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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.

Part II

MODERATOR. Thank you very much, Robert. The next testifier we have is former E-5 David Stark. David.

STARK. Yes, I'd first like to clarify my unit which was the 524th Military Intelligence Detachment. It had no direct connection with the 1st Air Cav. I'm not part of this other unit. I was in Vietnam from October '67 to October '68 and I had the opportunity, the unfortunate opportunity to be there during the original Tet offensive in Saigon. I have two photographs here that were taken from my house. I lived in a rented French building in Cholon, which is a district of Saigon. The picture on the top right I took one day from a water tower on the roof of our house. That fence, the barbed wire fence in the foreground which isn't clear to people sitting too far away, is on the back perimeter of our house. The picture encompasses an area of approximately one quarter square mile. It was taken approximately January 29 or January 30 right about at the beginning of the Tet offensive. The second picture, on the bottom left, which is labeled "after," was taken just less than two full days later. This was a result of a bombing run called in on a rumored number of 300 Viet Cong living in the area. Where that information came from, I'm not quite sure. That was not part of our unit's doing. There was a Korean compound down the street. A Korean general's house who was active in that movement and I think the figure 300 came from them. The Koreans later related to us during the clean-up phase they reportedly found somewhere from 1,300 to 1,400 bodies. Due to the nature of my job in Saigon I had friends in other units (intelligence units in Saigon) and one of these friends took me to an interrogation compound located between Cholon and Tan Son Nhut. I myself, at that compound, witnessed minor beatings of Viet Cong prisoners, especially in chairs where they would be strapped down and their legs would be beaten. I also saw in that same compound (I didn't see it used on an individual), but I saw an apparatus I can only describe. It was a fence about seven feet high and it had high hooks mounted in the wood. I was told that the prisoners were stripped of clothes, placed up against this fence, and approximately ten to fifteen feet away there was a pipe sticking out of the ground on the top of which there was mounted a high pressure water nozzle, the same type you would be familiar with on a fire hose. I was informed that prisoners would be placed up against this fence and this high pressure hose would be turned on, for any period deemed necessary, I guess. I also saw in the building a table with a piece of apparatus on it that I was told was the inside of a field telephone and it did look like a field telephone to me. I have seen them a number of times. This was taken out of the case and it had two long wires, electric probes that I was told were used on all parts of prisoners' bodies for electronic type torture. The way this operates, there is a crank on a field telephone and when this is cranked it builds up enough power inside to transmit over the wires a strong enough signal to ring the other person's telephone. I don't know the voltage of it, or what, but I understand it is very painful. I was just told that the faster you crank it, the higher the voltage, so I guess the more you crank it, the more information you got.

MODERATOR. David, and to the rest of the panel also, if there is a feeling that I am baiting you into answering a question, just tell me to cool it. David, how many North Vietnamese were supposed to have occupied Cholon?

STARK. The entire area of Cholon?

MODERATOR. Right. That vicinity that was burned.

STARK. That vicinity in the pictures?


STARK. I couldn't really estimate that number because the area was a refugee area--not a sanctioned government refugee area--just an area where people saw space and moved into and built houses out of whatever was available. It was a very highly concentrated population, I'm sure, because the houses are just stacked on top of each other and right next door to each other and many people live in single room dwellings, so I'm sure there were several, several thousand people in that area.

MODERATOR. What about the enemy activity in that area? How many people? The troops, an estimate that was related to you?

STARK. Activity?

MODERATOR. The enemy activity, right. The troops that had supposedly moved into Cholon?

STARK. Oh, well at the onset of the Tet offensive there was a great deal of fire activity all throughout the city. The highest concentration of activity was in Cholon, Phu Lam and Phu To which are all suburbanite districts of Saigon. It's not in downtown Saigon. It's as a neighboring area within the city limits would look to Detroit, I'm sure. And the activity was very indiscriminate sniper fire, occasional rocket rounds, mortar rounds, this sort of thing.

MODERATOR. But yet there were thirteen hundred bodies counted?

STARK. Approximately thirteen hundred bodies were picked up after, during clean-up period.

MODERATOR. All right. Thank you, David. The next speaker, a former E-5, James Duffy. James.

DUFFY. I served as a machine gunner, on a CH-47, Chinook helicopter with Company A, 228th Aviation Battalion, 1st Air Cav. Division, from February '67 to April '68. Most of our missions we flew alone and we had a wide variety of missions. One such mission was a gas run where we loaded the ship with twelve 55 gallon drums of what I was told was CS gas which we dropped into a well traveled path in the An Lo Valley. We were told that gas would be effective for a number of weeks; it would remain there. Another mission was a defoliation run on our own perimeter in An Khe--that was the base camp at the time. The perimeter was occupied by GIs, grunts, pulling guard duty, and also Vietnamese civilians from the neighboring town who were allowed to chop wood there. So both our people and theirs were exposed to the defoliants. And when I first became a gunner, I was told the company policy was to return fire from all guns when fired on. To continue fire until our supply of ammo had been expended. This was usually thousand round belts that we kept in each of the two M-60 machine guns. Also the crew chief, myself, and the flight engineer had M-16s with as much ammunition as we wished to fire. It was quite usual that there would be a sniper outside a village in the foliage, in the trees, and if we took fire from one sniper we'd return fire on that sniper and then continue to spray the entire village with machine gun fire and M-16 ammunition until we either ran out of ammunition or we had flown so far away from the village that we could no longer reach them with the weapons. Now, the thousand round belts we used in the machine guns were usually straight tracer rounds so during the dry season (when the Vietnamese live in these hootches made of C-ration cans and straw huts) the tracers would set fire to the huts so the ones that we didn't get with ammunition we could try and burn them out. The free fire zones were posted on the operation map in the operations tent and this gave us a policy to kill anything that moved within that area. On one operation, I was flying an LZ. We took fire when a round hit one of our fuel pods and one of the jobs of a crew member is also to pull maintenance on the ship--and the more maintenance you have to pull the less flying time and the less chance you get to kill gooks because that's the mental attitude that the army forces you into. So we were kind of mad that we had taken a round in the fuel pod, so after leaving the LZ we requested the pilot fly over the area we had taken the round from so we could get whoever it was that had fired at us. We were all pretty up- tight about it, and as soon as we left the LZ, I noticed a contingent of Vietnamese peasants chopping wood and I decided, well, if the Vietnamese can fire a round into my ship, then I can fire as many rounds into the Vietnamese as I want to.

So I swung my machine gun onto this group of peasants and opened fire. Fortunately, the gun jammed after one or two rounds, which was pretty lucky, because this group of peasants turned out to be a work party hired by the government to clear the area and there was GIs guarding them about fifty meters away. But my mind was so psyched out into killing gooks that I never even paid attention to look around and see where I was. I just saw gooks and I wanted to kill them. I was pretty scared after that happened because that sort of violated the unwritten code that you can do anything you want to as long as you don't get caught. That's, I guess that's, what happened with the My Lai incident. Those guys just were following the same pattern that we've been doing there for ten years, but they had the misfortune of getting caught at it. And rotor wash from the helicopters was a very effective and sadistic weapon. Chinook helicopter is basically a cargo ship; that's what it's designed for. I forget the weight you can pick up with one, but when you've got a full load, you can put out a rotor wash at certain times that approaches a hundred miles an hour. Some of the things we used to like to do was in the morning the people from hamlets and villages go out to a designated field to defecate and if we'd be on an early morning mission, we'd spot them, make a swoop in, and we could get up to a hundred twenty knots, about a hundred thirty miles an hour. And as you swoop in with the ship, just as you approach, the pilot would flair the ship on its tail, and the rotor wash would spin around and hit the people, blowing them over through the sand and their defecation. This was one of the things that we did for kicks. Rotor wash was also used to blow down the huts, literally blow down the villages; like I said they are made out of straw and junk. So we'd come in and flair on a ship and just blow away a person's house. Also, the Vietnamese, when they've harvested a crop of rice, put it out on these large pans to dry and that harvest is what is supposed to maintain them for that season--what they're supposed to live on. We'd come in to flair the ship, and let the rotor wash blow the rice, blow their entire supply of food for that harvest over a large area. And then laugh, as we'd watch them running around trying to pick up individual pieces of rice out of a rice paddy. Over an area larger than this room. It was also used to spook water buffalo. The Vietnamese when they plow their fields and rice paddies they follow the rows of plants which are fairly straight. And if we'd spot somebody plowing his field, we'd make a run on him. That would spook the water buffalo and the water buffalo would take off in any old direction with that plow ripping up the field and usually the farmer being dragged with the plow through the field. Once we were picking up a sling load of ammunition and the army had a habit of putting pick-up zones and drop-off zones right near well traveled roads, you know, roads traveled by the local villages.

So we were hovering over this sling load of, I think it was Howitzer rounds, and I was hanging out the window observing what appeared to be a twelve year old Vietnamese boy standing there watching us. And as we lifted up with the load, the rotor wash increased because of the weight and it blew him into the path of a 2 1/2 ton truck with trailer which killed him instantly. The psychological effect is something I'd like to bring out here to you people. When that happened, my first reaction, and my flight engineer who was observing this too, our first reaction was, I guess, you would call normal. It would be horror, pain, and then I realized that I caught myself immediately and I said, "No, you can't do that," because you develop a shell while you are in the military. They brainwash you. They, they take all the humanness out of you and you develop this crush which enables you to survive in Vietnam. And if you let that protective shell down, even for a second, it could mean, it's the difference between you flipping out or managing to make it through. And I caught myself letting the shell down and I, and I, tightened up right away. And started laughing about it and joking about it with the flight engineer. He sort of moved on the same logic because I guess he thought it sort of knocked his shell down too.

MODERATOR. Excuse me, Duff. We're running out of time.

DUFFY. All right.

MODERATOR. Quickly, could you go over the mistreatment of the POWs and the feeding of the Vietnamese the poisonous food?

DUFFY. All right, all right. When we picked up POWs to transfer them to a POW camp, they'd be blindfolded and their hands would usually be tied behind their backs. On a few occasions, not often, I and other people would pistol whip them with our .45s and when that wasn't cool to do, because maybe we had a, you know, somebody flying the ship that really wasn't hip to how to off the gooks, then we'd just kick them around as we walked around the ship. Also, on the ship, when we hit the LZ at times, we'd drop the ramp down halfway and, like I said, these people are blindfolded and tied and we walked them off the ramp and it was literally like walking off this table blindfolded with your hands tied. So they'd just fall flat on their faces. Also, during test flights, we'd go to a specific area where the pilots could check out the controls and this would attract a lot of Vietnamese. We'd throw out the C-ration cans that we didn't like and, after they thought they were getting a lot of food, we'd hand them cans of 5606 which is helicopter hydraulic fluid and very poisonous. And I observed one kid, that I handed a can of hydraulic fluid, take a good healthy drink out of it before his mother knocked it over, knocked it right out of his hand, and he was immediately sick right after that happened. In one incident we were flying back from Khe Sanh Valley and we took fire from six NVA which caused the ship to explode in the air and make a crash landing. Now, on the way down, because our company policy was to just keep on firing, I had fired at all the military targets I could spot and I looked out across the field and I spotted a Vietnamese woman peasant running away from the ship. I fired a burst of about six or seven rounds into her back before we fired, before we hit the ground. When I was being questioned as to what happened about two weeks later by a captain in my company, I told him what we did and what I did. We both had a good laugh about it. That was pretty much company policy. Also in Hue, during the Tet offensive in '68, I observed American fighters and bombers (Phantoms) dropping bombs and napalm into very crowded streets full of civilians. I don't know how many people were wiped out in that place. They blamed that on the NVA. Also, I was flying tail gun at the time on one mission into Hue, and just for kicks, the pilot told me to spray a house with my M-16. I don't know if the house was occupied, but the area was occupied by civilians. This was common policy. Kill anything you want to kill, any time you want to kill it, just don't get caught.

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