Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Thomas G. Riffe, July 20, 2018

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - C.I.A.'s reputation and pacification programs in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Testing, one, two, three. Testing.

Segment Synopsis: Thomas Riffe talks about the C.I.A.'s role and reputation during the Vietnam War. He talks about the various factions gathering intelligence and their relationships with one another. He talks about the reputation of the C.I.A. and the pacification programs among the South Vietnamese civilians. He talks about the rise and fall of various leaders in Vietnam.

Keywords: Army; Assassinations; Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS); Classified; Control; Coup d'état; Criticism; Factions; Generals; Honorable; Improvement; Information; Intelligence; Killing; Locals; Media; Misrepresentation; Mistakes; Ngo Dinh Diem; Ngô Đình Nhu; North Vietnamese officials; Overthrown; Pacification programs; Phoenix Program; Politics; Portrayal; Power vacuums; Private contractors; Reputations; Roles; Secrets; William Colby

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Defense contracts.; Military life.; Private military companies.; Soldiers.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

00:06:57 - Tran Ngoc Châu

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned looking over this, uh, the C.I.A. report, um, that's called...

Segment Synopsis: Riffe discusses Tran Ngoc Châu, a leader during the Vietnam War who was branded a Communist and disavowed by the C.I.A.

Keywords: Branded; Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); Communism; Communists; Disavowal; Power; Reports; Rumors; Rural pacification programs; Threats; Tran Ngoc Châu; Vietnamese

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Leadership.; Military life.; Politics and war.; Soldiers.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

00:10:05 - Problem areas in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Got interested in looking at this map of, um, of South Vietnam.

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks about various provinces and problem areas in Vietnam for the U.S. military.

Keywords: Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN); Deltas; Farming; First Corps; Fourth Corps; Highlands; I Corps; III Corps; IV Corps; Iron Triangle; Laos; Marines; North Vietnamese Army (NVA); Pacification programs; Provinces; Success; Third Corps; Tractors

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Military life.; Soldiers.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

00:13:36 - Who is to blame for what went wrong during the Vietnam War

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Partial Transcript: Who do you think earned or deserves the blame, if you will, for what went wrong during the Vietnam War?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks about who he thinks deserves blame for the failure of the U.S. in the Vietnam War. He talks about how all of the factions were fighting for control, how there was corruption everywhere, and the attitudes toward the various groups and leaders involved in the war.

Keywords: Americans; Attitudes; Blame; Casualties; Communism; Communists; Control; Corruption; Culture; Deaths; Domino Theory; Equipment; Factions; French; Hồ Chí Minh; Invaders; Jeeps; Money; Nationalist; Ngô Đình Diệm; Patriotic; Policy; Problems; South Vietnamese; Spending; Thailand; Understanding; Viet Cong; William Colby; Wrong; Wrong side

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Defense contracts.; Leadership.; Military life.; Politics and war.; Private military companies.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

00:21:22 - Living conditions in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about some of your experiences, Tom, while working for those private contractors in Vietnam.

Segment Synopsis: Riffe describes the living conditions in the rural communities of Vietnam.

Keywords: Experiences; Living conditions; Private contractors; Quality of life; Quality of living; Rural communities; Rustic; Saigon (Vietnam); Sanitation; Sewage

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Defense contracts.; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Plumbing.; Pollution.; Private military companies.; Refuse and refuse disposal.; Sewerage.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.; Waste disposal sites; Water quality.

00:23:24 - Firing his weapon in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned in our first discussion, I think, that you had occasion or occasions to use your personal weapon.

Segment Synopsis: Riffe describes the situations during which he fired his weapon in Vietnam. He briefly mentions his experience during the Tet Offensive.

Keywords: Biên Hòa (Vietnam); Firing; Guns; Saigon (Vietnam); Shooting; Stealing; Tet Offensive; Under fire

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Defense contracts.; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Private military companies.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.; Weapons.

00:25:03 - Attitudes about casualties during the war

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Partial Transcript: What changes occurred after the Tet Offensive as well as during the peace talks and the eventual windup of American military involvement, that you saw?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks about how attitudes about America's success in the Vietnam War began to change after the Tet Offensive. He talks about civilians' opinions on kill/death ratios during the war and the increasing popularity of the anti-war movement.

Keywords: 1968; 1971; Anti-war movement; Attacks; Attention; Attitudes; Changes; Deaths; Emphasis; Impact; Kill ratio; Killing; Lies; Losing; North Vietnamese Army (NVA); Numbers; Pacification programs; Richard Nixon administration; Shocked; Situation reports; Tet Offensive; Troops; Turning points; Unpopular; Viet Cong; Winning

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Defense contracts.; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Military life.; News media; Politics and war.; Private military companies.; Soldiers.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Mass media and the war; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Press coverage.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Veterans--United States; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.; War casualties.

00:32:46 - Evaluation programs in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Were you, were you--were you doing the same kind of job, um, from '67 to '74 when you left?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks about the various evaluation programs he worked on in Vietnam, explaining their purpose. He talks more about corruption during the war.

Keywords: Analysis; Assassinations; Bribery; Chiefs; Corruption; Data; Envy; Evaluation; Hamlet Evaluation System (HES); Money; Ngo Dinh Diem; Phoenix Program; Regional Forces, Popular Forces (RFPFs); Resources; Strategic Hamlet Program; Success; Terrorist Incident Reporting System (TIRS)

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Defense contracts.; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Politics and war.; Private military companies.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Civilian relief

00:40:45 - Travel while living in Vietnam / Coworkers and friends in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: During that seven years, how often did you come back to the States?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks about places he traveled while living in Vietnam. He describes some of his coworkers and friends in Vietnam and his memories of them.

Keywords: Australians; Civil rights movements; Coworkers; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Employees; Fights; Friends; Malaysia; Memories; Personality; Race relations; Sea travel; Seasickness; Shanghai (China); Singapore; Taxes; United States

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Defense contracts.; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Private military companies.; Travel; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

00:46:21 - Montagnards / Mountain Scouts

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Partial Transcript: Did you have any interaction with the Montagnards in the central highlands?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks about the reputation of the Montagnards during the war and talks about how they were deserted by the U.S. military. He talks about the Mountain Scouts, who defected from the Viet Cong and assisted the South Vietnamese.

Keywords: Allies; Amnesty programs; Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN); Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); Crossbows; Deserted; Green Berets; Information; Intelligence; Loyalties; Monkeys; Mountain Scouts; Open arms programs; Poison; Relationships; Reputations; South Vietnamese; Viet Cong

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Montagnards; Politics and war.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

00:51:05 - Advanced Political Action Teams / Phoenix Program / Paris Peace Talks

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Partial Transcript: Do you have any idea what the Advanced Political Action or APA teams did in regard to pacification?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks briefly about the Advanced Political Action Teams, the Phoenix Program, and attitudes in Vietnam about the Paris peace talks.

Keywords: 1974; Advanced Political Action Teams; Attitudes; Awareness; Continuing; Impact; Mood; Paris Agreements; Paris Peace Accords; Reports; Saigon (Vietnam)

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Defense contracts.; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Private military companies.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Civilian relief; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

00:53:27 - Invasion of Cambodia

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember who you were working for and what you were doing when Nixon officially ordered U.S. combat troops into Cambodia at the end of April of 1970?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks about everyone's awareness of the U.S. being in Cambodia prior to Nixon declaring it officially.

Keywords: Awareness; Expectations; Hopes; Illegal; Laos; North Vietnamese; Official; Progress; Richard Nixon; Secrets

Subjects: Politics and war.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Cambodia.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

00:55:42 - Major players of the Vietnam War

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Partial Transcript: I was gonna show you this index and just sort of--I don't know if you went over this?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe discusses leaders of various factions during the Vietnam War. He discusses the relationships between these factions. He talks more about corruption during the war.

Keywords: Alert; Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN); Attitudes; Briefings; Business; Compounds; Control; Corruption; Dichotomy; Direction; Factions; Guns; Headhunters; Jobs; John Paul Vann; Management; Names; Nguyễn Cao Kỳ; North Vietnam; Peer de Silva; Plans; Power; Pranks; Private contractors; RAND Corporation ("Research ANd Development"); Stealing; Terms; Tet Offensive; Think tanks; Viet Cong; Washington, D.C.; Weapons; William Colby; Work

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Defense contracts.; Leadership.; Military life.; Politics and war.; Private military companies.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

01:07:53 - Attitudes about the U.S. military pulling out of Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: What was the mood among the, uh, military personnel you interacted with and, um, the South Vietnamese, as well as the private contractors, when, um, when Nixon started to...

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks about how the private contractors from the U.S. felt about America beginning to withdraw from the Vietnam War. He talks about how the South Vietnamese civilians felt. He talks about trying to stay in Vietnam as the war began winding down.

Keywords: 1974; Americans; Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN); Attitudes; Awareness; Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); Combat forces; Control; Deserted; Draw down; Family; Happy; Influence; Jobs; Leaving; Locals; Mood; North Vietnamese Army (NVA); Paris Agreements; Paris Peace Accords; Paris Peace Talks; Power; Private contractors; Regional Forces, Popular Forces (RFPFs); Reports; Saigon (Vietnam); Shutting down; South Vietnamese; Staying; Support; Terrorist activity; Troops; Viet Cong; Winding down; Winning; Withdraw

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Defense contracts.; Families.; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Leadership.; Military life.; Politics and war.; Private military companies.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

01:16:26 - Returning to America and employment history

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Partial Transcript: So did you get your family out?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks about bringing his wife and children with him when he returned to the U.S. He talks about his career path after returning to America. He talks about working in state government in information technology. He discusses the various political administrations he worked under.

Keywords: Administrators; America; Attitudes; Catalog procedures; Changes; Children; Computers; Crit Luallen; Estranged; Family; Feelings; Grandparents; Home; Information technology; Innovation; Jobs; John Y. Brown, Jr.; Julian Carroll; Leaving; Martha Layne Collins; Paul Patton; Programming; Punch cards; Retirement; Sarasota (Fla.); State government; Supervisors; Switchover; Systems analysts; United States; Wife; Wives

Subjects: Employment--Kentucky; Families.; Frankfort (Ky.); Kentucky--Politics and government; Leadership.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Veterans--United States

01:28:27 - Reactions to the fall of Saigon

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Partial Transcript: Were you at all surprised when North Vietnam launched their offensive in the spring of 1975?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks about Americans' reactions to the attack on Saigon. He talks about his personal reaction. He talks about wanting to return to Saigon to see how it has changed.

Keywords: 1975; Americans; Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN); Attacks; Attitudes; Australians; Changes; Construction; Different; Evacuation; Feelings; Home; II Corps; Left behind; North Vietnamese; Offensive; Outrage; Plans; Reactions; Returning; Sadness; Saigon (Vietnam); South Vietnamese; Surprise; Surrender; Two corps; U.S. Embassy; Waste

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

01:34:53 - PTSD

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Partial Transcript: Did you come home with any PTSD?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe discusses his own experiences with PTSD after returning from the war and tells a story about thinking someone had broken into his home.

Keywords: Candles; Habits; Helicopters; Nights; Noises; On edge; Paranoia; Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); Sleeping; Uneasy

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Post-traumatic stress disorder.; Psychic trauma.; Stress (Psychology); Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Psychological aspects; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Veterans--United States

01:38:14 - Was the Vietnam War worth it?

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Partial Transcript: Have you figured out what the Vietnam War was all about?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks about whether he feels that the Vietnam War was worth the loss of life, money, and other resources.

Keywords: Attitudes; Communism; Domino Theory; Dwight D. Eisenhower; Objectives; Reasons; Robert McNamara; Winning; Worth it

Subjects: Leadership.; Military life.; Politics and war.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Public opinion; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.; War casualties.

01:40:30 - How the Vietnam War changed him

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Partial Transcript: Had the Vietnam War changed you as a person?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe discusses how he was personally changed by the Vietnam War, focusing on his exposure to new cultures and experiences. He talks about meeting professional athletes while in Vietnam.

Keywords: Arthur Ashe; Attitudes; Basketball; Changes; Culture; Golf; Kathy Ahern; Languages; Pro athletes; Self; Size; Sophisticated; Talent; Travel; U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV); USO shows; United Service Organizations Inc. (USO); Wes Unseld

Subjects: Basketball players.; Civilians in war.; Professional athletes.; United States. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support; United States. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. Civil Operations and Rural Development Support.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Veterans--United States

01:45:33 - Education

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Partial Transcript: How would you summarize your Vietnam War experience?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks about how being in Vietnam was educational for him, and also discusses his high school education.

Keywords: 1961; Academics; Classes; Courses; Educational experiences; High schools; Illuminating; Personal growth; Prepared; Successful

Subjects: Civilians in war.; Defense contracts.; Education; Private military companies.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Veterans--United States; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

01:49:15 - Attitudes about the Vietnam War

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Partial Transcript: Tom, are you a proud Vietnam vet?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks about whether he is proud to be a Vietnam veteran. He talks about his feelings about people who dodged the draft.

Keywords: Attitudes; Canada; Draft dodgers; Experiences; Home; Patriotic; Proud; Welcome

Subjects: Draft resisters. Draft.; Military deserters; Politics and war.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Public opinion; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Veterans--United States; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

01:50:55 - Vietnamese food

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Partial Transcript: Where do you buy your Tiger beer?

Segment Synopsis: Riffe talks about some of his favorite Vietnamese restaurants and foods. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: 7 kinds of beef; Cha gio Vietnamese egg rolls; Cuisine; Frankfort (Ky.); Louisville (Ky.); Seven kinds of beef

Subjects: Food.; Restaurants.; Vietnamese restaurants