It was to be a time of solemn remembrance that summer afternoon in 1988 when I stepped through the doors of the Special Warfare Museum on Smoke Bomb Hill at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I wanted to revisit my past, to reflect on that time when I was a part of a very special organization that would and could tackle any mission, anytime, anywhere and get the job done. When questioned about a particularly onerous or difficult task that we’d volunteered to accomplish we would merely respond, “No sweat, the impossible just takes a little longer.”
I was enjoying the many and varied exhibits in that small, but awesome collection of unconventional warfare memorabilia until I was stopped in my tracks by an exhibit designed to honor General William C. Westmoreland. I understand fully that one should not despise another, but that singular word best describes my feeling for that military man who, by his own inaction and lack of courage before Congress and his military superiors, aided and abetted the enemy in the Vietnam conflict, the same foe that had killed my four best friends.
My best friend Jerry, his name now engraved on THE WALL - Master Sergeant Gerard V. Parmentier - was killed in action his fifth time in combat in the Southeast Asian War Theater. Jerry, a fellow Green Beret and a number of South Vietnamese irregulars, all mortally wounded in battle by Viet Cong insurgents on 17 August 1967 near Dak To, South Vietnam, were also unsuspecting victims of a power struggle between General William C. Westmoreland’s headquarters and the Special Forces Group commander.
His son Albert, a Green Beret himself, was serving in a neighboring Special Forces camp when he got word that his father had been killed. After learning details of the battle and its aftermath from his father’s commanding officer, Albert accompanied his Father’s body back to the United States where he was interred with military honors, including a Special Forces Color Guard, at Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.
After the funeral I spoke with Albert and he confirmed what I’d suspected, having learned from his father’s commanding officer that Jerry’s unit had met defeat and suffered heavy casualties, with most KIA due to faulty or withheld intelligence. The enemy force that killed Jerry was many times the strength that had been gleaned from available intelligence. That fact, in and of itself, was not uncommon in war, particularly in a counter-insurgency situation. What was unusual and unforgivable in my judgment, was the fact that the enemy order of battle was known but withheld from Special Forces. Hard to believe? Yes, I would rather it had been a lie. But those facts were told Albert by Jerry’s commander before he left Vietnam escorting his father’s body to the US. Albert told me, just a few days later and agreed it was important information for the book I was writing about Special Forces in South Vietnam. We also agreed that it would be put on the back burner until his mother was gone as it would hurt too much for her to know the truth. When Jerry’s widow, Rose, died and was buried in Providence, Rhode Island, I spoke with Albert after the funeral, wanting to obtain his statement in writing and signed by him to demand an investigation and the disclosure of facts. Unknown to me, Albert had retired from the US Army by that time and was working for the “company.” Needless to say, he was forbidden from disclosing any knowledge relating to the CIA. No sense arguing, the cards had been stacked against us.
In 1983, Presidio Press published LTC Charles M. Simpson’s book, Inside the Green Berets,which included the account of how LTC Dick Ruble, a member of Westmoreland’s Intelligence staff, had without the knowledge of the Special Forces Group commander, denied their access to intelligence (“code word” documents) as retribution for Special Forces’ denying MACV non-airborne personnel, who were to be disguised as Green Berets, access to Special Forces Camps. The Special Forces Group had been excluded purposely from their distribution list and would include intelligence gathered by CIA resources. Many of those resources were highly classified and compartmentalized, according to my source, who understandably wishes to remain anonymous.
My book Expendable Elite – One Soldier’s Journey Into Covert Warfare contains much detail regarding General Westmoreland’s refusal to demand an end to the enemy’s safe-havens in Cambodia and his lack of courage when given the opportunity to go before Congress and tell them that American and Allied forces and innocent civilians were being killed and maimed by the enemy operating out of the “sanctuaries” that President Johnson had provided against the wishes of then Premier Nguyen Cao Ky. He admits to these failures in his book A Soldier Reports.
Another fact of life in South Vietnam at the time I served as a Green Beret in An Phu and Chau Doc was the almost total absence of routine resupply of Special Forces units by General Westmoreland’s Saigon depot. This was a great cause of concern to me when stationed at the B team and responsible for logistical support of Special Forces Camps under the wing of B-42 in Chau Doc in late 1966. That lack of logistical support by the Saigon depot led me to steal a Landing Craft Utility (LCU) from the US Navy, taking it to down river on the Bassac and then the Mekong to the Saigon Depot where we “borrowed” depot trucks and drove past the fearful guards to pick what we desperately needed from shelves, bins and pallet storage, load on the trucks and from there to off load unto the LCU at the depot docking site. From there we re-traced our way back to Chau Doc and returned the LCU to where it had been tied up. Within a year of my return to the US, while attending the US Army Career Course at Fort Lee, Virginia, the former commander of the Saigon Depot, the Colonel who had commanded it at the time we were forced to steal supplies from that same depot, was a guest lecturer and stood in front of our class at the end of his presentation and responded to questions. I was class president and got to field the first question. I was impressed with the fact that he answered unequivocally, telling our class that the reason his depot was not supplying the Special Forces needs in the IV Tactical Zone (the entire delta area) was that General Westmoreland had ordered him not to. I would learn that Westmoreland’s futile attempts to convince the Commanding General of IV Tactical Zone, Lieutenant General Quang Van Dang of the need to assign conventional American forces in the delta had angered him to the extent that he refused support of unconventional forces.
More detail regarding this and other less-than-favorable accounts of General Westmoreland’s real world exploits are to be found in my soon-to-be published book Expendable Elite and one to follow titled The Devious Elite. Watch for them in your bookstore or library or bring upexpendableelite.com for a preview of Expendable Elite and an opportunity to preorder an autographed copy. Several of the parts contained on that same website in theUnconventional Warfare Series relate to books “in the mill”, including The Devious Elite, Mission Over Egypt and others.
[Edited by Jeanne Calabretta]