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KEVIN LYLES
VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

1965

RIFLEMAN, 9TH MARINE EXPEDITIONARY BRIGADE

The 9th MEB landed in strength on the shores of Vietnam on the morning of 8 March 1965. Tasked with providing security for the airfield at Danang, Marines of Brigade Landing Team (BLT) 3/9 had spent the previous six weeks en route from Japan. After pitching up and down in ships of the Amphibious Task Force anchored out in the South China Sea the Marines were anxious to get ashore and get to grips with the Viet Cong. In fact, as they hit Red Beach 2 the 1,400 fully equipped and combat-ready Marines were met by a gaggle of press cameras, welcoming banners, and shy schoolgirls who presented the startled Leathernecks with garlands of flowers. That afternoon BLT 1/3 were flown into Danang airport on C-130 transport aircraft. The decision to deploy the Marine Corps to Vietnam's northernmost province was based on the reasoning that South Vietnam's only deep water port would be best utilized by the US Army, who lacked the Marines' amphibious capabilities. The northern provinces, grouped together under I Corps Tactical Zone (ICTZ), would remain the Marines' area of operation for the rest of the war.

In 1962 an effort was made to standardize uniforms worn by different branches of the service, and the Army's OG107 utility uniform and black leather combat boots were issued in place of earlier Marine items. Though the change-over would take some time, it was in this uniform that the majority of Marines arrived in Vietnam. This rifleman of BLT 1/3 is equipped for an 'administrative' move and as such carries the maximum amount of equipment.

Headgear is the Ml Steel Helmet with Leaf Pattern Camouflage Cover common to the Marine Corps and the Army. The cover, which fitted tightly over the helmet shell, was reversible from a brown-dominant pattern to the more usual green-dominant leaf pattern, as shown here.

Body armour is the Marine Corps M1955 Armor - Body Fragmentation Protective - dubbed the 'flak vest'. The M1955 was an upgraded version of the M1951 vest developed by the Corps during the Korean War. The Marines were pioneers in the use of body armour and placed far more emphasis on its wear than did the Army. Throughout the war most Marine riflemen would wear a vest for their entire tour. Issued with the vest was the Korean War vintage Lower Torso Armor - Type M53, commonly known as the 'flak diaper'. These were universally considered to be too restricting for the protection that they offered, and were immediately discarded.

This rifleman's load bearing equipment is the Marine Corps' unique M1961 Web Gear, comprising rifle belt, suspenders (worn under the body armour), and four pouches holding one 20-round M-14 rifle magazine apiece. An M6 Bayonet in its M8A1 Scabbard hangs from the grommets below one magazine pouch.

The World War 2 era plywood Packboard (1), little seen in Army service by the 1960s, was a favourite with Marines doomed to carry bulky loads. Used throughout the war to transport such items as mortar and recoilless rifle ammunition, it was also used by riflemen for personal gear, as here. A Marine Corps M1941 Haversack (2) is attached first, then other items of equipment are tied to or hung from it. Here an M1943 Entrenching Tool (3) is secured to the pack in its canvas carrier. A metal ammunition can (4) is strapped below the haversack, attached to which is a Marine Jungle First Aid Kit (5). The regulation blanket, together with a sectional tentpole and pegs, are rolled inside the 'Mitchell' pattern camouflage Tent Shelter Half (6), which is worn in bedroll fashion strapped to the haversack.

The weapon is the 7.62mm M14 Rifle, the successor to the old Ml Garand. The M14 in its standard configuration was a semi-automatic weapon, but could be converted to fully automatic fire with the installation of a selector. A bipod was fitted when the rifle was used in the fully automatic role.

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