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Larry Crowder: Special Security Office (SSO)

An exclusive interview




Larry Crowder, MACV Headquarters, Saigon, 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. The first interview can be seen here and a second interview can be seen here.

Modern Forces: Thanks for sending the photos to us, have you any more stories to share with our readers?

Larry Crowder: I was trying to think of further tales of our SSO Shop.
Things that I remember vividly were the Bat-21 rescue. I remember it being turned over to SOG and the following success that Lt Norris and Petty Officer Van Kiet had in rescuing, not only LTC Hamberton, but a FAC pilot, Lt Mark Clark, as well. The movie depiction of Danny Glover gliding around and "courageously" getting Gene Hackman out with a little Cessna just chaps my rear. The air force lost 11 crewmen, had two more captured, and lost five aircraft, before SOG was given the rescue. That five-man commando team under Navy Seal Tom Norris went in, and they basically got him out in a sampan dress in black pajamas, carrying only AKs. They went in and out of the enemiesí back door without being detected. Now tell me how that would not have been a better story than someone flying around in a little plane and stealing a chopper. Good grief! If you have to get your equipment to rescue someone by mid-night requisition, things are pretty bad, but I suppose that was the point the liberal Hollywood folks wanted to express there.

Another incident wasn't as well known at all. It was a POW release. A POW, held for approximately three or so years, as I remember, came walking up to American installations in 1971 or 72. I'm not absolutely certain. He was almost incoherent at first. He had come down highway one with a pass given to him by his captors, that he said had just got tired of moving him around and holding him was his only guess, and set him loose. An officer from the unit debriefed him in his room at the hospital at Saigon. He was weak, dehydrated, and badly incoherent on the first day's briefing tapes. He also expressed some great concern that the chain of command not assume, that because he was released meant he had in any way collaborated with the enemy. He had just been a prisoner that had in no way had comprised himself and he wanted that understood from the start. It was believable too.

He had been in a firefight and had been wounded in his right thigh. He had crawled into an APC and continued the fight with two others, who were subsequently killed. He passed out from blood loss. During the time he was unconscious, the enemy came in and examined the bodies. He said he awoke enough to know what was happening, but played dead. The ruse worked, and the enemy left. He said a lieutenant then came into the vehicle with him, and he talked to him. They heard a helicopter outside. McLean said he was tying a tourniquet around his leg when the lieutenant looks out and said there was a helicopter landing. And left. Thinking he would bring help he started to climb out, but as he reach the door, he saw the officer climb in the chopper and indicate there was no one in the APC and the chopper began lifting off. With his wound throbbing and his leg weakened he could not make it out to wave and the NVA came out of the trees and began shooting at the helicopter as it left. McLean said he dove back inside to where he had been but when the NVA returned they saw the tourniquet and grabbed him. He spent the next year or so being moved to various places. He was treated well and one and badly at another. It would depend on the guards.

Finally one day they came to him and handed him the pass, indicated that he should follow the highway and not get off it. If he should encounter any of their people, he was to show them his pass. One of the things he wanted to know was if he could bring charges against that lieutenant. (Probably not, but he could look him up back stateside and have a nice family chat with him.) He made it back in about three days. His ordeal was over. He returned to his home in Detroit and I remember reading that during the Christmas holidays he had crashed his sports car on the icy streets of Detroit, but had been unhurt. Someone was still looking out for him.

Modern Forces: Have you any stories behind the other pictures in your album?.

Larry Crowder:
The picture of the SSO group was taken in the USAID Building restaurant. It not only had very exquisite food served by some of the most exquisite looking waitress in Saigon.

Our personal favorite was one we all dubbed "Pocahontas" because she wore her hair in a style that made her seem to be have the appearance a western American Indian princess. She took the name as her working name after we told her the story of Pocahontas.

One night, MSG John Rokis, SSgTom Gaughan, Marines, Tsgt Ron Biehl, a long time Air Force veteran, Steve Gieger and I were eating ther together and in walks Rick Jason.

i don't know if you ever saw the American TV series Combat! that ran back in the 60s. it top two stars were Vic Morrow and Rick Jason, who starred as two American WWII soldiers in Germany fighting the Germans. I t was a heck of a show and guys like Geiger and I grew up loving it.

We both spotted him and saw him as his character Lt Hanley! We both dropped our forks like we had see a ghost.

Rokis, who was a bombastic, and the type to speak up right away when someone seems to be dying in place said loud enough for people seven tables away to hear, "What is bothering you two little p--ys now?"
I don't know which one of us spoke, but both of us stood ups, and said, ''Hello Lt Hanley.''

And Mr Jason smiled and stopped, "Oh a couple of young Combat! fans I see, I'm Rick guys.'' He looked surprised when he noticed the differences in rank and services. We invited him to sit with us and bought him a drink. Two hours later Rick Jason had a better understanding of the Vietnam war. He was going to get the tour of his life that night because Rokis told us to take him over to House 10 and introduce him to a few of the guys in from the field.

House 10 was a safe house located on the compound that SOG used for it's motor pool. We could get on it anytime of the day and we later took the actor to a place he probably really had no idea of the significance of.

The guys there probably didn't know who the heck we were, but they knew him and we had a heck of a party for the crest of the night. He called some ''round eyes' (actresses and stewardesses) and told them to get ready to come to a great party. We sent some ''embassy vehicles".. SOG vehicles) and we had one heck of a good time. It lasted all day and into the next morning. Geiger and I got into major trouble.. I don't think either of us got another day off for a couple of months.

Gunny would roll his eye and mumble ''Dumba-- lightweights. Don't know when to call it a night." I think he talked the major into not giving us Article-15s and turning us into door gunners.

We just hope that Rick Jason enjoyed his rendezvous with SOG. The only the lacking was we wished he had broght Vic Morrow and the rest of the cast.

Modern Forces: You were based in Saigon, so a different experience to those at the FOBs such as Kontum. It canít have all been the fun and games you describe above.

Larry Crowder: Iíve been busy telling a lot of stories that make others look funny, or worse, maybe I should tell a few on myself. I had a few incidents that got me known, at least among my cronies. There was the incident with the dynamite in our jeep.

Each morning at around 0600 one of us on night shift had the pleasure of going across town to the officers BOQ, picking them up, and bringing them back to work. One morning I came out and got into our recently cleaned and serviced jeep, I knew because we had spent most of the previous morning after working 12 hours and doing the briefing at CMAT washing it, and taping all the wires under the dash up so that we wouldn't jerk one loose getting out. So as I was about to put the key in the ignition and start it up, I noticed a rather large orange wire protruding downward. Says I to myself, Hmmm, there were no orange wires there earlier today. And there were no think orange wires there earlier today. And my inner voice who has only spoken to me at very important times in my life said a this junction,Ē Get your ass out of this jeep, you dithering idiot!" And I said, "Okay." And for some reason slowly took my cap off and placed it on the passenger sit. I suppose I didn't like it and if the jeep blew up I wanted it gone with the jeep, is my only explanation. (I was asked several times why I did that.) I s l o w l y placed one foot on the ground and then s l o w ly placed the other on the ground, and then I glanced up over at the MP concrete guard stand where a jeep had pulled up and low and behold, a guy I gone through basic with, a prior service MP named John Woelfel, a part Cherokee Indian, was standing there with the guard on duty looking at me like I was nuts. I waved at them and then raised myself off the jeep and ran towards them. Woelfel looked at me and said, "You little worry wart, have you completely snapped this time?" "NO, Bomb...Bomb in MY JEEP...I kind of blurted out.

They called back inside and notified the officers and got EOD over to extract the explosive. Afterwards they returned my hat, and told me that it was a very live explosive and would have worked had I turned that key. Didn't make me feel all that good. What made me feel worse was I got in the jeep the next morning and the thing was wired again! I was pissed this time, at the MP. How could a guy wire a jeep two nights in a row not thirty feet away? and they not see him either time? I asked Woelfel if I had made him mad during basic or since my mother was Choctaw was there an old grudge or something? He promised there would be no third attempt. They got the guy at a hotel parking lot the next night. Woelfel and his guys all came by and told me it was safe for me to go out on the streets again, my antagonist was dead.

Modern Forces: Seems amazing that your jeep could be rigged like that under the MPs noses, you often here of the crime underworld and gangs in Saigon. Did you ever come across anything like this?

Larry Crowder: My friend Lonnie Mikkelson was going home on his freedom bird. I was working with Fairbanks and was suppose to come pick him and the guys up and take them out to the airport for the flight. We did not go through Camp Alpha.

SOG was located on Pasteur Street, and I cannot remember the name of the street that ran behind it, but I drove to the end of Pasteur, went one block down and took a right on that street, drove down to the Presidential Palace, located at the end of that street, and took another right to go down to the BEQ we lived in. Can't remember it's name, but it was the tallest building in Saigon. Halfway down that street I come upon a frightening scene.

Two koiboys, (Vietnamese thugs) have this girl in a very bad way. One of them has his arm around his throat with a knife against the skin and the other is intent on ripping her tradition dress off her. I remember every thing seemed to slow down for me. I knocked the jeep out off gear and the thought crossed my mind that if I flashed the lights they might thin I was an MP. SOG jeeps were black and wore tango plates, putting them under civilian control not MP.

I beeped the horn and grabbed my .45 and let the jeep roll to a stop and jumped out. I chambered a round as I jumped out and point the weapon at the guy who was standing closest to their Moped. You speak English?" He nodded. Yes "You want me to shoot you" He nodded no. I'm going to if you friend doesn't let her go. NOW! I won't miss from this range I'm going to shoot you in your legs and your guts and then let you bleed to death slowly. You tell him that.'' He said something to his cohort and the guy let go of the girl "You two dirt bags get on you Harley there and get the hell out of here or I will kill both of you. If a friend of mind wasn't leaving this dam hell hole tonight you two WOULD be and Iíd get her to tell the MPs you attacked me. Now get before I get nervous and shoot you anyway"

They started moving slowing toward there Honda or mo-pad or whatever it was. I didn't like the way they ware dragging ass around. "Move it!" They were started and jumped on and took off. I turn to the girl and wow was she cute! She turned out to own a travel agency and had a two year old son. She was a war widow of a South Vietnamese hero killed in battle. She was crying and thanking me and told me her house as at the end of the street a ways. I told her I was going that way but I had to pick someone up first to get in. She did. When I got to our BEQ and went racing in I met the guys coming out and started explaining. They didn't believe a word I was saying. Steve Geiger, the role model for Felix Unger of "the Odd Couple" TV show, was giving me a hard time when he spied the girl cowering in the jeep. He looked at our NCOIC, and old Lonnie, a big tall blond headed guy from Arizona, went 'Way to go Red Neck!" Joey Gonzalez was just speechless. ''You really did save her?" She nodded yes to them. On the way to her house she told them what happened and when she told Geiger who took over the driving where to stop, she handed me a note with her address and kissed me. As she walked away there was silence in the jeep and finally SFC Wheatley says to Geiger, 'you know Lonnie has to catch a plane in 45 minutes don't you?" And Geiger snapped out of it and they all went "HEY THE MISSISSIPPI KID GOT KISSED BY SOMEONE THAT ISN'T A BAR GIRL!

The next morning, the SSO officer, Major Malcolm Hollingsworth, was trying to write a report on what happened, so he could send something really nice over to MACV that one of his little criminals had done that was positive for once. I kept squirming around in my chair and looking at the clock. Major Hollingsworth was a tall Texan, a gentle guy with about as good a disposition that any person could ever have. It was a shame that he had us, at that time. We were a bunch of guys who wanted to have a good time and none of us liked ACSI SSO, Vietnam or anything else we could think of except girls and beer. Geiger says, She kissed him and gave him her address, so I don't think he going back to the BEQ. You got cab fare kid?" "Cab fare, '' the major snorts, "You just sit still there while I get this done. Itís got to be the first good thing any of you had happens since getting here and I want those infernal meddlers over at MACV to read all about it. I'm going to get you the Congressional Medal of Honour for it if I can! He said in exaggeration. He finally let me go and I did enjoy my time with my new friend.

Modern Forces: The SOG brass were based in Saigon, did you ever meet or work with any of them?

Larry Crowder: Later that week I made another new acquaintance, Colonel Sadler. One morning Wheatley was pissed at me for something so he told me to stay and do the classified burn.

SOG's burn equipment was located in the back of the compound. I'm sitting back there in my tee shirt with my poker and my M16 just in case anyone wants to divest me off all these highly classified garbage (And actually it probably was the highest classified garbage ever burned) when I looked up and coming right at me is Colonel John Sadler, the Chief SOG. I stood up to salute him and he smiled and said, "that's okay, as you were" and he handed me a cold Dr Pepper. "Want one of these?" he asks' I reply, 'I'm actually too young to drink beer legally so I guess that would be fine sir." He looked down at me and grinned. And then he sat down and opened his soda and drank some. "Aw love a cold drink sometimes. Where you from?" "Mississippi, Indianola Mississippi sir."

We started talking and he just seemed to sit there with me and relax awhile. I don't know if he saw me from upstairs or what prompted his visit, but he and I talked awhile like we were old friends. I have never been shy and I don't kiss ass talk. I just talk to people. I never really hear to my people say anything personal about Colonel Sadler. All I know is he took over forty minutes out of his day, brought me a cold drink and shot the bull with me like I was somebody, patted me on the back when he got up and told me to take care of me self. He is seeing me around. I never was the pushy type to call his secretary for a return visit, but who knows he might have said come on up.