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Recollections of                        a    Case Officer in Laos,                                               1962-1964
Richard I... HoIm

                                        In    early January 1962, I arrived                    served in Indonesia                dLiring the
                                        in    Vientiane, Laos, for my first                    communist rebellion in the late

                                        assignment with We Central                             1950s, where he had almost
                                        Intelligence Agency. Young                             been captured and                 was    eventu

                                        case      officers like     myself.      has           ally exfiltrated by submarine.
                                        ing completed basic training for                       Lanclry, now Lairs deputy, car
                                        the Clandestine Service              and               ried    a   swagger stick. and it             was

                                        then      paramilitary      (PM) instruc               easy to      picture him handling
                                        tion,     were being sent          out    in           tough       and    dangerous           situations.

                                        support of President Kennedys
                                        decision to hold the line against                      Lair    was      soft-spoken          and   quiet,
                                        communist          expansion. Trying                   hut    one       sensed      a   man    who   was

Young     case     officers   were                                                                                                   When he
                                        to    help   the Laotians maintain                     reflecting        on    issues.
being   sent out in      support        their territorial integrity and                        came        to   conclusions, you knew
 of President        Kennedys           their      independent          govern                 the) were well considered.
decision      to   hold the line        ment wasa              tall order for a new            Landry had a gruff exterior                   hut
                                        officer.      The demand for             quick         was in reality a considerate                  and
  against communist                                                                                                   He worried about
                                        decisionmaking and constant                            caring       man.
expansion in Southeast                  flexibility to handle the unex                         his subordinates,           especially the
Asia]..       a   tall order for    a
                                                                                                kids       he
          .

                                        pected in a war zone proved to                                           was    sending up coun
        new        officer.             he excellent preparation for my                        try.    In their       own       ways. both
                                        long career as a case officer in                       were great guys              and      splendid   to

                                        the field.                                             work for.




                                        Assignment               Laos                          Tribal       Operations

                                        I traveled        to   Vientiane with                  Lao communist                forces, known
                                        threecolleaguesthe                 four of      us     as     the Pathet Lao (PL),             were

                                        had trainedtogether and now                            challenging            the
                                                                                                                govetnments
                                        would serve together in South                          Royal Lao Army (FAR) through
                                        east      Asia.    In the   area   of the              out the country.  Although
                                         airport     reserved for Air America                  badly organized and poorly
                                         operations.       we were        met    by    13i11   trained and equipped, the lL
                                         Lair and Pat          Landry,   among oth             was holstered  by support from
                                         ers.     These officers        were     already       North Vietnam, whose units

                                        legends.          Bill Lair headed the                 were called the VC (Vietnam


                                        Agencys paramilitary               opera               ese     Communists).
                                            tions in Laos.       He had     come       to

                                            Southeast Asia in the          early               The      opposing         forces in Laos         at

                                            1950s and spent         a   decade in              the time also included                  a   rene


Richard L. Holin served          more
                                         Thailand organizing and train                         gade        FAR   captain, Kong Le.
                                            ing   the elite Thai Police group                  who commanded                    an    elite battal
than 35 years in the CIA
Directorate of
                                            called the Police Air Reconnais                    ion ofparachutists. Angered by
                   Operations.
                                            sance   Unit (PARU).         Landry        had     corruption in the FAR, he had




                                                                                                                                                     1
Laos




staged   a   coup in Vientiane in          covert   action    to   holster the     working with different tribal/
1960. When the         coup failed, he     Lao government.         The CIAs        ethnic groups, such                         as    the
had broken      awa\    from the FAR       paramilitary    efforts in Laos                                    the mountainous
                                                                                   Hniong            in

to   form what he called neutral           were   divided    roughly along         north and the Lao in the
ist forces.   This group, known            geographic     lines:   There    werc
                                                                                   lowlands
as the XL,    fought the FAR. hut          separate programs        in   north
not the PL     Of   the VC.                Laos, where I was initially
                                           assigned.     central Laosalso          Although                  the Hmong and the
The United States had         opted   to   known    as   the Panhandle             Lao had           a       common        enemy,          they
use   Agency for International             where I would later be                  did     not      like each other.                  None
Development (AID) programs,                assigned;     and south Laos.
                                                                                   theless, they had their                          own
AID advisers, and ultimately               Each program involved
                                                                                   reasons    workingfor    us                 with
                                                                                   and      objectives were com
                                                                                            their

                                                                                   plementaiy. North Vietnams
                                                                                   primary goal was to make free
                                                                                   use     of    eastern Laos to                    support
                                                                                   its   war      against South Vietnam.
                                                                                   The average tribesman could

                                                                                   not     have          distinguished between
                                                                                   communism and                 capitalism, but
                                                                                   the ethnic groups felt threat
                                                                                   ened         by   the Lao communists

                                                                                   and         their Vietnamese support
                                                                                   ers     and decided                to   fight      to


                                                                                   preserve their autonomy                             and

                                                                                   their territoiy.                 All    they      wanted

                                                                                   from        us    was          financial      and       mate

                                                                                   rial support



                                                                                   The         biggest          and   most active               of
                                                                                   our     programs                was     the      one    in

                                                                                   north Laos supporting the

                                                                                   Hmong tribe.                     Bill Lair struck
                                                                                   the first agreement                     at    a   meeting
                                                                                   with leader                 Vang       Pao in Dccciii

                                                                                   her     1960               For the      Hmong,          it

                                                                                   began more than a                        decade of

                                                                                   fighting and dying.


                                                                                    In 1962, we knew them as the i\le,, and
                                                                                   addressed them thai way rcgu1art~     It
                                                                                   was     simple            ignorance    on   Our   pan        In
                                                                                   later   \ears,        I   as    to discover       that Men
                                                                                   as      a    pejorative terni tin, t me:int sonic
                                                                                   thing       111cc liarharian  in local usage




2
                                                                                                                                                                 Laos




                                                           Although          the         Hmong and
                                                             the Lao had                 a conunon

                                                           enemy, they                   did not like
First Posting                                                                                                  bulldozer, hut I quickly judged
                                                           each other. Nonetheless,
                                                                                                               that some cratering charges
In   mid-Iuly 1962,             Landry
                              Pal                             they had their own                               would       at    least     help.      With such
told   me   thai I       was being                               reasons        for       working              charges,         lanit      predicted that         the
assigned       to    Ban   Na just west               of                    with         us.                   strip would he ready                   in    two

the Plain des jars (PDJ).                   The                                                                weeks.       I cabled         Landry         for the
region    wasquiet, and I was to                                                                               explosives.
concentrate on getting a land

ing strip lengthened. Only                                                                                     The second             day,    Panit showed
single-engine planes or helicop                            operator, and an explosives                         me       the outposts around Ban
ters   could land, and              we     needed          expert. All four could provide                      Na, which formed                  a   semi-circle
it to handle        twin-engine planes.                    basic training, and all             were            facing     the Plaine des Jarres,                  an

I was flown to Ban Na in                        a   sin    jump qualified.           They exuded               area     under the control of the PL
gle-engine Hello-Courier.                       A          confidence and            a   willingness   to      and the KL since               1960.         Each
short-takeoff-and-landing                                  get   things     done.                              outpost had            mortar         and
(STOL) aircraft, the Hello did                                                                                 machinegun emplacements                            and
yeoman service for Air America.                                                                                a   small shelter in which                   sonic

                                                           Settling     In                                     15 Hmong              ate   and   slept.     At
Before    we        departed,       my      pilot                                                              each stop, we looked                    at   maps
introduced          me   to    Panit, the                  Toiengthen the landing strip,                       while the team leader explained
leader of the four-man PARU                                Panit had begun work to                             why the particular outpost was
team    that ~~oulcl          work with             me     remove a big hump in the                            placed where it was.
in Ban Na.          The    team mem                        middle of an adjacent sloping
bers, who had been at Ban                           Na     area.   \Vhen I      arrived, the                   Each site afforded                a   good    view

for three months, had been                                 villagers   were     using hoes and                 of   a   portion of the           western sec

selected from hundreds of                                  shovels    dig
                                                                       to       at the hump and                tion of the plain. The PDJ is a
applicants.         All PARU
                      personnel                            then carrying away the dirt in                      prominent, and unusual, geo
were at least high school gradu                            wicker baskets slung on poles.                      graphic feature in north Laos.
ates, and most spoke a                                     What we really needed was a                         The plateau was so named by

language from a neighboring                                                                    k
country in      addition         to    Thai.
They    were        trained     at a      jungle
camp in central Thailand and
organized like the US Army
Special     Forces.        Counterguer
rilla tactics       were   one      of their
specialties.

In addition to their general
training. PARU personnel all
had specific capabilities
designed       to    enhance small unit
operations.          Panit     was a       weap
ons    man,    which       meant          that he
could handle the whole range
of weapons that we were pro
               the                                                                                                              /-
viding    to          Hmong.              His       team

consisted of         a   medic,       a   radio            Periniezer ourpnst   at   Ban Na. tFhoios courtesy of author.)




                                                                                                                                                                       3
Laos




                                                         We had the                  length         of the
                                                               landing strip                    almost
                                                          doubled in just over two
the French colonialists because                                                                                    Tactical        Activity
                                                          weeks after we received
of the    enormous.               cenniries-old
eanhen jars thai              are    strewn
                                                               the    cratering charges.                           One of the          reasons we          wanted
about it.         Midway          between                                                                          the    longer strip        at   Ban Na        was

Vientiane and the border with                                                                                      so    that    \ve   could    bring      in   more

North Vietnam. the                  plain   cov                                                                    supplies       to    build up Umong
ers   more        than 30 square miles                   Managing my PARU team was                                 defenses        on    the western end of
At that      time, the VC had free                       not difficult, because they knew                          the PDJ.        We sent       out patrols

run    of the    PD.! and truck con                      more about what was going on                              and individual            villagers fre
                                                         than I did            Thai and Lao lan                    quently             watch what the
voys from North Vietnam                                                                                                          to

arrived regularly during the                     dry     guages       are      similar, and the                    enemy         was    doing, and I
season bringing                     types of             1Imong       all     spoke        at   Least basic        reported regularly          to Vientiane.

                                                         Lao in addition to their native
supplies for the             IL    and    KL units
in the    area.                                          tongue. My             most      important role           I had arrived         during         the rainy
                                                         was     to serve as             the link   to Lair        season        when     enemy         mobility
                                                         and    Landry         in Vientiane to                     was greatly          decreased        by
                                                         ensure       that the        villagers and my             impassable          roads.      That       was one
A    Quiet Routine                                       team     received           the supplies that             of the       reasons our        sector was so
                                                         they needed.                This macIc         ale   a    quiet    in    July. The Hniong got
Life in Ban Na featured few                              key    person, and they all knew                          around        easily in the mountains.
highlights. Days    spent     were
                                                         it.                                                       however, which gave                   us    the

                                                                                                                   advantage           until the    next      Thy    sea
working on the hump at the                         air
                                                         I met    regularly with the Nai Ban                       son    started in October              or
strip, training the Hmong, and
                                                         (the    viLLage chicO, who, in this                       November.            We   were        able   to
walking to nearby outposts.
                                                         case,    was         also   a   Nai     }Chong            conduct hit-and-run attacks                       on
Our radio contacts                 kept    us

aware       of de day of the month.                      (chief      of   a   group of          villages),    to   enemy         supply    points with rela
                                                         discuss      supplies.            Because most            tive   impunity.        Our ultimate              goal
Evenings passed quickly.                        We
                                                         of the local           men       had become               was    to    retake the PDJ. thereby
would       sit   around          and    talk, hut
                                                         fighters. agricultural activity                  was      relieving pressure              on   the    Hmong
communications                were       difficult,
                                                         almost       at a     standstill.        There            territoty      all around it.
since only     spoke good
                   Panit
                                                         fore, the village required food
English and none of the PARU
spoke French.                                            supplies regularly                to    augment
                                                         the meager            amounts           They   were       Over the            Hump
                                                         producing.   Periodically. I
Dinner       was       always       an   adven           would send a cable to Landry to                           frue    to    his word, Panit had the
ture         the PARU             strove to                                                                                              and the length
       as
                                                         request a rice drop. Our sys                              hump         removed
prepare things that I would like;                        tem was amazingly efficient. I                            of the       landing strip       almost clou
however, there really was not                            could always count on prompt                              bled in just over two weeks
much choicepieces       of                                                    to my       cables.       Within     after we received the cratering
                                                         responses
chicken or pork (sometimes                               one     or   t~srodays.          sometimes                charges. With the end in sight,
beef    or   horsemeat), boiled                  i-ice   within       hours, the drop               would          the villagers, mostly women,
(because the Thai                  were not       that   arrive.      One hundred to 200                           worked steadily after the
fond of sticky rice), and some                           sacks of rice would land in                      our      charges simplified their task.
kind of green vegetable; all of                          drop zone.             We also received                   The Air America pilot who
it boiled         or   stirfried        over a           drops of uniforms, boots, tools,                          came     to    check      out    the    airstrip
wood fire.             It   was    always spicy,         and whatever else                  was     needed.        gave it his OK            despite      a  clip in
as    both the Thai and the                              Weapons and ammo came by                                  the middle and             an    uphill slope
Hmong         love red peppers.                          Helio, chopper, or parachute.                             to    the whole strip.            Rolling




4
                                                                                                                                                                             Laos




                                                                    We knew about the
                                                                    corruption, but few
                                                                   Americans wanted to
uphill after landing would help
                                                              take      on       the         job    of trying
planes stop, he said, and going
downhill         on   rake off        was       also     a
                                                                            to   control it.
plus.

The Ban Na scrip could now
handle the Caribou, a Canaclian
made STOL aircraft with great
       at low speeds.
stability              It could
land       on   strips   not   much            longer         hustle and bustle evident                     in

than those needed                by    the      Hello,        many pans of the                 city.
hut, with        two     engines and             a

rearopening              ramp,   it    had      a
                                                              Lao    politics       at   the time would
much greater             payload. Bring                       have been grist for Shakes
ing   it   into Ban Na meant                   getting
                                                              peares        mill:    a       king   without
more       supplies       the PDJ,
                          closer      to
                                                              power,  royal princes working
a strategic step forward.   A few
                                                              toward  conflicting goals, cor
days later, the first Caribou
                                                              rupt politicians selling influence
landed without             problems            at    Ban
                                                              and position, and military offic
Na.     The      pilot    said that he had
                                                              ers manipulating the system.
room to         spare.
                                                              Mainly        because of the infusion
                                                              of aid funds and                supplies      com
                                                                                                                          Author      at   Phou Song, with the H n~ong
                                                              ing      Laos, there was a lot of
                                                                     into                                                 ~i!!~gu   Ie:ider
Back to Vientiane
                                                              money   to he made in Vien

                                                              tiane. Grati and corruption
In less than three weeks. I had                                                                                           ourselves             as   supporting         US
                                                              thrived.  Working discreetly
adapted quickly             to   the routine                                                                              policy       and       we       believed in it.
                                                              (sometimes openly.) with Lao
and knew the              sector      well, has
                                                              politicians and military officers,
ing walked all            over   it.       I   was
                                                              foreign merchants siphoned off                              When I walked into Pat Lan
absorbed in and enjoying my
                                                              huge sums of official money.                                thys      office,          he asked         if I hat!
work, and felt like I was con
                                                                                                                          ever      heard of Phou Song.                      I had
tributing something tangible                         to

                                                                                                                          not, and he                     id that it
an    important objective.                     But   a        In retrospect,             a   greater under                                           sa                was

cable      came       ordering     inc         back      to   standing       of what           was     going     on       north of Ban Na.                      Our program
Vientiane for            reassignment.                        in Laos       might have enabled                   us       was       expanding                 into that area,
                                                              to   work      effectively and
                                                                             more                                         antI he needed                      me   up there to
The capital city was quite a                                  perhaps would have spared                                   keep things organized.                         Phou
change. Primarily inhabited by                                some of the pain that the coun
                                                                                                                          Song also had                   a   1~ARU team for
Lao lowlanclers who comprised                                 fly experienced. We knew                                                 work with.                  Al though the
                                                                                                                          me     to
the majority of the 3 million                                 about the corruption, hut few
                                                                                                                          area      was         quiet,         he acknowl
inhabitants of the country, Vien                              Americans wanted to take                       on
                                                                                                                          edged        that he            was      worried
tiane also had large numbers of                               the    job of trying            to    control it.       I
                                                                              involved in                                 about what the P1, units                       nearhy
foreigners, including Chinese,                                was    fully                            our   pro
                                                                                                                          had              their minds.              Anti,   with
Indian, Thai. Vietnamese, and                                 gram and considered                           effort
                                                                                                      our                           on


French. These foreigners,                                     as    something apart                 from the              that, Landry said that I                     was    to

mostly merchants, created                        the          mess     in the capital.               We   saw             leave in          a   few hours.




                                                                                                                                                                                    5
Laos




                                                                    Communist units had
                                                                    moved into the valley
                                                                      that we had come
Phon Song                                                                                                               that could         he covered in less
                                                               through.             We    were cut            off.                               round trip.
                                                                                                                        than    two    days,
                                                                                                                        More than that took           too much
The accommodations                         at   Phou
                                                                                                                        of my time.
Song    turned           out to he         similar        to

Ban Na, hut the setting                         was     sur
                                                                                                                        These trips        s\rere   especially
prisingly       different.
                    Again,                         I
                                                                                                                        challenging.            From Phou         Song,
found myself watching a Helio
                                                                                                                        the hulk of the          walking         ~~as

depart, leaving me. this time, in                              Flying.      .   .
                                                                                    and   Walking                       strentiousit            was   either tip            or
a Hinong village high on a                                                                                                                                        the
                                                                                                                        down.      Moreover, it            was
mountain in north Laos.                          Phou          My work at Phou Song was                                 middle of the rains                season,      and

Song     was   bigger than Ban Na.                             more demanding than at Ban
                                                                                                                        the    frequent       rainstorms macIc
It   occupied less than a third of                             Na. Besides the routine things                           the mountain trails            muddy            and
     large, Flat area more than half                           like logistics and training. I had                                       The first times
a
                                                                                                                        slippery.                                 out
                                                               to move around constantly       I
way up the mountain for which                                                                                           were    real tests.         Everyone           was

it was named. It was near the                                  would cable Landiy explaining                                                        how the for
                                                                                                                        watching        to see

edge of a precipitous drop into                                that I had       to   go to this or that
                                                                                                                        eigner would ha nclle the traits.
the valley. Because of the large                               village and needed a Hello for                           Suspecting that I would have a
                                         and helnncl           the clay, and early the next                             hard time, they macIc it as easy
open space next                     to
                                                               morning,         one   would        arrive.
the village, Phou  Song had a                                                                                           as possible for me.  I took no
                                                               Prasert     frequently        went       with
large drop zone and a landing                                                                                           pack, just my weapon and web
                                                               me.    but, after I got        to    know the
strip that could easily accomino                                                                                        belt. The small 1-Imong sol
                                                               region,     I sometimes ivent alone.
date twin-engine STOL aircraft                                                                                          diers carried packs plus their
                                                               On those occasions              a    lot                                         food and
Thanks         to   the AID program.                                                                                    weapons         and                     water.

there    was        a    warehouse for                 stor
                                                               depended          on   the   availability           of
                                                               French (or sometimes                 even
ing    rice,    clothing,            and other
materiel that                                          clis
                                                               Englisif) speakers.                                      An     Emergency Situation
                          was regulai~ly
 ributed       to       nearby villages.
                                                               In the    villages      that I visited,         we       Short lv after I got               Phou
                                                                                                                                                    Song,
                                                                                                                                                      to

                                                               would talk about what              nearby                I scheduled    planea    take me   to
Phou Song was more secure
                                                               enemy units            were    doing and                 to three villages in our region.
than Ban Na because the only                                   about needs of all kinds.                   \Ve          At the second village, a col
approaches               to   it   were    easy to             su   ppliecl everything         from
                                                                                                                        league was waiting for inc. He
monitor and block.                       The
                                                               weapons and ammunition
                                                 near                                                         to        said    that   a   Helio had gone
est   PL camps               were at       the far             schoolbooks, medicines,                    rice          down      and    pilot might
                                                                                                                                           that the
end of the          valley and on the                          and salt,     uniforms, building                         beinjured. Members of a
other side          from our village.                          materials, and                           For
                                                                                       nionev.
                                                                                                                        Hmong patrol thought that they
The majority of the men from                                   some     of these       things,      I   was             had    seen     where the Helio hit
the area were fighters. Phou                                   simply the middleman making                              the    side    of the mountain.                This
Song was a focal point for our                                 arrangements for an AID                                  was a     serious situation.              IF    a

programs efforts in the area.                                  delivery     to a      given   village.                  plane    chopper went clown.
                                                                                                                                 or

The PARU Leader, Prasert, and                                                                                           every possible effort would
his team members were quite                                    Somettmes,   no plane was avail                          immediately he made to rescue
friendly.           The       cain       and I    occu         able   or   the
                                                                           place I was going                            those aboard.            We all knew that

pied two            houses          near    the                had no landing strip, so L would                         ifsomething happened, our col
warehouse               at    the    edge       of the         take a Hmong patrol and a cou                            leagues would come after us.
airstrip.       I   quickly          decided that I            ple of the lARU and walk. We                             We decicted to lead                a   Hmong
liked Phou Song.                                               limited     these walks         to    distances          patrol    to    Ihe crash site.          I wrote




6
                                                                                                                                                                                    Laos




a   note    informing Landrv                             of   our      confident that I could handle                            his emergency lineofsight
decision         and       gave it             to    my                whatever        might       come        up   and         radio. The pilot must have had
Hello      pilot   to       deliver.                                   felt   sure    that the        patrol     would          his mike open because lie
                                                                       succeed.                                                 picked         us   up     right   away.       But

Eight Hmong accompanied                                       us.                                                               we        received        more     had   news.

There      was     a       sense          of urgency.                  The next        day   we        started climb            Intelligence          reporting available
\Ve maintained                  a   fairly   fast pace                 ing again.          Two        1-Iniong had left         in Vientiane indicated that PL

and took few                rests.         The (list                   at   daybreak        to   do     a   reconnais           units had moved into the  villey
couple of hours                     we     headed                      sance     above       us.       As   we    pushed        that      we   had through. We
                                                                                                                                                          come

downhill toward the                            \riIle)r                ahead,        I was struck           by   how            were cut off. Taking no
below            The Hmong                     thought                 much      we    depended             on    the           chances, Landry planned to get
that the         plane      was           on     the far               Hmong. We had no idea where                              us out by helicopter as soon as

side of the mountain in Front of                                       the plane might he and no                                possible.
us.    There       were         PL positions                           landmarks           to use      to   get there
near    there,     so       a   chopper res                            or     hack.    They       realized       the    situ

cue was          not       feasible.                                   ation, but they also counted on                          Evasion and                Escape
                                                                       us for the support we could call

The     jungle     on        the      valley             floor         in. There was great mutual                               It took        us   10 minutes         to retrace

was     thick.     There             was            a   trail of       trust    and respect.                                    our steps to a clearing higher
sorts, hut the              undergrowth                       had                                                               up and put out a mark-erthe
almost closed in.                     \Ve had to                       An hour        or   so    after
                                                                                                     we started,                patrol leader had one in his
cross      the   rid head up
                  valley        a                                      the     two scouts        reappeared. I                  pack that he used when receiv
the mountain in Front of us.                                           could tell      by    their faces that the               ing parachute drops while on
Despite the terrain,                      we            man            news      was    bad.          They talked               patrol. One Hmong was posted
aged     to traverse                the    area          in less       excitedly       with the         patrol leader           on I      lie trail just above the clear
than    two       hours.                                               and then he gave it to us in                             ing with        instructions to           come

                                                                       French. The pilot was dead                               running         when he          saw     the   chop
At mid-afternoon.                     we        started           to   he had        probably         died   on     impact      per.       None of         us    wanted the
climb.      We     were             having              no             as     the front of the          plane       was         helicopter           to   stay   on the ground

trouble      keeping                tip   s~ff      Ii the             smashed in.           There had been                     for    more         than   a    couple of
Hmong.            \Ve climbed for about                                no fire. They had                hidden the              minutes.
three hours until almost                                night          pilots body away                 from the
fall, and then started looking for                                     crash site.                                              We called the l-lelio and                    they
a  place to spend the night. We                                                                                                 told      us   that the        pilot   was     en

came       to a    clearing               and           saw   a        The     two    had activity far
                                                                                             seen                               route  and would he in position
hut   at   the far end.                   It   was        aban         below theni that caused them                        to   in five or 10 minutes. As soon
doned, and             we       moved in.                              think     a   PT. unit     might      he     mov         as    a   Ia rge clou ci fil ledl the          ~a   I
                                                                       ing up the mountain from the                             Icy and obscured vision, the
That    night,     I did not fall                       asleep         opposite direction to check out                          chopper caine in. We heard it
right   away.          I   thought              about                  the crash site.           \Ve had         no     idea    beforewe saw it. The pilot
where I          was       and what I                   was            J10~~r many PL   ight he com
                                                                                                 ni                             hugged the side of the moun
doing.       I   was       more           isolated            and      ing, hut prudence dictated a                             tain, then swung around and
vulnerable than I had                          ever       been,        retreat. We started hack, aijcl                          touched down right in die mid
but I was doing what I defi                                            the walking was easy because                             dle of theclearing. He even
nitely thought was right. I felt                                       we     were     headed down and                          had the door  facing us. The Air
lucky to have the chance that                                          around the mountain.                      Then     we    America pilots were truly out

only a few ever have of actually                                       heard the welcome sound of                          a    standingthey had incredible
making a difference. I was                                             Hello.        My colleague pulled                  out   skills and guts.




                                                                                                                                                                                        7
Laos




                                                                        .
                                                   We took             our     losses           even

                                                     in those           early days...
                                                   but     we      got the job done.
Concern and Relief                                                                                             remained     at Long Tieng, Vang

                                                                                                               Paos     headquarters, to monitor
Although          it made   perfect       sense
                                                                        ,,                                     the situation.
at   the time,       we had gone off on
what       turned    out to be an unau                                                                         Initially,        Landry moved
                                                                                                                             Lair and
thorizecl dangerous mission. If                    us.    In the      end, he     was       so                 their program  headquarters to
an Agency officer were to fall                     relieved that        we were          hack                  Nong Kliai, just across the
into enemy hands, there would                      safely    that he did        not     yell     at us.        Mekong River in Thailand. To
he hell      to  Washington. A
                  pay in                                                                                       get there from Vientiane,                   one

lot of nervous people had been                                                                                 could take a fiveminute                 flight
following developments when it                     Withdrawal            Preparations                          or   catch     a   ferry   across    the
became known the night before                                                                                  riverthe           ferry   was   just   a    small
that we were out looking for                       I spent    a   few additional weeks                         tug-like craft with an under
the downed pilot.                                  in Phou        Song working           to                    powered engine. The arrival of~
                                                                                                               the gaggle of foreigners was a
                                                   expand     our      program.         But time
Lair and       Landry      were    wailing         soon ran out on us.                 As   a   result         jolt to what had been a sleepy
for   us     in Vientiane.      They               of                 decisions in Wash                        little town The local popula
                                                      political
looked relieved and               happy      to
                                                   ington relating        to    the 1962                       tion adjusted quickly, however,
see    us.    Lair   suggested      that           Geneva Protocol             on      the Neu                 and welcomed the boost that
~nxt tinie           it would     not   be                                                                     our  presence gave to the econ
                                             a
                                                   trality of Laos, word came that
had idea       to   wait for instructions.         we were to he withdrawn froi~                               oniy. Among other things, the
                                                   Laos.2                                                      sale of Singha beer jtinipecl
His    typically      low key comment                                                                          noticeably.
belied the          concern   and the              This   was     a   bitter   pill.    All of       our

responsibility he felt very                        observations and reporting had                              lidorn,       a    much     larger   Thai

strongly. We were two of the                       indicated that the VC had no                                town      about 50 kilomejers fur
eight young American officers                      intention of        pulLing    any of their
                                                                                                               ther south, had a large airport
for whom he           was    accountable.          units out of Laos.            To the con                    with a long concrete runway
These young officers              were                                                                         built    by   AID.      l.Jclorn became            a
                                                   trary, their activittes,            especially
spread        thinly and worked                    in east-central Laos,            were                       major     US airbase and             staging
hardwe            would     not   have had                                                                     area    for combat and             supply
                                                   increasing. Despite the evi
ii any other way.            We took         our   dence that we had provided,                                 flights    into Laos in support of
losses       even    in those     early            the State Department was deter                              US efforts to         support the           Lao

daysboth Agency officers and                       mined to live by the conditions                             government.       Eventually, in
the pilots who were supporting                     of the Protocol that Ambassa                                early    1963. Lair and Landry
us     But     we    got the job done              dor Harriman had              signed.                       moved their program head

                                                                                                               quarters to a new facility in                  a

Friends, who worked directly                                                                                   restricted-access compound                     at
                                                   My fellow          Agency officers and                  I
with Landrv in the office, later                                                                               Udorn airbase.              Their effort
                                                   arguedsuccessfully,                  it turned
told    me    that he had been genu                                it would he wrong to
                                                                                                               had grown too large to he
                                                   outthat
inely      concerned and really torn               leave the Hntong          high and dry.                     managed out of a rented house
as    the situation        developed.         On                                                               in Nong Khai.
                                                   Two advisers          discreetly
the    one     hand, he      was    frus
trated and irritated that               we   had                                                               Meanwhile, in late September
made the decision             on    our      own    See   Declaration and Protocol              on   the       1962, Landry told me that I
to    leave with the       patrol. He              Neutrality of Laos, 23 july 1962, Ameri                     would be           taking   over     their
                                                   ca,i Foreign Policy- Ci,nt,zt Docunie,,is
knew that it          would be danger              /962 (\Thshington. DC US Government                         project    in the      Panhandle, which
ous.       But he     also was proud of            Printing Office. 1963), p. 1075                             \\as    in its     early stages.      The




8
                                                                                                                                                             Laos




North Vietnamese                  were        occupy       I spent almost 20 months oper                        port     or   other identification.           No

ing    and    exploiting           a   large    chunk      ating out of Nakhon                  lhanom.         one, least of all the border oFfi
of   eastern       Laos, and           we     needed       During that time, no                  one   ever     cials,    ever     questioned        me    about
information             exactly
                       on                 what             asked     me      what I       was    doing.         what I        was   doing.
they    were       doing. The             Panhan           My    coveradvisor               to   the Bor
die    area   stretches from just north                    cler Policewas                 hackstopped           Almost all Thais           were      con

of Thakhek,            a   small Lao           town        only minimally,           hut     no    one          cerned about the communist
on the Mekong River. to about                              seemed           too   worried.       Without        threat.       They welcomed            our

midway between Savannakhet                                 fanfare,      I had moved from                       support and          resources and           were

and Pakse to the south.                        It is       being assigned to Laos to being                      eager      to     help   in any way.         Both
bounded        on      the    west       by    the         assigned in Thailand. The                            of my ii~ai assisrantsJimmie~
Mekong,        which is also the bor                       Agency took care of all the                          and Mr. Ambrose, an inter
der with       Thailand,           and      on      the    paperwork so I was not illegal.                      preterwere good                 at   their
east   by     the Annamite mountain                                                                             work  The sixman                PARU       team

range, which forms the border                              As the VC         violations of (he 1962             looked        a   lot like the PARU I had
with North Vietnam.                                        Protocol increased and                 were          ~~roi.keci with in Laos.             I also had

                                                           verified by photography                 and          a   houseboy         named Whet.             This

                                                           signals intelligence, Ambassa                        was      to be my staff, and           we    got
I   was   surprised.              I had       not
                                                           dor Harriman finally conceded                        along      well.
expected          to   get   a    project        to

handle                                                     that the communists               were not
              on   my own, and the
prospect was appealing I                                   abiding by the rules. Accord
would he working with ethnic                               ingly, restrictions on our                           Turnover            Briefing
Lao, and the                                               activities gradually loosened.
                   objective was to
collect      intelligence on the VC.                       Early in my tour at Nakhon Pha                       Much of my first            clay     was   spent
The operation was in the pro                               nom, I would have my team                            checking equipment, signing
cess of shifting its headquarters
                                                           leaders      come to      Thailand          to met   the required forms about gear

from Thakhek,                to    Nakhon Pha              with    me.       Then,    I   began        mak      and administrative matters,

norm across            the    Mekong             in        ing trips        into Laos at     night.             and      looking     around Nakhon

Thailand.                                                  Finally,     I   began    to cross      the          Phanom.            The
                                                                                                                                    clay, my
                                                                                                                                         next

                                                           river into Laos          regularly during            predecessor          walked
                                                                                                                                     me through

                                                           the   day.        I never carried       a    pass-   the operational aspects of my

The Panhandle                     Project

Nakhon Phanorn                    was     a   quiet,
pretty    town         of several thousand
inhabitants.           Some streets                 were

paved.    general store, a few
              A
small shops, the towns only
restaurant, and some govern
ment      offices      were        clustered
around what   appeared to he a
central square. My house was
near the airport. which had a

laterite runway capable of
taking large cargo planes. Thai
Airways flights arrived twice
weekly from Bangkok.                                       Lao   Panhandle, of increasing stralegic irnporiance     to   North \ieinani,




                                                                                                                                                                    9
Laos




                                                            Myl       seven teams               varied
                                                                in si2e from 15                men      to
                                                                     more            than 100.
responsibilities, beginning                     with                                                         Two passes     through the Anna
the location of each PM                     team                                                             mites    provided access for roads
and his     opinions about the                                                                               to and     from Vietnam.               From the
iiiixecl   bag of team leaders.                                                                              Thakhek          area    in   western        Laos,
Mr.   Ambrose, who interpreted                             level oftraining varied widely                    Route 8 followed the tipper
at   each meeting with the                     team        from team to team, depending                      edge     of the Nakav Plateau                  and

leaders, also             knew them well                   on the quafity and skills of the                  headed      to    \Tietnam through the
and     was     to   he     a    great   help    in        team     leader.         Each member had          Nape     Pass.      Beginning in the
the months               to come.                          atleast rudimentary weapons                       same a rca,        Route 12 moved

                                                           trainingall were armed and                        eastward    along the bottom of
This intioductory                 briefing took            had unifonus and boots.                We         the    Nakay Plateau and through
the ~hole         day.           Maps were                 also   supplied           medicines and           the Mu Gia Pass.               Further south,

everywhere. I became mu                                    rice by airdrop. All were paid                    Route 9     headed            east    from
mately familiar with the                                   more than Lao military person                     Savannakhet and                ran    straight
geogiaphic coordinates of many                             nel   Pay was according to rank                   across    the Panhandle,               touching
places in central Laoswithin                               or position.  The team leader                     South Vietna        ni    just below the
months I could cite from                       mem         received cash and then distrib                    demarcation line               at    the 17th

ory the coordinates of               specific              uted the pay             to his group. Each       parallel.        Route 13, the          only
towns      or    road       junctions. From                team     bad        a   radio and stayed in       northsouth         road in the Panlian
north      to   south,       I   was    briefed       on   regular (usually daily)             contact       dIe, stretched all the way from
each    teaiii       that   we     were        sup         with     us.    Two of        our   PARU          Vientiane to Pakse, following

porting. My predecessot. \\rho                             were     radio operators, and they                the Lao side of the Mekong
had started the project from                               maintained              the base station for      River.     These roads all had
scratch, had been obliged to                               our    project.                                   crushed laterite surfaces, but
work closely with Lao military                                                                               none     were      reliable for         year

officeis. who             were     also    a   mixed                                                         round travel,           primarily because
hagall          corrupt          to sonic                  Evolving             Mission                      of    flooding during               the rainy

degree.         The       team     leaders, often                                                            sea son.

nominated            by     ilie   military     com        The 17th            parallelthe      deniarca
mander of            a   given     area.    tended         tion line between North and                       Decisionniakers in  Washington
to   be former military officers                           South Vietnamtouched                   the        had  already begun discussing
~~rhoallegedly had retired.                                southeastern             edge   of the Lao        strategic options for cutting the
Some  were refugees who had                                tian Panhandle                This chunk of       North Vietnamese supply route
been Nai Khongs or Nai Hans                                territory       was      of strong strategic      through Laos. One proposal by
from key villages in the areas                             interest       to    the North.     At the        the US military entailed                 fortify
where they were now monitor                                time I arrived, the United States                 ing and defending                   Route    9,
ing enemy activities                                       was just beginning to grapple                     which     ran     straight      across       the
                                                           with the importance of North                      Panhandle.          However,
Team members                     were    all local         Vietnamese control and                use    of   Washington policyniakers
villagers. Sonic had been dis                              the network of dirt roads              and        rejected the militarys proposal.
placed by the communist                                    trails running along the eastern
takeover of the areas along the                            side of the Panhandle from                        Generally speaking, those of                       us

border with North \Tietnain,                               north     to    south, later widely               on the ground at the time

while others              were     from     areas          known          as   the Ho ChiMinh                believed that trucks                 were

along      the   Mekong.             Some had              Trail.                                            limited     to    the Frenchbuilt              road

been in the FAR.                   The    seven                                                              system for transporting                  any

teams      varied in size, from 15                         The Frenchbuilt               road network        thing in the Panhandle.                     We
men     to more           than 100.         The            in the Panhandle              was   sparse.       would      conic        to know        better.




10
                                                                                                                                                                    Laos




Even     as   early      1962, the North
                        as                                 those sites,    especially since I                          anticipated,       sonic       reacted       more

Vietnamese           were building and                     would he      working from the                              favorably than others.                 It   was

improving roads               between Route                Thai     side of the Mekong. But                            about     a    5050    split.       Those who
12 and Route 9 that would                       soon       with     goals and a plan, we                               hesita ted, genera fly liked the
take truck convoys.                 Moreover,              would be moving from                  a                     security and comfort of living
during        the dry season,            jeeps             passive organizational stage                    into        near     the Mekong. well inside
and sometimes trucks                     cou   id          a   much mOre active            and       risky             Lao     government-controlled
move      overland off the limited                         effort.                                                     areas,    and/or genuinely feared
i-cad network.                                                                                                         moving clandestinely                 into

                                                           During      my first nionth in                              enemycontrolled                areas    to   the

Sitting    in Nakhon Phanoni. I                            Nakhon       Phanom,      I met       with all              east.    It became clear that mtich

quickly       realized that tile Trail                     but   one    of the     team    leaders.                    cajoling and motivating, or                  lea iii

\iJas    problem. My goal
        the                                                Each made the           journey       to   Tha              leader changes. would he
became to position tennis at key                           khek and then crossed                 over to               required       10 move         those    ieaiiis

points in the easternmost parts                            Nakhon Phanom.               These        meet              to   the watch sites.              I knew that
of the Panhandle              to    clandes                ings became        at   least     monthly                   several would report                 promptly
tinely    monitor all traffic          along               events, ones       that the leaders                         to   their Lao     military         contacts,
the     roads      and trails      being used              rarely    missed because           they         col         and     I could    expect questions
by    the VC after           they   entered                lected their     payroll     at    the     same             from the latter        concerning            what
Laos via       one      of the     two
                              passes                       time. Using this as leverage, I                             I was    doing.
through        the Annamites. To do                        was gradually able to develop a

that, I knew that I would have                             personal relationship with each                             I decided that it             was   time to

to train, motivate, and support                            one.                                                        brief Lair      a ndL;indry in derail
the     villager/soldier           members of                                                                          about my        plans for the project.
my teams           so   that elie~       would             At those first meetings, I spent a                          I told them that if            we    were

take the risks          required         to move           lot of time briefing each leader                            going   get some useful intelli
                                                                                                                                 to

into enemy-controlled areas and                            on    our   collective mission             to               gence, we needed teamswith
radio back reports to our base                             estahlish road-watch              sites.     As I           radiospositioned a lot further
statld)n. None of the teams had
previously          been located in                 posi
tions that enabled systematic
                                                                                                                                               V.,
                                                                                                                                                                     :~p
                                                                                                                                                      ~
intelligence         collection      -
                                          Some
intelligence      being pro
                     was

vided, but it was sporadic and
of minimal use, coming prima
rily from random patrols and
villager debriefings.


Panhandle               Planning                                                                                                                                          ~
Looking        at my maps, it was not

hard     to   select the points where                                                                                                                                     A

I wanted to establish road-
watch sites.            The   Nape        and Mu
Cia passes          were      obvious
locations, hut it would he
difficult,     I   knew,      to   get    teams to         ltainv   season niovenieni   ot   supplies      in   the Panhandle




                                                                                                                                                                          11
Laos




east.   I showed them the sites I                     Approval             from the Chief                     background and then about the
had selected      at   the   Nape    and                                                                      project in the Panhandle. 1-lis
Mu Gia Passes.         I said that I                  Early      the      next   morning, I flew              questions revealed that lie
thought   we    could get daily                       to   Vientiane           to seethe chief                already had a good idea what
reports   on   what was moving                        there, Charles Whitehursi,                   or         the problems were and a feel
into Laos via the passes and                              Whitey,         as   lie   was   widely             for what it           was    like     to   deal with
also would he able           to   identify            known.           About 40. he had             quite     Laotians.         Savvy         about Head
which portions were headed                            a history.           A   semipro baseball               quarters. lie advised me on
straight to Son th Vietnam.                           pLayer in           his youth, he ended                 what I should emphasize in my

                                                      up in OSS in World War II. He                           cable. After reviewing the draft
Landry knew little about the                          parachuted into North Vietnam                           and suggesting a few changes,
infant project in central Laos,                       with       a   team      of commandos,                  he decided it should he sent to
but I piqued his interest. We                         intending to             blow up a key                  Headquarters immediately. It
spent a couple of hours going                         bridge between                 Vietnam and              ~~as late when I left Whiteys
over specifics.  I told him about                     China.         That mission           was   aban        house, but I was elated by what
my meetings with each team                            doned when the                  war   ended             had transpired.
leader and outlined what             we               before the           plan      could be     car

had,      by team, showing
        team                                          ried      Pragmatic, smart, and
                                                                out.                                          Less than         a   week later,           thndry
him each teams location. I was                        unpretentious, Whitey handled                           cabled      me        in Nakhon Phanoni

pleased that he was so inter                          the varied programs with                                to   say that Headquarters had
ested and impressed with the                          aplomb.   Lair and Landw had                            agreed    to the concept, the goals,

depth    of the   questions he                        come to          like him, and that           was       and the plan itself. 1-Ic sounded
posed    Finally, lie told me to                      certainly good enough                  for    tue.      happy, and I sure was. The
draft a cable to CIA Headquar                                                                                 new project had been given an

ters outlining the prolect.                           That       night,    before dinner           at   his   official cryptonym for use iii
                                                      house, Whitey and                 I talked in           cable traffic: Henceforth it
                                                      general          terms, first about my                  wouLd he known                   as   HARD-
                                                                                                              NOSE.       Landrv and I both
                                                                                                              thought      it   was       a   good crypt.



                                                                                                              Making        HARDOSE Work


                                                                                                              In  early 1963, my activities were
                                                                                                              still circumscribed by US sup

                                                                                                              port for the Geneva Protocol.
                                                                                                              Nonetheless, meetings                       with my
                                                                                                              team    leaders started            produce
                                                                                                                                                     to

                                                                                                              results     and       I   stepped them up.

                                                                                                              To   improve              my access, I        trav

                                                                                                              eled   to Mukdahan, the Thai
                                                                                                              town    across the Mekong from

                                                                                                              Savannakhet. for meetings with
                                                                                                              two team leaders operating in

                                                                                                              the southern Panhandle.                       As
                                                                                                              constraints     eased, I slipped                into
Road-watchag   team    seIect~ng obsenaiion   aite   in   the   ea,tern   Ianhandte.
                                                                                                              Laos at     night for additional



12
                                                                                                                                                    Laos




                                                   Getting agreement from
                                                     team       leaders]        to move
                                                    their teams in enemy-
meetings with my            team    leaders                                                           urine and excrement from the
                                                    controlled areas to the
to   discuss   logistics, training,                                                                   National Zoo and manufac
reporting, communications, and                      east was         always touchy.                   tured    a   substance that
team location.  Getting agree                                                                         resembled and sniellecl like
ment to move          their   teams into                                                              what the          tigers produced. But
enemy-controlled areas to               the                                                           it did not fool the         dogs in the
east was always touchy.                                                                               Panhandle of Laos.

                                                   VC Countermeasures
Moving     eastward made it            even

more     difficult than usual         to con
                                                                                                      HABDNOSE              Headway
                                                   In about mid-1963, the VC
firm   team    locations      and   often    we
                                                   became increasingly aware that
                                                                                                      As the months            passed,    our
just had   to rake their word for it.
                                                   our teams were watching them
                                                                                                      teams     became         more   aggressive
Sometimes       we    could     use   collat       and began using countermea                         and    more       effective.     Stay away
eral information       to   double-check
                                                   sures. They patrolled areas                        from the enemy,             was     the       mes
reporting from        our teams.        If   we
                                                   along the roads that they were                     sage I    preached        to all   of my
had overhead coverage of the
                                                   using and planted spies in the                     teams.       None had any           problem
ML! GiaPass, for example, we                       villages    in the   area.    Our teams
                                                                                                      with that concept. Find a spot
could cross-check it with report                   sometimes    discreetly purchased                  away from the road hut with
ing from a team on the ground                      food  locally, which occasion                      clear   vision,      on a   hill   or   bluff.
along    Route 12.      Our     colJeagues         ally proved dangerous. If                          if   possible,      and stay hidden.
in Udorn often did this for             us.    I
                                                   discovered by a VC patrol, our                      Rotate small         teams     from      a
was always pleased            when     our
                                                   teams could only run.     They                     base camp every             couple       of
team reported trucks            on a   partic      lacked the  firepower to stand                     days. and always stay out of
ular road and air coverage on                      and  fight. In the later 1960s                     sight. Move at night. Noth
the same day confirmed the                         that changed as bigger teams
                                                                                                      ing particularly brilliant, just
position of the convoy. Occa                       with heavy firepower were
                                                                                                      common sense, and slowly it
sionally, independent reports                      inserted.
                                                                                                      started      to   ~ork
from villagers could also he used
to   confirm    our   road-watch
                                                   The VC sometimes used sniffer                      We handed out            cameras         and
reporting.
                                                   clogs, which caused lots of                        trained      team    members
                                                                                                                                 photo    to

                                                   problems.        One of the reports                graph passing traffic. We also
Food     drops   also served          to con       that   we   forwarded        to   Udorn            produced laminated plastic
firm   team    locations.       No    drop         and  Headquarters mentioned                        cards identifying various kinds
was    made unless the proper                      that the presence of tigers in a                   of trucks and other vehicles to
signal was displayed in the                        given area appeared to make a                      systematize the reporting
drop zone, and the team had to                     difference. The VCs dogs                           terminology.
be there to display the correct                    seemed      to   be less effective if
signal. We changed the signals                     the) smelled tiger          excrement         or   From the          spring of 1963
periodically to keep the teams                     urine.      We had    no    way of                 onward,       our    coverage of the Ho
attention. They definitely                         knowing if this was true. At                       Chi Minh road and trail                 net

wanted     to receive       the rice and           F-Ieadqtiarters. an office in the                  work in the          eastern    Panhandle
supplies    and   were      careful about          Directorate of Science and                         of Laos increased           steadily       in
the coordinates they gave and                      Technology decided to try to                       quantity and quality.              In addi
the signals they were to use.                      produce a countermeasure.                          tion to the daily reports that we
Later, when      teams were          inserted      Years    later, when    I    was    about     to   received  by radio, sve started
by   chopper, we knew exactly                      retire, I learned that the office                  getting cassettes of film, which
~~here   they were.                                had    analyzed samples            of tiger        we sent to Udorn.    Our photo




                                                                                                                                                       13
Laos




                                                       The teams took                   photos     of
                                                          enemy            patrols, trucks,
                                                                bicycles,         and    even
coverage became pretty good.                                                                               appeared.        Landrv handled all
                                                               elephants          laden with
Some of it was useful in con                                                                               the financial and administrative
firming    \TC presence, which led                     sacks and         on the Ho
                                                                            cans
                                                                                                           aspects of the project for              me.

to   further relaxation of the                                   CM Minh Trail].
restrictions      on our activities.                                                                       At the end of       fly briefing, he
The    teams    photos of
                 took                                                                                      surprised       me by saying that he
enemy patrols, tnicks, bicycles.                                                                           wanted     to   ask Headquarters to
and even elephants laden with                                                                              extend my assignment until the
                                                       support  or logistics. In turn,
sacks and        cans                                                                                      summer of 1964, making it a
                                                       they provided transport,                            full twoyear tour. I had to
                                                       approved landings at airstrips                      think a minute before respond
As the situation            changed.            was
                                                       for resupply purposes. and
able    to cross       the river       more      fre
                                                        selected              for
                                                                                                           ing. Africa Division was
                                                                      men           our teams.
quently     and travel         by day                                                                      expecting me hack. But I was
instead of       at   night.      I   saw      the
                                                                                         had               enjoying my work and felt like I
                                                        In late spring,       Landry             me
senior Lao        Army officers move                    crime    to   Udorn for discussions.
                                                                                                           was     making       a   contribution.        So

regularly,       but primarily for rea                                                                     I said yes.
                                                        I-Ic   was    expecting     a   senior
sons     of courtesy.          We did not
                                                        visitor from        Headquarters and
discuss what           our   teams were                                                                    For the remainder of               1963. the
                                                        wanted        an   update on HARD-
doing,     hut they         had
                            good  a                                                                        Laos program,             including    my
                                                        NOSE.        At that point. I was
idea.     They raised few objec                                      comfortable about how                 project. made            significant
                                                        feeling
tions.    usually indirectly. I                                                                            progress and prospects were
                                                        things were going. There were
traveled    a    few times            to see
                                                        still problems, but progress had                   bright for 1964. Attitudes were
their camps           and strongpoints                  been steady. We ~~ent over                         positive and         our    confidence
on  the road          leading into Tha                                                                     as      high.      original game
                                                                                                                            The
                                                        everything, including the
khek from the           east.         On   a   few                                                         plan    of organizing small, well-
                                                        budget, a subject that I did not
occasions, I was able to help                                                                              trained mobile units for               use   in
                                                        know much about,                In the   field,
them with communications
                                                        when I asked for
                                                                                                           hit-and-run      operations designed
                                                                                    something,        it
                                                                                                           toharass and tie up VC units
                                                                                                           was only then starting to shift

                                                                                                           incrementally            toward    more

                                                                                                           ambitious tactics aimed               at actu

                                                                                                           alLy   seizing and         holding ground.
                                                                                                           Few     saw   any        potential dan
                                                                                                           gers.    We     were      certain that       our

                                                                                                           actions would            cause     setbacks
                                                                                                           for the VC.       In Washington,
                                                                                                           President       Johnson increased
                                                                                                           overall US support for South
                                                                                                           Vietnam.        Both      in    Washington
                                                                                                           and in Southeast Asia,              despite
                                                                                                           ceaseless       political machinations
                                                                                                           in   Saigon     and Vientiane. Ameri
                                                                                                           cans    continued          to   view the
                                                                                                           situation     through           rose-colored
                                                                                                           glasses.      That
                                                                                                                         a superpower

                                                                                                           could be tied down and ulti
                                                                                                           mately     rendered impotent in its
Team leader     debriefing patrol       returning from the Mu Cia Pass     area                            conflict with North Vietnam                  was




14
                                                                                                                                                                  Laos




                                                                   Moving into a more
                                                                  aggresive mode in the
                                                             eastern       Panhandle called
inconceivable.                  Some harsh                                                                       thinking          to   Uclorn.
                                                                                                                                     They
                  lessons had yet                    be
                                                                  for   bigger teams with                        approved     outline, as did
                                                                                                                                       the
political                                       to
                                                                       more firepower.                           Headquarters. Go slow, was
learned.
                                                                                                                 Landiys           guidance.

                                                                                                                 As    a       first step,    we        needed   a
A Welcome Addition
                                                                                                                 place          to do our         training.      Dick
                                                                                                                 and       I    went to see         the Thakhek
Early       in    1964,     Lair and        Landry           suading     the   team     leaders, and
                                                                                                                 military commander. Corrupt
sent    a    second officer, Dick Kins                       sometimes the members                  as
                                                                                                                 and ineffective as a com
man, to           Nakhon Phanom                   to         well, of the wisdom of               our    sug     mander, he              was       nonetheless         a

backstop              me    and   ultimately                 gestions     important and
                                                                          was
                                                                                                                 nice          enough        guy.       He   agreed       to
take    over          the   project when               I     Dick had a knack for listening
                                                                                                                 let   us       take    over a      former Lao
left.Dick, who was from                                      and explaining without being
                                                                                                                 Army training facility just                     out
upstate New York, was a Syra                                 condescending. This was just                        side Thakhek.                    It had all that
cuse University graduate and                                 the   right approach        with      our     Lao
                                                                                                                 we    would need                  to   get started.
had joined the Agency a few                                  counterparts.
years earlier.              He    was       a   volun
                                                                                                                 Recruiting             new       members for
teer    like the           rest   of   us   and had
                                                             Dick and      I discussed several                   our teams was                    the   next   step.
arrived          at   Udorn in the fall of                                      for the future of the
                                                             possibilities                                       We made it clear that recruits
1963         He       stayed      in Udorn                                                        that
                                                             project, including          one                     would have               to meet our stan
awhile           to   get   a   feel for        things,      would      move us        into   a   more           dards.           Being       a   cousin, brother,
and his presence                  was       most       wel
                                                             aggressive mode in the eastern                      or    family          friend of     a team leader

come.   Dick was    low-key guy   a
                                                             Panhandle. That option would                        was           not a    sufficiently qualify
and I could see right away that                              call for                         with
                                                                     bigger       teams                  more
                                                                                                                 ing factor.
we would get along.
                                                             firepower. At a minimum,                    we

                                                             would need company-size                     units
Around the time that Dick                                    if   we    hoped   to mine       the roads          Overambitious
arrived,          we    started        thinking              that the VC     using, or
                                                                               were

about        moving management of                            ambush and destroy truck                            With      sights aimed much
                                                                                                                               our
the program hack into Laos.                                  convoys.                                            higher than ultimately proved
We rented a small house in                                                                                       reasonable, we developed a
Thakhek, and                    I sometimes
                                                             This would he                                       plan to hit Route 12 just as it
                                                                                   a    big step
stayed           thereovernight                 while in
                                                             beyond road-watching and                            passed through the Annamites                              at
Laos for          meetings.3                                                                                     the Mu Gia Pass.                   The VC would
                                                             would have to be carefully
                                                             planned. We would need to                           be shocked,                 we    believed,     to see

Dick        sat in on           all of the       meet        recruit and train         more       men, and       the Mu Gia Pass closed to truck

ings    with          team      leaders and                  we    would need additional                         traffic. But,           as we soon            found

frequently             traveled with             me          PARU support for the                 training.      out, not nearly as        as the   shocked
when I crossed into Laos.                              He
                                                             Things      were    heating      up in Viet         leader of Team   Bravo when we

caught     quickly. Much of our
                 on                                          nam       and southern Laos            was          explained              the   objective.
success depended upon per                                                              critical, for both
                                                             becoming          more

sonal relationships, and he                                  sides.      At that time,        we    had    no     Our  plan involved some                        com

established rapport easily. Per-                                                                                  plicated logistics. It was                     the
                                                             hope of impeding traffic on the                                                                              dry

                                                             Ho Chi Minh Trail and only                           season, so we explained                        that
                                                             wanted       to   harass the VC         to           we  would send cratering
 3After I left, in July 1964, my successor
                                                             make their tasks           more       diffi          charges by truck and boat                          to
 moved die whole base station 0f the
                                                             cult.      We sent   an    outline of         our    Team Bravos                 base camp.             Then
 project     to   Sa~annakhet,         Laos




                                                                                                                                                                           15
Laos




                                                          I felt that I had been                            part
                                                             of     an       effort that           was

                                                            doing the right thing.
a    15-man    patrol, carrying a                                                                                  A Backward Look
dozen       cratering charges, would
walk     across        the Nakay Plateau
                                                                                                                   Now,   some 35 years later, I
to   the    place      where Route 12
                                                                                                                   lament many of the unintended
entered         Vietnam        via the Mu Gia
                                                                                                                   results of our efforts from 1961-
Pass.      The        patrol   would       pick      a    asked what I            was    going         to   do
                                                                                                                   1973.        The        ignorance and the
spot along a ravine or another                            when I got back               Headquar
                                                                                        to
                                                                                                                   arrogance of Aniericansarriv
vulnerable place, and, at night.                                   I said I
                                                          ters?                   guessed that I                   ing in Southeast Asia during
plant all        12 of the      cratering                 would go to Africa Division,                             that period were contributing
charges.         The road would be
                                                          where I ~s supposed to go                                factors. We came to help, but
cut   for weeks.
                                                          before I volunteered for Laos.                           we  had only minimal under

The     team      leader started spew
                                                          Lair said that if 1 would like to                        standing of the history, culture,
                                                          return to Laos           after home leave,               and politics of the people we
ing   out one reason                after another
                                                          I would be most welcome.                                 wanted            to   aid.    The discussions
why such an              effort would           not
                                                                                                                   in    Geneva            were    about       big
he possible.            He had        so   many
                                                                                                                   power issues                 more     than about
reasons         that he didnt             even            The offer      temptingI
                                                                         was
                                                                                                                   Laos     or       Vietnam.        Our       strategic
have   include ~evil spirits.
           to
                                                                        what I
                                                          enjoyed         was doing. But                           interests         were        superimposed
He pleaded with us to recon
                                                          it would probably mean a                                               region where
                                                                                                                   onto a                                  our    presi
sider.      We        finally did, and          no
                                                          career of running PM opera                               dent had decided                  to    draw the
patrol      was       sent.
                                                          tions rather than the               classical            line     against             communism.           And

                                                          intelligence           work that I had                   we     would do it              our    way.
Years      later,      I learned that B-52
bombers                                    of             envisioned before coming                          to
                 dropped    high-tons

explosive bombs and cratering                             Laos.     So I held off            making          any   US policies              in Laos      are    largely
bombs all along the Trail and in                          commitment until I could talk to                         responsible              for the disaster that
the strategic passes, including                           people at Headquarters. Lan-                             befell the Hmong. \ang Paos
Mu Gia.          The road           was    never          dry, of course, was aware of                             meeting with Bill Lair in late
cut   for       more    than    a    few   days.          Lairs conversation.                 He pre               1960     was           the   beginning       of   more

The Vietnamese did                   an    incredi                                                                 than     a   decade of warfare and
                                                          dicted that I would                not return to
ble job of repairing and                                                                                           hardship           for his      people,
                                                          Laos after consultations in
rerouting to keep supplies flow                                                   In the
                                                                                                                   although           neither       man     that     day
                                                          Washington.                        end, he         was
ing southward    Our 12                                                                                            could have foreseen the                       out
                                                          right.
cratering charges, even at that                                                                                    come.         From its   origins as an
early stage,           would        not   have had                                                                 effort       to   organize and train the
much effect.                                              I left Nakhon Phanom     July           in               Hmong             in    guerrilla     tactics     to

                                                          1964, traveling to Bangkok via                           resist communist encroach

                                                          Udorn. I was happy with the                              ment,        our       program gradually
Career Decisions                                                                              I felt that I
                                                                                                                   evolved into             a direct confronta
                                                          previous       \\TQ      years.
                                                                                                                   tion    not       only       of the local FL,
                                                          had been part of              an    effort that
On     one      of my
                    trips            to   Udorn in                                                                 but also of North Vietnamese
                                                          was     doing      the    right thing.
about       May 1964, Bill            Lair called                                                                  forces.           More        training, larger
                                                          Beyond that,            we    had been pro
me     in for     a    chat.    This      was                                                                      units, increased                 firepower, and
                                                          ductive and successful.                      I had
unusual          as   he mainly           con                                                                      air    support           were    introduced lit
cerned himself with the Hmong                             met     many    intelligence          officers           tle          little.         But it remained
                                                                                                                         by                                               a
                                                          whom I        liked and respected,
program and let his deputy han                                                                                     mismatch.                Despite       our   best
dle the         others,   so    I   was    curious        and I believed that my                  career           efforts, the Hmong                    were     slowly
as    I walked into his office.                      He   was     off   to   a   good    start.                    decimated.




16
                                                                                                                                      Laos




US   policies      in South Vietnam                 lieutenantgeneral, and those of        Many 1-Imong have come to the
drove decisions in Laos.               The          thegenerals and ambassadors            United States as refugees, hut
Hmong had          to   have    seen    what        whom he saw as equals. He              thousands still languish in Thai
was happening,           but    they                believed that US power ulti            refugee camps. Their way of
pressed on. yang              Pao, confi            mately would save him, and the         life has been destroyed. They
dent that with          our   support he            H mong.                                can never return to           Laos        In the
would      carry   the   day, actually                                                     end,    our   policyniakers         failed   to

pushed for  many of the offen                       \Vhen the    war   ended in South      assume      the moral        responsibility
sive actions undertaken as the                      Vietnam, it also ended in Laos,        that   we   owed to those who
conflict   wore     on.       -But his deci         where   we   forced   a   political    worked        so   closely   with    us    dur
sions   were    clouded,        I   believe.        arrangement in Vientiane that          ing    those tumultuous years.

by   the   stars    around himhis                   virtually guaranteed       communist
own,    when he         was    promoted        to   control.   And then       we   left.




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