Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Secret Saga of Herbert Arthur Kirk

Don't think for a moment that the U.S. military has only recently used civilian contractors to help do its dirty work -- and sometimes in highly irregular ways.
Years ago, I became familiar with the case of Herbert Arthur Kirk, a master sergeant and radar specialist who was quietly mustered out of the Air Force during the Vietnam War.
Kirk traded in his Air Force blues for civilian mufti as an employee of Lockheed. He had made the switch so that he could supervise Lima 85, a secret radar station on a mountainside in Laos that helped guide B-52 bombers to targets in Vietnam and Cambodia. The station was overrun by guerrillas and Kirk and the 10 men he supervised were killed, or according to an alternate story captured by later died in captivity.

A small setback for the Pentagon, as opposed to the huge embarrassment that the White House would have faced had it been revealed that an Air Force NCO was running a secret combat installation in a country with which the U.S. was not at war.
Kirk’s family, which was merely told that he had died in Southeast Asia, smelled a rat and enlisted the help of their congressman, who after years finally got the Air Force to admit what they had put Kirk up to. As a result, the family got the compensation it deserved, as well as some closure.
In addition, Kirk’s name was appropriately if belatedly added to the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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