Early History of US Army Advisers and MAAG Mission in Vietnam, 1959-1963

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Seems you can’t turn your head without finding our friend SGM Fred Barnes in the middle of history. Last year we introduced Fred as an E-3 trooper whose unit was brought into to witness (as guinea pigs) the first and only firing of the Army’s famous atomic cannon in the Nevada desert in 1953.

(Fast forward six years, and Spec 5 Barnes found himself at the front of the history known in America as the “Vietnam War”, only four years before most Americans ever heard of it, 1961-thru 1963.

(I’ll let SGM Barnes tell the story from here on in, for what he helped develop in Saigon would re-shape the way OER’s, Officers Efficiency Reports, would be handled for the duration of the War.

*   *   *   *    *

In September, 1959 my tour in Germany ended and I was reassigned to the Office of Personnel, at HQ Ft Sill, Oklahoma. At the time my MOS was Clerk-Typist.

My new boss was a DAC (civilian) named Frances Richardson. She was in charge of Officer Evaluation Reports (OER’s), and had developed a great system of management which I decided to become expert in, spending the next 20 years in that special area.

In 1960 my son Stuart was born, and in summer of ’61 I saw an 8 x 5 form on a co-worker’s desk, a request for a special assignment to a MAAG Mission. (Military Assistance Advisory Group), the most prominent one, the new MAAG Mission in Vietnam.

JFK was just elected president, and the new Administration wanted to be able to provide assistance in developing the new Army of South Vietnam (RVN), which meant attaching US military advisers to train RVN units in the field fighting a communist insurgency (Viet Cong) in the rice paddies around the country, with the assistance of the communist regime just to the north, known as Peoples Republic of North Vietnam.

When the French left Vietnam after an idiotic defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the country had to be split in two, much like Korea, half the country has non-communist, but hardly free as Americans know the meaning of that word. The Kennedy Administration saw the potential for a dominoes effect if the Communists should succeed in winning South Vietnam. Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand could soon follow.

(I’m writing this as if you may never have heard of any of these things, only if you were born before 1950, and were a male, your whole life was defined by this tiny little war for over ten years. But in 1961 when then Spec 5 Fred Barnett took his wife and son to Saigon…yes, it was a 2-year accompanied tour in those days…virtually no one in America had ever heard of this place. And that was when Fred Barnes once again walked into history.)

I was ordered to report in September, 1961, and was ordered to wear civvies, The Army gave me $300 to buy clothes. In 1960, the year before I go there, the rise of the communist insurgency prompted the rise of US advisors from 327 to 625. In 1961 that number had multiplied to over 3400. By the end of 1962 that number had leaped to 11,000.

A jump of this size placed a huge burden on us to in-process officers, our original staff remaining largely the same. Commanders were screaming for us to reduce inprocessing time, so we cut a few corners. This caused some embarrassment as we failed to update next of kin.

(Note: If you saw the 2002 film “We Were Soldiers”, LTC Hal Moore’s account of his 2nd Bn, 7th Cavalry fight against North Vietnamese regulars at Ia Drang, in 1965, one of the side stories was the Army’s omission in having in place a way to notify next-of-kin living at Ft Hood.)

In June ’62 we lost a couple of really fine officers, CPT Walter R McCarthy Jr and 1Lt William F Train III. Both were with units that were ambushed. Lt Train’s father mas a major general, CG of 7th Infantry Division, but only recently moved to Commandant of the War College.

So our Casualty Report was incorrect, and we had hell to pay. A work in progress. WE suffered through that mistake and continued to receive a heavy influx of officers. So much so, that durinf Deb/Mar 1963 I sent over 1500 OER’s to Dept of Army.

So much so, that my boss relieved me of all other duties other than OER’s.I found a clerk wjo was a whiz with calculators and we went to work.

I mentioned this in my January article, but since almost all the Army’s military presence in South Vietnam were officers, OER’s were the life’s-blood of their careers, and since that short tour in South Vietnam was for only one year, we needed to fine tune the process to met these new administrative needs.

At the time and OER was required on the following occasions, if there were 60 calendar days since the last report: 1) Rater’s return to CONUS (the US); 2) Officer’s DEROS 3) Annual Report

Vietnam, being a 1-years short tour, it guaranteed at least three occasions for an OER. Officers in Admin branches wanted transfers to a combat branch to gain eligibility for the CIB (Combat Infantryman’s Badge) for it was a coveted award.

DA (Dept of Army-Washington) was hung up the 60 days’ calendar, duty and other days.

If  the officers calendar and duty days exceeded 60 day prior to closing date of the current report, a written evaluation must be done by the  Rater. If the report period exceed 60 calendar day but duty days are less than 60,  a s0-called Amin Report is done requiting only the signature of the Rater.

Using our card file we noted duty assignment, start-and-end dates of all OER’s, We found many cases where the Annual Report was due because the calendar days exceeded 60 but Duty days were less than  60

At this time the phrase “counter-insurgency” was very important in promotion and further schooling. So the annual report was depriving from valuable duty time.

I felt the annual OER-by-date should be eliminated and an OER rendered when one full years had expired since the last report.

My fact basis and recommendations were submitted to DA over the signature of BG Charles Timmes, Chief of the US Army Section, MAAG Vietnem.

I left Vietnam in September, 1963, and a fiend wrote to tell me DA had approved my recommendation

Mission accomplished.



About the Author:

Vietnam era Army JAG, Asia, 17-yr Cold Warrior in Soviet-China Bloc green zone, Been shot at and hit, but in crime, not war; twice-broken nose for lying (same fellow) hence good law school candidate; Could have been Somebody in Corporate world and politics, but at every crossroad chose to be a man with a tawdry past instead. Gave up law and am now a redeemed American.
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  1. ????  April 20, 2019

    We had a handful of troops in French Vietnam prior to Diem Bien Phu. In late 1967 I was TDY to the Ranger training facility in Dahlonega, GA and assigned to an aggressor LRRPS unit led by an A-team for the mountain phase of ranger training. The unit senior NCO was a MSG who had been in Vietnam prior to the fall of Diem Bien Phu.

    • Vassar  April 21, 2019

      Wow! I knew we had people there under Ike’s term. Love to print it if you make a story out of it.


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