Operation Wandering Souls

The content below is from Episode 82 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast


  • Welcome Who’d a Thunkers!
    • You made it back for another Who’d a Thunk It? Fright Fest Episode.
    • This is the 3rd episode of October 2021 where all episodes of this particularly spooky month have topics based on the macabre!
    • I hope you are ready. Strap in!


-don’t worry… no spoilers here- I really want you to watch this for yourself!

Midnight Mass - Rotten Tomatoes
  • Midnight Mass
    • It hard for me to put in to words just how much I love this limited series.
    • Director and Creator Mike Flanagan knocked it out of the park once again with this 7 episode story. It will take you on a roller coaster ride!
    • The first episode beautifully establishing the run down but still hopeful small island town while listening to Neil Diamond. Then by the end of the series you’ve watched many a very deep and engaging existential monologues and enjoyed some of the most exciting horror scenes to have ever been on a television series.
      • The final scene of the show coupled with the final song was so moving I cried. Which I totally did not expect to do at all, but it calls for it.
    • The setting, soundtrack, writing, and premise were all so well done that I have to say it beats out my now 2nd favorite works of Mike Flanagan’s, that being Season 1 of Haunting of Hill House.
      • That show felt so fresh and engaging it revived my love for the horror genre.
      • And while looking in to Mike Flanagan for this recommendation I found out he directed the Shining sequel movie Dr. Sleep. Shannon and I saw that in theaters and it was a fun film.
      • Bravo Mr. Flanagan. I’m excited to see what you come up with next.
What Makes 'Midnight Mass' One of the Best New Shows of the Year - The  Ringer


  • The 2nd Indochina War started in November of 1955 and lasted until April of 1975.
    • The conflict was in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It was officially fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam.
    • In March of 1965 President Johnson launched a three-year campaign of sustained bombing of targets in North Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Operation Rolling Thunder. The same month, U.S. Marines landed on beaches near Da Nang, South Vietnam as the first American combat troops to enter Vietnam.
      • I once knew a Vietnam Veteran named Howard. He was a retired marine in his late 60’s and I was 16. I met him at my first ever job renting out rowboats and canoes on a Pennsylvania state park lake, Lake Pinchot.
      • We both made minimum wage. It was my first job and it was Howard’s last.
      • Looking back now I think I took Howard’s company for granted. I’d like to think he is still around somewhere, but the old man smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish, and by his own admission only ever ate steak and potatoes, so chances are Howard met his maker years ago.
      • I know that’s a blunt way to talk about someone, but that is just how Howard was. That’s how he himself talked about life. He was a dirty old man who hit on all the young girls at the lake, girls young enough to be his granddaughter. He never was without his Vietnam Veteran hat. Now that I’m older I realize he was one of the most interesting people I have ever met.
      • I like Howard a lot but it was clear to everyone the man had his demons. He didn’t try to hide them. He spoke very little of his service and I knew better than to ask about it. But what details he did share horrified me.
The True Story Behind an Iconic Vietnam War Photo Was Nearly Erased — Until  Now - The New York Times
  • Back in 2003 The New York Times reporter John Kifner was covering a story surrounding some Vietnam veterans.
      • “Quang Ngai and Quang Nam are provinces in central Vietnam, between the mountains and the sea. Ken Kerney, William Doyle and Rion Causey tell horrific stories about what they saw and did there as soldiers in 1967.
      • The fighting was intense and the results, the former soldiers say, were especially brutal. Villages were bombed, burned and destroyed. As the ground troops swept through, in many cases they gunned down men, women and children, sometimes mutilating bodies — cutting off ears to wear on necklaces.
      • They threw hand grenades into dugout shelters, often killing entire families.
      • Mr. Doyle said he lost count of the people he killed: ”You had to have a strong will to survive. I wanted to live at all costs. That was my primary thing, and I developed it to an instinct.'”
The Vietnam War, Part I: Early Years and Escalation - The Atlantic
  • In the midst of this kind of chaos the US military resorted to many different tactics to combat their enemy. One tactic was psychological. It was called Operation Wandering Souls.
    • The name of the Operation: Wandering Soul came from the Vietnamese holiday of the same name.
    • A WordPress blog called Vietnam Travel & Visas For Indians writes:
      • Also known as the Trung Nguyen, the holiday takes [place] every 15th day of the 7th lunar month in the Buddhist calendar. The Wandering Soul’s Day is basically the Buddhist version of the All Soul’s Day of the Christian religion.
      • According to Vietnamese belief, each person has two souls, the material soul, and spiritual soul. The material soul is known as Via while the spiritual soul is Hon. Once a person dies, his soul will be taken into a tribunal in hell to be judged. After the judgment is rendered, the soul will either go to heaven or hell, depending on how the person behaved while still on Earth.
      • Locals believe those sinful souls can still be saved from hell by the prayers of the living relatives, which is done during the 1st and 15th of every month. During the Wandering Souls, locals believe that this is the best time for the relatives of the deceased to pray and ask forgiveness on behalf of these sinful souls. It is their belief that the gates of hell will be opened during the sunset and the souls would fly towards it hungrily and unclothed. Some souls would head home to their homes and villages, which is why relatives would cook plenty of food and place on their altars.
      • Those whose souls don’t have any home to go to or the ones that have been forsaken by the living would be wandering helplessly into the air of black clouds and over rivers, from one tree to another. Basically, these “wandering souls” are the ones who are in need of prayer the most. This is why locals would place additional altars filled with offerings in some public places.
    • The American Military caught wind of this holiday and sought to exploit it. For decades after the war families searched for missing Vietcong soldiers. It was a common sight to see Vietnamese mothers scouring the jungles for their lost sons. They mourned their loss and worried for their sons’ souls. They hoped to find their lost bones, wash them, and re-burry them as such is their tradition.
    • The US Military estimates that some 300,000 soldiers are still uncounted for.
Ken Burns Vietnam War Film Glosses Over Huge Civilian Toll
  • The US used the Wandering Souls holiday by pleading to the Vietnamese north over the radio and by dropping leaflets out of planes that said:
    • “Comrades, demand that the communist party stop its war of aggression in the south so that no more innocent souls have to join the already great number of innocent souls now wandering in this war-torn country of the south.”
  • On February 10th 1970, Vietcong soliders had been hiding deep in the forest of the Hau Niga Province in South Vietnam. When all the sudden a shrill loud noise is heard. It was being blasted from the Chamberlain Fire Support Army Base.
  • The following recording is of a “Wandering Soul.” Its official title is Ghost Tape Number 10.
    • It was created by the US Amry’s 6th Psychological Operations Battalion in cooperation with the US Navy and is meant to sound as if a dead Vietcong soldier is wandering through the Vietnamese jungle at night.
    • The American military used this tactic because they found out the Vietnamese believe the souls of their unburied comrades would wander aimlessly forever in pain and suffering.
    • At first you will briefly hear musical tones. This is supposed to be music from a Buddhist funeral. And then the soldier speaks…
  • The dialogue heard in the recording was first the voice of a small girl calling out “Daddy, Daddy! Come with me. Come home. Daddy!”
    • Then in reply the Vietcong ghost answers “Who is that? Who is calling me? My wife? My daughter? Your father is back home with you, my daughter! Your husband is back at home with you my wife. But my body is gone. I am dead, my family. Tragic… how tragic.” and he goes on to tell all his friends and family that he is now dead and that he is in hell. He says how senseless his death was. He pleads with his friends to give up and be reunited with their own loved ones to avoid the regret he is feeling now. “Go home! Go home friends before it is too late!”
  • To our ears this recording is obviously fake.
    • But this was over 50 years in the past. People weren’t quite as used to hearing altered audio as we are today.
      • Engineers gathered for weeks in a studio located in Saigon to record this tape and south Vietnamese voice actors were hired to play the soldiers. They did their recordings in an echo chamber.
    • That being said, most American troops didn’t think Operation Wandering Soul would be believed by the enemy. They thought the Vietcong would see right through their deception.
    • Whether it was believed or not, the audio did manage to terrify troops on both sides of the conflict.
      • And can you blame them.? In a pitch dark jungle in the midst of a war I imagine even the fakes of of horrors would still manage to creep you out.
      • The US played these tapes in the trees near enemy troops for HOURS.
      • Even if the Vietcong didn’t believe the ruse, they did believe that their souls might be cursed to wander forever in pain as that was their religion. So they might not think it was an actual wandering soul crying out, but it did remind them that they might end up that way.
      • Near by civilians who heard the tapes often were fooled by it. They didn’t understand the technical side of the tapes and were already a superstitious people.
  • There were other tapes
    • One tape started with women and children crying. Then an announcer pleading to the Viet Cong to throw down their arms so that no more children would die for communism. Then the cries turned to laughter and the announcer urged the Viet Cong to return to their families and to not ignore the laughter of their children.
    • Another tape titled “No Dose,” implying that no solider could sleep while it played, featured a child saying to his mother “you miss daddy. I miss daddy too. Why doesn’t he come back? He must not miss you. He has left us mother.”
    • These tapes werent just played in the jungles. The US also strapped speakers to helicopters and played it from the air.
      • These speakers were in the way and made it so the helicopter couldn’t return fire to the enemy. And EVERY time these tapes were played the Vietcong fired at the source. So the US would send a gunship with the helicopter carrying the speaker and open fire at the first sign of a enemy fire.
      • Sometimes the tapes were played with another piece of audio equipment known as the laugh box. This played a shrill laughing sound over the tapes and even creeped out the pilots setting it off.
  • Was the operation affective?
    • The extent of the operation’s success is unknown. The Viet Cong usually returned fire upon encountering the recordings, exposing their general positions to U.S. patrol groups within audible range to hear the gunfire over the loudspeakers. While occasionally helpful to U.S. scouts in a reconnaissance manner (i.e. during low visibility), the Viet Cong’s aforementioned responses thus nullified the intended outcome of the operation.
    • So no, it wasn’t that affective.
      • Some think Operation Wandering Souls even motivated the enemy to keep on fighting. They became even more determined to destroy their enemy who would play such psychological tricks.
      • Plus, as soon as the tapes were played they were fired upon and some US soldiers were in the line of fire from that.
    • Local farmers and merchants who worked near where the tapes had been played refused to return to work. They perceived the recordings as black magic.
    • The US military outside of the 6th Psychological Batallion was opposed to the operation.
      • Their opinions were reinforced when many a US soldier was kept awake at night by the sounds of their own country’s psychological weapon.
    • Another psychological tactic was used by the US when they dropped leaflets of a US General describing how he had won a battle against the North Vietnamese enemy, but allowed the enemy to retrieve their dead and carry their wounded to safety.
      • In contrast this operation used the carrot and not the stick. The result was that the North Vietnamese were more likely to surrender peacefully. This operation was regarded as the more affective psychological operation in Vietnam by some psychological operations members.
  • What do I think?
    • My initial reaction to hearing about Operation Wandering Souls was that of shame. I thought “how dare the US resort to such low tactics!”
      • But I quickly realized that opinion was based in a thick layer of hubris. I have no idea what war is like. I have no idea what all was done by each side apart from what the reports say.
      • Compared to the middle ages, Operation Wandering Souls is damn near harmless
        • During the Middle Ages, victims of the bubonic plague were used for biological attacks, often by flinging fomites such as infected corpses and excrement over castle walls using catapults. Bodies would be tied along with cannonballs and shot towards the city area.
    • So although Operation Wandering Souls may seem terrible to us, it was a essentially a bloodless tactic. Terrifying, creepy, and all together messed up… but bloodless.


Time mark – 2:40