(Under the direction of Professor Michael A. Palmer) Department of History, July 1997.
The purpose of this thesis is to document the career of the American merchant marine during the United States' military involvement in Vietnam. The history of this industry remains one of little research by American historians. Among the literature concerning the United States involvement in Vietnam, almost no mention is made of the five American merchant ships sunk by the Viet Cong or the more than one hundred attacks made on ships as they transited to the port of Saigon, through the Rung Sat swamp.
The years examined proved decisive to American merchant marine as it underwent a tremendous transformation. At the beginning, the commercial industry depended on ships built by the Maritime Commission based on the Merchant Marine Act of 1936. By 1975, most of these ships had been retired, or scrapped, but few replacements constructed so that the commercial industry witnessed a decrease of over 50 per cent.
This study examines the status of the commercial fleet in 1965 and the organization of the Military Sea Transport Service (renamed Military Sealift Command in 1970). The war itself is divided into four phases. The initial build-up of forces and supplies, the sustainment of a half million man military force, and the withdrawal and eventual evacuation from Vietnam. Another chapter analyzed the dangers faced by merchant seamen sailing into the war zone and also the common dangers they faced on the high seas and in foreign ports on a daily basis.
It is hoped that this thesis provides the reader with a clearer understanding of an element of American maritime history that is rarely documented. This work is intended to be an element of a larger dissertation encompassing the career of American merchant marine in regards to national defense.