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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

MCCUSKER.The villagers definitely needed medical help essentially because, as I testified yesterday, they systematically destroyed most of any village dispensary, or hospital, or anything that looked like it. We could not write, at the time I was there, of what was called Puff the Magic Dragon--DC-3s with Miniguns. I forgot how many rounds they can throw out a minute. Around 4,000 I believe it is...6,000? They can cover an entire football field in about a minute and it just destroys, chops down everything in sight. We could not write of those, could not write, especially, of the torture of prisoners. My witnessing of the torture of prisoners was generally on the field level whenever any particular outfit, whether it be squad size, company size, or battalion size, swept into a village on a search and destroy mission and captured prisoners. Which means any Vietnamese hanging around the village, or any Vietnamese flushed out of the bush, if he wasn't shot first. And they had field torture techniques: determining who was going to go into the more refined tortures which involved somewhat the same type. In the field it was the use of dogs after tying a suspect, who was any particular villager, to a tree and let the dog start yapping at his face, snapping at him. Field phones were wired to genitals, to ears, to nose. Threatenings were done with the knife, dunking in wells, dunking in rivers and streams. And we could write of none of these and if you did write of these, they would be redlined. We could not write of recon fire missions. As I said before I was reconnaissance qualified and jump qualified. So I was the only man in recon trusted to go out with them--the only reporter-photographer the recon trusted because I knew their business. And recon was a little bit different than what I'd been trained to do. Generally in Vietnam you would take a few helicopters, land in an area, move out on top of a hill and call in arty strikes or air strikes in a particular given area. One particular time I watched a herd of elephants get hit by arty and several villages. Could never write of this. Could never write of how it was done and what the rationale for it was. Now this redlining of stories was a very complex thing. I was out in the field--way the _____ out in the field and I tried getting so far out that nobody from the division could find me. All they would ever see of me was stories I sent back. Whatever story I wrote would go to an NCO, the staff NCO, generally. I was an NCO at the time; that's a noncommissioned officer.

The story would go to a lifer who was called the Press Chief. The Press Chief would then make his cuts and additions. From the Press Chief it could go to the Section Chief and he would add or delete what he thought, then to the Information Officer himself, in the division, and he would do what he was going to do with it. Then it would be passed up to Da Nang for the Press Center at Da Nang for 3rd MAF, Third Marine Amphibious Forces Press Center in Da Nang. It would go through a whole battery of NCOs and officers up to a colonel before it was released to the press. And by the time it was released to the press, as I've said, it was hardly recognizable. Now I say this because ironically the Marine Corps gave me its top three writing awards for the year '66-'67, which was the first year of its Vietnamese Correspondent Awards. And I was rather bemused at the fact that I got the _____ things. However, when they discovered that I was a Benedict Arnold, discovered it officially, I guess, the next year I understand there was a caucus to try and take my awards away from me because I didn't deserve them. What we would do sometimes to counter all this thing that came down was to find a few trusted Fourth Estaters, civilian pressmen, or television crews, take them to places where we were not supposed to take them, or try to tip off, as I said, trusted civilian reporters. Because that was rather hot. Had a lot of rednecks in there and if you gave them some info, they would report it to your CO and you were on the carpet. Television crews the same way. Policy in the Marine Corps was that anything that happened to the Marines--if there was any blunder or any slaughter because of shortsightedness or any mistake that cost Marine Corps lives, any military blunder--it was to be hidden, not to be shown and if information did leak out, then it would be claimed as a great victory. In the meantime such things as My Lai would never be reported. If a village were destroyed, the body count could stand as is, but suddenly you would find that there was a great big action around it. You know, one _____ of a fire fight. Really, from my end, that's essentially all I have to report for censorship.

MODERATOR. Next will be Larry Craig who was with the 25th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade, as a Brigade level Information Specialist. Now in the Army the information specialists begin at battalion level. There's supposed to be a brigade information specialist--that's an enlisted man who collects the news; an information officer for each brigade.

In reality, in Vietnam, anyway, the information officer was usually the commanding officer of the unit and the next stage up from battalion was brigade and this is where Larry worked. Larry, do you want to tell us a little bit about your experiences?

CRAIG. Yes. I was in Cu Chi, Vietnam during 1966 and 1967 and as Larry says, I've worked as a Public Information Office Specialist. And, generally, I think what I have to talk about is what I perceived my job to be there and what it actually turned out to be. It was an overall cover-up of what was actually going on in the division operation.

During the time that I was there with the 25th Division every news release that came out of our information office-- this was at Brigade level and at Headquarters level with the division--made it appear that we were really winning the war; that we were doing a fantastic job.

So while people like Dave with the 3/4 Cavalry were out getting their tracks blown up by one or two Viet Cong, we would write stories about these glorious victories which didn't take place. And generally, what I saw were how the figures were turned around on body counts. One particular time I was with the 3/4 Cavalry where three of our men got killed.

Our men killed one young Vietnamese who was actually a prisoner at the time that he was killed, laying in the grass in front of us. We counted graves in an old cemetery that day so the story that came out of our office was 17 Viet Cong killed. What actually had happened was two or three Vietnamese had killed three of our men and if there had been a large force there, they left. But it was just contact with two or three.

But, overall, this is what my job was: to go out on these missions where nothing happened except that we might kill a few civilians, if we found them, and pretend that we were really winning some battles when, actually, it was Americans being killed.

MODERATOR. Larry, you mentioned you had trouble sort of perceiving what your job was at first. Did you ever write what you consider to be a truly objective news story? In other words, one based on the facts?

CRAIG. To me there was never any question about anyone wanting me to write what I saw in the field. The job of our newspaper was to build morale in the field and as a public information office our job was to propagandize the American people.

And this is what we would do. We would write propaganda, and at times I would go to the field and write a story that was personally related to what we saw taking place, but what was actually happening was that our people were being killed as they alienated the Vietnamese people in the villages that we went through on search and destroy missions. That was never what we would write about.

One particular mission near Dau Tieng we lost, I think, about five men that day, but we happened to find some rice. Well, this was a big cache, fine. So we made it into a real victory. We didn't see the Vietnamese Communists who shot at us. They left. They killed several of our men and left. We found some rice.

Well, the story that I wrote, which is the kind of job that I had, was that we had a very successful mission. I didn't mention that the rice was marked. I think it was from Houston, Texas. This wasn't allowed. Any of the rice caches that we found was generally rice that had been diverted from Saigon to the Viet Cong. This is generally the kind of work that I did.

MODERATOR. You mentioned that there was never any question in your mind that that was policy. How did you come to the realization that that was the kind of thing you were supposed to do, the slanted story? I mean, did somebody say, "Larry, I hereby order you not to write a..."

CRAIG. Generally, it was more subtle than that. But one time in particular an order came down from division headquarters and I was at the Division Public Information Office when (I believe it was the information officer) a Major _____ told us that we had to write stories about cooperation between American infantrymen and the ARVN, the South Vietnamese infantrymen. Well, this was nonexistent.

The ARVN in our area weren't respected; there was no good feelings between the American infantrymen and the South Vietnamese and yet this was an order that came down--that we were to make them look good in the way of cooperation.

One thing that I did see, I was walking with an American unit along a river. A South Vietnamese unit was operating on the other side of the river. One of their armored personnel carriers hit a mine. Probably two fellows at least got killed. Our side cheered. This was nice. We were happy for ARVNs having their track blown up. But the order that came down was that we were to write about how well we got along and how well the ARVNs were doing and how we cooperated with them.

MODERATOR. That order came from the division information officer, field grade officers, is that right?

CRAIG. He was a major, yes.

MODERATOR. Okay, then, the next person is Vernon Shibla who was with the 25th Infantry Division and worked in the division information office underneath the aforementioned major. Vern.

SHIBLA. I was in Vietnam with the 25th from April '66 to April '67. And I mainly was a photographer for the division and I wrote a few stories, fabrications, or whatever you want to call them. Larry and I worked together in fact, thinking things up to make us look good. There's various things that we couldn't photograph such as flamethrowers burning villages, which we saw.

We couldn't photograph flechette rounds or canisters, which are tiny darts fired out of howitzers at point blank range when you come under attack by Vietnamese. In fact, there was a battle that was written up in Time magazine but we won it: even Time magazine said we won it, so we must have--in which 900 Vietnamese were killed by the flechette rounds which is totally against the Geneva Convention. But then, it doesn't matter, I guess.

Another thing we couldn't photograph or write about was shotguns which are carried extensively in Vietnam because they seem to do a better job than the M-16. They don't jam as easy. We couldn't photograph Americans wounded. We couldn't photograph dead. We couldn't photograph civilians injured or dead.

On Operation Wahiwa during 1966, I think it was the end of May, we were in a place called the Ho Bo Woods, and we came under fire when we landed and that was suppressed. We were walking along and having recon by fire which means the first unit in the company fires indiscriminately in the tree lines and hedgerows.

Well, we heard crying coming from a little house that had been partially destroyed by a previous aerial bombing mission from the Air Force, and we snuck up on the house very carefully and there was a mother and a baby sitting inside. The mother was crying and the baby was sitting there with his intestines hanging out. One of our bullets had creased its stomach. And it wasn't crying or anything and the sergeant asked the interpreter, you know, to tell her that, well, it's her fault. She shouldn't be there because we dropped leaflets and told her to get out. It was only her country, you know. So, they did evacuate her, as far as I know, to a medical battalion. We couldn't photograph or write about that kind of thing.

There were battles, like the battle at Phu Hoa Dong where the 4/9 was just about annihilated which was never played up very big. There was a battle in Tay Ninh Province, Operation Attleborough in which a general was relieved of duty on the spot by General Westmoreland. The General was named General _____ and we called him General Death for Sure. And he was relieved of duty for having his company almost wiped out. It was wiped out down to a Spec. 4 level and a Spec. 4 was given a silver star and...that kind of thing. But the general was relieved and nobody knew about it because he did such a bad job.

I've had photographs come back from MACOI which is Military Office of Information in Vietnam, censored, marked "not cleared for release" and what I got back was a photograph of two MPs carrying a Vietnamese prisoner and he had a sandbag over his head and he was not being harmed in any way. There was no harassment. He was in good physical shape. I don't know how he made it, but he sure did. And the note came back across the picture and it says, "Sorry, Vern, we don't treat VCs this way."

So I guess they meant they treated them too good; I never understood it. But we couldn't release the picture. And I had a story killed that I wrote that was told about a Captain _____, who was killed by a mine while leading his company. There was nothing wrong with the story but we couldn't...nobody was killed over there, as far as Americans go. So we couldn't talk about him.

CRAIG. Larry, can I interject a comment about...

MODERATOR. Go right in.

CRAIG. Okay. One of the things that really disturbed me as an information specialist in the army was I realized what my job was and I knew that if I wanted to keep this job that was the only way I could do it--write the kind of stories that the army wanted. I worked for a major and I'd write his kind of propaganda. It was the only way to do it. But I, at that time, was under the impression that America had some sort of a free press and occasionally would attempt to talk to some of the representatives of the press from the States.

One time in particular, I was especially disturbed. This was on April 10, 1967. Three men from our office were killed during an attack. It was an incoming mortar round on the division headquarters. So three of our friends were killed. Vern was in the bunker with the three fellows who were killed when the round came in and it went right into the bunker. His first comment on coming out of the bunker...he was the first one out...was "that _____ Johnson" that's what he had to say. This was the feeling in our office at that time. April 10, 1967. Three of our friends were killed. We were disgusted with Johnson, with the U.S. policy there. This was the office feeling, and this was, to me, a story.

Well, the next day I had the job of bringing news releases from division headquarters into Saigon and distributing them. I went to CBS and told them what had happened and how we wanted to tell about what we felt that day. And how we were so disgusted with the war. These were GIs on duty in a war zone who wanted to tell how they felt. We were disgusted. We wanted to protest. We couldn't through the military. We tried through CBS. Mike Wallace from CBS came out with me on a helicopter. All he wanted to do was a sensational story about no top on the bunker.

Vern and I and others were ready to tell him what we felt about the war and who we were disgusted with. Why we were unhappy with our friends being killed. No hard feelings towards the Communists from that group. It was their mortar that did it, but, as far as we were concerned, the fault was with the U.S. But the press at that time was not interested. That wasn't their kind of story.

So what CBS wanted was a little sensationalism about no top on the bunker and we were pleading with them to tell the story about how we actually felt, protesting the war. But it wasn't wanted.

SHIBLA. Most, most of the press over there, is over there for the same reasons that the generals and lifers are over there. It's not to report the news so much as to further their own careers. And that's what it's all about.

CRAIG. Another story I wrote was regarding an outfit that Dave was with. It was called McCormick's Raiders. This was with the 3/4 Cavalry and a group got together--typists and clerks from the headquarters of the company, the 3/4 Cavalry--who wanted to go out on some combat. Well, they didn't do anything. Maybe Dave should mention a little bit about what they did. But this is something that the media picked up. It was a funny story. McCormick's Raiders and it meant nothing. Well...a TV crew came out and did a big thing on it. Reader's Digest picked it up. They wrote about this group. It was nothing. It had nothing to do with the war. This is what the press in Saigon was looking for.

MODERATOR. Dave, would you just give us a little bit of a rundown on McCormick's Fearsome Raiders?

CHILES. Yeah. This is more like McHale's Army, I guess. These were a ...this was the most...this was the sorriest group I ever saw of people. Well, there were about 20 of them, ranging from cooks, clerks, mechanics and they decided they were going to start going out on operations. And they wouldn't let them go out more than about 100 yards from base camp; they didn't want anything really to happen to them because they couldn't take care of themselves.

So all of a sudden they took up on the story and built it up. How they had been stopping supply routes at night and everything. And the guy from Reader's Digest comes out and does a fabulous story about these great Americans who have such a secure job.

And a film company comes out and wants to do a little film of it. So, at the most we took them a hundred meters from base camp 'cause these people didn't want to go too far anyhow and they were throwing hand grenades and it sounded like a real war was going out there and this guy was, you know, taking all kinds of pictures and was crouched down and talking real soft, like, you know, like it was really a big thing. In reality, if they wanted to go, they should have gone in the Iron Triangle with us instead of 100 yards from base camp, if they wanted to see the war.

CRAIG. We'd write about the funny things and pretend it was a big party over there. This was our job: keep up morale. And yet, this is what the civilian press from Saigon would pick up on. This was the kind of stuff they liked. Just the happy times.

SHIBLA. Well, the civilian press never got out of Saigon, let alone anyplace else.

MCCUSKER. They got to Da Nang.

SHIBLA. Yeah, that's another nice place.

KEYS. I'd like to put in right here that this operation, Operation Attleborough, or General _____ was relieved, is the one where we escorted the trucks back that the lieutenant said were filled with American dead.

MODERATOR. Alex Primm is the next man on the panel here. He was an information specialist with the Headquarters of the 1st Logistical Command at, I believe, at Long Binh, is that right?

PRIMM. That's right, Larry.

MODERATOR. Why don't you go ahead and tell us a little bit about your experience as an Information Specialist in the Information Headquarters?

PRIMM. I was assigned to the headquarters of the 1st Logistical Command which handles the supplies throughout Vietnam. I was there from September 1968 to June 1969. The setup in 1st Logs is pretty much the same as the 25th Division. We had information specialists and an information officer. It was a little different in the sense that we had four support commands located throughout Vietnam and one headquarters at Long Binh.

The way it worked, we received stories that came from the smaller, the support command information officers, and then with these stories we'd rewrite them and then mail them directly, after being cleared, to stateside newspapers--the ones you read here--and the military newspapers, the Stars & Stripes, as well as the unit newspapers in Vietnam. I was the editor of our newspaper. I also did rewriting and I was also a correspondent in the field.

There's one incident that will give the idea of the way the army, or at least the way our unit, handles the news. One time we received a story from our Qui Nhon branch, which is a town about in the middle of Vietnam. This was a story about an army repair team that worked on portable pipelines for oil. The tankers would dock along the coast and then the oil would be piped off the ships and about five miles inland are helicopter bases.

The real problem with these portable pipelines, they could be taken apart easily and they were often sabotaged. First Log had a pipeline repair team whose job it was to find out, when a break occurred, what had caused the break and what they could do about it. They would go out and they didn't know if it was just a Vietnamese mama-san who had taken apart the pipes to get a little oil, or if it was a Viet Cong sabotage team. It could be either. And these guys ran into a lot of bad stuff.

Unlike most units of 1st Log, this unit had quite a few guys killed and wounded. They'd also won a number of decorations which was unusual for a logistics unit. So, it was a good unit to do a story about. And the story came to us about this team, what their job was as I have described it to you and the number of decorations it won. I was told to shorten the story down. I shortened it and played up the fact that these guys had won a number of decorations which is unusual for our unit. I turned it in to our information officer. He gave it back to me and said, "Delete the fact that these guys won awards for heroism. Delete the fact that there have been men killed and delete the fact that there had been wounded."

So the story that I had to turn out was what a great job these guys had done and it made them sound like a bunch of John Wayne heroes, when in actuality, they were having a very tough time. This is the way the information office sometimes works.

MODERATOR. While you were with the 1st Log Command, how did you get the information? I mean, how was it conveyed to you that your job was not to tell, you know, to do straight reporting? How did you come by that?

PRIMM. Well, the reporter doesn't work like a reporter does in the United States for a civilian newspaper. He's given assignments. He doesn't go out and look for them himself. He doesn't have a beat. He's told by an officer what to cover. That's the main way we're told what to do. The information, the stories we write about, aren't news as such. We had to write, sometimes I thought, very trivial stories.

One time I was assigned to do a story on state flags, and find out how guys were displaying their state flags. I went to some units--some of these truck convoys where guys were getting up at four in the morning, driving oil tankers out to the 25th Infantry Division, coming back at eleven at night after having been ambushed often--and asked these guys if they had any state flags. They thought it was just absurd.

Here they were, constantly being shot at, and this stuff wasn't getting in the newspapers. We had to write things for troop morale. It was very rarely did we write anything...well we actually never wrote things that were news and I'm afraid often this information was typed up and given in press releases to the civilian press. And not too often did they come digging for the real stories.

MODERATOR. Well, we've heard a lot about the information officer with the red pencil and that was me. Before I begin my rap here I want to make just a couple of points. One is that just a little while ago during part of the press censorship testimony a film crew from the local television station, which was sitting in the front row, got up and left without...What? It was CBS Network TV. They didn't shoot any pictures of press censorship, which is a form of censorship, I guess.

SHIBLA. Mike Wallace works for CBS.

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