I have written over 160 articles on propaganda leaflets. Most of those articles are image-driven and I seldom get into the actual technical details of leaflet missions. In this short article we will discuss what it was like to actually be tasked with such a mission during wartime.

K16 Airbase - Korean War

Airman First Class Glenn L. Bloesch tells us in detail what it was like to work a PSYOP mission during the Korean War in 1952. He flew 75 missions and was awarded the Air Medal with numerous oak leaf clusters:

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Glenn L. Bloesch

Personnel to fly PSYOP leaflet missions from K-16 (Seoul City Airbase) were selected on a rotational system and their names were posted the night before they were to fly. Usually there were two complete crews assigned, with an additional two crews as alternates. The crew consisted of a pilot, copilot, crew chief and radioman. If there were to be any other crew or passengers, they were introduced at the mission briefing. If the two selected flight crews were “good to go,” then the alternate crews would be primary the following day. This system worked very well, but if something should come up at the last minute, it was immediately fixed at the briefing.

The radiomen all met each day in the radio shack at 0700 for roll call and assignments. Once it was known who was flying that day’s mission, the remaining men were assigned to six-hour shifts on the ground base radio that communicated with the aircraft as well as the maintenance and supply depot in Japan. Three other radiomen were assigned as relief men for those assigned to the ground communications. Any other radio crew got the day off.

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Flak almost takes out the Port Engine

The briefing room was where each crewman would be assigned the specific aircraft that he was flying, the mission coordinates, the type of mission, the weather over the target, locations of enemy anti-aircraft guns and the routes to and from the target that were considered the most safe. We were constantly updated on the enemy anti-aircraft positions from the field, but the North Koreans had a habit of moving those guns around to catch us napping.

If the mission was to drop leaflets there would be two extra Koreans assigned to the aircraft; if a loudspeaker mission, then three Koreans were assigned (one to man the audio transmitter while the others spoke in different dialects). For special missions like the parachuting of agents or flare drops there could be as many as five Koreans assigned (sometimes Army personnel called “SCARWAF,” “Special Assignment with the Air Force.” ) They were in charge of the parachute drops.

The briefing room contained very large maps of both South and North Korea with each segmented into small boxes of about 10 square miles numbered and lettered for identification. During the briefing, we could follow the selected routes on these maps as they were pointed out by an intelligence officer. When the briefing was completed and all questions answered, a vehicle took the crew out to the flight line where the aircraft awaited.

Once we were at the aircraft the pilot and copilot did a visual walk around the C-47 as part of the preflight inspection. They checked the plane prop blades, cowlings, fuselage, tail, elevators, wings and landing gear. Meanwhile, the crew chief checked the gas and oil tank manually and compared his readings with the gauges. When the external inspections were done the crew chief stood outside to monitor the visual operation of the tail, elevator, flaps and ailerons. The radioman checked the wing static dischargers and antennas for the high frequency and very high frequency radios.

The crew then checked the inside of the aircraft and assure itself that everything is working properly and whatever propaganda materials were to be carried are onboard. Outside, the ground personnel pull away the wheel chocks, the landing gear safety pins, and the pitot tube covers. The ground crew fire guard gives a thumb down (prime the pumps) signal to the pilot and circles his hand to indicate “rotate the props.” As soon as the fire guard sees fuel dripping from the engine overfill tube he gives the thumbs up signal to stop priming. The engine starts. The entire process is repeated to start the second engine. When both engines are in balance and running smoothly the pilot calls the tower for permission to taxi. The tower instructs the pilot how to proceed and the C47 is taxied to the end of the landing strip where the engines are run up while the pilot watches for a magneto drop or anything out of the ordinary. If everything is working properly, we take off and begin our mission.

At this beginning stage of the flight all the electronic equipment has been turned off. The pilot now gets on the intercom and asks each compartment if there is any smell of gas fumes. When flying with the door open or removed there is little chance of gas fumes, but all the crew members check to be sure. During the winter the ground temperature is about 10 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. As the plane climbs to 5,000 to 10,000 feet the temperature can drop to -40 to -60 degrees. The doors are open and we are flying at about 140 mph. It is cold! On leaflet or agent drops where the door is open we typically wore three layers of clothes, gloves and a hat with earflaps.

Once we reach the height we have selected we turn in the general direction of our target. The radioman transmits to the base that we are in the air and on our way to the battle line (BL – 38th Parallel), and we give our estimated time of arrival over target. When the pilot notifies the radioman that the aircraft is approaching the battle line that message is passed on to the airbase and that a notification will be sent when the aircraft passes the battle line on its return. The pilot now warns the crew to keep an eye out for flak. We want to make note of where we run into anti-aircraft fire to make sure we don’t fly over it again on the way back. As we approach the target the flak gets heavier and we get that terrible paranoid feeling that they know our target and are waiting in ambush for us. Most of the flak is 20 and 40mm rounds along with some smaller arms fire.

As we near the target the pilot reduces the throttle until we are barely flying. We want to cut the noise way down and make it more difficult for the North Koreans to locate us with their sound devices. We thank God they don’t have radar controlled 88mm guns like the Germans did. The pilot hits his switch and the green light comes on in the back of the aircraft. Our kickers move the leaflet bundles into place and pull the fuses that will explode the packages in our wake and fill the sky with leaflets. The sky become a sea of white billowing paper and the crew chief notifies the pilot that the leaflet drop is completed.

The pilot turns the plane around 180 degrees and heads for home. The pilot calls for a head count and damage assessment and we have nothing bad to report. We are on our way home. As we approach the 38th parallel I send the base a message and then a second one as we approach the air base. The North Koreans constantly try to jam our radio messages but they regularly fail. We sent very brief and coded messages and they always get through.

A “Voice” or “Speaker” mission was similar except that the doors were closed so you could not see that flak exploding all around you. We took some hits on occasion but never enough to knock us out of the sky. We all carried a .45 caliber pistol as well as a blood chit and we hoped that would be enough to get us home safely if we did go down. The blood chits usually offered rewards to any person who helped us return to our lines.

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The End of a Successful Mission

Upon landing we taxi to the maintenance shed where the aircraft is inspected for damage, repaired if necessary, and refueled for the following day’s mission. We return by vehicle to the briefing room where we make a complete report of everything we saw and did. I never ran into enemy aircraft, (at that time the USAF ruled the skies) but some of the other crews did and said that they were mostly propeller aircraft and seemed to be Russian in origin.

A couple of cans of beer to salute a successful mission and then off to bed.

Binh Thuy Airbase – Vietnam War

Lieutenant William Tyner told me what it was like to fly psychological operation missions in 1968 in the Mekong Delta (IV Corps). He was assigned to the 10th PSYOP Battalion, “Litter Bugs,” Can Tho, South Vietnam. He said:

The missions actually started the night before with a gathering of Intelligence from our 16 province field teams. Intelligence reports of Viet Cong movements were vital for planning leaflet drops and loudspeaker missions. Additional data was obtained from Civil Operations and Rural Development Support (CORDS) Operatives who worked with us developing campaign materials, from Air Force notifications of B-52 missions and Naval Intelligence regarding Riverine actions.

All of this came in during the late evening as the Air Operations Liaison made phone calls via the conventional phone system. In our case, the calls were made from the billets atop the printing plant housed in a small three-story hotel on the Bassac, a branch of the Mekong River.  Once the Intelligence was collected from the outlying districts, it was collated and prioritized along with other location coordinates provided by the S-3 (Operations Branch) at Battalion.

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Loading the Truck with Leaflets to be Transported to the Flight Line
Two Vietnamese Laborers help the PSYOP Trooper

Flight crew assignments were voluntary but we always had plenty of men and officers wanting to go on missions. We would all meet at the printing plant by 0700 for the 9-mile ride by “deuce” (M35 military cargo truck rated to carry two and one-half tons) to Binh Thuy Vietnamese Airbase. The first job at the printing plant was to load the deuce with any new leaflets we may have locally produced for delta campaigns. The Mekong delta region is the southern-most part of Vietnam, about 15,000 square miles in size. Any new cassette tapes for loudspeaker use were picked up then too. Our ARVN (Republic of Vietnam Army) interpreters worked in the propaganda development center (PDC) and produced some of these for us. The remainder came from the 4th PSYOP Group Brigade in Saigon.

Until early 1968, except for field teams, PSYOP battalion personnel were not armed. As was explained to me upon arrival in country January 1968, “How would it look if you were pointing a weapon at a Viet Cong while asking him to Chieu Hoi (come over to our side)?” The problem was solved when February arrived along with a battalion of Viet Cong troops to help us celebrate the Tet 1968 (The Vietnamese New Year). That convinced the brass that even for the “hearts and minds” folk, being armed was a good thing after all. Army air crews picked up M-14's that year. The Army would not issue us side arms but pilots would pass around their .38 Special pistols when they finished their tours. That’s how I got mine.

The trip to Binh Thuy was generally uneventful but during TET and on a few other occasions we would attract some sniper fire from the tree line. That’s why the driver was wrapped up like the Michelin Man in extra flak jackets. We figured it gave him a little extra protection.

Binh Thuy was small but well protected.Even during TET, aside from a few errant mortar rounds the only significant damage was done by a rocket attack that damaged a C-47 gun ship (Spooky).

The United States Air Force Special Operations Squadron was connected to our leaflet lean-to warehouse. Air Ops was one room with a very large Mekong Delta map. Push-pins kept track of all previous targets and the S-3 Air would target the missions using forms that provided the pilot with a single info sheet showing designated targets, nature of the target, threat analysis, mission objective and of course the mission load. Usually the missions were single leaflet drops but occasionally they involved multiple targets having speaker and leaflet combinations.

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U-10 over IV Corps, Republic of Vietnam

The U-10 Helio Courier “Speak” was our single engine daylight only PSYOP aircraft. We had eight of them and six were on the flight line. Known primarily as a STOL (short takeoff and landing) back country bush plane, it could operate off of almost any surface. The two passengers sat side by side, the leaflets were limited to less than 200 pounds gross weight and that was about as much bulk that would fit behind the right seat. The University speaker was on the port side so we dumped the leaflets out a specially built chute on the starboard side.

Here’s how it worked: The pilot would navigate with the help of the Army “kicker.” The pilot was trained to take the weather reports obtained at his briefing and generate a drift chart that would hopefully pinpoint a drop zone that would then allow the wind to carry the leaflets to the target. At the drop point, the kicker had to turn around to face backward. While kneeling on the seat, trying to keep his boots from brushing flight instruments and hanging over the seat back with it buried in his solar plexus he would open the boxes, pull out handfuls of leaflets shoving them into the chute as fast as possible. Pilots hated having to come back and run the route again!

We tossed them out at our normal operating altitude of 2700-3000 feet but once and awhile the cloud cover would force us lower. On one occasion I was throwing a small batch of specially targeted leaflets into a small village from an altitude of perhaps 50 feet as we raced down the main “buffalo path” at 120 knots. That was thrilling. Sometimes the mission meant you had to violate procedure. Buzzing an unknown village was a big one.

The turbulence along with the miserable posture you had to maintain while tossing the leaflets occasionally got to some of the kickers. Fortunately they had a ready made box where breakfast would end up. Still, the leaflets were sent on their way. Experienced kickers knew to fly on a light breakfast only!

We held the Sony cassette player on our lap. When we had a dual role mission the pilot had to operate the cassette while maintaining an orbit somewhere near the target area. Needless to say, the process inside the tight cabin was restrictive and uncomfortable. On dead calm days you could do the speaker/leaflet drop right over the single target but that was rare. Sometimes, the leaflets would be dropped miles away so they would “lag in” with the wind. As the leaflets were drifting in, we would drop down as low as 1500 ft (over safe targets) and play the propaganda tape. “Rock and Roll” recorded off of AFVN was my favorite and seemed to attract the most ground fire. “Fire” by Robert Brown was the clear winner. Mostly though, the tapes were professionally made discordant funeral music, wailing women and rude comments meant to ruin morale, comments like: “You didn’t see that B-52 coming did you?”

By midday, the Mekong Delta would get hot. Temperatures at the runway were usually about 100-110 degrees F. Cabin temps were higher and it was a great relief to reach our operating altitude where it was 70 degrees F with no sticky humidity. Those were the times when we actually could be physically comfortable. Missions in the Delta sometimes took several hours as multiple targets were serviced by one aircraft. It was imperative that kickers were in decent shape before they climbed into that U-10. It was no place for a fat body. Regardless, every so often a crew would have to set down at an alternate airfield for a comfort break. You always wanted to make sure your kickers hadn’t just taken the malaria pill or were likely to have a touch of “dysentery.”

The downside to dropping leaflets and playing funeral music to an enemy ground unit was that they would likely shoot at you. The U-10 was a small bird and at nominal altitude only took a hit maybe once a month. The pilot and kicker sat on flak jackets but they would only slow down a full metal jacket .30 round. Our Couriers came back “perforated” but the engine was always running and wasn’t on fire even with the exhaust manifold shot off. An airman would go out with his sheet metal patch kit and do a nice job pop riveting a 2” x 2” patch over the bullet hole. Once it was painted, it looked like it belonged there!

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“University” Loudspeaker in Cargo Door of “Gabby” C-47
Army Kicker and USAF Crew Chief (Standing)

The 10th PSYOP had two C-47's “Gabby’s” parked near the two AC-47 “Spooky’s.” They were our night birds and from 3200 feet they could deliver up to two tons of leaflets as well as play audio tapes. Nicknamed “Goony Bird,” it carried an Air Force crew of two pilots, a navigator and a no-nonsense crew chief.

We had a small fork lift and loaded our deuce up at the warehouse from stock of a dozen or so “standard” leaflets. Our fork lift driver was also the deuce driver and was permanently assigned along with two other PFCs (Private First Class). Two Vietnamese laborers helped us load. The deuce would back up to the side cargo door and the fifty 50-80 pound boxes would be loaded. Gabby could easily carry a million leaflets. The crew chief would secure them for take off, two warehouse PFC’s would try to towel off, put fatigue shirts back on, and along with any “guest kicker” would board and the mission was on. The aircraft was a virtual sauna during the day and night flights were a great relief.

Bad news was getting a call that the Commanding Officer was coming out to crew a mission. It was his job to oversee his command but we always figured he was out there to work on getting enough hours for an air medal. To qualify for an air medal, I seem to remember that you needed 25 missions of two hours or longer duration over a hostile target, or get hit by ground fire to be counted as a mission. The headquarters company clerk kept the crew log book. Our warehousemen ran up a lot of missions.

Nighttime “Gabby” missions were always memorable. We targeted large areas and dangerous units with Gabby and the response to the tapes was sometimes “enlightening.” During our night missions, one could stand in the open door pressing out against the 3-inch nylon belt across the opening and watch the “flashbulbs” (muzzle flashes) going off beneath you. Each leaflet box was dragged to the opening and turned on its side and emptied out the door. We held on to the empty cardboard box, collapsed it and secured it. If it went out the door it was too much of a risk to strike the horizontal stabilizer. Once and awhile an entire box would “accidentally” fall out the door and the big heavy box would hit the ground at around 200 knots. Sorry ‘bout that. Those accidents usually occurred over areas of organized ground fire.

Sometimes the USAF boys would run their own unofficial mission. Gabby was known to decoy for a Spooky gun ship. They sounded alike at night and when Gabby collected an especially high volume of ground fire they would fly the next night with a blacked out Spooky in opposing orbit. That only worked a few times as the Viet Cong eventually figured out that shooting at a night PSYOP mission could expose them to a surprise hosing from Spooky’s 7.62 mini-guns.

Besides night mission and load capability, Gabby had another advantage over the Courier. The C-47 could fly extended missions spending much more time over target. This was especially important when missions over water were needed (e.g. Phu Quoc Island), when there was a need to fly out of country, or when supporting a POW rescue mission. It was also a great platform for trying out new concepts. We got together a small generator and an aerial projector plus some simple transparencies for an experimental mission.   Waiting for a proper low cloud ceiling we tried to project “Chieu Hoi!” on a cloud formation but our test run showed that the clouds were simply not solid enough. The image was seen but unreadable. That was unfortunate, because it worked fine for Batman! To top it all off, by weeks end the generator had mysteriously disappeared.

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A PSYOP Soldier Carries a 60-pound box of Leaflets to the U-10 Helio Courier.

Our pilots were a diverse lot. They came from a variety of previous flying experience. There was a major who had previously flown nuclear B-52's on the polar route. We had fighter pilots and transport pilots. The USAF Commanding Officer was a colonel and very protective of his squadron. Whenever an aircraft came back with reports of heavy weapons fire or holes from hits he would storm around the office threatening to hold up flights until we found safer targets. I’m sure he felt better after blowing off steam but he never did get any “safe” targets.

In all fairness, the PSYOP aircraft were not armored in any way. The crew sat on their flak jackets for protection. Whenever we got Intel that our target was known to have heavy machine guns (or worse) we would excuse that target. That was fine with us because there were plenty of targets to go around.

I can’t finish without mentioning our counterparts across the road at Binh Thuy Navy Base. Once and awhile they would deliver our leaflets by PBR or Swift. Throughout the Mekong Delta, our PSYOP field teams would drop off special ordered leaflets to PBR crews in the outlying river accessible provinces. In the Delta, that was nearly all of them. It was the Navy who launched our infamous “gift” baggies. The notion was that the baggies would drift down the rivers and be picked up by anyone along the riverbanks. The baggies held leaflets, and a little money to encourage collection. Most of them sank. Well, it seemed like a great idea at the time.

Air Force pilot Gary Gosnell was stationed in Vietnam from September 1968 to September 1969. After pilot training he was assigned to “C” Flight, the 5th Special Operations Squadron, Binh Thuy Air Base. Prior to 1 September 1968 the USAF changed all “Air Commando” squadrons and wings to “Special Operations” squadrons and wings.

Gary flew the U-10 Helio-Courier. He told me:

It was a good experience. Based on the huge number of Chieu Hoi leaflets we dropped, I thought we were going to raise the elevation of the Delta a couple of inches. The pilot flew in the left seat and the kicker in the right seat. On a leaflet mission the kicker would unbuckle, turn around, lean over the right seat back, open the leaflet boxes, and drop handfuls of leaflets out a small chute on the right side of the aircraft just behind his seat. A typical Chieu Hoi box carried 43,000 leaflets and we would drop 5-6 boxes each sortie and we flew 2-4 sorties each morning or evening.

Our speaker system was 1600 watts using (4 x 4) 16 magnet-drivers to the speaker. To point the speaker at a target we would make a left “turn-around-a-point” which basically pointed the speaker at the target. Once we knew our target we would fly a complete symmetrical circle around that point while maintaining a constant radius and altitude. This was done by selecting reference points on all four sides of the target that are the desired distance from the target.

During a speaker mission, I would touch each magnet-driver to see if it was warm. A warm driver indicated it was working. If it was cold we had Maintenance replace it. Originally the Helio-Courier speaker missions were flown at 1500 feet, but they took so many small arms hits that the USAF moved the speaker operations to 3000 feet. Several times I heard US Army radio transmissions regarding the Speaker aircraft taking ground fire but in over 250 missions my aircraft was hit only once by an AK-47.

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0-2B Skymaster

The USAF replaced the U-10 in I and II Corps with the O-2B Skymaster. The theory was to use a twin-engine aircraft in the mountains. The O-2B was so loud that it needed a 3000 -watt speaker system to overcome the engine-prop noise. The Helio-Courier was so quiet at 3000 ft. (normal speaker altitude) that people on the ground could barely hear the engine-prop noise. The O-2B was so heavy that its performance in the mountains was marginal at best.

Captain Carl Gamble

Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer

Leaflet missions were not always milk runs. Skip Vaughn editor of the Redstone Rocket mentions one mission that went bad. The story was also published in the Madison County Record. Vaughn said in part:

Carl Gamble flew 244 combat missions dropping propaganda leaflets as an Air Force pilot in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. He still has nightmares about the fateful flight that led to his Distinguished Flying Cross.

“That’s the only one where I ever got hit by enemy ground fire. Out of 244 missions, that is the one,” March 1, 1969, seemed like just another day for the 9th Special Operations Squadron out of Da Nang. The special operations pilots, including Captain Gamble, would fly missions to drop leaflets telling the enemy to give up and turn in their rifles for food. Other pilots used the C-47 airplanes as gunships for air-to-ground attacks and for electronic jamming.

“We took off from Da Nang. Just scattered clouds that day and we were flying just a regular mission. And usually the enemy – the Viet Cong – would not shoot at us because we were unarmed,” Gamble said. Also onboard the pilot’s old C-47 airplane were his co-pilot, a first lieutenant; a navigator, also a first lieutenant; the loadmaster, a tech sergeant; and the flight mechanic, also a tech sergeant. Two enlisted Soldiers went along for the ride. The loadmaster typically emptied the 200 boxes of leaflets down the chute during the flight for distribution to the natives.

But 30 minutes into the flight, over the An Hoa River and about 25 miles from the air base, the unexpected happened. A .50-caliber bullet from an enemy machinegun struck the bottom of the airplane’s fuselage. The aircraft shook and the loadmaster said, “We’re hit.” The bullet came up through the fuselage, hit the hydraulic line, went through the left wing and into the left engine. The left engine caught fire immediately. Even though Gamble feathered the engine and shut it down, it was still burning and started to burn into the left wing.

“After we shut it down, we had to make a decision whether to bail the crew out or fly back to Da Nang,” he said. “I decided to try to fly it back because in this area of Vietnam they weren’t taking any prisoners.” He notified the air traffic control that they had an emergency and made a left turn to return to Da Nang. But the fuel tank in the left wing exploded and smoke and heat filled the cockpit. The airplane was flying sideways on one engine.

“I’m starting to pray now that I made the right decision, and we can make it back to the base. I’m saying to God please don’t let me die in this unforsaken place that I don’t want to be anyway,” Gamble said. “I’m also thinking that if I die here, I’ll never see my friends again back in the States.” The plane was flying on one engine and losing altitude. Gamble told the loadmaster to dump all the leaflet boxes out the exit door; and the two Soldiers helped the loadmaster comply to lighten the airplane’s load. They were within about 10 miles of the base.

“And when the air traffic control tower sees us, they tell us ‘You are too low. You are not going to make it to the runway,’” And now I am really thinking. And this time I am saying, ‘God don’t let me die in this airplane because if I do, I’ll never see my mom again.’ He straightened out the plane to keep it airborne. Amazingly the aircraft touched down at the front edge of the runway. It had no brakes because it had lost all the hydraulic fluid. The airplane rolled to a stop and Gamble told everyone to evacuate. The loadmaster replied that they could not because the fire and smoke was so intense it blocked the exit doorway net. The fire trucks had not made it to the scene because they had to wait until the airplane came to a complete stop. Fortunately, the base helicopter, nicknamed Pedro, arrived and hovered above the burning plane. The wind from its blades pushed the flames and smoke enough so everyone could scramble out the exit. All seven of the plane’s occupants got out safely with just some bruises from the flight.

“We weren’t out of it two minutes before the auxiliary fuel tank exploded and the airplane was totally destroyed by fire,” Gamble said. “So, if we had flown that aircraft another two minutes, that airplane would’ve exploded in flight and I wouldn’t be talking to you today. Everybody onboard would’ve been killed.”

Gamble, 78, now residing in Matthews, North Carolina, near Charlotte, received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters. He also received the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm.

The Tennessee State University graduate initially decided to become a pilot when he would see fighters flying overhead while he was picking cotton in the cottonfields of Madison as a child. He earned his commission from Air Force ROTC at Tennessee State in 1965 and he finished 56 weeks of flight training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas in February 1968 before going to Vietnam.

After eight years, he left the Air Force as a captain in 1973. He became a pilot with Piedmont Airlines out of Winston Salem, North Carolina, in 1974. He and his wife of 48 years, Elaine, reside in Matthews where he has a real estate company. Gamble’s book, “My Blue Yonder,” a memoir about his journey from picking cotton to piloting one of the world’s largest airplanes, was published in 2018 by BookLocker.com. Gamble became the first black pilot inducted into the Madison County Military Hall of Heroes in 2018. He has a 100% disability rating from Veterans Affairs.

You might get the idea from the above that this leafleting of the enemy was a very efficient operation and perhaps it was most of the time. But, there were exceptions. This was explained to me by Richard Arent, who spoke fluent Chinese but was sent to Vietnam as a Vietnamese speaker to transcribe messages and to drop leaflets:

I was a Chinese linguist flying EC-47 missions out of Pleiku in the summer of 1969. I was sent there from Okinawa with four others from the 6990th Electronic Security Squadron to fill a desperate need for Vietnamese linguists. We were all that was available. I flew missions over northern South Vietnam, the Gulf of Tonkin, the DMZ and into northern Laos.

I never knew Vietnamese. At Pleiku, a captain told me to transcribe a tape. I listened to it; told him it was Vietnamese and I didn't understand a word because I was a Chinese linguist. He said “Don't give me that shit, you're a linguist, do your job.” He just could not or would not understand that they are different languages. On several missions I would be handed a cardboard box of leaflets and told to drop them wherever I could. I remember reading a Time Magazine article about a Viet Cong who surrendered after his friend was hit in the head by such a box of leaflets. I recall seeing it upon my return to Okinawa.

We sometimes flew RC-135s on missions over the combat zone but at Pleiku, on the missions I flew I was the sole linguist. That is very scary when we flew up north of the plaine de jars in Laos and I was supposed to listen for North Vietnamese MiGs.

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The 4th PSYOP Group – Saigon, Vietnam

Being assigned to a PSYOP unit did not always mean going into the field to drop leaflets or playing loudspeaker messages. Those leaflets being thrown from a low flying aircraft had to be printed by someone.

One of the printers who produced the leaflets in the millions was U.S. Army Specialist 5th Class Tom Sweeney, military occupational specialty 23F2W - Offset pressman. Tom Graduated from the New York City School of Printing High School in 1965, and worked in the printing trade from 1965 to 1967 before being drafted into the Army in July, 1967.

After Basic training he was assigned to the John F. Kennedy School for Special Warfare at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, for a seven-week course on Psychological Operations prior to deployment to Vietnam. He arrived in Vietnam on 12 December 1967 where he was assigned to print leaflets for the 4th PSYOP Group. The printing section was located on the right hand side of the Cruz compound. It consisted of one van with a paper cutter; two vans, each with a two 2-color offset web printing press capable of printing one color on each side of the paper or two colors in line; and one van for making negatives and plates for printing. The paper weight was 16 or 20-pounds. One of the 2-color printers would run any weight of paper, but the other would only print 20 pound paper. If you put 16-pound paper on it, the web would break, and the paper would wrap around the blanket cylinder. You had to pay attention to what you were doing.

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PSYOP Printing Vans

The vans had ramps on which rolls of paper could be brought from the motor pool on skids and unloaded, then rolled to the back doors of the 2-color offset press vans and loaded onto the presses. Additionally, there was a Quonset hut which held a three-color offset printing press capable of running 1 color on the back side and 2 colors on the front side of the sheet. There was also a single color sheet-fed multi-lith offset printing press which was used to print newsletters.

When printing was completed the roll paper was cut down to sheets of 8.5 x 11-inches on the press and forwarded to the “delivery.” A word of explanation here: the back of the press is called the “feed” (where the roll of paper is loaded) and the “delivery” is where the paper comes out at the front of the press. The Battalion had a special tool they called a “fork” that was used to remove the paper when the delivery pile reached about two feet in height. The “fork” was needed because it could remove the paper without turning off the press. Nothing stopped the press in the middle of a run. The paper was then brought outside to be cut down to leaflet-size by civilian Vietnamese employees. Tom told me:

We worked twelve hour shifts, seven days a week unless you had guard duty. If you did, someone else was assigned to that press so that it never stopped running.

The offset plates that were used would wear out way early due to improper fountain solution. The basic theory of offset printing is that grease and water doesn’t mix. The ink which is the greasy part and the fountain solution which is water and Gum Arabic mixed together to a proper percentage of hydrogen or better known as PH. The fountain solution wets the plate. When the ink comes in contact only the sensitized areas will accept the ink. There were times we didn’t have any of the solution and ran on plain tap water. The acidity level of the water ate up the plates. Eventually, they sent the plate-maker to Japan to learn how to make bi-metal plates. When the image began to wear out on those plates we would apply sulfuric acid to the plate and the image would reappear. Those plates were supposed to be good for a million impressions.

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Pressman preparing printing press for a leaflet run

The paper cutter was old and needed repairs. The cutting was done by civilian Vietnamese employees cutting the 8.5 x 11-inch sheets down to size with the safety “off.” They were constantly told to leave the safety on because it would sometimes “double-cut.” I was working on the 3-color offset press in the hut one day when a Vietnamese employee ran in screaming. He lifted up his arm and blood came squirting out; the cutter had double-cut when he was removing the paper and took his hand off. I grabbed him and prepared a tourniquet by wrapping my belt around his arm to stop the bleeding. Some men from the office took him to the Hospital. I went straight to the cutter and secured his hand in the hope they could put it back on his arm. Three months later he returned with no hand. His name went from “Papa-san” to “Stumpy.”

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A PSYOP Pressman checks a leaflet sheet inside a printing press van

Near the end of my tour in late 1968 the two web presses in the vans were being removed and placed in a room in the back of the Cruz compound where the motor pool and generators were. I don’t know if that move was ever completed.

I left Vietnam on 12 December 1968 and a couple of the guys sent me Christmas cards which I still have. I returned to the printing trade in July 1969. I apprenticed as a Printing Press Operator until 1974. I was promoted to Journeyman Press Operator and worked in the trade until 1984. In 1984 I was hired by the New York City Police Department as a Printing Press Operator. Over the years I moved up from Bindery Foreman to Deputy Director of Printing, then to Director of Printing Services. I ran the entire Printing services for the NYPD with 30 personnel assigned to my Command. I retired 1 July 2009 after 25 years of service to the Police Department.

PSYOP Missions in the Field

Since we mention the printing of leaflets above, perhaps we should mention one of the PSYOP specialists that went into the field on leaflet and loudspeaker missions. First, I want so say a few words about the “Big Green Machine,” the U.S. Army. Most civilians think that the military is like a big computer that uses the best technology to put the right man in the right place. If only that were true! The Army has a million stories like “I spoke German, they sent me to Japan,” or “I was a master mechanic, they made me a cook.” In reality, the “needs of the service” is the overriding theme that decides where people are sent and what they do. However, the Army is a big organization like IBM or Chevrolet; and one can learn the rules and then manipulate it. It usually takes years to learn how to do that, but those who rise to the top have figured it out. Below we will mention the career of one PSYOP soldier in Vietnam. Was he sent to school and highly trained in his skill? No, he started out as a grunt and through some good luck and manipulation was able to find a job that he loved and did it amazingly well. I introduce you to Chad Spawr.

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Chad Spawr

Chad arrived in Vietnam on 28 October 1967, and was assigned to the 2nd Civil Affairs Company with a military occupational specialty of 04B (Interpreter/Translator), He was immediately attached to 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division at Phuoc Vinh. At Brigade, he was attached to the S-2 Intelligence section as an Interrogator. Since his language training was in the Hanoi (Northern) dialect, he was considered useful in interrogating captured North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops. He was also required to identify Northern soldiers masquerading as local Viet Cong guerrillas. He found that very easy, since the Northern and Southern dialects have several linguistic differences that are readily identifiable.

He was then deployed to Loc Ninh, where the 9th Viet Cong Division had overrun parts of that border town, capturing the local Military Assistance Command-Vietnam (MACV) compound and part of the airstrip. 1st Infantry Division units had beaten them back and had blocking positions established between town and the nearby Cambodian border. Upon arrival, Chad began interrogating captured prisoners, seeking basic Order of Battle information. Among the VC prisoners were several Northerners; and he was able to determine that most were actually recruited from southern locales, but had come south after 1954 with their families, so still retained the Northern dialect. Although the NVA filled the ranks of Viet Cong units after their destruction during the Tet 1968 uprising, Chad found little evidence of direct involvement of regular NVA in the main force VC Regiments and Battalions in his area of responsibility. His interrogation results were further corroborated by the local South Vietnamese Army interpreters, so he knew he was on the right path.

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Special Forces Camp at Bu Dop

His next engagement was at Bu Dop, where the same 9th VC Division tried to capture the Special Forces camp and airstrip. The results were the same: They were beaten badly.

This continued for most of his first tour. Note: Army tours in Vietnam were usually for one year. He was the transferred to MACV Advisory Team in An Loc, where he worked with the team from March through June 1968. Virtually all his in-country time to this point had been "in the bush," and he was very used to it. He was always surrounded by great troops and was well-treated, but it was still "the bush." Everybody wanted out of "the bush."

We see that Chad was over half way through his tour and had spent it all in combat conditions. I will quote him from here on:

In late June 1968, I was recovering from a bout of malaria and was also hospitalized with hepatitis. I spent considerable time in the Army medical system in Vietnam until early August. While at Cam Ranh Bay (6th Convalescent Center), I met a Staff Sergeant patient who was preparing to extend his tour an additional 6 months. I learned from him that any soldier wishing to extend his tour voluntarily would receive certain benefits: a 30 day paid leave back home "in the World" that was not charged to annual leave time; and the guaranteed choice of any unit of choice. I had no interest in extending, but it was interesting nonetheless. [Author's Note: Soldiers got about 30 days leave a year but according to their circumstances they could not always go where they wanted. “Needs of the service” took priority once again. In this case, the bullets were flying so the Army was willing to make an exception to keep good people in the combat zone].

When I returned to duty from the hospital, I found a "Dear John" letter from my gorgeous blonde girlfriend back home. She was leaving me for a guy who was in the Navy, who was "safe from overseas service." I was now about three months from going home, but she couldn't wait. I was crushed by this loss. There seeming no good reason to hurry home, I spoke with my First Sergeant about the benefits of extension. He confirmed that I could go anywhere I wanted to go.

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Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple in Penang, Malaysia

He also told me that I was required to take my “rest and relaxation” R&R leave; having been in-country since the preceding October, I was being sent somewhere unless I picked an available destination. The only place readily available was Penang, Malaysia. So, I took the opportunity, packed my little bag, and hopped a flight to Penang. I met a fellow named Art Bottego, who was from the 6th Psychological Operations Battalion. We talked long and late about what the battalion did, how they organized and worked, and why it would or wouldn't be a good place to move to after extending. We shared a room in Penang, saw the sights, and enjoyed the local entertainment.

I told Art that I had three primary objectives with any unit to which I might transfer: out of the field, no more "bush;" regular food other than C rations and base camp mess halls; and ability to take a shower at least once a day with hot running water. Regular clean clothes would be nice if at all possible. Art assured me that all were available if I moved to the 6th PSYOP Battalion. [Note: Army regulations at the time only said that you must be allowed one shower a month. This makes sense while operating in a jungle environment. Some combat units in Vietnam wore their uniforms until they rotted off and then a helicopter would drop fresh clothes after weeks in the bush. Many soldiers got out of the habit of wearing underwear because that was usually the first thing to go].

Upon return from R&R, I was able to get an appointment with the 6th PSYOP Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Otmer Gorrell. He was a very pleasant officer, and we talked for over an hour. He seemed pleased to have a person with "field" experience in the Battalion, which probably should have been an early warning. He made me feel very welcome. On top of that, he promised that if I transferred to his Battalion, he would have me promoted to Specialist 5 shortly thereafter. I was sold!

About three weeks later, sometime in August or early September 1968, I made the move. LTC Gorrell welcomed me, handed me off to the "A" Company Commander, Captain Oliver Jackson, and I was assigned to the "transient" quarters until final billeting arrangements could be made. This was a horror story. The transient quarters had several inches of water on the floor, the walls were covered in mold, and the smell was unbelievable. When I refused to be housed there, I was quickly moved to a “permanent” room with two other GI's in the former French hotel that was the Battalion HQ.

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6th PSYOP Battalion S2 Section

I was assigned to work for the Battalion S-2, a Lieutenant. It was not a good relationship; He was very unpleasant, but an office was an office, hot food was hot food, and a shower with hot running water was...well, you get the point. I was willing to limp along for six months working for an officer who would go home before I did.

In October, Lieutenant Colonel Gorrell assigned me “temporarily” to support another PSYOP team that was doing missions in the area south of Saigon. When I reminded him of our “deal,” he reminded me that the Army is not a country club nor is it a democracy. [Note: need I say it…”Needs of the service”]. I went to work for First Lieutenant Jack Gilbert, as good a leader as I'd ever known. We conducted PSYOP missions on the edge of the Mekong Delta, supporting multiple communication activities, cultural activities, and collecting intelligence whenever possible.

This lasted until mid-November, when I was moved to fill-in for another soldier who was going on R&R. In this situation, I worked for another enlisted Psywarrior named Al Viator. Al was a great guy, and we got along well. We were supporting a unit of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade in Tan An, and we regularly did ground missions on patrols with the infantry, visited villages with leaflets and tape broadcasts. This lasted a little over a week. We were housed in an old French-built two room house with a large open front window. One night while we were asleep, a local Viet Cong cadre infiltrated the local ARVN perimeter, and fired a full magazine of AK-47 rounds through the large open window, clearly targeting the PSYOP team. We hit the floor and were covered with plaster spray kicked out by the 30 rounds fired into the room. Neither of us was hit; the VC escaped.

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LTC Raymond Deitch, Commander 6th PYOP Battalion

When Al's partner returned, I went back to Battalion Headquarters in Bien Hoa, where I did odd jobs in the Battalion...this included driving the mail vehicle to Saigon periodically, building additional sandbag walls around key parts of the compound, pulling guard duty on the 20 foot tower, and installing a .50-cal M2 machine gun on the second floor balcony of the HQ building. When told that would be my battle station, I refused. That position would be well reconnaissanced by any attacking force and would be immediately destroyed by enemy fire. Our new Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Deitch, agreed with me, but we simply left the M2 where it was. Nobody was assigned to this suicide station.

I also learned that LTC Gorrell, before he departed Viet-Nam, pushed through my promotion to E5 as promised, and also directed that I wear regular Sergeant Stripes since he considered me to be a PSYOP team leader. That was a nice surprise. I liked those stripes! [Note: in theory a specialist E5 was the same as a sergeant E5, but in reality the Sergeant was considered a leadership position while the specialist was more of a technical rank. A sergeant could give orders to a specialist. The day you get “hard stripes” is a very happy one for a soldier].

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PSYOP Loudspeaker Team

From December to mid-January 1969, I took my home leave to Michigan. Upon my return, LTC Deitch told me that he needed me to take over the PSYOP Field Team with the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, located at Quan Loi. This was where I had spent the majority of my first tour with the 1st Infantry, and I was not enamored with the prospect of that terrible place. However, as the Army is not a democracy, I saluted, and went to Quan Loi. I met some awesome people in the 1st Cavalry, including Major Walter Marm, recipient of the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the 1965 battle of the Ia Drang Valley (“We Were Soldiers Once...”). He was an excellent officer who understood the role PSYOP was supposed to perform, and he used me extensively. I also worked for the S-5, which provided me the aircraft and team members for most of my PSYOP operations. In particular, I became friends with Sergeant Howard "Pat" Patrick, who is one of my best friends to this day. We performed many PSYOP missions together, on both the ground and in the air.

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8th Armored Cavalry M113 and M4SA3 Tank during Search
and Destroy Mission at the Michelin Rubber Plantation

The Cavalry deployed me with B Company, 1st Battalion of the 8th Cavalry, to participate in a joint infantry-armor search-and-destroy mission targeting the Headquarters of the 7th NVA Division, located somewhere in the Michelin Rubber Plantation. We teamed with a Squadron of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. On the third day, 18 April, I was wounded when my column was ambushed. I was medevacked, went back through the Army medical system again, and in June was returned to 6th Battalion with very limited duty. At the same time, I learned of a death in my family; LTC Deitch short-circuited the normal bureaucracy and arranged for me to be medevacked to "the World" immediately, as this was apparently more easily done than trying to arrange a compassionate leave. Two days later, I was seated on a military medical aircraft, and flown to Travis Air Force Base in California. I did not return to Viet-Nam. [Note: the U.S. Army tried to stay on good terms with the French and at one time paid for any damage to the rubber trees in that plantation from a fire-fight. In an emergency the Army only recognized the Red Cross and they had to investigate any deaths that called for compassionate leave. You see above the Commander simply went around that requirement].

This is my memory about how I joined PSYOP, became a PSYOP leader, ran missions in conjunction with infantry and armor, and was wounded in action while performing my assigned duties. I met some great fellow soldiers, and am proud of the work that I did. I'm no hero, but I surely did work with some soldiers who were!

Kadena AFB – Vietnam War and North Korea

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Lieutenant Colonel Dave Underhill was a member of the 7th PSYOP Group stationed on Okinawa during the Vietnam War. He did psychological operations in both Vietnam and in North Korea in what was at the time the top secret Operation Jilli.  He had previously attended the Advanced Infantry Course at Fort Benning followed by a tour at the PSYOP Directorate of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. He told me about his PSYOP missions during his 30-month tour from 1964 and 1966: 

We had two C-47's on call at Suwon Air Base (K-13) in Korea. The C-47 aircraft originally flew along the DMZ with side-looking radar monitoring activities.  They were loaned to us for use in dropping leaflets.  The camera port was removed and a chute installed for dropping leaflets. The Air Force loved the mission. We would load the aircraft with 3000 pounds (about a million and a half leaflets once we arrived at the best leaflet size, paper weight and aerodynamics for the mission). We would climb to 15,000 feet.  We went on oxygen with a personal tank for each crewman beginning at 12,000 feet. This unit later received the Air Force Outstanding Award. The citation mentioned Special Airlift missions.  I was officially attached to the unit on flight status.  I wear the unit award as a permanent award. 

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The C-130 Hercules Cargo Aircraft

I asked for a C-130 my first year on Okinawa and everyone told me I would never get a big bird for a PSYOP mission. Using my formulas I was able to plan leaflet missions very successfully and plotted winds-aloft forecasts for the C-47s on the proposed C-130 routes. After the brass saw the accuracy of the drops my second year they gave me one C-130. Prior to the beginning of the favorable weather season (generally Mid-April to late September); I used the mission weather reports to plot drops from 25,000 feet. My Intelligence Sergeant and I both attended the Air Force's Physiological Training School (High Altitude School). From the very first mission in 1964, I would submit an after-action report with projected coverage overlaid on a map of North Korea. I did the same on South East Asia maps for missions there. The projected increase in penetration into North Korea, and the vastly increase in area coverage made the decision for the use of a C-30 a no-brainer. By my third year they gave me two dedicated C-130 aircraft that were stationed at Kadena Airbase, Okinawa for missions in Vietnam and Laos. These aircraft often had propositioned leaflet loads. 

The prepositioned leaflets for North Korea were of a strategic and not a tactical nature. It was all appropriate to the day-to-day activities of the North Korean target audience.  Material would be developed months in advance for the following year's seasonal operation. Near the end, we even had PSYOP at Fort Bragg print and ship leaflets to us. As the program continued, we were also printing in support of Vietnam operations. The nice thing about a strategic operation is the fact the target is the total population of the country.  The content was mostly pro-South Korea and pro-United Nations. We put forth, mostly in pictures, the economic, political, and social prosperity and progress occurring South Korea.

I was on 24-hour call for favorable weather forecast periods. I had a very high telephone precedent authorization called “Flash.” As I recall the priorities were Routine, Priority, Immediate and Flash. I normally notified the duty officer when I went to the movie or whatever. I would be paged and went to the nearest phone where I received the weather forecast. It was always for the next four hour period. That meant that from the time I received the call, we would have to be ready to start our first pass against North Vietnam in four hours. There was no time to waste. I would call the Far East Air Force headquarters in Tokyo to arrange for an aircraft to be readied at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. I then called the operator and said I had a Flash message. Five minutes later, I had the tail number of the aircraft that was scheduled for the mission.

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A 10-Ton Leaflet Load on a C-130

Our printing plant operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and printed 100 tons a month, but we controlled the printing of an additional 900,000,000 products a month by using the Adjutant General's printing plant in Japan, and the United States Information Service Regional Service Center in Manila. They printed the high quality inflation theme North Vietnamese money leaflets. At the peak, a billion leaflets were printed each month.  This included 100,000,000 National Safe Conduct Leaflets.  The leaflet was my idea, and used by over 100,000 Vietnamese. 

Based on the nature of the content, we were able to stock up with leaflets.  When they authorized a second C-130 for 1966, I proposed we stock leaflets at Suwon (K-13) where our C-47 aircraft were based.  We could rig the boxes for C-130 dissemination.  After dropping a load launched from Okinawa, we could land at K-13, load, and drop another 10,000,000 leaflets. We were primed and ready to go in 1966. 

In 1966, we began to launch two C-130s from Okinawa against North Korea. They could drop their leaflets, land and disperse two more loads from our prepositioned stock. Forty million leaflets in under three hours. We had a Captain in Korea on temporary duty at the time, and I asked him to stop by 8th Army G-2 (Intelligence) and see if we were getting any reaction out of North Korea.  He walked in and found the place in an uproar. He asked in a loud voice, “Are you guys getting any reaction out of north Korea?” He said you could have heard a pin drop.  North Korea was on full military alert, and was moving troops. He left content with the knowledge that the regime was reacting to our leaflet drops.

The leaflets used in the initial missions were designed and laid out by me. We had no in-house capability on Okinawa.  Graphics for our magazine publications were done in our Japan Detachment. Eventually, we developed a capability in the Korean Detachment.  At some point a Korean Army Non-Commissioned Officer joined the team from the Army of the Republic of Korea PSYOP. Later, when his enlistment was up, we hired him and he ran our leaflet development. We ran a photographic contest looking for good images, and one individual was so good and his pictures so classic that we hired him too.

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Leaflets Disseminated from the back of a C-130

We learned the most efficient way of loading the aircraft. The floor of the C-130 Hercules was covered with rollers on both sides. The boxes were stood on end. They were too fragile to stack. They were loaded by the aircraft crew, including me. The aircraft would fly at 120-130 knots in a nose-high attitude. The leaflets were stacked one on top of another against the webbing wrapped around the leaflet box. The idea was to have the leaflets spill out the four corners as the box gives way. The early boxes resulted in too much of the weight ending up on the crossed webbing.  We later used a much flatter and wider based bottom that carried about 135 pounds of leaflets. We carried ten tons in all, or about a million leaflets a ton per mission.  Later in the program, we used a smaller leaflet on 13 pound paper for deeper drift, and greater density on the ground.  On these missions, we carried 16,000,000 leaflets.

We still occasionally had a static line snap, until we strung a webbing line across the aircraft so that the static line never hit the sharp (cutting edge) of the raised tail door.  It was stopped by the webbing line across the rear just below the cutting edge of the raised door.

To keep from having to stack the boxes for deployment, we simply stood them on end to compensate for the much larger box base or bottom. The crew carried a broom handle type stick to hold the box from rolling on the rollers, and as the aircraft flew in a nose up-attitude, a box at a time was released at pre-determined intervals based on flight pass duration.

I always wanted as many passes as possible, and the aircraft commander wanted to get the hell out of as soon as possible.  At most I could sometimes hope for two passes or a second partial pass depending on wind direction. The potential flight path was selected from a permanently authorized flight path that stretched from the East Coast to out over the water to a rectangular box on the west coast.  We could actually disseminate while descending to permit covering close-in areas without danger of dumping leaflet into South Korea.

A More Humorous and less Serious look at Leafleting

The narrations above are a historically accurate descriptions of what it was like to take part in a PSYOP mission. There are other aspects of this specialty that are less serious. I will use this short addition to mention some of them.

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Now give us a Leaflet Bert

I always had a special affinity for this cartoon because for most of my life I used the nickname “Bert.” The cartoon is really a critical look at the importance of leafleting. Many combat commanders thought they were a waste of time back in WWII. On this item the British crewmember about to drop the leaflet has his pants off and is apparently going to wipe his butt with it before dropping. This cartoon is probably a result of the “Bomber” Harris comment.

On the subject of using his precious bombers to drop leaflets instead of bombs, Sir Arthur Harris, Air Marshall of the Royal Air Force said:

My personal view is that the only thing achieved was largely to supply the Continent's requirements of toilet paper for the five long years of war.

Alan John Percivale Taylor was an English historian, journalist and broadcaster. He said about leafleting:

Leaflet production's main use was to keep the intellectuals busy and out of the hair of the military!

In the American armed forces the airmen that dropped leaflets were often called “Bullshit bombers.” They sometimes called themselves “Litterbugs” or “Carpetbaggers,” a derogatory name from the American Civil War. In the German military, the airmen were called Arschwischflieger (Ass-wipe Pilots). Soldiers did not see the value in dropping paper that could be rolled with tobacco or used as toilet paper instead of blowing the enemy all to Hell with high-explosive bombs. It took many years and constant training and briefings to convince the troops of the value of leaflets.

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The 18th level of Hell
Korean War Leaflet 7163

When I wrote about battles I would sometimes get an argument from someone who said “I was there.” Well, the fact is that sometimes the worst person to talk to is someone who was there. He is an expert on what happened in the 100 feet in front of his foxhole, but knows nothing about what was going on all around him. He might be killing the enemy in droves, but on both flanks his comrades may be in full retreat. So, take everything with a grain of salt.

In this case, one can plainly see that the “kicker,” the individual responsible for disseminating the leaflets from an aircraft kept one as a souvenir. He probably did not speak the language and really doesn’t know what it says, but he was able to understand the image and so wrote a description of what he thought the text was and then sent it home to his family. This is an interesting piece directly from a mission with a crew-member’s comment. He writes on the leaflet:

A leaflet we drop by the bundle from planes. I have thrown them out the window over Chinese territory. It means: The Chinese people are starving to support the Communist Party. The old people and children do the work of their oxen which are now dead.

I am familiar with this leaflet. It depicts Mao sitting on bags of rice while Chinese farmers work the fields. It was part of an operation called “Plan Fraud,” printed by the 1st Radio Broadcasting and Leaflet Group on 22 April 1952. The leaflet title was “Chinese Reforms.” On the back of the leaflet a farmer looks at a field picked clean by the Communists. Of course, this was not dropped over Chinese territory; it was dropped over the Chinese “Volunteers” fighting in Korea. Some of the text is:

The harsh heavy taxes and forced contributions oppress the Chinese farmers into the 18th level of Hell

The man with a plow becomes an ox under Communist tyranny.

This kicker was close but no cigar. Still, he did get the gist of the leaflet without any knowledge of Chinese. The bosses live well, the farmers starve. As for being in the wrong country, he was not flying the plane and had no access to maps, he was just tossing leaflets from the rear of the aircraft. Close enough!

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Killer Leaflet Boxes

The kickers sometimes had problems with the leaflet boxes. In theory, the boxes were cut to assure they would open and then lightly tied or taped. The inertia of falling from an aircraft and the sudden pull as the cord came to its end would tear the box open and discharge the leaflets, but we are told that did not always happen, sometimes on purpose. Some stories told to me by various PSYOP personnel. There are many more:

Pat Carty mentions some of the problems in Secret Squadrons of the Eighth, Ian Allen Ltd., London, 1990. Carty says that on one was the bundle failing to open. Carty adds:

The Manchester Guardian reported that one bundle fell solidly on a small German barge, went through the bottom, and sunk it. Another bundle crashed through the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

CPT Charles V. Nahlik had a problem during a Cold War leaflet drop over Korea:

Once over Korea, one of the leaflet boxes shipped from Ft. Bragg did not open properly. They attached an additional static line around me and with oxygen mask pumping away; I crawled out, took out a knife and cut the box loose to fall into the ocean below. We kept several of the boxes on board so we could check them when we got back to Okinawa and found out that the static lines were not properly wrapped around the box.

On another occasion, a leaflet box scored a direct hit on a Korean house. I was told:

There was a leaflet box that went through the roof of a Korean home happened somewhere along the DMZ in Korea. It busted the hell out of their tile roof and landed in their kitchen and right on the table. The US repaired the home and replaced the table.

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A C-130 Crew Member drops a Box of Leaflets off the Coast of North Korea

Richard Arent mentioned a similar case he heard about while flying EC-47 missions out of Pleiku in the summer of 1969:

On several missions I would be handed a cardboard box of leaflets and told to drop them wherever I could. I remember a story about a Viet Cong member who surrendered after his friend was hit in the head by such a box of leaflets.

Former aircrew member James D. Trozzo mentions another Vietnam War operation that didn’t exactly go as planned:

On a mission somewhere over Cambodia we spotted two small boats beached on a sandbar. Black pajama clad people were unloading or loading boxes but they never looked up as they heard us fly over. I was aghast; here was Charlie out in the open, and we couldn't even get a shooter to go after him. We did the next best thing a "Goony Bird" crew could do. We made another pass over the boats with “steady, steady, bombs away!" At the command of bombs away, someone kicked out 5 unopened boxes of “Chieu Hoi” leaflets stored under our door netting. I tried to watch the impact to report damage at our debriefing, but the pilot said, "We’re getting the hell out of Dodge," as he dove away for airspeed before the fireworks started.

Staff Sergeant Steve Jones of the 15th Physiological Training Flight, Kadena AFB, Okinawa, flew from March 1972 to January 1973. He talks about problems and ways that the leaflet kickers amused themselves during long propaganda flights.

Sometimes on a very boring drop some of the kickers would intentionally forget to hook the static line and attempt to drop the loaded boxes on selected targets. It was especially fun trying to hit fishing boats in the harbors because we could see the splash caused by the boxes when they hit. We never did hit a boat, but we came close a few times!

In spring of 2004, the United States Army described an interesting action in regard to the use of the leaflet box. Allegedly, in the early hours of active combat, an Iraqi soldier was killed during a PSYOP operation:

The cause of death was a box of leaflets that fell out of a Combat Talon aircraft when a static line broke. The box impacted on the Iraqi guard's head, and the 9th PSYOP Battalion may have achieved the first enemy "killed in action" of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


This ends our brief look at aerial leaflet missions. I never planned to write this story, but one day a Korean War veteran said to me, “It is a shame nobody knows what we did at K16.” I told him, “Tell me and I will tell them.” The story grew from there. I decided to ask some other friends about their experiences and ended up with an enlisted crew member in a mid-sized cargo plane, a junior officer in a small single-engine aircraft and a staff officer in a large heavy cargo plane. I think it turned out rather well. As always, if any readers care to comment or send additional information I encourage them to write the author at sgmbert@hotmail.com.