Part five of a series
After completing language school in Texas, Dave is sent to Vietnam. There his Vietnamese language skills and background dealing with double agents uniquely qualify him to work as a case officer, handling Vietnamese espionage agents. He is assigned to the CanTho area, where he works with field agents in two spy-nets; in the Delta and along the Cambodian border. These agents infiltrate into enemy units or have contacts with them to provide information on enemy activity, were called “Trail Watchers”. Most were recruited from refugee camps. Normally, he would verify information by talking to several agents before passing it on. His mission was to provide “tactical information” for what is called force protection that included Naval ship gunfire, Naval air strikes, or special forces units. He explained that “the stuff my schnooks brought me was really good at targeting Vietcong top level cadre”.
Dave’s cover in Can Tho was that he was a Civilian Claims Adjuster. He wore shorts, tee-shirts and sandals, rode a Vespa motor scooter and lived in a small duplex within a seven-foot walled villa topped with razor wire. His landlord, a Filipino doctor who worked for the World Health Association, lived in the back half with his wife and three children. Dave’s side was stocked with food and drinking water to last several months, two M-16 rifles, a grenade launcher and incredible amounts of ammunition. His bed frame was a 4×8 sheet of half-inch steel atop two rows of sandbags, with a fox hole underneath.. All in case the city was invaded. Dave thinks that the people who knew him figured he was a spook but not for who or why. Even though his unit headquarters was two blocks away, Dave could not go to any military facility or associate with anyone in uniform. This was both for his protection and that of his agents. If identified, their lives would have been in danger.
One of Dave’s agents collected fresh fruit and vegetables in outlying areas to sell in Can Tho. This gave the agent daily access to little hamlets where underground Vietcong were housed. One day this agent brought word that something big was happening in an area where villagers were getting new clothes and better food. “That meant that some big shots were coming”. When Dave passed this information on, he was told “We want to target that area. We want to blow it off the face of the earth, if we can, as long as we have confirmed intelligence that these people are there”. So Dave equipped his agent with a sampan with an outboard engine. Dave cut an oar in half and then bored a hole through center of each. He attached a transponder radio transmitter in one end and fed an antenna through the poles, splicing them with duct tape. He told the agent to verify that the Vietcong officials were there, and if so, turn the transmitter on and stick the oar in the water, with the antenna on top. Then “get the hell away because the Navy was ready to come in” The Navy did come in and “unloaded on the meeting site while the meeting was underway”. Dave said the after-action report confirmed that high ranking officials were there.
Dave flew into Vietnam with another Intelligence officer, Sammy Little who had gone through language school with him and also served with him in Germany. That night, bunking down at the Cam Rahn Bay Air Base, they were told they were at the safest base in Vietnam. But, if base attacked, take cover in sandbag-covered steel culvert pipes located on each side of their building. Sammy immediately fell asleep in an upper bunk as they settled in. Shortly later, a soldier ran into their bunk room, yelling to get to safety. Dave told Sammy and headed outside. The pipes were four feet high and he was crammed in with ten other soldiers. While there, he got to the point that he couldn’t wait any longer to relieve himself. He dashed to a nearby latrine which was covered with screened mosquito net and sat, watching the flashes of light and noise from mortars and rockets exploding around him; giving cover for infiltrating black pajama clad sappers who cut through the concertina wire encircling the base. The Sappers threw exploding “satchel charges” inside open windows in the unprotected hospital compound. Previously, able-bodied patients had done 24-hour perimeter watch with weapons but that ceased because “of a change in Base policy”. As Dave returned to the pipe, “All Clear” was sounded. So back to the barracks where he found Sammy had “slept through the entire attack”.