The landing of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Da Nang in 1965 marked the beginning of large-scale Marine involvement in Vietnam. By summer 1968, after the enemy's Tet Offensive, Marine Corps strength in Vietnam rose to a peak of approximately 85,000. The Marine withdrawal began in 1969 as the South Vietnamese began to assume a larger role in the fighting; the last ground forces were out of Vietnam by June 1971. The Vietnam War, longest in the history of the Marine Corps, exacted a high cost as well with over 13,000 Marines killed and more than 88,000 wounded. In the spring of 1975, Marines evacuated embassy staffs, American citizens, and refugees in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Saigon, Republic of Vietnam. Later, in May 1975, Marines played an integral role in the rescue of the crew of the SS Mayaguez captured off the coast of Cambodia.
The mid-1970s saw the Marine Corps assume an increasingly significant role in defending NATO's northern flank as amphibious units of the 2d Marine Division participated in exercises throughout northern Europe. The Marine Corps also played a key role in the development of the Rapid Deployment Force, a multi-service organization created to insure a flexible, timely military response around the world when needed. The Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPS) concept was developed to enhance this capability by prestaging equipment needed for combat in the vicinity of the designated area of operations, and reduce response time as Marines travel by air to link up with MPS assets.
The 1980s brought an increasing number of terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies around the world. Marine Security Guards, under the direction of the State Department, continued to serve with distinction in the face of this challenge. In August 1982, Marine units landed at Beirut, Lebanon, as part of the multi-national peace-keeping force. For the next 19 months these units faced the hazards of their mission with courage and professionalism. In October 1983, Marines took part in the highly successful, short-notice intervention in Grenada. As the decade of the 1980s came to a close, Marines were summoned to respond to instability in Central America. Operation Just Cause was launched in Panama in December 1989 to protect American lives and restore the democratic process in that nation.
Less than a year later, in August 1990, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait set in motion events that would lead to the largest movement of Marine Corps forces since World War II. Between August 1990 and January 1991, some 24 infantry battalions, 40 squadrons, and more than 92,000 Marines deployed to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield. Operation Desert Storm was launched 16 January 1991, the day the air campaign began. The main attack came overland beginning 24 February when the 1st and 2d Marine Divisions breached the Iraqi defense lines and stormed into occupied Kuwait. By the morning of February 28, 100 hours after the ground war began, almost the entire Iraqi Army in the Kuwaiti theater of operations had been encircled with 4,000 tanks destroyed and 42 divisions destroyed or rendered ineffective.
Overshadowed by the events in the Persian Gulf during 1990-91, were a number of other significant Marine deployments demonstrating the Corps' flexible and rapid response. Included among these were non-combatant evacuation operations in Liberia and Somalia and humanitarian lifesaving operations in Bangladesh, the Philippines, and northern Iraq. In December 1992, Marines landed in Somalia marking the beginning of a two-year humanitarian relief operation in that famine-stricken and strife-torn nation. In another part of the world, Marine Corps aircraft supported Operation Deny Flight in the no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina. During April 1994, Marines once again demonstrated their ability to protect American citizens in remote parts of the world when a Marine task force evacuated U.S. citizens from Rwanda in response to civil unrest in that country. Closer to home, Marines went ashore in September 1994 in Haiti as part of the U.S. force participating in the restoration of democracy in that country. During this same period Marines were actively engaged in providing assistance to the Nation's counter-drug effort, assisting in battling wild fires in the western United States, and aiding in flood and hurricane relief operations.
During the late 1990's, Marine Corps units deployed to several African nations, including Liberia, the Central African Republic, Zaire, and Eritrea, in order to provide security and assist in the evacuation of American citizens, during periods of political and civil instability in those nations. Humanitarian and disaster relief operations were also conducted by Marines during 1998 on Kenya, and in the Central American nations of Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In 1999, Marine units deployed to Kosovo in support of Operation Allied Force. Soon after the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., Marine units deployed to the Arabian Sea and in November set up a forward operating base in southern Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Marine Corps has continued its tradition of innovation to meet the challenges of a new century. The Marine Corps War fighting Laboratory was created in 1995 to evaluate change, assess the impact of new technologies on war fighting, and expedite the introduction of new capabilities into the operating forces of the Marine Corps. Exercises such as "Hunter Warrior," and "Urban Warrior" were designed to explore future tactical concepts, and to examine facets of military operations in urban environments.
Today's Marine Corps stands ready to continue in the proud tradition of those who so valiantly fought and died at Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir, and Khe Sanh. Combining a long and proud heritage of faithful service to the nation, with the resolve to face tomorrow's challenges will continue to keep the Marine Corps the "best of the best."