Vernon Allen Smith – US Army Special Unit – LRRP Laos Search and Rescue Missions for POWs, a huge Red Flag3
“Don’t allow little things like trivia and facts to get in the way of a great story.” – Anonymous
By the time Vernon Allen Smith died in May 2016 he was well-known in the Houston, Texas area.
He was dubbed a “Trivia Meister” and hosted a popular trivia night at a local Houston sports bar. He was quite popular and all were saddened to learn of his sudden passing.When Smith died on May 1, 2016, several publications carried his life story as part of a tribute. It is not clear which publication lead with the story, but the language was the same. On May 5, 2016 the Houston Chronicle writes:
Vernon was the squad commander of a special US Army long-range reconnaissance patrol (“LLRP”) before and after the cease fire of the Vietnam War. His unit secretly parachuted into and worked only in Laos with the objective of search and rescue for US prisoners of war (“POWs”). He took “point” almost every day and deeply cared for his men and his mission. Vernon received commendations and was honorably discharged in 1975. Vern never forgot his Army skills and was able to hit a bull’s eye at 100 yards with an open-sighted AR15 only last year. Vernon was so proud to serve his country as a Japanese-American, and we are so honored that he did! Sine Pari!
On May 5, 2016 Katharine Shilcutt of the Houstonia magazine writes:
Vern was born on Misawa Air Force Base in Japan in 1954 before moving to Kentucky in 1963. He later enrolled in the US Army in 1972, serving before and after the Vietnam War as part of a search-and-rescue unit, parachuting into Laos and tracking down prisoners of war. It wasn’t until 2005 that Vern began emceeing weekly trivia nights at Griff’s, hosting a total of 550 booze-and-baudy-fact-filled evenings over 11 years, and awarding enough Jell-O shots during each week’s final round to float the Battleship Texas.
The way Smith’s military accomplishments were worded raised a few red flags. The abbreviation “LLP” was used and “LRRP would be the correct designation for Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols.
Although highly noble, it would be odd to take point each and every time, especially as a squad leader.
Smith’s military records were requested through the Freedom of Information Act.
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FOIA RESULTS – SELECTED
FOIA RESULTS – COMPLETE
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DISCUSSION and SUMMARY
VIETNAM SERVICE MEDAL
In the early years of the Vietnam War, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal was issued for initial operations in South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Its issue was discontinued in 1965 for Vietnam War service upon the creation of the Vietnam Service Medal, which was awarded instead.
The Vietnam Service Medal, pictured above for reference, would be one of the awards that Smith would have received based on the stories of his military service.
The criteria for this award is if an individual served in the armed forces between the dates of 15 November 1960 and 30 April 1975 for military service, in geographical theater areas of Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, or Cambodia.
Vernon Smith’s military records do not support him as having received one. If the missions were secret, he still should have been awarded this medal.
PARACHUTE TRAINING AND INSIGNIA
Vernon Smith’s military records do not support him as having received training and qualifications for being a parachutist, so how is it that he would be “parachuting into Laos” while doing search and rescue for prisoners of war (POWs)?
There was also nothing in his records to designate combat. He would have gotten some award for being behind enemy lines.
VIETNAM CEASE FIRE
The Vietnam ceasefire went into place on midnight on January 27, 1973. Vernon Allen Smith entered active duty military service on June 8, 1972. At first glance, this provides a very tight window to go to boot camp (8 weeks during Vietnam), Advanced Infantry Training (~ 8 weeks), leave (4 weeks if desired) and jump school? This would put him in Vietnam with about a month before the cease fire.
Would this be enough time to get a few missions in for search and rescue? Maybe, but why would they take someone fresh out of training?
It’s a moot point because Smith’s history of assignments show that he was a student until Feb 1973 (after the cease fire) and was then assigned to Germany for the rest of his Army career.
This casts some doubt on the following claim in the Houston Chronicle: “Vernon was the squad commander of a special US Army long-range reconnaissance patrol (“LLRP”) before and after the cease fire of the Vietnam War. His unit secretly parachuted into and worked only in Laos with the objective of search and rescue for US prisoners of war (“POWs”).”
Vernon Allen Smith served his country honorably and during the time of the Vietnam War. He would be properly classified as a Vietnam-era veteran, but the fact remains that his military records do not support him being in Vietnam or Laos.
This blog is not meant to trample on a honorable veteran’s grave in regard to their military service, nor cause any undue suffering for the surviving family members. The goal is the proper documentation of the historical record. Would veterans that were inserted into Laos on search and rescue missions want someone speaking on their behalf that was not a part of these efforts?
How did the publications get their facts? Were they told these things by Mr. Smith himself or did the family or friends write up an obituary based on what Smith told them for years? We may never know the answer to these questions; but what we do know is nobody bothered to look into Mr. Smith’s military records to verify the claims.
What’s ironically odd about this entire case is that Mr. Smith was well known for his meticulous research, attention to detail and presentation of facts.
The facts surrounding his claimed military history is perhaps the greatest riddle of all.
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PHOTOS and SOCIAL MEDIA
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This Ain’t Hell: http://thisainthell.us/blog/?p=66722
[…] folks at Military Phony send us their work on this fellow, Vernon Allen Smith, a local celebrity in Houston, Texas. He was […]
Just FYI, that obituary at the Chronicle was a paid obit supplied by the family, not something that the newspaper staff prepared.
We left the door open to that being a possibility and have run into this before in regard to obituaries. Many people view them as historical records and don’t know that someone can claim that their loved one raised the flag at Iwo Jima in their submitted obituary and the newspaper will print it. In this case it may be difficult if not impossible to determine how the stories of Laos got started, we just found that the claims weren’t supported by Smith’s official military records. Thanks for your input.