More from “Nosey Parker” interview with his cousin, Jimmy Parker
Alan (left) Grand Canyon 2016: I believe many of the CIA paramilitary guys you served with on Skyline Ridge are now dead, a lot back in the ’70s. What made the course of your life different from theirs?
Jimmy: “Meeting Steve Canyon… and Flying with the CIA in Laos” is an excellent recently published book on the Ravens by Karl Polifka. Ravens flew those little unprotected O-1s out of Long Tieng that spotted for the US TacAir fast movers. They had supper with Vang Pao most evenings and worked closely with the CIA on executing our home-grown war plans. Plus during the day they stayed in contact with CIA case officers and other English speakers on the ground so that they could tell the U.S. jets the latest intelligence on where to put their bombs.
Karl said in his book that life and work in the valley was different from life everywhere else in the world. Took different life skills.
And I know what he means. In the States and elsewhere in the real world, a lot of pretend goes on. TV programmes, manners, sports, advertisements, dating — most any social interacting, policy-making in government offices, atmospherics in most any workplace … and there’s a lot of political correctness out there that obfuscates truth. Isn’t much real dirt in the lives of most. Don’t meet people with callouses on the hands; there are hand wipes everywhere. Nobody you meet much anymore has spent a night out in the woods. Sweating’s done in Gold’s Gym.
In the valley things were real. There was no phoniness. A CIA case officer would go out on the ramp at dawn to talk with an Air America pilot about work to be done during the day, and BS didn’t fly. Any hint that the case officer was hedging on the truth, or worse, didn’t know what he was talking about, then the pilots had the right to tell him to piss off. My roommate up country was a guy codenamed Kayak, George Bacon, and he had continuing problems with Air America because he had a frigging death wish, I think. It wasn’t that he lied, he never lied, he just wanted to work closer to the action than most. (google CIA Kayak, George Bacon, if you want an incredible read.)
Working with the Ravens, the USAF forward air guides who flew those tiny little observation O-1 planes, spotting for U.S. fast movers was another thing in which absolute honesty was required and anything phony cost lives. Day after day after day the Ravens flew those little planes up over tens of thousands of North Vietnamese and looked death square in the eye every mission every day. One little mistake, one lapse in judgment, one bad piece of information… they were shot out of the sky. No margin for error, they demanded honesty.
Living in the valley where this absolute dependence on being truthful, forged with life and death consequences, put honesty up there as one of the essentials to do our business, to live life. One of the required life skills in the valley.
But then when the CIA guys, and some Air America and some Ravens, got back to the real world… where perception was more important than reality…. where posturing is all some people knew… where being upright didn’t get you anywhere but in trouble… well, some of these guys from the Long Tieng valley, felt out of place. Got disoriented, and died. Hog, Bag, Clean, Bamboo, Kayak.
I think the difference between them and me, is they were bachelors. I was — still am — married to Brenda. She kept me grounded.
Alan: These CIA codenames were often bestowed, not willingly chosen. “Clean,” for example, was Robert Burr Smith, who had a shaved head — rare in those days — and was known as “Mr. Clean,” shortened in turn to “Clean” for his radio callsign. Long before joining the CIA, Smith had been a member of the legendary 101st Airborne which jumped behind enemy lines in Normandy on D-day and was later immortalized in the HBO TV series “Band of Brothers.” I haven’t asked Jim but, as I understand it, Jim’s “roommate up country,” George Bacon AKA Kayak, replaced Clean as liason officer to Vang Pao. Again I haven’t asked Jim but, according to this piece by Jack Murphy, Kayak was 24 years old at the time. He died in Angola before he was 30. Kayak was a CIA legend, as was the aforementioned Hog.