[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
Re: 50 years ago today - 29 Sep 1950
Do read my conviction that Aderholt illustrates very well how we took the
wrong lessons from Korea to Vietnam.
Warren Trest: AIR COMMANDO ONE, Heinie Aderholt and America's Secret Air
Wars, Smithsonian Institution Press
This work is another of Smithsonian's unique services to the United States
and should be recognized as such. It is easily one of the most fluent,
credible, and understandable indictments available that summarize credibly
the Armed Services bureaucracies' actions to Americanize the Vietnam War. It
merits a close reading by all the nation's decision makers, particularly
those wearing uniforms.
It is doubtful that either Aderholt or Trest had this objective in mind as
they set about tracing the post-WWII life and career of Heinie himself. He
and I overlapped in our military work in Korea, Laos, and Vietnam, a
considerable part of the reason I've understood him so easily. I am
fascinated by how much his and my feelings about insurgencies, and the
failing efforts our nation made to counter them, coincide. It is no surprise
to any of you that our own uniformed bureaucracies, and their dedication to
"what they knew" were the major assets our enemies had in the "People's Wars"
Heinie came to our wars with his Air Force pilot's intellectual baggage,
which was much different than mine. He was far more visible than me in his
various early roles in Korea. I knew a bit of his efforts there because of
Joe Ulatoski, "the six-foot pole no one wanted to touch." Joe ran the ranger
efforts in the North based in part on the intelligence Heinie was acquiring
from the Korean agents his outfit (often him) were preparing, and then
dropping by parachute in critical areas. 70 percent of these people made it
back. Recall how many got back from similar drop missions in Vietnam. Zero,
hence a very different war as far too few of us knew.
His early career included command of a 500 man all black squadron at Maxwell
AFB in 1946. He describes this unit "… as the first and one of the best USAF
units he ever commanded." His appreciation of how to lead troops in unusual,
stressful situations began then.
His side comments of the role of the C-130 gunships and what they
accomplished on the Ho Chi Minh Trail were powerful. He speaks to the Jet
Fighter Plane Mafia folding the extraordinary number of trucks the C-130
destroyed into their own records. He said the same thing to his chain of
command in 1969. This made the hostility to him of that part of the USAF
last forever. This was not the only reason for some of its commanders to
feel distress with him, of course. In truth, he made many of them know that
their focus on fighting the war they understood was irrelevant to Vietnam.
His conclusions about war began with the centrality of intelligence. He
understood that our first priority was acquiring information on, and then
understanding what we knew of our enemies, our allies, and ourselves, a
still-ignored responsibility. His experience with the CIA is much different
and more positive than that of most serving soldiers, probably because he
brought to them experience and capabilities that were not anywhere in their
The chapter devoted to the Hmong mountain people is titled "The Secret War in
Laos." Heinie is particularly appreciative of General Vang Pao. His
discussion of how the Hmong fought our war makes our disgraceful abandoning
of them even harder to stomach. He describes this as "shameful," and making
up for it with assistance to their survivors in Laos and in the United States
"my last major project in this lifetime."
Heinie was also responsible for supporting our effort to use the Khamba
tribesmen in Tibet to make the Chinese control of their recently captured
country costly. His description of our training Khamba quietly and illegally
in Colorado, and then transporting them back to their country made me cringe
as I recalled earlier stories of this. The betrayals of both peoples was
shameful. Worse, this appears to be an enduring pattern, i.e., more recently
the Kurds in the north of Iraq.
Briefly, I learned so much from Heinie's discussion of how he worked about
and around disputing factions in the USAF, that my own experience in the Army
is in a much better perspective. Both of us noted that the death of
President Kennedy allowed our four Armed Services to "Americanize" a war we
did not understand and should never have been fighting. The early boost made
in helping our uniformed seniors understand The War of our Times, i.e.,
"countering insurgencies" had only been possible because of JFK's support and
understanding. All of Heinie's contemporaries would profit from reflecting
on how he lived and served his country. Their reactions to his sterling life
would be received with gratitude by today's commanders and those charged with
teaching responsibility and leadership to young officers and NCOs.
The important lessons from this account of Heinie's life need to be shared.
One of these is that most of his knowledgeable contemporaries in both the
USAF and the US Army, and enough of his chiefs in the USAF knew he was
correct and worthy of support. Seeing that his knowledge and courage were
honored by so many, despite the annoyance of some of his chiefs, will help
those who know of it follow his noble path. His admirers need to share their
appreciation of him in every venue. Warren Trest's work makes this far
easier for everyone of his readers and is a service for everyone in the
nation, particularly for those who elect to spend their lives in a uniform.