Today, March 8th, is the 50th anniversary of the first deployment of elements of the U.S. Marines 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade into Vietnam. The Marines landed on the beach near Da Nang. Their mission, at first, was to defend the airbase at Da Nang. That deployment is generally regarded as the beginning of the buildup that would ultimately result in more than half a million American ground forces in Vietnam by 1968. I wrote a fictionalized account of the landing from the point of view of a Marine PFC, also fictional, by the name of Greg Moreland. The account is Chapter 7 of The Flemish Coil, a Nick Temple File which is in progress. The description squares with official and news reports of the landing. As you'll see if you read the chapter below, there is a bizarre quality to the landing that signaled the Vietnam War would be unlike any we'd fought before, and any we've fought since.
CHAPTER 7: THE WELCOME MAT
March 8, 1965. PFC Greg Moreland has been waiting for this moment for as long as he can remember. His father and his three uncles were Marines who survived the vicious battle of Iwo Jima 20 years earlier. Now Moreland, 19 years old, waits to land on the shores of Vietnam with Battalion Landing Team 3/9 of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade. The Brigade’s mission, to defend the air base at Da Nang, doesn’t strike Moreland as having the same potential for glory as securing Mt. Suribachi, but each generation in his family has served the country. And now, as he tells himself at least once a day, it’s his turn to serve. His squad leader assured him and his fellow grunts that the worse thing about the landing would be the weather, but Moreland can’t stop the images of Marines fighting and dying on Iwo, as the men in his family call it, images of duty and sacrifice that define his father’s generation, images he’s seen and heard about his entire life, from going through his head. He joined the Marines sixth months earlier with those images in his head. And now it’s his turn to serve.
Shortly after 0900 local time, PFC Moreland and his fellow Marines, in full combat gear and armed with M-14s, deploy from 11 LVTPs onto Red Beach 2 in the Quang Nam Province, I Corps, Republic of Vietnam. Within 15 minutes, all four assault waves have landed on the beach; the scene is one Moreland will never forget.
He expected murderous enemy machine gun fire from concrete pillboxes guarding the beach; crashing mortar rounds ripping through the ranks of his fellow Marines low-crawling through the sand in a desperate search for cover; and constant deadly strafing from low-flying enemy aircraft. Instead, Moreland and his fellow Marines are greeted by a bevy of beautiful Vietnamese women carrying leis, a gaggle of curious onlookers, tourists if truth be told, and a smattering of ARVN officers and American soldiers, all determined to make Battalion Landing Team 3/9 of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, the advance unit of what would eventually be an invasion force of more than half a million U.S. troops, feel welcome.
Moreland doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Instead, like a good Marine, he keeps his mouth shut, holds formation, and silently wonders to himself, “What the hell kind of war is this?”