Military Assistance Command, Vietnam

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U.S. doctrine for providing military assistance to other countries will involve headquarters tailored to the specific situation, but, when the organization is to command U.S. combat troops as well as support to the Host Nation (HN), a Military Assistance Command may be established to control the full range of combat, technical assistance, training, supply, and other relationships. A Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) is a smaller headquarters that is not prepared to direct combat forces.

The MAAG and MAC structure is especially appropriate for conventional warfare. When counterinsurgency is a large part of the mission, see the U.S. doctrine in Foreign Internal Defense.After U.S. combat troops left, a large Defense Attache Office, reporting on the war and, within restrictions, providing support and advice, stayed until the end in 1975.

During the Vietnam War, early U.S. military assistance to the Republic of Vietnam, once it moved beyond the level of military attaches, started with a MAAG. There was a unit called the Saigon Military Mission that arrived in 1954, but that was a cover name for a Central Intelligence Agency covert action and intelligence collection unit.


Even before the French left, Military Assistance and Advisory Group-Indochina was established in September 1950, under Francis G. Brink, Thomas J. H. Trapnell, and John W. O'Daniel.[1] They were involved in assessing the increasingly desperate situation, although direct missions from the Joint Chiefs of Staff were involved in considering U.S. military relief to the besieged French base at Dien Bien Phu.

There was also covert assistance to the French, through CIA proprietaries such as Civil Air Transport. Several American transport pilots, including the legendary "Earthquake" McGoon, died in attempts to get supplies to Dien Bien Phu.[2]

France had asked to borrow 25 B-26 medium bombers, excellent aircraft for battlefield air interdiction, and several hundred United States Air Force maintenance personnel who would stay out of the combat zone. "Eisenhower sent only 10 B-26s and 200 US airmen to maintain them. He also laid down the strict proviso that they would rotate out of Vietnam and be home by June 15, 1954.[3]

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Arthur Radford had recommended massive U.S. assistance for Dien Bien Phu, including, on at least five occasions, the use of nuclear weapons; Eisemhower rejected each suggetion.[4]


Military Assistance and Advisory Group, Vietnam. They were Samuel T. Williams, Lionel C. McGarr, and Charles J. Timmes. These men served, in succession, from May 1954 to February 1962. Timmes was deputy to Paul Harkins.

There appears to have been some communications intelligence capability in the MAAG in 1959. See SIGINT from 1945 to 1989#SIGINT in Southeast Asia, 1954-1960

While the arrival of the first U.S. units in Vietnam are usually set in 1961 or 1962 (e.g., with the first fatality in 1962 in the 3rd Radio ResearchUnit, a United States Army Special Forces training team came to Nha Trang in the summer of 1957 to set up a Vietnamese Special Forces school,, but, by 1960, they were training over 50 units of Vietnamese Rangers. "Although this aspect of the advisory experience began in the Eisenhower presidency, it was greatly expanded under the keen interest and direction of President Kennedy later."[1]


In 1962, the command structure became known as the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). It took control of units that came increasingly involved in combat, and eventually was the headquarters controlling four corps-sized units, usually called Field Forces to avoid confusion with the four Vietnamese Corps tactical zones, which were organized on geographic lines from I Corps tactical zone to IV Corps tactical zone.[5] A four-star U.S. Army Vietnam commander reported to the COMUSMACV, as well as three-star navy, marine, air force, and subordinate Army commands.

Other combat units included 5th Special Forces Group, Naval Forces Vietnam, and the Seventh Air Force, as well as specialized technical and civil development organizations

MAC-V also conmmanded an immense support organization.

Commanding generals, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
Name Dates
Paul Harkins 1962-1964
William Westmoreland 1964-1968
Creighton Abrams 1968-1972
Fred Weyand 1972-1973

Power, among U.S. forces in Vietnam and the United States Mission to the Republic of Vietnam, shifted at the top. The major power influencers were the Ambassador (theoretically the Chief of Mission), the MACV commander, the CIA station chief, and, to a lesser extent, the Agency for International Development (foreign aid) and United States Information Service (psychological warfare) groups. Occasionally, a special deputy would be named, such as Robert Komer for "revolutionary development."

While the MACV commander never had control of all forces, as the US commander of UN forces did during the Korean War, there were both joint and separate article; it was never a coalition command such as in the Gulf War or a United Nations Command as in Korea. It was officially subordinate to United States Pacific Command (PACOM), although the MACV commander was also considered subordinate to the U.S. Ambassador. B-52 bombers were under neither MACV nor PACOM, but under the Strategic Air Command.

The MACV commander, always an Army four-star general, often had disagreements with the United States Marine Corps leadership inside Vietnam.

A covert action organization, MACV-SOG with the unclassified title Studies and Observation Group, Military Assistance Command, actually only partially under MACV control. By its real name, Special Operations Group, it reported to the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA in the Pentagon, which was subordinate to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, although with heavy oversight from the Secretary of Defense and the White House. SACSA commanded other special missions such as the POW rescue attempt at Son Tay.


There was often an adversarial relationship not just between MACV and the press, but, at times, between MACV and the Embassy, MACV and CIA Headqurters, etc.

Aggressive investigative reporting has been seen variously as truth-telling to the U.S. public, or undermining the war effort. Reporters who were seen as especially aggressive included David Halberstam, Peter Arnett, and Neil Sheehan. Other respected reporters, such as Joe Galloway, were seen as people who professionally covered the war as it was, without political analysis; Galloway was the only reporter ever given a decoration for valor, the Bronze Star with Combat "V", for actions at the Battle of the Ia Drang. Even reporters later criticized for possibly biased reporting in Vietnam or the Gulf War, such as Peter Arnett, had the respect of H Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. for giving up his helicopter seat, while under fire, so wounded soldiers could be evacuated.

Other Senior Leadership

Significant officers
Name Arrival Departure Comment
Stanley Larsen CG, I Field Force Vietnam
Daniel Boone Porter Advisor, IV Corps tactical zone
Harry Kinnard CG, 1st Cavalry Division (air assault)
John Paul Vann Resigned as LTC; later MG-equivalent advisor to II Corps tactical zone
Harold Moore Battalion and brigade
Leonard Cushman Commanded III Marine Amphibious Corps in [[I Corps tactical zone]; later Commandant of the Marine Corps


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bolt, Ernest C. Jr., (Fall 1999), Advising the French: Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG), HISTORY 398: Special Topics: The Vietnam Experience, University of Richmond
  2. They found the Earthquake, Jim McGovern has come home, November 6, 2006
  3. Grant, Rebecca (August 2004), "Dien Bien Phu", Air Force Magazine 87 (8)
  4. Eisenbert, Michel T. (1993), Shield of the Republic, Volume I, St. Martin's Press, at 589-490
  5. Bolt, Ernest C. Jr., (Fall 1999), Advising the Republic of Vietnam: Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, HISTORY 398: Special Topics: The Vietnam Experience, University of Richmond