Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Letter from Major in the VNAF

This cover was sent in November, 1974 by Tran Thanh Tung, a Major in the Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) 3rd Division stationed in Bien Hoa approx 15 miles north of Saigon. The air base was served by KBC 3004.

Bien Hoa was also known as Air Base 23. The number "2" indicated that it was the second air base to be established for military use. The first was in Nha Trang. Bien Hoa became the VNAF logistic support base on 1 Jun 1955. The number "3" indicated the military region.

Typically, the Vietnamese Air Force was referred to as "Khong Quan", but the
return address uses the term "Khong Luc."

"V.N.C.H." is Viet Nam Cong Hoa.

"DT" or "dien thoi" is telephone number.

"Hoa Tieu" means pilot - perhaps "Lead Pilot"?

The enclosure is in regards to purchasing a used Fiat from an older gentleman on Pasteur Street in Saigon.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Viet Minh Commem Covers on eBay

Covers from the First Meeting of the Vietnam General Assembly in 1946 are being offered on eBay by a French seller (click here). The interesting thing to me is that he has a stack of these things.

Also offered are unaddressed covers with the Viet Minh cathedral stamps affixed and canceled, as well covers with the 1953 Telecommunications Festival stamps with red cachet (Richard Aspnes lists the cachet in both red and blue on his Commemorative Markings CD). Again, small stacks of these covers are shown, but only a single set seems to be offered.

I'm not planning on bidding, but I contacted the seller out of curiosity to see whether he accepts PayPal and ships to the United States. His reply, "Hello, bonjour. I don't accept paypal, but you can pay me with dollars and shit off paper in envelope - merci. BRUNO."

If you've been looking to pick up examples of these covers, the opening bid price is right (9 euros) although dealing with the seller might be interesting. Let me know how it goes.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Fake Postmarks on NVN Millitary Covers

Be alert to bogus postmarks on North Vietnamese military covers. This post illustrates two examples with different levels of sophistication.

I obtained these covers at different times from a trading partner in Hanoi, whom I don't think realized that these were bogus. We exchanged want lists and acquired items for each other. I am convinced that these and other covers were custom made for me from a faker in North Vietnam.

In other words, my trading partner asked a stamp dealer for a particular stamp on cover and was told to check back in a couple of weeks at which point, lo and behold, the seller had come up with the stamp on cover. These particular stamps are not at all easy to locate used on cover, however they are readily available in mint condition. The seller could remove the stamp from a genuine cover or create one from scratch.

The first cover is a simple fake featuring the orange military stamp depicting a soldier with outstretched rifle. It is meant to be an adversity envelope made from a piece of notebook paper due to the lack of paper during the war. In reality, the paper is clean and nice smelling(!) so definitely not genuine. More obvious is the cancel, which looks to be hand drawn with a pen. It is not quite round and you can see the individual pen strokes.
The second cover is "better" in that the faker went to the trouble of soaking the original stamp and postmark off the cover. Unfortunately, he got a bit zealous with the water, leaving water stains and smearing the ink in the address. But we've all seen Vietnamese military covers in much worse condition, so this is not an immediate tip off.

The benefit of this approach is the faker has genuine postmarks on the reverse to lend credence to the cover

The postmarks on the front of the cover were then applied, again apparently drawn with a pen. At least the forger knew enough to make these an earlier date from the receiving marks on the back. But how many NVN military covers apply an additional cancel to the decorative cachet?

I have a dozen or so examples of fake covers like these, so let me know if you are interested in seeing more (and yes, my trading partner provided enough genuine material to make it worthwhile maintaining the relationship).

Some of the fakes have hand-stamped postmarks making them more difficult to identify, and some appear to have been made by another person with a different "style", but all have the same pleasant smell (Vietnamese military covers don't smell nice!) and all have a random splash of something on them that glows brightly under black light that leads me to conclude that they all came from the same source.

Vietnamese Recon Unit Cover

Here is a cover sent in April 1966 from a member of a Vietnamese Recon company (dai doi tham Bao) operating from KBC 3338. Based on the enclosed letter, the sender is writing to a girl in Saigon whose address he got from a buddy in his unit. This is his first attempt to befriend her.

"Tien tuyen" in the upper right corner is a term used to indicate the sender is in the front line, and "hau phuong"means in the rear or city, so "tien tuyen goi hau phuong" literally means "front line to the rear."

Thanks to Vinh Nguyen for the translation.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Korean Forces in Vietnam

I am planning on writing an article on military mail from Republic of Korea (ROK) forces operating in Vietnam. My goal is to provide a basic reference for identifying this material, showing how to determine the military unit, approximate usage date and that a cover originated in Vietnam.

I have reached out to the members of the Korea Philately Society for assistance and have gleaned some information from several web sites and publications, including Allied Participation in Vietnam, published by the Department of the Army.

If you have information on this topic, please contact me.

Click here to view the ROK military covers on my web site.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

River Assault Group to Phu Quoc Prison

River Assault Group 23 (GD23XP in Vietnamese) was stationed in Vinh Long province in the delta. The cover was sent from patrol boat 1533, according to the letter's contents.

The cover received a nice Hai Quan Viet-Nam (Vietnamese Navy) military mail hand stamp on sending from KBC 3323.

The cover was also hand stamped with a military police insignia, depicting crossed pistols over a star. The recipient was a military policeman from Company D7 on Phu Quoc Island, served by KBC 4286.

The handwritten note at the bottom of the envelope,
“thu 0 nguoi nhan xin hoan lai kbc 3323," means “unknown recipient, return to sender”. The MP insignia handstamp was probably applied as part of the return routing.

Friday, January 5, 2007


USARPACINTS stands for United States Army Pacific Intelligence School, which was located in Okinawa and serviced by APO 331. Below are two covers, one sent to a Vietnamese Lieutenant training at the school, the other from a Vietnamese Lieutenant to Saigon.

Below are two citations that comprise the extent of the information I have been able to locate online about the school.

One unique feature of the Pacific theater was the existence of the U.S. Army Intelligence School, Pacific. Unlike other Army intelligence training facilities overseas, the Pacific intelligence school, set up on Okinawa in 1958, trained foreigners, not Americans. The students from seven different countries bordering the Pacific basin took courses in combat intelligence and counterintelligence techniques until the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty brought operations to a halt in 1975.
More tantalizing are the following excerpts that school was linked to "Project X" and potentially the Phoenix program.
Until the early 1980s, the U.S. military ran an intelligence training program in Latin America and elsewhere using manuals that taught foreign officers to offer bounties for captured or killed insurgents, spy on nonviolent political opponents, kidnap rebels' family members and blackmail unwanted informants, according to recently declassified Army and Defense Department documents.

The manuals, known as Project X, were written by U.S. Army experts starting in 1965 for use by the U.S.-funded Joint Foreign Intelligence Assistance Program. Portrayed by the Army as instructional materials to help friendly governments fight Cuban- and Soviet-inspired rebels in Latin America, the manuals were "in fact a guide for the conduct of clandestine operations" against domestic political adversaries including peaceful ones, according to a panel of Army experts that later reviewed some of the material.

Army officials were unable to provide details about the intelligence assistance program, such as the date it ended or the countries where it operated. It's also impossible to tell how the use of the training manuals may have influenced the actions of foreign militaries.

The intelligence assistance program was first used in 1965 to train Vietnamese and other foreign nationals at the then-U.S. Army Pacific Intelligence School on Okinawa, Japan, and also operated in Iran in the late 1970s, according to the records.

"This school is in an excellent position to meet requests for intelligence training submitted by" military advisers and attaches in "the Pacific and Southeast Asia area," a 1965 informational brochure on the program states.

One counterintelligence official told Army officials in 1991 that she believed the program might be linked to the Phoenix program, a U.S. military and CIA undertaking that resulted in the assassinations of thousands of South Vietnamese suspected of disloyalty. Some of the Project X materials appeared to be the same as the Phoenix lessons, and the Army intelligence school was teaching a course on the Phoenix program at the same time that the Project X manuals were being written, she noted.

During the mid-1970s, after the intelligence school moved to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., the school "began exporting, on request, Project X material to MAAGs, MILGROUPS, defense attaches, and other U.S. military agencies participating in the U.S. advisory-training effort in friendly foreign countries," according to a short history of the program prepared in 1991.

The program's history is difficult to trace in part because Defense Department intelligence oversight officials, after seeing what the manuals contained in 1991, ordered that the original documentation be destroyed. The ostensible reason was so the materials could never be used again.