NIXON, Richard M. Autograph note signed ("Richard Nixon") as former Vice President, to Hollis B. Kimmons, [Saigon, Viet Nam, April 1964]. 1 page, 12mo (5 3/8 x 3 3/8 in.), blue-lined note paper, some light soiling, otherwise fine.
SHROUDED IN SECRECY: NIXON'S CLANDESTINE MISSION TO VIETNAM, TO SECURE THE RELEASE OF AMERICAN PRISONERS OF WAR
Former Vice-President Nixon writes a brief note to Sgt. Hollis B. Kimmons of the 145th Aviation Battalion: "To Hollis Kimmons with appreciation for his protection on my helicopter ride in Viet Nam from Richard Nixon." In documentation accompanying the lot, Kimmons relates the story of the events surrounding the letter. Kimmons reports that Nixon arrived in Saigon in April and that he "was assigned security detail and was to accompany Nixon on all excursions away from the 145th Aviation Battalion where Nixon was staying...Nixon dressed in Army fatigues with no identification climbed aboard a helicopter with Sgt Kimmons and a crew of four...They proceeded to Phouc-Binh..." Their mission was to meet with a Catholic priest, Father Wa, a go-between with Viet Cong and Cambodian rebels, in order to arrange for the return of 5 U.S. prisoners of war. A location and price for the exhange were set and the crew departed for Saigon. The same day the crew departed for "Phumi-Kriek," just across the border in Cambodia: "Nixon did not go on this flight because of the danger. A box loaded with gold bars so heavy that it took 3 men to lift it on the helicopter accompanied the crew. At the exchange point 5 US servicemen were rustled out of the jungle accompanied by several armed soldiers." The exchange transpired without incident and the clandestine nature of the mission was strictly maintained: "Sgt Kimmons mission was secret and there were no written orders for his duty during this period. His clothes were destroyed as well as the film in his camera and he signed an agreement not to reveal this incident for 20 years."
Kimmons's story remains unconfirmed, but a mass of evidence compiled in recent years points to its veracity. After his 20-year moratorium, Kimmons answered an advertisement soliciting autographs by dealer Mark Vardakis. Vardakis interviewed Kimmons and prepared the typescript detailing the story. The letter was sold to dealer Paul Richards. Richards's sale of the letter, with its catalogue description, aroused the attention of The New York Times, and an article by Ralph Blumenthal discussed its discovery and the speculations about Nixon's involvment in the mission (Ralph Blumenthal, "Secret Nixon Vietman Trip Reported," The New York Times, 17 February 1985). Following up on the story, Nixon biographer Anthony Summers investigated the matter, concluding that "a hard look at the crewman's story fails to disprove it" and citing evidence that Nixon, purportedly in Vietnam at the time on "a private business trip" for Pepsi-Cola, was in fact on a political fact-finding mission. Nixon acknowledged this general fact later in his memoirs, but repeatedly denied Kimmons's story, as did Kimmons's direct superiors, Major Paul Schreck and Lieutenant Colonel John Hughes. Historian Herbert Parmet questioned Nixon about the story and Nixon told him, contradicting his own assertions at the time, "The trip was purely political. I never took a trip to Vietnam for business purposes..." About Kimmons's story, he said specifically, "It's a marvelous story, but totally apocryphal... I've heard of it."
Summers's evidence, however, is convincing: press clippings show that Nixon was in Vietnam from April 1st through 3rd and a National Security Council memo written soon after refers to "the unfortunate episode of Nixon and the helicopters." A footnote to the memo states that General William Westmoreland, deputy commander of U.S. forces in Vietman, "escorted Nixon... apparently by unauthorized use of helicopters." While Maj. Schreck denied the mission, his notes do reveal that he piloted Nixon, while Lieut. Col. Hughes admitted in an interview that there "was a run by the Green Berets." Further research by Summers "unearthed an order to the U.S. Special Forces, dated the day of Nixon's arrival, instructing units to 'cease activities within 5km. Of VN [Vietnam]/Cambodian border.'" Summers asks, "Were the U.S. Special Forces being ordered to avoid combat to keep a former vice president out of harm's way--as much as possible--during a secret negotiation?" While Sedgwick Tourison, the chief of analysis for the Defense Intelligence Agency's office on POW/MIA affairs, calls Kimmons's account "farfetched," Summers's research convincingly validates at least the outline of Nixon's clandestine mission to Vietnam in 1964. See Anthony Summers, The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon, New York, 2000, pp. 288-292.
Provenance: Hollis B. Kimmons--Mark Vardakis--Paul C. Richards Autographs, 1985.