13 June 2001

Pornography and Aerodynamics

Bernard E. Trainor, 
Lieutenant General, United States Marine Corps, (Retired)

The 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, whose CP was on Hill 34, southwest of Danang
was detached from its parent regiment and was under the operational control
of the Division. One of its jobs was to maintain a company on ten-minute
alert as a quick reaction force. The alert force was saddled with the
detested code name of "Pacifier." (The thumb sucking torment directed at its
members by artillery tenants of Hill 34 led to some serious combat in the EM
club). The Pacifiers, reacting to hard intelligence, most of which came from
radio intercepts and periodic reconnaissance sightings, would zip off by
helicopter to attack identified VC/NVA targets in the 1st Division's
Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR). Some missions proved fruitful, some
turned out to be busts, "dry holes" in the argot of the time. Normally a
package of four CH-46s and a command and control Huey would arrive at Hill
34's LZ early every morning. A "target list" of places to go and things to
do would already be drawn up by the time the birds arrived. After a pilot
brief and a review of the Pacifier SOP, the mission would launch, marry up
with two Cobra gunbirds and head for the first objective on the list.

At about 1000 on a sunny day on 25 September 1970, the team landed on a
suspected VC site at a hamlet of Ap Ba on the banks of the Song Thu Bon. It
turned out to be a dry hole -- no VC. The area, however, was notorious for
mines and booby traps, so the troops didn't waste time clumping around to
set one off. Instead they flew to Fire Base Baldy (5th Marines CP), twenty
air miles southeast of Danang, and set down to wait. There was hard
intelligence that a VC cadre meeting was to take place at 1300 at Truong Son
another hamlet at the southern foothills of the Queson Mountains, a haven
for the VC/NVA. This one turned out to be a winner.

At the appointed hour and without a zone prep, the Pacifier flared into a
dry paddy adjacent to the hamlet and caught the bad guys by surprise. A
short running gun battle ensued as a half dozen VC headed for the hills.
Most got away, except one gent in black pajamas, He cut across the paddy in
view of a firing line of Marines on full automatic. Not one Marine hit him!
"Cease Fire!, Cease Fire!" screamed disgusted fire team leader, L/Cpl
Reynolds. Dropping his own M-16, he took off after his quarry with Olympian
speed and tackled him. All stared slack-jawed at this display of derring-do.
With a wide grin on his face, Reynolds dragged the little fellow back,
waving the captive's pistol above his head in symbolic triumph (He got to
keep the pistol, got a pat on the back and received high conduct and
proficiency marks). That ended the day's operation and all hands flew back
to Hill 34, pleased with themselves despite the atrocious display of
marksmanship. The prisoner was turned over to the intelligence people and
1/5 went about its business with little further thought given to the skinny
and wizened captive.

As later related by the prisoner's custodians, the 1st Division
Intelligence-Translator Team (ITT), their guest was identified at Nguyen
Loi. He was the Vietcong intelligence chief for the Quang Da Special Zone.
Having spent most of his life in the bush he looked much older than his
forty some odd years. Loi was a long time communist having fought the
French, then the Saigon and American armies. He was what the Irish call a
"hard case." Although he was an intelligence jewel, he was as tough as nails
and totally resistant to interrogation. He kept his mouth shut and simply
glared at his questioners. The team was getting no cooperation from Loi, nor
any information His only concession was to accept food, drink and
cigarettes. Yet, they kept working on him while keeping him isolated and his
presence secret. Loi was a challenge to their professional pride.

That brings us to the opening question. Did the team member returning from
R&R in Bangkok, bring back any skin flicks. You bet he did. After chow that
evening the ITT SEA hut became a Cineplex in anticipation of a premier
screening of a sure Academy Award contender. As the troops settled in, one
thought to ask, "I wonder if Loi would like to watch this?" No sooner was
the idea raised, then the sullen VC was ushered in to the orchestra seats
and given a Coke and a Marlboro. The lights dimmed and the film began to
roll. The first couple in the award-winning flick had barely exhausted
themselves when a hiss issued from Loi's hitherto sealed lips. All heads
turned to look. What they saw was a palsied man shaking like a aspen leaf in
the wind. Impervious to the stares, Loi's eyes were fixed steadily upon the
silver screen. It was clear that Loi had never seen the likes of it during
his long years in the Outback. "Gents, I think we just broke the code," said
somebody. And indeed they had. Loi had become an avid movie fan. In return
for a season theater pass, he would tell the ITT anything they wanted to

Loi revealed that the headquarters of the Quang Da Special Zone was hidden
in a draw on the southern slopes of the Quesons. The French, ARVN's and
Marines had struggled over the neighboring rugged terrain for years and
never spotted it. The VC identified the general location on a 1:50,000 map,
without being specific. He knew its location from traversing the terrain,
but the map was foreign to him. Arrangements were made to fly over the area
incident to helicopter resupply missions. Loi had never been in a helicopter
before, was frightened, got sick and said it was too high for him to
identify any landmarks. Next he went on dedicated flights in a Huey from
varied altitudes and angles, all disguised as routine flights. The aerial
reconnaissance was beginning to work. With the help of vertical and oblique
photos plus growing familiarity with American maps, he was able to locate
what he believed was the draw he was looking for. When he found out that
another team member was due back from R & R in Hong Kong, he even offered to
go along with the Marines to and guide them in an attack on the position.

All of this was unknown to the Marines of 1/5 until they received orders in
early November to conduct the attack. Having tromped the Quesons to little
effect in the past, all hands were a bit skeptical about success.

Nonetheless a plan was quickly drawn up for a two company operation. A
Company commanded by Capt Tony Zinni. would land by CH-46 in the low ground
at the bottom of the draw. B Company under Capt Art Garcia, a tough old
mustang, would land on the high ground above the draw. A Battalion jump CP
would go in with Bravo. On the morning of the appointed day, the heliborne
assault began. And with it Murphy's Law was activated. Immediately upon
landing, Alpha Company came under fire. Zinni among others was hit. A
medevac was called in as the Marines continued the attack. It was at this
point either Loi, his ITT handlers or both panicked. According to the
handlers, Loi heard his name being shouted from among the rocks with threats
to kill him. He allegedly became unglued, hunkered down and would not move
forward. When the medevac chopper arrived, it was not only Zinni who was
thrown aboard. Loi and the ITT escort followed suit on the grounds that Loi
was in no shape to continue and he was too valuable to lose in the
firefight. That was their story and they were sticking with it. At any rate
1/5's guide to the hidden headquarters was safely winging his way to Baldy
while a firefight continued for an elusive command post, hidden within the
nooks, crannies and boulders of the Quesons. The VC were clearly caught by
surprise and their defense was more desperate than organized. But, without
Loi, nobody knew which of the many draws in front of them is the one they

The Marines slowly gained ground and the counterfire from what turned out to
be the C-111 VC Company diminished until it ceased altogether, accept for a
small pocket of resistance, skillfully dug in on the lower slopes. It
received the undivided attention of Alpha Company which took some casualties
in the process. Again a medevac was called in. But the terrain was extremely
rugged and it was shot out of the zone until a pair of Cobras arrived on
scene. One, piloted by a nugget with huge gonads hovered over the enemy
position at spitting altitude. Remaining motionless and vulnerable, he hosed
down the VC while the medevac made a successful run. That done, a pair of
A-4s which had been on strip alert, were called in to saturate the enemy
strongpoint with snake and nape. All was quiet after that until late in the
afternoon when 1/5 began receiving significant fire from beyond the cordon
they had established around the draws and gullies that presumably housed the
Quang Da headquarters. The immediate impulse was to go after them, but wait
a minute, it seemed that the VC were just a little too anxious to have the
Marines do just that. They appeared to want to draw them away from the
complex of draws that had just been overrun by 1/5. Loi was right 1/5 was
within striking distance of gold. The Marines did not take the bait and
chase their antagonists. The pair of Cobras was dispatched to take care of
them. The battalion would take up its uncertain quest in the morning. 1/5
settled into night defensive positions as evening drew nigh and the
battlefield grew quiet.

As the sun rose the following morning, regrettably it was not
correspondingly matched by the Marines' spirits. The common sentiment was
"Here we go again, blundering around the Quesons looking for an invisible
objective. Been there, done that." But orders are orders and everybody
turned-to unenthusiastically beating the bush for signs of life and
habitation. The effort was not rewarded with success and the battalion
commander was about ready to pack it in as a job not very well done.

However, his enthusiasm was rekindled by the surprise arrival of Maj. Gen.
C.F, Widdecke, the Division commander, who during the afternoon of the
second day dropped in from the sky. Full of optimism he inspired a renewed
effort by tactfully implying that 1/5 "would stay in these goddam mountains
until they found the goddam headquarters, godammit!" Then as mysteriously as
he had arrived, he flew off to torment some other poor souls. The only other
thing to drop from the sky that day was heavy rain.

Day three saw none of the enthusiasm engendered by the motivational visit of
El Supremo the day before. By then there were no signs of loitering VC, so
the threat to life and limb disappeared. The lackadaisical bush beating
resumed with pairs of lethargic Marines climbing over rock slides, fallen
trees and through bushes and razor grass looking for the kingdom of Oz. And
this is where Frisbee aerodynamics came into play.

Pfc Hughes was a good Marine, but he was not a particularly Gung Ho Marine.
He would do his time in Vietnam, return to the world and get on with his
life. He is probably a good lawyer somewhere in middle America. (Wherever
you are today, Hughes, good on ya). To combat the boredom and to wile away
the time, between and on Pacifier operations he always carried a fuscha
colored Frisbee. In fact, he and one of his buddies were tossing the Frisbee
around at the air strip at Baldy in the interval before the operation that
resulted in Loi's capture in September At any rate, by the third day in the
Quesons, Hughes was not enamored with what he believed to be a futile
search. Out of sight of his fire team and squad leaders (easy to do in the
rugged Quesons), he and another Marine grew tired of the fruitless peeking
under rocks to find something they doubted existed. Deciding to do something
more useful, Hughes broke out his Frisbee. And began a game of catch. On one
exchange, the disk went awry, sailed over the head of the receiver and
landed in a bush. Whether it was Hughes or his fellow Marine who retrieved
it remains lost in the subsequent excitement. But in retrieving it, one of
them spotted a small hole hidden by the bush. Taking out his K-Bar, the
Marine probed at the hole, which grew bigger and bigger with every probe.

Sure enough, Hughes and company had found an entrance to Oz. The hole was
one of many entrances/exits to Loi's haven. It wasn't long before entry was
gained to a well-hidden cave complex; a truly an extraordinary feat of
primitive engineering. Carved out of solid rock by pick and shovel was a
large chamber, which must have taken years to excavate. Among its features
was an elaborate system of bamboo conduits, some to bring in fresh water,
some to evacuate and dissipate the smoke from cooking fires. There were
bunks constructed from American barbed-wire stakes laced with comm wire to
accommodate over a hundred troops. There was even a separate room, with a
proper cot and desk, presumably for an officer. Piled up in an alcove were
an estimated twenty seven tons of rice. For all the years of operating in
the Quesons, nobody had an inkling of the cave's existence.

The piece de resistance stood against the wall of the main chamber. It was a
filing cabinet made up of used U.S. five gallon coffee cans set on their
sides and bound together with comm wire. In the containers were the
personnel and pay records, complete with photos of all the VC agents and
double agents in Danang and the whole of Quang Nam Province. There were a
total of 18,000 pages of priceless documentation on the VC infrastructure,
which was subsequently turned over to the CIA. No wonder the C-111 Company
was unhappy with 1/5's arrival. In addition to failing to protect its crown
jewels, much of its weaponry and stores were captured. The unit itself was
rendered combat non-effective and was scratched from the G-2's VC Order of
Battle. The operation cost the lives of two Marines with nine wounded. The
rice in the cave was destroyed, but detonating copious amounts of C-4 failed
to collapse the granite cave. It is probably still there serving as home for
a pride of the dreaded Queson tigers, infamous for gobbling up unwary
Marines on listening post.

The find was kept secret within American circles because of the
incriminating data on the South Vietnam officials, but at least 1/5 received
a Navy Unit Citation for its efforts. Loi's ultimate fate is unknown. He may
be a movie producer in Ho Chi Minh City. In the final analysis, the least
that can be said about the operations is that pornography and frivolous
conduct can have some redeeming military, if not social value.

Lt. Gen. Trainor commanded both 1/5 and the Reconnaissance Battalion in Vietnam