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Dellums Committee Hearings on War Crimes in Vietnam

Testimony of Thomas Cole (1/20, D Comp, 11th Bgd, Americal Div)

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Dellums (House of Representatives) War Crimes Hearings Wednesday, 4-28-71, Washg'tn, DC Testimony Of Thomas Cole 1/20, D Comp, 11th Bgd, Americal Div Amherst, OH

COLE: My name is Thomas Cole, I am from Amherst, OH, and I also was in D Comp, I/20, 11th Bgd, Americal Div.

I am 23 years old and I was drafted in the Army. I was in the mortar platoon there which we didn't participate in many patrols or any night ambushes as such. But I did witness a lot of atrocities of sorts and I also witnessed disrespect to the Vietnamese people. Now there was 1 instance I think which is probably fairly important when we were coming in on standdown. This was about in May, about 5-20-70).

Our company had been out in the field for approx 3 months. We were getting a rest period here. We had loaded our trucks. There was about 5 trucks and 2 APC's.

Everyone got on the trucks then and they took out their smoke grenades and CS grenades, and we went to Mo Duc IV and Mo Duc III and we left behind in the shops CS grenades and smoke grenades going.

In fact, we threw grenades up into the straw roofs so some of these shops burned down immediately. There was no effort to reprimand us.

The next time we came in for stand-down they told us to put our smoke grenades and CS grenades away.

Another instance back in 4-67 I got a rear job, in a mortar platoon and in the Bgd fire base, LZ Bronco. It was on a hill called Montezuma. At the time it was about the middle of Apr. We got a call for fire anyway. It was 6:30pm, still daylight. Well, they said that there was VC out there and they called in to us so we fired out there and killed off 7 of them.

Well, the word came back that we killed 7 rice farmers carrying their hose, trying to make it back to the vill. You know, these people didn't carry any wrist watches, so they didn't have any idea what time it would be.

Well, we set up this 6am-6pm, curfew time. at was set up for them. If they were out working their fields, even if it was in broad daylight, they were liable to get killed and we did kill these 7 people.

I think there were 3 men and 4 women. Of course, you never saw the bodies because we fired the mission from I500 meters away.

In 3-70 we were again pulling security for some engineers, building a road out to what was known as the Gaza Strip.

BURTON: Do you have any 1st-hand knowledge whether the 7 persons that were killed were reported for purposes of body-count?

COLE: They were simply called in - all I know is the fire mission was called in. We fired the mission. We got confirmed kills back about 3 minutes later after we fired the mission. We confirmed our kills. Everybody was very elated and was celebrating. "We got 7 VC," and all that.

The next morning they came down and told us that they had killed 7 civilians.

Everyone was still very elated, however, to have killed somebody.

BURTON: The point I am trying to confirm is, and I fully believe in my mind, and I am not trying to le ad your testimony because if you don't know 1st hand you simply don't know, but whether or not these kills were reported and then if so after the determination was made that they were not combatants, I wonder whether th(re was a change, something to change the body-count, areas that reported?

If you know, fine. If you don't know personally, th en that's the end of that. I thought I would see if you (lid happen to have any knowledge with respect to that.

COLE: No, I don't. I don't know if it was recorded as a body-count.

A lot of times civilians have been killed. and then some other unit would find them and count them as their body-count, and we would lose credit for something and someone else would get the credit. There is such a race for body-count over there, you know.

BURTON: There is 1 thing that may well have been done, and I have been meaning to assign someone on my staff to do it. If it has been done, I wonder well, if it has been done I hope that I find out who it was who did it to I can get the results.

But I would like to total up the daily body-count numbers or weekly numbers as they were reported and I would suspect that we have killed or wounded 5-10 times at least the total number of people that have ever been represented to the Congress as being part of the VC or part of the Northern lets.

If that is something that has not been done, Mr Chmn, I might suggest that we collectively try to get some people or some person just to wade through the DoD daily or weekly casualty figures with reference to the "enemy," and I would suspect that ave are up to a million, or 2-3 million Vietnamese people who we have asserted were in effect combatants who have been either killed, maimed, or otherwise disabled in the conflict.

DELLUMS: Your point is well taken, Congressmen Burton. We will explore the possibility of getting that info. Mr Cole.

COLE: Getting back to the rice farmers: This is an opinion of mine now and nothing more, but due to the fact that they were out after 6 o'clock, somebody somewhere - I mean that's enough to confirm them as VC. Someone, of course, has already made that decision.

That's all you need because they were out after curfew time. So I imagine somebody or some other unit got the credit for them.

We most credit for them. People were really proud of killing people over there. They would fight over it. not fight physically but they would fight verbally over getting credit for kills.

Well, this 1 incident back in 12-69, this was the day after Christmas, and we had been moving from our LZ Liz. Now we had a big Christmas party there and so forth.

Well, we were moving back into the flat 515 valley, and the man behind me, well, be stopped - well, we stopped for a rest for about an hour and we stopped and the guy behind me was talking to this rice farmer, this old man about 65 years old and all of a sudden he started picking on the man. You know, calling him a dink, pushing him down in the dirt, threatening to hit him with the hoe.

I asked him, a asked the guy to leave him alone, that he was a rice farmer only and that the guy couldn't do anything to us. and the guy said, "He is only a dink." He says, "Think of the people that have been killed here." Well, I had an argument with him and I said to myself, the heck with it. I will forget it. I moved away so I wouldn't have to watch it.

I came back later to get my pack and the rest and this guy had ripped the farmer's beard off. Nothing was ever done about it. Nobody says anything about things 1ike this because it's commonplace. People are treated - these civilians who walk along, you push them in the paddies and so forth. You stick their head in the well or underneath a bucket of water, and you hold them there, you terrorize them. Just general terrorism.

In 7-70, our company had set up in a day logger and it was sending out patrols. Some guys were in the CP messing around and this Vietnamese family well, at 1st they were friendly. This 1 guy thought he would play a joke on them so he went and urinated in their food and it became great fun making these people eat it and nobody tried to stand up for the people at all.

So I mean, it made me sick. So I just left. But these practices go on all the time. It is just a genl disrespect for the Vietnamese people. You know, they are less than human, is the attitude.

BURTON: Were those Amer or RVNese people?

COLE: They were Amers that did this. These incidents are just so common.

All of us can talk of this for 3-4 weeks and it just goes to show that vie had a kind of racist approach to these people that they weren't that important. They were playthings, something that, well, something for getting your rocks off on, to torture them.

This was encouraged. It was encouraged, I guess, just by the fact of being there. The whole genl attitude toward the people was this. Our fire base wouldn't allow a Vietnamese up there. He wouldn't be allowed up there unless he was a genl or something like that. We wouldn't let them up there because we couldn't trust them and the people didn't want them around.

CONYERS: How did that affect race relations inside the US military forces?

COLE: I don't know. I think a lot of the black soldiers took comfort in the fact that they could show racism to somebody else. They felt that somebody is finally "lower than I am." An attitude that "we can pick on them." There were times that they were sometimes the most guilty people. I excuse it because they were shit on themselves by not getting rank, by not getting - they wouldn't let them on the field with getting the good jobs and so forth. I don't know. It's just a - the stuff went on so much that it was just...

CONYERS: Do you have any other additional observations about the character of race relations between the black and white soldiers other than that?

COLE: Well, within the company there was a segregation kind of a thing.

you know, blacks went to 1 hooch, whites went to another. They wouldn't mix. These things were - the race relations out in the field among the combat troops, they were really good. We got along good. Outside of whatever was brought up among ourselves.

But among the rear areas it was a little different. I am not that familiar with the rear areas, but I got this through 2d-hand knowledge of that. We heard that was different. The people would come back from the rear, especially blacks, they would be extremely bitter with the things that had happened back there.

CONYERS: Then it's your genl impression that the racist practices that were visited upon the Vietnamese had no measurable effect upon the race relations between the black and white soldiers?

COLE: No, I don't think it did. Not really. Except for the fact that the race relations between the black and white, I mean the racist attitude within this country was used to make the black people, you know, really killers. Torturers and so forth.

CONYERS: Mr Chmn, if there is no objection I would like to open that question up to any of the other witnesses that may come before us today. Any of the witnesses that may have testified earlier also. This is 1 of the points that has not been raised, I don't believe.

BATTLES: What is the question?

DELLUMS: Well, the question is, what is the effect of the racist practices visited upon the Vietnamese between the race relations between the black and white Amers?

CONYERS: If you have any observations or experiences on that point to relate to the Committee... would like to know about that.

DELLUMS: That is, if you have any at this time. Mr Battles?"

BATTLES: The only thing that connects in my mind about race is a fellow from my home town camp to Vietnam, and I said after I saw him going out, and he was a black fellow and I said to him, if I was black I would never come in the Army in the 1st place.

It so happens that I was with a guy from Arizona, who was an Indian, and this colored person and I were in the same foxhole, the 3 of us, and things were pretty bad and we felt we were going to be wiped out. So we got down into some conversation like, "you black bastard, what's going to happen now?" He sort of hit me on the shoulder and the Indian says,"Look, you both came to my country."

BURTON: What was that last part?

BATTLES: The Indian-head said, "Look, you both came to my country." I'll tell you, I'm not a bit proud that I am white. But it is a racist war.

These questions keep coming up to us here and it's like, sometimes I feel like as though I am wasting my time.

Here now you want a time and a date. Shouldn't it be more important than other things? Really, Viet's face it. We drive an automobile around, and all the other things that go on around you day in and day out - well, I beg someone to give me an answer why these things go on and if we are killing an enemy, who is the enemy? Who are we?

I don't feel justified. I don't think any man should be justified to say that someone else is an enemy. Within the realm of the war anyhow. We are talking about atrocities to people on our side and I can't even see, I can't distinguish enemies or friends or foes. I just don't know what I am doing here sometimes. But you can start a war in a 2d. But if it takes all this work to bring it to an end, where is the conscience of the Amer people really?

DELLUMS: Your point is well taken. Mr Cole.

 

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