SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

Note: The book “SOUND TARGETS,” Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, 2009, used portions of this article and quoted the author and Ed Rouse the webmaster. This article has been translated into French and reprinted with the author’s permission by the Association of Collectors of the American-Vietnamese Conflict. The website “MILITARY HISTORY NOW” sampled this article for a story called “The Strange case of Ghost Tape No. 10.”  In 2015, Perception Pictures based in Brisbane, Australia, produced a short film set during the Vietnam War that dramatizes Operation Wandering Soul,  I was appointed the military and PSYOP advisor on the project. In November 2015, I was interviewed by the radio podcast "Here Be Monsters" about the Wandering Soul operation. In May 2016, I was contacted as a reference source by a producer preparing TV documentaries entitled "Ancient Assassins" for the Discovery Channel’s ‘American Heroes’ (previously “Military”) channel. In December 2016, “Wandering Soul” was rewritten in Australia as a full-length motion picture. In June 2017, I was interviewed as a reference source for the BBC World Service radio show called "Witness" about the Wandering Soul Campaign. In July 2017, I was interviewed by the BBC World Broadcast show  "History Hour" about both the Wandering Soul and historical psychological operations. The Weekly Pegasus, the newsletter of professional readings of the U.S. Air Force Military Information Support Operations Working Group recommended this article in their 28 October 2017 issue. Parts of this article were used in the non-fiction / memoir book titled SKUNK ALPHA, the saga of Swift Boat PCF-79 during the Vietnam War. The website “Letters to Cicero” used stories, poems, anecdotes, photographs, and newspaper articles from this article in a series titled “Letter to Tacitus” that discusses the treatment of wartime dead. In October 2020, the producer of WNYC's Radiolab interviewed me regarding the strange and surprising stories of cassette and reel-to-reel tapes used in the Wandering Soul campaign. The same month the Norwegian blog, "The Grim Reaper" requested the use of images and text from this article that they called "Operasjon Wandering Soul" to be used in a blog called "The Evil of War" about "eerie" events during wartime. In 2021 I received a thanks for my help to a young student who did a short film on this operation. Sean David Christensen sent the address: In October 2021, I received a copy of the book Black Entry from Regis P. Sheehan. He used this article for a chapter titled "Wandering Souls." In May 2022, Six West Media working on a new series for the History Channel currently entitled Mysteries of War asked if I would be willing to share the photographs seen in this article for a production on the Wondering Soul? I gave permission. In January 2023, I was contacted by 72 FILMS that was producing a 6-part documentary series on the Vietnam War. They read this article and later heard my interview on Radiolab’s podcast. They asked for my help.

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PSYOP soldier with backpack loudspeaker

One of the more interesting superstitions of Vietnam is the belief in the wandering soul. It is the Vietnamese belief that the dead must be buried in their homeland, or their soul will wander aimlessly in pain and suffering. Vietnamese feel that if a person is improperly buried, then their soul wanders constantly. They can sometimes be contacted on the anniversary of their death and near where they died. Vietnamese honor these dead souls on a holiday when they return to the site where they passed away.

This sort of belief is not unique to the Vietnamese. I spoke to a South African soldier fighting the Marxist guerrillas of the Southwest Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) at the same time and he told me:

When I was in the army in South West Africa and Angola in the 1970's the air force used to drop leaflets on the guerrillas that said, “You will be killed and a hyena will eat your bones.” It was culturally upsetting to the Ovambos who made up most of the SWAPO ranks. They believe if their bones are buried by the family they will become honored ancestors, but to have their bones eaten by a hyena meant they would go to their version of hell.

Tradition has it that the young Buddhist boy called Kien Muc Lien in Vietnamese was born in India. His name was Maudgalyayana (in Sanskrit language) and he was one of the closest ten disciples of Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama). He is famous in the Buddhist monasteries in Vietnam and other countries where people study Buddhism. He reached enlightenment at an early age. His mother was not so lucky. She was evil, and upon her death, she was sentenced to spend eternity being tormented by demons and ghosts and in constant pain from hunger. Kien Muc Lien magically sent food to his mother. The demons were enraged and turned it into flames before she could eat. The son then asked Buddha to help him care for his mother. Buddha told him to hold a special ceremony. The boy held the ceremony, called "Vu Lan" (Wandering Soul) to pray for his mother’s soul; and ask that her sins be pardoned. His wishes were granted.

Vu Lan Day is absolution of the soul. This is especially true in the case of parents. It allows their wandering souls to return home safely. The Vietnamese celebrate this holiday with many ceremonies including the floating of lights down the rivers at night to guide the lost souls to Nirvana.

It is held on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month every year at the Hoi An pagodas. The holiday is so popular than many tourists visit Vietnam during this time of the year to see the ceremonies. They set aside a day for the wandering souls and offer food for deceased relatives whom they believe might wander into the homes of their offspring.

Ann Crawford says in Customs and Culture of Vietnam, Charles E. Tuttle, Rutland, Vt., 1966: "Wandering Souls' Day is the second largest festival of the year. (Tet is the first.) Though it falls on the 15th day of the seventh month, it may be celebrated at any convenient time during the latter half of the month. It is not just a Buddhist holiday but also celebrated by all Vietnamese who believe in the existence of God, good and evil. They believe that sinful souls can be absolved of their punishment and delivered from hell through prayers said by the living on the first and 15th of every month. Wandering Soul's Day, however, is believed to be the best time for priests and relatives to secure general amnesty for all souls. On this day, the gates of hell are said to open at sunset and the souls fly out unclothed and hungry. Thus plenty of food is left at family altars."

The United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam issued a Fact Sheet 7 entitled Vietnamese Beliefs in Spirits and Trees dated 1 December 1969. It seems very similar to the Crawford writings above. It says about Trung Nguyen (Wandering Souls’ Day):

The festival is celebrated throughout the country, in Buddhist Pagodas, homes, businesses, factories, government offices, and Armed Forces units. Many Vietnamese believe that every person has two souls; one is spiritual (Hon), and the other material (Via). When a person dies, his soul is taken to a tribunal in hell and judged by ten justices. When punishment is rendered, the soul is sent to heaven or hell, as a reward or punishment for the persons conduct on earth. On Trung Nguyen the gates of hell are opened and the errant spirits return to earth where they wander aimlessly in the hope of finding a cult being offered to them. They cause misfortune if they remain unsatisfied, so the object of the Trung Nguyen is to provide ritual offerings for the errant spirits to propitiate them and grant them rest in death.

To appease the errant spirits a family heaps offerings on the alter dedicated to the Spirit of the Soil, which stands before the house. The head of the household begs the permission of the spirit to make ritual offerings to the errant spirits. A mat is then placed upon the ground and offerings of rice, fruit and rice alcohol are put on it. The errant spirits are summoned to partake of the offerings by striking a gong or two pieces of wood. Members of the family hold burning joss as the kowtow, after which they burn votive papers on the altar. This ritual is performed outside the house because of fear that, given the opportunity to enter, the errant spirits might install themselves on the altar of the ancestors.

The day is so important to the Vietnamese that American propagandists often mention it in their leaflets and radio broadcasts. For instance, leaflet 23 dropped over North Vietnam says in part:

Faithful to the ancestral traditions, the people of South Vietnam are praying for the dead on the “Day or Pardon for the Dead.”

As we sadly turn our thoughts toward the withering North, no sticks were burned on Vu Lan Day and no comfort was given to the wandering souls.

How many wandering souls need our prayers and your prayers on this day of “Pardon for the Dead?”

Comrades, demand that the Communist party stop its war of aggression in the south so that no more innocent souls have to join the already great number on innocent souls now wandering in this war-torn country of the South.

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Death Certificate for a North Vietnamese Soldier

A death certificate for a NVA soldier who died at the age of 19 having joined the Army two years earlier. He had obtained the rank of Squad Leader. There is no information on where or how he died. The certificate simply says, “Died in the Southern front.”

This belief in the Wandering Soul is a strong one and even today, we find news stories about it. The following was written by Mark McDonald and was published by the Mercury News Vietnam Bureau under the title of "Remains of the War" in 2000.

The death certificate has been typed onto thin brown paper, with thick carbon-paper keystrokes. The document is creased and smudged from three decades of folding and weeping, but this much remains clear: Le Duy Hien, age 26, was killed on May 5, 1968. Hien is one of some 300,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers still missing in action from what is known here as the American War.

In marked contrast to the U.S. effort, the search for Vietnamese MIAs has largely been left to the families of the missing. Even now, 25 years after the end of the war, their relatives can be seen all over Vietnam, mostly on weekends, trudging forlornly through the sprawling military cemeteries reserved for the liet si -- the martyred. They go from headstone to headstone, pausing briefly at each one, looking for the name of a lost son, a dead husband, a missing brother.

‘Strangers have buried you in careless haste, no loved ones near, no friend, no proper rites . . . and under the wan moon, no kindly smoke of incense wreathes for you,’ the Vietnamese poet Nguyen Du wrote in his elegy, ‘A Call to Wandering Souls.’

To reach out to Le Duy Hien's wandering soul, the family holds a somber memorial ceremony every May 5 -- the date on his official death certificate. However, the family has been unable to follow the Vietnamese custom of digging up his bones after three years for cleaning and re-burial, and it causes Hien's mother no small amount of grief that her son's soul is still at large.

‘She believes Hien is not at rest,'' says Le The Luan, Hien's younger brother, who is now 54. ``Like all Vietnamese families, she wants to have us find his remains so he can be stable and at peace.’

The biggest problem for Hien's family is right there on his faded death certificate: On the dotted line that states where the young North Vietnamese sergeant went down, it only says, `’On a battlefield in the south.’

Sadly, Hien's family has no clues to his possible whereabouts. They know he headed off down the Ho Chi Minh Trail after being drafted, but he wrote the family just one letter, a letter that gave no details about his unit, its location or ultimate destination.

Therefore, Le Duy Hien's body remains undiscovered -- and his soul remains at large. His mother receives a small monthly payment from the government because, under Vietnamese law, all MIAs from the American War are now considered dead. The money, however, barely covers the cost of the incense she burns for him every day.

A Vietnamese told me a story that really makes clear the respect that the Vietnamese have for the dead. He said:

Near my office there was a restaurant where I normally had my lunch. I noticed that there were three small tombs in the garden without the names of the dead but carefully taken care with fresh flowers. I asked the owner who they were. She said that they were three young NVA soldiers who died while retreating during the Tet Offensive. One morning she opened her door and saw the three dead soldiers. When she complained that the bodies could cause disease for people, an ARVN officer told her to temporarily bury the dead soldiers in her garden. He said, “Later, after everything is quiet, we will send someone to take care of the bodies.” The woman buried the three men in her garden. She said one night, she dreamed that three young boys visited her and said thanks. They were in civilian clothes but had Northern accents, so she guessed they were the dead soldiers. She said that somehow after she buried the three soldiers, her business prospered despite the war. She strongly believed that it was the spirit of dead soldiers helping her. In 1975, some officials of the new Communist regime came and asked her to let them remove the remains to a military cemetery, but she refused and said that there were no dead soldiers in her garden, only three relatives that died during the war. Without evidence of the dead soldiers, the local authorities gave up. She said since their parents never knew where and how their children died she considered the three soldiers as her sons.

The Vietnamese are great poets and there are many poems that honor these wandering souls. One was written by Linh Duy Vo. It is entitled "The Wings of Freedom" and is dedicated to the South Vietnamese Freedom Fighters. Part of the poem is:

Four thousand years, countless perils
The blessed South Vietnam still exists
But your broken wings hurriedly bid farewell
You perished without whispers...
Gray clouds sadly enveloped your wandering soul
Dark oceans mourningly embraced your wings.…

An older and more traditional poem was written by Nguyen Du in the 19th Century. It is entitled “Calling the Wandering Souls.” Some of the poem is:

Year after year exposed to wind and rain,
on the cold ground they lie, sighing.
At dawn, when the cock crows, they flee,
only to grope their way again when night comes.

Of course the Communists retaliated and this anti-Government poem was published by the Da Nang City Propaganda Committee in 1967:

Oh fellow citizens, brothers and sisters dear!
Oh the whole mankind's Conscience!
Listen to the screams of thousands of slain people;
They won't survive; but they don't want to die!
Thousands of wandering souls fly in the entire space.
They bear their eternal implacable hatred!

The concept of wandering souls can also be found in their modern literature. One of the most popular books in postwar Vietnam was written by Bao Ninh, a former North Vietnamese soldier. The Sorrow of War was published by the Writers Association Publishing House in Hanoi in 1991. The author tells of an area called the jungle of screaming souls where the North Vietnamese 27th Battalion was wiped out except for ten survivors by American and South Vietnamese troops. He says:

From then on it was called the jungle of screaming souls. Just hearing the name whispered was enough to send chills down the spine. Perhaps the screaming souls gathered together on special festival days as members of the Lost Battalion, lining up in the little diamond-shaped clearing, checking their ranks and numbers. The sobbing whispers were heard deep in the jungle at night, the howls carried on the wind. Perhaps they really were the voices of the wandering souls of dead soldiers.

During the American involvement in Vietnam, an attempt was made to use this belief against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. Since it was clear that they would die far from home, their bodies probably never found or never properly buried, it was certain that they would become a wandering soul after death.

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Editing the recording

The operation was code-named "Wandering Soul." Engineers spent weeks recording eerie sounds. They were similar to the sounds employed during a scary radio show or movie. Very creepy and designed to send shivers down the back. These cries and wails were intended to represent souls of the enemy dead who had failed to find the peace of a proper burial. The wailing soul cannot be put to rest until this proper burial takes place. The purpose of these sounds was to panic and disrupt the enemy and cause him to flee his position. Helicopters were used to broadcast Vietnamese voices pretending to be from beyond the grave. They called on their "descendants" in the Vietcong to defect, to cease fighting. This campaign played the sounds and messages all night in order to spook the superstitious enemy. Despite eventually realizing that they were hearing a recording beamed from a helicopter, the enemy gunners could not help but fear that their souls would some day end up moaning and wailing in a similar fashion after death.

Both the 6th PSYOP Battalion of the United States Army and some units of the United States Navy broadcast the messages.

In general, the messages were as follows:

Girl's voice:

Daddy, daddy, come home with me, come home. Daddy! Daddy!

Man's voice:

Ha! (his daughter's name). Who is that? Who is calling me? Oh, my daughter? My wife? Daddy is back home with you, my daughter! I am back home with you, my wife. But my body is gone. I am dead, my family.

I…..Tragic, how tragic.

My friends, I come back to let you know that I am dead! I am dead! It's Hell, Hell! It is a senseless death! How senseless! Senseless! But when I realized the truth, it was too late. Too late. Friends, while you are still alive, there is still a chance you will be reunited with your love ones. Do you hear what I say? Go home! Go home, my friends! Hurry! Hurry! If not, you will end up like me. Go home my friends before it is too late. Go home! Go home my friends!

In the article, First Lieutenant Jerry Valentine of the 5th Air Commando Squadron flying an AC-47 “Gooney Bird” from Binh Thuy Air Base says in part:

The tapes are best. We’ve got one we call the Wandering Soul” tape. It lasts about four minutes. It starts with Buddhist funeral music, then this spooky wailing voice. Then a little child is crying, the child is crying for its father. Then a Vietnamese woman comes on and tells how her husband was killed fighting for the Viet Cong.

And all the time, this eerie background voice, wailing about death. It’s a real beautyguaranteed to raise ground fire anywhere. It even sends chills down my spine. It’s so effective that even the government restricts use of it – they only let us use it on extreme occasions.

Vietnam Veteran Chad Spawr, a former PSYOP Team Leader of the 6th PSYOP Battalion in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969 told me about his experience playing the tape:

There was a tape that we used; it was an audio tape, called “Wandering Soul” that played on some of the cultural aspects of the Vietnamese. One of the important tenants of Buddhism is that when a person dies within a very short period of time they have to be buried in consecrated soil in a family plot…Very haunting, very eerie, it was done with voice and echo chamber. It was very effective…I’d go out on a night ambush patrol with an American infantry unit with the 1st Cavalry and set up a small speaker in a tree and direct that toward an area where we suspected enemy troops were and I’d play that tape for a couple of hours. There were a couple of occasions when I did that where we’d get a prisoner later and the interrogation would indicate that they’d heard the tape and they were frightened by it, so I know that it had an effect, I know that it had an effect.

One evening after a full day in the villages, my interpreter and I left the compound about 0100, and moved to a small grove of palm trees about 300 meters north of the compound. My interpreter climbed a tree, and hung a speaker from a large palm frond, with the speaker pointed into the general area north of the compound toward the villages. We connected the speaker to a small amplifier and tape player, and began playing "Wandering Soul." At first, there was no reaction to the broadcast, but then we began taking some random sniper fire from one of the villages.

We finished the broadcast, and the interpreter did his own improvisation of the tape, this time speaking to the "people" as if he was a "Wandering Soul." He pretty much made it up as he went, and after a few minutes, we again began to receive random sniper fire. This broadcast lasted about 15 minutes after the tape had finished, after which we retrieved the speaker, and returned to the MACV compound.

We repeated this nightly broadcast for the next three or four nights, but we varied the location of the broadcast in case the local Viet Cong had staked out our previous broadcast locations. We also varied the broadcast volume so it would sound closer on one night, but farther away the next night. Aiming the speaker had a similar effect. We did, however, receive random incoming but inaccurate fire as a result of most of the broadcasts. Since it was only my interpreter and me, we could move quickly and quietly, more so than if we took along a squad of the local troops, who weren't very noise disciplined.

On either the fourth or fifth morning, at first light, we left with a small patrol to enter the village where the sniper fire had originated. We found several shell casings (7.62 x 39mm) from an AK-47 or SKS rifle probably hidden in some ground litter, but nobody knew who fired it or where the rifle was hidden. My interpreter then told a few people that the "lost spirits" were sure to return if the shooter and/or the weapon were not surrendered to our patrol. We continued searching the few houses in the village, and as we were preparing to leave, an elderly lady told my interpreter where to find the rifle. It was hidden under a small trough in a pig sty. We dug out a very nice Chinese Communist SKS with bayonet, a few rounds still in the internal magazine, with a rare sling attached. My interpreter then told her that the spirits might return, but they would be of no danger to her or her family members.

Interestingly, as we packed up to leave the local Vietnamese District Chief came to see us off, and told us he was glad we were leaving. When I asked him "why," and he replied that the "Wandering Soul" broadcast not only unnerved his own men, but left his wife and children upset, even though he explained that it was just a tape designed to discourage VC morale and perhaps enhance decisions to defect or stop fighting. They could not reconcile the concept of the broadcast voices and a taped recording. They couldn't understand the technical side, and being very superstitious to begin with, they believed the "message" of the tape.

In 2020, Chad spoke more about the Wandering Soul mission in Perspectives, the Journal of the Psychological Operations Association. He added a bit more that he remembered in the years since he spoke to me:

We began hearing about the broadcast area being haunted by spirits of the dead. Local farmers were reluctant to work the fields near where the broadcasts had originated.

Unfortunately, other audiences, including‚ "friendly" villagers and some RF/PF militia soldiers, had heard the broadcast, and were reluctant to engage the enemy. They believed the actual spirits were wandering lost and were in great anguish and pain. This was not an intended effect.

About two weeks later, we repeated the broadcasts from yet a third location, but this time the local VC seemed ready to respond. We had no sooner begun broadcasting than sniper fire was received, and it was quite accurate. The tree line we were using was quickly peppered with incoming fire, including at least one RPG round. We ended the broadcast, reported the incoming fire incident, and returned to our patrol base.

A joint US-RF/PF sweep of the village the next day netted a number of spent AK rounds, one damaged SKS rifle, and some old French tactical web gear. Our RF/PF partners reported that there was fear in the village about the ghosts in the nearby rice paddies and tree lines, but that the local VC cadres were not fooled and opened fire to demonstrate that they could "drive off the spirits."¯ Not sure if the spirits were driven off, but I was! Spirits may not be real, but incoming 7.62x39 and RPG rounds are definitely real.

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A U.S PSYOP soldier stands watch as an ARVN soldier broadcasts a surrender appeal.

In July 2017, Alex Last interviewed Rick Hoffman, a member of the 6th PSYOP Battalion Vietnam for the BBC radio show WITNESS. When asked what the rest of the Army thought of about the Wandering Soul and PSYOP in general, Rick said:

The rest of the Army looked at us with skepticism. They did not understand what we were doing. They saw us as some kind of magic show. To my knowledge the first time the Wandering Soul tape was ever used was on a Swift Boat down in the Delta. They drifted down into a VC concentration and launched the tape and my understanding is that they got 13 defections afterwards. Whether you were doing the ghost tape or dropping leaflets out of a C-47, you got shot at a lot.

Sometimes the tapes worked on American soldiers too. One Vietnam veteran told me:

Our job was to hide, watch and report mostly. We tried not to make any noise. However, we were on one Operation that I remember hearing the most godawful moaning and wailing and clashing cymbals coming from loudspeakers on an aircraft circling us. A great cacophony of noise alien to the Western ear but powerfully evocative to the superstitious farm boys turned Viet Cong guerrillas. It was Buddhist funeral sounds I was told later. It kept me awake and scared the hell out of me.

Members of the 5th Air Commando Squadron conduct a strategy
session prior to dropping leaflets over South Vietnam in 1968.

Bob Cutts mentioned the tape in Stars and Stripes of April 28, 1968:

First Lieutenant Valentine was the "old man" of the 5th Air Commando Squadron C Flight, the Binh Thuy AB unit that flies all PSYWAR missions over the Mekong Delta, in planes armed only with 10.000-volt speakers and tape recorders. He said:

We are always getting scrambled for stuff like that. We never know where it will be, sometimes we just go out at night and harass a VC unit. We just fly over them all night, keeping them awake and letting them know we know where they are. Night missions are the most frightening but the most interesting. In the daytime you cannot see them shooting at you. But at night, you see all these big yellow balls coming straight up at you. The tapes are best. We have got one we call the "Wandering Soul" tape. It lasts about four minutes. It starts with Buddhist funeral music, then this spooky, wailing voice. Then a little child is crying, then the child is crying for its father. Then a Vietnamese woman comes on and tells how her husband was killed fighting for the VC. And all the time, this eerie background voice, wailing about death. It is a real beauty, guaranteed to raise ground fire anywhere. It even sends chills down my spine. It's so effective that even the government restricts use of it, they only let us use it in extreme occasions.

Another official tape coded number 6 is entitled “Come home to your family that fears you will die.” The message is 180 second long. The first 20 seconds is the sound of women and children crying. Then two announcers speak:

Oh, why is there such mournful crying?

These are the sounds of sorrow coming from the homes you have left. The heart-broken cry of a young wife who has lost her husband. The sad cry of a mother whose son will not return. The pitiful cry of a little child whose father has been killed, cruelly robbed of life in the so-called “war of liberation,” the very war in which you now participate.

It is also the sad, sad cry of families whose sons have died so senselessly for Communism.

There is then 20 seconds of children playing and laughing.

Oh, why didn’t you return to your family? Your children are waiting for you. Listen! There little voices ask for you.

Where is daddy? Where is daddy?

How can you be indifferent to those young children? They no not where you are or what you are doing.

Make your decision now!

Why don’t you return at once to rejoin your family? They are waiting for you. Oh, the child’s laugh is such a dear sweet sound. But the child’s cry is such a sad and mournful sound.

The tape ends with 20 second of crying sounds.

One wartime news story tells of the operation at Fire Support Base (FSB) Chamberlain. It was published in Tropic Lightning News, 23 February 1970.

If you were a Wolfhound of the First Battalion, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division, and were at Fire Support Base Chamberlain on the night of February 10 you might have sworn the place was being haunted by poltergeists, ghosts that is.

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Loudspeaker Team

The moans, groans and weird sounds began at eight that night, a likely time for the cloudlike forms to reveal themselves. Of course, ghosts are nonexistent, or are they? In this case the ghosts and weird sounds were furnished by the Sixth PSYOP Team and the S-5 Section of the 1/27th Wolfhounds who were conducting a night mission at Chamberlain. With the help of loud speakers and a tape of ‘The Wandering Soul,’ a mythical tale of a Viet Cong gone to Buddha, the mission was a success.

"The Wandering Soul is a tape about the soul of a dead Viet Cong. It describes the wandering of this soul about the countryside. The dead VC tells his comrades to look at what has happened to his soul and that he will never be at rest, always wandering,’ said Captain William Goodman of Philadelphia, the battalion S-5. ‘Buddhists believe very strongly that if they aren’t properly buried and properly mourned, their soul will wander through eternity,’ added First Lieutenant Peter Boni of Boston, the officer in charge of the Sixth PSYOP Team. ‘We play upon the psychological superstitions and fears of the enemy. The method is very effective," Boni said.

"The tape makes the friendly villagers return to their homes, and any suspecting persons who remain are questioned,’ Goodman said. A quick-reaction sweep following the tape by the l/27th Recon Platoon netted three detainees, one of whom was jailed. ‘It was the first time this type of tape has been used in the Third Brigade and reviewing the results we plan to use this method again," Boni said.

John Pilger made many short films in Vietnam. In 1970, his movie The Quiet Mutiny mentioned the Wandering Soul Campaign. The narrator says in part:

The Green Machine plays games like the Wandering Soul. The Wandering Soul is a tape that is used by the operating battalions and separate brigades to broadcast a rallying appeal to the Viet Cong. The tape itself is a weird one, with a funeral dirge in the background and a father talking to his family, saying that he has died on the battlefield and he is trying to rally his comrades to return to the just cause. The Vietnamese people worship the souls of their ancestors and the Wandering Soul message is very different, conceived in an echo chamber by the U.S. Army and broadcast by helicopter over the jungle where the gooks are supposed to be hiding. We drop about 800,000 leaflets a day over the jungle. We tell them "what's happening to them in their battles‚" ¦We tell them also that you are going to be killed in the future and we ask them "why?" We tell them to desert their unit and how they will be treated once they rally. How they will be well-treated. The object of dispersing our leaflets by helicopter is they will take a bunch and throw them out by hand most of the time. Occasionally wishing to get a more direct result they will take a whole carton and drop it out trying to hit someone.

Tiger Roar Recordings

Sometimes the Wandering Soul tape was used in conjunction with other sounds to multiply the fear in the heart of the enemy. A former member of the 6th PSYOP Battalion told me, "You know what we did on 'Nui Ba Den Mountain' in 1970? The 6th PSYOP got an Air Force pilot to fly to Bangkok, to get an actual recording of a tiger from their zoo. We had a Chieu Hoi (a rallier to the national government from enemy ranks) come down the mountain and tell of a tiger that was attacking the Viet Cong for the past few weeks. So, we mixed the tiger roar onto a tape of 69-T, 'the wandering soul', and a 2-man team got up on the mountain, played the tape and 150 Viet Cong came off that mountain.

Years later a Vietnam veteran told me:

Tigers used to be found within 20 miles of Danang and were a problem when I was there in 1965-1966. We captured a Viet Cong who was leaving hill 1025 because of tiger predation. I think at that time there were about 125 tigers left in Vietnam.

I have tape 69. I cannot swear this is the tape they mention above, but perhaps the tape simply indicated the addition of the tiger's roar. It would fit where it mentions the "dangers of your present life."¯ A tiger's roar right there might be meaningful. The tape is 54 seconds long with a male speaker. It starts and ends with a recording of Ho Chi Minh's voice:

The war may still last five, ten, twenty years or longer.

The narrator then adds:

Can you survive under the hardships and dangers of your present life? Can you ever find peace again? Yes, you can, by crossing to the protection of the Government of Viet Nam's Chieu Hoi program where you will receive a warm welcome, good treatment, and a chance to build a new life. Remember, Ho Chi Minh himself said the war may still last five, ten, twenty years or longer.

Author's note: According to military records, there were 4 known deaths caused by tigers in Vietnam, two from the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands and two members of the U.S. Marine Corps. There were many close calls, where Americans were in the jaws of a tiger before the big cat was shot and killed. Tigers are such an interesting subject that they almost deserve a short article of their own. An American PSYOP soldier in Laos told me that the Laotian Army had a tape they used when the Pathet Lao were on the run. They would follow the retreating force and play the tiger roars all night keeping the enemy from getting any sleep and at a high state of nervousness.

What, no Green Beret?

Another soldier told me about a cub his Special Forces unit found in 1968 and raised. The tiger became a pet and drank beer along with the soldiers. They often walked him around their compound on a leash. He was sometimes used for interrogation when a Viet Cong prisoner was threatened to be fed to the tiger and he would be brought right next to the prisoner's face and pinched in such a way to make him roar. The Special Forces intelligence was extremely accurate and treasured at Langley! Because the tiger could not be set loose being used to humans and easy prey, they eventually had the CIA fly him to a zoo in Australia where he lived a happy life and sired many cubs until his death in 1985.

Before we leave the subject of tigers, I should mention Richard L. Holm who wrote Recollections of a Case Officer in Laos, 1962-1964: No Drums, No Bugles. He mentions an operation regarding tiger urine:

The Viet Cong sometimes used sniffer dogs, which caused lots of problems. One of the reports that we forwarded mentioned that the presence of tigers in each area appeared to make a difference. The VC's dogs seemed to be less effective if they smelled tiger excrement or urine. We had no way of knowing if this was true. At Headquarters, an office in the Directorate of Science and Technology decided to try to produce a countermeasure. Years later, when I was about to retire, I learned that the office had analyzed samples of tiger urine and excrement from the National Zoo and manufactured a substance that resembled and smelled like what the tigers produced. But it did not fool the dogs in the Panhandle of Laos.

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Wandering Soul Tape

Captain Albert Yanus of the 5th Special Operations Squadron played the Wandering Soul tape from a HC-47d flying out of Bien Hoa AFB. The 5th SOS utilized HC-47d’s, O-2’s, and U-10's at Ben Thuy for leaflet and speaker missions. Their official motto was “The truth shall make them free,” and their unofficial motto was “Better to bend the mind than destroy the body.”

He sent me a picture of the tape and the letter of instruction that accompanied it. Notice that the label on the tape box says “Wandering Soul! Play only at night.”

The instruction sheet is from the II Field Force Vietnam, 6th Psychological Operations Battalion, dated 24 June 1968. The tape number is 059-6T with the targets the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. The Southern dialect text on this 3-inch tape is:

Funeral Music - crying:

Children: Daddy, Daddy, come home to us.

Father: Oh my children! Oh my wife! My dear children! Here I am. I come back to you! Oh my darling. Oh my darling, here I am coming back to you. But I’m dead! What a pity. I have come back to you to let you know that I am dead. I have died needlessly. But it was too late, when I finally realized that I was wrong to join the Viet Cong.

Friends…you are still alive. You still have a chance to see your loved ones. Rally now! Do not hesitate any longer. You still have time to rally! Rally now to save yourselves, my friends. If not, you won’t be able to escape from death. You will be killed like I was. Rally now. Rally! Rally immediately before it is too late.

The British Broadcasting Corporation produced a show called Witness, with the title “US Psychological Warfare in Vietnam.” In it, a former Captain of the North Vietnamese Army talked about hearing the tape on the battlefield:

…We had weaknesses, we missed our homes. We are human like you…But worst of all, each night the Americans sent over helicopters broadcasting recorded tape of babies crying and women’s voice pleading in Vietnamese for us to come home, or a child’s voice saying “Mommy is crying, she can’t sleep; she loves you and misses you.” It went on like that all night. Can you image what it is like for a soldier in a tunnel that has been away from his family for years? At night, hearing those voices, it certainly affected the spirits of our fighters. Those recorded voices made us think of what we missed, but afterwards we were more determined to fight

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LTC Raymond Deitch, 6th PSYOP Battalion Commander

Raymond Deitch, former commander of the U.S. Army 6th PSYOP Battalion was interviewed on the History Channel Secrets of War series, episode 51, Psychological Warfare. Talking about Operation Wandering Soul he said:

It exploited the belief among many of the Vietnamese people that once a person is dead the remains must be placed in an ancestral burial ground or that person will forever wander aimlessly in space forever.

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South Vietnamese Nationals make a recording

A male voice was recorded through an echo chamber that represented the soul of the dead soldier. In some cases, the recording was actually too persuasive for its own good. The tape was so effective that we were instructed not to play it within earshot of the South Vietnamese forces, because they were as susceptible as the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army.

It was not only the Vietnamese that were superstitious. Kenneth Conboy says in Shadow War – The CIAs Secret War in Laos about an operation to convince the Pathet Lao that one of their dead generals was talking to them:

Ghost music and recordings allegedly in the general’s voice were played from airborne loudspeakers; on one of these flights, the broadcasting aircraft passed too close to a Royal Laos Army garrison, causing the spooked Royalist troops to desert en masse.

Other American troops have mentioned the superstition of the local people:

The Cambodians have a Buddha cloth. It was about a 10 x 10-inches white piece of cloth. It had Buddha symbols and marks all over it. It protects one in battle. In one case a soldier wadded it up and strongly squeezed it in the palms of both hands. He broke out in a sweat. He said the cloth was first class and very powerful.

The Hmong troops have a kind of belt they tie around their waist. It is magic. No harm can come to you while you wear it. The Hmongs also have ceremonies. They will ask a soldier friend of the Hmong to take off his shirt and using a special magic knife make a cut on each pectoral muscle, each shoulder, and each shoulder blade, just enough to draw blood. Then they take ointment from a small tin and spread the ointment into each cut. As they do this they blow into the cuts and chant prayers. The purpose was that no harmful metal could enter the soldier's body.

The PSYOP-POLWAR Newsletter of 20 November 1969 mentioned the Wandering Soul campaign briefly:

The First Infantry's Divisions G-5 staff used 'Wandering Soul' broadcasts of eerie sounds intended to represent the souls of enemy dead who have not found peace (i.e. by being buried in the village family plot). Communist troops, of course, knew perfectly well that the sounds were coming from a tape recorder on an enemy helicopter, but the idea was that the sounds would at least get a Communist soldier to think about where his soul would rest in the likely event of his being killed far from home.

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Huey Helicopter with mounted loudspeakers

Duane Yeager mentioned the operation is an article entitled "Winning Vietnamese minds was what the U.S. Army's 4th Psychological Operations Group was all about," in Vietnam Magazine, December 1990. He says:

As with the leaflet catalog, PSYOP units also produced and maintained a library of audiotape propaganda messages for support of tactical operations. As one Viet Cong commander complained, these audio messages were hard to ignore, for the sound even penetrated through the earth to VC hidden in underground tunnels. One of the most effective such tapes was 'The Wandering Soul,' an eerie tape, played mostly at night, that constantly reminded NVA soldiers of the hardships they were enduring, home, and the loved ones they had left behind.

The 29 October 1965 overseas edition of Time discusses the strange PSYOP campaign: 

Tucked away in their hammocks beneath the dripping rain-infested canopy, the Viet Cong guerrillas could hardly believe their ears. Out of the night sky came an ominous, warbling whine, like bagpipes punctuated with cymbals. It was Buddhist funeral music - a dissonant dirge cascading from the darkness. Then a snatch of dialogue between a mother and child: "Mother, where is daddy?" "Don't ask me questions. I am very worried about him." "But I miss Daddy very much. Why is he gone so long?" Then the music and voices faded slowly into the distance and the platoon settled back to a restless sleep. 

It was, of course, only one of many sights and sounds that the Viet Cong are greeted to every day, courtesy of JUSPAO - the Joint United States Public Affairs Office, which handles psychological warfare in South Viet Nam. Funeral dirges howl nightly over Viet Cong redoubts from the loudspeakers of JUSPAO planes, along with the tape-recorded cries of little children, and weird, electronic cacophonies intended to raise terrifying images of forest demons among the superstitious terrorists. During daylight hours, JUSPAO's eight aircraft dump tons of leaflets on the enemy - 3,500,000 a week, ranging from safe conduct passes to maps showing the best way to get out of Red territory. Says one of JUSPAO's "psywar" adepts; "We are the world's worst litterbugs."

Speaking of JUSPAO, their PSYOP Circular Number 7 dated 4 November 1968 mentions “Significant Dates” in Vietnam. It says in part:

Trung Nguyen (Wandering Souls) Day is the Vietnamese All Souls Day. According to Vietnamese beliefs, every human has two souls, one spiritual, the other material. When a man dies, his soul is judged by a tribunal. Once judgment is made, the soul goes to Heaven or Hell as reward or punishment for his conduct during his lifetime. On Trung Nguyen Day, sinful souls can be absolved from punishment or delivered from Hell through prayers for them by the living. On this day the gates of Hell open at sunset and the damned souls go out, naked and hungry. Those who have faithful descendants living on earth come back to their homes and villages. Offerings for them are placed on alters by their families. Those who have no relatives on earth or who are forsaken by the living wander, hungry and helpless, through the air on black clouds, on rivers, from tree to tree or in the villages begging. Offerings of food are on altars in the pagodas, the markets and other suitable places in the villages, towns and cities.

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Helicopter Tape Deck Playing a Propaganda message

The full message of one such tape is archived under audiotape 1965AU2346, “No Doze Chieu Hoi.” The pill of the over-the-counter alertness drug “No Doze” contains 200 milligrams of caffeine, so certainly the name of this tape is a gag implying that the tape would not allow any Viet Cong to doze while it was being played. The message is a bit different than that translated above:

Buddhist funeral music.

Child: Mother, where is daddy?

Mother: Do not ask me darling, I am very worried to death.

Child: But I miss Daddy. He is away so long a time. What kind of business does he do that keeps him from coming back to mother and to me? Do you miss him Mother?

Mother: God! Stop asking me darling.

Child: Do you really miss daddy? Tell me.

Mother: Yes…I miss daddy.

Child: You miss daddy. I miss daddy too. Why doesn’t he come back? He must not miss you and me. He surely left us Mother.

Mother: Do not say so. He is coming back.

Child: Do not lie Mother. How often have you told me he is coming back and he has not. Daddy lied too. He said he would be away for a couple of days and…

Mother: Leave me alone. Go play.

Child: No I won’t go play (crying). I won’t go play. Daddy…daddy…daddy…come back with me and mother. Daddy…daddy…

Strange and eerie noises.


Attention weary soldiers of North Vietnam. We know the hard times you face. Not enough food, not enough medicine. Your leaders have misled you. They are taking you down the road to sure death. Do not die far from home because of their lies. Return to the open arms of the Government of Vietnam. The choice is up to you. Death or the open arms of the Government of Vietnam. Death or Chieu Hoi!


This dirge and others like it came from the fertile imaginations of officers like Captain Blaine Revis, who served with Military Assistance and Guidance Group, Vietnam (MAAGV) from April 1963 to May 1964 and later served as Commander of the 29th PSYOP Detachment, a 27-member special unit attached to the 1st Air Cavalry Division in 1965. Revis told me:

One idea that I presented was to mount loudspeakers on some helicopters and to play tapes of the Vietnamese funerary dirges. (Really strange sounds but very effective in producing a mood of finality and defeat in the Viet Cong) The idea was represented in the movie “Apocalypse now,” but in the movie instead of the funeral dirge they played the “Ride of the Valkyries.” More identifiable to a western audience, I suppose. The dirge is played on a small instrument that looks and sounds like a miniature clarinet. I had noted that when a funeral procession went by and the dirge was played, even people who did not know the deceased became agitated and would sometimes cry openly. When I asked why, they would explain that soon it would be their turn even if they were young. I recommended the use of the dirge to General Kinnard of the 1st Air Cavalry Division along with the painting of the helicopters to look like the beast that carries people to heaven or Hell. I do not know if he acted on the recommendation.

A former US Army master sergeant who acted as a G2 (Intelligence NCOIC) during the war recalls:

It brings back a lot of memories. The tapes were also used in conjunction with, and to assist in the Phoenix Program. It led to some information for the Enemy Political Infrastructure Files (collateral and special intelligence).

Robert H. Stoner reports a Navy operation. He tells of Operation Sea Float/Solid Anchor. This was a joint US-Vietnamese attempt to inject an allied presence into An Xuyen Province, 175 miles southwest of Saigon. Stoner says:

This evening's adventure was to insert and extract a Beach Jumper Unit ‘Duffel Bag Team.’ (This team planted and monitored vibration-and body heat-activated sensors that helped track movements of the bad guys around our base). On the way out, we were to play some ‘Wandering Soul’ tapes the Psychological Warfare boys had dreamed up to terrorize the guerillas. The line was the guerillas would become so frightened, they'd come over to the government side."

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HAL-3 Seawolves

Aviation Electricians Mate Senior Chief (E8) Bill Rutledge took part in a Navy operation using Army helicopters temporarily surplus from the Army inventory. He says:

The only Navy Helicopter Gunships that ever flew combat missions were assigned to Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron Three (HAL-3)(the Seawolves), under the operational control of Commander, Task Force (CTF) 116, in Vietnam from 1966-1972. This unit was the most decorated naval aviation unit in history. Navy pilots and enlisted gunners flew heavily armed Army UH1B "Huey" Gunships at low level and in the night covering the Navy Seals, The Brown Water Riverine Forces, and any allied unit in contact with enemy Viet Cong and regular North Vietnamese Army forces. They supported the PBR (Patrol Boat, River) operations with fire support, recon, and medevac services. The unit was tasked with additional responsibilities, including assistance to the Vietnamese Navy units operating in the Mekong Delta.

The Saigon Brass came up with an added mission. We were already dropping Chieu Hoi passes, small Republic of Vietnam Flags and surrender pamphlets during our regular missions. In addition, we were now to place one large speaker in each back door of the Gunship to play a PSYOP Cassette repeating tape while flying over known enemy controlled areas. Invariably, playing of the tape to win the "hearts and minds" of the enemy forces would cause the enemy forces to fire on the helicopter. With the large speakers in the door, it was difficult for the door gunners to return fire. The Saigon-issued mission orders put the aircrews at great risk. We were not there to win hearts and minds. We were there to protect allied forces on the ground and to search for, and destroy any enemy we could find.

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Navy Helicopter Gunship

Knowing that every time we used the PSYOP tape we took fire, we installed smaller speakers and bigger door guns. The lead helicopter was armed with a 50 caliber machine gun and dual M60 7.62mm machine guns. The trailing helicopter had a door-mounted M134 6-Barrelled 7.62 minigun that fired up to 4000 rounds per minute and a M60 machine gun. In addition the helicopters were armed with an external rocket pod (seven 2.75 inch rockets) for the pilot and an external minigun for the co-pilot.

We then played the tape with the intention of taking fire. The gunners were at the ready. One gunship flew low and another gunship flew high, ready to roll in for the kill at the first sign of Viet Cong activity. Apparently, someone in Saigon found out what we were doing and told us to stop. We did not stop, but used the tape less often. Killing was our business and the PSYOP tapes helped make business damn good. We never saw the result of the PSYOP program but heard rumors of enemy forces occasionally defecting.

The U.S. Naval Forces Vietnam Monthly Historical Survey, June 1968 tells us more about their Psychological Operations:

Psychological and civic action operations continued to be actively pursued during the month. The Viet Gong recognizing the inroads being made by the naval forces continued to intensify their counter-attacks. Forty-two per cent of the broadcasting missions conducted drew hostile fire. The majority of the incidents occurred in the Delta. In one incident PBR and Navy Seawolves wounded 18 Viet Cong following an attack on a PBR patrol conducting a PSYOP speaker mission six miles east of Vinh Long. Captured Viet Cong prisoners and Hoi Chanhs frequently stated that in many units troop morale was low due to lack of food and the B-52 bombing raids. The intensification of the Chieu Hoi program was initiated to capitalize on the reported Viet Cong morale problems.

In the field of civic action and US/GVN image building continued with over 12,000 Vietnamese patients receiving treatment during MEDCAPS conducted by U.S. Navy and Vietnamese Navy personnel. In one MEDCAP operation, intelligence was received from villagers on the location of two arms caches and one Viet Cong defense platoon in the Binh Dai Secret Zone.

The U.S. Naval Forces Vietnam After-action Monthly Reports adds:

The Chieu Hoi rate for Naval forces dropped off drastically from the record high at 115 in May 1969 to six who rallied directly to Naval units and six who turned themselves in to other forces as a result of Navy loudspeaker broadcasts. Some of the themes of the PSYOP tapes played in June 1969 were: “Wandering Soul,” “Women and Children Crying,” “Family Separation,” and “VC Fighting a Hopeless War.”

In July 1969, a variety of themes were utilized on PSYOP loudspeaker operations conducted by Navy Task Force 115 Units including “Midway Conference,” “Reward’s Third Inducement,” “Wandering Soul,” and the soundtrack from the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.”

Mile Worthington was a door gunner in the Navy Seawolves. He told me a story about one of his missions that went bad.

We were tasked to do a PSYOP flyover in our gunship. I was pissed because I had to take off my door mounted mini-gun in order to accommodate the 6 loud speakers. This Operation was in conjunction with the Army. We took off and headed for “Snoopy's Beak” with a box of Chu Hoi pamphlets and these speakers and the Army PSYOP trooper and tapes. We got over the place he wanted and started throwing the pamphlets and as soon as he turned on the speakers the whole damn world lit us up. I had been in some fierce fire fights but this got my attention. I pushed the Army guy back, grabbed my free M-60 with my left hand as I was cutting the speakers away with my right hand. Needless to say I pissed this guy off as I kicked the speakers loose and leaned out and returned fire. I could hear him yelling but my instincts as a gunner took over. Then our pilot turned right back into the fight and shot all 14 darts of high explosive and fleschetts. Needless to say, I wanted to fly no more PSYOP missions.

Bill Ogle, a Seawolf helicopter pilot who flew a number of PSYOP missions in 1968-69 recalled playing what he called "The Howling Ghost" tape many times. He said that "On about half the missions a PSYOP officer would fly with us and attempt to direct the mission. We dropped leaflets, magazines, and played the tape. Without exception we drew fire each mission. This was one of the primary objectives of the mission." When not flying the PSYOP missions, the pilot, "Seawolf 57," flew mostly in support of the Navy SEALS.

We mention above how it was possible that a PSYOP tape aimed at the Viet Cong could terrify and demoralize troops of the Republic of Vietnam. Lieutenant Junior Grade Tom Byrnes (USNR) tells of an operation that he took part in as part of Mobile Advanced Tactical Support Base (MATSB) Operation Seafloat in the Nam Can Forest in An Xuyen Province, IV Corps. Tom was one of 8 Naval officers trained at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School  at Ft. Bragg, NC from  September to December 1969.  His 5 enlisted team members received on-the-job training and were mostly former Swift Boat crew members. The tour of duty was 4 months for an officer and 3 months for an enlisted man. He performed PSYOP operations with a 1400-watt broadcast system from Beach Jumper Unit 1. The system was used on Swift boats, Yabuta junks, Army Huey helicopters, or Navy Seawolf  (UH-1B) helicopters belonging to Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron Three (HAL-3), Detachment One. Tom says:

Operation Seafloat was a group of 12 AMMI pontoon barges tied together and anchored in the Song Cua Lon (Big Crab River) about 6 miles north of the very southern tip of the country. The Ammi is a Navy 90x28-foot pontoon barge developed after World War II for rapid construction of piers, bridges, and small craft facilities. It can be moored in water ranging from 3 to 40 feet in depth.

We had about 100 Americans, 20 Vietnamese, Swift Boats, River Assault Craft crews and Navy SEALs. Since we didn't have any infantry, and the area was mud and Cai Duoc trees, boat operations were the order of the day.

Sometime late in the summer of 1970 a unit of Vietnamese Marines and their U.S.M.C. Advisors were assigned to work in our area. Since we had the boats, we decided to launch a small amphibious operation in the area where the South China Sea meets the Gulf of Thailand. The idea was for the Swifts to carry the Vietnamese Marines out of the Bo De river and to proceed south, then southwest and to debark them from the Ocean onto the mud beach.

We had a Vietnamese-language tape made that said, "Drop your weapons and stand up." The idea was to play it from a 1400-watt broadcast system on a U.S. Army Huey helicopter which would fly over the area just ahead of the Marines as they hit the beach.

The landing was a mess since the water was so shallow. The Marines had to wade about 500 yards to the beach through the mud. I was on the Huey and we orbited just outside of the beachhead until the Marines hit the beach. We then went roaring through the area about 5 feet over the trees with the tape blaring the message every 5-8 seconds.   We stayed around for maybe 5 minutes and then returned to Seafloat.

At the nightly briefing later that evening we were told the operation was a success and that our broadcast resulted in 5 Viet Cong dropping their weapons and surrendering to the Marines.

Unfortunately, the bad news was that it also resulted in several Vietnamese Marines dropping their weapons and raising their hands.

We often dropped leaflets from helicopters although most of the local people could not read. This gave them something tangible to hold on to. We followed up with helicopter loudspeaker messages and “Wandering Soul” harassment broadcasts. Whenever we played the tape near friendly Vietnamese they opened fire on us. If there were Viet Cong near us when we played it, they also opened fire on us. We preferred to use it on nights with moonlight. We would use SEAL tiara grenades (Phosphorescent marker rifle fired grenades, not white phosphorous) fired high. When we heard them pop we would start the tape. As the phosphorous started to fall, the breeze would catch it and it would look like a ghost in the sky. It was probably very effective since it gave me the creeps, and I was the one causing it.

We also used the Wandering Soul in conjunction with a "Laugh Box" You squeezed it and it gave out an irritating laugh. We would play the Wandering Soul, they would shoot at us. We would shoot back and mortar them with the Swift boat’s or the Heavy Seal Support Craft's (HSSC) 81mm mortar, then play the laugh box over the1400 watt broadcast system.

We often added country or rock music, or messages from ralliers to their villages. We ultimately caused 823 Viet Cong to rally to the Government side. With the exception of one man, everyone on the team was wounded at least once. All but one of the wounds were shrapnel, and all but one were non-life threatening.

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A Patrol Craft Fast (PCF), also known as Swift Boat

Miami Herald writer Guy Gulotta recalled his experience with PSYOP in a feature piece entitled “Master of the Game,” written for his newspaper in 1989. Guy was a Navy reserve lieutenant (junior grade) assigned as commander of a small navy Patrol Craft Fast, also known as a PCF or "Swift Boat." He was stationed on a semi-permanent base on pontoons moored in the Cua Lon River in 1970. The base was known as Sea Float. Some of his comments are:

The object of our game was to win the hearts and minds of the local people by killing all the "Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Communist aggressors" we could find. Charlie and the Swift Boats were like two youth gangs in a vacant lot. If it moved, zap it.

Thus it was that we had little enthusiasm for periodic "PSYOP" (Psychological Operations) designed to further our cause with the Vietnamese. It tended to muddle things up, dilute the action with the impurity of a political campaign. Besides, in our area the only Vietnamese we knew about were waiting to tear our heads off; there wasn't any point in preaching to them.

My crew pointed this out to me the first time we were instructed to cruise the canals playing tapes of "The Wandering Soul," a howling banshee sermon promising eternal damnation to any Viet Cong who didn't lay down his weapons and join up with us right away. Nobody on the boat understood the words, but any boat that played it usually got hit with rockets. "The Wandering Soul," as Seaman Sherwood J. Drumheller told me, "is Number 10," and dropping off the chart.

Unfortunately, I pointed out, we were the only boat on duty that had a functioning PSYOP system - a loudspeaker. "We’re going to have to play something," I said.

"Great," said Drumheller, who was 19 and the only normal person on the boat besides me. He favored Steppenwolf, Credence or the Stones, but would also go with Santana because "some of the words are foreign."

Boatswain's mate Hogan, who was from Lubbock, and had no known first name, hated Steppenwolf, but offered Buck Owens or Dolly Parton in exchange.

"Not heavy enough," I concluded. I chose Ike and Tina Turner (Workin' Together), pointing out that Tina, like Dolly, was a girl, and she sang Honky-tonk Woman (Stones) and Proud Mary (Credence), which, incidentally, was about a river boat. Besides, she had a voice that could melt steel; Charlie would love it.

And it worked. For six hours in the middle of the night Tina Turner ripped through the forest like a chain saw, and we didn't hear a single gunshot or see a single muzzle-flash. "The Wandering Soul" was never heard again on the Cua Lon River.

A Gunner's Mate 3rd Class by the name of "DJ" Skully tells about his first exposure to the Wandering Soul tape. He was a member of River Section 534, later River Division 534. He was patrolling the Ham Loung River in the area of Mo Cay and Ken Hoa Provinces as part of Operation Gamewardens. He manned the aft 50 caliber machinegun on a fiberglass Mark II Patrol Boat River (PBR). The time period was late December 1967 to early January 1968. Speakers were mounted on the boat's engine cover armor plating. He said:

I first heard the tape around midnight. Pitch black. We idled along the river bank. Now that I have heard it again I wonder, What the F**k was I doing? Amazing! Freaky! I don't remember the tape being used again by our unit after the Tet Offensive in 1968.

In Brown Water Black Berets, Coastal and Riverine Warfare in Vietnam by Thomas J. Cutler, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1988, the author provides another opinion of the use of psychological operations along the rivers in his interview with Navy Lieutenant Dick Godbehere who served on a  Patrol Boat, River (PBR):

He disliked psychological operation patrols because the PBRs had to move slowly in order to allow the messages to be heard, which made them very vulnerable to attack, and because listening to the taped messages over and over challenged his sanity.

The Wandering Soul tape did not just appear full-blown on the Vietnam scene. There were earlier variations. One former operations officer of the 10th PSYOP Battalion (1968) told me:

I do not remember that Wandering Soul reverb tape at all. I note that the time of that tape follows my tour by 1 year. Our tapes were of Vietnamese funeral music and most were the standard fare sent to us from Group.

He recorded Arthur Brown's "Fire" from 1968 and used the "demonic" portion repeatedly in an endless loop. He mentioned that the tapes often enraged the Viet Cong and led directly to their death:

Our C-47 'Gabby' aircraft came back one night and I waited for them at Binh Thuy for an after-action report. After all, this tape was my baby and they were beta testing it. The pilot stormed in, spoke briefly with the Commanding Officer and then came to talk to me. He said that they would never play that tape again. He had received incredible ground fire the moment they turned it on.

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SP5 Tom Zangla took this picture of Spooky in action from the 525th Military Intelligence Group MACV Team 21 Compound near Pleiku, Vietnam, in May 1969.

He had stumbled on to a Battalion-sized Viet Cong force and they were bold enough to attack our aircraft. That's an important intelligence point. It was rare for a Viet Cong unit to engage our aircraft unless they were absolutely sure of their strength and security. Of course that was what I wanted. Over the Commanding Officer's objection I scheduled our C-47 for a repeat visit over the same target. The next night they went up again, but what I wasn't told until later was that Spooky (a gun ship) went along with our aircraft and flew the speaker mission in opposing orbit and all blacked out. When our aircraft played the recording, the ground fire erupted again and Spooky "hosed em" with all three cannon in full cyclic rpm.

This sounds very much like an early aspect of Project Quick Speak where we tried to get the enemy to react to our tapes so they could be engaged. He concludes:

This incident happened but was never officially reported. The crew felt damned good about seeing the ground fire halt instantaneously as Spooky answered back. It was no fun being an unarmed flying target. As I remember it, no one worried too much that what we did was against Group regulations.

The 8th PSYOP Battalion played a different kind of sound tape in Vietnam according to SP4 Vaughn Whiting in an article entitled “Madison Avenue, Vietnam” in Esprit magazine, June 1969:

A hundred miles from the nearest railroad track, the crashing sound of a steam locomotive shakes the jungle night. Whistles shriek. Bells clang. Steam escapes from open valves in a hissing crescendo that makes men cover their ears.

A quiet little valley near the Cambodian border suddenly sounds like the Rock Island Line in the days before diesel engines. But Charlie never sees the train.

The sound comes from loudspeakers aboard a low-flying C-47 on a psychological operations mission with only one object: Mess up Charlie’s mind, mess it up so badly that he will shoot at the sound out of pure frustration and give away his position. When that happens, a Spooky gunship, which has been circling just out of sight, glides in with its miniguns ablaze and quiets the valley for the night.

Night after night, these C-47 teams, called Gabby Spooks, fly over areas where they think large enemy units are camping and broadcast their repertoire of ear-splitting raucous sounds. Sooner or later the racket proves too much for the hungry, sleepy, homesick soldier below. One of them breaks discipline, rushes into a clearing and take an angry potshot at Gabby. Then it’s all over.

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Joint Vietnamese-American PSYOP Loudspeaker Team prepare
to take off. Note the bundle of leaflets on the floor of the aircraft.

There are numerous reports of the Viet Cong opening fire on the loudspeaker aircraft. Specialist 4 (SP4) John (Snake) Orr of B Company, 6th PSYOP Battalion (Bien Hoa) told me that during his Vietnam tour he was assigned to and supported at different times the 101st Airborne Division, the 1st Infantry division, the 1st Air Cavalry (almost 600 hours flying speaker and leaflet missions) the 9th Infantry Division, and the 25th Infantry Division. John said that the 9th Infantry Division was the only unit that thanked him. He said that in general, most of the infantry patrols were unhappy to have his team tagging along. He suspects that they considered his PSYOP troops just dead weight who they hoped could shoot straight in a firefight. John preferred flying to ground operations; though he admits that he took a heck of a lot more bullets in choppers than he ever did on the ground. He adds:

I played the Wandering Soul tape many times during 1969-1970; until it got my aircraft all shot up. The damn tape drew fire every time. I never understood the lack of fire discipline on the part of the enemy.

My light observation helicopter was an easy target and I always got very worried of the time lag between the first green tracers coming up and our protecting Cobra attack helicopter’s response.

It could be worse on the ground. I had an encounter with an officer who tried to convince me that my two-man team should set up a all-nighter with the tape and 1000-watt speakers in a hostile deserted village with a 200 foot high South Vietnam flag colored helium balloon attached to my speakers.  I believe he fully intended that it would draw fire; though he professed that it would draw in Chieu Hoi’s.  As team leader, I refused to put my team in jeopardy and that got the major and me in a little trouble.

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Loudspeaker equipped helicopter in Vietnam

In Sonic Warfare: Sound, Warfare, Effect, and the Ecology of Fear, The MIT Press, 2010, author Steve Goodman mentions the Wandering Soul and similar devices. I have edited the comments for brevity and he says in part:

During the Vietnam War, we still confused sonic power with high volume, for example, in the so called “Urban Funk” Campaign where we mounted supersized oscillators on top of attack helicopters and blasted Victor Charlie with heavy metal at 120dB. We called that weapon the “Curdler” and it was a very primitive system. The Curdler, or “People Repeller,” was an oscillator that could deafen at short range. When used with a public address system and a 350 watt sound amplifier, it was possible to direct intelligible speech to a range of 2.5 miles. The Curdler was also capable of unleashing siren frequencies of between 500 and 5,000 hertz and of inducing panic.

We also used high frequency nighttime wailing sound in a weapon we called the “Wandering Ghost,” intended to spook the Viet Cong by playing on certain Buddhist beliefs and that weapon was a big step forward because we came to realize that there is no sound more powerful than the one that conquers your true heart with deep vibrations.... Ultimately what we are talking about is a weapon that uses harmonic infrasound amplified by the power of Evangelical Christian faith to summon and deploy a voice that sounds like it comes from right inside your head, but also sounds like it is coming from everywhere else. A voice that comes from everywhere and nowhere, from everyone and no one, and when you hear it, you will obey no matter what it says because the real weapon that brought down the walls of Jericho was the voice of God....

As journalist John Pilger reported in his book Heroes, [South End Press, Cambridge MA, 2001] The 1st Air Cavalry PSYOP officer was a captain. He was a stereo-and-speakers buff and what he loved to do was to fly in a helicopter low over the jungle and play his tapes to the enemy. His favorite tape was called “Wandering Soul,” and as we lifted out of Snuffy he explained, “What we’re doing today is psyching out the enemy. And that’s where Wandering Soul comes in. Now you’ve got to understand the Vietnamese way of life to realize the power behind Wandering Soul. You see, the Vietnamese people worship their ancestors and they take a lot of notice of the spirits and stuff like that. Well, what we’re going to do here is broadcast the voices of the ancestors—you know, ghosts which we’ve simulated in our studios. These ghosts, these ancestors, are going to tell the Vietcong to stop messing with the people’s right to live freely, or the people are going to disown them.” The helicopter dropped to within twenty feet of the trees. The PSYOP captain threw a switch and a voice reverberated from two loudspeakers attached to the machine-gun mounting. While the voice hissed and hooted, a sergeant hurled out handfuls of leaflets which made the same threats in writing.

Historian Eric B. Villard found a Staff Sergeant Matt Glasgow article titled "Division Psyops Teams Waging Winning Battle in Other War" in the 1st Cavalry Division Newspaper. Curiously, my pal Chad Spahr who was a member of the 6th PSYOP Battalion is quoted in this clipping. He is mentioned in this Wandering Soul article several times. and talks about loudspeaker operations in this news clipping. Some of the text is:

A new weapon has been added to those employed by the 1st Cav during a firefight - Psychological Operations. Under recently initiated operations, the enemy is not only faced with the awesome cavalry fire power but he must cope with attacks upon his sense of security, purpose, and wellbeing - Each of the division's brigades is now equipped with a 1000-watt loudspeaker, a two-man psychological operations team, and a standby helicopter in addition to an arsenal of leaflets - "Other times we use funeral music...We ask them if they want to die here, away from the families and their place of birth. In their religion it is important to be buried in the place where they were born.

Thomas C. Sorensen mentions the use of ghostly PSYOP messages in The Word War, Harper & Row, N.Y., 1968:

Low flying loudspeaker planes awakened the enemy at night with somber Buddhist funeral music, followed by the recorded voice of a child pleading for his daddy to return home - or perhaps weird electronic cacophonies to frighten the superstitious who believed in forest demons.

The Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office booklet National Catalog of PSYOPS materials mentions one such tape numbered 3A. The tape is 49 seconds long and the message is spoken by a woman. It opens with 10 seconds of Buddhist funeral music and ends with two more seconds of the music. The message is:

Each day that passes brings you closer to death. All men must die sometime. But if you stay with the Viet Cong, you will soon die by bombs or bullets. It is much better to spend the rest of your life among your family and friends. Come home! Make your plans to leave the Viet Cong now. Come home before you die. Come home!

A former 1st Infantry Division sergeant who served several tours in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970 remembers the taped funeral music. He comments:

The damn reverb effect of the recording is eerie. I saw and picked-up leaflets and once heard Funeral Music played over the valleys around Landing Zone Mary Ann. A Kit Carson Scout told me what the music was. This was a ghostly sound. Hell, listening to that made me want to Chieu Hoi myself. It must have been effective as hell in the jungle at night.

The Vietnam Archive Oral History Project Interview with pilot Captain John Hodgin mentioned the mission where strange sounds were played from C-47 loudspeakers:

We had what was called a NO DOZE Mission. This was usually over places where the Viet Cong were coming in from the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was over the troops, not the villages. We would go up somewhere around 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. at night over where we knew the Viet Cong troops were massed, and fly over their area all night with screams and funeral music, just to keep them awake. Screaming, babies, people, and in the background funeral music. If they ever shot at us, we would back off and then the gun ship with the Gatling guns would come in there and just wipe them out. We then go back and broadcast again. We would stay there all night for as long as you can fly, maybe eight hours with that music. It was loud inside the plane. We had earplugs we had to use. Of course, we had our headphones over the top of the earplugs. It was all Vietnamese I had no idea what they were saying. We did that at 3,000 feet, which kept a lot of the rifles from hitting us. Back during that time, the Viet Cong also had those .50 caliber machineguns which were the first things really that could reach an airplane and tear it up. We had a standing policy that if we got shot at with a .50 caliber, we left. You can see the machinegun tracers. When they are coming your way, it looks like they are going so slow with the tracers because they are coming straight at you. They would usually not reach you. Every now and then there would be a big white flare go "Phoom!"¯ And go right on by you quick. You say, "Uh-oh that's one of those," and you would get out of that area.

Sergeant Jerry Sopko, 1st Platoon, Delta Co, 4th Battalion, 503rd PIR of the 173rd Airborne, 1969-1970 adds:

I remember those tapes playing along the I Corps - II Corps border area of Northern Binh Dinh Province. At the time, the 4th Battalion of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was working the An Do Valley. Even knowing that it was a PSYOP tape, it freaked you out…especially if you were on an ambush mission that night. I recall a ghostly "woooo—wooooo", and "ah-oooo" kind of wail. I didn't know what it was called; we simply called it "Ghosts."

Another former sergeant wrote:

I can relate to your article concerning PSYOP Broadcasting Propaganda tapes. I was a Field Team Leader, assigned 4 August 1967 to the 6th PSYOP Battalion in Saigon.   I worked for the first few months with the 246th PSYOP Company at Bien Hoa and in late 1967 I was transferred to Cu Chi, attached to the 25th Infantry Division.  I was promoted to Sgt. E5, and reassigned to 244th PSYOP Company where I was a Field Team Leader in Quang Tri Province, attached to the First Cavalry Division. We did Search and Destroy missions in the A Shau Valley. I spent many hours in a “Huey” with loudspeakers broadcasting those very tapes.

There is another strange sound tape meant to mess with “Charlie’s” mind that we should mention. The 1969 Army Concept Team in Vietnam publication Employment of U.S. Army Psychological Operation Units in Vietnam says about Operation Tintinnabulation:

Operation Tintinnabulation was a new Propaganda technique being tested by the 10th PSYOP Battalion, in cooperation with the 5th Special Operations Squadron, was recently employed against two VC battalions. Tintinnabulation (which literally means the ringing of bells) involves two C-47 aircraft, one "Spooky" (minigun-equipped) and the other a "Gabby" (loudspeaker-equipped). During the initial phase, the Gabby employs a frequency pulsating noisemaker designed to harass and confuse the enemy forces during night hours, while the Spooky provides air cover. During the second phase, the harassing noisemaker continues, however, emphasis is given to use of Chieu Hoi tapes. The first phase is designed to eliminate the feeling that the night provides security to the target audience, while the second phase is designed to reinforce the enemy’s desire to rally. Targets for both phases are recommended based on the results of daytime ground operations.

During a recent operation in Vinh Long Province, a total of 24 missions were flown with over-the-target time of approximately 2 hours per aircraft. The number of Hoi Chanhs in the province more than tripled (122 in September to 379 in December), and ralliers stated that the effects of the night missions caused them to rally. The initial success of Operation Tintinnabulation suggested this concept should be considered for use in other areas.

A November 1968 report states that phase I of Operation Tintinnabulation ended on 14 November. A night operation, this phase utilized the C-47 aircraft and speaker system with the frequency pulsating generator (Noisemaker) and various tapes of eerie music designed to eliminate the feeling that the night provides security to the target audience. Phase II was initiated on 15 November and incorporates the use of loudspeaker and C-47 aircraft equipped with mini-guns to suppress ground fire. Specially designed tapes based on Hoi Chanh feedback are used in this phase. On 19 November, 16 Hoi Chanh rallied and 14 of them stated that the night loudspeaker – gunship operations were a major factor in their decision to rally.

We have seen no data to verify the success of the Wandering Soul operation. I suspect it did not do well. The one continuing factor I find is that in most cases the Viet Cong opened fired when they reacted to the tape. This resulted in them being fired upon. This does not seem to be a successful way to motivate defections.

The Wandering Ghost campaign was not universally admired. Lieutenant Colonel William J. Beck commanded the 4th PSYOP Group from 15 October 1967 to 7 October 1968. He discusses some of his unit’s problems and successes in the declassified Senior Officer Debriefing Report. He complains that there was some frustration at the lack of signs of tangible PSYOP success, and this led to gimmicks like sky-lighting effects, and ghostly loudspeakers:

This aspect, unfortunately has often reduced idea formation on the part of these operators and staff to the level of “gimmicky” and more or less desperate attempts to find a quick solution and dramatic breakthrough. This is not good PSYOP.

There is little evidence  that positive, long-range mass persuasion can be achieved by the gimmick route. On the contrary it could probably be easily shown that gimmickry has a reverse effect of conditioning the audience against the emotional effects of well thought-out propaganda.

In sum, there is a place for occasional gimmickry and dramatic effect in the PSYOP effort, but these are normally secondary aspects and should be reserved for those circumstances where the long-range program has created an acceptable situation.

Major Michael G. Barger also quotes Beck in his U.S. Army Command and General Staff College 2007 Master’s thesis Psychological Operations Supporting the Counterinsurgency: 4th PSYOP Group in Vietnam:

Lieutenant Colonel Beck, in his Senior Officer Debrief, called the use of gimmickry, such as projecting images on clouds or using ghostly loudspeaker broadcasts, as “more-or-less desperate attempts to find a quick solution” to show “solid evidence of positive results.” Beck asserted that effective PSYOP takes time and instant results are usually the result of other factors that predisposed a target audience to complying with a PSYOP argument. He also pointed out that units could not sustain trickery for long, and once the lie was revealed it would damage the credibility of PSYOP personnel.35 Worse, once gimmickry failed to achieve results, the commander who once overestimated the potential of PSYOP now was even more inclined to relegate PSYOP to an ancillary function rather than integrate it into his combat plans.

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Leaflet 4-29-69

Although in general leaflets that showed dead Viet Cong were frowned upon since they were not likely to win the admiration and respect of the enemy, and in fact were known to make them angry and ready for revenge, from time to time the American PSYOP units did prepare such leaflets. To remind the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army of their vulnerability, the 4th PSYOP Group prepared a series of leaflets in 1969 that depicted dead Viet Cong. I will show one such leaflet but the reader should understand that there was an entire series. Some of the leaflets were 4-27-69 “Don’t Die Like This”;   4-29-69 “Don’t Die Tragically Like This”; 4-40-69 “Don’t Die Uselessly for the Communist Dark Plots Like Your Comrades in this Photo”; and “Wishing Longevity to Uncle Ho Doesn’t Mean that More of Your Comrades have to be Killed Dreadfully like This.”

The Psychological Operations leaflet and poster catalog of the 244th Psychological Operation Company, Detachment 2, Quang Ngai, Vietnam, offers a leaflet that fits in very well with this topic. The title is,  "Two Ways of Appreciating Combatants." It depicts a live person with the text, "One, Human" and a dead person with the text , "One, wicked and Abandoned."

The text compares the life of a Communist soldier with that of a Government of Viet Nam soldier. It first says of the Communist, " We think of how these wounds torment your body until the day you die in the nooks and corner of the thick forests and mountains. In a strange mound, no incense where your bodies are buried. Who will think of you?..." It next tells of the ARVN soldier, "For us, if we die in the battlefield our bodies will be carried to our native village and buried there. If we are wounded, we are taken to a military hospital for medical treatment and recuperation."

Leaflet 23-65

This is an early 1965 leaflet produced by the joint PSYWAR Civic Affairs Center of the I Corps Tactical Zone, Republic of Vietnam. The front of this leaflet depicts a dead Communist fighter on the ground. The text is:

Has this man had a proper burial?
Will his family ever learn where his grave is?

On the back a living Communist thinks of his family and wonders:

My family needs me. Am I ever going to see my family again?
Why should I fight my brother Vietnamese comrades?

Leaflet 116-66

Another early I Corps leaflet. This one depicts a dead Viet Cong fighter on the ground. I am tempted to turn this one upside down so you can see the body better, but the text on the bottom proves that they wanted the body seen this way. The leaflet was poorly cut by the printers and the stains are caused by the glue used to paste this specimen into the unit’s leaflet file. The text is:

Many of you have died tragically on the battlefield and no one will know where your grave is.

The back has a long all-text message. It is a tactical leaflet targeting the 325th Viet Cong Battalion:


For a long time, the Viet Cong cadres have taken advantage of you and need you for their cannon fodder. The Viet Cong have no regard for you, and you are making a needless sacrifice. They send you to a battlefield and use their human wave tactics where you tragically die.

Now is the time for you to profoundly reflect and hasten to return to the Republic of Vietnam’s Government and to the people to increase the prosperity of the country and the happiness and abundance of the people before you and your family are forever parted.

The administrative and military authorities and the people are waiting to welcome you just as they have done to your colleagues who have already returned to the true cause.

Leaflet 134-66

This is another early I Corps leaflet that was used in 1966. The reason I add it is because many of the American leaflets to the enemy used the mother as a theme. This one depicts a mother looking at an empty bed on the left, at the right we see her son, not sleeping, but dead in the jungle. She wonders where his body lies. The text on the front is:

He was here only last year! Where have they buried him!

The text on the back is:


Mother, I considered it certain that I would die in battle, and you would not know of my death. Sometimes I felt that death was perhaps better than this way of life, but I felt sorry for you, mother, who needed my assistance. I dared not let my comrades know of my true feelings, because I feared they might report them to my leaders. Many of my comrades were tired and as sick as I was because of the lack of food and medicine. I’m sorry I had to leave you, mother, but death was better than my life with the Viet Cong.

Leaflet 7-549-68

I liked the image on this leaflet a lot. Two North Vietnamese Army soldiers resting in the bush, one seeming to massage his foot. It reminded me of the military when a couple of American soldiers would sit on their foot lockers, maybe shining their boots and just have a pleasant talk. It was always a very comfortable time. I liked the color of the leaflet, blue being my favorite color. It is a tactical leaflet aimed specifically at the 1st Regiment of the North Vietnamese 2nd Division. The text is on the front is:


The text on the back is:


We know you are afraid of the prolonged death, and it has made your life in the jungle an exhausting misery. You do not have medicine when sick. More than 500 of your friends were killed in August. Do you want to become one of them? Your fellow soldiers were buried in unmarked graves.

You have two choices - to die where you are, or to come over to the Government of the Republic of Viet Nam. You will be warmly received upon returning.

Leaflet 7-462-70

I want to stop here and add a 7th PSYOP Battalion 1970 leaflet that is interesting. In a way it is almost "black," using an indirect attack to get the attention of the enemy. It does not say "you will be buried in an unmarked grave."¯ It says that if you should be killed, instead of being buried in an unmarked grave, fill out this leaflet and we will be able to send you home for a proper burial. It seems to serve two purposes. It will identify the soldier of his body is found dead on the battlefield and his name could be used for propaganda, and even more interesting, every time he sees that piece of paper, he will think about being killed in a strange country, something not likely to help his morale. It does not say "if you are killed," it says "when you are killed." The text of the leaflet is:


Fill out the blank spaces on the back side of this paper and keep it with you. When you are killed the Vietnamese Army or Allied Force will give you a proper burial with a detailed tombstone which will enable your relatives to find your grave.

(If for any reason, you do not want to keep this paper, then write the information on another piece of paper and keep it with you.)

The back of the leaflet has the following places for information to be added:

Full name; date of birth; place of birth; father's name, mothers name; rank, title; unit, wife's name; children's names.


Leaflet T-09

This leaflet dropped along the Ho Chi Minh Trail asks:

Is this a grave?

The text on the back is:

Unfortunately, it is not. But it is the final resting place, many, many kilometers from the graves of his ancestors. His body cannot be identified, his grave cannot be marked, and his soul will never find rest.

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Leaflet 246-117-67

This leaflet almost seems designed for the Wandering Soul Operation. It shows two dead fighters of the Viet Cong C-40 Regiment. The leaflet was requested by the U.S. 196th Light Infantry Brigade. The 246th PSYOP Company printed 100,000 copies for distribution by air. The text on the front is:


The text on the back says in part:

…These members of your unit fired on the U.S. and other Allied Forces. Their own comrades left them to die without proper burial honors to lie forever in unmarked graves. Their souls will remain forever lonely and lost, never to return home…

Notice the use of the term "unmarked graves" in the text of the leaflet. We will find that term in many leaflets and loudspeaker missions. The Vietnamese would understand that term meant they would walk the earth forever. One loudspeaker mission that used the term was a loudspeaker appeal by PSYOP personnel asking the Viet Cong to rally to the government side as part of the Chieu Hoi program:

Attention members of the V-21 Regiment. You cannot win!

You were severely beaten when you attacked the ARVN base camp, located west of the Saigon River in Tay Nihn Province. You suffered more than 289 casualties while the ARVN suffered small losses. You fought well, but against a better and stronger force you did not have a chance. Now many of you are wounded and dying. Do you want to be buried in an unmarked grave? You have two choices: die where you are, or rally to the Government of Vietnam. If you rally you will be given medicine and be treated well. Rally now. Hide your weapon and rally during daylight hours to any ARVN or Allied soldier or GVN official.

Leaflet 246-136-67

This leaflet has a very nostalgic image that was used more than once by American PSYOP troops. A Viet Cong fighter's wife stands alone outside her home while the rest of the family eats. She thinks of her husband out in the bush and wonders if he is still alive. 50,000 of these leaflets were requested by the Vietnamese 25th Infantry Division. The text on the back is:

Wives of the fighters of the in the 165th Regiment.

Where is your husband? Is he one of those that have been killed by the might allied forces. More men from the 165th Regiment die each day. They are buried without honor in a grave forever unknown. Dead men cannot return to their families. Tell your husband to rally under the Chieu Hoi Program. Don't let him wait. He will be treated well, given a generous allowance, and be trained in a skill that will provide a better life for his family. Don't let him die for an unjust cause.

The same image was used on JUSPAO leaflet 952. The text now is:


Whenever the family sits together at the dining table, everyone is emotional and missing you. We remember you have been suffering much and not knowing how you are doing now. We miss the male head of our family and feel the loneliest ever. We send our messages to you via the birds, the winds, and the clouds, with the hope they will reach you, and that you will reunite with us soon. The Open Arms program of the RVN Government.

Leaflet 246-179

This leaflet depicts a group of dead Viet Cong left to rot on the ground after a battle. 100,000 copies were printed at the request of the 25th Infantry Division. The text on the front is:

Bodies of Slain Viet Cong Guerrillas lay abandoned by their Unit.

The text on the back is:

There must be an end to needless killing. The Viet Cong are losing the battle and desperately need replacements for those who have recently died in battle or who have rallied to the winning government cause. Why torture or force innocent young men into the ranks to die for a hopeless cause. Do not let friends, relatives, or yourself be used by the Viet Cong. Stay at home and avoid the Viet Cong traps. If necessary, more to a Vietnam Government controlled area for a more secure life.

Leaflet 23

Leaflet 23 was dropped on North Vietnam and shows the South Vietnamese praying for their dead on the "Day or Pardon for the Dead." The people are reminded to "burn a stick of incense in honor of our ancestors." The captions on the two photographs on the front are:

Faithful to their ancestral tradition, the people of South Vietnam are praying for the dead on the "Day of Pardon for the Dead."

As we sadly turn our thoughts toward the withering North,

No sticks were burned on Vu Lan Day, and no comfort was given the wandering souls.

The message on the back is:

Dear Compatriots of North Vietnam,

The Trung Nguyen or Vu Lan holidays are approaching. This is the time when every Vietnamese would pause to burn a stick of incense in honor of our ancestors or as an act of mercy for the souls of those dead who have no one to honor their memories.

Faithful to our ancestral traditions, we in the South are burning incense and praying for the deceased. On this occasion, our thoughts go to you and the many sufferings, both material and moral, you are enduring under the ruthless regime of the Godless communists. We know that you are being harassed into abandoning your pious duty of honoring your dead. But our thoughts also go to the many dead who fall every day in South Vietnam under the murderous hands of the Viet Cong. How many wandering souls need our prayers and your prayers on this day of "Pardon for the Dead"?

Compatriots, demand that the Lao Dong Party stop its war of aggression in the South so that no more innocent souls would have to join the already great number of innocent souls now wandering on this war-torn country of the South.

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Leaflet 4-11-70

Since the Vietnamese felt a need to be buried close to home, the United States printed numerous leaflets that threatened them with an unmarked grave. This 4th PSYOP Group leaflet was printed on 3 April 1970. The front shows “unmarked graves.” There are four clear areas in the grass and apparently we are to think there are four bodies buried in those clear spots. The text is:

Are you doommed for an unmarked grave like this?

The text on the back says in part:

Men in the NVA Communist ranks

Many of your comrades have been killed because they blindly followed their leaders’ orders. Their reward was an unmarked grave.

How can you and your comrades escape a similar fate? Some have left their units to surrender and be imprisoned. They still have hopes of reuniting with their family when the war ends. Some have responded to the Chieu Hoi policy of the Government of Vietnam for a new life of happiness and security in South Vietnam…If you continue on your present course, you will die and be buried in an unmarked grave. You must think about your families and resolve to return to them as soon as possible. 

At some point Monta Osborne of JUSPAO reviewed this leaflet and said:

This leaflet uses the old theme, employed countless times in Vietnam, that the NVA soldier faces death in South Viet-Nam, with burial in an unmarked grave. A recent study by JUSPAO stated that threats of death leave NVA soldiers unmoved, and implied that the "unmarked grave" theme has little if any validity with NVA soldiers, who tend to feel that "when you're dead, you're dead" and the corpse does not worry about whether its grave is visited by the descendants.

While discussing the above leaflet, one veteran told me that perhaps the enemy did try to recover those bodies. He said:

Some of our troops came across a NVA burial site. They found a bottle with the names and locations of graves inside. It was believed the bottle was hidden so that they could return later and identify and recover the bodies. In another case about 40 NVA bodies were found hidden in an old well after an attack. Again, it is assumed that the enemy expected to come back later and recover the bodies.


Leaflet SP-808

This leaflet shows a young boy being forcibly taken away from the family to be impressed into the Viet Cong. When I say "impressed," I mean the same sort of kidnapping that went on in Continental days when the British Navy would stop American ships and take sailors and force them into the British Navy. On the left we see the boy taken; on right we see the corpses of dead Viet Cong on the field being eaten by vultures. The text at the left and right is:




The text on the back is:


The Viet Cong regular troops have suffered huge losses in dead and wounded on the battlefield. They need replacements. More and more Viet Cong are returning to the Government cause, creating gaps in the Viet Cong ranks. Replacements are needed to fill these gaps. Viet Cong “human wave” tactics require many people to be sent to their deaths – young people, imperfectly trained, badly armed, make good bullet shields for the northern cadre of the Viet Cong. And if these young conscripted soldiers in the Viet Cong ranks should live for a little while, then the Viet Cong take them from their hamlets and villages, send them far away to other provinces, to die and rot unburied, or to be buried in shallow unmarked graves in the jungles and swamps of the highlands.


Leaflet 3806

This leaflet has two themes. The first is that the soldier will die in Cambodia; the second is that because he will not be buried at home his soul will never find rest. The leaflet depicts a Communist soldier crying on the ground, thinking of what will become of a friend he just buried. The text on the front is:


He was a courageous soldier that fought "the People's War" So far from home. Like you, he followed his loved ones to follow the "just cause" extolled by the Communist Party of North Vietnam. Yet, who stands by his shallow Cambodian grave so far from home to mourn his courageous death? His family joyfully awaits his triumphant return, not knowing of his fate. His party bosses praise his noble death while sending others to take his place. The "just cause" of the Communist Party has not rewarded him properly. An unmarked grave on Cambodian soil, of preying jungle beasts, await your dying breath.

Leaflet 4454

This leaflet depicts a lonely Viet Cong in the bush thinking of his family at home. The text is:

An image of a North Vietnamese soldier grieving in spring while separated from his family during Tet.

The back is all text:

How many springs have elapsed since you were taken away from your families and unable to enjoy Tet with your loved ones?
Have you received Tet greetings from your wife, sons, or other relatives on this traditional holiday?
Does this Tet’s find you happier than on previous similar occasions.
Do you realize that it is the communist scheme of seizing South Vietnam that forces you to live away from your family and sustain endless hardships while depriving your relations of your company in celebrating Tet?
May a time come when you are able to rejoin your families and enjoy Tet with your relatives?
Indeed, it may, but will you survive until then? Or will your bodies already be buried somewhere in the wilderness?
There is one alternative left to you. Break with the Communists and go over to the people of Free Vietnam. Then you can enjoy a significant Tet every year.

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Those Wandering Souls Died in Nameless Graves

Captain Edward N. Voke, S2 (Intelligence) staff officer of the 6th PSYOP Battalion from 1966 to 1967 ran across a poster in I Corps in 1967 that used the Wandering Soul theme. He told me:

I  have a 16 x 10.25-inches poster printed on one side only; black print on white background; probably designed to be posted on buildings and trees. It has the same ace of spades card with skull and crossbones and below it are 4 lines of shaded verse. It is coded “244-298-67,” so it was printed by our 244th PSYOP Company in I Corps in 1967.   

The poster message is:

The owls are calling for the souls of the Viet Cong
Those wandering souls without destination
Spreading countless horrors to the people
Those wandering souls died in nameless graves

RETURN [to the National Government] OR DIE

Voke mentions another leaflet which tells of the enemy of their dead lying unburied on the battlefield: He considered this leaflet one of the best he had seen:

One of the most effective leaflets I ever saw was printed after one of the battles in 1966 or 1967. A U.S. Infantry Division Commanding General wrote a letter to the enemy division Commanding General (on regular 2-star stationery; English on one side & Vietnamese on the other), informing him that his North Vietnamese troops had disgraced themselves on the field of battle. The American general said that he had buried the North Vietnamese dead and was carrying for the wounded; and if he could do anything else, to please contact him.  We later heard the full background on that battle. Apparently, the U.S. forces were beating and pushing back the North Vietnamese slowly, and the enemy was pulling back in good order. Then, a North Vietnamese machine-gunner in the center platoon panicked, jumped up and ran to the rear. Seeing this, other troops around him also began to run to the rear and it opened up the center of the North Vietnamese defense. The American forces exploited the sudden weakness and caved in the enemy with terrible losses to the North Vietnamese.

If the enemy Battalion Commander knew what caused the rout he probably didn’t want to tell his boss. The American Commanding General’s nice letter let the North Vietnamese Army Commanding General let everyone in the immediate vicinity know of the division’s cowardice. I heard that many copies of the letter were dropped over the enemy’s area of operations. We later heard that the North Vietnamese battalion and regiment commanders were relieved. This was by far the best PSYOP leaflet I ever saw by a US combat unit.

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General Hay letter

Lieutenant General John H. Hay Jr. discusses the same leaflet in Vietnam Studies – Tactical and Materiel Innovations, Department of the Army, Washington D.C. 1989. Hay says in part:

On 13 May 1970 an agent reported that within Phong Dinh Province some 300 local force Viet Cong were to be recruited and sent to Cambodia as replacements for North Vietnamese Army units that had suffered heavy losses. The information was passed to the U.S. intelligence adviser and the province adviser for psychological operations. By 1600 on the same day, the psychological operations staff had prepared a leaflet capitalizing on the raw intelligence information. The priority target selected for the operation was the area of Phong Dinh Province, which was known to harbor hard-core Viet Cong. The province adviser for psychological operations and the S-5 adviser arranged to have the leaflets distributed throughout the appropriate districts during that night and the next day. Late in the evening on 14 May, the first Hoi Chanh rallied in Phung Hiep District with a copy of a leaflet on the Stationery of the Commanding General of the 1st Infantry Division, red flag with stars and all. By 23 May, twenty-eight Viet Cong had rallied, stating that they had done so because they were afraid of being sent to Cambodia. The leaflet read in English and Vietnamese:


22 March 1967


SUBJECT:                  Unsoldierly Conduct of Officers of Cong Truong 9

          TO: Commanding General
                  Cong Truong 9
                  HT 86500 YK

Dear General:


This is to advise you that during the battle of Ap Bau Bang. On 20 March the Regimental Commander of Q763 and his battalion commanders disgraced themselves by performing in an unsoldierly manner. 


During this battle with elements of this Division and attached units your officers failed to accomplish their mission and left the battlefield covered with dead and wounded from their units. 

We have buried your dead and taken care of your wounded from this battle.


                                                                        J. H. Hay
                                                                        Major General USA

Notice that Volk mentions a time line of 1966-1967 for this leaflet when we spoke in 2007, and General Hay places it in 1970 in the statement he wrote in 1989. This difference could be caused by “the fog of war,” or it is possible that General Hay wrote such a leaflet on more than one occasion.

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Chip Decker at left – in the early 1990s at Ft. Rucker, Alabama

Warrant Officer 1 Chip Decker flew the “Huey” helicopter for the 128th Assault Helicopter Co. (Tomahawks) in Vietnam. He told me that in regard to the General Hay letter-leaflet:

I was just 19 years old back then. This is a leaflet I dropped in 1967 in III Corps. It is two-sided with Vietnamese text on one side and English on the other. I kept about a half-dozen as souvenirs but now I am down to just one. I know at least two boxes about two feet square full of the leaflets were dropped from my helicopter. Usually we were working for the Division S2 (Intelligence) or S3 (Operations) out of Di An. We supported the 1st Infantry Division, the 25th Infantry Division, the 99th Light Infantry Brigade, the 173rd Airborne Brigade and sometimes the Vietnamese Army Division. Di An Base Camp (also known as Di An Army Airfield) was located northeast of Saigon, 13 kilometers northeast of Tan Son Nhut Air Base and 12 kilometers southwest of Bien Hoa. I would get a mission sheet to go to Di An these PSYOP guys would jump on-board and ask us to orbit so they could drop the leaflets.

One other thing, the air flow around the belly of the Huey would trap leaflets against the helicopters underbelly skin and when we landed back at Division the rotor wash reacting to the ground surface would blow all the leaflets stuck on the belly all over the division helipad!

We would also drop the different Chieu Hoi leaflets all the time for the Division and run some of the loudspeaker missions. One other thing, the air flow around the belly of the Huey would trap leaflets against the helicopters underbelly skin and when we landed back at Division the rotor wash reacting to the ground surface would blow all the leaflets stuck on the belly all over the division helipad!

Retired Colonel Alan Byrne of the 4th PSYOP Group told me that in general these personal letters were frowned upon. Although this is not exactly what he talks about here, it is close. He says:

There was another type of leaflet message that we would receive from our field units on rare occasions asking if it was OK to develop and produce them. And we vetoed them every time along with a letter back from our Group Commander to the combat unit commander (Usually a Battalion Commander) explaining why these were not acceptable. There were, however, a few that did get out and printed in small numbers.

I seem to recall that a command directive went out directing commanders to cease and desist on any actions of this type. These we nicknamed “Macho Man” leaflets. They were always a direct physical challenge and threat. The language was always very explicit language and they were always from an American commander to the opposing NVA or VC force commander. The general theme hardly ever varied. Our American commander would toss the gauntlet in insulting terms to the opposing enemy commander to meet him alone, on the battlefield. They then, without any weapons, would fight, one-on-one, hand-to-hand, to the death.

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Wandering Soul Leaflet Prepared but not Disseminated.

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). He told me:

We never used this one that I drew. I am not sure if that was the final version of the drawing or a work in progress. Perhaps it was refined to show some grass or small trees to indicate that the body was left to rot in the jungle. We heard that there was a superstition among the Vietnamese that their soul could not rest and would be forced to wander endlessly if certain rituals were not followed after death and they were not properly interred according to tradition. The drawing was an attempt to capitalize on those fears. Unlike us, they would leave their dead and wounded on the battlefield when they retreated after a battle. Sometimes it seemed that they would willfully leave their wounded knowing that our medical people back at the base would do all in their power to patch them up and save their lives.

The text would have explained that this soldier’s soul was going to wander Vietnam forever because he did not have a traditional burial. We mostly did specialized leaflets for tactical situations. We produced leaflets covering a lot of different dialects and situations. The unit was charged with the task of producing materials that encouraged the enemy to lessen their resistance or surrender.

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Leaflet ATF-010-70

The Australian 1st Psychological Operations Unit produced a leaflet with a similar theme of Viet Cong bodies left on the ground to rot by their comrades. About 100,000 copies of Leaflet ATF-010-70 were produced 4 June 1970 and dropped by aircraft. The front depicts a dead Communist guerrilla in the jungle. Text to the left of the body is: 

Unburied Communist dead on the battlefield.

The leaflet targeted the Ba Long Province Viet Cong units. The purpose was to demoralize the enemy by the thought of them never being properly buried at home and wandering forever in the afterlife. The text on the back is:

Soldiers and Cadres of D440, D445, C25, C41, and other Ba Long Province Units

Lately, and especially from 4 May to 23 May, the Government of Vietnam and Allied Forces in Phuoc Tuy have found 15 bodies of Communist soldiers lying where they died on the battlefield. Some only had a sheet of plastic over them.

Will you soon be killed and left unburied in the jungle?

The VC itself responded to this sensitive matter of disposal of the dead as raised by the Australian leaflets. The enemy’s headquarters, Military Region 7, issued an order that bodies were to be recovered from the battlefield at all costs and given a proper burial.

The leaflets were supplemented with the playing of the “Wandering Soul” tape at night. The Australians used a Pilartus Porter aircraft to fly the missions (it replaced the U. S. Skymaster O-2B aircraft).   They flew at about 1000 feet above ground level just above stalling speed at night without lights. The aircraft engine could not be seen or heard by the enemy on the ground below.

Former sergeant Derrill de Heer of the First Psychological Operations Unit described the Australian use of the tape:

I and others in the unit used the Wandering Souls tape on many occasions. There seems to be a number of versions of it made. In PSYWAR a tape needs to be 20 to 40 seconds long or you may leave an area before the intended target hears the whole message. The Australians only played the tape at night in areas away from inhabited areas and away from areas of South Vietnamese soldiers. The Vietnamese have a strong belief that if you die violently or where you are not known or are not buried in the traditional way your spirit will wander eternally. Hence the tape was made to make then think about their death and perhaps consider returning to the South Vietnamese government side under the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) amnesty program.

As I remember the tape the first half was electronic music with a voice from beyond saying he was wounded and did not know where he was.  He was thinking of his family and children. The music changed to psychedelic music and the voice was more wavering and he was now dead and his spirit was wandering.

De Heer mentioned the operation again years later in a newspaper interview:

We did this during night-time because in the silence of night sound travels further. We’d be drifting in a Pilatus Porter aircraft, with no lights, at about 1000 feet, just above stalling speed. On a ground, they couldn’t hear the aircraft. All they could hear was the message we were broadcasting. The message included a scary voice of a bleeding soldier, alone in a night and yearning for home. The tape that included electronic music, then changed to a more resounding tone, and portrayed the voice of a dead soldier, now a wandering spirit. It finished with a plea for enemy soldiers to rally to the Government of South Vietnam. The sound of tape was chilling, even for non-Vietnamese troops. I had one pilot that simply refused to fly missions when we were going to play that tape. It freaked him out.

The Wandering Soul operation was mentioned a third time by de Heer in his Masters’ Thesis: Victoria per Mentum: Psychological Operations Conducted by the Australian Army in Phuoc Tuy Province South Vietnam 1965 – 1971. Some of his comments were:

The superstition most favored by Australians related to the Vietnamese belief that if a villager died violently or outside the village his soul would wander without resting…One particular taped message produced by the Americans for general use was the message that was referred to as ‘Wandering Souls’. It was discovered later that there were a number of versions of this theme of Wandering Souls made by US forces throughout South Vietnam.

The version used by the Australians was a taped message about twenty to thirty seconds in length and contained a spiritual theme divided into two parts. The first part of the message could be described as electronic music with a voice in an echo chamber in Vietnamese saying “they were wounded and they did not know where they were, they were dying.” In the second part of the taped message the music changed to a slightly weirder and psychedelic style of ghostly music making the voice changes to sound like a spirit voice. The voice declared that “I am dead and my soul (spirit) is wandering.” This demonstrated how the victim was no longer in the region of the village and his ‘spirit’ would be condemned to wander forever. The effectiveness of these broadcasts was believed to be heightened during night flights when the aircraft would fly close to stalling speed at about one thousand feet above ground level with aircraft navigation lights switched off. At this altitude, the engine of the turbo-propeller driven Porter aircraft was so quiet that it could not be heard from the ground.

Royal Australian Army Service Corps Private Ken Stevenson told me about his 1969 experiences with the Australian PSYOP unit and his missions where the Wandering Soul tape was played from a helicopter.

He arrived in Vietnam in November 1969 and was sent to Forward Support Base Julia. He told me that Brigadier General Sandy Pearson, the Australian Task Force Commander was serious about the war and intended to continue operations during the Christmas holidays. The Australians assigned him the duty as a driver for the PSYOP unit. He said that many of the Australian regulars sniggered when they heard his assignment announced on morning parade. Psychological operations were considered a joke by most of the Australian troops. They thought it was funny that the new guy got the job of driving the “nut cases” in PSYOP. Ken was a conscript; a trained College instructor. Although a driver, because of his education he was given some more interesting jobs and often worked with the American III Corps PSYOP battalion at Bien Hoa and sometimes helped develop leaflet drops with them. He told me:

I usually worked with a four-man team; a Lieutenant Dick Williams, a Staff Sergeant Pete Erio, a clerk Private Norman, and me as the official driver. The Officer in Charge was Captain Mike Nelson. We had a Vietnamese Army interpreter named Sergeant Cu who was also a school teacher in civilian life. We even had a movie van. At that time we used Huey helicopters from Royal Australian Air Force 9 Squadron at Vung Tau with mounted speaker banks. The Pilatus Porter planes were not in Viet Nam when I was there.

I took part in Wandering Soul missions and even brought a copy of the tape home. Those missions were exciting; I felt that I was actually doing something significant. I remember that on one night mission the pilot said after about 5 minutes, “We're going to drop you back at Nui Dat and then fake the log when get back to base, are you OK with that?” Like the targeted Viet Cong, he too was scared witless. He was spooked out by the eeriness of the tape and the fear of being a few hundred feet over the canopy in the dark. We were quite low, actually “sitting ducks” if some dedicated Viet Cong cadre decided to take us on. On the bright side, I don’t remember ever drawing fire during a mssion.

As I said earlier, PSYOP wasn't seen as a traditional Army role so Headquarters seemed to be just humoring us. Most Australian Army effort apart from combat went into Civil Affairs and the engineers.

The Wandering Soul Concept used in a Training Exercise

A decade after I wrote this story I heard from an old PSYOP officer who told me about using this concept during his early days when he trained to work in psychological operations:

We were told about the “Wandering Soul” recording when I was attending the PSYOP Officer Course. There is a joint field exercise at the end of the course with 82nd Airborne units playing the role of government forces and Special Forces students playing the role of the guerrilla forces. As PSYOP students we were tasked to develop leaflets and broadcast tapes in support of the government forces. Inspired by the Wandering Soul tape and author John Berrio’s “Dead at 17” poem I decided to do a broadcast having a dead guerrilla lament over his death and his failure to surrender to the government when given the opportunity. This is what I recorded:

“Agony claws my mind. I am a statistic. When I first got here, I felt very much alone. I was overwhelmed by grief, and I expected to find sympathy. I found no sympathy. I saw only dozens of others whose bodies were as badly mangled as mine. I was given a number and places in a category. I was called a “Casualty of War.”

The day I died was an ordinary day. How I wish I had not joined the guerillas. But I thought I was doing the right thing. I know better now but it is too late for me. It doesn’t matter how I was killed. We were on patrol. I thought I was doing the right thing fighting against the government, now I know better. The last thing I remember was hearing an explosion, I was no longer standing. I could see my own legs six feet away from me. My friends were all dead or mangled around me. My whole body seemed to be turning inside out. I heard myself scream.

Suddenly, I awakened. It was very quiet. An officer of the government forces was standing over me. Standing next to him was a doctor. My body was mangled. I was saturated with blood. And pieces of jagged shrapnel were sticking out all over me. How strange that I could not feel anything. ‘HEY! I cried. Don’t put that sheet over my head. I can’t be dead. I’m too young I’ve got too much to live for. I’m supposed to have a wonderful life ahead of me. I haven’t lived yet. I can’t be dead. Why didn’t I surrender?’

They zipped up the body bag. The government treated me with respect. They are not evil like I was told. They contacted my family and asked them to identify my body. Why did they have to see my like this? Why did I have to look at mom’s eyes when she faced the most terrible ordeal of her life? Dad suddenly looked very old. He told the man in charge, ‘Yes – That is our son.’ The funeral was strange. I saw all my relatives and friends walk toward the casket. They looked at me with the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen. Some of my friends were crying. And a few girls touched my hand as they walked away. Please – somebody, anybody – wake me up! Get me out of here. I can’t bear to see Mom and Dad in such pain. My grandparents are so weak from grief they can barely walk. My brother and sister are like zombies. They move in a daze. No one can believe this. I can’t believe it either. I CAN’T BE DEAD. Why didn’t I surrender when I had a chance? Why!

Please don’t bury me. I’m not dead. I have a lot of living to do. I want to laugh and play again. I want to go fishing, play ball and raise a family. Please don’t put me in the ground. I promise if you give me just one more chance God, I’ll stop fighting; all I want is one more chance. Please God; I don’t want to be dead.”

The Search for the Dead goes on...

Australian Vietnam War veterans Bob Hall and my old buddy Derrill de Heer were asked by Hanoi to help find the bodies of those soldiers killed by the Australians during the war. As former veterans, both academics, from the University of New South Wales Canbera at the Australian Defence Force Academy, share a deep connection to Vietnam and its people. Mr. de Heer remembers one occasion in 1970 when he was approached by a Vietnamese man for help in seeking details of his son who had been killed the night before in contact with Australian soldiers a week earlier and buried near Phuc Hai village, not far from the beach.

We found the old man's son buried in the sand -- one of four -- and wrapped him in a poncho. It was a clean wound, thank goodness, but I've never seen so much grief in my life.

The Australian practice of burying the bodies of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong personnel and marking the grid reference of the grave sites in unit war diaries proved the key to compiling the digital database. Derrill added:

Since 1972, the terrain has changed, dams have been built, towns expanded, roads built, so putting the burial details on old army maps would have been of no value. What we've been able to do is convert that information of wartime contacts -- latitude and longitude -- and put it on to Google Earth.

The issue of Vietnam's war dead -- estimated at 1.1 million -- is a sensitive one for Hanoi. But Vietnamese families are now demanding to know more about the last resting place of loved ones lost during the brutal conflict.

By 2012 Australian Military researchers had identified the names and burial sites of more than 600 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops killed by Australian and New Zealand soldiers. The fighters are among tens of thousands of Vietnamese listed as missing in action during the war. The researchers have urged Australian Vietnam Vets who have items such as photographs, diaries or letters taken from the bodies of slain Vietnamese to hand them over so that the team at the university can work with sympathetic Vietnamese to locate the families of the fallen. The Australian mission to help find the Vietnamese MIAs has been named Operation Wandering Souls. It takes its name from Vietnamese culture in which the spirit of those whose fate is unknown or who died violently will wander forever.

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A Hand-drawn picture of a Mother carried by a North Vietnamese Soldier found in a destroyed village in I Corps by and Australian Adviser on the Australian Army Training Team. The advisor sent it home and it stayed in his trunk until he heard about the Wandering Souls Program.

The son of the mother in the picture was located by articles written in the newspaper and the picture above was returned to the grateful family in North Vietnam by Australians Derrill de Heer and Bob Hall in 2013 as part of their continuing “Operations Wandering Soul” project to return soldier’s artifacts to their families. The son when he identified the pen and ink drawing of his mother told the Australians that the smile never left his face. On the back of the portrait was a family tree showing the eight children in the family. The son wrote to the Australian veteran in Vietnamese and had the letter translated into English, thanking him for keeping the portrait and thanking him for his generosity. 

On 9 April 2012, Australian Vietnam veteran Derrill de Heer turned over the dates and times of more than 4,000 clashes between Australian and PAVN troops as well as data on about 3,905 North Vietnamese Army troops killed to the Information Network on Martyrs (MARIN) in Hanoi. The document comes from the Vietnam “Missing in Action” Project which was initiated by the Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society (ACSACS) at the University of New South Wales Canbera.

The Remains of 25 North Vietnamese Soldiers are Honored

When you write a story you wonder if it is still significant or if the story just gets old and meaningless. This story is still meaningful, and the Vietnamese still search for their dead in 2022. A short film appeared on Facebook featuring Le Hoang Linh, the Vice Head of the English division of Vietnam Television international, the national television in Vietnam. He is also a reporter and a filmmaker. In the film, he shared with the audience a special project that he was working on. He mentioned reading reports of American soldiers digging a mass grave for the dead North Vietnamese troops in the fight for Landing Zone Bird in December 1966. At one point he says about finding a gravesite with the help of some American veterans (edited for brevity):

Now remember, the battle took place nearly 56 years ago and for all that time their families of those soldiers have been living in pain and desperation, not knowing where their loved ones were and what exactly happened to them. I believe that when those bodies can never be found those wandering souls never rest in peace. When they told me they had found the remains of 25 martyrs at LZ Bird who had died in 1966 I cried hysterically.

He goes on to talk about the search for the bodies and recommends that those with knowledge of gravesite get it touch with the National Steering Committee 515 for search, collection, repatriation, and identification of fallen soldiers' remains. About 200,000 Vietnamese remains are still uncounted for.


National Public Radio reported in June 2011, that Steve Goodman, the head of Hyperdub, a London-based record label, opened an exhibit called AUDiNT (Audio Intelligence) at the Art In General gallery in New York City which looks at various military uses of sound. He said:

What we're doing is tracing or mapping these three phases of the history of acoustic weaponry. Firstly, starting with the Second World War, there was a division of the U.S. Army that was referred to as the Ghost Army. Part of what they were involved in was sonic deception, putting loud speakers in the battlefield to create a false impression. So we trace this from the Second World War to the U.S. Army in Vietnam, a division of psychological operations called Wandering Soul. This involved helicopter-mounted loudspeakers playing simulated Buddhist chants, fabricated sounds of the dead ancestors of the Viet Cong fighters speaking to them from the afterlife to try and persuade them to surrender. The third phase is the use of these ultrasound driven directional audio speakers. These speakers can actually rupture eardrums from a distance.

About the same time, Radiolab, a National Public Radio show produced in New York City called me to talk about the effects of the Wandering Soul campaign. Apparently, some of these old PSYOP campaigns still intrigue researchers.

Other sounds used to Frighten or Intimidate an Enemy

There were other types of sounds that have been over the years by the U.S. military to frighten or confuse the enemy.

According to one historian writing in an Internet Forum:

The tape called “Little NVA Sister / Crying Baby.” This tape consists of a little girl pleading desperately for her soldier brother to come home. This was meant to target those young men who had left their parents, their siblings and their home to join the revolutionary cause. This could be effective considering how important on and hieu were. Since an early age, children were instilled with the custom and tradition known as on and hieu. They were taught that they owed their parents a moral debt (on) of such great proportions that it could never be fully repaid. So the children were told and expected to constantly try and please their parents and obey them. This was supposed to make them feel better for themselves, having reduced the burden of work on his parents. Anyone who did not follow through with this was rejected. Social standing was so important that it was considered that each person had to do this and try his/her best not to ruin the family position within the village. The hieu on the other hand was all about honoring, obeying and respecting his/her parents. They were always supposed to put their family and parents' needs, expectations and wishes first. This included caring for them. The eldest sons also had an extra responsibility to take care of the family graves.

A similar story of a young girl’s voice on a tape is told by Jerry C. Bowman of the 4th PSYOP Group attached to the 173rd Airborne Brigade. The story was written by Lou Michel of the Buffalo News dated 27 February 2017:

His first battle was at Dak To in the Central Highlands. A commander ordered Bowman and his interpreter to make their way to a village of Montagnards, a French word describing Vietnam’s mountain people who were American allies. “We set up our speakers on a hill and started playing tapes to the North Vietnamese. I asked my interpreter what we were saying in Vietnamese, and he told me a mother was telling a North Vietnamese soldier a baby crying on the tape was not his. It was a psychological game. She was basically telling the soldier that she had cheated on him while he was away at war.” The mind game backfired. “It upset them and they started mortaring the village and shooting rockets at us. It was like the Fourth of July. We had really p-----d them off.”

Bowman tried to calm the situation. “I had two other tapes with me, one was the Mamas & the Papas and the other was the Four Tops from Motown. I started playing them and it was echoing all over the place. I guess the echoing kind of confused them and they stopped shooting.

In 1967 Vietnam, a Warrant Officer named Terrence M. Connor fitted a police siren to his helicopter of Troop B, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division. He remembered that the sound of the siren had frightened him as a kid and believed that the Viet Cong were a superstitious people who would be frightened by the sound of the siren as adults.

Freelance author Joseph Trevithick wrote about other sound devices in an article entitled The Pentagon Once Tried to Make ‘Screaming’ Bombs. He said that beginning in 1964, the Air Force began work on “Pyrotechnic Harassment Devices,” or PHDs. This was an air deliverable unit that generated noise over a six hour period. The Air Force wanted noise-emitting devices that would be small enough to fit inside a pod-shaped SUU-13 dispenser. The planes could drop the screaming pods before speeding away. The early pods spewed out gun shots, whistles, whines and other white noise. The final design had clusters of blank cartridges to simulate gun sounds. Each canister would fire eight bursts of eight shots total over a period of six hours. The bomblet fired each burst at random intervals. Each time, a special bellow would let out a screaming whine. After the device had finished the full cycle, a one pound explosive charge would blow up the whole unit.

The units were not successful. The PHDs were easy to spot from the ground and the screaming sound was not realistic. The technicians recommended that experimentation continue and new types of harassing bombs should concentrate on one type of noise that sounded real. The Air Force then tried a mechanical or pyrotechnic scream generator that could be dropped from aircraft and broadcast any recorded sound. These were called “screaming meemies.” None of these sound systems saw combat in Vietnam.

In 1993, Army psychological operations troops blasted animal screams and industrial noise at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. It was not successful and federal authorities eventually stormed the site, leading to a fire that killed 76 people.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, American troops deployed Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) and similar sound-making equipment. LRAD could blare out uncomfortable sounds to individuals more than 1,500 feet away. Law enforcement and shipping companies have bought used LRADs against rioters, prison inmates and pirates.


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At the very start of this story in the introduction I mention that in 2015, Perception Pictures based in Brisbane, Australia, asked me to be the PSYOP advisor in a short film set during the Vietnam War that dramatizes Operation Wandering Soul. I wrote this article about the Wandering Soul operation back in the 1980s. I had previously been approached by the L.A. Theatre Works, the BBC Radio, and NPR Radio about similar productions. I told Perception that I would be happy to help. Over the next year or so we had some minor arguments; some of the things said and actions taken by the troops, the rank of the members of the loudspeaker team, the dress of the soldiers, and other small details seemed just a bit off, but of course the Australian film makers were going for dramatic effect while I was going for accuracy. I was a bit surprised when it turned out to be a horror rather than strictly historical feature, but I did think it was really well done and they stuck to the spirit of the story. Although I had a copy of their finished product I kept quiet about the production for three years while further negotiations went on about making a full-length movie went on. As I write this in October 2019, they still go on. But, Josh Turner, the writer and director of the short film finally wrote to me and gave me permission to show the short to everyone. So, I am happy to add it to this article that was the inspiration for the film.

The author invites interested readers who may have additional information or personal experiences with the "Wandering Soul" tape to write to him at