Another set of excerpts from my research notes today. Michael Morris served in Vietnam during 1967 and 1968 with the 25th Infantry Division and the 4th Infantry Division. That makes his experiences most relevant to the folks in the 35th Infantry Regiment in my study. The excerpts from his interview with Stephen Maxner focus on the lack of training in how to treat the Vietnamese, what the war was about, and his contacts with Vietnamese villagers.
SM: Now, during your initial in processing both in-country and then later on in 7 the 25th Division, what kind of briefings did you receive about your conduct as an American soldier in Vietnam, interacting with the Vietnamese people—?
MM: Nothing. None.
SM: Rules of engagement—
MM: Zero. No. None of that.
MM: That was all just like bullshit. If they told us it was somebody read it off a card and you forgot it immediately. In fact, I don’t think they even expected us to interface with the population. As it turned out, I didn’t. I did, but not to any great extent. They weren’t too concerned about the niceties of how I would conduct myself with the population. They really weren’t.
SM: So when you arrived, what did you think the United States was trying to accomplish there?
MM: I remember that part being pretty clear. We had heard enough about this and I suppose there was enough accumulating in my brain at that point to think that the South was being invaded by North, the communists were trying to impose their will on the democratic, for want of a better word, South. Actually there wasn’t much of a democracy. It was just basically a lot of free people. Godless communism were slaughtering the Catholics in Hue. We heard these stories. That’s what we thought we were doing. We thought we were trying to stem this tide and that we were going to fight the North Vietnamese and their puppet subsidiaries, the VC.
They were all islands in these rice paddies, miles and miles of miles of rice paddies. Some of the islands were far apart from each other and some of the islands were grouped together. In these islands were, it was one village after another. In some of those villages there were people and some of those villages had already seen some warfare and the people had beat it out of there. They didi-ed as they say or they had been forced out. We did a lot of relocation. We chased people out of areas. The South Vietnamese did the same thing. We’d patrol in through these village areas. A lot of my first half of my year, that’s what we were doing. We’d get to the edge of a village and we’d take fire and guys would get shot out in the rice paddies. Then we’d go in there and we’d try to find the VC. Sometimes there were people there, sometimes there weren’t. Sometimes the people got in the way. We didn’t deliberately try to kill locals and peasants, but sometimes we were fighting in and around and over them. It was pretty chaotic. Then when we got up into the hills, we got into these very isolated areas where we must have looked like Martians to these people. We’d drop in. The helicopters would fly us into some mountain meadow or some hilltop where we could actually jump out of these ships. Then we’d be stuck out there for a couple of weeks. We’d either have to find our way back out to the plains or they would pick us up some other place. There weren’t as many villages up there, but we did encounter them. Sometimes we would encounter people and sometimes not, but the people up there were even more primitive. They were—it was unworldly. It was like nothing I had ever experienced.
Interview with Michael Morris, 21 January 2003, Michael Morris Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University. Accessed 3 Jan. 2013.