[What follows is a brief summary of Episode Seven of the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick Special “The Vietnam War” along with my personal commentaries, songs, and writings about where I was during this period. – Former 1Lt. Richard Morris, A Co. 2nd Bn 5th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile) 1967-68]
Kill ratios were used to rank our kills. The higher the ratio of the enemy soldiers we killed over our soldiers that they killed, the greater our success. A ten-to-one kill ratio was thought to be pretty good. I satirize this practice in my novel, “Cologne No. 10 For Men,” and in my song, “Counting Bodies In The Nam” which I wrote in 2007 (lyrics of all my songs can be found here, and the tunes here.
13. Counting Bodies In the Nam
© Richard A. Morris 2007
[A tribute to the practice in Vietnam of counting friendly and enemy soldiers killed in action and calculating kill ratios to measure success in battle. I never witnessed the shenanigans that could have occurred in counting bodies more than once or counting bodies that we found. The song is an intro to my critically-praised Vietnam War novel, Cologne No. 10 For Men, which satirizes the body count system.
Counting bodies in the Nam
to prove that we have won.
So what if we don’t control the land
and give it right back to Charlie again.
Cause land don’t count at all – just – the bodies.
And we don’t have to kill ‘em to count ‘em, no.
Doo, doo Doo, doo Doo,
Find a body, claim it quick
in a hamlet or a crick.
In a grave we’ll dig it up
and add it to the glorious sum.
To raise our kill ratio
It’s their dead over ours, you know.
The proof that we’re ahead.
As long as we ain’t dead.
The kill rat tells the truth, we know.
Ten to one says we’re winning, yeah,
Even if all hell is beginning.
Doo, doo Doo, doo Doo.
Counting bodies in the Nam
to prove that we have won.
And we don’t really have to kill anyone.
Just count ‘em dead and add ‘em up.
We can even count ‘em more than once
‘Cause it’s only the count that counts, you dunce.
Till pacification lets us stop counting
And pacification lets us stop killing.
But there will be no peace until we leave.
Yes, there will be no peace until we leave.
In 1969 Major General Julian Ewell, commander of the 1st Brigade, 9th U.S. Infantry Division, operated in Dunh Tuong Province in the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam. In
Operation Speedy Express, he used 8,00 infantrymen conducting night ambushs, free fire zones where any occupant could be killed, 50 artillery pieces, 50 helicopters, and U.S. Air Force fighter bombers carrying out 3,381 tactical air strikes. Patrols pursued VC around the clock, and anyone who was running was assumed to be VC.
Between December 1968 and the end of May 1969, he claimed 10,889 enemy dead, with only 242 U.S. soldiers killed (a kill ratio of 45:1), but only 748 weapons were recovered (a ratio of enemy killed to weapons seized of 14.6:1). We used to say that a weapon proved the KIA was a soldier. So how many of his kills were really enemy soldiers? [In Cologne No. 10 For Men, note how the protagonist, Lt. Wilfred Carmenghetti, handled this shortage of weapons problem.] The U.S. Army after-action report attributed the low number of weapons to the high percentage of kills made during night hours (estimated at 40%), and by asserting that “many of the guerilla units were not armed with weapons.” Newsweek’s Saigon Bureau Chief, Kevin Buckley, wrote an article that questioned the spectacular kill ratio and suggested that half of the dead were innocent civilians. (probably a lot more than half)
So when I satirize body counts in Cologne No. 10 For Men, I’m speaking truth, man. And when it comes to atrocities, see my blog post “Fact or Fiction in Vietnam.”
Back in the States, Black students were taking over college administration buildings demanding, among other things, Black Studies programs.
In North Vietnam, Radio Hanoi was lying to the people, announcing great victories after Tet and mini-Tet. But the people noticed that the Saigon regime had not fallen, and the U.S. was still bombing them. And many parents of soldiers found that their loved ones were not returning home. University students and children of the wealthy were not being drafted, so most draftees were poor youth from the countryside. They moved down the Ho Chi Minh Trail passing wounded soldiers moving northward who told them what they were getting themselves into. Most of the truck drivers were women, and during the war, more than 20,000 drivers and mechanics were killed by bombing.
My Vietnam experience–my one-year all-expenses-paid camping trip in the great outdoors with free food, lodging, clothing, cigarettes, and ammunition compliments of the U.S. Government–ended on May 25, 1968, a week or so before Robert Kennedy was shot. I kept a calendar in my little black notebook and marked off the days until DEROS (Date Eligible to Return from Overseas), and each succeeding day I became more apprehensive. Sometimes Lady Luck is not a lady (for a satirical proof of this fact, see “Lady Luck and Lt. Smith” in “Cuts From Cologne.” I made it home, and soon was placed in charge of recreation at Ft. Benning, a safe summer job before I left active duty and Barbara and I travelled to Boston where I began my studies at Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration in September.
The 1968 Democratic National Convention was held August 26–29 in Chicago, about the time I was beginning school. Since President Johnson had announced he would not seek re-election, the purpose of the convention was to select a new presidential nominee to run as the Democratic Party’s candidate. Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Senator Edmund Muskie were nominated for President and Vice President, respectively. The convention was held in a year of civil unrest, with riots in more than a hundred cities following the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy.
Fifteen thousand protesters showed up, most of whom were anti-war, and Mayor Daley had twelve thousand police plus six thousand each from the Army and National Guard. The police rioted against the mob with billy clubs, mace, and tear gas, and the demonstrators threw rocks and bottles. The press criticized the police for using Gestapo tactics. A small majority of Americans approved the police actions.
In Vietnam, the CIA’s Phoenix Program was hunting down civilian runners and spies who were used to guide arriving soldiers to their new commands. By 1972, Phoenix operatives had neutralized 81,740 suspected Viet Cong operatives, informants and supporters, of whom between 26,000 and 41,000 were killed.
On October 31st, LBJ stopped the bombing of the North, and Humphrey’s polls rose. But on November 30th, after Richard Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey in a close election, Nixon called for a return to bombing of the North. At the Paris peace talks, the parties disagreed about the shape of the table, until Russia suggested a round table.
In January of 1969, when Nixon took over, 37,563 American soldiers had been killed in Vietnam. Soon thereafter, Nixon started the secret bombing of Cambodia.
Episode Eight: “The History of the World” (April 1969 – May 1970), Tuesday, Sept. 26: With morale plummeting in Vietnam, President Nixon begins withdrawing American troops. As news breaks of an unthinkable massacre committed by American soldiers, the public debates the rectitude of the war, while an incursion into Cambodia reignites antiwar protests with tragic consequences. Protests continue on college campuses, and the nation struggles with the deaths of four students at Kent State University.