Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Kit Carson Scouts in Vietnam
I first learned about the Kit Carson Scouts who served with the American army and Marine corps in Vietnam from my brother "Swamp rat" who served as LRRP team member during that particular war.
I have always thought that the KCS units were interesting and I wonder how many escaped Vietnam or even survived the war after the Americans pulled out of there in '74 - no telling.
The skills and intelligence these north vietnamese soldiers brought to the table must have been immense and of great value to the american units in which they served.
I have included little information about the Kit Carson Scouts for your enjoyment.
Tomahawk - Scouts out!
The Kit Carson Scouts (Hồi Chánh Viên in Vietnamese), loosely translated as "members who have returned to the righteous side") belonged to a special program created by the U.S. Marine Corps during the Viet Nam conflict and involving the use of former Viet Cong combatants.
The Kit Carson Scout Program was started in the Fall of 1966 when Staff Sergeant Johnson of 5th CIT (counterintelligence team) recruited two former Viet Cong (Hoi Chanh Vien or Chieu Hoi) to work with U.S. Marine infantry troops in a program proposed to and agreed on by Major General Nickerson, the commanding officer in Viet Nam of the 1st Marine Division.
The program went operational on November 10, 1966, the Marine Corps birthday. On that day, Johnson and a contingency of officers from the division's headquarters in Da Nang brought the first two Vietnamese Kit Carson Scouts to the 7th Marine Regiment headquarters in Chu Lai, whose TAOR (tactical area of operational responsibility) included the coastal plain area where both of the two Kit Carson scouts had operated while with the Viet Cong.
Vo van Tam had been an assistant company commander with the elite 409th Sapper Battalion, while Huynh ngoc Chanh had been an assistant company commander with the 38th Local Force Battalion. Both units historically operated in Quang Ngai and Quang Tin provinces. These were the two southernmost provinces in the northernmost five province area of South Viet Nam known as I Corps—the other three northern provinces being Quang Nam, Thua Thien and Quang Tri.
The northern boundary of Quang Tri touched the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and was the border with North Vietnam on the opposite (northern) side of the DMZ. The 409th Sapper Battalion, Tam's former unit, was a higher level unit that operated over a larger territory, and its military successes included slipping under the barbed wire and attacking the key airfield at the large Chu Lai base, an action that Tam had participated in before his defection.
The two scouts were paired with Marine Pvt. Allen Sells, newly arrived in country and language-trained in the first class graduated from the Marine Corps language school at Camp Del Mar in Camp Pendleton. Upon arriving at 1st Battalion, 7th Marines on the southern bank of the Song Tra Bong River in Binh Son District of Quang Ngai Province, the two scouts and Pvt. Sells were joined by LCpl Ernest C. Jaramillo, an S-2 Scout already assigned to 1/7. Jaramillo, while not part of the team, played a useful role in early development of operational tactics through his knowledge of S-2 procedures. Private Sells, the two Kit Carson Scouts and Jaramillo immediately moved to the forward position headquarters of Delta Company, 1/7 and prepared to begin operating with the Kit Carson Scouts in the base area of the 38th Local Force Battalion and the 95th Local Force Company.
While Quang Ngai and Quang Tinh Provinces had numerous Viet Cong guerrilla and regional units like the 38th Local Force Battalion, the 48th Local Force Battalion and the 95th Local Force Company, this area of South Viet Nam was also the operating area for the Viet Cong 2nd Main Force Division and the 3rd NVA Division, whose senior officers were North Vietnamese professionals commanding ranks of soldiers primarily recruited in South Viet Nam. During their years with the Viet Cong, both Kit Carson Scouts had earlier spent months on end in combat training and indoctrination, largely in the mountainous areas of Kontum Province in 1963 through 1965. On November 11, 1966, Sells, Tam and Chanh deployed for the first time with Delta Company, 1/7 on a company-size patrol on the Mui Nam Tram Peninsula, including the hamlets of Phouc Hoa and Tuyet Diem.
Early tactics for the two scouts were the identification of Viet Cong guerrillas and cadre among the civilian populace and narrative descriptions of how the Viet Cong moved and interacted with civilians within the areas where Tam and Chanh had previously operated as enemy combatants. The scouts additionally proved adept at identifying booby traps, caves and tunnels and caches of enemy weapons. The two initial Kit Carsons were also used and found invaluable in conducting tactical interrogations before newly-detained prisoners were sent to the rear from their point of capture. These tactics were developed over a month of operations in Binh Son District, including a battalion operation, Rio Blanco, which engaged elements of the 2nd Main Force Division in a joint effort combining U.S. Marine forces of 1/7 with Korean Marines and the 2nd ARVN Division, headquartered in Quang Ngai City. During the Christmas week, Sells and his two scouts operated for the first time in Quang Tin Province sweeping Ky Xuan Island north of the large air base at Chu Lai.
The third American recruited to the program was Pfc Richard Gualano, also a graduate of the Marine's Del Mar Vietnamese language school and an earlier classmate of Sells. Within a short time, Sells and Gualano were recruiting additional scouts from the Chieu Hoi Center in Quang Ngai City, while Sells traveled to DaNang to work with 7th CIT in recruiting scouts from the DaNang Chieu Hoi center.
The program quickly developed command level interest throughout the 1st Marine Division and then the 3rd Marine Division, which organized its own program extending all the way north to the DMZ. By midyear of 1967, the U.S. Army forces operating in I Corps had become aware of the program and soon after the Kit Carson Scout Program expanded to American units throughout Viet Nam.
General Westmoreland issued an order in September 1967 a message directing all infantry divisions in Vietnam, including the U.S. Army units, to begin using Kit Carson Scouts in conjunction with friendly operations. He directed that a minimum of 100 scouts per division was necessary to ensure effectiveness. The 3rd Marine Division was the first unit in Vietnam to reach that level when the fourth Kit Carson Scout class graduated from the school in Quang Tri City during December, 1967. As the program matured, non-military Viet Cong cadre and occasionally defecting North Vietnamese officers were enlisted into the Program and became a valuable source of intelligence on the conduct of the war.
Recruitment and Language Issues
The majority of early Kit Carson Scouts defected to the South Vietnamese government forces and became Hoi Chanh Vien primarily because they suffered either from malaria or grave wounds beyond what could be medically treated by the rudimentary medical care available on the Viet Cong/NVA side. Most had a distrust of Vietnamese soldiers and interpreters because of the degree to which friendly forces had been infiltrated by enemy agents, so it was imperative that their handlers be Vietnamese speaking Americans.
Early in the war and the life of the Kit Carson Scout Program, the most obvious barrier to expansion was that few Americans could speak the language. The Chieu Hoi, moreover, had during their service with the enemy little or no contact with anyone speaking English and had not even minimal English language skills. Added to this problem was the use by the Viet Cong and NVA of code words, such as calling a division an "agricultural site" in their written correspondence, so that American interpreters had also to learn this "hidden" language in order to recognize the importance of what was being said and communicating intelligence back to U.S. field commander