The Russian Advisor
Even in 1963 there were faint rumors that Russian and Chinese advisors were in the field against us in South Vietnam. Maybe, but we shrugged it off. But what follows really did happen.
A Vietnamese Ranger company and I were waiting to board choppers en route to an assault landing. At the last moment, the entire company suited up in black farmers’ wear. The company commander, wearing a VC styled headgear with a red star in front, gave me a big laughing salute. Nothing like this was in the plan I’d seen.
What to do? Going in under false colors violated the Geneva Convention. But, so did a foreign (read North Vietnamese) invasion of a sovereign South Vietnam. With our choppers revving up and only seconds to decide I doffed my Fort Benning fatigues, suited up in black farmers wear, paid pennies to a farmer nearby for his straw coolie hat, and climbed aboard.
We landed unopposed in Marine choppers. That surely gave us away. But our game was to race out into surrounding villages before VC low-level witnesses to our landing could warn their outlying cadres of our ruse. We hoped to dupe them into finally welcoming a strong column of apparent VC regular infantry.
“How will you explain having an obvious European in your VC column?” I asked the ranger captain as we moved out fast.
“Ah,” he laughed, “We tell the villagers that you are our Russian advisor.”
We entered our first village. I didn’t notice any jubilation or unusual activity. Mothers shooed children into huts. Men vanished from sight. The faces were blank as usual.
Well, I’d try my new act. I began addressing villagers in Russian just in the long chance that someone’s expression might change. “Ya prevetsvoyu vas,” (I greet you) I said in a common Soviet greeting of the period. I expected no response and got none. By the morrow it seemed clear that our shallow and unrehearsed ruse was failing. But wait — more anon!
Months later an intelligence officer from Saigon came down to our headquarters and asked to speak to me by name. Nothing like that had happened before.
“They tell me you’ve spent more time west of Ca Mau than most Americans. Is that true?”
“I’ve been there a lot.”
“I’m required to ask you this question. You may think it’s insane, but I have to ask.”
“Have you ever heard of a Russian advisor down there somewhere?”
I took a deep breath and told him the tale. I wondered if I’d be ordered to tell it again under oath to an investigating board of officers. However, I never heard of the matter again.
Never explained was how the intelligence crew in Saigon learned about our shallow ruse in such a remote village. Did they have a source out there under deep cover? Was G-2 seeking to corroborate information from another source? From radio intercept? Captured documents? Prisoner interrogation?
Was there really a Russian out there? Maybe. Spooks never tell.