[sixties-l] Witnesses recall terror of Vietnam raid

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Sun Apr 29 2001 - 23:50:54 EDT

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    Witnesses recall terror of Vietnam raid as Kerrey denies gruesome account

    Sunday, April 29, 2001

    Witnesses recall terror of Vietnam raid as Kerrey denies gruesome account

    By Tini Tran
    The Associated Press

    THANH PHONG, Vietnam - Bui Thi Luom says she was 12 years old when seven
    Americans with guns stormed into her Mekong Delta village, rounding up women
    and children. She says she watched helplessly as the soldiers opened fire,
    despite her grandmother's pleadings for mercy.

    She was the only survivor in her hut of 16 people - 11 children and five
    women, she said.

    Luom's account, told for the first time to journalists yesterday, follows
    the public acknowledgment last week by former Sen. Bob Kerrey that civilians
    were killed during a commando raid by his Navy SEAL team on this coastal
    village 32 years ago.

    Through a spokesman, Kerrey denied Luom's version of events. "This account
    is absolutely false," he said yesterday.

    Kerrey, a Democrat from Nebraska, said he has been privately haunted ever
    since by the memory of killing civilians, but he insisted the SEALS opened
    fire only after being fired on.

    However, The New York Times and CBS's "60 Minutes II," in a joint reporting
    project, quoted another former member of the SEAL team, Gerhard Klann, as
    saying the civilians were herded into a group and massacred. Kerrey, who ran
    for president in 1992, received a Bronze Star medal for the Feb. 25, 1969,

    `Free-fire zone'

    Now the president of New York's New School University, Kerrey says the
    village was a declared "free-fire zone" where everyone was regarded as
    hostile. The attack was prompted by intelligence reports that said Viet Cong
    officials planned a meeting there that night and that no civilians would be
    present, he says.

    Luom, now 44, told reporters there were no Viet Cong in Thanh Phong, and
    only the Americans fired weapons. "They only killed civilians, women and
    children. No VC," she said. Altogether, 20 people were killed, she said.

    Luom lives with her husband and five children in a nearby fishing village.

    Local officials arranged for foreign reporters to meet with Luom and another
    witness, Pham Thi Lanh, who was interviewed by CBS in its original report. A
    provincial official was present during the interviews.

    The Mekong Delta was the wartime stronghold of the Viet Cong, homegrown
    Communist insurgents who sought to overthrow the U.S.-backed South
    Vietnamese government.

    In 1969, there were no men in the village; many had been killed in bombing
    raids and others had joined the Viet Cong, Luom said. Viet Cong sympathies
    were strong, other residents say. One recalled that the first sea shipment
    of arms from Communist North Vietnam to the south arrived in Thanh Phong in

    Witness hid in grove

    The second witness, Lanh, 62, said she hid in a banana grove as the
    intruders killed an elderly couple and their three grandchildren. The
    adults, Bui Van Vat, 65, and Luu Thi Canh, 62, were decapitated, she

    She said she ran to her house and stuffed her children's mouths with cloth
    to keep them quiet. After the incident, she said, she found a pile of
    bodies, including eight of her relatives. The next morning, she and other
    survivors gathered the bodies and buried them in a common grave. "We didn't
    even have coffins for them," she said.

    Lanh, whose account had inconsistencies, said she could not positively
    identify the men as Americans. "They spoke a language I didn't understand
    and they wore helmets and big clothes," she said.

    Luom said the victims in the hut where she lived included her pregnant aunt
    and grandmother. Luom was the oldest of 11 children, the youngest 3 years
    old, she said.

    "That night I was sleeping inside the shelter. My grandmother woke me up,
    calling everybody in the shelter to come outside," Luom said. "I counted
    them - seven men with guns."

    Women, children rounded up

    The men rounded up the women and children and seated them in a circle near
    the shelter's entrance, Luom said.

    "One woman started coughing and the American soldier put a gun to her
    throat. My grandmother told her not to cough or the soldier would kill her."

    Luom said they pulled a young girl to her feet, and the girl screamed. Other
    villagers told her later the girl had been disemboweled, but Luom said she
    did not see this.

    "My grandmother turned to help her. I saw her kneel in front of the
    Americans, pleading for mercy. After that, the soldiers began to shoot,"
    Luom said.

    The Americans stood about a meter (3 feet) away, she said, and as gunfire
    erupted, she fled into the dugout shelter. Before leaving, she said, they
    threw an explosive into the shelter.

    "I just heard an explosion. I'm not sure if it was a grenade or gunfire. It
    hit my knee," she said, showing a scar on her left knee. "I don't know if
    they knew I had escaped. I think they tried to kill anybody left in the

    "Of course they had to know" it was only women and children, Luom said
    bitterly. "They should have been punished. At the time I was too small, but
    if I could get revenge, I would. If I could have killed them, I would."

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