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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. Gordon Stewart and Chris Soares, both of you have mentioned an operation that I think is fairly familiar to most of the American public--Dewey Canyon--and is that operation crossing the border into Laos. Gordon, could you start by explaining that?

STEWART. The name of the operation was Dewey Canyon. I was a Forward Observer with Second Battalion, 9th Marines, who participated in the operation. My job primarily was calling in artillery fire, mortars, and air strikes with Forward Air Control working with them, except contrary to published documents, the operation did take place in Laos. I have a map here if the press or anybody wants to look at it--it's an official documented map. In the press room I'll show what route was taken, how far we penetrated into Laos. It was approximately four miles. The operation started in January of '69 and ran through March, '69. Approximately February 25th, Hotel Company, Two Nine, pulled an ambush into Laos on a North Vietnamese convoy destroying a tank, bulldozer, trucks and a lot of personnel. Where we got the permission to do this, I don't know. I heard over the radio that undoubtedly it came from higher sources as everything did. The next night at approximately 12 o'clock, Hotel Company moved into Laos again. The whole company had set up a base camp on a hill. For the next three days it was pretty much hell. We ran through a lot of contact and lost a lot of men, but, of course, you know, we never lost anybody in Laos, which is hardly true at all. Many men were lost. The men became quite embittered during this operation. It became easy to kill Vietnamese. You were just animalistic.

SOARES. I was with Golf Company and I was an infantryman. I had just gotten in Vietnam in February. Soon after I was choppered out to a hill, which can be shown on the map, as part of the Reactionary Platoon with the Battalion Commander Major _____. We set up there for a couple of days. We had one of our squads ambushed in Laos. I saw B-52 strikes in Laos. I saw air strikes in Laos, and I saw a hell of a lot of men killed in Laos. We had moved down from this hill, down the valley and across it, across a stream and up another hill. A couple of days later we had come upon a hill which was strewn with rice. This was tons and tons of rice. I believe it was Hotel Company that had found this rice and had destroyed it instead of having airvaced it. Now the people in South Vietnam are pretty _____ hungry for this rice but instead of that, we destroyed it. Another thing is that, Oh, God...I'm sick.

STEWART. I'd like to bring up--Chris is talking about hills in Vietnam--these hills he's talking about I can confirm with the grid coordinates because I called in artillery and air strikes and mortar fire onto the North Vietnamese. To my knowledge we didn't kill any civilians in Laos. That came before and later, but during the Laotian Operation, Dewey Canyon, we moved down Route 922 in Laos. We could have gotten helicopters in to evacuate our dead and wounded but the battalion commander wanted to be gung ho and carry the dead on litters, so we carried the dead for three days on litters. They don't smell very good. The operation was a military success if you look at it from a military point of view. They captured a lot of--this is all documented someplace--they captured a lot of rounds, artillery. What can I say? We were there and I can prove it.

SOARES. The whole 9th Marine Regiment took place in Laos, in Dewey Canyon, and that's approximately 2,000 men. To my knowledge, I may be wrong, but I know that quite a few of these men were in Laos all the time. I would say for approximately a week, a day or so, more or less. The order was, when I left Ashau Valley, where the operation took place, on a helicopter--I was given the order by a second lieutenant--that if we met any war correspondents in our rear, which is Quang Tri, Vandegrift Combat Base, we were not to speak to them at all about Operation Dewey Canyon and if approached by any war correspondents, we were to say nothing. Perhaps just say we weren't in Operation Dewey Canyon and our name and serial number if they requested so. If they persisted, to go up the chain of command. In other words, if a war correspondent had any kind of idea that this operation took in Laos, he could not find anything and you end up knocking on White House and, of course, he wouldn't be let in. So, in a way, the American people perhaps knew about Operation Dewey Canyon but certainly did not know that it took place in Laos. Another thing, too, is body counts. I can verify one thing; we lost, I'll be very conservative, at least 50% of these 2,000 men in this operation--wounded and killed. My company itself which was approximately 115 men, the whole company itself, we had about forty replacements waiting in the rear, and I was one of the replacements during the operation itself. That goes for body counts. Another thing, too, that's the complete devastation and defoliation in that area. I do not know if it was perhaps of shrapnel from high explosives delivered by air strikes or artillery strikes, but I know that quite a few hundred miles were just stumps or something that looked like stumps sticking out of the ground, and just let me say that that land, there is just nothing left of it.

STEWART. When we were in Laos we were very humane about it. We left the bodies piled all along the road in Laos on Route 922.

SOARES. That's true. One point, when we were moving out on the trail, I walked over a body, a dead body, a dead NVA body, and, of course, nobody would move any bodies or any kind of objects that looked like it was either NVA or belonged to us or whatever because of fear of being booby-trapped. So we just left the bodies there.

STEWART. We booby-trapped the bodies. We placed grenades without the pins underneath the bodies in case anybody--they had a policy, the North Vietnamese, of dragging their bodies away with hooks in order to destroy more people. When moving through Laos, taking our dead and wounded, we took a lot of casualties. It was also the policy--they told us not to tell anyone for fear of repercussion that it would be very bad for us. I don't care anymore. This is what happened.

MODERATOR. Excuse me, you mentioned the body count of the U.S. casualties. Were these figures accurate? I mean, you said they were conservative, but when the Pentagon gives out the statistics they have their numbers. But do you agree with the numbers they give out?

SOARES. Definitely not. Marine Corps puts out magazine called Northern Marine. It says that we killed 1,111 NVA soldiers. Now that's a pretty interesting number. Now the only body I saw is the one I walked over and I saw a hell of a lot of bodies of ours being taken away in one piece or another.

STEWART. Echo Company was another company in the Second Battalion, 9th Marines. I can confirm that they were also in Laos, moving through Laos in a different direction from us. B-52 raids were called into Laos and I myself called in air strikes and artillery. White phosphorus was also called in on hamlets and villages. We didn't want to leave anything above the ground level. I don't know why.

MODERATOR. Gordon, something...a question I've got for you is concerning wounded and dead Marines. How did you get them out of Laos, if you did get them out of Laos?

STEWART. We dragged them on litters.

MODERATOR. Were any left behind?

STEWART. A squad was ambushed trying to start a North Vietnamese truck that we destroyed in the ambush in Laos. The squad was completely wiped out. We had to leave our dead and wounded. We couldn't get back to them. Eventually we did. We picked up what was left and dragged it through Laos because the Colonel thought it was nice. It looked like a typical John Wayne epic.

MODERATOR. When you went back to get the Marine bodies and the Marine wounded, did you get all of them?

STEWART. I don't know. There is also one Marine received the Medal of Honor posthumously. It was presented to his parents. His name will probably be mentioned somewhere. I'd rather not. He did receive this Medal of Honor later, some months later. I read it in the Quantico paper and I believe the press has the citation. He was killed in Laos on Route 922 right next to me.

SOARES. I'd like to say something else about body counts, is that no where in any papers that I read, and that's the Sea Tiger in Vietnam or in any magazine like the Leathernecks which was put out by the Marine Corps, or any such thing or, of course, the media, was any actual number of men killed or wounded--our men killed or wounded in this operation. I can say that I remember an incident in which I was there, these two squads got ambushed one right after the other and wound up with 3 men killed and 14 wounded and not one enemy soldier killed. And that's the way we fought in Laos. I mean, like, just everybody was being killed, left and right, and they called this operation a success. I don't know if you call it a success by catching some small arms ammo; they did find a couple of 122 millimeter Russian made howitzers and I believe some trucks and I think also a tank and, of course, the rice. But as far as the confirmation of body counts is concerned, I believe it is very important, is that quite a few times people will, especially airmen, will say we dropped a bomb in such and such a place and we believe that we killed 20 NVAs and wounded 6. Now this cat's about 500 feet up in the air at the lowest point and I doubt it very much if he can see going 600 miles an hour. So that's the way body counts go in Vietnam. Also, counting chickens and pigs.

STEWART. Body counts are like football games. They keep a score and as long as the other side has more dead then it's got to be a success.

MODERATOR. Gordon, you say you were an FO, a Forward Observer. There's a round used over in Vietnam, an artillery round, called a firecracker round. Could you explain what that is and what it does?

STEWART. A firecracker round can be fired from different types of artillery, usually from 105s--105 millimeter artillery. What they do in essence, the round impacts, which causes other rounds to impact out of it like a firecracker, and these other rounds impact, causing shrapnel to fly 100 meters in diameter, causing a lot of casualties. Forward Observers like to use these rounds because they put on a good show for the men.

MODERATOR. While you were there did you know of any instances where this type of ammunition was fired into civilian communities or population?

STEWART. Yes, white phosphorus--which is, well, if you don't know what white phosphorus is, you can't put it out once it gets on your skin--the only way to put it out is maybe in mud--I called white phosphorus in on a village with air bursts, complete destruction.

MODERATOR. Chris, you mentioned something about a bounty put on your platoon sergeant's head. Would you like to get into that a little bit?

SOARES. Well, our platoon sergeant at one time or another, I believe, was a great...well, at that time he was acting sergeant; in other words he had been busted to corporal for some act which I do now know. I believe his previous grade was either an E-7 or E-6, which is either a gunnery sergeant or a staff sergeant, so he was busted back to corporal. Because of his so-called ability, he was given the rank of Acting Platoon Sergeant. He was a _____ let me tell you this much. I mean, like, he drove the men crazy. He used to have the men--just about the only thing he didn't do is polish their combat boots--he used to have the men clean their food, just about shave every _____ day, have haircuts; I personally at one time was growing a mustache and I had to shave it with a dry razor and nothing else--on his own orders--and he just drove a man, like, just about to death. Another thing also is that periodically, maybe once or twice a month, he used to get some beer and also some nice warm soda and nice warm beer. I mean we really dug on that. But they had a thing like finders and keepers. Like you got, say 20 cases for a platoon and wind up with, let's say, about 15 left and 5 cases of each wind up in the platoon command post. This sergeant used to be the biggest pig in the world and he just used to take everything--first man to be on the chow line; first man to grab the best C rations and leave us with the ham and lima beans, which we used to call ham and _____ and so for this reason and for driving us to the point of not knowing where your mind is--not knowing where the _____ to go or what to do--we just hated that guy and we wanted to see him go. As far as the bounty is concerned, the first man with a witness in a fire fight who blew his _____ away with a round across his eyeballs would get a $1,000. And we had a pool going within the platoon. This was around Quang Tri area and I personally offered approximately $25.00 for his head.

STEWART. Bounties were quite common, undoubtedly. I think everyone would agree.

MODERATOR. Due to the fact that one of the men has to leave very shortly to go back to his home, Nathan Hale, I'd like to let him testify to the interrogation procedures and show his slides at this time. Could we have the lights turned off, please, all lights? Could you also turn that screen just a little bit towards us here in this corner? Okay, that's all right. You think the press could get this light out here, please?

HALE. These slides I want to show you were taken in October 1968. I was on a Marine mission called Daring Endeavors. The operation took place south of Da Nang. The idea was to cut off an enemy force. This is just showing the unit.

(Next Slide) This is a group of detainees being brought in.

(Next Slide) This just shows a typical Vietnamese who was bound. The ropes are really super-tight and the idea is to make the prisoner or detainee as uncomfortable as possible.

(Next Slide) I was sitting here drying my boots and I had a little fire going and this man here came over--these are National Field Police--this man came over and put a tin spoon, it's a Vietnamese spoon, it's shaped like a scoop and he put it in my fire. He then grabbed my sock, wrapped it around, and he's burning the skin off of the back of the man's neck.

(Next Slide) This is after he burned his neck. The man's still not giving the correct information.

(Next Slide) And finally the man, in fear of his life, admitted that at one time he had given tax to the VC but you can't prove that.

(Next Slide) I heard earlier today that they used CS. Well, the Marines used a lot of CS on this particular operation, and this particular man wouldn't come out of the hole and they threw two CS grenades at him. I personally escorted this man back to division and he died. So if gas doesn't kill, I don't know what killed.

(Next Slide) Okay, there's an interrogation going on right here. This man here is a warrant officer. This is the way it's conducted. It's a big production. There are all the Marines sitting around giving the various cheers. At all times during these interrogations there were officers present. At one time there was a Lt. Colonel present. This is a good expression of agony.

(Next Slide) The general attitude you can see--of the Marines. That's it.

MODERATOR. Okay, could we have the lights, please? Nathan, you pointed out that warrant officer. I don't know if it was clear or not--the focus for everybody to see. Was he, indeed, an American warrant officer?

HALE. Yes.

MODERATOR. Okay, thank you. Is there anything else you'd like to add in the line of interrogation?

HALE. Yeah, I sure would. I arrived in Vietnam in December of '67. In January of '68 I was assigned to the 1st Cav., Americal Division. I arrived at the base camp of the 1st Cav. which is Hill 29. When I arrived there my S-2, a captain, told me that my job was to illicit information. This meant that I could illicit information in any means possible. He told me that I could use any technique I could think of and the idea is "Don't get caught" and what he meant was I could beat these people, I could cut 'em, I could probably shoot 'em--I never shot anyone--but I could use any means possible to get information--just don't beat them in the presence of a non-unit member, or person. That's someone like a visiting officer or perhaps the Red Cross and I personally used clubs, rifle butts, pistols, knives, and this was always done at Hill 29. And in the field it even gets better. On this particular operation the National Field Police also hanged two men, just because they thought they were VC. The important point here is that everything I did was always monitored. An interrogator is always monitored. I was monitored by an MP Sergeant at Hill 29 who often helped me in my interrogations--he and his squad. One other incident on Hill 29--there was a man who was kicked to death by the ARVNs--the South Vietnamese. They called me the next morning and they said, "You have a dead prisoner." So I had to take a doctor over to confirm that he was dead. My S-2, instead of going through the necessary paper work, had him put in two 500 pound rice sacks and the troops took him out that day and dumped him. He was added to the previous day's body count. I guess that's about it. I can tell you that Americal Division has the ideal interrogation location. There are MPs on the hill watching you but this doesn't mean you can't kick prisoners under the table. We used to take knives into the interrogation huts and use the guys hands as a means of terror. I might also add that I learned everything I know from the South Vietnamese and from my Americal cohorts.

MODERATOR. All right, thank you, Nathan. The next one will be Walter Hendrickson. Would you go ahead and testify?

HENDRICKSON. I spent from November of 1968 to April of 1969 where I was wounded on an operation in Laos and I really don't remember what the operation's name was because we never were told. We just knew that we had landed right near the Laotian border and we had a sniper unit with us who worked right inside of Laos and all our LPs--our listening posts--which were at night and our observation posts in the daytime--all were in Laos plus the fact that we did run patrols constantly through Laos. Also, before we started this operation, we were--Tet offensive--in the MACV compounds, where we worked out of right around Mai Loc, which is in the Quang Tri Province and working around there the squad I was in. We run into an NVA observation post, it must have been, because they were all sitting around the fire and the point man and the man behind him, I'm quite sure they killed three of the five men and the other two were wounded. My team leader at the time was right up front there giving orders and one of the NVA threw his rifle down--he was wounded--and he was crying, "Chieu Hoi, Chieu Hoi" and my team leader just said, "Burn him" and he was shot to death. Then we were told to pull back and we were working with a 1st lieutenant, he was a tank commander, he was out with us because we were working with the tanks and he called the tanks up on line and they proceeded to shoot into these wounded NVA, bee-hive rounds and HE rounds, plus they were firing from their 30 caliber machine guns.

MODERATOR. Excuse me, there may be some people in the audience who don't know what "Chieu Hoi" means. Would you explain what it means?

HENDRICKSON. "Chieu Hoi" is a Vietnamese word for surrendering. In other words he'll "Chieu Hoi" if he doesn't want any more of fighting. Pretty near every grunt over there, I would say, knows the meaning of "Chieu Hoi" but the six months I spent over there before I was wounded, we never took a prisoner. I can remember one time in the village, we brought a person in for questioning and he was released the next day, but we never took any prisoners. Before I was sent out to my platoon, my squad, we used to have to pull convoy duty quite a lot, and it was the same thing while you were on the back of the trucks, any of the chow that you didn't eat that you were given, was thrown right at the villagers, the civilians.

MODERATOR. Okay, thank you very much. Before we go on to our next person, I would like to ask one question. You say that you didn't take prisoners. What exactly did you do with them and who ordered you not to take prisoners if somebody did?

HENDRICKSON. Well, we really never got an order to take prisoners and I think it was a general attitude of almost everybody over there not to take a prisoner. All the while I was over in Vietnam we were pretty much in a free fire zone and if we saw anybody out there we didn't even attempt to take a prisoner; we just opened fire.

MODERATOR. Bill Hatton, you talked about the stoning of a three year old child. Would you like to explain that, please?

HATTON. When I arrived in Vietnam my MOS was a Heavy Equipment Mechanic. Since there wasn't a real need for my billet to be filled as a mechanic, I was put in my secondary MOS which was 8151, that of a security guard. Since I filled this billet so admirably, they kept me going on perimeter, which was in a sense a _____ detail that they send people they don't like out on. Since I wasn't the most popular type of personality, there I went. Well, at any rate, my duty was to go out and serve as a perimeter guard on the Dong Ha Ramp. This was an LCU ramp on the Quat River where Navy ships came up and they'd off-load supplies. We took our truck outside the combat base every night at 5:30 to set up at the ramp for our night's duty. We used to drive by this row of hootches and a little three year old kid in a dirty grey shorts used to run out and scream, "You, Marines, Number 10," and we'd always go back, "Oh _____ you kid," and all this stuff. So one night the kid comes out and says, "Marines, you Number 10," and throws a rock. So we figured we'd get him because this was a way of having fun. The next night before we went out we all stopped by COC, which is right by the ammo dump, picked up the biggest rocks we could get our hands on and piled them in the back of the truck. So when we left the Combat Base we just turned the corner and we saw a little kid, we were waiting for the kid--he ran out of the hootch--and he was going to scream, "Marine Number 10," and we didn't even let him get it out of his mouth. We just picked up all the rocks and smeared him. We just wiped him out. In fact, the force of the rocks was enough to knock over his little tin hootch as well. I can't say that the kid died, but if it would have been me, I would have died easily. The rocks, some of them, were easily as big as his head. It was looked upon as funny. We all laughed about it. And then we forgot about it. It took me about a year to even to be able to recall the situation. I think it said something about the entire attitude of us over there. I never had a specific hatred for the Vietnamese, I just tended to ignore them. They didn't figure in any calculations as to being human. They either got in the way or they weren't there. And also, we had this habit, when we'd leave the combat base--I frequently traveled between Quang Tri and Dong Ha and contact teams and we'd take C ration crackers and put peanut butter on it and stick a trioxylene heat tab in the middle and put peanut butter around it and let the kid munch on it. Now they're always looking for "Chop, Chop" and the effect more or less of trioxylene is to eat the membranes out of your throat and if swallowed, would probably eat holes through your stomach.

Another portion of the testimony that I would like to cover is that in March of '69, I was serving as security in a convoy, and this wasn't actually in line of duty, I was able to have a day off and I was going down to Quang Tri so I got on a truck belonging to Seven Motors. They were in convoy; they just gave me a ride at the gate and we got four miles south of the Dong Ha perimeter and there were a group of Vietnamese women and children who were gathered around at this little bridge outposts the ARVNs had as security on Highway 1 there. The truck was doing considerable speed and it was just sort of spontaneous reaction, they said, "Let's get 'em. They want Chop, Chop, we'll give it to 'em," picking up cases of C-rats which weigh up to approximately thirty pounds and threw them off into the women and the kids. You know, just flattened them out and knocked them back quite a few feet. There again, there was no way of determining whether or not they were actually dead but the injuries must have been serious. The whole thing, like I mentioned with the garbage trucks, I never experienced shooting anybody off garbage trucks, but many times we put our boots in the faces of kids and women who'd crawl all over it. There used to be a game we played--we'd pour liquid garbage off the end of our truck to make 'em crawl for it. The mama-sans would come up with half-cut fifty gallon drums and they'd try to fill it up. They'd get pork chops and sloppy rice and mystery meat or wop slop, or whatever we had for chow, and put it in there and we'd let 'em walk so far and then we'd tip it over, spill it on the ground, and watch them scrape the dirt in there. Anything to dehumanize them. I think the program went even farther. We used to have kids from the orphanage visit us aboard Dong Ha and have a party for them so that we could play games like holding sodas in the air and watch them grasp for it; patting them on the head and teaching them little tricks like how to beg for candy bars. A further part of my testimony is, like, with mad minutes. As I traveled variously around northern I Corps I used to go to a place called "Stud" which was later gloriously reclassified as Combat Base Vandegrift. This was due to the John Wayne syndrome which is pretty prevalent in the Marine Corps. They just don't name anything a plain name; it has to have glorious connotations. I had gone over to visit some friends of mine at Third Shore Part and we went over to have a little party out there on the lines and nobody gave me the word that we were going to have mad minute. What happens with a mad minute is that everybody opens up, at least half the guys on each bunker and every sector of the line open up with four duces--the guys in support--and they'll fire for two or three minutes. They call it mad minutes. This in effect kills anything. You don't know what's out there and neither do they. You just fire in the hope that you're going to get something. You cease fire and you wait for a reaction and there's usually none. It's more or less a waste of ammunition. This I witnessed about two or three times. Like I said, I was never assigned as a guard to do mad minutes, but I was witnessing it.

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