The Yellow Rain Story

Editor’s note: This article was written by Claymore. His previous blog posts can be read here.

I mentioned something about my yellow rain story and TFB’s Senior Writer Phil White said he would sure like to hear that story. We had an up close and personal run in with this chemical weapon while with the Hmong so here it is, just for you Phil.

First, a little background for you guys that weren’t around for the last part of the Vietnam war and the first war in Afghanistan. The use of some type of chemical weapon by the soviets during the later part of the Vietnam war on indigenous troops (there was no use on Americans that I have heard about).It was not in the public domain and was one of “those” stories that make the rounds in military circles only.

The rumors surfaced again during the start of the first war in Afghanistan and the Soviets were again being accused by journalists and NGOs of using “Yellow rain” on the Mujh. There were abundant stories in the press and the term “Yellow Rain” was adopted to cover any use of chemicals in the theater by the press and the name stuck.

It was called “Yellow Rain” because it was allegedly air disbursed and the sign of it’s use was yellow droplets remaining on plant leaves after people became sick in those areas. It was hard to find proof as the material dissipated fairly rapidly.

Why would the Soviets use these chemicals you may be asking? The main reason is forced migration of the people in a large area with only a minimum number of troops. People in areas that have been hit by chemical weapons quickly move away to avoid being attacked again, so any insurgents in that area are denied the support of the people and it makes finding food much more difficult.

Another reason is mass casualties using very few troops and the victims tie up many more of their own people to deal with the dead and the sick survivors.

The below photo is NOT yellow rain. This is a shot taken on my car today and it looks EXACTLY like the material we found in the following story. I’m not a scientist and don’t know what these spots are but every time I wash my car I find a few and it reminds me of the story I am about to tell you (Unless the Soviets are still trying to get me!)

photo 1

As you can see it’s a small yellow droplet that is probably bee pollen or feces, which will we cover later, but this is just one and when an area comes under attack there are thousands of these drops all over everything.

The story made the rounds but was pretty much ignored by the public until 1981 when Secretary of State  “I’m in charge here” Al Haig had a press conference and denounced the Soviets for using “Yellow Rain” on the Hmong in Vietnam and Laos.

It was huge news at the time and it was like a “shot across the bow” from us to the “Evil Empire” to come out in public to openly accuse them of using chemical weapons and this caused a stir worldwide. If you are interested just put “soviet yellow rain” into a search engine and you get hundreds if not thousands of hits.

Now we get to my part in all this. In 1990 my usual partner and I were getting ready for our second trip inside with the Chow Fa Hmong we were going on our normal evaluation and training mission profile when we were asked to also include finding out what we could on the use of “Yellow rain” while we were there.

Our Afghan students (read more about our trip to Afghanistan here) had told us about it again and we have heard about it on our other trips with the Vang Pao Hmong. We had taken note of it and continued with our other missions as investigating Yellow Rain was not our remit and we had no proof to offer. That was about to change.

When we arrive in Vietnam we interviewed the Chow Fa and they reported that there had been frequent attacks.

photo 2

photo 3

The chemical attacks in Laos had been found by the Hmong (and also reported by the Afghans) to be three distinct types. All are referred to by the Hmong as generic “Chemie”.

  • Yellow Rain, which leaves behind the yellow droplets and causes upper respiratory distress and a few deaths in the elderly, infirm, and small children.
  • Blue Chemie, which has some of the same properties, as the more mild “yellow rain”  but includes vomiting, but is stronger acting, and effects even robust persons causing twice as many deaths as yellow rain style.
  • Red Chemie, the worst of the lot. This one is a killer almost everyone that comes into contact with this one eventually dies from severe respiratory tract distress and projectile vomiting. Choke, puke then die.

The red version was only known to have been used in remote areas on mountaintops where the Hmong held the high ground with no way the Laotian army could get to them. Most affected were the fighting Hmong that had been holding the mountain tops for years, so long that they all had long beards from not shaving due to lack of water supplies. These “Long Beard”  guys were held in high esteem by all the Hmong because they sacrificed so much.

All types can be used from Hip (Soviet supplied helicopters) that have “spray bars” attached like crop dusters. They just fly over and release the chemicals. Or, infrequently, artillery shells are used to disburse the chemicals but the Hmong reported that this method seemed to be used on the mountain top areas only.

So there we are: fat, dumb and happily going about our mission when very early one morning Hmong came streaming into our little hut yelling Chemie, Chemie.

Needless to say we were quite interested in what the story was and it’s funny how you get a tickle in the back of your throat, that you never noticed before, when someone is telling you there has been a chemical attack in the area!

Turns out the area where the Hmong were growing corn, about a 5-10 minute walk from our hut, was sprayed just after dawn and several people were already sick.

With some trepidation, because we had no chemical protection equipment, we headed to the area. The Hmong explained that we SHOULD be ok as the effectiveness of yellow rain does NOT last very long with only people in the direct path of the falling yellow rain becoming sick and that after a few minutes nobody else is affected.

Sure enough we could see the surrounding area of the corn field was covered with tiny yellow droplets. Let me tell you something, that was a butthole-slam-shut situation if there ever was one.

This photo is of the Hmong’s second man in charge holding up one of the ears of corn with droplets still on it. You can’t see them clearly because I didn’t want to get close enough to get a better shot.

photo 4

After a bit of “yes you do it, no you don’t” back and forth I drew the short straw and we collected some samples of vegetation with yellow droplets using field expedient methods to avoid contaminating ourselves and or the samples. The samples were preserved as best we could.

We then went on an area survey to try and discover any victims or witnesses. This kid heard the helo but wasn’t sick.

photo 5

This group heard it and had relatives further away that were sick due to the poorly made shelters.

photo 6

We ended up with 5 or 6 victims but without any effective treatment to give them other than rest and replenishment of fluids lost to vomiting and or diarrhea.

We continued on with our mission and after completing it we headed back to the USA. There were a couple of tense minutes at customs with the “are you carrying any vegetation?” question since we had split the samples and both of us were carrying leaves with yellow rain, but the gods were with us that day and no veggie sniffing beagles were in our area.

We sent our samples off to the Defense Intelligence Agency lab for analysis and, as with so many other samples submitted around that time, the results were labeled INCONCLUSIVE.

This whole “Yellow Rain” thing was a giant mystery during the time and remains so until this day.

My take on it, if it means anything, is this: I actually saw sick people from it and there were thousands of people sick in many areas in many countries where “yellow rain”, bee pollen, or bee feces were found. If it was just pollen or feces why were people in different countries affected in the exact same way? But the clincher for me were the chemical decontamination kits that we talked about in my previous post.

IF nobody was using chemical weapons (there were NEVER any reports of either the Afghans or Hmong using it) why were Soviet troops issued these kits unless the Soviets themselves were using it? That makes up my mind.

But since that day I haven’t grown a tail or any extra fingers I guess we came out alright.

Here are two of the best webpages discussing the situation. The first one is interesting because the area he is talking about was the EXACT same area we were working in and during the same time frame. The town where this interview took place, Nam Poon, was our jump off point.

The second webpage tells the back and forth of the bee crap story and controversy. About two years ago I was contacted by the professor mentioned on page 5, Paul Hillmer, and interviewed for a book he is writing about the Hmong. He talked to many people involved in the Hmong story, both in the later years and during the war in Vietnam and it should be a good read if he ever gets it finished

From that link above …

On one side, information about the former Soviet Union‘s weapons program continues to emerge, and on the other, the State Department maintains that it has further research that proves once and for all that yellow rain was a chemical weapon. This evidence, however, remains classified.”

Good enough for me. Whenever I go to the big range in the sky my second question will be “Did the Soviets use chemical weapons on the Hmong?”

Phil note: Thanks Claymore I enjoyed reading this story!

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • KestrelBike

    Love these stories! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • claymore

      I have to take a minute to thank Steve for modifying the parameters of the site to allow me to share my adventures that are not exclusively related to firearms Thanks Boss.

  • Lance

    Forget the Nazis Asian commies are still the most genocidal and evil scum of the earth.

    • Herp

      Most cultures have a history. I don’t come to this blog to see the uneducated political blowhards of the gun community blather about Asians or communists or nazis. I come here to hear them blather about guns.

    • Burst

      This article is about a Russian/USSR chemical program.

      Be racist if you want, but do it on topic.

      • 11b

        Or just don’t be racist, period?

        • Steve (TFB Editor)

          Yes, better not to be one at all. But if you do, know that we don’t tolerate it.

        • Burst

          Also acceptable. But being racist AND irrelevant was a bridge too far.

    • Lance no more shots at a race or culture. You know what I said about this the other day. I’m deleting the comment —– think before you post.

  • Patrick Mingle

    Always love to hear stories from Claymore! He should seriously write a book with all the stories he has

  • Thanks Claymore I enjoyed it!

  • The Hun

    Can’t wait for the article on the Israelis using “Willy Pete” on the Palestinians in 08/09 Gaza conflict.

    • sauerquint

      Or our use of it in Iraq…

    • RawDawg

      WP is used extensively by the US military.

      • The Hun

        No s**t- where do you think the IDF got it?

      • WP has been used for about 72 years now.

        • The Hun

          No s*it- where do you think the hebes got it from?

          • You know I warned you about racist comments yesterday. No more that’s it. Take it elsewhere.

          • Secundius

            In response too The Hun (Guest) question!

            This person seem to be, trying too re-direct questions into other avenues. In other discussion groups as well. I don’t know what his motives are, but I’m beginning too think he and/or she is trying to provoke a measured response, by race baiting. He trying, and with some success, too escalate the tauntings.

    • Risky

      The effects of WP is incendiary, not toxic, and therefore is not considered a chemical weapon in jurisdiction of the Chemical Weapon Convention. Of course it’s not a pleasant thing to drop on human beings but technically it isn’t a violation of the laws of land warfare.

      • iksnilol

        I tought WP was banned for the same reasons as HP or expanding bullets under the Hague convention. That is, they cause unnecesarry suffering. I personally wouldn’t use it unless it was personal or the enemy used it on mine.

        • n0truscotsman

          In a word, no.

          The primary purpose of WP is for smoke/concealment.

          If you are dropping it to deliberately burn people or inflict unnecessary suffering then that constitutes a war crime.

          • Secundius

            I very much doubt it was, war crimes. I was only 6-years old at the time.

    • That has nothing to do with the story and doesn’t contribute anything. Please stay on topic and keep the personal animosity towards Israel to yourself. Comment deleted.

      • The Hun

        This story is stupid- it’s all a bunch of BS conjecture- the hebes using Willie Pete is a FACT.

  • Rob

    While these claymore stories aren’t quite gun related all the time I do enjoy them. Keep em coming

  • Christian

    Whats your first question?

    • claymore

      LOL I was waiting for this to pop up. “Did Oswald really kill Kennedy all by himself?”

  • Digerata

    Very interesting piece on the possible use of a terror weapon. It’s worth noting that collateral effects from less insidious programs, like Agent Orange, ultimately produced much more terrifying results from the millions of gallons spewed all over the landscape.

  • Fruitbat44

    Interesting article, although it’s not really a firearms article. I guess if falls into the category of “An Occasional Interesting But Off Topic Article Doesn’t Do Any Harm, But Beware Of Mission Creep” or AOIBOTADDAHBBOMC for short.

  • Burst

    Something springs to mind here:
    *The red version was only known to have been used in remote areas on mountaintops
    *artillery shells are used to disburse the chemicals but the Hmong reported that this method seemed to be used on the mountain top areas only.

    How likely would it be for the Red Chemie to be an artillery-only compound?

    • claymore

      Many be but I don’t think so as it was also used from a helo. Good question though.

  • Giolli Joker

    I wonder if the first intended use of this chemical was similar to that of Agent Orange…

    • claymore

      It had no effect on vegetation that anyone knows of.

    • claymore

      Agent orange was a defoliant for use on foliage not people. Yellow rain does NOT have any effect on vegetation.

      • Secundius

        If its a variation of Mustard Gas, a Liquefied variation of Mustard Gas. Then we do have a problem, a very big problem! It may not have an effect of vegetation, buts going too have one of people, livestock, and an animals alike. The Romans called it “Poisoning The Well.” It means if they can’t have it, neither can you.

        • claymore

          AH no it doesn’t have that effect.

          • Secundius

            Why don’t you ask the surviving WW1 soldiers about the long term side effects of Mustard Gas.

          • claymore

            This is NOT mustard gas in most cases the effects go away after expose to yellow rain. I didn’t have to ask anyone my grandfather was a victim of mustard gas. And mustard gas has no relation to yellow rain.

  • mig1nc

    Great story, thanks for posting. But wait, we were training the Hmong in 1990?

    • claymore

      Yes both before and after 1990.

      • mig1nc

        Interesting, my late father was working with the Hmong as early as 1964. He spoke well of them. I had no idea we were involved that recently.

        • claymore

          The sad part is as late as this year there are STILL Hmong there hiding in the hills guilty of nothing more than being Hmong.

  • HyenaDave

    These stories are great, thanks for sharing. Reminds me if reading soldier of fortune as a kid at the 7-11.

  • Chance

    This is an outstanding series of stories. Ever consider writing a book?

    • claymore

      Yep I have shared some of my adventures with friends and family and they said the same thing. I have thought about it and these may make for a testing of the waters. But it’s a big undertaking as my friend just went through and he is not sure yet if it’s worth the work.

      The only thing in it’s favor is what good is it to do some pretty adventurous stuff if you can’t share the stories.

      • nova3930

        Good sir, these are the types of stories that need to be preserved for future generations. There’s no way our descendants can know and learn from history if they don’t have the whole story, especially the story as seen by guys that lived it like you have. It’s the same reason I wish with every fiber I could get my grandfather-in-law to sit down with a tape recorder and talk about his time on Okinawa….

        • claymore

          I in no way compare with the service people in WWII. The fighting there on Okinawa was some of the most heartrending of all of the WWII battles with many civilians throwing themselves off cliffs while all our people could do is watch.

          You are correct we are losing them at a very fast rate now that they are in their older years. There is one project, sorry I forget the name, that is doing exactly that talking to the remaining WWII and Korean war veterans and getting their stories on tape for history.

  • guest

    American accusing others of using “unknown chemicals” in Indochina. Oh.. the… irony!

    • Panzercat

      Anonymous makes unsupport accusation without citing example backed by fact so that his assertion may not be challenged intellectually. You’ll go far on the internet.

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      While I fully agree with your sentiments, I don’t think Claymore is specifically targeting the old Soviet Union ( or anyone else for that matter ), or accusing anyone else of similar perfidy in terms of outright hypocrisy. I really think he is simply trying to tell the truth as he has experienced it first-hand, regardless of political or national affiliation, at a given period in time. The vast majority of the knowledgeable contributors and readers on TFB are only too aware of the historically gross injustices, hypocrisies and distortions of the truth that attend almost every national agenda, whether it be “friendly” or “unfriendly”, “Allied” or “Axis”, or “ours” or “theirs”. The irony you speak of covers a great many nations, their governments and peoples. We are all guilty of malfeasance, misconduct, negligence and outright barbarity — or worse — at more than one point in human history.

      • claymore

        Well said. This conundrum has been around for many years and I stated my opinion on IF it happened or not. I gave my reasoning for my decision without disparaging the “Evil Empire” which I used because that is how the USSR was described at the time by even the mass media.

        I told what happened to us and our efforts to have our evidence tested and the result was the same as many others of the time got.

        The USA didn’t use “unknown chemicals” in this theater of operations we acknowledged just what we were doing and even invited journalists along when using it unlike the soviets. And we attempted to mitigate the damage when it became known the real long term effects of the spraying have the Soviets done the same?

  • Bob

    I’m really enjoying the new polite and reasonable discussion in the comments section since the new policy of deleting trolls has been implemented. Keep up the good work.

  • nova3930

    I may be warped by my first though when a seeing a headline that says “Yellow Rain” isn’t chemical weapons but guys whizzing out of aircraft lol

  • Micki Moahoney

    Interesting article, Claymore. I’m reminded of something I read about the Hmong immigrants to America suffering an epidemic of “Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome” (SUNDS) between 1977 and 1981. Victims were, (from what I read,) almost all male, fit and died in their sleep without any warning or apparent cause. Perhaps the sort of men who would have been “Long Beards” on a mountaintop? Now I have to wonder if exposure to chemical weapons didn’t have a lasting, and delayed, effect on these guys.

    • claymore

      The way they all, women and children too, are forced to live in the jungles all the time with virtually no money is tough real tough and everybody at one time or another has respiratory problems from the rough living which could be a contributing factor along with any exposure to these chemicals.

  • Secundius

    I experienced a Yellow Rain, in Indonesia approximately in 1961 or 1962. Has to be pollen of some kind. Because its 52 years later, and I still alive too talk about is.

    • Exrakfist

      There was an interesting RadioLab episode where they cover yellow rain, and pollen was listed as a possible culprit. If I recall, bee waste (like from a whole swarm) was another possibility.

      • claymore

        That controversy is covered in one of the links.

    • claymore

      So did you get ill from your exposure at the time?

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    @ Claymore :

    Thank you for this very informative article and for all you have done and risked as a direct witness on the ground to many humanistic truths that are all too often conveniently ignored, forgotten or covered up ( for political, social, cultural or whatever reasons ) in the general and even the hard-core specialist media. The cost of truth is sometimes incalculably enormous and you, and your compatriots, are to be commended for trying so hard to stick with it in spite of the odds — a grim and telling reminder to those who would obfuscate and bury the truth for their own ends that it will eventually catch up with them no matter what sophisticated duplicity they may resort to.

    And many thanks, too, to Steve, Phil and company for having the fortitude and courage to publish this harbinger of the truth.

    I know that there are a lot of complicated issues with regard to publishing a book covering your many experiences as so many astute TFB readers have suggested, but it may not be insurmountable, especially if you take advantage of tools such as crowd-source funding and combining intellectual resources with other realistic and like-minded individuals such as Kevin R.C. O’Brien of the WeaponsMan blog. At this point, I will freely admit that I am only making a few tentative suggestions off the top of my head as possible solutions to a problem. However, if this helps to kick off a trend in more and better ideas from TFB’s many contributors and readers, we will, as a community, at least have started off on the right foot. Who knows where it may lead?

    Ladies and gentlemen, put on your thinking caps — any suggestions, anyone?

    • claymore

      Good points. But I have a major problem in most of my adventures in this area is not just my story. It is also the story of my partner who was with me on most of them. He was several years younger than myself and is still working in employment where revelations of our adventures would be frowned upon by his employers.

      • DiverEngrSL17K

        That is perfectly understandable. As far as I’m concerned, he should be properly protected until such time he can actually afford to more openly state his views and experiences, eg., when he is retired or has left the service and the commensurate confidentiality period is expired. This is only fair, the sole exception being if he, for whatever reason but NOT under duress of any kind, and based solely on his own voluntary decision-making process, chooses to speak up as an act of conscience for the sake of truth.

        • claymore

          That is the plan to wait until he retires before making a move. But he is not under any duress or anything but in classified positions one must be discrete

  • SimonSays

    Another great post, this is the stuff that distinguishes TFB. Reading this I remember the great articles from Soldier of Fortune magazine from the old days.

  • claymore

    Just got an email from a friend and he told me the book I mentioned I was interviewed for is out and has been since 2010.

    Here is a review which there are a bunch of good reviews. This is not my enforcement of this book as I have not read it yet but will so I can find out what part of my interview, if any, made it into the book.

  • claymore

    Just got an email from a journalist friend letting me know the book I mentioned is out and has been since 2010.

    This is not an enforcement of the book as I have not read it yet LOL. But if you are interested in the Hmong history it could be a good place to start. I’m going to try and get a copy just to see if anything from my interview made it into this book.

  • Secundius

    I don’t know where this area is in geographical relations too China. But, this might a back door approach to a land-grab, Get rid of the indigenous population, and then move in with your people.

    • claymore

      Laos is a sovereign nation and it’s the power structure are the ones that want to kill the Hmong it is a long standing class struggle between the low land, fragrant rice eating people against the sticky rice eating mountain dwellers the Hmong.

      It has been going on for centuries and china has no involvement other than Lao being in their sphere of influence.