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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

NEWTON. I was in the hospital that time for two weeks. They put me on a bland diet, but at the same time, in the first three days or so, I couldn't get around very much. They wanted me to make my bunk, lay on top of it, and do a few details around the hospital. I refused and that made them a little uptight. They wanted to get me out of there, since I wouldn't play ball. About a month later, I went back the second time with worse ulcers. They finally gave me a different diet in the company so that I could keep working.

But the second time I went back, they shipped me to Qui Nhon where I did finally receive some treatment, some really good treatment and I was able to combat the ulcers. But every time that I tried to go on sick call, since I was one of the troublemakers in the company, they tried to refuse me. Also, I had a dental problem. Some of us lost our toothbrushes while we were over there; they didn't have any more toothbrushes to give us, because we were Advanced Advance Party.

The first month or two we were over there, we didn't have anything. We had a canteen of water, that's it. No toothbrushes whatever. My teeth got progressively worse. Finally, I wanted to go see a dentist because I started getting sores on my teeth, and they said, "No, we can't spare you." It got so bad that I could just lift my gum up, or lift my teeth and say, "Hey, look at that." They finally gave me dental treatment, but now as a result of those _____ people, I'm going to lose my teeth.

MODERATOR. It is very common for whoever is in charge, the sergeant or the officer in charge of allowing people to go to sick call, to put it off for any length of time?

NEWTON. If they can. They'll try to say faking at first. If they see signs of it, they'll put it off some more until they can spare you.

MODERATOR. John Hartner, we were talking earlier about many, many things. One of the most important things which we feel we must talk about on this panel is the treatment of both civilians and suspected (meaning civilian) VC. Would you care to go into that?

HARTNER. First, I want to tell you a little bit about the way we ran our operations. We, of course, like everybody else in Vietnam, ran our operations under the free fire zone concept. This is where the Vietnamese clear, with military personnel, a certain area that they are going to work. I'm talking about our American troops. The result of this clearance is that anything then in this area is considered enemy. In the area that we worked in, which was the Central Highland area, there are a lot of Montagnards. The Montagnards, of course, were not consulted. The Montagnards are hated by the Vietnamese, and they couldn't care less whether they lived or died. When I was working in the Intelligence Section of the 2nd Brigade, our average reports, daily reports, consisted of individuals who were fired upon that had no weapon whatsoever. These were primarily Montagnard farmers and hunters just moving around doing their daily chores. But our troops were under orders to fire on these individuals.

I have an example that I'd like to read right now. I'd say that approximately 60 percent of all our reports consisted of this type of material. "On the 24th of July, 1970, 1 Bravo, 1st 22nd, Bravo Romeo 583818, observed two individuals ten meters to the west, wearing blue shirts, black trousers, no weapons. They employed small arms resulting in one enemy KIA; the other fled north. Artillery was employed. They swept with negative findings." This was an everyday occurrence, or more than everyday--several times a day, depending on how many individuals our troops ran into. Every once in a while, we'd be assigned an Air Cav. Troop. I have another example of the same thing. This time, however, there were four NVA soldiers with this Montagnard village. "On the 24th of July, 1970, Bravo, 17th Cav. at Bravo Romeo 2902656, observed 15 to 20 individuals. They received an unknown number of small arms, ground to air fire with negative hits." That means that a couple of the NVA took their rifles and they fired at the gunships expended, resulting in six enemy KIA. "Five minutes later they observed an unknown number of individuals in a bunker and hut complex." This was a Montagnard village. "They employed artillery and an air strike resulting in ten enemy KIA. Thirty minutes later they observed 15 individuals running south along the ridge line." These were individuals who were now fleeing the village. "Artillery was employed again resulting in 10 more KIA. An hour and a half later, they observed 30 to 40 enemy moving south into a wood line. Artillery and an air strike was again employed resulting in 14 more KIA. Thirty minutes after that they observed 12 individuals. Gunships once again expended resulting in 8 enemy KIA." If the count was correct, a total of 48 people died that day. There were only four weapons discovered among these people. It was a Montagnard village.

MODERATOR. For those of you who were not here yesterday, we had a chopper pilot testifying and he mentioned that the way he was told to distinguish between VC, NVA and civilians was that if he was up in the air and he saw somebody down on the ground who was running, that was a VC. If he was up in the air and he saw somebody on the ground standing still and waving at him, that was a well-trained VC. In any case, take care of them both.

You mentioned earlier a conversation which you had. Would you like to talk about that, too?

HARTNER. This is an example of an officer's attitude who flew some of these missions. He was an intelligence officer, working for the 3rd Brigade. One night he was talking to two Specialists bragging about the mission that he had been on that day, how good it had felt to kill one of the individuals. At that time I was standing around the back side of the wall of the TOC, posting maps, and the conversation went like this: The officer is talking now to the two Specialists: "I promise you that I will personally kill two dinks tomorrow. I'll bet you that I'll kill two dinks tomorrow." This time I walked around. I said, "Sir, what do you consider a dink? Any Vietnamese?" His answer: "Anything over three months old." My response: "Sir, you are really... sorry." The officer then spoke: "It doesn't make any difference if they have a weapon or _____ this big. I killed a woman once, and it was really funny."

MODERATOR. Most of us can testify that in many, many cases this is the general attitude of not only the officers but ourselves. Carl, would you like to go into those first two slides you have?

RIPPBERGER. The first two slides you're going to see were the burning of a village. Our armored column moved it. It was in June or July of '67. It moved into a village. The people obviously heard us coming and fled the village in fear of what would happen if they were still there when we got there. We made a thorough search of the village. We found no weapons and nothing to suspect that these people were Viet Cong. Orders came down to burn the village anyway. It was a small farming village of maybe 10-15 hootches.

MODERATOR. This is a picture of the village itself burning, is that correct?

RIPPBERGER. Right. This is one of the hootches burning. All the people's belongings, everything they owned were in these hootches.

MODERATOR. Carl, was there any warning given to these people before moving in, or did you just move into the village and say we're going to burn it?

RIPPBERGER. No, we were on search and destroy and we were just driving through. The helicopter spotted this small farming village and as we moved in the tanks and armored cavalry assault vehicles were very loud. They can be heard for miles and the people left before we got there. We found no weapons or anything there.

MODERATOR. Do you have any knowledge of where the people went to, both when you were coming in and after you had left their village destroyed?

RIPPBERGER. I don't know where the people would have gone, other than into the jungle waiting for us to leave.

MODERATOR. Scott and Mark, since you were both in the same unit, I believe you both have testimony related to burning of villages which you can both corroborate. Can we hear some of that, please?

LENIX. Well, in the burning of villages and of individual hootches along stream banks or in wood lines, if there was no one there, then apparently they must be VC and were afraid of you. If they were there, then the civilians were of course mistreated and their houses were burned anyway. It was standard procedure that if you swept through a village and happened to see anything that you wanted, you just took it for the simple reason that the people couldn't stop you, because if they did, then they'd die. So, it was a terrible relationship. It was the Lord and the Peasant. We weren't serving the people at all, other than ripping them off and burning them out of their homes. This isn't an isolated incident.

I myself have burned a whole lot of villages. It doesn't happen just once, it happens every day, and that's the thing that's so terrible. When you think about it, it's like having someone come to your home, set it on fire, say I'm sorry but I like your stereo, and I'm going to take it. There's nothing you can do, because if you say no, they'll shoot you down. And this goes on all the time. I think Scott can testify to this, as Scott and I served in the same unit.

MOORE. It did happen a lot. The battalion commander at this time frowned upon it. However, the platoon leaders and company commanders, when he was out of the way or was not in the areas with the chopper, burned a lot of places. As Mark said, you just go into a place, walk into these hootches, take what you want and walk out. The people didn't say anything because you had a gun and they didn't.

FARRELL. I also can elaborate a little further on that. I can give you a specific date where an order like this came down. Easter of 1967 we had a mission, a search and destroy. It was to destroy every man-made object that we came to, until we reached our objective from the place where we were inserted by helicopters until we reached our objective where we would be airlifted out back to our base camp. And upon landing, we were told that all the gunners on the helicopters were going to open up fire on the wood line to suppress fire. We landed right next to the wood line and there was a young woman with a child running down a path. She wasn't in the wood line; she wasn't an enemy. She had her baby and she was running away from the soldiers. A gunner opened up. Luckily, he didn't hit her, but I saw the bullets inches away from her, just missing her.

Whether he did it on purpose, I don't know. I do know that he did open fire on this woman who was completely defenseless, was not an enemy, didn't have a weapon, just had a baby in her arms, and I say again this was on Easter Sunday. You know, it's sort of symbolic that Easter Sunday, if you're Christian, you know, it's supposed to be the birth of Christ and we're destroying everything in the name of the United States.

MODERATOR. John Henry? In my unit we had many civilians who raided our trash dumps for wood to build houses and such. Do you want to talk about any of that?

HENRY. When I was trashmaster, 1/11 Artillery, my entire job consisted of making a run to the trash dump once a day and going to My Tho with Special Service people for lunch. We used to make our dump run about 11:30 in the morning so we'd have the rest of the afternoon to go to the pool. There are two kinds of life in Vietnam: there's the good life and then there's the infantry life. And I was an infantryman for nine months and it was a bad life. We used to make our run about lunchtime and the Vietnamese used to climb over the brim to get the boxes from the artillery canisters and the plastic wrapping before it went into the fire. Well, they had some MPs up there at the gate watching the trash trucks come in so you couldn't run dope out. They didn't do anything with the people for a long time. The people were just running amuck.

Then they issued a few MPs BB guns and put them inside the dump. They were posted every so far and they'd shoot the people with the BB guns as they came over the brim. Well, to the MPs it ended up to be a joke. You'd be shooting a fat old mama-san in the ass and she'd be screaming, but you weren't really bugging the people. So they got some ARVNs and gave them BB guns to shoot their own people. BB guns--I don't know --that's kind of insulting right there. Most of the people in Vietnam are poor people who aren't making a lot of money off the war. They make a little money--they know some Americans and get some soap and some cigarettes. But the peasant--he doesn't live too well.

When we would come in from the field, we would have to pull bunker guard in the daytime, to get out of details. These kids would come into the dump around the berm and try to take cans and anything that they could use. They issued us M-79s with CS gas and they told us to shoot close to them. We'd shoot maybe around eight or nine rounds of M-79 CS, and chase them the way, way back to the wood line. We wouldn't be aiming close to them, we'd be aiming right at them.

MOORE. We did the same thing in 239. In fact, I've participated in that myself. Shooting at kids and civilians in garbage dumps with the M-79. You remember, Mark, when that happened. I saw brutalization of civilians. We were on an S & D, search and destroy, mission one time, outside of Ra Kiem early in '68 and we were about, I'd say, 2 miles outside of Ra Kiem. All of a sudden a water buffalo charged the point, and the guy machine gunned the water buffalo. It so happened that an ARVN squad was in front of us and they thought they were being ambushed. They hadn't seen us, so they started firing at us, and a small fire fight broke out. Well, in the middle of the fire fight (the fire fight stopped after a few minutes) a civilian was hit, I think in the chest. He was on a bicycle when he was hit, and we had about two klicks to go back to Ra Kiem, so instead of calling in a dust-off, we just threw him over the bicycle. He was still alive, and he went back that way, on the bicycle, bleeding. I don't know what happened to him. I think he died, but I don't know.

MODERATOR. Scott, I think this might fit in here. You were talking to me before about inflated Medcap counts. Could you explain exactly what a Medcap is, and explain how the inflated count would harm the civilians?

MOORE. Medcap is an idea. It's supposedly treating the Vietnamese civilians for wounds received by H & I fire or for diseases they have or things along this line. I should first explain that in the 9th Division there was a tremendous competition among the colonels, not only in this particular area which we're talking about, but also body count and combat effectiveness which we talked about before. Pressure was put on me as a platoon leader to make sure I got a lot of people out into the field. And they didn't care how I got them out there. If I didn't get them out, all sorts of things were threatened. So I sent men out who had jungle rot and this sort of thing. Pressure was put on the battalion doctor. As a matter of fact, everything had to be approved by the major, the executive officer, and if the battalion doctor had too many people on sick call, pressure was put on him. So it's a circle. I think Mark can get into the Medcap Program. He was on more Medcaps than I was.

LENIX. Well, the Medcap Program was supposed to be part of a pacification plan that the United States was to carry out in Vietnam. And it was trying to win the people, of course, by being nice to them and treating them. I was still on the line as a combat troop, and we'd go in to give the doctor and his team of people security. When you go into a village for a Medcap, you didn't need the security because anybody who was there wasn't going to mess with you. They knew you were bringing them good things. But the thing is, the people didn't get treated. Not like they say. You'd have Medcaps where there'd be 10 people and out of the 10 people you'd give away ten bars of soap and three candy bars. And then you'd go back to the battalion, and the colonel would want to know, "Well, how'd we do on the Medcap today, boys? Did we get to treat a lot of people?" "Sure, we treated a lot of people, sir. We treated 50 people. We treated a lot of bad feet and a lot of little babies that were sick. We gave a lot of injections." And you did nothing. You threw soap out, then everybody sat down and ate bananas and ripped off the people. Then you'd leave, and that was the pacification program. So no matter what you hear, it's not the truth.

MODERATOR. Mark or Scott, what was the attitude of the medical personnel towards the civilians while on a Medcap?

MOORE. I guess Mark pointed out that they didn't really care. Some of them did; it depended on the individual. But the general attitude was to get as many people treated so it would look good on the Medcap chart which they had. I was with the 2/39. The other battalions were competing to see who could treat more people and I remember the S-5 officers standing up at briefings and saying, "Well, you treated 60 people," and the colonel would say, "Well, 2/60th treated 85. Let's get the count up." So he'd go back and sometimes read Playboy magazine and come back and report 85. Sometimes they never got treated.

MODERATOR. Bob, you told me about an incident where a little kid was killed. Could you go into that in more detail?

MCCONNACHIE. When I was out in the field outside of Lai Khe with the infantry, we were moved north, so some of us had to go by slicks, which are helicopters, and some by trucks, or jeeps, to Quan Loi, to resupply the people who left before us. On the way up to Quan Loi, we were on Highway 13, you go through villages and you see little kids with their hands out, begging. Well, at first I saw GIs tossing the cans out to them, C-ration cans. Then all of a sudden I saw they were coming pretty fast at the children, and I saw two or three of them killed right there, stoned with C-ration cans. We were stopped by the MPs; he just warned us, so we kept on with our convoy and nothing was said about the kids.

MODERATOR. Were there any officers present?

MCCONNACHIE. Yes, there was a 1st lieutenant present when we were going to Quan Loi.

MODERATOR. Did he say anything?

MCCONNACHIE. No, he just looked away and kept on walking towards his jeep when the MPs were talking to us.

MODERATOR. Okay, and besides the MP's warning, was there any other action taken?

MCCONNACHIE. No, there wasn't.


HENRY. There was a certain craziness among the people in Vietnam, when they were in Vietnam. When I was there, you'd be on back of a deuce and a half, and you'd throw smoke bombs into busses. All the people would be running. There are a lot of games you play with the people. The Army kind of fosters this gaming. Most houses have shrines, Buddhist shrines, and on patrol, you'd go in and rip off knick-knacks to send home, you know. I've got some Buddhist prayer beads at home that I saw ripped off by another guy who gave them to me, and I tried to give them back to a Buddhist, but I'm afraid you don't do things like that.

MODERATOR. Scott and Mark, I just want to ask you, since you both were officers, and I guess you were a lot closer to the general attitude of the officers during these incidents? You know you were shocked, did you do anything, and if not, why not?

MOORE. Well, I think it was a matter of the training I'd received when I went through Officer Candidate School at Benning and I was a Tactical Officer after that. And like, I was gung ho and just in a weird mentality. When I think back on it, it is difficult to believe I felt like that once. But to me, at that time, there was no humaneness. These people were subhuman, and well, they were, the expression is "gook." There was just this inhumane attitude in general. So usually, at least the way I saw it nothing very much was said about it.

LENIX. To go along with what Scott said about the mistreatment of civilians and personnel, that happened all the time and nothing was said about it. I was also an officer, and if it was to be reported, apparently it should have been reported by myself. But my attitude at that time was that they were subhumans and it didn't make any difference what happened to them because I didn't want to be there anyway. I just wanted to get home and get it over with. And if it would make it a little easier for me, well, then, I'd make it easier on myself.

I have an incident that I'd like to relate. On the first operation that I was on, in-country, we went into a village called Five Fingers. It was a typical cordon and search which means you surround the village and then you sweep through it. And hopefully, when you're sweeping, if anybody's running from you, they're going to run into the surrounding troops on the other side and then they'd get wiped out. We received fire as we walked into the village. We took no casualties, but we did end up with a body count. No weapons were found, so apparently they were civilians.

The next day, in the morning, they rounded up the entire village, all of them, and marched them out. They were all prisoners of war, all of them. Men, women, children, made no difference. We filled two deuce and a halfs. They had to walk maybe 5,000 meters to the vehicles. From the vehicles they were transported to our forward base where they were interrogated. Then they were just relocated, man, just moved away. The next day we went back into the village. We were to finish it off. There was burning and things going on and one of the things that was picked up were two Hondas that were confiscated by the troops. As these were confiscated, one was sold on the road immediately to another civilian who just happened to be passing by and the guy turned the motorcycle into Vietnamese piasters. So he had ready cash.

The other one was taken down the road a short way, was repaired at a Honda repair shop, and then was just taken with the troops. They used it at the base. Not only were they confiscated, but the part that was bad, was that it was reported on the battalion board as a VC platoon, a VC transportation platoon that had been captured. Then of course the colonel brought this up when he was with his contemporaries, people of his same rank. "Yeah, well, my battalion got a transportation platoon yesterday, man. We got it on the board. Look, doesn't that look nice?" And what had happened was that we ripped off two motorcycles.

MODERATOR. You say when these people were relocated, they were put into deuce and a halfs; they were taken for interrogation. Were they allowed to take any of their belongings with them?

LENIX. Right, and the next day, like I say, we went through the village and tore everything apart. You know, tore walls out of hootches, just ripped everything apart looking for weapons or whatever. But we found nothing. They just set a torch to whatever you wanted to burn.

MODERATOR. Mike, would you like to speak?

FARRELL. Yeah, about the brutalizing effect that war has on people and that the Army helps to foster. Our platoon sergeant told us (I'm going to gentle down the language, I'm not going to say it the way he said it), he said, "If there's a woman in a hootch, lift up her dress, you know, and tell by her sex; if it's a male, kill him; and if it's a female, rape her." You know, like this man, this was his third war. He's rather proud of the fact that he was in his third war. Served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. I think he had irrational conduct because we were slightly rebellious about all the work we had to do plus the ambush patrols we had to go on at night. There was a lot of complaining. This was in a forward area, the village of Bam U Thanh. We're out there in close march drill in Vietnam. This was his punishment to us because we were grumbling. In that same village where we were marching, we got fired upon. I could just go on, and on, on. A spotter pilot flies one of these little planes around for the artillery.

It's like a Piper Cub; it's a single engine plane and its top speed is about 90-100 miles an hour. They'd also call in the jets and they monitor where the jets were dropping their bombs, and they'd get body counts from them. They see pieces of arms, bodies, flying in the air and then they'd get a body count off of that. Here's a man flying around, 100 feet, 200 feet, 300 feet in the air, and he's counting bodies that are reported back to the news. Really it's a joke. I myself really never had anything accurate as a body count from our company sweeping through an area and really killing somebody.

MODERATOR. By the way, Mike, earlier we were talking to John Henry about the dumps. I believe that you mentioned to me that you had seen a child on the dumps who was permanently lamed. Could you go into that a bit?

FARRELL. We threw CS gas at them in the dumps. At our battalion base camp the supply sergeant said that if any of them gooks come over by the garbage dump, to fire over their heads. So like I just didn't do it. The fellow I was with was firing over their heads; he fired over a couple of children's heads. Another time, I was on sick call, and there was a young child, a Vietnamese child in there. I'd say school age, about 6, 7. He had a mutilated limb. I really don't remember whether it was his arm or his leg, but he was hit by a bullet from an M-16. I asked the medic that used to be attached to our company what happened to that child. He said he was down at the dump and he was hit; the sergeant shot at him. Chasing him away and he hit him. I asked him, "Did anything come of it?" and he said, "No."


RICE. The psychology used, especially in the 9th Division, was that they take C-ration cans and make booby traps out of them. They tried to psych people's minds out that these people are always out to get you.

MODERATOR. We're going to end this segment right here. Does the press have any questions on treatment of civilians? Scott, did you want to say something?

LENIX. No, I did. In November '68, in an area called the Wagon Wheel just northwest of Saigon, while on a routine search and destroy mission, gunships which were providing security and cover for us in case we had any contact were circling overhead. Well, no contact was made, and the gunships got bored. So they made a gun run on a hootch, with miniguns and rockets. When they left the area, we found one dead baby, which was a young child, very young, in its mother's arms, and we found a baby girl about three years old, also dead.

Because these people were bored; they were just sick of flying around doing nothing. When it was reported to the battalion, the only reprimand was to put the two bodies on the body count board and just add them up with the rest of the dead people. There was no reprimand; there was nothing. We tried to call the gunship off, but there was nothing you could do. He just made his run, dropped his ordnance, and left. And there they were, man. The mother was, of course, hysterical. How would you like it if someone came in and shot your baby? And there was nothing we could do, man, we just watched it. And nothing happened. I have no idea what happened to the helicopter pilot, or to anyone in the gunship. It was gone. Things like this happen, I'm sure, more than once, because if I saw it, I'm sure a lot of veterans who aren't here saw it.

And this is why we have to stop the war. Because not only are we killing our brothers in the Armed Forces, and brothers on the other side, but we're killing innocent people, man, innocent civilians, who are just standing by and happen to be at the place at that time and for no other reason than that, wind up dead.

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