By Edward J. Marolda
Admiral Harry D. Felt, the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command (CINCPAC) during the pivotal era from 1958 to 1964, strongly influenced the direction of U.S policy in Southeast Asia. The short, intense officer was an energetic supporter of the Kennedy administration's counterinsurgency strategy. He oversaw the deployment to Laos and South Vietnam of increasing numbers of Army "Green Berets," Navy SEALs, and Air Force Air Commandoes. Felt also presided over the employment in North Vietnam's coastal waters of the South Vietnamese-crewed, Nasty-class fast patrol craft in Operation 34 Alpha.
Felt also supported the deployment to Southeast Asia of conventional U.S. military forces to stiffen the resolve and fighting ability of the Laotian and South Vietnamese armed forces. During his tour as CINCPAC, U.S. Army and Marine helicopter companies, Navy coastal patrol ships, and Air Force tactical squadrons operated in support of the allied forces.
While Felt recognized that indigenous Communists served as the foot soldiers in the struggle against the pro-American governments of Laos and South Vietnam, he firmly believed that North Vietnam's leader, Ho Chi Minh, and his Communist Lao Dong Party directed the effort from Hanoi. Hence, when the Communist Pathet Lao in Laos and the Viet Cong in South Vietnam threatened to overwhelm government forces on several occasions between 1959 and 1964, he did not hesitate to recommend to Washington that aircraft carrier and amphibious task forces be used to deter North Vietnamese actions. Neither the presence in Indochina of counterinsurgency units nor conventional forces caused North Vietnam to relent for long, however. Hence, when he turned over his command to Admiral Ulysses S. G. Sharp in June 1964, the specter of war loomed over the region.
Marolda, Edward J. By Sea, Air, and Land: An Illustrated History of the U.S. Navy and the War in Southeast Asia. Washington: Naval Historical Center, 1994.
Marolda, Edward J. and Fitzgerald, Oscar P. From Military Assistance to Combat, 1959-1965,Vol. II in series The United States Navy and the Vietnam Conflict. Washington: Naval Historical Center, 1986.
Schreadley, Richard L. From the Rivers to the Sea: The U.S. Navy in Vietnam. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1992.
Reproduced with permission from: Tucker, Spencer C., ed. Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1998.