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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

ROTTMANN. Many times since I've been back, I've been working with veterans groups--speaking. Many times I've been asked, when I talked to groups, "Please hold down the obscenities." And on Sunday night one of the psychiatrists on the panel here expressed some concern about the legitimacy of the hearings because his wife had complained to him about somebody saying _____. You know, I can't relate to that at all.

When you talk about an experience, you relate that experience in the terms of the language of that experience. If you're talking about the street, you use street language. If you're talking about war, you use war language. There is a war language. It's a very deliberately contrived language which allows you to express yourself using a minimum of the English language.

There's a lot of talk nowadays, you know, about war. War is on everybody's lips. The word war. Parents, grandparents, anywhere you go. At a cocktail party. Anywhere you go, it's war this, it's war that. Even the little kids, you know, are hip to the war. They know something's going on and they talk about war. So war is used a lot. And nobody seems to mind. This is what I want to say. If there's anybody in this room who thinks that the word _____ is more obscene than the word "war," you know, then you're more obscene than the word _____.

As I said, I was the red pencil. These other guys are out in the field getting shot at, getting the news, taking pictures. When it came to me, I took out my red pencil and I went to work.

Now as an information officer, I was given a set of orders. These orders were stated either verbally or in writing from officials of the Information Offices in Saigon.

There are three: MACOI (Military Advisory Command Office of Information), MACV (Military Advisory Command, Vietnam) and JUSPAO, which is the Joint United States Public Affairs Office which is attached to the U.S. Embassy. Military censorship concerning matters of military nature usually came from MACOI, MACV or my division chief of staff. Matters concerning foreign policy or overall military planning and activity or Special Forces or CIA activities, fell under the jurisdiction of JUSPAO or the Embassy.

The following is just a partial list of things that I was to red pencil, and I did. You'll recognize some of these from the previous testimony.

  • Effectiveness, ineffectiveness or mistakes of the ARVN army Handling, processing, interrogation or treatment of prisoners of war
  • Use of shotguns
  • Use of flamethrowers or flamethrowers tracks
  • Use of lethal, nonlethal gas or gas dispensing methods or gas masks
  • Female VC
  • Very young VC
  • Huey Cobra helicopters
  • Information on the size, accuracy and range or effects of the enemy 122mm rocket
  • M-16 rifle malfunctions or deficiencies
  • Extent of damage and number of U.S. casualties from any enemy attack
  • Any story concerning enemy tenacity, courage, or ingenuity
  • Marriage of U.S. personnel and Vietnamese nationals
  • U.S. soldiers' use of pot or drugs
  • Conditions of U.S. military stockades
  • Anything about the CIA or CIA sponsored activities
  • Project Phoenix
  • Air America (CIA airline)
  • Anything about U.S. activities in Cambodia or Laos
  • B-52 or other bombing errors
  • Burning, bulldozing, destruction of Vietnamese hamlets
  • Anything about troop morale, pro or con
  • Information about captured enemy material of U.S. manufacture
  • The NLF
  • Napalm
  • Enemy armor or helicopters<
  • Plus anything else that Saigon felt might be detrimental to U.S. causes

Now, I'll run through the list very lightly and just give you some specific examples. Handling, processing and interrogation of prisoners of war: although there was a POW compound in Cu Chi, standard division policy was to deny its existence, to refuse to take anybody--newsmen or civilians-- to the area where it was located and we, ourselves, were denied access to that compound.

In Vernon's testimony just a few minutes ago, he mentioned the photograph taken by the 25th Infantry Division (taken by himself, for the 25th Infantry Division) of two MPs carrying a Vietnamese suspect (captive, we don't know) who'd been bound and had a sandbag tied over his head. He said it came back stamped "not cleared for release, per MACOI." Here is a Xeroxed copy of that photograph. I'm sorry if you in the back can't see it. It's just a photograph. It shows the two MPs carrying the man. Right across the front is stamped "not cleared for release, per MACOI." Stories about female VC were sometimes cleared and sometimes not.

If the story emphasized the bravery or determination of women guerrillas, it was, of course, killed. If, on the other hand, it made a point of how VC were hurting so bad from U.S. presence that they were forced to recruit women (who supposedly were not as good fighters), the story would pass.

This policy was never well defined, but as a general rule, VC women stories were not to be used. I submitted a story about a woman VC. I'll read you just a bit of the story. It's about an ambushed U.S. unit. "Sweeping the ambush site, the GIs found that two of the dead guerrillas were packing automatic weapons but their real surprise was the enemy point man, who was actually a point girl. She was leading the VC when the ambush was sprung and died with a 45 caliber pistol in her hand. This clash was but one of several in recent weeks which involved female VC. In one case, a U.S. patrol was attacked by a guerrilla unit led by a submachine gun toting girl who one U.S. soldier described as 'very attractive, but a bad shot.'" Across the bottom of this press release it says, "not cleared for release, MACOI." This is a Xeroxed copy of it. Attached to that is a censor sheet from the U.S. Infantry Information Office, United States Army of Vietnam, signed by _____ _____, Chief of the Clearance Branch, PID, and it says "Remarks: Not cleared for release per MACOI."

On occasions, in isolated cases, stories of U.S. killing women has been cleared. But any such story draws a bad light on our forces. A girl killed in an ambush at night doesn't help our image. Agreed she may be dangerous, but the press always doesn't see it that way. Here's a copy of that right here. I'll be glad to show this to anybody after the testimony. Very young VC: general policy here was the same as with VC women. That is, stories emphasizing the courage of young VC were not to be released.

Or stories indicating that U.S. pressure was forcing the enemy in such dire straits as to recruit young VC. This, on occasion, would be cleared. As I said, though, the policy was ambivalent and was never consistent. Here is a picture of a VC who was known to have killed at least five U.S. soldiers. He's 11 years old. Story and photo not cleared for release. Photo was taken by an information specialist. The boy was captured (I'll answer questions later). These are Xeroxes. I'm sorry, for obvious reasons, I don't carry the originals with me.

Information on the size, accuracy or range of the effects of enemy 122mm rockets: During the offensive (Tet offensive) in 1968, the VC began using Chinese built 122mm rockets to bombard U.S. bases in position.

GIs were intimidated by the rocket's long range and terrific power. In February 1968 I submitted a story and a photo of the first intact rocket to be captured by the 25th Division, which is also, as far as we knew, the first rocket ever found in Vietnam. MACV killed the story, and instead, sent a team out to take the rocket back to Saigon "for examination" and here's the photo that accompanied the story. It shows a GI standing with the rocket beside him, and I'm sorry if you can't see it, but the rocket is about a foot taller than he is and bigger around than his neck. M-16 malfunctions and deficiencies: In 1967 rumors of numerous M-16 malfunctions were getting back to the Congress. U.S. Representative Richard Eichord, my representative, launched an investigation of the army's much ballyhooed rifle, even sending a team of experts to Vietnam to question GIs. MACV told all information officers, prior to my arrival, that the M-16 was not a topic of discussion. Newsmen were not to question soldiers about the weapon and no stories about the rifle jamming or malfunctioning were to be written. This was done despite the fact that many GIs hated the M-16, felt they couldn't trust it, and until an order stopped the procedure, many carried other weapons instead. Carbines, .45s, grease guns, etc. At the same time, the army launched an all-out propaganda campaign to make GIs in Vietnam more confident in the M-16. Special classes were held on the weapon. New cleaning procedures were instituted. New lubricating materials were introduced (due in large part to GI pressure) from the use of a commercial lubricant called Dri Slide here in the States. And a whole campaign was initiated to instill the American soldier with confidence in a weapon that he basically mistrusted.

Marriage of U.S. personnel and Vietnamese: It was specific MACV and MACOI and JUSPAO policy that nothing ever be said about American and Vietnamese marriages. I never saw any official written statement on this policy, but it was general knowledge that mixed marriages would be discouraged in every way possible, including the withholding of the information for making the necessary arrangements. GIs would frequently ask us in the information office what the procedures were, since we were information officers. It took me two months to get a clear statement of the procedure from MACV for publication. I have a copy of that here. I won't read it. I'll only read the headline. It said, "Minimum of three months required to marry alien."

In Vietnam, this was the story written. There's an interesting point here. The process takes at least three months. If a GI applied to his CO, and filled out the necessary paperwork, the CO, more likely than not, would hold the application until the GI had less than three months to go and would then forward it to the necessary headquarters. This put the GI, who was really in love with the Vietnamese girl, in a sort of a situation. He could either give up the marriage or he could extend for six months. Spend six more months killing Vietnamese, in order to marry a Vietnamese girl. I think you'll agree that's a truly untenable position.

Anything about CIA, CIA sponsored activities or Air America: Although the headquarters for a large 5th Special Forces Group was located in our area of operation at Tay Ninh and Nui Ba Den (which Ron, on the end of table, talked about) Nui Ba Den being one of the staging points for the mercenaries' snatch teams and hatchet teams, our Information Division Office was forbidden by JUSPAO directive from publicizing or discussing any Special Forces operations or policies. I was ordered that my response to all inquiries-- information of this nature--was "no comment."

Anything about U.S. activities in Cambodia or Laos: Just one instance. The second week of January 1968, elements of the 25th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade (this is January 1968, during Operation Yellow Stone) crossed the Cambodian border and conducted an air assault on objective area near the Cambodian village of Ke Pang Long. This is about six klicks or kilometers inside the Cambodian border. Fourth Battalion, 9th Infantry conducted a helicopter assault on this area and along adjacent Cambodian Highway 22. Rumors of this operation did get to Saigon. Newsmen flew out to our office and by order of my division chief of staff, I didn't know "nothin' about nothin'."

Special Forces groups were operating, as I said, out of Tay Ninh and Nui Ba Den as Ron mentioned, conducting extensive operations, the training and arming of Chinese nationals or Nungs and Cambodian mercenaries inside Cambodia. Regular U.S. Army troops would frequently encounter groups of these mercenaries crossing back and forth over the Cambodian border. They had special IDs which identified them and told anybody who came in contact with them they were not to be bothered. By order of JUSPAO, that's Joint United States Public Affairs Office which is attached to the Embassy staff in Saigon, the very existence of these clandestine groups was denied.

I have here, it's very hard to see, and again I apologize, a photo of a Cambodian mercenary force on a training mission inside Cambodia. According to official MACV and MACOI policy, there is no NLF.

Anything about enemy armor or helicopters: By MACV, MACOI and JUSPAO directive, the enemy armored cars, armored personnel carriers and tanks which were frequently sighted along the Cambodian border in War Zone C, did not exist. The same thing went for enemy helicopters which were based in Cambodia. Rumor had it that they were used as command and control ships by COSVN, Central Office of South Vietnam, and they often carried North Vietnamese and Red Chinese advisers. For this reason, U.S. forces were under orders not to fire on these helicopters when they were sighted. This is an interesting ambiguity, in other words--although they didn't exist--if you saw one, don't shoot at it. Twenty-fifth Infantry Division helicopter crews relished the idea, of course, of bringing down a VC chopper and at least on one occasion they chased one into Cambodia, flying above it and throwing ammo cases and tools at it, trying to bring it down without firing on it.

Anything else that the Army felt might be detrimental to the best interests of the Army: I'll just give you a few small examples. One is a water hole sharing story. Shortly after my arrival in Vietnam I did a story about Nui Ba Den or Black Virgin Mountain, in which I mentioned that U.S. and VC forces shared a common water source, the only spring on the mountain.

Anticipating no problem of release, I used the story before complete clearance procedures had been gone through. The story appeared in the Division newspaper and in our magazine and in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, to whom I sent a copy. I was severely reprimanded from the Division Chief of Staff and MACV officials for letting it be known that the U.S. might in any way cooperate with the VC, like sharing a water hole. I have a lot more but we are running out of time. I just want to do one more thing. Harassment, intimidation and prosecution of GIs who tried to tell their stories: It involves myself and all the members of the panel. As both Information Specialists and soldiers we received frequent threats, written and verbal, in response to attempts to tell the truth.

I have something here I want to show you--a USARV information directive entitled the Colonel's Colonels, datelined Information Office Headquarters, U.S. Army, Republic of Vietnam, December 1967. It says, and I quote, "There are a few military information officers who are out here who are not playing on the team. On occasion these guys have downgraded one or another of the programs of the U.S. which the U.S. is trying so hard to make work in Vietnam.

And these information officers have done their sounding off to the press. Even though we are not thinking disloyal thoughts, out of our mouths tumble disloyal words. To argue your case in the press is not to show the courage of your convictions. It's a betrayal of a trust; it's disloyal to your country." Right here, folks. To ferret out these disloyal information officers, myself included, MACOI sent out Army spies armed with fake press cards to act as reporters.

These guys would show up at our division and say, "Hi, I'm Joe Jones with the New York Times. What do you know that you can't tell me?" This procedure was followed many times, but it got to the point where we knew, generally we thought we knew, who were reporters and who were not. Also MACV and USARV Command Information channels directed a constant barrage of intimidating and threatening instructions at the regular GI in the field about what he could and could not say about the war. Directives made it plain that the Army could and would take all possible action against the GIs who told their own story, even after they were out.

From the Tropic Lighting News, 25th Infantry Division, we have a story from MACV called, "Writing for Stateside Use? Get Your Story Cleared First." It goes on at some length about how you may be asked to write for a civilian newspaper or speak before groups and it says, "basically the thing to remember is all material on military subjects, articles, stories, newspaper columns, essays, drawings and photographs must be cleared by Army authorities before you show it to anyone for publication. The rule has been made because many Army interests involve military security or matters of national interest, and of course no soldier wants to help the enemy. Battlefield photographs are particularly sensitive because the enemy can convert them to use in propaganda. Why, this has actually happened! Incidentally, this same rule applies to speeches you may have prepared for delivery after you are released. When you write or speak, concern yourself with matters about which you have only personal knowledge or for which you are responsible. It's just common sense to avoid getting into any matters involving our country's foreign policy." It's a directive from MACV. You can come up and read it yourself.

MCCUSKER. Can I make a comment, Larry, on...

ROTTMANN. Yeah. Stick it right in there.

MCCUSKER. There's a young Marine, I forgot his name (he wasn't even involved with informational services) but he got fed up one day, so he wrote a story and sent it to his hometown paper. The paper published it. And CID came down on this kid hard and he was held incommunicado for about three weeks around the base area then shipped off to Da Nang for court- martial. I don't know what happened to him. No one seems to have seen or heard of him. It's the same with the young Army newscaster in Saigon, _____ _____, who last year, in January, said that the Army was suppressing news.

They immediately made him a chaplain's assistant and busted him and nobody can find him any more. I'd also like to relate to marriage to Vietnamese. I was engaged to a Vietnamese girl. She was finally killed which made everyone rather happy, I would imagine. The chaplain...ah, you go into so much harassment once you do this, once you try to take out these papers.

You meet cold stares, people shuffle you back and forth, it takes you almost a month before they start to make these papers. Now Larry said it was three months, the Marine Corps told me that it'd be at least six months and I had about four months to do in the Nam--I had about five months, I guess. Chaplains would come and tell me that God did not want me to marry inferiors. Expressed a little differently of course, but that's how it came out.

Officers, staff NCOs, I was visited by them regularly, and essentially it came down to the fact that the military didn't want to pollute the white American bloodstream with any more Asian blood than it is already polluted. Again the remarks were a little bit more sophisticated than that, but that is essentially how it came out.

ROTTMANN. I heard a lot of groans when you heard what the chaplain had told him. At the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company, 25th Infantry Division, Cu Chi, there is a chaplain who prays for the souls of the enemy on Sunday morning and earns flight pay as a door gunner on a helicopter during the rest of the week. This kind of threat that I was talking about, which I mentioned, speeches and everything, this extends also to your mail, to your letters.

While I was in Vietnam, I sent what I called a holiday message from 1st Lieutenant Larry Rottmann. On it there's a small picture of a black medic, a white medic, and a Vietnamese treating a wounded Vietnamese. And there's a little small thing beside it which is a quote from honorably discharged General William Tecumseh Sherman saying, "I am sick and tired of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have never fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation, and destruction. War is cruel and you cannot refine it. War is hell." That quote was taken from the Army Digest, a Department of Defense publication.

For sending that card, I was court-martialed. I'll read you the charges. "This is to inform you that action is being taken by this headquarters to determine your fitness for retention as a reserve officer in the United States Army. Your record indicates that in December '67 you printed and distributed at government expense (the 'at government expense' was--I wrote 'free' on my envelope, which we are allowed to do, so I didn't put a stamp on it. That's the government expense: they paid the postage for the card and they're upset.) a Christmas card depicting a seriously wounded soldier receiving plasma, etc., etc."

This court-martial was finally held last fall at Boston Army Base. I was represented by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) resulting in the dropping of all charges and specifications. This is just to point out to you that they will do that. They pursued me for sending that Christmas card taken from the Army Digest; they pursued me, and spent, I guess, a million dollars, for three years across the country until they finally actually held the court-martial and it was thrown out. That's just to show that they do mean business.

Many people ask us, right, why we haven't spoken up before and I think we have given you the reason. We are ordered not to speak up and if you do speak up, action will be taken against you--sometimes very serious and very harsh action. There is another question in many people's minds here. They say, "Well, why do you talk now? Why do you come here and tell us these things that happened two, three, maybe four, five years ago? What is your motivation behind it? You want to get on the boob tube? You're on some kind of an ego trip? You know, why are you here?"

I'm here, speaking personally, because I can not be here. I'm here because, like, I have nightmares about things that happened to me and my friends. I'm here because my conscience will not let me forget what I want to forget. I didn't want to talk about it when I first got back, you know, I didn't want to talk about it at all. I didn't watch Cronkite.

I went fishing a lot and changed socks two or three times a day and slept on beds and ate cheeseburgers. But after a while, it gets to the point where you have to talk to somebody and when I tried to talk to somebody, even my parents, they didn't want to hear it. They didn't want to know. And that made me realize that no matter how painful it was for me I had to tell them. I mean, they had to know. The fact that they didn't want to know told me they had to know.

So I'm here, not a member of any political group, not as a member of any lobbying group. I'm just here as myself, you know, saying to other people, to other human beings, something that I just have to say. And if you think it's just clearing my conscience, some kind of therapy, you can think what you want. But I got to say it. I'm going to ring off.

I have one little thing I want to read: it's sort of a poem; it's not because I'm a real great poet that I want to read it. But I spent some time getting the fewest possible words to say what I wanted to say:

I was that tiny premature baby born Christmas,
1942 at St. Mary's Hospital. Remember how
you all said I'd never make it? Then there
was the time when I read from the
When the minister got sick, just before his
Remember how you all said, "Hey, you ought to
consider the ministry!"
How about the last second basket I made
That beat Perryville and took us to the State
Remember how you all cheered and said I'd make
the pros someday?
And when I was chosen the best actor in the
college public speaking contest Remember how
proud you were?
You slapped my back and shook my hand.
Then came Basic Training and Advanced Infantry
Training and the Infantry Officers Candidate
Remember how impressed you all were that I
became an Officer?
And then Vietnam, where I did my job.
I got a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and an
Honorable Discharge. Remember how proud you
were when I came home? But now, I ask why I
had to shoot those little
When I question the policies and the decisions
and the people that made me a killer When I
ask you why you never asked why
You treat me like a stranger.
Hey! Remember me?

MCCUSKER. I'd like to make an addition to that. Like, I didn't know Larry in Vietnam, but I met him in Chicago and we both got gassed together. A lot of us have been doing this for years. Larry has in his hands something I wrote in '67 just after I got out of the service. I was thrown out of Japan for things I was doing within it. We've been saying it for a long, long time, but only now, only in the last few months, have people started to listen. So it's not the matter of waiting so long to say it. It's a matter of people waiting a _____ of a long time to listen.

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