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Frederick J. Karch dies at 91; Marine Corps general led troops into Vietnam

Frederick J. Karch, a Marine Corps brigadier general who led the first official ground combat troops into Vietnam, died of congestive heart failure Saturday at his home in Arlington, Va. He was 91.

Karch, a Naval Academy graduate, served in the Marine Corps for 27 years, from before World War II through the Vietnam War. During World War II, he was a part of a successful campaign as U.S. forces fought the Japanese on a succession of islands, with the island of Japan as the ultimate goal. He received the Bronze Star for his actions on Roi-Namur, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

Twenty years later, on March 8, 1965, he landed with the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade on Red Beach at Da Nang, South Vietnam. Before their arrival, all military personnel in Vietnam were there as "advisors," and Karch told reporters that the activities of his men would be strictly defensive.

Later that year, he voiced his respect for the stamina of the Viet Cong. "I thought that once they ran up against our first team they wouldn't stand and fight, but they did. I made a miscalculation."

Frederick Joseph Karch was born Aug. 9, 1917, in Carmi, Ill. He attended the University of Illinois for a year before being admitted to the Naval Academy.

He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in 1940 and graduated from the Army War College in 1961. He earned a master's degree at George Washington University in 1963.

Karch served as director of the Command and Staff College at what is now Marine Corps University in Quantico, Va., before his retirement in 1967. He then worked for CEIR, an early Washington, D.C.-area computer company.

In the late 1970s, he formed the Institute for Professional Education, which offered continuing professional education courses. He sold the business a few years ago and retired to write his memoirs.

Karch's marriage to Mary Elizabeth McNulty Karch ended in divorce. His second wife, Lorraine Karch, died in 1990.

Survivors include his wife of 16 years, Mary Lou Ruddy Karch of Arlington; three children from his first marriage, John F. Karch of Villa Park, Calif., Mary Kathleen Kingston of Haymarket, Va., and Cindy Acland of Millwood, Va.; a brother; and two granddaughters.

Holley writes for the Washington Post.

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