From: Smiling Through the Apocalypse.  Esquires History of the Sixties.  

(non fiction essays)


An American Atrocity


by Normand Poirier



      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

rounds 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.


There 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 sides.

Numbers 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

hamlet 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

patio, 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,

sobbing, 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.


sharp 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 C.P.

      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 over.


                                                            At the C.P,                                 

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 soldiers…”

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 this capacity.

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.


                                                The 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 they answered.


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. Bretag


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 the patrol.

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:

“I can’t.”

“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 up.”

Then Sergeant Vogel told Major Elkins what really happened.




The Inquiry

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 _______________________________________________________

satisfy 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 said.

      “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 anything.”

      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 happening!”

      “Yes, sir.”

      “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 was living.”

      “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!”

      “Count cadence?”

      “No, just count for him. So I started counting. I turned around and started counting…”

      “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 butt!”

      “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.’”


Vogel’s 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 stopped him.

      “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 her.”

      “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 involved.”

      “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 first.”

      “I……I don’t remember……”

Ellis 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 into!”

      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.”

      “Right, sir!”

      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.”


McGhen 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 was.”

      “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.”

Ellis 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 what?”

      “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?”

      “No, sir.”

      “What do they teach about it? Murder, I’m talking about, not just war-time killing.”

      “It’s not done, sir.”

      “It’s against the law of God?”

      “Yes, sir.
      “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?”

      “Yes, sir.”

      “How old are you?”

      “Nineteen, sir.”

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 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 arranged story.

      “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 shoot……”

      “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?”

      “Yes sir.”

      “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 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?”

      “Yes sir.”

      “How old are you?”

      “Nineteen, sir.”


                        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 arranged story.

      “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 shoot…”

      “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?”

      “Yes sir.”

      “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.”


                                          Sergeant 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?”

      “Yes, 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, lieutenant.”

      “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 and that…

      “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 civilians killed!”


      “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.  A baby.”

      “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 alive?”

      “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 and Monroe.

      “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.  Nobody knew.”

      “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 time?”

      “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 answer.

      “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 accident!”

      “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 guess.”

      “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 that!”

      “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 taken.”

      “They couldn’t have,” Talty maintained, shaking his head. “I gave them specific….”

      “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?”


      “The Doc?”


      “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…”


The Verdict

      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 t/c rape.

      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 mentally responsible.”

      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 beforehand.”

      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 new free.

      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 officer.

      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 Talty’s trial:

      “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?”

      “Yes sir.”

      “You knew that in the past they were guilty of antagonism and brutality toward the Vietnamese people?”

      “I wouldn’t say brutality.”

      “Pushing around?”


      “Hitting on occasion?”

      “I have never seen it but I have heard it.”

      “You knew the victims of their acts, roughhousing, were innocent people.”      “That is correct.”

      “And yet you let them run the squad?”

      “They were both good troopers.  Very good.”

      “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 it?”

      “I don’t know,” Talty said. “I just wanted to get away from there.”

      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 “finished” file.                                                 [August, 1969]


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.

WILLIAM EASTLAKE is the author of many short stories and

two novels. Castle Keep and The Bamboo Bed, the latter pub-

lished last fall. He is married and lives in Arizona.


The Biggest Thing Since Custer


The chopper came in low over the remains of Clancy's outfit.

Everyone below seemed very dead. They were as quiet as lambs.

Sometimes you could see what looked like smoke coming up from

a fire, but it was only ground fog. Everyone with Clancy was dead.

All of Alpha Company. It was the biggest thing since Custer.

      Mike, the correspondent, had to watch himself. The correspond-

ent tended to take the side of the Indians. You got to remember

that this is not the Little Big Horn. This is Vietnam. Vietnam.

Vietnam. They all died in Vietnam. A long way from home. What

were the Americans doing here? The same thing they were doing

in Indian Country.  In Sioux Territory. 11Iey were protecting

Americans. They were Protecting Americans from the Red Hordes.

God help Clancy. You could tell here from above how Clancy

blundered. Clancy blundered by being in Vietnam. That's a


      The chopper circled now low over the dead battle. Clancy had

blundered by not holding the ridge. Clancy had blundered by be-

ing forced into a valley, a declivity in the hills. It was the classic

American blunder in Vietnam of giving the Indians the cover.

The enemy was fighting from the protection of the jungle. The

first thing the Americans did in America was clear a forest and

plant the cities.

Concentrate on the battle below. Do not always take tile side

of the Indians. You could see here clearly from above how Clancy

blew it. In the part of the highlands of Vietnam near the

Cambodian-Laos bunch-up, there is no true Open country. Every-

thing is in patches. You could see where Clancy's point squad had

made contact with the enemy. You could sec, you could tell by all

tile shit of war, where Clancy had made, where Clancy had tried

to make, his first stand on the ridge and then allowed hiss perim-

eter to be bent by the hostiles attacking down the ridge. Then

Clancy's final regrouping in the draw where all the bodies were.

Clancy should have held that ridge at all costs. If you must fight

in the open, fight high. Then the only way the enemy can kill you

is with arching fire. Mortar fire. You can dig in against mortar fire.

When they force you in the vallley, you are duck soup. They can

hit you with everything from above. From the way the bodies lie

Clancy had mounted three counterattacks to get the ridge back he

had too early conceded. The attacks were not in concert. He did

not hit them all at once. There should have been more American

bodies on the ridge. Clancy should have paid any price to get back

the ridge. The ridge was the only opportunity. The vallley was

death. Ah, but the valley is comfortable. The hill is tough, and the

men are all give out and dragging ass, tired and leaking blood. See

where they stumbled up and were shot down. See where they

failed. See where they tried again and again and again. Where they

were shot down. See the paths of bright they made with their

blood. See Clancy pointing them on with his sword. War is kind.

See Clancy pointing them on with his sword. The son of a bitch

had one, like in an old movie. See Clancy pointing them on up

the ridge. Once more into the breach. Once more, men, for God

and Country and Alpha Company. I blew the ridge. Get it back.

Get it back. Get it back for Clancy. Go Smith, go Donovitch, go

Lewis, get that--back! I need it. Now Shaplen, now Marshall,

now Irvine, get me the--back. I will lead this charge. Every man

behind me. Where has every young man gone? Why is that native

killing me? Why, Shaplen? Why, Marshall? Why, Irvine? All dead.

The valley is beautiful, warm, and in this season of Vietnam, soft

in the monsoon wet. Contemplative, withdrawn, silent, and now

bepatched, bequilted with all of the dead. Alive with scarlet color.

Gray with the dead.

The helicopter that carried the correspondent made one more

big circle to see if it would pick up ground fire, then came in and

hit down in the middle of Clancy's dead with a smooth chonk noise.

The grave registration people got out first. They ejected in the

manner of all soldiers from an alighting chopper, jumping out be-

fore it quite touched the ground, then running as fast as they

could go to escape the giant wind. When they got to the perimeter

of Alpha's dead, they stopped abruptly as though they had come

to a cliff, and then they came back slowly, picking their way

among Alpha's dead, embarrassed and wondering what to do

about all this. The lieutenant got out and told the body people I

not to touch any of the bodies until the army photographers had I

shot all the positions in which they had fallen. This was important,

he said, so Intelligence could tell how the battle was lost. Or won,

he said. We are not here to draw conclusions right now. The lieu-

tenant was very young and had red hair. The grave registration

people just stood now quiet among the dead, holding their bags in

which they would place the dead folded over their arms, like


The army photographers alighted now holding their cameras at

high port like weapons, and began to shoot away at the dead it

seemed at random, but they began at the concentric of the perim-

eter and worked outward in ever widening waves of shooting so

that  there  was a method to their shots. The young lieutenant kept

telling them not to touch. The photographers kept having trouble

with the angle of repose in which many of the Alpha bodies lay.

They had not fallen so that the army photographers could shoot

them properly. It was important that they be shot so Intelligence

could tell the direction they were pointing when they were hit,

How many bodies had jammed guns, how many bodies ran out of

ammo. What was the configuration of each body in relation to the

configuration of the neighbor body, and then to the configuration

of the immediate group of bodies in which the body rests? What

relation does said group of bodies have to neighbor groups? To a1l

groups? Bodies should be shot in such a way so that patterns of

final action of dead are clear and manifest to establish Alpha's

response, if possible, to loss of ridge. Does bodies' configuration

show aggressive or regressive response to ridge objective? Where

body position of men and commissioned officers? Does body posi-

tion ,of noncommissioned officers manifest immediate body group

leadership? Neighbor body group's leadership? Photographer

should manifest if possible commissioned officer's response to com-

mand situation. Does command officer placement of body manifest

command presence? Lack of same? Does placement of commis

sioned officer's body manifest battle plan? Lack of same? Find

Clancy. Photographers should shoot all mutilations. Does Captain

Clancy's body show normal kill? Planned mutilations? Do Com-

missioned officers' bodies show more mutilation than ear men?

When battle situation became negative did ear men attempt to

throw  away cars? Hide ears? Display ears?

"Don't touch," the lieutenant said.

The correspondent was examining the bodies. He had never

seen it so bad.

"Don't touch," the lieutenant said.

"What's this about ears?" the correspondent said.

"Ears?" the lieutenant said.


"You must mean years," the lieutenant said. "We have some

five-year men, some ten-year men."

"I see them," the correspondent said.

"I wouldn't write about it if I were you," the lieutenant said.

"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 had

jammed. The boy body had never shaved. He was that young.

The boy had something stuck in his mouth.

"Jesus," the correspondent said.

The young lieutenant knelt down alongside the correspondent


"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. There's an

organism that gets in the penis opening and travels up to the liver.

The 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

do know the people at home can't take it."

"They might stop your war," the correspondent said.

"They don't understand guerrilla war," the lieutenant said.

"You're tough," the correspondent said,

"Listen," the lieutenant said, and touched the correspondent.

"Don't touch," the correspondent said,

"Listen." the lieutenant said, "it makes me sick. I hope it al-

ways makes me sick."



The correspondent stood up. There was an odor in the jungle

now from the bodies that the correspondent had not noticed when

the chopper rotor was turning. Now the chopper was dead. It was

very 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 collector. Alpha

Company always had that reputation, Clancy's an old ear col-


When the lieutenant became angry, his white skin that could

not tolerate the sun became red like his hair. His red hair was

clipped short under his green helmet, and when the young lieu-

tenant became angry, his white skin matched the hair.

"Clancy wanted to provoke the VC, Victor Charlie. Clancy

wanted 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

a scalp?"


"It's difficult," the lieutenant said.

"What makes you think Alpha Company asked for this?"

"Because Clancy could have made it up the hill," the lieutenant

said pointing. "But he stayed down here on the narrow ridge hop-

ing Charlie would hit him. You see," the lieutenant said carefully.

"Look. It's only a hundred more meters up the ridge to the top of

the hill. That makes a perfect defense up there, you call see that.

And Clancy knew Charlie could see that too, and he wouldn't hit.

That's why Clancy stayed down here. Clancy wanted Charlie to

try to take him."

"A full battalion?"

"Clancy didn't know Charlie had a full battalion."

"How do you know that?"

“We had contact with Appelfinger, his RTO man, before radio

went dead. Clancy guessed the Unfriendlies as maybe an over-

strength company."


"NVA. North Vietnamese Amy. Clancy knew that. They are

quite good." The lieutenant almost mused now, looking over the

dead, reflective and sad.

"We got a man alive here, Lieutenant," someone called.

The jungle had been most quiet, and everyone had been moving

through the bodies with caution, almost soundlessly, so that the

announcement was abrupt, peremptory, and rude, almost uncalled


"Don't touch," the lieutenant said. T1Je lieutenant raised his

arm for a medic and moved toward the can, sinuously winding

through the bodies with a snakelike silent grace. The man who

had called, the mall who made the discovery, was a body man,

one of the grave registration people. He had been standing gently

with his bag over one and waiting patiently for the others to fin-

ish when he noticed a movement where there should have been


"Don't touch," the lieutenant said, standing over the alive. "See

what you can do," he said to the medic.

Each of the American dead had received a bullet through the

head, carefully administered to each soldier by the enemy after

they had overrun the position, to make absolutely certain that

each was dead. The soldier who was alive had received his bullet

too, but it had been deflected by the helmet, and you could see

when the medic removed the helmet from the head of the young

Mexican soldier that it had only torn through the very black, very

thick hair and lodged in the head bone. The soldier was dying of

natural causes of battle. You could see this when the medic re-

moved the boy Mexican's shirt, which he did skillfully now with a

knife. The boy Mexican had been sprayed with hostile machine-

gun fire, eight bullets entering the olive-colored body just above

the pelvis. The boy Mexican with olive body in the American

olive-colored jungle uniform was cut in half. But he lived for now,

talking in sudden gusts of air terrifically as though each were his


"Nothing can be done," the medic said without saying anything.

The medic's hands were just frozen over the body, not moving to

succor, 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

seems 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 Mexican

water from his canteen, the water would not run in the mouth;

it just poured down the Mexican's chin and down his chest till it

reached his belly and mixed with the blood that was there.

"I think the son of a bitch is dead," one of the army photog-

raphers who was not pouring the water said.

"No," one of the body men said. "Let me try it."

"That's enough," the medic said, letting the body down. "I think

he's dead now."

"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.

“Another funny thing is I've seen guys dead without a mark on


"Concussion? But there's always a little blood from the ears or

something, isn't there?" .

"No, I've seen them dead without any reason at all," the medic

said, wiping clean the face of the Mexican boy with the water the

Mexican could not drink. "If you look good at the guys around

here I bet you’ll find at least one that doesn't have a mark on him

that's dead. It's funny. Some guys will die without any reason at

all, and some guys will live without any reason at all." The medic

looked perplexed. Then the medic allowed the boy's head to rest

on his smashed helmet. "You'll find some guys with just that one

bullet in the head given by the Unfriendlies after they overran


"Some guys will play dead," the army photographer said, "hop-

ing to pass for dead among the dead."

"They don't get away with it though too much," the medic said.

But the medic was not listening to himself. He was still perplexed

that the Mexican boy could have lived so long when he was cut

in 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 called.

"Don't touch," the lieutenant said.

No one moved. There was a hiatus in the movement in the

jungle, as though, the correspondent thought, no one here

wanted to be deceived again, no one wanted to be taken in by

another illusion. The problem was that Alpha was all dead. You

could tell that with a glance. Anyone could see that they were

ready to be photographed and placed in bags. It wasn't planned

for anyone to come back to life. It made all the dead seem too

much 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 not

seem as though the boy were hit. He was lying in a bed of bamboo.

He looked comfortable. 11le Negro boy had a beginning half-smile

on his face, but the smile was frozen. 11le eyes too were immobile.

The Negro boy's eyes looked up, past the Correspondent and on

up to the hole at the top of the jungle canopy. There were two

elongated fronds that crossed way up there at the apex of the

canopy. Maybe that's what he was looking at. Maybe he was star-

ing at nothing. The Negro boy said something, but nothing came

out. His lips moved, and words seemed to be forming, but nothing

came out. Maybe he was saying, the correspondent thought, that

he had come a long way since he was dragged up with the rats in

the ghetto. He had never been close to white people before, except

relief workers. Now he had joined the club. In death do us join.

The young Negro stopped breathing. The white medic was on

top of the Negro like a lover. In one sudden deft movement the

white medic was down on the bed of bamboo with his white arms

around the black boy, his white lips to the black lips, breathing in

white life to black death. The Negro lover did not respond. It was

too late. The white boy was late. The eyes were all shut. Then

abruptly the young Negro's chest began to heave. The eyes

opened. But not to life, the correspondent thought, but to outrage,

a kind of wild sunrise and amaze at all this. As though he had

gone to death, to some kind of mute acceptance of no life and now

come back to this, the lover's embrace, the lover lips of the white


The white medic ceased now, withdrew his lips from the young

Negro's and tried to catch the erratic breathing of the Negro in

his hand to give it a life rhythm. He was astraddle the boy now, up

from the bamboo bed, and administering a regular beat with his

hands 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 own.

“Ah,” the lieutenant said.

“Ah-h-h-h…” everyone said.

Now the jungle made sounds. The awful silence had given way

to the noises that usually accompany American motion picture.

The cry of gaudy birds seemed fake. The complaints of small ani-

mals, distant, were remote like some sound track that had blurred,

some other mix for a different cinema, so that you not only ex-

pected that the next real would announce the mistake, that this

war wo111d have, to start all over again, but that the whole damn

thillg would be thrown out with whoever was responsible for this

disaster here at Dak To, this unacceptable nightmare, this hor-

ror, this unmentionable destruction of Clancy and all his men.

But more, the correspondent thought, this is the finis, the end of

man in this clearing, this opening in the jungle, the end of human-

kind itself and the planet earth on which it abides. And sl1it, the

correspondent thought-and Ah- He found himself saying it

too now, celebrating the rebirth, the resurrection of the black

man and the rebirth and resurrection after the crucifixion of hu-   

mankind itself. And shit, he reflected, they, Alpha Company, are

the ear hunters, and maybe not shit because all of Alpha were

standing 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 especial

expression. Then he went down in the bamboo bed in lover atti-

tude to listen to the heart.

"No," he said from the black heart. "No."


"Because," the medic said from the black heart. "No. Because

they were supposed to be all dead here, and we needed body

room in tl1e chopper, and there was no room for my shit."

"Blood plasma?"

"We didn't bring any," the medic said.

"Can he talk?"

“Yes." the medic passed a white hand in front of the black face.

The black eyes did not follow it.

"Ask him what happened to Clancy's body. Clancy is missing."

The medic made a gentle movement witl1 his hands along the

throat of the Negro and whispered to him with lover closeness,

"What happened to the captain?"

"He dead."

"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

the medic.

"I don't like his heart."



"Can he talk more?"

"I don't think it would be good," the medic said.

"All right, keep him quiet," the lieutenant said.

"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

thought, war is so nice. Looking over all the dead, he thought

ROTC was never like this, and he thought in this war everything

is permitted so that there is nothing to be forgiven. And he

thought about the ears that Clancy took, and he thought a man

can read and read and read and think and think and still be a

villain, and he thought there are no villains, there are only wars.

And he said, "If the photographers are finished, put the men in

the bags."



And then there was that goddamn jungle silence again, this aw-

ful and stern admonition and threat of the retribution of Asia

to while trespassers. But that is metaphysical, the lieutenant

thought, and it is only the VC you have to fear. More, it is only

yourself you have to fear. It is only Clancy you have to fear.

Clancy is dead.

"When you find pieces of body," the lieutenant said, "try to

match them and put the matched pieces into one separate bag. Re-

member a man has only two arms and two legs and one head each.

I don't want to find two heads in one bag."

And the lieutenant thought, Clancy is dead but the crimes that

Clancy did live after him. Custer liked to destroy the

villages and shoot up the natives too. Listen to this, the lieutenant

told Captain Clancy silently. I did not spend an my time in the

ROTC. I spent some of the time in the library. What you did in

the villages is not new. Collecting cars is not new. Listen, Clancy,

to Lieutenant James D. Connors after the massacre of the Indians

at Sand Creek, "The next, day I did not see a body of a man,

woman or Indian child that was not scalped by us, and in many

instances the bodies were mutilated in the most horrible manner.

Men's, women's and children's private parts cut out. I saw one of

our men who had cut out a woman's private parts and had them

for exhibition on a stick. Some of our men had cut out the private

parts of females and wore them in their hats." I don't think you

can top that. Clancy. I don't think war has come very far since

then. I don't think your ears can top that, Clancy.

“What's happening, Lieutenant?" the correspondent said.

“Happening?" the lieutenant said. "I was thinking."

"This man is dead," the medic said, pointing to the Negro.

"Bag him," the lieutenant said.

"What were you thinking?" the correspondent said.

"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

his words as though the correspondent were taking each separate

word down. "No, I have never seen it this bad in my whole short

life. I have never seen it this bad. No, I have never seen it this bad.

Is that what you want me to say?"

"Take it easy," the correspondent said.

"OK," the lieutenant said. "I'm sorry." And then the lieutenant

heard something. It was the sound of a mortar shell dropping into

a mortar tube in the jungle. It was the sound the lieutenant had

heard too many times before, then the poof, as the enemy mortar

came out of the tube, then the whine as it traveled to their com-

pany. The symphony. The music of Vietnam. Incoming! The lieu-

tenant hollered as loud as he could make it. "Incoming!"

Incoming? Where? Who? Why? The shell hit their helicopter,

and it all exploded in a towering orange hot pillar of fire in the


“Pull the bodies around you, men, and try to dig in. Use the

bodies as a perimeter!" the lieutenant hollered. Then the lieuten-

ant 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 radio."

“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.


Marge Piercy, from Breaking Camp


The Peaceable Kingdom

      A painting by Edward Hicks, 1780- 1849, hung in the Brooklyn Museum


Creamcheese babies square and downy as bolsters

in nursery clothing nestle among curly lions and lowing cattle, I

a wolf of scythe and ashes, a bear smiling in sleep.

The paw of a leopard with spots and eyes of headlights

rests near calf and vanilla child.

In the background under the yellow autumn tree

Indians and settlers sign a fair treaty.

The mist of dream cools the lake.


On the first floor of the museum Indian remains

are artfully displayed. Today is August sixth.

Man eats man with sauces of newsprint.

The vision of that kingdom of satisfaction

where all bellies are round with sweet grasses

blows on my face pleasantly

though I have eaten five of those animals.

We are fat and busy as maggots.


All the rich flat black land,

the wide swirlmarked browngreen rivers,

leafy wheat baking tawny, corn's silky spikes,

sun bright kettles of steel and crackling wires, turn to

infinite shining weapons that scorch the earth.

The pride of our hive

packed into hoards of murderous sleek bombs.


We glitter and spark righteousness.

We are blinding as a new car in the sunshine.

Gasoline rains from our fluffy clouds.

Everywhere our evil froths polluting the waters

in what stream on what mountain do you miss

the telltale redbrown sludge and rim of suds?


Peace: the word lies like a smooth turd

On the tongues of politicians ordering

The sweet flesh seared on the staring bone.

Guilt is added to the municipal water,

guilt is deposited in the marrow and teeth.

In my name they are stealing from people with nothing

their slim bodies. When did I hire these assassins?


My mild friend no longer paints mysteries of doors and mirrors.

On her walls the screams of burning children coagulate.

The mathematician with his webspangled language

of shadow and substance half spun

sits in an attic playing the flute all summer

for fear of his own brain, for fear that the baroque

arabesque of his joy will be turned to a weapon.

Five P.M. in Brooklyn; night allover my country.

Watch the smoke of guilt drift out of dreams.


When did I hire these killers? one day in anger

in seaslime hatred at the duplicity of flesh?

eating steak in a suave restaurant, did I give the sign?

sweating like a melon in bed, did I murmur consent?

did I contract it in Indiana for a teaching job?

was it something I signed for a passport or a loan?

Now in my name blood burns like oil day and night.


This nation is founded on blood like a city on swamps

yet its dream has been beautiful and sometimes just

that now grows brutal and heavy as a burned out star.

Levertov Advent 1966


Advent 1966


      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.


5     but wholly human and repeated, repeated,

      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,


10       cinders upon 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,

15    is blurred.

            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

20       burning 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

25    is not there, what I see is there)

      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.


Denise Levertov


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.



The Village


The Vil1age has always lain in the path of the conqueror.

The villages of Viet Nam, of Africa, of Peru and Brazil,

of Ireland, Spain, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, Iowa, New

Mexico, Thailand, look up in anger at the sky filled with

fire, at napalm burning crops and skin, and still

they plunder the Village and the Villagers.


The Puritans plundered villages from coast to coast;

drove the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears, threw smallpox

infected clothes into the Mandan villages, Kit Carson

drove the Navajos off their lands into the concentration

camps; north of Trinidad, Colorado, you can see the

monument over the Black Ho]e of Ludlow, a tent village

burned by Rockefeller. Cortez marched over the bodies

of the Indian villages, destroyed from Ohio to Tierra del

Fuego; Hearst left a village of skulls at the mines of Potosi

My family fled the Irish villages taken over for sheep

runs for the mills of Newcastle. My Iowa village is owned

by absentee landlords now. Name Lidice, the villages

of pogroms, Guernica; from the Big Horn to Viet Nam-

the Massacre of Wounded Knee to the Mekong Delta,

the same Village--our village.

 By: Kenneth Pitchford


Color Photos of the Atrocities


Tomorrow I'm going to read poems

to a college class called

Introduction to Literary Analysis.

How can something be introduced

that doesn't exist? We have brains

for thinking hard about our lives

and words for telling about them

and we don't use either well.


Me? I'm alone with my four-mouth baby.

I'm thinking about him-and what I'll say

tomorrow to the class-

and about the color photos of the atrocities,

with babies his age arranged in heaps.

the glaring red brought to us

courtesy of Ansco, a corporation that got rich,

courtesy of the Kennedys, by buying cheap

the German firm

coalesced from the slave 1abor of concentration camps

all that dead sweat crystallized like honey into profits


A folksinger on the phonograph

is promising that

"we'll all 'go together / to pick wild mountain thyme

around the purple heather"

and my usual afternoon of mothering my child

seems to turn over upside down

while I rock and croon along and refuse to cry

and he looks up in puzzlement, wanting

to smile. Robbed of speech just long enough

so that he will always feel separate,

helpless to explain what he needs,

each of us convinced no one could understand,

each disbelieving that sharing anything is possible.


And then I started crying, wondering where

my people are, knowing that I will never

find them, will never go, as I’ve often dreamed,

up into burnished hills with

not many possessions on our backs,

all of them shared, our children shared,

ourselves freed of manning and womaning,

moving backward out of history,

out of this time, backward to songs

around campfires and spoken poems

that go unwritten-down, handed on

word of mouth sometimes, it ever.


At least I can see how useless academics are,

how phoney their claim to preserve and instill

values: the attendant at Auschwitz chatting

with a knowledgeable young victim about Goethe

and escorting him back to the end of the execution line

again and again so that he could

improve his own chances on a literature exam upcoming

(though of course he finally had to let the victim pass).

At least I know how useless everything we do becomes

when faced with color photos of the atrocities.


One baby in the heap squirmed to find the wet breast

of his dead mother, habit having had just time enough

to teach: Breast equals Safety

--though how explain this red milk? Next

the child, too, was shot,

then finished off with the stab of a bayonet,

carved into three neat pieces

before being thrown away.  Not any words,

not any any any words I can teach you,

my precious baby, can say back the cries

strangled in your stabbed throat,

no introduction to any analysis

equal to explaining what has happened to a country

that pays $40,000 for color photos

of the atrocities but will not buy

enough milk to keep its own babies from starving.


Stop it.  All of it.  Stop taking courses

like this one.  Wipe them out of the catalog.

Replace them with Introduction to

Malnutrition; Intermediate Bucher; Advanced

Ecological Suicide.

Start bringing this thing that is killing

us down, this ersatz republic, this murderous empire.

Blake, my baby,

there is no country for us to escape to,

no purple heather, and I don’t even know how

to build it here in our lives and words

as my tears take colorless pictures of your smile.


Poor Hope


which is worse the lieutenant raising his rifle

toward the astonished women and children jammed

into the bomb crater raising it-1lot even aiming1ust carelessly

beginning to do it the way you'd rake a lawn you start

anywhere that or when saw a boy in a department store

with his mother he was skipping along going toot toot toot

when the mother saw me I could see her flinch about something

and when passed them she cracked him him! not me

across the mouth stunning him terribly hissing

don't you know where you are? which is worse

to be in the world with that or with that? or is it

that there's god and you think they've killed him!

then the dread god did you really say hit them! kill them!

then to the children  then the mothers forgive me, then myself then

nothing no sacrament for the people forgotten

in mid-sentence gone except in fuck you! where they cry god

have thought two ways up the first

is when felt the boy's spirit become pain because of me

should have apologize not to him or even the mother

but to YOU! I'm sorry and the other is for the others

in the ditch in their tom clothes just as the bullets go into them

would go mad and have you seen how men in toilets

at stadiums or the movies stare into the wall

so we won't covet each other's cocks? I would stare

into you like that and never move again; never let you die

again never let you be anywhere else staring watching

you boil helplessly back and forth on the ceiling

don't move! trying to electrocute yourself on the wires,

stay where you are! trying to slice your body

to pieces on the fluttering cobwebs don't die on me!


C.K. Williams form Bitter Name

The Spirit the Triumph


do you remember learning to tie your shoes?

astonishing! the loops you had to make the delicate

adjustments the pulling-through tightening impossible!

the things we learn!

putting a bridle on a horse when he's head-shy

getting your hands under a girl's sweater

no wonder we are the crown of all that exists

we can do anything how we climb chimneys

how we put one foot on the gas one on the clutch

and make the car go nothing too difficult nothing!


crutches artificial arms have you seen that?

how they pick their cups up and use razors? amazing!

and the wives shine it for them at night

they're sleeping the wives take it out of the room

and polish it with its own special rag

it's late they hold it against their bellies

the leather laces dangle into their laps

the mechanisms slip noiselessly

lowering the hook softly onto their breasts

we men! aren't we something? I mean

we are worth thinking about aren't we?

we are the end we are the living end


C.K. Williams form Bitter Name

From: Campfires of the Resistance




How Much Longer?


Day after day after day it goes on

and no one knows how to stop it or escape.

Friends are sodden with many agonies.

I hear our hopeless laughter. I watch us drink.

War is in everyone's eyes, war is made

in the kitchen, in the bedroom, in the car at stoplights.

A marriage collapses like a burning house

and the other houses smolder. Old friends

make there way in silence. Students stare

at their teachers, and suddenly feel afraid.

The old people are terrified like cattle

rolling their eyes and bellowing, while the young

wander on the flashing roads carrying nothing

but a message and some black flowers, or come out

with their hearts on fire, alive in the last days.

Small children roam the neighborhoods armed

with submachineguns, gas masks and riot sticks.

Evacuations are made in us and slowly

we are filled in with used up things: knives

too dull to cut bread with, bombs that failed to go off,

cats smashed on the highway, broken pencils,

slivers of soap, hair, gristle, old TV sets

that hum and stare out blindly like the insane.

Bridges kneel down, the cities billow and plunge

like horses in their smoke, the tall buildings

open their burning hysterical eyes at night,

the leafy suburbs look up at the clouds and tremble-


and my wife leaves her bed before dawn, walking

the icy pasture, shrieking her grief to the cows,

praying in tears to the softening blackness. I hear her

outside the window, crazed, inconsolable,

and go out to fetch her. Yesterday she saw

a photograph, Naomi our little girl

in a ditch in Viet Nam, half in the water,

the rest of her, beached on the mud, was horribly burned


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