By Terry Foster, U.S. Army Military History InstituteFebruary 10, 2012
During the Vietnam Conflict, many U.S. Servicemen served in the Provisional Corps Vietnam (PCV) or were in units that made up PCV in 1968. After the conflict, when these soldiers sought copies of their individual records and unit operational histories, they would often be told there was no record of their units or of where they had served in Vietnam.
Historically, Vietnam has been subject to constant internal and external strife, including the First Indo-China War and the Vietnam War. The Geneva Convention of 1954 ended the former conflict and with it French colonial rule in Indo-China. The convention divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel into North and South Vietnam.
From 1946 to 1954, the United States provided over four billion dollars of aid to the French and Indo-Chinese, including having a small mission in country, beginning in July of 1950. On January 20, 1955, the U.S. took a more active role by assuming the mission of training the South Vietnamese Army upon the departure of French forces. The U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam (which had been activated in May 1954) performed such training until May 15, 1964, when it was consolidated with the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) to eliminate duplication. The MACV had been created on February 8, 1962, to advise and assist the Vietnamese Armed Forces in operations, training and use of equipment. General Paul D. Harkins was the first commander of the Military Assistance Command: the COMUSMACV. On June 20, 1964, he was succeeded by his deputy, General William C. Westmoreland.
Over the ensuing eleven years, the conflict in Vietnam intensified. As the war expanded, so did the U.S. commitment and the U.S. command arrangements. Both, it seemed, evolved over time without a master plan.
To counter the enemy buildup and operations in the I Corps Tactical Zone (I CTZ), the Third Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF) was established at DaNang in May 1965. The Commanding General, III MAF, served concurrently as Senior Advisor to the South Vietnamese I CTZ Commander and as Senior U.S. Military Commander in that northern corps zone. By mid -1967, U.S., Vietnamese, and Republic of Korea forces were operational in the combat zone. Enemy plans for large scale operations were disrupted continuously until the latter part of 1967. In December of that year, a major enemy buildup began which culminated in the attack on Khe Sanh.
To quickly influence the tactical situation, General Westmoreland on January 25, 1968, established a MACV forward command post (MACV FWD). General Creighton W. Abrams was designated as Deputy Commander MACV Forward, with his headquarters to be established in the Hue-Phu Bai area. He was to assume operational control of all US Army and Marine combat forces in I CTZ, and to conduct tactical operations to destroy enemy forces in I CTZ, especially in Quang Tri and Thua Thien Provinces.
Headquarters MACV FWD was constituted as a joint staff, functioning similarly to the operational portions of MACV. Headquarters, US Army Vietnam, 7th Air Force, and Naval Forces Vietnam were tasked to provide personnel, with approximately one-half of the officers and enlisted men being furnished by Headquarters MACV. Supporting units included a Headquarters Company, Signal Battalion, Military Police Platoon, Transportation Platoon (car), Aviation Platoon, and Engineer Repair and Utilities Detachment.
On January 28, 1968, instructions were issued to LTG William B. Rosson, Commanding General, I Field Force Vietnam (I FFV) to prepare a contingency plan for the constitution of a provisional corps headquarters to move to I CTZ and assume operational control of designated U.S. Army units. Upon implementation of the plan, General Rosson would be designated Provisional Corps Commander.
General Abrams arrived at the MACV FWD command post in Phu Bai on February13, 1968, and assumed operational control of all US forces in I CTZ, less 7th Air Force units two days later.
Following the Battle of Hue, the decision was made to convert MACV FWD to a provisional corps as planned. General Rosson was designated as Commanding General, and PCV, upon activation, was placed under operational control of III MAF. General Rosson was authorized direct coordination with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces within his area of responsibility.
PCV became operational at Phu Bai on March 10, 1968. The Corps then assumed operational control of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), 3rd Marine Division, 101st Airborne Division (-) with the 3d Brigade, 82 Airborne Division under its operational control and Task Force Clearwater.
Because PCV was a provisional unit, no morning report for the unit could be prepared. For an interim measure, USARV directed that PCV personnel be assigned to the 108th Artillery Group for strength accounting purposes, commencing March 10, 1968. This required that all personnel gains, losses, and status changes be reported on the morning report of the 108th Artillery Group.
Later that month, USARV transferred the 204th Military Intelligence Detachment (less personnel and equipment) to PCV to be used as a carrier unit for PCV personnel. On April 1, 1968, all PCV personnel were assigned, on paper, from the 108th Artillery Group to the 204th MI Detachment, which was maintained by Adjutant General Personnel. Prior to March 10, during the era of MACV FWD, personnel were assigned to HQ, MACV with duty at MACV FWD.
During the Tet Offensive in 1968 all Army forces were reporting to the III MAF, a Marine command. Why?
General Westmoreland had full responsibility for the conduct of the war in South Vietnam and for all U.S. forces based there. He, however exercised this authority through the U.S. chain of command reaching back to Washington D.C. MACV, itself was a unified command directly subordinate to the U.S. Pacific Command in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Commander-in-Chief pacific (CinPac), Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, gave Westmoreland a relatively free hand over ground and air operations in South Vietnam.
While reinforcing the marines in I Corps with Army units and concentrating his forces in the north, General Westmoreland had growing doubts about the ability of the Marine command to handle the developing situation. Since 1965 the senior Marine generals constantly debated with MACV over the direction of the American combat effort. Both Generals Victor H. Krulak, Commanding General Fleet Marine Force, Pacific and Wallace M. Greene, Jr. Marine Corps Commandant, criticized the MACV emphasis upon large-unit major war, which they believed failed to provide protection for the population security and, moreover, involved the U.S. in a war of attrition, which in their opinion, favored the North Vietnamese. Perhaps this argument convinced Admiral Sharp to initially place the U. S. Army units initially under IIIMAF.
On August 15, 1968, PCV consolidated and became XXIV Corps Vietnam until inactivated on June 30, 1972. The legacy for soldiers who served in PCV was the untimely delay in obtaining historical documents because of the classification surrounding the records of the corps and its operations, and the fact that they were carried on the morning reports of the 108th Artillery Group and 204th MI Detachment. They would have to wait until the PCV records were declassified to obtain their records of service in Vietnam.