This is the history of Company “E”, Marine Security Guard Battalion while it was active in Saigon, Vietnam. If you know of any details that are not mentioned here, please contact Gus Tomuschat. For example, would like to insert the exact dates of when each Commanding Officer served. I would also like the names, ranks, and dates of the Executive Officers and First Sergeants. Keith Birkhofer indicated that when he was there prior to the date indicated below, Company “E” was already established and his CO’s were Roger Jaroch and Robert P. LaCoursierre.
Company "E", Marine Security Guard (MSG) Battalion, fielded an average of five officers and 145 enlisted Marines during the first half of 1970 to protect the American Embassy in Saigon.
Activated on February 1, 1969 (see comments in introductory paragraph above), Company "E" was first commanded by Captain Robert P. LaCoursierre until January 1970 and then from January to November 1970 by Captain Herbert M. Steigelman Jr. Captain William E. Keller Jr. took command in November 1970 until October 1971. Other Commanding Officers were Major Edward J. Land, Jr. (1971-1972); Major Gerald L. Diffee (9/1972 - 9/1973); and Major Daniel F. Bergen (9/1973-6/1974).
Primary responsibilities of Company "E" were to safeguard classified material and protect American personnel and property at the Embassy and other buildings throughout Saigon where other American personnel worked. To accomplish this mission the company was organized into three elements: a headquarters section of two officers and 10 enlisted Marines; an interior guard force of two officers and 90 enlisted Marines; and an exterior guard force of one officer and 46 enlisted.
Exterior security would normally be the responsibility of the host country. Company "E" was the first MSG unit tasked to provide external security - essentially a tactical mission in Saigon - to an American Embassy. Partially as a result of the attack on the American Embassy during Tet 1968, a reinforced rifle platoon was formed to control access into the compound and provide a reaction force in the event of another attack. Unlike the exterior guard force, the two platoons assigned to interior guard duty were trained MSGs. In addition, a detachment of 7 Marines were selected as the Ambassador’s Personal Security Unit (PSU). The PSU provided reconnaissance when the Ambassador left the compound. All posts, vehicles, and buildings in the compound were connected by a sophisticated communications system, known as "Dragon Net”, which was manned by a 5-man detachment.
On April 29, 1971, at the American Embassy Compound, the Chief of Mission, Saigon, South Vietnam, the Honorable Ellsworth Bunker, presented the Meritorious Unit Commendation (MUC) to Company "E" for meritorious service as the immediate defense and security force for the U.S. Mission, Saigon, Republic of Vietnam, from February 1, 1969 to December 31, 1970. Company "E" joined Sub-Unit One, 1st ANGLICO, and the Marine Advisory Unit as the only U.S. Marine commands remaining in South Vietnam.
By April 23, 1974, the Exterior Guard had absorbed the Ambassador's Residence Platoon. On May 20, 1974, the Interior Guard Platoon was re-designated the Marine Detachment, Saigon, and placed under the control of the Hong Kong based regional company, Company "C", of the MSGBn. On June 17, 1974, Captain James H. Kean, the Executive Officer of Company "C", arrived in Saigon to complete the reassignment of the Interior Guard Platoon and coordinate the pending transfer of the consulate detachments. Additionally, Captain Kean traveled to the American Consulate at Can Tho to begin planning for the activation of a security detachment there.
The MSG Detachment in Saigon, which would be transferred on June 20, 1974 to Company "C", headquartered in Hong Kong, would ultimately be the last American unit evacuated from South Vietnam on April 30, 1975, nearly four years after the Marine Corps tactical role ended in that country.
On June 30, 1974, Major Daniel F. Bergen (Commanding Officer since Sepember 1973), the Commanding Officer of Company "E", deactivated it and transferred to Company "C" the remaining 90 enlisted Marines who comprised the Embassy Exterior Guard Platoon and the detachments at Da Nang, Nha Trang, and Bien Hoa.
Master Sergeant Juan (John) Valdez became the NCOIC of the newly created U. S. Embassy, MSG Detachment. He arrived in Saigon in September 1974, after having served in the position of Detachment Commander at the U.S. Embassy, Budapest, Hungary (March 1973-September 1974). He relieved Captain James P. Perkins USMC, who had come to Saigon as Guard Officer for the soon to be deactivated Company "E”. The NCOIC had been GySgt Perez, but he had already departed post when Valdez arrived.
SSgt Roger F. Painter assumed charge at Nha Trang, SSgt Walter W. Sparks took charge of Da Nang, and SSgt Michael K. Sullivan was in charge of Bien Hoa and subsequently was relieved by GySgt Robert W. Schlager. Sullivan became the ANCOIC in Saigon.
On July 16, 1974, Capt Kean, a Major selectee, relieved Major Donald L. Evans as the CO, Company "C" MSGBn, Hong Kong. Two months later, Captain Kean oversaw the activation of the MSG Detachment at Can Tho, the first ever in that city. On September 23, 1974, he placed SSgt Boyette "Steve" Hasty in charge of the Can Tho Marines. Located in the capital of Phong Dinh Province, this detachment would never celebrate its first anniversary of existence.
The American Embassy in Saigon was a very impressive six-story building with a rooftop heliport (75x49ft). The building was located on approximately 3.18 acres at 4 Thong Nhut Blvd. The total cost for construction was $2,600,000. Ground breaking ceremonies took place on June 11, 1965, and work on the foundation and first floor structural began in October 1965. The completed building eventually stretched along Thong Nhut from To Du (Independence Palace) on the west to Saigon's Zoo and the Botanical Gardens on the east. The front address of the Embassy was 4 Dai Lo Thong Nhut. After the communist takeover the address was changed to: 4 Le Duan Blvd, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. The Embassy has since been torn down and a new American Consulate occupies part of the site.
The street to the right of the embassy (facing from the front) was Mac Dinh Chi (where the vehicle access steel gate was located). The left side of the embassy had a retaining wall that separated the French Embassy.
The old U.S. Chancery building had been located at 30 Dai Lo Ham Nghi, by the Saigon River waterfront and harbor. The Viet Cong entered the scene briefly on March 30, 1965, when a car loaded with explosives was detonated (in the doorway of) the Chancery. The blast killed 22 people, including two Americans, and injured 188 others. Cpl Theodore R. Little, Jr. was the Marine on duty around 11:30 A.M. He was standing inside the lobby area as the car was driven into the building. Miraculously, he survived with minor injuries and continued maintaining his post until fellow marines arrived. Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and Deputy Ambassador U. Alexis Johnson commended Little for “difficult duty well-performed.”
The need for a new U.S. Embassy had long been recognized, and plans for a new embassy had been approved as long ago as 1960, but nothing was done because funds were not available. Two days after the incident, President Johnson asked Congress for $1,000,000 to commence construction in the new embassy, and the request was quickly approved. Ambassador Maxwell D. Taylor was at the old Chancery at that time.
The Viet Cong entered the scene briefly once more at the new embassy on January 31, 1968, and the assault became known as the Tet Offensive, named after the Vietnamese celebration of the lunar New Year.
The $2.6 million compound had been completed just three months earlier. In the end the death toll from the Embassy battle stood at five American servicemen (four Army MPs and one Marine MSG (to view a picture of the plaque erected in their memory, go to the “Down Memory Lane” page on this website and then go to the “More Memory Lane” page and open up the Photo Album), killed along with 17 Viet Cong sappers (which had blown a hole through the Embassy wall). U.S. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker was The Ambassador at the time.
The Marine House located at 204 Hong Thap Tu, during Valdez’s brief 8-month tour in Saigon prior to the evacuation, quartered the MSG Detachment, and was named Marshall Hall in memory of Cpl James C. Marshall killed during the Tet Offensive. The Marine House in Ho Chi Minh City is now the Saigon Hotel with an address of: 204 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Blvd.
The MSG School at Quantico, VA., is also named Marshall Hall. There are classrooms named after LCpl Darwin L. Judge and Cpl Charles McMahon Jr., killed on April 29, 1975 during the evacuation. Classrooms also bear the names of other MSGs killed in the line-of-duty. A good deal of emphasis is placed at school remembering those KIA, both as a way of reminding MSG students that this special and rewarding duty isn't all tea and crumpets, and providing them examples to emulate.
Some information was taken from:
US Marines in Vietnam, 1970-1971: Vietnamization and Redeployment (1986) By Graham A. Cosmas and Lieutenant Colonel Terrence R Murray, USMC (complete book can be found at http://ehistory.osu.edu/vietnam/books/vietnamization/index.cfm)
US Marines in Vietnam, 1973-1975: The Bitter End (1990) By Major George R. Dunham USMC and Colonel David A. Quinlan USMC (complete book can be found at http://ehistory.osu.edu/vietnam/books/end/index.cfm)
An article "The United States Presence in Southeast Asia”
The Leatherneck Sept 1975
The Marines in Vietnam 1954-1973.
Tears Before The Rain (Chapter IX) - Marines.
U.S. Embassy, Saigon Newsletter
Other books at http://ehistory.osu.edu/vietnam/books/index.cfm are:
US Marines in Vietnam, 1954-1964: The Advisory and Combat Assistance Era By Captain Robert H. Whitlow, USMCR (complete book can be found at http://ehistory.osu.edu/vietnam/books/acae/index.cfm)
US Marines in Vietnam, 1965: The Landing and the Buildup By Jack Shulimson and Major Charles M. Johnson, USMC (complete book can be found at http://ehistory.osu.edu/vietnam/books/buildup/index.cfm)
US Marines in Vietnam, 1968: The Defining Year By Jack Shulimson, Lieutenant Colonel Leonard A. Blasiol, USMC and Charles R. Smith and Captain David A. Dawson, USMC (complete book can be found at http://ehistory.osu.edu/vietnam/books/1968/index.cfm)