From: Smiling Through the Apocalypse. Esquires History of the Sixties.
An American Atrocity
First Squad drew the night's ambush, While Second and Third Squads at
Second Platoon had slogged all day over wooded hills and barren dunes. First
Squad had stood security back at Platoon C.P. So First Squad drew the night's
ambush and at dusk, as Second and Third Squads flied into the C.P.
perimeter-grousing ill still another day of no contact with Vietcong-the nine
men of First Squad set out in a light wind-whipped rain for their ambush site.
Their orders: proceed three hundred yards to the junction of a certain stream
and forest trail, deploy in ambush, remain in ambush until 11 p.m., abandon the
ambush and check several huts for V.C. suspects and weapons, return to the C.P.
by 12:30 a.m. For the Marines in Second Platoon, a routine patrol. Soldiering in
their sector for Trà Bông Township had tamed off sharply since the arrival of
the Marines in battalion strength four months earlier. The Vietcong had pulled
out to mountains in the west and overt enemy activity had dwindled to stray
of sniper fire. Second Platoon hall neither taken nor inflicted a casual _____
weeks. Battalion officially considered the sector pacified. By all odds ______
Squad’s night ambush should have been uneventful.
But something unusual occurred. After crossing three
hundred yards of alternately swampy and sandy terrain, the men of First Squad--a
sergeant, a lance corporal, six privates first class and a hospitalman-reached
the junction of stream and trail. Three men checked security around the site,
standard perational procedure, and
then the squad gathered together in a tight huddle of hushed talk deliberately
inaudible above the babbling of the nearby stream.
At this point, standard operational procedure called for the sergeant to
assign ambush positions. The parley that took place did not follow S.O.P.: the
sergeant did none of the talking; the talk lasted too long to be concerned only
with a routine ambush. five minutes. Ten
minutes. Fifteen minutes. Dusk
turned to dark around them. The rain stopped. After twenty minutes, the men stood up. They removed from their collars the small metal insignia
denoting grade. They rolled sleeves
down to cover wristwatches and I.D. bracelets.
They removed rings from their fingers.
The sergeant radioed back to the C.P. that the squad had been positioned
off and that the ambush was set. Then
the men set out in single file on
the trail they were supposed to have ambushed toward the hamlet of Xuan Ngoe a
half-mile away. As they walked, the
clouds parted and the moon broke through. It
would be a clear night.
were no lights in the hut as the men of First Squad observed it in silence from
thirty yards away. At a signal from one, the last three men in the column moved
stealthily toward it. They were numbers seven, eight and nine. No names would be
used in this operation as a precaution against later identification. Each man
had a number. Numbers seven, eight and nine were rear security. At the
signal, they fanned out around the house, one to the rear and two to the
one, two and three would break in through the front door. Four and five would
stand security out front.
Nguyen Luu had lived in the little hamlet of Xuan Ngloe
all of his sixly-one years. He was a rice farmer and a carpenter and had helped
build many of the two-dozen thatched-roof bamboo huts that housed his relatives
and neighbors in the hamlet. He spent his days in the rice paddies or in his hut
making benches and tables or repairing other farmers’ wooden plows. Marine
patrols passed by his paddies and his hut every few days, stopping now and then
to check his I.D. cards and ask about V.C., but for the most part Nguyen Luu was
left alone with his wife, who was almost seventy, his two younger sisters and
two nieces, not yet in their teens, who lived in the hut with him. He knew of
six men from the
who were Vietcong. He had once seen them with weapons. But everyone in the
hamlet knew them and the hamlet chief had long since given their names to the
U.S. troops and they had either been arrested or had fled into the mountains.
And Nguyen Luu was satisfy _____. Since the Marines arrived the V .C. had stayed
away and a measure of peace had settled over Xuan Ngoe.
So Nguyen Luu, asleep in his one-room hut with his wife,
two sisters and two nieces, bolted upright in terror when the front door crashed
open and dark figures swarmed in, shouting and knocking over furniture and
filling the room with screams from the women and children. A light flashed in
his face and a hand grabbed his hair and jerked his head back and an angry voice
yelled. "Veecce! Veecce! Veecce!" He tried to shake his head no, but
the hand that gripped his hair dragged him out of his bunk face down onto the
floor and a heavy boot kicked him in the ribs. 'No Veecce! Vietnamese!" he
cried out and looked up to see his old wife’s toothless face in the spot of
light and a hand holding her back by the hair. Her eyes were white with panic
and her mouth moved soundlessly. The hand shoved her back on the bunk and Luu
felt the boot again in his back. He was lifted to his feet and pushed through
the front door to the
where the men stood with rifles. One of them punched him in the stomach and the
other knocked him down with a blow' to the face. He started to say that he was
not a V.C., but he was kicked in the stomach and he could not catch his breath.
He felt a gun barrel jab into his neck and he was terrified that he would be
shot before he could get his breath back to explain that he held an I.D. card.
Again he was raised to his feet and while four Marines shouted at him and
threatened him with their rifles, he saw his wife and two sisters and the two
children being lead away from the hut by two other Marines. He saw one Marine
kick his sister Tran Thi Dat when she held out her I.D. card. The women and
children were crying. Luu pleaded no one knew about V.C. but the Marines
understood only his headshaking and one of them punched him in the face and
another slashed his face with the barrel of his rifle. Luu fell down again. Two
Marines went into the hut and ripped it apart, smashing furniture, tearing
shelves from walls, slashing the matting of the walls. Luu rose to his knees,
and held out his I.D, card. A Marine grabbed it, looked at it, and tore it up.
Luu could hear the women and children crying from the paddy next to the hut and
he begged the Marines not to shoot them, realizing as he did that they did not
understand him. Th1e two Marines stomped out of the house angrily and kicked him
again. Then they led him off to the paddy and made him squat with the women and
children. For ten minutes the Marines terrorized the family, shouting about V.C.
aiming at them with their rifles as though they would shoot them, kicking them,
menacing them with bayonets. And then, with a final kick into Luu's back, the
Marines filed off into the darkness in the direction of the hut of Nguyen True.
Nguyen True, a thirty-eight-year-old rice farmer was
asleep with his wife. Their five children, ranging in age from ___ to nine, were
sleeping on a second bunk in the hut’s one room. The front door burst open
with a loud crack and a beam of light searched the room.
The mother bounded out of bed toward her children but a Marine caught her by the arm and swung her to
the door, where another Marine grabbed her. True jumped toward her but he was
rammed back against the wall and held there by two men who flashed the light in
his face. “You Veecce! You Veecce!” the men screamed at him and he shouted
back that he was not. But they began punching him around the room. He was
knocked sprawling against furniture, against the walls, once into his children,
who were crying and screaming on their bunk. He heard his wife screaming outside
and fought ferociously to reach the front door, but the Marines beat him until
he was too week the stand. They
dragged him to the patio, where there were more Marines, and there two men
grabbed him by the legs and held him upside-down—his head off the ground--and
a third delivered a kick to the face that knocked him out. He came to with the sound of his wife’s hysterical sobbing
in his ears and he saw that Marines were carrying pieces of firewood into the
house and he asked his wife where the children
were and she screamed that they inside and the troops were going to burn
them. True went berserk and
strained to his feet, screaming that they could not killhis children, blood
streaming from the gash on his forehead. He was punched to the ground. The
Marinees surrounded him and his wife and shouted about the V.C. and the couple
wailed that they knew nothing and begged for their children.
They were grabbed by the arms and led inside their house
and were shown by flashlight their five children on the bunk covered by pieces
of firewood. The couple screamed and sobbed and struggled to get their children
and the Marines barked at them furiously about V.C. Then the Marines shoved them
across the room to their children and left.
Nguyen Thi Mai was not in her hut when the Marines broke
into it. She was in a low-ceilinged dirt-walled bunker made of bamboo and sand
at the rear of the hut. The bunker had been constructed by a neighbor for
protection against mortar shellings. Nguyen Thi Mai had not used it for months
because the shelling had stopped with the arrival of U.S. troops. But this night
she and her mother and her mother’s sister had heard screams carried on the
night breeze from the direction of Nguyen True’s house, and screams in the
night were not a good omen. So, as they had done during the period of the mortar
shellings, Nguyen Thi Mai and the two older women packed their
valuables-clothing and dishes-into an old suitcase and went to the bunker for
the night. They were talking softly by the light of an oil lamp when they heard
the racket and the sound of men’s voices at the house. It sounded as though
the men were tearing the house apart. The three women sat frozen in fear, Nguyen
Thi Mai in a unique fear because she new she was pretty, well-formed and only
sixteen years old. None of the three thought to extinguish the lamp.
Nguyen Thi Mai stared at the narrow waist-high door to the bunker. A face
appeared. A black man’s face. The man stared at the women, called out to the
other men, then waved the women out. The two older women went out nut Nguyen Thi
Mai couldn’t move. She chringed on the bunk. The man reached in and pulled her
out by the leg. Outside, her mother and aunt chattered nervously that they had
their I.D. cards and that the troops should be careful of the suitcase because
it contained their most precious items and that Nguyen Thi Mai didn’t need an
I.D. card because she was not yet eighteen. But the Marines merely shouted at
the two women and tore up their I.D. cards and stuffed them back into the bunker
and placed a board over the low doorway to block their view. Then one trooper
grabbed Nguyen Thi Mai around the neck and slapped a hand on her mouth. Two
others grabbed her legs and she was thrown to the ground on her back. A hand
felt for the top of her pajama pants and ripped it off. She tried to scream, but
the sounds died in her throat. She tried to kick and twist her body, but hands
like vises gripped both her arms and both her legs, and she couldn’t move. The
men talked excitedly and laughed and then her legs were forced open. She wanted
to scream for her mother but the rough hand
over her mouth and nose killed off all sound but the futile grunt in her
throat. She could hear her mother wailing inside the bunker: God save my baby!
God save my baby! She saw one of the troopers kneel between her legs with a
flashlight and she cried at the shame of it. She knew they were going to do to
her what no man had done to her and she cried for her mother. Then the vises on
her arms and legs let go and the hand that had covered her mouth slapped her
hard across the face and she was free. She screamed and ran I horror to the
cover of the woods behind the bunker to hide her nakedness. She stayed there a
long time after the Marines had left and then she crept back to the bunker and
asked her mother to hand out a pajama pants from the suitcase. She put it on and
went inside and joined her mother and aunt on the bunk, but no one spoke of what
had happened because they were all too ashamed.
The men of the First Squad raided six more huts. They ransacked but found
neither weapons nor contraband; they bead and terrorized the villagers but
elicited no information about Vietcong. When they reached the tenth hut—the
home of Bui Thi Huong—they were frustrated and enraged. Bui Thi Huong was
eighteen and the mother of a three-year-old boy, Dao Thien. Her husband, Dao
Quang Thinh, was twenty, a farmer too ill with a chronic skin disease to be in
the army. They lived in the hut with his mother, Nguyen Thi Lanh, fifty, his
sister, Phanm Thi Tan, twenty-nine, and his sister’s daughter, Dao This Tao,
aged five. They were sleeping when the men of First Squad battered their way
into the hut. They yanked Thinh out of his bunk and accused him of being a V.C.
He shook his head that he wasn’t and repeated over and over, “No Veecee!”
but they punched him in the head and stomach. Other Marines were dragging the
three screaming women from the hut to the open concrete patio in front of the
hut. Thinh managed to break free and dashed through the door to the patio but
two Marines tackled him and began pounding him with fists and boots. One Marine
came out of the hut holding a hand grenade and as he shouted to the other
troopers formed a ring around him and punched him until he was nearly
unconscious. They propped him up against the front of the hut and ordered his
sister and mother and two young children to sit beside him. While two Marines
stood guard over them. Five of the men assembled at the side of the house where
Thinh’s young wife had been dragged. She had heard her husband’s protests of
innocence and his cries as he was beaten and the cries of her mother-in-law and
sister-in-law and the wailing of the children. But she could not even cry out
because a man had a hand over her mouth and two others held her arms and legs
and they had her on her back on the ground. When there were five men around her
they forced open her legs and ripped her pajama pants away and tore open the top
of her pajamas. She felt rough hands on her breasts and strained to break free
but the grips on her arms and legs were like steel clamps. The hand on her face
squeezed until she thought her nose would break. She felt the point of a knife
jab into her forehead. A man knelt between her legs with a light and the others
talked and when the hand flew back and forth and she felt blood trickle down her
chin. Then the hand came down on her face again, this time holding a cloth cap,
and she could neither scream nor see. She felt the first man go inside her and
she prayed for her husband and baby. Then a second man raped her.
She could hear her mother-in-law and sister-in-law wailing on the patio.
They didn’t understand, they were saying. They were not V.C. and the Americans
just that day had checked their I.D. cards. O God, what were they doing to Bui
Thi Huong, little mother. God save our little mother. God save our little
father. Our little father was not V.C. Why did they beat our little father? Bui
Thi Huong prayed while the second man raped her and she became so exhausted and
pined that she fell off into unconsciousness. She felt water splashing on her
face and she came to to see a man standing over her pouring water from a
canteen. Another man was tapped her cheeks and she was relieved that no one was
on her and inside her. The canteen was handed to two men standing beside her and
they washed their genitals. All the men were talking and laughing and then a
third man raped her. Tears streamed from her eyes but her sobs caught in her
throat because of the hand over her mouth. She was so tired that she wished for
unconsciousness again, but it did not come. She heard her husband’s voice
again, but she could tell from it that he was in great pain. He was asking what
they had done with his wife. After the third man was finished, a fourth man
raped her. And then a fifth man. Her husband’s voice was loud now. He was
screaming for his wife, hysterically, and the screams would carry all over the
hamlet. The Marines shouted at him back on the patio but he kept screaming. The
men around her raised their voice in anger and yelled back at the men on the
patio but her husband yelled still louder. The man who was raping her finished
and the troopers walked off to the patio. She heard them shout at her husband
and she heard him scream as they hit him. He was hysterical with hatred because
he said, he knew what they had done to her. He knew. He knew! They could not
understand him and they shouted things that she could not understand. But then
she heard the first burst of gunfire. An angry, deafening blast of gunfire. And
then she didn’t hear her husband’s voice any more. Only the wailing of her
mother-in-law and sister-in-law and the crying of the children. Then she heard
another burst of gunfire. And her mother-in-law’s voice was gone. And then
another burst, two or three bursts together, and there were no voices. My baby,
she thought. My baby! She got to her knees and heard bamboo snap and saw a
blinding flash of light and left a searing pain in her right arm and breast and
felt herself lifted and spun around and plopped down on the ground. She knew she
was dead. Then the ground beneath her shook from a violent explosion and she
felt a rain of debris and dirt pet down on her. She lost consciousness.
First Squad reported by radio to the lieutenant at Platoon C.P. that he
ambush had sprung and that three V.C had been killed—two women and a man. The
two women had been dreagged off by the V.C., the lieutenant was told. Theis
radio message was heard also by the captain of “B” Company, the
lietuenant’s commanding officer, at his C.P. He raidoed the leitentant fro an
immediate report on details fo the skirmish. The lietutanatn orededd his squad
to return to the Platoon C.P. There the men of Fist Squad told the lieutenant
that the shootings had not taken place at the assigned ambush site. They had
taken place a mile away. The men had panicked while checking out hooches and had
accidentally killed civilians.
The lietentnat hiked back to the scene with his men. He froze when he saw
on the pation the bodies of a man, a woman and two young children. The body of
the older woman, the grandmother, had been blasted back inside the hut. Bui Thi
Huong’s body was around to the side of the hut.
“My God! What have you done!” the lieutenant said.
cry came from one of the two blood-splattered children.
The lieutenant spun around and all ten men stared, without moving, at the
bodies. The lieutenant spoke
quietly to two men ten ordered the dead man’s body to be carried back to the
original ambush site. At the site, he detailed live men to remain there with the
body and track up the area to simulate an abmush action. The lieutenant then radioed to the captain that the ambush
had triggered contact, that his squad had taken eight rounds and returned forty,
that two females and one male V.C. had been killed, that the two females had
been dragged away by V.C., and that pursuit had been broken off.
The lieutenant then led the remaining four members of the back to Platoon
The five men he left behind proceeded to doctor up the ambush site.
They dragged the man’s body in the sand to make the trails for the two
vanished female V.C. They removed
their shoes and left the footprints of the ambushed V.C.
They scattered empty cartridge shells.
Bet then, instead of returning to the C.P., they went back to the hut.
They set about policing the area. They
lifted they body of the grandmother onto one bunk.
They carried the body of the younger woman to the second bunk and placed
the body of the little boy next to her. When
they started to lift the body of the five-year-old girl, the child cried out. So they left her on the patio.
They spread hay over the pools of blood on the patio and then gathered
around the child. They looked down
at the naked, blood-streaked form and debated.
Four of them walked off a few yards but the fifth man stood over the
child and with his M14 rifle bashed its brains in. They body was thrown into the hut, the splintered door was
shut, and the five men headed back to Platoon C.P. First Squad’s patrol was
The lieutenant warned the men of First Squad that they
had better get together on one version of what had happened because he was going
to report that version to his company commander in the morning. The men huddled for an hour, then reported this story to the
lieutenant: they were set in at the ambush site; they saw several figures
running through the woods; they followed the figures to a group of hooches;
somebody panicked and opened fire and they all opened up.
The civilians were accidentally killed.
Bui Thi Huong didn’t move when she came to.
She listened for sounds from the hut but she heard only the wind through
the banana trees. Her stomach ached
and her right arm and chest throbbed and burned and her body was slick with
blood. She didn’t know how long
she’d been unconscious and she didn’t know whether the soldiers had left.
It was still night. The moon
was bright. When she did look up
she could __ in the moonlight that her little house had nearly caved in from the
explosion. The back wall and part
of one side wall had been blown out. She
was afraid her whole family was dead. My
baby! My husband!
She crawled, using her good arm, to the patio and through the sticky
blood on the patio into the hut. In
the gloom, she made out the bodies on the bunks.
She crawled to the nearest bunk where her sister-in-law was sprawled and
she held her hand to her sister-in-law’s nostrils to feels if she was
breathing. She felt nothing.
“O my sweet sister!” she whispered and began to weep.
She crawled to the other bunk and held her hand to mother-in-law’s
nostrils and knew that she was dead.
“O my sweet mother!” she said.
And then she saw her own baby and picked him up with her good arm and
knew immediately that he was not alive. She
held him against her and rocked him and then she lay on the floor with him.
She know her husband was outside, dead, but she was too weak to look for
him. She remained awake with her
baby on the floor until dawn.
Then she was suddenly aware that it was light out and
that someone was staring at her. At the front door she saw her neighbor, Mrs.
Tho, peering in at her.
“Everybody is dead,” Bui Thi Huong said, “American
Mrs. Tho entered the hut.
She observed the bodies and saw that Bui Thi Huong was without pajama
pants. She went back to her own hut
and returned with a pair. She
helped the young woman into them and told her that they would have to go to a
Vietnamese medic in the marketplace for her wounds.
Bui Thi Huong nodded in agreement. She
kissed her baby and placed him on the bunk next to her mother-in-law and,
leaning on Mrs. Tho, started off for the marketplace at Ky Chanh village.
Neither woman talked during the long walk and though they passed a score
of curious villagers—her pajama was bloodied and her face and hair were caked
with dirt—they were spoken to by no one.
At the marketplace, the Vietnamese, who had had some medical training,
cleaned and bandaged her wounds. He
put her on a military van that served the area as a bus and told the driver to
let her off at the Marine base. There
was a hospital there. There were
tow long benches against either side of the van but she was afraid she might
create a disturbance by fainting and falling off so she sat on the floor between
the two rows of passengers and rode that way the five bumpy miles to the base. She stood outside the main gate until a Vietnamese
interpreter noticed her and took her to a medical aid station. Through the interpreter, she told Lieutenant Anthony Fathman,
a Navy doctor, that she had been raped and shot and that her whole family had
been murdered by Marines. The
doctor examined her and concluded that she had, indeed, bee, raped.
He had her taken to the base hospital and ____ off to report her rape and
murder charges to the commanding office of the battalion.
While Bui Thi Huong was making her way
from her hut to the Marine base, the lieutenant and the men of his First Squad
were marching to the base with the body of her husband.
The lieutenant was Stephen J. Talty, a rugged twenty-three-year-old
Marine. The report he made to his
C.O., Captain J. P. T. Sullivan, was the most distasteful task he’d been
called on to make in his ten months in the Corps.
He had lied in his radio report the night before, he told the captain.
His men had not killed three V.C. during an ambush; they had killed four
innocent civilians accidentally in a moment of panic while searching out hooches
for V.C. He had lied in his radio
report, the lieutenant said, because he had not wanted to go on the air with
talk of civilian killings.
Captain Sullivan was irritated by the report.
Only three days before General Westmoreland had issued a directive
warning against mistreatment of Vietnamese, “physical and otherwise,”
because of the resultant bad publicity in the Saigon press.
They publicity, the directive pointed out, was “damaging to the image
of the Marine Corps.” Henceforth,
the directive went on, all such incidents of mistreatment would be reported up
through channels to his office. The
captain did not relish being brought to General Westmoreland’s attention in
He set off in a jeep for the office of the commanding
officer of the battalion. The
colonel was just then listening to a Navy doctor who was relaying a Vietnamese
woman’s claims of rape and murder.
nine men of First Squad were sitting in the shade beside the green frame
chapel—two M.P.’s standing guard over them—when Major James T. Elkins
drove up. His sergeant-chauffeur
ordered them inside the chapel and Major Elkins read off their names, to which
Sgt. Ronald L. Vogel
L/Capt. Robert W. Monroe
Pfc. Clifton G. Hobson
Pfc. Jerry D. Sullivan
Pfc. Danny L. McGhen
Pfc. John D. Potter Jr.
Pfc. James W. Henderson
Pfc. James H. Boyd Jr.
Hn. Jon R.
Henderson, a slender six-foot-four, and Hobson, nearly a
foot shorter but muscular, were Negro. The
seven others were white. Major
Elkins called Sergeant Vogel forward and led him to the chaplain’s office
where he interrogated him about the previous nights mission. Elkins began by advising him that under Article 31 of the
Uniform Code of Military Justice he had the right to remain silent that anything
he said could be used against him in court, and that he had the right to
counsel. Vogel said that he
understood his rights and that he had not objections to being questioned about
For a half hour, Sergeant Vogel related in a slow drawl
the story that he and his men had fabricated for the lieutenant—the ambush,
the running figures, the pursuit of the huts, the panic, the gunfire, the dead
civilians. Under question however,
Vogel was vague, imprecise, confused. He
labored to answer the simplest questions and Major Elkins decided that Vogel was
either lying or a dullard. He
settled for the latter. He tried
Vogel to what he considered the limit and asked him if he had any objections.
They major provided him with pencil and pad and told him he would return
in fifteen minutes. As the major opened the door to leave the room, Vogel said:
“You can’t what?” Elkins asked.
“I can’t write because it’s all a lie. I’m sick of it!”
“What’s a lie?”
“The whole bullshit story I just told you,” he said,
shaking his head. “We made it all
Then Sergeant Vogel told Major Elkins what really
Master Sergeant Charles W. Ellis sat in his cubicle in
the Division Legal Quonset hut at Chu Lai and mulled over the story Major Elkins
had just related to him. It was
9:30 p.m. on September 24, 1966, the night after the raid on the hamlet of Xuan
Ngoe, and Ellis was about to interrogate the nine men who had been trucked over
from the Battalion C.P. on Hill 54 then miles west. Ellis had been a criminal investigator for seventeen of his
twenty-tree years in the Marine Corps and his credentials were impeccable.
Besides his training at military police schools, he had graduated from
the F.B.I. National Academy, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics training school,
and the school for U.S. Treasury agents. He
was considered one of the ablest investigators in the Corps with experience in
every area of criminal activity. But
his case had elements that baffled him. Sergeant
Vogel had told Major Elkins at the chapel that when his squad reached the ambush
site one of his men—Pfc. Potter—took command of the squad with the claim
that he had been given secret orders by Lieutenant Talty.
Potter, according to Vogel, had briefed the ____ to his effect: that the
lieutenant was fed up with patrols and ambushes that did not produce; that the
lieutenant was convinced the local Vietnamese were withholding information about
V.C.; that they only way _______________________________________________________
the Company Commander, Captain Sullivan, who had to approve all night missions;
that under this cover, the lieutenant wanted the squad to stage a raid of
terror; that the lieutenant had said that anything goes beating up people,
wrecking hooches, raping, killing; that the only restrictions was on burning,
fires that might be observed from the Company C.P.
Ellis found it difficult to believe that a lieutenant would issue such an
order. He would be exposing himself to the severest repercussions.
And why would he bypass his sergeant, the leader of the squad, and give
the order to a Pfc.? Andy why would
eight men, a corporal and sergeant included, take orders they knew to be
criminal from a Pfc.? Vogel would
have to be lying. And yet such a
raid had taken place. There were
five dead bodies. There was one
wounded and raped woman. There were
statements piling up from the farmers who had been terrorized.
Vogel’s story was a bizarre one and yet there it all was, the debris.
“Why do you suppose,” Ellis asked Major Elkins, “they went back and
killed the little girl? Afraid she might testify?”
“Vogel was very vague about that child.
He remembered less about that part of it than anything else,” Elkins
“Well, let’s see if we can’t help him remember,” Ellis said.
The interrogations were conducted under irksome conditions.
Ellis’ cubicle was cramped; a huge generator growled outside the
window; jets roared in deafening takeoffs right over the building; and everyone
had been through a long stifling day. Especially
Sergeant Vogel. Nervous, scared, he
had not slept or eaten in thirty ours. The
other men in the squad had been fed C-rations that afternoon but Vogel, after
making his statement to Major Elkins, had been isolated in an M.P. shack and no
one had thought to feed him. When
he walked into Ellis’ cubicle he was tired and hungry and utterly dejected.
At twenty-three, he’d been a Marine for four years, straight out of
high school. He had been in Vietnam
over a year and had seen action in Operations Wyoming, Apache, Colorado and
Napa. His four-year hitch had ended
in July but he volunteered for another six months in Vietnam even though he
wanted desperately to be back home with is wife and their little girl, Robin
Lee. Only a few days before the
raid on Xuan Ngoe, Vogel had received word from his wife that the final adoption
papers on Robin Lee had come through.
The interrogations of Sergeant Vogel, as did all subsequent interviews,
began with Ellis warning him that he was suspected of murder and rape and
advising of his right to remain silent and of his right to counsel.
Vogel waived his rights.
“All right now. I thing it will be a lot easier for both you and me if you
told your story first. Start right
at the very beginning. Go through
it slow. _______I’ll ask you
questions from time to time…”
Ellis has a deceptively gentle manner.
He is soft-spoken and clam. He
has a graying crew cut and pronounced cheekbones.
There is no menace in his style.
With the spools of a tape recorder turning slowly on the desk in front of
him. Vogel told his story in a
sluggish Southern drawl. At about
7:30 p.m. at the Platoon C.P., Lieutenant Talty told him that his squad had the
night’s ambush. Vogel picked up his gear and joined his squad had the
night’s ambush. Bogel picked up
his gear and joined his squad where Pfc. Potter greeted him with, “Are you
going?” He said he certainly was and Potter told him, “You don’t have to
go.” Vogel told him that the
lieutenant had told him to do and that it was his squad and that he was going.
Potter shrugged and the squad set out from the ambush site.
“Who was in control of the squad?” Ellis interrupted.
“Pfc. Potter and Lance Corporal Monroe, sir.”
“Well, I didn’t know anything about it sir.
The lieutenant didn’t brief me. I
couldn’t tell them what to do. I
didn’t know anything about the ambush or anything about the ambush or
Ellis studied Vogel’s face. “But
you’re a sergeant, the appointed squad leader, the senior man present, and yet
you let a lance corporal or a Pfc. Take your command away from you without
taking action to find out what the hell was going on?”
“I didn’t know about the ambush,” Vogel said.
“And you made no effort to call back to the lieutenant and find out
what the hell the scoop was?”
“No sir. No excuse.
I should have but I didn’t. I…”
“We’ll talk about it later. Go ahead.”
At the ambush site, Vogel said, Potter told the men that he had orders
from the lieutenant to pull a raid on hooches and destroy, rape and terrorize.
“Were those the words he used?”
“I don’t know the exact words. Go
out and terrorize and find out where the V.C. were.
Harass, destroy, beat up on people.
Rape if there were some young girls around.
And shoot anybody that got in the way and wreck their houses.
Then he gave us numbers. I
was number six…”
He told of the raids on the huts, the beatings, the assault on the
sixteen-year-old Nguyen Thi Mai. “Some
of the men were going to rape her but the Doc examined her with a flashlight and
thought she had clap so they left her.” Vogel
became increasingly nervous and vague, stammering, as he tried to reconstruct
the scene at the hut of Bui Thi Huong where the rape and murders occurred.
He denied having participated in either. He said that while Bui Thi Huong was being raped he was on
the patio guarding the man and the woman and children. Once he walked over to the ___ of the house when one of the
men yelled for water. He had a
canteen. The woman had fainted and
Pfc. Sullivan was tapping her checks so Vogel poured water on her face to revive
her. He saw Potter climb on the
woman and then went back to the patio. Later,
the man on the patio, Bui Thi Huong’s husband, started screaming and nothing
would shut him up. Vogel thought of
stuffing his mouth with straw but Doc Bretag pulled a bandage from his bag and
tried to gag him with it. The man
fought the gag and continued screaming until the Marines at the side of the
house returned to the patio, angry, and one of them said that “We’re going
to have to shoot them.” Somebody
else said, “We better get outta here!” Vogel said that at this point he
walked away from the house to a trail twenty-five yards away where he waited for
his squad. Henderson and Bretag
were on the trail with him. A few
minutes later, he heard shooting from the house.
“But you said one of the men said that these people would have to be
shot.” Ellis broke in.
“So when you heard those rifle shots go off you knew that they were
killing those people back there.”
“Yeah.” Vogel said.
“But you were a squad leader! Why
didn’t you go back and see what was happening?
Why didn’t you leave your position on that trail and walk back down
there and find out what was happening? You already knew what was
“Why didn’t you go down and try and stop it?” Ellis persisted.
“You had a weapon, did you not?”
“Yes, but I did not have no rounds.
We left in a hurry…I…”
“I’m not interested in whether you had rounds or not!”
Ellis snapped angrily. “You
had a weapon, didn’t you?”
Vogel remained silent. He
looked away from Ellis to Major Elkins and then to the ceiling; his gaze had
nowhere to go.
“Vogel, were you afraid of Potter?”
The sergeant remained silent.
“Were you physically afraid of those men?”
“Probably,” Vogel finally answered, “when they had their rifles and
they were firing.”
Major Elkins pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered one to Vogel,
who reached for it with a trembling hand. Ellis
watched Vogel fumble with the matches. What
had he lied about? Had he lied
about not raping the woman? Or his
part in the murders? Or was he
shaking because he knew his lie was still ahead of him?
Elkins had said Vogel had been vaguest about the wounded little girl and
Ellis asked Vogel to relate what had happened when the squad returned to the hut
with Lieutenant Talty.
“We went there and were looking around and the lieutenant said, ‘Oh,
my God, what have you done1’ Or some words like that.
He started talking to Potter and Monroe and all of a sudden a baby
screamed, cried out, and the lieutenant jumped.”
“Did the lieutenant or anybody go over and check this baby?”
“No. They looked at it but
didn’t do anything about it.”
“You could see two babies, right?”
“Yes sir. The lieutenant
was saying. ‘What have you
done!’ and ‘What are we going to tell the captain!’ and ‘We’re going
to have to do something.’”
“He included himself in this statement?”
“Yes sir. Then it was all
quiet for a while. And then he said
let’s take the man’s body back to the ambush site.
The whole squad went and we took the man’s body.”
Vogel described how at the ambush site, a thousand yards from the hut,
the lieutenant left five men behind with instructions to ‘Make it look like an
ambush took place if it takes you all night.’ The five were Potter, Monroe,
Hobson, McGhen and Vogel. The
lieutenant and the rest of the squad returned to the Platoon C.P. Vogel and the
others dragged the body through the sand and across the stream, leaving trails
of the two nonexistent female V.C.’s who had been dragged away.
They took off their boots and left the tracks of the nonexistent V.C. who
had tripped the ambush. They
dropped empty cartridges that had been fired at the hut.
And then the five returned to the hut.
“We put the bodies inside the hut…” Vogel said, hurriedly.
“Whoa!” Ellis barked.
“…except for the baby,” Vogel corrected himself. “I started to
pick it up and it screamed…Potter said the baby was going to die anyway…”
“But it was screaming. It
“Yeah, the baby was still living, but the way it looked.
It was just bloody.”
“You don’t know how much damage was done to the baby, do you?”
“You don’t know if the baby was going to die, do you?”
“It…it looked like it was hit by a frag.” Vogel offered.
“Did you look at it to see what the nature of its injuries were?
Did you look at it close?”
“No,” Vogel said and sighed. “No, I did not.”
“Vogel, who decided the baby would have to be killed?”
The sergeant said he didn’t know for sure.
“But Potter said it isn’t going to live anyway…”
Vogel nodded and blurted,”…and he said who’s going to do it and
everybody turned around. Couldn’t do it...everybody looked out…”
“What do you mean ‘looked out’?”
“Just looked out….”
“Looked out where? You just looked out at rockets going off?”
“Just looking in the distance…nobody could do it…then Potter did
it…”he said, his voice trailing off.
“Speak up, Vogel! How was swept along on a racing current of questions.
“You were looking out?”
“No. Everybody turned around…Potter was standing…”
“But they turned around and looked at Potter!”
“Potter was standing over…”
“You looked at him!”
“And you all knew what Potter was going to do!”
“What did Potter do when you were looking at him while he was standing
over the baby?”
“He had his rifle in his hands…”Vogel said.
“What did he do…”
“He said, ‘Somebody count for me!’”
“Somebody count what?” Ellis asked.
“Count! Just count!”
“No, just count for him. So I started counting. I turned around and
“You looked at him and then you started counting! You can’t
make it any easier.”
“I said one…two…three…And he was hitting the baby with the
“How was he doing it?”
“Dropping it down.”
“Picking it up and smashing it down or just letting it fall down?”
“Picking it up and hitting it down,” Vogel said, softly.
“I like a baseball bat or like he was chopping wood or straight up and
down like a butt stroke? Did you ever see anyone churn butter?”
“It was straight up and down.”
“Like someone churning butter,” Ellis said in conclusion.
“Yeah.” Vogel said. And after a long pause he said: “Then it was
quiet and someone said to Potter, ‘You sure got some balls to do that.’”
interrogation lasted from 9:45 to 10:30 p.m. and the eyes of the other eight men
in the squad followed him as he was led by an M.P. past them. They could not
have been encouraged. His face was ashen. His shirt was soaked through with
sweat.’ More significantly, he returned none of their stares. The men had
suspected, since Vogel had been whisked away from the chapel by Major Elkins,
that he had talked. The sight of him as he emerged from Ellis’ office did
nothing to dispel that feeling.
Nevertheless, Hospitalman Jon R. Bretag, a twenty-year-old Navy medic
from Albuquereque, New Mexico, decided to try the concocted version of the
previous night’s incident on Ellis. Ellis let him relate it—the ambush, the
chase to the hooches, the shadowy figure, the panicked gunfire, the accidental
killings. A high-school graduate, Bretag had been a good student. His father, a
Chief Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army Reserves, worked for the Bureau of Indian
Affairs, and his mother was a Registered Nurse. He had enlisted in the Navy a
year before and had volunteered for duty in Vietnam in July. On September 21,
two days before the raid on Xuan Ngoc, he was assigned to Lieutenant Talty’s
platoon. Ellis let him tell his version of the killings and then abruptly
“What about the woman you raped, Doc?”
“The rape at the house where you killed those people. You remember
that? You examined a girl for clap, like you examined one earlier, and you raped
“Well…I…we…” he stammered. “I examined her but I didn’t see
the men do anything. They were just standing around her chatting.”
“What were they chatting about, Doc?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Doc, little bits of amnesia isn’t going to help you a bit. Let’s
face it, you are as much in trouble as everyone of these men who are
“I know, sir.”
Ellis got up, took two or three steps to the window, leaned his elbow on
the sill, and stared out at Chu Lai’s plane-lined strip.
“It probably started out as a big gag, a big joke,” he said, his
voice lined with sarcasm. “A big joke. And then it got a little horrible
toward the end. But let’s stick to the joke part, where we are still in the
fun-and-games business, all right? You made an examination on the woman. Now you
didn’t do it to pass the time out there. What did they have in mind?”
“They had rape on their minds, sir.”
“Now how do you know that?”
“Well, they wanted to know who was going to be first and all this…”
“Did they flip a coin or how did they arrive at who was going to go
“I……I don’t remember……”
fixed Bretag with a stare and said:
“There’s been a hell of an injustice here, Doc! A hell of a crime!
You got it on your conscience to live with the rest of your life. Those were
human beings out there! There was no provocation. If you can let that kind of
thing go on you’re in a pretty bad way!”
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Bretag pleaded. “I
volunteered for this patrol because I was new and I wanted to have the
experience. This was my first patrol. I didn’t know what I was getting
Then the young seaman told Ellis what he wanted to know. “When we got
to our ambush site Potter said the lieutenant told him the purpose of this
patrol was, as much as I could gather…it didn’t seem right to me…was that
we were supposed to, you can say, raid these huts, raising hate and discontent.
Potter said we were to beat up people, tear up the hooches, rape and kill. Spoke
up and asked him why we were doing this. And he looked hard at me and said the
people wouldn’t turn the V.C. in but if we created enough fear they would. I
went along as just a medical personnel. We went through some hut, the men were
beating up on the people…”
He told how he had examined the sixteen-year-old girl with a pocket
flashlight while Marines held her pinned to the ground and told them that she
looked diseased. They became angry but they didn’t do anything to the girl.
“How about the second girl, Doc?”
“Well, I was guarding this man and woman and two kids on the patio of
this hut and they called me over to the side of the house. They had a woman
stretched out and they told me to check her for clap. I did and I said I
didn’t know if she did or not. Well, Potter said, ‘Who’s going to go
first?” Two of them said they couldn’t get a hard on. A third got on her. I
went back to the patio for about ten minutes. When I came back …well…he had
got off her…I guess I got on and had intercourse….”
He looked up at Ellis and waited for Ellis to say something but Ellis
just returned his look and he continued.
“Then two others got on her after me. Then the woman appeared to have
passed out. Potter asked if she was dead. Vogel poured water on her and Sullivan
tapped her cheeks. Potter was standing there with his penis out trying to get an
erection. That’s when I went back to the patio….”
There the young father, Bui Thi Huong’s husband, was propped up against
a wall of the hut. His sister sat near him with the two children and the
grandmother was squatting inside the hut.
“There was a wailing chant, ”Bretag said, “That’s the only way I
can describe it. Then the man started crying loudly and all the Marines wanted
to keep him quiet so they began wrestling with him and hitting him. I tried to
tie a bandage around his mouth but each time I went to tighten it it would slip
down around his neck and I’d be strangling him. Then the men from the side of
the house had come around to front now. They didn’t leave over there for
security, so I went to the side. I heard yelling, screaming, you shut up, shut
up, and then a couple of bursts of automatic fire, then some semiautomatic fire.
I don’t know how many bursts. How many rounds.”
“I walked back to the house and looked at the people. The man was
laying up against the house. The woman was laying next to him. I didn’t see
any of the children……except one by the old lady. Someone said, ‘We’ll
have to make it look good. I’m going to throw in a hand grenade. Everybody get
behind the sand.’ I got behind the sand pile and the grenade was thrown. After
that, I didn’t walk back. I didn’t want to see what was---what happened. I
had seen enough and I was getting sick. It was my first patrol and the first
time I’d seen em, people shot, laying there……”
Pfc. Danny I. McGhen of the McKeesport, Pennsylvania area, did about
faces in his statement to Ellis as smartly as he had ever done them for a drill
instructor. Like Bretag, McGhen launched into the spurious versions of the
murders. He had advanced through three simple declarative sentences, when
slammed a fists on his desk.
“Let’s stop right there, McGhen! We’ve been through all the
bullshit! It’s over with. We know exactly what happened. Do I make myself
clear? There is seven hundred feet of tape there and none of it is a lie. Now
nothing about any noises infront of the ambush site or any of that jazz.”
Ellis took McGhen straight to the rape of Bui Thi Huong and the murders.
“You saw what was being done to that girl?”
“It was dark but I still had an idea what was going on , McGhen.”
“You know damn well what was going on, McGhen.”
“The men were trying to rape her, sir.”
“Were raping her, sir.”
“Fine, McGhen. Now how did the shooting start?”
“Well, sir, the man was making a lot of noise. Everybody got scared. I
know I was. I guess I my mind I finally started realizing what was happening. I
went around to the front of the house because I couldn’t … I guess I went
crazy because I couldn’t stand that noise anymore. I kept thinking in my mind,
somebody was going to tell and we’re all going to get in real trouble
over it…if we weren’t in already! So I went out front and I kept trying to
get the man to be quiet and I think…” He looked up at Ellis and
corrected himself. “……I know I did……hit him a couple of times.
To get him quiet. And he wouldn’t get quiet and by this time everybody was
getting around. I don’t know who it was, somebody said, ‘We’ll have to
shoot them!’ as soon as they did somebody opened up.”
gave the names of those he was “pretty sure” opened up.
“I think I shot at the man and the old lady both, sir,” he said.
“But I think I might have hit the old lady.”
“Who fired at the young girl with the baby?”
“I think Boyd was standing there, sir. Boyd, I’m pretty sure it
“What happened after the shooting?”
“We picked up the mans body and we were going to take him back to the
ambush site and say that he was caught in the ambush and let it go at that. So
we did this and we were even crazy enough, stupid enough,. To make trails like
bodies were drug away and leave cartridges around.”
asked him who killed the second child at the house.
“Potter did, sir. He stood there and went mashing up and down with his
rifle. It was his own idea, sir. Nobody else could do it.”
“Then, sir? Nothing, sir. Nobody said nothin’. I just said as we
looked down at the baby that I was glad this wasn’t in the United States.”
Ellis stared at McGhen for a full minute. When he spoke his voice
crackled with anger. “What the hell difference does it make where it’s at!
You murdered five people!” He picked up a book and slammed it on the desk.
“What difference does it make where you did it at? You raped one woman and
tried to murder her. Does it really make any difference where it happened?”
“No, sir. I guess it don’t,” McGhen replied, sheepishly.
“Do you have a religion, McGhen?”
“Evangelical United Brethren, sir.”
“Are they in favor of killing?”
“What do they teach about it? Murder, I’m talking about, not just
“It’s not done, sir.”
“It’s against the law of God?”
“So what difference does it really make when you murder somebody exactly where it takes place?” Ellis asked. “You’ve deprived two children of sixty years of life!”
Ellis sighed, shook his head, and sat down. He knew he should not have
gotten into the religious thing for the tape. The statements would be introduced
at the formal pretrial investigation and defense counsel would harangue him for
his unprofessionalism. He continued:
“How long have you been overseas, McGhen?”
“About thirty days, sir.”
“You just come out of boot camp?”
“How old are you?”
James H. Boyd Jr. was eighteen, the youngest man on the patrol. He was probably
also poorest equipped to be in Vietnam. He was slightly built, almost scrawny.
And his score of 24 on the Armed Forces Qualification Test gave him a Class IV
rating, the lowest class the Marine Corps will accept. Cutoff score is 21. He
was raised in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and his parents were divorced when he was
eleven. He repeated fourth and tenth grads and after finishing tenth grade he
enlisted because his father was out of a job. He had been in Vietnam five months
before the incident at Xuan Ngoc and had fought in Operation Colorado and
Operation Napa and had written numerous letters home filled with his fear and
his anger and his bewilderment at the death of his buddies.
It was after two a.m. when he was called into Elli’ office and both
Ellis and Boyd were so bone-tired that neither bothered to fence with the pre
“Who’d you shoot, Boyd?” Ellis asked.
“I didn’t shoot anybody.”
“You fired your rifle,” Ellis stated.
“I didn’t ……I don’t know if I hit anyone…But I didn’t
“Who did you shoot at, Boyd?”
“I don’t know. One of the women, sir.”
“Did you hit her?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“You fired directly at her? From a very short distance?”
“Very small chance of you missing her, Boyd?”
said Potter and others blasted the old lady and the man with automatic bursts.
He said one child was in her grandmother’s arms and was killed wither by these
bursts. The baby was in his father’s arms and was hit but not killed.
“Now how do you know he wasn’t?”
“Because he was bawling when we left.”
“About thirty days, sir.”
“You just come out of boot camp?”
“How old are you?”
Pfc. James H. Boyd Jr. was eighteen, the youngest man on the patrol.
He was probably also poorest equipped to be in Vietnam. He was slightly built, almost scrawny. And his score of 24 on the Armed Forces Qualifications Test
gave him a Class IV rating, the lowest class the Marine Corps will accept.
Cutoff score is 21. He was
raised in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and his parents were divorced when he was
eleven. He repeated fourth and
tenth grades and after finishing tenth grade he enlisted because his father was
our of a job. He had been in
Vietnam five months before the incident at Xuan Ngoe and had fought in Operation
Colorado and Operation Napa and had written numerous letters home filled with
his fear and his anger and his bewilderment at the death of his buddies.
It was after two a.m. when he was called into Ellis’ office and both
Ellis and Boyd were so bone-tired that neither bothered to fence with the pre
“Who’d you shoot, Boyd?” Ellis asked.
“I didn’t shoot anybody.”
“You fired your rifle,” Ellis stated.
“I didn’t…I don’t know if I hit anyone…but I didn’t
“Who did you shoot at, Boyd?”
“I don’t know. One of the women, sir.”
“Did you hit her?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“You fired directly at her? From a very shot distance?”
“Very small chance of you missing her, Boyd?”
He said Potter and others blasted the old lady and the man with automatic
bursts. He said one child was in
her grandmother’s arms and was killed with her by these bursts.
The baby was in his father’s arms and was hit but not killed.
“Now how do you know he wasn’t?”
“Because he was bawling when we left.”
Ellis did not interrogate Lieutenant Talty until four days later.
Talty was in the field and Ellis was busy with routine detective work.
He inspected the scene of the murders and collected physical
evidence—spent slugs embedded in beams __________________ from the grenade
tossed into the hooch. He had
pictures taken of the hut, patio and grounds around the hut.
He had the squad’s weapons collected and sent off to a military
ballistics expert in Japan along with the recovered slugs and casings.
Through interpreters he took statements from Bui Thi Huong, Nguyen Thi
Mai, and a score of Vietnamese who had been visited by the raiders.
The bodies of the five murder victims had been buried by relatives and
neighbors the day after the incident and he tried to have the bodies exhumed for
autopsy but S-5, the Marine Civil Affairs Branch, advised him that the
Vietnamese refused to allow their dead to be dug up.
It would be disrespectful. Ellis
conceded that there had been enough disrespect.
He learned from S-2, intelligence, that none of the murdered—needless
to say, not the children—had been V.C. suspects or V.C. sympathizers.
In fact, S-2 said, none of the people harassed by the squad were known to
have any V.C. connections. The
hamlet of Xuan Ngoe was considered a pacified area.
Ellis, with Major Elkins present, interviewed Lieutenant Talty on
September 28 in the same cubicle in the quonset hut at Chu Lai where the
lieutenant’s men had been questioned. Talty
was twenty-tree, a birthday he had celebrated two weeks after his arrival in
Vietnam on July 9, and in his ten weeks as a platoon leader in Bravo Company had
shown himself to be a dependable and commendable officer, though he had come
fresh from training schools. He had
enlisted in the Corps in December, 1965. He
was a native of Buffalo, New York, where his father was a public-school
supervisor and his mother a nurse. He
had served as an alter boy for seven years while a pupil at St. Thomas Aquinas
Grammer School, graduated from Bishop Timon High School, and earned
above-average grades at St. Bonaventure U. in Buffalo where he got his B.A. in
English in 1965. For three summers during college he was a lifeguard at a
Buffalo Recreation Department swimming pool.
He mixed weight lifting with folk singing as an undergraduate and was
good enough at the latter to get paying jobs for his group around the Buffalo
area. He failed, as a sophomore, in
his first try to pass the test fro Marine Officers’ school and was sorely
disappointed. When he made it in
1965 he was elated. When he reached
Vietnam he was a proud Marine. He
was proud of the Corps, proud of his part in it.
He was especially close to and careful of his men.
He surveyed their gear closely and made sure they had what they needed in
clothes and weapons. He sat down
with them and made sure their pay and allotments were properly taken care of.
Not all officers were so diligent. Under
fire he was cool and resourceful. In
less than ten weeks he had take part in Operations Colorado, Napa, and Monterey,
and numerous smaller operations against insurgent V.C. forces.
His immediate superior officers said he was a good leader of men.
His men thought of him as a good officer.
Master Sergeant Ellis, as he tried to understand what had gone wrong with
First Squad at Xuan Ngoe hamlet, was not so sure.
Ellis advised Talty that an Article 31 investigations into murders, rape
and assaults was underway and that the lieutenant was a possible suspect and
that he did not have to say anything and that he had the right to counsel.
Talty said the he would answer all questions without counsel.
He proceeded to detail the events of the night of September 23:
At 7 p.m., he gathered a squad around him at Platoon C.P. and briefed
them on their patrol. They would proceed to a stream junction 300 meters from the
perimeter, set up an ambush, and remain at the site until 11 p.m.
The squad would then check out several hooches in the area for V.C. and
return to the C.P. by 12:30 a.m. At
7:30 p.m., he received a radio message from the squad reporting the men were in
position. At 9 p.m. he received another message that three V.C. had
been killed, two males and one female. But
the message was garbled due to faulty transmission. A later message reported two females and one male had been
killed. The squad had received
eight rounds of V.C. fire. Soon
after, the squad returned to the C.P. and told the lieutenant that civilians had
been killed in an accident. The
lieutenant went to the site with them and saw the bodies.
He said, “My God, what the hell have you done here!”
The told him it had been an accident.
The company commander, Captain J.P.T. Sullivan, radioed for information
on the incident and the lieutenant told him that he had one male body but that
the two female bodies had been dragged away.
“We moved the body back to the ambush site and I left five men
their.” Talty said. “Potter,
Monroe, McGhen, Vogel and Hobson. I told them to make it look like an ambush.
Then I went to the C.P., sat down, gathered my wits, questioned the other
three I brought in, separately. Henderson,
Boyd, Sullivan. Doc was with us
too. They said they were all rear
security and didn’t know anything. I
sent a team out with the platoon sergeant to bring the others back. I wanted to find out what happened. So I said to leave the body until morning and we will get our
story straight on this. So we all
sat down and they told me what happened. I
hit the sack at 1:30 a.m. in the morning, I told them to get the body and they
did and took it to Hill 54. I told
the C.O. what happened. I didn’t
tell him I moved the body. I just
told him I made it look like an ambush. The
reason I had done this—it was a mistake on my part—it was just to give me
time to think and to find out just exactly what happened.”
“Now, lieutenant,” Ellis began, “Among those dead bodies at the jut
there was a live baby, wasn’t there?”
Talty said there was.
“Did you take any action to check the condition of that baby?”
He said he had not, and Ellis asked him why he had not.
“I thought probably she would be alive in the morning when they looked
over the are,” he said.
“Isn’t that a pretty big chance to be taking, sir?”
“That she could have survived an ordeal, a thing like that?” There
was a guarded reprimand in question. “That she might just be alive in
the morning if somebody happened to wander out and look at the area?”
“Yes, Sergeant Ellis, it is.”
“Is there any question you should have taken some steps?”
“I’m positive I should have, now,” Talty said, coolly.
“Now some of your men, lieutenant, claim that you ordered them to
return to the hut and dispose of those bodies, to police up the area?”
“I gave no such orders.”
“They did, in fact, though, return to that house and moved the bodies
from the patio to the interior of the house,” Ellis said. “And in the course
of doing thins—them reason we bring this up—is that the young child that
made the sounds while you were at the house was murdered by Potter.
He bashed its brains out with a rifle butt in the presence of four men,
“I did not give them any orders at all to return to that house.”
“Then somebody countermanded or disobeyed your orders?”
“I told them to stay at the ambush site.”
Ellis looked though some notes and set off on a new tack.
He asked Talty to repeat what he had reported to Captain Sullivan the
morning after the murders. Talty
said he had told the C.O. that his men had accidentally killed four civilians
“I’m sorry, lieutenant, would you repeat this?” Ellis interrupted.
“I told the C.O. that my men had accidentally killed four civilians.”
“Now while you were relating this story to the captain, did you tell
him that there was one live baby out there?”
“No. I didn’t. I just told him…I just ran through it quickly and I told
him there were some civilians killed and…”
“You said there was four civilians, lieutenant.”
“I wasn’t trying to keep it from him.”
“Lieutenant, you said that you told the captain there were four
“Which would have been a man, a woman, and two children because
that’s what you saw on the patio that night.
And yet we both know that the child was alive when you were out there.
So there were only three civilians killed and one wounded.
“Well.” Talty paused, “from what they told me there was two women,
a man and one child.”
“But you saw two children!” Ellis argued.
“So isn’t that a little confusing, sir?”
“Right. It is.”
“You reported what they told you instead of what you saw.
And you didn’t tell anyone that the baby was alive? Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“Lieutenant, did you know that morning that the baby was, in fact, not
“Definitely not!” Talty said, angrily. “How would I know that?”
Talty looked at both Ellis and Elkins but got no answer.
Ellis switched to another line of questioning.
He asked Talty for his professional opinion of Sergeant Vogel.
“I don’t thing he is very competent.
Potter runs the squad and he is a damn good man.
I hate to see this happen. He
is a damn good man, one of the best point observers and a good trooper.
Monroe we kind of put on mess duty there for a while until after
Operation Colorado. He was kind of
shaky because one of his best buddies got shot up, but he is a real good man,
too. WE got a good squad.”
Ellis asked in what ways Sergeant Vogel was incompetent.
“He was always yelling at his men, screaming at them, trying to show
them he was the boss and still he actually didn’t know his job.
He went about it all in the wrong way, I think.”
Major Elkins asked if his leadership could have been undermined by Potter
“I don’t think so, I don’t think that was true.
I don’t think that was true at all.”
“You say Monroe and Potter were running the squad.
What do you mean they were running it? Wasn’t Sergeant Vogel there?”
“They were the ones doing all the work in the field actually.
They were the ones who knew what was going on.
They were just handling themselves better and quicker.”
“Well, lieutenant, you see the dilemma that we are faced with.
For some reason your men disobeyed your orders to remain in a combat
ambush for a specified time. They
jumped the time and left several hours early and went on a reign of terror for
about two-and-a-half hours. It all
boils down to this point, lieutenant, that Potter and Monroe allegedly had a
private briefing and they passed on the briefing to the patrol not in your
presence. After they left the
ambush they briefed the patrol themselves and they said that these were your
instructions—to rape, rob, terrorize!”
“I gave them no such order’s!”
Talty shot back angrily.
“Why would they move out of the ambush early?”
“I asked Vogel at the hut and he said he didn’t know.
“No one know why they had moved?” Ellis asked. “No one came up with
a good concrete answer? Do you suppose it was everybody’s idea to move at one
“They said they had seen something.”
“What had they seen?”
“A man running.”
“But this house is a considerable distance from the ambush site, right?
Doesn’t that seem a little odd to you that they would chase a man a mile or
almost a mile and a half across the sand?”
“They weren’t chasing…”
“Everything they had been taught was dead against it!”
“I said to them why the hell did you go so far.”
“And what was the answer?”
“Well, lieutenant, this is where were are at now, trying to determine
just what was told to these people that would give them the idea of reason to
believe that they might have the semblance of backing from somebody to jump out
of the ambush site for no reason and go on this terror strike.”
Ellis stared across the desk into Talty’s eyes but Talty did not
“Quite frankly,” Ellis said, smiling wanly, “it has be puzzled! I
haven’t run across a situation similar to it—where a squad had just
deliberately disobeyed and order…just deserted an ambush and literally
terrorized the countryside…”
Again he stared at Talty and again there was no answer.
“Let men ask you a question, lieutenant, that might be a little
involved. You’re the leader of
these people. You knew they were
screwed up when you walked up to that house, even before you got to that house.
You walked into that scene and the first thing you see is the bodies of
two small children.
“Now lieutenant, there is nothing—nothing—I can think of,
using all my experience, I can’t think of anything that would lead you
to believe that two small children could be gunned down at that time of night by
“I disagree there!” Talty said, pointing a finger at Ellis.
“How can you say that!”
“I disagree because of knowing the reaction of any squad, any normal
squad when they are in combat! They see something or something startled them and
one opens up and then they automatically all of the do and that’s what I
thought happened. That they killed
the two individuals by doing that. Something
startled them and they just opened up. That’s
the first thing that came to my mind. Things
like that, I mean I don’t know how you figure it, but things like that can
happen by accident. It doesn’t
have to be mischievous or anything else and that’s what I thought it was.”
Ellis stared wide-eyed at him. “Are
you still entertaining the idea that this was nothing more than an accident?
A very regrettable accident?”
Talty hesitated then said: “I don’t know. I
don’t know what it was.”
“But you have heard the story! We have told you that there were two or
three hours of terror! People
were raped! People were beaten up! People were…you’ve been told this
before…people were hung up by the heels and kicked in the head and five
people were murdered. Now, do you
still think it was an accident?”
“No, I don’t,” Talty conceded.
“What do you think it was now, lieutenant?”
“It was…” he paused for the right word…“brutal.”
“Brutal! We have two men who were running that squad who were supposed
to be outstanding men, Potter and Monroe. They
were the ones who had the leadership. Are
they still outstanding troops, lieutenant?”
“Well!” Talty hesitated. He
crossed his legs. “If you’re
asking me if I would take tem into combat with me, yes.”
“You still trust them?”
“I think so.”
“Knowing what they did!”
“I wouldn’t turn my back on them, if that’s what you mean.”
The lieutenant could not get comfortable in his chair.
“Do you think you would trust them!”
“It’s a hard question to answer.”
“All right, lieutenant!” Ellis
said sternly. “This thing is
being put in such a way that it leaves the question in mind as to whether by
implication or straight orders—you engineered the whole thing.
This is what it boils down to.”
“I know it does!” Talty said.
“Someone is giving us stories and facts that came together in such a
way that there was a secret briefing held by you with Monroe and Potter and that
they in turn relayed the briefing to the squad.
It looks as though you engineered this thing.
By implication if nothing else. Or
by saying, ‘Go to your ambush site and at a specific time go out and rape,
rob, beat and terrorize these goddamned people and get these zipper heads or
gooks, shot them, and don’t bring any prisoners.’ This is the word that was
passed on to the squad. So it looks
as though this word came from you originally.
This is the position that you are being put in.”
Talty’s face grew redder as Ellis spoke.
“I see what they are trying to do!
They are trying to blame the whole thing on me!
But that day…”
“We’re just relaying to you what was related to us and showing you
what this involves,” Ellis said, quietly.
“Well, I’ll tell you something!”
Talty exploded, “I gave them no orders to kill anyone or rape or
pillage or anything else! And earlier that day or I think it was the day before we had
been sitting down, the platoon sergeant and myself and a bunch of guys, and it
was first indicated that we move at night and raid a few places and find out if
there were V.C. coming in. And then
there was the usual kidding around about hanging them by the neck and beating
them up and…well, I’m not an advocate of this!
Why, it pisses me off to see them go out in the field and grab a chicken
and kill a chicken and have some chicken! But
I’m not telling these guys…these _______________ heads of their own…if
they want to go out and kill somebody…I would never in my life…to me…I
mean these people are human beings and I’m not going to tell them…it’s
like trying to kill my own family…I’m not going to give them orders to go
out and rape and burn…”
Talty was breathing hard and beads of sweat rolled down his forehead.
He wiped his brow with his sleeve, then looked at the stain.
“You say this bullshit session when on?
This kidding around?”
“Yes, kidding around!”
“Were you involved in the kidding around, too?”
“Oh yes I was involved in it,” he replied quickly, “But they are
not going to take that and call it an order!
That’s what they’re trying to do, though!”
Ellis paused. When he spoke it was in his weary, grey voice.
“Could it be that they might have thought this was the way the
lieutenant felt about it?”
The lieutenant mopped his face with his handkerchief.
“Well, that’s bad. I
“You see, lieutenant, somewhere something went wrong,” Ellis
suggested. “some word was misconstrued, misunderstood, some act
was misunderstood. And this was the end result.”
“I gave them no orders!”
“You have to backtrack and find out where this bad seed come into it,
if in fact the bad seed ever existed.”
“When I gave them the briefing I gave it in front of everybody and they
were grouped around me and if they took anything . . . I mean there were a lot
of other people that day . . . and there had been a lot of other joking around
in the Marine Corps, as far as that goes . . . when you’re out in the field
you joke around sometimes . . . and if these guys are going to take it like that
. . . if they took that as an order from me . . . then . . . they are sick!”
“What exactly was said during this kidding around?”
“I said that we are going to try moving in on these hooches at night
and try to find some V.C. with their weapons. Try to catch them making time with
their wives. And the somebody would say, ‘We ought to go in there and rape and
burn,’ or things like that . . . but I didn’t say anything like
“How about the destruction of other people’s property?”
“Things like that, when they go to a place, about beating up on
civilians and tearing things apart? I let it be known that I didn’t go for
that. I told them never let me catch them doing that stuff.”
“Would you concur with this lieutenant? A squad is sent out on what is
supposed to be a combat mission. They are sitting in ambush with specific
instructions on the time to move out and for some reason they jump the gun and
leave their position quite early and do in fact go to houses and commit acts of
atrocity, they rape, they hang a man by his heels and kicked him in the head,
and tore up another man’s house almost apart and beat him and his wife and
threw their children out in the patio and covered them up like they were going
to burn them. And then they get to this house and they massacre the whole
family. Doesn’t it seem odd that these people would do this without feeling
that they had implied backing? They just can’t arbitrarily get up and move out
without feeling some sense of security that someone is behind them. Someone has
to have, by some form or other, communicated, implied . . . . ”
“I gave them nothing like that.”
“Do you concur that they might have been thinking this?”
“No I don’t!” Talty said, emphatically. “It’s impossible that
they could have.”
“Why, lieutenant! They done it!” Ellis exclaimed. “They done just
what I said they done and it took them several hours to do it. Now, they must
have felt somewhere along the line by some form of communication or another that
someone had implied that this sort of action is just what was supposed to be
“They couldn’t have,” Talty maintained, shaking his head. “I gave
“They left their ambush early!”
“To search out a couple of hooches….”
“But what about all the atrocities?”
“Search for V.C….search for V.C….that’s what I gave them the
flashlight for….search for V.C….”
“Then we have them hanging people by their heels and actually going on
a terror spree!”
Talty shook his head as though he didn’t want to listen to Ellis.
“I gave them no such orders….I….”
“They took it in their heads to do it all by themselves?” Ellis asked
incredulously. “Is it possible it might have been something you said?
Or some implication?”
“No! I don’t think so at all!”
“Then it would have to be one individual who gave the orders. Either
that or the whole squad decided together to do it.”
“It would have to be,” Talty agreed.
“Well,” Ellis stated angrily, “that would mean that every man in
the squad is an animal!”
“Not necessarily! I’m not saying that!”
“Either one man leads, lieutenant, or the whole pack is an animal and
they operate on the same level! They all get the same idea at the same time!
Either that or it would have to be one man leading.”
“Not necessarily one,” Talty suggested weakly.
“Well, let’s say two then,” Ellis said and his voice softened.
“I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. Would you say that Boyd was capable
of coming up with the idea?”
“That Vogel was capable of coming up with this?”
“Or Henderson? Even with his size?”
“What about Potter and Monroe?”
“I don’t think they would actually plan something like
this,” Talty said. “I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I didn’t think
they were the type to do anything like that, that’s all. It’s still hard for
me to believe that they have done it…” Talty frowned at the thought of his
guilty men. “…I mean they are my own men, you know, and I have worked with
them and I have never seen any of this maltreatment…and I let it be
known that I was against it…and I never seen it done…I just can’t believe
that all of a sudden they would do that…”
Sergeant Ellis’ inquiries into the facts surrounding the raid on Xuan
Ngoc lasted from September 24, the day after the crimes were committed, to
October 9. The formal pretrial investigation was conducted in the quonset hut at
Chu Lai from October 24 to November 2. Under Article 31 of the Uniform Code of
Military Justice, a pretrial investigation officer hears all witnesses and
evidence against suspects and recommends to higher authority whether they should
be charged and tried. The process is the approximate equivalent of the grand
jury system in civilian courts; to indict or not indict. The pretrial
investigation officer in this case was a Lieutenant Colonel John L. Zorack, a
wiry, sharp-featured career Marine in his early forties. The ten suspects,
including Lieutenant Talty, were present, with a variety of captains and majors
to represent them as counsel.
The hearing dragged on through six days of sweltering heat. Wide latitude
is allowed in cross-examinations in these preliminary hearings and the battery
of six defense lawyers (four acted for two suspects) took full advantage of it.
The hearing bogged down further because most of the witnesses were Vietnamese
who had to be questioned through an interpreter. The interpreter, to complicate
matters still more, was weak in English (he had taken a six-month course in an
American school) and not overly familiar with the Vietnamese dialect spoken in
the Xuan Ngoc area.
Lieutenant Colonel Zorack after hearing six days of testimony recommended
that the following be charged and tried by general courts-martial:
Sergeant Ronald Vogel: Murder and rape.
Lance Corporal Robert W. Monroe: Murder, rape, assault, assault to commit
murder, assault to commit rape.
Pfc. John D. Potter Jr.: Murder, rape, assault, assault t/c rape.
Pfc. Danny L. McGhen: Murder, rape, assault, assault t/c murder, assault
Pfc. James H. Boyd Jr.: Murder, assault t/c murder.
Pfc. Clifton G. Hobson: Rape, assault t/c rape, assault.
Pfc. Jerry D. Sullivan: Rape, assault t/c rape.
Pfc. James W. Henderson: Rape, assault t/c rape, assault.
Pfc. Jon R. Bretag: Rape, assault t/c rape.
Lieutenant Stephen J. Talty: Making a false report to a superior officer.
In a footnote to his recommendations, Lieutenant Colonel Zorack suggested
that the charge against Lieutenant Talty be dropped. It was Zorack’s
understanding, he said, that the lieutenant had submitted his resignation. The
lieutenant had exercised extremely poor judgment, Zorack conceded, but in view
of the relative insignificance of the charge of making a false report, the
investigating officer recommended that the resignation be accepted.
The Commanding General of the First Marine Division, the authority to
which Zorack addressed his recommendations, disagreed. He ordered that the
lieutenant be court-martialed not only for making a false report but also for
violation of Article 78 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice: accessory after
the fact of murder. Lieutenant Talty and his nine men were tried by
court-martial separately at Chi Lai during January of 1967.
Pfc. Potter, the real leader of the squad, the man charged with rape, the
murder of five people including that of the five-year-old Dao Thi Tao, did not
take the stand in his defense. He was revealed to be, nevertheless, an excellent
Marine. “Potter was the kind of man that I wanted in my platoon,” testified
Gunnery Sergeant Jerald L. Hass, a veteran Marine, and platoon sergeant in Bravo
Company. “Potter was forceful, excellent, above average.” Blond, of medium
build, Potter had been in the Marines two years, the last ten months in Vietnam.
He had seen a lot of action—Operation Jackson, Osage, Montgomery, Colorado,
and numerous smaller sweeps against V.C. On June 22 he had been wounded in the
groin by shrapnel and had been awarded the Purple Heart. He had come from
Sataria, Mississippi, a hamlet near Yazoo City. His father, a deacon in the
Methodist Church, ran a grocery store. An above-average student in high school,
Potter transferred to the Chamberlain-Hunt military academy in Port Gibson,
Mississippi, where he easily made second lieutenant and became a cadet leader.
After one year at Mississippi State College, he enlisted in the Marines.
A psychiatrist’s report read at his court-martial brought out that
Potter, after ten months in Vietnam, “gave a history of frustration, anger and
nervous tension. In this war the enemy is always hidden and Marines know that he
is hidden by the citizenry. Potter was angry and he looked forward to raiding
the village. This mental strain, however, didn’t prevent him from being fully
Potter was found guilty. He was sentenced to a dishonorable discharge
“and hard labor for the rest of your natural life.” He was twenty. Over the
two years since his trial, as a prisoner at the Portsmouth, New Hampshire naval
prison, he has exhausted all routes to appeal. Preparations were being made at
this writing to transfer him to the Federal penitentiary at Leavenworth where he
will serve his sentence.
As Potter was revealed at his court-martial to have been a forceful
Marine, Sergeant Vogel was drawn as a weak leader.
Sergeant Pedro Laredo of Bravo Company testified: “Potter and Monroe
took care of the squad. Both Captain Sullivan and Lieutenant Talty were aware of
Vogel’s shortcomings. Vogel wasn’t getting the work done. He wasn’t
showing leadership at all. That ambush was going to be his last patrol. They
were going to transfer him next morning due to incompetence.”
And Gunnery Sergeant Hass: “Sergeant Vogel was to be administratively
busted. If I had my way he wouldn’t of had that squad. There was nothing Mr.
Talty could do. This man’s background and his capabilities at leading men was
well known within this Company. He had no business having the squad. We were
going to solve the problem within a week. If he didn’t snap out of his shit,
we were going to take the squad away from him and administratively bust him.”
Vogel was charged as a principal in the murder of the five-year-old girl
in that he aided and abetted Potter by counting one, two, three. He was charged
as a principal in the rape of Bui Thi Huong, though he did not physically rape
her, because he aided and abetted by pouring water on her to revive her. He was
found guilty on both charges.
In a final plea to the court before sentencing, Vogel, the Marine with
the adopted daughter waiting for him back home, said: “I don’t know how to
say this or what to do. I’ll take the blame for all of it. It was my fault I
was not carrying out my duties as a sergeant and because I was the senior man
present. If I could do anything to bring those people back I would do so, I
would even give up my own life. But I can’t do so, I’m going to have to
leave it up to you men and whatever you decide.”
The men decided to sentence him to fifty years in prison last May.
Vogel’s sentence was cut by the Naval Board of Review to ten years. The Board
reversed the rape conviction in the belief that Vogel, when he poured water on
Bui Thi Huong, might have been performing a humane act. He is serving his time
at Portsmouth naval prison.
Even the prosecution saw the pathos in the case of Pfc. Boyd, the low
achiever from Coon Rapids who pleaded guilty to murder in that he fired a single
shot at one of the women as she was falling from Potter’s burst.
“This is a sad and pathetic case, a classic example of where a man is a
victim of circumstances,” the trial counsel said, adding to the weight of
defense counsel’s plea for leniency in sentencing.
The pathos was not lessened when the defense counsel read the court a
letter from the defendant’s mother:
“…we belong to the Methodist Church until our eleven-year-old
daughter led us to a bible-believing church which is in the Coon Rapids Baptist
Church. Here is where we accepted Jesus as our personal savior and by the grace
of God we were saved. Jim accepted Jesus as his personal savior before he went
to Vietnam and by the grace of God he was also saved…”
Strangely, the Marine Corps was able to determine after the
incident as Xuan Ngoc, that eighteen-year-old Boyd had “a long-standing
character and behavior disorder manifested by lack of normal interpersonal
relationships, immaturity, poor judgment and almost complete disregard for the
accepted social, moral and legal codes of society. Boyd usually acts in an
impulsive and immature manner without taking time to consider his actions
And the court sentenced him to four years at hard labor. Boyd, with time
off for good behavior, has been released from Portsmouth and is now at liberty.
Bretag, the Navy medic who had the misfortune to make his first volunteer
patrol in Vietnam a raid on a sleeping village, also pleaded guilty to the rape
of Bui Thi Huong.
“I’ve always tried to perform my duties as a Corpsman to the best of
my ability,” he told the court before sentencing. “But on the night of the
twenty-third I let myself down and I let my family and my fellow Corpsmen down.
As being so weak as to follow the group and stand by and not try to stop what
was happening. If there was some way that I could rectify what happened that
night I’d very much do so.”
Bretag was sentenced to six months at hard labor.
Clifton G. Hobson and James W. Hendersen, the two Negro Pfc.’s in the
squad, both pleaded not guilty to the charges of raping Bui Thi Huong and
assaulting Nguyen Thi Mai with intent to commit rape. Henderson, twenty-one,
well over six feet and slender, had enlisted in the Marines in 1963 after
finishing junior high school in Philadelphia. His mother was a widow. Hobson was
short and stocky. He played football and basketball in junior high school in his
native Monroe, Louisiana, and his one fear as a boy was that he wouldn’t fill
out enough to play football in high school and college. He did but his father,
the game’s injuries in mind, asked him not to go out for the sports and
Clifton complied. Both his mother and father were teachers, his mother principal
of an elementary school in Monroe. An uncle was a high school principal, an aunt
a supervisor of instructors, and another uncle a doctor. He had a sister in
college. After graduating from Carroll High School in Monroe, Hobson spent a
year at Grambling College. He had been in Vietnam three months before Xuan Ngoe
and, like Henderson, had made a good record.
Both men were found guilty. Henderson
was sentenced to two years at hard labor and Hobson to three years.
Both men’s convictions on the charges of raping Bui Thi Huong were
later reversed on appeal. In
Henderson’s case, the court found that the mere testimony that the defendant
was seen on top of the alleged victim was not proof of guilt, that forcible
entry had to be proved. Hobson’s
conviction was set aside because the Board of Review was unconvinced by the
evidence against the accused. The
convictions on the charges of assaulting the sixteen-year-old girl with intent
to commit rape were affirmed in both instances, however, and the sentences were
reduced to six months. Both men are
Lance Corporal Monroe, Pfc. Jerry Sullivan, and Pfc. Danny McGhen were
found not guilty on all charges in their courts-martial.
McGhen and Sullivan are out of the Marines but Monroe is now a sergeant
at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.
Lieutenant Talty was court-martialed at Chu Lai on March 13 and 14 of
1967. He pleaded not guilty to
charges of being an accessory after the fact of murder in that he assisted his
squad in order to prevent the detection and apprehension for murders of
Vietnamese civilians and of making a false official statement to a superior
The question of the lieutenant’s mood on September 23, the day of the
raid on Xuan Ngoe, was not brought up at his court-martial but it had been at
Potter’s court-martial. Defense
counsel had asked a Corporal Dedmon, one of the lieutenant’s men, about
Talty’s state of mind that day.
“Well, our platoon had been sort of fouling up in garrison, seemed like
everything we did, and we wanted to get some V.C. so we could more or less prove
that we were as good as anyone else because we had a lot of pride in our platoon
and we wanted real bad to get some V.C. that day.”
The trouble was that V.C. were scarce, if not absent, in the Xuan Ngoe
area. Captain Sullivan, who had
been company commander at the time of the raid, testified by deposition at
“When we first came into the [area] in May, V.C. activity was, shall we
say, moderate. The more we stayed inside the area, it became decreasing,
that is it became decreased. Smaller
and smaller. In September…we had
no incident in the Xuan Ngoe area that I can recall.”
The lieutenant testified that his instructions to the squad were to set
up an ambush, remain at the ambush site until 11:30 p.m., search out any hooches
in the immediate area, and return by 12:30 a.m.
He admitted that after the squad showed him the bodies at Bui Thi
Huong’s house he radioed the company commander, Captain Sullivan, with the
false report that a male and two female V.C. had been killed in the ambush and
that the two females had been dragged away.
He admitted that he then instructed the squad to carry the man’s body a
thousand yards back to the ambush site and “make it look like an ambush if it
took all night. Drag the body around, walk around in bare feet, I didn’t
care what they did. I didn’t want
to tell the company commander what happened.
I was very shocked.”
“Did you give them any instructions about returning to the house?”
“No sir, I did not. One
man suggested that we go back and get rid of the bodies, put them in the shack
and burn it, but I said, ‘No, you should never go back to the house.’”
The lieutenant was asked by his counsel why he had instructed the men to
simulate an ambush action.
“They were obviously wrong in what they had done.
They left the ambush site. I
wasn’t altogether protecting them. I
was protection myself in a way. I
know there would be repercussions because of what happened.
They left the ambush site, they killed these civilians who, I assume,
were innocent. But I had no idea.
Murder didn’t enter my mind at all.
I thought it was a brutal, tragic accident.
And I was willing to help them. I’d
helped them before.”
Gunnery Sergeant Hass, who had to be told by the referee Law Officer to
keep his language slightly less salty, testified that when Lieutenatnt Talty
returned to the C.P. after viewing the bodies, the lieutenant said.
“Well, they really fucked up this time!”
The prosecutor asked Talty why he had make such a remark.
Talkt said that Potter and Monroe more or less ran the squad “and when
they got together anything could happen.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’ve often been told before about maltreatment of the people.”
“You knew they had antagonism for the people?”
“You knew that in the past they were guilty of antagonism and brutality
toward the Vietnamese people?”
“I wouldn’t say brutality.”
“Hitting on occasion?”
“I have never seen it but I have heard it.”
“You knew the victims of their acts, roughhousing, were innocent
“And yet you let them run the squad?”
“They were both good troopers. Very
“Did you take measures to correct these propensities?”
“Yes sir. And I thought
they had taken effect.”
The prosecutor then probed Talty’s motives for making his false report
to the captain and ordering his men to fake the ambush.
“You said you thought the killings were an accident.
Didn’t you go to an awful lot of trouble to cover up an accident?”
“Yes sir, but I knew there would be repercussions.
I just wanted to get away from that house.
I wanted to get the hell away from there.”
“But why go to such great lengths?
Why not tell the C.O. it was an accident?”
“There would be an investigation.
There would be repercussions. I
would be relieved, the squad leaders would be relieved, everybody would be
relieved. The captain would be
relieved. But I wasn’t going to
cover up the incident. I was going to tell about it.”
“You were going to tell them you covered it up and made it look like an
ambush? Then why were you doing
“I don’t know,” Talty said. “I just wanted to get away from
Lieutenant Talty was found not guilty of more serious charge, accessory
after the fact of murder. He was
found guilty of making a false report and sentenced to dismissal from the Corps,
forfeiture of $100 per month pay for five months, and loss of 300 numbers in
rank. The Board of Review affirmed
the conviction but set aside the sentence of dismissal.
The lieutenant petitioned the Court of Military Appeals for a review of
his case but the court turned him down. It
then forwarded the case, in accordance with established practice, to the
Secretary of the Navy for possible clemency.
Attached were tow enclosures: The Judge Advocate of the Navy recommended
no clemency, Lieutenant General L. W. Walt, no Assistant Commandant of the
Marine Corps, recommended:
“This officer submitted a false and misleading statement to his
superiors in an attempt to prevent the discovery of murders committed by his men
and to protect himself. An officer who is guilty of such conduct could never be
trusted. An officer who can not be
trusted is of no value.”
Talty and six of his men are back in civilian life.
One is a sergeant in the Corps, tow are still in prison…
All cases in the Xuan Ngoe incident are in the Judge Advocate General’s
The facts of this report are
available for public inspection in the office of the Judge Advocate General of
the Navy in Washington, D.C.
EASTLAKE is the author of many short stories and
novels. Castle Keep and The Bamboo Bed, the latter pub-
last fall. He is married and lives in Arizona.
The Biggest Thing Since Custer
chopper came in low over the remains of Clancy's outfit.
below seemed very dead. They were as quiet as lambs.
you could see what looked like smoke coming up from
fire, but it was only ground fog. Everyone with Clancy was dead.
of Alpha Company. It was the biggest thing since Custer.
Mike, the correspondent, had to watch himself. The correspond-
tended to take the side of the Indians. You got to remember
this is not the Little Big Horn. This is Vietnam. Vietnam.
They all died in Vietnam. A long way from home. What
the Americans doing here? The same thing they were doing
Indian Country. In Sioux Territory.
11Iey were protecting
They were Protecting Americans from the Red Hordes.
help Clancy. You could tell here from above how Clancy
Clancy blundered by being in Vietnam. That's a
The chopper circled now low over the dead battle. Clancy had
by not holding the ridge. Clancy had blundered by be-
forced into a valley, a declivity in the hills. It was the classic
blunder in Vietnam of giving the Indians the cover.
enemy was fighting from the protection of the jungle. The
thing the Americans did in America was clear a forest and
on the battle below. Do not always take tile side
the Indians. You could see here clearly from above how Clancy
it. In the part of the highlands of Vietnam near the
bunch-up, there is no true Open country. Every-
is in patches. You could see where Clancy's point squad had
contact with the enemy. You could sec, you could tell by all
shit of war, where Clancy had made, where Clancy had tried
make, his first stand on the ridge and then allowed hiss perim-
to be bent by the hostiles attacking down the ridge. Then
final regrouping in the draw where all the bodies were.
should have held that ridge at all costs. If you must fight
the open, fight high. Then the only way the enemy can kill you
with arching fire. Mortar fire. You can dig in against mortar fire.
they force you in the vallley, you are duck soup. They can
you with everything from above. From the way the bodies lie
had mounted three counterattacks to get the ridge back he
too early conceded. The attacks were not in concert. He did
hit them all at once. There should have been more American
on the ridge. Clancy should have paid any price to get back
ridge. The ridge was the only opportunity. The vallley was
Ah, but the valley is comfortable. The hill is tough, and the
are all give out and dragging ass, tired and leaking blood. See
they stumbled up and were shot down. See where they
See where they tried again and again and again. Where they
shot down. See the paths of bright they made with their
See Clancy pointing them on with his sword. War is kind.
Clancy pointing them on with his sword. The son of a bitch
one, like in an old movie. See Clancy pointing them on up
ridge. Once more into the breach. Once more, men, for God
Country and Alpha Company. I blew the ridge. Get it back.
it back. Get it back for Clancy. Go Smith, go Donovitch, go
get that--back! I need it. Now Shaplen, now Marshall,
Irvine, get me the--back. I will lead this charge. Every man
me. Where has every young man gone? Why is that native
me? Why, Shaplen? Why, Marshall? Why, Irvine? All dead.
valley is beautiful, warm, and in this season of Vietnam, soft
the monsoon wet. Contemplative, withdrawn, silent, and now
bequilted with all of the dead. Alive with scarlet color.
with the dead.
The helicopter that carried the correspondent made one
circle to see if it would pick up ground fire, then came in and
down in the middle of Clancy's dead with a smooth chonk noise.
grave registration people got out first. They ejected in the
of all soldiers from an alighting chopper, jumping out be-
it quite touched the ground, then running as fast as they
go to escape the giant wind. When they got to the perimeter
Alpha's dead, they stopped abruptly as though they had come
a cliff, and then they came back slowly, picking their way
Alpha's dead, embarrassed and wondering what to do
all this. The lieutenant got out and told the body people I
to touch any of the bodies until the army photographers had I
all the positions in which they had fallen. This was important,
said, so Intelligence could tell how the battle was lost. Or won,
said. We are not here to draw conclusions right now. The lieu-
was very young and had red hair. The grave registration
just stood now quiet among the dead, holding their bags in
they would place the dead folded over their arms, like
The army photographers alighted now holding their cameras
port like weapons, and began to shoot away at the dead it
at random, but they began at the concentric of the perim-
and worked outward in ever widening waves of shooting so
there was a method to their
shots. The young lieutenant kept
them not to touch. The photographers kept having trouble
the angle of repose in which many of the Alpha bodies lay.
had not fallen so that the army photographers could shoot
properly. It was important that they be shot so Intelligence
tell the direction they were pointing when they were hit,
many bodies had jammed guns, how many bodies ran out of
What was the configuration of each body in relation to the
of the neighbor body, and then to the configuration
the immediate group of bodies in which the body rests? What
does said group of bodies have to neighbor groups? To a1l
Bodies should be shot in such a way so that patterns of
action of dead are clear and manifest to establish Alpha's
if possible, to loss of ridge. Does bodies' configuration
aggressive or regressive response to ridge objective? Where
position of men and commissioned officers? Does body posi-
,of noncommissioned officers manifest immediate body group
Neighbor body group's leadership? Photographer
manifest if possible commissioned officer's response to com-
situation. Does command officer placement of body manifest
presence? Lack of same? Does placement of commis
officer's body manifest battle plan? Lack of same? Find
Photographers should shoot all mutilations. Does Captain
body show normal kill? Planned mutilations? Do Com-
officers' bodies show more mutilation than ear men?
battle situation became negative did ear men attempt to
away cars? Hide ears? Display ears?
"Don't touch," the lieutenant said.
The correspondent was examining the bodies. He had never
it so bad.
"Don't touch," the lieutenant said.
"What's this about ears?" the correspondent
"Ears?" the lieutenant said.
"You must mean years," the lieutenant said.
"We have some
men, some ten-year men."
"I see them," the correspondent said.
"I wouldn't write about it if I were you," the
"You'd pull my credentials?"
"I'll have a look-see," the correspondent said.
"Don't touch," the lieutenant said.
The correspondent leaned over a soft-face boy whose M-16
The boy body had never shaved. He was that young.
boy had something stuck in his mouth.
"Jesus," the correspondent said.
The young lieutenant knelt down alongside the
"You see how bad the enemy can be."
"Yes," the correspondent said. "Why has it
got a condom on it?"
"Because Alpha was traveling through jungle swamp.
that gets in the penis opening and travels up to the liver.
condom protects the penis."
The correspondent made a move to remove it.
"Don't touch," the lieutenant said.
"Why don't you bag him?"
"Intelligence wants pictures."
"Bag all of them," the correspondent said,
"and let's get out of
"It won't be long," the lieutenant said.
"If I report this you'll lift my credentials?"
"I don't know what the brass will do," the
lieutenant said. "I
know the people at home can't take it."
"They might stop your war," the correspondent
"They don't understand guerrilla war," the
"You're tough," the correspondent said,
"Listen," the lieutenant said, and touched the
"Don't touch," the correspondent said,
"Listen." the lieutenant said, "it makes
me sick. I hope it al-
makes me sick."
The correspondent stood up. There was an odor in the
from the bodies that the correspondent had not noticed when
chopper rotor was turning. Now the chopper was dead. It was
quiet in the jungle.
"How did Clancy get into this?"
"He asked for it," the lieutenant said.
"I heard different."
"You heard wrong," the lieutenant said.
"I heard he was ordered out here."
"He ordered himself out. Clancy's an old ear
always had that reputation, Clancy's an old ear col-
When the lieutenant became angry, his white skin that
tolerate the sun became red like his hair. His red hair was
short under his green helmet, and when the young lieu-
became angry, his white skin matched the hair.
"Clancy wanted to provoke the VC, Victor Charlie.
to collect more cars."
"I don't believe that.”
The lieutenant kicked something with his boot.
"Why not scalps?” the correspondent said.
"Because they're too difficult to take. Did you ever
try to take
"It's difficult," the lieutenant said.
"What makes you think Alpha Company asked for
"Because Clancy could have made it up the
hill," the lieutenant
pointing. "But he stayed down here on the narrow ridge hop-
Charlie would hit him. You see," the lieutenant said carefully.
It's only a hundred more meters up the ridge to the top of
hill. That makes a perfect defense up there, you call see that.
Clancy knew Charlie could see that too, and he wouldn't hit.
why Clancy stayed down here. Clancy wanted Charlie to
to take him."
"A full battalion?"
"Clancy didn't know Charlie had a full
"How do you know that?"
“We had contact with Appelfinger, his RTO man, before
dead. Clancy guessed the Unfriendlies as maybe an over-
"NVA. North Vietnamese Amy. Clancy knew that. They
good." The lieutenant almost mused now, looking over the
reflective and sad.
"We got a man alive here, Lieutenant," someone
The jungle had been most quiet, and everyone had been
the bodies with caution, almost soundlessly, so that the
was abrupt, peremptory, and rude, almost uncalled
"Don't touch," the lieutenant said. T1Je
lieutenant raised his
for a medic and moved toward the can, sinuously winding
the bodies with a snakelike silent grace. The man who
called, the mall who made the discovery, was a body man,
of the grave registration people. He had been standing gently
his bag over one and waiting patiently for the others to fin-
when he noticed a movement where there should have been
"Don't touch," the lieutenant said, standing
over the alive. "See
you can do," he said to the medic.
Each of the American dead had received a bullet through
carefully administered to each soldier by the enemy after
had overrun the position, to make absolutely certain that
was dead. The soldier who was alive had received his bullet
but it had been deflected by the helmet, and you could see
the medic removed the helmet from the head of the young
soldier that it had only torn through the very black, very
hair and lodged in the head bone. The soldier was dying of
causes of battle. You could see this when the medic re-
the boy Mexican's shirt, which he did skillfully now with a
The boy Mexican had been sprayed with hostile machine-
fire, eight bullets entering the olive-colored body just above
pelvis. The boy Mexican with olive body in the American
jungle uniform was cut in half. But he lived for now,
in sudden gusts of air terrifically as though each were his
"Nothing can be done," the medic said without
medic's hands were just frozen over the body, not moving to
just antic and motionless like a stalled marionette's.
"Water?" the lieutenant asked.
The medic shook his head no.
"If he's going, it could make it easier," the
lieutenant said. "He
to be looking at us for water."
The medic shook his head OK. Nothing would make any dif-
When one of the photographers tried to give the boy
from his canteen, the water would not run in the mouth;
just poured down the Mexican's chin and down his chest till it
his belly and mixed with the blood that was there.
"I think the son of a bitch is dead," one of
the army photog-
who was not pouring the water said.
"No," one of the body men said. "Let me
"That's enough," the medic said, letting the
body down. "I think
"How could the son of a bitch last so long when he
was cut in
"We have funny things like this all the time,"
the medic said.
funny thing is I've seen guys dead without a mark on
"Concussion? But there's always a little blood from
the ears or
isn't there?" .
"No, I've seen them dead without any reason at
all," the medic
wiping clean the face of the Mexican boy with the water the
could not drink. "If you look good at the guys around
I bet you’ll find at least one that doesn't have a mark on him
dead. It's funny. Some guys will die without any reason at
and some guys will live without any reason at all." The medic
perplexed. Then the medic allowed the boy's head to rest
his smashed helmet. "You'll find some guys with just that one
in the head given by the Unfriendlies after they overran
"Some guys will play dead," the army
photographer said, "hop-
to pass for dead among the dead."
"They don't get away with it though too much,"
the medic said.
the medic was not listening to himself. He was still perplexed
the Mexican boy could have lived so long when he was cut
half. "It's funny, that's all," the medic said.
"You Want them to die?"
"I don't want them to suffer," the medic said.
"There's another live one over here," someone
"Don't touch," the lieutenant said.
No one moved. There was a hiatus in the movement in the
as though, the correspondent thought, no one here
to be deceived again, no one wanted to be taken in by
illusion. The problem was that Alpha was all dead. You
tell that with a glance. Anyone could see that they were
to be photographed and placed in bags. It wasn't planned
anyone to come back to life. It made all the dead seem too
like people. The dead should stay dead.
"Maybe this one's real," someone said.
That started a drift toward the caller.
"Don't touch," the lieutenant said.
The correspondent got there early. It was a Negro. It did
as though the boy were hit. He was lying in a bed of bamboo.
looked comfortable. 11le Negro boy had a beginning half-smile
his face, but the smile was frozen. 11le eyes too were immobile.
Negro boy's eyes looked up, past the Correspondent and on
to the hole at the top of the jungle canopy. There were two
fronds that crossed way up there at the apex of the
Maybe that's what he was looking at. Maybe he was star-
at nothing. The Negro boy said something, but nothing came
His lips moved, and words seemed to be forming, but nothing
out. Maybe he was saying, the correspondent thought, that
had come a long way since he was dragged up with the rats in
ghetto. He had never been close to white people before, except
workers. Now he had joined the club. In death do us join.
The young Negro stopped breathing. The white medic was on
of the Negro like a lover. In one sudden deft movement the
medic was down on the bed of bamboo with his white arms
the black boy, his white lips to the black lips, breathing in
life to black death. The Negro lover did not respond. It was
late. The white boy was late. The eyes were all shut. Then
the young Negro's chest began to heave. The eyes
But not to life, the correspondent thought, but to outrage,
kind of wild sunrise and amaze at all this. As though he had
to death, to some kind of mute acceptance of no life and now
back to this, the lover's embrace, the lover lips of the white
The white medic ceased now, withdrew his lips from the
and tried to catch the erratic breathing of the Negro in
hand to give it a life rhythm. He was astraddle the boy now, up
the bamboo bed, and administering a regular beat with his
to the young Negro's chest.
“Ah," the Negro said.
“Ah," the white boy said.
“Ah ah ah," they both said.
Now the medic allowed the boy beneath to breathe on his
“Ah,” the lieutenant said.
“Ah-h-h-h…” everyone said.
Now the jungle made sounds. The awful silence had given
the noises that usually accompany American motion picture.
cry of gaudy birds seemed fake. The complaints of small ani-
distant, were remote like some sound track that had blurred,
other mix for a different cinema, so that you not only ex-
that the next real would announce the mistake, that this
wo111d have, to start all over again, but that the whole damn
would be thrown out with whoever was responsible for this
here at Dak To, this unacceptable nightmare, this hor-
this unmentionable destruction of Clancy and all his men.
more, the correspondent thought, this is the finis, the end of
in this clearing, this opening in the jungle, the end of human-
itself and the planet earth on which it abides. And sl1it, the
thought-and Ah- He found himself saying it
now, celebrating the rebirth, the resurrection of the black
and the rebirth and resurrection after the crucifixion of hu-
itself. And shit, he reflected, they, Alpha Company, are
ear hunters, and maybe not shit because all of Alpha were
in for us, surrogate, and all of us are collectors of ear.
"Will he make it?” the young lieutenant said.
The medic looked perplexed. It was his favorite and
Then he went down in the bamboo bed in lover atti-
to listen to the heart.
"No," he said from the black heart.
"Because," the medic said from the black heart.
were supposed to be all dead here, and we needed body
in tl1e chopper, and there was no room for my shit."
"We didn't bring any," the medic said.
"Can he talk?"
“Yes." the medic passed a white hand in front of
the black face.
black eyes did not follow it.
"Ask him what happened to Clancy's body. Clancy is
The medic made a gentle movement witl1 his hands along
of the Negro and whispered to him with lover closeness,
"What happened to the captain?"
"Where is the body?"
"The RTO man," the Negro pronounced slowly.
"Appelfinger carried him off," the medic said
to the lieutenat.
"Can you give the boy some morphine?" the
lieutenat said to
"I don't like his heart."
"Can he talk more?"
"I don't think it would be good," the medic
"All right, keep him quiet," the lieutenant
"They was so nice," the Negro said.
"Keep him quiet," the lieutenant said.
"They gave us all one shot," the Negro said.
"They was so
"Keep him quiet."
"They was so nice-"
"I said keep him quiet," the lieutenant said.
And the lieutenant
war is so nice. Looking over all the dead, he thought
was never like this, and he thought in this war everything
permitted so that there is nothing to be forgiven. And he
about the ears that Clancy took, and he thought a man
read and read and read and think and think and still be a
and he thought there are no villains, there are only wars.
he said, "If the photographers are finished, put the men in
And then there was that goddamn jungle silence again,
and stern admonition and threat of the retribution of Asia
while trespassers. But that is metaphysical, the lieutenant
and it is only the VC you have to fear. More, it is only
you have to fear. It is only Clancy you have to fear.
"When you find pieces of body," the lieutenant
said, "try to
them and put the matched pieces into one separate bag. Re-
a man has only two arms and two legs and one head each.
don't want to find two heads in one bag."
And the lieutenant thought, Clancy is dead but the crimes
did live after him. Custer liked to destroy the
and shoot up the natives too. Listen to this, the lieutenant
Captain Clancy silently. I did not spend an my time in the
I spent some of the time in the library. What you did in
villages is not new. Collecting cars is not new. Listen, Clancy,
Lieutenant James D. Connors after the massacre of the Indians
Sand Creek, "The next, day I did not see a body of a man,
or Indian child that was not scalped by us, and in many
the bodies were mutilated in the most horrible manner.
women's and children's private parts cut out. I saw one of
men who had cut out a woman's private parts and had them
exhibition on a stick. Some of our men had cut out the private
of females and wore them in their hats." I don't think you
top that. Clancy. I don't think war has come very far since
I don't think your ears can top that, Clancy.
“What's happening, Lieutenant?" the correspondent
“Happening?" the lieutenant said. "I was
"This man is dead," the medic said, pointing to
"Bag him," the lieutenant said.
"What were you thinking?" the correspondent
"That this makes me sick. Awful sick."
"Have you ever seen it this bad?"
"No, I have never seen it this bad," the
lieutenant said, spacing
words as though the correspondent were taking each separate
down. "No, I have never seen it this bad in my whole short
I have never seen it this bad. No, I have never seen it this bad.
that what you want me to say?"
"Take it easy," the correspondent said.
"OK," the lieutenant said. "I'm
sorry." And then the lieutenant
something. It was the sound of a mortar shell dropping into
mortar tube in the jungle. It was the sound the lieutenant had
too many times before, then the poof, as the enemy mortar
out of the tube, then the whine as it traveled to their com-
The symphony. The music of Vietnam. Incoming! The lieu-
hollered as loud as he could make it. "Incoming!"
Incoming? Where? Who? Why? The shell hit their
it all exploded in a towering orange hot pillar of fire in the
“Pull the bodies around you, men, and try to dig in.
as a perimeter!" the lieutenant hollered. Then the lieuten-
said quietly to the correspondent. "I'm sorry I got you into
"You didn't," the correspondent said.
"I'll try to get Search and Rescue on the
“You do that," the correspondent said.
"The Biggest Thing Since
Custer"-William Eastlake. The Atlantic, Copyright
(c)1968 by The Atlantic Monthly
Company, Boston, Mass. Reprinted permission.
Piercy, from Breaking Camp
A painting by Edward Hicks, 1780- 1849, hung in the Brooklyn Museum
babies square and downy as bolsters
nursery clothing nestle among curly lions and lowing cattle, I
wolf of scythe and ashes, a bear smiling in sleep.
paw of a leopard with spots and eyes of headlights
near calf and vanilla child.
the background under the yellow autumn tree
and settlers sign a fair treaty.
mist of dream cools the lake.
the first floor of the museum Indian remains
artfully displayed. Today is August sixth.
eats man with sauces of newsprint.
vision of that kingdom of satisfaction
all bellies are round with sweet grasses
on my face pleasantly
I have eaten five of those animals.
are fat and busy as maggots.
the rich flat black land,
wide swirlmarked browngreen rivers,
wheat baking tawny, corn's silky spikes,
bright kettles of steel and crackling wires, turn to
shining weapons that scorch the earth.
pride of our hive
into hoards of murderous sleek bombs.
glitter and spark righteousness.
are blinding as a new car in the sunshine.
rains from our fluffy clouds.
our evil froths polluting the waters
what stream on what mountain do you miss
telltale redbrown sludge and rim of suds?
the word lies like a smooth turd
the tongues of politicians ordering
sweet flesh seared on the staring bone.
is added to the municipal water,
is deposited in the marrow and teeth.
my name they are stealing from people with nothing
slim bodies. When did I hire these assassins?
mild friend no longer paints mysteries of doors and mirrors.
her walls the screams of burning children coagulate.
mathematician with his webspangled language
shadow and substance half spun
in an attic playing the flute all summer
fear of his own brain, for fear that the baroque
of his joy will be turned to a weapon.
P.M. in Brooklyn; night allover my country.
the smoke of guilt drift out of dreams.
did I hire these killers? one day in anger
seaslime hatred at the duplicity of flesh?
steak in a suave restaurant, did I give the sign?
like a melon in bed, did I murmur consent?
I contract it in Indiana for a teaching job?
it something I signed for a passport or a loan?
in my name blood burns like oil day and night.
nation is founded on blood like a city on swamps
its dream has been beautiful and sometimes just
now grows brutal and heavy as a burned out star.
Because in Vietnam the vision of a Burning Babe
is multiplied, multiplied,
the flesh on fire
not Christ's, as Southwell saw it, prefiguring
the Passion upon the Eve of Christmas.
but wholly human and
infant after infant, their names forgotten,
their sex-unknown in the ashes.
set alight, flaming but not vanishing.
not vanishing as his vision but lingering,
the earth or living on
moaning and stinking in hospitals three abed;
because of this my strong sight.
my clear caressive sight, my poet's sight I was given
that it might stir me to song,
There is a cataract filming over
my inner eyes. Or else a monstrous insect
has entered my head, and looks out
from my sockets with multiple vision.
seeing not the unique Holy Infant
sublimely, an imagination of redemption,
furnace in which souls are wrought into new life,
but, as off a beltline, more, more senseless figures aflame,
And this insect (who is not there-
it is my own eyes do my seeing, the insect
is not there, what I see is
will not permit me to look elsewhere,
or if I look, to see except dulled and unfocused
the delicate, firm, whole flesh of the still unburned.
What Were They Like?
1) Did the people of Viet Nam
use lanterns of stone?
2) Did they hold ceremonies
to reverence the opening of buds?
3) Were they inclined to rippling laughter?
4) Did they use bone and ivory,
jade and silver, for ornament?
5) Had they an epic poem?
6) Did they distinguish between speech and singing?
1) Sir, their light hearts turned to stone.
It is not remembered where in gardens
stone lanterns illumined pleasant ways.
2) Perhaps they gathered once to delight in blossom,
but after the children were killed
there were no more buds.
3) Sir, laughter is bitter to the burned mouth.
4) A dream ago, perhaps. Ornament is for joy.
All bones were charred.
5) It is not remembered. Remember,
Most were peasants; their life
was in rice and bamboo.
When peaceful clouds were reflected in the paddies
and the water buffalo stepped surely along terraces,
maybe fathers told their sons old tales.
When bombs smashed the mirrors
there was time only to scream.
6) There is no echo yet, it is said,
of their speech which was like a song.
It is reported their singing resembled
the flight of moths in moonlight.
Who can say? It is silent now.
Vil1age has always lain in the path of the conqueror.
villages of Viet Nam, of Africa, of Peru and Brazil,
Ireland, Spain, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, Iowa, New
Thailand, look up in anger at the sky filled with
at napalm burning crops and skin, and still
plunder the Village and the Villagers.
Puritans plundered villages from coast to coast;
the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears, threw smallpox
clothes into the Mandan villages, Kit Carson
the Navajos off their lands into the concentration
north of Trinidad, Colorado, you can see the
over the Black Ho]e of Ludlow, a tent village
by Rockefeller. Cortez marched over the bodies
the Indian villages, destroyed from Ohio to Tierra del
Hearst left a village of skulls at the mines of Potosi
family fled the Irish villages taken over for sheep
for the mills of Newcastle. My Iowa village is owned
absentee landlords now. Name Lidice, the villages
pogroms, Guernica; from the Big Horn to Viet Nam-
Massacre of Wounded Knee to the Mekong Delta,
same Village--our village.
By: Kenneth Pitchford
Photos of the Atrocities
I'm going to read poems
a college class called
to Literary Analysis.
can something be introduced
doesn't exist? We have brains
thinking hard about our lives
words for telling about them
we don't use either well.
I'm alone with my four-mouth baby.
thinking about him-and what I'll say
to the class-
about the color photos of the atrocities,
babies his age arranged in heaps.
glaring red brought to us
of Ansco, a corporation that got rich,
of the Kennedys, by buying cheap
from the slave 1abor of concentration camps
that dead sweat crystallized like honey into profits
folksinger on the phonograph
all 'go together / to pick wild mountain thyme
the purple heather"
my usual afternoon of mothering my child
to turn over upside down
I rock and croon along and refuse to cry
he looks up in puzzlement, wanting
smile. Robbed of speech just long enough
that he will always feel separate,
to explain what he needs,
of us convinced no one could understand,
disbelieving that sharing anything is possible.
then I started crying, wondering where
people are, knowing that I will never
them, will never go, as I’ve often dreamed,
into burnished hills with
many possessions on our backs,
of them shared, our children shared,
freed of manning and womaning,
backward out of history,
of this time, backward to songs
campfires and spoken poems
go unwritten-down, handed on
of mouth sometimes, it ever.
least I can see how useless academics are,
phoney their claim to preserve and instill
the attendant at Auschwitz chatting
a knowledgeable young victim about Goethe
escorting him back to the end of the execution line
and again so that he could
his own chances on a literature exam upcoming
of course he finally had to let the victim pass).
least I know how useless everything we do becomes
faced with color photos of the atrocities.
baby in the heap squirmed to find the wet breast
his dead mother, habit having had just time enough
teach: Breast equals Safety
how explain this red milk? Next
child, too, was shot,
finished off with the stab of a bayonet,
into three neat pieces
being thrown away. Not any words,
any any any words I can teach you,
precious baby, can say back the cries
in your stabbed throat,
introduction to any analysis
to explaining what has happened to a country
pays $40,000 for color photos
the atrocities but will not buy
milk to keep its own babies from starving.
it. All of it.
Stop taking courses
this one. Wipe them out of the
them with Introduction to
Intermediate Bucher; Advanced
bringing this thing that is killing
down, this ersatz republic, this murderous empire.
is no country for us to escape to,
purple heather, and I don’t even know how
build it here in our lives and words
my tears take colorless pictures of your smile.
is worse the lieutenant raising his rifle
the astonished women and children jammed
the bomb crater raising it-1lot even aiming1ust carelessly
to do it the way you'd rake a lawn you start
that or when saw a boy in a department store
his mother he was skipping along going toot toot toot
the mother saw me I could see her flinch about something
when passed them she cracked him him! not me
the mouth stunning him terribly hissing
you know where you are? which is worse
be in the world with that or with that? or is it
there's god and you think they've killed him!
the dread god did you really say hit them! kill them!
to the children then the mothers
forgive me, then myself then
no sacrament for the people forgotten
mid-sentence gone except in fuck you! where they cry god
thought two ways up the first
when felt the boy's spirit become pain because of me
have apologize not to him or even the mother
to YOU! I'm sorry and the other is for the others
the ditch in their tom clothes just as the bullets go into them
go mad and have you seen how men in toilets
stadiums or the movies stare into the wall
we won't covet each other's cocks? I would stare
you like that and never move again; never let you die
never let you be anywhere else staring watching
boil helplessly back and forth on the ceiling
move! trying to electrocute yourself on the wires,
where you are! trying to slice your body
pieces on the fluttering cobwebs don't die on me!
Williams form Bitter Name
The Spirit the Triumph
you remember learning to tie your shoes?
the loops you had to make the delicate
the pulling-through tightening impossible!
things we learn!
a bridle on a horse when he's head-shy
your hands under a girl's sweater
wonder we are the crown of all that exists
can do anything how we climb chimneys
we put one foot on the gas one on the clutch
make the car go nothing too difficult nothing!
artificial arms have you seen that?
they pick their cups up and use razors? amazing!
the wives shine it for them at night
sleeping the wives take it out of the room
polish it with its own special rag
late they hold it against their bellies
leather laces dangle into their laps
mechanisms slip noiselessly
the hook softly onto their breasts
men! aren't we something? I mean
are worth thinking about aren't we?
are the end we are the living end
Williams form Bitter Name
Campfires of the Resistance
after day after day it goes on
no one knows how to stop it or escape.
are sodden with many agonies.
hear our hopeless laughter. I watch us drink.
is in everyone's eyes, war is made
the kitchen, in the bedroom, in the car at stoplights.
marriage collapses like a burning house
the other houses smolder. Old friends
there way in silence. Students stare
their teachers, and suddenly feel afraid.
old people are terrified like cattle
their eyes and bellowing, while the young
on the flashing roads carrying nothing
a message and some black flowers, or come out
their hearts on fire, alive in the last days.
children roam the neighborhoods armed
submachineguns, gas masks and riot sticks.
are made in us and slowly
are filled in with used up things: knives
dull to cut bread with, bombs that failed to go off,
smashed on the highway, broken pencils,
of soap, hair, gristle, old TV sets
hum and stare out blindly like the insane.
kneel down, the cities billow and plunge
horses in their smoke, the tall buildings
their burning hysterical eyes at night,
leafy suburbs look up at the clouds and tremble-
my wife leaves her bed before dawn, walking
icy pasture, shrieking her grief to the cows,
in tears to the softening blackness. I hear her
the window, crazed, inconsolable,
go out to fetch her. Yesterday she saw
photograph, Naomi our little girl
a ditch in Viet Nam, half in the water,
rest of her, beached on the mud, was horribly burned