Monday, February 25, 2013

Antoine Roy on ROE, Free Fire Zones

Just about done with the Antoine Roy oral history interview.  After the 173rd Airborne, he cycled through 1st Cavalry and 101st Airborne.  Here he's talking about his experiences as a door gunner on UH-1 Iroquois helicopters in Vietnam:

Okay. What kind of rules of engagement did you have as the door gunner? Did they vary from mission to mission or were you kind of given, here’s what you can and can’t do in general? 
AR: Well, you can’t kill civilians. Anybody carrying a weapon, even if they’re dressed as a civilian, but they’re carrying an AK-47, they’re fair game. There are areas that were free fire zones. Now a free fire zone, and you hear about this, doesn’t mean that you get to kill anything you want in that zone. If there’s an old lady and three or four kids in a free fire zone, you don’t get to—you are not are not required to gun them down. It just means that it’s an area where there are no civilians living. There aren’t supposed to be any and you don’t need to call in and get permission to fire at them. You can fire back at somebody that’s shooting at you no matter where, if you can identify the target. It just meant that there were supposed to be no civilians in the area. Well, there could also be your own troops in the area too. You always identified your target, but if it was an enemy soldier he was fair game. That’s basically the rules of engagement. I mean, if an enemy soldier, if you flew up on one suddenly and he turned around and threw his arms up in the air, you had the option. It could be an ambush. You want to take prisoners so you might just fly around him and if he tires to move left or right put some rounds in front of him to stop him, give him the message, stay where you are. Then maybe try and call in a couple of other ships, gunships or something to cover you while you’d land and take him prisoner. 
RV: Did you ever do that? 
AR: No, personally, myself no, others yes. But usually if they hear you’re coming or something they’re going to run. If they got a weapon then you just plain shoot them. If they don’t have a weapon and they’re dressed as a peasant and you know that you’re not too far from the edge of a free fire zone, you might want to hold your fire, but if they started running then that’s guilt right there. 
RV: Right. Did you witness or hear of any abuse of these rules of engagement? 
AR: Once. We had an avionics, which is your communication system within the helicopter, guy. I’d always liked him and they used to like to get some door gunner time in too. We went out to make an assault in a rice paddy area between two villages. It was not a free fire zone. We came in. I was about fifth ship back in a stick of six. You come in first wave and you’re really—I mean your fingers are really on the trigger, you’re always nervous, especially on the first one. The front of the stick had come in over this one village, where they were landing between these two villages and rice paddies. I’m in my seat looking around. I got my fingers around the triggers and all of a sudden I hear bap-bap-bap-bap-ba-ba-ba-bop. It’s like when everybody’s on edge and there’s something like that, one person fires, everybody just starts to fire. A whole bunch of us just pull the trigger for maybe ten, fifteen rounds before we realize, oh Jesus, we’re over a village. We don’t hear any incoming fire, just an M-60 that fired about ten, fifteen rounds. So I stop and I’m looking for targets and I’m looking for targets and I don’t see anything. As we come down and land I look forward just a little bit and here’s a dead Vietnamese man laying along the side of a rice paddy dyke. The grunts jump off the helicopter and we take off right away. The rice paddies are wet. They’re actively being grown. I had no idea what happened. I assumed he had a weapon or something and we just happened to land when he was crossing over the dykes between the two villages. Well, later on that night we had a get-together in one of the tents. This guy, and I won’t name names, this guy had been drinking a little bit and he’s laughing and boasting about this guy that he shot earlier in the day during that CA. I'm in the corner and I’m listening because I’m interested in what happened. Come to find out the guy did not have a weapon at all. He was walking along this dyke. All of a sudden here comes these six helicopters and they land just about right next to him, or they start landing. He’s just standing there totally surprised and this guy just gunned him down. I remember being just so totally shocked because I didn’t expect it from this person. Secondly I mean you had six, seven infantrymen on the helicopter you’re landing. They’re going to take the guy prisoner. They’re going to check his ID. If he doesn’t have any ID he’s going to be taken prisoner. For all that guy knows he could have been an ARVN soldier on leave. I remember from that day on I just did not like this guy. About half the guys there were drunk, at this little get together. They were laughing. The other half just didn’t express any emotion. I had heard a couple of comments after that, you know, “Shouldn’t have done that.” I was really disappointed because I had liked the guy a lot, earlier. Well, you know. You have cruel crime in civilian life and you have it in war time too and certainly read about it enough in other wars. We obviously didn’t make any friends in that incident, but generally I don’t think it left very much of an impression, good impression on people.
Interview with Antoine Roy,  No Date, Antoine Roy Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University. Accessed 3 Jan. 2013. .

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