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