The Fall of Saigon and the Rise of Heroes

As we approach the 39th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, it seems appropriate to re-publish this account.  Saigon was captured by the People’s Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (also known as the Viet Cong) on April 30, 1975.  

History is what people born after 1970 call Vietnam, but for many of the 2.7 million service

Washington Post Article announcing the end of the Vietnam War.

Washington Post Article announcing the end of the Vietnam War.

men and women, the million or more civilian support staff, and the protesters who battled policy, the war lives.  It lives in war stories told with pride, or buried deep in souls and in walled-off psyches protecting their bearers.  Arguably the Vietnam War began on September 27, 1950 when the Military Assistance Advisory Group, Indochina (MAAG) was established in Saigon to aid the French Military.  It ended several years after President Nixon cut off direct funding during a process he called “Vietnamization” when, in April 1975, Saigon fell to the communists.

Twenty-five years is plenty of time for people to form strong, trust-based relationships.  The time frame of reference bridges several generations, if one defines a generation as a group of people born into and shaped by a particular span of time (events, trends and developments).  The Vietnam War significantly contracted the reach between generations. Some Vietnamese and American, men and women, soldiers and civilians, who lived, loved, fought and worked in Vietnam developed, treasured and strove to honor the vital social contracts that punctuated the long and ugly Vietnam War with small sanctuaries of beauty and peace.

Le Van Than escaped from Communist Prison Camp after 1-month

The effects of just one month spent in a Viet Cong prison camp show on 23-year-old Le Van Than, who had defected from the Communist forces and joined the Government side, was recaptured by the Viet Cong and deliberately starved.

Consider for a moment those last few days before the fall of Saigon.  Imagine your friends, colleagues, relatives who, in the grip of the Communists, will be tortured then killed all because they know or work for you.  Back in the day, the Communists had a deserved reputation for brutality.  According to Olive Drab “In total, from 1957 to 1973, the Viet Cong assassinated 36,725 South Vietnamese and abducted another 58,499. The VC death squads focused on leaders at the village level and on anyone who improved the lives of the peasants such as medical personnel, social workers, civil engineers, and schoolteachers. For the Communist forces, atrocities were a matter of policy and were not hidden or punished.”[1]   For those already screaming the U.S. also committed atrocities, the answer is yes, but not as a matter of public policy, although enforcement could have been better.  For example, one perpetrator, Lt. Calley, of the My Lai massacre, on 16 March 1968, was dealt with harshly while his commanding officer, Captain Earnest Medina, walked away scot-free.[2]  But wait, there’s more!

The Monster Meetings of 1968

Monster meeting is a quaint, old-fashioned term describing protests and demonstrationsprotest_monster_meeting and 1968 was a vintage year.  Lately I’ve been thinking about the incredible impacts of the 1968 demonstrations and musing about my time in Australia where I spent that fateful year.  Maybe it was the January 30th anniversary of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam or, perhaps, it was the recently released National Security Archive cautionary tale of the Tlatelolco Massacre before the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico.[1]   Mostly, however, it is the recent homeschool-driven, in-depth study of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,[2] which protects the right of ‘people peaceably to assemble’.  Around today’s world, including in the U.S. where the citizen’s rights are supposed to be protected, demonstrations by the people are being met with terrible violence.  In Australia, a bastion of several great experiments in democracy, at least one politician wants to “place the power to decide what is ‘legitimate protest’ in the hands of police”.[3]  Monster meetings are important catalysts of change.  They spark fierce debates that tear at a country’s soul and may change its direction for better or worse.  If proof is required, the protests of 1968 stand now in mute testimony.

Forty-six years ago (January, 1968), I was sweating in a blue bungalow in a new housing tract Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt with US President Lyndon Adelaide, South Australia reflecting on my immigration adventure and contemplating a beach day, when news of the Tet offensive in Vietnam flashed across the airwaves and through the radio to which I was half-listening.  Vietnam seemed much closer in Adelaide; just an island’s hop, skip and jump away.  Australia’s political and military establishments supported the U.S., but lately its people were beginning to rebel.  I recalled the late Prime Minister Harold Holt’s battle cry, ‘All the way with LBJ’, and now wondered how this latest escalation would sit with Australians.  The month before, December 1967, Harold Holt had apparently drowned while swimming and Australia was in a political uproar.  Conspiracy theories surrounding his death were spawning like mushroom spore and growing in the same medium.  Australia’s political system was in turmoil as each political persuasion posited its ideas for Holt’s replacement and the newspapers were experiencing a windfall of storylines.

I immigrated to Australia from Africa for £ 10, and when I arrived in Sydney the government sent me to Adelaide, South Australia.  There I joined thousands of other immigrants from

Advertisement for Australian immigration

Advertisement for Australian immigration

England, the Ukraine, Europe and Colonial Africa.  Times were tough in the 1968 Australian trenches.  A disagreement between Holt’s Liberal government and the agricultural community had driven produce prices through the roof and the legacy was a terrible inflation.  During this period, my neighbors and I paid $1.00 (Australian) for a potato and shared the cost of inexpensive cuts of mutton to feed our families.  I do hope I never have to eat mutton again.   Meeting the challenges of daily life in Adelaide was not without its rewards, however.  We were a collection of immigrants who brought our recipes and our cultures to the neighborhood table.  Somehow there was always plenty of red wine and laughter, while we chased our neighbor’s escape-artist wallaby or took turns buying the local newspaper for a community read.  Maybe in Sydney, they would protest, but in Adelaide the game of survival was being played in earnest.

Continue reading

Vietnam 1955 – ‘Operation Passage to Freedom’

Author: Ken Ball 

The Navy took me to Vietnam in 1955, long before the United States committed thousands of

Ken Ball, taken during his service on the USS Horace A. Bass APD 124

Ken Ball, taken during his service on the U.S.Horace A. Bass APD 124

servicemen to fight in that country.

It turned out to be a trip I am sure I’ll never forget. This was a time shortly after the Vietnamese, under Ho Chi Minh, had defeated the French forces in a key extended battle and siege of Dien Bein Phu.  As a result of this defeat the French realized that they could no longer hold Vietnam.  The Vietnamese, believing that the United States had an interest in intervening agreed to some compromises at Geneva in early summer of 1954.  Among the agreements reached was a plan to allow people above and below the 17th parallel to migrate to where they felt safest.  The people were allowed 300 days to do this.

March 30-May 1 - The siege at Dien Bien Phu occurs as nearly 10,000 French soldiers are trapped by 45,000 Viet Minh. French troops soon run out of fresh water and medical supplies. The French urgently appeal to Washington for help. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff now consider three possible military options: sending American combat troops to the rescue; a massive conventional air strike by B-29 bombers; the use of tactical atomic weapons. The History of the Cold war: A Comparative Perspective;

March 30-May 1 – The siege at Dien Bien Phu occurs as nearly 10,000 French soldiers are trapped by 45,000 Viet Minh. French troops soon run out of fresh water and medical supplies. The French urgently appeal to Washington for help. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff now consider three possible military options: sending American combat troops to the rescue; a massive conventional air strike by B-29 bombers; the use of tactical atomic weapons. The History of the Cold war: A Comparative Perspective;

This is where my ship, U.S.Horace A. Bass APD 124, played a small role.  We sailed up the Red River to Haiphong where we relieved the U.S.S. Cook as a communication ship.  Our job was to keep Saigon informed as

Map of the Red River

Map of the Red River

to how many transport ships would be needed and when they would be needed to carry the thousands of endangered Vietnamese from the North to the South.  Some have estimated that over two million people went from the North to the South.  Very few went the other way.  The North wanted their people to stay in the South.

It was during this time that I met Dr. Thomas Dooley,[1] a young Navy doctor who was in charge of setting up the refugee camps that contained the people awaiting transportation.  He was quite a character and talker.  Dr. Dooley would come out to our ship for a shower and a good meal from time to time.  He was tired of the instant powdered coffee he and his two enlisted assistants had to drink. On one occasion we had some Vietnamese orphans out to the ship to give them a little ice cream and cake.  They really enjoyed that.

I was with Dr. Dooley one day in Haiphong searching for some lime to line a softball field.  We were to have a game with the officers and Chiefs playing against the enlisted crewmen. While walking along Dooley asked me, “Have you ever seen a leper”?  I said, “No”.  He pointed out that one was crossing the street to come our way to beg for money. Incidentally, the soft ball game drew a crowd of over 500 people.  The Japanese had introduced baseball during WW II to the Vietnamese.  We played volleyball and basketball with the French who were still there.  We used the same ball for both games.

Dr. Dooley told us story after story of atrocities by the Vietnamese Communists against other Vietnamese, particularly the Roman Catholic ones. (The French missionaries had done their work well) It was these stories that convinced me at this time we had a “protector” role to play in that country.  I really was not very astute in regard to international politics at that time, or even now for that matter.

I’ll retell a story that I am sure Dooley told hundreds of times:

Thomas A. Dooley, M.D. (Wikipedia)

Thomas A. Dooley, M.D. (Wikipedia)

He said that one day a young Communist guard brought a ten year-old boy to him with his hands bound behind his back.  Dooley asked, “Why do you have this young boy tied up this way?”  The guard replied, “He is tied because he is a traitor to the People’s Republic of Vietnam.” “How can a boy so young possibly be a traitor,” Dooley asked.  “I’ll show you why he is a traitor,” the guard replied.  Then he ordered the boy to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

The boy began with, “Our Father who art in Heaven”.  The guard stopped him and said, “You see, that is treason.”  “The People’s Republic knows there is no God in heaven”  Dooley reported that the guard stopped him several times during the recitation of the prayer, each time pointing out that such belief were untrue and detrimental to the People’s Republic.  The boy got to the part where he said, “Give us this day our daily bread”, and the guard stopped him for the last time to remind him that his daily bread was supplied not by God, but by the People’s Republic.  Then the terribly shocking thing happened.  Dooley said, “Quick as a wink the guard whipped out two chop sticks and thrust them into the boys ears, piercing his ear drums to deafen him.  Then he said, “Never again will this boy have to hear such lies created by evil western capitalistic warmongers.”

That story, at that time, convinced me that we should be involved in stopping such atrocities.  So when the U.S. involvement in Vietnam escalated in the 1960’s, I thought weQuotation-Carl-Schurz-country-right-Meetville-Quotes-165819 were doing the right thing.  I had been conditioned to be the kind of patriot that would say, “My country: Right or Wrong.”  And I believed, at that point, that my country never did anything wrong.  Since then I have learned this is a very naïve notion.  Any, and all countries, look out for their own interests, and they do not always do the right things.

Both sides conducted brutal propaganda campaigns to win the allegiance of the Vietnamese people.  One of the leaflets distributed by the Communist to dissuade the people from going South on the U.S. Navy transports showed two white-hatted sailors squatting on the deck with a Vietnamese baby being

A North Vietnamese Armed Propaganda Team called Doi Tuyen truyen Vo trang, in the Field Photo courtesy of (General Vo Nguyen Giap, the man who would later become the hero of Dien Bien Phu in 1953 served as a Team Leader at one point in his career.)

A North Vietnamese Armed Propaganda Team called Doi Tuyen truyen Vo trang, in the Field Photo courtesy of (General Vo Nguyen Giap, the man who would later become the hero of Dien Bien Phu in 1953 served as a Team Leader at one point in his career.)

roasted on a spit over a brazier.  It was effective too.  Many balked at the gangway when they saw the sailors standing on deck.

It takes a lot of research to get to the bottom of historical events, and during the time they are happening very few people have a clue as to why things are happening.  Years later “evidence” is uncovered, such as the pentagon papers, and statements admitting mistakes in policy making.  It is terrible that we lost over 53,000 service people in a war that was never crystal clear in its purposes.  At that time we were in the midst of the “cold war” and the perceived threat of godless Communism spreading over the globe was unthinkable.  It had to be stopped.  The Domino theory held sway.  It postulated that if one country would fall to communism its neighbor would soon follow until all the world was in jeopardy.  Perhaps this was true, and all our resistance and spending finally broke the back of that movement.  We outspent and out lasted them; that part is good, but what a price for both sides to pay.

The trip up the Red River to Haiphong was exciting, perhaps educational, and will always be one of my highlighted memories.

Red River: The reddish-brown heavily silt-laden water gives the river its name. View from bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam

Red River: The reddish-brown heavily silt-laden water gives the river its name. View from bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam

[Editor’s Note:  I am grateful to Ken Bell for writing this post.  It is an honor to read first person accounts from the front lines of history.  John Malch, a truth-seeker and contributor to the Cold War Warrior, sent me this story through Bill Cotman. John writes:

Vietnam refugees. USS Montague lowers a ladder over the side to French LSM to take refugees aboard. Haiphong, August 1954. PH1 H.S. Hemphill. (Navy)

Vietnam refugees. U.S.Montague lowers a ladder over the side to French LSM to take refugees aboard. Haiphong, August 1954. PH1 H.S. Hemphill. (Navy)

My wife, Kim, evacuated North Vietnam, November 1954 during ‘Operation Passage to Freedom’ aboard U.S.Montague.  She thought it strange that an American ship had a name of French origin.  She remembered how kind and helpful the American sailors were, especially to young children. 

She thanks you (Bill Cotman) for sending Ken’s story and said it brought back many bittersweet memories from nearly sixty years ago.

Finally, in order to understand what happened in Vietnam it is important to follow the timeline of the battle at Dien Bien Phu.[2] ]

[1] John Malch adds: A little insight on Thomas Anthony Dooley III: I am sure you read about Thomas Anthony Dooley III.  In 1954 while serving on the U.S.Montague, he assisted with the evacuation of North Vietnamese refugees to the south. Dooley became involved with Lt Colonel Lansdale (CIA station manager, Saigon) and was thoroughly exploited for his experiences with Vietnamese-American relationships.  For many years Dooley was labeled a spy for the CIA.  Although, he never admitted to be a missionary, he was called one because of his affiliation with the Catholic church.  Dooley’s life has been under a microscope-analysis for many years.  His recent consideration for canonization in becoming a Saint; his background revealed  (500 CIA files) he had given the CIA information from hamlets and villages of Viet Minh troop movements near his hospitals in Laos and Vietnam.  So, he has been reclassified as a CIA informant and not a spy.
[2] The History of the Cold war: A Comparative Perspective; Pre Tonkin Gulf Incident;

The Foreign Policy and FUBAR Correlation

News Year’s Eve has found its way to Arizona’s outback and, although I haven’t checked,FE_121025_globe425x283 probably to the rest of the world this side of the International Dateline.  While the celebrations wind-up, my thoughts turn to the legacy of the Cold War and what we may have learned.  A likely candidate for consideration is the U.S.’s foreign policy and the accompanying foreign relations.  I love the rich, stand-up comedy fodder the subject offers until thoughts of the millions of affected people sober the tone.  The Cold War became the test bed for ‘new’ foreign policy trials. As newly deployed policies failed and yielded to military adventures, the federal government ‘doubled-down’ rather than admit an error.  As bad foreign policy and relations are implemented they come back to haunt ordinary U.S. citizens and the citizenry is being engulfed by its own government’s fear and paranoia; FUBAR.


This post will discuss wars and some of the dumb decisions (in my opinion) that were made by policy makers who did not have the moral backbones to stand up and take the heat.  It is not about the honor and integrity of American soldiers, who fought; many of whom died or were wounded physically or emotionally.  I am grateful to you for your service. It is also not about the millions of civilians who were carried by the tide of policy into harm’s way.  And it is not about the policy decisions currently in the public debating forums.  The post is about the past that brought us to where we are today.

The Greek army opening fire on guerrilla troops during the Greek Civil War.

The Greek army opening fire on guerrilla troops during the Greek Civil War.

In Greece, the U.S. threw its policy weight and money at the Greek Civil War with the passage of The Truman Doctrine in 1946 by the Republican Congress.  Oops, the Soviet Union had already refused to assist the Greek Communists in the struggle so the Civil War was just that.  The Truman Doctrine set the tone of American interference in other countries’ business going forward, though.

The Marshall Plan in 1947 seems to have worked out well for everyone concerned, although Asia, without a ‘Marshall Plan’, did even better and faster.

The battle over Berlin took a hard turn straight into crisis on June 23, 1948 when the U.S. and

Berlin Partition

Berlin Partition

its allies, England and France, talked about forming a federation with their three slices of the Berlin pie.  The allied discussions spooked the Soviet Union so they closed the Berlin border to allied vehicle and rail traffic.  The confrontation over the closures was passive/aggressive; the Berlin airlift response kept Berlin provisioned-just barely.  The airlift was sufficient, however, for the Soviets to assess the will and capacity of the allies and they came to the table after seven months. The result was years and years of tension over the East-West German borders. Millions of American soldiers’ rite of passage to man and womanhood occurred under the constant, unrelenting threat of World War III at the German border as they stared into the eyes of their counterparts under the same pressure.

Mutually Assured Destruction

Mutually Assured Destruction

The sustained tension at the German border coupled with the assumed military strength of the Soviet Union was the genesis of the nuclear arms race and the Mutually Assured Destruction Doctrine (MADD).  It was the second plank in Eisenhower’s New Look National Security Policy in 1953: “relying on nuclear weapons to deter Communist aggression or, if necessary, to fight a war”.[1]  Both sides geared up and built tens of thousands of nuclear weapons that could be fatefully delivered on any platform.  It also spurred the unanticipated consequence of everybody wanting a nuke.  Now, twenty six nations are capable of exercising the incredible destructive force of the nucleus of an atom.

Let us not forget NATO, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the U.S. sponsored joint military that has grown in both size and strength.  NATO clung to its initial policy of not attacking


NATO Aircraft

unless attacked as long as the Soviet Union was a force to be reckoned with.  On the sidelines, those of us old enough to remember, watched helplessly and in horror as our Western governments let calls for help from East Europeans challenging the Soviet iron fist go unanswered; Czechoslovakia in 1948, Hungary in 1956, the Czechs again in the Prague spring of 1968 and the Poles in the 70’s.  After the Soviet Union fractured and retreated, NATO changed its tune and went aggressive.  NATO beat up feckless Yugoslavia in Kosovo and sent troops into Bosnia and Afghanistan.  The neighborly NATO took U.S. taxpayer money by the wheelbarrow but decided not to replace or augment U.S. troops in Iraq. NATO has also stimulated a new arms race:

“…The treaty between west European nations, inaugurated as a barrier to Soviet aggression, graduated to new prominence in 2011 with establishment of a “free fly” zone for Libyan insurgents, and aerial attacks on Libya. The spread of NATO actions to several continents redefines NATO as an arm of western political and military policies, and replaces the policy of deterrence against a defunct Soviet Union. Coupling that with the anti-missile system the U.S. and NATO allies propose to deploy in Eastern Europe, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appeared on Russian First Channel program Cold Politics (Kholodnaya Politika) and exclaimed that this anti-missile system “is undoubtedly aimed at neutralizing the nuclear rocket capability of Russia.”[2]

Russia has fought back with its recently announced initiative to place nukes along its border to defend itself from NATO.[3]  Game On. Continue reading

When Puff Ruled The Night: The Birth Of Gunships

Author: Mike Perry; Pictures: Cherries Blog site

Using side-firing weapons on aircraft can be traced back to 1927, when a concept was demonstrated by fixing a .30 caliber machine gun to the side of a biplane and flying a simple

Reproduction of a Sopwith Camel biplane flown by Lt. George A. Vaughn Jr., 17th Aero Squadron

Reproduction of a Sopwith Camel biplane flown by Lt. George A. Vaughn Jr., 17th Aero Squadron

maneuver known as a pylon turn.  Named after the air racing term, it involved positioning an aircraft in a gentle bank and orbiting it around a fixed point as the gun fired continuously.  Yet, when Army brass watched the demonstration, which showed promise, they dismissed it as strange and useless, ordering the idea shelved as they moved on to more familiar things.  Another effort was made to garner interest in 1939, just as war clouds loomed, but it too fell by the wayside.  Ultimately, it would take an American commander in Queensland, Australia to force the Air Corps to realize the potential of the idea.

In 1943, with the U.S. deep in World War II, Army Air Corps Major Paul “Pappy” Gunn

A-20 Havoc light Bomber

A-20 Havoc light Bomber

unknowingly laid the seeds of what would become the gunship, when he added four .50 caliber machine guns to the nose of his squadron’s A-20 Havoc light bombers.  Using them as strafers, he soon realized that, though additional firepower helped, it remained barely adequate to achieve what he really needed them to do: sink Japanese shipping.  Therefore, he sought out a more suitable airframe in B-25D Mitchell medium bombers, and mounted four .50s in the nose, two on either side of the fuselage and three behind the front nose wheel bay.  As this arrangement was never part of the original design, all modifications had to be made in the field.  Nevertheless, the improvements worked, and Gunn’s A-20s and B-25s soon flew into action in a big way. Continue reading

National Security Act of 1947 – A Horse of a Different Color

A horse of a different color remains unnoticed on the streets of Emerald City

A horse of a different color remains unnoticed on the streets of Emerald City

Like L. Frank Baum’s horse of a different color parading through the streets of Emerald City in The Wonderful  Wizard of Oz, the National Security Act of 1947[1] is noticed by few.  Cited by many as a link in a logic chain going somewhere else, the Act itself was a sea change that forever altered the course of the United States’ Foreign Service business.  In addition to forming the CIA as we know and love it today, the National Security Act of 1947 gave rise to the standing military by forming the Department of Defense.  With the deftness of a magician’s misdirection, the Truman administration’s in-plain-sight side-step of the U.S. Constitution in the name of modernization was passed and heralded as a breakthrough piece of legislation.  The full force of the Tsunami created by the National Security Act of 1947 rushed through my brain’s backdoor and swamped the story I was recently researching so I’ll begin at the beginning.

In 2011, Melbourne, Australia’s Nigel Davies posted Uselessly comparing Patton and

General Montgomery and Lt. General George S. Patton meet.

General Montgomery and Lt. General George S. Patton meet.

Montgomery. It was a delightful romp through the tulips of commonly held convictions about the Patton-Montgomery feuds and their significance.  Davies’ irreverent treatment of verbal tribal custom belief systems regarding Patton and Montgomery sparked a question. How do Vietnam veterans feel about the generals that led them through that era?

I asked the members of the American Cold War Veterans Facebook page which was the best Vietnam War General and why. I also provided some names who gained notoriety during that time: GEN Maxwell Taylor, Harkins, Westmoreland, Krulak and Abrams. COL’s Olds, Starry, Summers, and George S. Patton IV (son of WWII’s George S. Patton, Jr).  Their answers were interesting.  Continue reading

Tour of Duty (1955-1958) – Part II


This is the second in John T. Malch’s series. The first of the series, Tour of Duty (1955-1958), is a fun read of the series of adventures at Camp Irwin, his first duty assignment. In 1955, the world scene was deceptively quiet. American’s who, by nature, like to get a job done and go home were settling in to the post-war life as they wanted to live it. It was a short decade after WWII’s hostilities cooled. Unfortunately, the Cold War (1947-1991) was a lot hotter than most U.S. citizens realized. This is what greeted John Malch as he took his new station in Germany. There are two additional Videos you may enjoy (just click on the links): 1) ‘2-week’ field-tours in the Saarland and March 1957 and September 1957, Our bivouac area was located north of Neunkirchen and west of Bexbach [see map in second photo], and 2) 3-day R & R in Southern Bavaria; Visiting in May 1957 Garmisch-Partenkirchen touring Oberammergau, Neushwanstein Castle and Linderhof Palace

Author: John T. Malch

US Army MP Badge

US Army MP Badge

Part II: Stateside

Prologue:  An old army barrack rumor:  When recruits were given a battery of tests in ’zero-week’, one included a test that asked for your personal preferences: i.e., do you like the forest, woods, lakes and streams, et cetera, (it was asked several times in different ways)

The rumor was that this is how the army selected your first duty assignment. I don’t remember my answers, but they must have been synonymous with sand, blazing sun, cactus, sidewinders, scorpions and Kangaroo rats.  My first duty post was Camp Irwin, where all those things and critters existed.

Camp Irwin:  What a disappointment!

1949 Chevrolet Styleline-Deluxen

1949 Chevrolet Styleline-Deluxen

I just purchased a used 1949 Chevrolet Styleline-Deluxe and thought I had it made with my own wheels and just eighteen more months left in the Army.  This was August 1956.  I was stationed at Camp Irwin, California; an army post locate in the middle of the Mojave desert and south of Death Valley.

With my own car, it gave me advantages when off-duty to travel to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and if I became adventurous, a trip to Tijuana.  Yeah, this wild-west army camp wasn’t so bad.  It had a nice pool, a gym, a theater which showed first-run movies, an enlisted men’s beer hall and a Special Services Club, featuring cute ‘Donut Dollies, and quite few other places to spend off-duty time while not becoming too bored with the wide emptiness of the Mojave Desert.  I was happy and very content with my MP duties and so many off-duty places to visit and enjoy.   What I had going for me was about to change, dramatically, when the army had different plans for my next eighteen months in my ‘Tour of Duty.’  But wait, there’s more!

The Central Intelligence Agency – Eisenhower and Asia’s Back Door

This is the second in a series of articles that explores the iconic CIA and its use as a tactical weapon by the presidents of the Cold War (1947-1991). The first of the series was The Central Intelligence Agency – In the Beginning

In the late 1940s, the CIA grew quickly as it acquired the political turf and added the expert

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) 34th President of the United States (1953-1961)

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) 34th President of the United States (1953-1961)

staff required to keep the president informed on who was doing what to whom around the globe. The National Security Act of 1947 added covert operations coupled with ‘plausible deniability’ to the mix of collecting and analyzing data. Covert operations weaponized the agency. Now, not only could the CIA convert data into information it could, at the behest of the president through the State Department, act on it with impunity; the CIA had become a tactical weapon.

Presidential elections tend to return with grueling regularity in the U.S. and by 1952 it was time, once again, for Americans to choose a leader through the Electoral College.  Truman, who announced he would not run again, took an historic step when he required the CIA to brief the presidential candidates so they would know what-in-the-world was happening. In Chapter 2 of the CIA Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952-1992, John L. Helgerson states, “Mindful of how useful the weekly briefings were to him, Truman determined that intelligence information should be provided to the candidates in the 1952 election as soon as they were selected. In the summer of 1952, the President raised this idea with Smith. He indicated he wanted the Agency to brief Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Governor Adlai Stevenson, remarking at the time, “There were so many things I did not know when I became President.” Smith suggested to Truman that Davidson might be the proper individual to brief both Eisenhower and Stevenson to ensure they were receiving the same information.[1] It was an unprecedented step based on Truman’s early experience in office and the beginning of a tradition that is still respected. Continue reading


Haunted? Yes, I think haunted is the right word to describe the American ‘soldier’. Revered as a hero or reviled as a devil incarnate, in the end a ‘soldier’ is simply a person with all the complexity that word implies. In some philosophical circles ‘hero’ replaces ‘soldier’ and heroes must, by definition, die. One may not, after all, return to a world of peace with a skill set fit for wars alone. Lisa Guliani, whose premise is based on the ‘all volunteer’ military, recently wrote …”How can you say you support the troops when the troops are engaged in the outright murder of people who have never done a damn thing to the American people OR the U.S. government? It makes ZERO sense.”…[1] She is correct, of course, at least as far as she takes it.

At the other extreme, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a report that claims twenty-two soldiers, active and veterans, commit suicide every day.[2] The suicide note of Daniel Somers, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, gives a special meaning to the word ‘pain’. In his last effort to share his thoughts, he wrote…“To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing coverup is more than any government has the right to demand. Then, the same government has

turned around and abandoned me. They offer no help, and actively block the pursuit of gaining outside help via their corrupt agents at the DEA. Any blame rests with them.”… “I am free.”[3] Daniel’s story is recent but it is echoed at the end of WWII, when American POW’s disappeared into

Working in the Gulag.

Working in the Gulag.

the soviet gulags, and throughout the Cold War (1947-1991). It is a disturbing movement. The U.S. government abandonment of the ‘soldier’ while claiming it leaves no one behind is inconsistent with its preferred icon of the hero with the white hat riding in to save-the-day.

The white hat illusion is one the U.S. government will defend at any cost. Benghazi is a recent example of the lengths to which the players will go to preserve the image. Even with the truth that these Americans did not need to be abandoned to die horribly on full display, the deception is kept alive.

‘And’, during the first Gulf War, comes the story of Scott Speicher whose betrayal and abandonment is detailed in Amy Waters Yarsinske’s book An American in the Basement: The Betrayal of Captain Scott Speicher and the Cover-up of His Death. You may recall the clues that Speicher was still alive when the U.S. invaded Iraq. It was covered by several news sources. Speicher apparently ejected from his F/A-18 Hornet on the first night of the Persian Gulf War and was taken in by a Bedouin group.[4] New evidence suggests he was repeatedly promised a deal for his repatriation by an American intelligence asset.  Speicher fell into Saddam Hussein’s hands and spent the next eight years in a Baghdad prison. He was killed after the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003.

‘And’, from Vietnam, comes the story of Bobby Garwood, captured while on a mission for the military intelligence organization. He was declared a deserter and a Special Forces mission was deployed to assassinate him. According to Joseph D. Douglass Jr., “When informed in 1978 that Garwood was still a prisoner, the State Department discarded the message. Only when Garwood managed to get a second message out in 1979 was he released. He managed to slip a note to a Finnish executive

POW L. Hughes (center), a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, is paraded barefoot and with a bandaged face through the street by two Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War, Vietnam.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

POW L. Hughes (center), a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, is paraded barefoot and with a bandaged face through the street by two Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War, Vietnam. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

who was in Hanoi. The Finn made the note public and Garwood was released to avoid the embarrassment. Upon his return, the Marine Corps put him on trial for behavior unbecoming a prisoner of war and seized all his back pay. Then they rigged the trial and prevented those who could attest to his prisoner status, such as the former North Vietnamese official Col. Tran Van Loc, from telling the truth at the trial.”[5]

‘And’, from Korea, Colonel Phillip Corso ( US Army Ret.Dec.), testified before the Dornan subcommittee on military personnel of the House National Security Committee, held a hearing on the POW/MIA issue in which Corso stated he had personally told Eisenhower of the U.S. POWs being used for experimentation.[6]

“A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” said Vladimir Lenin, Russian Communist politician & revolutionary (1870 – 1924); but it doesn’t. A lie is just a lie. Until the American people become clear about the value of a ‘soldier’ and demand the government respond truthfully about foreign affairs nothing will change. To paraphrase former Sen. Herb Kohl, a ‘soldier’ must trust the government to train and equip them, and do everything it reasonably can to protect them and care for them.  If the government fails the integrity test of doing what it is supposed to do even when no one is looking,

Government likes the idea of wearing a White Hat.

Government likes the idea of wearing a White Hat.

then why would a ‘soldier’ even leave home let alone follow orders? Why would a ‘soldier’ be a ‘soldier’? When the American public finally became incensed, Congress passed the 2002 Bring Them Home Alive Act,[7] which provides refugee status to foreign nationals of specified countries who assist in returning to U.S. control a live American POW or MIA from the Vietnam or Korean Wars. Navy Capt. Red McDaniel, who survived 6 years as a POW in North Vietnam, pretty well says it all: “I was prepared to fight, to be wounded, to be captured, and even prepared to die, but I was not prepared to be abandoned.”[8]

What then shall we teach our children? We should teach them the truth. There are great military heroes and sometimes a country needs to fight but now is not that time. I have been an advocate of the ‘soldier’ all my life. On the other hand, for that same period I have been critical of the military command structure; in particular those in the command structure that could not find a battlefield if their lives depended on it. More recently, I have become a strong critic of the use of the military as a political extension to achieve the whim of the day. Post 9/11/2001, the nation responded and the military ranks swelled with those who believed the threat to the U.S. was real. The ‘soldier’ in this military is being severely abused and our best and young people are being sacrificed for political ambition. Eventually the U.S. military may even be turned against its citizens. The dangers of a standing military are well documented throughout history and cannot be overstated; no nation can afford one for very long, it is a power tool for politicians, the best and brightest are sacrificed, and eventually it is turned against the people.

Fifty years ago, I believed we should serve to keep our great country free. Today, I still believe we should serve to keep our great country free. But the shores of our great country are not directly threatened so the military should stand down. The Cold War propaganda was excellent. We, the people, bought the standing military hook, line and sinker. It is time to shake off the hook, realize we’ve been hoodwinked, and demand accountability.

[1]; Lisa Guliani; , 22 Jun 2013; ‘Supporting the troops’ is supporting your own destruction;

[2] Forbes; Melanie Haiken; 2/05/2013; Suicide Rate Among Vets and Active Duty Military Jumps – Now 22 A Day;

[4] CNN Washington Bureau; Barbara Starr; January 10, 2003; Report suggests missing pilot alive in Iraq;

[5] The Long Goodbye, We Shall Never Forget; Joseph D. Douglass Jr.;

[6] Library of congress; United States Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs;


[8] This article is a condensed version of a talk given to Indiana Chapter 1 of Rolling Thunder on November 9, 2002. The material is taken from Betrayed: The Story of Missing American POWs by Joseph D. Douglass Jr., published in 2002 and available through book stores (ISBN 1-4033-0131-X)


Where Have All The People Gone?

The youth of the mid-1960’s marched, struggled, scrapped, battled, and skirmished until they effected fundamental change to the way government worked. These young upstarts with ideals shined a strong beam of light down the mighty hole that was the CIA, opened the secret files of the FBI, challenged the federal government’s accounts of events, and ended the draft. They were an icon of the Cold War (1947-1991); the anti-Vietnam War protesters who waged their own counter insurgency. And, they made a difference. What Allen Ginsberg began with his poem Howl in 1955, the protesters punctuated in the ‘60s. The dissenters of yesteryear would be livid about the level of personal surveillance; scream at the lies of congress as well as the administration; furious over the diversionary wars and rumors of wars; and challenge the GMO threat to the food supply.

Where are they now? They can’t all be dead. Did they betray their principles? Did they quit? Some, I know, are still committed and fighting, through their words or deeds, but there are precious few of them. These anti-Vietnam War protesters were born of leftist intellectuals on college campuses and peace activists. They in no way resemble the progressive left of today. I cannot imagine an activist from the Vietnam era, for instance, tolerating a law providing a criminal penalty for annoying a police officer[1] let alone tolerating the NSA turning its Cold War spying apparatus inward,[2] countenancing photographing the front and back of every letter sent via the USPS[3], or allowing warrantless searches[4]. In their own way and for their own reasons, the Vietnam war protesters fought and died for the first and fourth amendments of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

I was not among the protestors. In fact, I completely disagree with many of the things they did. I hated the way individual soldiers were treated for doing what they were drafted to do or chose to do.   My choices took my life’s path in a different direction. Having starved under the most of the world’s available socio-political-economic systems, I became a committed capitalist. Having a full belly, roof over my head, and the ability to succeed or fail in life within my power and hard work, appealed to me. It still does. I spent the bulk of my professional career as a cold war warrior and enjoyed it unashamedly. Sitting on the other side of the protests, however, taught me to look at the world differently. I learned to appreciate what they achieved and respected them for what they did.

The protests started quietly enough, as a series of ‘teach-ins’ organized by the Students for a Democratic Society in the fall of 1964 after the Gulf of Tonkin (Vịnh Bắc Bộ) incidents. For those who are too young to remember, The Gulf of Tonkin incident was actually two naval actions between North Vietnam and the United States in the Gulf of Tonkin. The first incident, on August 2, 1964, involved a sea battle between the destroyer, U.S.Maddox, and three North Vietnamese Navy torpedo boats. The second incident occurred on August 4, 1964 and was originally reported as another sea battle. Based on these incidents, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. President Johnson used the Resolution as the basis to ramp up the Vietnam conflict. Finally, in November, 2005, the NSA declassified a 2001 article with a revised ‘corrected’ version of the Gulf of Tonkin incident[5]. The world learned that the allegations of the first of the anti-war protesters were more accurate than the spin provided by the federal government.

Johnson fueled the war in Vietnam and, by 1967, nearly 40,000 young American men were being drafted each month. By then, over 15,000 soldiers had died and about 110,000 had been wounded. At the time of this snap shot over 500,000 troops were in Vietnam. Many of those veterans are my friends. Bear in mind that this is all occurring in a country that had no declared war and no legal provision for a standing military. The federal government’s spin began to backfire. Citizens across the country asked questions and demanded answers. No longer was it just the leftist fringe on college campuses who were protesting.

On October 21, 1967, the Lincoln Memorial hosted over 100,000 protesters. It was one of the largest and most contentious protests of the war. There was a nasty confrontation with U.S. Marshals and members of the military that night when several thousand demonstrators tried to carry their protest to the Pentagon.  Norman Mailer wrote about that night in his book, The Armies of the Nigth[6], which was published in 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. joined the burgeoning anti-war cause in 1967, when he opposed the war on moral grounds. King leveled solid, eloquent complaints about the cost of the war in dollars and lives. In his 1967 speech, A Time to Break the Silence[7], he denounced the reallocation of federal dollars from domestic programs and attacked the disproportionate number of African-Americans who were dying in the war.

By 1968, President Johnson was running for cover. In 2004, I taped about fourteen hours of interviews with Raúl Héctor Castro at his office in Nogales, Arizona. Castro was the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador in 1964. During the interviews he told me that, in 1968, he had hosted President Johnson for a Central American conference. Johnson, it seems, needed a break from the heat of Vietnam in the U.S. He needed a success and he needed it fast. Castro spoke of paying a large group to people, who looked like the country’s workers, to carry signs welcoming President Johnson and professing their love for him as a photo opportunity. He also talked of the challenges of gathering the heads of state of the other Central American governments for a conference to be led by Johnson. The pressure from the people of the U.S. was having an effect. The substance of Castro’s memory is collaborated by a declassified CIA Intelligence Assessment[8].

By 1970 anger on both sides of the protest movement was reaching another boiling point. At the end of April, 1970, President Nixon announced another front in the Vietnam War, the Cambodian campaign. On May 4th, 1970, the Ohio National guard opened a volley of 67 rounds on a group of war protestors at the Kent State campus; killing four and permanently paralyzing another. Not all killed were a part of the protests.

The terrible shooting at Kent State shocked the nation but the Vietnam War and the protests continued for another two years. Pressure on Nixon increased to a breaking point; Vietnam had to be resolved. By 1972, it was clear that the U.S. had to get out of Vietnam. Nixon, through Henry Kissinger, initiated secret peace talks. Meanwhile, U.S. soldiers continued to die, sustain injuries, and be drafted while US forces applied heavy bombing pressure on North Vietnam’s major cities of Hanoi and Haiphong. The last man was drafted in December, 1972.

A cease-fire agreement received its final touches and the proper signatures in Paris in 1972; all US troops left Vietnam; and Henry Kissinger took home the Nobel Peace Prize. While the protests lasted only five years, the U.S. that emerged from Vietnam was different. The political path was one of conciliation. Laws were passed eliminating the draft, the FBI was forced to disclose its secret files on individuals, and the CIA was handcuffed. Yet, here we are back in the business of secret files on individuals, the CIA running amuck with its drones, and the government spinning tales rather than telling the truth and being accountable for its actions. Well, as of now the U.S. still has no draft. That indeed is good news. Still, the voices from the past raised in outrage against today’s excesses are mostly missing. They need to be heard again and joined with the voices already singing out. More than once, the people have taken back the Republic that is the United States. Vietnam is simply the most recent event; a reminder that citizens are the responsible body politic, the sovereign.


[1] Huff Post; New York State Senate Wants To Make It A Felony To ‘Annoy’ A Police Officer; 06/06/13;

[2] Salon; Surveillance State evils; Apr 21, 2012;

[3] The Smoking Gun; Feds: Postal Service photographs every piece of mail it processes; June 7, 2013;

[4] The Personal Liberty digest; Sam Rolley ; DHS Report Justifies Warrantless, Suspicionless Searches Of Electronics Near Borders; June 7, 2013;

[5] Cryptologic Quarterly, Winter 2000/Spring 2001 Edition, Vol. 19, No. 4 / Vol. 20, No. 1; Robert J. Hanyok;  Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964;

[7] Information Clearing House; “Beyond Vietnam”; Rev. Martin Luther King; A Time to Break Silence;

[8] The President’s Trip to Central America: Security Conditions; Central Intelligence Agency;