Saturday, 4th February 2023 - 2:00:49 am
Major Frederic Whalen couldn't help staring at the man in front of his desk. He sniffed the air. "You even smell like a Rhade," he said.
The man who had identified himself as a Sergeant Kincaid of Special Forces just stared back at him.
Whalen suddenly felt awkward. "Sit down, sit down." He waved him to a chair. "You want some coffee?"
The man didn't move. He was standing 'at ease' facing him.
"I'm the Deputy CO and the Intelligence Officer." He smiled apologetically. "It's a small base. The Commanding Officer is in Saigon right now. So?" He wasn't sure how to continue. "What can I do for you?"
"Can we look at your map of the area, sir?"
The map was up on a side wall of the office.
"Certainly, certainly." Whalen led the way.
Kincaid pointed at an area north and west of the town. "There's armor in the woods here, sir. Light tanks manned by North Vietnamese regulars."
"Armor" That's not possible. They've never had armor. There've been no reports of armor." He thought some more. "There have been some ARVN patrols through there. They would have seen tanks."
"I saw the tanks, sir. I saw the North Vietnamese regulars. They spoke to me."
"How could they?" The Major couldn't help asking. "What did they say?"
"I'm not sure, sir. Something like, "Get the hell out of here?"
"My god, if they've got armor?" Whalen studied the map. "What do they intend to do?"
"They use some Rhade for labor. Those Rhade say they will attack Ban Me Thuot, sir."
"Here? Are you sure?"
"No, sir," Kincaid said. "I'm not sure. That is third hand. A North Vietnamese spoke to a Rhade who spoke to another Rhade who spoke to me."
Whalen understood. "But you saw the tanks?"
The Major went back to his desk. He waved to the chair again. "Sit down Sergeant, for chrissakes."
Whalen stared at him again. "What are you doing out here, Sergeant? Who are you assigned to? What is your mission?" He was wondering why he hadn't been informed that a Special Forces soldier had gone undercover in this area.
"I have no mission, sir." Kincaid explained briefly how he came to be disguised as a Rhade.
The gears were clicking in Major Whalen's head. Could what the man said be true? He was less concerned about the possible massing of armor than the way he had come about the information. If what the man said was true then he, Whalen, had stumbled onto a jewel. The value of a soldier roaming free among the Rhade was hard to measure. The problem was how to keep him there. It was next to impossible to steal a man from Special Forces. There had to be overwhelming need. If there was a way to show that the war effort would suffer if the man were moved elsewhere?
"There's another thing, sir," Kincaid said.
"What?" His attention was jerked back to the present. "Oh yes. Go ahead."
"There's some Rhade who want to fight, sir. I need to get some rifles and ammunition for them."
"Oh. Good. Does that mean you want to go back to the Rhade?"
"Yes, sir. I want to stay with then if I can."
That was a relief. Whalen had cleared one hurdle. If the man was there, in place, it was much easier to work the transfer. "We"ll see what we can do. We should have some M-16s around here. Would half a dozen help you?"
Kincaid hesitated before replying. "I could use a few hundred to start with, sir."
Whalen started to get suspicious. Could the man be dealing in the black market" He could be shot if he was caught dealing in contraband M016s. "How many Rhade are we talking about?" he asked carefully.
Kincaid gave a shake of his head as if to indicate he found it hard to believe himself. "They told me around fifty thousand."
"I don't think they know themselves how many but we're talking about a lot of men here. Let me show you on the map." Kincaid led him back to the map. "They say they can control this area." His finger described the limits of an area that encompassed hundreds of square miles. "They plan to keep Charlie out if our Vietnamese allies and the Americans will also leave the area alone. They don't mind observers coming in to make sure they're doing their part but that's it, observers only, nothing more. They want to be left alone."
Whalen whistled. It was too much to swallow but, if it were true? That many men coming in on our side? That's two or three divisions. They could promise them anything. But first, how much could he risk until he found out for sure?"
"I"ll give you everything we can spare here," he told Kincaid. "For the rest, we're talking about a major operation. It will take a little time to set things up."
"I know that."
"I"ll find out how many M-16s we can spare." He knew he couldn't risk giving him more than just a few. "Let's see what else you will need."
"I need money. I'll have to buy a couple of ox carts here to haul the stuff back."
"Right. I want you to have a radio too. And you"ll need a radio man, won't you?"
Kincaid hadn't considered that. "He can't come back with us."
"We can deliver him. You tell me where and when."
"There's a road here." Kincaid indicated a point on the map. "It doesn't show on this map but it's there. Tell him to be there at 1500 tomorrow. Don't have the vehicle stop until someone comes out to get him. He can go up and down the road until it's clear."
"Can you use a jeep?"
"No. Maybe later. Not now."
"You"ll need money to pay your troops."
Kincaid was again surprised.
"We want you to get off on the right foot. Soldiers fight, soldiers get paid." Whalen paused. "When they're on our side, we pay them."
Kincaid nodded. "All right."
Whalen said carefully, "That will require an, ah, disbursing officer."
"That's regulations. Troops can only be paid by a disbursing officer."
Kincaid smiled. "We're going to be doing a lot of things that won't be strictly according to regulation."
Whalen desperately wanted one of his own officers looking into this situation but he was shrewd enough not to push the point. "We"ll discuss it another time," he said.
"Can you think of anything else you might need right now?"
"Yeah," Kincaid said, "you might get me a badge."
"A badge," he said. "I need a goddamned badge to get on and off this base."