A Minnesota PBS Initiative

The forgotten ARVN SEAL Commandos

Qui Tran is a Twin Cities resident. He was part of a sophisticated network of SEAL sea frogmen and airborne commandos of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam: the "Nha Kỹ Thuật" Strategic Technical Directorate of the "Bộ Tổng Tham Mưu" General Command Staff.

Their mission was to recruit spies from the North, gather intel on NVA troops movements, base information, and, whenever possible, to pinpoint bombing by US Navy on strategic positions.

Founded in early 1960's by the MACV-SOG, the Directorate had launched teams of sea and land airborne (SEAL) commandos to North Vietnam, Laos and, later, Cambodia for thousands of covert special operations until April 1975... Their mission was to recruit spies from the North, gather intel on NVA troops movements, base information, and, whenever possible, to pinpoint bombing by US Navy on strategic positions. They were also launched in Laos “région militaire #3” to plant electronic listening devices monitor and recon the HCM Trail since it was started until the end of the war. Their presence in Kampuchea collaborating with Khmer MIKE Forces helped prepare for Kampuchea incursion.

Young Asian soldier wearing a boonie hat and holding a rifle.
Six Asian men standing in a line wearing stripes. Caption reads "ARVN Commandos in captivity North Vietnam; undated)".

Captured ẢRVN commandos.

Group of soldiers wearing camo and face paint, holding rifles, posing in the doorway of a US Army helicopter.
A large group of US and Asian soldiers posing. Text on photo says, "Biet Hai".
US and Asian soldiers with radios and rifles, standing outside an encampment.
Two US and five Asian soldiers, posing for a photo in front of an encampment.

Trained by MACV-SOG then transferred later on to RVN Joint Chief of Staff under Strategic Technical Directorate.

The pictures show them in full ARVN gear, however, when in operations, they always dress up in peasant garbs and carry communist block equipment and weapons so they can pass for local NVA guards. Qui is Vietnamese ("người Kinh"), however, many other members are tribal Montagnards Thai, Tay, .... who speak the language of the locals where they have to be inserted.

Six Asian men in wet suits and snorkels, standing in shallow water.

ARVN Sea SEAL “người nhái”.

A black and white map of Southeast Asia with green dots throughout.

Map showing activities in North Vietnam. Besides, they also inserted into Laos Region 3 (HCM Trail) and Kampuchea (HCM Tail).

Qui was dropped off in North Vietnam in the late 1960’s for a clandestine mission. He was captured and incarcerated for over 10 years in Hoa Lo prison, also nicknamed Hanoi Hilton, where downed American pilots were also imprisoned. 

The Cease Fire prisoner exchange agreement of Jan 27, 2013, as agreed on by the US, South and North Vietnam, had facilitated the release of approximately 600 American POW’s; however, the North refused to return any of the ARVN commandos POW to the RVN (Los Angeles Times Magazine “The Lost Commandos” by Ngo The Linh). Qui was one of them. They were never talked about in American news because they had no advocate, and yet they were the true Secret Army, the voiceless one’s.

The map shows where thousands of insertions of ARVN MACV-SOG special operations teams had taken places in North Vietnam.

In October 2017, for the first time in his life, he was honored as a hero by Vietnam Veterans at a meeting organized jointly by MN Humanities Center and PBS TPT.

Biographical Details

Primary Location During Vietnam: Across the border, Vietnam Vietnam location marker

Story Subject: Immigrant

Affiliate Organization: Vietnamese Community of MN

Story Themes: Allied Forces, ARVN, Cambodia, Ha Tuong, Kampuchea, Laos, Look, MACV-SOG, Minneapolis, North Vietnam, POW, Qui Tran, SEAL, Vietnamese

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