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VIETNAM JOURNEYS


RUMORS, LIES, LEGENDS, FACTS AND FICTION

We've all heard them. You heard them before you went over, while you were there, when you returned and then you heard them years later. Here are some of the rumors, legends, facts and fiction I've been exposed to over the years. I would welcome anyone to submit to this page.

To Submit your own rumor, lie, legend, fact or fiction or personal story, CLICK HERE.


The White Cong

Assassination attempt on Westmoreland

The Black Clap

The Bank of America Heist UPDATED

Platoon of the Dead

The Heads of Japan UPDATED


Fact: The White Cong. I first heard about the White Cong when I was in Vietnam in 1968. The White Cong were GIs who had "gone over" to the other side and in some cases actually led enemy units in attacks on their former bases. They weren't always white troops but I'm not sure where the name "white cong" came from. Anyway, when I first went to Vietnam, I was assigned to the MACV HQ in Danang doing Order of Battle analysis for which I had no training. Basically we just processed the previous day and evening's contacts and distributed them to all the commands in I Corps in the form of something I remember called the Daily IntSum or Incident Summary. We had a giant map in the room on which we tracked reported enemy movements to include at one time a convoy of elephants seen carrying supplies for the NVA. I suppose someone utilized all this information to plan upcoming Operations. Around late September 1968, we started receiving reports from Marine combat units of sightings of a fair-skinned redhead leading Viet Cong units in attacking isolated Marine outposts, especially bridge outposts. This went on for several weeks and the reports continued to come in about these sightings. I remember that a Corps-wide alert was put out to all units to be on the look out for this individual. Things were obviously jumpy at night at these remote Marine postings. Then one morning word came in that they had captured the redhead at a bridge crossing. I can't remember where the location would have been but I want to say in the Que Son Valley area. Anyway, a team was dispatched to bring him back. Even before the team reached the area it turned out to be a false alarm. Apparently some poor Marine with red hair had gotten detached from his patrol and was trying to catch up. By this time it was evening and when he tried to cross a bridge, the Marine sentries were taking no chances and tossed him into a Conex container. I know this kid was brought back to some rear Marine area for interrogation and probably released. During this time period there were sightings of other "White Cong". One sighting I recall were a black and a white soldier seen operating together in conjunction with the local enemy units. They were dubbed Salt and Pepper.

I never found out the outcome of the several "White Congs" that were being tracked. Around December 1968, I was re-assigned to an intelligence unit attached to 5th Special Forces and left I Corps. Over the years I have mentioned this to other veterans, especially Marines and was always met with skepticism. Usually they thought it was just a rumor from the war. But I saw the reports sent in by Marine patrols from different areas of I Corps.


WHITE CONG UPDATE, MARCH 2002. After endless searching the web to verify the existence of these turncoats, I finally found a website by Bob Skwaryk at http://www.angelfire.com/pa3/bravo1bn20vietnam/ He has done some great research at the National Archives. Scroll down about halfway on his page to the headings:


1 Aug 70 sightings and B-1/20 OPCON to C-4/3.
19 SPT 70 "Salt and Pepper" sightings.
20 SPT 70 sightings.

Thanks to Bob Skwaryk for actually finding proof that these guys existed.

Rumor: The Assassination Attempt on Westmoreland. When I left the Army I spent time in college and finally ended up with a Master's degree in Photography. Then I spent the next twenty-five years working as a carpenter in the Los Angeles construction industry. Like any occupation, you can sure meet your fill of unusual individuals, especially when Vietnam is brought up. I worked this one commercial job in Beverly Hills and met this guy that said he was in special ops during the war. Apparently his unit was made up of different troops from the various services and they were tasked with special missions. Now I've done alot of reading on the war and I don't recall seeing a collaborative unit that worked together in secret--to many egos and rivalries to get in the way. I know that MACVSOG had a mixture of Green Berets and Seals but I think they were mission independent. Anyway, I wasn't about to question this guy but choose to let him tell his story. The interesting angle of the story was that it wasn't about him but about a buddy of his in the same unit but a different team. Anyway, he claims that his buddy later told him that one day his team was locked down in an isolated part of Tan Son Nhut airbase in Saigon. After a couple of days they were told that their mission was to take out Westmoreland. He didn't have the particulars of how exactly they would accomplish this or why but it made for an interesting story. I don't think I really buy into it but that is why this section is called Rumors, Lies, Legends, Facts and Fiction. Some of these stories can be like urban myths. One of my favorite urban myths was told to me when I was just nineteen and in the Army. One of the guys in Basic was telling how he had gotten dumped by his girlfriend and then found out she was seeing someone else right away. When he would go by here house, the new stud's convertible would be parked in the driveway. His daddy ran a cement business so one day he simply drove one of the cement trucks over to his ex's and ran the chute into the convertible and filled it with cement until the tires burst. When I heard that I was in awe. Over the years, I must have heard that same story four or five times described by different people as an experience they had or something that a buddy did. I sort of feel the Westmoreland hit fits into that category.

Rumor: The Black Clap. I'm sure everyone heard about the Black Clap for the first time when they went through the orientation upon arrival in-country. I did. I'm sure it was an effort by the military to limit the exposure to disease that GI's would face when they used the local hookers. They told us about the dangers of VD and that although some of it could be treated there were some strains that were impossible to treat. In fact, one strain--the Black Clap, was so virulent that you would not be allowed to return to the World for fear that you would infect the young women of America. To that end, should you contract this form of VD you would be sent to an island off the shore of Vietnam and there you would spend your days forever--long after the last American had gone home. Like most of the cherries around me in the orientation room I sat there wide-eyed with amazement and fear. Worked for me. I wish I had those orientation sessions on tape. I remember one old sergeant whose job it was to explain the customs of Vietnam so we wouldn't piss off our grateful hosts. He was about as sincere as a used car salesman but went through the motions. The part I remember best was when he stated, "Now gentlemen, should you be in a military vehicle and have the unfortunate luck to run over a Vietnamese civilian. . . ." he paused long enough to allow me to think he was going to explain the mountains of forms we would have to fill out but instead he continued ". . .make sure you back up, run over him again to make sure he's dead so you don't have to fill out a mountain of forms." He explained that it was easier to deal with a one time gratuity payment to the bereaved family rather than lifelong payments to a cripple. I was a young kid and sat there believing it all.

Fact: The Bank of America Heist. After MACV I was reassigned to the 5th SFGA to their headquarters at Nha Trang. At the time the military used MPCs or Military Payment Certificates in place of greenbacks. This was to control the black market. My understanding is that the MPCs simply became replacements for U.S. currency in the eyes of the Vietnamese and the black market continued to thrive. Anyway, each month the payroll offices of every unit would be flush with MPCs in order to pay those troops requesting payment in "cash". Somewhere in Nha Trang, a Bank of America was established in a temporary trailer. I remember going to it a couple of times to get money orders or something. One day we're all told to report back to our hooches immediately and not move from them. We sat there most of the day and then finally the MPs showed up with Green Beret officers and searched everyone's stuff thoroughly. We soon learned that the Bank of America had been knocked over for a million dollars. This soon led to speculation as to who the robbers could be and how would they get the money out of the country, etc. Within a couple of weeks the robbers were caught. Three Army personnel were arrested as I recall. I don't remember what happened to them.


UPDATE BANK OF AMERICA HEIST UPDATE

I was sent an update on the Bank of America heist by Bud Erickson who was
with the 54th Signal Battalion in Nha Trang in 1969. With his permission I have
posted his information on this crime. Also, I was able to find a
photo of the Bank with the permission of Michael Rathbun. His website has some other great photos of Nha Trang and Camp McDermott.

Posted: Sunday April 6, 2008 - 08:20PM

From: Bud Erickson
Then 1LT Erickson, 54th Signal Battalion, Camp McDermott, Nha Trang, Vietnam 1969

To Vietnam Journeys:

The story you are running on the Bank of America Heist is true to a very good degree.
I can tell you more, as follows:

Forgetting the date due to the time that has expired...Three soldiers from the
54th Signal Battalion robbed the Nha Trang Branch of the Bank of America...sometime
around the middle or fall of 1969.

This was a simple job. As you have said the bank was in a trailer. It was the only
building in a square block located in Camp Mc Dermott.

After 5:00 PM the bank would close and a sentry would be posted to walk continuously
around the building.

The three guys drove up in front of the bank in a jeep. They waited for the guard
to go around to the back side, and as he did they ran up to the front door, and
unhinged it with bolt cutters and went in and pulled the door shut behind them,
and then the sentry came around and did not know a thing.

Inside they broke into the safe using the bolt cutters, and put $ 300,000 to $
400,000 in Military Payment certificates into three laundry bags.

Then they waited for the sentry to head to the back side, opened the door, stepped
out, put the door back in place, and raced to the jeep, got in and pulled away with
the loot before the sentry made it back around.

Two of the looters buried their two bags full of MPC in the 54th Signal Battalion
Headquarters Bunker behind sand bags.

The other one took his money downtown Nha Trang and put his laundry bag above the
rafters at his girlfriend’s parent’s house. On the third day after the crime, some
of the money fell out of the laundry bag at the girlfriend's house, and her
parents being stunned by this, and afraid of so much money, went to the QC (Vietnamese
Military Police) and turned it in and named the looter who brought it. The QCs then
called the 272nd MP Company, and they came right to my headquarters at the 54th
signal Battalion. I was an adjutant with the unit.

They picked up the fellow who hid his loot in the girlfriend's house, and the
story unraveled and the other two were arrested in the 54th Signal Battalion compound,
and the two other bags retrieved.

The recovery was a very high percentage, like 99% or so. They had a scheme to sell
it for greenbacks at a greatly reduced rate on the black market in Nha Trang.

Naturally the three were subject to a General Courts-Martial and I believe they
got 5 years in Leavenworth.

This is the event as I remember it, and also based on the conclusions drawn by
the 272nd MP Company.

I can not remember the names of those arrested, but they are probably mentioned
in the Staff Duty Officer's Log DA 1594 or MP Records.

I give you this bit of oral history based on my recollections as an officer serving
in the battalion headquarters of the unit the robbers were assigned to.

As "Keystone Cops" like that this event is reminiscent of, this is about
as close to reality as it comes. I wish I could shed more light on this to help
you avoid rumors, but it actually happened.

Regards,

Bud Erickson

In another email, Bud provided a little more info:

The guard was most likely an American. The perimeter he walked around the building
was the whole block. So when he got to a certain point on the back side, the looters
had more time than you would think to deal with the door.

We heard about the robbery the next morning at my battalion headquarters. And lo
and behold it was our troopers who were involved. I always thought this story had
comedic value as well as any other robbery that was unmasked in such an unlikely
manner.

Bud Erickson
Email: bud_erickson(KILL_SPAMMERS)hotmail.com
(to contact bud, replace (KILL_SPAMMERS) with the correct symbol.


FACT or FICTION: The Platoon of the Dead. I probably own over three hundred and fifty books related to our involvement in Vietnam. In the beginning it was just an interest since books about Vietnam didn't exist in a large quantity. One of the oddest things I recall reading about is contained within one of those 350 books but I'll be damned if I know which one. It seems that a whole platoon of some 25 or 30 troops had gone missing. As I recall it was in the mountains of II Corps. Repeated attempts to reach anyone within the platoon by radio was fruitless. Days went by with overflights of their patrol route. Finally, a team was inserted into the area of their last radio contact. The team followed their patrol route and finally found the platoon. They were all dead yet still in patrol formation. None of the troopers had fired their weapons and there was no sign of attack. They simply appeared to have dropped dead in place. I believe the only sign of violence was that each troop was shot in the head at close range. That's it. That's the story I read in one of those books. Apparently it was extremely eerie to the team that found the platoon. To see that many troops killed without any sign of a fight was unnerving. Although it was not mentioned in the book, it sounds like they might have been overcome by some type of gas fired by the NVA but you would think that the Army would have performed autopsies to check that out.


FACT: The Heads of Japan. All together I've made 4 trips to Vietnam. One at the government's expense and three at my expense. I've become a little bit of a collector of Vietnam War memorabilia in the trips I've taken back and what I've found on the Internet. (A side note and blatant advertising: serious collectors of Vietnam memorabilia should check out www.sampan.com). During my return trips, I've picked up NVA photographs and medals, a bunker post from Khe Sanh, blown claymore pieces from firebases, wire from Hamburger Hill and so on. I've found board games that have to do with the war. When I was there in 1968/69, that was the last thing on my mind. Do your remember walking through the jungle littered from some leaflet drop? I picked up the leaflets, read them and tossed them. That is just a small example of my mentality back then. Now those leaflets are expensive collectibles. One of the most dramatic things I ever saw was on the plane flight over in August 1968. We stopped in the big military airbase in Japan to refuel and we were allowed to leave the plane for several hours. I can't remember the name of the base. Many of us headed to the closest heads, as had thousands of us on previous flights. Each stall was made of unpainted plywood and there were a number of stalls in this head. When I sat in the stall I was overwhelmed by the amount of writing and grafitti plastering the wooden walls. However, even at age twenty I was instantly aware that the majority of the grafitti was not the usual "Here I sit brokenheated, came to shit but only farted." Instead, the grafitti and scrawlings were about truly brokenhearted guys having the last chance in a private place to write their feelings as they headed to war. Some were as simple as "John Smith, Canton, Ohio, 4/17/67", to real soul searching scribblings of men who felt they weren't coming back. I remember personal things like, "To my wife, Cindi, I love you. I will come back. Tim". Sayings of the day, "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" From my vantage point on the stool, everywhere I looked was the feelings of GIs on their way to war with the opportunity to post one last message in a semi-private environment. Sounds strange now but I wish I would have at least photographed those walls--at the very least transcribed them. But it wasn't on my mind but I've thought often about them since then.


UPDATE The Heads of Japan UPDATE


There is a good story in the June 2008 issue of Vietnam Magazine, page 21, titled: "A note on a latrine wall in Guam drove the poignancy of the war home to one G.I." by Tony May. Essentially on his trip over, Tony saw a high school buddy's name on a latrine wall in Guam. After his tour was up and he headed back through Guam, he saw his buddy's name again but with the notation "Died 6-10-70 RIP". It is a well told but sad story.

I will try to get permission to post that artcile here.

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