I knew Charlie Dean and Howard Dean well in our early teenage years, though not as well during the college years. It is extremely unlikely that Charlie had any connection to the CIA. I think he was just having fun, pursuing some adventures after completing college, the same as Howard did (and with Howard’s encouragement). It is true that many Wasps went into the CIA, but that was from the generation that graduated from college before 1965 or thereabouts. (Howard’s book understates his background somewhat, though even he realizes it is hard to turn Park Avenue and East Hampton into a log cabin.) By 1972, Charlie’s year of graduation, the mood was entirely different and very few upper crust types went into the CIA. Many more went on journeys of discovery, or whatever they were called back then. Charlie was a popular guy (much more outgoing than Howard), a McGovern worker, University of North Carolina, preppie….no chance he went into the CIA from that background. During that time, any CIA recruits would have been determined mavericks, while Charlie was exactly the opposite, with a great many friends. Charlie was also sunny and optimistic, and there is some chance that these great qualities caused him to underestimate the dangers of the Mekong River.
However, I am not going to criticize Howard for the controversy this week about listing Charlie as a possible POW. Charlie’s death was a terrible tragedy, and I know it had a huge impact on Howard. I saw Howard a few months after Charlie disappeared. Any of us might wish that our brother died on a mission with some purpose, rather than just an ill-advised adventure, even if we know (as Howard himself has said many times) that the CIA theory is wrong. This theory perhaps lurks in Howard’s heart, and justifiably so, even though he knows in his head that it must be wrong. Go easy on Howard about anything involving Charlie. Howard loved him a lot and perhaps fears that he gave Charlie some bad advice, directly or indirectly, about seeing the world. To this day, the emotions must make it difficult for him to think or speak clearly about Charlie.
An NRO reader in California