commanding officer, Field Force, Vietnam, to his left Brigadier General Lee Bog Cool, commanding general, 2nd Bde, ROK Marines.
The 6th Battery, 2nd Bde. ROK Marines prepare to fire their 105 mm howitzer at suspected VC positions near Tuy Hoa, February 2, 1966.
Members of the 6th Co., 2nd Bn, 2nd Bde ROK Marines guard rice fields near Tuy Hoa to prevent the VC from obtaining rice. They also protect Vietnamese farmers as they work in the fields. Some of the local civilians fled their village as the RO Marines entered during Operation Van Buren. On January 18, 1966 the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division joined with the ROK 2nd Marine Bde and ARVN 47th Regt to locate and destroy the NVA 95th Regt believed to be in the Tuy Hoa Valley, and to protect the rice harvest in the coastal region. The enemy's 95th Regt incurred severe casualties.
Pfc Chun Young Ro, ROK Marine, with captured VC weapons taken during Operation Jefferson near Tuy Hoa, RVN, February 2, 1966.
Sgt. Sung Lee (Seoul, Korea), 6th Co., 2nd Bn, 2nd Bde ROK Marines, stays alert for an unusual incidents along his area. The Marines are guarding rice fields near Tuy Hoa to prevent the VC from obtaining Rice, February 2, 1966.
Members of the 6th Co., 2nd Bn, 2nd Bde ROK Marines prepare defensive positions near Tuy Hoa, February 2, 1966.
Members of the 6th Co., 2nd Bn, 2nd Bde ROK Marines guard rice fields near Tuy Hoa to prevent the VC from obtaining rice. They also protect Vietnamese farmers as they work in the fields. February 2, 1966.
The 6th Battery, 2nd Bde. ROK Marines prepare to fire their 105 mm howitzer at suspected VC positions near Tuy Hoa, February 2, 1966
Sgt. Van Buren Do Lim , 6th Co., 2nd Bn., 2nd Bde. ROK Marines searches Vietnamese for concealed weapons near their village as the flee during Operation Van Buren. February 2, 1966
Pfc. Chang Sung Park , 6th Co., 2nd Bn., 2nd Bde. ROK Marines uses his radio to contact other ROK units near Tuy Hoa. February 2, 1966.
Lt. Colonel Hu Chung, commander, 2nd Bn., 2nd Bde. ROK Marines inspects the weapon of Pfc Hen Te Ku, 6th Co. of this battalion at the battalion area near Tuy Hoa. February 2, 1966.
Members of the 6th Co., 2nd Bn, 2nd Bde ROK Marines prepare defensive positions near Tuy Hoa, February 2, 1966.