Op-Ed: My Vietnam War Story And I’m Still Upset We Left
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After three years serving at the NATO Headquarters in Paris, France, until 1964, I received orders for “Shore Duty” at another NATO Command (SACLANT) at Norfolk, Virginia. It was to have been about a four-year tour of duty.
I was aware of the Communist attempt to takeover South Vietnam and couldn’t help but compare it with the problem between North and South Korea. Just 16 years earlier, I had served aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) helping to defend South Korea from the planned takeover by the North!
When the call for volunteers for duty in Vietnam came out in early 1966 it specified a need for men of my rating (Yeoman). I had a rather mundane job at SACLANT (Supervisor of the command Typing Pool), so I quickly volunteered. Again, I had a keen desire to help the oppressed people of South Vietnam keep their freedom and their country!
My orders specified “duty as a Naval Advisor” so I knew I would have quite a bit of training before actually arriving in South Vietnam. I attended the Counter-Insurgency (CI) course involving Survival, Escape & Evasion (SERE) Training at Coronado and Advanced Weapons Training at Camp Pendleton, California. I scored in the top three percentile on the Foreign Language Aptitude Test (FLAT), so I also attended 8 weeks of Vietnamese Language Training, also at Coronado, CA, graduating 2nd in a class of 108 Officers and Enlisted Men.
I was assigned to the MACV Special Operations Group (SOG) as one of two Assistant Top Secret (SPECAT) Material Control officers. I was responsible for controlling all Classified Documents received by SOG.
The job entailed my being “in the loop” for classified information involving SOG.
SOG was a Joint Service Command with its own air, sea, and ground forces. SOG had five primary responsibilities;
- To conduct regular cross-border (over the wire) operations primarily to disrupt the Vietcong, Khmer Rouge, Pathet Lao, and the North Vietnamese Army.
- To keep track of all imprisoned and missing Americans and conduct raids to assist and/or free them.
- To train and dispatch indigenous agents into North Vietnam for the purpose of organizing and running resistance movements.
- To conduct “Black” and “Gray” psychological operations involving fake NVA broadcasting stations and the radio transmission of propaganda. (Gray PSYOPS was fairly successful in turning Viet Cong sympathizers into loyal supporters of South Vietnam).
- To perform additional tasks as assigned: i.e. kidnapping, assassinations, insertion of rigged mortar rounds into the enemy ammunitions supply system (set to explode and destroy their crews when used) and retrieval of sensitive documents and equipment if lost or captured through enemy action (Booby-trapped ammunition was called, “Eldest Son”).
From 1964 to 1972, approximately 2,700 cross-border operations were conducted by SOG! It must be understood that these over-the wire ops were covert, clandestine, extremely dangerous missions conducted by small groups of highly trained Americans and indigenous military personnel! Attesting to that danger, five of the ten Medals of Honor awarded to SOG personnel were awarded to members of RT’s operating out of CCC, Kontum!
One of the reasons causing the increased U.S. involvement in Vietnam was President Kennedy’s anger with the CIA debacle in the Bay of Pigs Operation in Cuba. So embarrassed was the administration, the Taylor Commission was formed to learn why the CIA failed. It was concluded, by the commission, that the Cuba project outgrew CIA’s capability to manage it and that a worldwide review of CIA’s operations was in order! Subsequently, the Agency was forced to transfer most of its Southeast Asia programs to the Military. However, the overthrow of South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem, Kennedy’s assassination, and the fact that the Military Assistance Command (MACV) had not yet created a unit to takeover the Agency’s programs, prevented this transfer of control until January 1964 when the Special Operations Group (SOG) was formed.
In March 1965, SOG received authorization to penetrate the Ho Chi Minh Trail with U.S. Green Berets in charge of each team! Because the authorized Area of Operation (AO) was so small, SOG had only five active RT’s made up of U.S. Green Berets and South Vietnamese Nungs. Once the AO was expanded, SOG increased the number of teams to 20 and recruited Vietnamese Montagnards, too!
Between the B-52 Brightlight Air Strikes and SOG’s Recon Patrols raising havoc with the movement of supplies down the Ho Chi Minh trail, the supply of North Vietnamese Army troops was slowed-down considerably. Also, CIA’s Phoenix Program (including SOG assets) had identified and eliminated thousands of Communist activists at the village level. Estimates of the number killed under the Phoenix Program was approximately 60,000. We were making headway!
The decision of President Johnson to cease B-52 Air Strikes over the Ho Chi Minh Trail and eventually to withdraw our troops from Vietnam had a devastating effect on the men who had been fighting that war! Essentially, we were ordered to tuck our tails between our legs and “throw in the towel,” leaving the people of South Vietnam at the mercy of the North Vietnamese Army.
Adding to the sadness of returning troops was the reception by anti-war/anti-Vietnam groups on our arrival back in the U.S. who called us “war mongers and baby killers” and who threw rotten eggs, tomatoes and bags of human feces at us as we marched down the tarmac. Our only defense against this humiliating experience was the decision of a Green Beret Captain who decided we would march by these people with our heads held high and singing a cadence song!
I have not yet been able to reconcile the decision to give up on the South Vietnamese people!
Brooks Outland is a Korean and Vietnam war veteran.He volunteered to serve in Vietnam because he was keen to help the people of South Vietnam keep their freedom and their country from communist takeover by the North. After retiring Brooks and his wife spent eight years volunteering aboard his old battleship, USS Missouri (BB-63), before returning to the mainland in Arkansas in 2015.