Anthony Poshepny

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Anthony Alexander Poshepny
Born (1924-09-18)September 18, 1924
Long Beach, California
Died June 27, 2003(2003-06-27) (aged 79)
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Marine Corps and Central Intelligence Agency
Unit Special Activities Division

World War II

Korean War
Vietnam War

Laotian Civil War
Awards Intelligence Star, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, Parachutist Badge

Anthony Alexander Poshepny (September 18, 1924 – June 27, 2003), known as Tony Poe, was a CIA paramilitary officer in what is now called Special Activities Division. He is best remembered for training the United States Secret Army in Laos during the Vietnam War.

Early life and career[edit]

An accurate accounting of Poshepny's career is complicated by government secrecy and by his tendency to embellish stories. For example, he often claimed to be a refugee from Hungary, but he actually was born in Long Beach, California. 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.[1] 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. On 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. 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 Khambas and Hui Muslims at Camp Hale, for operations inside China against the Communist government. 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 Central Intelligence Agency as well as the United States government.


Nevertheless, the agency 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. He dropped severed heads onto enemy locations twice in a grisly form of psy-ops. Though his orders again were only to train forces, he repeatedly went into battle with them and was wounded several times by shrapnel.

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. 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 communist victory in South Vietnam and Laos, 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 veteran 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 press stories have implied that Poshepny was the model for Colonel Walter Kurtz in the film Apocalypse Now. However, both Poshepny and director Francis Ford Coppola have denied any connection.

See also[edit]

Declassified Reading[edit]