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A My Lai a Month > Letters

Web Letter

I flew C7As in II, III, and IV Corps in South Vietnam from September '70 to '71. There were large vacant areas of formerly occupied terrain, dead. This was easy to see from the air. These areas were defoliated completely. The villages were gone. Former towns like Phouc Vinh and An Loc were disappeared. We left ghosts of artillery bases behind.

The strategy was to erase "enemy" activity in those areas by making them uninhabitable. This was done in a blatant pattern to the north, west and southwest of greater Saigon, with only a green ribbon running northwest to Tay Ninh, and another along the border with Cambodia from Djumap through Loc Ninh. There was greenery to the south, east and northeast surrounding greater Saigon. But the empty sides were extensive. I wonder what happened to the populace. Did any survive?

There were survivor-witnesses, according to Nick Turse. But those areas in the Delta where Speedy Express took place were not defoliated or de-populated, like the areas that we routinely overflew.

To the veterans who are offended by this article, look harder. We need more scrutiny into how we were used as a military force. Most of my fellow C7 cargo pilots would be offended, no doubt, by my assertion that we laid waste to terrain and populace. The urge to conformity and mainstream honor is the greatest barrier to the truth about the Vietnam War. The abuses of military power we brought down on many innocents, who were no threat to America or the world.

Jim Willingham

St. Petersburg, FL

Dec 21 2008 - 11:02am

Web Letter

If you want to write about war atrocities, how about this one. The intentional, carefully planned burning to death of woman and children and old people in one forty-hour period in numbers equivalent to a My Lai per month for every month since the incident happened--sixty-five years ago! But mentioning that one of hundreds of intentional mass murder acts by that generation in that war wouldn't do, because those who did that were the "greatest generation" and their war was the "good war." Why this mention of the fire-bombing of refugee packed Dresden in Germany won't be printed... Instead, Nick Turse has to trot out some old stats, make some false assumptions due to personal cluelessness about the military, and cite as the only witness an unverified letter writer, to renew the same old practice from long ago of branding as wanton indiscriminating killers the mostly unwilling, drafted participants of another "greatest generation"-started war.

The fact that this was the first war in history with elaborate measures put into place to prevent civilian casualties make these stale, old, long discredited allegations even more hard to figure. Hundreds more Americans died there than would have if those measures to prevent civilian casualties hadn't been in place.

Vietnam vets served the will of the American electorate honorably and with great courage, despite the very difficult situation they were put into. Those that scream and cry otherwise to anyone who will listen are usually the tens of thousands of phony vets out there. But don't take my word for it, even though I was a grunt in the 9th division in Vietnam. We are still around by the thousands. We have web sites and organizations. Try these for starters: 6thofthe31st.com, vietnam6bn31inf.com and 31stinfantry.org. Don't be mislead by writers like Nick Turse, when it's easy to get the truth from those who were there. By the way, please cancel my subscription. As you can see, I didn't like the first issue I received.

Joseph Donnelly

Greenfield, WI

Nov 26 2008 - 4:49am

Web Letter

I actually served with the 9th Division in Vietnam. I was one thing and the other of a forward observer team for Alpha Company 6/31st Infantry in that Division. I served with the 9th Division eight and a half months ending in September 1970 and eight months of that time was in the field with one infantry company.

During the time I served, I know of no atrocity committed by 9th Division soldiers against civilians, even when the VC attempted to provoke retaliation against civilians in restricted fire areas. I more than once saw the company I was with take casualties because of VC-placed mines near villages that artillery fire couldn’t be brought against due to fire restrictions. At no time did I see or hear of retaliation against civilians by the infantry company I was with because of casualties suffered.

The 9th Division operated in a densely populated area with hard rules of engagement that they actually played by, even when they took casualties doing so. The interest in body count, which the news media and some generals had a fascination with, existed only at a remote distance from the infantry company. Grunts could care less what the body count was. A grunt's interest was in staying alive and eventually going home. Killing civilians to add to a body count would have been a foreign as well as a repugnant idea to the men I knew.

I constructed a website for the men of the battalion I served with to make contact, 6thofthe31st.com. I know of no 9th Division veteran that I have talked to over the last half dozen years through my site that recalls anything like what is alleged in the story I see presented. Perhaps if Mr. Turse had to tell the families of the men that died in any of the battalions of the 9th Division that their loved ones were murderers on the basis of what flimsy evidence he has gathered, he would rethink his story and do more objective research before he publishes his book. He can see a list of 150 men of one 9th Division battalion that were killed in that war over the two-and-a-half years that the 6/31st served in Vietnam at my site. Mr. Turse dishonors every last one of them.

There are a lot of 9th Division vets of Vietnam still alive. Perhaps he ought to talk to some of them.

Robert Stewart

Mobile, AL

Nov 25 2008 - 6:01pm

Web Letter

Sixteen years ago I became close friends with a Vietnam vet who had just received 100 percent disability for his war-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

He had been a gung-ho helicopter gunship pilot and was smack dab in the middle of Nick Turse's shoot anything-that-moves horror story.

My friend was an officer, a captain, but an OCS guy who joined the Army as a wide-eyed teenager.

He wanted to be an Army officer with medals and ribbons like his uncle, but surely not an officer like mad-dog-murdering Ewell.

But my friend learned the party line well.

"Yessir, General, we got lotsa dead bodies."

His all-too-vivid stories right in my face about the abject shoot-em-up murdering horror of Vietnam fearfully corroborate and confirm what Turse is telling us.

Here is just one of many--the most fearsome and ugly;

"We were just flying along and I saw this 'dink' walking along the bank of a dike--so I turned the ship to the left and ordered my door gunner to fucking waste him, and there was nothing left of the dink, and I can't stop thinking about it."

He had been a Catholic kid, and the guilt was making him a PTSD basket case, but the VA treated him (and still does) with every drug in the book.

For the last sixteen years the VA's theraputic strategy has been: "You don't like that one? Then how about this one." He has a pills of all colors, shapes, and sizes for everything and anything--up, down, and around.

He routinely mixes the pills with booze and gets through the day-- and the night. And then the next day, and the next night.

If it weren't for the fascist dole (and maybe even the pills and the booze too) he would be homeless--or under the ground, more than likely.

He is alive, although sometimes I'm not so sure.

I don't visit him much anymore, either.

It's ugly, all right.

gerald spezio

Santa Margarita, CA

Nov 15 2008 - 11:42am

Web Letter

This is more detail than I have ever seen before about Operation Speedy Express, but the basic outlines of this story have appeared in various books, all citing Kevin Buckley's story. (I'm thinking of The First Casualty, Fire in the Lake and various books by Noam Chomsky.) But it goes completely unmentioned in many books on the Vietnam War. It's amazing that people think we live in a self-critical society, when an atrocity like this can remain unknown to the vast majority of Americans for forty years, even though the basic facts are available if you happen to stumble across them.

Donald Johnson

Yonkers, NY

Nov 13 2008 - 5:15pm