The Smokejumper Was a Spy

By John Vogel

It’s hard to discuss the American involvement in the Vietnam civil war, without talking about the batshit insanity of the CIA.

CIA activity in Vietnam started before any military man hit the jungles in the early 1950’s. Operations began to identify the pro communist factions forming in the country, while also keeping tabs on anti-communist groups loyal to the overall mission which was to keep commies out of power. By 1960, the CIA had been training and attempting to supply anti-communist groups, but due to the geographical isolation of many of these groups, including the Hmong, supply had become difficult, and the risk of supplying commie groups by accident went up.

Someone within the CIA realized the issue: their military advisors were great at putting men into open drop zones, but the dense jungle canopy of Vietnam proved extremely difficult to penetrate. Add in the mountainous territories of Southeast Asia, and it was damn near impossible. So they donned their thinking caps.

Trees, thick canopy, mountains, heavy payloads. They couldn’t go to the military, so they went to Montana.

Missoula, Montana was home to the Northern Rockies Smokejumpers. Trained firefighters who dropped via airplane into dense forests that happened to be on fire. Covering Montana, Wyoming and parts of Idaho, the jumpers had seen action throughout most of the Western United States. The jumpers were proven experts in parachuting, navigation, packing and most importantly, general badassery. The CIA found their experts, and began recruiting. A handful signed on, one of them being a 19-year-old smokejumper and college student, Jerry Daniels.

Daniel began working as a “kicker,” navigating the dense jungles of Laos, Vietnam and other such places by air and map. When the time was right, he’d dump parachute-rigged payloads right where they needed to go. Going by the call sign “Hog,” Daniels balanced college and his CIA operations, finally being promoted in 1965 to CIA PMOO (Paramilitary Operations Officer). Due to his extensive knowledge of the terrain and proven ability to get stuff done, he became the liaison between Hmong anti-communist groups and the CIA.

The Long Tieng Base, call sign “SKY” (named for Big Sky Country), was home for Daniels and the Hmong resistance. With nothing more than a 4400 foot runway, Daniels coordinated supply drops and financial support for the settlement of several thousand people. For 6 years, Daniels lived and fought amongst the Hmong.

By 1973, the drawdown started, but by 1975, the fire was lit. Saigon fell and each commie hater with ties to America was bound to meet the bullet. Daniels worked to get every Hmong out that he could, knowing the government was just at the brink of failure. Over the course of two days, Daniels coordinated  with military and civilian pilots to exfiltrate 2500 civilians to Thailand, where they were granted refugee status. Military leader Vang Pao, who led the resistance, was settled on a CIA-funded ranch in the Bitterroot Valley.

Over the course of seven years, Daniels worked to bring over as many Hmong as possible. Given the title of Ethnic Affairs Officer, he was responsible for over 53,000 anti-communist refugees.

In April of 1982, a body was found in a Bangkok apartment rented by Daniels. An apparent gas leak caused carbon monoxide to build up in the room, but due to the heat and humidity of Thailand, the body had gone through heavy decomp before being found. Jerry ‘Hog’ Daniels was declared dead. A casket was sent home with strict order to never, ever open it and to simply take the State Department’s word that it was Jerry in the box. He was buried in Missoula, Montana.

Amongst the Hmong though, this story didn’t fly and Jerry was still alive, working around the world, doing spy shit. 

From the FE Films Archive

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