Cowboy: The Interpreter Who Became a Soldier, a Warlord, and One More Casualty of Our War in Vietnam

Cowboy cover

Cowboy was handsome, flamboyant, courageous, clever, and cruel. He got his nickname from the Green Berets who worked with him in the Highlands of South Vietnam in the 1960s. "You've got to take the bad with the good," a Special Forces captain said of him. "And Cowboy is a good interpreter." But he soon fired the interpreter because prisoners did not fare well when Cowboy was around.

In the end, Cowboy was murdered by his own side, the Montagnard rebels who hated the generals in Saigon as much as the Communists in Hanoi.

The compelling story of a country and a people caught up in a Cold War they couldn't understand, and which in the end would destroy them. Written by a novelist and historian who walked through the Vietnamese Highlands with Cowboy and the Green Berets as a naive young journalist in 1964.

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More about the man

Cowboy with his airborne wings He was born Y Kdruin Mlo, one of the aboriginal tribes of Vietnam that have inhabited the Highlands for thousands of years. Valued by the French as soldiers, teachers, and administrators, bright young Highlanders were educated in special schools, from which this young man graduated with the name of Philippe Drouin. He served in the French Colonial Army, and when the Americans replaced the French in the 1950s, he set about learning their ways by watching John Wayne movies and adopting a western swagger that soon earned him the nickname of Cowboy. Here he is at Buong Beng Special Forces Camp in 1963, proudly wearing US Army Airborne wings.

At the same time he worked as an interpreter for the Americans, Cowboy had another life as a member of a Highlander nationalism movement called FULRO. In time he became Colonel Drouin, commander of the "Dam Y Division" that in effect was his own private army. As the story is told, whenever a government force needed a quick boost in combat effectiveness, it could rent a battalion from Cowboy's "division." In the end, he became a threat to just about every side in the many-sided Vietnam War, and he was sentenced to death by his own comrades. His life was as short as it was dramatic, from 1936 to 1968.

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