May 30, 2023

1944. The September Reports

Bill Downs Reports from Belgium and the Netherlands
"Members of the Reconnaissance Squadron's "C" Troop taking up defensive positions near to Wolfheze Station on Monday 18th September. At the top of the picture is Trooper F. Brawn with his Bren gun, to the right is Trooper Des Evans with a Lee-Enfield rifle, and next to him is Trooper J. Cooke, lying down and aiming his loaded PIAT" (source)

The Western Front, 1944

5 September 1944: The Wehrmacht is broken on the Belgian front
"German resistance is entirely disorganized. The only coherent movement Nazis have in this part of Europe is eastward, and everyone is heading that way acting under nothing but his own orders to get away. One British armored unit reported that they have found German troops mixed in with the civilians of the liberated villages of Belgium—Germans and Belgians cheering the Allied advance. Follow-up units stop the Germans from cheering when they are taken prisoner."

5 September 1944: The Rexist retreat
"Another reason the Belgian people want revenge is the methods the Rexists used to protect themselves. Every Rexist carried with him a list of five names of suspected Belgian patriots who were to be shot as hostages in case the Rexist was shot. The White Army learned of these lists and kept on shooting Rexists, but they switched the lists of hostages, putting in the names of five collaborators to die instead. It worked in several instances where collaborators were shooting each other."

5 September 1944: Trouble with tank maintenance
"The paper Free Belgium prints a column of classified advertisements worth repeating. Incidentally, the editor of this paper is published as 'Peter Pan.' The address is given as the former German headquarters. It seems that the Germans were never able to locate the exact spot where the paper was published. This column, printed as a joke, gives some interesting sidelights on the Nazi occupation of Belgium. One advertisement says: "German woman, very wealthy, wishes to marry a Belgian, any Belgian. Accepting nationality in exchange." Another reads: "For sale: 15,000 false identity cards. Price: 50 francs." A third reads: "Will exchange 5,000 photographs of Goebbels for five of Churchill."

6 September 1944: Victory in Brussels
"The homes of collaborators are still being ransacked and burned. Odd persons are still being rounded up by the Belgian White Army. I saw a young man today bringing in one of them—an elderly man with his hands tied behind the back. As the White Army man produced the collaborator along the street with his rifle, crowds along the sidewalks hissed and booed."

6 September 1944: Clearing the Channel Coast
"The Germans are trying to filter through the extended Allied lines, but not many are getting out, chiefly because they simply do not have the transport to carry them—and it is a long walk back to Germany."

7 September 1944: The black market in Brussels
"There was a black market for everything. American phonograph records could be purchased from people who had regular traffic to Spain. The film "Gone With the Wind" was shown secretly a number of times here. The price of seeing it was something like $20 a ticket."

8 September 1944: Nazi general captured in Belgium
"This soldier said a lot of things about Adolf, including gossipy bits such as that no one ever knows when Hitler is going to feel like, and everyone from Field Marshals down to batmen have to wait to see the Fuehrer's mood before they approach him. And the batman, who should know, said that Hitler's lady friend back in those days was a beautiful stenographer. For after all, Adolf is a dictator."

9 September 1944: In liberated Belgium
"But as you approach the front in the more newly liberated towns, you run into the feeling of vengeance and the signs of the magnificent efforts of the people to help free themselves. In one village, we stopped for coffee—ersatz coffee—at a restaurant. When we went in, we found that it was being used as headquarters for the Belgian White Army there. The men wore their uniforms of cream-colored coveralls and black berets. They all had rifles and pistols and knives. German grenades stuck out of their belts. They had been working and fighting all night, and many were asleep at the tables catching a few moments of rest before their next mission."

11 September 1944: Hint of the coming Battle of the Bulge
"Model admitted that Germany had lost the battle, but he added that Germany would still win the war, explaining that he could not say any more than that now. He called on his soldiers to believe in their luck. He ordered strict discipline and pointed out that the Belgian and French patriots would rather shoot a weak looking man than a strong one. He urged his soldiers to retreat walking along erect to impress the Belgian and French citizens."

12 September 1944: The RAF hammers the German ground forces
"For a mile on both sides of the canal you could see the zigzagging fortifications built by the Belgians in a futile attempt to extend the ill-fated Maginot Line to the sea. Although the main defenses of the Albert Canal point northwards, it is also defended on the south bank as well. In this way, segments of the canal could hold out. However, the Germans were so surprised that they could not use these defenses."

12 September 1944: The Battle of the Albert Canal
"The German casualties have been so heavy and replacements so inadequate that the Nazis have aided our victory to a great extent by their extravagant use of men under do-or-die orders.For example, after one of their counterattacks failed against the Geel bridgehead yesterday, a fanatical Nazi jumped on top of a truck in full view of the British troops and shouted: "I want to die for Hitler!" The British troops fulfilled this Nazi's last wish."

13 September 1944: Germans fighting to the last man
"These are the Germans from the bottom of Hitler's manpower barrel who the Nazi leaders hope will save their skins for them and, somehow, defeat the Allies and throw them into the sea. Although this seems ridiculous to us, it is taken very seriously by the Nazis. And the German soldiers, even the inadequately trained total soldiers, continue to fight with determination."

17 September 1944: Operation Market Garden begins
"We went to a base airdrome to find fighters and fighter-bombers already running a shuttle relay back and forth to the front, preparing the way for the airborne troops. It was perfect parachute weather; the sky was blanket gray. A haze restricted visibility to three or four miles, just enough to allow the pilots to keep themselves on course and for the troops to see where they were dropping. There was enough haze to keep any enemy aircraft from spotting the planes as they came in."

17 September 1944: Edward R. Murrow with airborne troops during Operation Market Garden
"We've been flying straight into Holland now for something like twenty minutes, so far without any opposition; at least none that I have been able to see. Our fighters are down, just almost nosing along the hedge rows, searching the little villages, and they're up above us and on both sides."

20 September 1944: Bill Downs and Walter Cronkite trapped behind enemy lines
"As the dive-bombers struck, Cronkite was in a jeep with his old UP pal from Kansas City, bespectacled CBS Radio correspondent Bill Downs, the reporter that Murrow had wanted Cronkite to replace in Russia. Cronkite and Downs were driving near the Philips Electric works complex when bombs began falling. They jumped out of the jeep and vaulted over a tall fence into a park. There they huddled behind chopped-down trees as bombs pounded all around. Neither knew how, but they became separated."

24 September 1944: The Nijmegen bridge assault
"Working under enemy shell-fire, the assault boats were assembled. When they were put into the water, another difficulty arose. The tide was moving, but with a downstream current of eight miles an hour. Some of the boats drifted 300 yards down river before they were retrieved and brought back. Meanwhile machine guns spluttered on the opposite bank and German artillery kept smashing the embarkation area regularly."

24 September 1944: Bitter fighting around Nijmegen
"Examining the bodies of the supposedly dead Germans, they found one 15-year-old Hitler youth—a paratrooper kicked him as he groaned—underneath him he hid an automatic rifle."

25 September 1944: The Dutch corridor
"Polish paratroopers dropped south of the Rhine several days ago are fighting alongside the tanks and infantry of the British Second Army, and together they secured a firm foothold on the south bank of the Lower Rhine near the town of Oosterbeek. There once was a ferry crossing, but the Germans destroyed it last week."

21 October 1944: Letter home after Eindhoven
"It seems that the Presbyterian mind of the average American cannot accept the fact that any group of people can coolly sit down and decide to torture thousands of people. And if torture isn't enough, then to kill them as calmly as an ordinary person would swat a fly. This refusal to believe these facts is probably the greatest weapon the Nazis have, and it will operate in the post-war judgment of the Germans—wait and see."

May 16, 2023

1945. Bill Downs and James McGlincy in Vietnam

Tragedy in Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh in 1945 with the OSS Deer Team; "Left to right (standing): Phần Đinh Hủy (Hồng Việt), René Defourneaux, Hồ Chí Minh, Allison K. Thomas, Võ Nguyên Giáp, Henry Prunier, Đàm Quang Trung, Nguyễn Quý, and Paul Hoagland. Front row (kneeling): Lawrence Vogt, Aaron Squires, Thái Bạch (Thái Bá Chi)" (source)
In 1945, Tex McCrary led a group of war correspondents across Europe and Asia as they covered the world in the final months of World War II.
One of those correspondents, Clark Lee of the International News Service, wrote in 1947 about their time in Saigon. He described the events leading up to the death of Lt. Col. A. Peter Dewey, an American operative for the Office of Strategic Services, and the resulting firefight that broke out in September 1945. James McGlincy (of United Press) and Bill Downs had been scheduled to meet with Dewey for lunch at the OSS headquarters on the day he was killed. McGlincy wrote a report for United Press soon after the incident. Downs also recounted the experience twenty years later in an article in 1965. Both accounts are featured below.

From the Kansas City Kansan, September 28, 1945:
Bill Downs and McGlincy Thru Saigon Mob Lines Singing to Summon Aid


Editor's note—

James McGlincy, United Press staff correspondent, covered the war in Europe and was the first Allied correspondent to send a dispatch out of liberated Paris. Assigned to the Pacific after the surrender of Germany, he was among the first newsmen to enter Tokyo and atomic-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But it was in Indochina nearly six weeks after the end of the Pacific war that he had what he called his narrowest escape. He tells about it in the following dispatch.

William Randall "Bill" Downs is the son of Mr. and Mrs. W.R. Downs, [address], this city. Before the entry of the United States into the war, he was with United Press in London. Following the entry of the United States he spend a year in Russia as a correspondent for CBS. From Russia, Downs returned to the United States, returning to England in time to land with Allied troops on the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, where he made the first radio broadcast, representing CBS. He covered the war until the German surrender was completed. Downs was one of eight top radio and newsmen chosen to make a special plane tour leaving the United States in mid-summer of this year, making stop-overs at London, Paris, Berlin, Cairo, Baghdad, Ceylon and China. Downs reached Manchuria in time for the entry of Russia into the Japanese war. He then went on to Guam and Okinawa, and was present at the time the Japanese signed the surrender terms in Tokyo bay.

Saigon, French Indochina—(UP) Two American newsmen helped fight off besieging Annamites with carbines and revolvers for two and a half hours yesterday, then walked thru the lines for help lustily singing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."

"I don't think anybody would shoot at a man who's singing," said CBS Correspondent William Downs in suggesting the songfest.

I agreed it was worth trying, and it worked. We reached a British-held airfield and sent reinforcements to the four other Americans still holding out in the besieged American headquarters.

We had gone to the headquarters for lunch, only to wind up in a tighter spot than we ever had been in reporting the war in Europe.

It had been eerily quiet as we drove our jeep to the headquarters, and we had to detour around several road blocks made from trees. Japanese sentries at the gate saluted as we entered.

Shooting Breaks Out

The table was laid, but we decided to wait a few minutes for Lt. Col. Peter Dewey of Washington, D.C. and Maj. Herbert Bluechel. Suddenly yelling and shooting broke out along the road 100 yards away.

From a field in front of the house appeared the bedraggled figure of Bluechel. He had a .45 automatic in his hand and was pumping shots toward the road as he half staggered into the front garden.

His head, neck and left side were covered with blood.

"They've killed the colonel!" he shouted as tho in a daze. "They've killed the colonel."

By this time a yelling crowd of perhaps 100 or more Annamites were nearing the house.

"They're after us," gasped Bluechel. "They're trying to get us."

Shots Answer Overtures

He reached the house and collapsed into a chair. He said he and Dewey had run into a road barricade and had told Annamites they wished to drive thru.

"Americans, Americans," they shouted, he said.

But the Annamites opened up with machine guns and blew off Dewey's head. Bluechel made his way afoot to the headquarters, shooting as he came.

Bluechel miraculously escaped unhurt. The blood on him was from Dewey.

By this time bullets were spattering against the house. We quickly took stock. There were six of us altogether, augmented, but not much—by Japanese sentries.

We ran into the garden. I flopped behind the stone wall and looked up to see Downs standing a few feet away firing with a carbine into shrubs beyond.

Somebody in the garden yelled: "There goes one!"

The reply came from a second floor window: "I can get him."

There was a shot, then: "I got him!"

"Nice shooting!" came a shout from the garden.

We all took stations along the garden wall. I felt pretty helpless with my .45, but there were no more carbines left.

For about a half hour we shot at Annamites on the road, in the field before headquarters, and in shrubbery along the side.

Decide to Go for Help

Then during a break, we dashed for the house. I went to the roof with two others. We shared a carbine. Occasionally an Annamite would run across the field or a clearing in the shrubs and we'd shoot.

It became pretty obvious that help would have to be summoned. We went into a huddle and Downs and I volunteered to walk to a British-held airfield a mile and a half away to get a message out.

We struck out across the field giving a wonderful imitation of two scared guys trying to act nonchalant. Then Downs had his inspiration and we burst into song—not good, but apparently effective.

We met three Gurkhas near the airfield and addressed them in pidgin English. They answered in perfect Oxford accents and promised to go to the headquarters

Report to Headquarters

At the airfield, we found Air Transport Command Frank Rhoads of Wilkes Barre, Pa. He telephoned British headquarters.

Then Rhoads, another major, a GI and I jeeped back to American headquarters. We waved our hates and yelled "Chiw"—"Americans." It worked this time, and we passed thru eight road blocks without incident.

When we reached the American house, we told them relief was on the way, then set out to find Dewey's body. We had to call off the search, however, when a force of Gurkhas advanced toward us firing automatic weapons in all directions as they advanced.

We finally drove back into Saigon.
From This Week magazine, in the July-August 1965 issue "This We Remember...":


Some day I hope a good historian chronicles the deep-seated disappointment of the people of Southeast Asia that followed the Allied victory over Japan. In China, Burma, Thailand, the Malay archipelago, Indo-China—and even native Hong Kong—Tokyo's surrender was supposed to produce a world that never was, nor ever could be.

In the propaganda-cluttered minds of millions of Asiatics V-J Day was supposed to be followed by waves of rich and smiling Americans bringing food and medicines. More importantly, the U.S. soldiers were supposed to arrive with a form of instant democracy which would promptly bring justice to the people's oppressors and establish a functioning government of, by, and for the people. A new brotherhood of man would bring prosperity and independence and all would live happily ever after.

Americans were big in those hopeful, post-victory days. Never was U.S. prestige so high among the peoples of Asia, including the citizens of what now is called Vietnam, North and South.

Col. Tex McCrary's airborne correspondents corps, of which I was one, made a diversionary flight into Saigon about a month after the the Japanese surrender. The overlay of French provincial charm, seemingly the only positive heritage from French colonial rule, could not conceal the confusion and chaos seething through the city. The Japanese surrender had left French Indo-China like a battered, misused orphan asylum. The orphans, both the French and the natives, were fighting for possession of the ruins.

Saigon was in the death throes of outdated colonialism. The final stages had begun back in 1940 when the Japanese moved into the country. The Nipponese colonials were surprised when, instead of fighting, the resident French colons merely moved over to make room. Using the excuse of Vichy, these Frenchmen continued to exploit their rubber and rice holdings for the Axis war machine. Not even the shame of Paris nor the disaster of Pearl Harbor deterred their pursuit of the lush life as they deposited their war profits in the Banque de l'Indo-Chine.

The Japanese were more cooperative, and at the same time played the other side of the coin by wooing the Indo-Chinese with their "Asia for Asiatics" program.

But as Allied counter-strategy pushed the Japs back, Tokyo's proconsul in Saigon became distrustful of the resident Frenchmen. Six months before V-J Day he ordered the colons into internment camps.

Meanwhile, the Japs allowed the wispy, intellectual Ho Chi Minh to marshal the nucleus of a coalition government made up of various Annamite factions from all sections of the country. And on August 17, 1945, the occupation authorities recognized Ho's new Republic of Vietnam, the first all-native government in the country's modern history.

The Vietnamese fully expected that since Americans immediately occupied Tokyo after the surrender, U.S. troops would also move in to cleanse the defeated Japanese from their land.

But instead of smiling GI's, there arrived a stiff, pukkasahib corps of red-tabbed British officers leading a glowering force of Gurkha troops. Gen. D.D. Gracey, Blimp-born and -educated, immediately made it clear that His Majesty's soldiers were not there to preside over the dissolution of the French colony. He summoned the closest Frenchmen at hand—the resident Vichy collaborators who now touted their brief Japanese internment as patriotic credentials—threw the new Vietnam government out of Saigon's municipal building and set up his headquarters there.

The Annamite patriots—Christians, and Buddhists, democrats and Communists—took to the hills. Using liberated Japanese weapons, they formed small guerrilla bands and struck back, burning rice stores and warehouses claimed by the resurgent colons. They floated through Saigon's canals and burned huge stockpiles of rubber collected by the Japanese.

So threatening and irritating were these rag-tag raids that General Gracey took political reverse action. He ordered the defeated Japanese troops to retain their rifles and guard vital Saigon buildings from the native peoples in whose name the victory had been won!

The British commander refused to talk with the Sorbonne-educated Ho Chi Minh, a fellow-traveling friend of Josef Stalin (who was a U.S. ally at the time also, remember). But he got little help in his pacifying mission from the French colons. With regressive arrogance, these gentlemen appeared on the streets of Saigon to search out and beat their former Annamite employees and servants who refused to return to work. The low point of the comic tragedy was the sight of a fully armed Japanese soldier standing at solemn, bow-legged attention, carefully guiding a warehouse burning like a haystack behind him.

The one calm and detached personality in Saigon's post-victory chaos was a youthful American officer, Col. Peter Dewey. Dewey was the commander of an OSS team which had parachuted into Indo-China to aid the release of some 130 Americans interned there. The OSS group had stayed on to be joined by a small group of U.S. Army Military Air Transport personnel who set up a headquarters at the Saigon airport.

The British made no secret of their resentment of those few Americans with shortwave radio communications to Allied headquarters in Singapore. Besides, MI-5 was reporting that Colonel Dewey was making friends with the natives—even trying to contact that trouble-maker, Ho Chi Minh.

The Vietnamese could not distinguish Americans from British, and this led to a tragedy that is particularly memorable in light of what is happening in Vietnam today. One afternoon UP correspondent Jim McGlincy and I were invited to lunch at the OSS headquarters in a luxurious villa on the Saigon outskirts. Colonel Dewey was to join us after checking at the airport. On the shortcut road back to the villa, a Vietnamese guerrilla force ambushed his jeep. One of their leaders later told us they thought the vehicle was British.

Peter Dewey was killed. Ironically, the colonel believed in Vietnam's struggle for independence against the returning colonialism.

Instead of eating lunch that day, McGlincy and I, both out-of-trade correspondents from a war that supposedly was over, joined the OSS men fighting off the guerrillas. Later we failed in an attempt to recover Peter Dewey's body.

So did the French colons, who quit the search long before Dien Bien Phu.

May 10, 2023

1945. The Uprising in French Indochina

The Buildup to War
"Free French 6th Commando C.L.I. in Saigon are saluted by surrendered Japanese in November 1945" (source)
In this excerpt from the book One Last Look Around (1947, pp. 200-211), foreign correspondent Clark Lee recounts his experience in French-occupied Vietnam in late September 1945. At that time, Lee, Bill Downs, and James McGlincy were part of an airborne correspondent corps touring East and Southeast Asia toward the end of World War II.

They told us what was happening. "The Annamites are revolting. They are willing to die rather than be colonists of France again. British Gurkha troops are opposing the Annamites and the Japs, who were supposed to be disarmed, are helping the British. It's a stinking mess."

The picture in Indo-China was this: Some 23,000,000 of Indo-China's 28,000,000 native inhabitants are Annamites and nearly all of them wanted to end France's eighty-year rule over their homeland, a territory as big as France itself and rich in coal and rice and other agricultural products. They had risen in arms once before in 1929, but the French machine-gunned and bombed them into submission. Now, the Japs had apparently given them their big chance for freedom from a regime whose colonial record was shameful. For instance, after eighty years in the colony, the French had permitted only five per cent of the people to learn to read and write.

Trouble came into Indo-China in 1940 when the Japs shot and bullied their way into the north, ostensibly for the purpose of closing off one of China's last supply routes through the Indo-Chinese port of Haiphong, from which a railroad heads into Chinese Hunnan. A year later, Vichy opened the door to Saigon and the south for the Japs, ignoring the obvious fact that they wanted Saigon as a springboard for their attacks on Singapore and the Dutch East Indies, and for their occupation of Siam. Economic agreements were reached between Tokyo and Vichy for the exchange of Indo-China's rice and metals for Japanese manufactured products. Instead of the 5,000 tons of rice they were getting, the French supplied Tokyo 1,000,000 tons annually to feed the Japanese troops who were shortly to besiege our starving forces in Bataan.

The Vichyites, headed by colonial governor Admiral Jean de Coux, threw in their lot wholeheartedly with Japan and its Axis partners. That their own homeland was in Nazi chains meant nothing to these French Colonials. Their first concern was the preservation of their own interests and for three years—all during Pearl Harbor, Tarawa, Saipan, even the liberation of France—the Japanese occupation forces and the colonial French lived in perfect harmony, collaborating enthusiastically and doing business to their mutual profit.

With the collapse of Vichy, Admiral De Coux took over complete control in Indo-China with the support of the French Fascist, Pétainists, businessmen, and government officials, and the Banque de l'Indo-Chine clique—plus, of course, the Japs. Some Frenchmen and Annamites wanted to resist the Japs and made a brief stab at organizing the underground. They were ruthlessly suppressed by De Coux. Some were exiled to the penal colony of Poulo Condore, where conditions were so bad that they even horrified the Japs. Two Tokyo newspapermen who visited the island described finding 1,500 political prisoners who "were subjected by the French to all conceivable atrocities . . . who stood mute and expressionless like dumb animals."
"Occupation of the Tonkin Palace, Hanoi, on 19 August 1945" (source)
A few French escaped to Allied territory, but not many of them could make the long trek to India or China through the Japanese lines. Not trusting the French Colonials, the United States made no serious effort to get arms to the few resistance leaders.

Major Verger told me, "There was no underground worthy of the name. A very few of the French assisted American aviators to escape after they were shot down, escorting them to the coast where they were picked up by submarines. There was one captain who had a secret radio set and supplied important intelligence information for our planes. Outside of that, I regret to say that my fellow countrymen did nothing to resist the Japanese or assist our forces. There was an army revolt in 1941 against admitting the Japanese to the colony without a struggle, but it was suppressed and the survivors either fled to China, were imprisoned, or abandoned their activities.

The French-Japanese honeymoon ended on March 9, 1945, when the Japanese suddenly surrounded the homes of De Coux and of the French officers and quickly disarmed the 6,000 French troops in southern Indo-China. Simultaneously the French in the north surrendered, and the French men and women were interned.

Then the Japs played their trump card. Knowing that Tokyo would surrender shortly and that the end for them was not far off, they permitted the Annamites to form their own government to replace the French regime. A coalition government of Communists and Nationalists was set up with branches in Hanoi and Saigon, and was promised complete independence by the Japanese. When Tokyo surrendered, the Japanese gave the Annamites some arms and told them to carry on with their government and defend their independence. Meantime, all during the war, the United States and the provisional government of France had been sparring about the future of Indo-China. Roosevelt fought the churlish De Gaulle and the stubborn Churchill for a new status for all Asiatic colonies. For Indo-China he wanted an international trusteeship to pave the way for total freedom. But as soon as he was dead, Truman and Byrnes forgot his desires and concentrated on the "get tough with Russia" game to the oblivion of such trifling matter as freedom for a hundred million Asiatic peoples. During their wartime discussions, the French indicated their willingness to grant freedom "within the Indo-Chinese federation and French union, plus recognition of democratic liberties for all and education in native and French culture." But De Gaulle and other officials made it clear that France renounced none of her Far Eastern possessions.

The situation was further complicated int the north by Chinese claims to the Tonkin area, which blocks Yunnan province's only convenient doorway to the outside world. Some 400,000 lived there and most of them looked to Chungking for guidance. With the end of the war, Chinese troops moved down from Yunnan into Tonkin and by Allied agreement occupied all of Indo-China north of the 16th parallel. But when the French tried to move their own armed forces into the area in March 1946, again by Chinese-French agreement, Chinese forces around the port of Haiphong fired on their landing craft and warships. After finally getting ashore, the French found that the Chinese had not ousted the Annamite officials but had strengthened their position.

When we reached Saigon in October, 1945, the Annamites were still occupying the government buildings from which they had officially functioned since August 17th, when the Japanese installed them in complete power. They called their government the Viet Nam Republic, substituting that pre-colonial name for Indo-China, a French importation.

"Now," said Colonel [A. Peter] Dewey on our first night in Saigon, "the British troops are driving them out. The Annamites are determined people and it is taking a lot of shooting."

The British commander, General D. D. Gracey, a self-proclaimed Tory and believer in Empire, was willing to use whatever means necessary to restore white supremacy and try to rebuild the shattered self-confidence of the French. In negotiations with the Viet Nam prior to the landing of British troops, the British assured the Annamites that Gracey's mission was to disarm the Japanese and restore order. The Annamites were foolish enough to believe that story. Instead of carrying out the promise, Gracey returned the Japanese troops to their posts, allowed them to keep their arms, and used them to attack the Annamites who were likewise using Japanese arms when they had any at all beyond sticks, clubs, and spears. Thus, as was to be the case in the Dutch East Indies, the British used their former enemies, the Japanese, to shoot down other Asiatics. If the Japanese were planning a comeback in later years in their "Asia for Asiatics" campaign, they could not have asked for better propaganda ammunition.

Gracey's defense was: "What do you want? Do you think we will surrender European supremacy to the first group of outlaws that point guns at us?" In other words, the words not only of Gracey, but of his superior officers and the London Labour government, defend the Imperial system and the hell with these outlaws who believe in the Four Freedoms.
"British General Douglas Gracey (right) relinquishes command in Vietnam to French General Jacques Leclerc" (source)
The French who saw us at first in Saigon cheered enthusiastically for the arrival of "les soldats Américains." They said openly, "Now we can put these Annamite beggars back in their places." They were crestfallen when we told them we weren't troops, but correspondents, and that no American forces were coming to the colony.

Actually, the American "forces" consisted of Colonel Dewey and his mission, plus a group of eight Air Transport Command personnel headed by Major Frank Rhoades. Dewey jumped from a transport plane into Saigon right after V-J Day and quickly got the 136 American war prisoners out of their camps and headed home. Then, instead of leaving, he got mixed up in a game that was too fast for him. "I am remaining to protect American property," he explained. What property? He had hung out the American flag from the offices of Standard Oil, Texaco, and Singer Sewing Machine. Also, he had intervened dramatically a few days before when Annamites had prepared to storm the Continental Hotel and threatened to kill the French people sheltered there. Dewey had bluffed the Annamites into believing the hotel was American property, exhibiting a "bill of sale" made over to him by the Corsican manager, and had waved the American flag to turn back the would-be attackers. Tragically enough, it was the lack of an American flag on his jeep that caused his death.

The British were more concerned in talking to us about the A.T.C. mission than about Dewey's. The A.T.C. men were under orders to set up a base on a line from Shanghai to Singapore, a "temporary line to operate for a limited time." The British found that hard to swallow. "I understand," General Gracey told us, "that the A.T.C. is establishing a line to carry letters. Who the letters are from or what necessity there is for carrying them, I do not know." It was the suspicion of the British and French that far from being temporary the American base was to be used by future American globe-girdling airlines. Since then, the Civil Aeronautics Bureau in Washington has licensed American routes to Indo-China and Siam.

If our arrival was a disappointment to the French, it was even more so to the Annamites. Like all of the people of Asia they looked to Americans in the first weeks after the surrender as true liberators and believed in democracy for everybody, everywhere. They hoped the United States would guarantee their freedom. They knew the French would not give an inch more than they had to, despite the "liberal" promises of De Gaulle and his henchmen. If there had been any doubt in the minds of the Annamites about the French, it disappeared when the colonial overlords were released from internment after the Japanese surrender.

Feeling their oats once more, the French resumed their old habit of kicking around—literally—the despised natives. This was a grave mistake, because the French were not strong enough to get away with it pending the arrival of reinforcements of guns, tanks, rifles and hand grenades. Then the Annamites turned back on them and suddenly the French realized that they were dealing with people who were willing to give their lives to demonstrate to the world their desire for freedom. The Annamites were still fighting when the vanguard of British troops came in, and it was at this stage of the struggle that we reached Indo-China.

The Japanese just stood by and chuckled while the Annamites turned their arms on the French, kidnapped and killed many of the most hated of their tormentors, and drove the terrified Colonials out of their suburban homes and into a narrow section of Saigon paralleling the Rue Catinat. Inside the city the Annamites quit their jobs. Most of them faded away into the countryside, hiding in villages which the British troops attacked and burned in reprisal for attacks on their supply lines. The city, stripped of ninety per cent of its populace, was paralyzed. We found the water supply off, the lights working only fitfully. To the disgust of the French, who for years had been accustomed to regard their servants as pieces of furniture, the servants disappeared. There were no rickshaws in the streets, no public transportation of any kind.

Along the Rue Catinat and the small "safe" area surrounding it, the French gathered in little worried knots. They were ashamed of their war record, their cooperation with the Japs, their inability to do anything now about the Annamite uprising. The men huddled in the cafes, unwilling even to take rifles and go out and protect the city. They shouted for more help—Japs, Gurkhas, Americans, it didn't matter—and they plotted how they would avenge themselves on the Annamites when their turn came.
View of Đồng Khởi Street (formerly Rue Catinat) in Saigon, October 1945. Photo by John Florea (source)
Starting at seven in the morning, the French came out to parade up and down the Rue Catinat, stopping at the sidewalk cafes for an apéritif of anisette, ice, and water. At eleven they went into the few restaurants still open, but soon to close, and ate heartily for two hours and then disappeared for a siesta. About four in the afternoon, people started to emerge again and an hour before dusk everyone had gathered either in the candle-lit lobby of the Continental Hotel or on the sidewalk outside. We learned a new line there. All around the world, in Sicily, Italy, France, Germany, Egypt, the Philippines, Japan, young kids had approached us with outstretched hands and pronounced the local equivalent of "cigarette pour papa." In Saigon, Frenchmen stopped us on the street and, too ashamed to ask for themselves, begged, "A cigarette for my wife."

It was pitiful to watch the French when the sound of shooting was heard. One night a platoon of Japanese ran up on the double to take sentry positions outside the hotel, and there was a panicked rush for inside. Another night Annamites set fire to the market place four blocks from Continental. The French, silent and terrified, refused to go near the fire—even though the supply of food was growing scantier every day—but the Chinese stall owners made frantic and futile efforts to drench the flame with small splashes of water from leaking buckets. Most of the time there weren't any lights, and in the confusion of that pushing mass around the hotel, more than one Frenchwoman wound up in the room of an English officer or correspondent. Despite this amateur competition, the bright-looking half-caste girls roaming the Rue Catinat did a big business.

During one outbreak of shooting, the owner of the Continental called us into his office for an apéritif with him and some friends.

"Why," they demanded in an aggrieved tone, "do you not protect us from those devil Annamites?"

We baited them, "This is not the quarrel of Americans. For all we know, justice is on the side of the rebels. We hear that the French have been inexcusably cruel to them. In fact, we would just as soon shoot French as Annamites." This last remark was accompanied by an ostentatious fingering of carbine triggers.

"Ah, monsieurs," the hotel owned gushed, "it is quite right that you are. All of us in this room are not French. You are surprised, no? The fact that we do not come from Metropolitan France. We are Corsicans. This local political squabble is not of our making, but the fault of the French who have treated the Annamites inconsiderately."

Meantime, Frenchman and Corsican alike continued to plan for vengeance. They got it after the French troops under irascible General Jacques LeClerq finally arrived to take over behind Gurkha and Japanese guns. Witnesses later described the long lines of Annamite prisoners, manacled or trussed up, being marched down the Rue Catinat to the filthy jail, where they were fed miserably, given drumhead trials lasting a few minutes and then sentenced to many years at hard labor on Poulo Condore Island—or even condemned to die for distributing leaflets asking for independence. In this and other ways, the French finally got retribution for the humiliation that we watched them undergo.

At night, Annamites would slip into the city, set fire to the power plant and other buildings, and shoot off their rifles. The harassed Gracey was unable to stop them with his small force, whose forays into the countryside and across the river to the Chinese quarter proved fruitless. He blamed the Japs for his troubles, accusing them of instigating the Annamites to fight, and at the same time he called on the Japs to assist him in putting down the fighting. In desperation, the British commander visited the home of the aged and ailing Japanese field marshal, Count Terauchi, and warned him that unless the Japs behaved themselves they "would not be sent back home to Japan." Gracey pointed out that the Allied plan was to repatriate the Japs in Nipponese shipping. Very few bottoms were available, Gracey said, and he threatened that unless Terauchi saw to it that his troops were good boys, no ships would come to Indo-China for them. This provided another big laugh for the Japs, who didn't care very much either way whether they stayed or went—after all, it was France that wanted the colony back.

Meantime, the fighting was getting sharper every night and more and more factories and homes were being burned by the Annamites. On the third night of our stay, Captain Joe Coolidge, a distant relative of the late Calvin and Colonel Dewey's No. 2 in the O.S.S., was shot through the throat and arm while escorting a group of French women and children through an Annamite barricade.

We got word of it through Colonel Dewey, who sent for us to come to his room at the Continental. Perhaps it was premonition that made Dewey talk at length about something that was on his mind. He had been doing a great deal of running around in the midst of the fighting, and had found the Annamites friendly when they discovered him to be American. "It's the French they're after. Not us, nor even the British. They won't shoot at the Japanese at all." Dewey's difficulty was to identify himself as an American. "I had an American flag on my jeep, he said, "but General Gracey forbade me to fly it. When I go up to one of the barricades, there is always a chance that the Annamites will kill me before I can identify myself."

Several of us stormed up to see Gracey and protest against his refusal to allow the American flag to be flown from automobiles. "I cannot permit it," he said. "That is a privilege of general officers only." If you chose to be strict about it—and Gracey did, for obvious reasons of European and Imperial prestige—the British general was correct in his position, according to military regulations. He went on to say that he had no objections to flags being painted on jeeps and cars, which was a meaningless concession in view of the total absence of paint in Saigon. Likewise, he agreed to flags being tied to the side of vehicles, but that was no assistance whatever since the important thing was to be recognized well before you drove up to a barricade, and a flag on the side was not visible from a distance.
Ho Chi Minh (center) and Vo Nguyen Giap (far left) with American OSS agents
The following day Colonel Dewey invited two of our party, Bill Downs and Jim McGlincy, to lunch at the O.S.S. house on the northern edge of Saigon. They drove out with Major Verger and with Captain Frank White, a member of the nine-man O.S.S. mission, and sat in the patio to have a drink and wait for Dewey to return from the airport.

Five minutes later there was heavy firing up the road, and an American officer came running toward the O.S.S. villa which was also, in effect, American Army headquarters in Saigon. The officer halted every few yards to crouch and fire his .45 back down the road at some invisible pursuers.

Hurriedly, Captain White issued carbines to the correspondents and to the other four men in the house, and they got behind the garden wall and fired at a crowd of Annamites who suddenly came into sight pursuing the American. The Annamites took cover—there were about a hundred of them—and the officer staggered into the yard behind the protective wall. He was Major Herbert Bluechel. His neck, shoulders, and most of his body was covered with blood and he appeared to be seriously wounded.

"They got the colonel," he gasped hysterically. "They killed the colonel."

The blood on Bluechel was Dewey's blood. The two Americans had been passing a barricade in their jeep. Dewey gestured to the Annamites ahead to remove the crisscrossed trees forming the road block, but they suddenly opened fire with a machine gun. The colonel's head was blown off. Bluechel, unharmed, jumped out of the jeep and sprinted frantically up the road.

"What a pity," Bluechel exclaimed. "The Annamites liked Dewey and he liked them and he believed they should be free. If they had only recognized us as Americans, they would never have shot."

Meanwhile, the Annamites began pushing toward the house. The Americans ran inside and took positions at the windows. Like Dewey, they did not want to kill Annamites, but they were being fired upon and there was no choice except to shoot back. Yelling and shouting, the Annamites advanced down a drainage ditch parallel to the road, pausing from time to time to fire their guns. They were bad marksmen and although their bullets bounced off the house, none of the Americans was hit.

Spacing their shots, the Americans picked off the attacking men. Three fell as they tried to run across an open field. Several others were wounded. Bill Downs shot down at least one man, and he says that the sight of the little brown figure falling will haunt him for years. But blood was being shed, hysteria had taken command, and there was no chance to stop and argue things out.

Briefly, the Annamites retired, and then returned with a machine gun. They fired one burst into the front of the house and then ceased fire. In this interlude a jeep with three more O.S.S. men drove squarely down the road without drawing a single shot, and turned into the yard. Meanwhile, six Japanese sentries who were on duty guarding the villa had taken a casual part in the fighting, firing once or twice but mostly just crouching out of the way.

After more than two hours of skirmishing, the Annamites began to withdraw, and McGlincy and Downs volunteered to walk across the field and try to reach the airport in search of reinforcements. They took their sidearms for defense, a bottle of "Old Crow" for courage, and on the theory that nobody would shoot at a singing man they walked along caroling at the top of their voices, "For he's a jolly good fellow." They made it to the airfield without trouble and dispatched a message for help. Then the two correspondents, with Major Rhoades of the A.T.C., drove back in a jeep through the Annamite positions, where a group were picking up wounded under a Red Cross flag. The Americans waved their arms and shouted, "Chee-Wee, Chee-Wee," which means American in the Annamite tongue.

Back at the house, the Americans decided to go out after Dewey's body. Major Verger took the precaution of changing his French army shirt for an American jacket. He tied a white handkerchief to his carbine and waved as the jeep gingerly approached the Annamite positions. "Where is the commandant?" McGlincy demanded of the sentries.
Lieutenant Colonel A. Peter Dewey
An excited young man—in civilian shirt and shorts like the other fighters for freedom—stepped forward and delivered a fiery speech on liberty and the rights of man, intermingled with violent protests against the Americans, who loved liberty, killing Annamites who sought it. Another young Annamite, about sixteen or seventeen, assisted in translating the leader's discourse.

Downs explained, "We would like to get Colonel Dewey's body."

There were lengthy negotiations, and finally the commander agreed to return Dewey's body if the Americans would bring back the bodies of the Annamite casualties. These terms were accepted. The Americans drove back to the scene of the battle, picked up three bodies, and piled them on the hood of the jeep.

When they returned to the barricade, the Annamite leader became even more violently excited. "Three for one is not fair exchange," he protested through the interpreter.

"Where is Colonel Dewey's body?" Downs asked.

"It is not here," the young man said. "I cannot go through with this agreement when you ask three for one." The Americans insisted that they had kept their part of the bargain.

The negotiations were broken up suddenly by the sound of firing. A group of Gurkhas were coming down the road, shooting off their rifles and driving before them a terrified group of native refugees, mostly women and children. The Annamites at the barricade glared at the Americans, as if they suspected that the negotiations had been a trap to hold them until the Gurkhas arrived. Then they faded away into the woods and behind nearby houses.

Dewey's body was never recovered. For months afterward the French used the missing American's body—the body of a man who believed they should be free—as a bargaining point against the natives. They refused to enter discussions until the body was produced and the Viet Nam government even offered a reward for the corpse.

Reports of Dewey's death in his flagless jeep—there had been a flag but it was wrapped around a pole and thus unidentifiable—quickly reached Lord Louis Mountbatten in Singapore as our stories went out. He sent an urgent message to General Gracey to fly down to Singapore and report on the incident, and the general asked for a lift in our B-25, which had returned after making a trip to Calcutta to pick up equipment for our crippled B-17. As we drove to the airport, we passed through a deathly quiet mile of no-man's land, with torn trees and the bodies of animals on the road—souvenirs of the Gurkhas drive the day before. Native villages along the road were aflame, and here and there Frenchmen crouched behind the stone walls of fine villas. Every few hundred yards there was a Japanese soldier with a rifle and a bayonet—unconcernedly guarding our route. Our own carbines and pistols were cocked as we peered over the sides of the truck.

Throughout the night there had been the sound of drums and shouting from the perimeter around the city and sporadically the noise of shots smashing into buildings. Circling over the city in the B-17 we counted a half dozen large fires, several of them quite close to the besieged Rue Catinat. These fires were symbolic funeral pyres of many natives, for the French came back in with American arms and with the help of the British engaged in bloodletting and slaughter. But eventually they would be the signal fires of freedom.