War Stories!
Human Shields
© 1970
by: Gene Kuentzler, WS LM-10


Student/Researcher Inquiries
(Two Survey Responses are included on this page)

The following copyright letter is in response to a student's survey. Permission to use the letter for a report or research is granted on condition that the following references are included:Human Shields, © 1997, by Gene Kuentzler, published at Vietnam War Stories, 1997.

     Human Shields is the type of letter most Vietnam Veterans will relate to and associate with. I post it at War Stories because it helps to understand the anguish and conflict U.S. troops experienced when confronted with enemy soldiers in civilian clothing. It also reveals mankind's brutality toward mankind. Not posting it would be to ignore the fact that the purpose of an army of any nation at war is to kill people and break things. The Vietnam War was very successful in executing that purpose. It is my contention that had the United States government in power in 1965 permitted the U.S. military to conduct the war in the spirit the Gulf War of 1991, the below casualties for combatants and civilians would be less than a third of what actually happened! The President of the United States that I hold accountable for denying a swift military victory, and the below statistics, is Lyndon Baynes Johnson:

Combatants Killed in Action: 1,382,430
Combatants Wounded in Action: 1,772,465
Combatants MIA/POW: 2,503 (Allied Forces)

Civilians Killed, Vietnamese: 2,000,000*
Civilians Killed, Allied: 1,000 (est.)

* Vietnam Govt estimates killed in Vietnam War, 1960-1975: Combatants (all sides) - 2,000,000 est. Vietnam civilians - 2,000,000 est. [For a detailed list of battle casualties, review, Body Count)
 
Survey One Follows
Human Shields
© 1970
by Gene Kuentzler, WS LM-10

Subject: Student Research on Vietnam War
From: Gene Kuentzler Don, I found that the student on your E-mail letters page asked some very sharp questions. He is very alert. I thought you would like to see my response to his questions as posed in your page.

Dear Student: I will try to answer your questions for your research project.

1. Q: What branch of the military did you serve in?
    A: U.S. Army, 19th Combat Engineers (I would like to invite you to visit our 19th Combat Engineer Battalion, association Vietnam web page). We built the roads and bridges, while being ambushed, stepping on landmines and booby traps.
2. Q: What was your rank?
   A: Sergeant. I had 18 men, with lots of explosives and weapons of various types of firepower. I got out and came home in August of 1967 and couldn't buy a beer for four months, as I wasn't yet 21.

3. Q: Where were you stationed?
   A: Near the village of Tam Quan, 1/2 klick away, on the South China Sea, the same place where, then LTC Schwartzkopf took 50% casualties on his ARVN Ranger battalion in just 3 hours as they tried to cross a rice paddy at the village of Tam Quan.

4. Q: Where and when did you see battle? What was it like?
    A. Tam Quan. We were operating large and noisy air compressors to run two-men air driven chain saws ten feet long. My crew was clearing the jungle and coconut trees just outside our perimeter to create a safety zone, when we were caught in the cross-fire of an ambush by the VC and 1st Cav.
    We didn't notice right away because our equipment was noisier than the battle. In a typical noisy Engineer task, one doesn't know you are being shot at until the dirt spits up at you or windshields start shattering or someone gets hit.

5. Q: What do you remember most about your service in Vietnam?
    A. This is just one example of many which occurred: Even then, my crew would always remark that we are so lucky to have been born an American. In Vietnam, the people of the North are of a different descent, class and culture from those of the South. The people of the South feared those of the North, who many times would enter a village and grab the town mayor, school teachers and others who were educated, line them up and force the entire village to watch as these people were executed. Then, they would instruct the others that Americans were the "true" enemy and they would suffer the same penalties if they were seen aiding the Americans, then they would impose a crop "tax" where each family had to provide a large percentage of their crops to the VC and NVA.
    Most Americans do not realize how fortunate we are. Other than the Civil War, our country hadn't been destroyed by war, our women didn't have to sell their bodies to feed their children, while living in filthy unsanitary conditions.

6. Q: What was the saddest thing that happened to you during the war?
    A:Each and every time I lost a buddy to an ambush, mine, or booby trap. And after a crew was ambushed and didn't survive, when we go out to do a body recovery ... many times they had been castrated, sometimes, some had still been alive at the time--then they were executed. It was very disappointing that Walter Cronkite (national news commentator) never reported this to the American public.

7. Q: What was the most rewarding?
    A: To see that we were doing some good in helping the people. Guys in our unit wrote home and asked family members to send clothes that their children or siblings had out-grown. It was great to see the smiling faces on the children of St. St. Joseph's Orphanage, near Qui Nhon, each and every time we would take a load of clothes and other items to donate to them.
     Also, the villagers of Bong Son, who always warned us of an ambush or where a mine was placed. The villagers did this because in Oct 1966 they had been used in a battle as "human shields" by the 22nd NVA regiment.
     When the NVA attacked, the 19th was repairing a major bridge they had blown. The battle lasted all through the night. The next day our Battalion Surgeon, Thomas Reardon, had his 5 medics set-up 5 tents and for the next 36 hours they treated over 800 villagers non-stop and with no sleep. They had lost about 700 or 800 of their relatives because of the NVA attack.

8. Q: At the time, what did you think you were fighting for?
    A: We were there at the request of the people of South Vietnam to aid and teach them in how to improve their lot so they could resist the infiltration by the North Vietnamese Army. Those of the South, were not as technically educated as those of the North.

9. Q: Who was the enemy?
    A. North Vietnam, and the United States "State Department," and our Secretary of Defense (Robert McNamara), who would not allow our military leaders to do the jobs they had been trained for. That job was to conduct battle with as few allied casualties as possible, while inflicting the maximum damage on the enemy. But we were also trained to render assistance to the civilians who were affected as well--something North Vietnam did not do.

10. Q: How have your war experiences changed your life?
    A: A better understanding that our government and our politicians do not represent the best interests of the American people. Even when the nation is engaged in a war, politicians are more concerned about their next re-election, and how they can line their pockets for future retirement. Election promises are not kept, and lately, credibility and integrity are not in today's politicians vocabulary.

11. Q: What one lesson do you think I should learn from remembering Vietnam?
    A. T he success of WW11 was a direct result of the WWI soldier's generation maturing and making strategy plans for the way WW11 would be conducted. They bombed the beaches before the D-Day invasion, as well as the ball-bearing factories at Schwienfurt, Germany. They were prepared to win and not fight only to a political stalemate.
     The 18 or 20 year old soldier of ww11, was the generation who were the Commanders and Staff Planners for the Korea War and Vietnam War. In Vietnam, they were restricted by orders from the State Department and Secretary of State, and not allowed to pursue strategic bombing of Hanoi when it would have been most effective. Our pilots were not allowed to bomb acres and acres of SAM missiles stored in the Haiphong Harbor and around Hanoi. Only after they were established as actual missile sites in the jungle were our pilots allowed to engage the SAMs. They weren't allowed to bomb the Ho Chi Minh Trail in countries bordering Vietnam (Cambodia and Laos), although those countries were looking the other way when the NVA were using them for a safe haven. Had the WWI soldier who made the plans for WW11 conducted themselves in such a manner, the result of WW11 would have been much different.
     Thank you for your interest, if there is anything else I can help you with, please let me know.

     Gene Kuentzler, Sgt
     19th Combat Engineer Battalion
     S-3 Battalion Operations, 1966-1967


Survey Two Follows

Thank you very much for your courtesy and willingness to reply to my survey questions. Beth

Dear Beth,

Thank you for your interest, I will try to answer your questions as best as I can. I will be forwarding a CC: to my 19th Engineer buddies who are also on the net.

1. Q: Upon your return to the United States, what was your reaction to the news coverage on the war in Vietnam?
    A: I was devastated, Upon my return in August 1967, I was very disappointed to see the biased news coverage showing Americans as having a disregard for the people. They weren't showing the many good things were continually being done by the soldiers in my unit, and others. Although we took casualties on a regular basis. Ours were not the only humanitarian efforts being performed, many other units were also contributing to efforts to help the people. The news media has never shown how our unit supported an orphanage, and also a leper colony. Our guys would write home and have used clothing from their siblings or children shipped over, and regularly these items were part of what we continually donated, as well as food.
    Also in portraying us as baby killers when they played up the Mi Lai killings. What was never made public is that Mi Lai was colored "pink" on all our maps, it was nicknamed pinkville which meant it was a very strong communist village. Each and every time that unit patrolled past there, they lost more & more buddies. Upon entering the village to search out the enemy, they would only find women and children who were the families of the VC, the males all hid and could not be found.
    To better understand, look around your classroom and visualize that today the friend next to your left dies, tomorrow the one seated behind you dies, then next day the two or three to your right are gone. Imagine this taking place daily for a month. How would you feel? Not-ONCE did the media ever show what the enemy was doing to American soldiers they captured. One example was when our heavy equipment platoon was ambushed, after running out of ammunition and putting up a good fight, they were overrun. When the bodies were recovered they had been stacked in the road like cordwood ... everyone had been castrated, I heard that some had still been alive at the time.

2. Q: What do you remember about your trip home?
    A: The first thing I had to have on my return was a gallon of vanilla ice cream, a gallon of milk, a steak, and some private companionship, not necessarily in that order.
    I'll never forget my first morning home. I was outside just at daybreak and enjoying the early morning smell of the fresh air with a cup of coffee. (Vietnam smells awful, everything is either growing or rotting) I was unable to sleep because of the time change and my inner thoughts ... Wondering if I was just dreaming and something again would startle me awake to reality that I was still there. Once I realized I was actually home, I started to feel as if I'd abandoned my buddies ... here I was now safe ... as it was now morning for me ... when it would be morning for them I could visualize everything they'd be doing. Washing, eating chow then going out on the road to do mine sweeps and my crew clearing more jungle and encountering more booby traps and mines left by the NVA.

3. Q: How did you feel about the anti-war protests at home?
    A: I feel the anti-war protestors added to our casualties by inspiring the enemy. Without the protestors, the list of 58,229 names that are now on The Wall would have been much much smaller. When I left in 1967 we had won every major engagement with the VC and NVA, they were on their knees and on the verge of surrender. Besides the NVA losing every major battle, their supply channels through the Ho Chi Minh trail had been cut, their troop moral was at its lowest. The Tet 1968 offensive was designed to be one-last-effort to try to raise the moral of the NVA troops. When it was over, General Giap (commander of NVA troops) considered it to be a failure, until they saw Walter Cronkite (TV commentator) describe Tet 1968 as a communist success.

4. Q: Did you enlist or were you drafted? If enlisted, why?
    A: I enlisted, my father died when I was 8 years old and the Social Security was going to end when I turned 18. I was sending money home to help support my six siblings. Also, President John Kennedy had just been assassinated and it was the theme of Americans to: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country".

5. Q: Are you proud to have been a soldier in the Vietnam War?
    A: Yes, we soldiers did exactly what we had been trained for. The result was not due to the efforts of the soldiers, but for the misguided shackles that were bound upon us by the likes of LBJ and Robert McNamara not leaving decisions with the commanders, but making the decisions themselves over breakfast in the White House. You should also know that McNamara has quite a track record ... Prior to being posted as Secretary of Defense, when he was employed by Ford motor company it was his hand that created the Edsel, another of his failures.

6. Q: Did you constantly support the war, were you always against it, or did you flip-flop?
    A: Do this ... Next time the TV shows the communist invasion of the south in 1975, two years after America pulled out to leave it in the hands of the South Vietnamese. Turn the sound off so as to not be influenced by the commentator. Watch what is happening ... the South Vietnamese are fleeing in fear ahead of the NVA advance. They did not wish to be controlled by the communists, they wanted to have their own country and be able to plow their own fields for their families and to sell the rice on the open market as they had done for centuries, and not have to plow the soil which would be owned by the state. Especially for the North Vietnamese who had assassinated and murdered their relatives during night invasions of their villages.

7. Q: How long did it take you to readjust to American life after serving in the military and spending a year in Vietnam?
    A: We still ask if we ever will ... I came home 20 going on 45 and all the things my old friends were placing a big importance on ... was so childish to me.

8. Q: What is your most vivid memory from the war?
    A: While there were some villages we traveled through that hated us something fierce because they were VC communists. There were others where the villagers were glad we were there and would point out the mines and booby traps to us. It was the children of these villages that I felt the saddest for, as they had not much in the way of a future. Also, sanitation did not exist, people would take care of natures-call at the very spot where the urge announced it's need.

9. Q: What do you want people to remember about the Vietnam war?
   A: The success of WW11 was the result of the WWI veterans, who were no longer 20 years old soldiers as they themselves had been during WWI. During WW11 they were now the Commanding Generals and Staff Planners who made sure everything of the enemy was bombed and destroyed. They also made sure that patriotism was alive a well in this country, they did not allow their sons to return home from WW11 to silence as they had experienced. They orchestrated the flag waving and parades for their sons return, which helped keep patriotism alive in this country.
    The WW11 generation did not do likewise for their sons from Korea or Vietnam. During Vietnam, our pilots were not allowed to bomb the SAM missiles sitting on ships in Haiphong harbor, or in the vast acres of storage facilities that looked like a huge new-car lot. Only after the SAMs were hidden in the jungle would our pilots be allowed to bomb them. This is just one of many examples limiting what we could and could not do ... controlled by politicians.
    The low casualties of Desert Storm were the result of the Vietnam veterans who were no longer 20 years old, but were the Commanding Generals and Staff Planners who made the decisions on how the war would be conducted.

10. Q: How do you think educators should cover material on the Vietnam war?
    A: By the keen manner in which you have directed your questions. Apparently you are not taking as written in stone, the typical media hype. You are seeking to find other information from one who has actually been there and has seen things differently than what was actually being reported back home by the media.

11. Q: What information is most important, in your opinion?
    A:American Politicians and the South Vietnamese Army. We left in 1973, and the ARVNs only held out for two more years before losing their country in 1975.
    Our State Department has always stepped in and stopped the military just as victory was truly at hand. In WW11 the Americans were halted, and had to wait so the Russian Army could catch up and meet them in Berlin. In Korea, Gen. McArthur was stopped when he was on a roll. In Desert Storm, our State Department advised President Bush to call it to a halt so as to not have Iraq without a leader and cause an imbalance in the region, with Iran still powerful.
    Billions of dollars being wasted in Bosnia in efforts to boost the credibility of the U.N. and its' One-World-Army concept. Can you name even one U.N. mission which was a success?
    The expense of supporting these many failed U.N. missions are such a drain on our military budget, that our politicians are covering it up by closing military bases, deactivating units, and reducing our military strength to be the lowest it's been since before ww11. The 1930's was also a time when politicians were not concerned with our weak military strength. Our military equipment was old and antiquated up to the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. Today, communist Red China is building their military just as Japan did in the 1930's and all the while proclaiming to be our friend, just as Japan did during that time.
    I have concern over what will be our next Pearl Harbor. Especially since many people tend to forget, these are not simply American soldiers. They are our sons, daughters, husbands and wives.

Thank You for you interest and I hope this veteran's view will help you in your project.
    Our 19th Engineer Battalion website is at: . Another good veterans site where you may find some useful information can be found at: War-Stories.com.

Gene Kuentzler, Unit historian
19th Combat Engineer Battalion
S-3 Battalion Operations, 1966-1967

Gene: Thank you very much for helping me complete my project. The information from these questions will be very useful in explaining the impact of the war on soldiers who fought in it. Once again, thank you.

Beth

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