On the morning of March 8, 1965, 3,500 U.S. Marines landed on a beach in South Vietnam, becoming the first U.S. ground troops to be committed to the Vietnam War, The Guardian reports.
While it was a clear message to North Vietnamese forces that American troops were moving away from just a support role for South Vietnam, the Marine landing was an administrative landing in friendly territory. The Marines of 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines would not come under enemy fire in their initial foray into the country, according to Global Security.
Instead of encountering bullets, the Marines were greeted by welcoming South Vietnamese troops and pretty girls giving them leis of flowers.
“Nevertheless, a new phase of the Vietnam war had begun. About one-third of the Marine ground forces and two-thirds of the Marine helicopter squadrons in the Western Pacific had been committed to South Vietnam,” reads an official Marine Corps history of the service’s involvement in Vietnam.
It wouldn’t be long before U.S. troops were involved in major combat operations. In August, four Marine infantry battalions launched Operation Starlite in order to repel Vietcong forces from the area around the Chu Lai Air Base.
From The Guardian:
The landing was carefully stage managed. The troops were given a warm welcome by a delegation of smiling children and traditionally dressed Vietnamese women brandishing garlands of flowers. A sign held aloft read: “Welcome, Gallant Marines.” It was an incongruous beginning for the marines, and their mission – to defend the city’s air base during the Operation Rolling Thunder bombing campaign against targets in the North – seemed straightforward. Nobody on the beach that day had any idea of the long and tortuous conflict that was to follow. By the end of the year, nearly 185,000 troops had been deployed as the war escalated. A decade later when Saigon fell and US soldiers made their final exit, more than 540,000 Americans had served in Vietnam – more than 58,000 were killed.