|US veteran remembers the ultimate offensive|
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On the 34th anniversary of the Great Spring Victory, we introduce to you former American military intelligence officer, Sedgwick Tourison.
The former Chief Warrant Officer interrogated captured prisoners during the war and in 1993 wrote about and lobbied for the "commando spies" — Americans sent into the then North Viet Nam at the start of the 1960s.
Tourison served as the chief of the analysis office that dealt with Americans listed as Missing in Indochina and as staff investigator with a Senate Select Committee.
He also wrote two books, Secret Army, Secret War and Talking With Victor Charlie .
by Sedgwick Tourison*
In the spring of 1967 there was a source of information who said the final offensive would lead to the disintegration of the civil government and the South Vietnamese Army (of the Sai Gon Administration).
Details concerning the final offensive indicated it would take place very quickly. The force of the Liberation Army would attack the Central Highlands, which meant the B3 Front. After taking the Central Highlands they would attack the eastern region , split the South in half and forces the military forces of the South (The Sai Gon Administration) to deploy toward the coast. These forces would be unable to resist these attacks and would not be supplied.
After occupying the important base area that was the B3 Front, regular army forces from northern Viet Nam would cross the 17th Parallel and strike deep into the South. This would cause each military position and the organisation of the South Vietnamese civil government to become totally isolated and unable to maintain their presence.
The regular army force, the units from the military region, the provincial military headquarters, district military headquarters and the entire population would support the offensive and guarantee total victory throughout Central Viet Nam.
Cities such as Hue, Da Nang, Qui Nhon and Phan Rang would slowly be liberated.
Finally, the forces that had liberated Central Viet Nam from Region 6 to the Demilitarised Zone would create a force to attack the units in the Eastern Nam Bo (South Viet Nam proper) Region in co-ordination with forces from the B2 Front as well as those forces from Central and Southern Nam Bo regions of southern Viet Nam, to defeat the South Vietnamese forces to the South of Sai Gon.
The surrounding of the nerve centres of southern Viet Nam would be completed.
The only thing remaining was the attack on the capital of Sai Gon. That event would mean that all of southern Viet Nam had been liberated and Viet Nam would be united.
I still recall the conversations that I had with this very special source.
Unfortunately, both the South Vietnamese and US governments did not believe and did not want to hear such a report. The reason was that this information did not agree with the views of both governments which kept insisting that the "Viet Cong" were about to be defeated.
How could they occupy southern Viet Nam so quickly? My report is currently on file at the National Archives in the College Park area of Maryland.
Based on the account provided by my source, the Ho Chi Minh Offensive was carried out essentially in the same way as I had been told.
The year 1966 was also the time that the American Command (USMACV) in Sai Gon developed its first plan to withdraw military forces from southern Viet Nam. At the same time, the J-2, Major General Joseph McChristian created a plan to recruit and prepare to leave "stay-behinds" if the "Viet Cong" was close to seizing southern Viet Nam.
During 1957-1960, CIA officers in Sai Gon prepared caches of weapons and ammunition and had them placed in cemeteries throughout the South. If the South fell, secret forces would have the capability to fight when necessary just as the CIA and Joint Chiefs of Staff implemented in North Viet Nam during 1954-1955.
At the end of 1974, the national political bodies in Ha Noi received special information concerning the strategic direction that Nguyen Van Thieu would take which can be summarised as "if the NVA (North Viet Nam) forces take Central Viet Nam then Thieu would not send reinforcements to assist them."
This then was a signal to begin to carry out the offensive to totally liberate all of South Viet Nam in a swift and rapid manner. The US Congress followed the situation and on the American side there would be no support for anyone. Whatever would happen, would happen.
As of January 1975, newspapers rapidly reported the war news.
Buon Ma Thuot was lost, the North Vietnamese regular armed forces had taken control of the Central Highlands and were moving in waves to the Central Vietnamese coastal lowlands.
Military Region 1 and Military Region 2 were effectively wiped out when the South Vietnamese forces headed South toward the Eastern Nam Bo region.
My wife and I became greatly afraid for the condition of her family. They were still living in Sai Gon’s 5th District and might be stranded. I tried to telephone my sister-in-law in Sai Gon but effective April 1 the duty telephone operator had stopped working. As a result, I had to telephone my former headquarters in Thailand and rely on my former "boss", Lieutenant Colonel Henry DuRant to find some way to ensure that the family would be able to flee. DuRant replied, "Don’t worry, I guarantee that they will leave safely."
On April 20, members of our intelligence detachment in Sai Gon were preparing to get out of South Viet Nam. Most of the documents had been burned. At the same time, they organised secret flights to help evacuate the family members and associates in Unit 101 under the Joint General Staff. This unit was the primary unit responsible for the conduct of espionage operations in South Viet Nam. I have no idea how our detachment was able to work an arrangement with the US Air Force to learn which nights the C-130s were taking off empty from Tan Son Nhat Airport and they were able to get the Vietnamese family members on board these flights.
However, prior to April 20, those persons who wanted to depart had to deal with one great problem because the US Air Force NCO refused to let anyone board the aircraft if the manifest did not contain a seal of the South Vietnamese government. Oh God! What could be done?
My friend, Robert DeStatte, another chief warrant officer in my field, went quickly to Cho Lon to meet the man who normally manufactured the counterfeit seals to be used on documents to be issued to our agents. The seal had to be made by hand and it had to be made that very day. But, what words and letters had to be carefully cut into the bogus seal?
Bob knew that the US Air Force sergeant spoke no Vietnamese so any seal could be created provided that it contained Vietnamese. He told the engraver to create a seal in a style equivalent to that used by the South Vietnamese government.
But, Bob told him that the circle of words around the outer portion of the seal had to contain curse words and in the open middle of the seal were the Vietnamese words equivalent to "f...your mother!"
When the seal was finished, my friend returned to Colonel LeGro’s office. LeGro was the chief of intelligence within the Defence Attache Office. So, since about April 20, our detachment was able to create manifests on a daily basis and wait for an aircraft for those waiting. The detachment’s office had become a hotel for hundreds waiting to get out.
My wife’s family were brought to the airport. They had to lie under cartons so they would not be seen entering the airport. Two days later, they boarded a C-130 and flew to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, then onward to Guam where they lined up to receive their "Green Card" and Social Security Card.
Then it was on to the United States where they arrived at the US Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton, California. On April 30th, my wife and I were reunited with the family when they arrived in Baltimore, Maryland. I had fulfilled my duties as a responsible son-in-law and brother-in-law.
Our detachment’s top secret "black" flights may have contributed to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government and military.
Prior to the loss of the Central Highlands and Central Viet Nam, many units had no plans to destroy depots and classified documents so everything was abandoned, waiting for its new owners. The same situation happened in Sai Gon.
Our CIA colleagues at the CIA Station in Sai Gon tried their best to destroy all their files but there was not enough time and as a result many documents were left behind where they were.
However, one of my colleagues did leave behind a bogus report with the intention of "creating problems" for a certain Viet Cong senior cadre. Information obtained later indicated that Vietnamese technicians had located the "bogus" report and the cadre it related to underwent a lengthy extensive investigation before he was permitted to return to his old job.
Prior to war’s end, the Military Security Service received an order to execute any person who destroyed State property. So, when the officers and ministers fled then there was no one remaining to issue an order to destroy what remained to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. It was precisely for that reason that the North Vietnamese Army units responsible for the new management got everything.
In Central Viet Nam the Coastal Security Service was intact. As to intelligence agencies in Sai Gon, the files at the Strategic Technical Directorate that had overseen the dispatch of airborne agent teams and spies into North Viet Nam was intact as well as the Central Intelligence Organisation; the Interrogation Centre of the Central Intelligence Organisation at 3, Bach Dang; the Interrogation Centre on To Hien Thanh Street; the Document Exploitation Centre; the Intelligence Centre; the Cay Mai Military Intelligence School; the Phoenix Programme detention facility; the staff agencies of the Joint General Staff and particularly J-7, the signals and communications intelligence agency… everything was left intact, and intelligence documents and equipment in Vietnamese and English were left on the desks of staff who simply left.
The J-7 was gone and there was no one who dared issue an order to destroy the most top secret intelligence information of the South Vietnamese Army. Much of the Top Secret information fell into the hands of the Liberation Army when they arrived to take over.
The Ho Chi Minh Campaign moved swiftly and we could not cope with the loss of our intelligence resources. One reason is that our friends and their commanders did not create a plan to deal with a situation where all of South Viet Nam was about to be lost. The files in Unit 101 documented each agent operation throughout the country and evidence how communications with each individual was lost. The CIA at Bien Hoa and within the Embassy were in a similar situation. One officer was captured at Phan Rang and taken to the North to be interrogated at Son Tay. The last CIA officer was arrested in Sai Gon and confined at the Chi Hoa Prison until his death in captivity in 1976. Fortunately, a CIA officer acquaintance who was under cover as an advisor to a South Vietnamese army division at Chuong Thien, gathered together all his assets and their families at Can Tho on April 30 in sufficient time to load onto a barge and left for the Pacific Ocean, the area where those fleeing were being picked up. In the United States, both military intelligence and CIA colleagues experienced a morale problem because they knew of so many friends who could not be saved.
In 1976 I sent to the Defence Intelligence Agency to pick up some information regarding Viet Nam that I needed to support my project. I met Lieutenant Colonel Ted Shipman, a long time friend who was working in the Current Intelligence part of DIA. I was not authorised to tell him why I needed the information and Ted was very disappointed that he was unable to help me. He said, "The DIA Director has come down to our area. The general ordered us to destroy all our files, maps… every bit of information gathered over the years." His reason was "The Viet Nam War is over, we no longer need this information." Ted and his co-workers gathered up every item and place everything in burn bags which were sent to be burned.
The war was over and 99.9 per cent of American intelligence elements still following the events in Viet Nam where prohibited from dealing with their old targets.
I, together with many colleagues both inside and outside the US military were given new assignments. From being an interrogation officer I became a case officer covering a number of cases. I went to the Defence Language Institute to study Chinese Mandarin and attend the Intermediate Class in Vietnamese. I retired on July 31, 1978. I had a medal pinned on and packed away all my uniforms.
I also want to relate an old account relating to Viet Nam.
After signing the Geneva Accords in 1954 and prior to withdrawing home, the French military turned over information concerning the Viet Minh organisation to US military representative of the 500th Military Intelligence Group based in Hawaii.
For unknown reasons the French documents then disappeared! During 1960-1970 my colleagues looked for them but they were nowhere to be found. The 500th Group is the Army unit responsible for the conduct of military intelligence operations throughout the Pacific. When the "Viet Nam War" exploded, the 525th Military Intelligence Group arrived in Sai Gon and the 500th Group was no longer the representative in Viet Nam. Nevertheless, the 500th Group still retained an extremely important two-pronged military intelligence mission relating to Viet Nam.
The first area was to establish bi-lateral relations with officials from Allied governments in Asia. The second was to create espionage nets. The agent nets conducted operations based on established priorities and targets. Naturally, the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam (DRV) was one extremely important target. Certain members of the 500th Group were aware of where their files relating to the DRV were located because they had been sent back to the US in 1976.
During 1990-1991 I sent requests for declassification of our wartime projects and unit histories to the Headquarters of the Intelligence and Security Command (USAINSCOM). By the end of 1991, the Command had conducted the declassification of dozens and dozens of files although there were words here and there which were not declassified at the time including reference to the conduct of "military espionage" by the 500th Group.
This was the first time since the end of World War II that the US Army openly acknowledged that we and others in the Army had planned for and carried out espionage operations against the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam.
In April 1996 I presented several papers at a symposium at Texas Tech University, beside the Viet Nam Centre. Few people took much of any note of my paper about the our espionage operations against North Viet Nam. On May 21, 2005, all of my Viet Nam War related material was gifted to the Viet Nam Centre so that anyone who wanted to research this aspect of the war could do so from our original files.
I finally returned to Viet Nam in October 2005 where I saw the many changes that had taken place. It was my first trip to Ha Noi and we still had certain fears, although a Vietnamese colleague assisted me. It was days before I learned that the people in Ha Noi would not send me to the Ha Noi Hilton. It was at that time that I realised that…the Viet Nam War was over.
I was ecstatic, oh so ecstatic. — VNS
* Chief Warrant Officer (CW3), USAR, Retired.
Former chief of the Analysis Branch, DIA’s Special Office for POW/MIA Affairs.
Former staff investigator, Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs.
Viet Nam War combat veteran. (1961-1963, 1965-1967, 1970, 1971-1974)
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