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Interview with Scott Camil, 1981

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Summary
Scott Camil served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967. He describes his own negativity towards the Vietnamese during his tour, and the camaraderie among his group of Marines. He recounts in detail his first battle and his involvement in search and destroy missions during “Operation Stone” in 1967. Camil discusses the mood of American soldiers during the war and how it may have fed certain atrocities committed against Vietnamese civilians. Camil would later become an anti-war activist. He describes his personal transformation and his anger towards the US government upon his return from Vietnam.
Topics
Vietnam--History--1945-1975, Peace movements, Torture, Questioning, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements--United States, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Desertions--Vietnam, Government, resistance to, Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Atrocities, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American, United States--History--1945-, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Campaigns, Chieu Hoi Program
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Transcript

Why go to Vietnam?

VIETNAM/SHOW #7
SOUND ROLL 2909
SCOTT CAMIL
PAGE 1
Vietnam Project. Show number seven. Camil subject. G. Porter Sound Florida Film and Tape Productions. Date is 11/10/81. Room tone. Speed. Six. Vietnam Project. Show Seven. Sound One. Clap sticks.
Interviewer:
Scott, I’d like to take you right back to seventeen years ago. No. That’s...
Camil:
Fourteen.
Interviewer:
Fourteen. Thirteen or fourteen years ago. What did you regard as your mission in Vietnam? What, what, what were you there to do as far as you saw it?
Camil:
Are you talking about before I went or after I got there?
Interviewer:
When you were there.
Camil:
When I was there, the main thing in my mind was staying alive and the second main thing was winning. Okay. I thought that we were there for a good purpose, that we could win the war and our only rue of measurement of whether we’re winning or not was could we kill more of them than they could kill of us. So, staying alive would be my first priority and getting more of them than they could get of us would have been my second priority.

Impressions of the Vietnamese

Interviewer:
How did you actually find the Vietnamese when you got them and wha—what did you expect and what did you see, and what did you think about the Vietnamese as people when you were out? Wha—what, what, what did you see of them? What did they mean to you?
Camil:
When I first got there, I was very ethnocentric. I thought everything that we did in America was the right way to do things and everything else was the wrong way to do things and the things that I remembered were people had lived in grass houses with mud floors, and no screens and no electricity and no bathrooms and ahm people would ahm do their bowel movements on the side of the road and I just thought they were really backward people and that’s about mainly how I thought about them. As time went on, I came to a point where I didn’t consider them people at all. I, I, I called them gooks. I considered them gooks. I didn’t know what a gook was but ahm they weren’t like human beings. I didn’t have the same feelings if I saw one of them laying there hurt that I would have towards an American or even a a dog.
Interviewer:
How common was the term gooks? I mean, what does it mean? Did you just use it as a word cause everybody was using it or what does it actually mean, gook?
Camil:
I mean, it didn’t mean anything to me. I, I wasn’t using it as a derogatory term or anything. It was just... Ahm. We called the...I guess it was somewhat derogatory. Ahm. I referred to the Vietnamese as slant eyes or gooks, and I’m usually with hostility. I felt that we were there to help them and I didn’t feel that they were helping us. I thought that they were hurting us that the people didn’t like us being there, they didn’t like us and I resented that we were over there suppo—well, I believed to be helping them and they were sabotaging us. So, I, I hated them. I disliked them ah intensely.
Interviewer:
Did you have any respect for them at all, or about any facet or did you just find them unthinkable, what, what, what how...?
Camil:
Until I came back, I didn’t have any respect for em. Ahm. And, I guess mainly because the people we were supposed to be helping were the people I had the least respect for, the South Vietnamese Soldiers, and ahm, the people that I wanted to hate, the, the VC, they were always winning. And, it made me angry that they were winning and that the people that were supposed to...that we were supposed to be helping weren’t taking the brunt of it, that we were taking the brunt of it.
Interviewer:
What do you mean they were, they were winning?
Camil:
Ahm. How we measured whether we were winning or not was if we if we could hurt more of them than they could hurt of us. And we’d go out on patrols all the time and we’d lose men from mines and booby traps. Some killed, some wounded. We always had people hurt, and we we didn’t have anybody to shoot or to get back for it. Occasionally, we’d have an operation or run into a unit where we could actually get somebody back for it, but it was really frustrating going through a village that’s supposed to be a friendly village, having the man step on a mine and get his legs blown off knowing that the people who lived in the village knew the mine was there and they didn’t tell us, and we were supposed to be there helping them, and it made made me hate them a lot.

Camaraderie among Marines

Interviewer:
What about your friends and your buddies? I mean, we’re talking about what 1967? What, what, what was morale like and friendship like amongst you as Marines and the job you were doing together? Can you tell me something about that?
Camil:
Yes. Uhm. One of the things that I really miss from those days is the camaraderie that we had, the Marines from my unit. Like we were really tight friends. And, we, we loved each other. We, we’d do things like share, maybe four or five of us would share one toothbrush, things that back in the states people would say hey you queer or something. We were very tight. We wrote each other’s parents letters. Ahm. We were very close to each other. It was a kind of camaraderie which I’ve not seen anywhere else except in the anti-war movement.
Interviewer:
Do you think that was born of coming under fire together or because you came from a foreign land together? I mean, what do you think was it that wo—that gave you that esprit de corps, that friendship?
Camil:
I think it was both of those things that ah...
Interviewer:
Could you talk about the actual subject...
Camil:
We had to depend on each other to live, okay. If we were out on an operation and we dig in at night in holes there’d be maybe two of us in the hole. One of us would sleep and one of us would stay awake. With your life on the line, you really had to trust the other person a lot, that he wouldn’t fall asleep while you were sleeping. Ahm. When you saw your friends hurt, it hurt a lot inside. And, I would see my friends be taken away on helicopters Medivac’d away and I, I would just think...
I wouldn’t think about that they were hurt, I would think they’re home, they’re gone. They’re out of it. When time came for me to leave, when my tour was almost over, I signed an extension to stay there and one of the things that motivated me to stay there was the closeness that I had to my friends, and I felt like I would be deserting them, that they were going to stay there and fight and I was just going to go home. So, I stayed there. I, there was just, the camaraderie was just something. I can’t really tell you how good it was. I miss it.

First encounter with the Viet Cong

Interviewer:
Tell me, what was the first time you saw one of your friends or your buddies severely hurt or wounded and what did that do to you, and to your feelings about the war and what you were doing? Can you remember it? Does it...
Camil:
Um. Hm. I remember it specifically. It was April 18, 1966.
Interviewer:
First say, I remember the first time I saw it...
Camil:
And I’m, I, I was standing guard. I’d been there for about two weeks, three weeks, I don’t remember and I was guarding an artillery base, and we had four posts, one in each corner of the base, and it was a called Alpha North was the name of it. And, we were hit by a group of Vietnamese called Sappers. They cut through the fence and they were inside the fence before we spotted them. I was in the post that was in the southeast corner. One of my friends was in the northeast corner and his post was blown up and I could see it blow up and I saw the flares go off that were on the ground and all of a sudden all these people, Vietnamese, stood up and they had guns and stuff and they just started shooting and charging. And, everything started blowing up.
And, I saw that ahm, on this one post it was Post 8, I was on Post 9, that ahm, Viet Cong jumped on top of the post and they were machine gunning the people laying there and I wanted to shoot them, and I couldn’t shoot them because there were too many of our men in between...the posts were at the corners and people were running to the fence line to fight, and there were too many people in between for me to do anything. Ahm. During the battle, the Viet Cong took the three posts and my post was the only one that wasn’t taken. There were four of us on each post.
We had a fifty caliber machine gun on each post. An M60 machine gun and two automatic M14’s on each post, plus Claymore mines and grenades. We were very heavily armed and they still managed to take three of the posts and they turned the machine guns around to the inside of the camp. They worked over the inside of the camp some while others of them went and blew up the six 105 Howitzers. And, then they left and the next morning reinforcements came to help us and we had had something like five men killed and twenty eight wounded out of ninety. And, I went and uncovered the dead people because I wanted to remember and it it was just sort of a macho kind of thing like I might have learned from watching John Wayne on TV or something. I wanted something to ah to instill in my memory so I would remember and one of the...
Interviewer:
Doing very well, indeed.
Speed. Sound 2. Clap sticks.

Operation Stone

Interviewer:
Scott, you, you were telling me about your first ah encounter with the VC and with turning the machine guns actually on to your base itself. You were going to tell me about the following day.
Camil:
Um. When daylight came, we had help arrive and I went around and I looked at my friends who had been killed. And, one of them, his name was John Manes. He was from Jacksonville, Florida. And, because I was from Florida too, I felt a special camaraderie towards him. I made myself a promise that I wouldn’t smile anymore and that I would, I would get as many gooks as I could. Um.
Later on that afternoon we followed blood trails through the barbed wire out into the forest field, bush whatever. And, I was very hostile and there was a farmer there, you know, I guess a man about forty five fifty. I don’t really know what he was. He was wearing black pajamas and I asked him if he’d seen the VC, and he said “Cum biec,” which is I don’t know what you’re talking about or I don’t understand something like that and I asked him again and he said it again and I took out my knife and I killed him. I, I, I just, I wanted to get them back. I hated them. And, as far as I felt, he knew where they were and he wasn’t telling. And, um, I became a much harder person after that.
Interviewer:
We can now move on specifically to ahm Operation Stone which we’re interested in for a variety of reasons because we have some film and because we have some, spoken to some people in that whole area and we’re doing some more research on it. It’s in, it’s February, 1967. I wonder if you can tell me briefly, what what, what your mission was? What, what Operation Stone was all about and and your part in it?
Camil:
Okay. Before we went out word came down that there was a big operation getting ready to happen and we might go to the Mekong Delta, we might go there, we might go there. I didn’t know where we were going. It was just something that was real big and ah I can’t say specifically why I thought it was real big but the word was there was a big operation and everybody was going and get ready. And, I was a forward observer. My job was providing artillery support to the infantry. So, essentially, I was a map reader. It was my job to know where we were at all times, to be able to call in coordinates of the enemy and to be able to call in the artillery support on top of the enemy without hurting our people.
So, I would be with them either ah captain who was the head of the company, company commander or I would be with the lieutenant, who was one of the platoon commanders, and we would call in artillery. My job would be calling in artillery before we went somewhere into to cross a field into a tree line or something. We’d call in artillery, prep it with artillery and then we would go in afterwards. So, I had ah the benefit of going to ahm briefings. So, I would get a map. I would be shown the area we were going into and which way we would be going and they would be discussing what they would be doing.
At these meetings would be the ahm all the company commanders, the platoon commanders, the forward observers, the fact team people which were from the ahm forward air control. They would call in air strikes. And, ahm, each company would get their assignment about what time we’d be mounting up when we would be leaving and who would be next to who and who would be doing what basically. Um. At that briefing we were told that we were going into a free fire zone, that there was um intelligence information about a lot of VC. Um.
Possibly, even a battalion of them, and um during that briefing, discussion, like there’s questions and answers, and someone asked about whether we would be burning down stuff, and they said, yes, we would be burning down villages and burning the food, to deny their use to the enemy. And, somebody made a comment about tell everybody to save your heat tablets, not to use them on their food, but to save them for the villages.
Interviewer:
What were heat tablets?
Camil:
They were little tablets. Um. I don’t remember what they were made of, but you’d light a match to it. You’d dig a little hole in the ground, you take a C ration can, and empty one, and you put holes in it all the way around, and you put this in the, this tablet in the can and then you’d put another can on top of it. And, it would heat up the can with the food. And, once um these things. I think they were blue, once you put them on fire, if you would take say a hammer or something and hit it, it would splatter. It was a hard tablet but once it would start burning, it would melt and get soft and be gooey and stuff. So, we would take ‘em, light them and throw them on top of the houses.
Interviewer:
I interrupted you there. So, you were at this briefing and you asked what’s going, on and you’ve been told that you’re going to burn the villages so they’re no longer a sanctuary. How did that all, how was that all actually ah given to you? Was there to be any criteria or were you just literally on a search and destroy mission or whatever?
Camil:
It was a search and destroy mission. Um. I wasn’t given...
Interviewer:
Start again, cause I was talking...
Camil:
It was a search and destroy mission and we were going to be allowed to ahm, it was a free fire zone. We were going to be allowed to kill everybody and and destroy everything. It was supposed to be an area that was heavily ahm occupied by the VC and it was supposed to be cleaned out once and for all. And, I didn’t have...no specifics were given to me. Um. My specific job came from the captain or the lieutenant which, once we got there, it would be mostly where do you think we are Artie. Call in artillery here, or at night calling in H and I’s for harassment and interdictory fires.
Every night I had to give um five sets of coordinates from the map and artillery would be dropped on each of those sets once an hour, and the purpose as I understood it was to keep the enemy from moving around at night. And, the only other thing I would do, is if we got ambushed or hit, I would call in the artillery fire on the enemy positions or if we were going to cross an open area, I would call in the artillery fire um on the area, on the other side where we were going to. Stuff like that. Sss—I guess early the next day we we took off and went out to go on the operation, and um, I don’t really know what everybody was doing and what was going on. Um.
I do remember specifically when we the operation was almost over, and then they said we were crossing the river, that they’d been spotted and we were going to close in on them. I remember that um it was pretty dark when we were started crossing the river. I don’t really remember if it was morning or nighttime. And, we crossed the river and our company was sweeping north and we...I called in artillery first, then we were on line and we were coming across rice patties and fields.
We had another company west of the tracks. We were east of the tracks. Then we were heading up north. Um. I think we started on Highway 4 and started moving north. We came to this village. Um. We had received sniper fire from it, and I called in artillery and when we got to the village um the lieutenant kicked the gate open a Bouncing Betty got eight of us. So, we were um stuck there. People...
Interviewer:
Can you just... You’re going into this village. Can you tell me what happened? Describe what events, I don’t know what events...?
Camil:
Okay. The village had bamboo fence like. And, it um it had a gate. And, the lieutenant kicked the gate. When he kicked the gate it was rigged to a mine that was set, that it would pop out of wherever it was, get to about eight feet high and explode, and that way the um, if a mine goes off on the ground the blast goes like this. So, if you’re lower than it, or away from it, you have a better chance. If it’s in the air, there’s not very much chance you’re going to get away from it. It went and popped up and got us. Um. At the specific time that it happened, I remember hearing the explosion and I remember that the ground was coming u—that the ground was coming up. I was really going down, but I didn’t realize that.
And I had, I remember thinking that somebody must have accidentally discharged an M79 which was a grenade launcher, because it it sounds like a grenade when it goes off. And, then, the next that happened, I, I woke up and I was laying on the ground and um I I heard someone calling for help and I tried to get up and I couldn’t. And, I saw that I was bleeding and um a corpsmen had stepped in a punji pit and I crawled over and I pulled him out and people came running around and started helping everybody. And, they ah ah moved us to a clear area and called in the helicopter Medivacs that came in and took people out.
I, I was hit pretty much superficially. I had um a cut across my hand, and across my face, and I had some shrapnel in my leg. The ah radio operator was hit really bad. He had to go out. He had a stomach wound and the lieutenant had been shot, the other PO. So, I stayed there cause there wouldn’t have been anyone else there so far as a forward observer and I really wasn’t hurt bad. The um the concussion from the explosion knocked me unconscious and I didn’t really feel anything. And, I was just, when I woke up I was just dazed and I couldn’t hear too good. Um. I also wanted an opportunity to get whoever was doing this to us, and I stayed there.
After um that incident took place, I remember Captain Carter was yelling at us because one mine wasn’t supposed to get eight people. People were supposed to be spread out and they yelled at us all the time to spread it out, to spread it out. We were too close. Um. We were too close. (nervous kind of chuckle) I don’t have any excuse. And...
Interviewer:
Sorry.
END SOUND ROLL #2909.

Operation Stone as a free-fire zone

BEGIN SOUND ROLL #2910
Room tone. Speed. Six. Sound three. Clap sticks.
Interviewer:
Scott, you were, you were telling me about Operation Stone and you said something that I find rather startling. You said, it was a free fire zone and you were given carte blanche basically to to kill everybody. I mean, what’s that, what does that actually mean? I mean what what were your terms--I mean what, what does that mean go in and kill did you do interrogations or...precisely...?
Camil:
Okay. Um. I didn’t speak Vietnamese and there’s no way I could I really could interrogate anyone and even though when I came across people I could ask them questions, my vocabulary was very limited and I would say “Cam Kuk.” I’d want their ID, and then I’d say you know where the VC went. I’d say Marines kill beaucoup VC and that’s about the extent of my Vietnamese except for DD or um “cockadow” which meant kill. And, sort of how, the only way I could really relate what it’s like would be like we were teenagers. If, if you went to a high school, brought out a bunch of men, male teenagers and gave them guns and said, okay, we’re going on a turkey shoot and we’ll give you all the ammunition you want, and you can shoot all you want. Just get all you want. Go get them. It was sort of like that. Aaa—as many times as we had men killed and wounded without being able to do any fighting, just walking around when the opportunity came for fighting um we sort of looked forward to it.
Interviewer:
Take you back to this day. Some of your guys had been injured, a mine has gone off and you’re staying there. How did that day develop? I mean how did you search the village? When did you decide to burn them? What people did you come across? Can you go through that day?
Camil:
Okay. After I got hit, it was before we went into the village. I was with the wounded people when the company actually went through the village. Ah. I can’t be specific about it. I know that we would call in artillery first. People would run. We could shoot at them. When we got to villages, if people were standing there and they were women and children, they were taken prisoner. It was sort of, there wasn’t a written rule or anything like that, but it was...I guess it just seemed like it, it wasn’t right to shoot them when you got there if they weren’t running and weren’t armed. But, if you were far away, it was okay to shoot them. The people who were people would be taken. Um. We would have like a line, okay. The line would move forward and search. People who were taken would be taken back behind the line and would be taken over to a command post area. And, um, the search would continue.
Interviewer:
How did the search go that day? Does anything about that day stick in your mind between when the 19th, I mean, or in January, I mean. Was there anything that sticks in you remind especially about the way that went?
Camil:
Just specifically things like um we would throw grenades in all of the um shelters. Like under the ground they had bomb tunnels or shelters just because of all the hostility that was going on there, and what we would do is we would yell for people to come out and then we would throw grenades in. And um people would go in and pull out the bodies that were hit with the grenades. It was important to to be able to count these bodies. And um we’d burn down the houses. We’d we’d set the crops on fire.
It was my understanding that our job was to deny the enemy shelter, food or a place to survive in. A place where the enemy could work and that if there were people in that area that the people supposedly had been told to get out of that area, that we were coming and the people that stayed, stayed because they supported the enemy. And...that in a guerrilla war you can’t have it without the support of the people and the people who supported the enemy were to be considered as the enemy. So, the ones that when we got to the village that were still alive were pulled out. Even if they were sss—ah soldier age and taken to the command post, and then everything else would be destroyed. If people ran, they were shot.
Interviewer:
How you, you were telling me you didn’t speak any Vietnamese. On Operation Stone, did you have any interpreters with you? Did you have Vietnamese with you? I mean, what was , how did you...?
Camil:
Um. We had these interpreters and they were called Kit Carson Scouts. I don’t really know why. They wore cowboy hats and um whenever we worked with Vietnamese...like we were Marines, everybody wore the same thing. Everybody was, there was discipline. There was the sense of order. Whenever we worked with them, they’d have jeans on and a khaki shirt or, they just looked rag tag all the time. They, they didn’t look like soldiers. They looked like boys sort of. And, they would, they were much more brutal than we were in general as far as interrogation and that stuff went, and I saw, I saw them questioning people using um different forms of ah interrogation methods. This would be the Kit Carson Scouts interrogating prisoners.
And, they would do things like tie a person with their arms behind their back to their legs and lean them back, put a towel across their face and pour water on the towel so they couldn’t breathe and when they tried to breath it would suck water into the, their lungs or into where ever it goes, and um they would be beat a lot. They would be burned with cigarettes a lot. Um. And, the Kit Carson Scout would say this person’s a VC. And, um, as far as we were concerned, the person was a VC and the ones that were considered VC, we handled a lot rougher than the ones that there was nothing said about them, or they were just women or old people just standing around. And, they would...whenever we’d go up to someone, they would get down and they’d go, go like this all the time.

Physical brutality against the Vietnamese

Interviewer:
Inaudible.
Camil:
I also remember that um specifically um killing the pigs in in that village. Um. The one where, I, I, got wounded I remember that after they started burning things down there were chickens running around and pigs, and we just killed them all.
Interviewer:
When I was there filming earlier this year, there were considerable complaints by ahm by women and by people who were at that time children that, in fact, they were um unquestionably abused and maltreated and there were specific allegations of rape and of murder of relatives and things like this. Do you think this is is conceivable or or what did you see yourselves in terms of this sort of treatment of civilians? Did you come across any incidents of people being abused?
Camil:
Um. It was very common. Um. It, it was sort of like they weren’t people really. And, and, it’s hard for me to really explain how that attitude could be...how it would...
Interviewer:
Sorry, what are you talking about? Could you explain it to me?
Camil:
Um. The Vietna—There was just so much hate and resentment towards these people and may be so...as far as our psychological building how we were, like we were trying to be John Wayne and macho and hard and people got knocked around all the time. If you asked a person a question and they answered you back in Vietnamese, how would they know English? Well, I know they wouldn’t know English, but you’d just be pissed off and just smack the person. Hit them in the head with a rifle butt. Women were strip searched all the time. Very common. They’d be strip searched and um um people would put their fingers in their vaginas. Um. Supposedly looking for stuff.
It was just a bunch of good old boys sort of. I, I, I don’t know if you understand what...how that is, but what that means. It’s sort of, like, go in high school a bunch of guys hang out together, get drunk. Where I lived, we’d go fight with the Cubans and stuff like that an um we’d do things that wouldn’t be acceptable if somebody did that to our sisters or our friends. But, we were all good, good old boys. We were all friends and with the peer pressure and just how you did things that it’s just, it was acceptable. Um. It’s where acceptable, unacceptable stuff would be acceptable.
And, it in Vietnam it wasn’t any different. No one had to say go up and hit that woman. I mean, you’d ask her a question and she’d, she’d make believe she didn’t know what you were saying or if she didn’t know what you were saying, you just hit her in the face with your rifle, rip her clothes off, whatever you wanted to do basically. When officers were around, it was a little bit harder. But, the only time officers were around was when um there would be an operation as opposed to a patrol and there was many, many more patrols than there were organized operations and even when there was an operation, there weren’t that many officers around. Officers were being killed and wounded all the time and in a company there would only be a captain and three lieutenants, and generally, we’d have a captain, maybe two lieutenants and a staff sergeant and they couldn’t be everywhere. And, there, um, it was common for officers to come upon stuff and yell at people, um, for treating the Vietnamese badly. Um.
Even um people who were prisoners, who who were actually Viet Cong as opposed to people who were Viet Cong suspects and I specifically remember in Operation Stone, there was a man who was wounded and his leg was dangling cause it had been blown apart. He was being carried on a rubber poncho. And, he was laying this way like I am, flat, and the movement of the men carrying him was this way and his leg was dangling off the poncho and the guy in the front kept putting the poncho down and the guy’s foot would hit the ground and the man would grimace and yell out and his body would come up and everybody would laugh. And um either Captain Carter of Lieutenant Skipsrud(sp) I don’t remember, yelled at the people and told them to keep his leg from hitting the ground and went over there and lifted it up and put it on ah put his leg on the poncho so it wouldn’t be doing stuff like that. But, um, the soldiers in general didn’t care. There was just too much hate and resentment.
Interviewer:
Speaking personally, is there something that that you have done that you now feel either you shouldn’t have done or that haunts you? Is there any part of your behavior there, do you looking at yourself now wonder perhaps why you did it or...?
Camil:
Um. I used to think about it more than I do now. My spe—my specific attitude was that it was wrong.
Interviewer:
Sorry. I should have asked whether you
Vietnam Project. Camera Roll four. Speed.
Camera Roll 4. Sound 4. Clap sticks.
Interviewer:
We, we started to move away a little bit from Stone and talk about a little more generally. Um. Well probably wander back to Stone in a minute, but I wanted, going through these details yourself with your experience there, is there anything that you remember of your, of your own actions, things that you either did or that you witnessed or did nothing over, that, that causes you concern now or makes you think, should it have been like that?
Camil:
When I think about those things I feel bad about what we did. Not specifically because of what we did, but because the people we were doing it to didn’t have it coming. Okay. When I was there I believed they had it coming and the nature of guerr—of guerrilla war is such that if you can’t tell who the enemy is and who the enemy isn’t it just makes it harder on all the people you suspect to be the enemy whether they be women, children, civilians, what, you can’t tell. And so, it’s just going to be a lot harder for them and when I came back from the war and decided that the war was wrong, I felt bad about what we did because the people were defending their homes. Okay.
They were doing what anybody would do. If someone attacked my country, I’d fight for my home and my wife knows how to shoot. She’d fight to save, save the family and to save herself. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. People have the right to do that. But, if we went somewhere where I felt that we really had the right to be there, I would do the same things again. When, when when a person’s life is on the line, there can’t really be rules. Um. War is when there’s no, should be when there’s no alternative, but you ha—there’s no alternative. If you don’t fight, you’re going to die. That’s when a war is okay.
And, to have a war and say that there’s rules and there’s certain things you can do and certain things you can’t do means that there’s got to be some sort of communications to decide what these rules are and decide what to do about if the rules are broken and if you can have those kind of communications why don’t you resolve the problem that you’re fighting over in the first place. But, I think that once you’re fighting that there can’t be rules cause we’re human and people are going to do the things that they feel they need to do to preserve themselves and their own men and those things aren’t pleasant. There’s nothing pleasant about war.
So, I... It upsets me that I killed people who weren’t doing anything but defending their homes, but it wouldn’t upset me to kill people if I felt I had to and that it was for a just cause. It’s just I have a different idea now about what a just cause is than I did the—then.

The realities of war

Interviewer:
You were talking earlier. You were talking about small patrols and ah officers trying to stop those things that were untoward going on. When I’ve raised with people some of the allegations that Vietnamese civilians, VC call them what you will...have made, I’ve been told these things couldn’t happen, and certainly, you speak to most journalists and they would say they didn’t see it happen. I mean, how could it be that there was...so few people knew what was going on in the nature of the war. Have you any thoughts about that?
Camil:
It’s really easy to explain. Um. To start off with, of all the men that went to Vietnam ten percent at the most were actually in combat. So, you’ve got ninety percent of three hundred thousand or whatever it was saying um that these things didn’t take place. Well, actually, I guess there was three million people went there. So that meant out of three million that went only three hundred thousand were even in the position to see that kind of stuff happen, which is ah ten percent. And um definitely if um there was high brass colonels or generals or if there was news media, journalists, reporters, anything like that, things couldn’t be how they would be if you were on your own. It would be easy for those people not to see that. I, I was in Vietnam twenty months and I saw journalists twice in twenty months, and we were out in the field everyday.
So, how, how would they know what was going on. Aside from the fact that um I specifically remember that we were not allowed to talk to the journalists. If a journalist asked us a question, he was referred to the company commander. So, it, it’s be really easy for them not to see what was going on and I can understand all the veterans that resent the things that people like me say because they might have spent a year over there and worked eight hours a day loading bombs on a plane and never seen anything.
And, it also um seems strange to me that a plane could go over say, Thuy Bo, drop bombs and kill everybody and that would be okay, but if we went in there with a company and did the same thing, the people would be dead whether they were bombed dead or shot dead they’re still dead. Why, why is it a big deal that people did it instead of the planes doing it? What’s the difference? It just seems to be more acceptable to do it from a plane than to do it hand to hand or whatever. And, I don’t really understand why.
Interviewer:
How were things different when the press were around? You said you were there on a couple of occasions and the press were near. I believe one of them was in Stone. What sort of difference did it make the way you operated? Did it make it more different, difficult, more dangerous or...what actually happened?
Camil:
Okay. It, specifically, like on Operation Stone there was two heads sitting on posts in the field, and someone...
Interviewer:
I’m not with you, could you explain?
Camil:
Um. Two Vietnamese that were killed their heads were cut off and separated from their bodies and their heads were put on bamboo poles and the poles were stuck in the middle of the field. Okay. And, I think it may have been Captain Carter who was yelling about get the goddamn heads off the posts that there was a press in the area. It wasn’t get the heads out of there cause it’s not right or who did this cause it’s not right. It was get it out of there cause the press is in the area. I guess that’s how it would be different.
Interviewer:
What would be the point of putting that head on a stake in the field? Could you explain it to me?
Camil:
Well, it was sort of um our feeling about, I didn’t cut the heads off, I didn’t put em on the stake but I carried around um a pack of cards that we had from the States. They sent us bunches of decks of cards that were aces of spades and we were told then um the Vietnamese people had certain um oh I forget what you call it, like if you walk under a ladder or certain things that they’d get upset about. Okay. One of them was if their ears were cut off it psychologically upset other people and they would be less willing to fight with you because they didn’t want to lose parts of their body cause maybe they couldn’t go to heaven unless they were whole or something like that.
And, um, the um we would put the aces of spades in people’s mouths or in the bullet holes so they would know and we would wear the aces of spades in our helmets so we would want them to know when we were coming that we were the ones that did that before so they would be scared of us. It was psychological stuff to make, we believed it made them think that that we were going to wipe them out and we wanted them to fear us. So, we did things that we thought would be fearsomeful stuff I guess.

Chieu Hoi passes

Interviewer:
What did the Chieu Hoi passes mean? Were all these passes just dropped on the enemy saying hand yourself over. I mean were you in a position when you took prisoners or when VC surrendered, or did you come across any VC surrendering?
Camil:
Um. I personally have killed people who came with their hands up carrying these passes. And, my personal philosophy about it was that we were in the jungle. I didn’t have time to be taking care of prisoners. I wa—I had to see what was going on and I just had no way to handle prisoners. I didn’t want to take my energy and my focus off of looking for mines, looking for people in the bush and keep an eye on these guys that are walking with me. If a person came to me with a pass, I killed him.
And, my philosophy over there um I never tortured prisoners. I didn’t beat people. Um. I just either killed them or I didn’t and to me I felt that that was a good thing or or humane thing. If I was captured I would want to be either killed or just stuck in the cell somewhere. I wouldn’t want to be tortured, and that’s how I played the game. When people came with Chieu Hoi passes, um, I saw them shot much more often than taken prisoner. We didn’t have time to really mess with the prisoners in the bush. On a big operation where there’s enough people where you can send men back with prisoners and take them to the CP that was fine. But, if there was a squad or two squads out on a three day patrol, you didn’t have time to screw at that. You just shot them.

Torture and interrogation

Interviewer:
You said, you didn’t torture anybody, were you aware that torture then was practiced or done or were you a witness to it at any time?
Camil:
Yes. I’d seen people with the water torture. I’d seen people shoved out of helicopters. Um. As my um I remember um on Operation Stone there were people who were taken up in helicopters who were VC suspects and thrown out of the helicopters. And as I understood the reason it was so the other Vietnamese would know that if they didn’t say what we want...tell us what we wanted to know, the same thing was going to happen to them. And, I saw an occasion where, it was not on Operation Stone, another occasion where um VC suspects or confirmed VC, I don’t know what they were, were in a net um hanging from a helicopter, and the helicopter flew over the trees, the top of the trees and let the net go through the top of the trees with the people in it.
I’ve seen people burned with cigarettes. Um. People held in in the wells with their heads under the water. People beaten in the heads with with rifles. People beat up with fists. People kicked. Um. And, it didn’t matter whether they were wounded or not. It just, what really mattered was how many men did we have hurt before we found these people. If you’d find people and it was slack time and you didn’t have anybody hurt, you might treat them a little bit better than if you had a couple of men hurt.
Interviewer:
Fine.
Beep.
END OF SOUND ROLL #2910.
BEGIN SOUND ROLL #2911
SOUND ROLL 3 - CAMERA ROLL 5
Interviewer:
You were talking about various practices I suppose is the best word I can think of, that went on form of interrogation, call it what you will, what was the point of these sort of actions? Were they to get information? Were they to relieve anger or what? I mean what was the normal cause of that brutality I suppose is the only word?
Camil:
I would say the official reason would be to gain information, but the human reason, the real result, the cause of how humans are was something called Paybacks. In the Marine Corps we say Paybacks is a mother fucker, which means you hurt us what you get in return is gonna be a lot worse. And it was, it was more like... We couldn’t really interrogate people because we couldn’t speak Vietnamese. We were just makin’ believe we could interrogate them. We’d say, “Where did the VC go? How many VC were there?” We had no way of knowing whether they understood us or anything and it would just make us real mad that they wouldn’t tell us.
But we didn’t, we weren’t thinking well, maybe the person doesn’t know, we were just thinking they were purposely hiding it and it was sort of hard to really realize that they had another language and they really might not have known what was going on. We didn’t give them that benefit of the doubt.
Interviewer:
I have been told by one officer that the best source of information in a Vietnamese village was likely to be young children. I wonder if you can tell me what’s the score there?
Camil:
I wouldn’t know mainly because I wouldn’t have access to who gave us information, how old they were and because I wasn’t able to talk to people, I wouldn’t know what they would say, and I wouldn’t even believe what a Kit Carson Scout would say they said.
When we would interrogate the Vietnamese adults, one occasion we took two children away from a woman, one at a time. Took the child behind a grass house, shot a bullet in the air, hit the child so the child would yell, covered the child’s mouth and told the woman that the child had been killed. And that if she didn’t tell us what we wanted to know that we would kill another one. Asked her a question and if she said “cum beack” we took another back and did that. We didn’t hurt the children, but we never, never recall seeing children interrogated.

Reflections on the war

Interviewer:
Lets move away from the war itself, what turned you against the war?
Camil:
The main thing was that when I was over there, I was upset because I felt...
Interviewer:
Say, what turned me against the war, could you raise the subject in your mind for our viewers, because my question won’t be there?
Camil:
Okay. When I was in Vietnam I didn’t think we were fighting the war to win. There was too many things about rules of engagement, what we were supposed to do, and what we weren’t supposed to do, and I resented that. But I felt that we could win the war and that our job was to stop communism. And that the South Vietnamese government had asked us to come and help them against these communist invaders from the north. I didn’t know what a communist was. It was just the enemy as far as I was concerned.
When I came home from Vietnam it was 1967. I got out of the Marine Corps in 1969 and I went to college. In 1970, end of ’70 and ’71, studying history, I started learning about things that upset me. And I came to the conclusion that the war was wrong. That we weren’t asked to go there by anyone, that we went over there because we wanted to run the show, and that the people were defending their homes, and that it was us that didn’t participate or allow the free elections to take place in 1956 like at the Geneva accords. I learned that we had paid for 80 percent of the French Indochina War. I learned that the OSS had trained Ho Chi Minh's soldiers and they were our allies and saved American pilots.
And then just because of their political philosophy being communist, as soon as the war was over we, we stuck them in the back. And I resented having gone over there and done the vicious kinds of things that I took part in to people who were just protecting their homes and struggling for the rights to self determination. And I felt that the government had lied to me, used me, and that a lot of the people that I knew that died over there, had they known ahead of time what the real truth was, I wouldn’t have gone, and I’m sure a lot of them wouldn’t have gone. And it made me very bitter and angry towards the government. And I felt that if the veterans organized to work against the war, it would, it would give credibility to anti-war movement. All I had heard about the anti-war movement before was that it was communists and hippies and draft dodgers, and people not willing to serve their country, and people who didn’t know what they were talking about.
Also at the same period of time I remember things on the news and the government denying that we were doing things that I knew we were doing. And I started saying well, if they’re denying that we’re doing it, then maybe it wasn’t right that we were doing it. Why would we deny it? I thought it was right. And they’re saying we’re not doing that kind of stuff. Well I know we’re doing that kind of stuff. Why are they lying about it? It made me start to question them and then when I finally decided that we had been lied to and used, I became very bitter and put all my energy to make up. That’s when I felt bad about what I had done to the people over there. Because they weren’t doing nothing but protecting their homes.
Interviewer:
Do you feel that you have put the war behind you now? Is it in the past, or is it with you still?
Camil:
I specifically don’t think too much or too often about specifics over there. But as far as the kind of person that I am, I like the kind of person that I am and I think that part of the reason is, is because of the war, I have a lot of self confidence, I know how to organize things, I realize the value of life, I understand how quickly life can be taken away and I know how to defend myself and my family. And I think that if I wouldn’t have gone over there, I would understand those things. Like there’s no time out, or “king’s X” or anything like that in war. You react quickly, or you’re not going to live. And if you want to live, you’ve got to pay attention. You have to keep your mind on what you’re doing and where you’re going. And I think that those things carried on in my life after the war and it made me do better in school, it made me do better in the anti-war movement as far as my organization abilities.
And it especially put me in a frame of mind where I couldn’t be intimidated by authorities. I couldn’t be threatened or scared. It made me, um...I like the kind of person I am because of it. I’m not fearful. And if I have to kill again, I could do it and it wouldn’t bother me. And that’s also one of the things that upsets me because I, lots of times I get mad and I want the easy solution. In Vietnam I learned that if you killed someone they could never bother you again. And a lot of times over here I get upset about stuff, and I’ll feel like going out and killing somebody. But now my intellect is, is in charge instead of my emotions, I know that if I do I’m going to go to jail. So, I’m really going to lose. So...but I am grateful to the, the experiences to make me a more of a sof—surviving kind of a person. I believe I’m a survivor.
END SOUND ROLL #2911
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