PARAMILITARY OP OFFICERS – THE GHOST WALKERS
AMERICA’S INVISIBLE ARMY
“We had been operating a damned Murder Inc. in the Caribbean.” – LBJ 1963
…and it continued.
I was off DMZ barrier duty when I was hauled down to a small compound outside Camp Howze, the Second Infantry Division’s Headquarters. I wasn’t told why and I didn’t ask.
The man sitting across from me appeared to be in his mid-forties and in great condition. His boots were bloused and his heavily starched fatigues looked like they were tailor made. He was sporting a short flattop with white sidewalls where a little gray was beginning to show. Age lines were starting to develop around his eyes. His stare looked like it could pierce armor. He was sitting ramrod straight, as straight as he was when he was upright. There was no slouch in this man. There was also no rank insignia showing on his uniform.
He didn’t bother with introductions.
“When did you arrive in country?” He asked.
“August of ’69 during the big build-up.”
“What was it like when you arrived?”
“Just about everyone was being sent to Vietnam so most units were understaffed. We were down to 80 guys in our company.
When I arrived I was immediately sent on afternoon and nightly trips to the DMZ fence. I was sent on patrols to Guard Post (GP) Katie to introduce me to the “Z”. That winter was bitter, temperatures dropped to -38 degrees one night and the chill factor was -85 degrees. We measured exposure time in seconds, not minutes. Warm-up bunkers were few and far between and we only had enough firewood for three hours a night, if we were lucky; but we did have the Playboy Bunker where the inside walls were covered with Playboy Magazine centerfolds from past years. That was quite a bunker.
Because we were short-handed we worked 22 hours on with only two hours of sleep.When I thought it couldn’t get worse, I volunteered for the Imjin Scout program. Some crazy-ass dudes go through that training, I’ll tell you that much. When you finish that program, you know how to survive with nothing.”
“There’s worse, believe me,” the stranger said. “How long have you been on the “Z”?
“Tell me what’s it like, don’t parse your words by spitting out what your CO told you can and can’t say.”
“Well, it seemed like there were no days or nights, just one continuous march of time. The biggest inconvenience, I guess, was getting water while at GP Katie. We either brought it in by truck or we mostly brought it up the hill from the creek at the bottom of the hill. It was dangerous to do, and the North Korean (NK) snipers watched for us every time. Many times we went down at night if one of our patrols was not in the area. GP Katie had a radar and photo recon bunker, but we seldom saw the operators. They were like ghosts to us. We totally rebuilt the trench system and bunkers that summer. The older cloth sandbags had rotted and we replaced them with plastic.
We had ambush patrols in the DMZ every night. The patrols we went on usually lasted 24 to 36 hours, and the unidentified individuals, UI’s, were everywhere trying to penetrate the fence and ambush us. Everyone we saw was an UI. It made writing reports easier. If we’d identify them as NK’s, we’d spend the two hours they gave us to sleep writing reports to cover the CO’s butt. Sorry, but you told me to tell you like it is.”
“That’s okay, continue.”
“The NK’s sent down their Hunter-Killer 5 man units all the time. They would strike fast, one to two minutes, then take off across the Military Demarcation Line (MDL). More than once we could have struck back, but were not allowed to fire over the MDL, even if they were still shooting at us, which they did. It pissed us off that they restricted us like that.
The NK’s put American flags up at their positions across the MDL, trying to make us think they were American positions. They caught us once, NK 2 US 0…after that we were aware of that trick. We paid them back later.”
“What about fence duty on the “Z”?
“Fence duty was boring, man, and spooky all at the same time and in the winter it was, as I said, cold, I mean really cold. Damn, that wind was blowing in from Siberia and Manchuria. It froze the air before it hit your lungs, man. Anyway, if we had fence duty, we usually hit the positions by 4 PM and were picked up around 9 AM. We’d be responsible for 4 to 6 positions each night. We were never in one position very long. We kept moving constantly keeping everyone awake and alert. The cooks would send up hot coffee and hot potato soup on the really cold nights. Most of the time it was below zero. I remember many nights when it got below 10 degrees. By the time the coffee and soup reached us and we got back in our holes, the soup would be frozen solid.
So, if we heard something out in front of the fence, we’d throw the soup first, and then the hand grenade second! Surprised more than one UI with that trick. They would jump and run when the soup hit near them, then they got the real surprise. They usually didn’t make it home to tell their buddies the trick either. We called in the patrol we had out to sweep in and block their retreat if they were still alive. They weren’t; US 5 NK 0. It was payback for the Easter ambush where they took some of our guys out, but we aren’t allowed to talk about that either. Accidental discharge of a weapon or training accident was the cover words we used. Uncle Sam is watching us closer than them, I guess.
Trips North of the MDL were by volunteers only and usually lasted up to 7 days. I volunteered every chance I got. It sure beat the boredom of sitting at GP Katie waiting for an NK sniper to get lucky and blow your head off; or sitting in a bunker on the DMZ, freezing your ass off. We were told we couldn’t talk about going there either.
I pulled 45 days in a row on patrols in the DMZ with no days off.”
“Interesting time you spent up there, soldier. Maybe by now, you have guessed why I’m here. I am with a special group and I have to tell you, how you handled yourself on the “Z” is why we are talking now. We are putting together a team to counter all the BS we get from back home. This team will consist of U.S. Army Special Forces, Green Berets, Navy Seals, and Imjin Scouts. We will operate under the radar, so to speak.”
“What branch of the military would we be in?”
“Who said we would be part of the military? We will operate under what’s known as the Special Ops Group, SOG. Our function is to carry out tactical paramilitary operations for covert political action. We are like a strike force except you are never asked to hold back, on anything. Are you interested?”
“I don’t know, what does covert political action mean?”
“It means we do anything we deem is in the best interest of the United States government.”
“Isn’t that what we are doing in the US Army?”
“This is a bit more intense and highly secret.”
“Okay, then, count me in.”
“Good, we’ll muster at 0500 tomorrow morning in the meeting room behind my office. You’re dismissed.”
When I arrived the next morning most of the new recruits were already there, eager to get started. This was a different group of soldiers than what you would encounter in your usual basic training or advanced infantry training camps. These guys were tough, alert, dedicated, gung-ho soldiers who were eager to “get it on” with the enemy.
“Welcome, men, finish your coffee and put out your cigarettes,” the man with the heavily starched fatigues that I spoke with the day before said.
“We’ll get started. I am Colonel Sampson, I will be leading this group and I will be the only person you will be answering to and the only person you will fear. You are about to be involved in some clandestine missions that are highly sensitive and we will make sure you are ready, both physically and mentally.
The operations that you will carry out are known as high threat military ops which the U.S. government does not wish to be overtly associated; so, everything you do will be classified Top Secret.
As of today, you do not have a rank or a unit. When you leave this briefing, you will remove your dog tags and you will be issued new fatigues with no unit or name patches. There will be no record of you in the United States Military. As soon as you signed on to join SOG, your records were expunged. There is no longer any record of your military service.
You will now be known as Paramilitary Operations Officers, CIA Ops. If you are compromised during a mission, the United States government will deny all knowledge of you and your mission. You may never divulge sensitive information about any of the missions you will become involved in or any missions you have knowledge of. If you do, you will be tried for treason and you will spend the rest of your life at Fort Leavenworth Prison.
SOG is the most secretive special ops force in the United States. You will operate in small teams of six. You will be trained in clandestine skills to collect human intelligence and to recruit assets from among indigenous troops. You will operate in remote locations in North Korea, to carry out a direct action which will include raids and sabotage, and guerrilla and unconventional warfare. You will engage in counter-terrorism and hostage rescue missions when needed.
In addition to the training you already received, you will receive more extensive firearms training. You will be trained as a sniper. You will be trained in the use of explosive devices, hand to hand combat, not that namby-pamby shit you learned in basic training. We have the best Korean Tae Kwon Do professionals in the country. You will learn military free fall parachuting. SCUBA diving, extreme survival, evasion, resistance, and escape. If you are Airborne and/or Special Forces and think you are a hot shot parachute ranger, you are in for a surprise because we will make you better. If you are a Navy Seal and think you are one helluva SCUBA diver and water survivalist, you are in for a surprise because we will make you better. We are going to build on your skills. You WILL be the best of the best. Any questions? Okay, drop off your dog tags with officer Millen and he will issue you your new fatigues and gear and then destroy all your old uniforms.”
The next morning they provided us with a 128-page manual, similar to a military training manual, only this one was a guide on how to torture and assassinate your enemy.
The physical and mental training was brutal but the colonel was right, they made us better and when we finished we were proficient killers, just what they wanted us to be.
We learned how to survive in extreme conditions for days; what was safe to eat, to drink…military stuff, field strip our weapons with our eyes closed – ordinance stuff – sniper stuff
They worked us hard and then they worked us hard again until we developed arms like knotted ropes. We could run for days with a full pack in hundred degrees heat. We could kill with precision using our bare hands.
We were steely-eyed and as hard as kerosene. We were wired killing machines. Just like the North Korean Spooks.
We completed many missions into North Korea, infiltrating secret military installations, kidnapping and killing North Korean military officers after politely asking them confidential questions about the location of the many tunnels they dug beneath the DMZ and where they had their nuclear research and testing areas. When we permanently compromised a subject, we usually used cyanide because cyanide is 100% effective. It blocks messages from the brain to the muscles. It is done by changing the body chemistry in the central nervous system. Involuntary functions like breathing and heartbeat get mixed neural signals. The subject experiences a painful death muscle spasm in the limbs, with twisting facial muscles, drawing back into a deadly grin called cyanide rictus. Toward the end of my tour, they provided us with vials of Tetraethyl lead, a major ingredient in leaded gasoline, a drop of which on the skin would provide a quick death, a little more humane, I guess, leaving no local lesion and no specific evidence. We didn’t care about that. When we left, we buried what was left of their bodies.
As soon as we returned from one mission, they sent us out on another. After awhile I felt like I was hidden in somebody else’s body. I felt like my life was a practical joke the world was playing on me. Why was I here? Why was I born? To Kill and kill again? I felt like a mad dog chasing my tail.
Sometimes we felt like we were nothing more to the government than a package of condoms to be used whenever they wanted to fuck someone. The Company made the call and left the dirty work to us.
Were we a reflection of them? Did they see their past in us, their hopes, their failures, their sins, their future, or were we just something to be chewed up and spit out?
We didn’t know and we didn’t care. We had a job to do and we did it. Before we could give it much thought, we were back at it again.
This time we were working past the MDL north of the Second Infantry Division’s sector, trailing North Korean Infiltrators who crossed the Imjin River and were chased back by a Second Division Quick Reaction Strike Force.
Then we spotted them moving south again.
We tracked them to GP Katie where they were spotted in an area where two streams met. They crossed a dirt road and entered an old Korean War minefield. We expected them to hide in the mine field until nightfall before they tried to escape. We notified the Second Division that we were in their sector so they wouldn’t mistake us for the infiltrators and we’d end up being killed by friendly fire.
Not long after dark, a movement was detected in the stream bed. We popped a flare and the movement quickly stopped and then we noticed the tall grass that covered the minefield move.The Strike Force reported the possible location of the infiltrators and held in position until first light.The 2nd Division sent in an all Korean Counter Insurgency Force. They moved into position along the edge of the minefield, blocking access to the Imjin River. A squad from the 1/9 Second Division moved to the other side of the minefield in blocking positions. A fierce firefight broke out. Within 15 minutes the South Korean unit suffered multiple casualties, 5 dead and 7 wounded.
We spread out along the riverbank to prevent an escape by the infiltrators. Over the next several hours, numerous trips were made to evacuate wounded and dead South Koreans. During the entire period we were under intense enemy fire but lucky enough not to suffer any casualties.
We determined the South Koreans needed assistance so we moved into positions with them. From there, we were able to determine that several infiltrators had been wounded. At one point, one of them committed suicide by setting off one of his grenades. His right hand and most of his head ended up missing.
The North Koreans finally tired of hiding in the tall grass so they charged into the South Korean’s sector tossing grenades, using submachine guns, and finally engaging in a brief but savage hand-to-hand combat. The Communists fired 40 to 50 bullets into the bodies of the dead South Koreans and mutilated and bayoneted the corpses before we were able to end their killing frenzy.
The next day I returned to Camp Howze and turned in my paperwork and headed to Kimpo Air Force Base to catch a flight back to the states. I was leaving this life and none too soon.
I thought I would return a war hero but I wasn’t, I was a killer. Deep inside I knew the truth I was a fraud and I was forced to live with it. It made me bitter, sad and angry and a little bit mean.
Every day my mind brought me back to that time, my tour; it was pure snake venom spreading through my veins. It brought on panic attacks. I was messed up by the trench warfare that was going on inside my head.
I found out quickly that life was just a series of actions and reactions and you have to live with the things you do.
America’s Invisible Army, the Ghost Walkers, existed in Vietnam and Korea and they were under the control of the Central Intelligence Agency who has denied their existence causing many of the Ghost Walkers to be denied needed veterans benefits. That is, until they started to expose some of their missions at which time the CIA said they would release their paperwork; however, they said it would take time as millions of CIA records are stored in Vietnam, Korea and Thailand.
To date, many of these warriors are still waiting as some of their fellow warriors have died of service related illnesses.