We Meet Again!
By Bud Campbell
I was up at the Regimental Headquarters when a radio contact came in that said the 3rd Squadron was in contact and had captured three prisoners who appeared to be VC cadre. Our two young interrogators at the squadron were not having much luck and my august presence was urgently requested. The Colonel was kind enough to loan me his chopper, saying something to the effect of "Get your butt on my bird and get out there, and don't get it shot up either"!
When I got there it was obvious, after examining the documents captured with them, that these were indeed VC VIPs. Every attempt to talk to them was met with a long discourse on imperialistic American pigs, which did little to endear them to me. Then the devil, in the form of a young Captain who was the Squadron S-2 (Intelligence) whispered in my ear! As luck would have it, (ours, not theirs!) an automatic ambush had been tripped shortly before and killed a couple of VC, (They had to be VC, they were dead!). The young Captain came up to me and said, "I've got an idea.” I should have said "Get thee behind me Satan" but pride is a terrible thing. These guys were important and I wanted them to talk. His plan was to separate our three prisoners. We would then go out to the perimeter and dig a grave in which we would put one of the dead VC in face down. After this I would go back to the first live prisoner and ask him again to talk. When he refused I would give a signal and a soldier at the "grave" site would fire off a few rounds. This was my signal to say "OK sucker, we just shot your friend and now it's your turn, come on." I would then lead him to the "grave" hand him a shovel and say "OK, cover him up and then dig your own right next to him.”
It worked like a charm. No more than a couple of shovels full of dirt and the response would be "Can't we talk about this.” The results were beyond my fondest dreams. We got the location of their headquarters. We took couple of platoons, went there, wiped out over twenty of a VC battalion we had been hunting for months and captured a large supply of weapons, food, and other supplies.
There was one small problem. That happened to be the day that the Regimental Surgeon and the Regimental Chaplain were visiting the third Squadron giving a drug and VD lecture. They nearly ran over each other in their haste to return to the Regiment and report me for "War Crimes"! There was a distinctly chilly atmosphere awaiting when I returned to the Regiment with my three prisoners in tow. I was told to take them immediately to the 1st Cavalry Division POW collection point and remain there until given further instructions. Bewildered, and unaware of the actions of those two fine gentlemen, I got back on the chopper and flew off into the night.
Late the next afternoon I got a call to return to the Regiment. The Regimental Exec, LTC Switzer, called me in and informed me that I was to be charged with maltreatment of Prisoners of War. I was relieved of all duties and under normal conditions would have been put under arrest. There being little place I could go anyway, I was informed that I was confined to quarters but could go to the club as long as I just ate, drank and kept my mouth shut about the "incident.”
I went to the club, made some comment about just leaving the bottle on the bar, and proceeded to do the bottle as much damage as I could. To appreciate what happened next, one must understand that just the month before the Regiment had participated in Nixon's 1970 venture into Cambodia. Our objective was a small town called Snoul. It was the last great Calvary charge. The regiment lined up side by side on a hill overlooking the town and down we went, over a 100 tanks and Armored Personnel Carriers with guns blazing. We literally leveled the place including the local motorcycle factory. Coming out we had motorcycles strapped to every vehicle and every one above the rank of Pfc. had their own.
Lieutenant Colonel Sweitzer, the Regimental Executive Officer was a driven, and truly brilliant, man (He retired as a four star). He rarely slept and could be found in his office working at any time, day or night. As the brandy did its devious work I got more and more angry at what appeared to be the end of a grand and glorious military career. Finally I got up, left the club and stormed into the Colonel's office. "All right Colonel," I said; "What I did was wrong but if I am going to jail this whole damn Regiment is going with me! If you want to talk about the Geneva Convention let me remind you of all of those motorcycles running around here. That is what is known as pillaging. Those 50 caliber machine guns that we routinely use against the VC are anti-aircraft weapons and as such are forbidden for use against personnel. All those "automatic ambushes" we have that protect our rear ends would be considered hidden mine fields and strictly forbidden.” The Colonel glared at me in a manner that, if I were sober, would have reduced me to ashes and then said; "Get your butt out of my office"
That was the end of the "War Crimes" charges and we
each went our separate ways. It was years later when I was again assigned to
the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, this time in Germany, when our paths
crossed again. I reported to the Commander, who just happened to be, now,
Colonel Sweitzer. He looked at me and said; "Sit down. Bud. That was another
time and place. Earlier in the war I would have decorated you on the spot
for what you did, but after My Lai, well.”