Thursday, December 6, 2012

General Ralph Maglione's Vietnam

General Maglione

. . . Akron Ohio, and graduated from Coventry High School in 1944 and World War II was just winding down then, but I enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program. And went to nine months of college because they didn't have a pre-flight slot for me. They had a backlog of people. So I went to nine months of college and then the war ended and they gave me an opportunity to stay in the Air Force, get in any other branch as an enlisted man, or get out and take my chances with the draft. Well I figured what the heck, I might as well stay in and get my service out of the way. Plus I might get a chance to fly, which I never did. I was a parachute rigger and came out as a buck sergeant.

I stayed in two years, then I got out and went to Kent State, the infamous Kent State, and met my wife there. My GI bill ran out after three years, so I didn't have a degree, so I joined the aviation cadet program. An old flame was kindled and so I graduated and got a regular commission out of flying school and stayed in until 1976.

Q. Your first combat missions were in Korea? And a Silver Star was your highest award?

Yes. Distinguished Flying Cross with a couple oak leaf clusters, and eight Air Medals.

Q. How many missions?

A hundred and four.

Q. What rank out of Korea?

First Lieutenant. I only stayed there nine months. But spent 67 days as a forward air controller with the infantry. In fact that's where I won the Silver Star.

Q. So you decided to make a career. What was your next assignment?

Oh, I don't know. We set a lot of airplane records for transoceanic airplane, single engine jet crossings.

Q. Did you ever get involved in NASA?

No. A couple reasons. One, I never had a mathematical, scientific background, and plus I didn't have a college degree until 1964 when I went to night school when I was stationed at the Pentagon. So I wasn't technically qualified.

Q. Were you a test pilot?

Squadron test pilot, that's all.

Q. Then the Thunderbirds?

Yeah. I was with them 1965, 66, 67. And we flew F 100s and I got out of there and went to the National War College.

Q. When did you go to Vietnam?

I went to Vietnam in '71 and spent eighteen months over there. I went over originally as Director of Personnel for MACV and I worked for General Weyand. Then when the war started winding down they chose two guys to stay behind with the fifty military and thirteen hundred and fifty civilians. That was Murray and me.

Q. You were a general then?

Yes, B.G. So I wore a couple of hats. One, I was Deputy Defense Attache of John Murray. The other, I was Director of Operations and Intelligence for the Defense Attache's Office.

Q. You hadn't been in combat in Vietnam at all?

No. Although I worked with the VNAF as far as tactics and with their A 37s and F 5s.

Q. How were they? Did you have to analyze their needs or anything like that?

Oh, yeah. We analyzed them. I did. And we had an Air Force division, an Army division and a Navy division under the Defense Attache's Office. I was impressed with the Vietnamese. They were good people.

Q. From the leadership on down?


Q. The pilots were trained in the United States.


Q. Did you get along with Ky?

My path and his didn't cross often. Mostly social, receptions at night, things like that. General Minh was my counterpart. Very businesslike man. I was highly impressed with his professionalism. He was dedicated. I could not attest to any corruption that took place within the VNAF or ARVN. But I was impressed with the way they pursued the war.

Q. When the Paris Accords are signed and you are with DAO, when did you start noticing trouble with supplies? Because they always bitch about gasoline . . .

That was a problem. I would guess about the last six months I was in Vietnam. I came home in June of '74 so I started noticing it about December of '73, January of '74. But every visit I'd make to every VNAF, every ARVN AF base, whether it be army, navy, air force, marine, the problem was always the same. Gasoline shortage, ammunition shortage and supply of spares. There's no way you can pursue a war without those three items.

Q. You were sure these were real shortages, not just misappropriations?

As far as I could see they were real shortages.

Q. Corruption wasn't any problem as far as you could see?

Well, it was there, I'm sure. I didn't see it first hand. Nor did any of my people. Most of that stuff was checked out through the embassy. Although transportation was a problem from the ports, using organizations. I think basic logistics supply cataloging was a problem. We had belched that stuff in to them so rapidly that a lot of it couldn't be digested. And I think that was a basic problem.

That was one of our functions, to try to get that stuff catalogued and get it into the hands of the using organizations. But it was like trying to teach a child to fly an airplane in about thirty days. When we were helping them pursue the war, prior to the accords, we were doing a lot of things for them. And it was easier than teaching them. And the best way to teach somebody was to let them do it themselves, but it takes time to do it that way. So what we were doing, we were pooping ammunition out and using it fast and whatever we needed, we always got, we had an unlimited supply. And it really spoiled them. We never taught them efficiency or economy of force. We taught them through our example that it was always there. Go ahead and use it if you ever need it. Call in any air you want. It's always there.

Q. General Murray told me they had a flying museum over there, a hundred different planes. Their air force was fairly jerry-built.

Oh, yeah. It was some army buffaloes, and some C-130s and some F-5s, A-37s, just --

Q. Were they out-classed by the North Vietnamese then?

They really never had air to air combat with the North Vietnamese.

Q. I was told they avoided it because of the MIG 21s.

Yeah. And the only thing that could have helped them was the F-5s they had, and most of those were at Tan Son Nhut and at Bien Hoa. The range would have been a tough job to get to Hanoi.

Q. Did you listen to their briefings on close tactical support with their air force?


Q. Were they using it properly?

Oh, yeah.

Q. They understood that.

Absolutely. However, again they were never taught economy of force. Whatever they needed they always had plenty of, as our forces did when we were over there fighting a war. And there wasn't a gradual weaning, it was all of a sudden they had it and then all of a sudden we were gone. And our forces moved to NKP, Na Kom Phenom??? and we had a few advisory people come down and visit periodically and General Vogt would come down periodically, General O'Keefe, but it wasn't like when our advisers were there. Plus the supplies -- they kept using at the same rate they did when we were there.

Q. Did they have an esprit de corps like the U.S. Air Force?

No, they didn't. They were fighting for their country. They didn't have the same motivation that I would say the Israelis have. The Israelis are fighting for their very existence. These were too, but they really didn't know it until it was too late.

Q. How important was the absence of B-52s with them? Once they knew they had no more carpet bombing?

Oh, yeah. Well I think it was important because it would stem a ground attack. The Viet Cong were deathly afraid of B-52s and they would keep their heads down during an attack. However, to my knowledge, when all hell broke loose in late '74 early '75, it was just a rout. I don't know whether B-52s could have stemmed that attack or not, but by then South Vietnamese realized they couldn't win, that they couldn't even pursue a war, at least in their minds they thought this. That's when they lacked leadership, lacked that personal motivated drive that permits a guy to stand on a hill until the very last man dies.

Q. How close were you with Minh?

When I left, in June of '74, so I really didn't see or talk to them when the rout took place. There's a guy you ought to talk to, Leroy Svenson. He lives in San Antonio. He took over my job -- well there was a man in between but he didn't last long, Frank Bond. Svenson was a general, one star. He had my job over there and he was there the final days. He left with Homer Smith when Homer left. That's when I was director of congressional relations.

Q. Just before you left what was your assessment? You were fairly optimistic then?

Oh, yeah. I was optimistic, however the Ambassador and Murray were getting vibes that Congress was about to get tired of this unlimited supply source and we were starting to get vibes, and Kissinger would come over and Haig would come over and we'd just about see the handwriting on the wall that people back here were getting tired supporting that war effort. Plus, Kissinger had just started to stimulate the peace talks and every time they'd start talking, when they would walk away from the table and we would start bombing Hanoi again, they would come right back to the table. Where we made our mistake, we should have never stopped bombing, because they dictated the peace accords, not us. And we were in a position, because we had them on their knees. They were on their knees in late '72.

Q. Did you do a final talk with Minh before you left?

Yeah, but at that stage everything was roses.

Q. When you watched it from this side, -- did you have any inside relations with Congress? You were the liaison with Congress for the Air Force. Did you watch Congressional sentiment dramatically turn in that period?

Yes. And you see Kissinger was making progress, and I put "progress" in quotes, toward peace over there. And our objective was to get the POWs released, and that's fine. But I think, with a little patience, we could have gotten it all. I think we could have saved the country and we could have gotten our POWs out. With pressure. I hate to lay it all on B-52s, because F-111s, F-4s, F-105s, everything that went north out of NKP and Thailand was being very effectively used. Even though there were constraints by some of the civilian target planners, nevertheless there was still a lot of pressure being applied, and that's what brought the North back to the peace tables.

We gave up an awful lot -- the United States -- to get our prisoners back, to get peace over there. And we gave up a country. We really did. We gave that country away. If you want to say that's being a peacemaker, okay, but I think that's surrender, myself. I think that's ultimate surrender.

All we had to do was continue bombing the North and they would have capitulated to a greater degree than they did. Because later on they took over the country as you know, and they had a free hand in doing it. We just gave up.

Q. What did you think of the doves in Congress? The outspoken doves, Frank Church, McCloskey, etc.? McCloskey was the only combat veteran in Congress, and yet he was an outspoken dove at the end also. When you listened to them is there something that you understood that they didn't? What was the difference in perception there?

Well, I really don't know. It's a perception type thing. I think McCloskey felt as long as we weren't going to fight a proper war we ought to get the devil out of there. And I agree. But once we decided to withdraw and turn it over to them, we should have done it properly. We were still pursuing the war from Thailand, the air war up north, and we had them on the run. We really did. As indicated by the fact that every time the North would walk away from the peace table, we'd start bombing again and they'd come right back. We should have said, "If you walk away again, and we're going to bomb you for thirty days."

(. . . . telephone interruption)

The administration, Kissinger, and everybody were so please to be out of there that they would have surrendered anything. They were fed up with Vietnam and they did exactly what the North Vietnamese said. "You are going to get so tired of this war, we are going to out-patient you. We're going to be here long after you are gone." And they were absolutely right. We had them on the rope and we could have -- I don't know whether the south would have ever been viable as a country, as it proved militarily they just didn't have the staying power. But we really spoiled them. We taught them to fight a sophisticated war. Ho Chi Minh got them to fight a very economy minded unsophisticated type of war, live off the land, wrap your feet in rags -- we taught them to wear shoes, helmets, fatigues, fly airplanes, and it just didn't work.

Q. How did you feel while here in the U.S. watching it on tv?

I felt terrible. And when they gave Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize, I thought "Hell's bells, I could have won the Nobel Peace Prize if I'd given the country away." That's ridiculous. I could have brought about peace five years before then. All we had to do was surrender the country. And we wouldn't have lost all those people. That's ridiculous, but it just goes to show you how some people can rationalize away and think that the end justifies the means.

Q. What did you think of the North Vietnamese as fighting men?

Well, I didn't think much of them. I thought they were kind of a rag tag outfit. The ground to air missiles that they had were fairly effective and the flak over North Vietnam was worse than it's ever been in any war we've ever faced, but that was all Russian equipment. And now we find out Russian-supervised from the ground. But as far as the ground troops, the north and the Viet Cong, they turned out to be quite effective. But again, once the rout started, there was no opposition.

Q. When that rout started, did you have misgivings? At what point did you see it was all over?

There was a general by the name of Truong who was commanding general of MR 1. When I heard that MR 1 went down the tubes and Truong was evacuated off the coast of Da Nang, I knew that it was just a matter of time, because he was their finest fighting man, and they put him in the zone that was the buffer between the south and the north and he was supposed to stem the tide. And when he was unable to do it.

Q. MR 1 went without a fight. They just pulled the plug on him.

The same way with Ban Me Thuot. And MR 2. That just belched from within and everybody gave up.

Q. They tried to do something that was impossible, had never been tried in history before, and that is, an orderly withdrawal over several hundred miles of troops, without any planning. It was ludicrous.


Q. Do you think if that happened in the U.S. Army that people would have been shot, court martialed and shot?

In order to court martial you have to have an organized situation and they didn't even have a country. They couldn't have gotten twelve officers together to be a court martial. It was just an absolute rout. And another sad part about it, which we always knew, they had their families with them. It was a hell of a way to fight a war. And they'd go out on patrol and come back and the wives and children were right there in camp with them. There's no way you can attack having your family with you. Let alone retreat. It was just every man, woman and child for themselves. It was very heart rending for me because I knew a lot of those people and to me they were fine fighting people and I could just imagine the mental anguish they must have been going through, the disorganization that they must have been undergoing at the time.

I think what happened, when they realized that the United States Congress and the Unites States people were no longer behind them, resource-wise, it was just a matter of time.

Q. What did you think of the newsmen you met over there?

I didn't meet many.

Q. What did you think of the news reporting? Did what you saw there correspond with what you saw on tv?

No. The minute you try to report war, it becomes an editorial impossibility because the ghastliness of war is something that the average civilian shouldn't see. And for an editorial leader to say "We're going to show that. We're going to show that torso. We're going to show those people ripped apart." It would have so novel for him to do that, that I think he would have been chastised and eliminated from that network very soon. So what they tried to do, they tried to make war palatable just like our administration did. The minute you try to make war acceptable either to yourself or to your enemy, it's a matter of time, you're going to lose. War in my estimation, has to be the most brutal, the most despicable thing known to man. Then people will avoid it. The minute you try to make it acceptable, either on the giving end or the taking end, it's a matter of time you're going to lose.

That's a long way of saying, our news people said the My Lai incident -- we used Napalm, how ghastly, napalm. We used cluster bombs. Hey, of course. We're out to kill people. And the more we kill with one weapon, the better off it is. That's our mission. It's a hell of a thing to say, but SAC used to have "Peace is our Profession". That's a bunch of crap. War is our profession, not peace. Peace is our goal. Our profession is to fight if we ever have to, and fight to win. That means you gouge, you kick, you bite, you do everything you can to win as quick as you can and get the hell out of there.

The press, because they really had no effectiveness in the North, couldn't say "Look what the North has done." So the order of the press was, "We're going to show our weaponry, our methods, our tactics." In doing so it makes us look like a bunch of animals, because that's what you are in war, a bunch of animals. When you become a warrior or a man whose potential is to fight for his country, he has to be able to turn it on and turn it off. It's a hard thing. I've seen a lot of great leaders, aerial leaders, that when World War II was over, they just couldn't survive in a peacetime environment. The adrenalin pumped too fast, too strong, too hard. But come war, he'd be the first man you'd call up. Robin Olds is a good example. He was a man whose guts would writhe but nevertheless he thrived on fighting for his country.

But, was the press fair? As fair as they'll ever be. The minute you try to make war palatable, what you've got to do is say, ladies and gentlemen, war is hell. In our estimation war has got to be hell so that people avoid it. "Now we're going to show you what war is. And you and your kids should do everything in your power to avoid this war and all future wars. We're going to show you what it's like." And then show them. But don't say, "This was My Lai. Lt. Calley did this and his men did this." They probably did, but let me tell you, the conditions those kids were under either could have justified it, but they were probably scared to death, because women, kids, would have weapons strapped to their bellies, underneath their clothes, and they'd come running up to the troops with the life ammo that's due to go off in ten, fifteen seconds, they'd come running up to the troops, blow up and blow up two or three guys with them. You see that two or three times, and you say, "Hey wait a minute. It's either them or me. And by god it ain't going to be me or my men." But try to carry that back under a peacetime control situation to a court back here sitting in a beautiful air conditioned room, there's no way you can duplicate those conditions.

So, the Press in trying to relay and trying to display the conditions that existed over there, their hands were tied too. Because they couldn't see what the North did either, too much. Plus they couldn't show the ghastliness of war in its true form. I think they tried as much as they could, to where it wasn't completely unacceptable. I would like to see war depicted just like it is.

Q. And you don't think they did.

I don't, no.

Q. They thought they did. They thought they were saying this is the way war is.

They criticized cluster bombs. They criticized napalm. They criticized carpet bombing. They criticized Agent Orange. You don't criticize anything that is successful in war. I mean, it's a hell of a damn thing and it's hard for me to explain to people, because they say, "That guys really a twisted military career man. How belligerent and ghastly he is." But in peacetime I'm just as nice and gentle. But when my country says we're going to go to war, and that's what we're going to do.

Q. Did you have any difficulties personally with the strategy of that war, not bombing the dikes around Hanoi?

Oh, positively.

Q. You know, not invading or sending the airborne in.

Well, I don't know about that.

Q. At least mining Haiphong harbor earlier, bombing the dikes in the rainy season and giving them notification. "Move your population from these areas that will become flooded because of these dikes." Give them plenty of notice.

Q. Despite the cost that would come in SAMs?

Oh, absolutely. Russia would give them everything they needed. Our losses over there were acceptable. That's a hell of a thing to say, but they really were, considering the ground to air anti-aircraft they would throw at us. The losses were acceptable.

Q. Given your theory of war, it's hell, terrible, and is to win. You must not like the idea of a limited war.

That's right. That's why you wonder whether these stories about Pearl Harbor were really true in order to get national resolve, in order to get the country behind us. "Remember Pearl Harbor" "Remember the Alamo." All those great phrases that sell bonds. You have to get the country behind you to do a war properly. Or you've got to be such a strong leader, like Goldwater would have been, who says, "Folks, let me tell you what we're going to do. We're going to clean this up in four to six months. Just relax, sit back, I'm going to handle this. The military guys are going to handle it right. We'll be in and out of there in six months. Now, you may not like what we're going to do, but we are going to fight a war. And the way we are going to fight it is to win. So a guy's got to have balls. And Goldwater had them. But the minute you try to gradually escalate, another 500,000, another 50,000, another 5,000, --

Q. Without invading the North --


Q. It's difficult to explain exactly what you are doing.

Again, you're trying to make a war acceptable to the civilian population. You can't do that. You've got to say it is first and foremost within our national interest to be there, and secondly it is within our national interest to win. Therefore, we are going to pursue this effort with every bit of vigor we can muster and every resource we can muster. Then we are going to win. We are going to let peace prevail, help them get back on their feet and we are going to get out of there. But we are going to do it quickly and effectively.

We're just before being faced with that problem in Nicaragua. Central America right now, terrible situation again. Do we let these people go down the tubes, or don't we? And who do we back? Do we back the right guy? As bad as Batista was, in Cuba, and as corrupt as he was, he was our crook. As bad as the Shah was in Iran, the mainstay in the Middle East, next to Saudi Arabia, as corrupt as he was, he was our crook. Is what they have over there any better than what the Shah was? It is worse. Carter let him go down the tubes.

Q. Do you remember where you were when you watched the Fall, Operation Frequent Wind? Did you watch on tv?

Oh, yes.

Q. Never seen anything like that in American history before.

No. I was in the command post down in the Air Force command post and it was just -- well you see, a lot of it was being run out of NKP. General John Burns at the time a three star general had taken over from O'Keefe. John Burns, incidentally, works for McDonnell-Douglas in St. Louis.

Q. But the message traffic was coming back and forth to the Pentagon.


Q. What were you thinking? Was there a kind of a pall over everything here?

Well it was excitement in that I knew the Ambassador well. I worked under Ellsworth Bunker and then I worked under Graham Martin. John Murray used to say, "If Curtis LeMay would ever have an ambassador, it would be Graham Martin." Because Curtis Lemay in John Murray's estimate was a tough son of a gun. And Graham Martin was a tough son of a gun. If we listened to Graham Martin, we might have lost, but we'd have lost with honor. What we did over there was not honorable at all. And I don't care what Kissinger says, or Nixon or anybody else. What we did to those people over there was not honorable. We got the POWs out, good. Because a lot of those guys were my pals. But we could have got them out thirty to forty-five days sooner if we continued the pressure. I'll swear that to my dying day.

Q. You didn't like the idea of the U.S. flying its last employees off the roof of the embassy. That's not the way we should exit.

Have you visited the Vietnam Memorial?

Oh, yes.

Q. What do you think when you go down to see that?

I think that the design is terrible. I think the color is terrible. I think the fact that it's underground is terrible. I think whoever selected that idea ought to be forced to sit there and live in a corner of that thing until the day they die. I just can't believe that we can't at least try to be a little prouder of those days. It just seems like everything connected with Vietnam is dark shaded, sinister, and that's a living example of what that effort produced.

Q. What about the three men statue?

I think that's outstanding. But, let me show you again. You take a look at those three statues. They're ragtags, they're military fighting men in full combat gear, but again, it's ragtag, rout step???, disorganized. We did it in spite of organization, in spite of professionalism, but we did it, type of thing. I just think the war could have been pursued a hell of a lot better than it was. It was dragged out. It was a gradual escalation thing.

Q. Do you find it hard to explain to people here?

Oh, yes. Very much so. First of all, we had no business there anyway. I agree with that. Now, after having said that, the powers-that-be in this country said we're going to be there. Being a soldier, I say, "Okay. Tell me when and where." However they owe it to me as a fighting man to get me out of there as soon as I can get out of there. Get me back home to a peacetime environment. And we didn't do that. We didn't pursue that kind of an effort. It was piecemeal. It was gradual. It was a kind of thing -- a wishful war. I wish this thing was over. This is a wart on my nose I wish could get taken off, but I can't. Rather than going down to the doctor and having it surgically removed, now , they kept taking little shots, pills here, a little bit of medicine here, a little bit there. The wart never went away. In fact it grew. And it kept growing. Finally, to get rid of the wart we lost the whole head. We lost that country.

Q. Thank you very much. Is there something I should have asked that I didn't?

No. The only thing I can say is, John Murray and Graham Martin saw this fall coming and they kept trying -- they would ask Kissinger to come over, ask Haig to come over. I was at dinner a couple of times with Haig and with Kissinger a couple of times, with the group, Ambassador Martin, John Murray, Polgar, Jacobson, those people. And it was all the same thing. Don't let us down. Don't stop the resources from coming in.

Well, the one-for-one replacement thing. That's a square filling exercise, because one-for-one, they didn't know what the hell they had over there. One-for-one -- the problem was we never should have left them alone. And we wouldn't have had to leave them alone if we had stopped the North Vietnamese will for fighting. And I think we could have done it. We could have done it by continuing that pressure.

Now everybody says, they had very little control over the Viet Cong down south. There was a network of fighting men down there. Okay, but that's not those massed divisions that they sent down from the north in early '75 and '74 that completely annihilated the country. And I think the South could have handled the Viet Cong.

Q. How did Polgar and the CIA do over there? Were they doing a good job?

Yeah, I thought they were. They had a good network of intelligence. Our intelligence and theirs differed a little, but you never want the same sources. And you never want the same outcome. You want different sources to tell you the pros and cons and you want to get together and compare the two. That's why we do have a military intelligence system and a civilian. I think they are both good. There again, it depends on who interprets it. You can almost make intelligence come out to read anything you want. Snepp was there when I was -- there again;, intelligence is in the hand of the beholder, like beauty. You can just about make it read anything you want. You see a column of men carrying things, you can say that those packages are food or you can say those packages are ammunition. Who's to disclaim your observation?

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