U.S. Army Veteran Describes the Role of Military Advisors in Vietnam in the 1960s

U.S Army veteran Caesar Smith explains the political climate of Vietnam after World War II and the role U.S. advisers played in Vietnam prior to the start of the Vietnam War. Caesar Smith was a career military officer who served two tours in Vietnam and retired as a Major. In 1964, he was a U.S. advisor to South Vietnamese troops. This segment is from Iowa Experience: Vietnam, a panel discussion recorded at Iowa PBS in Johnston, IA on September 10, 2017.


Transcript

Caesar Smith: The training and classes we got before we went about what happened -- Ho Chi Minh was Communist and after World War II, this is what we received in terms of information, after World War II Ho Chi Minh wanted everybody out if you weren't Vietnamese. It was time for the country to be Vietnam. And the French wanted to come in and colonize again. And so what the other powers to be in not wanting Communism they went back. During that period -- and once they got the French out the fear of the Communists under Ho Chi Minh taking over the country, our idea was initially to send over advisors to assist with advising the Vietnamese Army and fighting the war.

Dean Borg, Moderator: Caesar, how did that go? Was that a popular thing? Were you accepted well as an American advisor? And were you able to help the South Vietnamese? Or what went wrong?

Caesar Smith: Good question.

(laughter)

Caesar Smith: I wish I knew what went wrong. But I think in terms of acceptance I've always struggled with I wasn't sure whether the Vietnamese wanted the Americans in but they did want their country back and if it was going to help get everybody out. Then you've got to realize too at the same time we were coming in to advise and help, I'm sure in the back of someone's minds they were going to end up being under Americans instead of under French. And so in terms of how much acceptance I'm not sure which way it would go but I never felt like I wasn't accepted. I felt like the soldiers I worked with, the people in the country were as open as they could be.

Dean Borg: But the things went downhill.

Caesar Smith: I don't know if they went downhill, they hadn't gone up the hill yet.

(laughter)

(applause)

Caesar Smith: Remember, once they got the French out, and I'm not Vietnamese by any means, but once they got the French out I'm sure in most of their minds now it's going to be our country, and yet they didn't want the Communists, they wanted to be free. And they saw us as coming in to help them get it free but in terms of where they were at that particular time, the power was with Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese Army more so than the South.