Here’s something that will surprise you. The Vernon County had a special compartment below the cargo hold reserved for the interrogation
of VC prisoners. Yeah. That’s what they called it when our
side did the torturing. A small, windowless room with steel walls and
a hatch in the ceiling, entry and exit was gained via a circular iron staircase. In
the beginning, the ARVNs who conducted the interrogations picked me to stand
guard because someone told them I had a security clearance. As time went
by, I remained their guard of choice because I never interfered, and they knew
I kept my mouth shut.
My guard post was the empty compartment above the cell,
and my job was to prevent anyone from coming within earshot during prisoner
in the evenings, unpleasant noises within the interrogation chamber penetrated
the iron walls and the guys on deck watch peeked in. Their interest never
went beyond mild curiosity and idle speculation, however, because mostly, they
didn’t really want to know. A look or hand signal from me was enough,
and the deck hatch remained closed for the rest of the evening.
point for observing the activities in the chamber was through the smaller of
the two ceiling hatches. The South Vietnamese interrogators
frequently asked me for things – fresh water, rags, trash sacks – so
they’d grown accustomed to my leaving the hatch ajar. I was the
fly on the wall we’ve all wanted to be at one time or another.
- Events that can initiate a traumatic
response in a person can be active, where the potential harm is directed
at the individual himself, or it may be passive, as when one witnesses
the violent destruction of another human being. In
this situation, Dave was unable to flee the sights, sounds and smells of the
brutality inflicted on the VC prisoners. As a result, he was exposed
to numerous traumatic stressors with the potential to trigger PTSD symptoms
from several of his senses.
Prisoners were brought in almost every day, and the ARVNs always tried to
get as much information as they could before shipping them off to a prison
camp. They underwent more interrogation there, of course, but information gleaned
immediately after capture was the freshest and occasionally even reliable.
I don’t know how the ARVNs decided which prisoners to interrogate,
but when they got their hands on someone they wanted information from, the
routine was more or less the same each time. Vietnamese dressed in military
uniforms with no insignia or rank brought the prisoner in bound, gagged and
blindfolded. Unlikely any of those VC had ever been on a boat bigger
than the family sampan, so I doubt they even knew where they were. All
the unknowns. Without exception, that’s what most terrified those
poor bastards, and during interrogations, the dank air in the cell was thick
with the stink of adrenaline and ammonia.
Next, they strapped the prisoner
into a wooden chair next to a small table, removed his blindfold, and a South
Vietnamese army officer with a swagger stick strode down the iron staircase,
circled the prisoner a half dozen times, and then suddenly shouted demands. I
didn’t speak the language, but
I’d witnessed enough interrogations to know they always asked about the
number of enemy troops, their location, that sort of thing. If the prisoner
wasn’t immediately cooperative, the other Vietnamese guys in the cell
whacked him, slowly at first, but then they picked up the pace while the officer
repeated the demands. This went on for the best part of an hour.
the nose broke first, and the blood flowed like an open faucet. Sometimes,
they missed by a few inches, cracked the jaw, and pieces of teeth bounced on
the floor like little BBs. The interrogators were pros and all business. Beginning
a session, they avoided the prisoner’s soft spots knowing they risked
rupturing a spleen or puncturing a bladder, and then they wouldn’t have
anything left to work with.
If the initial, velvet-glove techniques failed
and the guy still refused to talk, the officer in charge of the interrogation
leaned into man’s line
of sight and spoke softly for several moments. I never heard what he
said, of course, but I’d seen the tactic many times, and I guessed he
appealed to the prisoner’s love of family, gods or ancestors or whatever
the hell those people believed in. Interesting guy, that officer. He
went from demon of destruction to trusted uncle and comrade and back again
sometimes in split seconds. I swear I thought that bastard could sell
me a car any time he wanted.