The joint CNN/Time TV magazine, NewsStand, got off to a disastrous start on June 7 with a program called “Valley of Death” about Operation Tailwind, a raid 60 miles inside Laos carried out by 16 U.S Army Special Forces personnel and 140 Montagnard tribesmen. CNN and Time falsely charged that the purpose of the mission was to kill American defectors who were helping the North Vietnamese army in Laos and that poison gas was used in this operation, killing women and children.
I interviewed seven of the Americans who were on the mission. They all said that the assignment they were given was to blow up a bridge on the Ho Chi Minh trail to disrupt traffic and draw away North Vietnamese troops who were attacking Hmong tribesmen friendly to the U.S. They all denied that finding and killing American defectors was part of their mission. CNN made that charge on the basis of speculation by individuals who were not part of the operation and had nothing to do with its planning. They simply ignored what they were told by the men who carried out the assignment.
On the fourth and last day of their mission, the Tailwind team stumbled across a North Vietnamese army logistical sub-headquarters as they were rushing to get to the spot where helicopters were to pick them up. There were many of these along the Ho Chi Minh trail. They went through it quickly, tossing grenades into the hooches and killing about 100 of the enemy. CNN called this a village or a village base camp. It said that it had been bombed, strafed and hit with deadly nerve gas the night before the Tailwood team wiped it out and that women and children had been killed.
Where they got that is a mystery. They showed no one on camera who made such claims. All the team members we interviewed said they saw no sign of any air attack on the headquarters. They had camped overnight very close to the headquarters, and they would have seen and heard the attack had there been one. None of them reported seeing any women or children there.
CNN tried to convince viewers that lethal nerve gas had been dropped on enemy soldiers who attacked our men as they raced to board the helicopters sent to evacuate them. CNN found one Tailwind veteran , Michael Hage who insistes he was exposed to nerve gas because he now has some serious health problems. Another, Robert Van Buskirk implied, but would not say, that what made him vomit and choke may have been nerve gas. He also denied saying that the gas killed enemy soldiers. He only said they were not combatants after being gassed.
They were two of many who were sickened by the gas. The pilot who dropped it says it was tear gas. Capt. McCarley, who protected his face with a wet cloth, says it was CS, a fast acting tear gas that all the men had been exposed to in training. The first symptoms are similar to nerve gas, but nerve gas is fatal if not treated quickly. None of our men died from the gas, proof that the charge that nerve gas was used is false.