it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't
give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And its 5, 6, 7,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! We're all gonna die."
-- Country Joe & The Fish, "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixing-to-Die-Rag,"
Vietnam-era protest song
Vietnam: Over but not forgotten
By Kathy Helms-Hughes
War is hell and there are atrocities on both sides.
Last Tuesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch group
called for an "urgent, thorough and independent inquiry" into recent
disclosures by former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., that 13 civilians were
killed "by mistake" after his Navy SEAL team was fired on and returned
fire during a Feb. 25, 1969, nighttime raid to capture and kill Viet
Cong officials believed meeting in Thanh Phong.
Five members of Kerrey's SEAL team joined the senator
in denying they wantonly killed civilians and accused The New York
Times and CBS of "collaborating' in a propaganda campaign to discredit
Americans who participated in the Vietnam War. Interviews with Kerrey
and a seventh member of the senator's Delta team, Gerhard Klann, were
published in The New York Times Magazine on April 29 and broadcast
on CBS's "60 Minutes II" on May 1.
Kerrey received the Bronze Star for leading the Thanh
Phong raid and also received the nation's highest military commendation,
the Medal of Honor, for an unrelated mission.
Michael "Doc" Murphy, 54, of Watauga, was 20 when he
first went to Vietnam. He was with the 1st Marine Division, 3rd Battalion,
5th Marines, or Lima 3/5, the most highly decorated Marine Corps unit
in the history of the Vietnam War, which also suffered the most casualties.
Murphy did two tours of Vietnam, the first from January
1967 through January 1968 as a corpsman.
"A corpsman is a Navy medical personnel that trained
with the Marines and served with them in combat. I was Navy and three
years out of the corps I wore a Marine Corps uniform and served with
the 1st Marine Division," he said.
Murphy's second tour started in February 1968.
"Two days into my tour I was in the '68 Tet Offensive,
the Battle of Hue City," he said. "The Tet Offensive was when the
Vietnamese attacked every major city and base in South Vietnam at
the same time. It was their last strong push. All of the battles were
decidedly won by our forces, but politically, in this country, it
was perceived as a loss."
In December 1968, Murphy was injured for the fourth time
and medevaced out. He was awarded two Bronze Stars and four Purple
Hearts during his two tours of Vietnam.
Capt. Robert Snowden of Florida was Murphy's commanding
officer. Snowden was approximately 30 when he joined Lima 3/5 in the
field on June 24, 1968. He was flown by chopper from Phu Bai to An
Hoa, then from An Hoa to a landing zone. Snowden also received a Bronze
Star during his tour of Vietnam.
Both men feel that the Kerrey incident is being blown
out of proportion by the media.
"I spent two years of my life in a free-fire zone, like
what Bob Kerrey was in at that time," Murphy said. "My question is,
why did somebody wait 32 years to change their story?"
Snowden said though he probably wouldn't vote for Kerrey
for president because he doesn't agree with his philosophy on politics,
"I know exactly where he's coming from. He had a mission. When they
talk about how cruel, 'cut people's throats' -- listen, when you don't
want people to know you're there, you don't shoot them. That's why
they give you knives. That's why they train you how to kill somebody
with a knife.
"The mission of the military is to kill people and break
things. It's as simple as that. And when you're out there like these
guys were, in the middle of 'Indian Country,' if you want to call
it that, you don't want to let them to know you're there unless you're
supposed to let them know you're there and you've got a way out,"
Snowden feels Kerrey is getting "a raw deal from the
anti-war type people and media."
"I watched the thing that night with Dan Rather. All
Rather was trying to do was get him to admit that everything he did
was wrong and that the military was bad, and Kerrey wouldn't fall
"Rather was over there, but he was never in any real
big danger. He could have gotten hit, because we had reporters that
were attached to us. Every once in a while they'd send a guy out for
a few days, like the French reporters. Some of them got wounded. That's
a tough break.
"But Rather is just Rather. I don't know any other way
to put it. I call him Dan 'Blather.' As far as I'm concerned, those
guys have their agenda, and that is to make the military look bad.
They were totally against the war, so they're still trying to prove
Snowden said he believes Kerrey had a good shot at the
presidency and that that could be part of what has prompted the negative
"I don't know that he would have made it on the Democratic
ticket, but there were a lot of people that were afraid because, for
one thing, he was an American hero as far as a lot of people were
concerned. He lost a leg, he got a Medal of Honor -- there's not too
many of those -- and he would have been a pretty good runner."
He said he believes someone started digging on potential
presidential candidates, perhaps media, perhaps somebody like Hillary
Clinton, and said, " 'Let's start knocking these guys out of here.'
She wants to be president. If she does, my God, I don't know what
the hell would happen to this country. She's a dishonest person, very
"Kerrey started talking about this two or three years
ago. He said there were women and children killed and he kind of regrets
the fact of that. But one of the things that you've got to understand
is they were in what we call a free-fire zone. These type areas are
areas that people were supposed to get out of," Snowden said.
"The South Vietnamese government at this time had started
moving people out of these areas because they were very heavily Viet
Cong. Like that lady they had (in the interview). This lady was a
Viet Cong cadre leader. Her best recollection was that 'Oh, yes, she
remembered this. She saw them do this.'
"Hey, give me a break. Maybe she did, maybe she didn't.
"As far as lining the people up and shooting them, Kerrey
said, 'I don't remember doing that and I wouldn't have done that.'
One guy said, 'Yes we did.' All of the other guys said, 'No we didn't.'
"Maybe he has an ax to grind somewhere that he doesn't
want to talk about, I don't know," Snowden said.
Murphy said he watched the "60 Minutes II" segment on
Kerrey and his hunch is the incident is not going to die out.
"Walter Cronkite came out of retirement to make a statement
and blasted those people, saying, 'Why are we taking a one-legged
hero and making him accountable for what most people don't understand
what happened in Vietnam?' " Murphy said.
"Six men involved backed Bob Kerrey on the incident that
happened there. It took place in the dark. It was known to be a Viet
Cong stronghold. They were given orders, as SEALS, to go in and take
these people out. They took the first few people out with a knife.
One version is they drew fire and they took out the rest -- women
and children found.
"The supposed version of this person that's come forward
and is now getting a lot of press is that they went into a hut and
found an old man, an old woman, and three children and they took them
all out, and then they herded all the women and children together
in the next hootch and slaughtered them.
"The information that I've found out is this woman told
an entirely different story. She was supposedly hiding in the bushes
and witnessed the event. She told an entirely different story. Then
she was told the story that the man's been telling about Sen. Kerrey.
She changed her story and it matched his exactly.
"A little further research shows, and she has admitted,
that she is a Viet Cong political cadre. A political cadre is a propaganda
officer with Viet Cong. There were actually two Viet Congs: those
who were organized and uniformed Viet Cong, and those that were just
villagers by day and enemy by night. She was ordered, organized, and
"When they showed gravesites of the old man, old woman
and three children, it looked to me like they were put in last week.
I'm not there, I don't know," Murphy said.
The children were buried under a concrete slab.
"This is not the normal way that people are buried in
Vietnam, unless it's changed an awful lot," he said.
"What has irked a lot of people in the veterans community,
is that incidents happened. War is not a glorious event. There were
numerous atrocities on both sides. We all participated in incidents
that happened in combat that can't be judged as right or wrong. They
happened. I think all of us have regrets. Myself, I regret that we
lost so many lives and that so many lives were destroyed of those
that returned to this country," Murphy said.
"A lot of these people are still like they just came
home. They can tell you what happened on this day in the '60s, but
they may not be able to tell you what they had for breakfast this
morning," he said.
"Also, the thing about women and children: I had two
men die in my arms and four other people wounded. I was the medical
officer with my unit, which was about 11 people.
"There were 30 people that pinned us down in North Vietnamese
uniforms. When we overran them, finally, after about four hours of
fighting, the oldest one was about 15, the youngest one was maybe
12, and they were all female. But they all had AK assault rifles,
which, I still have one of those bullets in my side.
"You have to make a decision," Murphy said. "If someone
points a rifle at you, regardless of their age or their gender, you
have to decide: Do I want to live and do I want my foxhole buddy,
who I value more than myself, to survive?
"I may have been the medical personnel, but I carried
an M-16, a .357 magnum, two belts of machine gun ammo, about 10 hand
grenades and a couple of claymore mines," he said.
As a medical officer in a free-fire zone, Murphy often
would take children that had skin eruptions and treat them during
the daytime and share food with them.
"And that night when we'd get hand-grenaded, and we'd
throw grenades back, when we went out at sunrise to see who it was,
there they'd be, the same kids.
"The thing about it is, when you've got a bullet coming
your way, you don't go out and ask, 'What gender are you?' and 'How
old are you?' " he said.
According to Snowden, many members of the Viet Cong army
were women, "And, yes, we killed them. They'd shoot at us; we'd shoot
"And kids. It was really not the kids' fault. They're
told, 'You go out and kill Marines, those big old nasty Marines.'
"What the hell difference does it make? That mine that
that kid plants, or that booby trap that he set, or that shot he takes
at you -- even though he's just a little kid, that bullet is just
as deadly, that mine is just as deadly as if it was set by a 25-year-old
Viet Cong hard-core."
Snowden recalled an incident in an area called "Liberty
Bridge" where one of their sister battalions operated from.
"I think it was the 7th Regiment's headquarters. They
had a road that led to Liberty Bridge, and they had to sweep it every
morning for land mines and booby traps. They were always finding them.
And they said, 'Let's find out who's doing it.'
"They used to put out these 55 gallon oil drums so that
Marines walking back and forth patroling could throw their trash in
them, and then they could come by in a truck and pick it up. One day
they put a fire team up on a little knoll somewhere and ran a wire
to one of these cans. They filled it full of old corroded rockets
and C4 explosives, and the truck went by like they forgot to pick
"They watched it that night. They had it wired. And bigger
than hell, this group of about five or six came out there to mine
the thing or booby trap so that when the Marines picked it up the
next day, it would blow up and kill some of them, or injure them.
Well, when they got all around it, they blew it off and just blew
these people to smithereens," Snowden said. Afterward, they learned
that three members of the group were kids.
"So what they keep talking about, the people that got
shot in this village that Kerrey was in, they weren't necessarily
innocent, because anybody in a free-fire zone was either Viet Cong
or Viet Cong sympathizers," Snowden said.
"In all reality, if you want to get down to it, the people
that were killed -- notice there was no men except for the real old
papa san, the grandfather. Where were all the men? They were out doing
their Viet Cong thing. That's what it was all about.
"The women and the children of the Viet Cong, they did
everything in their power to kill as many American Marines, soldiers,
anybody else there, as they possibly could," he said.
According to Murphy, the Vietnamese were their own worst
While American troops were called "baby killers" by their
own people, "The Viet Cong went through many villages, they raped
and killed all of the women, they mutilated and tortured and killed
all of the children," Murphy said.
"Because of their religious practice, the most humiliating
death was to be beheaded. Sometimes we got good information from prisoners
we took by threatening to behead them, where no other method would
"We would go in and here would be the entire village
children's heads in a pile or on sticks, stuck around as a warning
to others. This isn't the kind of news that made it back. We saw atrocities
of the worst kind," Murphy said.
Next Sunday: Part II