Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty

Vietnam: the Phoenix Program

by Larry J. O'Daniel

The biggest myth coming out of Vietnam was that perpetrated by non-veterans of the Phoenix Program. I am constantly amazed at the number of postings in various forums describing the "truth" about Phoenix. As a veteran of the program - Go Cong and An Xuyen from Jan 1969 to Jan 1970 - I see several problems.

First and foremost, the "assassination" question. We had definite orders to the contrary. We also had orders to report such activities we had knowledge of. Were people killed? Of course. In my tour, going over notes about my tour I accumulated in preparation for writing a book on the subject, we had tens killed in military operations. For example, in one battle in upper Thoi Binh, the PRUs [Provincial Reconnaissance Unit, or counter-terror team] were suckered into an ambush by the VCI [Viet Cong Infrastructure, or political agents]. However, they wisely deployed differently than normal and sprang a counter attack. Outnumbered, the PRUs asked for reinforcements. The Province responded and over the next two days, about 150 VC were killed. A number were VCI. We got the credit for the kills, but it was an all out pitched military battle and the numbers are counted in the "assassinations" figures spouted by the uninformed.

In another example, my figures show that for every one "killed," we had five who were captured or came in under the Chieu Hoi ["rallying" to the government] program. Not counted anywhere are the number of agents we had in place feeding us VCI information. That was the top priority and the uninformed never discuss it.

The uninformed routinely discuss the [Special Force] and SEALs as being the crux of Phoenix. Yes, they were the trainers and managers of the PRUs and began the process that ultimately culminated in Phung Hoang - the program started in Dec 1967 and restarted in July 1968. However, the people who were the real managers of the program after that were the Lts and CPTs in the Districts and Provinces operating the Intelligence and Operations Coordinationg Centers. (See Cook in The Advisor - 1973 for an excellent work on how the program really was.) Beginning with ICEX and then the Phung Hoang moniker, these young officers took on an important program and made it work and work effectively.

On a set of orders I have, our operatives were from Signal, Ordnance, Quartermaster, Infantry, Miltary Intelligence, Transportation, and Field Artillery for example. The ranks were 2 LT, 1 LT, and CPT. None were Special Forces. We also worked and had Kit Carson Scouts, National Police Field Forces, Intel Squads, and other District specialized units for our assignments, outside of the PRUs, which were (in Go Cong's case) CIA lead and operated on its own intelligence. Similarly, we had our own intelligence sources and operated independently of the normal military forces.

[How] efffective were we? The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry still today credits us with being a "very effective program" and deadly opponent to them. So to the critics of the program who to date have refused to debate me on the "truth" of the program, I put this up for debate. Those who believe that Phoenix was assassination (citing those two early critics - 2 LTs who asked for CO status because of Phoenix - beware - They were in Holabird at the same time as I - they never were slated to go - never saw action - and have as much useful information as COL Joe Schlatter does on POW- MIAs).

For the Record, Phoenix operatives had, in 1969 anyway, an "Opt out of the Program" with no recriminations, if he decided he did not want to participate. I look forward to a lively debate.

(as posted on the late, lamented newsgroup soc.history.war.vietnam)

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