10/5/2019: AN AMAZING RELIGION MANAGES TO SURVIVE IN VIET NAM. I VISITED ITS EQUALLY AMAZING “HOLY SEE” IN TAY NINH IN 1972.

     The unfortunately overexposed photo (taken by me) conveys just a small part of this intricate building and a few Cao Dai adherents during a service.  I describe my visit there in A Spear Carrier in Viet Nam, but as I wrote, I lack the vocabulary to describe the building’s intricate decorations.  So I just call it “Asian Rococo.”  The building was a tourist attraction for Americans, even during the war.  It was an easy day trip from Saigon.

     The Cao Dai religion is a fantastic melding of world influences.  A basic tenet of the Cai Dai faith is “All Religions are One,” and among its pantheon of “saints” are Victor Hugo, Joan of Arc, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Confucius and Louis Pasteur (there are more).

 Cao Dai was initially active in Vietnamese politics, unfriendly to the French, largely opposed to Diem, but also critical of the NLF.  It had to strike a delicate balance between the Saigon government and the NLF, who dominated much of the area, as Tay Ninh served as a path by which its armed forces could both enter and exit SVN via Cambodia.  Cao Dai was banned after 1975, but has been reinstated and at least allowed to exist.  I understand its “Holy See” is again a tourist attraction.

     To find out more, go to: https://www.amazon.com/Spear-Carrier-Viet-Nam-American-1970-1972/dp/147667597X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1570938421&sr=1-2

VN Inside Cao Dai temple .jpeg

9/7/2019: FROM QUANG TRI TO PHUOC THUY: AMERICAN ADVISORS

     This is the fourth—and final—post with a photo of the large relocation of war victims from northern Quang Tri Province (near the DMZ) to Phuoc Thuy Province, in III Corps.  The photographer remains unknown.

     I am the bearded civilian in the bush suit, on TDY to Phuoc Thuy for the initial phase of the project.  The names of the two military men are unknown.

     The older American civilian deserves to be remembered, but of course I long ago forgot his name.  He was an unusual figure in CORDS, a civilian Provincial Senior Advisor (PSA), both advisor to the GVN Province Chief and in charge of the mostly military MACV Advisory Team #78.  His deputy (the DPSA) was a Lt. Colonel.  The overwhelming majority of PSAs were military, usually Colonels, because almost all of the ARVN/GVN Province Chiefs were military.

     He was also unusual in that he was a career Foreign Service Officer (FSO), one of a few who found their way to this unusual assignment.  He had to be at least an FSO-3 (I never asked), which made him equivalent to a full Colonel.  I, by contrast, was a FSR/L-7, equivalent to a First Lieutenant.  Rank was very important, both to us and to the Vietnamese.

     Want to learn more about this and other programs of “The Other War” in Viet Nam?  Check out my book, A Spear Carrier in Viet Nam; Memoir of an American Civilian in Viet Nam, 1967 and 1970-72, available in paperback and Kindle formats.  I’d appreciate it!

VN Me with PSA at Suoi Nghe 1972.JPG

8/31/2019: FROM QUANG TRI TO PHUOC THUY: WHEN YOU’RE ONLY NUMBER TWO, YOU HAVE TO DO THIS KIND OF THING!

     There was always a ceremony to mark just about anything in “The Other War,” so something as significant as the Quang Tri to Phuoc Thuy resettlement project had to have high-ranking participants.  The two individuals handing out blankets to a few appropriately overwhelmed recipients were certainly that, but you can bet they were told to be there by their superiors.

     The General is Fred Weyand, at that point Abrams’ deputy, but soon to take over as COMUSMACV, when he had little left to command.  He would formally disband MACV in March, 1973.  The civilian is George Jacobsen, Colby’s deputy in charge of CORDS operations.  He would remain in VN until the absolute last minute, catching one of the last planes out.

     I was an observer at this ceremony, but not the photographer, who is unknown for this entire sequence.  I had serious misgivings about this project, but as probably the lowest-ranking American involved, nobody asked my opinion.  I was just a Spear Carrier.  Spear Carriers have a place on the stage, but no lines.

VN Gen Weyand and G Jacobsen giving refugee supplies at Suoi Nghe.JPG

8/24/2019: FROM QUANG TRI TO PHUOC THUY: AIDING THE ELDERLY

     This is my second post and photo (photographer unknown) about the early 1972 move of war victims from refugee camps near the DMZ to Phuoc Thuy Province, and a village called “Suoi Nghe,”in MR III.  I was sent on TDY to assist in the project.

     The people being moved were—like most war victims—mostly the elderly or the very young.  The photo shows an elderly woman being assisted by an RD (Revolutionary Development) Cadre man.  The RD Cadre, in blatant imitation of the VC, were issued black pajamas as their standard clothing, and sent—ostensibly—into the villages to win support for the GVN.  Their effectiveness was controversial, but they could definitely help in such an extended move as this one.

VN RD Cadre aiding women on way to Suoi Nghe.JPG

8/17/2019: FROM QUANG TRI TO PHUOC THUY: THE FACES OF WAR

     In late 1971/early 1972 (before the Easter Offensive), the GVN at long last decided to deal with at least some of the war victims who had been driven from their homes near the DMZ, many more than once.  As return to their villages was clearly not going to happen, some were offered (ordered? I never learned how they were selected) a new home far away, in Phuoc Thuy Province, down in III Corps.  They were flown to Saigon, trucked to Ba Ria, the provincial capital, and then to their new home christened “Suoi Nghe.”  I was sent from CORDS Saigon to Ba Ria on TDY to advise on the project, as the provincial MACV team had no refugee officer. 

     I will be posting four photos, one a week about this unusual effort.  This first one shows a group of the refugees (plus one National Policeman), awaiting final transport.  Photographer unknown.  These are the innocent victims of war.

VN War victims in transit to Phuoc Tuy.JPG

7/28/2019: A Visit to the Marine Base at Khe Sanh

     Easily the most memorable day of my “Summer of Love” in Viet Nam was the one I spent delivering not food or clothing, but twenty bags of cement, and then trying to get back to Da Nang.  Returning was always an open question after my Air America deliveries, but this one would prove more stressful.

     I was told that the cement was to be delivered to the cottage of an American couple living—together with their young children—in the Central Highlands, near the Laotian border.  They were working for Wycliffe Bible Translators, trying to render the Bible into Bru, the language of the local Montagnard tribe. Their local Protestant pastor was to build a small structure, probably a school.  It was remote, but fortunately, there was an airstrip not far away.  A Marine base named Khe Sanh.

     That day will live forever in my memory.  I shot the photo below to show the tank seemingly pointed at two of the hills that surrounded the base.  I was waiting for the squad of Marines that was necessary to escort the cement—and me—the short distance to the missionaries’ site.

     To read more about my visit to American missionaries living in what was becoming a major combat zone, read my book,  “A Spear Carrier in Viet Nam…,” available on Amazon, in both hardcover and Kindle formats.  Thank you.

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7/8/2019: An Overdue Salute to a Wife

In December of last year, I shared a photo of a man named Peter Wiwcharuck. I identified him as the Canadian missionary volunteer for whom I worked during my 1967 “Summer of Love” spent living in DaNang and flying to sites in I and II Corps. I termed him an “unsung hero” of the war, and I meant it.
But Mr. Wiwcharuck was not there alone. His wife was with him, trying to keep a household in quite unusual circumstances, with little income. I have searched my photo collection, and the photo below is the only one in which she appears. I have also long ago forgotten her first name (she was just “Mrs. Wiwcharuck” to me).
Mrs. Wiwcharuck was very low key, and I didn’t take anywhere enough photos (or ask enough questions) while I was with them, so this photo of them behind some boxes about to be flown to DaLat—taken by me—is the best I can do. She deserves better.
To learn more my “Summer of Love” and my return to VN in 1970 to work with refugees, please check out my book, "A Spear Carrier in Viet Nam; Memoir of an American Civilian in Country 1967, and 1970-72", available on Amazon.

VN 3:15 Mr. and Mrs. Wiwcharuck with supplies.jpg

6/18/2019: A Protestant Church

THERE WERE A FEW PROTESTANTS ALSO! (And there should still be, I hope)
The Republic of Viet Nam was (briefly) a nation whose people were largely Buddhist, but was ruled by its Catholic minority. Almost lost within its people were a few Protestants, or “Tin Lanh.” My 1967 “Summer of Love” work in Viet Nam was largely delivering commodities to Protestant congregations in I and II Corps. I never saw a church grander than the one in the photo.
The photo is of what I believe to be the only Protestant church in Da Nang in 1967. As always, if anyone can correct me on that, please do. Photo by me.

VN 3:13 DaNang Tin Lanh Church.jpg

6/5/2019: The "Vertical Airstrip"

I NEED YOUR HELP ON THIS ONE:
In a section of my book, “A Spear Carrier in Viet Nam,” entitled “Short Flights on Dubious Airlines,” I describe a visit to Vientiane, Laos (via Royal Air Lao!), largely to see the structure in the photo below. I say “largely,” because by 1972, you couldn’t go outside the capital, and there wasn’t much to see inside it.
The photo, taken by me, is of a substantial (for SE Asia) arch then in “downtown” Vientiane. I have no idea if it is still there. Note that while it was clearly built for vehicular traffic, the only person visible is walking.
Everyone in CORDS knew it as “The Vertical Airstrip.” So did the Lao cyclo drivers who took us there from our hotel; that’s all I had to tell them.
Its conventional-wisdom backstory was that, some time earlier, the U.S. had granted some money to build an airstrip somewhere out in the country to actually prosecute the war, but the Lao, rational and peace-loving people that they are, chose instead to spend the money on this impressive arch.
That was the CW, but anything as substantial as this had to have a more official story. Can anyone help me with this?

People did!  It’s still there, and its backstory is still uncertain.  It is known as the “Patuxai”.

People did! It’s still there, and its backstory is still uncertain. It is known as the “Patuxai”.

5/17/2019: Weapons of the "Other War" in Viet Nam

If your goal is to win their hearts and minds, the quickest route is through their stomachs. Food was a major weapon of “the other war.” The two photos below demonstrate the process: Americans give the food to a local Vietnamese leader (in this case a Protestant pastor), who then hands it out to his parishioners. Both photos taken by me near DaNang, in 1967. I believe that the American in the first photo was named Joe Langlois. If anyone can confirm that (or correct me), please let me know.
Most of the food we distributed came through P.L. (Public Law) 480, commonly known as “Food for Peace.” I helped to distribute substantial quantities of the stuff during my times in country.
“Food for Peace” had three basic commodities; two strikeouts and a home run. The strikeouts were Bulgur Wheat, a partially processed grain, and CSM, a thoroughly processed blend of corn, soy and milk. The home run was vegetable oil (in the metal cans), because everybody needed to cook.
Sending massive amounts of wheat and corn to feed the people of a rice culture definitely benefited American farmers far more than the recipients, but that was a primary motive of the program. The Vietnamese considered both Bulgar Wheat and CSM to be little better than pig food, but vegetable oil was hugely valuable. The respective prices these commodities fetched on the local black market reflected this dichotomy.
I have much more to say about “Food for Peace” in my book “A Spear Carrier in Viet Nam,” available on Amazon, including my interaction an American general who wanted to put Bulgur Wheat on the General Officers’ Mess at MACV headquarters!

VN PL 480 Ceremony.jpg
VN PL 480 Ceremony two.jpg

5/6/2019: A Souvenir from 1967

A new photo (by me) of an old souvenir. My father gave this to me at the end of my 1967 summer in Viet Nam. I had been working as a volunteer for the World Relief Commission, distributing relief commodities to Protestant congregations in I and II Corps. He was a civilian, the CORDS Chief Education Advisor for I Corps. The marble comes from “Marble Mountain” near Da Nang. These were readily available for customizing in the local markets.

VN marble souvenir 67.JPG

4/22/2019: A Major Player in the Drama

On occasion, even a Spear Carrier finds himself close to a major player in the drama. But it’s deceptive; you aren’t in the script, so you are just watching from a closer distance.
This photo was taken by me at Dalat during my summer 1967 volunteer work in Viet Nam for the World Relief Commission. I had made a delivery, and was at the airport hoping to catch a plane ride—Air America or military, it made no difference—back to Da Nang, when I saw a Volpar land nearby.
The white-haired man descending from the Volpar is Ellsworth Bunker, Ambassador to the Republic of Viet Nam from 1967 to 1973. I am uncertain whether the woman in the brown dress in front of him is his wife, Carol Laise, who was then U.S. Ambassador to Nepal. Dalat was a popular get-away location for both GVN/ARVN and U.S. officials.

VN Ambassador Bunker arrives at DaLat.jpg

4/12/2019: What Is A "Spear Carrier"?

My VN memoir is entitled, “A Spear Carrier in Viet Nam.” What do I mean by “Spear Carrier”? He’s someone who has a place on stage in a big production, but way in the back. He’s just there to fill out the cast; he has no lines in the drama. That’s how I felt in country, pretty much all the time. I suspect most of you did too.
Here’s an example of what I mean: the two photos are of a big ceremony in Lam Dong Province, 1970, handing over motorized cultivators to Vietnamese farmers. The American in the first photo congratulating a lucky farmer is none other than William Colby, then the DEPCORDS (Gen. Abrams’ Deputy for CORDS), in charge of the entire Pacification Program in Viet Nam, and later Director of the CIA. The second photo is of the same ceremony, with me in the left rear trying to look inconspicuous, as I had no part to play, nor lines to utter.
I don’t remember who took the photos.

VN Lam Dong Ag Ceremony two.JPG
VN Lam Dong Ag Ceremony3.JPG

3/19/2018: For Me, It's Personal

This is my second post about the enormous tragedy that the U.S. brought upon Cambodia by sponsoring the 1970 coup. My previous post recounted how “ethnic cleansing” followed the coup, dropping Cambodia’s Vietnamese population by more than two thirds within five months. Some 200,000 of these were forcibly sent to Viet Nam, and the 10,000 sent to Bao Loc, Lam Dong Province, saw me amidst the local Vietnamese extending a welcome and aid.

About a year later, I was on a TDY in Phuoc Tuy Province, advising the relocation of Vietnamese from the long-fought-over areas just south of the DMZ. While driving along a road that led to Vung Tau, I repeatedly saw two long lines of young men, all in identical bush-colored shirts, shorts and hats, and each carrying a rifle. They were not Vietnamese; they were Cambodians, being trained to join the existing cannon fodder in a cause that was hopeless from the start. I’m sure that every one of them was dead within a few years, if not months.

Nigh on fifty years later, it is this memory—of two rows of young men walking down both sides of the road, as far as my eyes could see—that remains the most vivid of them all in my mind. That’s because it has become more than just a memory; it has come to symbolize the whole bloody disaster that was our lot and our legacy.

How odd that I should find the symbol of all the useless, pointless death and suffering brought about by our involvement in Southeast Asia among Cambodians, not Vietnamese. My encounters with Vietnamese were extensive and prolonged (and usually conducted in their language), while the Cambodians were just “there” a few times. The Cambodians I encountered had no individuality; they were just young, smiling faces with flashing teeth, whom I passed by quickly, never stopping. Then one day they weren’t there anymore.

For me, these young men filling my windows on each side as I drove by symbolize the larger picture that we as individuals so often ignore: so many men—and uncounted women and children— on all sides, all sacrificed to myths, and all ultimately betrayed. Vietnamese, Americans, Cambodians, Hmong and so many others, both those who believed and those who were given no choice, not to mention those who just found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The list is both long and diverse, a twentieth-century tragedy.

So many lives lost, so much treasure expended, and we Americans can take responsibility for most of it.

I relate this brief experience, my work with Vietnamese suffering “ethnic cleansing,” and the occasional events of just plain weirdness that compromised my two times “in country” in “A Spear Carrier in Viet Nam; Memoir of an American Civilian in Country 1967, and 1970 – 72,” available from McFarland & Co. or Amazon, in either book or Kindle formats.

By the book’s end, you’ll understand why its final paragraphs deal with my hopes for the unpleasant fate of Henry Kissinger in his already-too-long-delayed afterlife.

Thank you for reading this.

3/11/2019: A Tragic Anniversary

This month marks the 49th anniversary of one of the most tragic mistakes made by the U.S. government in the twentieth century. I refer to U.S. support for the March 1970 coup that overthrew Cambodia’s Head of State, Prince Sihanouk. For me, it’s personal.

In the long term (after 1975), a huge price would be paid by the Cambodian people, who lost an estimated 25% of their population (some 1.8 million people) to “the Killing Fields.”

But in the short term, much of the price was paid by the Vietnamese residents (and citizens) of Cambodia. Anti-North Vietnamese sentiment was easily turned to a more general target, the local Vietnamese. The fact that they constituted much of the middle class in the cities made profit as much a motive as ethnic hatred.

What followed was what we call “ethnic cleansing” today, but we didn’t use the term back then. Cambodia’s Vietnamese population dropped from 450,000 to 140,000 within five months of the coup. Some 200,000 of them were forcibly repatriated to South Vietnam.

10,000 of these ended up in Bao Loc, Lam Dong Province, and were the reason I was sent to join MACV Team #38 there. I spent almost a year trying to aid in their reception and resettlement. Like so many other aspects of the Viet Nam war, this project began with high hopes but fizzled out well short of success.

I tell the story in my book “A Spear Carrier in Viet Nam: Memoir of an American Civilian in Country 1967, and 1970 – 72,” available from McFarland & Co. or Amazon, in either paperback or Kindle formats.

In my next post, I will discuss my encounter with Cambodian men being trained in Viet Nam for Lon Nol’s army,

VN A Spear-Carrier in Viet Nam Cover.jpg

1/16/2019: A Review of My Book

Justin Reed reviews my new book:
For those members who want a refreshing and alternative perspective on the conflict in Vietnam i would happily and highly recommend this book. The author spent several years "in country" and has published this outstanding memoir of his time there . As a civilian im pretty sure the emotional rollercoaster was pretty intense imagine not being able to fall back upon your training call in support and defend yourself with state of the art equipment should the need arise. Michael Tolle i salute your bravery and your efforts to do what you felt was right.

VN A Spear-Carrier in Viet Nam Cover.jpg