Providing supplies and security to the Highlands

Vietnam. SND Roll 2904. Earl Young.
Number 7/8. SR #2904. Picture roll 925. Six of November. This is called America's Enemy. We're transferring all tapes to sixteen middle edge track at 24. Tone follows.
Slate is Young. Young one.
What I'd like is to take you back to 1962. You were being sent upward into the mountains of Vietnam. I wonder if you could tell me what was that about and what were you about to do?
Well, in 1962 the idea of Americans being at province level in Vietnam was a very novel one. I was with the AID Mission there, and traditionally they had ah technical advisers who worked in Saigon at the ministerial level with Vietnamese officials, and because President Kennedy and others believed that the course of the war was so important to us, ah, it was decided to try a new program, a new effort in Vietnam.
And so, we implemented in AID an office called Rural Affairs. And these people, including myself at the time, were to go out and live and work at the province or, if you will, state level in Vietnam.
So, I was one of the first five such representatives that were ever sent out, and my first assignment in Vietnam with totally different people than the Vietnamese. These were Montagnards as the French would call them composed of tribal groups, people who still wore loin cloths, rode ponies and had cross bows.
And this new province was about ninety percent Montagnard. And it was named Phu Bon. And it was actually in the site of the French military defeat ah in Group Mobile 100 in 1954.
So, I arrived and found that my home was going to be a small tent which AID thoughtfully provided me. And we had four American military advisors also living in tents in the province. And a new province chief.
And our program immediately became tangled up with refugees, because the Vietnamese military at that time conducted some operations nearby and great numbers of these tribal people felt that they would be safer down in the valley along the Son Ba River in Phu Bon Province. So AID sent me up and supplied me with ah rice and medical and this sort of thing to try to assist the Vietnamese to keep their new provincial government functioning ah to keep supplies coming in to these Montagnards.
So, there was actually warfare of some sort going on there?
Very low key. Very low key. Ah, there were more and more war as such going on in Kon Tum and Pleiku, but Phu Bon, no.
It was just a sense that there was security here. Ah, and the Montagnards didn't want to go with the Viet Cong. They didn't want to be harassed by the Viet Cong, and they felt that the government could offer them protection.

The role of American advisers in 1962

Seeing your film yesterday, there were some special advisers there, and the thing that intrigued me was that to all intents they looked like American troops. I mean they were in uniform and then what, were they actually, special advisors giving military advice as well, I mean, or what? I mean I have difficulty, when you see your films, for example, one sees the troops and one has to come to terms with the fact that in, in the history book terms, the arrival of troops was in, in '65. I wonder if you can tell me about the advisers. How many there were and what they were doing?
Right, in 1962 there were probably no more than fifteen thousand American troops in Vietnam, all of whom basically were either advisors or support units. The exception were some special forces teams.
Now in Phu Bon we had one special forces "A" Team, which had twelve men in it. Their job was to recruit, train and employ ah these Montagnards, these Jarai as strike forces against the Viet Cong guerrillas. They were at that point in time under the control of the CIA.
Later, they reverted back to, to the US Army, but their job ah it's twelve man was to go into a Montagnard village, explain that they were there to help them ah they would give them weapons, which, of course, had great appeal to Montagnards who were natural hunters anyway, and who were still using cross bows and flint-lock weapons.
So, the idea of getting a Thompson submachine gun and a monthly salary ahhh was quite appealing to them. Ah, this, of course, really didn't set well with the Vietnamese because they saw an American controlling ah his own small army in their province, and of course, there's always been a great animosity between the Vietnamese and the Montagnards anyway on both sides.

Highland people swear allegiance to Diem

How did that work again, back to your film. There was a very interesting ceremony. I remember a big portrait of President Diem on a big...I mean, how did that actually go? How did that ceremony come about? How did he persuade these ah Montagnards that they should identify with the, with the ah government of Diem in the south? How did you go about that?
Well, the Vietnamese government in Phu Bon, the provincial governor and his staff, ah, were also instructed by the Saigon government to bring the Montagnards fully under, under G—Saigon control, and to implement Vietnamese administration and the rest.
And given the traditional animism and so on religious beliefs ah of the Montagnards ah, the province chief determined that he would have an allegiance ceremony for President Diem so upon one occasion, he brought ah, Montagnard village in with leaders from some of the other villages, and he had them ah set up a great sacrifice. He provided ah five water buffaloes to the Montagnards that could be slaughtered in their own traditional manner and then they brought their own ah, if you will, priest or witch doctors along.
But the climax of this ceremony, after the ah slaughtering of the buffalo and the drinking of, of the rice and wine mixed with buffalo blood and so on was this swearing of allegiance to President Diem and we had a photograph there of President Diem as a centerpiece on the whole ah on a pole. And on a table below that were various types of weapons ahhh pistols, machine guns ah knives and so on and the Montagnard leaders would come forward and pick up these pieces and kiss them and would say in, in their own dialect, if I'm ever unfaithful to President Diem and, and the Saigon government may this weapon be used against me.
Did it work? Did it work, were they, were, how did the Montagnards react?
We found that the Montagnards were, were quite ah friendly toward the United States government ah, not the government, but actually, the people who represented it there such as the special forces team. They were still suspicious of the Vietnamese, but, of course, since the Vietnamese were in authority, they did what the Vietnamese told them.
But, I think they went along with American suggestions in leadership because of, of a liking. We had a more an empathy with the Montagnards than we did with the Vietnamese.

The Strategic Hamlet Program

And what about the...moving on now, how, how were you called down into the Delta and what were you asked to do?
Well, as you know, I'm sorry. Ah the Strategic Hamlet Program which is well-known throughout the world began in Vietnam in 1962 when President Diem and his ah his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu decided that they would try to implement the British success in Malaya of bringing people into protective villages and so this was implemented in South Vietnam and it was to be the solution to Viet Cong penetration and incidents by locating people inside the protective hamlet.
We didn't get ah very far with these things in the Highlands in central Vietnam, but they were the crucial aspect of the counterinsurgency war ah in the Saigon area and, and in the Delta.
The idea behind the strategic hamlet was to provide ah protection for the small village. The people that were to defend themselves with weapons provided by the government. They were to put up a barbed wire fence and dig a moat and build a wall and form a few squads of self-defense militia.
Ah, AID, the USAID Mission there was to provide them with, with radios with food with some uniforms for the self-defense things, with the wherewithal to build a school, to put up a small dispensary ah perhaps even a supplementary thing for the teacher's salary. In other words, they were to bring all the benefits of a positive government control to this strategic hamlet.
The government's portion of that, of course, being to provide security, because we knew, or the government knew, that these little self-defense units in the hamlet couldn't really protect it. They were only to be the ah trip wire to hold off the VC long enough until they could get on the radio and say help and the local Vietnamese army unit was then to come to their rescue.
Well, this program had been implemented beginning in '62. by, by the end of, or the middle of 1963 ah it was really going great guns in the Delta. For example, in the province that I was sssss...
Just stop so we can get a different side. So, here we are in, in 1963 and a few of the hamlets are being set up. Ah, why were you called down there? What was to be your role?
Okay. I was transferred from my first assignment in Phu Bon province down to the Vietnam Delta to Long An province ah in September of 1963.
A year later, the Vietnamese government had launched a massive strategic hamlet building program in this province. They had sent a general and a regiment of ARVN, regular Vietnamese troops in, who had constructed ah really going like a house fire, had constructed some two hundred strategic hamlets in a period of a year.
Now, we didn't have very many provincial advisors, civilians like myself who could assist the provincial government, the province chief, with ah civilian-type assistance. My job was to try to get him to implement the positive aspects of the strategic hamlet program to, to get him to go ahead and, and, and to put in the schools and the market places, put in the new roads, ah bring agricultural credit to the people that had been promised who moved into these hamlets.
Well, the problem in Long An is after the Vietnamese general and his regiment had built the hamlets, the government pulled them out and sent them off on some other operation. Now, this left these hamlets totally unprotected except for a small squad or so of local people in each hamlet who were to protect it.
And the Saigon government in essence built the hamlet and then walked away and left them. But, with this promise that they would protect it. Well, of course, for almost a year, the Viet Cong in Long An were really set back because they hadn't expected the speed and the volume of the strategic hamlet program. See...
Just another roll. You're doing very well.

Viet Cong control of the strategic hamlets

Changing to picture roll 926. Slate two. Beep.
Umm. Your first year in Vietnam was spent in, in the Highlands, the Montagnards with what sounds like a relatively ah peaceful situation. Not too much VC activity. Now, a year later you were sent down to the Delta to wage the strategic hamlet program. Now, the situation is a little bit different down in the Delta. Could you tell me the things that struck you about the difference and the strength of the VC and things like that?
When I was reassigned to Long An Province just south of Saigon in September of '63 I read the Vietnamese government reports on the province, and they claimed that ah there were, I think 219 completed strategic hamlets. And of course I was very pleased at this because it sounded as if the provinces were quite secure and there wouldn't be any problem, that we could go ahead and implement our, our economic development program.
So, I arrived and, and talked to the military advisor there. We had ah an American major and ah several captains and a sergeant. There were a total, I think, of five or six American people and myself. And I told them I had been reading this report of ahhh government progress in hamlets and it sounded, you guys are doing a great job.
And they shook their heads in disbelief and the major said, don't believe these things. He said, they claimed 219 hamlets. He said, we'd be lucky if half those are ah are under government control. I said, well, how, how do you know this. How can you tell?
He said, well, we can drive around with, with some degree of security, although there are quite a few incidents. He said, let me, let me show you. I can show you better from the air. He said tomorrow we have a helicopter coming down from Saigon and I want to take you for a ride. I said, okay, great.
So, the next day the, the chopper came in and we flew around ah about four of the six districts or counties in ah in Long An Province. And he said, now look, you see all the, the normal provincial roads leading into these, these district areas. He said, now watch. And we'd fly down these roads and all of a sudden the road would be terminated. There would be this huge ditch across the road. Now, obviously, a man-made crater totally severing the highway.
Telephone poles with the wires hanging, broken at the end of, of, of, of this road. And, and we just flew around in an ever-widening circle and it was as all these things were pointing right into the VC area because they absolutely had control. They stopped the government from coming in. They stopped communications. They stopped the products from going out.
So, here you are, you're going down into an area where...cut.
Slate three. Beep.
Here you are, you're going down to Long An, 219 hamlets seem to be pretty pacifying. You explained to us about the roads. What else did you find, I mean what was the extent of government control of this province, and what was the extent of, of VC control?
Well, in Long An as in most other Vietnamese provinces, ah, government control essentially is measured by who can go on the roads, who can go into the hamlets, what's the posture of the local defense forces.
Now, normally, there would not have been a regular Vietnamese Army unit in the Province. Ah, we had regular forces ah assigned to the province chief. If you will, sort of a state guard or a home guard and smaller units at the district level.
These people we found were totally restricted in their movements. Ah, the district level Vietnamese government security forces were holed up in, in small forts which were harassed every night by the Viet Cong. They could not go out at night at all. So, they left the whole night open to, to, to the Viet Cong to go to the hamlets and organize them.
The regular force units which were better equipped, better trained, better armed, had vehicles and this sort of thing, were guarding the provincial capital, they were guarding a couple of key bridges. They were on call to do strike movements against ah Viet Cong units if the government could find them. But, of course, again, they only operated in daylight.
But, the real defeat that the government was, was facing here was that because of the insecurity in the countryside, the normal Vietnamese government civil servant, the, the teachers, the agricultural advisors ah the health people could not go into these hamlets. I mean, we had the, the, the provincial junk yard was littered with blown up ambulances, blown up education vehicles.
They simply put mines in the road and as, as the government people went out to a hamlet, the Viet Cong destroyed them and they put the fear of God in them. So, there was ah, there was no government contact with these 200 hamlets.
How do you explain this situation? Was it because of basic support for the VC, was it because of strength of arms that the VC had? I mean, what was the situation ah that, here you are in 1963, ni...nine years since the ah division of north and south. I wonder if you could think about that. What, how, what do you reckon was responsible for the situation of the VC strength in that province? How did you see them operate?
Well, the Viet Cong control of, of provinces in South Vietnam was basically an aftermath of the revolt against the French in 1954 when they had established ah very effective guerrilla and agitprop propaganda teams to mold the people together to throw out the French. And so this left them with ah a very dedicated professionally-trained cadre.
At this time, of course, Vietnam was, was one Vietnam so we're talking about Hanoi's participation in this organization and, and training and, and structure. So, having gotten rid of the French and, and then Vietnam becoming separate in ah in 1955 and the rest and President Diem coming in. He was faced them with this communist apparat which was still in existence.
Now, what had happened during the Viet Minh days against the French, they had taken people from each hamlet, each village, each province, each district and sent them north and given them some very good training. We, we, continually were amazed at the professionalism ah, the ability to be good psychologists that these people had. They knew exactly how to deal with the Vietnamese farmer.
Now, this, the Americans generally never did and the Vietnamese government might have but really wasn't that interested. So, we found that the whole structure had been superimposed on this province and it was a Viet Cong structure. Communist Viet Cong structure. They had people at every level. They were running a shadow government coincidentally with the government's operation.

Exposing the truth about control of the hamlets

How did you try to deal with this and what I mean use the term special classification was the term you used there. I wonder if you could explain what, what that involved, and what...How did you...?
When I, when I had arrived in Long An in ah September of '63 in all my innocence and, and saw these figures of 200 government hamlets, I thought great, ah and then to my dismay and surprise, I found as ah with the assistance of the American military advisor there, that, in fact, the government didn't control ah perhaps more than fifty.
So, ah, I asked him well aren't you telling the US military ah headquarters in Saigon about this and MACV. And he said, yes, I keep writing these reports but I don't know what happens because when I see the, the ah the, the printout that goes back ah to Washington it makes it appear as if everything's fine.
And I said, well, let me see one of the reports you've been writing. So, he gave me a copy of his latest one in which it documented his visits around the province, the fact that rather than 200 there were perhaps fifty good hamlets.
So, I said, let me have a copy. He said okay. And I took a copy of this back to Saigon through civilian channels to my boss Rufus Phillips and he took it back to Washington and he laid it ah, ah, ah before the White House. He laid it before the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Well, of course, this totally contravened everything that General Harkins and the American military command had been saying about the progress of the war in South Vietnam. And this irked the army very much. Ah, in fact, an American general tried to get me booted out of the country. Ah, but, Ambassador Lodge said, "Don't worry, Earl. You're not going anywhere, you're staying here."
So, we actually, at that point uncovered officially, if you will, the progress of the war in one crucial province in Vietnam. But, then eh we had to do something about it.

Finding the source of Viet Cong support in the hamlets

Ambassador Lodge called me in ah from Saigon and he said he he'd like to have ah a Sunday breakfast and would I please...Of course, I was very honored and I went in on a Sunday morning to have breakfast with the ambassador in his garden, and he said, look Earl, you have blown the whistle on Long An. You and, and the military advisor. You have told us what's really happening but we can't let it end there.
We've got to do something. What can we do to correct the situation? How can the Americans become more involved in this, if you will? What do you want me to do as ambassador? He said, what, what do you want General Harkins to do? What, what do you want these other people to do?
And I said, all right, Mr. Ambassador, the first thing I'd like is to have some kind of a survey in Long An Province. Let's try to find out why the people are supporting the Viet Cong. Why are they not supporting the Vietnamese government? Why are they with the Viet Cong?
And he said, good, do it. He said, anything you want, I'll give you a blank check. We've just got to win the war down there and we've got to use Long An as a test case for what can be done if the Vietnamese and the Americans work together on this sort of thing.
So, I was able to get the assistance of ah a brilliant man really, ah, Ev Bumgardner, who worked for US Information Service, who spoke fluent Vietnamese. He really knew the Vietnamese society and the culture. So, he came down with some Vietnamese employees of the US Information Service and some other of his American colleagues who spoke as he did, good Vietnamese.
And they started out by going into a couple of secondary schools in Long An high schools we would call them, and these kids were so candid it was almost unbelievable. We would say, what have...First of all, they were, they were the, the products, if you will, of the strategic hamlets. They all lived...when they went home at night from school, they were living in a strategic hamlet. So, they were seeing the whole thing each day.
So, we said, why ah would you or your friend, you know, we'd never say why would you do this, but we'd say why would your friends support the Viet Cong? And they would say well, our friends would support the Viet Cong because the Viet Cong are there. We really only want peace here.
We don't really care about the government and we don't care about the Viet Cong philosophy. My, my, my family and the families of my friends have been moved from one area...
End SR 2904. End 2904. Beep, beep, beep.
Vietnam. SR #2905. Earl Young.
Vietnam Project. Episode 7/8. This is SR 2905, picture roll 927.
You were telling me, you were starting to tell me anyway, about the schools. Because we ran out of film, that won't be of very much use. I wonder if you could start again and if you could say, you know, we were, decided to conduct an opinion survey and then tell me how you went...just wait a couple seconds whilst that great big churning sound...
Sorry, if you could just straighten you tie.
Okay, so, how did you go about finding out what the situation was?
Well, our first job in Long An which tried to determine why the people were supporting the Viet Cong rather than government so as a test case staff of US Information Service sent down some very expert people and they picked several high school, secondary schools in the province and the students in these schools were drawn from the surrounding strategic hamlets.
They would come in every day to the district town to go to school, and we found them fantastically candid about what their thoughts were. And of course our survey people were quite well-trained themselves in, in techniques of interviewing, so, they knew how to handle the Vietnamese and, and get a reasonably accurate answer.
But, these kids, boys and girls both, were saying look, we don't support the government, we don't support the Viet Cong. We just like to be left in peace to, to grow our own rice, and to go back to our own villages.
Ah, we found that the Vietnamese government had moved eighty thousand people, in this one province alone, into strategic hamlets. The original concept was you build the original village into a secure place, but the Vietnamese army had moved eighty thousand. The, the biggest movement ah in South Vietnam since the refugees came down in '54.
But, anyway, these people didn't like having been put into a new village. They didn't like being away from the ancestral home, but they said, look, whoever will provide us security and protection, those are the people we will follow. If the government gives us security so the Viet Cong can't tax us, can't recruit from us, ah can't give us political lectures, we'll support the government.
I said, well, to my, to my USIS friends, what did you find out about ah their attitude on joining the Viet Cong, actively joining the Viet Cong and they said they had found out that the crucial part of, of the commitment to the Viet Cong was not an ideological one ah, ah was nothing more than the fact than the Viet Cong recruiters had said to these sixteen, and seventeen and eighteen-year-old young men, look, if you let the government draft you, they're going to send you north to Quang Tri or Quang Ngai. If you join us, we'll let you stay right here in your own district, in your own province. You can come and see your parents every weekend.
So, of course, the students told ah us that fine they would rather stay in their own province and, and so they joined the Viet Cong when they had that option.

Behavioral differences between the Viet Cong and ARVN

I wonder if you could tell me a little more about the way the VC actually operated. You explained very well what you thought was the basis for them being there. A lot of the information, things that one reads, ah in the historical books, and the papers of the period is appears to be sort of random terror and mayhem being wreaked upon villages...How did the VC actually operate? I mean did they actually have an administration? What was their use of terror as far as you saw it? How did this function?
I think Viet Cong success in Long An, and of course I can't speak for the rest of the country, but Viet Cong success in Long An was based upon two key factors. Number one, the Saigon government could not provide protection for the people. They could not keep the Viet Cong away from them.
So, if you have a village that's not armed at all, it only takes one man with, with a rusty rifle to cow the whole organization. So, there was no problem about the Viet Cong political cadres who were well-trained in, in proselytizing, in, in forming organizations and that's the key to the Vietnamese society. Everybody wants to join a secret organization. So, there was no problem with that.
Secondly, there were, as our survey among the people determined, some very substantial grievances which these people had. Now, these were not grievances against President Diem in Saigon. They were grievances against a hamlet chief, the village chief, the district chief, or perhaps, even the province chief.
Ah, they had been, perhaps, moved off their land. They were, were being taxed unfairly. They were promised things which were never delivered. Ah, the, the Vietnamese ah military would perhaps molest their women, would steal their chickens, ah, would ah in general be obnoxious when they came through the hamlet.
And of course the Viet Cong traditionally ah following Chairman Mao's precepts, ah, principles, ah were very careful in their relations with the people. But, they would, they would come in and remember we're talking now about, not a stranger as, as the Vietnamese colonel would be...
Sorry, you're talking about who coming now? Are you talking about ARVN coming in to the village or VC?
Ya. Right. If, if the Vietnamese army ah let's say a local company that was there or ah a battalion would generally be strangers to these people. But, you were talking about Viet Cong who had been taken from this village, sent north for several years for training and back again among their cousins and their aunts and their uncles and their brothers and their sisters. Everybody knew them, and, of course, they trusted them.
So, these people had an entrée, and they were able to dwell upon these grievances, and they were able to form ah movements, actually with banners to march down to the district headquarters, and say, you know, you're stealing our pigs, you're stealing our chickens, ah, we're being ah, ah overtaxed, ah, we don't have the land that was promised that we could rent to, to sustain ourselves every year.
So, combined with lack of protection, lack of security and legitimate grievances, the Viet Cong had a wide-open field, and, of course, the government was not reacting. It was not responding. It was not trying to counter these people.

The Viet Cong's use of terror

How is it that, were there many instances of, of terror, were acts of terror a problem to you? How did they come about? Were there any in your district?
With, with respect to, to the Viet Cong employment of terror, I think this is greatly misunderstood by a lot of people who perhaps visualize Viet Cong guerrilla units going about helter-skelter and, and, and ah wreaking havoc on ah on everything in sight. This is not the case. The VC used terror minimally initially, very precisely.
If they wanted to intimidate a hamlet and, and they would have a good hamlet chief who was liked by the people, who supported the government and could take the whole hamlet with him. They had to get rid of this man because he was, he was giving the lie to their propaganda that, that everything having to do with the government was bad.
So, they would send in small squad of people. Maybe five or six men in the middle of the night. They would seize the hamlet chief in his house, haul him out to the center of the hamlet and convene the whole village to watch this. And then they would cut his head off. They would make him kneel down and they would shoot him in the head, whatever technique they wanted to use.
And of course this frightened the Vietnamese. Now, you're not talking about an American community where everybody has his shotgun behind the door. You're talking about people who don't have weapons.
And the Viet Cong would come in very selectively and get rid of the good guy. On the other hand, there were also hamlet chiefs who were really evil men who took advantage of the people that they were ruling over. Who, who would do everything to their own financial and benefit and, and their family's benefit.
So, the Viet Cong would come in and I'm sure with a lot more moral support than with the good hamlet chief would bring the bad guy out and say, look, what has the government done? Here is this, this evil man that's, that's going everything to his own advantage, we're going to rid him of this. The National Liberation Front is going to take care of him for you. So, they would cut his head off.
Now, the government's, the Vietnamese government's military forces on the other hand, their reaction to the Viet Cong was to fire an artillery barrage or go through and raze a whole village. They were not selective.
Obviously, their fire power even at that point was much greater than the Viet Cong. But, it also hit innocent people as well as the guilty. And of course the Viet Cong technique was much more effective.

Results of the survey of strategic hamlets

How did you attempt to deal with it? You had your survey you found out what the situation is. How did you set about trying to counter this and what sort of successes did you have or where did things go...What actually happened after you found out what the situation was?
When we, we began on our special pacification program in Long An at Ambassador Lodge's direct order and with his direct support, and our survey team's preliminary surveys had found an that the people had legitimate grievances - number one being lack of security, number two being misadministration or maladministration. So, we knew that the American side could provide certain things.
We had money, we had access to unlimited amount of supplies. We had technical skills from the AID Mission, from the US Information Service. So, we determined that the first thing we would do is support the Vietnamese provincial chief's activities. To strengthen his image in the eyes of the people, and he is the man with the Vietnamese military commander of, of the ARVN unit who determined that we would target the Pacification Program against thirty some hamlets.
Generally around the provincial capital of Tan An which is roughly twenty miles south of Saigon. And these were hamlets generally along Route 4 which was the major link between Saigon and the whole Vietnam Delta. So, the idea was to go in, survey these hamlets, see what was wrong, come back with corrective action.
The Americans to provide the wherewithal to correct those things we could, and the Vietnamese to provide the security and to remove the, the mis-administration or the maladministration. Well, we were able to do a survey in fifteen of the initially proposed thirty hamlets. And basically, it reinforced what we had found in the secondary schools in the earlier preliminary survey.
We were able to compile very precise documents about each hamlet. The, the percentage of people who supported the Viet Cong, the percentage who supported the government, the percentage who essentially said a plague on both your houses. We were able to document...
Sorry. We've just run out again. You're doing very, very well indeed.
Change into picture roll 928. Slate five.
Okay. If you could just tell us about the survey a little bit, the thing you were explaining before.
In January, 1964, we began to implement in Long An Province a special pacification program which ah Ambassador Lodge was, was ordering and, and supporting. And this was initiated by a preliminary survey of some fifteen of the strategic hamlets which were along Route 4, the main route south from Saigon. And we were able to document, there ah, the Vietnamese employees of the US Information Service were ah able to document the attitude of the people in each of these hamlets.
Ah, we got the percentages there that they believed were supporting the Viet Cong ah which was rather large. The percentages which were supporting the government which was rather small and those ah who said plague on both your houses. So, coincidentally with this, Ambassador Lodge, through his own personal intervention, ah in Saigon had gotten the Vietnamese government to dispatch the battalion of Vietnamese paratroops down to Long An to provide security.
Now, this was the first regular Vietnamese army unit we had in the province, and they out-posted themselves along the highway and they provided the security under the cover of which we were able to make the surveys in these hamlets. So, as long as these Vietnamese regular units were there, we had a modicum of, of security along this highway.

The need for security in the strategic hamlets

But, we found that we had been able to, to determine the problems. We could see that leading every list in every hamlet was the fact that they lacked security, that they were open, even though they were technically strategic hamlets, that they were open literally at any time to Viet Cong ah, ah proselytizing Viet Cong ah inside.
It was amazing the Viet Cong would come in to these people and say, "You shouldn't be here, you've been moved out of your own village, we want you to tear the roofs off your houses, we want you to tear up this barbed wire fence which you put around at the government's and the US Imperialist ah, ah invitation to protect yourself. We want you to fill in this moat you, you put around. Show the government that ah you're not going to live here and show us that, that you're supporting us."
So, all night long, these poor farmers would be taking the roofs off these houses, would be tearing down the barbed wire fence, would be filling in the moat. The next morning the sun comes up, the Vietnamese marines or airborne unit, which ever happened to be there at the time, would come by and here's the hamlet, you know, in its denuded state.
So, the major would walk in and tell the hamlet chief, you've got to have your people put the roofs back on the houses. You've got to rebuild the fences, you've got to dig the moats again. So, all day long the farmers would be repairing the night's damage. Then, the Vietnamese forces would, would go back to their compounds for the night.
That night the Viet Cong would come in again and make the poor people tear the roofs off the houses, do the fences, fill in...I mean, this went on. I mean, it was like musical chairs. It was ludicrous. But, I'm sure not, not that to the Vietnamese who were having to do the work.
And we, incidents continued, even in the area controlled, theoretically controlled by the Vietnamese regular battalions. The Viet Cong were still coming in.
So, we could see that no matter what else the Americans could do insofar as, as meeting the requirements for a school or a dispensary or improved rice seed or additional pigs or credit at the agriculture cooperative, that if the Vietnamese government could not provide the security under which these things could be done that the rest of us ah were useless.
And this was the point we were trying to get across ah to people. For example, Secretary McNamara made a personal visit ah in December of '63. Ah, he came over with the some VIPs from Washington. Of course, accompanied by Ambassador Lodge and they came down to Long An, made a visit by helicopter and we gave them a briefing.
Ah, we explained ah what the problem was that ah without the security ah all these other things that we were doing would, would be meaningless. Ah, we briefed them on, on the nature of the plan and what we hoped to accomplish and the Vietnamese ah who formulated the, the hamlet plan and the rest had determined that within one year they would have re-pacified the two hundred hamlets in Long An province, and I think until the time the Americans finally pulled out ah, ah that we never really had more than fifty hamlets in that, in that whole province.
Could you explain about the survey having shown that this one village, twelve miles from Saigon was being...just briefly?
I think in the highlight ah of ah of one of our surveys ah was the findings that we made in, in one hamlet. Now, we had all these hamlets ah very precisely marked out on our provincial map. You know, with the little squares and we numbered them in order in which we were going to, to take the survey, in which we were going to pacify them.
Well, one of the hamlets by actual ah measurement was just twelve miles outside of Saigon. I mean literally in, in suburban Saigon. This hamlet according to our interview team they came back with a sheet and handed it to me.
It said hamlet one hundred percent Viet Cong controlled. People will not permit the Vietnamese government flag to be flown in the hamlet, will not participate in the interview. Interview terminated, and I understand that he left in some haste, and I can imagine why.

Air America supply-drops in Laos

Slate six. Go ahead. Beep.
Can you explain how got involved with Indochina and Laos.
Well, it's, it's really rather curious, I think. I began...
You have to say, it's curious how I got involved with...
It was curious how I got involved ah in the Indochina War. I spent essentially eleven years either in Laos or Vietnam while working on the war, but I started by answering an advertisement in ah a Washington, DC newspaper, and they were asking in this advertisement for people to go ah to Asia to assist a commercial airline in ah delivery of materials.
So, it turned out that ah the company was Air America, Incorporated, and I became their chief traffic manager in ah Vientiane, Laos, and also was the chief of the air delivery section. Now, Air America was under contract to the US Government to deliver supplies ah to Vang Pao's Miao troops and American white star teams.
Now, most people don't know that in '61 and '62 there were teams of US special forces in the mountains of Laos and it's a very rugged country ah who were training and equipping and leading ah the Miao guerrilla forces against the Pathet Lao and I staged ah into this job by started out in Bangkok and catching an Air America flight north, and this was a C-123 aircraft which had been borrowed from the US Air Force with Air America markings and on board were six metal coffins and these coffins were being taken up to bring back the bodies of six Americans ah who had been killed in, in operations. It wasn't a very auspicious beginning.
But, in essence ah for approximately six months I was in charge of a group of Americans of varying skills, all of whom had had some connection militarily with parachuting aerial delivery counterinsurgency and the job was to prepare for delivery and then go on board, ah, the multitude of, of drop aircraft which Air America had, C-46's, C-47, 123's and we would fly up with civilian pilots who were on furlough from airlines or perhaps ah ex-military people looking for a job.
We would fly up into the mountains of Laos and they would locate ah, ah tiny drops on, on the crest of some mountain and there you could look down and was like a World War I fort with trenches all around and barbed wire and the Miao village. And at one corner it would be the White Star of the US Special Forces Team ah encampment.
So, we would fly down ah, ah but the problem being in these aerial deliveries that since the Miao were on top of the mountains, the Pathet Lao knew where they were and would tend to congregate around the bottom, and there would be only one or two routes in for the aircraft to take so they would set up rather sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons ah 450 caliber machine guns on, on, on motor-driven mounts on a bed of trucks all around the base of these things.
So, when our aircraft came in, they were waiting for us, and we literally would fly through a hail of tracer fire to come in and drop, and the pilots got very good at this. There, there was called the Air America approach which was used then and later in Vietnam, which was come in very high and then circle down at a very tight spiral and then peel out at the bottom, make a short run. We push everything out the back and, and off we go.
But, I was also able at this time to go on the ground in Laos. We were having some problems, some of our material ah was breaking when it hit the ground because we were dropping ah, ah gasoline in fifty-five gallon drums. We were dropping rice to feed the Miao who, obviously, could not go out and farm their own given their, their combat ah role. And also other types of military equipment.
So, I flew up north one day with ah, ah a small aircraft who was able to land me on, on, on one of these short drops, it, it was a stole aircraft, and then I watched the next drop come in and, and inspected the equipment. But, I had a change to walk around this Miao camp. Fantastic people. Ah, ah, essentially related to the Chinese. They had all come down out of China ah and were occupying the northern part of Laos, which was a very rugged, rugged ah mountainous country.
But, they people were, were good fighters. They were by inclination and, and tradition. They were hunters. Ah, they were slash-and-burn agriculture people who would move from one area to the next within the general confines of the tribe, and they were generally quite receptive to American assistance. They had ah as the Montagnard in Vietnam and the Saigon government ah the Miao had ah mutual fear and suspicion of the ethnic lowland Lao.
End SR 2905. Beep.

The secret American and Soviet war in Laos

Vietnam. Col. Earl Young. SR #2905. PR #929. Tape 1, Side 1.
Slate seven is up.
Long beep.
Can you just tell me, the secrecy of those casualties...
...and the fact that people wouldn't know what was happening made very tough going for a lot people.
Our support of the Lao government and the Miao tribes in Laos in the early sixties was, of course, something which was not public knowledge. Uh often people would go to great lengths to conceal anything which might have, have hit the public press.
Uh, despite the very fine flying abilities of our pilots in Air America, because of intense enemy ground fire, or the extremely difficult nature of the terrain, uh we lost a lot of aircraft there, and crews. Now, it obviously wouldn't have done to, to publicize uh in the Washington Post, for example, that we had just lost three aircraft in Laos because of enemy ground fire. Because we weren't supposed to be there in the first place.
So, the general subterfuge was that uh that any incident was, was called aircraft malfunction or inclement weather. And so the families of survivors of these people at home would simply be told that uh, unfortunately, your husband or your son was killed in a crash in the mountains in Laos. Uh, and that's how that was taken care of.
Uh, friends of mine, looking back on our days there, said they were going to write a book and call it, You Must Be Kidding, because it was the most fantastic place to wage, if it's been called a secret war, that you can believe. It uh the national symbol of Laos is the uh the land of the white parasol and a uh and a million elephants. And that's about what it was.
For example, uh, in June of 1962, the Geneva Accords had been signed and Souvanna Phouma the prime minister, agreed that the Russians might come in and support the Pathet Lao so, it was really strange because, here we were at Wattay Airport in Vientiane the capital right on the Mekong River, and an Air America aircraft would take off, ostensibly loaded with rice, but often loaded with what we euphemistically called rusty rice: ammunition and everything else.
And directly behind it or directly in front of it, perhaps, would be a Russian aircraft. Now they didn't even go to the subterfuge of, of calling themselves Air America or anything else. They had the Russian flag painted on the tail with a CCCP on the wings, designating it as a Soviet Union aircraft.
And uh, we would take off in tandem. And they would fly up and, and air drop supplies to their people and we would fly up and air drop supplies to ours. And often we would, would cross each other and sometimes the pilots would wave out the window or wiggle their wings and uh it was essentially a friendly aerial war, at that point in time. But, of course, that didn't get into the newspapers either.

Anecdotes from experiences with Air America

What about the story of the Phantom pilot who was with you in that C-123 and you dive-bombed?
Oh, on one occasion, uh I was uh flying on board a 123 on the way to deliver uh about thirteen thousand pounds of rice to a village. And the pilot on this occasion was an ex-navy fighter pilot who, who was very good. Now, a 123 of course is a twin engine cargo aircraft and, and certainly not uh an F-4 Phantom.
But we were flying along and he happened to glance out his window – I was up in the pilot's compartment with him – and he looked down and through a patch in the clouds we saw a V formation of three Russian cargo aircraft, IL14's, which resemble our C46s, and in a moment of bravado or nostalgia, he said, "Let's get 'em."
And we literally peeled out of the sun, came down right out of the sun as a fighter pilot should, right through this break in the clouds and dove with thirteen thousands pounds of rice in the back right through the middle of this Russian formation and for about two minutes all you could sew was Russian planes going in seven different directions, all trying to get away from this, this crazy American in his cargo airplane.
What about the uh filming when you went on the ground? If you could just tell how you were prevented when you went on the ground to check out the province?
Okay. On one occasion, when I had gone upcountry, because we were having problems with our aerial delivery – things were breaking when they hit the ground – uh, uh and I took a home movie camera along with me, which I'm sure was against uh the regulations but uh, since I was the boss on the scene, there was nobody to tell me "No."
We flew up and landed at this Miao village, right on top of the ridge. But, uh, there was uh a white star team there and there were the Miao going about their daily living routine, including one poor lady who was having ah teeth extracted and uh I wouldn't call it painless dentistry because no anesthetic was used. The guy uh had put a pair of pliers in her mouth and was yanking the tooth out.
But it was a fascinating look at, at the life of people that I had only seen from, from a thousand feet in the air before. And they were quite friendly, uh, the Miao always had uh I think an affinity for the French, and again, for the Americans when we were working with them.

Reflections on American involvement and withdrawal

Summing up, though, if you look back on your eleven years in Indochina, do you think it could have been different, should have been different? What do you think of it all now? This is a question for Dick Ellison's summing up type program.
Well, a lot of people have asked me, saying Earl, you know, you've spent eleven years in the Vietnam War in service in Vietnam and Laos in a number of capacities, how would you sum up the whole thing? And I think, and I've really done a lot of soul-searching on this, I think our, our entry into Vietnam in '61, '62 and in Laos, was really motivated by a perception which our government had, that it was the proving ground for a new Communist technique, these wars of national liberation, that it was orchestrated by the Russians and by the Chinese to use indigenous Communist groups to subvert a country from within, without ever having to send their troops across the border.
And I believe the information which we had at that time, uh, was correct. That that was a technique they were employing. The problem being that we went in with all the American material resources, with the American drive and energy, and we were going to win this war either with these people or in spite of them. If they didn't love their country enough, at least we did and we were going to save it from the Communists.
But, we found, uh to our chagrin, that in our naiveté we believed that we could compensate for the failings of some of the Vietnamese or Laotian government right down to the hamlet chief. That our wherewithal could compensate for the lack of proper administration and for the lack of caring, if you will.
Now this is not unique to Vietnam or Laos. I mean every society in Asia has this distinction between the ruling class and the people who are ruled. They simply do not operate by Western European or American standards. And we did not understand this.
We thought all we had to do was point out to them the error of their ways. Look, you've got to treat these people properly. You've got to send the technicians in. they've got to do the things which only you can do...if you want to save your country, because, if not, they are going to succumb to the Communist influence.
But, generally, they were more interested in their own maintaining their own position and their own ambitions uh in maintaining their family's role. They were not willing to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of their country. Uh, so, we failed.
Now as history may show, uh, we simply were never defeated on a battlefield. I mean no, no major American unit was ever defeated as the French were at Dien Bien Phu. But it was simply that finally, I think President Nixon realized that – and he had made two trips to Vietnam – I had accompanied him on two trips as his guide when he came to Vietnam – he really could see down at the hamlet level, that all the things we were doing simply were not compensating for the lack of local, indigenous government effort on behalf of the population.
And no American military unit, no amount of American...economic assistance would change that. And so uh in the end uh the Vietnamese were, were overtaken uh finally by mass inundation from the North and the Laotians succumbed to some fifty thousand Vietnamese troops in the North and, and their own indigenous Pathet Lao movement.
But I think the results of that you have only to look today. Uh no one is flocking to get into South Vietnam. No one is flocking to get back across the Mekong into Laos. Where has everyone gone?
These people have, have tried to escape. What, half a million refugees from Vietnam have tried to get away? And those were not government supporters who were afraid of a Communist purge. I mean that that may have happened in the first six months after the Communists took over.
But these are people who may have supported the Viet Cong or the Pathet Lao and they now see that the society, that the system which these people imposed upon them, isn't working. And they're quite unhappy with it. So we, we at least we had the right idea, even if we didn't have the technique to accomplish it.
Okay. Cut. Good. Very good. Are you happy?
(Clap sticks).