OSS Vet receive BS

sfmike

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Toward the end of WWII the OSS parachuted a six man team into Northern Indo-China to advise the Viet Minh on fighting the Japanese. The other purpose was to assist the Viet Minh in assisting downed aircraft personnel.

The team set up in caves and the medic was credited with saving Ho Chi Minh's life by nursing him back to health from a life threatening disease.

These men were and are still considered heros by the Vietnamese:

AUBURN — Tall and handsome, Henry A. Prunier has the sharp eyes, regal bearing and deep intelligence of a James Bond, so it is not too difficult to imagine him on a classified spy mission to the jungles of Vietnam where he worked closely with Ho Chi Minh and his cohorts at a time when they were America's secret allies.

For his heroic service during World War II, Mr. Prunier will receive a long-delayed Bronze Star Medal on Feb. 23 in a private ceremony at his home at Emeritus at Eddy Pond, 667 Washington St.

He is also considered a hero in Vietnam where his U.S. Army uniform hangs in a prominent place in the Military History Museum in Hanoi.

Mr. Prunier, and his sister, Lucille Leblanc, formerly of Oxford, grew up on Massasoit Road on Grafton Hill in Worcester. He attended St. Joseph's Grammar School, then Assumption Prep where he was senior class president in 1940. He moved on to Assumption College, and then enlisted in the U.S. Army.

“It was World War II. We all enlisted,” he said.

After basic training, he was sent to the University of California at Berkeley where he studied Annamese, the language of Annam, a protectorate in French Indochina. Annam is now known as Vietnam and the language he studied became Vietnamese. Mr. Prunier, who was fluent in French, soon was approached for recruitment by the Office of Strategic Services, the OSS, precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency.

“At first, I said no. They said I would probably be sent overseas, and my chances of survival were less than 50 percent. Who wants to volunteer to die?”

Six months later, he was assigned to the OSS. “It wasn't voluntary,” he said. He was deployed to Kunming, China, close to the Vietnam border in the summer of 1945.

“I was assigned to a seven-man OSS team, codenamed ‘Deer Team.' Each of us was a specialist. I was translator, Major Allison Thomas was our leader, Lt. Rene Defourneaux was assistant leader, Paul Hoaglund was medic, Bill Zielski was radio operator, Larry Vogt did weapons, and Aaron Squires was our photographer.”

“We parachuted out of a C-47 into a clearing in the jungle that July. I landed in a rice paddy, but a couple of others ended up in trees. It was the first time I'd ever used a parachute. I was the first American who spoke Vietnamese to land in that country,” Mr. Prunier said.

At Kim Lung village, the seven OSS specialists were greeted enthusiastically by more than a hundred 16- to 20-year-old members of the budding revolutionary Viet Minh, which had organized to fight against their nation's occupation by Japan.

“They were very dedicated and learned quickly. They became the nucleus of the North Vietnamese army,” Mr. Prunier said.

Retired Chestnut Hill lawyer and Marine Corps reserve officer Lindsay C. Kiang, one of the organizers of the award ceremony for Mr. Prunier, said the Viet Minh eventually formed the government of a united Vietnam.

The leaders of the Viet Minh were Ho Chi Minh, known to the OSS team as “Mr. Hoo,” and Vo Nguyen Giap, known as “Mr. Van.”

Ho Chi Minh became prime minister and president of Vietnam after defeating the French in a 10-year war that began shortly after World War II ended. He died in 1969. Saigon, former capital of South Vietnam, was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the war. General Giap, later known as a military genius, famously led his forces to victory over the French at Dien Bien Phu and then over South Vietnam and the West in the Vietnam War.

But, in the summer of 1945, Ho Chi Minh and General Giap were allied with America and China against the Japanese.

“Van always wore a white linen suit, black shoes and a black fedora. He was everywhere and eager to know everything. He had been a teacher before his wife had been killed by the French,” Mr. Prunier said.

The Deer Team's job was to locate downed American pilots and to help the two Vietnamese leaders “form a guerrilla troop to harass the Japanese with subversion — to knock out communications and blow up railroad tracks, to prevent the Japanese from entering China,” Mr. Prunier said.

His first assignment was to teach the Viet Minh how to use a 60 mm mortar and a hand grenade.

“Giap wanted to know why we lobbed the grenade overhand and what activated the mortar. One time, he looked down the barrel of the mortar. I was shocked. His head could have been blown off. They pulled him away,” Mr. Prunier said.

Ho Chi Minh was less curious and was extremely ill at first.

“He had dysentery and malaria. Paul Hoaglund gave him quinine and helped him, though I think he was already on the mend with native medicines. Hoo was awfully thin, but still had a lot of personality. He loved the people, and they loved him. He was admired like a favorite grandfather,” Mr. Prunier said.

He lived and worked with Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap for more than three months, often talking with them.

“When I told Ho Chi Minh I was from Massachusetts, he told me he'd been in Boston when he worked as a chef on a ship. I recall he used Parker House stationery from Boston to write a note. He was very interesting. He spoke six or seven languages and was quite well-traveled. He'd been a chef in England and New York. He couldn't understand the freedom of the Chinese in New York. He was the founder of the communist party in France. The French thought he was evil. I saw a soft-spoken man who was very intelligent. We were friends. He couldn't understand why communism and democracy couldn't live hand-in-hand,” Mr. Prunier said.

He treasures a 54-inch by 24-inch, three-dimensional, silk tapestry,“embroidered with oriental war gods,” that a grateful Ho Chi Minh presented to him in 1945.

When Japan surrendered, the Viet Minh and Deer Team members celebrated together, then Mr. Prunier went back to Kunming, where he worked with the OSS on Japanese war crimes until the OSS disbanded in October, 1945, and he headed home.

“I was on that liberty ship from the time we left Calcutta on November 11, 1945 until we landed in San Francisco in January of 1946. We went to Ceylon and the Philippines and were rerouted around cyclones. It was a long trip. We played cards all night and slept all day,” he said.

Much of his work with the OSS was sealed until recently, though he did receive a citation from the “Office of Strategic Services for his service in the theater of China.”

Mr. Prunier left the military and returned home, earning a bachelor's degree in chemistry at the University of Massachusetts and working with his grandfather, father and uncle for the family brick and concrete contracting business, J. S. Prunier & Sons in Worcester, for the next 40 years.

“I disbanded the business when I retired in 1990,” Mr. Prunier said. He and his wife of 61 years, Mariette, known as “Marie,” built a house on the shores of Webster Lake in Webster and raised six children. They have 12 grandchildren and two great-grandsons, but lost two daughters to cancer.

“We survived. I've had a busy life,” Mr. Prunier said. He and his wife live at Emeritus at Eddy Pond, where he is an ambassador for new residents. He sees his wife, who is stricken with Alzheimer's disease, three times every day, he said.

“There's still a lot of love there. My Marie is still beautiful.”

During the Vietnam War, he said he was not an anti-war activist, though he did say the war was not winnable, which led to accusations that he was a communist.

“I've never been a communist, but I knew the North Vietnamese were fighting for survival. We were fighting for a civil war. We couldn't win,” he said.

He never saw Ho Chi Minh after 1945, but in 1995, he and Major Thomas returned to Vietnam for a 50-year reunion and saw General Giap.

“I wondered if he'd recognize me. He looked at me for a while, then picked up an orange and made the motion to lob it as if it were a grenade, just like I'd taught him 50 years before. He did remember. It's odd. I'm a hero over there.”

While on the trip, funded by the Ford Foundation, he and Major Thomas were driven 80 miles to the site where they had parachuted into the paddy field a half century before.

“There's a shrine there to Ho Chi Minh. That's where he founded his party. He's like a saint to them,” Mr. Prunier said.

A few years ago, a film crew from Vietnam television came to Mr. Prunier's home, then in Webster, to film him for a documentary on the history of Vietnam. The BBC also filmed him for a segment on Ho Chi Minh on Discovery Channel, and Mr. Prunier has been featured in multiple books and magazines written about his former allies. He has several signed copies of books with notes of thanks from authors.

“It got to be too much, and I cut them off,” he said.

When Mr. Prunier decided to clean house two years ago, Mr. Kiang helped deliver Mr. Prunier's World War II uniform, war medals, letters and documents to the military museum in Hanoi.

“My uniform has a place of honor there,” Mr. Prunier said.

Mr. Kiang said that was an understatement.

“The museum director said that this is one of the most significant donations the museum has.”

It was after Mr. Prunier made this donation that a group of his friends and admirers, led by Mr. Kiang, David Thomas and Simon Gregory, decided to arrange duplicate medals for Mr. Prunier to keep.

Mr. Prunier will be 90 on Sept. 21. He was 23 when he first went to Vietnam.

Mr. Kiang said that the history of the United States and Vietnam might have been very different and far more peaceful, if the Deer Team's recommendations on Vietnam had been heard 65 years ago.

In 1997, Mr. Prunier was the sole Deer Team member at a New York City reunion attended by several former Viet Minh. Standing in a place of prominence in his living room is a gold-framed plaque presented to him from the Vietnamese government. He can no longer remember its translation, but said it was a “gift of gratitude.”

 

dknob

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I wonder if that medic lived long enough to watch the Vietnam War unfold and 58,000 Americans die because of Ho Chi Minh?

Awesome story though.
 

pardus

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Cool story, thanks for posting.

oss uniform pruier.jpg
Henry Prunier's uniform that was presented to the Hanoi museum.

oss-group-hcm4.jpg
OSS Deer Team members pose with Viet Minh leaders Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap during training at Tan Trao in August 1945. Deer Team members standing, l to r, are Rene Defourneaux, (Ho), Allison Thomas, (Giap), Henry Prunier and Paul Hoagland, far right. Kneeling, left, are Lawrence Vogt and Aaron Squires. (Rene Defourneaux)
 
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