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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. Good afternoon. My name is Wayne Novick. This is going to be the testimony of the 1st, 4th, and 9th Infantry Divisions. I'm the moderator.

DONNER. My name's Don Donner. I'm going to moderate also. We're changing the format somewhat this afternoon. Instead of having each person rap down his basic line--about what happened to him in Vietnam, we're going to try and take wide areas--treatment of GIs, treatment of civilians, treatment of prisoners, H & I fire, the entire realm of free fire zones, what the war has done to us individually and collectively. For each of these sections each of the gentlemen on the panel will be allowed to testify on that one particular section before we move on to the next. We will allow questions from the press, one or two at the end of each section if anybody wishes to ask. Okay, starting here, John, would you like to introduce yourself and work on down.

LYTLE. John Lytle, 6/15 Artillery, 1st Division. I spent--I was in Vietnam in '67, '68, '69. Came back a Spec. 4. I think I was really an E-3, but I ripped my records off so they never knew what I was. My MOS was 13 Echo 20, Artillery Forward Observer.

MCCONNACHIE. My name is Robert McConnachie. I'm 22, I'm from the Sunshine State, Miami, Florida. I was a student before I entered the service. I enlisted in the service. I was a sergeant E-5, I was in the 1st Infantry Division, 2nd/28th, Black Lions, I was an RTO. I was in Vietnam in '67 and '68 and right now I'm a student.

NEWTON. My name is Ron Newton, 24 years old, Portland, Oregon. I was drafted. I was with 704 Maintenance Battalion, 4th Division, Personnel Specialist. Now I'm a student at Portland State University.

HARTNER. My name is John Hartner. I am now a student, I was in graduate school before I was drafted. I served with the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam. When I first arrived in the country, I worked with the Third Brigade Headquarters Company in the Operating Section. Shortly after I arrived, the Third Brigade was sent home. I then worked in the Intelligence Section in the Second Brigade.

RIPPBERGER. My name is Carl Rippberger. I'm 23. I was a student before I entered the service. I was in Vietnam from May of '67 to May of '68. I was in "K" Troop, 3rd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. I was a machine gunner for the first few months I was there. Later on I drove an armored cavalry assault vehicle. I'm now a salesman for an electrical distributor.

FARRELL. My name is Mike Farrell, I'm 24. I was a part-time student before I was drafted. I was drafted in April of '66. I got out of the army in January of '68. I was with "A" Company, 2nd/60th, 9th Infantry Division. I was a rifleman for the first three months that I was over there. The remainder of the tour, I was a machine gunner. Right now I'm a student at Oakland Community College here in Detroit.

HENRY. My name is John Henry. I'm 26. I'm a student from Detroit. I was a Spec. 4 in Vietnam in the 9th Infantry Division, same company he was in, 2nd/60th. I was there from March '68 to February of '69. I was an infantryman for nine months, worked on a mortar squad, and the last three months I was a trash man for an Artillery Unit.

SHEPARD. My name is Frank Shepard, Im 23, from Plymouth, Michigan. I was a student before I entered the service. I'm a free spirit now. I was in the 5th Battalion, 60th Infantry in the Headquarters Division, in the Personnel Department. Served in Vietnam from March of '68 to August of '69.

RICE. My name's Bill Rice, I'm from Vineland, New Jersey, I'm 21 years old. I was a machine gunner for "D" Company, 3rd Battalion, 47th Infantry, and then when they were moved out I was transferred to Headquarters, Third Brigade.

HOPKINS. My name is Barry Hopkins, I'm 22 years old from Greensberg, Kansas. I enlisted for the draft in '68 and went to Vietnam in January 1969 to January '70. I was with the 3rd/39th, 9th Division. I was a point man for five months.

MOORE. My name is Scott Moore, I'm 26 years old, I'm from New York City. I was a First Lieutenant in the Infantry. I was a platoon leader for five months and Forward Resupply after that. I served with the 2nd/39th, 9th Infantry Division.

LENIX. My name is Mark Lenix. I'm 24 years of age, I was a lab technician before I went in the service. I was drafted. I was a 1st Lieutenant, served with the 1st/11th Artillery attached to the 2nd/39th Infantry Battalion as Forward Observer.

MODERATOR. We're going to start discussion on H & I fire. Bob, you were an RTO and an FO, Forward Observer, for Artillery working with the Infantry. Could you tell us about H & I fire? Exactly what it is, how it was used, how often, and things like that?

MCCONNACHIE. H & I fire is harassment and interdiction. These guns, 105 howitzers, they shoot mostly at night, to keep the VC on the move. They always got to keep them moving to protect us and the ambushes. I'll give you one instance on H & I fire. The people firing don't know what they're firing them at; they're so stupid. I was in a leper colony, it was called Ben Son. There was a unit of 40-meter Mike-Mikes, they're usually not on jeeps, dusters they're called. This one unit put 46 rounds in this leper colony, killing some civilians. It was a hospital complex. They knew where it was. So I jumped in the ARVN's truck (there were 140 ARVNs at this place and there were only three Americans, a sergeant and two Pfc.s) and the ARVNs took me over where this unit was. There was a captain there and he asked me if I had told his superiors. My superiors were located in Di An which is detonate 5-2. I showed him where we were on the map and he holds his hands in the air and says, "I know where you're at now." You know, he says, "Don't tell my superiors," and I said okay. So I went back to my base camp where I was stationed.

MODERATOR. John, you were also in Artillery, would you care to talk about H & I?

LYTLE. We'd have to get clearance from battalion to shoot 'em. You'd have to call in and get your clearance, get your grids, you'd mark it off on your maps and you'd get everything set up to shoot H & Is. We used to shoot H & Is three times a night anyway. Every time we shot we'd shoot like a hundred rounds, maybe two hundred rounds, of these big shells, you know; 105 howitzer shoots a shell approximately five inches in diameter. It's about this long with a projectile on it and a shell part on it. It'll make you a nice swimming hole when it lands. So maybe three times a night we'd shoot those, you know. At least for six months we did that, I remember. We usually didn't have to get much clearance, you know. If we just wanted to shoot 'em, we would mark off for one of the companies that were out on patrol or something; they'd call in and say there's a little bit of movement (or one of the starlight scopes would pick up some movement) and we'd just throw some shells in. If it happened to be a village, we'd probably just lob some shells in there too. It's no big thing, you know. We didn't worry about it.

MODERATOR. Did you ever notice any results of the H & I fire? Were you ever in the area after H & I fire?

LYTLE. Well, yeah, like I've been around in areas, you know; walked through the villages after we've hit 'em, and they're just totally destroyed, totally. Like, say this building right here would be nothing, you know. You could see the sky, everything would be completely, completely rubble.

MODERATOR. Okay. You say the order came down from battalion on this. How do we know that these people were VC or were not VC?

LYTLE. We were in areas that if there was movement at night, wow, maybe they're trying to get you, so we get them first.

MODERATOR. Okay. John Henry, you also mentioned that you were in an area where H & I fire was SOP. Would you care to comment on it?

HENRY. I was in an Artillery unit for a while. It wasn't where we fired H & Is. But you've got to get clearance from the Vietnamese nationals and the Americans. They set up these fire zones, the H & I fire zones. There are areas like in the Plain of Reeds, which is south of Saigon and a stronghold of VC, where they pretty much own the country and they walk at will at night. Well, you've got to fire a lot of harassing fire. We used to take our mortars out to the field and--well, the VC aren't stupid either.

They get out of the rain. They're not like us; we sleep in the rain around dikes. But the VC, they go to houses and hamlets, rest up for the night, and get food and things. And we used to shell villages at times, like five or six rounds every thirty minutes or so all through the night. On the perimeter of the village, people had a curfew and were supposed to be in. But if some mama-san got up during the middle of the night and had to move her bowels, she was ducking flak, too. We had free fire zones; we had mad minutes, just about throughout the Ninth Division. You know about mad minutes. A mad minute--everybody gets on line, everybody in the company, and you play Machine Gun Murphy. You're told to fire a magazine through your weapon and you just pepper the countryside. Usually you do this about six o'clock at night because you get colors off the tracers. I don't know why.

MODERATOR. John, did you ever use the mad minute in an area or in a fire support base where there was a village close by?

HENRY. Well, there are hootches along the wood line and that's where pockets of VC would collect. So we fired towards the wood line, and where there were hootches, where there was civilian population. But they had thick bunkers, thick bunkers.

MODERATOR. Mark, you were an artillery officer, can you give us anything more on H & I policy and techniques?

LENIX. Well, H & I was to sort of keep the VC off guard. You weren't sure what was there, but if they were, then of course, you just drop artillery on top of them. When I was working with H & I fire, you'd put your arms out and the only clearance you'd have would be from battalion. You'd call them, give them a grid square, and they'd say, "Sure, there's nothing there. Go ahead and shoot." And then, of course, you'd send the order to the guns and the guns would shoot. Well, on one instance that I can remember, there was nobody there and we went ahead and shot. The next day a papa-san brought in his dead wife and wounded baby. There was nobody there.

MODERATOR. Okay, Mike Farrell, we also talked about H & I; would you care to talk?

FARRELL. Yes, I was in a Brigade Medical Center in Tan An. This was a short distance from my base camp. I was trying to get dental aid and I was in the aid station. This was approximately May of '67 and they brought in a woman with a small child. The child was approximately three, four years old, and the child was very badly mutilated. He was bleeding very profusely, you know, and he was in a state of shock. I asked the doctor what had happened to this child and the doctor said that the child was hit by H & I fire. I myself did not see the child being wounded by this H & I fire, but this was the report that the chopper pilots brought in.

MODERATOR. Scott, I just want to get this in here. You were in the same unit as Mark. Can you corroborate the testimony he's given?

MOORE. Right. I was in the same unit for four or five months before Mark got there and H & Is were definitely used. I can remember going through rice paddies on search and destroy missions and finding dead peasants in the middle of the paddies, just lying there. I'm sure they were caused by H & Is.

MODERATOR. Bill, you also were talking about H & I.

RICE. Well, we went out one night when an ambush was set up around this hootch. We had gone through this area several times. We knew the papa-san and everything there. We come up there this one night and started getting a big hassle from him because mortar rounds from our 81s had gone through the roof of his hootch. Another landed outside his hootch and blew his boat up. Fortunately, no one was killed. We used to get a lot of readings. They put out these things called duffle bags and radar. They pick up readings on these and fire on them. I doubt that they had any visual contact with the people they were firing on, but rather picked them up on radar and fired on a radar sight, not knowing who was there.

MODERATOR. That's radar against personnel on the ground?

RICE. Right.

MODERATOR. Is there any way that you would understand for the radar to be used to tell if these troops were friendly or not?

RICE. About the only way you could tell was to call and see if any friendly units were in the area. They'd check with the ARVN, with the American units, and any unit operating around us. If there were no military units there, then they would fire. They'd not check for civilians.

DONNER. I see.

MODERATOR. Just on this radar business, I was in the Infantry also. To tell you how accurate it was, they set up some anti-personnel radar in my base camp and sent my platoon out on a little riff around the NDP. They were picking up VC in between us, on the sides of us, in back of us and in front of us and there was nobody out there but us. So that's how accurate the stuff is.

MODERATOR. Okay. Most of you have agreed that H & I is fairly SOP--standard operating procedure. Does anybody else have any particular story they want to relate on this matter? Okay. For the benefit of the audience, it's my understanding that the entire free fire zone concept, where areas are set aside and anybody there is assumed to be an enemy, H & I fire, firing without warning at anything moving in this area, is against not only the Geneva Convention, but most of the rules on civilized warfare. Do any of the members of the press wish to raise a question on H & I fire to this panel? Okay. Our next topic is going to be treatment of GIs in the service in Vietnam by officers and other GIs. Ron, you were a personnel specialist. Would you like to give us something on this?

NEWTON. As a personnel specialist I had contact with records, of course. I saw enlisted men being used in jobs that were outside of their MOS. I was used in a completely unrelated job, a menial job at tech supply, when I was a personnel specialist, because they were shorthanded. I saw men that were not qualified to go out on guard duty or shore patrols, sent out on patrols. Men who were not qualified with M-16s were sent out on patrols to use the weapons. I myself was issued a Claymore. I never saw one before I got to Vietnam.

I never had any AIT training, OJT (on the job training) and many other people were this way. No jungle training. We were part of an advance party from 4th Infantry Division which I think is the worst Division in Vietnam because it's poorly trained. Besides we shouldn't be over there anyway. But I was part of the advance party. We did not know how to do anything right while we were over there. The first initial months the officers completely harass the men. We were living in pup tents, yet we had to have spit shined boots. And shined buckles. If you didn't obey the commands, if you didn't get into the program, they'd take you out and ship you to the infantry. AIT, for those that don't know, is Advanced Infantry Training. Now, you qualify with your weapons, you learn how to fight. Since I was a personnel specialist, I really didn't know what was coming off when I got over there. And they said, "Okay, you're going on a patrol tonight." "A what? Can I take my typewriter with me or something?"

MODERATOR. Ron, you said you were issued a Claymore and never had any Stateside training on the use of such a weapon. Did you receive training while you were in Vietnam on any weapons that you were required to use or carry?

NEWTON. No. I started out with an M-14 but shortly after we got to Vietnam we got M-16s.

MODERATOR. And you also did not have any training on the M-16?

NEWTON. I had training on the M-14, but I did not have training on the M-16.

MODERATOR. Mark, a lot of people in the States are under the impression that the GI gets the best medical care in the world. I believe you have something that's a little contrary to that. Could you give us that?

LENIX. Right. My Easter of '69 wasn't exactly what I'd call a treat. I was wounded. They decided that I wasn't wounded bad enough to be dusted off, so I waited a period of approximately nine hours while I was laying in a pig sty to be dusted off. When I was dusted off, I was taken to the hospital. I will say the treatment I got was fast, but efficient, it wasn't. I was taken into the operating room and worked on. They completely neglected the wounds on my arms and, of course, I had to say, "I don't think you're finished yet." So they sewed up the wounds on my arms. I was then released to get to a ward. I was put in a ward where there was no medic, no supervisor. I was told by the man laying next to me that I was hemorrhaging. Well, since there was no one in the ward that meant I had to get up and walk back to the operating room and open the door and say, "Doctor, I'm not done." Then they put me back on the table and said, "Oh, I guess you're not!" And they finished it up. Well, that wasn't the end of it. Then they sent me for two weeks' recuperation. As I was recuperating, the wounds were supposed to be healing. Well, they didn't heal, but the doctor gave the orders to take the stitches out without ever looking at me. The stitches came out and the wounds opened back up, but I'd already been released from the hospital so they couldn't treat me again. So they sent me home. When I got back to my unit, I stopped at the hospital in Dong Tam, which was the 9th Med. Battalion Hospital, and they told me that I'd have to be operated on again. I told them that, "No, thank you, brother." I went to the aid station and was worked on by a Spec. 5 who was just a male nurse, but he gave me excellent treatment. The treatment that the army offered me and gave me was no good. I had to seek my own from people within the unit that I knew.

MODERATOR. What was the general attitude of the doctors in the hospital toward yourself and the other people who hadn't been treated properly?

LENIX. Well, I never saw a doctor. He came in one day and took a look at me and said, "All right. Your stitches will come out in three days." And that was the last of it. Three days later the stitches came out. He wasn't there to supervise it; it was a Spec. 4, just an aide, who came and clipped 'em out. As they were coming out, the wounds were opening up and he asked the nurse in the ward, "These wounds are opening, should I take 'em out?" The rest of them came out and the wounds opened back up.

MODERATOR. Is there anybody else on the panel who has any testimony?

FARRELL. Yes. It was April of '67 and I sprained an ankle. The only medical treatment I ever received was an Ace bandage; if you're not familiar with it, it's a big elastic bandage that they use to tape up sore muscles. I could not walk out in the field. But for three months I was out in the field with this foot taped up like this and it was the only remedy they would give me. They wouldn't give me enough time off out on the line to let that foot heal up properly. They'd give me Ace bandages--new ones--each time I'd come out of the field because they'd be ruined by the water and the mud that we were in. And Darvon Compound. If you don't know what Darvons are, they're just little pain pills, mild pain pills, and they're very widely distributed over there. There is another instance of my mistreatment over there. I have very poor vision and I lost my glasses on a night ambush patrol. I only had one pair of glasses remaining and these were sunglasses. I was made to pull guard duty at night on a bunker with sunglasses. I have 20/200 vision in both eyes. As far as I'm concerned that's pretty blind. I couldn't see and then with really dark sunglasses (the type that the army issues you) I was pulling guard duty. For the remainder of my tour--I had to go to the doctor--I couldn't tell them that I couldn't see at night. I had to go get a doctor's note to tell them I had to get a profile that I wasn't supposed to be on guard duty. So seeing as I couldn't pull guard duty and details during the day, they had one remaining chore for me to do while I was waiting for my glasses to come in.

That was to pull KP, which I did. Like I pulled KP every day. I was on permanent KP for a month and a half, two months. Needless to say, everybody knows what KP is like. How do you feel at the end of the day of doing KP all day, day in and day out.

MODERATOR. Right. John, we were talking earlier about sick call, and such, if you'd care to go into that.

HENRY. The army is a very demeaning experience. They have a preset way of thinking about enlisted people, especially draftees. When I was an infantryman, there weren't many ways to get off the line and the thing you wanted to do was get off the line. But they'd save those jobs for the short-timers--building bunkers, filling sand bags, burning... good jobs like that. A lot of people were going on sick call because we were losing a lot of people. I went on sick call and I had to get my slip from the doctor that said I was exempt from going out in the field because I had a split-open toe. The conditions out in the paddies would have just aggravated it. So I got this slip from the doctor, but he said I had to go and see the major who was the battalion CO. He was clearing all people; he was like the second step after you went through the doctor. He looked at my toe, took off the bandage, and said it didn't look that bad. He said that they were obliged to send a certain amount of people out to the field--they had to field so many people from each company--and if I didn't go somebody else would have to go. So what they did, they had the first sergeant going out to the field; they had the mail clerk going out in the field; they had the supply clerk going out to the field; and they had the guy who fixed the radios going out to the field. They couldn't field enough people because too many people were going on sick call.

MODERATOR. Would you consider this going on sick call, in the majority of cases, to be malingering?

HENRY. Well, it's really hard to rap to people who haven't been in the army. If you've never been to Vietnam and you've never been in the situation where you go out every day, you've got a really good chance to die. It was tough when you went on sick call because they gave you a bad time. You had to sit on the porch, not smoke cigarettes, and stand around until sick call started at eight o'clock. You had to be there at 7:30. You had to go to the orderly room and get a pass, which meant you had to miss breakfast. They didn't make it easy to be sick; and it wasn't fun to be sick, either, because they always had something else. Like if you couldn't go out to the field, you could fill sand bags or something. You had to be really sick-sick to stop doing anything.

MODERATOR. Okay. Evidently it was required to have a certain amount of people in the field at all times. If people were sick, documented sick by the doctor, they had to go to a major who was in charge of putting a certain number of people out in the field. If he could not get enough people out in the field, then he could override the doctor's orders, even though the person was classified by the doctor as supposed to be staying in?

HENRY. Well, I can only speak for myself, and the doctor told me that I was borderline. He said that if I went out to the field it might be aggravated, but there weren't any stitches in it. I got a shot for Tetanus and some pills. I was wearing shower shoes and he said that I should keep it dry as much as possible and keep it out in the air. If I went out to the field, I'd have to wear my boots and I'd be wet as long as I was out there. I know of other people who got turned down by the major who had to go back out in the field even though they had crotch rot so bad that it was from genital to toe. We lost a lot of people the first couple of months I was in country. My MOS was mortars and they disbanded the mortar platoon to fill the infantry platoon.

MODERATOR. By lost, you mean a lot of men were ripped off, killed? And they had to fill back up, or what?

HENRY. Yeah, we lost fifty percent. More than fifty percent of our casualties were by booby traps and that's just being unlucky because all it takes is one guy to put his foot in the wrong place and a lot of people get hurt. There's no enemy contact, no direct enemy contact. You're not getting a body count, but they are. I don't think we ever did better than they did against us because they were ingenious, you know.

MODERATOR. Okay. Ron, did you want to say something else?

NEWTON. Yes, I had ulcers while I was over in Vietnam, probably as a direct result of being in Vietnam because I didn't like it at all. At first, I went on sick call a couple of times, complained of a bad stomach, a progressively growing worse stomach. Then they started thinking I was faking because some of the men were faking. But one night I had an attack which started bleeding--bowel movements produced blood. In the morning I couldn't get out of my bunk. The sergeant came in and said, "Get the _____ out of the bunk. Go out and work." And I said, "I can't get up." So he went and got the 1st sergeant and they grabbed me, took me out of the bunk, and I passed out. Then they thought, well, maybe he isn't faking, so they got me on a stretcher, took me over to the hospital, and found out I did have ulcers.

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