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"Paradise Lost"


By Lee Russell

The aboriginal Montagnards were the original inhabitants of the Vietnam. They bore EXACTLY the same relationship to the Vietnamese as the American Indians did to the Western settlers in 19th Century America. Over the years, their tribal groups had been driven to the country's remote Western mountains. "Montagnard" is the French word for "mountaineer." The Vietnamese, both North and South, despised them. Their word for them was "moi" which means "savages." During the Indochina War, the French had organized many of the tribes to fight the Viet Minh. After their victory, the Viet Minh exterminated those that had opposed them in North Vietnam. In the South, where they were not even citizens, the Montagnards retreated to their mountains and tried to stay neutral. Unhappily the Ho Chi Minh Trail ran though the same mountains and neutrality was no longer possible. Against the wishes of the South Vietnamese government, the US Army Special Forces began arming and training the Montagnards in the late 1950s. As they had done before, with the French, the tribesmen welcomed the US advisors. The Green Berets became honorary members of their tribes. They learned the languages, participated in ceremonies, ate local food and wore tribal dress, such as the brass friendship bracelets, with their military uniforms. Kithem is apparently from this period. The Viet Cong, of course, were doing the same with THEIR tribes.

The Army PAO did not like this script, not because of the scenario (in reality a contact with a "new" tribe would be turned over to the Special Forces) but because of the depiction of the South Vietnamese troops. Tour of Duty generally depicted the South Vietnamese armed forces in a good light. This show would be an exception. The Army of the Republic of Viet-Nam (ARVN) had their own Special Forces, patterned on the US Green Berets, who were supposed to work with the Montagnards. They weren't very effective. Their hearts weren't in it. (Hanging out with the "moi"? No way!) Sarcastic Americans said their unit abbreviation, LLDB, stood for "Look Long, Duck Back." The Army PAO objected to this characterization in the script but it was correct for the period and stood. Besides their regular troops, the Saigon Government had several types of local militias and paramilitary forces. The ones we show in the episode are the personal troops of the local District Chief, called "Popular Forces." In US terms, think of them as the Sheriff's Posse of a US County. Some of these forces were quite efficient, others less so. It all depended on the District Chief. This Chief is corrupt and overbearing and his PF unit reflects this. The Popular Forces made do with bits and pieces of regular uniforms and civilian clothes. They looked a lot like the Viet Cong, and were distinguished from them by their unit patches worn on their shirts. The designs could be complicated or simple. I designed the patch for the episode. It features an ordinary house cat! This is not as silly as it sounds. The superstitious Vietnamese regarded animals that hunted at night (like bats and owls) as possible "familiars" for ghosts and evil spirits. A cat might also be regarded as a harbinger of death, in the Vietnamese mythos.

I was also thinning out my collection of "tiger stripe" camoflage uniforms and the show's costumers, Hollywood Raggs bought my extras, most of which appear in this episode.

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