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Military Experiences
Part II: 1945-1961

On Okinawa: The Surrender of Japan,
and a 500,000 manpack Re-Routed to Korea and Indochina

Prouty: On September 1st, 1945 we left Okinawa after an enormous hurricane and flew north to Tokyo over the storm, which meant we had to fly at about 14,000 feet. We never saw any of the islands as we approached, but our navigator got us directly up there so that we looked down in the clouds and right in the top of the clouds we saw the top of Mt. Fuji. With that as a fix we went down through the clouds into Tokyo Bay. We had no electronic navigation aides, but of course Mt. Fuji was a good fix.

We broke out of the clouds at about 1100 feet in heavy rain. There, almost right under us, was the U.S. Navy anchored almost in a big crescent of ships with the battleship Missouri as a centerpiece. September 2nd, the day after we made this first flight into Japan, was the day the Japanese surrendered on the U.S. Navy Battleship Missouri to General MacArthur.

We followed a small river to an air base called Atsugi and landed there. We found out after we had landed that, out of about fifty airplanes that had taken off that morning, only three of us had arrived there -- because the weather was severe. It was just the luck we had of seeing that little tip of Fuji that made it possible for us to get in. But it turned the tables on us. Because here we were: we were the second plane -- there was one plane there and shortly after we landed a third plane came. And Atsugi was surrounded by several hundred thousand Japanese. And we thought: we were in a deathly war only a few days before; we'd hit them with atom bombs -- what's our reception going to be? And here we were just in an unarmed transport plane.

Our cargo, interestingly enough, was 44 Marines. The other airplanes had equal numbers but, with only three planes we had about 130 Marines. They were going to become the elite guard for MacArthur as he set up his headquarters in Tokyo. So with 140 Marines I don't know how long we could have lasted. But, the Japanese had been told by the Emperor that the war was over. They made no hostile moves. In fact, they came forward and by hand off-loaded our airplane. We had three jeeps on that plane. And by standing on the flatbed of a truck, they lifted the jeep from the plane onto the truck and then lifted the jeep onto the ground. And these were our enemies the week before.

It's unbelievable, to think of how wartime emotions can shift immediately. Of course we need to think more of that, because our wartime alliance with the Soviet Union ended in the same way. When the hostile battles against the Germans and the Japanese ended, they became our friends immediately; and the Russians became our enemies. It's a very strange thing. I don't think that historians have dealt properly with the enormous differences that took place -- even before the end of the war (I was going to say at the end of World War II) -- even before the end of World War II.

I'd like to recap a few months. The Germans surrendered on May 8th, I believe, 1945. Before their surrender the German foreign minister, Count Lutz Schwerin Von Krosigk made the Iron Curtain speech in Berlin. Not Winston Churchill. A Nazi made that speech. You can read it in the London Times of May 3, 1945. He stated that the Russians were going to lower an Iron Curtain over Eastern Europe. Churchill read that and was impressed by it. He had yet to meet Truman officially. (Truman had just become President after the death of Roosevelt.) He wrote Truman a letter in which he spoke about this Iron Curtain being dropped over Eastern Europe. Truman was fascinated with the letter, invited Churchill (later, 1946 I believe) to come to the States, and it resulted in the famous Iron Curtain speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri.

Churchill did not originate the Iron Curtain concept; the Germans did. And the Germans that did were the ones who were in contact with our OSS and who had been led to believe there would be life after war if they allied themselves again with the Americans. Even the Iron Curtain speech had its origins during the war instead of after the war. These are interesting events when you think back to them.

I couldn't help but think, as we rolled this airplane on Atsugi air base in front of the hundreds of thousands of Japanese, that here were our enemies -- and immediately they were not. They came over and helped us unload the plane. And they've been our friends ever since. I've lived in Japan for three years since then and never was a victim of any kind of unfriendly act in Japan, under any circumstances, over the years.

Incidentally, Atsugi became the Japanese and Far Eastern headquarters for our CIA in later years and is a very active base for that purpose. So a lot of these things that we date September 2, 1945, need to be carefully analyzed for their impact upon events that have happened since then -- the Cold War and all that sort of thing.

There was also another important event: on the day we left Okinawa to go to Japan, I noticed that our Navy was loading ships in Naha harbor at Okinawa. When I came back from the flight -- we were living very close to the harbor -- I went down to the harbor and happened to run into a Navy captain who was the harbormaster.

Ratcliffe: You came back from the flight on the same day?

Prouty: Same day. It was a short flight. Four hours up and four hours back. We couldn't stay; there was no place to stay. In fact, we couldn't even get fuel. We had to carry enough fuel up to get back. That caused us quite a bit of trouble. We lost quite a few planes that way -- they didn't have enough fuel to get back. And we didn't have enough experience with that operation. But we got back that day.

The next day I went down to the harbor and met the harbormaster. Okinawa had been absolutely loaded with supplies for the invasion of Japan. It had been planned that 500,000 men would invade Japan and we had stock-piled what we call a "500,000 Manpack." That's enough equipment, medicine, radios, everything, for 500,000 men for a certain fixed period of time. I wish I could tell you, but it's probably a month, or two months, something like that.

Ratcliffe: 500,000 men.

Prouty: A "500,000 Manpack" of supplies had been stacked up there on Okinawa. Now of course that wasn't all that would go into the invasion, because ships that had been preloaded for the invasion would also come in. But anyway, on Okinawa there was an enormous amount of equipment. And all of a sudden it was being reloaded on trucks, put back on transport ships, and sailing out to sea.

The first thing I asked the commander was, "Is this all going back to the United States?" He said, "No. We don't want any of that back. Anything that isn't going to be used is going to be junked." He said, "This is going to Hanoi in Indochina." And he said, "Actually about half is going to Indochina."

At that time, that didn't have the same impact on me that it would have today. I've since learned that when it got to Hanoi -- to the harbor of Haiphong -- it was turned over to the representatives of Ho Chi Minh. We gave this equipment to Ho Chi Minh, who was with our own Army, with General Gallagher of the U.S. Army. We were equipping his people so they could help us round up renegade Japanese -- and this would be their way of arming and putting together their original army in North Vietnam.

Now this was September 2, 1945. Also on that date, by another coincidence, with the American Army General Gallagher standing beside him and OSS representative Lou Conein there, Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence of Vietnam. He established the national independence of that country on that same date that the Japanese signed the surrender.

It's an historic date, because it marks the beginning of our entry on the ground in Vietnamese affairs, which lasted from 45 until '75. Most historians don't use that 20-year period from '45 to '65, when our Marines finally landed on the shores of Vietnam. They forget that we were there for 20 years before that. We'll say more about that as we go along, but this is an important date.

We went into Japan three or four times after that, generally picking up American prisoners of war, who had been very quickly released by the Japanese, and we got them all out of there. In one of those flights, I flew along the coast of Japan and flew right over Hiroshima.

Having seen many cities that had been devastated by the war (Tokyo really worse than any of them), Hiroshima was quite an unusual sight. Because you could see that whatever had happened to Hiroshima happened instantly. All of the destruction was in one direction. The wind blew one way. The bomb burst and phum!, the whole city just burst outwards like that. Much of it looked like powder-grey; everything was burned and broken, and steel buildings were bent over.

I flew very low over the area and had a good look at it. It was something that we had to learn a lot about. Because a lot of people have no concept really of what this thing called an atom bomb, or hydrogen bomb, can do to a target. And one bomb wiped it out, totally.

1946-1948: Inaugurating the Air Force's
ROTC Program at Yale

While I was on Okinawa we were continuing this postwar cleanup of our prisoners and people that needed medical care from Japan. After a few months in California, I received orders to transfer me to a training program and then to Yale University to inaugurate the Air Force's ROTC program in 1946.

Ratcliffe: This would have been in 1946?

Prouty: This was in September, '46. We -- the Air Force had not had ROTC before the war. The Air Corps was part of the Army then and Army ROTC covered Air Force and everything else, so we hadn't had a distinct ROTC. But the decision had been made to establish an Air Force ROTC. So we transferred from San Francisco, where we were living then, to New Haven. I taught there through the scholastic years of '46, '47, and '48.

Those were very interesting years in the campuses and very interesting years for the ROTC program. For example: I would have, say, 35 students enrolled in the course and I might have 200 auditing the course. They were very, very interested in the military in those days. They were very interested in what you might call "postwar studies of World War II" by all of us that were teaching.

There were three of us with the Air Force ROTC program; we were all veterans of the war and we could speak firsthand. There was a Navy program there and an Army program. So ROTC was a pretty strong course. But the student interest amazed me. I was there when President Bush was a student. I remember William Buckley as the editor of the Yale Daily News. In fact, I wrote for him several times. Many of the other people of that era now have become rather prominent people in the United States.

When you start a course like that, you have no antecedent. We didn't even have offices. Our offices at first were in a corridor. You don't have books, you don't have textbooks. You don't have the lesson guides. So we were authorized by the Air Force to teach certain subjects. They gave us a list of including Aeronautics (obviously), Meteorology, Comptrollership (which the Air Force was very strong in -- it was a new subject in the military in those days), Personnel, and Logistics. The obvious.

I taught a very interesting course called "The Evolution of Warfare" that went way back to throwing stones and using clubs and on up to jet planes and atom bombs. That's the course where the crowd of students used to come to.

1949-1950: Writing the First USAF ROTC text book on
Aeronautics and a Major Portion of
Rockets and Guided Missiles

After three years of that work I was asked to transfer to New York City and write textbooks, because we had to get textbooks onto the campuses. I wrote the first textbook for the Air Force on the subject of Aeronautics, and I wrote a major portion of another textbook on the subject of Munitions that was the text on Rockets and Guided Missiles regarding this entirely new area that was coming in after World War II -- rockets and missiles.

It was a very interesting task to be asked to do because we had very little reference material on the subject. My orders authorized me to visit anyone, anywhere in the United States (like at a factory or a university or any other place) that knew anything about rockets and missiles in order to write the book. So I visited Werner Von Braun, Walter Dornberger, the German experts from Pennemunde, and the other big names in the rocket business because there was no one else to see.

Ratcliffe: What was your impression of someone like Von Braun? -- personal impression?

Prouty: A remarkable individual. In those days he seemed absolutely dedicated to rocketry. That was everything for him -- rockets. He told me about building a rocket that would go to the moon -- which, of course, he did. I don't think we can say that anyone else had as dominant a part in sending a rocket to the moon as he did. But even in those days he would tell me how he was going to do it. And I know, from my inexperienced view of things, that I used to wonder how he meant to do it -- because he said he would fire a rocket to the moon, and then it would orbit the moon, and then another rocket would drop down to the moon -- a lander. Well, it's exactly what they did. But I used to think back at that -- in fact, I wrote about it. I had to write about how this was going to work. I would have a little trouble visualizing what this man could plan. He was an absolutely dedicated genius. I had no way (or reason) to discuss any of his politics. I didn't even think about that, I was so busy picking up ideas from him.

I remember another thing: I asked him about the benefits of the propulsion systems, whether solid propellants or liquid propellants were preferred. As far as he was concerned, liquid propellant was the only way. His argument for that was, first of all, there is much more specific impulse -- much more rocket power -- in the liquid-propellant chemicals (the fuels) than there is in solid-propellant chemicals.

I thought of that when we lost the "Challenger" shuttle rocket off Florida, because the trouble was with the solid-propellant component. I still believe they should not be using the solid propellant for that kind of flight. They use them for smaller ones but not for that kind of flight, because the liquid propellant system is much better. I don't know whether you recall or not, but the rockets that went to the moon, the Apollo ship -- those were all liquid propellants designed by Von Braun. All the Soviet flights are with liquid propellant.

On subjects like that you couldn't have talked to a more competent, more able man than Von Braun. That was the impression I had. For his years, he was a very youngish man -- vigorous, young. Of course, his English was heavily coated with a German accent but I could understand what he said.

On the other hand, Dr. Dornberger, who had been Von Braun's mentor at Pennemunde.

Ratcliffe: -- and his military superior,

Prouty: Yes, his superior -- was a completely different person. You had to draw him out a little to get him to talk. He was more the manager, he was more the operator. And he was working for a private corporation then -- the Bell Aircraft Company in Buffalo. He was a very impressive individual. For the purposes of my book, I had no reason to talk with him at much length. I saw right away that he was just going to talk about administrative things and I didn't need that. I wanted to write about the technical side. So I don't have a very distinct impression of him, as I do of Von Braun.

They were both interesting and they were both, you might say, removed from Germany under this program of bringing German scientists and specialists -- and they're probably two of the most famous that were brought out. I didn't realize -- that was 1949 -- that in 1955 I would be in the Pentagon, and responsible for scheduling many of those "Deep Water", covert flights out of Germany. But we'll talk about that when we get to it.

1950-1951: A New Air Defense Command

After I completed these textbooks and some of the lesson-guide material and all that we needed, the Korean War broke out in June of 1950. My military base at the time (although I was working in New York) was at the Mitchel Field on Long Island, in the headquarters of the Air Force's Continental Air Command. A decision had been made to create a new Air Defense Command. And for reasons that aren't clear to me, I was one of five officers selected to go to Colorado Springs and initiate that new command. It was a very interesting situation, because we were developing radars that could cover the North American continent, and that gave us the capability to track any oncoming aircraft and, later on, missiles. We had developed interceptor fighter aircraft that were capable of handling any bombers that might come in.

So we visualized the creation of an adequate defense system at that time -- 1950. As rocket and missile technology came in, things haven't changed appreciably and, effectively, today we do not have an air defense system. We talk about it; but we don't have one. But we thought we could build a good one in those days.

I stayed with the Air Defense Command -- I was Director of Personnel Planning for this command of 77,000 people. We were the first ones, in our office, to use computers in such a thing as personnel records, all that management of records. It was a very interesting time. We hadn't had computers. Everything was done with typewriters and paper and pencil. And we were able to keep the records of 77,000 people up to date in real-time on computers. Of course, they were the old-style computers. I remember the biggest problem we had was getting rid of the excess heat generated by all these computers. But they did a good job. And we learned how to use them.

Ratcliffe: This was for 77,000 government Air Force personnel?

Prouty: Air Force military people. We handled all their records. Actually it became a very important system because we could order full-size units to Korea, to the Korean War, without any trouble at all -- because we had all the data right there in the computer. It had never been done before. Immediately, of course, it spread throughout the entire military system. But I believe we had the first office that did that.

Ratcliffe: And that was in Colorado Springs.

Prouty: Colorado Springs, in 1950-51. Then at the end of '51, I was sent to several nuclear schools. A lot of us in the military had absolutely no idea about handling nuclear weapons, the effect of nuclear weapons, what they were, and all that sort of thing. There was no intention to make us nuclear physicists. What they were trying to do was teach us something about the weapons.

The military was going through a very difficult period at that time, because only a few military people knew the technology of the enormous devastation power of the atom bomb. Hydrogen bombs came a little later. It was difficult, tactically, to work that into a military plan because: you get your forces lined up as we did in Germany, and start moving them, and you get hit by nuclear weapons and your forces are all knocked to pieces. Plus the fact that there is this residual radioactivity which is even worse than the explosion.

So I went to three different nuclear schools. And was very glad I did, because I learned early in the business to have enormous respect for their power and what they could do, and really, what they could not do. I'm still convinced that what they cannot do is be used in warfare -- not used successfully. They can be used for what you might call in warfare "mass suicide", world suicide. But not for victory in a war. That's why they weren't used in Korea and in Vietnam. We didn't think of it that way in those days, but that's what happened.

From those schools I was then sent to the Air Command and Staff School at Montgomery, Alabama. This was a six-month course -- and it was a very interesting course. Because I had been writing for the ROTC textbooks, I was asked to do some writing there. I wrote the first statement of Air Power and its effectiveness for the new Air Force. It was just a four-page paper but it was reproduced in hundreds of thousands of copies so people could get an idea what this new nuclear-age air power was all about. It interested me an awful lot, and I think it interested everybody in the Air Force.

1952-1954: Managing Tokyo International Airport
And Heavy-Transport Flying

Prouty: That was in the spring of '52. I received orders from the Air Command Staff School to go to Korea. This was at the height of the Korean War. I left my family in Montgomery, and when I arrived in Tokyo, as I stepped off the plane, a colonel was there at the foot of the stairs and asked if I was Colonel Prouty. I said yes, and he said, "Your orders have been changed. You're going to stay at this base."

That was the Haneda, Tokyo International Airport. The plane I had arrived on was going through to Korea. They had to find my baggage and unload it. I went in to see the commanding officer of the base and he said: "Because of your background experience" (primarily, the experience I had as "Chief Pilot" at Cairo in the Air Transport Command), "We've just had a man have a heart attack who was managing Tokyo International Airport." This was the period of the occupation of Japan, so almost any major activity was actually run by Americans with Japanese in backup positions.

Before too long I was the Military Manager of Tokyo International Airport, the third busiest airport in the world. However, not as busy as Cairo was during the war -- it was not all that much of a surprise. But it was a very interesting period and I enjoyed working with the Japanese, who were planning to take over the field as soon as our occupation ended. I got to know many of them in those days and worked with a lot of them who eventually formed Japanese Air Lines (JAL) and some of the others, manufacturers that were in the business.

All that time I was flying. I'd kept up my active heavy-transport flying. This brought me into the Philippines -- Manila; into Saigon, Bangkok, New Delhi, India, and even back to Saudi Arabia.

I arrived in Saudi Arabia exactly 10 years to the date (in the month) that I had gone there with General C.R. Smith when I went to visit the people from California Standard Oil, when we painted our airplane and went into Saudi Arabia back in 1943. And -- an interesting little note -- I arrived in Saudi Arabia and here it was built up like a modern state, with all this oil money and all the oil people. What a difference it was. When I was there in 1943, it was absolutely barren.

I got out of the airplane, got cleared with all the paperwork (from bringing our plane and passengers in there), and went quickly to a telephone, and opened the telephone book. I looked for the name of the man we met when we landed on the beach that day (or on the sand that day in 1943) when General Smith got out of the plane and shook his hand. His name was Floyd Oligher. He was a long-time engineering employee of California Standard Oil and one of the founders of Aramco. Aramco is the most profitable corporation ever made by man.

I found his name and just for the fun of it, dialed his telephone number. Some man at his house answered the phone and said, "Mr. Oligher is very busy right now." It was in the evening. He was having a big party at his house, an official party. And he said, "But may I ask your name?" I said, "I'm Colonel Prouty." I said, "I visited Mr. Oligher here in Dhahran in October, 1943." The man said, "Just a minute please Colonel." And in no time I hear, "Prouty, what are you doing?" He remembered me of course, and we had quite a reunion there. But now, I couldn't believe what had happened to the sands of Dhahran in Saudi Arabia in 10 years.

Out of Tokyo we ran a regularly scheduled heavy-transport run from Tokyo to Okinawa to the Philippines to Saigon to Bangkok to Calcutta, New Delhi, to Karachi and then to Dhahran. It was called the Embassy Run. We served the embassies back and forth through South Asia. Again, as I learned later, a certain amount of that activity had to do with the CIA. So you see, once again, we're in this little fringe area of work that goes on all the time, beginning with the OSS and the OPC and the CIA and the rest of it.

In 1953, probably about May or June, the commander of the heavy-transport squadron at Tokyo was being rotated back to the States and they asked me to transfer from managing the airport to being commander of the squadron. We had turned the airport over to the Japanese; they now were operating the field. I became squadron commander, responsible for flights every day to Korea (mostly for the evacuation of the sick and wounded), flights every day to Hawaii, some to San Francisco, and flights two or three times a week to Manila and Saigon and that sort of thing. We were running a major service over more than one-half of the Earth. I also continued the Embassy Run that went all the way to Saudi Arabia.

Ratcliffe: When was that, in 1953?

Prouty: That was in about -- oh, let's say about June of '53. I stayed in that job until December of '54. It was very interesting in that period because, although none of us out there realized it, we were gradually stepping up American influence in Indochina.

One of the first things we realized was that a lot of C-119 heavy transport planes (we used to call them "flying boxcars") were operating under an airline we knew as CAT, Civil Air Transport Airline, with American pilots. They were delivering supplies to the French, who were deeply involved in fighting Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh forces and especially in trying to extricate the French army out of Dien Bien Phu. The first American airplane and crew shot down in Indochina was shot down trying to supply Dien Bien Phu at that time, in 1954.

Other flights that we were operating from Manila served the logistics needs back and forth between Manila and Saigon for the Saigon Military Mission (which we'll talk about later). I met then-Colonel Lansdale (and Bohannan and many of his people who were connected with that). And in that long five-and-a-half-hour flight between Manila and Saigon we spent many an hour talking about his activities in support of the election of President Magsaysay and the planned activities of his organization in Vietnam -- which at that time was just beginning. The White House approval for that took place in early 1954, when we were still flying that run regularly.

Some of these practical, everyday working experiences in the Far East played a strong role in my work later in the Pentagon between 1955 and 1963. The rest of the transport flying was rather pedestrian. We had a very busy time, we all were doing quite a lot of flying in that period.

1955: Attending the Armed Forces Staff College

At the end of 1954 I was selected to attend the school run by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the Armed Forces Staff College. That's in Norfolk, Virginia, at the Norfolk Navy Base. It's a six-month school -- an excellent, excellent military course. I happened to be there for the first half of 1955.

One part of the curriculum is quite outstanding for that period. One of the courses the school gave was to set up a NATO-type combat operation. They would divide the school into two forces: one would be Red and one would be Blue. And obviously, the Reds were the communists. So they were the ones that were attacking the West. They were the ones that began -- or initiated the attack. Those of us in the Blue forces would defend against the attack. It would be the hypothetical NATO confrontation through Europe.

In the assignment of forces -- very interesting how the school did that -- they assigned each student a role -- like a commanding general, like Patton, like Bradley, like Montgomery -- and you're in charge of what goes on through the area, as though you were a regular top general in the command. It's very, very good experience. And the school staff had quite a lot of experience in running these courses -- each class -- that's twice a year.

But in '55, for the first time, they assigned a student commander of nuclear forces. This was new. They gave the Soviet army nuclear capability. So it was the first time that two large forces (NATO and Warsaw Pact) would confront each other, potentially, with nuclear weapons.

I was made the Commander of the Nuclear Force on the Blue team -- and had no -- I'll admit it frankly -- I had no idea what you would do with nuclear weapons in that kind of a war. But I figured: if they can hit as hard as I know they can hit, then, when I see the Soviets breaking through here or breaking through there, I'm going to hit them with everything we've got and wipe them out. Whether we could use the territory afterwards or not, that was someone else's business -- the other general's job. I took care of that one.

The way this plan broke loose is rather interesting. The Red forces attacked through the Balkans, and into Turkey, and made very fast gains into Turkey -- because they surprised the Blue forces in the main part of Europe, where they thought the main attack would be. And they made this flank run through Turkey and the Balkans, down into Greece.

Within about three days, the Red forces had taken Greece, had about half of Turkey, and were obviously heading for the Middle East and the oil and the routes to the world through the Middle East. It was a clever maneuver. Those of us on the Blue team had no idea that it would happen this way, so we didn't have enough forces on hand in Greece and Turkey to stop them.

So I presented the idea for a nuclear counter-attack. What I had done was, I measured how many miles were on the Soviet front -- in that area. I divided it up into a certain number of nuclear weapons. And I decided that, if I set these nuclear weapons down like fenceposts along a fence, I'd completely stop them. So I asked for the permission to drop nuclear weapons that way. There was no way they could refuse me, so they gave the OK. So we dropped them. And when we saw what happened -- of course on paper, but -- when we saw what happened, I went to the chief umpire of the war game, a "Three-star" Vice Admiral, and I said, "Admiral, the war is over." He said, "On what grounds?" I said, "We have wiped out all of these forces. We have destroyed all of their routes. We have destroyed all of their communications and their supplies with atomic bombs in a line from the Bosphorus to the Black Sea. The entire territory is radioactive, so nobody can go through there. The war is over."

It just shocked the whole group -- because, they knew that too. They knew that nuclear weapons had that capability. It took them about a day; and after that day they called off the rest of the exercise. It was supposed to run for a month. And this happened -- we did it about the fourth day.

This is very important -- because I don't know of any other time when our military have actually confronted on the ground, on military maps, the force structures that would be used for such a defensive action, and then the impact of what nuclear weapons could do. One of the reasons I declared the war to be over was because I would have used my other nuclear weapons against any other outbreak exactly in the same way. And they agreed; they agreed the war was over.

But what they really agreed to, what we spent the rest of the month talking about as a review of that, was: "What are we going to do in war plans?" How on earth are we going to fight a war? We had fought the Korean War to a standstill -- no nuclear weapons. When General MacArthur had tried to cross the Yalu River into China he had been stopped for procedural reasons, but mainly because our administration thought that the response against his attack would be nuclear. So we didn't do it.

The Vietnam War had not heated up at that time -- the Vietnam War was underway but it was all covert. This was just a school exercise, but done seriously and with many senior officers there. We had probably as many as twelve admirals and generals who were the umpires of the whole thing. I know from my point of view, it was a very convincing activity.

1955: Assignment to New Position of "Focal Point" Officer
for Air Force Support of
U.S. Government Clandestine Operations

I had been told when I went to the school that my assignment from the Armed Forces Staff College would be to go back to Colorado Springs to the Air Defense Command where I already had experience. I was quite surprised at the end of the course to find out that I was being sent to the Pentagon.

Ratcliffe: Let me stop for just a second. In this course, then, it sounds as if they were learning from the experiences of you and the others participating in these classes about the limitations inherent with nuclear weapons.

Prouty: This is the way those schools are run. They're excellent schools; they really are -- like Army War College, National War College. They are all run that way. And the senior officers are intelligently selected to do that -- to let the people who have the roles in these exercises carry out the roles just the way General Patton did -- just have the run of the Army.

It's a good point you make, because there was no contest between anybody about the things we said we did or could do, as long as it was valid. The others recognized it right away. This is quite true of the way these schools are run, and it's what makes them good. They're really good military schools.

However, in modern-day clothes they have a very serious problem that they cannot handle. Because we were talking about atom bombs. Now the hydrogen bomb -- every American should be required to read about the destruction created -- the power, the force of the Bravo Shot at Eniwetok on March 1, 1954 -- that was above 15 megatons. It would be unbelievable. It would wipe out any city -- Los Angeles, Washington -- and not only wipe it out but move the debris that's lethal hundreds of miles downwind. You cannot fight war with that.

So, admittedly, today there are enormous problems in trying to visualize a real war. I personally am willing to go off the deep end and say we'll never fight another all-out war. War will be fought economically or by terrorists -- one end of the scale or the other.

But you see, that little battle we had in '55, was a very significant step in the development of overall military planning. I went to the Pentagon from that school and was sent to the Air Force Plans Office. This was in July of 1955.

I had been there about, oh I don't know, three or four weeks when I received a call to go to the office of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Thomas D. White. General White's career had been in intelligence. He'd had many other duties and was a very well-trained and experienced intelligence officer.

He told me that the National Security Council had published a Directive -- #5412, in 1954 -- and that Directive defined "Covert Operations" and established how the United States government would perform and support covert operations.[1] It required that the Department of Defense provide the material support, the personnel support, the bases, the equipment for clandestine operations, whether they were to be run by the CIA or by the Defense Department or both. Whatever the clandestine operation, we would provide the manpower and the logistic support. This would require special techniques and special procedures to keep it secret, to pay the bills, and all that sort of thing -- handle people who were killed, and so on.

He said to me, "We have no policy on this. This is new. And you are going to be the `Focal Point' Officer. You'll be given an office and responsibilities in which you will draw up this policy in conjunction with all of the air staff experts that are needed and in conjunction with the CIA."

I had never (other than in peripheral day-to-day work) had anything to do with CIA. But I found out that in that period -- 1955 -- a great number of those people in the CIA were ex-military people, who had the same ideas about combat that I had, and clandestine operations, and things like that. So I sat down and for at least six months worked to draw up the paper, a formal paper, for the "Military Support of the Clandestine Operations of the United States Government."

Ratcliffe: Now what was your title?

Prouty: I was the "Chief of Team B." That is a euphemism for being in charge of special operations, or clandestine operations, for the Air Force. I established the "Focal Point" office and ran its staff. We had staff all over the world, a rather large office, and special communications. I stayed in that job (precisely the same work, same office) until 1960, when I was assigned to the office of the Secretary of Defense, in the Office of Special Operations under a retired U.S. Marine Corps General Graves B. Erskine.

Now, in getting this work done, I did a lot of work with our general counsel in the Air Force. In other words, we needed a lot of legal help. Because for clandestine work, in order to be effective, the bills have to be paid without leaving a trail. You can't go to Congress and say, "We need $10 million because we're going to run some covert operation." You have to have the money available all the time. It has to be ready and we have to know how to use it. Or, if we used twenty airplanes in some covert work and we lost three of them, we have to account for the loss. Just like you'd have to account any loss you had in a business or in the military -- and on and on.

We've seen in the recent publicity surrounding Colonel North and General Secord and all those people, what a difficult time they had accounting for Hawk missiles and T.O.W. missiles for delivery to Iran. It's not easy. The aspect that intrigued me was: many of the words they used in their testimony (which apparently weren't noticed by either Congress or the press) are the code words we had in our original plan back in 1955.

Ratcliffe: What were some of those typical words?

Prouty: One of them that is a really key code word is that Mr. Weinberger one day said that: "We didn't do anything out of the ordinary. We just used the Economy Act principles and went ahead and provided what was needed for the Contras and for Iran." Well, The Economy Act of 1932 became the heart of the covert program.

I don't think this is the place to elaborate on that, but that's a code word which he used. And if Mr. Weinberger says "we used that," then he must have known what he was doing was covert. But the press and the Congress didn't notice that and it went through. That was repeated many a time. Other people repeated the same terms and others fabricated terms like that.

When I finished with this "Team B" document it was approved by the Air Force. We had no trouble with that. We told the Army (what we call "coordinated"), we coordinated with the Army and Navy, who had developed their own documents -- very much like ours. We got it approved by the Secretary of Defense and his special counsel for this, and arranged support primarily with a special office in the Comptroller's Office, so that all the money and everything else could be taken care of.

Then I was told to go over and see Allen Dulles, who was Director of Central Intelligence at that time, and his general counsel, an absolutely wonderful person named Larry Houston. Larry Houston and I worked on this for several weeks together. I was not there for their approval; the Department of Defense doesn't need the approval of the Central Intelligence Agency. We were there just to be sure that we could cooperate on the same programs and procedures effectively.

Coordination of the CIA: How Covert Operations Are Run

Prouty: The really interesting point about this coordination with the CIA is that it gets you into the hot core of how covert operations really are managed. You try to run them as much like an ordinary military operation as you can. So one of the things we did was we created literally hundreds of false military organizations.

We could take rifles out of a Marine storage facility -- say a thousand rifles -- and have the Marines transfer them to the Air Force. Now that's a perfectly legitimate action within the military. The Air Force credits the Marine Corps with a certain amount of money and the Marines are happy. They can go buy more rifles if they need them, and if they don't they just put the money in their own account. The Air Force has these rifles. So the Marine Corps's not going to say anything. It was simply a regular transaction. There's nothing going on to raise eyebrows there.

Now the Air Force has a thousand rifles. So the Air Force has a unit we'll call the 1234 Logistics Squadron at the Fort Meyer base, where we have many other special units. And we assign these thousand rifles to that 1234 Logistics unit. But that unit has nobody, or it has one man, and he has a telephone listed under that 1234 Logistics unit. But that unit really belongs to CIA. Now, nobody knows that except this clandestine system we established, which we called "Tab-6".

The transfer mechanisms are made in accordance with the National Economy Act of 1932 (believe it or not, '32) as amended -- as it's amended currently. That act permits us to do this easily and without any raised eyebrows. It's a perfectly normal financial transaction within the Department of Defense, given the fact that the Defense Department people don't know that this phony unit is not a real Air Force unit.

By transferring it to that unit, we have now put it in the hands of the CIA. That unit, though, is given a fiscal account. And we transfer enough money now to cover the cost of those rifles back to the Air Force's account. So the Marine Corps came out even, now the Air Force comes out even, and now the CIA is charged for the cost of this transaction.

By the way, it's this system that proves how ridiculous some of the defense in this "Iran Contra" thing was. The Contras don't need money for their support. You don't transfer money -- but that's another story. But you can see, we were avoiding this -- that we knew what happened when you're talking about the money for the Contras. It's ridiculous. We didn't transfer money for the Bay of Pigs people. We didn't transfer money for the big rebellion that we supported in Indonesia. It cost hundreds of millions of dollars; we didn't transfer a penny. Nobody knew about the money. We didn't raise money from the Sheik of Borneo or from the King of Saudi Arabia. The money was transferred quietly on paper in the government. And nobody saw it because of the Economy Act principles -- which Weinberger talked about anyway! There's something very much mixed-up in this Iran/Contra thing, because they didn't need the money to transfer in the first place . . . unless someone was stealing it.

Ratcliffe: But no one else would know that who was just in civilian life.

Prouty: That's right. Nobody in the newspapers, apparently, or Congress, apparently, knew it. But anyway, this is how we do it. Then the Agency has a thousand rifles. Now they could put them in use on whatever project they had that had been approved for the use of those rifles. And nobody knows they're being used -- with another exception: it's Military people that use rifles, not Agency people.

So we would have -- I think in my day we had about 5,000 military people within the CIA who were there for the benefit of the Agency and may or may not have been paid by the Agency, depending on how we shared the benefits.

Again, that gets into the intricacies of Colonel North and his case. Was Colonel North really working for the National Security Council? Or was he just another Marine officer doing what the Marines wanted to do? And is he paid by the Marine Corps, therefore would be under the Marine Corps's jurisdiction? He wasn't under the jurisdiction of NSC; he just had an office there.

We used to do the same thing with about 5,000 people. And we had both ways of doing it, but the majority of the way was: Military would pay their own men and would retain control over their own people.

This is the kind of coordination that we carried out during the early part of '56 with Larry Houston and some of his people. Until finally, about the summer of '56, the entire "Tab-6" coded program was approved. Then Mr. Dulles called me in one day and said that he was going to send me around the world to many of his stations -- I think 40 or 42 -- to meet his "Chiefs of Station" around the world, with one of his selected people and then with others in the different regions, like European region, or Middle East region, and so on.

So in the fall of 1956 I traveled, by way of Tokyo, and Manila, and India, and Teheran, and Istanbul and so on, around the world to all the CIA stations. By that time, our program was in effect. Myself and my staff had been properly brought into all this work. We understood how it was going to work, We had the bases established; we had many people and a lot of airplanes assigned to the program. The work became effective (as we now know it) by the end of 1956.

Ratcliffe: What was the purpose of your trip around the world, in seeing these stations?

Prouty: The Agency runs its business around the world under certain very important people known as the "Chief of Station:" Chief of Station, Paris, Chief of Station, Saigon, Chief of Station, Manila. Well, I met 40 or 42 of them on this round-the-world trip. A lot of what you do in clandestine work has to be done on a secure phone call basis. You understand each other, you have to know the person. It was a very good move. And I got to meet these people and meet some of their staff. I knew what buildings they were working in.

For example, in Athens: They were working in what's called the MAAG, the Military Aid and Assistance Group. That was a military staff, I think, of about 15 people, supposedly. I walked into a building with four floors crowded with people. CIA was using the MAAG for cover. So if you know that, it helps you to do your business with that office. Same thing like that all over the world.

The Suez Crisis of 1956

Most of this trip that we made in 1956 had been carefully planned ahead of time, but there were two rather significant events which arose during the trip that we all know about that sometimes need a little more understanding. One was the Suez crisis in 1956. At that time the British and French, planning together for a major covert operation, wanted to invade Egypt and overthrow Nasser, the President of Egypt. And helping them were the army of the Israelis under their famous general, Moshe Dayan.

Just as we arrived from Teheran into Istanbul, Turkey, we noticed something quite unusual. We were booked into a hotel that had not opened publicly up till that time: it was the new Hilton Hotel in Istanbul. And we had been told that. We were told we had rooms, but the hotel was going to open, in something like the next week. But the night we got there, the hotel all of a sudden filled up. All the people were wives and children of prominent, wealthy Egyptians.

We couldn't figure out the reason for this until the next day when we learned of this attack on Egypt by the British and French and by Moshe Dayan's fast attack across the Sinai toward Egypt. This turned out to be a very historic event because, if you'll remember, the British and French were successful with their landings and probably within a few days could have reached Cairo. Because, in the planning of their attack, they took care of something that was absolutely essential.

A clandestine force of British and French fighter aircraft destroyed every single combat aircraft that the Egyptian air force had. So that, in their attack on Egypt, there was no air attack. They didn't have to worry about air cover. In modern warfare, that is so important. We learned a lot from that plan. So Dayan's move across the Sinai was uninterrupted by any air attack -- he just moved across. And he approached Ismailia on the top of the Red Sea almost without opposition.

Due to the political situation, John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State, "acted" as though he was amazed by this action of the British and French and the Israelis, and spoke worldwide that they must stop, that they must recall their forces. This shook the British something awful -- and the French. But they did, they stopped the forces. Then from Moscow, Khrushchev issued another long-range threat. He said: "If the forces aren't withdrawn, I will fire rockets on the capitols of Europe" -- meaning nuclear rockets (we assumed). Without any delay, the British and French backed off the shores, and Dayan's army stopped where it was.

This had a long, long-term effect. Because it's quite clear that had the British and French captured Egypt and controlled the Suez again, there might not have been a major war, or an escalation of the war in Vietnam, or the loss of Algiers to France. They felt very bad about this opposition from Dulles. And Dulles' claim was that he had not been told that they were going to do this. There's a lot of controversy about that. But we can add, from our side, that we knew everything they were doing, because we had U-2's flying over their forces and we knew exactly what they were doing. So, Dulles' comments were not exactly accurate in this regard. The Department of State may not have been told, but they knew what was going on.

The other side of it was the threat from Khrushchev -- coming at that time, early in the rocket age, this was '56 -- had us going to the drawing boards immediately. We found that a missile fired from the area of Moscow to the furthest capital in Europe would have to go about seventeen hundred miles. This magic seventeen hundred-mile figure led to the design of what was called the "intermediate range missile." People used to wonder: why would we establish this "intermediate-range missile"? Well we figured, if the Soviets have missiles that can go that far, we ought to have missiles that can go that far. Just like, if the Soviets had a Sputnik in space, we ought to have a Sputnik in space, and so on. It's the old typical mirror-image game: if they have it, we need it. But these things grew out of this attack on the Suez, which is still very controversial. You can scarcely talk with an English -- or French man who knows about this subject without him becoming very, very emotional about the negative American role in it.

The other side of it that's quite interesting, is that the French have perfected an underground service (such as we were developing during our trip and before) for clandestine activities that was very effective. It was a commando unit under the French navy. The leader of this was an admiral named Ponchardier, the youngest admiral in the French fleet. Admiral Ponchardier and his underground commandoes were actually in Cairo -- and actually at the palace.

Had they been given a few more hours, they obviously would have captured Nasser. In fact, Ponchardier said to me later in Paris that the object of their attack was to put Nasser's head on a plate. They were there. They were in Arab costume, Arab clothes, those French Foreign Legionaires were a professional underground organization. They melted back into the crowds and they left Cairo, one by one, down different trails, and rejoined the Foreign Legion and disappeared.

That was another lesson we learned from that period. We were developing our clandestine forces at this time -- in fact, that's why we were on this trip. And we were learning lessons from these more experienced people as we did.

The CIA in Europe

Shortly after that we left Istanbul, and the next stop was in Athens, which also provided a bit of information. I guess enough has been said, these days to go into it in some detail: In the vicinity of Athens there was a camp for people we called "stateless people." They were from various countries -- they were volunteers. But they were the people who were used in what we call, euphemistically, "mechanics" (hit men, gunmen).

Even people in that insidious trade have to have families -- the families have to go to school. They need a certain amount of training and equipment and education and control. And what they do is, they develop a little community; and these people live in that community. Then, when they are called upon for their jobs, they do their job professionally -- are brought out quickly and back into the camp -- and they fade back into the community.

It's something that most people have no idea that we have. However, it was President Lyndon Johnson himself who said: "The CIA runs a `Murder, Incorporated'" and President Johnson knew what he was talking about. I was there, and I knew what he was talking about. He had been in the procession at Dealey Plaza, in Dallas, on November 22, 1963; and he had experienced it.

After Athens we went to Frankfurt, Germany, with a landing in Vienna, by commercial air. As we were leaving Vienna, it was early in the evening, they delayed our plane. And delayed it and delayed it -- we couldn't leave. Without any announcement, they just delayed the plane. Finally, they called to us and said we could get on the plane. No sooner had the regular commercial passengers gotten on the plane than 10 or 12 people rushed onto the plane and down the aisles. They were heavily bandaged. Some of the bandages were covered with blood. Some of the people were very badly injured. They were all very, very emotional -- men and women -- and were from Hungary.

They had been taking part in the Hungarian revolution which was so terrible at that time -- in 1956. I have no idea how that group was singled out to fly on that plane, except they all needed hospitalization. And they all needed to get away from Hungary. Apparently they were some of the leaders and they were being searched for by the communists. So the plane flew to Frankfurt. Immediately when we got to Frankfurt there were ambulances there that took these people off to the hospital.

Our reason for going to Frankfurt was because that is the CIA headquarters for Europe. It was my first visit to the I.G. Farben building, where they had their headquarters. We arrived on the evening of Thanksgiving. I was pleasantly surprised to find a note on my door in the hotel where I was staying that said: "Here is your ticket on a train. Get on the train immediately and we'll all have Thanksgiving dinner in Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps." I didn't expect that at all. But it was some of the Agency people there who had decided to spend Thanksgiving down in the very beautiful Alps.

So this man who made the trip with me around the world and I jumped on the train, down the Rhine, into Bavaria and to Garmisch. We arrived at maybe 10 or 11 o'clock at night and we spent the Thanksgiving weekend in the Alps with people we'd come over to work with.

The Frankfurt headquarters is very interesting. It had been the headquarters (and still was in those days) for interviewing what they called "defectors" -- people from East Europe -- no matter how they got there, whether they were from Poland or the Ukraine or from any other Eastern European country, including Germany. They were all interrogated against their backgrounds to determine whether or not they were true defectors, whether they might be underground plants by the communists, what their skills were and what their use in this country might be (in America), or where they should be sent to from that area. There were tens of thousands of these people.

Among them were (we now learn) thousands of ex-Nazis, or Nazi sympathizers from the area, who were being brought to the United States for their various skills and so on -- like engineers, or doctors, or psychiatrists.

In fact, it would be interesting to a lot of people to note that in a register such as the public register of the American Psychiatric Association, dated 1957, over 7,000 people listed are from Europe and a great number of them are Germans who were in the World War II age group -- so they were out of the ex-Nazi psychiatry growth patterns -- professional community growth patterns. It's amazing that so many of them were absorbed into that community in this country, along with engineers, rocket experts, and all the rest.

We also learned while we were there that Frankfurt was the European base for the border flying and other aerial surveillance activities. This was before the U-2 started operating; it later became the European base for U-2's. We had aircraft flying the borders, doing surveillance with either radar or photography in that period. They were quite effective. We also had an enormous balloon program. We would launch large balloons, loaded with leaflets or loaded with instrumentation, that would provide various propaganda information throughout Eastern Europe. (The predominant wind is west to east there.)

It was an interesting program. You'd think that just random balloons wouldn't accomplish much, but they apparently did. This program was being run from that area. There was a base at Wiesbaden which was entirely operated under what we called "Air Force cover," but was for the operation of CIA aircraft. And they were very active all over Europe.

So that stop was a big business stop for our trip; and my work with the Agency centered on that group for the next five years. They were the most active participants we had in our global covert operations network.

Ratcliffe: Out of Frankfurt.

Prouty: Out of Frankfurt and Wiesbaden. From there we went to Paris, and this was the SHAPE headquarters, European headquarters.

Nuclear Warfare: the CIA becomes a Fourth Force

Here we found another interesting fact: in the postwar thinking of what we call a "nuclear exchange" -- the same thing I was talking about when I said we did some of this nuclear exchange work in the JCS school that I went to -- the current war plan of the United States projected that we could set aside "safe areas" in the Soviet Union where neither the bombs themselves nor the radioactivity -- due to weather patterns, hoped-for weather patterns -- would leave a certain area free. We could paratroop people in there following a massive nuclear attack to try to immediately create an organization which could run the Soviet Union after the tremendous slaughter of the people in a nuclear attack region. It was wishful thinking. But, it was in the war plan -- the best we could do.

This was the original role of Special Forces. "Special Forces" were created for that post-strike purpose; that's why they existed. That's why Special Forces was so close to the CIA. Because the CIA had the responsibility, in the war plan, for opening up the contacts with people in these selected areas through agent networks -- which were quite precarious. The agent networks were built on the old "Gehlen" organization from World War II.

People have wondered what the pattern was for CIA to take over so much of the old Nazi intelligence organization, under General Gehlen, and then turn right around and use it. This was one of its major uses. It was immediately turned back on the Soviet Union, and that's where Gehlen's Nazi intelligence was the best anyway. Gehlen had perfected Eastern bloc intelligence for the Nazis when he was the chief of East European intelligence for Hitler. And now he was very much a part of the American intelligence system, but focused on the same people: the Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

It is quite an amazing event in history, to think that Hitler's chief of intelligence, Reinhardt Gehlen, became a U.S. Army general by act of Congress and his job was intelligence for the United States. And almost no break in service -- he was a German general right up to a certain day and then all of a sudden he was an American general. But this is all on the record and this is what he was doing. American Army Special Forces troops were designed for this "safe area, stay behind area" concept within our war plans. A War Plan is the Number 1 objective of the military, so this is a very, very strong function.

The Air Force parallel to this was some very large Air Force wings called the Air Communications and Resupply wings -- ARC wings. Their function was to link with Special Forces -- in fact, to transport the Special Forces. Their aircraft -- big B-50 bombers -- had even had printing presses on board, and they had leaflet capability on board. It was an enormous organization, quite important from this concept of a post-strike residual.

In the discussions of how this would work, it became clear that the CIA was becoming rather dominant in the military service structure, in the spectrum: the Army, Navy, Air Force, and then the CIA. All of a sudden the European command began looking on the CIA as a "Fourth Force" in nuclear warfare, which is quite a different role than anybody had ever planned for the CIA. But you see, this was 1956, '57 on in those periods, '58 -- and the CIA was deeply involved in Vietnam and it was playing the "Fourth-Force" role there.

It was only natural for the CIA to see itself working with Special Forces. They rotated Special Forces from the post-strike function to its counterinsurgency function, or its civic action function, because it was planned when they went into the Russian zones they would be rebuilding city governments and all that sort of thing. They could move them into the pattern in Vietnam, and they thought: "They can do pacification, They can do the strategic hamlets."

You see how the philosophy went: the CIA took this European pattern of Special Forces -- Bad Toltz was their headquarters -- and rolled it over, through the schooling at Fort Bragg, and began using Special Forces in Vietnam. It's not as strange a cycle as you would think, if you see it on both sides -- if you see where it originated and where it went. It was not just some random effort, that Special Forces all of a sudden showed up in Vietnam as the Green Berets. There was an antecedent to it, a very strong antecedent, with the CIA as the catalytic command force. So they were then the fourth-force function. From about 1945 until 1965, the CIA was actually the operating command for the military forces in Vietnam. Not the Army. Not the military. A lot of people haven't gone back to look at that, but that's the way things went.

Ratcliffe: It's still classified as a covert operation during those years.

Prouty: That's right. And there was a reason for it. We'll go on a little further and I'll explain how we changed that. But this brings us up to the period of about '58. By '58 the Agency, as its fourth-force function, had gathered quite a bit of military paraphernalia. They had aircraft; they had guns; they had other things that weren't originally planned for an intelligence organization.

Due to one of its intelligence agent "pickups," they made a decision that they would try to overthrow the government of Sukarno in Indonesia. We actually supplied, by air, a force of over 42,000 troops in Indonesia. We had over-the-beach activities from submarines of the U.S. Navy. We used bombers flown by American pilots. We used World War II fighter aircraft -- F-51 planes with Air Force pilots. And we had an enormous military campaign, much bigger than you would ever imagine as a clandestine operation. It was far from clandestine! But it was put together as a "clandestine op" -- people didn't know we were there.

We operated out of the Philippines and we even reactivated World War II island bases in the Pacific. It was a massive program that a lot of people don't even know about. And it was headed by the famous OSS agent that I mentioned earlier (when I was talking about the troops coming out of Romania), Frank Wisner. Wisner set up his headquarters in Singapore to run this operation. In the Air Force, we even modified World War II bombers, B-26's with eight guns in the nose, to make them a good fighter bomber for this entire operation. We modified lots of them -- I don't know, 40 or 50 planes. They showed up later in Vietnam; they showed up later in the Cuban activities.

This big attack on Indonesia was a major operation under CIA control. CIA was going way beyond the small covert operation to now, a real fourth military force within the complete structure of the Department of Defense. This is why, as the Vietnam war escalated, the role of the CIA became more dominant: they were ready for it. They were prepared for it.

With the failure of the Indonesian campaign (and it was a gross failure -- we lost everything, we accomplished nothing), these aircraft were in the Philippines. There was no place to put them, so they flew them to Vietnam. Here they had these B-26's, F-51's, T-28's, L-28's, C-123's, a lot of C-54's. In other words, the CIA had quite an air force, operated and maintained under "Air America," its proprietary air company, in Vietnam in 1958 and ready for whatever action they could be used in.

We must keep these things in perspective. The warfare in Vietnam in 1958 was negligible. In fact, we used to fly transport planes back and forth over any part of Vietnam and had no fear of it. I myself have flown unarmed aircraft over Vietnam many times in that era, because there was nothing to worry about. The warfare, if there was much, was up in Laos, against the "Pathet Lao."

As we moved this program along, it became evident that the assets of CIA were spread too much over the world and were spread rather thin. So in about the period of '58 or '59, we opened a major CIA air base, operational base, in the middle of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Eglin Air Force Base is the largest piece of military property in the country and there was plenty of room to add CIA's assets to that. We could keep them there secretly without people realizing they were there. We created this big base -- we took planes from Europe and planes from Vietnam -- all this stuff went back into Eglin in the period of '58-'59. I think that I won't use this part of my commentary to go back and take a look at Vietnam. We'll be talking about that later. But we must keep in mind that, as the years go by (especially from 1954), the CIA's role -- rather active role -- in Vietnam was very dominant. But that's really another story. I'm talking about a chronology now of things that were being run from the Pentagon.

Cuba, 1959-1960: From Over-The-Beach Work to Invasion

In 1959, we inherited Fidel Castro. On the 1st of January, 1959, he marched down the streets of Havana, Cuba, and took over the reins of government in Cuba. This didn't happen lightly. I know we were watching his moves as he came up through the country to assume this power. The U.S. government debated very seriously whether to invade and keep him out of Havana or to just stay quiet.

On New Year's Eve of 1958-59, I slept on a canvas cot in a temporary office building in Washington, waiting for CIA orders to go into Cuba -- or not. We didn't know whether we were going to go or not. I actually moved into a temporary quarters in Washington, and I saw the clock go by New Year's Eve while I was sitting there waiting to find out whether we were going to strike Castro or let him go into Havana. That's how indecisive we were up to the point Castro came in. Sometime about 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning, one of my old friends in the CIA came in and said: "Well, you can either go home or spend the rest of the night here. Castro's in Havana; we're going to let him go." And that was the 1st of January, 1959.

As the year went on and as Castro assumed his very thorough control of Cuba, one atrocity after another caught our attention. By March of 1960, President Eisenhower approved a CIA plan that would permit us to organize the exiles who were here in the United States. He felt it was easier for us to keep them in our Army structure instead of letting them wander around the streets in the United States. We created more or less of an Army unit for them, a brigade. We enlisted these people, we paid them, and kept them in camps. And so we got hundreds and hundreds of these Cuban exiles of military age.

The idea of this proposal was to use parachute drops, to use logistics drops of supplies to rebels on the ground in Cuba, and to use a lot of over-the-beach activity. We'd use Navy ships, and then pontoon boats and all, over-the-beach. And Eisenhower would hear nothing about an invasion. He would not listen to anybody that proposed an invasion. Anybody who thinks that this plan that was approved in March of 1960 by Eisenhower forecast the Bay of Pigs invasion, doesn't know Mr. Eisenhower -- General Eisenhower. The man who invaded Normandy is not going to invade Cuba with a few kids. He was against it.

But we did a lot of air drops and we did a lot of over-the-beach work, hit-and-run attacks, various attempts on Castro's life (it's all been recorded, one after the other). Frankly, from being quite close to it, I really think that nothing effective was accomplished except to increase Castro's grasp on the people of Cuba. Because anybody that raised his head against Castro lost his head. And Castro just tightened his grip on the country. He instituted what is called the "block system." The block system is a control: they had somebody that was responsible for every block in Cuba. And if somebody wasn't in that block at night, the next morning his children would be asked in school: "Where was your father last night?" You couldn't move in Cuba. Castro's foot was dominant. And, if anything, we brought him up to that level with our sporadic attacks on him.

During this time Senator Kennedy -- who had been in Congress ever since the end of World War II and was much more alert to what was going on than people want to credit him with being. He thoroughly understood events like the Hungarian uprising, the Suez crisis, and what was going on in Vietnam and Laos and in Cuba. He was right there in Congress all those years. He was not off somewhere as a stranger to all these things.

Furthermore, he had grown up as the son of the British Ambassador to the Court of St. James in England. He was familiar with the diplomatic world -- very familiar with it. And, through that, very familiar with the secret world of secret intelligence, from the British side.

Kennedy had rare training and experience in the things that were going on. People seem to think, because this young man became President in a rather freaky election, that he didn't have the experience. It's not true at all. He had a tremendous amount of experience before he decided to run for the nomination for President. He was nominated and, as you will recall, he was elected by the thinnest margin of any election we ever had. But he became President.

Something interesting happened. Within a week of the time that Kennedy was elected President, we in the Pentagon -- and I mean in my office where we had the responsibility for this clandestine work -- and by that time I was working for the Secretary of Defense -- I had been transferred from the Air Force to the office of the Secretary of Defense, where I worked in the office headed by General Graves Erskine, a retired Marine general with enormous World War II experience and a lot of diplomatic experience --

Ratcliffe: When was that?

Prouty: This was in May of 1960. General Lansdale was a member of that office, and a few others who had been very active in this clandestine work. By the fall of 1960 we had decided that the Cuban exile training program was either going to stop or would remain as nothing but a hit-and-run-type operation.

But, a week after the election of President Kennedy (and for reasons that I must say remain unclear even to me today), the CIA gave a briefing on the basis that what was going on with the Cuban exiles was going to be an invasion of Cuba. And that, whereas we had been operating with a Cuban-exile base of about 300 Cubans, this briefing began to talk about 3,000 Cubans.

We found out that, when President Kennedy first was briefed on the Cuban program, the numbers that he heard (in November, 1960) were the numbers 3,000 instead of 300 -- and that an invasion was planned, and so on. An interesting little bit of gamesmanship -- lame-duck gamesmanship, you might say -- because I know from many meetings, Eisenhower never approved an invasion.

The Agency created the idea of the invasion and then sold President Kennedy and his intimate staff that the invasion was part of the plan -- and more or less didn't give him a chance to say no. They said, "Hey, this is ongoing. What are you going to do with these people if you don't do it?" That kind of thing. It was a pretty ingenious little bit of gamesmanship. And it succeeded as far as getting the men on the beach. That was November, 1960.

In the first week of December, I believe, General Lansdale, who was right there in our office, took off for a quick trip to Vietnam. And of course we haven't said much about this here but, as many of you know, he was instrumental in bringing President Diem into power in Vietnam. He had gone to Vietnam in December to meet with Diem and get completely up-to date about the situation in Vietnam as of 1960.

Lansdale had a high regard for Diem and I think it was reciprocated by Diem. In fact, a few days before Lansdale left for Saigon on this quite sudden, and unannounced trip, he asked me to go into the city and buy a gift to be given to Diem from the people of the United States. So I went in and I bought the biggest desk set I could find -- a great big beautiful piece of carved wood with a place to put a fountain pen and a ballpoint pen and a clock and maybe a barometer, the whole works -- a great big thing to go on his desk. It had a plaque on the front of it -- big brass plaque on there -- but no wording, because I didn't know what he wanted to say.

I brought it back to the Pentagon and Lansdale liked it very much. He said: "but, take it back (we unscrewed the plaque) and have them put on the plaque, `To President Ngo Dinh Diem, Father of His Country'" -- like George Washington -- "Father of His Country." So I ran into town and had the plaque lettered and brought it back to Lansdale. The next day he took off for Saigon. He gave it to Diem. Diem had it on his desk; in fact, it was on his desk the day he died. It's kind of interesting, a little anecdote about the relationship between Lansdale and Diem.

Lansdale came back in January, and by that time we had had the inauguration of President Kennedy. And Mr. McNamara was the new Secretary of Defense. Mr. McNamara was fascinated with Lansdale's stories about Vietnam and he brought Lansdale to the White House, where Lansdale told his current stories about Vietnam and his little anecdotes about Diem and all the rest. And Kennedy was fascinated, as the record will show. He apparently more or less promised Lansdale that he was going to send him to Vietnam as ambassador -- which is, of course, what Lansdale wanted.

But, as cooler heads looked the situation over, by about April that year Kennedy let that pass by, and by July that didn't come up at all. In fact, he had turned the other way. He wouldn't even let Lansdale go to Vietnam -- for various internecine reasons that were relatively important, one of them being the failure of the Bay of Pigs exercise.

During the time of Kennedy's inaugural period the Bay of Pigs program was the biggest item on the burner, from the clandestine operations side anyway (there were others in the wings just as important such as the TFX fighter plane purchases and things like that). President Kennedy was confronted regularly with briefings about this invasion of Cuba. He was reluctant to give an approval. This went on, briefing after briefing, and yet the program kept operating. I had planes all over Central America. We had a bigger air force for the Cuban exiles than any country in Latin America had.

By that time the Agency had called in a very experienced Marine colonel to prepare the plan for the invasion -- to make it a good plan, an effective plan. This Colonel, Jack Hawkins, and his associates had taken a page out of the book of the Suez plan in 1956. Beginning the Suez plan, the British and the French destroyed every aircraft Nasser had, as I said earlier. For the Bay of Pigs, they had decided that every combat aircraft that Castro had must be destroyed before the exiles land on the beach.

Now that was the first objective for the program: they must destroy the aircraft. So we used U-2's to take pictures of Cuba. And we discovered -- we knew pretty well what Castro's air force was anyway -- but we discovered that he had about ten combat-capable aircraft. I call them "combat capable" because -- mainly what wes would have just called "training aircraft" -- but they had guns and they could fight. Because some of them were jets, they were superior to any aircraft we had given the exiles -- meaning, we hadn't given them any jets. We gave them B-26 bombers and that was about their best combat plane. But of course a jet can outrun a bomber -- simple -- and shoot it down -- easy. So we had to destroy Castro's aircraft on the ground before we could invade. That was a premise of the tactical plan.

But by the middle of April the Agency was beginning to say: Look. We cannot contain this force any longer. We've got all these people trained, we've got the aircraft, we've got the ships, and we're ready to invade. We've got to go. And if we don't go, what are we going to do with all these Cubans? I mean, we have to do it. It put Kennedy in quite a position. When I say they had the ships, I'd like to tell you something that I consider a pure coincidence.

  1. See Appendix C.

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