Wednesday, November 14, 2007
This cover, sent from Laos to France in early 1966 has a return address of 'MMFI'. The Mission Militaire Francaise d'Instruction assisted American Special Forces training Hmong troops in Laos and later flew them to the Vietnam border for fighting. The MMFI reportedly left Laos in 1962, but I noted accounts of MMFI operating between between 1964 and 1975, so the hiatus was apparently a short one.
Philippe Drillien responded to this post based on his personal experiences with the MMFI:
According to the Genova agreements in 1962, France was the only foreign country allowed to have soldiers in Laos. The aim of these soldiers (MMFI) was to help the Laotion Government in instructing the Laotian soldiers.
When I arrived in Laos, in 1969, the MMFI was still operating in Laos. If I remember well, only 6 French military instructors helped instruct the Laotians: one (or two) in Paksé, two or (three) in Luang Prabang; the remaining were teaching French and mathematics in the military Chinaimo school (near Vientiane).
Besides these six instructors, the MMFI included at least 30 or 40 other military personnel because the MMFI ruled a Bureau Postal Militaire (BPM), a hospital for the French living in Laos, a mini supermarket and even a place for movies. This mission was housed in Wat Tay (close to the airport).
In 1975, the MMFI was asked to close by the Laotian Government. To the best of my memory, the communique that has been published stated, "The situation has changed; the MMFI does not correspond to the new situation. Laotian and French Governments agree to make an end to the mission. The end of the mission does not alter in any way the excellent relationships between the two countries."
The mission definitively closed in October 1975 (I shall try to find the exact date in my archives). The same day, Soviet people (civilian? militarians? KGB? I do not know) entered Wat Tay (ex-French campus) and replaced the MMFI. The merchandise of the mini-supermarket was sold within a few days to the members of the different Embassies. I remember that I met there, for the first time, the American "Charge de Mission" as there was no longer a US Ambassador.
Friday, November 2, 2007
In 1964, the MACV Advisory team to the ARVN 23rd Division was stationed in Ban Me Thuot, operating out of a set of wooden structures known as the Bungalow. The buildings were said to be a hunting lodge of Bao Dai, modeled after Montangard long houses. Local legend said that Teddy Roosevelt stayed there while hunting tigers. It burned to the ground in December 1969.
The senior adviser of the 23rd Division at the time was Lieutenant Colonel Irving Wendt, whom I wrote about back in June in his role with the War Graves Registration.
This registered cover was sent 0n 11 November 1964 by von Jena from the German Office of the Military, Naval and Air Attache in Saigon.
"Dear Colonel," writes Jena. "Back in Saigon after a smooth flight I wish to thank you very much for your hospitality. I reallly enjoyed your comfortable bungalow. I also wish to thank all the officers of your staff as well as Lieutenant-Colonel Bringham, Chief Adviser to the Province Chief, and his men who looked after me so well. Banmethuot has been a real success for me, and I am particularly happy that right at my first visit I could establish good contacts everywhere.
Would you also remember me to General Lu Lan, Commander of the 23rd Infantry Division, and give my regards and best wishes to the Province Chief, Major Nguyen Dinh Vinh through Lieutenant-Colonel Bringham.
Last but not least, please convey my thanks to Captain Hickman under Lieutenant-Colonel Bringham for having accompanied me to the artillery positions and for his efficient explanations.
I do hope I'll be able to come back again and perhaps have a look at one of the Special Forces Camps."