Fascinating story for all you fellow military history book worms like me.
On Dec. 24, 1970, an odd airplane touched down at an air base in Thailand. Though it might not have looked like it, this was a top secret U.S. Air Force propaganda plane and the crew had just flown the last of a series of classified missions over neighboring Cambodia.
The Pentagon sent the pilots from the Pennsylvania Air National Guard to help the government in Phnom Penh spread propaganda in remote, rural areas. Though brief, the obscure operation — nicknamed Commando Buzz — paved the way for an all new kind of psychological warfare operation.
By 1970, Washington had been fighting a broad and bloody war in Southeast Asia for nearly five years. North Vietnamese troops funneled weapons, ammunition and other gear through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam.
A seemingly endless stream of ideas, from the practical to the absurd andsometimes terrifying, had all failed to cut the communist supply lines. In Laos, with the help of a friendly government, the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency launched a covert bombing campaign and backed a secretive guerrilla army on the ground.
But Cambodia leader Norodom Sihanouk refused to break ties with the Soviet Union and Communist China. An avowed neutralist and supporter of the non-aligned movement, Sihanouk tried to play off all the sides of his advantage.
Ultimately, he found himself surrounded by enemies. Sihanouk coined the French term “Khmer Rouge” — Red Khmers — for his leftist opponents. He similarly derided right-leaning critics as the “Khmer Bleu.”
In March 1970, military officers led by Gen. Lon Nol seized control as Sihanouk was on a world tour of Europe, the Soviet Union and China. Lon and his compatriots believed he gave the North Vietnamese too much freedom and empowered Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.
The junta rushed to Washington for help. A month after the coup, American and South Vietnamese troops launched an attack into Cambodian territory. In July 1970, the campaign ended after delivering a major blow to Hanoi’s forces.
Unfortunately, Lon’s government couldn’t capitalize on the victory. The U.S.-led offensive drove the communists deeper into the Cambodian countryside, where they could count on popular support.
The Cambodian military, with its poorly-trained and underpaid soldiers, was also no match for the battle-hardened rebels without American aid.
For more than five centuries, farmers, treasure hunters and others have applied a pseudoscientific practice known as “dowsing” to find water, caves, graves and more.
During the Vietnam War, American troops tried using the method to divine the location of Viet Cong tunnel networks.
It didn’t work.
Continually frustrated by the underground networks, the Pentagon made locating and destroying the subterranean passages a main goal in 1967. A year later, defense contractor HRB Singer told the Office of Naval Research that dowsing might hold the answer.
“Undoubtedly, any system that offers some promise of improving the odds above pure chance of discovering and locating the enemy is worth a try — if nothing else is available,” the scientists explained in a 1968 report. The U.S. Army and Navy had both so far failed to build a machine that could reliably detect the tunnels.
In spite of repeated studies failing to prove any scientific basis for dowsing, the practice has endured to the present day. HRB Singer was optimistic that dowsing could help in South Vietnam.
Debates have raged about whether dowsing works since the practice first evolved in Germany in the 15th century. In 1518, Christian theologian Martin Luther decried the practice as occultic — and an affront to God.
Read the Remainder at War is Boring
Not sure if any of you caught this story last night on ABC News, but it was a good’un.
It is stories like this that as a historian and veteran, I absolutely love to learn about, mostly because you won’t find it in any official history books.
I did some digging and found this amazing article on Nguyen Hoang Minh and the SEAL’s he helped to save. As you read it this Memorial Day, say a little prayer for this humble little Vietnamese Man and his family…because of him so many American soldiers got to come home from that bloody War. What an Amazing and Noble legacy to have! -SF
Echoes from the Jungle
By Mike Hixenbaugh
July 26, 2015
Reporting from My Tho, Vietnam
But there was no next tour. After years of combat and hundreds of nighttime raids – missions that would help shape SEAL tactics for decades – the U.S. began pulling out of Vietnam in the early 1970s. The American public, it seemed, was ready to move on.
Woolard and his teammates moved on, too. Some left the service after the war, settled down, started families. Others, like Woolard, continued serving with the SEAL teams, through the Cold War and into the 1990s, helping shape a little-known special operations force into one of the most celebrated military units in history.
“We left Vietnam and got on with our lives,” Woolard says.
Nguyen Hoang Minh, the teammate they left behind, wasn’t as fortunate.
He had been so much more than an interpreter. Like the SEALs he worked for, Minh painted his face green and carried a gun on missions. He cussed and drank and chased women like one of the guys. At least once, his blood pooled on the floor of a rescue helicopter, mixing with the blood of his SEAL teammates.
“He was one of us,” Woolard says.
Only, he didn’t get to leave when the war ended.
Woolard and other SEALs were decorated with medals for their bravery; Minh was punished. He was arrested by North Vietnamese soldiers weeks after the South surrendered in 1975, then spent two years in a prison camp. In the decades that followed, he worked a series of back-breaking jobs, earning barely enough to feed his family.
Minh, a folk hero in early Navy SEAL lore, lived a peasant’s life.
In March, Woolard and Pete Peterson, another former SEAL, went back to Vietnam, returning for the first time to the communist country where they once fought.
They went to tell Minh they hadn’t forgotten about him.
Read the Remainder at Pilot Online
Christine Boyle’s store, Queen Design Lao, offers rings, necklaces and pendants to shoppers along Luang Prabang’s quaint peninsula. Most of the trinkets resemble normal jewelry, but the miniature cluster bombs on some chains in the friendly Aussie’s shop are less subtle.
Known as “peace jewelry,” the necklaces sport metal harvested from unexploded bombs, a reminder of how nearly a half-century ago, Laos became the most-bombed country in history during a “secret war” that lasted more than a decade. The American public was kept in the dark as the U.S. Air Force and CIA fought in Vietnam’s neighbor, where reverberations are still felt today in the quiet countryside.
This September, Barack Obama will become the first U.S. president to visit Laos, now that America has started to commit more money to cleaning up the bombs that make large swaths of the 7-million-strong landlocked country dangerous to tread.
Several decades ago, another young president took office with Laos on his mind. The day before John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration, the outgoing president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, urged him to focus on Laos as a way to stop communism’s spread, telling him “Laos [was] the key to the entire area of Southeast Asia.”
Read the Remainder at OZY