A President’s Fantasy Is A Soldier’s Curse

The heading of today’s post is taken from the title of Chapter 15 of the book Expendable Elite:  One Soldier’s Journey Into Covert Warfare, the expanded Victory Edition, 2003/2006, written by Lieutenant Colonel United States Army Special Forces (Ret.) Daniel Marvin and published by TrineDay of Walterville, Oregon.

Today is Veterans’ Day in America. Election Day, this past Tuesday,  has resulted in a new President who will be inaugurated in January as our nation’s leader, and as the new Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces.  Therefore, I thought it fitting to remember those Veterans who served with loyalty and distinction; and especially those who tried to maintain high ethics in that twilight zone of political unrealities which are pitted against the backdrop of combat realities.

The author of Expendable Elite, Daniel Marvin, began his military career in June of 1952.  In the latter days of the Korean War, he had served as a combat engineer Lieutenant.  Because of this combat experience, after he received training as a Green Beret, he was given  command over an A Team in Vietnam, near the border of Cambodia, where the Bassac River flows through.

The bold italic words of Chapter 1:Secret Orders summarizes the nature of this assignment with this quote: Lieutenant Colonel Tuttle, the commander of all Special Forces in the IV Tactical Corps of South Vietnam, spoke in a whisper, “Dan, if you take command of A-424 and accept this TOP SECRET mission, you’ll be on your own.  When you leave this room, it will be as if we never met.  We can’t and won’t stand behind you if you are caught doing what I am about to tell you to do.  Got it, Captain?”

Daniel Marvin’s narrative then takes us on a personal journey of the who, what, where, and when of the seven months from December 1965 to August 2, 1966 when he served in the An Phu District of South Vietnam.  This is very interesting reading, and we learn of the close working relation which he developed with ARVN Lieutenant Colonel Phoi Van Le, the Hoa Haos Buddhists who occupied the rural areas, and in the final scene, the heroic decision of ARVN Lieutenant General Quang Van Dang who rescued Dan Marvin and those related to his Green Beret/ Special Forces operation, from the retribution of the CIA.  “What?”, you ask. “The retribution of the CIA against a Special Forces A Team? What is the back story on that?”

In the first chapters of this book, Marvin gives a detailed overview of the work of his A Team in gaining the confidence of the Hoa Haos Buddhists, and the Vietnamese through several civic works.  But what is telling about the primary mission of the Green Berets, is what Marvin discloses to his wife Kate, who knew little of his career other than what he was allowed to disclose to her.  On page 3, Marvin says, “…it would be twenty years after I earned the Green Beret before I shared with her what I’d actually experienced of an unconventional nature. I hadn’t considered the negative mental effect telling the truth would have on her, thinking she would be happy to at last be aware of what being a Green Beret truly meant in all aspects of its secret, unconventional nature.  After learning of the dark side of guerrilla warfare, special demolitions, interrogation methods and operations that ignored, even defied the International Law of Land Warfare, particularly assassination and terrorism, Kate was emotionally blown away.  One day in the Spring of 1984 she blurted out, “You are not the man I married!” and she had never been so right.  This way of life, though foreign and distasteful to most, was what made my adrenaline flow as nothing else could.”  This confession is interesting, because what we are impressed with in the initial narrative is the integrity of the author, who appears to always consider the higher ethical framework as a part of his daily command.

In the Dedication page of this book, Marvin notes at the end, “This book of truth was begun in 1984, the year I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my Personal Saviour”.  This piece of information is the most interesting slant on the narrative given by Dan Marvin, for this confession of faith was made 18 years after the incident with the CIA which almost got him and his men assassinated, when he aborted one of their missions.  It is intriguing that the entire story which he relates from memory and interviews and written documentation was done by a man, now a Christian, looking backward to those days when he tried to maintain high ethics, while not having a higher authority than his own conscience and his loyalty to the Special Forces organization of which he was a key part.

Marvin, who by virtue of believing in Jesus Christ, who sits in heavenly places, has a changed perspective of what is required of man.  For he later notes, that after becoming a Christian he started to view the men he worked with in the past with higher expectations than he would have done in fact, when he was an unsaved Special Forces leader of an A Team.  And therein lies a quandary of every Christian trying to understand his former way of thinking; what standards does God actually apply to the reality of the motives and understanding of truth of that version of us in the past?

On page 411, Dan Marvin says, “I had kept silent about “questionable” activities I was involved in, and, in particular, the facts  surrounding the time in early June of 1966 when the CIA decided to kill me and my men, as well as the time Master Sergeant J. H. and I met with the Mafia don in the vicinity of Boston, and were offered a job to work for him as a “hit team”.  “You won’t have to kill any cop,” he told us.  Sadly, thinking back to that day in 1964, I know now that if I had not been married, I would have seriously considered his job offer.  After all, I rationalized, it’s all right to do it for Uncle Sam, why not the Mafia, which, to my understanding, Uncle uses for jobs here in the States?  My mentality at the time was geared toward doing what was necessary to achieve victory-right or wrong, legal or illegal.  Thank God I no longer feel that way.”

He then describes how his daughter Danilee was instrumental in leading him to the Lord on January 29, 1984.  He adds, “That very day I no longer feared “them” sending anyone –  anyone like me –  to kill me for not holding my silence.  I would fear only the Lord from that day to this.”  Many a man has his wife and children to thank, for being the restraining force in his life from going deeper into darkness, and for being the means which God uses to turn their heart towards God.

So let us get back to the title of this post, A President’s Fantasy Is A Soldier’s Curse.  The central point around which Expendable Elite:  One Soldier’s Journey Into Covert Warfare turns is summed up in the following words on page 307, and elsewhere in this book.  I quote in part, “The yellow represents known VC sanctuaries.”….General Johnson, in an angry tone, interrupted again, “Remove them from the map, Colonel, the President of the United States has told the American People that Cambodia does not permit its territory to be used by the enemy.”

So here we had the situation of our United States military men during the Vietnam conflict, who operated in dangerous combat conditions, being told that their maps were not to reflect the actual reality of enemy strongholds. On page 310, we read, “When General Johnson departed, not a one of us offered to shake his hand or so much as said a word of farewell to him.  In my mind, General Johnson was a living example of a lack of integrity and courage within the military hierarchy from General Westmoreland all the way to the White House.  The extent to which subterfuge was and would yet be used to satisfy immoral political purpose was an obvious evil perpetrated by those in power at the pleasure of our President. American Embassy and CIA leadership would steer that course with full knowledge it would lead to the killing and maiming of South Vietnamese combatants and innocent civilians alike.  Americans and other allies too would be sacrificed in this, a global farce and a tragedy.”

He follows this with, In his book, “A Soldier’s Reports” General Westmoreland wrote, “The enemy’s obvious use of Cambodia as a sanctuary and refusal of Washington authorities to allow me to do anything about it was frustrating.”  Why then, knowing the facts, didn’t General Westmoreland resign and tell the American people the truth rather than be a part of the power structure that knowingly aided and abetted the enemy?  Pure and simple:  No honor, no guts!

So who was placed in the position of conscience to reprove this fantasy of the Commander-in-Chief, President Johnson, who was endangering our troops and assisting the enemy?  As history would reveal, it was Daniel Marvin, as commander of a Green Beret A team on the border of Vietnam and Cambodia, in the heart of dangerous territory, who would speak the needed words.  He was given the assignment to assassinate the Crown Prince of Cambodia, and to make it appear that the Viet Cong were responsible.

Note that Marvin did not turn down the assignment; he agreed to this mission on one condition.  This is summarized on page 259, at the start of Chapter 12: Mission:  Assassinate A Prince, saying, As I turned to exit the command bunker, with Major Le close behind me, I looked CIA agent Walter Mackem in the eyes and told him, “You can tell your ‘highest authority” just what I told you.  If President Johnson insists the enemy be permitted to have their sanctuaries inside Cambodia, I refuse to send my people to risk their lives to kill Prince Sihanouk.”  Major Le smiled.  Mackem glowered at me, turned and went down the stairs in front of us to join Lieutenant Strait who would escort the agent to his waiting helicopter.  Before he had gone two paces toward the chopper with John, he turned, and glared and shouted out to me, “You can’t fight the system, Captain, because you know you can’t win.”

This one condition was not met, and on page 302, Marvin comments on the aftermath of his decision to abort a CIA mission.  He says, “I kept hoping for a miraculous change of military strategy that would allow my people to remain here with Major Le and his people for the duration.  I naively figured that at some point in time the higher command would wake up and discover that what we were doing here worked and should be copied throughout South Vietnam, not erased.  I wanted so much for my low regard for CIA covert operations to be wrong and I yearned to learn that the CIA had nothing to do with that ARVN Regiment breathing death down our necks.  But, I knew in my heart that what we’d lived through right here in An Phu was an example of the terrible reality of high level CIA, Embassy and White House skullduggery.  It was not, as the ‘company’ would want to pass it off, a crazed CIA renegade’s one time foray into international assassinations and subterfuge that could send a 1,500 man ARVN Regiment with orders to attack and take an US Army Special Forces Camp as an act of retribution.”

Marvin’s on page 297, says,  “It was that very moment, the time we were rescued by a South Vietnamese General from the wrath of our own government, that I knew what it meant to be a part of “the expendable elite.”  It is no wonder that we lost the war!”  This short post, remembering an event which occurred fifty years ago, was brought to remembrance on this Veteran’s Day because truly, A President’s Fantasy Is A Soldier’s Curse.

The Expendable Elite:  One Soldier’s Journey Into Covert Warfare” by Lieutenant Colonel USASF (Ret.) is a 502 page book which has 3 forewords, one introduction, fifteen chapters, an Epilogue with 5 parts, a publisher’s afterword, maps, appendices, photographs, an addendum and a postscript.  In this fascinating narrative, there are many levels on which this book can be reviewed.  In my next post, I am going to tackle the “steam roller” operation of the CIA which involved a lawsuit against the author and the publisher of this book.

Happy Veterans Day to all those who served honorably in the military, and especially those who attempted to do extremely difficult missions which had aspects which were troubling to them as individuals with a conscience.