When I left the United States aboard a plush Southern Air Transport jet aircraft with 63 others who wore the Green Beret of the US Army Special Forces it was three days before Christmas in 1965. Sure, we were riding high and handsome at 10,000 feet in one of those company owned CIA aircraft complete with pretty stewardesses, good food and John Wayne movies, but none of us knew for certain what was in store for us once we were on the ground.
That didn't bother us a bit we had all volunteered to serve in Vietnam. We were proud to be a part of the 5th Special Forces Group with its 1,592 unconventional warriors who fought alongside some 30,000 indigenous personnel in what became a vain attempt to rid their country of the Communist insurgents. It wasnt a lack of courage on the part of the brave South Vietnamese people or their fighting regulars, paramilitary or civilian irregulars, but rather the cowardly withholding of US Presidential and Congressional backing, the departure of our fighting forces and the subsequent denial of promised logistical and financial support of their defensive effort that resulted in the North Vietnamese forces victory. When forced by our flagrant national act of betrayal to fight alone against a numerically superior military machine supported by Communist China, the South Vietnamese lost the war, lost their nation and became virtual prisoners of a Communist system.
It is a fact that few, if any of us, knew and almost a certainty that we would have doubted the validity of what we were told, had anyone tried to tell us (before we left the States) that our government had permitted, even if only by acquiescence, the enemies their safe-havens inside Cambodia. These sanctuaries ran the length of the common border of South Vietnam and Cambodia.
No mention was made of that fact at 5th Group Headquarters in Nha Trang when we were briefed by Colonel William McKean and his staff prior to being given our actual duty assignments. I will attempt, in capsule form, to convince the reader of the heinous, even fatal, nature of that action taken by our government which in reality aided and abetted the enemy of the South Vietnamese and placed their lives and the lives of Americans and other allies alike at great risk. Our White House, by providing the enemy safe-havens and the use of the Mekong River as one of their main re-supply routes for war goods, helped the Communists secure their eventual victory over the South Vietnamese.
The book EXPENDABLE ELITE One Soldier's Journey Into Covert Warfare is a MUST READ if you are to fully comprehend the actual affect of those sanctuaries on the conduct of the war and to appreciate the courage of the Hoa Hao people; in particular ARVN Major Phoi Van Le (now a US citizen). Major Le single-handedly, as military advisor to the Hoa Hao Central Council, met with the South Vietnamese Defense Minister in Saigon and won the right for the irregular forces within his area to enter Cambodian territory when in hot pursuit of enemy forces with the only contingency being US command of those forces as independent covert forces. As commander of US Army Special Forces Detachment A-424, I would take charge of those forces and with Major Le form a company group of Hoa Hao irregular fighters who would effectively defend An Phu and, for the first time, take the war to the enemy inside what had been their sanctuaries. On my arrival at Camp Dan Nam in An Phu District, South Vietnam on 27 December 1965, I brought with me the unfettered TOP SECRET authorization to ignore any past restrictions that forbade taking the war into so-called neutral Cambodia.
With Major Le and I leading the Hoa Hao Irregular Forces we soon regained all territory occupied by the enemy and pushed the Viet Congs Southward regiment deep inside Cambodia. Within a few days of my assuming command, we would deny the Viet Cong and their NVA allies that close-proximity safe-haven they had enjoyed with the blessings of our White House. It may well have been the only 30 kilometers of border area closed to the enemy forces, but I acknowledge that another Special Forces Team may have had a similar TOP SECRET mission and I pray that other Special Forces muster the will and the courage to inform the American public of the truth they personally witnessed to corroborate the evil nature of that Presidential dictum that favored the enemy and resulted in countless deaths and injuries in friendly military and civilian persons alike.
I am understandably proud to have served with Major Phoi Van Le, a veteran of 18 years of fighting many enemies to protect the 64,000 people of An Phu. With exception of 200 Chams of Malaysian-Polynesian extraction, they were all of the Buddhist Hoa Hao Sect, wanting nothing more than live a quiet, upright and productive life along the Bassac River in the district of An Phu. His courage, integrity and leadership qualities made it possible for our outnumbered and outgunned forces to lob the first high explosive mortar rounds into the VC safe-havens, beginning at five minutes past midnight on the 1st day of January 1966. Within a few weeks we had penetrated the border area on foot in hot pursuit of the enemy and I had the singular privilege of being the first American to set foot on Cambodian soil in a combat action. This fact I can corroborate with witnesses and I would be only too happy to take second place to some other Special Forces officer or NCO willing to come forward and testify to the truth of the enemys sanctuaries.
Again, I suggest you order a copy of my book EXPENDABLE ELITE One Soldier's Journey Into Covert Warfare if you would like to read about and see actual photos of Major Phoi Van Le and the Hoa Hao Buddhists of An Phu, no doubt the most wonderful people I have ever had the privilege of working with, fighting alongside and living a life of victory over self.
Part Nine: Civic Action The Building of Loyalty