Revisiting Vietnam American RadioWorks
  Vietnam Scrapbook

Steve Caple, Vietnam veteran
Sacramento, CA, USA

The mention of infiltrators and provocateurs in Saturday's Morning Edition was very, uh, provocative. I remember attending public planning meetings for the April 24 Mobilization where members of one or another Trotskyite Social Workers whatever party made long and rambling statements in favor of their vision of doctrinal purity. A lot of us joked that they must be FBI plants, spouting unfelt Marxist rhetoric learned by rote.

At that time I was involved with the Concerned Officers Movement, and was one of the first two enlisted men to "integrate" the San Diego chapter. I was an editor of "Liberty Call", a paper COM put out for several issues with the use of the production facilities of a local underground paper called the Door (long since turned commercial, I believe).

I was also a member of MDM, the Movement for a Democratic Military, and acquainted with another underground paper called the ‘Street Journal'. Now MDM was sponsored by one or another socialist workers type group, which should have been a turn off for me because of the Marxist true-believer cant, but the MDM cadre evidently were not FBI trained because they didn't bore us to death with Marxist gospel.

We were much amused by the antics of the local San Diego Police red squad, a group with a long history back at least to WW I and IWW (the Wobblies) days. It seems a car belonging to a Street Journal staffer was ticketed for parking over 72 hours or some such time limit in one spot. When the car owner contested the ticket in court, the officer swore he marked a tire with chalk amd placed a pebble on top of a tire, only to be confronted with another summons for a minor moving violation issued to the same car in the middle of the period in question.

We were not so amused later - well, not so much. One of our most militant members, known as Jay, was a huge, black maned and bearded, fatigue and jungle boot wearing fellow who spent lor of time throwing a K-Bar knife into a tree in front of the MDM house. In meetings "Jay" often urged that we keep a lookout and a stash of rifles and shotguns in the attic of the house. After a few months of this, we were surprised to be called to a special early meeting before "Jay" arrived. It seemed our firebrand member had been seen in a local hospital by an MDM or SWP associate, visiting a young woman who had just given birth. Curious that someone known as an MDM member and single was visiting a woman and child just minutes after delivery, the associate snuck a look at the woman's chart, finding that she was the wife of a San Diego Police Sergeant - Ralph something, I think his name was. It was tense when we confronted him with this and told him in no uncertain terms and with much vulgarity to get the hell out and never return. We were afraid he might get violent, and from the look on his face he was initially afraid we were going to beat or kill him. I hope he learned from that to question what his bosses told him about us, but I doubt it. A little while later, on a yet another march up Balboa Avenue to "talk to the trees" (speeches in Balboa Park), as we entered the park we passed a group of folks in Sears suits and shiny brown shoes and American flag lapel pins taking pictures. Most of them had 35mm cameras and fancy lenses. Much to our very vocal amusement "Jay" or Ralph or whatever was there too, but with an Instamatic!

The mention of government lies touches what I think was one of the great motivators to people in my generation (a bogus concept, that) questioning the received wisdom - or indoctrination - we grew up with. Even before I had a 37mm blow up in my face on a 1966 misson to insert a rescue team in North Vietnam, I was questioning the conduct of the war. Facing that big orange fireball as it lifted me up, demolished my M60, and knocked me out, I had one of those "life flashes before your eyes" experiences. The main thought was that I had no real idea why I was shooting at the people 3000 feet below and why they wer shooting at me. Well, they were shooting at me because I was there over their country. And I was over their country to rescue a pilot we believed to be shot down there. And he was there to bomb and strafe traffic on the Ho Chi Minh trail. And what was the point of that, when we were trying to prop up a regime that earned little loyalty from many of its citizens? I woke up a while later as we were preparing to ditch, and was very impressed with the wisdom of wearing a flak vest.

I remember reading books in the ship's library, notably Bernard Fall's "Street Without Joy" and one by a CIA-type named Pike on the Vietcong. It seemed obvious that continuing to avoid dealing with the corruption and greed that vitiated all our efforts to support the South Vietnam government would lead only to more and more wasted efforts and wasted lives. It seemed obvious that we WERE the primary support of the RVN government and we had an obligation to make them clean up their act however much that hurt their sense of face. It also seemed obvious that if we were going to fight a war, all the McNamara and Westmoreland BS of graduated response and body count fabrications had to be set aside. The years of tight centralized politically driven target control lead to criminal waste of American pilot's lives and made any chance of success in "interdiction" much less likely.

My personal encounter with the climate of lies occurred a few years later on a "barge patrol" mission north of the DMZ, scanning the coast with gyro-stabilized binoculars (sort of an early "steadi-cam") for barge and sampan activity in inlets and river from three miles out. I saw an incredibly long string of flashes inland from the beach, followed by a huge upwelling of smoke and dust. The next few days I heard administration and military officials deny B-52 raids north of the DMZ. They finally admitted it, but their initial impulse to lie impressed me with the stupidity of their leadership.


Back to scrapbook index


©2018 American Public Media