The Tet Offensive and the Media
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Vietnamese Commandos: Vietnam War

South Vietnamese military formations that entered North Vietnam (1961-1968) to gathered intelligence, conducted sabotage, and disrupted infiltration into the South. The commando program was run by the U.S. government and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). From 1961 to 1968 more than fifty commando teams were sent into North Vietnam by sea and by air. Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) authorities were routinely notified of these activities and were able to capture most of the commandos immediately. Reportedly every member of these teams was either captured or killed, or disappeared. The longest evasion was by Quach Tom, who managed to avoid capture for nearly three months. By the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 more than 300 commandos still languished in DRV prisons.

To compound the tragedy for the program's participants, documents declassified in 1996 revealed that the U.S. government had lied to the families of the commandos by declaring all of them dead and paying their "widows" $50 gratuities. Sedgwick Tourison, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who has written about the commandos, has identified some 360 survivors.

John C. Mattes, Quach Tom's lawyer, sued in federal court on behalf of the commandos and lobbied Congress and President Bill Clinton for legislation to provide compensation. Congressional hearings were held in 1996 and Senators John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and Bob Kerrey (D-Nebraska) introduced legislation to provide some $20 million to the former commandos, about $40,000 each.

Spencer C. Tucker


Further Reading
Tourison, Sedgwick D. Project Alpha: Washington's Secret Military Operations in North Vietnam. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.
 

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