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Winter Soldier

Testimony given in Detroit, Michigan, on January 31, 1971, February 1 and 2, 1971

Sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Inc.

Part I

MODERATOR. Can I have your attention? The black veterans are coming up to speak on the black experience with racism in Vietnam and we'd like for you to give your attention, if possible. Any Third World people, you know, people of color, all of us. Do you think the minority groups could have some water, please?

Excuse me, is this the bulk of the press that's going to be covering this panel? You're not even from the press, so the press is not even covering this, right? Can somebody on the staff go see about the press?

AUDIENCE. We're here and we're important. We'll pass the word right on.

MODERATOR. Say, people, isn't this typical racism for the press? Okay, we're ready to deal. My name is Donald P. Williams. I spent eight years in the service. My unit was alerted to go to Vietnam in March of 1968. They went to Saigon, but I went to Stockholm. When I got to Stockholm, I sent my commanding officer a big picture postcard and told him good luck. I want to make an opening statement, and then we're going to have the brothers from the Third World give an opening statement. Then we'll give it to the panel.

We, the black veterans of the Vietnam war, are expressing our experience with racism in Vietnam. We intend to show by our testimony that the war in Vietnam is nothing more than an extension of the racist policies as practiced here in the United States. Racism is the motivating factor in determining America's genocidal policy against non-whites. The overwhelming majority of people killed or maimed in Vietnam are non-whites, whether they are Vietnamese, Viet Cong, or American blacks. Whites' statistics say that blacks constitute only ten percent of the total population in the United States, yet they represent at least forty percent of the fighting forces in Vietnam, and, in many cases, due to racism, blacks are the overwhelming majority in the combat areas. The statement you will hear this afternoon reflects the reality of American society's attitudes towards non- whites. This attitude emanates from years and years of oppression based on the refusal of American people to eliminate racism. At this time I'll turn you over to the brothers from the Third World and they're going to make an opening statement.

SHIMABUKURO. My name is Scott Shimabukuro and I'm representing the Asian brothers and sisters, not only in the United States and veterans, but also in Asia. Now this tribunal, or investigation, is into the treatment of Asians, and I'm relating this not only to Asians in Vietnam but to Asians all over the world. The United States has a policy of racism that in Vietnam is only an extension of this, and we feel that since this gathering is to bring these things out, we think there should have been a bigger representation from not only the Asian people in this community and in this United States, but of all Third World people, because we are the people who are receiving all these crimes against us and we feel we should be heard. We've been quiet too long.

ROMO. My name is Barry Romo. I represent, supposedly, the Chicano community, which isn't hard to do, because I'm the only one here. Chicanos constitute the largest percentage of deaths of any minorities, which is way out of proportion to their numbers. It's because of language and culture. This thing has turned into a horror show. All it has been has been the atrocities that have been committed and not the reasons why. And it boils down to one thing, and that's racism. The people dying are Third World and the people getting hurt are Third World, and that has to be brought out.

HANEY. My name is Evan Haney. I'm an Oklahoma Indian, and I would like to say that I am probably the only one here who is an Indian, and there should have been more here, but we have our own fights to do in our own communities. And, I represent the Indian community all over the United States and I would like to say that I hope to convey the feeling that you know that we are out fighting and not in a position where...well, I don't know what to say right now, but I represent the Indian community across the United States.

ROSE. My name is Earl Rose, and I'm a representative from the West Coast. I'd like to talk about the miseducation and how they take Third World people and through miseducation and using the word Cong as a symbol of killing, instead of using the words, "Go out and kill Vietnamese people," how the word "Cong" is used against Third World people to manipulate and to kill them. That's all.

MODERATOR. At this time, I'd like to introduce the co- moderator, Allen Akers, and he's going to introduce the rest of the members of the panel.

AKERS. Yes, my name is Allen Akers. I was a Pfc. in the United States Marine Corps. I was attached to Echo Company, Second Battalion, Fourth Marines. I was in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966 in the Chu Lai area. I was an infantryman and the bulk of my duties was search and destroy missions.


STEPHENS. My name is Pfc. Charles--ex-Pfc. Charles N. Stephens. I was in the 101st Airborne Division, First Brigade, and I was a Medic from December 1965 to February 1967

LIGHT. My name is William Light. I served in the Americal Division of the 1/6, E Company, Echo Recon. I was a grunt.

CAREY. My name is Orville Carey. I was in First Logistics Command in Pleiku. I was a postal clerk.

BROOKS. My name is Larry D. Brooks. I served with the First Marine Division, Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment. I served in Vietnam from July of '69 to January of '70.

LLOYD. My name is Murphy Lloyd. I was in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Separate. My MOS was 11 F, Recon Intelligence, and I worked from the Saigon area all the way up to Dak To in the Northern region.

MODERATOR. Okay, thank you very much, Larry.

NAKAYAMO. My name is Mike Nakayamo. I was in the First Marine Division, First Battalion, Fifth Marines.

SHIMABUKURO. My name is Scott Shimabukuro. I was in the Third Marine Division, Charlies Battery, 13th Marines, at Khe Sanh.

ROMO. Barry Romo, former First Lieutenant, Americal Division, 196 and the 11th Infantry Brigade.

HANEY. My name is Evan Haney. I served with the United States Navy in Da Nang, NSA, Naval Support Activity, Da Nang.

ROSE. My name is Earl Rose, Third Marine Division, U.S. Marine Corps.

AKERS. Okay, thank you very much, Mr. Rose. At this point we would like to get into the testimony of some of the personal experiences. Myself, I'll start off and then we'll stem from there. I'm sure if you've been watching some of the news media on television you would have seen some of these mercy missions that are sent out into the Vietnamese villages to help the people there. Now, the hospital ship, Hope, that is docked just outside the three-mile zone in Vietnam, will transport nurses in their, you know, clean white smocks, and everything, and send them into villages to help Vietnamese children, you know, if they're sick or if they have any ailments or diseases. Now this is the picture that they'll portray, you know, the white man coming in with his doctor bag and he's going to help you out with your sick and ailing. Now any time they want to portray the black man to the Vietnamese, they will have us situated so that on search and reconnoiter missions, we would be the first ones into the village, shooting and hunting through the huts for Viet Cong.

Consequently, very seldom do you run into a village where there are any men at all. There are usually just women and children, so you can imagine the picture that these villagers see when they look outside their little homemade bomb shelters and see big heavy-set black dudes with rifles aimed hip-high and grenades in one hand, shooting and firing. So consequently this here is one of the mental tactics that is used over there to keep the black man from identifying with the Vietnamese people--because for all intents and purposes we are one and the same. There are many relationships between the Vietnamese and the black man as far as skin tone and a lot of cultural things, for that matter.

Another thing I would like to talk on is the psychological effect of tactics that is used on black troops. What they would do is they would pull us in to a barrack-like situation and keep us there for about a month at a time. And, consequently, when you're sitting there in garrison, doing nothing but smoldering in the hot sun, you begin to build up friction among the troops. And your white troops might be playing their country and western music and you have your black troops who will be playing our soul music and that'll get to going back and forth and if we can get hold of any liquor or anything, this builds to the animosity among the groups.

So consequently they get to fighting amongst each other, and the higher brass knows, well, it's about time to cut these guys loose on some villages somewhere. So they check back on some of their old recon reports where they have heard of some Viet Cong suspects being in the area and they just route them out to these particular and cut loose with them. They give them an ambiguous order, like something to the extent of, "All right, you're going into an area where there are known Viet Cong, so you are to reconnoiter by fire." So that when you get there, anything that moves you're going to fire on. So this is one of the mind-taxing things that he does to make you want to attack somebody even though you know that you don't want to kill another Vietnamese because you feel that he might be, in fact, your brother.

STEPHENS. When I arrived at the base camp of the 101st First Brigade, in Phan Raang, in December, I was told never to go to "B" Company, because "B" Company, that's boo-boo company. They're always getting ambushed. They're always getting a lot of guys killed. They're always under strength. What I wasn't told about "B" Company was that "B" Company was all black.

The only thing in "B" Company that was white was the officers and the platoon leaders, rather, the officers and the platoon sergeant. Also, when I was fortunate to get sick and go to the hospital, I went downtown one day. I went to a bar, and I asked for an orange soda. But they didn't have any orange soda. So I asked for a Coke, but they didn't have any Coke. And the guy next to me, he ordered a Coke and he got the Coke. So I asked the girl, I says, "Well, I thought you said you don't have any Cokes." She says, "Well, you no same same me. Me number one, you number ten." And I was also told that I have a tail. Where?

LIGHT. I'm going to start off with racism on a personal basis. For reasons of my own, I chose not to go over to Vietnam. Behind this, I was railroaded, and handcuffed, and taken under guard to Vietnam. They forwarded orders to my company commander of my background when I was in basic and AIT, relevant to my behavior. From the jump, he discriminated against me. I was commonly referred to as a "field nigger." I was on an operation. We were under attack by a regiment of VC. The outcome was like seven to eight guys out of about thirty-five left. The first thing my first sergeant did when he called in was to find out if I was dead or not. The majority of my company consists of white guys, but the majority of brothers are in the field. The ratio is like sixty to forty and most brothers, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans, have to walk point to more or less prove their manhood, on an individual basis, that they are just as much man as the next guy. Consequently, there were all forms of racism.

I was in the stockade in Long Bin for three months. I saw a brother fed rat poison because he chose not to do some of the things that the racist MPs asked him to do. A lot of brothers were beaten, handcuffed, and gagged, and thrown into solitary confinement without food. My first meal in solitary confinement was mashed potatoes and coffee grounds. That was it. You'd be surprised at the things that happen over there. I came home, and I tried to apply for some money from the VA. They told me, "Well, look, you wait two weeks or a month. Come back, you know, later on when we get the chance." I came back in two weeks. I had to fill out more forms, more paperwork, I kept getting the runaround, etc. Since I've been home, I can relate this to a lot of guys, white and black. It's hard to find employment for veterans. Dig it. I don't understand what the big thing is. All the guys are coming home from Vietnam and can't find work. Like, it should be some type of system where a brother or somebody coming home from Vietnam is guaranteed employment. I went back to my old job and the guy told me, he says, "Good, when do you want to start, today or tomorrow? "

So I says, "Well, I'll start tomorrow." And he looks on my DD-214, which is my Army discharge files, and then he saw I was in Vietnam and he said, "What did you do?" and I said, "Infantry." And he says, "Oh, wait a minute." He came back two minutes later and told me he didn't need me. I took a test with a hundred and fifty guys and only twenty passed, and just because I had a general discharge, I wasn't accepted at that particular corporation. That's all I got to say. Thank you.

CAREY. Well, I was in administrative service for most of my time in the service. Most administrative service is about ninety percent white, maybe ten percent black, and I originally was in Germany. I volunteered to go to Vietnam, to get away from what I considered overt racism that was going on over there. We had Klansmen, white hats, and this was more or less accepted as policy. Nobody worried about cross burnings or stuff. I probably could have stood it generally a little bit better if I had been maybe in a field company with more blacks, but it was only about four blacks in a company of about maybe seventy people, seventy or a hundred people and four blacks, and it was just a little bit too much. There was no chance for a promotion. You were handed out all the vile details, and in general we got a lot of practical jokes and pranks pulled on us. The only way I could get out of Germany was to volunteer to go to Vietnam. Upon arriving in Vietnam, I found out that the situation in the rear echelon companies is much the same. There are very few blacks in rear echelon companies, mostly whites. The excuse was, I believe, that there weren't enough blacks qualified to work in things like finance, personnel, and the other backup companies. Okay, thank you.

BROOKS. As I said before, my name is Larry Brooks. I'd like to relate to the people how the racist system over there deals with brothers that was more or less a mental destruction. Like they had their own ways of dealing with brothers that talked up. If a brother talked up and what he was talking about, didn't know what he was talking about, he was given time in the brig, or off his hours, or fined some money. Like brothers that knew what they were talking about or knew where they were coming from, they would deal with them by giving them good jobs.

I was in the First Marine Division and they like had put out the Third Marine Division. They sent all the brothers from the Third Marine Division and they sent all the whites back to Okinawa and back to the States. And then after I got to rapping and telling them how it was, well, they told me, we think something is wrong with you, and they pulled me in the rear and put me in the kitchen. So I worked my way from bottom mess man to chief mess man. Actually, I played on Whitey. I knew that I wanted to get out of the field, so I played on Whitey to get a good job and after I got the job I rapped again. So, officially, the captain came to me to say, "Well, something just ain't right, son." So he pulls me in and said, "If you don't start acting right we're going to send you to the psychiatrist." So, boom they sent me to the psychiatrist, and I asked him what his problem was, you dig? After a while, the dude sure enough thought that I was ready to dance, so they sent me back. They put me back in the kitchen and I started washing pots. So officially I was head of all the brothers in the mess section, and so I started organizing a meeting in the mess hall every night.

So they sent me up to the colonel and he checked my temperature and sent me back to the psychiatrist again. I asked him, "You got to let me see somebody." So they thought maybe they'd give me a three-day leave, and I went to Bangkok, Thailand, and stayed for six days.

I came back and it seemed like all the brothers that I had on mess duty with me were going back to the field, so I ran down and asked my first sergeant what happened, and he told me, "Be cool, you'll be leaving here in seven days." This was right up my alley, because I had over half a year left.

Up until today, now (I got out in January '70), I have a discharge here, I don't even know what I got it for. It doesn't state a reason why I was discharged from the military. This is a good discharge; I didn't do all my time, you understand, I didn't get hurt, and yet here I am. Like when I apply for a job, they ask what did you get out for. So I scratch my head. I say, "Well, really, I can't tell you."

They state on your discharge why you were discharged. Mine is just a blank. I don't have no bad record. I wasn't no hero. You see, I don't know what the deal was. So these are some of my personal experiences in Vietnam. If the press were here, I wish they'd write the government and tell me what I'm doing out of the service. My expiration date wasn't but two days ago, and I've been out a year.

LLOYD. My name is Murphy Lloyd, and right here before me I have two discharges. Yeah, well, I went in twice. I went in in '61 to '63. And something funny happened. Around '66 I got patriotic because the President said he needed men to fight in Vietnam and at the time I really believed that I had just as much to fight for as anybody else in Vietnam regardless of what color he was. I just felt that this was my country too. But upon arriving in Vietnam, I found a different story altogether. For the first thing, I arrived in Vietnam on a Saturday, and Sunday morning I had been awarded the CIB. That's the Combat Infantry Badge, a star. After receiving this, things just started that I didn't want to believe were actually happening. I had been hearing about how racist the Army was, but I didn't want to believe this because I judge a man not by his color but by him being a man, regardless of what he is. But I started finding out; that in the field, I went over there, as a communications specialist, and while receiving my gear the man told me, "I'm sorry, we don't need a communications specialist, we need a grunt."

He got to issuing me Claymore mines and things I didn't know anything about. And when I got out in the field, I noticed that ninety percent of the outfit out there were from minority groups. They weren't just blacks, they were Chicanos, Indians, anything else you want to name. We were there. Quite naturally we couldn't complain about rank, because we were getting all the rank because there wasn't anyone else out there to get the rank but us because we were in the leadership position. This is true; I wouldn't lie to you. You know, it's funny when you look back at it. Like I just jumped up and said, "Well, boom, my country needs me." And I went over there to fight, and come back home to this thing here that they call freedom. And last night while on the way home, after leaving the meeting, over on Emerson Street, the police stopped me. So I go in my pocket to give the policeman my license and he happened to see this (Vietnam Veterans Against the War button). And he made a statement about Miss Fonda, I wouldn't like to repeat the words here, but, wow, it was pretty deep. So like I told him I was doing what I feel I had to do. So there I go down to jail. So I spent the night in jail last night. If you see me nod every now and then, it's from that. I could say some more things, but I think I'll pass it on to my man here.

MODERATOR. I just got a message here. Michael Oliver, a Vietnam veteran, has a statement to read regarding something very important. So where's Mike?

OLIVER. Sisters and brothers, we have just received word from Detroit that United States Senator George McGovern [Democrat, South Dakota] and Representative John Conyers [Democrat, Michigan] called today for immediate investigation by the United States...[Applause drowns him out]...immediate investigation by the United States Senate and the House of Representatives of allegations arising from testimony given by a group of honorably discharged United States veterans of war in Vietnam at the three-day Winter Soldier investigation being conducted in Detroit.

Chief amongst these charges are reports that the United States committed ground troops action inside Laos as long ago as February 1969, contrary to affirmations by government officials that no such incursions had occurred. Senator McGovern charged that the Winter Soldier Investigation testimony provides evidence of the administration's growing credibility gap in Indochina military affairs. "Last week," McGovern said, "we were told by Defense Secretary Melvin Laird that our combat troops have not operated outside Vietnam. A few days ago we learned that some of our servicemen were on the ground in Cambodia. Now there are reports invasions into Laos as long ago as early 1969. These are serious charges which require immediate and intensive review. The American people must know all the facts about our military policy in Vietnam.

Congressman Conyers recalled similar reports he received during his 1969 tour of Vietnam. "The charges that our command office sanctioned interrogation by torture and other brutal acts, the occurrence of atrocities without investigation or punishment, and that racism still pervades our Armed Forces require complete disclosure. I shall ask for the full transcript of the Winter Soldier Investigation hearings and I will propose that these veterans be brought to Washington to deliver their testimony before the appropriate Congressional authorities."

During the first day of public hearings, thirty-five veterans of Vietnam service described a wide variety of atrocities and war crimes in which they participated or which they witnessed during their tours of duty, often in the presence or with the approval of their officers. The veterans' testimony included charges of killing of unarmed women, children, and elderly peasants; the use of torture to elicit information from captured prisoners; the shooting of enemy soldiers attempting to surrender; and the wanton burning of Vietnam villages. Veterans who served with the First Marine Division in Quang Nam Province of South Vietnam told of an American ambush executed on Christmas Eve 1969, during what was to have been a cease-fire for U.S. ground troops. The witness said, "Twenty-five Vietnamese were killed, but only one weapon was actually found. An officer then gathered previously captured weapons from other units in the area to justify the labeling of the new kills as enemy soldiers."

The Detroit Free Press confirmed this incident from another Marine who had been present in Vietnam at that time but was unaware of the Winter Soldier Investigation. His recollection was that there had been thirty-one persons killed in the ambush.

AUDIENCE. Let's go to Washington and tell the world about it! How about it?

PANELIST. Okay, ladies and gentlemen. I think I might throw a monkey wrench into the fine working machine for a second here. For the last couple of days you have been receiving testimony from the war of injustices to non-whites over in Vietnam. Now, if these injustices and these here genocides are perpetrated against the non-whites in Vietnam, the Vietnamese soldiers, and they are solely admitted since yesterday, Sunday, on television, and this morning, what do you think they've been doing to the black soldier they've been serving along with? Just think about that.

WILLIAMS. I'd like to pose a number of questions to the panel here, and then we want to open it up for some questions from the audience.

AUDIENCE. Let's let our brothers speak. Our brothers from the Third World, minority groups, all of us are called underdogs, masterminds of the world; rap, brothers...

NAKAYAMO. My name is Mike. I wanted to rap about racism directed against Asians in the military and in Vietnam. First of all, I felt quite a bit of racism before I joined the service, okay, that's understood. When I got into the service I experienced amplified racism. As soon as I got off the bus at my boot camp, I was referred to as Ho Chi Minh, which, you know, was...

AUDIENCE. A compliment!

AUDIENCE. Right on! Right on!

NAKAYAMO. Yeah! I can dig it. I was referred to as "Jap" and "gook" constantly through my training. Then I knew I was going to go overseas to fight for this country. I can rap about quite a few instances, right in boot camp, but I'll just move on to my experiences in Vietnam. While on Vietnam, I was in the infantry, but a few times they let you come back to the rear. Most Marines are allowed to go into PXs without showing an ID, and I was not allowed to go into the PX on a number of occasions with an ID because I was yellow. I was constantly referred to as "gook" in Vietnam also, and, relating this back to the United States, I know a number of my Asian brothers and sisters who are being referred to as "gooks" by returning servicemen, by American people in the Los Angeles area.

The thing that bothered me about this investigation is that it seemed as though people were trying to cover up the issue of racism, which I believe is one of the definite reasons why we are in Vietnam. We talked a lot about atrocities, but the systematic and deliberate genocide of all Asian people through the use of racism cannot be allowed any longer.

AUDIENCE. Take your time, man, you're doing good. You're telling the truth.

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