Between Sgt. Rock and a Hard Spot
Fire Support Base Washington was a circular island in a sea of rectangular rice paddies, with a few scattered trees on table top flat ground. The Black Virgin Mountain was miles away and thousands of feet to the top. A red dirt road that became a cow path a mile west was the main road from Saigon, Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) to Phom Penh, Cambodia ran 100 feet north of Washington. Our Battery of less than 100 men occupied the center of the FSB and whatever infantry company showed up with less than 100 men occupied the perimeter.
The infantry was to protect the FSB from ground attack and occupied dirt hovels that became bunkers as the base aged. Transient military posts are the least cared for as the current occupant might be gone the next day so there is little long term incentive to spruce-up the place.
First light on a mid December 1968 morning revealed an arc of signs and a 24 foot long banner outside the final row of concertina wire. The infantry company commander ordered his men to take them down and bring them inside the base so the accompanying photographs were taken inside the base. Along with them were 3 122mm rockets without fuses, 2 primitive hand grenades, 1 61mm mortar shell, 1 lone rocket fuse, two items that I think are trip flares and some printed propaganda leaflets. Who was sleeping when they were installed? Battery A men began throwing questions at the infantry and some insults. The infantry had their own questions for one another. Every man had a locked and loaded M-16 on them. A fire fight inside FSB Washington was not out of the question.
This was effective psychological warfare! Why leave the armament when they had so little? Would they return with a ground attack? WHO SLEPT! The content of the leaflets had little to offer except laughs but their being placed created imagined fears and paranoia among us. Who painted the signs and banner?
The signs appeared to be done by a native English writer while the content was not. Those were guesses. One or two of the signs appealed directly to black soldiers; stop fighting for whites and fight them. The writer knew about the deep racial divide in America and the current fight for equal rights.
Click the image above to view full size.
Viet Cong Propaganda
These leaflets were signed by 4 U.S. Army soldiers, held captive. My guess is they were held and controlled by local Viet Cong not North Vietnam military forces. Their release dates are from a list maintained by www.pownetwork.org. Their names and release dates are:
Thomas N. Jones
Bobby L. Johnson
We had some great laughs about the contents and offers of goodies in these. A blanket, mosquito net, hammock, clothing for the climate and plenty to eat as a reward for surrendering, was not going anywhere. We lived in holes in the ground, ate 1943 C-rations and were stuck in the middle of nowhere but were better off than that.
McKinley Nolan’s leaflet seems more from the heart and not dictated by his captors. Some American painted the signs and banner, McKinley seems a likely person. I did not understand the internal Vietnamese politics and no one I knew or asked could explain them to me. What could our enemy offer McKinley to solve the problems in his life or the racial conflict in America? McKinley may have surrendered or was captured; I could not find a definitive answer. Richard Linnett has 11 years researching McKinley and responded on his blog at www.richardlinnett.net, to my speculation…
“…we met with VC proselytizing members who lived with Nolan and they admitted to writing all of Nolan’s propaganda. They said he could hardly spell. Nolan’s motives were mixed and confusing. We’re still not sure if he defected or simply deserted and was captured and then did the VC’s bidding in order to stay alive and get to Battambang, Cambodia, where his Vietnamese/Cambodian girlfriend’s family lived”.
Movie Review of “The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan”
An as yet unreleased documentary based on research by Richard Linnett has been made about McKinley’s family searching into his fate after November 1967. The film has a web site www.mckinleynolan.com. It is being shown at film festivals and to selected groups, building to a future public release. Corra Films sent me a copy to review after surfing into this story. This will be my first “film review”; my goal is good reviews of my review.
Did US Army Soldier McKinley Nolan rally (defect)? Did he kill US Army Military Policemen? Is he alive in 2011?
The film slowly weaves McKinley Nolan’s family and friends into 11 years of detailed research done by Richard Linnett about McKinley. As each tells stories about McKinley’s life, Vietnam Veteran and former Army Lt. Dan Smith tells the family of meeting a black American in Tay Ninh City Vietnam in 2005, that he believes is McKinley. The Nolan family last heard from McKinley in November 1967. In 1973, the Department of Defense notified them McKinley declined to be returned in the 1973 prisoner exchange, mandated by the Paris Peace Accord. This is the last reliable information his family has lived with. The Nolan family has been stuck in time over McKinley since 1967 and the journey detailed in the film kick-started the family clock.
Dan Smith’s story sets in motion a trip to Vietnam to interview people that knew McKinley after November 1967 and ends in the “Killing Fields” of Cambodia. The film follows Dan Smith, Richard Linnett and brother, Michael Nolan speaking with Viet Cong soldiers that directed Nolan’s propaganda work. A Vietnamese son (adopted) joins the search to find his mother and McKinley, as the group travels to Cambodia and meets his former Khmer Rouge comrades.. They meet a man that may have killed McKinley but only admits to knowing the day and methods used to kill him.
Director Henry Corra concentrates on faces and body language; I could see and feel the humanity of each individual as they enter the story. Researcher, writer and co-producer Richard Linnett deserves recognition for research detail and 11 years of searching. The film has not been released to the public but does appear in film festivals and is shown for select audiences. Find a way to see this documentary!
You can view the first couple of minutes of the movie.
Rallied Man Nolan
RALLIED MAN NOLAN TO 1st AND 25th INFANTRYMEN!
G.I s of the 1st and 25th Inf. Div. My Name McKinley Nolan Corporal Serial Number US64101802 1st Inf. Div.
I’m proud to have the pleasure to write and tell you why on November 12, 1967 I crossed over to the South Viet Nam National Libration Front.
After Nearly two years in South Vietnam I see that the war in Vietnam waged by Johnson Government only brings harm to the lives and property of the vietnamese and american people. I do not intend to let you add more crimes on the peace-and freedom loving vietnamese people and try to prevent my friends from dying useless death.
Since I cross over to the South Vietnam National Liberation Front I have received fair treatment physically and spiritually. I have never been forced to do anything against my will.
During my stay in the Liberation Zone I see that the Vietnamese people warmly welcome the american people’s movement against the war of Johnson Government in Viet Nam and fully support the american people in their struggle for freedom and equality.
You and I American know very clearly that the US War in Viet Nam is an aggressive one. It is like the british making war on the American people Nearly 200 years ago. The Vietnamese people are not our enemy. It’s those who force us to take part in this dirty war.
The Vietnamese people are sure of victory. It is the same as the American defeat of the British for their Independence and Freedom.
To contribute your effort to the American people’s struggle for an early end to the dirty aggressive war to avoid useless death which is disaster to yourself. Your wife and children and you family. You should demand for peace and end to the war! Demand for your home return now! Not fire at or destroy those who rise up to overthrow Thue-Ky puppet clique! Not take part in any operation! If forced to engage in a battle, lay down your arms. Your life will be spared. You can cross over to the SVNNLF you will receive fair treatment and be sent home if you desire.
August 15, 1968
LETTER OF A COLORED P.O.W. TO COLORED G.I’S IN S.V.N.
Colored GI’s in south vietnam
I am Bobby L. Johnson US67152899 E-4 62TC7thBN 48th groups
I am a colored man in detroit michigan. I was captured by the liberation army on aug 25, 1968. When I was in the convoy going from Cu Chi to tay ninh. Lucky to be a pow, alive and aware of the truth I think it is necessary to write you a letter.
Since I was captured I have been treated so good and given enough to eat and drink. I”ve never been tortured nor mistreated. It is completely different from what the US Administration says. You know that in the states we colored men are badly treated by the white Administration Martin Luther King was trying to help our people but as you know he was killed. Our colored youth are sent to south vietnam, forced to burn down home and burn their food and kill little babies and their mothers. You know that colored GI s killed in action are most than white. They work harder but make less money. Johnson and the white administration make much money. The enemy of the colored is not the Vietnamese peoples but the racists at home. We don’t have anything here to fight for we should go home to fight racial discrimination and poverty.
To avoid useless death you should: Demand an end to the war. Refuse to go out on operation by every means. When you are in cross fire lay down your arms give yourself up:
Cross over to the national liberation front; you will be alive and sent home to your family.
Sept. 30 – 1968
Bobby L. Johnson
Thi leafle can be used as passport
Group Propaganda 1
LETTER OF 3 US P.O.W’s
G.I’s IN SOUHT V.N
Fellow G.I s in S.V.N.
We are Kenneth R Gregory SGT RA18703340 352 TC6BNUSGp, Bobby L. Johnson SP4 US67152899 62 TC7BNUSGp, Thomas N. Jones SP4 US51996296 86th6BNUSGp
We write this letter to you to tell of the treatment of the N.F.L. Towards us and of our understanding on the war in Vietnam.
We were captured August 25, 1968 when the convoy we were in was ambushed by the Liberation Army. We had been told by the US army if captured we would be tortured and even Killed We were and are not! Instead we have received the best of treatment. The reason we are alive now is because we crossed over to the L.A.F. at the first chance we had. We were immediately evacuated from the fight to the rear where we were safe. Then we received clothing, food, water and cigarettes…
We appeal to you to refuse to be sent out on operation but if you ar forced to go, cross over to the LAF the first chance you have. You will be able to avoid nervous strain painful injuries and useless death and unnecessary Heartache for your Loved ones. So do not fight but cross over to the LAF You will receive very Humane and lenient treatment by the Liberation Combatants.
Demand that you be returned home to your loved ones and that a stop be put to the useless war and let the Vietnamese settle their own affairs for they know what is best for them we do not As truck drivers we have seen the destruction of the land, the homes and villages of the Vietnamese people burning down. We have seen babies left without ??? and another casualty the U.S. War machine and this hurts and makes us very sad. So we do not cause any more bloodshed, destruction, poverty, and heartache
Demand to be sent home and an immediate stop to the unjust and aggressive in Vietnam waged by the Johnson administration
September 30, 1968
(signatures of) Kenneth R. Gregory Bobby L. Johnson Thomas N. Jones
This leaflet can be used as passport
Group Propaganda 2
Letter of 3 U.S P.O.W’s to drivers in the U.S army in S.V.N.
Drivers of the US army in South Viet Nam
We are Thomas N. Jones SP4 519422963 86th T.C. 6th BN. 48th G.P
Kenneth R. Gregory Sgt. RA 18708340 352nd T.C. 6th BN. 48th G.P
Bobby L. Johnson SP4 67152899 62nd T.C. 48th G.P 7th BN.
We were captured when the convoy we were in was ambushed on august 25 1968 between cu chi and Tay Ninh. Since we were captured we have received very good treatment from the Liberation army. We were given Mosquito nets, blankets, and hammock, plenty to eat and clothing for the climate. One of us being injured in the ambush received good medical treatment before leaving the place where we were captured. We are not tortured, mistreated, forced to do hard labor or made to go hungry as we were told by the U.S. Army.
American truck, APC and tank Drivers in Viet Nam! As we did in the past. You face many dangers and difficulties while driving in V.N. The roads we drive on are not secure at all; we have no protection and are an easy target at all times for the Liberation army; we must sleep on the ground, go without enough food and must drink dirty water; we are forced to work long hard hours and in many instances we do not have time to bathe, shave, change clothes and take care of our personal needs and to write to our loved ones.
Johnson and his click do not want to end this war because everytime a truck, APC or tank is destroyed it means more money in there pocket. They do not care if a G.I is Killed. Why should Johnson and his click care! They are not over here dying and family is not shedding tears like our family shed tears and is in deep sorrow. Johnson and his gang are making millions of dollars off this unjust war and sorrow of our Loved ones.
Drivers of Trucks APC and tanks! Demand an end to the war, demand to be sent home now. Refuse to go out on operations but if you have to go, cross over to the L.A.F. Immediately at the first chance you get and your lives will be spared. You will receive good humane and lenient treatment.
Sept. 30, 1968
(signatures of) Thomas N. Jones Bobby L. Johnson Kenneth R. Gregory
This leaflet can be used as passport
The January 3, 1969 issue of “TIME” Magazine reported a failed attempt to exchange 3 American POW’s for some number of Viet Cong POW’s, Christmas Day 1968 and that the Viet Cong wanted another meeting at 9:00 AM, New Years Day in the same rice paddy astride the Cambodian Border west of Saigon. (Ho Chi Minh City) The January 10, 1969 issue notes the exchange was completed New Years Day 1969 and that a 4th American escaped the Viet Cong the same week after 5 years as a prisoner; Green Beret Major James N. Rowe.
The exchange did take place January 1, 1969. Our battery and an infantry company spent both days on high alert, should military forces be needed quickly. FSB Washington was the closest Army base to this rice paddy. Ten UH-1B’s sat with engines running and the assigned infantrymen waited nearby. Our howitzers sat aimed at the paddy and our gun crews close to their assigned stations.
Thomas N. Jones was the only man, of the 4 that signed the leaflets, exchanged January 1, 1969. The New York Times reported the names of the other two men exchanged as PFC D.G. Smith and Sp.4 J.W. Brigham. The pownetwork list of pow’s include both men as exchanged January 1, 1969. How were these meetings arranged and by whom? It seems another exchange must have taken place in May 1969 as Kenneth R. Gregory was returned. Someone was talking to someone on the other side.
Bobby L. Johnson was returned February 12, 1973.
McKinley Nolan’s fate is unknown.