Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Gathered together in one place, for easy access, an agglomeration of writings and images relevant to the Rapeutation phenomenon.

Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:33 am

Chapter 8: Handicapping Soldiers

Whenever Colonel McKenney could find the justification and the transportation, he spent time on the ground with the men who were doing the real work, from the Mai Lox Special Forces camp near Khe Sanh in the hostile extreme northwest, to isolated combined action platoons [1] near Hoi An and Chu Lai in the southeastern extreme of I Corps. Traveling by rat patrol, [2] or in borrowed jeeps, hitchhiking on helicopters or tiny observation planes and small landing craft, he did what the men who were fighting the war did. He knew what they faced-things that deskbound staff officers couldn't, and perhaps didn't want to know. He developed a particularly close relationship with Korean Marines who were serving in the Go Noi area. Once he went tunnel crawling through an underground passage the NVA had booby trapped and used as a latrine. Twenty-five years later, McKenney's Korean buddies would tell him that, at reunions, they still laughed at the memory of him emerging from an enemy tunnel, covered in shit.

In other ways, too, McKenney learned very quickly that this was a very dirty war. The enemy's tactics were dishonorable. That was his view of a phantom enemy, hidden within a populace that was often hostile and a constant unknown quantity. Each community, each hut, could and often did conceal enemy soldiers. Women, children, and other civilians were mostly innocent, but could also be expected to booby trap or otherwise harass American soldiers. Often they were not committed to the enemy, but were terrorized into hostile action. He made it a point to concentrate on the many good Vietnamese allies like the Kit Carson scouts, [3] who worked side by side with Americans on the most difficult and dangerous missions. He also, in spite of himself, admired many of the rebel qualities of the enemy.

The VC, in particular, were excellent snipers, creating a perpetual sense of fear; anyone could be hit anywhere, anytime. McKenney, who was an expert marksman with both rifle and pistol, was reminded of Jack Hinson, one of his Confederate Civil War heroes, who singlehandedly captured a gunboat loaded with soldiers as it navigated the Tennessee River. Hinson simply started to pick off the officers one by one. The Union captain, thinking he was surrounded and overwhelmed by the enemy, ran up the white flag. Much like the VC, Hinson was an unofficial rebel soldier. It wasn't until near the end of the Civil War that the Confederate bureaucracy decided to make him an Army captain.

In his respect for the VC, McKenney was like most recon men. It was a false but almost irreversible myth back home that American soldiers only referred to the VC as they were presumed to refer contemptuously to all Vietnamese, as Charlie or, worse, gooks. This was indeed common slang, but those who were actually involved in matching wits with them often showed their respect as well by referring to them as Sir Charles. McKenney also respected the NVA. "They are good soldiers," he said to anyone who was interested. He especially respected the fact that they always carried off their dead, no matter what the risk, and generally let the Americans do the same without attacking them.

But despite his respect for the enemy, he abhorred their cause and thought the best way to defeat them was on their own territory, with the kind of specialized warfare he had spent most of his professional life training for. He agreed with what President Kennedy had told West Pointers in June 1962: "This war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins, war by ambush instead of by combat, by infiltration instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and engaging the enemy ... requires ... where we must encounter it ... a whole new kind of strategy." It was also important to operate with the utmost restraint when dealing with the local population, to counter the massive and astonishingly successful North Vietnamese propaganda efforts that depicted the United States as an imperialist aggressor in Vietnam. McKenney was fully confident the majority of South Vietnamese peasants were being coerced into supporting the enemy by wily communists, with ruthless punishment for those observed to be supporting the South Vietnamese government and its American allies. The best strategy, he felt, was to ferret out the hidden enemy and neutralize him.

The most frustrating factor in accomplishing this, and the one that would finally lead him into what many considered morally questionable areas of secret warfare, was his own country's ambiguous position on the war. This had resulted in rules of engagement that seemed to have been written by the enemy, rules that had nothing to do with basic standards of warfare. He had no quarrel with the generally accepted Department of Defense policy that directives issued by "competent military authority" would "delineate the circumstances and limitations under which U.S. forces will initiate and / or continue combat engagement with other forces encountered." [4] He accepted traditional standards of warfare, and even that, for a time, U.S. soldiers were permitted to open fire only when they had been shot at first, but felt allowances were needed for legitimate accidents, as when the hospital corpsman under his friend Herb Bain had fired his rifle accidentally. Bain should not have been removed from command. McKenney was proud of the fact that, for the most part, Marines had behaved with admirable restraint in hostile and provocative situations.

What he could not accept were those rules of engagement established by Washington lawmakers to express their own uncertainties about the war or their opposition to it. There had been controversy about U.S. involvement in Vietnam going back to a period after World War II, when the French were receiving U.S. aid to defend colonialism in Indochina. In Washington, even now, there were those who thought the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which gave President Johnson war-making powers in Vietnam, was falsely based and wrongly applied. Some senators like Ernest Gruening, or J. William Fulbright, who chaired the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, insisted it meant no expansion of the war. Since President Johnson assumed office upon Kennedy's death there had been several powerful groups engaged in policy decisions. These ranged from those in the Pentagon who wanted a full military defeat of the communists and administrative and bureaucratic intervention in South Vietnam, to those who were trying to work out the theory and practice of hurting but not destroying the North, to those who had never wanted combat troops in Vietnam at all and were trying to pull back on the U.S. commitment as rapidly as possible. They had struggled publicly with each other all year, since the communists launched the Tet offensive, on the future course of the war.

In March 1968 the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had requested an extra 207,000 men so that the United States could regain the initiative, lost through what was regarded as clever communist propaganda aimed at the American public. That proposal was almost immediately countered by Defense Secretary Clark Clifford, who opposed further escalation on the grounds that it would provoke "a domestic crisis of unprecedented proportions." A compromise was reached: twenty-two thousand more troops, with monthly review of the situation. In McKenney's mind such public argument in Washington, and the recall of America's supreme commander in Vietnam, General Westmoreland, helped the enemy psychologically and resulted in an unnecessary number of American casualties. It was as if medical directors kept stopping and restarting surgical operations by properly qualified doctors. More and more, field decisions were made in Washington because lawmakers set up rules of engagement that made it impossible for commanders to respond to the needs of the moment when they were in battle. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that the rules of engagement were classified so that men fighting the war had to simply accept the debilitating results without possibility of recourse. Those who had access to the actual rules could neither go to the press nor even try to influence Washington because it was illegal to discuss them. Not until 1985 did Senator Barry Goldwater force the Pentagon to declassify the rules of engagement for U.S. forces in Vietnam. Published in twenty-six pages of the Congressional Record, the rules were far more extensive than McKenney and his colleagues imagined.

At the beginning of the war, when Bobby Garwood first came to Vietnam, rules of engagement seemed an expression of excessive political anxiety. They made it mandatory to warn the Vietnamese people by leaflets or loudspeakers before American soldiers entered populated areas. This meant that the U.S. soldier on patrol was constantly exposed to the possibility of sudden ambush. That ambush would come from places where innocent people were living or congregating, and made defensive retaliation difficult. Consequently, the enemy's most common tactic was to use their own innocent countrymen as cover and often as unwilling participants. When McKenney got to Vietnam, the rules seemed to have become codified for certain areas. Marines could still not fire on Marble Mountain, but the enemy shot at passing Americans. Meanwhile, the Korean Marines, unencumbered by these restraints, accepted no casualties from places like Marble Mountain. If they took sniper fire, they simply responded with their own artillery. They were rarely sniped at. McKenney remembered his side took casualties daily.

Then there was the "McNamara Line," a barrier across the demilitarized zone that was supposed to stop NVA infiltration into South Vietnam. To McKenney, and everyone he knew from private to general, such a totally irrational idea could only have been conceived by a deskbound bureaucrat who had no idea of what was going on in Vietnam. Every soldier here knew the NVA did their infiltration down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, not across the DMZ. They also knew it cost sixteen dead Marines to clear and build each one hundred yards of the McNamara Line. It would never be finished. Twenty-two years after the American withdrawal from Vietnam, its sponsor and namesake, former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, [5] would reveal having adopted an antiwar position a year before McKenney arrived there, much too late for such disclosure to make any difference.

Self-defeating rules of engagement did not apply only in populated areas of South Vietnam. There one could make excuses for their existence. They also applied to fighting in the open fields or jungle, making a mockery of American soldiers who were expected to sacrifice their lives in a war that was, presumably, important to their country, but who could never go on the offensive. It may have been only a myth that LBJ had declared "they won't be able to bomb an outhouse without my order," but every soldier and Marine McKenney knew believed it: "It was policy," a friend of his who was a naval pilot said, "to send our pilots on bombing runs so predictable they were called milk runs. One after another was picked off by an enemy that simply stationed himself at the predictable place and time." Similarly, McKenney felt, any warwise American who looked at a situation map [6] of North Vietnam could see that there was only one all-important steel mill. It should have been a primary target. Nonetheless, any American pilot who bombed anywhere within a thirty-mile radius surrounding that factory was automatically subject to court martial. Why? He never found out.

McKenney shared the frustration of young men on the front line, those most directly endangered by these rules. One of them was Lieutenant Lewis Puller, the son of McKenney's friend and idol, General "Chesty" Puller. Puller Junior commanded a platoon in an area called the Riviera, at that time reputed to be the most heavily mined and booby-trapped area in the world. He wrote later that it was "viewed with dread by all but the insane among us." [7] McKenney said, "No one who had never operated there could possibly understand the danger and the courage required just to be there, let alone being there and facing the enemy." Yet Washington had required Lewis Puller, as it did all officers coming to Vietnam, to sign a promise to abide by these rules of engagement that, more often than not, amounted to suicide on a front like the Riviera. Lieutenant Puller thought it odd that warring countries would expect their troops to kill each other in a gentlemanly and humane manner and odder still that the Marine Corps would require its junior officers to undertake such an exercise in hypocrisy. [8] This had nothing to do with the general rules of conduct that apply to all wars, which he had learned from his father, internationally respected as a great warrior and man of integrity.

Unlike Puller, McKenney didn't blame the Marine Corps for hypocrisy. They didn't make the rules. He blamed the politicians in Washington, who seemed to have taken over that part of the job previously the responsibility of "competent military authority." The communists, as far as he could see, followed no code of conduct, traditional or otherwise. They were just hell-bent on winning. Terrorism was part of their strategy. He thought of the American situation in Vietnam in the terms of thoroughbred horse racing. In major races for young horses, such as the Kentucky Derby, each horse was required to carry exactly the same weight, including the weight of the jockey and all the tack. If the jockey and his gear weighed less than a predetermined amount, lead was added to make up the exact difference. McKenney felt that this sense of fair play was what the rules of engagement should strive for.

What was happening instead, McKenney told confidantes like Stan Sydenham, was more akin to a handicap race, which involved older, more established horses. In a handicap, the horses with better records carried more weight. A committee of horse racing bureaucrats would decide how much weight a horse had to carry. Did this sound familiar? he asked his friends. In his mind, the racing bureaucrats represented the international diplomats and the politicians in Washington who had decided just how much the American soldier should be handicapped. Back in Kentucky, if the trainer / owner of a horse felt the weight assigned to his horse was too much for him, he withdrew the horse from the race. If he cared more about the money than he did about the horse, he allowed the horse to be overburdened, and the horse might die trying to win. That was happening to Marines, every day, with one big difference. In thoroughbred racing, a trainer or owner who would risk killing a horse this way was regarded as the worst kind of scoundrel. In politics, the same kind of villainy seemed to earn admiration rather than disgrace.



1. A combined action platoon consisted of a Marine rifle squad led by a corporal or lance corporal and a platoon of Vietnamese Popular Forces. The Popular Forces were the most poorly trained and motivated of South Vietnam's troops. The Marine squads trained them, fought with them, and generally "stiffened" them. Each combined action platoon lived in a fortified hamlet, dug wells, and otherwise helped the locals by day and fought at night.

2. Jeeps equipped with a mounted machine gun driven at top speed, back and forth along a designated road, to prevent mines from being laid.

3. Kit Carson scouts were former VC or NVA soldiers working with the Marine Corps. They chose to work with the United States usually after spending some time in a POW camp or South Vietnamese rehabilitation center. These (usually) young men passed through a period of observation, after which they were given a complete issue of equipment and an intensive period of Marine training. On completion, they were assigned to Marine units like rifle companies. They received normal Marine rations, medical care, etc. They were almost always assigned to Marine units in pairs to share their common language and help overcome any problems of adjustment. Their work was outstanding, General Walt said of them in his book, Strange War; Strange Strategy: A General's Report on Vietnam: "There is no way to count the number of American lives saved through Kit Carson scouts; we know only that none have been lost through them."

4. Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms. New York: Arco Publishing, 1988.

5. McNamara, often thought of as the architect of the Vietnam War, was appointed secretary of defense by Kennedy. He kept this post in the Johnson administration until November 1967, by which time he had become fully disillusioned with the war. He was replaced by Clark Clifford.

6. A situation map shows the tactical or administrative situation of a territory at a particular time.

7. Lewis B. Puller Jr., Fortunate Son: The Healing of a Vietnam Vet. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991.

8. Ibid.
Site Admin
Posts: 32372
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 6:38 am

Chapter 9: Making a Paper Tiger

Unbelievable as it was to him later in life, the briefing Colonel McKenney received on Private Garwood was his first and last. His confidence in the two CI officers who presented the case to him was so complete that he never once questioned the sparsity of evidence or their absolute certainty as to Garwood's guilt. Despite his contempt for the CIA generally, he did not second guess the sentence of death on Garwood and others passed by anonymous judges somewhere in the intelligence bureaucracy.

Such blind acceptance on intelligence matters was unusual for him. Normally, he prided himself on thoroughness, seeking out every clue and leaving no stone unturned. When the target was VC, he was coldly methodical, sensitive to the smallest nuance. A man's history was all important. More than once a VC double agent had been ferreted out by sifting through his known background and putting together bits and pieces that betrayed his real affiliation. McKenney made it a habit never to leave out anything. Yet on Garwood he excluded everything available to him, which he would come to regret, saying later: "I had a high security clearance. I could have tried to look into the specifics of Garwood's disappearance."

Had he done so, he would have been astounded at the number of investigations and reams of documents set in motion by the disappearance of Garwood, a private of the lowest rank, described in government records [1] as simply a motor-pool driver (Military Occupation Specialty 1531). During McKenney's tour of duty, the organizations involved in investigating Garwood included USMC counterintelligence, Fleet Marine Force / Pacific, [2] the FBI, and the CIA. Later the full resources of the Defense Intelligence Agency were brought to bear on the case, which remained open for more than twenty-five years.

By 1968 the effort to justify the kill-Garwood directive was becoming a small industry. Yet the voluminous secret documents that resulted from this activity were full of ambiguity and contradictory views. It took twenty-five years for even a small number of them to be declassified. When they were, it was immediately clear that from the very beginning mistakes made by Garwood's superiors, when they sent him to hostile territory unprepared and improperly armed, were never acknowledged. Neither was the fact that he was only days away from ending his tour of duty.

There was, however, one unchanging constant in all of the reports: an inclination to judge Garwood on the basis of his impoverished and emotionally deprived background. Where others of solid background were given the benefit of doubt, it seems never to have crossed the minds of military and intelligence analysts that Garwood not only might have had some strength of character, but might have found a way to beat what wiser heads decreed was a system that crushed the toughest resisters. The enemy found many ways to add fuel to the flame.

Most of the information about Garwood once he became a prisoner seemed to be orchestrated and fed to the Americans by the communists. But was it accurate? The USMC was unsure at the beginning. It waffled over Garwood's official status. Some, like his immediate superiors, insisted from the start that he had deserted. Yet they knew that in a matter of days, with his tour of duty over, he could have gone to North Vietnam to meet with the communist leadership, as some American celebrities, antiwar activists, and prominent writers did, without risking a death sentence. It was these officers who later played the strongest role in trying to get him convicted on grounds of desertion and treason. Others in the III MAF hierarchy grudgingly accepted that he was for some time a prisoner who then crossed over. The USMC POW screening board met regularly to determine whether Garwood's prisoner status should be changed to deserter. The majority voted yes, but there was always at least one voice that counseled that evidence of desertion was insufficient.  [3] One dissenter wondered if Garwood's Jewish background told against him: anti-Semitism was not then as abhorred, or as openly discussed within the services, and the issue was dismissed as irrelevant. So Garwood was officially regarded as a prisoner of war until his court martial in 1980. "Had I seen even a fraction of the material that existed on Garwood in '68 and '69, I might have questioned the legitimacy of the directive that obsessed me," McKenney said twenty-five years after he left Vietnam. The wrong fraction, however, might have made him even more determined to see Garwood dead.

In 1968 the record would have told him that the furor created by Garwood's failure to report for muster at 0730 on September 29th was out of all proportion to his lowly rank. Such a level of activity was appropriate for a driver for General Walt, the head of III MAF, but no one, including the CI operatives, ever officially acknowledged that Garwood had this assignment. Throughout the many investigations that followed his disappearance, Garwood was described only as motor-pool driver. Bits and pieces of reports declassified almost thirty years later state that "a thorough examination" was conducted that included interviews with Garwood's friends and acquaintances.

According to investigators, one group of acquaintances stated that they had seen Garwood the evening of his disappearance with another group of Marines at the Da Nang Hotel or USO. They couldn't remember which. He told them he wanted to make a skivvy run, [4] they said, and would see them later, but he never showed up. This report was taken seriously and permanently entered Garwood's record. But no reference was made to Billy Ray Conley, who testified later that he had tried to take over Garwood's trip ticket on the day of his disappearance and that Garwood wanted him to. There was no reference to Mary Speer, his fiancee, and the fact that he had been on a high about going home, and had just written to his good friend Ken Banholzer, also stationed in Vietnam, about the double wedding they were planning to have in two months. Speer, who was Garwood's high-school sweetheart, had moved from Indiana to California where Garwood and she planned to make a home with Garwood's younger brother Don. Noone informed her that Garwood had gone missing. After weeks of hellish uncertainty she called Garwood's father to find out what happened. Jack Garwood could only tell her the little he had been told-Bobby Garwood was missing. Mary Speer had a nervous breakdown. She lost touch with Jack Garwood. Private John Geill, who was a tentmate of Garwood's and knew him well, was positive about where he last saw Garwood when interviewed the day after his disappearance: in their tent, when Garwood came in and told him he was going to meet a Marine captain at G-2 headquarters. However, Geilt's testimony was not taken seriously or entered into the record because the captain in question, James E. Baier, the assistant chief, administrative officer, Third Marine Division, at the time of Garwood's disappearance, denied that he had told Garwood to report back to G-2. [5]

Baier's assertion would slant the thousands of documents on Garwood that followed. Garwood's commanding officer, Captain John A. Studds, determined that Garwood's absence from the compound was definitely unauthorized. This was a hastily formulated judgment that stayed on the record even after two South Vietnamese agents reported that the VC boasted of capturing a U.S. serviceman who got lost near China Beach. Radio Hanoi broadcast similar boasts. Some local people reported that they had witnessed a firefight between a U.S. soldier and a convoy of VC, after which the soldier had been taken prisoner. These reports were deemed "hearsay" by USMC investigators. Captain Baier, after denying that Garwood had an assignment at G-2, stated that anyway it would be impossible for Garwood to get lost "on the way to G-2 headquarters because it was only half a mile from his tent."

The AWOL judgment automatically put Garwood's case under the jurisdiction of the criminal division of counterintelligence, where it stayed until fourteen years later, when the USMC would use it to charge him with desertion. The buzz that he had gone missing during a skivvy run or that he had been captured while visiting a brothel floated around III MAF until it became gospel. In the rumor mills of Da Nang, Bobby Garwood became one of those deserters who thought they could just wait out the time until their tour of duty was over; bad luck had somehow led to his being captured by the enemy. His close associates, like Conley, knew this made no sense as Garwood's tour of duty was virtually over. His superiors, who also knew that Garwood was practically a civilian, failed to note it in the records.

Despite its formally stated reservations about the theory that Garwood had been captured, the USMC launched search operations on an unheard-of scale. It included an aerial search enlisting the help of the ARVN military security services. No deserter ever prompted that kind of response. Although there was no acknowledgment that Garwood was one of General Walt's drivers, the General was personally briefed on Garwood's disappearance. Afterward, Walt himself sent a message informing the secretary of the Navy that Garwood was missing. The equivalent action during World War II might have been for General Patton to inform the secretary of war that one of his foot soldiers was missing. Despite this high level of involvement in the case, there were no leads on the missing man until two months later, when a Marine company found a VC document allegedly signed by Garwood.

Titled "A Fellow Soldier's Appeal," it asked U.S. soldiers to stop "terrorizing the Vietnamese people." [6] The USMC itself was not certain it came from Garwood: "The document's signature might well have been made by a rubber stamp and the use of the English language in the letter could lead one to believe that it was not written by a native speaker of English." [7] The other oddity was that some of the documents listed Garwood as being a chaplain's assistant, but there is no indication in available records that USMC investigators considered the possibility that this was a hidden message from Garwood that he was a prisoner, feeding his interrogators false information.

Formally Garwood was now given "presumed captured" status. But the Fellow Soldier's Appeal led to the opening of yet another counterintelligence investigation by none other than the commanding general of Fleet Marine Force / Pacific. The purpose of this investigation was to evaluate the document for "subversive content and authenticity." There was now concern that Garwood might have become "disaffected either by belief, ignorance, or persuasion." For this reason his service record book was reviewed again. Out of that review came perhaps the single most damaging judgment about Garwood, one that colored and shaped all that was to come. In a December 23rd letter to the Marine commandant, assistant chief of staff, G- 2, Third Marine Division, J. J. Schutz, one of Garwood's superiors at III MAF, wrote, "Private Garwood's family, and his educational and disciplinary backgrounds demonstrated a possible susceptibility to propaganda and indoctrination efforts." [8] The result of this judgment, based on Garwood's assumed rather than real character, was almost a total, lifelong revocation of his constitutional rights and liberties as an American citizen, as a soldier, and as a prisoner of war. To add insult to injury, each abrogation of rights would be carefully orchestrated by the u.s. government to give the appearance of falling within the strict framework of U.S. law.

Soon Garwood's status would change again. In January 1966, fourteen ARVN POWs were released from the same camp where Garwood was held. They produced a letter from Garwood to his mother written just a week before their release. He had asked them to take it to U.S. authorities. [9] The ARVN releasees informed the USMC that Garwood was being held in Camp Khu along with a Special Forces captain, William F. Eisenbraun. They testified to the cruelty of the camp commandant and guards. Daily life was brutally difficult, they reported. The prisoners had suffered from diseases that resulted from an unfamiliar and inadequate diet. Dysentery, edema, skin fungus, and eczema were rampant. Many died. The POWs were moved regularly to avoid detection by American troops. The VC guards, they said, were particularly abusive to American POWs. For any minor infraction, including conversation with other POWs, the Americans were psychologically and physically tortured. They were buried, held for days in a cage with no protection from insects, deprived of food and water, shackled, and beaten regularly. Those who resisted the most were executed. Usually it was slow death by torture. Hard-core resisters were never released. Garwood, the ARVN releasees testified, was not excluded in any way from the VC's brutality and deprivation. As a matter of fact, only he, four other ARVN prisoners, and Captain Eisenbraun had not been released with other prisoners who, after extensive indoctrination, were set free by the Vietnamese as a gesture of goodwill to celebrate the New Year (Tet).

As a result of this testimony an investigative team determined that Garwood had not intended to defect. Now he was officially classified as a prisoner of war. However, that information was never made available to the men who hunted him, like Colonel McKenney. The counterintelligence criminal investigation into the circumstances of his disappearance remained open. The investigative team was concerned about a communist press release and a number of Radio Hanoi broadcasts to American servicemen. These announced that "a U.S. Marine captured in a raid at Cam Hai had called on his mates to stop terrorizing the South Vietnamese people."

Fourteen months later another South Vietnamese releasee brought one set of Garwood's dog tags. Garwood had asked him to turn them in to U.S. authorities. He reported that he had been in the same prison camp with Garwood and Captain Eisenbraun. The former South Vietnamese POW had waited fourteen months to turn the dog tags over to the Americans because he knew that he was under VC surveillance and was afraid of retribution. It would occur to McKenney much later that the South Vietnamese reports were disregarded for the shameful reason that these released POWs were "natives."

In January 1968 Private Jose Ortiz-Rivera, U.S. Army, and Corporal Jose Agosto Santos, USMC, two American prisoners of Puerto Rican background, were released from communist captivity. Like all prisoners released during this time they were suspected of having collaborated with the enemy. During questioning by debriefers both reported that they had been imprisoned with Garwood and that their guards told them Garwood had "officially crossed over" to the enemy. They said they had personally seen him participate in a liberation ceremony in May. The two spoke almost no English but said their guards had communicated with them through Cuban advisers working with the North Vietnamese. Garwood, they said, had accepted a commission in the North Vietnamese army, taking the name Nguyen Chien Dau, freedom fighter.

This was given priority over the far more numerous accounts that gave a different picture but came from "non-American" sources: that is, the South Vietnamese. The FBI was called in by the Marines to analyze Garwood's signature on the captured Fellow Soldier's Appeal document, which was known to be a standard enemy propaganda sheet. In a letter to the Bureau referring to the testimony of Ortiz- Rivera and Agosto, they said information had been received by USMC headquarters that "indicated that Garwood apparently defected to the VC during May 1967. Since that date, there have been numerous reports in South Vietnam of a Caucasian assisting the VC in their propaganda and proselytizing programs." [10] From this point forward the investigative teams went on the assumption of Garwood's guilt even though his official status remained prisoner of war.

Contradictory reports about Garwood would become a pattern. Some returning American prisoners continued to claim that he was privileged and collaborated with the enemy. Ironically most of these witnesses were themselves under suspicion of having collaborated. Such testimony was reinforced by Radio Hanoi and a variety of double agents. On the other hand, South Vietnamese prisoners, with one exception, continued to testify that Garwood was a prisoner, like themselves, without special privileges. Later there were even high-ranking South Vietnamese officers who spent time in prison camps witl1 Garwood and testified to his courage and good conduct. But USMC and U.S. intelligence investigators were influenced mostly by one set of documents that Garwood's South Vietnamese prisonmates had no access to. They had his service record, which outlined how he had hit a sergeant with a slingshot and had been charged in the Okinawa bus incident. And they had the sad history of his early life. Added to hearsay reports of his collaboration, his "official history" forever fixed his guilt with U.S. authorities.

When McKenney joined Phoenix in 1968, secret investigations into Garwood's activities were still being pursued vigorously. Every "live sighting" by Marines and other special operations teams and agents was added to the record. This was intelligence McKenney had access to and trusted, but he did not need it. As far as he was concerned the verdict had been made and the sentence passed when the CI officers briefed him. This was done according to rules that had little or nothing to do with the traditional American justice he had admired when he was growing up, but this did not bother him. Old loyalties were eclipsed by his idealization of the secret world of intelligence and special operations.

It never occurred to him that in his fanaticism he was becoming more like Ho Chi Minh than his childhood hero, Thomas Jefferson. The enemy, too, investigated and judged people secretly without giving them an opportunity to defend themselves. They passed sentence and executed men and women secretly-all justified by thousands of secret documents that were never subjected to proper and objective scrutiny or challenge. Had someone pointed that out to McKenney, he would would have answered that his goal was vastly different from that of the communists. He did not understand until much later that "that was just another way of expressing the communist creed he professed to abhor: 'the end justifies the means.'"



1. USMC Agent Report, November 16th, 1965.

2. The Fleet Marine Force / Pacific (FMFPAC), based in Hawaii, consists of all combat and support units organized and trained to operate in amphibious assaults with the fleet in the Pacific. Excluded are embassy guards, recruit training centers, schools, supply depots, and Headquarters Marine Corps.

3. One example of this occurred in 1971 when the deputy director of personnel of the USMC argued, against the majority, that there was insufficient evidence to establish that Garwood had deserted. General O. R. Simpson, who was then director of personnel and who, therefore, passed on his deputy's recommendation that Garwood keep his status as POW to the commandant, later wrote that he could not remember doing so, but that it was highly likely. In a letter to the author he wrote: "It would be logical, at the time, for me to recommend ... that Garwood's status not be changed ... , I thought long and hard before ever agreeing that anyone be classified as a deserter and thus, in time of war, a 'traitor.' It was an extremely serious situation."

4. Skivvy run was slang for going to a whorehouse.

5. Geill changed his story fourteen years later to match that of the other acquaintances who said they saw Garwood the evening of his disappearance about to go on a skivvy run.

6. The Case of Pvt. Robert R. Garwood, USMC, Final Report, Report to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (ASD / C31), Volume 1, June 1993.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. The USMC acknowledges receiving the letter. Garwood's family says his mother never received it.

10. USMC / FBI correspondence of March 6-18, 1968. The Case of Pvt. Robert R. Garwood, USMC, Final Report, Appendix
Site Admin
Posts: 32372
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 6:39 am

Chapter 10: Promises to Keep

Colonel McKenney's growing conviction that his main task must be to seek out and destroy Garwood seems in retrospect to have resulted from his increasing frustration with a war so ludicrously labeled by Washington as "full scale but limited." He raged against it as "full scale for the enemy, but limited for the American soldier." The formula might save political skins back home, but it caused untold and unnecessary tragedies that he had to confront each day in Vietnam. There was an overall sense of helplessness, even among the youngest of the enlisted men, who felt that no one in authority seemed to know or care that they put their lives on the line without the freedom to fight this war properly. None of the political higher-ups gave any sign of really wanting to win in the old-fashioned way. Their restrictions were impracticable on shifting battlefields with no visible contours; the objectives were veiled in double-talk. That was also the view hardening in the Colonel's mind, causing some colleagues to wonder "if Tom is taking on the whole damn establishment as well as the enemy." When his recon patrols correctly estimated enemy strength in a given place and time, that information often didn't reach the men at the front who desperately needed it, or it came too late. Like smoke, it seemed to get lost in its ascension through the hierarchy. Too many officers in the rear, McKenney felt, cared only about the way information could be used to advance individual careers.

Somehow Garwood had become a metaphor for wholesale betrayal. He was one clearly identifiable wrong that McKenney could right with the clean simplicity of a bullet. It was impossible to take aim at III MAF, which he saw in those days as "not a tactical headquarters at all, but a kind of emasculated administrative totem." XXIC Corps (a headquarters organized under III MAF to include the Army combat units in I Corps) looked to him to be responsive only to political struggles in Saigon and Washington, now being waged to the point of irresponsibility with the approach of the U.S. presidential election in November. These political battles offered no definable targets on which he could focus. They were mean, petty, and parochial. And they cost lives. Headquarters Saigon, in a stew over the constant pressure of rocket attacks that might signal a second big offensive like Tet, now launched yet another "study," completely ignoring an extensive survey just completed by the Eleventh Marines, who were taking the hits and knew what they were talking about. The new study, though, would look good back in Washington, besotted with numbers and factoids, and grasping for prior excuses and the kind of statistical justifications that reassure the bean-counters in a well-managed war.

Kham Duc Special Forces camp in the south had just been overrun, as McKenney and his men predicted. It could so easily have been saved. Even at the eleventh hour General Cushman, McKenney's superior, had wanted to send Marines to save the camp, or at least get the men out. He was not given permission. Nothing was more demoralizing to the men than being forbidden to help comrades in need. It was bad enough that they were never allowed to go on the offensive. Increasingly now, they were forbidden to defend themselves or their comrades even when, as in this case, it would have saved many from being killed or taken prisoner.

Now, another Special Forces camp at Thuong Duc was surrounded. The enemy held everything around the camp, including the villages. There were daily executions of local officials suspected of supporting the Americans. The uncertainly showed itself in the people. Half the Vietnamese McKenney encountered now were hostile, the others indifferent. He found the indifference more disturbing.

McKenney was fed up with the leadership within G-2, yet he had to work with it. Despite his promotion, and his authority to task recon patrols with highly sensitive and classified matters, he also had to perform other duties within the military and administrative hierarchy. On top secret matters, like the hunter-killer operations, he continued to function outside the chain of command. Routine intelligence matters were handled by the G-2 section and McKenney, as a lieutenant colonel, reported within the chain of command to the full colonel who was head of G-2. So did his men. Here lay the problem. McKenney prided himself on the character, discipline, and hard work of the officers under him. He could not abide it when they were treated badly.

By October 5th, he had almost had it. The G-2 seemed to be completely unpredictable, as if terrified of upsetting the people in Saigon. He had taken to sleeping in his office for fear of missing any message coming from his superiors, or failing to pass on to them crucial "intelligence." His critics said he was unable to distinguish between crucial intelligence and routine reports. When the chief was unsure, everyone was pulled out of bed to be interrogated. Daily routine reports in hand, he would repeatedly question the poor officer who had written them about their authenticity. Even if the answer seemed to satisfy him, he would, more likely than not, repeat the same routine two hours later. It drove McKenney crazy. With the continuous rocket attacks, his men were getting only three or four hours of sleep a night, if they were lucky. He noted, "I cannot learn what he expects of me or what to expect of him. He has alienated everybody in the section and we have tried so hard to help him .... Over half the analysts have asked for transfers .... I would gladly trade my brand new silver oak leaves for PFC chevrons and a submachine gun. At least it would be something I know how to do and 1'd know exactly what is expected of me. Our deputy G-2, Colonel Burroughs, is trying so hard to be loyal to him and help him, but tonight in the midst of our latest midnight horror show he [Burroughs] just threw up his hands, picked up his pistol, and left in disgust." The G-2 was like a Supreme Court justice focusing single-mindedly on a parking ticket. His defenders said he was just another victim of his own side's indecision.

There was a real possibility of a major attack out in Elephant Valley that night. Three Marines and two ARVN battalions were leaving the Special Forces camp that was under siege at Thuong Duc the following morning. This would leave III MAF a little thin. Nevertheless, an hour later, the men were summoned by the G-2 again. McKenney staggered in. This time one of his most trusted and competent men was on the carpet. Captain Blake K. Thomas, a rifle company commander, had only recently been sent to work with McKenney after being badly traumatized in combat. He had been assigned to G-2, partly because he needed to heal before going back to the front. This had not in any way weakened his capabilities as an intelligence officer. Thomas was responsible for reporting on enemy activity in the area. His judgment, probably because of his experience as a rifle company commander, had so far been excellent. He had worked almost all the previous night and had gotten, at most, two hours of sleep. Now Thomas was being blasted for reasons that nobody could fathom and his whole career was being jeopardized because the G-2 disliked the answers he was getting.

McKenney was appalled and said so in no uncertain terms. Afterward, Colonel Burroughs, the assistant G-2, gave him a fatherly reprimand for losing his temper. "Whatever the problem," he told McKenney, "in the Marine Corps you do not speak to full colonels in that way." Nonetheless, there were no nightly interrogations for the next little while.

McKenney tried hard not to let his feelings show to the enlisted men; but they knew, and it was demoralizing for them and for him. The Marine Corps was one of the few institutions left where leadership counted. It was expected that officers took charge and, more important, took responsibility. This provided raw young men who came from all over America with confidence to face and defeat the enemy. Time and again, McKenney would see how good officers, like Captain Thomas, evoked an almost disciplelike devotion from young soldiers, similar to the way he felt about Chesty Puller. They became the fathers and older brothers for the teenagers who had, just a few months before, lived the good American life. Now they were facing the toughest challenge a man can face, while friends back home were caught up in the World Series, which the Detroit Tigers would take from the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

Officers like Captain Thomas never abused their status. For them, as for McKenney, General Chesty Puller, the most highly decorated Marine in history, was the standard. Everyone knew that Puller had always put the enlisted men fighting at the front first. He had stood up to the highest ranking generals, when necessary, for those who spilled their blood.

This courage seemed to McKenney to be foreign to his seniors at III MAF. His diaries reflect his rising irascibility, even while coldly setting forth his professional activities: the record of a man pursuing his duties but unable to stomach an absence of logic. His seniors, he noted, found time "to go to some damn phony party over in the city with the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community." Hang the fact that a major offensive was in the offing. The Special Forces camp at Thuong Duc remained in trouble: a recon patrol had come back with information that an NVA general, native to the area, had suddenly appeared in the village next door. This information came on top of reports that any Americans who came near the village were being fired upon. It was a good indication the village would play an important part in the NVA's strategy to wipe out the camp. McKenney, in his stiff-necked way, just couldn't reconcile martinis with this looming threat.

He was in charge on a night when a fairly major decision had to be made. At least this gave him an opportunity to use a newly acquired skill. He had learned how to read NVA coordinates in the process of trying to decipher a captured message. He put this together with what he already knew about the recent spate of rocket and mortar attacks, and felt able to predict the enemy's next move. By daylight, the opposing forces had been outmaneuvered. McKenney wanted badly to go to church the next morning, a Sunday. Never terribly religious in the past, he found now that church gave his brain a rest from his professional frustrations. He put the thought of church out of mind. He could not spare the time.

McKenney later thanked God for once that he did not make it to church. Early Sunday, he learned that Lewis Puller, Chesty's son, had been badly wounded in a joint U.S-South Korean operation some thirty hours earlier. He rushed to the naval support hospital in Da Nang, where Lewis lay close to death. McKenney's last meeting with the Old Man, as most Marines affectionately called Puller Senior, flashed through his mind. At that time-it seemed long ago now-General Puller had been sick with worry, and looked vulnerable, almost fragile; his emotional state had been made all the more poignant by his erect and military posture. The Old Man had voiced fears then for his son. Lewis had just volunteered for Vietnam.

In college, Lewis had not been enthusiastic about following his father in a military career and had asked McKenney's advice. Sympathetic, McKenney told him to volunteer and get his service over with. But then Lewis had asked for the toughest assignment in the war, that of combat platoon leader. "No shit-bird job behind the supply lines for the son of a Marine legend," was the boy's attitude. General Puller had been very proud, but fearful. He had some premonition of disaster. Later in Vietnam, McKenney often thought that even though the Old Man put himself in the most dangerous spots throughout his career, the father could not have envisioned the kind of dangerous job the son had taken on. It was a job that had to be done virtually in handcuffs. For the past three months, Lieutenant Puller had led his platoon on regular patrols in the Riviera. A place of sands, bamboo, tall grass, and marshes along the South China Sea, Lewis's tactical area of responsibility was a free-for-all hunting ground, infested by enemy grenades and mortar rounds with trip wires, booby-trapped artillery shells, and secretly armed farmers. It hardly seemed possible, but since the beginning of the August offensive, the VC had stepped up their level of activity there. Enemy snipers were everywhere and McKenney had come across numerous reports of five-hundred-pound bombs set in foot traps.

Lewis had stepped on a booby-trapped howitzer round. It threw him high in the air and literally vaporized a good portion of his body. McKenney arrived at the hospital in the midst of a tropical storm. The senior medical officers explained Lewis's condition and took him to see the patient in the shock research unit with heavy rain thundering on the tin roof and fierce lightning outside the gale-rattled windows. He thought he knew what to expect, but the horror of actually seeing what had been done to the Old Man's son nearly choked him. Lewis looked so pathetically small, his right leg completely gone, the left leg off above midthigh. Parts of both hands were gone too. What was left was burned up to his elbow. In the shock of the first few seconds, McKenney thought he was dead. Then he saw that the color was fairly good. Lewis looked like a broken up little doll, the stump of his trunk and his arms in bloody dressings. The room was drab and water plonked from the ceiling into buckets and bowls. Wordless, McKenney was grateful that Puller remained asleep.

It was unreasonable, he knew, but he felt that he and all the officers here had failed the old General by letting this happen to his son. He knew if Lewis died, his father would not be able to survive it. The Riviera was a mincing machine. It could have and should have been destroyed long ago. McKenney had "incredible intelligence" on the place, particularly on the leprosarium there, which was run by an American VC sympathizer known only as Smith. Because he was a civilian he could not be targeted by hunter-killer teams. By calling it a mission for the sanctuary of lepers, who were treated in Vietnam as outcasts, Smith was able to provide a secret staging area and supply point for the VC. Lewis, like almost every American patrol going in and out of the Riviera, had to traverse a dangerous passageway past snipers who would lie in wait at the leprosarium. The patrols were also betrayed by Smith's spies, who would alert other VC units in the Riviera to their presence. Yet, because of its official "neutral" status, American soldiers never were allowed to answer fire coming from the sanatorium.

October 11th, the day Lewis Puller had half his body blown away, marked the beginning of an ambitious operation to clean up another one of the Riviera's major trouble spots. This was only possible because it was being done jointly with South Korean allies, who were free of the political constraints that handicapped American soldiers. At the southernmost edge of what had been Lewis's tactical area of responsibility was a small village called Viem Dong, controlled by the VC. In the past month, U.S. patrols had taken increasing amounts of hostile fire from it without being able to fire back. Lewis had been part of a joint "cordon and search mission." His platoon was to form a cordon around the village along with other U.S. units. The Koreans would sweep through the village and drive the unsuspecting enemy into the Marines' field of fire. Because of the known toughness -- some called it brutality-of the South Koreans, Lewis had figured that the village of Viem Dong would not be likely to play host to the VC in the future.

Lewis had been delighted to go on the offensive, for once, and everything went smoothly at the beginning. Lewis had just gotten his men on line, as part of the cordon, when a squad of green-uniformed NVA soldiers began running out of the village directly in Lewis's path. As he began to fire at them, his M16 automatic rifle malfunctioned, a common experience then for Americans in combat. Weaponless, he headed for company headquarters where the NVA's firepower could be returned by Marines. Then he stepped on the booby-trapped howitzer shell. [1]

When they amputated his destroyed right leg, the corpsman who was working on Lewis asked his father's name. He replied, "Puller." The corpsman then asked, "What does he do?" Lewis answered, "He's a general." The corpsman said, "Army or Marine?" Lewis, a little peeved, answered, "Marine, of course." Tears ran down McKenney's face when he recalled this: "Lewis had more guts than the law allowed."

Lewis Puller would survive after months of uncertainty, but the psychic scars that accompanied his drastic amputations would take a lifelong toll. McKenney spent most of the first few critical days at his bedside and reporting on his progress to his parents and wife, who was seven months pregnant. Communication from the Marine Corps was terrible and fraught with constrictions. The Pullers had first heard of Lewis's wounding on the CBS news. McKenney had no compunction about breaking the rules here. He used the Military Automated Radio Calls, off limits for casualty calls, to get in touch with Marty, his wife, who would then call the family with frequent reports. This was possible because McKenney had excellent subordinates like Stan Sydenham who were able to carry on for him. And he had tl1e personal blessing of his good friend General Rathvon McC. Tompkins, who was also close to the Pullers.

There was little else McKenney could do. He took out his anger on a young doctor who took pictures of Lewis's wounds from the moment he arrived at the hospital. The doctor's colleagues reported he planned to use the photographs in antiwar lectures after he returned to the States. McKenney had the pictures confiscated. He simply could not understand what he considered the moral treachery of Americans like the doctor, or the active treachery of the man called Smith, who ran the leprosarium as an armed camp against his own country's soldiers.

The Puller tragedy toughened McKenney's resolve to hunt down American traitors who fell under his jurisdiction, like Bobby Garwood, and to do something about cleaning up the Riviera. Neither task had anything to do with honorable warfare, yet they seemed to represent the real killer in Vietnam-this treacherous ambivalence and uncertainty.

In the fall of 1968 more than 50 percent of all casualties in I Corps were from mines and booby traps. The statistics became an effective enemy weapon too. They hurt morale among those pitting themselves against phantoms. A young Marine lieutenant like Lewis Puller had a sixty-day life expectancy. "The booby-trap problem was talked to death, but no one did anything about it, least of all the staff officers safe behind their desks theorizing about nonexistent booby-trap factories," noted McKenney. Any fool knew the materials for making booby traps could be found everywhere: a grenade or a chip of TNT, simple wire, and simple fuse. The enemy was teaching children how to set them. It was a problem that needed to be studied by someone with experience, willing to spend time with the rifle platoons where most of the injuries occurred. Some platoons had very low booby-trap casualty rates. Others, fighting in similar locales, had very high rates. The Korean Marines working the same territory had no casualties. Since nobody in the rear appeared to be bothered, or haunted by the nightmare memory of Lewis Puller's smashed body, McKenney systematically assembled data on all forms of enemy traps. He thought his experience as rifle platoon leader in Korea, though dated, might be something to start with. He had no official approval at the beginning. He knew that the deputy commander at III MAF, General Tompkins, was a great personal leader who built confidence by regularly visiting each of his rifle squads in the field, so later he got Tompkins's approval for the task. [2]

None of his seniors knew that less than two weeks after Lewis Puller was wounded, Colonel McKenney began joining the rifle patrols as an "overpaid rifleman." This was not appropriate for someone of his rank. He only got away with it because everyone assumed he was visiting the battalion compounds when he went on his "field studies." He did not disabuse them of the notion. Neither did he write home about it. Supportive though his wife was, she would not have understood. On his first self-assigned mission to an area close to where Lewis Puller was wounded, the patrol camp was ambushed by an enemy unit of women. One Marine took a bullet in the head. That same day in two separate incidents, two more patrol members were killed and three badly wounded by mines. It was not an unusual day. He learned that officers who had never been close to a rifle platoon would often insist on patrols taking place that were nothing more than conditioning hikes with the complication of booby traps thrown in. Exhausted men were sent on one patrol after another to keep them in good form, a ludicrous thesis, since so many came back in no form at all.

The only time he ever had a sense of real foreboding was when he joined Lewis Puller's old platoon for an early morning patrol. He explained it to himself as a case of retroactive empathy. The men had formed up behind the big wire gate of base Camp G, waiting to move out. For security reasons, they found out about their mission-a joint "sweep" operation with the ARVN-only a few hours before. G Company commander Clyde Woods issued his orders to the platoon leaders and their ammunition, grenades, and rations were distributed in silence. Weapons were cleaned. Then the men had a few hours to sleep in their gear. Now, standing in the hot and humid darkness, tension showed in their faces. Somewhere within the base camp a radio was playing softly. It was Glen Campbell singing "Wichita Lineman." Each must have wondered, as did McKenney, if they would ever hear it again.

At first gray light they moved out single file, weapons cocked, muzzles alternating left and right. That way, if they were ambushed, they would only have to squeeze the trigger and at least half the men would be firing in the right direction. Before each step, the point man probed the sand carefully with a long stick's knife point. He then put his foot in that precise spot, probed again and brought up his second foot slowly. Each man behind stepped carefully in the footprints of the man in front. It required total concentration from the lead man and also keen awareness of the surroundings. McKenney could never put into words what it felt like to miss a footprint or jump a ditch.

Within weeks, McKenney's strange sense of dread the morning he joined Puller's old platoon had been justified. Many of the men of G Company were dead or wounded. Twenty-four of them became casualties when a forty-pound box mine exploded under the amtrac on which they were riding. Captain Woods received severe wounds to his face and upper body in another mission. Lieutenant Kenny Shelleman, who had been a close friend of Lewis Puller's, was shot and killed in an ambush. Neither McKenney nor the small circle of men he worked with dwelled on any of this. To have done so would have paralyzed them emotionally. To survive they buried tragedy in a euphemism peculiar to all wars. In a phrase referring back to the ten thousand-dollar life insurance policy all WWII GIs took out before they went to war, Shelleman, like all those whose lives were snuffed out early, was said to have "bought the farm."

It was after Puller was wounded that Garwood entered McKenney's dreams, a mysterious figure eluding the execution he richly deserved. Awake, McKenney imagined having Garwood brought before him so he could look him in the eye, spit on him, and then personally kill him. If it had been possible to go on patrol with one of the hunter-killer teams after a Garwood sighting, he would have done so. He could not, because unlike the rifle platoon patrols he accompanied to booby-trap country, the reconnaissance teams and hunter-killer patrols stayed in the field four to five days or longer -- too long for him to shelve his other responsibilities. He consoled himself with the knowledge that he had the power to direct the hunt, if not act as personal Marine Corps avenger.

Reports of deserters frequently came from Vietnamese agents, whose information was carefully assessed according to previous reliability. A-1 was the ranking for an agent who had always been right and whose information was presumed to be correct; B-2, the most common category, was "a usually reliable source with information that was presumed reliable," and so forth. Agents' reports were combined with reports brought in by Marine and other special operations units as well as "other" intelligence coming from the CIA through counterintelligence or the Naval Investigative Service. One patrol tracking a Vietnamese unit might spot large footprints that could belong only to Caucasians or perhaps Chinese communists, who often had large physiques. If another patrol spotted an NVA or VC unit in the same time frame and vicinity, McKenney could be convinced enough about the possibility of Garwood's being there to attach a special sniper to patrols heading in that direction. If the information seemed really hot, a two-man sniper team might be sent with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing the target.

Information on traitors was taken very seriously when it came from those who had been involved with a personal sighting. One Marine patrol in the early days had strayed into North Vietnam where they spotted a camouflaged team of six Caucasians. Because of the location they considered it a strong probability the six were Russians. No contact was made. This was one of the many elusive sightings of possible traitors. Others were considered hard evidence.

In 1965, Bobby Evans, the CCN intelligence officer who had seen photographs of three Marine deserters soon after McKenney's CI briefing, was a Special Forces sergeant and area specialist when the village next to the Special Forces camp at Min-tan was attacked by a VC battalion, led by a "black American." It was taken as a confirmed sighting because a South Vietnamese Special Forces captain, an acquaintance of Evans who was working with the United States, was not only in the village when the assault was made but also had his camera with him. Hidden under rubble, he took pictures of "The Black," who was then identified as a former U.S. Army master sergeant and adviser with U.S. military command. "The Black," dressed in black pyjamas and wearing a pair of revolvers cowboy style, had told the villagers in passable Vietnamese that he was the assault force battalion commander. Evans personally verified all of this: with a Special Forces B-team, [3] he was on the first resupply aircraft to the village after the assault. But the information had taken a day to wind its way through the ARVN bureaucracy before reaching the Americans. By then it was too late to send the choppers, which normally would move within seconds to cut off the traitor's retreat. An investigation by the U.S. Special Forces A-team was reported through the chain of command to headquarters at Nha Trang and CIA headquarters in Saigon. The response was quick and simple: find the traitor, fix him, and eliminate him. All hunter-killer teams were then instructed to target The Black first if he was spotted with a VC unit.

But The Black never interested McKenney: he was not a Marine. The traitor McKenney did want kept eluding him. Despite tantalizing reports from usually reliable sources, Bobby Garwood seemed always to be too far north; the recon teams were unable to get a fix on him. If CI reported a sighting on Tuesday, by early Wednesday he had vanished from the area.

By early spring of 1969 many of McKenney's other aspirations and dreams seemed to be coming true. He often thought how right his father had been to make him choose the most difficult path. It was now paying off. His friends had warned him early on that his uncompromising attitude could ruin his career, and yet his career was moving steadily forward. He had stood up for his men and supported the kind of warfare the antiwar activists, and later even former Secretary of Defense McNamara, called immoral. By March he was made assistant G-2 (Operations), First Marine Division, where the hunter-killer teams he held in such high regard now became his primary assets. It was pretty much assumed by those in the know that he would take command of the reconnaissance battalion for I Corps in the fall.

He had been called to Saigon in January, during the height of the second Tet offensive, to be interviewed for the assignment of chief adviser to the provincial reconnaissance units of the Phoenix program. The possibility had excited him because he firmly believed in the goal of the program and by this time had had plenty of opportunity to see it work, and to direct its USMC hunter-killer-affiliated projects. His only hesitation was that part of the job required working with the "leisure-suit types." He felt more than ever that they knew nothing about the practicalities of jungle warfare. It was one such type who interviewed him in CIA headquarters on Pasteur Street in Saigon, where he had been led after a circuitous route through back corridors. The interviewer was smug in his contempt for the Marine Corps colonel before him; and he seemed childishly secretive, revealing almost nothing about the job McKenney had come there to discuss. It didn't take long to figure out that the Leisure Suit knew nothing about the field end of the job and probably didn't care. McKenney was annoyed to find later that he had been summoned for the interview after the assignment had already been given to someone else. Just as his interviewer neither knew nor cared about the mechanics of field work, McKenney was in the dark about the program's bureaucracy and politics.

Phoenix was undergoing a radical change, on paper. Control of the provincial reconnaissance units was being transferred from the CIA to the South Vietnamese. This was destined to affect the integrity of the whole program. Those who were actually assigned the task of assassination believed that when the program was CIA directed, the lists of targets included only Vietcong Infrastructure, which could be confirmed by the American special operations soldiers and Marines engaged to do the work. The fact that they were also told to eliminate American traitors is curiously erased from this defensive rationale. It did not occur to McKenney until he was questioned years later that hunter-killer teams were ordered to hunt alleged American traitors without the possibility of examining their guilt. Yet the teams were encouraged to examine the proof of each Vietnamese target's guilt at South Vietnamese district and provincial intelligence operations centers. In the opinion of the "shooters," those who "neutralized" or "exploited" the people on the list, it was a professionally run program. It was believed to make few mistakes. It was an article of faith that nobody violated any international convention in killing the targets or exploiting them: they were "proven" provocateurs and spies. This was now beginning to change. Vietnamese people were becoming targets for political, personal, and economic reasons.

South Vietnam had a complicated intelligence and national security system. For political reasons, the Americans did not interfere and often catered to it. A good number of high-level South Vietnamese intelligence professionals were also working for the CIA. Almost every government intelligence and police unit had a twin institution under the control of the South Vietnamese president. A similar system in the U.S. would have meant that in addition to the FBI and the CIA, the president would have had his own FBI and CIA. Most of these units were headed by men who had graduated together from the famous Class 10 at the Vietnamese Military Academy in the late 1950s. Many had then gone on to study Phoenix-like operations at a course given by the British Special Air Services in Malaysia, where communist terrorism had ended with the withdrawal of its communist Chinese leaders. There were basic differences in how the British operations were run and in the conditions of their particular battlegrounds, but what mattered to students from Vietnam was that the British had succeeded. They hoped to get the same results. The cover name for the course was Foreign Area Reconnaissance and Liaison.

Probably only the CIA could keep track of such a complicated system run by powerful men and fraught with rivalries. It was certainly not something that U.S. military men like McKenney, in charge of a small portion of field work, had time to analyze critically. There was, for example, the South Vietnamese Central Intelligence Office, equivalent to the CIA in the United States. The man who headed that agency went under the cover of deputy commander, Saigon Capital Police, and deputy of Special Branch.

One of President Nguyen Van Thieu's closest intelligence advisers, a man who headed what was in effect a very private intelligence agency for Thieu, was Vu Ngoc Nha. Rumored to have been a leader in the Vietminh resistance group, he was remembered by only a few to have actually spent time in prison during the 1950s for those activities. What impressed Thieu, a strong Catholic, was that Nha had given up his Buddhism and converted to Catholicism. Additionally, Nha had headed former South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem's private intelligence service, known as the Political Research Center. Thieu used him in the same capacity although his private intelligence service had another name. ha was known to be on the CIA payroll with an office at CIA headquarters on Pasteur Street in Saigon, where McKenney had gone to be interviewed for the job that had already been given away. In fact, Nha acted as secret liaison between the CIA and Thieu. No one doubted he had access to all CIA files. There was strong suspicion that he ordered people neutralized for reasons that had nothing to do with official Phoenix goals.

In July 1969, the following year, Nha and Huyn Van Trong, who worked with ha in Thieu's prefecture, would be exposed as masterminds behind an espionage ring in a major public scandal that would seriously damage Thieu's presidency. By the end of November 1969, these two along with thirty-seven others would be found guilty of espionage. The U.S. government would then take the official position that it suspected Nha and Trong all along. This would lead many of South Vietnam's political leaders to suspect that the CIA had used Nha to try to bring down the Thieu government as it had brought down Diem's. ha, they believed, had played a double game with the CIA, and compromised its records. He had been in a perfect position to feed false information into the system on everything, including alleged American deserters like Bobby Garwood.

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, Nha was promoted to general in Cong An, North Vietnam's secret service. It was then discovered that infiltration had by no means ended with the conviction of the thirty-seven in 1969.

Another man used by the CIA to try to bring down the Thieu government was Huyn Ba Thanh, the amiable cartoonist of Saigon's popular newspapers Hoc Binh and Xay Dung. Thanh, too, worked as an agent for the United States with top-level access to CIA headquarters on Pasteur Street. His real status within Cong An would remain secret until after the war, when it became vital to shedding light on Bobby Garwood's predicament.

McKenney knew nothing of this, and would not have believed that men like Nha and Thanh were responsible for turning Vietnamese innocents into Phoenix targets. McKenney merely provided the raw input-agents' reports, information collected through prisoner interrogations and the material collected by recon patrols-but he had no jurisdiction over who actually ended up on the lists. In the same way, he was the man who gave the specific kill order for those on the lists who were in his territory. The possibility of mistakes being made, or of corrupt motives resulting in the elimination of innocents, simply did not occur to him.

It more than occurred to Special Forces Lieutenant Mark Smith, a shooter recruited when the program was directed entirely by Americans, in 1967. After the South Vietnamese began making input, he became convinced there were names of innocent Vietnamese on some of the CIA lists.

American deserters were another matter. Smith had no doubt about their guilt even though he never saw their names on any list. He simply believed the stories that he thought were being circulated by military intelligence. He secretly applauded this sensitive matter being handled in such a discreet way. He believed Bobby Garwood, the most prominent and wily of the deserters, was targeted by the Marine Corps for good reason. If he had been given the opportunity, he himself would have gladly neutralized Garwood. Everyone Smith knew in his business felt the same way, and he would have resented any suggestion that this kind of program was either immoral or improper during wartime.

Only long after the war was over and he'd had time to contemplate all that had happened did Mark Smith realize that some of his superiors within Phoenix had themselves questioned the morality of assassinations. It was obvious in the way they tried to distance themselves from the field work. After Smith had neutralized a considerable number of targets his superiors had specified, it was suggested, or insinuated, that perhaps he was getting to like the work too much, that it was time to send him back to the regular army.

Smith prided himself on standing up for the right thing when it counted. He not only personally deleted the names of those he thought innocent from the CIA lists, he took the same action when made aware of innocent Americans who were targeted. Much later in his career, a colleague who was acting as a provincial recon unit adviser in Thua Tin province was felt out by military intelligence about neutralizing an American first lieutenant on a U.S. firebase [4] in I Corps. The lieutenant was allegedly in contact with antiwar groups in America. Mark Smith strongly advised his friend to tell the military- intelligence types "to get screwed," and to seek the help of William Colby, who by then had retired as head of Phoenix, but could still be influential on matters like this. Colby apparently pushed the appropriate buttons because the lieutenant was left alone. Mark Smith, who had an outstanding battle record, later testified to these matters under oath.

The certainty of Garwood's guilt among men like Mark Smith in this period originated with the larger-than-life stories told about one man, Special Forces sergeant Issac Camacho, whom they believed had done the impossible. These stories gained credence in the peculiar circumstances in which they were heard by men in the jungle cut off from regular contact with a saner outside world. It was said Camacho had escaped from one of the toughest VC prison camps in Laos when a nearby munitions dump was bombed by American planes, and this was certainly verified later. The bombing briefly threw his captors into disarray. Legend then had it that Camacho trekked his way through heavy jungle and small villages, without weapons in a country where any foreigner stuck out like a sore thumb, and the locals could literally smell an American even if he remained hidden. Special Forces lore had it that Camacho, who was of Mexican background, passed for an Asian. But that was not what saved him. He survived because he reverted to the most brutal and primitive warrior instincts, killing everyone who got in his way on the way back.

Rumor had it that Issac Camacho was an angry man when he got back, with a very special hatred for American deserters who were helping to destroy their own former comrades, and that Camacho had informed the U.S. government about these traitors. The story went that he had been taunted with the name of Bobby Garwood in prison and had even caught a glimpse of the traitor in the distance, dressed in the uniform of the enemy, consorting with his Vietnamese buddies.

There was only one problem with the legend of Issac Camacho. It was true that Camacho made a remarkable and heroic escape from a brutal Vietnamese prison camp. Navigating roughly by the sun, he found his way back to Min-tan Special Forces camp, eluding at least four armed VC patrols along the way. It was also true that he was angry at those who had compromised him and other POWs. But he did not blame Garwood or any fellow prisoners, or even deserters. In testimony before a Senate committee in 1971, he blamed the politicians whose public pronouncements had fed the enemy's belief that American civilians thought of their soldiers as war criminals. [5] And he blamed the reporters who printed details of his special warfare background after his capture. The VC had used this to torture him mercilessly.

Most remarkably, Camacho's ordeals predated Bobby Garwood's disappearance. Issac Camacho was captured on the day of President Kennedy's assassination in 1963. He escaped in July 1965. Garwood was not captured until two months later.



1. Lewis B. Puller Jr., Fortunate Son: The Healing of a Vietnam Vet. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991.

2. McKenney was to discover that the booby-trap problem was created largely by Marines themselves. Almost 90 percent of the booby traps were made with grenades left behind by men on patrol. Unlike their allies, the Korean Marines, American boys had a tendency to be untidy and to leave things behind, such as the grenades with which they had built their defensive perimeters. Considering that each man used five or six grenades in front of the foxholes he dug on almost daily patrols, the amount of booby-trap ammunition made available to the enemy was sizable. Wise to the untidy habits of the Americans, the communists invariably moved in after Marines had vacated their positions and collected the grenades. It took only a little trip wire from the grenade to a tree or bush to create a most lethal weapon. Patrols could be and often were devastated by grenades they themselves had provided. And it was not just grenades. It was just as easy for the enemy to booby trap other debris left by American soldiers. One of the first solutions to this problem was to institute a policy of grenade discipline, a laudable idea that should not have required a senior officer to go out on patrol before anyone thought of it.

3. An A-team, commanded by a captain, was the lowest level Special Forces team. Each A-team was subordinate to a B-team, the next level up, commanded by a major. Each B-team was subordinate to a C-team, commanded by a lieutenant colonel. C-teams consisted of several B-teams and each B-team consisted of several A-teams. Most of the isolated Special Forces camps in South Vietnam were A-team camps.

4. Short for fire support base, a fortified base camp that contained logistical support, communications, artillery, and mortar fire support for one or more battalions. Firebases were isolated, usually located in the center of a battalion's tactical area or responsibility.

5. Issac Camacho testified on August 3rd, 1971, before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on National Security Policy and Scientific Development on the problems of American POWs.
Site Admin
Posts: 32372
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 6:40 am

Chapter 11: To Covet Honor

The First Marine Division command post, to which Colonel McKenney moved in early March, was on Hill 327, better known as Freedom Hill. A large ridge to the west of Da Nang, running generally north-south and blocking the invasion corridor from Dai La Pass and Laos, it was crucial to the defense of Da Nang, constantly probed and periodically attacked by the enemy. His new job had less scope than the one vacated at III MAF but it suited him perfectly. He had none of the irritating administrative duties or the hassles. His new boss, Colonel Anthony Skotniki, could be hot tempered, but he knew the business of intelligence. He also knew how to use McKenney to the best advantage. The only confrontation the two ever had was about McKenney's penchant for going on field trips. Skotniki laid down the law. His new chief of operations could not be chief and go out on patrol, and that included any idea of personally going after Garwood.

In a way the ultimatum was a relief. It allowed McKenney to concentrate on strategy. Besides, the small circle of riflemen he worked with could do the job better. They were younger, outstandingly fit, and perfectly suited to their difficult work. He would sometimes laugh aloud when he read articles about the "stoned generation" back home. They thought they had cornered the market on love and brotherhood. Real brotherhood was here, with the small band of men he compared to King Harry's men-those who went to war, and against all odds defeated the French on St. Crispin's Day. Only Shakespeare had been genius enough to give words to this sentiment when he wrote in Henry v: "We few we happy few, we band of brothers .... We would not die in that man's company that fears his fellowship to die with us."

Noone personified this kind of comradeship more than Captain Sam Owens, whom McKenney already knew from III MAF, and who was now his right-hand man. Owens reviewed all First Division combat POW interrogation and intelligence reports. A mustang, he brought to the job not only the frontier skills he had learned from his father in the small town of Bing, Oklahoma, but also experience and the right attitude. This was the career Marine's second tour of duty in Vietnam and he knew exactly why he was there-"to kill people"- which he did not hesitate to tell people back home during his leave. He was equally prepared to give his life for his country. That was what war was about. He was proud of being good at his job, so good that he had been asked by Special Forces to teach the subtleties of running hunter-killer patrols at their School of Special Warfare, at Fort Bragg. It was an unusual arrangement, worked out between the Marine commandant and the head of Special Forces, to make sure the Army Special Forces teams became as proficient at these operations as the Marine Corps. Owens shared with McKenney a history of excelling in special-warfare skills and striving to be the best Marine possible. They also shared the same view on the CIA. In Owens's opinion, if the CIA suspected someone, they treated that suspicion as certainty. If they made mistakes they made them plausibly deniable. "They were as low as a snake's belly in a wagon track," said Owens. Throughout his career he had headed the Corps "lineal list," the book that lists every USMC officer according to seniority and record of accomplishment, [1] ranking number one among all the officers commissioned with him in 1962. Owens thought McKenney the most professional officer he had ever worked for, more perceptive and focused than the generals at the top.

One of the early Marines in Vietnam, Owens was the patrol leader with First Force Recon Company based on China Beach at the foot of Monkey Mountain in 1965, when Bobby Garwood made his last fateful run. Garwood's intended cargo-the lieutenant he never met up with-was one of Owens's comrades.

Owens had relished living out in "Injun country." He had no illusions about the strength and capabilities of the VC. He understood an enemy who did not have high-tech gadgets, whose craftsmanship included the punji stake, a sharp stick dipped in feces that shot up between an unsuspecting man's legs when a concealed line was tripped. The good thing about having led deep-penetration patrols into the heart of enemy territory was the absence of the kind of restrictions that so frustrated the regular infantry in so-called friendly territory. Living completely by their senses, knowing death as a constant possibility, Owens's comrades shared his sense that they would never again feel so keenly alive. There was a curious dichotomy at work here: a conscious effort not to get too close to the people who might die, combined with a deep alliance that expressed itself in the wish, if die they must, to die only in the fellowship of comrades.

The possibility of being taken prisoner was constant. When that happened, as it did to Owens's radio man, Russ Grisset, in the spring of 1966, the teams went on with their work but they never forgot those who were lost. After some time, Owens had assumed Grisset was dead because he doubted anyone could survive what Issac Camacho had suffered in a VC prison camp for very long. An additional hazard, and most worrying of all, was the enemy's view that prisoners were not entitled to the protection of international agreements because the United States was waging an illegal, undeclared war.

Then in the fall of 1968, just a few months before McKenney moved over to Freedom Hill, Owens came across surprising evidence that Grisset was still alive. A hunter-killer patrol had killed a VC courier. Checking through the contents of the dead man's bag, Owens found a mimeographed list of American and Vietnamese prisoners, held at a camp never recorded in any American intelligence seen by Owens, and an order transferring them from one camp to another. The original list had been typed on a strange typewriter. The letters looked Cyrillic. Russ Grisset's name was on the list along with a VC report of interrogation noting that Grisset had somehow managed to keep his Marine-issued shoes. His captors had not allowed him to wear them, so he always kept them around his neck. Making special note of Russ Grisset, and that the list appeared to be three months old, Owens passed the names on to his superiors.

It was not until McKenney personally spoke to Owens about targeting Bobby Garwood that something registered in Owens's mind. He vaguely remembered Garwood's name being on the same list but could not swear by it. Details were forgotten. He accepted the directive to kill Garwood without question. Unlike McKenney, he did not assume the Marine private had deserted. He believed Garwood had been captured and forced to go along at first. But he had no doubt that Garwood was involved in leading enemy soldiers against his own. Owens assumed McKenney knew what he was doing.

Much later he would describe it as a kind of tragedy that he was so indoctrinated by the Marine Corps, never challenging anything he was told to do. He had quietly disobeyed only once. In the field, after a losing battle, his superior told him to leave his dead comrades behind because the surrounding enemy would pick off anyone who went back. Owens went back repeatedly, to bring them out one by one. The men under his command did the same. The NVA soldiers watched in silence without firing one shot.

Like McKenney, Sam Owens was well read. He kept up with all the newspapers and magazines in addition to his source materials as an intelligence officer. His priority was Corps, God, and country. It would be ten years after his retirement from the Corps before he questioned anything. In the spring of 1969, although he was not as obsessed with getting Garwood as McKenney, he was just as determined to get the job done.



1. The lineal list, in the library of every command, was published yearly by the USMC office of personnel. Promotion was determined entirely by the number of points each Marine accumulated. No Marine could be placed in command of someone who outnumbered him by even one point.
Site Admin
Posts: 32372
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:21 am

Chapter 12: Spring of Hope / Winter of Despair

Honor in the sense that Shakespeare wrote of was not part of Garwood's vocabulary when he was growing up, but he always had a fine sense of right and wrong, of loyalty and responsibility toward those he loved and respected. He never once considered it a duty to take care of his younger brother Don, to turn most of his hard-earned wages over to his family, or to search for his mother despite his father's harsh and absolute opposition.

At III MAF he was the only one to write long, eloquent letters not just to his family and fiancee, but also to close friends. He did this because he valued kinship, affection, and friendship above all else. He knew they did not come cheaply. One of the reasons he was so happy in the Marine Corps was because its creed incorporated all of the values he instinctively admired and because it gave him the fellowship he had always craved.

Now in the prison camps of the North Vietnamese his honor, in every sense of the word, was tested far beyond the experience of men like Owens and McKenney. Like them he had his band of brothers -- albeit much smaller than theirs-and did not fear his fellowship to die with them. They were so important in his life, he risked both death and a chance for freedom by not abandoning them. When they died, he shared with men like McKenney and Owens the primeval need to see them properly buried on home ground. When the enemy denied his impulse to sanctify the dead, he was driven to rectify the violation, no matter how long it took. Later, need for friendship with his own people would become his Achilles' heel, providing a means not only for the VC to apply the cruelest mental punishment in the prison camps, but for both the enemy and some of his own countrymen to exact permanent revenge and ruin his life.

The charges that would be brought against him after fourteen years in captivity were drawn up by commanders of the same corps that had seemed the one safe anchorage in a troubled youth: and the full facts emerge now only through a reconstruction of events by military intelligence chiefs, Special Forces' specialists in highly secret operations, and others with special access to hitherto buried official reports. After the passage of so much time, allowance must be made for fallible memories, but there remain documents and sworn statements that are hard to refute, which back up Garwood's own story and which present a very different portrait of Garwood from the one fabricated to make him seem a traitor.

After enduring three months of interrogation and torture at Quang Da, the first prison camp to which Garwood was taken, his morale was shattered. He was very ill with dysentery and malaria. What he experienced and witnessed being done to South Vietnamese prisoners he could not have conceived of as human before he was captured. He was now living in a six-by-five-foot outdoor cage, four feet off the ground and with no roof, which was in itself a form of torture. The cages were made of bamboo poles strapped together. There were no mats. The rough wood had worn away his flesh and there were festering holes in his hips and buttocks that revealed his bones. These wounds would leave lifelong scars. Periodically he would, for no apparent reason, be placed in a punishment cell, five feet in length and three feet high, with his feet in stocks. He was uncertain about how long he would be allowed to live. More and more he wanted to die in the jungle to escape the horror and pain of the world he found himself in. The worst part of it was the isolation. He had always been a gregarious, outgoing person. It was one of the reasons he had been so willing to do favors for the officers at III MAF. Now he had not seen an American or even another Caucasian since his capture. He continues to believe that if he had remained in isolation much longer, he would have died.

A few weeks before Christmas, Garwood was moved to Camp Khu, situated somewhere between the three provinces of Quang Nam, Quang Gai, and Quang Tu. The camp was brand new, with some structures still being built by South Vietnamese POWs. For the first time he was housed in a thatched-roof structure called a hootch by Americans. At first he inhabited the hootch alone. It was the monsoon season. Dressed in shorts and skimpy shirt, Garwood was stiff with the damp, bone-chilling cold. By now he was almost oblivious to the realities of extreme deprivation. Hallucinating from hunger, his mind was in California with his fiancee, Mary Speer, and his brother Don.

At first, the tall, squinting, phantom-figure in black shorts appearing in the doorway of the hootch seemed part of the hallucination. The apparition leaning on a stick looked like the skeletal figures Bobby had seen of Holocaust victims. Later he would learn that he himself looked just as deathly frail. It was obvious the stranger could not see well enough to respond to Garwood. When Garwood moved closer and looked into his eyes, he knew the emaciated man was another American. Both men began to cry and hug each other, oblivious to the derisive snickers of the communist guards.

The newcomer introduced himself as Captain William F. (Ike) Eisenbraun, Special Forces. He was in terrible shape. Extremely nearsighted, his glasses had been taken when he was captured. He was frail and his body was covered with oozing, chronic wounds from beatings and swollen with hunger edema. He was bitter because he had been taken prisoner in what he considered a dishonorable way, betrayed by South Vietnamese comrades. He had been adviser to an ARVN command post at Pleiku working out of I Corps. Under attack from the VC, the entire ARVN battalion stationed in the outpost threw down their weapons and surrendered. Eisenbraun and two American colleagues were hiding in a trench when one of their own ARVN officers pointed them out to the VC. Eisenbraun had undergone the same forced marches and humiliations as Garwood. When he refused to answer interrogators' questions he was tortured. He kept on refusing until it stopped making a difference. The ARVN battalion commander and officers who surrendered and betrayed him also told the VC everything they knew about Eisenbraun and the I Corps command structure he belonged to. They did this during a confrontation between Eisenbraun and themselves set up by the VC, some weeks after his capture. Eisenbraun was surprised at the accuracy and extent of the enemy's information. Afterward, he had no compunction about writing confessions reiterating the same information the VC already had in their records. It was, he knew, a fallback position sanctioned by military regulations framed after the Korean War revealed the ruthless and finally irresistible methods of communist interrogators.

When Garwood realized that Eisenbraun had been interned since early July of that year and how much he had suffered, he no longer wanted to die. "I stopped feeling sorry for myself," he said later. Afraid his new friend might die any minute, he was desperate to keep him alive. He did not want to be alone again. For almost two years he helped Eisenbraun, doing whatever he could get away with, taking over his part of the labor, foraging food for him, and nursing him. Two years was an eternity; in retrospect, it became one long, endless night of struggle against despair.

The more Garwood got to know Eisenbraun, the more he respected him, so much so that at first he found it hard to call him anything but "Sir." Eisenbraun quickly told him that with only two there was hardly need for a chain of command. It was also the one thing the communists stomped on hard. If they sensed any chain of command, he told Garwood, the two prisoners would be separated. He insisted on being called Ike and always addressed the younger man as Bob, but privately maintained his responsibilities as the officer in command. In Garwood's mind, Ike became the father figure he had always craved. After kinship with his mother, it became the most important relationship in his life. Ike began teaching him how to survive the bewildering and cruel circumstances they found themselves in.

A graduate of the Army's established Jungle Warfare School in Panama, Eisenbraun was a mustang who had volunteered for three tours of duty in Vietnam. One of that small, tightly knit group of Special Forces advisers who came to Vietnam in the early 1960s, he fit the mold of men both Colonel McKenney and Captain Owens held in highest regard. In 1955, as a staff sergeant, he was Issac Camacho's squad leader at jump school, which the communists seemed to know about. In prison, Camacho later said, he was interrogated about it: "Again and again, I was shown Ike's picture and asked to identify him." Issac Camacho said he too had idolized Ike.

Eisenbraun was appalled at Garwood's lack of survival training, telling him bluntly that to have any chance of surviving, he would have to listen and learn. Eisenbraun explained that he would teach him not only because it was his duty as an officer, but also because they were friends. The first thing he taught Garwood was how to look for, recognize, and eat nonpoisonous plants, insects, and small animals-no matter how unpleasant-because they provided the only nutrients essential to surviving the diet provided by the communists. Garwood soon saw for himself that Eisenbraun was teaching him to supplement his diet just as their Vietnamese guards did. It was at least one of the reasons the guards remained healthy on food that at first appeared only marginally better than that of their prisoners. Garwood began to volunteer for work details, cutting and carrying logs used for firewood. He did this even when he was weak and sick so that he could forage for the nutrients Eisenbraun had taught him about. The center of the banana tree and the achua (sour fruit) contained vitamin C. Large green insects provided desperately needed protein. Eisenbraun also taught Garwood which green vegetables and leaves could be eaten as salad.

American prisoners were not allowed to cook their own meals like South Vietnamese prisoners. The VC believed the Americans might try to signal their spotter aircraft with smoke signals from the cooking fires. Eisenbraun told Garwood the VC had watched too many American Westerns. But harsh experience had taught the VC to pipe their own smoke out of the camp in tunnels, using the technique familiar to special operations men like Sam Owens. In the first few weeks of their being together Eisenbraun's weak condition continued to scare Garwood. Since he was the one sent to pick up their rations from the guard kitchen in separate baskets, he made sure that the older man got the greater portion despite his insistence that it be fifty-fifty. Garwood knew that his youth gave him a much better chance of surviving. The outcome of all this foraging and dissembling was that Ike's health improved marginally before "it kind of settled in." It was a matter of optimism for both of them that their health did not get worse and helped them to put up with the daily psychological harassment of their guards.

The two Americans were constantly put on display for the increasing numbers of NVA regulars who were coming through the camp. The guards whose families were suffering from the effects of the war often seemed to be just looking for an excuse to kill them. Neither doubted that their lives could be extinguished at any moment. For a time after the appearance of NVA regulars, though, there was little of the physical beatings, torture, and harassment both had experience earlier. Eisenbraun was grateful for the reprieve. He guessed there must be political reasons. Perhaps the communists were responding to a move from Washington. He was certain it did not mean a change in basic policy.

Ike had no illusions about the communists. He deliberately resigned himself to the notion that it was likely the two of them would remain prisoners for ten years or more. He told Bobby that was why the younger man must learn to understand their captors; to be able to figure out what was happening to the enemy and consequently to themselves. It was important to get a sense of where they were going when they were moved, which happened periodically, always on short notice. Only by staying alert in every way would they have a chance to get out information to international agencies that their status was that of live POWs. It was the only way they could survive. Ike told Bobby that in the sordid game they were involved in, there was only one hard and fast rule: "No American prisoner ever consciously harms another American prisoner." Going by more realistic rules than the Marine Corps, he said Bobby had done nothing wrong in signing the Fellow Soldier's Appeal under duress. Ike reassured him that he had signed similar documents. "The only people who will pay attention to it are the intelligence units," Bobby remembered him saying, "and they will use it to find us."

Like Colonel McKenney and Captain Owens, Eisenbraun had an unshakeable trust in the American intelligence system. He would not have believed the truth: that Special Forces operatives had, several times since his capture, received hard information on his whereabouts. This information had been quickly transmitted to those who could have authorized a rescue operation, a course of action that was not followed. [1]

Not all of Bobby's conversations with Ike were about the practicalities of survival. There was a lot of talk about home, their families and upbringing, and the importance of faith in God. It was the first time Bobby had spoken to someone who was in Vietnam out of commitment and conviction. Eisenbraun clearly loved his family with a very special attachment to his little daughter, yet he had volunteered for three tours in Vietnam. For all of his cynicism brought about by the South Vietnamese who betrayed him, he had a kind of innocence. He told Bobby he saw the peril the Vietnamese people were in and wanted to help prevent a communist takeover. Eisenbraun believed in the ideals of America, and was willing to give his life if necessary so that Vietnam could have a chance at democracy. He had been betrayed by some South Vietnamese, but Eisenbraun made a clear distinction between those Vietnamese who genuinely wanted democracy and those who didn't care or wanted communism. Until then Garwood had been convinced the Vietnamese, South and orth, "didn't want Americans there and couldn't care less if Americans lived or died."

Despite the miserable circumstances, Eisenbraun made Garwood feel secure and safe, and, against all probability, certain that "we were going to make it out of that hell hole." For the rest of his long internment Garwood would remember this time as his one spring of hope bracketed by winters of despair. He said, "Everything Eisenbraun told me, I ate it up. Every little joke was funny to me. When he got serious, I got serious. When he felt pain, so did I. When he laughed, so did I. I learned quickly. I don't know what it was but it seemed I had a natural ability to pick up on the Vietnamese language." It was a matter of great pride to Garwood that Eisenbraun told him it was a shame that he hadn't been sent to foreign language school. He was that good. For Ike, Bobby's adulation was probably normal, a part of the same syndrome noted by Colonel McKenney where enlisted men often latch on to older officers they admire. Issac Camacho had done the same with Eisenbraun. Such an attachment was even more understandable in the case of Bobby, who attributed it to Ike that he was still alive and would make it to freedom.

Ike's guidance and tutelage was, at first, an advantage to Garwood. Later it became a cursed gift that denied him any possibility of release from prison because it made his captors certain he was not the low-level Marine he claimed, but instead someone, like Eisenbraun, highly skilled in special operations and sabotage. Later, men with Eisenbraun's training were put in a separate prisoner category by the North Vietnamese, with no possibility of release. Skills he learned here would also isolate Garwood from American prisoners who came to the camps later. His progress in the Vietnamese language and survival and adaptability skills would make him look like a "white gook" and affront fellow Americans. Building on that impression the VC would playa vicious kind of deception that made "gook" interchangeable with "cong." The VC who had been suspicious of his G-2 connection from the day of his capture became progressively more certain that Garwood had espionage training of a kind that could have sinister repercussions for them. Garwood's interrogations by Ho dwelt endlessly on this theme. He never budged from his story that he was a simple private and driver, because it was the truth. They called him an luc gaao, (hardhead) but seemed strangely impressed by what they considered his intransigence. It was more proof that their suspicions were right. As long as he could talk to Ike, the interrogations, harassment, and even punishments rolled off him.

The South Vietnamese prisoners who were released during Tet 1966 and had reported to Marine headquarters that Garwood was a prisoner were some of the men who had been under Eisenbraun's command. Ike and Bobby were hopeful that word of their incarceration would finally get back to the Americans and that there might be a rescue attempt. But they knew the chances of this happening diminished each time they were moved to another camp. All the camps were much alike, with a kitchen, a camp commander's hootch, a guard hootch, a bamboo fence around it, and separate buildings for South Vietnamese and American prisoners, who were moved constantly to keep from being found and rescued. From Eisenbraun, Garwood learned that the administration of these camps came under the North Vietnamese psychological warfare section.

Both men's spirits were lifted that spring when they were joined by Sergeant Russ Grisset, another young Marine who had been taken prisoner just the week before. Grisset had been Sam Owens's radio man, presumed dead by the Marine Corps until one of Colonel McKenney's patrols killed a Vietnamese courier almost two years later and recovered an order transferring Grisset from one camp to another.

Grisset told Eisenbraun and Garwood that he had been separated from his patrol during an ambush and was then captured. He was not wounded. He surrendered when the enemy surrounded him with insurmountable fire power. To have done otherwise, he told them, would have meant annihilation. But he had not surrendered his shoes. Probably because they were too large to fit any Vietnamese, he had been allowed to keep them although he was not allowed to wear them. He kept them around his neck like a treasured necklace ready to be used at a moment's notice. He was just looking for the opportunity to escape. Like his two new friends soon after their capture, he made two attempts. To the two Americans he looked like an Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it was clear to them that their emaciated frames "scared the hell out of him." When told that Garwood, who now looked like an old man, was only nineteen years old, Grisset's face went white. He did not want to believe that he too would contract the same diseases Garwood and Eisenbraun suffered from.

Along with Grisset came another big change. Where formerly Americans had been separated from the South Vietnamese, they were now being housed together in one gigantic hootch. It did not take long for Eisenbraun to figure out why. He told the other two that the communists were using some South Vietnamese prisoners to spy on the Americans as well as their own countrymen. There were three Americans now and more joined them within weeks. Knowing there was strength in numbers the communists believed Eisenbraun would take command and plan an escape. Eisenbraun was certain that the South Vietnamese who agreed to spy had been promised freedom in exchange. It was obvious to all three Americans that one man, in particular, not only allowed himself to be used in this way, but seemed to enjoy it. His name, Garwood reported later to retired Defense Intelligence Agency chief General Eugene Tighe was Le Dinh Quy, who played informer on his own countrymen as well, which led to the execution of a Captain Nghia, an ARVN artillery battalion commander who had been captured in Pleiku, and whose courageous conduct won the admiration of the three Americans.

When Nghia was first captured by the Viet Cong, he gave a false name and rank. Quy, who knew him and had himself used several aliases, immediately went to the camp commandant and told him Nghia's true identity. This incensed Nghia, who took him to task before the other prisoners, calling him a traitor and threatening to kill him. This only made Quy go to the camp authorities again, charging Nghia with atrocities against the Vietnamese people, which, he said, he had personally witnessed. As a result, the camp authorities held a military tribunal with the informer as major witness against Nghia. The ad hoc tribunal sentenced Nghia to death. Unrepentant to the last, he promised the communists they would be defeated as he was led to his execution. In a last act of defiance, with his hands tied behind him, he bolted, running blindly into the stream next to the camp. Thirty seconds later his body was shredded by eight automatic rifles. Garwood never forgot him. Nghia made him proud to be an ally of the South Vietnamese. From that day forward, both he and Ike actively showed their contempt for Quy. Garwood told Tighe, "perhaps that was why Quy never forgot me." When Quy became one of the communists' early releasees he reported to the Americans that Garwood had collaborated with the enemy in prison camp. Fourteen years later, having become a U.S. citizen and presenting himself as a staunch former South Vietnamese patriot, he testified before a court martial that Bobby Garwood had collaborated with the enemy in prison camp.

In the spring of 1967, after a year of being together, the American prisoners were moved again in what seemed to be a northward direction. They tried to get coordinates from the sun but it was difficult. The triple canopy jungle kept them from seeing the sun except at sunup and sundown. In reality they were being led in circles, which became more apparent with each move. Despite always being led along different trails, the three Americans knew they remained in the same general area because they kept running into the same indigenous people who traded and bartered with their guards.

The third camp was larger, and run primarily by NVA regulars rather than VC. Garwood was by this time almost as proficient in Vietnamese as Eisenbraun, and almost as sensitive to what was happening. Grisset had difficulty with the language. He saw no need to learn it when the other two already had. He also saw no need for scavenging or eating the kind of food the other two tried to persuade him to eat. He did not object to taking food Garwood was able to steal from the guards' food bins although he worried about the consequences to all of them if Garwood got caught. Later Garwood would admit to being guilty of a kind of collaboration with the enemy, if collaboration meant volunteering for any work run that got him near the food bins-like tidying up the kitchen. The better he got, the more chances he took. One night after a severe bout of stomach illness had left Ike unable to eat for two days and nights, Garwood determined to get him some good food. He knew there were extra stores in the kitchen because the camp commandant was hosting a North Korean visitor. At the creek that ran next to the camp he smeared muddy clay allover his body and then crawled low through the gate, right past the guard post and to the kitchen and back. It was one time, he said, "Ike reamed my ass. He told me only a Marine would try a stunt like that." Had he been caught, he would have been shot on the spot. But the little can of French condensed milk he brought back for Ike was worth it.

After the three Americans were moved again in response to an American bombing of the camp, their circumstances changed radically. They were no longer the only American prisoners of war. They were segregated and, for the first time, there seemed a possibility for release. The other American prisoners-Ortiz-Rivera and Santos -- were Puerto Rican, which gave them special privileges. Ortiz-Rivera, in particular, seemed healthy as a horse. He was big, looked something like Fidel Castro, and affected the Cuban dictator's mannerisms. He spoke no English. The prisoners were told that Puerto Rico was a colony of u.s. capitalism and that, unlike the other Americans, Ortiz-Rivera and Santos had been forced to come to Vietnam. They had been used. If Ortiz- Rivera and Santos promised to work as agents for the Vietnamese they would be liberated and could return to Puerto Rico.

In May, came word that one of the American threesome-the one who proved himself most "progressive"-would be liberated. The bearer of this message was Mr. Ho, Garwood's frequent interrogator who had let them all know he was a member of the presidium of the intellect committee and head of the South Vietnam Liberation Front. Whether that was true or not, he was clearly a man of importance. "People jumped through hoops when he came to a camp. He always traveled with bodyguards and a doctor," Garwood would say later.

When Grisset and Garwood asked Eisenbraun if he thought Ho was telling the truth about one of them being released, he said it was possible, but only in a manner of speaking. No American prisoners were ever just "released," he said, but there were prisoner exchanges going on all the time. The communists had freed some South Vietnamese prisoners and it was possible that they would let one of the Americans go as a political move. Initially, the three prisoners agreed that if one got out it would give the other two that much more of a chance to survive. Both Grisset and Garwood thought that Eisenbraun, a captain, would be chosen over enlisted men. After Ho's announcement, their rations increased. They got more rice, some pork fat, and fruit occasionally. This was encouraging because it seemed to mean the communists wanted them to look healthy if they were released. But they were moved into separate hootches. It became difficult to talk to each other. They were not even allowed to eat together. It was devastating. Together, they had been strong. Now they were vulnerable.

When Ho told Garwood and Eisenbraun that they would be released, leaving out Grisset, Garwood began to feel that if he let himself be liberated, he would breaking Ike's golden rule: Grisset would suffer. There was another problem. Ho told Garwood he would have to travel to villages in the Mekong Delta for a month showing the appropriate gratitude to the VC and repent of his and his country's crimes. Garwood, who had only signed one statement during his incarceration when he thought he would die, was in a real quandary. It also seemed as if Ho was saying that Garwood was to be "liberated on his own." Perhaps that meant Garwood would be released first and then Eisenbraun would be sent on a separate "gratitude tour" through the villages; but more likely it meant that Ike would be kept prisoner along with Grisset. The thought of leaving Eisenbraun was unbearable to Garwood. His instincts told him he would be abandoning to almost certain death the man who had saved his life.

A liberation ceremony was set up by Ho. It seemed to Garwood that there was a good chance he would be tricked, just like a group of ARVN prisoners who had been "released" the previous Christmas with much fanfare, only to be marched back a few months later, to the derisive laughter of the guards. Anyway he looked at it, he would be abandoning not only Grisset but also Ike, who himself seemed certain that trickery was in the offing and that the VC would certainly never release the senior officer in the bunch. Garwood searched for a way to reject Ho's offer of liberation without provoking his wrath. The ceremony was already under way when Garwood brought it to a crashing halt. "I do not feel worthy of being selected for return to the United States ... not until I know more about Vietnamese customs and culture," he announced.

It was not the last time during his imprisonment that moral compunction prevented Garwood from doing something that he had been certain would gain release. 1ke approved of the way he handled the matter. That was the only thing that counted. But he paid heavily for his decision.

Ho was paranoid in his reaction: he behaved as if Garwood wanted to stay because he was an infiltrator and had some way of communicating with American intelligence. Still, Ho was very much aware of Garwood's attachment to 1ke. Vietnam was a society where one's highest duty was to take care of one's elders. To Garwood, it seemed that maybe Ho respected this in spite of himself.

The VC decision to keep Grisset weighed heavily on Eisenbraun, who at least was given a promise of release, however it might have been hedged. Grisset was desperate to get out anyway he could; and on the verge of doing something that could only result in a horrible death. As the senior officer, Eisenbraun felt responsible for both younger men. A few days later, he made an escape attempt. Garwood remains convinced that this was self-sacrificial. "He wanted to be eliminated without getting the guards' backs up. He wanted to give Russ a chance." Ike was almost blind because the guards had never returned his eyeglasses, and he had to move through mountainous jungle terrain. He managed to get half a mile from the camp before being caught.

His punishment was a twenty-minute beating with rifle butts and sticks of bamboo, deliberately administered within hearing of the silent camp. Grisset and Garwood were held back, guns to their heads. Afterward the guards dragged 1ke's unconscious, bleeding body in front of his hootch and put him in stocks. Garwood was determined to nurse him back to health. He had done this once before when Ike had felt dutybound to make an escape attempt with Grisset after failing to dissuade him.

Now, when Garwood was taken over to look at Ike, he knew "this time Ike would not make it." It was the most severe beating he had seen. It had been done to teach Garwood and Grisset a lesson.

When Grisset was brought over, Ike looked up at them both and managed a smile. "Don't quit guys," he said, "don't quit!"

Three days later Ike called Garwood's name. Perhaps out of pity or for some other unknown reason, Bobby was allowed to see the dying man alone.

Ike looked at him. "Bob," he said, "I don't know what they're up to, but they are not going to release you." He stopped for breath. "They are not going to release anybody. Maybe they'll try, again, to take you to a village to use you for propaganda. Next time go along with it. The closer you get to Hanoi, the better your chances. You have none here." Garwood remembered how the older man tried to prepare him. "It's going to be rough for you, Bob. I can't tell you what to do or how to do it. Just remember what I taught you. For God's sake, don't let all three of us die here!" Then, as if he believed Garwood could make it out, Ike added, "When you get out, look up my daughter, and tell her I send her my love."

In a curious way, the guards seemed to respect Garwood's sorrow over Ike's death. Mourning for a comrade seemed to be the one bit of common moral ground between the Americans and the enemy. When Garwood and Russ insisted on burying Ike alone, under the biggest tree near the camp, the guards acquiesced. Garwood was adamant there would be no typical Vietnamese three-foot grave for Ike. They dug it deep and six feet in length. There was no coffin so Ike's two comrades wrapped him in bamboo they were allowed to cut themselves. Ortiz-Rivera and Santos, the two Puerto Ricans in the camp, did not attend the simple, makeshift service of prayers put together by Garwood and Grisset.

A part of Bobby Garwood died on September 27th, 1967, the day Ike died. His friendship with Ike had been a kind of rebirth. It had turned him from frightened teenager into someone able to marshal all of his own inner resources to survive the physical and spiritual debasement of what would be a fourteen-year incarceration. After Ike's death, he became hard, rebellious, and bitter, refusing to go on work details. Ho resented the fact that Garwood blamed him and the guards for Ike's death. Garwood was told that if he could not bring himself to be more "progressive" he was not long for this world.

Four months later, Garwood noted bitterly that Ike had been wrong about only one thing. It wasn't true that none of the American prisoners would be released. Ortiz-Rivera and Santos were liberated. Each wearing a red sash in honor of the occasion and to insure that the NVA would not shoot them, they were ceremoniously put at the head of a small platoon of VC soldiers to do some propaganda work in nearby villages and then released. They had paid the price by consistently and publicly denouncing their fellow prisoners in the camp. Garwood and Eisenbraun, in particular, had been singled out as spies and agents of the CIA. Fourteen years later, Ortiz-Rivera, who could speak no English when he was in the camp, was housed in a separate hootch, and had no direct communication with Garwood of any kind, denounced him again at his court martial-accusing him of being a collaborator and agent of the Vietnamese.

Garwood had no idea, of course, that Ortiz-Rivera denounced him to the Marine Corps as soon as the Puerto Ricans reached their own side. Ortiz-Rivera's denunciation put a smokescreen around the circumstances of his own release, and it confirmed the worst suspicions of CI investigators, who never doubted Ortiz-Rivera's allegation that Garwood had refused repatriation. They counted this as an act of desertion. Therefore, they determined, if he had not deserted in 1965 he deserted in May 1967. [2] Not long after Ortiz-Rivera's allegations, the secret death sentence that so obsessed McKenney seems to have been passed: from that time forward the special operations world accepted as an official directive the elimination of "the traitor, Garwood."

Because of his rebelliousness after Eisenbraun's death, Garwood was separated from his fellow Americans. It was the cruelest punishment his jailers had yet devised for someone who had just lost the most important person in his life. He was devastated when he and Grisset were moved to separate camps for some months. In the new camp he was again separated from other Americans. He was overjoyed when he met up with Grisset again at the next camp. But despite his pleading, he was not allowed to live with Grisset and the other prisoners. As a result he became emotionally isolated from the fourteen new American prisoners who joined them in the early spring of 1968, right after the Tet offensive, at yet another camp, this time S.T. 18. [3] His first impulse was to search desperately for an officer to pick up the leadership gap left by Ike but there was no one who wanted to fill such a role. The ranking officer was Captain Floyd Harold Kushner, a doctor who, because he was a noncombatant, refused to assume leadership. He did not consider himself qualified. Like Russ when he first joined Eisenbraun and Garwood, the new prisoners were still healthy and wearing their own uniforms.

The sight of both Garwood and Grisset scared them. Both prisoners were unconscious of how they must appear to newcomers from a relatively rational world. Garwood actually looked Vietnamese. He had always been a handsome man with a particular midwestern casual style. Now, some of his fellow countrymen did not even recognize that he was American when they first met him. Unlike Grisset, he was not only skeletal, but in his forced isolation and association with the enemy, he was beginning to walk and squat "like a gook." He spoke the Vietnamese language fluently but to his own distress, his English was beginning to break up. Most disgusting to many was the food he foraged and ate. His mouth was permanently stained a dark, vampire red from chewing betel nuts. Ike had taught him that chewing the nuts created warmth in the body-something sorely needed in the cold depths of the triple-canopied jungle. He was an affront to the new prisoners. They had no sense of the torture and long imprisonment undergone by the man they found repulsive, and it was inconceivable that the route Garwood had taken was the only route to survival.

Some new prisoners-the Marines in the bunch-faced what others would rather not believe. These, at the start, were full of questions for Garwood. One was Fred Bums, who had been separated from his patrol and captured. Bums was first housed in a hootch next to Garwood. These single living quarters were smaller than previous ones-not tall enough for the men to stand up in-and they were designed rather like a chicken coop. A group of South Vietnamese prisoners were in the same row of hootches. When Garwood and Bums were locked in, Garwood spent the time carefully telling Bums how he had survived. He talked about Ike, and about the tortures and executions, and the character traits of interrogators and guards.

Garwood's briefing of Bums was reported to the camp commander by Quy, the informer who had betrayed Captain Nghia, the artillery captain who was executed as a result.

Garwood was immediately separated from Bums, and the longtime prisoner was forbidden any communication with American paws without permission. Garwood circumvented that order whenever he could but it became increasingly difficult. Desperate for the companionship of his own kind, he sadly watched his friendship with Burns eroding.

It was a pattern that repeated itself every time circumstance gave him an opportunity to talk to one of the Americans. After Bums moved in with the other Americans, Garwood was incarcerated near the hootches of the guards. He was made to look as if he lived in the same conditions as the guards. There were three perimeters around each camp. The outer perimeter was where the North Vietnamese regular forces were camped; the second perimeter housed Montagnards loyal to the communists. The first perimeter, which housed the guards, was the most important to the VC for controlling prisoners. Within it was a trenchline where the most ideologically hardcore guards-the ones who dealt with prisoners on a daily basis -- resided. When there was any threat of a prisoner rescue, these guards were under standing orders to kill prisoners before defending themselves. Like all the American prisoners, Garwood was within this last perimeter-evidence of his real status but by now only Grisset believed he was a prisoner. Garwood wanted desperately to eat with Grisset and the others but was forced to eat in the guards' kitchen. In truth, he lived like the other prisoners, the same hourly bed checks at night, the same slops for food, and the same regulations so that permission had to be asked even to go to the latrine. Since he spoke their language, the guards required him to follow these rules even more stringently. There would not be one time in his entire fourteen years as a prisoner when Garwood did not have to beg permission to go to the toilet in the following terms: "Honorable liberation fighter, may I please .... " Under his breath he allowed himself the satisfaction of calling the guards cong ga det-dead chicken. Roughly equivalent to a "limp pecker," this was the worst insult one could offer to a Vietnamese male. But it was small consolation and the only pleasure he ever got from knowing the Vietnamese language.

Garwood's mental suffering worsened. He knew he was a pariah among his own, and in their shoes, he would have responded in the same way to someone who appeared to cozy up to the enemy. He sensed that even Grisset-who had never understood the need to learn Ike's lessons-had trouble withstanding peer pressure. Garwood had become the White Gook and the White Congo He heard both epithets snarled at him by fellow prisoners. His bitter determination to spite the enemy by surviving held him together. Grisset at least knew who he really was and this saved Garwood's own sense of self. He could still help the other prisoners by stealing tiny scraps of food and passing them on through Grisset. He learned sleight of hand to steal bits of rice and other modest foodstuffs while he was on the move. If there was a loose piece of bamboo anywhere near the kitchen, he stuck his hand through the opening to steal what he could while he scurried on his errands for the guards. He discovered an almost foolproof way to steal eggs from the camp's highly valued hens. Sometimes he was even lucky enough to steal a prized chicken and pass it on to Grisset. Whenever he could, he stole small amounts of medicine-especially penicillin-from the camp dispensary for Dr. Kushner to use in aiding the other prisoners. When he discovered Kushner was hoarding the medicine and not giving it to those who were the sickest, Garwood stopped turning it over to him, and thus gained the doctor's enmity. Soon afterward, the camp interrogator accused Garwood of stealing food. When Garwood denied everything, the interrogator told him the camp commandant knew he was lying because Kushner had informed on him.

Soon after this incident Kushner was called in by the camp nurse because Garwood's foot had become badly infected from elephant grass cuts he sustained on food foraging expeditions. Garwood was immediately apprehensive when he saw the surgical pliers in Kushner's hands. Kushner said, "You understand I'm being ordered to do this." Garwood replied, "Just do what you have to do." Kushner then pulled the nail of Garwood's big toe on the infected foot and the nail of his other big toe as well. Later the camp nurse grinned at Garwood and said, "Kushner doesn't like you!" For a long time the "surgery" on Garwood's feet made it impossible for him to go on working parties to forage for food, or run the kind of errands where he could steal food and medicine. But Garwood remained determined to help the others in some small way. Assigned the job of tuning in Radio Hanoi's propaganda program for the Americans, he regularly fudged things so that for a few moments they could listen to the Voice of America.

To many of the Americans, growing apprehensive and suspicious of everything in such inhuman conditions, it appeared as if he gave such hard-won gifts only to spy on them and ingratiate himself with the guards. This feeling was encouraged by the prison commandant and the interrogators, who ordered Garwood to translate their orders and "progressive lessons and interrogations." They took every opportunity to make it look as if Garwood had been converted to communism. He fell into a kind of helpless rage.

Even without mental torture, S.T. 18 was a painful and dehumanizing physical setting where everyone was sick with hunger edema, dysentery, and malaria. The majority suffered from a host of other tropical diseases as well. The place stank of human excrement, which was left everywhere by men who in a rush of sickness failed to make it to the latrines. Death became routine. Prisoners hallucinated, cried like children for their families, and died. Some, like Fred Bums, just seemed to give up and gradually fade into nothingness. Those with whom Garwood had developed small and fleeting bonds of friendship- all Marines-died. He felt guilty, as if their friendship with him somehow infected them, made them more vulnerable, and caused their death. He became certain the surviving prisoners thought that. And always, without success, he looked for someone senior among the Americans who would take charge; give him instructions; confirm he was doing the right things; tell him how else to prove himself. He needed someone to replace Ike.

Manipulating the prisoners in such a setting was easy for the VC. Edna Hunter, the psychologist in charge of the Pentagon POW program when prisoners came home in 1973, later described their tactic of alienating American prisoners from each other as so thorough that every prisoner who came home felt guilty of having betrayed his own. She said this was particularly true of the group of prisoners who accused Garwood of betrayal. Garwood "the spy" seemed to be the greatest challenge to his Vietnamese jailers. They knew how to fool those in the camps with him and those he left behind at III MAF. He was now periodically required to carry an AK47, its firing pin removed, when he left the camp or when he came back with a work patrol. Sometimes he was required to repair a bullhorn within sight of the other prisoners. He could tell from their reactions that the VC had subtly passed the message to his fellow Americans that he was using the bullhorn to get American troops to lay down their arms. The Americans' hostility became more and more palpable.

According to General Eugene Tighe, an Air Force intelligence specialist at the time, later director of the Defense Intelligence Agency where he made prisoners a priority, Garwood was probably seen as a threat to the Vietnamese: "They saw him as capable of building resistance among the other prisoners. Like the new American prisoners, but for different reasons, the communists were suspicious of Garwood's language and survival skills and the fact that he had a passion for passing on everything he had learned from Ike. His jailers knew that were he to be successful, it would give the other prisoners a measure of strength and ability to resist."

Ho constantly told him it was inconceivable that he had learned Vietnamese-which "is well known as the most difficult language in the world"-in prison. He must have learned it in "a special school for spies." Ho suspected that had been the reason for Garwood's close relationship to Eisenbraun, who was known to be a special-operations officer. Furthermore, reports were coming from the communists' own double agents within the highest echelons of the CIA in Saigon that the Marine Corps and CIA were increasingly obsessed with Garwood. The enemy knew that even the FBI had been called into the case. The high-level concern with Garwood did not seem reasonable if he was the lowly private he claimed. If he was CIA, therefore, it was useful to keep him alive but segregated, and subject to pressures and brainwashing techniques that would eventually break him. To the enemy, it appeared more than probable that he was, at the very least, a military intelligence officer who would try to organize a command structure among the camp prisoners.

In other camps that held Americans, one officer was usually willing to suffer the consequences of taking command. That was not the case here. Only after Kushner and younger and more highly educated men refused, did Army Master Sergeant "Top" Williams, a forty-eight- year-old career soldier and World War II veteran, reluctantly take on the job. Of all the prisoners in S.T. 18, Williams was the most set in his ways and the least able to understand Garwood. He too would die of malnutrition, disease, and hopelessness.

In the midst of Garwood's troubles with his fellow prisoners, something happened that seemed to affirm interrogators' [4] suspicions that Garwood was working for the CIA.

In late spring of 1968 Clyde Weatherman, another American, joined the group of prisoners. Garwood could tell immediately the man was in a special category, but had no idea how closely his own name and reputation would be linked to the newcomer. Weatherman was blond and had the same build that Garwood had before prison camp took its toll. Except for the difference in hair color, seen from a distance, the two could have been brothers.

Weatherman also fit the description of a man who later led an enemy attack against Marines at No Name Island. This report of treachery would spur Colonel McKenney to launch his most deadly hunt for Robert Garwood. Weatherman resembled as well a man who, wearing an NVA lieutenant's uniform, would be later pointed out to a number of American POWs in other camps as Robert Garwood. [5] In obvious good health, Weatherman wore decent civilian clothes and ate the same food as the camp commandant and Ho. He was housed separately one hundred yards from the camp, outside the perimeter where Garwood and the other American prisoners were held. Even though Garwood was supposed to stay away from American POWs, he was allowed to spend a lot of time with Weatherman, who was billed as a "progressive" prisoner. Garwood didn't believe Weatherman was a prisoner at all.

The respectful treatment Weatherman received from guards, the camp commandant, and even Ho indicated he was a plant who had been infiltrated to work on the "attitude of the other Americans." It was an opinion Russ Grisset shared. Grisset and Garwood managed the occasional furtive conversation when Garwood was allowed to visit the American section of the compound to tune in Radio Hanoi's English propaganda program. Weatherman himself told Garwood that he had escaped from the III MAF brig in Da Nang and that he had a Vietnamese wife and family in Saigon. On his way to meet his wife, he avoided the main roads and was apprehended in a village near an off-beat trail by the Vietcong. Unlike the other Americans, Weatherman asked Garwood a lot of questions about his capture and background-the same questions Ho repeatedly asked during interrogations. He talked a lot about the generosity of the VC and hinted that Garwood's life, like his own, could be a lot more pleasant if he collaborated.

Then, in August, Weatherman was allegedly killed in an escape attempt. Garwood was skeptical. He pieced together what really happened and tried to feed it back to the other American POWs. The camp commandant's story was that Weatherman had gone on a working party to forage for food with four other Americans and one guard. Away from the camp Weatherman had overpowered the lone guard and escaped with Dennis Hammond, another prisoner. The rest of the prisoners, according to the communists, refused to flee.

Two days later Hammond was returned to the camp with a bullet through his calf and, oddly, put in stocks in Garwood's hootch. He told Garwood that he and Weatherman were caught by Montagnard tribesmen loyal to the communists. Immediately after their capture, they were separated by the tribesmen and Hammond was taken down a creek bed; Weatherman was taken in the opposite direction. A few minutes later Hammond heard a shot. Then he heard Weatherman scream. Convinced Weatherman had been killed, Hammond got scared and ran away wildly until he was shot and crippled.

Hammond believed what he was saying but to Garwood, who had much more experience with VC deceptions, the story stank. Weatherman wanted to get back to his family and told Garwood that Ho had promised him anything he wanted. Having tried to escape twice himself and witnessed attempts by others, Garwood's instincts told him this was VC trickery. No working party ever went out with only one guard. Usually there was one guard per prisoner, each heavily armed with automatic weapons. In this case a lone guard for five prisoners had carried one old, single-shot, bolt action, Soviet-made rifle with only three rounds.

What really persuaded Garwood that Weatherman was not dead and that the escape attempt had been a set-up was that a few days later, the shirt Weatherman always wore appeared on a Montagnard guerrilla who came to the camp. Garwood knew the Montagnards had a strict taboo against wearing or even touching the clothing or other personal items of a dead person. They believed that breaking this taboo would result in the angry spirit of the dead person coming back to seek revenge. So Weatherman must be still alive. [6] It was another lesson Garwood learned from Ike-to familiarize himself with the customs and religious beliefs of the indigenous people they came across. But when he attempted to question the Montagnard, he was harshly interrupted. Colonel Pham Van Thai, the man in charge of interrogations and torture, who happened to be visiting the camp at the time, told him the shirt was none of his business.

Garwood then made a mistake that would have repercussions through all his prison years. During his next interrogation he told Ho that he knew Weatherman was alive. Ho took the news calmly, solicitously offering Garwood some tea. Had Garwood told this to any of the other Americans? "No," said Garwood.

"Well Bobby, now you understand why we can never put you back in with the other Americans," responded Ho. "All along you have confirmed our suspicions. We were thinking you to be CIA when we captured you."

Garwood kept insisting that he was what he was-a simple private, a driver. He recalled: "The more I tried to convince Ho of the truth, the more I convinced him of the opposite." Ho also told him that Quy, whose fingering of Captain Nghia had led to the latter's death, had informed the prison commandant about Garwood's seditious behavior with the other prisoners. Ho added that some of the new American prisoners were informing on Garwood as well, two of whom were soon thereafter put through the liberation ceremony and, decorated with a red sash, then released.

The sedition Ho referred to was the same behavior that convinced most of the prisoners that Garwood was a VC sympathizer. This went beyond irony. Garwood often thought that even if he died in some heroic act of rebellion now, other Americans would never find out the truth. In all likelihood they would think it served him right. He consoled himself that at least Grisset knew he had not broken Ike's one commandment-never to consciously hurt another American.

Then, in December 1969, Russ died, too, in a way that made Garwood so enraged he did break the commandment by shoving a fellow prisoner. Russ and Kushner had killed a guard's cat for food. All the prisoners had apparently shared the meat. The guards found tell-tale signs and the prisoners were lined up outside their hootches being interrogated, when Garwood came upon the scene. He had never seen the guards so angry. No one admitted to the deed. Garwood decided the prisoners were subtly making Grisset the scapegoat in the way they stood and averted their eyes from him. The guard commander began to beat Grisset viciously. Garwood panicked that the attack on Grisset would end in death, as Ike had been beaten to death. Enraged at the other Americans for not sticking together now, Garwood ran blindly past the guards toward David Harker, who was standing in the doorway of a hootch. He pushed Harker aside witl1 a shove in the gut: "You let Russ take all the blame. If you'd all kept your mouths shut, this wouldn't be happening." The response from the others was virulently savage. In their eyes he had no right to criticize them and no right to be concerned about Russ. They were so prejudiced against Garwood that they were blind to his relationship with Grisset-a friendship even the guards acknowledged.

When Grisset died, one of the guards told Garwood, "Russ was the only friend you had left."

David Harker had previously enjoyed Garwood's friendship. He had valued the extra food Garwood supplied and, even more, the forbidden information that came when Garwood slyly turned their radios to the Voice of America instead of the required Radio Hanoi broadcasts. After his repatriation, he was to tell a reporter from People magazine: "You can't imagine what a great morale-booster that was." But in the camps Harker succumbed to peer pressure and joined the others in treating Garwood as an outcast. It was a pattern he would repeat fourteen years later at Garwood's court martial.



1. From a synopsis of MACV Remarks: 670807 DIC - ON pPRG DIC LIST and The Case of Pvt. Robert R. Garwood, USMC, Final Report, Report to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (ASD / C31), Volume 1, June 1993.

2. The Case of Pvt. Robert R. Garwood, USMC, Final Report. Volume 1. The position taken by various government investigative agencies is unclear. In a confusing analysis, they maintain that Garwood was guilty of deserting on the day of his capture, yet also on the day Ortiz-Rivera accused him of refusing repatriation. The impression given by the final report is that Garwood deserted twice.

3. S was the communist symbol for prison. The T stood for trai (camp in Vietnamese). S.T. 18, Garwood's fifth camp, was actually a larger entity that incorporated some of the earlier camps he was held in as well as future ones he would be sent to. But, in discussing his camp experience, Camp 5 is the only one referred to as S.T. 18.

4. There were now two primary interrogators. Ho had been joined by Hum.

5. An example of this came from Army Major Mark Smith, the Special Forces specialist in behind-the-lines operations who later commanded a regional intelligence service. For years after his repatriation in 1973, when the North Vietnamese released American prisoners as part of the peace agreement, Smith nursed a deep hatred for Bobby Garwood, supposedly the man who had been pointed out to him in prison camp as a VC sympathizer and NVA lieutenant. It was only when he met Garwood and began a series of long and intensive debriefings that he realized the Vietnamese had fooled him and other prisoners in his camp.

6. Years later, Garwood would see Weatherman again-healthy and free to move about Hanoi on his own.
Site Admin
Posts: 32372
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:22 am

Chapter 13: Gaming

It wasn't easy for the assassins to follow Garwood's trail. The White Cong, as he was called by some in the closed, small circle of men who hunted him, got a reputation for cleverness beyond belief. Agents reported to U.S. authorities that he spoke Vietnamese so well his VC buddies teased him about it. His accent, apparently, was neutral, like that of the Central Highlands, an incredible accomplishment- if true-in a country full of complicated dialects where more often than not a peasant from the north could not understand a peasant from the south. Garwood, it was rumored, could communicate with both. This skill put Garwood in a very special category, apart from other deserters. McKenney suspected him of working with high-level communist intelligence and of helping to train their spies and infiltrators.

There were numerous cases of Phoenix missions being compromised. The highly secret Phoenix teams of other special ops groups were made up of Americans and Vietnamese. The Marines conducted their own hunting patrols. The majority of other Phoenix teams were largely made up of provincial reconnaissance unit soldiers with American advisers. It had become a highly skilled game to ferret out infiltrators whose job was sabotage. Sam Owens's friend at the Tra Bong Special Forces camp had lined up members of the South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Force because they had suddenly decided en masse not to go on patrol. Suspecting two of being VC infiltrators and propagandizers, he had them fall in for inspection and bellowed: "I know that two of you are Vietcong. If you're not gone by tomorrow morning, you're dead." The next morning three were gone.

The lack of Vietnamese language skills among Americans made it hard to pinpoint infiltrators. Men with Garwood's reputedly legendary facility were a rarity in I Corps. McKenney considered himself lucky to be able to rely on one of the best-Marine Master Sergeant Bob Hyp, a man who was destined to playa key role not only in McKenney's life, but in that of his pet hate, Bobby Garwood.

Hyp was based at the naval support hospital southeast of Da Nang, near Marble Mountain. There he worked primarily with wounded communist prisoners who might have information useful to Marines. "He had an amazing success rate in getting them to switch their allegiance to the Americans," according to McKenney. "A good number went on to become Kit Carson scouts, valuable additions to American combat units. Many were disillusioned with the communist leadership. Expecting to be tortured-as they would have been in South Vietnamese hands-they were usually hostile at first. Then they saw that they were getting the same treatment as American servicemen in the most sophisticated hospital in I Corps. This made many receptive to Hyp's subtle and humane questioning. Often they were not aware of the secrets they revealed. But they could also trick their interrogators into believing false information. It took language skills and a special kind of psychological and cultural perceptiveness to tell the difference. Hyp had both."

When McKenney became intelligence collections and operations officer, he became acquainted with Sergeant Hyp. The Sergeant had let him know whenever there was a POW whose information seemed useful. After mid-April 1969, McKenney took the opportunity to work with Hyp on a daily basis when severe bouts of dysentery, later diagnosed as tropical sprue, hepatitis, and several other tropical diseases, brought him to the hospital for a seven-week stay. Instead of going home for treatment, he signed up as guinea pig for a tropical disease study in order to complete his tour. At the hospital he continued with his job as intelligence operations officer, [1] taking full advantage of Hyp's extraordinary skills. One episode involved Hyp and Sister Mary, the Catholic nun who voluntarily acted as a kind of agent for McKenney. It left an indelible impression on him. Hyp was one of those special Marines McKenney considered completely trustworthy. The Sergeant never hesitated to put himself in dangerous situations.

Sister Mary brought news that an NVA regimental executive officer wanted to meet with an American who spoke Vietnamese. Hyp took on the assignment even though it meant entering the high-risk, VC-infested area near China Beach where Bobby Garwood had been captured, alone and at night. Hyp was the only man available who spoke fluent Vietnamese. Another communist offensive was imminent. The NVA officer told Sister Mary he wanted to help the Americans. Fear of being betrayed by infiltrators, with whose work the NVA officer was evidently only too familiar, made him insist that no South Vietnamese be involved. McKenney sympathized with that last request. Betrayal was common in their bizarre world where General Binh, the G-2 of the ARVN in I Corps, had a brother who was a general with the NVA. However, for the very reason that treachery was endemic, McKenney and Hyp had to face the strong possibility that they were being set up to walk straight into an ambush.

Hyp's decision to meet the NVA officer alone in such circumstances required unusual courage and nerve. The man turned out to be second in command of his regiment and disclosed details of an imminent attack. And sure enough, the enemy hit hard after midnight with rocket and mortar attacks all over I Corps. Thanks to Hyp, the Marines were waiting for them. It was the beginning of the May offensive.

Hyp's bravery [2] and skill led McKenney to trust him completely on everything, including Garwood. Hyp periodically passed on information he heard about the White Cong without embellishment. Like Sam Owens, Hyp never seemed obsessed by the matter. Neither did McKenney discuss the directive to kill Garwood with him. He assumed that Hyp, like everyone else in their small world, knew about it and approved.

All that spring of 1969, Hyp passed on reports that a Caucasian American, presumed to be a former U.S. Marine, was not only leading an NVA patrol with an AK47 slung over his shoulder, he was actively propagandizing in the villages. Dressed in black pyjamas and red sash, the reports said he played a perverse game with his band of Vietcong, trashing the United States, inciting the Vietnamese to take up arms against his own people, thereby increasing the risk to Marines. The red sash, symbolic of communism, was seen as a deliberate slap in the face of Marines. It did not bother Sam Owens because he thought such insignia would make Garwood an easy target.

Rumors of the White Cong in the red sash were reinforced by word from CIA headquarters in Saigon. The information came from the Agency's most trusted agent, the charismatic cartoonist Huyn Ba Thanh, who was in reality their secret liaison to President Thieu. Thanh, who used the alias Hai Long, reported that Garwood was actively and publicly leading an enemy NVA patrol. Sam Owens recalled later that there was no briefing of even the limited kind that McKenney got from counterintelligence, just a few challenging words directed at the right people. There was nothing unusual about this. It was the way things were done.

Owens, then a captain, had just been given command of First Force Recon Company, a position usually held by someone of more senior rank. Operationally in charge of Marine hunter-killer patrols, he was now in a perfect position to take care of the White Congo He automatically incorporated the targeting of Garwood in his patrols' missions.

Sam Owens concentrated a series of patrols in Quang Nghai and Quang Nam provinces, where Garwood had supposedly been sighted wearing the red sash. The patrol leaders came back with word of a large man with a white face and big footprints. Owens now planned a very specific mission to get Garwood, assigning Cowpoke, [3] one of his best hunter-killer teams, for the job. Sometimes, teams would include a Kit Carson scout familiar with the terrain. Not this time. For security reasons, this mission was to be handled entirely by Marines. A few days earlier, the mission leader flew over the area to find a landing zone for the eight-man team. Insertion and extraction of the patrol were the most critical phases of any mission. The situation at the landing area could not be predicted and helicopters were highly vulnerable to enemy fire as they made their slow descent. The helicopter flight leader and patrol leader carefully worked out the actions they would take if the enemy attacked during landing. If ground fire was received or the enemy was sighted before landing, the team was to proceed on to an alternative landing site. If fire was to commence after landing, the flight leader was to take off immediately. His primary concern was the safety of the aircraft. The ground patrol leader would have to decide whether to stay aboard or deplane and begin action against the enemy. Often a patrol leader chose to take the greater risk that his team's fire power would protect the helicopter's escape.

The rules for such engagements stated that the patrol had to kill or neutralize every one of the enemy before the helicopter could land again to withdraw the team. Sometimes the landing site was booby trapped. This had happened to a team member both McKenney and Owens knew well, a man McKenney had thought indestructible. He had jumped directly onto a booby-trapped howitzer round. Although half his face, one arm, and one leg had been blown off, he had, against all odds, survived for a while. After receiving ninety-two pints of blood in rapid succession, his system could no longer cope and he died.

Cowpoke's patrol leader carefully fixed on several landing sites. Only one was the real thing. The others were designated for mock landings to confuse the enemy. The real landing site, familiar to him, was in an area near a stream where the courier carrying the list of POWs with Russ Grisset's name had been killed. Real "Injun country," it was also the place where previous patrols reported signs of a Caucasian leading a communist patrol. The patrol leader was not told that word had come from division headquarters that Bobby Garwood was in the area. He knew only that they would be looking for a white man leading the NVA. Years later both McKenney and Owens would be appalled to remember that this was, in fact the only description of Garwood given the hunter-killer teams. He surmised that it was probably the fallen Marine, Bobby Garwood.

There was no advance notice for the team's departure. The briefing took place at the very last moment. Usually briefings took place in the patrol operation leader's tent with the company operations officer giving the instructions. This meeting, however, was important enough to take place in the company commander's tent on Hill 34. Sam Owens himself conducted the briefing. Another unusual move added to the tension: McKenney drove over from Hill 327 for the briefing. Because Owens knew how important this mission was to McKenney, he had invited him. McKenney's silent presence told the team that something big was in the works.

"Now gents, this is going to be a tough one," was how Owens began the briefing. The team would be heading to the recon zone for a "first-light landing." The formal term for the period between complete darkness and sunrise was before-morning-nautical-twilight (BMNT), during which there was enough illumination to carry on most ground activities without difficulty: the pilot could land and take off with least risk of being fired on because the enemy could not observe the helicopter or its landing point from any great distance. The landing zone and area to be secured were unveiled. The team was to function as Marines and dress like Marines with standard operating procedures. There would be a point man carrying a 12- gauge shotgun. The patrol leader would carry an M16 rifle. The communications man would also be armed with a rifle and an M76 grenade launcher and pistol. The rest all carried two fragmentation grenades and rifles. Two team members would be carrying smoke grenades to identifY landing zones and to break contact.

There was one singular feature. One team member was instructed to carry an entrenching tool, a small, steel shovel with a two-foot long, fold-up handle. It could be used as an effective hand weapon. On this mission, it would serve as a grave digger's spade to bury the target.

Each man would carry five extra magazines of ammunition. Owens, who had often been in their place, figured if the patrol members could not get command of a situation with 120 rounds they might as well hang it up.

Team members did not need to be told to put all their personal possessions in order on their cot before leaving. That was unwritten policy and would make things easier for all concerned if they ended up as casualties.

It was still dark when Cowpoke boarded the helicopter that had flown over from the Marble Mountain air facility to the base of Hill 34. At BMNT they arrived at the planned landing site, a meadow full of elephant grass surrounded by triple-canopy jungle. The helicopter hovered briefly. There was heavy mist that made landing tricky, but as the mist cleared the helicopter began its descent, and the downwash from the rotors flattened the elephant grass. In less than eight seconds from touchdown, the entire team was running for the shelter of the nearby trees, where they then lay motionless until long after the helicopter was gone. This was the tensest part of the patrol; the easiest time to be ambushed. With no sign of the enemy, the patrol leader signaled his men forward.

They were now totally attentive to their surroundings, moving silently toward the stream they had memorized from the map at the previous night's briefing. There, the patrol leader ordered cover and concealment for six of the men. They positioned themselves where they could see across the stream but not be seen, covering two team members making ready to cross. From the other side, the two would signal and in turn provide cover for the others as they crossed two by two.

Suddenly the stillness turned electric. One of the teammates, moving forward, stepped back quickly, signaling the others that he had spotted an enemy patrol. This was followed by an even more intense signal: he had spotted their target, a largish man with fair hair, black pyjamas, and, most tellingly, a red sash. Now the other Americans saw him too. The white man seemed to be charging ahead, making no effort at concealment, although the Orientals with him appeared much more cautious and almost disconnected from their Caucasian leader.

The emotion among Cowpoke's teammates was palpable. For the first and probably last time in Vietnam, they forgot about the NVA soldiers on the other side. Without instruction, and against Marine regulations, eight weapons aimed at the White Cong's heart and fired. As he fell to the ground his NVA teammates uncharacteristically scurried away without any attempt to pick him up. The Marines waited tensely: it was unusual for the enemy not to answer fire, and unusual for them to abandon the body of one of their own.

The patrol stayed concealed for many hours, eyes focused on the area where the body of the white man lay. They all knew of cases where the enemy remained hidden all day until Americans moved, then sprang an ambush. And cases where the enemy booby-trapped the bodies of American soldiers. After this torturing period of stillness, the patrol leader signaled his man with the entrenching tool to go to the body. His teammates provided cover as he cautiously crossed the stream and probed the ground around the body. Then he prodded the corpse from a distance. Hoping he had eliminated possible deadly devices, he quickly buried the man in the red sash as fast as he could. There were other times, much later in the war, when teams were ordered to check for identifying marks like moles or scars. ot this time. The objective was to bury the traitor and erase all evidence of his alleged perfidy. No one should find out that such a traitor had even existed. On the books Garwood remained MIA. The Marine noted briefly that even though the VC had not picked up their fallen comrade, they had taken his AK47. The only object near the dead man was a sturdy stick.

Whatever feeling of triumph the First Force Reconnaissance Company felt, it was short lived. The man they killed had seemed to fit the general description of Bobby Garwood given to McKenney by counterintelligence although the operative description for the team had been only "that he was white." But he must have been another deserter. Within weeks "Garwood" struck again, more viciously and tauntingly than ever before.

American prisoners held in Vietcong camps in Quang Nghai and Quang Nam provinces heard a completely different story about the killing of the man in the red sash-a man they presumed was a sergeant who had recently gone through the liberation ceremony -- from an unexpected source. Ho Chi Minh himself addressed a message to U.S. POWs. The man killed by the Americans, the message read, had been one of their colleagues, an Air Force man who was to be released in a gesture of good will. The Americans had rejected the good will of North Vietnam, said the communist leader. They had not wanted their prisoner and had killed him on his way to be released. For this reason, Ho Chi Minh was sad to report, no more prisoners would be released.

Frank Snepp, a CIA officer who was at the time responsible for the Agency's handling of interrogations of communist prisoners and informant networks, in a later book, Decent Interval, [4] claimed there was indeed no great receptiveness to North Vietnam's spring 1969 initiative to exchange prisoners. According to Snepp, the issue of prisoner exchange fell under the aegis of the CIA, which was concerned only with the return of its own operatives and officers of high rank. He wrote: "The CIA was particularly inflexible, usually insisting on strict reciprocity, an intelligence operative for an intelligence operative, as if Agency personnel deserved first consideration over any other Americans who might be prisoners of the communists." Snepp's term for the way his employer handled potential POW exchanges was "gaming."

Unreceptive certainly describes the attitude encountered by recently upgraded [5] Army Staff Sergeant John Sexton, who in 1971 was suddenly and without warning released from a VC prison camp near the Cambodian border. The possibility existed that the camp was actually inside a part of Cambodia controlled by communist guerrillas. It was difficult for POWs to decipher their precise location. At first Sexton was accompanied by NVA soldiers who made him walk point, as the Air Force man killed by First Force Recon had been made to do, but he was then abandoned near the small town of Snoul in Cambodia to make his own way back. Sexton, who was dressed in black pyjamas and carried a message from the communists asking for reciprocity for his release, said that once he reached American lines no one on his own side was interested, other than to impress upon him that he was to keep his mouth shut. For a long time he felt that it might have been more convenient for his own side if he had died in prison camp. For years after his return, he could not speak at meetings held by the families of other prisoners without an ever-present government representative to insure his silence. He still feels that his own government had somehow become persuaded that he had been turned by the communists and that was why he had been chosen to be released. His only crime was to have fallen into the hands of the enemy after being severely wounded. He was shot in the head, blinded in one eye, and incapacitated in one arm. His medical care was minimal but he is still grateful that the enemy applied the primitive medicine of setting maggots to clean out his wounds. He suffered torture and interrogation for two years. There was never any proof that he had in any way collaborated with the enemy.


1. During his seven-week hospitalization McKenney was regularly briefed by Owens.

2. On a later occasion, Hyp flew, without hesitation, with McKenney and a wounded VA prisoner as guide, into a "hot" area in the Que Son Valley, where several helicopters had been shot down, to locate an enemy command post.

3. The patrol's name and certain details have been changed to protect the identity of team members for ongoing security reasons. All of the information here was taken from reports of men who participated in a number of different missions charged with neutralizing the man in the red sash.

4. Frank Snepp, Decent Interval: An Insider's Account of Saigon's Indecent End Told By The CIA's Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam. New York: Random House, 1977.

5. Sexton was a corporal when he was captured. Under U.S. law American POWs were automatically upgraded in rank at certain intervals.
Site Admin
Posts: 32372
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:23 am

Chapter 14: Coming Out on Strings

By early summer Colonel McKenney was confident that his side was winning what seemed a war of attrition. President Nixon in the first days of his administration had launched a secret bombing campaign against communist camps in eastern Cambodia. This was followed up by the start of peace talks between the two sides in late January. McKenney felt his president was moving toward peace from a position of strength. It meant that all the sacrifices were worth something. No one thought that the new president, like his predecessor, wanted out at almost any price.

Nixon met with President Thieu on Midway Island and announced afterward that twenty-five thousand men would be withdrawn from South Vietnam. This was the first step of "Vietnamization," a program designed to eventually turn the war over to the South Vietnamese. The idea was a good one as long as it wasn't done too quickly. The Phoenix program had made progress. Many areas under VC control the year before were now back in the hands of the South Vietnamese. This was largely due to the shot in the arm Phoenix got when the CIA began a "blitz" by what it called the Accelerated Pacification Program (APC), a euphemism for expanded Phoenix activities, at the beginning of November 1968.

The man in charge of APC was William Colby, who had been deputy to Robert Komer, the head of the CIA in Vietnam until then. Colby had already developed an excellent working relationship with General Creighton Abrams, who succeeded General Westmoreland the U.S. military commander in Vietnam in mid-1968. Now he refined that association. Both men made it known later that they had high moral aspirations for APC, wanting it to function within the framework of traditional standards of war. [1] At the same time, Colby at least seemed aware that excesses were sometimes committed, especially by the South Vietnamese, who, he always maintained, controlled the Phoenix program. Colby later said he never wanted assassinations to be part of Phoenix although he admitted the program had a reputation for brutality. It is generally accepted that twenty thousand Vietnamese were assassinated under its aegis. It is impossible to estimate how many Americans were killed. McKenney has a mental block about the precise number of Americans he knew of being "taken out" during his year in Vietnam. He says the total number could have come close to one hundred.

In his memoir of Vietnam, Colby explained the kind of unwritten kill-Garwood directive that McKenney believed had come from the CIA. "Some units," he wrote, "especially some of the American military, used the term 'Phoenix' to refer to any operation against the Viet Cong Infrastructure or other irregulars, even when the operation had no connection with the Phoenix program at all. Indeed, some of the more lurid accusations heard in public have turned out on examination to be in exactly this category." [2] McKenney's answer to that was, "I can't imagine any Marine unit engaged in any Phoenix-style operation of their own."

Colby pointed out that Abrams wanted to hear no more of "the other war of pacification," his allusive term for Phoenix. APC was to be under the military command umbrella, Abrams stating that "the entire effort is to be one war." There were rumors among Special Forces that Abrams meant by that to show his disapproval of all their work, that he resented the arrogance of special-operations people and Phoenix excesses.

McKenney discounted such rumors. He was pleased that finally the military seemed to be making decisions along with the CIA. Even MACSOG was now under Abrams's command. As so often in his career as a soldier, McKenney would be proven wrong in his judgment of people at the top.

The emasculation of the proud Special Forces, who preferred the nickname Green Berets, was already underway. An alleged incident involving the killing of a Vietnamese double agent by Green Berets at the end of June 1969 would provide those politicians in Washington who thought the war immoral with the perfect way to undermine Special Forces. Assassination as a legitimate tactic of war would be challenged. So would the CIA's role in issuing the directives for it. McKenney could anticipate none of this. He was too far down the chain of command and too far removed from Washington to know who was making policy decisions. He felt secure in the knowledge that, because of the work he was involved in, the enemy was nearing exhaustion.

Despite sporadic and sometimes briefly successful efforts, the enemy, he felt, had never really regained the initiative after the 1968 Tet offensive. The best example of this was the second Tet offensive. It began on February 16th, 1969, with widespread rocket, mortar, and ground attacks throughout South Vietnam. The enemy followed their earlier patterns of attack, concentrating on the III MAF area and along the DMZ. The Second NVA Battalion made it all the way to the edge of Da Nang before being pushed back. On February 23rd the ARVN munitions dump directly across from McKenney's quarters was blown up. West of Da Nang the enemy briefly gained control of Hill 327's defensive bunker on the ridge directly above the general's hootch and raised their flag. The action was a microcosm of the entire offensive. The highest point in III MAF's area of operations, Hill 327-Freedom Hill-protected Da Nang from invasion from the west. Raising the communist flag over the American general's hootch made the victory highly symbolic, but the ridge was quickly recaptured, as were all the other enemy objectives. The enemy had been unable to seize and hold any significant objective. There had been only brief moments of glory for the communists, which they replayed constantly for propaganda purposes, apparently believing as did Hitler that if a lie is repeated often enough, it becomes truth.

It was frustrating for McKenney that the sorry psychological state of enemy troops seemed to go unnoticed by the American public. He was in a prime position to monitor enemy discomfiture. Marine reconnaissance patrols infiltrated rear areas, tapped telephone lines, and recorded telephone traffic. The North Vietnamese troops suffered from malaria and hunger, their morale was terrible. They had huge desertion rates. This last item never made the headlines in the American press, but it was such a big problem that the enemy let deserters go virtually unpunished. The North Vietnamese could not imprison or shoot their deserters because they needed them so badly, once recaptured. McKenney had proof that the same men deserted over and over again. They simply got on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and headed north, were found, and sent back to their units.

McKenney felt a funny kind of communion with the enemy when he eavesdropped on their conversations about the communist bureaucratic demand for reports and more reports. It seemed these were ignored or became a substitute for action. The enemy soldiers, the real ones whom he respected, had the same problems as their American counterparts, but with less institutional flexibility to solve them. At least his side was always changing, and the system was still open to men with initiative. McKenney kept the journal of a Vietnamese soldier that his men found on a battlefield. He found it moving. In it the NVA infantryman wrote eloquently of his own despair as he waited, encircled, for certain death. All he wanted was to get home, as did his comrades.

There was still intense combat at the small-unit level. It was a time to be doubly alert. The weaker the enemy got, the more he would resort to terrorism. McKenney was grateful for the countermechanism of the accelerated Phoenix program. He saw evidence that the communists were reverting to the guerrilla tactics that they had been employing since the subsiding of the first Tet offensive.

On June 5th McKenney received a letter from his wife, Marty, reminding him that it was sixteen years to the day that she had pinned lieutenant's bars on him. She also reported that she had just made the last five-hundred-dollar payment on the Kentucky farm they both loved. Their plan was to raise beef cattle after the war. But there was no exultation in McKenney's heart. He was scheduled to interview the survivors of the battle of No Name Island, the patrol base of K Company, Third Battalion, First Marines. He shrank from the demoralizing statistics-forty-eight of fifty-two Marines killed or wounded.

The elusive Garwood again entered the picture at this point. The survivors, at the naval hospital and division rest area at China Beach, told the most horrifying tale about Garwood to date. They made their reports to McKenney in a low key, listless manner. All pride, and even hatred, seemed to have been drained out of them. One young man, face wreatlled in bandages that gave him a mummylike appearance said, "They had us whipped." Everyone reported the same thing: the NVA could have killed them all, but the stocky white American with fair hair called them off and they withdrew for no apparent reason when American artillery began to come in.

Security at No Name Island had been lax. In the opening barrage, the lieutenant's foot was blown off. At the outset there was chaos -- with the wounded screaming for God's help. One black guy had been dragged outside the wire and mutilated. His comrades heard him cry for his mother's help.

A major factor in the disaster, as so many times before, was failure of the M16 to function in the heat and dust of combat. The lieutenant had inspected all rifles before dark and all were clean. Yet before the battle ended, every one failed to fire.

McKenney knew that countless Marines died and were wounded because of Washington's decision to go with the bug-ridden M16 instead of an alternative that worked much better. He had intimate knowledge of how the M16 had been field tested at Quantico's development center in 1966-67 against the much more serviceable and flexible Stoner system. The project officer, a major who had come up through the ranks, had done everything one could with and to a weapon, then written a voluminous report solidly in favor of the Stoner system. McKenney remembered how the major had to sit up all night with his general to rewrite the report in favor of the M16. The commitment to the faulty M16 had already been made in Washington. McKenney felt helpless. He found it appalling that no journalist was interested in a scandal that even now continued to take so many lives.

But he finally had something he was able to act on: the white American who had led the enemy. At the end of the battle of No Name Island, the VA soldiers stood on the walls, sprayed the wounded with AK47s, laughed with odd, almost Spanish-tinged accents: "Marines you die tonight-no sweat," and similar expressions. McKenney figured they must have learned the slang from the man who was leading them. That must mean the NVA had been commanded by an American! For the first time he had glimpsed "proof" beyond the mostly ephemeral sightings of recon patrols and agents' reports. The survivors of K-3 platoon didn't know who the traitor was but McKenney knew. Although he was influenced primarily by the fact that the man was white, the description also matched the fair hair and solid build of Garwood, as originally described by counter-intelligence. In his mind he began assembling the patrol that would finally get Garwood.

After interviewing the survivors of No Name Island, McKenney concluded that CCN hunter-killer patrols might have more success in getting Garwood than his Marine recon patrols. McKenney's only dealings with CC teams were through sharing information. After the mission in which yet another Force Recon patrol thought it had killed the White Cong with the red sash, he decided that CCN's smaller, six-man patrols would be more effective. They were more mobile, easier to extract from enemy territory, better equipped than Marines.

And these more compact CCN patrols had the most experience in assassinations. They operated in areas "over the fence," officially off limits to U.S. regular forces soldiers, where Garwood was now reputed to be operating. Being off-limits made these areas more dangerous to the Americans who fought there. If they were taken prisoner they were not protected by international law. On the other hand, they were also freed from the restraints imposed by politicians afraid of bad publicity. Off-limits meant total secrecy. Every one in special ops knew their work fell under the jurisdiction of the CIA, even though they were technically part of the regular armed services.

It seemed now to McKenney that Garwood was located in just such an off-limits region where no holds were barred-the landlocked kingdom of Laos, used by the enemy but officially neutral. One of the Special Forces most trusted agents [3] had pinpointed Garwood's precise location in an NVA divisional area in Tchepone, Laos, adjacent to I Corps, through A Shau Valley, all the way down to II Corps. This was far from No Name Island, which was located in the delta, south of Marble Mountain. Nobody thought to mention it was unlikely Garwood would be transported by the enemy from one end of such a vast region to another. Common sense would have said the whole idea was preposterous, but common sense was not in common supply.

The assigned patrol was made up of four Americans and two Chinese- Vietnamese called hung, volunteers who had many scores to settle with the communists. The official mission was specifically to kill Garwood.

The team was highly compartmentalized. Each member had his own assignment, unknown to the others. Should one team member fall into enemy hands, he could not compromise the others. Only the team leader, who was acting as sniper, and the administration and supply technician knew the identity of the target. The role of administration and supply technician, usually a Special Forces NCO with vast experience in the area of operations, was just for this mission played by an old CIA hand experienced in assassinations. In Special Forces parlance, he was called cynically the Public Safety Director.

Whatever the sniper's target, getting him to it and assisting him had priority among other team members, though there were other intelligence objectives as well, like counting enemy trucks entering the area from the North. The planning process was a complicated procedure involving logistics, command signals, radio frequencies, and method of execution, all of which had to be memorized. Planning went backward. It began at the point the mission was expected to be completed. Experience had taught these men that if they started planning from the beginning of the mission they invariably got bogged down in irrelevant details. To McKenney, the CCN modus operandi seemed the ideal response to enemy duplicities, compared with the way the Marine hunter-killer groups were bound by tradition and exaggerated concern for international law and world opinion.

The six-man team heaved a collective sigh of relief when it got its "warning order." This was the green light for the mission. From that point forward they had no contact with anyone not associated with the mission, moving into the isolation area. Here there was no bathing with soap for four days prior to the mission. No deodorant, no aftershave-no "Caucasian" smell that might give them away to the enemy. Their clothes for the mission were washed with sand and beaten on a rock. The Public Safety Director made the final checks, and ensured no one was carrying any letters or anything else that might identify them. He would later take fake letters each man had written, describing how they were on rest and recuperation in Thailand, and mail them from Bangkok.

They were what in Special Forces slang was called a masquerade team: they wore VA uniforms, tailored and taped at the bulky areas around the knees, ankles, and sleeves. They had heard the baggy, canvas uniforms of the NVA scraping against trees and foliage. No smart recon man made the same mistake. Each piece of equipment in their rucksacks was buffered by socks and other soft items. Their hair was dyed black. Whereas regular Special Forces teams and Marine Force Recon teams used issue camouflage paint, these men had made their own and stained their skin to the exact pallor of the NVA. Their weapons in no way identified them as Americans. They were referred to, and referred to themselves, only by number.

In what follows, this anonymity is respected at the request of survivors who testified to the facts in the following story. Some details, like code names, have also been changed to protect the identity of team members. 1-0 was the team leader followed by 2-0 and so forth. The only identifiable link they had to their country was a piece of silk that bore a serial number and a statement in all the languages of Southeast Asia. This so-called blood chit was for use in extreme emergency and had been modeled on a request for local assistance and the promise of reward concealed in innocent-looking possessions by airmen and commandos in World War II. Only the CIA man, the Public Safety Director, knew the correlation between serial number and person.

Despite the careful planning and compartmentalization, news that their mission was launched apparently leaked. Just before dawn, as the team moved silently away from their forward operations base near the Laotian border, a gong sounded six times, one for each man passing the first nearby village. This simple bit of psychological warfare had recently paralyzed a less-experienced Special Forces recruit. One of his teammates had to bring the unnerved man back to the base. But on this mission, the men were old hands and countered the games played by the enemy. They had, themselves, used similar devices to throw their opponents off balance. They feared no betrayal within their team because they had worked together before. Each man's life had been, at one time or another, saved by one of the others.

Nothing could match the recent harrowing experience of 1-0. He had led a patrol that was dropped in the A Shau Valley by helicopter. Everything seemed in order. The helicopter took off after the drop. Fifteen minutes after its departure, by which time the helicopter had insufficient fuel to fly back to the drop site, seemingly out of nowhere a Vietnamese-tinged voice spoke eerily to the team on a loudspeaker. "Welcome to A Shau Valley, members of Command and Control Detachment North team Anaconda." [4] The voice then named all of the team members.

Quick thinking on the part of the Americans made them winners in the ensuing firefight. They had been betrayed by a Vietnamese teammate. They kept their discovery of his identity to themselves, and pretended to be still on good terms with their false comrade. But now they fed him wrong information and put out false information about him. Word of his "great loyalty to South Vietnam and his membership in the South Vietnamese patriotic front-the Brotherhood of the Sword"-reached the enemy. Within a month he had disappeared. The Vietcong killed off their own man.

The patrol base was situated about as perfectly as it could be in that dangerous area. A weather-worn depression left by the uprooting of a huge mahogany tree, it comfortably housed the six men. Surrounding trees provided cover against air strikes. The uprooted tree provided a quick escape route. Its tough wood was impenetrable to bullets. By late afternoon, the best time to start, 1-0 moved out with 3-0, a Chinese-Vietnamese Nhung. Both knew this mission could only succeed if they penetrated the camp and found their target between 1900 and 2100. After 2100 it was usually lights-out for the NVA and too dark under the jungle canopy to see anything except the pin points of light from small kerosene lamps hung about three feet above the ground to guide the enemy's trucks. 1-0 and 3-0 moved along parallel trails, [5] keeping the tiny lights in sight.

Surrounded by a thousand jungle noises, 1-0 and 3-0 nonetheless moved in deathly silence. Nothing would have given them away as quickly as a sound out of tune with the chorus of the evening. Even the small crack made when a man stepped on a dry stick could betray him. They were searching for the line of small, cut, dried, and brittle branches that was always laid in a circle around an enemy camp to alert the NVA forward guards. The sticks were always in the same place, in the same formation, and the same distance from the guard's positions and the camp itself. 1-0 found the line of branches and gave a little prayer of thanks for this communist consistency.

Once past the circle of branches, the two painstakingly checked for mines, booby traps, and punji stakes. The sharp, notched bamboo sticks smeared with human feces were a primary weapon in this jungle area. Such booby traps could be set up in myriad ways to maim and kill. Some were very primitive, like the huge balls of mud with spears inside that were hung high in trees and triggered to fall on an unsuspecting soldier below. Some had romantic names like the Malay-Siam Gate.

1-0 knew there would be five sets of two guards, referred to as LPs (listening posts), stationed at different points on the compass. He also knew it would be normal to rotate an extra LP in front of a different guard station each night. This was a recent precaution taken by the enemy in response to the success of the Accelerated Pacification Program. Since the Phoenix blitz began in November, 1-0 and his colleagues had scored by infiltrating camps in the area and snatching prisoners.

As he approached the primary LP, 1-0, a few feet ahead of 3-0, stopped and turned his hat inside out. The hat now revealed two pieces of luminous tape. When the two luminous lines merged into one, 3-0 would know he was too far behind. The downward movement the leader was making with his hand told 3-0 to move forward. Then they both waited, absolutely still, observing the Vietnamese LP.

Immediately after the enemy's commander of the relief stopped by to make certain everything was secure in the area, the new replacement guard was killed with a silenced .22-calibre Colt Python pistol. The intruders now had a little less than two hours to find Garwood, kill him, and make their way out by a different route. In two hours the commander of the relief would make his next round.

The two made their way silently through the perimeter zone to the NVA base camp. All NVA bases in this part of the jungle were similar. No fancy bamboo forts like those of the ARVN. Just a series of lean-tos with thatched leaf roofs. Cooking fires were underground; small tunnels carried the smoke up to a kilometer away from the base camp and sleeping hammocks. American bombers would then target the area where they saw the smoke and thus completely miss the camps. 1-0 always admired the communists' ingenuity, their ability to outwit all the high technology thrown against them. "That was one reason I believed so strongly that the war could only be won through the kind of responsive and creative warfare I was involved in," he said. "I respected Tom McKenney for understanding this."

1-0 saw a group of soldiers conversing with several obviously non- Vietnamese men. It was a political education class-another feature of NVAlife that could always be depended on. 1-0 easily picked out the Russians. Their body language was arrogant, almost contemptuous of the Vietnamese they were with. He searched for Garwood, whose characteristics he had memorized, dark hair, slender, and almost no facial hair. However, this description did not match that given by the Marine survivors of No Name Island. That man had been "buff' (thickset) and light haired. It would shock McKenney later to learn that although he gave this very precise report to CCN, it was not passed on to the patrol. 1-0 knew that Garwood spoke excellent Vietnamese and was highly respected by his communist comrades. Watching the man he had selected as his quarry, 1-0 was certain that he had found his target. He signaled 3-0. Both were now completely focused on the kill.

When the small enemy group dispersed, the hunters silently followed the man they had identified as Garwood to his lean-to, and crouched nearby until he fell asleep. Creeping inside, 1-0 had almost no light in which to work, and killed the quarry quickly by placing the silenced .22 Colt Python pistol in a precise spot on the back of the neck, in the style of Chinese killings. The Vietnamese shot their victims in the temple. 1-0 planned the style of killing to confuse the enemy when they discovered the body.

One task completed, the patrol could now focus on another. In the period when 1-0 and 3-0 observed "Garwood" and the Russians with the Vietnamese, they discovered that the NVA corps commander had chosen this evening to visit the camp. This was an incredible break. The commander was sleeping in a hammock not too far from the dead man. It would have been easy to kill him. If they snatched him and sent him back for interrogation, they had a coup of the first order. The man was a potential gold mine of information about the enemy's plans in the area.

1-0 and 3-0 made their way silently over to the commander and immobilized him with a syringe filled with thorazine. [6] His eyes were the only sign that betrayed he was conscious. With a quick motion, 3-0 pulled the hammock down into the arms of 1-0, grateful that the Vietnamese tied their hammocks without knots, looped so that one quick jerk in the right place loosened them. Away from the camp, they got rid of the hammock and 1-0 slung the body of the corps commander over his shoulder. The inert figure weighed no more than ninety pounds. To 1-0, adrenaline pumping fast, the prisoner felt as light as a feather, a good thing because they now had only minutes before the commander of the relief would find the dead guard. As quietly as they came in, they skirted the dead guard and left by the preselected alternate route.

Within twenty minutes all hell would break loose in the camp. But the hunters also knew they had the advantage. The enemy would be demoralized and confused because their people had been killed within the perimeter of the camp. Night time, all recon men knew, belonged to the raiders. That was as true for the Vietcong who infiltrated American positions allover South Vietnam as it was for the Americans and their allies here.

Shortly before 1-0 and 3-0 reached their patrol base, the forest came alive with clicking sounds. This was the way the NVA spoke to each other in code. It was a code 1-0 understood well, and he adjusted their position accordingly. A few minutes later he began sending out his own misleading clicks. The enemy began to move away from his patrol, responding to the deception.

As soon as the two hunters and their human cargo were back at the patrol base, 1-0, exhaling first to insure maximum soundproofing, whispered the result of the mission to each man under a poncho. This was to ensure that even if only one of them survived, detailed facts and the success of the mission would get back to headquarters. Then he ordered the radio communications man to call for a helicopter pick-up at BMNT. This time of limited visibility for the enemy was crucial not only to their getting out but for getting the all important prisoner back to base. There was no clearing for the helicopter to land-only a hole in the canopy of trees-which meant they would, in the lingo of the men who performed this circuslike but highly dangerous maneuver, "come out on strings."

A 110-foot U.S. Army rappelling rope would be lowered from the helicopter. Patrol members all wore a special harness called a McGuire rig. As soon as the ropes reached them, they snapped the rope into the rig. Usually there was not enough time for the men to be pulled into the helicopter and they were flown back to the base hanging from the ropes, vulnerable to the gunfire from below. [7] Generally, the enemy aimed at the dangling men rather than at the helicopter though a well-placed shot at the machine could wipe out everyone. Despite the fact that the enemy was close enough to hear their steps, 1-0's priority was to get the snatched NVA commander back to headquarters even if it meant the team would have to engage in a firefight with an enemy who hugely outnumbered them. The drug injected into the prisoner was so effective that he was still limp except for the frightened look in his eyes. Shoved into a makeshift strait jacket and his own McGuire rig, he was ready to go the second the rope was lowered. 1-0 had ordered a separate helicopter for him so that he could be flown out first. With luck the whole patrol would then follow, but the chances of that happening were slim. The second helicopter would lack the element of surprise, and the team might then have to move on foot.

They were fortunate to be surrounded by tall mahogany trees which, together with the duskiness of early morning, made it very difficult for the enemy to determine where they were. 1-0 knew that if it was possible, the South Vietnamese helicopter pilots, who were affectionately called King Bees, would get them out. In his opinion, they were the best. The H-34 Sikorsky copters they flew had been known to take seventy-six holes in the fuselage and still fly. That was why the South Vietnamese had none of the nervousness of American pilots, who flew the much more vulnerable Hueys. The Americans sometimes lowered their nose and flew away with a man still hanging in the treeline. It was not a pretty sight to see a guy who had been dragged through a forest of mahogany trees on a rope; and that was not as bad as being dragged through bamboo. "The guys who suffered that fate looked like raw meat on a butcher block," one veteran of such operations, Major Mark Smith, said later.

Like clockwork, the helicopters appeared over the patrol precisely at BMNT. Immediately the jungle came alive with the sounds of the enemy. Within seconds, the limp NVA corps commander was raised above the treeline. His makeshift strait jacket dangled him like a shadow puppet against the twilight. The other helicopter hovered bravely until all the men were able to snap the lowered ropes onto their rigs. Now came the most dangerous part. They made it up past the treeline but, hanging from their ropes, they invited enemy fire all the way back to the base.

McKenney got the news almost immediately. He was elated. All the frustrations of the past now dissolved and for a time he could feel the anger against the mishandling of this strange war drain out of him.

Then came a wave of intense rage. The man killed by 1-0 was not Bobby Garwood. The same trusted agent who had originally pinpointed the quarry reported a few days later that the man assassinated was a Cuban adviser to the NVA.

A short time after the snatched NVA commander was interrogated by South Vietnamese officials, the information he revealed led to the snatching of a valuable NVA courier. Among the courier's papers, it was alleged, was a souvenir snapshot of a trusted American-run agent named Chuyen. The photograph made a lot of men in the world of special operations go ballistic. Word spread like wildfire that the picture showed a captured Special Forces captain moments before his execution by the VC. Standing next to him on the side of the executioners, it was said, was Chuyen. It was common knowledge among the captain's colleagues that Chuyen had posed as his good friend and that the execution had been singularly cruel. McKenney took a special interest in the case. He suspected that Chuyen, like so many other double agents, had betrayed more than one mission.

As in other cases when a double agent suddenly became suspected of being a spy, Chuyen disappeared. That was the end of the matter until eight Special Forces men with outstanding records were charged with his murder by the United States Army. The recently appointed head of Special Forces, Colonel Robert Rheault, was also charged with conspiracy in the matter. Those who had long suspected that General Creighton Abrams was "out to get Special Forces" regarded this as confirmation. It was rumored that Abrams expected to be questioned by Congress about secret aspects of the war that many critics considered unethical. The arrest of the eight Green Berets was a clear indication to many that Abrams intended to scapegoat Special Forces.

To McKenney, it seemed naIve and ludicrous for the media and politicians to agonize about the morality of assassination in a war like this one, where the enemy did as he pleased and with total disregard for public opinion because his methods were never reported.

Throughout preparation for the court martial of the eight Green Berets, Colonel Rheault maintained that "there had never been substantiation that Chuyen ever existed or that there had been a slaying." The CIA, although it had played a strong hand in the matter, refused to make available documents relating to its record of assassination. The charges were eventually dropped. But the damage to Special Forces was done from the moment the accusations were made. Abrams, and the Department of Defense, made it seem as if Special Forces had engaged in operations that military command considered immoral and would never authorize.

In light of all McKenney knew about orders delivered in ways that protected those who had issued them from recrimination, this was yet another, and perhaps the ultimate, betrayal. Good soldiers were nudged in the ribs, in effect, when handed the names of those marked for assassination. Nothing was in writing. A nod and a wink was the signal to go-ahead. This seemed at the time to be in the interests of U.S. national security. Now it began to smell of political shilly-shallying.

McKenney's frustration grew. When he heard that the dead Chuyen had officially entered the honor roll of North Vietnam as Hero of the Revolution it only deepened his sense of irony. Perhaps Chuyen had been killed on orders from the CIA. More likely-and more in the style of the Green Berets-he had been set up and killed by the VC as a consequence. Whatever had happened to Chuyen, McKenney was certain of one thing: that his own government had manipulated the situation to seriously undermine, if not destroy, Special Forces, the most effective fighting force it had in this war.



1. In a 1968 directive for Phoenix, William Colby wrote "that it was to be a program of advice, support and assistance to the Phuong Hong (Vietnamese for Phoenix):' He stressed that "U.S. personnel are under the same legal and moral constraints with respect to operations of a Phoenix character as they are with respect to regular military operations against enemy units in the field." From William Colby with James McCargar, Lost Victory. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1989.

2. Ibid.

3. Agents who worked with Special Forces, like those who worked with the Marine Corps, provided crucial information about the enemy's plans and strength. Americans had five categories of agents with "trusted agent" (1) ranking the highest; 2-usually reliable source; 3-source whose credibility is not verified; 4-source who has proved less than credible in the past; 5- source thought to be a double agent. If a letter preceded the ranking it referred to the quality of information. For example, A-I would signify trusted information coming from a trusted agent, B-1 would refer to trusted information coming from a usually reliable source, and so forth.

4. Not the mission's real code name.

5. They followed alongside the Vietnamese trails instead of walking on the trails themselves so that their footprints-particularly 1-0's, which were larger than those of the Vietnamese-would not give them away.

6. Some Special Forces team members remembered using morphine in similar situations. Each man generally carried a vial of morphine in case someone on the team was injured. The team leader carried an extra amount for just this kind of situation, where a prisoner needed to be snatched quickly and silently. With thorazine or morphine, the amount in the vial was just enough to immobilize a prisoner. Too much would kill.

7. Most commonly referred to as the spie rig, this special patrol insertion / extraction system had several variations. The variation used by 1-0 had three rigs that would carry six men. The men hooked their arms around each other's waists-outside men with one arm extended. This makeshift aerodynamic position helped stabilize them. The spie rig was also one of the most common procedures used by Special Forces for the insertion of recon teams. During insertion, men would be deposited in the heart of enemy territory by descending on a rappelling rope. An early version of the spie rig was a ladder.
Site Admin
Posts: 32372
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:24 am


Bobby Garwood with his mother. (Courtesy: Robert Garwood)

Garwood during the time he was at boot camp. (Courtesy: Kell Banholzer)

Marine Private Garwood. (Courtesy: Robert Garwood)

Colonel (then Major) Tom McKenney in 1968 standing by protective bunker, near the G-2 shack at III MAF headquarters on the Tien Sha peninsula, east of Da Nang. (Courtesy: Tom McKenney)

Sam Owens's home at Trabang. (Courtesy: Sam Owens)

The Special Forces camp at Trabang. (Courtesy: Sam Owens)

Two hunter-killer teams before leaving on patrol. (Courtesy: Sam Owens)

A six-man hunter-killer team just returned from patrol. Sam Owens is second from right. (Courtesy: Sam Owens)  

Garwood dressed up, but still a prisoner, just before leaving Vietnam. This is a still taken from the Jon Alpert tape. (Author's photo)

Garwood and his sister Linda at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital after his repatriation in March 1979. (Courtesy: Robert Garwood)

Garwood celebrates his return with family and friends, May 1979. (Courtesy: Ken Bonholzer)

Garwood and his father in Adams, Indiana, 1979. (Courtesy: Robert Garwood)

Garwood at the time of his court martial, Automated Services Unit, Camp Lejeune. Garwood was formally assigned to this unit during the trial. His job was to sort and re-route Fleet Force Pacific mail to the USMC Commandant. (Courtesy: Marine Corps Historical Collection)

Garwood and attorney Bill Bennet before Senate. House Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, June 1985. (Author's photo)  

Bob Hyp and Gary Sydow, two of Garwood's debriefers at Okracoke, North Carolina, February 1988. (Courtesy: Robert Garwood)

Tom McKenney and Sam Owens in Columbia, South Carolina, 1994. (Author's photo)

Garwood and the author, 1993, just before his return to Vietnam. (Author's photo)

Garwood and Major Mark Smith, a former Special Forces "shooter." (Author's photo)

Garwood pointing at Senior Colonel (retired) Pham Van Thai, July 1993. Senator Bob Smith, NH, is wearing dark cap. (Courtesy: Attorney Vaughn Taylor)

Garwood and Tom McKenney in 1994 at the annual meeting of the Upper Midwest National Alliance of Families in Minneapolis. This photo was taken the day after their first meeting. Attorney Vaughn Taylor is on the left. (Author's photo)
Site Admin
Posts: 32372
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 10:45 pm

Chapter 15: The Most Painful Memory

Colonel McKenney was in bad shape physically when the doctors sent him stateside in September 1969. For the previous six months he had been fighting the aftereffects of a concussion he sustained when standing within ten feet of four hundred tons of munitions that exploded during the second Tet offensive and injuries caused by a parachute jump with Vietnamese Special Forces. Both his main chute and his reserve chute malfunctioned. These problems he had been able to deal with by simply ignoring the pain and driving himself harder during those final months. That tactic no longer worked, though, when he came down with five tropical diseases. The worst were hepatitis-A, amoebic dysentery, and sprue, which prevented his body from absorbing food. Some of his nerve endings began to die. Certain muscles stopped working. He volunteered to be a guinea pig in a study of sprue. When he was finally forced by his superiors and doctors to go home, he told them he'd be back. They were dubious, but they had seen other men drive themselves back into action through sheer willpower.

In fact, the emotional scars left by his experience in Vietnam would prove to be more debilitating than the physical ones. Whatever mistakes were made the previous year, McKenney had no regrets about the secret hunt to find and kill traitors like Garwood. There were other secrets, though, that distressed him deeply. One, in particular, was traumatic. Having personally read orders from Washington to abandon a naval pilot, downed and drifting in seas from which he could have been rescued, McKenney blamed himself for not attempting to get them reversed. Every active duty officer involved, from the rescue helicopter pilots known as Jolly Green Giants, already heading out to pluck the pilot from his raft, to the denizens C-section at Da Nang East, had been furiously vocal in challenging a decision that meant a man must be left to die.

McKenney had stood silently by. This unspeakable betrayal hit him on his last stretch home on Sunday, September 14th, 1969. As he and his seatmate, an aviator, watched the approaching northern coast of California and Mount Shasta, they talked about those who weren't coming back. Then the memory he had buried rose like an accusing finger, and McKenney's mind filled with the image of the pilot, sitting in a rubber raft south of Hainan Island, [1] waiting to be rescued.

That day in October 1968, McKenney was in C-section at III MAF headquarters. It was during his tenure as order of battle officer. He had access to the classified world of those who both eavesdropped on the enemy and communicated to Washington. The situation room, with its visual display of enemy unit locations in constant flux as their positions changed, required a special clearance in addition to his top-secret clearance. Entering the place always reminded him of the speakeasies in old movies. Like the mob lookout, the watch officers would visually identify him through a hatch in the door before allowing him inside.

As he prepared to get a fix on the enemy unit he had come to track, he was asked to wait. Some priority-message traffic was going back and forth over the backchannel communications net, which only high-ranking politicians and generals could use. McKenney gathered this was another case of the Oval Office involving itself. A naval pilot had been shot down in the South China Sea. The Jolly Green Giants-for whom he always stood when they entered a room-were already halfway there. The men in the situation room were visibly relieved to hear the continuing signal from the emergency transmitter of the downed pilot. He was unhurt; he knew help was on the way. "What were those idiots in Washington doing," McKenney remembered thinking as he read their instructions coming over the secure teletype. They demanded the coordinates of the shootdown. What followed appalled everyone in the room: "Abort rescue!"

The communications specialist handling the emergency tore the message off and shouted, "Bullshit!" He kicked the big metal cabinet holding the teletype machine and deliberately stalled communications, obviously not caring which smarmy politician got the message at the other end. The Jolly Greens reacted even more strongly: "Hell no! We're already half-way there." The tension all along the backchannel was palpable. No one could believe such a stupid and inhumane order. [2] Much later, in 1995, Robert S. McNamara would apologize for a similar case of pilot abandonment, which, at least in retrospect, "horrified" him as well.

The order was repeated. "You will abort. Repeat, you will abort! He is too close to Hainan Island. We don't want to provoke the Chinese." McKenney wanted to kill the man giving that order. The specialist repeated over and over, loudly: "This is unbelievable." He made it clear that he objected. Displaying the same opposition, the helicopter pilots did not turn around until after several repeat orders and only after loud protests. No one wanted to be part of this.

The specialist told McKenney he knew more bullshit would come later, when some of them would be pulled aside and "confided in," told there were more important issues at stake here-political and foreign policy issues that they could not possibly understand. Long years later, McKenney would still wonder why he had not joined the protests, why he had taken no action. He was the highest-ranking officer in the room. He had some pretty powerful friends who might have been able to do something. He could have gone to them. Instead, he had gone to sleep that night, his mind blank.

The diary notes McKenney penned at that time were veined with alarm: as if his very blood spilled onto paper. What had happened to the most basic duty of Americans in wartime, to remain staunch and true to one another, to make every sacrifice to save a comrade in trouble, he wanted to know. This very general question probably served to protect him from what really disturbed his subconscious -- his own impotence to help the navy pilot, a comrade, abandoned for cowardly, political reasons-because it justified his loathing for Garwood. The job of finally "getting Garwood," he left to Sam Owens-but only until he himself would return.

As the plane hit the runway with a few bounces and many cheers, flight attendants hid the shoes of a handsome young Marine captain, and asked everyone to help look for them. Vietnam no longer existed. It was time now for fun and frolics. "The troops," McKenney noted in his diary, "were eating it up." It was his last Vietnam entry.



1. Hainan Island belongs to the People's Republic of China.

2. Loss record of the downed pilot is in the author's files. The author also spoke with Maureen Dunn, whose husband, a naval pilot, was abandoned off Hainan Island earlier in the spring of 1968. Ms. Dunn also obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act that verity that the decision to abandon her husband, and other pilots who were shot down near Hainan Island, was made at the highest level. On April 16th, 1995, Ms. Dunn confronted former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara at Harvard University, where he was giving a speech to promote a book he had written. In her hand she had a record of a meeting he had attended with President Johnson and other top officials on the day her husband was shot down. The high-level group had made the decision to abort her husband's rescue in the same way that McKenney witnessed the abandoning of the pilot in October of the same year. She asked McNamara for an apology. He said he did not remember the incident, but her document persuaded him. He told her: 'Tm not just sorry. I'm horrified." Ms. Dunn told the author that she planned a book of her own in which she would present the full documentation to prove that during the Vietnam War at least eight pilots were abandoned in a similar manner off Hainan Island.
Site Admin
Posts: 32372
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 10:46 pm

Chapter 16: Masquerade, or Limited Distribution Only (LIMDlS)

Coming home from Vietnam was difficult for McKenney. Not only did he not receive the hero's welcome accorded those returning from World War II, whom he himself idealized, but no one' outside his family seemed to know what sacrifices were being made in Vietnam. [1] Or if they knew, they didn't care. Most frustrating of all, no one seemed aware that at least as he saw it, in military terms, the United States had been winning the war right up until he left Vietnam in 1969. He had believed President Nixon knew this. Now he became increasingly sure that Nixon's policy in Vietnam was motivated by domestic political concerns. As always, "mud soldiers" were left to take the brunt. Troop withdrawals were going so fast- 150,000 by the end of 1970-that, as far as McKenney was concerned, it could not but place those left behind in dire jeopardy. In June 1970 the U.S. Senate repealed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and passed an amendment barring the use of troops in Cambodia.

Still he fought to get back to the front, never so much as when the classified Pentagon Papers were published in 1971, an act he considered treasonous. He had no intention of giving up, as his doctors seemed to think he should. He insisted on staying in the active Marine Corps, working, when his health permitted, as division training officer. It allowed him to keep alive both his dream of heading the reconnaissance battalion and his obsession to get Garwood. But, always the good Marine, he obeyed orders: he was no longer officially in the loop and made no conscious effort to tap into current intelligence. Still, in the early seventies, McKenney did have news from his Marine Corps friends about his old nemesis that again confirmed his belief that the order to kill Garwood was entirely justified, even if he had to carry it out himself.

It was No Name Island all over again. A Marine patrol near the DMZ had encountered an VA unit directed by an American who shouted orders in English. One Marine was killed and several wounded. Among retired marines who had worked with SOG, rumor had it that one was blinded. Tom McKenney was certain that such an incident would be highly classified, yet it seemed to have been leaked by official sources. The story first appeared in Pacific Basin newspapers, and was then picked up by British and American wire services. The reports claimed that the U.S. Army was now admitting there were over one hundred deserters, including a number of Marines. This number was more precise than what McKenney had earlier heard from his cronies. The wire reports added that the Marines who were attacked near the DMZ identified the man who shouted orders in English as "a known Marine defector named Bobby Garwood." Most of the Pacific Rim newspapers were regarded by McKenney in those days as holding leftist views that made them suckers for communist disinformation. This made the reports puzzling.

They made no sense as enemy propaganda, or as stories planted by his own side. The accuracy, for McKenney, who was inclined to believe anything that fit his stereotype of "the traitor," was in the portrayal of the man he believed Garwood to be. And the stories about the one hundred or so deserters tracked closely the CI reports he had been privy to since 1968.

McKenney was very upset by the appearance of this account. He asked himself: Would the Army deliberately leak information so damaging to itself? The antiwar crowd would have a field day with such stories. They further endangered American soldiers-especially those unlucky enough to be prisoners of the North Vietnamese. He had by now heard accounts of Garwood's travels to North Vietnamese prison camps, where it was alleged that the enemy exploited him as a self-proclaimed turncoat, goading and tormenting American prisoners by saying he had chosen to join the NVA to fight against his own people.

It was not until twenty years later that McKenney learned the truth about the leaking of this story. Then it almost destroyed him. He had been right in assuming that the incident was highly classified. He had been right in sensing that the reports had the earmarks of disinformation from his own side. But he had no idea what layers of secrecy here masked the truth. He had always accepted that working in intelligence meant having only the barest minimum of information to do jobs that often required "plausible deniability." This information would be accurate, but there needed to be a cover of deceit that made it possible to deny official involvement. Otherwise an operation could backfire, which might be politically embarrassing and could jeopardize other secret operations. He was thus dogmatic in believing that Garwood was guilty, because this was the information he received, and also that the order to kill Garwood had to be entirely deniable. "I never questioned the infallibility of my superiors who made the decision on Garwood and similar cases," he later recalled. "I was naive enough to think that one's own side observed a moral boundary and that common decency prevented us from crossing it. I knew about Soviet 'black' propaganda that harmed their own people but never for a second imagined we might have programs for deceiving our own side in ways that sacrificed Americans."

This unquestioning belief in a moral boundary was shared by Barry Toll, a young Army operations and intelligence specialist at the U.S. Command and Control Center, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. McKenney and Toll were not acquainted and they reacted to what they knew about the DMZ incident differently-McKenney was confused, vaguely suspicious, while Toll was in a state of shock. The difference was that Toll knew the entire story, which was nothing like what had been carefully leaked to the American public by the CIA. The leaked information came from a CIA summary that had been classified SECRET. This classification headed ordinary daily war summaries, but was added to this particular summary to impress journalists as to its importance and to its accuracy. Unlike normal daily summaries, this one was planted by the CIA-controlled black ops overseas disinformation program. The CIA was by law allowed to put out disinformation only overseas: but its professionals were skilled enough to make sure this disinformation would be transmitted to the United States if they wanted it to be. The story of the DMZ incident, which McKenney had first heard from his Marine Corps buddies, exemplified this skill. A USMC patrol had been having lunch near the Laotian and orth Vietnam border when they spotted an NVA unit approaching from about tl1irty to forty feet away. The lead soldier seemed to be Caucasian. He was carrying an AK47, which he began firing while shouting orders in English. There had been a brief firefight. Several Marines were wounded. One was killed.

A week after the first newspaper articles in Southeast Asia began to carry articles outlining this summary, they also reinforced it with remarks made by unidentified Army spokesmen who admitted that along with the Army, the Marines had a number of deserters. One of the Marines wounded in the fire fight had tentatively identified the Caucasian who led the NVA unit against the Marines as a known Marine deserter, Bobby Garwood.

Barry Toll himself had heard rumors of defectors, including Garwood, and would not normally have been too surprised to hear that a fallen Marine had supposedly attacked fellow Marines. But Toll was suspicious that at some high level of his own government secrecy was used to betray an American soldier because it was the easiest way to deal with a messy problem. Toll was one of a handful of people -- perhaps the only one other than high-ranking government and military officials-to establish authoritatively that the SECRET summary of the firefight between Marines and the alleged Garwood-led NVA unit was a smokescreen created by CIA disinformation experts to hide the truth-a truth that had nothing to do with Bobby Garwood and everything to do with sacrificing the rights of ordinary soldiers for "reasons of national security."

Toll learned how this concept could lead to the crossing of that moral boundary based upon common American decency, because he was uniquely placed at the time of these events. A communications specialist, he had special clearances to handle material so secret it was eclipsed from the purview of all but the highest levels of government. Stamped for Limited Distribution Only (LIMDIS) such top-secret messages were sent to as few as eight, not usually more than twenty, privileged and powerful men. The messages were transmitted over high-command or backchannel teletype / cryptological circuits by communications specialists, like Toll, who systematized the restricted dissemination. The lists of receivers were highly compartmentalized. An alpha-numeric coding at the beginning of the message automatically insured that it would travel on a system of secure cryptological circuits to the addressee at his officially designated address only. For example, if the commander in chief of Pacific operations needed to report top-secret war intelligence to the president, it would be communicated over secure cryptological circuits to the chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House National Security Council, the White House Situation Room, and the National Military Command Center. The acronym LIMDIS was stamped in large, bright red letters at the top of such documents. Some had the added caveat EYES ONLY, which meant the contents were never to be spoken out loud by the addressee.

Just such a LIMDIS message convinced Toll that Garwood was innocent of having led the VA unit attacking Marines near the DMZ. The message passed through the direct chain of command between Vietnam and the White House and the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. This chain of command included the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, the commander of Pacific operations, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chief of the military's Vietnam studies and observations group under CIA jurisdiction, the chief of staff of the U.S. Army, the chief of Naval Operations, the chief of the U.S. Air Force, the special assistant for counterinsurgency and special activities, and the National Security Council at the White House. Barry Toll said that some of the commanders may have chosen to further disseminate the message among their staff or subordinate commanders.

More than twenty years later, he was to tell Senate investigators that though he did not remember every detail, there was no chance of his forgetting the main thrust of the LIMDIS message or who had received it. The message explained that the firefight between Marines and what appeared to be an VA unit led by Bobby Garwood was in fact a firefight between between Mannes and a MACSOG masquerade team.

The MACSOG team, made up of local tribesmen and a Caucasian officer, had been disguised as VA regulars on a highly classified mission in Laos. Their radio broke down. Unable to call for helicopter pickup, they were making their way back on foot when their point man, a Montagnard, spotted the Malines approximately forty feet away, and mistook them for the enemy. The team went into immediate action, following an automatic drill that was virtually unstoppable: the point man fired two rounds; as he stopped the second man started firing, and so forth.

Toll remembered thinking that once the point man realized they were firing at Americans, he probably tried to shout a warning to his American teammates, who were ninety to one hundred feet behind him. That must have been what gave the Marines the impression that the man they assumed to be Garwood was shouting orders in English to his NVA unit.

Toll, who was the officially designated classified materials custodian and had set up the security procedures for a large volume of extremely sensitive material, understood why this message was given LIMDIS status. The United States was not going to jeopardize its strategic intelligence missions by telling the truth about an unfortunate incident. This would compromise other special-forces masquerade teams regularly infiltrating Laos. Toll did not understand, however, why it was necessary to destroy the reputation of a Marine Corps private named Garwood. The U.S. government might have had something on him but Toll, in his innocence, did not think his government had the right to convict this Marine on trumped-up charges of murder and treason. An enlisted man himself, he empathized with Garwood.

Toll's colleagues would say later that he had a reputation for total integrity, and it was this integrity that caused his shocked reaction. Senior USMC Colonel Wallace C. Crompton had written at the time about Toll: "His outstanding abilities permit him to routinely perform the complex duties that are normally the functions of a commissioned officer .... [His job] requires an inordinate degree of integrity [and] responsibility .... " The ironic consequence of having such integrity was that Toll felt honor-bound to keep his mouth shut, at least for the time being.

He was not alone in his feelings of apprehension. Silent concurrence came in the form of another backchannel LIMDIS communication from a most unexpected source. The commandant of the USMC was upset because the merely SECRET memo that had been leaked along with other disinformation made Marines the scapegoat. The black propaganda distortions, put out by those whose profession was to deceive, said not only that there were Marine deserters, but that one of them had led the NVA in an attack on fellow Marines. Reading between the lines, Toll had concluded that the decision to slander Marines had been taken without consulting the USMC. Now the commandant was trapped by the same codes of secrecy as Toll himself. The Marine commandant could not explain publicly that Americans had fought Americans by mistake without compromising the U.S. policy of sending these special-operations masquerade teams into countries with whom the United States was not officially at war.

What would remain a mystery to Toll was this: why had Garwood's name surfaced in the first place? When he finally spoke about the matter before a Senate select committee, [2] he offered the opinion that the name had surfaced at the Joint Staff Level. But there was no question in his mind about the orchestration of the disinformation campaign. Only the CIA had the resources and capability. In those days Toll was first and foremost a man committed to secret intelligence, so he had at the time put aside his private speculations about the incident, just as he put aside thoughts on an increasing number of other incidents of high-level cover-up. He rationalized that better minds than his must have made these decisions to protect national security. The incident weighed heavily on his conscience though, as did other morally questionable incidents he was witness to.

Eventually he opted out of a career he loved, rather than continue to work with those who seemed now to tolerate the abuse of secrecy.

He never spoke of his knowledge of the black disinformation campaign waged against Garwood until he testified before the Senate committee more than twenty years later. But whenever Garwood's name surfaced-as it would over the years and always as the worst of traitors-he felt sick because he had seen no evidence to substantiate the charges at all. Somewhere lost in Vietnam, he used to think, is a fellow American who has been denied justice because somehow we crossed a moral boundary while patriotically following the banners of the deceivers. "Their real intentions have been hidden in folders marked for Limited Distribution only," he thought, wondering about some poor miserable Joe who might never know that in Washington he had enemies banked up, rank upon rank, masked by acronyms and prevented by their own vanity, or by misplaced loyalty to soulless institutions, or by professional politics, from ever allowing a single moment of doubt to disturb the public mind that an innocent man had been sentenced for a crime that mandated a death penalty.



1. From 1961 to 1972, III MAF suffered 101,571 casualties-12,938 killed in action and 88,633 wounded in action. In World War II, the entire Marine Corps suffered 86,940 casualties.

2. Toll testified before the Senate Select Committee on POWs 1991-93.
Site Admin
Posts: 32372
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Return to A Growing Corpus of Analytical Materials

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest