Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

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Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 3:12 am

Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam
by Monika Jensen-Stevenson
© 1997 by Monika Jensen-Stevenson




To Special Forces Captain William F. (Ike) Eisenbraun whose ability to inspire was the measure of the man.

And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness.

-- Leviticus 16:21

Closely allied with the concept of scapegoat was that of the devil. This defense mechanism rejected personal accountability and projected guilt to an object which was conceived as the essence of evil.

... The assumption that the woes of this world are caused by devils, whether spiritual or terrestrial, is a popular error that continually thwarts realistic analysis.

-- William Bosch, Author, Judgement at Nuremberg

Table of Contents:

• Inside and Back Cover
• Acknowledgments
• 1: Remembrance Day
• 2: No Forgiveness
• 3: Drummer Boy Dreams
• 4: Tindeltown Beginnings
• 5: Man of War
• 6: The Making of a Hunter-Killer
• 7: Tripping over Dimes
• 8: Handicapping Soldiers
• 9: Making a Paper Tiger
• 10: Promises to Keep
• 11: To Covet Honor
• 12: Spring of Hope / Winter of Despair
• 13: Gaming
• 14: Coming Out on Strings
• 15: The Most Painful Memory
• 16: Masquerade, or Limited Distribution Only (LIMDIS)
• 17: Bennies, or Limited Assignments of Assassination
• 18: Creating a Circumstance
• 19: Grapes of Wrath
• 20: Dishonored
• 21: Checkmate
• 22: Creeping Doubts
• 23: Semper Fidelis
• Epilogue
• Index
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 3:16 am

Inside Cover


Two U.S. marines, both totally loyal to the same beliefs: one is turned into a hunter, and the other into prey. Such a distortion of patriotism would not be credible unless buttressed by hard facts and by the testimony of both men.

In 1965, Marine private Robert Garwood, ten days short at the end of his tour, was sent on a mission from which he did not return. Ambushed by the Vietcong, he was held prisoner for fourteen years. In 1979 he escaped and returned to the United States, where he was hastily court-martialed and convicted of collaborating with the enemy.

Now at last we learn Garwood's true story: a harrowing, profoundly moving, fourteen-year struggle to survive and prevail, not only over a cruel and manipulative enemy, but over his own country's secret efforts to kill him.

Part of Colonel Tom McKenney's job in Vietnam was organizing killer teams to eliminate such "traitors," and Garwood became an obsession to him. Only twenty-five years later did he come to the conclusion that Garwood was innocent and, more than that, a hero. Thanks to McKenney's courageous testimony, and to the author's fearless pursuit of facts, an injustice is at last set right and the workings of a dreadful secret machinery are laid bare.


Monika Jensen-Stevenson, formerly an Emmy-winning producer for Sixty Minutes, is the coauthor of Kiss the Boys Goodbye. She has traveled throughout Southeast Asia as a writer and reporter, lectured widely to West Point cadets and veterans' organizations, and testified in 1991 before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on American POWs. The Vietnam Veterans Coalition awarded her the Vietnam Veterans National Medal. She is married to author William Stevenson and lives in Toronto, Canada.

Jacket design © Walter Harper
Jacket photograph © Larry Burrows Collection

Back Cover:


November 11th, 1991
Crystal City Hilton
Washington, D.C.
Annual Meeting
Vietnam Veterans Coalition

"I sat at the speakers' table and noticed him come through the door. He surveyed the large room with some distaste and just a touch of embarrassment. Several hundred men and women were milling around breakfast tables ....

"Greeting people after my speech, I again became aware of the visitor, a ramrod-straight, imposing figure in a dark suit, waiting patiently, an intense look on his face. He made no move to speak. Only when I began to move away did he step forward and take both my hands in his. He began to weep silently. The silence stretched on and on. Finally he said, "I am Colonel Tom C. McKenney. You must know how to reach Bobby Garwood. I directed an official mission to assassinate him behind enemy lines, because I believed what they told me. Would you tell him I will crawl on my hands and knees to beg his forgiveness?'"

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

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 3:17 am


It is impossible to thank everyone who gave me support and help in the writing of this book. First and foremost, my husband and daughter who encouraged me to make it a priority.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to veterans of special operations and the relevant intelligence agencies-Vietnamese, Thai, American, Australian, British-who shared their knowledge and experience about a part of the Vietnam War hidden from ordinary view and who, more important, gave their moral support to the writing of this book. Norman Doney, Mark Smith, Major General Arun Sumitra (current Chief of Thai Defense Intelligence), Harve Saal and his good friends who have asked not to be named, gave me invaluable assistance for which I will always be grateful. I am indebted to Rider Latham whose distinguished services in Asia with British intelligence made his moral support so important. Special mention must go to King Rama IX of Thailand. His friendly, generous, and knowledgeable counseling over many years was outstanding.

I want to thank Vaughn Taylor, Bobby Garwood's long-time lawyer, for sharing unstintingly with me the results of almost twenty years of dedicated and largely unpaid detective and legal work. If I ever had doubts that there still exist in America lawyers who pursue justice over career advancement and wealth, he put them to rest. That kind of integrity may seem even more unusual in a politician, but I am grateful that Senator Bob Smith (R-N.H.) has it and shared some of his findings with me. General Eugene Tighe, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, now deceased, provided the road map for me to pursue this story at the very beginning, when official government policy dictated that the truth about Bobby Garwood remain buried. This book owes much to General Tighe's belief and determination that an innocent soldier had the right to be exonerated and honored for what the general called "exceptional courage." I owe General Lam Van Phat, the last South Vietnamese military commander of the Saigon area, who testified courageously from his own prison experience, a similar debt of gratitude. Bill Garnett Bell, the former Chief of Operations, Joint Casualty Resolution Center, shared not only his knowledge of the intricacies of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese prison system during and after the war, but also generously helped me to communicate with former South Vietnamese military and intelligence professionals. There were others convinced of the need to tell Bobby Garwood's true story. They offered valuable contacts, research time and skills. John Holland and Quyen Le must be singled out for their very important contributions. I look forward to the day when it will be possible to thank publicly senior officers in Hanoi whose sense of military honor overrode their political concerns in order to provide independent confirmation of the details of Garwood's fourteen years in a hitherto undisclosed secret prison system of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 3:18 am

Chapter 1: Remembrance Day

November 11th, 1991, Crystal City Hilton, Washington, D.C., Annual Meeting, Vietnam Veterans Coalition

I sat at the speakers' table and noticed him come through the door. He surveyed the large room with some distaste and just a touch of embarrassment. Several hundred men and women were milling around breakfast tables.

He had never attended a gathering of Vietnam vets before; meetings such as these made up a world he had always heard about with sadness. He hurt for all those guys in their camouflage dungarees and bush hats, growing bald and paunchy, because they seemed unable to move past the memory of the time they spent in Vietnam. To him they were like the Wall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, which he had never seen and never intended to see: the veterans, it seemed to him, offered themselves up, in perpetuity, as symbols of defeat.

Still, he saluted the flag and sang the national anthem with his usual spirit. He had finally recognized that this was a subculture with its own ceremonies, celebrities, and jargon. But he definitely did not feel part of it-it was too emotionally complicated. He still remembered with puzzled pride the wartime nickname he had been given without his knowledge: "Colonel Smooth." Until the day before he left Vietnam in September 1969 he had no idea that this was the image his men had of him. At a farewell party, his senior sergeants presented him with a small marble Buddha and a note that said he reminded them of the Buddha, because he "always stayed calm, no matter how tense the situation ... he was unshakeable." He thought now: they had no idea just how tightly wound he had in fact been underneath. What had made him so seemingly sure of himself had nothing to do with being smooth. It was something much simpler: the belief he had firmly held since his first tour in Korea-that he was just a Marine doing what Marines do.

He had come to Washington to find a man he had hated for twenty-three years. He knew it was unlikely that his old nemesis would be here, but it was always possible. The Colonel, still obsessed by his search, blanked out the meeting, the speakers, the awards. Not encountering his man among the crowd, he would ask my help in tracking him down-Robert (Bobby) Garwood, a former Marine private, captured in Vietnam in 1965. Garwood returned from Vietnam in 1979, six years after the peace agreements were signed, only to be court martialed and found guilty of collaborating with the enemy. He figured in a book I wrote.

Greeting people after my speech, I again became aware of the visitor, a ramrod-straight, imposing figure in a dark suit, waiting patiently, an intense look on his face. He made no move to speak. Only when I began to move away did he step forward and take both my hands in his. He began to weep silently. The silence stretched on and on. Finally he said, "I am Colonel Tom C. McKenney. You must know how to reach Bobby Garwood. I directed an official mission to assassinate him behind enemy lines, because I believed what they told me. Would you tell him that I will crawl on my hands and knees to beg his forgiveness?"
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 3:18 am

Chapter 2: No Forgiveness

April 1979

There was no forgiveness in the Colonel's heart when Garwood suddenly appeared on a TV news report following his shame-ridden return.

'They've let the traitor come home. After all those months we spent trying to hunt him down and kill him, here he is, getting off a plane in Chicago." McKenney's eyes were fixed on the television screen. Even though he thought the words and said nothing, the anger that boiled up in him was visible, dark, and ugly. It stunned his Bible study group in Wickliffe, Kentucky. They had just finished a discussion and were chatting over coffee or watching the evening news, but now they fell silent. The change in their Bible-class teacher was almost frightening. Some knew he had seen combat in Vietnam.

There was so much more he had never spoken about, never been allowed to speak about. He had once directed some of the assassinations that eliminated thousands of South Vietnamese suspected of working with the enemy. And that was only half of it.

Tom McKenney's mind flashed back ten years, to June 5th, 1969, and the aftermath of the battle of No Name Island in Vietnam, when he had gone to interview the survivors. He imagined once again the battle scene they described. In his mind he saw the wreck of what was left of a platoon of K Company, Third Battalion, First Marines, and the mutilated bodies of the young Marines made him wince. He could hear the screams of some of the injured while the enemy taunted them in English, "Marines, you die tonight-no sweat." He remembered the strange, listless way the few American survivors repeated the phrase, "they had us whipped."

McKenney was convinced that the man who led the enemy on that raid was the same man who now appeared on the screen-not a Vietcong, or a North Vietnamese Army officer, but an American. McKenney would never forget his name: Bobby Garwood. On the day of the battle, Garwood wore the enemy's uniform. Now, here he was on the television screen, at the Chicago airport dressed as a Marine Corps private. For a whole year Garwood had been McKenney's top target in Vietnam, and McKenney had used all the formidable resources at his disposal to hunt him down. He failed and his failure still tortured him. He had been consumed with hatred then, and he was driven by it now. It made no difference that the man on the screen was carrying a Bible.

For the sake of all Marines whose blood was on Garwood's hands, vowed McKenney, justice would be done.
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 3:19 am

Chapter 3: Drummer Boy Dreams

For as long as he could remember, Tom Chase McKenney wanted to be a soldier. The first question he recalls putting to his father went something like this: "Can I be a drummer boy when I grow up?" His father answered, "I hope not." He was only three at the time, inspired by a picture of rag-taggle American revolutionary soldiers carrying two drummer boys on their shoulders as they waded across an icy stream in the middle of winter. That brief exchange between father and son seems to have little relevance to Vietnam; yet it reveals the personality of a small boy who, from that moment forward, never changed his mind about wanting to become a soldier, and who became so single-mindedly a Marine that he would go way beyond the call of duty to live up to his own personal code. That such a code, based on traditional American values, might be twisted to make him, finally, a man committed to assassinating fellow American soldiers, denying them a trial or defense of any sort, would have been inconceivable to the boy's family and his mentors.

Everything in McKenney's early life contributed to the building of old-fashioned character. His parents, grandparents, uncle, aunts, and cousins all lived within a sixteen-mile radius of his family home in Kentucky. They believed passionately in education, the more classical the better, and the discussion of ideas. They instilled in McKenney the sense of being blessed to live in a country where so much was possible and to have had ancestors who created it through blood, sweat, and tears. With this privilege went the responsibilities to do one's best and to be patriotic. McKenney's father added something else: "Always choose the most difficult path, it's sure to be the right one."

McKenney was taught to believe and trust his country's government and elected leaders. Even when he learned that some leaders were unworthy of their offices and that few seemed to match the brilliance and moral fiber of his political and intellectual hero, Thomas Jefferson, he never stopped trusting the highest levels of government.

Growing up in Lexington in the 1930s and during the war was like a dream. The city had a small-town feeling, with long, white fences and stonewalled roads everywhere-even downtown. The population was fifty thousand, a figure that hadn't changed much in 150 years, and when McKenney walked down Main Street he recognized almost everybody. Prosperity depended on tobacco, whiskey, and horses. The town's leaders deliberately resisted industrialization. Lexington was secure in its identity, deeply rooted in history.

Founded in the nation's earliest expansion from the eastern seaboard, Lexington soon became known as the seat of culture and civilization on the raw frontier. Every Kentucky schoolboy learned it was once called the Athens of the West. McKenney still thought of it that way. Where the Viaduct intersected with Main Street there was a bronze statue with direction markers called the Zero Milestone. To McKenney, it was the center of the universe.

Lexington was decidedly "Old South" in its values and customs, a kind of time capsule where women wouldn't dream of going to shop without dressing properly, which included wearing gloves. Gentlemen tipped their hats, stepped aside, opened doors, and walked on the outside of the lady. Gentility was an absolute virtue and honor a tangible thing. Business deals were sealed with a handshake. A gentleman's word was his bond.

The city was also a place where a boy could go to jaw with Will Harbut, the groom of the greatest horse of the century. At least that's what everybody in Kentucky thought in those days of the mighty Man o' War. Lots of famous people came trekking through Lexington to see Man o' War, known to racing fans as Big Red, but few impressed Will Harbut and few got the chance to see the horse he called "d' mostest hawse." McKenney was there, though, when Will made an exception for the man he figured was a bigger stud than even Man o' War-the father of the Dionne quintuplets. Taking Dionne round the stable after hours, Harbut shrugged off the famously prolific father's effusive thanks: "Heck, I wanted the horse to meet you," he said.

Man o' War's name evoked all the heroic military role models that haunted Lexington's town squares and the University of Kentucky, where McKenney's father, one of the founders of 4-H Clubs of America, taught agricultural science. The boy picked up the pride Lexington felt in its military history beginning with the conflicts with Native Americans. In his own childhood, they were still called the Indian Wars. McKenney was reared on stories that don't make American school books any more: heroic tales like that of Bryan Station, where the women saved the fort by risking their lives to go for water. Names forgotten now were banners in his school days: Blue Licks, the last battle of the Revolution; New Orleans, the last battle of the War of 1812, where Kentucky and Tennessee volunteers along with a small force of Marines fought with valor; Mexico City, captured by a small contingent of Marines after they put a thirty-thousand-strong Mexican army to flight; and other names that lacked a Shakespeare to write them into permanent legend-Perryville and Chancellorsville, San Juan Hill and Belleau Wood. Each rang in his ears like a call to arms. The idea that America could ever involve itself in a war without honor was unthinkable. In his mind victor and vanquished were honored equally. It did not occur to him until much later that no honor was ever accorded to vanquished or victorious Native Americans no matter how bravely they had fought.

Lexington was steeped in Civil War history, and intensely Confederate. Banks closed on Robert E. Lee's birthday and Confederate Memorial Day was observed on May 10th. At football and basketball games, people stood for "Dixie" and "The Star-Spangled Banner." It was ill-mannered and unpatriotic to remain seated for either. There were two statues in the courthouse yard, both of Confederate generals idolized by McKenney: John Hunt Morgan, the dashing cavalry commander, and John C. Breckinridge, the great-grandfather of Colonel Jim Breckinridge, who would later become McKenney's good friend. John C. had commanded the Third Kentucky Confederate Brigade, better known as the Orphan Brigade, because after Kentucky was invaded and had formally joined the Union side in the Civil War, the brigade never received replacements. He had been vice president under President Buchanan and had run against Lincoln in the last presidential election before the Civil War. After commanding the Orphan Brigade, John C. became minister of war for Jefferson Davis. What particularly thrilled young McKenney about Jim's great-grandfather was that he was the only Confederate cabinet minister who did not go to prison. He escaped to Cuba in an adventure so heroic it sent shivers down the boy's spine just to think of it. That Breckinridge had been on the losing side did not detract one iota from his glamour.

McKenney canied the name of his own ancestor, Salmon P. Chase, who, in 1864, at the time of Breckinridge's Confederate exploits, became chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Chase flirted with impeachment by frequently dueling over matters of honor.

McKenney was a great reader of history and the classics, but nothing he read ever filled him with more wonder than the history of his own family and the families of his friends. His reading reinforced an upbringing that taught him that honor, duty, and country were the only principles to live by. It was common knowledge to McKenney and his friends that a portrait of Jefferson Davis in his Union colonel's uniform still hung in West Point's Washington Hall. They also knew that Benedict Arnold's name had been chiseled off the chapel plaque that honored America's revolutionary heroes in that institution. They understood the difference. Davis acted on principle; Arnold sold his country for cash. In his later life McKenney would often think his was perhaps the last generation (even in Kentucky) to care about such things as honor, principle, and duty.

There was a downside to such dedication, but this never occurred to Tom-not until late in life, when his military career was over. That the Civil War had ruined the lives of the majority of men who fought it, on both sides, was not something young McKenney considered: John C. Breckinridge, an exception, was the kind of man he wanted to emulate. Breckinridge gave his all for the Confederacy, but once the Confederacy was defeated, he devoted himself to the Union. He had come back from Cuba when it was safe to do so, and had brought up his son to respect the Union he had tried to defeat. His grandson, J. C. Breckinridge, became a famous Marine Corps general, father of the fleet Marine force concept, serving in the Spanish American War and World War I. Breckinridge's great-grandson, Jim, would serve in Korea and Vietnam, wars that brought him close to Tom McKenney.


McKenney would later think that his overriding desire to become a Marine-because the urge to become a soldier had soon translated itself into a specific attachment to that branch of the armed services- started with his admiration for the Breckinridge clan. A greater influence, however, may have come from his reading. When McKenney was eight or nine he read Mack of the Marines in China. Mack was an idealized sergeant, and after reading about him, McKenney wanted nothing more than to be a Marine sergeant and go to China. Later he read Leatherneck, the publication for enlisted men put out by the Marine Corps. Leatherneck was full of stories about men who, in the words of historian Andrew Geer, "had the will to win and curses on the man or unit who lacks it; the moral stamina to stand and fight when all seems lost; the courage to charge a hill when death warns to stay." [1]

His family environment was not at all military, certainly not warmongering. McKenney's father tried to stem his son's fervor for soldiering. "There is an ugly, inhuman side to it," he told Tom, "that men who have been through it can never forget." He told of his experience during World War I, about reaching under a fallen comrade to turn him over. The wounded man had five or six machinegun wounds, and his fingers slipped into the bullet holes "as they would into a bowling ball."

Young McKenney listened to such admonitions, but they had little impact. He idolized his father, "the most self-disciplined, reliable, and honorable man I ever knew." But what impressed him most about the elder McKenney, who was blind in one eye, was that he had tricked World War I recruiters into signing him up despite his handicap. He had simply memorized the eye chart. At the time he had just signed a lucrative contract with the Cincinnati Reds, and he figured if he was good enough to pitch professionally with one eye, he was certainly good enough to shoot with one eye. The fact that he was giving up the possible fame and fortune of a baseball career meant nothing next to doing what he saw as the honorable thing.

From his father, McKenney learned that if he worked harder and got up earlier than the rest of the crowd, he would succeed. McKenney liked this challenge. His creed became: "When it gets too tough for everybody else, it's just right for me and my guys." It did occur to some of his friends that perhaps the only institution that could provide constant challenge to such a young man was precisely the one he wanted to join-the Marine Corps.

McKenney was fifteen years old when World War II ended, a conflict, with its clear delineation of good and evil, that had a big impact on him. He would have given anything to be six years older, like his next-door neighbor Bill, who joined the Marine Corps as soon as he was able, in 1943.

McKenney's cousin Floyd was the person he most wanted to emulate. When war broke out Floyd was thirty-three, old enough to sit it out. What's more, his health was precarious. As a highway patrolman, he had stopped one night to offer his help to a man walking along the roadside. The man, an escaped convict, shot Floyd in the stomach and left him for dead. Bleeding profusely, he drove himself to the nearest hospital. McKenney always figured that this incident alone proved Floyd's mettle. When his cousin joined the USMC, first talking reluctant recruiters into giving him the okay, and then choosing the tough path of a "recon" (reconnaissance) Marine, McKenney was overwhelmed.

Floyd was the oldest in his platoon in boot camp. The other men called him Pop or Grandpa and knew instinctively that he was the one they could count on. Floyd, along with a small team, was assigned the dangerous work of reconnoitering small islands held by the Japanese. One morning on one of those islands in a "safe" area, Floyd stepped on a mine. When he awoke he found himself in a strange, silent world, on board a ship headed for home. There were no medevac planes in those days. The ship, part of a convoy that adjusted its speed to the slowest landing ship among its vessels, and zig-zagged to confuse enemy submarines, progressed only fifteen knots a day.

Once home, he traveled from hospital to hospital, but there was little remedy for someone who, Tom's father said, "was torn asunder and broken, but didn't even get the Purple Heart because he did all his bleeding on the inside." Like McKenney's father, Floyd tried to impress upon him the reality and horror of war even though he didn't talk much about his own wounds. But Tom McKenney determined that somehow he was going to make it up to Floyd. He believed fervently that men like Floyd, and all the thousands of others who had fought and died during the war, had saved the nation and deserved its gratitude.



1. Andrew Geer, The New Breed: The Story of the U.S. Marines in Korea. Nashville: Battery Press, 1989.
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 3:20 am

Chapter 4: Tindeltown Beginnings

There were no white fences or stonewalled roads in the Tindeltown trailer park in Indiana where Bobby Garwood grew up. Neither were there any male role models for Bobby except his father, Jack, whom he admired for keeping their large family together but whom he was never able to please. Family life was rocky. The elder Garwood had married a young Jewish woman in an intolerant town that made life unbearable for those who went against the grain. Jack Garwood began to think life would be easier if his wife gave up Judaism. The way he saw it, "the open sky is the church." The conflict over religion eventually caused insurmountable personal problems. Finally, unable to buck the overt hostility she encountered in the neighborhood without emotional support from her husband, Ruth Buchanan Garwood ran away. Bobby was four years old. His brother Don was two.

That first year without their mother was not so bad. The boys were sent to live with their paternal grandmother, and their mother was in regular contact, something their father knew nothing about. The elder Garwood had been terribly wounded by his wife's flight and he wanted nothing more to do with her. When she tried to get regular access to the boys, he not only took them away from their grandmother, he took legal action to keep sole custody. He never mentioned his wife again. She sent money for them regularly to their grandmother, with whom they often visited. Grandmother Garwood was so cowed by Jack, however, that she told no one about the money. Caring for a severely handicapped daughter, she decided to use it to keep her own fragile household afloat. The effect was devastating, especially to Bobby, who was old enough to remember how loving his mother had been. He could make no sense of what appeared to be total abandonment.

Bobby Garwood and his father had a great falling out. Because lack of cash was always a problem, Bobby began working in grade school. He always had three paper routes. From the age of eleven onward, he was doing hard labor on farms and helping out in a tool rental store, an experience that brought out his aptitude for mechanical skills, a talent that not only insured he could always get a job, but would later save his life. By the time he was fifteen he was making as much money as his father and giving half of it for board and keep.

He had a quick mind, but there was no question of preparing for the kind of higher education his mother had discussed with him when he was just a toddler. Nevertheless, Bobby kept those dreams of going to college.

Along with his mechanical skill went a budding gift for languages. Although he seldom opened his junior high Spanish books, the language seemed to roll off his tongue. But his father gave him no encouragement to study and there was very little time for anything except work. Although Bobby wanted to spend some time relaxing with friends, particularly his steady girlfriend, Mary Speer, his father was very strict and insisted on a ten o'clock curfew. When Jack Garwood married again, Bobby's stepmother made it clear she was boss. It infuriated Bobby everytime she struck his brother Don, who had a bed-wetting problem. Don, in turn, clung emotionally to Bobby, who felt an obligation to protect him.

One day, when she refused to stop hitting Don, Bobby threatened her with a knife and told her never to lay hands on his brother again. That was the last straw for his father, who went to the police and asked that Bobby be put in juvenile detention. There, a social worker offered a suggestion that is given to many young men who get into minor trouble with the law. "Why not sign up with the military?" she asked. Bobby agreed. He chose the Marine Corps because he considered it the best of the services and because his father had taunted him, saying "you'll never make it through boot camp. You're just a wet-nosed, snotty kid." When the Marines accepted Bobby, his father was pleased, told him that, after all, he was a Garwood and bragged about his son's enlistment to friends and neighbors. It was the first time Garwood realized that however difficult it was for his father to show it, he not only cared about him, but was proud as well.

The fact that he was going to war in a strange and exciting place called Vietnam, "in China or somewhere near China," pleased Garwood. He was seventeen. As a member of the Third Marine Division, he was among the first U.S. ground combat troops to be committed to Vietnam overtly, in early March 1965. He was told only that "there was some kind of skirmish, a police action or something, going on over there that involved the Marine Corps." He spent eight months in Okinawa cooling his heels along with five thousand other Marines while Washington made up its mind. There his talent for automobiles led to courses in supply, mechanics, and motor transport, and he ended up as a motor-vehicle operator. He loved everything about it. He said, "I thought that's where I belonged. I was very good at it and that's where I wanted to stay throughout my tour-in motor-vehicle transport."

Garwood loved being a Marine and he understood precisely what made a good one. He understood that along with the pride went a certain amount of rowdiness. "What we called a good Marine," he would tell a U.S. congressional committee many years later, putting it in Marine Corps slang, "is go out and whip butt and not get caught at it but still everyone had to know that you were as bad as you were supposed to be." A good Marine, he explained, would occasionally end up in a barroom brawl, but make it back to base safely. "If that didn't happen once in a while, then you were a candy ass or a brownnose." Garwood made certain that he did not fall into that category. He accumulated a number of nonjudicial punishments (from his commanding officer) for speeding, being late for formation, and returning just slightly past the midnight curfew. In Garwood's case such minor infractions, which resulted in small fines, extra duty, and confinement, seemed almost like an unconscious attempt to keep from being promoted. He liked being a private, and shied away from any awards or promotions. Later he said that he was actually afraid of moving up in rank because he did not want the responsibility that came with it. That seemed to go along with the need he had for men to look up to. "Actually," he said, "I had to be very careful not to be accused of being a brownnose."

In Forest-Gump style, Garwood went overboard on required assignments, a trait that got him into serious trouble near the end of his stay in Okinawa. Because of a series of oversights on the part of the noncommissioned officer in charge he was not relieved from one driving assignment. When he was not pulled off, he assumed that he was expected to continue driving until he dropped or the vehicle broke down. He just knew that he was not going to question orders. Seventy-two hours into the job he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a civilian bus. No one was injured except Garwood, who went through his windshield and sustained fairly serious head injuries, resulting in severe headaches and problems with his vision. He panicked. He did not want to be put out of the Corps or, worse, taken out of his military specialty.

When he got out of the hospital he was shocked to find that charges had been filed with a recommendation that he be court martialed for destroying the civilian bus, damaging government property, and totaling a Marine vehicle. He was scared to death.

His assigned counsel requested an audience before the commanding general to explain the circumstances of Garwood's accident. The commanding general dismissed the charges, noting that the fault lay with the NCO who had not relieved Garwood of his duties after a reasonable period of time. Despite Garwood's total vindication, the incident would have lifelong repercussions. Later, a slanted account of this incident, hinting that he had been guilty after all, was entered into his records and would be used against him.

When he reported back to his platoon at Camp Hague, they were on red alert to embark. Garwood's first sergeant called him in to tell him, that because they wanted to do more medical tests to insure he was medically fit, Garwood was to remain in Okinawa and be reassigned to Headquarters Company, Headquarters Battalion, Third Marine Division, at Camp Butler. It was a plum assignment but Garwood was unhappy to be separated from his friends. He missed their camaraderie.

Hoping he might be able to rejoin his old unit if he downplayed recent events, he said nothing about his medical record when, along with headquarters, he embarked for Vietnam. Through the circumstance of his accident he became part of the advance landing team sent to set up Third Marine Division headquarters in Da Nang, Vietnam.

In Vietnam he did bring up the subject of wanting to rejoin his old platoon with his new first sergeant. The sergeant just laughed. There was a shortage of drivers at headquarters. He told Garwood, "if you want to visit them, they're right next door. When you're not on duty, visit them as much as you want."

When Garwood arrived in Vietnam he fell immediately into the kind of safe and easy work most enlisted men only dream about. His first job was driving a six-wheeled, canvas-covered vehicle commonly known as a 6BY in all the military services. He fit in immediately, getting along well with the officers he chauffeured from the compound to the city of Da Nang and the nearby ridge of hills where several Marine companies were based. He had an overwhelming, understandable need to win approval. Those officers who frequented the bars and brothels of Da Nang found that Garwood would not only drive them at all hours of the night; he also had the right answers whenever they were stopped by military police.

His job insulated him from the civil war that was going on all around him, between the government of South Vietnam and the Vietcong (VC) guerrillas, who were supported by the communist government of North Vietnam. The Marines were in the center of I Corps Tactical Zone, the northernmost military region of South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese government controlled the cities; the VC controlled the countryside. Garwood, whose compound was outside the Da Nang air base, knew little about the hazards most of his fellow Marines faced. Their job was to protect the airfield against VC infiltrators and mortar attacks and defend the ridge of hills west of the field. They were severely limited by rules of engagement, which prevented them from shooting unless they were shot at and stipulated, among other things, that they had to broadcast their destination even when moving through territory known to be controlled by the VC. This meant the Marines were in constant danger of being ambushed or booby trapped. Across the Cau Do River, a mile south of Da Nang, the area was dominated by VC except for a thin ribbon along Highway 1, which stretched from the air base to Marble Mountain, a landmark about six miles away.

A few months before his tour of duty was due to end Bobby Garwood got what he thought was a lucky break when he landed a job as one of the drivers for Major General Lewis Walt. In June, Walt, the junior major general in the Corps, had taken over as commander of Marines in I Corps. Since almost all Marine combat units were based in this tactical zone, he effectively commanded Marines in Vietnam. The only Marines in Vietnam not under his command were embassy guards, advisers to the Vietnamese units, those on Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) staff, and some with U.S. Aid for International Development. [1] Although Walt had begun his career as a commissioned officer, he had the leadership style of a "mustang." For that reason he was respected by most of the enlisted men. Garwood was on cloud nine.

The new job came as a result of a bad break, and the lucky consequences made Garwood think he was in good company at last. He had been assigned to the standard, once-a-year thirty days of temporary additional duty. This meant he had to deal with a pretty nasty bunch of local kids who kept trying to come over the wire patch into the base to steal, beg, harass, or perhaps worse. When the kids were thwarted, they threw stones. He thought he had devised a pretty clever way of driving them off, with pellets of clay fired from a slingshot made from an old inner tube. Then, by mistake, he hit a Marine sergeant going by in a jeep. Garwood's temporary additional duty was immediately canceled; he lost rank for sixty days and was fined $1.98 per day, in addition to having his pay docked. His cushy job at the motor pool was gone as well, and he sat around unemployed most of the time except for the occasional tune-up job. Then everything seemed to go right again.

One of General Walt's drivers, a top-ranking sergeant E-5, went on emergency leave. That left Walt with only one driver, also an E- 5, who was needed for high-security trips. An additional driver was required for lower echelon jobs like routine trips to the field to inspect new troops or equipment. There were no spare drivers around. Garwood, the simple private who was being punished for doing his job too well, got the assignment. Like all of Walt's drivers, he was officially assigned to G-2, the intelligence section. This was done for reasons of security. Walt's comings and goings were known to only a small group of G-2 officials. The job normally required at least two tours of duty and an impeccable record. Garwood was determined not to botch this one by becoming overenthusiastic.

Driving the man in charge of Marines in Vietnam was akin to working for God. The perks were plentiful and General Walt was fair. He liked his men to have a good time. Garwood drove him to the parties Walt liked to throw for the guys at China Beach. There would be pigs roasted in discarded fifty-five-gallon fuel drums, and iceddown beer filling the 6BYs. The General would strip to the waist and swim and play volleyball with the rest of them. What was most gratifYing for a young Marine of Garwood's background was that the respect Marines had for the General rubbed off on his driver. When he drove Walt and his ever-present aide to the Joint Command Center, accompanied by two jeeps-one in front and one in back-he would wait outside the war room and drink coffee with the sergeants. Often while running errands for the General he was obliged to carry a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist.

General Walt insisted on respect for the people who worked for him. One day Garwood got dressed down by a captain who spotted him waiting for Walt with his feet on the dashboard and his jacket off, outside the Joint Command Center. Immediately the captain yelled, "Marine, get out of that fucking jeep right now!" When Garwood obeyed, the captain demanded to know why he didn't salute. Just at that moment Walt came back from his meeting. He turned on the captain: "When you see one of my drivers, you will give him due respect." Garwood also appreciated that later Walt attributed the captain's short fuse to his having just come back from the battlefield. Then he reminded Garwood to uphold certain standards as driver for the commander of I Corps. But the General did not humiliate Garwood before others.

There was an easiness between the General and the private that Garwood believed was due to Walt's having never forgotten that he came up through the ranks. This easiness allowed Garwood to feel comfortable in situations he would not have imagined being part of just a year before. In the room adjoining the war room, for example, he could catch glimpses of red points and blue pins on the big situation map. He never actually saw C-section, the most secret situation room, but he knew it was lead lined. He felt that he was a small part of this very important and highly secret side of the war effort. He had come a long, long way from Indiana. Often, it seemed to him, the General would make on-the-spot decisions about the course of the war after conversing with Washington directly on the very specialized communications equipment hidden in the two staff cars that were always available for Walt. The bumpers actually functioned as antennae. Walt never discussed business with him, but Garwood had a good idea of what was going on, and there were conversations about the minutiae of the war-the small human elements and the personalities they encountered together. When the two were on the road, Walt wanted to know everything about Garwood. He was interested in his father, and especially in Garwood's reports of a newly reopened relationship with his mother.

That was another part of his life that was finally shaping up. After having spent most of his life separated from her through the bitter manipulations of his father, he was now corresponding with his mother regularly. He had been able to spend his last stateside leave with her in California, where she had also put him in touch with other members of her family. As a result he had been able to spend weekends with his uncle Carl Buchanan while he was training at Camp Pendleton. His mother gave Bobby confidence in what he was doing. She was proud of him and told him he followed in family tradition. Two of her brothers fought in Korea. One died in a Chinese prison. He also found out that she had been married before she married Jack Garwood. Her first husband, a pilot during World War II, was missing in action. There was only one worrisome note. She had a brain tumor and did not know if it was cancerous. But her doctors were optimistic that she would live at least long enough to see Bobby again after his tour of duty. Once when Walt heard about the mother, he asked if Garwood felt half Jewish. With the fervor of someone discovering that a whole new rich culture and religion belongs to him, Garwood told him that under Jewish law he was fully Jewish.

Garwood sensed that Walt's questions were motivated by a need to know that he could depend on the people who worked for him. Walt, naturally, was fully aware of the dangerous environment he traveled in. Garwood, too, knew that in the event of an ambush, it was his job to defend the General, and he was fully prepared to do so but thought it unlikely to happen. On a more mundane level, Walt was a stickler for promptness. Garwood would say later, "If you were supposed to be there at five-thirty, you'd better make it five o'clock. If you didn't meet his specifications, you were out." Walt made it clear that Garwood did meet his specifications and this became a source of comfort and sustenance to Garwood in trying times ahead. For Garwood was to miss an appointment to report back to the General's headquarters by fourteen years. On September 28th, 1965, less than two weeks before he was due to go home, he vanished.



1. General Walt commanded a new Marine organization, the Third Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF), which replaced the older series of Expeditionary Forces. The name Expeditionary Force had unpleasant connotations for the Vietnamese because it sounded like the old French colonial Expeditionary Corps. III MAF was born in May 1965 when the Joint Chiefs of Staff relayed presidential approval for the deployment to Da Nang of a Marine force / division / wing headquarters to include commanding general Third Marine Division and First Marine AirWing. This was followed by the highly successful amphibious landing at Chu Lai, which included seven of the nine infantry battalions of the Third Marine Division, supported by most of the Twelfth Marines, the artillery regiment of the division, a large portion of the First Marine AirWing, and intelligence units. From May 7th to May 12, more than 10,925 tons of equipment and supplies were unloaded and moved across the beach at Chu Lai.
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 3:21 am

Chapter 5: Man of War

In the early 1960s, as the United States sank deeper into Vietnam, Major Tom McKenney realized that it was becoming exactly the kind of situation for which he had trained and had a special affinity. The United States was helping the democratic South Vietnamese from being taken over by the communist North. He did not care that many did not share his views. In a way he had been waiting for Vietnam all his life.

His abiding regret was that he had come late to the war in Korea. He had done a tour of duty right after high school, and then gone to the University of Kentucky. When the Korean War broke out at the end of his first semester, he was desperate to join up again, but could not break a promise made to his father that he would finish school first.

By the time he got back into the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant, the Korean cease-fire was already in effect. By August 1954, he was assigned rifle platoon leader of Third Platoon, H Company, on the front line of the Panmunjon Corridor in Korea. Some would dismiss service in Korea after the armistice as noncombat, but the fact was that the entire First Marine Division was still in an official combat zone.

When he returned home in 1955 McKenney was disillusioned. He believed politically inspired foolishness and the nonsense perpetrated by deskbound meddlers had effectively lost that war for the western allies. Hard-won victories had been thrown away at the negotiating table. "Desk types" would become his pet peeve. The only part of the war that had lived up to his sense of honor was the Marine Corps, and in his opinion, it was the Corps that saved South Korea. Forty-two Marines were awarded the Medal of Honor for valor -- twenty- six of them posthumously. It was a particular point of pride for McKenney, and for every Marine he knew, that only one Marine in 570 was taken prisoner. The average for other U.S. servicemen was one in 150. Later a U.S. congressional investigation would single out Marine POWs for praise: "[Marines] did not succumb to the pressures exerted upon them by the communists and did not cooperate or collaborate with the enemy. For this they deserve greatest admiration and credit." Later, during the Vietnam War, when given the dirty task of hunting down POWs accused of collaborating, McKenney would be influenced by what was presented as Bobby Garwood's dishonoring of such a distinguished record.

McKenney went back on active duty in 1965, the same year Bobby Garwood arrived in Vietnam as part of the first contingent of shock troops. The war allowed McKenney to resume the active Marine Corps career he had given up seven years earlier.

For a short period after he had returned from Korea, he never expected to take off his uniform. He was one of fifteen hundred handpicked Marines to join Test Unit I, a special program directly under the command of the USMC commandant. Test Unit 1's purpose was to bring the USMC into the nuclear age. It had been heady stuff for a young lieutenant, affording a unique opportunity to work with legendary Marines he had idolized since World War II. More important, Test Unit I introduced him to reconnaissance-a specialty that soon became his passion. Reconnaissance taught special skills in operating behind enemy lines and a sophisticated knowledge of clandestine service and weapons. He was sent to Special Forces School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, graduating first in his class, and when he returned to Test Unit I he took command of Charlie Company, the only first lieutenant given that opportunity. (He had been automatically upgraded to first lieutenant in December 1954 after eighteen months of service.) Charlie Company was a laboratory for concepts that would change modem warfare: enlarged and relatively independent infantry battalions; the use of assault units where they were needed, instead of abreast in an unbroken line; and the helicopter assault. It foreshadowed the type of clandestine warfare that would be used in Vietnam and elsewhere.

When Test Unit I was disbanded in the summer of 1957, McKenney was convinced he had worked on future doctrine with the best and most enlightened Marines. These men were real leaders, who cared passionately about the enlisted men under them. This gave McKenney an unshakeable and stubborn confidence in the moral rightness of orders coming down the chain of command. He dismissed criticism that such dedication as he felt was peculiar to the Marine Corps and somewhat reminiscent of the fanaticism of the wartime Axis powers.

Like all other Test Unit I alumni, McKenney was promoted to captain and given a choice of assignments. He took command of the security detail at a nuclear weapons project at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Despite the fact that the job gave him a security clearance of Q-higher than Top Secret-he found it boring and unchallenging. But the base was also the home of the Army's 101st Airborne Division. McKenney wanted airborne training and qualifications, and figured the Marine Corps could only gain by sending him to the Airborne school, something no Marine, to his knowledge, had ever tried before. He admired its toughness. You had to learn a lot in a hurry, and it was intensely physical.

When the Marine Corps finally agreed to pay for his training, he was elated. Not so the school instructors. He heard through the grapevine they were appalled that not just a Marine, but a captain, was trying to hog in on Army territory. Known to be "big, mean guys," they competed for the honor of making the Marine quit. It didn't help that McKenney, because of his rank, was the senior man in the class and troop commander every time they had a formation.

McKenney remembered that first day as one of the toughest of his life. Lining up for personal inspection, he thought he was well prepared. He knew Field Manual 22-5, the Army drill manual, by heart. He did not know that the 101st Airborne had its own "customized" drill routines. So when they fell out that morning, the very first thing he did was wrong. The instructor addressed him by his number, not his rank: "Get a gig, number one. You did that wrong." "Get a gig" meant punishment: jumping in the air, doing a layout into what's called the leaning rest or push-up position, landing on hands and boots, and doing ten or twenty push-ups-depending on the whim of the instructor. All this on gravel, which cut the hands and scarred the boots. This kind of punishment was called an "on the spot correction"-humiliating because it had to be carried out before the whole formation. There was something wrong with everything he did, and by the time he moved onto physical training, right after personal inspection, he had already done two hundred push-ups and was barely able to do the twenty more required. But he would be dammed if he quit. McKenney remembered: "For about two weeks they killed me. I mean they nearly killed me! But finally they realized I was not going to quit, and more important, I wasn't going to give them any back talk."

McKenney finished first in his class, a position usually designated Honor Graduate. But not this time. This time number two was made Honor Graduate. A new title for Marine Corps Captain McKenney was invented: Outstanding Graduate. It hadn't been used before, and it hasn't been used since.

But that was the late 1950s-a sort of peacetime. A small number of U.S. covert units were already undertaking secret operations in Vietnam and elsewhere but they were largely Army and CIA controlled. The Marine Corps was facing political pressure to downsize. On the face of it there was no place for the kind of Marine McKenney wanted to be. When his tour of duty was up, he resigned from active duty but remained a very active reservist. He wanted to be prepared for the next overt war against communism-one he expected would take place in East Europe-so he attended Force Reconnaissance School at Coronado, California. Force Reconnaissance is the Marine Corps equivalent to the Navy Seal program.

At school he learned how to "recon" a beach for obstacles and mines, exit from a submarine, scuba dive, and other skills involved in launching an amphibious assault, as well as parachuting, marksmanship, survival, and self-defense. McKenney's wife Marty liked to say that Tom was never really out of the Marine Corps, even though he went back to school on a National Science Foundation scholarship in botany and zoology, and then taught at a branch of the University of South Carolina, all the while fulfilling his many reserve duties. In 1964, he was promoted to major. It was hard to tell which work took precedence.

He was offered one challenge that both interested him and seemed more in tune with the profession he loved more than teaching. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), learning of his outstanding record at Special Forces School and other special operations training, tried to recruit him. Special Forces was then under the jurisdiction of the CIA. He was tempted, because he believed that the caliber of the country's intelligence could win or lose the next war, but he declined. The style of the CIA and its agents did not appeal to him; they had none of the clear-cut virtues and code of behavior of the Marine Corps. This was his first brush with an organization that later seemed to rival the Corps in institutional priggishness. He had no idea then that despite never joining the Agency he would later carry out its secret policies without question, and unwittingly betray his deepest convictions.

When McKenney volunteered for Vietnam in 1968, even close friends were puzzled as to why, with a large and happy family, he would choose to go to war again. Marty McKenney, his wife, had only one answer when people asked her how she could let him do it, again, at this stage of their lives. "What else would one do?," she would say. Commitment and loyalty were bred in the bone. They never questioned that he should go.

McKenney arrived in Vietnam in September 1968. The Marine Corps had already suffered more casualties in what was then still considered just a conflict than in any war except World War II, but he felt that these sacrifices had made control over the critical northern boundary of South Vietnam possible. In January 1968 the war had escalated dramatically. In what was known as the Tet offensive, North Vietnamese regulars and VC guerrillas had launched a coordinated assault on every American base and village and town throughout South Vietnam. The ancient city of Hue fell into communist hands with the massacre of thousands of innocent Vietnamese. The Marine Corps' job was to retake Hue. They did so in twenty-six days of bloody, house-by-house fighting. Hue lay in ruins. Five thousand enemy soldiers were killed and three thousand Marines and soldiers of the allied Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) were killed or wounded.

In McKenney's view, the North Vietnamese "shot their bolt" in pushing for the same kind of rout they had achieved against the French at Dienbienphu in 1954. Since then the enemy had remained in the jungles and rice fields, striking quickly at isolated enemy units, and then just as quickly pulling back to wait for their next opportunity. Tet was different. The People's Army of North Vietnam (NVA), numerically the fourth largest in the world, had come out into the open to launch all-out attacks with divisions and corps, mortars, artillery, and armed vehicles. The only problem was that the offensive was a military failure. What the NVA intended to be the Americans' Dienbienphu McKenney believed would prove to be their own Waterloo. The American media, on the other hand, presented Tet as a victory for the North Vietnamese. For this McKenney gave great credit to the communist propaganda machine. Twenty-five years later some North Vietnamese veteran generals would finally admit to their American counterparts that Tet was a military defeat; nevertheless, it provided decisive impetus to the antiwar movement in the United States, which saw it as evidence that America was making very little progress in its so-called war of attrition. In the fall of 1968, McKenney ignored the propaganda and felt certain that Tet was the beginning of the end for the Vietnamese communists-provided the U.S. used the right strategy, based on good intelligence. All of his instincts, honed by the reconnaissance training he had received, told him that this was where the Americans had thus far been deficient.

McKenney did not know yet that Vietnam had the largest CIA contingent in the world outside Washington; that it commanded huge resources, including several of its own airlines, hundreds of political experts, economists, linguists, and interrogators-even social scientists and psychiatrists. But in the months following Tet, as he prepared for Vietnam, he had puzzled over the fact that the CIA, whose task he did know was to anticipate enemy activities, had failed to pick up advance warnings of the imminent offensive. This he considered the most elementary and essential kind of intelligence during war.

The Marine Corps mission had been broadened considerably as a result of Tet. Much of the new strategy and many of the new goals would be cloaked in secrecy and carried out by men skilled in special operations and reconnaissance. It was his reason for being there. Looking down at the lush countryside from the commercial Boeing 707 that brought him to Vietnam, he had a hunch that the NVA and the VC, because of their huge losses during Tet, would soon revert to guerrilla tactics, which meant a replay of the terrorist campaign waged before the offensive.

Da Nang beneath him looked like a tourist poster, and this last leg of his Continental Airlines flight came complete with stewardesses and breakfast of heated Big Boy sandwiches, coffee, and terrible cookies. He seemed to be a customer of some cheap travel agency, with combat listed among the attractions. The undeclared war in Vietnam he supposed would be the fulfillment of his career, but in fact it would take him close to spiritual destruction. It would lead him far from the code of warfare he had admired when he was growing up. He would become obsessed with the betrayal of men who offered up their lives here. Eventually he would count himself among the betrayers.

McKenney kept a running account of all that he saw, did, and learned about the war and the country. Diaries, letters, and notes that were sometimes made in an improvised code, all these would become a way of reinforcing his memory. Events drew him into the most secret operations. It would be years before official documents were declassified that substantiated his own personal records.

On a midmorning in September 1968, Tom McKenney arrived at III MAF headquarters, which was situated in an old French compound in Da Nang East, between the Da Nang River and the South China Sea. He was tired, dirty, and bearded, but anxious to start work. He had hot been told what his job would be. He reported to the adjutant major and while waiting to be given his assignment, he moved his seabag into a dirty room on the second floor of an open "sea hut," the acronym for Southeast Asia hut, or regulation quarters. There he was assaulted by the heat and fecal smells that hung in the heavy air. The sickly odor of diesel fumes adding to the fetid mix came from the landing craft tied up at the ramp just outside the compound at the edge of the river. He expected the usual longwinded processing through the bureaucratic rigamarole that was part of every military task he ever undertook, but he was slightly miffed that no one had come to interview him. He had been promised his choice of a reconnaissance assignment when he signed up for this tour of duty. Early in the afternoon, someone finally showed up and said he was to join G-2, the intelligence section. It had been moved since Bobby Garwood was there in 1965, from one pleasant old French colonial building to another that was, for McKenney, evocative of the antebellum South. When Garwood was assigned to G-2 as one of General Walt's drivers, it had still been part of the air base on the other side of Da Nang, just south of Red Beach. Later, McKenney would marvel at the twist of fate that set his own life and that of Garwood, his future prey, on such parallel trails. On the southwest side of the compound, where the river met a pathetic little village, children begged through the wire fencing. They no longer threw stones at Marines. There were too many Americans now, and children had discovered they were a soft touch.

His specific job was order of battle officer for the southern provinces in I Corps, which made him responsible for identifying and knowing enemy units and leaders, and reporting their whereabouts. He would have access to information gleaned from the most secret surveillance activities conducted by the United States and was given a very high security clearance. [1] McKenney had access to C-section, the most secret situation room in G-2, located directly across from the office of the man who headed the unit, a full colonel known simply as the G-2. Here highly trained specialists in electronic surveillance eavesdropped on the enemy, often via spy planes, and communicated continuously with secret radar sites that guided U.S. bombers to their targets. The situation room was also at the receiving end of White House messages to generals and certain senior officers, through a communications system known as the backchannel net, which was free from tapping and interference.

As order of battle officer, McKenney went into C-section daily. He needed to monitor the visual display of enemy unit locations. These were in constant flux. This gave him an unusual perspective on the American operations in Vietnam. He realized with growing disbelief that the war was being fought from Washington. He had heard stories from his friends before coming to Vietnam that General Walt, who had commanded Marines in I Corps before McKenney's arrival, received on average three phone calls from the White House every day, instructing him on field decisions. The war, he began to understand with horror, was being politicized for domestic consumption. This often had disastrous consequences for the men.

McKenney's good friend Lieutenant Colonel Herbert J. Bain had been unlucky enough to fall victim to this political parochialism during the early days of the war, when Washington had decreed that U.S. soldiers could not fire their rifles unless they were fired upon first. Bain was a battalion commander when a shaky hospital corpsman volunteered to stand watch as rifleman in a defensive perimeter. When he accidentally fired his rifle, Walt's predecessor, Brigadier General Frederick J. Karch, on orders from Washington, ordered Bain to relieve the hospital corpsman's commander, a captain. Bain refused, saying, "He is a fine company commander, and relieving him will end his career as a Marine." Karch answered: "All right, Colonel, then I am relieving you." Bain was sent back to Okinawa to finish his tour. He appealed to General Wallace Greene, the commandant of the Marine Corps. Although he sensed Greene and other superiors respected the way he had stood up for the innocent captain, Bain was nevertheless stripped of his battalion command. It was the end of his military career.

McKenney saw how Washington made an almost daily mess of the war, causing countless casualties, because of such rigidity. He had always known that wars were begun for political reasons; but once entered into, he believed they should be prosecuted on military principles. Washington seemed divided on whether to push for victory or peace talks and on how to approach either goal.

The kind of high-level, long-range interference that was being seen in Vietnam would normally provoke him to discussing it with friends among the senior officers. But he was beginning to function in a world so secret, he locked everything he learned into a separate compartment of his brain. In this world the rules were so stringent that if he suffered a medical emergency, he could not even be anesthetized without supervision by appropriate intelligence personnel. The information he carried in his head could compromise the U.S. war effort, he was told, if squeezed out of him by the enemy. So he stored his frustrations deep in his subconscious, where they festered, waiting for an outlet. Within weeks he was given a means to act on what he believed was the most flagrant violation of the trust between men at war.

McKenney began receiving intelligence briefings on all activities going on in I Corps within weeks of his arrival, a good indication that he was on the fast track to the kind of reconnaissance job he really wanted. He was disappointed that his immediate boss, the G-2, seemed not to have a good handle on the job and had problems dealing with men under him. Nevertheless, McKenney met other men there whose quiet competence, integrity, and hard work reminded him of the men he had worked with in Test Unit 1.

Major Stan Sydenham, his assistant and close confidante, was a West Point graduate and career officer. Sydenham was another victim of Washington's direct and unprecedented interference in the running of a war. He had only recently been transferred to the Marine Corps as punishment for a crime he did not commit. Sydenham had been second in command of an Army battalion that raised the ire of Brigade Commander George Patton III when it failed to clean up debris-used ammunition cases, ration boxes, etc. -- while fighting its way through a Vietnam rubber plantation. Patton, the son of the famous WWII general, was hosting a high-ranking visitor from Washington. When they went out to observe the battle, the visitor noted that the battalion failed to clean up after itself. This apparently wounded Patton's pride and he vowed to get rid of the battalion commander. When that proved impossible, because the man had "connections," Patton zeroed in on Sydenham. In the military slang of the time, Sydenham was "shit canned." McKenney thought this might be the only time in all of military history that a commander kept his job while his second was relieved. What happened to Sydenham violated an ancient and sacred principle: that the commander, and the commander alone, is responsible for all that happens or fails to happen in his command. And besides, everyone knew that no one stopped to clean up a battlefield while the battle was still in progress.

McKenney considered Sydenham outstanding as a soldier and as a man. The Major became McKenney's right arm, and was to succeed him as order of battle officer. With the help of the efficiency reports McKenney later wrote for him, he would, against all odds because of the blot on his record, be promoted to lieutenant colonel the following year. At III MAF, the two worked closely together and were briefed on many classified matters simultaneously.

These briefings took place in the Marine counterintellingence (CI) office at III MAF, a narrow little room with several desks and a lot of padlocked file cabinets. "There was always an air of mystery about that place," Sydenham remembered. "There were usually several men who you never saw anywhere else." Like almost everything else in the special operations world, CI operations were known only to a few, namely the counterespionage, countersabotage, and countersubversion people who kept track of the enemy's spies and dirty tricks. It was dangerous business and they suffered many casualties, a fact not generally known at III MAF headquarters. One of their senior sergeants had just been killed during a CI hunt for VC guerrillas masquerading as South Vietnamese officials in towns and hamlets of the III MAF area. This kind of search-and-destroy mission was called an "infrastructure sweep." In this instance, it resulted in the death of a VC district chief as well as the American senior sergeant. McKenney was beginning to take an intense personal interest in the VC infrastructure, which functioned as a sinister shadow government throughout South Vietnam, terrorizing the local population. He believed it must be destroyed if South Vietnam was to have any chance at being a free country. It negated all the good work done by the Americans and the Republic of South Vietnam.

McKenney met regularly with the CI people to discuss the enemy situation and the rocket and mortar threat in the III MAF area. One particular briefing, however, about two weeks into his tour of duty, would take on special significance. It involved American turncoats. That morning McKenney was called in by two CI operatives. The senior officer, John Gunther, was a captain. Both men were mustangs, which made McKenney respect them immediately. They explained that they were passing on intelligence that had come from the CIA, in many instances verified by their own people, and that they had no doubts about its accuracy. What they described to McKenney was the worst perversion of loyalty and patriotism that he could ever have imagined: Americans who had deserted, or who had been captured and then turned, were actually operating with the enemy as advisers against American soldiers. The two CI men made it clear that there was an ongoing operation "to take care" of these traitors. Some had already been killed or otherwise neutralized. The pair showed McKenney a list of names.

One turncoat, they were certain, would be of special interest to McKenney, because he was a fellow Marine. His name was Robert Garwood. He was always referred to as Bobby. As McKenney remembers it, he was given a very general description of Garwood- Caucasian, medium build, muscular, light coloring. He was not shown a photograph. It did not occur to him that this description fit thousands of young Marines. Gunther was the Garwood case officer in the III MAF CI section. He said Garwood had deserted in 1965, and was operating as an adviser to the NVA in McKenney's area of responsibility. The style of the CI men was careful and restrained, but they projected an intensity of feeling with which McKenney empathized. Bobby Garwood, they told him bitterly, was the only U.S. Marine in history who had ever gone over to the enemy.

This briefing was McKenney's first official entry into the world of special operations, a world where everything was compartmentalized, all information was disseminated on a "need-to-know" basis only. Now he was learning a good deal more than he would need to know as order of battle officer. His special-operations training had taught him how the system worked. The fact that he was being filled in on this highly secret "elimination" program meant he would soon have some specific involvement with it. Much later, McKenney would admit that he had probably been given the names of other turncoats. But, because he was the only Marine, Bobby Garwood was the one he chose to remember-with a vengeance.



1. McKenney's clearances in Vietnam included Top Secret, Q, Code Word/ Signal Intelligence (Sig Int), and Military Assistance Command Special Operations Group (MACSOG). Clearances were related to job, not rank. Even a general would only have the clearances he needed. Most Marine generals would not have had the MACSOG clearance that McKenney had because they did not work with MACSOG. An enlisted cryptographer would have a "Crypto" clearance; a general would not. At the time there was probably not a general in I Corps with more, or more sensitive, clearances than McKenney.
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 3:23 am

Chapter 6: The Making of a Hunter-Killer

Despite Tom McKenney's contempt for the politicians who were running the war, his "the-tougher-it-gets,-it's-just-right-for-me-and- my-guys" attitude, combined with his talent for special operations, made him the perfect tool for their needs, particularly where stealth was concerned. Secrecy had long been regarded as a political necessity in Vietnam, given the nature of the enemy and the American public's likely unwillingness to support the war had they been fully informed. McKenney made it clear that he was totally committed to unorthodox ways of thwarting the enemy. It seemed the best way to frustrate their own knavish tricks. Now he was given an opportunity to prove his mettle. Within weeks of his arrival, he was recommended for promotion to lieutenant colonel by both the reserve and regular selection boards. The regular board's nomination was unusual for someone who had not been on active duty continuously for nine years. McKenney actually felt guilty about being promoted because regular classmates who did remain on active duty were being passed over.

However, nothing dampened his quiet euphoria over a new appointment as intelligence collections and operations officer for III MAF. It followed fast on the heels of his promotion. Finally, he could not only collect information but influence the action as well, particularly one aspect of it that was beginning to obsess him-the Marine who had turned on his own. His obsession had begun with the briefing on the turncoat problem. When the two CI officers told McKenney about the directive to assassinate these men-so highly classified it was never even put in writing-he knew this was the solution for Bobby Garwood. McKenney's job would include overseeing and tasking reconnaissance patrols. [1] McKenney was now acting with the authority of General Robert C. Cushman who, in June 1967, had replaced General Walt as commanding general at III MAF. Discretion was vital. There was never any interference from the commanding general's office.

He worked closely with the First Reconnaissance Battalion, the First Force Reconnaissance Company, and the Third Reconnaissance Battalion commanders. Perhaps because he was a trained Force Recon Marine, he was partial to First Force Recon, a smaller unit than the others that he considered to have the best teams and the best training. It was a kind of snobbery, but he was not above repeating what they said amongst themselves: "Marines look down on the other service branches; recon Marines look down on other Marines, and Force Recon Marines look down on other recon Marines."

First Force Recon Marines were highly skilled at a controversial kind of warfare that, like the turncoat elimination program, was so highly classified it was never put on paper. This warfare involved special hunter-killer operations, where teams, often with snipers, would be sent deep into enemy territory to assassinate selected targets- initially senior communist officers and couriers, eventually ranking politicos-whose death would seriously cripple the enemy's offensive capabilities. These kinds of operations grew out of traditional combat patrols, which hunted conventional targets of opportunity- vehicles, individuals, or groups in uniform that appeared without warning in their area of patrol. The traditional patrols, made up of a four-man reconnaissance team, were not controversial, however, as the later hunter-killer teams would be, when assassination of selected targets became part of the work. In 1965, when McKenney's friend Sam Owens, then a lieutenant, led some of the first hunter-killer patrols, the concept was a radical one. [2]

The earlier, relatively noncontroversial operations had come into their own in 1965, a critical time for III MAF, hemmed in by strict rules of engagement and lack of financial resources. By combining good intelligence with small combat units, the traditional patrols dealt effectively with targets of opportunity, but with only four men they were too small to search out and engage in combat with the enemy. At the same time it was not economically viable to have one team collect and report intelligence, when another, larger one was needed to follow up. The more practical solution was to run teams of eight to ten men. These could and often did expand to twelve men.

These expanded recon-combat patrols were at first under operational control of the Third Reconnaissance Battalion, the first Marine reconnaissance unit in Vietnam. By the time McKenney got to Vietnam, they were operationally independent of the battalion structure. Marine officers like McKenney received their orders from an alternative, "plausibly deniable" command structure made up of CIA and high-ranking politicos and military officers. Often CIA men operated in the guise of military officers. The patrols both hunted conventional targets of opportunity such as enemy units or individuals like snipers or couriers in their area of responsibility and assassinated selected individuals.

Hunter-killer patrols always worked closely with Fifth Special Forces and from 1965 to 1966 operated out of Special Forces camps. Unlike other special operations groups, Marine hunter-killer teams stayed together and functioned under one code name, which would change only if compromised. It was a cohesiveness that accounted for their success, or so the participants believed. They became very proficient, frequently getting kills when larger units returned empty handed. They were given superb endurance training. The emphasis was on total sensitivity and alertness to operational surroundings. Owens remembered later that when he was on patrol the hair on his skin would react to the slightest change in atmosphere. His vision became so focused, he could tell what an animal high up in a tree would do next by its slightest movements. Owens could sense with precision where the enemy was or had been in a certain jungle locality, no matter how carefully the tracks had been covered. McKenney thought it was part of Owens's genetic make-up, which was in good part Native American, but Owens maintained it was his Marine training along with his upbringing on a farm in Oklahoma, where money had been so tight that his ability to track a bee to its hive meant there would be something sweet to put on the dining table.

In 1965, Owens's targets generally were enemy soldiers or quasi-military forces working with the VC. This changed progressively, in response to the activities of the communist shadow government that controlled so much of the countryside in I Corps. By the fall of 1968, when McKenney became intelligence and operations officer, hunter-killer teams were already assassinating selected civilian and political targets-suspected of being VC sympathizers-outside the official frame of war, along with traditional military ones. It was the "selected targets" part of the operation that caused international controversy, even though it was common practice among all intelligence services, including those of America's allies. But allies kept these operations secret or presented a "plausible denial" if the public got wind of any of them. The British secret intelligence service, MI6, claimed it would never authorize assassinations. British spymasters held impromptu staff meetings to deny reports that an agent or a group had been licensed to kill. The message for public consumption, made by discreet leaks to select journalists, was that an intelligence service in a democracy would not license its agents to kill. This claim had nothing to do with scruples about summary justice and the dangers of executing innocents; the concern of MI6 was instead political. MI6 officers pointed to the United States as an awful example of how politicians could be provoked, by bad publicity, into placing impossible curbs on their own country's security services. In fact, British military intelligence had no scruples about killing subversives although it was a practical rule to take prisoners when vital information could be forced out of them.

As far as McKenney was concerned, American politicians had already placed impossible curbs on the war effort. He knew there were a lot of soldiers-even Marines-who thought it unfair to shoot someone who was not expecting it. It was something the CIA did, not what combat soldiers should do. For him it was a "dirty business, but you did what had to be done." Eighty percent of the fighting involved small units engaged in what General Walt, the retired commander of I Corps, described as "dangerous, tightly disciplined, meticulously planned activities, wearying and monotonous." [3] These activities were not and could not be revealed to the general public without injuring the most important part of the war effort. McKenney felt the American people would never understand or condone the need for soldiers to be involved in assassinations, because they did not know the whole story. Nor could they be told. Absolute secrecy was a must. But McKenney knew that hunter-killer teams always identified their targets very carefully. He would go quietly furious when he heard his men discussed in terms of "Murder, Inc." by those who had not the vaguest notion of what they were talking about. He remembered the men on hunter-killer teams as being "highly skilled, obedient to a strict code of honor." He knew of no better example than Marine Gunnery Sergeant Carlos (Gunny) Hathcock, a sniper who had been days away from the end of his tour of duty when he volunteered for a mission so dangerous the odds were ninety to one against his making it back.

With only his rifle, one canteen, and a K Bar knife, he had crawled at literally a snail's pace for thirty-five hours across open grassland, from the edge of a jungle where his team waited, to a Vietnamese compound near the Laotian border. He had not eaten or slept and drank water only rarely. He narrowly escaped NVA patrols guarding the area and came face to face with deadly bamboo vipers coiled in the grass. Stinging ants made his camouflaged body their home. The target had been a Vietnamese general whose assassination, right within his own headquarters, was meant to demoralize and throw his troops into confusion.

Miraculously, Hathcock succeeded in hitting the target's heart from a distance of eight hundred yards. To do this, he had to be hypersensitive to how the prevailing wind, sun, barometric pressure, and humidity affected the flight of the bullet. Calculating wind velocity required a quick and highly focused mind. All factors had to be finely tuned on a minute-by-minute basis. For this extraordinary mission of courage and self-sacrifice, Hathcock received a hero's welcome from the small band of men he worked with. That was all. No public recognition was possible. McKenney was determined that, at least on his watch, such men would not be betrayed.

In addition to the Marine units he worked with, McKenney was closely involved with most of the special operations groups organized under the Military Assistance Command Special Operations Group (MACSOG). [4] These were units that "could not risk political oversight" and were highly classified. Among the most important to McKenney was Command and Control North (CCN), one of three centralized command posts [5] in different parts of the country of organized resistance activities-unconventional warfare, psychological operations, and other intelligence and operational activities. They were experts at hunter-killer operations. Their teams did the most long-range "over the fence" reconnaissance, in places like Laos or Cambodia. CC had its own chain of command, back to MACSOG headquarters, on Pasteur Street in Saigon. The rest of the Army commands resented them as they resented most special operations units, not just in the way elite units were usually resented, but because they were independent of the tactical and area commanders. But McKenney liked working with them. As a Marine he was not involved in the Army's internal politics.

To him, the special ops people really were special in every way. They were all volunteers, wanting to be the best. They were self-motivated, bright, resourceful, and unbelievably courageous. Getting in and out of enemy territory alone was a harrowing affair. Insertions were usually made by helicopter but not always. Those trained in parachute jumping and scuba diving, like Force Recon Marines, [6] often used that method. High-speed truck drop-offs were common in mountainous terrain. Some patrols swam to their destination; others went by foot-probably the most dangerous because it took the longest, and offered the enemy the most opportunities to discover them. All of this was done at night. After insertion in enemy territory, patrol leaders were on their own: every member of a team had to be able to take over the leader's job if he was killed or wounded. Every team member had to know how to control artillery and naval gunfire, call in airstrikes, and operate a radio.

After each mission, patrols returned to the command post for four days, before going out again. During this time they functioned as ordinary soldiers, working on perimeter security, local defensive patrols, and mine sweeps. They were never really "off' except for five days of rest and recreation in thirteen months. They received no extra pay, no special thanks, and no medals. Outstanding courage and bravery did not help career advancement, either. The work they did was so highly classified that it usually could not even be written up on their "report cards." Because he continued to involve himself with the actual work of Marine recon patrols, and kept himself informed about the missions of all special ops groups he was in liaison with, McKenney never doubted the integrity of what they were doing. His standards were still those he had grown up with. "Yes, we were doing violent things," he remembered, "but they were controlled, limited, and precise. There was no torture, rape, no unnecessary killing." McKenney's interrogators were not allowed to slap prisoners. Often prisoners, taken by teams he worked with, laughed at their interrogators for being so soft on them. The Vietnamese people who worked with McKenney told him Americans didn't know how to get information from POWs. On the other hand, the enemy, as McKenney soon learned from personal experience, followed a policy of ruthlessness. If they were sent to kill a village headman, they also raped and murdered his wife and children while the rest of the village was forced to watch. Torture was routine for them because the objective was to terrorize the civilian population into cooperating with the communists.

It upset McKenney that his side took many casualties "simply because we were trying to avoid killing innocent civilians . . . who were often not very innocent. Our patrols were normally sent against selected targets like senior officers, couriers, [7] and ranking politicos. They were never sent against ordinary citizens, children, or women. Only some were targeted to be killed," he said later. "Many were targeted to be snatched for interrogation. Fed false information, these would then be allowed to escape."

This restrained behavior did not characterize some of the South Vietnamese recon groups he worked with, however. The provincial reconnaissance units, commanded by ARVN officers with U.S. advisers under CIA control, and comprising Vietnamese, Nhung (Vietnamese of Chinese ancestry), and other mercenaries, did the bulk of the in-country dirty work. They also performed many necessary and courageous operations that could not have been done by Americans. But their tactics and cruelty often matched those of the VC. They were a vital part of the CIA's controversial Phoenix program. This covered the assassination of selected targets, including American deserters. McKenney was willing to carry out the full Phoenix agenda as he understood it: "to identify the infrastructure, the shadow government of the communists in the south who were terrorizing the countryside, and neutralize [kill, kidnap, or intimidate] them." From the very beginning these goals presented no moral dilemma to him; neither did the fact that Marine recon patrols were part of Phoenix assets, if not primary ones. [8]

He saw no contradiction between his enthusiasm for the program and the generally low opinion he had of the CIA bureaucrats who conceived and ran it. He could not stand what he regarded as the mysterious affectations of the CIA men he came across, or their seemingly total disregard for soldiers. In places where everyone else was in sweaty jungle dungarees, he could always recognize them in their tropical leisure suits, and with their special designer briefcases, and folding stock Swedish sub machine guns-definitely not an item of field equipment for a combat soldier. He had little direct routine contact with them. Mostly, the CIA men dealt with counterintelligence officers who would then brief McKenney, as they had on the "deserter" problem. When CIA men did deal with McKenney, he found them arrogant and cocksure. He remembered one selfimportant operative who would bring reports that he considered "hot." McKenney would send a patrol to check out these reports, risking the lives of men and using scarce assets like helicopters. In one instance, the man in the leisure suit insisted that a "major arms cache" was hidden near a certain village, and demanded action. McKenney's patrol found three rusty and obsolete bolt-action rifle barrels, probably there since the French era. That was the closest to useful information the operative ever submitted, according to McKenney, who thanked him politely and thereafter filed his reports in the "maybe someday" category. Finally, the infuriated operative personally ran to the commanding general of the First Marine Division, O. R. Simpson, to complain that McKenney had ignored "vital intelligence" and requested that he be relieved. Simpson, familiar with McKenney's work, checked things out and simply told McKenney to keep up the good work. The bumptious young operative was on his way back to the States before he knew what hit him. To McKenney this was proof that no matter how amateurish some people or institutions were, the system worked.

McKenney reserved his real scorn for the CIA executives; the ones who made the decisions, but were never seen in the field and never put themselves in danger. Their kind of lifestyle and attitude was later conveyed unwittingly by William Colby, who was then deputy to the CIA station chief in Vietnam: "With the ultimate luxury of being able to call for a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft to take me where I wanted to go, I could put in a full working Saturday at headquarters, leave in the late afternoon, have dinner and the evening with some province or district advisory team, examine local activities in the morning, and be brought back to Saigon by late afternoon for a swim and dinner, ready for work at headquarters on Monday morning-having happily missed the Saigon Saturday night festivities .... There were also shorter daytime visits to the area near Saigon or in the Delta, more carefully arranged field visits by various Washington officials, regional conferences of the provincial advisers attended by Saigon staff, and attendance at assemblies of the military officials." [9]

McKenney could sense the opinion held by men like Colby of the work he and his men were doing: "The American and Vietnamese military could, of course, and did sally forth at day break in search of the major communist units they hoped to find and destroy. Generally, the searches were fruitless." [10] The condescending dismissiveness became apparent early on, and engraved in McKenney's mind a deep dislike and distrust of men so detached from the dirty work they supervised.

And yet he could not see the irony of accepting intelligence and taking instruction on matters like the targeting of alleged military deserters from such men. Admittedly this came through the CI officers he respected. He was confusing the integrity of these messengers with the message they brought. Later he said it was also because he was so totally focused on his immediate special-operations community: really a separate little world, doing things largely unknown to others, much of it not kosher, out-of-country, "we-don't-know-you- if-you're-caught" jobs. Outstanding Army officers moved back and forth between "normal" Special Forces units [11] and the much more secret and what some called the "dirty" groups of MACSOG. Recon Marines could be found working in both as well. McKenney got very emotional about these guys: he loved them. They were not always guys either. One of his very best "agents" was a gutsy little Vietnamese nun, Sister Mary. With her, McKenney did not really function in the normal sense of an agent handler because she came and went as she wished. She was self-motivated and a staunch anticommunist who would bring information on her own, which McKenney would have evaluated and then act on. Sister Mary was particularly effective in drawing his attention to those North Vietnamese or VC who were willing to help the Americans, but who did not want to deal with South Vietnamese intermediaries for fear of being betrayed.

McKenney could block moral questions about who was doing the targeting for Phoenix, or why, because the people who carried out the actual work, like Sister Mary, acted with integrity and honor. He had his own ways of finding out whether they were feeding false information or not. He went "beyond the call of duty" in these highly adventurous special operations. He hated headquarters and spent as much time as possible in the boonies, managing to operate "down-and- dirty," traveling all over the country, walking, flying, in patrol boats and landing craft. Whenever he could, he would participate in one of his pet projects-dropping sensors, called ADSIDs (airdropped- seismic-intrusion devices), in enemy territory. They were in the shape of darts, weighted on the bottom to make them hit with the point down. The tops were plastic, molded in the shape of local plants found in the area where they were to be dropped. Stuck in the ground, they became part of the jungle vegetation. The shock of impact activated the sensor devices, which picked up any movement nearby, transmitting electronic signals back to Hill 327, the First Marine Division command post. Under McKenney's direction, this highly classified project deposited sensors across all the approaches vital to Da Nang. The mission reminded him of World War I flyers hand-dropping little bombs. He was on a sensor dropping mission in Elephant Valley when significant readings came into Hill 327, unrelated to his unauthorized presence. His companions were still merrily but blindly dropping sensors, unwittingly scattering them among NVA soldiers below. American artillery began to bombard the area as the sensor-droppers left. Later they drank to NVA soldiers who must have been going mad wondering how the Americans knew where they were, in heavy bush, at night.

McKenney irritated a lot of his superiors with all this personal involvement. They did not consider it appropriate for someone of his rank. He had strong support, however, from those in the field. Sam Owens an instructor at the Special Forces School at Fort Bragg more than ten years after McKenney was there, and who as a captain took command of the First Force Reconnaissance Company in the spring of 1969, said "Tom was simply doing aggressive staff work; taking necessary risks, getting information impossible to get through normal procedures." Owens felt that McKenney's behavior, which he admitted sometimes bordered on recklessness, also made him a more effective intelligence officer. "It was not in the category of craziness among the bad apples in various secret units; thugs aspiring to be superthugs, glory seekers, and lovers of violence." Owens knew that special ops, especially the dirtiest special ops, could sometimes create weirdos. McKenney was slowly and subtly being drawn into this manic neighborhood, far removed from ordinary military morality. Assassination orders came from "outside," from institutions he did not respect, outflanking the chain of command. It was becoming a world where every ethically questionable action could be justified as a necessary risk on patriotic grounds.

McKenney became obsessed with Garwood, but he was very much aware that the issue of deserters went far beyond one Marine Corps traitor. Later he estimated there were one hundred men on the CI list of targets-largely in a different category from Bobby Garwood. Most were "the dopers who didn't want any more combat and hid out in the villages with whores, thinking they could just stay high, and report back in when their tours were up and go home." These men were generally rounded up by the military police and taken to the brig. It was commonly said that some were killed. McKenney knew this unreported killing to be a fact even though he had no professional relationship with military police. He did have a long-standing friendship, going all the way back to Test Unit I days, with Lieutenant Colonel Bill Gorsky, the military police battalion commander. Gorsky had to conduct periodic sweeps in the villes, [12] searching for these guys. "If they put up a fight, ---." The sentence was never finished. Gorsky spoke of this with regret when he sat chatting with McKenney over a glass of beer. McKenney, on the other hand, would never, not even in later years when other regrets almost overwhelmed him, feel sorry that these deserters had been eliminated.

The most sensitive category of target was the one Bobby Garwood fell into -- the political defector. Without seeing any real evidence, McKenney held the belief, common in his small circle, that most of the men in this group were African Americans, convinced by communist propaganda that the United States was waging "a white man's war against their brothers." The presumption was that Caucasian defectors like Garwood had been ideologically radicalized by Vietnamese communist sympathizers to believe the U.S. was exploiting Vietnam and had simply "gone over" to work with the VC and / or NVA. They disappeared from their military units like the dopers. Then U.S. intelligence apparently tracked them into communist territory. Others were reported to have been taken prisoner and "turned." They might have been tortured and otherwise mistreated, but that did not change McKenney's harsh view. You did not turn against your own, particularly if you were a Marine. He remembered the superior record of Marine POWs in Korea and the tough, magnificent standard they had followed. [13]

The very idea of what Bobby Garwood did rankled him. Here was a man, the CI officers told him, who had not deserted from the battlefield, but from a very cushy job in the motor pool. They claimed he had last been seen in the vicinity of a brothel. Some of his fellow Marines were reported as saying he frequented it. Other "evidence" accumulated by the fall of 1968, the CI officers told McKenney, included propaganda statements he had written, asking American Marines to follow his example and join the enemy. Garwood had been seen "leading NVA soldiers and personally turning his weapon against his own former fellow Marines." Added to all this injury was the insult that Garwood was the only Marine to have ever defected. The briefing McKenney got was sparse, as befitted the sensitivity of the subject, and the strict standard of giving out information on a "need-to-know" basis only. It left no room for challenge, allowed no questions about the sources, tolerated no doubts. And it was all McKenney needed to act. He decided, he said later, that "Bobby Garwood was a traitor, a blot on the honor of the nation and the Marine Corps; and that he was to be killed, not captured, and buried where he fell." This, McKenney felt, would protect Garwood's family and nation from shame.

Because he knew how explosive the scandal would be if even a whisper of the assassination of Americans by Americans reached the wrong ears, there would only be two entries concerning these targets in his daily journal. One, written soon after he got his promotion, read: "Recon team sighted a group of NVA/VC with a Caucasian traitor. Unfortunately they did not get him. May have been Bobby Garwood."

Most of those in the small world of special operations who were party to the kill-Garwood directive in 1968-69 did not know the precise origin of the assassination order. This seemed to be of no concern to them because of the "need-to-know" policy. Sam Owens, whose First Force Reconnaissance Company ran the greatest number of hunter-killer missions, said later, "It was just something that was understood." Men who were part of the actual hunter-killer teams would remember, long afterward, that they often thought privately the hunt for Garwood, as distinct from other targets, was initiated by the Marine Corps. Not so McKenney. It was his clear understanding, according to the information he got from counterintelligence, that direction in the Garwood case originated with the CIA and bypassed normal operational and administrative command channels, going to the special operations units who were to do the job14 either directly or, as in his case, via counterintelligence. Outside the closed world of special operations, nothing was known about assassination programs. It was and continues to be McKenney's belief that even General Cushman, the commander of III MAF and his boss while he was there, was not aware of the assassination programs because "he didn't need to know."

But not all who were party to the directive on American deserters were briefed quite as discreetly as McKenney, or within the strict confines of a small CI office. Army Captain Bobby G. Evans, an intelligence officer at CCN, which was known to have close ties with the CIA, independently confirmed SOG's obsession with hunting traitors. Around the time McKenney received his briefing, photographs of three Marine deserters were shown at a weekly military intelligence briefing for XXIV Army Corps, General Joseph Stillwell Jr.'s command, which was subordinate to III MAF. The briefing came from "major headquarters" and was attended by Evans and staff officers from the First and Third Marine Divisions, but McKenney does not recall attending any meeting where photos were shown. Asked if major headquarters meant CIA, Evans steadfastly maintained that he could not answer that. Some of his friends and fellow veterans of Special Forces laughingly interjected that this was a standard reply from those who were affiliated with the Agency.

Evans's job was to make sure his recon teams had all the intelligence they needed to work in their assigned operational areas. For him, as for McKenney, there was no question that the instructions regarding deserters came from "major headquarters." They were to be treated "as the enemy." Evans remembered that specific "kill orders" would have come not from him but from the intelligence operations officer, who had the CC equivalent to McKenney's new job. In CCN's case, there was one such officer for every fifteen recon teams.

McKenney's new position gave him the authority to translate the directive to treat deserters like the enemy into specific kill orders. He quickly sent instructions to First Force Recon Company that every patrol, in addition to their other assignments, should look for Bobby Garwood and kill him if they found him. He began reading each team's "after action" reports and studied every bit of intelligence that might lead to Garwood's whereabouts.

McKenney's relationship with other special operations units was excellent, especially with CCN, [15] where Bobby Evans worked as intelligence officer, and with Fifth Special Forces, because he had graduated from their school and was well versed in their way of planning and operating. This made it easy for him to request that their patrols include the same kill-Garwood requirement as the Marine recon patrols. The requests were always made verbally. McKenney would say something like, "I'd appreciate it if you would .... " This was not a big deal, he said, because by the fall of 1968, there was already an understanding among all special operations groups that Garwood was to be eliminated. Some of the men who were aware of this, Evans included, thought Garwood had become the generic term for all traitors.

"There might be a real Garwood, but his name had become the symbol for all those who deserted to the enemy and were helping to terrorize American soldiers," said Evans. McKenney, on the other hand, was always totally convinced Garwood was a real person, not a symbol, and that he was the first and only Marine deserter. There were briefings of the kind Evans attended, where more than one Marine deserter was discussed, but by the time this information reached CI and then McKenney, whatever number there had been was amalgamated into one-Bobby Garwood. Evans and a number of hunter-killer team members remembered that African-American deserters were amalgamated in the same way, but more crudely. They were called Pepper. Evans and ten of the special ops team veterans recalled thinking of Bobby Garwood and one nameless "big black American" as Salt and Pepper. The scuttlebutt was that Salt and Pepper often worked together.

It was the understanding of other special operations groups that Garwood was of particular importance to the Marine Corps because he had been one of their own. Unlike McKenney, they knew there were other Marine Corps deserters-a fact that was presumed to be highly embarrassing to the proud Corps. They believed it was for this reason the kill-Garwood order was so important to men like McKenney. Evans, who had himself enlisted as a Marine during the Korean War, did not have McKenney's devotion to the Corps. He even had some sympathy for alleged deserters. He wasn't sure they had all gone over voluntarily: if they had deserted, it was probably because the enlisted Marine "was treated like a dog ... nothing more than cannon fodder."

McKenney might have had great empathy for the "muddy, sweaty kids facing the target, nose to nose, using the knife," but in a way he was as far removed from what these soldiers went through as the CIA types he was so contemptuous of. Terrible memories would later seriously disturb those "kids" who killed fellow Americans without having been given any justification to do so because it was felt they did not "need to know" the reason.

One Special Forces veteran who had been a sniper remembered how he rationalized the orders "to off any white people you see" by thinking of them all as Russians. Because of this sniper's short height, he was often sent on missions dressed in Vietnamese camouflage -- black pyjamas, skin and hair dyed-to ferret out VC guerrillas. He would kill them on his own, or call for the help of his teammates, hidden nearby, if he lost the element of surprise. He volunteered for Special Forces because he had idolized President Kennedy, who called the green beret worn by these men "a badge of courage, a symbol of excellence, and a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom." The sniper said later, "I always thought I was lucky because I never saw any black Russians!"

But for others, the memories would become almost unbearable when, long after the war, some of those who made up the target lists for Phoenix would admit that a lot of Vietnamese were killed who shouldn't have been. [16] No one ever publicly admitted Americans had been targets.

McKenney, in the field, suffered from no doubts. Whatever criticism he had about the men who ran Phoenix, he never stopped trusting their decisions on targets. He was first and foremost a Marine; he trusted the system. He continued to believe his country was fighting this war for the best and most unselfish of reasons. He believed in the guilt of Bobby Garwood and terminal justice. He said later, "We had to get him."



1. Tasking meant translating III MAF's overall intelligence goals into specific orders and passing these orders to the units involved. Each order normally contained sufficient detailed instructions to enable recon teams to accomplish their missions as smoothly and successfully as possible.

2. To men like McKenney and Owens these teams had a legendary history. The precursors of the First Force Recon (hunter-killer) teams were the Scout-Sniper platoons and the Raider Battalion (an elite group that conducted commando raids) of World War II and Korea. Both were under the control of military intelligence, not dissimilar to the way they were being directed in Vietnam. Both the earlier, World War II units and the new hunter-killer teams included reconnaissance as an essential part of their work. The difference between World War II and Vietnam was in the way these units were used. During World War II intelligence gathering and direction for such units was under military control. In Vietnam they were an asset that the CIA's Phoenix program could and did use. McKenney was officially informed that the directive to assassinate Garwood came from the CIA. This did not mean that hunter-killer teams were under the command of the CIA. Rather, they got their orders from McKenney and other Marines like him, who transmitted the directives they received from above and saw to the operative details of each mission.

3. Lewis W. Walt, Strange War; Strange Strategy: A General's Report on Vietnam. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1970.

4. MACSOG was formally established in January 1964 as a Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force assigned on paper to Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV). In reality, it was an independent organization that answered to a top-secret section of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This section was headed by the special assistant for counterinsurgency and special activities. In its first year, this was USMC General Victor H. Krulak. Special operations group (SOG) missions were submitted seven days in advance to be considered by the secretaries of State and Defense and the National Security Council, which advised the president, although some latitude was given to SOG commanders in the early years of the war. The use of sophisticated satellite communications equipment allowed special operations units to maintain a rapid communications link with Washington. This became a severe disadvantage to the men on the ground because it was often used by President Johnson to cancel or modify upcoming missions whose effectiveness could by their very nature be appraised only by men who were on the spot. Few military commanders were allowed details on SOG operations but these activities were usually reported to MACV headquarters, which, however, had no authority to approve or veto them. As the war progressed and Washington became more confused and ambiguous about its support for unconventional warfare, an administrative vacuum seemed, to the men on the ground, to be created. This was progressively filled by the CIA, which already had an administrative "special" relationship with the Army's Special Forces and Command and Control outposts. SOG personnel were handpicked, crack U.S. special operations experts from all branches of the armed forces and civilian intelligence agencies who believed in fighting guerrillas with counterguerrilla warfare. It also included South Vietnamese Special Forces soldiers, ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese civilians, and other mercenaries. They engaged in missions against the entire NVA command structure and logistical network, but it was the territories directly across South Vietnamese borders that were of most interest to SOG reconnaissance teams. Cross-border operations were regularly conducted to disrupt the Vietcong, Khmer Rouge, Pathet Lao, and NVA in their own territories; keeping track of all missing Americans and conducting raids to assist and free them; training and dispatching agents into North Vietnam to run resistance movements; "black" psychological operations such as establishing false broadcasting stations inside North Vietnam; and the retrieval of sensitive allied documents and equipment lost or captured during combat with enemy forces. (Summarized from Harve Saal, SOG: MACV Studies and Observation Group. Volume 1: Historical Evolution. Ann Arbor: Edwards Brothers.)

5. Command and Control North Was based at Da Nang, Command and Control Center (CCC) at Ban Me Thout, and Command and Control South (CCS) at Kontum. In addition to their reconnaissance teams, made up of U.S. and indigenous members, each had a battalion-sized indigenous force under American Command.

6. Force Recon units were single companies, intended for control by a force, i.e. III MAF. In Vietnam, III MAF gave up direct control of the Force Reconnaissance companies and attached them to the reconnaissance battalions. There was a reconnaissance battalion in each division, which was given the same number as the division, i.e. First Reconnaissance Battalion, First Marine Division. A battalion contained three or four companies.

7. Couriers were a primary target. They often carried information about imminent attacks, prison camps where Americans were held, and U.S. tactics and planning that could seriously compromise American plans if they reached their destination.

8. Primary assets were the provincial Reconnaissance units, the Navy Special Operations Group (Seals), operating mostly in the far south (Mekong Delta), and the MACSOG patrols, operating out-of-country patrols in adjacent Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam, for the most part.

9. William Colby with James McCargar, Lost Victory: A Firsthand Account of America's Sixteen-Year Involvement in Vietnam. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1986.

10. Ibid.

11. Perhaps the best explanation of what normal Special Forces activities should be has been given by Army Lieutenant General William P. Yarborough. He said such a force should "assist in the development of a resistance mechanism which can operate alone or which will supplement, complement, or precede military operations by uniformed conventional military forces, thus bringing to bear against an enemy aggressor the total physical, political, and psychological resources of a friendly state." (From Ian D.W. Sutherland, Special Forces of the United States Army 1952/1982. San Jose: R. James Bender Publishing.)

12. Slang for local villages or hamlets.

13. A U.S. Senate report on the issue of prisoner of war conduct in Korea had stated: "The United States Malines Corps, the Turkish troops, and the Colombians as groups did not succumb to the pressures exerted upon them by the communists and did not collaborate with the enemy. For this they deserve the greatest admiration." One Marine, during that war, a colonel, former First Marine Air Wing chief of staff with an impeccable World War II record, did succumb. In 1954, a Court of Inquiry determined that he had made a confession only after he "had resisted to the limit of his ability." Nevertheless, Marine Corps standards were so tough, the Court also judged "his usefulness as a Marine officer had been seriously impaired." (From J. Robert Moskin, The U.S. Marine Corps Story. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1992.)

14. The Central Intelligence Agency's connection with reconnaissance and special operations units, especially with Fifth Special Forces (Snake Eaters), has often been referred to as "an incestuous marriage." Until 1964, the CIA had run and funded all Special Forces programs. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, military operations were officially turned over to the Army, but a complicated funding arrangement allowed Department of Defense monies to be transferred to the CIA so that various programs could operate under more flexible CIA rules. Intelligence gathering, McKenney's official job, was the only openly discussed connection between recon and special operations units and the CIA. In fact, these units, including Marine reconnaissance battalions, despite McKenney's argument that they were "organic" to the USMC, were assets of and took orders from the CIA-especially on the most controversial matters like targeting and assassinations. In 1966, Special Forces had rewritten its charter to place the director of CIA in its chain of command. Members of Fifth Special Forces Group were responsible to their own offices and nobody in the CIA except those at the very top had the authority to give any Green Beret or other military man any orders. It was McKenney's assumption that "the very top" is where the Garwood directive came from.

15. A special clearance was required for contact and cooperation with CCN or any SOG. Anyone who had worked with these groups was required to be debriefed by them before leaving Vietnam and was again sworn to secrecy. All CCN patrol reports came to McKenney daily while he was at III MAF. It is interesting that in CCN patrol reports, names were never used. Each team member was referred to by a number.

16. Former CIA agent Frank Snepp said, "I was in charge of lists of targets. A lot of people who shouldn't have been hit, were hit ... and it was a sin." (From the BBC program Phoenix Rising; also broadcast on the program Witness to History, CBC Canada, December 12, 1993.)
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 3:25 am

Chapter 7: Tripping over Dimes

For Bobby Garwood, back in 1965, the downward spiral began when General Walt flew to a meeting at Phubai with Marine Major General Victor H. Krolak, the Pentagon's chief specialist on counterinsurgency, on September 28th. Normally, driving Walt on low-priority runs was Garwood's responsibility, and he was kept absolutely free of other assignments when the General might need him. Only if the General was traveling outside the Da Nang area was Garwood given other jobs by G-2.

On that day, after securing his twenty-four-hour trip ticket, which always remained with the G-2 staff vehicle he drove, Garwood made a courier run from the compound, on the west side of Da Nang, to the Combined Coordinating Center, on the eastern edge of the city: a five-mile trip across the river and through the city. Garwood enjoyed this kind of routine, which included having a sealed attache case handcuffed to his left wrist. He had long ago changed the Timex he had purchased at the PX for a song from his left to his right arm so the steel cuffs would not scratch it.

After the courier assignment Garwood drove to the USO in Da Nang. He treated himself to lunch, but did not record this on his trip ticket because it was not something his dispatcher would approve of, but Garwood was now a "short timer" with only ten days left on his tour. He had what was widely recognized as the short-timer's attitude, living in anticipation of his return to the States, and already there mentally. He had begun turning in his military gear. His friend and fellow driver Billy Ray Conley, whose rack adjoined his at the motor pool, told him: "Garwood, you're so short, you're tripping over dimes." When he arrived back at G-2 the dispatcher at the motor pool agreed to let Garwood go finish cleaning his field equipment (782 gear), since there seemed to be no other jobs. The 782 gear, which consisted of cartridge belt, pack, canteen, first-aid pouch, bayonet, and helmet was already broken down and laid out on his bunk. He was about to clean his M14 rifle, which was also disassembled, but was then called back to G-2. A Marine captain, James E. Baier, was in a tearing hurry to get a driver. "I was in a real short-timer's mode," Garwood said later, "so I didn't jump to." Conley, who was hoping to get Garwood's duties after he went home, asked if there was any objection to his taking over the trip ticket. Garwood was delighted. The dispatcher, however, just wouldn't allow that kind of change in the middle of a twenty-four-hour trip ticket without good reason. Conley showed disgust. He was certain the dispatcher was a southern bigot who would "never give us blacks a break." Later Conley would say with a depth of feeling that came from discovering what could happen to American soldiers who went missing: "God looked out for me that day." [1]

When Garwood finally got back to G-2, after covering his gear and rifle parts with a blanket against the all-pervasive dust, he found the captain in a fury. Short timer or not, and even if Garwood did get permission from the dispatcher, he had left his appointed place of duty. "You may not be as short as you think," the captain growled. Garwood might not only have his tour of duty extended, but he could end up in the brig. The captain pulled a holster with a .45 from a nearby hook, and tossed it to Garwood, along with a K Bar knife: "Do you know where Marble Mountain is?" Garwood nodded, anxious to escape further recriminations, and was relieved to be ordered to pick up a recon lieutenant who needed to go on emergency leave, take him to the airstrip, then return to G-2 section. The lieutenant was stationed at a First Force Reconnaissance base at the north end of China Beach, just south of Monkey Mountain. He would meet Garwood on the stretch of beach that separated Monkey Mountain from the larger and more visible Marble Mountain. Garwood only knew that Marble Mountain, which was at the south end of China Beach, was a landmark about six miles from headquarters, and that Charlie 13 was the road that led to it. That was all. Nevertheless he thought it prudent to say, "I'll find it, Sir." The captain countered, "You'd better." Garwood was too unnerved to point out that it was strictly against regulations for him to go on a run without his full gear, which included the rifle spread out on his bunk in different parts. He took the single .45, a weapon he had never had much success in firing on the range, and left.

Garwood was right to be jumpy about leaving without his full gear. He had no real idea what the captain's instructions would lead to once he left the main road, which was regularly traversed by Marines. Beyond was the unknown and possibly hostile territory around the beach. This early in the war, Marble Mountain still fell outside the perimeter of official Marine Corps responsibility. The fact that both the First Force Reconnaissance Company and Special Forces had recently set up bases there was not on the record. Marines were still divided into different groupings to cover three separate areas and generally moved between them only by sea and air, as overland communication was generally risky. The mission of the Marines was then precise and limited: to defend the American air bases in Vietnam and provide security within strict limitations. Although policy would soon change, Marines were not allowed to patrol beyond the defense areas around the air bases at Da Nang, Phu Bai, and the building site of the planned air base at Chu Lai, a thinly populated stretch of coast about forty-five miles south of Da Nang. [2] The United States was not officially at war. There was political sensitivity to the feelings of the South Vietnamese, many of whom, in the opinion of General Walt, at first regarded the arrival of Americans as a return of the French, who had conquered them by force. The defeat and expulsion of the French from Vietnam had been a source of enormous national pride, in the South no less than in the orth. As a result, Americans went to great lengths to avoid any accusations of "neocolonialism." Their fighting men had to obey strict rules of engagement to avoid any appearance of behaving as just another imperialist power. This sacrificed good military sense for political expediency. Garwood could not, for example, fire on the enemy unless he was fired upon first. The enemy, on the other hand, was everywhere and in different guises. American soldiers in the field were taking casualties because so-called i.c.'s, or innocent civilians, were often enemy guerrillas.

Garwood, having had the good luck to land the job as one of General Walt's drivers, remained sheltered from the harsh realities other Marines faced. He had no idea that the beach in the Marble Mountain area was considered too dangerous to travel alone. In fact, the small group of reconnaissance Marines who were based at the foot of Monkey Mountain would have called this "milk run" almost suicidal. First Lieutenant Sam Owens, who would later work with Colonel McKenney and become his good friend, was a patrol leader of one of the two small platoons to which Garwood's intended cargo [3] belonged. Owens, an experienced officer who had come up through the ranks, knew the ins and outs of warfare behind enemy lines. To him this was real "Injun country," hostile to Americans, a place where any civilian you met could be VC. Cam Hai, the fishing village Garwood was approaching, was suspected of being 100 percent VC by Owens and those who reconnoitered the area with him. On October 28th, exactly one month later, they would have proof that Cam Hai was actually an armed camp, housing what amounted in numbers to a VC battalion. Backed by 50-mm mortar fire from the village the VC battalion attacked the newly built Marine Marble Mountain air facility and hospital still under construction, wiping out almost all its helicopters. Afterward they would retreat back to Cam Hai. The small bridge Garwood now crossed to get to his point of rendezvous had already been the object of VC sabotage when villagers floated explosives down the river to blow up the bridge. After the attack on the air facility a month later, Marines sweeping the village would find a network of long-completed tunnels. One of them led directly to the bridge. [4] If he had been asked, Owens would not have advised that a lone driver be sent to pick up one of his men, although at the time he was working more on instinct and the general belief that even with an accompanying platoon for protection, it was a dangerous zone. The recon unit, unaware of the tunnels beneath its area of responsibility, was still in the process of setting up a small camp with makeshift bunkers and small tents, supposedly hidden from the prying eyes of the enemy by cunning camouflage. "It required someone with recon experience and knowledgeable discretion to pick up one of my men without alerting the enemy to the group's general whereabouts," Owens would say when finally asked, long after, and when it was too late to salvage Garwood's youth and middle years.

Garwood had neither experience nor discretion. He was in that euphoric state known only to soldiers who are days away from finishing up their tour and going home. He was in another world as he sat in his Mighty Mite by the beach where he guessed he had been instructed to go, waiting for the lieutenant and daydreaming about his imminent reunion with Mary Speer, his fiancee. He wondered idly what was holding up the lieutenant. In fact, Garwood had gone about half a mile past the rendezvous.

The view of a small ville was pleasant. Fishermen were mending their nets. Periodically he looked up at Marble Mountain. Its four hundred steps to the top and flanks were off limits to American soldiers. The Vietnamese insisted that it was the sacred site of an ancient temple inside a cave at the summit. The American command officially respected this position. Unofficially, Sam Owens's small recon platoon had not only reconnoitered the entire mountain but functioned as hunter-killer patrols and, whenever necessary, engaged in warfare with the enemy. The Special Forces camp, based at the other end of the beach, was involved in similar activity. From their reports the American command knew that the enemy, exploiting the special dispensation granted a sacred site, might be using Marble Mountain as a base for spying on the Americans and launching guerrilla attacks but they had no idea that it had become an intensely fortified, well-camouflaged military complex. It would be disclosed later that there was an enemy "hospital" concealed within the limestone cave at the top, guarded by statues of Buddha to deceive the "soft-hearted Americans." Even Owens's reconnaissance team had not discovered that inside the very top of Marble Mountain were caverns that housed both a base of North Vietnamese guerrilla operations and a fully equipped, if primitive, casualty station, and even a chilly theater for surgical operations. The natural fortress serviced Hanoi's fighters in the South. Wounded VC and NVA soldiers were brought in under cover of darkness. During daylight, natural fissures in the walls of this cave offered an unobstructed view of all American activities in the area. [5]

If the boasts of the Vietnamese twenty-three years later were correct, then Garwood was being scrutinized from these secret observation posts as he left the compound and asked the sentries for instructions; as he crossed the bridge; and later, while he sat daydreaming on the beach below. His observers must have decided this was no ordinary grunt; that he had to have a connection with Sam Owens's reconnaissance unit, whose operations, although hidden and more difficult to track, were also known to the enemy. Garwood was driving the division commander's jeep with its specialized communications equipment, and they could see that he was carrying no soldier's rifle. If he was carrying only a small personal weapon, it was "proof" that he was an officer. Those who spied on him concluded they would have a "special prisoner," if they could snatch him. Those first impressions were to remain fixed in the minds of the communist Vietnamese.

Garwood assumed that the strange, silent group of men with antique looking weapons, who appeared out of nowhere and formed a half circle around his Mighty Mite, were South Vietnamese home guard. He greeted them. The answer was a stubborn, increasingly ominous silence. Then one of the younger figures in the group-a boy really-lifted his rifle. Garwood immediately revised his innocent assumption that these were friendlies. First he tried to escape by leaping out of the jeep onto the moist sand. The jump was not smooth. He banged his legs and torso lunging over the gear shift. Blocked by the men, he pulled out his pistol. In accordance with his instructions, it had a round in the chamber and was ready to fire. There was no time to aim so he shot, striking a young man in the face. The head exploded. He wounded another before his adversaries shot him in the right forearm and wrist. One bullet blew apart the face of his Timex and imbedded the watch in his wrist, leaving a lifelong scar. It seemed they had hit an artery, and he was covered with blood. His arm went numb. He could not pick up his gun. His legs buckled. He could no longer resist.

They stripped him down to his boxer shorts where he lay, and carefully went through his identification papers while an old man tried to question him in French. Garwood did not understand him, or the others who were speaking in Vietnamese. The trip ticket clearly confirmed their suspicions. He was on a job for G-2 intelligence section.

The next three weeks were a living hell. Garwood was herded from village to village, in and out of primitive wooden boats, through rice paddies and along slippery trails. He was trussed like a chicken for the pan. Blindfolded so that he had no idea where he was being taken, he guessed from the gradually more muted sounds of American airplanes taking off and landing that he was moving away from Da Nang. Soon he was being shown off as the American who finally got his comeuppance. People pinched him, stoned him, pulled his beard and body hair, and spat on him. Young boys prodded his genitals with bamboo sticks. The farther he was moved from Da Nang, the more abusive his tormentors became. They attacked him with rocks and knives and tried to poke sticks up his anus. His wounded arm received no care. It swelled to the size of his thigh and began to rot and stink. It was a relief when the blindfold was removed and he was pushed face down in a makeshift hootch, hog-tied, and strung up to the rafters. He became convinced later that this torturous position had acted as a tourniquet in the days following his capture and had stopped him from bleeding to death. At least it allowed him to sleep fitfully, until children started pushing sticks up his anus again.

After a month of this, Garwood began to regain some alertness. Some instinct for survival taught him to take advantage of his status as a circus animal. He learned to wince at the right time to get the right reaction. This usually gave him a brief respite. He figured that his tormentors would be amused if he tried to sing, so he tried out his limited repertory of American folksongs. It was an act of defiance but his captors surprisingly liked it. They especially liked "Tom Dooley." Everytime he sang the words "poor boy, you're gonna die," he became overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness. How could this have happened to him? He should have been home by now. And married. And therefore able, as he had carefully planned with Mary Speer, to resume his protective big-brother role with Don, whose letters showed he was very unhappy at home.

When Garwood's captors finally considered him docile enough to be left with just one guard, he made an attempt to escape. With his arms tied he slipped into a river while his guard was sleeping. Walking through knee-deep mud amongst the bullrushes, moving only at night, he bumped headlong into a group of VC in a boat. On a second attempt, he was caught by highly professional NVA soldiers, who kept him as they moved silently on remote paths away from villages and headed toward the mountains. His new home became a bamboo cage at Quang Da, an NVA prison camp. By then, he was so sick with malaria, dysentery, and what he suspected was gangrene that he had given up caring whether he lived or died; he just wanted to sleep. His captors brought him no medicines for his stinking, swollen arm.

As he moved in and out of a deathlike sleep, he was pressed to sign a statement excoriating the United States and asking his fellow soldiers to support the North Vietnamese. He signed when he thought he was close to death and he wanted the Marine Corps and his family to know what had happened to him. He figured no American would believe he had willingly signed such a ludicrously stilted and extreme communist propaganda statement. Nor would Marines believe he had referred to them and to himself as "soldiers." That was something no self-respecting Marine would do. A Marine was a Marine, not a soldier. But one result of his signature was that he found himself dragged back from the brink. His captors began to take care of his injuries. That surprised him. He soon understood why. They wanted information from him.

The psychological and physical trauma Garwood was subjected to was later described by Dr. Emil Tanay, a psychiatrist who had experience in working with World War II German concentration camp victims. Tanay, who would play an important role in Garwood's future, described the kind of trauma Garwood endured at the hands of the VC as one that stripped him of all self-esteem and reduced him to an infantile stage. "Garwood, the prisoner, was completely helpless to do anything about his most elemental needs. He could not eat when he wanted to, go to the bathroom, or escape pain." According to Tanay, the majority of human beings, "when faced with such demoralizing circumstances, give Up." [6]

Garwood was too unsophisticated to understand the psychology of what was being done to him. He felt guilty that he had somehow let down the Marine Corps because he had not followed the regulation that a prisoner of war cites only his name, rank, and serial number when taken prisoner. At his lowest point emotionally-which was not when he was closest to death and resigned to it, but when he came back to life and realized that he was completely helpless-his political "reeducation" began.

In Quang Da prison camp Garwood was introduced to the icy smooth Mr. Ho, who spoke flawless British English and began teaching him the "humanitarian policy toward prisoners" of the Vietnam National Front for Liberation. Mr. Ho did not reside at the camp, but came often enough to supervise Garwood's reeducation and to interrogate him. The sessions always took place with Mr. Ho sitting comfortably on a bamboo bench with a backrest, towering over Garwood, who was ordered to sit on a low bench that consisted of three poles strapped together. Garwood's chest came to the top of the table, a position that made him feel subservient. In Vietnamese society, as in most Asian societies, those considered lower in social status or in a subservient position are always required to place themselves physically lower than their "betters." The interrogator made it clear that he was always to be addressed as Mr. Ho. Garwood, on the other hand was called Bobby, even though Garwood had always stated his full name-Robert Russel Garwood-when asked. He fleetingly wondered how Mr. Ho knew that back at the Third Division he had been called only by his nickname, Bobby.

It was repeated to him that he had no rights as a prisoner of war or as a human being. He came from a country that had never declared war and yet was "fighting the Vietnamese people." Therefore, he was a criminal and would be treated like a burglar caught stealing in someone's house. If, in time, he learned to repent, he might be allowed to go home. Ho was very interested in Garwood's religious beliefs. Because Garwood was registered as a Methodist, he tried at first to make Ho believe he was a chaplain's assistant, hoping to confuse his interrogators. [7] He did not disclose that his mother was Jewish, or how much she meant to him. That remained in a quiet comer of his heart and offered him consolation when life became intolerable. Something he did not know but perhaps sensed was that the communists adjusted treatment of prisoners according to the precepts of their religion. Catholics were considered more obedient than those belonging to other denominations. [8]

But what interested Ho most was Garwood's association with the Marine Corps' G-2 intelligence section. Garwood said nothing about the fact that he had been a driver for General Walt, the commander of Marines in Vietnam, but he wondered if this was something Ho also already knew. The interrogator often boasted that he knew the answers to questions asked; and therefore Bobby's answers would prove whether "he was progressive or unprogressive." Ho had the air of someone who saw himself in a kind of chess match with "them," which seemed to be American intelligence, with Bobby as a pawn.

Between sessions with Ho, Garwood's life continued to swing unpredictably between periods of relative calm and the most cruel psychological and physical torture. He spent more than a week sitting in his own excrement in a hole in the ground, in total silence except for brief periods when guards urinated and defecated on him, and taunted him that he would be buried alive.

He was made to watch while ARVN prisoners were tortured and executed. Garwood was told that he was being given an opportunity to watch the humane and generous policy of the North Vietnamese government toward those who had committed atrocious crimes against their own people. While their fellow ARVN POW's watched, two men were made to sit at a table, while two communist cadre guards stood behind them. Ho, in the role of judge, ordered Garwood to sit with him on the makeshift bleachers above the ARVN prisoners. He explained to him that the paws were being given an opportunity to repent. If they refused this magnanimous offer, they would be executed. In other words, they were being given the choice of taking their own lives or being killed like dogs. When Garwood said he did not want to watch, Ho told him that it was only a lesson for the criminals. There would be no bullets in the guns.

Bobby watched as the first prisoner stoically lifted the gun he was handed to his temple and blew half of his head off. The second prisoner at the table began to weep silently, refusing the gun handed to him. One of the cadre, with mock gentleness reminiscent of a mother leading her child's hand to mouth, forced the crying man's hand around the gun, lifted it to his temple, forced his finger on the trigger, and pushed down. As the second prisoner's head blew apart Bobby was filled with a hatred so strong, it almost made his heart stop.

When his mother had told him stories about the Holocaust, he had not believed that whole groups of people would allow tl1emselves to be arbitrarily executed without rising up. Now he understood. Some Jews had been like the ARVN POW's sitting below him, utterly helpless. He looked at Ho, who seemed to have forgotten him. The hard-core communist sat as if transfixed in an almost religious glow, his face flushed. The image made Garwood determined that somehow, if only out of spite, he would survive.



1. From an affidavit by Billy Ray Conley in the files of attorney Vaughn Taylor, Taylor and Horbaly, Attorneys at Military Law, Jacksonville, North Carolina.

2. Lewis W. Walt, Strange War; Strange Strategy: A General's Report on Vietnam. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1970.

3. For security reasons Garwood's passengers were referred to as cargo. The rank of passengers was never mentioned.

4. Cam Hai would never be pacified and the bridge would remain one of the most dangerous spots throughout the war. Navy Senior Chief Officer Avon G. Hale, who was in charge of maintaining the bridge and who served three tours of duty in Vietnam, from 1967 to 1972, said: "I was at Quang Tri, Dong Ha, Da Nang East, Chu Lai, Cam Duc, the Central Highlands, and in the Mekong Delta .... By far the most hostile enemy-controlled place was the village of Cam Hai .... In 1969 I maintained the Cam Hai Bridge .... In one period of three months ... they blew the bridge up seven or eight times . . . . My men and I were fired on from the village with both small arms and antitank rocket fire, in daylight, trying to repair the bridge .... They blew it up, and then shot at us while we tried to repair it. My company commander and two other men were killed there in daylight. ... In September of 1965 Cam Hai was even more dangerous .... At least when we were there in '69 there were numerous U.S. units in the area. In 1965 there were none."

5. American intelligence apparently never became aware of the VC operation inside the top of Marble Mountain. By the late 1980s, the Vietnamese were showing the facility to journalists and tourists. One group of visitors included the author's husband and Dana Delaney, the star of the television series China Beach. She immediately realized how vulnerable this observation tower had made American soldiers, and became visibly sick. A former communist officer told his visitors that it was "a stupid American policy to leave 'holy places' untouched ... Of course we took advantage. War cannot be fought by handicapping soldiers."

6. From the author's interview with Dr. Tanay.

7. Reports that the Vietnamese boasted of having captured a chaplain's assistant reached the First Marine Division. 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.

8. From the author's interviews with Edna Hunter, who headed the Pentagon's POW unit. Hunter interviewed the majority of prisoners who returned from Vietnam, as well as other prisoners who were held in similar camps during the same period.
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