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The Map Collection of Neil Sheehan, Reporter of the Pentagon Papers

Today’s post is from Ryan Moore, a Cartographic Specialist in the Geography and Map Division.

Cornelius Mahoney “Neil” Sheehan (1936- ) is a journalist best known for his reporting on the Pentagon Papers, a secret Department of Defense study of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Sheehan, when working as a reporter for The New York Times in 1971, obtained the classified documents from Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst employed by the RAND Corporation. The papers revealed that the U.S. had secretly enlarged the scale of the Vietnam War with the bombings of nearby Cambodia and Laos, and coastal raids on North Vietnam, none of which were reported in the mainstream media. The government attempted to prosecute Ellsberg but the charges were later dropped. In 2011, the Pentagon Papers were declassified and publicly released.

Sheehan wrote several books and articles about the Vietnam War and among them was the Pulitzer Prize-winning title A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (1988). The maps Sheehan used when conducting research for his book are available for viewing in the Geography and Map Division.

The collection consists of 72 maps, and the most unique among them is an annotated map of the Battle of Tan Canh that occurred during the U.S. drawdown from the war in 1972. Sheehan said of the map, “U.S. Army map given to me by Col. Phillip Kaplan, senior advisor to ARVN 22nd, showing ARVN (South Vietnamese) and NVA (North Vietnamese) dispositions and other events during the final phase of battle. Drawn while I interviewed him in Binh Dinh Province, where reorganized 22nd then stationed later in 1972. Interview was at Firebase Crystal.”

Kontum Annotations

Map of the Battle of Tanh Canh that was annotated by Col. Phillip Kaplan, military advisor to South Vietnamese forces, during an interview with Sheehan following the engagement. 1972. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

The annotations were drawn with red and black grease pencil on a map titled Kontum printed by U.S. Army Pacific Command. The annotations on the gridded map illustrate the North Vietnamese attack that encircled the South Vietnamese troops and threatened to overrun their positions. The day was saved, however, when American airpower was brought to bear and the attack was turned back. The assault demonstrated the growing sophistication of North Vietnamese tactics and illustrated the reliance of the South on American military support; neither of which boded well for the future. American policymakers who had hoped that the South Vietnamese would be able to stand on their own were proven wrong when the South was defeated a few years later in 1975.

The remainder of the collection consists of various military and intelligence maps of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Sheehan’s personal and professional papers are also available for research in the Library’s Manuscript Division.

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