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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

HEIDTMAN. There was an aura of hate in my outfit. I mean, a Vietnamese...there was no such thing to my unit as a friendly Vietnamese. Every Vietnamese was a gook. I've hardly ever heard the term Vietnamese. They were always gooks. There was no difference between a good one and a bad one except that the good one at the time is carrying no weapon but he's still fair game. The games that some of the Marines in my outfit played, myself included, would be to find older papa-sans with long whiskers, which I guess is the symbol of his identity in their culture, and they would just be cut. Every man in my outfit had at least a combat knife and they would just cut these whiskers. They would brutalize anybody who complained. We would move into a village and we would just sit down. We owned the village while we were there. These people would do what we told them, or they wouldn't be allowed to stay in their own house, or would be beaten inside the house. In one village we were using this particular hootch for the command post. There were officers, two officers and two senior enlisted men inside. The old grandfather appeared to be about sixty or seventy years old. He would not cooperate and go get water for some of the enlisted men and officers, so he was picked up by two Marines; each had a wrist and an ankle and they just pitched him in about 15 feet out the back door; he just landed there and split. To the Marines, there was no such thing as a free fire zone in my outfit. Everyplace was a free fire zone, whether it was 50 yards from the perimeter or five miles or whatever.

MODERATOR. A free fire zone for the information of somebody who just came today is an area designated by the command, whichever command has jurisdiction over an area, stating that anything in it is fair game. Any moving thing can be shot. Anything can be destroyed. It's a VC area. Many of these areas were designated such without any American presence for two and three year periods.

HEIDTMAN. One other thing that was more or less like a joke, like cutting the whiskers off, and it would get a laugh every time from somebody, was if we were moving through a village and there was a woman present. Her clothes, at least the top half of her clothes were just ripped. I've seen that happen and done it several times, probably thirty, forty times I've seen civilians with their clothes just...just because they were female and they were old enough for somebody to get a laugh at...their clothes--the top of their clothes, at least, would be ripped. Just torn right down. It only takes one hand to rip those kind of clothing. They're real thin silk or whatever, and they would be shoved out into the ditch and we'd just keep going.

MODERATOR. Now, when you first arrived in Vietnam you told me that they burnt a village just to show you how to do it. Is that true?

HEIDTMAN. Well, it was more or less demonstrated. We were on our first operation and it was an operation so it just followed the procedure. They were used to it and we were just shown how you destroy a village. How you cut anything taller than you are down, unless it's a big tree and will take time. Banana trees are chopped down. Everything is set on fire. My squad leader personally ignited the first two hootches and then just told us to take care of the rest so we could learn how this procedure was carried out. And he said, "Now you know that everything in the way gets burned," and we just proceeded to follow that procedure.

MODERATOR. David, you wanted to testify about U.S. operations in Cambodia as far back as 1967 and I think two others also have testimony on this subject with slides. Why don't you go ahead.

COHEN. I was in the Navy and I was on swift boats which are patrol boats. Their primary mission is board and search. And all they do is search every junket and sampan they see, looking for VC suspects and contraband. But it was a very mundane operation. It wasn't really exciting. I was really bored and I figured well, what the _____, here I am in a war zone, let's go see some war. So I went and I volunteered for any sort of special operations that were going on. Our base was on this island about fifty miles off the coast, on the Gulf of Siam, and there was this town right on the coast. It was called Ha Tien. There was a Special Forces, mercenary group, there which was a team of Special Forces who were provided with money. I mean, I've seen the safe full of the million piasters. They hired Cambodian and Nationalist Chinese mercenaries. Most of them were bandits, you know, who hired themselves out to anybody. They would go out on these operations. The base was five miles from the Cambodian border. So anything in that direction would have had to have been in Cambodia because we always went more than five miles in a northerly direction. I went out on operations with them anywhere between five and ten times. Sometimes it'd be out riding the boats and sometimes I'd be out relating to the Special Forces. Supposedly, my capacity was coordinating naval gunfire support. But fifty miles inland there are no naval guns that are gong to do that. The Special Forces maintained arsenals of unregistered weapons. That is, weapons that are not registered anywhere in the United States. Not even with the manufacturer. So that if anybody was captured, if any of the weapons were captured, there would be no American implicated. There would be no Americans implicated in anything that happened. Nobody ever wore uniforms. They wore either black pajamas or camouflaged fatigues and tiger greens. I would like to say that one of the reasons they hired mercenaries was because the ARVN troops realized that the NLF were really representative of the people and they didn't want to fight against the NLF. So they had to hire these bandits to do it. I saw NLF. We talked about racism here. The terms VC and Viet Cong is racist. The terms for the supposed insurgent forces is the NLF, National Liberation Front.

MODERATOR. Russ, I believe you were a helicopter pilot and participated in dropping Special Forces teams in Cambodia. I think at this time we might show your slides and you can explain that operation.

KOGUT. In July of '68 I worked with the Special Forces unit, B-50, out of Ban Me Thuot. Their main support were these air force helicopters here, the UH-I, and you'll notice there are no markings on the aircraft. We were just being used as backup because they were running more missions than they had aircraft for. And we supported them like this, on and off, for the whole year I was there and it continued after I was there.

Our company took over a good deal more of this mission, as I was told by a friend of mine who came back. We worked out of a base camp at Duc Lap down on the border. We put recon teams in consisting of two or three Americans and two or three hired, well, I can't swear that they were hired, but they were Cambodes or Montagnards, sympathetic with the U.S. --either for money or other reasons and we put these teams in. We went anywhere from one to three miles inside of Cambodia and, in the briefing that we received, they told us that their mission over there was to gather information on a known NVA unit that operated out of that area.

The NVA had a base camp there of approximately 15,000 of them by the estimates gathered from these reports, from these spies that we took in. These missions were secret. The President had knowledge of these. I am informed that a copy of what goes on, goes to him. I can't verify that so I shouldn't say it, I guess. But, these missions continued up until the time of our going into Cambodia on the legitimate side and now they're no big thing.

Other testimony I have would be corroboration of these mad minutes. These things took place in our compound. They were quite common. Also, evacuation of villages. On occasion in Da Lat, a village southwest of Da Lat, we evacuated all the inhabitants and the ARVNs went through afterward and burned the whole village. The livestock that they didn't kill, they stole and brought back for themselves. It was on a similar type operation at Tuy An on the coast. A whole peninsula on the coast was said to be uninhabited and we went out there on these little search and destroy things.

On one occasion they found a woman. We took her prisoner and she had a whole basement full of rice. They destroyed the house and I believe they destroyed all the houses in the village. On one of these operations, as we were leaving the pickup zone, which is where we operated out of, somebody gave the okay for all the crew members to load rocks aboard the helicopter. Apparently, the province chief, who is like God in these areas, said that it was okay for the gunners and crew chiefs to play bombardier by dropping rocks in the bay. He said anywhere over in this one part of the bay was okay to drop rocks. We took off to go pick up the troops.

On the way we passed over this place, and all the crew members were throwing these rocks out. One sampan I know of was hit and sunk. There were two people in it. They swam to shore and another old man was hit by an ARVN captain. He threw the rock out and hit this old man right in the chest and at that speed there's little doubt of what happened to him. The ARVNs burned the villages whenever they found rice because these missions were strictly one-day things and they didn't have time to haul rice out or investigate. The province chief decided where everybody was going to live, so if they didn't live where he wanted, they took the risk of having their houses burned. Free fire zones are all over the place, wherever somebody decides to have one.

We had one where we regularly tested our gunships after they came out of maintenance. We took them out there, they would check them out, and anything in there was a free target. On one occasion I was flying north near a village called Ban Dong on a sniffer mission. For anybody not familiar with it this is a device in a helicopter which detects ammonia scent emitted by humans. It's also emitted by monkeys. When they got a high enough count, they would bomb it, and either get monkeys or VC by their book. On this particular mission the gunships had to turn back early because they were low on fuel, and there was just myself with a sniffer and the commanding patrol ship which was a ways above me with a map, I saw an elephant and made mention of the fact. The captain was in charge of the overall mission told me to go back and look and see what was going on.

I went back. There were four adults and a calf. I circled them several times. There was no village in the vicinity, so they were not friendly elephants, and there were no (this was by the captain's definition) there were no marks on the elephants or packs or any signs of any people around, so I assumed they were wild. The captain assumed they were enemy and told me to have 'em destroyed. So I had my gunners shoot 'em. And this is the price an animal pays for being wild in Vietnam. The same thing goes for water buffalo. Several times I've seen water buffalo shot for sport. If they were on a certain side of a ridge or on the other side of a river, they were considered fair game.

MODERATOR. Russ, you told us about taking Special Forces into Cambodia. Sitting at the end of the table is Don Pugsley, who was in Special Forces with Project Delta. Don, do you have another slide to show and explain?

PUGSLEY. Well, first of all, it's kind of an involved rap, but just like our large universities have colleges within them, the Special Forces in South Vietnam have different subsections within--A teams, B teams, and C teams, all of which you know about through the media, movies, and that ridiculous song.

There are other subsections of this Special Forces that are not too well known to the people of the United States of America. These are known as C & C North, C & C Central, and C & C South. I'd estimate about a hundred Green Berets, and then I don't know how many more mercenaries, work in these different subsections. There is also an organization known as Project Delta B-52, of which I was a member.

I will explain the functions of these units. I'd started off in 1964 as SOG, Special Operations Group. It evolved some time between '64 and when I went to Vietnam, into C & C. C & C stands for Command and Control, which is just an army term that has absolutely nothing to do in regard to explaining the unit it represents. C & C North's sole function was to run reconnaissance and related missions into North Vietnam. C & C Central's sole function was to run reconnaissance and related missions into Laos and northern Cambodia; C & C South did the same thing in Cambodia exclusively.

Project Delta did the same thing only within country, within South Vietnam. I served with Project Delta as a Green Beret Medic. I had a very close friend, who will have to remain nameless because he chose to make the Army a career, who was a weapons expert. In Green Berets you are given a specialty--medics, weapons, demolitions, operations and intelligence, communications. He carried a top-secret clearance because he wanted out of country. I carried a secret clearance I worked in country. He was at C & C South. His first mission into Cambodia (and this is all prior to our official invasion of Cambodia) was sanctioned by the CIA because all these C & C units take their orders directly from the CIA. A man in civilian clothes, who my friend did not know, he would come into the room and say, "Okay, men," and put a map on the wall. "An aerial photograph shows that this particular NVA installation in Cambodia has armor. We don't know if they're mock-ups or real. We want you men to go in on the ground and determine if they're real or not."

Then the man would leave the room and my friend and his fellow teammates decided whether they wanted to go in or not. He went in, and encountered an approximate NVA company. He went in with another American and three Montagnards. I might point out that Montagnards are not allowed to serve in the South Vietnamese Army because they're considered subhumans, and contrary to what this man said down the table, I have never seen an instance where a Green Beret was down on Montagnards.

Perhaps it happens, I never saw it when I was over there because the Montagnards, we really loved them. The Montagnards women were never molested, ever. We just didn't touch them. They were something different than a South Vietnamese. In his particular photograph here, this is a C-130 aircraft, right in front of it on the flightline is a C-123 aircraft. This photograph was taken from the Nha Trang airport. Nha Trang is the headquarters for the Green Berets, and my particular unit was a gypsy unit. We had our main base in Nha Trang, but we went all over the country.

I was wounded and injured in a helicopter accident on the Cambodian border about fifteen klicks west of Kontum, the highland. In the front, the first aircraft is an official American aircraft. It's got a different type of camouflaging. The official camouflage of South Vietnam is a light sand, light green color. It carries numbers on the side of the aircraft that register with our government plus the usual insignias, etc. This here is called the blackbird. It used to be known as the SOG bird. This is a C-130. They have several C-123s, like the other one painted the same way and used for the same functions. You'll notice that the only marking on it is a star here to the rear.

My friend flew in these--well, as a matter of fact, he flew into Nha Trang trying to visit me one day on this. People in C & C fly only on these aircraft right here. He told me that the pilot and the copilot, all crew for this aircraft, were of Chinese nationality. Not related to the Americans in any way. On the front right here, there's a boom which at the moment is folded back. There's another identical one on the other side. When that boom is folded forward, it creates a "V" with the apex of the nose. In that "V" is a winch.

For those of you people who saw the James Bond movie Thunderball, at the end of it, James Bond put on a rubber suit which had a cable running up the back that went to a balloon up in the air. An airplane came by, snagged that rope, and yanked him out of the water. This is what this is functioned for: to snap agents out of North Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia when they get into hot spots and they aren't able to get choppers in to get the teams out. The uniform, etc., is dropped in an aluminum cocoon and the man puts it on and is snapped out. This is the only aircraft I ever saw with that particular device in the nose. I saw this device demonstrated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the United States headquarters for all of our Special Forces. My friend did not wear a uniform. He carried a special weapon. I carried a thing called a Car-15, which is a kind of a submachine gun, a cut-down version of the M-16 weapon. Only officers in the regular army units carried them. All Green Berets carried them, those in C & C South specifically.

I carried a weapon known as the Stoner system, which is eight weapons in one. It incorporated silencers for silent prisoner snatches in Cambodia. You'd wound the man in the leg, grab him and get out of there with the man. These particular agents for C & C South carried cards, which I saw, that were from MACV which said to anyone stopping these people, they have a right to carry whatever particular weapons found on them; they're not to be molested in any way by MPs or what have you in the country.

In Nha Trang, when I was speaking to my friend, he had a friend with him who was in C & C South. We were at the bar and he was telling me about all the craft they were putting on Cambodia, in regard to bombing, etc. This was when we weren't supposed to be bombing. He also told me about a group of men within C & C South code named then as the Earth Angels.

I said, "What do these Earth Angels do?" and he said, "Well, this guy here is an Earth Angel." This guy hadn't said one word to me throughout the whole night, and he said, "I really don't know what they do. I know that they go in one and two-man teams, they come back, and it's rumored that they commit assassinations and atrocities." I've heard that same rumor, not only in Vietnam, but at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, several times from several different sources, sometimes officers, so I just began to assume that it was true after a while.

MODERATOR. Dennis Caldwell, you were an attack helo pilot. If we could just move very quickly through your testimony, we'd like to get to another area.

CALDWELL. I'd like to just briefly explain exactly how we worked, because you probably haven't heard much testimony on this. I was a helicopter Cobra gunship pilot. I worked with another aircraft at all times; 90% of the time it was called a hunter-killer team. A hunter-killer team goes out and does reconnaissance on certain areas. The other aircraft that was with me was a small observation helicopter, normally OH6A Cayuse. Every morning we'd go out and look at certain targets, certain coordinates that were given to us in the morning. We spent about two hours in the morning, plus or minus an hour, sometimes all day, looking at targets, and also just before sundown we would do this. During the day we were on call for any ground units that got into contact. I was told by the other pilots in the unit how to tell a VC from a civilian--if they were running, they were VC. If they were standing there, they were well-disciplined VC, and shoot 'em anyhow. They also told me that when we were flying over a village, or near a village, if people started to leave the village, civilians, it was a good sign that there were VCs in the area, that they were expecting a fight. While speaking with my hootch-mate (I had it pretty good over there in Vietnam, I had a mate) she says, "When American helicopters come through, people run. They think they're going to be killed."

So you put these two things together, and you see civilians are in a kind of bad spot. Recon by fire has been mentioned--I've seen this happen many times. I couldn't even begin to count. It was a perfectly normal, standard operating procedure for my unit and many other units, to recon by fire. It's done with a mini-gun which fires (I can't remember exactly what it is) three or four thousand rounds a minute. It was done using CS grenades; it was done using 27 5-inch rockets, with either ten or seventeen pound warheads of various combinations. As far as clearance to fire went, my first three months I never heard of the term clearance to fire. If there was somebody that we thought might be VC by his actions, by running or hiding, he was a dead man.

Ninth Division were people that we supported mainly when I first got to Vietnam. We had pretty much our own show. We didn't have to ask anybody what to shoot. We didn't have to ask for clearance. After that we worked closer to Saigon. We worked probably within a thirty or forty mile radius of Saigon in all directions, and we had extreme trouble receiving clearance to fire. An Air Force Forward Controller, who coordinates air strikes from jets, told me one time, "If you have trouble obtaining clearance to fire, just holler out that you're receiving fire, and we'll send jets in to bomb the hell out of the place, whether or not you actually receive fire or whether or not there are any weapons in the area at all." Free fire zones--I worked in many free fire zones.

It's kind of hard to number them because almost every day, someplace, we'd come in contact with a free fire zone. I've seen hootches burned down which were not proven to be military targets. I've seen hootches CS'ed to drive people out. When the people were driven out, naturally running away (who wants to hang around and breathe the CS for an hour), they were killed. There was one night at Tan An, which is south of Saigon, I believe in Long An Province, February 23rd of 1969. It was about midnight and somebody detected some movement out on the perimeter. Somebody climbed on top of a hootch to see what it was. Well, actually what they were doing, was shooting at them. Somebody was trying to get them out. It was a high ranking officer. We played around with them for a while. They didn't get anywhere, so they sent our firefly ship up, which is Hue Vuey with a cluster of seven landing lights to light up the ground, brighter than the sun, especially at night when you're looking right up at it. They sent the firefly ship up.

The Viet Cong had set up some rockets right outside the perimeter, rockets, BPGs, things like this. So they scrambled, the gunships off and through the rest of the night, for approximately six hours, there were, I would say, at least ten full loads of armament expended from Cobras in that area, plus several loaches. We scrambled the whole unit from Di An, which is my home base. Di An was my home; they scrambled our whole unit to come down to Tan An and to work on this area.

The next morning, the reports were that there were many civilians killed. This was the village on the south end of Tan An, there were many civilians killed. There were reports of Americans killed by this attack. I believe there was one injury. This is from the report that I got. In the same general area, probably within one or two blocks of the same exact location, several months later we were working on a canal. We were just looking around, doing a recon with the firefly and one Cobra. The firefly ship saw a man in a sampan. He was an old man with a bunch of nipa palm leaves in the sampan. Because he was out after dark, he was killed by the door gunner of the Huey. I have seen a prisoner beaten. He was in a cold area; no fire was received from this area. This was to the northwest of Saigon, to the south of Cu Chi. I can't remember the exact location. We'd been called out to do a recon in this area. It's quite desolate. It was at least a couple of kilometers from any real village, any settlement. Along this canal line, this man was hiding. I do not know whether or not he was armed. But I know that there was no fire received in that area from any enemy soldiers. They flushed this guy out. They tied his hands behind his back.

The water was approximately a foot deep in this rice paddy where they were working him over. I was watching from approximately 500 feet. He was kicked. He was beaten in many ways. Kneeling in this water, with his hands behind his back, I don't know if he was blindfolded or not. Being repeatedly knocked down into the water, set back upright, hit again, and knocked down. Concerning 50 caliber machine guns, many, many times, I have seen them mounted on the doors of Hueys, specifically to be used against ground troops. That's what you go up for is to kill ground troops. Go up in conjunction with firefly ships used at night, used at day, and this is fairly well known among us. I have seen, several times, C-123 aircraft working to the west of Saigon. There's a large river that's to the west of Saigon, runs roughly north and south.

I can't remember the name of it at the moment, but beyond this river there is absolutely nothing left. There were hundreds and hundreds of villages, marked on the map that I had with me, all kinds of names on the map, but you get over that area and there's nothing there at all. It's all been wiped out long ago. Now the C-123s are going out to that area with defoliant. I don't know exactly what chemical it was. I've seen formations of six C-123s out there, low level spraying with Air Force jets providing cover for them. And, I believe there was one time we were to be on stand-by for these people; in fact, I'm sure of it.

There was one time we were to be on stand-by for these people in that general area in case they ran into any ground fire. I have seen a herd of water buffalo CS'ed, because nothing was going on, the pilot flying the loach was getting bored and saw the water buffalo; he dropped one or two CS grenades on them and they stampeded. They crashed into a bunch of foliage next to the river and they went head over heels into the river, you know; it just completely drove them crazy. I don't know what happened to them after that. I don't know if water buffalo can swim or not. I never saw any of them swimming.

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