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War Stories

Skip Petrie & the CIA - 1971

Kenneth Wiegand

CPT Skip Petrie was a character in a good way. He was smallish and skinny and never met a stranger. He always presented himself as a tough guy and as a guy who was a little off, as in maybe he didn’t have all of his oars in the water, but he was a good guy and fun to be with. After a time, I learned that most of his persona was just that – persona.

Somewhere along the line, he met or was introduced to a guy named Felix Rodriguez and a Vietnamese national named Bien who spoke perfect English (see photo). I was told they worked for the CIA. What they wanted was helicopter support, i.e., rides around the AO. In return he gave Skip (CPT Petrie) furniture, a large window for our hooch, an air conditioner and some other things to make life more comfortable. Skip and I shared a hooch at Lia Khe, so it made my life better as well.

As I discovered later in life, Felix was not only an American CIA officer, but a celebrity war hero who was involved in the Bay of Pigs Invasion and other adventures. This guy was the real deal! Skip and I flew him and Bein to Na Bay several times. I believe he was interrogating NVA prisoners at the Na Bay prisoner compound for information relating to some kind of secret hit team that focused on high level VC and NVA officers and their families in our AO (The Phoenix Progeam). I cannot think of the name of the operation, but it became a well known and questionable operation during the latter part and after the end of the war.

If I remember correctly, Skip wanted to purchase a boa constrictor snake as a pet to bolster his persona, I believe. We flew the operations Huey to the Hotel 3 VIP Pad and took a pedicab into Saigon to the local (street corner) snake store.

This thing weighed 20 or 30 pounds and of course, Skip carried it around his shoulders – it was almost as big as him! We caught a front-seat pedicab back to Tan Son Nhut that weaved in and out of traffic at 45-50 MPH. As we were speeding through the city on the front of the cab, the Boa got curious and snaked its way from around Skips shoulders, into the front of my jungle fatigue jacket and out my right arm!

It was a thrill ride that I will never forget! When we returned to the unit, Skip went to a local farmer and bought chickens to feed the boa. He put them into a space between our hooch and the next, installed chicken wire to hold them in and named it “Death Row.” I always thought that this was just part of his persona, a façade that he wore everywhere.