by Janet Sailian
Green Beret in the Vietnam and Cold War eras
You meet some extraordinary residents of FMB when you venture onto the shore.
One morning in November 2008, I found a crowd gathered around an American bald eagle crouched on the sand. It gnawed on a large, still-wriggling fish clasped in its talons.
“I’m from Nova Scotia,” remarked a trim, older man nearby, introducing himself as Martin. “We donated breeding pairs of eagles to the United States in the 1960s, after DDT killed off so many. Great to see them thriving now.”
He was a retired U.S. government consultant, Martin said, trying to write his life story. I’m a writer, editor and communications professional. I offered to help.
We spent eight years as co-authors, shaping Martin’s recently published autobiography: Ghost Warrior – The Real “Martin Blank”: Green Beret in the Vietnam and Cold War Eras.
The book delves into the world of “The Quiet Professionals,” as Green Berets are known, in an era that foreshadowed today’s geopolitics. Martin’s service as an Airborne Army Ranger and in Special Forces from 1968-86 took him on missions in Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Grenada, Colombia, Lebanon, Europe, the Pacific Shelf and his native Canada.
“The Real Martin Blank” refers to the protagonist in 1997’s dark comedy Grosse Pointe Blank. After retiring from Special Forces in 1986, Le Blanc protected politicians, celebrities and others seeking the ultimate bodyguard. One client, a Hollywood producer, adapted Le Blanc’s military exploits and traits to the Martin Blank character played by John Cusack.
Military Fast Track
Le Blanc’s autobiography traces exhaustive military training and 18 years of harrowing missions, plus the formative youth that enabled a French-speaking Acadian from small-town Nova Scotia to become an elite U.S. military operative. The book explores the lasting damage that elite operatives suffer to body, mind, soul and relationships.
When Martin was seven, his father left home to build and captain a private yacht. Starting at age nine, young Martin helped feed his family of six kids through fishing, hunting and trapping. He spent hours in the woods mastering a hunter’s (and warrior’s) essential skill: patient attentiveness.
Le Blanc’s family moved to Perth Amboy, New Jersey when he was 15. In 1966, at age 20, he decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy, following his family’s sea-going legacy. In that early Vietnam era, being a legal U.S. resident (not a citizen) was no obstacle. His French-speaking ability marked him not for the Navy but the Army, active in southeast Asian and Middle Eastern countries where French was the second language.
Young Martin threw himself into every military activity with such zeal and skill that his commanding officers fast-tracked him into Special Advanced Individual Training, Airborne School and Airborne Army Ranger training – the Army’s most intensive, demanding 12-week regimen.
Only nine of 40 candidates in his cohort achieved Ranger status; two died during training. Six months later, Le Blanc reached the Army’s pinnacle: Special Forces, those who wear the green beret.
In his first major mission in May 1967, Le Blanc guarded and trained Israeli soldiers on the top-secret Red Eye shoulder-fired missile. Israelis used the Red Eye to triumph in the Six Day War in June 1967.
Le Blanc provided personal security for U.S. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey and, in August 1968, protected the Democrats’ National Convention in Chicago (where Humphrey was a presidential candidate). He never had to fire his sniper rifle – fortunately for his teenaged future co-author, marching in a Vietnam War protest below Le Blanc’s rooftop perch.
Damages of Combat
Newly married, in September 1968 Le Blanc headed into his first overseas mission. He could not tell his wife, who thought he was a security consultant, about his mission or location. He never disclosed his occupation to family or friends, and learned, of necessity, to compartmentalize his military and personal life, at a heavy cost.
In the South Vietnam highlands, Le Blanc commanded a three-man Green Beret team tasked to arm and train native Montagnard villagers. He led Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrols during the controversial Phoenix Project, reporting to William Colby (later Head of the CIA). The team eliminated over 100 Communist infiltrators and combatants in a few weeks.
Le Blanc led a mission to rescue a CIA asset outside Hanoi. Taking heavy fire as the team successfully extracted their asset, Le Blanc was gravely wounded by a mortar and two bullets.
During eight months of hospitalization, he fought to regain strength and mobility. Doctors warned he might never walk again due to shrapnel embedded near his spine.
The mortar injuries caused intermittent, ongoing disability from syringomyelia, a spinal degeneration syndrome. His wife begged him to leave the military. But as his strength returned, Le Blanc gradually resumed full duty. His marriage crumbled.
Leading ten Green Berets on a top-secret mission in Cambodia in May 1973, Le Blanc and his team were ambushed by 200 Khmer Rouge soldiers in Pol Pot’s killing fields. His nine fellow soldiers were killed. Le Blanc, shot in the thigh, was captured, tortured for 30 hours and rescued by his Montagnard guides.
Months in hospital and multiple surgeries repaired most wounds but could not cure Le Blanc’s PTSD and guilt as a lone survivor. He sought refuge on ancestral lands in southwest Nova Scotia. Across two years, psychotherapy, nature and friends restored him.
During his hiatus, Le Blanc managed tour dates for musician friends including Gene MacLellan, songwriter of “Snowbird” and “Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man.” His sense of obligation to the U.S. Army called him back to duty again in 1976.
Fighting Global Terrorism
Le Blanc served on Delta Force missions across Europe in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, targeting terrorists from the Red Brigade, Irish Republican Army, Bader-Meinhof Gang, Russian oligarchs and Libya’s Khaddafi. Green Berets supplied weapons to counter-terrorists and Afghanistan’s Mujahideen, who shot down Russian aircraft using American Stinger missiles.
Le Blanc ’s Delta Force team took out two Hezbollah leaders after the April 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. He helped eliminate the illegal, Soviet-friendly government in Grenada, and lost his mission partner and friend during a sniper action in the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan, during which Le Blanc was also seriously wounded.
In 1985, along with partners from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Le Blanc surveilled Sikh separatists in British Columbia, and warned top Canadian officials that three men were plotting an imminent attack. The Canadian brass refused to act, and in June 1985 Sikh terrorists bombed Air India flight 182, en route from Toronto to Delhi, killing all 329 aboard – Canada’s worst terrorist incident.
After he retired in 1986, Le Blanc worked as a bodyguard, entrepreneur/inventor and architect. He became a U.S. citizen in 1998 and has made southern Florida his home for the past 12 years.
Declared 100 percent disabled due to military injuries by the Veterans’ Administration, Le Blanc bears his scars and memories with one vow: To be part of more living and less dying.
Hear readings and background from the book Ghost Warrior – The Real “Martin Blank”: Green Beret in the Vietnam and Cold War Eras at the Estero Island Historic Society public meeting – the final meeting of this season – on Monday, March 9 at 7 p.m. at St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church, 5601 Williams Drive. The authors will sign and sell copies of their book after the meeting, and donate half the proceeds to the EIHS.