WINTER SOLDIER INVESTIGATION
"1ST, 4TH, AND 9TH INFANTRY DIVISIONS, Part IV
QUESTION. Do any members of the panel have any information on lowering of American body count? In other words, covering up how many are truly dead. I know this question was got into quite a bit this morning with the Airborne units.
LYTLE. I know of one instance. We haven't been able to prove anything about this, but there was one battle we fought for about a day. I was told that we lost a company of men. It was never reported back here in the States. There was never any report of it. It kind of seems strange to me.
QUESTION. You wouldn't have any idea about the total number of Americans killed there. The figure is approximately around 50,000.
LYTLE. I don't know. I really don't, I can't tell you.
HENRY. When I was in Vietnam there were 11 support people for every infantryman over there and the casualty rate was running, I'd say from my own experience, like five to one--five infantry people for every one support person. When you get blanket statistics on your local news in black letters and you see 800 Americans dead you're thinking in terms of 500,000 GIs and that's not the way it is. You have got to divide that number by 11 and subtract a few. I remember when we were supposed to be deescalating, one of the many times, and my mother wrote to me how good it was becoming. Well they don't report by division or by brigade. You can't check. Now I'm sure the Army wouldn't falsify people, KIAs, but they might spread it over a month or something. Like it doesn't really matter to you whether your son dies last Thursday or the week before. The only point is that you're going to get your letters back that you wrote him, they'll make sure of that, and you'll get a flag and an honor guard and more than likely a Silver Star or a Bronze Star. It all depends what his rank was. It's pretty cold-blooded, the whole thing. You just got to accept that. I imagine they're telling you how many people are really dead, but I'm sure they're not telling you, like, in a meaningful way--who is dying. When I was in the 9th Division we got some people from I Corps because they were not having much contact and they put them down in the Delta in the 9th Division. You don't hear about that either.
MODERATOR. I think that what we're trying to say is that the total number which is reported may be correct. I would have my doubts on that. It's too easy to mail out 400 letters saying your son died and report 200 in the press. Carl, you have a number of slides. Would you care to go through them, numbers 3 through 7, and talk about them?
RIPPBERGER. This first slide here shows a prisoner of war. He was being interrogated. The way they tried to get him to talk is by making him stand in front of a pile of Viet Cong bodies that we had picked up and stare at them.
(Next Slide) The same POW was forced to sit probably from 6 to 8 hours by this pile of bodies in the hot sun.
MODERATOR. Carl, how long had those bodies been there? One day or what?
RIPPBERGER. They were killed at approximately three in the morning and they were not taken away until three or four in the afternoon. This is a shot of five or six GIs going through the bodies looking for souvenirs. In this picture there is a lieutenant and a captain overlooking what's going on.
(Next Slide) This was earlier in the day. This fellow here, he could not speak Vietnamese and periodically he walked up to the prisoners and hit them. A few times he kicked them. This went on quite a while till they moved these young kids here into the pile of bodies. This is a shot of our interrogator. The M-16 has an open flash suppressor at the end and three prongs which are about a half inch long. He took them and forced them into this prisoner's nose and he twisted them. It's extremely painful.
MODERATOR. I believe that's the last slide. Earlier you said something about these people being forced to sit by the bodies. Is that what you meant?
RIPPBERGER. Right, we took our POWs and forced them to sit and look at the bodies. This went on for hours.
MODERATOR. Officers were present at all times, right?
RIPPBERGER. Yes, field grade officers were present all day long, they were flying in and out. This was a major fire fight. This happened on June 19, 1967.
MODERATOR. For the benefit of people who don't know the military, field grade is major and above. What was their attitude?
RIPPBERGER. Nobody seemed to care. They were extremely happy that we had a body count. That's how they got their medals. I might add that some of the officers after this fire fight received medals for flying over in a helicopter. Bronze Stars and Silver Stars and medals of this type. During the fire fight they were nowhere near the area. They received medals anyway.
MODERATOR. Was this one isolated incident or did this happen numerous times?
RIPPBERGER. No, this happened often. Any time we saw any action things like this went on.
MODERATOR. Mark, I believe you have something to say about mistreatment of prisoners.
LENIX. Right. Well, as has been mentioned before, making the prisoners extremely uncomfortable was just sort of the accepted rule. We were on an operation in the early part of '69 where we encountered three VC. One was KIA. He was killed in the contact and another was wounded. His wound was too serious to be treated by the medic, but not so serious he'd have died if we could have got him dusted off. He was laying there and the medic said, "I can't do anything for him, we're going to need a dust off." Well, apparently the commanding officer decided that a dust off wasn't necessary and had one of the Chieu Hois or one of our Tiger Scouts, who were Vietnamese, interrogate the man. He was laying on the ground on his back and apparently was in shock. The Tiger Scout muttered a few words in Vietnamese and then shot him through the joint of the elbow. It was a grotesque scene. His arm just sort of flopped around on the ground and he had to be in shock because there was no expression of pain. He had no expression on his face at all. He shot him a few more times and then eventually he just put the muzzle of his weapon to his head and blew him away. I don't believe that the Geneva Convention regards this as fair treatment of prisoners.
RICE. We had very little contact with prisoners, actually our company never ran into too many of them. On occasions we took detainees. Whether they were Viet Cong or not was not determined at the time. Officers would take them and with the Tiger Scout perform interrogations, field interrogations. Sometimes including beatings. Other times the favorite trick--especially in the Delta where you have a lot of water, you just take him down to the water and dunk him a few times until he starts talking. Just hold him down longer each time, until he talks. That was the main way to get information from people. Now these were not confirmed VC. These could have been civilians, because a lot of them were shipped out on a helicopter later on to detainee centers.
MODERATOR. We were talking earlier about a VC who had been wounded. Do you want to try and relate the story as best you can.
RICE. Right. Our company was sweeping northeast of the city of Jon Trong in Jon Trong District in Cam Hoa Province. When we came across this paddy, our point element broke into this paddy which was being worked by the farmers. There were old men and women with water buffalo and children working in the field. They commenced to yelling "La De" which means "Come here" in Vietnamese and the people started running when they saw the Americans. At this time someone noticed a young man, of approximately military age, taking off down a paddy dike. The point element opened up on him and finally brought him down. He received a gunshot wound in the head.
MODERATOR. May I ask, was he carrying a weapon?
RICE. No, he was not. The only thing he had was a transistor radio. We came up to him and found the transistor. I do not know whether he had an ID card or not. Our medic went up to him and started treating him. At this time we were ordered on up the road. I got about ten feet up the road and another member of my platoon said one of the sergeants had slit his throat.
MODERATOR. Okay, this again is almost hearsay evidence, but the medic did leave the body? Did it just stay there, or what?
RICE. No, the medic left the body. We left the body laying on the dike, and went on.
MODERATOR. So in other words, the person was abandoned, even if his throat was not slit.
RICE. This is true.
MODERATOR. Okay, what happened? This is sort of interesting. I remember on the Cambodian invasion one sewing machine was captured. Did the transistor radio get recorded as captured?
RICE. The transistor radio wound up in our hootch where we used to listen to it.
MODERATOR. Ron, you were speaking to me yesterday about a POW compound. Could you elaborate on that?
NEWTON. Just vaguely. I saw it only once. We usually don't keep any prisoners in a support outfit. They set one up for a while and transported them in. I was there very early in 1966, but I only saw one incident where prisoners would try to put their fingers through the wire. Something anybody would do. They would put their fingers through the wire and guys would take the butts of their rifles and smash them. Just like you see in the movies, just like John Wayne again. That's probably the only incident I could recall. I saw one beating at the same time. I don't know any details about it. I just saw the physical aspects of this beating.
MODERATOR. This POW compound, was it just a wired-in area without any shelter at all?
NEWTON. Yes. I think it was temporary. I don't think they were supposed to be kept there. I don't know how long it existed. I only saw it once.
MODERATOR. Bill Rice, could I ask you one more question about that incident of the farmer, or VC, one of the two, whichever it was. Was there an officer present with your group?
RICE. Yes, it was a company operation. We had lieutenants and a captain.
MODERATOR. Thank you. John Henry, you and I talked a bit about the interrogation of prisoners. Do you want to go into that, please?
HENRY. When he was talking about holding people down under water until they talked, I've seen that. I've seen LRRPs interrogate prisoners, knock out teeth, and then hold them under water. But pretty soon a chopper comes in and takes them to wherever the final disposition of them is made. But the point is, you don't know if these people are VC or just civilians. You're so indoctrinated that women and children are a lot of times more dangerous than old men and old women, which is why I think so many women and children get killed, just because of the poop that's handed down when you first get to country.
MODERATOR. Mike Farrell, we also talked about this a little bit. You mentioned one instance of a sergeant working with a POW. Would you like to talk about it?
FARRELL. I didn't see this. This is again "alleged." Here's another instance. We were out in the field and we came across a woman in a hootch. She was by herself. It was an older woman and she didn't want to leave her house. They wanted to take her with us to detain her. She was treated in a very humiliating way. She was dragged by a GI and her blouse was ripped open. She wasn't wearing anything underneath and one person went up there and made an attempt to cover her up. But then, as they were crossing a bridge, the woman jumped. It was right on the edge of a mangrove swamp. There was a stream there; they were crossing the bridge and the woman jumped into the water. She was never seen again. Nobody in our unit ever saw her again, so she could have drowned, she could have swam under water, she could have gone anywhere.
MODERATOR. Barry, we were talking earlier about an operation your unit went on where quite a few prisoners were mistreated.
HOPKINS. Yes, I think it was in April. I don't remember the province. It was pretty close to our fire base--Fire Base Moore. They reported that they had seen six VC. They eagle-flighted men in there and we started coming in on these hootches. It was wide open and there were a lot of hootches. We started going to each one and there were about five or six VC in each one. They were all real young, like about 18, 19 years old. We got 32 prisoners. They reported that there were that many and just a few more that were killed by the helicopters and our own men. I think they divided them up so we could have those evenly. There was more VC there than what they thought. The major came in and he and I witnessed one of my friends chasing one of these kids. He stabbed him and the kid just didn't want to die. So he took him in the moat and drowned him and it took a long time to drown him. He just didn't want to die. I couldn't dig going out, walking all that ways, and bringing in all these prisoners like these other guys. I just stuck around where the major was and was helping tag all the prisoners that they brought up. We used wire and string, wrote a number on it, and tied it around their necks to tag them. We had six women that we brought in. Some of my friends were really messing around with these women. When they jumped off the helicopter when we brought them into camp, there were newsmen there. They were filming this.
MODERATOR. On the operation bringing them back there was quite a bit of mistreatment, but unfortunately, your friend, when they did get back, mistreated a prisoner in front of newsmen's cameras, right?
HOPKINS. Yes, to me, this was sort of just like My Lai. He was caught, and for that he was prosecuted. There was a lot of mistreatment. We stood there and watched these leeches on these people's backs. They would suck out enough blood (they would be about five inches long) and these young guys would just fall over and nothing was done.
MODERATOR. No medical attention was given to them?
HOPKINS. None at all, and the major was standing right there. He observed us tying these tags around their necks and a lot of the mishandling of the women and the young men.
MODERATOR. Are there any questions on treatment of POWs?
QUESTION. Yes, I'd like to know, you said that when this guy was caught, he was shipped out or something like this. At any other time was there any reprimand for mistreatment of prisoners? Who was the one by and what type would it be?
HOPKINS. No, this man was the only one that I could recall, and I don't think that it ever got out of our battalion. The colonel and the major worked it out, his papers were drawn up, and he was just sent to another company. He was still in the 9th Division, but other than that nothing else was done to him. They just wanted to get him out.
PANELIST. It's kind of a rampant depersonalization of humanity, you know.
QUESTION. What exactly is a dust off? What would they do with the bodies of the dead VC? What kind of burial do they give them?
MODERATOR. A dust off is a medivac. It's a chopper which comes in (a helicopter) to rescue (not exactly rescue) to pick up wounded personnel and to take them back to back areas for treatment. what do they do with the dead bodies of VC? Okay, what does the trashman have to say?
HENRY. They just leave them there and they rot. Then the people come and bury them. The same people who rebuild all the bunkers that we blow up.
MODERATOR. I think this is a perfect lead-in to our next session. Basically, what has Vietnam done to ourselves. Carl, you have another picture and I think it is very applicable.
RIPPBERGER. The next slide is a slide of myself. I'm extremely shameful of it. I'm going to show it to you so you can see this sadistic state of mind that my government put me into. I'm showing it in hope that none of you people that have never been involved ever let this happen to you. Don't ever let your government do this to you. Okay--that's me. I'm holding a dead body--smiling. It's on the back of my armored cavalry assault vehicle. It's there because everyone in our platoon took two bodies and put them on the back ramp, drove them through a village for show, and dumped them off at the edge of the village.
MODERATOR. Does anybody else have anything particularly they want to add to this?
FARRELL. Yes, the brutalizing effect it has on yourself. We were out on eagle flights. This is just where a small unit of men go out on helicopters. They are set down, they sweep a couple of thousand meters, and they are picked up from their objective to go to another area. You just go out for a day; the object of it is to try and catch the Viet Cong by a series of quick movements like jumping--leapfrogging. We'd been in contact all day, no matter where we went. We didn't produce very good results. Choppers finally came in to pick us up to take us back. I was sitting on the helicopter. I was the machine gunner at the time. I was sitting in the door of the helicopter and then all of a sudden I felt the crew chief kick me out of the helicopter. You know--unload, unload. I looked over and see one helicopter with its blade starting to slow down, so I figured that it had been shot down. As soon as I got off the helicopter, I got out from underneath the blades and I noticed there was a farmer in the distance, about four or five hundred meters, riding his water buffalo back from the field. I jumped off the helicopter and opened up at him with my machine gun. He was just a civilian farmer and I shot at him. But thank God I missed him. It was just the severe frustration of being shot at all day.
MODERATOR. Part of the reason for the attitude of Americans is sort of a racial thing. We are seeing it right now. We don't understand Vietnam. We think they're less than we are. We don't understand their personnel; we don't understand their customs; we don't understand their entire culture. Ron, would you like to talk about it?
NEWTON. I arrived in Vietnam in '66 in the summer months just before the monsoons. The first night we were there we were going on convoy because we were trying to get the 4th Division through to Dragon Mountain Base Camp near Pleiku. This has already been mentioned, but I'd like to add to it. I saw C-rations being thrown. I threw C-rations. I'm not proud of it. I saw people pointing weapons at people just trying to scare them a little bit. I saw people locking up and loading. Finally we put up base camp, talking about the women we were going to mess with and the people we were going to kill. Support is really boring. You don't get to kill anybody out there; you just get to support, whatever. Now this is '66, mind you. I was in a tearoom, a bar, in Pleiku one afternoon.
I saw an officer complaining about a watered drink. He picked up the Vietnamese girl that he thought had watered the drink, grabbed her by the neck, and lifted her up. He was about 6 foot or more. Lifted her up, raised back, and slapped her hard. And you know what? They carried her out of that room. I don't know what happened to her. But everybody sat back down and started drinking. You know, nothing was thought about it. This happened all the time, abuse of the people. It was like we were uncaged animals. We were bored...bored and we wanted to do something, you know. It's like the guy coming to the big city and he wants to do something. We were able to create inflation in Pleiku. As an analogy, it would be like you trying to purchase a regular $100 apartment for $300. Now that's beyond my means. I think it's beyond a lot of people's means. These people could not purchase apartments. They couldn't buy food any more because we were paying whatever the people wanted. The prices just kept going, going, going. Finally the general put Pleiku off limits because of the inflation, because we were driving the women to prostitution so they could feed their kids. We were driving all the people to corrupt activities just to keep alive. We were driving these people. And this is racism. We were the supreme race. These people were nothing.
MODERATOR. One question which has often been asked, "If this is the way we feel about the war, then why are we here now rather than before we went?"
NEWTON. I was a hawk.
MODERATOR. John, you and I have talked about his to some considerable depth. You have just been over recently (in Vietnam). You mentioned being in some of the Moratorium-Mobilization things. Would you care to read that letter for us?
HARTNER. I'm different from some of the people on this panel, in that I was very against the war before I went to Vietnam. I marched in the two Moratoriums of '69. The night before I left my home, I wrote a letter to my Senator, that's James Pearson of Kansas. "It is very difficult to write a letter so extremely important to me, and I hope to my country, because I'm afraid some mistake might be made in its interpretation. For several years now, our involvement in Vietnam has been a prime concern of mine as it should be for all. I have spent considerable time studying the history of our involvement, the development of our policies concerning this problem, and its current trends. My conclusions, Sir, is that we have made a horrible mistake; a mistake that has cost not just billions of tax dollars, but what is most important, is that it has cost thousands of lives, both American and Vietnamese. Since life is the most precious gift that God has given us, it seems to me that before a country requires a man to face the possibility of death, it should give him a very clear and definite reason. This, I believe, our administration has failed to do. So often, I have wished that I could approach our President, and ask him to please give me the answers to several questions, which I believe are so important. I've wanted to ask him why the elections were never held, the Geneva Conference set up; why we fired at Tonkin Gulf; why it appears that the military industrial complex has so much power in the government policy; why we believe that the number of lives sacrificed has been worth it; why we believe that our democratic ideal is so right for the Vietnamese people. Since I have already stated my opinion concerning our involvement, I'm sure you understand the answers I hold to these questions and others like them. This is also very important to me, because I do love my country. I love the freedom it has given me. It has allowed my family to grow happily. It has allowed me to receive the type of education I desire, and to choose the profession I wish to engage in. It has allowed my mother to raise her family in a joyful environment, and it has allowed my father to speak freely to his congregation. These are only a few of the reasons I have for respecting, loving and wishing to spend the rest of my life in this country. There is, however, a conflict, for you see this country which has allowed me to hold and express my opinions publicly has now placed me in a situation where I could be tried and jailed for these beliefs; in a few days, I will be leaving for Vietnam and I'm going not because in any way I believe what we are doing is right there, but because this is what my government is now requiring me to do in order to spend the rest of my life here. But I must also stand up for what I believe in and for this reason, unless in some way or by someone I can be shown that what I believe in is wrong, then I will not be able to participate in any offensive actions. So this freedom of belief may lead to a restriction of my physical freedom. I urge you, Sir, to please do all within your power to aid in ending this confusion. Peace means so very much. Thank you for your time."
MODERATOR. I think that's what we're trying to say here today. Peace means so very much.