Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty


No, that wasn't an AR-15!

Crews McCullogh has gently rebuked me for referring to the carbine carried by Special Forces troops in 1964 as the AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle from Colt's Manufacturing Company in Hartford. Instead, it seems, the civilian weapon had already been modified by the US military, which bought 104,000 automatic-fire variants as the M16 for the US Air Force and the XM16E1 for the US Army and Marine Corps. There was a significant difference between them: the Air Force version had no "forward assist" to enable a rifleman to clear a jam. To judge by then-Captain McCullogh's memoir, it was the Air Force M16 that was acquired by Special Forces in early 1964. Go here to read this fascinating bit of military history.

Remembering Cowboy

Cowboy: The Interpreter Who Became a Soldier, a Warlord, and One More Casualty of Our War in Vietnam was published a month ago and, I'm happy to say, has been well received by the Special Forces community. I was especially pleased by the good-hearted review that Jim Morris wrote for the SF Association Chapter 78 Newsletter. (It's also on And yesterday I sat for an interview with the lads at SOFREP Radio. Cowboy and I join them at about 14 minutes, 30 seconds into the broadcast.

I'm introduced as having been "embedded" with the Buon Beng Special Forces Camp in June 1964. Well, sort of! I hitchhiked around Vietnam by stepping aboard any Huey or Otter that was going in my direction, and only once did a pilot ask if I was authorized to use military transport. (I said yes, and he took my word for it.) Major Buck of the B Team in Pleiku decreed that Buon Beng was the place I ought to visit, but nobody at the camp knew I was coming. Nevertheless, they made me welcome, gave me a bunk, allowed me to tag along with them and, whenever they could, pressed a weapon into my hands. And that was how I happened to meet Cowboy.

Anatomy of a Genocide

This is an amazing book. Omer Bartov's mother came from Buczacz in a much-trampled part of Eastern Europe that the Austrians called Galicia, the Second Polish Republic knew as its own kresy (eastern borderland), and today is located in southwest Ukraine. Typical of Eastern Europe in the inter-war years, it was a mixture of nations, each with its own language, religion, and grievances. Poles were in the catbird's seat until September 1939, when the Russians came and let the Jews have a turn at government while the Polish "fascists" were marginalized, killed, or exiled to the Soviet Union. The wheel turned again, and more ominously, when the Germans arrived in 1941. Formerly neighbors and acquaintances -- friends, even -- the Hungarians joined in murdering and dispossessing the Jews. With admirable even-handedness, Mr Bartov interviews the survivors and marvels at how differently each group remembered the slaughter.

Also reviewed this month: A Pilot's Pilot, the story of Chennault's bomber commander, Caleb Haynes; and Of Monkey Bridges and Banh Mi Sandwiches, in which two children, exiled to the countryside when the Communists occupy Saigon in 1975, long for America after tasting a few M&M's. See the Warbird's Book Club for more.

Finally, in War in the Modern World, I post a video of Gremlins, teams of unmanned aerial vehicles deployed by a C-130 to "swarm" a battlefield and then return to their mother ship. Blue skies! — Daniel Ford

Welcome to the forum!

Here are a thousand or so files on airplanes, pilots, and the wars of the past hundred years, grouped under these headings:

Annals of the Flying Tigers
Annals of the Brewster Buffalo
Annals of Poland: war and exile, 1939-1948
Japan at War, 1931-1945
Annals of the Chinese Air Force
Glen Edwards and the Flying Wing
Remembering Bluie West One
The Spadguys Speak (carrying a nuke to Sevastopol)
Annals of Vietnam
War in the Modern World

Plus these excellent places to look for more: