Colonel Kurtz | Apocalypse Now | Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost Sticker
Colonel Walter E. Kurtz was a career officer in the United States Army. He was a third-generation West Point graduate who had risen through the ranks and was seen to be destined for a top post within the Pentagon. Kurtz saw action in the Korean War after receiving a master's degree in history from Harvard University. In 1964, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent Kurtz to Vietnam to compile a report on the failings of the current military policies. His overtly critical report was not what was expected and was immediately restricted for the Joint Chiefs and President Lyndon B. Johnson only.
Not long afterward, 38-year-old Kurtz applied for the 5th Special Forces Group, which was denied out of hand because his age was too advanced for Special Forces training. Kurtz continued with his ambition and even threatened to quit the armed forces, when finally his wish was granted and he was allowed to take the airborne course, which he graduated from.
Kurtz returned to Vietnam in 1966 with the Green Berets and was part of the "hearts and minds" campaign, which also included fortifying hamlets. Kurtz was assigned to Project GAMMA, in which he was to raise an army of Montagnards in and around the Vietnamese–Cambodian border to strike at the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Kurtz located his army at a remote abandoned Cambodian temple which Kurtz's team fortified. From their base, Kurtz led attacks on the local VC and the regular NVA in the region.
Kurtz employed barbaric methods not only to defeat his enemy but also to send fear. At first Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) did not object to Kurtz's tactics, especially as they proved successful. This soon changed when Kurtz allowed photographs of his atrocities to be released to the world.
In late 1967, after Kurtz failed to respond to MACV's repeated orders to return to Da Nang and resign his command after he ordered the summary execution of four South Vietnamese intelligence agents whom he suspected of being double agents for the Viet Cong, the MACV sent a Green Beret Captain named Richard Colby to bring Kurtz back from Cambodia. Either because he was brainwashed or because he felt a sympathy towards Kurtz's cause, Colby joined up with Kurtz instead of bringing him back to Da Nang.
During his time at the Vietnamese–Cambodian border Kurtz transformed into a crazed megalomaniac, yet was described as a "great man", and, as a man who read poetry out loud.
With Colby's failure, MACV then selected Captain Benjamin L. Willard, a paratrooper and Army intelligence officer, to journey up the Nung river and kill Kurtz. Willard succeeded in his mission only because Kurtz, himself broken mentally by the savage war he had waged, wanted Willard to kill him and release him from his own suffering. Before Willard killed him, Kurtz asked Willard to find Kurtz's wife and son, and explain truthfully to them what he had done in the war.
Kurtz's last words were "The horror! The horror!"
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