One Unanswered Question

 

Mike Roseberry, whom I wrote about in "Now You Know", was able to answer many of my questions about the insanity of the war, but one still bothers me to this day.

 

The mission of the unit I was assigned to in South Vietnam was to serve all non-divisional units in the north of the country.  Divisional units were all those large Army, Marine and Navy entities with their own internal support and logistics systems.

 

There were smaller, lighter military and non-military elements—Special Forces, CIA, Australian and South Korean units, etc.—that needed logistical and other types of support.  Working closely with these non-divisional entities gave me a unique perspective of each, and of the conflict in general.

 

I had great respect for Special Forces people.  They were quietly professional (much differently so than has been portrayed in recent movies) and at the same time very approachable and appreciative of any effort on their behalf.  Considering all they had to take on day in and day out, I went out of my way to get them whatever they needed.

 

The Australians were party animals but at the same time fierce warriors, very courageous and smart.  They were advisors to South Vietnamese units and were always in the thick of the fight.  I very much enjoyed hanging out with them.

 

South Koreans (ROKs) were isolated and insulated from the rest of us, mostly because of language.  They were the most regimented, fearsome fighters; I found them very easy to work with.

 

The people I didn’t like working with were Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents.  I found them all to be undisciplined cowboys, lone riders who couldn’t be trusted.  I didn’t even feel comfortable turning my back on them. 

 

It was well known among us that the CIA, through their proprietary airline Air America, was the principal source of marijuana, heroin and even cocaine (from Central America) that caused such a problem with US troops.  Many Vietnam veterans today can thank the CIA for their life-long addiction to drugs.

 

What remains a mystery to me happened on a late Spring day in Dong Ha Combat Base, which was about seven miles south of the DMZ and contained the northernmost airstrip in South Vietnam.  I was tasked with estimating the materiel, equipment and manpower required to extend the airstrip by 400 feet.

 

I was at the south end of the airstrip on a Sunday afternoon working on my calculations.  It was a beautiful CAVU day (Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited). I saw a small plane approaching, pulled my jeep off the strip and watched it come in.

 

It was an all black Cessna 172 with no armor plate—a flying Volkswagen.  It touched down about fifty feet from me and I could see the pilot and one passenger.  There were no identifying markings on the plane—no N-number or other identifying code, no national insignia, nothing.  Just flat black paint all over.

 

The plane taxied to the far end of the field where there was a refueling station.  An attendant refueled the plane and the pilot taxied back to where I was.  He turned the plane around to face north, revved the engine and took off.  I sat and watched for a good ten minutes, expecting him to turn either right or left as he approached the DMZ.  He continued straight.

 

I tracked the plane until I could no longer see it, but it never turned away from due north.  I’m guessing here, but I imagine on a CAVU day I should have been able to see that plane at least seven miles away, which was the distance to the DMZ. North of the Zone were many NVA artillery regiments and cavalry brigades, any of which could have easily shot that plane down.

 

Yet there it was, flying only a few thousand feet above them. With no armor.  No weaponry.  No ID.  No insignia.  I drove up to the refueling station and asked the attendant, “Who was that?”

 

“CIA.”

 

“Where’s he headed?”

 

“North.” 

 

North was North Vietnam, the country we were fighting.  The army that was killing us.  And these CIA bastards were dealing with them.