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25th Infantry Division and Public Information Office

Jan Crumb, 28, SP/4 (E-4), 18th Aviation Co. (December 1962 to October 1963)

Larry Rottmann, 25, 1st Lt., Public Information Office, 25th Infantry Division (June 1967 to March 1968)

Veterans Testifying:

Ron Podlaski, 24, Sgt. (E-5), 5th Special Forces Group (April 1968 to April 1969)

Eugene Keys, 25, SP/4 (E-4), 3/4 25th Infantry Division (February 1966 to February 1967)

David Chiles, 24, SP/4 (E-4), 3/4, 25th Infantry Division (January 1968 to December 1968)

Patrick Ostrenga, "D" Co., 25th Infantry Division (February to December)

Mike McCusker, 29, Sgt. (E-5), Public Information Office, 1st Marine Division (1966 to 1968)

Larry Craig, 29, SP/4, Public Information Office, 25th Infantry Division (1966 to 1967)

Vernon Shibla, 27, SP/4, Public Information Office, 25th Infantry Division (1966 to 1967)

Alex Primm, 26, SP/4 (E-4), Public Information Office, 1st Logistics Command, Headquarters (September 1968 to June 1969)

MODERATOR. We feel that particularly after the actions of the last two days in Indochina, and the reaction of Senator McGovern yesterday to information which we brought out on Sunday about a Marine combat regiment operating in Laos in 1969, that we should open today's panel with someone else who has been in Laos, Ron Podlaski.

PODLASKI. My name is Ron Podlaski. I'm from New York. I was a Sergeant in the United States Army Special Forces. I served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. My testimony will consist of cross-border operations into Laos, Cambodia, using Thailand as launch bases for Laotian targets, and our involvement in Laos and Cambodia.

MODERATOR. How many times have you been in Laos?

PODLASKI. I couldn't give you an exact figure of how many times I've been to Laos, but I spent one year in Vietnam and that entire year was devoted to running cross-border operations.

MODERATOR. Would you say a half-dozen times or more?

PODLASKI. I'd say at least that many times, not to mention the times that we attempted to get in and were not successful in infiltrating.

MODERATOR. What was the nature of your sort of group?

PODLASKI. We were running long-range reconnaissance patrols. They consisted of two Americans and four indigenous personnel. Our particular team was Chinese Nungs. We were going into Laos, Cambodia, for intelligence reasons.

MODERATOR. Ron, would you explain what a Nung is?

PODLASKI. Well, Chinese Nungs, our particular team, they came from North Vietnam and their families had fled to the South and they were mostly Catholics. They were mercenary soldiers, is what they were. They were higher paid than the ARVN army and whoever gave them the most money, that's who they fought for.

MODERATOR. Was yours the only team going into Laos?

PODLASKI. Negative. I belonged to C & C North, which was located up around Da Nang, and it was their base camp. We had FOBs in Khe Sanh, Phu Bail, Kontum. There was also C & C South, which had two or three FOBs. I'm not exactly sure. I ran missions for them, TDY, into Cambodia.

MODERATOR. An FOB is a Forward Operating Base?


MODERATOR. What do you know about hatchet forces?

PODLASKI. Hatchet forces are company-size, consisting of American advisers with a majority of Vietnamese, possibly Montagnards, possibly Chinese Nungs. They would run company-size operations, cross-border.


PODLASKI. My last three months in Vietnam were spent in Kontum, it was the old FOB-2 which was changed to C & C Central (Command Control Central), and they were running hatchet force operations into Laos on quite a heavy basis those last three months.

MODERATOR. Would you explain what C & C North, Central, and South is?

PODLASKI. C & C North stands for Command Control North. It consisted of Special Forces. However, we took commands from Saigon and we had nothing to do with actual Special Forces Command in Nha Trang. We answered to Saigon.

MODERATOR. Where were these operations to take place?

PODLASKI. These operations well, you would launch from different launch sites near the border, and you'd be infiltrated into Laos wherever they felt there was heavy troop movement. We would take pictures, tell the strength of the troops, their morale, their physical fitness, if they were young, if they were hard-core North Vietnamese or if they were just grabbing anybody, and this intelligence was supposedly fed to conventional units. They could cut these people off as they crossed the border into South Vietnam. However, I don't know of any incident where we were ever listened to. Whatever intelligence we would give to them never seemed to be followed through.

MODERATOR. Ron, the President and other members of the government have said we have never had ground forces fighting in Laos.

PODLASKI. Well, all I can say about that is that the administration has been lying. They've been lying to the President and together they've been lying to you people.

MODERATOR. Ron will be available for further questions. We'd like to go along with the combat veterans of the 25 Infantry Division, who will introduce themselves.

KEYS. My name is Sonny Keys. I was in the Third Squadron, Fourth Cavalry of the 25th Division. I'll be talking about forced relocation of civilians and a convoy of approximately fifty trucks filled with American dead, which the Stars and Stripes reported as "light" casualties.

CHILES. My name is David Chiles. I'm a student at Kent State and I live in A*censored*er, Ohio. I'm going to be discussing some operations in the Iron Triangle, the use of American soldiers as guinea pigs to give a squadron colonel a better body count, and an incident I had with some civilians in Saigon. I believe it was June or July we were sent to the Iron Triangle and we took very heavy casualties. We found these ten graves, or what we took to be graves. One day A-Troop called in and used them as body count. The next day, B-Troop called in and used the same graves as body count. So meanwhile, the people that buried these definitely called them in, so you have ten graves that are worth thirty body counts. Vietnam was a very strange war, for the simple reason that the only way your unit was judged was by the number of bodies in relationship to your casualties.

One instance I remember, we joined with the 4/23 Mechanized Infantry (oh, by the way, I was with the 3/4 Cav. in all of 1967). They were dragging two Viet Cong behind their tracks, which isn't really unusual. They came in at night and we had a rendezvous. At this time two GIs went over and cut the ears off and put them across the track to dry. And then I noticed two GIs were fighting over these bodies, so I went over to take a closer look and there was a lieutenant observing this. One of them had a pair of pliers, and to my dismay, they were fighting over the rights to the gold teeth of the Viet Cong they had killed. This was kind of a status for them, to see who got the most gold teeth. As I said, we had taken very heavy casualties. I think the only thing that we found there was about fifty bags of rice. It was from New York City and Houston, Texas, is where this rice had originated from. Around September or October our colonel got this fantastic idea to start running convoys at night, from Cu Chi to Tay Ninh, then from Tay Ninh to Dau Tieng. The sole purpose of this was to be ambushed; this is a mechanized unit at night, when you can hear them miles away. His theory was, our fire power was much more superior than theirs. What he forgot to think about is three Viet Cong with RPG-2s and a well placed mine could kill ten GIs and destroy three or four tracks. Meanwhile, while all this is going on, he's riding around in a helicopter and observing this. Now this went on for two or three months, and I think the division finally told him to get himself together, because we were just getting ripped up.

MODERATOR. I understand you have some slides.

CHILES. Yes, I'm going to show those.

MODERATOR. Could we go through the other two fellows' testimony and then come back to your slides?

ROTTMANN. Just a point of clarification. RPG-2 is a recoilless projectile round, sort of a crude bazooka, that the VC uses, a shoulder-held weapon that will penetrate eight or ten inches or armored plate. One man can fire one projectile.

OSTRENGA. My name's Patrick Ostrenga and I am currently a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I was a medic with the 25th Division, Second Battalion, Twelfth Infantry, and attached to "D" Company. My unit operated around Dau Tieng, which is about forty miles north of Saigon. My testimony concerns mistreatment of Vietnamese civilians, mistreatment of prisoners, and murder of Vietnamese civilians.

MODERATOR. Sonny, could you amplify a little on what you were talking about?

KEYS. The relocation of civilians? Okay. We were in an operation in Ho Bo Woods, I believe it was Cedar Falls or Junction City in January of 1967. We came across a village of women, young kids, and old men--no young men. We surrounded the village, then we forced all the civilians out to an open field and we called in a Chinook, a large helicopter. At gunpoint we held these people until the Chinook arrived. Then we forced all of them onto the chopper to be taken to Saigon, I believe, and then we destroyed all of their hootches, we dumped all the rice down in their wells, killed all the fowl and the livestock, and left the place a real scorched earth. Prior to that, in December, we were running convoys day and night for Operation Attleborough up at Tay Ninh. One night we ran approximately fifty trucks back down to Cu Chi. We got there. You could tell that these trucks were heavily laden; they were really weighted down. We got there and my squad leader went over and talked to a lieutenant. He came back and said that the lieutenant had told him that these trucks were weighted down with American bodies. I didn't see inside the trucks, so it is hearsay, but I do know that Stars and Stripes reported about a week later that we had taken light casualties, light casualties and fifty trucks loaded with American dead is more than light casualties.

MODERATOR. Pat, would you amplify a little on your testimony?

OSTRENGA. I was working as a medic in Vietnam and there are quite a few things I can talk about. Well, one of the things I saw was one Vietnamese civilian, a pretty old man, was riding down a road with a bicycle. The lieutenant that was with us took out his M-16 and aimed it at the guy and shot one round and well, killed the guy. We went up to the guy, and he had a South Vietnamese ID card. Common practice in my unit was, if you killed a civilian with an ID card, you take his ID card and tear it up. The lieutenant's comment on this was, "Well, I guess I'm still a pretty good shot." We took some prisoners one time, and one of them was wounded. The guy had a pretty big gash in his arm, some frag from some artillery. I went up to treat him, and as I was putting on the bandage, the guy was pulled away from me and the commanding officer, a captain, told me not to waste anything on the gooks except bullets. And there were also some civilians that were wounded another time from some of our own artillery fire. I tried to treat some of them but I was told not to waste anything on them because they're not worth anything: they're just gooks. It's a very racist war.

MODERATOR. Dave, could you show your slides now and explain them?

CHILES. First, let me explain this slide. The first one's a 45 caliber, the second one's an M-16, the third one's an M-14, which is a NATO round. This is supposedly the largest round to be used as anti-personnel. The large one beside the pack of cigarettes is called a 50 caliber, which is to be used as anti-aircraft.

(Next Slide) This is a Vietnamese that has been hit with a 50 caliber, which is supposed to be used for anti-aircraft, but all our tracks have them, and since the Vietnamese don't have a good Air Force, I could never see the logic behind it.

(Next Slide) This picture was taken by my lieutenant on the way to the Iron Triangle. This isn't my unit; I don't know what unit it is, but it's with the 25th. I just asked them what the reason for burning the village was, and I believe the quote was, "It's a hostile village."

(Next Slide) There's many people back here that for some reason think an armored unit is invincible, and this is one of the reasons for having us run the night convoys to be ambushed. I think the next few slides will show you what a couple of Viet Cong with the RPG and mines can do. This is a track that has been hit by an RPG and burnt up.

(Next Slide) This is an RPG that hit a track. An RPG is a heat round. It looks like a very primitive weapon.

(Next Slide) This is another picture of an armored personnel carrier that has hit a mine and totally destroyed. I believe there was four or five American deaths.

MODERATOR. Thank you.

OSTRENGA. I think something should be mentioned about how in Japan there are many acres covered with totally destroyed APCs that they're just sitting there, waiting to cannibalize. And I've seen this on Okinawa too.

MODERATOR. We're going to take questions from the press at this time for the 25th Infantry Division combat veterans and for Ron Podlaski, who has been in Laos over a half-dozen times, and then we're going into a second part of the panel that of former PIO Information Specialists, many of whom were with the 25th Infantry Division, who will explain what happens to news. Are there any questions from the press to the veterans who have just testified? Are there any questions from the audience?

QUESTION. Mr. Podlaski, when were you in Laos?

PODLASKI. I served in Vietnam from April '68 to April '69. I can't tell you the exact days I was in Laos. It was between '68 and '69. Also it wasn't just Laos, it was Cambodia and Laos; we would go to Thailand and launch from Thailand into Laos with Vietnamese personnel. We would go on these missions, also I forgot to mention, with no American markings, no American dog tags, these are the tags you wear around your neck to identify yourself if you're killed. If we were killed over there we were deserters--not to tie in our government. A lot of teams a lot of times would go out with North Vietnamese uniforms or carrying North Vietnamese weapons: AK-47s. Just so it didn't look as if Americans were involved in this.

QUESTION. What were the various ranks of the American personnel on your missions?

PODLASKI. That's a good question. There were Spec. 4s running teams. There were E-5s running teams. There was one E-7 and he was a very young E-7 and he was killed. He was the last high-ranking NCO that worked on a team. We had one or two lieutenants who went out with teams so they could get an idea of the way operations went. Therefore, they became launch officers. However, any of these officers who had any feelings for the men who went on these missions were relieved of their job.

QUESTION. What kind of information were you trying to get?

PODLASKI. Intelligence on the size, the shape they were in, the type of uniforms they were wearing, did they look well-fed, did they look tired, run down, beat? Were they hard-core veterans, were they young people just from the North, green? What type of weapons they were carrying.

QUESTION. Did you ever engage in combat?

PODLASKI. We were not extracted out of Laos unless we made physical contact, which is, anyone who knows anything about recon--once you're visually compromised your mission is supposedly aborted because you can gain no intelligence if they know you are in the area. When you've only got six men, you can't put up much of a fire fight. However, our policy was, you're in a fire fight or you don't come out.

QUESTION. Did you ever go on any search and destroy missions or do you know of any search and destroy missions into Laos or Cambodia?

PODLASKI. Negative. I didn't go on search and destroy missions. My last three months over there I was changed from recon to hatchet force. And I was scheduled to go out, but, fortunately, I caught malaria and I didn't have to do it.

QUESTION. Did you know about Operation Dewey Canyon? That was a Marine operation, but it was during the time you were there.

PODLASKI. I know about it like the public knows about it but...

QUESTION. You didn't know about Operation Dewey Canyon when you were in Vietnam?

PODLASKI. Negative. The only reason I am aware of it is because I have a cousin who doesn't walk today because of it.

QUESTION. Were there any special instructions about keeping your operations in Cambodia and Laos a secret?

PODLASKI. Yes there were.

QUESTION. Like what?

PODLASKI. We were told any information we gave on these operations--we were forced to sign papers before we left Vietnam--We were told that if we didn't sign these papers we wouldn't leave Vietnam. Telling us that we were subject to a ten thousand dollar fine and ten years in prison if we mentioned these operations. However, I think it's more important that the public knows, because, man, you've been lied to long enough!

MODERATOR. Ron will be available for further questioning. We'd like to move along. I'm sorry, there's another question right there.

QUESTION. Did you, was there a unit with you? I know there's one at C & C Central called the Earth Angels. Code name Earth Angels.

PODLASKI. I was in C & C Central my last three months in Vietnam and I went TDY to C & C Central a few times and I'm not familiar with that at all.

QUESTION. Was there ever a unit within C & C Central or C & C North that was more or less separate from the rest and engaged in, you know, assassination type operations?

PODLASKI. I have heard of these. It was not C & C North that had these type operations. I heard of them and I know they existed but for me to comment on them would be strictly hearsay.

QUESTION. Well, what did you hear?

PODLASKI. Well, that there are Americans working on special operations that are assassination teams.

QUESTION. Within C & C?

PODLASKI. Well, not in C & C North or C & C Central. It was in another area and I really don't like to comment on something that I don't know for sure. Because I wasn't involved in this, I heard about it. I know it exists; but I have no proof.

MODERATOR. We'll have to take this one more question.

QUESTION. Yes, this paper here says that Eugene Keys participated in operations in Cambodia back in December of '66. Can you comment on that?

KEYS. There is a town north of Cu Chi on Route 1 called Go Dau Ha. Now any time we ran a convoy, we would place an APC at a crossroads to make sure that the convoys went north to Cu Chi instead of crossing the bridge. We were told that this river was a border. Now, according to the map, it is not the border. I've talked to other people who have been there since I wrote that down. And they say it's not the border, so obviously they were just giving us a line.

MODERATOR. We'd like to move along to a panel on information specialists and on press censorship. Larry Rottmann.

ROTTMANN. My name is Larry Rottmann. I served as Assistant Information Officer for the 25th Infantry Division, based at Cu Chi, Vietnam from June 5th, 1967 till March 9th, 1968. My duties were to be officer in charge of the division newspaper, Tropic Lightning News, the Lightning Two Five monthly news magazine, and the Lightning Two Five ARVN radio program. I was also in charge of division press releases including photos, officer in charge of visiting newsmen including television network crews, and a frequent briefer of the division staff on all civilian news media and information matters. I'd like to introduce the rest of the members of the information panel: Mike McCusker, who was information specialist with the Marines; Larry Craig, who was information specialist at Brigade level in the 25th Division; Vernon Shibla, who was an information specialist on the Brigade level; Alex Primm, who was an information specialist at the 1st Logistical Command Headquarters. Those men will identify themselves and give you a little background. Mike, do you want to start out?

MCCUSKER. My name is Mike McCusker. I was a Sergeant in the Marine Corps and I served in Vietnam in 1966 and '67 with the 1st Marine Division as what they call an Infantry Combat Correspondent. This meant that I went out with every unit of the Infantry that was stationed, generally in Chu Lai, but I ended up all over the I Corps with almost every Marine infantry unit and also reconnaissance unit because I was also reconnaissance qualified. These things that the men from the 25th told you were covered up. None of these instances were generally reported. Most of the stories that we wrote generally appeared in such publications as Stars and Stripes, a paper we had in I Corps area called Sea Tiger, various other military news services, and the civilian press. They appeared in ways that we did not even write them. Information in them was either deleted or added. Quite often what we had written, what we had seen, what we had covered, just didn't come out in the stories. It was something entirely different. The general policy of being an Informational Services man (that's what the Marine Corps calls its reporters, the Informational Services Office). The only thing we had to do with information, I believe, is to cover it up, disguise it, or deny it. Some of the things that we could not write about, and if we did write about them they were always redlined from our stories, were the amount of American dead. Now they'd always go into light casualties, medium casualties, or heavy casualties. However, heavy casualties were never reported upon because when they got to Da Nang--and if they mention casualties in the Da Nang press center, if a platoon went out and got wiped out, they would measure platoon by battalion strength and that would, of course, be light casualties. And play those little games. Every Vietnamese dead was naturally a Viet Cong dead; even six month old babies, 99 year old men and women. If they are dead, they are Viet Cong, which is a misnomer, at any rate.

We could never really write about the Vietnamese life style, or how the Vietnamese viewed their life in their universe, because it's so contrary to how we viewed Vietnam and the purpose of Vietnam. And the dichotomy would be very apparent in any story. We could not write of taking souvenirs--souvenirs that we witnessed being taken such as ears and teeth. You can't help but notice it because it happens all the time and if you did write of it, it would be redlined and, of course, you'd be on the carpet if your Information Services Office could find you out on the field. You could not write of villages being burned, of crops destroyed. You could not write of defoliation, of the use of tear gas. The use of tear gas on at least three occasions--I witnessed tear gas pumped into caves and people running out and shot down as they run out of those caves. When the story of tear gas being used in 7th Marines in 1965 was exploded, through Colonel _____ _____ the regimental commander at the time said it was only for humane purposes. And I witnessed a few of those humane purposes and I did write it in the story, infuriated, and it was redlined. The use of napalm; you can't even use the term napalm any more. It's called incindergel, like Jello. You could not write of women guerrillas, women prisoners; especially the deaths of women, children, old men and women. You could not write of H & I fire which is harassment and interdiction. This was supposedly to keep the Viet Cong on their toes. What they would do is just throw rounds out in every direction every night. It didn't matter where. There was no set plan, just throw them out. Anything in the way, that's a shame. Also free fire zones; a setup. Free fire zones essentially means anything within that zone is dead. Anything moving is fair game. We could not write of these things. One particular instance of the free fire zone was a village that was supposedly pacified and I had to cover it for the division. This colonel went in with a bunch of newsmen--into this one particular village. The medical team that had preceded him has a chow team and they had set up hot chow. They passed out the Band Aids and the Kool-Aid and they only gave medical supplies enough for two days in any particular village because they figured if they gave these medical supplies to a village lasting longer than two days, the NLF would get to those supplies and use them. So, therefore, though the medical teams might not visit a particular village for a period of a month, maybe, they would only leave supplies for two days.

MCCUSKER.The villagers definitely needed medical help essentially because, as I testified yesterday, they systematically destroyed most of any village dispensary, or hospital, or anything that looked like it. We could not write, at the time I was there, of what was called Puff the Magic Dragon--DC-3s with Miniguns. I forgot how many rounds they can throw out a minute. Around 4,000 I believe it is...6,000? They can cover an entire football field in about a minute and it just destroys, chops down everything in sight. We could not write of those, could not write, especially, of the torture of prisoners. My witnessing of the torture of prisoners was generally on the field level whenever any particular outfit, whether it be squad size, company size, or battalion size, swept into a village on a search and destroy mission and captured prisoners. Which means any Vietnamese hanging around the village, or any Vietnamese flushed out of the bush, if he wasn't shot first. And they had field torture techniques: determining who was going to go into the more refined tortures which involved somewhat the same type. In the field it was the use of dogs after tying a suspect, who was any particular villager, to a tree and let the dog start yapping at his face, snapping at him. Field phones were wired to genitals, to ears, to nose. Threatenings were done with the knife, dunking in wells, dunking in rivers and streams. And we could write of none of these and if you did write of these, they would be redlined. We could not write of recon fire missions. As I said before I was reconnaissance qualified and jump qualified. So I was the only man in recon trusted to go out with them--the only reporter-photographer the recon trusted because I knew their business. And recon was a little bit different than what I'd been trained to do. Generally in Vietnam you would take a few helicopters, land in an area, move out on top of a hill and call in arty strikes or air strikes in a particular given area. One particular time I watched a herd of elephants get hit by arty and several villages. Could never write of this. Could never write of how it was done and what the rationale for it was. Now this redlining of stories was a very complex thing. I was out in the field--way the _____ out in the field and I tried getting so far out that nobody from the division could find me. All they would ever see of me was stories I sent back. Whatever story I wrote would go to an NCO, the staff NCO, generally. I was an NCO at the time; that's a noncommissioned officer.

The story would go to a lifer who was called the Press Chief. The Press Chief would then make his cuts and additions. From the Press Chief it could go to the Section Chief and he would add or delete what he thought, then to the Information Officer himself, in the division, and he would do what he was going to do with it. Then it would be passed up to Da Nang for the Press Center at Da Nang for 3rd MAF, Third Marine Amphibious Forces Press Center in Da Nang. It would go through a whole battery of NCOs and officers up to a colonel before it was released to the press. And by the time it was released to the press, as I've said, it was hardly recognizable. Now I say this because ironically the Marine Corps gave me its top three writing awards for the year '66-'67, which was the first year of its Vietnamese Correspondent Awards. And I was rather bemused at the fact that I got the _____ things. However, when they discovered that I was a Benedict Arnold, discovered it officially, I guess, the next year I understand there was a caucus to try and take my awards away from me because I didn't deserve them. What we would do sometimes to counter all this thing that came down was to find a few trusted Fourth Estaters, civilian pressmen, or television crews, take them to places where we were not supposed to take them, or try to tip off, as I said, trusted civilian reporters. Because that was rather hot. Had a lot of rednecks in there and if you gave them some info, they would report it to your CO and you were on the carpet. Television crews the same way. Policy in the Marine Corps was that anything that happened to the Marines--if there was any blunder or any slaughter because of shortsightedness or any mistake that cost Marine Corps lives, any military blunder--it was to be hidden, not to be shown and if information did leak out, then it would be claimed as a great victory. In the meantime such things as My Lai would never be reported. If a village were destroyed, the body count could stand as is, but suddenly you would find that there was a great big action around it. You know, one _____ of a fire fight. Really, from my end, that's essentially all I have to report for censorship.

MODERATOR. Next will be Larry Craig who was with the 25th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade, as a Brigade level Information Specialist. Now in the Army the information specialists begin at battalion level. There's supposed to be a brigade information specialist--that's an enlisted man who collects the news; an information officer for each brigade. In reality, in Vietnam, anyway, the information officer was usually the commanding officer of the unit and the next stage up from battalion was brigade and this is where Larry worked. Larry, do you want to tell us a little bit about your experiences?

CRAIG. Yes. I was in Cu Chi, Vietnam during 1966 and 1967 and as Larry says, I've worked as a Public Information Office Specialist. And, generally, I think what I have to talk about is what I perceived my job to be there and what it actually turned out to be. It was an overall cover-up of what was actually going on in the division operation.

During the time that I was there with the 25th Division every news release that came out of our information office-- this was at Brigade level and at Headquarters level with the division--made it appear that we were really winning the war; that we were doing a fantastic job.

So while people like Dave with the 3/4 Cavalry were out getting their tracks blown up by one or two Viet Cong, we would write stories about these glorious victories which didn't take place. And generally, what I saw were how the figures were turned around on body counts. One particular time I was with the 3/4 Cavalry where three of our men got killed.

Our men killed one young Vietnamese who was actually a prisoner at the time that he was killed, laying in the grass in front of us. We counted graves in an old cemetery that day so the story that came out of our office was 17 Viet Cong killed. What actually had happened was two or three Vietnamese had killed three of our men and if there had been a large force there, they left. But it was just contact with two or three.

But, overall, this is what my job was: to go out on these missions where nothing happened except that we might kill a few civilians, if we found them, and pretend that we were really winning some battles when, actually, it was Americans being killed.

MODERATOR. Larry, you mentioned you had trouble sort of perceiving what your job was at first. Did you ever write what you consider to be a truly objective news story? In other words, one based on the facts?

CRAIG. To me there was never any question about anyone wanting me to write what I saw in the field. The job of our newspaper was to build morale in the field and as a public information office our job was to propagandize the American people.

And this is what we would do. We would write propaganda, and at times I would go to the field and write a story that was personally related to what we saw taking place, but what was actually happening was that our people were being killed as they alienated the Vietnamese people in the villages that we went through on search and destroy missions. That was never what we would write about.

One particular mission near Dau Tieng we lost, I think, about five men that day, but we happened to find some rice. Well, this was a big cache, fine. So we made it into a real victory. We didn't see the Vietnamese Communists who shot at us. They left. They killed several of our men and left. We found some rice.

Well, the story that I wrote, which is the kind of job that I had, was that we had a very successful mission. I didn't mention that the rice was marked. I think it was from Houston, Texas. This wasn't allowed. Any of the rice caches that we found was generally rice that had been diverted from Saigon to the Viet Cong. This is generally the kind of work that I did.

MODERATOR. You mentioned that there was never any question in your mind that that was policy. How did you come to the realization that that was the kind of thing you were supposed to do, the slanted story? I mean, did somebody say, "Larry, I hereby order you not to write a..."

CRAIG. Generally, it was more subtle than that. But one time in particular an order came down from division headquarters and I was at the Division Public Information Office when (I believe it was the information officer) a Major _____ told us that we had to write stories about cooperation between American infantrymen and the ARVN, the South Vietnamese infantrymen. Well, this was nonexistent.

The ARVN in our area weren't respected; there was no good feelings between the American infantrymen and the South Vietnamese and yet this was an order that came down--that we were to make them look good in the way of cooperation.

One thing that I did see, I was walking with an American unit along a river. A South Vietnamese unit was operating on the other side of the river. One of their armored personnel carriers hit a mine. Probably two fellows at least got killed. Our side cheered. This was nice. We were happy for ARVNs having their track blown up. But the order that came down was that we were to write about how well we got along and how well the ARVNs were doing and how we cooperated with them.

MODERATOR. That order came from the division information officer, field grade officers, is that right?

CRAIG. He was a major, yes.

MODERATOR. Okay, then, the next person is Vernon Shibla who was with the 25th Infantry Division and worked in the division information office underneath the aforementioned major. Vern.

SHIBLA. I was in Vietnam with the 25th from April '66 to April '67. And I mainly was a photographer for the division and I wrote a few stories, fabrications, or whatever you want to call them. Larry and I worked together in fact, thinking things up to make us look good. There's various things that we couldn't photograph such as flamethrowers burning villages, which we saw.

We couldn't photograph flechette rounds or canisters, which are tiny darts fired out of howitzers at point blank range when you come under attack by Vietnamese. In fact, there was a battle that was written up in Time magazine but we won it: even Time magazine said we won it, so we must have--in which 900 Vietnamese were killed by the flechette rounds which is totally against the Geneva Convention. But then, it doesn't matter, I guess.

Another thing we couldn't photograph or write about was shotguns which are carried extensively in Vietnam because they seem to do a better job than the M-16. They don't jam as easy. We couldn't photograph Americans wounded. We couldn't photograph dead. We couldn't photograph civilians injured or dead.

On Operation Wahiwa during 1966, I think it was the end of May, we were in a place called the Ho Bo Woods, and we came under fire when we landed and that was suppressed. We were walking along and having recon by fire which means the first unit in the company fires indiscriminately in the tree lines and hedgerows.

Well, we heard crying coming from a little house that had been partially destroyed by a previous aerial bombing mission from the Air Force, and we snuck up on the house very carefully and there was a mother and a baby sitting inside. The mother was crying and the baby was sitting there with his intestines hanging out. One of our bullets had creased its stomach. And it wasn't crying or anything and the sergeant asked the interpreter, you know, to tell her that, well, it's her fault. She shouldn't be there because we dropped leaflets and told her to get out. It was only her country, you know. So, they did evacuate her, as far as I know, to a medical battalion. We couldn't photograph or write about that kind of thing.

There were battles, like the battle at Phu Hoa Dong where the 4/9 was just about annihilated which was never played up very big. There was a battle in Tay Ninh Province, Operation Attleborough in which a general was relieved of duty on the spot by General Westmoreland. The General was named General _____ and we called him General Death for Sure. And he was relieved of duty for having his company almost wiped out. It was wiped out down to a Spec. 4 level and a Spec. 4 was given a silver star and...that kind of thing. But the general was relieved and nobody knew about it because he did such a bad job.

I've had photographs come back from MACOI which is Military Office of Information in Vietnam, censored, marked "not cleared for release" and what I got back was a photograph of two MPs carrying a Vietnamese prisoner and he had a sandbag over his head and he was not being harmed in any way. There was no harassment. He was in good physical shape. I don't know how he made it, but he sure did. And the note came back across the picture and it says, "Sorry, Vern, we don't treat VCs this way."

So I guess they meant they treated them too good; I never understood it. But we couldn't release the picture. And I had a story killed that I wrote that was told about a Captain _____, who was killed by a mine while leading his company. There was nothing wrong with the story but we couldn't...nobody was killed over there, as far as Americans go. So we couldn't talk about him.

CRAIG. Larry, can I interject a comment about...

MODERATOR. Go right in.

CRAIG. Okay. One of the things that really disturbed me as an information specialist in the army was I realized what my job was and I knew that if I wanted to keep this job that was the only way I could do it--write the kind of stories that the army wanted. I worked for a major and I'd write his kind of propaganda. It was the only way to do it. But I, at that time, was under the impression that America had some sort of a free press and occasionally would attempt to talk to some of the representatives of the press from the States.

One time in particular, I was especially disturbed. This was on April 10, 1967. Three men from our office were killed during an attack. It was an incoming mortar round on the division headquarters. So three of our friends were killed. Vern was in the bunker with the three fellows who were killed when the round came in and it went right into the bunker. His first comment on coming out of the bunker...he was the first one out...was "that _____ Johnson" that's what he had to say. This was the feeling in our office at that time. April 10, 1967. Three of our friends were killed. We were disgusted with Johnson, with the U.S. policy there. This was the office feeling, and this was, to me, a story.

Well, the next day I had the job of bringing news releases from division headquarters into Saigon and distributing them. I went to CBS and told them what had happened and how we wanted to tell about what we felt that day. And how we were so disgusted with the war. These were GIs on duty in a war zone who wanted to tell how they felt. We were disgusted. We wanted to protest. We couldn't through the military. We tried through CBS. Mike Wallace from CBS came out with me on a helicopter. All he wanted to do was a sensational story about no top on the bunker.

Vern and I and others were ready to tell him what we felt about the war and who we were disgusted with. Why we were unhappy with our friends being killed. No hard feelings towards the Communists from that group. It was their mortar that did it, but, as far as we were concerned, the fault was with the U.S. But the press at that time was not interested. That wasn't their kind of story.

So what CBS wanted was a little sensationalism about no top on the bunker and we were pleading with them to tell the story about how we actually felt, protesting the war. But it wasn't wanted.

SHIBLA. Most, most of the press over there, is over there for the same reasons that the generals and lifers are over there. It's not to report the news so much as to further their own careers. And that's what it's all about.

CRAIG. Another story I wrote was regarding an outfit that Dave was with. It was called McCormick's Raiders. This was with the 3/4 Cavalry and a group got together--typists and clerks from the headquarters of the company, the 3/4 Cavalry--who wanted to go out on some combat. Well, they didn't do anything. Maybe Dave should mention a little bit about what they did. But this is something that the media picked up. It was a funny story. McCormick's Raiders and it meant nothing. Well...a TV crew came out and did a big thing on it. Reader's Digest picked it up. They wrote about this group. It was nothing. It had nothing to do with the war. This is what the press in Saigon was looking for.

MODERATOR. Dave, would you just give us a little bit of a rundown on McCormick's Fearsome Raiders?

CHILES. Yeah. This is more like McHale's Army, I guess. These were a ...this was the most...this was the sorriest group I ever saw of people. Well, there were about 20 of them, ranging from cooks, clerks, mechanics and they decided they were going to start going out on operations. And they wouldn't let them go out more than about 100 yards from base camp; they didn't want anything really to happen to them because they couldn't take care of themselves.

So all of a sudden they took up on the story and built it up. How they had been stopping supply routes at night and everything. And the guy from Reader's Digest comes out and does a fabulous story about these great Americans who have such a secure job.

And a film company comes out and wants to do a little film of it. So, at the most we took them a hundred meters from base camp 'cause these people didn't want to go too far anyhow and they were throwing hand grenades and it sounded like a real war was going out there and this guy was, you know, taking all kinds of pictures and was crouched down and talking real soft, like, you know, like it was really a big thing. In reality, if they wanted to go, they should have gone in the Iron Triangle with us instead of 100 yards from base camp, if they wanted to see the war.

CRAIG. We'd write about the funny things and pretend it was a big party over there. This was our job: keep up morale. And yet, this is what the civilian press from Saigon would pick up on. This was the kind of stuff they liked. Just the happy times.

SHIBLA. Well, the civilian press never got out of Saigon, let alone anyplace else.

MCCUSKER. They got to Da Nang.

SHIBLA. Yeah, that's another nice place.

KEYS. I'd like to put in right here that this operation, Operation Attleborough, or General _____ was relieved, is the one where we escorted the trucks back that the lieutenant said were filled with American dead.

MODERATOR. Alex Primm is the next man on the panel here. He was an information specialist with the Headquarters of the 1st Logistical Command at, I believe, at Long Binh, is that right?

PRIMM. That's right, Larry.

MODERATOR. Why don't you go ahead and tell us a little bit about your experience as an Information Specialist in the Information Headquarters?

PRIMM. I was assigned to the headquarters of the 1st Logistical Command which handles the supplies throughout Vietnam. I was there from September 1968 to June 1969. The setup in 1st Logs is pretty much the same as the 25th Division. We had information specialists and an information officer. It was a little different in the sense that we had four support commands located throughout Vietnam and one headquarters at Long Binh.

The way it worked, we received stories that came from the smaller, the support command information officers, and then with these stories we'd rewrite them and then mail them directly, after being cleared, to stateside newspapers--the ones you read here--and the military newspapers, the Stars & Stripes, as well as the unit newspapers in Vietnam. I was the editor of our newspaper. I also did rewriting and I was also a correspondent in the field.

There's one incident that will give the idea of the way the army, or at least the way our unit, handles the news. One time we received a story from our Qui Nhon branch, which is a town about in the middle of Vietnam. This was a story about an army repair team that worked on portable pipelines for oil. The tankers would dock along the coast and then the oil would be piped off the ships and about five miles inland are helicopter bases.

The real problem with these portable pipelines, they could be taken apart easily and they were often sabotaged. First Log had a pipeline repair team whose job it was to find out, when a break occurred, what had caused the break and what they could do about it. They would go out and they didn't know if it was just a Vietnamese mama-san who had taken apart the pipes to get a little oil, or if it was a Viet Cong sabotage team. It could be either. And these guys ran into a lot of bad stuff.

Unlike most units of 1st Log, this unit had quite a few guys killed and wounded. They'd also won a number of decorations which was unusual for a logistics unit. So, it was a good unit to do a story about. And the story came to us about this team, what their job was as I have described it to you and the number of decorations it won. I was told to shorten the story down. I shortened it and played up the fact that these guys had won a number of decorations which is unusual for our unit. I turned it in to our information officer. He gave it back to me and said, "Delete the fact that these guys won awards for heroism. Delete the fact that there have been men killed and delete the fact that there had been wounded."

So the story that I had to turn out was what a great job these guys had done and it made them sound like a bunch of John Wayne heroes, when in actuality, they were having a very tough time. This is the way the information office sometimes works.

MODERATOR. While you were with the 1st Log Command, how did you get the information? I mean, how was it conveyed to you that your job was not to tell, you know, to do straight reporting? How did you come by that?

PRIMM. Well, the reporter doesn't work like a reporter does in the United States for a civilian newspaper. He's given assignments. He doesn't go out and look for them himself. He doesn't have a beat. He's told by an officer what to cover. That's the main way we're told what to do. The information, the stories we write about, aren't news as such. We had to write, sometimes I thought, very trivial stories.

One time I was assigned to do a story on state flags, and find out how guys were displaying their state flags. I went to some units--some of these truck convoys where guys were getting up at four in the morning, driving oil tankers out to the 25th Infantry Division, coming back at eleven at night after having been ambushed often--and asked these guys if they had any state flags. They thought it was just absurd.

Here they were, constantly being shot at, and this stuff wasn't getting in the newspapers. We had to write things for troop morale. It was very rarely did we write anything...well we actually never wrote things that were news and I'm afraid often this information was typed up and given in press releases to the civilian press. And not too often did they come digging for the real stories.

MODERATOR. Well, we've heard a lot about the information officer with the red pencil and that was me. Before I begin my rap here I want to make just a couple of points. One is that just a little while ago during part of the press censorship testimony a film crew from the local television station, which was sitting in the front row, got up and left without...What? It was CBS Network TV. They didn't shoot any pictures of press censorship, which is a form of censorship, I guess.

SHIBLA. Mike Wallace works for CBS.

ROTTMANN. Many times since I've been back, I've been working with veterans groups--speaking. Many times I've been asked, when I talked to groups, "Please hold down the obscenities." And on Sunday night one of the psychiatrists on the panel here expressed some concern about the legitimacy of the hearings because his wife had complained to him about somebody saying _____. You know, I can't relate to that at all.

When you talk about an experience, you relate that experience in the terms of the language of that experience. If you're talking about the street, you use street language. If you're talking about war, you use war language. There is a war language. It's a very deliberately contrived language which allows you to express yourself using a minimum of the English language.

There's a lot of talk nowadays, you know, about war. War is on everybody's lips. The word war. Parents, grandparents, anywhere you go. At a *censored*tail party. Anywhere you go, it's war this, it's war that. Even the little kids, you know, are hip to the war. They know something's going on and they talk about war. So war is used a lot. And nobody seems to mind. This is what I want to say. If there's anybody in this room who thinks that the word _____ is more obscene than the word "war," you know, then you're more obscene than the word _____.

As I said, I was the red pencil. These other guys are out in the field getting shot at, getting the news, taking pictures. When it came to me, I took out my red pencil and I went to work.

Now as an information officer, I was given a set of orders. These orders were stated either verbally or in writing from officials of the Information Offices in Saigon.

There are three: MACOI (Military Advisory Command Office of Information), MACV (Military Advisory Command, Vietnam) and JUSPAO, which is the Joint United States Public Affairs Office which is attached to the U.S. Embassy. Military censorship concerning matters of military nature usually came from MACOI, MACV or my division chief of staff. Matters concerning foreign policy or overall military planning and activity or Special Forces or CIA activities, fell under the jurisdiction of JUSPAO or the Embassy.

The following is just a partial list of things that I was to red pencil, and I did. You'll recognize some of these from the previous testimony.

Effectiveness, ineffectiveness or mistakes of the ARVN army Handling, processing, interrogation or treatment of prisoners of war
Use of shotguns
Use of flamethrowers or flamethrowers tracks
Use of lethal, nonlethal gas or gas dispensing methods or gas masks
Female VC
Very young VC
Huey Cobra helicopters
Information on the size, accuracy and range or effects of the enemy 122mm rocket
M-16 rifle malfunctions or deficiencies
Extent of damage and number of U.S. casualties from any enemy attack
Any story concerning enemy tenacity, courage, or ingenuity
Marriage of U.S. personnel and Vietnamese nationals
U.S. soldiers' use of pot or drugs
Conditions of U.S. military stockades
Anything about the CIA or CIA sponsored activities
Project Phoenix
Air America (CIA airline)
Anything about U.S. activities in Cambodia or Laos
B-52 or other bombing errors
Burning, bulldozing, destruction of Vietnamese hamlets
Anything about troop morale, pro or con
Information about captured enemy material of U.S. manufacture
Enemy armor or helicopters
Plus anything else that Saigon felt might be detrimental to U.S. causes

Now, I'll run through the list very lightly and just give you some specific examples. Handling, processing and interrogation of prisoners of war: although there was a POW compound in Cu Chi, standard division policy was to deny its existence, to refuse to take anybody--newsmen or civilians-- to the area where it was located and we, ourselves, were denied access to that compound.

In Vernon's testimony just a few minutes ago, he mentioned the photograph taken by the 25th Infantry Division (taken by himself, for the 25th Infantry Division) of two MPs carrying a Vietnamese suspect (captive, we don't know) who'd been bound and had a sandbag tied over his head. He said it came back stamped "not cleared for release, per MACOI." Here is a Xeroxed copy of that photograph. I'm sorry if you in the back can't see it. It's just a photograph. It shows the two MPs carrying the man. Right across the front is stamped "not cleared for release, per MACOI." Stories about female VC were sometimes cleared and sometimes not.

If the story emphasized the bravery or determination of women guerrillas, it was, of course, killed. If, on the other hand, it made a point of how VC were hurting so bad from U.S. presence that they were forced to recruit women (who supposedly were not as good fighters), the story would pass.

This policy was never well defined, but as a general rule, VC women stories were not to be used. I submitted a story about a woman VC. I'll read you just a bit of the story. It's about an ambushed U.S. unit. "Sweeping the ambush site, the GIs found that two of the dead guerrillas were packing automatic weapons but their real surprise was the enemy point man, who was actually a point girl. She was leading the VC when the ambush was sprung and died with a 45 caliber pistol in her hand. This clash was but one of several in recent weeks which involved female VC. In one case, a U.S. patrol was attacked by a guerrilla unit led by a submachine gun toting girl who one U.S. soldier described as 'very attractive, but a bad shot.'" Across the bottom of this press release it says, "not cleared for release, MACOI." This is a Xeroxed copy of it. Attached to that is a censor sheet from the U.S. Infantry Information Office, United States Army of Vietnam, signed by _____ _____, Chief of the Clearance Branch, PID, and it says "Remarks: Not cleared for release per MACOI."

On occasions, in isolated cases, stories of U.S. killing women has been cleared. But any such story draws a bad light on our forces. A girl killed in an ambush at night doesn't help our image. Agreed she may be dangerous, but the press always doesn't see it that way. Here's a copy of that right here. I'll be glad to show this to anybody after the testimony. Very young VC: general policy here was the same as with VC women. That is, stories emphasizing the courage of young VC were not to be released.

Or stories indicating that U.S. pressure was forcing the enemy in such dire straits as to recruit young VC. This, on occasion, would be cleared. As I said, though, the policy was ambivalent and was never consistent. Here is a picture of a VC who was known to have killed at least five U.S. soldiers. He's 11 years old. Story and photo not cleared for release. Photo was taken by an information specialist. The boy was captured (I'll answer questions later). These are Xeroxes. I'm sorry, for obvious reasons, I don't carry the originals with me.

Information on the size, accuracy or range of the effects of enemy 122mm rockets: During the offensive (Tet offensive) in 1968, the VC began using Chinese built 122mm rockets to bombard U.S. bases in position.

GIs were intimidated by the rocket's long range and terrific power. In February 1968 I submitted a story and a photo of the first intact rocket to be captured by the 25th Division, which is also, as far as we knew, the first rocket ever found in Vietnam. MACV killed the story, and instead, sent a team out to take the rocket back to Saigon "for examination" and here's the photo that accompanied the story. It shows a GI standing with the rocket beside him, and I'm sorry if you can't see it, but the rocket is about a foot taller than he is and bigger around than his neck. M-16 malfunctions and deficiencies: In 1967 rumors of numerous M-16 malfunctions were getting back to the Congress. U.S. Representative Richard Eichord, my representative, launched an investigation of the army's much ballyhooed rifle, even sending a team of experts to Vietnam to question GIs. MACV told all information officers, prior to my arrival, that the M-16 was not a topic of discussion. Newsmen were not to question soldiers about the weapon and no stories about the rifle jamming or malfunctioning were to be written. This was done despite the fact that many GIs hated the M-16, felt they couldn't trust it, and until an order stopped the procedure, many carried other weapons instead. Carbines, .45s, grease guns, etc. At the same time, the army launched an all-out propaganda campaign to make GIs in Vietnam more confident in the M-16. Special classes were held on the weapon. New cleaning procedures were instituted. New lubricating materials were introduced (due in large part to GI pressure) from the use of a commercial lubricant called Dri Slide here in the States. And a whole campaign was initiated to instill the American soldier with confidence in a weapon that he basically mistrusted.

Marriage of U.S. personnel and Vietnamese: It was specific MACV and MACOI and JUSPAO policy that nothing ever be said about American and Vietnamese marriages. I never saw any official written statement on this policy, but it was general knowledge that mixed marriages would be discouraged in every way possible, including the withholding of the information for making the necessary arrangements. GIs would frequently ask us in the information office what the procedures were, since we were information officers. It took me two months to get a clear statement of the procedure from MACV for publication. I have a copy of that here. I won't read it. I'll only read the headline. It said, "Minimum of three months required to marry alien."

In Vietnam, this was the story written. There's an interesting point here. The process takes at least three months. If a GI applied to his CO, and filled out the necessary paperwork, the CO, more likely than not, would hold the application until the GI had less than three months to go and would then forward it to the necessary headquarters. This put the GI, who was really in love with the Vietnamese girl, in a sort of a situation. He could either give up the marriage or he could extend for six months. Spend six more months killing Vietnamese, in order to marry a Vietnamese girl. I think you'll agree that's a truly untenable position.

Anything about CIA, CIA sponsored activities or Air America: Although the headquarters for a large 5th Special Forces Group was located in our area of operation at Tay Ninh and Nui Ba Den (which Ron, on the end of table, talked about) Nui Ba Den being one of the staging points for the mercenaries' snatch teams and hatchet teams, our Information Division Office was forbidden by JUSPAO directive from publicizing or discussing any Special Forces operations or policies. I was ordered that my response to all inquiries-- information of this nature--was "no comment."

Anything about U.S. activities in Cambodia or Laos: Just one instance. The second week of January 1968, elements of the 25th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade (this is January 1968, during Operation Yellow Stone) crossed the Cambodian border and conducted an air assault on objective area near the Cambodian village of Ke Pang Long. This is about six klicks or kilometers inside the Cambodian border. Fourth Battalion, 9th Infantry conducted a helicopter assault on this area and along adjacent Cambodian Highway 22. Rumors of this operation did get to Saigon. Newsmen flew out to our office and by order of my division chief of staff, I didn't know "nothin' about nothin'."

Special Forces groups were operating, as I said, out of Tay Ninh and Nui Ba Den as Ron mentioned, conducting extensive operations, the training and arming of Chinese nationals or Nungs and Cambodian mercenaries inside Cambodia. Regular U.S. Army troops would frequently encounter groups of these mercenaries crossing back and forth over the Cambodian border. They had special IDs which identified them and told anybody who came in contact with them they were not to be bothered. By order of JUSPAO, that's Joint United States Public Affairs Office which is attached to the Embassy staff in Saigon, the very existence of these clandestine groups was denied.

I have here, it's very hard to see, and again I apologize, a photo of a Cambodian mercenary force on a training mission inside Cambodia. According to official MACV and MACOI policy, there is no NLF.

Anything about enemy armor or helicopters: By MACV, MACOI and JUSPAO directive, the enemy armored cars, armored personnel carriers and tanks which were frequently sighted along the Cambodian border in War Zone C, did not exist. The same thing went for enemy helicopters which were based in Cambodia. Rumor had it that they were used as command and control ships by COSVN, Central Office of South Vietnam, and they often carried North Vietnamese and Red Chinese advisers. For this reason, U.S. forces were under orders not to fire on these helicopters when they were sighted. This is an interesting ambiguity, in other words--although they didn't exist--if you saw one, don't shoot at it. Twenty-fifth Infantry Division helicopter crews relished the idea, of course, of bringing down a VC chopper and at least on one occasion they chased one into Cambodia, flying above it and throwing ammo cases and tools at it, trying to bring it down without firing on it.

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