Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty


Welcome to the Annals of Vietnam, a collection of articles, reviews, and images dealing with America's misadventures south and north of the 17th parallel. I have a particular interest in the early years, because that's when I was there as a reporter for the left-liberal magazine, The Nation, which was so financially strapped that it would publish dispatches from a Republican.

No, that wasn't an AR-15!

Crews McCullogh has gently rebuked me for referring to the carbine carried by Special Forces troops in 1964 as the AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle based on a design by Eugene Stoner and manufactured by Colt's Manufacturing Company in Hartford. Instead, it seems, the civilian weapon had already been modified by the US military, which bought 104,000 automatic-fire variants as the M16 for the US Air Force and the XM16E1 for the US Army and Marine Corps. There was a significant difference between them: the Air Force version had no "forward assist" -- a tang or protrusion on the bolt that enables a rifleman to clear a jam by pushing the bolt forward (to seat the cartridge) or pulling it back (to eject the empty shell). To judge by then-Captain McCullogh's memoir, it was the Air Force M16 that was acquired by Special Forces in early 1964. Go here to read this fascinating bit of military history.

Remembering Cowboy

Cowboy: The Interpreter Who Became a Soldier, a Warlord, and One More Casualty of Our War in Vietnam was published a month ago and, I'm happy to say, has been well received by the Special Forces community. I was especially pleased by the good-hearted review that Jim Morris wrote for the SF Association Chapter 78 Newsletter. (It's also on And yesterday I sat for an interview with the lads at SOFREP Radio. Cowboy and I join them at about 14 minutes, 30 seconds into the broadcast.

I'm introduced as having been "embedded" with the Buon Beng Special Forces Camp in June 1964. Well, sort of! I hitchhiked around Vietnam by stepping aboard any Huey or Otter that was going in my direction, and only once did a pilot ask if I was authorized to use military transport. (I said yes, and he took my word for it.) Major Buck of the B Team in Pleiku decreed that Buon Beng was the place I ought to visit, but nobody at the camp knew I was coming. Nevertheless, they made me welcome, gave me a bunk, allowed me to tag along with them and, whenever they could, pressed a weapon into my hands. And that was how I happened to meet Cowboy. Blue skies! — Dan Ford

The Only War We've Got

For students:

'I need to know everything about Vietnam by Thursday!'
The Vietnam reading list (John Tegtmeier)

From life to fiction to film:

The Only War We've Got (a reporter's journal, 1964)
Incident at Muc Wa (the novel, 1967)
Burt Lancaster takes charge (filming, 1978)
Go Tell the Spartans (the movie, 1978)
The critics look at Go Tell the Spartans
A Vietnam slide show

Early days in South Vietnam:

'They just fall apart in mid-air' (Vietnam dispatch, 1964)
How was the American soldier trained? (Fort Dix 1956)
Was America losing in Vietnam under JFK?
A Special Forces team under threat of attack
The Tonkin Gulf incidents, summer 1964
Philippe Drouin--aka Cowboy--interpreter and warlord
'Aggression from the North' (the State Dept. White Paper)
Did Japanese soldiers fight for the Vietminh?
No, that wasn't an AR-15! (how the XM-16 came to Vietnam)

Remembering the quagmire:

Spad Two goes missing in Laos
'The Collapse of the Armed Forces' (Col Robert Heinl)
Remembering the Phoenix Program (Larrry O'Daniel)
The Media and Vietnam (Erin McLaughlin)
The myth of the girl in the photo (Ronald Timberlake)
Joseph Ellis: the Vietnam vet wannabe
'My Heart's Content' (Pat Conroy)
To what extent is the US experience in Iraq comparable to their experience in Vietnam? (long essay, spring 2008)

Books and stuff

Ten best books about the Vietnam War (broadly defined
Nam-a-Rama: a wonderfully funny novel
Stolen Valor: Vietnam, lies, and the media (Burkett)
Clark Welch and the battle of Ông Thanh
The Village (Bing West)
The Vietnam War on video
When Thunder Rolled: F-105 over Vietnam (Rasimus)
Green Berets in the Vanguard, 1953-1963 (Archer)
Only War We've Got: Early Days in South Vietnam (Ford)
Incident at Muc Wa (Ford)
War Story (Morris)

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Incident at Muc Wa

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