Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rise and Fall of the American Mayor of Saigon

What follows is the unedited Manuscript of the story that appeared in the February 2012 issue of Vietnam magazine.

The Rise and Fall of the American Mayor of Saigon


Larry Engelmann
February 2012

The daughters and sons of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, dreamed far more practical dreams than had their parents and grandparents in 1938. The graduating class of Sheboygan High School in the spring of that year had lived half of their lives during the Great Depression. Sheboygan’s senior class found little cause for optimism in a state and a nation in which the traditional economic roots had withered away and left a lingering unemployment rate of nearly 20 percent.
Asked to list “ambition” above their graduation photograph in the school yearbook, the Sheboygan seniors most commonly wrote commercial work, librarian, book keeper, social worker, clerk in book store, orchestra leader, aviation, or lawyer. A few provided no ambition at all. Yet some few still clung to bigger dreams. And among those few was senior Archie C. Kuntze. Because of his penchant for humor, Archie was known to his classmates as “Stooge”, as in Larry, Moe and Curley. His favorite subject, he wrote, was “mathematics” and his hobby was “debate.” His ambition, he wrote, was “Naval Officer.”
Kuntze stands out among his classmates not merely for his ambition, but also for his photograph. Students were instructed to look just to the side of the camera lens and to assume a serious demeanor with, at most, the hint of a smile. But Kuntze, a boy with soft rounded features, a cherubic visage and sparkling dark eyes stared directly into the camera and smiled enough to reveal his straight and perfect teeth. His smile is big, confident, and friendly. One look at the graduation photo and the viewer suspects that here is a boy who is going to go far. And, indeed, Archie Kuntze rose further than even he must have imagined. Twenty-six years after his graduation from Sheboygan High School, Captain Archie Kuntze, USN, was not only in line for promotion to Admiral, but he was the most powerful American in South Vietnam where he was popularly known as “The American Mayor of Saigon.”
Kuntze was born in Sheboygan on November 12, 1920, the first of three sons of Alonzo and Alma Kuntze. He attended Grant Elementary School and Sheboygan High School. After high school graduation he was given an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Kuntze’s class of 1942 was fast-tracked by the Academy following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Commissions and diplomas were given the 546 graduates in December, 1941.
Following specialized training, Kuntze was assigned to the crew of a destroyer-minesweeper in the South Pacific. He took part in the campaign to take back the Solomons from the Japanese. He saw naval combat during the fight for Guadalcanal as well as in the first and third battles of Savo Island. He saw more action in the Marine landings on New Georgia and Bougainville. He was in the thick of the Pacific War until April 16, 1945 when his ship, the destroyer USS Harding (DMS-28), was hit by Japanese kamikazes. Fourteen men were killed in the attack, eight were reported as missing and nine, including Kuntze, were wounded. Kuntze was hospitalized in Hawaii and when he had recovered from his wounds he returned to the Harding as second in command.
Kuntze remained in the Navy following the Japanese surrender. When the Korean conflict began in June 1950 he was given command of an attack transport ship, the USS Begor (ADP-127), a vessel known as the Gray Ghost. Under Kuntze’s direction the Begor landed South Korean and American guerillas and demolition teams behind enemy lines in North Korea.
And when the Chinese attacked American forces in the last months of 1950, the Begor carried explosives to the North Korean port of Hungnam in order to “send it up” in one big explosion following evacuation of US and UN military personnel.
For his service in Korea Kuntze was awarded the Legion of Merit Medal with Combat “V.” Following the end of hostilities in Korea in the summer of 1953, he was promoted to Executive Officer and held duties as a commanding officer of small craft at the Naval Academy. He also served as a planning officer on the staff of the commander of the Amphibious Training Command for the Pacific Fleet. In October 1957 he was given command of the USS Laws, (DD-558), a Fletcher-class destroyer, and nine months later assumed command of the Destroyer Escort Division 12. From 1959 until 1962 he was a placement officer with the Bureau of Naval Personnel. He returned to sea as the commander of Mine Squadron 7 in November 1962. By that time he had received 22 military decorations.
In the autumn of 1963 Kuntze enrolled in a business-school program at Harvard University and completed a course of study in advanced management the following spring. A few weeks later he was given command of the US Navy Headquarters Support Activity in Saigon (HSAS) and placed in charge of supervising the American buildup for the rapidly growing conflict in Vietnam. The Saigon assignment proved to be the unmaking of the highly decorated career Navy officer. In Saigon in 1964, without yet realizing it, Kuntze also began his role in a real-life updated version of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. But it was Butterfly in reverse, with the tragic broken figure being not the Asian beauty of the original, but the American Naval officer.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way, of course. And there was nothing in Kuntze’s past to indicate the unfortunate romantic vulnerability he displayed in Saigon. He was, after all, happily married at the time to a woman in California. His future was bright. His reputation was sparkling. But it all came undone in Saigon.
Kuntze’s task at HSAS in Saigon was nothing less than to oversee the transformation of a small port to a major military port and base for more than half a million American troops and to supervise, supply, feed and house those troops and to provide recreational facilities for the them. At HSAS Kuntze reported up through a chain of command that was completely independent of General William Westmoreland’s Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV).
He threw himself into the work completely, overseeing the construction and supply of PXs and commissaries, unloading ships in the port of Saigon, constructing new off-loading facilities, operating and supplying bachelor officers and enlisted men’s quarters, disbursing paychecks to all American military personnel in South Vietnam, managing and supplying a field hospital and a dental clinic, all commissaries, billeting, money exchanges and feeding and entertaining American military men in clubs and messes. He initially administered funds far in excess of $100 million annually.
Because of his almost absolute authority over the importation and distribution of supplies, Kuntze quickly became “the man to see” in South Vietnam for anyone who wanted anything. His discretionary power was enormous. He made himself highly visible in Saigon and stories about him appeared daily in the local newspapers. Some said he actively courted the press and favorable coverage and his office door was always open to reporters and cameramen. Whenever a Viet Cong improvised explosive device was detonated near an American hospital or barracks or other installation in Saigon, he never failed to show up on the scene, dressed in his Navy whites and armed with a snub-nosed .38 special. “He wasn’t there to help,” one critic complained. “He came to have his picture taken.”
Within weeks of assuming his new command, Kuntze was dubbed “the American Mayor of Saigon” by both the locals and the Americans in South Vietnam. Much later, when everything came undone for him, Kuntze insisted that he had invented the title “humorously” for himself. “It was all a joke,” he said. But few others saw it that way.
Kuntze had the power to say yes or no to just about anything that anyone in South Vietnam might want or need. He was, one writer in Saigon claimed, “the most influential American in the South Vietnamese capital” from June 1964 until May 1966. He could fulfill – or deny – any request. If someone wanted food, beer, furniture, dishes, hotel rooms, luxury items (jewelry or gem stones), medicine or medical attention, office supplies, cars or other transportation, appliances, telephones and telecommunication equipment, clothing, firefighters to put out a fire, soda, candy, whiskey or women, the request went through Kuntze’s office. His power to approve or deny a request made him both resented and admired by Americans and Vietnamese.
In Saigon Kuntze had a reputation as an efficient and “get-things-done type of guy.” His fellow Navy officers said that he did the work of two men and he did it faster and better. Kuntze was the master at cutting through the customary bureaucratic red tape. Under his supervision the PXs and the quarters of enlisted men and officers were well stocked and the flow of supplies was steady and dependable. After demonstrating his capabilities for a few months in Saigon, Kuntze was in line for promotion to flag rank – to rear admiral.
At the same time he was working double shifts in his office, Kuntze’s personal life was undergoing a transformation. He filed for divorce from his wife in California. He, in fact, seldom spoke about his marriage or his divorce and few of the men and women around him were aware that he was married. There was no photograph of his wife on his desk or in his office.
But nearly everyone in Saigon, it seems, knew that Charlie Kuntze had fallen in love – madly in love, crazily in love. He seemed obsessed with his new love and he brazenly showed her off in public.
Her name was Jannie Suen. She was an employee in the Taiwan (Republic of China) Embassy in Saigon. The two met at a diplomatic social function and from the moment he saw her, Charlie Kuntze was head-over-heels for the 26 year old beauty.
Jannie was five feet three inches tall and had a slim, willowy figure. She had soft dark eyes and long black hair. She wore colorful silk dresses slit up the side to mid-thigh to reveal her long slim legs. She wore heels in public in Saigon and carried a parasol to protect her white skin from the bright sun. As far as anyone knew, she was single and available. A correspondent for Time magazine described her as “a sinuous Chinese Miss” and as “the Saigon Siren” who was “requisitioned by “the Wisconsin Salt.” Charles Howe of the San Francisco Chronicle described Jannie as “a vest-pocket Venus with a craving for gossamer green silk and shiny jewelry.” And to still other reporters she was “that svelte Chinese woman.”
Archie Kuntze of Sheboygan could not get enough of Jannie Suen of Taiwan. He was with her each evening after their first meeting. Two weeks after they met he moved out of his plain officer’s quarters and into a large and elegant villa at 74 Hong Tap Tu Street, a residence that was soon dubbed “The White House” by the Vietnamese press. Kuntze became more of a social animal in Saigon, hosting parties at his residence that were attended by high ranking political, military and diplomatic personnel as well as American businessmen holding or seeking supply and construction contracts.
Archie began to behave more and more, one of his staffers later testified, like a big city mayor – “like Fiorello LaGuardia,” the man told a naval board of inquiry. Jannie moved into the villa and, according to another officer, “lived openly and flagrantly with him.”
If Charlie was the Mayor of Saigon, than Jannie was undeniably the First Lady. She relished her role and moved easily in the circles of the rich and powerful and the would-be rich and powerful of Saigon.
The parties Archie and Jannie threw were the most glittering and lavish in town, a reporter wrote, “and the talk of Saigon.” Everyone who was anyone sought an invitation to a gathering at 74 Hong Tap Tu Street in downtown Saigon. Archie gave Jannie use of his automobile – a 1964 white four-door Buick Electra – with conspicuous white sidewalls – the only car in Vietnam with white sidewalls reporters claimed. The Buick was a two ton machine with four portholes on each of the front fenders, perhaps reminders for Archie of his years at Sea. A Navy flag was attached to the left front fender and an American flag to the right. Archie’s liveried Vietnamese chauffeur drove Jannie around Saigon, laying on the horn constantly as he cruised through the churning sea of pedestrians and cyclos and jeeps crowding the streets. People gaped at Jannie sitting upright in the back seat, wearing oversized dark glasses and a high collared Chinese dress. The driver stopped and held the door for her when she wanted to go into a jewelry store or a tailor shop. Archie’s growing number of critics described the car with the mistress as “offensively loud and insistent as well as shameless.”
Archie was in charge of assigning cars to all military officers in Saigon. When he learned that MACV Commander General William Westmoreland was unhappy with his brazen behavior as well as his alleged lack of due diligence in providing quickly all the requested supplies to MACV Headquarters, Archie made sure that the general and his staff were all allotted small Chevrolets without air conditioning. Archie tabled a request from Mrs. Westmoreland who was in Vietnam with her husband, for the PX to stock more toiletries for the wives of the MACV officers. He pointed out to his staffers that this demonstrated that he was not afraid to say no to anyone – not even the wife of the head of MACV.
General Westmoreland was not amused. He began pressing Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, Jr., Commander in Chief, Unites States Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, to phase out HSAS and replace it with an Army logistical command. Grant retired before he could respond to Westmoreland’s request and he was replaced by Admiral Thomas Moorer who was unsympathetic to the idea. But McNamara was receptive and he drew up plans not only to phase out HSAS but also to phase our Archie Kuntze.
Westmoreland, the much-decorated and straight-laced West Pointer, not only disapproved of Kuntze’s life style, he was also very deeply concerned about “leakage” of American supplies docked in the port of Saigon. The Vietnamese black market in American supplies in Saigon and the surrounding area was booming. The U.S. supply train, clearly, had broken down somewhere and the man responsible for making sure that it did not break down was Kuntze. American goods were for sale on Saigon streets that were supposed to be going to American fighting men and women – toiletries, clothing, uniforms, liquor, beer, cigarettes, radios and televisions and air conditioners, auto parts, medicine, jewelry and, if you knew the right man, weapons and ammunition.
Reporters began to file stories about the black market and the undeniable evidence of corruption in supplying and housing America’s fighting men and women. By the end of 1965 it was estimated that hundreds of billions of dollars in American assistance to South Vietnam was missing. During 1965 alone, a story in the Associated Press reported, $500 million to $1 billion worth of supplies had simply vanished from American ships and storage facilities in Saigon. By 1966 loses were half a million dollar a day. An American insurance company that wrote policies for goods shipped to Vietnam reported claims of $4 million in missing goods in 120 days in 1965. Some of those missing supplies were not going into the black market. They were actually going to the enemy. In the autumn of 1966 the 196th Light Infantry Brigade overran a Viet Cong camp fifty miles outside Saigon. In that camp they found a million and a quarter pounds of rice, 440 gallons of gasoline, 600 gallons of cooking oil, 750 pounds of sale and 88 shovels – all with markings indicating that the material came from American exporters. The enemy was not merely cooking and eating food supplied by America, they were even digging their tunnels with American shovels.
The stories of corruption and mismanagement were affecting the public by 1966. The Gallup Polls that year indicated that the number of Americans who believed the US made a mistake in committing troops to Vietnam rose to nearly 36 percent by October – up 12 percent from the spring. McNamara and his boss, Lyndon Johnson, realized that something very very wrong needed to be fixed fast.
Archie not only stepped on the toes of the MACV commander and his wife and staffers, he also stiffed the biggest crime boss in Vietnam – William J. Crum, the “Money King” of Vietnam. Several of Captain Kuntze’s critics got his relationship with Crum all wrong. They suggested that Archie came to some sort of an agreement with Crum and was thus led astray. In fact, the opposite was true. Archie had crossed Crum and made himself another powerful enemy.
Crum was an American who ruled over a huge and profitable crime empire in Southeast Asia by the time Archie Kuntze arrived in Saigon. Crum had put together, reporters later wrote, an invisible empire – a “consortium of criminals” that stretched from the black market stalls of Saigon to, it was alleged, the offices of MACV.
Crum was born in China to American parents. His first business enterprise was as a liquor distributor to American PXs in South Korea in 1950. From there he became the supplier of goods to American military installations throughout Asia. Crime was the subject of two Congressional committees looking into kickbacks and smuggling but he was never indicted on those charges.
When America began its big buildup in South Vietnam, Crum wanted in on the supply chain. The man he had to win over was Archie Kuntze. But Kuntze wanted nothing to do with Crum. He maintained tight Navy control over all PX functions and he arranged for Jannie to work with one of Saigon’s largest liquor distributors to help facilitate contracts for the PXs.
William J. Crum was not amused. He also was not a man to give up easily. He began working behind the scenes to assist those who wanted to get rid of Kuntze. He befriended several civilian officials of the Army-Air Force Regional Exchange in Saigon, men who were later selected to oversee the transfer of PX functions from the Navy to the Army. Crum put these men on a retainer of $1600 per month and provided a large villa in Saigon for them. He provided the men with a chef, a maid and all the liquor and women they might need as they waited for their chance.
It came in January, 1966. Jannie’s father owned a tony tailoring business in Saigon. But he found it difficult to acquire Thai silk and other textiles necessary to stock his store. But in the first month of 1966, a shipment of several bolts of Thai silk was delivered to Suen in Saigon and seized by Vietnamese customs officials. Suen was asked to provide proof of payment of customs fees for the silk. She had no such receipt. She was arrested and placed in jail. Kuntze visited her in jail and spoke with the police and customs officials in an effort to straighten everything out. But before he could get Jannie free, a special Naval Board of Inquiry arrived in Saigon to investigate the matter and the leakage of supplies from ships in the port of Saigon. The board members questioned Kuntze at length regarding his relationship with Suen and his possible complicity in the leakage of supplies from the port of Saigon. The board went through his bank statements and his Navy files. Bank statements showed large sums of cash deposited in Kuntze’s accounts – far larger than was merited by his salary. Kuntze pointed out that the same statements showed an equally large outflow of cash – it was all business, he said. Still, not all of the deposits were explained as business legal transactions. Kuntze tried to explain. He said he had been lucky at the dice tables in Saigon. The board could pin no significant crimes on Kuntze and they advised that Kuntze be issued an official reprimand.
But a reprimand was not good enough for Kuntze’s detractors. They wanted him out. A second board of inquiry was sent to Saigon in the spring of 1966. This three-man panel covered much of the same ground as the first. They investigated his relationship with Suen but when they went to the Saigon jail to question her, she was missing. Nobody seemed to know when or how she had been discharged. She was not at the White House with Archie. She was not at her parent’s apartment or at the Chinese Embassy. She had disappeared into thin air.
The second board of inquiry looked into Archie’s business with Suen and asked about the importation of the Thai silk. They also asked for the names of the establishments where he had been lucky with the dice. He said he could not remember but he did remember selling his golf clubs and some of his civilian clothing and jewelry he purchased for Suen and depositing the cash for those sales in his bank account. They were unconvinced by his responses and the second board of inquiry recommended that Archie be removed from command and court martialed.
The Court martial was ordered by Rear Admiral John E. Clark, commandant of the 12th Naval District. It was to be the first time since 1951 that a Navy captain he been court martialed for personal misconduct. Kuntze was relieved of command of HSAS and reassigned to the Naval Station on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. He was charged with 12 counts of giving false testimony and making official statements to deceive as well as conduct unbecoming an officer due to his open relationship with Suen. Kuntze responded to the news by saying that he welcomed the court martial in order to set the record straight and to discredit all of the allegations against him. He contacted Suen again before he flew to San Francisco and made arrangements for her to fly to California. He was, Naval investigators later said, clearly “contemplating matrimony.”
HSAS ceased operation on May 15, 1966, and its operations were turned over to the Army.
The court martial was held on Treasure Island during the first week of November. The proceedings were open to reporters and to Naval personnel. Kuntze was assigned a very capable and experienced counsel, Captain Dan Flynn, USN. Flynn came out of retirement to represent Kuntze and he was described by one newspaper as a man “who conceals a brilliant talent for salvaging ruined careers beneath a ‘down home’ fa├žade.”
The first day of the proceedings before a panel of 9 Navy captains and admirals (Kuntze, the press noted, had far more ribbons and decorations than any of the nine officers trying him), Flynn asked for a change of venue to Saigon where it would be far easier for him to find witnesses for the defense of Captain Kuntze and where the alleged transgressions had taken place. In response to the motion, the prosecutor, Captain Joseph Ross, USN, insisted that the trial be held in San Francisco because “Saigon is hot and inundated with reporters” and Kuntze stood a far better chance of a fair trial in San Francisco than in Saigon. The motion to move the trial was denied. At that point, Flynn whispered to his assistants that “the whole thing just doesn’t make any sense!” He repeated that phrase a half dozen times throughout the proceedings. At other times, within earshot of Kuntze and the reporters, he complained that “the specifications of this case are so complicated I can’t get them through my head and I don’t think Captain Ross can either!” He concluded half way through the trial that there was an invisible civilian arm reaching out from the Defense Department guiding and insisting that the proceedings take place and that the “correct” verdict be reached.
Flynn also requested that 12 specific witnesses be transported to San Francisco to Saigon to testify in behalf of Captain Kuntze. Four of these were Jannie Suen, her parents and her sister who would testify that she lived at home with her parents. He also wanted to bring in Kuntze’s chauffeur and housekeepers.
The first witness for the prosecution was Lt. Gerald W. Young, a Navy finance officer who served under Kuntze. He alleged that Kuntze kept $23 million in cash in a freezer next to his office. When he asked Kuntze what the money was for, Kuntze told him, “for incidentals.” Flynn cross examined Young and asked why he had not reported this earlier or at least expressed concern to anyone else. Young could provide no convincing answer. Flynn managed to get Young to admit that he was unaware of any specific fiscal irresponsibility of Kuntze and that he never any evidence of funds of the government gone missing under Kuntze’s watch. The cold cash in the freezer, Flynn said, came in and went out and was collected and dispensed for government business. It might have been unorthodox to keep it in a freezer, but it was certainly not illegal. He pointed out that Kuntze had never been charged with being ineffective or inefficient. Under his command, even though he kept funds in a freezer in his office, things got done. Arriving troops were housed and fed and shipments were delivered and the PXs were well stocked.
Yeoman 1st class James Parks testified that Kuntze sent him to Thailand on a military aircraft to bring back bolts of silk for Jannie and her father. Parks also volunteered that he was scandalized by the way Kuntze “lived openly and notoriously” in his official quarters with Jannie Suen.
Defense witnesses attacked Parks’ veracity and character. Three enlisted men who worked for Kuntze in Saigon testified that “not for one moment” would they believe a word he said. Chief Yeoman James McComb who served in Kuntze’s staff headquarters for a year said that Parks was a habitual liar and that he’d caught him lying in the past several times. And it was clear to reporters that the Navy men assigned to Treasure Island who would talk to them were incensed that Kuntze was forced to stand accused before the court martial. He had done nothing wrong, they said, one after another.
Several witnesses for the prosecution detailed Kuntze’s expenditures on Jannie – including $4600 in jewelry and airline tickets. But reporters still wondered where the crime was. The Captain was divorced. The money was his own to spend. Was Archie Kuntze the only man who spent lavishly on a beautiful woman, they asked? Where was the crime? The stories of Archie’s activities in Saigon seemed aimed more at arousing the Victorian ire of the court than to convict him of any specific crime. Flynn responded that Archie could just never say no to Jannie. He could say no to other women – to Mrs. Westmoreland and the other MAVC wives – but he could not say no to Jannie. That, Flynn said, was his problem – his personal problem.
A Naval intelligence officer was flown in from Saigon. Commander Nicholas Sabales, revealed what he had discovered about Jannie. Her real name, he said, was Sun Pei Kiong. She had been employed by the ROC Embassy in Saigon prior to “residing openly and notoriously in Kuntze’s quarters” which, he reminded the court, became known as “the White House”! Sabales said that Kuntze’s Navy salary was $1400 per month. But he somehow managed to convert $12,038.21 into government checks. Even more scandalous, Sabales testified, Kuntze obtained a “valuable” PX exchange card for Jannie. He had an aide fill out the application for the card and under “relationship” Kuntze drew a line and where her address was required, he had the aide write in 74 Hong Tap Tu.
Both the defense and the prosecution said they wanted to call Miss Suen to the stand. But she could not be found in Saigon. Naval Intelligence had informed Captain Ross that “Miss Suen may have left Vietnam.” During the discussions of Miss Suen, Archie sat silently at the defense table. He told no one what he knew. Suen had entered the US several weeks earlier in Seattle. From there she had flown to San Francisco. She was living in the plush apartment of a friend on Nob Hill, within sight of Treasure Island. She had access to Kuntze’s Cadillac, which was parked in a garage near her apartment. She was waiting for Archie’s vindication. Kuntze indicated later to a reporter that he expected to be reunited with Suen, move to Florida, and live the rest of his life with her there.
Chief Steward Alberto Rosete who managed Kuntze’s household at the White House for 16 months, testified that Jannie took all of her meals at the house and had her laundry done there. She stayed overnight with Kuntze, the steward testified, “four or five times a week.”
Flynn’s cross examination was simple. “Where’s the crime?” he asked Rosete. “Where is the crime?” Rosete did not reply. Ross protested.
Captain Flynn spoke about Kuntze with reporters off the record several times during the hearings. “He’s driving me crazy,” Flynn said. “Before we come to court each morning he gets out a little old-fashioned clothes brush and we all have to dust ourselves off.” And there was more. When Kuntze learned that one of his former shipmates had been arrested and jailed by civilian authorities in nearby Alameda, Kuntze took time off from preparing his defense to arrange to pay bail for the sailor. Finally, Ross responded regarding the accusations against Kuntze, “It is hard to believe that this officer did these things that we have charged him with doing. But…nevertheless, he did them.”
When it became obvious that Jannie was not going to make an appearance at the proceedings, the prosecution entered into evidence the photograph taken of her for her Post Exchange card. The photo was passed around the room. Reporters were allowed to examine it.
They were all in agreement: even when she was not smiling, the dewy-eyed and dark haired Jannie Suen was drop-dead gorgeous. Jannie’s photo aroused envy rather than indignation.
A dozen Navy men testified on behalf of Kuntze. Each of them contradicted the witnesses for the prosecution. The last defense witness was Kuntze’s superior officer in Saigon, Rear Admiral Jack Monroe, USN (retired). Monroe said that in Saigon Kuntze as “brilliant.” Kuntze’s only real problem in Vietnam, Monroe said, was that he “lacked tact.”
Although Kuntze did not speak twenty words during the proceedings, he had been examined prior to the court martial by investigators and Ross let slip some of his secret testimony as evidence for a motive. “I am accepting the accused’s explanation that he did it ‘for Jannie’” Ross told the court. The motive, the prosecution said, was love and love’s first cousin, lust. Ross repeated that Kuntze had “confessed” that he was “contemplating matrimony” with Jannie. He added that Kuntze also said that until he and Jannie were husband and wife, “the pleasure of her company is justified by her role as interpreter and unofficial hostess.” Ross concluded, “What a pity, gentlemen. It is a crying shame that an office that we had expected so much from could have done this for a woman.”
In defense of Kuntze, Flynn declaimed regarding the allegations of the relationship with Jannie, “Look at this one on Jannie Suen. It says, ‘did wrongfully and dishonorably permit Jannie Suen, an unmarried Chinese female’ – Now what in God’s world has ‘Chinese female’ got to do with that offense? If it was an Australian, would that make any difference?... No, but this was put in there as it has an aroma of mystery about it and adds spice to the case and makes it a little worse…. And then it says that she is about twenty-six years old. I wonder if she was thirty-six if, whoever drew up this epistle, he would have put it in. Well, I thought about it. If she was forty-six, would they have put it in? Well, I doubt it they would have….. It doesn’t make any difference whether she is Chinese, or whether she is twenty-six years old, but you know how this gives the case a little twist. It is a little meanness that we hadn’t ought to be using in these old Navy courts….”
In explaining away Kuntze’s highly unorthodox methods of storing cash and exchanging various currencies for dollars, Flynn insisted it was all based upon the practicalities of doing business in Asia. He referred to his own duty as a staff legal officer in the Philippines and said, “If the Chief of Police of Olongapo, Zambales, the liberty town for Subic Bay, wants a case of liquor… I’m going to keep that Chief of Police satisfied… That’s the way it works. I suppose that in doing that I violated many regulations. The further out you go in the Pacific, the thicker the layers of regulations. I never have time to look them up. I don’t know – we’ve got a job to do; we get it done the best we can.” The currency transaction that Kuntze had been charged with undertaking had been favors to the Vietnamese, Flynn pointed out. They were things he needed to do in order to get his job done, and so he did them and the job Kuntze got his job done.
In closing, Ross insisted that there was no reliable testimony or evidence to convict Kuntze on any charge. He saw something other than the actual evidence propelling the case. “The Navy has been made to dance a jig here on Treasure Island and ever other Main Street in this United States and throughout the Pacific,” he said. “But I think it ought to stop here. I ask you to call a halt to this kind of business.” The evidence against Kuntze, Ross pointed out, was the sort of hearsay “you wouldn’t hang a yellow dog on.” He concluded, “My request to this court is to let’s pick ourselves up and brush ourselves off and say, ‘This has gone far enough.’ We’ve put on the show; the fun has been had by whoever wanted it. And I will tell you, gentlemen, that there has never been a case like this in the United States Navy and you know it and I know it, and we will never see it again.”
The verdict came on the 9th day of the court martial after the presiding panel of officers deliberated for 11 ½ hours. Kuntze was found innocent of ten charges and guilty on two. He was guilty of the relatively minor offenses related to his “conduct unbecoming an officer” --for letting Jannie use his government car, for living with her out of wedlock. He was found guilty on a second charge of abusing his position by importing Thai silk into Saigon for Suen’s father.
Kuntze stood during the reading of the verdict. He had not testified during the trial. He was confident that he would be vindicated. He was shaken by the verdict.
Court reconvened to hear defense arguments before announcing its sentence. Flynn was brilliant in his presentation. He spoke without notes. Kuntze wiped tears from his eyes as Flynn strode back and forth before the other officers making his case for mercy.
He asked the court not to dishonorably discharge Kuntze from the service. If allowed to, he said, his client would petition immediately to be retired from the Navy. If Kuntze was dishonorably discharged, he would forfeit his retirement pay of $700 per month or a possible $2135, 000 over 28 years based on actuarial tables of life expectancy.
And then Flynn gave his eloquent peroration in a deep and booming and convincing voice. Archie Kuntze, he reminded the court, had been awarded 22 medals for his service to his country. Among these awards was a Purple Heard, A Bronze Star with Combat “V,” and a Legion of Merit Medal with Combat “V.”
“This man earned his retirement at Guadalcanal, at Savor, at New Georgia, at Bougainville, and off Okinawa,” he said pointing a finger at his client. “He made the long trek from Guadalcanal almost to Japan. He earned it along the shores of Korea. He earned it in Vietnam.” Flynn’s appeal was not challenged by Ross the Navy Prosecutor. The court accepted Flynn’s plea and Kuntze was not dishonorably discharged from the Navy. He received an official reprimand and the loss of 100 points on the Navy promotion list. Archie Kuntze immediately applied for retirement from the Navy and he was granted retirement thirty days later.
After the trial Kuntze spoke with reporters and said he’d hoped that Suen’s name would not be dragged into the proceedings. Reporters were understandably astonished by this statement. When asked if he planned to return to Suen in Saigon he said he had no such plans (she was in San Francisco). “But I’d rather go through another bombing in Saigon than go through the ordeal of a court martial,” he concluded.
Kuntze may have met Jannie in San Francisco, as the San Francisco Chronicle reporters expected he might. They staked out the apartment where she was living. But Kuntze and Suen were not seen together again. In the next years a few reporters tried to locate Suen but were unsuccessful. She had again disappeared.
Kuntze returned to Sheboygan. There he met and fell in love with a local woman, Ann Bauman. The two were married on March 12, 1968. Kuntze entered public life in his community. He worked for a time as a business consultant. And in 1970 he successfully ran for a seat on the common Council of the city. He served eight years as an alderman from Sheboygan and served for a time as the Council president. In 1973 he was defeated in a campaign to become mayor of Sheboygan. But he continued to serve as an alderman. On the Common Council he was a champion of community improvements including upgrading city streets, renovating a junior high school and construction of a regional water plant. He was defeated in his fifth term on the council in 1978. He worked for the next two years as a business consultant.
Charlie Kuntze, the former American Mayor of Saigon, passed away at St. Nicholas Hospital in Sheboygan on December 14, 1980. The cause of death was listed as heart failure. Funeral services were held at the St. Clement Catholic Church in Sheboygan, where Kuntze had been a member.
The U.S. Navy Reserve and the American Legion provided honor guards at the church and at the cemetery.


Allison Riccardi said...

Just read "A feather in the storm". Great read. Couldn't put it down. Thanks to you and Emily for recounting this heartwrenching story.

Nha Toi said...

Hi Prof Engelmann, just read your review of "Black April". I go, hmm, that's my SJSU history professor! My dad wanted me to get that book for him, so I was reading the reviews on how good the book is and saw your name. So stop by here to say "Hello" to you :)