THE HO CHI MINH
TRAIL CAMPAIGN

SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

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Flags of DRVN and RVN

During the decade-long battle for the hearts and minds of the peoples of Southeast Asia that we call the Vietnam War, a bitter struggle was fought between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRVN) and the Republic of Vietnam (RVN). The North was backed by the People Republic of China (PRC), the Soviet Union and a host of Iron-Curtain nations. The South was backed by the United States, and to a lesser degree, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, and Thailand.

Note: This article on the PSYOP of the Ho Chi Minh Trail has been reproduced with permission on the website MACV-SOG-Living History.

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7-Flag Safe Conduct Pass depicting the Flags of Allied Nations

Although the forces of the United States never lost a major land battle during the war, and nearly wiped out the Viet Cong irregular forces during the famous 1968 Tet uprising, it was never able to stop the constant re-supply of men and materiel brought down the Ho Chi Minh Trail from the north. This was not a classical military battle where one side could build d a defensive line and stop the enemy from filtering through to his rear. The Ho Chi Minh Trail paralleled the RVN for hundreds of miles through the neutral nations of Laos and Cambodia. The 1962 Geneva Accords stated that neither the United States nor North Vietnam, nor their allies, were permitted to conduct ground operations within Laos. Both sides ignored this edict, Hanoi totally, the United States to a lesser degree. Although the Allies did clandestinely cross the borders on numerous occasions in an attempt to interdict the trail, they were never totally successful. The Allies were able to successfully stop most communist movement from the north, but they were never able to secure their left flank. One North Vietnamese general has admitted that if more effort was put into interdicting the Trail the RVN might have successfully resisted defeat and occupation.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail

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The Ho Chi Minh Trail

The Ho Chi Minh Trail, also called the Truong Son Trail, was a complex web of jungle foot paths and truck routes. Most truck routes were dirt roads and some important portions were paved with rock and pebbles. The Communist Viet Cong and People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) were able to move an estimated sixty tons of supplies per day from this route. Most of this was carried by porters. Occasionally bicycles and ponies would also be used. Later, as it was widened and made more secure, trucks were sent down the trail. At regular intervals along the route the National Liberation Front (NLF) built base camps that were a place for the troops to rest and contained canteens and medical facilities.

The Vietnam Experience book entitled The North, Boston Publishing Company, 1986, states that new recruits in the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAWN) received a modified basic training modeled on the Chinese Army’s training method which stressed political training to motivate soldiers and to avoid sophisticated weaponry and foreign aid. The recruit received four days or military training, two days of political indoctrination, and Sunday off each week to visit his family. After basic training the soldiers were asked to volunteer to go south. In the early years of the war the system worked well and there were many volunteers; some believing in the cause, some motivated by peer pressure, and some thinking that fighting in the south would be helpful in their future careers. Later in the war as more soldiers were needed, the volunteers were joined by troops who were ordered to join the war in the south. The training was fairly conventional:

Instruction centered on the use of rifles, mortars and assault techniques…The course did stress physical endurance and march discipline in preparation for the walk south. The conditioning included marching with sixty-five-pound packs and simulating the thirty-mile-a-day hike over rugged terrain. Shortly before a soldier headed south, his food ration was quadrupled. One NCO reported that he could eat anything he wanted, including beef, pork, fish, cake, fruits, sweets, sugar and milk…A PAWN soldier received two green uniforms, a pair of black pajamas, two pairs of underwear, a sheet of nylon, a cotton tent, a cord to transform the tent into a hammock, a pair of rubber sandals, a canteen, some medical supplies, and a seven days ration of dried food. He carried his own personal weapon, either an AK47 or a semiautomatic carbine.

In the Diary of an Infiltrator, a report translated from a captured diary in December 1966 we find a slightly different list: The items this Northern soldier was issued before starting his way south were 1 shelter half, 1 hammock, 1 back pack, 1 canteen, 1 mosquito net, 1 set of uniforms, 1 cap, 1 pair of sandals and 2 sets of underwear.

His issued food rations were 1 can of fish paste, 3 cans of salt and 200 grams of nuoc mam.

As a weapon he was issued 1 rifle or sub-machine gun and two grenades

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Supplies move down the Trail

About 300,000 Vietnamese were assigned to the upkeep of the trail. About the same number of volunteers was available if needed. In particular, Trail Transportation Group 559 of the PAVN was created specifically to establish supply routes to the south. By the end of the war, the 559th Group had camouflaged nearly 2000 miles of the trail and by 1970, the trail had anti-aircraft guns running nearly its entire length.

The number of Vietnamese troops supporting the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos alone is mentioned by 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. They say:

In 1970 an estimated 67,000 North Vietnamese military personnel served in Laos. In 1968, when only 40,000 NVA were reported in Laos, some 25,000 of them were thought to operate the infiltration system over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This figure included service units such as engineers who maintain the Trail, labor battalions who perform coolie functions, and security forces…

As part of their task of operating the infiltration system to South Vietnam, The North Vietnamese run the Ho Chi Minh Trail as if were a strategic rear area of South Vietnam. Vietnamese engineer units maintain existing roads and build new ones for intermittent vehicle, bicycle, animal, and human transportation. Vietnamese labor battalions, which include woman units, keep the roads and paths in good repair. They construct bridges over the streams and install wooden planks on those segments of the road where trucks might be otherwise mired in the mud.

At suitable protected areas near the Trail, the Vietnamese have established storage points for the distribution of equipment and supplies.Trained Vietnamese medical personnel staff infirmaries in the corridor; they treat both infiltrators and locally assigned Vietnamese and distribute drugs and other medical supplies to the passing infiltrating troops…Entertainment troupes pass through from time to time with presentations of patriotic plays and songs.

The North Vietnamese People's Army Newspaper (“Quan Doi Nhan Dan”) reported on what it was like to march south to war. The long article said in part:

During the resistance war against the U.S., a tremendous number of North Vietnamese youths put down their pencils and notebooks and left school to join the Army so they could march down the length of the Annamite Mountain Range to South Vietnam to fight...After marching continuously for more than five months carrying heavy loads, the officers and men of the 2nd Battalion arrived at its assembly area in the COSVN military Command base area...A few days later the 2nd Battalion was ordered to march to the Ba Ria - Long Khanh battlefield...

An American flew to Vietnam in an air conditioned airliner in a day or two. If he had the bad luck to be sent on the ship, it was three weeks, but he arrived rested and ready to fight. Think of the strength and determination of the NVA soldier who marches almost six months with a heavy pack before he even reaches the battleground. Amazing!

PAVN General Vo Bam stated in 1983 that he had begun construction of the trail in May 1959 on the order of Ho Chi Minh. General Tran Tien Dung added:

The length of the route, added to old and new strategic routes is more than 12,000 miles. The 26.4-foot wide route of more than 625 miles is our pride. We laid 3,125 miles of pipeline through deep rivers and streams and over mountains more than 3,000 feet high. We were capable of providing enough fuel for the various battlefronts. We put more than 10,000 transportation vehicles on the Trail.

The South Vietnamese authorities in Saigon were also aware of all the activity in 1959. They were anxious to get better intelligence on infiltration along the trail, so South Vietnamese Army officials negotiated with their Royal Lao counterparts for permission to mount shallow forays west from Lao Bao along Route 9, into Laos. To disguise their origins, the ARVN troops would wear Lao uniforms. Implemented by year’s end, the agreement resulted in a South Vietnamese outpost across the border in the Lao village of Ban Houei Sane.

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Ho Chi Minh Trail Propaganda poster
Unify the NationWherever there is an Enemy we will Crush Him

The story of the trail is also told in a small left-wing propaganda booklet entitled NORTH VIETNAM – A first-hand account of the blitz, by Malcolm Salmon, reporter for the Socialist Australian newspaper Tribune. Salmon parrots the National Liberation Front story that the North is fighting along for independence, and specifically points out that there are no foreign fighters in the Communist movement in Vietnam. His account of the battle in the North and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail indicates how the Left-Wing PSYOP saw presented the battle:

The U.S. bombing of North Vietnam has as its nominal purpose the stopping of northern aid to the South Vietnam National Liberation Front…It can be said quite confidently that U.S. bombing has failed utterly in its nominal purpose…On night journeys I made down the roads of North Vietnam, along parts of that Ho Chi Minh Trail so beloved by our daily press commentators, it seemed that every lorry in the world was moving southward.

A bridge over a river is bombed and a new makeshift one is put up, perhaps in pontoon form, perhaps in the form of unsinkable clusters of bamboo, with a rough and ready timber carriage-way on top.

A railway line is cut and new sections of line are laid, often within hours.

A road is bombed and if the damage is too serious to be readily repaired; traffic is diverted to one of the newly created roads, hundreds of miles of which have been pushed through the North Vietnamese jungle country….

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NVA Troops marching South on the Trail

Some limited supplies were smuggled through the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), but the vast majority came down the Trail. In the early days of the war it took six months to travel from North Vietnam to Saigon on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. By 1970, regular North Vietnamese Army soldiers could make the journey in six weeks. By the end of the war with motorized transportation the trip might take one week. It is estimated that as many as 20,000 soldiers a month marched south at the height of the trail’s use. And, it wasn’t only men and trucks that came down the Trail. Captain Hammond M. Salley, recalls:

In February 1968 the NVA brought PT-76 light tanks down the trail to attack the Lang Vei Special Forces camp.The camp was just inside the Vietnam border from Laos. Captain Frank Willoughby, Lang Vei camp Commander, had one sitting on top of his command bunker after the attack.  Although I was not involved, my unit at Forward Operating Base-3, Khe Sanh Combat Base, organized and conducted the relief operation that rescued him and the other camp personnel.

The Vietnamese apparently had dozens of short poetic slogans for those that worked on or traveled down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Some of them are:

Songs are louder than the thunder of guns.

Firm as a stone table, clean as a public park, continuous as a piece of silk.

Let the road wait for the vehicles. Never the vehicles wait for the road.

Fight the enemy to march, avoid the enemy to march, deceive the enemy to march.

In 1966, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara asked for an electronic wall around South Vietnam to track the movement of men and supplies. Remote sensors would be planted all along the Ho Chi Minh Trail to track vehicles and human movement through acoustic and seismic signatures. In September 1967, McNamara announced a plan for the construction of an electronic anti-infiltration barrier south of the Demilitarized Zone in Vietnam. It would contain minefields, ditches, barbed wire, and defoliated strips with military strongholds at advantageous positions. There would also be an anti-vehicle barrier consisting of sensor devices monitored in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. The building of the McNamara Line was slowed first by NVA attacks on United States Marines along the DMZ, later by the siege of Khe Sanh. Sensors and hardware had to be diverted from other parts of the DMZ to protect Khe Sanh. After that siege ended, construction on the McNamara Line was abandoned. 

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Bicycles laden with supplies on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Other electronic methods of interdicting the Ho Chi Minh Trail included the Acoubuoy, (camouflaged and floated down by parachute), the Spikebuoy (stuck in the ground like a lawn dart with the antenna camouflaged to resemble weeds) and the ADSID (resembling a Spikebouy but smaller — the most widely used sensor).  

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Spikebuoys found along Ho Chi Minh Trail in Attapeu Province, Laos
Courtesy of Modernforces.com

The air portion code name to place the sensors along the trail was “Muscle Shoals,” while the electronic interpretation was called “Igloo White.” About 20,000 sensors were used in all. Other sensors included a “people sniffer,” designed to sense sweat and urine. The “Black Crow” detection system could sense truck engine emissions from 10 miles away. Igloo White was disbanded in 1972 because of the high costs of the program and the belief that a cease-fire was imminent.

Project CHEKO (Contemporary Historical Examination of Current Operations) produced a 10 January 1970 secret report on the sensors along the Trail called Igloo White July 1968 to December 1970. The report is 80-pages long so I will just add a few pertinent comments to this article.

The MUSCLE SHOALS (IGLOO WHITE) program was initiated on 16 September 1966, with a decision by Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, to develop a system to interdict North Vietnamese infiltration into South Vietnam.

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The Handsid (Placed on the Ground by Foot Soldiers)

The initial sensor program was called PRACTICE NINE until 14 June 1967, ILLINOIS CITY until 15 July 1967, and DYE MARKER until 8 September 1967, when MUSCLE SHOALS was adopted to indicate the air-supported subsystem in eastern and central Laos. In June 1968, the program was renamed IGLOO WHITE and consisted of three components: (1) munitions and sensing devices which were placed across and along suspected routes of infiltration to detect and impede enemy foot or vehicular movement; (2) orbiting aircraft which received signals from these sensors, amplified them, and retransmitted them; and (3) an Infiltration Surveillance Center (ISC) which received the transmitted signals from the aircraft and analyzed them to produce reliable tactical information for planning and interdiction operations.

The Infiltration Surveillance Center nicknamed DUTCH MILL was placed under a 13th Air Force organization known as Task Force Alpha (TFA) located at Nakhon Phanom Air Base, Thailand.

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The Helosid (Dropped by Chinook Helicopters

The mainstays of the Phase I effort the CANOPY ACOUBUOY acoustic detector, designed to hang up in the jungle canopy, and the SPIKE ACOUBUOY 3 (SPIKEBUOY), modified to implant in the ground where proper canopy was not available. It was air delivered and implanted itself in the ground to receive seismic indication. Lesser used sensors were the Hand Emplaced Seismic Intrusion Detector (HANDSID), which was primarily used by the Army in Vietnam, and the Helicopter Emplaced Seismic Intrusion Detector (HELOSID), which was launched from the CH-3 helicopter.

Ken Welch spent over seven years in Vietnam working first in various Intelligence positions and later in the Phoenix Program. He mentions problems with the electronic sensors in Tiger Hound: How We Won the War & Lost the Country, Outskirts Press, Inc.:

Ground recon teams were inserted to plant unattended ground sensors. The first were seismic devices that sent a radio message whenever something like a truck shook the ground nearby. Some nights, the sensors sent messages indicating that a hundred trucks had gone by. What we found after a lot of fruitless searching was a deep, circular rut in the road and one truck that had driven around and around the sensor all night. Usually, this wore out the batteries on the sensor within two nights.

Next, acoustic sensors were placed to transmit sounds heard along a road or in a truck park area. Once again, the sensors would transmit sounds of trucks moving all night long until the batteries wore out. We never found any trucks reported by these sensors. A Montagnard from the area later described a Viet Cong playing a recording of truck motors all night.

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A Highly Modified Navy NP-2H Neptune Aircraft

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 VO-67 (The 67 stood for the year of origin – the unit existed from February 1967 to July 1968). The members called themselves “the Ghost Squadron.” They flew from Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, just nine miles 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, heavily modified, and now identified as the OP-2E. The Neptune was a 1950s-era anti-submarine patrol airplane, and now it was used to implant several thousand “Acoubuoys” (electronic listening devices modified from the anti-submarine “sonobuoy”) and the Air Delivered Seismic Detection Sensor (Adsid) along the Ho Chi Minh trail. The squadron's planes were heavily modified for the mission, including the addition of M-60 machine guns, 2800-gallon self-sealing bladder fuel tanks, a WWII Norden bombsight, an armored belly and a flat jungle-green paint scheme. Forty years after the squadron's actions, VO-67 was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest decoration for combat valor a unit can receive.

Ken Welch mentions Navy aircraft:

The mission was top secret. No Vietnamese were privy to the information. We concluded that the aircraft capabilities were commonly known and the aircraft call signs were never changed. Of course, the NVA signal intelligence people monitored them. “When they hear a submarine chaser flying back and forth over the jungle, they can put two and two together,” I told Headquarters. “We make big, big mistakes thinking that we are fighting an unsophisticated enemy.”

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Turdsid

My personal favorite type of sensor was the “Turdsid.” These scatterable sensors were small devices, mostly seismic. They consisted of a seismic detector, a transmitter, an internal antenna, and a battery in a fiberglass or plastic case made to look like animal droppings. Because they were small, their batteries and transmitters were small. The battery life was not long, just a few days. The sensors are about 4 inches long and fashioned in the shape of animal feces. The report U. S. Air Ground Operations Against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, 1966-1972 adds that the sensors were first made to look like dog excretement, but when it was discovered that there were no dogs along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the sensors were changed to look like branches and pieces of wood.

Other camouflaged sensors were made to look like a broken branch, a big leaf, or other kinds of forest litter.

Author Peter Alan Lloyd talks about some of these sensors when he interviews ex-CIA case officer Jack Jolis in an article entitled “A Case Officer remembers: The Rascal Program” (Modernforces.com). Jolis says in part:

Rascal consisted of training, and then, via Air America helicopters and short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft Porter Pilatuses, inserting and eventually extracting 2-4-man teams of Hmongs who would be disguised as innocuous civilians and whose job it was to wander off into the mountainous jungle in north-eastern Laos and find concentrations of North Vietnamese troops. Once they found those concentrations of NVA, they were to pass through them, but, crucially, leaving behind them, on the ground, radio beacon devices which we had fiendishly crafted to look like indigenous rocks, or twigs, or even leaves, which they would "switch on" and drop off as close to enemy troop concentrations, or supply depots, as they could.

Our “Techs” made the sensors in Udorn. They were very realistic rubberized rocks, twigs and leaves with tiny little black on/off switches on them which, when dropped somewhere, became immediately “invisible” -- the only way of telling something might be fishy was if you picked one up, as they weighed considerably more than they should have. Their surprisingly strong radio signals could last for several days and radiated out for enough kilometers to suit our needs.

Soap was also used as a “secret weapon” in a mysterious operation called Commando Lava, which took place in Vietnam and Laos in the mid-1960s. Major General Richard V. Secord was the project officer for the mission meant to cause transportation problems for the Viet Cong. U.S. C-130 aircraft dumped powdered soap over areas of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was not meant to keep the Viet Cong spotless. The USAF dropped a soap detergent which when mixed with rain water was supposed to destabilize or turn the earth into a gelatin-like mud, keep the mud holes from drying up, make the roads and trails impassible, and in mountainous terrain perhaps cause landslides. The mixture of trisodium nitrilo-triacetic acid and sodium tripolyphosphate packed in palletized bags were dropped on chokepoints of roads by the C-130s. The roads were photographed before and after they were “soap-bombed” in the hope that they would just melt away from the loss of surface tension. The Air Force defines the operation as “the application of a harmless dry powder which breaks down soil stability along the HCM Trail” Of course, the project was a failure. The Ho Chi Minh Trail road crews quickly overcome the problem by laying bamboo matting on the soaped areas.

Another secret weapon against the Ho Chi Minh Trail is mentioned by Matt Novak in an article entitled “The Secret Weather Manipulation Program of the Vietnam War” published in Paleofuture:

From March 1967 until July 1972 the U.S. military spent over $3 million per year conducting a top secret operation in Southeast Asia. The goal was to extend the monsoon season and flood the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the system of supply routes used by enemy fighters in Vietnam. The Americans hoped to cause landslides, wash out river crossings, and just generally disrupt the movement of North Vietnamese troops. It was the first large scale effort to manipulate the weather for military purposes. And it's still unclear how well it actually worked. The program went by many names. It was called at various times Operation Popeye, Operation Motorpool, and Operation Intermediary-Compatriot. Reportedly the name had to be changed so many times on account of people without the proper security clearances learning the name.

"Make mud, not war," was the unofficial moniker of the Air Force pilots who carried out the missions. The project worked by seeding clouds over countries like Laos and Vietnam with silver iodide. Roughly 2,000 runs were conducted over the five years of the program. Although some claimed that Operation Popeye induced from 1 to 7 inches of additional rainfall annually along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, no scientific data were collected to verify the claim. General Westmoreland thought there was "no appreciable increase" in rain from the project.

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Leaflet 4231

Despite the inability of Allied forces to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail, leaflets were prepared and disseminated that implied to the North Vietnamese troops that death was certain on their march south. 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 Republic of Vietnam Have blocked the trail.

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 Republic of Vietnam 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 South Vietnam or the Royal Laotian Government forces.

We can determine about when this leaflet was dropped because the dragon is labeled “Lam Son 719.” This was a major operation of the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam supported by U.S. fixed wing and helicopter aircraft into Laos from 30 January 1971 to 24 March 1971. The objective of Lam Son 719 was to disrupt an ongoing North Vietnamese Army supply buildup at Tchepone, Laos.

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

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Leaflet 4-47-70

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 1969 document Employment of U.S. Army Psychological Operation Units in Vietnam says about the Ho Chi Minh Trail campaign:

The Trail Campaign: Approximately ten percent of the propaganda leaflets [At the time] were directed against the military and civilian personnel who used and maintained the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The PSYOP objective of this out-of-country Trail Campaign was to weaken the will of military target audiences and encourage them to rally upon arrival in the Republic of Vietnam. Along the Trail, the vulnerability of loneliness was attacked by using leaflets with nostalgic poetry written by NVA soldiers about their life at home. The themes of hardship and probable death were constantly brought to the NVA soldier's attention as he moved down the Trail. Once in the Republic of Vietnam, the NVA soldier was confronted with the Safe Conduct Passes urging him to rally.

The Use of Enemy Personnel (Hoi Chanh)

Some of the North Vietnamese officers and soldiers who came over to the “just cause” of the Republic of Vietnam as a Chieu Hoi (The Open Arms program that offered the enemy reeducation, rewards and sanctuary if they defected to the South) were not just passive guests. They took part in clandestine actions against their old comrades. From about 1969 to 1971 United States Army Special Forces (MACV-SOG), Central Intelligence Agency handlers, and the Vietnamese So Cong Tac (Special Mission Service) sent some of these Hoi Chanh back behind the lines as part of a secret operation code-named Earth Angel. Some of these agents were inserted using the high altitude low opening (HALO) parachute method. These operations took place all along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Cambodia and Laos and sometimes in the demilitarized zone. Cambodian defectors were used in a second operation code-named Pike Hill. Since these teams were supposed to be local enemy troops they moved along the roads and trails instead of the jungle. As a result, you will also find them identified occasionally as Road Runners. There were also Road Runner teams gathering intelligence made up of indigenous people posing as local Viet Cong. Some of these teams used members of the native tribes of Vietnam; the Sedang, Rhade, Cham, and other Montagnard groups.

E4 John P. Martin of the 170th Assault Helicopter Company / Command and Control Central, Kontum, assigned to the Studies and Observation Group (SOG) discussed an Earth Angel mission:

About March 1970 I was asked to report to Forward Operating Base (FOB) II at Kontum. We were told that we would insert a very hard looking older man dressed in a North Vietnamese Colonel’s uniform behind the lines. The officer in charge pointed to a map and although I don’t remember exactly where we were going, I think it was in Cambodia.

We took him in by helicopter and left him in some heavy brush along a tree line. We returned to our base and were taken off standby for three days. The NVA colonel was our only mission. After three days we returned to the tree line and there he was. We had a minute of worry wondering if he had “turned” again and we were about to be ambushed, but there was no movement along the tree line. I watched the colonel carefully to make sure he never pointed his weapon at us as he boarded the craft. We returned to the same FOB II inside helipad as we used to take him out. That pad was rarely used since there was another one outside the FOB that was used on SOG missions. The inside pad was very private. This mission was very secret and we had no cover going in or coming out. We were all alone. That makes for a very nervous disposition. There were just a few of us crewing the bird, none of my people, and as a result I never told anyone in my unit or talked about it until today. We took the colonel in to join a NVA unit, learn as much as he could, quietly depart, and come back to us. I did not try to talk to him. He didn’t have much to say to me either. What was there to talk about?

Major “Wick” Zimmer, the 1970 SOG Airborne Studies Group (OP-36A) Commander admired the dedication of the North Vietnamese who took part in Earth Angel:

The Earth Angel agent was a product of northern society. They would hold self-criticism sessions at night, just like they had done in the North Vietnamese Army. They never balked at a mission, never gave any disciplinary problems. They were extremely motivated, almost without parallel.

In April 1967 General William C. Westmorland requested authority to cut the Trail with ground troops in Laos. His request was denied. He made the same request in April 1968 and was denied again. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) attacked the trail in February 1971 under the operation name “Lam Son 719,” but they were eventually forced to withdraw.

Robert W. Chandler mentions the campaign in War of Ideas: The U.S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 1981. Some of his more pertinent comments are:

During the Indochina War the 6,000 mile labyrinth of concealed roads and paths stretching through the eastern portion of Laos became known worldwide as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. With feeder routes extending into Cambodia and South Vietnam, it long was Hanoi’s major lifeline to the war against Saigon.

American aircraft struck the trail day and night trying to cut Hanoi’s umbilical cord to the Viet Cong. Most of the appeals were similar to those which exploited mental vulnerabilities of enemy soldiers in the South - - fears, hardships, loss of faith in victory, concern about families and disillusionment with the Communist cause.

Lack of food, medical care, shelter, and clothing were highlighted in leaflets which exploited the severe hardships of the Trail. Another primary topic was disease, since many infiltrators suffered from malaria and dysentery.

John L. Plaster discusses the Trail in SOG: the Secret Wars of America’s Commandoes in Vietnam, Simon & Schuster, N.Y., 1997.

The North Vietnamese expertly built their trails as flat as if it had been laid out with a mason’s level, wide enough for two men to walk abreast, and when in use, not a twig or leaf was to be found on its hard surface.

NVA truck parks, base camps and way stations were hewn from dense forest, and care was taken to remove only a minimal amount of natural foliage.

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Elephants on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

This painting depicts elephants and North Vietnamese soldiers carrying supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The text at the lower right is:

All for the Battle Front

He talks about problems with chair-borne debriefers back at headquarters. He tells a wonderful anecdote about elephants on the Trail:

The classic case was that of a recon team that reported a convoy of elephants carrying provisions. After a Saigon analyst mocked the returning team’s report, another One-Zero encountered elephants and brought back incontrovertible evidence – a plastic bag full of elephant dung, which was dumped all soft and squishy on the derriere’s desk.

There is something magical about elephant dung. I once brought a bag of bowling-ball size turds and placed them in a friendly lieutenant’s toilet bowl. It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I would have loved to see his reaction when he went in there to poop, but I made sure I was long gone by then.

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Corky Trinidad wartime Ho Chi Minh Trail Cartoon featuring an Elephant

In SOG – a Photo History of the Secret Wars, Paladin Press, Boulder, CO, 2000, author John Plaster adds:

Several recon teams reported that they had seen NVA elephant convoys near Kham Duc – only to be scoffed at by know-it-all analysts in Saigon. Incensed. Several recon men went back to the area, shot and killed an NVA elephant, sawed off a tusk, and then presented it to the Chief of SOG, 1956 – 1966, Colonel Don Blackburn. Today that tusk is displayed in General Blackburn’s living room, one of his proudest possessions.\

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Ma Van Thang’s pack-bike in the Vietnam Military History Museum

The above pack bike transported 370kg (850 pounds) of supplies. The pack-bike was seen as an “iron horse” which could move in complex terrain like slopes and narrow roads without fuel and easy to repair and disguise in all-weather conditions. The performance of a bike was 10 times that of a human being. A bamboo bar 1 meter long was fastened to the handle of the bike to improve its performance. As a result, in spite of bulky cargos, the “driver” could easily steer the bike. They also added another bamboo stretch to the seat tube to balance the bike. The bikes’ frames were reinforced with iron rods or planks and the tires were covered with cloth to make them more durable.

Plaster says in regard to bicycles:

Captured NVA pack bikes were found to be heavy framed two or three-wheelers with wide balloon tires, somewhat like today’s mountain bikes. Saigon analysts learned that a single bicycle carried nearly 500 pounds of cargo, far more than a man could carry.

SOG men learned that a bicycle porter didn’t ride his loaded bicycle, but walked it from one way station to the next and then road it back for the next load…A bicycle courier was assigned a fixed stretch of road or path and came to know it so well that he could maneuver, even on dark nights.

The Viet Cong used many forms of transportation to move equipment down the trail. USAF First Lieutenant Zot Barazzotto flew over Laos and Cambodia from March 1970 to March 1971 using the call signs Covey 250 and Rustic 55. He told me about sighting rafts:

I also was good at spotting boats and rafts on the River, which wasn't all that big in our section of Laos. One day I found a raft big enough to hold three trucks. The river was high because of rain so they couldn't use the underwater fords. They would roll three trucks on the barge, float across the river and roll them off. We got a flight of Navy A-4 and proceeded to go after the barge. The good news was that we killed a piece of the NVA's transportation system, took no hits and didn't bend the plane.

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LT Robert Harvey and his team from the 25th PSYOP Detachment of the 245th PSYOP Company drops leaflets along the tri-country border (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) in an attempt to reach infiltrators coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The declassified Command History, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, 1967 adds in part:

One of the most important leaflet operations was the Trail Campaign, initiated in early 1966. The Trail leaflets were targeted against infiltrators using way stations, staging and supply areas, and infiltration routes and trails leading from NVN through Laos and Cambodia into the RVN. The Trail Campaign principal objectives were to plant doubt in the minds of the NVA infiltrators about the prospects of survival, to convince them that their mission was hopeless, and to encourage them to rally when they were sent south.

The most effective leaflet against the infiltrator was the safe conduct pass, which was considered a kind of insurance. The campaign was best evaluated by the number of NVA soldiers persuaded to rally or accept capture rather than be killed. Some of these were probably influenced by the successful leaflet, “Born in the North to Die in the South.”

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Leaflet 48

Leaflet 48 depicts the skull of a North Vietnamese soldier on the front with the text:

WAS THIS YOUR SON, HUSBAND, BROTHER, COMRADE?

This one of the more than 2000 Northern soldiers who died at Plei Me in November 1965. Many thousands have died in other battles and many thousands will continue to die if they don’t come over to the South Vietnamese or allied forces. Only these will live to return home.

The back is all text with a long message that attacks the North Vietnamese leaders who claim that there are no Northerners in the South. One of the comments is:

North Vietnam’s Premier Pham Van Dong declared: “The so-called presence of forces of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in South Vietnam is but a myth fabricated by the United States Imperialists by way of justification for their war of aggression in South Vietnam.”

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Leaflet 49

The Allies were very excited to discover that this leaflet was being found on all the dead bodies they checked. They also noticed that many of the prisoners had memorized the leaflet. More leaflets were requested for the enemy in Laos. It was discovered that a shipment had been made to IV Corps where the message was inappropriate. The shipment was immediately moved to Laos where they were put to good use.

The leaflet depicts a dead North Vietnamese soldier on one side and all text on the other side. The text is:

BORN IN THE NORTH TO DIE IN THE SOUTH

Tens of thousands of families in the North no longer hear from their dead sons in the Army. THEIR SONS ARE DEAD. This is the fate of those who are sent south. Because of the overwhelming strength of the South Vietnamese Army and Allied forces, the Communist infiltrators in the South are faced with total defeat. Only those who leave the Communist ranks in time will survive to be reunited with their families in the North someday.

Curiously, in the Diary of an Infiltrator, we find this comment:

Some men have written on their undershirts “Born in the north, will die in the south.”

One wonders if the Americans stole the motto from the North Vietnamese or they stole it from the Americans.

John Plaster mentions a bush hat found on a dead NVA with the words “Born in the north to die in Laos.”

The Allies also produced radio and loudspeaker messages using the same theme. Tape 119 is a 56-second message in a female voice that says in part:

Soldiers from North Vietnam. Were you born in the North to die in the South? Choose life not death. You may rally to the Government of Vietnam instead of dying an unknown death. The Government of Vietnam welcomes you with “open arms.” You will be warmly welcomed and well treated….

A Vietnamese told me:

The fact is that NVA soldiers loved that motto too, in their way. Instead of saying “born in the North to die in the South,” the Vietnamese version, in fact is shorter “Born in the North, die in the South.” If you are a soldier spending 6 months in the Annamite range to infiltrate the South, the motto is so easy to remember - and believe me, once you say it; it's in your head forever. And after each air strike, each mountain you climbed, each comrade you buried, you would say it in your mind “born in the North, die in the South.” It became what you believe - your destiny! I don’t believe that was the impact the U.S. wanted. I myself consider that motto is one of the most successful mottos utilized by both warring parties!

THE PSYOP CAMPAIGN

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Leaflet drop over Vietnam

The 16 September 1968 USAF report: Psychological Operations by the United States Air Force and the Vietnamese Air Force in South Vietnam says about the Ho Chi Minh Trail Campaign:

This 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-RVN Border areas and the Cambodian-RVN Border areas. Thematic content is designed to create fear, anxiety, and insecurity in the NVA soldiers on their way to South Vietnam, in order to cause defection, desertion and a loss of effectiveness in the units.

Some degree of success has been achieved in the campaign against infiltrators moving along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. Reportedly, defections, desertions, feigned illnesses, and the like, account for as much as a 40-percent attrition in the NVA replacement units moving down from the North. In well-organized and trained units, this rate is probably too high. The most effective areas are immediately along the general infiltration routes. Unfortunately, these areas also have high concentrations of antiaircraft fire, which make them difficult to reach. The employment of aircraft to drop leaflets at night has improved the access to these areas.

The North Vietnam Affairs Division kept fairly complete records of most of the leaflets being sent to North Vietnam with weekly and monthly reports. The records of leaflet drops along what they call the infiltration routes is less comprehensive, with just the leaflet identification but no numbers of how many of each. To show the extent of this campaign I thought I might show the final totals for the first five months of 1968:

JAN – 28,600,000 leaflets: T-02, T-07, T-16, T-20 and T-24.
FEB – 21,000,000 leaflets: T-16, T-19, T-21, T-23, T-24, and T-25
MAR – 19,800,000 leaflets: T-08, T-16, T-19, T-21, and T-23.
APR – 15,694,000 leaflets: T-04, T-07, T-09, T-16, T-17, T-19, T-20, T-21, T-22, T-23, T-24, and T-25.
MAY – 10,590,000 leaflets: T-18, T-19, T-20, and T-23.

Airman First Class Sam McGowan was a loadmaster assigned to the 35th Troop Carrier Squadron on Naha Air Force Base, Okinawa, from February 1966 to August 1967. His duty was flying classified leaflet missions against North Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He says:

The leaflets were prepared by the Army’s 7th Psychological Operations Group in cardboard boxes and remained in them until the box dropped off of the ramp of the airplane. The boxes were loaded on to the airplane by hand and rolled forward in the cargo compartment to the proper place where they were secured with cargo straps. A loadmaster would attach the static line to the steel cables suspended beneath the ceiling for just that purpose.

Normally, a C-130 troop carrier crew consisted of five men – two pilots, a flight mechanic or flight engineer, a navigator and a loadmaster. For the leaflet drops, the normal crew was augmented with an additional navigator and four additional loadmasters. Because the drops were made from high altitude, two other airmen were part of the crew. One was a physiological training technician from the altitude chamber at Kadena Air Force Base and the other was the 35th squadron medic. Their job was to monitor the loadmasters during the drop to insure that no one fell ill to any of the ailments and conditions associated with high-altitude flight and the use of oxygen.

The leaflet missions were classified and so were the leaflets, so only the aircrew was allowed on board the airplane from the time the leaflets arrived at the airplane. Due to the classified nature of the cargo, the boxes of leaflets were loaded onto the airplane by the loadmasters themselves. It was hard, backbreaking work that wasn’t made any easier by the heat and humidity of Okinawa. By the time the airplane had been loaded, the loadmaster crew would be physically worn out, and they still had a mission to fly. If the mission was a FACT SHEET, the crew would takeoff and fly to Da Nang, or to Ubon, Thailand after the spring of 1966, where the crew would rest and make the drop the following night.

Drops were made from high altitude, usually 25,000 feet, which meant that the entire crew had to be on oxygen. The ramp and door at the rear of the airplane was open for the entire duration of the drop and sub-freezing air swirled through the cargo compartment. Even though the cargo compartment was cold, the physical exertion brought a sweat. Oxygen masks tend to slide around on sweaty faces. A 20,000-pound load of boxes at seventy pounds apiece works out to 285 boxes, each of which had to be manhandled into the airplane, and then manhandled to the rear of the airplane again for the drop. Even though they were on rollers, their weight caused the rollers to dimple the cardboard so that it was a lot harder to roll the boxes to the back of the airplane than it had been to load them.

The missions weren’t particularly dangerous. Drops were made from high altitude, which put the airplane well above most anti-aircraft, and the missions were flown at night. The contents of the boxes weren’t generally known by the crews, other than that they were leaflets. The boxes were sealed and designed so they didn’t break apart until the box reached the end of the static line and the leaflets thus deployed behind and below the airplane. Sometime in 1967 the mission was declassified and a display was set up outside the building where the 35th TCS was located. The display included several leaflets, with the English translation. My favorite was one that offered First Aid suggestions to the North Vietnamese soldiers who were infiltrating out of North Vietnam through Laos to South Vietnam. It concluded with the words “and if you follow these directions, you may live to die in South Vietnam.”

Navigator Captain Bob Wyatt arrived on Okinawa as a member of the 35th Troop Carrier Squadron in May 1968. He says:

I never dropped any leaflets over North Vietnam.   The bombing halt on North Vietnam included provisions that "nothing" hit the ground.  I guess the leaflets must have been effective.  I dropped them on Laos and South Vietnam. My last drop was way up north in Laos.

In late 1968 or early 1969 we had a few drops where the static line did not open the box of leaflets. From then on we navigators had to be extra careful on our position while dropping.  I wonder what the terminal velocity is on one of those boxes.

We had more than one drop per mission, and the leaflets were of two different paper weights.  A 30 thousand pound load of 20-weight paper was just over 13 million leaflets, but 16-weight paper counted out at over 15 million leaflets.

One mission we were ordered to drop leaflets on the enemy west of Pleiku for coverage of the tri-country area.  At our altitude we had winds out of the West, and we could not violate Cambodian air space for the drop. We needed to get winds below us that were out of the East, so we called the local artillery site asking that they hold their fire while we drop leaflets. He told us that he had artillery to 16,000 feet in the sector where we needed to go. We gave him our authority code and asked that he shut down his artillery so we could enter.  He flatly refused. We insisted, but he absolutely refused saying that he had got himself in big trouble the previous month for not getting enough artillery into his designated sector.  So, we dropped at a higher altitude and our leaflets came down on friendly Pleiku.

PSYOPS in Vietnam: Indications of Effectiveness, JUSPAO Planning Office, Saigon, Vietnam, May, 1967, discusses the effectiveness of the Ho Chi Minh Trail leaflet campaign. It points out that a Special Forces unit operating near the trail in Quang Duc Province found that the trail area was well covered with leaflets, even in the dense jungle. A captured Viet Cong soldier had a safe conduct pass concealed in his shirt. Two dead VC both had safe conduct passes on their persons.

In all, about 125 leaflets were originally prepared to be dropped along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. All of these leaflets were marked with a numerical code (1 to 125) and the letter “T.” They were dropped by bombers, fighters, transports and reconnaissance aircraft as they flew overhead, and also carried by hand and left along the trail by Special Forces, indigenous troops and scouts. Later on in the war when more leaflets were desired, a number of the regular Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) and military leaflets were “drafted.” A “T” was added to their 4-digit numerical code; for instance, leaflet 3253 became 3253-T. Toward the end of the war, they no longer added the letter “T.” Although much rarer, there are other leaflets that bear the letters “T-(numerical)-CP-C” in their code, signifying “Operation Camel Path,” the leafleting of Vietnamese troops in Cambodia, and some leaflets for use along the Trail that bears the code “T-(numerical)-SPC.”

These leaflets are not as common as most Vietnam War leaflets because they were not dropped over “friendly” or contested areas where American troops could find them and bring them home as souvenirs. These were dropped over the enemy in Laos and Cambodia, often deep in the jungle where no American tread. We will show some that have been brought back and rely on our readers and veterans to send us more than can be gradually added to this article.

In Volume I of the Department of Defense contracted the Final Report Psychological Operations Studies – Vietnam, Human Sciences Research Inc, 1971, Drs. Ernest F. and Edith M. Bairdain explain why it was believed that leaflets would work on the enemy soldiers along the Ho Chi Minh Trail:

Defection is most likely to occur as an immediate response to PSYOP messages when appeals are received in the context of some form of military pressure. Where timely persuasive messages are received, the opportunity exists and defection is feasible to the situation, the potential for inducing defection varies together with the degree of pressure. In the absence of exposure to immediate high external pressure, defection may occur because of the cumulative effects of a series of unrewarding, frustrating, difficult, and intermittently dangerous experience which greatly outweigh and positive features in the total situation.

In other words, when soldiers are so tired, hungry, under constant attack and demoralized, the odds are far better that they will be willing to defect.

Lieutenant La Thanh Tonc of the North Vietnamese Army defected on 20 January 1968 to the Marines at Khe Sanh Combat Base. The story is told in the January 2005 issue of Leatherneck by LTC James B. Wilkinson (Ret.). Tonc had just made the dangerous trek down the trail as part of the 325C NVA Division:

In addition to the possibility of being decimated by an air strike, there were other perils. Approximately 10 percent of those traveling the trail died of malaria. Troops had to share the road with heavily laden bicycles, trucks, tracked vehicles and even ponies loaded with various supplies. Intelligence sources concluded that each month approximately 20,000 troops as well as tons of supplies moved south on the trail.

Tonc was demoralized and had other personal and career problems. He provided the general battle plan of the NVA forces at Khe Sanh. The Marine’s victory at Khe Sanh can be attributed in part to the information gained from this valuable Chieu Hoi.

Although we don’t know what specific propaganda leaflets were dropped on the Communist forces besieging the Marines as Khe Sanh, we do know that C-47 aircraft from Flight A of the 9th Air Commando Squadron, 14th Air Commando Wing, dropped a total of 31,000,000 leaflets in adverse weather on the enemy and the unit’s Commander was awarded an Army Commendation Medal for “deterring enemy forces from conducting a massive ground assault on the Khe Sanh position.”

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T-01

Leaflet T-01 depicts a Vietnamese family praying at a family alter, while the mother imagines her husband, now in South Vietnam, being strafed by three aircraft. The back of the leaflet is all text:

THEY ARE MISSING YOU AT HOME ALREADY

As you part from your family to start your long trek to the south, you leave behind more than an empty place in the family circle. You leave behind greater danger for your loved ones because your invasion of the south is what makes the war go on. You leave behind your burdens that you bore so easily with your proud young strength, but that had become much heavier for the women, the old ones, and the little children who are no longer free to occupy their time with study and with play.

And your place in your home, and in their hearts, is an aching emptiness. Sorrowfully, bravely, they know that they must prepare themselves to mourn your death, and your shameful burial in an unmarked grave far from your home and ancestors.

They do not complain, but in their grief, the bitter truth is in their minds. There would be no war, no violence and agony, no separation of loved ones, if your leaders did not send you to kill the peaceable people who love in Viet Nam.

And, they would not be preparing to mourn your death.

Retired Master Sergeant LeRoy “Doc” Holloway dropped the above leaflet over North Viet Nam in the early 1960’s while on Blind Bat missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He was a Flight Engineer in the 35th Troop Carrier Squadron from 1964 to 1967. He flew the leaflet missions from Da Nang Air Force Base, Vietnam.

Operation Blind Bat missions were flown in Vietnam from 1964 to 1970. The Communist infiltrators from the North moved south during the night under cover of darkness. The USAF was assigned the task of dropping flares from C-130A aircraft to light the skies and make the trucks visible to Allied fighters and bombers. The mission was to target trucks and interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Holloway told me:

The mission started when we reported to the Security Section for a briefing and sanitizing of our uniforms. After leaving everything except for our ID card and dog tags we did our preflight and then took off about midnight. We flew north over the water to avoid anti-aircraft fire. We flew above 10,000 feet and wore oxygen masks the entire time we were over North Vietnam. When it came time to drop the leaflets the loadmaster and helpers pushed the pallets with static lines attached to the rear of the rollers installed on the floor of the aircraft. After the drop the whole back of the aircraft was covered with leaflets. The loadmaster was tasked with cleaning up the cargo area and throwing the last of the leaflets out before we could close the ramp, pick up speed and return to the air base.

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Leaflet T-02

Leaflet T-02 is a cartoon showing the terrible ravages of disease the Communist soldier faces as he walks south. It depicts three very sick North Vietnamese soldiers, one burying his comrades. The back is all text:

LOOK AROUND YOU

Find your two nearest comrades. Look at them carefully. By the end of the three month march into South Vietnam that you are just starting, one of the three of you will not be on his feet, but lying on his back wracked with the fevers of malaria or other jungle diseases. If he is lucky, he will be carried on a litter or lying on the floor of a makeshift dispensary along the way. If he is unlucky, he will be left behind on the trail.

You have your malaria pills. Guard them carefully. If you take them regularly, you may live to die in the South.

Leaflet T-03 also mentions health and gives five rules about jungle infections, bandaging, fevers, malaria pills, and proper diet that if followed will help the soldier to live so that he may be killed in South Vietnam.

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Leaflet T-04

This is the first of the “threat” leaflets, designed to frighten the enemy by showing him the technological power and might of the American forces. Leaflet T-04 depicts a 175 mm cannon on the front. The back depicts a safe conduct pass at right, and text at the left:

AIMED AT YOU?

This gun has not been aimed at you yet. If it had been aimed at you, you would not be reading these lines. This is a175 millimeter cannon. It shoots a 75 kilogram projectile more than 30 kilometers and is able to destroy everything in the target area.

Your chance to avoid this fate will come. Watch for your safe conduct pass which points the way for you to come across and live under the protection of the government of the Republic of Vietnam.

Over 14 million T-4 leaflets were dropped from the DMZ to Dong Hoi in October and November 1967 and again April and May 1968. I ran across an interesting evaluation of the Trail leaflets by an “Ad Hoc Leaflet Panel” dated 10 December 1970. They considered 40 leaflets over the course of one day and judged them on suitability with recommendations that the leaflets should be rejected, retained or modified. It appears they went into no great detail. Some of their instructions were: No more than ten minutes should be spent considering any one leaflet; Consideration of the leaflet should be aimed at determining only is the leaflet outdated and does it contain any errors in fact; The list of leaflets should be annotated to indicate if the leaflets should be rejected, retained or modified; the comments of the panel should be tape recorded for future reference.

Many of the leaflets contained grammatical errors and I see a number of corrections to the Vietnamese language. The panel concludes: All pictures and maps should be in color; the pictures should be realistic and express the true spirit of the leaflet text; we recommend the addition of NVA ralliers to the panel if possible because they are more familiar with recent developments.

It is interesting to note that leaflet T-04 was listed as “rejected – the threat will not work.”

Leaflet T-05 warns the Vietnamese that the Chinese rifle he carries will have to be paid for in rice from his own farm.

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Leaflet T-06

Leaflet T-06 depicts a cache of enemy weapons. The back bears a safe conduct pass and the message:

DO YOU RECOGNIZE THESE WEAPONS?

Your comrades were carrying them a few days ago. But that was before they arrived in South Vietnam and encountered the powerful opposition of the law-abiding South Vietnamese people.

You chance to avoid the fate they met will come. Look for your safe conduct pass.

Three million copies of leaflet T-06 were disseminated.

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Leaflet T-07

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. PSYOP records indicate that 5 million of these leaflets were printed and send to Pleiku in January 1968. 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.

We will not depict all of the leaflets used during the Trail campaign but PSYOP records indicate that 5 million copies of leaflet T-07 were printed and all were dropped over Cambodia. 13 million copies of T-16 were printed and dropped on Cambodia, and 20 million copies of T-19, T-21, T23 and T-25 were printed and all were dropped on Cambodia.

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Leaflet T-08

Leaflet T-08 was designed to frighten the enemy by pointing out the danger of dying far from home. While at the same time offering hope in the form of a 5-flag safe conduct pass. The text on the safe conduct side of the leaflet is:

You can avoid this fate. Use your safe conduct pass in order to cross the lines to the protection of the government of Vietnam. The pass carries this symbol.

The other side of the leaflet depicts a photograph of a dead Viet Cong guerrilla in the mud. The text is:

Why did this young man from North Vietnam come to die here, outside the mud wall of a lonely outpost in Ba Long? His place should have been at his home, in his farm, where his labor is needed to help feed his compatriots in the north. Instead, he has been sent to the South and assigned the hopeless job of storming into an outpost defended by the people of the South. What did he hope to achieve by his suicidal attempt? To "liberate" the people of the South as he had been told by his Communist masters? But why do the people that he is supposed to liberate build mud walls and plant bamboo spikes to keep the liberators out? Perhaps, at the last minute he saw the truth. But, it was too late. The Labor Party has already spent him like an expendable item in its bid to take over South Vietnam. 

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Leaflet T-09

Leaflet T-09 depicts a dead soldier on one side and text on the back:

IS THIS A GRAVE?

Unfortunately, it is not. But it is the final resting place, many, many kilometers from the graves of his ancestors. For this young North Vietnamese soldier whose body, along with those of 2,200 of his comrades was left behind on the plains near Plei Me. His body cannot be identified, his grave cannot be marked, and his soul will never find rest.

You can avoid this fate. Pick up a safe conduct pass and directions to cross the lines to the protection of the Government of South Vietnam.

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Leaflet T-09 – Version 2

It is interesting to note that there are two versions of this leaflet. I see the Ad Hoc Committee found several problems with the grammar and recommended two minor changes. In version 1 above the title is at the right of the dead soldier. In the second version there is no text on the front and the title is at the top of the text on the back. In addition, the NVA body is face up in a pond with the head toward the right.

Leaflet T-10 is similar and shows a body and mentions the battle of Plei Me. Some of the text is:

VICTORY AT PLEI ME?

This young North Vietnamese soldier will never again see the loved ones whose pictures he clutches. He and 2,200 of his comrades who died in the recent battle in the Plei Me area will never celebrate this kind of “victory.”

Curiously, the Ad Hoc Committee did not like this image and said:

Picture too ugly. Use another picture showing the mother, brother and sister anxiously waiting to see the fighter return home.

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Leaflet T-11

Leaflet T-11 depicts a group of happy North Vietnamese “ralliers” who have defected to the Government of Viet Nam. Twenty million copies of this leaflet were printed and disseminated.The back of the leaflet depicts a five-flag safe conduct pass (similar to the seven-flag pass at the top of this article) and the following text:

THESE MEN USED THE SAFE CONDUCT PASS

Holding gifts presented by officials of one of South Vietnam’s “Open Arms” Centers, these men are no longer fighting their fellow Vietnamese. The Republic of Viet Nam offers a warm welcome to those who will voluntarily leave the ranks of the aggressors and join the cause of those who defend their independence. More than 25,000 former Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army soldiers have done so.

You can do so too. Watch for your safe conduct pass and directions to cross the lines to the protection of the government of Viet Nam. The pass will look like this:

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Leaflet T-12

Leaflet T-12 depicts a dead North Vietnamese Army soldier on one side with the text:

Do you want to be used as a Chinese bullet shield and die in vain like this?

The back depicts the Chieu Hoi 5-flag safe conduct pass and the text:

Is it finished when you die?

Your death is only a matter of time.

But after you die, who will feed your wife and children at home?

Who will take care of your parents who are already old and weak? Will you be able to rest peacefully?

There is one way out of this dilemma. Watch for your safe conduct pass and directions to cross the lines to the protection of the Government of South Vietnam. The pass will have this symbol:

Ten million of this leaflet were printed and disseminated.

We have identified the first dozen leaflets produced for the Trail Campaign. We will now show some selected leaflets that use different themes or images and show different PSYOP techniques.

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Leaflet T-014

Leaflet T-14 tries to frighten the enemy workers and keep them from rebuilding the trail. The front shows an American F-5 Tiger fighter-bomber dropping bombs and the text:

THESE AIRCRAFT WILL RETURN

The back is all text:

WARNING: STAY AWAY FROM THIS AREA

Aircraft will continue to come and drop bombs here. If you come to repair the damage you will be killed because while you are working, the aircraft will return and drop more bombs. These bombings have the objective of stopping the soldiers from the North going to the South to kill your compatriots. Don’t lose your life uselessly to help this aggression.

Compatriots. Leave this area and live and work somewhere else where it is safe.

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Leaflet T-015

Leaflet T-015 has a rather plain vignette depicting a North Vietnamese soldier being treated in a military hospital in the Republic of Vietnam. I added it to the article because I think the message is wonderful propaganda, certainly the sort of thing that would terrify the average Vietnamese draftee. The front text is:

This North Vietnamese soldier is being treated in a military hospital of the Republic of Vietnam.

The Army of Vietnam and Allied Forces can save your life. They have enough medicines to treat you and restore your health if you rally in time.

The text on the back is where the real PSYOP is found:

Before the end of this senseless march to South Vietnam that you are just beginning, many of you will have BLACK WATER FEVER.

The characteristics:

1. Hot fever in bowels.
2. Chills
3. Urine turns black.
4. Body in extreme pain.
5. Death in three days.

Because of your weakened condition many of you will die from BLACK WATER FEVER.

Your unit doesn’t have enough medicine or doctors to save you from this disease.

The Army of Vietnam and the Allied Forces can save your life. They have enough medicines to treat you and restore your health if you rally in time.

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T-016 

I chose this leaflet because it bears the symbol of Laos. 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 Laotian image is the most popular theme among the Trail leaflets and there are over a dozen different types with various surrender messages. The United States had to deal with the Laotian government to arrange for them to accept Vietnamese prisoners. All of these leaflets bear text in Vietnamese on one side and Laotian on the other.

The Vietnamese-language side of the leaflet says:

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 Laos Government citizen or soldier and he will guide you to safety.

Commander in Chief
Lao National Armed Forces

The Laotion-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.

A 7th PSYOP Group 1972 Intelligence Special Report on Psychological Operations in Laos mentions a number of Royal Laotian Government 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.

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Leaflet T-19

This leaflet depicts a group of happy North Vietnamese soldiers who have come over to the Republic of South Vietnam. The text on the front is:

These former Northern soldiers are safe, comfortable and happy in a Southern camp.

Think of your family. Think of Vietnam. Don’t throw your life away fighting for an evil and lost cause.

The back has a long all-text message. Some of the text is:

NORTHERN SOLDIERS

Why are you going South? You are going because the Party has sent you.

Why has the Party sent you? Because the Party wants to rule the South.

Do the people in the South want to be liberated? No!

…You dishonor your family and your country if you kill your compatriots who want to be free of Party control….

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Leaflet T-20

I chose this leaflet because it shows a map. The map on a propaganda leaflet is an American invention, first used during WWI to show the Germans the true state of the war and the advances of the allies. This map shows the way to safety for any North Vietnamese soldier wanting to defect.

The Vietnamese language text on the front below the map is:

You will be safe in the dark areas in Laos. To reach it you can follow Route 9 going toward the setting sun or you can follow the Se Bang Hieng River walking in the direction the water flows. Avoid people until you reach the safe area.

The back of the leaflet has text in Both Lao and Vietnamese. The Vietnamese text is:

To All North Vietnamese Soldiers in Laos 

You are offered the chance to escape death and live in peace and safety for the duration. The Royal Lao Government and people will welcome you and treat you as a brother.

Commander in Chief
Lao National Armed Forces

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Leaflet T-28

Leaflet T-28 is one of three cartoons, all obviously drawn by the same artist. The other two are T-29 (which depicts two NVA soldiers observing a group of wounded NVA soldiers straggling back to camp), and T-71 (which depicts a NVA soldier questioning his political commissar about why they are forced to hide in the jungles of Laos. 

Leaflet T-28 depicts two concealed NVA soldiers observing a prosperous South Vietnamese town. One soldier says to the other:

We came South to liberate our compatriots. But after seeing how free and well-off they are, perhaps we should return to the North and help to improve the lives of our people.

The back is all text:

The leadership cadres often lie, saying that the people of the South lead miserable lives and are awaiting your liberation. The truth is that the people of the South are free, happy and prosperous. They don’t need your liberation and are determined to resist you everywhere.

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Leaflet T-40

I chose leaflet T-40 because of the interesting use of skulls in the image. We saw this sort of image again in future conflicts. For instance, American PSYOP troops depicted Saddam Hussein sitting on a pile of skulls during Operation Desert Storm.  

Leaflet T40 depicts a trail of skulls, almost reminiscent of the Cherokee Trail of Tears.The text to the left of the skulls is:

Here is the protracted way of fighting proposed by President Ho Chi Minh.

On 20 July 1965, President Ho Chi Minh declared, “We will fight for 5, 10, 15, 20 years or more. If the generation of fathers is not successful, the generation of the sons will continue…”

In a recent interview given in Hanoi, to an Italian woman named Fallaci, General Nguyen Vo Gap admitted that he had sacrificed 500,000 soldiers in South Vietnam and said he considers this to be a necessary sacrifice.

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Leaflet T-43

I wanted to show one leaflet that really depicted the theme of homesickness. I think that leaflet T-43 does this exceptionally well. It depicts what appears to be a solitary woman waiting on a hill, while below a farmer stands near his buffalo. Caricatures of flower and trees are to the left and right of the photograph. There is a long text on the back:

Longing for the North

As I stop here my heart is full of sorrows longing for the North. I miss the village bamboo. I miss the old banyan tree by the deserted pagoda. I miss the small lentil pond on which blows the cold wind. I miss the high dike on which the herdsmen walk slowly in the fading evening. I miss the village girl with a scarf around her head, with red lips smelling of betel and with rosy cheeks. I miss the rushing sound of water-bailing at night, the peaceful sound of rice husking, the turtle-doves cry on a calm afternoon, and the sleepy sound of a hammock swaying in a summer afternoon.

“Sleep my dear little one. Mother has not come back from the village market. Father still bails water in the creek. Brother is plowing. Sister is transplanting outside.”

Oh dear North Vietnamese countryside! Oh dear North Vietnamese people! Is it cold today? Today the wind blows on the fields making early blossoms that give a lovely perfume. Oh now! I wonder when I will ever be able to stand again on the high dike and let my soul vibrate along with the kite-flute up high in the sky.

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Leaflet T-44

Like T-43, leaflet T-44 is in the form of a poem. The Vietnamese are great poets and have a rich literature and history of poetry. As a result, many Allied leaflets were in the form of poems and songs in an attempt to influence the actions of the Northern soldier. This leaflet depicts a woman in traditional dress holding hands with her daughter and looking at a building where other children play. The poem is too long to reprint in total, but the first few lines are:

SINCERE APPEAL

I burn the incense and think of you
Spring returns and cites your merits
Father died in prison leaving mother sad
You left when you were only fourteen
How could you know what revolution is?

Taking advantage and speculating in politics
Merchants of slaves with black market prices
Caught in a trap which tightens the more you struggle
If you are mad then stand up and cry
I suffer to see our people as insensitive as stone

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Leaflet T-50

This leaflet also has a romantic poem on the back. The front depicts a North Vietnamese wife and children walking through their home village. The poem has six stanzas. I will just add the first two:

The evening with cool air greets the village gate
The breeze softly propels the clouds
The countryside shimmers on the horizon
People return to the village along the sinuous path

In the rosy morning hang red clouds, the melodious birds
The village gate opens noisily
The peasants walk slowly into the morning sunlight
Summer moons, the shadows are quiet, the heat sweltering

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Leaflet T-60

I was not going to add this leaflet because it is similar to T-62 below. However, it was sent to me by the soldier who found it, Sergeant (E-5) Dennis Moore, an 11B infantryman of the Roadrunner platoon, 1st of the 22nd, 4th Infantry Division. He found the leaflet sometime in 1969-1970. The same leaflet was dropped on North Vietnamese soldiers fighting in Laos, [but coded .3]. The fact that this leaflet asks the enemy to defect to the Laotians instead on the South Vietnamese indicates that it was meant to be dropped on the Ho Chi Minh Trail inside Laos. The text on the front is:

IS THIS A GRAVE?

The back is all text:

IS THIS A GRAVE?

Unfortunately, it is not. But it is this soldier’s final resting place, many, many thousands of kilometers from the graves of his ancestors. His body cannot be identified, his grave cannot be marked, and his soul will never find rest. You can avoid this fate. Pick up a safe conduct pass and temporarily join the Royal Lao Government. You will be warmly welcomed and will be returned home when the war is over.

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Leaflet T-62

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 LAOS FAR FROM YOUR ANCESTRAL HOME?

Why die needlessly in a foreign country? The people of Laos 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.

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Leaflet T-66

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 SOUTH VIETNAM

Your leaders, who are living comfortably in Hanoi while you suffer in the jungles of Laos, claim you are participating in war to liberate the South from foreign aggressors. Don’t be fooled by this. The free world allies of the Republic of Vietnam sent combat forces into South Vietnam at the request of the Government of Vietnam only after attacks had been launched there by regular units of the Army of North Vietnam… 

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Leaflet T-74

Leaflet T-74 Explains to enemy soldiers that they will be cared for if they are captured. The leaflet depicts a different enemy soldier receiving medical care on the front and back. The text on the front is:

PROTECTION OF HEALTH OF ENEMY PRISONERS OF WAR

When your cadre says that North Vietnamese soldiers will be treated cruelly or killed if they are captured in South Vietnam, they are lying. Many Communist soldiers have been captured by the South Vietnamese Army and its allies, and they are still alive. If the prisoners of war become sick, they are given good medical treatment.

The text on the back is:

PROTECTION OF HEALTH OF ENEMY PRISONERS OF WAR

Many Communist soldiers were already sick when they were captured in South Vietnam. Even though they became prisoners of war, they were lucky because they received good medical care. IF YOU ARE CAPTURED, DO NOT BE AFRAID BECAUSE YOU WILL BE WELL TREATED LIKE THESE PRISONERS OF WAR.

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Leaflet 74-T

I added this leaflet only because it is an oddity in that there is also a leaflet T-74. When I first wrote this I thought it was odd that the “T” could be at the front or the back of the code, but I later discovered that when it is at the back in meant that this was a regular leaflet dropped over Vietnam that was modified for use along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The leaflet is a long text. Some of the pertinent comments are:

The People of the South do not want to be ruled by the Communist Party

In the South:

There is freedom of movement and no letters of introduction.
There is plenty of food, cloth, and consumer good for all. There is no rationing.
There are no compulsory political meetings. Everyone’s free time is his own.
There are no “three postponements,” three readies” or “three responsibilities. One leads his own life.
The South is open to the rest of the world. The people of the South have access to news and information from the outside world.

THE SOUTH IS FREE, THE NORTH IS NOT. THE SOUTH FIGHTS TO PROTECT ITS FREEDOM.

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Leaflet T-75

This leaflet was designed to show North Vietnamese soldiers the wonderful life they could lead if captured and placed in a South Vietnamese prison camp. Four photographs on each side of the leaflet depict POWs playing volleyball, board games, tug of war and generally being well fed and well cared for. The text is:

PRISONERS OF WAR ENJOY NORMAL ACTIVITIES

North Vietnam soldiers who are captured in South Vietnam receive good treatment from the South Vietnamese and the allied forces. They participate in sports and games, have good food to eat, and are also free to do such things as painting and singing and learning to do embroidery.

When these Communist soldiers were captured in South Vietnam, they were afraid they were going to be treated cruelly or killed. Now their fear has disappeared, for they have learned that they are well fed and permitted to enjoy normal recreational activities. If you are captured, don’t be afraid because you can enjoy normal activities like these prisoners of war.

 

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Leaflet 78T

Leaflet 78T is bright red on the front and depicts happy scenes of life in North Vietnam. The back is black and white and depicts a sad North Vietnamese soldier thinking of his homeland. The text on the back explains that the poem printed on the leaflet was written by a North Vietnamese soldier to his mother, Mrs. Tran Thi Phan of Hai Duong. The soldier was killed in the battle of Duc Co. The poem is very long. Some of the stanzas are:

A POEM TO MOTHER

From the day I left you, O mother,
To follow my companions in this trip through Laos to Central Vietnam,
I have endured the hardships of climbing up the giant mountains,
And marching through rain and shine.
Although at my young age life could have blossomed like a flower, enduring hardships and dangers,
For several months I marched during the day and rested at night,
The bottoms of my shoes have worn out,
And the cloth on my shoulders has worn thin and the cold slips in.
Often my hands trembled while laying a mine,
Because later I saw people blown up and blood sprayed around.
Whose blood was it?
It was the blood of our people, those like mother and me.
That night my eyes were filled with tears,
And my sleep with nightmares.

What is amazing is that upon his capture, North Vietnamese Army 2nd Lieutenant Nguyen Van Thong, Leader of a Reconnaissance Platoon, mentioned American propaganda when interviewed by Military Intelligence. He said in part:

I have seen lots of the PSYOP leaflets but they are very poor and we laugh at them. They make no impression on the soldiers of the NVA...The quality of the writing is very poor and not good Vietnamese. The Americans should let the Vietnamese write them as they know how to put the story or what you want said into poetry; the Vietnamese are a very poetic people…The best way to tell of good will is with a poem. All of the men in my unit knew the lines of a poem used in South Vietnam and we thought of it often. The poem that we remember is for our mother.

The poem of course was the one on 78T. The North Vietnamese apparently picked it up walking down the trail and found it so moving that they memorized it. What is ironic is the comment that the US leaflets are so awful that they are laughable, followed by the comment that his entire platoon had a memorized a poem from an American leaflet. Of course, the Americans cheated. No American wrote that poem. It was written by a North Vietnamese soldier to his mother, and the Americans simply copied it. Still, if we are to believe the North Vietnamese Lieutenant it is one of the most effective leaflets of the war.

I asked retired LTC Dave Underhill who was in charge of the printing of these leaflets if he was aware how influential this leaflet was. I expected him to say "no." Instead, he said:

I am well aware of it. When I traveled to Laos, at one meeting the CIA mentioned the leaflet and said that every prisoner was able to recite the poem. They wanted to know who was responsible for its distribution. I acknowledged our involvement. They asked for a shipment, and I was able that day to divert 1,000,000 copies from IV Corps where there were few if any NVA to Laos where there were plenty of them.

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Leaflet T-84

Leaflet T-84 is meant to take advantage of the soldier’s homesickness and loneliness. A beautiful Vietnamese woman is pictured on the front. The back depicts a sorrowful soldier in the field thinking of his sweetheart and a six-paragraph letter. Some of the text is:

LISTEN TO ME MY LOVE

Take a husband, my love, for my life is fast ebbing. I must lie to myself when giving you this advice, but my darling, I must think of your future.

Have courage, my love. Don’t delay, for the fires here in the South burn fiercely. My arm is torn from my body and with my life’s blood I write this last plea.

Farewell sweetheart. We found no enemies here. Rather, it was I who opened fire first. My death is deserved and I pay for my sin. It is you who remain that must suffer.

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Leaflet T-86

I chose leaflet T-86 because it uses the Tet Lunar New Year as its theme. During the war in Vietnam the United States produced numerous leaflets, handouts, postcards and posters showing scenes of the Tet holiday and reminding the enemy that it was a festive, but lonely season at home. The leaflet depicts a sprig of flowers on the front and the text: 

Best wishes for the New Year.

The back of the leaflet depicts a peaceful homestead by a quiet pool. The text is:

When do you expect to return to your native village?

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Leaflet 95-T

Leaflet 95-T depicts shows a number of dead soldiers rotting in the sun. Some of the text is:

During the Communists' Tet offensive, the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam and the Allies killed more than 65,000 Communist troops and captured more than 12,000. You are being sent south to replace them. Most of you will be killed far from home and buried in unmarked tombs. Do not listen to the lies of the regime in North Vietnam. Seize the first opportunity to leave your unit and come over to the ranks of the Republic of Vietnam.

PSYOP Policy No 59 dated 20 February 1968 entitled: “The NVA Soldier in South Vietnam as a PSYOP Target” says:

Remind the NVA soldier that the odds are very high that he will be killed or wounded in combat, that he might be hastily buried in an unmarked grave that will forever be unknown to his family.

In October 1968 a memorandum was forwarded stating:

It has been a good while since there have been any new leaflets in the Trail program. Mindful of this Major Underhill has gone over the standard leaflets used within the country and made a selection of those he believes would be suitable for the Trail. They are already in the right (6 x 3-inch) format. He has made slight changes in the text of a few leaflets and in those cases we shall have to reset the type, but that is a small matter.

A report by Underhill said in part:

In the past, leaflets designed for use against soldiers infiltrating from North to South Vietnam have been tactical in nature designed to exploit specific condition encountered in the long trip south, and to warn the soldiers of the dangers he could expect to encounter after infiltration into the south.

After the soldier has completed infiltration into the South, he is exposed not only to tactical PSYOP but also to strategic PSYOP directed from the National level. Much of the National level information is considered appropriate for use on the Trail. Most of this propaganda is very low keyed and represents information not generally known to the enemy soldier.

From the hundreds of National level leaflets available, 27 have been selected for immediate use as part of the Trail program. It is intended that these leaflets be used in a mix (in other words, all leaflets will be dropped at one time thereby increasing the chance of reaching each member of the target audience with a variety of messages on each leaflet drop).

In fact, 29 standard leaflets were selected to be used over the Ho Chi Minh Trail ranging in number from 2609 to 3253. They are extremely rare. I have studied the records and most are of the nation-building and consolidation types. Many talk of the good care the NVA regulars and Viet Cong Guerillas will receive at Government hospitals, the job training that is available to them, the effort that has been made to rebuild farms and utilities, and the many nations that are helping the south.

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Leaflet 2660-T

JUSPAO leaflet 2660-T shows a dead body in a swamp. Some of the text is,

Why does Hanoi deny this sacrifice on the part of your soldiers in the South? You have come south to fight for a Communist cause.

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Leaflet 3253-T

The last leaflet in the “T” Trail series is all-text leaflet 3253-T. Some of the text on the front is:

In the course of delivering his 8-point peace plan speech on 14 May, U. S. President Nixon said:

I have set forth a peace program tonight which is generous in its terms. I have indicated our willingness to consider other proposals. But no greater mistake could be made then to confuse flexibility with weakness of being reasonable with lack of resolution.

Some of the text on the back of the leaflet is:

Why wait for peace?

U. S. President Nixon has offered a new peace plan and restated the resolution of the Allies to continue fighting until a just peace is achieved. When this happen is up to the Communist Party.

Surrender to the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam at your first opportunity. You will be well treated. This way you will live to return to you family and enjoy the peaceful life to come.

I also want to show some of the leaflets that were used in the latter stages of the Trail Campaign but not given the T code.

There were as number of leaflets that were not coded with the “T” but were clearly meant to frighten and terrorize the troops coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the NVA troops already in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia waiting for arms and supplies. They show vehicles bombed on the route south. We depict two here:

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Leaflet 4226

The image of this leaflet seems a bit complex for the average peasant to understand, but it depicts a number of trucks that have been bombed and strafed along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Text on the front is:

This is a picture made from an allied airplane high in the sky after a North Vietnamese Army truck convoy was bombed in Laos. See the bomb craters around the trucks!

The back is all text and says in part:

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE HEAVY BOMBING?

The trucks in this picture will never carry their supplies to you, the fighting soldier who needs them desperately.

The few other trucks which avoid bombs are being stopped by strong Republic of Vietnam armed forces raids into Southern Laos, cutting off your supplies!

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Leaflet 4402

This leaflet depicts one truck on the Ho Chi Minh Trail with another burning truck to its left. The text is:

A North Vietnamese truck convoy under air attack on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

The back is all text. Part of the message is:

COMMUNIST CADRES AND SOLDIERS OF NORTH VIETNAM

Look at the picture on the other side of this leaflet and you will see the extent of damage inflicted on every North Vietnamese truck convoy moving supplies to South Vietnam.

Of the entire convoy only one truck managed to escape safely. These convoys are the source of much-needed supplies sent to Communist cadres and troops who are now committed to the war of aggression in Laos and Cambodia, as well as the destructive activities in South Vietnam that have been given the attractive label of ‘liberation.”

Other leaflets dropped along the trail without the “T” code are:

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Leaflet 2726

The front of leaflet 2726 depicts plows donated Vietnam by the Nationalist Chinese. The text is:

To assist in the improvement and development of agriculture in South Vietnam, the people of Nationalist China donated to the people of South Vietnam a number of improved plows to raise higher the national economy.

The back of the leaflet shows two lines of ambulances and the text:

To provide facilities in the emergency treatment of patients in South Vietnam, the people of West Germany donated to the people of Vietnam a number of specially equipped ambulances, which symbolize the strengthened friendship between the people of Vietnam and Germany.

There is also a list of 31 nations of the world that have sent workers and aid to Vietnam.

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Leaflet 2843

The front of leaflet 2843 depicts Korean Army soldiers helping Vietnamese peasants collect and load rice. The text is:

When not engaged in operations to destroy the Communists to insure the safety and welfare of the Vietnamese people, Korean soldiers help peasants reap paddy rice, so that the timely harvest of the crop can be made. The Korean soldiers regard the work in their host country like that in their own country.

The back of the leaflet depicts Korean soldiers in friendly interaction with their Vietnamese compatriots. The text is:

The Korean soldiers not only came to help the Republic of Vietnam defeat the Communists but also are eager to improve the life of our people, especially the children.

This Korean soldier is giving a hair-cut to a Vietnamese child. This is only a very small act, but it embodies the feelings of a kind heart. 

At the start of this report we mentioned Operation Camel Path, the leafleting of North Vietnamese troops in Cambodia. The declassified top secret report MACVSOG Command History, Volume II, 1967 reported that during late 1966 and 1967, the U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) conducted an intensive PSYWAR campaign against North Vietnamese army troops located along the Cambodian border with South Vietnam.

In an effort to minimize violation of Cambodian air space, MACV first used the wind drift method of leaflet dissemination, whereby aircraft flew along the border and used favorable wind currents to carry leaflets 15-20 kilometers inside Cambodia. This method proved to be unreliable because it required the winds to be moving in a specific direction at a specific speed. In March 1967 permission was given for Cambodian over-flights, to be accomplished by cargo aircraft at night at an altitude of from 6,000 to 10,000 feet. Four sorties a week were authorized. Leaflets were to be in the Vietnamese language and use all the themes mentioned above for trail leaflets. Cambodian language leaflets would not be prepared since King Sihanouk might think that the Allies were meddling in Cambodian internal affairs. Nobody wanted to drive Sihanouk further into the Communist camp. I should mention here that Cambodian-language leaflets were prepared at a later date.

A three-month and six-month evaluation of the program indicated no increase in defection rates among the NVA troops moving south. However, those troops that did defect said that the leaflets were an influencing factor.

In late November 1967 MACV established Operation Camel Path. The mission was to conduct leaflet operations against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army using Cambodian territory as a sanctuary and routes of infiltration into the Republic of Vietnam. The Commander, 7th Air Force was tasked with the responsibility of carrying out the leaflet drops.

U.S. leaflet drops from Cambodian air space were never officially acknowledged. In fact, the Secretary of Defense forwarded the following guidance:

Under no circumstances will anyone having knowledge about these operations acknowledge that leaflets are being dropped over Cambodia. Public comments on this subject whether on background, off the record, or any other basis are prohibited. Following line, not to be volunteered, should be used in Saigon (and will be followed in Washington) in answering any press queries on a background basis: "We have for sometime been dropping leaflets in South Vietnamese border areas, Given wind drift, we assume some of these leaflets have been falling inside Cambodia." It goes on to say: "In the event of incidents involving loss of US personnel or aircraft...spokesman may acknowledge possibility of inadvertent entry into Cambodia air space by elements operating in SVN as a result of navigational error.

To give an example of the way the leaflets were prepared and dropped I note from a leaflet order sent to the 7th group for a mix of six Camel Path leaflets ordered in November 1967 for dissemination in January 1968. The leaflets are CP-02, 08A, 09, 10, 55A, and 1389A. All are black and white and sized 3 x 6-inches. 5 million of each were ordered. They would be placed in a mix and dropped together. The leaflets were forwarded to the respective PSYOP stationed in the I, II and III Corps areas. 15,000,000 were for 245th PSYOP Company in Pleiku, 10,000,000 for the 246th PSYOP Company in Bien Hoa and 5,000,000 for 19th PSYOP Company Can Tho.

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T-1-CP-C

Leaflet T-1-CP-C depicts a weeping NVA soldier beside the unmarked grave of his dead buddy in Cambodia.  The text on the front is:

WE WILL NEVER RETURN TO ANCESTRAL SOIL

He too was a courageous soldier who fought the “People’s War” so far from home. Like you, he left his loved ones to follow the “just cause” extolled by the Lao Dong Party of North Vietnam. Who stands beside his shallow Cambodian grave so far from home and who mourns his courageous death? His family joyfully awaits his triumphant return, not knowing his fate. His Party leaders praise his noble death while sending others to take his place. The ‘just cause” of the Lao Dong Party has not rewarded him properly. The fate of the unmarked grave on Cambodian soil, of preying jungle beasts, await your dying breath.

We also mentioned that there was another series of leaflets that were coded with both a “T” and an “SPC.” These leaflets appear to be for NVA troops in Cambodia and Laos. Many of the leaflets in this series bear maps and have such titles as “We are determined to put an end to the Communist sanctuaries and restore sovereignty and Neutrality to the Cambodia border” or depict the Laos safe conduct pass and the title “Do not sacrifice your life needlessly.”

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T-8-SPC

Leaflet T-8-SPC depicts some NVA soldiers bartering with a Lao farmer. The text is:

The most essential thing to do is to save your life and return to the North. If you need food, trade your equipment with the Laotian people.

The back is all text:

SAVE YOUR LIFE

As you infiltrate South and find yourself in this mountainous area, you may feel abandoned and feel that your future is bleak.

The further you travel, the further the distance seems to be. You must cross over many dangerous mountains and you must constantly hide and try to avoid detection. Soon you begin to realize your dilemma. Death and hardships are your constant companion. If you don’t find a way to escape from this now, you may never be able to return to your family and your native land. Your family needs you now and is waiting for you. You must live and not die senselessly.

Allied PSYOP forces also forged some of the canteen money used by the NVA as they walked southward on the Trail. It was hoped that the enemy troops would use the forged currency and disrupt the delicate Communist supply system.

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Ho Chi Minh Trail 10 Xu Commodity Coupon

Frank Greco mentions Operation Benson Silk in Running Recon, Paladin Press, Boulder, CO, 2004.

North Vietnamese Army Ho Chi Minh Trail money: Another PSYOP program involved the counterfeiting of various enemy currency, code-named "Benson Silk." These counterfeit bills were intended to be used in the enemy's supply systems in Laos (their version of the PX and commissary), somewhat like our military payment certificates.

Former MSG Howard A. Daniel III mentions the background of the genuine coupons in Democratic Republic of Viet Nam Coins and Currency, Southeast Asian Treasury, Dunn Loring VA, 1995. Some selected comments of the author are:

As more and more personnel were stationed for longer and longer tours along the trail, there was a need to give them an opportunity to buy personal items. Nothing fancy and usually very primitive, but some of the rations and rest stops had small stores built within them and the personnel started being paid part of their pay in military coupons

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A National Liberation Front Leaflet Found Along the Trail in 2006
Courtesy of Legends of the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Years after the end of the Vietnam War in 2006 a Viet Cong propaganda leaflet was found at the Ban Bac ammo dump along the Ho Chi Minh Trail buried in a bunker with other war supplies and ammunition. The leaflet is entitled The National Liberation Front for South Vietnam gives lenient and humane treatment to captured G.I.s. The front explains how to surrender and the back has three alleged letters from captured Americans telling of the wonderful treatment they received. Another leaflet and numerous photographs appear on the website: http://www.laosgpsmap.com/ho-chi-minh-trail-laos.

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The Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1974 – After the Americans Departed

With no fear of American B-52 attacks from the air, hundreds of North Vietnamese trucks prepare for the long drive south. President Nixon had resigned and the U.S. Congress voted to reduce assistance to South Vietnam. The Ho Chi Minh trail was now a major highway with gasoline stations strategically placed by the North Vietnamese. South Vietnam will fall within a year.

CONCLUSION

Would the war have ended differently if the United States had been able to permanently interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail? Very likely the answer is “yes.” The North Vietnamese seem to have understood that and it appears that it was a constant worry to them. The concept is discussed in a 3 August 1995 interview by Stephen Young in The Wall Street Journal entitled How North Vietnam Won The War. The author interviews Bui Tin, a former colonel who served on the general staff of North Vietnam's army and received the unconditional surrender of South Vietnam on 30 April 1975. He later became editor of the People's Daily, the official newspaper of Vietnam:

Q: How could the Americans have won the war?

A: Cut the Ho Chi Minh trail inside Laos. If Johnson had granted General William Westmoreland's requests to enter Laos and block the Ho Chi Minh trail, Hanoi could not have won the war.

Q: Why was the Ho Chi Minh trail so important?

A: It was the only way to bring sufficient military power to bear on the fighting in the South. Building and maintaining the trail was a huge effort, involving tens of thousands of soldiers, drivers, repair teams, medical stations and communication units.

Q: What of American bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail?

A: Not very effective. Our operations were never compromised by attacks on the trail. At times, accurate B-52 strikes would cause real damage, but we put so much in at the top of the trail that enough men and weapons to prolong the war always came out the bottom. Bombing by smaller planes rarely hit significant targets.

Q: What about General Westmoreland's strategy and tactics caused you concern?

A: Our senior commander in the South, General Nguyen Chi Thanh, knew that we were losing base areas, control of the rural population and that his main forces were being pushed out to the borders of South Vietnam. He also worried that Westmoreland might receive permission to enter Laos and cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Luckily for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army, the American military was never permitted to seriously interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail over a long period of time and starve the Communist forces in the south. As a result, The ultimate victory of the Communist forces was never in doubt.

John R. Campbell, a civilian psychological warfare advisor in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967 talks about the bravery and dedication of the troops coming down the trail in Are we Winning? Are they Winning: A Civilian Advisor’s Reflections on Wartime Vietnam, Author House, 2004:

There could not have been a starker documentation of the superiority in the depth of motivation, discipline and self-sacrifice of the average North Vietnamese soldier than knowing when he started down the Ho Chi Minh Trail that no one he had ever known ever came back. Yet they continued to go south in greater and greater numbers, year after year. Documentation shows that while few went with genuine enthusiasm, they still went. It wasn’t as if this was just a vague rumor to them, since for an average of 500 who started down the trail, only 400 came out at the end of their trek south. This was a 20% attrition rate even before they faced an enemy soldier.

This article is meant to be just an overview of the Ho Chi Minh Trail Campaign. Readers who may have additional information or personal experiences with the Ho Chi Minh Trail Campaign are encouraged to write to the author at sgmbert@hotmail.com.