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Posted on Apr 17, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

Snoopy’s Point – Vietnam

By Wild Bill Wilder

The Inhospitable Delta of South Vietnam

Inter-service rivalry has always in existed in the armed services of the United States, and indeed in military forces all over the world. On occasion it has become quite intense. In most cases, however, in times of war the branches of the military quit fighting each other and fight the enemy. The Riverine force was a unique concept. It was a united effort of the United States Army and the United States Navy to deal with a very different situation in South Vietnam.

The Delta region, in the southern fourth of South Vietnam has been likened to a man’s hand with twisted fingers. The fingers are the four main rivers that flow into the South China Sea. The Ca Mau Peninsula, jutting out into the sea, looks like a large swollen thumb.

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It is a waterlogged environment, laced like spider webs with thousands of streams, canals, and marshes. It is covered with mangrove or nipa palm trees. The inhabitants live on the water. From the air, the area always appears to be a flood disaster zone. Most houses are built on stilts. Even the rice grown there thrives due to extended roots. The land is ever changing. Shoals and sandbars are always shifting. They appear and disappear. The smells are a strange harmony of sweetness and rot. The abundant hibiscus flowers emit a strong perfume. About the only thing that is consistent is the heat – oh, and the presence of the Viet Cong.

After a series of improvements and drainage programs carried out in the last years of the French dominion, the Mekong Delta had become the heartland and rice barrel of South Vietnam. In 1965 more than nine million people lived in the region. It was perhaps the most productive area food-wise for the entire country. Of course, the rebel communist forces immediately recognized its value and began a well-organized program to control the entire area. Its inaccessibility would make any incursions against them most difficult. There were ways, however, to overcome these difficulties.


An aerial view of the battle area

The Brown Water Navy

During the time of the French, the enemy known as the Viet Minh had infested the area and controlled some 80 percent of the population. To combat them, the French forces acquired much of the discarded amphibious World War II equipment from the United States. From the LVTs, LCVPs, LCAs, DUKWs and Weasels, they organized “dinassauts” (naval assault divisions). In more ample spaces, the French used bigger vessels, such as transport ships and minesweepers. They fought well against the tenacious Viet Minh. This maritime-amphibious force would be the inspiration of the “Brown Water Navy” of the United States during its involvement in Vietnam.

When the United States committed ground forces to the escalating violence in Vietnam, it quickly became apparent that this was a new type of war and demanded innovative changes. In central Vietnam and the highlands, it would be the airmobile force with the Huey helicopter that would write one chapter of this new brand of warfare.

In the south, the problem of a waterlogged land presented a different sort of problem. To resolve it, the Army and the Navy would have to work together against a common enemy, the Viet Cong. The US Navy followed in the wake of the French and then improved upon their techniques. At first they operated an offshore blockade and supplied advisors to the Vietnamese military forces attempting to control and eliminate a most elusive enemy. The Navy found itself being drawn inland and eventually into mobile amphibious operations on the French pattern. The Navy, however, was able to use the waterways in ways the French had never been able to do.

Even before the major commitment of US forces, the Navy’s presence and training of the ARVN forces proved most effective. There were heroes even then. One was Lieutenant Harold Dale Meyerkord. In a series of engagements between November 1964 and January 1965, Lt. Meyerkord demonstrated unusual bravery in a number of hostile situations. On January 13th, 1965, he was serving as advisor to RAG #23 (River Assault Group) which was tied up in a big firefight two miles north of the Mekong River. When the ARVN commander was killed, Meyerkord took over the leadership of the operation. In only minutes, he too was wounded. Being in the lead boat, he found himself cut off and a number of his crew out of action. He continued to fire at the enemy until fatally wounded. His action allowed the other boats to get into position and rout the enemy. For his valor he was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously.

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