US Ambassador to Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker, Vietnam
We have been speaking to another veteran this time one attached SOG with the Special Security Office (SSO) based in Saigon. The SSO and the related Special Security Group (SSG) provided CODEWORD back-channel communications and courier services above those organic in the theatre. This is the second part of our interview, the first can be found here.
Modern Forces: You seem to have met some interesting characters on your tour, anyone else that springs to mind?
Larry Crowder: I once met the ambassador one quite Sunday morning.
When I first reached MACV, before being assigned to SOG, I was working the day shift at MACV, and the embassy's COMS were down. The ambassador, Mr Ellsworth Bunker, had several TS, CODE WORD, FOR HIS EYES ONLY, Deliver Upon Receipt, type messages.
So we had to deliver it by courier.
An E6, named Dalme, picked me to go with him. I was just a know nothing PFC then, and on the way, he sternly explain to me to stand back and keep my mouth shut, under no circumstances was I to speak to the ambassador about anything.
We arrived about nine in the morning, and the Marines let us in. I thought something was odd because I thought I saw one of them snicker at the other when they passed us off to the single guard inside the occupancy. The butler came, and the marine told him to take us out to the pool to get the ambassador to sign for his messages.
The guy looked at him like Are you sure you REALLY want me to do that marine? Never verbalized the words, but his body language said, do you know what you are doing?
And the marine looked at him as if to answer, you're still standing here.
Sooo, off we go, and shortly after we arrived at the pool where I stopped some ten feet before reaching the pool as his majesty Staff Sergeant Dalme had instructed me. From where I stood i observed the ambassador doing laps and when we arrived he was at the far end of the pool.
Ellsworth Bunker was a tall lean very light complexioned figure, who when dressed seemed to favor white suites. I emphasized dressed for a reason. You see, when he swam his laps, he did it with out a suit; white or swim. This became clearer to all as he approached Dalme on his last lap.
I fought very very hard to stifle an all out chuckle.
The ambassador emerged.
The butler told him he had message traffic, and then the previously anxious to meet the ambassador Dalme, suddenly got tongue tied and stood rigidly still in front of the stark naked ambassador. In was a surreal scene let me tell you, The tall ambassador au natural , the short Asian butler, in his little butler get up, and the stocky NCO in his combat fatigues. Never were there a better scene depicting irony. Never was there a better scene depicting complete cautious and on Bunker's part the beginnings of deep frustrations. .
As Bunker climbed from the pool, dripping water, he proved the basis of the episode from Seinfeld concerning shrinkage after swimming to be a fact.
He approached Dalme, who stood there mute and unmoving. Finally the ambassador said, "Are we going to stand here until I drip dry, or shall we get on with signing for whatever you have brought me, sergeant?"
This finally moved Dalme into action. He handed the ambassador his pen, pulled the package of messages from the case, and put the signature on back of the case for him to sign. The pen had no ink in it.
''We seem to have a problem sergeant." And Dalme seemed to know it and for some reason his senses had completely left him. He just could not bring himself to turn around and ask me if I had a pen. Bunker looked back my way and said, "Do you have a pen that works?"
I answered,"Yes sir." But remained in my spot. I was determined to obey Dalme's orders, and stay put.
Meanwhile Ambassador Bunker was beginning to get annoyed with the two of us. He had had just about enough of All this stupidity and his white pallor was beginning to become a definite Cherokee red,
even he was a new York born aristocrat, and a Yale man and would hardly be that.
He tacitly summoned me to him, signed for the messages, and sternly bid us ado. I imagine with the mental note of hoping to never ever cross either of our paths again.
A few weeks later I was assigned to SOG. About a year and a half later, Captain Robert Wells, the SSO officer and I were conducting the CMAT briefings one morning. He attended.
It was around the time he was leaving his post I believe. During my portion he kept staring at me, like he could not put a finish on something and it was bothering him.
When the briefing ended, and the Commander's questions had been covered, Ambassador Bunker spoke up, "Why is it that you seem familiar to me sergeant?"
I thought I would just give him enough info for him to remember, and hopefully that would be it, so I said. ''Sir I once had delivered some messages to you with another NCO whose pen failed to work. You borrowed mine to sign the messages out by the embassy pool."
With that his memory came flooding back i guess, and he chuckled a tiny bit, and nodded at me, and said, "Oh yes. Now I remember."
And even though the commander CMAT looked at him to explain, the ambassador felt no one had a need to know that classified information.
My tour of Vietnam was an interesting one. I was 19 when I arrived 21 when departed. ACSI SSO did a lot to recruit their operators, sending a guy down to Fort Gordon to conduct a lie detector test on me. I had about as squeaky clean a record as was possible, but so did all the rest of the guys.
Yet, the NCO's never ever at any time taught any of the younger guys anything that would further their army career when we left Nam. SSO boarded their guys by proxy in Vietnam, and I made E5 while on special leave in the States. Yet i found out that the SSO officer had been writing bad EER reports on all of us the whole time we were working twelve hour shifts, doing three jobs we weren't trained to do. And he never even discussed any of his remarks about what he put down with any of us.
Of course when we found out he was somewhere back in the states. On my last special leave I met my wife now on a blind date and got out of the army for a year. When I went back in I got my E5 back, my same MOS, and went to Germany. Asked if I wanted an assignment with SSO, I told him not no but hell no.
I went to the Field Station Berlin. I never missed working for ACSI one bit. The may have been selective, but they had the sorest NCO's and even some of the worst most arrogant officers that I ever had the misfortune and displeasure to come in contact with. nothing was amiss locally.
Modern Forces: I am not sure we can top that story but give it a go...
Larry Crowder: We had an addition duty in regards to this also. If any of these messages contain a location of an unidentified transmission within the city limits of Saigon, it was known as a "Coca Cola Report." I had to get on a secure line and call out SSO Officer and brief him on the location and time. I, or whoever, would then arm myself and drive across the city to the compound where he resided in our jeep and rendezvous with him as quickly as possible. Since we worked two to a shift, I would ask the DA Analysts (Marines, Army Air Force if they wanted to go to war with me…very few ever did.)
The SSO then had to call out a unit of ARVN Special Forces assigned to go to the address and root out the offender always with a Saigon city police escort that always seemed to get lost on or stuck in the invisible traffic that just was terrible at three in the morning during curfew.
We usually ran into a dry hole, occasionally caught some joker on his little zybyphone or whatever sending and once stumbled into a virtual hot bed when we stumbled into an NVA safehouse and shoot it out with them.
The matter never got any press because we didn't exist. The local MPs got credit for something, I can't remember what kind of cover story they fixed it up with.
US Embassy, Saigon
Modern Forces: What did you do after yours tours in Vietnam?
Larry Crowder: I can remember my partner on night shift, Joe Gonzales and I, spotting the Colonel's new driver smuggling a young lady into the compound, and up to a briefing room. The little prickle had a nasty attitude, so we decided to mess with him. We waited for him to get rather thoroughly engaged in relations and called the room he was in. He let the phone ring and ring. So we called a second phone in the room. He had two phones ringing now but that was just the start. He didn't answer this phone either so we called a third phone and by now the poor girl was probably looking around at all the phones ringing in total confusion and the young stud probably didn't feel all that well at the moment. Then a fourth pone rang.
There were a lot of phones in that room and we could call all of them!
Finally he picked one of them up and said very meekly,” Hello."
"Hello?---who the hell is this? Is that the way to answer a secure line? Has the general come in to the briefing yet concerning the incident?"
"That's right. General Abrams will be there in five minutes to get briefed on the bombing."
That's right, most of the brass in Saigon will be in that room you are in right now."
That must have been some words that sent a cold shiver right down to his little general, now standing at parade rest. He also realized he was standing unclothed in a briefing room of the most secret unit in the military, with more and more phones ringing off the hook, and a likewise unclothed unauthorized female foreign national, that he would have a very hard time explaining.
His head was beginning to pound! Oh he wished now he had just taken this freaking girl to a hotel, but nooo ---- he had to impress her. And now he was really going to impress her... when they both were hauled off to the stockade!
He convinced the girl the had to di di mao the f..out of there.
We had a little surprise waiting for him downstairs too. We had moved the Colonel's jeep he parked by the door, all the way around to the back, where it normally was parked. We placed a note on the steering wheel,"Next time get a room ass hole."
When he made it down stairs and saw the jeep missing, he must have been sick. He ran around back and saw it. Then he got in it, saw the note, read it, figured out he'd been had....looked around, looking all ticked off....then thought about it a second..or had he...he wasn't sure that he wasn't being conned now..oh what a web we weave when we don't have the brains to sew.
He chooses caution over finding out who his tormentor were and dashed off the compound with his little sweetie pie.
Afterword’s he was a nicer little prickle but not much. We weren't sad to see him leave and if I ever ran into him stateside with his wife and family. I'd probably start laughing and ask him if he worked for the telephone company.