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Letter From A Previous War By: Richard Prestwich
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, January 03, 2003


I was drafted in September 1969 and landed in Vietnam on February 6, 1970, my dad's birthday. I was assigned to co A 1st Battalion, 5th (Mechanized) Infantry as a rifleman. When my Company Commander learned that I had been a 1000 yard target shooter with a 30-06 rifle.The CO offered me a slot in Sniper School and my own Starlight Scope zeroed in on my own rifle,  Night was scary as shit out in the field.

After Nixon's raid into Cambodia, Sanctuarty Counteroffensive, I was sent to 25th Infantry Division Headquarters to the long range marksmanship academy at Cu Chi. Student #0253, class 06-70. The school had 6 silencers to issue and the 6 best shots received them out of about 24 students. I received one on my XM21 weapon. The weapon was a match grade M-14 equipped with a Redfield 3X-9X daylight scope sight and the then state of the art Automatic Ranging Telescope (ART) mount, the Sionics silencer and an ANPVS-2 Night Vision Device. This was accurate to 900 meters. Coulda dropped a donut into a cuppa coffee half a mile away.

During training we were taught to use the equipment. If you couldn't qualify as Expert with the M-16 you were not eleigible for sniper training. You had to be able to shoot straight to get in.

We were taught mind games, to out think the enemy. Observation techniques and what information to look for and what wasn't there. ie: harcuts or scruffy, new clean weapons and ammo or used beat up rusty. Win the hearts and minds of the people.  That serves me well today as a political activist advertising copywriter and media strategist.

We were sufficiently dehumanized to enable us to kill without conscience.  With the communist atrocities it wasn't difficult.

We were taught that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army would go to out lying small villages, round up the villagers, steal the rice crop and kidnap the young girls ages 15-24 and use them as tunnel digging, cooking and sex slaves for the communist soldiers.  If any one objected they or one of the girls would be murdered on the spot. The choice was the girls and supplies go with the communists or they stay there dead. After the girls had been psychologically broken they were put out on the street selling their bodies and drugs to US servicemen. The men who controlled the girls, Viet Cong Tax Collectors, often beat them, sometimes to death and occasionally murdered them.  The Army of the Republic of Vietnam, ARVN would arrest the prostitutes, take them to the Police Station and let them pay thier fines on a cot in the back room servicing the police sexually.

US Army S-5 DISCOM, Community Affairs would drop leaflets proclaiming that the US would provide jobs, in steam baths, massage parlors, military club waitress's, for the girls if they would turn themselves in.  When a prostitute would surrender, S-5 would tell her to go back to her territory and conduct business as usual and wait for the Viet Cong Tax Collector (pimp's bag man). We the ambush team, two snipers and a six man security team, (two M-16 riflemen, one radio man, one M-79 grenadier and one M-60 machine gunner and team leader) would wait in ambush rotating day and night until the bag man showed up. This was usually every night the first week after payday, twice during the second week of the month and once a week for the third and fourth weeks. Some times there would be eight teams ambushing the same group of prostitute's huts and anyone who showed up that was not easily identified as US personnel was shot. The policy was shoot to kill, aiming at the center of the largest visible body mass.

After a successful ambush we would call for pick up of the body to confirm the kill. The body would be taken to the nearst town, if not in town, and dumped into the street. Some times a family member would come out wailing and weeping for the dead husband, brother or father. Widows would become prostitutes and kill US customers and themselves for revenge with a grenade.

I was a rifleman from mid February 1970 until june 1970 and a sniper from June 1970 until December 1970. My main mission was revenue interuption, secondary mission was assigned removals and third priority was targets of opportunity during curfew or out in free fire zones.

My favorite memory is four months without a bath, most often though it was only 27 days at a time without a bath except for the rainy season. It could have been worse, we could have been indoors.

After Hanoi Jane Fonda Visited the Communists in North Vietnam and encouraged their "The End Justifies the Means" method of finance, the incidence of kidnappings and murders of young women increased. The US military did not elaborate on numbers  but we were advised that the snipers efforts resulted in ten to twelve percent of the enemy killed and we snipers were one percent of the fighting force.

We were very cost effective.

Sometimes a Viet Cong Tax Collector that was killed would be identified as a local Army of the Republic of Vietnam Soldier killed while playing both sides of the fence.

I remember on incident by Dau Tiang, the Company had stopped by a small village of rubber plantation workers and a prostitute plyed her trade among the troops. Our first Sergeant called on the radio to have her come to his Armored Personnel Carrier as he wanted sex also. While she had her head in his lap giving him oral sex the First Sergeant clubbed her in the head with his 45 cal pistol, knocking her almost unconscious and took her money, stating that the "gooks weren't going to get that money that day". He then threw her out onto the road, half conscious and we fired up and rolled out leaving the girl without so much as a band aid.

If a Michelin rubber tree was damaged by combat, us or them, Uncle Sam paid Michelin nine hundred dollars for the damaged tree. If the same tree was damaged again any time after, Michelin got paid nine hundred dollars again for the tree.

I am proud to have served my country, proud of my commitment to the individual right to control ones own destiny. The communists were very bad guys. Kidnapping, coerced prostitution and murder for domination at gunpoint are wrong. Armed response was appropriate and justified. The people we defended were a disarmed people. I do believe they were worthy of our defense. I will still take up arms to defend the innocent of any religious belief, race, gender or nationality. Domination by gunpoint is not innocence. The battle on the ground was easily winnable, the rules of engagement required US forces to report being fired upon and obtain clearance (permission) to return fire. The conduct of war should be left to the commanders, not the policy wonks in Washington DC. We could and should have won.

Snipers were authorized to engage any and all targets of opportunity or aggressors without prior clearance.  The sniper's security team was authorized to engage the enemy without prior clearance to protect the snipers.

The most profound lesson I learned was that murder in accordance with the rules of war is still just murder excepting lawful justifed homicide for self defense.




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