10 Army Signal Corps OCS Graduates Built The DoD's
First Ever Cinematography And Still Image Film Production Command
This is the continuation of a story begun on our September 2015 Home Page. To
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comes as no surprise then that when the crew of the Pueblo was finally
released at the border village of Panmunjom, on December 23rd, 1968, it was Team
Alpha’s film that was shown around the world. As to who gets the credit for the
U.S. having its own film crews on the ground, and a logistics system in place to
process and release the film to the world first, before anyone else, the thanks
belongs to Captain Bache. His efforts to set up a film processing system able to
logistically handle the footage his men were generating, and get it back to the
States and into the hands of those in the Office of the Joint Chiefs, so that
they could review it and release those portions they wanted the world to see,
worked. In this first of many future incidents, General Decker’s demand that the
U.S. Army give him something with which he could counter Curtis LeMay’s constant
showboating paid off.
It was from this early experience in South Korea, with
the Pueblo incident, that DASPO decided that rather than set up permanent teams
in permanent locations, such as Seoul, it would reapply the CONUS model being
used to cover Europe in a form that would allow it to cover all of Asia. The
result was that a number of Teams were dispatched to hot spot areas, where they
would set up a series of semi-permanent local headquarter detachments. These HQ
detachments would then stay operational in the country/area until things quieted
down and there was no longer a need for DASPO coverage.
One of the first of
these types of local HQ detachment Teams was assigned to Saigon. However, since
it wasn’t generating much in the way of footage that supported the mission the
Army Joint Chief had in mind—of promoting the U.S. Army—part of it was moved to
Thailand, where it slowly morphed into a semi-joint command shared with the boys
in Saigon. For the Thai portion of this regional command, the mission was one of documenting
the joint Thai– U.S. military
training and support activities. These took place throughout the country, and
provided an excellent opportunity to introduce the public back home in America
to Thailand, its people and its culture. More importantly, while perhaps less interesting than
watching films of the
combat activities taking place in Vietnam, from the viewpoint of the
Joint Chief’s the Thai footage was perfectly suited to the mission, as it helped
to demonstrate to the American
public that America indeed had allies in this fight...
Thailand, a capable, stable, proud and determined ally who was behind America’s Vietnam war efforts.
All in all, the DASPO concept seemed to be working, at least from the standpoint
of the Joint Chiefs, DoD and even the American public. Unbeknownst to these
people however, DASPO, as an operational unit, was not only pumping out film,
but also life experiences never before experienced by any war photographer or
correspondent. With certainty, Frank Capra never came close during his WWII
living the cockeyed life that a DASPO photographer of the Vietnam War lived. The
fact was that the psychedelic
Jim Thompson life style of the '60s caught up with the war in Vietnam, and
tainted all who came close to it... especially those that lived off base in
private housing such as the men of the Saigon and Bangkok DASPO detachments. For these
men, their war experience was nothing like that of their fathers in WWII. The
simple fact is that back in the early ‘60s, young men of war age that went to Asia to
fight the communists found themselves living an experience every bit as strange
as what one would find in Haight-Ashbury, even if no drugs were involved.
see this in the strangeness of the Team Thailand situation. Early on the team
was based in the Bangkok home of a Chinese national whose unlikely name was
Johnny Siam. Yes, Johnny Siam. If that doesn’t make you think of a life of Asian
intrigue, gun running, hot sweaty nights ducking down dark alleyways in Siem
Reap (เสียมราฐ), and maybe a little sex, drugs and rock
and roll too, nothing will.
Johnny owned a rambling two-story house located in the
heart of Bangkok. To make money on the side, and vacuum up intelligence that he
could resell to the Thais, he rented rooms to Americans. To provide an
additional veneer of credibility, he also ran an antique shop. There one could
buy, according to one former lodger, “jewelry, trinkets, and artifacts stolen
from remote ancient Thai temples.”
On weekends Johnny would hold Thai barbecue
cookouts on his patio. There he would personally grill water buffalo steaks for
the DASPO photogs, miscellaneous Air Force pilots, left over Red Cross girls on
their way to or from Vietnam,
passel of local girls, and odd journalist or two that happened to show up... all
the time "Hoovering up" intelligence where he could. Later, when everyone was well
hydrated with local Thai rice wine, he would move the entire entourage to the bar in
the Fortuna Hotel, Bangkok.
By now this should be sounding familiar to you.
If you haven't seen the shenanigans of this kind of war story portrayed in a
thousand Vietnam War movies since the end of that war, you have been comatose for
the past 50-odd years. The concept of an exotic kill by day, party by night
lifestyle somewhere in Bangkok, Saigon, Hong Kong, Kampong Cham or
Phnom Penh is part and parcel of the story of the Vietnam War. The only problem
is that for the boys of DASPO, it wasn't a story, it was real.
One can see in this that while on the surface the
mission U.S. military personnel were sent to do in Asia—including the DASPO
photographers sent to document the Vietnam War—got done, the life that
surrounded that mission went far beyond anything ever experienced by any
American fighting man since the Revolutionary War. Just as the fighting that
took place in Vietnam can be described as the most hellish of evils soaked in
sweat, fear and the quaking hands and personal blood of the enemy, so too can the life that
surrounded that fighting be described as the epitome of a mixture of emotional
and intellectual turbulence, unsubscribed independent thinking and a
psychedelically electric life style where, if sex, drugs and rock and roll were
not part of your personal life style, they weren’t far from it either.
‘60s… there was nothing like it. Being assigned as a young military
soldier—Officer or otherwise—to a
DASPO Team, and sent to Bangkok, Saigon, Hong Kong, or even Seoul, resulted in
you becoming the embodiment of what the 60s was.
For you, there was no need to
be at Woodstock, you were not only at its antithesis, you
were the antithesis... a young, devil may care, hard
swinging, harder swigging, combat soldier living life to the fullest. After all,
why not... tomorrow you might be dead.
For the DASPO men stationed in Bangkok, while getting the mission done always
came first, living life to its fullest wasn't far behind. Johnny Siam made sure
Among other DASPO Teams formed and moved to various places
around the world was one assigned to the Dominican Republic, when civil unrest
broke out there in April, 1965. The Dominican Republic DASPO Team was supported by the Panama Team, which
was headed by Captain Herb Ballinger. Based at Fort Amador, Panama, the normal
mission of the Panama Team was to document Cold War activities in Central and
South America. Interestingly, while on an assignment to film U.S. Special Forces
in the act of training government forces in Bolivia, the Panama detachment Team
found itself under unexpected fire from local insurgents, under the command
of no less than the Cuban revolutionary himself: Che Guevara. The by product of
this little firefight ended up being some of the best film footage ever taken
of Che Guevara, courtesy of DASPO.
The DASPO Vietnam Team generally
traveled to South Vietnam on three month-long Temporary Duty (TDY) orders. In Vietnam,
for anyone that asked, each Team member would explain to others that he was assigned to DASPO “Team Charlie”.
While this was technically true, for all practical purposes it meant little more
than that he had a place to sleep, in a rented, privately owned home, located in Gia Dinh,
a suburb of Saigon. We say "for all practical purposes" because while a DASPO
Team member might be assigned to Team Charlie, and have a place of abode
assigned to him, he rarely if ever saw it or made use of the bed reserved for
his "real" home was with whatever unit he could find to put him up while he was
out in the field shooting film.
Notwithstanding this, the Gia Dinh facility did exist, and even had a
nickname attached to it: the Villa. A building three stories tall, of
non--descript design, it was well known to the locals, who saw men… and
a few women… coming and going from it at all hours of the day (and night...). Serving as the
detachment’s home away from home, it functioned as an office as well as a
with most men sharing their room with others.
Operationally, the Vietnam Team consisted of an Officer in Charge, a
Non-commissioned Officer and anywhere from 10 to18 enlisted sound specialists,
motion picture men, and still photographers. In Saigon, it was from this Villa
that the Team roamed to photograph the faces of the people, the
protagonists in the war, and the country in which the war was taking place.
Staffing DASPO was a no-brainer. The Chain of command was largely made up of
professional soldiers, with the senior Officers and NCO’s having photographic
experience dating back to World War II and Korea. Younger Enlisted Men came
mostly from the Signal Corps' Schools at Fort Monmouth. Officers came from
U.S. Army Signal OCS, at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
As to DASPO’s predilection for
staffing itself with Signaleers, the answer as to why that happened is easy
to explain. Upon recruitment, when a civilian's skills were analyzed for
branch, unit and training assignments, those with experience in writing, publishing, editorial
activities, news gathering, broadcasting, photography, video and audio
recording, film production, script writing, communications and the like were all assigned to
the Signal Corps. After all, while it did happen, it made no sense to assign a
writer or photographer for training as a tank driver when teletype operators and
photographic archivists were in demand in the Signal Corps.
The net result
was that most of the men in DASPO found themselves surrounded by and working
with others that
had gone through the same kind of Signal Corps training and schooling that they had.
Many of them were even classmates. Because of this, in the minds of
the men that staffed the unit, DASPO became a surrogate for the Signal Corps,
even though it had nothing to do with it. It’s from the simple fact that the
bulk of the people in DASPO were Signal Corps people that the idea was born that somehow DASPO must have been part of the Signal Corps
As to why the men who served in DASPO feel it worked so well in
achieving its mission, one can point to only one thing: because the unit was
created and organized so that if functioned outside of the control of local
U.S. Army commands, the men
were at liberty to bring both their professional and artistic talents to the
task at hand, without oversight. This allowed detachment operators in the field to move with ease through
the various units they engaged with, focusing on their idea of how the
scene should be shot, rather than that of the local commander. In essence then,
working directly and only for the Department of
Defense in the Pentagon gave each man, even the lowliest of EMs, enough clout to
do the job his way instead of the Army way.
showing how much clout DASPO men had in the field has been bandied about for
years, and from all of our research efforts appears to be true. The story entails Staff
Sergeant Ray Goddard, who, due to a temporary shortage of Officers, was the
acting Team Leader of one of the DASPO Teams in Vietnam.
As the story goes,
Sergeant Goddard was collared by one of General William C. Westmoreland’s (who
was at that time the Commanding General of U.S. military operations in the
Republic of South Vietnam) aides, and “ordered to have his team cover an
upcoming cocktail party the General was throwing.”
Not having enough rank to out-shout the aide that gave him the order, Goddard
protested that his assignment forbid him to engage in local publicity stunts
such as this, but that he would, under protest—provided that General
Westmoreland knew that he was protesting the assignment—send a staffer to photograph the party.
With this behind him, the party was shot, and the film developed. However, Goddard saw
to it that an extra set of prints were also developed and sent up the chain of command to the
Pentagon. Along with the prints were Goddard's instructions that they be delivered to the Army Chief of Staff.
When the Chief of Staff saw the prints, he went nuclear. Seeking Westmoreland
out, he took the time to reprimanded him directly, and in person, telling him in no uncertain terms to “keep his hands off of DASPO
Later, as the story goes, while “Goddard was on assignment in
the local boondocks, he had to hitch a last minute ride on a departing
“After scrambling aboard the slowly rising chopper, he landed at
the feet of an Officer sitting in the rear. Looking up, Goddard saw the four
stars on the Officer’s uniform and recognized General Westmoreland.
peered down at Goddard, noticed the camera and read his name tag. His only
remark was, ‘so you’re Goddard.’“
In terms of how they got their work done,
because each DASPO three-man Team was not permanently stationed in any particular
area of conflict,
Team members found themselves with little to no logistical, in-country resources
with which to support and/or enable their missions. Except for the Villa and
what the men carried on their back, little else existed with which they could use to live a "normal" G.I.'s life. With no local TOE, the men were forced to
depend on the units they found in their neighborhood to scrounge up the
resources they needed.
these resources included everything from the food they needed to feed
themselves, to the jeeps they depended on to “get around town.” This in turn
required Officers and NCO’s to resort to non-military style ingenuity to
accomplish their mission. Adding to this difficulty was the requirement that when
working on assignments in different Corps areas, the men often operated as
civilian journalists, in order to get closer to the focus of the story. This
brought additional risk to them. To smooth everything out, the more creative
among the DASPO people resorted to the use of “fresh bottles of scotch” to
smooth their way, whether it was with a stubborn motor pool Sergeant, or a local
Montagnard village leader.
Travel wise, the Vietnam Team usually flew out of Tan
Son Nhut Airbase, in what many of our readers would recognize as the “Hotel Three”
helicopter departure area. Alternately, when a fixed wing aircraft was needed,
they would resort to the 834th Tactical Airlift Command, which some of our
reader will remember
offered regularly scheduled fixed wing passenger flights around South Vietnam.
Assignment wise, most projects were set and ordered by a Team’s OIC. He would
contact the host unit where the photography was to take place, and make all
arrangements for the squad that would do the shooting. The OIC in turn got his
marching orders from the Pentagon. In many cases the Pentagon was asleep at the
switch, and had no pressing photography or video shoots that had to be run. In
those cases the team was expected to come up with its own story ideas. And if
that didn’t result in any worthwhile missions, then the Team was expected to
The net result of all of this was that the Vietnam DASPO Teams
moved fluidly between the lowest level grunts that fought and sweated in the
bush, the rear echelon clerks and support people that kept the war machinery
oiled and running, and the highest ranking military and civilian men and women
that gave the war its purpose. In simple terms, Team Charlie bore witness to
some of the best of times and some of the worst... and they preserved that witness in celluloid.
When the final U.S. military pullout took place in 1973,
DASPO went through the same downsizing that the rest of the Army did. “On
December 6th, 1974, DASPO Pacific ceased to exist. The last commanding officer
of DASPO Pacific, Louis Poirier remembered packing up the last of the Hawaii
equipment and shipping it to DASPO CONUS at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Then, as
he wryly recalled, he shipped himself up to the 25th division at Schofield
“The three DASPO detachments [that were left] were then consolidated
into one unit stationed at Fort Bragg, and the name was changed to [the U.S.]
Army Special Operations Pictorial [Detachment] (ASOPD). Today the 55th Combat
Camera Company stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, carries on the visual
documentary mission that was started by DASPO in 1962.
As for the U.S. Army Signal Corps Officer Candidate School’s
contribution to DASPO, it was fundamental to the existence of the command. Most
of the Officers that led the unit came from the Signal Corps, and most of those
were Signal OCS graduates. While our
research is incomplete, these are some of the Army Signal OCS Officers that made
DASPO a success:
DASPO’s first Commander,
Captain Claude Bache was an Army Signal OCS
alumni. He served as the CO of Company K, Headquarters and Headquarters Company
(OCS K-HHC) — Bache, Claude V.; LTC 62-65 First Pacific
Detachment Commander; Chief of DASPO, MOS 8511.
Captain Brown, John C., served as a commander in
the Pacific DASPO team, from 1968 – 1970. He graduated from Army Signal OCS Class
Major Davis, Donzelle, served as a commander in the DASPO offices in the
Pentagon. He graduated in Army Signal OCS Class 17-52.
First Lieutenant Droll,
Jr., Frank J. (Jerry), served in the Pacific DASPO Team from 1966 – 1968. He
graduated from Army Signal OCS Class 18-66.
Captain Griffith, Richard M., served
in the Pacific DASPO Team from 1967 – 1969. He graduated from Army Signal
OCS Class 12-66.
Colonel Jones, Arthur, Augustus (Art), served as the 1st Chief of
DASPO from 1962 – 1965. He graduated from Army Signal OCS Class 43-20.
Captain Letzer Sr., Larry L., served as a commander in the Panama DASPO Team, from 1970
– 1974. He graduated from Army Signal OCS Class Y66-06B.
Captain Richards, Wynn
G., served as a commander in the Pacific DASPO team, from 1968 – 1970. He
served as an Army Signal OCS TAC Officer for OCS Class 10-67.
Stanley, Jack, served as a commander in the CONUS DASPO team, from 1967 – 1968.
He graduated from Army Signal OCS Class 21-67.
Captain Winn, Darrell, served as a
commander in the CONUS DASPO team, from 1966 – 1969. He graduated from Army Signal
OCS Class 14-67.
- - - - -
Overall, DASPO produced not only good film, but
lots of it. As an example, during the first three years of DASPO’s Hawaiian
detachment operation (i.e., beginning in August, 1962) the Team produced over
750,000 feet of color motion picture footage, along with several thousand still
images… all of which were for the exclusive use of the Department of the Army
and, in particular, the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
This, as well as their work in
documenting the Pueblo Incident, the fighting, riots and revolution in the
Dominican Republic, Panama, Korea, the early stages of the Vietnam War, the
Communist Post-Tet Offensive period of May 1968, Cambodia, Thailand, the latter
stages of the Vietnam War, the winding down and wrapping up of America’s combat
involvement in Asia, the beginnings of the Cold War… and so much more, would not have been
possible without the leadership of the U.S. Army Signal Corps OCS graduates that
built and led the DASPO unit... a truly remarkable unit.
In our view, the Signal Corps men who staffed and commanded DASPO singularly stood
forward and brought DASPO to life, to serve the unique needs of General George
Decker, Chief of Staff of the Army, who called for the accurate documentation
and depiction of the Army’s involvement in the burgeoning global challenges
America faced at that time. To his credit, he ordered that this be done at just the right time
in America's history...
when more and more American people were beginning to look with skepticism at what its Presidents were doing with
America's military, and in the process demanding more information about exactly
what was going on in the wars then building.
In many ways it
could be said that if it were not for the foresight of General Decker, and the
effectiveness of the Signal Corps Officer Candidate School graduates that
carried out his mission, the American public’s access to the facts and realities of
what was really happening in Vietnam never would have become possible. Instead, the American
people would have
blindly stumbled forward, knowing that its young men were fighting a war
somewhere out in Asia, but not knowing where, why, what was happening to them,
or for what purpose. When seen from this perspective,
the footage produced by DASPO became then and continues to be today the foundation upon which
our visual history of the
Vietnam War was built... coloring then, as it still does today, what people at large think
the Vietnam War was all about.
In conclusion, it matters not whether DASPO was an element of the U.S. Army
Signal Corps, or, as it was in reality, a separate command of the Department of
the Army and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What matters is that if it were not for
the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and its Officer Candidate program, the Department of the Army Special Photography Office
would not have been able to document the U.S. Army's involvement in the events
of the 1960s, and the Vietnam War in particular.
Editor's Note #1:
As writers on our own part, we here at ArmySignalOCS.com value the intellectual
property of all who produce written and graphic content. Whether an author,
artist, photographer or videologist, in producing an original piece of content,
the creator of that content should receive full and accurate recognition for his
work. Unfortunately, in today's world of online copying and pasting, where both
text and digital content is shuffled around the internet like air, too often an
original author's name becomes detached from his textual or graphic creation,
even when the creation is copyrighted. Such seems to be the case in the story
above. Specifically, despite our efforts, in most instances we were unable to
find attributable sources for the vast majority of the photographs and quoted
text that appears in the story.
Technically, since the photos used in this story were created by DASPO
servicemen while on active duty, they belong to the American people and are
therefore held to be in the public domain. Because of that, and our having
sourced the majority of them from the National Archives, we are able to use them
here without attribution, and without violating copyrights. But that's not our
point. Our point is that even if they are held to be in the public domain, we
still would prefer to give credit and attribution to the
photographer(s) that shot these photos, and the authors that captured the
stories behind them.
Should you, as a visitor to our website, ever see an original work or production
being used on our website without proper attribution, and you know who the
original creator of that work is, please notify both us and the
creator. Ask him/her to get in touch with us and identify them self, and we will
immediately ascribe proper attribution and credit to that work, or, remove it if
it exists under copyright and the owner forbids its continued use. While there
may be no legal requirement for us to credit works in the public domain, the
simple fact is that we value the intellectual property and works of others and
would prefer to see those works properly credited. Someone, long ago, crawled
through the jungles of Vietnam to take one of the pictures that appears in this
story. Wouldn't it be nice to see a caption under that photo saying “U.S. Army
DASPO Photo by SGT John Smith”, rather than nothing at all?
Most photographs in this article sourced from the National Archives. Others courtesy the
DASPO Archive at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas. To gain access to the
Texas Tech material, click here
The list of Army Signal OCS
graduate Officers shown above, who were members of DASPO, was compiled from a list of DASPO
assigned Officers found on the deep web in a document entitled “Charter: DASPO
Combat Photographers Association, 1962-1974”. Statements made on said
document included the following, which is reproduced here for your edification: "This organization is founded to promote
the historical, photographic and sound images captured by its members. Our
charter will cover one era, the Vietnam War. The Department of the Army Special
Photographic Office (DASPO) was established to provide non-biased information to
the Department of the Army and the United States Congress. "
Editor's Note #2:
On August 15, 2016, we received a surprise eMail from one of the authors of the
many stories of DASPO that are floating around on the internet. Interestingly,
while we did not know he was the author of them, it was his original writing and
source material what we were finding scattered online in bits and pieces, and
from which we drew much of our background material and many of our facts. In his
eMail to us he pointed out several discrepancies in our story. Being thankful
that he took the time to contact us, we asked him if we could reproduce his
eMail to us here, to correct the errors to the story.
Please read it and enjoy it !
Imagine my surprise when I stumbled on this article from your association's
webpage about the history of DASPO, my home unit for over two years between
I was not one of the young officers you credit with making that unit happen but
rather one of the Fort Monmouth trained enlisted men who did the work out in the
field as a member of the three teams that operated in Thailand, South Korea and
South Vietnam. I am presently retired after a forty odd year career in newspaper
journalism, having worked at papers in Florida, Missouri and lastly for the
Philadelphia Inquire, where I worked for thirty years as a still photographer
and photo editor.
To set the record straight, I wrote (with the editing help of my wife Susan) the
text used in the power point presentation you alluded to, and from which I
assume you referred to when writing your own history of "Just Who The Hell is
DASPO Anyway? I wrote my version of that history based on emails exchanged with
various members of our detachment who provided me with their memories during the
evolution of our unit.
One error I want to point out in your version of that history is, the South
Korea team was not the first one formed during those years and in fact it was
the last. If you review your own story you will notice that the idea for DASPO
was formed as early as 1962, while the South Korea team did not become a fixture
until 1968. Also the villa headquarters in Vietnam was not the party palace you
described but was run like an army installation. Also, we did not totally depend
on support from the units in the field that we photographed but from the tdy per
diem we were paid. That villa was expensive and we had to maintain a certain
number of days in Saigon ( $26.00 per day ) to pay our rent, food and the three
maids who cooked and cleaned for us. The lighthearted tone of the writing was
entertaining to read, but the facts and quotes presented were often straight out
of the history I wrote for the DASPO power point as presented by Texas Tech
I appreciate your interest in DASPO I worked with may of the officers mentioned
in your story and remain friends with many of the to this day. I was with Capt.
Richard M. "Rick" Griffith the day he earned his Purple Heart and Bronze Star in
May of 1968.
In closing I would just like to point out that a lot of brave and talented NCOs
and enlisted men also played an important part in that history as it was being
made. A couple gave their lives doing so.
Bryan K. Grigsby
Anyone from the old DASPO units interested in communicating with Bryan can reach
him at: Gogators71@aol.com
Our sincere thanks and appreciation to Brian for contacting us.
- - - - -
 Quotations and text story from a DASPO PowerPoint
file found in the deep web and published by its author without attribution. If the author
of that PPT file should ever find this note of attribute here, please notify the
Army Signal OCS
Webmaster and we will gladly
credit him for his work. -
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This page originally posted 1 September
2015, last updated 1 September 2016.