VIETNAM WAR
"FLAG" SAFE CONDUCT PASSES

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SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

The United States and its allies dropped over 50 billion leaflets on Vietnam. Many of them were safe conduct passes. These passes have been used in every war in recent history and were used in Biblical times, during Medieval times, and even in the American Indian wars. It is very powerful form of propaganda. It allows an enemy to defect with the absolute knowledge that he will be treated fairly and his life and safety are guaranteed.

During the Vietnam War, the United States produced a series of safe conduct passes depicting the flag of the Republic of (South)Vietnam with other allied flags, to encourage defection of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops. These safe conduct passes and their various vignettes also appeared on other airdropped leaflets. The passes and leaflets were produced under the jurisdiction of the Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO).

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Dave Underhill told me about the various early safe conduct passes:

Leaflet SP-41 was a safe conduct pass signed by the Chief of Long An Province. Leaflets SP-44, 45, and 46 were safe conduct passes from the Commander of the 22nd Tactical Zone. Leaflet SP-53 was titled Safe Conduct Pass without a signature. It sighted “The Military Revolutionary Council" as the authority for issuing the pass.” Leaflet SP-68 was a Safe Conduct Pass without a signature. It cited “Colonel Doan Van Quang, Commander, 9th Division” as the authority for issuing the pass. There were too many passes by too many units and commanders. We needed something more standardized.

During one trip to Vietnam, I discussed the safe conduct pass problem with our Vietnam PSYOP Detachment Commander. I suggested that he have his people draft a National Safe Conduct Pass to be used throughout the nation. He took a proposed leaflet layout to JUSPAO. They immediately took the project over and assigned it leaflet number SP-893. They adapted the leaflet without adequate staffing, or testing, and incorporated a major defect. It contained bright colored inks on both sides which made it impossible for the recipient to fold in the colored side in order to make hiding the leaflet easier. [Note: the bright color Underhill mentions is a yellow strip at top and bottom on the back of the 5-flag and 7-flag safe conduct passes].

Nevertheless, the leaflet was eventually produced at the rate of one hundred million leaflets per month and dropped throughout the country. Defect notwithstanding, it was a highly successful leaflet used by tens of thousands of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers. When the problem of too much color was brought up, the decision was made that it was better to go with color on both sides because of its familiarity to the target audience than “risk” the problems associated with a "new" safe conduct pass by removing the bright color from the back side. Eventually, after the withdrawal of United States and other Allied ground forces, the bright color was removed from one side when the last version used in the war, with only the Vietnamese flag, was printed. [Note: The final version with just the single flag on front has no yellow strips on the back]

The main Allied operation using such PSYOP in Vietnam was the Chieu Hoi program. It is usually translated as "Open arms." It is a combination of two verbs, "to welcome" and "to return." The program was first started by President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963. Diem believed that a defector who willingly came over to the government side was more valuable that one who is taken prisoner. He encouraged the Allies to drop billions of leaflets offering amnesty to those who might rally to the government. In 1969, over 47,000 Viet Cong deserted. During the length of the war, about 160,000 enemy soldiers voluntarily came over to the Government of (South) Vietnam. In War of Ideas: The U.S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1981, author Robert W. Chander says:

A standard certification was used; It was slightly altered in 1967 to include the flags of Thailand and the Philippines as new allies. The serial number on the old version was dropped in favor of President Thieu's signature and photograph as evidence of the official sanction for the safe conduct invitation.

Both Viet Cong and North Vietnamese defectors and prisoners gave Saigon's safe conduct pass high credibility. Many cited it as an influential element in their decision to lay down their arms.

The Special Operations Research Office of the American University (SORO) published the classified A Short Guide to Psychological Operations in the Republic of Vietnam in 1965.  Authors Jeanne Mintz, Herbert Silverberg and James Trinnaman say about the passes:

Safe Conduct Leaflets: Safe-conduct passes should be recognizable to both enemy and friendly troops. The actions to be taken in order to surrender must be clearly explained to the rebel. Emphasis can be placed on food, shelter, and safety of returning to the government side. Ralliers must be assured of their personal safety. To ensure the efficiency of the safe-conduct pass, the material in it must be standardized at the national level, although the text will be in the dialect of the target group. The pass must be of standardized color, form, and official appearance and be of convenient size for easy concealment.

In past wars the United States used dozens of different safe conduct passes. This often confused the enemy who was never sure which of the many passes were current. In Vietnam the flag pass was selected as the main safe conduct leaflet. In Cease Resistance: It's Good for you, 2nd Edition, 1999, author Stanley Sandler says:

Unlike the situation in Korea, JUSPAO saw to it that there was just one official, standard surrender leaflet, which displayed the flags of the Allied powers fighting in Vietnam, and a happy defector/returnee being welcomed by an ARVN soldier.

The United States began the aerial bombing and leafleting of Vietnam of North Vietnam in 1964, following the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Two South Vietnamese leaders are identified on the leaflets. Nguyen Cao Ky headed a military junta that assumed control in June 1965 following a series of short-lived military regimes that operated after the fall of long-time President Ngo Dinh Diem in November 1963. Nguyen Van Thieu was elected president in 1967. The process of American withdrawal and their replacement with Vietnamese troops ("Vietnamization") began in July 1969. As the American and South Vietnamese position worsened, a cease-fire was negotiated in Paris in January 1973, but it was never implemented. Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese on 30 April 1975.

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5 Flag Safe Conduct Pass

All the flag safe conduct passes show a large flag of the Republic of Vietnam at center on the front and, in the earlier versions, smaller flags of allied nations participating in the war. The first was the five-flag pass, showing flags of the United States, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, in addition to the flag of Vietnam. This leaflet and its variants were produced before 1967. In 1967, a seven-flag version was introduced, showing the additional flags of Thailand and the Philippines. Finally, in 1972, when Vietnamization became the focus of propaganda, all flags except that of Vietnam were removed. Several different forms of propaganda were used on the back side. The original leaflet was given the code 893. Subsequently, the letters "A" through "F" were added to distinguish some of the modifications. The actual leaflets bear no code so this is conjecture on the part of the author. There is some confusion because it appears that the codes were changed as new leaflets with altered images were prepared. For instance, a 7-flag leaflet with Thieu's picture and signature on the back is listed as 893B in an official data sheet dated January 1968. It has the same number in the Chandler book, War of Ideas. However, another data sheet in my possession identifies it as 893C. It is possible that as the Vietnamese leaders came and went and the propaganda text changed slightly the leaflets codes were changed or updated.

We do know from a 6th PSYOP Battalion Facts on Battalion Operations, that 50 million copies of leaflet SP-893 was ordered in December 1967. 10 million were delivered to Da Nang, 10 million to Bien Hoa, 6 million to Nha Trang, 12 million to Can Tho, 6 million to Pleiku, and 6 million to the 360th TWS.

The 6th PSYOP Battalion printed 50 million copies of 893A on 20 January, 20 February, 20 March, 20 April, 20 May and 20 June 1968.

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JUSPAO Leaflet SP-972

The above leaflet is interesting because it depicts a Vietnamese holding the 5-flag safe conduct pass. The text is a heartfelt letter from Tran Viet to his friends in the Viet Cong around Quang Nhieu village. Some of his comments are:

While living with the Viet Cong I learned that they are a band of bandits who rob and kill the people. They use fine words but they are only lies…I enjoyed no happiness because I had no liberty…Living with the Viet Cong is like living in Hell.

In this picture you see me holding a multi-colored safe conduct pass bearing the national colors of Vietnam and of the Allied countries which are fighting at our side. I took this pass with me when I rallied to the Government.   

The Five-flag pass front has five flags on yellow-orange background, with text at top in Vietnamese, English, and Korean, "Safe-conduct pass to be honored by all Vietnamese government agencies and allied forces." The back has a drawing of an ARVN soldier with his arm around a Viet Cong guerilla at left, on white background; text on yellow background as on the front in English (top) and Korean (bottom); text on yellow background in Vietnamese at right, "Day la mot tam Giay..." ("This passport is valid and can be turned in through all government agencies and allied forces.").

The Korean texts exist in two styles. In the first, the Korean text is in script on the front and the back. These leaflets are known with horizontal or vertical stamped serial numbers, either 18.5 or 22 millimeters in length, and without serial number. Fifteen million leaflets were printed in Tokyo for the Tet campaign of 1966. It is rumored (but not proven) that the serial numbers were used to identify where the leaflets were dropped. If a defector turned himself in with such a leaflet, his story could be partially verified since the location where the leaflet was distributed was known. If the defector did not provide information, the fact that he found the leaflet in a specific location would alert the allies that an enemy force was active in that area.

Many years after I wrote the above paragraph I was told by one of the PSYOP personnel involved in designing the leaflets:

There was a time when the flag safe conduct passes were coded with the area that they were dropped in. This was so we could identify a surrendering prisoner’s area of operation by the coded number on the safe conduct pass. We could tell where he had been even if he didn’t know the location or had no access to a map and could not identify the area. This was a clever idea but turned out to be a stinker. It relied on the people dropping the leaflets to be extremely accurate and provide an overlay showing the exact spot that the leaflets were dropped. Now remember, we were dropping maybe 100 million leaflets a month. The need for the accurate overlays was mostly ignored and when we got them they were seldom useful. As a result, the attempt at identifying where a leaflet was disseminated by the use of a code number was quickly and quietly discontinued.

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Block Korean letters, Horizontal Serial No.

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Script Korean Letters, Vertical Serial No.

The second type of leaflet has block-character Korean texts on front and back. It is also known with horizontal stamped serial numbers, and without serial number.

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Color proof Showing just the Yellow Color

A set of 11 proofs exists showing the sequence of applications of colors and the cumulative results for front and back.

An interesting document exists that apparently depicts a proof of the back of the 5-flag leaflet with block Korean text. Beneath the yellow text-box to the right of the soldier and Viet Cong member, there is the signature of an American who apparently approved the vignette of the leaflet.

The back is blank except for official stamp at the left bearing the signature of Nguyen Van Thieu and lines for a date and signature to be added. There is a stamp in the center that says “Approved S3” [Approved - Operation Section] and a place for the date. At the lower right are the numbers “9019.” This document would appear to be an early proof that was approved by both the American advisors and the Thieu government.

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The Ryukyuan Review – Okinawa – 13 January 1967

Because the 7th PSYOP Group was headquartered in Okinawa, much of the psychological warfare products were known. In the newspaper above, the 5-flag safe conduct leaflet is described and discussed.

The vignette of this leaflet was criticized in a “Studies of the Chieu Hoi Program” interview by the Simulmatics Corporation coded CH-15. The interviewee is a 15-year old Viet Cong member who was a member of an Entertainment Group, singing patriotic songs to villagers. She said that: 

This is a bad picture because the Viet Cong is drawn smaller and less attractive than the government soldiers and the Viet Cong would exploit this by saying that they distort the view of the Viet Cong.

When asked if she had ever seen a Viet Cong wearing a hat with a star she replied that she had never seen a Viet Cong wearing such a hat. When asked to read the text she said:

I don't know the meaning of the message on the top of the side with the flags. The words are too difficult.

It must be remembered that this girl was just 15 and possibly not as well educated as the average Viet Cong member.

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Charles Kean Jr.

Specialist Fourth Class Charles Kean Jr. Was a member of the 245th PSYOP Company in Vietnam during the years 1966-1967. He was trained as a U.S. Army Illustrator (Military Occupational Specialty 81E2W. During his tour he supported the 1st Cavalry and the 4th Infantry Division. He flew many C47 leaflet missions and received an Air Crew badge for the time he spent aloft. In this photo he sits inside a 1st Cavalry “Huey” helicopter. Notice that among the leaflets he holds is the 5-flag safe conduct pass. He said about leaflet production:

When we got a request for a tactical leaflet the general layout was determined by the PSYOP commander who then issued directives to his staff. While the artist and varitypist came up with a design for the Commander’s approval; the pressmen, photographers, cutters and other personnel prepared their equipment. After the drawings and text were approved an interpreter translated it into the proper dialect. This could be why we were located on the Vietnamese Army side of the compound. Once the translation was complete, the varitypist would type the message in the appropriate font and the artist would put in the various accent marks since the Varityper didn’t have that capability. After approval of the final product, the leaflet was sent to the photo lab where offset plates were created. They were then sent to the pressmen who immediately printed them. The printed sheets had to be cut by a machine to the designated size and we all got together to cut, box, pack and load the leaflets onto waiting trucks for transportation to the Pleiku airbase or the one at Camp Holloway on the other side of Pleiku village.

Some leaflets came with one side printed, generally on nice paper and in color. These were done either in Korea or Japan or somewhere they had equipment that was vastly superior to anything in Vietnam. We would then print an appropriate message on the other side for distribution. That’s how the full color 5 flag leaflets were done.

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7 Flag Safe Conduct Pass

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The author holds a full uncut sheet of the 7-flag safe conduct pass leaflets.

When two more nations joined the Allies in Vietnam, their flags were added to the safe conduct pass leaflet. The front has seven flags on yellow-orange background, with large text in Vietnamese at top, "Giay Thong-Hanh" ("Safe Passport"), and small text in English, Korean, and Thai at bottom, "Safe-conduct pass to be honored by all Vietnamese government agencies and allied forces." Back has photograph of pointing ARVN soldier standing next to a Viet Cong defector at right on white background; same safe-conduct message as appears on front, on yellow background, in English at top and in Vietnamese at bottom. Vietnamese text at left center is "Mang Tam Giay..." ("Carry this safe conduct pass to collaborate with the National government and you will be: Kindly welcomed / Assured of your security / Well treated."). The back design accompanying the photograph exists in three styles.

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Safe Conduct pass with signature of Nguyen Cao Ky

The first has the signature of Nguyen Cao Ky. On most examples, a small number appears at lower left on back, representing the Corps Tactical Zones (CTZ): 1, 2, 3, and 4. The allies split Vietnam up into four military areas. Once again, a defector with such a leaflet could be traced back to the general area where he had been active. Some of the leaflets have no zone numbers.

Nguyen Cao Ky was born 8 September 1930 in Son Tay (North Vietnam). A charismatic young officer, he became popular among Americans when as the Acting Commander of the Vietnamese Air Force in 1963 he was interviewed and photographed in his flight suit, topped off by white scarf. He was quoted as saying, "Americans are big boys. You can talk them into almost anything. Sit with them for half an hour over a bottle of whiskey and be a nice guy." He took part in the coup that led to the overthrow and assassination of President Diem. He was named Prime Minister during the years 1965 to 1967. In 1967 he was elected Vice President running with Nguyen Van Thieu. In 1971, Ky ran against Thieu for the presidency but was forced to withdraw his candidacy. He fled to California in 1975, after the fall of Saigon.

The 1967 JUSPAO brochure Communicating with Vietnamese through Leaflets depicts the 7-flag safe conduct pass and tells the reader:

The above leaflet is the National Safe Conduct Pass. Do not title any other leaflet a “safe conduct pass.” But you can say, on any Chieu Hoi leaflet, “You may use this leaflet for safe conduct.”

Never state or imply that a returnee must have a safe conduct pass in order to rally. Tell him he can come in with any leaflet, or, if he cannot find or keep one, without a leaflet. In that case he should yell “Chieu Hoi” as he comes in.

Use the safe conduct pass in connection with every military engagement. From 50 million to 75 million are being produced every month.

Make an effort, by working with and through U.S. Commanders, to insure that every U.S. soldier knows about the Safe Conduct Pass and is convinced that he should honor this and other leaflets used for rallying and surrendering.

Also, work toward complete indoctrination of ARVN troops, members of the regional Forces and Popular Forces, and members of Free World Military Assistance Forces in the absolute necessity of accepting VC/NVA soldiers as PWs and ralliers.

Lieutenant Colonel Dave Underhill was assigned to the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa during the Vietnam War. He produced and dropped many of the safe conduct passes using C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft based at Kadena AFB. He told me:

Our printing plant operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and printed 100 tons of leaflets a month. We also controlled the printing of an additional 900,000,000 a month by using the Adjutant General's printing plant in Japan, and the United States Information Service Regional Service Center in Manila.  At the peak, a billion leaflets were printed each month. This included 100,000,000 National Safe Conduct Leaflets.  The leaflet was my idea, and used by over 100,000 Vietnamese. 

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Signature and photograph of Nguyen Van Thieu

The second variety bears the signature and photograph of Nguyen Van Thieu. The leaflet was developed in January 1968. Nguyen Van Thieu was born on 5 April 1923, in the province of Ninh Thuan. As a young man, he briefly helped the Viet Minh fight the French colonial powers in his native province. He attended the National Military Academy in Hue and joined the French-backed Vietnamese army fighting the Viet Minh. By 1963 he was chief of staff of the Armed Forces of South Vietnam. During the confusion of the mid-1960s, when South Vietnam was wracked by coups, General Thieu became commander of the military region embracing the Mekong Delta. In June 1965, Thieu was appointed chairman of a 10-member military directorate. From there it was a short step to the presidency. He was elected in 1967, and presided over the country for eight years of the war. As the North Vietnamese armies moved south in greater numbers Thieu appealed to President Nixon for more financial aid. Nixon was sympathetic but the United States Congress was not and the move was blocked. Starved of funds, Thieu had difficulty paying the wages of his large army and desertion became a major problem. With the fall of the government to the Communist armies he fled to Taiwan in April, 1975. He died in September 2001 in Boston.

Note: Captain Hammond M. Salley, Infantry, Assistant S-3, 6th PSYOP Battalion, was tasked with the mission of obtaining Nguyen Van Thieu's signature for the new Safe Conduct Pass once he became President.  A Vietnamese Officer who “Ham” knew from PSYOP School was one of Thieu’s aides.  The President did not want to sign a blank piece of paper, but finally agreed since the signature was needed for the printing plates.

Monta L. Osborne had a long and distinguished government career and was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Award by the Department of Defense and the Exceptional Civilian Service Award by Department of the Army. He was the Chief of Field Development Division in the Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) in Saigon in charge of the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) program during the Vietnam War. After his death his papers revealed some of his thoughts about the program:

The most commonly used item produced by the Field Development Division of JUSPAO is the airdrop leaflet. One example is the National Safe Conduct Pass which features flags of all nations that are providing military support to the GVN. It is signed by the President of the Republic, Nguyen Van Thieu. A total of 75,000,000 of these are dropped each month. Frequently leaflets are printed only on one side, and then sent to the field for local PSYOP organizations to print their messages on the blank side.

There exists a variation of this leaflet in a proof form that was apparently never printed. The proof depicts the back of the leaflet bearing the text “Mang Tam Giay…”but instead of the photograph of the ARVN and Communist soldier, there is the seal of the United States Army (formerly the War Office seal). To the left of the text two signatures of American advisors approve the image.

The back is blank except for official stamp at the left bearing the signature of Nguyen Van Thieu and lines for a date and signature to be added. There is a stamp in the center that says “Approved S3” [Approved - Operation Section] and a place for the date. At the lower right are the numbers “8990.” This document would appear to be an early proof that was approved by both the American advisors and the Thieu government. This leaflet was never printed and certainly a decision was made to use an image of Vietnamese instead of an American seal which would be used by the enemy to point out that the Thieu government was a pawn of the American Army.

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The Viet Cong Return a Flag Safe Conduct Pass in the Movie “Platoon”

The 1986 motion picture Platoon was written and directed by Oliver Stone and is allegedly loosely based upon his experiences as a U.S. infantryman in Vietnam. In one scene, an American soldier goes missing, and his body is later found by his platoon. He had been mutilated and killed, and a 7-flag safe conduct pass is pinned to his body. This leads directly to American atrocities in a nearby Vietnamese hamlet reminiscent of the My Lai Massacre of 16 March 1968.

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Leaflet DV15AH2268

The Vietnamese PSYOP units printed many leaflets that start with the code “DV.” Leaflet DV15AH2268 depicts the same image of President Nguyen Van Thieu as is found on the flag safe conduct passes. The text is:

THE PRESIDENT OF REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM HAS DECLARED:

There will be never a Joint Government in South Vietnam.

The back is all text:

THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM IS AGAINST A JOINT GOVERNMENT

President Nguyen Van Thieu has declared his willingness to talk to anyone in the South Vietnamese Liberation Front, but the government of the Republic of Vietnam will never recognize that Front as an independent organization.

Lately, with continuous failures in the battlefield, the Communists have spread rumors that there will be a Joint Government in the South. Their sole purpose is to create confusion among the public. However, the people of the South understand that the rumors of a Joint Government are just a propaganda tactic of the Communists. Its sole purpose is to cover their military and political failures.

There will be no Joint Government in the South.

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Signature of Nguyen Van Thieu, without Thieu's photograph

The third 7-flag leaflet depicts the signature of Nguyen Van Thieu, without Thieu's photograph. The Okinawan newspaper "Ryukyuan Review" of 13 January 1967 published an article entitled "7th Psychological Operations group Supports 'Win in Vietnam' Efforts." The front and back of the 5-flag leaflet was illustrated full-sized in the story. The article says in part:

Production of the safe conduct pass and other supporting material is coordinated by the Army's 7th Psychological Operations Group on Okinawa. Material is transported to South Vietnam when tens of millions are disseminated from aircraft and by field units as they pass through the hamlets on operations.

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The 1-Flag Safe “Vietnamization” Conduct Pass

The final flag safe conduct pass is the one-flag variety. This was a symbol of the American policy of Vietnamization. President Richard M. Nixon explained that plan in a 3 November 1969 speech. He said:

The Vietnamization plan was launched following Secretary Laird's visit to Vietnam in March. Under the plan, I ordered first a substantial increase in the training and equipment of South Vietnamese forces. In July, on my visit to Vietnam, I changed General Abrams' orders so that they were consistent with the objectives of our new policies. Under the new orders, the primary mission of our troops is to enable the South Vietnamese forces to assume the full responsibility for the security of South Vietnam.

It was hoped that this policy would eventually enable the United States to withdraw all their soldiers from Vietnam. To increase the size of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), a mobilization law was passed that called up into the army all men in South Vietnam aged between seventeen and forty-three. In June, 1969, Nixon announced the first of the US troop withdrawals. The 540,000 US troops were to be reduced by 25,000. Another 60,000 were to leave the following December.

An official document dated 20 December 1972 states:

The Republic of Vietnam National Safe Conduct Pass depicting the Vietnamese National Flag surrounded on either side by the six flags of the Vietnamese Allies participating in the Vietnam War is rendered obsolete by Vietnamization. This safe conduct pass is replaced by a Safe Conduct Pass depicting only the Vietnamese National Flag.

The front of the final leaflet has one flag on blue background with purple border; brief text in Vietnamese, "Viet Nam Cong Hoa" ("Government of Vietnam") at top, and "Giay Thong-Hanh" ("Safe Passport") at bottom. The Back has photographs of a pointing ARVN soldier standing next to a Viet Cong defector at right and photograph and signature of Nguyen Van Thieu at left. The text in Vietnamese at bottom translates "Safe-conduct pass to be honored by all Vietnamese government agencies". Text in Vietnamese at center is the same as the central text promising good treatment on the seven-pass leaflets. This leaflet was the last in the series. In accord with the U.S. policy of Vietnamization, all the previous 5- and 7-flag leaflets were to be destroyed starting 20 December 1972, when this new leaflet was prepared.

Former TSGT Bob Remel of the 35th Civil Engineering Squadron, 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, recalls what it was like to burn the old safe conduct passes at Phan Rang Air Base in the late spring of 1971. He was a member of the Base Fire Department and Crash Rescue team. He says:

As an Assistant Fire Chief I was in charge of a detail to destroy hundreds of thousands of the old safe conduct passes. They were packed in tight bundles and were extremely hard to burn. We dumped them in a large pit and used a 5000 gallon JP-4 jet fuel tanker truck to soak them. The fury of the fire and the wind caused a lot of loose leaflets to blow all over the area. I managed to run down several of them and sent them home to my wife.

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Leaflet 4-20-68

There is also a tactical flag safe conduct leaflet that depicts the flag of the Republic of Vietnam. It is coded 4-20-68, which indicates that it was the 20 printing order of the 4th PSYOP Group in 1968. The leaflet is aimed specifically at enemy troops in the IV Corps Tactical Zone, also known as Military Region Four – the most southern part of the country including the heavily populated and agriculturally productive Mekong Delta. One side of the leaflet shows the flag of the Republic of Vietnam and the text is English and Vietnamese:

Safe Conduct

Safe conduct pass to be honored by all Vietnamese Government agencies and Allied forces in the 4th C.T.Z.

The other side of the leaflet depicts a friendly American soldier welcoming a returning Viet Cong fighter to the just cause of the Republic. The text is in part:

TO RETURN IS TO LIVE

Carrying this safe conduct pass and cooperating with the Government of South Vietnam will enable you:

To be Honorably Welcomed
To have security is Guaranteed
To be equitably Rewarded

[Signed]

Major General Nguyen Duc Thang
Commanding General, IV Corps, IV Tactical Zone

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"Chieu Hoi - The Winning Ticket"

The image of the flag safe conduct pass is so stirring that it was used repeatedly on U.S. official documents and publications. The seven-flag pass is featured on the cover of the Booklet Chieu Hoi - The winning ticket issued to servicemen in Vietnam in 1968 (MACV Command Information Pamphlet 6-68) and again in 1970 (MACV-CIP 9-70). This booklet explains to the reader the importance of greeting the defectors and treating them well. General Creighton W. Abrams is pictured and quoted:

The Chieu Hoi Program pays dividends to you, the fighting man.  It provides intelligence and it saves lives. It is my desire that every servicemen in Vietnam assist this program whenever he can. Your support of this program will help materially in the defeat of the enemy on the battlefield.

The booklet adds:

What is the Chieu Hoi program? Chieu Hoi (open arms) is the national Viet Cong defector program. It pays off big dividends: It weakens the NVA/VC, it saves American and allied lives, and it can shorten the war.

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A Chieu Hoi Folded Wallet Card

The same picture and text was on a small card issued to servicemen to be folded and carried in their wallet. The front of the card depicts the Vietnam seven-flag safe conduct pass and on the back a message from General Creighton Abrams. Inside, there is a text message:

HOW CAN YOU HELP? Give voluntary defectors Chieu Hoi (Not PW) treatment. Segregate Chieu Hoi from PWs. Treat the returnee with respect. Give him a receipt for all weapons that he brings in. Deliver him safely to the unit intelligence officer for prompt debriefing and then promptly to the Government of Vietnam Chieu Hoi Service at the nearest District or Province headquarters.

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Booklet SP-2169

Another small illustrated 21-page propaganda booklet coded SP-2169 and entitled Dairy of a Hoi Chanh (Returnee) depicts a Viet Cong reaching for a propaganda leaflet on the front. Inside, it explains the life that is offered to a returnee by the Government of Vietnam and depicts the front and back of the 7-flag safe conduct leaflet on pages 19 and 20.

There is also a propaganda pamphlet with the entire front of the 1-flag safe conduct pass on one page.

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Souvenir Safe Conduct Pass - Ohio Vietnam Veterans Reunion

An interesting 7-flag safe conduct pass reproduction (Thieu signature and photograph) printed on somewhat thicker paper with slightly brighter colors.  The registration is rather poor.  They were given out in 1989 at the Ohio Vietnam Veterans reunion as souvenirs. 

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Fake Vietnam “Wallet filler” set

This set of fake documents advertised as what you might find in a Viet Cong wallet contains a counterfeit 7-flag safe conduct pass. Once again, know the person you buy such a propaganda leaflet from. The Australian EBay seller asks for a bid of $10 and says in this offer:

New: A brand-new, unused, unopened, undamaged item. See the seller's listing for full details. Set includes: Vietcong Achievement Certificate, Chieu Hoi Trade Arms for Cash Leaflet (Trade that rusty AK for some greenbacks), Chieu Hoi Safe Conduct Pass (For when you've had enough of the revolution, etc.).

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Fake Safe Conduct Passes Printed to Bilk Collectors

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A fake 5-flag Safe Conduct Pass printed in black and white

This 5-flag pass was offered for sale in 2014 with a number of items that seem to be genuine. However, we know this pass was printed in color and in general the color covers the entire front. Here we see that the image seems to be printed on a piece of white paper with a border all around. It is very suspicious and the seller admitted:

I don't know if anything is original…

 

Because these Flag Safe Conduct passes are colorful, common and popular among collectors, various forgeries exist. Above are three blatantly poor facsimiles of the 7-flag safe conduct pass (Thieu signature and photograph), printed in pink, red-orange and in green, produced to bilk unknowledgeable collectors.

The flag safe conduct passes were so successful that reproductions of parts or all of the 5-flag and 7-flag safe conduct passes are found on other propaganda leaflets. These show entire fronts or backs or partial vignettes from the fronts or backs. The reproductions are usually reduced in size.

The "Trail" campaign was directed against the military and civilian personnel who use and maintain the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This series of roads and trails twisted for thousands of miles in and around Vietnam and was the main supply route for the VC and NVA. The Allies routinely dropped leaflets (all coded with a "T") over the trail in an attempt to destroy the morale of the enemy. Some of these leaflets show the front or back of various flag safe conduct leaflets.

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Leaflet T-04

Leaflet T-04 depicts a 175 mm cannon on the front. The back depicts the front of the 5-flag safe conduct pass at right, and text at the left:

This gun has not been aimed at you yet. If it had been aimed at you, you would not be reading these lines. This is a 175 millimeter cannon. It shoots a 75 kilogram round more than 30 kilometers and is able to destroy everything in the target area. You are indeed fortunate to escape this terrible fate by finding this safe conduct pass which points the way for you to come across and live under the protection of the government of the Republic of Vietnam.

Over 14 million T-4 leaflets were dropped from the DMZ to Dong Hoi in October and November 1967 and again April and May 1968.

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Leaflet T-06

Leaflet T-06 depicts captured weapons on one side. Three million of these leaflets were dropped over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in December 1966 and March 1968. The back is all text with the 5-flag safe conduct pass. The text is:

DO YOU RECOGNIZE THESE WEAPONS?

Your comrades were carrying them a few days ago. But that was before they arrived in South Vietnam and encountered the powerful opposition of the law-abiding South Vietnamese people.

Your chance to avoid the fate they met will come. Look for your safe conduct pass. It will have this symbol.

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Leaflet T-07

The front of the leaflet depicts a B-52 dropping bombs. Curiously, this leaflet appears in at least three different forms.

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One variety is in a horizontal format and depicts a B-52 bomber flying toward the left and dropping bombs. This version is in orange ink on white paper and depicts the 5-flag safe conduct pass.

The second variety is in a vertical format and depicts the B-52 flying toward the right and dropping bombs. This version is printed on green paper and also depicts the five-flag safe conduct pass.

The third variety is in a vertical format and depicts a B-52 bomber flying toward the right and dropping bombs. This version depicts the seven-flag safe conduct pass.

We don’t know the exact breakdown of the numbers, but 15 million T-07 leaflets were dropped on the Ho Chi Minh Trail from August 1967 to April 1968. All three varieties have the same text:

YOU WILL NEVER SEE ONE OF THESE

You will never see one of these. You probably won't hear it. It flies too high. It is a B-52 bomber, used by the South Vietnamese people's powerful American allies to blast aggressors out of their hiding places. One B-52 carries 29,700 kilos of bombs and can drop them with pin-point accuracy, dealing certain death to everyone within the target area. The B-52 can strike you at any time during all seasons and weather conditions.

Your chance to avoid this fate will come. Look for your safe conduct pass.

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Leaflet T-08

Leaflet T-08 is also very graphic. The front depicts the 5-flag safe conduct pass at the lower right and the text:

You can avoid this fate. Use your safe conduct pass in order to cross the lines to the protection of the government of Vietnam. The pass carries this symbol.

The back depicts a photograph of a dead Viet Cong guerrilla in the mud. The text is:

Why did this young man from North Vietnam come to die here, outside the mud wall of a lonely outpost in Ba Long? His place should have been at his home, in his farm, where his labor is needed to help feed his compatriots in the north. Instead, he has been sent to the South and assigned the hopeless job of storming into an outpost defended by the people of the South. What did he hope to achieve by his suicidal attempt? To "liberate" the people of the South as he had been told by his Communist masters? But why do the people that he is supposed to liberate build mud walls and plant bamboo spikes to keep the liberators out? Perhaps, at the last minute he saw the truth. But, it was too late. The Labor Party has already spent him like an expendable item in its bid to take over South Vietnam.

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Leaflet T-09

A number of these “T” leaflets show photographs of dead Vietnamese. United States policy frowned on such images because it was believed they made the enemy motivated to fight. However, the propagandists in the field believed that they weakened enemy morale and used them quite often. In this case, the leaflet also mentions that the body was left unburied and unidentified; using the Vietnamese superstition that a body not buried with his ancestors will walk the earth in pain and hunger forever. This leaflet depicts a dead body lying in a pond on one side. The back is all text and the 5-flag vignette. The text is:

IS THIS A GRAVE?

Unfortunately, it is not. But this is the final resting place; many, many kilometers from the graves of his ancestors, for this young North Vietnamese soldier whose body, along with those of 2,200 of his comrades, were left dead in the plains of Plei Me. His body cannot be identified. His grave cannot be marked, and his soul will never find rest.

You can avoid this fate. Watch for your safe conduct pass and directions to cross the lines to the protection of the Government of Vietnam. The pass will have this symbol.

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Leaflet T-010

Leaflet T-010 depicts a dead North Vietnamese soldier on the ground. The text is:

VICTORY AT PLEI ME?

This young North Vietnamese soldier will never again see the loved one whose picture he clutches. He and 2,200 of his comrades who died with him in the recent battle in the Plei Me area will never celebrate this kind of “victory.”

The back is all text and the 5-flag vignette. The text is:

You can avoid this fate. Watch for your safe conduct pass and directions to cross the lines to the protection of the Government of Vietnam. The pass will have this symbol.

 

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Leaflet T-011

This leaflet depicts ralliers (defectors) from the enemy who have come over to the Government’s side. The back is text and depicts the 5-flag safe conduct pass. Twenty million orange-colored T-011 leaflets were dropped from the DMZ to Dong Hoi and over the Ho Chi Minh Trail from August to November 1967. The orange color would stand out against the jungle floor. The text is:

THESE MEN USED THE SAFE CONDUCT PASS

Holding gifts presented by officials of one of South Vietnam’s “Open Arms” Centers; these men are no longer fighting their fellow Vietnamese. The Republic of Vietnam offers a warm welcome to those who will voluntarily leave the ranks of the aggressors and join the cause of those who defend their independence. More than 25,000 former Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers have done so.

You can do this too. Watch for your safe conduct pass and directions to cross the lines to the protection of the Government of Vietnam. The pass will have this symbol.

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Leaflet T-012

Leaflet T-012, a Trail leaflet, depicts a dead North Vietnamese Army soldier on one side with the text: 

Do you want to be used as a Chinese bullet shield and die in vain like this?

The back depicts the Chieu Hoi 5-flag safe conduct pass and the text:

IS IT FINISHED WHEN YOU DIE?

Your death is only a matter of time.

But after you die, who will feed your wife and children at home?

Who will take care of your parents who are already old and weak? Will you be able to rest peacefully?

There is one way out of this dilemma. Watch for your safe conduct pass and directions to cross the lines to the protection of the Government of South Vietnam. The pass will have this symbol:

Ten million of this leaflet were printed and disseminated.

Perhaps one of the greater achievements of the small Flag safe conduct passes was the defection of Lieutenant La Thanh Tonc of the North Vietnamese Army on 20 January 1968 to the Marines at Khe Sanh Combat Base. The story is told in the January 2005 issue of Leatherneck by LTC James B. Wilkinson (Ret.). The author explains that Tonc provided the general battle plan of the NVA forces and the order of battle. He pointed out that the plan was to take Hills 861 and 881S. Thereafter, the major attack to seize Khe Sanh would commence. This assault would be supported by heavy artillery, which had been laboriously dug into Co Roc Mountain in Laos. Khe Sanh was to be their most important effort since the United States entered the war, with General Vo Nguyen Giap in command. The Marine’s victory at Khe Sanh can be attributed in part to the information gained from this valuable Chieu Hoi.

At the same time, JUSPAO was dropping similar leaflets over the jungles of South Vietnam. These were generally coded with the letters "SP" (Special Project) and a number in the early years of the war. Since it was always the American desire that all PSYOP should appear to come from the government of Vietnam, the letters "SP" caused a problem. That was a sure sign that the leaflet was an American product. In later leaflets, the letters were removed and the codes were only numbers.

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Leaflet 43

Leaflet 43 was dropped during the time that the United States was bombing North Vietnam and depicts a vignette from the standard safe conduct leaflet on one side with the text:

Compatriots; tell your friends and relatives in the army that if they go South: “Have the courage to leave the aggressor forces. Go to the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam or Allied Forces. Look for passes like these that guarantee good treatment and a chance to return home safely.”

The other side is all text and says in part:

WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR FRIENDS AND RELATIVE IN THE ARMY?

Thousands of young men in the Army of North Vietnam are being sent to kill your compatriots in the south.

They cannot always let you know before they leave.

Once they leave, they have no way of coming back to the North.

So they must stay in the South to die of disease or be killed in battle.

Thus is the fate of those who go South….

This leaflet was dropped on nine occasions between March and June 1966. 27,350,000 leaflets were dropped in the Red River Delta, Hanoi, Tranh Hoa, Ba Don south to the DMZ, Ha Tinh and Sam Song. Additional leaflets were dropped from September to November 1967.

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Leaflet 147

This leaflet depicts a happy Vietnamese family eating a meal in front of their home while watching from the woods is a skeletal starving Viet Cong guerrilla. The text on the front is:

This or this?

The back depicts the five flag safe Conduct pass and the message:

As you were told previously, you do not have much time left to choose. Either you can follow the example of 25,000 of your former comrades who have used the Pass to return to build a peaceful and prosperous life, or you can remain behind to await a painful death and a life filled with danger. Those who remain behind will never know when more bombs will fall. Use this National Pass to quickly return to the cause of justice!

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Leaflet "SP-953"

Leaflet "SP-953"depicts both the front and back of the 5-flag leaflet and a photograph of a Vietnamese wife and children. Text on the front is:

Safe conduct passes are more valuable than gold as they can save the lives of those you love.

The back is all text:

To the mothers and wives whose sons and husbands are in the VC forces: Keep all the safe conduct passes distributed by the Government which has the same pictures as on this leaflet. Each safe conduct pass is an official government document and has a number which has officially been registered in a book. These passes will be of value to VC soldiers when they want to use them to return to the National Government. Keep many of these to save the lives of your husbands, sons, and friends. Give them these when they come for a visit, or bring these to them if possible. These small safe conduct passes are more valuable than gold, as each one can save the lives of those you love."

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The “Smaller Variation” Leaflet 953

There is a second variation of this leaflet that bears the same code number. The changes are not what we would regularly expect. The photograph and flag safe conduct pass leaflet front have not been changed, but the flag leaflet back was broken up into three different images of the flags and the text at left which is two lines on the regular leaflet has been made into three lines in the variety. The original version is 8.5 x 3 inches. There is no explanation for this change but leaflets fall into characteristic patterns according to size. They probably wanted to take this long leaflet and shorten it into the standard 6 x 3-inch Vietnam leaflet to insure more leaflets delivered to the target audience.

The entire concept of leaflet sizing is an interesting one and a constant argument during the Vietnam War. I have seen correspondence where changing the size of a standard leaflet from 6 x 3-inches to 5.25 x 2.83-inches would save $80,000 because more leaflets could be printed on standard paper sheets with less waste. The fact that the leaflets would not fall at the same speed or drift the same way was of no concern to the person who did the math and worried only about the cost. This debate went from the printing plant in Manila to JUSPAO in Vietnam. The argument seems to have been settled in the PSYOP Newsletter of 15 July 1968 in an underlined sentence:

For aerial leaflet dissemination throughout South Vietnam, the 6 x 3-inch leaflet on 20 and 16 pound paper are considered superior to all other leaflet sizes.

My friend, retired Lieutenant Colonel Dave Underhill wrote the publication Low, Medium and High Altitude Leaflet Dissemination Guide. I paraphrase his very technical comments:

Printing the 6 x 3-inch leaflet results in extending the spread on the ground. The 20-pound paper leaflet falls at a rate of 2.5 feet per second. The most common leaflet used by the 7th PSYOP Group in its printing support for Vietnam is the 6 x 3-inch leaflet in 20 pound paper. This is also the size of the safe conduct pass used throughout Vietnam. It has a spread factor of 1.11 times the distance to the center of the leaflet mass. (Plus an addition of one half the drop altitude caused by the spread in still air effect). I normally disregarded this. At low altitude it is negligible.

The 8.5 x 2.83-inch leaflet has a falling rate of 1.8 feet per second on 16 pound paper. It has favorable dissemination characteristics but has a major disadvantage that when stronger winds prevail the leaflets cover a much larger area. That was the advantage we were looking for over North Korea and North Vietnam. We were using a strategic message for the targets and were looking for increased target area coverage knowing full well the density was low. 10 million 8.5-inch leaflets would weigh 10 tons, or a ton per million. As a rule of thumb, we used a ton a million or ten million per C-130 load and require one C-130 aircraft. Reducing the size to 6 x 3-inches would reduce the weight to 1,038,000 leaflets per ton at 519 leaflets per pound on 20 pound paper, or one C-30 load per ten tons of leaflets).

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Back of Leaflet SP-894.

Leaflet SP-894 is identical to SP-953 except that in leaflet 894 the text is handwritten and in leaflet 953 the text is typewritten. Notice that the code on this leaflet is 894 although the JUSPAO records list it as SP-894.

 

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Leaflet SP-2209

Another JUSTPAO leaflet is coded "SP-2209." It depicts the photograph of a pointing ARVN soldier standing next to a Viet Cong defector (from the back of the 7-flag pass) at the right and a propaganda message at the left:

TO THE PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNIST RANKS. When returning to the national cause, you will be welcomed warmly and treated kindly by the government. You will be reunited with your family and given medical treatment if you are sick. You will be rewarded if you guide us to any hidden weapons or bring us weapons information. You will enjoy other rights and privileges to start a new life for you and your family.

The back is all text:

INSTRUCTIONS TO RETURN TO THE NATIONAL CAUSE. Friends, you may report to any official at any Vietnamese government office, or to any of the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam or the Allies. They will be glad to receive you. But, for your own safety, please follow the procedure below:

1. Hide your weapons. You can later guide the Republic of Vietnam armed forces to their location for a reward.

2. If you report to a military unit or a government official and you are carrying a weapon, please do so during daylight. To show your good faith, you should produce your identification card or this leaflet if you have one. But, if you do not have a leaflet, report to us anyway.

3. When reporting, please raise your hands above your head to show that you sincerely wish to return to the nationalist cause.

The 6th PSYOP Battalion printed 15 million copies of leaflet SP-2209 on 5 January 1968 and again on 5 February 1968. 4 million were delivered to Da Nang, 4 million to Bien Hoa, 2 million to Nha Trang, 4 million to Can Tho, and 1 million to Pleiku each time.

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Leaflet SP-2208

Curiously the same image appears on leaflet 2208 as 2209, but 2208 has a blank back and the message on the back of leaflet 2209 INSTRUCTIONS TO RETURN TO THE NATIONAL CAUSE is on the front of leaflet 2208. Leaflet 2208 was printed in October 1967.

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Leaflet "SP-2590"

A fourth JUSPAO leaflet is coded "SP-2590." It was dropped over "contested areas" in May 1968. It depicts the entire back of the 7-flag pass (Thieu's signature only). The back is all text:

To Officers and Soldiers in the NVA in south Vietnam. What you expected has come. The Government in Hanoi and the United States will talk. The talks will begin in Paris on May 10, 1968. Don't continue to fight. You may meet death needlessly. Return to the people and armed forces of the Government of Vietnam. You will be welcome and given a peaceful and happy life like 95 of your comrades from Battalion 8, Regiment 90, Division 342B who just rallied at Hue - Danang.

Some other JUSPAO leaflets with the flag safe conduct pass vignettes are SP-939, SP-953, SP-972, SP-1049, SP-1389A, and P-1539.

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Leaflet "146-66-R"

The code for leaflet 146-66-R  indicates that it was prepared in 1966 and that it is a reprint of a previous similar leaflet. In fact, the leaflet was prepared in both the standard 3 x 6 inch size and in a larger 4 x 6 inch size. In both leaflets a B-52 Stratofortress is shown dropping bombs on the front. The back of the smaller depicts the front of the 7-flag leaflet at the lower left. In the larger leaflet, the back now depicts the back of the 7-flag Thieu signature leaflet. Both leaflets have the same message:

This is the Mighty B-52.

Now you have experienced the terrible rain of death and destruction its bombs have caused. These planes come swiftly, strongly speaking as the voice of the Government of Vietnam proclaiming its determination to eliminate the Viet Cong threat to peace. Your area will be struck repeatedly, but you will not know when or where. The planes fly too high to be heard or seen. They will rain death upon you again without warning. Leave this place to save your lives. Use this leaflet of the Government of Vietnam National Safe Conduct Pass and rally to the nearest government outpost. The Republic of Vietnam soldiers and the people will happily welcome you.

The 6th PSYOP Battalion printed 10 million copies of leaflet 146-66-R on 15 January 1968. 2 million were delivered to Da Nang, 2 million to Bien Hoa, 1 million to Nha Trang, 2 million to Can Tho, 2 million to Pleiku, and 1 million to Saigon.

An old document from the 7th PSYOP Group says in part:

Originally this series (146 and 147) was started by the 7th Group element on temporary duty in Vietnam. The leaflet was made by the 6th Battalion before the arrival of the 4th PSYOP Group and the implementation of the practice of identifying leaflets with a Group or Battalion number. Examples are 146-66-R and 147-66-R. The leaflets were prepared prior to 15 October 1965 when USABVAPAC became 7th PSYOP Group. Suffix “R” indicates a remake of the original leaflet. The number 66 indicates the year 1966. The 7th PSYOP Group equipment and most personnel in Vietnam were absorbed by the 6th PSYOP Battalion upon its assignment to Vietnam. The Vietnam Detachment, 7th PSYOP Group, remained a separate element from the 6th PSYOP Battalion.

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Leaflet "147-66-R"

The final leaflet we will discuss is 147-66-R, it was also printed in 1966 and is a reprint of an earlier leaflet. Like leaflet 146-66-R it appears in two sizes, 3 x 6 inches and 4 x 6 inches. The front of the leaflet has a photo depicting the devastation of  multiple bombs exploding. the text on the front of the leaflet warns:

DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THIS EXHIBITION RETURNS

The back of the leaflet is all text with the exception of a small picture depicting the back of the 7-flag Thieu signature leaflet. The text on the back is:

You have been warned before, these aircraft will come back to give quick death, you all do not have much time to make another choice.

Follow the example of 70,000 citizens that have used the Safe Conduct Pass and returned to a better  life full of peace; or stay here for death, heartbreak, and sudden danger.

Those people who stay will never know when the bombs will fall. Be smart, don't delay again. Use the Safe Conduct Pass of the Republic like the one printed on this leaflet, and quickly return to the just cause.

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The Safe Conduct Pass Vignette Reappears

In 2010, to mark the 35th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, the tiny island nation of Niue used the image of the Vietnam National Safe Conduct Pass on a two dollar denomination one-ounce silver coin. 5,000 of the coins were minted and depict the raised images of the soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam and People’s Army of Vietnam. To make the coin more noticeable, the flag of the Republic appears in full color. The coins were sold for $140 (New Zealand), about $98 U.S.

We have illustrated a very small percentage of the leaflets that use the flag safe conduct pass as part of their propaganda message. The author is always interested in hearing about others that were brought back from Vietnam. Interested readers are encouraged to write to him at sgmbert@hotmail.com.