In , as commander of the 77th Special Forces Group, he spearheaded Operation White Star in Laos — the first major deployment of American Special Forces to a country with an active insurgency. Seven years later, Blackburn took command of the highly classified Studies and Observations Group SOG , charged with performing secret missions now that main-force Communist incursions were on the rise.
Sending cross-border reconnaissance teams into Cambodia and North Vietnam, he discovered the clandestine networks and supply nodes of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. Taking this information directly to General Westmoreland, Blackburn received authorization to conduct full-scale operations against the NVA and Viet Cong operating in Laos and Cambodia.
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In combats large and small, the Communists realized they had met a master of insurgent tactics — and he was on the US side. During a period when United States troops in Southeast Asia faced guerrilla armies on every side, it has been little recognized today that America had a superb covert commander of its own, his guerrilla skills honed in resistance against Japan. This book follows Donald D. But I think the strongest element of his book is the telling of the day to day activities of members of this special unit who had a unique mission. For the first time the story of the American effort to aid the Cambodians is brought to light.
As this "Black" gunship operation aided the Cambodians, thousands of Communist troops were tied up in Cambodia and unquestionably reduced American casualties inside South Vietnam.
Dr Fletcher's telling of the tale is very engaging. You can smell the smells of Saigon. You can see and feel the the experiences of combat at feet over Cambodia and life in Vietnam. Once the opium left tribal poppy fields in Laos, the traffic required official complicity at every level. The helicopters of Air America, the airline the CIA then ran, carried raw opium out of the villages of its hill-tribe allies.
None of this had been covered in my college history seminars. I had no models for researching an uncharted netherworld of crime and covert operations.
The British Royal Air Force: Operations over Laos against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, 1962
After stepping off the plane in Saigon, body slammed by the tropical heat, I found myself in a sprawling foreign city of four million, lost in a swarm of snarling motorcycles and a maze of nameless streets, without contacts or a clue about how to probe these secrets. Every day on the heroin trail confronted me with new challenges — where to look, what to look for, and, above all, how to ask hard questions. Instead of confronting my sources with questions about sensitive current events, I started with the French colonial past when the opium trade was still legal, gradually uncovering the underlying, unchanging logistics of drug production.
As I followed this historical trail into the present, when the traffic became illegal and dangerously controversial, I began to use pieces from this past to assemble the present puzzle, until the names of contemporary dealers fell into place. Those months on the road, meeting gangsters and warlords in isolated places, offered only one bit of real danger. While hiking in the mountains of Laos, interviewing Hmong farmers about their opium shipments on CIA helicopters, I was descending a steep slope when a burst of bullets ripped the ground at my feet.
I had walked into an ambush by agency mercenaries. While the five Hmong militia escorts whom the local village headman had prudently provided laid down a covering fire, my Australian photographer John Everingham and I flattened ourselves in the elephant grass and crawled through the mud to safety. Without those armed escorts, my research would have been at an end and so would I. After that ambush failed, a CIA paramilitary officer summoned me to a mountaintop meeting where he threatened to murder my Lao interpreter unless I ended my research.
Shadows of Saigon : Dr Larry Elton Fletcher :
After winning assurances from the U. Six months and 30, miles later, I returned to New Haven. My investigation of CIA alliances with drug lords had taught me more than I could have imagined about the covert aspects of U.
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Settling into my attic apartment for an academic year of writing, I was confident that I knew more than enough for a book on this unconventional topic. But my education, it turned out, was just beginning. Within weeks, a massive, middle-aged guy in a suit interrupted my scholarly isolation.
Vietnam’s Secret Commandos Remain Lonely Comrades
His agency, he confessed during a second visit, was worried about my writing and he had been sent to investigate. He needed something to tell his superiors. Tom was a guy you could trust. So I showed him a few draft pages of my book. You got your ducks in a row.
Tom was my first reader. Best of all, there was the one about how the Bureau of Narcotics caught French intelligence protecting the Corsican syndicates smuggling heroin into New York City. Some of his stories, usually unacknowledged, would appear in my book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia. These conversations with an undercover operative, who had trained Cuban exiles for the CIA in Florida and later investigated Mafia heroin syndicates for the DEA in Sicily, were akin to an advanced seminar, a master class in covert operations.
In the summer of , with the book at press, I went to Washington to testify before Congress. Ushered into a plush suite of offices overlooking the spires of St. Meyer denounced my book as a threat to national security. He asked Canfield, also an old friend, to quietly suppress it.
I was in serious trouble. Not only was Meyer a senior CIA official but he also had impeccable social connections and covert assets in every corner of American intellectual life. After graduating from Yale in , he served with the marines in the Pacific, writing eloquent war dispatches published in the Atlantic Monthly.