View Full Version : RIP Tony....

07-03-2009, 09:51 PM
Tony Poshepny, RIP was the model for Col Kurtz in Appocalpse Now. The writer / producer told me so soon after the movie came out and others were trying to claim that unique distinction.

07-03-2009, 10:03 PM

Tony Poe ALONE wiped out the enemy his way during the Vietnam War.

He was so good at it, he scared both sides. He shouldve won a medal. Instead, he lost his command.

Whenever theres a war, theres a debate on how to fight it. And the debate invariably splits into those who want to wage war and those who want to wage negotiations or wage understanding or wage anything other than war. The problem is, you cant negotiate a war and win. You have to support your soldiers, not neuter them. In war, you use every weapon at your disposal. Thats why so many people say its like love. And why so few are good at making it.

Meet Tony Poe. Hes a guy you will adore, because even though he may not have won the Vietnam War, he knew how to fight it. To him there was no such thing as collateral damage. If the VietnameseÃƢ₠‚¬or anybody else who got in his wayÃƢ₠parked a tank in a house of worship like the enemy does in Afghanistan, youd wind up with a lot of dead folks in a state of grace. In todays war against the Taliban, Special Forces are trained to do the very things that cost Poe his command in Southeast Asia. His story shows what happens when you play for a tie and hold back guys who play to win. You lose.

The Suburban Commando
Ambling down the aisles of a Safeway supermarket, Tony Poshepny, aka Tony Poe, looks like all the other seventysomethings who shuffle out into the San Francisco sunshine to deposit a social security check and pick up a six-pack. The checkout girls know himÃƢ₠as much for the fifth of Jim Beam that rides shotgun in the front seat of his motorized shopping cart as for the thick wooden cane that keeps him on his feet. From all appearances, Poe is the kindly old man you can find anywhereÃÆÂ¢Ã¢â€šà ¬the type whose lifestyle allows him to hit the grocery store on a weekday afternoon. He tends his lawn. He drinks a few beers. Hes easy to overlook. Forty years ago, being easy to overlook was a good thing for him. Then Poe was a trained minister of death for the CIA with enough skeletons in his closet to fill a morgue. Instead of pulling weeds in his front yard, he was picking off enemy guerrillas in Laos and using their heads for lawn ornaments at his jungle fortress during the Vietnam War.

In the 1950s, this grandpa was a key figure in nearly every covert American anticommunist military operation in Southeast Asia. He engineered an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government in Indonesia. He trained Chiang Kai-Sheks nationalist army in Taiwan to attack the mainland. He even drilled Tibetan tribesmen for their daring secret rescue of the young Dalai Lama from Red Chinese-controlled Tibet in 1959.

In short, Tony Poe was the CIAs designated pain in the ass for any Asian communist force. And as pains in the ass go, Poe was excruciatingÃÆ¢â ¬Â¦even for the CIA. In 1961, he and fellow agent Jack ShirleyÃÆÂ¢Ã¢â€šà ¬described by colleagues as a journeyman killer-were sent to the mountains of northern Laos to lend their talents to Operation Momentum. The plan? Organize thousands of primitive Laotian mountain tribesmen who were getting tired of Charlie plowing through and plundering their villages on their way to the war in South Vietnam. I had never seen a people as ripe for war, remembers Bill Lair, the CIA section chief who recruited Tony Poe. Poe promised he could mobilize 10,000 men, and within a year, he delivered. This was the perfect CIA project, Lair told the BBC years later. A few of our men would train thousands of theirs, and we would be completely invisible and ultimately deniable.

It didnt work out that way. Isolated in the mountains and out of sight of his deskbound bosses, Poe set himself up as a jungle warlord-one whose methods were deemed brutal, politically dangerous and, eventually, unsound by the CIA. His rÃÆà ’Ã‚Â©sumÃÆà ’Ã‚Â© is laced with legendary acts of perceived lunacy, such as stapling human ears to his CIA efficiency reports and air-dropping body parts on the enemy. Absent the speech impediment and the enormous, um, presence, Poe was a precursor to Marlon Brandos Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Poe dismisses the comparison-but somehow it sticks.

That wasnt me, says Poe now, some 40 years later. I didnt contradict orders. Everyone says I got too involved with the locals. I say, Hey, thats leadership. His local involvement went beyond anything experienced by an American in the history of the war. After Poe and Shirley were air-dropped into the region in 61, odd dispatches reported sightings of a mysterious American whod allegedly gone native. In this case, the rumors proved to be true. Defying company policy, Poe led the men he was supposed to be advising into battle and soon became an unofficial chief of the mountain tribes. He even married a tribal princess.

Tony was one of us, says Fouhin Sang Chao, a tribal warrior who ran spy missions for Poe in southern China and now lives near his former commander in San Francisco.

Poe conducted his private war from his feudal fortress at a remote mountain outpost called Nam Yu, in northwest Laos near China. Like Coppolas Kurtz, Poe kept his quarters in a hut at the top of 221 steps. He also used quarts of lao-lao (rice whiskey) to fuel his followers fire for combat. Poe would sleep with hand grenades hanging from his jacket. Then hed wake up to begin predawn raids on the enemy.

Sometimes those attacks would lead his men to the Chinese border: forbidden territory. Once, in 1967, he brought his boys in for a weeklong assault on the Laotian village of Nam ThaÃƢ₠territory occupied by the Vietcong and the Chinese. Many of Poes men had relatives there, and they wanted to bring them home. [They] missed their families, so this was a useful psychological tool I used, Poe says of the attack. Using minimal supplies, he led his army into the village and evacuated his fighters families. The mission was a success, but Poe had violated strict orders. In the Laotian capital of Vientiane, U.S. Ambassador William H. Sullivan was livid, fearful that combat on the Chinese border would bring China into the war. Poe never bought into the U.S. strategy, which was to use tribal armies only to tie down the North Vietnamese inside Laos, and keep them from attacking South Vietnam. Rather, Poe wanted his men to fight for LaosÃƢ₠¬to win territory, liberate villages and defend their homeland. If that meant occasionally skipping into Vietnam and China, he was cool with that. Why train an army if youre not going to do anything? he says today. Other guys in the agency were into civilization building, but that was nonsense.ÃÆ¢â‚à ‚¬Ã‚¦I said, Christ, were not here for that. Were here to combat communism. You think the North Vietnamese are going to follow rules of nonaggression? War is hell, he says as though he just made the phrase up. If youre gonna do it, you must do it with gusto.

The CIA didnt exactly share Poes approach. I wouldnt say we lost control of him, says Lair. I dont think we ever had it.

07-03-2009, 10:07 PM
Your posts are coming in Greek or something, Chuck.

I have nothing but respect for honest warriors. RIP.

07-03-2009, 10:07 PM
A Fond Memory
On a bright, moonlit night deep in the mountain forests of northern Laos, a war party of primitive native foot soldiers readies itself for battle. It is 1963ÃƢ₠¬during the early stages of the Vietnam WarÃƢ₠and these mountain people are preparing themselves for an attack on North Vietnamese troops illegally based in their country. Leading the ragtag army is a large, powerful and decidedly drunk leader. He is steeling the resolve of his soldiers for another attack at daybreak. But tonight, the only shots heard are the ones full of booze. Tales of the Americans battle conquests flow as freely as the rice whiskey hes passing around. The tribesmen call him Father, because hes led them into battle and carried their wounded to safety. Hes slept beside them in the bush. Every one of these men would die for him-and on a daily basis, many do.

Suddenly Father pulls out a unique party favor: the severed head of an enemy soldier. Tomorrow, he says, he will drop it from a single-prop CIA surveillance plane onto the front porch of a rival Laotian warlord who has been flirting with communists. It is his way of sending a message that commie lovers wont be tolerated. His troops cheer. Another typical day in the life of a warrior.

How to File a Report
When Poe was questioned by his superiors about the validity of his enemy body counts, he had a solution: He ordered his men to bring him the ears of the dead. The soldiers would get paid for every appendage. The bastards never left the embassy, says Poe of the bureaucrats. Who were they to question our kill numbers? Poe sent the ears to the home office in Vientienne, neatly stapled to his reports. The secretary keeled over when she opened the package. Later, Poe regretted this pay-for-ear strategy. I said I wouldnt pay for missions until they showed me a corpse. It was easier bringing ears, so they brought me ears. Then I found a little boy in a village with his ears cut off, and I felt like hell.

But Poe had no regrets over the hell he gave CIA section chiefs whod been hassling him. When he took one up in a recon plane, supposedly for a routine inspection of the area around Nam Yu, he instead took the desk jockey deep inside Red China. He wanted to see our operation from the air. When we got up there and he said, This is beautiful. Where are we? I told him we were just south of Kunming. He said, Hey, I cant be here. Youre fired! I replied, OK, fuck you! and told my pilot to land the plane in an empty field. We started descending, and he begged me to turn around. I never heard from the asshole after that.

It seemed that the more he scared the crap out of CharlieÃÆÂ¢Ã¢â€šà ¬and the CIAÃƢ₠the more beloved he became among his followers. When the grandfather of Mian tribe member Fouhin Sang Chao died during the war, Poe gave the family cash and a pig for the funeral service.

We knew we were fighting the Americans war, not our own, says Pree Boonkert, who also lives near San Francisco and was 16 years old when his tribe conscripted him to fight with Poe. But Tony was our leader.

He proved it during a furious firefight with the North Vietnamese in 1965. When ambushed in the mountains of northeastern LaosÃƢ₠¬about 75 miles south of HanoiÃƢ₠¬Poe stepped out in front of his fighters, against the strict orders of his superiors. Under heavy attack by enemy gunners, he lost half a dozen men before training his M-1 carbine on the attackers. He killed at least a dozen North Vietnamese that day before taking bullets in the hip and abdomen. The local people said I killed 17 or 18, he brags. After wiping out a machine-gun nest, he dragged his bloodied body five miles (using his rifle as a cane) and caught up with a rescue chopper. There, he refused to let the pilot evacuate until 13 injured tribesmen were pulled off the battlefield. The pilot resisted, arguing that they couldnt take on the extra weight. But Poe threatened to jump if they didnt go back. The wounded were evacuated safely, though the helicopter motor was ruined. As a result of his actions in this battle, Poes stature among the hill tribes soared. Thats war, Poe says, matter-of-factly. If you dont go back for them, how the hell are you going to ask them to fight for you? Youve got to take care of your people. That was the only way to get them to fight.

We never forgot that, says Sengther Lathanasouk, who ran a commando unit under Poe. Unfortunately, neither did the CIA. By 1970, they had terminated his command. He was airlifted out, and his tribal army was left without a leader. With morale plummeting, the Laotians petitioned the CIA for Poes return, but to no avail. On March 11, 1973, the last of Poes army had retreated into the wilderness or fled the country altogetherÃƢ₠‚¬and Nam Yu fell to the communists without a fight.

Poe, who was training new recruits in nearby Thailand, begged to return to Laos and lead his army to one more victory. I said, Give me a plane and five or six handpicked Thai commandos and Ill get the whole thing resolved, he recalls. I had a few thousand armed people in camp with nobody to lead them. The CIA said no.

Instead, the CIA called in an air strike, and Poes camp was blown off the map the day after it fell into enemy hands. Today, all thats left of Poes fortress are rusted rifles, spent shells and four concrete columns that mark where the agents quarters once stood.

Poe remained in Thailand, where he retired to the standard life of an ex-soldier: growing tapioca. In 1992, after repeated run-ins with the Thai policeÃƢ₠¬he had taken to prowling the streets with pistols and brawling with anyone who pissed him offÃƢ₠Poe decided to come home. He flew to California for his daughters wedding; there was no heros parade waiting for him when he returned to the U.S. We had lost the war.

From Saigon to eBay
Poe keeps mementos of the war stacked up in the house he shares with his wife and grown daughter. His other three children and two grandchildren (one he calls his little Shirley Temple) live close by, in case Grandpa needs help getting around. You can find their pictures among piles of snapshots of toothless tribal warriors.

He also carries physical reminders of the war. His body is packed with shrapnel, bullet wounds and internal organs more battered than the golf courses of Afghanistan. My liver should be shot by now, but its the only organ Ive got that works great, he says as he cracks open another beer. His left hand is now nothing more than a clawÃƢ₠¬two fingers were blown off when he tried to defuse a booby trap. The little one was hanging, but they managed to save it, he reminisces. The doctors said they could have sewn the others back on, but Id thrown them in a bush.

Colorful stories like that help make Poe the center of attention when he reunites with some members of his tribal army that he helped relocate to California. More than 250,000 Laotians now live in the U.S. At a wedding in San Francisco, dozens of his former foot soldiers and their families mobbed him, falling to one knee in respect. In 1995, he helped one of his followers beat deportation and countless others get medical care and jobs. Last year, two Laotians gave him a new phone, with their numbers on the receiver, in hopes hell call them more often. We worry about him, Chao says.

Poe worries about their place in historyÃÆÂ¢Ã¢â€šà ¬cursing the CIA for yanking him before the job was done. We prevented the taking of the whole Malaysian peninsula! That was the Chinese and North Vietnamese plan, and we stopped it.

Why War is a Bitch
Today, even his old CIA colleagues offer grudging respect for the man they once considered a rogue warrior. At one time there was no better paramilitary man in the CIA, says Roger McCarthy, one of Poes former superiors. If we had enough sense to bring him in earlier, a lot of what Tony became wouldnt have happened.

But what if they had just left him to do his job? He may not be in the history books, but Tony Poes story is living, labored-breathing proof that bureaucrats make lousy warriors, and when theyre left in charge, a decent killer doesnt have a chance. Even a guy like Tony Poe.

Jack Platt, another retired CIA man who worked with Poe in Laos, puts it this way: There are field dogs and house dogs. Tony Poe was a field dog. You need men like that in war.
Hear that, cat people?


07-03-2009, 10:09 PM
A recent reference to retired CIA paramilitary officer Tony Poe or Tony Poshepny below, raises the question of CIA paramilitary operations in general. As we read these accounts we should ask, can we really expect that PM officers will ever produce intelligence? Did we not run a PM war in Vietnam for years without ever understanding the other side? Did we not conduct a PM war in Afghanistan that led to the creation of "International Terrorism?" Did not all PM wars contribute to the international drug traffic? Did not the CIA's committment to paramilitary wars engage this country in many other destructive activities?

In a speech in October 1998, by John Millis, Staff Director of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), he dicussed the future of the CIA. Millis is a former CIA operations who became Staff Director of HPSCI in 1997. Mr. Millis said re CIA paramilitary operations:

"We believe we have to keep a very strong paramilitary capability on the shelf for the Directorate of Operations. It's always hard to anticipate what the next crisis is going to be, but we can be sure that it will be there. And the paramilitary capability the DO has is uniquely well suited for many of the types of situations that we're seeing around the world."

The reference item on Tony Poe said:

"...his life helped to create the greatest cinema icon to come of the Vietnam war. This man...is the real Colonel Kurtz, whose fictional counterpart was played by Marlon Brando in Francis Ford Coppola's epic movie Apocalypse Now...

The reality of the Kurtz legend is far stranger than fiction... [It] confirmed the existence of a US super-spy code-named Upin. Upin was a pararmilitary expert....Like the fictional Kurtz, he recruited a private army of 10,000 tribesmen, married a princess turned his back on the US and became as savage as the jungle he made his home."

...Agent Upin, also known as Pat Gibbs, was Anthony Poshepny, one of the CIA's most notorious and effective agents deployed in the Vietnam war. Orders were to enter Laos illegally in 1961 and conduct a secret war against the communists that would be denied in Congress and hidden from the US public...."

Laos, Tony Poe ran the secret ground war in Laos and kept pickled heads. Poe was a Hungarian refugee who began his CIA career training Khamba tribesmen to fight the Chinese in Tibet. Poe said

"we got the Dalai Lama out of Tibet." In Laos he rewarded his men for producing the ears of communists. Harper's 7/85 60

Laos 53-75 the CIA's Secret War in Laos and its Link to the War in Vietnam, (1995). Vang Pao of the Hmong tribesmen. The Secret War gained momentum - with Bill Lair - an ideological cold warrior, using Thai paratroopers to train the Hmong. Lair had his hqs in Udorn, Thailand. Tony Poshepny, an ex-marine of Hungarian origin - who had worked with the CIA's ops with the Khamba in Tibet and in Sumatra, Indonesia was ultimately thrown out of op, a broken-down drunk. This is a wry, compassionate narrative. "from 63 to 73, Laos was a secret annex to Vietnam war, overseen by the ambassador, run by CIA, and bombed by the U.S. military, without the consent of Congress." Warner focuses on CIA's misbegotten strategy of the Hmong counterinsurgency. A horrific tale of blindsighted do-gooders, ambitions and bungled intentions. Bill Lair/CIA recruited 10,000 Hmong. Clothed, fed and armed by CIA and trained by Thais, they helicoptered to elaborate skirmishes against the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese. At peak strength of 30,000 they were the only effective Lao army. Vang Pao took his cut from the opium trade. He deserted to the U.S. in 75, six months before the Pathet Laos' triumph. The Nation 9/18/95 288-90

Laos, China, 67-68 Tony Poe sent T-28 planes to bomb in China. Corn, d. (1994). Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades 154-5

Laos, Vietnam, 63 In 8/63 Lair received an order to disrupt NVN truck traffic thru Laos by blowing up parts of route 7. From an Air America plane, Tony Poe dropped demolition charges. Thais supervised twelve platoons of elite Meo troops called Special Guerrilla Units as they blew up a section. Warner, R. (1995). Back Fire 100-1

Laos, Thailand, Vietnam. Edgar Buell, Tony poshepny and William Young had personal imprint on secret war. Tony Poe in 58 was one of two operatives sent to support separtists revolt in Indonesia. His first assignment was with anti-Sihanouk mercenaries along the Cambodian border in South Vietnam. In Laos he offered one dollar for an ear of enemy and more for a head and cap. McCoy A.W. (1991). The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Traffic 306-7

07-03-2009, 10:10 PM
Laos. Beginning in 64 Vang Pao became drug lord of the Hmong. Per Ouane Rattikone, commander of Laotian army, and Gen Thao Ma, then commander of the Laotian air force, Air America began flying Hmong opium to markets in Long Tieng and Vientiane. Tony Poe, a CIA officer who worked with Vang Pao, said Vang Pao made millions in drug traffic. Air logistics for opium trade further improved when CIA and USAID gave Vang Pao financial assistance in forming his own air line, Xieng Khouang Air Transport. Formed in late 67 with two C-47s acquired from Air American and Continental Air Services. McCoy, A.W. (1991). the politics of heroin: CIA complicity in the global drug traffic 318

Laos, Thailand, 62-72 CIA worked with the Thai Border Police who were assigned to run the Meo op from Thailand -- from Udorn airbase. Thai BPP served as radio operators, training cadre, and support troops for Vang Pao's men. Thais operated under control of only 2 CIA officers - who lived with Vang Pao - Vint Lawrence one and Anthony Poshepny. They lived in a mountain hut for nearly 2 years - this early after 62 Geneva agreements. Further details of Vang Pao and the drug traffic. Grant, Z. (1991). Facing the Phoenix 148-160

Laos, 59-75 Op momentum was the support of the Meo with the Thai PARU with Vang Pao the commander. If they ultimately lost Vang Pao's Meos could move to Sayaboury province. If Thais refused they might take him in Thailand and make him a border security force. Bill Lair part of op as was Lloyd "Pat" Landry, Tony Poe aka Anthony Poshepny - Poe had run PM missions in the Korean war, worked with the Tibetan Khamba tribesmen for a rebellion against China, in 58 Poe and Landry to Sumatra, Indonesia to jump start a rebellion there, until they rescued by submarine. Tony Poe 's hobby was collecting enemy ears. Warner, R. (1995). Back Fire 47-54

Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, 70-71 Cambodia, indirectly, would feature another, far bigger Lao PM program when in 6/70 the Thai gvt declared it would be sending Thai volunteers to help defend Khmer republic. The DOD stepped in and agreed to pay for a 5,000 man contingent. Bangkok waffled and men were sent directly to Laos. A force to total one artillery and nine infantry battalions. the Project called Unity. The Pentagon funded but CIA administered the program in field. Case officers were Tony Poe, Dunc Jewell, Chuck Campbell; and, Doug Swanson. On 12/15/70 two Thai battalions entered Laos under op code-named Virakom (patriot) - they were sent to MR-4. Conboy, K. & Morrison, J. 1995). Shadow War: CIA's Secret War in Laos 285-6

Laos, China. Background on Tony Poe who led the Hmong forces in Laos for many years. He offered rewards to Hmong for the ears of communists. Harper's 7/85 60

Laos, Thailand, Vietnam. Edgar Buell, Tony Poshepny and William Young had personal imprint on the secret war. Tony Poe in 58 was one of two operatives sent to support separtists revolt in Indonesia. His first assignment was with anti-Sihanouek mercenaries along the Cambodian border in South Vietnam. In Laos he offered one dollar for an ear of enemy and more for a head and cap. Details re Pop Buell. Mccoy, A.W. (1991). The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Traffic 306-7

China, 69-72 Commando raider company in 70 used as passive intel-gathering role along the Chinese built road in North Laos. CIA supporting an autonomous agent net run by RTA intel against Chinese road-building. Thai-run assets produced no significant intel. George Kenning was responsible for liaison with the Nien. Due to news dispatches revealing Tony Poe's role, he was reassigned to Thailand as Pat Gibbs. Fox ops against China had been wrapped up years earlier, and many Tartar and Scope teams - whose incursions into China had never been deep or frequent - were recalled.

BANGKOK - Anthony A "Tony Poe" Poshepny, a decorated former official of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who collected enemy ears, dropped decapitated human heads from the air on to communists and stuck heads on spikes, was buried on the weekend in California.

Poshepny, who waged failed secret wars for the United States in Indonesia, Tibet and Laos, was often compared to the Marlon Brando character Kurtz in the movie Apocalypse Now.

"The posting of decapitated heads obviously sent a powerful message - especially to North Vietnamese troops seeking to invade the homelands of the Hmong and Laotian people," Philip Smith,

executive director of the Washington-based Center for Public Policy Analysis, said in an e-mail interview after Poshepny's death on June 27.
"He successfully fought terror with terror. He strove to instill courage and respect in the tribal and indigenous forces that he recruited and trained as well as fear in the enemy. In the post-September 11 security environment, fearless men like Tony Poe are what America needs to combat and counter terrorism and the new unconventional threat that America faces from abroad in exotic and uncharted lands," Smith said.

The heavy-drinking, stocky Poshepny suffered shrapnel and other wounds, diabetes and circulatory problems. He died, aged 78, in the San Francisco Veterans Medical Center after a long illness and his funeral was held in nearby Sonoma, California. He is survived by his Lao-American wife Sheng Ly and their children Usanee, Domrongsin, Maria and Catherine.
He twice won a CIA Star - the agency's highest award - from directors Allen Dulles in 1959 and William Colby in 1975, according to a funeral announcement.

Born on September 18, 1924, in Long Beach, California, much of his legacy remains in unmarked graves half a world away, here in Asia.

In 1942, Poshepny joined the US Marine Corps, was wounded on Iwo Jima and received two Purple Hearts, the decoration awarded

by the United States to troops injured in action.

A loud, intense, short-tempered patriot, he joined the CIA as a paramilitary officer in 1951.

07-03-2009, 10:12 PM
"Within weeks, he was running sabotage teams behind enemy lines in Korea. He and former CIA colleagues say Mr Poshepny went on to train anti-communists in Thailand, to foment a failed coup in Indonesia and to help organize the escape of the Dalai Lama from Tibet in 1959," the Wall Street Journal reported in 2000.

During the Korean War, Poshepny went to Korea with the CIA and "worked with the Chondogyo church group, a sort of animist-Christian sect that had fled North Korea and were being trained to be sent back across the 38th parallel", according to William M Leary, a University of Georgia history professor. "At the end of the Korean War, Tony was one of eight [CIA] case officers who were sent to Thailand. He remained there for five years, serving under Walt Kuzmak, who ran the CIA cover company Sea Supply," added Leary in an online condolence website honoring Poshepny's life.

In 1958, Poshepny and fellow CIA operative Pat Landry tried, but failed, to spark an uprising among dissident colonels against Indonesia's then-president Sukarno, father of current President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Outgunned and trapped on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, Poshepny and Landry fled to a fishing trawler that took them to a waiting US submarine, according to the book Feet to the Fire by Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison.

At Camp Hale, Colorado, Poshepny helped train Tibet's tall, fierce Khamba tribesmen to be guerrillas and accompanied them to Dhaka, in what was then East Pakistan, from where Tibetans were flown and parachuted into Tibet in a failed attempt to stop China's People's Liberation Army from occupying their homeland.

Poshepny's CIA work in Laos began in 1961 during America's failed "secret war" against communist North Vietnamese who carved a Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laotian territory to attack US forces in South Vietnam. Pathet Lao communist fighters were also the CIA's foe. The Lao communists achieved victory in 1975 and continue to rule the small nation today.

The loquacious, gravel-voiced Poshepny confirmed to me in 2001 that he rewarded his fighters for bringing in enemy ears. He also confirmed that he let his Lao guerrillas erect a human head on a spike and toss pebbles at it, to boost their anti-communist fervor.

Poshepny said he twice hurled human heads from an aircraft on to his enemies in Laos, to terrify them. "We flew in real low, in front of that bastard's house, and I threw the head so it bounced right on his porch and into his front door," Poshepny, laughing, told me at his San Francisco home in 2001.

Based for several years in the rugged highlands of northern Laos where he was seriously wounded three times, Poshepny also grew angry at Washington's attempts to control his activities. So he sent a bag filled with human ears to the US Embassy in Vientiane to prove his guerrillas were killing communists.

The unopened bag arrived on a Friday and sat in the embassy over the weekend. "Human ears contain a lot of water, and they dried up and shriveled in the heat all weekend, so when the embassy secretary opened the bag on Monday morning it was terrible and she got real sick," Poshepny told me. "I really regret doing that to her, because she wasn't to blame at all."

He unabashedly admitted his horrific acts to other journalists, while insisting his motive was to defeat communism. "I used to collect ears," he was quoted as telling Roger Warner in his book Shooting at the Moon, which won Washington's Overseas Press Club award for the best book on foreign affairs.

"I had a big, green, reinforced cellophane bag as you walked up my steps. I'd tell my people to put them in, and then I'd staple them to this 5,000 kip [Laotian currency] notice that this [ear] was paid for already, and put them in the bag and send them to Vientiane with the report.

"Sent them only once or twice, and then the goddamn office girls [in the US Embassy] were sick for a week. Putrid when they opened up the envelope. Some guy in the office, he told me, 'Jeez, don't ever do that again. These goddamn women don't know anything about this ****, and they throw up all over the place.'

"I still collected them, until one day I went out on an inspection trip ... and I saw this little [Lao] kid out there, he's only about 12, and he had no ears. And I asked, 'What the hell happened to this guy?'

"Somebody said, 'Tony, he heard you were paying for ears. His daddy cut his ears off. For the 5,000 kip,'" Poshepny said.

"Oh, that pissed me off," Poshepny told Warner.

"As for dropping human heads on enemy villages, I only did it twice in my career," Poshepny told the Wall Street Journal - once on a Lao ally who had been flirting with the communists. "I caught hell for that."

Some people considered him mentally unsound, "obnoxious", "a drunk" and an insubordinate "knuckle-dragger" while working for the CIA. But Poshepny inspired strong loyalty and admiration among other Americans and Hmong who knew him.

Said Smith of the Center for Public Policy Analysis: "Tony Poe epitomized what the late Theodore Shackley, former CIA station chief in Laos, called the 'Third Option'. America - to avoid the potential twin options of using nuclear or conventional forces to defend its interests - should instead rely on special, elite clandestine forces to recruit, train and arm indigenous, or tribal forces, to project power, protect its interests and counter guerrilla movements, terrorism or other attacks.

"Clearly, Tony Poe symbolized America's decision to exercise its 'Third Option' in Laos."

After retiring in 1975, Poshepny and his Hmong wife lived in northern Thailand until 1992, when they moved to the United States.

He remained close to the Lao community in the San Francisco Bay Area, advising their sons to join the US Marines, financing Laotians in need and petitioning Washington for aid to Laotian veterans.

BANGKOK - Jack Shirley, a legendary former CIA official who helped run America's failed "secret war" in Laos, died yesterday in the Thai beach resort of Pattaya after a long bout with cancer. He was 76, according to his Thai wife, Pen. "Most people don't realize, the CIA was created to do the things the country couldn't do out in the open," Mr. Shirley was once quoted as saying. "Nothing we did was legal. Everything we did was illegal. 'Plausible deniability' was the name of the game." Mr. Shirley, an American, reached his professional zenith during the Vietnam War, when the CIA armed minority ethnic Hmong tribesmen in Laos against communist Pathet Lao guerrillas and North Vietnamese fighters. During the horror of those years, the U.S. unleashed on Laos the heaviest aerial bombardment any country had ever suffered. Nevertheless, many of his Laotian friends remained loyal to him after the war was lost. In recent years, he was a lively personality inside the small, quiet Madrid Bar favored by retired U.S. government and military officials on Patpong Road in Bangkok's red-light district.
Mr. Shirley, who settled in Thailand, regaled listeners with tales of gossip, scandal, adventures and bumbling within the CIA and the armed forces. "He had a very sharp wit and a very good sense of humor. He had a real, genuine affection for Asia and its people," said Canadian screenwriter Dave Walker.

07-03-2009, 10:13 PM
Mr. Shirley expressed occasional bitterness over the Vietnam War. "Jack complained about a lot of the [U.S.] bureaucracy during the war and the needless loss of life," Mr. Walker said. During Washington's 15 years of trying to contain communism, more than 1 million Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians were estimated killed alongside more than 50,000 Americans.
It was a time when "hundreds of CIA and other officers in god-awful circumstances did their [best] to do what they were told was their duty," wrote historian Harold P. Ford.
Mr. Shirley joined the CIA in its early years after World War II. The CIA, meanwhile, slipped into impoverished, landlocked Laos in 1954 after French colonialists retreated. For America, Laos became a line drawn across
lush mountains to stop North Vietnam's communism from infecting the region. Starting in 1961, Mr. Shirley and other CIA officers gave weapons and cash to rugged, indigenous Hmong tribesmen former allies of the French ÃÆà ’Ã‚Â¢ÃÆ¢à¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…¡Ã‚¬ and
aimed them at Vietnamese communists encroaching into Laos. Vietnamese used eastern Laos as a so-called "Ho Chi Minh Trail" to zigzag across the border during attacks against U.S. forces in South Vietnam. While fighting for the CIA, the Hmong's fragile culture was mostly obliterated and thousands of them perished. Thousands of others fled to
refugee camps in Thailand. Washington, however, was pleased that the Hmong disrupted the Ho Chi Minh
Trail and saved American lives. Mr. Shirley worked in Laos for the CIA from 1961-68, according to the
investigative, archival Web site, NameBase. "After the 1973 truce, the CIA's cowboys and their proxies shrugged their
shoulders and went to Thailand or the U.S. to retire on their pensions. They left behind a country ... full of bomb craters, antipersonnel bomblets, and amputees on crutches," NameBase says.
One of Mr. Shirley's closest partners was a fabled CIA legend Anthony Poshepny, aka Tony Poe who became immortalized as the insane, bloodthirsty intelligence officer Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando in the film
"Apocalypse Now." "He [Poshepny] once said he was collecting heads for humanitarian reasons. He had been paying a bounty for ears [of dead communists in Laos], until he ran into a little boy with his ears missing," Mr. Shirley told the San
Francisco Weekly. "The boy said his father had cut them off and sold them [to Poshepny for a reward]. Tony was so shocked, he gave the boy a few hundred kip [a small amount of Laotian currency], and immediately decided he would accept only heads from then on," Mr. Shirley said.
There was an American in Loas who was still his own man, and not just a cog in the war machine. He was not particularly good at his job, but he had been a founder of the CIA's Laos war, and the usual standards did not fully apply.
In the six remote military backwater of the far northwest Tony Poe had about six thousand irregulars. He had Lao Theung units--his best fighters-- and Lahu, Meo, Shan, Wa, and T'ai Dam units; plus odds and ends of lowland Lao, Thai Paru, and Thai special forces. His largest single ethnic group was The Yao, or Mien, whose women wore a sort of red yarn ruff on the collars of their blouses.The Yao soldiers sat in their bases in their uniforms, collected their paychecks, and did as little as possible. In the near-absence of combat with the enemy, Poe's main job was to keep his own tribal groups, Thais, and Lao from fighting with one another. When Operation Unity--as the program was wistfully called--failed to minimize the ethnic quarreling and the occasional knife stabbings, he built each group its own mess hall in his main base, Nam Yu. He tried to cut down on the supplies and the weapons that vanished and reappeared on the black market, but he didn't have much luck with that, either.

All in all, Poe had an army whose ethnic groups were on the verge of fighting one another more then they fought the enemy. He had a hand in intelligence operations that others had started and nobody paid much attention to. He had cases of beer and wiskey on the floor of his office near the big radio and no rules against drinking them. He had believed for many years that his country was going to lose in Loas and South Vietnam, and he could feel, smell, and taste the failure of the whole enterprise. So why not drink? He could find no reason. The addiction of alcohol, the cravingthat is supposed to override free will, had no meaning to him. He was engaged in a sort of voyage of self-actualization, finding himself through booze, even though whatever he gained he lost by the next morning and had to start all over again. He drank because he wanted to, because he was bright and bored and wanted to see how close he could get to the edge. Once a month he visited his Meo wife and her children, who had moved to Udorn. More often Poe took a plane to Ban Houei Sai, the nearest town on the Mekong, and from there to cities in northern Thailand like Chiang Rai, where if he was sober enough and his fellow Americans hadn't locked him inside his hotel room to keep him out of bar fights, he brought five or six whores back to his hotel room to prove his virility. The morning after generally found him bleary-eyed and unshaven near the USAID warehouse in Ban Houei Sai. If there wasn't a plane flight back to his base at Nam Yu right away, the Americans working there laid him down on a stretcher in the shade. They joked about "reversed medevacs" while Tony just lay there appearing to sleep. But the next time Poe saw them, he repeated their conversations word for word. Poe became legendary in the northwest for his drinking, for his crude behavior toward women, and for interfering with pilots by grabbing the controls or else by simply passing out and slumping over onto the instrucment panel. The bar stories about him multiplies--how Tony had conducted a serious conversation in a calm level voice while strangling a cat with one hand. How when he didn't have bombs he dropped smooth river stones out of a Pilatus Porter onto an enemy position. How he carried brass knuckles and rubber boxing mouthpiece in his pockets when he went into bars. How he kept enemy heads in a jar in his house in Nam Yu. In later years, Poe dismissed most of the stories as being exaggerated or untrue. He insisted that he had never collected enemy heads and pickled them in whiskey. Or even hung them from the rafters. He allowed the he might have spent evenings with his T'ai Dam troops, men tattooed from the waist up, who themselves had cut off enemy heads, stuck them on stakes, and thrown stones at them while dancing around the campfire--but that was traditional for the T'ai Dam, he insisted. They'd been doing it for centuries. Ears were another matter. He paid a bounty for enemy kills. "I used to collect ears, you know," Poe admitted cheerfully. "I had a big, green, reinforced cellophane bag as you walked up my steps. I'd tell my people to put 'em in and then I'd staple 'em to this five-thousand kip notice that this was paid for already and put 'em in the bag and send them to Vientiane with the report. "Sent 'em only once or twice, and then the goddamn office girls were sick for a week. Putrid when they opened up the envelope, you know. Some guy in the office, he told me, 'Jeez, don't ever do that again. These goddamn women don't know anything about this ****, and they throw up all over the place.' "I still collected 'em, until one day I went out on an inspection trip with my Lao Theung and I saw this little kid out there, he's only about twelve and he had no ears. And I asked, 'What the hell happened to this guy?' "Someone said, 'Tony, he heard you were paying for ears. His daddy cut his ears off. For the five thousand kip.' "I said, 'That's the end of this program, right now. It's supposed to be enemy ears, not this little guy.' And I reached in and gave this little guy ten or fifteen thousand kip. Oh, that pissed me off." But the corruption of his bounty system angered Poe at least so much as the injury to the boy.

The Laotians were far less threatening to Poe. In the northwest there were no tribal leaders as powerful and charismatic as Van Pao was in the northeast. The Yao, or Mien, were led by two brothers, Chao Mai and Chao La, who wore gold surrounds on their front teeth as signs of their prosperity.

07-03-2009, 10:14 PM
When Poe arrived, a complex power struggle was already under way between the brothers, who were more interested in war profits than in military gains. Poe found that the leaders were not only taking their customary cut of their troops' salaries, but selling their equipment on the black market, usually to Burmese opium traders. In April 1967, the military leader and older of the brothers, Chao Mai, died of a heart attack. Poe claimed he caused the heart attack by confronting Chao Mai publicly with accusations of his graft. Few other knowledgeable Americans supported this claim, but they were almost unanimous in agreeing that Poe wrecked the indigenous leadership structure. When Poe upped his demands for reform, Chao La, the civilian leader, simply pulled out his base at Nam Thouei and moved to a village on the Mekong River a short distance downstream from the point where Laos, Thailand, and Burma meet. Chao La did not renounce his role as civilian leader, but he spent most of his time running a private sawmill and a series of refineries that transformed raw opium into purer derivations, first a high grade of smoking opium and eventually heroin.

Large economic forces were at work, and Poe had neither the power nor the inclination to stop them. His employees normally avoided collecting information on the drug trade. (At the time that was a job for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, or BNDD, a predecessor of the Drug Enforcement Administration.) In Laos, the CIA's old hands believed that the trade in unrefined opium was a local economic reality predating the war, a stand of the locals' economic reality that couldn't be removed without unraveling everything else. You could have a war against the communists or a war against the drug traders, they said, but you couldn't have both. Being married to a tribeswoman who had traded in opium earlier in life, Poe had a special sympathy for the hill people who grew and used the stuff themselves. He had seen the land-clearing fires set toward the end of the dry season--by day the air thick with smoke, by night the fires glowing on distant mountainsides like red snakes. Normally the poppies were planted as a secong crop between the stalks of corn and bloomed after the corn harvest. When the petals dropped from the poppy flowers, the tribal women scored the remaining seedpods with a special three-bladed knife and scraped off the milky sap that seeped out. "It's almost like latex, brown and pliable." Poe recalled. "A Meo or Yao man would take a ball of this putty wrapped in something like banana leaves, put it in his pack, and take his donkey down to town and buy everything he needed for a year with that one ball of opium sap. It's a mean of exchange. Every store has a scale and you take a chunk of that ball and put it on. They had these goddamn beautiful little weights, shaped like ducks and other animals. Weigh 'em out and give 'em the goods. The tribesman would put everything on his donkey and go back to the farm, and he'd have enough to last for a whole year."

The American soldiers bought legal intoxicants like liquor and beer, and marijuana grown in South Vietnam and Cambodia. In the mid-sixties, they began tp buy smoking opium in the shantytowns outside the military bases, followed by low-price, high-quality heroin. Most of the opium from which the heroin was refined had been grown in Burma, but the rest was from Laos, and almost all of it was transshipped through Laos by America's so-called military allies. In Laos itself the key player was Gen. Ouane Rattikone, the royalist commander in chief. He and others like him made no particular distinction between making money from drugs and making money from skimming payrolls, selling military equipment, granting monopolies and favors, and other kinds of graft. They belonged to power pyramids, where those at the top needed income to spread around to their subordinates, so their subordinates would have reason to support the man at the top.

The Opium War of 1967, as the newspapers dubbed the incident, was one of the few times that drug transactions emerged into the open. It resulted in sensationalist and inaccurate reporting, and later in some serious studies.

At some point after the Opium War, Poe was asked to report on the higher levels of the drug trade in addition to carrying out his regular duties. He wasn't really sober enough, or analytically minded enough, to do a comprehensive job of if himself. The trade was far too large and shifting for any one man to understand completely. From poppy to powder, the opium and heroin trade covered a thousand miles of territory, from northern Burma through Laos and then forking into South Vietnam and Thailand for shipping overseas.

The main target of Poe's boozy reporting in the northwest was General Ouane. Rumors and folklore notwithstanding, Ouane was genuinely the big man of the Laotien drug trade, the chief of a cabal that met monthly to straighten the accounts. The center logistical activity was the airport at Ban Houei Sai in the far northwest, where Burmese drugs in various stages of chemical refinement were stored prior to reshipment.

Poe kept a loose eye on the man the U.S embassy had no intention of arresting. They played host for each other at parties, during which Ouane discreetly discussed business deals out of Poe's hearing. Later they went off carousing together. "I'd take him to Chiang Rai to get laid. I'd get him some real beautiful women." remembered Poe. Sometimes they took a gang of Thai, Lao, and American colleagues along, traveling by Air America helicopter, Ouane thinking he was hoodwinking Poe, Poe keeping an eye on Ouane's drug trade activities, and the two of them and their pals going off to the bars and whorehouses together, as the war ground on.

Tony Poe "Anthony Poshepny" died peacefully during the morning of June 27. The news was hard to accept. It is still difficult to imagine Tony dying peacefully or even dying at all. He seemed indestructible. Having survived Japanese and NVA bullets, and the consumption of enough alcohol to fill a large swimming pool, Tony kept going like the Energizer Bunny.

I remember meeting him at the Marine Club in San Francisco in 1993. I had been warned to talk to Tony early in the morning if I wanted to get any information from him. We did have about two good hours of conversation then the bar opened. Everything went downhill from there.

Tony's grandparents came to the United States from Prague in the 1880s. They settled in Milwaukee, where grandfather Anton became a prosperous baker. He also invested wisely, especially in the Bank of Wisconsin. Tony's father, John Charles Poshepny, was an excellent baseball player, a pitcher, and a fine all-around athlete. He joined the U.S. Navy prior to World War One, served thirty-five years in the Supply Corps, and retired as a commander. While stationed in Guam, he met and married Isabella Maria Venziano, a native of the island whose father was a naval musician.

Tony was born on September 18, 1924, in Long Beach, California. Originally named James Francis, he was renamed Anthony Alexander in honor of grandfather Anton when his father returned from an overseas assignment. Tony was raised on the West Coast. At the age of nine, he was accidentally shot in the stomach by his brother. He barely survived the .22 caliber wound. Tony went on to attend Santa Rosa High School, where he starred in golf and tennis. On December 14, 1942, shortly after turning 18, he dropped out of high school and joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He later carried his books with him during campaigns in the Pacific and completed his high school degree through correspondence courses.

07-03-2009, 10:16 PM
Tony's outstanding boot camp performance and physical ability led to his selection for the elite para-Marines. Following jump school, he joined the Second Parachute Battalion, commanded by Victor "Brute" Krulak. Tony served with the parachute raiders in the Southwest Pacific until the special units were broken up late in 1943. He returned to the United States and became part of the newly formed 5th Marine Division. Following a year's training, the division first went into action at Iwo Jima. Tony landed on Iwo as the leader of a machine gun section on the 27th Regiment. He survived the hell of that island for 15 days until wounded in the right leg. He recovered in time to serve in Japan in the fall of 1945 with the initial occupation force.

Discharged on points on November 30, 1945, Tony entered St. Mary's College in San Francisco the following fall. He stood out on a golf team that included Ken Venturi, and appeared in Who's Who in Universities and Colleges. When he transferred to San Jose State, he took the entire golf team with him, displaying the kind of leadership that would become one of his trademarks. He graduated in 1950 with a degree in history and English. He planned to join the FBI but instead was recruited by the CIA.

Tony went through the first CIA class to take all its training at Camp Peary (The Farm). Fellow members of his class included Jack Shirley, Ralph McGehee, Zeke Ziliatus, and Rufus Phillips. Bill Lair and Pat Landry were a class or two ahead of him. Sent to Korea after graduation, Tony worked with the Chondogyo church group, a sort of animist-Christian sect that had fled North Korea and were being trained to be sent back across the 38th parallel. Jack Singlaub was in charge of this project. While in Korea, Tony met and worked with Pat Landry, Jim Haase, and Tom Fosmire, all of whom would go on to have long and distinguished careers with CIA paramilitary operations in Asia.

At the end of the Korean War, Tony was one of eight case officers who were sent to Thailand. He remained there for five years, serving under Walt Kuzmak who ran the CIA cover company, Sea Supply. In 1958, he became involved in the effort to overthrow the Sukarno government of Indonesia, working with Pat Landry and Jim Haase. At one point the group had to walk 150 kilometers through jungle and over mountains for an emergency evacuation by submarine. (The relationship between Tony and Pat Landry during this adventure seemed akin to the one between the bickering Odd Couple on TV. Landry recalled that Tony was The eternal Marine: nobody ever came up to his standards.

From Indonesia, Tony joined the project to train and insert dissident groups into Tibet. He served at Camp Hale under Tom Fosmire, and he accompanied several teams to Dacca for insertion into Tibet via CAT. He came to admire the Khambas "the best people I ever worked with." Contrary to rumors, Tony never set foot into Tibet.

In March 1961, Tony took part in the efforts to train Vang Pao's Hmong followers at Padong in Laos. In the fall of 1962, following the Geneva Accords, he and Vint Lawrence became the only two CIA officers in Laos, monitoring the truce agreement. Tony grew restless in this assignment. A teetotaler, he began drinking heavily. Whereas Vint Lawrence got on well with VP, Tony soon became alienated from the Hmong leader. He welcomed the return to fighting in Laos in 1964, year in which he married the niece of Touby Ly Foung, a prominent Hmong leader who did not always see eye-to-eye with VP. The union would produce two daughters, of whom Tony was inordinately proud.

In January 1965 , Tony took a NVA round though the stomach at Hong Non. After recovering, he was assigned to Nam Yu, where he spent the next five years, sending intelligence teams into China and monitoring the construction of the Chinese Road. It was during this time that the legend of Tony Poe took shape. Tony, himself, who took delight in feeding tall tales (some of them true!) to gullible reporters, fed the legend. Tony eventually became disillusioned with the war. George Kenning, who worked under Tony at Nam Yu, sensed a change in Tony in the late 1960s. The will of Americans to win the war seemed broken. This simple reality, Kenning recalls, more than anything else, is what finally defeated Tony Poe.

In 1970, Tony replaced Jack Shirley as head of training at Phitscamp in Thailand. While during this work, he managed to lose the two middle fingers on his hand to a Claymore mine. He closed the camp in 1974 and retired the following year. He remained in Thailand until relocating to California in the 1990s.

Tony was a good friend of Air America. More than one pilot has told me that if he ever had been shot down, he would have wanted Tony to lead the rescue effort. Tony would have given 110 percent. A problem for some of his senior bosses in the Agency, no one ever questioned Tony's loyalty, courage, or commitment to the cause of freedom. He was a true warrior and a true patriot. His friends at the Air America Association extend their deepest condolences to his wife and daughters.

07-03-2009, 11:10 PM
I thought Apocalypse now was based on Joseph Conrad's book "Heart of Darkness". The Congo, up river, religious following, unapproved methods of collecting Ivory. Written 1899. "Oh the horror".. one of several lines in the movie directly quoted from the book.

07-04-2009, 02:26 AM
Yikes i did not know that.

My good friends Father was a Marine Raider in WW2, He told me they started fighting and were dismayed how evil and nasty the Japanese were, Then they started fighting the same way to survive.

The Bigfella
07-04-2009, 02:42 AM
Tony Poshepny, RIP was the model for Col Kurtz in Appocalpse Now. The writer / producer told me so soon after the movie came out and others were trying to claim that unique distinction.

Didn't Poe die 6 years ago?

tattooed john
07-04-2009, 04:05 AM
Anthony Alexander Poshepny (September 18 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_18), 1924 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1924) July 27 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_27), 2003 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2003)), known as Tony Poe, was a legendary CIA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Intelligence_Agency) paramilitary (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paramilitary) officer in what is now called Special Activities Division (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Activities_Division) who trained the United States (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States) Secret Army (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_War) in Laos (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laos) during the Vietnam War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War).

07-04-2009, 10:45 AM
Yup.....a couple of the guys in Bangkok were having a "Remember Tony" day and sent me some photos from the old days....

Bob Triggs
07-04-2009, 10:58 AM
Thank you Chuck. Quite an education here. As always the reminder of how spineless our government (politicians and other cat people) sometimes is and how few true heroes we really have.