COVERT WARRIOR: OVERT FANTASY!
(June 1997 issue of SOF)
Several months ago I was chatting with a friend, an editor at Presidio Press, when he mentioned that the company was coming out with a real blockbuster of a wartime memoir. Naturally, I wanted to read it as soon as possible, so my Presidio pal sent me a copy of the galley proofs of Covert Warrior. I got all of two pages into this extraordinary account before realizing that I was looking at an account of the exploits of the most awesome warrior in the history of the Republic, a man named Warner Smith.
For the record, I spent
twenty-seven years as a
Smith, a 1964 graduate of Cornell University, has an honorable military pedigree--his father was a World War II naval officer, and Smith himself is a product of Cornell's Naval ROTC. However, nothing--NOTHING--could have led one to anticipate that Smith would become the super-hero depicted in Covert Warrior. The book is a truly remarkable account of how one man can influence the course of a conflict through the focused application of the principles of unconventional warfare.
What's wrong with this picture? There's a minor problem--it's a major lie.
* * * * * *
It's common knowledge that there lurks within the soul of most, if not all, men the shade of Walter Mitty; why, I confess to having personally communed with Mr. Mitty in flights of my own fancy! However, in the cases of increasing numbers of grown men who ought to know better, Mitty the Meek has morphed into a devouring monster, and such is the case of Warner Smith.
Mr. Smith is authentic
in several respects: (1) he graduated from
On the other hand, as
blatant a misrepresentation of the truth as is Covert Warrior, it should win an
award from somebody as the cleverest concoction ever put together by what is
politely referred to as a "wannabe." It has all of the imagination
and quite a bit of the historical accuracy of a Tom Clancy novel,
and it most assuredly gets one's adrenaline pumping. Why, even though I knew it
was pure fiction, I found myself on the edge of my seat more than a few times
throughout my reading. For example, it was hard to remain calm when Smith gives
his tension-filled account of how he and a handful of buddies rescued a dozen
or more downed US pilots from a POW camp in
But I get ahead of myself. What, exactly, is it that Warner Smith claims to have done, and how did it all start? According to Smith, he and some fifty junior officers volunteered for "...a special operations team....I volunteered out of curiosity....[but] [a]s I volunteered, I never foresaw muddy jungles in my military future." Indeed.
What Mitty--er, Smitty
ostensibly volunteered for was an elite CIA-sponsored group known as FRAM-16.
(To this day, Smith says that he never learned what "FRAM" stood for.
The "16" apparently indicated its membership--sixteen of the original
fifty volunteers having survived an excruciating selection process.) Anyway,
after almost a year of intensive training in weapons, Ranger operations, POW
techniques, parachuting, demolitions, Vietnamese language, communications,
small-unit tactics, and the like, FRAM-16 found itself on a USAF C-135 en route
It is in Smith's
description of the trip to '
commentary on the discussions with the UDT members, Smith makes three
(actually, four) factual errors in the same sentence: (1) "The
Then in the very next sentence he makes three more boners. He has a UDT-er saying that he had been issued the Stoner rifle. That's a remarkable assertion, especially since the UDTs were never issued Stoners, either in rifle- or Light Machine Gun (LMG) configuration. Then Smith observes that the 5.56mm bullet fired by the Stoner is "...comparable to the .223-caliber cartridge." Technically, I guess he's right, but the truth is that the Stoner .223 round is nothing more or less than the 5.56mm round--they are one and the same. Let's see, now--that's six--no, seven, errors in two sentences.
Enough of technical incompetence--let's move on now to how Smith describes the mission of FRAM-16. He has a CIA representative briefing them on the team's mission as follows: "Ultimately you will become a study and observation group (SOG), also referred to by some as a special operations group." Here again Smith shows the ignorance of the wannabe. There was a single Studies and Observations Group (SOG), and its charter was to provide policy, command, and control for all special operations conducted in Southeast Asia outside South Viet Nam. It most assuredly did not consist of numerous SOGETTES!
The group's initiation into Viet Nam combat was a planned "body snatch" of a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) officer in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which separated North- and South Viet Nam. It is here that Smith's lack of knowledge about the "real world" of combat becomes evident. When a FRAM 16 friend, Larry, was killed in a firefight with superior North Vietnamese Army forces, Smith was ordered by a Special Forces (SF) sergeant to leave Larry's body behind when the combined SF/FRAM-16 team was forced to retreat. Of course, Smith ignored the orders and carried his buddy out anyway, but he was read the riot act by an SF major upon return to base camp.
There is no way that any American military man, SF or otherwise, would order any other American in combat to leave a buddy's body behind. In fact, there are dozens of cases in which additional casualties were taken because combat troops refused to leave a dead friend behind. There are other aspects of this tale that don't ring true, as well. For example, SF soldiers rarely, if ever, went out on Americans-only patrols, since their primary mission was to instruct Vietnamese in the arts of war. Smith treats the situation as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
The next combat op involved simultaneous missions by the three "teams" (A, B, and C) into which FRAM-16 had been divided. At this time the unit was operating out of Soc Trang, correctly located by Smith as being 35 miles southwest of Can Tho. There's a problem here, though: I have a personal friend who was a Naval Intelligence operative in Soc Trang during the period Smith writes about, and he roared when I read him Smith's account. He assured me that he would have known of any special unit operating out of Soc Trang.
According to Smith,
A-team was "...assigned to join a UDT Team [sic] (wrong terminology--the
"T" in "UDT" already stands for "Team")...for a
search-and-destroy mission on "Dung"
B-team was to go with
"...some Army Special Forces" into southeastern
Finally, Smith's own
C-team "...was assigned to a
Now to C-team's combat story. According to Smith, his PBR intercepted a large VC craft and shot it to pieces, killing at least thirty-five communist troops. All I can say about that is that I was on the Bassac with my platoon within a few months of this alleged operation, and if a single PBR had accounted for that many dead VC in one engagement, we would have heard about it. It was very seldom that more than four or five VC were even aboard a single vessel, much less killed. This story is clearly a total concoction.
pièce de resistance, however, is the account of a fantastic POW rescue
Then there is the story of Smith's solo mission into China (that's communist China, now) to determine whether the SAM-2 missiles being brought into North Viet Nam were of Russian or Chinese origin, as if it made any difference. Smith was parachuted into the southern part of the country, evaded capture for several days, killed a couple of bad guys, and--eureka!--confirmed that the SAMs were of Russian manufacture. The story of his extraction by a Caribou aircraft using a system of rubber bands and paper clips (not really, but close) is a real hummer, but it's so complicated that I'll refrain from telling it.
Another tall tale is
that concerning a limpeteering attack on merchant shipping in
It's pretty clear that, as history, this book is a total strikeout. As autobiography, it's a self-serving collection of lies. As an adventure story, however (and I'm serious!), it truly is an exciting read. If Warner Smith had peddled Covert Warrior as a novel of the thriller genre, I believe it could have been a best-seller. (I'm serious about that, too!)
At the end of it all, I have to give ex-Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Smith a lot of credit for writing an account that is as genuinely exciting (and credible to those uninitiated in the world of special operations) as Covert Warrior. Ironically, I think that he would have made a lot more money and may have been able to market movie rights, if he had kept his Mitty instincts under control. He certainly would have saved himself a lot of aggro from people like me!
It is clear that Smith
is one sharp cookie; for example, he knows his
Finally, I feel obligated to apologize to, and sympathize with, Presidio Press for slamming its latest release, but Covert Warrior is so far out in left field as to obligate someone to tell the truth about it. Coming on the heels of my recent debunking of Presidio's Swimmers among the Trees, another wannabe account (SOF, Nov. 96), its editors are probably going to put a contract out on me! All I can say is that it's a shame Presidio and a disgusting number of other publishing houses don't submit their drafts to special operations veterans for their comments before getting slam-dunked by folks like me.
Having said that, I must
doff my specops hat to the master of wannabe slam-dunking, a gent down in