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as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

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~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Jesse Gump: Death of Vietcong POWs

So, what was so special about Vietnam? For starters we were in a war where our enemy rarely wore a uniform. You couldn’t tell the good guys from the bad. The farmer you waved to this morning could be the man who would plant a landmine or fire a mortar round that night. Worse, reports said the VC used kids and women as weapons. I never witnessed that, but the rumors kept me on guard, especially with the kids. Mostly they only wanted candy or to steal your watch or wallet, but any one of them could have been a carrier of death. War is often boring, but being in a war zone is always stressful – even on the best of days.

I don’t remember the exact date the following event took place, but it was approximately six months into my military service in Vietnam. As mentioned in a previous article, I was stationed with the Korean 9th ROK Infantry in Ninh Hoa. That night I was performing field illumination (searchlight) for perimeter security. At approximately midnight, flares went off along our east perimeter which bordered Route 1. I assumed some VC had been spotted near the perimeter so I asked the Korean lieutenant on duty if they needed me to provide illumination in any particular area. He talked on his radio for a couple of minutes (in Korean). When he finished, I was told to go to the northern gate on the east perimeter. I was to pick up his superior (a Korean colonel) on the way. Five minutes later, with the Korean colonel as my passenger, we exited the base and headed toward Route 1. As we drove, the Colonel told me some Viet Cong prisoners had escaped but the Korean troops had trapped them.

An abandoned Vietnamese house sat 100 meters or so outside of our perimeter. There I was ordered to stop and shine my searchlight on the house. I did as I was told. I had a great view of the house and surrounding area, but I saw no VC in or near the house. It looked deserted. At that moment all hell broke loose. The abandoned house was hit with a barrage from small-arms, machine guns, and grenades. It went on for what seemed like forever, but in reality it was probably less than two minutes. If there were any weapons fired from inside the abandoned house, I never saw it.

Suddenly the fusillade stopped and only smoke and dust filled the air. Korean infantrymen appeared from their cover and headed away from the house.

“Turn off the light and go back inside the base,” the Colonel ordered.

“Aren’t you going to make sure there are no injured prisoners?” I asked.

“They are dead,” he answered and pointed toward the gate. “Go now.”

As I drove, I realized I had just witnessed cold-hearted (if not cold-blooded) murder. The escaped Viet Cong POWs clearly had no weapons. Yes, they were escaped prisoners of war, but they could have been recaptured easily. Instead they were exterminated like rats.

I dropped the ROK colonel at the tactical operations center and went back to my post on the hill. I spent the rest of the night replaying the event in my head. Even today I replay that event. I sometimes wonder if there was anyone in the house besides the escaped Viet Cong. The house is not far from the rice fields farmed by the villagers of Ninh Hoa. I had seen workers near the abandoned house during the daytime but I had never seen any lights there at night. Is it possible that rice field laborers sometimes slept there? I don’t know, but the question still torments my thoughts.

I was a witness to murder, but there was no one to tell. It was Korean soldiers who did the killing of unarmed men, not American soldiers. The Koreans were known to be ruthless when it came to the enemy. But they took good care of me and some had become my friends. My direct command was in Tuy Hoa and not on the base where I was stationed. I rationalized it was none of my business. It was easier to simply stay quiet and not tell anyone. Actually, I don’t think anyone would have cared anyway. Even today I feel strange just talking about it in this article. Memories of the episode haunt me more often than they should. I guess they always will.


“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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  1. If I learned one thing, do not mess with the ROK, even chuck was afraid of them. My brother drove ammo from Da Nang up to the ROK camp, I only got to Chu Lai. Have you seen the DQS site for Dusters, Quads, Searchlite and Hawk missile. Check out Vietnam Memoirs, you will find a lot of the D Q and S, not much on Hawks, which is where I was assigned. Welcome Home.

  2. Hi Phil Richards - Thank you for your comments. During my first few weeks in Vietnam I was shuffled from one place to another. My original MOS was infantry with 106 recoil-less rifle extra training. I spent a couple of weeks in Bien Hoa filling sandbags before being sent to Da Nang and then Tuy Hoa. It seems the Army didn't know what to do with me. As luck would have it, I was assigned to searchlights and stationed with the 9th ROK Infantry in Ninh Hoa. The ROKs took good care of me for which I am thankful.

    Yes, I am familiar with the DQS folks. I'm on their mailing and email list but I've never had the opportunity (or money) to attend any of their reunions. In fact, only one person I worked with on the searchlights has been located. The others seem to have fallen off the face of the earth.

    Welcome Home to you too. It was a trip, wasn't it?



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