SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

Note: This article was used as a resource in the abstract “Cultural Seeding: Van Tac Vu Theatre During the Vietnam War.” Presented by the Theatres of War Working Group at the American Society for Theatre Research National Conference, November 2015.

This article will discuss the Armed Propaganda Teams of the Government of Vietnam in depth. Curiously, the terms “Armed Propaganda Team” or “APT” was first used by the Communist Government of North Vietnam, and later borrowed by the anti-Communist South who saw that it was a concept that worked.

Long before the Americans came upon the scene in Vietnam, the Indochinese Communist Party formed Armed Propaganda Teams called Doi Tuyen truyen Vo trang. General Vo Nguyen Giap, the man who would later become the hero of Dien Bien Phu in 1953 served as a Team Leader at one point in his career. Although both Uncle Ho and General Giap are given credit for the teams, it appears that Ho wrote the idea down on the back of a pack of cigarettes during the First Revolutionary Party Military Conference in September 1944 and General Giap brought the idea to fruitition. The units had the ability to fight if threatened by the enemy. Otherwise, they would do recruitment, propaganda plays and skits, and organize and mobilize the villages in the Communist cause. On 22 December 1944 Giap formed the First Armed Propaganda Brigade consisting of three teams with a total of 34 people called the Tran Hung Doa Platoon. The unit was armed with one machine gun, 31 rifles and 2 revolvers. That same month Ho Chi Minh created the “Vietnamese People's Propaganda Unit for National Liberation,” which became the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) in September 1945. After the Japanese conceded defeat on 16 August 1945, Armed Propaganda Teams spread the news across the country. According to Forrest E. Morgan in Big Eagle, Little Dragon: Propaganda and the Coercive use of Airpower against North Vietnam:

Nearly all Communist military plans and directives for South Vietnam included lengthy instructions for producing and disseminating propaganda materials to reorient liberated citizens.

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A North Vietnamese Armed Propaganda Team in the Field
Photo courtesy of

Robert Munshower served with 95th Military Police Battalion in Bien Hoa during 1967 to 1968. He told me:

The armed propaganda teams traveled from hamlet to hamlet presenting dramatized plays usually based on historical events but altered in theme to reflect the communist line and to legitimize the invasion of the South. These drama teams also entertained North Vietnamese Army units in the areas that they performed in. Propaganda, Proselytizing, and Drama teams brought the latest news, albeit distorted, invented and modified to fit the official party line emanating from Hanoi. The photos of a North Vietnamese Armed Propaganda Team in the Field are originals that I purchased from an employee of The Museum of The Revolution in Hanoi.

He adds:

A former Government of Vietnam Army Captain told me that when many of the drama and music teams were captured, the groups usually had a very high number of homosexual males, which just goes to show how committed the communists were to winning the war. They used every resource, including gays, to the maximum.

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A North Vietnamese Armed Propaganda Team in the Field
Photo courtesy of

It is probably correct to say that almost any nighttime visitation of Viet Cong into a village was preceded by an armed propaganda team that explained the Communist cause and prepared the people to meet the needs of the combat forces. The enemy Armed Propaganda Team could move about within the village and pass as farmers or tradesmen. For instance, David Hunt mentions the APTs in an article entitled Villagers at War: The National Liberation Front In My Tho Province, 1965-1967. Some of his comments are:

Government of Vietnam cadres only came into the hamlets when it was convenient for them to do so, while (Communist) Front cadres who operated openly - that is, who possess legal papers, whose National Liberation Front affiliation is secret - seem to live within the community. The situation in the villages is relatively favorable to the Saigon regime in that the local Front organization cannot function above ground during the day, and Saigon’s “Armed Propaganda Teams" (the idea for such teams, including the name itself, is borrowed directly from the NLF) and regular troops can move around without fear of being hit hard by guerrillas or other NLF units.

The Communist method is mentioned by Colonel William F. Johnston in the article “Neglected Deterrent: Psychological Operation in Liberation Wars,” Military Review, May 1968. Some of his comments are:

Vietnam is not a new type of conflict. Almost every facet of it is simply an adaptation of strategy, tactics and psychological techniques which Mao Tse-tung evolved in China.

In the early stages of the Viet Minh – French conflict, Ho Chi Minh’s guiding principal, according to General Giap, were armed propaganda which would insure that “political activities were more important than military activities,” and “fighting less important than propaganda”; and” not to attempt to overthrow the enemy, but try to win him over and make use of him.”

What the agit-prop cadre said was usually based on a detailed prior investigation by a secret Communist agent in the village. In this way, what they had to say made good sense to the villagers.

Between 1955 and 1960, the US agencies in Vietnam made the same errors that President Diem had made. The real Communist threat of generating power through agitation and armed propaganda based on grievances of the masses was discounted…It was not until 1959…that US priorities turned to psychological warfare as a weapon…but by this time the Viet Cong had five years’ uncontested opportunity to agitate, propagandize, organize, and discipline the masses under an experienced underground Viet Cong military-type chain of command or infrastructure.

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Propaganda to the Masses

This picture depicts a member of an armed propaganda team or a political organizer proselytizing to South Vietnamese villagers. Most villages in the South had a cell of three communists assigned to watch and oversee village activities. Two of the cell members were generally known by the locals, the third was always secret, even to the two members of the village cell. Thus, the two known cell members reported on the villagers, the third unknown member verified what the two reported, and, in addition, reported on the first two.

If we are to believe Stuart A. Herrington in Stalking the Viet Cong – Inside Operation Phoenix: A Personal account, Ballantine Books, NY, some Communists used the propaganda teams to avoid being placed in military units. He mentions a young communist named Hai Chua that wanted no part of being shot at by the South Vietnamese and Americans. Herrington says:

As the resistance flared into a full-scale war it had become impossible to remain neutral. The pragmatic young peasant volunteered to work as an entertainment cadre for the Viet Minh – a job that required him to serve as a guitar player in a troupe of artists that entertained the troops with songs and skit extolling Viet Minh victories.

Chua would later become a Communist official in his village and spend much time hiding in Cambodia to avoid the war. Eventually he would defect to the south. It is possible that he never heard a shot fired in anger.

To get an idea of how the Viet Cong operated there is a confidential South Vietnamese military intelligence report on the actions of a Communist Armed Propaganda Team in Kien Hoa Province dated 3 June 1967. It states that on 23 May 1967 a mobile information and propaganda group of about 150 Viet Cong with loudspeakers, generators and other information equipment set up two platforms from which they entertained the local Vietnamese civilians with movies of the fighting in Central Vietnam, comedies and propaganda. A day later on 24 May, the same group moved to Thanh Thoi Agroville (a fortified hamlet of the Agroville Program). At about 0800 the ARVN forced apparently called in an air strike and reported 47 VC killed and another 19 wounded. The propaganda equipment was reported destroyed. 

The previously classified Confidential MACV Combined Intelligence Center VC Propaganda Factbook dated 29 March 1969 adds:

Entertainment Teams: VC entertainment teams direct propaganda through short plays, folksongs, dances, poetry readings, and story-telling. Mobile entertainment teams exist at regional and provincial levels. The mission of these teams is to “promote patriotic awareness among the masses by performing the classical Vietnamese music and drama.” The size of mobile entertainment teams varies greatly. The typical team consists of about 20 members, often includes women and teenagers, and performs plays, songs, dances, and poetry and prose readings. The team, accompanied by an armed Viet Cong platoon, travels throughout its region or province. Occasionally, it is equipped with a generator and a microphone.

A typical incident involving an unusually large mobile propaganda team follows: On 18 July 1967 an unidentified psychological warfare company with an estimated strength of 150 men was located at Wi Ta. The company was armed with five Chinese communist light machine guns, automatic rifles, and individual weapons. Personnel wore gray and black clothing. The mission of the unit was to sing and play music for the local people of Military Region 5. They called all the young men and girls together for training concerning their plan to prepare to kill Americans.

Armed propaganda teams (also called agit-prop teams) are used by the VC to effect face-to-face communication with people living in or bordering on GVN-controlled territory. The VC consider face-to-face communication as the most effective means of disseminating propaganda. Armed propaganda teams place primary emphasis on lecturing, sometimes utilizing loudspeakers or megaphones. Lectures have the advantage of having great psychological impact, demonstrating to the people the relative ease with which the VC move within GVN controlled areas and reinforcing VC presence in the minds of the people. One VC prisoner, formerly a member of an armed propaganda unit, described his unit’s activity in the following manner: “We conducted our business during the day. We moved furtively among the trees in the jungle to find people who were cutting wood, gathering wood, or bailing out water. We would stop and talk to them about the Front.”

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This photograph was taken from a captured North Vietnamese APT member. It depicts a North Vietnamese armed propaganda team proselyting in the field with farmers. The caption is “Two or three Communist cadre will approach a farmer in the fields and offer to assist him while they talk. It is not a hard sell, but rather a simple informal discussion of the problems and difficulties which face the people."

My friend U.S. Army Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Sam Eaton told me about an experience his wife Bac had with a Viet Cong propagandist as a 15-year-old teenager in 1968 while living in An Long five miles from the Cambodian border.

The propagandist was named Hoi, a hard-looking communist who demanded the attention of the young girl. She was forced to appear friendly and hospitable as the Viet Cong drank her tea and ate freshly roasted peanuts. He began his lecture:

Tonight we study about honorable Uncle Ho Chi Minh and about life and death. The old people said that dying in glory is better than living in shame. Have you ever heard that before? It is about dignity, courage and honor. We will always put our country and its honor above our lives. I am one of Uncle Ho’s heroes. Look at the courage I display, going from camp to camp, and spreading Uncle Ho’s word. You would do well to mold yourself on my brave model.

Bac said that a few days later when a lone American reconnaissance aircraft flew over the village Hoi opened fire on it with his AK47. The villagers were aghast. Soon afterwards, two fighters appeared. The farmers knew enough to stay very still so as not to invite attack and to wave a Republic of Vietnam flag to show that they were loyal to the government; Hoi once again fired his AK47 from a nearby creek. The aircraft strafed his position with machinegun and rockets.

Hoi suddenly burst from the reeds minus his black pajama shirt and waving a South Vietnamese flag. It was clear that the hero of the revolution had every intention of using the Saigon flag to save his life. Bac watched him hiding among the farmers and recalled the Vietnamese saying, “The coward dies many times before his death.”

Captured North Vietnamese Female Performers

Two women from a Communist entertainment group of 13 members were captured by the 1st U.S. Air Cavalry Division in An Khe during September 1966. Both said they left Hanoi for the South at the beginning of the year to perform in Viet Cong-controlled areas. Their fate is unknown. Note the woman in the left had a watch, which could imply she came from a well-off family.

The South Vietnamese Answer

Before the first Indochina War of 1946-1954, there were some of patriotic songs written by young musicians from the Vietnamese Youth & Student Association to strengthen the fighting spirit against the French and Japanese occupation (Starting September 1940).

In 1954, an entertainment group called the Doan Van Tac Vụ was established under the Defense Department during the First Republic of Vietnam period. It appears that both the Northern and the Southern Armies used such groups for psychological warfare purposes.

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APT Handbook

The American and South Vietnamese governments envied the Communist success and decided to counter enemy propaganda by employing their own propaganda troops. One of the problems, of course, is that the Government of Vietnam Armed Propaganda Team would usually be accompanied by armed U.S. troops, which probably led to a lack of credibility on their part. What do we know about the Government of Vietnam Armed Propaganda Teams? There is a wealth of information in the APT Handbook, an undated guide that was issued to the American advisors of the APTs. Some of the data in the handbook was also published as Chieu Hoi Operational Memorandum 1/69: Administration and Operation of the Armed Propaganda teams. I have edited some of the data in the handbook for efficiency and to make it more concise:

This handbook was prepared so that advisors and managers of the Chieu Hoi Program, the Intelligence and Psywar communities and other persons who are interested in the means and methods of face-to-face inducement will have a better understanding of the APT and its administration and operation. Armed Propaganda Teams represent the most effective of all returnee media. The results they obtain will vary proportionately to the skill with which they are employed, their training and their motivation. In the past, much of their full potential has been alleviated by the lack of complete understanding of not only what they might possibly accomplish but also of the very basic fundamentals of organization, training, tactics, etc.

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Government of Vietnam Armed Propaganda Team

The handbook defines the Armed Propaganda team:

During the summer of 1964, the Ministry of Chieu Hoi conceived the idea to better exploit the experience and knowledge of selected Chieu Hoi returnees (ex-Hoi Chanh) following their release from the Chieu Hoi Center. They decided to use ex-Hoi Chanh to go back into Viet Cong controlled or contested areas to talk to the people, relate their experience on both sides, discuss the policies and aims of the Government of Vietnam and tell the people about the Chieu Hoi Program. This would not only place the Hoi Chanh in a positive position to help the Government of Vietnam but at the same time show the people that those who have seen both sides recognize the Communist cause as unjust and desire to fight against it.

The APT is the primary action arm of the Ministry of Chieu Hoi for face-to-face inducement of enemy military and political personnel to change sides. This para-military force is provided to each province and functions as part of the provincial Chieu Hoi Program. The Armed Propaganda Team has no combat function, only being lightly armed for self-protection while conducting operations in uncertain or contested areas.

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This official military photograph dated 8 October 1969 depicts a member of an Armed Propaganda Team placing JUSPAO propaganda poster 2680, “Where is the Truth,” to a hut in a small hamlet near Phan Thiet in southern II Corps. The faces on the poster are all former high-ranking VC officers who returned to the government under Chieu Hoi.

The history and organization of the Armed Propaganda Team is discussed:

The first two APT companies were established on 1 October 1964 by the Ministry of Information / Chieu Hoi. These companies, each with a strength of 74 personnel and composed of two 36-man platoons, were initially located in Binh Duong, Long An, and Quang Ngai provinces. The outstanding success  of these companies led to the establishment of an additional 25 companies during 1965 and 1966.The authorized complement of Armed Propaganda Teams was increased to 45 companies in 1967 and 65 companies in 1968.The authorization was increased to 75 companies in 1969.

The annual force structure of the Armed Propaganda Team is determines by the Ministry of Chieu Hoi based on provincial inducement requirements. After coordinating with the United States Military Assistance Command – Vietnam (MACV) the force level is subject to review by the Director General for Budget and Foreign Aid as part of the Ministry budget.

Major factors which are considered in the distribution of the Armed Propaganda Teams are the Province Pacification Precedence List, available targets, and the ability to recruit and manage.

The Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) as of 1 April 1969 is mentioned:

The largest element of the APT is a company. It consists of a company headquarters and three 23-man platoons for a total of 74 personnel. Each platoon consists of a platoon leader, an assistant platoon leader and three seven-man squads. Each squad has a squad leader and two three-man sections. Individual clothing was purchased using the Ministry budget while field equipment was supplied by U.S. Department of Defense funding.

Each Armed Propaganda Company is authorized the following major equipment:

  1. 2 trucks
  2. 2 trailers
  3. 5 38-caliber pistols
  4. 57 M2 carbines
  5. 3 Browning automatic rifles
  6. 6 Thompson submachine guns
  7. 3 30-caliber machine guns
  8. 4 PRC-10 radio sets
  9. 3 public address sets AN/U1H-5
  10. 3 recorder-reproducer sets AN-TNH-2
  11. 3 portable loudspeakers

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A U.S PSYOP soldier stands watch as an ARVN soldier broadcasts a surrender appeal.

Apparently Chieu Hoi officials did not care to give up command of the APTs because the booklet clearly states:

The Ministry expects each Armed Propaganda Company to be self sufficient and not dependent upon Chieu Hoi cadre.   Chieu Hoi chiefs in each province must rely more on the commanders. Commanders must be allowed to command.

Who makes up the ranks of the Armed Propaganda Teams?

Personnel of the APT are selected from ex-Hoi Chanh on the basis of their leadership ability, demonstrated loyalty to the government and ability to communicate effectively with the people. Any ex-Hoi Chanh, man or woman, may be recruited for employment as an APT if they meet the following prerequisites:

  1. Must be genuine Hoi Chanh.
  2. Must not be guilty of prior criminal acts or military desertion.
  3. Must be no younger than 17 nor older than 50 years of age.
  4. Must be free from the draft.

If selected, the Chieu Hoi Chief prepares a dossier containing:

  1. Application for employment (with biographical data).
  2. Health certificate.
  3. Relocation certificate.
  4. Agreement to be assigned any place where needed.
  5. Five photographs.

The temporary employee is entitled to a $2,500VN base salary each month. Once the dossier is screened and checked the temporary employee is appointed as a permanent APT member. He then qualifies for additional subsidies such as a 30% inducement for family, functions and a rice allowance. An additional payment of $525VN is authorized for a wife and $450VN for each child. The maximum payment for a Company Commander can be $5030VN, while a basic member of the APT can make as much as $3450VN. Should he be killed, one year’s salary will be paid to his beneficiary. He will also receive payment for permanent-type injuries. This is based on the percentage of disability and length of service. The family will also receive payment if the APT member is captured or abducted by the Viet Cong while on an operation. APT members may be awarded the Gallantry Cross with Palm, Gold Star, Silver Star or Bronze Star. Surprisingly, the funds to support the Armed Propaganda Teams compose approximately 60% of the Ministry of Chieu Hoi annual budget.

An Armed Propaganda Team Member hands out a
Government Newsletter to a local Citizen.

The Handbook explains the many missions of the Armed Propaganda team in detail:


Disseminate the Chieu Hoi policy among the population, denounce all crimes and rebut all arguments of the Viet Cong propaganda through psychological operations.

Contact and encourage VC soldiers to return to the GVN.

Provide security for Chieu Hoi centers and hamlets.

Assist military operations in the recovery of VC weapons and ammunition caches.

Assist local security forces in the discovery of VC underground operations.

Within the framework of the above missions, the APT will perform the following functions:

Organize meetings, talks, culture/drama performances, distribute leaflets, posters and publications to disseminate Chieu Hoi policy among the people, paying particular attention to those persons residing in contested or Viet Cong controlled areas.

Visit Viet Cong families to induce them to persuade their relatives to return to the Government of Vietnam.

Assist VC soldiers to return to the Government of Vietnam.

Send letters to the returnee’s former comrades to persuade them to return to the Government of Vietnam.

Assist military and security services in the identification of VC underground agents.

Assist military operations in the identification of VC weapons and ammunition caches.

Although these missions have been long standing, they are often mis-interpreted. The APT is not a combat unit. The Ministry considers the APT to have a primary mission of Chieu Hoi psyops activities with secondary utilization being directed toward security of the Chieu Hoi facilities and assisting military operations. The APT should be prepared to assist in the protection of Government of Vietnam citizens and property when under direct attack by the Viet Cong but the APT should be relieved of any tactical assignment as soon as the security situation permits so that it can return to its primary propaganda role.

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South Vietnamese APT Member
Douglas Pike Photograph Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive.

Private First Class Nguyen Van Danh of the 25th Division of the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) at Long An Province, 25 kilometers south of Saigon. He is a member of a nine-man special Armed Propaganda Team whose principal task is to encourage the Viet Cong to defect to the government. The result in Long An Province, a onetime Communist stronghold, is 1,990 returnees since January 1, 1969. Most of the recent returnees said they were influenced by contacts from APT members.

Mervyn Roberts makes some of the following points about the Armed Propaganda Teams in his 2016 paper: United States psychological operations in support of counterinsurgency: Vietnam, 1960 to 1965:

Under Edward G. Lansdale‘s guidance, the United States assisted in training the psychological warfare forces…A hasty instruction program taught soldiers how to enter a village and greet civilians in a respectful manner. Additionally, he built Armed Propaganda Teams (APT). These were 20-man squads trained in psychological warfare, heavily armed and equipped with U.S. Navy loud-hailers, bull horns, and some larger French voice amplifiers. The men were selected for their patriotic motivation and carried leaflets, booklets and posters, and at times, phonographs, films, film projection equipment, and simple medicines…

One ploy the teams used was to offer to exchange a villager‘s old, faded photo of Ho Chi Minh, for a fresh new color photo of South Vietnamese President Diem. The teams knew that if they entered the huts and pulled down the pictures of Ho Chi Minh, they would only anger the villagers.

Readers might wonder if these teams were worth the trouble. Did they really help in the fight against the Communists? They did. I have read about 100 reports where the teams brought in Viet Cong members and weapons. Here is one from a report written February 1970. The teams are using a new plan called “Operation Tune In.” They are opening conversations with the people and listening hard. One result:

Team members were encouraged to seek the opinions and aspirations of the Vietnamese with whom they come in contact. At Ap Chanh village, members of the Armed Propaganda Team obtained information about a secret Viet Cong meeting place, a political indoctrination class and a cache containing numerous mortar rounds and several grenades. While supporting a Civic Action program in Duc Ngai village, local villagers volunteered information that led to the discovery of a complex bunker system containing a large number of enemy weapons and ammunition.

Bruce Kinsey mentions the Armed Propaganda Teams in GOOD GUYS: The Quiet Americans Who Worked to Pacify Vietnam:

The Armed Propaganda Teams grew out of an unusual Central Intelligence Agency-U.S. Operations Mission-U.S. Information Agency effort concocted in Quang Nam province in 1964 and dubbed “People’s Action Teams.” A 15-man Vietnamese team, indoctrinated and often led by USIA officer Frank Scotton, penetrated VC-held and contested hamlets. Its purpose was to undertake small civic action projects, propagandize the residents, and collect intelligence – all in the wake of the near collapse of the Nguyen Khanh government in Saigon.

In 1969, Chieu Hoi’s most successful year ever, Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) judged the APTs “the most effective method of inducing returnees.” By then the teams were operating as small units, often without outside military support, as part of 74-man companies under the GVN province chief. That same year 75 companies were operative, with more planned. It was later estimated that Armed Propaganda Teams caused 25% to 50% of all defections. The program was, however, subject to excesses, as Dave Garms, who advised the Chieu Hoi program in Go Cong province noted:

“The APT was supposed to be a political propaganda arm of the government in general and of the Chieu Hoi program in particular. The members were to be armed only for the purpose of defending themselves in contested areas.... In practice, however, the toughest and fiercest of the returnees tended to join the APT, and their enthusiasm for killing their former comrades sometimes surpassed that for converting them. They could be a difficult lot to control, and the province chief of Go Cong, rather than control them, had actually incited their more violent tendencies.”

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Raymond A. Millen mentions Armed Propaganda Teams in his 2020 US Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute paper: Death by a Thousand Cuts: Weakening an Insurgency through a National Reconciliation Program Three Case Studies: Malaya, Vietnam, and Iraq

The Armed Propaganda Unit program started in October 1964. USAID employed especially trained ralliers (male and female) to promote the Chieu Hoi program in Viet Cong-dominated areas. USAID selected ralliers with demonstrated leadership, patriotism to the government, and strong communication skills.

Starting in February 1968, Armed Propaganda Team personnel attended a formal four-week training course on psychological warfare and basic military tactics. Accordingly, provincial Chieu Hoi chiefs exercised operational control of Armed Propaganda Teams.

While the basic unit was a platoon of 35 ralliers, Armed Propaganda Teams (three ralliers) functioned as agents for disseminating Chieu Hoi propaganda in villages. As former Viet Cong, they embodied the government’s promise of reconciliation, thereby effectively countering Viet Cong propaganda. Lightly armed for self-protection, APT ralliers conversed with villagers about their experiences, the reality of communism, Viet Cong injustices, the Chieu Hoi program, and RVN government goals and reforms. Since many villagers had relatives and friends in the Viet Cong, these personal interactions served to encourage defections through trusted associations. In this regard, one Chieu Hoi adviser considered APTs as the most potent propaganda service for the war effort.

As the war progressed, the number of Armed Propaganda companies surged from two in 1964 to around 84 in 1970, totaling 5,400 male and female ralliers. By 1969, all four regions and 44 provinces contained Armed Propaganda Companies. The task organization was as follows:

The Armed Propaganda Company consists of three platoons of 74 ralliers.
The Armed Propaganda Platoon consists of three squads of 23 ralliers.
The Armed Propaganda Squad consists of two Armed Propaganda Teams of seven ralliers.
The Armed Propaganda Team consists of three ralliers.

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The Armed Propaganda team Bodyguards
Courtesy of the Headless Snake

Harry Wagner mentions the fighting capabilities of the Armed Propaganda Teams in The Headless Snake, self-published, 2018. Wagner was involved in PSYOP in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968 as the Director of Psychological Operations in II Corps. Almost every mention of the teams in this article is about their songs, dances, plays and civic actions. Wagner says that he used them for more military purposes. I have not read such statements anywhere else:

As my work with military intelligence expanded I began to employ the Armed Propaganda Teams as a blocking force in different main force assaults on enemy positions. My association with military and CIA operations became more involved…A top secret attack plan was developed and deployment of forces was to start in two days. I deployed 100 members of the teams into a blocking position in support of the regiment.

Wagner mentions using the APTs as his bodyguard and says they were very protective of him:

They wore black clothing, which was the traditional garb of the Vietnamese. The APT Chief (a Hoi Chanh) was concerned for my safety when I wore American clothes in the field with them doing PSYOP in contested enemy areas. I explained it was to separate me as a guest in their country…I was there because I wanted to help the Vietnamese and stop the violence…After we failed in Vietnam over 2,000 of them were executed by the Viet Cong.

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Sergeant Jack O'Neil with Armed Propaganda Team (APT)

Kinsey tells us the theory of the Armed Propaganda Teams. Another trooper who actually worked with them told me how some of it was practiced in reality, at least in his area of operations. Former Sergeant Chad Spawr, former PSYOP Team Leader of the 6th PSYOP Battalion in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969 said:

Sergeant Jack O'Neil was my best friend. We met in September 1968 at the Quan Loi Base Camp in Binh Long Province, where Jack was PSYOP Team Leader for the 2d Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). I temporarily replaced him for his R&R; shortly thereafter, Jack moved to another unit and I followed him as Team Leader in Quan Loi. Jack was the first PSYOP team leader to organize and deploy the Armed Propaganda Team (APT), composed of one American PSYOP soldier, an interpreter, and between five and seven armed former NVA soldiers. Our APT’s worked at the village and hamlet level to counter enemy propaganda and to provide a local intervention either before or after Allied operations in specific areas. That these were dangerous operations is an understatement. Jack refined the model that several of us thereafter applied.

Private Nguyen Van Broadcasts by Loudspeaker

This November 1969 photograph combines three of my favorite subjects, the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) program, the South Vietnamese Armed Propaganda teams, and the use of loudspeakers for psychological operations. This is an original press photo. The back gives a description of what is going on in the photo.

A nightly appeal. Seated in his quarters, Private Nguyen Van Danh hooks up a loudspeaker system with speakers on the roof of his hut to read Chieu Hoi (returnee) appeals from midnight to 1 a.m. and from 3 to 4 a.m. This spoken appeal is intended for Viet Cong who might be sneaking around in neighborhood rice paddies

According to South Vietnamese officials, 5615 Viet Cong guerillas turned their backs on communism during October. This is more than in any previous month in the history of the war. One of the reasons is because of troopers like Private First-Class Nguyen Van Danh of the 25th Division of the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) at Long An Province, 25 kilometers south of Saigon.

Private Danh, 27, carries a submachine gun for combat, but does much of his "fighting" with a microphone, leaflets, and flags. He is a member of a nine-man special Armed Propaganda Team whose principal task is to encourage the Viet Cong to cast their lot with the government.

The results in Long An Province, a onetime Communist stronghold, is 1990 returnees since January 1, 1969. Most of the recent returnees said they were influenced by contacts from APT members.

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Sergeant Chad Spawr in Quan Loi about December 1967.

Chad said that his only orientation to the Armed Propaganda Teams was as follows:

1. This is your team and you are the team leader.

2. They all are North Vietnamese Army soldiers who have defected.

3. You will work with Vietnamese and American ground units to “pave the way” for friendly entry into village areas, explain that we are friends, and tell a brief story about how bad the Viet Cong and NVA are. Use “stay behind” tactics as needed to exploit favorable situations.

4. Tell people that the Viet Cong and NVA are foreign invaders seeking to capture Vietnam for the Russians and Chinese.

5. Provide local patrols to identify caches and potential hazards such as trip wires, mines, etc.

6. Assist local Regional Force and Popular Force units in ambushes as requested.

Chad pointed out that his Vietnamese team members were absolutely expert at picking ambush sites, teaching the Americans NVA tactics, etc. He said that he never lost a man on one of their ambushes; they were amazing soldiers.

He rarely had a portable loudspeaker. When I pointed out that there were hundreds of pre-written messages available he said that he never saw any of them:

We used the speaker for a couple of reasons. One was to get folks assembled when we went into a village; we would ask the cooperation of the village chief to assemble folks, and used the speaker for that. Other times, when we'd participate in a village seal and search, we'd use the speaker to warn folks about correct behavior, not to challenge troops, move into open areas, etc. I don't recall ever using a speaker with scripts; in fact, I don't remember there being any scripts. When we needed something said, we planned it with our Hoi Chanh's. As I spoke a good bit of the language, we could put together a message that they'd deliver.

We used it one time to try and coax some VC out of a small village where they were trapped. That was near An Loc. It was three VC, trying to hide in a covered bunker. They were pointed out by the old lady who lived there. My Hoi Chanh’s worked hard but weren't successful. The VC wouldn't come out, and were assisted into the next life with a couple fragmentation grenades.

In early February 1969, we were operating from Quan Loi. We were called to work with a platoon of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment that was putting up a block to stop an enemy unit that was under airstrike about 5 kilometers north of An Loc. We set up on a ridgeline about a half kilometer from the area being bombed, and saw three NVA trying to escape in our direction. They were unarmed, and running toward us. One of our Hoi Chanh's stood up and called to them. They were not in uniform, so the NVA must have thought we were friendly. Once they got closer, it was too late. Had they been armed, we would have killed them. As it was, we were able to take them prisoner. We gave them to the 11th ACR guys.

On another occasion Chad mentioned this in more depth:

While serving as PSYOP Team Leader for 2nd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry, I often operated an Armed Propaganda Team based in An Loc. This team, composed of enemy soldiers who had defected to the Allies, was literally armed and trained to perform PSYOP missions in contested villages and hamlets. All team members were experienced combat veterans. The team I led was composed entirely of former North Vietnamese combat soldiers. They were tough, hardened, good soldiers. On 2 February 1969, this team successfully captured three enemy soldiers fleeing US air strikes between An Loc and the Cambodian border. These POW's were a gold mine of tactical (Order of Battle) information. I was proud to lead these men, and still am to this day.

His troops also participated in prisoner snatches working with Regional Force and Popular Force units. Often, he would camp out for a few days at an RF/PF encampment, running patrols at night to identify Viet Cong infiltration into local villages.

Chad concludes:

We seldom did much actual propaganda, never showed a film, and seldom held group meetings in villages. I always felt it was very casual, and that much of what we did was “made up” as we went along just to say that things were being done. It was nice to read your article and see the official policy and what we were supposed to do. It would have been nice if we'd actually done it, but I did not find that was how we worked in the field. My participation ended when I was sent to Operation Montana Raider where I was wounded and eventually sent home.

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Sergeant Rich Hosier with the Former Viet Cong Colonel who went Chieu Hoi

Sergeant Rich Hosier had a very difference experience with an Armed Propaganda Team. One of the interesting things about the Vietnam War is that everyone had a different experience. The men that fought in 1965 had little in common with the men that fought in 1973, and those in the Delta hardly understood the battles that took place in the Highlands.

Rich was trained in Intelligence at Ft. Holabird, Maryland and thereafter assigned to the 6th Special Forces at Bragg. He did no Special Forces training. He did attend jump school at Ft. Benning, Georgia and Jungle Expert School at Ft Sherman, Panama.

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The 6th PSYOP Battalion Booklet

Although he had no PSYOP training he was assigned to the 6th PSYOP Battalion in Vietnam in August 1967. He was issued a 5-page booklet entitled The 6th PSYOP Battalion that explained the mission: “To conduct psychological operations in support of military operations in the Republic of Vietnam…” From there he was sent to the 244th PSYOP Company which later would become the 7th PSYOP Battalion in Da Nang. He was then sent to Chu Lai to support the 23rd Infantry (Amercal) Division where he started his “On-the-Job training.” He went on various missions winning “hearts and minds” and showing movies. He always started with hygiene movie to explain the proper way to brush your teeth or bathe a child, and then he would show a real Hollywood movie. The favorites were Westerns. The Vietnamese loved the horses! Once his team was laughing as they watched “The Green Berets” although it was in English and most of them couldn't understand a word of it.

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Sergeant Rich Hosier, Marine Sergeant Bob Conticelli and Hoi Chanhs by the Loudspeaker Helicopter

He was placed on a team supporting the 196th Light Infantry Brigade led by Marine Sergeant Robert Conticelli who had attended PSYOP School at Ft. Bragg and taught Hosier the basics and kept him alive. Bob was part of a contingent of about 14 Marines that were sent from Bragg to Vietnam and assigned to infantry units. Rich also worked with a Marine Lieutenant Stone, but only did about three missions together. About that time they were no longer were using officers to lead teams but were instead placing Noncommissioned officers as team leaders. Rich told me:

We were an HB Team (Loudspeaker), with no team members. We would broadcast on the ground and from helicopters using a cassette player with tapes sent to us from Da Nang. We usually had a script so we knew what the message was and sometimes we took the S3 (Operations) interpreter on missions for live broadcasting. We dropped leaflets by the thousands. Leaflet drops were very sophisticated. We would identify a target; usually a village and the pilot would help us with wind direction and tell us when to drop. Some missions we flew while a battle was going on. I remember at least three times when our tactical leaflets identified the enemy units so the messages were very personal. Broadcasting and dropping leaflets was very dangerous as we flew very slowly at an altitude of about 1,500 feet. I can't ever remember not getting shot at when doing this.

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Leaflet 7-646-68

Rich mentions teaching the Vietnamese Hygiene. Here is a leaflet from the 7th PSYOP Battalion that is one of several that teaches a mother how to bathe her child. The text is:

Soap and water help you clean germs on the skin. You should bathe your child with soap and water every day to prevent skin disease.

Rich continues:

At this point, in late 1967 most American infantry officers did not understand our purpose or want our support. They did not understand the PSYOP mission. In early 1968 we became an Armed Propaganda Team and acquired a number of Hoi Chanhs from a Chieu Hoi center in Tam Ky. The place was run by an ex-Viet Cong colonel. He would pick out best of the best and we would go down and pick them up. When I left in 1969 we had 8 Hoi Chanhs and an interpreter on our team. This bought a whole new dynamic to our team. We targeted certain high risk villages and would call for a Medical Civil Action Program (Medcap) mission to help the people while we wandered around talking to the villagers. We eventually set up a network of 5 villagers from different places who were giving us tactical information. There was some risk. We got word that an informer from one village had information for us and when we went in we were ambushed after being there for about an hour. We tried to track the informer down but never found him.

One time we got word through this network that a North Vietnamese political officer was going to be in a certain village. We planned a “snatch” and sure enough the guy was there and we captured him. Most of the time the Informer’s information was about enemy movements, numbers, etc. In our area of Operation many of the Viet Cong were upset with the North Vietnamese Army because they stole the villager's food. In fact the Former Viet Cong Colonel we worked with defected after being in a horrific fight with NVA over such problems. This became a theme for broadcasting for us and he helped us with the messages as well.

As time went on most field commanders realized that PSYOP could save lives. It was nothing for us to be called to several battles in just a few days. After TET things got worse as the NVA increased their efforts. Where earlier we were appealing to villagers and local VC the message to NVA soldiers was entirely different. We would tell the Viet Cong that you are helping foreign invaders who steal your food, fight you and care little about your family or village. To the North Vietnamese we would tell them that they were in a foreign land fighting for politicians far away with no reason for them to be there and they would die in unknown places, in unmarked graves and their families would never find their graves. That worked well on the real Buddhists. Our whole team mission and perspective changed along with the level of serious engagements we encountered. We used speakers 75% of the time both on the ground and in the air. We continued to drop large number of leaflets especially when a major operation was in the works. At one point Bob and I flew two-a-day missions for 27 straight days!

I was reassigned in April of 1969. Two of the men that had trained with me and took over my team were killed in May 1969. Both were teammates and friends. I mourn them every day.

Rich mentions the use of movies for propaganda and they are a mixed blessing. In another operation, an effort to impress one Montagnard Village, a PSYOP Team was sent in to win their hearts and minds. The tribe lived in Stilted Huts with no modern conveniences and the PSYOP team decided to entertain the tribe members with a movie. The team members brought a 16 mm film projector, screen and portable generator. Since the Montagnards did not speak English, the Americans selected an action-packed "Western.” As might be expected, the Montagnard villagers were thoroughly engrossed with the action on the screen. Then came the fateful scene where the wagon train full of settlers was attacked by Indians. The villagers watched intently as the Indian’s arrows struck the settlers. Suddenly, the sound of a bugle playing “Charge” was heard as the U.S. Cavalry came riding in to the rescue, charged heroically and opened fire on the Indians. The excitable Montagnards rose as one, grabbed their crossbows and started firing arrows at the screen. The Montagnards, who dressed similarly to the Native Americans with loin cloths and carried bows, had identified with the Indians in the film. The morale of the story is simple. Know your target audience.

My personal favorite movie story is from Japan soon after the war ended. In those days you watched movies on a mat and you could buy Saki. I am there with a pretty young lady and we are watching I think (but I am not 100% positive) “Flying Leathernecks.” Now this is a WWII propaganda movie designed to help Americans hate the Japanese, so the locals don't have much to cheer about. Then came that scene where the handsome young Navy pilot is forced to jump out of his aircraft. He does so, and a grinning ape-like Japanese Zero pilot machine-guns him in his parachute. The crowd went nuts. They were on their feet cheering! It was the first thing they had to cheer about all night. I thought it was kind of funny. We were trying to manipulate minds and we did so, but Japanese minds.

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South Vietnamese Army Loudspeaker Truck
Saigon Mission Association

A South Vietnamese three-wheeled loudspeaker truck from February 1973. Notice that the children hold printed items so I assume that the girls in the back were handing out coloring books or handbills.

An article entitled “The Armed Propaganda Team – Former Enemy Soldiers Spread the Government’s Word” appeared in Hurricane Magazine of March 1969. The magazine is an authorized monthly publication of II Field Force Vietnam. It is published by the 16th Public Information Detachment and the Information Office:

The APT members are inspired by the zeal common to converts to a new cause. The zeal is channeled by rigid discipline. APT members are subject to dismissal for the slightest infraction. The APT works on the enemy VC and NVA through propaganda.

Perhaps the most effective weapon has been the leaflet on known enemy hideouts, hamlets and infiltration routes. Powerful speakers on airplanes and trucks verbally drive the PSYOP message home. A new type of leaflet is being prepared for use that features a picture of a recent rallier with a hand-written message. Called “The Pony Express,” the program operates in the area of the rallier’s former unit. In the more secure areas, the APT is joined by the PSYOP Culture-Drama Team. Made up entirely of x-Viet Cong, the group travels the countryside presenting skits, sing-alongs, magic shows and patriotic verses…

In their extensive search for weapons, ammunition, explosives, supplies and resistance itself, the APT returns with confiscated material on 90% of its missions.

J. A. Koch authored an Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) report in January 1973 entitled: The Chieu Hoi Program in South Vietnam, 1963-1971. He says about the Armed Propaganda Teams:

Variations of the ex-insurgent psychological warfare team were employed in the Philippines, Malaya, and Algeria. In Vietnam, in 1964, it took the form of armed propaganda teams of ex-Viet Cong who rallied under the Chieu Hoi Program. These paramilitary units have become the primary "action arm" of the Ministry of Chieu Hoi for face-to-face inducement for enemy military and civilian personnel to rally to the government side. Particularly during the early years they were invaluable in establishing the credibility and bona fides of the government, i.e., they were living proof that the government did not kill or mistreat Viet Cong who rallied.

The primary mission of the APT has been to disseminate Chieu Hoi propaganda -- leaflets, banners, posters, film -- on a person-to-person basis, in the hamlets and villages of contested or VC-controlled areas. The teams were originally lightly armed to provide them with self-protection and the confidence needed to operate in these insecure areas.

By 1971 APTs were also being assigned to assist other counterinsurgency programs, e.g., the National Police, as interrogators and identifiers of VC travelers, the PSDF in their training to counter VC tactics and techniques. There are also now seven five-man lecture teams composed of the most highly intelligent Hoi Chanh, who systematically visit schools, colleges, business groups, and military camps and units and have proved highly successful. By the end of 1971 these assignments were holding priority over all other activities of the APT.

Culture-Drama Teams

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A Culture-Drama Team arrives at a village

We mention Culture-Drama Teams above from both North and South Vietnam. Like any good idea from the North, the South was quick to copy it. JUSPAO Field Memorandum 57 dated 5 August 1968 is entitled, Organization and Operation of U.S. Supported Culture-Drama Teams.

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Culture-Drama Team on the road

The American memorandum does give the Communists credit. Some of the comments are in part:

Culture-drama entertainment in rural hamlets is a traditional expression of culture in Vietnam. Roaming culture-drama teams began to operate in the days of the Chinese domination and the tradition has continued through modern times. Because of the widespread familiarity of the peasant with culture-drama teams and the wide acceptance of this traditional culture form, the communists seized upon the concept and developed it into a PSYOP weapon.

During recent years the government of Vietnam with support from U.S. organizations has employed culture-drama teams to assist in accomplishments of its objectives. The most successful has been the Van Tac Vu [Office of Literacy Producing] program, which over the past two years has operated from 13 to 20 teams.

A culture-drama team is a group of young and talented artists, organized to conduct PSYOP programs through the use of entertainment.

A culture drama team is a group of young and talented artists, organized to conduct PSYOP programs through the medium on entertainment. Each team should be composed of from five to nine members. Experience has revealed that a good balance is achieved by the formula of two-thirds male members, one third female. These teams tour the hamlets of remote and contested rural areas entertaining the people and using entertainment as a medium for PSYOP messages in support of programs and objectives of the Government of Vietnam. Such programs and objectives include, but are not necessarily limited to those of National reconciliation and Chieu Hoi, Revolutionary Development, the Government of Vietnam Image, the refugee and Police Programs, Phoenix, Regional Forces/Popular Forces, and other pacification efforts. The teams perform not only in village/hamlets, but also in refugee and Chieu Hoi Centers and at Regional Forces/Popular Forces outposts. When necessary and feasible they operate in direct support of military operations.

Before leaving the provincial capital on an operation, the team should contact organizations conducting PSYOP in the province and pick up leaflets, posters, magazines, and other materials supporting current PSYOP programs for distribution in rural areas.

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These two photographs were in the papers of Don Rochlen, who was chief of Special Projects for the Joint U.S. Public Relations Office (JUSPAO). He said that the young Vietnamese women depicted are part of the Cultural Drama teams sponsored by both the U.S. and Vietnamese governments. These girls are on the Vietnamese-Cambodian border in 24 January 1971, on their way to entertain the troops during the Tet holidays.

Just about a month before Tet 1971 (30 January 1971), the ARVN opened Operation Toan Thang 1/71 in Cambodia, hoping to draw the PAVN from Laos back to Cambodia. That was probably why the girls were in Cambodia to entertain the troops. The operation was just a ruse: the actual Allied operation was Lam Son 719 in Laos, which began on 8 February 1971.

This particular group seems to consist of high school students. They would sing songs to show appreciation to the soldiers, especially during Tet, when, like Thanksgiving in the U.S., all soldiers want to be home with their families. The school children in the South did this voluntarily and received no extra credit for their actions. Those students, who were probably in the musical club of their school, would take trips to entertain the soldiers at some bases or Military hospitals. Sometimes teachers who were ARVN veterans had the connections to get military trucks for these trips. Notice that one girl is wearing a U.S. M69 flak jacket.

Cultural-Drama Performances

The basic mission of a culture-drama team is to perform for populations of rural areas. Such teams normally perform once or twice a day. If the security situation permits, they conduct night performances. The typical performance lasts for an hour or more and includes modern or traditional Vietnamese songs, a magic show, skits, plays and humorous tales. Dances may be performed if the requisite talent exists. Virtually all of the material is PSYOP oriented, i. e., it serves the objectives of the Government of Vietnam program.

Cultural Seed Planting

This activity is directed toward school children and other youngsters of elementary and early secondary school age. In Cultural Seed Planting sessions, children learn patriotic songs and develop pride in being citizens of Vietnam. Woven into the singing sessions are lessons designed to encourage children to respect their teachers, to obey their parents, to get along with their friends , to love their native country, and to identify themselves clearly with the elected Government of the Republic of Vietnam. Parallels are drawn between the present defense against aggression and struggles in past centuries against other invaders. Cultural Seed Planting is conducted at schools, in parks, in orphanages and at other locations where children may be assembled. This is a regular, daily task for the teams. A normal session lasts from one to two hours.

Spiritual Guidelines for the Van Tac Vu Cadre

Each member of a Van Tac Vu Team is guided by three cardinal principles:

Principle 1: When you come, make the people happy.
Principle 2: When you leave, make the people miss you.
Principle 3: When you stay, make the people love you.

The entire effort of the Van Tac Vu Cadre is guided by these principles. No actions that contradict these principles are allowed in the Van Tac Vu family.

Each member of a Van Tac Vu Team is guided by three cardinal principles:

Principle 1: When you come, make the people happy.
Principle 2: When you leave, make the people miss you.
Principle 3: When you stay, make the people love you.

The entire effort of the Van Tac Vu Cadre is guided by these principles. No actions that contradict these principles are allowed in the Van Tac Vu family.

The Five Precepts are:

1. Place the national interest and the ideals of freedom above everything.
2. Judge and guide all daily activities with a good conscience.
3. Serve with a determination to develop the national combat Culture-drama.
4. Study diligently to broaden your range of knowledge.
5. Strictly carry out outlined plans and policies.

There is also a list of 12 actions forbidden to the team members. I will not list them all but some of them are: Don’t infringe on people’s property, don’t borrow money from the people, don’t wear strange or "dressy" clothes, don’t browbeat the people, don’t charge for performances, don’t read or view pornography, and don’t engage in illicit love affairs.

There are four obligations: Each member must purchase and keep one musical instrument, they must buy their own black pajama uniform and nylon slippers, and the women must buy their own makeup.

The basic pay for a team member was 2,500 Vietnamese dongs per month. Bonuses were paid to those who had seniority, rank, or special skills.

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Van Tac Vu member leads children in a "Sing-along"

The Van Tac Vu teams are mentioned in another official memorandum dated January 1968. It says in part:

One of the oldest cultural traditions in Southeast Asia is the role of the wandering minstrels who pass on ancient legends and carry the latest news from village to village by means of song, dance, and fold drama. Today, this tradition is carried on by the Van Tac Vu cultural drama teams in South Vietnam. From March 1966 to June 1967 the Van Tac Vu teams performed before nearly 10% of the entire population of South Vietnam.

The teams have four missions in their work in rural areas. The first of these, the cultural dramatic performances occupies around 40% of their time. The Van Tac Vu organization has thus far produced 15 plays, 28 modern songs, and 45 songs based upon traditional music forms.…The second mission of the teams is called “cultural seed planting,” in which the teams visit the village school and the children are taught patriotic songs of Vietnam and told in simple terms the goals of the government and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. During the first year of operation, the teams have taught more than 180,000 children to sing the National Anthem of South Vietnam…The teams’ third mission, civic action and information, aims at both demonstrating the team’s desire to help the rural populace improve their own village and at the same time inform them of the programs and policies of their national government...The fourth mission is to help local artists to organize entertainment programs so that the work of the Van Tac Vu teams can continue and expand after the teams leave the area.

Both Radio Hanoi and the radio of the Viet Cong have referred to the teams as dangerous elements to be avoided by cadre and the rural population. The teams have been exposed to enemy fire and there have been several incidents or terrorists throwing grenades or firing into the audience. Since 1966, 2% of the team members have been killed and 12% have been wounded…By wearing the black clothes of the Vietnamese peasant, traveling in sampans and on bicycles, engaging in locally-determined civic action projects, and living with the residents of the villages they are visiting, the team members demonstrate their concern for and identification with the rural Vietnamese.

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Van Tac Vu Magazine #11

In order to keep the program going, JUSPAO printed a monthly Van Tac Vu magazine filled with material such as songs, poems, plays and skits. In addition, they trained and supported a national demonstration team available for performances or training upon request. They taught the teams to perform a show lasting about an hour or more and containing songs, a magic show, skits, plays and humorous tales. Much of the PSYOP was aimed at children and was called “cultural seed planting.” In order to identify with the people, the teams were also expected to take part in some manual labor in each hamlet, sweep out market places, repair fences, wash babies, etc. The teams were given “Spiritual Guidelines:”

When you come, make the people happy.
When you leave, make the people miss you.

When you stay make the people love you.

Thomas C. Sorensen tells us more about the special JUSPAO teams in The Word War, Harper & Row, N.Y., 1968:

JUSPAO helped train six-man Van Tac Vu (Cultural Drama Service) troupes and assisted in the production of their material. The entertainers - among them, attractive actresses unaccustomed to hardship - traveled in black pajamas commonly worn by peasants, and lived with the villagers as they moved around the countryside, performing twenty or more shows a month. The troupes sang patriotic songs ("Vietnam, Vietnam" and "Our House"), amused and indoctrinated the peasantry with primitive dramas about villainous Viet Cong and heroic South Vietnamese soldiers and officials, and off stage distributed medicines, seed, food, and pamphlets, and helped at chores ranging from repairing damaged buildings to bathing infants.

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A Cultural Drama Team Working with the Australians

The Australians sometimes used these teams to calm the Vietnamese villagers while they did a “Cordon and Search” of the area looking for weapons and members of the Viet Cong. The team stands on the back of an Australian Mark 3 vehicle.

Former Australian Sergeant Derrill de Heer mentions the Cultural Drama Teams in his Masters’ Thesis: Victoria per Mentum: Psychological Operations Conducted by the Australian Army in Phuoc Tuy Province South Vietnam 1965 – 1971. Some of his comments are:

On some occasions the Australians supported Vietnamese Cultural Drama Teams who sang, danced, and performed in comedy and drama acts on temporary stages, sometimes on the back of vehicles parked in the village. Some skits were designed to convey very subtle propaganda messages to the audience to demonstrate the virtues of the Saigon government and the drama teams were very popular with the villagers.

[During Cordon and Search operations] While the villagers were in the assembly area after being screened by the appropriate officials, the Australian PSYOP team would set up broadcast equipment to provide them with entertainment by a Vietnamese Cultural Drama team. Officials would inform them of events to be held in their area in the near future.

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Cultural Drama Team
Employment of US Army Psychological Operations Units in Vietnam

The Department of the Army Contact Team in Vietnam Study entitled Employment of US Army Psychological Operations Units in Vietnam, dated 7 June 1969 says:

Cultural Drama shows were extremely effective mediums for dissemination of PSYOP messages to rural target audiences in the Republic of Vietnam according to PSYOP leaders. There were 36 Cultural Drama Teams conducting operations within the provinces providing entertainment in the form of songs, dramas, dances and magic shows to audiences in the villages and hamlets. The objectives of the Cultural Drama Teams were to achieve a spiritual identification with the rural masses, to win their favor and to establish a channel of communication between the masses and the GVN.

The teams used PSYOP as part of their cultural drama shows to support various government programs and activities. The teams accomplished this task by providing entertainment. Each performance lasted approximately one and a half hours and included modern and traditional songs, magic shows, dances stories and skits. PSYOP themes of virtually all the material was politically oriented, e.g., “Chieu Hoi,” nation building, the anti-communist effort, social reforms and elections.

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Propaganda to Music – Associated Press Photo

JUSPAO prepared a number of publicity photographs showing the Cultural Drama Teams in action in July 1967. The text said in part:

Entertainment for the villages is a weapon being used in South Vietnam. Small Cultural Drama teams of men and women tour hamlets and villages, putting on simple shows, teaching songs to the children, and helping with village projects. Here members of a team teach songs to a school class. The program is run and financed by the Americans.

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John Campbell with three female members of a team he directed in Long Huu

John R. Campbell, a civilian psychological warfare advisor in Vietnam in 1965 was the Director of Cultural Drama Teams from 1966-1967. He says about this program in Are we Winning? Are they Winning: A Civilian Advisor’s Reflections on Wartime Vietnam, Author House, 2004:

I ran 15 teams (and they literally had to run every 24 hours to stay ahead of the Viet Cong) of Vietnamese entertainers throughout the whole of South Vietnam’s countryside. We taught children pro-government songs and they in turn innocently serenaded us with their well-rehearsed pro-Viet Cong songs…We were told repeatedly that they liked our show much better than the similar roving VC propaganda teams because  their shows were obligatory and filled with dull and serious rote ideology…The daily cost of running our 15 Van Tac Vu teams countryside was the equivalent expenditure of ten 105mm shells…Perhaps, however, because of the considerable expansion of the “Rural Development” program in the country side, or simply to economize, all of the Van Tac Vu teams were eventually collapsed into one and put on television. This had its downside as there was no possibility of television reception in the rural areas where there was no electricity.

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The Van Tac Vu Badge

The performers only wore these badges for identification when first entering a village. Once inside, the team removed the badges and worked at blending into the rural landscape in plain black peasant dress.

Campbell tells of the teams entering villages in small groups of five or six entertainers, the size based on the fact that they could all fit in one small Tri-Lambretta taxi. He points out that they wore the same black pajamas that the peasants did, and never carried weapons. However in the Korean area of operations the troops so hated the Viet Cong that they were known to shoot at anyone wearing black pajamas. The result is that in those areas the team was authorized to wear brown pajamas. Of course, that meant that the entertainers could not blend in with their civilian audience. As soon as the teams were out of the Korean AO, they went back to black pajamas.

Campbell says of the teams says in his dedication:

Despite my entreaties to the US Information Agency they were all left behind to their fate…They had all been subsequently awarded our agency’s Group Superior Honor Award “For superior service to the JUSPAO program as drama teams operating in rural Vietnam under conditions of severe hardship and at great personal danger to their members.”

The JUSPAO PSYOP Guide also mentions Culture Drama teams:

This group, made up of all types of entertainers, provides culture drama shows for Vietnamese military primarily in the Capital Military District. Organic to each POLWAR Battalion in the four Corps is a culture Platoon which provides entertainment throughout the Corps area in the form of songs, dramas, dances and similar activities. In the remote areas, these platoons may provide the only source of entertainment for the people.

Monta L. Osborne was the Chief of Field Development Division in the Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) in Saigon. Here he mentions the Van Tac Vu in his diary entry of 13 January 1968:

Tomorrow I have to leave early for Tan Son Nhut, (the Saigon airport), leave for Nha Trang, attend a conference there, and leave Nha Trang after lunch for Saigon. One of our most interesting activities is the Van Tac Vu (Cultural Drama) teams. We have just produced a 30-minute film on their activities. This is a group of young people, men and women, all of whom possess artistic talents. They travel about the remote hamlets of Vietnam bringing entertainment to the people, and, along with entertainment, a PSYOP message. They take enormous risks for their meager salaries and some have been killed or wounded by the Viet Cong. The VC recognizes this as a program dangerous to them and they are trying to kill it off. Still, we get more volunteers than we can use. We have recently expanded from 13 to 20 teams. Now I am trying to get a draft exemption for the young men, because they are too valuable to lose to the armed forces. One of my branch chiefs handles the Van Tac Vu program.

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Members of the Montagnard Culture Drama Team sponsored by
B Company, 8th PSYOP Battalion perform in the village of Phu Yen - 18 November 1969

Robert J. Kodosky says about the teams in Psychological Operations American Style – the Joint United States Public Affairs Office, Vietnam and Beyond: Lexington Books, Lanham, MD, 2007:

…to rally Vietnamese to support the RVN, they dispatched “rural spirit” drama troupes to villages that set about “maligning Red China and Ho Chi Minh” by interspersing “propaganda skits” with classical Vietnamese ballads and “boogie woogie.”

In regard to other JUSPAO campaigns he adds:

JUSPAO put in motion and old fashioned bread and circus routine that included a specially constructed showboat that operated on canals and rivers…In one or two night holdovers at stops along the water near villages, the drama teams gave a long performance consisting of traditional and anti-Viet Cong songs, together with movies and loudspeaker broadcasts of certain programs taped from Radio Saigon broadcasts.

Ron Humphrey completed a sixteen-week Foreign Officer Basic Course for the United States Information Agency and found himself assigned to Vietnam in 1969. His position was Province Psychological Operations Advisor in the province of Vinh Long, codename: “Mindbender.” Humphrey is mentioned in Allen B. Clark’s Valor in Vietnam: Chronicles of Honor, Courage, and Sacrifice: 1963-1977, Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia, 2012. Clark says:

Humphrey ran two culture-drama teams that visited the countryside villages and hamlets of the province to present entertainment shows. Ron was now in show business, overseeing civic action and troop entertainment for the Vietnamese. With nineteen Vietnamese entertainers and office workers to assist him, his responsibilities included the production of radio and TV programs and publishing a weekly newspaper. His two Van Tac Tu culture-drama teams each consisted of seven vibrant, young Vietnamese performers who were basically “wandering minstrels.” Their popularity was soon evident to Ron. There were six girls and eight boys, all of whom were dedicated to their outreach, especially for the boys because it won hands down over serving as a soldier in ARVN from which they were deferred. Members of the troop sang songs, played musical instruments, or performed magical tricks. This type of entertainment had been going on in Vietnam for centuries and was an effective method for telling the government story to the country people. These wandering minstrels were appreciated by the villagers and remarkably enjoyed an incredible degree of safety: the Viet Cong might murder a local village chief or school teacher, but a sure way to turn the villagers against them was to attack the young entertainers who were their only means of diversion in otherwise tough, colorless lives. These teams performed on makeshift stages and always began by leading the audience in singing the national anthem. Government propaganda was subtly woven into the programs. The young troubadours were immensely popular and typically stayed several days in each village and between shows helped the villagers in various community projects. The villagers provided the troop’s living accommodations during their visits and typically entertainers gleaned useful information from the areas they visited. These young people were also the cast members for the taping of the radio and television programs produced by Humphrey.

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Cultural Team performs the Trung Sisters Opera

Both the Americans and the Vietnamese sent entertainment teams into the field. In fact, the Communists did so too. That makes sense because both the North and South Vietnamese learned their propaganda methods from the Chinese. The singers and dancers told stories, sang patriotic songs and performed some operas that were meaningful to the people.

This team was sponsored by the South Vietnamese General Political Warfare Directorate and is performing an opera about the famous Trung sisters. The Trung sisters were Vietnam's first real national heroes. The husbands of the Trung sisters were Vietnamese nobles who opposed Chinese rule. After the Chinese executed the husbands, their widows took over leadership of the rebellion. Legend says that in 39 AD they gathered an army of 80,000, led by 36 women generals and within a year drove the Chinese occupiers from 65 cities. Because they had liberated their country, they were named co-queens. The Chinese returned with a huge force and after defeat on the battleground the sisters committed suicide by drowning themselves in 43 AD. The title of this photograph is:

Revenge for our husbands and for Our Debt to the Nation

The title is intended to stimulate feelings of Vietnamese patriotism and opposition to outside aggression. At the time the Republic of Vietnam accused the North Vietnamese of being puppets of the Chinese Communists. This picture appeared on a GPWD calendar on the March 1970 page. The photographer was Tran Buu Khanh, a Vietnamese Army enlisted combat photographer and part of General Political Warfare Directorate's still photo lab. It was meant to boost military and public morale.

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The American Trung Sisters Propaganda Poster

Because the Trung sisters were national heroes in Vietnam, they were often placed on PSYOP leaflets and posters. The Trung Sisters led the first resistance movement against the occupying Chinese after 247 years of domination. Many temples are dedicated to them and their death is commemorated each year. A Fifteenth Century poem says about the sisters:

All the male heroes bowed their heads in submission; only the two sisters proudly stood up to avenge the country

The text on the poster is:

Oppose the Communists' aggression in defense of our liberties as descendants of the Hong Lac race.

Do as the two Trung sisters of the Trieu family did.

Note: The sisters renamed their country Hong Lac during their reign.

J Ellen Gainer says in Imperialism and Theatre, Routledge, 1995:

During the Vietnam War the National Liberation front and the Viet Cong were able to draw on the long history of Vietnamese theatre to develop extensive culture-drama programs, which had itinerate groups of performers travel from one hamlet or village to the next, educating the people, spreading the word on communism, and calling for resistance against the South Vietnamese and United States armies,

JUSPAO was so concerned about the impact of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong theatre troupes that it began to imitate them, promoting several theatrical performing groups siding with the South Vietnamese and the Americans. Among these, the Van Tac Vu cultural drama teams engaged in “cultural seed planting” and served as a uniquely credible means of communications between the government and the people in a rural society where word of mouth and face-to-face discussion remain the major means of communication.

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Leaflet SP-2335

Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office Leaflet SP-2335 depicts two Armed Propaganda Team members receiving awards. The text is:


In a ceremony at the Prime Minister’s Building on the morning of 12 July 1967, the Republic of Vietnam Prime Minister pinned medals on two former Hoi Chanh, LTC Le Xuan Chuyen and LTC Huynh Cu. LTC Le Xuan Chuyen, who returned last year was appointed the Commander of Central Headquarters of Armed Propaganda Teams. These propaganda teams have the job of explaining the Chieu Hoi Policy to people all over the country. LTC Huynh Cu, ex-leader of the Viet Cong Training Section Zone V, who returned early this year was appointed the Special Assistant to Chieu Hoi Minister with the responsibility of advising the Minister on special Chieu Hoi projects.

The back of the leaflet depicts a newspaper article with the headline:

Prime Minister Loc awards medals to 11 officials and cadres of the Chieu Hoi Ministry.

The booklet discusses Armed Propaganda Team operations:

Maximum benefit should be obtained from frequent utilization of the Armed Propaganda Teams toward assisting in the province pacification effort. It is imperative that these prime inducement agents be utilized on authorized missions and not be used on road clearing operations, as security or reserve forces in a combined operation, or in a role similar to the Army of Viet Nam or the Provincial Reconnaissance Units. The APT have not been selected, equipped or trained to assume an offensive role. If improperly used, then their credibility as PSYOP agents is completely compromised. The APT is not a combat unit. The Armed Propaganda Team should be prepared to assist in the protection of Government of Vietnam citizens and property when under direct attack by the Viet Cong but the APT should be relieved of any tactical assignment as soon as the security situation permits so that it con return to its primary propaganda role.

We should mention here that there is an obvious difference between the way that the North and South regarded their propaganda teams. The North expected the propaganda teams to take part in combat and there is at least one known case where Ho Chi Minh demanded a combat victory by his teams because he thought that would give them more credibility among the people. It is clear that the South did not expect or desire the propaganda teams to take part in combat of any kind

The proper missions and functions of the Armed Propaganda Team are:

  1. Disseminate the Chieu Hoi policy among the population.
  2. Contact and induce Viet Cong soldiers to return to the Government of Vietnam.
  3. Provide security for Chieu Hoi centers.
  4. Assist military operations in the recovery of weapons and ammunition.
  5. Assist local security forces in discovering underground Viet Cong operations.
  6. Organize meetings, talks, culture and drama performances; distribute leaflets, posters and publications.
  7. Visit Viet Cong families to induce them to persuade their relatives to return.
  8. Assist Viet Cong soldiers in returning to the Government of Vietnam.
  9. Send letters to the returnee’s former comrades to persuade them to return.
  10. Assist military and security services in the identification of Viet Cong agents.
  11. Assist military and security services in the identification of Viet Cong weapons and ammunition caches.

[Note] See letter “I” above. I want to take a quick break here to mention leaflet SP-1586 printed 21 January 1967. 200,000 copies of this letter to his former comrades from an armed propaganda team were disseminated in Bien Hoa in III Corps. The text said in part:


Do you remember us? We once fought with you on the side of the Viet Cong. We fought because we thought the Viet Cong had a cause. Then we discovered that the only true cause is that represented by the Government of Vietnam. We saw that the people on the side of the Government of Vietnam are fighting to build a free and democratic Vietnam. When we recognized our mistake in serving the Viet Cong we escaped and rallied under the Chieu Hoi program. We were warmly welcomed and well treated by everyone.

Now we have formed ourselves into Armed Propaganda Teams, and we are helping the Government of Vietnam and the people to fight the Viet Cong. We are serving the true cause. You too can rally and return to the Government of Vietnam. We hope to see you soon.

The Ben Hoa Armed Propaganda Team.

Back to the booklet: To assist in these operations the booklet discusses proper planning:

  1. Identification of a proper PSYOP target.
  2. Collection of target intelligence.
  3. Determination of objectives.
  4. Period of operation.
  5. Composition of the force.
  6. Support requirement.
  7. Approval.

In the section entitled “Utilization” the booklet states:

The Armed Propaganda Team must be regularly committed to PSYOP missions and used in a size force required for the mission. The common practice to deploy these units in elements of two, three and four-man groups is not an effective practice. It places these small groups in positions which do not provide adequate supervision. An excessive number of Armed Propaganda Team members in clerical positions or for guard duty are improper employment procedures. The APT are best employed by platoon, or at the very least by squad. Company sided operations should not be overlooked. Every operation must accomplish specific tasks; an all day “walk in the sun” does not contribute to the pacification effort.

We also find mention of the best way to utilize the teams in DA Army Contact Team in Vietnam Study – Employment of US Army Psychological Operations Units in Vietnam, 7 June 1969. The booklet says that proper use of the Armed Propaganda Teams can be the most effective PSYOP medium directed against the enemy. The 10th Psychological Operations Battalion since December 1968 employed PSYOP advisors with Armed Propaganda Teams in IV Corps Tactical Zone to assist in training. The unit reported that the VC contested or controlled areas provided the ideal environment for Armed Propaganda Team operations.

Among the suggestions are: Armed Propaganda Teams should be used in the Viet Cong contested or controlled areas and should operate as a platoon size, highly mobile unit. The platoon should be divided into three squads with one squad designated to disseminate the PSYOP and two used for security purposes. The two security squads should be heavily armed to provide the protection essential for the conduct of face-to-face communications by the PSYOP squad. The PSYOP squad should consist of ex-Viet Cong members who have rallied from that operational area. The PSYOP squad need not be heavily armed as its primary mission is to conduct face-to-face communications and to root out the Viet Cong infrastructure. The security squads and the American advisor should not enter the hamlets but establish security cordons and ambush sites near likely avenues of approach into the hamlet. Heavily armed personnel moving into an hamlet are considered detrimental to the work of the PSYOP squad. After security is established the PSYOP squad should visit door-to-door in the hamlet to talk with families and distribute propaganda material through face-to-face communication urging the family and friends of Viet Cong to encourage the insurgents to rally to the Government.

The security and ambush site may be maintained overnight to intercept Viet Cong members traveling to or from their hamlets. The 10th PSYOP Battalion reported that the Armed Propaganda Teams was the most effective PSYOP weapon in penetrating Viet Cong havens and striking at the enemy from within its own perimeter.

How were the armed propagandists trained? The PSYOP Guide explains:

The program of instruction for Armed Propaganda Team training provides for four weeks of training in PSYOP and basic military tactics. The APT is given instruction on the use and maintenance of the equipment they will use. He learns the structure and functions of the Government of Vietnam and major policies and programs of national importance.

Some of the courses taught during the four weeks are:

  1. Close order drill (daily)
  2. Proper bearing and behavior
  3. The military successes of the Government of Vietnam
  4. Agricultural and land reform policies
  5. Techniques of persuasion
  6. Techniques of speaking before large groups
  7. Radio broadcasting and leaflet distribution
  8. Organizing an indoor meeting nor outdoor performance
  9. Firing, disassembling and assembling weapons
  10. Close combat
  11. First aid
  12. Signal communication

That concludes our study of the APT Handbook. We shall now study some other references that mention the teams and specific missions that they took part in.

According to Lieutenant General John H. Hay’s Vietnam Studies – Tactical and Materiel innovations, the Vietnamese often sent their APTs along on combat missions with U.S. troops. During operations Vinh Loc and Phu Vang I in September 1968, paramilitary forces were used extensively. Along with police and census units, 30 men organized into Armed Propaganda Teams were with the tactical elements to question and control the population. This arrangement insured that South Vietnamese government representatives were with all units, thus minimizing misunderstandings with detainees and allowing a meaningful initial screening of the people.

Garry D. Brewer says in an Air University Review article entitled, “Chieu Hoi: The Surrender Program in Vietnam:”

The Armed Propaganda Teams (APT’s) represent a means by which selected Hoi Chanh(“returnees”) may engage in direct contact with families and friends of known Viet Cong guerrillas. (The Special Operational Volunteer Forces, composed of surrendered enemy personnel, had much the same purpose and demonstrated decisively the impact of this type of mission.) Organized into some twenty-four platoons with light defensive armament, APT’s are used at the discretion of the province chief in whose area they have been assigned to operate. There have been problems connected with the use of APT’s, largely administrative in character, including problems of training, recruiting, employment, command, etc.; but the potential for access to specific individuals within the insurgent ranks is unmatched. Who should know more about the enemy than ex-guerrillas?

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This 1966 photograph depicts JUSPAO Field Representative Bob Dickerman accompanying a PSYOP musical troupe to a hamlet in the Delta. These could be members of an Armed Propaganda Team or members of a Culture-Drama team. Without identification it is impossible to tell.

The Operational Report of Lessons Learned for the Quarterly Period ending 31 July 1968 of the 8th PSYOP Battalions indicates there were problems during Operation Banjo Royce in July 1968:

The Armed Propaganda Team consistently claimed and sometimes demanded that items issued to them for the operation were their property. Among these items were 45 blankets and 20 sweaters. Other items such as pots, pans and hammocks might be considered their property as they were purchased by Chieu Hoi Division funds. The latter two items were left with the APT because it might be interpreted as their property. The blankets, as they were not the property of the APT, were taken from them - only to be subsequently stolen back within 10 minutes.

Recommendation: All items necessary for an operation with an APT should be issued by the local Chieu Hoi Division authorities. The responsible individual should check with local authorities at least 5 days in advance and outline the needs of the APT. In instances such as this where advance issuance of blankets in the summer months would only serve to give away the possible areas of operation in advance, American channels should be used to prepare the proper supplying of the Armed Propaganda Team. These American channels to go down to at least the local Chieu Hoi Advisor.

On more than one occasion the APT demanded (but did not get) more money than thought necessary by the team leaders. In fact, the first ten days their American Advisor (who had been given money for their subsistence) spent $15,000 VN on them. This was in addition to more than 500 pounds of vegetables that had been supplied by the local procurement officials free of charge. On one occasion they bought three chickens at a cost of $700 VN each. After the departure of the American Advisor the APT told the staff officer that his men would need $100 VN per man per day in addition to some 40 Kilograms of rice already in their possession. The problem was solved when the staff member suggested that if $50 VN per day per man was not enough that they should produce receipts proving it. Although the financial problem was solved there existed a rift between American and APT elements.

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An APT member explains the Chieu Hoi program

The APTs are mentioned again in a 4 November 1968 article entitled “To reach isolated village MEDCAPS go airmobile.” The Viet Cong had attempted to isolate the village of Phu Huu, destroying surrounding roads and bridges. The US military, medical and propaganda teams therefore helicoptered into the village of 1000 people. The mission included three men from the brigade civil affairs section, three members of the 257th Medical Detachment (Dental), five representatives of the 1st Medical Battalion, two ARVN NCOs, an interpreter, and an armed propaganda team of seven Hoi Chanhs. The members of the armed propaganda team circulated through the crowd asking questions concerning enemy activities. Some Vietnamese flags and school supplies were left in the village as well as food and clothing

The APTs were mentioned in the Hearings before the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United State Senate in February and March of 1970:

A variety of methods are used to encourage the Vietcong to rally. The Vietnamese Ministry of Chieu Hoi, the Ministry of Information, the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office, and MACV, cooperate in producing radio broadcasts, making tapes of appeals by former Vietcong which are broadcast from aircraft or ground stations, and disseminating printed material. The most effective operations, however, are conducted by the Armed Propaganda Teams, which are made up exclusively of returnees. The primary purpose of the team is to conduct fact-to-face operations in less secure areas to encourage Viet Cong and their supporters to return to the Government of Vietnam. On January 1, 1970, the Ministry of Chieu Hoi authorized an increase from 75 to 90 such teams. The current strength of these armed propaganda teams of 74 men each is 5,200 men.

The armed propaganda team has 74 men in it. A team of 74 former Vietcong who are recruited to work for you. They are paid between 5,000 and 10,000 piasters a month. They are armed usually, with M-2 carbines. They are uniformed, and they operate generally in smaller elements than 74. They generally operate in platoon size or even in squad size. Their function is to go around into the countryside and indicate to the people that they used to be Vietcong and that the government has received them and taken them in and that the Chieu Hoi program does exist as a way of Viet Cong currently on the other side to rally. They contact people like the families of known Viet Cong. They have, for instance, invited and provided the transportation to take such families for a look at the local Chieu Hoi center, to see what it is, and then return them to their homes after that one-half day visit just so the next time they see their relative they can attest to the fact that this program really is what it is. Some of them are also used as guards on the Chieu Hoi hamlets or even the Chieu Hoi centers to help protect them against possible Vietcong attack. They have American advisers, Australian advisers and some Filipino advisers. Each team might not necessarily have an adviser, but there will probably be an adviser in the Province to advise the total program, the reception of new Hoi Chanh and the use of the armed propaganda teams.

Phillip P. Katz mentions the Armed Propaganda Teams in an article entitled “PSYOP and Communication Theory.” He says:

Members of the Armed Propaganda teams (Viet Cong who have rallied to the Government of Vietnam) frequently employ private communications to get the “Chieu Hoi message” to the families of known Viet Cong. The teams speak with the authority of experience; they are convincing; they have the personal answers to questions likely to be asked, and their presence give proof that the Chieu Hoi program delivers its promises. Furthermore, they can sincerely portray their inner feelings about their decision to defect from the ranks of the Viet Cong.

Monta L. Osborne, Chief of Field Development Division, (JUSPAO) adds:

Most provinces of the Republic of Vietnam are authorized a full 70 man-APT company. Usually in small groups, the teams contact Viet Cong guerillas in hamlets and villages and endeavor to persuade them to rally. They contact families known to have members in the Viet Cong and try to induce these families to persuade their erring members to come in. They circulate among the people in market places and disseminate the government’s Chieu Hoi program propaganda. They appear at public rallies and tell of their experiences. They distribute leaflets, banners, posters and other psychological operations materials. The personnel strength of the Armed Propaganda Teams increased from 1,324 at the end of 1966 to 2,664 at the end of 1967. The goal for 1968 is 75 companies of 74 men each.

Stanley Sandler mentions the Armed Propaganda teams in “Cease Resistance: It’s Good for You!”: A History of U.S. Army Combat Psychological Operations. Some of his comments in part are:

Operation Falling Leaves concentrated on the use of local assets and personnel…including two Armed Propaganda teams composed 100% of surrendered Viet Cong soldiers. Loudspeaker teams penetrated deeply into the forest, while other forayed through its waterways using gigantic, boat mounted loudspeakers, Armed Propaganda teams, a sector Political Warfare company, and personnel from the Vietnamese Information Service made extensive face-to-face contacts with the enemy. The clearing operations in the U-Minh forest garnered no less than 1150 ralliers. In the six weeks before and two weeks afterwards only 211 defectors were taken.

This operation is mentioned again by Colonel Benjamin F. Findley, Jr. USAFR in “US & Vietcong Psychological Operations in Vietnam,” published in Psychological Operations Principles and Case Studies , Frank L. Goldstein, Air University Press, 1996.

Two special PSYOP targets were the Vietcong (VC) and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers in South Vietnam. Two Chieu Hoi operations carried out in the Delta during 1970 and 1971 proved that PSYOP and combat pressure working together could get results. The operations were Operation Roundup in Kien Hoa Province and Project Falling Leaves in Kien Giang Province. Operation Roundup produced hundreds of enemy defectors, according to Colburn Lovett, a USIS foreign service information officer. One PSYOP technique was to take pictures of ralliers/defectors and have them sign a simple message on a leaflet, encouraging their comrades to join the cause. Another technique was to use loudspeaker teams of former VC soldiers who were sent back into the areas of their units to speak to their comrades in the bush. Project Falling Leaves combined Vietnamese and US personnel working in joint PSYOP activities. Armed propaganda teams (100 percent ex-VC) made deep penetrations and extensive face-to-face communications. All possible media were used, including boat-carried loudspeaker teams, leaflet drops, radio tapes, and television appeals by former VC.

Four special PSYOP techniques were employed in Vietnam: distribution of safe conduct passes, money for weapons, focus on returning home to celebrate during the Tet New Year, and Armed Propaganda Teams composed of Hoi Chanh. Many PSYOP professionals believe these teams were effective because of their personal touch to the Chieu Hoi invitations.

Pacific Stars and Stripes mentions the APTs in a January 1968 article entitled “Arms Cache Found.” The article says:

Elements of Americal Division’s 196th Inf. Brigade uncovered one of the largest weapons and ammunition caches ever found in I Corps area recently. A/3/21st Infantry captured 140 weapons and destroyed tons of enemy ammunition in the brigade's largest discovery since it has been in Vietnam. The weapons found by the battalion increased the total number of weapons captured by the “Chargers” to 253 in Operation Wheeler/Wallowa. This discovery came as a result of information from a former 2nd North Vietnamese Army Division noncommissioned officer who turned himself in, using a safe conduct pass he picked up after a leaflet drop by the brigade's Armed Propaganda Team.

The 4th Marines mention the APTs in their Vietnam history:

Armed Propaganda Teams composed of Chieu Hoi were utilized very effectively in the Quang Tri Airstrip area in questioning the local populace regarding VC/NVA movement. The nature of these teams, being ex-Viet Cong, lends to effective interrogation in addition, most of the APT personnel are from the general locality and recognize many of the Viet Cong intra-structure on sight. The use of APT teams to accompany patrols proved extremely effective; however, the patrol’s speed should be governed by the speed which the APT team engages the local Vietnamese in conversation and gathers intelligence.

The Australians in Vietnam also made use of Armed Propaganda teams, although they used a slightly different name:

(They) established Armed Propaganda and Intelligence Teams (APIT)from amongst Montegnard tribesmen in Ban Me Thout, designed to disseminate propaganda, collect information and establish a network of informers, disrupt Viet Cong infiltration and supply routes, conduct small scale raids, ambushes and similar minor operations and to conduct long range patrols into Viet Cong “safe areas,” rescuing captured Montegnards and liberating equipment and ammunition.

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MACV Information Pamphlet on the Chieu Hoi program

A number of official military publications were prepared and distributed to the American troops to explain the Chieu Hoi program. In both 1968 and 1970 small booklets entitled Chieu Hoi – The Winning Ticket were published as an MACV Command Information Pamphlet. The pamphlet shows the 7-flag safe conduct pass on the cover. The inner pages contain photos and some of the following text:

When he comes over, he provides valuable information about: enemy units, caches of weapons, ammunition, caches of food. He brings in or locates weapons which otherwise would be used against you. Many serve as ‘Kit Carson’ scouts. They help you locate enemy mines, booby traps, and serve as guides for your unit. Many former Viet Cong join Armed Propaganda Teams, which talk other V.C. into rallying. Finally, the former Viet Cong goes back to farming or some other occupation. What does the program Cost? The cost is approximately $369.00 ($500 by 1970) for each former enemy Viet Cong. This is insignificant when you consider that the estimated cost for killing a Viet Cong runs into many thousands of dollars. How can you help? Let all the would-be defectors (Hoi Chanh) come in safely. Give voluntary defectors Chieu Hoi (not POW) treatment. Segregate Chieu Hoi from POWs. Treat the returnee with respect. Give him a receipt for all weapons that he brings in. Deliver him safely to the unit intelligence officer for prompt debriefing and then promptly to the Government of Vietnam Chieu Hoi service at the nearest district or province headquarters.

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Leaflet 3123

On the subject of armed propaganda teams (APTs), JUSPAO leaflet 3123 depicts an entire marching company of Vietnamese APTs, each with a loudspeaker under his right arm. To the right of the photograph are a Chieu Hoi symbol and the text:

Return to alleviate the suffering of the people.

The back is all text:

The Chieu Hoi Cadres of Long An Province.

Deeply encouraged by the success of the Chieu Hoi program, the armed propaganda teams of Long An welcomes the prime Minister and Vietnamese government officials to long An. The event was the opening ceremony of the ‘Spring for the fatherland’ campaign. The aim of the Chieu hoi program is to urge those still on the other side to return to their families and alleviate the sorrows of  separation.

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Leaflet 3124

Although not specifically an Armed Propaganda Team leaflet I add leaflet 3124 because it shows members of the Chieu Hoi Entertainment Teams which often accompanied the APTs on their missions. This leaflet was obviously prepared to be used along with 3123 depicted above. The leaflet depicts the singers and dancers entering Long An. The text to the right of the vignette is:

Return to your loved ones

The back is all text:


The Chieu Hoi entertainment teams enthusiastically welcome the opening of the “Spring for the Fatherland” campaign in Long An. These teams appeal to former friends on the other side, via entertainment, to return to loved ones now enjoying freedom.

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Leaflet 2330A - front

JUSPAO leaflet 2330A is longer than usual at 3.4 x 8.5 inches and was prepared for use against the Viet Cong nationwide in December 1967. The leaflet was picked up near Landing Zone Bronco, Dac Pho village, I Corps, by a SP4 of the 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division's 11th Light Infantry Brigade in early 1968. The front is in horizontal format, bears Chieu Hoi emblems at the left and right and the text:


All those who leave the Communist ranks and come back to the National Community will be welcomed as full-fledged citizens and will be protected and helped to rebuild a new life.

Why can't you leave the Communist ranks and return to the National Right Cause to serve the government and the people in building a bright future for our children rather than continue struggling with hardships which lead to a meaningless death?

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Leaflet 2330 - back

The back of the leaflet is in a vertical format and depicts a photograph of members of the armed propaganda teams on parade. The text is:


On the National Day 400 members of the Armed Propaganda Teams participated in a parade in Saigon and were applauded by high-ranking officials of the Government of Vietnam and by hundreds of thousands of citizens.

Armed Propaganda Teams are composed of returnees who voluntarily serve the Government of Vietnam. Their most important job is to explain the Chieu Hoi policy of the government to the people. They are furnished uniforms and equipment. They receive a monthly salary to support their families and children.

You are welcome through the Chieu Hoi door into the serving of the country and the people. You can use this leaflet or any other safe conduct pass to come back. You will be welcomed.

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Propaganda Poster 2115

Propaganda poster 2115 features five photographs of Armed Propaganda Teams working and talking with the people. The text is:


By helping the people, the Armed Propaganda team is working for peace. Not long ago, members of the team were devoting their energies to war. They taxed and persecuted the people as members of the Viet Cong. Then they rallied to the Government and through the Chieu Hoi Program regained their citizenship rights.

    1. Five members of the Armed Propaganda team visit a home to put up posters and explain the importance of participating in elections.
    2. Magazines which tell of the Government of Vietnam programs that bring new life to the people of Vietnam are given to families for home study.
    3. A new poster explaining Viet Nam’s constitution is discussed by the Armed Propaganda team’s leader and an interested villager.
    4. The Armed Propaganda team is shown here in the act of repairing a drainage ditch.
    5. Former enemies, now they work together to defeat the Viet Cong and bring peace to the nation. Armed Propaganda team members distribute publications to members of the Vietnamese Special Forces.           

Leaflets that mention the Armed Propaganda teams are fairly rare. In some cases they are mentioned, although not the main theme of the propaganda leaflet. For instance, JUSPAO prepared a set of four leaflets in 1968 coded 2990-2993 which offered rewards for enemy personal and units.

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Leaflet 2990 – front

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Leaflet 2990 – back

Each leaflet bore the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) symbol on the front. The leaflets are mostly all text and not well illustrated, but the messages cover a wide variety of categories. The leaflet 2990 text is:


To invite all citizens of Vietnam to participate in a special program for the inducement of Viet Cong / North Vietnam Army ralliers during the period of 1 November 1968 through 31 January 1969, and to give cash to all citizens who successfully persuade enemy military or civilian personnel to rally under the Chieu Hoi program.

Awards will be paid to any Vietnamese citizen who induces a VC/NVA to rally, including members of the RVNAF, National Force, Cadre, Kit Carson Armed Propaganda Teams (APTs), former Hoi Chanh or private citizens.

Rewards are not paid to the rallier himself unless he, in turn, qualifies by inducing another VC/NVA to rally. Any additional information can be obtained from the local Chieu Hoi Province representatives.

The back of the note has a large "$" over a number of categories of personnel with the price paid for each.

The Central Intelligence Agency manual Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare mentions Armed Propaganda Teams although in this case they were talking of building the teams in Central America. However, some comments are still applicable:

Armed Propaganda Teams are formed through a careful selection of persuasive and highly motivated guerrillas who move about within the population, encouraging the people to support the guerrillas and put up resistance against the enemy. It combines a high degree of political awareness and the "armed" propaganda ability of the guerrillas toward a planned, programmed, and controlled effort. The careful selection of the staff, based on their persuasiveness in informal discussions and their ability in combat, is more important than their degree of education or the training program. The tactics of the Armed Propaganda Teams are carried out covertly, and should be parallel to the tactical effort in guerrilla warfare. The knowledge of the psychology of the population is primary for the Armed Propaganda Teams.

The Armed Propaganda Teams provide a several-stage program of persuasive planning in guerrilla warfare in all areas of the country. Also, these teams are the "eyes and ears" of our movement. The Armed Propaganda Teams combine political awareness-building with armed propaganda, which will be carried out by carefully selected guerrillas (preferably with experience in combat), for personal persuasion within the population.

An Armed Propaganda Team includes from 6 to 10 members; this number or a smaller number is ideal, since there is more camaraderie, solidarity and group spirit. The themes to deal with are assimilated more rapidly and the members react more rapidly to unforeseen situations. In addition to the combination as armed propagandist-combatant each member of the team should be well prepared to carry out permanent person-to-person communication, face-to-face.

The target groups for the Armed Propaganda Teams are not the persons with sophisticated political knowledge, but rather those whose opinion are formed from what they see and hear. The cadres should use persuasion to carry out their mission. The combined reports of an Armed Propaganda Team will provide us with exact details on the enemy activities. The intelligence information obtained by the Armed Propaganda Teams should be reported to the chiefs. However, it is necessary to emphasize that the first mission of the Armed Propaganda Teams is to carry out psychological operations, not to obtain data for intelligence. In addition, the Armed Propaganda cadre will report to his superior the reaction of the people to the radio broadcasts, the insurrectional flyers, or any other means of propaganda of ours.

As the war winded down and the United States continued its withdrawal from Vietnam, the Armed Propaganda Teams were no longer needed. The PSYOP/POLWAR Newsletter of 28 February 1971 mentions their dissolution:

The Armed Propaganda Teams are scheduled for a phased reduction in force commencing 1 July 1971 and ending with complete disbandment by 31 July 1972. As the reduction in APT proceeds, individual members are expected to be absorbed into several Government of Vietnam activities, such as Rural Development, National Police Field Forces, and local and regional military forces. Released APT members will constitute a source of qualified manpower for PSYOP positions in POLWAR units. Selected individuals could be selected into Regional Forces and assigned to a POLWAR Company, all within province administrative systems. As an APT member, the individual is draft exempt, but will become draft eligible upon release from the Armed Propaganda Teams.

Curiously, with the end of the Vietnam War and the fall of South Vietnam, one might expect that there would be no more use for the Armed Propaganda Teams. However, in early 1978, the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAWN) recruited volunteers for a future Khmer Liberation Army from Khmer refugee camps in southern Vietnam. 300 candidates were taken to Ho Chi Minh City and organized into Armed Propaganda Teams. The plan was to send them into Cambodian provinces along the Vietnamese border to begin the usual organization and mobilization work. They were never deployed. By the end of the year Vietnam lost patience with the Cambodians and invaded the country with a massive force and the expectation of a quick victory. We might say that Vietnam faced its own “Vietnam” during this protracted war. For 10 years it held the villages and main roads while the Cambodian guerrillas continued to bleed their occupiers. Starting about 1986 the Vietnamese began withdrawing from Cambodia and it is believed that by 1990 the occupying troops were all gone.

CIAPSYOPNicaraguaManual.jpg (38840 bytes)

We find several mentions of Armed Propaganda Teams in the CIA’s Nicaragua Manual Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare. This manual was written to help the American-supported guerrillas fighting the Communist government of Nicaragua. The U.S. apparently believed that teaching their fighters how to interact with civilians was important. There are pages of comments but I will just mention a few:

Armed Propaganda Teams are formed through a careful selection of persuasive and highly motivated guerrillas who move about within the population, encouraging the people to support the guerrillas and put up resistance against the enemy. It combines a high degree of political awareness and the “armed” propaganda ability of the guerrillas toward a planned, programmed, and controlled effort. The careful selection of the staff, based on their persuasiveness in informal discussions and their ability in combat, is more important than their degree of education or the training program…An Armed Propaganda Team includes from 6 to 10 members: this number or a smaller number is ideal, since there is more comradery, solidarity and group spirit. The themes to deal with are assimilated more rapidly and the members react more rapidly to unforeseen situations.

Curiously, I saw no mentions of songs, music or plays, all things that were very important to the Vietnamese Armed Propaganda teams.

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The Freedom Fighter's Manual

The CIA also printed a 15-page comic book titled The Freedom Fighter's Manual. We depict a page that shows the guerrillas using graffiti and posters to state their aims.

Since the Terrorist attack in 2001, the United States currently has armed PSYOP troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. They are not called Armed Propaganda Teams, but instead Tactical PSYOP Teams (TPTs). However, if you study the mission, you will find that very little has changed since Vietnam. The PSYOP troops still go into the field with radios and leaflets, talk face-to-face with local civilians, create trust to gather intelligence, and are armed for self-protection. Nothing much has changed except for the name and the enemy.

In 2011, A U.S. official assigned to an Advisory and Assistance Team in Afghanistan told me:

Here in Afghanistan, utilizing a team of reintegrated and former Taliban would be an interesting experiment. Our U.S. Tactical PSYOP Teams conducting Face-to-Face interviews and discussions through an interpreter (often an Afghan who lived in America for 20 years, and sometimes a local hire) has only a limited influence.

As always, the author is very interested in learning more about the use of the Armed Propaganda teams in Vietnam. Interested readers, Vietnamese veterans who were part of such teams, or American veterans who worked with the teams are encouraged to write to him at

End: 14 July 2006