ForeignPolicy  
comments_image Comments

1971 Winter Soldier Hearings: 1st Marine Division Panel

" So this man who was killed wasn't even a suspect. He was civilian."
 
 
Share
 

Iraq Veterans Against the War is holding a new round of "Winter Soldier" hearings in Washington, DC, March 13-16. Selections from the original hearings, held in Detroit in 1971, are published here for interested readers.

1ST MARINE DIVISION

MODERATOR. I'd like to welcome you all. This is the First Marine Division. It landed in South Vietnam in 1965 and is still there. You've probably all heard the quotation "Ask a Marine." So after these gentlemen have finished their testimony, you'll be allowed to ask a Marine and find out what really went on over there.

[The panelists' introductions can be read in full here.]

MODERATOR. We'd like to ask a few questions of the gentlemen up here. Mr. Craig, ... you saw a convoy run down an old man -- it was an old woman -- okay, who is the, or did the convoy commander-- what was his rank and did he do anything about it? Did he try and slow the convoy down or did they just run right over her?

CRAIG. The convoy was moving pretty slow and the old woman, like, most of the civilians over there sort of ignore the military people going down the road. And it didn't seem--like he didn't beep the horn or like do anything -- like, he just moved up to the old woman and started nudging her and then I saw her fall out of the way. When the convoy had completely passed, like she was on the road, really like squashed.

MODERATOR. How many -- was it a large convoy?

CRAIG. No, it was about five trucks, maybe six.

MODERATOR. Five or six trucks. Did anybody stop from the convoy and see…

CRAIG. No, they kept moving. They were loaded.

MODERATOR. They kept moving. Also, did you ever see the mistreatment of prisoners that we had taken? Viet Cong suspects or NVA?

CRAIG. Yes, I did. These people were only suspects taken from a village after we had a mine sweep team that was wiped out and I guess people more or less went out to pick up these suspects on a grudge basis. When they brought them back in they were loading them on a truck to take them to [unintelligible] and they were making a game out of it by grabbing their feet and their hands and swinging them up in the air to see how high they could throw them and land in the back of a duce-and-a-half truck which had a steel bed.

MODERATOR. Okay. Were there any senior NCOs present?

CRAIG. There was a Staff Sergeant present.

MODERATOR. Staff Sergeant--that's a staff NCO?

CRAIG. Yes, sir.

MODERATOR. Okay, Mr. Olimpieri, I wish you could… there's some testimony here…you witnessed a 70-year-old man wounded about 20 miles southwest of Da Nang. Could you elaborate on this, please?

OLIMPIERI. Yeah. We were in a sweep in a rice paddy and the flank man spotted somebody and told him to halt and he started running and I fired an M79 over the trees. It went off and the man went down and our Lt. told us to go over there and check and see if he had an ID and find out if he was dead or what was happening with him. We went over there and he was still alive. He was about 70 years old. I believe he was some sort of religious, like a monk or something like that, from his dress. He had an ID card and he was in pretty bad shape so they didn't want to call in a MEDIVAC chopper so they told us to kill him. And the person who did the killing fired about six rounds in him and I had to tell him to stop. Right after that we told the Lt. what the situation was and he called in and said "Get rid of the…". He told us to get rid of the ID card before we killed him. He called in one VC body count.

MODERATOR. So this man who was killed wasn't even a suspect. He was civilian.

OLIMPIERI. Right. He didn't halt when he was told so they shot him.

MODERATOR. Mr. Nienke, I understand you were in the same unit with Mr. Olimpieri. Were you present when this happened?

NIENKE. Yes. Paul Olimpieri was my squad leader and I was in the same squad.

MODERATOR. So you can in fact substantiate this. He did tell the person who did the shooting to stop afterwards.

NIENKE. Correct.

MODERATOR. When you did take POWs were they tortured or what was the procedure or if you did take prisoners?

NIENKE. We took a lot of prisoners. Some of them were suspected VC, NVA, and they were usually brought to the compound, when we took prisoners, and turned over to an interpreter usually a South Vietnamese or Korean interpreter, and if the information couldn't be extracted from them they were tortured and sent back to the CP, the Command Post.

MODERATOR. What type of torture was used? Would you know?

NIENKE. Well, we were basically on the lines and we could hear screaming. I didn't see any torture, but we could hear screaming and somebody was being beaten.

MODERATOR. Mr. Sachs, you testified that there was prisoners thrown out of a helicopter. Could you elaborate upon that subject?

SACHS. This was one of the big games. Whenever any prisoners were taken, the crewmen in the helicopters were in charge also of loading, in addition to maintenance on the aircraft would blindfold the prisoners, holding the blindfold on with heavy wire, safety wire. They'd bind their hands, bind their feet and maybe bind them into a fetal position and upon landing, rather than releasing them so they could walk off the aircraft, they'd throw them out--get the grunts to mark how far they could throw them and have little contests. This was done with officers observing, at least all company grade officers. There may have been a Major present too.

The general attitude of the officers was (I was a Lt. at the time) "Well, there's somebody senior to me here and I guess if this wasn't SOP he'd be doing something to stop it," and since nobody senior ever did anything to stop it, the policy was promulgated and everybody assumed that this was what was right. We'd never had any instructions in the Geneva Convention. When we were given our Geneva Convention cards the lecture consisted of "If you're taken prisoner, all you gotta do is give 'em your name, rank, serial number, and date of birth. Here's your Geneva Convention cards. Go get 'em, Marines." We were never told anything about the way to treat prisoners if we were the capturers rather than the captee and this was very standard.

MODERATOR. Mr. Delay, on your testimony on the 24th of December 1969, twenty-five people were killed. Could you elaborate on this subject?

DELAY. Yeah. Christmas Eve shortly before midnight, a group of Marines from India Company had set up an ambush in Arizona territory and they killed twenty-five people. To my knowledge, it was never determined whether they were civilians or were, in fact, the enemy, but in examining the bodies they discovered one weapon. It was a 9-millimeter pistol. The next day, on Christmas Day, the battalion commander sent an order all about the battalion area, Hill 37, requesting any enemy weapons that were in the hands of individual Marines. A friend of mine from Delaware, ------ ------, had bought an AK47 from another Marine when he came in the country. I was ordered to take this weapon down to the command bunker and give it to Major ------, the executive officer of Third Battalion, 1st Marines. When I gave this to him he gave it to another Marine and told him to go smear some mud on it. There were several other weapons acquired in this manner and they were all sent in to regimental headquarters as being captured Christmas Eve with those bodies to make the group of people appear to be a heavily armed enemy force.

MODERATOR. Do you remember if there was a Christmas truce announced at that time?

DELAY. Yes, there was.

MODERATOR. So it could be said that at least on this level that the Christmas truce was broken?

DELAY. Yes.

MODERATOR. All right. Mr. Camile, you were in Artillery, FO. You were attached to the 1st Battalion, 12th Marines.

Scott CAMILE. I was in the 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, attached to the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines.

MODERATOR. You have some testimony here on the burning of villages, cutting off of ears, cutting off of heads, calling in artillery on villages for games, women raped, napalm on villages, all sorts of testimony of crimes against the civilians. Could you go into just a few of these to let the people know how you treat the Vietnamese civilian?

CAMILE. All right. The calling in of artillery for games, the way it was worked would be the mortar forward observers would pick out certain houses in villages, friendly villages, and the mortar forward observers would call in mortars until they destroyed that house and then the artillery forward observer would call in artillery until he destroyed another house and whoever used the least amount of artillery, they won. And when we got back someone would have to buy someone else beers. The cutting off of heads--on Operation Stone--there was a Lt. Colonel there and two people had their heads cut off and put on stakes and stuck in the middle of the field. And we were notified that there was press covering the operation and that we couldn't do that anymore. Before we went out on the operation we were told not to waste our heat tablets on food but to save them for the villages because we were going to destroy all the villages and we didn't give the people any time to get out of the villages. We just went in and burned them and if people were in the villages yelling and screaming, we didn't help them. We just burned the houses as we went.

MODERATOR. Why did you use the heat tabs? Did you just light off the villages with matches or just throw the heat tabs in so it would keep burning?

CAMILE. We'd throw the heat tabs in because it was quicker and they'd keep burning. They couldn't put the heat tabs out. We'd throw them on top of the houses. People cut off ears and when they'd come back in off of an operation you'd make deals before you'd go out and like for every ear you cut off someone would buy you two beers, so people cut off ears. The torturing of prisoners was done with beatings and I saw one case where there were two prisoners. One prisoner was staked out on the ground and he was cut open while he was alive and part of his insides were cut out and they told the other prisoner if he didn't tell them what they wanted to know they would kill him. And I don't know what he said because he spoke in Vietnamese but then they killed him after that anyway.

MODERATOR. Were these primarily civilians or do you believe that they were, or do you know that they were actual NVA?

CAMILE. The way that we distinguished between civilians and VC, VC had weapons and civilians didn't and anybody that was dead was considered a VC. If you killed someone they said, "How do you know he's a VC?" and the general reply would be, "He's dead," and that was sufficient. When we went through the villages and searched people the women would have all their clothes taken off and the men would use their penises to probe them to make sure they didn't have anything hidden anywhere and this was raping but it was done as searching.

MODERATOR. As searching. Were there officers present there?

CAMILE. Yes, there were.

MODERATOR. Was this on a company level?

CAMILE. Company level.

MODERATOR. The company commander was around when this happened?

CAMILE. Right.

MODERATOR. Did he approve of it or did he look the other way or…

CAMILE. He never said not to or never said anything about it. The main thing was that if an operation was covered by the press there were certain things we weren't supposed to do, but if there was no press there, it was okay. I saw one case where a woman was shot by a sniper, one of our snipers. When we got up to her she was asking for water. And the Lt. said to kill her. So he ripped off her clothes, they stabbed her in both breasts, they spread-eagled her and shoved an E- tool up her vagina, an entrenching tool, and she was still asking for water. And then they took that out and they used a tree limb and then she was shot.

MODERATOR. Did the men in your outfit, or when you witnessed these things, did they seem to think that it was all right to do anything to the Vietnamese?

CAMILE. It wasn't like they were humans. We were conditioned to believe that this was for the good of the nation, the good of our country, and anything we did was okay. And when you shot someone you didn't think you were shooting at a human. They were a gook or a Commie and it was okay. And anything you did to them was okay because, like, they would tell you they'd do it to you if they had the chance.

MODERATOR. This was told you all through your training, then, in boot camp, in advanced training, and so forth and it was followed on then, right on through it?

CAMILE. Definitely.

MODERATOR. Mr. Campbell, you were, I believe, in the same unit that Mr. Camile was. There was a period of perhaps two months separating the time that he left and the time you came. Was this same unit type policy, was this carried on?

CAMPBELL. Some of the policy was not carried on because of an incident that happened in Quang Tri Province that Scott Camile witnessed and there was a big stink about it. There was some kind of investigation into it and I heard about it when I got to Nam and all the guys that were there before me talked about it and things were kind of cooled down and so a lot of this stuff when I first got there wasn't actually carried out. Bravo Company was to cool it for a while. The whole Battalion, actually, because we had a bad mark against us from the incident previous to the time I got there.

MODERATOR. One more question on that. The training--What did you consider the Vietnamese? Were they equal with you?

CAMPBELL. The Vietnamese were gooks. We didn't just call the VC or the NVA gooks. All Vietnamese were gooks and they were slant eyes. They were zips. They were Orientals and they were inferior to us. We were Americans. We were the civilized people. We didn't give a ------ about those people.

MODERATOR. Mr. Eckert, you stated that you witnessed an old Vietnamese woman shot by security guards in Quang Tri Province. Could you elaborate and tell us if she was a VC or a civilian?

ECKERT. I was up in Quang Tri visiting a friend of mine who was on security, which is like a rat patrol. They go out in the little jeeps and patrol the perimeter. We were out about five o'clock in the morning, just about coming in, when they spotted this old woman about--she looked about fifty but she was probably about twenty-five--and she was running across some trees and everyone in the jeep--no one was supposed to be out there, of course, it was not a free fire zone but from the hours from dusk to dawn there's not supposed to be anybody out there, and if there is, you're supposed to stop them, check them out, and eliminate them if you have to. So these guys decided that they would kind of play a little game and they let her run about fifty yards and they'd fire in front of her so she'd have to turn around, and then they'd let her run another direction and then they'd cut her off. This went on about a half hour until the time the sun started to come up. So then they decided it best to eliminate her as soon as possible, so they just ripped her off right there, and then the guy, the corporal that was in charge, he decided that they'd better check her out for an ID card just to be safe about it and they went over and, of course, she didn't have an ID card; she didn't have anything. Her only crime was being out probably tending to her buffalo before the time she should have been. These guys just took it upon themselves to waste her.

MODERATOR. What was the general attitude of the men in your unit toward the Vietnamese? Was this a common experience?

ECKERT. I think the feeling was pretty wide spread that these people were inferior to us and based on the training we received these people were not looked upon as even humans. If they had slanted eyes they were the enemy and the only good one was a dead one. And that was for the majority of the people in my unit, that was the only way they looked at it.

MODERATOR. Mr. Bishop, you've stated in your testimony that you witnessed your commanding officer killing a prisoner. Could you go into that a little bit, please?

BISHOP. Right. This would have been on operation in Quang Nam Province between August and September of '69. We had just gone on a search and destroy mission in the mountains and we made no contact. We were on our way back and we knew of enemy in the area. There was a lot of rock formations where we were and we were checking out the bunkers and the holes and everything in the rocks and we came across a wounded prisoner who was a wounded Vietnamese. He appeared to be VC or NVA. He didn't have a weapon. There were a few grenades and rounds laying around him. He seemed to have been in this hole for quite a few days. One of his legs was broken in half and the maggots had already gotten into one of his legs and they were living inside his leg while he was still alive.

Well, we dragged him out and we had quite a distance to go down the mountain to get back to the base camp and the squad that found him had to report him to the skipper. The skipper came down to where they had found the prisoner, had asked the people around him to get going and that he would tend to the prisoner. I was machine gunner at the time and I had to set up some security around him and I came up over a rock to watch what he was doing and he took out his .45 and he blew his head off. This, like, wasn't really the first time this ever happened.

This happened quite a few times during this operation because we were working in the mountains and any POWs that we had it was really hard to get them back down the mountains and it was the general consensus of everyone that there would be no POWs. That any people that we did find would be KIAs and they were reported as such. They weren't reported as POWs.

MODERATOR. Do you know of many instances were, say, MEDIVAC choppers were called in to bring out wounded Vietnamese, be they NVA, VC, or civilians?

BISHOP: Very few times. I hardly saw any MEDIVACS at all taking out wounded Vietnamese civilians or Vietnamese prisoners. Usually we didn't have any prisoners. The prisoners were exterminated.

MODERATOR. Mr. Sachs, you were a heliopter pilot. Dif you fly many MEDIVAC missions?

SACHS: I flew probably 500 MEDIVAC missions in the course of 13 months. I can't recall ever evacuating a Vietnamese civilian. Allied with this, there were times at night in bad weather during the monsoon season we could not launch a night MEDIVACunless it was an emergency. There were instances where a frag would come in; my co-pilot would go out to start the aircraft while I took down the numbers to get to the zone correctly and the major, the operations officer of the squadron, would say "Now hold it a minute. It's bad weather out there and you're going to get your [expletive deleted] killed and these are only ARVNSs. There aren't Americans. These are gook Marines. We don't need 'em. We're not going to risk ourselves for them." We would try to fly the mission anyway. But it was a squadron policy, unwritten, not to launch for gooks if you could possibly avoid it.

MODERATOR. Mr. Bangert, there's an incident here where you found crucified bodies hanging on barbed wire fences and in the same incident you witnessed South Vietnamese civilians shot without provocation on Highway 1. Could you go into this and kind of see how they are related? BANGERT. I can cover a couple of these at the same time. The first day I got to Vietnam I landed in Da Nang Air Base. From Da Nang Air Base I took a plane to Dong Ha. I got off the plane and hitchhiked on Highway 1 to my unit. I was picked up by a truckload of grunt Marines with two company grade officers, 1st Lts.; we were about 5 miles down the road, where there were some Vietnamese children at the gateway of the village and they gave the old finger gesture at us. It was understandable that they picked this up from the GIs there. They stopped the trucks--they didn't stop the truck, they slowed down a little bit, and it was just like response, the guys got up, including the lieutenants, and just blew all the kids away. There were about five or six kids blown away and then the truck just continued down the hill. That was my first day in Vietnam. As far as the crucified bodies, they weren't actually crucified with nails, but they would find VCs or something (I never got the story on them) but, anyway, they were human beings, obviously dead, and they would take them and string them out on fences, on barbed wire fences, stripped, and sometimes they would take flesh wounds, take a knife and cut the body all over the place to make it bleed, and look gory as a reminder to the people in the village.

Also in Quang Tri City I had a friend who was working with USAID and he was also with CIA. We used to get drunk together and he used to tell me about his different trips into Laos on Air America Airlines and things. One time he asked me would I like to accompany him to watch. He was an adviser with an ARVN group and Kit Carson's. He asked me if I would like to accompany him into a village that I was familiar with to see how they act. So I went with him and when we got there the ARVNs had control of the situation. They didn't find any enemy but they found a woman with bandages. So she was questioned by six ARVNs and the way they questioned her, since she had bandages, they shot her. She was hit about twenty times. After she was questioned, and, of course, dead, this guy came over, who was a former major, been in the service for twenty years, and he got hungry again and came back over working with USAID, Aid International Development. He went over there, ripped her clothes off and took a knife and cut, from her vagina almost all the way up, just about up to her breasts and pulled her organs out, completely out of her cavity, and threw them out. Then, he stopped and knelt over and commenced to peel every bit of skin off her body and left her there as a sign for something or other and that was those instances.

MODERATOR. Okay, there were American officers present when this happened or…

BANGERT. There were two super-secret. I know they were field grade officers, who were with MACV in Quang Tri Province in the area. They knew about it.

MODERATOR. Mr. Bronaugh, I believe you mentioned something earlier of the massacre of women and children in late March, early April of 1968. Could you go into that a little bit please?

BRONAUGH. Yes. Well, I was with the 2nd Battalion, 27th Marines, attached to them with Battalion FSEC.

MODERATOR. Which is the Fire Control Center?

BRONAUGH. Right. It coordinates everything for the Battalion Artillery and troop movement and everything. I had some spare time this particular day so I left the compound and went to a bridge where people usually go and swim and they had a detachment on this bridge, in total about two platoons of people. A 2nd Lt. in charge of the bridge and a gunnery Sergeant that was staff NCO of the bridge. There were people from mortars platoon, weapons platoon, there was a tank, there were a couple of mules with 106 recoilless rifles, two snipers, and assorted machine gun crews. This particular day I was going to go swimming and I was at this bridge and they had sent a patrol out from our battalion CP. They had gone north of the CP for about a half a mile or a mile. There was a few huts that comprised a small village north of the compound.

The bridge got a radio call that they had supposedly received a sniper round from this village. So the Lt. on the bridge told them to sweep the village. They swept the village and they called back that there was nothing found. There was nothing found, I mean, there were just people in the village and so the Lt. told them to burn the village. From my position, which was about 150 to 200 yards away, and there was a tree line in the way, smoke started coming up over the tree line and about this time, I guess about three minutes after the smoke started showing, there was a lot of screaming and just chaos coming from the direction of the village and a lot of people started running out of the tree line. From where I was standing, I saw maybe two or three male villagers and the rest were women and children--some of the children walking and some of them young enough to be carried, I would say under a year, maybe. The last thing I heard as a command was the gunnery sergeant told them to open fire to keep them back. Their village was on fire and they were in panic; they didn't stop, so they just cut down the women and children with mortars, machine guns, tank, snipers were…

MODERATOR. There was a tank there also?

BRONAUGH. Yes. Well, the tank, the 90 millimeter gun wasn't used because, I mean, it was too close a range, but they used the .50 and the .30 off the tank and all the troops that were at the bridge with M16s. The officer, a Lt., a few got close enough to where he used his .45. They used a few frag hand grenades.

MODERATOR. The fifty caliber. That was used specifically against the people?

BRONAUGH. Yes…Yes.

MODERATOR. Right. Just for general information, the .50 caliber machine gun is specifically forbidden to be used against people. It's an anti-vehicular weapon.

BRONAUGH. Yes, it was used in automatic and single fire, against human beings.

MODERATOR. There are many different types of ways that we have heard of people being mutilated, of villagers being killed, but there is one way that affects the people afterwards. They don't physically shoot them or hurt them at the moment and this is the use of chemicals. And Mr. Bangert, I think, has a good example here where he shows twenty deformed babies resulting from Agent Orange Defoliant Spray. Could you tell us what Agent Orange is and the type of deformity that was the result?

BANGERT. I used to work with the pacification program in Vietnam and I traveled extensively through Quang Tri Province. Specifically in the area of Quang Tri City and west, Trieu Phong District, I saw approximately, during my tour, twenty deformed infants under the age of one. It never made sense to me, I thought it was congenital, or something, from venereal disease, because they had flippers and things. I didn't understand what I saw until approximately six months ago I read a report that was put out by Stamford which talked about the thalidomide content within Agent Orange and it was common knowledge that Agent Orange was sprayed in the area and we used to see it about every three to four days where I was in Quang Tri Province. If I could get back to the Vietnamese woman I saw that was mutilated so horribly by that person, it didn't really shock me because I think I talked about my first day in Vietnam.

You can check with the Marines who have been to Vietnam--your last day in the States at staging battalion at Camp Pendleton you have a little lesson and it's called the rabbit lesson, where the staff NCO comes out and he has a rabbit and he's talking to you about escape and evasion and survival in the jungle. He has this rabbit and then in a couple of seconds after just about everyone falls in love with it, not falls in love with it, but, you know, they're humane there, he cracks it in the neck, skins it, disembowels it, just like I testified that this happened to a woman--he does this to the rabbit--and then they throw the guts out into the audience. You can get anything out of that you want, but that's your last lesson you catch in the United States before you leave for Vietnam where they take that rabbit and they kill it, and they skin it, and they play with its organs as if it's trash and they throw the organs all over the place and then these guys are put on the plane the next day and sent to Vietnam.

MODERATOR. Mr. Camile, you have testimony here of napalm being dropped on villagers. Could you go into this and kind of let us know what napalm is and how it was used and any of the results?

CAMILE. I really don't know that much about what it is or what it's made of. I just know that when it gets on you it burns and when they drop it from the planes, they usually drop two big canisters of napalm at a time. It just burns everything up, including the people. Many times we've called in air before we'd go into a village, or if we had a village where we'd lost people because of booby traps, we'd call in napalm and it just burns down the village and the people.

MODERATOR. Wasn't it usually normal, or so-called operating procedure, you don't fire until fired on, and on these villages, did you usually receive a lot of fire from them of the type that would say, we can't take the village, you'll have to call in napalm?

CAMILE. No, most of the time it was for safety. We'd napalm it first before we'd even go in just to make sure we wouldn't lose any men without any fire whatsoever. It was just for our protection, supposedly.

MODERATOR. Mr. Nienke, it says here that you used CS grenades clearing bunkers and hootches. Could you tell us if these were enemy bunkers or hootches or if they were civilian bunkers or hootches? Just exactly what was the incident?

NIENKE. I think every person who was in Vietnam who was in the infantry used CS, which is a gas, chemicals, Willie Peter--that's White Phosphorus--and we used these sometimes to clear bunkers and other times to destroy a hootch. We used to think that was kicks; there would be people in a hootch or something like this and we'd throw in a gas grenade and they'd cough and then we'd leave. And other times we used to use--we had mortar squads in the infantry used to avoid going into a village or something if we thought it might be VC infested or something like this, we'd send in Willie Peter mortars, 60 millimeters, and this would burn up the hootches --that explode--throwing white phosphorus on different hootches in the village. Start the hootches burning and also kill people. It's probably one of the worst sights I've ever seen is a person that's been burned by Willie Peter, because it doesn't stop. It just burns all completely through your body. The only way you can end this burning is to cut off the air. It's very difficult.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST. I'd like to add that white phosphorus is not supposed to be used for personnel. It's supposed to be used for marking and in artillery for spotting. But as you know, these rules are not too well followed most of the time.

MODERATOR. Mr. Olimpieri, you were in the same unit. You were Mr. Nienke's squad leader. Who was in charge of calling in on the mortars or ordering of the throwing of the CS grenades?

OLIMPIERI. Well, it was usually the officers, but I can remember times where we'd be sitting up on a hill, Nick and myself, and they used to have these things called "Pop-ups." You hit them on the bottom and it shoots like a green star cluster up in the air. It's used for location when somebody wants to find out where you are and we used to shoot them down into the village that was below and watch the people run around and we used to get big kicks out of it.

MODERATOR. Were there usually any officers present around this or was it usually known that this was done, wasn't it?

OLIMPIERI. Yeah, it was pretty well accepted. I mean, everybody did it.

MODERATOR. But nothing was said about it. The Vietnamese were considered…They were gooks, right?

OLIMPIERI. Right, nothing was said about it at all.

MODERATOR. Mr. Bishop, we were told that you were in Vietnam from '68 to '69. I believe this was before President Nixon said we had any troops in Laos or Cambodia at all. It says here that you entered Cambodia in pursuit of enemy between '68 and '69. Is this a true fact?

BISHOP. That's correct. We were on Operation Taylor Common. We were up in the mountains. We were operating just above the Laotian border where Laos and Cambodia meet. We were making heavy contact up there. We had quite a few losses and most of the operations we were holding were usually squad type or platoon type because the area was so thick and we couldn't send big units in there. We were very close to the border and very many times we were fired upon and we would chase the enemy back and you wouldn't know really how many grid squares you would go. We would come back to the unit and even though we knew we were close to Cambodia, we'd come back and the skipper would kind of get us all together and say like, "That was really a far out thing we did today and just for your own information we were in another country." This was general knowledge at the time that we were going back and forth into Cambodia.

MODERATOR. So you could say in effect that Mr. Nixon might possibly have been guilty of untruths in a matter that it was your company commander or platoon commander who told you that you had been in another country.

BISHOP. That's correct. The platoon commander didn't really tell us to go in there but once he found out that we were in there, because we report grid squares and our operations as we're moving, it was kind of a neat thing to do because we were in Cambodia and I'll admit that about the Nixon thing, really.

MODERATOR. Was there no distinction between the borders?

BISHOP. No, there's no distinction at all. It's on your map. You can't tell, like your border could be a tree line away and you just don't know. You can't tell.

MODERATOR. So you could have gone into Cambodia more than once then?

BISHOP. Oh, that's correct. We could have held patrols there and if we weren't informed about exactly where we were, then we wouldn't have known.

MODERATOR. Mr. Kenny, you mentioned earlier that shooting of unarmed civilians. You weren't supposed to shoot civilians at all unless you found that they were armed. Could you go into this and explain how they explained the dead bodies if there were no arms on them?

KENNY. Yes, in many instances, particularly Operation Brave Armada which took place in Quang Ngai Province in the summer of '69, circumstances would come up where there would be a patrol walking along, a single person or a small group of persons would be sighted at a distance of anywhere from, like, one to maybe five hundred meters. The standard procedure was to holler "Dong Lai!" which is "Stop." A lot of times the civilians or Vietnamese couldn't hear at that distance and if they didn't respond immediately, the procedure was to have the squad or platoon open up on these people. Upon approaching the bodies it was usually found that these people had no weapons at all; that the only reason they hadn't stopped was that they hadn't heard or were frightened, and in order to explain these civilian bodies it was standard procedure to carry several extra fragmentation grenades in the field and these would be planted on the bodies in order to make them a Viet Cong rather than a civilian.

MODERATOR. Do you know whether this went on in other units besides yourselves? I realize this is hearsay, but from things that other people have told you.

KENNY. Yes, I understand from other people I have talked to that this was fairly standard operating procedure.

MODERATOR. And usually the platoon commander was present when this happened?

KENNY. That's correct. On several instances, the platoon commander, a lieutenant, actually ordered this to be done.

MODERATOR. All right. Was anything ever said to you about civilians? What defined a VC? When they were dead, when it was just a body count?

KENNY. When a body was found, the general procedure was that if the body didn't have a weapon it was a Viet Cong suspect. If a weapon could be planted on it, it became a Viet Cong and if the body had any other equipment other than a weapon, that is any piece of uniform or other equipment, it became a North Vietnamese and this was the general criterion that our battalion used to discriminate.

MODERATOR. There's a program in Viet Nam called the Chieu Hoi program where they leaflet and they pass out these passes where the enemy, the NVA, or the VC with these passes can get safe conduct and be treated as respected human beings, not as POWs, but we have an instance, Mr. Camile, could you go into this, where Chieu Hois were shot and their passes were rejected?

CAMILE. We understood what the Chieu Hois were for, but we were told why should these people be able to shoot at us and then run and when they got close to being captured, come out with it and get away with it.

MODERATOR. Was this on orders or…?

CAMILE. It was on orders.

MODERATOR. And what was done with the Chieu Hoi pass after the person was killed?

CAMILE. Anytime a person was killed, if they had any identification or passes or anything that would get us in trouble, they were destroyed.

MODERATOR. The platoon commander was present when this happened?

CAMILE. Definitely.

MODERATOR. Mr. Nienke, it says here there was torture of POWs. Did you ever run into any Chieu Hois or any type of prisoners trying to surrender?

NIENKE. Yes, I ran into some prisoners that tried to surrender but we were a roving battalion in Vietnam and we went to a lot of different places, mostly way out in the bush, up in the mountains, not close to any major Army or Marine bases such as this, and we didn't believe in Chieu Hois. We didn't take prisoners. When we did take prisoners, like, we'd come into a village and there might have been somebody that we thought could have possibly been a prisoner or a POW or a VC, whether it might be an old lady or a young kid or something like this, they were always brought back to our local platoon or CO position where we set up that night and interrogated.

MODERATOR. Did you ever witness any of this interrogation?

NIENKE. Like I said before, we were mostly on the lines and I walked back, I'm not sure what province this was in, I walked back to talk to the captain because I was going on a listening post that night and I saw a young man and he was being beaten by an ARVN interpreter that came along with us. He was being beaten and I was told to leave the area.

MODERATOR. Okay, thank you very much. Before we open up for questions, these Marines are seated in chronological order of when they were in Vietnam. Mr. Craig was in Vietnam in '66 and at the end Mr. Eckert ends it with 1970. So we're trying to show that the policy that was carried out wasn't by one man when we first got there, wasn't by the next man when he got there, but it was standard operational procedure that was carried through from when we've been in Vietnam and it's still going on now. These are not isolated incidents. It happens in the Army and in the Marine Corps. I guess we could open up questions to the press or anybody who had questions.

QUESTION. I'm _____ of WBAX News and I have a couple of questions. First were there any GIs or people in your battalions that objected to these kind of atrocities or made any effort to stop it when they saw them?

MODERATOR. Is this a general question? Would anybody like to answer that? Mr. Camile.

CAMILE. When people first got there they were pretty idealistic about what you're supposed to do and what you're not supposed to do. The first time you see your buddies get killed, then that changes your mind and the group pressure, like, if people wouldn't do things, people would beat up other people and say "You either do it the way we do it or else you're going to get shot."

REPORTER. Did anyone actually ever stop an act of terrorism that he witnessed?

CAMILE. Only when the press was around and that would usually be Lt. Colonels or Majors.

REPORTER. How did they do that?

CAMILE. They would tell them that the press was there and not to do it and that was it.

REPORTER FROM AP. Question for Mr. Delay. What was the unit involved in the ambush you described?

DELAY. That was India Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines.

REPORTER FROM AP. Was it ever established who the people who were ambushed were? Where they came from?

DELAY. Not to my knowledge.

REPORTER FROM WJR. One of your men who was here before mentioned in your opening statement generally something about fellow Marines who didn't do their job would be purposefully wounded or something. Could you be more specific?

VET RESPONSE. Excuse me, would that be in reference to like fragging that's been in the newspapers lately where they throw hand grenades at their own officers an staff NCOs?

VET RESPONSE. The question was if some sort of value was put on men who were inadequate in the field. What I was basically familiar with was newer personnel coming in country and taking the place of somebody who was more experienced in the field and maybe causing unnecessary deaths in the field or something like this and the men felt that if they put a little money together somebody would have the guts to wound them or something so they'd be drawn out of the outfit.

QUESTION. Did you actually ever witness that happening?

VET RESPONSE. Yes, I have.

MODERATOR. Any of you gentlemen here on the panel, could you release any incidents of fragging that you ever heard of or saw? Mr. Campbell.

CAMPBELL. In January of 1969, a couple of miles northeast of An Hoa, in the Arizona territory, my unit was temporarily assigned to Operation Taylor Common. We moved out, we waited until dark and moved out into a very heavily booby-trapped area. The lead platoon hit a booby trap. The word was passed back that it was the platoon commander that hit it and then the CO went up to check to see how the platoon commander was and there was another explosion. The initial word came back that the CO hit a booby trap.

Now from the first blast, the first booby trap that was hit, the platoon commander's radio man was also hit. He went to the hospital and was back to the unit about two weeks later. He told me and several other people, two or three other people privately, that the second booby trap was not a booby trap but that one of the men from the platoon of the commander who hit the first booby trap fragged the company commander because he was very upset about the platoon commander hitting the booby trap. He was upset about the CO waiting until dark to move out. He thought it was a stupid move and figured that got his platoon commander, and the men in that platoon were pretty tight with that platoon commander. I witnessed the explosion. I witnessed the flash, but it was dark. I couldn't see the guy throw the grenade. I didn't know that he threw it until the platoon radio man explained this to me.

MODERATOR. Mr. Bangert, you said you had an incident of this.

BANGERT. I guess the majority of us had been in country for about nine or ten months and this new guy came. The new guy was a lifer. A lifer was in charge of the mail. He stopped the mail for about three days because he wanted his troops to shine their shoes or something or clean up or shave or get a haircut and he stopped the mail. So someone told him if we don't get mail by noon on a specific day before midnight, that night you're going to be offered. But since he was hard and he was in the Korean War, he thought that what happened in the old Marine Corps is happening in Vietnam, he persisted and the mail wasn't gotten out and before midnight he was fragged. And the mail did come through the next day.

QUESTION. A couple of people on the panel mentioned brutalities to women. Is rape and other sexual brutalities to women--brutality involving the vagina in particular--is that a usual feature of people on tour in Vietnam?

SIMPSON. Me myself, I think it's pretty usual over there. Cause you'll be out in the bush and you'll meet women out on the trails. And the Marines over there, just like the Army and the Navy, are human. But they just don't go about it the right way--they might stick a rifle in a woman's head and say, "Take your clothes off." That's the way it's done over there. Cause they're not treated as human beings over there, they're treated as dirt.

QUESTION. Another question was: In your training is anything ever said about women in particular? Is there anything besides just being " gooks"? Are you encouraged to rape women in any way? Or think of them in any particular way?

PANELIST. Yes, in ITR in the Marine Corps you go through Infantry Training Regiment. They have a class on when you interrogate a POW or a villager what to look for--where they hide things. They stress over and over that a woman has more available places to hide things like maps or anything than a male. So it took about twenty minutes to cover where to search for a male suspect, and about an hour on a female. It was like everyone was getting into it pretty heavy like, you know, wishful-thinking, you know. But it seems to me that the philosophy over there is like somehow or another we're more afraid of females than we are of males, because, I don't know why, but the female was always like you never knew where you stood, so you went overboard in your job with her in all your daily actions. You doubled whatever you would do for a male. Because we always heard these stories that, like, the fiercest fighters were the females over there. You know, we didn't want to be embarrassed by getting our asses kicked by a bunch of females. So that's about it.

QUESTION. In terms of practice does that mean that women were treated especially rudely? You said "double everything."

PANELIST. Yes, I would say so. Because it makes a lasting impression on some guy--some "zip"--that's watching his daughter worked over. So we have a better opportunity of keeping him in line by working her over.

MODERATOR. Mr. Bangert did you have something to add?

BANGERT. Yeah, I think that in regards to women in Vietnam, first of all, you get this feeling sometimes when you're over there that you don't even think of their sex. This is really disgusting. You don't even think of them as human beings, they're "gooks." And they're objects; they're not human, they're objects. The general rule was a Vietnamese who is dead is confirmed Viet Cong and one who is living is a Viet Cong suspect. And that's the way it was. Back to this specific instance where I talk about the disembowelment of the women--I think the person involved was a freaked out sexist, if that's what you're trying to get at. I think maybe he had problems. He had to be--he was in the Army for 20 years.

QUESTION. You were talking about mutilation of bodies and, in general, murder. I was wondering--how did you get rid of all these mutilated bodies?

CAMPBELL. A particular way that the people I was with got rid of bodies was on Operation Meade River in November '68. There were some mutilated bodies. The Engineers blew them with C-4. They put 40 pounds of C-4 underneath the bodies and blew them. This was done for kicks; not just to dispose of them, but for kicks, to watch them go up. Another thing, I wasn't given a chance to make this clear earlier and I'd like to make this clear now. When we were showing the policies within the same unit changing--from when Scott Camile was there to when I was there a few months later--I mentioned the fact that things cooled down after the incidents that he explained. But they picked up again about three or four months later. And then came the blowing away of vills and the mutilation of bodies and stuff. All the incidents that I described earlier.

QUESTION. Was there discrimination between the black soldiers and the white soldiers in the service, or were the white soldiers supposed to be superior to the black soldiers? I mean, did they tell you anything about that over here before you went over there, or was it put into practice anyways over there?

PANELIST. I went to Boot Camp at Paris Island and we had a lot of brothers from Philly there and the common term used in discussing the brothers amongst the DIs, the drill instructors, was they were "niggers." "Come here nigger, do this nigger." I think this had a carry-over effect throughout the entire training. It always seemed to be that the brothers were always looked down upon.

QUESTION. I just wondered if there were any correspondents, or any newsmen, or any of the media that was present during these brutalities that these men know of and just ignored reporting any of these things?

BANGERT. I testified to the fact of the bodies outside Quang Tri City. Sometimes people from the press would drive through there, specifically women journalists who were readily welcomed into the unit. There was always this whitewashing thing. Well, sometimes these people would go right past the bodies and come into our base to get a story. They were kept away from the enlisted men, away from the people who were involved. The typical thing was to take them down to the Officers Club, get them soused, get them in a flight suit, and take them out and fly them through Quang Tri Province. And if they wanted to, they could see what it's like to shoot a gun. That happened a couple of times when I was there.

QUESTION. My impression is that it doesn't sound like even if the newsmen had gotten to you that any of you would have been willing to talk about these things at that time. Is that true?

CAMILE. That's very true.

MODERATOR. On Tuesday when the 25th Division gives their testimony, there are former PIO men from MACV who will talk about the civilian press at length. These questions will be answered then.

QUESTION. Mr. Sachs, you told about a prisoner being pushed from a helicopter. It wasn't clear whether or not that helicopter was on the ground or not.

SACHS. The incident I was talking about when they were making to see who could throw the gooks farther? It was done on the ground because it's hard to mark them from 3,000 feet. However, it was an official policy that after every mission you fly, you have to fill out an After-Mission Report to show them all the good stuff you did during the day. Like, how many pounds of rice you carried, and how many Americans and how many gooks you carried. Well, we were given very specific oral orders from the Colonel on down: When you are carrying VCS, Viet Cong Suspects, you don't count them when you get in the airplane, you count them when they get out of the airplane because the numbers don't always jibe. And if one of them happens to get scared of heights and decides to get out, or something like that, or if he looks like maybe he's going to try and raise some shit in the belly of the aircraft and the crewman has to kick him out, that's none of your business; it didn't really happen because you counted the men when they got off.

QUESTION. Did you ever witness anyone being thrown from a helicopter in the air?

SACHS. I'm a pilot and they're below you and behind you and you can't see.

PANELIST. Another method they used in regard to helicopters is sometimes when they captured three suspected enemy people they might take them for a joy-ride. They usually tie them up and put a blindfold on them and they'll put maybe three guys in a C-54 and fly off. They'll ask the guys in the air, "What is your unit?" and all this jive, and if they don't cooperate, they just might take one of them and say, "Okay, take off the blindfold," and just shove him right out. Now this gives us a psychological edge because apparently it works. When the other two guys come down to the ground, they're scared and they cooperate more readily than they ever would before.

MODERATOR. Mr. Camile, you had some actual instances of observing Vietnamese being thrown out of helicopters.

CAMILE. On Operation Stone, I was on the ground and I didn't see this Vietnamese pushed out, but I did see him come flying out and land over where we were.

MODERATOR. Perhaps he decided to take a little walk or something. Any more questions?

QUESTION. Mr. Bishop, could you elaborate some more on the circumstances of the killing of the four NVA nurses?

BISHOP. I didn't say it in the testimony, but it's written on my testimony sheet. The operation was Meade River, a very large scale operation. ROK (Korean) Marines were involved, U.S. Marines and Army were involved, and the ARVNs were involved. A cordon was set up outside of Da Nang and a big squeeze was put on right outside the airport. There were quite a few body counts as far as the enemy went. It was something like 1,300. The allies had something like 700 or 800 so-called dead--we never knew. On part of the operation, we had just gotten through making heavy contact and we went through a bunker system. It was a large bunker system and we found hospitals. We came across four NVA nurses that were hiding out in one of the bunkers. They were nurses, we found medical supplies on them and they had black uniforms on. The ROK Marines came up to us and one of their officers asked us if they could have the NVA nurses, that they would take care of them because we were sweeping through the area, and that we couldn't take care of any POWs. So, I imagine, that instead of killing them, we handed them over to the ROK Marines. Well, we were still in the area when the ROK Marines started tying them down to the ground.

They tied their hands to the ground, they spread-eagled them; they raped all four. There was like maybe ten or twenty ROK Marines involved. They tortured them, they sliced off their breasts, they used machetes and cut off parts of their fingers and things like this. When that was over, they took pop-up flares (which are aluminum canisters you hit with your hand; it'll shoot maybe 100-200 feet in the air)--they stuck them up their vaginas--all four of them--and they blew the top of their heads off.

MODERATOR. Any further questions?

QUESTION. It was stated by one veteran, I don't know which, that on the last day, and I believe it was at Camp Pendleton, they were given a briefing by a sergeant, apparently, where they skinned a rabbit, disemboweled it, and he told them or instructed them that this is how it's done. Can anybody else corroborate that?

MODERATOR. How many guys in Marine Staging saw this--the last day in Staging Battalion? I saw it myself in Staging Battalion. All those who saw it please raise your hands again.

MODERATOR. The question for those who didn't hear it was in reference to the skinning of a rabbit as an example of "This is how it's done in Vietnam," or, "This is what happens in Vietnam." In answer to the question, most of the Marines here did see it.

QUESTION. This is still part of Basic Training? Are we to understand that this is part of the course before combat in Vietnam?

MODERATOR. This is part of the Staging Battalion which is the last day before you go to Vietnam. Could we have the show of hands again?

[Note: A majority of hands were raised.]

QUESTION. Are there officers present at this?

PANELIST. Yes. It usually was a company formation. They made quite a spectacle of this. They made a moccasin out of the skin. A couple of dudes were playing with the organs. It was a really cool thing, I guess.

Copyright: The 1960s Project.

AlterNet is making this material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

 
See more stories tagged with: