The Herald today has a fascinating obit for an old digger, "Barry Petersen was an Australian army captain who led top secret CIA operations in the highlands during the Vietnam War."
He wasn't the model for Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. (That was arguably US army Colonel Davd Hackworth) but like Kurtz "he got too close to the natives and the CIA wanted him out, dead or alive."
Petersen got on well with the Montagnard, particularly the Rade tribe who lived around the highland city of Ban Me Thuot. He learnt their language, honoured their customs and traditions, including drinking the potent rice wine. He paid them well with CIA money and armed them with CIA-supplied guns.
Even though he was operating alone in the mountains, Petersen was so successful that within a year he had more than 1000 Montagnard militia fighters using the same guerrilla tactics as the Viet Cong – ambush the enemy, hit hard and disappear into the jungle.
The communists learnt to go around Petersen’s territory rather than take him on. They put a price on Petersen’s head, but his militia kept a close guard on him.
He was extremely popular with his men. They declared the Australian officer a demi-god, and showered him with honoured brass armbands denoting him a tribal chief.
At his home he kept a pet sun bear and a baby leopard he’d been given by one of his men. Petersen’s militia became known as the Tiger Men because of the striped jungle camouflage uniforms he’d obtained from the CIA warehouse. He had snarling tiger head badges made for their berets to make the various Montagnard tribes in his units feel united.
But after almost two years in the highlands with the Montagnard tribesmen, Petersen’s relations with the CIA soured. Some CIA agents thought Petersen was becoming too successful, and getting too close to the Montagnard.
After that, things did not go well. They didn't send Martin Sheen after him, but his command was terminated, with prejdice.