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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 III

MODERATOR. What about yourself, did you get adequate medical attention?

NELSON. Yes, I did. I didn't need any medical attention at that camp except for blisters, which I could take care of myself. But about two weeks later, at the second camp, I came down with amoebic dysentery, and the cadre, I call him, that is the man who spoke English and who was in charge of prisoners, immediately had a nurse come and see me. She gave me a standard anti-diarrhea treatment, which didn't help very much. And so, after about a day and a half, when it was apparent to them that I was really quite ill, I heard them talking about trying to get me a doctor. So I waited all that day and all the next day and finally, just before supper time on the second day, a doctor did arrive, a young man who'd been educated in Hanoi at medical school, very well-trained. He examined me and prescribed appropriate therapy. Any of you who know medicine, he gave me chloromycetin, and I was really surprised, because I expected at best that I'd get tetracycline, but he did have chloromycetin. He also gave me fluids, intravenous fluids, by dermoclysis, and in four days my symptoms were gone.

MODERATOR. After you were released from prison by the Viet Cong, did you stay in Vietnam?

NELSON. No, I returned to the United States for about four months, and then I went back.

MODERATOR. And what was your job when you returned to Vietnam?

NELSON. I returned to the project in Quang Ngai that I was working with before, which was basically three things. It was a child day-care center for refugee children, and a rehabilitation center for civilians (primarily war-injured, though we had some like polio and other cases). The third thing that I was doing was, once or twice a week, I was going to the local civilian prison, that is, the provincial prison, where I was examining sick prisoners.

MODERATOR. What kind of prisoners were these?

NELSON. Well, this is basically the province jail. In normal times, this would be where any person convicted and sentenced to jail would be sent. But at present, that is, at the time I was there, I was told both by the prison officials and by the prisoners, that eighty percent or more of the people in the prison were there because they were accused of political crimes.

MODERATOR. So these would be Viet Cong or Viet Cong suspects?

NELSON. Well, presumably, though in my conversations with prisoners it seemed to me that many, many of them were there because one, they didn't have proper papers; two, they'd been picked up in an unauthorized area, someplace it was thought they weren't supposed to be; or in the case of the women (and there were usually somewhere between a hundred and fifty and three hundred women in the prison) they couldn't account for where their husbands were, so they were put in jail for that.

MODERATOR. Did you have any chance to discover whether or not these prisoners had been mistreated in prison?

NELSON. Yes. As I say, I was examining sick prisoners. Almost every time that I went I would see one or more prisoners who had been tortured, not in the prison itself, but in the province interrogation center, which I was told by the Vietnamese was the American interrogation center. I examined people who had been severely beaten. On at least two occasions, I was able to document broken bones by x-ray, and I kept very careful records and after several months I went to the province senior adviser, who is the highest-ranking American civilian in a province, and I took my records along and I said, "Look. This is what I'm seeing, and the Vietnamese tell me that this takes place in the American interrogation center. What do I do?" And he said, "Well, yes, the province interrogation center system was started by the Americans. The idea was to teach South Vietnamese enlightened intelligence in interrogation procedures. It's intended to be a total isolation center, but no torture is to be going on, and if it is, we'll stop it." So I said, "Please do." I saw him two or three days later and he was quite embarrassed. He said, "I'm sorry; I didn't know this, but the province interrogation center has been turned over to the Vietnamese. We're no longer in control of it." There was still an American adviser assigned to the center, however. He said, "Since that's the case, I suggest that you go directly to the province chief," which we then did. The province chief at that time was Col. Than Tat Kien. I took my records along and I presented this to him, and he said, "Well, you know, most of the prisoners that we take have been forced to work with the VC and they're very cooperative and they tell us everything that we need to know. But sometimes we meet people who are very hard." Those were the exact words he used, "very hard, and we have to use other methods, and these are used." He said, "There are limits." And I said, "Well, it seems to me that any reasonable limits are being exceeded, that this is inhumane and furthermore, even from your point of view, I would think it would be politically counter-productive. And I'm asking you to do something to stop this."

He did not promise that he would stop it. After about two weeks I began to see the same thing again, and it's still going on.

MODERATOR. So you saw bruises and broken bones from beatings. Any other kinds of torture that you had experience with?

NELSON. I was not able to document by physical examination any other methods, though my patients told me of the electrical torture, such as has been described, with the field telephones. They told me of being forced to drink concoctions containing things like powdered lime. They also told me of being tied up and hung from the ceiling, sometimes upside down, but I couldn't document this.

MODERATOR. Marge, just one last question. What dates are we talking about? When were you working at this?

NELSON. This was from September 1968 until October 1969 in Quang Ngai Province, which is south of Da Nang.

MODERATOR. Thank you, Doctor. Mrs. Warner, I must apologize for having kept you sitting here so long. I hope you have been somewhat reassured by some of the things you've heard here, however. I would just like you, if you would, to express your thoughts. I don't see that we need to ask questions.

WARNER. First of all, I want to say, I am an American. I'm sure I'm going to be labeled Communist; I'm sure I'm going to be labeled revolutionary, but I am not. I am an American. I love my country. It's being torn apart by this war. I want to appeal to the middle-aged, middle-class America. We have to wake up and realize what's happening to us. My son's been a prisoner, and, of course, I'm interested in him coming back. I'd love to have him back, and I know he wants to come back, but this isn't the only consideration. We have to consider the people in Vietnam. What would we do, what would you and I do, if a Vietnamese plane flew over and bombed our town? How would we react to somebody that we've captured?

I think my son isn't being humanely treated. I don't think he's been brutally treated, but he doesn't get steak; I'm sure he doesn't get chicken like George Smith got. But I think he has food enough to sustain him. Lt. Frischman said the food that they get is enough to sustain them, and if we can sustain him till he comes back, fine. We're allowed to send him a package every other month. We send, oh, aspirins, vitamin capsules, and such things as that. We hadn't heard from him for two and a half years. We knew he was a prisoner. We knew he had been captured by the North Vietnamese. We began to write letters for foreign newspapers and letters to foreign governments to try to get the Vietnamese to tell us about the prisoners, where they were and who they were. Now we've gotten two lists. I don't understand why we claim the lists aren't complete; I don't understand that. Of course, maybe it's because my son's name has appeared on it and you know, in the back of my mind, maybe I'm satisfied. But I've talked to other families and the circumstances of their son's disappearance or their husband's disappearance is quite different and it's perhaps that the North Vietnamese don't know where they are. These are the things we have to rationalize with. We have to stop and think what's happening to our country and to that country. Is it worth going on, is it worth tearing everybody apart? I think, I don't know what else to say. I'd just like to say that since Hanoi has said that if we set a date, they'll talk about the release of the prisoners, is that asking so much, just to set a date? Let's put them on the spot. Let's put them on the spot. Let's set a date and see if they really will live up to their word. They've told the whole world that this is what they'll do, and if they're interested at all in world opinion, like we've been told they are, I think they will. I think they'll listen. And will America listen? Will middle-aged, middle-class America listen? Don't let our country be torn apart by this.

MODERATOR. Thank you, Mrs. Warner. Stephanie, did you want to add anything?


MODERATOR. Fine, thank you. We're going to break the format here a little bit. Mrs. Warner has to go back to work, but I know some of the press, if Mrs. Warner does not mind, might like to direct some questions directly to her, and then we'll go on with the rest of the format. Does the press have questions? Would you identify yourself please?

QUESTION. What relationship has the President or his aides had with you? Has there been any attempt to propagandize you?

WARNER. No. We get a Christmas card, that's about the size of it.

MODERATOR. Yes? Over there, please.

QUESTION. Mrs. Warner, do you think the POWs in North Vietnam are being used for political purposes by the President?

WARNER. Well, it seems that way. The Song Tay raid, well, it was called a success, even if there weren't any prisoners there, it was labeled a success; suppose there had been prisoners there? Is it reasonable to assume that they could have captured, rescued twenty? How many lives would have been lost? It just seems like it raised the hopes of prisoner families for really no good reason, no good purpose.

QUESTION. Have you been in contact with any other prisoner families?

WARNER. Yes, I have, sir.

QUESTION. Do they share your opinions?

WARNER. I think not. I wish if they did they'd step forward. I feel like I'm on a mountain top all by myself, my husband and I.

MODERATOR. The question was have you tried to express your opinions to the United States government?

WARNER. Sir, I've written many letters. A month or so ago, when the bombing was renewed over North Vietnam, my husband called everybody he could think of, because I'm sure you understand that we didn't want the prison camp where my son was to be bombed. It's sort of like batting your head against a stone wall. I've written many letters to the President, many letters to the Free Press and the news media but never mailed them because I felt that I'm being put on the spot. I'm isolated. I'm alone in the way I feel about this, and it's kind of frightening, you know?

QUESTION. But I believe every prisoner of war family, let's say, has someone that they can contact. The Defense Department has an adviser let's say. You've had personal contact with your adviser. What sort of reaction did you get from him?

WARNER. Well, it's a Marine officer, and they've always been very kind. I have no complaints whatever. They try to get questions answered for us through the Pentagon, any questions that we have. They're willing to cooperate with us in any way. They have to turn in a report every three months, I understand, and I have no complaint about these men. They're doing their job.

QUESTION. You're not harassed in any way?

WARNER. Not harassed, not yet. Not yet. We were told when Jim was first shot down that if we let his name be published in the paper that we'd probably get harassing phone calls.

MODERATOR. From whom, from whom?

QUESTION. Your objection is that the White House has not been responsive. Is that correct? To your letters and so on?

WARNER. Well, maybe not in a way we think they ought to be. I'd like to see us get out of Vietnam. I'd like to see us get out completely, so that we don't tear our country apart any more than it already is.

QUESTION. Did you say earlier that your letters to the White House were not answered?

WARNER. No, I did not say that. I said I had written them, but hadn't mailed them. I put my feelings down on paper, as a release, I suppose, maybe it's frustration. Maybe I feel if I wrote it, it wouldn't really help how I feel.

QUESTION. Have you tried to contact the White House at all?


QUESTION. You have?

CALDWELL. Can I answer that? When the bombing was resumed over the North, my father called the White House.

QUESTION. What sort of a reaction did you get?

CALDWELL. Well, he didn't talk to anybody. He didn't get in touch with anyone. As Mrs. Warner said, he made a lot of phone calls, and he did make a lot of phone calls, but he didn't get in touch with anyone at all, not directly. He was promised all of these phone calls would be returned, so on the following Monday, or Sunday, he sent a telegram to Melvin Laird, and we didn't get any response from that either.

WARNER. No, he got a letter. We got a letter back.

CALDWELL. Did he? But the personal letter didn't really give us a justifiable explanation as to why the bombing was resumed without thought for what it would do to the prisoners that were being held there.

QUESTION. Would you say as a flat statement that the United States government was not being responsive to the...

CALDWELL. They're being responsive to the families that are cooperating with them and the families that are backing them. They aren't being responsive to us.

QUESTION. What were your opinions on the war in Vietnam before your son was shot down over North Vietnam?

WARNER. From the very beginning, before my son ever went to Vietnam, I had mixed emotions about this thing. I've read a lot of things about it, I talked to people about it. Well, I'm anti-war, period. I'm anti-violence, period. I never could figure out why we should be there and why we should be afraid that they were going to come over and take over our country. Obviously, we're fighting on the side of the minority. If it was the majority, we wouldn't have to be there.

MODERATOR. Can you tell us what the basic content of the telegram to Melvin Laird was? What sentiments it expressed?

WARNER. I hope I don't get my husband upset about this. He said, "Congratulations on the resuming of the bombing of the North. Whose brilliant idea was it, Premier Ky or General Westmoreland?"

QUESTION. Mrs. Warner, is it your feeling that President Nixon and his staff are using the publicity on the prisoners of war to divert the American public's attention from what they are actually doing in Vietnam?

WARNER. I wouldn't say that's my feeling. It just seems we have been kept busy with little busy work, like writing letters to Hanoi, condemning them for the inhumane treatment. And we've gotten everybody in America to write a letter to Hanoi. How many was it they took over there and dumped on the steps of the Hanoi delegation in Paris? I don't think they're going to read all these letters, in the first place, and our government isn't swayed by public opinion. How do we think that Hanoi is going to be swayed by public opinion from another country?

QUESTION. Do you feel that President Nixon is using this as a focus for American public attention, rather than having the focus on anti-war activities or anti-war public sentiment?

WARNER. Let's not just say President Nixon, let's say our administration. Sometimes I feel yes, that we are being used. I feel that they did not want the prisoner of war families to join with any peace groups, but I'm a peace-loving person, that's why I had to go.

QUESTION. Mrs. Warner, a few moments ago you said that you were alone on a mountain top. Well, I want to say that you're not alone because these people are all our brothers and sisters and we've got to get them back.

WARNER. Thank you.

MODERATOR. Are there any other questions from the press? I'd like to thank you personally, Mrs. Warner, and our prayers go with you.

WARNER. Thank you very much. Thank you for listening.

FLOYD. My name is Jon Floyd. I was a pilot with the Marine Corps. I was based with Marine Attack Squadron 533 in Chu Lai. Mrs. Warner's son was at Chu Lai. He was shot down about five months before I arrived there. Most of our missions consisted of close air support (which amounts to blowing the tops off of hills or something for helicopters to land) and what is called a TPQ Mission, which is a radar set. This guides the aircraft in at a high altitude, usually about 20,000 feet; they'll give us an air speed to fly, an altitude, and heading control, and we'll reach a point their gear tells them to tell us and we release the bombs. Sometimes we were told what our target was; the targets might be a suspected enemy truck park, or a suspected supply depot, or sniper fire. Normally we'd go up in either single or section aircraft, two aircraft. We carried normally a load of 28 500-lb. bombs per aircraft, and it isn't uncommon, it was a kind of standard joke, about releasing 56 500-lb. bombs on a suspected sniper.

The TPQ bombing is a strato-level bombing which is directly condemned by the Nuremberg principles after Dresden, in World War II, was wiped out because no significant military targets were there. Regarding pilot's living conditions, at Chu Lai we had air-conditioned Quonset huts. We lived there on the beach.

We had access to sailboats, and mainly spent our time in the Officer's Club and nominally doing some sort of job. We also flew into North Vietnam. I was flying an A6A Intruder aircraft, and this is a radar strike aircraft. We'd fly in at a low level at night. They had stopped bombing Hanoi area about two months after I arrived there. This type of mission up into the Hanoi-Haiphong area, called Route Pack Six, was called a "rolling thunder." Primarily what we did, while I was there, was basically going in at night, low level, popping up to about 1,200 feet, acquiring a target on radar, and through the information from our various systems, it went into a computer; I pulled a commit switch and the computer dropped the bombs. We went back at low level. This was always done at night. I didn't get any rolling thunders while I was there, I'm not too unhappy to say.

Our bombing of the North mainly consisted of between the 17th and 18th parallel. This is where the Air Force and Marine Corps area was allotted when the bombing halt was called above the 20th parallel. The Navy had between the 18th and 19th parallel. Our primary objective was to pick up moving targets, such as trucks, or barges, any convoys carrying supplies, etc. We also had secondary targets, which were normally called a truck park or a gun-emplacement or ferry positions across the river, which we would drop our bombs on if we didn't pick up any moving targets. These were the same targets that we had for months and months, and they'd be bombed many times over each night.

Basically the type of weapons we used there were 500-lb. bombs, and 2,000-lb. bombs with what we called "daisy-cutters," which was about a yard-long 1 fuse, to make sure that the bomb doesn't go ahead and penetrate the ground when it explodes but it stays above ground so the frag pattern will be large enough. We also used CBUs (cluster bomblet units) which are classified, a secret I believe, which amount to a canister which releases a number of small bomblets which are anti-personnel. Also, we mined the rivers and roads with 500-lb. bombs which were set to go off normally in the 24-hour period following to catch trucks and barges coming along at later times.

Anywhere in North Vietnam basically is a free drop zone. There were no forbidden targets. If you didn't find any particular targets that you wanted to hit, then normally you'd go ahead and just drop your bombs wherever you wanted to. They had zones off in the water where you could go and jettison your bombs, but this was very seldom ever used. Many times, I know, a lot of pilots I've talked to said they would drop their bombs on the city of Dong Hoi, which is the main city between the 17th and 18th parallel there on the coast. We had gotten information that the North Vietnamese had told us that they had a prisoner of war camp in Dong Hoi. It was always blacked out, but no one seemed to believe this and they'd go ahead and dump their bombs on the city there. Referring to Dr. Nelson's experience in Hue, our government claims that most of the people that died there were executed by the Viet Cong, after the cease fire, but a great deal of the city of Hue was destroyed by our own bombing and I'm sure a great deal of these people that died were destroyed by our bombing. I wouldn't doubt but that her living room was blown up by one of our bombs. This war from the pilot's standpoint, is a very impersonal war. You go over there and whether or not you believe the goals that the government prescribes for us to fight for or whatever, most of the pilots just go along and figure, well, it's a job. And that's the way we all looked at it. You fly. You see flak at night. That's about as close to war as we get. Sometimes you get shot down, but you don't see any of the explosions. You can look back and see 'em, but you don't see any of the blood or any of the flesh. It's a very clean and impersonal war.

You go out, fly your mission, you come back to your air-conditioned hootch and drink beer or whatever. You're not in contact with it. You don't realize at the time, I don't think, what you're doing. It dawned on me, I think, when we got reports of 13 year old NVA soldiers coming across and being captured; that most probably they had young girls driving most of these trucks that we were destroying up north. And as far as the damage reports that were put out by the pilots, it was a kind of a standard joke. Especially when you knew which pilots would not particularly do a good job and every bomb they saw exploding, they'd come back and report secondaries. It was just a standard joke. Among the career officers, especially major and above field grade officers, this was just a place to advance your career. They tried to give everyone a command of some sorts. They made sure everyone pretty well got a medal of some sort. In my unit (it was in a flight status) it was a Distinguished Flying Cross. I got two of these; virtually all of the officers got one. This was just a standard procedure. Have you got your DFC yet? It was a common thing. We had an older bombardier navigator and he used to fly with a lot of the colonels who would come down from Group. They had a high change-over of command to make sure everyone got their command over there. We would send him up with all the colonels to take them up north, get shot at, and bring them back and write up their horror tale of how brave they were, and give 'em a medal. Then they'd probably never fly again with us, after they got the medal.

MODERATOR. Okay, now I'd like to go and talk to a few of the other men here on the panel who were interrogators. First we have Jon Drolshagen. He was in the Army. He worked with S-5 which is the Civic Action Program in Vietnam. This is what he was assigned to. This Civic Action Program is to win the hearts and minds of the people. I'd like Jon to explain a little bit about how he carried out this Civic Action Program.

DROLSHAGEN. Right. Well, being an interrogator you automatically don't win hearts and minds. Being an interrogator the way I was, you definitely don't win hearts and minds. I've heard about these bell telephone hours where they would crank people up with field phones. I guess we did them one better because we used a 12-volt jeep battery and you step on the gas and you crank up a lot of voltage. It was one of the normal things. I'll give a little background. I started out in Vietnam as a platoon leader, seven months in the field doing little fire fights, killing people, etc. You get a little bit hardened, I guess. You become a superhawk or whatever you want to put it at.

After a while, people in my unit were a little bit weary of going out in the field with me. I started enjoying killing people a little bit more than you're supposed to, I guess. Even for the United States, I guess you can like it too much. I was taken out of there and put in the Civic Action. The basis of the Civic Action is to win the hearts and minds of the people, propagandize them to our way of thinking. We're supposedly building schools for them, getting medical aid to them, food and clothing, all the nice things that you can think of that you would want to do for people that are "less than we are" so we can bring them up to our standards--which is amazing for a country that's been there an awful lot longer than we have. Instead of doing this type of thing, we had a major that enjoyed doing other types of things. We worked more as an intelligence unit to gather information for our brigade and division. My area was from the city of Tay Ninh, the Tay Ninh Province, down to Phu Cuong which Cu Chi bisected. Outside of Cu Chi, there's a little village called _____ Tau Chi that has an ARVN battalion and an RND unit outside. A little bit north of that is another village that we had commandeered, some head honcho's hootch, which is a big place, you keep your beer cool in it, and where we could carry on interrogation without outside people knowing what was happening. There was another lieutenant and a major there that was an adviser to the Vietnamese battalion down there. There were Vietnamese officers, enlisted men, and NCOs and American officers, enlisted men and NCOs that were present for the wiring of prisoners. You could take the wires of a jeep battery (it's a tremendous amount of voltage), put it most any place on their body, and you're going to shock the hell out of the guy. The basic place you put it was the genitals. There were some people who really enjoyed that because people would really squirm. The major that I worked for had a fantastic capability of staking prisoners, utilizing a knife that was extremely sharp, and sort of filleting them like a fish. You know, trying to check out how much bacon he could make of a Vietnamese body to get information. Prisoners treated this way were executed at the end because there was no way that we could take them into any medical aide and say, "This dude fell down some steps," or something, because you just don't get them kind of cuts and things like that. That was our basic way of getting the information that we needed from prisoners, suspects or whatever. These people were not taken in to the 25th Division Headquarters which is stationed in Cu Chi. These were utilized out in the ARVN areas. We would go back into base camp at night, and being red-blooded American like we were, we'd go down to the Officers Club and get blasted and talk to people. So I'm sure that my brigade commander, my brigade CO, and all the officers attached to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade, 25th Division, knew what was happening. There was no condemnation of this. People would request to go out there with us and watch it. We had pilots with us and they don't get on the ground too much. They don't see what's really happening. We would take pilots out with us to show them our side of the war, as it were. You become very hardened after being out in the field, losing a lot of people, killing a lot of people, and when you come in, torturing really is just another way of going over it.

MODERATOR. Would you say, Jon, that these were commonly used tactics for interrogators over there, our interrogators?

DROLSHAGEN. Well, using personal experience, yeah. It was so commonplace, you know, you just do it.

MODERATOR. Just accept it as policy.

DROLSHAGEN. Right. That's just what we do.

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