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KEVIN LYLES
VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

1969

RIFLEMAN, US MARINE CORPS

In 1969 the Marine Corps was in a transitional state and the professional fervour of earlier years was beginning to wear thin. Few Marines still regarded the war as a crusade against Communism; rather it was a job to be done until the date of their 'Deros' date of estimated return from overseas. Officers and senior NCOs coming back to Vietnam for second or third tours saw a difference in the young troops. There was racial tension unknown in 1965/6, and drugs had become cheap and plentiful.

On a tactical level the Marine Corps was fighting the war as effectively as ever, engaging the NVA in several major battles in 1969. The field uniform and equipment issued to Marines contrasted sharply with that worn during the first years of the war. By 1969, then, the Marine still slogging through the steaming jungles of the A Shau Valley had little in common with his counterpart who landed at Danang four years previously.

The Marine Corps began to issue the camouflage tropical combat uniform to all its personnel in late 1968. This camouflage version of the uniform was re-classified as Coat/Trousers, Man's, Camouflage Cotton, Wind Resistant Poplin, Class 2. The four-colour pattern was first developed in 1948 by the Army's Engineer Research and Development Laboratories and was referred to as the 'ERDL' camouflage. The camouflage uniform was styled identically to the third pattern tropical combat uniform and included all the same design features. Introduced into Vietnam by the Army, originally for reconnaissance-type troops, the ERDL pattern quickly gained a very high field acceptability. Its camouflage properties were so effective that helicopter crews often could not locate personnel dressed in the uniform. The first ERDL uniforms were manufactured in cotton-poplin, but this was soon changed to rip-stop cotton-poplin as illustrated.

The Marine's utility cap was not manufactured in the ERDL material, though some individuals purchased locally-made examples, as here. Note that the Vietnamese maker has not the facilities for printing the 'eagle, globe and anchor' design on the front of the cap.

Later style M1955 body armour has the nylon cargo pockets - this type was becoming predominant by 1969. On the M1961 belt are a jungle first aid kit, a K-Bar knife, two canteens, and two M1956 universal pouches - these latter typical of the many items that Marines were acquiring from Army and ARVN sources. Also on the belt, on the left hip, is the case for the M16's XM3 Bipod. The case also features a smaller zipped pouch containing the weapon's cleaning kit-rod, bore-brushes, etc.

Slung from the shoulder is the Charge Assembly Demolitions Bag M-183, commonly called a 'demo bag' and used in much the same way as the M18 Claymore mine bag. Originally issued to carry the various explosive charges and accessories of the demolitions kit, the empty bags were also handy for rifle magazines, grenades and personal effects.

The restricted capacity of the M1941 haversack led many Marines to acquire superior Army or ARVN types; even captured NVA rucksacks were preferred. The ARVN rucksack (1) worn here was the most popular of these and its use by Marines was widespread. The folding E-tool in its M1943 cover (2) is attached to the rucksack, as are a number of nylon sandbags (3) which would be used to reinforce the Marine's field accomodation or 'hooch'.

The helmet hanging from the rucksack has an Army issue elasticated foliage band, available to Marines in mid-1969. Graffiti on helmet covers were universal, becoming a means of expressing identity and opinion.

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