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Kill Anything That Moves

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Posted on Mar 12, 2013

By Chris Hedges

(Page 3)

War always exalts and elevates psychotic killers. And Vietnam became their playground. Sgt. Roy Bumgarner of the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division and later the 173rd Airborne Brigade “reportedly amassed an astonishing personal body count of more than 1,500 enemy KIAs, sometimes logging more kills with his six-man ‘wildcat’ team than the rest of his 500-man battalion combined.” Reports of Bumgarner’s indiscriminate killing sprees, excessive even by the standards of Vietnam, filtered back to the high command. In March 1968 Pvt. Arthur Williams, a sniper on Bumgarner’s scout team, informed military authorities that on “at least four occasions” he had seen Bumgarner kill unarmed Vietnamese civilians, Turse writes. Bumgarner, Turse reports, often planted Chinese communist grenades on the bodies of his victims—including children—so they could be called in as dead enemy troops. Charles Boss, who was on the sergeant’s wildcat team, is quoted as telling an Army criminal investigator “only a couple of weeks ago I heard Bumgarner had killed a Vietnamese girl and two younger kids (boys), who didn’t have any weapons.” Bumgarner was eventually court-martialed after numerous eyewitness reports of his propensity for murder. He was convicted of unpremeditated murder, reduced in rank and fined. But he never did any prison time. He continued his career in the military, soon regaining his old rank. The military was not about to lose his services. He spent seven years in Vietnam. 

Turse also profiles Col. John Donaldson, a West Point graduate and former Olympian who organized “gook” hunts from helicopters. One officer is quoted in the book as saying that Donaldson and his chief intelligence officer “flew around in the colonel’s chopper with a crate of grenades, ‘frags’ they were called, and popped them in the rice fields over the ‘dinks’ who would attempt to run for cover when the chopper swooped down to chase them.” When enough reports of the colonel’s killing made it up the chain of command, his fellow officers, including Colin Powell who had served with him for eight months in Vietnam, made sure the charges were ignored or dismissed. Two of the key witnesses willing to testify against him, apparently under pressure, changed their testimony. The colonel was never reprimanded.

The killing campaign of Gen. Julian Ewell, nicknamed the “Butcher of the Delta,” reached staggering genocidal proportions in the Mekong Delta where he commanded the 9th Division. Ronald Bartek in the book remembered that the general “wanted to begin killing ‘4,000 of these little bastards,’ and then by the end of the following month wanted to kill 6,000, and so on from there.” Ewell launched an operation called “Speedy Express” that employed fleets of helicopter gunships, F-4 Phantoms, ships lobbing “Volkswagen-sized” shells, B-52 bombers, Swift Boats, snipers, teams of Navy SEALs and thousands of infantry troops. The provincial hospitals were soon flooded with civilian wounded. A veteran, disturbed by the massive loss of life, wrote a letter to Gen. William Westmoreland, the army’s chief of staff. He explained Ewell’s tactics: “If anybody ever got sniper fire from a tree line we’d use gunships and artillery on the villages and go in later.” He listed the names of the officers pushing the soldiers to carry out the massacres. He pleaded with the military to put a halt to the carnage. He wrote that any civilian who ran from U.S. troops was instantly shot. He detailed in the letter how “a battalion would kill maybe 15 to 20 a day. With four battalions in the Brigade that would be maybe 40 to 50 a day or 1200 to 1500 a month, easy. (One battalion claimed almost 1000 body counts one month!) If I am only 10% right, and believe me it’s lots more, then I am trying to tell you about 120-150 murders, or a My Lay each month for over a year.” He signed the letter “Concerned Sergeant.” The “Concerned Sergeant” was soon identified by the Criminal Investigation Command as George Lewis, a member of the 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry, of Ewell’s 9th Division. When nothing was done he wrote more letters to senior commanders. But his pleas were ignored. “No one,” Turse writes, “from the 9th Infantry Division was ever court-martialed for killing civilians during Speedy Express.” Ewell, in fact, was awarded a third star and promoted. He went on to help author a counterinsurgency manual for the Army. And, as Turse writes, “the rank-and-file troops who spoke out against murder were, for the most part, essentially powerless in the face of command-level cover-ups.”

Those soldiers and Marines who did report the war crimes they witnessed could sometimes face a fate worse than being pressured, discredited or ignored. On Sept. 12, 1969, Turse writes, George Chunko sent a letter to his parents explaining how his unit had entered a home that had a young Vietnamese woman, four young children, an elderly man and a military-age male. It appeared the younger man was AWOL from the South Vietnamese army. The young man was stripped naked and tied to a tree. His wife fell to her knees and begged the soldiers for mercy. The prisoner, Chunko wrote, was “ridiculed, slapped around and [had] mud rubbed into this face.” He was then executed. A day after he wrote the letter Chunko was killed. Chunko’s parents “suspected that their son had been murdered to cover up the crime.”

 

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