SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

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Flags of DRVN and RVN

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

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

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

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

Regarding the safe conduct pass pictured above and many others like it, the Joint United States Public Affairs Organization's Planning Office produced a booklet titled PSYOPS IN VIETNAM; Indications of Effectiveness in May 1967. It mentioned safe conduct passes:

Situation: Documentation of effectiveness of the Ho Chi Minh trail leaflet campaign.

Psyops: For months, millions of safe-conduct passive and surrender leaflets have been dropped on the Ho Chi Minh Trail to undermine the effectiveness of replacements infiltrating into South Vietnam.

Effectiveness: A Special Forces unit operating near the trail in Quang Duc province discovered that the trail area with well covered with leaflets, even in the dense jungle. During an engagement with infiltrating Viet Cong forces, the Special Forces unit captured a Viet Cong soldier with a safe-conduct pass concealed in his shirt. Two other Viet Cong soldiers were killed in the same encounter. They also had safe-conduct passes on their persons.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail

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The Ho Chi Minh Trail

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

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A young North Vietnamese soldier exchanges farewell with his mother and neighbors
shortly before departing his home village of Vinh in the province of Nghe Anfor.
French Photographer Patrick Chauvel - 1970 Photo for Ceux du Nord

On seeing this picture I commented that the young soldier was facing many months on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. My friend Nguyen Ky Phong corrected me and said that because it was 1970 his trip would be much quicker:

It took six months for the troops to move south during 1959-1964. Then the motorized transportation came; more troops and military supplies moved more quickly. By late 1969 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 (the East-Southern half) or B-3 (The Highlands). One of the reasons for the ill-fated Operation Lam Son 719 was that the U.S. Air Force was unable to stop the infiltration. The 1969 military budget cut forced the USAF to reduce their missions to Southeast Asia to 1000 sorties per month, from the 3000 sorties per month of the years 1967-1968. Mind you, the 1000 sorties were for South Vietnam, Lower Laos, and Cambodia. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was rebuild and re-staffed abundantly after Lam Son 719. By 1974, The Ho Chi Minh Trail'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.

West of Quang Tri in 1970, Vietnamese journalists document the efforts of a team of Youth Volunteers-teenagers from the North-as they use bicycles to ferry rice and weapons along the trail. A trip along the length of the trail took more than a month of hard marching early in the war, but by 1975 some sections had been improved to six-lane roads paralleled by fuel pipelines.

Photographer. TRONG THANH

Ho Chi Minh Trail Bicycle on Display in Hanoi Museum

History Net says about the bicycles:

A London newspaper report of October 3, 1967, described a hearing before the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas responded to a New York Times reporter’s testimony regarding the extensive use of bicycles by the Communist forces in Vietnam. The reporter, Harrison Salisbury, who had recently been in Hanoi, detailed for the committee how bicycles enabled the Viet Cong (VC) and regular North Vietnamese Army (NVA) to continually resupply their forces even under the most adverse conditions. Salisbury concluded his testimony with a strong assertion: “I literally believe that without bikes they’d have to get out of the war.”

The astonished Fulbright, almost springing up from his seat, replied to Salisbury: “Why don’t we concentrate on bombing their bicycles instead of the bridges? Does the Pentagon know about this?” Most of the committee members and those in the audience thought the senator was being sarcastic. Laughter erupted at the idea of vast numbers of sophisticated American aircraft hunting down bicycles in the thick jungles of Vietnam.

Colonel Joe Celeski discusses the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Special Air Warfare and the Secret Air War in Laos: Air Commandos 1966 – 1975:

Truck routes were one lane with several bypasses and turnarounds (for northbound traffic), ranging from eight to twelve feet wide, and with improved surfaces to give them an all-weather capability. Crushed gravel, improved earth, raised roads—or roads built above areas prone to flooding—and some asphalt paving allowed for the almost unimpeded flow of trucks…US intelligence estimates calculated the throughput infiltration rate of North Vietnamese truck movements as ranging from a minimum of 100 short tons per day to a high of 400 short tons per day, more than sufficient to supply communist efforts in South Vietnam throughout the war.

Foot trails were on average about three-feet wide and for most of the war remained virtually undetected. The same concept was used for moving troops as was used for moving trucks. Foot trails ran parallel to the main truck routes of the HCMT, with way stations four days movement apart. Along with foot movement, the foot trails were also utilized by porters, bicycles, and pack animals.

The purpose for the Ho Chi Minh Trail PSYOP campaign was to target the North Vietnamese Army forces infiltrating along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in eastern Laos and to focus on the Steel Tiger interdiction area. [Author’s note]: (Operation Steel Tiger was a covert U.S. 2nd Air Division, later Seventh Air Force and U.S. Navy Task Force 77 aerial interdiction effort targeted against the infiltration of People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) men and material moving south from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV or North Vietnam) through southeastern Laos to support their military effort in the Republic of Vietnam).

Approximately 100 million leaflets a month were dropped in this area. Along with USAF C-130 assets, eleven C-123s, and thirteen U-10s of the 606th Special Operations Squadron, 56th Special operations Wing at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base participated in the operation. The 9th SOS used a C-47 flying out of Danang Air Base. The Thailand-based special operations assets began flying PSYOP missions on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1968.

Although interdiction of NVA trucks on the trail was the primary mission, they were secondarily tasked to also provide aerial PSYOP support to the interdiction campaign. The C-123 Candlestick missions [Author's note]: (Illuminating southward-traveling North Vietnamese night convoys with flares, so that other strike aircraft could identify and destroy them). included leaflet dropping and the U-10s flew both "Litterbug" leaflet drops and "Loudmouth" broadcast speaker operations. In 1968 the 606th Special Operations Squadron flew six PSYOP missions a week. In the last quarter of 1968, both types of aircraft delivered over 20 million leaflets.

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

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

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The Diary of an Informer

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

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

As a weapon he was issued 1 K-44 rifle or 1 K-50 sub-machine gun and two grenades. Some men wrote on their undershirts Sanh bac tu nam (“born in the north, will die in the south”).

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Supplies move down the Trail

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

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North Vietnamese soldiers and militia members work on a muddy stretch of the Ho Chi Minh Trail
in 1972 to free a Soviet T-54 tank on its way to the battlefront (Photo by Luong Nghia Dung)

The number of Vietnamese troops supporting the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos alone is mentioned by Paul F. Langer and Joseph J. Zasloff in North Vietnam and the Pathet Lao – Partners in the Struggle for Laos, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1970. They say:

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

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

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

NVA soldiers struggle to build a bridge along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1966. In 1964, the North began converting existing jungle footpaths into a road system capable of carrying heavy vehicles. Looping several hundred miles from the North through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam, the trail would prove pivotal in the war's outcome.  

Photographer TRAN PHAC

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Nguyen Thi Huong, a 9th grade student and "Youth Volunteer"
She and her group helped maintain and expand the Ho Chi Minh Trail
(Vietnam Pictorial, March 1974)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard L. Holm who wrote Recollections of a Case Officer in Laos, 1962-1964: No Drums, No Bugles, mentions his futile attempt to crater the Ho Chi Minh Trail and how quickly it could be repaired:

Our plan involved some complicated logistics. It was the dry season, so we explained that we would send cratering charges by truck and boat to Team Bravo’s base camp. Then a 15-man patrol, carrying a dozen cratering charges, would walk across the Nakay Plateau to the place where Route 12 entered Vietnam via the Mu Gia Pass. The patrol would pick a spot along a ravine or another vulnerable place, and, at night, plant all 12 of the cratering charges. The road would be cut for weeks.

The team leader started spewing out one reason after another why such an effort would not be possible. He had so many reasons that he didn’t even have to include “evil spirits.” He pleaded with us to reconsider. We finally did, and no patrol was sent.

Years later, I learned that B-52 bombers dropped tons of high-explosive bombs and cratering bombs all along the Trail and in the strategic passes, including Mu Gia. The road was never cut for more than a few days. The Vietnamese did an incredible job of repairing and rerouting to keep supplies flowing southward. Our 12 cratering charges, even at that early stage, would not have had much effect.

Mu Gia Pass was mentioned in another interview I had with retired Colonel Charles V. Nahlik who was heavily involved with leafleting both Vietnam and North Korea as a member of the 7th PSYOP Group while a Captain from 1966-1968. He mentions a mission over the pass:

I have no stories about the Ho Chi Minh trail except that when we were flying missions over it, we took lots of fire from someplace called the Mu Gia Pass.  Our electronic jammers were working to their fullest.  That is the area in which we were told to look out to the right side of the C-130 at the rockets being fired at us. That is something that will start your heart pumping!

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NVA Troops marching South on the Trail

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

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

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

Songs are louder than the thunder of guns.

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

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

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

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

Combat Intelligence Lessons

The Confidential report Combat Intelligence Lessons was printed from about 1968 to 1971 and says about sensors:

At one point the sensor program was known as DUFFEL BAG. The System Characteristics and types of Sensors were unattended ground sensors utilizing four basic detection modes and operating on the following principles:

Seismic - detects vibrations or movement on the surface of the earth which m ay be caused by footsteps, moving vehicles, digging or various other sources.

Acoustic - detects and transmits any sounds within the decibel range of the human ear.

Magnetic - detects movement of ferrous metals such as vehicles and weapons.

Infrared - designed to detect heat radiation from human bodies. Response to heat from humans is optimized, while response to other heat sources that would cause activations is minimized.

We don’t know much about how they dropped the sensors, but a 1 August 1969 report titled, Operational report of the 1st Aviation Battalion (Combat) for the period ending 31 July 1969 has a section "Operations: Significant Activities" that mentions one method they were using:

As a result of liaison visits to the 25th Infantry Division the 1st Aviation Battalion wrote an experiment plan to test the Mortar Aerial Delivery system (MADS). The plan was approved by the 1st Infantry Division and immediate steps were taken to obtain the equipment and build the systems. Both systems have been tested and are presently being utilized on mission. The Mortar Aerial Delivery system (MADS) which consists of a UH-1 helicopter equipped with two 4.2-inch mortar round storage racks and a launch platform is being used to drop and mark sensor devices. This has been a very effective and accurate means of placing sensors in the desired areas.

The 1970 classified secret CHECO report Igloo White, July 1968 to December 1969 said about the program:

On several occasions during 1968, there appeared to be periods of inactivity when the number of sensor signals relayed through the orbit aircraft was significantly reduced. This was eventually traced to EB-66 electronic countermeasure (ECM) activities in connection with ARC LIGHT strikes.

The battle of Khe Sanh, which began in January 1968, was a watershed and proving ground for IGLOO WHITE. Prior to that time, the concept had been one of infiltration monitoring and operational testing. At Khe Sanh, the system became operational as a battlefield surveillance system. The successful application of air-delivered sensors at Khe Sanh attracted wide interest in their use and served to strengthen the acceptance of their reliability. A review stated that “this use of the system for battlefield surveillance and real time intelligence gathering was instrumental in directing the massive air and artillery strikes that broke the siege and destroyed the besieging forces. The fundamental premise underlying the system was proven, that it was feasible, in a combat environment to air emplace and monitor a large sensor field, and to relay the sensor outputs in real time to a remote center for analysis and exploitation."

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Bicycles laden with supplies on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

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

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Sensors found along Ho Chi Minh Trail in Attapeu Province, Laos
Courtesy of

A Sensor found at a Gun Show, 2022

During a discussion of this item some comments were:

it's a ADSID sensor for picking up sounds/vibrations of people or vehicles in movement. Tons of these were deployed along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, NVN, and RVN by the USAF and USN.

Several of my missions "centered" on ADSID's, typically emplaced too far from the border to have been a "bad shot". Infiltrations routes were clearly being monitored and our team inserted to investigate/ambush. This was a good 20 kilometers from any border.

A Spikebuoy being Dropped from an Aircraft

This unmarked photograph without captions is the only one I have ever seen of the sensor actually being dropped by hand from an aircraft into the ground below. Looking at the altitude. It is amazing that the sensor worked after hitting the ground.

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The Spikebuoy with twig-like antenna

The air portion code name to place the sensors along the trail was “Muscle Shoals,” while the electronic interpretation was called “Igloo White.” About 20,000 sensors were used in all. Other sensors included a “people sniffer,” designed to sense sweat and urine.

The XM-2 people sniffer or E63 personal detector.
Notice the “sniffer” on the end of the soldier’s M-16

The website Flashbak said about the sniffer:

In 1967, US troops in Vietnam were equipped with the People Sniffer, a device designed to detect human scent. Sweating could get you killed in Vietnam. The XM-2 personnel detector manpack, also known as the E63 manpack personnel detector, was the first version of the people sniffer employed by the Army. The XM-2 featured a backpack mounted sensor with an air intake tube on the end of a rifle. The XM-2 was problematic in often detecting the soldier carrying it rather than the enemy. The device also made a distinct sound, easily detectable by the enemy.

An In-Country Cartoon.

This cartoon shows a seasoned Vietnam soldier so filthy and  smelly from months in the bush that he can no longer carry the “People Sniffer” because the delicate sensor can only smell him. Fehrenbacher is the premier cartoonist of the Vietnam War, always right on point.

There was a XM-3 model mounted on helicopters that was more reliable.

One Chopper pilot said:

The US military used "sniffers" to detect the bad guys. I know. I flew Sniffer Missions in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade AO. The sniffer machine was tied to the floor in the back of my OH-6A, or "Loach" helicopter. A long aluminum tube extended out front of the aircraft gathering air that was piped to the machine. It had a meter on it. A Chemical Corps Captain rode in the back watching the meter. As I flew low level way out in Indian Country and the machine's meter indicated whatever it was sampling for the captain. If he got a hit the captain would yell "Hotspot, Hotspot" on the radio. Some guy in a Command-and-Control Huey high overhead was watching me and marked on a map when the Chemical guy yelled. I was told the machine measured/sensed urine. I flew single pilot, no gunner. Just me and the Chemical guy in the back. The Command-and-Control ship overhead, over the radios, guided my path. They told me where to fly, turn, etc. Some anxious moments. Usually, but not always a set of Firebird gunships accompanied me. We flew these missions in summer and fall 1969. Southern I Corps. The US military would then rain some artillery on the "Hotspot" map locations. Then send some ground troops to see what we shot up. I don't think these missions were very effective.

The enemy knew. North Vietnamese fighters diverted American forces by leaving buckets of urine in the jungle.

The patch of the 503rd Chemical Detachment, 199th Light Infantry Brigade.
Courtesy of French collector, Bastien Mouray.

A Stars and Stripes newspaper clipping from July 1968 mentions the people sniffer (edited for Brevity):

The people sniffer, called a personnel detector by the Army came to Vietnam last year. It detects body odor. Flashing over the jungle and paddies at treetop level, the machine sniffs out human odors, and consequently guerrilla trails, hideouts, camps, and even underground bunkers. A people sniffing team for the U.S. 199th Light Infantry brigade has been sniffing for almost two years now, mostly over the jungles north of Saigon. They can now wing over the jungle and personally sniff out Viet Cong cooking fires, foodstuffs, and other items.

The machines themselves are still top secret. They look like a briefcase, and all have different personalities. Some have more delicate noses than others. The machines have been generally accepted. They are so good in fact; the ground commanders demand them. Military maps are dotted with “hot spots” that have been sniffed out. The only thing that can fool the machine, its makers claim, is a chimpanzee. Whether human beings like to admit it or not, the chimp smells like we do.

“Have you smelled any good people lately,” is the standard clubhouse greeting to a people sniffer.

“We smell 'em, you fight 'em,” the sniffers reply.

A Fehrenbacher cartoon about things Americans wear that the VC can smell.

I should add that the human nose is a pretty good sniffer. A 10 March 1970 operation report of the 1st Infantry Division says:

Communist troops are often able to detect the presence of U.S. forces in their area by the various odors particular to U.S. personnel. The most easily detected are the odors of cigarette smoke and perspiration-soaked fatigues. Other odors which reveal the presence of U.S. troops involve shaving lotions, highly perfumed soaps, and insect repellent. The recognition of peculiar odors is considered is an important means of detecting the presence of U.S. personnel, and Communist troops are instructed to constantly remain alert for strange and unusual smells. Every sapper and reconnaissance elements are especially proficient in odor detection, since the manner of their activity requires close proximity to U.S. troops. Communist troops who are located downwind from U.S. troops can successfully detect and identify odors up to a distance of 45 to 50 meters. The maximum distance at which odors can be detected when no wind is present is 25 to 30 meters.

The “Black Crow” detection system could sense truck engine emissions from 10 miles away. Igloo White was disbanded in 1972 because of the high costs of the program and the belief that a cease-fire was imminent.

Leaflet 7-469-70

The sensors were no great surprise to the enemy soldiers on the trail. This leaflet, requested by the 101st Airborne Division and printed by the 7th PSYOP Battalion told the enemy about the sensors. The leaflet says in part:


Possibly your unit will be surprised by a violent artillery raid. Or perhaps, your unit will be destroyed by hundreds of bombs from invisible B-52s. Do you know why your unit is so strangely detectable? It is because of our sophisticated, electronic sensing devices. Maybe in a day, an hour, or a minute, your unit will be destroyed by air-artillery raids or airborne troops…

Celeski points out that they usually had six sensors per string. The communications troops on the base prepared them and delivered them to the chopper on the flight line. There were two different types of sensors, seismic and acoustic/audio. The audio sensors produced recordings monitored by the Task Force-ALPHA guys at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base.

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Brigadier General Lawrence H. Caruthers, Commander of MACV
J-33 Special Operations Unit pins new Sergeant Stripes on Jim Hoskin in 1968

Sergeant Jim Hoskin worked at Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) Headquarters at Ton Son Nhut, Saigon, assigned to J-33 Special Operations in 1967-1968. He was involved with the sensor program and told me:

Another project was the listening devices we dropped along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. These were about the size and shape of a 100 pound bomb (with a sharp pointed end) and the antenna sticking out of the back end. When dropped from an aircraft the device would bury itself in the ground up to the antenna. The antenna was supposed to look like a local tree in the jungle.

The first few developed were more like “motion detectors.” When motion was detected in the area we would send in an air strike. We were sure we wiped out a few wild water buffalo or other jungle critters that might have set one off.

Then we got smart and designed the device so it could actually listen. One night a squad of NVA supply troops actually stopped for a smoke and tea break and almost sat on top of one of these things. We [those who were listening] could actually hear their conversations.


The Declassified Project CHEKO Report

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

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

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The Handsid (Placed on the Ground by Foot Soldiers)

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

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

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The Helosid (Dropped by Chinook Helicopters

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

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

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

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

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A Highly Modified Navy NP-2H Neptune Aircraft

Robert Zafran was a young Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade who flew the Ho Chi Minh Trail from August to December 1967. He was part of a joint Navy/CIA operation called “Muddy Hill” (Task Group 50.8) that flew highly modified Navy Neptune aircraft equipped with state of the art electronics that included infrared detection, low illumination television, starlight scope, terrain following radar, a 70mm reconnaissance camera, electronic countermeasures, and active magnetic anomaly detection systems from Udorn Thani Royal Thai Air Force Base on low level, night reconnaissance combat missions over Laos and the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The aircraft were painted with a high-gloss "black widow black" paint (first used by WWII U.S. night-fighters). Some of these aircraft later were assigned to VO-67, which is mentioned in the next paragraph.

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

Ken Welch mentions Navy aircraft:

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

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My personal favorite type of sensor was the “Turdsid.” These scatterable sensors were small devices, mostly seismic. They consisted of a seismic detector, a transmitter, an internal antenna, and a battery in a fiberglass or plastic case made to look like animal droppings.

Here is one of the sensors before it was deployed. The plastic strip is attached to the sensor and pulls out a pin as it falls activating the sensor.

Because they were small, their batteries and transmitters were small. The battery life was not long, just a few days. The sensors are about 4 inches long and fashioned in the shape of animal feces. The report U. S. Air Ground Operations Against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, 1966-1972 adds that the sensors were first made to look like dog excrement, but when it was discovered that there were no dogs along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the sensors were changed to look like branches and pieces of wood.

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force says about these sensors:

In the jungles of Vietnam, the USAF had to get creative in its efforts to transmit radio signals on the ground. First deployed in 1970, this 4-inch-long T-1151 “Doo” Transmitter was made with a peat moss shell to resemble the feces of a dog or monkey. Because its outward appearance discouraged close examination, the radio transmitter’s signal usually lasted up to several weeks.

The Naval History Blog says (edited for brevity):

The short-lived TURDSID and other systems were developed in response to the critical but elusive nature of targets along the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War. The effort became known as Operation Igloo White. The purpose of the operation was to interdict the infiltration of supplies and personnel occurring in Laos along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The operation lasted from late 1969 to the end of 1972 and was considered one of the most secretive, expensive, and successful operations of the Vietnam War. The method of the operation was to air deliver sensors from high-speed, specially modified Navy OP-2E Neptune antisubmarine aircraft traveling as fast as 600 mph.

The sensors were dropped in strings along trails, roads, and suspected routes of enemy infiltration. A string was the word used to describe the sequential emplacement by air of sensors in a line. As a vehicle or group of soldiers would pass by the sensors, they would sequentially report “hits,” which would show the location and rate of movement of the enemy as well as differentiate between vehicles and personnel. The Turdsid sensors were dropped in strings along trails, roads, and suspected routes of enemy infiltration. A string was the word used to describe the sequential emplacement by air of sensors in a line. As a vehicle or group of soldiers would pass by the sensors, they would sequentially report “hits,” which would show the location and rate of movement of the enemy as well as differentiate between vehicles and personnel.

The Twigsid – Straight Stick Peat Moss

My old pal Nigel Brooks mentions the Twigsid below. I think this may be what he is talking about although he says they came in a card of 12 and this one came in a card of eight. They may be the same, or they may be from a different contract, or the card of 12 may have been smaller sensors allowing more to be placed on each card. This contract was dated 1969. This sensor is disguised as a moss-covered stick. They were issued by the CIA to troops working the Ho Chi Minh Trail and placed along enemy infiltration routes. The sensors were produced in three different shapes, a second was a stone to be left on the ground. The card held eight shrink wrapper sensors on a perforated card so you could tear one at a time off as needed.

The Rocksid

Veteran Nigel Brooks mentions his experiences with the sensors:

These were seismic seeded by the thousands over the HCM Trail. They came on cards with about 12 attached to the card and when I was on TDY with US Customs at the border in 1974, we used to get them from Ft Huachuca. The Turdsids and Twigsids were shrink wrapped to the cards. We never deployed them in Customs but were given them as souvenirs because they were no longer in use. Activation was by pulling a small pin out. We used a lot of military sensor equipment in those early days. This device and the smooth ones that resembled twigs were seismic only and would send out a signal when disturbed. We also used another sensor for close in surveillance called a PSID. As I recall it came in a set of 5 with a small receiver also seismic and useful for area protection for a squad at night lager. Gave one to five beeps so you had to remember where they were placed. In Customs we used them on the border right at the fence to cover trails when we were laying in. We also used phase one sensors that could be activated by sound or seismic disturbance, when activated it would broadcast an audio signal so that you could hear what was happening.


A Second Rocksid

An X-Ray Showing the Electronics inside the Sensor
CIA Museum

A Turdsid that has been stripped back to the circuit board by Josh Hansen

In-Country “Turdsid” cartoon by Fehrenbacher

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

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

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

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

The funny part about all this is that we think of the use of turds in Vietnam as a modern trick. In fact, during WWII the John Lisle's The Dirty Tricks Department: Stanley Lovell, the OSS, and the Masterminds of World War II Secret Warfare says that we used in similar items in Burma:

The OSS in Burma made explosives that looked like ordinary objects such as logs, fish, rocks, pottery, vegetables, mule turds, water jugs animal skulls and Buddha idols for Detachment 101. The Kachin tribesmen taught the OSS Detachment 101 commandoes to use fire-sharpened bamboo stakes called Punji Sticks on either side of the trail. The Kachin tribesmen dipped the sticks in urine or feces, but the Americans drew the line at biological warfare.

Soap as a weapon on War

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

Water as a weapon on War

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

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

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

The website ECO in the Know was more optimistic though they name no declassified documents:

The United States conducted a cloud seeding program throughout the years of peak U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. This program probably contributed to record-breaking rains in certain areas of South Vietnam. In the second week of October 1968, U.S. military meteorologists predicted two inches of rain for the Danang area. To their surprise, 36.67 inches fell that week. A year later, on October 5, 1969, Hue recorded its highest single day rainfall total, 22 inches of rain in 24 hours. During the week of 1-9 October 1969, Hue sank under 59 inches of rain. A U.S. weatherman stated that that amount of precipitation was, “greater than any monthly total ever recorded over the past 30 years at any station in Vietnam.” In 1971, the area around Quang Tri City suffered severe flooding – the result of another series of record-breaking rains. Not coincidentally, the cloud seeding program reached its zenith in 1971, when American planes flew 333 cloud seeding missions over Laos.

Later documents did become available. The document is very long, and I add just a few highlights here:

Memorandum From the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Kohler) to Secretary of State Rusk

Washington, January 13, 1967.


Weather Modification in North Vietnam and Laos (PROJECT POPEYE)

The Department of Defense has requested our approval to initiate the operational phase of Project Popeye in selected areas along the infiltration routes in North Vietnam and southern Laos. The objective of the program is to produce sufficient rainfall along these lines of communication to interdict or at least interfere with truck traffic between North and South Vietnam. Recently improved cloud seeding techniques would be applied on a sustained basis, in a non-publicized effort to induce continued rainfall through the months of the normal dry season.

A test phase of Project Popeye was approved by State and Defense and conducted during October 1966 in a strip of the Lao Panhandle generally east of the Bolovens Plateau in the valley of the Se Kong River. The test was conducted without consultation with Lao authorities (but with Ambassador Sullivan’s knowledge and concurrence) and, to the best of our knowledge, remains unknown to other than a severely limited number of U.S. officials.

During the test phase, more than 50 cloud seeding experiments were conducted. The results are viewed by the Department of Defense as outstandingly successful. The amount of rainfall induced by seeding is believed to have been sufficient to have contributed substantially to rendering vehicular routes in this area inoperable. Since the end of the rainy season, the communists have failed to undertake route repairs and there has been no vehicular traffic. In one instance, the rainfall continued as the cloud moved eastward across the Vietnam border and inundated a U.S. Special Forces camp with nine inches of rain in four hours.

The assets required for this program are estimated to be very small: extra personnel for existing weather reconnaissance aircraft based in Thailand plus two C–130 aircraft modified for cloud seeding operations with crews, plus supporting personnel. The initial request totals only 33 additional personnel for assignment to bases in northeast Thailand. The cost of the equipment and seeding materials is so low as to be insignificant.

Fire as a Weapon of War

Forest Fire as a Military Weapon

If the damage done by cloudseeding and rain was insignificant, how about the use of fire. A June 1970 secret report titled Forest Fire as a Military Weapon by ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency Remote Area Conflict) discusses a study on that subject. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service was using “Smokey the Bear” to fight forest fires at the same time they were involved in a report with a cover that depicted three military aircraft flying over a burnt forest. Some highlights:

Forest flammability depends on the amount of dead vegetation on or near the ground surface, the moisture content of this ground level material, and the weather at the time of burning. Forest flammability can be greatly increased by killing all shrub vegetation, selecting optimum weather conditions for burning, and igniting fires in a preselected pattern.

Leaders as diverse as Robin Hood, Marshall Tito, Chief Croatan of the Seminoles, and Fidel Castro, learned to conduct successful military operations from forest havens. The Vietnamese insurgency has placed heavy reliance on forest bases since the first stirrings of rebellion during the Japanese occupation. A recent study of Viet Cong bases showed that 83 percent were in dense forest and only I percent were further than one-half kilometer from dense forest. In late March 1965, the 315th Air Commando Group initiated a fire-bombing raid, code-named Operation SHERWOOD FOREST, against the Boi Loi Forest, 25 miles west of Saigon. Although the raid was conducted in the rain and did not result in any appreciable destruction of forest cover, the concept evoked considerable interest. The initial Forest Service effort was devoted to assisting the Commander in Chief, Pacific with a second operational test of forest burning, code-named Operation HOT TIP. The overwhelmingly important result of forest fires from a military point of view is visibility enhancement and cover denial.

Since all forest fires must be started as ground fires, 25 percent moisture in the ground litter is an absolute upper limit for incendiary operations of military value. A more realistic moisture content level for successful operations is 16 percent in the ground litter as well as the leaves, twigs, and small stems of shrubby vegetation needed to produce a running fire. A relative humidity below 50 percent at the time of ignition also is required for successful incendiary operations.

The Feasibility of Burning Saigon if so Desired

The report contains a great number of photographs of different types of fires, different types of trees, mathematical formulars for areas of different tree types, graphs of prospective fire coverage, charts of climate and humidity, foliage, flame heights, etc. It is 175 pages long. It points out that a weather station should be established within the target area and that a relatively inexpensive station has been designed to be airdropped into forested areas and hang up on the top of the forest canopy. The station makes hourly measurements of relative humidity, the presence or absence of sunshine, and the presence or absence of free moisture. It mentions the use of defoliants and Operation RANCH HAND to make more burnable plant debris. We knew the use of defoliants was used to make the Viet Cong more visible but did not know it was considered to make dead plants for better fodder for a fire. I looked for a conclusion saying if the idea was good or bad but did not find one. It appears the report just explains what might happen under different circumstances and leaves it to the politicians and generals to decide if it is a worthwhile project.

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Leaflet 4231

Despite the inability of Allied forces to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail, leaflets were prepared and disseminated that implied to the North Vietnamese troops that death was certain on their march south. Leaflet 4231 depicts a dragon swooping down on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and destroying trucks by fire. The text is:

The Party cannot “Liberate the South” because the forces of the Republic of Vietnam Have blocked the trail.

The back is all text:

Liberation of the South

This is what the Party keeps telling you again and again. It cannot be done. The armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam are attacking the Ho Chi Minh Trail on which you must travel in force. You will very likely be sacrificed on the Trail. Return home now to your family or report to the Army of South Vietnam or the Royal Laotian Government forces.

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

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

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

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Leaflet 4-47-70

This leaflet, which was printed by the 4th PSYOP Group in 1970 depicts a C-119 gunship with four weapons protruding from its port side. The Shadow (G Model) had four six-barrel 7.62mm mini-guns, armor plating, flare-launchers, and night-capable infrared equipment. The Stinger (K Model) had 4 miniguns and two 20mm cannon, improved avionics, and two underwing-mounted General Electric J85-GE-17 turbojet engines, adding nearly 6,000 pounds of thrust for increased lift. Over the course of the war the AC-119's were located at Phan Rang, Phu Cat, Tan Son Nhut, Da Nang and Udorn Air Base in Thailand. Text on the front of the leaflet is:



The message on the back of the leaflet is:

To the cadres and troops in the Communist forces.

You have just experienced the violence of the AC-119 gunship's attack. This close-support gunship is armed with two 20mm cannon and four 7.62mm machine guns, each with the rate-of-fire of 6,000 rounds per minute, enough to put six rounds per second into each square meter of your position. The aircraft can carry a load of ammunition large enough to completely erase the target. Moreover, the AC-119 has the latest electronic equipment to detect and pinpoint your exact location, by night as well as day.

We are going to keep on attacking you. Ask yourself, will you be able to escape death next time? Get smart. Rally to the Government side to hasten the return of peace for our country and to escape a horrible death yourself.

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

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

The Use of Enemy Personnel (Hoi Chanh)

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The Road Watch Team radio counter to identify what scouts have seen on the trail.
The day’s tally was then radioed in by the trail watchers.
(CIA Museum photo, courtesy of Tony Hiley.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elephants on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

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

All for the Battle Front

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

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

Talking about the use of elephants with a group of Vietnam vets. Some of the comments were:

The Nguyen Emperors, early on, had an army of 100,000 elephants. It let them make long military expeditions to control territory.

We (C 2/1 196th) spotted a loaded-down elephant moving along a high ridgeline SW of Danang near Happy Valley in mid-1971. Since an elephant probably would not be up there by himself, we expected he was being led, but we just could not see his handler. And, since the enemy had a network of high-speed trails in the area, we figured he was likely being used by the VC to move supplies. We called artillery on the beast but were told us they did not waste shells on elephants.

The NVA had good use for them. We saw one in Banmethout fully loaded.

South Vietnamese War Elephants on Patrol in the Central Highlands, 1962.
Photograph by Howard Sochurek - LIFE magazine

On the gently heaving backs of four bull elephants, a Vietnamese army patrol starts out in the hilly jungles of central South Vietnam, their weapons at the ready. For generations, warriors in the region red to battle this way, and both the government and their enemy still use the huge beasts. A man on foot can cover not much more than three miles a day through the dense undergrowth and an elephant can do four times that. But the archaic scene belies the true nature of Vietnam's savage war. Somewhere ahead of the elephant patrol, the odds are strong that enemy guerrillas with deadly modern arms wait in ambush.

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

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Corky Trinidad wartime Ho Chi Minh Trail Cartoon featuring an Elephant

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

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

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

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

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Bicycles from East Germany
AP Wirephoto - 26 February 1966

A North Vietnamese soldier uses a bicycle to bring up a double load of bricks which will be used to repair a destroyed road in Thanh Hoa Province. Bicycles are the primary means of transportation for both the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong guerrillas according to " Junge Welt" an East German communist youth magazine. Thousands of bicycles from East Germany have been earmarked for the Vietnamese communists.

This is a good propaganda photo and caption. A Vietnamese doubted the veracity of the photo caption. He said: The man was not a soldier, and bricks at the time were too valuable a commodity in North Vietnam to be used for road repair!

Plaster says in regard to bicycles:

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

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

A heavily camouflaged Russian made Zil 157 truck used by the North Vietnamese military,
drives down the Ho Chi Minh Trail moving supplies and ammunition to VC guerrillas
in the South. Oddly, the North Vietnamese troops wear East German M56 steel helmets. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colonel Joe Celeski mentions some leaflet statistics in Special Air Warfare and the Secret Air War in Laos: Air Commandos 1966 – 1975:

The Thailand-based special operations assets began flying PSYOP missions on the HCMT in 1968. By 1969 USAF high flying aircraft were dropping over 20 million leaflets a month on the Ho Chi Minh Trail complex, aimed at lowering the morale of the NVA and urging them to surrender… Approximately 100 million leaflets a month were dropped in eastern Laos and the Steel Tiger interdiction area…

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Leaflet 48

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


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

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

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

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Leaflet 49

The Allies were very excited to discover that this leaflet was being found on all the dead bodies they checked. They also noticed that many of the prisoners had memorized the leaflet. More leaflets were requested for the enemy in Laos. It was discovered that a shipment had been made to IV Corps where the message was inappropriate. The shipment was immediately moved to Laos where they were put to good use. This leaflet was printed in three formats. They are identical except the second version is the standard 3 x 6-inch size with the body centered and some white area at the right for the title. The third version is slightly larger with the body of the Viet Cong enlarged and the background jungle going all the way to the right edge. The text is unchanged.

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


This soldier is one of the many thousand Northern soldiers who have died in the South so far.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Vietnamese told me:

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


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Leaflet drop over Vietnam

MACV says about the Trail campaign in its 1967 final report:

In early 1967 there was indication of increasing numbers of northern soldiers rallying and the most prevalent cause seemed to be the influence of leaflets. To combat the Trail leaflets, NVA cadres were sent ahead of infiltrating units to tear up leaflets found on the trails, but this tactic was not entirely successful, for according to POWs and ralliers interviewed, many leaflets were picked up and read by the infiltrators.

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

A "Secret" Project CHECO (Contemporary Historical Evaluation of Combat Operations) report titled Psychological Operations by USAF/VNAF in South Vietnam was published on 18 September 1968. It is important to remember that the report spoke of things as they were at the time.

Psychological Operations in areas outside of South Vietnam were started in 1965. The first mission into North Vietnam was flown in April 1965, and 12 missions into Laos were begun in January 1966. Support for these operations was provided from a variety of sources and can best be explained in terms of the major out-country Trail campaign:

This campaign is a program against NVA infiltrators. It was initiated in January 1966, and has gradually increased in intensity since that time. It consists principally of leaflet and loudspeaker operations directed at way stations, staging and supply areas, and the routes and trails leading to these areas, which are located in North Vietnam, the Laotian Panhandle, the Laos-RVN Border areas and the Cambodian-RVN Border areas. Thematic content is designed to create fear, anxiety, and insecurity in the NVA soldiers on their way to South Vietnam, in order to cause defection, desertion and a loss of effectiveness in the units. One Trail leaflet, “The Soldiers Poem,” has been found to have a great impact on the NVA troops.

The requirements and material for the interdiction campaign in Laos comes from two origins, the Joint United States Public Affairs Office and Military Assistance Command-Vietnam 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 from the nearest ACS flight. The 374th Tactical Airlift Wing dispenses the Trail leaflets as an add-on to the BLINDBAT C-130 sorties. Material from the Controlled American Source 15 distributed from Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, by the 56th Air Commando Wing under operational control of the 7th and l3th Air Forces 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-1O aircraft of the 606th Air Commando Squadron and in higher-threat regions as an add-on to C-123 CANDLESTICK missions from the same squadron.

The Army Concept Team in Vietnam conducted an evaluation of US Army PSYOP units from 1 December 1968 to 21 March 1969. A booklet was prepared titled EMPLOYMENT OF US ARMY PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIONS UNITS IN VIETNAM. The booklet says about the Ho Chi Minh Campaign:

Approximately 10% of the propaganda leaflets were directed against the military and civilian personnel who used and maintained the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The PSYOP objective of this out-of-country trail campaign was to weaken the will of the military target audiences and to encourage them to rally upon arrival in the Republic of Vietnam. Along the trail, the vulnerability of loneliness was attacked by using leaflets with nostalgic poetry written by North Vietnamese soldiers about their life at home. The themes of hardships and probably death was constantly brought to the North Vietnamese soldier’s attention as he moved down the trail. Once in the Republic of Vietnam the North Vietnamese soldier was confronted with the safe conduct passes urging him to rally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Leaflet T-01 depicts a Vietnamese family praying at a family alter, while the mother imagines her husband, now in South Vietnam, being strafed by three aircraft. The leaflet is found in both black and white, blue or in red. They were made in two sizes, the standard 3 x 6-inches, and a thinner 2.5 x 6.25-inches. The back of the leaflet is all text:


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

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

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

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

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

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

Holloway told me:

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

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Leaflet T-02

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


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

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

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Leaflet T-03

Leaflet T-03 bears a bright green cross and mentions health and gives five rules about jungle infections, bandaging, fevers, malaria pills, and proper diet that if followed will help the soldier to live so that he may be killed in South Vietnam. The text is long so I will just translate a paragraph or two of the text on back:


You are facing 90 days of hard marching through dense disease-infested jungle.Here are some suggestions to keep you alive and healthy throughout the ordeal.

Keep your feet dry. Jungle infections and fungus grow on moisture.

Don’t sleep in wet clothes. You may wake up with a fever.

Never forget to take malaria pills. One of every three men who have preceded you down the trail has succumbed to malaria.

Eat plenty of food. You will need the strength to keep walking and resist disease. Your food ration should be supplemented along the trail if supplies have not been bombed or stolen. If you follow these rules you may live to die in South Vietnam

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Leaflet T-04

This is the first of the “threat” leaflets, designed to frighten the enemy by showing him the technological power and might of the American forces. Leaflet T-04 depicts a 175 mm cannon on the front. I have two varieties of this leaflet. Both are the standard 3 x 6-inches, but in one the picture of the artillery piece is small at 3.75 x 2-inches, and in the other it is a larger 4.25 x 2.75-inches. The back depicts a standard 5-flag safe conduct pass at right, and text at the left:


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

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

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

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

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

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Leaflet T-05

The front of this leaflet is a crude picture of a Chinese type 56 light machine gun. There is a Close-up picture of the Chinese markings on the weapon to show the people that the war was being led by China not North Vietnam. The weapon was actually designed by Vasily Degtyaryov of the Soviet Union and called the RPD. Versions of it were later built in China and Poland.

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The actual weapon

The back of the leaflet is all text:


Have you read the makings on your gun? You probably cannot because they are in a strange foreign language. Most are Chinese. How did this foreign weapon come to be in your hands? Nobody gave it to your country. The Chinese, who have never forgotten that they once dominated Vietnam, sold it for the thing your country has that they need most: Rice. The cost to your family for the weapon in your hands is the rice that they need to avoid starvation and that your children need to grow into strong and healthy men and women.

Leaflet T-06

Leaflet T-06 depicts a cache of enemy weapons. The back bears the standard 5-flag safe conduct pass and the message:


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

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

Three million copies of leaflet T-06 were disseminated. Some of the leaflets were also printed on a red paper.

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Leaflet T-07

Leaflet T-07 is a threat leaflet that warns the soldiers walking south of the terrible might of the American B-52 bomber. It was produced in two versions, one horizontal and one vertical. Fifteen million copies in all were printed and disseminated. The front of the leaflet depicts a B-52 dropping bombs. PSYOP records indicate that 5 million of these leaflets were printed and send to Pleiku in January 1968. The back is all text:


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

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

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

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Leaflet T-08

Leaflet T-08 was designed to frighten the enemy by pointing out the danger of dying far from home. While at the same time offering hope in the form of a 5-flag safe conduct pass. A second variety is in a vertical format and shows the other side of the standard safe conduct pass on one side and a much smaller picture of the dead fighter at the top above the longer text.The text on the safe conduct side of the leaflet is:

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

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

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

This leaflet was also printed in a vertical format. The dead soldier is now above the text on the front, and on the back the back of the safe conduct pass is depicted with an ARVN with his arm around the Viet Cong soldier.

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Leaflet T-09

Leaflet T-09 depicts a dead soldier on the front and the text:


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.

Leaflet 7-462-70

I want to stop here and add a 7th PSYOP Battalion 1970 leaflet that is interesting. In a way it is almost “black,” using an indirect attack to get the attention of the enemy. It does not say “you will be buried in an unmarked grave.” It says that if you should be killed, instead of being buried in an unmarked grave, fill out this leaflet and we will be able to send you home for a proper burial. It seems to serve two purposes. It will identify the soldier of his body is found dead on the battlefield and his name could be used for propaganda, and even more interesting, every time he sees that piece of paper, he will think about being killed in a strange country, something not likely to help his morale. It does not say “if you are killed,” it says “when you are killed. The text of the leaflet is:


Fill out the blank spaces on the back side of this paper and keep it with you. When you are killed the Vietnamese Army or Allied Force will give you a proper burial with a detailed tombstone which will enable your relatives to find your grave.

(If for any reason, you do not want to keep this paper, then write the information on another piece of paper and keep it with you.)

The back of the leaflet has the following places for information to be added:

Full name; date of birth; place of birth; father’s name, mothers name; rank, title; unit, wife’s name; children’s names.

Although the American military was told many times that the sight of dead enemy soldiers was contrary to policy and studies showed that it angered the enemy and made them more likely to fight, the exact same image was used later in the war on leaflet T-60. The text on the back was changed slightly.

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Leaflet T-09 – Version 2

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

Leaflet T-09 - Version 3

Searching through my files I found a third variety of T-09. This one is in the form of a two-pane cartoon. At the left we see friendly Allied troops waving at Vietnamese who wave back. At the right we see two angry Viet Cong pointing at a third. The text on the back is identical to the earlier versions. The text on the front is:

What kind of life do you prefer?

Soldiers and Officers of the ARVN love and care for each other. 

Soldiers and officers of the Viet Cong watch and denounce each other.

I should note that both the second and third versions were also printed with the JUSPAO code 1431. The leaflets with this code have an entirely different message on the back

- Do you like having members of your cell spying on everything you do? Even when you are going out to have a bowel movement?

-Do you like having members of your cell reporting innocent things you say to your superiors, making them suspicious of you?

-Do you like being forced to conduct self-criticism when you haven't done anything wrong?

If You Do Not Like These Things

-Abandon your cell and return to the arms of the Vietnamese government, which is always ready to receive you.

-You can become the citizen of a free society, without any cells or any spying on you.

T10VNTrail.jpg (62939 bytes)

Leaflet T-10

This is another American leaflet that depicts a dead enemy fighter. The text is all about the battle of Plei Me. We can assume that the Communists called it a great victory. Here the Americans refute their claim. The text on the front is:


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

The back of the leaflet depicts a 5-flag safe conduct pass and the text:

You can avoid this fate. Watch for your safe conduct pass and directions to cross the lines to the protection of the Government of Vietnam. The pass will look like this.

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

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

T011HCMTrail.jpg (26149 bytes)

Leaflet T-11

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


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

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

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Leaflet T-12

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

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

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

Is it finished when you die?

Your death is only a matter of time.

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

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

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

Ten million of this leaflet were printed and disseminated.

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

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Leaflet T-014

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


The back is all text:


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

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

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Leaflet T-015

Leaflet T-015 has a rather plain vignette depicting a North Vietnamese soldier being treated in a military hospital in the Republic of Vietnam. I added it to the article because I think the message is wonderful propaganda, certainly the sort of thing that would motivate the average Viet Cong draftee to desert knowing he would be well-treated. The leaflet is found in a standard 3 x 6-inch size and also in a smaller 2.5 x 6-inch size. The front text is:

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

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

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

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

The characteristics:

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

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

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

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

T16VNF.jpg (22981 bytes)

T16VNB.jpg (23505 bytes)


I chose this leaflet because it bears the symbol of Laos. This is the three-headed Erawan elephant national symbol from Hindu mythology of the 14th century kingdom whose name translates to "Land of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol." This Laotian image is the most popular theme among the Trail leaflets and there are over a dozen different types with various surrender messages. The United States had to deal with the Laotian government to arrange for them to accept Vietnamese prisoners. All of these leaflets bear text in Vietnamese on one side and Laotian on the other.

The Vietnamese-language side of the leaflet says:

Pass for safe conduct

To: All North Vietnamese Soldiers in Laos.

You are offered the chance to escape death and live in safety and peace for the duration. The Royal Lao Government and people will welcome you and treat you as a brother. Show this pass to any Royal Laos Government citizen or soldier and he will guide you to safety.

Commander in Chief
Lao National Armed Forces

The Laotion-language side says:

Pass for Safe Conduct – Valid at all times

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

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

Commander in Chief
Lao National Armed Forces.

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

The PSYOP objectives of the Royal Laotian Government are to reduce the combat efficiency of the enemy, to mold favorable attitudes toward the war effort, to stress the goodwill of the United States, to confuse the enemy concerning ideology and the aims of leaders, to convince enemy troops to defect, and to carry out plans for economic and other development while educating the people.

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

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Leaflet T-17

This leaflet features a North Vietnamese wife thinking of her husband while trying to feed her family. The text is:


The wife’s thoughts as shown in the bubbles are:

Bitterness in the heart- The husband is away – There is not enough food

The back is all text and very long. I will just quote a few lines:

Here is the latest report on the situation of your families in the North at the present time. Rice, sugar, meat, milk and clothes are distributed by rationing according to work performance. The old people and children get very little. Many commodities have become scarce or disappeared from the market. The black market is thriving in the cities and the goods are sold at two or three times their official prices….

We know that this leaflet was also dropped in Cambodia since it is also coded CP-010.

Leaflet T-18

I generally do not depict all-text leaflets because I believe the reader prefers to see photographs and images. However, this leaflet makes an interesting argument so I will show it: Both the front and back are all text with long propaganda messages, so I will just translate some selected text.



Are the people happy or unhappy?
Are they well-clothed or not?
Do they have to attend political meetings?
Do the people want to be liberated?


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Leaflet T-19

This leaflet depicts a group of happy North Vietnamese soldiers who have come over to the Republic of South Vietnam. I have three varieties of this leaflet. One is 8.5 x 2.75-inches, all in black and white front and back. The second is 8.5 x 3-inches, with some blue text on the front. The third is 8.5 x 3.25-inches with all-black text on the front but all green text on the back. The text on the front is:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Leaflet T-20

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

To All North Vietnamese Soldiers in Laos

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

Commander in Chief
Lao National Armed Forces

[NOTE] Before there were Trail leaflets there were “Slam” leaflets that served the same purpose. Leaflet T-20 was dropped along the Trail earlier with the Slam code S-33. The front was identical; the back did not have the Lao language text.


Leaflet T-21

This leaflet is all text, rather large at about 8.5 x 3.25-inches. The front is black and white, the back is bright green, The text front is:


The road to the South has no return.

You were sent to the South to fight until you are dead.

Thousands of people who went to the South before you died and left their bodies there. So many people were buried on the side of the road, under cold deserted mounds in forgotten and unmarked graves.

You are brave enough, have an indomitable spirit, and are not afraid of death, but sooner or later you will realize that you are sacrificing yourself for an unjust war, a war advocated by the Communist Party’s plot to dominate the South.

People in the South live a freer, happier, and richer life than people in the North.

Southern compatriots never asked to be "liberated," That is why we are fighting.

People in the South do not want to live under the communist yoke like in the North.

The text on the back is:

You do not need to die in this senseless war. You can cooperate with the government of the Republic of Vietnam to become a citizen of the free South.

Or you can arbitrarily stop fighting on the battlefield and be taken prisoner. You will be treated kindly. You need to live, live to take care of your family's future and the future of Vietnam. 

Leaflet T-22 is all text, black and white on the front with a green, red, or blue border around the black and white text on the back. The title is Soldiers from the North Coming South

Leaflet T-23


The back of my leaflet                                      The back of the file leaflet

Every now and then the leaflet boys throw you a curve ball. I have leaflet T-23. It is of no particular interest. There is text on both sides, and I never saw any reason to add it to this article. Then I happened to look through my files and found that the official 7th PSYOP Group records show a T-23 with the exact same front, but a different back. Is this an error? Did some printer put the wrong back on the leaflet while printing or in the file. Or was the message later disapproved and a different message placed on the back. Or was there a need for a second message and they simply placed a different one on the back without bothering to change the code. We shall never know, but I show the blue back on my leaflet and the black and white image on the 7th Group file leaflet. The front message is the same in both cases and says:


Here is a paragraph extracted from a directive of the of the South Vietnam’s Liberation Army’s Headquarters:

“Since January 1966, the number of deserters from our ranks has steadily increased. This includes soldiers and civilian cadres. These desertions have created undesirable conditions: shortage of men; failure of our recruiting campaign; the young people oppose the draft, and those who have not deserted yet are low in morale. Some deserters have returned to their villages and other went over to the enemy. The regional authorities are requested to use all means to put an end to this situation.”

What do you think when you read the above-mentioned paragraph? No matter how heroic you may be, you cannot win this war because it is an unjust war.

Look for the opportunity to leave your unit and join the government of the Republic of Vietnam. Join the Just cause of the people of South Vietnam. You will be welcomed with open arms.

The back of my leaflet text and the leaflet translation in the official record is the same. But the picture of the back in the official record is quite different so of course the text would also be different. The text says in part:


Why are you being sent South? If your leaders have said the NLF is winning, why are you needed in the South. On the contrary, if troops must be increased to win quickly, why has PRESIDENT HO CHI MINH declared: The war must continue for 10, 20 years, or more?

What is the truth? You have been losing everywhere. The South Vietnamese people do not believe in the Front and don’t support the front. The Liberation Army is gravely missing manpower, and you have been sent South to fill this gap…

The [incorrect?] back of the leaflet in the files has the following Vietnamese text:

Asylum in Laos

To all North Vietnamese soldiers in Laos:

This is an opportunity for you to escape death and to peacefully live until the war's end. The Royal Government of Laos and the Laotian people cheerfully welcome you as brothers.

The Supreme Commander
Royal Army of Laos

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Leaflet T-25

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. This is a very small leaflet and measures just 2 x 6-inches. 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 your hardships.

I have a lot of data on most of these leaflets but generally do not want to bore the reader. In the case of the above leaflet I can add that 12,000,000 copies were ordered the 6th PSYOP Battalion to be printed by the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa. The leaflets were to be delivered to Pleiku.

In 1969 the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense studied the effectiveness of U.S leaflets in Vietnam. A sample of 1,757 Vietnamese was used to represent the target audience. They included the inhabitants of Viet Cong controlled areas, Hoi Chanh who had defected, and prisoners of war. The questions asked of the panels was the effectiveness of symbols, appeals both locally and national, and the vulnerability of certain groups. Leaflets were judged on a scale of very good, good, fair, bad, and very bad. One problem was to reduce the number of leaflets to a workable size. In this test, 798 leaflets were judged and the leaflets were reduced to 77. Unfortunately, the report did not explain why certain leaflets were good or bad. Leaflet T-25 was rated VERY GOOD by the panel.

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Leaflet T-26L

This leaflet bears the code T-26L. It also was printed as T-26. “L” at the end of a leaflet indicates it was printed on a light paper to make use of light prevailing winds (16-pound paper instead of the normal 20-pound paper). This leaflet is in the form of a poem. On one side there are two photos. The top photo depicts a Viet Cong member being arrested by an ARVN soldier in Cholon. The second photograph shows citizens of South Vietnam running from an area where the guerrillas have infiltrated.

The poem is on the back. It is rather long so I will just translate a few lines:

The Communists always brag
that they always win and never lose,
in big, small or average battles!
Their general offensive completely fails,
ninety thousand troops lie on the battlefield.
Hungry, cold and tired,
others turn in their weapons and surrender passively,
while others creep into the bushes and are caught and
pulled out by the southern people…

Leaflet T-27

This is another Ho Chi Minh Trail leaflet dropped over Laos. Besides Vietnamese text and a map, it also bears a Laos safe Conduct Pass. They must have known exactly where the enemy troops were and been careful to drop the leaflet where the directions were correct. The front says in part:


You suffer great hardship moving through the jungle. Why must you and your family suffer from separation? It does not serve any purpose except that of the Communist regime in Hanoi, which is sending you to attack your brothers, the people in South Vietnam who have the freedom to prosper as they desire under the leadership of the freely elected South Vietnamese government.

I will show the back of this leaflet because it is more interesting. It says in part:

Above is a Royal Lao safe conduct pass. Present it to any soldier or government official. You will be warmly received.

You are now in Laos, in the area south of CHAVANE. The Communist regime in Hanoi plans to sacrifice you in its aggression against South Vietnam, but you can escape and save your life by going westward, toward the setting sun, in the direction of PAKSE, where you will be welcomed by the Laotian people.

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Leaflet T-28

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

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

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

The back is all text:

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

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Leaflet T-29

Two North Vietnamese Army soldiers watch their comrades, wounded and injured, returning to camp. One says to the other:

Over there are the remnants of a battalion returning to the base area after a “brilliant victory” in the South. If we continue to win such “victories,” there will be none of us left.

The back is all text:

The more the Lao Dong Party prolongs the war, the more likely it is that the young generation of North Vietnamese will be completely destroyed. Refuse to serve the Lao Dong Party’s plot to take over the South by choosing one of these two ways:

1. Go home if possible.
2. Find some way to stay in the rear.
3. After you reach South Vietnam, remember that the people will receive you with open arms if you decide to come to them in peace as a brother.

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Leaflet T-40

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

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

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

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

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

Leaflet T-41 

That hand-drawn image was attached to the letter to show
the general form of the leaflets

This was a very interesting series of four leaflets coded 41A to 41D. I cannot show you the leaflets because they were found to be unacceptable because it was believed through testing that the enemy would not believe the numbers and statistics stated on the leaflets. Hoi Chanhs were shown the leaflets and they did not believe the numbers so the series appears to have been deleted. This was a case where the results of Allied attacks were so good that it was feared they would be considered lies and thus taint all Allied propaganda. I think the reader might be interested in things that can go wrong when producing leaflets so we will discuss this series.

In general the leaflets were all the same. They were two sided with the same message on both sides and a picture above and below the messages totaling four in all. The message told the enemy of their losses. The message on 41A was:

During 1968, 11,300 Communist troops were captured

The pictures depicted Communist prisoners-of-war getting haircuts, playing musical instruments, playing volleyball and studying.

Leaflet 41B depicted four photos of happy Communist troops enjoying themselves in the camps and the text:

During 1968 17,597 Communist troops rallied

Leaflet 41C depicted four photographs of captured personal and larger weapons, and depicted ARVN and Allied forces looking at them and the text:

During 1968, 57,000 individual and 12,500 crew-served weapon were captured by

ARVN and Allied forces

Leaflet 41D depicted four photographs of  dead Communist troops on the battlefields and the text:

During 1968, 191,387 Communist troops were killed

In a classified document dated 21 December 1968 to the chief of the U.S. North Vietnam Propaganda Department from the leaflet testing group we find some of the following comments on this series of leaflets, edited for brevity:

It is felt that even through the numbers used are accurate, the enemy could exploit them. There is the probable reaction of the enemy soldier that these numbers are great exaggerations – this is illustrated by the reaction of disbelief on the part of the Hoi Chanh panel members who did not believe the number of POWs and enemy deaths. [Since the US wanted the enemy to believe that all the leaflets were honest and true, this disbelief could hurt the veracity of other leaflets].

The pictures used on 41B and 41D were not good, especially 41D. The figure quoted is an astounding total, yet the photographs show only a small number of enemy dead. We realize there is a problem involved in finding photos showing large numbers of enemy dead, but the fact remains that the pictures are poor representatives of such a large total. The Hoi Chanh pictures in 41B are also weak. Two of the men shown in the picture have returned to the Viet Cong, Several members of the Hoi Chanh panel pointed that out immediately.

The two leaflets concerned with POWs and weapons captured were thought to be the best of the series.The remaining two leaflets were thought to be ineffective and in some cases open for counter-propaganda, especially 41B.

Leaflet T-42

This is a Tet leaflet that depicts a Vietnamese family decorating their house in preparation for the holiday. It was hoped that such a picture and text would make the North Vietnamese soldier coming down the trail long for home. The text says in part:

New Year’s Day

Firecrackers explode one after another,
On the altar the feast tray has already been set up;
My mother is lighting the spiral incense and arranging a peach on a five-fruit tray.
My big brother cuts the cooked pork pie.
My sister puts the fish dish on the tray,
My grandfather is pensive while sitting in silence,
He will mutter Tet verse lines.
A visitor lifting up his head and smiling happily
Steps inside and joyfully opens gift envelopes,
Which cause the children to rush to meet him,
And noisy wishes of Happy New Year can be heard.

The Leaflet Negative

I thought the readers might enjoy seeing some of the process of making this leaflet. After the design is finished, it is photographed, and a negative is made. Of course, in the negative everything is reversed, and the black become white, etc. My scanning process makes a strong light behind the negative that reverses the black and white. However, it does not change the text and image. Notice that everything is reversed. When the negative is used to produce the printing plates everything is again reversed, and the old man is back at the left instead of the right.

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Leaflet T-43

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

Longing for the North

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

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

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

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Leaflet T-44

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


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

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

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Leaflet T-50

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

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

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

Leaflet T-52

This leaflet depicts a Vietnamese man standing by a pond under a massive tree. The text is in the form of a poem. The first two stanzas are: 


In my village there is rice and mulberry
There are flocks of white storks and flirting words
There is a banyan tree and a temple roof
There are flocks of pretty, graceful country girls

In the autumn there are village festivals
In the spring crowds of children play with swings
The wind whistles a kite-flute song
Soothing the soul of the Shepard boy on the dike

Leaflet T-53

This is another leaflet using a poem to invoke nostalgia. It depicts a Vietnamese village with many of the people working together. The first two stanzas are:


My village lies beside the river bank
The red earth path borders the blue water
At the entrance to hamlets of thatched houses
The bamboo has swayed rhythmically for ages

The manioc bends over the melon patch
The areca palms lean on the shadows of the green coconut palms
Betel and squash mingle in the arbor
Green rich shoots mingle with golden corn all day long

Leaflet T-54

This leaflet did not have a code, so I spent some time trying to identify it. Since I was successful, I should show it here. The front of the leaflet depicts the Laotian-language Safe Conduct pass. Beneath the pass in Vietnamese is the text:

Above is a Royal Lao safe conduct pass. Present it to any soldier or government official. You will be warmly received.

There are two variations of the back in red text. They are almost identical except that in one case the letters are large (about 5 cm.) and in the second they are small (about 2 cm.) On both backs the text in Vietnamese and Laotian is:


The Royal Laotian Government does not wish to harm the soldiers of North Vietnam because it is a humanitarian government. The Royal Laotian Government invites you to rally to the Royal Army and save yourself from hardships and possibly death. You will be warmly welcomed and treated well.

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Leaflet T-60

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


The back is all text:


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

I have this leaflet with the text on the front all in red.

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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.

I have this leaflet with the text on the front all in red.

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Leaflet T-56

Leaflet T-56 is another of a number of leaflets aimed at the Vietnamese in Laos and the Pathet Lao. The front is identical to leaflet T-66 below, so we will show the back. The Vietnamese and Lao text is:

To North Vietnamese [Lao] soldiers in Laos:

Many of your comrades have rallied to the Royal Lao Government. All of them are now safe and happy. The Royal Lao Government encourages you to stop fighting and rally too it.

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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… 

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Leaflet T-71

This cartoon-type leaflet depicts a group of NVA soldiers receiving instructions from a cadre. On the front a soldier asks the Commissar a question:

Comrade Political Commissar: There is only one thing I don’t understand. If the Liberation Forces control four-fifths of the land, and nearly four-fifths of the people in the south, why must we hide in the jungles and mountains of Laos?

The back is all text and tells the soldier the truth of the matter:

The reason you must hide in the jungles and mountains of Laos is that the “Liberation Forces” temporarily control only a few remote areas of South Vietnam. Even the headquarters of the so-called “Liberation Front” is on the Cambodian frontier.

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Leaflet T-73

This leaflet was found by Sergeant Jim Hackbarth, a member of the 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry, in 1970. Happy prisoners of war are depicted on the front with the text:


Did your cadre tell you that if you are captured in South Vietnam you would be treated cruelly or killed? They lied. The Communists prisoners of war in this photo were afraid of mistreatment when they were first captured, but now they smile because they have learned that prisoners of war are treated kindly by the Government of Vietnam and their allies.

The back has four photographs and a similar message about good treatment.

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Leaflet T-74

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


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

The text on the back is:


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

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Leaflet 74-T

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

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

In the South:

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


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Leaflet T-75

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


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

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

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Leaflet T-76

This is another leaflet found by Sergeant Jim Hackbarth, in 1970. It depicts happy prisoners of war on the front and back and the text on the front:


Many North Vietnamese soldiers have been killed in the Lao Dong Party’s aggression against the people of South Vietnam. Those who become prisoners or war are lucky. Communist soldiers who are captured in South Vietnam receive good care as they wait for the day when they can return to their families.

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Leaflet T-78

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaflet T-82

I dislike adding leaflets to this article that have no interesting images. Still, they are so rare that every now and then I break my own rules and add one. This one is particularly interesting, because written on my copy directly from the 7th PSYOP Group records is, “Cancelled by JUSPAO, 19 Dec,” It does not say why the leaflet was found unsatisfactory and if it was dropped before cancellation. The next leaflet T-83 also mentions the death of Ho Chi Minh so perhaps they just decided it was better or more fitting for the Vietnamese. The leaflets text is extremely long so I will just mention some of it:


Ho Chi Minh died on 1 September 1969. His death is an occasion for all Vietnamese to think soberly about the future of our country. Who can deny that this war, in which young men of the North have been sent to sacrifice themselves in an invasion of the land of their brothers in the South, is a national tragedy? The people of the south have resisted the invasion because they do not wish to live under the political control of the Hanoi regime. They will continue to resist as long as is necessary…

Leaflet T-83

This is a leaflet that mentions the death of Ho Chi Minh. The leaflet speaks mostly of the Allied peace initiative. Much of the text is depicted being written on a fancy scroll. The text on this leaflet is very long and I could spend a half day typing it out. So, instead of a complete translation I will just quote some of the more pertinent comments. The text says in part:


The death of President Ho Chi Minh on September 3, 1969, came just at the time when an end to this tragic war seems within reach. The United States has made clear to the world that it is willing to withdraw its troops from South Vietnam if the Hanoi regime will recall its troops to North Vietnam. The Republic of Vietnam has made clear to the world in President Thieu’s speech of July 11, 1969, that it desires peace and is willing to let the National Liberation Front participate in elections, the fairness of which will be assured by international observers. What is to be gained by continuing a war in which Vietnamese shed the blood of their brothers? All who truly love Vietnam wish with all their hearts for a peace in which Vietnamese of both the North and the South can live together as brothers and work together for the prosperity of the nation.

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Leaflet T-84

This is a very sad and yet romantic poem. A Northern soldier has been wounded and sees his life coming to an end. He thinks of the woman he loves and makes the supreme sacrifice, telling her to find another man to marry and have a happy life in his absence. On the other side the young wife sits and although we cannot see the tears in her eyes, we know she is weeping. The poem was written by a Hoi Chanh (A North Vietnamese soldier defected to South Vietnam) named Hoai Thanh.


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

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

Please, listen, my darling, don't refuse.

So that I might die in peace without remorse.
Darling, please have no anger for me and don't resent your fate.
Rather, turn your anger and resentment of those
Who have driven me into this senseless war.

Oh please, do as I say and this is all I ask, darling.
Bury our memories so that our love can melt away with the sinking sun.
And my image and all there was of me,
Shall fade forever from my homeland in the north…

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

I am committed.
And eternal bitterness is my lonely fate.
Oh, listen to my aching heart.
And seek your ideals in LOVE.

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Leaflet T-85

Leaflet T-85 depicts a modernistic drawing of birds in a nest. It is actually using the sentimental Tet holiday as a theme. The back is all text and a parody of a North Vietnamese poem. It says in part:

A Letter to my Comrades at springtime

Now I stand here on the “three-fourths of the land” – Now I live among the “Fourteen million people,” but not as a “liberator.” No longer do I live in the darkness of the silent jungle.

Dear Comrade, sweet spring approaches and the memories are so vivid! I remember the springtime when we were still together. It was on the eve of Tet when we mined that bridge, and it was on the day of Tet when we crawled out to recover the bodies of our dead comrades…

Note: The “three-fourths of the land” and the “Fourteen million people” are quotes from a famous NVA propaganda poem about coming down to liberate the South. One soldier who worked in intelligence and spoke Vietnamese told me that he picked up this leaflet in I Corps near the DMZ.


Leaflet T-86

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

Best wishes for the New Year.

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

When do you expect to return to your native village?

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Leaflet 95-T

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

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

Leaflet 125T

The leaflet reprints an article titled “Letter addressed to Uncle Ho,” signed by 55 North Vietnamese soldiers who rallied to the Government of Vietnam outside Saigon on 18 June 1968. They were members of the Quyet Thang (Determined to Win) Regiment, which was eliminated during the second Communist Offensive of 1968. They tell Ho about their disillusionment with the Party policies and ask him to “think” and have mercy on the young generation; and ask Ho not to force them to make any more sacrifices for him and for the Party. The 55 soldiers who signed the letter were part of 152 soldiers who surrendered that day. The letter is long so I will just translate a few lines:

With an absolute zealous patriotism, we responded to your appeal by energetically volunteering to go to South Vietnam, kill Americans, and save our Fatherland and our people from the domination of Imperialism. We remember your advice well. That advice was that when arriving in South Vietnam, we would be heartily welcomed and supported by the people, and that the troops of South Vietnam were badly demoralized, and that if we were captured by them, we would be killed immediately. But, oh dear Uncle, your advice is contrary to the reality that meets us here. When our troops came anyplace here, the people abandoned their houses and properties, and carried their children and evacuated. They ran from us. They refused to give us food and supplies. The soldiers of South Vietnam have a very high fighting spirit but were very kind. The defeated us but treated us with humanly. They cared for our wounds and gave us food and recreation and let us watch TV, movies, and exercise in sports….

This leaflet was coded 125 for the NVN Campaign. Because the U.S. needed more leaflets quickly to reach those NVA coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, it was one of a group of leaflets that had a “T” for “Trail” added and dropped over the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

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

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

In October 1968 a memorandum was forwarded stating:

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

A report by Underhill said in part:

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

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

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

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

I was going to end the discussion of the regular JUSPAO leaflets that were added to the Trail Campaign but on second thought I think I should mention them. The original leaflets that were to be added to the Trail Campaign are: 2609, 2624, 2625, 2626, 2627, 2631, 2632, 2633, 2660, 2675, 2676, 2677, 2786, 2787, 2788, 2790, 2991, 2792, 2834, 2835, 2836, 2837, 2838, 2839, 2843, 2844, and 2845.

From secondary files we know the following JUSPAO leaflets were added to the mix: 2660T, 2724T, 2725T, 2727T, 2731T, 2732T, 2733T, 2834T, 2835T, 2836T, 2837T, 2838T, 2839T, 2843T, 2844T, 2845T, and 3253T.

On 10 December 1970 there was another panel to see if additional leaflets were rejected, retained, or modified. Some of the leaflets discussed were 3802, 3806, 3808, 3789, 3847, 3913, and 4009.

To end this section let me add that some leaflets we believe to be dropped on the Trail because they were printed on the same sheet as Trail leaflets. For instance, leaflet 4352 was printed on the same sheet as other Trail leaflets like T-04, T-07, T-11, and T-12. An adage goes: "You are known by who you hang out with." Perhaps a better example is "If you lie down with dogs you will get up with fleas." At any rate, since this leaflet was found on the same sheet with a group of mixed Trail leaflets to be dropped together, we can safely assume that leaflet 4352 was among the mix when dropped. I have also found leaflet 4354 in a similar situation.

Leaflet 4352

This all-text leaflet is aimed at North Vietnamese soldiers coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The text is very long on both sides and ends with a daily entry from an unhappy soldier named Phan Van Viet who made the trip. It says in part:

You have read these leaflets many times talking about the miserable life and unreasonable war initiated by the Hanoi officials. You think they are propaganda from the Vietnamese government. This is a good occasion for you to read the words from a dairy written by one of your comrades-in-arms. Please read it.

"After 3 days on intensive engagement both sides suffered heavy casualties. All were Vietnamese blood descendants of the same Lac Rong. We are carrying out an excessively guilty act. History will condemn us for harming our race. I would repent and suffer all my life if I shot at my compatriots. I do not find any pleasure serving as a tool for killing people that belong to the same family as I and who would be our father's brothers. If we killed all the ARVN soldiers and all the youth of the South, with whom would we live with in the future."

[Author's note]: The Lac Viet were an ancient conglomeration of Yue tribes that inhabited what is today Guangxi in Southern China and the lowland plains of Northern Vietnam, particularly the marshy, agriculturally rich areas of the Red River Delta. According to legend, the Lac Viet founded a state called Van Lang in 2879 BC.

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Leaflet 2660-T

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

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

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Leaflet 3253-T

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

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

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

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

Why wait for peace?

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

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

As the reader might surmise, there is a lot of confusion in the Ho Chi Minh Trail leaflet campaign. I see many notes by various people complaining about one thing or another and wanting to add leaflets. Some examples:

On 4 October 1968, an internal memo says:

It has been a while since there have been any new leaflets in the Trail campaign. Mindful of this, Major Underhill has gone over the JUSPAO leaflets used within the country and made a selection of those he believes would be suitable for the trail. If you have no objections I shall send them for clearance.

The original attached paper from Major Underhill says in part:

From the hundreds of national leaflets available, 27 have been selected for immediate use as part of the Trail program. It is intended that all these leaflets will be used as a mix – all leaflets will be dropped at one time thereby increasing the chance of reaching each member of the target audience with a variety of leaflet messages in each drop. As new national leaflets are developed, they will be forwarded for use as part of the Trail mix.

So, it is clear that any leaflet with a code that starts with a “T” was made specifically for the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Any leaflet that ends with a “T” was a national (JUSPAO) leaflet made for use within Vietnam (North or South) that was later selected to be dropped on the Trail. Examples are 2660-T, 2774-T, 2725-T, 2727-T and 2731-T.

Some national leaflet were dropped over the Trail without the addition of a “T” such as 2609, 2675, 2676, 2677, 2843 and 3253.

On 10 December 1970 there was a major review of 40 of the Trail leaflets to determine if the leaflets were outdated or contained errors in fact. The great majority of the comments had to do with errors in the Vietnamese language on the leaflets, but some were more direct. Some examples that are depicted in this article are:

T-04. Unanimously rejected. The threat will not work.
T-43. Unanimously approved.
T-73. The picture is too old. Replace with one taken more recently.

In addition, some general suggestions were made. Some examples are:

1. All pictures and maps should be in color
2. Pictures should be realistic and express the true spirit of the text on the leaflet.
3. Add more Hoi Chanh and ralliers to leaflet evaluation boards. Get those that rallied latest since they are more familiar with recent developments on the other side.

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

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

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Leaflet 4226

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

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

The back is all text and says in part:


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

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

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Leaflet 4402

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Leaflet 2726

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

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

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

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

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

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Leaflet 2843

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The back is all text:


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

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

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

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Ho Chi Minh Trail 10 Xu Commodity Coupon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lieutenant General Dong Sy Nguyen Dead at 96 Years of Age

Born in 1923 as Nguyen Huu Vu, Nguyen joined the revolution at age 15 and became a member of the party a year later. In early 1967, during the Vietnam War, he was appointed commander in chief of Group 559, the transportation and logistical unit of the People's Army of Vietnam. The group was established in 1959 to move troops, weapons, and material from North Vietnam to paramilitary units in southern Vietnam via the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which ran along the central region across Truong Son, or the Annamite Mountain Range, and through Laos and Cambodia.

During eight years as commander of the trail until the war ended in 1975, he transformed it from a small covert supply line into a road capable of carrying vast amounts of war material. He converted most of his force, which had previously used foot power or bicycles to carry loads, into vehicle transportation units. He was also helped by thousands of Chinese “volunteers” who rebuilt the road as the Americans bombed it.

Nguyen died 4 April 2019 at the 108 Military Central Hospital in Hanoi after a long period of sickness.

The British Royal Air Force over the Ho Chi Minh Trail?

The British were neutral during the Vietnam War although they did do some humanitarian actions like send medical personal or needed supplies to some Vietnamese people. An article by Priscilla Roberts titled: The British Royal Air Force: Operations over Laos against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, 1962, in the Cold War International History Project seems to indicate that the British might have taken part in some military actions.

The story was put together from Notes taken in March 2013 from the logbook of the navigator on these operations, Flight Lieutenant Donald Roberts (1929-2014) of 48 Squadron, then based at RAF Station Changi in Singapore. Some of the comments are:

According to my father’s recollection, the reason that American officials requested the British to undertake these flights was that, at this juncture, the fleet run by Air America and the Central Intelligence Agency [in Laos] included helicopters and single and twin-engine aircraft but no four-engine airplanes…The United States government therefore decided to ask the British, who had a number of 4-engine Handley Page Hastings transport aircraft in Royal Air Force Squadron 48, based at RAF Changi in Singapore, to fly several missions over Laos from Thailand, delivering military personnel and matériel to assist the hill tribes in the secret war then already in progress. In the second half of 1962, my father flew on a total of six secret missions over Laos, flying out of either Chiang Mai airfield in Northern Thailand or Don Muang airport near Bangkok. On at least one trip, they transported a New Zealand SAS team of 15 to 20 members, who parachuted in, to work with the hill tribes. [I should point out that the flag of New Zealand appears on the 7-flag standard safe conduct pass for Vietnam]. The subsequent trips involved dropping supplies to operatives down below.

According to my father, towards the end of 1962 Air America took over these missions on behalf of the United States. When these missions ceased, the British fliers were apparently further told that the Americans had eventually decided to handle these flights themselves, partly because they fundamentally preferred running these operations independently, thereby remaining fully in charge of them, and partly because the British military needed all their Singapore-based aircraft to deal with the Brunei Revolt, which blew up in December 1962. The Americans wished to award all the British aviators involved the Distinguished Flying Cross, but the British government vetoed the suggestion, since awkward questions might be asked as to just what these fliers had done to deserve an American medal.

Leaflet 2731

There are two Allied propaganda leaflets that mention Great Britain. This one depicts a British charity worker at the right and the short text:

Gifts from the British OXFAM charitable organization are given to highlanders who are the victims of the communists. Britain, one of the 31 countries which have aided the Republic of Vietnam.

At the left we see a doctor from the Republic of Korea and the text:

The Republic of Korea, one of 31 countries which have aided the Republic of Vietnam. Communist propaganda claims that South Korean soldiers are very vicious and brutal. No words are needed to describe the actions of the Korean doctor shown in this photo.


JUSPAO was incredibly careful about what they dropped over the Trail. Many leaflets that seemed to be a good idea were found lacking when they were sent upstairs for approval. This is one such leaflet.

Leaflet 4472

The image on the front depicts a North Vietnamese writing “Determined to Return,” at the bottom of a poster bearing the Party’s “Four Determinations.” The text on the front is:

To be Determined to Go, to Arrive, to Fight, to Win

Some of the long text on the back is:

You are determined to go, but can you go without risking death by bombing on the trail? You are determined to arrive, but since going is not safe, how could you arrive safely? You are determined to fight, but if you die between going and arriving, how could you fight? Even if you survive the trip and fight, will you have a chance to live through fierce bombing, shelling, and rocketing? What if you are killed will your body is lost? Regarding your determination to win, are you sure you will make it safely through the first three “determinations” to win? Under these circumstances, fierce bombings, gunships, jet bombers and 175mm cannon. You had better “determined to go home.”

There were several memos attached to this leaflet, all with complaints. One asked about mentioning that the Southern fighters had either been killed or got tired of the fight and changed their mind about Communism. They also wanted to mention that 3/4s of the Viet Cong were now actually North Vietnamese regulars. A second complained that the leaflet was not tied to the Tet theme. Apparently, this leaflet was early in the year, and they wanted some mention of Tet. The final message is blunt:

Do not waste any more time on this!


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

Q: How could the Americans have won the war?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Most of the photos in this story show the valiant North Vietnamese coming down the Trail in high spirits. He is a more realistic picture. Exhausted North Vietnamese troops pause along a jungle path in 1969. The sight of their obvious weariness was thought likely to damage morale back home, so this photograph was not published during the war. (Photo by Erenow)

After their long trek they discover they are not welcomed as heroes and liberators in the South and because of food shortages many find they are fed just one or two bowls of rice a day

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

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

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

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