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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 I

MODERATOR. This is the Third Marine Division. They landed in Vietnam in March of 1965 and they are still there. There are two people minus their DD-214s, but they do have military IDs and other military identification which the press can check later. Their names are Allan Aker and Walter Hendrickson. Also, attached to this panel because these people can't stay for tomorrow or the next day are Jamie Henry with the 4th Infantry Division, Army and Nathan Hale, an interrogator from the Americal Division.

AKERS. My name is Allan Akers. I am 25 years old and from the city of Chicago. I joined the Marines just after high school and was in Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, Infantry Unit. I am presently in college and work for the YMCA. I was in Vietnam from May of '65 until March of '66. The bulk of my testimony will consist of mass movement of villagers after destroying their original homes, the killing of civilians in search and reconnoiter by fire, the false percentages of blacks in Vietnam told by the Pentagon, and how troops are geared into committing war crimes.

BIRCH. My name is Jonathan Birch. I'm 24. I live in Philadelphia. I joined the Marine Corps right after high school. I was a corporal in "B" Company, 3rd Shore Party Battalion attached to 4th Marine Division. I landed in Chu Lai, South Vietnam in 1965, in May. I was a field radio operator and presently I'm employed as an accountant in Philadelphia. I will be testifying about the forced relocation of villagers in Chu Lai area.

ROSE. My name is Steven Rose and I'm 26 years old and spent four wasted years in the Navy, from 1963 through 1967. I was a Navy corpsman in Vietnam and I'm presently working now at a psychiatric hospital on Long Island. I will testify to the blowing up of a civilian bus by the VC and the throwing out of wounded civilians by their ARVN crew. I will also talk about the preparation of cars from the Marines to be shipped back to the States. Thank you.

NEWTON. My name is Sean Newton. I'm 24 years old and a resident of Santa Monica, California. I joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1964 right after high school. I served in Vietnam from February 1966 to December 1966 as a private in 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. My second tour was as a Lance Corporal with Delta Company, 126 and with 3rd Combined Action Group from August '67 to August '68. I'm now continuing my education at Santa Monica City College.

DAMRON. My name is Mike Damron. My age is 24. I'm from Springdale, Arkansas. I was a student before enlisting in the Marines. My rank was Private and I served with "B" Company, 3rd Tank Battalion, 3rd Marine Division from September 1966 until October 1967. My job was gunner on a tank. I'm presently a student at the University of Arkansas.

SMITH. My name is Jack Smith. I'm 27 years old. I was a student at the University of Connecticut for 3 1/2 years before I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1966 and I was also an unemployed carpenter at the time. I enlisted. I was a Counter-Mortar Radar Team Chief and a Vietnamese interpreter. I served in Vietnam in 1967 and all of 1969. I was with Headquarters Battery, 12th Marines and I am presently an unemployed carpenter and an on-strike student. My testimony concerns genocide against the Vietnamese people, murder of civilians--old women and children--harassment and maltreatment of children and also the murder of children, the maltreatment of ARVN soldiers, racism against the blacks, both institutional and by official policy and individual, the crossing of borders with artillery fire, and the maltreatment of POWs.

MODERATOR. Excuse me, Mike, you didn't give what you were going to speak about. Could you do that?

NEWTON. My testimony will consist of the burning of villages, the killing of civilians, mutilation of bodies, the taking of ears, scalps, and heads, the destruction of crops and livestock, use of defoliants, the evacuation of civilians from their villages to relocation centers, the killing of wounded North Vietnamese army troops, and the resist policies of the armed force in Vietnam.

DAMRON. My testimony will include witnessing of killing of civilians, destruction of villages, and treatment of prisoners of war.

STEWART. Ny name is Gordon Stewart. I'm 20, I live here in Royal Oak, Detroit area. I joined the Marines in January of '68. Until November, '70 I was a Sergeant. I served in Vietnam with the Second Battalion, 9th Marines as a Forward Observer attached to Hotel Company from September, '68 through August, '69. My testimony concerns Operation Dewey Canyon, which is the invasion of Laos, contrary to published documents. I'm mostly going to talk about the genocide committed against the Vietnamese people, the killing of civilians by calling in artillery and white phosphorus on villages and hamlets.

SOARES. My name is Christopher Soares, age 20, resident of New York City, New York. I'm currently an unemployed student because of disability. I was in high school in New York City and had a part-time job before joining the Marine Corps. My rank was Lance Corporal, E-3. I was a rifleman in the infantry: grunt. My outfit in Vietnam was Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. My testimony will consist of the invasion of Laos, correlated with Gordon Stewart, Operation Dewey Canyon, from February, '69 to March, '69, mortar attack on approximately 30 Montagnards; nightly H&I fire, using high explosive and white phosphorus rounds; throwing cans of food at civilians while passing by on truck convoy; .50 caliber machine guns used in anti-personnel weapons; killer teams; distributed contaminated food; witnessed POW beaten and interrogated at knife point; deformed civilians; and my platoon sergeant had a $1,000 bounty on his head.

HENDRICKSON. My name is Walter Hendrickson, age 22. I'm a resident of upstate New York. I'm unemployed now because of disability. I entered the Marine Corps shortly after working 6 months as a turret lathe operator. I was trained as an anti-tank personnel and when I reached Vietnam I was made a regular rifleman grunt. I'm going to be testifying about entering Laos; throwing cans of chow from moving trucks at villagers; wounding of civilian personnel for suspicion of being with NVA; H&I firing nightly; the mutilating of bodies of NVA; and the killing of a Chieu Hoi who was shot to death.

SOARES. I'm sorry, I missed testimony. Also recon by fire by patrol boats, rivers.

HATTON. Ny name is Bill Hatton. I'm 23 years of age and I was a high school student before I entered the Marine Corps in 1966. I spent 4 years in regular enlistment. I attained the rank of Corporal, as a Lance Corporal and Corporal both during my tour. I was in Vietnam from October of 1968 to September of 1969. My outfit was Engineer Maintenance Platoon, FLSG Bravo, Dong Ha. My testimony will deal with the stoning to death of a 3 year old Vietnamese child; handling kids heat tab sandwiches; and firing mad-minutes at [LZ] Stud; throwing cases of C-rats at women and children off moving trucks; and fragging and price-setting on the heads of officers in the unit. My occupation at present--I'm the director of the Department of Planning Promotion for the village of Bagley, Minnesota.

CLARK. My name is Bob Clark. I'm 22 years old. Right after high school I entered the Marine Corps. I served as a Battalion Radio Operator and interpreter with Golf Company Two Nine from May to August 1969. From December 1969 to late February, '70 I served as One Four Chief calling in air strikes in Vietnam. I'm currently unemployed and a resident of Philadelphia. My testimony will concern killing of wounded prisoners; prisoner refused medical attention, and as a result died, with about 30 Marines watching him, including a Colonel; brutalities toward Vietnamese children and women.

HENRY. My name is Jamie Henry. I'm 23 years old. I was drafted on March 5, 1967, ETS'd March 7, 1969. Entered Vietnam August 31, 1967 and returned to the United States in August 1968. I'll be testifying on the murder of innocent civilians which ultimately culminated in the execution of 19 women and children and the causes behind these murders.

HALE. My name is Nathan Hale. I'm 24 years old. I'm a resident of Coatesville, Pennsylvania. I'm currently a student and a candle maker. I joined the Army in April of '66. My rank at discharge was Specialist 5. I was an interrogator-linguist with Americal Division. I will show a series of slides of an interrogation by the Vietnamese National Field Police and describe general techniques used in interrogation.

MODERATOR. Al Akers, you mentioned the killing of civilians as one of the things you will be testifying to. Could you elaborate on that, please?

AKERS. Yes, we were given orders whenever we moved into a village to reconnoiter by fire. This means to--whenever we step into a village to fire upon houses, bushes, anything to our discretion that looked like there might be somebody hiding behind, or in, or under. What we did was, we'd carry our rifles about hip high and we'd line up on line parallel to the village and start walking firing from the hip. There were times when Vietnamese villages had man-made bomb shelters to protect themselves from air raids. Well, sometimes when we'd come to a village a Vietnamese would run out of the bomb shelter for fear of being caught, so consequently this surprise would startle any individual and they would automatically turn and fire, thereby uselessly killing civilians without giving them a chance.

MODERATOR. Could you also explain about the false black casualty reports by the Pentagon?

AKERS. Definitely. I was with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines and the same unit that was there in Hawaii shipped out for Vietnam, and in Hawaii especially, of Two Four, of 1,100 Marines, approximately 600 of them were black and the same went with the other two battalions of the 4th Marines. I know darned well that 600 out of 1,100 is not 10 or 12%. Two and two--you know, that's got to be it.

MODERATOR. Were mostly black soldiers on the front lines? Or did they have people in the rear also that were black?

AKERS. What do you mean by front lines?

MODERATOR. The ones that went out to the field. The grunts.

AKERS. Well, see, consequently because of the balance of black soldiers in the units, whenever a unit was sent out, you know the black soldiers were used as points, rear guards and side guards. Echo Company was considered to be Colonel _____'s most prized unit. Colonel _____ as everybody called him. And Echo Company was Colonel _____'s, what he called "The Magnificent _____." Echo Company was about 50% black.

MODERATOR. Were most of the orders that came down from him--Major _____?

AKERS. Colonel _____? Yes, he was kind of his own man. If you remember, I believe, the book written by Chesty Puller where he was elaborately mentioned in the book as being like one of the few last supposed Marines would be.

MODERATOR. John Birch, you mentioned the relocation of fishermen. Could you elaborate on that, please?

BIRCH. This was in Chu Lai and it was in the period of May to August 1965. I landed at the same time as A1's unit. I was attached to the 4th Marine Regiment of which the 2nd Battalion was a part. I can support his testimony with the percentage of the blacks within the units. On the beach where we landed was a fishing village up in the northern edge of Dong Quai Bay. It was perhaps 5 to 10 huts. These people had been fishermen all their lives. They knew nothing but fishing, but since the Americans--the military--wanted to use that area they moved them up a river, about a mile and a half up the coast. Now they were still fishermen and could still go out, but they were suspected of being VC. They weren't VC. They were just fishermen, and you have to go out every day if you're going to earn your living by fishing. So they decided we'll move them up the river further still, where we can keep a closer eye on them. They did that and then, just about August, they moved them into a relocation village which was off the river. They took their boats away, burned them, and gave them land and said, "All right, now you can become farmers. People need food and we don't trust fishermen."

We personally took some of their little round boats-- they look like little sampans--these little round things-- called bull boats. So these people who had been fishermen for generations now suddenly became farmers on land that could not be farmed because the area in and around Chu Lai on the beach was sand, very dry, rotten sand.

MODERATOR. Okay, Steve Rose. About that blowing up of the bus by the VC. How many people were on there, what was their status, how many of them were killed and wounded?

ROSE. Yes, this is on Highway 1 outside of Camp Evans in I Corps area. I would say there were about 50 civilians on this bus. They pack them in pretty good on these buses, and with all their belongings. This bus was heading up Highway 1 north and the word that came back to us before we went out was that the VC blew up this civilian bus because the convoy didn't come through today.

So I was at 4th Marine Regiment Headquarters and the doctor and I and a few other corpsmen went out to this bus. Now there was people laying all over the mud there and most of them were dead, but there were some that were still alive and we did a little preparatory work and ARVN helicopters came in with American crews as head. We asked the civilians around the area to help us load the wounded onto helicopters, which they refused to do. Now I sort of understand why. It's not really their war. We're too involved there and we shouldn't be. So what happened was that we, the Marines from 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, that was on patrol, helped load these bodies onto choppers and as the choppers took off into the distance, the wounded that we put on were being thrown off into the field.

MODERATOR. How high was the chopper when these people were thrown off?

ROSE. It was about a hundred yards out and maybe about 50 or 60 feet high; it was just taking off into the distance.

MODERATOR. How about the taking of ears? Would you explain that?

ROSE. Yeah. It's a thing maybe it's only with 3rd Marine Division, to cut off the left ear of NVA troops that are killed. I had some friends--I was back down to Phu Bai and some friends came out of the field and as a corpsman they asked, "Can we get a bottle and something to put it in so we can ship it back to the States?" and I proceeded to do that--pack 'em for shipment.

MODERATOR. What sort of emotions did the GIs have of cutting off the ears and sending them back to the States? Were they happy about it or were they sad or what was the emotion?

ROSE. I think...I call the time I spent in Vietnam "dead time." I call it a time when you just function and do things that, hopefully, you won't do when you come back home. As dead time, I think it's a sort of emotionless, you know, you do it, your buddy did it, so you can do it. So you just send it back. You don't make a big deal of it.

MODERATOR. Okay, Sean Newton, you say you spent two tours in Vietnam.

NEWTON. That's right.

MODERATOR. The question I'd like to ask you is, "What were the differences, if any, in the policies of units that you were in in Vietnam from the first tour to the second tour?"

NEWTON. The first time I was in Vietnam, I was with the 1st Marine Division, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines; the second tour was with the 3rd Division, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh and 3rd Combined Action Group. That job was in an advisory capacity with South Vietnamese militia living in the villages. The overall policy of the Marine Corps in '65 and '66, to me, seemed to be sort of a scorched earth policy. There was a lot of burning and a lot of killing and no one was saying much about it. When I returned in '67, our staff NCOs and officers would tell us, "You know, you just have to be careful. If there are newsmen who go out on the operation with you just be cool, you know, but if there's no one there, do the same thing you did in '65 and '66. So you just have to be a little careful." And that was just about the only change that I noticed besides an escalation of the war.

MODERATOR. Before you went to Vietnam did you have any expectations of what was going to happen there? Did you receive any kind of information while you were going through training?

NEWTON. When we went through the four weeks before you go--staging--I didn't have to go through staging the first time because they gave us three days notice, gave us no leave at all, and put us on ships in Long Beach. We couldn't even call our parents and tell them where we were going or why we were going or anything and they said we were just going out on maneuvers. Like 11 days later we knew we weren't going to be going out on maneuvers. What was the question again? I'm really tired.

MODERATOR. What kind of information did you receive while going through staging?

NEWTON. Oh, yeah, going through staging. They just tried to hype you up and prime you to go over there and just waste them, you know. The Communist threat was brought up time and time again, like, you had to go over there and do this thing so that they wouldn't come invading the United States, make a beach landing, or something or other.

MODERATOR. Mike Damron, you testified to the killing of civilians and the treatment of POWs. Would you like to talk about that?

DAMRON. Well, in January of 1967, we were on Operation Newcastle about 30 miles out of Da Nang and our function as a tank unit--we had our tank and some infantry people on top of a hill while some more tanks and infantry was sweeping through the valley below--and our job was to more or less plaster the area before the infantry got there and if there was any stragglers left, enemy stragglers, after our people went through, we were to plaster them again. We were told we couldn't fire unless we saw people with packs and rifles. That was more or less the policy as written, but what we made it a practice to do, is our unit was to boost the body count. We'd paint a little hat, a triangle shaped hat, on the side of our tanks for each confirmed kill we had, so any chance we got to add more hats to the side of the tank, we fired. And on this particular occasion we fired on five people that we had no way of knowing who they were because they were not armed. As far as prisoners of war go, on the back of a tank there's a thing called a travel lock, so when the gun tube's to the rear it can be locked down where it won't be bounced around. They don't use these in Vietnam, but they use them in the States. But what we used them for in Vietnam was we could put a VC's head or a VC suspect's head in that travel lock and lock it down. But it could be dangerous because if we did hit a bump it could break the person's neck.

MODERATOR. Mike, you said that this could be done. Was it done and did you witness it?

DAMRON. Yes, I did.

MODERATOR. Could you tell us approximately when this was and where?

DAMRON. This would have been in the same general area, around Da Nang I believe in Dai Loc Province. It would have been in late 1966, around December.

MODERATOR. Okay, thank you. Jack Smith, you were going to testify about the crossing of borders and treatments of POWs. Would you go ahead?

SMITH. Right. We were assigned to a counter-mortar unit. We also had other electronic equipment, along McNamara's Wall up there. We were involved in tracking enemy rocket fire and mortar fire and we would in turn direct our artillery fire back on the positions that we located. Now, we were in generally a free fire zone along the DMZ overlooking the river and it was a free fire zone. Anything that moved out there was fair game. The NVA used to come down across the river and fire rockets and mortars at our base at Dong Ha in Quang Tri. We would in turn fire back at them and locate them with our anti-personnel radar that located them and also the counter-mortar weapons that we'd locate their position. We'd follow them with our equipment and also with AOs back across the river as they would flee after firing back across the river. So we would take our artillery and since it was against the regulations to fire across the river, what we would do was call in a grid location, that's a grid coordinates and the numbers of the location--we'd call in a grid this side of the river and we would have clearance then to fire a 1,000 meters around that area. So what we would do is all in a spot right on the bank of the river and then as soon as we got clearance to fire on that spot because this was okay to do, then we would immediately start walking it across the river and fire across the river and up into North Vietnam. We would fire at any truck movements or personnel movements that we found along the thing. We'd just keep firing until we no longer got any movement up there.

MODERATOR. Excuse me, when you say you were cleared, who did you call back to?

SMITH. We had to clear it with the fire direction center back in Dong Ha which coordinated all the movements of allied ground and artillery positions in all the units moving those areas. So they gave us clearance to fire up there.

MODERATOR. Jack, when they'd give you clearance, did these people know that these rounds--the people who gave you clearance--did they know these rounds were being adjusted across the river?

SMITH. Yes, but officially the policy was written that we would not fire across the river, but it was standard operating procedure that whenever we called in along the river bank that we were going to be firing across into North Vietnam. And also this was our practice when we were out at Vandegrift Signal Mountain in the Rockpile out there. In support of Dewey Canyon we were also firing across the river into Laos. We'd call in a grid in South Vietnam just across the border from where we were firing and then in turn adjust the fire across Laos in support of the ground actions over there. As far as the POWs go, our radar location was located right next to the heliport at Charley Two which was overlooking the DMZ up by Con Thien. They'd bring the prisoners in from the field and some of them severely wounded and crying for water. They were always denied medical aid, food, and water until after they had testified to what we wanted to have them testify to. I myself didn't interrogate them. We simply stood out there and watched them and then they would take several of the Vietnamese--they might have four or five prisoners--they'd throw four or five of them along inside the chopper. The chopper would take off, fly over up by the DMZ, come back about 10 or 15 minutes later and unload two. Somehow, along the line, somebody had decided, they were going to take a walk out there so they suddenly lost a couple of prisoners, but we never questioned this. If you questioned it, it was simply--they were just gooks anyway, so it didn't matter.

MODERATOR. Did you ever come into contact with Vietnamese people beside the POWs?

SMITH. Yes, almost every day the vehicle for my...I had three radar locations up along the DMZ there, about forty people there, and we had to make a run in with our vehicle every week, or every day, into the supply base at Dong Ha. So we'd send our truck into Dong Ha every day and we'd have to pass through the village of Cam Lo which was just a civilian village located on the way to Highway 9 which runs into Dong Ha. Every day as we passed through the village--the GIs when they originally get in country they feel very friendly toward the Vietnamese and they like to toss candy at the kids, but as they become hardened to it and kind of embittered against the war, as you drive through the village you take the cans of C-rats and the cases and you peg 'em at the kids; you try to belt them over the head. And one of the fun games that always went was you dropped the C-rats cans or the candy off the back of your truck just so that the kid will have time to dash out, grab the candy, and get run over by the next truck. One of the other fun games was you take the candy and you toss it out on a concertina wire. The kids are so much dying for the candy that they'll tear their flesh and their clothing and their clothes off trying to get at this candy which you've thrown inside the barbed wire. Additionally, when we had to go into Dong Ha we also used to have to make a garbage run about every other day and the garbage dump was located just down the road in front of the village of Cam Lo. In order to unload our garbage with the least amount of harassment to the Americans what we would do is send down our barrels of garbage, we'd send down a team of five or six, or squad of five or six, Marines along with it. One guy would be assigned to dump the garbage and the other six would beat the Vietnamese, shoot them, do anything they could to keep them off the truck while you were unloading the garbage, because they wanted to get into the cans and be the first ones to scrounge through and get something to eat. So in order to save your vehicle and keep the equipment that you had on it, you'd just throw the Vietnamese off the side of the truck and dump the garbage cans on top of them--just chuck 'em overboard. If they got too frisky you just blew a couple of them away.

MODERATOR. Excuse me, you mentioned that after a while you would be giving candy to the kids, just throwing it to them, but you said people got embittered and you started throwing off the back of the trucks and they got run over. Do you know why you were embittered?

SMITH. Two of our people had gotten killed by stopping in the dump and rapping with the kids and somebody had given a grenade to one of the kids and he pulled the pin on it and walked up to the guy in the truck and just handed the guy in the truck the grenade and blew the kid and the guy in the truck up. One of our guys out there passing candy come up and got shot through the forearm by a .45 pistol. He was shot by about a nine year old kid so they tended to become a little embittered with the kids and as you'd go through the ville the kids would yell, "Chop, Chop, Chop, Chop." They wanted candy and you'd throw them the candy and then they'd go, "_____ you." In general, you tended to get alienated from the kids.

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