A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE
III MAF BAND
|In June, 1969, the 3rd Marine
Amphibious Force Band was born to the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force
(III MAF) Headquarters at Camp Horn, Danang, Quang Nam Province,
Republic of South Vietnam.
Until that time, field music had been provided to that headquarters by
Marines of the III MAF Drum and Bugle Corps or bands from other outfits.
III MAF bandsmen began arriving at Camp Horn from CONUS during March, 1968. Early arrivals were temporarily assigned to the 1st and 3rd Marine Division bands pending the arrival in country of enough bandsmen to comprise the new band. At the end of May, 1968, its scattered members were regrouped at Camp Horn, and the III MAF Band - Vietnam was born. By the end count, the III MAF Band numbered twenty, plus the Band's first bandmaster, MGySgt Harry Fagan.
All equipment for the band being brand new, the first order of business was to sort sheet music according to the band's instrumentation, polish and tune new instruments, practice drilling, and practice the repertoire. In between, III MAF Bandsmen enhanced their strength and vigor by sand bag filling and bunker building for the Camp Horn inner and perimeter defenses.
Once formed and practiced, the III MAF band performed martial music for concerts and "troop and stomp" events (change-of-command ceremonies, awards ceremonies, etc) at locations in and around Danang. The Band played "gigs" at Marble Mountain, Monkey Mountain, the White Elephant (Naval Support Activity HQ), the Philco-Ford Compound, the famous (or infamous) China Beach, Red Beach, Camp Tien Sha, the ROK 2nd Marine Brigade (Blue Dragon) Compound at Hoi An, aboard the Hospital Ship USS Sanctuary, Hill 327 (Freedom Hill), local orphanages in the Danang area, and combat outposts about Happy Valley and Dai Lat Pass. The III MAF Band also visited their brothers of the 1st Marine Division Band along Alpha Line atop Hill 327 overlooking the scenic vistas of the Danang Air Base and Danang City to the east, and Viet Cong infested Happy Valley to the west.
During their marching "gigs," the III MAF Band was sometimes augmented by the services of GySgt Harold Beinke of the III MAF Drum and Bugle Corps. He served as the Band's ex officio Drum Major. (He leads the Band in the photo on the Main Page of this web site)
The days...and nights...were long and trying, but the III MAF Band acquitted itself with bravado and honor, providing what solace and amusement as could be had to their brother Marines in the field. The muddy, broken roads and trails to and from their gigs were long, rough, and dangerous. In the hot, humid, dank, dusty, odoriferous and very hostile environment that was the I Corps combat arena, the III MAF Band served with distinction.
Marines of the III MAF Band were, as are all Marines, first and foremost 0311 Infantrymen. They did their time in defensive towers and bunkers around Camp Horn's perimeter, always vigilant for Viet Cong sappers and infiltrators. They were a force in readiness, a reactionary resource for Marines already on the line.
The Band augmented the III MAF support function during Operations Apache Snow, Utah Mesa, Pipestone Canyon, Mameluk Thrust, and Idaho Canyon. Its members earned Vietnam Service stars for the Tet '69 Counter-offensive (23 February - 8 June), the Vietnam Summer-Fall Campaign (9 June - 31 October) and the Winter-Spring Campaign (1 October '69 - 30 April '70).
With the III MAF, the Band was awarded for their Vietnam service the Navy Unit Commendation and the Marine Corps Meritorious Unit Citation, as well as having bestowed upon them the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry by a grateful South Vietnamese government. Members of the III MAF Band earned the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon and it's veterans merit the National Defense Service Ribbon, the Vietnamese Service Ribbon, and the Vietnamese Campaign Ribbon.
During their Summer 1969 schedule, members of the Band were exposed to enemy small arms fire while serenading "Mud" Marines in a dusty hamlet of Happy Valley to the southwest of Danang. In mid-performance, the lilt of their music suddenly was accentuated by the crack of incoming enemy rounds. The engagement ended in short order as the enemy action was effectively suppressed by friendly fire from perimeter security. The Band thereafter completed their concert, their music never sounding sweeter.
In the early morning hours of September 6, 1969, the band came under direct hostile artillery fire when 122mm Soviet-made rockets were fired into Camp Horn by enemy gunners. The billeting area occupied by the III MAF Band was particularly targeted, a rocket exploding immediately outside their barracks. Blast and debris from the rocket's explosion wounded two bandsmen and disoriented most other occupants of that barracks. During this sustained attack, the III MAF communications bunker, dining facility, and medical clinic were also targeted. A rocket directed at the medical clinic was a dud. The failed warhead jutted from the dirt only a few yards from the clinic entrance. An hour into the attack, an ammunition bunker located adjacent Camp Horn was struck, splitting the night in brilliant flashes that turned darkness to day. The III MAF Band, rallied in their assigned combat reactionary position in an open area adjecnt Camp Horn's main gate, prepared to defend against any enemy ground assault. There, they were fully exposed to the blast and concussion of exploding ordinance from the ill-fated ammo dump located only a few hundred yards away. There were no physical injuries reported among the Band from the amo dump explosions, however, the psychological wounds to these men from having been so close to such an immense and dire event remains undetermined. They lay exposed in the hands of God awaiting Guard Mount before the gates of Heaven while their world seemed to explode in sheets of dazzling luminescence amid the ground trembling roar of Satan's scream. But, they came through. The attacks ended as abruptly as they had begun, and the III MAF Band resumed it's normal duties.
And, so it was for the III MAF Band in Vietnam. They endured the drudgery of drill, the challenges of their mission, and baptism by fire. But, they came through. During their time "in country," they remained always faithful to their mission, always faithful to their Country, and always faithful to their Corps. They were unto themselves a "band of brothers" amidst the band of brothers.
Late in 1969, the war in Vietnam began drawing to a close as U.S. military units were withdrawn. The 3rd Marine Division of the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force was the first military unit to depart Vietnam. In preparation of the Division's redeployment, the III MAF Band was decommissioned and most of its members were transferred to the 3rd Marine Division Band by III MAF Special Order 654-69, dated 21 October, 1969.
Four III MAF Bandsmen were transferred by the same order for duty with the 1st Marine Division. They joined the 1st Marine Division Band in the Division's defensive posture along Alpha line atop Hill 327 to the west of the Danang Air Base.
Those who joined the 3rd Marine Division Band joined that Band on perimeter security around the 3rd Marine Division Headquarters at the Dong Ha Combat Base, Quang Tri Province, on October 26, 1969. In addition to duty "on the line," their duties included personal security for the 3rd Marine Division's Commanding General, General William K. Jones. The 3rd Marine Division Band, now forty-seven members strong, received permanent change of location orders, reference CG III MAF Op Plan 183-69, on November 1, 1969. On November 7, the Band embarked on C-130 transport aircraft and was flown non-stop to Okinawa, Japan, to perform duties in connection with the redeployment of the 3rd Marine Division to "The Rock." On their arrival at Okinawa, Camp Courteny became the home of both Headquarters, 3rd Marine Division and the 3rd Marine Division Band.
Thus ended the saga of the one...and only...III MAF Band - Vietnam. The III MAF Band's existence had been brief, but the courage and devoted service of its members upheld the highest traditions of the United States Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service. SEMPER FIDELIS!