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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. Sam, you talked about recon by fire and mad minutes. I wonder if you'd explain these terms, as well as talk a little bit about the incident with the helicopter?

SCHORR. Recon by fire is when you go into an area and you're not exactly sure what is in the area. You want to find out, so you just fire into the jungle or into the surrounding vegetation in the hopes you hit the enemy or something. But they really didn't know who was out there or what was out there. And mad minutes is just where everybody on perimeter, around the base camp (you have bunkers all the way around it) opens up and fires away with all their fire power for about a minute, two minutes. I saw several incidents of recon by fire. This was on convoy duty. The convoy would stop. Tanks would pull out to the edge of the convoy. These are around inhabited areas; there were villages all up and down the highway. This was Highway 13, Thunder Road. And they would point their muzzles down into the vegetation and fire a canister round. Now a canister round has something like 7,000 oblong bearings in it. It's got a range of about 400 meters and it spreads as it goes. It goes in at an angle. Starts out at a small angle and just goes out like this. It's kind of like a Claymore mine. It just rips everything to pieces that's in the way. If there's anybody out there--any animal, any person, any kid, any hootch--it's going to be destroyed, flattened. Knocks trees to pieces. Regarding throwing people out of helicopters, I only saw one incident to this. I was coming out to do bunker guard during the day and right outside their perimeter, this was Lai Khe, there was an armored personnel carrier and a Huey chopper, which was warmed up and ready to go. There were people standing around the APC. There were five Vietnamese people. I do not know if they were civilians, Viet Cong or Viet Cong suspects. Three of them were wounded, had bandages on their bodies and their legs and their arms looked in bad shape. The other two were older men, somewhere around fifty years old. The Lieutenant from the armored personnel carrier and the captain from the chopper helped place these people in the helicopter. He got in the helicopter and took off. He got a couple of hundred feet up and three bodies came out. The lieutenant who was on the ground radioed up to the 'copter and he asked, "What happened to the prisoners?" The reply was point blank, "They tried to escape."

MODERATOR. Sam, you also spoke about the random destruction of crops, including some fields with graves, and shooting of people. Do you want to discuss that at all?

SCHORR. Right. The destruction of crops was fairly widespread. I was in an engineering outfit. I operated a bulldozer and also an earth mover, which is a very large piece of equipment for removing eighteen cubic yards of dirt at a time. When we had to build a base camp or we needed dirt for a road, we just drove off the side of a road into somebody's rice paddy and just started scraping away and taking their dirt. It didn't matter if the Vietnamese people there were using it at the time, or if they were going to use it at a future time. We just went in there and got it anyway 'cause we needed the dirt. Along almost all these rice paddies, they have graves on the dikes, at corners of the dikes, and these are the fathers, mothers, and grandfathers of the people who lived near that particular rice paddy. If there was a grave in the way, we just went right through it. I scraped up several graves into my pan and probably dumped it on a road somewhere. And there were sergeants and lieutenants watching it. They never said a thing. I was never reprimanded for doing something like this. Also, this was kind of a contradiction in army policy. When we were at a base camp that had a rubber plantation in it--this is thousands of rubber trees planted for the use of taking out the sap and using it for latex--when we ripped off a rubber tree we paid the French owner of that plantation 700 piasters per tree. This was the deal they had worked out. Somebody was getting rich off of taking down thee unused rubber trees. But when we did it to these local Vietnamese peasants, or anybody living around there, we didn't pay anybody anything. We just went off and did it. As far as random fire on civilians, this happened quite often, especially on bunker guard. You sit on bunker guard for a week, 24 hours a day and you get pretty bored. So we'd play little games. The Vietnamese would be working out in their rice paddies with South Vietnamese flags stuck in the rice paddy so you would know they were there. And we would try and knock the flag down. I had a machine gun. My friend had a grenade launcher. We would shoot all over the area and the Vietnamese would just take off for the hills. They thought we were friendly and they put the flag up there to let us know that they were there and we fired at it anyway. This was just out of sheer boredom and also because we just didn't give a damn. Also, we threw full C-ration cans at kids on the side of the road. Kids would be lined up on the side of the road. They'd be yelling out, "Chop, Chop, Chop, Chop," and they wanted food. They knew we carried C-rations. Well, just for a joke, these guys would take a full can if they were riding shotgun and throw it as hard as they could at a kid's head. I saw several kids' heads split wide open, knocked off the road, knocked into tires of vehicles behind, and knocked under tank traps.

MODERATOR. Dennis, if I can switch to you quickly because I remember you mentioned something about the rubber plants too and about payoffs. Do you want to discuss that and then talk about the destruction of that perimeter village?

BUTTS. I'm going to talk about the perimeter at Dau Tieng, which I was on for about two months. I spent about every night on it. Dau Tieng is on the Michelin rubber plantation owned by the French. When someone is not there on this perimeter protecting these rubber trees, well, they might be just a little bit confused or embittered at what they're doing. It came down from battalion. We wondered why we weren't too careful when we were in the rubber about getting mortared and battalion said the reason we weren't mortared was because the French were paying a volunteer fee to the Viet Cong for not mortaring the rubber. Where did the French get this money? Did they raise their prices on the rubber? No, they got it from the American government. So the American government was paying the French rent at Dau Thieng and then the French were paying the VC. The VC were carrying out the war in other parts of Vietnam with this money. This was part of why you might feel a little bit confused in Vietnam at what's going on around you. I'd like to talk about the general situation on this perimeter. It was really a confusing thing. I don't know if I can make it clear. We had concertina wire up. The people in the village were friendly. In these two months I never saw any sniper fire coming from that village. The girls would come in at night and stay in the bunkers with us and smoke pot. A lot of guys would go in the village and sleep in the village at night; they'd go through the concertina wire. And it was that friendly. The army has a policy of putting people who are in a rear echelon in the perimeters, such as cooks, mechanics, and mortar people (like I was at that time) who have really no experience at combat or anything and might feel a little bit uneasy at what's going on. They put these people on the perimeter, just after they've got off a day of being cook, or working in a motor pool. They're using World War II equipment also which wasn't designed for Vietnam, so they got 50 caliber machine guns for the mess halls. Well, the mess halls don't really need 50 calibers so they put them out in this perimeter. Now the perimeter of the village was about 150 to 200 feet from this 50 caliber. And anybody who knows what a 50 caliber can do can, if he can see any logic in that, I would like to know. But, anyway, they got this 50 caliber sitting there and the bullets on a 50 caliber are about that long (approximately six inches).

With some guys, not everyone, it just got to be a game of shooting at lights in the village. One night there was a light or something in the village, and this one guy, he was from a rear echelon, a mechanic, he was on this 50 caliber. He saw something and he opened up onto the village with a 50 caliber in about a ten second burst. Then the rest of the perimeter opened up. Not everyone, but a lot of firing. And all I could hear--it was just people screaming all of a sudden, people screaming, you know. So a few guys started yelling, "Come on, cut it out. Cut it out!" And everybody was wondering what was going on because there was no fire coming from the village. Then there was a big silence, and all of a sudden, just babies crying. And, you know, it just--every time I hear a baby cry right now, I--that comes back to me. In another incident that happened, at the same perimeter, up about 100 yards, and this gives a little bit more insight into why this thing happened. They had a man whom I know. He wasn't a close friend but I'd known him pretty well. And he just didn't want to be in Vietnam. He started out to be pretty straight, a pretty straight guy, pretty level-headed. He tried everything to get out of the army.

He took court-martials and Article 15s and he finally shot himself in the foot to get out of the army. They patched up his foot and sent him on this berm. He was on the berm and there were a couple of other guys there with him. I was on the next bunker and we had field phones in between us. There was a kid out there urinating. And this guy talked the other two and himself into shooting. Now, I think the other two guys shot. It was only about 150 feet away. I don't think they tried to hit him. But this guy did with a grenade launcher. They hit him with this grenade launcher and I don't know, he must have been about 13 to 15 years old, I witnessed this. We went into the village and he had shrapnel in his back. The medics did treat him and take him into the first aid station. This guy did not get a reprimand for this. He was just kind of given up on and he was still put in the field again. I don't know whatever happened to him, after that. But, I'm just trying to say the things that happened to people. They go in the army pretty sane or level-headed or adjusted. They tell the army that maybe they shouldn't be there and nobody listens. They just put them in a worse situation and this is how some of these things happen.

MODERATOR. I might just point out to the audience that a 50 caliber, which is the bullet which Dennis was talking about, is outlawed according to the Geneva Convention for use against people. It is not an anti-personnel weapon. It is actually anti-vehicular. However, in Vietnam it has been used by every unit as one of the major staples of weaponry for people. Paul Williams and Don Donner, you both talk about mistreatment of refugees amongst other things. I wish you two would amplify upon the mistreatment of refugees first.

WILLIAMS. Well, in Operation Hickory, an operation inside the DMZ, we were told that the reason for our being there was to evacuate Catholic refugees. We had a detachment of military police with my company at that time, who were to handle these refugees. After making our landing on about the second or third day, in May of 1967, I went out with the platoon to a village about 1,000 meters from our position. From all appearances the villagers had not been notified that they were to be evacuated and they obviously didn't want to be evacuated. About 30 or 40 villagers were rounded up; they were not given a chance to collect any of their belongings. They were taken back to our position where they were loaded on amtracks and taken down the beach. We were told they were being taken to Gio Linh to the refugee camp. I don't know what actual disposition was made of them after they left our position. On another occasion a couple of days later, we saw refugees about 1,000 meters in front of our position, moving south. I checked them out with binoculars to see if they were troops or what. They were all people carrying belongings on their back. There were no weapons present. The platoon that I was with at that particular time was in a position about 500 meters from the rest of the company and there were no officers present. Some of the men in the company, or in the platoon, rather, fired upon these refugees. They were too far away for any accurate firing. I don't know if any of them were hit, but there was no command given for them to cease. This went on until they got tired of the sport.

DONNER. First of all, I would like to corroborate a little bit which has already been said. I was with an engineer unit, the 86th, with the other gentleman at a much later date. The engineer unit is not allowed to have 50 calibers as a standard weapon. We had borrowed two 50 calibers from an infantry unit and we had them the full ten months that I was there. We also had borrowed an automatic grenade launcher from a naval unit, much the same as is mounted on Huey Cobras; a very, very effective anti-personnel weapon as far as killing and maiming goes. I'm an OCS drop-out. I decided I couldn't stand the extra year. It was a hard decision there at the last. But in OCS Fort Belvoir, Engineer OCS, Combat Engineers, recon by fire is a standard technique for convoy duty, which is taught to all the officers and suggested to be used. We often fired on flags in the field, both VC and VA flags, and South Vietnamese flags. We often shot water buffalo while on convoy sort of to relieve the boredom. Cleaned weapons, things like that.

We threw C-rations at kids. Part of the feeling behind this being the poor gooks are so hungry, you know, give them some food. We don't want these damn C-rations. Some of the people did a pretty good job of aiming the C-rations. I never saw anybody get killed because of one, but there were a few kids who were pretty fast jumpers. We were on a bridge site, building a bridge over the Com Nuong Choi River. We had the two 50s, one at each end of our position on the one side of the river. Standing orders were that at night time any sampan which came along the river was to be fired and sunk; any sampan. The two or three which I remember being sunk were basically sampans which had broken loose from neighboring villages. This was about fourteen, fifteen miles outside Saigon and had floated down the river. We had binoculars. We checked them out. We knew that nobody was in them, as close as we could tell. Standing orders were to sink them and it was a good chance to get in some target practice. Mad minutes we didn't do too much of. The one situation that I can remember was Tet '68 before we ever heard word that Tet had actually broken out. We'd spent the entire day with neighboring villagers, getting gassed up on rice whiskey (which is a very, very effective form of home brew) and many other forms of dope. When midnight rolled around we unloaded everything we had into the sky and it was quite a sight to watch the tracers climbing up and back down. Again, this is like fourteen miles outside of Saigon. I don't know how far 50 caliber bullets carry when shot in the air, but the entire circle of sky as far as could see around us was completely red with tracers going up--a fantastic sight. When I was in Vietnam I usually drove a jeep, except for a few weeks. It gave me a unique opportunity to get out and see the country which most of my fellow men didn't have. It gave me a unique opportunity to meet with the people. One time--I'm going to give some background so you can understand my feelings on it. I was running a steel convoy after we left the bridge site, back to Bear Cat. We had a large truck loaded with steel and it was barreling along about fifty miles an hour. I was in a jeep trying to keep anybody from a crossroad from getting in the way. So we were pretty well back to Saigon, back to Bear Cat, rather, past Saigon, past the last turnoff, and we slowed down to about thirty-five when an oil tanker came hustling around, moving much faster than we were. About two miles on up the road, we came upon an accident where the oil tanker had hit a civilian car. There were two kids in the car, boys, twins, about 12 or 14 and two older men. They were pretty well broken up. I got on the radio and called for medivac pretty fast. It took a while, but normal length of time, before there were medics out there and the kids were medivaced out with no questions asked.

Okay, that's the background. We were down at base camp Linda on the Mekong River, or just off the Mekong, rather, running a convoy up to Saigon again. Bunch of five tons, jeeps, vehicular stuff. We were about, I'd say, about ten to fifteen miles out of base camp Linda. We came upon a bridge with a village around it. The truck, oh, five or six vehicles ahead of me, made a dash for the bridge at the same time a forty-fifty year old Vietnamese civilian man was trying to go on the bridge. He was on a bicycle. He saw he wasn't going to be able to make it so he slipped off the bicycle, straddling it, trying to back it up off the bridge. The rear wheels of the five ton caught the bicycle, pinning him underneath it. The metal seat caught in his crotch and quite a bit of blood was pouring out. Our medic checked him over fast and said he couldn't do anything for him. They'd have to get him on to a different hospital or something. So, I got on the radio and called for another medivac which would take about 15 minutes to get there. I called in on the straight medivac band. My company was monitoring that band and, unfortunately, I guess, the CO of the company was walking by at the time. He came back and asked me what was happening. I explained we had a wounded Vietnamese civilian. He said not to do anything till he got there. Now this fellow's bleeding to death very fast, very fast. There's a crowd of thirty to fifty villagers standing around in a half-circle sort of watching, talking to themselves. So I argued for a couple of minutes and said, "Okay, you know, hurry up and get here." About five minutes later the civilian was in much, much worse shape. It was obvious that he was going to die by now. I called back to the company again and said, "We got to have a medivac now. It's not right just to leave this man bleed to death in front of his own people. We're the ones who wounded him, therefore we should at least try to show that we're trying to help him." Again the captain came back. Said, "Don't do anything till I get there. He's a civilian, you know." Another five minutes later and the medic brought my poncho to cover him up with. He was dead. About fifteen minutes, twenty minutes after that, the CO finally got there. He took quite a while leaving. The body was turned over to advisers working with the ARVNs that were guarding our perimeter and I don't know what happened to it other than that. But, you know, what can you say? What can you say? The other major instance I'd like to talk about was the one time that I actually saw a dead Vietnamese body. It sort of got to be a game with us. This was after Tet and there was a slight push by the VC later on in the year. Let's say this was around May '66 or so. They were trying to block supplies coming up from the southern Delta region to Saigon. And we were trying to keep Highway 4 open for those supplies. So every day we would go out and work on the roads. Dig up the mines and the VCs lay low and take a shot at us. We'd lay down beside the road and fifteen or twenty minutes later, we'd get up and go back to work. They'd take another shot at us. We'd lay back down again.

They didn't seem to be really, at that time, trying to kill us; it was more of a game. We had ARVNs providing our security. Whenever a shot was taken at us, we'd lay down and sweep the ARVNs through the area. They'd go through, say everything's fine, all clean, no VC. We'd go back to work and then get shot at again. Usually they'd go through a field until they received fire. As soon as they were shot at they would sit down, wait, call in our air strikes, our artillery. Then go forward again. The VC were wise to this. They wouldn't shoot at them. They'd run back to their shelters, wait for the air strikes, artillery to get over, then come back out and shoot. This time the ARVNs were being pushed by a new adviser who got them moving instead of calling in air strikes and they caught a VC who was hiding in a bunker. And they shot him. They towed his body back to camp, oh, four, five miles behind a jeep. They drug up outside our area. Everybody came up to look at the VC. After a while, there were quite a few GIs standing around. We were company size strength. Some of the people wanted to cut his ear off--this sort of thing. It was the common sort of thing which we understood as being done. I can't testify to any though. But quite a few of the EMs there, like myself, didn't particularly like the idea and notified the officers, at least the good ones, who also didn't like the idea. The ARVNs then took the body, sat it up along the roadside, and let it set. This is what it looked like four or five days later... Sort of frightening to realize I still have this on film. I almost forget about it because I don't like to look at the film very much. I don't like to be reminded. To the best of my knowledge there was no protest filed with ARVNs or the adviser working with the ARVNs at that time, about letting the body sit there. And part of the importance of this is that, as I understand some of the religions there, is that immediate burial is very, very important in their religion. It's as if you didn't confess before you died. There's no hope. It breaks the cycle of reincarnation if you're not buried, or if your head's cut off, or if the head is mutilated in any way. But to the best of my knowledge, there was no word said about it. The body was allowed to lay there and rot. There was another instance of a body laying beside the road which I drove by for about three days. There was some sort of a sign pinned on him, but it was in Vietnamese. I never did find out if the body was a Vietnamese civilian, a VC, a Vietnamese working for the Americans, or what. And I don't know if anybody else did either. One of the other things which I might mention is this sort of mad minutes which go on. Before I got to the bridge site, evidently one had gone on earlier.

Oh, six months earlier, or so. There was a very pretty, very vivacious little twelve, fourteen year old girl who lived within our perimeter at a hootch. She was permanently disabled. Her leg was stiff, would never straighten out again. She was on one side of the river and evidently somebody thought there was some VC over there and everybody opened up. Most likely everybody was messed up on some sort of dope or other. And she was wounded, could not be helped. To help balance it out though, I might say, that at least at Com Muong Choi, where we did get to know the people, we were fairly good about giving medical attention to anybody who needed it or to taking any Vietnamese who was wounded or sick to a hospital. In fact, I guess that was the only time that I really felt decent over there, was the three or four times that we took pregnant women over to have their babies.

MODERATOR. Tom, burning is something which is pretty much taken for granted in Vietnam but it's the destruction of dwellings which are inhabited by civilians that is a war crime. And, Tom, I think you wanted to talk a little bit about the burning of villages and the Marines and their nickname.

HEIDTMAN. My first day with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, I was informed that the nickname of the company was the "Burning Fifth Marines." Once, just before my first operation, we had a company formation, which means that the entire company who was going on the operation is fully equipped with everything they're going to take with them, including ammunition. At the time, our company commander was a 1st Lieutenant, who was hit on Hill 1100 in April, but he said that we're going out in the morning and we're going out on choppers. We're going out into an area west of Tam Ky. Then he said, "We're going to have a zippo inspection right now." And I would say approximately two-thirds of the entire company had zippo lighters. We held them up, lit them, demonstrated that they were filled, would burn. Then put them away. He smiled and let it go at that. When we went out, I would say 50% at least of the villages we passed through would be burned to the ground. There was no difference between the ones we burned and the ones we didn't burn. It was just that where we had time, we burned them. I've seen a gunnery sergeant take a .45 and kill six piglets that probably came from Americans because they had a big program to give the Vietnamese people pigs, ducks, and things like that. They were shot because their area, their pen, or whatever, was right next to a village or a hootch that was burning. The entire village, for about a quarter of a mile, was on fire with illumination grenades or zippo lighters. Everything was burned. Everything was torn down. All the animals were killed. Water buffaloes were shot and allowed to just lay right where they were. They were just shot right in their pen; they couldn't move. It's hard to kill a water buffalo, but when he's standing right there there's nothing much he can do. Everything is burned. On one particular occasion we had been moving on Operation Arizona, in April and May, we'd been moving constantly. About one hour just before dark, the order came right from our first lieutenant to first squad, which I was a member of, to go burn the village because it's too close.

We're spending too much time here. So my squad, myself included, went and put a zippo lighter to the village. Burned it. They were still inside the houses. They came outside and just stood there and cried and carried on. A short while later they wandered off. We don't know what happened to them. That was the only village in the immediate vicinity so we cleared the area more or less. Everything was liable to be burned or destroyed. We would stop along the side of a hill, going up a hill, just to check out the top which is a procedure the Marine Corps seems to adhere to. Every time we would stop somebody would be taking a machete or some such thing and chopping down banana trees. The people would slice potatoes and dry them out in front of their hootches. They would be scattered all over the place. They would just be kicked and destroyed. Men would urinate on these vegetables that were drying in the sun. If they complained they were definitely brutalized. That was a common procedure. The reason I came down here was because I've been living with this thing for two and a half years.

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