The Chinese and Pathet Lao were just across the mountainous border of the northernmost Laotian province of Phong Sally, which would later become a strategic point for American forces attempting to interrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trial. George and his partner had to get to the highest-and-closest-to-the-border Montagnard village. By examining their map, they estimated that it would take ten days to get there, and the same amount of time to exit the jungle.
To save time and to be able to get a larger amount of supplies of both quasi-military equipment and needed medical supplies into the area, the men took a plane and dropped the supplies by parachute and then jumped out themselves. As with all Montagnard tribes, they were well-received and spent several days training and equipping a new Auto-Defense group of tribesmen.
Once accomplished, George and his partner hired a couple of pack horses and a group of five men out of the Auto-Defense group to lead and accompany them back to Luang Prabang. They expected the march to take ten days; however, the map distances were different from the actual ground distances, and the topography was more extreme than the map had indicated. Distances which they had expected to cover in a day’s march took three or four days.
The men had not expected to stay this long in the jungle and had not prepared for the added time. They ran out of malaria prevention pills, antibiotics, and most importantly, water-purification tablets. They became delirious with severe dysentery, malaria, and they acquired several types of intestinal parasites. Their misery and suffering was acute, as they lost several pounds of weight each day.
The Black Tai Auto-Defense tribesmen made a bamboo stretcher for each man and carried them for about four weeks along approximately 400 Km of extremely difficult mountain terrain. George would never forget how these simple mountain people who lived under their own codes of honor and fealty proved, again and again, their steadfast loyalty to strangers, once they had promised their assistance. After all, they could have decided that these two Americans, twice their size, were too heavy to carry. They could have just abandoned them in the jungle, and no one would ever have known the difference. But they didn’t. They carried the men on the bamboo stretchers along steep mountain trials, where even sure-footed mountain ponies had difficulty staying on the trail. They fjorded deep mountain streams, up to their hips in wild waters, holding the stretchers on their shoulders in order to keep the feverish Americans dry.
Finally, the Montagnard tribesmen reached the Mekong River, where they negotiated use of a couple of pirogues and the men to navigate them the 80 Km to Luang Prabang. There, George and his partner would be received by the Laotian troops, and immediate medical attention would be administered. Ultimately, the men would be flown to Bangkok, and it would take at least two months to heal.
I write of George’s service experiences in my book: Observer: The Colonel George Trofimoff Story, the tale of America’s highest ranking military officer convicted of spying.