369. Report on the Situation in Long An Province1
As a result of your demonstrated interest, Long An has become the center of interest, at least momentarily. Some facts and figures:
Of the 219 hamlets previously reported as completed (with some 50 more supposedly in advanced stages of construction), no more than 35 now are considered to be capable of achieving the purpose for which built-that is, of separating the people from the Viet Cong while providing them both security and an opportunity for social and economic development. Please note: 9 of these 35 hamlets actually comprise a part of the provincial capital or of district towns.
147 armed militia squads previously were reported to be available in this province (even this figure seems low for the 219 hamlets supposedly in existence—some of them immense in area). Actually, no more than 50 squads exist and they are quartered in 37 hamlets.
167 hamlets now are said to have suffered extensive damage from the Viet Cong. Of this number, only 5 still have any armed militia available (the key to their defense).
Some personal observations.
Three of the six districts were visited briefly during recent trip. Some particulars on at least one hamlet in each of these districts:
Nguyen Huynh Duc (Thu Thua District). Located about 5 kilometers south of Tan An and just off Highway 4, this is said to be the best hamlet in the province. Homes are pleasant, look permanent, have shade and fruit trees, gardens, etc. Since the Village Administrative Headquarters is located here, there is also a 45-man SDC post. The post is in a fairly poor state of repair—weapons looked barely serviceable, no evidence of recent attempts to improve defenses. Directional arrow for air support was in very poor repair-no tallow pots available for night use. The hamlet militia were said to accompany SDC on patrols “for training” but were armed only with grenades. All SDC questioned were most vague as to extent of patrol activity. SDC were not uniformed despite USOM representative's assurance that uniforms were readily available. It was reported that no hamlet radio was available for three of the four hamlets in this village complex.[Page 715]
Hoa Phu (Binh Phuoc District). No more than 4 kilometers west and south of Tan An, this hamlet has been destroyed. Only 3 or 4 families remain of some 130. Many of the houses have been pulled down completely; the fence is down almost everywhere and much of it has been cut into small pieces. Interviews with the hardy survivors indicated they stayed because they felt they had the permission of the Viet Cong because of special circumstances. (One woman, for example, had a husband in prison at Tan An.) Hamlet militia previously existed and had been armed but had dispersed and turned in their weapons to the nearby SDC post. This hamlet was described by Rosenthal as the worst thing he had seen in his travels throughout the country.
Within easy pistol shot of Hoa Phu, there was an SDC platoon ensconced behind a moat, barbed wire, etc. This platoon apparently did not move out to aid the nearby hamlet when (it was said) a small number of Viet Cong came and “asked” the people to pull down their houses, cut the fence, etc. The post showed no evidence of recent improvement. The arrow for air support was completely overgrown by weeds, for example. SDC had no uniforms, generally seemed apathetic. Detachment was armed with French MAS rifles, had no automatic weapons. However, this platoon did have the weapons of previously armed hamlet militia squads from two nearby hamlets. (Why—with Long An less than 4 kilometers away—were these weapons unnecessarily exposed to VC capture?)
In very early afternoon, with a fairly large armed escort, the deputy province chief was reluctant to stop at Hao Phu. We drove back to Tan An at breakneck speed after our visit.
Tap An (Thanh Duc District). District, as a whole, is considered by local Americans to be the best in the province. Two of the eleven armed militia squads still available to the district are in Tap An. The hamlet had no radio—was dependent upon wire which was clearly visible and could easily be cut. Nonetheless, this hamlet is in extraordinarily good shape when compared with another nearby—Thu Bo. About 40% of the dwellings were destroyed there. Those persons remaining seemed to feel they did so at the sufferance of the Viet Cong. This hamlet was “supported” by an SDC post across the river—by “patrols” and by “direct automatic weapon fire”! Questioning developed that this fire was over the roofs of the houses. District chief (who seemed both able and energetic) said that only about 8% of those families entitled to a relocation allowance in the entire district had received same. Although his district is divided by a broad river, the district chief had no patrol craft under his jurisdiction.
- Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71-1-3470, 12/19-12/20/63, SVN Visit. Confidential. Authorship of this report is not given, but a note in Lodge's handwriting on the source text reads: “By an intelligent American who recently visited Long An and doesn't want to sign his name.” It was handed to McNamara in Saigon by Lodge.↩