The Marine Corps way: Combined action platoons in the Vietnam War



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During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Marine Corps dispatched squads of Marines, each with a U.S. Navy corpsman, to South Vietnamese villages to train the local indigenous military forces and secure the civilian occupants from enemy influence. The units, known as Combined Action Platoons (CAPs), lived in the villages until the local forces had proven they could operate effectively without direct American military assistance. During the Americans’ stay in CAP villages that spanned at least several months, they had to overcome numerous cultural and military challenges to ensure personal and unit survival. Prior to landing in the Combined Action Program, many of the Americans viewed the Vietnamese people through a racist, subhuman lens. Yet after spending months interacting with the indigenous civilians, many of the Marines and corpsmen gained a greater respect for the Vietnamese people and their culture, thoughts that were rare prior to their participation in the Combined Action Program.
The colonels and generals of the U.S. Marine Corps also faced challenges in managing the Combined Action Program. The counterinsurgency-centered CAPs strategically conflicted with the U.S. Army’s institutional obsession with fighting a war of attrition in Vietnam. In addition to the Marines and corpsmen battling enemy forces in the villages, the colonels and generals of the Marine Corps waged a verbal interservice battle with the Army.
This dissertation examines the evolution of the Combined Action Program from the perspectives of the Americans in the villages and the higher-ranking Marines who oversaw the development of CAPs.