Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Joe Gilligan on Atrocities, Religion, and Life in Vietnam

The following are some of the excerpts from Gary Hayes' interview at Texas tech with Vietnam veteran Joe Gilligan that I found interesting and potentially relevant for my Dissertation.  Gilligan discusses what it was like to be in Vietnam, religion and the war, and his recollections of a possible atrocity.  Notice how he presents atrocities as really unusual?  That's part of what I'm trying to get at - how the veterans perceived things.


And walking on the streets; the streets had...the sidewalks were wooden planks - reminds me of the old wild west, when you see the movies - and I can recall walking...people that I’d met there had brought me in to show me the area. I can recall walking along that street, coming to the corner, and seeing three dead Viet Cong laying in the gutter right there at the corner which shocked the dickens out of me and I asked about it and they said that they had been shot the previous night in the area and that the ARVN soldiers had put them there as a warning to the people not to give any assistance Viet Cong or they could be maybe...they could suffer the same type fate, which was...I won’t say shocking to me, but what’s surprising to me was I watch the children, women and everything walk down the street. When they got to where the bodies were they simply side stepped around them like they were sidestepping a puddle or something. There was no shock or surprise. It was like, “Ho-hum, daily routine,” type thing. It didn’t seem to bother the Vietnamese as much as it bothered me to see them laying in the street. They were used to seeing this on, I guess, almost a regular basis. It got to that point. It got to be, “Ho-hum, what’s new?”


There were cases where the 8th MP Group did investigate that I was aware of. There was one in the 173rd Airborne where we had an NCO that was shooting civilians and it turned out finally that they realized what he was doing and investigated it. I can tell you a little bit about the story; what he would do was go out on patrol with people and go off by himself somewhere and wind up shooting civilians. This is the digest of it. He would shoot, indiscriminately, people and then check them out and if they weren’t Viet Cong he had carried in his pack and stuff some Viet Cong clothing and artifacts and weapons and stuff and he would drop them there at the area and then call the squad or his platoon sergeant or his platoon leader on it and say that he’d shot these Viet Cong and they’d come over and see the black pajamas or the weapons and say, “Good job, Joe,” or whatever his name was, and after his second extension or something, he was working on his second year there or something and he was always doing this, people got concerned, “There’s something screwy here,” and they wind up getting the CID involved and it turned out that’s exactly what he was doing. He was shooting people. He had gone, apparently, mentally unstable after a while and that kind of stuff. If I remember right, if I remember, he’s 173rd Airborne.


GH: You mentioned earlier going to mass in Saigon. Do you think the religious fervor of the soldiers increased while they were in Saigon? Did you see more of a turnout on Sundays than you think you would have seen if you had not been in...  
JG: Well that’s interesting. I don’t know. I never thought about that. I don’t think so. I went to the cathedral where a lot of the people were mostly Vietnamese, but then I went to some services where...I was Catholic and I went to where the priest did it and it was somewhat different because all the soldiers would be there and there’s be one priest and he’d say, “Do y’all want to go to confession?” and everybody raised their hand and he’d just simply say, “I absolve you,” and he wouldn’t listen to confessions. He’d just say, “Think in your mind what you want to tell me,” and he’d give us absolution right then and send you right out. I think the soldiers maybe had a little more religion just like I’m sure they had a lot of atheist has religion in a foxhole type thing, and I’m sure they all do. But, I would think maybe that would be the case because you found people away from their families and their loved ones and their country and I felt sometimes going to church and sitting and thinking about things and appreciating what you did have in the United States was nice to do. You had some solace and you could think and I think people...the more I think about it, maybe you’re right. Religion helped them along to put in their time for the year.  
GH: Did your attendance increase or was it pretty much the same before and after? 
JG: My attendance? Oh no. I still go. I just came from church now before this interview. I was born and raised with the nuns in St. Joseph and I learned to go to church every Sunday no matter what and I follow that over the years, and hopefully it’s done me good.

Interview with Joe Gilligan,  4 June 2000, Joe Gilligan Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University. Accessed 3 Jan. 2013. .

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