Where have all the VC gone? This was the question Allied commanders in the Mekong Delta were asking themselves in late spring and early summer this year (1968).
Three answers immediately came into mind. First enemy forces encircling Saigon were drawing replacements and reinforcements from as far away as Vinh Long Province. Next: the enemy was still rebuilding after a disastrous Tet which saw the Mobile Riverine Force (MRF) pulverize VC units from My Tho to Can Tho, and accordingly, was deliberately avoiding contact. Finally: it is now rice planting season, and since everyone needs food to survive during the coming year, peasants and guerrillas are working side by side in the rice paddies.
Finally in late July, MRF tacticians and IV Corps planners mapped out a bold plan which would thrust almost 3,000 allied soldiers into an area where no Allied and a few Vietnamese soldiers had ever dared venture before, the wide stretch of marshland zigzagging southwest of Can Tho to the notorious, legendary U Minh Forest.
For centuries a safe heaven for pirates, smugglers, bandits, and recently the Viet Cong. The U Minh Forest failed to capture room on front pages until spring of 1968. At that time the giant maze which had resisted every human destructive force up to and including the French, succumbed to a three month long blaze which left almost two-thirds of the forest defoliated. Still the U Minh Forest remained a sanctuary and training center for the enemy.
On July 30, 1968 Naval Assault Flotilla One unloaded second brigade Soldiers into the area. Less than half an hour after they disembarked one U.S. Commander discovered a cache featuring assorted enemy firearms, medical supplies, and documents “… you name it and it was there,” said one infantry platoon leader. It got so bad that the men didn’t want to find any more because it meant they had to carry it back to the boats,”
And that was the way it was for the entire 10 day operation, contact with enemy was frequent. One enemy cache after another. One large body count after another, and incredibly, not one U.S. soldier was killed.
For the first time in MRF history, the 2nd Brigade command post went ashore. From the CP and his command and control helicopter, Colonel Robert Archer personally coordinated the efforts of his own two infantry battalions and five artillery batteries with the 5th Vietnamese Marines and supporting ARVN artillery.
Major Donald Morrelli, River Raider operation officer, in a masterful understatement, explained: “Once again the 9th Division’s 2nd Brigade River Assault Flotilla One have demonstrated their unique long range strike capability,” And demonstrate they did – in a territory where the local population had never seen a C-ration can.
“To give you an idea of how positive the local Vietnamese officials were that this area was 100 per cent VC.” Said Morelli, “We had a huge specified strike zone. In other words, the provincial government gave our artillery prior clearance to fire on an unusually large sector of land. Though we still needed U. S. clearance, hours were saved.”
In the eyes of the world, 10 rockets landing in Saigon are more important than 10 U Minh Forest Operations. But in the Mekong Delta, both allied and enemy commanders possess renewed awareness that no VC stronghold can be considered forever secure. The U Minh Forest’s greatest importance may prove to be psychological as is it decisively showed the enemy that their time was running out, that as soon as the threat to Saigon was diminished sufficiently to permit more U.S. troops to move south, the days of the Viet Cong infrastructure, safe for decades was over…. By 1LT Howe McCarty.
From a 1968 issue of “Octofoil” … A 9th Infantry Division Publication