The Following is the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalions
Patrol History for the Year 1967

Source: Command Chronologies 3rd Recon Battalion, Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D.C

Patrols 1,327

Average Days Per Patrol N/A

Number Men Per Patrol N/A

Sightings 1,257

NVA/VC Sighted 14,121

Contacts 386

Fire Missions 884

Artillery Rounds Fired 38,574

Air Strikes 321

NVA/VC KIA (C) 882

NVA/VC KIA (P) 1,810

NVA/VC Captured 13/2 DOW

USMC KIA 48

USN KIA 5

USMC WIA 410

USN WIA 41

Captured Weapons 79

On 01 June 1967, the authorized strength was 32 Officers, 432 Enlisted - USMC. 1 Officer, 23 Enlisted USN. Five letter companies were designated as A, B, C, D, and H & S.

Source: Reconnaissance Battalion, Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, Revision Number 2 of Tables Of Organization Number M-1428: Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington D.C.


Before we can draw any conclusions from these statistics, a little explanation is in order. In reviewing the U.S. Marine Corps historical records for the Vietnam era that are on file, a casualty is generally defined as either personnel either killed In action or wounded requiring hospitalization. WIA’s would not be tallied here if the man just received a patch up and was returned to his unit.

If you look at the authorized strength of the battalion and total up the casualties the 3rd Recon Battalion lost an entire battalion during 1967. The only statistic that may be in error, due to the inherent problem of recording possible enemy losses, is the "probable" enemy losses, however since the Marine Corps recorded these totals we will assume they are accurate for this discussions.

This is what the statistics reveal:

  • Patrols: Assuming the entire T/O strength of the battalion was deployed in the field for 365 days, that's equivalent to each Marine in the battalion continuously turning around 2.7 day patrols.
  • Sightings: 3.4 per day
  • NVA/VC sighted: The equivalent of three T/O divisions including separate battalion combat support / logistics elements.
  • Contacts: 1.05 per day.
  • Fire missions: 2.42 per day.
  • Artillery rounds fired: 106 per mission.
  • Air Strikes: 0.88 per day.
  • Ratio of enemy KIA ( confirmed) to T/O battalion strength: 1.05 - 1.0
  • Ratio of enemy KIA (c), KIA (p) and enemy captured to T/O battalion strength: 5.5 -1:00
  • Ratio of enemy KIA (c) to USMC/USN KIA. 16.6 -1:00

     * Percentage of 3rd Recon Bn T/O strength KIA/WIA (evac) I January 1967 - 31 December 1967: 103%


These figures serve only as a rough indicator of 3rd Recon Battalion’s performance during the year, since they are based on T/O strength including Headquarters and Service Company and are not factored for attrition and absences of all types.  In reality, a manning level of 60-70% of T/O strength more accurately reflects the availability of personnel able to perform in the field on any given day.  Conversely, the numbers of enemy casualties and sightings are suspect due to the likelihood of redundant sighting reports and the nature of assessing probable KIA’s.   This analysis is based on figures generated by 3rd Recon Battalion as reflected by the command chronology and unit diary entries for the period.  The usage and categorization of these figures are consonant with the quantitative measures typically used to assess unit performance during the Vietnam War.

Quoting from Larry Vetter’s, Marine Third Reconnaissance Battalion in Vietnam, 1965-70, he states:

“In Vietnam there was never a universally accepted or understood mission for the recon unit.  It might be better said that that the Recon mission was modified with each new commanding officer or general.  The Recon team is not structured to be a combat unit.” (NEVER WITHOUT HEROES: Marine Third Reconnaissance Battalion in Vietnam 1965-70, Lawrence C. Vetter, Jr., Random House, 1996)

In a previous paragraph, Mr. Vetter cites a tendency by command levels above the Reconnaissance Battalion to “hoard” intelligence, and a failure to disseminate information vital to Recon teams conducting missions. While Mr. Vetter’s point is well taken, one can make the case that a failure to provide Recon teams with tactical intelligence was calculated, and a matter of policy within the 3rd Marine Division.

The 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion’s primary mission of clandestine observation and intelligence gathering, from the point of view of III MAF Commander’s Cushman and Davis, was subservient to a requirement to project combat power beyond the capabilities of the infantry battalion.

Given the hundreds of square miles assigned the division, the divergent missions it performed and the associate logistics difficulties, the ability of the infantry to seek out and destroy the enemy was limited.  Designed to fight in a landing force configuration with a battalion as its primary maneuver element, Marine artillery support and rotary wing assets were configured accordingly.  Given the circumstances in Northern I Corps in 1967, the Marine Division fragmented into task organized elements occupying fixed outposts and logistics bases while performing offensive, defensive and pacification missions simultaneously.

Organic artillery and rotary wing assets were inadequate to support the concurrent operational tempo and forced to prioritize competing demands.  Consequently, Marine Infantry forces were most typically required to operate in close proximity to their fixed positions.  Therefore, the mission of “finding, fixing and fighting” the enemy in their remote sanctuaries, presented significant problems.

The Division’s Recon Battalion picked up the slack.  Although, senior commanders cavorted the use of Recon troops with the mention of “intelligence gathering” as a mission component, both Davis and Cushman emphasized the use of Recon teams as an offensive unit.  It is likely that existing intelligence was denied to Recon forces since as a general rule they were deployed in known areas of enemy concentrations.  Rather than performing their primary mission, 3rd Recon teams served as mini-infantry companies, deployed to make and prosecute contacts through close contact and further exploit them with supporting arms.

Mr. Vetter cites a December 3, 1967 memo from General Cushman to General Westmoreland, advancing this aggressive use of Recon troops as the “Sting-Ray” concept.  It should be noted that neither General Cushman nor the men under his command were the original developers of this concept. He was following the policy set in place by the CG FMF PAC, and CG 3rd MAF- Generals Krulak and Walt at the conclusion of Operation Hastings which took place during the summer of 1966. Marine Commanders observed the tremendous toll inflicted upon the enemy by these recon teams and the term "Sting Ray" was born. The Recon Teams that composed Task Unit Charlie, during "Hastings" were a composite unit made up from two plts Alpha Company, 1st Force, and a platoon from 3rd Force. This philosophy on the use of Recon assets continued throughout the war.

It is certain that Recon commanders knew that troops under their command were being attrited at an inordinate rate in order to perform an infantry mission on the budget plan, but the teams were not officially apprised of the concept.  Nor were they staffed or equipped to perform it.  Substituting the term “manager” for “leader,” this approach makes perfect business sense, and may speak to the character of the quality of leadership within Third Recon Battalion and the Third Marine Division.  From the statistical, cost-benefit analysis manner in which results were tabulated in the Vietnam War the figures cited above was a manager’s dream.  It is small wonder that Third Recon Battalion was used, literally, to death.

Our "production rate," 16.6 - 1:00 - Sixteen and a fraction enemy deaths for each death of our own - was doubtlessly viewed as a cost effective trade-off in an environment in which “win” or “loose” was only defined by graphs and charts depicting “body counts.”  Since the Recon Battalion and Company Commanders were primarily administrators, tasked with providing a sufficiency of teams to perform the missions required, but performing no operational leadership role, it is likely that these numbers held them in good stead.  In light of the statistical weight of the enemy we killed, our own considerable losses presumably went unnoticed by those who compiled the numbers, and by those who were rewarded by the virtuousness of the “leadership” contained within those ranks and files of figures.

But let us find pride, not in the numbers, but in the memories of the Sergeants and Pfc.’s and Corpsmen who ran the patrols week after week and month after month for no other reward than doing what we called “duty;” for doing something we believed was worth doing, and above all, doing it for and with men who shared both the misery and joy of working together as a team of Recon Marines.

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