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Winter Soldier

Testimony given in Detroit, Michigan, on January 31, 1971, February 1 and 2, 1971

Sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Inc.


MODERATOR. We'd like to ask a few questions of the gentlemen up here. Mr. Craig, on that thing with the convoy, the people you saw a convoy run down an old man--it was an old woman--okay, who is the, or did the convoy commander-- what was his rank and did he do anything about it? Did he try and slow the convoy down or did they just run right over her?

CRAIG. The convoy was moving pretty slow and the old woman, like, most of the civilians over there sort of ignore the military people going down the road. And it didn't seem--like he didn't beep the horn or like do anything--like, he just moved up to the old woman and started nudging her and then I saw her fall out of the way. When the convoy had completely passed, like she was on the road, really like squashed.

MODERATOR. How many--was it a large convoy?

CRAIG. No, it was about five trucks, maybe six.

MODERATOR. Five or six trucks. Did anybody stop from the convoy and see...

CRAIG. No, they kept moving. They were loaded.

MODERATOR. They kept moving. Also, did you ever see the mistreatment of prisoners that we had taken? Viet Cong suspects or NVA?

CRAIG. Yes, I did. These people were only suspects taken from a village after we had a mine sweep team that was wiped out and I guess people more or less went out to pick up these suspects on a grudge basis. When they brought them back in they were loading them on a truck to take them to (?) and they were making a game out of it by grabbing their feet and their hands and swinging them up in the air to see how high they could throw them and land in the back of a duce-and-a-half truck which had a steel bed.

MODERATOR. Okay. Were there any senior NCOs present?

CRAIG. There was a Staff Sergeant present.

MODERATOR. Staff Sergeant--that's a staff NCO?

CRAIG. Yes, sir.

MODERATOR. Okay, Mr. Olimpieri, I wish you could... there's some testimony here...you witnessed a 70-year-old man wounded about 20 miles southwest of Da Nang. Could you elaborate on this, please?

OLIMPIERI. Yeah. We were in a sweep in a rice paddy and the flank man spotted somebody and told him to halt and started running and I fired an M79 over the trees. It went off and the man went down and our Lt. told us to go over there and check and see if he had an ID and find out if he was dead or what was happening with him. We went over there and he was still alive. He was about 70 years old. I believe he was some sort of religious, like a monk or something like that, from his dress. He had an ID card and he was in pretty bad shape so they didn't want to call in a MEDIVAC chopper so they told us to kill him. And the person who did the killing fired about six rounds in him and I had to tell him to stop. Right after that we told the Lt. what the situation was and he called in and said "Get rid of the...". He told us to get rid of the ID card before we killed him. He called in one VC body count.

MODERATOR. So this man who was killed wasn't even a suspect. He was civilian.

OLIMPIERI. Right. He didn't halt when he was told so they shot him.

MODERATOR. Mr. Nienke, I understand you were in the same unit with Mr. Olimpieri. Were you present when this happened?

NIENKE. Yes. Paul Olimpieri was my squad leader and I was in the same squad.

MODERATOR. So you can in fact substantiate this. He did tell the person who did the shooting to stop afterwards.

NIENKE. Correct.

MODERATOR. When you did take POWs were they tortured or what was the procedure or if you did take prisoners?

NIENKE. We took a lot of prisoners. Some of them were suspected VC, NVA, and they were usually brought to the compound, when we took prisoners, and turned over to an interpreter usually a South Vietnamese or Korean interpreter, and if the information couldn't be extracted from them they were tortured and sent back to the CP, the Command Post.

MODERATOR. What type of torture was used? Would you know?

NIENKE. Well, we were basically on the lines and we could hear screaming. I didn't see any torture, but we could hear screaming and somebody was being beaten.

MODERATOR. Mr. Sachs, you testified that there was prisoners thrown out of a helicopter. Could you elaborate upon that subject?

SACHS. This was one of the big games. Whenever any prisoners were taken, the crewmen in the helicopters were in charge also of loading, in addition to maintenance on the aircraft would blindfold the prisoners, holding the blindfold on with heavy wire, safety wire. They'd bind their hands, bind their feet and maybe bind them into a fetal position and upon landing, rather than releasing them so they could walk off the aircraft, they'd throw them out--get the grunts to mark how far they could throw them and have little contests. This was done with officers observing, at least all company grade officers. There may have been a Major present too.

The general attitude of the officers was (I was a Lt. at the time) "Well, there's somebody senior to me here and I guess if this wasn't SOP he'd be doing something to stop it," and since nobody senior ever did anything to stop it, the policy was promulgated and everybody assumed that this was what was right. We'd never had any instructions in the Geneva Convention. When we were given our Geneva Convention cards the lecture consisted of "If you're taken prisoner, all you gotta do is give 'em your name, rank, serial number, and date of birth. Here's your Geneva Convention cards. Go get 'em, Marines." We were never told anything about the way to treat prisoners if we were the capturers rather than the captee and this was very standard.

MODERATOR. Mr. Delay, on your testimony on the 24th of December 1969, twenty-five people were killed. Could you elaborate on this subject?

DELAY. Yeah. Christmas Eve shortly before midnight, a group of Marines from India Company had set up an ambush in Arizona territory and they killed twenty-five people. To my knowledge, it was never determined whether they were civilians or were, in fact, the enemy, but in examining the bodies they discovered one weapon. It was a 9-millimeter pistol. The next day, on Christmas Day, the battalion commander sent an order all about the battalion area, Hill 37, requesting any enemy weapons that were in the hands of individual Marines. A friend of mine from Delaware, ------ ------, had bought an AK47 from another Marine when he came in the country. I was ordered to take this weapon down to the command bunker and give it to Major ------, the executive officer of Third Battalion, 1st Marines. When I gave this to him he gave it to another Marine and told him to go smear some mud on it. There were several other weapons acquired in this manner and they were all sent in to regimental headquarters as being captured Christmas Eve with those bodies to make the group of people appear to be a heavily armed enemy force.

MODERATOR. Do you remember if there was a Christmas truce announced at that time?

DELAY. Yes, there was.

MODERATOR. So it could be said that at least on this level that the Christmas truce was broken?


MODERATOR. All right. Mr. Camile, you were in Artillery, FO. You were attached to the 1st Battalion, 12th Marines.

CAMILE. I was in the 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, attached to the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines.

MODERATOR. You have some testimony here on the burning of villages, cutting off of ears, cutting off of heads, calling in artillery on villages for games, women raped, napalm on villages, all sorts of testimony of crimes against the civilians. Could you go into just a few of these to let the people know how you treat the Vietnamese civilian?

CAMILE. All right. The calling in of artillery for games, the way it was worked would be the mortar forward observers would pick out certain houses in villages, friendly villages, and the mortar forward observers would call in mortars until they destroyed that house and then the artillery forward observer would call in artillery until he destroyed another house and whoever used the least amount of artillery, they won. And when we got back someone would have to buy someone else beers. The cutting off of heads--on Operation Stone--there was a Lt. Colonel there and two people had their heads cut off and put on stakes and stuck in the middle of the field. And we were notified that there was press covering the operation and that we couldn't do that anymore. Before we went out on the operation we were told not to waste our heat tablets on food but to save them for the villages because we were going to destroy all the villages and we didn't give the people any time to get out of the villages. We just went in and burned them and if people were in the villages yelling and screaming, we didn't help them. We just burned the houses as we went.

MODERATOR. Why did you use the heat tabs? Did you just light off the villages with matches or just throw the heat tabs in so it would keep burning?

CAMILE. We'd throw the heat tabs in because it was quicker and they'd keep burning. They couldn't put the heat tabs out. We'd throw them on top of the houses. People cut off ears and when they'd come back in off of an operation you'd make deals before you'd go out and like for every ear you cut off someone would buy you two beers, so people cut off ears. The torturing of prisoners was done with beatings and I saw one case where there were two prisoners. One prisoner was staked out on the ground and he was cut open while he was alive and part of his insides were cut out and they told the other prisoner if he didn't tell them what they wanted to know they would kill him. And I don't know what he said because he spoke in Vietnamese but then they killed him after that anyway.

MODERATOR. Were these primarily civilians or do you believe that they were, or do you know that they were actual NVA?

CAMILE. The way that we distinguished between civilians and VC, VC had weapons and civilians didn't and anybody that was dead was considered a VC. If you killed someone they said, "How do you know he's a VC?" and the general reply would be, "He's dead," and that was sufficient. When we went through the villages and searched people the women would have all their clothes taken off and the men would use their penises to probe them to make sure they didn't have anything hidden anywhere and this was raping but it was done as searching.

MODERATOR. As searching. Were there officers present there?

CAMILE. Yes, there were.

MODERATOR. Was this on a company level?

CAMILE. Company level.

MODERATOR. The company commander was around when this happened?

CAMILE. Right.

MODERATOR. Did he approve of it or did he look the other way or...

CAMILE. He never said not to or never said anything about it. The main thing was that if an operation was covered by the press there were certain things we weren't supposed to do, but if there was no press there, it was okay. I saw one case where a woman was shot by a sniper, one of our snipers. When we got up to her she was asking for water. And the Lt. said to kill her. So he ripped off her clothes, they stabbed her in both breasts, they spread-eagled her and shoved an E- tool up her vagina, an entrenching tool, and she was still asking for water. And then they took that out and they used a tree limb and then she was shot.

MODERATOR. Did the men in your outfit, or when you witnessed these things, did they seem to think that it was all right to do anything to the Vietnamese?

CAMILE. It wasn't like they were humans. We were conditioned to believe that this was for the good of the nation, the good of our country, and anything we did was okay. And when you shot someone you didn't think you were shooting at a human. They were a gook or a Commie and it was okay. And anything you did to them was okay because, like, they would tell you they'd do it to you if they had the chance.

MODERATOR. This was told you all through your training, then, in boot camp, in advanced training, and so forth and it was followed on then, right on through it?

CAMILE. Definitely.

MODERATOR. Mr. Campbell, you were, I believe, in the same unit that Mr. Camile was. There was a period of perhaps two months separating the time that he left and the time you came. Was this same unit type policy, was this carried on?

CAMPBELL. Some of the policy was not carried on because of an incident that happened in Quang Tri Province that Scott Camile witnessed and there was a big stink about it. There was some kind of investigation into it and I heard about it when I got to Nam and all the guys that were there before me talked about it and things were kind of cooled down and so a lot of this stuff when I first got there wasn't actually carried out. Bravo Company was to cool it for a while. The whole Battalion, actually, because we had a bad mark against us from the incident previous to the time I got there.

MODERATOR. One more question on that. The training--What did you consider the Vietnamese? Were they equal with you?

CAMPBELL. The Vietnamese were gooks. We didn't just call the VC or the NVA gooks. All Vietnamese were gooks and they were slant eyes. They were zips. They were Orientals and they were inferior to us. We were Americans. We were the civilized people. We didn't give a ------ about those people.

MODERATOR. Mr. Eckert, you stated that you witnessed an old Vietnamese woman shot by security guards in Quang Tri Province. Could you elaborate and tell us if she was a VC or a civilian?

ECKERT. I was up in Quang Tri visiting a friend of mine who was on security, which is like a rat patrol. They go out in the little jeeps and patrol the perimeter. We were out about five o'clock in the morning, just about coming in, when they spotted this old woman about--she looked about fifty but she was probably about twenty-five--and she was running across some trees and everyone in the jeep--no one was supposed to be out there, of course, it was not a free fire zone but from the hours from dusk to dawn there's not supposed to be anybody out there, and if there is, you're supposed to stop them, check them out, and eliminate them if you have to. So these guys decided that they would kind of play a little game and they let her run about fifty yards and they'd fire in front of her so she'd have to turn around, and then they'd let her run another direction and then they'd cut her off. This went on about a half hour until the time the sun started to come up. So then they decided it best to eliminate her as soon as possible, so they just ripped her off right there, and then the guy, the corporal that was in charge, he decided that they'd better check her out for an ID card just to be safe about it and they went over and, of course, she didn't have an ID card; she didn't have anything. Her only crime was being out probably tending to her buffalo before the time she should have been. These guys just took it upon themselves to waste her.

MODERATOR. What was the general attitude of the men in your unit toward the Vietnamese? Was this a common experience?

ECKERT. I think the feeling was pretty wide spread that these people were inferior to us and based on the training we received these people were not looked upon as even humans. If they had slanted eyes they were the enemy and the only good one was a dead one. And that was for the majority of the people in my unit, that was the only way they looked at it.

MODERATOR. Mr. Bishop, you've stated in your testimony that you witnessed your commanding officer killing a prisoner. Could you go into that a little bit, please?

BISHOP. Right. This would have been on operation in Quang Nam Province between August and September of '69. We had just gone on a search and destroy mission in the mountains and we made no contact. We were on our way back and we knew of enemy in the area. There was a lot of rock formations where we were and we were checking out the bunkers and the holes and everything in the rocks and we came across a wounded prisoner who was a wounded Vietnamese. He appeared to be VC or NVA. He didn't have a weapon. There were a few grenades and rounds laying around him. He seemed to have been in this hole for quite a few days. One of his legs was broken in half and the maggots had already gotten into one of his legs and they were living inside his leg while he was still alive.

Well, we dragged him out and we had quite a distance to go down the mountain to get back to the base camp and the squad that found him had to report him to the skipper. The skipper came down to where they had found the prisoner, had asked the people around him to get going and that he would tend to the prisoner. I was machine gunner at the time and I had to set up some security around him and I came up over a rock to watch what he was doing and he took out his .45 and he blew his head off. This, like, wasn't really the first time this ever happened.

This happened quite a few times during this operation because we were working in the mountains and any POWs that we had it was really hard to get them back down the mountains and it was the general consensus of everyone that there would be no POWs. That any people that we did find would be KIAs and they were reported as such. They weren't reported as POWs.

MODERATOR. Do you know of many instances were, say, MEDIVAC choppers were called in to bring out wounded Vietnamese, be they NVA, VC, or civilians?

BISHOP: Very few times. I hardly saw any MEDIVACS at all taking out wounded Vietnamese civilians or Vietnamese prisoners. Usually we didn't have any prisoners. The prisoners were exterminated.

MODERATOR. Mr. Sachs, you were a heliopter pilot. Dif you fly many MEDIVAC missions?

SACHS: I flew probably 500 MEDIVAC missions in the course of 13 months. I can't recall ever evacuating a Vietnamese civilian. Allied with this, there were times at night in bad weather during the monsoon season we could not launch a night MEDIVACunless it was an emergency. There were instances where a frag would come in; my co-pilot would go out to start the aircraft while I took down the numbers to get to the zone correctly and the major, the operations officer of the squadron, would say "Now hold it a minute. It's bad weather out there and you're going to get your [expletive deleted] killed and these are only ARVNSs. There aren't Americans. These are gook Marines. We don't need 'em. We're not going to risk ourselves for them." We would try to fly the mission anyway. But it was a squadron policy, unwritten, not to launch for gooks if you could possibly avoid it.

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