Supply Corps Heritage

The following vignette was provided by retired Rear Adm. Robert Phillips, SC, USN, and is a brief discussion on the outstanding expeditionary work that was conducted in standing, from the ground up, an expeditionary support activity center that ultimately became known as Naval Support Activity (NSA) DaNang.

Landing ship tank offload ramps, staging area and DeLong pier.

On March 8, 1965, the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade landed at DaNang, Vietnam, with a mission limited solely to the defense of the airbase at DaNang which quickly expanded beyond the advisory stage and became the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force on June 4, 1965, commanded by Maj. Gen. Lewis W. Walt. In April 1965, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) was tasked with the logistics support of the United States I Corps, and, in turn, the job was passed to Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet (COMSEVENTHFLT). Commander Task Group (CTG) 76.4 was established under the command of Capt. Ken Huff, USNR, with Amphibious Forces, Pacific (PHIBPAC) assets such as attack transports, landing ship tanks, dock landing ships, beachmasters, and assault craft. In mid-June 1965, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) ordered the Nucleus Port Crew #2 from the 3rd Naval District in Brooklyn, New York, on temporary duty (TAD) to report to CTG 76.4 in DaNang. Our unit had started out as roughly five Supply Corps officers and a handful of enlisted personnel consisting of disbursing clerks (DKs), storekeepers (SKs), a radioman, a yeoman, and a boatswain mate. The unit would ultimately require massive growth in order to support the number of ships at anchor awaiting offload. The force levels counting the Navy, Marines, Army, and Air Force were rapidly approaching 20,000 personnel, with the planning documents proposing three to four times that number.

Then Lt. Phillips hard at work drafting plans for what would become NSA DaNang.

Leadership realized that supporting this mission using TAD personnel was not a sufficient long-term solution and directed Cmdr. Doheny, the mission commanding officer, and me to come up with a plan to better accommodate the requirement on a more permanent basis. Doheny gave me the supply functions side of the job, and he took on the other aspects such as command and control, defense and security, Public Works, small craft repair, and berthing. As a mid-grade lieutenant with two years’ experience at a Supply Center, the job was quite intimidating. Obviously, the future freight terminal operation was going to play a major role and the existing cargo handling battalions and the augmented Sailors gave me a decent basis for that aspect. Similarly, the disbursing operation and messing were scalable. Warehousing and stock control requirements were truly educated guesses. By mid-July, we presented our proposals to Huff, mine included a requirement for 81 supply officers and a little over 2,000 enlisted, including SKs, DKs, culinary specialists, and large numbers of able-bodied seamen. He made very few changes and then sent out a message outlining the requirements for establishing a shore activity along with the vast personnel requirements. We were somewhat stunned, however, at how and to whom he sent the message. It went out marked top secret with a priority of Op Immediate, which was not too unusual, but the addressees certainly stepped outside the normal chain of command. As I recall, it went to Commander, Task Force 76, but it also went to COMSEVENTHFLT; Commander, PHIBPAC; Service Forces, United States Pacific Fleet (COMSERVPAC); CINCPACFLT; Commander, Naval Supply Systems Command; Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command; and the CNO. Let me tell you that it certainly produced some immediate action. Within two days, the COMSEVENTHFLT supply officer was in the main office headquarters, known as the White Elephant, asking me where on earth I had come up with such crazy numbers. I brought out the top secret planning document numbers and went over my educated guesses and assumptions with him. By the end of the day, he understood how the request made sense, but advised me to “not hold my breath” waiting for any such number of personnel to show up. Simultaneously, other COMSEVENTHFLT staff officers were grilling Doheny and Huff. In later years I was told that there had been some advance planning by the Office of Chief of Naval Operations and COMSERVPAC staffs for a shore-based support activity at DaNang, but the Huff message really lit the fuse. Within two weeks, on the 2nd of August 1966, Cmdr. Robert Leventhal, SC, USN, Lt. Cmdr. William onboard as permanent change of station (PCS) transfers. Huff was designated prospective commanding officer, NSA DaNang, and Leventhal was designated prospective supply officer. It took longer for the paperwork to catch up with events, as the commissioning of NSA DaNang did not happen until 15 Oct.

CINCPACFLT Adm. R.L. Johnson leaving Capt. Huff’s office in the White Elephant. Capt. Huff is pictured on the second step.

 

Soon after the arrival of Leventhal, I had decided to volunteer for a PCS tour at NSA DaNang for two reasons. The obvious challenges and opportunities for a junior officer were unmatched, and it would put my tour rotation schedules back in sync with the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) education cycle. In my request to the detailers, I asked that my revised rotation date be provided to the NPS Board.

As I was waiting to board my flight out of country in July 1966 en-route to two years at Harvard Business School, there was a total of 67 Supply Corps officers who had arrived for duty at NSA DaNang. Many years ago someone wrote the following: “Looking back, the experience gained from association with this remarkable command during its initial phases is dif?cult to retell. Impressive indeed for its officers and men has been its rapid growth, larger and faster than anything since World War II. For those young Supply Corps officers lucky enough to be members of the Navy-Marine team here during this period, a chance to make decisions and contributions as breathtakingly large as they have made here will probably never come again. For those officers who, night after night patiently reworked planning estimates and messages, now stand in awe when contemplating what they have helped create. As they leave, they know they have had a chance of a lifetime, for they will use the lessons learned here elsewhere and the information disseminated by them may well affect naval operations for years to come for they have helped to write ‘the book.’ ”

January/February 2018

Retired Rear Adm. Robert A. Phillips is a 1957 graduate of the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree. He then completed the Supply Corps curriculum at Navy Supply Corps School, Athens, Georgia, followed by a tour as supply and disbursing officer aboard USS De Haven (DD 727). Subsequently he had tours as the Navy Exchange officer at Naval Air Station, Oakland, California; supply and disbursing officer, the United States Logistics Group Detachment 28, Karamürsel, Turkey; and administrative officer and aide to the Commanding Officer, Naval Supply Center, Bayonne, New Jersey. Following his assignment as planning officer, NSA DaNang, Vietnam, he completed Harvard Business School studies with a Master of Business Administration degree. Duty as ship’s supply readiness officer on staff of COMSERVPAC/CINCPACFLT was followed by policy and procedures branch head, Navy Ships Parts Control Center, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania; and supply officer, USS Vulcan (AR 5). His first command tour was commanding officer, Fitting Out and Supply Assist Team, Norfolk, Virginia, followed by deputy commander, Fleet Support and Supply Operations, Naval Supply Systems Command, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. His flag assignments included Assistant Comptroller of the Navy for Financial Management Systems Washington, District of Columbia; commanding officer, Navy Accounting and Finance Center, Washington, District of Columbia; and commanding officer, Navy Ships Parts Control Center, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. His awards included the Legion of Merit with two gold stars.