Sunday, January 16, 2011

INTRODUCTION: Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 15 June 1962

Reviewing stand and main parade ground, site of graduation exercises, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 15 June 1962.  (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)

Major Richard Paris Clark, Jr. first encountered the Vietnam War on 15 June 1962 when he joined more than 700 fellow military officers on the main parade ground at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to graduate from the United States Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC).  The historic fort was the Army's literal and figurative gateway to the future.  In the nineteenth century, tens of thousands of soldiers passed through Leavenworth's gates to expand the American western frontier.  Clark was a member of the first graduating class of a New Frontier that represented the largest military, political, and economic empire in history.  The United States Army of 1962 consisted of almost a million soldiers stationed in more than a hundred nations around the world, from West Germany to South Vietnam, and operated on an emergency basis to meet the challenges of a Cold War that pitted the United States against the Soviet Union.
The CGSC commandant, Major General Harold K. Johnson, stood at a podium on the reviewing stand and welcomed the gradutes.  Although Johnson was prematurely gray-haired and appeared frail, he was a rising star in the Army officer corps.  In less than two years, he would be the youngest Army chief of staff since Douglas MacArthur, an astonishing feat for a man who spent World War II in a Japanese prison camp while many of his West Point classmates rose through the ranks at a dizzying pace.  Johnson also, in an unforeseen future, served as one of the chief architects of American military escalation in Vietnam.

Major General Harold K. Johnson, Commandant, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1962.  (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)

 Johnson read the class a congratulatory message from President John F. Kennedy, who crafted a stirring call to action for the graduates.  The address reflected the president's consuming interest in Vietnam.  He warned the officers that they would soon fight a new war, "new in its intensity, ancient in its origin---war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins, war by ambush instead of by combat; by infiltration, instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him.  Where there is a visible enemy to fight in open combat, the answer is not so difficult.  Many serve, all applaud, and the tide of patriotism runs high.  But when there is a long, slow struggle, with no immediately visible foe, your choice will seem hard indeed..."  Kennedy urged the graduates against arrogance and complacency in fighting this kind of counterinsurgency war.  "You will need to understand the importance of military power and also the limits of military determine what represents our vital interests and what interests are only marginal."

President John F. Kennedy, 1962.  (Photo courtesy John F. Kennedy Library)


Kennedy already determined that civil war in Vietnam represented America's vital interests in that summer of 1962.  He created the US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) in February and during the year, nearly quadrupled the number of US troops in South Vietnam from 3,200 to 11,300.  The war in Vietnam then seemed like an exotic adventure to many of the combat arms officers among the graduates.  Army officers who advised South Vietnamese military units experienced combat and danger but did little of the dying.  Less than twenty US advisers had been killed in Vietnam thus far.
            Kennedy assumed the presidency the previous year with a self-imposed mandate to create a military establishment that would allow him to apply the necessary force to overcome any Cold War challenge the United States faced around the world.  He envisioned the Army as his primary instrument for projecting military force and he instructed his secretary of defense, Robert S. McNamara, to expand the number of officers and revitalize the Army with high-technology weaponry and means of mobility.  In Kenndy's view, the United States would prevail in Vietnam because the Army would master counterinsurgency warfare.  He assured the officers that they would not fight a conventional war as the colonial French had in Vietnam.  Kennedy was confident that counterinsurgency would show political leaders in the developing world that America was an alternative to either colonialism or communism.
            Vietnam seemed an ideal battleground for counterinsurgency.  The jungles and rice paddies of the country were suited for small-unit combat and the Vietnamese people's hearts and minds were ripe for winning through military and technical aid.  The Army supplied support and direction, communications, weapons, materiel, transportation and logistics, while the South Vietnamese military supplied the combat troops to end the communist threat to the country.
            The Kennedy administration pressed the Army to implement counterinsurgency instruction at CGSC and other service schools in 1961, only to meet opposition from senior generals who disliked counterinsurgency because they felt it denied them the opportunity to wage conventional warfare and demonstrate their generalship.
            The commencement speaker that day personified the conflict between Kennedy and the Army.  General Lyman L. Lemnitzer was the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and an aggressive defender of the Army officer corps' interests.  Two weeks earlier, Lemnitzer returned from an inspection trip to South Vietnam and briefed the president.  He believed Kennedy made too much of counterinsurgency and airily dismissed the president's enthusiasm.  An incredulous Kennedy upbraided Lemnitzer and promptly appointed General Maxwell Taylor to replace him as chairman.
            Lemnitzer lacked the president's flair for dramatic rhetoric.  His speech described a corporate vision of the Army's future far different from Kennedy's romantic image of Army advisors in olive drab baseball caps and fatigues adorned with brightly colored American rank insignia crowding the gold-lettered US ARMY on black tape and white name tags on their uniforms, carrying Colt .45 automatic handguns as they accompanied South Vietnamese troops on combat patrols.  Lemnitzer encouraged the graduates to adopt the latest concepts of management and warned them that military technology had advanced so rapidly that officers who failed to keep up with current trends had no future in the Army.  Although Lemnitzer devoted most of his speech to equating management with leadership, he also unintentionally addressed the sort of challenges the graduates might one day face in Vietnam.  "The test of a leader is not whether he can accomplish his mission when his unit is at full strength and all his personnel ideally trained and completely dedicated," he said.  "Such an ideal situation probably will never exist in peacetime, much less in combat."  Lemnitzer told the class an Army officer must do the best he can with what he has.  He may recognize, but never concede, the possibility of failure.  If he persevered, he would not fail.
            General Johnson rejoined Lemnitzer at the podium to recognize students who earned CGSC academic awards.  After Johnson presented the highest award to an infantry major, he announced Clark as the recipient of CGSC's second-highest honor, the Commandant's Award for Effective Military Writing.  Clark rose and marched to the reviewing stand.

General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, left, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presents the Commandant's Award for Effective Military Writing to Major Richard P. Clark, Jr., right, at graduation ceremonies for the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 15 June 1962.  (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)

            For Clark, success had been a struggle between a gift he possessed and a void he felt.  He was born with a talent for observation and written expression that compelled him to follow it wherever it might lead.  At the same time, he was born into circumstances that caused him to feel that he had something to prove to the world and to himself.  Ambition urged him to ignore the gift and instead march down the first path that opened for him.  The talent and the ambition fought within him and occasionally sidetracked him until the Army offered an opportunity to satisfy each.
            Born in Century, Florida in 1927, Clark grew up in a working-class family in Montgomery, Alabama.  During high school, he worked as a sportswriter and city reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser daily newspaper.  The work so consumed him that he lost interest in his studies and delayed his graduation from Sidney Lanier High School in 1946 by a year.  Mediocre grades thwarted his ambition to attend either the University of Alabama or Auburn University.  He instead worked his way through two years of study at two smaller regional state colleges, Livingston State and Troy State Teachers' College, where he served as a sports information director for both schools' athletic departments.  The work again consumed him and his grades suffered.  Dispirited, Clark returned to Montgomery in the fall of 1948 and rejoined the Advertiser.
            Norvelle Leigh Chaudron, an uncle in Montgomery who rose from private to major in the US Army Air Corps, recognized Clark's talent, ambition, and unhappiness.  He arranged for his nephew to attend Army officer candidate school at Fort Riley, Kansas, where Clark earned a reserve commission as a second lieutenant in 1949.  He completed infantry school and airborne training at Fort Benning, Georgia in the summer of 1950, at the same time North Korea invaded South Korea.  President Harry S. Truman perceived the North Korean invasion as part of a large-scale Communist expansion influenced and directed by China or the Soviet Union.  He deployed US troops to defend South Korea, including a rifle platoon of Company M of the 187th Airborne Infantry Regimental Combat Team, Clark's first command.  During his tour of duty in Korea, Clark made two combat parachute jumps at Sukchon and Munsan-ni against North Korean and Chinese forces.  After he rotated back to the United States in 1951, Clark married his high school sweetheart, Patricia Clinton, and the couple moved to a new duty assignment with the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  As a member of the 2nd Battalion, he served as a platoon leader, motor officer, adjutant, and assistant regimental operations officer.  In 1954, the Army promoted Clark to captain and assigned him to the 4th Infantry Division, US Army Alaska, where he commanded a heavy weapons company and served as public information officer for the Yukon Command.  He drew staff duty in the Adjutant General's Office, Department of the Army, as a personnel management officer in the Infantry Branch, from 1956 to 1958.  When one of his superior officers in Washington, Colonel Wilbur Wilson, warned him that the Army was reducing its officer corps of non-college graduates and reserve officers, Clark earned a bachelor's degree in military science from the University of Maryland, obtained a commission in the Regular Army, and transferred to the Transportation Corps (TC).  After Clark completed T-School at Fort Eustis, Virginia, the TC sent him to the University of Tennessee, where he earned a master's degree in transportation and logistics in 1959.  He returned to Fort Eustis and between 1959 and 1961 served as an operations officer and assistant commandant of the Army Transportation Corps NCO Academy, and commanded the 63rd Transportation Company (Light Truck).  The Army promoted him to major in 1961 and selected him to attend CGSC.
            Clark shook hands with the commandant and spoke to Johnson in a crisp, clipped voice.  He liked Johnson's formal, no-nonsense manner and puritanical personal habits.  Johnson, in his own gruff, quiet way, appeared to admire the young major.  He personally chose Clark for the writing award and so respected the major's literary talent that he arranged for Clark to serve a three-year postgraduate tour of duty as an instructor at CGSC, a supreme compliment to a junior officer.
            Clark accepted the award, an onyx-and-brass pen and ink set, from Lemnitzer.  A casual observer of the scene would not have been immediately impressed with Clark at first glance.  He was a small slight man who stood only five feet four inches tall and weighed 125 pounds.  To compensate for his small stature, he had his uniforms custom-tailored and he affected a tough, assertive personality.  From the close perspective of an Army photographer who captured the moment on film, Clark possessed the rugged features of a soldier who enjoyed and took pride in his profession.  The photograph also revealed insignia over the left front pocket of Clark's uniform tunic that testified to his capacity for bravery---the Korean Conflict medal, a combat infantryman's badge, and silver parachutist's wings emblazoned with two combat jump stars.
            The commencement ceremony was the first time Clark experienced the power exuded by the highest-ranking men in the US Army officer corps.  As he stood between Lemnitzer and Johnson, Clark was close enough to that power to feel the psychological rush that accompanied prestigious and influential generals who advised the president and were profiled and photographed by Time, Newsweek, and US News and World Report magazines.  Clark was also intoxicated by the trappings of pomp and ceremony that accompanied such men:  flags snapping, bands playing, precise schedules of honor guards, inspections, and receptions.  It was not hard to see why Clark might aspire to be a general, and it was not hard for him, in that moment, to believe that a general's stars and the power commensurate with that rank might one day be within his reach.  He had accomplished much and so assured his future potential to the Army that it now welcomed him into a fraternity of CGSC alumni that included MacArthur, Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley.


Leavenworth represented more than just a link to the Army's historic past; it also conferred present and future prestige on him.  A CGSC diploma meant Clark could look forward to early promotion to lieutenant colonel, preferential duty assignments, and potential selection to the Army War College or other senior service schools that represented gateways to still higher rank.  The prestige had a name---Clark and his classmates referred to it as a ticket punch---and it was as tangible as the diplomas they received.
            Ticket punching was part of the culture of the Army officer corps.  It was a slang term that referred to an early-twentieth century train passenger who pursued the conductor to get his ticket punched.  A train conductor used a metal stylus or punch to validate that the passenger had paid his or her fare and could travel to the next destination.  In the 1960s Army, a ticket punch was a significant accomplishment or duty assignment that distinguished an officer from his contemporaries.  Clark believed the Army had institutionalized a ticket-punching formula and tried to divine its path upward through the officer ranks.  For a career-minded captain or major, a combat punch plus a civilian graduate degree punch plus a CGSC punch plus a Department of the Army staff punch plus a battalion command punch plus a War College punch equaled promotion to general officer.  Clark had thus far accumulated the right punches according to his formula.  Today's graduation marked another destination on an enviable career ticket.
            From 1962 to 1965, Clark served as an instructor in the Department of Command at CGSC, where he built a reputation as a demanding but helpful writing mentor to dozens of students.  As a lecturer, he developed a manner of pacing and speaking slowly and deliberately, which suggested confidence.  His speech could be at once calm and authoritative, forcing his audience to listen closely and hang on every word.  Confident without seeming arrogant, engaging without seeming phony, tough but a gentleman, he appeared comfortable for the first time with who he had become.  He exhibited a way of walking, talking, and interacting with his fellow officers that exuded assurance and determination, qualities that served him well in his next assignment.
            Throughout his tour at CGSC, Clark grew more certain that the Army would send him to South Vietnam.  Several of his friends and colleagues on the faculty at CGSC were already in Vietnam, and when MACV suddenly transitioned into a theater command with full US military intervention in the spring of 1965, he learned his next duty assignment would be South Vietnam.

            Clark went to Saigon in June 1965, at the age of thirty-seven, as a soon-to-be lieutenant colonel assigned to MACV headquarters as chief of Movements Branch in the Transportation Division of J-4.  During his year in Vietnam, he kept a diary that was perhaps the most important explication and expression of his life.  Without his diary, we would know nothing about the role he played in movement control as MACV struggled to assimilate a massive buildup of troops and materiel.  Without the diary, Clark's contribution to the Vietnam War would consist of little more than an annual officer efficiency report, two typewritten pages in a personnel file in the vast national military records center in St. Louis, Missouri.  Without the diary, we would know nothing of his inner life.
            The justification for his diary was in the reflective telling, his passion for witnessing history as well as writing it, and its unusually large cast of characters.  Clark may not have known everyone who counted in the history of the Vietnam War, but he encountered most of them.  Those he did not know firsthand, he heard about secondhand, and during his year in Vietnam, he retained stories and experiences of conversation that told a bigger story than that of his own tour of duty. “At the risk of being called a name-dropper, I am going to run through the list of people I’ve had to brief and persuade that [a MACV contract for inter-coastal shipping] is an absolute necessity in Vietnam,” Clark exulted in December, 1965: 

“Mr. McNamara and General Wheeler (Chairman JCS); Admiral Sharp, CINCPAC; General White, J-4 CINCPAC; Admiral Presse, Deputy Chief of Staff of CINCPAC; Mr. Niederman, Deputy Counsel for MSTS; Admiral Donoho, Commander of MSTS; Admiral Irvin, Commander MSTS Pacific; Mr. Bob Carl, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Shipping; Mr. Baird, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Logistic Matters; and Mr. Baldwin, Under Secretary of the Navy and soon to nominated by LBJ as Secretary of the Navy; and Admiral Heaman, Officer in Charge of Construction for Southeast Asia.
“It isn’t as easy as teaching a class at Leavenworth.  These guys ask a lot of questions and if you don’t have the answers they are not hesitant to tell you that you don’t know what you are talking about.  They have done their homework and they expect you to do yours.  I guess my performance was pretty fair as no one threw me out, and we got the contract approved.”

Since he did not think of himself as writing for publication, his dropping of boldface names seemed to be for his own pleasure, to impress himself.  But soon he was back to his regular preoccupations in the diary, the Army and the war. 

The most recurrent theme in the diary was Clark’s growing disillusionment with the Army officer corps culture and its failure in Vietnam.  He tried to do his best and persevered under trying circumstances, but he soon concluded that American military intervention was doomed.  Seldom was he a detached witness.  Sometimes, living in the moment, he swept away on an emotional wave.  As the diary opens in the summer of 1965, we find Colonel Clark venting his frustration and predicting ultimate American military defeat:
“Have been lying in my bed for the past 2 hours trying to get to sleep, but have had no success.  Just toss and turn and think-think-think.  Maybe if I sit down at the desk, I can change the direction of my thoughts and finally relax a little.  Might’s well write if I can’t sleep. . . .
“In an earlier [entry I meant] to tell the reasons why we won’t be able to win over here.  It might be worthwhile to jot down some topics and ideas right now so as to remind me later:  Never reveal these to anyone, not even closest relatives.
“1.  The US fighting man has lost the ability to take care of himself.  In our headquarters, we employ Vietnamese typists, janitors, barbers, electricians, plumbers, PX clerks, interpreters, clerks, and assistants galore.  Classified papers are strewn all over the place like confetti.  And no one really knows whether our help is good guys or bad guys.  For example, the chief VC leader in Saigon was employed by the Navy as a supply expert for many months until suspicion was raised due to unexplained loss of explosives under his control.  He has been the man who has been setting the very effective bombs in the Saigon area.
“2.  The GI no longer is willing to cook his food, wash his dishes, or shine his shoes.  He hires a Vietnamese to do this for him.
“3.  The GI wants to fight from a hotel.  Today I didn’t make very many points with some Very VIPs when I said:  ‘It’s about time we started thinking about one-story tents instead of 4-story hotels for GIs.’  This thing just can’t be won by the guy who wants to play the slot machines at the Rex BOQ.
“4.  We don’t have a spirit of closing with the enemy and destroy[ing] him by fire and maneuver.  You can only win a war by taking aggressive action, NOT by hiding in a foxhole or inside a walled compound.
“5.  Too many ‘advisors’ like to advise by telephone.  They find all sorts of excuses to avoid doing their duty.  The place to advise is at the Vietnamese commander’s elbow when he’s in trouble, not when he’s in Saigon sitting in an office.
“6.  In my opinion, the South Vietnamese High Command does not want to win and prefers the dollar value of the status quo.  Every American headquarters, BOQ, and important official has to be guarded by barbed wire and many MPs.  But the Joint General Staff High Command of the Vietnamese Armed Forces HAS NO GUARDS AROUND IT WHATSOEVER.  The VC have bombed the US Embassy, Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base, BOQs, and restaurants patronized by US.  But they have not bombed the Vietnamese High Command (unguarded), the VN Air Force units on Tan Son Nhut or Vietnamese restaurants.
“7.  The American public does not want to win this war because the cost will come high and hard.  Higher taxes will be required to finance a win.  More civilians will have to be drafted and the National Guard and Reserves will have to be called up.
“8.  All the Regular Army can say is ‘I’ll Try, Sir’ and we are slowly eroding the valuable young assets that we have.  Older men like me are not very important, but I worry about losing the upcoming leaders through unreconstructive loss or disillusionment.
“And there are 10 or 15 other opinions I have now, but am too tired to put them on paper.”   

            Clark’s criticisms paralleled those of more outspoken contemporaries during the early years of the Vietnam War who warned civilian and military leaders of critical flaws in American military strategy.  One thinks of John Paul Vann, a maverick lieutenant colonel who retired from the Army in 1963 and returned to Vietnam two years later as a civilian officer with the US Agency for International Development (AID).  Vann wrote this passage in the summer of 1965:

“. . . regrettably, we are going to lose this war.  We’re going to lose because of the moral degeneration in South Vietnam coupled with the excellent discipline of the VC.  This country [South Vietnam] has pissed away its opportunities so long it is now force of habit---and apparently nothing is going to change them.
“I’m bitter .  .  .not at these ridiculous little Oriental play soldiers---but at our goddam military geniuses and politicians for refusing to admit and act on the obvious---to take over the command of this operation lock, stock, and barrel---but maintaining Vietnamese front men.  It is such a hopeless situation that nothing else will work.”

 One also thinks of Colonel David Hackworth, a highly decorated battalion commander in Vietnam in 1965 who wrote:

“The U.S. Army has badly botched the war.  I have concluded, after exhaustive study, that we have lost . . .
“1.  We have not required the government of SVN to establish reforms.  It remains a corrupt, inefficient, graft-ridden collection of divided opportunists who have little interest in the people of their country.  As a result of these factors, the people have no interest in the GVN [government of Vietnam] and are either actively supporting the VC or completely indifferent to the programs of the GVN.  Without the active assistance of the people, an insurgent force cannot be defeated.
“2.  Failure to develop overall objectives and a plan of strategy to support these aims which would bring the war to a successful conclusion.
“3.  Failure to develop small unit tactics which would support an overall campaign plan.
“4.  Failure of our Army to understand the nature of guerrilla warfare.  As a consequence of this almost criminal shortcoming, we have been reacting to the enemy . . . it boils down to the hard fact that we don’t have the initiative and are strictly on the defense---the enemy plays the tune and we dance . . .
“5.  The tactical know-how that senior officers (LTC and above) have displayed in Vietnam is deplorable.  This condition has resulted in a failure to understand how to fight the guerrilla.  The root cause for this debacle is, that for the past decade our Army has been concerned with developing high-level corporate managers and, in the main, our officer corps has been scurrying busily about collecting tickets---C&GS, War College, DA and JCS staff assignments and command experience sufficient only to get by.  Consequently, we have few soldiers who understand what it is all about at the point of the bayonet level.  And that, as you well know, is where wars are won.”

Clark’s diary suggests that he and other officers of his generation understood what senior general officers did not: the culture of the Army officer corps exerted a corrosive effect on military leadership and battlefield performance. 

Clark wrote to express introspection as well as frustration.  In November 1965, he remembered an incident fifteen years earlier when a private in his airborne infantry platoon was so desperate to hear popular music that he braved North Korean machine gun fire and stole an Army shortwave unit from an abandoned American tank.  The story continued:

“I wonder if young men are still as carefree and careless as the young soldier who risked almost certain injury or death to liberate a radio from the tankers.  Bet they still do crazy things like that.
“The fighting this time is so close to me yet so far away that I never see things like the incident described.  I can stand on a porch over one of the main streets of Saigon and watch the flares, the artillery flashes, and hear the noise---not know what is going on really as I did in the Korean War, and yet know           all that is going on.  The difference in my world and theirs is close, yet very distant.  Now I’ve watched war from the bottom level of a scared second lieutenant with a rifle platoon, unsure of what I should do and when it should be done, to an assured staff officer at the highest headquarters who knows every move to be made and the strategic reasons behind it.  High or low position, war is not a good thing.  But I don’t know how to stop it.  It has been man’s nature to war from the independent caveman to the sophisticated societies of today.  I guess it always will be.”

Clark had the literary ability to evoke a landscape of the mind, to juxtapose his past and present, and express far more than an amusing anecdote. The difference between 1950 and 1965, and the gulf that separated the twenty-two-year old lieutenant from the thirty-seven year old colonel, both punctuated and accentuated the narrative.  Such evocative passages revealed a writer and storyteller at work.
There are similar compelling passages in the diary, but most of Clark’s entries reflect mundane non-military aspects of rear-echelon life in Saigon.  Yet the diary is powerful because the mundane aspects he described reveal the American military culture of the mid-1960s.

The diary also revealed the culture of American military occupation in South Vietnam, particularly US soldiers’ bipolar manner when they interacted with the Vietnamese people.  Then as now, Americans displayed the best and worst of human behavior.  Clark and his fellow officers saw Vietnamese children and peasants as innocent victims of the war and treated them with compassion.  As part of “Operation Harelip”, Clark arranged air transport for children afflicted with cleft palate abnormalities from Da Nang to Saigon, where Navy doctors performed reconstructive surgery.  At Christmas time, he provided supply planes and helicopters for Army officers who privately collected $150,000 worth of toys for orphans.  When a medical missionary asked MACV to transport drugs and supplies to rural clinics serving Montagnard tribal groups, the army colonel unhesitatingly agreed.  Clark was a child of the American South during the Great Depression and he identified with poverty-stricken Vietnamese children who struggled within a system that denied them progress or social justice.  However, he never really understood the Vietnamese he helped or fought..

Clark and his contemporaries were more ambivalent about the adult Vietnamese population.  MACV encouraged soldiers to suspect all Vietnamese civilians as potential enemy threats.  Clark’s own experience in Korea and his everyday life in Vietnam reinforced that view.  In the diary, he dryly recounts numerous Viet Cong terrorist attacks in the heart of American-occupied Saigon:  restaurants, offices, living quarters, airport passenger terminals, and on the streets.  The constant random danger of death or injury wore down the good will of US troops and sometimes contributed to incidents in which American GIs treated the Vietnamese with disrespect.    

The diary documented problematic relationships that developed between American soldiers and Vietnamese women.  Clark described one such relationship between fellow Transportation Corps Major Charles Dughi and his Vietnamese mistress.  Dughi abruptly returned to Saigon for a second tour after an abortive reunion with his wife and children back home in Florida.  He eventually abandoned the pretense of discretion, openly lived with the woman and allowed her to call him daily at MACV headquarters.  Yet Dughi also displayed photographs of his American family in a prominent position on his office desk and refused to discuss the situation with Clark or other fellow officers. 

Clark soon learned that Dughi was but one of many Westerners who became involved with Vietnamese women.  One of his roommates in the bachelor officers’ quarters (BOQ) in Saigon was an Australian military lawyer who unnerved Clark when he left their room unlocked in the middle of the night and mysteriously reappeared after nighttime curfew expired.  Since MACV imposed an curfew in Saigon, Clark suspected that the Australian spent his nights with a Vietnamese. On an excursion to the Cholon post exchange for shaving supplies, Clark was irritated to find the store stocked more than 600 cans of women’s hair spray yet was out of men’s hair tonic.  In 1965, only a few hundred American women held military or civilian jobs in Vietnam. The massive American military buildup created jobs for tens of thousands of Vietnamese civilians, but the ARVN’s continual need for manpower meant that South Vietnamese women comprised a majority of the civilian workforce.  Women worked in a variety of jobs serving the Americans, as post exchange cashiers, cooks, mess hall waitresses, housekeepers, laundresses, clerical workers, musical entertainers, bar girls, and prostitutes.  Daily interactions between American men and Vietnamese women sometimes led to a pathetic exchange of illusionary intimacy for illusionary security.  The GIs wanted female companionship for a variety of reasons.  Some simply wanted sex; others sought friendship, comfort, mothering, or traditional romance.  Vietnamese women wanted to escape economic, political, and social instability in their country.  An American boyfriend offered the immediate prospect of an improved lifestyle and the distant prospect of marriage, US citizenship, emigration, and life in a safe place. 

Both Americans and Vietnamese in intercultural relationships ran considerable risks.  Some GIs were unwittingly kidnapped, imprisoned, or murdered by Viet Cong insurgents after “girlfriends” used sex to lure them into capture.  Other Americans contracted sexually transmitted diseases from Vietnamese girls who kept their “boyfriends” unaware of other sexual partners.  Servicemen faced social and professional consequences when they sought treatment in military clinics.  MACV doctors provided the command with the names of infected personnel, who faced mandatory court-martial proceedings in such cases. Vietnamese women who had American boyfriends or mothered an Amerasian child faced societal rejection and disapproval from their families and the larger society of South Vietnam.  Often parents would disown or reject them, and few Vietnamese men regarded such women as potential mates.   

In the situation Clark described, the Vietnamese woman lived with Dughi and regarded him as her “husband,” regardless of their actual marital status.  Clark wondered whether Dughi would end the relationship once he finished his tour of duty and went home.  Some Americans made promises they never kept.  Some soldiers left without telling their Vietnamese girlfriends.  Other Americans proposed to their girlfriends, and some couples married in traditional Vietnamese ceremonies.  Once they were back in America, veterans faced formidable bureaucratic obstacles in trying to bring their wives or girlfriends to the US.  In some cases, family obligations and fear of the unknown prevented Vietnamese women from leaving their country.

Although there are millions of primary source documents in archives, personal collections, and libraries, some scholars assert that the story of the Vietnam War is unlikely to be as well-documented or understood by historians as the American Civil War or World War II. One reason for this apparent paradox is that Cold War military officers ran considerable risk if they revealed their private thoughts and actions in journals and diaries.  In contrast to Vietnam historians who must rely on participants’ retrospective accounts, researchers of earlier wars have a wealth of diaries, letters, and journals, from Revolutionary War musketeers to senior World War II commanders.

Major General Robert W. Grow.  (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)

The strange case of Army Major General Robert W. Grow and his Cold War diary may reveal why so few military officers kept a real-time account of their opinions and activities during the Vietnam War.  The outcome of the case may also explain why Clark took precautions to avoid General Grow’s fate.  A decorated World War II armor commander, Grow was senior military attaché to the US Embassy in Moscow from July 1950 to January 1952.  In the summer of 1951, while Grow was at a military conference in Frankfurt, West Germany, East German agents stole his diary and photographed the contents.  Later that year, Richard Squires, a British Communist who defected to East Germany, published excerpts from Grow’s diary in a book entitled The Road to War.  Squires fabricated several quotes attributed to Grow and quoted several authentic diary passages out of context to give the impression that Grow was an aggressive warmonger and represented US foreign and military policy.

The Army ordered Major General Maxwell D. Taylor, then the deputy chief of staff for operations and administration, and Major General Alexander Bolling, assistant chief of staff for intelligence, to investigate the case.  After the Army hierarchy reviewed Taylor’s and Bolling’s findings, they gave Grow two options:  voluntary retirement or court-martial on charges that he compromised classified security information by failing to adequately secure his personal diary.  Grow believed he was innocent of the charges.  He argued that The Road to War was a clumsy Soviet attempt to discredit him and obtain his relief from the American embassy because he succeeded in obtaining intelligence on Russian military plans.  Grow chose court-martial proceedings in order to clear his name and continue his military career.

Grow made a personally disastrous decision. He gave the Army control over all aspects of the case.  Chief of Staff Omar Bradley ordered Grow not to make any public statements refuting Squires’ book.  The Army classified Grow’s court-martial proceedings as “secret,” and barred the press from covering the July1952 trial.  General Hubert Hoover, the presiding judge, denied a defense motion to introduce key documents that might have helped Grow’s case, including the diary.  Hoover also refused defense requests to cross-examine Bolling and Taylor.

The court-martial board deliberated for less than an hour before it found Grow guilty of two counts of dereliction of duty and two counts of security infractions.  The court ordered the Army to place a letter of reprimand in Grow’s personnel file and suspend him from command for six months.  Grow appealed the case until it reached the commander-in-chief, fellow diarist Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1957.  The president sustained the court’s findings but remitted its sentence.

The Grow court-martial chilled any remaining enthusiasm Cold War-era Army officers may have felt about recording their personal feelings for posterity.  Clark recognized that there was no secure place to store his journal in Saigon.  Vietnamese civilians worked in every facet of the American war effort, from hotel rooms to headquarters, and some of them proved to be Viet Cong operatives.  He decided to mail his daily diary entries home with the personal letters he sent his family.
Because so few Vietnam-era Army officers of Clark’s generation kept journals or wrote contemporaneous accounts of their experience, one searches for an explanation for the diary.  He originally intended to write an insider account of events and personalities within the joint staff headquarters of MACV.   By early 1966, he gave up on the idea of a book or article but still continued to author entries until about two weeks before he was due to return to the United States. He may have persisted out of habit, or as a form of daily therapy for one who was constrained by mainstream American cultural norms from sharing his feelings.   He also felt constrained from revealing important information, even in the privacy of his diary, for security reasons.  Clark often made cryptic references in his diary to the movement of military units from the US to Vietnam, tactical operations, and high-level MACV discussions to remind him what had transpired and when important events occurred.  
The diary is valuable because it is a reliable primary source.  It is written by a man who befriended, argued with, or came into contact with, most of the major figures of the Vietnam War.  Unlike memoirs or oral histories, the diary is a contemporaneous record of events and impressions.  When we read the diary, we are with a thirty-seven year-old lieutenant colonel in Vietnam in 1965.  A Vietnam veteran writing in 1975, 1985, 1995, or 2005 cannot overcome the limitations of the human memory.  Few individuals can accurately recapture how they felt and what they thought on a specific day.  Retrospection similarly contaminates memory.  Historians who evaluate memoirs and oral histories must perform the difficult task of separating what veterans now know about Vietnam from what veterans knew then about their part in the war.

The text that accompanies Clark’s diary entries is an interpretive essay that attempts to place his story within the larger narrative of Army transportation history in the first year of the Vietnam War.  The diary cannot stand alone.  A serious reading of its pages requires a contextualization and comparison with other sources, including MACV documents, command histories, unit rosters, staff studies, oral histories, memoirs, military technical publications, contemporary newspaper and magazine articles, and secondary works on the Vietnam War.  However, Clark’s writing is the centerpiece of this work.  The interpretive essay is my modest attempt to bridge the considerable gap between source and history.

Diarists rarely consider that readers in an unforeseen future expect them to properly introduce familiar figures in the diarist’s life.  Fortunately, this is a situational diary and Clark experiences many new people, places, and events at the same time the reader experiences them.  However, take Clark at his word when he described himself as “too aloof, cryptic, and short with people,” and treat the diary as though one were accompanying him among strangers during his tour of duty.  It may help to know that there are some familiar themes that appear throughout the diary   His previous duty assignment was at the Army Command and General Staff College, so Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and CGSC figure prominently in the text.  From 1961-1965, he studied with and taught hundreds of Army officers who served with him in Vietnam.  Clark also frequently compared and contrasted his formative war experience in Korea with contemporary circumstances in Vietnam.  The Korean War profoundly influenced him as a “scared second lieutenant” who commanded an elite airborne infantry rifle platoon and survived two combat jumps behind enemy lines.  Korea in 1950 destroyed whatever romantic notions he once possessed about warfare. 

Hopefully, the reader is now prepared to accompany Major Clark on his journey to Vietnam.  It is June 9, 1965.  A Pan American 707 idles at the passenger gate at Travis Air Force Base, California.

Military Air Transport Service travel authorization to Saigon, South Vietnam, for Clark, 8 June 1965.  (Document courtesy Richard P. Clark, Jr. Collection)

-J.R. Clark, 16 January 2011

1 comment:

  1. This is fascinating material to me. I was a USAF Transportation Officer assigned to the 15th Aerial Port Squadron at Pleiku, Danang, and Phu Cat AB, RVN... then to the 6th Aerial Port Squadron in Bangkok in support of the massive buildup of USAF personnel in Thailand in 1968-69.

    I relate positively to the opening chapter. The remarks of President Kennedy, which were read to Maj. Clark's 1962 graduating class at the Army Command and General Staff College, were correct then and are correct now.

    By the way, I found this blog while researching "Brig. Gen. Arthur Hurow" for a French Air Force officer friend who served with him.