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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. Mr. Kenny, you mentioned earlier that shooting of unarmed civilians. You weren't supposed to shoot civilians at all unless you found that they were armed. Could you go into this and explain how they explained the dead bodies if there were no arms on them?

KENNY. Yes, in many instances, particularly Operation Brave Armada which took place in Quang Ngai Province in the summer of '69, circumstances would come up where there would be a patrol walking along, a single person or a small group of persons would be sighted at a distance of anywhere from, like, one to maybe five hundred meters. The standard procedure was to holler "Dong Lai!" which is "Stop." A lot of times the civilians or Vietnamese couldn't hear at that distance and if they didn't respond immediately, the procedure was to have the squad or platoon open up on these people. Upon approaching the bodies it was usually found that these people had no weapons at all; that the only reason they hadn't stopped was that they hadn't heard or were frightened, and in order to explain these civilian bodies it was standard procedure to carry several extra fragmentation grenades in the field and these would be planted on the bodies in order to make them a Viet Cong rather than a civilian.

MODERATOR. Do you know whether this went on in other units besides yourselves? I realize this is hearsay, but from things that other people have told you.

KENNY. Yes, I understand from other people I have talked to that this was fairly standard operating procedure.

MODERATOR. And usually the platoon commander was present when this happened?

KENNY. That's correct. On several instances, the platoon commander, a lieutenant, actually ordered this to be done.

MODERATOR. All right. Was anything ever said to you about civilians? What defined a VC? When they were dead, when it was just a body count?

KENNY. When a body was found, the general procedure was that if the body didn't have a weapon it was a Viet Cong suspect. If a weapon could be planted on it, it became a Viet Cong and if the body had any other equipment other than a weapon, that is any piece of uniform or other equipment, it became a North Vietnamese and this was the general criterion that our battalion used to discriminate.

MODERATOR. There's a program in Viet Nam called the Chieu Hoi program where they leaflet and they pass out these passes where the enemy, the NVA, or the VC with these passes can get safe conduct and be treated as respected human beings, not as POWs, but we have an instance, Mr. Camile, could you go into this, where Chieu Hois were shot and their passes were rejected?

CAMILE. We understood what the Chieu Hois were for, but we were told why should these people be able to shoot at us and then run and when they got close to being captured, come out with it and get away with it.

MODERATOR. Was this on orders or...?

CAMILE. It was on orders.

MODERATOR. And what was done with the Chieu Hoi pass after the person was killed?

CAMILE. Anytime a person was killed, if they had any identification or passes or anything that would get us in trouble, they were destroyed.

MODERATOR. The platoon commander was present when this happened?

CAMILE. Definitely.

MODERATOR. Mr. Nienke, it says here there was torture of POWs. Did you ever run into any Chieu Hois or any type of prisoners trying to surrender?

NIENKE. Yes, I ran into some prisoners that tried to surrender but we were a roving battalion in Vietnam and we went to a lot of different places, mostly way out in the bush, up in the mountains, not close to any major Army or Marine bases such as this, and we didn't believe in Chieu Hois. We didn't take prisoners. When we did take prisoners, like, we'd come into a village and there might have been somebody that we thought could have possibly been a prisoner or a POW or a VC, whether it might be an old lady or a young kid or something like this, they were always brought back to our local platoon or CO position where we set up that night and interrogated.

MODERATOR. Did you ever witness any of this interrogation?

NIENKE. Like I said before, we were mostly on the lines and I walked back, I'm not sure what province this was in, I walked back to talk to the captain because I was going on a listening post that night and I saw a young man and he was being beaten by an ARVN interpreter that came along with us. He was being beaten and I was told to leave the area.

MODERATOR. Okay, thank you very much. Before we open up for questions, these Marines are seated in chronological order of when they were in Vietnam. Mr. Craig was in Vietnam in '66 and at the end Mr. Eckert ends it with 1970. So we're trying to show that the policy that was carried out wasn't by one man when we first got there, wasn't by the next man when he got there, but it was standard operational procedure that was carried through from when we've been in Vietnam and it's still going on now. These are not isolated incidents. It happens in the Army and in the Marine Corps. I guess we could open up questions to the press or anybody who had questions.

QUESTION. I'm _____ of WBAX News and I have a couple of questions. First were there any GIs or people in your battalions that objected to these kind of atrocities or made any effort to stop it when they saw them?

MODERATOR. Is this a general question? Would anybody like to answer that? Mr. Camile.

CAMILE. When people first got there they were pretty idealistic about what you're supposed to do and what you're not supposed to do. The first time you see your buddies get killed, then that changes your mind and the group pressure, like, if people wouldn't do things, people would beat up other people and say "You either do it the way we do it or else you're going to get shot."

REPORTER. Did anyone actually ever stop an act of terrorism that he witnessed?

CAMILE. Only when the press was around and that would usually be Lt. Colonels or Majors.

REPORTER. How did they do that?

CAMILE. They would tell them that the press was there and not to do it and that was it.

REPORTER FROM AP. Question for Mr. Delay. What was the unit involved in the ambush you described?

DELAY. That was India Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines.

REPORTER FROM AP. Was it ever established who the people who were ambushed were? Where they came from?

DELAY. Not to my knowledge.

REPORTER FROM WJR. One of your men who was here before mentioned in your opening statement generally something about fellow Marines who didn't do their job would be purposefully wounded or something. Could you be more specific?

VET RESPONSE. Excuse me, would that be in reference to like fragging that's been in the newspapers lately where they throw hand grenades at their own officers an staff NCOs?

VET RESPONSE. The question was if some sort of value was put on men who were inadequate in the field. What I was basically familiar with was newer personnel coming in country and taking the place of somebody who was more experienced in the field and maybe causing unnecessary deaths in the field or something like this and the men felt that if they put a little money together somebody would have the guts to wound them or something so they'd be drawn out of the outfit.

QUESTION. Did you actually ever witness that happening?

VET RESPONSE. Yes, I have.

MODERATOR. Any of you gentlemen here on the panel, could you release any incidents of fragging that you ever heard of or saw? Mr. Campbell.

CAMPBELL. In January of 1969, a couple of miles northeast of An Hoa, in the Arizona territory, my unit was temporarily assigned to Operation Taylor Common. We moved out, we waited until dark and moved out into a very heavily booby-trapped area. The lead platoon hit a booby trap. The word was passed back that it was the platoon commander that hit it and then the CO went up to check to see how the platoon commander was and there was another explosion. The initial word came back that the CO hit a booby trap.

Now from the first blast, the first booby trap that was hit, the platoon commander's radio man was also hit. He went to the hospital and was back to the unit about two weeks later. He told me and several other people, two or three other people privately, that the second booby trap was not a booby trap but that one of the men from the platoon of the commander who hit the first booby trap fragged the company commander because he was very upset about the platoon commander hitting the booby trap. He was upset about the CO waiting until dark to move out. He thought it was a stupid move and figured that got his platoon commander, and the men in that platoon were pretty tight with that platoon commander. I witnessed the explosion. I witnessed the flash, but it was dark. I couldn't see the guy throw the grenade. I didn't know that he threw it until the platoon radio man explained this to me.

MODERATOR. Mr. Bangert, you said you had an incident of this.

BANGERT. I guess the majority of us had been in country for about nine or ten months and this new guy came. The new guy was a lifer. A lifer was in charge of the mail. He stopped the mail for about three days because he wanted his troops to shine their shoes or something or clean up or shave or get a haircut and he stopped the mail. So someone told him if we don't get mail by noon on a specific day before midnight, that night you're going to be offered. But since he was hard and he was in the Korean War, he thought that what happened in the old Marine Corps is happening in Vietnam, he persisted and the mail wasn't gotten out and before midnight he was fragged. And the mail did come through the next day.

QUESTION. A couple of people on the panel mentioned brutalities to women. Is rape and other sexual brutalities to women--brutality involving the vagina in particular--is that a usual feature of people on tour in Vietnam?

SIMPSON. Me myself, I think it's pretty usual over there. Cause you'll be out in the bush and you'll meet women out on the trails. And the Marines over there, just like the Army and the Navy, are human. But they just don't go about it the right way--they might stick a rifle in a woman's head and say, "Take your clothes off." That's the way it's done over there. Cause they're not treated as human beings over there, they're treated as dirt.

QUESTION. Another question was: In your training is anything ever said about women in particular? Is there anything besides just being "gooks"? Are you encouraged to rape women in any way? Or think of them in any particular way?

PANELIST. Yes, in ITR in the Marine Corps you go through Infantry Training Regiment. They have a class on when you interrogate a POW or a villager what to look for--where they hide things. They stress over and over that a woman has more available places to hide things like maps or anything than a male. So it took about twenty minutes to cover where to search for a male suspect, and about an hour on a female. It was like everyone was getting into it pretty heavy like, you know, wishful-thinking, you know. But it seems to me that the philosophy over there is like somehow or another we're more afraid of females than we are of males, because, I don't know why, but the female was always like you never knew where you stood, so you went overboard in your job with her in all your daily actions. You doubled whatever you would do for a male. Because we always heard these stories that, like, the fiercest fighters were the females over there. You know, we didn't want to be embarrassed by getting our asses kicked by a bunch of females. So that's about it.

QUESTION. In terms of practice does that mean that women were treated especially rudely? You said "double everything."

PANELIST. Yes, I would say so. Because it makes a lasting impression on some guy--some "zip"--that's watching his daughter worked over. So we have a better opportunity of keeping him in line by working her over.

MODERATOR. Mr. Bangert did you have something to add?

BANGERT. Yeah, I think that in regards to women in Vietnam, first of all, you get this feeling sometimes when you're over there that you don't even think of their sex. This is really disgusting. You don't even think of them as human beings, they're "gooks." And they're objects; they're not human, they're objects. The general rule was a Vietnamese who is dead is confirmed Viet Cong and one who is living is a Viet Cong suspect. And that's the way it was. Back to this specific instance where I talk about the disembowelment of the women--I think the person involved was a freaked out sexist, if that's what you're trying to get at. I think maybe he had problems. He had to be--he was in the Army for 20 years.

QUESTION. You were talking about mutilation of bodies and, in general, murder. I was wondering--how did you get rid of all these mutilated bodies?

CAMPBELL. A particular way that the people I was with got rid of bodies was on Operation Meade River in November '68. There were some mutilated bodies. The Engineers blew them with C-4. They put 40 pounds of C-4 underneath the bodies and blew them. This was done for kicks; not just to dispose of them, but for kicks, to watch them go up. Another thing, I wasn't given a chance to make this clear earlier and I'd like to make this clear now. When we were showing the policies within the same unit changing--from when Scott Camile was there to when I was there a few months later--I mentioned the fact that things cooled down after the incidents that he explained. But they picked up again about three or four months later. And then came the blowing away of vills and the mutilation of bodies and stuff. All the incidents that I described earlier.

QUESTION. Was there discrimination between the black soldiers and the white soldiers in the service, or were the white soldiers supposed to be superior to the black soldiers? I mean, did they tell you anything about that over here before you went over there, or was it put into practice anyways over there?

PANELIST. I went to Boot Camp at Paris Island and we had a lot of brothers from Philly there and the common term used in discussing the brothers amongst the DIs, the drill instructors, was they were "niggers." "Come here nigger, do this nigger." I think this had a carry-over effect throughout the entire training. It always seemed to be that the brothers were always looked down upon.

QUESTION. I just wondered if there were any correspondents, or any newsmen, or any of the media that was present during these brutalities that these men know of and just ignored reporting any of these things?

BANGERT. I testified to the fact of the bodies outside Quang Tri City. Sometimes people from the press would drive through there, specifically women journalists who were readily welcomed into the unit. There was always this whitewashing thing. Well, sometimes these people would go right past the bodies and come into our base to get a story. They were kept away from the enlisted men, away from the people who were involved. The typical thing was to take them down to the Officers Club, get them soused, get them in a flight suit, and take them out and fly them through Quang Tri Province. And if they wanted to, they could see what it's like to shoot a gun. That happened a couple of times when I was there.

QUESTION. My impression is that it doesn't sound like even if the newsmen had gotten to you that any of you would have been willing to talk about these things at that time. Is that true?

CAMILE. That's very true.

MODERATOR. On Tuesday when the 25th Division gives their testimony, there are former PIO men from MACV who will talk about the civilian press at length. These questions will be answered then.

QUESTION. Mr. Sachs, you told about a prisoner being pushed from a helicopter. It wasn't clear whether or not that helicopter was on the ground or not.

SACHS. The incident I was talking about when they were making to see who could throw the gooks farther? It was done on the ground because it's hard to mark them from 3,000 feet. However, it was an official policy that after every mission you fly, you have to fill out an After-Mission Report to show them all the good stuff you did during the day. Like, how many pounds of rice you carried, and how many Americans and how many gooks you carried. Well, we were given very specific oral orders from the Colonel on down: When you are carrying VCS, Viet Cong Suspects, you don't count them when you get in the airplane, you count them when they get out of the airplane because the numbers don't always jibe. And if one of them happens to get scared of heights and decides to get out, or something like that, or if he looks like maybe he's going to try and raise some shit in the belly of the aircraft and the crewman has to kick him out, that's none of your business; it didn't really happen because you counted the men when they got off.

QUESTION. Did you ever witness anyone being thrown from a helicopter in the air?

SACHS. I'm a pilot and they're below you and behind you and you can't see.

PANELIST. Another method they used in regard to helicopters is sometimes when they captured three suspected enemy people they might take them for a joy-ride. They usually tie them up and put a blindfold on them and they'll put maybe three guys in a C-54 and fly off. They'll ask the guys in the air, "What is your unit?" and all this jive, and if they don't cooperate, they just might take one of them and say, "Okay, take off the blindfold," and just shove him right out. Now this gives us a psychological edge because apparently it works. When the other two guys come down to the ground, they're scared and they cooperate more readily than they ever would before.

MODERATOR. Mr. Camile, you had some actual instances of observing Vietnamese being thrown out of helicopters.

CAMILE. On Operation Stone, I was on the ground and I didn't see this Vietnamese pushed out, but I did see him come flying out and land over where we were.

MODERATOR. Perhaps he decided to take a little walk or something. Any more questions?

QUESTION. Mr. Bishop, could you elaborate some more on the circumstances of the killing of the four NVA nurses?

BISHOP. I didn't say it in the testimony, but it's written on my testimony sheet. The operation was Meade River, a very large scale operation. ROK (Korean) Marines were involved, U.S. Marines and Army were involved, and the ARVNs were involved. A cordon was set up outside of Da Nang and a big squeeze was put on right outside the airport. There were quite a few body counts as far as the enemy went. It was something like 1,300. The allies had something like 700 or 800 so-called dead--we never knew. On part of the operation, we had just gotten through making heavy contact and we went through a bunker system. It was a large bunker system and we found hospitals. We came across four NVA nurses that were hiding out in one of the bunkers. They were nurses, we found medical supplies on them and they had black uniforms on. The ROK Marines came up to us and one of their officers asked us if they could have the NVA nurses, that they would take care of them because we were sweeping through the area, and that we couldn't take care of any POWs. So, I imagine, that instead of killing them, we handed them over to the ROK Marines. Well, we were still in the area when the ROK Marines started tying them down to the ground.

They tied their hands to the ground, they spread-eagled them; they raped all four. There was like maybe ten or twenty ROK Marines involved. They tortured them, they sliced off their breasts, they used machetes and cut off parts of their fingers and things like this. When that was over, they took pop-up flares (which are aluminum canisters you hit with your hand; it'll shoot maybe 100-200 feet in the air)--they stuck them up their vaginas--all four of them--and they blew the top of their heads off.

MODERATOR. Any further questions?

QUESTION. It was stated by one veteran, I don't know which, that on the last day, and I believe it was at Camp Pendleton, they were given a briefing by a sergeant, apparently, where they skinned a rabbit, disemboweled it, and he told them or instructed them that this is how it's done. Can anybody else corroborate that?

MODERATOR. How many guys in Marine Staging saw this--the last day in Staging Battalion? I saw it myself in Staging Battalion. All those who saw it please raise your hands again.

MODERATOR. The question for those who didn't hear it was in reference to the skinning of a rabbit as an example of "This is how it's done in Vietnam," or, "This is what happens in Vietnam." In answer to the question, most of the Marines here did see it.

QUESTION. This is still part of Basic Training? Are we to understand that this is part of the course before combat in Vietnam?

MODERATOR. This is part of the Staging Battalion which is the last day before you go to Vietnam. Could we have the show of hands again?

[Note: A majority of hands were raised.]

QUESTION. Are there officers present at this?

PANELIST. Yes. It usually was a company formation. They made quite a spectacle of this. They made a moccasin out of the skin. A couple of dudes were playing with the organs. It was a really cool thing, I guess.

MODERATOR. We'll now show Mr. Camile's slides and he'll narrate them.

CAMILE. (First Slide) This particular picture is what the houses generally look like when we go through and throw our heat tablets in. They catch on fire very quickly and there are people in these houses. The houses are made of grass. Sometimes if the people don't get out before we throw the heat tabs in, they don't get out at all. (Next Slide) We carried aces of spades and it was kind of like a game. When we killed someone, you plant an ace of spades on him and you'd pose with the body because it was something really cool to do, to show everybody how many people you'd killed. (Next Slide) These are bodies that attacked us at a place called Alpha North and after we killed them, they were inside our position, we threw them on trucks and took them to the middle of the village. We dumped them out in the middle of the village. We dumped them out in the middle and left them there like that. We don't treat any bodies like they were human bodies. It was just like throwing out garbage.

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