With an absolute minimum loss of American lives, CIA helped to defend Laos from communist takeover and helped to inflict significant damage on the North Vietnamese Army’s infiltration and supply line, although it never actually cut that line. Moreover, rather than sending all their troops to fight U.S. and allied forces in the Republic of Vietnam, the North Vietnamese Army had to keep large numbers of troops in Laos to defend its supply line, the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Given that the American military preferred model is that indigenous forces cannot achieve American preferred objectives without Americans on the ground shoulder to shoulder with them, the CIA’s results using indigenous troops were remarkable. 


From January to December Ken and I sat in classrooms to learn report writing or how to write cables and do name traces, went to jungles, mountains and swamps, walked the streets of Washington, D.C. practicing clandestine tradecraft, fired weapons, learned to armor cars, exploded C-4, crashed cars through roadblocks or spun them through 180 degree turns. We slowly learned many skills or gained knowledge that might or might not be useful to us on our first field assignments. Toward the end of my thirty-two years of government service, I often wondered what sort of employment I would find, after retirement, where I could use the skills, knowledge and experience I had built up as a CIA case officer.


A new government, led by Lon Nol, came to power in Cambodia. During the regime of Norodom Sihanouk, the North Vietnamese Army had free access to the port of Sihanoukville on the west coast of Cambodia where they unloaded war materiel for use in the Republic of Vietnam. From Sihanoukville the cargo traveled by truck, on what was named Route 110, east across Cambodia to the border with the Republic of Vietnam where it was delivered to their forces fighting there. When Lon Nol took over the country he declared the North Vietnamese Army could no longer use Cambodia to transship men and materiel to the Republic of Vietnam. It became readily apparent that neither the CIA nor the new Cambodian government had any on the ground intelligence sources in the northern part of the country. The American intelligence community concerned with Indochina needed current information in northeast Cambodia along the border adjacent to Laos and would need time to develop the means to collect such information. CIA headquarters placed a requirement on Vientiane Station to try to fill the gap until other methods of intelligence collection could be brought to bear on this target. Udorn Base gave Pakse Unit the mission to collect intelligence in northeast Cambodia using special operations intelligence teams.


Since we had been rather accurately hitting the crown of the hill with our 105 mm rounds, a Vietnamese was ordering the men on the hill to move off the crown and down to the base of the hill. I spoke to Captain Keota, commanding the gun crew and doing the plotting, and told him we thought the enemy was moving all his men to the bottom of the hill.

“OK, down 100.”

“Down 50 more and right 50.”

OK, fire for effect.”

No sooner did our bombardment begin than the radio came alive with Vietnamese chatter. The carpenter listened and then spoke to Somsit. Somsit listened and then spoke to me. I listened and then told Captain Keota to adjust fire back to the top of the hill and again fire for effect.


“Sky put a spirit into this black box because Sky wants to count the trucks on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.”

“However, Sky knows it is dangerous for the team to stay too close to the road and count the trucks itself. Therefore, Sky put a spirit in the box. If the team makes one trip to the road traveled by the enemy and places the spirit close to the road then the spirit can count the trucks and the team can withdraw to a safe place not too close to the road and enemy activity.”


Thao Somdy and Thao Outhine put their heads together and, after reviewing possible ambush sites, decided on a small trail Thao Outhine knew was often used by NVA soldiers traveling alone. After three days of waiting in ambush alongside this trail Team Cranberry got lucky on 2 January 1971. A single NVA soldier riding a bicycle approached the team, which was hidden in high grass on each side of the trail. One team member and Thao Outhine, stationed in plain view, tried to hail the soldier. When it did not seem that he was going to stop, the team member charged the bicycle and bowled over the NVA soldier. He was immediately joined by the rest of the team, who hauled the struggling soldier into the grass, trussed him up, and while one team member removed the bicycle from the scene, moved off to the Team Cranberry command post for successful delivery by helicopter.


I did not ask Raven 40 what size bomb was used but in those days, the most common size laser guided bomb was a 2,000 pounder. A bomb that size would have kicked up a lot of dust even if there were nothing there, however, the F-4s guided this bomb right into the mouth of the cave. When relating these events to me that evening at the daily operations meeting, Frank was quite animated because of this successful strike. He said it was the most amazing thing he had ever seen. Not long after the bomb disappeared into the cave opening, the top of the karst literally blew off. He said he had never seen such secondary explosions and fires. Bomb damage assessment (BDA) later determined that we had uncovered a major North Vietnamese Army tank park, fuel and ammunition storage depot.  


As of this writing, Eugene DeBruin has been missing in Laos since 1963. It has been proved beyond a doubt that he was captured – his captors released a photograph of him in captivity. Yet, the communist government of Laos refuses to admit that he was captured and the communist government of Vietnam refuses to help the U.S. government in its dealing with the communist Lao.


The 11th of June began for Lloyd (Dunc) Duncan when he rolled his O-1 down runway 31 at Pakse just as the sun was rising. Banking right, into the sun, Dunc pointed the nose of the aircraft eastward toward Paksong, a ten-minute flight. A pre-dawn phone call had rousted Dunc out of bed.

“Dunc, the NVA are attacking our positions near Paksong, we need you at first light.”

Early morning in Laos at this time of year is cool and pleasant. As he lifted off in the early dawn light, Dunc had no way of knowing this was the beginning of more than 12 hours of grueling, horrific combat.