Vietnam War ‘Operation Wandering Souls’: Terrifying Screams in the Dark Jungle.
Above Photo: Valerie Bentson and Dan Renalds during the filming of MIA: A Greater Evil, in the dead of night in the jungle.
‘Operation Wandering Souls’ refers to a bizarre (but apparently successful) pyschological warfare operation carried out by the US Army in the jungles of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
‘Wandering Souls’ exploited the strong cultural-religious belief of the Vietnamese that those who died in battle were not ‘at rest’ until they had been properly buried in the earth of their homeland.
Failure to do this meant the soldiers’ souls remained lost and wandering, in pain and suffering where they had died. In this case, and also relevant for our film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil – in the jungles of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
The Vietnamese believe souls can be contacted near the place where they died, but for the more than 300,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong still MIA from the war, and their descendants, this is of little comfort. The death sites and remains of most of these Wandering Souls will forever remain unknown.
To exploit these Vietnamese taboos, during the war, the US devised Operation Wandering Souls to broadcast extremely scary music, screams and ghostly conversations into the jungle at night when they knew the Viet Cong or the NVA were close.
The voices, pretending to be killed Viet Cong, were intended to scare and confuse the enemy; the desired result being for the soldiers to run away or defect.
The eerie voices claimed to be from Hell, trapped there after dying senseless deaths, looking for their children, and wanting desperately to go home, certainly played on the Viet Cong’s fears of not wishing to end up in the same position when they died out there.
The tapes were broadcast either on the ground, from helicopters or planes.
The missions to broadcast these sounds were not popular. Even US soldiers found the sounds genuinely creepy, but the main reason people didn’t want to go on them was the fact that the Vietnamese responded to them with a massive blanket of fire.
There were conflicting reports about the success of the operation although from prisoner interrogations and desertions, the US knew Operation Wandering Souls had an impact.
One recording, which became known as “Ghost Tape No. 10“, was widely used. I have put a You Tube link to it below. Having spent so many nights in the jungle filming MIA, I can only imagine how creepy this must have sounded out there.
Even today, and the whole issue of ghosts in Vietnamese culture is so powerful, that we even had to shoot an alternative ending for our film so it could be shown in Vietnam. (In fact it was subsequently rejected by the Hanoi International Film Festival, probably because of its taboo ghostly subject matter).
This is a transcript of the below recording:
Funeral Music and the Wailing Sounds of a Moaning Ghost
The Daughter “Hai” Crys Out for Her Father
Daddy, daddy, come home with me, come home. Daddy! Daddy!
The Ghost Father Responds
Who is that? Who is calling me? My daughter? My wife?
Your Father is back home with you, my daughter
Your Husband is back home with you, my wife
But my body is gone. I am dead, my family
Tragic … how tragic
My friends, I come back to let you know that I am dead … I am dead
I am in Hell … just Hell
It was a senseless death. How senseless … how senseless
But when I realized the truth, it was too late … too late
Friends … while you are still alive …
There is still a chance that you can be reunited with your loved ones
Do you hear what I say?
Go home … Go home friends
Hurry … If not, you will end up like me
Go home my friends before it is too late
Go home! … Go home friends!
More Moans From the Afterlife
Our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also: