My Marine Corps deal:
Immunity for statement:
But I knew nothing!*
*(After two, three months of refusing to make – or sign – a statement concerning a July 10, 1970 incident in The Arizona Territory of Quang Nam Province, Vietnam, either to the newly named Naval Investigative Service – Office of Naval Intelligence’s new Old Office of Naval Investigation – or the Marine Corps own Criminal Investigative Division (CID), I got a phone call to the 1st Marine Division Public Affairs Office just about the time I dragged-ass into the PAO quonset just below Division Headquarters on Hill 327 just outside Danang. I had my jungle boots, rubbed white where they weren’t faded nylon green from bush use, on a desktop, a cold Budweiser in-hand and The Gunny told me I had a call. I hauled ass to his just-outside-the-Skipper’s hatchway desk, still with beer and barked into the phone: “Corporal Richards, Sir! How may I Assist, Sir!”
“Relax, Corporal” – I had just been promoted and knew enough Green Fecal Matter that no one called a lowly snuffie shitbird the second he set foot at his “home” to be a sweet-nothings” caller. So I laid it on thick. “This is The Commandant.” Ohhh. Fornicate! Again. We spoke in April, wasn’t it? Damn. Twice in one tour D’Nahmb? Ain’t that a pisser! “Yesssir, General. The Corporal recognizes the General’s voice, sir!”
“Corporal Richards. I have no desire to influence you and your decision not to engage either with CID or ONI and this is just a request from me to you, personal-like, but I really would appreciate you describing to me without violating any of your rights to refuse to speak on the matter, what happened over by Go Noi Island 10 July. This will be just between me and you.”
Those poor SOL (shit outta luck) jarhead grunts had said I took the interrogation pictures – including the one with the pistol and the M-16 flash suppressors and the bandoleer big safety pin jabbed in that poor NVA sucker’s shrivel-scared left teat that went round-the world – and I just clammed up and refused all requests for comment or statements. John Sullivan, AP reporter I was escorting that day finally told ONI to lay off J Richards or he would release the whole series of shots he took of that entire day, including the ones of me “escorting” the one – of three – prisoners back to An Hoa Combat Base, my M-16 in its shoestring sling resting at my right shoulder, barrel-down, and holding open my near-eight-inch Bowie-style Randall combat knife in one hand, its business end pointing right at Mr. Charles who probably still was under the effects of the marijuana he and his pal had smoked just prior to the pair helping a third – this one an NVA nurse – enjoy the conjugal delights of an early-morning bunker’s convivial delights. That seemed to get the brass off my case somewhat, but now they wanted to know whom to crucify, and after I had washed my hands, of course, would I culprit point?
General, I said, if and when ONI gives me a signed Transactional Immunity deal I will be happy to make a statement. And here is what I will say:
For 30 or 50 days prior to going out with John Sullivan to escort him on an operation of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, Fifth Marines, I had spent time with two or three other battalions in two or three different regiments, including time spent with perhaps five or seven different companies and sometimes with at least two platoons from each company, not to mention you can use my notes, my photos and my stories to see just how many fire teams and squads from all of those other higher-echelon elements – and after the two days with G/2/5, I did about the same for 30 to 50 days with other outfits: I do not recall who was in that photo in question because only one of four or five different people’s face even partially appears in the photo. I had been sitting in the elephant grass keeping Mr. Sullivan secure and away from any possible harm when a platoon commander second lieutenant – and I know he was a second lieutenant and new in-country because he still was wearing his butter bar out on top of his collar points and clearly visible, and he said: “Hey, you guys, want to see a field interrogation?
“At that point,” I said to The Commandant, “I no longer was in charge. I switched from protecting the Marine Corps from John Sullivan to covering his Civilian Ass as my job description set forth. So I had my back to almost every second of his photo work recording the incident, as I was scanning the elephant grass surrounding everyone. it was a clusterfuck, General: one heat tab could have gotten a lot of good Marines dead and more wounded. That was how crowded it was. What I will tell ONI is just that and I will add that until that Lieutenant showed up and made the field interrogation public – I had known about it before but did not share that information with my charge because I felt some regulations might get bent if not broken my job prior to that was to protect the Marine Corps. Afterwards, my job became Protect Mr. Sullivan.”
“Thank, you, son,” the voice half a world away said. Two days later, just after I took a partial pay, went downtown to the press center, recently taken over by the Army from The Marines, had a steak, spaghetti and french bread and a bottle of chilled Mateus Rose, the paperwork granting me transactional immunity came through. I signed. Wrote my statement. And some enlisted Marines skated. And probably a Second Lieutenant may or may not have had a chance to atone for what may h ave been a career-ending blunder.)