Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Heard Another One: "Stories From the Secret War" by Terrence M. Burke

Heard Another One: Stories From the Secret War: CIA Special Ops in Laos by Terrence M. Burke, 2014, Overdrive.com. I am not sure if the copyright year is the book, the audio, or the digital audio.

Interesting stuff.

Burke got out of high school, joined the Marines, served several years in the Corps including a stint as Embassy security. Burke decided to try college out and while in school contacted CIA people he meet during his Embassy duty. Burke enrolled at a D.C. area college and got work ended up having a couple "smaller" jobs with the CIA as a tech and a security guard. He applied for clandestine services and paramilitary service. Away he went to training.

Burke did not go into a lot of training details but he spent almost two years learning everything. Spycraft, communications, infantry skills and tactics, communications, language training, etc. Training was mostly done by the CIA but he and some others also did Army courses including a escape and evade course in Central America.

Burke is posted to Laos. An international agreement barred military assistance to Laos. The Army left Laos the CIA moved in. Burke and Friends were tasked with countering the communist influence and helping the Laotian Army and local groups fight. Burke worked with Air America to transport material and people to remote camps. The CIA guys don't actively fight. They train guerrillas and sometimes perform improvised bombing runs on North Vietnamese convoys.

Burke spent two years in Laos working at several jobs from the large, main airfield to smaller camps. The Laotians had surplus equipment and weapons and were '03 Springfields, M1s and M1 carbines. He had training above basic first aid but in several cases ended up being the emergency medicine guy for the locals. One instance had a boy with a crushed arm - maybe it was a leg - and another had a man with a bad head injury.

Towards the end of his time in Laos Burke was based in a camp as an infantry instructor when the camp was attacked by the North Vietnamese. Burke always slept in his boots and clothes and woke in time to see the enemy coming. Good thing, because Burke was targeted by the NVA.  Two NVA soldiers burst in and started shooting. Burke was prone, shot back, and killed them.  Burke and Co. survived the fight and he ended up leaving Laos for the States.

Burke's afterword is also interesting. He gives a quick rundown of the rest of his career. He returned to Southeast Asia on another tour with the CIA and then worked his way up through the Agency. (Burke writes that one motivation to advance in rank was to have fewer and fewer bosses to report to and suffer under.) He retired from the CIA in the mid-'70s and joined the newly formed DEA and retired from that Agency after working his way up those ranks. After that he joined an international security and investigation company and them formed his own firm.

1. What do old activist hippies have to say after reading this? Burke's book is short. He doesn't cover politics or social issues. He believed in his work and trusted in his colleagues.
2. Interesting thing: His M1 actually broke during a gun fight. He writes that the follower popped up out of his gun during the fight I listed above. Lucky for him one of the Laotian troops took off running and Burke was able to grab that man's rifle and keep fighting.

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