John K. Singlaub, General Who Clashed With Jimmy Carter, Dies at 100
Maj. Gen. John K. Singlaub, who waged clandestine warfare for the U.S. Army and the C.I.A. from the World War II years to Vietnam, then retired from the military under pressure after repeatedly criticizing President Jimmy Carter’s national security policies, died on Saturday. He was 100 and had been living in Franklin, Tenn.
The Special Forces Association chapter in Tampa, Fla., an organization of veterans who had waged covert warfare, said that General Singlaub’s wife, Joan, had notified a fellow member of the group, Billy Waugh, of his death.
General Singlaub trained resistance fighters in German-occupied France and rescued Allied prisoners of war held by the Japanese during World War II. He conducted intelligence operations during the Chinese Civil War and in the Korean War while assigned to the C.I.A., and he commanded secret Army forays into North Vietnam and neutral Laos and Cambodia during the 1960s to ambush Communist troops.
A sturdy 5-foot-7 with an enduring military brush haircut, General Singlaub seemed fit for combat long after his last war. He was “the kind of guy you’d like to have on your side in a barroom brawl,” Pat Murphy, an acquaintance and the publisher of The Arizona Republic, told The New York Times in 1986.
His numerous decorations included the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Purple Heart.
But for all his military feats, General Singlaub’s career ended over issues of grand strategy.
Mr. Carter removed him as the military’s chief of staff in South Korea in May 1977 after he told a Washington Post reporter that the president’s plan to withdraw American troops there could lead to another North Korean invasion.
General Singlaub later maintained that his remarks were off the record, an assertion disputed by The Post. But Mr. Carter was outraged at what he perceived as a challenge to civilian authority.
His order recalling General Singlaub from Korea was the first action of its type since President Harry S. Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur as the Pacific commander when he advocated extending the Korean War into China.
After being reassigned to Fort McPherson in Georgia, General Singlaub criticized the Carter administration’s military policies again in April 1978, at a talk before R.O.T.C. cadets at Georgia Tech. He called Mr. Carter’s decision not to produce a neutron bomb “ridiculous” and “militarily unsound,” and criticized the administration’s efforts to relinquish control of the Panama Canal.
The Army ordered him to report to the Pentagon immediately, announcing a day later that it had accepted his request to retire.
In the 1980s, General Singlaub played a major role in raising funds and arranging arms purchases for the Nicaraguan rebels known as contras, who were battling the leftist Sandinista government. He solicited contributions from private sources for food, clothing and medicine, and traveled to South Korea and Taiwan to seek military aid for the contras from those countries.
General Singlaub testified before Congress in May 1987 during its inquiry into the Iran-contra affair — the Reagan administration’s secret sale of arms to Iran with diversion of some of the proceeds to the Nicaraguan rebels, despite a congressional ban on such aid.
General Singlaub told Congress that Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, while a National Security Council staff aide, had approved of his being highly visible in his support for the contras. The goal, General Singlaub testified, was to take public attention away from the secret government program. Colonel North was eventually convicted of obstructing Congress, destroying official documents and accepting an illegal gift, but the convictions were later overturned and dismissed as part of an immunity deal.
General Singlaub, who acted as a private citizen in helping the contras, was never accused of wrongdoing in the investigation. But in his 1991 memoir, “Hazardous Duty,” written with Malcolm McConnell, he bristled at what he considered the defaming of his character.
“For a decade I’d been smeared as a right-wing fanatic, even a crypto-fascist, by some members of the media,” he wrote. “I’d always found this ironic, considering the fact that I was one of a handful of American soldiers who had risked torture and execution by both German and Japanese fascists while serving behind enemy lines in Europe and the Far East.”
John Kirk Singlaub was born on July 10, 1921, in Independence, Calif., and developed an interest in becoming an Army officer while at Van Nuys High School in the Los Angeles area.
He joined the Army during his senior year at the University of California, Los Angeles, and was commissioned as a lieutenant in January 1943. He volunteered to transfer to a parachute regiment, where his training — and French studies at U.C.L.A. — made him an attractive recruit for the Army’s Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the C.I.A. He parachuted into central France in August 1944 as the leader of a three-man Jedburgh team, the code name for the O.S.S. units linking up with the French Resistance.
William Casey, his case officer and later the director of central intelligence in the Reagan administration, had offered cyanide pills to his Jedburgh team, so members could quickly commit suicide if they were captured. “No sir, I don’t intend to be captured,”General Singlaub told him, as he later recalled in his memoir.
The Jedburgh team taught resistance fighters how to ambush German troops and sabotage their equipment, part of an effort to delay a German response to the Allied invasion of southern France in August 1944, two months after the D-Day campaign in Normandy.
Soon after Japan surrendered in August 1945, General Singlaub led a parachute team that rescued emaciated and brutalized Australian and Dutch prisoners of war held by the Japanese on China’s Hainan Island before they could be executed.
General Singlaub was assigned to the C.I.A. during the Chinese Civil War, serving during the late 1940s in Manchuria, where he aided the Nationalist army facing Communist forces.
He was deputy station chief of the C.I.A. in South Korea during the Korean War, then became a Regular Army battalion commander. He was wounded in action and received a Silver Star for gallantry.
During the Vietnam War, General Singlaub commanded the military’s Studies and Observations Group, a vague name for an unconventional warfare unit that carried out ambushes and sabotage and used dirty tricks to try to stem the flow of Communist troops and supplies into South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
In retirement, he headed two anti-Communist organizations, the World Anti-Communist League and its American affiliate, the United States Council for World Freedom.
General Singlaub had three children, Elisabeth D’Antoni, John O. Singlaub and Mary Ann Singlaub from his first marriage, to Mary (Osborne) Singlaub, which ended in divorce. Apart from his wife, Joan, a list of survivors was not immediately available.
General Singlaub often took walks through Arlington National Cemetery to “reflect on the battles of my own life.”
He was very much the old soldier. “Sitting down on the hillside in the morning sun, I feel a familiar coolness,” he wrote in his memoir. “I reach down and untangle my Army dog tags.”
Decades after he joined the Army during World War II, the tags remained around his neck, “symbolic of my commitment.”