History of Counterparts

An Association of US Military Advisors in Southeast Asia & Their Foreign Counterparts

From 1955 through 1975 a small group of US military and civilian advisors were assigned to work with foreign military and foreign government Counterparts in South East Asia. Although some of the advisors at the national and regional levels may have been assigned to work in government offices located in larger cities or large foreign military bases, many of the advisors were assigned to teams that operated in rural and remote areas. These teams were charged with a myriad of duties including liaison with US military units, coordination of support, education and training, medical assistance, civil affairs, agricultural assistance, security, public safety, and both defensive and offensive military planning and action. US advisors normally lived in close proximity to their Counterparts and as a result shared the daily lives of not only the counterpart, but the Counterparts family, hamlet and village. Problems and hardships suffered by one affected the other. Many of the advisors and their Counterparts bonded so strongly to each other that the friendship and mutual respect still exist today.

In 1985 in response to an inquiry as to the existence of any advisor/counterpart association, Bill Laurie who had never found such an organization was going to form the Association as an extension of his Vietnam book sales with a friend. After the friends death Bill discussed forming the organization with Paul Brubaker who volunteered to help.

A core group of around twenty people who had never met, formed an organization called Co Van My (American Advisor VN) and communicated by mail, telephone and voice cassette. Progress was slow and tedious. Funding was by personal contribution and effort as needed.

Membership grew slowly as publicity efforts were shortchanged because of the time consumed in becoming an "official" organization. Bylaws were drafted, policy and general mission statements made.

In 1990 the inaugural reunion included only five individuals and was held in San Jose, California. Bill attended the reunion along with Jim Vincent who helped edit the Constitution & By-laws. The business part of the reunion included lengthy discussions on what the organization was to represent and attempt to accomplish, and who would be eligible for membership. Was the organization to include only US Army advisors?...All US military advisors? ...Foreign Counterparts?...Civilians?

Grant McClure began to develop the Associations liasion with the Asian community, and Ben Myers worked for years to build the membership and out-reach contacts with other veterans associations. Both Grant and Ben have been vital to the Association's growth.

Bill started the Association's newsletter "SITREP" which quickly became the heart of the organization.

After the discussions, the members had collectively decided that the entire range of counterpart history and experience would define the group. This meant that anyone who served in any counterpart role as part of their assigned duties would be eligible for full membership. This decision was made because all advisory efforts were integral componments of an overall program to enable the people of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia to stand on their own while confronted with the debilitating effects of a bloody war.

In addition to advising their foreign Counterparts, most advisors ended up learning from and respecting their Counterparts. The advisors developed strong bonds of friendship with the people in their area and their foreign Counterparts. For these reasons, the membership acknowledged that host and guest country Counterparts would be accepted as members on an equal basis.

The inclusion of both US and their foreign Counterparts in the organization dictated that a new organization name be found that would convey this element of the group personality. Co Van My was catchy, but might allow some to conclude that the organization was something other than what was intended. This was borne out after the organization began receiving mail from a number of self-appointed, para-military groups. Some of these groups had bizarre agendas and could be called "hate groups".

The organization needed something that would catch the eye and appeal to former Southeast Asian allies. Using the highly sophistcated technique of asking the Vietnamese members of the organization for suggestions, the name "Tuong Huu Dong Nam A" tagged with "Counterparts/" was derived.

"Dong Nam A" means Southeast Asia. "Tuong Huu" means a friendship that is even more than comrades-in-arms or friends, and denotes something like case-hardened, battle-tested mutual trust and a belief in a common cause. A "Tuong Huu" buddy would never leave a friend when things were tough. A perfect example was the statement of a Montagnard soldier to his US counterpart "You die, I die".

Of course not every advisor's situation was the same and not all had to face and make life and death decisions. But it happened often enough and gave the organization an ideal to aspire to. The name was adopted.

With the foundation in place, the organization has zig-zagged along. A few of those in HQ were retired and the demands of work and family hampered the efforts to become more proficient. Even worse was when some in HQ took family or work "hits" that seemed to be ordained by Robert McNamara. Most managed to traverse the mire and seem better positioned today to foster and manage the associations growth while adding to the list of sponsored projects.

In 1998 the organization with the able guidance of Paul Brubaker began a campaign to rebuild itself based on it's original by-laws and the intentions of the members. The web page was formally organized to assist HQ in the dissemination of information to the members and the public. A project to add a web searchable listing of advisors in Southeast Asia was started. An advisor order of battle project was started. A permanent electronic library of advisor photos was created to preserve a pictorial history of the advisor corps. 1998 officer elections were held to elect a new slate of officers to carry out the organization by-laws.

In 1999 Counterparts/THDNA began planning for the future. The organization was invited by The Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University to assist with the building of an "Advisory Achive" that would include written and oral histories of the participants in the 2nd Indochina War, photographs, film, and memorabilia. Artist Richard Rezac started researching member photographs which will be the basis of his series of paintings called "The Advisory Experience". James Elliot, with the support of many flag officers, was working on a film project called "Co Van The American Military Advisor in Vietnam", but the project was cancelled in 2003 due to lack of funding. Joint reunions with the Vietnamese Armored Association and The Vietnam Center are being planned for 2000 through 2002. Participants for the 2002 reunion will include members of the Special Forces Assn., Special Operations Assn., USMC CAP Assn., and retired members of US government organizations involved in the advisory effort.

A Vietnamese orphan is sponsored under the auspices of the Pearl Buck Association. Money is donated to worthy causes that advocate the cause of human rights in Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia, and those groups that attempt to advance the cause of historical integrity regarding Hanoi's war against the three countries and Thailand.

The organization has come a long way, but there is much more still to do and improve. Dozens of lost friends have been reunited including some who had believed that their counterpart had been killed.

Many ideas are on the drawing board:

  • Scholarships for counterpart dependents
  • Tours of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia
  • Organizing a Southeast Asian chapter in the Far East
  • Compiling an oral history and interviewing former Counterparts to tell "our" side of the story

    In spite of not having a full-time PIO until Chuck Hougland came on board, the Associations membership continues to grow.

    Members are encouraged to submit more goals and programs for the organization. All ideas should be submitted to the organization's quarterly magazine SITREP.

  • "The same battle in the clouds will be known to the deaf only as lightening, and to the blind only as thunder."
    --George Santayana
    History & quote reprinted from SITREP #25, Mua Thu, Fall 1995

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