41 years after the events chronicled below, we can finally honor the heroics of the small band of men who, in the name of U.S. security, have kept their vows of silence. Lesser men, when faced with the corrosive criticism these men have endured in the past few years, would have cracked and screamed, "Chickenhawk? You're damn right I am! Here's what Chickenhawk means."
In the autumn of 1971, my husband, Master Sergeant Mitt Romney, 7th Special Forces, accepted a call from President Richard M. Nixon. He was given the names of eleven young men, hand-picked by the White House, to mold into a special operations squad in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The undertaking was secret beyond all statutes of limitation. Phone records uncovered in Quang Tri indicate the call lasted 18 and 1/2 minutes. Mitt knew he had to leave me in Paris doing Mormon's work. He could not turn down the opportunity to enter combat for his country.
Mitt kept a diary but lost it in the North when his camp was raided by the Charlies. The diary was returned this past February by a young Vietnamese woman who had found it in her grandfather's hooch.
Mitt wanted me to keep this all on the QT, but I think the world has to know. -- Ann Romney
Tuesday, 10/2/71 - First two boys off the chopper, I can see there's an unhealthy relationship. The white one's got the black one down doing pushups. I rush in and get their names. "Okay, Scalia," I holler over the chopper downwash, "what say you let me boss Thomas around from here on in." Sure enough, three hours later, I got to separate these men for the remainder of the operation.
I take roll. "As I call your name, jump up and do a back flip, followed by 100 pushups: Frist? O'Reilly? Cheney? Hastert?" I repeat, "Cheney? Hastert?" Cheney and Hastert are AWOL already. I'd watched eleven men offload the Huey, now I see nine. I finish up, "Falwell? Libby? Limbaugh? Lott? Scalia? Rove? Thomas?"
A featureless boy hustles back into the bivouac area. It's Cheney, followed by Hastert. I'd have cracked down super hard but they've got three gunny sacks full of capons, necks freshly twisted. They raided the chicken farm a couple clicks up into the highlands. We'd all gone without food for 36 hours, me included, so I wasn't about to light into them this time.
We ate good that night. Next morning Cheney explained the technique - good chicken-thief, bad chicken-thief. After that, we all teamed up, but nobody could make it work like those two. We start calling ouselves the Chickenhawks.
Wednesday, 10/3/71 - 1,500 meters altitude. Thick banyan. Macaques everywhere. Of course, to Limbaugh, they're all just monkeys. He baits and teases them - no respect for God's plan. I say, "Rush, you sure like to flap your gums - fine if you're gonna be a nudie show barker or something, but here in 'Nam, keep your yap shut and we'll all get along swimmingly." He mutters something. "Mitten" is what he says. "Don't call me Mitten, if you know what's good for you." But he doesn't know what's good for him.
I sit the boys down on some felled trees. Time to tell them why they're here. "Lot of folks think we should bomb the commies back into the stone age." That sinks in and they all share a sounds-right-to-me look. "Naturally, our President, is keeping that option open, but he has a little insight into the nature of society that the Curtis LeMays of this world seem to lack. Last week, President Nixon met with top strategic religious leaders and they are of the opinion the reason Ho Chi Minh and his kind are such pills is their Godlessness. Your mission is Missionary."
Scalia beams and pumps his arm: "Yes. The reconnection of Church and State." He and Falwell high five.
"Not so fast, gentlemen," I say, "The number one most difficult thing you fellows are going to have to accept is the need for absolute secrecy. And the Church/State thing is why. So it's total hush-hush. Not just now, or even when the war's over, but forever. No matter how elevated your eventual station in life, this operation stays under wraps. Your physical, moral, and psychological courage will never be acknowledged by a grateful country. And that's gonna hurt."
Friday, 10/5/71 - We're 80 kilometers into the mountains from the coastal city of Ha Tin. North Vietnam is maybe three days away. We're camped by a stream, barely deep and wide enough for a man to wash up in. Cheney swims in place for hours against a three mile an hour current. He's volunteered to infiltrate Hanoi by swimming upriver from Phu Ly. That's 70 kilometers in water so polluted from the Viet Cong chemical weapons manufacturing plants that it may affect his cardiac health for life. That's just Cheney. I wonder if I can expect the same level of heroism from the rest of these nutbags. But things are looking up - in a modified, limited way.
Sunday, 10/7/71 - No Jews in this crowd, so we hold religious services today. I go for a non-denominational type thing, but each of these guys seem to have a passion for one brand of Christianity or another. Who knows, maybe a Mormon can learn something.
Scalia's Catholicism grates on me. "What's Opus Dei?" I ask, but he gets evasive. Then there's Falwell's fundamentalist blather. It nakes me itch.
No chicken up here, so Sunday dinner is Macaque. Thomas loves it deep fried, so he spends four hours chopping down palms for oil to fry it in. But it's Limbaugh who eats the lion?s share.
Monday, 10/8/71 - Lott's tongue! I tell him "You feel you gotta call them 'gooks', that's just too bad. Our allies in the south don't like it, so if you can't say something non-racist, like 'ARVN soldier,' then don't say anything at all.."
Tuesday 10/9/71 - Just one week on the job. O'Reilly and Limbaugh have done a great job mastering the language. I give them a handful of pills. "As soon as you destroy the piers at Lac Ninh, take these blue tabs. It's sodium anti-pentathol, the forgetting drug. It comes highly recommended - Ronald Reagan used it during his secret missions in WWII. If you're captured, we can't have the Cong thinking you speak Vietnamese."
Wednesday, 10/10/71 - Cheney's in the river by now. O'Reilly and Limbaugh are probably setting their charges. Thomas, Frist and Hastert are carrying Falwell on a litter to a high place from which he can descend on Hanoi, Good Book in hand. Only Lott, Rove, and Scalia remain unassigned. I keep them at my side, telling them we need to brainstorm Church and State issues. I didn't expect to be able to trust everybody with a real assignment. Eight for eleven ain't bad.
Friday, 10/12/71 - We're hit by friendly fire, B-52s unload just north of the border and nobody reaches his objective. Cheney's treading water while his pores suck up a scum of atrazine poison - it could shut his circulatory system down. And it's certain to have long term effects on his heart. But you won't hear him talk about that.
The good news is, everybody makes it back. However, Falwell loses the Book of Mormon I had him carry. And that bums me out. But then I think of our Holy Book lying in a bombed out part of the forest. It's a seed. We planted it, by golly, Just like Joseph Smith put the golden tablets back in the ground. The Book of Mormon will grow there, and if nobody ever knows what the Chickenhawks accomplished, the world will still be a better place.