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tv   Reel America Interviews with My Lai Veterans - 1970  CSPAN  March 27, 2018 9:34pm-9:59pm EDT

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vietnamese citizens in my lai. there was a published account of the my lai story. up next, interviews with my lai veterans, the 1970 academy award winning 22-minute documentary by independent director joseph strick recounts the massacre from some who were there. some viewers may find this disturbing. >> we spoke to five of the american soldiers who were at my lai on march 16, 1968.
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they were james burg of new york, gary of california, gary of texas, fer -- simpson of jackson, mississippi. and michael barnheart of florida. >> do you think the training contributed to what happened? >> well, this is something a soldier has to do is to take orders and carry them out. >> they had to yell kill kill kill to get it in our heads, get the feeling you can do it. actually when it come down to it, and you shoot somebody for the first time, you think about it, you think, you know, you took another human life. but then you think that it's war, you know, and that's the only thing that you could do, and it's either you or them. >> one of the things is that in the -- when you're just being trained, when you've been inducted, okay, now you're being trained, there are some pointless things that you do. i mean, really pointless.
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so, i mean, what it does is more or less conditions a man to think that just because it's pointless doesn't necessarily have to be ignored. in other words, you still have to do it even if they say it and it doesn't make any sense. >> was there any harassment of civilians? >> no. a lot of the guys would sometimes beat up people and stuff, and stuff like that. i don't know why. >> they would get killed by accident. and there was rapes at times. >> handle the village, a woman running so they shoot her down. i couldn't imagine why she's running, why should she run? after all, we only raped three women in the last village, and we killed an old man over there too. >> we stay on the ground anywhere, and go in a place and have a transistor radio, and maybe you might want to have one so you just took it. >> it was something like the
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first protest, i guess, the first time that anybody tried to say anything or do anything, you know, don't burn my beard, or something like that. i said something about the old man that was -- had something stolen from his house was just trying to get it back, following the troops around and following them. he didn't go away. they finally didn't want to be bothered with him anymore so they shot him. >> what caused the harassment? >> i don't think that it -- well, the main reason was because of the booby traps and the mines. >> rocker was walking on point, i was walking in front of him. i was 10 or 15 feet in front of him. and i stepped in the same area he did. and as i approached there was a bush i heard something go up and it knocked me down. so after the dust and the brush cleared away, there wasn't
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anything left of him. he was totally gone. >> we were feeling down by all these people getting hit by mines and stuff and losing their life and there's nothing we can do about it, just sneaky stuff and a lot of us wanted a little bit of revenge, would like to see them, you know, because they're always hidingle we just wanted to see them. >> you got led into the field by this officer supposed to knowing where he's going. reading a map, and he couldn't. >> i don't know whose fault that was, somebody, you know -- we could have stayed out in the rice patty. we didn't. we ended up in high ground in the bushes and everything, and that's where a mine field was at. about 20 minutes after it happened, everything was over, they found a sign that was put there at the mine field had been laid about two weeks before. >> mines are tremendous. if i were to ever start a revolution or have a war or anything like that, mines, not -- you think of the physical -- the physical effect is devastating, but the psychological effect is so much more so. >> intelligence reported that it was a people within this village
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that had been setting them. and the area had to be cleaned out, whether it was done in the right way or not, i'm not to say. >> and the night before the attack your company commander gave a talk to the men. >> yes. >> what did he say? >> well, he ran down the operation to us, he told us that we were getting -- there was going to be a mission and that we were going to be lifted in by helicopters. it was going to be a -- there was going to be security. and we were going to go in there into the pinkville, and we had a chance to get back for some of the guys that we'd lost in that area that there were supposed to be vietcong in there, that they are in there, and they're going to be there. that when we landed, there wouldn't be any villagers in the area that were innocent. they were going to go to the market or go out in the fields. the people that should be working, that work every day,
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are going to be out in the field. the people that go to the market are going to be in the market, if there's any cv, they're going to be there then, it's our first, really, good exercise. and, you know, everybody was kind of keyed up, and afraid, and, you know, everything. and he told us to get all our gear and working condition, and be ready, you know, be ready to do battle. >> without any doubt, there wasn't anything else the men could have picked up from it. everybody had the same idea, same impression from it. it was a free for all, shoot anything you want, anything that moves. as long as he's not one of your own. >> he said shoot everything, man, woman, children, and the whole bit, everything that could aid the vc, every living thing, sort of like the order, the way i heard it. some of the guys could have took it that way. they wanted to make up for anything that happened they could do it again. some guys might have flipped. there's people capable of doing that in those conditions.
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>> what, in effect, he said, was thevil the village would be destroyed. >> the implication was -- >> to get rid of everybody. >> we had the night to think about it, that next morning. >> there was no certain age not to kill, there was everyone to kill. that's what we did. >> we took off, there was about 7:30 in the morning, and we landed about 250 meters outside of the village of my lai. as soon as we hit, somebody started shooting. into the village, the door gunners were shooting, and the cobras and stuff up there were firing away and everything. i really didn't know what must have been was going on. >> was anybody shooting back? >> i don't think so. i really don't. because you know when somebody's shooting at you. the crack pop. >> we got in the village, and
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phoned captain medina and asked him what to do. >> he said what? >> he said they were enemies, this was a search and destroy mission and to carry out our mission. >> your mission was -- >> search and destroy. >> search and destroy. >> people started getting killed, and guys just shooting into houses and stuff, killing them. >> how it started, i don't know. this is something we were told to do and we did it. >> did you do any shooting. >> a little bit, but not much. >> we made a sweep through the village and there were older men and women. the children were gone, it seemed like. there were very few children there. and we swept through. that's all there was to it. >> what happened during the sweep? >> what do you mean what happened? >> people got killed? >> yes. >> without shooting in return? >> without any return fire. >> without return fire. >> this is the type of thing during training you're told to do.
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when you have a search and destroy, this is what your orders are to do. you don't question it, unless maybe you are an officer. >> would you repeat that? >> search and destroy is a mission whereby you're given an area and you're to destroy anything in that area. after we swept through the village, we turned around, went back through it and burnt all the buildings. >> to destroy everything in the village means to destroy the people? >> right. >> in my lai, and this afternoon, a week after, we had this orders of the captain medina telling us about we was going in and burning down and killing everything in the village, nothing standing, women, babies, children. that morning about 7:00 we boarded the choppers and we went into the village. when we got off the chopper we started shoo started shooting. i remember from the first incident. i was coming up on an area, a
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man with a weapon, reran into a hamlet and this lady got up and she ran. had her back turned to me. and my platoon leader, told me to shooter. and i said no, you shoot her. i don't want to shoot no lady. he said i'm giving you a direct order to shoot, if you don't, you'll be shot yourself. i shot her about five or six times. and there was a little 3 month old baby in her arms. i thought it was her gun. it just kind of cracked me up. >> was the baby dead. >> yes. >> the bullets had gone through her? >> yes. >> what happened after that? >> after that, we had prisoners, they told us to guard us. >> let's kill them. >> i'm a platoon leader, i'm turning my back. this guy had a grenade launcher. he grabbed my liefl, and just
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went to the heads of everyone and put it between their eyes and pulled the trigger. >> and from there it sort of grew? >> yeah, just grew on. well, my platoon leader told me, my officer, lieutenant said well, go in and kill everyone. if you don't kill them, i'm going to watch you out there, if you don't kill everyone, then you're going to be shot yourself. so as i went in, he was always near me anyway. so i think i killed about 18 or 20 people. >> were any of these people children? >> there was two, yes. >> and the rest of them were all men? >> well, between ages young and old. >> young and old. >> did you see what else was going on in the hamlet? >> oh, yes, i saw lieutenant -- this green they had this ditch, about 50 people at a time. they would put two machine guns on each side, two people with
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rifles and he was standing over them and he said shoot them. he killed all of them, all 50 of them. we put people in the hamlet to kill them and burn them. >> how did the guys look when they were doing this. >> they looked like they were having a lot of good time. >> did you see anyone not? >> no, i think about everybody was busy. >> vietnamese are funny people. you can't realize what they're thinking of. they seem to have no understanding of life. they don't care whether they live or die. >> when i was over there, i had another guy with me, i didn't want to stay walking in that one area, i couldn't see from the tree lynn if there was anything out there. i saw that ditch go over there and we knew it was probably deep or something, there could be somebody waiting. so i got over to the side and
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came into the ditch and started walking. inside the ditch, you know, looking around to see. i hadn't got too far when i saw one vietnamese family that was dropped there that had been shot, they were running, they'd obviously had all their belongings, you know in baskets. there was a man, a woman, and a child. from the way they were on the ground it looks like they were shot while they were running. i couldn't tell what did it, what weapon killed them. they were -- just had holes in them and stuff. i looked at it for a while, and, you know, kind of run it through my mind and decided to keep moving on. i moved on down the ditch and the firing kind of ceased. there wasn't too much firing. every once in a while i heard a round being let off somewhere. but i was just more or less looking out around there thinking, you know, like they told us there was supposed to be action there, i was wondering where it was.
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the whole -- the rest of the platoon was sweeping in towards the village, about the same direction. and i walked down a little further and i saw a few more instants just like that, families being shot. and i was watching the other people, and we hadn't gotten into the village yet, we were still on the outside there. and about then i come up on the road where the main pile of bodies that i did see was 11 or 12 men, women and children, sort of like in a pile there. and that kind of -- a lot of us just looked at that and we knew that something bad had happened. we couldn't figure out why this way, why little kids. we didn't know, you know, nobody knew. >> it's completely illogical. why should they shoot them. they were there, that's all. they were there, and whatever was there was supposed to be the bad guys. >> and you came upon other things? >> yeah.
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there were a lot of bodies laying around. a lot of people were dead, you know. sad, you know. he apparently -- people on pads leading away from the village, or through the village, and, you know, their bundles were placed on the ground, and then they were dead, which meant they stopped, put the bundle down and then were killed. the bundle wasn't all over the place, not like if they'd been running. we didn't see any -- as far as resistance is concerned, we didn't encounter any resistance whatsoever. >> the vietnamese had a habit you come into a village they get scared and they huddle. they all get together, huddle and get in little herds and this looked like that's what happened on that trail, they were confronted or something, either going to or from. this one road went from another little house into the village. they were halfway in between
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there moving and something had stopped them, caused them to huddle and they huddled, and they were cut down. >> there were infants, in fact, it makes you think that even if they were fact. it makes you think that even -- even if they were considered beasts, that you would think that maybe a water buffalo calf, or a little piglet, would fare better than a child. >> figure that the babying when they grow up, they will be deceased, anyway, so why get the opportunity to grow up? >> it wasn't so much the number that got me, the fact, if there was one infant in the whole pile, it would have been bad enough. >> there, again, what's going to happen to them, if they were just left there, they would have died, anyway. >> i think there was two kids i seen get killed. >> did you wonder why? what did you think when you saw this? >> i just -- it really never, you know, fazed me that much. i don't know why it didn't, but,
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you know, just didn't faze me. >> in addition to people being killed, i've been told there were rapes. you know about any? >> yes. >> why? >> i don't know. >> told us about being very religious and respect our religious thoughts, you know, they said, look, if you kill someone or something, or if you mutilate their body, they think they won't go to heaven, whatever they believe in, you know, and they are very religious about that. can't stand to see some parts of the body being removed. >> few people talked about it. we heard some of the guys had got pretty loose and started doing some stuff, you know, i heard one guy went wild, you know, with a knife in there, started cutting up people and, you know, some people had shot people and, i don't know, i just didn't even want to think about
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it. >> they would mutilate the bodies and everything, they would hang them or something like this, or scalp them, anything. they really enjoyed it. cut their throats. >> they cut off ears off of guys not knowing if they were vc or not. >> like scalps from like indians, you know, some people around that -- >> i think there were some that might have enjoyed doing it. this was professional soldiers that have become this way. >> you can hide under orders and take out your little anxieties, you know, which some people probably did do, you know, but i wouldn't shoot anybody like that. i wouldn't do anything -- i never did do anything over there that i didn't want to do. >> i was just sort of left out. i was not looked down upon for not having done anything, but just sort of left out of the fun. >> there were men that didn't shoot anybody. >> how did the guys feel about this?
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>> well, kind of felt like they were putting the responsibility upon the other soldiers. a job that should have been done was pushed upon the rest of them. >> well, that night, everyone was talking about how many they killed and all this how they killed them and everything. >> we heard about shooting, a head count, i killed two, three people, you know, gooks. >> that was the kind of talk that was going on. chock that one up for me, all that other stuff. >> we didn't think nick anything of it. we didn't believe this would be such a publicity stunt. we felt this had been happening many times before and probably many times since. >> i heard stories and talked to different people from different other units and like that happens, people in villages get shot up a lot but never seems to come down, you know?
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>> how did the officers who were with you raeact to this? >> they did less talking. they were prudent because they realized the seriousness of the situation. not that they'd done anything wrong in the eyes of the superior, but in the eyes of the superior's superior, they had. he would have to come down on them like the underlining order. >> they were actually expected to do what they did but it's like do it but don't let me catch you. >> i didn't feel like there was reason for the public to know because i felt like this had been done before. i didn't think i'd ever be thinking that much of the day. >> i'm a platoon sergeant. my platoon leader and so on talked to me, i said you're not going to say anything, are you? if that colonel comes around, don't say anything at all. >> once we got back, they told us not to talk to anyone, told us not to mention this to anyone, no the to say anything about it. >> what kind of questions did he ask?
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>> questions of the type, what did you think of what was going on down there? >> they didn't ask -- >> no, the questions, the way he asked the questions, it seemed to me he knew. he wasn't trying to find out what was going on, but what would happen from thereon. >> do you think anything can be done to prevent this kind of thing from happening again? >> we can get out of vietnam. >> seemed that everywhere we left, if the enemy wasn't there when we got there, they were when we left. we seemed to be sort of growing them, you know? planting them like seeds. wherever we went, we sort of bred the enemy. he came out of nowhere. it was almost as though if we weren't there, there would be none. >> what do you think a war crime is? >> what i consider a warm crime? >> yeah. >> i consider a war crime not being over there. just the idea being there. >> they herded this people and
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shot these people and these people didn't say a word. >> i guess you would say it was senseless. >> seemed like everybody was doing the right thing. everybody else was shooting them. i figured might as well have target practice. everything seemed to be we were doing it right, doing something that was right because nobody said nothing about it. >> i don't feel like this was some isolated circumstance. it's happened many times before and many times after. c-span's "washington journal," live every day with news and policy issues that impact you. coming up wednesday morning, sarah cliff from fox.com and the "washington examiner's" kimberly leonard on the future of u.s. health care and the latest on the affordable care act. later, taxpayers for common sense vice president steven ellis looks at the recently passed $1.3 trillion spending bill. be sure to watch c-span's "washington journal" live at 7:00 a.m. eastern wednesday morning. join the discussion.
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while the senate's out of session for the easter passover recess, it's "booktv" in primetime. wednesday at 8:00 p.m. eastern, authors and books on the environment. charles mann on "the wizard and profit." then rupurt darwell in "green tyranny." catherine charles in her book "quakeland." jeff goodell reported ond the rise of sea levels in his book "the water will come." all that on "booktv" this week at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span2. and here on c-span3, it's "american history tv" starting wednesday at 8:00 p.m. eastern with more from our series "1968: america in turmoil" focusing on the 1968 presidential campaign. we'll hear from former nixon white house special assistant and communications director pat buchanan who also worked on richard nixon's 1968 campaign.
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and remarks by the director of presidential studies at the university of virginia's miller center. barbara perry. "american history tv" in primetime. wednesday at 8:00 p.m. eastern here on c-span3. thursday morning, we're in olympia, washington, for the next stop on the c-span bus 50 capitals tour. washington governor jay inslee will be our guest on the bus during "washington journal" starting at 9:30 a.m. eastern. monday on "landmark cases," griswold v. connecticut, challenged a connecticut law banning the prescription and use of birth control. the supreme court ultimately ruled the statute to be unconstitutional and in the process established a right to privacy that is still evolving today. our guests are helen alvare, law professor at george mason
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university's antonin scalia law school and rachel rebouche, law professor at temple university. watch "landmark cases" monday and join the our #is laour our #landmarkcases. we have resources on our website for background on each case. the landmark cases companion book, link to the interactive constitution, and the landmark cases podcast at c-span.org/landmarkcases. on march 16th, 1968, u.s. army soldiers killed between 300 and 500 unarmed vietnamese civilians in and near the village of my lai. next on "american history tv" we look back at that moment during the vietnam war with military law experts and historians. they discuss what happened, the trials of the servicemen

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