Thursday, March 16, 2006

Chapter 11: Villages

The area of Vietnam I was in was mostly farming villages that were not much more than huts with thatch roofs surrounded by jungle, banana trees, rice paddies or peanut patches. There may have been a small store or gas station if the village was by a road, but not much else at least in the areas I was. Trang Bang was the market place where everyone went for their food and things.

Trang Bang

Pictures of a typical village in our area

The Viet Cong (VC) or NVA controlled many of the villages. If the men were not fighting for the South Vietnamese Army, they were “drafted” by the VC. When we searched the small villages, we saw very few men of fighting age, mostly kids, women and old men. The young or middle aged men we did see, were either in the ARVN military, elderly, disabled or had been wounded and could no longer fight. I was riding a convoy through Trang Bang the day we were security for the mine sweepers, it was the first time I’d seen very many men of fighting age other than the ARVNs.

Most time we times we searched the villages as we came across them on patrol. Other times we were flown in near a village by chopper, in large groups to surround and search villages. Some of us were set up as a blocking force in case the VC tried to escape and others were sent in to do the searching. I did both jobs at one time or the other.

One day two companies from our battalion and a couple of squads of ARVN soldiers were flown in to sweep through a village where a fairly large force of NVA had been spotted. Our company, Company B, and one squad of ARVNs was dropped off on one side of the village to act as the blocking force. We were dropped off some distance away so no one would know we were coming and walked up nearer the village and set up in something like a long line part way around the village. Another company, and the other squad of ARVNs was dropped off on the opposite side of the village, spread out and started sweeping toward the village.

It didn’t look like anything was out of the ordinary was going on from our perspective, because we could see the villagers going about their normal activities. Then all of a sudden mortar rounds started dropping around us. It seems that the sweep might have driven the VC out of hiding and when they spotted us, fired in our direction. Our artillery forward observer called in a few rounds of artillery and the mortars stopped.

Both companies closed in on the village and when we entered the it, we rounded up all the villagers in a group. Some of our men guarded the people while the rest of us continued to search all the hooches.

Searching the villages almost never turned up very much, except for what I’ve already told you about. This time was not much different. My guess is that the NVA we were looking for had ducked down into well-camouflaged tunnels and hide. Those damn tunnels were every where. Interrogation of the villagers did turn up six suspected VC though. The company commanders decided that as punishment for harboring the VC, the village would be burned down. We were ordered to set fire to everything, which we did. It was really weird hearing the villager crying and screaming at us for what we were doing, but we did it and didn’t give it much thought. We looked at all the Vietnamese locals as suspect VC so there wasn’t very much sympathy for the people that tried to kill us.

We took the six suspect VC back to FSB Stuart where they would be picked up by chopper and taken back to Cu Chi for interrogation. While they were waiting for the choppers, the ARVNs started interrogating the prisoners. I guess they weren't talking, because at one point, the ARVNs covered their heads with sand bags, screamed at them, kicked them stuff like that. Then they laid them down in a puddle and once in a while poured water on their faces. This caused them to breath in the water and choke and cough a lot. We watched this go on until the choppers came for them. Word got back to us that most of the prisoners we captured didn’t make it back to Cu Chi. During the flight they were pushed out of the chopper one at a time by the ARVNs until someone talked. It worked.

I didn’t really give all this much thought at the time, but some years later it bothered me that we we would resort to such things. I now know that these people really had no choice but to do what the VC and NVA told them to do. The “allies” would retreat back to there bases at night and leave the whole country to the VC and NVA. If the locals were’t under the direct protection of the ARVNs, then they had no other choice but to hide the enemy, feed them, what ever. Torture and burning villages like we did, is what had so many locals hating us. I asked a villager that spoke some English one day if they were glad we were here “rescuing” them from the Communists. The answer was absolutely not! Most people hated us for just being here. First it was the French then us. They were tired of war and just wanted it to be over. Most people knew nothing but war their whole life, it had been going on so long. The villager said they were just farmers and all they wanted to do was grow rice and peanuts and be left alone in peace and they felt that would happen no matter who was running the country. So as long as we were there, there would be war. They just wanted us to leave so it would be all over. It didn’t happen for about six or seven more years, but it did happen.