Memorandum from McNaughton to McNamara on US Search and Rescue Operations--Southeast Asia, 23 October 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 584-585

23 Oct 1964


SUBJECT: US Search and Rescue Operations-Southeast Asia

COMUSMACV (Tab A) has requested the inclusion of 34A operations in existing SAR plans for Laos and the Gulf of Tonkin. CINCPAC (Tab B) supports the MACV concept and recommends expanding SAR coverage to include cross-border operations into Laos. Ambassador Taylor (Tab C) concurs in SAR support for 34A crews downed in Laos. Ambassador Unger (Tab D & E) has expressed reservations with respect to use of his resources for SAR operations in support of VNAF or 34A personnel in Laos. The Joint Chiefs (JCSM 839-64) (Tab F) have proposed an expansion of existing SAR coverage along the lines advocated by CINCPAC and COMUSMACV.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff proposal would authorize US/SAR assistance to:

(a) RVNAF forces engaged in cross-border operations into Laos and also 34A aircraft in distress in Laos, and
(b) Both 34A surface and aircraft in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Regarding SAR support for RVN forces which might be involved in possible cross-border operations, the State Departement desires to defer decision. I suggest that we go along with State on this point for the time being.

With respect to SAR support for 34A operations, State Department (Tab G) has opposed any US support in either Laos or the Gulf of Tonkin, though it agrees to GVN SAR assistance to 34A MAROPS.

As a result of further discussions with Saigon on the question of SAR operations for 34A overflights of Laos, Ambassador Unger (Tab E) has now proposed that he be authorized to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether to employ in-country assets available to him (RLAF, Air America, Bird & Sons) in SAR operations. State believes this is a more acceptable arrangement than the employment on field initiative of identifiable US SAR resources (i.e., Yankee Team and other US air assets in SEA) and would concur.

State also notes that, unlike the SAR problem for Yankee Team or RLAF (T-28) aircraft, the location of a downed 34A aircraft may be difficult to determine (i.e., radio silence, night flights, unaccompanied, etc.) and believes that the first effort should therefore be restricted to search for the aircraft. Once it is located, is
identifiable US resources appear to be required for rescue, State would have Ambassador Unger refer the problem to Washington for decision.

In summary, resolution of the 34A question depends on the extent of recognition we wish to accord 34A forces. If they are characterized as "friendly", the existing Rules of Engagement would make them eligible now for US protection if attacked under all circumstances except when in or over DRy, and would entitle them to SAR assistance. Since it is current policy that 34A operations remain covert, US participation in their defense or rescue should be limited at this time. I recommend your signature to the attached self-explanatory memorandum to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and your approval of the attached message which has been coordinated with the Department of State and White House staff.

John T. McNaughton
Assistant Secretary of Defense

Enclosures (2)
1. Memo to Ch/JCS
2. Draft Msg

Return to Vinnie's Home Page

Return to Vietnam War Page