Sisouk Na Champassak:
You know, at that time, my relationship with Vang Pao was quite vague. I was in charge of the Finances of the Royal government. Then at one point, from 1970 on, I was put in charge both of the Finances and of National Defense because the minister was not able... at the time he was already rather old, he was not able to take care of the national defense. So I had known him a little formerly, but it was mainly during the critical period that I knew him.
When I took charge of the national defense, from June 1970
on, I had a very close relationship with him, full of trust. But the most important moment in our relationship, between Vang Pao and myself, was at the fall of Long Tieng. One day, in the morning, around 9 o'clock, 9:30, he came to my house and said, "This is the end, Long Tieng has fallen. I have just seen the Prime Minister who has ordered me to withdraw from Long Tieng to Phu Khao Khuay." These are the mountains behind Vientiane
The Prime Minister had already received the order from the mouth of the American ambassador to instruct Vang Pao to withdraw his troops. So he came to me almost in tears, and asked me, "This is the end. The Prime Minister has ordered me to withdraw my troops, in a complete rout. So has the American ambassador. What should I do?"
So I told him: "Listen. I was not in charge of your business because it is the business of the CIA, etc. It was between you, the Prime Minister, and the CIA. I don't know anything about it. But now, can you tell me the truth? How many men do you have left who are able to carry weapons and go on with the struggle? I am like a physician, if you don't tell me your illness, and the truth is your illness, I can't cure you. So give me the exact number because you have inflated it elsewhere, I don't know, but people, rumors have it that you have inflated the number of your troops. Now I want to know the truth if one wants to defend Long Tieng."
So he told me, "I have left about three thousand, or 3,400 able to do something, to carry arms, but the morale is very low." I said, "If that is the way it is, we must do something. We must resist. With 3,000 you can resist. As for me, I am going, going to Bangkok to ask for reinforcement, two battalions of Thais, of Thai troops as reinforcement." With this he left quite satisfied to go directly to Long Tieng. So, on that day, we did not follow the order of the Prime Minister.
I told him, "The two of us are taking the responsibility for this. If there is a hitch, we run the risk of a court martial because we have refused to obey orders which have been given. But we are going to do it." I went to Bangkok to ask for two battalions of the Thai Special Forces. I met Marshal Thanom, Thavi, and Papat, etc. I asked them... I explained to them the situation. I told them that it is absolutely necessary to defend Long Tieng, because if Long Tieng falls into the hands of the Viets, the North Vietnamese, then it is the end, it is the rout of Vientiane
will be under siege, surrounded by the North Vietnamese forces. And after Vientiane
, it will be the Thailand’s turn, your turn, to be in charge.
Fortunately, Thanom immediately gave the order to make ready one battalion, one battalion right away as reinforcement for Long Tieng. And before leaving for Bangkok, I had given the order to the government to dispatch two GM from the Third Military Region, that is from Savannakhet, to defend Long Tieng. To use these two GM, one had to ask the Americans, because one had to go through the Americans before using the Special Forces. So I went to the American ambassador and told him that we must do something to defend Long Tieng.
He said, "But you are crazy? Long Tieng is gone." I told him, "No. It is not the end yet. There is Vang Pao who is defending it. We are going to do something. Do you realize the situation, to bring a population of 60,000, soldiers and every one from Long Tieng to Phu Khao Khuay. It’s a story without end. The retreat of these 60,000 men, this population, the children etcetera, it’s not possible. We must defend them." He said, ”That’s your opinion?” And I said, “I would like to have the two mobile gendarmeries of Savannakeht. After that, we discussed the situation and he gave his agreement. So I telephoned to Vang Pao and Vang Pao was completely on board.
And at this point I left, and at the time I departed, the Americans had already bombarded their military base. What they had found next to the house of Vang Pao were telephone installations, installations of their equipment, which were very obvious and that they did not want to leave in the hands of the Viets. And for the Americans Long Tieng was finished, because the non-Vietnamese soldiers were already in the valley.
There was a battle in the valley and all the soldiers of Vang Pao had already gone, at least ten to twenty kilometers away. So we readvanced with the troops who had just arrived, the third military from Savannakhet, the battalion of Thai Special Forces and we recovered Long Tieng after a battle. So then, we asked the other base to intervene, we asked for the FCAT. And with their aviation, we threw in all the foreign forces, the Thai forces included. The total came up to about 4,200 men. Fortunately, there was a very effective American bombing mission, I believe by B-52s.
They hit the headquarters of a Vietnamese regiment which was completely annihilated. From that point, the Vang Pao troops, who were still resisting, went forward and we took back Long Tieng. From that time on, our relationship became much closer, with much more trust. After that battle, he greeted me with the introduction, "It is thanks to this man, this minister, that we, that Long Tieng was not totally lost, that we were able to take it back. It is thanks to him that you are here now."