bits & pieces


After the Tet Offensive of February 1968, the United States renewed its commitment to a stronger military and political position in the Republic of Vietnam, and that became especially Important later in the year when Vietcong representatives at the Paris peace talks began hinting at their willingness to accept a "cease-fire in place." If that really was a possibility, it was important for the United States to gain control of the countryside through more aggressive pacification programs. On November 1, 1968, the United States launched the Accelerated Pacification Campaign, with an objective of expanding government control over 1,200 villages currently controlled by the Vietcong. The Accelerated Pacification Campaign was put under the control of William Colby, and he was given a ninety-day time frame for the program. The United States had high hopes for the program because the Vietcong had been badly drained by the Tet Offensive and had essentially adopted a defensive strategy. The Phoenix Program was launched simultaneously. The Accelerated Pacification Campaign was basically a 'clear and hold" strategy using Regional Forces (RF) and Popular Forces (PF). Operating in or near their home villages, the RF and PF were familiar with the countryside as well as the people, knew how to differentiate between Vietcong and nonpolitical families, and built some confidence because villagers knew they would remain in the area. After destroying or at least expelling the Vietcong infrastructure, Accelerated Pacification then turned its attention to economic development, and included clearing roads, repairing bridges, building schools, and increasing farm production. The Americans also tried to train villagers in free elections and then trained elected officials in village administration. Finally, Accelerated Pacification tried to bring about land reform by distributing land to peasant farmers. The results of Accelerated Pacification were mixed at best. By March 1970 more than one million hectares of land had been redistributed, and the number of RF and PF engaged in pacification had increased to 500,000 men. They were armed with M-16 rifles and had received improved training. But destruction of the Vietcong infrastructure was never achieved, nor did Accelerated Pacification really change the way most South Vietnamese looked upon the government of Nguyen Van Thieu. Nor could Accelerated Pacification really survive the withdrawal of American troops which President Richard Nixon began implementing in the summer of 1969. As the U.S. military presence declined, the South Vietnamese were unable to fill the vacuum. Sources: Robert W. Komer, 'Pacification: A Look Back," Army (June 1970), 20-29; James Walker Trullinger, Village at War: An Account of Revolution/n Vietnam, 1980; Samuel L. Popkin, "Pacification: Politics and the Village," Asian Survey (August1970).


A native of San Jose, California, Lieutenant Everett Alvarez, Jr., was stationed on the USS Constellation in the South China Sea at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964. Piloting an A-4 Skyhawk, Alvarez was shot down over North Vietnam on August 5,1964. He was transferred to the Hanoi Hilton" prison and spent the next eight years as a prisoner of war. Alvarez was the first American pilot taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese. Source: Terrence Maitland and Steven Weiss, The Vietnam Experience: Raising the Stakes, 1982.


The AK-47 was the basic infantry weapon of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the Vietcong (VC). Originally manufactured by the Soviet Union, most of these 'assault rifles" used in the war were made in the People's Republic of China, which was the major supplier of armaments to NVA and VC forces. Also known as the Kalishnikov, after its Russian inventor, this weapon was sturdy, reliable, compact, and relatively lightweight. It fired a 7.62mm bullet in a fully automatic mode (continuous firing, like a machine gun, as long as the trigger was squeezed). The high muzzle velocity (speed of the bullet after firing) and the tumbling action of the bullet at the point of impact contributed to its effectiveness since the results were large entry and exit wounds, severe tissue damage, and extensive trauma in body areas near the wound. The combination of these effects plus its rapid-fire capability meant that accuracy was not a major requirement, thus reducing the training time before a soldier could be sent into combat. Most armaments analysts judge the AK-47, which normally holds thirty bullets, to be superior to the U.S. M-16, which became the standard weapon of American, Korean, and South Vietnamese troops. It was more durable and less adversely affected by the climate and conditions of Vietnam. There are a number of accounts of cases in which American troops preferred to use the AK-47 and in fact did use it when combat conditions permitted. The continuing popularity of this weapon is illustrated by its use in many military hostilities since the Vietnam War. Sources: Ray Bonds, ed., The Vietnam War; 1983; Edgar C. Doleman, Jr., The Vietnam Experience: Tools of War; 1984; Edward Clinton Ezell, The Great Rifle Controversy 1984. Stafford T. Thomas


Originally activated in 1921, the 1st Cavalry Division fought (dismounted) in the Pacific during World War II and later in Korea. In 1965 the division's flag was taken from Korea and presented to the experimental 11th Air Assault Division, which became the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). (The former 1st Cavalry Division, still in Korea, became the new 2nd Infantry Division.) The division was deployed to South Vietnam in September 1965 and was the first full division to arrive in the country. It was almost immediately in battle in the Ia Drang Valley. The division won a Presidential Unit Citation for its fierce fighting. During 1966 and 1967 elements of the division were engaged in numerous actions throughout the II Corps Tactical Zone. Initially committed to operations in Binh Dinh Province in early 1968, the bulk of the division was hurriedly recommitted to the Battle for Hue and then to the relief of the marine position at Khe Sanh. Later in the year the division served in the A Shau Valley before being shifted to protect the northern and western approaches to Saigon. The division was in constant action throughout 1969, and in 1970 was a part of the American-South Vietnamese force which invaded Cambodia (see Operation Binh Tay). Most of the division left South Vietnam in April 1973. The remaining 3rd Brigade returned to Fort Hood, Texas, in June. As the army's first airmobile division, the 1st Cavalry Division pioneered air assault tactics. It was considered one of the army's elite units in Vietnam, highly valuable because of its extreme mobility. The 1st Cavalry participated in the following operations and battles: Ia Drang Valley (1965), Masher/White Wing/Thang Phong II, Paul Revere II, Davy Crockett, Crazy Horse, Thayer, Irving, Pershing, Tam Quan (1967), Hue (1968), Pegasus/Lam Son(Khe Sanh), Delaware/Lam Son, Montana Raider, Toan Thang. The division suffered over 30,000 casualties during the war. Sources: Shelby L. Stanton, Vietnam Order of Battle, 1981, and The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam 1965-1973, 1985; Edward Hymoff, The First Air Cavalry Division, 1985; Kenneth D. Mertel, Year of the Horse, Vietnam: First Air Cavalry in the Highlands, 1968. Robert S. Browning Ill


One of the many civilian airlines operating in Southeast Asia, Air America was a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) proprietary." A proprietary is an entity that appears to be a normal, legitimate enterprise but actually is operated and controlled by the CIA. To maintain its appearance as an independent business, Air America engaged in activities common to air carriers, especially cargo transportation. In Southeast Asia, even during the war, businesses continued to operate normally, and so civilian air transport was a necessary and lucrative venture. Approximately 75 percent of Air America's flights were not related to the war or to the CIA's involvement in the war, so Air America employees may even have been unaware of its connection to the agency. However, the company primarily was used by the CIA for its numerous war-related activities. The pilots and crews that were involved in the clandestine activities of Air America were often military veterans, many of whom had served previous tours of duty in Southeast Asia. While some of the CIA-related Air America flights were undramatic, such as commonplace transportation of personnel, materiel, and payrolls, often the flights were extremely dangerous. They frequently involved trips to remote areas dominated by the enemy, and for security reasons, they were usually flown at night and/or under cover of clouds or fog. Also, they were not confined to Vietnam, since the CIA operated extensively in Cambodia (see Kampuchea) and especially Laos throughout the war. Most of the flights did not involve combat action by the Air America planes, although the aircraft available to Air America did include combat-capable types. Sources: John Morrocco, The Vietnam Experience. Rain of Fire; Air War 1969-1973, 1984; Christopher Robbins, Air America, 1979. Stafford T. Thomas


To counter the natural advantage that dense jungles offered Vietnamese guerrillas, the U.S. Defense Department developed a strategy of using herbicides (see Operation Ranch Hand) to defoliate the countryside and disrupt the food supply of the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army Herbicides were used on a wide scale and had a devastating ecological impact. The most common chemicals used in South Vietnam were Agent Orange, Agent White (see defoliation) and Agent Blue (see defoliation), the color designations coinciding with the markings on shipping containers. Agents Orange and White were used to defoliate forestlands, while Agent Blue was used primarily for crop destruction. The defoliation campaign lasted from 1962 until the first half of 1969 in Vietnam, and in Cambodia (see Kampuchea) until 1971. More than 46 percent of South Vietnam's forest area was sprayed at least once, and 500,000 of the more than 5 million acres sprayed were cropland. Although the effect of defoliation on controlling guerrilla forces has been hotly debated, the North Vietnamese began claiming in April 1966 that herbicides were causing permanent ocular lesions, chromosome alterations, and congenital deformities in infants, as well as long-term damage to crops, trees and entire ecosystems. The Defense Department denied those claims, but crop destruction was disastrous for civilians, since mobile military groups were able to find other sources of supply. One result of defoliation was that the United States had to supply food for the Vietnamese people. Tens of thousands of tons of wheat and rice and soybean seeds were shipped to South Vietnam. With the destruction of rice crops, the United States had to import billions of tons of the grain to keep prices stabilized and prevent the economic base from collapsing. A study of the health effects of phenoxy herbicides by Bionetics Research Laboratories completed in 1969 indicated that the tetracholoridbenzo-para-dioxin in Agent Orange caused birth defects. Also, Agent Orange contained dioxin, which is extremely hazardous to health and maintains its toxicity levels up to thirty years. Some symptoms connected with Agent Orange are frequent mood changes, nervousness, severe headaches, chloracne (a chronic rash), loss of sex drive, ringing in the ears, chest pains, miscarriages, stillbirths, cancer, and severe birth defects. In 1970, pending review, Militarv Assistance Command, Vietnam stopped the spraying of Agent Orange. Crop destruction and defoliation were finally terminated in 1971. Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange began complaining of health problems in the mid-i 970s, and they filed a class-action suit in 1979 against the Veterans Administration, the Department of Defense, and several manufacturers of the chemical. In response the Pentagon argued that Agent Orange did not cause those symptoms and that it might actually have helped the Vietnamese economy by giving the lumber industry easier access routes to haul wood and small farmers by giving them new space to plant gardens near roads, which provided them with new markets. In an out-of-court settlement, the chemical companies involved established a $180 million fund to compensate veterans with 'legitimate" claims. The fund was administered by a federal court; veterans with total disabilities and the families of veterans who died from Agent Orange exposure have access to the fund for damages. Sources: J. B. Neilands, Harvest of Death: Chemical Warfare in Vietnam and Cambodia, 1972; Carol Van Strum, A Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights, 1983; Clifford Linedecker, Kern": Agent Orange and an American Family, 1982; Fred A. Wilcox, Waiting for an Army to Die: Tragedy of A gent Orange, 1983. John E. Wilson and Kim Younghaus


An effort by the government of (South) Vietnam (GVN; see Republic of Vietnam) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to gather intelligence on the Vietcong infrastructure (VCI) and to coordinate a counterinsurgency effort against that VCI, Phoenix was actually an attempt to use the same techniques and tactics that had proven effective for the Vietcong. The three basic objectives of Phoenix were to identity Vietcong (VC), gain the support and cooperation of local Vietnamese in combatting the VC, and eventually reduce the military and political activities of the enemy. Phoenix was characterized primarily by its bureaucratic nature. To be successful, it had to decrease the endemic political contests that so characterized South Vietnam. A unified and coordinated effort was necessary before the GVN could gain legitimacy and loyalty, which were essential factors in diminishing the enemy's political and military effectiveness. Phoenix was aimed at the VC "shadow government" (policymakers and policy implementers). Its first task was to identify individual members of the VCI. It then sought to "neutralize" those individuals, through arrest, conversion, or death. While basically a GVN program, Phoenix relied heavily on American support. The CIA provided essential advice and personnel for the intelligence-gathering aspects of the program. The Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) assisted in the effort to coordinate Phoenix activities both among the numerous and varied GVN governmental units and with the village and hamlet officials. The Phoenix Program faced major obstacles. Coordination was a continuing difficulty, corruption was prevalent, and the quota system adopted for identifying members of the VCI meant that any Vietnamese was at risk. Begun in 1968 under the direction of Robert Komer and William Colby, Phoenix lasted until 1972 and was only marginally successful. Although these years coincided with a precipitous decline in VC activity and effectiveness, Phoenix was not a major factor in that decline. Rather, the debilitation of the VC was due to normal losses of a military nature, especially the Tet Offensive, which was a disaster for the Vietcong, who lost approximately 80 percent of their military forces in a six-week period of massive conventional attacks.


The A Shau Valley is located in Thua Thien Province of I Corps near the Laotian border. Actually several valleys and mountains, the A Shau Valley was one of the principal entry points to South Vietnam of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was an area that was critical to the North Vietnamese since it was the conduit for supplies, additional troops, and communications for units of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Vietcong (VC) operating in I Corps. Because of its importance to the NVA and VC, it was the target of repeated major operations by allied forces, especially the U.S. 101st Airborne Division. Likewise, it was defended vigorously by the NVA and VC. Consequently, the A Shau Valley was the scene of much fighting throughout the war, and it acquired a fearsome reputation for soldiers on both sides. Being a veteran of A Shau Valley operations became a mark of distinction among combat veterans. Although each American effort to staunch the shipment of men and materiel through the A Shau Valley was successful for a brief period of time, the net effect was a series of transitory decreases in the flow followed by increases until the next American operation. Since the U.S. strategy for fighting the enemy did not include occupying remote and sparsely populated areas, the enemy often lost military battles but subsequently was able to reinfiltrate an area when the Americans left the battlefield. The most famous battle of the A Shau Valley was Operation Apache Snow, also known as Hamburger Hill. Sources: Samuel Lipsman, Fighting for Time, 1983; Willard Pearson, The War in the Nodhern Provinces, 1966-1968, 1975; Shelby L. Stanton, The Rise and Fall of an American Army U.S. Ground Troops in Vietnam, 1965-1973, 1985. Stafford T. Thomas

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