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Winter Soldier

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

Sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Inc.

Part II

MODERATOR. Charles Stephens, former Pfc., medic with the 101st Airborne Division.

STEPHENS. I served with the 1st Brigade, 3/27, 101st Airborne Division as a medic. I went over in 1965, in December 1965, and I stayed until February '67. When I first got to Phan Rang, our base camp, our battalion commander said we were going to leave Phan Rang--going to Tui Hoa. And we'd be in Tui Hoa anywhere from three weeks to three months. And I believe we were gone about a year and seven days. But before we left he told us, he said, "Don't worry. I know you guys are impatient, but when you get to Tui Hoa there'll be enough VC to go around." Also, the chaplain added that it's better to give than to receive and do unto others before they do unto you. When we got to Tui Hoa the first battle we were in was in Happy Valley. And at Happy Valley we got quite a few of the people from our brigade killed. The very next operation I went on every village we went into we'd recon by fire and in one village, we wounded women and kids going into the village. When we got in there, this was in Tui Hoa, me and another guy were treating two unconscious babies--not babies but like five and six-year old kids and a woman lying in a hammock. I told the lieutenant that these people had to be evacuated because if not evacuated (this lady and these kids had shrapnel and they were unconscious) I said they're gonna die. And he said, "Well, forget it, Doc; we don't have time to stay and wait."

We went up on the hill right above this same village and we fired down on this village the next day while the people were trying to bury their dead, while they were doing their burial ceremony. And they killed another person in the village. The people, they didn't wait to see if the guy was dead or not. They just rolled him over and put him in the hole with the others and covered him up. We went down that same day to get some water and there were two little boys playing on a dike and one sergeant just took his M-16 and shot one boy at the dike. The other boy tried to run. He was almost out of sight when this other guy, a Spec. 4, shot this other little boy off the dike. The little boy was like lying on the ground kicking, so he shot him again to make sure he was dead. Then we went into the village and this papa-san, I don't know if he was a village chief or who he was, but he came up to us, he was telling us, he was making motions that a bird was flying over and the bird took a _____ and a thing went boom-boom. He was saying this was how a lot of the people in the village got hurt. I told the lieutenant and the lieutenant still wouldn't have the people evacuated. So, every operation we went on after that, after our Happy Valley, they didn't believe our body counts. So we had to cut off the right ear of everybody we killed to prove our body count. I guess it was company SOP, or battalion SOP, but nothing was ever said to you. Guys would cut off heads, put them on a stake and stick a guy's _____ in his mouth. At Nan Co. we were at the 95th, I think it was a base camp, a regiment base camp or something, and they say the VC had just left there. We had a guy with us, my senior aid man. He had about two weeks left in country and because we couldn't get resupplied (they didn't want to give away our position) we had to live off the land. There were some chickens in this village and my senior aid man was running through this elephant grass to find the chickens. He tripped a land mine that the VC had left behind. He blew his thighs and everything and the back of his legs up. Well, his leg was just messed up. He went into shock and died anyway because the doctors wouldn't come in to take him out. They were afraid. They had to stay with him that night, but they were afraid to come down. It was cabled from the medivac. I have some money here, this is North Vietnamese money. We took it off a paymaster. It was on the Ho Chi Minh Trail but we were supposed to be in Cambodia. We went ambush there for about two weeks.

MODERATOR. You want to hold that money up and show it to them?

STEPHENS. We had been on an ambush for about two weeks. The first week that we were there we didn't fire at any of the enemy. We just watched them come down, and I guess further down the trail they were being knocked off. I don't know.

But the second week we were told when anything came down this trail, we were to shoot. About two-thirty one morning this lady and a little boy and a dog came walking down this trail (they did this every night) and the lady made some kind of funny sign with a lantern. This particular night a guy met her on a bicycle. She went back to her house alone, but this guy stayed on her trail and a few minutes later some more guys came and joined him. As they were coming down the trail, we knocked them off. They said we were not supposed to use CS gas. We threw CS gas and the whole business. That particular night the password was "pussycat." There was like a big hill behind us where we were supposed to all come up and meet after the ambush. I was left with two Vietnamese ARVNs who were asleep during the ambush. There was an American machine gunner who couldn't get away from the ambush and on the way back up the hill the only thing we could do to keep from getting killed was to sing like "What's New, Pussycat." In Dak To, June '66, I think was the biggest battle fought by the 101st during the time I was over there. There was a captain who called in napalm on his own company and I think he got a big award for it. But he wasn't actually there. He was there when the fighting first started, but when he called in napalm he was in a helicopter with a megaphone telling us, "Get in there and mix it up. You're doing a good job."

When we went up to Dak To, all our companies were overstrength. But after the battle, I think our largest company had ninety-seven people in it. That was including officers and everyone. If you had wounded guys, you'd never leave wounded guys or dead Americans, you'd always take them with you or have them evacuated. But this time I was left with one round of .45 ammunition and I was left with three other guys. One guy had an M-79 with an HE round. Another guy had one magazine of M-16 ammo. We were told to follow a trail, and we had to create our own little war, to make the company commander come back and get us. Then he was going to court-martial us because he said we were cowards. That's about it.

MODERATOR. Charles, would you describe for us the policy of your unit with regard to the taking and the disposition of prisoners? I think you have something to say about the throwing of prisoners out of helicopters?

STEPHENS. Yes, In Tui Hoa, after Happy Valley, we didn't take any prisoners. If we were on an operation for one week and you caught a prisoner the last day of that operation, that meant you stayed out there a couple of more days because there were more people out there. So you took the guy to the woodside and you knocked him off. I saw on two different occasions these warrant officers come in in helicopters and take the prisoners. Like I was new over there then and I didn't know what they were going to do. I saw them take these prisoners, take them in the helicopter. I would see these guys sitting down watching the sky, laughing, you know, and here comes a guy waving down out of the sky. Then they bring the other two guys down and I guess they'd be saying something, so I imagine they'd be talking to them. I saw that on two different occasions.

MODERATOR. And they were actually pushed out of the helicopter?


MODERATOR. Thank you. Mike, Mike Misiaszek, former Spec. 4, also with the 101st Airborne Division.

MISIASZEK. Right, my name is Mike Misiaszek. I'm from Reading, Pennsylvania. I was with the 101st in the 1st Brigade, Support Element. We rigged up the choppers to fly supplies out to the troops and sometimes we'd go out and hand them out wherever they were. That was the last half. The first half, I was actually just a telephone answerer. I was in Vietnam from the first of December 1968 to the end of January 1970. This was at Camp Eagle and I was also down at Tam Ky after I got fired from my office job. My testimony concerns a whole bunch of things. Most of it's been heard before. I'd just like to elaborate on it for those who may not have been here before. The first thing I'd like to talk about is the destruction of a cemetery. The entire northeast corner of the 101st base camp, Camp Eagle, southwest of Hue, is built on a Vietnamese cemetery. They didn't plow under any graves; they didn't have to. They just built the compound on top of it, which means that there are still graves between some of the buildings. Some of the buildings are on top of old graves which had been plowed under and are all misshapen. I'd like to talk about harassment fire. Where we were sleeping was pretty close to a battery of 8-inch howitzers. These are big guns, man. They go off and they shake the ground. I think the round is as long as this table, maybe. And there's a lot of high explosives in there. They fired these things indiscriminately. They woke us up, they shook the whole place, and several of us got really _____ off. We wanted to find out why they were doing this all the time. This was every night. We talked to a specialist up in the battery, and he said they had orders to fire no less than thirty rounds nightly at a strip west of Camp Eagle. This strip was supposedly a free fire zone. Anybody could have been walking in there, like even some of our own people from other units, but they didn't really seem to care. They just shot this thing up! Another thing I'd like to talk about is the use of some chemical agents. On our perimeter we had CS gas, little canister with tear gas I guess, and what's known as Fugas. I don't know if anyone has brought this up. Fugas is a jelly-like substance. It's flammable, and they put it in barrels. What they do to it is they explode the barrel over an area and this flaming jelly-like substance lands on everything, if it's people or animals or whatever. And you can't get it off. It just burns, and you rub it and it sticks on. You just spread it all around. The only way to stop it is by suffocating it in mud or water. This was not around too often during the dry season, you know. When we were at Tam Ky, we convoyed in August back to Camp Eagle. They put a whole bunch of guys on a truck and we had C-rations. We made a pretty good game out of throwing C-rations at civilians as hard as we could. Then we tried to see if we could maybe get them through the grass huts. Like we would throw them at a grass hut. It would go through and we'd wait and see if someone comes out yelling or something. I'd also like to talk about mad minutes. This was mentioned before. Our mad minutes, for those of you who may not have heard it, were at the perimeter fence. Every once in a while at Camp Eagle, every two months or so, the order would just come down, "Okay guys, get to it." You got a mad minute. And everybody picks up a weapon with both hands, both feet, and they shoot. And they don't care what they shoot at, just as long as it's away from the base area. That's a lot of fun, too. All those sickees.

MODERATOR. Mike, is there the chance that into the areas where you were firing during these mad minutes there were unarmed persons?

MISIASZEK. Absolutely. Sometimes there were. There were maybe cows. I never saw any, but I've heard of some people who were shooting cows.

MODERATOR. Thank you.

PANELIST. I'd also like to talk about fragging. Maybe this really is nothing, but our morale in our company was extremely low. We hated our CO and we were always making up little plots to sneak at him. I decided to take it upon myself to secure a hand grenade that nobody knew about. I had this hidden for the next time he was going to screw me over. I had it in a stream in about five or six plastic bags. Well, I never got the chance because they found it on the police call.

MODERATOR. The next speaker is a former E-4 from the 101st, Jim Umenhofer.

UMENHOFER. The first thing that I'd like to say is we're not here for ourselves, we're here for all our brothers in the human race, and love is what keeps us going, and love is what this thing is all about. I was a radio operator with the second 501st and the 101st. I was an E-4. I was there from November of 1969 until October of 1970--that was about three months ago. In the northern I Corps area it's changed a little bit and the atrocities are just a little different from the atrocities that have been going on that you've been hearing about all week. The policy, which I'm sure has been brought out, the idea we are superior to our enemy or we are superior to the gooks or whatever--this carries over on all levels, even the higher echelon officers. Especially the higher echelon officers are preaching this. The first incidents I'd like to bring up occurred in March. I had seen a man I knew in a hospital. He was in the hospital, he had one arm cut off. He told me that this entire platoon, a platoon consisted of approximately twenty-five men or so, had been wiped out in hand-to-hand combat in the Paris area of operations. My unit, about three or four days later, Alpha Company, was sent into this particular area of operation. They had a mission to move from the top of a hill to a river which was approximately a mile away. Alpha Company was reduced to fifty men through combat. They were then removed and our Bravo Company was sent in there. Our Bravo Company was sitting on this same hill with the same mission and they were reduced to approximately twenty-five active men. They were removed and our Charlie Company was placed on this same hill with the same mission. Our Charlie Company was there for about a half an hour.

Then the CO of that company called up our battalion commander and said he'd like a few slicks, which are the Huey helicopters, to come in and pick up a few men who wanted to reenlist so they could get out of the field. When the battalion commander inquired how many, he said sixty. The battalion commander then flew out to the hill, told the men that he was going to leave them out there for twenty days or as long as it takes for them to start doing what they're supposed to do. What happened was they were out there for approximately a day and then the battalion commander changed plans and they removed them from that hill. We moved on from there. The morale was low. The fact is that we were to beat the enemy. We knew that we were superior to the enemy because we had been told this, and it was relatively hard at this time to believe it, seeing that our entire battalion was almost wiped out. We moved into a Ripcord area of operation and we received many casualties there. Then we moved up into a Gladiator area of operation. This is all approximately in the same area. It is just to the east of the A Shau valley. In the Gladiator area of operation, our troops were deployed around the fire base. The fire base was mortared every night. From there we moved on. I was in the rear part at this time. I witnessed myself truckloads of replacements coming in. There would be eighty replacements in one day, maybe a hundred replacements, coming in to our battalion. The next place we went was Fire Support Base Henderson. Fire Support Base Henderson was quite north of where we had been working. I'm not quite sure of the distance from the DMZ. It was between ten and twenty miles I'm pretty sure. I was told by a major in our tactical operations center that there were 2,300 North Vietnamese soldiers in this area. He was just explaining on the map he wasn't taking me particularly out and pointing at this. However, I worked in the tactical operations center and I observed this as he was pointing it out to the rest of the people. This was a new fire base. Because of the tactics in Vietnam changing (this is all my opinion, however) it was kind of hard to find missions to send the men on. We had no specific mission. So we were building a base camp, as it looked to me, in this North Vietnamese stronghold. It only had two strands of concertina wire around it, which is quite unusual. Two strands of concertina wire can be laid in maybe less than one day. It is just like a preliminary. It really is nothing at all. Now the NVA prisoners were utilized to build this fire support base. That is, these were North Vietnamese soldiers who had been captured, and they were kept on the fire base at night. My Alpha Company was sent to this fire base, and also my recon unit to secure it. Our Alpha Company had eighteen new people sent to it on Henderson.

These eighteen new people were all new in country. They had only been in country four days. They had had no in-country training. Nine of these people were in this battalion less than twenty-four hours and they were dead. Our recon unit was set in an area on this fire base where they had, say, this part of the fire base to secure. There was an ammo dump in this section. Then there was the rest of the main fire base. That night, the night that those replacements went up there, the North Vietnamese got into the fire base. They blew up the ammo dump, thus cutting off our recon team. One hundred percent casualties were received in our recon team, and it was virtually wiped out. All weren't killed, but like I say they did receive one hundred percent casualties. The next day, after it was attacked, one of the Brigade Colonels flew to Fire Support Base Henderson. They were there for approximately a half an hour, and he returned. He was put in for a Silver Star for being at Fire Support Base Henderson. Like I say, it's terribly hard right now up there to find a mission. This is the way it looks to me, and I'm sure these facts actually do point it out to you too. They were striving to prove our superiority. Yet we ended up killing quite a few of them uselessly.

Ripcord in July, I think this was pretty much in the news. Before we tactically moved off of Ripcord, my Delta Company was sitting on a hill, which was Hill 1000, approximately a mile from Fire Support Base Ripcord. They sat on top of this hill for nine nights. They were hit by mortars every night and every night at least one man was wounded or killed. The significance of sitting on this hill for nine nights I also question. And then there was the tactical retreat in July. I myself thought it was because of the Cambodia thing, the moving into Cambodia. There was more intense NVA push in the northern areas. This is the way it looks to me. Like I say I was a radio operator, and a lot of things I never witnessed myself. However, I heard many, many things. In August I was working on a fire support base where I had access to radios from the First Brigade, radios from the Second Brigade, and also radios from an ARVN regiment. I would get calls daily from Fire Support Base Barnett. It was almost a natural thing. At five o'clock I would get a call saying we're receiving mortars on Fire Support Base Barnett. Barnett is about one klick from O'Reilly, which was abandoned. In the north, because of this lack of ability to prove ourselves in the field--it's throwing a backlash in the rear areas also. And not only in the rear areas but out in the field too, where instead of being able to prove yourself by defeating the enemy, it's coming right down to the people right among the American ranks. There were incidents which began to accelerate more.

They were always there, but they began to accelerate around July and on up until I left. A black stabbing a white man; because of this a white man jumped a black brother, started beating him, started kicking him. The brother jumped up, went and got some more brothers, came back, there was almost a big hassle. Nothing ever came out of it. The white dude never had anything done to him at all. Black brothers were in the barracks. They were in the barracks listening to music. Some, I cannot say they were white, however even if they were black, they must have had white thoughts, were throwing in grenades. They threw in two grenades from either door. Two of the brothers were killed and two of them were wounded. In March, a black brother, a good friend of mine, a very good friend of mine, was supposed to move. He was supposed to make a movement and he was supposed to be on a truck at seven o'clock in the morning. Now he didn't make that truck, and this is failure to meet movement. He didn't quite know what was going to happen, nothing ever became of it. However in October (this had happened in March, by the way) they had his trial. He found out about it about a week before. As a result of his trial he was sentenced to two months in LBJ, which is the Long Binh Jail. And I'm sure there's been a few stories about that place. At one time our battalion had fifteen people from it in the Long Binh Jail. The majority of them were black, Mexican, and Puerto Rican. The way I see it, it's still an atrocity. Human beings are harming other human beings, and it's wrong. And that's why we feel that it's got to stop now. When the power of love overcomes the love of power then there will be peace.

MODERATOR. Our next speaker will be a former E-5 of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Murphy Lloyd. Murphy, let me ask you a question. How did you encourage information from your detainees or from the prisoners that you captured in the field?

LLOYD. Well, first of all we would ask them. If we didn't get the information, or if they said they didn't know any and we figured they were lying, we'd go to torture. The first time I ever saw it used was on Operation Junction City. We were over by the Cambodian border in War Zone C. We had just walked into an ambush, and out of this ambush we had approximately fifteen casualties. Five were killed out of those fifteen. We picked up five or six prisoners, and were flying them back toward our fire support base. We had a lieutenant that had been in country about five days. He said that he was going to conduct the interrogation. We were explaining to him that we had qualified people in the rear to do this, but he told us to shut up, he was a lieutenant. So boom, that ended that. So he asked two or three questions, and all of them kept saying "No bic" or "Mu la" or something.

MODERATOR. Explain what that means.

LLOYD. Either "I'm not going to tell you" or "I don't know." I believe it's "I don't know." So what he did, we were in a Chinook. A Chinook is bigger than a Huey. It has a door that opens in the rear and that's how we went in. Also it has a middle door used to take up cargo. Then he ordered the door opened, the middle door, and without another word, he just pushed one out. And then he said, "Are you going to tell me now?" and he started to put his gun on them. So all this time we're looking at him. We're kind of mad too because we had been out there and some of our friends had been killed or wounded. At the time it really didn't mean anything to us. He pushed out another one. Now the third one he came to, he started to say something in Vietnamese and pointed to one of them on the end. As we found out after searching this fellow, he was a lieutenant in the North Vietnamese Army. On the way in after this, he said if anything was said about this he would make it harder on us. Okay, so he wrote himself up for a medal by detaining and getting information from prisoners and saving us from walking into another ambush, evidently. But he received a Bronze Star with a V device in it for valor. The V stood for valor.

And again, we were in the northern part. We were up by Dak To. This was in May of 1967. A Company of the Second Battalion was annihilated, all but about four or five people. During the time that they were being annihilated up there, we were sitting down ready. Our battalion commander kept asking for word to go up. And the battalion commander of A Company, Second Battalion, kept saying they could hold their own. So about four or five hours after they told us to saddle up and we had to go. They took us in on another side of the hill which was hot. By the time we worked our way to where A Company was of the Second Battalion, all the bodies we found that were American soldiers were shot through the head. I mean you could look at a fellow and tell if he had been wounded in the arm or the leg or the chest, but all the ones we found had a bullet hole right here. And this showed that the NVAs after they had gone through killing, even during the battle, had enough time to go through and make sure that all GIs were dead. But out of this battle four people came out. That was the lieutenant, the CO, the first sergeant, and the FO.

MODERATOR. And the FO's an officer also.

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