"Using light-weight, four-pound radios with a broadcast radius of four hundred miles, the teams transmitted their top priority data directly to a powerful receiver at Nam Yu or to specially equipped Air America planes that flew back and forth along the Laotian Chinese border. Once these messages were translated at Nam Yu, they were forwarded to Vientiane for analysis and possible transmission to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The radio messages also served to pinpoint every team's position, all carefully recorded on a huge relief map of Yunnan Province mounted in a restricted operations room at Nam Yu."
ALFRED McCOY: The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia
Nam Yu was a secret CIA military base located in the Southeast Asian country of Laos. It was just one of many that U.S. powers-that-be had put into place throughout the country for the so-called "Secret War" that paralleled almost the exact same time and years as the Viet Nam war. Although most of the bases were secret in the beginning, over the years more and more has leaked out about them that the vast majority, at least the ones that had higher profiles in the war, just don't have much left secret about them anymore. However, such is not the case with Nam Yu, otherwise known as Lima Site 118 A.
Although LS 118 A was barely accessible by air, it was still accessible, which typically means a semi-increase in traffic of sometimes less than secure covert types. By its very nature though, 99% of the covert types funneled through Nam Yu, even to this day, if they are still alive, don't want to be put into a position to be known, and it is that "want not to be known" that has a tendency to put a de facto lid on on the whole thing.
What do I mean by "less than secure covert types?" Take for example the Laotian warlord Vang Pao and his operational headquarters at Long Tieng carrying the CIA Lima Site designation LS-20A. At one time LS-20A had more aircraft going in and out per day than O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. Now true, many of the flights taking off and landing during the same 24 hour period may have been multiple flights by the same aircraft and crews, but even so more flights than O'Hare? That's still a lot of planes and people. Especially for a secret place. The first time I was at Long Tieng. even though on the ground I was brand new, that is, not having been there previously, I still knew Tony Poe and vice versa, which without me doing one thing else elevated me to a higher level in the hierarchy of acceptability. The thing is, the same time I was there, there was a Peace Corps Volunteer by the name of Don Sjostrom who had been brought in by USAID they were trying to recruit after he finished his Peace Corps duties. How far he had been vetted or if had any kind of a security clearance or anything else I don't know, but its not likely he would have ever got close to being in Nam Yu. Not because of who he was or what he did, but because he wouldn't of had any mission purpose for being there. For the record, Sjostrom was successfully recruited by USAID after the Peace Corps. He was shot to death a short time later at age 27 by North Vietnamese Regulars while trying to keep them from getting a 50 caliber machine gun turned around on the runway they intended to use against his fellow comrades at a Lima Site. A few years after I got out of the Army and heard about Sjostrom, who I had met at LS-20A, in his honor, when I finished college, I joined the Peace Corps.
As for Nam Yu I was never much of a professional hang around at Nam Yu sort of a person. Basically I was there for only a short time. Did the three S's (shit, shower, and shave), got a little bit of sack time, then climbed into a UH-34D with a few other guys and taken fifty miles toward the north east and dropped off just east of a bunch of sandbars on the Laotian side of the Mekong River. What happened after that can be pretty much summed up in Damned to Glory and/or Ghost P-40.
The map below shows the location of Nam Yu, that is Lima Site 118A. There are a couple of major geographical features that show up quite well on the map and once located on a Google map will help pinpoint where LS 118A is in Laos and how it fits into the world. The most prominent feature, as seen at the top of the map is the Mekong River and how it makes a sharp right turn toward the east before swinging back in a hairpin U-turn toward the west. At the top of the hairpin just as the river turns south for a short distance is a city named Ban Xieng Kok. Go straight down the map and a short distance to the west, on your right of LS 118A, is a community named Ban Ta Hou. If you put "Xieng Kok, Laos" into Google search a map comes up that is both clickable and expandable. Using the measurement function go about 23 miles south from Xieng Kok and by enlarging the map you should be able to find Ban Ta Hou ... which doesn't show up until you really enlarge the map. If you go to the west, your left, a little ways you will be able to compare features with the map on this page with the Google map and locate fairly close where LS 118A was located. It is, however, NOT designated on the Google map.
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Nam Yu, although a CIA Lima Site, was a little different than most others. Plus one other thing. Nam Yu was one of three in a triplicate of an almost in a row Lima Sites built specifically by a man by the name of William Young. One of Young's sites was a semi-not-so-secret showpiece, specially constructed with a hospital and a school for locals, and although operational, it was really designed for visiting dignitaries and politicians to see what a wonderful job they were doing. Another of the three sites and not necessarily secret, but basically unknown, was an innocent enough one where Young had the local tribes live where they would be safe and go about their daily business without the threat of war. And the third was the ultra-super-secret Nam Yu site where the REAL CIA operations stuff was done and where dignitaries and politicians and often high ranking military personnel were never taken, being shown the sort of cover hospital site instead. Most authors and writers never report on the three sites in such a fashion because most of them were never aware of the ruse and even today, so many years after the war, still don't believe it or know about it.
As for Young, whose dad was a missionary, he spent his whole life in the general area, having been raised among the indigenous populations from a young boy through to adulthood. The following appeared in an obituary on William Young in the London based Telegraph dated May 17, 2011. Young, born October 28, 1934 died of a bullet wound to the head April 1, 2011 some have called a suspected suicide. The part about monitoring road traffic and tapping telephones may sound familiar to anybody who has read my works, and of course, although not mentioned, refers to LS 118-A as the operational base.
"From 1962 he was also involved in sending trained Yao and Lahu tribesmen into the heart of China's Yunnan Province to monitor road traffic and tap telephones. Since the Americans were concerned about the possibility of Chinese military intervention in Vietnam, any intelligence on military activity in southern China was valued and the cross-border operations were steadily expanded."
In the above quote it states that Young was sending trained Yao and Lahu tribesmen into the heart of China's Yunnan Province to monitor road traffic and tap telephones. In what I have written that show up in the previous linked Damned to Glory and Ghost P-40, speaking of myself I write:
"Eventually we crested the ridge following the top along the undefined border between Burma and China. In the mountains near the village of Wan Hsa was a second, but much smaller, CIA-KMT radio site called Mong He. We rested there two or three days, then crossed into Yunnan Province, China. We skirted a dirt road to a small river following it downstream several miles until it met the second of two streams joining it from the north. Going upstream we came across an all weather road that had a telegraph line stretched along it. At that point we were 15 to 20 miles into the People's Republic of China."
That doesn't sound so much like the monitoring of road traffic and tapping of phone lines were exclusive to Yao and Lahu tribesmen and Yao and Lahu tribesmen only. If you go to the page Sheep Dipped you will see much of what was exclusively being said involving just tribesmen was rhetoric fed to the people who wanted to hear only that, heard only that. In a footnote to the Sheep Dipped page, although it is referenced to U.S. troops in Laos, it applies to a much larger specter of U.S. operations:
Colonel Theodore Leonard, USA, Commander of US Special Forces in Vietnam during the period, speaking to the advent of early U.S. covert operations in Laos, provided the following comments as it appears in the once classified above secret, but now unclassified, MACVSOG DOCUMENTATION STUDY Appendix D, Cross-Border Operations in Laos:
"We were told that we would launch indigenous teams only. Although we could train the reconnaissance teams we would not be allowed to accompany them in. I told Mr. McNamara I didn't feel that we could assure any tangible results unless our own people participated. He said, 'I agree With you; however, Mr. Rusk does not at this time feel that we should risk the exposure of American forces in an area that they're not supposed to be in.' "(source)
What Colonel Leonard is saying is that initially he was told, at least with a wink, that going in could only be done with teams made up of indigenous personnel (i.e., no American forces), primarily because of Secretary of State Dean Rusk indicating that at the time 'we should not risk the exposure.' Three days later Leonard was told to be prepared to go in 30 days, his concerns that 'we could not assure any tangible results unless our own people participated' ameliorated, with approval to do so (i.e., use Americans, just not American forces) granted Leonard says, about mid-May 1964.
Continuing, the rest of the quoted paragraph from Dammed to Glory and Ghost P-40 as cited above and a team of us being 15 or 20 miles into the People's Republic of China reads:
"From where we were we could watch five-truck Chinese Red Army convoys pass by a couple of times a day, otherwise the road was deserted. After we got a good handle on when a convoy might pass before the next one in either direction, we went down to the telegraph line and tapped into it, stretching a double loop back to our camp."
In turn followed by and any ramifications thereof:
" A couple of us, me included, were caught in the open, with me actually being atop a pole when a convoy showed up in the distance headed down the road our way. I scrambled down the pole, and duplicating my buddy, crawled through the same creek culvert our wires ran through to our camp. All well and good except for one thing. We left one of our primary tool bags sitting in plain view along side the road."
A couple of paragraphs back I write Nam Yu, although a CIA Lima Site, was a little different than most others, plus one other thing. Most people don't think about it much but almost down to the number all the other Lima Sites were put into place by the CIA to help support the so-called Secret War in Laos in some fashion. The previously mentioned high profile Vang Pao LS 20A is a good example, along with any number of others that could be named. However, if you look at the missions of Nam Yu, LS 118A, they nearly all have something to do with going into China. The question one would ask is what would a Lima site existing primarily for going into China have to do with support of the Secret War in Laos? There are at least two semi-viable answers. One by me, one by others. In William Young's obituary as stated above, it says "the Americans were concerned about the possibility of Chinese military intervention in Vietnam, any intelligence on military activity in southern China was valued and the cross-border operations were steadily expanded." In both Damned to Glory and Ghost P-40 as well as elsewhere in relation to the same subject as a viable answer, I always add a little disclaimer that reads something like:
"What I am getting at is, even though I am revealing the military had a very special need for my talents duplicating and sending Morse code totally indistinguishable for virtually anyone to differentiate between messages sent by me and that of any person I was imitating, I am still not at liberty to tell for what use that talent was so needed or any implementation thereof."
MORSE CODE, HAND KEYS, AND DA VINCI
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NAM YU, TONY POE AND THE SECRET WAR IN LAOS 1962 - 1975
THE TANGO SQUADRON AIR MUSEUM, CHIANG MAI
OPERATION WHITE STAR: LAOS, 1959 - 1962
KHUN SA: THE SECOND WARLORD
THE SAIGON TEA GIRL
THE CIA IN TIBET AND THE HIMALAYAS
As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
One of the most notorious operatives of the whole Secret War in Laos was a man by the name of Anthony Poshepny, also known as Tony Poe. He was there from the very beginning of Long Tieng (Lima Site 20A) circa 1961 training Hmong troops and going into the field with them. As the years went by, being there for such a long time and deeply immersed in the culture, even marrying a Hmong 'princess' and having children, he almost forgot who he was. The following is from the link below the paragraphs and recollects a time only a few years into Tony Poe's deployment in Laos:
"Almost the very second Poe and I made eye contact we recognized each other, Poe asking, 'What the hell are you doing here?,' with my response at nearly the exact same instant being, 'I thought you were in Tibet.'
"The last I saw Poe was in 1959 or 1960. He was in Colorado at an old onetime World War II U.S. Army facility called Camp Hale, training covertly off the books, a bunch of Tibetans to fight the Chinese. At the time I was a real civilian yet to be drafted, working instead for a small offshoot of a a major aerospace company involved with the then super-secret U-2 project. The person I worked for directly, called Harry the Man, was the top high altitude breathing equipment person in the world.
"Apparently in October of 1959 it was confirmed that China, with Soviet assistance, had established a nuclear test base at Lop Nor with all intentions of testing a nuclear device. U-2 flights over China were becoming extremely dangerous, so powers that be thought if they could put a monitoring station on top of some Himalayan mountain with a clear shot towards Lop Nor they could gather all the information they needed. Before a decision was made as to what mountain would be selected, it was a given it would be at a very high altitude. The same powers wanted to ensure that already existent equipment necessary to accomplish the mission could be modified, if need be, to operate in the rarified atmosphere OR if equipment could be designed to allow it to do so without modification. Enter Harry the Man. We were both atArea 51 at Groom Lake when the call came through for Harry to meet with some people at Camp Hale. I went along and while there met Tony Poe."
THE MONASTERY: HUNTERS OF THE WHITE MONK
THE CIAs SECRET WAR IN TIBET
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Sometime around I think, June of 2000 or so, and with me not knowing he was edging towards the end of his days, I drove to Northern California to see Tony Poe --- for no other reason than to just offer him my overall well wishes and thank him for some advice he had given me once many, many years before. To say the least I was a tad set aback from the robust young man he had been when I saw him last and how he was. How he was, was in bad shape, although holding on. A compound of aggregate conditions caused by heavy drinking and diabetes began to add up and to take their toll, even to the point he had to have a leg amputated. Toward the end it got to the point he was scheduled to have his remaining leg amputated as well, but died just prior. Even though we talked and he was cordial I know he didn't remember me, just another faceless G.I. that had passed through his life at one time or the other and I felt a sort of emptiness about it because I listened to the advice he gave me and always felt a great sense of gratitude. Yet, when I sat there across from the old warrior looking into his eyes, talking to him and expressing my appreciation for what he had done, I knew he had no idea who I was or how once upon a time, however briefly, I fit into his life. It was a long drive home.
Poe had dropped out of high school to join the Marines when World War II started. He finished high school via a correspondence course and after the war graduated from San Jose State in 1950 with a degree in history and English, although in how he presented himself you would never know it. We crossed paths at Camp Hale, but it was later in Long Tieng --- and I have been told Poe never offered sage advice to anybody --- he told me to get out of this shit while I still had a chance and never look back. Go to college, make something of yourself, don't fuck up your life like I have. Your'e a cartoonist. Draw pictures. Make people laugh. Within four months of my discharge I started college and the following happened, of which I have always attributed to Tony:
"I settled in using Redondo as a central base of operations while commuting back and forth to college attempting to grab off an undergraduate degree on the G.I. Bill, and of which I was eventually able to do.
"After receiving a B.A. along with a California Secondary Teaching Credential, which required an additional fifth year beyond a bachelors as well as student teaching, I matriculated into graduate school."
THE WANDERLING AND HIS HIGH SCHOOL CHUMS
As found in the main text, the map section above shows the location of Nam Yu, that is Lima Site 118A. There are a couple of major geographical features that show up quite well on the map and once located on a Google map will help pinpoint where LS 118A is in Laos and how it fits into the world. The most prominent feature, as seen at the top of the map (as found back in the main text) is the Mekong River and how it makes a sharp right turn toward the east before swinging back in a hairpin U-turn toward the west. At the top of the hairpin just as the river turns south for a short distance is a city named Ban Xieng Kok. Go straight down the map and a short distance to the west, on your right of LS 118A, is a community named Ban Ta Hou. If you put "Xieng Kok, Laos" into Google search a map comes up that is both clickable and expandable. Using the measurement function go about 23 miles south from Xieng Kok and by enlarging the map you should be able to find Ban Ta Hou ... which doesn't show up until you really enlarge the map. If you go to the west, your left, a little ways you will be able to compare features with the map on this page with the Google map and locate fairly close where LS 118A was located. It is, however, NOT designated on the Google map.
If the link continues to hold, by clicking the above topographic map, I've done most of the work for you. Google's marked Ban Ta Hou location should show up. The Google map is of course, for closer searching and viewing both expandable and movable
Both the map portion above as well as the map in the main text is provided through the graceful services of Jim Henthorn, the full and exclusive copyright holder.
Click HERE for Jim's Vietnam Vet homepage and contact info.