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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

MODERATOR. This is much, this is exactly the sort of thing that John was talking of at first. John was at the other end of the whole thing. He was the person who got the reports on how many people were killed, how many weapons were found, who was a VC, who apparently were civilians, and how they were all lumped together. John, do you have something to say?

HENRY. In my unit there was a bounty posted for a body count because we went dry for a long time. We were pulling blocking forces and things and we were offered a fifth of liquor for the first man who got the first body. If you're E-6 or under, you can't buy alcohol in Vietnam. It doesn't matter if you are 53 years old, you can't do it, not in a PX. If you're a 19 year old lieutenant, you can. The incentive, the programs that they build to talk you into killing people...My friend Frank here was in a unit that exemplifies this. We had a brigade commander called Colonel _____ _____, who issued Recondo pins. These were glory badges, and if you hadn't tasted your first blood, you couldn't pin one on. He stood up there on a little hill, and let us all take the pledge. All of us pinned on one of our Recondo pins, if we promised, you know...had to promise. Frank's unit was even more ridiculous, I think, more absurd, not ridiculous. It does certain things to your head, and I think it would be a really opportune time for him to expose that.

MODERATOR. One moment, please, does any member of the press have questions?

QUESTION. Does any member of the panel remember a General _____?

PANELIST. Commander of the 9th Division?

QUESTION. Right...do you remember appetizing tales about him?

PANELIST. Right, I was in three parades that he had.

MODERATOR. Hold on a second, please. It's against the policy of the Winter Soldier to name any names of any officers or NCOs because we are trying to avoid scapegoating. That is one of the main premises, so once this man has been named let's just hold back on any tales about him specifically. If it had been mentioned "just a general" that would have been one thing, but we are not going to do anything by scapegoating; we don't want these people to just jump on them; we want the government policy changed; we don't want them scapegoating more Calleys.

QUESTION. My question was for Mike. General _____ is well known for having gone above and beyond the call of duty with regards to obtaining high body counts and things like that. According to another witness who's not here he called his command ship the Gookmobile. My intent was not to scapegoat General _____, but to see if there was anything further informational about this rather outstanding officer.

MODERATOR. Okay, we're going to be getting into inflated body counts; the entire question of how do you up the morale of the men in the field, how do you get them to kill. Frank, we were talking at considerable length earlier about a special award which was issued--would you care to tell the rest of the people about that?

SHEPARD. Well, as you were mentioning, there are many ways to build up your body count. In our particular unit, as John mentioned, he had the Recondo badge. We had this badge known as the Sat Cong badge. This badge, translated into English, means "Kill Cong." This represents one Viet Cong--or civilian, whatever it may be, because there's really no way of telling. It represents one life. These badges were given when someone could prove that he had killed a Viet Cong, or Vietnamese. There are many ways of doing this. One is to have somebody verify that you did in fact see him kill a Vietnamese. Another way is--and this a common way--to cut off the ear of the dead Vietnamese and bring it in. You could exchange it for one of these badges. The badges were created on a battalion level; I have the order here that created this badge, and the sick individual that signed it.

MODERATOR. I tell you, Frank, on the "sick individual" let's just say a captain in the infantry.

SHEPARD. All right. This is a disposition form. It's an official Army form dated 28 June '69. It reads as follows: "Any member of this battalion who personally kills a Viet Cong will be presented a Sat Cong badge--Kill Viet Cong--for his gallant accomplishment. The Sat Cong badge will only be given to those individuals who have accomplished the above-mentioned feat. There will be no honorary presentations. Furthermore, only personnel who have personally killed a Viet Cong may wear the Sat Cong badge. Company commanders will draw Sat Cong badges from the executive officer, and will maintain all control." And also, explaining more about the badge, this is what is known as a Chieu Hoi leaflet. On one side, it's in Vietnamese; on the other side it's translated into English. This is used for two purposes: It's to build up the morale of the soldier, make him want to kill, and it's also to scare the hell out of the Viet Cong. It's entitled Viet Cong/NVA Beward. It says: "You are now located in the area of operations of the Cong-Killer 5th Battalion, 60th Infantry. Each member of this elite American unit is a trained killer, dedicated to the annihilation of every VC-NVA. The proof of this dedication is the Cong badge he proudly wears proclaiming he has personally killed a VC-NVA. We don't rest; we will hunt you with our helicopters, track you down with our radar, search above and below the water with boats, bombard you with artillery and air strikes. There are no havens here. You are not safe nor are you welcome here. Rally to the government of Vietnam now, or face the fact that you will soon join your ancestors. Signed, Cong-Killer 5th Battalion, 60th Infantry."

MODERATOR. That's sort of interesting, the "you are not safe nor are you welcome here"--this was in Vietnam, was it not?

SHEPARD. Yes, it's their country.

MODERATOR. Okay, Frank, in talking about this, how do we know that these people were VC-NVA, rather than normal peasants?

SHEPARD. There's no possible way, really, to tell. As for myself, I never witnessed anyone cutting off an ear, for example, and bringing it in; I don't know that these were Viet Cong. It just seems that if you have something like this you're going to get instances where people take civilians to get one of these badges. This was considered quite an honor, in fact, to have one of these badges. It was, it now seems rather sick, but over there it was the accepted thing that you were a real man if you had one. Some of them put oak leaf clusters on the bottom if they killed more than one. Like I say, it's sick.

MODERATOR. Frank, the bottom line reads, "rally to the government of Vietnam now." Was this used as a Chieu Hoi pass, and if it was, or if it wasn't, were other Chieu Hoi passes accepted by your unit?

SHEPARD. No, there were the standard Chieu Hoi passes that are issued to all units; this was not considered a Chieu Hoi leaflet; this was more or less a threat. Now, if you were a civilian, imagine reading this in your village. This was dropped over populated areas. You can imagine reading this in your area. You'd be in fear for your life; afraid someone would take your ear and get one of these badges. If you collected so many badges, if you killed so many, you would get an R & R, or a pass. Get to go to Saigon, something like that. It was just part of the way to build up the body count.

MODERATOR. Okay, Frank, what was the purpose of these Sat Cong badges? For what were they designed--to up the morale, to up the body count, or what?

SHEPARD. Yes, up the body count, up the morale, make the men want to kill. As it said in the leaflet, it was, you know, "trained killers." The unit is full of trained killers.

MODERATOR. Another interesting thing that was brought out, these badges were made up at the local Vietnamese laundry.

SHEPARD. Cost the taxpayers 11 cents apiece.

MODERATOR. Eleven cents apiece?

SHEPARD. All it is really, if you can't see it that well, it's just a cloth; it's regular OD [olive drab], really and it had the letters "Sat Cong" labeled on it, in hand, you know, or in a sewing machine. It's covered with plastic, and the ring at the top is to hang it over your button. They wear these to the field. Covered with plastic so the rain and the mud won't get at it. And people can see that you're a killer.

MODERATOR. Okay, do you have any evidence for the press that this actually did take place, other than your saying so?

SHEPARD. Yes, I do. I have two letters from the Defense Department admitting that the Sat Cong badge was initiated in my unit. They say the practice was discontinued after this letter was written. As I say, they do admit that it did happen. There's no question in their mind that it did happen. They pretend that they don't know the purpose for it, but as I say, I have the orders that were issued. I know the purpose for it, and everybody that was there knows the purpose for it. They say they can't do anything about this; they couldn't prosecute the individuals, as they indicated they would if they could, because the commanding officer and the brigade commander were killed in a helicopter crash. Well, that's kind of funny. In the Calley case they say that they can't prosecute the higher officers because it's an individual thing, and there they turn it around. It's another inconsistency.

MODERATOR. If they wish to take action, then somebody has signed their name to this, and there is a live personnel.

SHEPARD. Yes, I believe he's responsible for it. I think he was, he was taught in the Army that the reward system is a good system, and you should be given something to spur your men on to kill, and want to kill. I think this just came out of his own mind; I think it's sort of an isolated instance. But it is, of course, part of our general policy.

MODERATOR. Thank you very much. Scott, you and I talked about upping the body count before. Could you tell us some of the ways in which this is done, and some of the reasons for it?

MOORE. As I explained before, with our battalion, and the 9th Division in general, there was this tremendous competition between the colonels. Vietnam is not a land war; as you gained land in other wars, your efficiency report would go up; in this war, it's based on body count. The more people you kill, the better efficiency report, officer's efficiency report, you get. So what happened here is a case of the colonels going into competition, and making up more bodies than they really had. And this was, of course, passed on down to the company commanders, platoon leaders, and the squad leaders. So, _____, we were reporting stuff, water buffalo in some cases, and shadows.

I remember one time I called artillery into a wood line, where I received sniper fire, and didn't check the wood line, and called in a three body count; this went on all the time. Other fire fights, the count would be 80, 90, and personally I only saw two, three bodies. So it's a totally inflated system. What's happened is, the American public's been lied to. The Army's stated that we've got a kill ratio of one to thirteen, and yes, it's one to thirteen, because of this inflation. But it's a lot of bull.

LENIX. Going along with what Scott said, I was involved in an action on January 6th, where Alpha Company, 2nd/39th was ambushed. The ambush was effective; Alpha Company lost a lot of people. It turned out to be more than my company Bravo Company, which went to help them. Quite a few battalions were trying to get everyone out. Well, in the process, there were air strikes, artillery all night. We had spooky overhead kicking out flares with miniguns. The area was saturated. I imagine the expenditure in dollars would run into a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand dollars worth of ordnance was expended. And we had lost twelve lives. Well, in order to justify this, they had to do something, so the next day we swept the area. I personally swept a large area with my company, and saw no bodies, none whatsoever.

But the next day, or when the next issue of the paper came out, there was a body count of a hundred and one, and it was telling what a great victory it was for 2/39 to have been able to produce these bodies. There were none--no bodies at all. So there's where your thirteen to one comes from. I saw twelve of ours, but I didn't see thirteen of theirs--I didn't see any of theirs. So I really don't think we're gaining anything in the war, except losing people. Because we found nothing. There was no evidence that a conflict had even taken place; there was no evidence of a fire fight. Nothing.

But we got a hundred and one bodies. And a hundred and one bodies from just mud and dirt is really I think a fantastic story to tell. But it doesn't happen just once, because as Scott has said, it's happened many times. And I'm sure everyone down the line could tell you two, three, five, ten occasions when they were with a unit, got absolutely nothing, and the body count was six, three, two. You'd be on an LZ and they'd say, "What's your body count today?" You'd say, "Nothing." And they'd say, "Well, we need bodies."

So everyone would face the outside, shoot a magazine, and then you'd just call in and say, "Well we got six." And you'd never move from where you were; you'd just shoot your weapon and call them in and say, "Well, we got six," and then you'd fly out. And this is what the higher echelon people wanted to hear. They didn't care what you were doing, or how you were getting it; they wanted bodies, and that's where civilians came in also.

MODERATOR. Mark or Scott? John has testified that there were rewards offered in his unit for bodies. Was this practiced in your unit either on the company or a higher level?

MOORE. No, it was mostly a pat on the back, this sort of thing. As I remember, the sniper units in our unit, for so many killed, I've forgotten the exact number, they received an award or decoration like a Bronze Star or a Silver Star, depending on how high the kill was. And a lot of snipers would go out at night and shoot a few rounds, or usually not shoot a few rounds because of security problems, but they'd come back and say they shot two or three people, and then of course that would add up.

MODERATOR. Okay, back to John Hartner again. John was in Operations at Headquarters for the 4th Division. He's brought back quite a bit of information, very interesting information, I might add. One thing which I think would be very worthwhile for all of us to hear, it's a bit lengthy, but I'll run through it fast, is the total take, I guess you'd call it, for the 4th Division's entire Cambodian operation. These are the official figures which were turned in to the 4th Division. Later on, if you want, you can check them against whatever the newspapers said. For the total entire 4th Division:

Killed in action 81
Detainees 5
Starlight scope 1
AK-47s 25
Rifles (SKS, Carbines, etc.) 9
Pistols 5
Grenades 236
Piasters (money) 39, 840
Crossbows 10
75mm recoilless rifle (Chicom) 1
120mm rounds 3
M-79 LAAWS 2
SAs (small arms) 4,153
60mm rounds 27
82mm mortar rounds 46
B-40 rounds (B-40 rockets were used much
the same as the bazooka in the U.S. Army)
Pounds of TNT 45
Pounds of medical supplies 770
Pounds of corn 300
Pounds of rice 21,288
Pounds of salt 361
Pounds of potatoes 920
Sewing machine 1

This was for the entire Cambodia excursion for the 4th Division. This is the thing which is saving our boys in Vietnam by going after them in a neighboring country. Against the Geneva Convention.

MODERATOR. Is there anyone else on the panel who has anything on this?

PANELIST. We never really had that much incentive for body counts. But this is slightly related. You know, everybody likes souvenirs. That's sort of like an American pastime. I went to visit a friend. There was a Connex--it's a metal box that they ship goods over to Vietnam in, and they're big enough for a man to walk in. On top of it was a set of ears drying in the sun. This was right behind the battalion TOC, which is Tactical Operations Center. They could not help but see a set of ears on Connex, you know, drying in the sun. I thought at first that it was revolting, but after a while I thought, you know, hey man, maybe I want a souvenir. One of these days when I come across a body I'll get myself a finger or an ear. When I went over there, it was a revolting idea. But then, you know, once you did kill a body, you could bring back the souvenir that you did kill it.

MODERATOR. Are there any questions from the press?

QUESTION. In reference to the incidents of the higher-ups coming over and asking for the body counts, your having none, and turning around and shooting into the air and then reporting--do you have any opinion as to why you were asked to go to the trouble of expending that ammunition? In other words, why did not the higher-ups simply choose a number out of the blue sky? Why were you asked to participate?

LENIX. It's very simple. You key the mike on your radio, and say, "In contact." In the background you have, of course, small arms fire. Then about ten minutes later you call in and say, "We got six." So, he knows you're playing the game; and you know you're playing the game; but, it's the game. And therefore he's convinced they must have got them; he heard the small arms fire. He's convinced and apparently that frees his spirit.

QUESTION. Is there a dynamic going on in which the officer, the higher-up, tries to implicate the rank and file men such that both of them are in the game?

LENIX. Right.

MODERATOR. Are there any other questions from the press?

QUESTION. How big is the 4th Division?

HARTNER. Well, I couldn't tell you right now in numbers; at that time it consisted of two brigades. If you look on that sheet of paper, I believe we had six battalions or seven battalions. Of course, the size would fluctuate constantly, too, within each of your battalions. There were six battalions: in each of your battalions you had your supporting companies, such as artillery, maintenance crews, headquarters companies, etc. and then you had usually four infantry companies ranging between a hundred and fifty and a hundred men each.

MODERATOR. Are there any other questions?

QUESTION. I have a question to the guy in the light shirt on the badges. What did the Viet Cong do when they caught a man who had a Sat Cong badge?

SHEPARD. That's a good question. I'm afraid you'd have to ask them. But I would imagine it would anger them somewhat. They could see that he had this thing that represented the life of one of their comrades. If he were wearing a badge saying that he had killed an American, I imagine it would upset you. I don't know if he would be treated too kindly, but I don't recall that situation.

MODERATOR. Perhaps we'd better also ask, how you came by the badge?

SHEPARD. Well, I have sticky fingers by nature, so I confiscated this one from battalion headquarters. This is an unauthorized badge, by the way, so, no commander has the authority to create this, so, I'll pay the government back their 11 cents any time they're ready.

MODERATOR. Okay, the question from the floor was, how does a GI who has been trained through his life to believe that the Vietnamese are people, and that we're defending their freedom, and all this other _____ that the government puts out, how do you take him and turn him into a killer, and how does he justify that? Well, I can answer for myself. First of all, you're never really taught that the Vietnamese are human beings, not in the Army and not out. It's the whole racist policy of the government. You're not taught that blacks are human beings; you're not taught that Indians are human beings; you're not taught that Vietnamese are human beings. You're not taught that anybody except a white American is a human being. And this is basically what happens. So when you get into the Army, all they have to really do is teach you how to use a gun.

DONNER. It could probably be answered very simply. The quickest answer which I think would be most truthful, is how many Japs did John Wayne kill last night?

MODERATOR. I think there was one more question.

QUESTION. Is there any way of determining what percentage of the body count actually represents bodies?

LYTLE. They used to report body counts, after H & Is, or after a battle, or something like that. If it looked like in the Starlight Scope that there was maybe ten people moving, we'd fire out there. Then if there wasn't any movement, we'd say, "Okay, we got ten," or something like that. And this would just add up, each night, from each battalion and you'd end up getting like 40 or 50 body counts per day, without sometimes ever seeing any bodies.

MODERATOR. I'd like to answer that also. In my unit, I was with the 1/26th Infantry, First Infantry Division, in the entire year I was there, my platoon actually killed maybe five VC. We turned in a body count of close to a hundred from my platoon alone. And I know the other platoons were doing the same thing. So that's how accurate it is.

MOORE. I think in my time on the line in Vietnam I saw in a combat situation maybe 35 dead enemy and that's it. And before I left the battalion, the body count over a seven month period was a thousand, two hundred.

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