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While on a wine country tour in Sonoma Valley, I saluted Tony Poe at his place of rest. For those who may not get the chance to visit, it is in a peaceful, secluded, veteran's cemetery very close to the historic Sonoma town square. The inscription reads:
Anthony A. Poshepny
For those who may want to visit, I highly recommend John Burdick
at www.burdicktours.com Not only
is he a wine expert, gourmet chef, and great tour guide, he went to great pains
to find the gravesite.
Tony Poe's Funeral
My wife and I attended Tony Poe's funeral in Sonoma, California on 05
July 2003. Driving from Tucson, Az., we arrived the day before and
attended the wake along with Tony's immediate family and a large number of
his Hmong and Yao friends. Tony looked peaceful and at rest in spite of
his arduous medical ordeal of losing his left leg in four separate
operations to the withering effects of advanced diabetes. The disease was
about to claim his right leg when he passed away. He was in and out of
comas for the last four months. He actually died of liver failure. He came
out of his coma two days before passing away. His daughter, Tukata aka
Catherine, was present. She said he was joking with her and the nurse.
Unfortunately, Tony was alone when he expired. The monitor sounded and by
the time the nurse reached him, he was gone. His wife, Sang, and his four
children, Usanee, Tae, Maria and Catherine, were at his side throughout
the long ordeal. It was obvious by their words and grieving that Tony was
a very loving and caring parent. He was well loved and respected.
The funeral mass was at St. Francis Solono Catholic Church in Sonoma.
It was a fine testimony to Tony's life as a family man and warrior.
Eulogies were given by the priest, family members and colleagues. George
Kenning and Fred Cunningham gave eloquent and heartfelt accounts of their
dealings with Tony as a friend, supervisor and fellow Agency employee.
Tony's family had put together a touching 13-paged booklet with a large
color photo of Tony on the cover plus many other photos inside which old
Agency friends may fondly recall. The booklet also contained email
expressions of condolences from schoolmates, neighbors, Agency and family
friends. Two former Air America pilots were present, names forgotten, but
one of them may have had a surname of De Grazia.
From the church, the procession moved to the nearby Veteran's Cemetery
where Tony was interred near the flagpole. There was a Marine honor guard;
presentation of the flag to Sang; singing of Amazing Grace and the playing
of Taps. The ceremony was fitting for a fallen warrior. There were few dry
Death of a Legend
Tony Poe – Anthony Poshepny – died peacefully during the morning of June 27. The news was hard to accept. It is still difficult to imagine Tony dying peacefully – or even dying at all. He seemed indestructible. Having survived Japanese and NVA bullets, and the consumption of enough alcohol to fill a large swimming pool, Tony kept going like the Energizer Bunny.
I remember meeting him at the Marine Club in San Francisco in 1993. I had been warned to talk to Tony early in the morning if I wanted to get any information from him. We did have about two good hours of conversation – then the bar opened. Everything went downhill from there.
Tony’s grandparents came to the United States from Prague in the 1880s. They settled in Milwaukee, where grandfather Anton became a prosperous baker. He also invested wisely, especially in the Bank of Wisconsin. Tony’s father – John Charles Poshepny – was an excellent baseball player – a pitcher – and a fine all-around athlete. He joined the U.S. Navy prior to World War One, served thirty-five years in the Supply Corps, and retired as a commander. While stationed in Guam, he met and married Isabella Maria Venziano, a native of the island whose father was a naval musician.
Tony was born on September 18, 1924, in Long Beach, California. Originally named James Francis, he was renamed Anthony Alexander – in honor of grandfather Anton – when his father returned from an overseas assignment. Tony was raised on the West Coast. At the age of nine, he was accidentally shot in the stomach by his brother. He barely survived the .22 caliber wound. Tony went on to attend Santa Rosa High School, where he starred in golf and tennis. On December 14, 1942, shortly after turning 18, he dropped out of high school and joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He later carried his books with him during campaigns in the Pacific and completed his high school degree through correspondence courses.
Tony’s outstanding boot camp performance and physical ability led to his selection for the elite para-Marines. Following jump school, he joined the Second Parachute Battalion, commanded by Victor “Brute” Krulak. Tony served with the parachute raiders in the Southwest Pacific until the special units were broken up late in 1943. He returned to the United States and became part of the newly formed 5th Marine Division. Following a year’s training, the division first went into action at Iwo Jima. Tony landed on Iwo as the leader of a machine gun section on the 27th Regiment. He survived the hell of that island for 15 days until wounded in the right leg. He recovered in time to serve in Japan in the fall of 1945 with the initial occupation force.
Discharged on points on November 30, 1945, Tony entered St. Mary’s College in San Francisco the following fall. He stood out on a golf team that included Ken Venturi, and appeared in Who’s Who in Universities and Colleges. When he transferred to San Jose State, he took the entire golf team with him, displaying the kind of leadership that would become one of his trademarks. He graduated in 1950 with a degree in history and English. He planned to join the FBI but instead was recruited by the CIA.
Tony went through the first CIA class to take all its training at Camp Peary (“The Farm”). Fellow members of his class included Jack Shirley, Ralph McGehee, Zeke Ziliatus, and Rufus Phillips. Bill Lair and Pat Landry were a class or two ahead of him. Sent to Korea after graduation, Tony worked with the Chondogyo church group, “a sort of animist-Christian sect” that had fled North Korea and were being trained to be sent back across the 38th parallel. Jack Singlaub was in charge of this project. While in Korea, Tony met and worked with Pat Landry, Jim Haase, and Tom Fosmire – all of whom would go on to have long and distinguished careers with CIA paramilitary operations in Asia.
At the end of the Korean War, Tony was one of eight case officers who were sent to Thailand. He remained there for five years, serving under Walt Kuzmak who ran the CIA cover company, Sea Supply. In 1958, he became involved in the effort to overthrow the Sukarno government of Indonesia, working with Pat Landry and Jim Haase. At one point the group had to walk 150 kilometers through jungle and over mountains for an emergency evacuation by submarine. (The relationship between Tony and Pat Landry during this adventure seemed akin to the one between the bickering Odd Couple on TV. Landry recalled that Tony was “The eternal Marine: nobody ever came up to his standards.”)
From Indonesia, Tony joined the project to train and insert dissident groups into Tibet. He served at Camp Hale under Tom Fosmire, and he accompanied several teams to Dacca for insertion into Tibet via CAT. He came to admire the Khambas – “the best people I ever worked with.” Contrary to rumors, Tony never set foot into Tibet.
In March 1961, Tony took part in the efforts to train Vang Pao’s Hmong followers at Padong in Laos. In the fall of 1962, following the Geneva Accords, he and Vint Lawrence became the only two CIA officers in Laos, monitoring the truce agreement. Tony grew restless in this assignment. A teetotaler, he began drinking heavily. Whereas Vint Lawrence got on well with VP, Tony soon became alienated from the Hmong leader. He welcomed the return to fighting in Laos in 1964, year in which he married the niece of Touby Ly Foung, a prominent Hmong leader who did not always see eye-to-eye with VP. The union would produce two daughters, of whom Tony was inordinately proud.
In January 1965 , Tony took a NVA round though the stomach at Hong Non. After recovering, he was assigned to Nam Yu, where he spent the next five years, sending intelligence teams into China and monitoring the construction of the Chinese Road. It was during this time that the legend of Tony Poe took shape. Tony, himself, who took delight in feeding tale tales (some of them true!) to gullible reporters, fed the legend. Tony eventually became disillusioned with the war. George Kenning, who worked under Tony at Nam Yu, sensed a change in Tony in the late 1960s. The will of Americans to win the war seemed broken. “This simple reality,” Kenning recalls, “more than anything else, is what finally defeated Tony Poe.”
In 1970, Tony replaced Jack Shirley as head of training at Phitscamp in Thailand. While during this work, he managed to lose the two middle fingers on his hand to a Claymore mine. He closed the camp in 1974 and retired the following year. He remained in Thailand until relocating to California in the 1990s.
Tony was a good friend of Air
America. More than one pilot has told me that if he ever had been shot
down, he would have wanted Tony to lead the rescue effort. Tony would have
given 110 percent. A problem for some of his senior bosses in the Agency,
no one ever questioned Tony’s loyalty, courage, or commitment to the cause
of freedom. He was a true warrior – and a true patriot. His friends at the
Air America Association extend their deepest condolences to his wife and
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