Kit Carson Scouts

Kit Carson Scouts (Hoi Chanh Vien in Vietnamese, loosely translated as "one who has returned") 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 enemy 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 DaNang 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, the two southernmost province areas of I Corps, the five northern provinces in South Viet Nam (the other three northern provinces being Quang Nam, Thua Thien and Quang Tri; the latter on the border with North Viet Nam on the other 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 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. Private Sells and the two Kit Carson Scouts then traveled to the battalion headquarters of the 1st Bn, 7th Marines on the southern bank of the Song Tra Bong River in Binh Son District of Quang Ngai Province, the base area for the 38th Local Force Battalion and the 95th Local Force Company. Quang Ngai and Quang Tinh Provinces were also the operating areas for the Viet Cong 2nd Main Force Division and the 3rd NVA Division, whose senior officers were North Vietnamese commanding ranks of soldiers primarily recruited in South Viet Nam. Both men had also 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 were 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 second 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 insure 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.

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 commanders.

We had a number of PF's working with our CAC (CAG/CAP) Hotel 3 unit in An Loc in 1967.   Mostly they were rice farmers or fishermen by day and did night ambushes with the Marines.   I don't ever remember going outside our perimeter with any of the ARVNs.   One night ambush a PF was cut in two by automatic M-16 gunfire.   It was officially reported as accidental, but I have always suspected that it was a way of dispatching a VC weasel who was working for both sides as a double agent.   Bob Fallo, who was with India 3/3 in 1966-67 was also with us at the same CAC unit in 1967.   He went across the river to CAC Hotel 8 after I went to Phu Bai HQ BAS.   I hope to see Bob in Bakersfield on Thursday, September 20th.   He's not doing so well in the health department.   COPD and Esophageal Cancer have limited his ability to travel, so I won't count on his being in Orlando.   Bob is one of three people in my life who have consistently been able to trounce me at western chess.   But I don't think he ever mastered the eastern version.
Two of the ARVN lieutenants, Truong oui Hahn and Huong, were pharmacists from Hanoi and Saigon prior to their inscription into the South Vietnamese Army.   They treated me as though I were an actual physician.   They spent their siesta time in the afternoons at my quarters playing Xiang Xi (Chanh Lac) the Chinese version of chess as well as conventional chess.   Over the chessboard they learned grammatical English from me.   I learned grammatical Vietnamese from them.   We used French as the intermediate language to overcome idioms and nuances.   They spoke far better English than I did Vietnamese at the end of four months of linguistic immersion.   I learned to read and write from one of the teenage kids, Nguyen Sahm, who hung around the compound.   They were, in all likelihood, VC spies.   At least that is what I am told in retrospect by the now retired USMC Colonel who was the unit Sgt after I left An Loc.   I am still proficient in their language, which got me a lot of special attention last year.   That and the fact that I was Happy Buddha with a big belly they all wanted to rub for good luck.
A baby I delivered in 1967 is now the hamlet chief of An Loc.   I met him and his twenty-two- year-old son last year when we visited there.   For some reason I just don't remember Doc Brown's buddy "Tonto."   I should, but I don't.   Then again, Mike and I witnessed the same events and have a complete difference of recollections.   He and I were never on the same patrols and ambushes together.                                        


Good things happen at The Wall

What follows is a true story.  A friend of mine, who is an Army RVN Vet recently made his first trip to The Wall. For years I've been telling him he should go, but he was afraid, as was I at one time. I kept telling him that good things happen there. Finally I told him what I'm now going to tell you folks.
In about 1970 or so the POW/MIA bracelets came out. I bought one. The name on it was Patrick R. Curran, Major USMC who went missing on June 10, 1969. His hometown was Bensenville, Illinois. I wore the bracelet all the time for about 25 years.
Sometime in the mid 1990's I was at The Wall with a group of NC Vietnam Vets. There was a huge crowd there - some kind of reunion was going on. Maybe it was the dedication, I don't really remember. There were so many people there that it was difficult to move around. I spent a lot of time tracing names of the many friends and comrades that I remembered; most were from Mike Company.
Anyway, as I was moving from East to West I found my way blocked by an elderly woman who was looking up at a spot on the wall. She was in her own world and didn't even know I was six inches away from her. Her companion, a younger woman about my age said to me "Her son is on the wall." I followed the older woman's gaze as best I could - my eyes immediately focused on the name Patrick R. Curran. That was creepy, I must say. It was as if some unseen force had directed my line of sight. I asked the lady the name of her son. Believe it or not, his name was Patrick R. Curran !
I took off my POW bracelet and gave it to her. She cried, I cried, and a lot of my companions cried too.
Imagine the odds of something like that happening. I'm getting goosebumps as I write this.
Those of you who have had the chance to visit The Wall and haven't been able to handle it might want to reconsider. It wasn't easy for me to make that first visit. I had to literally be dragged up to it. Now I'm a frequent visitor and much the better for it.  Good things happen at The Wall.

Doc Mike Brown  M/3/3 1966-67

3/3 RVN Ass’n  Vol  1  Issue 11  01/01/2008  Pages 12-14