MISTAKES AND HORRORS COMMITTED BY AMERICAN GIs IN VIETNAM
Some American soldiers cut off the right ear of dead Viet Cong as a trophy and a souvenir. Brien recalled: "A woman saying 'No VC, no VC,' while a young lieutenant pistol-whipped her without the least expression on his face, without the least sign of distress or moral uncertainty. Mad Mark, we called him. But he wasn't mad. he was numb. he'd lost himself. His gyroscope was gone. he didn't up from down, good from bad."
On January 14, 1970, the Washington Post reported that American B-52s mistakenly dropped 150 bombs two years earlier on village of Nhi Bihn, near Saigon, killing 80 villager and wounding 70 others.
John Tirman wrote in the Washington Post, "For the atrocities — many murders of civilians in South Vietnam — were known to the Pentagon brass and the likes of Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Army Secretary Stanley Resor. Letters were written by soldiers and Marines, investigations were conducted and reports filed. Almost all were suppressed, hidden from public view. My Lai was atypical in scale (400 killed) but not in kind, and the military knew it. Turse takes us through many of these atrocities, large and small, to document the malignancy growing inside the U.S. armed forces. [Source: John Tirman, Washington Post, January 25, 2013 **]
"Particularly striking is Operation Speedy Express, conducted in the Mekong Delta by the 9th Infantry Division under the command of Maj. Gen. Julian Ewell. Turse documents the savagery of Speedy Express, the gratuitous execution of thousands of civilians in pursuit of high body counts and career advancement. Thousands of dead Vietnamese, claimed by Ewell and his cohort to be Viet Cong guerrillas, were found with very few weapons. The Army was fully aware of what Ewell was doing, and rewarded him with a third star and a prestigious place at the Paris peace negotiations." **
‘Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam’ By Nick Turse (Metropolitan, 2013]
Reports of Atrocities in Vietnam
John Kerry, then a recently discharged Navy officer and later a senator, presidential candidate and U.S. Secretary of State, delivered an impassioned speech to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971. American troops in Vietnam, he said, had "raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country." [Source: John Kifner, The New York Times, December 28, 2003 *=*]
John Kifner wrote in the New York Times, "Kerry's account came from his own experience, as well as from a three-day conference of the fledgling Vietnam Veterans Against the War. At the conference, he said, "over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command." A transcript of that meeting makes for hair-raising reading. The returned troops told of the slaughter of civilians; "reconnaissance by fire," or soldiers shooting blindly; "harassment and interdiction fire," with artillery being used to shell villages; captives thrown from helicopters; severed ears drying in the sun or being swapped for beers; and "Zippo inspections" of cigarette lighters in preparation for burning villages. *=*
"There is no shortage of literature on atrocities in Vietnam. Books include Jonathan Schell's "The Military Half," which recounts the campaign in 1967 in which Tiger Force took part; Philip Caputo's "A Rumor of War," a bitter memoir of his experience as a young Marine officer that is now required reading in a military history course at West Point; and Michael Herr's "Dispatches," which captured the madness from a "grunt's" point of view. *=*
Atrocities by America's Elite Tiger Force Against Vietnamese Civilians
A investigation by the Toledo, Ohio newspaper the Blade, published in 2003, said an elite U.S. army unit killed hundreds of civilians — mainly women, children and the elderly — in Vietnam's Central Highland area during a seven-month period in 1967. Oliver Poole wrote in The Telegraph, "An elite American military unit killed and mutilated hundreds of unarmed civilians, tortured prisoners and severed ears and scalps for souvenirs during the Vietnam war, according to a newspaper investigation. The unit, Tiger Force, was sent on a six-month spying operation in areas controlled by the North Vietnamese. Members of the unit have revealed details of a rampage that began in May 1967 in which they dropped grenades into bunkers where villagers, including women and children, were hiding. Details of the unit's activities surfaced after an eight-month investigation by an American newspaper, The Blade, in Toledo, Ohio, that interviewed all but two of the unit's surviving members as well as Vietnamese witnesses. It also reviewed thousands of recently declassified documents. [Source: Oliver Poole, The Telegraph, October 21, 2003 \\\\]
"If accounts of the atrocities are accurate, it would be one of the worst documented cases of war crimes committed by American soldiers. One member of the unit, William Doyle, a former sergeant, said he had killed so many civilians that he had lost count. "We didn't expect to live. Nobody out there with any brains expected to live," he said. "The way to live is to kill because you don't have to worry about anybody who's dead." The newspaper found that the army had investigated Tiger Force for four and a half years and identified 18 soldiers who committed war crimes. The investigation's findings were sent to the defense secretary in 1975 and reports on its progress were passed on to the White House but no charges were filed. The soldiers who were under suspicion of committing war crimes were instead allowed to resign, it is alleged. \\\\
"The official inquiry found 27 soldiers in the 45-man paratrooper unit who said the severing of ears from dead Vietnamese was routine. "There was a period when just about everyone had a necklace of ears," said Larry Cottingham, the platoon medic. The allegations include an incident in which the unit's field commander, Lt James Hawkins, shot dead an elderly carpenter who was pleading for his life. Two soldiers who tried to stop the attacks were warned by their superiors to stay quiet and were then transferred to another unit. Vietnamese who witnessed the attacks told The Blade that they had dug dozens of mass graves. The atrocities were carried out the year before the infamous My Lai massacre in which an army unit killed around 500 civilians. \\\\
Army journalist Dennis Stout, who and ex-Tiger Force medic Rion Causey witnessed the alleged atrocities. Stout told Associated Press, "I saw people killed who didn't deserve to die. It was wrong. I've lived with this for more than 30 years." Causey said, "What I can clearly say is that we went into that valley and we killed every male over 16 years old without question. I only saw one enemy gun the whole time. It wasn't about killing enemy soldiers. This was about killing villagers. It went on and on. By the end, I had just had it. I was just sick of it." [Source: The Associated Press - February 14, 2004]
In February 2004, the U.S. military decided to investigate the massacre. As part of the review, the Army has appointed an investigator to look into why a 4½ -year investigation into the atrocities was dropped in 1975, with no charges filed. That investigation substantiated 20 war crimes by 18 soldiers, the newspaper said.
Survivors Describe the Tiger Force Massacres
Associated Press reported from Hanh Thien, Vietnam: "There's not much left besides a patch of brush with a few vines but Huynh Thi Gioi's memory is clear as she describes the day U.S. soldiers called her outside of the shelter that once stood here only to fire a single fatal shot into her six-year-old son. After more than three decades, there is little physical evidence left in the tiny, poverty-stricken Central Highland valley to support the allegations but the atrocities live on in the memories of the few surviving villagers. During a Vietnamese government-escorted trip to the area, Gioi and her neighbours clustered around a table to tell their stories. They aren't looking for revenge or even justice - they just do not want to be forgotten. [Source: Associated Press, October 24, 2003 //\\]
"Gioi recalled her son's death. "I held his body tight and I was crying and later the translator said the American soldiers killed him because he was a boy and the son of a communist soldier," she said Friday. "I was just a farmer and I did not side with the Communists or the Saigon government." None of the Vietnamese villagers know exactly who was responsible for the maimings and killings that spread through Song Ve Valley during those months. They only describe the soldiers as "white" with "big noses" or "tall and big" but most said they were too afraid to look the Americans in the eye during a raid. //\\
"The Tiger Force, as the 101st Airborne Division unit was called, was reported to have dropped grenades in bunkers and randomly fired on unarmed civilians during their killing rampage, which was documented in a military investigation closed in 1975, the Blade reported. No one was ever charged after the investigation was initiated by a soldier outraged by the killings. Earlier this week, the U.S. army said it lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute those allegedly involved. But based on interviews with civilians and former Tiger Force soldiers, it was estimated the unit killed hundreds of unarmed people, the Blade said. //\\
"The violence came just months before the killing of about 500 Vietnamese civilians by a U.S. army unit in 1968 at My Lai, another village in the same province. "After each raid, the American soldiers threw all the corpses in one place and guarded it," said Vo Minh Phuong, 47, who still recalls the smell of the defoliant sprayed on the area and the sound of the helicopters flying low over the mountains. "After three days, all the trees died," he said. "Several days later, when we picked up the cassava, it was ruined. It looked like cooked cassava." //\\
Tiger Force Members Describe the Atrocities They Committed
John Kifner wrote in the New York Times, "Quang Ngai and Quang Nam are provinces in central Vietnam, between the mountains and the sea. Ken Kerney, William Doyle and Rion Causey tell horrific stories about what they saw and did there as soldiers in 1967. That spring and fall, American troops conducted operations there to engage the enemy and drive peasants out of villages and into heavily guarded "strategic hamlets." The goal was to deny the Viet Cong support, shelter and food. The fighting was intense and the results, the former soldiers say, were especially brutal. Villages were bombed, burned and destroyed. As the ground troops swept through, in many cases they gunned down men, women and children, sometimes mutilating bodies — cutting off ears to wear on necklaces. They threw hand grenades into dugout shelters, often killing entire families. [Source: John Kifner, The New York Times, December 28, 2003 *=*]
"Can you imagine Dodge City without a sheriff?" Mr. Kerney asked. "It's just nuts. You never had a safe zone. It's shoot too quick or get shot. You're scared all the time, you're humping all the time. You're scared. These things happen." Mr. Doyle said he lost count of the people he killed: "You had to have a strong will to survive. I wanted to live at all costs. That was my primary thing, and I developed it to an instinct." The two are among a handful of soldiers at the heart of a series of investigative articles by The Toledo Blade that has once again raised questions about the conduct of American troops in Vietnam. The report, published in October and titled "Rogue G.I.'s Unleashed Wave of Terror in Central Highlands," said that in 1967, an elite unit, a reconnaissance platoon in the 101st Airborne Division, went on a rampage that the newspaper described as "the longest series of atrocities in the Vietnam War." *=*
"For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians — in some cases torturing and mutilating them — in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public," the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. "Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers," The Blade said. "Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed — their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings." *=*
"Three of the former soldiers quoted by The Blade confirmed that the articles had accurately described their unit's actions. But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a "rogue" unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. "The story that I'm not sure is getting out," said Mr. Causey, then a medic with the unit, "is that while they're saying this was a ruthless band ravaging the countryside, we were under orders to do it." *=*
"David H. Hackworth, a retired colonel and much-decorated veteran of the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam who later became a journalist and author, said that he created the Tiger Force unit in 1965 to fight guerrillas using guerrilla tactics. Mr. Hackworth was not in command of the unit during the period covered by the Blade articles because he had rotated out of Vietnam. "Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go," Mr. Hackworth said in a recent telephone interview. "It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted." Lt. Col. Kevin Curry, an Army spokesman, said. *=*
Killing of Civilians by the Tiger Force in Vietnam
The Toledo Blade reported from Quang Ngai, "For the 10 elderly farmers in the rice paddy, there was nowhere to hide. The river stretched along one side, mountains on the other. Approaching quickly in between were the soldiers - an elite U.S. Army unit known as Tiger Force. Though the farmers were not carrying weapons, it didn't matter: No one was safe when the special force arrived on July 28, 1967. With bullets flying, the farmers — slowed by the thick, green plants and muck — dropped one by one to the ground. Within minutes, it was over. Four were dead, others wounded. Some survived by lying motionless in the mud. [Source: Toledo Blade, October 19, 2003 ***]
"Four soldiers later recalled the assault. "We knew the farmers were not armed to begin with," one said, "but we shot them anyway." The unprovoked attack was one of many carried out by the decorated unit in the Vietnam War, an eight-month investigation by The Blade shows. The platoon - a small, highly trained unit of 45 paratroopers created to spy on enemy forces - violently lost control between May and November, 1967. For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians - in some cases torturing and mutilating them. They dropped grenades into underground bunkers where women and children were hiding - creating mass graves - and shot unarmed civilians, in some cases as they begged for their lives. They frequently tortured and shot prisoners, severing ears and scalps for souvenirs. ***
"Based on more than 100 interviews with The Blade of former Tiger Force soldiers and Vietnamese civilians, the platoon is estimated to have killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in those seven months. "We weren't keeping count," said former Pvt. Ken Kerney, a California firefighter. "I knew it was wrong, but it was an acceptable practice." "It was out of control," said Rion Causey, 55, a former platoon medic and now a nuclear engineer. "I still wonder how some people can sleep 30 years later." Among the newspaper's findings: 1) Commanders knew about the platoon's atrocities in 1967, and in some cases, encouraged the soldiers to continue the violence. 2) Two soldiers who tried to stop the atrocities were warned by their commanders to remain quiet before transferring to other units. 3) The Army investigated 30 war-crime allegations against Tiger Force between February, 1971, and June, 1975, finding a total of 18 soldiers committed crimes, including murder and assault. But no one was ever charged. ***
"William Doyle, a former Tiger Force sergeant now living in Missouri, said he killed so many civilians he lost count. "We were living day to day. We didn't expect to live. Nobody out there with any brains expected to live," he said in a recent interview. "So you did any goddamn thing you felt like doing - especially to stay alive. The way to live is to kill because you don't have to worry about anybody who's dead." ***
"The platoon had been patrolling the valley and set up camp in an abandoned village, where they began drinking beer delivered by helicopter. By dusk, several soldiers were drunk, reports state. At nightfall, the platoon received an unexpected order: Move across the river, and set up an ambush. What followed was a shooting that would be questioned by soldiers long after they left Vietnam. When Mr. Dao crossed the river, he ran into Sgt. Leo Heaney, who grabbed the elderly Vietnamese man with the gray beard. Immediately, the 68-year-old carpenter dropped his shoulder pole with baskets on each end filled with geese. "He was terrified and folded his hands and started what appeared to me as praying for mercy in a loud high-pitched tone," Mr. Heaney told Army investigators. He said he realized the man posed no threat. Sergeant Heaney said he escorted Mr. Dao to the platoon leaders, Lieutenant Hawkins and Sgt. Harold Trout. Trembling, the man continued to babble loudly, witnesses said. ***
"Immediately, Lieutenant Hawkins began shaking the old man and cursing at him, witnesses recalled. Without warning, Sergeant Trout clubbed Mr. Dao with the barrel of his M-16 rifle. He fell to the ground, covered with blood. In a sworn statement to investigators, Specialist Carpenter said he told Lieutenant Hawkins the man "was just a farmer, and was unarmed." But as medic Barry Bowman tried to treat the villager's head wound, Lieutenant Hawkins lifted the man up from where he was kneeling and shot him in the face with a Carbine-15 rifle. "The old man fell backwards on the ground, and Hawkins shot him again," Specialist Carpenter said in a sworn statement. "I just knew he was dead as half of his head was blown off." ***
"Lieutenant Hawkins denied the allegations in an interview with Army investigators on March 16, 1973. But in a recent interview with The Blade, he admitted killing the elderly man, claiming his voice was loud enough to draw enemy attention. "I eliminated that right there." But four soldiers told investigators there were other ways to silence him. In fact, the shots ultimately gave their position away, which led to a firefight. Said Mr. Bowman: "There was no justifiable reason that the old man had to be killed." ***
"Nearly four decades later, the villagers who found Mr. Dao's remains said they knew he was killed by U.S. soldiers. His niece, Tam Hau, now 70, was one of the first to see her uncle's body by the river the next day. She and another relative, Bui Quang Truong, dragged their uncle's remains to their village. "He was shot all over his body," she recalled. "It was very sad - sad for all of us." ***
Cutting Off Ears, Scalping and Kicking Out Teeth for Gold Fillings
The Toledo Blade reported: "It started with prisoners. During a morning patrol on May 8, the soldiers spotted two suspected Viet Cong - the local militia opposed to U.S. intervention - along the Song Tra Cau River. One jumped into the water and escaped through an underwater tunnel, but the other was captured. Taller and more muscular than most Vietnamese, the soldier was believed to be Chinese.Over the next two days, he was repeatedly beaten and tortured. At one point, his captors debated whether to blow him up with explosives, according to sworn witness statements. One former soldier, Spec. William Carpenter, told The Blade he tried to keep the prisoner alive, "but I knew his time was up."After he was ordered to run - and told he was free - he was shot by several unidentified soldiers. The platoon's treatment of the detainee - his beating and execution - became the unit's operating procedure in the ensuing months.[Source: Toledo Blade, October 19, 2003 ***]
"In June, Pvt. Sam Ybarra slit the throat of a prisoner with a hunting knife before scalping him - placing the scalp on the end of a rifle, soldiers said in sworn statements. Ybarra refused to talk to Army investigators about the case. Another prisoner was ordered to dig bunkers, then beaten with a shovel before he was shot to death, records state. The killing prompted a medic to talk to a chaplain. "It upset me so much to watch him die," Barry Bowman said in a recent interview. One Tiger Force soldier, Sgt. Forrest Miller, told investigators the killing of prisoners was "an unwritten law." ***
"But platoon members weren't just executing prisoners: They began to target unarmed civilians.In June, an elderly man in black robes and believed to be a Buddhist monk was shot to death after he complained to soldiers about the treatment of villagers. A grenade was placed on his body to disguise him as an enemy soldier, platoon members told investigators. That same month, Ybarra shot and killed a 15-year-old boy near the village of Duc Pho, reports state. He later told soldiers he shot the youth because he wanted the teenager's tennis shoes. ***
"The shoes didn't fit, but Ybarra ended up carrying out what became a ritual among platoon members: He cut off the teenager's ears and placed them in a ration bag, Specialist Carpenter told investigators. During the Army's investigation of Tiger Force, 27 soldiers said the severing of ears from dead Vietnamese became an accepted practice. One reason: to scare the Vietnamese. Platoon members strung the ears on shoe laces to wear around their necks, reports state. Former platoon medic Larry Cottingham told investigators: "There was a period when just about everyone had a necklace of ears." Records show soldiers began another gruesome practice: Kicking out the teeth of dead civilians for their gold fillings." ***
Pressures that Tiger Force was Under
The Toledo Blade reported: "The Quang Ngai province stretches eastward from the lush, green mountains to the sweeping white beaches of the South China Sea. To the North Vietnamese, it was a major supply line to guerrillas fighting to reunite the country. In a conflict marked by fierce guerrilla warfare, the task force needed a special unit to move quickly through the jungles, find the enemy, and set up ambushes. That role fell to Tiger Force. Considered an elite arm of the 101st Airborne Division, the platoon - formed in 1965 - often broke into small teams to scout the enemy, creeping into the jungle in tiger-striped fatigues, soft-brimmed hats, with rations to last 30 days. Not everyone could join the platoon: Soldiers had to volunteer, needed combat experience, and were subjected to a battery of questions - some about their willingness to kill. By the time Tiger Force arrived in the province on May 3, 1967, the unit already had fought in fierce battles farther south in My Cahn and Dak To. [Source: Toledo Blade, October 19, 2003 ***]
"For Tiger Force, the fighting was unpredictable in Quang Ngai. In the first three weeks of May, platoon soldiers were under frequent sniper fire as they walked unfamiliar trails. Booby traps covered the rolling hills and beaches. On May 15, the unit was ambushed by a North Vietnamese battalion in what became known as the Mother's Day Massacre. From 11 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., the out-manned platoon became trapped in a valley under intense fire. By the time it ended, two Tiger Force soldiers were killed and 25 wounded. Over the next few weeks, the platoon would change. A new field commander, Lt. James Hawkins, joined the unit, along with two dozen replacements. The newcomers arrived as the platoon was about to move into the Song Ve Valley. ***
"The Army's plan was to force the villagers to move to refugee centers to keep them from growing rice that could feed the enemy. But it wouldn't be an easy assignment. Many villagers refused to go to the centers, which the U.S. State Department criticized in 1967 for lacking food and shelter. Surrounded by concrete walls and barbed wire, the camps resembled prisons. Though the Army dropped leaflets from helicopters ordering the 5,000 inhabitants to the centers, many ignored the orders. "They wanted to stay on their land. They took no side in the war," Lu Thuan, 67, a farmer, recently recalled. Unlike most of the province, the valley - removed from the populated coast by narrow dirt roads - was not a center of rebellion, say villagers and historians. "We just wanted to be left alone," said Mr. Lu. But no one was left alone. ***
"The Song Ve Valley - four miles wide by six miles long - became the center of operations for Tiger Force over the next two months. In clearing the land, the soldiers began burning villages to force the people to leave. It didn't always go as planned. At times, villagers would simply flee to another hamlet. Other times, they would hide. For the soldiers, the valley became a frustrating place. During the day, they would round up people to send to relocation camps. At night, platoon members huddled in camps on the valley floor, dodging grenades hurled from enemy soldiers in the mountains. ***
"The lines between civilians refusing to leave and the enemy became increasingly blurred. One night, the platoon ran into an elderly carpenter who had just crossed the shallow Song Ve River. Dao Hue, as he was known, had lived in the valley his entire life. He was walking to his village along the banks of the river on a dirt trail he knew by heart. On this night, he wouldn't make it home. His shooting death on July 23 as he pleaded for his life would be remembered by five soldiers during the Army's investigation. It would also send a message to the people of the valley that no one was safe, leading hundreds to flee." ***
Tiger Force Snaps and Kills Elderly Civilians
The Toledo Blade reported: "Four days after the shooting of Dao Hue, four Tiger Force soldiers were wounded in guerrilla grenade attacks. The platoon struck back. Over the next 10 days, the soldiers led a rampage through the valley. The area was declared a free-fire zone - a special designation that meant troops didn't have to seek approval from commanders and South Vietnamese officials before attacking enemy soldiers. But Tiger Force soldiers took the words - free-fire zone - literally. They began to fire on men, women, and children, former platoon members said. [Source: Toledo Blade, October 19, 2003 ***]
"Two partially blind men found wandering in the valley were escorted to a bend in the Song Ve River and shot to death, records show. Two villagers, including a teenager, were executed because they were not in relocation camps. While approaching a rice paddy on July 28, platoon members opened fire on 10 elderly farmers. The image of the bodies scattered across the green expanse has long been remembered by Tiger Force soldiers and the people of Van Xuan village. By all accounts, the farmers thought they were safe. They were too old to serve in the military and not openly aligned with either side in the conflict, according to their relatives. In the end, four were killed and others wounded in what several soldiers told investigators was an unjustified attack. The order to shoot came from Lieutenant Hawkins, the officer leading the patrol, records state. One villager recently recalled the farmers were surprised when the soldiers began firing. Kieu Trac, now 72, said he watched helplessly as his father fell in the rice field with the others. ***
"He said he waited for hours before crawling into the field in the darkness to look for his father's body. He recalled turning over the corpses - one by one - until he found Kieu Cong, 60. The son and his wife, Mai Thi Tai, carried his remains back to the village for burial. The bodies of three others, Le Muc, Phung Giang, and an elderly female member of the Trang family, were later buried by relatives. "The farmers didn't do anything … we didn't hurt the soldiers. All they were doing was working in the fields," said Mr. Kieu, pointing to the spot where his father and the others were killed. "They thought the soldiers would leave them alone." ***
"Another villager, Lu Thuan, who watched the attack from a nearby mountain, said he doesn't remember how many were wounded. "Some were injured," said Mr. Lu, now 67. "They couldn't run fast enough. Others acted like they died."Mr. Carpenter, one of the soldiers in the patrol, insists he did not fire his weapon. "It was wrong," he said in a recent interview. "There was no way I was going to shoot. Those people weren't bothering anybody. He told Army investigators he was afraid to express his opinion. A culture had developed in the unit that promoted the shooting of civilians - with team leaders enforcing a code of silence. Four former soldiers told investigators they didn't report atrocities because they were warned to keep quiet by team leaders. Ken Kerney, the former private, recalled in a recent interview the briefing he received before joining Tiger Force. "The commanders told me that ‘What goes on here, stays here. You never tell anyone about what goes on here. If we find out you did, you won't like it.' They didn't tell me what they would do, but I knew. So you're afraid to say anything.'' ***
"Villagers recently interviewed said they dug dozens of mass graves after the soldiers moved through the valley. Nguyen Dam, 66, recalled the grim task of burying neighbors and friends whose bodies were left in the fields."We wouldn't even have meals because of the smell," the rice farmer said. "I couldn't breathe the air sometimes. There were so many villagers who died, we couldn't bury them one by one. We had to bury them all in one grave." Days after the attack on the farmers, U.S. planes flew over the valley, dumping thousands of gallons of defoliants to ensure no one would grow rice there during the war. ***
Tiger Force Gets a New Assignment: Killing Villagers in the Heart of Viet Cong Territory
The Toledo Blade reported: "For Tiger Force, the Song Ve campaign was over. They rode in a truck convoy into a new area 30 miles north, the Quang Nam province, the vast landscape was covered by triple-canopy jungles and intricate, enemy tunnels.The mission was to control the province, but not in the traditional way of winning territory. The platoon became dragged into a battle that became a mantra of the war: body count. The success of a battle would be measured by the number of people killed - not by whether a village was taken. , according to the sworn statements of 11 former officers. Under the command of Colonel Morse would go by the name "Ghost Rider," Tiger Force was encouraged to forcefully patrol the dozens of hamlets in the province. But the soldiers soon learned this was different from the Song Ve Valley. It was not only home to the Viet Cong, but a far more trained and disciplined adversary: the 2nd Division of the North Vietnamese Army. [Source: Toledo Blade, October 19, 2003 ***]
"By early September, the enemy soldiers were setting ambushes for troops, including Tiger Force. "We soon found ourselves face to face with the enemy," recalled William Carpenter, the former platoon specialist who now lives in eastern Ohio. "It seemed like every day we were getting hit." Within 18 days of arriving in the new operations area, five Tiger Force soldiers died and 12 were wounded in fighting that left the remaining platoon members bitter and angry. The platoon - broken into groups of four to six soldiers - began attacking villages with a vengeance, according to former soldiers. ***
"Everybody was blood thirsty at the time, saying ‘We're going to get them back. We're going to go back there. We're going to even the score,'" former medic Rion Causey said in a recent interview. He said he watched as soldiers took out their aggressions on unarmed civilians who refused to leave their homes. "I've never seen anything like it. We just came in and cleared out the civilian population," said Mr. Causey, 55, now a nuclear engineer in California. "It was a day by day by day thing." In some cases, the Army dropped leaflets into villages warning people to go to relocation centers. If the people didn't leave, "they would be killed," Mr. Causey said. To cover up the shootings, platoon leaders began counting dead civilians as enemy soldiers, five former soldiers told The Blade. For 10 days beginning Nov. 11, entries show that platoon members were claiming to be killing Viet Cong - a total of 49. But no weapons were found in 46 deaths, records show. ***
"Mr. Causey recalls a report to commanders. "We would call in on the radio - ‘seven VC running from hut. Shot and killed' - Hell, they weren't running. We didn't know if they were VC." Sgt. James Barnett told investigators he once raised concerns to Lieutenant Hawkins that Tiger Force soldiers were killing people who weren't carrying weapons. "Hawkins told me not to worry about it," he said. "We can always get the weapons later." During the rampage, the soldiers committed some of their most brutal atrocities, Army records show. ***
"A 13-year-old girl's throat was slashed after she was sexually assaulted, and a young mother was shot to death after soldiers torched her hut.An unarmed teenager was shot in the back after a platoon sergeant ordered the youth to leave a village, and a baby was decapitated so that a soldier could remove a necklace. During the Army's investigation, former Pvt. Joseph Evans - another Tiger Force soldier - refused to be interrogated. But in a recent interview, he said many people who were running from soldiers during that period were not a threat to troops. "They were just running because they were afraid. They were in fear. We killed a lot of people who shouldn't have been killed." ***
Tiger Force Given Orders to Step Up Their Killing
The Toledo Blade reported: "For villagers, it was a routine: Run to the underground bunkers for safety.In every hamlet, there were shelters, supported by bamboo and brick and covered by leaves and brush.To the civilians, it didn't matter whether the soldiers were American or North Vietnamese. They went to the bunkers when either approached.When Tiger Force appeared on a path leading to a village 20 miles west of Tam Ky, the people scurried for cover. Tiger Force soldiers told investigators they remembered seeing women and children crawl through the openings. [Source: Toledo Blade, October 19, 2003 ***]
"No one knows how many were inside, but it didn't matter. When the soldiers reached the bunker entrances, they "knew what to do," Pvt. Ken Kerney told investigators.Without trying to talk to the people below, the soldiers pulled the clips on their grenades, and dropped the explosives through the holes. Setting up camp nearby, soldiers heard human cries coming from the underground shelters throughout the night. ***
"But no one bothered to help. For platoon member Charles Fulton, the night dragged on. "We kept hearing human sounds which came from the direction of the bunkers,'' he told investigators. "They were the sounds of people that had been hurt and trying to get someone's attention to get help. Although faint, they were clear." The bodies eventually were removed by villagers, former soldiers told investigators. No weapons were found in the bunkers, nor was there any evidence the villagers were a threat to U.S. forces, according to witness statements. The next day, soldiers approaching the hamlet saw the bodies of women and children lining the roadway. ***
"Toward the end of Operation Wheeler, there was even greater motivation for killing. An order was given via radio one day that would be remembered by seven soldiers years later. A voice came over the airwaves with a goal for the battalion: We want a body count of 327. The number was significant because it was the same as the battalion's infantry designation: the 327th.Three former soldiers swore under oath the order came from a man who identified himself as "Ghost Rider" - the radio name used by Colonel Morse. Army radio logs show the goal was achieved: Tiger Force reported the 327th kill on Nov. 19. ***
"In a recent interview, Colonel Morse, who retired in 1979, denied giving such an order, saying it was "ridiculous ... I would never have done anything like that." During questioning by Army investigators, former Pvt. John Colligan said the order indeed was given. In fact, he said the soldier who reached that goal "was to receive some type of reward." Sergeant Barnett told investigators he heard the same order over the airwaves by someone who identified himself as Ghost Rider. ***
"Three former soldiers said in recent interviews the goal was achieved in part through the killing of villagers. Soldiers from the platoon killed 120 villagers in one month alone, former medic Rion Causey said in a recent interview. Former medic Harold Fischer recalled that most of the platoon were "shooting people left and right." "We would go into villages and just shoot everybody. We didn't need an excuse. If they were there, they were dead." ***
"The villagers were waving leaflets at the troops asking to be relocated, but when enemy forces fired on the soldiers from another direction, the troops opened fire on everyone in their sight, said the former medic. "We killed a bunch of them. I don't remember how many," he said. "But I remember when it was over, we just said the dead gooks were VC. But we knew they weren't all VC." And most soldiers just kept quiet, even if they didn't participate. "Remember, out in the jungle, there were no police officers. No judges. No law and order," Mr. Kerney said in a recent interview. "Whenever somebody felt like doing something, they did it. There was no one to stop them. "So we watched and didn't say anything. We turned the other way. Looking back, it's terrible. We should have said something. But at the time, everybody's mindset was, ‘It's OK.' But it wasn't OK. It's very sad." By the end of November, the long campaign was over. ***
"In a story in the Army newspaper Stars and Stripes, Tiger Force's Sam Ybarra was praised for the 1,000th kill of Operation Wheeler. At a ceremony at the Phan Rang base on Nov. 27, 1967, medals were pinned on the chests of Tiger Force soldiers, including Sergeant Doyle, who ordered the execution of a farmer during the operation. ***
Burning Huts a Common Tactic for American GIs
John Kifner wrote in the New York Times, "Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops. The tactics — particularly in "free-fire zones," where anyone was regarded as fair game — arose from the frustrating nature of the guerrilla war and, above all, from the military's reliance on the body count as a measure of success and a reason officers were promoted, according to many accounts. Nicholas Turse, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. [Source: John Kifner, The New York Times, December 28, 2003 *=*]
"I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported," Mr. Turse said by telephone. "I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds." Yet there were few prosecutions. Besides the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese civilians in 1968, only 36 cases involving possible war crimes from Vietnam went to Army court-martial proceedings, with 20 convictions, according to the Army judge advocate general's office. *=*
"Guenter Lewy, who cited the Army figures in his 1978 book, "America in Vietnam," wrote that if a soldier killed a civilian, the incident was unlikely to be reported as a war crime: "It was far more likely that the platoon leader, under pressure for body count and not anxious to demonstrate the absence of good fire discipline in his unit, would report the incident as `1 VC suspect shot while evading.' " Mr. Causey, now a nuclear engineer in California, said: "It wasn't like it was hidden. This was open and public behavior. A lot of guys in the 101st were cutting ears. It was a unique time period." Mr. Kerney, now a firefighter in California, agreed that the responsibility went higher. *=*
"I'm talking about the guys with the eagles," he said, referring to the rank insignia of a full colonel. "It was always about the body count. They were saying, `You guys have the green light to do what's right.' " While Mr. Causey and Mr. Kerney became deeply troubled after they returned from Vietnam, Mr. Doyle, a sergeant who was a section leader in the unit, seemed unrepentant in a long, profanity-laced telephone conversation. "I've seen atrocities in Vietnam that make Tiger Force look like Sunday school," said Mr. Doyle, who joined the Army at 17 when a judge gave him, a young street gang leader, a chance to escape punishment. "If you're walking down a jungle trail, those that hesitate die," said Mr. Doyle, who lives in Missouri. "Everybody I killed, I killed to survive. They make Tiger Force out to be an atrocity. Well, that's almost a compliment. Because nobody will understand the evil I've seen." *=*
My Lai Massacre
My Lai was a small village, known to the Vietnamese as Thuan Yen, about 85 miles south of Danang. It was part of a larger village called Son My in an area soldiers called "Pinkville," because it was depicted in that color on a map. Pink areas usually signified areas of intense Viet Cong guerilla infiltration.
At around 7:30 on the morning of March 16, 1968, a company of roughly 115 soldiers were brought in by helicopter just outside of My Lai. There were no enemy soldiers in sight. They met no resistance, or incoming fire. Even so, over the next four hours, they shot at anything that moved and killed chickens, dogs cattle and a lot of people. [Source: Tim O'Brien, New York Times magazine, October 2, 1994]
The soldiers were on a search and destroy mission. Many of them were under the command of First Lieut. William Calley Jr. The orders they had been given the night before were to kill the Viet Cong and destroy villages. They torched huts, but didn't stop there. They shot villagers at point bank range, directed them towards machine gun ambushes and herded them to a long ditch were they were systematically mowed down. One soldier later testified that he obeyed his orders. he was then asked "What were your orders?" he replied, "Kill anything that breathed." The estimates of the number of people killed range from 343 to 504.
My Lai massacre was exposed to a shocked American public by an article by journalist Seymour Hersh released by the little known Dispatch News Service in 1969. The story drew nationwide attention when the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Life magazine ran pictures taken by army photographer Ronald Haeberle. Hersh was alerted to the story by a phone tip that a court martial was going to take place soon for a person accused of mass murdering Vietnamese civilians. He eventually he tracked down Calley who told Hersh his story. In 1970, Hersh won the Pulitzer prize and became a celebrity investigative journalist. In 1998, Hersh revealed that 60 to 155 people were killed in a similar massacre carried out independent two miles away in the hamlet of My Khe 4 by the Bravo Company assigned to task Force Barker of the 11th Infantry Brigade.
Accounts of American Witnesses at My Lai
Sergeant Michael Bernhardt said, "The whole thing was so deliberate. It was point blank murder and I was standing there watching it." Another soldier said he came across a small boy who had been wounded in the arm. "The boy was clutching his wounded arm with his other hand, while blood trickled between his fingers. He was staring around himself in shock and disbelief at what he saw. He just stood there with big eyes staring around, like he didn't understand, like he didn't believe what was happening. Then the captain's radio operator put a burst of 16 [M16] fire into him." [Source: Seymour Hersh, Dispatch News Service, November 20, 1969]
Hugh Thompson, a warrant office arrived in My Lai by helicopter during the massacre. He later wrote in Newsweek, "There were bodies everywhere. There were infants and toddlers, women and very old men—but no young men. On one pass of the village, we saw a girl lying on her back in a rice field...A captain approached. He nudged her with his foot, then stood back, put his weapon on automatic and blew her away."
"We came across a ditch that had a large number of people in it who appeared to be injured," Thompson wrote in Newsweek. "We noticed babies, women and children and old men. I put down the helicopter, then went over to ask a sergeant to help them out. He said the only way to do that was to put them out of their misery. I thought he was joking. We took off and heard shots right away. My crew chief...yelled, 'My God, they are firing into that ditch."
Accounts of the Killers at My Lai
One soldier told Time, "Some of the huts were torched. Some of the yanigans [young soldiers] were shooting kids.' He said they had difficulty telling the men and women apart because they both wore black pajamas and rubber sandals. The Viet Cong wore pith helmets. Another soldier, told Time, "Everyone who went to the village had in mind to kill. We had lost a lot of buddies and it was a VC stronghold. We considered them either VC or helping the VC...As I came upon a village, there was a woman, a man and a child running away towards some huts. So I told them in their language to stop, and they didn't, and I had orders to shoot them down and I did this. This is what I did. I shot the lady and the little boy. He was about two years old."
Paul Meadlo, a soldier in Lt. Calley's platoon, was blamed for many deaths. After he rounded up some villagers, he told Time, "Lieutenant Calley came over and said, 'You know what to do with them, don't you?' And I said, 'Yes.' And he left and came back about ten minutes later, and said, 'How come you ain't killed them yet?' And I told him that I didn't think he wanted us to kill them. He said, 'No I want them dead.' So he started shooting them. And he told me to start shooting. I poured about four clips [68 shots] into them. I might have killed ten to fifteen of them...We started to gather up more people, and we had about seven or eight, and we put them in a the hootch [hut] and then we dropped a hand grenade in there with them.
During the court martial trial Meadlo gave the following testimony: Q: What did you do? A: I held my M-16 on them. Q: Why? A: because they might attack. Q: They were children and babies? A: Yes. Q: And they might attack? Children and babies? A: They might've had a fully loaded grenade on them. The mothers might have throwed them at us. Q: Babies? A: Yes... Q: Were the babies in their mother's arms? A: I guess so. Q: And the babies moved to attack? A: I expected at any moment they were about to make a counterbalance.
Survivors at My Lai
Simon Speakman Cordall wrote in the Washington Post, "Nguyen Hong Tuu was 12 and was helping gather food for breakfast with his family when the artillery barrage started. Pham Thi Thuan, then 30, was feeding her cows when the familiar sound heralded the soldiers’ arrival. Even now, a shade falls across her face as she describes how this same artillery had killed her husband two years earlier, leaving Thuan to care for their paddy and two girls, then ages 3 and 1. Cong remembers how, at age 11, he was helping his mother prepare food as his father worked the field, gathering their harvest. [Source: Simon Speakman Cordall, Washington Post, March 15, 2013 ==]
"There was no panic. South Vietnamese and American troops had been to the hamlet before. Still, Tuu remembers his father growing concerned. He was sure that South Vietnamese troops were coming and that they would kill the family’s livestock and conscript him into the army. Together, Tuu and his father gathered what animals they could and herded them to the shelter of a neighboring village. As they made their way back to the hamlet, Tuu could see the first of the American helicopters land. His father had to explain what it was. Tuu would never see his family together again. ==
"Eleven-year-old Pham Thanh Cong resented the smiling soldiers who followed in the artillery’s wake. He couldn’t understand how he was supposed to greet the people who shelled him and his family. When the artillery started, his parents gathered up Cong, his two sisters, ages 8 and 2, and his 5-year-old brother and took refuge in the half-light of the crude timber-and-clay bunker his father had built. Cong’s family would die in there. Cong heard the shooting before he saw the soldiers. There were three, he said, two white and one black. "A soldier called us out, and we stood there not knowing what was happening. The white soldiers guarded us while the black soldier shot our cows, then set fire to our barn. . . . The soldiers stepped away, discussing what they were going to do next. As they were talking, my mother guessed what was happening and told us. We started to cry. Then the soldiers forced us back into the bunker. My mother got in last. I think she was trying to protect us. Then they threw the grenade in." ==
"The soldiers came for Thuan and her girls, too. "They took us from our bunker and made us walk to the irrigation ditch. All my friends and neighbors were there. I could see my father [age 80]. The soldiers were shouting. . . . I didn’t look at them; I was too scared. They pushed us into the ditch, all of us. They used their rifle butts. After that, they started shooting. I saw them shoot my father. I still see it. The back of his head exploded. I couldn’t believe it — his brains were completely white. Everything else was red." ==
"One hundred seventy unarmed men, women and children were killed at the ditch. By the time the soldiers left, four hours later, as many as 500villagers would be dead. The majority would be women and children and the old. Many had been raped, and some mutilated. The American Division’s Charlie Company had come to My Lai for a fight. They’d been told that the 48th Battalion of the National Liberation Front, or Viet Cong, would be there. They’d been told that they’d be able to get even for the mines and booby traps that had sapped their morale and numbers in the four months they’d been in Vietnam. All they found was an empty village, an unresisting outlet for their rage and frustration. ==
"In the ditch, Thuan didn’t move. Pressed under the bodies of her friends and neighbors, she waited. "I pushed my daughters below me and held my hand over the mouth of the youngest. If anyone in the ditch moved, they shot them. We waited. I was so scared. It was a hot day, but still we didn’t move. When we were sure the Americans had gone, we climbed out. We were covered in the blood and flesh of the others. Our hair was thick with it. I took my daughters and ran." Cong regained consciousness at around 4 p.m. Men from a nearby village had pulled him and the bodies of his family from the bunker and, assuming them all dead, had gathered them together. Cong came around to find himself, severely injured, lying amid the charred and dismembered remains of his parents, brother and sisters. ==
"Tuu returned to the village later that night. Of his family, only two others (his father and one brother) had survived the day. The rest — his grandmother, mother, brothers and sisters — had been killed at the irrigation ditch. Though Thuan and her daughters survived, six other members of her family did not. Nobody was left to help her. She worked for days, cutting wood and bamboo leaves to rebuild the house the Americans had burned. Now 75, she and her daughter still farm the same paddy. The only member of his family to live through that morning, Cong needed years to come to terms with what the Americans left behind. He worked as an itinerant laborer, drifting from farm to farm, unable to settle down or form any kind of relationship. It was only later, much later, that he returned to Son My village. ==
Accounts of the Survivors at My Lai
A My Lai survivor told O'Brien, "Americans came here twice before. Nothing happened, they were friendly to us. But on that day the soldiers jumped out of their helicopters and began to shoot. I prayed. I pleaded...The Americans took us to a ditch. I saw two soldiers with red faces—sunburned—and they pushed a lot of people into the ditch. I was in the ditch. I fell down and many fell on top of me. Soldiers were shooting. I was shot in the hip. The firing went on and on. It would stop and then start up again." [Source: Tim O'Brien, New York Times magazine, October 2, 1994 \^/]
"I lay under the dead in the ditch," she went on. "Around noon, when I heard no more gunfire, I came out of the ditch and saw many more. Brains, pieces of body. My house was burned. Cattle were shot. I went back to the ditch. Three of my four children were killed." Another woman, who was the only survivor of a family of 10, told O'Brien: "I fell down. But I was not shot. Did not move at all. Pretended dead. Saw newborn baby near a woman. Woman died. Infant still alive. Soldiers came up. Shot baby." \^/
Do Thi Tuyet told Associated Press: "Everyone in my family was killed in the My Lai massacre -- my mother, my father, my brother and three sisters," said Tuyet, who was 8 years old at the time. "They threw me into a ditch full of dead bodies. I was covered with blood and brains." On the morning of the massacre, Tuyet and her family were getting ready to go to work in the fields when members of Charlie Company burst into their house and herded them outside at gunpoint. They were pushed into a ditch where more than 100 people were sprayed with bullets, one of which hit Tuyet in the back, paralyzing the right side of her body. Her parents, three sisters and a brother were slaughtered. The oldest child was 10, the youngest just 4. "I was here when the shooting started," Tuyet said, sitting by a family altar in the replica of her simple two-room home. "The troops rounded us up and took us to the ditch." Her 4-year-old brother, who was eating breakfast when the troops came, died with his mouth full of rice, Tuyet said. [Source: Ben Stocking, Associated Press, March 16, 2008]
Saving Civilians at My Lai
Rebecca Leung of CBS News reported: "Hugh Thompson was a helicopter pilot in 1968, on a day American soldiers gunned down more than 500 unarmed civilians in a village called My Lai. And even more of them would have died if Thompson had not confronted his fellow soldiers, stopped their murderous rampage and airlifted a number of civilians to safety. Thompson, believing at first it was a legitimate combat operation, was flying his small chopper over My Lai that day, trying to draw enemy fire away from the American GIs on the ground. But there was no enemy fire. When he saw the piles of bodies, he felt sick and ashamed. [Source: Rebecca Leung, CBS News, December 5, 2007 ><]
"Thompson told 60 Minutes he landed his chopper near a rice paddy, and while his crew covered him with M-60 machine guns, he managed to save some civilians from being murdered. But he says he could not stop others from being gunned down even after they had been marched into a ditch. Approximately 170 people were marched down in there, including women, old men, babies. And GIs stood up on the side with their weapons on full automatic and machine gun fire. ><
"There were no weapons captured. There were no draft-age males killed. They were civilians," says Colburn, referring to the ditch filled with bodies. "It was full … some of the people were still, they were dying, they weren't all dead." He said he received death threats and had dead animals thrown on his porch after he returned home to the U.S. "This was because the truth, I don't think, was out there. This was, I was somebody that was crying and whining about a few people getting accidentally killed," says Thompson. "There was no accidental killing that day. It was murder." ><
Trial of the My Lai Massacre and Calley Finally Apologizes After 40 Years
Thirty men were convicted of war crimes for the activities at My Lai, but only one, Calley, the platoon leader, did any prison time. According to an army investigator, "The crimes visited on the inhabitants of Son My village included individual and group acts of murder, rape, sodomy, maiming, assault on noncombatants and the mistreatment and killing of detainee." The trail was marked by conflicting testimony and assertion by soldiers that were only following orders. Among those acquitted was the commander of Charlie Company, Capt. Ernest Medina.
Calley was found guilty of premeditated murder of "not less that" 22 civilians. He had been accused of systematically slaying 109 Vietnamese civilians. He was sentenced to life at hard labor but after appeals he served only a 4½ months in prison and then served 3½ years of house arrest and was a free man in 1975. At his court-martial in the My Lai massacre. Lt. William L. Calley Jr., the only person convicted in the case, said: "I felt then — and I still do — that I acted as directed, I carried out my orders, and I did not feel wrong in doing so."
In August 2009, William L. Calley told members of a local Kiwanis Club, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported Friday."There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai...I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry." After his release, Calley stayed in Columbus and settled into a job at a jewelry store owned by his father-in-law before he moved to Atlanta in the mid 2000s. [Source: New York Times, Associated Press, August 22, 2009 ////]
"William George Eckhardt, chief prosecutor in the My Lai cases, said that he was unaware of Calley ever apologizing before. Eckhardt said that when he first heard the news, he "just sort of cringed." "It's hard to apologize for murdering so many people," said Eckhardt, now a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "But at least there's an acknowledgment of responsibility." ////
"Calley didn't deny taking part in the slayings on March 16, 1968, but said that he was following orders from his superior, Capt. Ernest Medina -- a notion Eckhardt rejected. Medina was also tried by a court-martial in 1971, and was acquitted of all charges. When Calley was asked whether he had broken the law by obeying an unlawful order, the newspaper reported that he replied: "I believe that is true." "If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a second lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them -- foolishly, I guess," Calley said. ////
How the Horrors of May Lai Could be Committed
After the My Lai massacre journalist Jonathan Schell wrote: "There can be doubt that such an atrocity was possible only because a number of other methods of killing civilians and destroying their villages had come to be the rule, and not the exception, in our conduct of war." "My Lai was a shock to everyone except people in Vietnam," recalled Kevin Buckley, who covered the war for Newsweek from 1968 to 1972 and reported on an operation called Speedy Express, in which nearly 11,000 were killed but only 748 weapons were recovered.
O'Brien wrote: "I despised everything—the soil, the tunnels, the paddies, the poverty and myself...my sympathies were rarely with the Vietnamese. I was mostly terrified. I was lamenting in advance of my own pitiful demise. After fire fights, after fiends died, there was also a great deal of anger—black, fierce, hurting anger—the kind you want to take out on whatever presents itself...I more or less understood what happened [at My Lai], how it happened, the wickedness that soaks into your blood and heats up and starts to sizzle. I know the boil that precedes murder... however...[we] did not turn our machine guns on civilians; we did not cross that conspicuous line between rage and homicide."
"With so few military targets," O'Brien wrote, "with an enemy that was both of and among the population, [my company] began to regard Quang Ngai itself as the true enemy—the physical place, the soil and paddies. What had started out for us a weird, vicious little war soon evolved into something far beyond vicious, a hopped-up killer strain of nihilism, waste without want, aimlessness of deed mixed with aimlessness of spirit...I watched napalm turn villages into oven. I watched burials by bulldozer. I watched [Vietnamese] bodies being flung into trucks, dumped into wells, used for target practice, stacked up and burned like cordwood."
Vietnam restoring massacre site to draw tourists
My Lai is now a theme park. In 2003, AFP reported: "Facilities at the site of the 1968 My Lai massacre are to be renovated to attract more tourists to the area, the authorities in Vietnam's Quang Ngai province said. Mr Le Van Doi, a spokesman for the government of the central coastal province, said about US$760,000 (S$1.3 million) would be spent on the project. [Source: Agence France Presse, February 28, 2003 :::]
"It would include the construction of a two-storey museum documenting the atrocities committed by American troops and repairs to a monument to the victims, he said. 'This historical site has been damaged by natural calamities such as typhoons, so we need to restore the area. 'I hope that after the restoration, more Vietnamese and foreign tourists will come to visit,' he said. :::
"More than 3,000 Vietnamese and international tourists have visited the area so far this year, according to the local tourism authorities. US troops butchered 504 civilians, most of them women, children and the elderly, on March 16, 1968 in My Lai village and its surrounds in the Son My commune, now known as Tinh Khe. They covered up the massacre, the darkest chapter of their involvement in Vietnam. Its eventual exposure helped turn the tide in favor of the anti-war effort in the US. Construction on the museum in My Lai, which will replace the existing documentary center that opened in 1992, will get under way on March 6, as will work on the monument, Mr Doi said. The project is being funded by the central government." ::::
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014