Anthony Poshepny

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Anthony Alexander Poshepny
Born(1924-09-18)September 18, 1924
Long Beach, California, U.S.
Died(2003-06-27)June 27, 2003 (aged 78)
California, U.S.
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Marine Corps and Central Intelligence Agency
Rank Paramilitary Operations Officer
Unit2nd Marine Parachute Battalion

5th Marine Division

Special Activities Division
Battles/warsWorld War II Korean War
Permesta Rebellion
Vietnam War
Laotian Civil War
AwardsIntelligence Star (twice), Purple Heart (twice), Air Force Commendation Medal, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Order of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol, Order of the White Elephant, Border Service Medal (Thailand) Parachutist Badge
Alma materSan Jose State University

Anthony Alexander Poshepny (September 18, 1924 – June 27, 2003), known as Tony Poe, was a CIA Paramilitary Operations Officer in what is now called Special Activities Division (renamed Special Activities Center in 2016 [1]). Paramilitary Operations Officers come from the Studies & Observation Group (SOG) within SAD. [2] They are recruited primarily from USSOCOM.[3] They are a majority of the recipients of the rare CIA valor awards of the Distinguished Intelligence Cross and the Intelligence Star. [4] He is best remembered for training the US-funded secret army in Laos during the Vietnam War and is often referenced as the model for Colonel Kurtz in the movie Apocalypse Now.[5]

Early life and career[edit]

Poshepny was born in Long Beach, California, to John Charles and Isabel M. (Veriziano) Poshepny. His father was a United States Navy officer whose parents were immigrants from Bohemia. His mother born in Guam.[6] When he was eight years old, his nine-year-old brother John accidentally shot him in the stomach with the family rifle, and Poshepny nearly bled to death.[7]

Shortly after turning 18, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps during World War II, serving in the 2nd Marine Parachute Battalion and fighting in the 5th Marine Division on Iwo Jima.[8] He received the Purple Heart twice and was a sergeant by the time he was honorably discharged. Returning to civilian life, he enrolled at Saint Mary's College, before transferring to what is now San Jose State University. He contemplated going to work for the FBI. Graduating in 1950, he instead joined the CIA, where he was part of the first recruit class to receive all of its training at the new Camp Peary.[8] He was active in Korea during the Korean War, training refugees for sabotage missions behind communist lines. He also helped train Chinese Nationalist commandos for missions on the mainland.

Following the Korean war, Poshepny joined the Bangkok-based CIA front company Overseas Southeast Asia Supply (SEA Supply), which provided military equipment to Kuomintang forces based in Burma. In 1958, Poshepny tried unsuccessfully to arrange a military uprising against Sukarno, the president of Indonesia. From 1958 to 1960, he trained different special missions teams, including Tibetan Khampas and Hui Muslims at Camp Hale[citation needed], for operations inside China against the Communist government. Carole McGranahan quotes Poe from an interview that the Tibetans he trained "... were the best I ever worked with."[9] Poshepny sometimes claimed he personally escorted the 14th Dalai Lama out of Tibet, but this is denied both by former CIA officers involved in the Tibet operation, and by the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Poshepny's disregard for protocol and conventional operating procedures often earned him the ire of his superiors. While the CIA was intended to act as a neutral party in many of the escalating conflicts in Asia in those days, time and again Poshepny went into the field with the men he had trained. His presence could have compromised the CIA as well as the United States government.


The CIA was impressed by Poshepny's ability to train paramilitary forces quickly and awarded him the Intelligence Star in 1959. Two years later, working under Bill Lair, he was assigned with J. Vinton Lawrence to train Hmong hill tribes in Laos to fight the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces which were then trying to take over that country. Poshepny gained the respect of the Hmong forces with practices that were considered barbaric by agency standards. He paid Hmong fighters to bring him the ears of dead enemy soldiers, and on at least one occasion mailed a bag of ears to the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane to verify his body counts.[10] He dropped severed heads onto enemy locations twice in a grisly form of psy-ops.[10] Though his orders again were only to train forces, he repeatedly went into battle with them and was wounded several times by shrapnel.[10]

Over the years, Poshepny became disillusioned with the U.S. government's management of the war. He accused then-Laotian Major General Vang Pao of using the war, and the CIA's assets, to enrich himself through the opium trade.[citation needed] The CIA extracted Poshepny from Laos in 1970 and assigned him to a training camp in Thailand until his retirement in 1974. He received another Intelligence Star in 1975.


After the United States withdrew from Vietnam, Poshepny remained in Thailand with his Hmong wife and four children. He moved the family to California in the 1990s. He frequently appeared at Hmong veterans' gatherings and helped veterans immigrate and settle in the US. He freely admitted his controversial acts during the war to reporters and historians, saying they were a necessary response to the communist aggression.

A number of press stories have implied that Poshepny was the model for Colonel Walter Kurtz in the film Apocalypse Now.[11] However, both Poshepny and director Francis Ford Coppola have denied any connection.[12]

A new section devoted to Tony Poe is now being displayed at the PatPong Museum in Bangkok, Thailand

See also[edit]

Declassified reading[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Warner, Roger. Shooting at the Moon. ISBN 1-883642-36-1.
  • Vietnam Magazine, August 2006


  1. ^
  2. ^ name="dallas">Robberson, Tod (October 27, 2002). "CIA commandos remain covert". Dallas Morning News.
  3. ^ Waller, Douglas (February 3, 2003). "The CIA's Secret Army: The CIA's Secret Army". Time. Retrieved January 28, 2018 – via
  4. ^ Gup, Ted (2000). The Book of Honor: Cover Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA.
  5. ^ Kurlantzick, Joshua (23 January 2017). "'America In Laos' Traces The Militarization Of The CIA" (Interview). Fresh Air. National Public Radio. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  6. ^ US Census 1830, Vallejo, Solano Co., California, John C. Poshepny,Enumerator's District 48-49, Supervisor's District 5, Sheet 6B, line 86
  7. ^ Kurlantzick, Joshua (2016). A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-4516-6789-9.
  8. ^ a b Leary, William L. "Death of a Legend". Air America Archive. Retrieved 2007-06-10.
  9. ^ McGranahan, Carole (12 September 2014). ""Love and Empire: The CIA, the Dalai Lama, and Arrested Histories of the Tibetan Resistance Army"" (mp3 audio recording at minute 24.00). Indiana University, Inner Asian & Uralic National Resource Center, School of Global and International Studies, Hosted by the Center for American and Global Security. We don't talk about that. No comment, no comment, no fucking comment, but those Khampas were the best people I ever worked with.
  10. ^ a b c "'America In Laos' Traces The Militarization Of The CIA". NPR. 23 January 2017. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  11. ^ Ehrlich, Richard S (2003-07-08). "CIA operative stood out in 'secret war' in Laos". Bangkok Post. Archived from the original on 2009-10-27. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  12. ^ Isaacs, Matt (1999-11-17). "Agent Provocative". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2007-06-10.