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Form signed by a high-ranking VietCong commander
Enemy document
Presented to me by Captain Quoc, commander of RVN forces at Trung Lap

The whole area around the so-called "Iron Triangle" was honeycombed with an enormous network of tunnels and underground workshops: Hospitals, kitchens, and large rooms where the Vietcong were entertained by musicians and dancers, and small printing plants.  This document was most likely printed in one such underground printing facility, probably consisting of nothing more than an ancient "snapper" type letterpress machine.  The signature is probably by some sort of high ranking enemy commander, and it was designed to be filled in at a later date by one of the more expendable lower ranking leaders.  For more information on this network of tunnels, click below to buy "The Tunnels of Cu Chi" by Tom Mangold and John Penycate.

Click here to buy: "The Tunnels of Cu Chi", now in stock at amazon.com

Pictures of Trung Lap. Click on the x's to see!

Click here for "Vietnam Studies, U.S. Army Special Forces". In the first paragraph on page 81, you will find that "almost 50 percent of the command's ground combat intelligence came from Special forces and civilian irregulars" (99% of these were Montagnards) Since many of our visitors seem to have problems in accessing this link from my website recently, you may have to type http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/BOOKS/Vietnam/90-23/90

Like all wars, Vietnam was not only a pathetic waste of  innocent human lives.  That part was bad enough.  It was also an environmental problem of immense proportions.  For Vietnam's minority Christian indigenous population, it meant the end of their civilization, and the systematic and deliberate murder of its people, which is continuing today.  Our government is not alone in ignoring this situation, but in our case there can be no excuse.  Although the "Montagnards", working with our Special Forces, provided half of all ground combat intelligence, saving thousands of American lives, we have betrayed their trust.  The link to the U.S. Army Special Forces Document above, documents the debt we owe to the mountain tribesmen of Vietnam. 
 
 As Americans, we think mainly about the over 58,000 American soldiers who died in that conflict, and about the doubt many of our soldiers had of the necessity of that war. The losses among the mountain tribesmen are at least two, perhaps three times that many, out a much smaller population than ours. Their wholesale annihilation is by far the greatest tragedy of this terrible war.
 
In my case, I could have avoided serving in Vietnam as easily as some of our nation's presidents and vice presidents.  When I finally got my orders, I discovered that a good friend in personnell had been "losing" the IBM punch card that told our division's computer that I existed. (Yes, those were indeed the technological dark ages.) He was saddened when I extended my active duty for an indefinite period, and he could no longer protect me. My orders for the Jungle Operations Course in Panama followed almost immediately, as I suspected that they would. 
 
Right afterwards, we were "honored" by a visit from a USAID official stationed in Amman, Jordan.  We shall call him "Mark" here.  He worked for the "Department of Public Safety" branch of that organization, not the "humanitarian" side. His job was to work with, and advise the police department of Jordan, and what better way to gather information about a country than through the police. According to "Mark", he had met with King Hussein on a regular basis, and he gave me some insights into how American influence was extended into that country: When King Hussein became uncooperative, he simply reminded him that his survival depended a lot on the intelligence information concering plots against his life, all of them provided by "Mark" .
 
He also told me that he was visiting us to do his annual two weeks of active duty as a reserve major.   A couple of years earlier, he had served his two weeks in Vietnam, where he had done his first combat jump.  Since he had no training for this adventure, he broke his back, and it still had not healed satisfactorily. 
 
You get the feeling from this, that he was a very gutsy man, but, when I visited him in Washington, D.C. a few months later, (summer of 1968), he told me that he was afraid to go into that city's downtown area after dark - "much too dangerous".  Did he really mean: "Safer that Vietnam during the war?"
 
When I worked with him at the 4th Armored Division in Goeppingen, I was ordered by the G-2 to take him to the restaurants downtown every evening.  The first time, I recommended that he try the lamb, and he assured me that he was sick and tired of it, after his long stay in Jordan.
 
He claimed to have a lot of insight about how things worked in this world, including what went wrong during our abortive invasion of Cuba.  The lack of air support was only half the problem.  It seemed that the CIA had been hiring Ivy League history majors who didn't know a damn thing about weapons.  Seems they ordered the wrong ammo for the big advanture.  Right caliber, wrong casing.  So the very truly brave Cubans who risked their lives to kick Castro's butt had a lot of ammo on the beach, but nothing they could cram into their rifles.  A lot of them died merely to prove that our CIA is not perfect. 
 
During one of these meetings, during which he drank a lot more booze than I could manage, he suggested that I was too valuable to be wasted in the futile Vietnam war.  Instead, he suggested that I "defect" to the communist regime of East Germany, and work as a spy for the United States. 
 
I was NOT interested, and there wasn't a heck of a lot that he could say to make me change my mind.  Nevertheless he refused to let the subject go, so I had to assume that he had been ordered to make me see the light.  Over and over, he would say: "Speak to the G-2".  
 
So I did, but only to get the man off my back.  The G-2 was like a father to me.  Born in Finland, he had fought the Russians during World War II, and had been seriously wounded more than once. The Fins then gave him a job in counter-intelligence. Eventually, the United States wanted his contacts so badly that they made him an offer he could not refuse, and thus he became my boss in 1966-67. He was, and is the most intelligent person I have ever met, and ever expect to meet. Many years later, when I attended his daughter's funeral, his son-in-law mentioned that he was the only man, to the best of his knowledge, who became a naturalized US citizen by act of Congress.  They must have been impressed by his intelligence contacts as well.
 
When I told him about "Mark's" offer, the normally quiet and
gentle colonel blew his top:  "Intelligence is not James Bond. The spies I was handling in Finland were the dregs of the earth, and I was embarrassed to deal with them. They were pimps and winos - you name it - all of them, and that is the was the system works."
 
"If you decide to take that assignment in East Germany, I promise you two things: 1. You will get caught.  The communist intelligence services are very, very good.  2. The United States is not going to bother trying to get you out, and you will spend the rest of your life rotting in an East German jail."
 
During the several remaining weeks before my reassignment, I enjoyed reading the "lessons learned" stories from our many combat missions in Vietnam, and I tried to absorb as much of the information as I could, not only for myself, but also for the men who would be serving under me.  The responsibility of command was something my father took very seriously.  A few days before my departure for the war, he took me aside, and tried to persuade me to defect to Canada.  We had lived there for several years, between 1955 and 59, so I would have been in familiar territory.  I had always liked and respected the Canadian culture - but perhaps that was partly due to secret my infatuation with our pretty French-Canadian teacher in New Liskeard located at the eastern border of Ontario, halfway between Toronto and James Bay.  Most of the boys had trouble keeping their mind on their studies, as I recall. 
 
Nevertheless, I could not defect from the army, as my father requested.  After all, I was an officer, and as such had sworn an oath to defend America, and defection is something that just isn't done.
 
My father's next statement startled me even more: "If you decide to go, don't ever ask your men to do something you are not willing to do.  When I was required to serve in the German Army during World War II, I had a few discussions, and a lot of political disagreements with some of the German officers, but they always cared for, and looked out for their men, often taking the biggest risks themselves". I was disappointed that he would think that he had somehow failed in communicating his value system to me.  
 
 

Be wary of any statistics you see about Vietnam.
 
For instance: the high number of enemy casualties were and are usually complete fabrications.  When I served as advisory team leader to the Vietnamese 748 Regional Forces Company at Ngo Trang, in the Central Hightands of Vietnam, I had the pleasure of working with a superb CIA mercenary.  Like me, he was an immigrant from Germany, but he was not yet a U.S. citizen.  Nevertheless, he was drafted shortly after his arrival in the United States.
 
He considered the U.S. Army's basic training ridiculously inadequate: "Just enough training to get myself killed" he said.  So he volunteered for the Special Forces, and completed his required tour somewhere in the northern part of South Vietnam. Then he realized that he had become a war junkie, like the people Chris Hedges describes in his recent book: "War is a force that gives us meaning".  See the link below on how to order, or surf on the web for it.  Surfing has made us independent of those who seek to control the information we are permitted to see in our subservient newsmedia.
 
Siegfried and I met at a party for advisory team leaders in Kontum.  He made the rounds, spending a few minutes with each team leader, trying to determine the tactical situation in each area.  Since I had improvised and led a night reaction force, consisting of an armored personnell carrier and a platoon of Montagnard Regional Forces soldiers to help the defenders of a Montagnard village that had been attacked, we spent a lot of time talking about the action, and my reasoning processes during the early and development stages of the event.  Despite the fact that we achieved our objective of relieving the defenders without casualties on our side, I detailed what I thought were my misjudgments because of the sketchy information, as well as the bungled attempt by my boss to supply help,  which I declined, since the situation would have deteriorated with his intervention. 
 
Next morning, Siegfried arrived in a Vietnamese Army truck near my base at Ngo Trang, perhaps 15 miles north of Kontum.  His men, all of whom were Cambodian or Laotian mercenaries, stopped about a quarter mile south of us.  He walked toward us, while his men melted into the jungle on the west side of the road. "Just to be on the safe side", he told me, "I don't want any of the men in your Montagnard company to see their faces". They and Siegfried did ambushes in my area every night for three weeks, and they had a great deal of success, but that's another story.  
 
During the brief time we had to socialize, Siegfried told me about some of his many missions.  During one of these, he had worked for MACV headquarters in Saigon, doing after-action reconnaissance for our B-52 strikes. 
 
His tiny fifteen-man team was dropped into the heart of the so-called "Iron Triangle", also called "War Zone C" by our military.  This was probably the most heavily defended enemy base in South Vietnam, and the location of the "Central Office of South Vietnam" known mostly by its abbreviation "COSVN", and it was the heart of the communist war effort in  South Vietnam. 
 
Siegfried and his men were inserted by helicopter, and immediately began their reconaissance.  They witnessed an almost unimaginable amount of destruction: Trees scattered like matchsticks, enormous holes revealing multi-level enemy tunnel systems, looking very much like a cutaway view of a giant anthill.  Only one thing was utterly missing: There were no enemy casualties, no body parts, no blood.
 
Siegfried patrolled from the center to outskirts of the devastation, and beyond, reaching areas completely untouched by the bombs.  There, he captured and attempted to interrogate two enemy soldiers.  It was no use. Their eardrums had been destroyed by the enormous concussion, and they were unable to hear, and, still in shock, seemed barely able to speak.
 
Much further from the impact area, he found more enemy soldiers.  His men were very persistent and unpleasantly persuasive, so the soldiers spoke freely to them: Their unit had moved out of the impact area, because ARVN soldiers had warned of the precise timing and inpact area twelve hours earlier.  
 
Siegfried and his men were evacuated and returned to MACV to make their report: No enemy casualties, no equipment destroyed.  Next morning Siegfried read the following  headline in the Stars and Stripes", the army newspaper in Vietnam:  "B-52 Raid Annihilates VC Regiment: 358 enemy dead".  At first, Siegfried thought the story was funny.  Then he became extremely upset.  He stormed into the office of the American major to whom he always made his report, and threw the paper on his desk with such force, that it bounced, and landed on the officer's lap. 
 
His face turned very white: Here was a guy who was an expert on many different ways of killing a man in hand to hand combat, and he seemed out of control.  Then he regained his composure: "What do you care? You get paid, no matter what we achieve here!"    
 
 

To order Chris Hedges' outstanding anti-war book: "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning" click this link to amazon.com, select "books", then type "war is a force" in the window under books. If you only buy one book this year, buy this one!

One of several tiny mortar shrapnel holes
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in my Trung Lap "Tiger" painting
Closeup of the artist's signature
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Collateral Damage and Children in War
 
As perverse as it is, and as much as I hate the idea, there may actually be a good reason why children should fight in a war: If they are caught in the middle of it, this may be the only chance they have for survival.  With a gun, they may have a chance to survive.  Without it, their only role in it can be as victims.
 
In Vietnam, children did fight on both sides of that conflict.  I was responsible for killing one of them, and was unjustly accused of killing several others, and my (perhaps) sixty four year old medic lost his adopted son there.
 
I don't know how old the child was whom I killed.  I am guessing that he must have been about three. That is, I thought I had killed him, for the possibility of his survival seemed remote:
 
At Trung Lap, at the edge of the so-called "Iron Triangle", we were mortared every night by our enemy, almost always with 60 millimeter mortars.  Usually, this was not a big problem, since all of my team members, for which I was the advisory team leader, had adequate protection.  Although we had individual concrete bunkers just outside each man's room, these tended to have at least one or several snakes in them at night, and my medic assured me that all of these were poisonous.
 
So, one of the teams which we had replaced, had made a bunker out of each of our beds.  Around our box spring matresses, they had built a wall of two or three foot long and one foot wide, ten inch high boxes in which artillery shells had been stored.  The boxes were filled with sand, that had been compacted by soaking it with water.  Instead of a straight shot into the bed, we had to make a sharp turn in order to bed down.  
 
The shelter at Trung Lap base was topped by a layer of solid steel planking, which had been used to cover  the small airfield within our base, which was probably about 800 by 1,200 meters in overall size.  The airfield length ran in the 800 meter direction, and was adequate for small fixed-wing craft.  In the 1,200 meter direction were mostly abandoned bunkers, from the time that the Vietnamese Ranger Training Center  had been located there.  
 
To defend this rather large piece of real estate, we only had forty or so ARVN Regional Force soldiers.  In addition to these soldiers  and our six man team, as well as an occasional American unit, there were at least 200 or so Vietnamese people in our base, but most of these were officers and NCO's, and their wives and children. Because we had such few men, we were forced to locate them in each of the four corners of the base, about six Vietnamese soldiers in each spot, armed with their own M-16 rifles, as well one 50 caliber heavy-barrel machine gun as a crew-served weapon.  The latter had a lot of killing power, and an effective range of 2,000 yards (1,829 meters), and a maximum range of 7,400 yards (6767 meters).  However, they were poorly maintained.  On this weapon, both headspace and timing have to be set, and we worked hard to persuade the Vietnamese to let us teach them how to do this, and we were only partially successful in this.
 
I had been ordered to take command of the training mission at Trung Lap, after the previous Team Leader had been seriously wounded during an enemy ambush, just as he left the main gate to our base.  Based on the description by my men, I doubt that he survived the helicopter evacuation to the military hospital at Cu Chi. 
 
During my second or third evening at Trung Lap, I decided to check the Vietnamese defending our perimeter.  I was challenged and halted about a hundred yards from the first crew position.  When my interpreter told the men that the American team leader wanted to visit with them, they demanded that I say a few words in English, to prove that I was that I was an American.  Only then did they roll back the barbed "concertina" wire, and we were permitted to enter their position. My interpreter confided in me, that the Vietnamese would not even allow their own NCO's and officers to inspect them at night. 
 
The men seemed very happy to see us, and I was able to check the state of their sandbag defenses, and the fields of fire for the heavy machinegun.  We shook hands, and I smiled a lot, but my enjoyment of their pleasant company was tempered by the knowledge, that only two weeks earlier, one of our unit's outposts, only four hundred yards in front of our wire, had been abandoned, after three of the defenders were found with their throats cut, and the fourth had disappeared.  It seemed obvious that the fourth man had been a Vietcong, and the other three had favored our side.  I wondered whether any of the men I was now visiting with also had Vietcong sympathies, but would not reveal their political preference until our unit came under heavy attack. Our recruiting system was very simple: Whenever we swept the Vietcong - dominated area within two or three miles of our base, any young men of military age were drafted into the government army, and instantly joined our unit. One of my sergeants always tried to cover my back, whenever we were involved in a combat patrol, and I tried to do the same for him. 
 
Today's video games just can't provide that degree of excitement, and after our patrols, we always took our nightly mortaring in stride.  There were no casualties, either on he part of our advisors, or on the part of the Vietnamese in our base, but we did have quite a few close calls:
 
My jeep, parked only ten feet from the entrance of our bar, was shredded one night, and some shrapnel from the 60's took a couple of chunks or so out of the painting of a tiger, which had been near the window.  I took that painting home with me. You saw it on the front page of this web site, the picture above shows one of the points of impact.  
 
My team seemed puzzled: "Why do you want that picture - it's got shrapnel in it?".  My response: "I want it, because it has shrapnel in it.  Every time I see it, I shall be grateful for our good fortune".
 
One night, when the mortaring seemed to be more robust than usual, an American soldier braved the unhealthy environment to bring me, he said, the precise coordinates of the mortar positions.  He and his small team were living and working in a heavily protected bunker less than a hundred feet from our own bunkers, and they were manning a very sophisticated counter-mortar radar. 
 
Although their function was really to protect the 25th U.S. Infantry Divsion base a few miles away, they seemed to resent hiding in a bunker every night, or be turned into ground beef.  I had had as much of the excitement as they had by then, so I put on my flak jacket and steel helmet, and ran the two hundred yards to our Vietnamese 4.2" heavy mortar pits.
 
Actually, that was a very stupid thing to do.  After all, I was leaving a perfectly safe environment, in order to take my chances while shrapnel was raining into our compound.  Only one thing could have motivated me to take that sort of risk: It was rage, pure and simple. 
 
My increasing resentment at these nightly humiliations had turned slowly to a pure and fiery hatred of our enemy, and I had not been aware of the intensity of my feelings, until the man from the counter-mortar radar unit had given me these precise coordinates, which made my revenge possible.  
 
The gunners of the three heavy mortars were already there, waiting for instructions, and the Vietnamese Captain who commanded our ARVN battalion joined me in less then two minutes. Each mortar weighed a little over 300 pounds, and could fire a 25# projectile of high explosive ammunition at the rate of 40 rounds in two minutes.  It has a maximum range of 4400 yards, and my target was located at less than half that distance. 
 
The Vietnamese commander looked at the map, and spoke softly: "The VC have placed their tubes in the middle of  a small group of farm houses, knowing we won't hit them there". 
 
I responded: "I don't care.  Not only are our own lives constantly at risk, but so are the children of your officers and NCO's". The Vietnamese commander was a music major from Saigon university, and he hated this war probably more than any man or woman in Vietnam.  He had told me earlier, that his pretty wife was on birth control pills, because he could not bear to bring a child in to this world. 
 
With a sigh, he read the coordinates I had brought to the mortar crews, that were gathered around us, and gave them to the mortar crews.  There was no incoming mortar fire where we stood - At that time, it seemed to all be coming down around our advisory compound and near the American counter-mortar radar bunker. 
 
In seconds, the heavy outgoing shells had reached their targets, and at least twenty shells were fired before the Vietnamese commander ordered a cease-fire. 
 
I did not sleep well that night, and that was bad: I had been scheduled for a combat patrol for the next morning, and I needed to be alert and quick on my feet.  At dawn, as I stood near the edge of our small airfield, I watched as a very wrinkled old man, at least perhaps 75 years or more of a very hard life, and an equally old woman, at least 70 years or more, struggled to carry a three year old boy through our gate, about 300 yards away.
 
Limping slowly toward me, he was supporting his right leg with a makeshift crutch - a crudely trimmed forked tree branch.  His companion periodically supported the boy's full weight, whenever the man began to falter, barely saving the boy from falling on one occasion.
 
Since I was almost totally absorbed in the process of coordinating the life-saving artillery fire support for our imminent patrol through the fringes of the "Iron Triangle", one of my sergeants rushed toward this pathetic trio and offered to carry the boy, but they refused to release him.
 
A few minutes later, when they had finally reached my position, they placed the child gently at my feet, and stepped back, trying to avoid my eyes.  Their deeply wrinkled faces seemed to display neither hatred, nor anger, but only the  resignation and apparent apathy as those who are still suffering from an intense and incomprehensible shock.
 
The boy's expression was merely a blank stare, his mind attempted to mask the pain of a severe abdominal wound.  His grandparents, if that is what they were, had tied a large dinner plate to his tiny body with packing twine, in order to prevent his shredded intestines from spilling out.
 
Although I called for medical evacuation immediately, I knew in my heart, that this was only my expression of utter futility, and my attempt to alleviate my own deeply-felt guilt. The boy could not possibly survive, for that sickenly - sweet disgusting odor, which I had so often sensed around our fallen foe in the Central Hicglands and in the Triangle, already clung to him like a shroud.  
 
For me, collateral damage has a face, and it is that of a dying three year old boy, and his frail and desperate grandparents, struggling with their pain to grant him a slim chance for life.
 
I had always questioned that war, long before I received orders for Vietnam, and I could have left the Army after my two year tour of duty in Germany was up, but I decided to voluntarily extend my time in service, and therefore made a tour of duty in Vietnam inevitable.  Certainly, I had no illusions about that war - the American press covered its horrors in great detail.
 
But I felt that I needed to do my part to defend Europe against the communist threat from the east.  If that meant I had to get a little combat experience in Vietnam, so be it.  I did not come away from that as a pacifist, but seemed to be heading in that direction.  Together with my childhood memories of World War II, I finally began to see the light, and the utter futility of war became clearly burned into my consciousness. Even in Vietnam,my attitude began to change, and I began to see things from a different perspective.
 
One of the brightest spots during our almost daily dose of unpleasant excitement was a little bit of unintentional humor by our usually seamlessly unimaginative propaganda machine:
 
As advisors, we were furnished with a monthly copy of the MACV Reporter, in order to keep our morale at a high intensity.  In one of these issues were two stories about children fighting in the war.  The first described an unfortunate Vietcong unit, most of whose members had been killed.  Among the survivors was a twelve-year old boy, who had become one of their soldiers.  The gist of this story was: "It's obvious that we are just about to win.  The enemy is so desperately short of recruits, that they are even forcing children to fight on their thoroughly evil side".
 
The other story was about a 12-year old Vietnamese orphan, who had tagged along with our American soldiers, and demanded to be given a rifle.  He, too, wanted to fight the evil Viet Cong. The gist of the story was: "It's obvious that we are about to win: Our braveVietnamese allies are so dedicated to our noble cause, that even their children are demanding to fight on our side.
 
Either story would have been a fine piece of propaganda, if they had been printed in different issues of the MACV Reporter - both were extremely well written, with just the proper nuances of patriotism and heroism.  Unfortunately someone with a bizarre sense of humor had not only put them in the same issue, but on opposing pages of the center, and each filled exactly one page of this tabloid size newsprint publication. Nevertheless, the message did not get through to the guys in my team, and I hated to explain the similarities of both situations, since I was concerned that our morale might suffer.  
 
The moral of this tale: Even when major mistakes are made in the production of propaganda, as long as the right emotional strings are pulled, propaganda works!  For me, it was a frightening revelation.