Commissaries in Vietnam: Stores helped boost morale of troops during war
The Defense Commissary Agency is proud to join the annual observance of Vietnam Veterans Day, March 29, as the nation recognizes the men and women who served in Vietnam.
As the nation reflects on the service and sacrifice of these veterans and their families, DeCA remembers the military commissaries that served troops over there.
It was in the spring of 1965 when 3,500 United States Marines came ashore at Da Nang as the first wave of U.S. combat troops into South Vietnam. However, U.S. military advisors and their dependents had already been stationed in Vietnam for almost a decade when the ground troops arrived, replacing French military personnel who had unsuccessfully attempted to regain control of their colony after World War II.
The first American military commissary in Vietnam opened in Saigon in 1959, run by the United States Navy, and served the U.S. troops and their dependents. They lived in American housing communities and their children attended Department of Defense schools in the housing areas. But after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, all dependents were ordered to immediately evacuate Vietnam.
At first, the Saigon Commissary could not accommodate the thousands of combat troops scattered all over Vietnam. Those troops were given mess hall privileges and pay bonuses in their pay to enable them to shop on the local economy. The demand on commissary services was increased as news reporters, contractors and civilian government workers in Vietnam were granted commissary shopping privileges.
Branch stores later opened in Long Binh, the Cholon and Newport districts, and near Tan Son Nhut Air Base.
In 1966 the Army took over running them as thousands more ground troops began arriving in country. The commissaries maintained stock lists that aimed to boost the morale of the service men and women – such as ice cream and chocolate milk, supplied by the American dairies that began operating in Saigon.
Commissaries remained in operation in Vietnam even after the 1973 cease-fire because many Americans remained there serving in non-combat missions.
On April 30, 1975, Communist forces took Saigon. American contractors and their Vietnamese support personnel quickly evacuated the country. Desperate local nationals looted the American commissaries, as many of them had no idea where their next meal was coming from. Most fled to their homes with the stolen food, but some sold the American foods on the black market.
It was a sudden and unceremonious end to the American commissaries in Vietnam.