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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. The Americal Division was formed in 1967 out of three separate brigades. It's stationed in I Corps area, with its headquarters in Chu Lai. My name is Barry Romo. I'm a former 1st Lieutenant with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, and also the 11th Infantry Brigade. I was commissioned when I was 19 years old and served as a Battalion S-2, which is an intelligence officer, and as an infantry platoon leader. During this discussion we are not going to dwell on the atrocities that were committed by my unit or by Americans in Vietnam. That has been rehashed. We will give a short testimony about some of the things we did see and try to go into the reasons behind them. When I arrived in country, one of the first things I saw was the pacification program, which consisted of moving or forcing villagers to leave their homes and bringing them to the coast so as to deny them to the Communists. These people were forced out of their homes. I saw the use of artillery fire against civilian targets because of the possibility of VC with no regard taken for the Vietnamese. I saw rice stolen from Vietnamese because it was considered too much for them to have. I saw also a general racist attitude by most Americans towards the Vietnamese.

BEZANSON. My name is William Bezanson. I was a Pfc. in the 11th Infantry Brigade in Vietnam. I was also with the 123rd Aviation Battalion. We supported such actions as My Lai, the Quang Nai Valley. Quang Nai Valley had many incidents of villages being wiped out because the North Vietnamese may use them for food, but we're not here to dwell on these subjects today. The reasons for all these things taking place are the reason we're up here today. There's been enough rehashing of incidents such as My Lai. To me, the greatest guilt that any man can suffer is that he died without a good reason. And to me, Vietnam is not a good enough reason. Not when we're destroying the Vietnamese land, property and populace. We're destroying the very moral fiber of this country at the same time. And those of us that do put our principles above personal ambition are labeled Communists by the very people that sent us over there. I've got a quote here from a John Birch magazine entitled American Opinion and the man that makes the quote is General Scott. He is the author of God Is My Copilot. And he says, "Our threat is not from abroad. It's not from outside the gate. It's right here in the midst of our homes. The danger is internal and the solution can only be internal. Every American must once again accept the responsibility for what is done in his name. We are still the strongest nation on earth and once enough Americans raise their voices to be heard nothing can defeat us." That's why we're here today. These people that run around here waving flags, trying to disrupt our meeting, all we're trying to do is, we're asking you to give us enough respect. We lost friends, arms, legs, and sometimes lives in Vietnam because you sent us over there. We're only asking that you give us enough respect to listen to us.

PALOSAARI. I was with the Americal Division, 198th Infantry Brigade, 1/6 Infantry. I served from October 1967 to September 1968. And, for the first, maybe, three months, I was rather inactive as far as any enemy contact. I mean we had, you know, light sniper fire, this sort of thing, but nothing really big. And then one time we were coming up. You know, walking down the trail, you know. It was really not much of any mission, except just to see what was out there, you know. And if there was anything to be had, to get it. And we had come across two Viet Cong by a well, drinking water. We had fired at them and they naturally, you know, taken off. Ran. And we never did get them. And there was a small hootch nearby with a bunker. And I did not see this personally, but later on the guys were bragging about it, some of the other men. They had, in Vietnamese, yelled down the bunker, "Is anyone there?" And, simultaneously, while yelling this, they dropped a grenade in. I went up to the bunker later. There was a, I think, what was a little boy and a little girl killed and there was an old lady in there. And the feelings that I had were rather mixed. I was, you know, rather shocked, you know, because they were bragging about this, and thought it was rather humorous. But, at the same time, it seemed to be more or less something that was socially acceptable. We weren't really, you know, concerned that, you know, these, these were little kids. But that, what we were concerned with is, that they had slanted eyes and were Vietnamese and that was enough to justify it. It's just, you know, well, that's war. I wrote a friend of mine that was also in the army in Vietnam at that time. And I told him about this incident. And I'd like to read you his reply and show you that, you know, this was not only a feeling among our company, among myself, but universally a feeling of the men, Americans, over there. What he said was, "You guys are killing off kids, huh? Ain't no big thing. They're the same- same. I hate all these gooks, VC or not." And that pretty well exemplifies how Americans feel. It's rather unfortunate. I really feel ashamed of myself. I find it embarrassing to admit that I am a Vietnam veteran. And this was only, you know, one of many sorts of incidents. It was nothing as huge as My Lai or maybe nothing as drastic as torture, or anything like that. They probably died instantly. But it was still three human lives. Another type of thing that goes on, is, we were in a valley and I think we had nicknamed it AK Valley, after the AK-47 because we were getting, every once in a while, sniper fire. And you can tell when it's an AK-47 because it makes kind of like a popping sound when it fires. It's like a crack. And we had CIDGs working with us.

CIDGs are Civilian Independent Defense Group. And they had spotted (they were like our point men, more or less) an NVA, presumably carrying a weapon, I guess it must have been. And they had fired on him. They had blown off the top of his head. And then one of the CIDG had cut off one of his ears. And I understand, that according to Buddhism, unless your body is complete, you cannot go wherever it is that the Buddhists go to after they die. So, they had done this. And as we walked by, you know, everyone thought it was, you know, kind of cool, to see this head there that was, you know, half gone to begin with and have the ear sliced off and there it was just like a, you know, it was flat--with a small hole left in the side of the head. This feeling that we had that it was, you know, a rather humorous incident, or, you know, looked upon as being a good thing, and we were really men because, not that the CIDG had done this, but because, you know, it was an act that we would have liked to have perpetrated ourselves, I think. It's something, you know, it's, it's more or less condoned over there. And the feelings that you have are the policies of the military--that this is really, you know, a thing to be manly about. Another, not the same sort of incident, but this is more dealing with lack of medical attention of a Vietnamese peasant.

We had come across rice paddies and someone had said that they had seen two VC in the rice paddy carrying weapons. And I was an M-79 man at the time, and they called all M-79s up front, so naturally I go up front and they told me this. And they had fired at them. There was two big boulders in this rice paddy and these two VC were supposed to be behind this boulder. So I lop M-79s behind the boulder and we went back there later on to see, you know, if anything, you know, if there'd be anything there. So, when we get back there, all we found was a Vietnamese peasant farmer with a sickle in his hand--or it lay next to him; his thigh was broken by an M-16 bullet and his spine was hit with shrapnel from the M-79. He had passed out in the sun. We, we waited for about two hours for a medivac to come out and pick him up. When the chopper came, it wasn't a medivac, it was just a regular chopper. He had just been laying there in the sun and he had passed out in the sun. And I'm not even sure if they gave him morphine. I know they wrapped his leg up. And that was about the extent of any medical attention that he got while we were with him. I need some water.

WEBER. I'm, I'm Jim Weber. I was formerly a sergeant and I was also in Ron's platoon. And I can kind of verify what he's saying in case anyone kind of doubts it. A lot of stuff happened like that. Especially things about the medical attention, things like that. I was in two different battalions. I was in the 1st of the 6th and the 1st of the 46th. In the 1st of the 46th there was one--I say an example; like, I say, we can go on all day rapping about war atrocities. Okay, anyhow, right? Now, we had surrounded this village and went into it on the north side. We had taken one Vietnamese suspect, a Viet Cong suspect, you know, kept him with us. About 15 minutes later we found another one that was hiding in a bunker underneath these hootches. And I have a lot of pictures and things here that we didn't have time to get blown up that I can verify this with. Okay, now here's the picture that I want to show you, it's a picture of a GI holding up a head. Okay, now, this was when I was with the 1/46th Battalion. This happened in December of '67, west of Chu Lai. Other isolated examples. We had moved into a village. We had confiscated approximately 25 pounds of rice. We rounded up approximately 40 civilians in the village. It was decided that there was too much rice in the village for 40 people. We left them with five pounds of rice. One woman was complaining about it and she kept saying that she wanted back her rice. The officer in charge, you know, hit her over the head with a rifle for complaining. He was complaining because she was too close to him, you know, and she smelled and everything like that.

BEITZEL. My name is John Beitzel. I'm 21. I served in the 11th Brigade, 4/21 Infantry. I served as a sergeant and as squad leader. Worked in Quang Ngai Province. I worked around My Lai and Duc Pho. I've witnessed the mutilation of bodies. This consisted of cutting off ears and plucking out teeth for souvenirs. I have pictures of this that I've showed to the press at other times. Don't have them with me today. I've witnessed electrical torture many times with not only VC suspects and prisoners, but also detainees. I've witnessed the relocation of villagers. One particular operation was a three-day operation where we took all the villagers out of the village, put them in a barbed wire compound, interrogated them.

Tortured some of them. Beat some of them. And then we had supplies brought in. Bangelore torpedoes, all types of explosives--to just level the hill and just get rid of anything; make it look like there was never a hill there. My CO once fired at a group of kids merely because they came up to our hill to collect C-rations. We were also ordered to fire gas grenades at them. There was a big pressure for body count. We had a very low body count in our company and we had a lot of pressure come down from the battalion commander to the company commander, down on to us. We were given new incentives to get a higher body count such as a six-pack of beer or a case of soda. And sometimes, a three-day pass, you know, for the amount of body count we had. Common things in my company were throwing grenades into civilian bunkers. We once threw a white phosphorus grenade. And a lot of times I never thought people were in these bunkers, but an old man came out when we threw this white phosphorus grenade in and he was all singed and burned. We...everywhere we went we would recon by fire if we felt...if we felt it necessary. We'd innumerable amount of free fire zones. We shot at anything on high ground. And in this particular area where I was at, the mountains and the high ground was very close to the beach. Was only a few miles between the beach and the high ground and there was a lot of hills, isolated hills, all over the place.

We shot anything or anybody that went up on these hills. Because they were free fire zones. Burning villages was very common. It was mentioned on an earlier panel that villagers would leave and that we suspected that they left because they were VC and they didn't want to be captured. So we would burn their hill. Whenever we received sniper fire we would return it, no matter where it came from. If it was a hill with people on it or not. I was in Vietnam from January '69 to January '70. We were ordered to go out on a patrol, a regular patrol that we go on all the time--during a cease-fire. We were very perturbed at this because we wanted to take the time off to write letters home. In one incident, we were working with another company and our battalion was nearby. Both companies were on the same radio frequency. Over the radio, the other company told us to pass on to our higher command that they had a body count of thirteen. So we passed it on up. (They were too far to have radio contact.) So we passed it on up. Then later, one of our platoons went into the village and they said we can confirm the body count of that company. They said there's nine women, three children and one baby.

BEZANSON. John, could you give us any reason as to why this happened? Was this an individual thing or is it a company policy, any of the torture of prisoners or the...

BEITZEL. Well, as far as torturing the prisoners, this happened as...I've seen a major there during torturing of prisoners. We also had electrical field phones in our battalion base camp in the headquarters TOC Room that's what they call the headquarters. There was torture going on in there so I'm as sure...I'm sure everyone from battalion commander on down knew of it; so I can presume from this, it was policy. These things I'm telling about--about burning the villages, free fire zones, reconning by fire--they were all common. They weren't isolated. We did them wherever we went.

WINGRODSKI. My name is Curtis Wingrodski. I was a Spec. 4 in the Americal Division, 11th Brigade, 59th Scout Dog and I, I, don't know what to say. I've listened--I've been here for three days listening to, you know, people come up here and tell whatever war stories they have and whatnot. And, as I said, I worked for Scout Dog and I worked with different companies of different battalions in our area. And I got to rap with the guys and, I just know that, we learned somewhere along the line, that a dink was less than a person. And these things go on. They really happen. I don't know how to...man, I can't talk. I can't tell you people...incidents or whatever you want to hear. I'm just here because it goes on and on and somebody's got to do something. Here I am, you know.

KEYES. I was a Spec. 4 when I was assigned to "E" Troop, 1st Cav., Americal Division. I guess the worst thing I really saw over there was mistreatment of civilians. Now, most of this went on when we had convoys running from Duc Pho to Sai Wen. Such things as tear-gassing villages, throwing spent 50 caliber rounds at civilians. Sometimes, another instance, where children were with split skulls from a thrown 50 caliber round. You can kill them just throwing them. Running down hootches. Doing things in rice paddies. Destroying their crops. The worst thing I ever really saw was when we're on a mission. We're taking some grunts out on a beachhead. And there were some fishermen out on the ocean and a couple of our sergeants thought it would be a good sport to use them as target practice. So they swung their 50 calibers around and they just shot the _____ out of them, for no reason, I guess. And, I'm no better. Lots of times on mine sweep, we'd pass a lake, also running from Duc Pho to Sai Wen, and there'd be fishermen in this lake and since we had nothing better to do, we'd fire M-79 rounds at them, M-16 rounds. Sometimes M-60s. We'd call for a test fire. And...sort of aim their way, hoping we'd hit somebody. I can't really say why we did it. Maybe it was because we were taught to hate them. I know this is all I heard when I was over there. I was told by my own lieutenant, my CO, well, he saw me wearing one of these bracelets--you've probably seen them before. Well, a Vietnamese boy gave it to me and we were pretty uptight, you know.

I thought he was a pretty neat little kid. And first thing he did was, he told me, he asked me why I was wearing it. I told him, I said, "Well, a Vietnamese boy gave it to me." I said it was a token of his friendship, really. He liked me and I liked him. We gave each other gifts, I suppose. And, he told me to take it off. And, of course, I didn't agree. I didn't want to take it off. I didn't feel I should. But, he told me these are the same people--he says, "Why do you accept gifts from the same people that go out and put mines in the roads and blow up your buddies?" And he told me that if I didn't take it off, he'd go to more maybe drastic measures. I don't know. And he just dismissed me. But, I don't know. I don't want to give any blood stories or nothing. I just can't do it. I just want you to know that the people over there aren't really being treated as human beings. They're being treated as slaves, let's say. Maybe not even slaves. I don't know. I don't know. I just don't know what to say. I just wanted you to know about it.

KRUCH. My name is Robert A. Kruch. I was a Pfc. in Vietnam with Company A, 3/21st, 196th Light Infantry Brigade. And a few people may have heard about it. It was in August of '69 that they (my company) refused to fight. Then I had some rather bitter feelings. I seen some of the things some other people have talked about. But I've also seen mistreatment of GIs by the higher command because they wouldn't produce a body count. After I had joined my company, we went in on a stand-down because most people had been in field for 2 1/2 months and we got into a fight with a recon platoon, which our colonel didn't like, so he choppered us out back into a hot LZ. Some of us had faulty weapons that were never replaced, like they were supposed to be when we were in. And there's about six people, at least, that got wounded. From that time on, it was rumored that the reason we never received our mail (it only came in sometimes once a week) or never got any hot food (supplied maybe once a month) was because our colonel was down on us because we didn't produce a body count and one time when we were being resupplied, he flew in and started yelling at the CO and he said, "I don't want any more of your _____ prisoners. I want a body count."

After that we were issued orders to...well, we were told we were in a free fire zone and anybody we saw that was over 12 years of age that we thought was a male, was to be considered the enemy and engaged as such. And I was told that the battalion commander before that had told the troops not to fire at anybody unless they were seen with weapons. To me this is a kind of a drastic change and it shows a difference in policies between the field grade officers as they come in. And it was rumored that this guy was with the 9th Division and he volunteered for an infantry unit to, as they put it, to make rank. And we were harassed, it seemed like from every day on, you know, for not having a body count, until we were finally sent on the last mission in which we were told it was a one-day assault. I, I got wounded on the third day and my own squad had only two meals of C-rations in three days between us, and we had to risk our necks to get water. And there's one case there where two people lived for eight hours and they wouldn't bring in medivacs to take them out and they both died. And those were the two bodies this company was supposed to retrieve when they refused to go back out again. We were ordered to assault a line of bunker complexes by a major that was back in LZ Center, when most of us didn't have any food or water and the things that we did have were hogged by the TOC Center. Our commander was judged by most of us as being in a state of shock. He didn't know what he was doing. He just issued orders to do it. And everybody in our...in our company felt that since this guy had only three weeks in the country and was obviously in a state of shock, you know, his orders shouldn't be obeyed. But, yet, we were told we'd be court-martialed or, or even shot, if we didn't obey, obey his orders. But, I think what, what it really was, is that people saw the people that got killed in those three days (which were at least nine that I saw and I was one of those that got wounded) and were totally senseless. And there was no reason for it other than being pushed by superiors up above to do things, you know, at a faster speed than we...we thought could be accomplished. And by poor leadership. We didn't feel that just going out and indiscriminately killing people helped matters any. And the way I felt, and the way most people felt, was that we were just picked out discriminately and set down in...over in Vietnam; shafted by our own country--to fight in a war which most of us didn't understand and nobody knew--even when we were over there we didn't know where we were at because we were just choppered around and set down so much.

I was there about a month and I had...there was only one person that had more time than I had and he had a couple of days more, almost a month. And the people that I did know that supported the war there, didn't even know simple facts about it. It was, it was almost unbelievable. They just supported it because they said that they were supposed to be there. I just don't think it's right to draft somebody and send him to an undeclared war that has moral connotations that are awfully bad. Subject them to the...just the mental treatment that some of these guys go through. And I think a lot of them feel that it's more the fault of their country than the people they're fighting against. That's all I'd like to say for right now.

WRIGHT. My name is Doug Wright. I was also with Americal. I went over with the 198 Infantry Brigade, the 1/6 Infantry. I served with the infantry and also with operations, Tactical Operations of Brigade Headquarters. For the past two days, or three days, rather...I mean you've heard all sorts of terrible things so that if many of us...many of us seem callous, it's only because of the indoctrination that we were subjected to, you know, before we went to Vietnam. That--coupled with personal vengeance. If you see your brother, you know, shot, shot in the face, you're going to be mad and you want to get back. I could relate horrendous occurrences, you know, that should have made most of you vomit by now. But I'd just like to say one thing. I'd like to reemphasize our purpose here...the purpose of the Winter Soldier Investigation. We're here to make people aware, or we're here to make you people aware. If you want a true awareness, you could go. But you've heard a first-hand experience. Nobody else besides the vet, besides the leg in the field, knows what's happening. He doesn't really know what's happening because when you go to the boonies they tell you where you're going and what you're going to do. But you really don't know what's happening. Because they keep you isolated, just as much as they keep you people isolated. We came to make you people aware. Now it's up to all of us. When you go from here, you need to make as many people aware as possible. To your homes, to where you work, to where you go to church; any type or organization. Tell what you've heard here. Make people aware. That our brothers in Vietnam are very unhappy.

MODERATOR. This whole panel, or this whole thing, was brought together to bring up war atrocities and the reasons behind it. It's really been an emotional thing for an individual to get up here and have to relate experiences that he's tried to forget. And I'd like to ask some of the people here on the panel why you came. We'll start our way here and just work our way down.

BEZANSON. The reason why I, myself, came is because I was tired of living with the nightmares that I lived with. The people that I, myself, messed up. The people I've seen my buddies mess up and then the next day they're killed; where they went from there we don't know, you know. But, like ever since I've come back to the United States, I've watched it turn from a country of democracy to one of hypocrisy. A person will teach their children "Love thy neighbor" until they get 18 years old and then you hate. Then they're taught to hate. Just hate. How can a person...I can't understand how a person can approve of the war and sleep at night knowing that he's sent his brothers or his sons over to Vietnam to be killed for, for something that makes no sense. It has never, to me, been explained why Vietnam exists. I came to this Winter Soldier Investigation to give my testimony and to find out how many of my brothers felt the same way I did, and I'm really glad to see that there's quite a number of people that are against the war and would like to see the $800.00 a second that we're spending on the war put into an automobile to make it safe to drive. They're spending it to kill the dude's brother and the same dude's dying in the automobile. But I just got tired of living with my nightmares and I think by relating I can share them with you, you know, and, and, it takes kind of the guilt off me, in a way. And maybe it'll stop, like my younger brother, or, or some of your younger brothers or sisters, or your children, from going over there and then having to come home and live with these same nightmares.

PALOSAARI. My primary reason for getting involved in this testimony was because of Jim Weber. He called me up last Thursday night. He said he was coming up to Detroit to testify. He gave me a rundown on what he planned on telling the people. And everything he said was true and, you know, I had to support him. I told him I would. I'd collaborate his story. I just felt that now was the time for me to do my part, to let people know how I feel, or how Jim feels, and how many, many of us feel. That was about it.

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