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Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
Dellums Committee Hearings on War Crimes in Vietnam
Testimony of Michael O'Mera (Capt, US Army)
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STATEMENT OF MICHAEL O'MERA Capt, US Army O'MERA: My name is Mike O'Mera. I was in Vietnam from January, 1969, to February, 1970. I had the rank of Capt.
I resigned my commission January 20, 1970, when I returned from Vietnam. I worked in the Tactical Operations Center of the 25th Infantry div at Cu Chi from April, 1969, until I departed Vietnam.
I can corroborate Ron Bartek and Greg Hayward's testimony concerning the BC.
I will go briefly into that, because I was responsible for receiving reports from the Bgd, posting them on the maps in the Tactical Operations Center, briefing the div commanders, the Bgd commanders, the general staff once a day and passing these reports on to II Field Force, General Ewell's HQ's, Having served in this reporting chain, I personally know of many instances where the BODY COUNT was inflated.
But I think we have to understand why this BODY COUNT was initiated, as Capt Bartek so ably stated. The only measure of success in Vietnam at this time seemed to be BC, and the command emphasis on body count was so tremendous it was felt very much at the lowest level, that is, the company level.
Due to this, you have Bn commanders, Bgd commanders, and we had a div commander who had no alternative but to send their men out every single day, in many cases on night combat patrols, for the purpose of making contact with the enemy. This everyday routine I am convinced led to hundreds of poorly planned, poorly executed and ill-conceived operations of the men on the ground. I say poorly executed not in any way to be derogatory to the man on the ground, the infantry man, or the platoon leader or the company commander such as Capt Hayward was.
I can say this because when you send a man out every single day, a certain amount of fatigue sets in, he becomes careless, and all he is a walking target. When you send a man into areas that are booby trapped, and we all know that booby traps are a tremendous killer in Vietnam and have killed a great number of men in Vietnam, you then begin to wonder of the advisability of sending men out every day who are obviously tired and who are not careful and cautious.
But there was no alternative. The Bn commanders had no alternative, the Bgd commanders had no alternative. The div commander had no alternative because he was told to produce BC, and the only way he could do it was to make their ground units as bait.
They made their ground units bait by sending them into the swamps, into the jungles, into the rice paddies where they would search for the enemy and at night set up a night logger or a combat patrol position, and from this position they were most likely to be attacked. This is where the enemy would most likely hit them. They were bait. They were there strictly to make contact with the enemy and hopefully not take any casualties, but unfortunately in every 1 I can ever recall they did take casualties and great BCs did come from it.
As Capt Bartek stated, we drove to Diamond, a few kilometers inside Vietnam along the Cambodian border. I refer to Capt Bartek's reports. As I should have done, I did, I passed it along to II Field Force, and the div was thoroughly commended for its fine effort.
The same as far as FSB Crook. I refer to that report from Capt Hayward.
Eventually the 3rd of the 22nd Infantry reported 400 people killed in FSB Crook action, which was a complete distortion. Yet it was a lie which was accepted because there was just no alternative. There were several ways to increase the BC. 1 was by just increasing the sum just making it up.
You have a contact, you fire artillery, you have some air strikes, and you call in 50 BC. Another way, you come across the graves and you call in the number of graves you find. If you come across dead bodies, you count dead bodies. You sweep the area, recount the numbers, double it, and call it on in.
1 of the most flagrant violations I saw in the reporting chain, there were radars, PPS-4 radars, PPS-5 radars, and ANTPSY 125 radars at the various FSB's and patrol bases in the 25th Infantry div. These radars are operated at night and they detect movement.
we would reference reports constantly and it was usually a 2d Bgd policy that I know, they would detect 20 to 25 persons, perhaps it could have been trees moving--it could never be substantiated--20 to 25 persons stationary, no less.
Artillery was fired and the Bgd would report 12 BC. It was practice for them to take half the number on the radar screen and count it as BC.
The next day when troops would sweep the area there would be nothing then.
Yet this was accepted and it was good, because the pressure was on and this is what they had to do. This was the only way they could come up with it.
I could recall a sign in the Tactical Operations Center on the side of the map that read "Contact - Happiness is Heavy Contact." There was a little caption, a beautiful drawing of some bombs bursting. That was the attitude, happiness was heavy contact, because contact led to BC.
The thing which seems so terrible to me was the fact that the lives of Americans were placed 2d to enemy dead. BODY COUNT meant more to commanders than the lives of Americans, and when this I believe takes place, when they are used as bait, when they are not used to get intelligence targets but just out there hoping to be fired upon, how can you expect a GI to feel-what can he feel toward the Vietnamese when he knows what he is being used as and how he is being manipulated?
CONYERS: Could you ask the gentleman to yield for just a moment?
CONYERS: I would like to caution everyone giving testimony here to be as careful as they can not to make statements of fact about assertions which they cannot prove, because it will not help the purpose for which these hearings are called. That is to say, unless we can demonstrate some evidence that we know how a general felt or what his attitude was or what his motivation was, it perhaps makes it more difficult for us to arrive at facts that will lead us to accurate conclusions.
O'MERA: I apologize for--I guess I can say these are my personal observations from briefing the div general every day for 7 months while in Vietnam.
I regret the fact that I could see what was important, and what was important was BC. And the committee may also wish to look into further I believe Americans killed in action, the figure which we have become accustomed to, seen once a week. It is now down to about 50 men dead, which is all right to the American people. It was policy in our div that if a man could make it to a hospital--in other words, he could be immediately evacuated to a hospital and a he was alive at the hospital for a minute, 5 minutes, then he was listed as died of wounds. He was not listed as killed in action. Whenever there was a contact, we had 5 men killed, 35 men wounded, some of those wounded are going to die. You may wish to look into the fact these men who died of wounds, are they currently included in the number of men who have died in Vietnam, as the men who are killed in action in Vietnam.
They were not reported as KIA because it lowered our BODY COUNT kill ratio, and ideally it was 30 to 1. The Americans could kill 30 enemies, and then we could lose 1 man. That was the ratio.
I know Capt Bartek and myself, we both tried to find out if men who died of wounds were eventually put on this list. We called the hospitals concerned.
To their knowledge, they were not. We called II Field Force, and to their knowledge the men who died from wounds were not tallied on to the KIA.
I appreciate the fact that I was able to come. I came at the last minute for corroboration of some testimony, and I THank you for the opportunity to say a few words.
DELLUMS: Thank you.
I would like to thank all 3 of you. I think your testimony has been extraordinary and opens up a whole range of questions obviously. We are caught in a time bind, having to end this particular day of hearings by 1:00. I would just remind my colleagues to use some discretion in the amount of time.
I would like to ask Ron Bartek 1 question. You mentioned in your testimony very specifically General Ewell. The question I would like to ask is, what do you think should be done about General Ewell at the Paris Peace Talks?
BARTEK: As Greg mentioned, I can't see how a man with his attitudes, with his basic perspective of the Vietnam War can be an asset in the pursuit of peace.
I am sure the North Vietnamese there know about General Ewell. I mean, we have got leaflets and so forth with our generals' names on them quite often.
So, I don't see how a man can be there in pursuit of peace with his attitudes, and I don't think he should be there.
DELLUMS: Congressman Ryan.
RYAN: You spoke about, Capt O'Mera, the need to maintain contact in order to be sure that there was some North Vietnamese killed and that in your judgement it was more important to have this BODY COUNT than to protect American lives. To what extent would you say the United States soldiers who were called upon to go out and set up these positions at night in order to attract an attack so that they could then kill the enemy, to what extent did the soldiers themselves come to believe, if at any point they did, that they were being placed in a vulnerable position simply to satisfy some kind of statistical requirement and not to satisfy a real military requirement, and if they came a this conclusion, what was the effect on them and there performance and so forth? Do you understand the gist of my question?
O'MERA: Sir, I can't answer that specifically, since I was sitting behind a desk and maps don't fire back. I did not get to talk with that many infantry men on the ground. I did, however, come very those to specialist Sgts who were pulled out of the field and put on the desk jobs to handle the various paper work involved in the reporting requirements. And speaking directly with these individuals, they were, 1st of all, shocked at the attitude at the div level for the man on the around. In other words, there was an inane joy in the Tactical Operations Center whenever there was a contact. And these men regretted the fact once they were at the div level and could look down and see what the attitude was when they were out there in the field, they regretted it very much, and they were very sorry for it.
HAYWARD: Sir, I would like to comment on that just a moment. General DePuy in 1966, I was a junior aide to him, he received some credit for being the 1st commander a use this particular technique in terms of the troops, feeling that they were bait, in essence. He sent his cavalry squadron down a road called the Minton Road and we replanned artillery are, and we told the Vietnamese that we were going to send an engineer company down this road to repair a bridge because we felt if we told the Vietnamese that the word would get to the VC. Instead of sending an engineer company down the road, we sent an armored cavalry squadron down the road. They were attacked by 3 regmts of the 9th VC div. They took serious casualties, but we got a great BODY COUNT because of our present position, our air, and 4 maneuvered Bns around this site.
The troops in that armored cavalry squadron suffered a great morale setback.
I think that was getting to your point, how do the troops think about their use in this. 1 of the Diamond actions--there was a Diamond I, 2, 3--one indicator of their morale as being used for bait may be that 3 bunkers were over-run with men smoking marijuana in them and nobody on alert at all. The whole unit was demoralized, and I think to a great extent because they felt they were just being used as bait, to lure the enema across the border.
DELLUMS: Congressman Koch.
KOCH: Just a brief observation, because we are running out of time here as we have run out of time in Vietnam. What interests me is, and I have no reason to doubt the statements made by our officials that the North Vietnamese have come into the villages and sought to slaughter the leaders, the infrastructure in the villages, and we in turn have done the same according to your testimony, and I have no reason to doubt that.
It just should make 1 aghast at the savagery that the Vietnamese people have had to submit to on the part of the North Vietnamese cadres, doing what you have described we are doing, and between the 2 of us, we are wiping people out, and it is outrageous.
DELLUMS: Cngwmn Abzug.
ABZUG: In your experience of describing meetings with COs outlining policies you described, in your realization that some of these problems were wrong, how many others in your grouping would you say agreed with you or had this realization in your class officers?
BARTEK: I would say it was very low. I can remember the 3 of us reacting in similar ways in that same div HQs. I can remember observing the same glee, though, of the general atmosphere of the div HQs when we got a telephone call saying there was a unit in contact and there was a big fight going on.
I can remember talking to the people in my Bn about the brutalization of the war, and the only favorable responses I got were from the Bn chaplain and oddly enough from 1 artillery officer that was working with us. I sensed very little sympathy from anyone else. In fact, I sensed a good deal of hostility from other officers who thought I was leaving the mainstream of the Army by not wanting to participate fully in the war, and they thought I was a little bit less than heroic and so forth. I would say that our reaction is in the minority.
HAYWARD: I would agree with that at the time. Recently I have received 4 calls from classmates of mine across the country, all of whom are still in the Army and who plan to make a career in the Army. They were sympathetic.
Many of them were trying to find grounds of agreement. It wasn't a hostile atmosphere at all. I expected that. I expected to really have to back my position and fall back on small talk so that we could end the conversation pleasantly, but that wasn't the case. They were sort of searching for an agreement. It is surprising, but most of people all entered the conversation with, be careful what you do, I don't want to see you get hurt. For instance, if you ever want to get a government job, 1 of them told me, that requires a security clearance, you probably won't get it. They failed to see the irony.
They believe the myth that we are fighting in Vietnam for a democracy and for freedom of speech, and yet they themselves fear speaking out where they come back to this country that is supposed to stand for that ideal.
LIVINGSTON: I saw the same thing. I saw and sensed hostility there, but since being back I have received several phone calls from classmates giving sympathy.
JOHNSON: These 3 men can corroborate the plan by the 25th Infantry div staff led by Major General Williamson to bomb a hospital in Cambodia. Talk about killing helpless people! Where is moral outrage? Where is the demand that General Williamson be put on trial? It is kind of ironic that we are able to pass by this systematic destruction of helpless people and yet focus on a man like LT William Calley.
RYAN: The response to that is that there is evidence to be established against those who are responsible.
CONYERS: I merely wanted to thank all of the witnesses for their specific and detailed purpose that brings us here today, and I want to applaud your integrity and courage.
DELLUMS: Thank you. I would like to make 1 brief comment to the press. We have made every effort, the Congressmen, staff and volunteers, to make these hearings over today and the next 3 days highly creditable, and the DD-2 14 separation papers of the witnesses are available to you for your own inspection.
I would like to then thank all of you gentlemen for coming forward and testifying. I think Congressman Conyers has already stated the feeling of the Chair and the other members who joined us this morning our sincere thanks for your integrity and courage, and making the very specific kind of testimony and in dealing with us philosophically as well.