The Death of Colonel Nguyen

Civilians thought of Green Berets as Army Special Forces. It was more complicated than that. Our orders came from the Agency or the President. Our activities were top secret. Even General Westmoreland had no idea of what we did or who we were. And of course, we weren’t supposed to be in Cambodia at all.

When we dragged Nguyen out of his hut he didn’t make a sound. The black hood over his head would have been superfluous if not for the fact that it kept me from having to see his face. And him from seeing mine.

I knew what came next. I’d seen it a dozen times. The Agency had trusted Colonel Nguyen as far as they trusted any of of the old Viet Minh guys, but we had unimpeachable evidence of his betrayal to the VC. Photographs, eyewitnesses. Everything but a confession, and we’d have that soon enough. Then would come the boat trip to Nha Trang Bay.

What Pegman Saw

Note: between 1967 and 1970, the CIA and the Army Special Forces conducted Project GAMMA, a counterinsurgency program designed to disrupt North Vietnamese and Viet Cong activity in Cambodia. The Green Berets supposedly followed the “rules of warfare,” but in combat situations such niceties were often overlooked. Assassination was commonplace, as was the torture and summary execution of anyone suspected of spying.


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    • J Hardy Carroll

      Yeah, they were JFK’s private army. The law allowing this goes back to FDR and the famous Flying Tigers. The American Volunteer Group, the mercenary aviators who fought the Japanese for Chiang Kai-Shek, were a military force serving detached duty at the behest of the President. This is the same law that allows the current American policy of drone assassination.

  1. EagleAye

    Excellent. The Green Berets did all sorts of things we shouldn’t know about. The story is told in such a matter-of-fact way, I’d almost believe you were there. great followup explaining the history at the end.

    • J Hardy Carroll

      Thanks, Eric. The link about the various projects takes just such a tone. These guys didn’t question what they were doing, or why. They just did it. Afterward, it was a different matter. Steve Earle did a great tune about the afterlife of a Green Beret called “A Gringo’s Tale.”

  2. Alicia Jamtaas

    Are you watching the Vietnam series by Ken Burns? You truly caught the feeling of threat, denial, and distrust in your story.
    At 16 I dated a 19 year old man who was one of the first to be drafted (lottery number 21) into that horrific war. I only saw him once during the two years he was there (we broke up while he was in Vietnam – another story from another time) and he talked about “taking a hill” and just sitting at the top – no action – with his feet rotting inside his wet boots. Bad times, those.

  3. Dahlia

    So much goes on in the name of ‘greater good’ it is terrifying. It is important that it not be brushed under the carpet. Thanks for sharing this bit of history.

Don't just stand there.