SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

Note: The Smithsonian Channel requested material from this article for a documentary on Vietnam gun trucks. In 2019, Retired Colonel Joe D. Celeski used images and text from this article in his books “The Green Berets in the Land of a Million Elephants: U.S. Army Special Warfare and the Secret War in Laos, 1959-1974” and “Special Air Warfare and the Secret War in Laos: Air Commandos 1964-1975.” John Freiburg wrote an article titled "America’s Secretive Operation White Star in Laos" for the SOFREP website. He said about this article: "Friedman, SGM Herbert A., PSYOP in Laos. This extensive webpage has an abundance of information on the White Star Operation."

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Pre-Vietnam War


A 1950s-Era Leaflet for Laos.
They stressed National Unity, Government legitimacy, Public Health and Welfare.

Long before the United States got involved in Laos trying to stop North Vietnamese troops from coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the United States Information Agency with heavily involved there. The story is told in great depth by Jared M. Tracy, PHD in the article “Shoot & Salute - U.S. Army Special Warfare in Laos,” in Veritas, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2018. I will just touch on his comments:

Since 1954, the USIA had singularly handled overt informational activities in Laos, until it was supplemented by an Army psywar augmentation team in 1961. Established on 1 August 1953, USIA consolidated all foreign information activities, including the Voice of America (VOA), under one agency. USIA administered overseas information programs executed by its field offices, known as the U.S. Information Service (USIS). USIS Laos had two main objectives: improve the credibility of the Laotian government in the eyes of the population, and counter-Communist propaganda. In the late-1950s and early-1960s, USIS employed the following media and programs: radio, printed products, films, an information center and library in Vientiane, formal presentations, an English teaching program, cultural exchanges, and personal contacts.

A USIS Laos inspection report (March 1960) revealed challenges with each approach. For example, with radio, there was only “one very weak local radio station” in 1956; even after that number grew to two 1 kilowatt (kw) shortwave transmitters and one 5 kw medium wave transmitter by 1960, transmissions did not adequately cover the entire country. To boost access to the population, the U.S. government provided two 10 kw transmitters and a thousand radio public address systems to the Laotian military to distribute to villages across the country. These systems would augment the estimated 14,000 individually owned radio receiver sets in Laos.

The Vietnam War

During the decade the United States fought in Vietnam, it fought a second and perhaps deadlier secret war in Laos. I write “deadlier” because at the end of the war, North Vietnam released 591 prisoners under “Operation Homecoming,” but none came back from Laos. Of the over 500 American Servicemen listed as missing or prisoner-of-war in Laos, the Pathet Lao never released a single American military POW they captured and held at war's end. Even though credible reports established that numerous American military prisoners-of-war were alive at the end of the war, none came home.

The only American prisoner in Laos released at war’s end was Continental Air Service civilian pilot Emmet Kay in 1974. The CIA-sponsored air charter company flew supplies to Royal Lao Army troops as well as flying special missions to insert indigenous reconnaissance teams. The Pathet Lao shot him down (or he ran out of gas depending upon which story you believe) on 7 May 1973 as he flew six Lao military personnel to a government outpost near the Communist headquarters in Sam Neua. Although Emmet Kay claimed to have been shot down, other pilots in the air that day including Captain Jack Knotts of BirdAir monitored his radio calls and heard him claim that he was lost and getting short on fuel. Kay apparently took off from Laos Site (LS-272) at Ban Sorn. They released him on 18 September 1974 after 16 1/2 months in captivity.

There is some evidence that President Eisenhower considered Laos the most important Southeast Asian country of his domino theory, believing it might be even more important that Vietnam. In December 1960, Eisenhower concluded a high level meeting on Laos by stating that:

We must not allow Laos to fall to the Communists, even if it involves war in which the U.S. acts with allies or unilaterally.

It was one of those wars that was fought for the right reasons but became a quagmire due to the political restraints placed on the combatants. The U.S. involved itself in Laos to help protect the Lao government against a Communist North Vietnamese invasion and occupation and to slow the movement of men and weapons from North Vietnam into South Vietnam. It was fought on the cheap by very limited armed forces, some civilians and a lot of mercenaries. It was almost successful. The problems arose when the government made a conscious decision to lie to the American public; to claim that the country was neutral, to claim that there were no U.S. troops in Laos and worse, to claim that no U.S. servicemen had been killed there. That was a lie that grew and grew and came back to turn the American public against its leaders and the war. Like the little boy that cried wolf, after American leaders were caught telling lie after lie, nothing they said was believed.

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Map of Laos

This war seldom made the headlines and was mostly fought by Special Forces on the ground and the Air Force in the sky as the United States attempted to stem the flow of goods by interdicting travel down the “Truong Son Strategic Supply Route,” known to the Americans as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, while fighting a holding action against the Communist Pathet Lao. The US military assistance program provided Laos with equipment and advisors. Between 1962 and 1973, a total of $1.4 billion dollars of aid was provided.

Some of the methods used by the Special Forces to win over the Lao people and soldiers were listed in a letter entitled “Civil Assistance” by Lieutenant Colonel John T. Little in September 1961. LTC Little mentions twelve rules that were to be followed to win the hearts and minds of the Lao people. One such rule is:

An imaginative program of village assistance properly backed by the military and civil authorities is one form of psychological operation which will contribute significantly toward…achievement of U.S. goals in Laos.

The letter also went into some detail of other factors that could be used to win the loyalty of the Lao. Among them were; aid to education, sanitation, aid to agriculture, transportation improvement, children’s playgrounds, the distribution of special tools, improving the markets, American movies and electric lights. Little thought that in addition to training the Lao to protect themselves, his policies would bring rich psychological returns to the United States.

In regards to Air Force operations, they were severely handicapped according to U.S. Ambassador Godley:

Never in the history of warfare has a military element been more shackled in its operation than was the USAF in Laos. The rules of engagement were voluminous, complex and precise. It could not engage any ground forces unless requested by the Lao government and approved by the Embassy. It could not bomb within one hundred yards of an inhabited dwelling, nor could it endanger inhabited villages. The types of ordnance it could use had to be improved…We were repeatedly charged with the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. Nothing could have been further from the truth…

An Air Force communications expert assigned to Laos who preferred to remain anonymous told me about Laos from his perspective:

In 1966, the U.S. government established Project 404, and active duty military were sent into Laos to provide support for the air war going on over Laos. The purpose of Project 404 was to supply the line crew technicians needed to support and train the Royal Laotian Air Force, while Raven Forward Air Controllers were brought in to supply piloting expertise and guidance for running a tactical air force. Most of these American personnel were communications, administration, intelligence and logistical types. They were assigned to the Attaché and came under the Attaches control once in Laos, although they were assigned to DEPCH JUSMAGTHAI (Deputy Chief Joint United States Military Advisor Group, the covert name for MAAG Laos). There were also some 9th Special Forces Group troops in Okinawa to provide some training for the Royal Laos Army.

In 1969, Project 404 personnel begin to get back into the training and advising of Royal Laos Army (Forces Armées Royale or FAR) and Neutralist Army Forces (Forces Armées Neutralistes, or FAN) that had been missing since the departure of the 300-man Military Advisory and Assistance Group (MAAG) Laos in 1962. Project 404 / Water pump was primarily an Air Force operation, but the whole effort had so many parts and names that it gets hard to tell the players apart. The US Army Special Forces specialized in training indigenous infantry and there was a Special Forces house in Long Tieng (LS-20A).

An unmarked T-28 Trojan and 0-1 Bird Dog over Laos - Flown by Ravens

By 1972, with control of Project 404 personnel in Laos back under DEPCH (Deputy Chief Joint United States Military Advisor Group - Army Advisory Element Bangkok), Project 404 personnel became more vigorous and expanded their advising and training to both the Royal Laos Army and neutralist army forces. DEPCH was back to being a fully-fledged MAAG. At this time, most of the support Project 404 provided fell under the Air Force Attachés (AIRA's) discretion and the air war with scant attention given to the Lao Army. The AIRA when I was there was Major, later Lieutenant Colonel Rossel. Major Rossel flew B-26's in the MAAG program in Vietnam in 62 and he flew the T-28D and O1's in Laos. The person really in charge was Ambassador G. McMurtry Godley (Ambassador 1969-1973.

When I was there, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was important for targets, but secondary to the “real war” in Laos. That war in Laos saved one Hell of a lot of US Military lives from being lost in the more public war taking place over the border in Vietnam.

The top secret 1966 CIA Report: “Vietnamese Communists Will to Persist” Says about Laos:

The Communists have been able to use three routes to supply their forces in Vietnam – The sea route from North Vietnam or China, the Laotian land route, and the Cambodian route. Although the use of any particular route had varied over time, the overwhelming share of supplies need to meet the internal logistical requirements of the Communist forces in South Vietnam are being moved by truck from North Vietnam through the Laotian panhandle.

A Vietnamese friend who perhaps knew the trail more intimately told me:

It took six months for the troops to move south during 1959-1964. Then the motorized transportation came; more troops and military wares were moved faster.

The 1969 military budget cut forced the USAF to reduce their missions to Southeast Asia to 1000 sorties per month, versus 3000 sorties per month of the years 1967-1968. Mind you, 1000 sorties were for all of South Vietnam, Lower Laos, and Cambodia. That was insufficient.

By late 1969 to early 1970, The Ho Chi Minh Trail was motorized. By the year 1970 it took less than a month for infiltrated troops arrive at their destination in B-2 (East-Southern half) or B-3 (The Highlands).

One of the reasons that the ill-fated Operation Lam Son 719 was conceived and carried out was that the USAF failed to stop the infiltration. There were thousands of enemy troops who guarded the Trail, and it was rebuild and re-staffed abundantly after Lam Son 719. By 1974, The Ho Chi Minh’s 559 Corps (Truong Son Corps) had built 20 north-south roads and 10 west-east terminal roads into South Vietnam.

In early 1975, it only took six days to arrive in Bình Long/Phuong Long of South Vietnam. Le Duc Tho, the number two man in North Vietnam, writes in his memoirs:

"Caught a plane in Hanoi to Dong Hoi; Helicoptered from Dong Hoi to Ban Dong; from Ban Dong took a Russian Command truck to Cam Xe, west of National Route 13; east of Phuong Long. There, I hitched a short motorcycle ride to the command post of B-2."

Karl Fritch added:

There were constant reports of Soviet made helicopters operating in Laos both in the north and in the Ho Chi Minh Trail areas. Another factor in improving transportation on the Ho Chi Minh Trail was the United States Air Force. A side effect of all the blasting from the bombs was the ability to widen and improve the trail over time.

Both the incursions into Cambodia and in southern Laos caused the North Vietnamese to move further into Laos and extend their logistics network away from the border to protect it from further ground attack. This resulted in the North Vietnamese Army seizing more territory in Laos as the trail needed to be defended both from the Americans and South Vietnamese forces in the East and Lao forces in the West.

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Studies and Observation Group Symbol

A brief history of the early American action in Laos reveals that Operation White Star was a clandestine operation, under the auspices of the CIA, but thru the Ambassador to Laos to “assist” Laos in fighting the communists. The teams worked with the Laotian people, mainly the Hmongs and other ethnic groups. It was all designed to support Vang Pao’s clandestine army which was supported by the CIA (with Air America) under Project 404 and 603. It is alleged that the Hmong infantry grew to about 40,000 troops.

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LTC Arthur D. "Bull" Simons

Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) “Bull” Simons was the Commander of the first team inserted in July 1959, code-named Hotfoot. He had selected, organized and trained Special Forces “A” teams from the 77th Special Forces Group (Airborne) based at Fort Bragg, NC. The mission was initially code-named Ambidextrous. All personnel were given intensive training and cross training. All personnel took daily language lessons in both French and Laotian. Once inside Laos, the teams were regularly replaced about every six months. Team II arrived in June 1960 commanded by LTC Magnus L. Smith. In November 1960, Team IV took over, commanded by LTC John Little, and on 28 January 61 it was augmented with a 12-man Psywar team under LTC Chuck Murray. In April of 1961, Team V replaced Team IV and was renamed White Star. In October 1961 LTC Bull Simons took command again. At its peak on 23 July 1962 when a Declaration of Neutrality was signed, the White Star strength was 433.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Turkoly-Joczik, Ph.D. says in an article entitled “Secrecy and Stealth: Cross-Border Reconnaissance in Indochina, Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin:

The first series of U.S.-sponsored [Vietnamese troops] cross-border operations took place in 1964 under the code name “Leaping Lena.” The South Vietnamese Government under the supervision of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) conducted these activities. Unfortunately, Leaping Lena was a failure and was terminated.

The Special Forces losses in Laos between 1959 and 1962 from the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) were SGT Gerald M. Biber, SGT John M. Bischoff, CPT Walter Moon, SGT Theodore Berlett, and SSG Raymond Parkes.

Readers who want to study this action in more depth are encouraged to read Land of a Million Elephants, by Asa Baber, Morrow books, 1970; The War in Laos, Kenneth Conboy, Osprey books, 1989; Code-name: Copperhead, Joe Garner, Simon & Shuster, 1994; and Operation White Star, Richard Sutton, Daring Books, 1990.   I should mention that about 15 years after I wrote this article Retired Colonel Joe D. Celeski gave me permission to use some data from his monograph The Ambassadors’ SOF and the Secret War in Laos. I added some text on the Laos PSYOP Organization. At a later date I was asked to help Colonel Celeski with a major book about the war. I provided information about psychological operations. I have a copy of that draft. That book was later broken up into a book on the air war and another on the ground war. When I quote Celeski the reader should realize that the comment came from one of the three sources.

In 1962 a Geneva accord was signed that guaranteed the neutrality of Laos and called for all foreign soldiers to leave. The United States removed its 666 Special Forces advisors. The North Vietnamese considered it a great political victory and sent in more troops. Averell Harriman, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs said:

North Vietnam broke the 1962 agreements before the ink was dry.

For some reason the United States decided to go on with the pretense there was no war in Laos. As a result, as it attacked the enemy troops with mercenaries and bombs, and even B-52 raids, but it could not make a good defense of its actions. It should have simply said “we are facing a determined enemy” and let the world know what was happening. For example, when President Nixon tried late in the war to explain, mistakes were made. Nixon said that there were 50,000 North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos and they had recently been joined by 13,000 more. The press reported 70,000 enemy troops. A United States Information Agency official said at a press briefing there were just 40,000 North Vietnamese in Laos. The American public said “huh?” This confusion made their leaders appear to be liars and further hurt the American cause.

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger went before the public and stated:

No American stationed in Laos has ever been killed in ground combat operations.

Notice the disclaimers. “Stationed in Laos” meant that all the troops that crossed over from South Vietnam did not count. “Ground Operations” meant that he could ignore all the deaths from aircraft downed by the enemy. CIA people did not count because they were “invisible” anyway. The Thai mercenaries did not count because they were not American. We are not going to mention Thailand in this article, but keep in mind that at the height of their deployment there were about 17,000 Thais helping the U.S. in Laos.

Eventually the U.S. Government was forced to admit that about 200 Americans had been killed in Laos and another 200 were missing or taken prisoner. The tremendous number of lies told for so long convinced the American people their government could not be trusted and everything they said in regard to this war was a lie. It was all a terrible miscalculation by Washington.

Thomas A. Bruscino, Jr. discusses U.S. actions in Laos in the Combat Studies Institute Press, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, paper Out of Bounds - Transnational Sanctuary in Irregular Warfare.

The early efforts of the CIA and Special Forces included limited attempts to interdict the supply lines within Laos. Starting in 1961, a few specially trained South Vietnamese teams launched infiltrations across the border to gather intelligence. The next year, CIA officers began training Lao natives in basic reconnaissance of the communist road system. Both programs gathered general information, but neither provided specifics on the communist operation. A more direct approach came in 1964 when American advisers worked with South Vietnamese Special Forces on Operation Leaping Lena. Small teams of Montagnard tribesman led by South Vietnamese Special Forces were to cross into Laos to perform reconnaissance missions.

In January 1964, the Americans set up the Studies and Observations Group (SOG) within MACV, a special operations group that answered directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. SOG included men from all of America’s armed services, including Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and Air Force Air Commandos. SOG’s mandate included operations into Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam.

Infiltrations into Laos began in 1965, initially under the codename Shining Brass (in 1967 the name was changed to Prairie Fire). The teams included South Vietnamese troops led by American Special Forces personnel. Still concerned with violations of neutral territory, the men who went on these missions wore nondescript uniforms and carried untraceable weapons. They either crossed the border on foot or in unmarked Air Force helicopters, and similar helicopters would extract them at the end of missions. In 1966 they sent more than 100 teams into Laos; two years later, some 800 teams went into Laos and Cambodia combined.

The Air Force operations started with Barrel Roll in December 1964. The US Air Force and US Navy launched a series of escalating bombing missions against the communist infrastructure north of the DMZ in Laos. Barrel Roll was supplemented by Operation Steel Tiger in April 1965, but the latter began to spread the attacks to the eastern portion of the Laotian panhandle. Flying from bases in South Vietnam and Thailand, and off of carriers in the surrounding waters, American pilots flew nearly 800 missions against Laos in less than a month. The airpower interdiction program accelerated in the summer and fall of 1965, as the Air Force started working with the SOG incursions and the targeting area extended south to the Cambodian border. In December, the Air Force used B-52 bombers to hit targets in Laos, most notably the Mu Gia pass just north of the DMZ. Even the aerial defoliant program, Operation Ranch Hand, spread into the eastern portion of the Laotian panhandle.

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An uncoded 1969 leaflet to NVA coming down the Trail through Laos

This leaflet was found by Sergeant Jim Hackbarth, a member of the 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry, in 1970. It is uncoded so we do not know who printed it. We do know it is a tactical leaflet aimed at North Vietnamese troops and quoting a letter from an unhappy comrade. One expert pointed out that it was typed on an American typewriter and then someone actually added the pronunciation and accentuation marks by hand. It was a rush job. Text on the front is:

To Cadres and Soldiers in the Communist ranks,

“After six months of slogging through the battlefields of Laos, while on the surface they say they respect our courage and boldness, but all we got when we reached the Fatherland was a case of malaria...The goal that everyone thought was in our grasp has turned out to be very remote. Every day we face dangers from all sides, not to become the 'heroes of our time,' but just to find something to put in our stomachs...The only people getting fat are the big shots. Meanwhile we soldiers have lives that are worse than those of a dog...”

These are not mere words of propaganda, far from the truth. They are excerpted from the diary of Le Liem, a soldier in the Tri Thien Sub-Region's 802nd Regiment/4th Group [4th Regiment]. ARVN forces captured the diary on 24 June 1969.

Leaflet 4229

One year later, after the leaflet above, a 1970 leaflet approaches the subject of the cadre with a bit of humor. A Communist Political Cadre member is depicted leaning against a tree and wondering how he can tell his troops in Laos about their great victories while they are losing everywhere. The Cadreman thinks:

According to the Party, the enemy has been defeated everywhere. Millions of enemy soldiers have been killed. Yet, why, after sending his troops into Cambodia, is he sending battalions and battalions of soldiers into Laos? We are being routed everywhere. What am I going to say to the comrade troopers now?

The back of the leaflet is a long propaganda message. Some of the highlights are:

However stubborn and perfidious the enemy is, he should have died long ago after being “dealt deadly blows.” How could he carry out his “dark plot of aggression?” If the enemy is “Agonizing on his bed,” why are the Communists being harassed on the South Vietnam and Cambodian battlefields, and now in Laos?


USAF First Lieutenant Zot Barazzotto was one of the pilots that regularly flew over Laos using the call sign Covey 250 from March 1970 to March 1971. He told me:

One morning I was coming in on the second flight and the guy before had found a trellised road that led to a little truck park. He could see the dent in the trees where they had been pulled down to cover the road that was cut below. We were beating up the area with what ordnance we could get but there wasn't much available because of Lam Son 719. The Covey OV-10 was usually armed with 4 pods of 2.75" rockets - 2 pods of 7 each white phosphorous (or “Willy Peter”) for marking targets and 2 pods of 7 each high explosive (HE) warheads. I turned west, armed the HEs and pulled the nose up so as to lob the rockets at the little supply dump. In rapid succession I shot all 14 HE rockets, 12 of which hit the supply dump with no apparent ill effects. Two rockets overshot the target and hit near the road, which was on a little ridge. I actually hit two trucks that were part of a convoy that had been stopped when they started beating up the bushes.

A 1966 Stars and Stripes article entitled “U.S. Psywar Unit Hitting Morale of VC in Vietnam” mentions the 6th PSYOP Battalion mission over the Mu Gia Pass:

The Battalion has designed, printed, processed, loaded and delivered more than a half billion leaflets…We can print one million leaflets in support of any given mission within a 24-hour period. We printed three million leaflets on three different occasions in support of the Mu Gia Pass bombing in North Vietnam.

Colonel Perry L. Lamy, USAF, discusses the air campaign over Laos in Barrel Roll 1968-1973, An Air Campaign in Support of National Policy.

Barrel Roll (1968-73) was the US air campaign conducted over northern Laos in support of the Royal Laotian Government (RLG). Although the campaign supported US national policy in Southeast Asia (SEA), it was constrained by US military strategy and objectives in South Vietnam and responded to North Vietnamese military strategy and objectives. The mission of Barrel Roll was to conduct air operations in support of the RLG by (1) interdicting enemy supplies moving through northern Laos and (2) providing air support for Laotian ground forces fighting the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao. The last four years of Barrel Roll—from November 1968 to February 1973—hold especial interest due to changes in US national and military strategy in SEA.

In the southern panhandle, Steel Tiger involved the interdiction of the Ho Chi Minh trail used by North Vietnam to prosecute their war in South Vietnam. In northern Laos, a different war was fought. Barrel Roll provided air support for the ground forces of the RLG fighting communist insurgents. The survival of the RLG and ultimately Laos as a neutral country was the object of this war. 551,552 fighter attack sorties—almost 60 percent of the "out-of-country" effort—and an additional 391,380 support sorties. The costs of this contest are equally staggering: 493 aircraft lost, more than 400 US military persons killed, 505 individuals missing in action, a generation of Hmong citizenry lost, and $1.4 billion in US military assistance spent.

A Kennedy directive in 1962 charged the US ambassador in Vientiane with US activities in Laos. The embassy and staff organized to conduct a covert war. The ambassador submitted and validated targets for strike and approved all strikes in Laos. He controlled the air war through a set of stringent rules of engagement (ROE). Several agencies within the embassy advised the ambassador on the war effort. The CIA assumed the pseudonym controlled American source (CAS). CAS directed the ground war by training and advising the Hmong and Thai Special guerrilla units.

The nature of the conflict in Laos created a theater of operations separate from the rest of Southeast Asia (SEA). "Out-of-country" "up-country", "extreme western DMZ", "over-the-fence", and the "secret war" were terms used to characterize US military involvement in Laos.

In the southern panhandle, STEEL TIGER, involved the interdiction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail used by North Vietnam to prosecute their war in South Vietnam. In northern Laos a very different war was fought. BARREL ROLL provided air support for the ground forces of the Royal Lao Government (RLG) fighting Communist insurgents. The survival of the RLG and ultimately Laos as a neutral country was the object of this war.

Tactical aircraft used in BARREL ROLL for strike operations included USAF A-1, B-57, F-105, F-4, F-100, and F-111. Gun ships such as the AC-47, AC-119, and AC-130 were employed for truck interdiction and night air support to defend Lima Sites. The O-1, O-2, U-17, T-28, and OV-10 were used to provide visual reconnaissance and strike control. B-52 ARCLIGHT sorties were occasionally employed beginning in February 1970 against tactical targets with operational level results.

A system of almost 200 airfields called Lima Sites was developed during the early 1960s. Throughout the war, these Lima Sites proved vital to the ground operations of the Hmong irregulars.

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A Highly Modified Navy NP-2H Neptune Aircraft

It was not just the Army and the Air Force that flew over Laos. The Navy was there too. Robert Zafran was a young Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade who flew the Ho Chi Minh Trail from August to December 1967. He was part of a joint Navy/CIA operation called “Muddy Hill” (Task Group 50.8) that flew highly modified Navy Neptune aircraft equipped with state of the art electronics that included infrared detection, low illumination television, starlight scope, terrain following radar, a 70mm reconnaissance camera, electronic countermeasures, and active magnetic anomaly detection systems from Udorn Thani Royal Thai Air Force Base on low level, night reconnaissance combat missions over Laos and the Ho Chi Minh Trail.The aircraft were painted with a high-gloss "black widow black" paint (first used by WWII U.S. night-fighters). Some of these aircraft later were assigned to VO-67, which is mentioned in the next paragraph.

Another of the secret units designated to drop the sensors was U.S. Navy Observation Squadron 67. The members called themselves “the Ghost Squadron.” They flew from Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, just across the Mekong River from Laos. Their primary mission was over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, but they also performed missions in South Vietnam. They also flew the Lockheed P-2 Neptune, a 1950s-era anti-submarine patrol airplane from Thailand into Laos and dropped camouflaged sensors along the trail. The squadron's planes were heavily modified for the mission, including the addition of M-60 machine guns, an armored belly and a jungle-green paint scheme.

We should note here that the 1971-1972 MACVSOG Command History – Index B says that Prairie Fire was later known as Phu Dung. It explains that:

This was the SOG operation of reconnaissance and interdiction to counter infiltration of enemy forces through Laos. U.S. and Vietnam Air Force aircraft were authorized to infiltrate, exfiltrate and resupply Phu Dung forces. U.S. tactical air, fixed wing and rotary wing gun-ships were authorized to employ within the full depth of the Phu Dung Area of Operations to exploit targets of opportunity…Phu Dung is the name of the illusion appearing to opium smokers, a widely produced commodity in Laos.

The Department of State U.S. Foreign Relations Series Laos Volume (1954-1968) adds:

The United States increasingly became involved in fighting a war against Pathet Lao/North Vietnamese forces in Laos during the Johnson administration. Laos, a small, poor, sparsely-populated kingdom, became entangled in the Vietnam war because of its geographic position. The Kennedy administration had hoped to neutralize Laos and insulate it from the conflict, but failed because of North Vietnam's insistence on controlling the infiltration routes into South Vietnam. During 1964-1968,

During the first few months of 1964, the Pathet Lao/North Vietnamese forces again threatened the Plain of Jars, the strategic gateway to the Mekong valley, where most of the Lao population lived. Johnson and his advisers considered sending U.S. troops to Thailand as had been done in 1962, but settled instead on a series of incremental steps that included sending Air America pilots and propeller driven T-28 planes to reinforce the fledgling Lao Air Force and upgrading the Lao Air Force's bombing capabilities.

Differences of opinion in the administration arose over Laos policy. The Department of Defense and General Westmoreland wanted to carry the secret war across the border against the Ho Chi Minh trail. The Department of State and Ambassador Leonard Unger feared such a plan would shred what remained of the 1962 Geneva Accords and topple neutralist Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma. The Central Intelligence Agency concentrated on its "quiet war," supporting, supplying, and directing Hmong guerrillas to harass the North Vietnamese in Laos.

Despite continued differences of opinion among U.S. policy makers, after 1965 the trend was one of steady escalation of the war in Laos…Vietnam Commander William Westmoreland expanded covert cross border operations into Laos by South Vietnamese troops led by U.S. Green Berets. The secret air war against the Ho Chi Minh trail and in the north of Laos expanded exponentially.

Colonel Lamy adds:

There were a variety of reasons for covertness. The ruse of neutrality was primary, along with the desire of the US to avoid embarrassing the Soviets. Since Khrushchev and Kennedy had jointly agreed on Laotian neutrality in 1961, overt involvement by the US in Laos would have forced the Soviets to respond directly. Overt action or public disclosure of US involvement would then force the Soviets to “close ranks” with their communist brothers. The Soviets were satisfied to "look the other way" in order to limit Chinese hegemony in Southeast Asia.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Marshall Green said in his 7 November 1964 paper “Immediate Actions in the Period Prior to Decision.”

There are now 27 T-28 aircraft in Laos, of which 22 are in operation. CINCPAC has taken action…to build this inventory back up to 40 aircraft…

In recent weeks, the T-28’s have been dropping a large number of surrender leaflets on many of their missions. These have already led, in some cases, to Pathet Lao defections.

We should also mention a very strange and prophetic war game that was played by United States Joint Chiefs of Staff in the National Military Command Center in 1963. The results of the game were absolutely correct, but as so often happens, contested by some military officers and ignored by the politicians. The play was to cover 10 years, and determine what would happen if the United States became involved in Vietnam. At the end of the decade, 1972 in game time, the North Vietnamese controlled all the countryside in South Vietnam, had taken over Laos, and had complete freedom of movement in Cambodia. During the game the USAF had heavily bombed the enemy and 500,000 American troops were deployed. As might be expected, Air Force General Curtis LeMay contested the results stating that his aircraft could bomb the Vietnamese back to the Stone Age. He also believed that American camps and installations could be protected from guerrilla attacks. In fact, the results of the game were exactly correct and over 50,000 U.S. lives might have been spared if someone had paid attention.

One sometimes wonders why they bother to play these games. I like to use personal anecdotes when I can and recall that at one time I took part in a war game that was played on an annual basis. I recall one unit being destroyed and a full bird colonel being told his unit was gone. He got very upset and told everyone in a loud voice, “I didn’t bring my staff all the way here to be knocked off the board on the first day.” Apparently he made enough noise; the monitors placed his unit back into the game. 

This is just a brief review of what was going on in Laos. We will not attempt to tell the story of that war. That is a job for a military tactician. We will describe and depict some of the psychological warfare leaflets used in Laos to demoralize the communists and to motivate the Royal Lao Armed Forces and the Lao people.

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Long Tieng

An Air Commando who was stationed at LS-20A (Long Tieng) and LS-153 (Mouang Kassy) told me:

Those of us who fought the war from Laos have always considered it to have been more important than the coverage indicated. But since the whole mess was classified as “never happening” and those who fought there “didn't exist” it is no wonder that most people who are knowledgeable about the war in Viet Nam will dismiss Laos as a sideshow.

Long Tiene at Night – It Looks Like a Small City

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Hmong General Vang Pao, some of his Staff, Thai and CIA Officials

Hmong General Vang Pao, holding hands with Thai Army Chief Of Staff, Surakij Mayalab, overlooking Hmong-CIA headquarters, Long Tieng, Laos. To the left of Surakij Mayalab with shaved head is CIA case officer, Burr Smith. The rest of the men in the photo are Thai, from the elite CIA trained unit call PARU, or Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit, and Royal Thai Army, both of which served in Laos with Lao-Hmong forces.

Another Photo of a Young General Vang Pao 

Laos regained limited independence from France on 19 July 1949 as a constitutional monarchy and full independence at the end of 1954. The nation consisted of political ideologies from communist to conservative to neutralist. The Communist forces were made up of Prince Chao Souphanouvong (The Red Prince), Kaysone Phomvihane, the Pathet Lao and their North Vietnamese allies (supported by Red China and the USSR). The pro-Western forces included King Savang Vatthana, Prince Boun Oum, General Phoumi Nosavan and the Hmong guerrillas and militia led by General Vang Pao (backed secretly by the U.S. Government and its Central Intelligence Agency). The neutralists consisted of Prince Souvanna Phouma, General Kong Le, and the Royal Lao Government.

The 2010 report: RAND in Southeast Asia - A History of the Vietnam War Era, implies that the “Red Prince” might not have politics in his mind as much as personal gain

The prototypical Lao revolutionary was Prince Souphanouvong, who was married to a Vietnamese follower of Ho Chi Minh. Prior to his return to Laos in 1945, Souphanouvong had spent most of his adult life outside of Laos, largely in Vietnam as a student and then as an engineer. He had more interaction with Vietnamese than he did with the Lao of his generation. He spoke fluent Vietnamese and may have felt more of an intellectual affinity with the educated Vietnamese than with the Lao from his upper class. In general, he deplored the political passivity of the Lao and their disinclination to take action, and he admired the dynamism of the Vietnamese. However, his cooperation with the Vietnamese may well have stemmed more from pragmatic than from ideological considerations. He was ambitious, but in family hierarchy, he was the younger brother to two famous aristocrats: Prince Phetsarath, a leader of the Lao nationalist independence movement; and Prince Souvanna Phouma. His lack of seniority would make it difficult for him to reach the top leadership position. Besides, during the colonial era, his brothers could count on the support of Thailand, so he believed that only by securing Vietnamese assistance would he be able to compete and climb to the highest leadership position.

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Prince Souvanna Phouma

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His Highness Prince Souvanna Phouma, Prime Minister
Prepared possibly by the United States Information Service or the 7th PSYOP Group
Printed prior to 1969 – No codes

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Pro-Government Army Poster 12-2-19

Perhaps the most impressive Lao poster in my possession is this 1971 large 21 x 29-inch full-color product printed by the 7th PSYOP Group. A Laotian soldier is seen in the forefront holding his flag while behind him massed Lao civilian wave their flags. It is a very patriotic scene. The text is:

21st Celebration of the Formation of the Army 23 March 1971

The nation exists because soldiers and people are together resolved to fight the enemy.
Army Day expresses the commitment of our brave troops to defend our sovereignty.
The nation endures as the sky and the land because the soldiers and people are strongly entwined together in the struggle.
Nation, honor, discipline, courage, unity, fortitude and sacrifice.

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The Peoples of Laos…

A second Laotian poster is very similar to the first. It depicts a brave Laotian soldier being admired by people of several ethnic groups. The text on this poster is:

The peoples of Laos of all ethnic groups give their constant support
to the nation's brave soldiers

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Laos Air Force Poster

The poster features the Royal Laotian Air Force. Behind the brave pilot is a North American T-28 Trojan fighter, a Sikorsky H-34 helicopter and a Douglas C-47 Skytrain cargo aircraft. The text is:

All the peoples of Laos give their constant support to all units of the Nation’s brave fighters

Two Laotian Pilots

The Laotian pilots were very brave and as the war went on, they had many losses. These two T-28 pilots are Captain Vang Seng (KIA 1971) and Major Vang Sue (KIA 1972).

The way the Laotians used to deliver leaflets was to tuck them into the dive brakes of a T-28. The pilot would line up the target, dive low, then open the dive brakes to scatter the leaflets. Irvin Clacker would deliver leaflets in his O-1; he packed the bundles with a time-fuse for dropping. The leaflet program was called “litter Bug” by the Military while the CIA called them “Bubble Gum,” after the name of a Vientiane prostitute. One of the CIA leaflets depicted the prostitute standing naked in high-heeled shoes in one of the local taverns in Vientiane. The message was “Come on down. Surrender and meet Bubble Gum.”

The Royal Lao Air Force (RLAF), was the air force component of the Royal Lao Armed Forces (FAR), the official military of the Royal Lao Government and the Kingdom of Laos during the Laotian Civil War between 1960 and 1975. During the 1960s, the RLAF came to carry the weight of the battle against Vietnamese communist invaders and local Pathet Lao insurgents. Despite its continual drain of heavy pilot and aircraft losses, the RLAF grew to the point where it flew 30,000 combat sorties annually against its enemies in the years 1970 through 1972, as well performing essential logistics duties.

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Laos Alphabet Poster

This poster was obviously used to help students and perhaps adults learn the alphabet. There is a short poem at the bottom that basically says that all of the people are Lao and they should work together to help and support each other.

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Laos Tourist Poster

The tourism poster was added because the veteran that spent his tour in Laos told me it was the only one for the kingdom of Laos that he had ever seen. He thought that there were surely others, but they are rare after years of Communist rule. This one was published in Thailand. Until recently, Laos was not a major tourist destination.

Conflicts among neutralist, communist, and conservative factions led to increasingly chaotic and violent conflicts, particularly after 1960. The formal Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos, signed on 23 July 1962, provided for a coalition government and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country by 7 October, and the three factions formed a coalition government with Prince Souvanna Phouma as premier.

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The Ho Chi Minh Trail
Out of Bounds: Transnational Sanctuary in Irregular Warfare

Thomas A. Bruscino, Jr.

By 1964, the communist Pathet Lao had withdrawn from the coalition and renewed guerilla actions with support from North Vietnam. With the war heating up in Vietnam, the United States got more deeply involved in Laos by interdicting traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and trying to force North Vietnam to pull some front-line units out of Vietnam and into Laos. In addition, the United States had aircraft and communication bases in Laos, including the 4500-foot elevation Lima Site 85 (Pha Thi), loaded with modern electronic equipment to aid the USAF in its missions over North Vietnam.

Laos was divided into five Military Regions (MR). MR I was in the northwest, including Luang Prabang and the borders with Burma and China; MR II was in the northeast, including Long Tieng, Sam Neua and Sam Thong; MR III consisted of the central panhandle region, including Savannakhet and much of the Ho Chi Minh trail. MR IV was in the south, including Pakse and the Bolovens Plateau; finally MR V consisted of the neutral zone around Vientiane.

Early in the war, there were plans to use local Lao tribes as part of an American-led resistance movement. This plan was forwarded to American Ambassador Sullivan who was concerned that it might be impossible to limit and control such an operation. Furthermore, if the resistance got into trouble, there would be no way to militarily support them, which might result in their very embarrassing slaughter.

Turkoly-Joczik mentions Sullivan in his paper:

The name of the first series of SOG patrols into Laos was “Shining Brass” (later renamed “Prairie Fire”) conducted between 1965 and 1969. These patrols began when intelligence reports indicated that the Ho Chi Minh Trail was expanding to meet the increasing demand for men and material in the South. To determine the nature and location of these activities in Laos, the OPS-35 forces conducted reconnaissance missions with units known as “Spike Teams” comprising six to twelve men (two to four U.S. personnel and four to eight indigenous personnel).

The U.S. Congressional Record of September 1973 revealed the increasing frequency of Prairie Fire missions when it disclosed that between September 1965 and April 1972, SOG conducted 1,579 reconnaissance patrols, 216 platoon-sized patrols, and three multi-platoon-sized operations in Laos.

The Prairie Fire operations were always subject to the approval or disapproval of the U.S. Ambassador in Laos, William H. Sullivan. Sullivan’s behavior and actions earned him some enmity from the U.S. military and he was frequently referred to as “the field marshal.” General William Westmoreland noted an example of the difficulties experienced with the Ambassador when he said, “Bill Sullivan had a tendency to impose his own restrictions over and above those laid on by the Department of State. We sometimes referred to the Ho Chi Minh Trail as Sullivan’s Freeway.”

Sullivan’s concern about the SOG’s operations stemmed from his desire to ensure that civilians did not become casualties from any misdirected attacks. He was also concerned about how the Soviet Union might interpret America’s military actions. Sullivan enjoyed a close personal relationship with the Soviet Ambassador to Laos, Boris Kornissovsky.

Most people believed that the Lao guerillas were in charge of their anti-government war but if we are to believe authors Paul F. Langer and Joseph J. Zasloff in North Vietnam and the Pathet Lao – Partners in the Struggle for Laos, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1970, that is not exactly true. The authors point out that the Lao Communists were trained, led, paid, and armed by the Vietnamese. In fact, we find the same comments that we heard from American advisors training South Vietnamese soldiers. The Americans said that the South Vietnamese were not patriotic, not motivated and very likely to desert in a fire fight. The exact same language is used by North Vietnamese advisors to the Pathet Lao. One North Vietnamese officer said that if a Vietnamese soldier ever admitted that he wanted to desert he would be immediately brought before a tribunal, and if he did desert and return home, his family would be shamed and lose “face.” If a Lao soldier said the same thing, it would be ignored, and if he returned home his family would rejoice that he escaped from the war.

Amidst the Vietnam War in 1970, the U.S. increased its military activities, but after Pathet Lao military gains, in May 1975 the Royal Lao government forces ceased fighting and the Pathet Lao took control. A Lao People's Democratic Republic, strongly influenced by Vietnam, was proclaimed 3 December 1975. The Republic of Vietnam and the United States Government directed several PSYOP campaigns targeting enemy troops in both Laos and Cambodia


We don’t know much about the American aid to Laotian PSYOP, but there is an interesting 1961 letter from General Phoumi to his staff that lists the early American involvement. It points out that the Royal Lao Government desires peace without the spilling of blood. It realizes that a strong PSYOP program is needed to win over the enemy and keep the support of the people. The threat of the Viet Cong and the Pathet Lao that constantly lie to the people must be countered. In answer to this problem, the United States has made 12 PSYOP specialists available until July of that year.

[There is no mention if they are military or civilian, and they are identified as “Mister," and they could be CIA, but I suspect we can bet the house they are military].

The specialists will be used to teach the Laotian troops the following:

Troop Indoctrination: teach the troops how to talk to the people in the villages to counter the enemy lies.

Village Orientation: Lao Government Information Teams will show motion pictures and distribute printed material designed to get the support of the villagers; and develop propaganda in support of combat operations.

Radio Operations: development of a radio broadcasting network is essential for the education and training of our troops and informing the people of our aims and projects to better their lives.

The specialists will be available in all the regions. They should work with the officers assigned to PSYOP, G5, or with the Operation, Plans and Training Section.

Celeski says:

The predominance of Psywar activities were implemented by the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States Information Service (USIS), USAID, the 7/13th Air Force Psychological Operations directorate (in conjunction with targeting cells), MACV, and the Laotian Psychological Operations staff Directorate. No U.S. Army Psychological Operations units were deployed into Laos during the early years of involvement… For strictly air-delivered PSYOP, these were coordinated and tasked to various flight detachments and their crews by the 7th Air Force’s Deputy of Operations, Special Operations Division. The 7th PSYOP Group in Okinawa had primary responsibility to prepare and deliver Laos leaflets and PSYOP material for the Ho Chi Minh Trail PSYOP campaign, then later, the Laotian Fountain Pen program.

Although lacking presence down in the field, Psychological Operations detachments augmented the MAAG in the 1961 through 1962 advisory period, and Psychological Operations support to Laos was provided by the 4th Psychological Operations Group and its four regional Detachments stationed throughout South Vietnam…There was one exception to lack of PSYOPs units to support American on the ground in Laos: the U-10 Helio Courier Section in the 606th SOS, 56th SOW (Air Commandos), responsible for loudspeaker and leaflet drops over Laos. Loudspeaker operations were code-named “Loudmouth” and leaflet operations were code-named “Litter-bug”.

The total US PSYOP program for Laos included support for printing leaflets and other paper products (booklets, calendars, etc.), audio-visual equipment for public affairs teams, aerial loudspeaker and leaflet drops, and RLG ground information teams. The United States additionally supported education and literacy programs.

In 1966, The Royal Thai Army created the 93rd PSYOP Company. The 93rd was assigned to the Royal Thai Special Warfare Center in Lopburi. It participated in providing PSYOP training to the Lao and Hmong who were covertly trained in Thailand during the 1960s and early 1970s, as well as to provide PSYOP instruction to the Thai volunteer battalions prior to their deployment into Laos.

The delivery of PSYOPs materials was conducted via hand-to-hand, commercial marketing, artillery, or by air delivery. In Laos, PSYOP product dissemination and delivery were generally through face-to-face meetings with the populace, various printed materials, and radio. Air delivery of printed products, loudspeakers mounted on aircraft, and government counterpropaganda radio were the primary means to get PSYOP products into the hands of the populace and for use against enemy forces.

On the RLG side, Laotian officers were sent to Fort Bragg to attend a yearlong PSYOP course, supplemented by assistance from the Security Training Center at Fort McKinley outside of Manila, operated by the Philippine government as a countersubversion, counterguerrilla and PSYWAR school. This school was covertly sponsored by the United States through the intelligence offices of the country team. Although not confirmed, the Royal Thai military and its various counterinsurgency and PSYWAR schools—assisted by US PSYOP augmentees of the Joint United States Military Assistance Group–Thailand (JUSMAGTHAI) staff in Bangkok—were most likely assets for Laotian PSYWAR training. In 1966, The Royal Thai Army created the 93rd PSYOP Company.

Other means of dissemination included movies, plays, posters, calendars, leaflets, and handbills. Delivery methods were face-to-face along with dissemination through markets and businesses. Very little is known on whether the Laotians used artillery-delivered leaflets; however, where it could be accomplished, leaflets were loaded into the aileron slats of T-28s and "dive-bombed" onto enemy positions. Effective antiaircraft (AA) fires minimized this delivery technique.

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Major Ray Ambrozak

There have been many Psychological operations that mentioned spiritual creatures as a theme, usually to frighten the target. The United States printed leaflets showing Demons and a vampire cat for the Japanese, in Vietnam there was “Wandering Soul” with the spirits of the dead walking the Earth, and in Afghanistan leaflets depicted the evil Jinn with wanted terrorists. There have also been bottles used in some rare operations, the Israelis had no bombs so dropped seltzer bottles on the Arabs during their war for independence. The bottles exploded and sounded like bombs. The U.S. floated propaganda into Vietnam in bottles, and the Nationalist and Communist Chinese sent leaflets in bottles to each other. Most famously, during Operation Desert Storm, leaflet-filled water bottles held Iraqi forces to the beaches waiting for a seaborne attack. Retired Major Raymond P. Ambrozak tells us of an operation that combines the two in “Operation Genie.”

In 1961, Ray was a member of a PSYOP team that was deployed to support Operation White Star in Laos. He wore civilian clothes, since in theory, according to the politicians, foreign military personnel were not allowed in country. Ray said that nothing was undertaken without considering directly or indirectly the psychological impact of a proposal. There was also no limit on how audacious a particular action could be before considered for implementation. You did not have to worry about thinking outside the box, because there was never a box to begin with.

Ray Ambrozak and a Pathet Lao Prisoner-of-war taking a break sitting on an antenna.
Ray ran the station dedicated to the King of Laos in Luang Prabang

On one occasion experts from the United States Information Service and Central Intelligence Agency determined that there were evil spirits that the Lao people called Phi that might be used for propaganda purposes. There are hundreds, if not thousands of different types of these phi documented in Lao folktales and other sources. Some of the more common ones include the Phi Ban who are the village spirits. The Phi Taihong are spirits of the violently killed and very dangerous. The Phi Borisat are nameless evil spirits. Ray said:

The Phi were invisible mystical spirits that were revered and feared by the Lao. We stuffed leaflets into bottles which when dropped from an aircraft would make the strange whistling sound of the Phi. The pilot would throttle back the engine and glide almost silently over a village as the bottles were thrown out. The bottles would break open upon hitting the ground and the leaflets would scatter over the ground. The leaflets told the Lao to break away from the Pathet Lao as the Phi imprisoned in the bottles had done.

Ray mentioned this operation years later in the Sentinel, Volume 12, Issue 3, March 2021. He said a bit more in this article:

We would then stuff them with leaflets before airdropping them over villages known to be under Pathet Cham control. They would break open and scatter the leaflets when they hit the ground, illustrated leaflets urging the villagers to “break” from the Pathet Cham like the “imprisoned” Phi had done. Since most Cham could not read, we drew caricatures of fang toothed Pathet Cham, and we ran off the leaflets on a mimeograph machine. I requested a small plane from Viensiang to drop the leaflets. We dropped bottles over twelve villages before returning to Luang Prabat.

Ray also mentioned the occasional difficulty in the delivery of leaflets to Laos. He said:

One time we knew there was a large force of Pathet Lao moving up a valley toward a nearby mountain. We did not want the leaflets scattered all over both sides of the mountains and wasted so we asked the pilot to fly low. We felt that in order to hit the target we had to be at a low altitude. Sometimes the pilot refused to fly that low for safety reasons and we had an improvised answer. A bundle of leaflets would be tied with the knot around the blasting cap. We were not sure of the exact time we needed to get the leaflets to spread at the correct altitude so I would prepare the fuses at various lengths for test drops. A flattened beer can was placed between the cap and the leaflet to prevent the leaflet from being damaged or scorched. We would take the door off the aircraft and I would harness myself to a D-ring in the floor of the aircraft. I would lean out the door and using a lit cigar that could stand up to the prop blast I would light the fuse and drop our little homemade contraption and make sure that the leaflets were properly disseminated.

Note: Ray makes a good point. The United States often used artillery to deliver leaflets and the result of the shell exploding often crinkled the leaflets and singed the edges. Sometimes the leaflets were so distorted that they could hardly be read.

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2LT Ray Ambrozak (left, standing) and interagency partners from U.S. Operations Mission (USOM) (Dallas C. Voran, center, rear) and USIS (unknown, left, kneeling) pose with Laotian counterparts in Luang Prabang.

Second Lieutenant Ambrozak is mentioned again in the Dr. Jared M. Tracy article “More than Shoot & Salute: U.S. Army Psywar in Laos,” VERITAS, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2018. I quote just small portions of the article for brevity:

In January 1961, a twelve-man team from the 1st Psywar Battalion deployed to Laos as part of a secretive, small-scale U.S. Army Special Warfare presence to advance U.S. strategic objectives in Southeast Asia. Assigned to the Programs Evaluation Office in the Laotian capital, Vientiane, the PSYWAR team offered multi-media PSYWAR support to U.S. agencies operating in-country, but its primary role was augmenting the U.S. Information Service. Afforded little preparation, guidance, or direction from higher headquarters, these soldiers relied heavily on their own education, experiences, and initiative.

The 1st Psywar Battalion provided no training regimen, so they developed their own. They built an “area study” to familiarize themselves with the people, culture, economy, and political situation in Laos. They parsed out each one of these areas to different members of the team. Once an individual completed his ‘class,’ he presented it to the group. In addition, the team received a crash course in the Lao language from a 7th Special Forces (SF) Group NCO (non-commissioned officer) who had spent a year in-country and had picked up 200–300 words. On 5 January 1961, the formal deployment order arrived. All twelve men were listed as ‘Mr.’ and given fake Department of Defense civilian GS grades on the orders.

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Organization Chart of Command Relationships in Laos,1961

Ambrozak received a call to return to Vientiane to develop a Pathet Lao Prisoner- of-War ‘re-orientation’ program. The team also established POW ‘discussion groups.’ 2LT Ambrozak had another priority: the completion of a radio station, Radio LUANG PRABANG, with a 60’ antenna tower, to reach audiences throughout the province. Specialist 4 Neil E. Lien developed a course on radio broadcasting in Vientiane for a group of Lao students recruited by the CIA. Private First Class William J. Dixon had three major tasks: (1) develop leaflets based on USIS directives; (2) conduct aerial leaflet drops; and (3) train the Laotian Army Propaganda and Intelligence (P&I) Company OIC, a captain. Leaflets promoted host nation legitimacy, anti-Communism, and public health and welfare messages. “The one we got the biggest kick out of was Vietnamese Eat Dogs,” Dixon recalled. “In Laos, dogs were revered. The Lao would never kill them. In fact, older dogs would simply die of natural causes, lie around in the street, and get bloated, because the Laotians would never put them down or handle their corpses. However, the North Vietnamese would kill dogs, which irritated the Laotians.

The 16 September 1968 declassified secret USAF report: Psychological Operations by the United States Air Force and the Vietnamese Air Force in South Vietnam says about the PSYOP war in Laos:

The USAF has supported Psychological Operations in South Vietnam and Laos with leaflet drops and loudspeaker broadcasts starting in 1965… This Trail campaign is a program against NVA infiltrators. It was initiated in January 1966, and has gradually increased in intensity since that time. It consists principally of leaflet and loudspeaker operations directed at way stations, staging and supply areas, and the routes and trails leading to these areas, which are located in North Vietnam, the Laotian Panhandle, the Laos-Republic of Vietnam Border areas and the Cambodian- Republic of Vietnam Border areas. Thematic content is designed to create fear, anxiety, and insecurity in the North Vietnamese Army soldiers on their way to South Vietnam, in order to cause defection, desertion and a loss of effectiveness in the units.

The requirements and material for the interdiction campaign in Laos comes from two origins, MACV/JUSPAO in Saigon and a Controlled American Source in Laos. Since the material is being distributed in Laos, the U.S. Embassy there must approve all operations. The largest number of leaflets come from JUSPAO/MACV and are distributed from the eastern side by the 14th Air Commando Wing and from the western side by the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing mission at Ubon. The 14th Air Commando Wing usually accomplishes these missions with C-47 aircraft. Material from the Controlled American Source is distributed from Nakhon Phanom RTAFB, Thailand, by the 56th Air Commando Wing under operational control of the 7/13th Air Force headquartered at Udorn. These operations consist of leaflet drops as well as loudspeaker broadcasts. The leaflet drops are accomplished in low-threat areas by means of U-10 aircraft of the 606th Air Commando Squadron.

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This is one of the aircraft that clandestinely dropped leaflets into Laos and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The photo is from the collection of Major “Dusty” Rhodes, Detachment 12 of 1131 Special Activities Squadron “Heavy Hook,” Nha Trang AB, RVN.

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Major “Dusty” Rhodes
Instructor Pilot in the UC-123K.

I was told by another veteran that the equipment onboard these black special operations platforms was truly exotic, to the point it allowed them to penetrate & transient “denied airspace.” The story of these aircraft is told in the article “Vietnam’s Most Secret Squadron” in the USASOC publication Tip of the Spear, January 2010.I have edited the text heavily. Some of the comments are:

When MACSOG was set up in early 1964, the U.S. Air Force had virtually no capability to fly the kinds of covert air missions contemplated for OPLAN 34A (unconventional warfare). In order to give the U.S. government the “plausible deniability” it desired, the Air Force would rely on non-American “third country” foreign nationals to fly the missions over North Vietnam. Seven crews from the Republic of China on Taiwan (C Crews) and three crews of Vietnamese (V Crews) were recruited as First Flight’s primary flyers. Later there were four American crews (A Crews). In early 1964 the Air Force secretly assigned six of its C-123Bs to MACSOG under the codename Project Duck Hook.

For SOG operations, the Duck Hook C-123s received new navigation equipment, additional radios and surface-to-air missile radar detectors. Also, new crew stations were created for an electronic warfare officer and a radio operator. The Duck Hook C-123s were also “sanitized” and official records of the six Duck Hook C-123s were deleted from Air Force files. In December 1964, Flight Detachment began flying covert missions over North Vietnam. Leaflet drops were among the most dangerous missions because they required the C-123 crews to leave the relative safety of low altitude as they neared their target area to quickly climb to a much higher altitude where they would release their leaflets so they could flutter down far and wide. This tactic greatly increased the crew’s exposure to detection by enemy radar and engagement by SAMs or MiGs.

C-123 instructor pilot Major Fred Heitzhausen, recalls his first leaflet drop as "the scariest, spookiest night of my life." Immediately after completing the leaflet drop at 14,000 feet, Heitzhausen pulled off all engine power, rolled his plane over into a steep 90 degree bank, then plunged down toward the pitch black jungle below, diving 4,000 feet in only 40 seconds to get to low altitude as quickly as possible to minimize exposure to the enemy defenses. It took him another 5,000 feet of altitude just to pull out of the dive without hitting the ground. The pilot remembers this not-quite-by-the-book combat tactic as "a hairy maneuver, to say the least."

In 1965 Johnson approved an expansion of SOG’s covert operations into the officially off-limits territories of Laos and Cambodia. In their second year of operation, the White House authorized the “A” crews to begin flying missions over North Vietnam. In early 1972 it was finally decided to shut down MACSOG’s operations in accordance with Nixon’s “Vietnamization” strategy which included the steady withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Southeast Asia. The unit lost four of C-123s and their crews. None of the planes went down in the “denied” territory of North Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia.

PSYOP Intelligence Notes

The 7th PSYOP Group did constant research on all the nations involved in the Vietnam War. This 3 June 1971 issue is entirely devoted to a study of Laos. Some of the 19 chapters are: The people, Training and education, Political activities, Religion and ideology, Knowledge, beliefs and information, Health and welfare, and Cultural milieu.

The U.S. Army 7th PSYOP Group wrote a PSYOP Intelligence Special Report in February 1972. It says in part:

Both the Royal Laotian Government and the Pathet Lao had a variety of PSYOP programs designed to reach various target groups within Lao society.

Government themes are addressed to the whole country as well as special audiences: Lao-Thai mercenaries, commercial circles, military forces, the Pathet Lao, farmers, other ethnic groups, monks and the youth. The Government objectives are to reduce the combat efficiency of the enemy, to stress the goodwill of the U.S., to convince enemy troops to defect, and to carry out plans for economic development while educating the people.

To carry out these goals the Government uses posters, leaflets, motion pictures, still pictures, cartoons, travelling theatre groups, PSYOP teams, loudspeaker programs, radio broadcasts and printed media. The Government has five radio stations which transmit to an estimated 70,000 radio receivers in the country. The Government publishes Khao Phap Pacham Sapda, a weekly news and photo sheet with a circulation of 20,000.The value of leaflets were shown when large numbers of the enemy defected and stated that leaflets and loudspeaker programs were influential in their decision to desert.

The Pathet Lao themes are directed at the youth, ethnic minorities, religious leaders and Royal Lao troops. Pathet Lao themes claim corruption and graft in the government. The Pathet Lao direct the “war monger” theme to all sections of the society. Along with this is an anti-U.S. propaganda program designed for Lao troops. It asks the troops to defect to the “rightful” side. The Pathet Lao use radio, propaganda teams, motion pictures and printed media, including leaflets and a newspaper called the Lao Hak Sat. Four radio stations broadcast in support of the Pathet Lao: Radio Peking, Radio Pathet Lao, Radio of the Patriotic Neutral Forces and, and Liberation Radio (Vietnam).

The enemy’s use of radio was mentioned in a secret memorandum written by Henry Kissinger to President Richard Nixon on 15 July 1972. Kissinger says:

The Neutralist Front Radio, the Voice of the Laotian Communist Front, on 28 June angrily denounced the “thousands” of psychological activities which are “aimed at causing confusion by splitting the unity of the armed forces and the people. Moreover, they employ tactics to split the unity of Laos and Vietnam.” The broadcast continued to cite examples – “They set up fake radios to distort the revolution and deceive the people. They use newspapers to make slanderous charges; they drop agents into populated areas to unite the people and at the same time use airplanes to drop propaganda leaflets.”

Speaking of the 7th PSYOP Group, another report stated that the 7th PSYOP Group shipped leaflets in Conex boxes by boat from Okinawa to Thailand, and then transported the material by flatbed trucks over 400 miles to the Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB) at Nakhon Phanom. Strategic themed leaflets were controlled and approved by the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane.

The Republic of Vietnam and the United States government directed several PSYOP campaigns targeting enemy troops in both Laos and Cambodia. Before we discuss the leaflets dropped on the Laotians, we should mention that many of the Allied PSYOP leaflets were also dropped on Vietnamese troops who were coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos. Some were all in Vietnamese text; others had Vietnamese on one side and Laotian on the other side. About a dozen of the trail leaflets coded with a “T” mentioned Laos. We depict three below.

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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. The back is all text:


You probably won't hear it. It flies too high. It is a B-52 bomber, used by the South Vietnamese people's powerful American allies to blast aggressors out of their hiding places. One B-52 carries 29,700 kilos of bombs and can drop them with pin-point accuracy, dealing certain death to everyone within the target area. The B-52 can strike you at any time during all seasons and weather conditions.

Your chance to avoid this fate will come. Look for your safe conduct pass.

This leaflet is specifically mentioned by Stanley Sandler in Cease resistance: It’s Good for You: A History of U.S. Army Combat Psychological Operations, 1999. Sandler adds:

A scrawled note on the translation sheet of this leaflet warns “Not to be used in Laos – per order of the Ambassador.” The bombing of Laos was a secret at the highest political levels.

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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. This leaflet is found with some red color, or with some blue color, or in black and white.

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:


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

The Lao text is:

Welcome and give all assistance to the bearer of this leaflet. Then bring them to talk to our officials’ at the most appropriate location.

Major General Ouane Rattikone
Commander in Chief, National Army

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Leaflet T-25

The 6th PSYOP Battalion in Vietnam requested that the 7th PSYOP Group in Okinawa print 6 million copies of Ho Chi Minh Trail leaflet T-25 with the theme: "Return home, seek refuge in Laos" to be delivered by 25 December 1967. This leaflet uses the theme of the TET holidays to entice the enemy to return home or seek refuge in Laos. The image depicts a happy and prosperous family celebrating the TET holidays. The back is all text and says:

To all North Vietnamese fighters:

Spring has returned. This is a time when you should be enjoying the happiness of family reunion in the North. Instead, you are walking through hostile jungles and mountains on foreign soil.

What has led you to this life of hardship? It is because you have been lured by the Party into believing that the South is in need of “Liberation” by the North. In reality, the South is living in prosperity. Your comrades have turned it into a sea of fiery war with consequences reaching all the way to the North. Your southern compatriots do not wish to be liberated by the North; they only wish to live in peace.

You can end this war and your hardships by choosing a cease-fire of your own. Deny the Party the use of your person as a tool to impose Party rule on South Vietnam.

Quit the Communist ranks, return to your homes, seek refuge with the Royal Lao Government, or, if you reach South Vietnamese territory, take the opportunity to rally to the Government of the Republic of Vietnam. This is the safest way to end the war and you hardships.

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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:


The back is all text:


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.

This leaflet was also printed with the Lao code .5 and mixed in with Laotian leaflets and dropped over the Pathet Lao probably assuming that there would be Vietnamese troops embedded with them.

The threat of not being buried near your ancestral home and having your spirit wander forever is found in dozens of propaganda leaflets. The allies used just such a campaign after the mysterious death of Pathet Lao general Phomma Douangmala in 1970. The C.I.A. claimed that the North Vietnamese had murdered the general and then left his body unburied. In addition, loudspeaker aircraft flew over Pathet Lao sites playing ghost music and a message allegedly in the voice of the dead general. We mention this kind of operation in more depth in The Wandering Soul PSYOP Tape of Vietnam. This campaign was very successful. A number of the general’s loyal troops defected to the National Government. One was Captain Thao Boualiene, Commander of the 25th Battalion, who went over to the Government with a platoon of soldiers. You will see a photograph of the captain on leaflets .511 and .520 near the end of this article. Bouanien gave information that allowed the USAF to bomb a North Vietnamese base camp. Later, his entire battalion defected.

Retired Colonel Joe Celeski mentions another threat in his monograph The Ambassadors’ SOF and the Secret War in Laos. He said in part:

As gunships came on-line to serve in Laos, propaganda leaflets were fired out of the flare launching devices of the AC-119K “Stingers”, most dropped along the Ho Chi Minh trail, targeted at NVA forces. The leaflet had a picture of the gunship on one side with “Rain of Death – here is the AC-119 that just attacked you” printed in Vietnamese. On the back were descriptions of the firepower and surveillance capabilities of the gunship, warning the NVA they would continue to die courtesy of the gunship if they did not give up the cause

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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 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.

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Leaflet T-71

The front of this leaflet depicts a cartoon of a North Vietnamese Army soldier questioning his unit political commissar. He asks:

Comrade Political Commissar. There is one thing I do not understand. If the liberation forces control four-fifths of the land and nearly four-fifths of the people in of the South, WHY DO WE HAVE TO HIDE IN THE JUNGLE AND MOUNTAINS OF LAOS?

Leaflets T-65, T-66, T-67 T-68, T-69 and T-70 all have Vietnamese text on the front and a Laotian safe conduct pass on the back that says:

Above is a Royal Lao Government Safe Conduct Pass. Present it to any soldier or government official. You will be warmly received.

A 7th PSYOP Group 1972 Intelligence Special Report on Psychological Operations in Laos mentions a number of Royal Laotian Government and Pathet Lao programs. The report states:

To carry out these goals the Government uses posters, leaflets, motion pictures, still pictures, cartoons, traveling theater groups PSYOP teams, loudspeaker programs, radio broadcasts, and printed media.

The Royal Lao Government has radio stations at Savannakhet, Pakse, Luang Prabang, Chimaimo, and Vientiane which transmit to an estimated 70,000 radio receivers in the country...The Lao publish Khao Phap Pacham Sapda, a weekly news and photo sheet that has a circulation of approximately 20,000 and reaches the largest number of illiterate people in the country.

Since most of the people are illiterate, radio and loudspeaker programs are the most effective from the standpoint of reaching numbers of people. The cartoons, plays, and to a lesser extent, leaflets are well received.

The report also mentions Pathet Lao psychological operations:

Pathet Lao themes are directed at youth, ethnic minorities, religious leaders, and government troops. Pathet Lao themes claim corruption and graft in the established government…The Pathet Lao direct the “war monger” theme to all sections of the society. Along with this is an anti-U.S. propaganda program designed for government troops. It stresses the righteousness of Pathet Lao programs and calls for the government troops to defect to the “rightful” side.

To carry out their objectives the Pathet Lao use radio, propaganda teams, motion pictures and printed media.

The U.S. military objectives for Laos were:

The withdrawal of all North Vietnamese troops followed by the re-establishment of the 1962 Geneva provisions. To accomplish this goal, US objectives were:

1) Maintain an outward appearance of strict neutrality for diplomatic reasons;

2) Maintain a relatively stable balance of political, military, and economic positions between the communist and the pro-US factions in Laos;

3) Maintain a friendly or at least neutral government on the borders of Thailand;

4) Achieve maximum attrition and disruption of North Vietnamese logistics flow through the use of air power.

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Our aircraft will continuously attack…

One of the most interesting Lao government leaflets depicts their aircraft attacking porters and soldiers bringing supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Text on the front is:

Our aircraft will continuously attack the people who aid the Viet Cong

The back of the leaflet bears a long threatening message that is written poorly, using a mix of Lao, Pathet Lao and Thai words. It says in part:

To the Heads of the villages in Viet Cong controlled areas,

We are deeply concerned with the peace and freedom of Lao people…But, many of the Lao people are living very dangerously and close to tragedy. You are still supporting and cooperating with our enemy, the North Vietnamese. Therefore, we want to reason with you in good faith. We need you to face the truth. We want you to understand the danger of helping the North Vietnamese. If the Lao people in these areas continue to support the Viet Cong, helps and cooperates with them, the only choice we have is to use our weapons and guns and bombs continuously to destroy the enemy.

Therefore, we warn everyone that we are dropping bombs that can destroy every living thing. We warn all citizens against riding in boats, riding motor cycles, bicycles and helping the enemy by supplying tools and repairing the roads used by the Viet Cong. We want you to understand that continued aid to our enemy will mean that the people living in the controlled areas will be targeted and bombed until nothing is left.

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Diary of an Infiltrator

It seems that the Vietnamese were not universally admired by the Laotians. In the Diary of an Infiltrator, a report translated from a captured diary in December 1966 we find daily comments from a North Vietnam soldier marching down the Trail:

Southern Laos. This place is miserable. The green jungle is full of birds twittering. Flies sting and sting and the holes don't stop bleeding.

Laotians came trading food for things we were carrying. It is forbidden, but many of the men do it anyway. Today I was caught trading some clothes for rice and was reprimanded. Then I discovered the sack of rice I had traded my last pair of pants for was a sack of dirt with just a layer of rice on top.

Had nothing to eat for a whole day. Found a wild vegetable which I ate, but was inedible. I thought I would die. Food is so precious. Rice is blood. Manioc is tears. Salt is perspiration. How powerful are hunger, thirst and weariness.

Lower Laos. Terrible hardships. Paths again steep. Heavy rains again every day. Loads we carry very heavy. Five men have died of malaria. I didn't think people died of malaria.

Spring also is coming to this land of Laos but the trees are Without leaves and the grass is withered. It is cold as ice at night.

Many stragglers. More rain. Must trade personal belongings to Laotians for food. They have only manioc or wild vegetable to trade. It is difficult to eat. Traded more belongings for food. I don’t have much left to trade.

Stricken with malaria today. I was afraid this would happen. Malaria affecting many of my comrades. Orders are to keep going, even if we must crawl.

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King Sisavangvatthana of Laos
Prepared possibly by the United States Information Service or the 7th PSYOP Group
Printed prior to 1969 – No codes

Kenneth Conboy, author of Shadow War: The CIA’s Secret War in Laos told me:

The leaflet operations by the Royal Lao government were somewhat limited, which reflected the limited extent of territorial control by that country's government for most of the war. They did some leaflet drops, but faced serious problems because the Royal Lao Air Force was propeller driver (read: slow) and they were running up against some very competent anti-aircraft coverage. Most of the Royal Lao Government leaflets I have seen have depictions of the King and apparently tried to feed off Lao loyalty to the throne. They also did some “white” radio operations. And, on one occasion, they feted a Pathet Lao battalion that defected to the government. Calendars and posters were printed up and widely distributed to mark the occasion.

By contrast, the psywar efforts of the U.S.-backed irregular forces were far more extensive. Relatively powerful radio stations were operated out of both Long Tieng and an airfield called PS 44 in the south. Some of these were “gray,” the most prominent being the Union of Lao Races station. Both outposts also ran a number of black stations. Leaflets were also designed at these outposts, but the irregular forces ran up against the same anti-aircraft issues that were faced the Royal forces. Tellingly, many of these leaflets offered rewards for pilots shot down previously.

Prior to 1965, the Directorate of National Coordination had responsibility for psywar; though I don't think they actually performed this function. The DNC was disbanded in 1965 following a coup that saw its leaders go into exile. Colonel Khamthene Chinyavong is the full name of the PSYOP officer who was in Vientiane near the end of the war. Brigadier General Etam Singvongsa was the overall Commander of PSYWAR. He has since passed away in Australia.

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A CIA Surrender Pass for Laos

An Unmarked Raven Pilatus Porter

Speaking of Long Tieng, Captain Bob Farmer was one of the covert American pilots. In six months in 1966, Captain Farmer flew combat missions using the call sign “Butterfly.” The aircraft most often used by Butterfly Forward Air Controllers was the PC6A Pilatus Porter, flown by both Air America and Continental Air Service.   Officially, no US combatants were in neutral Laos in accordance with the 1962 Geneva Accords, so officially, the Butterflies did not exist. 

On the subject of call signs, author Orr Kelly mentions the call signs of the pilots in Laos in From a Dark Sky – the Story of U.S. Air Force Special Operations, Presidio Press, Novato, CA, 1996. He says in part:

Butterflies and Ravens were forward air controllers; Nimrods flew the A-26s; Bigmouths broadcast propaganda from the air; and Litterbugs dropped leaflets.

Farmer found hundreds of forgotten safe conduct passes in the CIA storeroom at Long Tieng Air base.  He started taking them on strike missions and throwing them out the aircraft window when he had the opportunity. They measured 6.5-inches x 9-inches and depicted the flag of Laos in bright red color.

Most of the Laos leaflets are standard 3-inch x 6-inch black and white rotators. Other are full color on the front and black and white on the back and larger at 2 3/4-inch by 8 1/2-inch. All of the leaflets in the Lao language have code numbers starting with a period like “.23” or “.335.” Many of the leaflets are in Lao on one side and Vietnamese on the other since they were aimed at both the Pathet Lao and Vietnamese fighting in Laos. Finally, some of the leaflets are exactly the same and found in both Vietnamese and Lao. So, there are many possible combinations. I have selected some leaflets that I found particularly interesting, either because of the message or the image. I have made no attempt to write a detailed in-depth report. This is just a light look at American PSYOP in Laos where I hope to show and discuss perhaps a dozen or so different leaflets.We should mention that the one source says that the codename for PSYOP Leaflets and booklets in Laos and Cambodia was “Soap Chips.” Another source is more specific, saying that the code name was actually used in a black SOG operation to place forged letters on the bodies of PAVN soldiers in Laos and Cambodia. The letters would contain anti-Regime propaganda and news about life at home and in the combat zone.

The Allies studied the Pathet Lao reaction to American PSYOP in an August 1972 report entitled “Pathet Lao Reaction to American PSYOP.” The five-page document listed a number of Communist broadcasts that mention U.S. psychological operations. Some of the broadcasts quoted were:

On 22 August, Radio Pathet Lao carried a long (6 minutes) broadcast entitled “Effectively Promote Security Tasks in Various Area to Smash Enemy PSYWAR Activities Intended to Create Confusion Among Our People.” Radio Pathet Lao said that U.S. and Royal Lao PSYWAR included clandestine radio stations, utilizing all available propaganda tactics…And sending bandits and commandoes to create unrest.

On 26, August Radio Pathet Lao carried a seven-minute broadcast to the people of Laos entitled, “The PSYWAR Tactics of the U.S. Imperialists Can Deceive No One.”

On 7 September, Radio Pathet Lao carried an eight-minute broadcast entitled, “Maintaining Security and Countering U.S. Psychological Warfare is an Important and Urgent Task Which Must be Implemented by our People.”

On 11 September, Radio Pathet Lao carried a five-minute program entitled, “What is Psychological Warfare?” Radio Pathet Lao discussed the U.S. schemes of carrying out PSYWAR tactics to thwart the Lao revolutionary struggle.

All of this data illustrates two very interesting points. U.S. Intelligence was clearly monitoring the Communist radio and taking note of everything said. At the same time, it seems clear U.S. psychological operations were having their effect on the Communists and forcing them to constantly attempt to counter it by indoctrinating the people against PSYOP in the areas that they occupied.

The civilian "Bible" of Vietnam War PSYOP is the Robert W. Chandler book War of Ideas: The U.S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam, A Westview Special Study, Boulder, CO, 1981. According to Chandler, during its seven years in Vietnam, the United States Information Agency (USIA), supported by the armed forces, littered the countryside of the North, South, and the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia with nearly 50 billion leaflets – more than 1,500 for every person in North and South Vietnam.

Other books which one supposes would mention psychological warfare do not. There is no mention of PSYOP over Laos in Stanley Sandler’s Cease Resistance – it's Good for You: a History of the U.S. Army Combat Psychological Operations, or in Christopher Robbin’s The Ravens. The latter book is the history of the secret war fought in the air and one would expect numerous examples of psychological operations.

A Group of Ravens Playing Mexican Banditos

Robbin’s says about the Ravens:

While American and the rest of the world watched the Vietnam War on Television, a handful of elite Air Force pilots, wearing anything but uniforms and piloting unarmored, small, prop-driven aircraft, fought a secret war, one that remained secret right up until today. The few Americans in Vietnam that knew about it called it “the other theater,” a small nation called Laos, right next door to Vietnam, bordered by the Ho Chi Minh Trail, China, and Thailand. These incredibly brave and skilled pilots were known as Ravens: their mission, fly low and slow, spot the enemy, and direct the winged artillery of American airstrikes from adjacent South Vietnam, Thailand, and U.S. aircraft carriers.

There are some rare comments concerning leaflet campaigns in the various histories of Civil Air Transport (CAT), later renamed Air America, and often called the “CIA airline.” I note that in late 1955 three CAT C-46s air-dropped rice bags and propaganda leaflets along the Lao-China border and the Lao-North Vietnam border. In December 1971, after an aircraft was lost, Air America aircraft dropped reward leaflets for information on the plane and crew.

On the subject of bags as gifts my friend Former Lieutenant-Colonel Dave Underhill of the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa took part in a somewhat similar operation. He told me:

There was a program to provide educational equipment to school children. One was a high-quality heavy-duty collapsible school bag. Throughout the city you could see businessmen carrying the bags. Apparently the Laotians believed that the bags were just too good for children.

Leaflets to Laos are fairly rare. Unlike Vietnam where about three million Americans slogged through the swamp and bush, a very limited number of Americans were in Laos. Not only that, but the war was a secret one and the Americans were not encouraged to bring back souvenirs. Stories about that war are endless. These will sound like tall tales and maybe they are…and you never heard them from me.

A friend from the 101st Airborne claims to have made two combat jumps into Laos. He is unable to wear the star over his jump wings because the jumps do not officially exist.

Back in the late 1980s I had a soldier ready to retire who had spent a year in Laos. We had a very difficult time proving his “twenty good years” since his records had a gaping hole in them. I was not worried. I knew all the tricks and all the right people and I thought his pay records would clear everything up. He told me while in Laos he was paid by an unknown officer out of a brown paper bag. I was sure he was making that up or exaggerating, because the military is very careful about paperwork. There was no way this guy would not have pay records. I was wrong. We could find no proof of that invisible year. He simply no longer existed. I sent the problem upstairs, made a few calls and somehow the problem went away and he was retired with a pension. I have no idea who did it or how it was done. We used to say in the military: "That is above my paygrade."

Years later when I was at CIA Headquarters in Langley at a small gathering, I was introduced to a youthful-looking very fit guy with a crew cut. My host told me that he was an Air Force General who was the clandestine paymaster for some of the Laos operations: U.S. greenbacks carried in and distributed from a brown paper bag.

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The Mysterious American Paymaster in Laos

In June 2017, I received a note from former Airman First Class David Ross, a ground radio operator in Laos who supported T28s and Raven O-1 Birddog aircraft. He worked with the Laotian Army out of Luang Prabang up along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He read this article that I wrote over a decade earlier and told me:

I remember getting paid out of a paper sack in US dollars every month from a guy with a flat-top haircut. I even have pictures of him on the T28 flight line. My Air Force records were non-existent for that time period but I had other documents that covered me. It seems funny to read about what I was actually doing there.

I am glad that we got it right. It is great to get letters from troops with boots on the ground and be told that you were absolutely correct.

It seems that Laos was such a clandestine operation that “cash and carry” was the standard operating procedure. One former “Air Commando” told me:

We sometimes carried foot lockers full of cash to buy Supplies or Payrolls without a single dollar ever coming up missing. One of our medics carried a million dollars in cash to the Philippines to buy Medical Supplies and a few other things for our work in Laos. Well, he came back with about one and a half million dollars’ worth of supplies because of paying cash. We were a strange breed, but very honest, because our reputations were important to us.

CIA Secret Warriors

Another Laos veteran told me:

I once had to deliver the cash to him alone on my Honda 350cc motorcycle off road in the jungle.

The experience was cited in Dr. Paul T. Carter’s book CIA Secret Warriors. I quote some of Carter’s comments on this subject below:

The funding stream originated from the Department of the Army's “Laos MASF’ [Military Assistance Service Funded] funds which DoD transferred to CIA through "the SWITCHBACK procedure'* [not further specified] once per quarter. One previously classified Department of Defense report says 'The DEPCHJUSMAGTHAI administers the Military Assistance Service Funded in support of all friendly forces in Laos. These forces include both regular government forces. Thai volunteers, and CAS-trained [CIA] irregulars."

So. there appears to have been two money streams. One would go from the Department of Defense to the CIA in Washington. The CIA would then transfer the money to its Vientiane station and that station would transfer the money to Headquarters 333 in Udorn Thani, Thailand. Other money would go from Washington to DEPCH Bangkok (located at Udorn Thani after November 1971, when DEPCH moved from Bangkok) for transfer to the CIA. and for Department of Defense use as well. Much of the money was being spent in Thailand. but perhaps the bulk was spent in Laos, and therefore made more sense to send it to Laos. Bill Lair said his first provision of money to Phoumi was physically, cash, so it was a known CIA procedure. 1 am unaware how the US dollar was converted to Laos kip to pay the Lao forces and Thai Baht Kiln for the Thai forces.

While an audit trail apparently existed to show how cash was expended, the trails seemed to have little constriction. In one case in 1969 or early 1970. the Detachment 1, 56th Special Operations Wing commander detailed a Thai-speaking Detachment 1 training section noncommissioned officer serving as liaison to the enlisted Lao students to deliver an ammunition box full of freshly printed baht, still in bank wrappers, to a CIA paymaster outside Udorn Thani Royal Thai Air Force base. The courier, in a United States Air Force uniform (worn in Air America hangars), was given detailed instructions on where to go, hopped on his motorcycle with a loaded side arm and locked box, and drove to an area off the highway. The location had only a trail and some tents. Arriving at the area he saw Asians in military uniform without insignia. Among them was one American, the CIA paymaster, who signed paperwork for the ammunition box.

Discussing Laos more recently, a veteran told me that before a flight a mail clerk dropped off some copies of the Stars and Stripes in the briefing room. He stuffed one in his helmet bag on the way out the door. He then flew to Khe Sanh, where he picked up an ARVN General and flew him to a firebase in Laos. While waiting for the general to finish his briefing he took the newspaper out of his helmet bag and the headline was, “NIXON: NO U.S. TROOPS ON THE GROUND IN LAOS.” He says he looked around and thought, “Well, if I'm not in Laos, where the fook am I?”

Time magazine of 22 February 1971 seems confused. It says:

Reporters also saw some American bodies being brought back from Laos. Was someone fudging on the congressional curbs on the use of ground troops outside South Vietnam? White House Press Secretary Ron Zeigler insisted that the reports probably involved Special Forces intelligence teams that have operated in Laos for years. Still, the impression remained that some American advisors had crossed the border.

In fact, on 8 February 1971, 20,000 South Vietnamese troops crossed the border into Laos on a major incursion known as Lam Son 719. The operation was named in honor of the Vietnamese Emperor Le Loi who was born in the village of Lam Son. American ground forces were not supposed to be in Laos, but the Air Force supplied fighters, bombers and attack helicopters to support the Vietnamese troops. The ARVN were fiercely attacked by an estimated 36,000 North Vietnamese troops with as many as five divisions, tanks and heavy artillery. On 9 March 1971 the assault force was withdrawn. The North Vietnamese lost over 20,000 troops, South Vietnamese suffered about 9,000 casualties, the U.S. about 1,462 casualties. 108 U.S. helicopters were lost and another 618 were damaged.

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Poster P7-19-71

This poster was printed by the 7th PSYOP Battalion in 1971. The letter “P” indicates “poster.” The poster depicts several heavy weapons captured in Laos during Lam Son 719. Reading this poster one would assume it was a great U.S./South Vietnamese victory. The text is:


Photo of enemy weapons captured by the Vietnamese 1st Infantry Division in Laos on 8 March 1971

As of 11 March 1971 Operation Lam Son 719 had achieved the following results:

*Captured and destroyed 58,600 kilograms of rice
*Destroyed 736,000 liters of gasoline
*Killed 4,477 enemy troops
*Individual weapons destroyed or captured: 2,651
*Crew-served weapons destroyed or captured: 464
*Armored vehicles destroyed or captured: 49
*Trucks destroyed or captured: 48
*Rockets and artillery shells destroyed or captured: 16,382

This battle was lost before it began because the North Vietnamese had so infiltrated the Government of South Vietnam that they knew of the attack months before it occurred. Larry Berman mentions Lam Son in Perfect Spy, Smithsonian Books, 2007. This is the biography of North Vietnamese spy and Time Magazine correspondent General Xuan Pham An. He says in part:

Everyone knew about Laos well in advance, except those in charge…Northern spies were everywhere in the south, from the hootch maids cleaning up after the G.I.s, to the ranks of the ARVN, to the Saigon press corps – and it would be later reported, even inside the Da Nang headquarters of I Corps where Operation Lam Son 719 was long planned…The Communists knew of it maybe six months in advance.

General Cao Van Vien and Lieutenant General Dong Van Khuyen mention a Vietnamese view of the Laos incursion in an Indochina Monograph published by the U.S. Army Center of Military History, titled Reflections on the Vietnam War. The book was translated by Phillip Tran.

As early as 1965, we had advocated such a move during a special session of the National Leadership Committee. This concept had also been used for discussion at the National Defense College. This idea of ours was shared by General Westmoreland, Commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam, who advocated a similar move in 1966… For best results as far as the conduct of the war was concerned, we believe that Lam Son 719 should have been attempted as early as mid-1967, the most appropriate time for such a move. If because of political constraints, the U.S. had felt that it could not commit its troops in such an operation, at least it should have encouraged and prepared the RVNAF for such an operation…We believe that with this force, we would have been far more successful in strangling the enemy lifeline in Laos than in 1971. If successful, this operation would have entailed a turnabout during the war favorable to our side. The decision to conduct the Laos cross-border operation in 1971 came rather unexpectedly as far as the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces were concerned, but it was quickly welcomed without hesitation.

When Lam Son 719 was finally terminated, it created quite a controversy. Both the Communist and the Republic of Vietnam claimed victory. President Thieu did his best to represent the operation as a military success, but perhaps he recognized that Lam Son 719 had fallen short of expectations, tactically and strategically. In terms of achievements, it was not as impressive as the Cambodian incursion. Perhaps the operation had preempted enemy offensive plans, but his only lifeline remained almost intact after our brief disruption. The Republic of Vietnam Army units were unable to maintain the initiative for the entire operation. No significant amounts of enemy supplies had been discovered and destroyed that could be comparable to the Cambodian caches. Also, it appeared that most enemy casualties resulted from U.S. tactical air strikes and gunships.

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Leaflet 4231

Lam Son Leaflet 4231 depicts a dragon swooping down on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and destroying trucks by fire. The text is:

The Party cannot “Liberate the South” because the forces of the 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 should mention that there were numerous deception operations involved in this incursion. John B. Dwyer mentions one in Seaborne Deception, the History of the U.S. Navy Beach Jumpers.

During Operation Lam Son 19 (the Multidivisional incursion into the Laotian Panhandle) SOG carried out diversionary insertions at four bogus landing zones and conducted simulated parachute raider and actual resupply bundle insertions at eight phone drop zones…

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Leaflet 4426

This leaflet is all text and normally I do not depict such leaflets, but the message is interesting, showing concern for enemy Vietnamese that might be starving. The text the same on both sides:


For many years you have undergone the most arduous living conditions in the mountain and jungle areas of Laos and Cambodia because of the perils and hazards along the Ho Chi Minh Trail through which are sent all North Vietnamese war supplies. But in the past few weeks, you have experience worse conditions as a result of the floods that have ravaged the north and paralyzed ever activity there. Both civilian and military agencies were mobilized and medical supplies to South Vietnam will be disrupted and interrupted for some time. Your life that has always been so precarious is now becoming all the more hazardous. Hunger will strike at you and there is only the smallest chance that you will get the better of it and survive.

Friends, though you are out of South Vietnam’s sight, you are not out of their hearts and minds, and they sympathetically share your adversities. They pray for your safety, and wish you a way out so that your youthful years will not be wasted to no good purpose. They also hope that one day you will return safely to your families.

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Leaflet 7-719-71

There were actually a number of leaflets created by the 7th PSYOP Battalion that mentioned Lam Son. The PSYOP Reports for March and April 1971 say:

During the Month of March, the 7th PSYOP Battalion continued to support Operation Lam Son 719.

Some of the leaflets are H7-24-71. It bears a long message and is entitled “Lan Son 719 Victory.” It says in part:

Six weeks have passed…Our soldiers have cut the supply lines to destroy the majority of the enemy’s stockpiles. Our forces have killed 11,176 enemy soldiers, captured 161 others, and destroyed or seized 4,300 individual weapons, 1,300 crew-served weapons, 110 tanks…

Leaflet 7-719-71 is entitled “Do not believe your Political Commissars,” depicts a Chieu Hoi symbol and says in part:

The ARVN operation has cut off the main communist supply artery. You can feel it by yourself: the gnawing of starvation, the aggravation of disease and the increasing threat of death….

There are many other such leaflets but they are mostly all text so we just show one.

There are a series of SCP (Safe Conduct Pass) leaflets that mention Laos, Cambodia and other themes. I will mention three here that use Laos as a theme.

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Leaflet T-2-SPC

Leaflet T-2-SPC targets the North Vietnamese Army and tries to talk them into defecting or returning home. The title on the front is:


The back depicts a safe conduct pass for the Laotian Army and the text:

A similar fate will be yours if you continue to be misled by the false Lao Dong Party propaganda of “glorious victories” in the South. Quickly return to the North before it is too late. If you current military situation does not allow you to return to your loved ones in the North, then go to the nearest official of the Vientiane government with this leaflet. You will be welcomed and treated kindly.

Leaflet T-5-SPC is titled YOUR FUTURE FATE and also bears the Lao safe conduct pass identical to T-2-SPC.

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Leaflet T-8-SPC

Leaflet T-8-SPC attempts to induce desertion. On the front there is picture of some North Vietnamese soldiers talking to a Laotian farmer. The text explains:


As you infiltrate south and find yourself in the middle of this mountainous area, you may feel abandoned and may consider you future dim.

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.

Leaflet NT4/TD-3

This leaflet depicts Engineer Ho Van Buu who defected to the Republic of Vietnam, below is a Chieu Hoi center with some former Viet Cong marrying. The text says in part:

Engineer Ho Van Buu, member of the National Democratic Peace Alliance rallied in May 1970.

At various Chieu Hoi centers, ralliers are authorized to organize collective wedding parties.

The present situation is completely unfavorable for the Communists and yourselves. The Communists have been bogged down on all three Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian battlefields and no longer have any hope of a military victory in South Vietnam.

In the military aspect, the victories of the Republic of Vietnam armed forces on the Cambodian battlefield have destroyed all the Communist weapons, ordnance, supply, and storage installations…

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Leaflet 4221

I normally do not depict leaflets that are all text but this one is interesting because it is signed by President Thieu. We who lived through that era recall the parade of leaders that came forward as America searched for a charismatic man that could motivate the people to come together and lead the fight against the Communists. There was Ngo Dinh Diem and his wife, “the Dragon Lady,” and General Duong Van “Big” Minh, Nguyen Van Thieu, and my personal favorite, the gallant airman, General Nguyen Cao Ky. They all attempted to take power and lead the nation, and ultimately, they all were unsuccessful. The text on this leaflet is in part:

Today, 8 February 1971, I have ordered the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam to attack the Communist North Vietnamese bases on Laotian territory along the VietnamLaos border in Military Region I.

Nguyen Van Thieu
President of the Republic of Vietnam

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Leaflet 4226

This leaflet features a photograph of the bombing of an North Vietnam Army truck convoy in Laos. The text on the front is:

This is a photograph of an Allied aircraft high in the sky after a North Vietnamese Army truck convoy was bombed in Laos. See the bomb craters around the truck.

Some of the text on the back is:

Did you hear about the heavy bombing?

The truck in the picture will never carry its supplies to you, the fighting soldier who needs them so desperately. The few trucks that avoid the bombs are stopped by strong Republic of Vietnam Army raids until southern Laos, cutting off your supplies.

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Leaflet 4595

This leaflet was prepared on 10 November 1972 and is entitled: People’s Army of Vietnam to return Home. It depicts children lighting Tet fireworks on the front and a boy leading a buffalo on the back. It mentions the coming ceasefire and how the North Vietnamese troops will soon be returning home. It says in part:

The leadership of North Vietnam and the United States has agreed to the terms of a cease fire as proposed by President Nixon on 8 May. To insure compliance with the ceasefire, the agreement will provide for international supervision. The North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos and Cambodia should be home soon, long before Tet Quy Suu [Year of the Buffalo]. Ask the Communist Party cadre when your loved ones will be returning home – begin planning for the happiest Tet in memory.

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Leaflet 4598

This leaflet was prepared by JUSPAO on 10 November 1972. It is late in the war and the United States is pushing for a ceasefire. The leaflet targets North Vietnamese civilians and soldiers. It says in part:

Within 60 days of the signing of the cease fire agreement ending the war in Indochina, all remaining U.S. and Korean forces will be withdrawn. The ceasefire agreement contains a section on Cambodia and Laos in which parties to the agreement agree that foreign countries will withdraw their forces from Cambodia and Laos. With the signing of the agreement, all North Vietnamese forces must be withdrawn from Cambodia and Laos in order to comply with the provisions of the agreement and the policies of the North Vietnamese Communist party.

There were about a dozen JUSPAO leaflets all printed on 10 November 1972 with the same general message; that with the signing of the ceasefire all Vietnamese troops would leave Cambodia and Laos. I note leaflets 4596 entitled “Peace returns to Indochina,”4597 entitled “PAWN to depart Laos,” and 4600 entitled “PAVN to depart Cambodia and Laos.” The other leaflets in this series mention troops going home, but not specifically Laos and Cambodia.

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Australian Leaflet ATF-087-71

The Australian 1st Psychological Operations Unit also produced leaflets that mention the fact that the Allies are operating in Laos and Cambodia. The threat is that if the Ho Chi Minh Trail can be cut off, then the Communist units will become vulnerable due to a lack of weapons and ammunition. The Australians printed about 50,000 of these leaflets on 23 February 1971 and disseminated them by aircraft. The Chieu Hoi symbol is on the front with the text:

Rally to the Cause - CHIEU HOI - CHIEU HOI

The back depicts two grinning skulls and the text:

You have heard of the successful Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces operations in Laos. Large Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces units are also operating in Cambodia to close this supply and escape route.

Before we start to illustrate the leaflets I should point out that there were many American leaflets dropped on the Vietnamese troops and supply system in Laos. We will depict a few, and the reader will find many more in my article about the PSYOP campaign over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In general, for the purposes of this article we will mainly show leaflets printed in the Lao language for the Lao.

Safe Conduct Passes

A great number of the leaflets dropped over Laos bore a safe conduct pass. In fact, many of the leaflets to the Vietnamese troops had a safe conduct pass on the back and told the Vietnamese how they could use it to surrender to government forces. There are probably more leaflets bearing some form of safe conduct pass than any other theme.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Campaign Leaflet T-16

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 Lao 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 Lao government to arrange for them to accept Vietnamese prisoners. All of these leaflets bear text in Vietnamese on one side and Lao on the other. The Vietnamese-language side of the leaflet says:

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 Lao-language side says:

Pass for Safe Conduct – Valid at all times

To: All Citizens and Soldiers of the Royal Laotian Government.

Please welcome the bearer of this pass and provide him with safe conduct to the nearest Royal Lao Government unit or post.

Commander in Chief
Lao National Armed Forces.

Gerald M. Gert who was a Public Affairs Officer in the United States Information Service (USIS) in Vientiane from 1962 to 1965 mentions what may be this fancy official safe conduct pass:

In this struggle in the war, USIS came up with an idea at a Country Team meeting that we should drop safe-conduct passes on the Pathet Lao suggesting that they give themselves up. I must say by word of explanation that I had been a reserve officer in psychological warfare, and this is one reason I volunteered for Vietnam. As a reserve officer, I had to do correspondence courses while I was in USIS, even in Vietnam. Somewhere in my textbooks, I found a safe-conduct pass signed by Eisenhower in World War II, which gave me the format. I prepared the same thing for the Lao situation in Lao, Vietnamese, French, and English, which in effect said, “If you surrender, you are going to be treated well.” This was to be signed by the Royal Lao Army Command.

I bought this to a country team meeting and showed this pass and told everybody around the table, “wouldn’t this be a nice idea if we could drop these in area?” Ambassador Sullivan said “Great idea! Let’s do it.”

I said, “I have no money. The only person around this table who’s got money is Charlie Mann, the Director of AID in Laos.” So there were some of the projects we did in Laos. The ambassador then encouraged Charlie to pay for it, and AID then printed these. We had the Lao Air Force drop these leaflets over the Pathet Lao contested area. Charlie later became the Director of AID in Vietnam.

Peter M. Cody, who was an assistant to Mann talks about USAID for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project:

We had a big program. It was a $50 million program. We had over 400 direct-hire employees, in addition to contractors, and we had an airline, two, in fact: Air America and Continental Air Services. We had twenty-one choppers and forty fixed-wing aircraft under contract to the USAID. We had some arrangements with another agency. We were fighting the so-called "secret war". It wasn't a secret from very many people. But there was a war going on.

In November 1967 the 6th PSYOP Battalion in Vietnam requested that the 7th PSYOP Group in Okinawa print 10 million copies of Trail leaflet T-16 with the theme: "Lao safe conduct, flag for safe conduct" to be delivered by 30 December 1967.

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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:


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… 

There are a tremendous number of leaflets dropped over Laos with a threatening message to the Vietnamese on one side and a Laos safe conduct pass on the other. An example is T-2-5TC which tells the Viet Cong not to sacrifice their lives needlessly on the front and depicts the Lao safe conduct pass on the back with a recommendation that the finder take the leaflet to a representative of the Vientiane government.

Before we leave the subject of safe conduct passes I should point out that there are probably a dozen such leaflets dropped along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. For the most part, they all have a Vietnamese text on one side and the standard Laos safe conduct pass on the other side. Note that these leaflets have a “T” in their code, meaning they were prepared to drop along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. A sampling of leaflets from this series are:

T-54. Invitation to rally I.
T-55. Invitation to rally II.
T-56. Invitation to rally III.
T-57. To North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos.
T-65. Will you leaders respond to your hopes for peace?
T-66. All NVA and Free World Troops should be withdrawn from South Vietnam.
T-67. When will your leaders let you return home?
T-68. The Free South is always ready to resist the aggression of the North.
T-69. Our soldiers must be saved for the future of Vietnam.
T-70. The War of Liberation is a myth created by your leaders.

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Uncoded Safe Conduct Pass

The multi-colored leaflet depicts a North Vietnamese soldier surrendering to an Allied soldier. Below we see the standard Laos safe conduct pass. On the back there is a message in English and Vietnamese.

Travel Certificate

To all North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos. You had the luck to avoid death and got to live peacefully during wartime. The Royal family, Government and people of Laos will welcome you and treat you as brothers. Please present this travel certificate to any soldier or citizen with the Royal Government. That individual will direct you to a safe location.

Signed: The High Commander of the Royal Lao Armed Forces.

The same leaflet was also dropped by the 606th Special Operations Squadron of the United States Air Force. The squadron was first activated as the 606th Air Commando Squadron in March 1966 and stationed at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. The squadron flew C-123 Provider aircraft over the Ho Chi Minh trail at night during the Vietnam War to interdict the movement of people and equipment. The 606th Special Forces Squadron was composed of two sections, the Fairchild C-123 Provider section which was under the call sign of “Candlestick,” and the U-10 Helio Courier section which was under the call signs of “Loudmouth” and “Litterbugs” (and “Clown” for Civil Action missions).The squadron was inactivated on 30 June 1971. Their version of the leaflet was very similar to the first one we mention with the exception that the message is in Vietnamese only and a few words have been changed.


North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos

You have a chance to avoid death and to live in peace throughout the course of the war. The Royal Government of Laos and the people of Laos will receive you and will treat you like our brothers. Just present this pass to any soldier or citizen of the Royal Lao Government, and that person will guide you to a safe location.

Commander of the Royal General Staff

A Pair of Lao Safe Conduct passes

These two passes are interesting. You can see when they were being designed that there was a lot of mathematics going on. The larger of the two passes is all in Lao and one of the printers has written on the front “2 3/4” and “3 3/4.” The leaflet is coded 8-777 (1/2). The front of the larger pass is a safe conduct pass on the front and a longer message in the back. The message on the front is:

Card to Pass Posts in Order to Present Oneself

To: All the People and Soldiers of the National Government of His Majesty the King

Please give a good welcome to whoever is holding this card and please lead the cardholder to present oneself at the military post that is the closest to where you are as well.

The Highest Commander of the National Army

Bounpone Maktheparath,
Commander of the National Army

The text on the back is:

To: Older and younger [Pathet Lao] Lao who love the nation, all of whom we care about

All of us in our homeland are very bored of fighting. Why have us Lao people been fighting and stabbing each other for so long. You, sir, stay in the big forest and jungle, instead of staying with your mother and father and older and younger siblings. Your family, sir, is waiting for you. Therefore, return to your home and you will feel the warmth. There is food to eat, and you can join with your neighbors to build it up. The Coalition Government is ready to always welcome you, sir, and we will make it convenient for you.

Note: Anyone who gets this book can use it in place of a travel pass to present oneself to the authorities.

The smaller pass was surely dropped with the larger one and in this case the front is in Cambodian and the back is in Vietnamese. One of the printers has written on the front “2 1/2” and “3 1/2.” The smaller leaflet is uncoded. The measurements of the leaflet will be used by the PSYOP specialists to figure out the time it will take each to drop and what the spread will be. The Lao message on the front of the smaller leaflet is:

Safe Conduct Pass

To all North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos. You had the luck to avoid death and got to live peacefully during wartime. The Royal family, Government and people of Laos will welcome and treat you as brothers. Please present this travel certificate to any soldier or citizen with the Royal Government. That individual will direct you to a safe location.

Signed: The High Commander of the Royal Lao Armed Forces.

The Vietnamese language message on the back is almost identical:

Safe Conduct Pass

North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos. You are fortunate to escape death and peacefully live until the end of the war. The Royal Government of Laos and the Laotian people will welcome and treat you as brothers. Show this pass to any soldier or civilian of the Royal Government of Laos and he will show you to a safe place.

Chief of Staff, Royal Army of Laos.

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Loudspeaker C-47

I have a number of loudspeaker tape messages in my files. This first 40-second tape is in Vietnamese and titled “The Laotian campaign is succeeding.” It was broadcast from the air. The text of message “T7-1-71” is:

Attention Compatriots:

The Republic of Vietnam forces are conducting sweeping operations against enemy rear-echelon bases, depots and supply lines in the Laotian-Vietnamese border region. Although this is a limited operation with respect to time and territory covered, it is a disaster for the Communists. Within the first two weeks of this operation, our forces have eliminated numerous rear bases of the enemy. Surely the Communists will soon be defeated.

35-second Message T7-692-71 has the theme of Chieu Hoi and was broadcast from the air.

Men of the Communist ranks:

The Republic of Vietnam forces are now operating in the Laotian-Vietnamese border region in order to clear out the enemy’s rear bases and to cut his supply lines. You will be easily crushed by the tremendous firepower of the Republic of Vietnam forces. In order to save yourselves, you should put down your weapons and surrender, or, if you have a chance you should rally. You will be greeted warmly and treated kindly.

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A Second Uncoded Leaflet for the Vietnamese in Laos

This leaflet seems to be designed for Vietnamese or their allies that are illiterate. It does have the same “Safe Conduct” message on the back as the previous leaflet dropped by the 606th SOS, but the front has no text and yet tells a very clear story. An aircraft flies overhead dropping leaflets on the infiltrators. Two enemy soldiers read the leaflet, agree with the message and walk to the nearest Laotian base. Holding the leaflet in hand, they turn over their weapons to a Laotian government soldier. Once again, this leaflet bears the Lao safe conduct pass on the front. About the only thing missing is their receiving an award for the weapons.

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A Third Uncoded Leaflet for the Vietnamese in Laos

This leaflet does not have the Lao Safe conduct pass on the front or the message on the back but it is in the same grouping from a former 606th SOS member so we assume that it was also meant to be understood by illiterate infiltrators coming south through Laos. The cartoons tell a very clear story without the addition of a single word. Communist troops enter a village and convince young men to join their forces by offering them training as mechanics, medical staff or artists. The men arrive at camp but instead of technical training they are issued rifles. They are taught how to use the bayonet. In the final panel the new volunteer sits shivering in the bush and remembering happier times at home.

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A Fourth Uncoded Leaflet for the Vietnamese in Laos

The final leaflet from the same artist in full color for Laos depicts peaceful villagers being rounded up by the Pathet Lao. They are marched under armed guard to a Communist camp. There they are put to work digging ditches and building fortifications. In the last image one old man has fallen and may be about to die from the hard work. The message is clear: if you let yourself be taken by the Communists you will perform hard labor, be put in danger and perhaps die from illness, starvation or overwork.

We mention Robert Wofford several times in this article. Wofford had these leaflets in his possession too. His wife found them after his death and believes that her husband probably dropped them while flying for Air America and the CIA.

Reward Leaflets

The Allies dropped 98,336,000 leaflets over South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in 1971 to advertise the rewards program. The reward operations leaflet program during 1971 and 1972 were Operations Brown Stallion, Buffalo Track, and Elephant Walk. American PSYOP specialists printed the leaflets in Lao, Vietnamese and Cambodian with “pointee-talkee” pictures for the illiterates. They dropped another 32,200,000 reward leaflets in early 1972. The following monetary rewards were authorized to indigenous civilians: $5,000 for returning US personnel, $500 for information leading to the return of US personnel, $400 for return of a body to friendly forces, and $150 for authentic information of status or location.

A highly classified undated document that was declassified on 23 Jul 1986 mentions what appears to be the first reward leaflets dropped on Laos. Some of the text is:

Assume Vientiane is aware that embassy has approved five reward leaflets on U.S. prisoners of war in Laos which developed jointly by embassy and Joint Personnel Recovery Center...

MACV has been dropping reward leaflets South Vietnam and Cambodia for about two years but not Laos. Reward program provides for compensation in following U.S. dollars or equivalents thereof in foreign currencies.

  • For returning a U.S. missing person to friendly control: Laos $2,000 – All other locations $5,000.
  • For providing information leading to recovery of missing U.S. personnel by friendly forces: Laos $250 – All other locations $500…

Rewards paid from 1967 to present - $12,149

Number of leaflets dropped in South Vietnam and Cambodia – 28 million every 6 months.

The CINCPAC Measurement of Progress in Southeast Asia dated 31 December 1967 shows that leaflets dropped in Laos during the year 1967 were over 10 million in every month except June and over 20 million in the last four months of the year. The report states that leaflets dropped in Laos in 1967 were 33 percent higher than were dropped in 1966.

During the Vietnam War, American soldiers and airmen were often in danger in the nations bordering Vietnam as their missions called for them to overtly or covertly cross the borders into the “neutral” countries to attack or pursue the NVA units hiding in the jungle, or the supply columns coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

One series of leaflets depict the same 3 cartoons on the front and back. In each, a local sees an American in a cage, tells the local military, and at the end receives a reward from a Caucasian in a suit and tie.  The text is identical on the front and back of all of the leaflets:

The United States Government will pay you $500 for information leading to the safe rescue of a U.S. serviceman.

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Leaflet 4369LV

Leaflet 4369CV has the text in Vietnamese on one side and Cambodian on the other. Leaflet 4369LC is identical except that the languages are Lao and Cambodian. Leaflet 4369LV is in Lao and Vietnamese. Leaflet 4369V has the cartoon and text in Vietnamese on the front and the back has a picture of a $500 bill.

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Leaflet 4370CV

A second series has the same theme, but with slightly changed pictures and text. Leaflet 4370CV has four cartoon boxes. A local farmer sees an American serviceman walking in the woods. He guides the American back across the border to Vietnam. The American shakes hands with a Republic of Vietnam soldier. In the last box, the farmer receives a reward from an American in a suit. The text is almost identical to 4369 except that the reward is multiplied 10 times:

The United States Government will pay you $5000 for information leading to the safe rescue of a U.S. serviceman.

The text is in Cambodian and Vietnamese. Once again, the LC version has Lao and Cambodian text, the LV version has Lao and Vietnamese, and the final V version in Vietnamese and depicts a picture of a $5000 bill.

Banknote Leaflets

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Pathet Lao 200 Kip Propaganda Banknote

The Pathet Lao had a set of banknotes ready for issue after they had “liberated” all of Laos.  With the rampant inflation caused by the Allied dropping of their captured banknotes, they decided to exchange a reasonable amount of notes for each person for the new banknotes.  These banknotes are found in denominations of 10 and 20 dong, and 50, 100, 200 and 500 kip. The 200 Kip depicts soldiers and transportation of war material on the front. The back shows a textile factory and the That Luang Temple. The genuine 200 Kip note is handsomely produced, deep green in color with serial numbers at the lower left and right front side in red.

Shortly after these notes appeared, a similar note was found printed just a shade lighter green and without serial number. What made this new note especially interesting was that on the back, in place of Lao Temple, a portrait of Ho Chi Minh was substituted. When these notes first appeared, it was believed that they were genuine Pathet Lao notes. Another story surfaced in 1977 when the Bangkok Post headlined a short article “Ho banknotes were faked.” The story explained:

The Laotian 200 kip note bearing a portrait of the late Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh that was published in the Bangkok Post of June 16th was actually counterfeited by the former Vientiane government to mislead the people in the liberated areas, Mr. Kach Kitthavong, Charge d'Affaires of the Laotian Embassy, said yesterday.

The Royal Lao government printed these notes in an attempt to convince the Pathet Lao that they were fighting for Vietnam and not for their own cause. It is reasonable to assume that the Lao people might have reacted negatively to a Vietnamese leader prominently placed on their revolutionary currency.

These notes caused a great amount of damage to the image of the Pathet Lao political and military forces in the eyes of the Lao people.  A tremendous uproar ensued within the ranks of the Pathet Lao and their North Vietnamese advisors.  All military units were tasked to recover the propaganda banknotes immediately after a drop was reported, and, as a result, these notes are extremely rare.

Persistent rumors have identified the CIA as the originator of this parody, although the report mentioned above placed responsibility with the Ex-Royal-Lao government. Possibly both parties collaborated. In a March 1992 Public Broadcasting System Nova program, “Making a dishonest buck,” Robert Wofford, a pilot of Air America, the unofficial CIA airline, displayed two notes that he dropped in 1970 on the Laotian city of Xam Nua (Samneua), where, in limestone caverns, the Pathet Lao housed their national headquarters, a munitions factory, and a cadre training school. Nova asserted that the notes were probably of CIA origin. One of these notes was the 200 kip parody with Ho Chi Minh. Wofford told me later that he flew one such currency flight about 1969-1970, which originated in the CIA's super secret Long Tieng base. The complex, designated Lima Site (for Laos) was known as LS-20A. The pilots routinely alluded to it as “Twenty alternate.” The currency drop occurred on the way back from a regular mission over northern Laos. Wofford flew a DeHaviland DHC-4, designated by the USAF as the C7A Caribou, a two-engine propeller-driven utility transport capable of a 7000-pound payload.

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Leaflet .31

I am going to place leaflet .31 here because it shows the exact same banknote that the Lao government parodied. The front of the leaflet depicts the back of the Pathet Lao 200 Kip Propaganda Banknote in black and white with the propaganda text diagonally:

This currency is counterfeit and has no value – it cannot be used

The back is all text:

The communists have printed this fake currency.   This currency has no value at all.

It cannot be used in exchange for other currency.

The communists force people to distribute the fake currency for them.

People who are not educated and don’t know the rules of law and are asked to deliver the currency. The government warns, “Do not accept it or be tricked by the communists.” 

Anyone who receives or is asked to distribute the currency should notify the local Police Chief.

The whole Lao citizenry hates the fake money and the communists who print and distribute the fake money. The next generation will inherit the problem. [If the economy is destroyed because of the distribution of counterfeit currency]. 

The Royal Kingdom of Laos National Military

There is reason to believe that many of these leaflets were dropped as part of an “Operation Fountain Pen.” The report Quantitative Analysis of Operation Fountain Pen implies that this secret operation commenced on 10 May 1969. The December 1973 Survey of Psychological Operations in Vietnam mentions that “Fountain Pen” was still operational as late as 1973. It says in part:

After the Paris Agreements were signed earlier this year, most leaflet operations were halted. The Royal Lao air Force Operation Fountain Pen, directed against North Vietnamese troops in Laos continued for a period.

Colonel Joseph D. Celeski mentions Fountain Pen in Laos in Special Air Warfare and the Secret War in Laos, Air Commandos 1964–1975:

The Fountain Pen program expanded the Lao leaflet program to cover areas in Laos controlled by the Communists, where noncommunist information and news media had not penetrated. Initially, leaflets drops were conducted by USAF C-130s, operating out of Okinawa and from forward basing at Ubon. In January 1971, the leaflet missions were flown by the 90th Special Operations Squadron, 14th Special Operations Wing at Nha Trang Air Base, initially flying one mission a week in support of Laos PSYOP, beginning their first mission in May 1971. Over 500 million leaflets were dropped in the first year of the program (May 1969 through June 1970). Strategic themes for the Laotian PSYOP leaflets, written in both Lao and Vietnamese, consisted of six major areas for messaging:

Theme 1: Create a favorable image of the government in the eyes of the enemy and the people.

Themes 2 and 3: Lower the morale of the Pathet Lao and NVA forces and induce them to surrender.

Themes 4, 5, and 6: Refer to the Geneva Accords, social improvements by the government, and counter enemy propaganda.

On the part of the Royal Laos Air Force, air-delivered leaflets were flown by C-47s and H-34 helicopters.

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Genuine Laos Banknote
Notice the security dots to the left of the tree and by the elephant’s trunk

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Communist Counterfeit Laos Banknote
Notice no security dots embedded in the paper

Until very recently, all that was known about these forgeries was that during the war in Laos the Communist forces forged the 1, 5, 10 and 50 kip banknotes of the Kingdom of Laos Banque Nationale du Laos notes of 1957. The forgeries were first said to be printed in Bulgaria and meant to weaken the National Government (Note: the forgeries are described as emanating from Czechoslovakia in Area Handbook for Laos, DA PAM 550-58 1972). The forgeries were good enough to fool the common Lao peasant, but there were some major errors in the printing. For instance, the most noticeable is that the paper of the original banknotes has small colored security dots that are missing in the forgeries. These communist-produced “Vientiane kip” notes were first used to help finance the formation of a short-lived coalition government headed by Prince Souvanna Phouma. In the early 1970s, the replicas were used by the Lao People’s Revolutionary party (whose military arm was the Pathet Lao) as military occupation currency in areas under their control.

A Chinese reference book entitled Contemporary China’s Banknote Printing and Minting  for Foreign Countries, China Financial Clearing House, 2000, was found by a specialist in Lao currencies in 2007.   The book mentions that the Chinese prepared banknotes for Cuba, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Mongolia. It also states that the Pathet Lao banknotes were printed in the Shanghai banknote printing facility in April 1968, and the banknotes were legal tender in their “liberated” areas. Apparently, there was a secret agreement between the Royal and Pathet Lao governments for each to circulate their own banknotes with the same basic design.  The Royal Lao government had their banknotes printed in the United States and the Pathet Lao had theirs printed in China.

A Network of Pathet Lao Caves

In 1970, a former CIA agent stated that his forces captured a cave complex holding the Pathet Lao supply of banknotes.  It was a very large number of banknotes and all were flown back to Vientiane.  At first, the captured banknotes were going to be overstamped with a propaganda message and dropped over Pathet Lao “liberated” areas, but there were far too many banknotes and too few personnel to do the job.  It was then decided to just drop them over the “liberated” areas and ruin the economy with a large amount of currency chasing few goods and services.

This operation led to spurious report of the United States forging Laotian currency. Rumors of a CIA-sponsored forgery project have circulated since the early 1970s. Christopher Robbins, in Air America, Putnam & Sons, 1979, page 132, writes:

Another top secret Agency project involved dropping millions of dollars in forged Pathet Lao currency in an attempt to wreck the economy by flooding it with paper money. Pilots on routine night drops would be asked to return over Communist lines drop several packages. It turned out the packages were full of counterfeit money.

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Air America Caribou aircraft were used to drop banknotes

Air American pilot Robert Wofford said:

We must have dropped two hundred pounds weight of money, hundreds of millions of kip. They were just in paper bags and had these devices the kicker pulled which ignited a small charge and blew the bag apart. The money was packed loosely, and when the bag blew the money would scatter and drift all over the area. I’m sure a few people ate well the next day. When we got back to Vientiane, we had to spend two hours cleaning the airplane because some of the bags burst before we could get them out and we had counterfeit money from one end of the airplane to the other.

A pilot told me:

The C-130A's at Naha, Okinawa, had several different missions dropping PSYOP leaflets in Vietnam, North Vietnam and Laos; and counterfeit currency in North Vietnam. All of the leaflets were printed in Okinawa.

I usually don’t like to add war stories to these articles but the whole subject of money in Laos has always interested me. I once had a soldier that wanted to retire but he had spent one year clandestinely in Laos and had no paper for that entire year. In other words, he said he had 20 good years, the Army said he had 19. This seemed like an easy problem to solve; just find his pay records for the year in question. But, it seemed there were no pay records. He told me that he was paid in cash from a brown paper bag. I knew that was nonsense. The Army is big on record-keeping and there must be pay records. It all got worked out somehow upstairs and the problem eventually went away.

Years later I was at Langley, Virginia, and an individual was pointed out to me as an Air Force General and the paymaster of the clandestine troops in Laos. That was the first time that I believed the story about the cash in the brown paper bag might be true.

Years after that while talking to a veteran who served in Laos I was told:

My first visit to Muong Kassi was to escort what I assumed was a short little civilian with a boatload of cash. He handed each Company Commander a bag of cash; the Village Chief a bag of cash, and the General or Colonel that commanded the troops in the area a bag of cash. Then we moved over to the Mercenary compound where he handed the Commanding General there a briefcase full of cash. At the time we were handing out Kip; 50 kip being about U.S. 10 cents, and some Baht notes, one Baht being about 5 U.S. cents. The way it supposedly worked the money flowed downhill and how much the guys on the lower level got was based on both merit as a fighter and need as the family size increased. The leader always took his cut first.

I guarded the paymaster as he doled out U.S. Dollars to the folks that looked like civilians but flew airplanes in Laos. Banknotes in banded wads reading $10,000 and there had to have been at least $500,000 in the cache. All I had was an M-16 and my Browning HiPower; and the guys collecting the pay had Uzi's and other exotic weaponry hanging off themselves like trinkets.

This would be a great subject for research but my field is propaganda. I just mention this to show that the entire concept of money to an army that does not exist can be quite involved.

The United States produced a great number of general nation-building leaflets in support of the Royal Laotian government in their fight against the Communist Pathet Lao. The same American PSYOP specialists who were printing leaflets for Vietnam printed many of the Laos leaflets.

Celeski adds:

The Royal Laotian Government conducted a multi-prong psychological warfare campaign against the Pathet Lao to counter their propaganda objectives. The Government conduct of psychological warfare was headed by the Directorate of National Coordination, up to 1965. The Laotian Department Psychologique was established within the military General Staff. These directorates were headed by Laotian Colonels and Brigadier Generals...

To reach the illiterate, the Government weekly newspaper Khao Phap Pacham Sapda predominantly printed photos versus text. But the largest audience reached amongst the illiterate was through radio. There were five major radio stations throughout Laos: two in the capital region, Vientiane and Camp Chinaimo, and the rest at Savannakhet, Pakse and Laung Prabang. Counter-propaganda radio stations were also established, such as the one at Long Tieng (Lima Site 20A). Where it could be accomplished, leaflets were loaded into the aileron slats of T-28s and ‘dive-bombed’ onto enemy positions.

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Cao Sanh Tahan – Lao Army Magazine – January 1971

The 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa printed a monthly patriotic magazine for the Laotian Army. This January 1971 issue is coded 012-2-41. The magazine was filled with pro-Army and pro-Government articles and photographs.

Lao Army Psywar Division

As early as 1955, the CIA, as part of the Embassy country team, produced propaganda leaflets against the Communists and Pathet Lao in Laos. Later, Laotian officers were sent to Ft. Bragg to attend a year-long Psychological Operations course, supplemented by assistance from the Security Training Center (STC) at Fort McKinley outside of Manila, operated by the Philippine government as a counter-subversion, counter-guerrilla and psychological warfare school. Loudspeaker operations were code-named “Loudmouth” and leaflet operations were code-named “Litter-bug.”

Celeski mentions the Laotian Government PSYOP:

The major objectives of the Government PSYOP were 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 aims of leaders, to convince enemy troops to defect, and to carry out plans for economic and other development while educating the public. Messages reinforced the cultural proclivity of the Lao who believed the NVA were in their country as occupiers, with the intent to take over Laos. This propaganda emphasized the haughtiness, contempt, disdain, and cultural dislikes the NVA had for the Lao in attempts to sow doubt and discord within the ranks of the Pathet Lao and their supporting populations.

Karl Fritch was in Laos from 1969 to 1974 and worked with the Lao Army Division of Psychological Warfare and Social Welfare as a funded civilian contractor under a government grant for the Military Assistance Service Fund (MASF). I don’t know much about the Lao Government propaganda program, but I do know about the Vietnamese government propaganda program. Unlike the American system which is very war-oriented, the Vietnam program is more aimed toward their own troop’s health and welfare with lots of education, chaplains of various religions and the like. I suspect the Lao program was somewhat the same. I think it is an “Eastern” thing. Fritch shares some of his "bring-backs" with us.


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1972 Calendar for Laos

Lao PSYWAR designed this calendar, using their photographers and writers and then the material was sent offsite to the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa to be printed. The code is M72-12 (192). The inside front cover depicts all the native people of Laos. Each month the photographs are patriotic and nationalistic. For instance, January shows a Laotian soldier loading an aircraft with the text:

The Army is always ready to provide aid to people in remote areas with transports from the Lao Air Force.

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A Pathet Lao Defector is honored

March depicts a large picture of the King of Laos reviewing his troops. The picture on the actual calendar page shows a female Social Worker honoring a former Pathet Lao who returned to the Government side. She places a garland around the former guerrilla’s neck.

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1973 Calendar for Laos

This calendar was a bit complex. It opens with the same display of decorations that the 1972 calendar closed with. After that, each month features a pretty girl, the standard calendar, a Laotian calendar, the insignia of 3 Lao Army units, a generic picture with no caption, a Laotian saying, important dates in history for the month which focus primarily on events in Laos, and comments about festivals and holidays geared to the Laotian calendar. There is a centerfold showing the display of captured enemy weapons which was located in front of the psychological warfare division headquarters in Vientiane along with the blurb. At the end there is a map surrounded by the pretty girls. The back cover is a 1974 calendar.

The calendar, layout and all contents were the production of the psychological warfare division of the Army of the kingdom of Laos. The US provided printing services and technical advice if requested. The young ladies featured each month were girlfriends or acquaintances of the photographers from the division rather than professional models. Regrettably, in a polyethnic society such as Laos, the only concession to the concept of inclusivity lies in the pictures of the girls. The rest of it is geared to the low land Buddhist Lao. Even in the smaller pictures which do not feature girls, there is no picture that would clearly identify any ethnic group except the low land Lao. Of course, they produced the calendar.

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Miss February from Lao 1973 Calendar

Follow the example of the old and the flesh-eating demons will not eat you

This is a traditional saying reflecting beliefs in a spirit world which could be pretty malevolent at times. A free English translation it would be “The old ways are safest”

Some of the other comments on the calendar pages are:

An angry heart is like an evil spirit the good heart like the Buddha
Death is better than breaking faith [death before dishonor]
Building with your hands is hard; with your mouth, easy
A barking dog doesn’t bite

There are also various patriotic comments on the monthly pages. Some examples are:

01 to 10 May 1971: 18 soldiers from the 22nd Pathet Lao Company along with their company commander Captain Vanna and another 45 Lao Patriotic front soldiers along with officers from the 11th Battalion came together with a battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Sengchan and another 5 soldiers to rally to the government side.

13 October 1967: The government of Laos presented 19 North Vietnamese prisoners of war to the press to show the truth concerning North Vietnamese soldiers committing aggression on Lao land.

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A Page from July

This page bears a photograph of a soldier listening to a Psywar radio. Many radios were produced at low cost in Hong Kong for distribution in the countryside so that people could listen to Lao national radio and the Psywar stations. Unfortunately, they could not be used outside the major towns because in the countryside the only radio stations with enough power were Radio Hanoi and Radio Peking.

This was the last calendar produced off-site by the 7th PSYOP Group. The calendar for 1974 featured the king and had tear off calendar sheets. While the psychological warfare division had developed the capacity to design these calendars, it had neither the budget to have them printed elsewhere nor the capacity to print them in-house. Other priorities became more pressing.

I wondered why the Laos fighters would have to pay for the calendars when they were surely printed gratis earlier. It seems to be the same as the idea of Vietnamization. Karl Fritch told me:

There was a ceasefire in Laos starting in spring 1973 and the United States Government pulled back from supporting the Lao Army to the extent it had previously. The emphasis was on getting the Royal Laotian Government and the Lao Army to function independently. The concept was to supply and equip them to do the job themselves. Hence, work done out of country for the Lao needed to give way to work done in country by the Lao.

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The National Army - Unity Brings Happiness

An example of propaganda to help the people instead of just attacking the Pathet Lao is the booklet above. The Lao PSYOP unit produced this book to teach the people to read. Texts like the above were distributed to both adults and children. The Army trained literacy teachers.

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Learning the Alphabet
Using the letter in a Sentence

What is interesting is that it is not the text, the sentences they learn to read that is the propaganda here. It is just the fact that the book exists and can bring good will between the Army and the people.

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Our Land

This is the final Versions of the national unity illustrated program titled “Our Land.” There were also films that were made to encourage the people to come together and take pride in their heritage. It was designed in conjunction with Lao PSYWAR, the United States Information Service Special Projects, the U.S. Army and the U.S. 7th PSYOP Group headquartered on Okinawa. There are inspirational comments like:

What is the Capital of Laos today?
What is the Royal capital of Laos today?
        Luang Prabang.
What happened when the Burmese captured Luang Prabang?
        They were forced to flee by the Royal Laotian Army.
What happened when the North Vietnamese captured Luang Prabang in 1478 A.D?
        Laotian troops destroyed the North Vietnamese Army.
What happened when the Viet Minh attacked Luang Prabang in 1953?
        A combined force of French and Laotian troops forced the Viet Minh to flee.
Why is Luang Prabang so important to the peoples of Laos
        Because it is our ancient capital and has been a major city for 600 years.

Karl told me about the Lao PSYWAR unit and what worked and what did not. He said in part:

Attached is a copy of the 1974 Lao Army Psychological Warfare and Social Services TOE [Table of Organization and Equipment] which was somewhat aspirational but we were getting there– though not as rapidly as I would've hoped. Not included are some of the radio transmission facilities that were provided through Thai commercial connections. There are also some other internal communications functions that were performed by PSYWAR which are not included. In addition to what you see there, we were beginning initial exploration of the possibilities of television program production realizing that when Laos had TV stations, they were going to need content. Since we were already producing radio programs, motion pictures, and newsreels, we felt we had the basis for developing TV production crews and developing a production studio. The content would be fed either to a facility provided by a Thai commercial partner or a national Lao television station when it was developed.>(We were getting a bit ahead of the curve in our thinking.) At any rate, it gives you some idea of what was going on. P.S. - I may have missed it but I don't see our airborne loudspeaker operations on there. Just as well, the dang things only worked well on the ground.

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A Chart from the 106 Page Document.

I note that one Battalion was assigned to the Army, one Company to each of the five military region headquarters, and one mobile operating team to each military sub-division, geographic area or special operation mission. The battalion was made up of 33 sections. I will name a few: PSYWAR Intelligence Center; Radio propaganda; Printed media; Motion picture and television; Radio broadcast; Drama team; Classical and modern bands; Printing; Photo and Sound.

The Work Together, Build Together Series

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One of the earliest series of leaflets that were printed by the U. S. Army 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa for The Laotian Army is the “Work together, Build together” series. The 7th PSYOP Group had a liaison officer working with the Royal Laotian Army Psywar. This is a group of leaflets with low numbers like .3 through .11 that show the Lao in people in different professions. The images are drawings like cartoons, the front with some red color added and the back always black and white, but patriotic and showing the workers and students in their best light. The front and back of each leaflet has the same title at top, but the descriptive text at the bottom is different. I will depict a few of the leaflets to give the readers an idea of their scope.

The title of each of the five leaflets on the front and back is:


The front of leaflet .3 depicts a nurse with patients in the background; the back of leaflet .7 depicts a veterinarian with various animals; the front of leaflet 9 shows a Laotian Ministry of Education instructor teaching young men; the back of leaflet 10 features an engineer driving a bulldozer; and the front of leaflet .11 shows a police officer directing traffic. These were often dropped as a mix, all of the leaflets together. This mix including several other leaflets from a different series was called 163-69, Mix B.

The text on the five leaflets above is:

The nurse cares for the ill
The veterinarian looks after the health of animals
The teacher transmits knowledge
The Public Works official maintains and builds roads to facilitate public travel
The policeman keeps the peace

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Leaflet .1

Leaflet .1 shows several Laotian farmers working in the field. Curiously, the same leaflet is also coded .2. The picture is a tiny bit different, the photographer standing a bit closer so that the top of the heads of the two farmers is slightly cut off. This version of .1 is in Lao, the second version is in Vietnamese. The text on the back of the Lao version is:

Why must Lao kill each other? What purpose is there to our continued fighting? Wouldn't it be better for all the peoples of Laos to unite their efforts to building a glorious nation? The government of his Majesty the King appeals to you all to flee from the Pathet Lao and join with your relatives in helping to build up our nation for the future.


The image on the front is the same as in leaflet .1 above, but the text is in Vietnamese and aimed at the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army troops in Laos:

The Hanoi Government Is Using You as Their Tool

The Hanoi government sent you to the Laos and is using you as their tool in support of their own selfish government policies. The Lao people are a happy and friendly people who only want peace and to be allowed to live quiet and peaceful lives. You should stop the senseless slaughter of the Lao people and come over to the side of the Government of the Kingdom of Laos, at least for the time being. You will be received warmly and will be returned to your families when the war is over.

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Leaflet .3

The observant reader will note that there are two leaflets coded .3 in this article. I have no explanation except that these are coming from the Laotians (though often printed by the Americans) and perhaps each year they started the coding back at “.1”. This is an interesting leaflet and clearly shows that the Americans were involved in the printing process. This one is from the U.S. Army 7th PSYOP Group. The Lao leaflets generally do not depict dead bodies or bloodshed, while the American leaflets often do. So, right in the middle of a group of peaceful leaflets we find this dead Vietnamese body. Curiously, we know this leaflet was originally printed by the Americans for use in the Ho Chi Minh Trail campaign coded T-09. The Americans knew there were Vietnamese in Laos so apparently they convinced the Laotian PSYOP specialists to take this American leaflet and place it right in the middle of a group of Lao leaflets with the code .3. The text is in regard to the Vietnamese belief that their dead should be buried at home where the spirit can be celebrated and kept in peace. The text on the front is:


The text on the back is:


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 .4

The front of leaflet .4 depicts a group of happy former Pathet Lao guerrillas that have come over to the Government side. The text on the front is:


The text on the back is:


These former Pathet Lao soldiers are now safe and happy. They used to engage in battles or in war without a good reason, the same as you have in the past. At this time, they are working to build up our nation and are paid close and good attention by the government of His Majesty the King. You have the chance to be safe in the same way. The government of His Majesty the King and your friends and comrades are waiting to welcome you.

The leaflet was designed in Laos and printed by the Americans. It targeted the Pathet Lao in Southern Laos following up on the large Pathet Lao defections to the government side in May 1971.

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Leaflet .5

This leaflet depicts several dead guerrillas on the battlefield in Laos. The language is in Vietnamese so it clearly targets the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army hiding in that country. The text on the front is:


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 rally to the Government of his Majesty the King. You will be warmly welcomed.

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Leaflet .6

This leaflet may be for the illiterate Laotians since it basically has a cartoon front with no text showing a period in the life of a Pathet Lao as he is drafted at home being told he will help the people and learn a trade like auto mechanic, nurse, or clerk but then is given a rifle and taught how to use the bayonet, and ends up sitting under a tree and thinking of escaping and returning home. This reminds me of the old wives’ tale about Army recruiters that promise recruits they will learn about computers or some technical specialty and be stationed in Hawaii, only to find themselves sent to some war zone as an infantryman. We were always told that: “The needs of the army top any recruiter’s promises.” The back of the leaflet has the official Lao safe conduct pass:

Border pass for surrender use at all times

To the people and soldiers on the government side of the Kingdom of Laos:

Give a warm welcome to the bearer of this document and quickly him guide him to surrender at the nearest military unit or post.

Supreme Commander of the National Army

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Leaflet .13

There is an entire series of large leaflets that depict and support Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma. Some of those in my collection are .13, .14, .15, .16, and .17. Since the images are all identical. I will just show the front of .13 and translate all five. I start with .13 and the rest are in numerical order.

Prince Souvanna Phouma Prime Minister in the government of his Majesty the King

The Kingdom of Laos received its independence over 20 years ago. For the last 20 plus years our nation has been a democratically governed by a King, Privy Council, National Assembly and Constitution. Many nations of this world have recognized our independence and sovereignty as assured by the 1962 Geneva Accords. There is no nation in the world that can take away our rights.

14.  Despite the Pathet Lao signing many types of agreements with us, they have shown no intention or desire for peace in our towns and villages or progress of any kind for our nation. We should come together to urge the Pathet Lao to willingly accept as their true intent and behavior conformance with the 1962 Geneva Accord and government political plan. We must join together in ending division and support the struggle of the government of His Majesty the King.

15. The Pathet Lao refuse to abandon their destructive policies. We have already seen that the Pathet Lao destroy the economy, communications, our society and public tranquility. They have caused 600,000 people living under their control to flee to rely on the protection of the government of His Majesty the King.

16.  Recently, the North Vietnamese forced the Pathet Lao to adopt a political program almost the same as that of the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. This clearly shows that the Pathet Lao wish to overthrow our democratic government, and then establish an authoritarian government under the guidance of North Vietnam. Together come to the government side and join with the government.  The government is ready to support you.

17.  Although the Pathet Lao tries to destroy the national economy, we carry on our lives with help from friendly nations who assist 600,000 refugees who fled from the control of the Pathet Lao. Our land will have peace, harmony, enough to live and eat well and stable commerce when we unite and drive the enemy from our Lao land. We must join our strength and hearts to make our nation strong and prosperous. 

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Leaflet .22

Leaflet .22 has the Laos symbol in bright red at the left and a photograph of a teacher in classroom on the front. The text at the bottom of the photo is:

Besides studying their normal course work at Ban Ahmone, students also learn community development. 

The long text at the left of the photograph is:

National Training Center at Ban Ahmone

This training center is the place where local development training for the people has been carried out for a long time. The people who come here for training include village chiefs, farmers, veterans and good citizens from every province. The course subjects include metal working, wood working, pottery, charcoal making and others. The course subject matter includes agriculture and people who come in for training are able to choose their subjects. When they complete their training, in addition to gaining new skills, they also share their new knowledge with other people in their community.  

The back is black and white and depicts three photographs of a workshops and pottery.

Leaflet .28

This leaflet has a rather gory front. At the left we see a farmer with a cart full of food, below the Pathet Lao have taken the cart. In the center some Laotian civilians are being beaten by a Pathet Lao soldier, and at the right we see an entire village being burned. The back is all text:

Dear Parents and Relatives,

Those troublemakers, the North Vietnamese, and Pathet Lao, no matter which village they enter, hardship and despair always follow. For example, on 3 June 1970, those troublemakers, North Vietnamese forces, and traitor Lao, took over Mouang Nguen (Hongsa District), Sayaburi Province. They committed terrible crimes against the people, including arresting and killing the innocent in large numbers, robbing rice and food, and raping daughters and wives. After they were done, they confiscated property totaling 450,000 Kips. Despite this, on 3 November 1970 they proceeded to burn every house to ashes. The government then successfully attacked and regained control of the area. To prevent further attacks by these oppressors, we, the Laos people must unite and resist these North Vietnam invaders and those Lao who betray our nation and bring nothing but the destruction of our homes.

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Leaflet .36

Leaflet .36 is a standard 6 x 3” horizontal product depicting a Laotian reading a newspaper on one side. The text is:


You suffered long while living in the jungle; sleeping on the ground, hungry, apart from your father and mother, your relatives, your sons and daughters and your wife. You never saw night lights or prosperity, not even a newspaper available for you to read. Now, you have returned and live in the land of freedom. Your life is like being born again. You are happy and have high hopes and a full and promising bright future.

The other side of the leaflet depicts the defector accepting a gift radio from two females. The text is:

People who go to do good things are praised; people who come to do good things are welcomed.

Just as you see in this photograph, this government officer and her humanitarian aid representative give gifts to the former Pathet Lao rebel who has defected and joined the government.

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Leaflet .37

The leaflet depicts happy Pathet Lao defectors that have come over to the government playing ball, reading and eating. The text says in part:

This is how you will enjoy life with your friends when you rally to the government

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Leaflet .38

Leaflet .38 is in a vertical format. It depicts the same former Pathet Lao officer. He smiles as he listens to the radio he has received as a gift. The text is:


A former Pathet Lao officer sits and listens to a song on the radio. He is very proud, satisfied and happy.

The other side of the leaflet depicts the same happy defector eating from a small bowl with the radio slung over his left shoulder. The text is:


After they join our government, they become alive, happy and joyful because our government treats them well and with special care.

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Leaflet .43 

This leaflet depicts a group of Lao officials visiting what appears to be a Buddhist temple. The text is:

The End of Buddhist Lent

The traditional ceremony to commemorate the end of Buddhist Lent on the full moon of the 11th lunar month every year. Buddhist devotees join together to make offerings to the monks and join in a banquet. In this photograph the monks are receiving alms from the Prince. The evening will be brightly lit with the lights and candles on boats in accordance with the sacred traditions of the Lao since ancient times.  

Note: The Buddhist “Lent” starts on the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month. The tradition of Buddhist Lent dates back to the time of early Buddhism in ancient India, All holy men, mendicants and sages spent three months of the annual rainy season in permanent dwellings. They avoided unnecessary travel during the period when crops were still new for fear they might accidentally step on young plants. In deference to popular opinion, Lord Buddha decreed that his followers should also abide by this ancient tradition, and thus began to gather in-groups of simple dwellings.

Celeski adds:

While all Laotians, especially hill tribes, may have not been strongly nationalistic, there was a large respect for the royal family and the king. Many PSYOP products had pictures of the king doing great deeds for the country.

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Leaflet .47

Leaflet .47 depicts a statue of Buddha on the front and the text:

Help to promote Buddhism

Buddhism is the National religion of Laos, and it is the religion the Lao people have respected since ancient times.  The Lao people observe the precepts of their religion to make merit for the spirits of their ancestors who have passed on and gone to heaven.  We the Lao people must work together to preserve this tradition.  Anyone who does anything against the National religion would be acting to destroy their own country. 

The back is a long all-text message.

This appears to be rather clever propaganda. The leaflet does not attack the Communists by name, but says that anyone who is against Buddhism is an enemy of the nation. The only enemy of religion was the Communist Pathet Lao, so the people could put two and two together.


Leaflet .52

This leaflet depicts native Hmong tribesmen on the front and back following their own traditions and ceremonies. We see them releasing a bird, taking part in a festival, and playing music. This is an odd leaflet because I found it attached to several Vietnamese leaflets that were dropped on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It is odd to find a Laotian language leaflet in such a grouping. We assume the Lao leaflet might be included in the trail mixes since the North Vietnamese conscripted members of the local populace as porters, maintenance workers, guides, etc. And of course, there were the Pathet Lao. One point of friction between the two cultures was a comment included in one North Vietnamese program to encourage the Hmong to adopt “civilized” customs. The Hmong did not take kindly to being called uncivilized. Some postwar publications and studies indicate the North Vietnamese did make some attempts in this direction. It was good propaganda for the government to take advantage of. The text on the front and back is:

Freeing birds from captivity and death is giving the gift of life in accordance with a good tradition of our Lao nation.

The water sprinkling Festival of the Lao New Year is a sacred tradition for Buddhists who gather to do good by offering up alms to the monks as a meritorious deed. That forgiveness of misdeeds is requested by younger persons from their elders to mitigate any wrongs that have been committed. Our good Lao religious traditions are not impeded in any way - just encouraged so that they do not vanish.

Besides religious observances there are festivals. In this picture they are dancing to the beat of drums. They are totally enjoying themselves together.

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Leaflet .58

Leaflet .58 has three photographs on the front; one depicts a farmer, the other two Laotians working with machinery. The text is:

Within Government controlled territory the people have the freedom to pursue their preferred careers.

The back has two photographs of Laotian workers and a longer propaganda text.


Leaflet .61 

This leaflet show how the government supports athletics. Four photographs on the front depict crowds in an arena and players in three different sports. The text is: 

Good Physical Condition - Health also excellent

The back depicts a medal winner receiving his award and bicyclists. The text is:

The government of Prince Souvanna Phouma gives special support to people participating in sports. Many new sports are constantly introduced to our land of Laos. After work, people have the opportunity to get together for their pleasure and delight fully participating until exhausted. 


Leaflet .63 

This large 5.5 x 11-inch leaflet has two photographs on the front and three on the back. The pictures show the King walking among his people.  the text on the front is: 

His Majesty the King wishes peace and happiness for all Lao peoples, and the government of Prince Souvanna Phouma also does everything to achieve the aforementioned goals.

Demonstrations during His Majesty's update on the current life of His Majesty's people. 


Leaflet .64

Leaflet .64 depicts Prince Souvanna Phouma at his desk at the top, and a monk meeting with uniformed officers below. The back depicts three photographs of officials meeting with the people. The text on the front is:

His Highness, Prince Souvanna Phouma, leader of the Government, gives his time to the country and the people.  He devotes his time to the exceptionally difficult task of promoting peace and bright progress for our Lao Kingdom.  All the people must work closely and cooperatively together to build our country to be civilized in the future under the leadership of Prince Souvanna's Government. 

The text on the back is: 

Pictures of His Excellency looking at ways for the Lao to live normally 

H.E. Prince Souvanna Phouma

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Leaflet .67

Leaflet .67 depicts a number of young Laotians boarding a civilian airliner. The back depicts three photographs of a young man looking into a microscope, an engineer and two nurses. The text is:

Why don't you exercise your rights to go and study like them?

The government supports and presents a wide range of opportunities to all Lao people to have the right and freedom to expand their knowledge. Individual intelligence depends on preferences. The government, represented by his Highness Souvanna Phouma, is the leader in this effort and has sent Lao students to study in other countries to expand their knowledge in the fields of agriculture, education, transportation, health and other areas. More than 1,000 students have participated to expand their knowledge and experience so they can return to build and develop the country so the future will be brighter and stronger. All Lao citizens at all levels have the right to apply for studies abroad.

Leaflet .77

This leaflet depicts Prince Souvanna Phouma speaking to young people who were liberated from the Communists with a map of Laos in the background. The reader will notice that several of these leaflets seem to have what almost looks like a screen over the image. Looking at the leaflet that screen is not seen. It seems to be some oddity of the printing process that is picked up by the scanner. I spoke to some PSYOP printers and they tell me it is called the Moire effect. The Moire effect is a visual perception that occurs when viewing a set of lines or dots that is superimposed on another set of lines or dots, where the sets differ in relative size, angle, or spacing. Or to make it simpler, it results from scanning an image that is printed with halftone dots. The text on the front is:

We fight for neutrality, our religion and to preserve our cherished Lao customs

The back is all text:

His Highness, the Prime Minister, Prince Souvanna Phouma speaks to the people of Xieng Khouang liberated by the government from the traitors and North Vietnamese. He said: “The government and people of Laos have no animosity toward the North Vietnamese. We fight only to defend and maintain our neutrality, religion, and cherished traditions. Although the Pathet Lao seeks to destroy the nation at the instigation of the North Vietnamese, the government must negotiate a pathway to bring all Lao factions together to build the nation.”

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Leaflet .86

This leaflet depicts a former guerrilla who has come over to the government side. At the top he stands behind the counter of his store, bought with money given by the Lao government. At the bottom he looks at a picture of a pretty girl he hopes to marry soon. The text on the back is:


Sergeant First Class Van Binh Kiem, 23 years old, is now the owner of a small shop in Vientiane, where he is leaving a peaceful and happy life. The North Vietnamese aggressors sent Kiem, who was assigned to the North Vietnamese Army's 923rd Battalion, to fight in Laos. He turned himself in to the Royal Government of Laos in June 1927. The Royal Government of Laos gave him a warm reception, and he built a new life for himself with 30,000 kip that the government gave to him. With that money Kiem bought a small but prospering shop in Vientiane, as you can see from the accompanying photograph.

When we asked him about his future, Kiem replied, “I plan to marry a Vietnamese girl who lives near me and to live here in Laos. I want my former North Vietnamese comrades who are still fighting in the dense, remote mountain jungles, to see how happy I am in my new life. I always think of my old friends who have still not realized the hopelessness of their current difficult and arduous situation.”

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Leaflet .89

This leaflet depicts a Laotian Communist soldier who has rallied to the National Government giving another soldier a haircut. The text is:

New Life with the Government

This former Neo Lao soldier has received training as a barber is from the Royal Lao Armed Forces and he has a good occupation now; more than he had when he was with the Neo Lao. Now he has the right to work and take care of his family.

The back bears two photographs of happy Laotians eating and getting haircuts.

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Leaflet .90

This leaflet depicts five unformed Laotians on the front and the text over the photograph:

Good Citizen Welcome Center in Xaiboury

The text at the right is:

When poor, assistance is given - when spying for the enemy, get thrown out.

These former Neo Lao soldiers lived under difficult and exploited conditions when they were under the control of the Neo Lao. When they turn themselves over to the Government, the government gives assistance and occupational training to provide them the ability to care for themselves and their families. 

The back bears two photos of Laos working on an anvil and admiring new knives that they had made.

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Leaflet .91

The front of Leaflet .91 depicts Laotians working in a carpenter shop. The text is:

These are the kinds of job training that Army officials provided for the former Pathet Lao members who surrendered to the National Government.

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The back of leaflet .91 depicts a group of Laotians holding carpentry tools. The text is:

What is your future if you stay with the Pathet Lao? The government of his Royal Highness Souvanna Phouma and Royal Army officials of the Lao Kingdom provides special training and grant freedom to the former Pathet Lao soldiers who turn themselves in and surrender to the government.

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Leaflet .93

This leaflet shows happy Laotians being trained in sewing and basket making. The text above and below the two pictures is:

Good occupations are available when coming over to the Government side.

They have pride in the work they are doing as a result of Government training.

The back depicts a group of Laotians holding carpentry tools (the same picture as .91).

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Leaflet .94

Leaflet .94 depicts a happy Laotian soldier on the front; reading a newspaper and smoking cigarettes. The leaflet is an invitation for the Communist soldiers to return to the national Government. There is a certificate printed at the right of the photograph that says:


We Request that Officials give an appropriate reception
And assistance in every way
National Armed Forces

The back bears a long propaganda message and three happy soldiers.

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Leaflet .97

This leaflet depicts two soldiers doing what they do in every Army in the world. Talking to a pair of pretty girls and getting giddy. The text is:

Sergeant Somchai and Corporal Somchit being welcomed with honor by pretty girls in Vang Vieng after rallying.


Before we help others we must help ourselves. When you are willing to be cannon fodder for the North Vietnamese and the Lao Patriotic Front, you must carefully consider what you will get out of it. You will only sacrifice your lives for them. Take the opportunity to rally to the side of the government and army to improve your own lives for the future. Better than sacrificing your lives for the North Vietnamese who are not of our blood.

Leaflet .101

The leaflet features Prince Souvanna Phouma visiting Hmong refugees, some in native garb, others in uniform, and telling them of the evils of the North Vietnamese and how good the peaceful life in Laos will be once the Communist leave or are driven out. The text on the front and back is:

His Highness the Prime Minister relentlessly strives to bring priests and neutrality to our land appealing to the North Vietnamese to withdraw their aggressive military forces from Lao territory and imploring the people of Laos to come together to work to build the nation.

"We Lao are not known for developing our country because we are a small nation but we do not need anyone to interfere with us.  I ask you all to attend to your work, be the ears and the eyes joined with the Army in driving the aforementioned enemies from our Lao territory to protect our land, religion, King, and Constitution so that our Lao customs are maintained." His Excellency the Prime Minister said this on his visit to Long Cheng and Sam Thong.   

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Leaflet .103

Leaflet 103 depicts Pathet Lao that returned to the Government of Laos. The text on front and back is:

Don't you know that whenever your comrades have rallied to the government they have always been warmly welcomed and cared for? Why do you delay at the price of severe torment? Return to the government to build a good life for you and look for peace in the land.

It is the policy of the government to wait to welcome Lao comrades who have accepted their error and then want to return to their towns and villages to build their towns and villages and improve their own situations such as this group of comrade ralliers undergoing vocational training at the Sayaboury Center.

[Note] The Laotian Army PSYWAR Division maintained a defector rehabilitation and vocational training center which trained defectors to return to their villages and earn a living. Eventually, as the war dragged on and manpower requirements became more severe, most of these men were shuttled into the Laotian Army. Among the skills taught were barbering, blacksmithing, rattan furniture making, farming and animal husbandry, and, of course, good citizenship. The camp director was himself a former Pathet Lao.

Leaflet .111

This large leaflet depicts a stack of banknotes on the back. As soon as you see money on a leaflet you know it is a reward leaflet. Leaflets .110 and .111 are identical except for size. The former is the standard 3 x 6-inches, the latter 6.29 x 11-inches. The front of the leaflet depicts Souvanna Phouma on the front, and the banknotes on the back. Leaflet .112 is identical in 3 x 6-inches, but all in Vietnamese. The text on the front is:

Souvanna Phouma, Prime Minister, Royal Lao Government

The Royal Government promises to pay you:

100,000 kip for information on the location of Royal Lao Government or United States prisoners held by the Pathet Lao or North Vietnamese Army.

1,500,000 kip for assistance to Royal Lao Government Air Force or United States Air Force pilots returned to the government.

You need not keep this paper to collect the reward.

The text on the back is:

With Wealth you can Make Wonderful Things.

Picture of stack of 1000 kip banknotes and Laos Seal and Erawan elephants.

For information on Royal Lao Government or United States prisoners or for assisting Royal Lao Government Air Force or United States Air Force pilots returned to the Government.

Leaflet .114

This is another reward leaflet, a two-panel cartoon on both sides depicting an allied pilot shot down and meeting local villagers, and then returned safely to the government, The text on one side is in Lao, the other side in Vietnamese, the size is the larger 6.29 x 11-inches. The text on both sides is:

1,500,000 KIP REWARD

1,500,000 Kip. A cash reward for those who help Royal Laotian and United States Air Force pilots who are down or being detained by the Communists returned to the government.

1,000,000 Kip. A cash reward for those who provide information concerning United States or Laotian prisoners captured by the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese Army.

Hot off the presses

An extremely rare sheet of the Royal Lao Government .111 and .114

Leaflet .117

This is a standard U.S. leaflet for the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army. It depicts a peaceful scene of a Vietnamese farmer riding his water buffalo with a home and a junk in the background. What is special about it is that it is coded .117, a code used by the Laotians in their propaganda. We have occasionally seen other Vietnamese language propaganda among the Laotian products. They were usually printed by the 7th PSYOP Group and this leaflet was found in the 7th Group files but with no information. I must assume that this leaflet was prepared and dropped along with other leaflets in Lao. The Vietnamese Communists were better trained and better armed than the Pathet Lao and I would think it was important to try and get them to quit the fight for Laos. The text on the front is a couplet:


The text on the back is:


The Government of the United States and the North Vietnam have agreed to open initial meetings in Paris.

If Hanoi shows the U.S. a good willingness to reach a just and peaceful solution, you will enjoy peace soon.

Why sacrifice your friends and relatives in a hopeless dark plot for a military victory in the South? Why?

Note: The image on this leaflet was also used on JUSPAO leaflet 2086, a large 5 x 7-inch Chieu Hoi leaflet for the Vietnamese. It appeared again of Vietnamese-language leaflet 2564, along with the poem “Bring back the peace of yesteryear.” It was used a third time on leaflet 116 dropped over North Vietnam, again with the poem “Bring back the peace of yesteryear.”

Leaflet 201A

A Laotian veteran told me: "As you go through your stuff, look for a red reverse leaflet in Lao with no pictures.That's an important one since it did much to help spark the south Laos defections in 1971.” I did not find any leaflets with a red back in Laotian, but I did find one in Vietnamese. This one has a standard Lao safe conduct pass in B&W on the front so I scanned the back hoping that the Vietnamese text would tell all. The fact that this leaflet code has an “A” at the end means it may be an “alternate” and there might be another leaflet with the text in Lao. I also note that this same leaflet in Vietnamese appears with the code .999, the largest number I have seen on any leaflet by the Royal Lao Government. This might be that leaflet. The text is:

This Pass is intended for use by:

All North Vietnamese cadres and soldiers in Laos

You should present this certificate to any Royal Government of Laos soldier or government official. You will be welcomed and will be well treated. This is your chance to escape death and escape the hardships you experience because of this war. You will be able to live in peace and your life will be protected.

Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Kingdom of Laos

The veteran then said:

That is not the leaflet. The "red reverse" meant that the leaflet was printed in red with the red as the background color leaving white letters. I believe it was locally produced and focused on the North Vietnamese killing of the Pathet Lao general in charge of the South Laos area while in a Vietnamese hospital for treatment of a minor wound. The general had been resisting North Vietnamese rice taxes and labor levies on the local population as excessive.

I realized that we already mention that alleged assassination above and in leaflets on Captain Thao Boualiene later in this article.

Leaflet .249

This is another version of the standard safe conduct pass on the front. The back is a bit difference with a handwritten note in Lao and a printed message in Vietnamese. The text on the front is:

This Pass is intended for use by:

All North Vietnamese cadres and soldiers in Laos

You should present this certificate to any Royal Government of Laos soldier or government official. You will be welcomed and will be well treated. This is your chance to escape death and escape the hardships you experience because of this war. You will be able to live in peace and your life will be protected.

Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Kingdom of Laos

The text on the back of the leaflet is:

Below are quotations from a letter by Mr. Pham Dong, serving in the Production Team of the Quang Nam province to his wife, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Yen, employee at the bank in the Son Tay town (Ha Tay province). The letter was dated 29 April 1971.

"Before, it would take us a few days to travel from the province to the counties. Now it is taking months. Some parts of the journey lead straight through enemy-controlled areas. Sometimes we must cut through the jungle at night, carrying water with us, as it was nowhere to be found. The living and working are thus much worse compared with a few years ago. We must produce our own supply of food six months in a year under very harsh conditions, as the enemy would not let us do that without interference. Now we must carry on every trip machetes, pots, salt and spices for our own subsistence.



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Leaflet .301

This leaflet depicts the King and Queen on the front. Perhaps because of the importance of their majesties, it was printed in two sizes, the standard 3 x 6-inches, and a larger, more collectable size of 5.5 x 11 inches. The text on the front is:

The Chief of State wishes that Lao of all factions cooperate together under the leadership of His Highness Prime Minister Prince Souvanna Phouma.

The text on the back is:

His highness Prince Souvanna Phouma receives instructions from the Chief of State to bring peace and meaningful prosperity to the nation.

[Note]: The chief of state is the King.

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Leaflet .305

This leaflet is a very patriotic piece that has four full-color photographs of military scenes on the front. There are Laotian troops firing a machinegun, troops doing PT, troop firing a rocket launcher and troops walking in “Class A” uniforms with pretty girls. There is no text on the front. The back also has four full-color military photographs; troops marching, soldiers around a mortar, troops at attention and a group of officers. Text on the back is:

All of the branches of the Lao National Armed Forces are  defending the neutrality of Laos from the North Vietnamese invaders.  They are sacrificing their lives to protect the Nation.  At the same time, they join together and have fun.

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Leaflet .309

This full color leaflet uses religion as a theme with monks and the people praying and worshiping. The text on the front is:

In areas controlled by the government, the people have freedom of religious belief.

The text on the back is:

Religion is the treasure of our Lao people. We Buddhists are satisfied with things as before. Doing meritorious deeds is the most important task a Buddhist should do but doing meritorious deeds in accord with our traditions is only facilitated and free in the territory under the responsibility of the government.

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Leaflet .313

Leaflet .313 depicts a Laotian woman holding a baby at the top and an ambulance at the bottom. The text is:

The Government of the King always gives medical treatment to the people who live in remote areas.

The next two leaflets seem to be from the same campaign since both depict beautiful women as their theme.

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Leaflet .315

Leaflet .315 is almost a “pin-up” in the American style. It is full-color and depicts a beautiful Laotian woman in native dress. The text is:

We want you!

So join us to build and develop our Lao country to be strong.

The back of the leaflet has three black and white photographs of Laotian women in school or working in technical jobs like nursing.

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Leaflet .316

Leaflet .316 is full color on the front and depicts a beautiful Laotian dancing girl in formal costume. The text is:

The Royal Government needs you.

We fight to collectively develop our country under the leadership of the Government.

The back has four black and white pictures of modern Laotian women working in various technical jobs.

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Leaflet .317

I chose to show Leaflet .317 because of the interesting images it presents. The front is full-color with a golden Buddha above and below Laotian Royalty, political and military leaders meeting the people. The text is:

The duty of the military is to preserve our Lao religion, our customs and our country.

The back is black and white and has four photographs of the Laotian military in action.

Leaflet .318

Former Pathet Lao* soldiers made the brave decision to join with the government. As seen here. former Pathet Lao* soldiers of the Lao Front have all received an honoring welcome. Therefore, we urge you* to hasten to join with the government to help drive the North Vietnamese from Lao lands. You will all receive an honorable welcome as family and relations.

Note: *The text uses Ai Nong (Older/Younger) implying familial relationship. In the context of this leaflet, it is implying a relationship with the Lao people. The garlands around the neck of each soldier are a way of honoring them.

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Leaflet .321

The front of this leaflet has four full-color photographs depicting a medical professional, a metalworker, an artist and textile workers. There are two black and white photographs of students in school on the back and the text:

People with education are respected. The National Government supports all Lao people to have opportunities to study so they can be educated. It is because of knowledge and intelligence of all Lao that we can help our country to be strong.

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Leaflet .322

Leaflet .322 depicts a young Laotian student being taught by a military officer. The text is:

The country needs educated people to develop a strong nation. We are looking for brave young men who are prepared to sacrifice to stop the invading North Vietnamese.  To make a bright future for our country all of us Lao must work together under the leadership of the National Government.

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Leaflet .323

This leaflet bears four photos on the front; the first a school scene, the second a Laotian receiving medical treatment from a soldier, the third is soldiers helping farmers and the fourth is women doing hospital work. The text is:

Honesty and allegiance to the country and to the people is the highest attribute.

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Leaflet 324

Full-color leaflet .324 depicts a Lao mother nursing her baby. The text can be translated several ways but probably is best read as:

When will you return?

The back is all text. It says:

It has been a many years since you last saw your family; your mother, father, wife, children, and grandchildren, which you abandoned,

Brothers and sisters, for what reason do you abandon your loved ones and live in the jungles alone?  You have worthlessly wasted so much time.

The Royal Lao Government has a program for you to rejoin the family that you left behind so many years ago. Please come back as soon as you read this leaflet.

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Leaflet 325

This full-color leaflet depicts a woman in a white uniform cutting up chickens. The text is:

Believe, but Verify

On the back of the leaflet the woman is holding the lid of a large pot, apparently showing the viewer what she has made from the chickens. The text is:

Why are the North Vietnamese invading Laos?  The North Vietnamese say that the Americans are invading Laos. Brothers and sisters, if you see any North Vietnamese, they are trying to trick you.  Look with your own eyes.  

It is hard to connect the message with the images of cooking chickens, but perhaps there is a Lao saying about looking into the pot before you believe what you are eating, like the Americans saying, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” Vanshay (Robert) Phommachantone, the Lao who translated this leaflet said that it implies that there were instructions to the Lao people about how to report sightings of the Vietnamese. The translator pointed out that nurses are not responsible for preparing meals; also that this one is cutting off the heads. The message may be in the incongruity of the tasks by that person.  She might symbolize the communists who appear to be helpful, but are actually cutting off the heads of the population. He points out once again that the leaflet has the “Royal Seal” of the legitimate government of Laos.


Leaflet .327

This leaflet depicts a Former female Pathet Lao doctor on the front holding a poster showing a portrait of the King of Laos at top, and below a group of Laotians. The text is:

The photo above is of a Pathet Lao female doctor who changed her mind and came in to stay together with the government along with her Leader and other soldiers from the Pathet Lao 12th Battalion. She had served the Pathet Lao for many years in the forest under suffering and tormenting conditions. The thing that happened that caused her to decide to come to stay with the government was not poverty. Instead, she was not satisfied because the North Vietnamese heavily controlled them. After coming to stay with the government for just a short period, she became like an adopted child of the King, and he designated her and the other soldiers from the 12th Battalion as models for others. They can collaborate with the government so that they are able to authentically support the nation.

On the back, two former Pathet Lao are shown, both with their weapons on their right shoulders. The text is:



Leaflet .328

Leaflets .328 and .329 are a matched pair. They both show the same woman and man, one a Lao soldier and the other a former Pathet Lao fighter.The text on both fronts is the same. American leaflets to North Vietnam and North Korea both used the theme that a defecting soldier could come south and find love and possibly marriage. This leaflet does not go that far, but the two are obviously taken with each other so could love and marriage be far away? The text is:

Every time that a Pathet Lao soldier comes in and joins with the government, they become close friends and good friends with soldiers from the military’s side and with the Lao people. They don’t see the necessity for slashing and stabbing each other because we have the same Lao blood. The older and younger siblings (the Pathet Lao) are the same and are all our relatives. The real enemies of us Lao are the North Vietnamese.

The back of the leaflet depicts Pathet Lao defectors and the weapons they brought with them and handed over to the government.

Please come together and join with the government


Leaflet .329

This leaflet appears to show a Lao female Pathet Lao rallier giving a respectful bow to a soldier. The text is:

Every time Pathet Lao soldiers come to the government, they become good friends with members of the government’s military and the Lao people. They don’t see any value in slicing and stabbing each other because together we all have the same Lao blood. The older and younger brothers [Pathet Lao] are the same and we are all relatives together. Our real enemies of the Lao are the North Vietnamese.

The back of the leaflet depicts three photographs of troops in the field. One seems to have a gift, perhaps a radio. The text is:


Leaflet .330

This leaflet depicts a group of former Pathet Lao reading a newspaper. They smile and seem happy with their new life. The text is:

We are of Lao blood and do not need to kill ourselves to the benefit of our real enemy, the North Vietnamese. They are aggressors who force Lao to fight Lao, killing each other. The North Vietnamese force you down to oppression even to plundering the goods of the people. Beloved brethren, it is time for you to turn your hearts to the government and join in wiping put the North Vietnamese aggressors without delay. Follow the example of the 12th Battalion!

Note: Ai Nong might be translated as brethren. Note this leaflet attempts to play on Pathet Lao resentments at having to collect rice and other items from villages to support the North Vietnamese. The sense is that North Vietnamese aggressors are oppressing the Pathet Lao by forcing them to rob villagers for them. Of course, this relates to those south Laos defections. I assume the Pathet Lao 12th Battalion went over to the Royal Laos Government at some point.

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Leaflet .331

Full-color Leaflet .331 depicts two pretty Laotian women holding baby clothes. The text is:

Dear Beloved Fellow Countrymen,

Each time the North Vietnamese take over part of our Lao land they destroy everything leaving it bare, leaving nothing.  Our fathers, mothers, and our relatives are chased out of their birthplaces.  It is very sad that these families become dependent on the government, but the government provides assistance in the way of new occupations, food and clothing.   Dear countrymen, the Government is prepared to assist you at all times, and therefore assists families who must evacuate out of the path of the North Vietnamese in order to help build new lives.

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Leaflet .352

The front of full-color leaflet .352 depicts marching Laotian soldiers at the top and students at the bottom. The text is:

The brave demeanor of these soldiers of the National Armed Forces are the strength that protects and enables the Lao people to live their lives peacefully to build and advance the country. 

The back is black and white and depicts Laotians at play.

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Leaflet .354

Full color leaflet .354 depicts marching Laotian soldiers on the front. The text is:

Follow the example of your friends who have joined the National Army.

The back is black and white and all text.

A number of the leaflets in the 500 series are appeals for Pathet Lao members to defect and depictions of officers and men that have already rallied.

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Leaflet .510

This leaflet depicts two Pathet Lao officers that defected to the government. At the left is Captain Thao Boualiene and at the right is Lieutenant Bounthanh. Text on the front is:

Captain Boualiene - Lieutenant Bounthanh

Because Captain Boualiene and his group could not stand being oppressed by the North Vietnamese, they decided to come in and surrender to the government and join the army to resist the North Vietnamese. Therefore, take Captain Boualiene, the commander of the Pathet Lao’s 25th Battalion, as an example.

The back of the leaflet shows a group of the Pathet Lao defectors. The text is:

Your comrades in this picture followed their commander. They lived and fought many years with the North Vietnamese Army. They learned that the NVA are the real enemies of the Lao people. Captain Boualiene said “We know the truth.” This new truth led Captain Boualiene and his men to the Royal Lao Government. They will no longer help the NVA oppress the Lao people. They will now fight with the Royal Lao Army, for our country and our people.

When I first translated and depicted the leaflets featuring Captain Boualiene I assumed he was just another of the hundreds and thousands of defectors that moved from one side to another during the decade of wars in Indochina. An Australian researcher wrote to tell me that this particular defector had a much more interesting and involved story. He said in part:

When I met Boualiene in early 2000 he was hiding out on a construction site in Bangkok and looking like a poor old man. Kenneth Conboy’s “Shadow War” mentions Boualiene's defection from the Pathet Lao in the early 1970s. The story was that the southern region commander of the Pathet Lao, General Phomma Douangmala, had been killed by Vietnamese doctors while receiving medical treatment. Gen. Phomma had been one of the founding members of the Lao Issara's Xaichakkaphat Unit which fought against the French between 1947 and 1954. The leaders of this unit later formed the core of the Lao People's Liberation Army's command. During this period Phomma led Pathet Lao forces in western Champasak who sought to cut off the strategic Route 13 that links Laos with Cambodia.

It has been claimed in a different text, “Sixteen Years in the Land of the Death” by Nakhonkham Bouphanouvong, that a former comrade-in-arms of Phomma, General Boun Phommahaxay, was a member of a rebel faction in the Pathet Lao and was purged with other ranking cadres. General Boun worked with Khamtai Siphandone and Sithon Kommadam in southern Laos during the struggle with the French. After the Geneva Accords in 1954 he became chief of the Pathet Lao Army's Political Department. The general ranked in the top five of the Lao People's Party in 1955, so it obviously was a big shake-up that was carefully kept under wraps for a long time.

After 1975, Boualiene led a guerrilla faction of the Lao resistance in southern Laos. His group led raids into the vicinity of the Bolaven Plateau along the southern flank. His support base was in Ubon Ratchathani (Thailand) where he received financing from sympathetic elements in the Royal Thai Army and overseas Lao. According to other members of the resistance, Boualiene was a respectable leader who maintained discipline amongst his troops. After the warming of relations between China and Vietnam in the late 1980s, Boualiene was abandoned by his Thai patrons and was temporarily imprisoned. He then quit fighting and fled underground. Boualiene still has a contract on him from the Lao government. This is because upon his initial defection he betrayed the Pathet Lao and provided the United States Air Force with data which led to the bombing and strafing of Communist sanctuaries in southern Laos. In one incident in Attapeu province, over a 100 Vietnamese soldiers were killed when the cave they were hiding in got bombed.

Ian G. Baird is a professor of Geography and the director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has done extensive research on various topics in Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia. His most recent book is titled Rise of the Brao: Ethnic Minorities in Northeastern Cambodia during Vietnamese Occupation (University of Wisconsin Press, 2020). He has been researching our Captain who defected and sent me the following:

Boualien Vannasay was born in Mai Sam Khang Village in what was then Sithandone Province, in the southern-most part of Laos (now in Khong District, Champassak Province). His parents were peasant farmers. He went into the forest and joined the Pathet Lao communists in 1959, when he was still a teenager. He did not tell his mother of his plan. He fled because his father had been murdered on one of the islands in the area, when he went there to trade in crocodile skins, and Boualien was unhappy that local officials in the Royal Lao Government did not sufficiently investigate the murder, but instead just dropped the case.

After Boualien joined the Pathet Lao, he received military training in North Vietnam, before returning to fight for the Pathet Lao in southern Laos. He excelled on the battlefield, and was an expert commando leader, but in the late 1960s he became disillusioned with the Pathet Lao because he felt that they were being overly dominated by the Vietnamese. He became particularly upset when his commander, General Phomma Douangmala, died after sustaining injuries in battle. Phomma was taken to a Vietnamese field hospital in Champassak District, west of the Mekong River, where he died. Boualien and others believed that the Vietnamese had killed him when he was at the field hospital because he had also recently been critical of the Vietnamese for dominating the Pathet Lao. Therefore, Captain Boualien arranged with a relative on the non-communist side to defect to the Royal Lao Government side in 1969 along with some of his soldiers and a Vietnamese advisor that he captured and brought in with him. Other Pathet Lao officers followed him some months later, particularly Thittanh Douangmala (he took the last name of Phomma to honor him) and Bouasay Sisounon. They were all integrated into the Royal Lao Army, and Boualien was sent to different areas to try to convince others to defect. He was eventually promoted to the rank of major.

When the Pathet Lao gradually took over Laos in mid-1975, Boualien, Thittanh and Bouasay were some of the first soldiers in the Royal Lao Army to go to the forest and take up arms against the new government. Boualien soon became the most well-known anti-communist insurgent in southern Laos. He used his political and military training in Vietnam against the communists and managed to win over the hearts and minds of many rural villagers in southern Laos. Many former RLA soldiers and villagers joined him. Boualien continued his anti-communist insurgent activities in Laos for a few years before basing himself on the Thai side of the border. He continued supporting insurgent activities along the border until political circumstances led him to stop doing so in the mid to late 1980s.

Kenneth Conboy mentions “Boulien” in Shadow War – The CIAs Secret War in Laos, Paladin Press, Boulder, CO, 1995:

On 26 March, 30 Pathet Lao led by their battalion Commander, Captain Boulien, and with a captured North Vietnamese captain in tow defected to authorities. Another 89 defected by month’s end, followed by an additional 55 in April…

Captain Boulien, whose 25th Special Fighters Battalion was General Phomma’s personal security unit, claimed his leader was poisoned by the Vietnamese…

Acting on information the USAF and Royal Laos Air Force were able to mount 43 sorties against a Group 968 base camp, mauling the Vietnamese. Shortly thereafter, the rest of Boulien’s battalion came over to the Royal Laos Army.

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Leaflet .511

This leaflet shows a happy former Pathet Lao officer with his right hand on his pistol. Text on the front is:

Captain Boualiene
The Commander of the Pathet Lao’s 25th Battalion 

The back is all text and explains that he is allowed to carry his weapon after rallying to the Royal Laotian Government because he was no longer considered an enemy. The captain is quoted:

It is quite contrary to everything the North Vietnamese told us in their propaganda. I now realize that everything they told us was nothing but a lie.

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Leaflet .512

Leaflet .512 depicts a former Pathet Lao officer and a group of ralliers. The text on the front is:

Uncle Kongmany, the political head of the Central Pathet Lao in Southern Laos
Note: This text is upside-down

Pathet Lao soldiers who came in and surrendered [from left to right] Captain Boualiene, Major Langsanh, Kongmany, Lieutenant Khampan, Lieutenant Bounthanh, and Major Lang Sanh, Chief Information Officer, Southern Region

The back is all text and gives some background of the major and quotes him:

After we learned that the North Vietnamese killed our supreme commander, General Phouma Duangmala, we had no other choice but to join the Forces Armees Royales (Royal Laotian Army) and turn our guns back to fight against the North Vietnamese.

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Leaflet .513

This leaflet depicts Royal Lao Army soldiers and former members of the Pathet Lao. They laugh and joke together and appear to be friendly. The text is:

We are of the same flesh, blood and ancestry and should not kill each other.

The back is all text:

These photographs show you how your former comrades from the 25th Battalion were warmly welcome by the Lao people and FAR [The Royal Lao Armed Forces best known by its French acronym FAR]. These men fought against one another until yesterday. You see how our FAR soldiers and your comrades at once became friends. This is because we share the same blood – the blood of the Lao people. There is no reason for us to fight one another. You can also become a true friend of our people. Our real enemy is the North Vietnamese. The North Vietnamese have invaded our peaceful country. We understand that the North Vietnamese have forced you to kill Lao people. We know very well that it is the North Vietnamese that orders you to steal food from the Lao people. We understand that if you disobey the North Vietnamese orders you will be killed by them.

Dear Comrades, it is not too late to rally to the Royal Government of Laos and fight with your fellow countrymen against the North Vietnamese aggressors. Follow the example of your comrades of the 25th battalion.

Leaflet .514

This is another leaflet that mentions the 25th Battalion defectors. There is an error on the front of this leaflet. The text was printed upside-down. It depicts three photos of them on the front and the text:

We have the same blood line and so we should not kill each other.

The back is an all-text message:

These photographs show you how your former comrades were warmly welcomes by the Lao people and FAR. These men fought one another until yesterday. You see the FAR soldiers and your comrades became friendly at once. This because they share the same blood – the blood of the Lao people. There is no reason for us to fight each other. You can also become a true friend of our people. Our real enemy is the North Vietnamese. The North Vietnamese have invaded our peaceful country. We understand that the North Vietnamese have forced you to kill Lao people. We know very well that it is the North Vietnamese that order you to steal food from the Lao people. We understand that if you disobey the North Vietnamese orders, you will be killed by them.

Dear comrades, it is not too late to rally to the Royal Lao government and fight with your fellow countrymen against the North Vietnamese aggressors. Follow the example of your comrades of the 25th Battalion.

An interesting fact about this leaflet. The sentence “blood is thicker than water” is upside-down. The only explanation is that the central white box was left blank after the first run so they could place any saying the wanted in that spot. They added the sentence on a second run through the printer and by accident the sheet or the text was placed in upside-down. Since the printers surely did not read Lao, it was an easy mistake for them to make. A different sentence was added to leaflet 513 and that one is correct.


Leaflet .515 

This leaflet has three photographs on one side (including Boualiene Vannaxay and Kongmany), and a single photograph on the other. In all of the photos we see former Pathet Lao fighters who have come over to the Government. They are all happy, laughing or smoking. The text is: 

Those older and younger Pathet Lao from the 25th Battalion have already surrendered to the National Government. They have all received a warm welcome from the Government. Now they are not anxious about anything because of the just way that the government welcomed them. Therefore, everyone has a clear and smiling face.

All you older and younger Pathet Lao should therefore hide and escape from the tortuous life that the older and younger Pathet Lao must experience at present. They surrendered from the Pathet Laos’ 25th Battalion. The older and younger men were warmly received, and they will have a clear life just like this.

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Leaflet .517

Leaflets .517, .518, and .519 all depict the same handwritten letter from Captain Boualiene to his former comrades. Leaflet .517 depicts Boualiene, .518 depicts Major Lang Sanh, and .519 depicts the two together. The text says in part:

Do you all know what is going on now in the Pathet Lao organization? I hope you all understand the situation between the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese Army. The fact of the matter is that the NVA has every intention of making life difficult for the Lao people.The NVA have double-crossed us. They want to take over our country by subversion. They have murdered important leaders of the Lao people such as Generals Phomma Douangmala, Somsay and Outh Ai. This is an example of NVA cruelty towards the Lao people. It was for this reason that we decided to rally to the Royal Lao Government. We have received a warm reception. We urgently ask you all to rally to the Royal Lao Government to end this war in our country. Do not listen to the NVA. They have no cause. The war will never end if you listen to them. The only correct path for you is to rally to the Royal Lao Government where you will have a happy life.


Leaflet .519

This leaflet depicts Major Lang Sahn and Captain Thao Boualiene and a letter from the two. The text of the letter is the same as .517 above.

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Leaflet .520

Leaflet .520 depicts a happy Pathet Lao defector with his wife and children. The text beneath the picture is:

For a clear future for the older and younger people [Pathet Lao] and their families,
it would be good to surrender to the government side and the side of his Majesty the King.

Text on the back identifies the rallier as Captain Thao Boualiene, Commander of the 25th Battalion who after spending many nightmare years with the North Vietnamese troops in the jungle now enjoys a happy life with his family.


Leaflet 521

Leaflets 521 and 522 have identical text. Each has five photographs of happy former Pathet Lao fighters now with the Lao Government. The text on the front and back of both is:


The older and youngers [Pathet Lao] may not want to believe that these people were previously the older and youngers but after they came in and surrendered to the government side all their very difficult lives changed.

It is like the government has said, the government will welcome them and look after the older and youngers [Pathet Lao] who went the wrong way and later thought that they wanted to return to a new way, so they came in and surrendered to the government side to join with other former older and youngers for the future of the older and youngers themselves.

The text on the back is:

Please immediately rush to leave from the tortuous life that the older and youngers [Pathet Lao] are receiving at present.


Leaflet .523

This leaflet depicts Captain Thao Boualiene and many Pathet Lao defectors that have come over to the government side. The text is:

Captain Boualiene, the commander of the Pathet Lao 25th Battalion and his group after they surrendered to the government of His Majesty the King. They are all living in a real humanitarian way. They don’t see any foreign soldiers helping the government soldiers fight. The time has come that the older and youngers [Pathet Lao] should do like Captain Boualiene and his group. Therefore, return to the government to build and develop the country together.

Leaflet .524

This leaflet has a rather dark picture of four soldiers. The text is incredibly long:

The head of the Dak Kong [special operations unit], one person who was an older and younger [ this term always indicates “Pathet Lao”] is Captain Boualiene, the commander of the Pathet Lao 25th Battalion. He surrendered to the government side of His Majesty the King on 26 March 1971, along with over 100 other older and younger Pathet Lao who used to fight with Captain Boualiene. At the same time, they brought in many weapons and gave them to the government. Before surrendering to the government, Captain Boualiene and his soldiers fought against the North Vietnamese, to prepare the road to freedom.

Captain Boualiene provided his own reasoning: Why did Captain Boualiene and his soldiers make the decision to surrender to the government side. Boualiene answered that: “We don’t like the North Vietnamese being our bosses. We are very sorry that they killed General Phouma Douangmala, who was our commander. The North Vietnamese also killed two Lao officers, who were: Lieutenant Colonel Outhai and Major Somxay. The reason that they were killed was because they refused to follow the orders of the North Vietnamese because the North Vietnamese ordered them to collect a large amount of rice and other food from the people. After they killed Major Somxay, the North Vietnamese also stole 600,000 kip from him and other older and younger Lao people who were friends.” For the older and youngers who are still staying with the Pathet Lao currently, who else is in the same type of situation?

The North Vietnamese who are operating in Laos are called the “liberation army.” What will the North Vietnamese liberate for the Lao people? The truth is that they are coming to threaten and kill the mothers and fathers and Lao relatives who like calmness and peace. That is what they are really doing to the Lao people. Should they be forcing them to give them rice and other food? If the older and younger are real Lao, they should not allow the North Vietnamese to take over our country, which is against the law. Therefore, they should surrender to the government side and the national army and then they should come together to fight the North Vietnamese and get them off our Lao land.

Leaflet .525

This is the last leaflet I will add that mentions Captain Boualiene. Since Professor Ian G. Baird wrote to me saying he was thinking of writing a book on this defector I thought it was worth adding all the leaflets he is mentioned in. As in leaflet 524, the text is extremely long. The image depicts an officer shaking hands with a group of men. The text is:

Older and youngers [this term always means “Pathet Lao”], we are friendly with all of them. The Royal Kingdom of Laos is everyone’s. It is an independent country that has his majesty the King as the sovereign power of the nation. The Lao people all like calmness and peace. For this reason, the people chose a neutral administration system. To summarize, our Kingdom of Laos does not want a foreign enemy takeover from us. Why have the North Vietnamese come in and have been allowed to threaten our homeland in a way that is against the law, even though we Lao never invaded North Vietnam? The war has been going on for over 20 years, which is a long time, and the North Vietnamese have robbed and stolen, under the mantel of what they call “fighting for liberation.” The North Vietnamese forced the Lao people to kill each other. It is therefore time for the older and youngers to reflect on their own roles.

Lieutenant Bounthanh, a former older and young has already surrendered to the government side, together with Captain Boualiene, the commander of the 25th Battalion. Lieutenant Bounthanh fought for the Pathet Lao for seven years, but after he surrendered, he learned that the government of his majesty Souvanna Phouma as its leader, are the real government of the people.

Lt. Bounthanh said: “The North Vietnamese who stay on Lao land at this time, have especially become the bosses of the Lao people. We are the same. If the North Vietnamese are suspicious about who is not honest with them, they will mark that person’s head, and later they will kill that person immediately.

Your former comrade, Bounthanh, rallied with his battalion leader, Boualiene (Lang), Commander of the 25th Battalion. Bounthanh had spent seven dedicated years with the Pathet Lao. At the end of those seven long years, he finally understood that the government of Souvanna Phouma is the true government of our Lao people.

Bounthanh said, “The North Vietnamese in our country are acting like the bosses of the Lao People. All of us in the Pathet Lao who are regarded by them as untrustworthy or disloyal to the North Vietnamese are marked by them to be killed sooner or later. The North Vietnamese have been forcing us to conscript 90 percent of the rice grown by our Lao farmers. They leave only 10 percent for our people to eat. If the farmers sell their rice or their buffalos, half of the price must be given to the North Vietnamese. If any of our farmers refused, they are killed. I saw several of the Pathet Lao soldiers who refused to carry out the orders of the North Vietnamese killed by them. From January 1970 until the present, I know at least 10 persons who were killed in the Saravane area alone.”

Leaflet .526

This leaflet depicts Prime Minster Prince Souvanna Phouma and the same image is used on leaflet .527. In both leaflets he tried to get the Pathet Lao to the peace table. The text is very long. The first and last two paragraphs are:

Dear Comrades,

Our people are suffering from the hardships of war caused by North Vietnamese aggression. Thousands of our people have been forced to leave their homes. Our homes and our belongings have been burned and destroyed. Thousands of our people have been killed or wounded. People have lost their parents, their beloved husbands, their sons, their brothers and their sisters. Many people have become crippled, orphans and widows.  Why are we confronted with such tragedy? Why are we forced to put up with such misfortune? Were it not for the aggression of the North Vietnamese, we would be living in peace and happiness.

In other words, the North Vietnamese presence in our country and their control over the Pathet Lao serve nothing but to cause endless misfortune and hardships to our Lao people. 

A settlement of our country’s problems will come only when you and your comrades lay down your arms and return to the government as did over 100 of the men of the 25th Battalion on 26 March in the Pakse area.

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Leaflet .527

As the end of the war neared, neutralist Prime Minster Prince Souvanna Phouma made a number of leaflet appeals to the Pathet Lao asking for peace negotiations. He foolishly believed that the Communists would come to the table and reach an agreement. In fact, the goal of the Pathet Lao had always been to rule Laos. This same picture of the prime minister is on a number of leaflets, each with a different message. The text on this leaflet says in part:

These are the words of the Prime Minister Prince Souvanna Phouma to the new Lao Hak Xat (Lao Patriotic Front).

“I wish once again to send you an urgent appeal entirely void of propaganda and invective.

It was almost a year ago that our first contacts were initiated to end the problems between us and the suffering that our innocent people endure. Although little has been accomplished since then, the need to arrive at a solution was certainly felt.

Today all of us are witnesses to the merciless fighting that the Vietnamese are engaging in our territory. This sad but basic development means that settlement of the Laos problem runs the dangerous risk of being imposed by others and passing out of the hands of the Lao themselves…”

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A Leaflet to the Hmong People

This Laotian Government leaflet urges the native Hmong people to defend their villages against the Pathet Lao.It shows armed natives ready to defend his home. The message to the Meo tribe is:

The Meo tribes, who are citizens of Laos, have risen to fight and resist courageously the aggressive movement of the Lao Vietnamese in order to preserve their native land, which really portrays the Meo’s zealous patriotism. The Meo’s struggle from the beginning is an action which is very admirable and the Royal Laotian Government continues to place its confidence in all of you. The Royal Laotian Government appeals to you to cooperate with the legal government headed by Prince Boun Oum of Champassak, in committing yourself to doing your very best to maintain and preserve our country, rights and freedoms for all of us Laotians.

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Leaflet .529

Leaflet .529 depicts some happy defectors talking with pretty girls. The text tells of a Captain who defected to the Government side:

The suffering and various difficulties that Captain Boualiene previously received when he was with the Neo Lao Hak Xat [Lao Patriotic Front] and the North Vietnamese. At present Captain Boualiene is comfortable, as shown in this photo.

My translator was a fan of Boualiene. He said about the defector:

Boualiene was a genuine convert to the government cause and continued guerrilla operations against the Lao Patriot Front after the fall of Laos in 1975.

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Leaflet .530

Leaflet .530 depicts defectors being greeted and receiving flowers as a symbol of their coming over to the Royal Lao Government. The text is:

Lieutenant Colonel Soutchai, former commander of the 11th Battalion and Captain Vanna Phommavong, commander of a rural militia company of the Lao Patriotic Front individually received a warm homecoming welcome from the Government and National Army

Leaflet .999

Let me end this section on the Lao government leaflets with this interesting safe conduct pass. As I said earlier in this article, it is the highest number I have seen on a Lao made leaflet. This version is for both the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese troops and has the front with some red color and the safe conduct message in Lao. The back of that version in black and white with the same message in Vietnamese. I will show both translations, done by different people and as expected, they will be slightly different.

Lao language:

Check Point Pass, for check-in - Usable anytime.

The People and soldiers of His Majesty the King of Laos’ Government. Welcome this cardholder and ensure safe travel assistance. Please assist the cardholder in checking in at the nearest government post.

Commander-in-Chief of the National Army

Vietnamese language: 

This Pass is intended for use by:

All North Vietnamese cadres and soldiers in Laos

You should present this certificate to any Royal Government of Laos soldier or government official. You will be welcomed and will be well treated. This is your chance to escape death and escape the hardships you experience because of this war. You will be able to live in peace and your life will be protected.

Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Kingdom of Laos

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Leaflet S-9

Leaflet S-9 is all text in Vietnamese on one side and Lao on the other. The message is:


This area will be bombed and strafed ceaselessly. Keep away from this area and anywhere serving as troop installations, supply depots and military truck stations. These areas will be destroyed.

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Leaflet S-33

American and Vietnamese troops took part in raids into both Laos and Cambodia. In both countries leaflets were prepared that showed maps of the border area and warned the Viet Cong that their ability to use these neutral countries as a sanctuary was coming to an end. This American leaflet depicts a map of Laos with a shaded area and the text:

The shaded area on this map is the safe area. All you need to do is to follow Route 9 in the direction of the setting sun, or to follow the course of the Se Bang Hieng River. You should avoid contact with the local population until you reach the safe area.

The back of the leaflet is all text:

Seek Refuge in Laos

To all North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos

This is an opportunity for you to escape death and to live in safety and peace until the war is over. The Royal Lao Government and the Lao people will gladly receive you in a spirit of brotherhood

The Supreme Commander of the Lao National Army

Problems with leaflet dissemination

Looking at all the leaflets that were dropped on Laos it would be easy to think that all the methods of leaflet dissemination were solved. That is not the case. Two of the problems are mentioned by Colonel Joseph D. Celeski in Laos in Special Air Warfare and the Secret War in Laos, Air Commandos 1964–1975:

We were given boxes of leaflets and told to go fly over specific areas and release them. We did that several times. The first time I did that, we were flying along, and then throwing them out. They had a fuse squib igniter on them that blew the twine wrapping the bundles, and the leaflets would blow around. Sometimes they were just loose, and we threw them out the window. I got done with the leaflet drop mission and was flying back to home base. I was trying to climb to get some altitude, and the stick wasn’t working. We looked back and the tail, on both sides, was covered with leaflets. I had to shake the plane and the tail around to get enough off, so I had control—learning the hard way!

From a personal standpoint, I frequently was involved in dropping PSYOP leaflets in late 1969. Major Houmpang would ask us to deliver them to a specific area. I’d fly him in the U-17. Usually had a box of them in the backseat. Nothing fancy like parachutes, igniters, etc. He’d throw them out the right window; I’d throw them out the left window as I flew over the “target” area. A couple of times, they’d get wrapped around an antenna or the elevator. Had to go thru some real gyrations one time as they were stuck in the elevator horn.

Enemy Propaganda

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Pathet Lao soldiers are led in a song that glorifies the Pathet Lao

Little is known about the way the Communists used propaganda in Laos. The North Vietnamese loved propaganda and used it constantly so it is sure that as the mentors of the Pathet Lao they would recommend its use in Laos. Langer and Zasloff say that the North Vietnamese provided support to propaganda efforts in Laos. One Meo defector said:

The Meo would propagandize in the Meo villages and the Vietnamese in the Lao villages. Some of the Vietnamese could speak Lao since they came from areas near the Lao-Vietnamese borders…When they needed some propaganda in a village, my battalion commander would receive orders from the Lao People’s Liberation Army headquarters, then he would assign us to carry out some propaganda.

Pathet Lao Propaganda

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Pathet Lao soldiers listen to party orientation

Just as in Vietnam, the Lao Communist Party, the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, formerly the Lao People's Party, used many “fronts” to disguise the fact that they were a Marxist–Leninist political party that emerged from the Communist Party of Vietnam founded by Ho Chi Minh in 1930 and controlled the military and political forces of the Lao revolution. They kept their existence secret until 1975, preferring to direct their activities through fronts such as the Free Laos Front, the Lao Patriotic front, the Lao People’s Liberation Army, the Pathet Lao and others. In this section, to avoid confusion I will simply call the Communist military forces the Pathet Lao. “Pathet Lao” means “the land of Laos” so when we call their forces the Pathet Lao, we in essence say that the country of Laos is rebelling against the government in Vientiane, which, if it doesn't represent the land of Laos must not be legitimate. It seems we play into their hands.

I asked Karl Fritch why he kept the Communist leaflets and he told me:

The reason that they are mostly Communist is that I had an interest in studying them. I've always believed that if you're in a war you should make every effort to understand the enemy. During the war I was reading Giap, Ho Chi Minh, Guevara, Lenin, Mao, and anything else I could get my hands on.

This might also explain the number of Communist booklets the reader will find at the end of the leaflets. It is proof that he studied their thinking, tactics and Communist manifestos in great depth.

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Officers and Soldiers of the Vientiane Regime

This leaflet bears two pictures on the front. The one at upper left depicts manufacturing in the Lao Patriotic front liberated zone. The caption speaks of improvement in the standard of living by the people living under the Communists. The second picture claims that people living under Lao government control are now under the control of the Colonial American imperialists. Some of the text is:

America and its puppets have suffered grave defeats on all Lao battlefields will soon suffer more defeats even greater than before…Now more than ever before, demand that America and its puppets unconditionally stop bombing all of Laos so that the Laos parties can enter into timely negotiations…

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Policy of the Lao Patriotic Front towards Vientiane Troops

The first picture on this leaflet features officers of a government military unit that defected to the Pathet Lao and was welcomed warmly. The second picture shows troops from that unit that joined the Pathet Lao to achieve victory for their country. Some of the text is:

Policy of the Lao Patriotic Front toward Officers and Soldiers of the Vientiane Regime who Perform a Patriotic Act

Persons or units who perform patriotic acts such as:

Rising up and rebelling, leaving the enemy and helping the People’s Liberation Army attack the enemy, will be honored and given assistance by the Lao Patriotic Front to achieve victory. If a person or unit comes over and wants to join the Liberation Army – the unit shall be kept together as before with the organization and duties of the personnel maintained…If the desire is to return home to make a living, assistance will be given in accordance with those wishes.

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Officers and Enlisted Soldiers of the Vientiane Regime

This leaflet is similar to the above on in that it shows representatives of the Lao People’s Liberation Army gathering to greet troops from the Lao Government that have defected to the Communists. Instead of the usual two pictures there is just a single photograph on the front. The unit is identified as “BS 209,” but that unit was unknown by American Intelligence. The text is similar to the second leaflet and says in part:

Whoever joins the Lao Patriotic front will receive recognition and welcome. If they come with results, they shall be appropriately honored. If they come with their families they shall receive a warm welcome and assistance of every kind…As for those who come with the aim of joining the revolution to strike America and its puppets, their intent shall be fulfilled.

We assume that when this leaflet talks of those coming with results they mean taking some previous action against the government, delivering their weapons or information to the Communist forces.

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All Types of Peoples in the Liberated Zones…

This leaflet has no long text message on the back; instead, both sides have two pictures. The photographs depict Communist leaders meeting native people, native women, happy Laotians buying goods and a New Year’s ceremony the Vietnamese would call TET. The captions are:

Chairman Prince Souphanouvong has a cordial meeting with delegates from various ethnic groups at the Congress of the Lao Patriotic Front.

People of the Lao Theung ethnic group enjoy building a new life in the Liberated Zone of the Lao Patriotic Front.

All Types of Peoples in the Liberated Zones enjoy a new life and progress.

Highland Lao in the Liberation Zone gather to celebrate the Lunar New Year in accordance with their customs.

It would appear that like the Americans did in Vietnam, the Pathet Lao in Laos spent much time recruiting the highland tribes to their side.

Prince Souphanouvong was a half-brother of the Lao premier Souvanna Phouma. After World War II he opposed the return of French rule in Laos and joined the nationalist provisional government in Vientiane as defense minister. He eventually allied with the Viet Minh, with whose aid he formed the Communist-oriented Pathet Lao in 1950. He was sometimes called “The Red Prince.

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Soldiers and People whose homes are in the Liberated Zone…

The final leaflet in this group depicts people of all ethnic groups living under the Lao Patriotic Front in happiness and freedom. The second photo attacks government refugee villages (perhaps similar to Vietnamese “Strategic Hamlets”) and claims that they are prisons. The one at Pak Khan is said to be a prison where the Lao get only aggravation and hardship from the Americans and Government forces. This would seem to be for people that understand Communist doctrine and have left the liberated zone either voluntarily or forcefully. It invites them to return to their homes and to take part in the liberation. The text says in part:

Soldiers and People whose homes are in the Liberated Zone of the Lao Patriotic Front who have fallen under the oppressive control of the Vientiane Regime

The Imperial Americans and atrocious uncivilized and inhumane traitors of all kinds destroy the lives of the people in the towns and countryside and place thousands and thousands of families in prison camps. The people have fallen under the control of reactionary troops and the oppressive power of an uncaring Vientiane regime which looks down on them and forces them to be soldiers…It is time for you to flee the control of the enemy and return to your own lands in the liberated zone to do your duty to redeem the nation from America and its puppets and to build up the liberated zone.


For clarity, the term Pathet Lao refers to the overall anti-government military and civil movement in Laos. The meaning of the term is Lao Nation. The Lao patriotic front is the public overall civil arm of the revolution comprising communist and non-Communist membership. The People's Liberation Army of Laos is the military arm of the revolution. The Lao People's party is the Lao Communist Party which is not mentioned in these leaflets but which is in actual control of things. Not mentioned but subsumed under the rubrics of the Lao patriotic front are the patriotic neutralist forces which operated mostly in Phongsaly province.


Pathet Lao New Year’s Card

The above is a beautiful Pathet Lao New Year’s Card. It does not specify what year but seems to be toward the end of the war since it is in color, on glossy paper, and fits with the theme of the time. One side depicts a pretty girl and a scene of Laos. The back features a flag and the propaganda text:

Happy New Year

Demand that America and its puppets stop bombing and cease fire in all Lao territory. Let Laos be neutral in harmony with the correct desires of the nation.

Lao Patriotic Front

At the right of the card are the words:

To and 5,000 Kip and Department of Public Works

[Author’s Note] The flag was first adopted in 1945 under the short-lived Lao Issara government of 1945–46, then by the Pathet Lao. It is one of the two flags of a currently communist country (the other being Cuba) that does not use any communist symbolism and the only current communist country that does not use a five-pointed star in its flag as an emblem. The current flag was adopted on December 2, 1975 when it became a socialist state. The royal flag before 1975 remains in use by many Laotian diasporas.

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Pathet Lao Safe Conduct Pass to Thai Troops in Laos

The Pathet Lao was well aware that the Thais were helping the Government of Laos and the United States. This leaflet has the following text on the front:

Border pass

For the Thai military fighting on the battlefield of Laos

There is a message on the back in Laotian to their own troops:

To all regular units, militia, guerrilla units, and administrative entities and people throughout the country. Please extend a warm welcome and behave in accordance with policy toward the bearer of this card. Help him surrender himself to an administrative unit or one of the various departments in a timely manner.

The Lao Patriotic Front

Karl Fritch added:

The war in Laos and the use of Thai troops was only secret from Americans. Two types of Thai units were involved - clandestine units not wearing Thai insignia and some Thai units which operated openly toward the end of the war. I remember seeing Thai military police in Thai uniforms with Thai military police arm bands in Pakse when the big North Vietnamese offensive occurred in South Laos.

Note: a second translator thought the title was more like “Certificate of passage.”

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Pathet Lao Safe Conduct Pass No. 2

This safe conduct pass is amazingly beautiful. Usually in Asia when you see a piece of paper so attractive it is a lottery ticket or something similar. The Pathet Lao really went all out with this pass in terms of color and decoration – not their usual style. One side is addressed to soldiers, police and civil servants telling them they will be welcome if they rally to the NeoLaoHakSat (Lao Patriotic Front) and the other side tells members of the Pathet Lao to welcome any defector that comes over to the guerrilla side. The text on the front is:

Peace, Independence, Neutrality, Democracy, Unity, Enduring Progress

Safe conduct pass for use at all times

To friends: officers and enlisted soldiers, officers and enlisted police, and civil servants under the control of the Vientiane puppet regime:

The time has come for you friends to find a way to join with the Lao Patriotic Front. Friends will be welcomed with honor. If you delay, are afraid, or can’t make up your mind, you are putting yourself in future danger.

People’s liberation Army of Laos

The text on the back is:

People’s liberation Army of Laos Pathet Lao

Peace, Independence, Neutrality, Democracy, Unity, Enduring Progress


To: regular army units, militias, guerrilla units, and rural administrative structures throughout the land:

When rural officials see a military officer or enlisted personnel, a police officer or enlisted personnel, or civil servants of the enemy surrender themselves to us, military and civil officials are to welcome them in a correct and proper manner in accordance with the policies issued by headquarters.

Supreme Command People’s Liberation Army of Laos

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Pathet Lao Safe Conduct Pass No. 3

This leaflet has the safe conduct pass message on the front and a propaganda message on the back. The text on the front is:

Friends: Officers and enlisted men, police, and civil servants:

To protect your lives take this leaflet to a regular military unit or rural administrative unit of the Lao Patriotic Front. You will be welcomed and safe.

People’s liberation Army of Laos

The text on the back is:

For officers and enlisted men and police in the rightist army and civil servants under the control of the Vientiane puppet regime:

The American imperialists and the reactionary right have deceived you all into opposing the nation and people of Laos for their own purposes.

The American imperialists are being severely defeated in South Vietnam and in our Laos and will surely flee their defeat.

It’s a good opportunity for you friends to return to the people. Turn your guns on the enemy! The Lao Patriotic Front will welcome you friends. If successful you will be congratulated. If you delay or are afraid you will face peril.

People’s liberation Army of Laos

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Pathet Lao Safe Conduct Pass No. 4

This pass is a bit larger than the second and third passes. They were about 4 x 3-inches and in full color front and back. This one is about 5 x 4-inches and the front is in color, the back in black and white. The text is similar though. The text on the front is:

Comrade Officers and enlisted men, and all civil servants

So that the life of our comrades may be protected! Take this leaflet to a regular military unit or rural administrative unit of the Lao Patriotic Front. Comrades will be welcomed and safe.

The text on the back is:

Comrade Officers and enlisted men in the rightist army and civil servants in administrative units of the Vientiane puppet regime

The American imperialists and the rightists have deceived many comrades into opposing the nation and people of Laos for their own purposes.

The American imperialists are being severely defeated in South Vietnam and in our Laos and will surely flee their defeat.

The time has come! Comrades!

Return to the people. The Lao Patriotic Front will welcome you as comrades.

Turn your guns on the enemy! If successful you comrades will be congratulated.

If you delay or are afraid you comrades will be in danger.

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Chairman Mao's "Little Red Book"

The Cultural Revolution, formally the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, was a sociopolitical movement in China from 1966 until 1976. We that lived through it remember the Chinese youth running wild and almost destroying Chinese culture trying to purify their Communist faith. They carried the “Little Red Book” of Chairman Mao. I still have my copy printed in Mainland China at the time.

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A captured Copy of Mao’s “Little Red Book” and a copy of
“Completing the Revolution” in the Lao Language

The Pathet Lao had their version of Mao’s book. It was not red but it pictured the Chairman and was handed out by their Chinese mentors. It was a collection of Mao’s thoughts and speeches including:

The Peoples of the world must unit to defeat the American Imperialist aggressors and their running dogs.

Policy towards Vientiane Officers and Enlisted men

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Disguised Cover

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Inside page

There are a number of small booklets that were turned in to Military Intelligence. They do not look like official Pathet Lao booklets and if anything look just like little travel booklets on the beauty of Laos. They were captured from Pathet Lao and translated and the text is all Communist political Rhetoric. This booklet is on the treatment of Government troops that are captured or defect. Some of the text is:

Toward officers and men who are patriotic: Any person or unit that patriotically opposes the American Imperialists and the puppet lackeys will receive praise and support to the fullest extent from the Neo Lao Hak Sat [Lao Patriotic Front].

Officers and enlisted men who bring weapons or important documents, persuade their comrades to come with them, or kill a traitorous official shall receive flattering praise whether the results have been great or small….

I asked Karl to tell me more about this booklet and he said:

The 1968 document is the Policy of the Lao Patriotic Front toward rightist officers and enlisted soldiers. This is the type of Pathet Lao propaganda brochure that was issued through the late 1960's and probably into the 1970's. The use of glossy papers and photographs started at least in the early 1970's and possibly as early as 1969. I suspect it may have been in response to the use of photos and better paper in propaganda from our side. Obviously, they wouldn't want to be seen as technologically inept alongside their rightist competitors!

Policy toward Ethnic Groups

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Disguised Cover

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Inside page

This is another small booklet that looks innocent but is filled with Communist policy. Some of the text is:

Our nation is one united country composed of many ethnic groups. The Neo Lao Hak Sat has a policy to enhance the overall position of the ethnic groups…We will concentrate on corrective improvements of the living conditions of the ethnic groups. We will lead them in the war against poverty, disease and illiteracy to defend and increase the voice of each ethnic group…We will increase unity between the ethnic groups and between the party members of each ethnic group to oppose the American imperialists and their puppets…

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Attributes of a Cadre

This handbook was captured from a Pathet Lao Cadre and is like an NCO guide to tell the good Communist how to act and interact with his soldiers. Some of the text is:


Study this lesson so that your comrades may have a totally firm grasp of good attributes and that it may bring your comrades closer to being a good cadre with good attributes.

Why must cadre have good attributes?
What are good attributes?
Difficult and glorious duties…

What are the good attributes of a cadre? Be Pure toward the nation. Love the people. Act in a proper manner. Be resolute in the fight. Respect your superiors; love your comrades. Improve yourself. The Cadre is the representative between the Command and the people; He explains policy directly to the people and keeps track of the situation to report to his headquarters. The Cadre has the responsibility to advise and foster the revolution in every way, molding it into a force in every circumstance. The Cadre will take heed as to whether the people operate correctly or incorrectly; the people’s opinion of the revolution and the inspection of the military. When the Cadre does well the peopled believe in him and love him; when he does bad the people hate him and want to kill him…

Other captured documents are: The Cadre’s Notebook; Collecting Information on the Economy and Society of a Village; Important Items and Duties for National Liberation Youth Workers; Lessons; 1967 Patriotic Calendar with Important Dates; the 20th Anniversary of the People’s Liberation Armed Forces; the Violations of the 1962 Geneva Accords; the political Program on the Lao Patriotic Front; the First National Meeting of the Lao Volunteers; and important documents and drafts.

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Liberation Publications

These pro-Liberation publications were part of the Communist arsenal to attack the Government and the West. They were printed in many languages and these were all in English, clearly aimed at leftists in the West.

The books are an interesting point of view of the war. Looking through A Historic Victory of the Lao Patriotic Forces on Highway 9 – Southern Laos, it would appears the American and South Vietnamese forces took a terrific beating during Operation Lam Son 719, the American push to take away the Communist areas in Laos where they did rest and recuperation.

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The Slaughter of the South Vietnamese According to the Communists


One of the maps alleged to show the day-by-day Victory of the Pathet Lao


Some of the text is:

By mounting Operation Lam Son 719 the US aggressors wanted to prove the independent power of the Saigon puppet troops and the certain success of the Vietnamization plan. But the test has ended in disaster for the Saigon troops and in drama for Vietnamization of the US war…On February 8, on the order of his Yankee bosses, the Vietnamese traitor Nguyen Van Thieu has insolently and imprudently ordered his troops to invade Southern Laos…496 US aircraft were shot down or destroyed in Southern Laos by the Lao People’s Liberation Army.

They claim to have wiped out over a dozen elite units including Rangers, Marines and paratroopers and about 50 regular and artillery infantry units.

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A Pathet Lao Award Commendation

This looks very similar to the various commendations that were given to the Viet Cong. The PSYWAR staff has translated the text and placed it beneath each line in Lao. Notice the doves of peace at the upper corners. Paper like this is cheap to print but it is very meaningful to the troops. Sometimes a colorful ribbon can motivate a fighter to go on for days without food and water. Awards are major motivators. Napoleon once said:

Give me enough medals and I’ll win you any war

I asked Karl about the Commendation and he told me:

A quick example of the bad translating of this commendation are translation of the term “Pathet Lao” as “Kingdom of Laos” in the upper left corner. The Pathet Lao never called themselves the Kingdom of Laos. There are no gender specific pronouns in the original. The certificate can be used to recognize men or women. In a Communist organization the chief of the Political Office is a fairly important personage - particularly one from the Supreme Headquarters of the Lao People Liberation Army. I find it interesting that blank, signed certificates were available.

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Secret War Monument

When the Communists took power, they launched a genocidal campaign to punish or eliminate those who allied with the United States, particularly those who had served in the U.S. Secret Army. Tens of thousands of Hmong escaped across the Mekong River to Thailand and refugee camps. From there, former soldiers and their families eventually were resettled in the United States.

In 1994, William E. Colby, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, talked of the critical role and sacrifice of the Laos Secret Army. He said in part:

For 10 years, Vang Pao’s soldiers held the growing North Vietnamese forces to approximately the same battle lines they held in 1962. And significantly for Americans, the 70,000 North Vietnamese engaged in Laos were not available to add to the forces fighting Americans and South Vietnamese in South Vietnam.

Mr. Grant McClure, a former U.S. Army Advisor to the Montagnards, became the moving force behind the idea of a permanent Memorial to the secret army at Arlington National Cemetery. On 16 May 1997, General Vang Pao and the remnants of his army, wearing camouflage fatigues, assembled at Arlington. They stood at attention for the dedication of the Memorial Monument – a small stone topped with a copper plaque, acknowledging the secret war in Laos – and the Hmong, Lao, and American Advisors who valiantly served freedom's cause in the jungles of Southeast Asia. The plaque reads:

Dedicated To
the U.S. Secret Army
in the Kingdom Of Laos
1961 – 1973

In Memory Of the Hmong and Lao Combat
Veterans and Their American Advisors
Who Served Freedom's Cause in
Southeast Asia.  Their Patriotic Valor
and Loyalty in the Defense of Liberty and
Democracy Will Never Be Forgotten

May 15, 1997

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General Vang Pao

This ends our look at the secret war in Laos. Is it over? I thought so, but it suddenly was brought to the surface again with recent news of an attempt by one of the old fighters to go back to Laos and give it another try.

I started to write this article in late May 2007. While doing research I constantly found references to the Hmong General Vang Pao. This individual had controlled a Hmong army in Laos and in many ways was the most powerful and dominant military leader of the war. As a teenager in World War II, Vang Pao fought the Japanese. In the 1950s he joined the French in the war against the North Vietnamese, and later worked with the CIA to an even greater extent. Pao helped the Administrations of U.S. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon in their battle against Communism expansion. Advised and supported by the Central Intelligence Agency, General Pao’s army of Hmong, Kmhmu, and Lao gathered military intelligence, rescued downed U.S. air crews, protected U.S. Air Force navigational sites in Laos, and fought the North Vietnamese to a standstill in Laos for a decade. He was truly legendary.

I knew that Pao had been airlifted to Thailand after the fall of Laos and become a leader of the Hmong community in the United States. As I approached the end of my article I was surprised to hear that on 4 June 6, 2007 the general, now 77, had been charged with being part of a current plot to overthrow the government of Laos. The old general had always promised his Hmong that he would take them back to their homeland.

Ten men working with the Lao Liberation Front (Neo Hom) allegedly conspired to obtain scores of AK-47 assault rifles, ground-to-air Stinger missiles, anti-tank weapons, mines, rockets, explosives and smoke grenades with which to oust the Laotian communist regime. The charges claimed that the plotters:

…Formed a committee to evaluate the feasibility of conducting a military expedition ... to engage in the overthrow of the existing government of Laos by violent means, including murder, assaults on both military and civilian officials of Laos and destruction of buildings and property of Laos.

The ten were charged after contacting an individual they thought to be an arms dealer, but who was in fact, an ATF agent. The suspects had inspected a wide array of weapons and purchased an initial installment of 125 AK-47 machine guns, 20,000 rounds of ammunition, and crates of smoke grenades for $100,000, to be delivered in Bangkok, Thailand, on June 12. They claimed to have budgeted $9.8 million for arms, including a number of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

The plan for the overthrow of the government was found in an 18-page document titled, “Operation Popcorn: A Comprehensive Plan of Action.” The Popcorn (Political Opposition Party's Coup Operation to Rescue the Nation) plan included the acquisition of sophisticated weapons, payments for security forces, coup leaders, and political and military consultants. Laos would be liberated in 90 days at a cost of $28 million dollars, much of that the payment to mercenaries to carry out the plot.

In September 2009, all charges against General Pao were dropped. Other members of the alleged plot were still under indictment, including Harrison Ulrich Jack, a West Point graduate and retired lieutenant colonel from the California National Guard.

Laos was also in the news in June 2007 when the leaders 8,000 Hmong people in a refugee camp in Thailand vowed to fight deportation to Laos. They say they would be tortured because their relatives backed the US in the Vietnam War.

Ly Seu, one of the leaders of the Huay Nam Khao camp, said:

We had to leave Laos because we are the children of the CIA allies who have been suppressed since 1975.

Thailand deported 160 Hmong on 9 June 2007. The US State Department urged Thailand to screen people so that those who might be persecuted would not be sent back to Laos. A department spokesman said:

Unfortunately, continued allegations of human rights violations in Laos, combined with the Lao Government's refusal so far to permit monitoring of returnees, cause concern about the wellbeing of those who were deported.

So, it is clear that even though the Wars in Vietnam and Laos ended three decades ago, they still go on in the hearts and minds of some governments and people.

By coincidence, the story of one American prisoner of war who escaped from Laos was made into a movie that premiered 4 July 2007, just a few weeks after this article was finished. Rescue Dawn is the story of Navy Lieutenant Dieter Dengler who was shot down in his Douglas A-1 Skyraider on his very first mission over Laos on 2 February 1966. The movie was based on Dengler’s book Escape from Laos. After five months of captivity and torture, Dengler managed to escape his captors and was spotted by another A-1 Skyraider flown by Lieutenant-Colonel Gene Deatrick of the 1st Air Commando Squadron on 20 July 1966. Dengler had made a crude “S.O.S.” with parachute material he had found in the jungle. He had managed to avoid recapture for 23 days and was just 98 pounds, down from his original 157 pounds. He was awarded the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart and the Air Medal. Dengler passed away on 7 February 2001 at 62 years of age from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

One member of the Air Force who took part in various classified missions (they were lighting up the Ho Chi Minh Trail for the fighters and bombers at the time) said:

Our “Blind Bat” crew was involved in the summer of 1966. I vaguely remembered the incident one night when we were flying over Laos looking in vain for trucks and the cockpit crew spotted some fires on the ground that seemed to be in a pattern. When the crew was debriefed, the intelligence officer was excited about the fires and told them it was classified and not to discuss it. In Dengler's book it says that he had seen the nightly flare missions operating over the area where he was hiding out and decided to signal us. Later we got in touch with Dengler and he confirmed that he had set the fires our crew saw. Dengler was rescued a few days later when he came out of hiding in the daylight and signaled an A-1E pilot who was flying low looking for him. His signal flag was made from one of the parachutes from the flares.

As I said at the start of the article the American leaflets to Laos are very rare and little has been written about them. The vast majority we show here have never been depicted before. It was just rare good luck that one of the military personnel involved in printing and distributing them kept a sample for his records. We were also lucky enough to get a few American veterans who served as translators during the Vietnam War to volunteer to read the text for us. I thanks them all. In particular, retired CSM Skip Ettinger who worked hard to get the translations right for our readers.

Readers who care to comment on this article are encouraged to write to the author at