Chapter 8 – Rifles for Halftrack

Suel’s Dilemma

Colonel Suel walked down the open-air hallway to Ted Shackley’s office. The wide covered walkway offered shade for the offices on the north side of the building. The palms and banana trees screened the hall from the noise of the street. Shackly’s door was ajar for extra ventilation.

Suel walked in without knocking. “Shackley, I need a favor.”

“Seems like I only see you when you want something.”

“Oh come on Ted. You know that’s not true. Who made sure you got an office in this building instead of Tan San Nuit?”

“Well, I got one there too; at the Air America terminal.”

“This is definitely low key, out of sight out of mind. Just like you like it. Most people don’t think to look for you here now, do they.

“Look, I’ll buy you dinner at the O. club if that’s what it takes.”

“Make it the Metropole and you’ve got a deal. What’s on your mind?”

“It’s complicated; got a minute?”

“Sure, sure. Sit down.”

Shackley’s office was comfortably decorated with souvenirs from his several years in Laos: the usual elephant plant stand, sure, but also quite a number of Meo and Hmong carved figures, a necklace of tiger’s teeth, some colorful textiles, some folk paintings, a Pathet Lao flag and a woven grass mat on the floor. His pistol hung on it’s belt from the hat rack behind the desk, his large droopy hat hanging next to it. Ted Shackley sat with his back to the window, desk facing the door. His secretary was in the office at Tan San Nuit so Shackley and Suel were alone.

“What’s on your mind?” said Ted rubbing zinc oxide onto his nose.

“I need for you to put a tail on someone.”

“Don’t you take care of that sort of thing yourself or with CID’s help?”

“Normally, yes but I don’t want them or any of my people involved. It’s sensitive for a number of reasons, some of them personal.”

“What, your wife’s coming to visit and you want to keep the mistress out of sight?”

“No, not that king of personal.

“See, Abrams wanted to impress Nixon with his command of the Vietnamization program and he requisitioned a couple of hush hush Radar units for the ARVNs to train on with a promise of more of them later when they got their technical people up to speed.”

“I don’t see where this is going but go on.”

“So Abrams drops this project in my lap and the only resources available are at the ARVN 60th Signal Base Depot out toward’s Bien Hoa. They have a spare warehouse and there’s an advisory team and an American office there for support. The only other thing they do is store dry-cell batteries in several refrigerated warehouses. So they’re hardly technically savvy. But they do act as a back-channel communications center, and there’s this little French girl that works for Maj. Toms. She’s a linguist, I think. Actually I think she’s part Vietnamese. Agnes. And she translates messages into Czech or something and runs it through the crypto machine and they transmit it to Washington. She’s an absolute whiz and just drop-dead gorgeous, really pretty. You might know her father. He’s from an old-line family that’s been in coastal shipping for generations. We’ve vetted them all and they pass with flying colors. Her brother is an ARVN officer. Works in Theiu’s administration somewhere.

“Hmm. The brother’s not a great recommendation. Thieu’s regime is a crooked as they come. I should know. So what’s the father’s name?”

“Yen.”

“Oh! – Yeah, I do know him. He ships stuff for us. The daughter was at university in Paris. She came back a couple of years ago and he was looking for something for her to do. So that’s where he got her a job, working for Toms. That’s a good spot for her.

“So what happened with the radar story?”

“Oh, well, the ARVNs assembled some technical non-coms with a warrant officer in charge and I got them the radar units and they put them in the empty Warehouse. But now we just needed someone to do the training. One of the radars is artillery support so I call Ft. Sill and they have no idea what to do but they did tell me that Ft. Monmouth does all that sort of training and to call them. So I call the commandant’s office and eventually get to Gen. Horn. So Horn says he can lend me two instructors for one or maybe two training cycles but they’re really badly needed at Ft. Monmouth so it’s just TDY.

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