Friday, July 19, 2013

How Not to Impress Your Wife as a Soldier in Vietnam

I'm spending the morning organizing notes for the third chapter of my dissertation, which focuses on how soldiers reacted to atrocities that they witnessed or were part of that were reported by civilians (usually Vietnamese), and ran across a weird case in the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group files.  I only have the summary, not the whole file because this is one of the files still not screened for public viewing, so I don't have all the witness statements.  At first this looks like a generic war crimes case, but gets weird quickly.

A gentleman named Anthony Ciccarella, of Newport, Kentucky, took seven letters that SP4 Steve Snyder, formerly of Alpha Company, S&T Battalion, 25th Infantry Division had sent to his wife (Snyder's) to the military intelligence group at Ft. Knox.  The letters details several apparent war crimes during Snyder's service in Vietnam. 
  1. His letter from 12 January 1970 claims that Snyder and his squad went into a village and were giving the local kids candy and cigarettes when they discovered that the children were booby-trapped.  One soldier died, and the rest lined up the kids and shot them execution-style.
  2. On 16 January Snyder wrote that the squad looted $50 from the bodies of three Viet Cong.
  3. Four of the letters (22 Jan, 5 Feb, 19 March, 11 Sept) included claims that rather than take wounded Viet Cong prisoners, Snyder just shot them.
  4. When CID interviewed Snyder's wife, she told them she had destroyed a letter where he described "a black night when his unit killed everyone in an entire village."
I think it's weird that a soldier put these things in letters home, unless he was feeling really guilty about them, but there's more.  CID agents interviewed SGT Robert Leath and SP4 Max Akpik, who said that some of the incidents (no idea which ones) were based on reality, but grossly exaggerated, while others Snyder invented out of whole cloth.  Snyder finally gave his own statement to CID at his new post in Germany, where he told the agents that the atrocities he described in his letters were fake, and that he wrote them "only to impress his wife that he war a war hero".  He also confessed to taking about $5 in Vietnamese money from the body of a dead Viet Cong officer.

Here's what I don't get: why would this guy think that his wife would be anything other than horrified by these incidents?  The best outcome I can see would be her thinking that the war was horrible, and that he'd been changed by his service in it.  The worst?  Well, he came close when his letters got turned over to the authorities, but she also could have left him in abject horror at the type of person she'd married.

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