SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)
During the decade the United States fought in Vietnam, it fought a second and perhaps deadlier secret war in Laos. I write deadlier because at the end of the war, North Vietnam released 591 prisoners under Operation Homecoming, but none came back from Laos. Of the over 500 American Servicemen listed as missing or prisoner-of-war in Laos, the Pathet Lao never released a single American military POW they captured and held at war's end. Even though credible reports established that numerous American military prisoners-of-war were alive at the end of the war, none came home.
The only American prisoner in Laos released at wars end was Continental Air Service civilian pilot Emmet Kay in 1974. The CIA-sponsored air charter company flew supplies to Royal Lao Army troops as well as flying special missions to insert indigenous reconnaissance teams. The Pathet Lao shot him down (or he ran out of gas depending upon which story you believe) on 7 May 1973 as he flew six Lao military personnel to a government outpost near the Communist headquarters in Sam Neua. Although Emmet Kay claimed to have been shot down, other pilots in the air that day including Captain Jack Knotts of BirdAir monitored his radio calls and heard him claim that he was lost and getting short on fuel. Kay apparently took off from
Site (LS-272) at Ban Sorn. They released him on 18 September 1974 after 16 1/2 months in captivity. Laos
There is some evidence that President Eisenhower considered Laos the most important Southeast Asian country of his domino theory, believing it might be even more important that Vietnam. In December 1960, Eisenhower concluded a high level meeting on
by stating that: Laos
We must not allow
Laosto fall to the Communists, even if it involves war in which the acts with allies or unilaterally. U.S.
It was one of those wars that was fought for the right reasons but became a quagmire due to the political restraints placed on the combatants. The U.S. involved itself in Laos to help protect the Lao government against a Communist North Vietnamese invasion and occupation and to slow the movement of men and weapons from North Vietnam into South Vietnam. It was fought on the cheap by very limited armed forces, some civilians and a lot of mercenaries. It was almost successful. The problems arose when the government made a conscious decision to lie to the American public; to claim that the country was neutral, to claim that there were no
U.S.troops in Laosand worse, to claim that no servicemen had been killed there. That was a lie that grew and grew and came back to turn the American public against its leaders and the war. Like the little boy that cried wolf, after American leaders were caught telling lie after lie, nothing they said was believed. U.S.
Map of Laos
This war seldom made the headlines and was mostly fought by Special Forces on the ground and the Air Force in the sky as the United States attempted to stem the flow of goods by interdicting travel down the Truong Son Strategic Supply Route, known to the Americans as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, while fighting a holding action against the Communist Pathet Lao. The
USmilitary assistance program provided with equipment and advisors. Between 1962 and 1973, a total of $1.4 billion dollars of aid was provided. Laos
Some of the methods used by the Special Forces to win over the Lao people and soldiers were listed in a letter entitled Civil Assistance by Lieutenant Colonel John T. Little in September 1961. LTC Little mentions twelve rules that were to be followed to win the hearts and minds of the Lao people. One such rule is:
An imaginative program of village assistance properly backed by the military and civil authorities is one form of psychological operation which will contribute significantly toward achievement of
U.S.goals in . Laos
The letter also went into some detail of other factors that could be used to win the loyalty of the Lao. Among them were; aid to education, sanitation, aid to agriculture, transportation improvement, childrens playgrounds, the distribution of special tools, improving the markets, American movies and electric lights. Little thought that in addition to training the Lao to protect themselves, his policies would bring rich psychological returns to the
. United States
In regards to Air Force operations, they were severely handicapped according to U.S. Ambassador Godley:
Never in the history of warfare has a military element been more shackled in its operation than was the USAF in
. The rules of engagement were voluminous, complex and precise. It could not engage any ground forces unless requested by the Lao government and approved by the Embassy. It could not bomb within one hundred yards of an inhabited dwelling, nor could it endanger inhabited villages. The types of ordnance it could use had to be improved We were repeatedly charged with the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. Nothing could have been further from the truth Laos
An Air Force communications expert assigned to Laos who preferred to remain anonymous told me about Laos from his perspective:
In 1966, the U.S. government established Project 404, and active duty military were sent into Laos to provide support for the air war going on over Laos. The purpose of Project 404 was to supply the line crew technicians needed to support and train the Royal Laotian Air Force, while Raven Forward Air Controllers were brought in to supply piloting expertise and guidance for running a tactical air force. Most of these American personnel were communications, administration, intelligence and logistical types. They were assigned to the Attaché and came under the Attaches control once in Laos, although they were assigned to DEPCH JUSMAGTHAI (Deputy Chief Joint United States Military Advisor Group, the covert name for MAAG Laos). There were also some 9th Special Forces Group troops in Okinawa to provide some training for the Royal Laos Army.
In 1969, Project 404 personnel begin to get back into the training and advising of Royal Laos Army (Forces Armées Royale or FAR) and Neutralist Army Forces (Forces Armées Neutralistes, or FAN) that had been missing since the departure of the 300-man Military Advisory and Assistance Group (MAAG) Laos in 1962. Project 404 / Water pump was primarily an Air Force operation, but the whole effort had so many parts and names that it gets hard to tell the players apart. The US Army Special Forces specialized in training indigenous infantry and there was a Special Forces house in Long Tieng (LS-20A).
By 1972, with control of Project 404 personnel in Laos back under DEPCH (Deputy Chief Joint United States Military Advisor Group - Army Advisory Element Bangkok), Project 404 personnel became more vigorous and expanded their advising and training to both the Royal Laos Army and neutralist army forces. DEPCH was back to being a fully-fledged MAAG. At this time, most of the support Project 404 provided fell under the Air Force Attachés (AIRA's) discretion and the air war with scant attention given to the Lao Army. The AIRA when I was there was Major, later Lieutenant Colonel Rossel. Major Rossel flew B-26's in the MAAG program in Vietnam in 62 and he flew the T-28D and O1's in Laos. The person really in charge was Ambassador G. McMurtry Godley (Ambassador 1969-1973.
When I was there, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was important for targets, but secondary to the real war in Laos. That war in Laos saved one Hell of a lot of US Military lives from being lost in the more public war taking place over the border in Vietnam.
Studies and Observation Group Symbol
A brief history of the early American action in
Laosreveals that Operation White Star was a clandestine operation, under the auspices of the CIA, but thru the Ambassador to Laosto assist in fighting the communists. The teams worked with the Laotian people, mainly the Hmongs and other ethnic groups. It was all designed to support Vang Paos clandestine army which was supported by the CIA (with Air Laos ) under Project 404 and 603. It is alleged that the Hmong infantry grew to about 40,000 troops. America
LTC Arthur D. "Bull" Simons
Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Bull Simons was the Commander of the first team inserted in July 1959, code-named Hotfoot. He had selected, organized and trained Special Forces A teams from the 77th Special Forces Group (Airborne) based at
. The mission was initially code-named Ambidextrous. All personnel were given intensive training and cross training. All personnel took daily language lessons in both French and Laotian. Once inside Fort Bragg, NC , the teams were regularly replaced about every six months. Team II arrived in June 1960 commanded by LTC Magnus L. Smith. In November 1960, Team IV took over, commanded by LTC John Little, and on 28 January 61 it was augmented with a 12-man Psywar team under LTC Chuck Murray. In April of 1961, Team V replaced Team IV and was renamed White Star. In October 1961 LTC Bull Simons took command again. At its peak on 23 July 1962 when a Declaration of Neutrality was signed, the White Star strength was 433. Laos
Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Turkoly-Joczik, Ph.D. says in an article entitled Secrecy and Stealth: Cross-Border Reconnaissance in
Indochina, Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin:
The first series of U.S.-sponsored [Vietnamese troops] cross-border operations took place in 1964 under the code name Leaping
Lena. The South Vietnamese Government under the supervision of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) conducted these activities. Unfortunately, Leaping Lenawas a failure and was terminated.
The Special Forces losses in Laos between 1959 and 1962 from the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) were SGT Gerald M. Biber, SGT John M. Bischoff, CPT Walter Moon, SGT Theodore Berlett, and SSG Raymond Parkes.
Readers who want to study this action in more depth are encouraged to read Land of a Million Elephants, by Asa Baber, Morrow books, 1970; The War in Laos, Kenneth Conboy, Osprey books, 1989; Code-name: Copperhead, Joe Garner, Simon & Shuster, 1994; and Operation White Star, Richard Sutton, Daring Books, 1990. I should mention that about 15 years after I wrote this article Retired Colonel Joe D. Celeski gave me permission to use some data from his monograph The Ambassadors SOF and the Secret War in Laos. I added some text on the Laos PSYOP Organization.
In 1962 a
Genevaaccord was signed that guaranteed the neutrality of and called for all foreign soldiers to leave. The Laos removed its 666 Special Forces advisors. The North Vietnamese considered it a great political victory and sent in more troops. Averell Harriman, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs said: United States
broke the 1962 agreements before the ink was dry. North Vietnam
For some reason the
United Statesdecided to go on with the pretense there was no war in . As a result, as it attacked the enemy troops with mercenaries and bombs, and even B-52 raids, but it could not make a good defense of its actions. It should have simply said we are facing a determined enemy and let the world know what was happening. For example, when President Nixon tried late in the war to explain, mistakes were made. Nixon said that there were 50,000 North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos and they had recently been joined by 13,000 more. The press reported 70,000 enemy troops. A United States Information Agency official said at a press briefing there were just 40,000 North Vietnamese Laos in Laos. The American public said huh? This confusion made their leaders appear to be liars and further hurt the American cause.
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger went before the public and stated:
No American stationed in
has ever been killed in ground combat operations. Laos
Notice the disclaimers. Stationed in
Laos meant that all the troops that crossed over from did not count. Ground Operations meant that he could ignore all the deaths from aircraft downed by the enemy. CIA people did not count because they were invisible anyway. The Thai mercenaries did not count because they were not American. We are not going to mention South Vietnam Thailandin this article, but keep in mind that at the height of their deployment there were about 17,000 Thais helping the U.S.in . Laos
U.S.Government was forced to admit that about 200 Americans had been killed in Laos and another 200 were missing or taken prisoner. The tremendous number of lies told for so long convinced the American people their government could not be trusted and everything they said in regard to this war was a lie. It was all a terrible miscalculation by . Washington
Thomas A. Bruscino, Jr. discusses U.S. actions in Laos in the Combat Studies Institute Press, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, paper Out of Bounds - Transnational Sanctuary in Irregular Warfare.
The early efforts of the CIA and Special Forces included limited attempts to interdict the supply lines within
. Starting in 1961, a few specially trained South Vietnamese teams launched infiltrations across the border to gather intelligence. The next year, CIA officers began training Lao natives in basic reconnaissance of the communist road system. Both programs gathered general information, but neither provided specifics on the communist operation. A more direct approach came in 1964 when American advisers worked with South Vietnamese Special Forces on Operation Leaping Laos Lena. Small teams of Montagnard tribesman led by South Vietnamese Special Forces were to cross into to perform reconnaissance missions. Laos
In January 1964, the Americans set up the Studies and Observations Group (SOG) within MACV, a special operations group that answered directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. SOG included men from all of Americas armed services, including Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and Air Force Air Commandos. SOGs mandate included operations into Laos, Cambodia, and
. North Vietnam
began in 1965, initially under the codename Shining Brass (in 1967 the name was changed to Prairie Fire). The teams included South Vietnamese troops led by American Special Forces personnel. Still concerned with violations of neutral territory, the men who went on these missions wore nondescript uniforms and carried untraceable weapons. They either crossed the border on foot or in unmarked Air Force helicopters, and similar helicopters would extract them at the end of missions. In 1966 they sent more than 100 teams into Laos Laos; two years later, some 800 teams went into Laosand combined. Cambodia
The Air Force operations started with Barrel Roll in December 1964. The
USAir Force and USNavy launched a series of escalating bombing missions against the communist infrastructure north of the DMZ in . Barrel Roll was supplemented by Operation Steel Tiger in April 1965, but the latter began to spread the attacks to the eastern portion of the Laotian panhandle. Flying from bases in Laos South Vietnamand Thailand, and off of carriers in the surrounding waters, American pilots flew nearly 800 missions against in less than a month. The airpower interdiction program accelerated in the summer and fall of 1965, as the Air Force started working with the SOG incursions and the targeting area extended south to the Cambodian border. In December, the Air Force used B-52 bombers to hit targets in Laos , most notably the Mu Gia pass just north of the DMZ. Even the aerial defoliant program, Operation Ranch Hand, spread into the eastern portion of the Laotian panhandle. Laos
An uncoded 1969 leaflet to NVA coming down the Trail through Laos
This leaflet was found by Sergeant Jim Hackbarth, a member of the 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry, in 1970. It is uncoded so we do not know who printed it. We do know it is a tactical leaflet aimed at North Vietnamese troops and quoting a letter from an unhappy comrade. One expert pointed out that it was typed on an American typewriter and then someone actually added the pronunciation and accentuation marks by hand. It was a rush job. Text on the front is:
To Cadres and Soldiers in the Communist ranks,
After six months of slogging through the battlefields of Laos, while on the surface they say they respect our courage and boldness, but all we got when we reached the Fatherland was a case of malaria...The goal that everyone thought was in our grasp has turned out to be very remote. Every day we face dangers from all sides, not to become the 'heroes of our time,' but just to find something to put in our stomachs...The only people getting fat are the big shots. Meanwhile we soldiers have lives that are worse than those of a dog...
These are not mere words of propaganda, far from the truth. They are excerpted from the diary of Le Liem, a soldier in the Tri Thien Sub-Region's 802nd Regiment/4th Group [4th Regiment]. ARVN forces captured the diary on 24 June 1969.
USAF First Lieutenant Zot Barazzotto was one of the pilots that regularly flew over Laos using the call sign Covey 250 from March 1970 to March 1971. He told me:
One morning I was coming in on the second flight and the guy before had found a trellised road that led to a little truck park. He could see the dent in the trees where they had been pulled down to cover the road that was cut below. We were beating up the area with what ordnance we could get but there wasn't much available because of Lam Son 719. The Covey OV-10 was usually armed with 4 pods of 2.75" rockets - 2 pods of 7 each white phosphorous (or Willy Peter) for marking targets and 2 pods of 7 each high explosive (HE) warheads. I turned west, armed the HEs and pulled the nose up so as to lob the rockets at the little supply dump. In rapid succession I shot all 14 HE rockets, 12 of which hit the supply dump with no apparent ill effects. Two rockets overshot the target and hit near the road, which was on a little ridge. I actually hit two trucks that were part of a convoy that had been stopped when they started beating up the bushes.
A 1966 Stars and Stripes article entitled
U.S.Psywar Unit Hitting Morale of VC in Vietnam mentions the 6th PSYOP Battalion mission over the Mu : Gia Pass
The Battalion has designed, printed, processed, loaded and delivered more than a half billion leaflets We can print one million leaflets in support of any given mission within a 24-hour period. We printed three million leaflets on three different occasions in support of the Mu
Gia Passbombing in . North Vietnam
Colonel Perry L. Lamy, USAF, discusses the air campaign over
in Barrel Roll 1968-1973, An Air Campaign in Support of National Policy. Laos
The nature of the conflict in
Laoscreated a theater of operations separate from the rest of Southeast Asia(SEA). "Out-of-country" "up-country", "extreme western DMZ", "over-the-fence", and the "secret war" were terms used to characterize USmilitary involvement in . Laos
In the southern panhandle, STEEL TIGER, involved the interdiction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail used by
North Vietnamto prosecute their war in . In northern South Vietnam a very different war was fought. BARREL ROLL provided air support for the ground forces of the Royal Lao Government (RLG) fighting Communist insurgents. The survival of the RLG and ultimately Laos as a neutral country was the object of this war. Laos
Tactical aircraft used in BARREL ROLL for strike operations included USAF A-1, B-57, F-105, F-4, F-100, and F-111. Gun ships such as the AC-47, AC-119, and AC-130 were employed for truck interdiction and night air support to defend
Sites. The O-1, O-2, U-17, T-28, and OV-10 were used to provide visual reconnaissance and strike control. B-52 ARCLIGHT sorties were occasionally employed beginning in February 1970 against tactical targets with operational level results. Lima
A system of almost 200 airfields called
Sites was developed during the early 1960s. Throughout the war, these Lima Sites proved vital to the ground operations of the Hmong irregulars. Lima
A Highly Modified Navy NP-2H Neptune Aircraft
It was not just the Army and the Air Force that flew over Laos. The Navy was there too. Robert Zafran was a young Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade who flew the Ho Chi Minh Trail from August to December 1967. He was part of a joint Navy/CIA operation called Muddy Hill (Task Group 50.8) that flew highly modified Navy Neptune aircraft equipped with state of the art electronics that included infrared detection, low illumination television, starlight scope, terrain following radar, a 70mm reconnaissance camera, electronic countermeasures, and active magnetic anomaly detection systems from Udorn Thani Royal Thai Air Force Base on low level, night reconnaissance combat missions over Laos and the Ho Chi Minh Trail.The aircraft were painted with a high-gloss "black widow black" paint (first used by WWII U.S. night-fighters). Some of these aircraft later were assigned to VO-67, which is mentioned in the next paragraph.
Another of the secret units designated to drop the sensors was U.S. Navy Observation Squadron 67. The members called themselves the Ghost Squadron. They flew from Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, just across the Mekong River from Laos. Their primary mission was over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, but they also performed missions in South Vietnam. They also flew the Lockheed P-2 Neptune, a 1950s-era anti-submarine patrol airplane from Thailand into Laos and dropped camouflaged sensors along the trail. The squadron's planes were heavily modified for the mission, including the addition of M-60 machine guns, an armored belly and a jungle-green paint scheme.
We should note here that the 1971-1972 MACVSOG Command History Index B says that Prairie Fire was later known as Phu Dung. It explains that:
This was the SOG operation of reconnaissance and interdiction to counter infiltration of enemy forces through
. U.S. and Vietnam Air Force aircraft were authorized to infiltrate, exfiltrate and resupply Phu Dung forces. U.S. tactical air, fixed wing and rotary wing gun-ships were authorized to employ within the full depth of the Phu Dung Area of Operations to exploit targets of opportunity Phu Dung is the name of the illusion appearing to opium smokers, a widely produced commodity in Laos . Laos
The Department of State U.S. Foreign Relations Series Laos Volume (1954-1968) adds:
United Statesincreasingly became involved in fighting a war against Pathet Lao/North Vietnamese forces in during the Johnson administration. Laos, a small, poor, sparsely-populated kingdom, became entangled in the Vietnam war because of its geographic position. The Kennedy administration had hoped to neutralize Laos Laosand insulate it from the conflict, but failed because of North Vietnam's insistence on controlling the infiltration routes into . During 1964-1968, South Vietnam
During the first few months of 1964, the Pathet Lao/North Vietnamese forces again threatened the Plain of Jars, the strategic gateway to the
Mekongvalley, where most of the Lao population lived. Johnson and his advisers considered sending U.S. troops to Thailand as had been done in 1962, but settled instead on a series of incremental steps that included sending Air America pilots and propeller driven T-28 planes to reinforce the fledgling Lao Air Force and upgrading the Lao Air Force's bombing capabilities.
Differences of opinion in the administration arose over
policy. The Department of Defense and General Westmoreland wanted to carry the secret war across the border against the Ho Chi Minh trail. The Department of State and Ambassador Leonard Unger feared such a plan would shred what remained of the 1962 Laos Accords and topple neutralist Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma. The Central Intelligence Agency concentrated on its "quiet war," supporting, supplying, and directing Hmong guerrillas to harass the North Vietnamese in Geneva . Laos
Despite continued differences of opinion among U.S. policy makers, after 1965 the trend was one of steady escalation of the war in Laos Vietnam Commander William Westmoreland expanded covert cross border operations into Laos by South Vietnamese troops led by U.S. Green Berets. The secret air war against the Ho Chi Minh trail and in the north of
expanded exponentially. Laos
Colonel Lamy adds:
There were a variety of reasons for covertness. The ruse of neutrality was primary, along with the desire of the
to avoid embarrassing the Soviets. Since Khrushchev and Kennedy had jointly agreed on Laotian neutrality in 1961, overt involvement by the US USin would have forced the Soviets to respond directly. Overt action or public disclosure of Laos involvement would then force the Soviets to âclose ranksâ with their communist brothers. The Soviets were satisfied to "look the other way" in order to limit Chinese hegemony in US Southeast Asia.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Marshall Green said in his 7 November 1964 paper Immediate Actions in the Period Prior to Decision.
There are now 27 T-28 aircraft in
, of which 22 are in operation. CINCPAC has taken action to build this inventory back up to 40 aircraft Laos
In recent weeks, the T-28s have been dropping a large number of surrender leaflets on many of their missions. These have already led, in some cases, to Pathet Lao defections.
We should also mention a very strange and prophetic war game that was played by
United StatesJoint Chiefs of Staff in the in 1963. The results of the game were absolutely correct, but as so often happens, contested by some military officers and ignored by the politicians. The play was to cover 10 years, and determine what would happen if the National Military Command Center United Statesbecame involved in . At the end of the decade, 1972 in game time, the North Vietnamese controlled all the countryside in Vietnam South Vietnam, had taken over Laos, and had complete freedom of movement in . During the game the USAF had heavily bombed the enemy and 500,000 American troops were deployed. As might be expected, Air Force General Curtis LeMay contested the results stating that his aircraft could bomb the Vietnamese back to the Stone Age. He also believed that American camps and installations could be protected from guerrilla attacks. In fact, the results of the game were exactly correct and over 50,000 Cambodia lives might have been spared if someone had paid attention. U.S.
One sometimes wonders why they bother to play these games. I like to use personal anecdotes when I can and recall that at one time I took part in a war game that was played on an annual basis. I recall one unit being destroyed and a full bird colonel being told his unit was gone. He got very upset and told everyone in a loud voice, I didnt bring my staff all the way here to be knocked off the board on the first day. Apparently he made enough noise; the monitors placed his unit back into the game.
This is just a brief review of what was going on in
. We will not attempt to tell the story of that war. That is a job for a military tactician. We will describe and depict some of the psychological warfare leaflets used in Laos to demoralize the communists and to motivate the Royal Lao Armed Forces and the Lao people. Laos
An Air Commando who was stationed at LS-20A (Long Tieng) and LS-153 (Mouang Kassy) told me:
Those of us who fought the war from
have always considered it to have been more important than the coverage indicated. But since the whole mess was classified as never happening and those who fought there didn't exist it is no wonder that most people who are knowledgeable about the war in Laos Viet Namwill dismiss as a sideshow. Laos
Hmong General Vang Pao, some of his Staff, Thai and CIA Officials
Hmong General Vang Pao, holding hands with Thai Army Chief Of Staff, Surakij Mayalab, overlooking Hmong-CIA headquarters, Long Tieng, Laos. To the left of Surakij Mayalab with shaved head is CIA case officer, Burr Smith. The rest of the men in the photo are Thai, from the elite CIA trained unit call PARU, or Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit, and Royal Thai Army, both of which served in Laos with Lao-Hmong forces.
Laosregained limited independence from on 19 July 1949 as a constitutional monarchy and full independence at the end of 1954. The nation consisted of political ideologies from communist to conservative to neutralist. The Communist forces were made up of Prince Chao Souphanouvong (The Red Prince), Kaysone Phomvihane, the Pathet Lao and their North Vietnamese allies (supported by Red China and the France ). The pro-Western forces included King Savang Vatthana, Prince Boun Oum, General Phoumi Nosavan and the Hmong guerrillas and militia led by General Vang Pao (backed secretly by the U.S. Government and its Central Intelligence Agency). The neutralists consisted of Prince Souvanna Phouma, General Kong Le, and the Royal Lao Government. USSR
Prince Souvanna Phouma
Conflicts among neutralist, communist, and conservative factions led to increasingly chaotic and violent conflicts, particularly after 1960. The formal Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos, signed on 23 July 1962, provided for a coalition government and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country by 7 October, and the three factions formed a coalition government with Prince Souvanna Phouma as premier.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail
Out of Bounds: Transnational Sanctuary in Irregular Warfare
Thomas A. Bruscino, Jr.
By 1964, the communist Pathet Lao had withdrawn from the coalition and renewed guerilla actions with support from
. With the war heating up in Vietnam, the United States got more deeply involved in Laos by interdicting traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and trying to force North Vietnam to pull some front-line units out of Vietnam and into Laos. In addition, the United States had aircraft and communication bases in North Vietnam Laos, including the 4500-foot elevation Lima Site 85 (Pha Thi), loaded with modern electronic equipment to aid the USAF in its missions over . North Vietnam
was divided into five Military Regions (MR). MR I was in the northwest, including Luang Prabang and the borders with Laos Burmaand ; MR II was in the northeast, including Long Tieng, Sam Neua and Sam Thong; MR III consisted of the central panhandle region, including Savannakhet and much of the Ho Chi Minh trail. MR IV was in the south, including Pakse and the Bolovens Plateau; finally MR V consisted of the neutral zone around China . Vientiane
Early in the war, there were plans to use local Lao tribes as part of an American-led resistance movement. This plan was forwarded to American Ambassador Sullivan who was concerned that it might be impossible to limit and control such an operation. Furthermore, if the resistance got into trouble, there would be no way to militarily support them, which might result in their very embarrassing slaughter.
Turkoly-Joczik mentions Sullivan in his paper:
The name of the first series of SOG patrols into
was Shining Brass (later renamed Prairie Fire) conducted between 1965 and 1969. These patrols began when intelligence reports indicated that the Ho Chi Minh Trail was expanding to meet the increasing demand for men and material in the South. To determine the nature and location of these activities in Laos, the OPS-35 forces conducted reconnaissance missions with units known as Spike Teams comprising six to twelve men (two to four U.S. personnel and four to eight indigenous personnel). Laos
U.S.Congressional Record of September 1973 revealed the increasing frequency of Prairie Fire missions when it disclosed that between September 1965 and April 1972, SOG conducted 1,579 reconnaissance patrols, 216 platoon-sized patrols, and three multi-platoon-sized operations in . Laos
The Prairie Fire operations were always subject to the approval or disapproval of the U.S. Ambassador in
, William H. Sullivan. Sullivans behavior and actions earned him some enmity from the Laos military and he was frequently referred to as the field marshal. General William Westmoreland noted an example of the difficulties experienced with the Ambassador when he said, Bill Sullivan had a tendency to impose his own restrictions over and above those laid on by the Department of State. We sometimes referred to the Ho Chi Minh Trail as Sullivans Freeway. U.S.
Sullivans concern about the SOGs operations stemmed from his desire to ensure that civilians did not become casualties from any misdirected attacks. He was also concerned about how the Soviet Union might interpret
s military actions. Sullivan enjoyed a close personal relationship with the Soviet Ambassador to Laos, Boris Kornissovsky. America
Most people believed that the Lao guerillas were in charge of their anti-government war but if we are to believe authors Paul F. Langer and Joseph J. Zasloff in North Vietnam and the Pathet Lao Partners in the Struggle for Laos, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1970, that is not exactly true. The authors point out that the Lao Communists were trained, led, paid, and armed by the Vietnamese. In fact, we find the same comments that we heard from American advisors training South Vietnamese soldiers. The Americans said that the South Vietnamese were not patriotic, not motivated and very likely to desert in a fire fight. The exact same language is used by North Vietnamese advisors to the Pathet Lao. One North Vietnamese officer said that if a Vietnamese soldier ever admitted that he wanted to desert he would be immediately brought before a tribunal, and if he did desert and return home, his family would be shamed and lose face. If a Lao soldier said the same thing, it would be ignored, and if he returned home his family would rejoice that he escaped from the war.
Amidst the Vietnam War in 1970, the
increased its military activities, but after Pathet Lao military gains, in May 1975 the Royal Lao government forces ceased fighting and the Pathet Lao took control. A Lao People's Democratic Republic, strongly influenced by U.S. , was proclaimed 3 December 1975. The Vietnam Republicof Vietnamand the United States Government directed several PSYOP campaigns targeting enemy troops in both Laosand Cambodia
We dont know much about the American aid to Laotian PSYOP, but there is an interesting 1961 letter from General Phoumi to his staff that lists the early American involvement. It points out that the Royal Lao Government desires peace without the spilling of blood. It realizes that a strong PSYOP program is needed to win over the enemy and keep the support of the people. The threat of the Viet Cong and the Pathet Lao that constantly lie to the people must be countered. In answer to this problem, the United States has made 12 PSYOP specialists available until July of that year.
[There is no mention if they are military or civilian, and they are identified as Mister," and they could be CIA, but I suspect we can bet the house they are military].
The specialists will be used to teach the Laotian troops the following:
Troop Indoctrination: teach the troops how to talk to the people in the villages to counter the enemy lies.
Village Orientation: Lao Government Information Teams will show motion pictures and distribute printed material designed to get the support of the villagers; and develop propaganda in support of combat operations.
Radio Operations: development of a radio broadcasting network is essential for the education and training of our troops and informing the people of our aims and projects to better their lives.
The specialists will be available in all the regions. They should work with the officers assigned to PSYOP, G5, or with the Operation, Plans and Training Section.
The predominance of Psywar activities were implemented by the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States Information Service (USIS), USAID, the 7/13th Air Force Psychological Operations directorate (in conjunction with targeting cells), MACV, and the Laotian Psychological Operations staff Directorate. No U.S. Army Psychological Operations units were deployed into Laos during the early years of involvement Although lacking presence down in the field, Psychological Operations detachments augmented the MAAG in the 1961 through 1962 advisory period, and Psychological Operations support to Laos was provided by the 4th Psychological Operations Group and its four regional Detachments stationed throughout South Vietnam There was one exception to lack of PSYOPs units to support American on the ground in Laos: the U-10 Helio Courier Section in the 606th SOS, 56th SOW (Air Commandos), responsible for loudspeaker and leaflet drops over Laos. Loudspeaker operations were code-named Loudmouth and leaflet operations were code-named Litter-bug.
Major Ray Ambrozak
Retired PSYOP Major Ray Ambrozak told me about his 1961 leaflet missions in Laos. On one occasion experts from the United States Information Service and Central Intelligence Agency determined that there were evil spirits that the Lao people called Phi that might be used for propaganda purposes. There are hundreds, if not thousands of different types of these phi documented in Lao folktales and other sources. Some of the more common ones include the Phi Ban who are the village spirits. The Phi Taihong are spirits of the violently killed and very dangerous. The Phi Borisat are nameless evil spirits. Ray told me about an operation he was involved with:
The Phi were invisible mystical spirits that were revered and feared by the Lao. We stuffed leaflets into bottles which when dropped from an aircraft would make the strange whistling sound of the Phi. The pilot would throttle back the engine and glide almost silently over a village as the bottles were thrown out. The bottles would break open upon hitting the ground and the leaflets would scatter over the ground. The leaflets told the Lao to break away from the Pathet Lao as the Phi imprisoned in the bottles had done.
Ray also mentioned the occasional difficulty in the delivery of leaflets to Laos. He said:
One time we knew there was a large force of Pathet Lao moving up a valley toward a nearby mountain. We did not want the leaflets scattered all over both sides of the mountains and wasted so we asked the pilot to fly low. We felt that in order to hit the target we had to be at a low altitude. Sometimes the pilot refused to fly that low for safety reasons and we had an improvised answer. A bundle of leaflets would be tied with the knot around the blasting cap. We were not sure of the exact time we needed to get the leaflets to spread at the correct altitude so I would prepare the fuses at various lengths for test drops. A flattened beer can was placed between the cap and the leaflet to prevent the leaflet from being damaged or scorched. We would take the door off the aircraft and I would harness myself to a D-ring in the floor of the aircraft. I would lean out the door and using a lit cigar that could stand up to the prop blast I would light the fuse and drop our little homemade contraption and make sure that the leaflets were properly disseminated.
Note: Ray makes a good point. The United States often used artillery to deliver leaflets and the result of the shell exploding often crinkled the leaflets and singed the edges. Sometimes the leaflets were so distorted that they could hardly be read.
The 16 September 1968 declassified secret USAF report: Psychological Operations by the United States Air Force and the Vietnamese Air Force in South Vietnam says about the PSYOP war in Laos:
The USAF has supported Psychological Operations in South Vietnam and Laos with leaflet drops and loudspeaker broadcasts starting in 1965 This Trail campaign is a program against NVA infiltrators. It was initiated in January 1966, and has gradually increased in intensity since that time. It consists principally of leaflet and loudspeaker operations directed at way stations, staging and supply areas, and the routes and trails leading to these areas, which are located in North Vietnam, the Laotian Panhandle, the Laos-Republic of Vietnam Border areas and the Cambodian- Republic of Vietnam Border areas. Thematic content is designed to create fear, anxiety, and insecurity in the North Vietnamese Army soldiers on their way to South Vietnam, in order to cause defection, desertion and a loss of effectiveness in the units.
The requirements and material for the interdiction campaign in Laos comes from two origins, MACV/JUSPAO in Saigon and a Controlled American Source in Laos. Since the material is being distributed in Laos, the U.S. Embassy there must approve all operations. The largest number of leaflets come from JUSPAO/MACV and are distributed from the eastern side by the 14th Air Commando Wing and from the western side by the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing mission at Ubon. The 14th Air Commando Wing usually accomplishes these missions with C-47 aircraft. Material from the Controlled American Source is distributed from Nakhon Phanom RTAFB, Thailand, by the 56th Air Commando Wing under operational control of the 7/13th Air Force headquartered at Udorn. These operations consist of leaflet drops as well as loudspeaker broadcasts. The leaflet drops are accomplished in low-threat areas by means of U-10 aircraft of the 606th Air Commando Squadron.
This is one of the aircraft that clandestinely dropped leaflets into Laos and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The photo is from the collection of Major Dusty Rhodes, Detachment 12 of 1131 Special Activities Squadron Heavy Hook, Nha Trang AB, RVN.
Major Dusty Rhodes
Instructor Pilot in the UC-123K.
I was told by another veteran that the equipment onboard these black special operations platforms was truly exotic, to the point it allowed them to penetrate & transient denied airspace. The story of these aircraft is told in the article Vietnams Most Secret Squadron in the USASOC publication Tip of the Spear, January 2010.I have edited the text heavily. Some of the comments are:
When MACSOG was set up in early 1964, the U.S. Air Force had virtually no capability to fly the kinds of covert air missions contemplated for OPLAN 34A (unconventional warfare). In order to give the U.S. government the plausible deniability it desired, the Air Force would rely on non-American third country foreign nationals to fly the missions over North Vietnam. Seven crews from the Republic of China on Taiwan (C Crews) and three crews of Vietnamese (V Crews) were recruited as First Flights primary flyers. Later there were four American crews (A Crews). In early 1964 the Air Force secretly assigned six of its C-123Bs to MACSOG under the codename Project Duck Hook.
For SOG operations, the Duck Hook C-123s received new navigation equipment, additional radios and surface-to-air missile radar detectors. Also, new crew stations were created for an electronic warfare officer and a radio operator. The Duck Hook C-123s were also sanitized and official records of the six Duck Hook C-123s were deleted from Air Force files. In December 1964, Flight Detachment began flying covert missions over North Vietnam. Leaflet drops were among the most dangerous missions because they required the C-123 crews to leave the relative safety of low altitude as they neared their target area to quickly climb to a much higher altitude where they would release their leaflets so they could flutter down far and wide. This tactic greatly increased the crews exposure to detection by enemy radar and engagement by SAMs or MiGs.
C-123 instructor pilot Major Fred Heitzhausen, recalls his first leaflet drop as "the scariest, spookiest night of my life." Immediately after completing the leaflet drop at 14,000 feet, Heitzhausen pulled off all engine power, rolled his plane over into a steep 90 degree bank, then plunged down toward the pitch black jungle below, diving 4,000 feet in only 40 seconds to get to low altitude as quickly as possible to minimize exposure to the enemy defenses. It took him another 5,000 feet of altitude just to pull out of the dive without hitting the ground. The pilot remembers this not-quite-by-the-book combat tactic as "a hairy maneuver, to say the least."
In 1965 Johnson approved an expansion of SOGs covert operations into the officially off-limits territories of Laos and Cambodia. In their second year of operation, the White House authorized the A crews to begin flying missions over North Vietnam. In early 1972 it was finally decided to shut down MACSOGs operations in accordance with Nixons Vietnamization strategy which included the steady withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Southeast Asia. The unit lost four of C-123s and their crews. None of the planes went down in the denied territory of North Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia.
The U.S. Army 7th PSYOP Group wrote a PSYOP Intelligence Special Report in February 1972. It says in part:
Both the Royal Laotian Government and the Pathet Lao had a variety of PSYOP programs designed to reach various target groups within Lao society.
Government themes are addressed to the whole country as well as special audiences: Lao-Thai mercenaries, commercial circles, military forces, the Pathet Lao, farmers, other ethnic groups, monks and the youth. The Government objectives are to reduce the combat efficiency of the enemy, to stress the goodwill of the U.S., to convince enemy troops to defect, and to carry out plans for economic development while educating the people.
To carry out these goals the Government uses posters, leaflets, motion pictures, still pictures, cartoons, travelling theatre groups, PSYOP teams, loudspeaker programs, radio broadcasts and printed media. The Government has five radio stations which transmit to an estimated 70,000 radio receivers in the country. The Government publishes Khao Phap Pacham Sapda, a weekly news and photo sheet with a circulation of 20,000.The value of leaflets were shown when large numbers of the enemy defected and stated that leaflets and loudspeaker programs were influential in their decision to desert.
The Pathet Lao themes are directed at the youth, ethnic minorities, religious leaders and Royal Lao troops. Pathet Lao themes claim corruption and graft in the government. The Pathet Lao direct the war monger theme to all sections of the society. Along with this is an anti-U.S. propaganda program designed for Lao troops. It asks the troops to defect to the rightful side. The Pathet Lao use radio, propaganda teams, motion pictures and printed media, including leaflets and a newspaper called the Lao Hak Sat. Four radio stations broadcast in support of the Pathet Lao: Radio Peking, Radio Pathet Lao, Radio of the Patriotic Neutral Forces and, and Liberation Radio (Vietnam).
The Republic of Vietnam and the United States government directed several PSYOP campaigns targeting enemy troops in both Laos and Cambodia. Before we discuss the leaflets dropped on the Laotians, we should mention that many of the Allied PSYOP leaflets were also dropped on Vietnamese troops who were coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail through
. Some were all in Vietnamese text; others had Vietnamese on one side and Laotian on the other side. About a dozen of the trail leaflets coded with a T mentioned Laos . We depict three below. Laos
Leaflet T-07 is a threat leaflet that warns the soldiers walking south of the terrible might of the American B-52 bomber. It was produced in two versions, one horizontal and one vertical. Fifteen million copies in all were printed and disseminated. The front of the leaflet depicts a B-52 dropping bombs. The back is all text:
YOU WILL NEVER SEE ONE OF THESE
You probably won't hear it. It flies too high. It is a B-52 bomber, used by the South Vietnamese people's powerful American allies to blast aggressors out of their hiding places. One B-52 carries 29,700 kilos of bombs and can drop them with pin-point accuracy, dealing certain death to everyone within the target area. The B-52 can strike you at any time during all seasons and weather conditions.
Your chance to avoid this fate will come. Look for your safe conduct pass.
This leaflet is specifically mentioned by
StanleySandler in Cease resistance: Its Good for You: A History of Army Combat Psychological Operations, 1999. Sandler adds: U.S.
A scrawled note on the translation sheet of this leaflet warns Not to be used in
per order of the Ambassador. The bombing of Laos was a secret at the highest political levels. Laos
The 6th PSYOP Battalion in Vietnam requested that the 7th PSYOP Group in Okinawa print 6 million copies of Ho Chi Minh Trail leaflet T-25 with the theme: "Return home, seek refuge in Laos" to be delivered by 25 December 1967. This leaflet uses the theme of the TET holidays to entice the enemy to return home or seek refuge in Laos. The image depicts a happy and prosperous family celebrating the TET holidays. The back is all text and says:
To all North Vietnamese fighters:
Spring has returned. This is a time when you should be enjoying the happiness of family reunion in the North. Instead, you are walking through hostile jungles and mountains on foreign soil.
What has led you to this life of hardship? It is because you have been lured by the Party into believing that the South is in need of Liberation by the North. In reality, the South is living in prosperity. Your comrades have turned it into a sea of fiery war with consequences reaching all the way to the North. Your southern compatriots do not wish to be liberated by the North; they only wish to live in peace.
You can end this war and your hardships by choosing a cease-fire of your own. Deny the Party the use of your person as a tool to impose Party rule on South Vietnam.
Quit the Communist ranks, return to your homes, seek refuge with the Royal Lao Government, or, if you reach South Vietnamese territory, take the opportunity to rally to the Government of the Republic of Vietnam. This is the safest way to end the war and you hardships.
The theme of death on a foreign battlefield, far away from your own home and ancestors was a very popular subject of many PSYOP leaflets. A number of the Trail leaflets pictured dead bodies that would never be properly buried and whose soul would walk the Earth forever as a result. I chose this one because it seemed especially poignant. It depicts two dead enemy soldiers and the text:
WILL YOU MEET THIS FATE?
The back is all text:
WILL YOU DIE IN
FAR FROM YOUR ANCESTRAL HOME? LAOS
Why die needlessly in a foreign country? The people of
urge you to stop fighting and temporarily join the Royal Lao Government. You will be warmly welcomed and you will be returned home when the war is over. Laos
The threat of not being buried near your ancestral home and having your spirit wander forever is found in dozens of propaganda leaflets. The allies used just such a campaign after the mysterious death of Pathet Lao general Phomma Douangmala in 1970. The C.I.A. claimed that the North Vietnamese had murdered the general and then left his body unburied. In addition, loudspeaker aircraft flew over Pathet Lao sites playing ghost music and a message allegedly in the voice of the dead general. We mention this kind of operation in more depth in The Wandering Soul PSYOP Tape of Vietnam. This campaign was very successful. A number of the generals loyal troops defected to the National Government. One was Captain Thao Boualiene, Commander of the 25th Battalion, who went over to the Government with a platoon of soldiers. You will see a photograph of the captain on leaflets .511 and .520 near the end of this article. Bouanien gave information that allowed the USAF to bomb a North Vietnamese base camp. Later, his entire battalion defected.
Retired Colonel Joe Celeski mentions another threat in his monograph The Ambassadors SOF and the Secret War in Laos. He said in part:
As gunships came on-line to serve in Laos, propaganda leaflets were fired out of the flare launching devices of the AC-119K Stingers, most dropped along the Ho Chi Minh trail, targeted at NVA forces. The leaflet had a picture of the gunship on one side with Rain of Death here is the AC-119 that just attacked you printed in Vietnamese. On the back were descriptions of the firepower and surveillance capabilities of the gunship, warning the NVA they would continue to die courtesy of the gunship if they did not give up the cause
This leaflet, which was printed by the 4th PSYOP Group in 1970 depicts a C-119 gunship with four weapons protruding from its port side. The Shadow (G Model) had four six-barrel 7.62mm mini-guns, armor plating, flare-launchers, and night-capable infrared equipment. The Stinger (K Model) had 4 miniguns and two 20mm cannon, improved avionics, and two underwing-mounted General Electric J85-GE-17 turbojet engines, adding nearly 6,000 pounds of thrust for increased lift. Over the course of the war the AC-119's were located at Phan Rang, Phu Cat, Tan Son Nhut, Da Nang and Udorn Air Base in Thailand. Text on the front of the leaflet is:
THE STORM OF BULLETS CAUSES DEATH
THIS IS THE AC-119 GUNSHIP WHICH JUST ATTACKED ALL OF YOU
The message on the back of the leaflet is:
To the cadres and troops in the Communist forces.
You have just experienced the violence of the AC-119 gunship's attack. This close-support gunship is armed with two 20mm cannon and four 7.62mm machine guns, each with the rate-of-fire of 6,000 rounds per minute, enough to put six rounds per second into each square meter of your position. The aircraft can carry a load of ammunition large enough to completely erase the target. Moreover, the AC-119 has the latest electronic equipment to detect and pinpoint your exact location, by night as well as day.
We are going to keep on attacking you. Ask yourself, will you be able to escape death next time? Get smart. Rally to the Government side to hasten the return of peace for our country and to escape a horrible death yourself.
The front of this leaflet depicts a cartoon of a North Vietnamese Army soldier questioning his unit political commissar. He asks:
Comrade Political Commissar. There is one thing I do not understand. If the liberation forces control four-fifths of the land and nearly four-fifths of the people in of the South, WHY DO WE HAVE TO HIDE IN THE JUNGLE AND MOUNTAINS OF
Leaflets T-65, T-66, T-67 T-68, T-69 and T-70 all have Vietnamese text on the front and a Laotian safe conduct pass on the back that says:
Above is a Royal Lao Government Safe Conduct Pass. Present it to any soldier or government official. You will be warmly received.
A 7th PSYOP Group 1972 Intelligence Special Report on Psychological Operations in Laos mentions a number of Royal Laotian Government and Pathet Lao programs. The report states:
The PSYOP objectives of the Royal Laotian Government are to reduce the combat efficiency of the enemy, to mold favorable attitudes toward the war effort, to stress the goodwill of the United States, to confuse the enemy concerning ideology and the aims of leaders, to convince enemy troops to defect, and to carry out plans for economic and other development while educating the people.
To carry out these goals the Government uses posters, leaflets, motion pictures, still pictures, cartoons, traveling theater groups PSYOP teams, loudspeaker programs, radio broadcasts, and printed media.
The Royal Lao Government has radio stations at Savannakhet, Pakse, Luang Prabang, Chimaimo, and Vientiane which transmit to an estimated 70,000 radio receivers in the country...The Lao publish Khao Phap Pacham Sapda, a weekly news and photo sheet that has a circulation of approximately 20,000 and reaches the largest number of illiterate people in the country.
Since most of the people are illiterate, radio and loudspeaker programs are the most effective from the standpoint of reaching numbers of people. The cartoons, plays, and to a lesser extent, leaflets are well received.
The report also mentions Pathet Lao psychological operations:
Pathet Lao themes are directed at youth, ethnic minorities, religious leaders, and government troops. Pathet Lao themes claim corruption and graft in the established government The Pathet Lao direct the war monger theme to all sections of the society. Along with this is an anti-U.S. propaganda program designed for government troops. It stresses the righteousness of Pathet Lao programs and calls for the government troops to defect to the rightful side.
To carry out their objectives the Pathet Lao use radio, propaganda teams, motion pictures and printed media.
U.S.military objectives for were: Laos
The withdrawal of all North Vietnamese troops followed by the re-establishment of the 1962
provisions. To accomplish this goal, US objectives were: Geneva
1) Maintain an outward appearance of strict neutrality for diplomatic reasons;
2) Maintain a relatively stable balance of political, military, and economic positions between the communist and the pro-US factions in
3) Maintain a friendly or at least neutral government on the borders of
4) Achieve maximum attrition and disruption of North Vietnamese logistics flow through the use of air power.
Our aircraft will continuously attack
One of the most interesting Lao government leaflets depicts their aircraft attacking porters and soldiers bringing supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Text on the front is:
Our aircraft will continuously attack the people who aid the Viet Cong
The back of the leaflet bears a long threatening message that is written poorly, using a mix of Lao, Pathet Lao and Thai words. It says in part:
To the Heads of the villages in Viet Cong controlled areas,
We are deeply concerned with the peace and freedom of Lao people But, many of the Lao people are living very dangerously and close to tragedy. You are still supporting and cooperating with our enemy, the North Vietnamese. Therefore, we want to reason with you in good faith. We need you to face the truth. We want you to understand the danger of helping the North Vietnamese. If the Lao people in these areas continue to support the Viet Cong, helps and cooperates with them, the only choice we have is to use our weapons and guns and bombs continuously to destroy the enemy.
Therefore, we warn everyone that we are dropping bombs that can destroy every living thing. We warn all citizens against riding in boats, riding motor cycles, bicycles and helping the enemy by supplying tools and repairing the roads used by the Viet Cong. We want you to understand that continued aid to our enemy will mean that the people living in the controlled areas will be targeted and bombed until nothing is left.
It seems that the Vietnamese were not universally admired by the Laotians. In the Diary of an Infiltrator, a report translated from a captured diary in December 1966 we find a comment from a North Vietnam soldier marching down the Trail:
Laotians came trading food for things we were carrying. It is forbidden, but many of the men do it anyway. Today I was caught trading some clothes for rice and was reprimanded. Then I discovered the sack of rice I had traded my last pair of pants for was a sack of dirt with just a layer of rice on top.
Kenneth Conboy, author of Shadow War: The CIAs Secret War in Laos told me:
The leaflet operations by the Royal Lao government were somewhat limited, which reflected the limited extent of territorial control by that country's government for most of the war. They did some leaflet drops, but faced serious problems because the Royal Lao Air Force was propeller driver (read: slow) and they were running up against some very competent anti-aircraft coverage. Most of the Royal Lao Government leaflets I have seen have depictions of the King and apparently tried to feed off Lao loyalty to the throne. They also did some white radio operations. And, on one occasion, they feted a Pathet Lao battalion that defected to the government. Calendars and posters were printed up and widely distributed to mark the occasion.
By contrast, the psywar efforts of the U.S.-backed irregular forces were far more extensive. Relatively powerful radio stations were operated out of both Long Tieng and an airfield called PS 44 in the south. Some of these were gray, the most prominent being the
Unionof Lao Races station. Both outposts also ran a number of black stations. Leaflets were also designed at these outposts, but the irregular forces ran up against the same anti-aircraft issues that were faced the Royal forces. Tellingly, many of these leaflets offered rewards for pilots shot down previously.
Prior to 1965, the Directorate of National Coordination had responsibility for psywar; though I don't think they actually performed this function. The DNC was disbanded in 1965 following a coup that saw its leaders go into exile. Colonel Khamthene Chinyavong is the full name of the PSYOP officer who was in
near the end of the war. Brigadier General Etam Singvongsa was the overall Commander of PSYWAR. He has since passed away in Vientiane . Australia
CIA Surrender Passfor Laos
Speaking of Long Tieng, Captain Bob Farmer was one of the covert American pilots. In six months in 1966, Captain Farmer flew combat missions using the call sign Butterfly. The aircraft most often used by Butterfly Forward Air Controllers was the PC6A Pilatus Porter, flown by both Air
and Continental Air Service. Officially, no America UScombatants were in neutral Laosin accordance with the 1962 Accords, so officially, the Butterflies did not exist. Geneva
On the subject of call signs, author Orr Kelly mentions the call signs of the pilots in Laos in From a Dark Sky the Story of U.S. Air Force Special Operations, Presidio Press, Novato, CA, 1996. He says in part:
Butterflies and Ravens were forward air controllers; Nimrods flew the A-26s; Bigmouths broadcast propaganda from the air; and Litterbugs dropped leaflets.
Farmer found hundreds of forgotten safe conduct passes in the CIA storeroom at Long Tieng Air base. He started taking them on strike missions and throwing them out the aircraft window when he had the opportunity. They measured 6.5-inches x 9-inches and depicted the flag of
in bright red color. Laos
Most of the
leaflets are standard 3-inch x 6-inch black and white rotators. Other are full color on the front and black and white on the back and larger at 2 3/4-inch by 8 1/2-inch. All of the leaflets in the Lao language have code numbers starting with a period like .23 or .335. Many of the leaflets are in Lao on one side and Vietnamese on the other since they were aimed at both the Pathet Lao and Vietnamese fighting in Laos . Finally, some of the leaflets are exactly the same and found in both Vietnamese and Lao. So, there are many possible combinations. I have selected some leaflets that I found particularly interesting, either because of the message or the image. I have made no attempt to write a detailed in-depth report. This is just a light look at American PSYOP in Laos where I hope to show and discuss perhaps a dozen or so different leaflets.We should mention that the one source says that the codename for PSYOP Leaflets and booklets in Laos and Cambodia was Soap Chips. Another source is more specific, saying that the code name was actually used in a black SOG operation to place forged letters on the bodies of PAVN soldiers in Laos and Cambodia. The letters would contain anti-Regime propaganda and news about life at home and in the combat zone. Laos
The Allies studied the Pathet Lao reaction to American PSYOP in an August 1972 report entitled Pathet Lao Reaction to American PSYOP. The five-page document listed a number of Communist broadcasts that mention
psychological operations. Some of the broadcasts quoted were: U.S.
On 22 August, Radio Pathet Lao carried a long (6 minutes) broadcast entitled Effectively Promote Security Tasks in Various Area to Smash Enemy PSYWAR Activities Intended to Create Confusion Among Our People. Radio Pathet Lao said that
and Royal Lao PSYWAR included clandestine radio stations, utilizing all available propaganda tactics And sending bandits and commandoes to create unrest. U.S.
On 26, August Radio Pathet Lao carried a seven-minute broadcast to the people of Laos entitled, The PSYWAR Tactics of the U.S. Imperialists Can Deceive No One.
On 7 September, Radio Pathet Lao carried an eight-minute broadcast entitled, Maintaining Security and Countering U.S. Psychological Warfare is an Important and Urgent Task Which Must be Implemented by our People.
On 11 September, Radio Pathet Lao carried a five-minute program entitled, What is Psychological Warfare? Radio Pathet Lao discussed the
schemes of carrying out PSYWAR tactics to thwart the Lao revolutionary struggle. U.S.
All of this data illustrates two very interesting points.
Intelligence was clearly monitoring the Communist radio and taking note of everything said. At the same time, it seems clear U.S. psychological operations were having their effect on the Communists and forcing them to constantly attempt to counter it by indoctrinating the people against PSYOP in the areas that they occupied. U.S.
The civilian "Bible" of Vietnam War PSYOP is the Robert W. Chandler book War of Ideas: The U.S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam, A Westview Special Study, Boulder, CO, 1981. According to
Chandler, during its seven years in Vietnam, the United States Information Agency (USIA), supported by the armed forces, littered the countryside of the North, South, and the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laosand Cambodiawith nearly 50 billion leaflets more than 1,500 for every person in North and . South Vietnam
Other books which one supposes would mention psychological warfare do not. There is no mention of PSYOP over Laos in Stanley Sandlers Cease Resistance it's Good for You: a History of the U.S. Army Combat Psychological Operations, or in Christopher Robbins The Ravens. The latter book is the history of the secret war fought in the air and one would expect numerous examples of psychological operations.
There are some rare comments concerning leaflet campaigns in the various histories of Civil Air Transport (CAT), later renamed Air
, and often called the CIA airline. I note that in late 1955 three CAT C-46s air-dropped rice bags and propaganda leaflets along the Lao-China border and the Lao-North America border. In December 1971, after an aircraft was lost, Air Vietnam aircraft dropped reward leaflets for information on the plane and crew. America
On the subject of bags as gifts my friend Former Lieutenant-Colonel Dave Underhill of the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa took part in a somewhat similar operation. He told me:
There was a program to provide educational equipment to school children. One was a high-quality heavy-duty collapsible school bag. Throughout the city you could see businessmen carrying the bags. Apparently the Laotians believed that the bags were just too good for children.
are fairly rare. Unlike Laos Vietnamwhere about three million Americans slogged through the swamp and bush, a very limited number of Americans were in Laos. Not only that, but the war was a secret one and the Americans were not encouraged to bring back souvenirs. Stories about that war are endless. These will sound like tall tales and maybe they are and you never heard them from me.
A friend from the 101st Airborne claims to have made two combat jumps into
. He is unable to wear the star over his jump wings because the jumps do not officially exist. Laos
Back in the late 1980s I had a soldier ready to retire who had spent a year in Laos. We had a very difficult time proving his twenty good years since his records had a gaping hole in them. I was not worried. I knew all the tricks and all the right people and I thought his pay records would clear everything up. He told me while in Laos he was paid by an unknown officer out of a brown paper bag. I was sure he was making that up or exaggerating, because the military is very careful about paperwork. There was no way this guy would not have pay records. I was wrong. We could find no proof of that invisible year. He simply no longer existed. I sent the problem upstairs, made a few calls and somehow the problem went away and he was retired with a pension. I have no idea who did it or how it was done. We used to say in the military: "That is above my paygrade."
Years later when I was at CIA Headquarters in Langley at a small gathering, I was introduced to a youthful-looking very fit guy with a crew cut. My host told me that he was an Air Force General who was the clandestine paymaster for some of the Laos operations: U.S. greenbacks carried in and distributed from a brown paper bag.
The Mysterious American Paymaster in Laos
In June 2017, I received a note from former Airman First Class David Ross, a ground radio operator in Laos who supported T28s and Raven O-1 Birddog aircraft. He worked with the Laotian Army out of Luang Prabang up along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He read this article that I wrote over a decade earlier and told me:
I remember getting paid out of a paper sack in US dollars every month from a guy with a flat-top haircut. I even have pictures of him on the T28 flight line. My Air Force records were non-existent for that time period but I had other documents that covered me. It seems funny to read about what I was actually doing there.
I am glad that we got it right. It is great to get letters from troops with boots on the ground and be told that you were absolutely correct.
It seems that Laos was such a clandestine operation that cash and carry was the standard operating procedure. One former Air Commando told me:
We sometimes carried foot lockers full of cash to buy Supplies or Payrolls without a single dollar ever coming up missing. One of our medics carried a million dollars in cash to the Philippines to buy Medical Supplies and a few other things for our work in Laos. Well, he came back with about one and a half million dollars worth of supplies because of paying cash. We were a strange breed, but very honest, because our reputations were important to us.
more recently, a veteran told me that before a flight a mail clerk dropped off some copies of the Stars and Stripes in the briefing room. He stuffed one in his helmet bag on the way out the door. He then flew to Khe Sanh, where he picked up an ARVN General and flew him to a firebase in Laos . While waiting for the general to finish his briefing he took the newspaper out of his helmet bag and the headline was, NIXON: NO Laos U.S.TROOPS ON THE GROUND IN . He says he looked around and thought, Well, if I'm not in LAOS , where the fook am I? Laos
Time magazine of 22 February 1971 seems confused. It says:
Reporters also saw some American bodies being brought back from
. Was someone fudging on the congressional curbs on the use of ground troops outside Laos ? White House Press Secretary Ron Zeigler insisted that the reports probably involved Special Forces intelligence teams that have operated in South Vietnam for years. Still, the impression remained that some American advisors had crossed the border. Laos
In fact, on 8 February 1971, 20,000 South Vietnamese troops crossed the border into
on a major incursion known as Lam Son 719. The operation was named in honor of the Vietnamese Emperor Le Loi who was born in the Laos . American ground forces were not supposed to be in Laos, but the Air Force supplied fighters, bombers and attack helicopters to support the Vietnamese troops. The ARVN were fiercely attacked by an estimated 36,000 North Vietnamese troops with as many as five divisions, tanks and heavy artillery. On 9 March 1971 the assault force was withdrawn. The North Vietnamese lost over 20,000 troops, South Vietnamese suffered about 9,000 casualties, the villageof Lam Son about 1,462 casualties. 108 U.S. helicopters were lost and another 618 were damaged. U.S.
This battle was lost before it began because the North Vietnamese had so infiltrated the Government of
that they knew of the attack months before it occurred. Larry Berman mentions Lam Son in Perfect Spy, Smithsonian Books, 2007. This is the biography of North Vietnamese spy and Time Magazine correspondent General Xuan Pham An. He says in part: South Vietnam
Everyone knew about Laos well in advance, except those in charge Northern spies were everywhere in the south, from the hootch maids cleaning up after the G.I.s, to the ranks of the ARVN, to the Saigon press corps and it would be later reported, even inside the Da Nang headquarters of I Corps where Operation Lam Son 719 was long planned The Communists knew of it maybe six months in advance.
Lam Son Leaflet 4231 depicts a dragon swooping down on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and destroying trucks by fire. The text is:
The Party cannot Liberate the South because the forces of the
blocked the trail. Republicof Vietnam Have
The back is all text:
Liberation of the South
This is what the Party keeps telling you again and again. It cannot be done. The armed forces of the
are attacking the Ho Chi Minh Trail on which you must travel in force. You will very likely be sacrificed on the Trail. Return home now to your family or report to the Army of Republicof Vietnam or the Royal Laotian Government forces. South Vietnam
We should mention that there were numerous deception operations involved in this incursion. John B. Dwyer mentions one in Seaborne Deception, the History of the
U.S. Jumpers. Navy Beach
During Operation Lam Son 19 (the Multidivisional incursion into the Laotian Panhandle) SOG carried out diversionary insertions at four bogus landing zones and conducted simulated parachute raider and actual resupply bundle insertions at eight phone drop zones
There were actually a number of leaflets created by the 7th PSYOP Battalion that mentioned Lam Son. The PSYOP Reports for March and April 1971 say:
During the Month of March, the 7th PSYOP Battalion continued to support Operation Lam Son 719.
Some of the leaflets are H7-24-71. It bears a long message and is entitled Lan Son 719 Victory. It says in part:
Six weeks have passed Our soldiers have cut the supply lines to destroy the majority of the enemys stockpiles. Our forces have killed 11,176 enemy soldiers, captured 161 others, and destroyed or seized 4,300 individual weapons, 1,300 crew-served weapons, 110 tanks
Leaflet 7-719-71 is entitled Do not believe your Political Commissars, depicts a Chieu Hoi symbol and says in part:
The ARVN operation has cut off the main communist supply artery. You can feel it by yourself: the gnawing of starvation, the aggravation of disease and the increasing threat of death .
There are many other such leaflets but they are mostly all text so we just show one.
I normally do not depict leaflets that are all text but this one is interesting because it is signed by President Thieu. We who lived through that era recall the parade of leaders that came forward as
searched for a charismatic man that could motivate the people to come together and lead the fight against the Communists. There was Ngo Dinh Diem and his wife, the Dragon Lady, and General Duong Van Big Minh, Nguyen Van Thieu, and my personal favorite, the gallant airman, General Nguyen Cao Ky. They all attempted to take power and lead the nation, and ultimately, they all were unsuccessful. The text on this leaflet is in part: America
Today, 8 February 1971, I have ordered the Armed Forces of the
Republicof Vietnamto attack the Communist North Vietnamese bases on Laotian territory along the Vietnam border in Military Region I. Laos
Nguyen Van Thieu
President of the
This leaflet was prepared on 10 November 1972 and is entitled: Peoples Army of Vietnam to return Home. It depicts children lighting Tet fireworks on the front and a boy leading a buffalo on the back. It mentions the coming ceasefire and how the North Vietnamese troops will soon be returning home. It says in part:
The leadership of North Vietnam and the United States has agreed to the terms of a cease fire as proposed by President Nixon on 8 May. To insure compliance with the ceasefire, the agreement will provide for international supervision. The North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos and Cambodia should be home soon, long before Tet Quy Suu [Year of the Buffalo]. Ask the Communist Party cadre when your loved ones will be returning home begin planning for the happiest Tet in memory.
This leaflet was prepared by JUSPAO on 10 November 1972. It is late in the war and the United States is pushing for a ceasefire. The leaflet targets North Vietnamese civilians and soldiers. It says in part:
Within 60 days of the signing of the cease fire agreement ending the war in Indochina, all remaining U.S. and Korean forces will be withdrawn. The ceasefire agreement contains a section on Cambodia and Laos in which parties to the agreement agree that foreign countries will withdraw their forces from Cambodia and Laos. With the signing of the agreement, all North Vietnamese forces must be withdrawn from Cambodia and Laos in order to comply with the provisions of the agreement and the policies of the North Vietnamese Communist party.
There were about a dozen JUSPAO leaflets all printed on 10 November 1972 with the same general message; that with the signing of the ceasefire all Vietnamese troops would leave Cambodia and Laos. I note leaflets 4596 entitled Peace returns to Indochina,4597 entitled PAWN to depart Laos, and 4600 entitled PAVN to depart Cambodia and Laos. The other leaflets in this series mention troops going home, but not specifically Laos and Cambodia.
Australian Leaflet ATF-087-71
The Australian 1st Psychological Operations Unit also produced leaflets that mention the fact that the Allies are operating in
Laosand . The threat is that if the Ho Chi Minh Trail can be cut off, then the Communist units will become vulnerable due to a lack of weapons and ammunition. The Australians printed about 50,000 of these leaflets on 23 February 1971 and disseminated them by aircraft. The Chieu Hoi symbol is on the front with the text: Cambodia
Rally to the Cause - CHIEU HOI - CHIEU HOI
The back depicts two grinning skulls and the text:
You have heard of the successful
Republicof Vietnam Armed Forcesoperations in . Large Laos Republicof Vietnam Armed Forcesunits are also operating in to close this supply and escape route. Cambodia
Before we start to illustrate the leaflets I should point out that there were many American leaflets dropped on the Vietnamese troops and supply system in
. We will depict a few, and the reader will find many more in my article about the PSYOP campaign over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In general, for the purposes of this article we will mainly show leaflets printed in the Lao language for the Lao. Laos
A great number of the leaflets dropped over
bore a safe conduct pass. In fact, many of the leaflets to the Vietnamese troops had a safe conduct pass on the back and told the Vietnamese how they could use it to surrender to government forces. There are probably more leaflets bearing some form of safe conduct pass than any other theme. Laos
Ho Chi Minh Trail Campaign Leaflet T-16
I chose this leaflet because it bears the symbol of
. This is the three-headed Erawan elephant national symbol from Hindu mythology of the 14th century kingdom whose name translates to Land of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol. This Lao image is the most popular theme among the Trail leaflets and there are over a dozen different types with various surrender messages. The Laos had to deal with the Lao government to arrange for them to accept Vietnamese prisoners. All of these leaflets bear text in Vietnamese on one side and Lao on the other. The Vietnamese-language side of the leaflet says: United States
Pass for safe conduct
To: All North Vietnamese Soldiers in Laos.
You are offered the chance to escape death and live in safety and peace for the duration. The Royal Lao Government and people will welcome you and treat you as a brother.
Show this pass to any Royal
Government citizen or soldier and he will guide you to safety. Laos
Commander in Chief
Lao National Armed Forces
The Lao-language side says:
Pass for Safe Conduct Valid at all times
To: All Citizens and Soldiers of the Royal Laotian Government.
Please welcome the bearer of this pass and provide him with safe conduct to the nearest Royal Lao Government unit or post.
Commander in Chief
Lao National Armed Forces.
Gerald M. Gert who was a Public Affairs Officer in the United States Information Service (USIS) in Vientiane from 1962 to 1965 mentions what may be this fancy official safe conduct pass:
In this struggle in the war, USIS came up with an idea at a Country Team meeting that we should drop safe-conduct passes on the Pathet Lao suggesting that they give themselves up. I must say by word of explanation that I had been a reserve officer in psychological warfare, and this is one reason I volunteered for Vietnam. As a reserve officer, I had to do correspondence courses while I was in USIS, even in Vietnam. Somewhere in my textbooks, I found a safe-conduct pass signed by Eisenhower in World War II, which gave me the format. I prepared the same thing for the Lao situation in Lao, Vietnamese, French, and English, which in effect said, If you surrender, you are going to be treated well. This was to be signed by the Royal Lao Army Command.
I bought this to a country team meeting and showed this pass and told everybody around the table, wouldnt this be a nice idea if we could drop these in area? Ambassador Sullivan said Great idea! Lets do it.
I said, I have no money. The only person around this table whos got money is Charlie Mann, the Director of AID in Laos. So there were some of the projects we did in Laos. The ambassador then encouraged Charlie to pay for it, and AID then printed these. We had the Lao Air Force drop these leaflets over the Pathet Lao contested area. Charlie later became the Director of AID in Vietnam.
Peter M. Cody, who was an assistant to Mann talks about USAID for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project:
We had a big program. It was a $50 million program. We had over 400 direct-hire employees, in addition to contractors, and we had an airline, two, in fact: Air America and Continental Air Services. We had twenty-one choppers and forty fixed-wing aircraft under contract to the USAID. We had some arrangements with another agency. We were fighting the so-called "secret war". It wasn't a secret from very many people. But there was a war going on.
In November 1967 the 6th PSYOP Battalion in Vietnam requested that the 7th PSYOP Battalion in Okinawa print 10 million copies of Trail leaflet T-16 with the theme: "Lao safe conduct, flag for safe conduct" to be delivered by 30 December 1967.
The front of trail leaflet 66 depicts a Laotian safe conduct pass and the text:
Above is a Royal Lao Government Safe Conduct Pass. Present it to any soldier or Government official. You will be warmly received.
The back is all text and says in part:
ALL NORTH VIETNAMESE ARMY AND FREE WORLD SHOULD
BE WITHDRAWN FROM
Your leaders, who are living comfortably in
Hanoiwhile you suffer in the jungles of , claim you are participating in war to liberate the South from foreign aggressors. Dont be fooled by this. The free world allies of the Laos Republicof Vietnamsent combat forces into South Vietnamat the request of the Government of Vietnamonly after attacks had been launched there by regular units of the Army of North Vietnam
There are a tremendous number of leaflets dropped over
Laoswith a threatening message to the Vietnamese on one side and a safe conduct pass on the other. An example is T-2-5TC which tells the Viet Cong not to sacrifice their lives needlessly on the front and depicts the Lao safe conduct pass on the back with a recommendation that the finder take the leaflet to a representative of the Vientiane government. Laos
Before we leave the subject of safe conduct passes I should point out that there are probably a dozen such leaflets dropped along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. For the most part, they all have a Vietnamese text on one side and the standard Laos safe conduct pass on the other side. Note that these leaflets have a T in their code, meaning they were prepared to drop along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. A sampling of leaflets from this series are:
T-54. Invitation to rally I.
T-55. Invitation to rally II.
T-56. Invitation to rally III.
T-57. To North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos.
T-65. Will you leaders respond to your hopes for peace?
T-66. All NVA and Free World Troops should be withdrawn from South Vietnam.
T-67. When will your leaders let you return home?
T-68. The Free South is always ready to resist the aggression of the North.
T-69. Our soldiers must be saved for the future of Vietnam.
T-70. The War of Liberation is a myth created by your leaders.
Uncoded Safe Conduct Pass
The multi-colored leaflet depicts a North Vietnamese soldier surrendering to an Allied soldier. Below we see the standard Laos safe conduct pass. On the back there is a message in English and Vietnamese.
To all North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos. You had the luck to avoid death and got to live peacefully during wartime. The Royal family, Government and people of Laos will welcome you and treat you as brothers. Please present this travel certificate to any soldier or citizen with the Royal Government. That individual will direct you to a safe location.
Signed: The High Commander of the Royal Lao Armed Forces.
The same leaflet was also dropped by the 606th Special Operations Squadron of the United States Air Force. The squadron was first activated as the 606th Air Commando Squadron in March 1966 and stationed at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. The squadron flew C-123 Provider aircraft over the Ho Chi Minh trail at night during the Vietnam War to interdict the movement of people and equipment. The 606th Special Forces Squadron was composed of two sections, the Fairchild C-123 Provider section which was under the call sign of Candlestick, and the U-10 Helio Courier section which was under the call signs of Loudmouth and Litterbugs (and Clown for Civil Action missions).The squadron was inactivated on 30 June 1971. Their version of the leaflet was very similar to the first one we mention with the exception that the message is in Vietnamese only and a few words have been changed.
SAFE CONDUCT PASS
North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos
You have a chance to avoid death and to live in peace throughout the course of the war. The Royal Government of Laos and the people of Laos will receive you and will treat you like our brothers. Just present this pass to any soldier or citizen of the Royal Lao Government, and that person will guide you to a safe location.
Commander of the Royal General Staff
A Second Uncoded Leaflet for the Vietnamese in Laos
This leaflet seems to be designed for Vietnamese or their allies that are illiterate. It does have the same Safe Conduct message on the back as the previous leaflet dropped by the 606th SOS, but the front has no text and yet tells a very clear story. An aircraft flies overhead dropping leaflets on the infiltrators. Two enemy soldiers read the leaflet, agree with the message and walk to the nearest Laotian base. Holding the leaflet in hand, they turn over their weapons to a Laotian government soldier. Once again, this leaflet bears the Lao safe conduct pass on the front. About the only thing missing is their receiving an award for the weapons.
A Third Uncoded Leaflet for the Vietnamese in Laos
This leaflet does not have the Lao Safe conduct pass on the front or the message on the back but it is in the same grouping from a former 606th SOS member so we assume that it was also meant to be understood by illiterate infiltrators coming south through Laos. The cartoons tell a very clear story without the addition of a single word. Communist troops enter a village and convince young men to join their forces by offering them training as mechanics, medical staff or artists. The men arrive at camp but instead of technical training they are issued rifles. They are taught how to use the bayonet. In the final panel the new volunteer sits shivering in the bush and remembering happier times at home.
A Fourth Uncoded Leaflet for the Vietnamese in Laos
The final leaflet from the same artist in full color for Laos depicts peaceful villagers being rounded up by the Pathet Lao. They are marched under armed guard to a Communist camp. There they are put to work digging ditches and building fortifications. In the last image one old man has fallen and may be about to die from the hard work. The message is clear: if you let yourself be taken by the Communists you will perform hard labor, be put in danger and perhaps die from illness, starvation or overwork.
We mention Robert Wofford several times in this article. Wofford had these leaflets in his possession too. His wife found them after his death and believes that her husband probably dropped them while flying for Air America and the CIA.
The Allies dropped 98,336,000 leaflets over
South Vietnam, Laosand in 1971 to advertise the rewards program. The reward operations leaflet program during 1971 and 1972 were Operations Brown Stallion, Buffalo Track, and Elephant Walk. American PSYOP specialists printed the leaflets in Lao, Vietnamese and Cambodian with pointee-talkee pictures for the illiterates. They dropped another 32,200,000 reward leaflets in early 1972. The following monetary rewards were authorized to indigenous civilians: $5,000 for returning US personnel, $500 for information leading to the return of US personnel, $400 for return of a body to friendly forces, and $150 for authentic information of status or location. Cambodia
A highly classified undated document that was declassified on 23 Jul 1986 mentions what appears to be the first reward leaflets dropped on
. Some of the text is: Laos
Vientianeis aware that embassy has approved five reward leaflets on U.S.prisoners of war in Laoswhich developed jointly by embassy and ... Joint Personnel Recovery Center
MACV has been dropping reward leaflets
South Vietnamand Cambodiafor about two years but not . Reward program provides for compensation in following U.S. dollars or equivalents thereof in foreign currencies. Laos
- For returning a
U.S.missing person to friendly control: $2,000 All other locations $5,000. Laos
- For providing information leading to recovery of missing
U.S.personnel by friendly forces: $250 All other locations $500 Laos
Rewards paid from 1967 to present - $12,149
Number of leaflets dropped in
South Vietnamand 28 million every 6 months. Cambodia
The CINCPAC Measurement of Progress in Southeast Asia dated 31 December 1967 shows that leaflets dropped in
during the year 1967 were over 10 million in every month except June and over 20 million in the last four months of the year. The report states that leaflets dropped in Laos in 1967 were 33 percent higher than were dropped in 1966. Laos
During the Vietnam War, American soldiers and airmen were often in danger in the nations bordering
as their missions called for them to overtly or covertly cross the borders into the neutral countries to attack or pursue the NVA units hiding in the jungle, or the supply columns coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Vietnam
One series of leaflets depict the same 3 cartoons on the front and back. In each, a local sees an American in a cage, tells the local military, and at the end receives a reward from a Caucasian in a suit and tie. The text is identical on the front and back of all of the leaflets:
United StatesGovernment will pay you $500 for information leading to the safe rescue of a serviceman. U.S.
Leaflet 4369CV has the text in Vietnamese on one side and Cambodian on the other. Leaflet 4369LC is identical except that the languages are Lao and Cambodian. Leaflet 4369LV is in Lao and Vietnamese. Leaflet 4369V has the cartoon and text in Vietnamese on the front and the back has a picture of a $500 bill.
A second series has the same theme, but with slightly changed pictures and text. Leaflet 4370CV has four cartoon boxes. A local farmer sees an American serviceman walking in the woods. He guides the American back across the border to
. The American shakes hands with a Vietnam soldier. In the last box, the farmer receives a reward from an American in a suit. The text is almost identical to 4369 except that the reward is multiplied 10 times: Republicof Vietnam
United StatesGovernment will pay you $5000 for information leading to the safe rescue of a serviceman. U.S.
The text is in Cambodian and Vietnamese. Once again, the LC version has Lao and Cambodian text, the
version has Lao and Vietnamese, and the final V version in Vietnamese and depicts a picture of a $5000 bill. LV
prepared a number of propaganda leaflets to the Pathet Lao and Lao civilians depicting Royal Lao currency and offering rewards for the return of American and Lao pilots. The leaflets were mostly black and white but often had a touch of red where the symbol of United States was depicted and rewards were mentioned. The notes were prepared in two sizes, standard 3 x 6-inch leaflets and 6.29 x 11-inch handouts. Laos
Leaflet .110 (front)
Standard leaflet .110 (the larger size is coded .111) depicts a stack of 1000 kip banknotes with Lao three-headed Erawan elephant national symbols from Hindu mythology at the left and the right. The national symbol comes from the 14th century Lao kingdom whose name translates to Land of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol. The text is:
With wealth you can make wonderful things.
For information on Royal Laotian or
U.S.prisoners of war or for assisting Royal Laotian Air Force or pilots back to the government. U.S.
Leaflet .110 (back)
Souvanna Phouma is depicted on the back. The text is:
Souvanna Phouma, Prime Minister, Royal Lao Government.
The Royal Lao Government promises to pay you:
100,000 kip for information on the location of Royal Lao Government or
prisoners held by the Pathet Lao or North Vietnamese Army. U.S.
1,500,000 kip for assistance to Royal Lao or
pilots returning to the government. U.S.
You need not keep this paper to collect the reward.
Standard leaflet .112 (larger size is coded .113) depicts a stack of 1000 kip banknotes with Laotian three-headed Erawan elephant symbols from Hindu mythology at the left and the right. The text is:
A cash reward will be given to those who provide information concerning
U.S.and Laotian prisoners, or who assist Royal Laotian and pilots in returning to the government. U.S.
Souvanna Phouma is depicted on the back. The text is:
Souvanna Phouma, Prime Minister, Royal Lao Government.
The Royal Lao Government will give a reward of:
100,000 kip to those who provide information concerning
or Laotian prisoners of the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese Army. U.S.
1,500,000 kip to those who help Royal Laotian and
pilots who are downed or being detained by the Communists to return to the government. U.S.
You need not keep this paper to collect the reward.
Leaflet .112 (front)
Standard leaflet .112 (larger size is coded .113) depicts a stack of 1000 kip banknotes with Lao three-headed Erawan elephant symbols from Hindu mythology at the left and the right. The text is:
A cash reward will be given to those who provide information concerning
U.S.and Laotian prisoners, or who assist Royal Laotian and pilots in returning to the government. U.S.
Leaflet .112 (back)
Souvanna Phouma is depicted on the back. The text is:
Souvanna Phouma, Prime Minister, Royal Lao Government.
The Royal Lao Government will give a reward of:
100,000 kip to those who provide information concerning
or Laotian prisoners of the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese Army. U.S.
1,500,000 kip to those who help Royal Laotian and
pilots who are downed or being detained by the Communists to return to the government. U.S.
You need not keep this paper to collect the reward.
U.S.reward leaflet .114 for is made up of two identical cartoons that appear on both the front and back. The only difference is that the text on one side is written in Vietnamese, the other side in Lao. Laos
The first illustration (at left) depicts a downed Allied pilot meeting villagers. The second illustration (at right) depicts the pilot and a friendly villager meeting a government officer who rewards the villager with a cash payment.
The text at top is:
1,500,000 kip: A cash reward to those who help Royal Laotian and
pilots who are downed or being detained by the Communists to return to the government. U.S.
100,000 Kip: A cash reward to those who provide information concerning
or Laotian prisoners captured by the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese Army. U.S.
Pathet Lao 200 Kip Propaganda Banknote
The Pathet Lao had a set of banknotes ready for issue after they had
liberated all of
Shortly after these notes appeared, a similar note was found printed just a shade
lighter green and without serial number. What made this new note especially interesting
was that on the back, in place of
The Laotian 200 kip note bearing a portrait of the late Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh that was published in the
BangkokPost of June 16th was actually counterfeited by the former government to mislead the people in the liberated areas, Mr. Kach Kitthavong, Charge d'Affaires of the Laotian Embassy, said yesterday. Vientiane
The Royal Lao government printed these notes in an attempt to convince the Pathet Lao
that they were fighting for
These notes caused a great amount of damage to the image of the Pathet Lao political and military forces in the eyes of the Lao people. A tremendous uproar ensued within the ranks of the Pathet Lao and their North Vietnamese advisors. All military units were tasked to recover the propaganda banknotes immediately after a drop was reported, and, as a result, these notes are extremely rare.
Persistent rumors have identified the CIA as the originator of this parody, although
the report mentioned above placed responsibility with the Ex-Royal-Lao government.
Possibly both parties collaborated. In a March 1992 Public Broadcasting System Nova
program, Making a dishonest buck, Robert Wofford, a pilot of Air America, the
unofficial CIA airline, displayed two notes that he dropped in 1970 on the Laotian city of
Xam Nua (Samneua), where, in limestone caverns, the Pathet Lao housed their national
headquarters, a munitions factory, and a cadre training school. Nova asserted that the
notes were probably of CIA origin. One of these notes was the 200 kip parody with Ho Chi
Minh. Wofford told me later that he flew one such currency flight about 1969-1970, which
originated in the CIA's super secret Long Tieng base. The complex, designated Lima Site
I am going to place leaflet .31 here because it shows the exact same banknote that the Lao government parodied. The front of the leaflet depicts the back of the Pathet Lao 200 Kip Propaganda Banknote in black and white with the propaganda text diagonally:
This currency is counterfeit and has no value it cannot be used
The back is all text:
The communists have printed this fake currency. This currency has no value at all.
It cannot be used in exchange for other currency.
The communists force people to distribute the fake currency for them.
People who are not educated and dont know the rules of law and are asked to deliver the currency. The government warns, Do not accept it or be tricked by the communists.
Anyone who receives or is asked to distribute the currency should notify the local Police Chief.
The whole Lao citizenry hates the fake money and the communists who print and distribute the fake money. The next generation will inherit the problem. [If the economy is destroyed because of the distribution of counterfeit currency].
There is reason to believe that many of these leaflets were dropped as part of an Operation Fountain Pen. The report Quantitative Analysis of Operation Fountain Pen implies that this secret operation commenced on 10 May 1969. The December 1973 Survey of Psychological Operations in Vietnam mentions that Fountain Pen was still operational as late as 1973. It says in part:
Agreements were signed earlier this year, most leaflet operations were halted. The Royal Lao air Force Operation Fountain Pen, directed against North Vietnamese troops in Paris continued for a period. Laos
Notice the security dots to the left of the tree and by the elephants trunk
Notice no security dots embedded in the paper
Until very recently, all that was known about these forgeries was that during
the war in
A Chinese reference book entitled Contemporary Chinas Banknote Printing and
Minting for Foreign Countries,
In 1970, a former CIA agent stated that his forces captured a cave complex holding
the Pathet Lao supply of banknotes. It was a very large number of banknotes and all
were flown back to
This operation led to spurious report of the
Another top secret Agency project involved dropping millions of dollars in forged Pathet Lao currency in an attempt to wreck the economy by flooding it with paper money. Pilots on routine night drops would be asked to return over Communist lines drop several packages. It turned out the packages were full of counterfeit money.
Air America Caribou aircraft were used to drop banknotes
Air American pilot Robert Wofford said:
We must have dropped two hundred pounds weight of money, hundreds of millions of kip. They were just in paper bags and had these devices the kicker pulled which ignited a small charge and blew the bag apart. The money was packed loosely, and when the bag blew the money would scatter and drift all over the area. Im sure a few people ate well the next day. When we got back to
, we had to spend two hours cleaning the airplane because some of the bags burst before we could get them out and we had counterfeit money from one end of the airplane to the other. Vientiane
A pilot told me:
The C-130A's at
Naha, Okinawa, had several different missions dropping PSYOP leaflets in Vietnam, North Vietnamand Laos; and counterfeit currency in . All of the leaflets were printed in North Vietnam Okinawa.
I usually dont like to add war stories to these articles but the whole subject of money in Laos has always interested me. I once had a soldier that wanted to retire but he had spent one year clandestinely in Laos and had no paper for that entire year. In other words, he said he had 20 good years, the Army said he had 19. This seemed like an easy problem to solve; just find his pay records for the year in question. But, it seemed there were no pay records. He told me that he was paid in cash from a brown paper bag. I knew that was nonsense. The Army is big on record-keeping and there must be pay records. It all got worked out somehow upstairs and the problem eventually went away.
Years later I was at Langley, Virginia, and an individual was pointed out to me as an Air Force General and the paymaster of the clandestine troops in Laos. That was the first time that I believed the story about the cash in the brown paper bag might be true.
Years after that while talking to a veteran who served in Laos I was told:
My first visit to Muong Kassi was to escort what I assumed was a short little civilian with a boatload of cash. He handed each Company Commander a bag of cash; the Village Chief a bag of cash, and the General or Colonel that commanded the troops in the area a bag of cash. Then we moved over to the Mercenary compound where he handed the Commanding General there a briefcase full of cash. At the time we were handing out Kip; 50 kip being about U.S. 10 cents, and some Baht notes, one Baht being about 5 U.S. cents. The way it supposedly worked the money flowed downhill and how much the guys on the lower level got was based on both merit as a fighter and need as the family size increased. The leader always took his cut first.
I guarded the paymaster as he doled out U.S. Dollars to the folks that looked like civilians but flew airplanes in Laos. Banknotes in banded wads reading $10,000 and there had to have been at least $500,000 in the cache. All I had was an M-16 and my Browning HiPower; and the guys collecting the pay had Uzi's and other exotic weaponry hanging off themselves like trinkets.
This would be a great subject for research but my field is propaganda. I just mention this to show that the entire concept of money to an army that does not exist can be quite involved.
The Royal Laotian Government conducted a multi-prong psychological warfare campaign against the Pathet Lao to counter their propaganda objectives. The Government conduct of psychological warfare was headed by the Directorate of National Coordination, up to 1965. The Laotian Department Psychologique was established within the military General Staff. These directorates were headed by Laotian Colonels and Brigadier Generals...To reach the illiterate, the Government weekly newspaper Khao Phap Pacham Sapda predominantly printed photos versus text. But the largest audience reached amongst the illiterate was through radio. There were five major radio stations throughout Laos: two in the capital region, Vientiane and Camp Chinaimo, and the rest at Savannakhet, Pakse and Laung Prabang Where it could be accomplished, leaflets were loaded into the aileron slats of T-28s and dive-bombed onto enemy positions.
As gunships came on-line to serve in Laos, propaganda leaflets were fired out of the flare launching devices of the AC-119K Stingers, most dropped along the Ho Chi Minh trail, targeted at NVA forces.
Leaflet .22 has the
Besides studying their normal course work at Ban Ahmone, students also learn community development.
The long text at the left of the photograph is:
at Ban Ahmone National Training Center
This training center is the place where local development training for the people has been carried out for a long time. The people who come here for training include village chiefs, farmers, veterans and good citizens from every province. The course subjects include metal working, wood working, pottery, charcoal making and others. The course subject matter includes agriculture and people who come in for training are able to choose their subjects. When they complete their training, in addition to gaining new skills, they also share their new knowledge with other people in their community.
The back is black and white and depicts three photographs of a workshops and pottery.
This leaflet depicts a group of Lao officials visiting what appears to be a Buddhist temple. The text is:
The End of Buddhist Lent
The traditional ceremony to commemorate the end of Buddhist Lent on the full moon of the 11th lunar month every year. Buddhist devotees join together to make offerings to the monks and join in a banquet. In this photograph the monks are receiving alms from the Prince. The evening will be brightly lit with the lights and candles on boats in accordance with the sacred traditions of the Lao since ancient times.
Note: The Buddhist Lent starts on the first day of the waning moon of the
eighth lunar month. The tradition of Buddhist Lent dates back to the time of early
Buddhism in ancient
Leaflet .47 depicts a statue of Buddha on the front and the text:
Help to promote Buddhism
Buddhism is the National religion of Laos, and it is the religion the Lao people have respected since ancient times. The Lao people observe the precepts of their religion to make merit for the spirits of their ancestors who have passed on and gone to heaven. We the Lao people must work together to preserve this tradition. Anyone who does anything against the National religion would be acting to destroy their own country.
The back is a long all-text message.
This appears to be rather clever propaganda. The leaflet does not attack the Communists by name, but says that anyone who is against Buddhism is an enemy of the nation. The only enemy of religion was the Communist Pathet Lao, so the people could put two and two together.
Leaflet .58 has three photographs on the front; one depicts a farmer, the other two Laotians working with machinery. The text is:
Within Government controlled territory the people have the freedom to pursue their preferred careers.
The back has two photographs of Laotian workers and a longer propaganda text.
Leaflet .64 depicts Prince Souvanna Phouma at his desk at the top, and a monk meeting with uniformed officers below. The back depicts three photographs of officials meeting with the people.
His Highness, Prince Souvanna Phouma, leader of the Government, gives his time to the country and the people. He devotes his time to the exceptionally difficult task of promoting peace and bright progress for our
. All the people must work closely and cooperatively together to build our country to be civilized in the future under the leadership of Prince Souvanna's Government. Lao Kingdom
Leaflet .67 depicts a number of young Laotians boarding a civilian airliner. The back depicts three photographs of a young man looking into a microscope, an engineer and two nurses. The text is:
Why don't you exercise your rights to go and study like them?
The government supports and presents a wide range of opportunities to all Lao people to have the right and freedom to expand their knowledge. Individual intelligence depends on preferences. The government, represented by his Highness Souvannaphouma, is the leader in this effort and has sent Lao students to study in other countries to expand their knowledge in the fields of agriculture, education, transportation, health and other areas. More than 1,000 students have participated to expand their knowledge and experience so they can return to build and develop the country so the future will be brighter and stronger. All Lao citizens at all levels have the right to apply for studies abroad.
This leaflet depicts a Laotian Communist soldier who has rallied to the National Government giving another soldier a haircut. The text is:
New Life with the Government
This former Neo Lao soldier has received training as a barber is from the Royal Lao Armed Forces and he has a good occupation now; more than he had when he was with the Neo Lao. Now he has the right to work and take care of his family.
The back bears two photographs of happy Laotians eating and getting haircuts.
This leaflet depicts five unformed Laotians on the front and the text over the photograph:
The text at the right is:
When poor, assistance is given - when spying for the enemy, get thrown out.
These former Neo Lao soldiers lived under difficult and exploited conditions when they were under the control of the Neo Lao. When they turn themselves over to the Government, the government gives assistance and occupational training to provide them the ability to care for themselves and their families.
The back bears two photos of
The front of Leaflet .91 depicts Laotians working in a carpenter shop. The text is:
These are the kinds of job training that Army officials provided for the former Pathet Lao members who surrendered to the National Government.
The back of leaflet .91 depicts a group of Laotians holding carpentry tools. The text is:
What is your future if you stay with the Pathet Lao? The government of his Royal Highness Souvanna Phouma and Royal Army officials of the
provides special training and grant freedom to the former Pathet Lao soldiers who turn themselves in and surrender to the government. Lao Kingdom
This leaflet shows happy Laotians being trained in sewing and basket making. The text above and below the two pictures is:
Good occupations are available when coming over to the Government side.
They have pride in the work they are doing as a result of Government training.
The back depicts a group of Laotians holding carpentry tools (the same picture as .91).
Leaflet .94 depicts a happy Laotian soldier on the front; reading a newspaper and smoking cigarettes. The leaflet is an invitation for the Communist soldiers to return to the national Government. There is a certificate printed at the right of the photograph that says:
PERSONAL CARD OF INTRODUCTION
GOOD AT ALL TIMES
We Request that Officials give an appropriate reception
And assistance in every way
National Armed Forces
The back bears a long propaganda message and three happy soldiers.
This leaflet is a very patriotic piece that has four full-color photographs of military scenes on the front. There are Laotian troops firing a machinegun, troops doing PT, troop firing a rocket launcher and troops walking in Class A uniforms with pretty girls. There is no text on the front. The back also has four full-color military photographs; troops marching, soldiers around a mortar, troops at attention and a group of officers. Text on the back is:
All of the branches of the Lao National Armed Forces are defending the neutrality of
from the North Vietnamese invaders. They are sacrificing their lives to protect the Nation. At the same time, they join together and have fun. Laos
Leaflet .313 depicts a Laotian woman holding a baby at the top and an ambulance at the bottom. The text is:
The Government of the King always gives medical treatment to the people who live in remote areas.
The next two leaflets seem to be from the same campaign since both depict beautiful women as their theme.
Leaflet .315 is almost a pin-up in the American style. It is full-color and depicts a beautiful Laotian woman in native dress. The text is:
We want you!
So join us to build and develop our Lao country to be strong.
The back of the leaflet has three black and white photographs of Laotian women in school or working in technical jobs like nursing.
Leaflet .316 is full color on the front and depicts a beautiful Laotian dancing girl in formal costume. The text is:
The Royal Government needs you.
We fight to collectively develop our country under the leadership of the Government.
The back has four black and white pictures of modern Laotian women working in various technical jobs.
I chose to show Leaflet .317 because of the interesting images it presents. The front is full-color with a golden Buddha above and below Laotian Royalty, political and military leaders meeting the people. The text is:
The duty of the military is to preserve our Lao religion, our customs and our country.
The back is black and white and has four photographs of the Laotian military in action.
The front of this leaflet has four full-color photographs depicting a medical professional, a metalworker, an artist and textile workers. There are two black and white photographs of students in school on the back and the text:
People with education are respected. The National Government supports all Lao people to have opportunities to study so they can be educated. It is because of knowledge and intelligence of all Lao that we can help our country to be strong.
Leaflet .322 depicts a young Laotian student being taught by a military officer. The text is:
The country needs educated people to develop a strong nation. We are looking for brave young men who are prepared to sacrifice to stop the invading North Vietnamese. To make a bright future for our country all of us Lao must work together under the leadership of the National Government.
This leaflet bears four photos on the front; the first a school scene, the second a Laotian receiving medical treatment from a soldier, the third is soldiers helping farmers and the fourth is women doing hospital work. The text is:
Honesty and allegiance to the country and to the people is the highest attribute.
Full-color leaflet .324 depicts a Lao mother nursing her baby. The text can be translated several ways but probably is best read as:
When will you return?
The back is all text. It says:
It has been a many years since you last saw your family; your mother, father, wife, children, and grandchildren, which you abandoned,
Brothers and sisters, for what reason do you abandon your loved ones and live in the jungles alone? You have worthlessly wasted so much time.
The Royal Lao Government has a program for you to rejoin the family that you left behind so many years ago. Please come back as soon as you read this leaflet.
This full-color leaflet depicts a woman in a white uniform cutting up chickens. The text is:
Believe, but Verify
On the back of the leaflet the woman is holding the lid of a large pot, apparently showing the viewer what she has made from the chickens. The text is:
Why are the North Vietnamese invading
? The North Vietnamese say that the Americans are invading Laos . Brothers and sisters, if you see any North Vietnamese, they are trying to trick you. Look with your own eyes. Laos
It is hard to connect the message with the images of cooking chickens, but perhaps
there is a Lao saying about looking into the pot before you believe what you are eating,
like the Americans saying, Dont count your chickens before they hatch.
Vanshay (Robert) Phommachantone, the Lao who translated this leaflet said that it
implies that there were instructions to the Lao people about how to report sightings of
the Vietnamese. The translator pointed out that nurses are not responsible for preparing
meals; also that this one is cutting off the heads. The message may be in the
incongruity of the tasks by that person. She might symbolize the communists who
appear to be helpful, but are actually cutting off the heads of the population. He
points out once again that the leaflet has the Royal Seal of the legitimate
Full-color Leaflet .331 depicts two pretty Laotian women holding baby clothes. The text is:
Dear Beloved Fellow Countrymen,
Each time the North Vietnamese take over part of our Lao land they destroy everything leaving it bare, leaving nothing. Our fathers, mothers, and our relatives are chased out of their birthplaces. It is very sad that these families become dependent on the government, but the government provides assistance in the way of new occupations, food and clothing. Dear countrymen, the Government is prepared to assist you at all times, and therefore assists families who must evacuate out of the path of the North Vietnamese in order to help build new lives.
The front of full-color leaflet .352 depicts marching Laotian soldiers at the top and students at the bottom. The text is:
The brave demeanor of these soldiers of the National Armed Forces are the strength that protects and enables the Lao people to live their lives peacefully to build and advance the country.
The back is black and white and depicts Laotians at play.
Full color leaflet .354 depicts marching Laotian soldiers on the front. The text is:
Follow the example of your friends who have joined the National Army.
The back is black and white and all text.
A number of the leaflets in the 500 series are appeals for Pathet Lao members to defect and depictions of officers and men that have already rallied.
This leaflet depicts two Pathet Lao officers that defected to the government. At the left is Captain Thao Boualiene and at the right is Lieutenant Boun Thanh. Text on the front is:
Follow the example of Captain Thao Boualiene who is commander of the 25th Battalion, his deputy Lieutenant Boun Thanh and their men who rallied to the Royal Lao Government. They could no longer tolerate the North Vietnamese Army oppression. They decided to fight with the Royal Lao Army against our common enemy, the Army of
. North Vietnam
The back of the leaflet shows a group of the Pathet Lao defectors. The text is:
Your comrades in this picture followed their commander. They lived and fought many years with the North Vietnamese Army. They learned that the NVA are the real enemies of the Lao people. Captain Boualiene said We know the truth. This new truth led Captain Boualiene and his men to the Royal Lao Government. They will no longer help the NVA oppress the Lao people. They will now fight with the Royal Lao Army, for our country and our people.
When I first translated and depicted the leaflets featuring Captain Boualiene I
assumed he was just another of the hundreds and thousands of defectors that moved from one
side to another during the decade of wars in
When I met Boualiene in early 2000 he was hiding out on a construction site in
and looking like a poor old man. Kenneth Conboys Shadow War mentions Boualiene's defection from the Pathet Lao in the early 1970s. The story was that the southern region commander of the Pathet Lao, General Phomma Douangmala, had been killed by Vietnamese doctors while receiving medical treatment. Gen. Phomma had been one of the founding members of the Lao Issara's Xaichakkaphat Unit which fought against the French between 1947 and 1954. The leaders of this unit later formed the core of the Lao People's Liberation Army's command. During this period Phomma led Pathet Lao forces in western Champasak who sought to cut off the strategic Route 13 that links Bangkok Laoswith . Cambodia
It has been claimed in a different text, Sixteen Years in the Land of the Death by Nakhonkham Bouphanouvong, that a former comrade-in-arms of Phomma, General Boun Phommahaxay, was a member of a rebel faction in the Pathet Lao and was purged with other ranking cadres. General Boun worked with Khamtai Siphandone and Sithon Kommadam in southern
during the struggle with the French. After the Laos Accords in 1954 he became chief of the Pathet Lao Army's Political Department. The general ranked in the top five of the Lao People's Party in 1955, so it obviously was a big shake-up that was carefully kept under wraps for a long time. Geneva
After 1975, Boualiene led a guerrilla faction of the Lao resistance in southern
. His group led raids into the vicinity of the Bolaven Plateau along the southern flank. His support base was in Ubon Ratchathani ( Laos ) where he received financing from sympathetic elements in the Royal Thai Army and overseas Lao. According to other members of the resistance, Boualiene was a respectable leader who maintained discipline amongst his troops. After the warming of relations between Thailand Chinaand in the late 1980s, Boualiene was abandoned by his Thai patrons and was temporarily imprisoned. He then quit fighting and fled underground. Boualiene still has a contract on him from the Lao government. This is because upon his initial defection he betrayed the Pathet Lao and provided the Vietnam United StatesAir Force with data which led to the bombing and strafing of Communist sanctuaries in southern . In one incident in Attapeu province, over a 100 Vietnamese soldiers were killed when the cave they were hiding in got bombed. Laos
Kenneth Conboy mentions Boulien in Shadow War The CIAs Secret War in Laos, Paladin Press, Boulder, CO, 1995:
On 26 March, 30 Pathet Lao led by their battalion Commander, Captain Boulien, and with a captured North Vietnamese captain in tow defected to authorities. Another 89 defected by months end, followed by an additional 55 in April
Captain Boulien, whose 25th Special Fighters Battalion was General Phommas personal security unit, claimed his leader was poisoned by the Vietnamese
Acting on information the USAF and Royal Laos Air Force were able to mount 43 sorties against a Group 968 base camp, mauling the Vietnamese. Shortly thereafter, the rest of Bouliens battalion came over to the Royal
This leaflet shows a happy former Pathet Lao officer with his right hand on his pistol. Text on the front is:
Captain Thao Boualiene, Commander of the 25th Battalion
The back is all text and explains that he is allowed to carry his weapon after rallying to the Royal Laotian Government because he was no longer considered an enemy. The captain is quoted:
It is quite contrary to everything the North Vietnamese told us in their propaganda. I now realize that everything they told us was nothing but a lie.
Leaflet .512 depicts a former Pathet Lao officer and a group of ralliers. The text on the front is:
Major Lang Sanh, Chief Information Officer, Southern Region
The back is all text and gives some background of the major and quotes him:
After we learned that the North Vietnamese killed our supreme commander, General Phouma Duangmala, we had no other choice but to join the Forces Armees Royales (Royal Laotian Army) and turn our guns back to fight against the North Vietnamese.
Leaflets .517, .518, and .519 all depict the same handwritten letter from Captain Boualiene to his former comrades. Leaflet .517 depicts Boualiene, .518 depicts Major Lang Sanh, and .519 depicts the two together. The text says in part:
Do you all know what is going on now in the Pathet Lao organization? I hope you all understand the situation between the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese Army. The fact of the matter is that the NVA has every intention of making life difficult for the Lao people.The NVA have double-crossed us. They want to take over our country by subversion. They have murdered important leaders of the Lao people such as Generals Phomma Douangmala, Somsay and Outh Ai. This is an example of NVA cruelty towards the Lao people Do not listen to the NVA. They have no cause. The war will never end if you listen to them. The only correct path for you is to rally to the Royal Lao Government where you will have a happy life.
Leaflet .520 depicts a happy Pathet Lao defector with his wife and children. The text beneath the picture is:
To Rally to the Royal Laotian Government Guarantees Happiness with your Family.
Text on the back identifies the rallier as Captain Thao Boualiene, Commander of the 25th Battalion who after spending many nightmare years with the North Vietnamese troops in the jungle now enjoys a happy life with his family.
As the end of the war neared, neutralist Prime Minster Prince Souvanna Phouma made a
number of leaflet appeals to the Pathet Lao asking for peace negotiations. He foolishly
believed that the Communists would come to the table and reach an agreement. In fact, the
goal of the Pathet Lao had always been to rule
These are the words of the Prime Minister Prince Souvanna Phouma to the new Lao Hak Xat (Lao Patriotic Front).
I wish once again to send you an urgent appeal entirely void of propaganda and invective.
It was almost a year ago that our first contacts were initiated to end the problems between us and the suffering that our innocent people endure. Although little has been accomplished since then, the need to arrive at a solution was certainly felt.
Today all of us are witnesses to the merciless fighting that the Vietnamese are engaging in our territory. This sad but basic development means that settlement of the
problem runs the dangerous risk of being imposed by others and passing out of the hands of the Lao themselves Laos
Leaflet S-9 is all text in Vietnamese on one side and Lao on the other. The message is:
This area will be bombed and strafed ceaselessly. Keep away from this area and anywhere serving as troop installations, supply depots and military truck stations. These areas will be destroyed.
American and Vietnamese troops took part in raids into both Laos and Cambodia. In both countries leaflets were prepared that showed maps of the border area and warned the Viet Cong that their ability to use these neutral countries as a sanctuary was coming to an end. This American leaflet depicts a map of Laos with a shaded area and the text:
The shaded area on this map is the safe area. All you need to do is to follow Route 9 in the direction of the setting sun, or to follow the course of the Se Bang Hieng River. You should avoid contact with the local population until you reach the safe area.
The back of the leaflet is all text:
Seek Refuge in Laos
To all North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos
This is an opportunity for you to escape death and to live in safety and peace until the war is over. The Royal Lao Government and the Lao people will gladly receive you in a spirit of brotherhood
The Supreme Commander of the Lao National Army
Little is known about the way the Communists used propaganda in Laos. The North Vietnamese loved propaganda and used it constantly so it is sure that as the mentors of the Pathet Lao they would recommend its use in Laos. Langer and Zasloff say that the North Vietnamese provided support to propaganda efforts in Laos. One Meo defector said:
The Meo would propagandize in the Meo villages and the Vietnamese in the Lao villages. Some of the Vietnamese could speak Lao since they came from areas near the Lao-Vietnamese borders When they needed some propaganda in a village, my battalion commander would receive orders from the Lao Peoples Liberation Army headquarters, then he would assign us to carry out some propaganda.
Secret War Monument
When the Communists took power, they launched a genocidal campaign to punish or
eliminate those who allied with the
In 1994, William E. Colby, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, talked
of the critical role and sacrifice of the
For 10 years, Vang Paos soldiers held the growing North Vietnamese forces to approximately the same battle lines they held in 1962. And significantly for Americans, the 70,000 North Vietnamese engaged in
Laoswere not available to add to the forces fighting Americans and South Vietnamese in . South Vietnam
Mr. Grant McClure, a former U.S. Army Advisor to the Montagnards, became the moving
force behind the idea of a permanent Memorial to the secret army at
In Memory Of the Hmong and Lao Combat
Veterans and Their American Advisors
Who Served Freedom's Cause in
Southeast Asia. Their Patriotic Valor
and Loyalty in the Defense of
Democracy Will Never Be Forgotten
LAOS VETERANS OF
May 15, 1997
General Vang Pao
This ends our look at the secret war in
I started to write this article in late May 2007. While doing research I constantly
found references to the Hmong General Vang Pao. This individual had controlled a Hmong
I knew that Pao had been airlifted to
Ten men working with the Lao Liberation Front (Neo Hom) allegedly conspired to obtain scores of AK-47 assault rifles, ground-to-air Stinger missiles, anti-tank weapons, mines, rockets, explosives and smoke grenades with which to oust the Laotian communist regime. The charges claimed that the plotters:
Formed a committee to evaluate the feasibility of conducting a military expedition ... to engage in the overthrow of the existing government of
Laosby violent means, including murder, assaults on both military and civilian officials of Laosand destruction of buildings and property of . Laos
The ten were charged after contacting an individual they thought to be an arms dealer,
but who was in fact, an ATF agent. The suspects had inspected a wide array of weapons and
purchased an initial installment of 125 AK-47 machine guns, 20,000 rounds of ammunition,
and crates of smoke grenades for $100,000, to be delivered in
The plan for the overthrow of the government was found in an 18-page document
titled, Operation Popcorn: A Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Popcorn
(Political Opposition Party's Coup Operation to Rescue the Nation) plan included the
acquisition of sophisticated weapons, payments for security forces, coup leaders, and
political and military consultants.
In September 2009, all charges against General Pao were dropped. Other members of
the alleged plot were still under indictment, including Harrison Ulrich Jack, a West Point
graduate and retired lieutenant colonel from the
Ly Seu, one of the leaders of the Huay Nam Khao camp, said:
We had to leave
because we are the children of the CIA allies who have been suppressed since 1975. Laos
Unfortunately, continued allegations of human rights violations in
, combined with the Lao Government's refusal so far to permit monitoring of returnees, cause concern about the wellbeing of those who were deported. Laos
So, it is clear that even though the Wars in
By coincidence, the story of one American prisoner of war who escaped from
One member of the Air Force who took part in various classified missions (they were lighting up the Ho Chi Minh Trail for the fighters and bombers at the time) said:
Our Blind Bat crew was involved in the summer of 1966. I vaguely remembered the incident one night when we were flying over
looking in vain for trucks and the cockpit crew spotted some fires on the ground that seemed to be in a pattern. When the crew was debriefed, the intelligence officer was excited about the fires and told them it was classified and not to discuss it. In Dengler's book it says that he had seen the nightly flare missions operating over the area where he was hiding out and decided to signal us. Later we got in touch with Dengler and he confirmed that he had set the fires our crew saw. Dengler was rescued a few days later when he came out of hiding in the daylight and signaled an A-1E pilot who was flying low looking for him. His signal flag was made from one of the parachutes from the flares. Laos
As I said at the start of the article the American leaflets to Laos are very rare and little has been written about them. The vast majority we show here have never been depicted before. It was just rare good luck that one of the military personnel involved in printing and distributing them kept a sample for his records. We were also lucky enough to get a few American veterans who served as translators during the Vietnam War to volunteer to read the text for us. I thanks them all. In particular, retired CSM Skip Ettinger who worked hard to get the translations right for our readers.
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