The Largest Military Construction Project in History


American contractors building a bridge across the Saigon River during the Vietnam War.

“By late 1967, there were 485,600 American troops in South Vietnam; over the course of the war, nearly 2.6 million American service members would serve in country. While much of the historical discussion around the American military effort has focused on the immense firepower and destruction it entailed, an equally awe-inspiring aspect of the war has been overlooked: logistics. Moving more than two million people — along with their weapons, aircraft, food and medical supplies — in and out of the country was an almost unfathomable challenge. Early in the war, South Vietnam, which even after a century of French rule remained a largely rural nation, simply did not have the seaports and airfields required to receive this level of manpower and sustain military operations. America would have to build those facilities, and much more, from scratch. It would be, in the words of The New York Times correspondent Hanson W. Baldwin, ‘probably the most massive construction effort ever organized and put into the field in so short a time and the largest military construction contract in history.’ Early on, Gen. William Westmoreland, the man in charge of the American war effort in Saigon, recognized that Vietnam would be a conflict with no fronts — the war would have to be executed in all areas of South Vietnam at the same time. The solution was to construct ‘logistical islands’ along the coast to receive personnel and matériel for distribution to inland logistics centers, often by air. By the end of the war, American forces had constructed six new major airports, with 10,000-foot concrete runways, at Bien Hoa, Cam Ranh Bay, Chu Lai, Phan Rang, Tuy Hoa and Phu Cat, and enlarged the two French-built airfields at Da Nang and Saigon; six new airports were also built in Thailand. Some 100 smaller airfields were built around South Vietnam to accommodate helicopters and supply aircraft. Shipping early in the war was confined to the single deepwater port on the Saigon River, and ships had to wait at sea for months to offload. So Westmoreland’s logistical islands focused on new ports to be constructed first, as well as supporting airfields and supply depots. …”
NY Times (Jan. 16, 2018)

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