Anthony Alexander Poshepny
), known as Tony Poe
, was a CIA paramilitary
officer who trained the United States Secret Army
during the Vietnam War
Early life and career
Accurate accounting of Poshepny's career is complicated by government secrecy and by his tendency to embellish stories. For example, he often claimed to be a refugee
, but was actually born in Long Beach, California
. He joined the US Marine Corps
in 1942 and fought in Iwo Jima
, receiving two Purple Hearts
. In 1951, he joined the CIA and worked in Korea
during the Korean War
, training refugees for sabotage
missions behind enemy lines.
After the Korean war, Poshepny joined the Bangkok-based CIA front company Overseas Southeast Asia Supply (SEA Supply), which provided military equipment to Kuomintang forces based in Burma. In 1958, Poshepny tried unsuccessfully to arrange a military uprising against Sukarno, the president of Indonesia. From 1958 to 1960, he trained various special missions teams, including Tibetan Khambas and Hui Muslims at Camp Hale, for operations in China against the Communist government.
The agency was impressed with Poshepny's ability to train paramilitary forces quickly and awarded him the Intelligence Star
in 1959. Two years later, he was assigned with J. Vinton Lawrence
to train Hmong
hill tribes in Laos to fight North Vietnamese
and Pathet Lao
forces. In Laos, Poshepny gained the respect of the Hmong forces with practices that were barbaric even by agency standards. He paid Hmong fighters to bring him the ears of dead enemy soldiers, and, on at least one occasion, he mailed a bag of ears to the US embassy in Vientiane
to prove his body counts. He dropped severed heads onto enemy locations twice in a grisly form of psy-ops
. Although his orders were only to train forces, he also went into battle with them and was wounded several times by shrapnel.
Over several years, Poshepny grew disillusioned with the government's management of the war. He accused Laotian general Vang Pao of using the war, and CIA assets, to enrich himself through the opium trade. The CIA extracted him from Laos in 1970 and reassigned him to a training camp in Thailand until his retirement in 1974. He received another Intelligence Star in 1975.
After the war Poshepny remained in Thailand with his Hmong wife and four children. He moved the family to California in the 1990s. Although he continued to drink heavily, he frequently appeared at Hmong veteran gatherings and helped veterans immigrate and settle in the US. He freely admitted his actions during the war to reporters and historians, saying they were a necessary response to communist aggression.
Several press stories have suggested that Poshepny was the model for Col. Walter Kurtz in the film Apocalypse Now, but both Poshepny and director Francis Ford Coppola have denied the connection.