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25th Infantry Division and Public Information Office, Page 2
Anything else that the Army felt might be detrimental to the best interests of the Army: I'll just give you a few small examples. One is a water hole sharing story. Shortly after my arrival in Vietnam I did a story about Nui Ba Den or Black Virgin Mountain, in which I mentioned that U.S. and VC forces shared a common water source, the only spring on the mountain.

Anticipating no problem of release, I used the story before complete clearance procedures had been gone through. The story appeared in the Division newspaper and in our magazine and in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, to whom I sent a copy. I was severely reprimanded from the Division Chief of Staff and MACV officials for letting it be known that the U.S. might in any way cooperate with the VC, like sharing a water hole. I have a lot more but we are running out of time. I just want to do one more thing. Harassment, intimidation and prosecution of GIs who tried to tell their stories: It involves myself and all the members of the panel. As both Information Specialists and soldiers we received frequent threats, written and verbal, in response to attempts to tell the truth.

I have something here I want to show you--a USARV information directive entitled the Colonel's Colonels, datelined Information Office Headquarters, U.S. Army, Republic of Vietnam, December 1967. It says, and I quote, "There are a few military information officers who are out here who are not playing on the team. On occasion these guys have downgraded one or another of the programs of the U.S. which the U.S. is trying so hard to make work in Vietnam.

And these information officers have done their sounding off to the press. Even though we are not thinking disloyal thoughts, out of our mouths tumble disloyal words. To argue your case in the press is not to show the courage of your convictions. It's a betrayal of a trust; it's disloyal to your country." Right here, folks. To ferret out these disloyal information officers, myself included, MACOI sent out Army spies armed with fake press cards to act as reporters.

These guys would show up at our division and say, "Hi, I'm Joe Jones with the New York Times. What do you know that you can't tell me?" This procedure was followed many times, but it got to the point where we knew, generally we thought we knew, who were reporters and who were not. Also MACV and USARV Command Information channels directed a constant barrage of intimidating and threatening instructions at the regular GI in the field about what he could and could not say about the war. Directives made it plain that the Army could and would take all possible action against the GIs who told their own story, even after they were out.

From the Tropic Lighting News, 25th Infantry Division, we have a story from MACV called, "Writing for Stateside Use? Get Your Story Cleared First." It goes on at some length about how you may be asked to write for a civilian newspaper or speak before groups and it says, "basically the thing to remember is all material on military subjects, articles, stories, newspaper columns, essays, drawings and photographs must be cleared by Army authorities before you show it to anyone for publication. The rule has been made because many Army interests involve military security or matters of national interest, and of course no soldier wants to help the enemy. Battlefield photographs are particularly sensitive because the enemy can convert them to use in propaganda. Why, this has actually happened! Incidentally, this same rule applies to speeches you may have prepared for delivery after you are released. When you write or speak, concern yourself with matters about which you have only personal knowledge or for which you are responsible. It's just common sense to avoid getting into any matters involving our country's foreign policy." It's a directive from MACV. You can come up and read it yourself.

MCCUSKER. Can I make a comment, Larry, on...

ROTTMANN. Yeah. Stick it right in there.

MCCUSKER. There's a young Marine, I forgot his name (he wasn't even involved with informational services) but he got fed up one day, so he wrote a story and sent it to his hometown paper. The paper published it. And CID came down on this kid hard and he was held incommunicado for about three weeks around the base area then shipped off to Da Nang for court- martial. I don't know what happened to him. No one seems to have seen or heard of him. It's the same with the young Army newscaster in Saigon, _____ _____, who last year, in January, said that the Army was suppressing news.

They immediately made him a chaplain's assistant and busted him and nobody can find him any more. I'd also like to relate to marriage to Vietnamese. I was engaged to a Vietnamese girl. She was finally killed which made everyone rather happy, I would imagine. The chaplain...ah, you go into so much harassment once you do this, once you try to take out these papers.

You meet cold stares, people shuffle you back and forth, it takes you almost a month before they start to make these papers. Now Larry said it was three months, the Marine Corps told me that it'd be at least six months and I had about four months to do in the Nam--I had about five months, I guess. Chaplains would come and tell me that God did not want me to marry inferiors. Expressed a little differently of course, but that's how it came out.

Officers, staff NCOs, I was visited by them regularly, and essentially it came down to the fact that the military didn't want to pollute the white American bloodstream with any more Asian blood than it is already polluted. Again the remarks were a little bit more sophisticated than that, but that is essentially how it came out.

ROTTMANN. I heard a lot of groans when you heard what the chaplain had told him. At the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company, 25th Infantry Division, Cu Chi, there is a chaplain who prays for the souls of the enemy on Sunday morning and earns flight pay as a door gunner on a helicopter during the rest of the week. This kind of threat that I was talking about, which I mentioned, speeches and everything, this extends also to your mail, to your letters.

While I was in Vietnam, I sent what I called a holiday message from 1st Lieutenant Larry Rottmann. On it there's a small picture of a black medic, a white medic, and a Vietnamese treating a wounded Vietnamese. And there's a little small thing beside it which is a quote from honorably discharged General William Tecumseh Sherman saying, "I am sick and tired of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have never fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation, and destruction. War is cruel and you cannot refine it. War is hell." That quote was taken from the Army Digest, a Department of Defense publication.

For sending that card, I was court-martialed. I'll read you the charges. "This is to inform you that action is being taken by this headquarters to determine your fitness for retention as a reserve officer in the United States Army. Your record indicates that in December '67 you printed and distributed at government expense (the 'at government expense' was--I wrote 'free' on my envelope, which we are allowed to do, so I didn't put a stamp on it. That's the government expense: they paid the postage for the card and they're upset.) a Christmas card depicting a seriously wounded soldier receiving plasma, etc., etc."

This court-martial was finally held last fall at Boston Army Base. I was represented by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) resulting in the dropping of all charges and specifications. This is just to point out to you that they will do that. They pursued me for sending that Christmas card taken from the Army Digest; they pursued me, and spent, I guess, a million dollars, for three years across the country until they finally actually held the court-martial and it was thrown out. That's just to show that they do mean business.

Many people ask us, right, why we haven't spoken up before and I think we have given you the reason. We are ordered not to speak up and if you do speak up, action will be taken against you--sometimes very serious and very harsh action. There is another question in many people's minds here. They say, "Well, why do you talk now? Why do you come here and tell us these things that happened two, three, maybe four, five years ago? What is your motivation behind it? You want to get on the boob tube? You're on some kind of an ego trip? You know, why are you here?"

I'm here, speaking personally, because I can not be here. I'm here because, like, I have nightmares about things that happened to me and my friends. I'm here because my conscience will not let me forget what I want to forget. I didn't want to talk about it when I first got back, you know, I didn't want to talk about it at all. I didn't watch Cronkite.

I went fishing a lot and changed socks two or three times a day and slept on beds and ate cheeseburgers. But after a while, it gets to the point where you have to talk to somebody and when I tried to talk to somebody, even my parents, they didn't want to hear it. They didn't want to know. And that made me realize that no matter how painful it was for me I had to tell them. I mean, they had to know. The fact that they didn't want to know told me they had to know.

So I'm here, not a member of any political group, not as a member of any lobbying group. I'm just here as myself, you know, saying to other people, to other human beings, something that I just have to say. And if you think it's just clearing my conscience, some kind of therapy, you can think what you want. But I got to say it. I'm going to ring off.

I have one little thing I want to read: it's sort of a poem; it's not because I'm a real great poet that I want to read it. But I spent some time getting the fewest possible words to say what I wanted to say:

I was that tiny premature baby
born Christmas, 1942 at St. Mary's Hospital.
Remember how you all said I'd never make it?
Then there was the time when I read from the Bible
When the minister got sick, just before his sermon.
Remember how you all said
"Hey, you ought to consider the ministry!"
How about the last second basket I made
That beat Perryville and took us to the State Tournament?
Remember how you all cheered and said I'd make the pros someday?
And when I was chosen the best actor in the college public speaking contest
Remember how proud you were?
You slapped my back and shook my hand.
Then came Basic Training
and Advanced Infantry Training
and the Infantry Officers Candidate School.
Remember how impressed you all were that I became an Officer?
And then Vietnam, where I did my job.
I got a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and an Honorable Discharge.
Remember how proud you were when I came home?
But now, I ask why I had to shoot those little people?
When I question the policies and the decisions and the people that made me a killer
When I ask you why you never asked why
You treat me like a stranger.
Hey! Remember me?

MCCUSKER. I'd like to make an addition to that. Like, I didn't know Larry in Vietnam, but I met him in Chicago and we both got gassed together. A lot of us have been doing this for years. Larry has in his hands something I wrote in '67 just after I got out of the service. I was thrown out of Japan for things I was doing within it. We've been saying it for a long, long time, but only now, only in the last few months, have people started to listen. So it's not the matter of waiting so long to say it. It's a matter of people waiting a _____ of a long time to listen.

QUESTION. Mr. Rottmann, do you have any testimony about the body counts, official MACV policy?

ROTTMANN. Yeah, I do. One of the things that I did as an Information Officer was at the end of each day I turned in a thing called a Sit-Rep--a Situation Report. In this report I gave a sort of a rundown of the total division activities of the day, including the number of VC body count. Now, during my tour, there was a standing policy in MACV that VC losses for any given week for the entire campaign in Vietnam were not to fall below 2,000.

Now, it sometimes was kind of hard because if you reported negative contact for a day, in other words, you never saw an enemy and an enemy never saw you, it's kinda hard to come up with your daily allotment of bodies. I have been called back and ordered to dig up bodies and I have asked units to dig up bodies which they rightly interpreted as finding themselves a graveyard or someplace where they put some bodies before or someplace where they happened to know there were some bodies or some water buffaloes or some children or some elephants.

Bodies are bodies. VC bodies are VC bodies and we never fell below our quota and my division was in a constant race. My division commander had a bet with the division commander of the 1st Infantry Division that during the first three months of 1968 our body count would be higher than his body count.

Now, it turned out that it was a tie, believe it or not, but our body count was higher than his body count, if you count the number of GIs killed. Anybody here on the panel can talk about that body count business.

MODERATOR. Question here.

QUESTION. Yeah, during the past few days, we've heard people give testimony to the fact of increasing the body count by digging up graves. Why was it so necessary to go through the actual effort of digging up graves? Why was not simply the number increased? I mean, why? Because when you dig up graves, you already knew the hoax involved. Why could it not just simply be done by words?

ROTTMANN. It was done in both fashions. It was done much more frequently just by inflating it artificially. Audience? Would you repeat the question? I'm sorry. The question was, "There's a lot of talk about digging up graves for bodies. Why didn't they just add on, double the number you had, and not go to the trouble of finding more bodies?"

It has to do with the chain of command and the fact that things get out of hand. If there's an order comes down to dig up bodies, eventually somebody is going to go out and dig up a body. It's inevitable. As it gets down to the lowest level, a sergeant's going to call in some Pfc. and say, "Hey, listen, go out and dig me up some bodies for the morning report?" He does it!

CRAIG. One actual instance that I was in on. We had a body count of 17 and it was a matter of digging up graves. The idea was to dig up a grave and verify that this particular Vietnamese had been killed in that action and had been hastily buried as the Viet Cong left. But, what we actually did was dug in one grave; it looked very old in this case, it was just an old graveyard. The fellow digging got tired of digging so we didn't even get down to any skeletons but we counted all the graves in the old graveyard. So as far as the report that went to Division Headquarters, we had uncovered graves that were new.

QUESTION. I'd like to ask the question if the black GIs in Vietnam were treated to the degrees of harassment that the white GIs were treated when they were trying to marry Vietnamese girls, and also the type of treatment that the black GIs got in regards to the racial tension between the white GIs and the blacks in Vietnam.

MCCUSKER. I was kicked out of Japan for this. Regarding the marriage of Asian girls was equal for black and white. They got the same harassment. The black man might have gotten a _____ of a lot more harassment, but that was probably essentially because he was black and had to add his portion of harassment to the fact he was going to marry an Asian girl, woman. Actually, the one I was going to marry was a girl. She was seventeen, U.S., eighteen, Vietnamese. But, in Japan during the time, well, you're all familiar with it.

During the time of the Detroit uprising in the summer of '67, I was in Japan. Now, overseas, blacks and whites segregate themselves into different sections of town. Each has its own little entertainment area and there's a line and neither crosses each of those lines. Iwakuni had the same thing.

Because of Detroit and the tensions of the summer stateside, most of the blacks and whites on the base at Iwakuni believed it was inevitable that it was going to explode there. And I went and talked to a _____ of a lot of people. I was the base editor of the newspaper and I talked to both blacks and whites, about, I don't know how many, maybe 200, I'm not sure.

And I wrote an editorial which the colonel gave me direct orders not to publish but which I did publish anyway, resulting in 10 MPs taking me to an airplane. However, what I understand is that it helped quell what was going to happen because my premise was that no matter what was going to happen between the blacks and the whites, the Japanese in the country were going to be the ones that suffered the most.

They were going to be caught in the cross fire. And so, I rather angrily pointed that out. And, from what I gather there was no riot. I don't know about the racial tension in Iwakuni right now, but I'm willing to bet it's essentially the same.

Riding on an airplane here I talked with a little woman Marine, Pfc., and she was telling me about Pendleton (Camp Pendleton, California). She was telling me how hot it is at Pendleton, racially, between blacks and whites. No one walks alone on that base.

They walk in packs. Blacks and whites! The tension is so high it's ready to explode--so you can take it from there.

QUESTION. What was the attitude towards civilians and people in the United States who were getting this misleading information about the state of the war? Did you feel contempt for them being so stupid believing it or what?

CRAIG. At that time it was a rather frustrating experience. You just couldn't fight READERS DIGEST. People read it and believed it.

PRIMM. I felt angry at the press, at the civilian press for not sending out reporters who would really go after the facts. It seemed that the civilian reporters were very docile and would accept what the army told them. I was angry and I still am and I don't think the war has been reported accurately.

ROTTMANN. I want to say just one thing, okay? This thing still continues. I mean, maybe most of us in this room have an understanding of it, but the lady who runs the cigar stand downstairs, all she knows about what's going on up here is what she read in the Detroit News, which said that (now, I'm just telling you what she told me) we were alleged veterans, you know, and that we were just phonies. And she's like where it's at, I think, into a large majority of this country because she said, "Look, I don't want to listen to you 'cause you're a Commie." I said, "How do you know?" She said, "I read it in the News." That's what she told me.

QUESTION. It's a point of fact for most of the people in here that the military information service has distorted the news. However, some pretty serious indictments about the civilian press have been made today and I would like to ask if any of the gentlemen of the press, or ladies of the press, sitting in the front, would dare, or care to, respond to the charges of the prostitution of their profession.

PRESS MEMBER. I was in Vietnam as a civilian reporter and I'd like to know if I could testify to some of the reasons why the civilian press has been brought up.

MODERATOR. Sure, come on up. Would you care to give your name?

PRESS MEMBER. I will, man. My name is Lee Elbinger and I was in Vietnam for the month of December of 1967. I was representing Michigan State University News and I had accreditation with MACV. Now, I would like to explain something about what it was like to be a civilian reporter in Vietnam. I would like to corroborate much of what these gentlemen have said and to elaborate upon it. I noticed one thing when I first got to Vietnam as a reporter. I noticed that the first thing the army tried to do was to buy you off and I got a little list of things that they do to buy you off. First they take you to JUSPAO and they give you a briefing and big manual about what you're supposed to do, etc., as a reporter.

Now, if you're a reporter from the United States, or if you have ARVN accreditation, which I also had, which allowed me to go to the ARVN press briefings, you're treated better than the third country nationals. The third country nationals are anyone in that country who is not United States or Vietnamese. And, they don't get these privileges. Some of the privileges are: access to the officer's open mess in Saigon on top of the Rex Hotel.

Let me tell you a little bit about what it's like to go up to the officer's open mess up there; and this is where all the reporters sit around and get drunk with all the officers. There's 20 slot machines up there; there's a swimming pool; there's a bar and a rock band which goes continually; and every Sunday night they have a $2.00 steak dinner while the people in the streets are starving and these people are up there just swimming around and getting drunk, and eating steak. Now, when I got there, I was told that I could send and receive mail with postage rights from APO San Francisco, which I never did because I didn't really trust them. I was given PX rights. I was allowed to go into the PX and buy any item up to the value of $10,000. I was given my MACV press accreditation which allowed me to fly free on any military airplanes, and we could bump off up to 15 GIs. In other words, the press had priority. They came right after the officers, I guess. I was given a beer ration card, a liquor ration card, and a tobacco ration card, which could be used at the PX. None of which I ever used. The reason reporters never left Saigon was because Saigon was the only place in the country that was really very much like America and it was very comfortable just to sit there and to go to the 4:15. Every day at JUSPAO they had these press conferences at 4:15. We called them the 4:15 Follies, and a friend of mine, a Danish correspondent, told me that the Swedish television crew came one day, filmed the entire 45 minute press conference, and showed it on Swedish television as a comedy. I did take advantage of my free flights around the country. I got to Na Trang. I got to Da Nang, and I was in Hue one month before it was destroyed. I was in the press camp in Na Trang and Da Nang, and you were allowed to stay there for $3.00 a night. It had a bar, and it had hot showers in it, which was, you know, really beautiful compared to what the men were getting there. You were supplied with an interpreter and a chauffeured jeep, but I had a little bit of trouble because every time I got in there they started finding out what I was doing and in this case I went to Na Trang twice to investigate a Special Forces captain who murdered his interpreter.

As soon as I got out there, they started finding out what I was doing, suddenly a lot of those privileges which I was supposed to have, were mysteriously cut off. Speaking on the issue of censorship, when I got out to the Special Forces camp, outside of Na Trang, I think it was the 5th Special Forces, I got out there and I had a tape recorder with me. I had a whole list of questions from some people in Saigon to ask the father of the (Vietnamese) interpreter who was killed--given half a helicopter ride as they call it. He was killed by his captain because apparently there was a squabble; somebody said he was stealing something. But, the point of it is, I wanted to interview one of the key witnesses, who I was told both in Na Trang and in Saigon, could speak English. I got to the Special Forces camp and when they found out that I wanted to talk to this man (I knew he was there because they said he was there) they would not allow me to speak to him. They told me he was a truck driver and he didn't speak English and I didn't want to see him. What they did instead was they piled me into a jeep and they took me over to this place where they were displaying all these dead bodies and I was told that these were VC that had been shot the night before. There were two rows of five each of the dead bodies of some Vietnamese people; young girls, old men and young men as well. And I was told that it was official policy (not of our government, I suppose, but of the ARVN forces) to line these bodies up and to leave them there for one full day. I guess it had a psychological effect of terrorizing the villagers. To keep it very brief, I just want to say one more thing about reporting in Vietnam. When I got over there, I was very keen on being objective. I tried very hard to keep emotionalism out of what I was doing. I admitted in all the things that I wrote that I was prejudiced against the war and I tried to have that discounted by just Franz Fanon's book, Wretched of the Earth, where he talked of colonial wars and he talked about imperialism and that when a reporter says, "I'm just being objective. I'm just reporting the facts," in effect he is hiding on the side of the imperialists. So it's a very difficult thing if you're a newspaper reporter and you're trying to be objective and to be coldly unemotional and not get involved as a human being. Chances are you're not telling the full story because I think healthy people have emotions. I finally just had to discard this whole policy of objectivity and I said at the beginning of all my reports "This is a subjective impression." I started giving just surrealistic, subjective impressions, and I felt that that was the best way to report on this atrocity. Thank you.

MCCUSKER. One point to add to that. Every week in our office, and posted to all the GI correspondents, would be a list of civilian reporters whose accreditations were ripped off for one reason or another. And, generally, anybody that ever reported on anything significant in Vietnam had his accreditation taken away from him.

ROTTMANN. Right. An instance of that that just rings a bell in my head, is a story written by Merton Perry, who is Saigon Bureau Chief of Newsweek magazine. It was written in 1967 and it's called "Their Lions, Our Rabbits." It's an expose of the Vietnamization program. It appeared in Newsweek magazine. Merton Perry had his credentials ripped off; was suspended for a short time, I believe, by his headquarters in New York City, I believe. All issues of that magazine of Newsweek were confiscated in Vietnam, including the issues in the PXs around the American bases. So that's just a specific example. Look, don't get us wrong. There were some really great civilian reporters. Don Webster comes to mind, in my experiences, Merton Perry, Peter Arnett. A lot of names came to mind and we began to sense, after a while, of course, who the guys were who were really straight and they would frequently end-run the information officers, either with our cooperation or without our cooperation and sort of go straight to the field and get the story. Some of the press, let me emphasize, some of the press, and many were killed, are doing really great jobs, but we did have a very big problem with apathetic press. I might mention "JUSPAO Joe _____" from the New York Daily News, who never left the Caravelle Hotel in Saigon and who writes the most fantastic "I was there" battle stories you'll ever want to know.

MODERATOR. I'd like to add one last point about press censorship. After my three years in the army when I got out in '65, having resigned a West Point appointment that I got in Vietnam in '63, I went to work for a newspaper in this country to try to find out why what I had seen going on in Vietnam wasn't being reported here because I knew there were some good reporters over there. So I worked for a major newspaper, which I will not name, because it could be any newspaper in this country. Those stories that came in that were best, that were good, were killed by the editors here, who knew more about Vietnam than those of us that had been there. Not only did they kill these stories when little things came about what Johnson was supposedly doing; going out to Asia and having meetings with Ky. They would stick little headlines on a story that mentioned nothing about peace talks, that would say "Johnson in Peace Parley in the Philippines."

QUESTION. I'd like to say that yesterday I was listening to a CBS news photographer who was sitting up here that I don't see any more. He was sitting up here a little while ago. He said that this stuff isn't anything new, that we've been photographing this all along, right from the beginning, and I'm just wondering why the _____ it wasn't on TV.

Also, I'd like to know, I guess apparently all of you people can be prosecuted and imprisoned and I don't know what else for the testimony you've been giving. I'd like to know, who's making these laws and how they're enforced, and that kind of thing.

MODERATOR. There's two questions. One was, the gentleman said he was a CBS news crew and he talked with them briefly and he heard somebody in the crew say that it was old stuff and that they'd seen it before and they'd filmed it before and his question was why wasn't it on TV. The second question was: Are we liable for prosecution for our testimony and if we are indeed liable, whom are we liable to.

ROTTMANN. Some of us are liable. Those of us who had secret clearance or above, who have signed some kind of release, are liable. We're liable to the Army and the Army is liable to itself. The Army represents the government that we elected, if that answers your question. The other question is: Why isn't it on CBS news and why wasn't it on last night, etc. I can only say two things. One is sort of what Jan said about self-censorship within a network, which is a big problem, and the other problem is there's a term that people in the press and the media have for this kind of situation: the term is called "market fatigue".

QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE. I'd like to ask what the CIA did do in Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia.

PODLASKI. They did a pretty good job there. Take a look at Laos now. I think that pretty well answers it.

MCCUSKER. Take a look at your own antiwar movement. You'll find the CIA in it somewhere.


ROTTMANN. The CIA in Asia has almost total control over the activities of many parts of the Special Forces and all the clandestine mercenary groups. The extent of that control is very, well, you know, it's been documented quite a bit and is available. None of us have been CIA agents, obviously, so we can't speak from experience, other than just encountering them from time to time.

QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE. Just recently we've been hearing about the drug problem in Vietnam and has this slipped out or have they been getting a little bit more lenient?

ROTTNAMM. The drug problem was broken by CBS news, if you remember correctly, not by the military. CBS ran that little thing that shows the guys puffing up with the barrel of the shotgun. The shotgun itself was sort of an interesting thing since it's not supposed to be shown, especially not in that context.

MODERATOR. I'm sorry, we are going to have to close this panel now so the next panel can begin. The Veterans Caucus will take place now in the Vets room. The press is politely disinvited. I would like to read a telegram that has arrived this morning. "As active-duty servicemen, we support your investigation into US was crimes. The American people must be told the truth about our government's brutal destruction of Indochina. We must all remain Winter Soldiers until this war against humanity is ended. Signed, Fort Bliss GIs for Peace." Thank you.

Last Updated Wednesday, March 17 2004 @ 08:04 PM MST; 6,377 Hits View Printable Version