The OSS in Vietnam, 1945: A War of Missed Opportunities by Dixee Bartholomew-Feis | The National WWII Museum | New Orleans (2023)

For most of World War II, the United States considered Vietnam to be a relatively unimportant French colony to someday be reclaimed from the Japanese; but America showed little interest in enlisting Vietnamese aid in that effort. All this changed rapidly in March 1945. Though the Japanese had invaded Vietnam in 1940, they allowed French colonial authorities to retain power so long as they controlled the Vietnamese and maintained the colony as a supply base for the Emperor’s army fighting in China. However, this also allowed the French to maintain covert Allied intelligence networks that supplied information to Allied personnel aiding the Chinese in their war against Japan. By early 1945, however, the war in the Pacific had shifted in favor of the Allies and the Japanese became increasingly suspicious of French activities in Vietnam. As a result, on March 10, 1945, Japanese forces launched OperationMeigo, a swift military takeover that effectively ended French colonial rule of Vietnam.

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Members of the Deer Team providing instruction to the Vietnamese on use of the M-1 carbine, August 16, 1945. Photo by the National Archives and Records Administration.

With the loss of French control over the colony during Meigo, Allied intelligence networks operating in Vietnam collapsed. One such group, known as the “GBT,” had been providing information on weather conditions, the movement of Japanese troop trains and naval vessels, and on escape routes for downed Allied airmen to the 14th US Air Force stationed in China. Up to this point the GBT refused to employ Vietnamese as agents because the French claimed they were untrustworthy and were only interested in acquiring weapons to fight the French, not the Japanese. With their normally busy wires now silent, native agents became necessary.

Both the GBT and the US Office of Strategic Services (the OSS) reached out to a Vietnamese man who had drawn positive attention from the 14th Air Force the previous year when he escorted a downed American pilot out of Vietnam and into China. OSS agent Charles Fenn tracked down the man in question—Ho Chi Minh—describing him as articulate and charismatic, and both open and friendly to Americans. Fenn was convinced Ho would be an excellent intelligence agent and the group he represented, the Viet Minh, would also be valuable assets in the war against Japan.Soon thereafter, Ho Chi Minh became OSS agent “Lucius.”

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Members of the Deer Team and Viet Minh at training camp. Allison Thomas stands in the center and is flanked on his left by Vo Nguyen Giap and on his right by Ho Chi Minh. Photo by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The OSS then sent in “Deer Team,”commanded by Maj. Allison Thomas, who parachuted into the Viet Minh base area to train them for operations against the Japanese. When Thomas and his team arrived in late July, they were greeted by a large banner proclaiming, “Welcome to Our American Friends.” With the tone for their work set, the Deer Team went about training the Viet Minh in the proper use of bazookas, carbines, and grenades.Before long, the Vietnamese-American Force was born.

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Allison Thomas standing alongside members of the Viet Minh preparing for the march toward Hanoi, August 1945. Photo by the National Archives and Records Administration.

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Their training did not last long, however. With the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945, World War II ended. Upon receiving the news, the Americans of the Deer Team and the Viet Minh laughed and drank long into the night. Thomas wrote in his diary:“We shot our trip flares and our pyrotechnics before our troops.They all shouted ‘Hip Hip Horray.’ We’re a bunch of happy boys to-night. [We] Will be in pretty bad shape to leave to-morrow morning.”

The Americans then accompanied the Viet Minh, now carrying new American weapons, to the capitol of Hanoi and all along their journey the Vietnamese-American Force was welcomed by cheering villagers waving flags and offering food.

With the Japanese defeated and the French colonials still in prison, the Viet Minh quickly stepped in to fill the existing power vacuum. Viet Minh flags went up and the Vietnamese were jubilant. By the time the first Americans arrived in Hanoi on August 22 to help prepare for the formal Japanese surrender, the Viet Minh were firmly in control of the north. The man in charge of the American Mission to Hanoi was Capt. Archimedes Patti, whose team was greeted with the same warmth and respect that had been accorded the Deer Team earlier. Greetings in English festooned the city alongside demands for Vietnamese Independence in English, Chinese, and French.

Patti witnessed the first parade of the Viet Minh troops and the first “international” ceremony where the Vietnamese flag was displayed alongside those of the Allies and the new Vietnamese national anthem was played after the Star Spangled Banner. Vo Nguyen Giap, who would later became famous as the Viet Minh’s preeminent military commander, noted: “This is the first time in the history of Viet Nam that our flag has been displayed in an international ceremony and our national anthem played in honor of a foreign guest. I will long remember this occasion.”

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Archimedes Patti and Vo Nguyen Giap (both front center) saluting the Allied and Vietnamese flags as the Star Spangled Banner and Vietnamese national anthem played. Photo courtesy of the Archimedes L. Patti Collection, University of Central Florida.

On September 2, Patti and his team watched as Ho Chi Minh read Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence before a cheering crowd. This apparent US recognition of Ho Chi Minh and Vietnamese independence further inflamed French opinion as most colonials had expected the Americans to refuse to deal with this up-start government and help France restore control over the colony.

In the South, the head of the OSS mission to Saigon, Lt. Col. Peter Dewey, also angered the French. Although the Viet Minh in the south did not enjoy the same level of control as in the North, they were every bit as concerned with making a positive impression on the Americans. Dewey, like Patti, was royally treated by the Viet Minh and he met often with them in his quest to gather information. But the amicable relationships established with the Vietnamese by Patti and Dewey resulted in both being recalled from duty in Vietnam in response to French (and British) complaints about their behavior.

For the Vietnamese who interacted with Americans during this time, however, these young American men represented hope that their own national aspirations might be fulfilled. One Vietnamese, a student activist in 1945, recalled:“Vietnam was suffering in those days and exactly at this moment came the Americans—tall, handsome, very rich, idealistic, it was only natural for the Vietnamese to fall in love with the Americans."This seemed true even at the highest levels.

Perhaps the relationship can best be illustrated by one of the last meetings between a member of the OSS (dissolved in September 1945) and Ho Chi Minh. Major Frank White’s first conversation with Ho was not unlike those the Viet Minh leader had had with other Americans before him. Ho reiterated Vietnam’s desire for independence, the atrocities and hardships suffered under French rule, and the deep respect the Vietnamese had for the United States and its people.

Upon returning to his hotel, White found an invitation to a reception at Ho’s governmental palace that evening. He arrived at the appointed place and time and soon discovered that he was surrounded by Chinese, British, and French colonels and generals, as well as the members of Ho’s cabinet.Conscious of his inferior rank and ill at ease, White stood back as the others assumed their places around the dinner table. Clearly the lowest ranking man in the room, he expected to find his seat, in his words, “well below the salt,” and was ready to “slink away” if there were no empty chairs left. When everyone else was seated, only one seat remained—the chair next to President Ho Chi Minh.White recalled the evening:

“The dinner was a horror. The French confined themselves to the barest minimum of conversation and scarcely spoke to the Chinese, who quickly became drunk. . . At one point I spoke to Ho very quietly.‘I think, Mr. President, there is some resentment over the seating arrangement at this table.’ I meant, of course, my place next to him. Ho thought for a moment then replied simply: ‘Yes, I can see that, but who else could I talk to?’”

The OSS in Vietnam, 1945: A War of Missed Opportunities by Dixee Bartholomew-Feis | The National WWII Museum | New Orleans (5)

Peaceful demonstrations in Hanoi advocating independence for Vietnam, August 1945. Photo courtesy of the Archimedes L. Patti Collection, University of Central Florida.

The positive relationship between the Vietnamese and the American men on the ground was already strained, however. The excitement and optimism the Vietnamese felt at the end of World War II for both a free and independent nation and good relations with the United States had eroded. The US government wanted to leave the messy colonial situation to the French and focus national attention on the brewing Cold War. In his last transmission to OSS headquarters in autumn 1945, Capt. Peter Dewey reflected this sentiment: “Cochinchina is burning, the French and British are finished here, and we ought to clear out of Southeast Asia.”

On the day of his scheduled departure, Peter Dewey was shot and killed by Vietnamese guards who may have mistaken him for a Frenchman, thus becoming the first American casualty in Vietnam in the post-war period. In the decades to come, however, many more would die.

Meet the Author

The OSS in Vietnam, 1945: A War of Missed Opportunities by Dixee Bartholomew-Feis | The National WWII Museum | New Orleans (6)

Dr. Bartholomew-Feis is Dean, School of Liberal Arts at Buena Vista University and author ofThe OSS and Ho Chi Minh: Unexpected Allies in the War against Japan. Her research interests include modern Vietnamese history and World War II and the Holocaust.


What did the OSS do in Vietnam? ›

The OSS Deer Team was established by the United States Office of Strategic Services on May 16, 1945 to attack and intercept materials on the railroad from Hanoi in central Vietnam to Lạng Sơn in northeast Vietnam with the hope of keeping Japanese military units from entering China.

How do I find someone who served in the Vietnam War? ›

Service Records

The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis maintains Vietnam War Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF). Access to Non-Archival Military Service Records is limited. Non-Archival records are those of service members who separated from the military less than 62 years ago.

Why was the US in Vietnam in 1945? ›

This had happened in Eastern Europe after 1945. China had become communist in 1949 and communists were in control of North Vietnam. The USA was afraid that communism would spread to South Vietnam and then the rest of Asia. It decided to send money, supplies and military advisers to help the South Vietnamese Government.

Who was OSS agent 19? ›

Thereafter the OSS referred to Ho as Agent 19 (code name Lucius) and began training the Viet Minh in combat, providing weapons, explosives, radios, food and money.

What did OSS mean? ›

In 1942, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) became the first independent US intelligence agency. It only lasted for three years and three months but it became the basis for the modern Central Intelligence Agency. May 14, 2020.

What was unique about the OSS and what were its major achievements during World War II? ›

Formed to aid the Allied cause in World War II, the OSS gathered information about the enemy, aided resistance groups, and sabotaged enemy assets. The OSS recruited America's social elite and top minds, as well as burglars and con men. The OSS created a new training program for this new mission.

What was the most elite unit in Vietnam? ›

The People's Army of Vietnam Special Forces Arms (Vietnamese: Bình chủng Đặc công) is the elite combat armed service of the People's Army of Vietnam, led by the General Staff of the Vietnam People's Army.

Can you look up someone's military record online? ›

Most military records are on paper or microfilm and you'll need to request printed copies to be mailed to you. They are not typically available to view online.

Can you look up past military service records? ›

Yes. You can request your military records in any of these ways: Mail or fax a Request Pertaining to Military Records (Standard Form SF 180) to the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC).

Why did France want Vietnam? ›

In reality, French colonialism was chiefly driven by economic interests. French colonists were interested in acquiring land, exploiting labour, exporting resources and making profit. 3. Vietnamese land was seized by the French and collectivised into large rice and rubber plantations.

Why did US help France in Vietnam? ›

Initially the United States had little interest in Vietnam and was equivocal about supporting France, but in 1950, due to an intensification of the Cold War and a fear that communism would prevail in Vietnam, the U.S. began providing financial and military support to French forces.

What caused the Vietnam War to start? ›

In general, historians have identified several different causes of the Vietnam War, including: the spread of communism during the Cold War, American containment, and European imperialism in Vietnam.

Why was the OSS shut down? ›

But he had misread his own president. Truman had decided that Donovan's plan had the earmarks of a Gestapo. On September 20, 1945, six weeks after he dropped America's atomic bombs on Japan, the president of the United States fired Donovan and ordered the OSS to disband in ten days. America's spy service was abolished.

When did OSS disband? ›

The OSS established more than 40 overseas offices during World War II, extending from Casablanca to Shanghai, and from Stockholm to Pretoria. After the OSS was terminated on September 20, 1945, by Executive Order; most records were eventually transferred to two agencies of the Federal government.

What does shield Agent 19 mean? ›

In the comics, Agent 19 is the alias used by Bobbi Morse before she leaves S.H.I.E.L.D. to become a superhero. Eventually, Bobbi starts using the codename Mockingbird and joins the Avengers. Like Clint, Bobbi has a pretty long history in the comics, and for years the pair were in a relationship.

Is OSS a real word? ›

According to the Kyokushin Karate version, it is a contraction of two words, “Osu Shinobu.” Osu means to push, and Shinobu means to endure. In simpler terms, this theory states that Oss means to be determined and never give up – which is one of the core elements of Asian culture.

Why do martial artists say OSS? ›

Oss is Japanese and is derived from the phrase “Oshi Shinobu.” “Oshi” means to “push” and “Shinobu” means to “endure.” Together Oshi Shibonu means “to endure even when being pushed.” Martial artists have to push forward against the resistance of their own physical and mental limitations.

What does OSS stand for in the Air Force? ›

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was the intelligence agency of the United States during World War II. The OSS was formed as an agency of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to coordinate espionage activities behind enemy lines for all branches of the United States Armed Forces.

What major technological advances impacted the outcome of World War II? ›

Radar technology played a significant part in World War II and was of such importance that some historians have claimed that radar helped the Allies win the war more than any other piece of technology, including the atomic bomb.

What was America's greatest advantage during World War II? ›

America's industrial and economic strength was such that she could switch to a war economy and produce materials at a rate with which no country could compete. This was helped by the fact that she did not suffer direct attack on the US mainland and thus her economy and industrial output was uninterrupted.

What were some of the technological advances during World War II that made it a war of science? ›

Communications and intelligence: devices used for navigation, communication, remote sensing, and espionage. Medicine: surgical innovations, chemical medicines, and techniques. Rocketry: guided missiles, medium-range ballistic missiles, and automatic aircraft.

What was the deadliest job in Vietnam? ›

Overall, the U.S. military used nearly 12,000 helicopters in Vietnam, of which more than 5,000 were destroyed. To be a helicopter pilot or crew member was among the most dangerous jobs in the war.

What soldier served the longest in Vietnam? ›

He earned 38 military decorations during his career, and has been called the most decorated U.S. soldier of the Vietnam War.
Jorge Otero Barreto
Years of service1959–1970
RankSergeant First Class
Unit101st Airborne 25th Infantry 82nd Airborne 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team
Battles/warsVietnam War ( WIA )
6 more rows

What unit saw the most combat in Vietnam? ›

The 199th Infantry Brigade is most notable for its participation in combat operations during the Vietnam War.

Can you look up military records for free? ›

Generally there is no charge for basic military personnel and medical record information provided to veterans, next of kin and authorized representatives from Federal (non-archival) records. Some companies advertise DD Form 214 research services and will charge a fee for obtaining copies.

Do soldiers have to pay to come home from deployment? ›

No you dont pay for your own return home. No, Service Members are given a fully paid for transportation to the nearest airport to their home. The military is paid for the danger they faced on the deployment.

Is it true that US soldiers can't make video calls while in camp? ›

The military doesn't stop service members from using video chat. In fact, they encourage deployed soldiers to stay in contact with family and friends. There are phone centers and video chat stations set up in many locations. Members of special forces units most likely aren't on dating sites while deployed.

Do reservists get a DD214? ›

Under the announced DoD policy, Guardsmen and Reservists will receive DD-214-1 forms, which will more accurately document their complete time of service and ensure they receive the military benefits they have earned.

Are military records available to the public? ›

Access to Records, Information for the General Public:

Without the consent of the veteran or next-of-kin, the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) can only release limited information from the Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) to the general public.

Is your service number on your DD214? ›

What if You Don't Know Your Military Service Number? If you served before the military's switch to using SSNs as identification numbers, your military ID number is on your DD Form 214. The military discontinued using service numbers as identifiers on the following dates: Army and Air Force – July 1, 1969.

Do French still live in Vietnam? ›

After 1954, French fell into disuse in North Vietnam, and maintained a high status in South Vietnam. Since the Fall of Saigon in 1975, French has declined in modern Vietnam: in 2018, under 1% of the population was fluent in French.
Influence on Vietnamese.
xăng, ét-xăngessencegasoline
41 more rows

Is French still spoken in Vietnam? ›

The French language is spoken throughout Southeast Asia, particularly in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. The French arrived in Asia during the Age of Exploration, while French explorers were making claims in the territory of French Indochina. Since then, French language and culture have had a massive impact on the region.

Does France still own Vietnam? ›

On 22 October and 9 November 1953, the Kingdom of Laos and Kingdom of Cambodia proclaimed their respective independences. Following the Geneva Accord of 1954, the French were forced to withdraw from Vietnam, which had been split into the two countries (until 1976), and French Indochina was no more.

Why did the French leave Vietnam? ›

Nationalist forces under the direction of General Vo Nguyen Giap trounced the allied French troops at the remote mountain outpost of Dien Bien Phu in the northwest corner of Vietnam. This decisive battle convinced the French that they could no longer maintain their Indochinese colonies and Paris quickly sued for peace.

Did US help France in Vietnam? ›

Despite some misgivings about backing a colonial power, the US began to support the French in Vietnam. Washington aided the French during their war with the Viet Minh, investing almost $3 billion in the years prior to 1954.

What did America do when France left Vietnam? ›

As the French pulled out, the United States appointed Ngo Dinh Diem to lead South Vietnam.

What was the name of the soldiers that the United States faced in Vietnam? ›

The primary military organizations involved in the war were the United States Armed Forces and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, pitted against the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) (commonly called the North Vietnamese Army, or NVA, in English-language sources) and the National Front for the Liberation of South ...

What was true about the end of the Vietnam War? ›

Communist forces ended the war by seizing control of South Vietnam in 1975, and the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the following year.

What ended the Vietnam War? ›

Having rebuilt their forces and upgraded their logistics system, North Vietnamese forces triggered a major offensive in the Central Highlands in March 1975. On April 30, 1975, NVA tanks rolled through the gate of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, effectively ending the war.

What did a forward observer do in Vietnam? ›

Forward Observers, often alone, moved behind enemy lines to serve as the eyes of the artillery gunner in delivering rounds on vital targets. In this episode, Medal of Honor recipients Barney Barnum and Brian Thacker tell their dramatic stories, In Their Own Words.

What was Operation Ranch Hand in Vietnam? ›

"The term Operation Ranch Hand was the military code name for the spraying of herbicides from U.S. Air Force aircraft in Southeast Asia from 1962 through 1971." "Between 1962 and 1971, Ranch Hand sprayed about 19 million gallons of herbicide, 11 million of which consisted of Agent Orange.

What was the bloodiest day in Vietnam? ›

The deadliest day of the Vietnam War for the U.S. was 31 January at the start of the Tet Offensive when 246 Americans were killed in action.

What did sop mean in the Vietnam War? ›

In military parlance, SOP” stands for standing operating procedure, to indicate a set of instructions that lends itself to a definite or standardized procedure without loss of effectiveness.

How often were officers fragged in Vietnam? ›

Fragging-assaulting a superior officer using a fragmentation grenade or other explosive-was surprisingly common during the Vietnam war. The most reliable figure is 730 incidents from 1969-1971, much higher than in U.S. wars before or since.

How many officers were fragged in Vietnam? ›

Savage, estimated that up to 1,017 fragging incidents may have taken place in Vietnam, causing 86 deaths and 714 injuries of U.S. military personnel, the majority officers and NCOs. Fragging statistics include only incidents involving explosives, most commonly grenades.

What was the life expectancy of a machine gunner in Vietnam? ›

"Guns up!" was the battle cry that sent machine gunners racing forward with their M60s to mow down the enemy, hoping that this wasn't the day they would meet their deaths. Marine Johnnie Clark heard that the life expectancy of a machine gunner in Vietnam was seven to ten seconds after a firefight began.

How long did a door gunner last in Vietnam? ›

According to popular legend, the door gunner on a Vietnam era Huey gunship had a life span of 5 minutes.

What was the life expectancy of a door gunner in Vietnam? ›

Over 10% of Vietnam casualties were helicopter crew members, and most of those were the door gunners that protected the helicopter, its crew, and its transports, from their exposed position. The average lifespan of a door gunner on a Huey in Vietnam was just two weeks.

What is the average age at death of a Vietnam veteran? ›

Of those killed, 17,539 were married. Average age of men killed: 23.1 years Total Deaths: 23.11 years Enlisted: 50,274; 22.37 years Officers: 6,598; 28.43 years Warrants: 1,276; 24.73 years E1: 525; 20.34 years Five men killed in Vietnam were only 16 years old.

How many soldiers died on their last day in Vietnam? ›

997 soldiers were killed on their first day in Vietnam. 1,448 soldiers were killed on their last day in Vietnam. 31 sets of brothers are on the Wall.

What was the most feared Army in the Vietnam War? ›

Tiger Force (Recon) 1-327th was a highly decorated small unit in Vietnam, and paid for its reputation with heavy casualties. In October 1968, Tiger Force's parent battalion was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation by President Lyndon B.

What was the special ops for the war in Vietnam called for America? ›

Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was a highly classified, multi-service United States special operations unit which conducted covert unconventional warfare operations prior to and during the Vietnam War.

What did they call soldiers in Vietnam? ›

grunt Slang term used for an American infantry soldier.

What is a Vietnamese soldier called? ›

Viet Cong (VC), in full Viet Nam Cong San, English Vietnamese Communists, the guerrilla force that, with the support of the North Vietnamese Army, fought against South Vietnam (late 1950s–1975) and the United States (early 1960s–1973).

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