PAVN Records Search

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Below is the report prepared after a search of People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) records covering the Laotian Threatre of operations. This document is available in the National Archives and is not classified.

Defense Prisoner Of War/Missing In Action Office

2400 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301-2400
15 July 1998



Prepared by

Robert J. Destatte

Senior Analyst, Southeast Asia Division

I reviewed the People's Army of Vietnam's (PAVN) official history of military operations on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the PAVN's official history of the 968th Volunteer Infantry Division, and the PAVN's official history of its Chemical Command (see below for titles and extracts).


  - These three official PAVN accounts make no mention of any possible use of lethal chemicals by American or allied forces during the war.

  - The official PAVN history of its operations on the Ho Chi Minh trail makes no mention of any possible use of any type of lethal chemical weapons by American or allied forces during the war.

  - The history of 968th Volunteer Infantry Division, the unit responsible for the defense of the area in which Operation Tailwind took place, makes no specific mention of any engagement in September 1970, nor any mention of the use of chemical agents by US and allied forces.

  - The history of PAVN Chemical Command mentions American use of only defoliants, incendiary, and CS type chemical weapons in Laos.

  - The history of the PAVN Chemical Command mentions that the PAVN's seizure of American chemical weapons (specifically CS grenades) and equipment (e.g., gas masks) and related documents during Operation Lam Son 719 in early 1971 in Laos contributed significantly to Hanoi's "political and diplomatic struggle." From this statement we might infer that Hanoi would have exploited any American attempt to employ lethal chemicals.

  - Primary missions of PAVN chemical troops (history of the PAVN Chemical Command):

  - guidance to combat arms units on how to cope with chemicals the enemy employed
  - distribution of gas masks and other equipment for defense against chemicals
  - generate smoke in support of deception and concealment operations
  - flame thrower support to combat arms units
  - collect and exploit enemy chemical munitions and countermeasures equipment


I reviewed the following three books to see whether PAVN's official histories mention any possible use of lethal chemicals by US forces in Laos during the Vietnam war. I found no mention of lethal chemicals. I translated a few relevant passages that you might find useful.

1. Van Tai Quan Su Chien Luoc Tren Duong Ho Chi Minh Trong Khang Chien Chong My [Strategic Military Transportation on the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the War of Resistance Against America], written by Senior Colonel Nguyen Viet Phuong, Directorate of Rear Services, People's Army of Vietnam, 1st reprinting with revisions and additions, Hanoi, 1988.

pp. 337-358, contains descriptions of various bombs American forces employed in Laos, and PAVN countermeasures, and statistical charts depicting total numbers of bombs by type, year, and general location. No mention of any type of chemical weapon.

2. Su Doan 968 (968th Division], published by the Culture and Information Office of the 968th Division, Quang Tri, 1990. The 968th Volunteer- Infantry Division was responsible for defense of the Ho Chi Minh trail corridor in southern Laos, including the area in which Operation Tailwind took place.

pp. 60-90, contains descriptions of actions in the Saravane Province, Laos during 1970. The passage contains a relatively detailed account of actions during April-June 1970. The passage does not mention any engagement in September 1970. The only mention of American commando operations [i.e., MACVSOG] is a sentence on page 88 that notes during the 1970 rainy season we (the US) inserted 35 commando teams by helicopter in the regions bordering the Bolovens Plateau.

I found no mention of American or allied use of chemical agents in the PAVN history of the 968th Division.

3. Lich Su Bo Doi Hoa Hoc, Tap /, 1958-1975, so thao (History of the Chemical Command, Volume 1, 1958-1975, draft], written by Le Huong and Dang Xuan Khoi and revised by Nguyen Thanh Huu, published by the Headquarters of the Chemical Command, People's Army of Vietnam, Hanoi, 1988. Chapter 2, pp. 167-240, covers the activities of the PAVN Chemical Command in B4 Front (southern Quang Tri Province and Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam), and B5 Front (demilitarized zone, northern Quang Tri Province, and the Highway 9 corridor), and southern Laos.

p. 198. The history of the PAVN Chemical Command devotes a total of two short paragraphs to events during 1970. Only one of these two paragraphs is devoted to events in Laos: "In May 1970, the 91st [Chemical] Company was attached to the 141st Regiment, 312th Infantry Division in Laos. The company was organized into three cells that accompanied the 2nd and 3rd Battalions and the 19th Company which fought a number of engagements at Phou Nha Thau and Phou Then [Plain of Jars area], but their effectiveness was low because the terrain did not permit the flame throwers to be used to their full potential."

p. 202 [Feb-Mar 1971]. 'With regard to chemicals, the tactical operations plan of Major General Hoang Xuan Lam, the commander of the [RVNAF] operation, directed the use of various chemical weapons (CBU 19 bombs, BLU 52A and BLU 52B 70mm chemical rockets). One hundred percent of enemy forces were equipped with gas masks before the operation, each man was equipped with 1-2 CS smoke or powder grenades; the basic load for each M 19 gun included 6-12 CS rounds; each company had 3-4 type E8 CS canister launchers; and, additionally, they still had the 40mm CS launch tubes."

p. 203 [Feb-Mar 1971]. "The enemy carried out 15 chemical attacks on our positions on high points 311, 351, 402, 229, 863, and 684; four attacks on our artillery positions; 14 attacks on our troop bivouac areas, command posts, supply points, artillery observer posts, etc.... but the chemical troops deployed with our units dealt with chemical contingencies calmly and quickly, insuring our troops could fight continuously for a protracted period.

"Chemical contingencies were discovered through reconnaissance and the effects were overcome immediately, giving our troops confidence. In the various units, the seizure of enemy documents and chemical equipment was of great significance for technical research and training, and for the political and DIPLOMATIC struggle [emphasis added]. We seized 187 gas -masks, three CS dispensers (E8), one 40mm CS launch tube, 11 XM25 grenades, 62 XM54 grenades, and two enemy documents that spoke about our chemical equipment."


QUESTION: "How many U.S. military personnel defected to communist forces in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict, 1963-1975?"

ANSWER: Only two American military personnel were known to have defected to Communist forces during the war. (See below for names and details.)

QUESTION: "During the war there were reports of a so-called "salt-and-pepper' team operating with Communist forces. What is the basis for these reports?"

ANSWER: Some reports of Americans operating with Communist forces no doubt are based on sightings of USMC Private Robert R. Garwood, one of the two American military personnel who were known to have defected to communist forces. There is circumstantial evidence that Robert R. Garwood armed with an AK 47 assault rifle occasionally accompanied PAVN troops in the field. Robert R. Garwood and US Army Private Mckinley are the only Americans who are known to have operated with Communist forces during the war.

QUESTION: Is it possible Russian advisors might have been working with People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) forces in the Operation Tailwind area of operations, and members of the MACVSOG force might have mistook the Russians for American defectors.

ANSWER: We have seen no evidence that could support a belief that Russians or other Western advisors (e.g., Cubans) served with PAVN forces in the Operation Tailwind area of operations.

DEFECTOR MCKINLEY NOLAN (Case 9950) Private Mckinley Nolan, U. S. Army, was dropped from the rolls as a deserter when he failed to return to his unit after he was released from the Long Binh Military Stockade on 8 November 1967. Taking along his common-law Vietnamese-Khmer wife and her two children, Nolan defected to the National Liberation Front (NLF). He and his wife resided with Vietnamese Communist forces at various locations along both sides of the border between Cambodia and northern Tay Ninh Province, South Vietnam, until approximately November 1973.

In approximately November 1973, Nolan and his family left the Vietnamese and joined Khmer Rouge forces. They lived with Khmer Rouge forces in the vicinity of Memot town until at least mid-1 974. Several sources report that Khmer Rouge forces killed Nolan. Although separate sources report different dates, the Khmer Rouge killed Nolan apparently sometime between late 1974 and mid-1975.


Private Robert R. Garwood, USMC, disappeared from his unit near Danang City, South Vietnam, on 28 September 1965. Survivors of the Communist B.1 Front POW camp (also known as the Military Region 5 POW camp), located in northwestern Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam, reported that Garwood lived with the cadre in the camp-not with the POWsand had complete freedom of movement. Communist authorities offered Garwood release in May 1967; however, he declined to accept release stating that he wanted to stay with Communist forces and assist them in their cause for freedom. In the autumn of 1969, Garwood moved to North Vietnam, where he lived until he returned to the United States in March 1979.

Several hundred former officers of the Republic of Vietnam armed forces who were detained in Communist re- education camps in North Vietnam after the war and later immigrated to the United States, told American officials they encountered Garwood as a member of the staff of the re-education camps near Yen Bai Town, about 80 kilometers northwest of Hanoi, between mid1976 and the autumn of 1978. After he returned to the U.S., Garwood was tried by a military courts martial and found guilty of collaborating with the enemy and having assaulted an American POW.


The stories of a so-called "salt-and-pepper" team illustrates how persons who exploit the POW/MIA issue defame American servicemen who died in Vietnam, and defame the families of those servicemen. - USMC Privates Robert L. Greer and Fred T. Schreckengost have been targets of this story - These two Marines disappeared on 7 Jun 1964 - Both are Caucasian - They rented motorbikes to tour an area near Danang City during off-duty time - Credible reports of capture and death received shortly after they disappeared - Their motorbikes were found submerged in a canal not long after incident - In 1990 specialists from PACOM's Joint Task Force-Full Accounting investigated - Witnesses led JTF-FA team to burial site, remains recovered in Nov 1990 - Suggestions these two Marines were defectors unjustly defames them and their families.


- USMC Private Earl Clyde Weatherman is a frequent target of false stories about defectors
- Pvt Weatherman disappeared after he escaped from a brig near Danang City on 8 Nov 1967
- Sometime after he escaped from the brig Communist forces captured him
- He was confined with other Americans in mountains of northeast Quang Ngai Province
- Seizing an opportunity, he and another USMC prisoner assaulted a guard, took his weapon, and escaped.
- The two escaped men traveled about two kilometers before pursuers caught them.
- The other escaped prisoner witnessed pursuers kill Private Weatherman.
- In 1994 Vietnamese witnesses led American investigators to the site where they buried Private Weatherman.
- Although Private Weatherman might have encountered disciplinary problems before he was captured, he acted heroically after becoming a prisoner. He resisted his captors and tried to escape when he saw an opportunity.
- Suggestions Private Weatherman was a defector unjustly defames him and his family.


One of the questions the CNN/TIME story about Operation Tailwind suggests is the question of whether Russian or other Soviet bloc advisors might have been working with People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) forces in the Operation Tailwind area of operations, and whether members of the MACVSOG force might have mistook those advisors for American defectors.

We have seen no evidence that could support a belief that Russians or other Soviet bloc advisors (e.g., Cubans) served with PAVN forces in the Operation Tailwind area of operations. In fact, available information about the PAVN's operations suggests strongly that Russian and other Soviet bloc advisors did not operate in the Operation Tailwind area of operations.

Several sources of knowledge give us insight into PAVN's wartime operations. First, in the course of their in-country investigations and oral history interviews to search for information about the fate of American servicemen who remain unaccounted for from the war, the PACOM's Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA) and its predecessor, the Joint Casualty Resolution Center, have interviewed hundreds of PAVN veterans.

Second, in recent years the Defense Prisoner of War and Missing Personnel Affairs Office's (DPMO) Joint Commission Support Directorate has interviewed several Soviet veterans who served as military advisors in Vietnam.

Third, specialists in the JTF-FA and DPMO have reviewed hundreds of official histories that PAVN published about the war.

Fourth, wartime intelligence American and allied forces gathered from prisoners, ralliers, captured documents, signal intercepts, etc.

The preponderance of information gathered from these four sources reveals that Soviet military advisors seldom ventured south of the coastal town of Vinh, located in Nghe An Province in northern Vietnam, about midway between Hanoi and the old demilitarized zone. To the best of our knowledge, the few Soviet bloc military advisors that ventured south of Vinh were advisors to PAVN air defense units. With two possible exceptions, to the best of our knowledge, Soviet bloc military advisors did not venture outside of northern Vietnam. The first possible exception would have occurred during the early 1960s when the PAVN used fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft to move personnel and supplies into a few sites in northeastern and central Laos. Soviet bloc pilots and aircrews might have participated in some of those flights.

The other possible exception would have occurred during PAVN's defensive campaign against Operation Lam Son 719 in Laos, in about February-April 1971. This was an American supported offensive by Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces' (RVNAF) along the Highway 9 corridor between the Vietnamese border outpost at Khe Sanh and the Laotian town of Tchepone. One former Soviet advisor to a PAVN air defense regiment told American interviewers that he and other members of his small advisor team believed they might have ventured a short distance into an area of Laos located between the Ban Karai Pass and the town of Tchepone for a brief period in early 1971.

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Last Modified: Friday, July 24, 1998
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