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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. Thank you, James. Before we go on to the next one I'd like to ask all the veterans that are in here to please leave and give your seats to people that are trying to come in. It's imperative that these people get in and understand know what's going on.

Our next speaker is Kenneth Ruth, an ex-E-4 of the United States Army.

RUTH. My job while in the service was medic. I was attached out to different companies at different times. I'd just like to say that each of us could go on all day talking about atrocities that we witnessed, every veteran in here, not just the guys up here. Each of us saw many, and many of them we all participated in, so I am not going to run into a whole bunch that I saw. I'd just like to name a few. At one time we were securing, which means that we set up a perimeter around it to protect it, and you know you might sit there for four, five, six, seven days, and so we wanted to make sure our weapons were in order. What you do is you test-fire your weapons, just shoot 'em off for about two minutes or so into the distance. Well, we were told one day that we had to test-fire our weapons and be prepared to do it. Well, many of us knew that on the other side of these bushes, out in front of us, was a whole village of people, and that if we did test-fire our weapons, those people would be in jeopardy. So I approached the platoon leader and the platoon sergeant and told them this--that there were civilians on the other side of the village beyond the bushes. I was told first of all by the platoon leader that he just didn't care, and when I told the platoon sergeant about it, he said he'd shoot a Montagnard as fast as he would a Cong, so it didn't make any difference to him. Nobody else cared. This is the general attitude. You know, Vietnamese aren't humans, they're targets. And one other thing I'd just like to point out is when I was one time attached out to the Special Forces once in a while they needed a medic, and I was usually, I usually "volunteered" to go along with them. And one time--I have some slides of this--can you show these slides?

MODERATOR. Can we have those lights dimmed, please?

RUTH. See, I'd just like to point out some of the intelligence and modern interrogation methods used by the modern and sophisticated war machine. This first one will just give you an idea of how we go into a village and get information on enemy movements and things like this. This is our Special Forces. You can't see it too well, but that big guy there, the guy on the far side of the picture there, he's a Special Forces officer or probably an enlisted man, a sergeant, and first of all we go into the village and ask people who they think are Viet Cong.

(Next Slide) So we were given two people that we were told were Viet Cong. See, what we do, is we took these two guys out in the field and we strung one of 'em up in a tree by his arms, tied his hands behind him, and then hung him in the tree.

(Next Slide) There you can clearly see the prisoner being strung up into the tree. Somebody point out that Special Forces man on the far side of the picture, the big guy. That's him right there. That's a Special Forces man. He's running the whole show, and this is all under their command and everything, and it's not the Vietnamese. Now what we did to this man when we strung him up is that he was stripped of all his clothes, and then they tied a string around his testicles and a man backed up about ten feet and told him what would happen if he didn't answer any questions the way they saw fit. Now all we had to go by was that we were told that he was a suspect by other villagers. Now the other villagers weren't going to point out themselves, and somebody had to be pointed out. So they'd ask a guy a question: "Do you know of any enemy units in this area?" and if he said, "No," the guy that was holding that string would just yank on it as hard as he could about ten times, and this guy would be just flying all over the place in pain. And this is what they used--I mean anybody's just going to say anything in a situation like this to get answers out of him. And then when they were done, when the guy was just limp and hanging there, the South Vietnamese indigenous troops who worked with the Special Forces, went up there and then to get kicks, would run their knife through his ear and carve little superficial wounds on his body, not deep ones, but just you know, trickle it down his body to make fun of the guy.

We took a guy to the other end of the village, and we didn't do this, all we did was burn his penis with a cigarette to get answers out of him. And if--I'm sure people understand what that would be like if it was done to yourself or to your children. Like I said, this is just one of the things I saw. I could just go on all day. All of us could. And every GI in this room could say the same thing. But it's not just us. Everybody knows this. It isn't just Lieutenant Calley. I was involved, I know there are so many other people involved in all this American policy in Vietnam.

MODERATOR. I might state that Kenneth Ruth is a police officer and is working on his Master's Degree in Education. All right, the last testimony that we have to give is from myself. I am Michael Hunter, 24. I served in Vietnam two tours, the first tour was from the 1st Air Cav. Bravo Company 5th/7th Air Cav. and the second tour was the 1st Infantry Division, I Company, 75th Rangers, Lurps (LRRP) about 40 miles west of Saigon. The first thing I want to bring to you is that I arrived in Vietnam during the Tet offensive and Bravo Company, 5/7 was already outside of Hue. I flew out, and the second day that I was in the field, we came across a boy--he couldn't have been any older than fourteen--his arm was half, I'd say, 90% blown off. It was hanging by the skin, I mean it was hanging up to here. I requested--as a matter of fact, I didn't request--I demanded, from the medical NCO, that we had there that something be done about him or else he'd die. He was so far gone, as far as deterioration, that he was stinking. You couldn't stand too near his body. The NCO said, "No, I don't want to waste my medical gear. It's no use now wasting our medical gear, because if we make contact we're going to need it. We don't have that readily available medivac or the ships to supply us medical aid." I told my CO and he said, "Well, we don't have the time to stop and help him. He's going to die anyhow. We've got to move on because we got a mission to perform." That was the first incident. Later, in between Hue Phu Bai and Camp Evans, which is also in the I Corps area, we came across and had an awful lot of fire fights with mainly the NVA. After the fire fight was over and the NVA were laying on the trail, we would approach the bodies, we'd shoot again to make sure that they were dead and then we'd carve--and I would say we, meaning myself also--carve Cav. patches (what you see on that gentleman's arm right there) into his chest. And after that, if that wasn't sufficient (and this was done quite a few times) the heads of the bodies were cut off and they were placed on stakes, jammed down on stakes, and were placed in the middle of the trails and a Cav. patch was hammered into the top of his head, with Bravo Company's "B" written right on the top. Now this hasn't happened just once or twice, it happened five or six times. It didn't happen just in Hue, Phu Bai, it happened around the Tay Ninh Province also, when the First Cav. moved north or south. We also dug up bodies, bodies that had been dead, gone for about three or four weeks when we weren't making that much contact, and we would take the skulls and do the exact same thing--put them on the stakes on the trail, put another Cav. patch on it, plus we would use them for body counts, repeated body counts, and what I'm saying, so no one will just misquote me, is that the body count given to the American public is extremely exaggerated. Every bunch of hootches that we came across (and I may say we didn't take activity around the roads unless we were resting) of huts numbering them six to twelve and on up, whether they were occupied or unoccupied, were burned.

And if we didn't have the grenades or satchel charges to destroy the sanctuary holes for the Vietnamese, then we would tear them apart by hand. This was a standing order for Bravo Company 5/7, and it was standing order for 5/7 alone. As far as CS gas, we always used CS. CS is the most powerful gas that can be used that will not kill you. It can create bodily harm if you're close--extremely bad burns. My CO of Bravo Company, 5/7 gave an order, or I should say, gave permission to all the senior NCOs the officers, and the enlisted men who were on guard on the outposts, to use CS on the civilian population who were congregating around the fences or the wires. Now this particular area was a rest area no more than 50 feet from a village directly on a road, and directly between a road and a bridge. The Vietnamese farms or their property lay on the other side of the bridge. They had to go past this bridge to get there. Smoke was constantly thrown outside the fence area at people walking by, and when the kids, and I do mean kids, four years old, ranging up to sixteen years old, came around the fence to sell GIs cigarettes, or candy, or beg for food, they were CSed. And what I mean is they were gassed. This didn't happen just once, it happened constantly, the whole time we were there and when we were in the base camp also. And when we didn't use CS out of the grenade we used CS out of the canister round of the M-79, which, if you're hit by it, you can be killed. We were in a free fire zone just outside of Camp Evans and an old man, age 68, (I must say we could not tell that he was 68 at the time) was approximately 100 meters away from us cutting pineapple. It was very visible that he was cutting pineapple, and that he did not have a weapon. What he had was a machete. Machetes are carried in Vietnam by almost every civilian that works in the field and by the children. I was ordered by the senior NCO that was backing me up at the time, right behind me, to open fire. I opened fire and killed the man that was 68 years old. We found identification on his body stating that he was not a VC, not a Viet Cong, not an NVA. He was a civilian and he did live in the nearby village, which was no more (and this was a free fire zone, I may add) than 1,200 meters away. That was his farmland that he was cutting down--the crops on the farmland. It was reported to the battalion that this was a body count. He had a weapon--the weapon being the machete. Suspected VC. I served with I Company, 75th Rangers, excuse me, H Company, with the 1st Air Cav., and as you know, we do not have permission to cross the Laotian border. Up around A Shau Valley, which you might have heard of, or might not have, we crossed twice. When I say we, I say the teams that I was with, and we located enemy positions--how large the enemy was, its capability, and so on. That is not the thing. The fact is, we crossed a border line illegally. And you haven't heard anything about that yet.

QUESTION. Could you give us a date on that, Mike?

MODERATOR. As far as a date, as far as crossing the Laotian border, that took place in March 1968, twice. That was just prior to the Ashau Valley incident involving the 1st Air Cav., I, One Second. I also served with the 75th Rangers, I Company, attached to the 1st Infantry Division, just outside of Saigon. Prior to my getting there, in March, April, May, and June of '69, one helicopter of Lurps was sent across the Cambodian borderline, and I may add this was also illegal because we had no right in sending troops over there. The chopper was lost. It was hit by a B-40 rocket round and exploded in mid-air. We lost seven Lurps and four crewmen. Another time, another team was sent across the borderline, dropped off just short of it, walked across, and was never heard from again. To this day they are missing in action, presumably killed in Vietnam. Now, as far as atrocities, my company, Bravo Company, 5th of the 7th, when we were outside of Hue shortly after the Tet offensive, went into a village (and this happened repeatedly afterwards) and searched for enemy activity. We encountered a large amount of civilian population. The civilian population was brought out to one end of the village, and the women, who were guarded by a squad and a squad leader at that time, were separated. I might say the young women were separated from their children and the older women and the older men, the elderly men. They were told at gunpoint that if they did not submit to the sexual desires of any GI who was there guarding them, they would be shot for running away. And this was best put in the language as best possible for the people that cannot speak Vietnamese and they got the point across because three women submitted to the raping of the GIs. I think that pretty well does it.

QUESTION. Mike, back to the body count. Were the body counts just enemy or were they men, women, and children? You said they were grossly exaggerated. Does that include the men, women, and children?

MODERATOR. A body count is a body count. I mean, that's exactly what it says. When the battalion commander calls up and says he wants a body count, if there are men, women, and children laying out there, he gets a body count of that many people. And usually we'd count about five bodies and it gets back there and it's about 25 or 15 bodies.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST. I'd like to add something to that. I know on numerous occasions, when we would receive contact in the field, we would call in support--artillery, gunships (by that I mean helicopters) and, if necessary, jet fighters. Now, every time someone is killed, there is kind of a dispute over who got him. So the Air Force claims one, the Artillery claims one, the Infantry claims one, and the gunships claim one. So you've got only one body, but you've got four people claiming it. Ah, I don't know, it was my distinct impression that during periods that I was over there, that we weren't winning the war.

MODERATOR. OK, I'll open it up to the press now and to questions, for a brief amount of time because we are way overtime as it is now.

QUESTION. I am not clear on the point I think Robert was making, or somebody else over there, about the role of the point men and how the black GIs are used as point men. This is not clear. I don't understand that. Could you amplify that point?

ANSWER. The point man is a function where the company moves in three ranks, somewhat like a wedge. The point man is in the middle column in the front. If there are any booby traps with a wire, the wire hits him. Any enemy in a concealed position waiting to ambush, day or night--the point man sees him. The point man should be super-alert, super-apprehensive but at the same time collected enough to function. Like if he gets shot at and he is pinned down, he should be able to not only keep things cool to his front, but at the same time get word back exactly what he thinks is up there. It's extremely dangerous. Most point men are volunteer. If they are volunteer, they're gung ho and got their just-come-uppance. Or the practice of fragging, which you might have heard about where certain career-motivated personnel have to be disciplined by the EM (enlisted men). Standard procedure is the first time to put a CS grenade in his lodging. You know, he sleeps on a cot, most other people sleep in the mud. If he still doesn't straighten up, hand grenade or claymore. This happened to our master sergeant in 8th Brigade.

QUESTION. My name is _____ and I'm from the Detroit Women's Media Co-Op. I have a couple of questions. The people mentioned that there was brutality done to people's testicles and stuff like that. I just wanted to know if that kind of specifically sexual brutality to men is done a lot, you know, is a lot of brutality aimed at a guy's penis and stuff like that because people talk about what they've seen with the...

MODERATOR. Do you want any one of the panel to answer that question?

ANSWER. Anybody that knows about it.

MODERATOR. Yes, Dave. The question was about the pictures of people torturing the men by wires and other means by using their testicles. Is this done frequently?

STARK. I can't speak too much for the frequency of it, as much as for the reason. There are two basic reasons for it. One is that if you are looking for information, you seek the most sensitive areas of their body. If you're out in the field, you basically want to degrade them more. And attacking their sexual organs would be more degrading that their arms or legs.

MODERATOR. Okay, we are extremely overtime. Okay, the last one, since you had your hand up. Go ahead.

QUESTION. I was in Vietnam with a service project that was a private program. It wasn't anything to do with the government. I lived in An Khe, in a refugee camp. I didn't see torture, but I heard a lot of stories because I spoke Vietnamese, from the refugees there. And I think that it does no good to tell of all these atrocities unless you explain what you understand of why we are in Vietnam and I learned one Vietnamese phrase very well from these people "De Quoc My" it means American imperialist.

AUDIENCE. Right on.

SAME QUESTIONER. Please, each of you, try and explain what you understand from this. Whey are you working in the Police Department after being in Vietnam? These people are working at the base for $.50 to $1.00 a day. And they have to eat rice from the United States. They were rice farmers. They left their villages because they had been forced to leave them and forced to work on the American base because there was no alternative. They were filling sandbags, cutting grass, doing anything. Their kids couldn't go to school because they had to sell peanuts and pop to the soldiers. They hung laundry, which was given to them to wash as a security measure by the GIs. They have machines on the base. This was in order to give them some means of income. They washed it by hand.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST. Could you come down, please, to the room at the end of the corridor? I'd be glad to rap with you about that. If you were over there and you want to know how the GI looks at it--the ideologies--and you referred to him being a cop now--The difference is believing in what you are doing and being forced into what you are doing. I'd like to talk to you later about that.

SAME QUESTIONER. Who is the enemy?

MODERATOR. Well, I'm sorry. I wish we could sit up here all day and talk to you, but we are 45 minutes overtime and we're keeping other people from coming up and testifying to atrocities that happened in Vietnam. At this time I'd like to thank you, the press, and my brothers and sisters out there, all of you, and thank you very much. I forgot to remind you that every person that sat at this panel for the 1st Air Cav. has stated that they would swear, under oath, for everything that they have said.

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