Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Revealed: 50 Years Ago, a Top-Secret U.S. Base Was Overrun By VC

Tuesday, July 20, 2010




In early 1956 the French built Commando School at Nha Trang was re-established with US military assistance to provide physical training and ranger instruction for up to 100 students. Early the following year President Ngo Dinh Diem ordered the creation of a special unit to conduct clandestine external operations. Initial parachute and communication training for 70 officers and sergeants was conducted at Vung Tau; 58 of these later underwent a four month commando course at Nha Trang under the auspices of a US Army Special Forces Mobile Training Team. Upon completion, they formed the Lien Doi Quang Sat so 1 (I Observation Unit) on I November 1957 at Nha Trang. The unit was put under the Presidential Liaison Office, a special intelligence bureau controlled by President Diem and outside the normal ARVN command structure. The commander was Lt. Col. Le Quang Tung, an ARVN airborne officer and Diem loyalist. Many of the Unit's members came originally from northern Vietnam, reflecting its external operations orientation.
In 1958 the Unit was renamed the Lien Doan Quang Sat so 1, or I Observation Group, reflecting its increase to nearly 400 men in December. By that time the Group was seen as an anti Communist stay behind force in the event of a North Vietnamese conventional invasion; however, because of its privileged position the Group stayed close to Diem and rarely ventured into the field.
By 1960 it was apparent that the main threat to South Vietnam was growing Viet Cong insurgency; the Group abandoned its stay behind role and was assigned missions in VC infested areas. Operations were briefly launched against VC in the Mekong Delta, and later along the Lao border.
In mid 1961 the Group had 340 men in 20 teams of 15, with plan for expansion to 805 men. In October the Group began operations into Laos to reconnoiter North Vietnamese Army logistical corridors into South Vietnam. In November the Group was renamed Lien Doan 77, or 77 Group, in honor of its USSF counterparts. Over the next two years members were regularly inserted into Laos and North Vietnam on harassment and psychological warfare operations. Longer duration agent missions, involving civilians dropped into North Vietnam, also came under the Group's auspices.
The Group's sister unit, 31 Group, began forming in February 1963. Following criticism of 77 Group's perceived role as Diem's 'palace guard', both groups were incorporated into a new command,, the Luc Luong Dac Biet (LLDB) or Special Forces, on 15 March 1963. In theory the LLDB would work closely with the USSF in raising irregular village defense units. This cosmetic change still kept the Special Forces outside of ARVN control, however, and did little to change the performance of Col. Tung's troops. In August, LLDB members attacked Buddhist pagodas across South Vietnam in an effort to stiffle Buddhist opposition to the Diem regime. At the time LLDB strength stood at seven companies, plus an additional three 'civilian' companies used by Diem on political operations. Because of such missions the LLDB became despised and, when anti Diem military units staged a coup d'etat in November, the 'revolutionary' forces arrested Col. Tung and quickly neutralized the LLDB. (Tung was later executed.)

The LLDB after President Ngo Dinh Diem

In the wake of the coup the Presidential Liaison Office was dissolved and its function assumed by the ARVN. The LLDB was put under the control of the Joint General Staff and given the mission of raising paramilitary border and village defense forces with the USSF. External operations were given to the newly formed Liaison Service, also under the JGS. The Liaison Service, commanded by a Colonel, was headquartered in Saigon adjacent to the JGS. It was divided into Task Force 1, 2 and 3, each initially composed of only a small cadre of commandos.
In 1964 the JGS also formed the Technical Service (So Ky Thuat), a covert unit tasked with longer duration agent operations into North Vietnam. Commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel, the Technical Service comprised Group 11 (Doan 11), oriented toward agent operations in Laos and eastern North Vietnam; Group 68 (Doan 68 Thang Long), another infiltration unit; and the Coastal Security Service, a maritime commando group at Da Nang attached to the Technical service with its own contingent of PT boats for seaborne infiltration.
The post Diem LLDB was restructured for its proper role as a source of counter insurgency instructors for paramilitary forces. By February 1964, 31 Group had finished training and was posted to Camp Lam Son south of Nha Trang. In May the Group became responsible for all LLDB detachments in I and 11 Corps. A second reorganization occured in September when 31 Group was renamed III Group and given responsibility for the Special Operations Training Center at Camp Lam Son. Now 77 Group, headquartered at Camp Hung Vuong in Saigon, became 301 Group. In addition, 91 Airborne Ranger Battalion, a three company fast reaction para unit, was raised under LLDB auspices in November. Total LLDB force strength stood at 333 officers, 1270 non commissioned officers and 1270 men. The LLDB command at Nha Trang was assumed by Brig. Gen. Doan Van Quang in August 1965.
By 1965 the LLDB had become almost a mirror image of the USSF. LLDB Headquarters at Nha Trang ran the nearby Special Forces Training Center at Camp Dong Ba Thin. LLDB 'C' Teams, designated A through D Company, were posted to each of South Vietnam's four Military Regions; each 'C' Team had three 'B' Teams, which controlled operational detachments at the sub regional level; 'B' Teams ran 10 to 11 'A' Teams. 'A' Teams were colocated with USSF 'A' Teams at camps concentrated along the South Vietnamese border, where they focused on training Civilian Irregular Defense Force (CIDG) personnel.
In addition, the LLDB Command directly controlled the Delta Operations Center with its Delta teams and the four company 91 Airborne Ranger Battalion, both were used by Project Delta, a special reconnaissance unit of the US Military Assistance Vietnam Studies and Observation Group (MACVSOG), which operated deep in VC/NVA sanctuaries.
On 30 January 1968 the Communists launched their TET general offensive across South Vietnam. Caught celebrating the lunar New Year, the Saigon government was initially ill prepared to counter the VC/NVA attacks. When Nha Trang was hit on the first day the LLDB Headquarters was protected by 91 Airborne Ranger Battalion, recently returned from one of its Project Delta assignments. At only 60 percent strength the Airborne Rangers turned in an excellent performance, pushing the major Communist elements out of Nha Trang in less than a day. The battle, however, cost the life of the battalion commander and wounded the four company commanders.
After a four month retraining in Nha Trang three companies from 91 Airborne Ranger Battalion were brought together with six Delta teams and renamed 81 Airborne Ranger Battalion. In early June the new battalion prepared for urban operations in Saigon after a second surge of Communist attacks pushed goverrunent forces out of the capital's northern suburbs. On 7 June the Airborne Rangers were shuttled into Saigon and began advancing toward VC held sectors around the Duc Tin Military School. After a week of bloody street fighting, much of it at night, the Airborne Rangers pushed the enemy out of the city.
Following the Tet Offensive 81 Airborne Ranger Battalion was increased to six companies, and continued to be used as the main reaction force for Project Delta; four companies were normally assigned Delta missions while two remained in reserve at LLDB Headquarters.

The Strategic Technical Directorate

In late 1968 the Technical Service was expanded into the Nha Ky thuat (Strategic Technical Directorate, or STD) in a move designed to make it more like MACVSOG, the US joint services command created in 1964 which ran reconnaissance, raids and other special operations both inside and outside South Vietnam. Despite internal opposition the Liaison Service was subordinated to the STD as its major combat arm. Like SOG, the STD also had aircraft under its nominal control, including 219 Helicopter Squadron of the Vietnamese Air Force. By the late 1960s the size of the Liaison Service had increased tremendously. Task Forces 1, 2 and 3, commanded by lieutenant colonels and larger than a brigade, were directly analogous to MACVSOG's Command and Control North, Central and South. Each Task Force was broken into a Headquarters, a Security Company, a Reconnaissance Company of ten teams, and two Mobile Launch Sites with contingents of South Vietnamese Army and paramilitary forces under temporary Liaison Service control. Although the Liaison Service was a South Vietnamese unit, all of its operations were funded, planned and controlled by MACVSOG, and recon teams integrated both MACVSOG and Liaison Service personnel.
In December 1970, in accordance with the 'Vietnamization' policy, all CIDG border camps were turned over to the South Vietnamese government and CIDG units were incorporated into the ARVN as Biet Dong Quan, or Ranger, border battalions. No longer needed as a CIDG training force, the LLDB was dissolved in the same month. Officers above captain were sent to the Biet Dong Quan; the best of the remaining officers and men were selected for a new STD unit, the Special Mission Service. At the same time 81 Airborne Ranger Battalion was expanded into 81 Airborne Ranger Group consisting of one Headquarters Company, one Recon Company and seven Exploitation Companies. The Group was put under the direct control of the JGS as a general reserve force.
During 1970 the Liaison Service had staged numerous cross border missions into Cambodia in support of major external sweeps by the US and South Vietnamese forces against Communist sanctuaries. Early the following year the Service sent three recon teams into the 'Laotian Panhandle' two weeks before the ARVN's February Lam Son 719 incursion.
In February 1971 the STD underwent major reorganization in accordance with Vietnamization and its anticipated increase in special operations responsibilities. Headquartered in Saigon, STD command was given to Col. Doan Van Nu, an ARVN airborne officer and former military attache to Taiwan. As STD commander, and a non voting member of the South Vietnamese National Security Council, Nu took orders only from President Nguyen Van Thieu and the Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam JGS.
The expanded STD consisted of a headquarters, a training center, three support services and six combat services. The training center was located at Camp Yen The in Long Thanh: Yen The, significantly, was the name of a resistance movement in northern Vietnam during the 11th century. Airborne instruction was conducted at the ARVN Airborne Division's Camp Ap Don at Tan Son Nhut. The three support services were Administration & Logistics; Operations & Intelligence; and Psychological Warfare, which ran the 'Vietnam Motherland', 'Voice of Liberty', and 'Patriotic Front of the Sacred Sword' clandestine radio stations. The combat services were the Liaison Service (Loi Ho), the Special Mission Service (Hac Long), Group 11, Group 68, The Air Support Service and the Coastal Security Service.
The Liaison Service (So lien Lac), commanded by a colonel in Saigon, was composed of experienced Loi Ho recon commandos divided among Task Force I (Da Nang), Task Force 2 (Kontum) and Task Force 3 (Ban Me thuot).
The Special Mission Service (So Cong Tac), also commanded by a colonel, was headquartered at Camp Son Tra in Da Nang. It remained in training under US auspices from February 1971 until January 1972. Unlike the shorter duration raid and recon missions performed by the Liaison Service, the SMS was tasked with longer missions into North Vietnam and Laos. It was initially composed of Groups 71, 72 and 75, with the first two headquartered at separate camps at Da Nang. Group 75 was headquartered at Plei Ku in the former LLDB B Co. barracks, with one detachment at Kom Tum to provide a strike force for operations in Cambodia and inside South Vietnam.
Group 11, an airborne infiltration unit based at Da Nang, and Group 68, headquartered in Saigon with detachments at Kom Tum, was soon integrated under SMS command. Group 68 ran airborne trained rallier and agent units, including 'Earth Angels' (NVA ralliers) and 'Pike Hill' teams (Cambodian disguised as Khmer Communists). A typical Earth Angel operation took place on 15 December 1971, when a team was inserted by US aircraft on a reconnaissance mission into Mondolkiri Province, Cambodia. Pike Hill operations were focused in the same region, including a seven man POW recovery team dropped into Ba Kev, Cambodia, on 12 February 1971. Pike Hill operations even extended into Laos, e.g. the four man Pike Hill team parachuted onto the edge of the Bolovens Plateau on 28 December 1971, where it reported on enemy logistics traffic for almost two months. Pike Hill operations peaked in November 1972 when two teams were inserted by C-130 Blackbird aircraft flying at 250 feet north of Kompong Trach, Cambodia. Information from one of these teams resulted in 48 B-52 strikes within one day.
The STD's Air Support Service consisted of 219 'King Bee' Helicopter Squadron, the 114 Observation Sqn., and C-47 transportation elements. The King Bees, originally outfitted with aging H34s, were re-equipped with UH-1 Hueys in 1972. The C-47 fleet was augmented by two C-123 transports and one C-130 Blackbird in the same year. All were based at Nha Trang.

The Easter Offensive 1972

During the 1972 Easter Offensive the combat arms of the STD saw heavy action while performing recon and forward air guide operations. Meanwhile, 81 Airborne Ranger Group was tasked with reinforcing besieged An Loc. The Group was heli lifted into the southern edge of the city in April, and the Airborne Rangers walked north to form the first line of defense against the North Vietnamese. After a month of brutal fighting and heavy losses, the siege was lifted. A monument was later built by the people of An Loc in appreciation of the Group's sacrifices.
In October 1972, the SMS was given responsibility for the tactical footage between Hue and the Lao border. In early 1973 US advisors were withdrawn. The Air Support Service soon proved unable to make up for missing US logistical support, sharply reducing the number of STD external missions. STD personnel, as well as Lien Doan Nguoi Nhai SEALS, were increasingly pulled into President Thieu's Office for special assignments. Later in the year the Liaison Service's Task Force 1, 2 and 3 were redesignated Groups 1, 2 and 3; and Camp Yen The was renamed Camp Quyet Thang ('Must Win'.)
Following a brief respite in the wake of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the STD was back in action against encroaching NVA elements in the countryside. In September 1973 two Liaison Service Loi Ho recon teams were inserted by helicopter into Plei Djereng, a key garrison blocking the NVA infiltration corridor down the Western highlands. They were unsuccessful in rallying the defenders after an NVA attack, however. In late 1974 the NVA increased their pressure; especially hard hit was the provincial capital of Phuoc Long in Military Region 3. After several weeks of NVA tank, artillery and infantry attacks the Phuoc Long defense started to crack. In an effort to save the city the government ordered 81 Airborne Ranger Group to reinforce the southern perimeter. After two days of weather delays one company was heli lifted east of the city on the morning of 5 January 1975; and by early afternoon over 250 Airborne Rangers were in Phuoc Long. After a day of relentless NVA assaults most of the original garrison fled; contact was lost with the Airborne Rangers as the NVA began to overwhelm the city. Early the next day Aiborne Rangers stragglers were spotted north of the city. A four day search eventually retrieved some 50 percent survivors.
By March 1975 the NVA had increased pressure on the Central Highlands, prompting Saigon to begin a strategic redeployment from the western half of II Corps. Although the Liaison Service's Groups 2 and 3 provided security for the withdrawing masses the redeployment soon turned into a rout. In the hasty withdrawal Group 2 had forgotten two recon teams in Cambodia; these later walked the entire distance back to the Vietnamese coast. After the fall of the Central Highlands government forces in I Corps began to panic, sparking an exodus to the south. In the confusion Group I of the Liaison Service attempted to provide security for the sealift to Saigon. Meanwhile, the SMS boarded boats on 30 March for Vung Tau.
With the entire northern half of the country lost, Saigon attempted to regroup its forces. 81 Airborne Ranger Group, which had arrived from II Corps in a state of disarray, was refitted at Vung Tau. The Liaison Service was posted in Saigon, with Groups I and 3 reinforcing Bien Hoa and Group 2 protecting the fuel depots. The SMS also reformed in Saigon.
On 6 April 1975 SMS recon teams sent northeast and northwest of Phan Rang discovered elements of two North Vietnamese divisions massing on the city. An additional 100 SMS commandos were flown in as reinforcements, but were captured at the airport as the North Vietnamese overran Phan Rang. A second tak force of 40 Loi Ho commandos was infiltrated into Tay Ninh to attack an NVA command post; the force was intercepted and only two men escaped. By mid April 81 Airborne Ranger Group was put under the operational control of 18th Division and sent to Xuan Loc, where the unit was smashed. The remnants were pulled back to defend Saigon. By the final days of April the NVA had surrounded the capital. Along with other high officials, the STD commander escaped by plane on 27 April. On the next day 500 SMS commandos and STD HQ personnel commandeered a barge and escaped into international waters. The remainder of the Liaison Service fought until capitulation on 30 April.


In 1960 the South Vietnamese Navy proposed the creation of an Underwater Demolitions Team to improve protection of ships, piers and bridges. Later in the year a navy contingent was sent to Taiwan for UDT training; the one officer and seven men who completed the course became the cadre for a Lien Doi Nguoi Nhai (LDNN), or Frogman Unit, formally established in July 1961. The LDNN, with a proposed strength of 48 officers and men, was given the mission of salvage, obstacle removal, pier protection and special amphibious operations.
Soon after the creation of the LDNN a second unit was formed: Biet Hai,or 'Special Sea Force', paramilitary commandos under the operational control of Diem's Presidential Liaison Office and given responsibility for amphibious operations against North Vietnam. US Navy SEAL (Sea, Air and Land) commando teams began deploying to South Vietnam in February 1962 and initiated in March a six month course for the first Biet Hai cadre in airborne, reconnaissance and guerrilla warfare training. By October, 62 men had graduated from the firstcycle. A planned second contingent was denied funding.
In early 1964 the LDNN, numbering only one officer and 41 men, began special operations against VC seabome infiltration attempts. Six Communist junks were destroyed by the LDNN at Ilo Ilo Island in January during Operation 'Sea Dog'. During the following month the LDNN began to be used against North Vietnamese targets as part of Operation Plan 34A, a covert action program designed to pressure the Ha Noi regime.
In February a team unsuccessfully attempted to sabotage a North Vietnamese ferry on Cape Ron and Swatow patrol craft at Quang Khe. Missions to destroy the Route I bridges below the 18th Parallel were twice aborted. In March most of the LDNN was transferred to Da Nang and colocated with the remaining Biet Hai commandos. During May North Vietnam operations resumed by LDNN teams working with newly trained Biet Hai boat crews. On 27 May they scored their first success with the capture of a North Vietnamese junk. On 30 June a team landed on the North Vietnamese coast near a reservoir pump house. Ile team was discovered and a hand to hand fight ensued; two LDNN commandos lost their lives and three 57mm recoiless rifles were abandoned, but 22 North Vietnamese were killed and the pump house was destroyed.
In July a second class of 60 LDNN candidates was selected and began training in Nha Trang during September. Training lasted 16 weeks, and included a 'Hell Week' in which students were required to paddle a boat 115 miles, run 75 miles, carry a boat for 21 miles and swim 10 miles. During the training cycle team members salvaged a sunken landing craft at Nha Trang and a downed aircraft in Binh Duong Province. Thirty-three men completed the course in January 1965 and were based at Vung Tau under the direct control of the Vietnamese Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Operations).
In 1965 the LDNN was given responsibility for amphibious special operations in South Vietnam. Maritime operations against North Vietnam were given exclusively to the Da Nang based Biet Haicommandos and Hai Tuanboat crews, both incorporated into the new seaborne component of the STD, the So Phong Ve Duyen Hai (Coastal Security Service or CSS). The CSS, a joint services unit, was headed by an Army lieutenant colonel until 1966, then by a Navy commander. CSS missions focused almost entirely on short duration sabotage operations lasting one night, and had a high success rate. The CSS relied heavily on special operations teams temporarily seconded from other services. Teams on loan from the Vietnamese Navy considered most effective, were codenamed 'Vega'. Other teams came from the Vietnamese Marine Corps ('Romulus') and Army ('Nimbus'). The CSS also controlled 40 civilian agents ('Cumulus') until the mid 1960s. Unofficialy, the term Biet Hai was used for all CSS forces, regardless of original service affiliation. CSS training was conducted at Da Nang under the auspices of US Navy SEAL, US Marine, and Vietnamese advisors. Further support was provided by the CSS's Da Nang based US counterpart, the Naval Advisory Detachment, a component of MACVSOG.
By the mid 1960s US Navy SEAL teams were being rotated regularly through South Vietnam on combat tours. Specialists in raids, amphibious reconnaissance and neutralization operations against the VC infrastructure, the SEALs worked closely with the LDNN and began qualifying Vietnamese personnel in basic SEAL tactics. In November 1966 a small cadre of LDNN were brought to Subic Bay in the Philippines for more intensive SEAL training.
In 1967 a third LDNN class numbering over 400 were selected for SEAL training at Vung Tau. Only 27 students finished the one year course and were kept as a separate Hai Kich ('Special Sea Unit,' the Vietnamese term for SEAL) unit within the LDNN. Shortly after their graduation the Communists launched the Tet Offensive most of the LDNN SEALs were moved to Cam Ranh Bay, where a fourth LDNN class began training during 1968. During the year the Vietnamese SEALs operated closely with the US Navy SEALS. The LDNN SEAL Team maintained its focus on operations within South Vietnam, although some missions did extend into Cambodia. Some missions used parachute infiltration.

LDNN after Tet
In 1971, in accordance with increased operational responsibilities under the Vietnamization program, the LDNN was expanded to the Lien Doan Nguoi Nhai (LDNN), or Frogman Group, comprising a SEAL Team, Underwater Demolitions Team, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team and Boat Support Team. Headquarters remained in Saigon. For the remainder of 1971 the SEALs operated in 12 18-man detachments on neutralization operations and raids inside South Vietnam. SEAL launch sites included Ho Anh, north of Da Nang, Hue and Tinh An.
During the 1972 Easter Offensive the SEALs were transferred to Hue to conduct operations against NVA forces holding Quang Tri; after Quang Tri was retaken some of the SEALs went to Quang Ngai to resume VC neutralization operations. After US Navy SEAL advisors were withdrawn in late 1972 the LDNN SEAL Team, now 200 strong, took over training facilities at Cam Ranh Bay; training, however, was cut in half, with only one fifth given airborne training. The SEALs had been augmented by ten graduates out of 21 LDNN officer candidates sent to the US for SEAL training in 1971.
When the Vietnam ceasefire went into effect in 1973 the SEALs returned to LDNN Headquarters in Saigon. At the same time the CSS was dissolved, with the Navy contingent given the option of transferring to the LDNN.
In late December 1973 the government reiterated its territorial claim to the Paracel Island chain off its coast and dispatched a small garrison of militia to occupy the islands. By early January 1974 the Chinese, who also claimed the islands, had sent a naval task force to retake.the Paracels. On 17 January 30 LDNN SEALs were infiltrated on to the western shores of one of the major islands to confront a Chinese landing party. The Chinese had already departed; but two days later, after SEALs landed on a nearby island, Chinese forces attacked with gunboats and naval infantry. Two SEALs died and the rest were taken prisoner and later repatriated.
During the final days of South Vietnam a 50 man SEAL detachment was sent to Long An; the remainder were kept at LDNN Headquarters in Saigon along with 200 new SEAL trainees. During the early evening of 29 April all SEAL dependents boarded LDNN UDT boats and left Saigon; a few hours later the SEALs departed the capital, linked up with the UDT boats, and were picked up by the US 7th Fleet in international waters.
By Ken Conboy



In 1961 and 1962 the CIA-trained and -sponsored 1st Observation Group was formed to counter Communist operations along the trail.

   Throughout the First Indochina War (1946-54), Communist insurgents in northern Vietnam wrestled with the challenge of shuttling supplies from the People's Republic of China to their comrades on southern battlefields. Complicating their plans was the fact that the narrow central "waist" of Vietnam had a sizable presence of opposing French colonial forces. As an alternative to that direct route, Communist supply columns sidetracked into neighboring Laos and maneuvered down trails on the eastern side of the Lao (or Laotian) panhandle before veering back into Vietnamese territory.
   After a brief respite during the mid-1950s, traffic began building on these trails once again in the spring of 1959, as Communist authorities in North Vietnam sought to stoke the simmering VC insurgency in the South. This revived effort followed from North Vietnam's forces crossing the Laotian border on December 14, 1958, and annexing a remote corner of Laos immediately west of the DMZ. Soon the trails in the supply corridor gained a new collective nickname, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, in honor of the Vietnamese Communists' chief revolutionary.
   It did not take long for both the Royal Lao and South Vietnamese governments to get wind that the trail was back in business. The trouble was, however, that the Lao government had little in the way of population or a military presence in the rugged eastern corridor, so Communist porters could move down the panhandle without attracting much attention.
   All of this greatly concerned the South Vietnamese authorities in Saigon. In 1959, anxious to get better intelligence on infiltration along the trail, ARVN officials began negotiating with their Royal Lao counterparts for permission to mount shallow forays west from Lao Bao along Route 9, into Laos. To disguise their origins, the ARVN troops would wear Lao uniforms. Implemented by year's end, the agreement resulted in a semipermanent South Vietnamese outpost across the border in the Lao village of Ban Houei Sane.
   North Vietnamese use of the trail was soon overshadowed by events elsewhere in Laos. In August 1960 an obscure Lao paratroop captain named Kong Le seized control of the capital and declared Laos a neutral country. In the confusion that followed, right-wing military officers gathered in southern Laos to plot a countercoup, while the indigenous Lao Communist movement--known as the Pathet Lao--lent support to Kong Le. By December the warring parties had converged on Vientiane, reducing much of the city to rubble.
   As seesaw battles erupted across the kingdom in January 1961, the Royalist 12th Infantry Battalion, which had been holding defensive positions in the eastern panhandle town of Tchepone, shifted west to the Mekong town of Thakhek. Into its positions at Tchepone moved the newly formed Bataillon Voluntaire (BV) 33.
   Sensing an opportunity for a further land-grab--especially along the trail--the NVA, with Pathet Lao support, attacked Tchepone and neighboring Muong Phine on April 29, 1961. Both locations fell within a day, despite the reported 11th-hour arrival of a Thai army artillery battery sent to bolster the Royalists. Cut off to the west, BV 33 beat a hasty retreat east toward Ban Houei Sane.
   North Vietnam's plan now became evident. Six months earlier the Communists had eliminated another isolated outpost farther to the south at Sam Luang. The presence of Royalists at that locale had impeded the trail's expansion through eastern Saravane and Attopeu provinces along a series of long-established paths leading to Vietnam. A company from BV 43, positioned at the village since August 1960, had been overrun on October 14. One week later, on October 21, two of the Communist columns had crossed into South Vietnam's Kontum province and taken five villages north of Dak Pek. By November 8, they had finally been turned back. Those incidents marked the first time since the First Indochina War that northern troops had traversed Lao territory before attacking South Vietnam.
   Understandably, all this activity unsettled the top brass in Saigon. Following the attacks of April 29, 1961, several of the ARVN's leading officers pressed President Ngo Dinh Diem to retake Tchepone. Fearing a flurry of Communist propaganda, however, Diem waffled. Instead, he authorized only a limited cross-border foray to assist BV 33.
   The core of the South Vietnamese relief column consisted of troops from the ARVN 1st Infantry Division, assisted by commandos from the 1st Observation Group. The latter unit was the chief action arm of the Presidential Liaison Office (PLO), an ambiguously titled special warfare/intelligence unit with a long and convoluted lineage. First known as Section Six during the French era, the PLO originally was intended as a counterintelligence office. After being turned over to the Republic of Vietnam in 1954, it underwent two name changes in as many years before Lt. Col. Le Quang Tung became its chief.
   Tung was one of President Diem's most trusted military officers. Like Diem, he was a Catholic from central Vietnam. Owing to his pedigree, the low-key, professorial Tung went from lieutenant to lieutenant colonel in just two years. While maintaining the PLO's counterintelligence mandate, he was able to branch out in early 1957 when the U.S. government offered to raise a South Vietnam-ese special forces group.
   Beginning with 70 officers and sergeants selected by the PLO, the contingent was put through airborne and communications training. In the summer of 1957, 54 of the troops began four months of commando training at Nha Trang under the direction of a U.S. Army Special Forces (USSF) training team. This first training cycle (nicknamed "Cycle Cramer," in honor of a USSF captain who died in October during demolition practice) yielded the first 38 soldiers who went on to form the core of the 1st Observation Group.
   As South Vietnam's designated special forces unit, the 1st Observation Group was unusual in that it was supported by both the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. Its initial function was to act as a resistance cadre in the event of an invasion by the People's Republic of China--an event some American and Vietnamese officials considered likely during those tense years of Cold War confrontation.
   The group grew quickly in its new role. In March 1958 Training Cycle B took shape, this time under the auspices of instructors from Cycle Cramer. Cycles C and D, each with roughly 50 officers and sergeants, were conducted the following year. Graduates were organized into 15-man teams, each assigned a specific geographic area of responsibility for establishing guerrilla pockets during any invasion of South Vietnam.
   Although the 1st Observation Group was well trained and armed, it accomplished little during its first three years of existence. Colonel Tung's attention was focused on covert operations inside North Vietnam, an additional CIA-supported mandate that the PLO assumed in early 1958. The group's de facto commander, Captain Dam Van Quy--a minority Tho tribesman from northern Vietnam--was content to hold his commandos in readiness for the post-invasion mission. Aside from a few brief forays against the VC in the swampy Mekong Delta, the group rarely ventured far from Nha Trang.
   Not until November 1960 did the South Vietnamese special forces get its true baptism by fire. Rather than facing an occupying Chinese army, however, they were ordered to fight their fellow countrymen. That came about after paratroopers from the ARVN's Airborne Brigade took over parts of Saigon in an attempt to unseat the increasingly unpopular Diem. When the president turned to the loyal Tung for help, the 1st Observation Group rushed to the capital from Nha Trang and fought a pitched battle against the airborne troops near the city's horse track.
   In the aftermath of the failed paratrooper putsch, Captain Quy was promoted and placed in command of the rebellious 3rd Airborne Battalion. Captain Bui The Minh replaced him in the PLO. Although a Buddhist, Minh had joined a militant Catholic group during the First Indochina War, thereby earning the president's trust.
   Under Minh's command, the special forces were next called to duty to assist BV 33 inside Laos in the spring of 1961. On May 5 a half-battalion task force--comprising both commandos and troops from the ARVN 1st Infantry Division--crossed the border. There, the infantry helped the remnants of BV 33 form a new defensive position at Ban Houei Sane. The special forces, meanwhile, positioned themselves six kilometers farther west, to serve as a temporary blocking force. South Vietnamese artillery also moved to the border outpost at Lao Bao to provide fire support.
   While that was happening, the administration of U.S. President John F. Kennedy was fuming at the Communist power play in Laos, especially since the land-grab along the eastern corridor had come immediately prior to a scheduled cease-fire. On May 6, 1961, Washington authorized a top-secret program of action in response to the North Vietnamese--inspired moves across mainland Southeast Asia. As part of that plan, the 1st Observation Group was slated to expand operations against the VC inside South Vietnam. Additionally, the group was to infiltrate teams under light civilian cover into southeastern Laos to locate and attack Communist lines of communication. Those teams would be used in conjunction with South Vietnamese assault units numbering between 100 and 150 commandos.
   To implement the Lao portion of the program, Washington turned to the Combined Studies Division (CSD), the cover designation for the small CIA paramilitary support office located in the Saigon embassy. Colonel Gilbert Layton, the CSD chief, took the mandate to Major Tran Khac Kinh, the PLO deputy and a graduate of Cycle Cramer. Working together, they quickly planned for Project Lei Yu (Mandarin for "Thunder Shower"), a program that soon became known by the more dramatic English translation--Typhoon (Lôi Vũ).
   Kinh relied upon existing units in the 1st Observation Group for Typhoon's intelligence teams. Rather than using 15-man teams, however, he reconfigured them as 14-man units. "This allowed for four 3-man sub-units, plus a team leader and a radio operator," he later recalled, which would "enable them to split if they came under pressure." By midsummer, 1961, 15 14-man teams--numbered 1 through 15--had been gathered at a new Typhoon camp established near the Thu Duc Infantry Academy on the outskirts of Saigon. As all team members already had completed airborne and commando training, they underwent only mission-specific instruction at that point.
   The PLO and CSD had to start from scratch in establishing the assault units. Authorized to recruit two companies, Kinh first approached the Kontum-based 22nd Infantry Division, which was composed primarily of Tai tribesmen who had fled their traditional homeland in the hills of North Vietnam for the relative freedom of South Vietnam. The 160 Tai selected were brought down to Thu Duc, just north of Saigon, in July and given three months of airborne and ranger training. Upon graduation, the newly dubbed 1st Airborne Ranger Company was placed under the command of Captain Luong Van Hoi, a Tai from Dien Bien Phu who had fought with the 3rd Airborne Battalion during the First Indochina War.
   Kinh also approached the Song Mao-based 5th Infantry Division, which was dominated by Nung tribesmen originally from the coast of northernmost Vietnam. He selected a company of Nung and brought them to Thu Duc as well. Designated the 2nd Airborne Ranger Company, the 160-man team was commanded by Lieutenant Voong Chay Menh, a veteran of the Nung-based White Star anti-Communist guerrilla movement that had been supported secretly by the Republic of China on Taiwan during the First Indochina War.
   While the two airborne ranger companies were undergoing final outfitting, Major Kinh went ahead with the first deployment of intelligence teams in August 1961. The initial group of 14 commandos--Team 1, under Lieutenant Nguyen Van Ton--boarded an unmarked Douglas C-47 at Saigon's Tan Son Nhut Air Base and headed across the Laos border into Attopeu province. The team parachuted into the jungle east of the provincial capital, along the riverbanks of the Se Kamane. All were outfitted in sterile uniforms and carried Swedish K submachine guns, offering Saigon some measure of plausible deniability in the event of their capture.
   The next day, three more teams--Nos. 2, 3 and 6--filed into a single C-47 and headed for Laos. They floated to earth over the same drop zone that had been used the previous day. Shortly thereafter, two additional teams--Nos. 7 and 8--parachuted to the south of the first four. After the group was resupplied by parachute drop, the commandos divided up and began patrolling in different directions. The operation took place during the rainy season, which complicated movement for the troops and apparently reduced Communist trail activity in Laos to a minimum. "We had very little contact," summed up Lieutenant Dang Hung Long, the Team 6 commander.
   After almost three months, the teams regrouped and made their way overland to the South Vietnam border. Already, elements of the two airborne ranger companies had been flown to Kontum, where they were aided by USSF medical NCOs Paul Campbell and Ray James, recently arrived on temporary duty from Okinawa. From Kontum the troops were trucked to a border outpost near the village of Ben Het. Once there, Captain Hoi--commander of the first company--took a 90-man column into Laos to link up with the four northern intelligence teams and escort them home. At the same time, a second ranger task force moved across the border to rendezvous with the two southern teams. One week later, all the commandos and rangers were safely back at Ben Het.
   Back in September, meanwhile, Major Kinh had opened a second Typhoon operational zone just south of Tchepone. Because of some earlier concern that the South Vietnamese C-47s were not hitting their correct drop zones, two teams--Nos. 5 and 10--were shuttled to Takhli Air Base in Thailand and loaded aboard an Air America Curtiss C-46. The U.S. crew, it was felt, could insert them with more precision. Such sentiment did little to reassure the commandos. "They were packed in pretty tight," recalled Miles Johnson, one of three American jumpmasters on the flight. "We taped cardboard over the windows so we could turn on the cabin lights to calm their nerves."
   While the C-46 circled south of Tchepone, the two teams jumped above a small hill near the village of Muong Nong. Everything did not go smoothly. One of the commandos seriously injured his back upon landing. Establishing radio contact with headquarters, his teammates called for a medical evacuation. This resulted in a flurry of activity in Saigon, since at that time Typhoon had only been authorized to make fixed-wing flights for cross-border work. They had not been authorized to use helicopters. In the end, however, the CIA's deputy station chief granted them permission. A South Vietnamese Sikorsky H-34 went to the rescue.
   Ironically, the evacuation placed the rest of the commandos in great danger. In the process of investigating the chopper landing, Communist troops located and attacked both teams, capturing a medic from Team 5 in the process. Fleeing without their radio, the rest of the commandos managed to reach the safety of the South Vietnamese border outpost at Lao Bao.
   For the next round of Typhoon, the CIA and PLO decided in November 1961 to re-establish a presence in the southern zone near Attopeu. For added punch this time, Team 4 would infiltrate with a platoon from the 2nd Airborne Ranger Company. Back to using South Vietnamese aircraft, the combined force jumped near the banks of the Se Sou. After hiding a bag of rice near the drop zone, the troops began to conduct short patrols in various directions. Unlike on the earlier Attopeu foray, when there had been little evidence of the enemy, the Communists were more in evidence this time. "There were punji sticks set up near the drop zone," recalled Team 4 commander Cam Ngoc Huan. "We could see cooking fires and other activity around."
   Foul weather made resupply drops difficult. When the team members returned to their original rice cache, they found it had been spoiled by rodents. They decided to head for the airfield at Attopeu, in the hope of getting food from the local Lao garrison. Along the way, the South Vietnamese troops came upon a village and placed it under observation. They saw some soldiers milling around and guessed from their uniforms that they were Royal Lao troops. That put the commandos more at ease, but they spent the night hidden in the nearby jungle.
   The following morning, the commandos radioed headquarters word of their movements and continued heading west. After moving only 100 meters, however, they came under heavy fire. "We saw some footprints," said Huan, "so we again presumed they were Royalists. I yelled in the Lao language for them to cease fire." As the rifle reports died out, a platoon surrounded the South Vietnamese. The commandos lowered their weapons to offer greetings, but instead they were ordered to disarm and surrender. Huan now realized they were facing a mixed Pathet Lao/North Vietnamese patrol, but it was too late to put up a fight.
   As the Communists collected their weapons, six of the South Vietnamese--three commandos and three Nung rangers--bolted into the jungle toward Attopeu. The remainder were marched a kilometer into the jungle and interrogated. Their radio was still operational, and they were ordered to contact Saigon and request a supply drop. The radio operator did as told, but he included his safety code, alerting headquarters they were under duress.
   Aware his men were in danger, Major Kinh pondered his next move. Playing for time, he instructed the captured commandos to move back to their original drop zone. He intended to drop some airborne rangers to the west and then flush the Communists toward an infantry blocking force positioned along the border. The infantrymen, however, flatly refused to participate in the scheme.
   As an alternative, Kinh contacted his Royal Lao counterparts and asked them to launch an airstrike. After a delay of four days, Kinh radioed his men in the field and told them to expect the promised drop. The Communist captors--with their South Vietnamese prisoners in tow--were met by a flight of Royal Lao Air Force North American T-6 fighter-bombers. As bombs exploded nearby, three more commandos--including the Team 4 radio operator--broke loose and disappeared into the jungle.
   Incensed by the delay and the double-cross, the Communists forced the remaining captives to remove their shoes. Marching barefoot and with their hands bound, they were told they were headed north on a week-long trek to a jungle airstrip, where they would then be taken to North Vietnam. After only one day, however, another group of South Vietnamese--including Huan--managed to escape toward Attopeu. In the end, only one commando remained a captive.
   Aware of the unfolding situation, the Royalist commander in Attopeu, Colonel Khong Vongnarath, dispatched two companies to meet the fleeing commandos. By the close of November, some 35 had made it to Attopeu. Kinh arranged for a C-47 to transport them back home.
   Unfazed that a previous operation had gone sour, Typhoon units returned to the Tchepone sector in early December. Of the six teams selected, two--Nos. 1 and 5--were on their second mission. Having learned a few things from the first time around, Team 5 commander Nguyen Ngoc Giang had proposed that his normal 14-man configuration be cut to six commandos to enhance mobility. Major Kinh agreed, although the five other teams retained their full complement.
   After three teams were already on the ground, the remaining three teams boarded a pair of C-47s in Saigon and headed for the drop zone. For an hour, they circled in an attempt to locate the three teams below. Failing to do so, they scrubbed the mission. The following night they were back in the sky, and this time they managed to establish radio contact with the ground.
   Flying in the lead plane, Team 5 leader Giang jumped first, with his radio set packed in a rucksack between his legs. That proved to be a major mistake. When Giang crashed through the jungle canopy, the heavy set drove him hard into the ground. He fractured both his right tibia and the right side of his jaw in the fall. The rest of his team found him an hour after the jump. Placing Giang in a small cave in the cave- and fissure-studded limestone karst, they took away his weapon after he threatened to commit suicide. Then they gave him a morphine injection. Miraculously, the radio was still intact and they were able to contact headquarters and request a heliborne evacuation.
   Once again, Kinh was able to overcome initial CIA opposition to an H-34 exfiltration. This time, however, the chopper was to be escorted by a pair of South Vietnamese Douglas A-1 fighter-bombers. Kinh would personally coordinate the operation from a C-47 command ship overhead. As planned, Kinh lifted off in the C-47, while a pair of H-34s staged through the village of Khe Sanh for final refueling. Soon after the two A-1s left Da Nang, however, they lost radio contact. After repeated attempts to raise the A-1s failed, the H-34s stood down and the rescue was aborted. The rescuers later learned that both fighter-bombers had crashed into Ba Long Mountain.
   With aerial rescue no longer an option, four of the commando teams converged around Giang, trying to protect him. North Vietnamese troops were approaching, however, forcing the commandos to flee toward Lao Bao. On December 10, 1961, Giang and a medic from Team 1 were captured.
   By year's end, Operation Typhoon was in for some cosmetic changes. Back in July, a member of the 1st Observation Group seconded to a different operation had been captured aboard a downed plane inside North Vietnam, thereby compromising the operation. The ARVN special forces unit was consequently redesignated Group 77, in honor of July 7, the date in 1954 when Diem took over the reins of government. During that same plane crash, the name of commander Bui The Minh also was compromised by one of the captured aircrew, leading to his replacement by Major Pham Van Phu. The first Vietnamese deputy commander of an airborne battalion during the French colonial period, Phu had jumped into Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and had been taken prisoner when that outpost fell. Fearing he had been brainwashed, South Vietnamese officials gave him a series of innocuous posts after his release. After proving himself trustworthy, however, Phu was entrusted with the command of Group 77.
   Under Phu, the group was set for expansion. Plans called for the raising of two additional airborne ranger companies--the 3rd and 4th. For the first of these, Major Kinh canvassed the entire ARVN for any paratroopers who had been transferred to line units. "Most of them were disciplinary cases," he later admitted. The 4th Airborne Ranger Company, meanwhile, consisted of Catholic volunteers recruited with the assistance of a staunchly anti-Communist priest named Mai Ngoc Khue. That company was placed under the command of Lieutenant Tran Khac Khiem, Major Kinh's younger brother.
   Now numbering four companies, Typhoon was operating in full force by early 1962. This time, however, there was a difference. Rather than airborne insertions in two different sectors, the operation now concentrated on the area around Tchepone and relied exclusively on ground infiltrations from Khe Sanh.
   The 1st Airborne Ranger Company and a complement of four intelligence teams kicked off the new Typhoon campaign in January. Proceeding on foot to the border outpost at Lao Bao, they then veered south toward Muong Nong. The plan was for them to remain in the field for four weeks, but shortly after arriving at their target area they came under heavy enemy fire. After the rangers sustained four casualties, they withdrew back to Lao Bao. "At Lao Bao we had two 105mm howitzers and a company from the 1st Infantry Division," recalled a ranger commander. "From this base, we turned around and conducted hit-and-run attacks toward Tchepone."
  Until late summer 1962, Typhoon forces took turns staging from Khe Sanh and Lao Bao. In October, however, an international peace agreement went into effect for Laos, requiring all foreign military forces to vacate the country. Accordingly, the South Vietnamese task force left Lao Bao and Operation Typhoon came to a close.
   In all, the South Vietnamese program had resulted in 41 team-size infiltrations lasting from one week to three months. One notable mission had maintained a two-month watch on the airstrip west of Tchepone, which was being used by North Vietnamese supply planes. In addition, eight company-sized raids had been conducted based on team intelligence.
   While Typhoon came to an end, the moratorium on operations in Laos did not last. By the beginning of 1963 a series of Communist cease-fire violations had put the lie to Hanoi's adherence to the Lao peace agreement. Moreover, an escalation in VC activity pointed to an increase in traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In response, Washington once again called for cross-border operations to collect intelligence and conduct ambushes. The second round of the covert war against the trail was set to begin.
By Ken Conboy and James Morrison

  Ken Conboy is the former deputy director of the Asian Studies Center in Washington, D.C.
  James Morrison is a retired military officer with 30 years of active-duty service.
   Both have written extensively on Asian military history and covert operations.
   Further reading: Shadow War: the CIA's Secret War in Laos, by Conboy and Morrison.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Assistant Secretary of Defense, Force Management Policy Interim Report to Congress

Prepared by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Force Management Policy
Interim Report to Congress
Payments to Certain Persons Captured and Interned by North Vietnam
commonly referred to as the Vietnamese Commandos

Section 657 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997 (Public Law 104-201) requires the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress regarding the payment of claims by the Department of Defense (DoD) to certain persons captured and interned by North Vietnam. These persons are commonly referred to as the ‘Vietnamese Commandos.’ This provides an initial status report. A final report will be provided when payments have been completed.
Section 657 authorizes payments to a person who was captured and incarcerated by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam as a result of participation in operations conducted under OPLAN 34A or its predecessor. It also authorizes payments to a person who served as a Vietnamese operative pursuant to OPLAN 35, was captured and incarcerated by North Vietnamese forces as a result of OPLAN 35 opera tions in Laos or along the Lao-Vietnamese border, and remained in captivity after 1973. Should the Commando no longer be living, payments are authorized to the surviving spouse, and if none, to the surviving children in equal shares.
Payments are to be in the amount of $40,000. If the claimant demonstrates that the period of confinement was greater than 20 years, the Secretary of Defense may pay an additional $2000 per year up to a maximum of $50,000. $20 million was authorized to be appropriated for payments under this section.
The Secretary of Defense prescribed regulations including procedures for submitting claims. The regulations establish guidelines regarding appropriate documentation for establishing eligibility as determined in consultation with the heads of other agencies of the Government involved in OPLAN 34A, its predecessor or OPLAN 35. By law, claims must be filed within 18 months of the effective date of the regulations and a claimant’s eligibility must be determined within 18 months after receipt of the claim.
All determinations by the Secretary are final and conclusive. The law prescribes that claimants have no right to judicial review, and such review is specifically precluded. The acceptance of payments "shall be=2 0in full satisfaction of all claims by or on behalf of that individual against the United States arising from operations under OPLAN 34A or its predecessor or OPLAN 35."
With regard to attorney fees, the law specifically states that "notwithstanding any contract, the representative of a person may not receive, for services rendered in conjunction with the claim, … more than 10 percent of a payment made under this section."
The Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1997 did not appropriate funds for payments in accordance with Section 657 of the Authorization Act. However, Congress included appropriations for this section in a bill providing supplemental appropriations for conducting operations in Bosnia. This bill was signed into law June 25th, 1997, appropriating $20 million for payment to Vietnamese Commandos.
On May 15, 1997, the Department approved regulations to establish procedures for receipt of claims and payment to Vietnamese Commandos. On June 25, 1997, the Department published in the Fede ral Register a Privacy Act Notice in accordance with 5 USC 552a, allowing for Privacy Act protection of associated records. On June 30, 1997, the Department published in the Federal Register a System of Records in accordance with OMB Circular A-130, allowing for formal claims receipt.
On July 25, 1997, the regulations were formally published in the Federal Register as 32 CFR Part 270, "Compensation of Certain Former Operatives incarcerated by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam," effective May 15, 1997. These regulations prescribe in detail the membership of the Commission, henceforth called the Vietnamese Commandos Compensation Commission (VCCC), and the functions of the VCCC Support Staff. The regulations prescribe the standards and verification of eligibility of applicants, payment procedures, appeals procedures, and a complete application.
The complete regulations are at Appendix A of this report. Some key points with regard to the regulations are highlighted below:
The regulations are effective May 15, 1997. Hence, in accordance with Public Law 104-201, all claims must be submitted by November 15, 1998 (18 months after establishing associated Department regulations). The Commission has another 18 months to adjudicate claims, until May 1 5, 2000. However, the commission is adjudicating claims much faster than the 18 months allowed and expects its work to be completed by the end of 1999.
On July 1, 1997, the Secretary of the Army established the VCCC Support Staff. The staff consists of a staff director, a contract staff advisor, three military staff analysts, two Vietnamese translators, a staff investigator and an administrative assistant. The staff members have become experts on the Vietnamese Commandos and are capable of processing and investigating 60 to 70 claims per month. The VCCC Support Staff makes recommendations to the Commission, which is responsible for actually adjudicating the eligibility of each claimant.
The standards for verification of eligibility were established so that information presented to the commission indicates whether "the applicant is more likely than not to be eligible for payment." Rather than requiring personal appearances, the regulations call for a notarized application, signed affidavits and various readily available identification documents. Upon learning that notary service was unavailable or available only at great expense for applicants living in Vietnam, the rules were amended prior to final publication waiving the notary requirement "in exceptional circumstances."
While Section 657 of Public Law 104-201 established that claimants have no right to judicial review, the regulations do allow for an appeal process within DoD and establish specific appeal procedures for filing petitions for reconsideration.
Appendix A to 32 CFR Part 270 is a complete Application for Compensation for Vietnamese Commandos. The Support Staff has subsequently developed a bilingual application in both English and Vietnamese. The bilingual application is made available on request, is sent to all applicants applying directly from Vietnam and has been provided to the US Embassy in Vietnam.
The VCCC Support Staff began processing claims in September 1997. The Commission reviewed the first 20 claims in November 1997 and made payments on 16 approved claims by the end of November. The Commission approved 20 more claims in December and made payments before the end of the month. The VCCC meets monthly and now adjudicates 60 to 70 claims per month. The following is the status of claims presented to the VCCC as of September 18, 1998:
Number of claims received: 880
Number of claims closed: 586
Approved: 244
Denied: 342
Average processing time: 93 days
Number of claims received from:
U.S.: 388
Vietnam: 490
Australia: 2
Total approved for payment: $9,969,500
Total paid to claimants: $3,024,000
Total held in abeyance: $6,945,500
Petitions for Reconsideration: 35
Commission denial affirmed: 35
Ineligible Claims from Vietnam
Beginning in January 1998, the Commission began receiving a large number of claims from applicants in Vietnam who were clearly not former commandos. These applicants were mostly former Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) soldiers who were misled into believing the United States was making broad-based payments to former Vietnamese soldiers. Broadcasts over BBC radio based on incomplete information were partially responsible for this as well as an apparent "cottage industry" by which local Vietnamese, for a fee, processed applications, whether or not the applicant had any potential for qualifying. The VCCC and Support Staff have subsequently sent clarifying information in English and Vietnamese to the US Embassy in Vietnam, arranged for multiple broadcasts on Voice of America outlining qualifying criteria, and promptly provided specific disqualifying information in Vietnamese to all applicants whose claims were denied. No netheless, the Commission is now adjudicating approximately two claim denials for every claim approved.
Attorney Fees
Section 657 specifically limits attorney fees to 10% of payments made. In early 1998, the Department received a number of inquiries with regard to attorney fees. A complaint was filed with the DoD Inspector General (IG) regarding an attorney who was charging his clients fees in excess of 10%. On March 12, 1998, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management Policy directed that payments be held in abeyance pending resolution of this question of attorneys charging claimants excessive fees in violation of law. Efforts to resolve the issue directly with the attorney involved have not been successful. On July 17, 1998, the issue was referred by the Department of Justice to the United States Court of Federal Claims for resolution.
Section 658 of the FY1999 Defense Authorization Bill provides that "notwithstanding any prior agreement (including a power of attorney) to the contrary, the actual disbursement" of a payment under this section may be made only to the person who is eligible for payment. Passage of this amendment in the Authorization Bill would provide the Department a possible alternative to waiting for complet ion of the judicial process before being able to resume payments.
Disputed Claims
When the Department published its regulations in May 1997, one attorney represented the vast majority of the commandos. A few other attorneys have since represented a handful of additional claimants. However, one attorney has presented the VCCC Support Staff with over 80 powers of attorney switching claimants to himself from the original attorney. Some of these claimants’ applications had already been investigated, adjudicated and approved for payment. The original attorney has asked the Department in writing to defer action on these applications until such time as the validity of representation can be adjudicated in court. Section 658 of the FY1999 Defense Authorization Bill provides a possible alternative to waiting for completion of the judicial process before being able to resume payments.
Section 657 states that payments "under this section shall be in full satisfaction of all claims by or on behalf of that individual against the United States arising from oper ations under OPLAN 34A or its predecessor or OPLAN 35."
Nonetheless, the original lawsuit (April 1995) against the United States Government on behalf of the commandos remains open in the United States Court of Federal Claims.
In April 1998, the attorney representing commandos in the original 1995 lawsuit filed suit against a second attorney in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. This suit charges the second attorney with interference with preexisting contractual client relationships. The attorney filing the lawsuit asked the Department to defer payment on disputed applications until such time as the validity of representation can be adjudicated in court. The VCCC Support Staff has received three subpoenas in conjunction with this suit.
In June 1998, the attorney representing commandos in the original 1995 lawsuit filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court, District of Massachusetts seeking Veterans benefits for the commandos similar to those granted to members of the Armed Forces of the United States.
In August 1998, the attorney representing commandos in the original 1995 lawsuit filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court, Southern District of Florida, naming the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management Policy, the Chairman of the VCCC and the United States as defendants. This lawsuit involves the attorney fee issue referred in July 1998 by the Department of Justice to the United States Court of Federal Claims for resolution