CBS 60 Minutes II 1 May 2001:
Articles and Interviews
Raid In Question
- Former Sen. Admits Vietnamese Civilians Killed In 1969
- Fellow Navy SEAL Tells 60 Minutes II Victims Were
- Watch An In-Depth Report Tuesday, May 1, 9 p.m. ET/PT
(CBS) In a 60 Minutes II interview to air
Tuesday May 1, former Sen. Bob Kerrey admits that his SEAL
team unit killed civilians in a raid on a Vietnamese village
veteran Bob Kerrey.
Kerrey, who has not ruled out a run for president in 2004,
received a Bronze Star for the Feb. 25, 1969, raid. The award
citation says 21 Viet Cong were killed and enemy weapons
were captured or destroyed.
But Kerrey now says women and children were killed in the raid
when the SEAL team fired at a village after hearing enemy fire.
He describes it as an "atrocity," but an
However, a resident of the village where the killings took
place and a member of Kerrey's SEAL team told 60 Minutes
II Correspondent Dan Rather that the unit rounded the
civilians up and then shot them. Kerrey denies that account.
A weary and visibly strained Kerrey told an April
26 press conference in New York that "We did not go
out on a mission with the intent of killing innocent people. I
feel guilty because of what happened, not because eof what we
intended to do."
Kerrey, who now serves as the president of the New School in
New York City, also won the Purple Heart and Congressional
Medal of Honor in a separate incident in which he lost part of
his right leg. He does not feel the Bronze Star was awarded
Bronze Star is given to servicemembers
who have "distinguished himself
or herself by heroic or meritorious
achievement or service Ö while
engaged in an action against an enemy
of the United StatesÖ"
here to read the citation for the
Bronze Star awarded to Bob Kerrey.
"The citation is different than what we reported" to
military superiors, he told the Omaha World-Herald in an
interview published Wednesday.
Kerrey talked about the raid publicly for the first time last
week in a speech to ROTC students at Virginia Military
Institute in Lexington, Va. He said he decided to give his
account after hearing that another member of his squad was
offering a different version.
60 Minutes II and the New York Times Magazine
have been investigating Kerrey for several months.
The operation in question took place in the Mekong Delta, in a
Communist-controlled hamlet called Thanh Phong.
In a version of the New York Times Magazine posted
on the newspaper's Web site, one account has the SEAL team
visiting the village two weeks before the deadly raid. Kerrey
tells the magazine he doesn't recall this.
Kerrey says on the night of the operation his unit was looking
for a pro-Communist political leader.
"We went in at night and we found men in a hooch (hut)
and the people who were running out in front of me said 'We've
got people. We've found men and we're gonna take care of them,'
which I understood and I would authorize without saying so
meant they were going to kill them," he said.
Kerrey tells the Times magazine he didn't order or see
killings of anyone in that hut. But a member of his unit,
Gerhard Klann, claims five people were killed there, including
an old man, a woman and three children.
After leaving the first hut, Kerrey says, the unit opened fire
after coming under enemy gunfire. Kerrey claims he did not
know his victims were women and children until the shooting
"We stood back and we just emptied everything we could
into this place and we were taking fire and we came into the
village and it wasn't a big village it was, you know, four or
five hooches," Kerrey said. "There was a cluster of
women and children. They were all deadÖ"
Sen. Kerrey, far left, watches a
honor guard in 1998. (AP)
Kerrey believes Viet Cong were likely firing upon his crew
from behind the civilians, which would justify the killings
from a military standpoint, but said he could not be at peace
with it personally.
"To describe it as a war crime, I think, is wrong,"
he said. "To describe it as an atrocity, I would say, is
pretty close to being right, because that's how it felt and
that's why I feel guilt and shame for it."
However, Pham Tri Lanh, a woman who claims to have witnessed
the raid, contradicted Kerrey's version. She says the SEAL
team executed the villagers.
"It was very crowded, so it wasn't possible for them to
cut everybody's throats one by one," she said. "Two
women came out and kneeled down. They shot these two old women
and they fell forward and they rolled over and then they
ordered everybody out from the bunker and they lined them up
and they shot all of them from behind."
Klann told 60 Minutes II, "We herded them
together in a groupÖWe lined them up and we opened fire."
When asked if they took gunfire of any kind coming into the
village or anything even remotely sounding like gunfire, Klann
He described what happened next, "We gathered everybody
up, searched the place, searched everything." And the
make-up of the group was, "Probably a majority of 'em
were kids. And women. And some younger women."
And then, "We killed them.... 'Cause we'd already
compromised ourselves by killing the other group."
Kerrey denied that anyone was rounded or executed, and said
the woman might be sympathetic to the Viet Cong. But he
refused to deny Klann's version.
"I will not contradict the memory of any of the six
people that were on the operation that night," he said.
As to why soldiers might have killed Viet Cong members instead
of taking them prisoner, Kerrey said, "Because of where
we're operating, our belief is that they could break free and
we could be at risk."
Kerrey described feelings of intense guilt and loss over the
incident. "If I'd lost both arms and both legs and my
sight and my hearing, it wouldn't have been as much as I lost
here to read the New York Times
"Let the other people judge whether or not what I did was
militarily allowable or morally ethical or inside the rules of
war. Let them figure that out. I mean, I can make a case that
it was," he said. "It's still something dead that
was formerly alive, something that I value, and I feel remorse
Kerrey ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992
and served two terms in the Senate after one term as governor.
He acknowledged the possible ramifications of his revelation.
"ÖI've got to be prepared to tolerate any consequences
of this. I understand that that are all kinds of potential
consequences, up to and including somebody saying, 'This is a
war crime and let's investigate and charge him and put him in
prison,'" he said.
Raid Documents Released
- Initial Reports Say Only VC Killed In 1969 Raid
- Mention Of Civilian Casualties Comes Two Days Later
- See 60 Minutes II's In-Depth Report Tuesday, May 1, 9 p.m.
YORK, April 28, 2001
(CBS) Two newly declassified official reports concerning a
raid on a Vietnamese village by Bob Kerrey's Navy SEAL team make
no mention of civilian casualties that the former senator says he
included in his initial after-action report on the incident.
told reporters that many vets have buried painful memories.
In a 60 Minutes II interview to air next Tuesday,
Kerrey admits that his unit killed women and children when they
returned enemy fire at Thanh Phong village on Feb. 25, 1969.
Kerrey, who has not ruled out a run for president in 2004,
received a Bronze Star for the raid.
Kerrey disclosed the incident earlier this week. After stints as
Nebraska's governor and U.S. senator, and a bid for the presidency
in 1992, he is currently the president of the New School in New
The reports, both dated Feb. 25, 1969 were released Friday by the
Naval Historical Center in Washington.
They are not signed, but military address codings suggest they are
a message from Kerrey's immediate superior officer to the
commander of SEAL Task Force 115 and that officer's reply.
here for more on the Vietnam War.
Both refer only to "21 VC KIA (BC)," meaning "21
Viet Cong killed in action (body count)."
The language is similar to that in a later citation awarding
then-Lt. (jg) Kerrey, 25, the Bronze Star, the nation's
fourth-highest award for valor.
At a news conference Thursday, Kerrey said that, "For more
than three decades, I have carried this deeply personal memory
with a sense of anguish."
Kerrey said he had not thought about returning the Bronze Star,
stating that "the medal meant nothing to me," and
insisting he "never asserted I was a hero in the war."
The Pentagon said Thursday that if the truth about what actually
happened was concealed, Kerrey's Bronze star could be rescinded,
but defense officials say as of now they have no plans to
here to read more about the
conflicting accounts of the raid by
Kerrey's SEAL team on the village of Thanh
The incident took place in a communist controlled hamlet along the
Mekong River. Kerrey was leading his unit on a search for Viet
Kerry insisted that the area where the shooting took place was a
free-fire zone and that reliable intelligence had indicated there
was a Viet Cong political meeting taking place there with no
civilians present. He insisted his unit was fired upon before it
shot at the villagers.
The first teletype message, labeled a "spot report,"
says Kerrey's team "received fire from hooches (huts)"
and returned fire. Then: "Observed several personnel running
from hooches. Took under fire," it said.
Civilian casualties were mentioned two days later, Feb. 27, in a
radio log obtained by The Associated Press.
A resident of the village where the killings took place and a
member of Kerrey's SEAL team told 60 Minutes II
Correspondent Dan Rather that the unit rounded the civilians
up and then shot them. Kerrey denies that account.
"We did not go out on a mission with the intent of killing
innocent people. I feel guilty because of what happened, not
because of what we intended to do," Kerrey said.
Bronze Star is given to servicemembers who
have "distinguished himself or
herself by heroic or meritorious
achievement or service Ö while engaged
in an action against an enemy of the
here to read the citation for the
Bronze Star awarded to Bob Kerrey.
The Vietnamese government offered conciliatory words for Kerrey on
Thursday. "Mr. Kerrey has shown in his statements about what
happened in the past in Vietnam that he was remorseful about his
behavior," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh said
"We think the best way for Mr. Kerrey and other Americans who
fought in Vietnam to achieve peace of mind is to contribute to
healing the wounds from the war through concrete and realistic
actions," she said.
Experts on military law say that while Kerrey's actions might have
breached codes of conduct, he cannot be prosecuted now that he has
left the military.
"If his account were taken as true, if it were proved to be
true, it would indeed be a violation of war," said Gary
Solis, a military law professor, but adds, "If one receives
fire, one is not only entitled to but should return fire to
protect one's own men and women."
Other Vietnam vets, including Sens. John McCain, R.-Ariz., and
Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and John Kerry, D.-Mass., have signaled
support for Kerrey.
"Those of us who have served in combat recognize that there
are some things you are proud of and some things that you are not
so proud of," McCain said. "And that's why war is so
Of A Massacre: Part II
- Accuses CBS News And New York Times Of Collaborating
- Denies Allegations Former Comrade Makes In '60 Minutes II'
- See '60 Minutes II's In-Depth Report Tuesday, May 1, 9 p.m.
YORK and WASHINGTON, April 29, 2001
(CBS) Five members of former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey's Navy
commando team joined him in denying that they wantonly killed
Vietnamese civilians during a wartime raid more than 30 years ago.
"No order was given or received to execute innocent women,
old men and children as has been described by some," said a
statement signed by Kerrey and five Navy SEAL mates published in
Sunday's Washington Post. "We took fire and we returned fire.
Our actions were in response to a dangerous situation that we know
for certain could have resulted in our deaths."
In a telephone interview Saturday with The Associated Press,
Kerrey said it reflects the position of him and the five others
that there is no truth to the allegations that they gunned down
civilians or killed them with knives.
The statement was signed by Kerrey and former SEALs Rick Knepper,
Mike Ambrose, Lloyd Schrier, Gene Peterson and William H. Tucker
III. The other five had not spoken publicly on the issue before
The seventh member of the unit known as Delta team, Gerhard Klann,
claims in interviews published in Sunday's New York Times Magazine
and to be broadcast on CBS News' 60 Minutes II on
Tuesday that civilians were herded into a group and killed.
Some of Bob Kerrey's former Senate
colleagues who served in Vietnam said
Sunday they have little desire for a
Pentagon investigation into his recent
admission that civilians were killed
during a mission for which he won the
"To now talk about an investigation,
it seems to me, is just the wrong way to
go," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., told
ABC's "This Week." "If the
Pentagon asked me, I'd say no."
Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., a member of the
Armed Services Committee, told ABC he does
not think an investigation is warranted,
as did Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. "There's
no point in it, I don't believe...Let it
play out, but I don't think we need an
investigation here," Hagel said.
In an editorial in Sunday's Washington
Post, Kerry, Cleland and Hagel said
Kerrey's admission "demonstrates the
courage we all have known in him for years."
"Many people have been forced to do
things in war that they are deeply ashamed
of later. Yet for our country to blame the
warrior instead of the war is among the
worst, and, regrettably, most frequent
mistakes we as a country can make,"
Asked if Kerrey should give back his medal,
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was a
prisoner of war for more than five years,
said that would be "a decision that
Bob would make." (AP)
"One of the men in our squad remembers that we rounded up
women and children and shot them at point-blank range in order to
cover our extraction," the SEAL team members' statement said.
"That simply is not true."
Kerrey has said he does not know Klann's "motivation"
for making the charge, but he insists that the former colleagues
remain on good terms.
Kerrey, a former Nebraska senator, meanwhile, accused The New York
Times and CBS News of "collaborating" in a propaganda
campaign to discredit Americans in the war.
"It's disgraceful," Kerrey told the AP. "The
Vietnamese government likes to routinely say how terrible
Americans were. The Times and CBS are now collaborating in that
He continued: "What happened that night is bad enough...It is
a disgrace that just brings back the memory of the war."
"I think he knows better," said Joseph Lelyveld,
executive editor of the Times, when asked for comment on Kerrey's
statement about alleged collaboration with the Vietnamese
"After many months of in-depth reporting, during which time
the principals involved agreed, independently, to tell their
accounts to 60 Minutes II, we believe we have produced a fair and
balanced report of what happened at Thanh Phong," said CBS
News President Andrew Heyward in a statement. "On Tuesday
night, viewers will have the opportunity to hear these first-hand
accounts of the events and draw their own conclusions. As with
every report, our only interest is good journalism."
Kerrey, in speaking publicly last week about the raid, said that
about 13 civilians were killed "by mistake" after his
SEAL team was fired on and returned fire during a nighttime raid
to capture or kill Viet Cong officials believed to be meeting in
Thanh Phong on Feb. 25, 1969.
Kerrey was awarded the Bronze Star for leading the Thanh Phong
raid and later received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest
military commendation, for an unrelated action in Vietnam.
The declaration of solidarity among SEAL team members came as a
second witness in Vietnam told the AP the commando team had
intentionally killed civilians during the attack.
Two Vietnamese women told reporters Saturday that they witnessed
the killings in Thanh Phong, and their accounts closely echo
Bui Thi Luom, 44, said that women and children were rounded up and
shot and that about 20 died. She recalled being told that one girl
was "disemboweled," although she did not see it.
Pham Thi Lanh, 62, elaborated on her earlier account to CBS,
describing how the intruders killed an elderly couple and their
three grandchildren with knives. In her latest account, Lanh said
the grandparents were decapitated.
Kerrey denied the Vietnamese women's allegations in the AP
"They (the SEALs) received fire, and on returning fire, some
innocent civilians were killed," he said. "Not once was
an order given to round people up and execute them. They didn't
disembowel anyone, and they didn't cut off heads."
Kerrey also said Lanh's assertion that the raiders wore "helmets"
was untrue, and showed the "lack of credibility" in her
Of A Massacre: Part I
I || Part
II || Part
- Varying Accounts Of A Night In 1969
(CBS) For more than 30 years, Bob Kerrey - a former
Senator, governor and Presidential candidate Ė kept a terrible
secret, a secret that by now, many Americans have heard.
as a SEAL
Itís about a night when Kerrey, a Navy lieutenant in the
Vietnam War, led a SEAL team that killed more than 20 unarmed
civilians, almost all of them women and children, in a single
operation in 1969.
It was an operation that had never been discussed publicly,
until former Senator Kerrey agreed to talk to usÖ and to the
New York Times Magazine. In recent days, in anticipation of THIS
story, Senator Kerrey - who was awarded the Medal of Honor for
another operation in Vietnam -- has gone before cameras to
describe what happened in the village of Thanh Phong as a
horrible accident of war.
But tonight, for the first time, you will hear a different
memory of what happened that nightÖ from another Navy SEAL who
was at Kerreyís side He says it was no accident. He says women
and children were rounded up and shot at point-blank range. Two
men with contradicting memoriesÖ both haunted by the events of
a single night. We begin with Bob Kerreyís memories of a
You gave the order to fire?
You let Ďem have it?
Well a bit more than let them have it, I mean (edit) we fired in
lavs, we fired in M-79ís, M-60ís, we stood back and we just
emptied everything we could into this place and we were taking
fire. And we came into the village and it wasnít a big village,
it was, you know, four or five hooches. There was a cluster of
women and children, they were all dead. So thatís the outcome.
Was this the worst thing that you ever did in your life?
Oh, nothing, there is no second place. Yes, yeah. I mean, this
is where, I mean, I lost something more important than losing,
if Iíd lost both arms and both legs and my sight and my
hearing (edit) it wouldnít have been as much as I lost that
It was early in 1969 when Lieutenant Kerrey arrived in Vietnam.
The Communists were intensifying their attacks against U-S
forces and their South Vietnamese allies. Thirty thousand
Americans had already died in the war. Nearly ten thousand more
would be killed by the end of the year . Kerrey was a highly
skilled Navy SEAL leader, trained in demolition, infiltration
and the arts of assassination and kidnapping behind enemy lines.
Trained to go to places like THIS, the Mekong Delta, a place
infested with the Viet Cong. Kerrey was eager to serve, as he
put it, ďwith a knife in my teeth.Ē
Youíre trained to kill somebody with a knife, youíre trained
to kill somebody with small arms, youíre trained to kill
somebody in tight.
You were team leader in Delta Platoon.
Fair or unfair to say they were young and green?
Fair to say that we are young and green, right. Yeah.
Oh, I would say most especially myself, yeah.
Kerreyís first big missionÖ on the night of February 25th,
1969 -- just a few weeks after his green platoon arrived in
Vietnam Ė was to kidnap a local political chief in his hoochÖ
or thatch-roofed houseÖ in a tiny Mekong Delta hamlet called
Take your time, take me to the start, tell me what happened.
We went in at night. (edit to 3:19:36) And we found men in a
hooch and the people who were running out in front of me said
weíve got people, weíve found men and weíre gonna take
care of them. Which I understood and I would authorize without
saying so meant they were going to kill them.
Kerrey says his squad used their knives to kill all five men.
Did you personally kill any of them?
No, I did not, but in my mind, I personally killed all of them,
I take full responsibility for them, so, and then Iím in
charge of this platoon, Iím in charge of the squad, actually.
Why not take them prisoner?
Because of where weíre operating, our belief is that they
could break free and we could be at risk.
They could compromise the mission?
Compromise the mission, we end up being dead.
Then, shortly after Kerrey says five men were killedÖ the
mission spiraled out of control.
We moved out to the right and we started moving probably down,
you know, criss-crossing a little bit along canals on the rice
paddy on the dikes of these rice paddies. And we took fire and
we returned the fire from an area that we were going.
Small arms fire?
Small arms fire. (edit) It was a fair distance away. (edit to
3:27:16) I mean we just put down a field of fire and moved in on
those hooches and stayed firing all the way through.
And when the firing stopped, Kerrey says he was stunned when he
walked up to his victims.
How many were women and children?
About how many were dead?
At that moment, what did you think to yourself at that time?
I just killed my own family. I just did something really bad. I
mean, I thought, this shouldnít have happened.
Kerrey says he and his men did not find any weapons. The unit
was evacuated quickly by boat, and apparently the men did not
talk much that nightÖ or in the 30 years sinceÖ about what
had happened. But one member of the unit did file a battle
report the next morning Ė a report we managed to unearthÖ
and we read it to Kerrey.
It says, quote, two hooches destroyed, 14 V-C K-I-A. Translation:
14 Viet Cong killed in action. (edit) No mention of women and
No, we would not have separated out and mentioned them as women
It just didnít. We, sex, age, nothing would have been reported
on in that fashion. We considered everybody in that area to be
V-C and thatís how we would report it.
I think this is gonna surprise a lot of people. But thatís the
way it was.
Thatís the way it was.
For more than thirty years, Kerrey talked about Thanh Phong only
with family members and his minister. He agreed to talk to us
and the New York Times Magazine only after Gregory Vistica, an
author and journalist, discovered previously classified military
documents which suggested that women and children had been
killed at Thanh Phong.
For a long time, I felt guilty. Guilty is to me a more trivial
and also more destructive feeling. (edit) Remorse is what I feel
today. (edit) And the difference is very, very important. I mean,
let the other people judge whether or not what I did was
militarily allowable or morally ethical or inside the rules of
war. Let them figure that out. I mean, I can make a case that it
was. But itís still a dead woman, itís still a dead child.
Itís still a dead man. Itís still a dead person. Itís
After we interviewed Bob Kerrey, we wanted to find out more
about what happened in Thanh Phong, so we sent a team to
Vietnam. They drove six hours south of Saigon, now officially
called Ho Chi Minh CityÖ crossed the mighty Mekong River by
ferry boat, and then took two more ferries to Than Phu province.
Government officials told us this may be the poorest district in
Vietnam, and Thanh Phong may be the poorest village,.lying at
the end of a 15-kilometer-long dirt road. The villagers eke out
a subsistence living, fishing, crabbing and growing water
coconuts, and some say they have a lasting memory of the night
in 1969 when the Americans attacked their hamlet. They remember
it in horrifying detail. This man, the grandson of two of the
people who died that night, showed us where the attack began.
Nat sot Vietnamese
Where the sugar cane is growing, he said. Thatís where they
We were told members of the American unit came down this river
to get to the village, and are believed to have gone ashore here.
There was more jungle back then, and the hooches they attacked
have disappeared. But 62-year-old Pham Tri Lanh is still here.
And she says she was watching as the Americans attacked the
Mrs. Lanh 11:27:58
I was hiding behind the banana tree and I saw them cut the
manís neck, first here and then there. His head was still just
barely attacked at the back.
The Americans killed everyone in the first hooch, Mrs. Lanh said.
And contrary to what Bob Kerrey told us, Mrs. Lanh says, the
five victims were not all men.
Sot Mrs. Lanh 11:17:55
No, that is not true. There was an old woman, an old man , two
girls and a boy and they were all young. They were the
Anyone who says there were five men there is lying, Mrs. Lanh
told 60 Minutes II producer Tom Anderson and a translator. More
than 30 years later, Mrs. Lanh said she is certain of what she
Mrs. Lanh 11:23:34
The three children were scared and they crawled into a ditch.
The old man and the old woman were lying down inside a house
like the houses here. There was a water pump. He was sleeping
inside the house and they went in and grabbed him and dragged
him out to the water pump and that is where they cut his throat.
Then they stabbed the three children.
Q: 12:03:01 Did you see the Americans kill the children?
A: (nods head yes) After they cut the throat of the old man,
they went out and stabbed the three children.
Mrs. Lanh, the only person we found who claims to be an
eyewitness to the attack, said the soldiers also stabbed the
woman in the hooch to death. Nearby, villagers showed us the
grave of the old man, named Bui Van Vat. Next to him is the
grave of the woman -- his wife, Luu Thi Canh. Next to them are
their three grandchildren, buried without headstones under
mounds of cement -- a boy who was eight or nine, and two girls,
one of them about ten, the other a year or two older. After
killing the children and their grandparents, Mrs. Lanh told us,
the Americans walked further into the hamlet and discovered
several more hooches, and more villagers.
Mrs. Lanh (12:06:17:14)
It was very crowded so it wasnít possible for them to cut
everybodyís throats one by one. (edit) Two women came out and
kneeled down. (edit) They shot these two old women and they fell
forward and they rolled over. And then they ordered everybody
out from the bunker and they lined them up and they shot all of
them from behind.
Q and A with Mrs. Lanh
Q: Were there any men in the second bunker?
A: Just three little boys
Mrs. Thanh (wide) 12:24:47
Q: How big were the boys?
A: Little, like that. They were about eight, nine, ten years
Mrs. Lanh says five or six girls were also gunned down, and five
women, one of them pregnant. She says SHE managed to escape by
hiding in an underground bunker. The story Mrs. Lanh lived to
tell is very different from Bob Kerreyís. Keep in mind,
however, that Mrs. Lanh was a Communist revolutionary during the
war. But her story is remarkably similar to what another
eyewitness later told us. His name is Gerhard Klann. He was also
in Thanh Phong that night, as the most experienced member of
Lieutenant Kerreyís unit. We asked Klann about the first hooch,
the hooch Kerrey says was filled with men.
Do you remember how many there were?
Five or six that I recall. Five I think.
All males or a mixture of males and females?
No it was a mixture.
When you say a mixture, were there children?
Any of them small children?
Iíd say I donít think any of them coulda been older than
twelve years old.
That is precisely what Mrs. Lanh told us in Vietnam. Journalists
who went to the village more recently reported that Mrs. Lanh
now says she heard rather than saw some of the killings. They
also reported that another self-described eyewitness supports
what Mrs. Lanh told us. We never told Gerhard Klann about Mrs.
Lanh. But his recollection also matches hers, and contradicts
Bob Kerrey, about what happened at the second set of hooches.
Klann says the unit knew there were women and children before
they opened fire.
As best as you can remember, describe that scene for me.
Thatís, I can see it. I relive it often enough but I canít
describe it.. It was, it was carnage. It was, we just virtually
slaughtered those people. I mean, there was blood flying up,
bits and pieces of flesh hitting us.
Outside of family and friends, Gerhard Klann, like Bob Kerrey,
did not talk about that night for more than 30 years. When we
come back, you will hear for the first time his troubling story
- a story which directly contradicts Bob Kerrey about what
happened in Thanh Phong in 1969.
- Klann Tells His Version Of The Story
- And Kerrey Responds
(CBS) Studio Open
Bob Kerrey says the pressure was on in Vietnam from his superior
officers: destroy as many hooches and bunkers as possibleÖ and
keep the body count up.
Donít come back from an operation, his commanding officer said,
and tell me there were men there and you didnít capture or kill
And it was some times difficult, Senator Kerrey points out, to
tell the difference between civilians and soldiers. Even so,
Kerrey says, the killing of civilians in Thanh Phong was an
accident... a mistake.
As we reported, however, the people who live in the hamlet sat
they have different memories about what happened that night. And
so does Gerhard Klann, who served in the SEALs for nearly 19 years,
and was hand-picked for an elite counter-terrorism team, Seal Team
Six, after the Vietnam War. Klann is currently a steel worker in
Pennsylvania. In 1969, he was one of the seven SEALS in Lieutenant
Kerrey's unit in Thanh Phong.
It was completely a free-fire zone. Total free fire zone.
Which means, anything moves, you can shoot it?
Anything. At our discretion. We had the right to choose to let em
live or die. That was up to us.
Narration b rollThanh Phong and graphic with highlight.
The SEAL unit was working in the Thanh Phong area with a
Vietnamese district chief, whoís mentioned in a 1969 naval
communiquť we managed to uncover. According to the document,
ďThe District chief.. said that if people werenít GVN (meaning
supporters of the American-backed South Vietnamese government) he
didnít want them alive.Ē Days before the main operation, Klann
says the SEALs went into Thanh Phong and found only women and
children in the hamlet. They let them go and returned to base.
Klann says the district chief pressured them to return with these
No matter who you came across, bring back anybody if you think
theyíre gonna be of any intelligence worth or eliminate Ďem.
Was it or was it not also part of the mission to try to capture
the Viet Cong chief of the district?
When the squad learned that the Viet Cong chief was expected back
in Thanh Phong on February 25th, Gerhard Klann says the decision
was made to return. That night, he says, he and the others
approached the FIRST hooch - the hooch Kerrey says was filled with
men. Klann disagrees, and his story matches what we heard in the
eyewitness account in Vietnam --- that there was an old man, a
woman, and three young children.
We were virtually standing inside the door before they even knew
that we were there. And there was a few, a few of them were in a
And then what happened?
Well the decision was made and we dispatched of those people.
Three of whom were children?
Who was in command?
Did he give the order?
And what was the order?
We were gonna continue on with the op and head toward the main
And the concern was that they might sound an alarm?
Klann says his job was to kill the old man.
He put up a fight and I called over one of the guys to hold him
Do you remember who came over to help you?
Bob Kerrey. (edit) I think he kneeled on his chest and so I put
his head back and cut this throat.
At the time, did you think it was the thing to do?
I didnít question it.
Didnít question it?
It was war, we were in a war zone. And thatís not a time to
question orders. (edit) We got a chain of command, he gave the
order and we obeyed.
And what happened to the others in the hooch?
They all met a similar fate right about the same time.
And in much the same way?
Much the same.
So these people are now dead in the first hooch. Did you
immediately move on toward what we call the main hamlet area?
This is where you think the Viet Cong chief might be?
This is also where Bob Kerrey says his unit came under attack.
Did you take fire coming in?
Gunfire of any kind?
Anything even remotely sounding like gunfire?
No, not that I can recall. No.
Whatíd you do this time?
We gathered everybody up, searched the place, searched everything.
What was the make-up of this group? (edit)
Probably a majority of em were kids. And women. And some younger
So you got all the people out of there.
We herded them together and in a group.
Were any of these people armed?
I donít believe so.
Fair to say you didnít see any weapons?
I didnít see any.
Did you decide pretty quickly or not that the target of your
mission, the Viet Cong leader, was not among them?
Yeah (edit) we got together and we were, hey the guy ainít here.
Now we got these people, what do we do now?
What did you do then?
We killed em.
What do you mean, you killed em?
We shot em all.
Was an order given for that or was it more or less spontaneous?
I donít think we would have acted spontaneously on something
like that. There was an order given.
What was the order?
To kill em.
Cause weíd already compromised ourselves by killing the other
Whose responsibility, whose obligation was it to say that?
The ultimate responsibility fell on Bob Kerrey.
Do you remember him saying that?
I donít remember his exact words, but he was the officer in
charge. (edit) The call was his. (edit)
And then what happened?
We lined up, and we opened fire.
Individually or raked them with automatic weapons fire?
No. We, we just slaughtered them. It was automatic weapons fire.
At roughly what range?
Six feet, ten feet, very close.
Then did the shooting stop?
Yeah, for a little bit.
Was it quiet?
It was dead quiet. It was dead quiet. Then you could just hear
certain people, hear their moaning. So we would just fire into
that area until it was silent there. And that was it. And, and
until, we were sure that everybody was dead.
You said certain people were moaning or making noises. Were all
A few. I remember one baby still crying. That baby was probably
the last one alive.
What happened to that baby?
Shot like the rest of em.
We told Bob Kerrey about Gerhard Klannís account of the events
at Thanh Phong, and also revealed to him that much of Klannís
story is supported by a woman who says she was an eyewitness in
the village. Senator Kerrey seemed stunned, but then conceded that
what happened at Thanh Phong may have been worse than he remembers.
Gerhard Klannís story of a massacre there is so radically
different from Kerreyís story that we asked Kerrey to do a
SECOND interview with us. (vo) He agreed and we started our second
interview by asking him again about the very beginning of the
There was a hut, a hooch (edit) and you said people were killed
there. (Kerrey nods) You said you thought it was, that they were
all adults. Now Gerhard Klann says and a person who says that they
were there at the time in Vietnam, they say that it was in fact an
elderly man, an elderly woman and three children. Is that true?
Thatís not my memory of it.
We have a discrepancy. Youíve given us your memory and said,
look, maybe my memory is faulty. But my memory is this way.
Gerhard I will not contradict. I will not contradict the memory of
any of the six people that were on the operation that night. So if
thatís his view, I donít contradict it, itís not my memory
of it. And as to the eyewitness is at the very least, sympathetic
to the Viet Cong. At the absolute very least.
And at most might be what?
Might be Viet Cong themselves. Might have been an eyewitness, yes,
but might have participated enough as to kill Americans who were
operating in that area.
Kerreyís unit had been warned that a lot of the enemy in this
guerrilla war didnít wear uniforms and that other Americans had
been attacked by women and, yes, children. Thanh Phong and the
area around the hamlet were controlled by the Communists. But the
eyewitness account we heard in Vietnam is supported to a
remarkable degree by Gerhard Klann. And Klann says Lieutenant
Kerrey helped him kill an old man at the first hooch.
Did you or did you not come over and help him kill this older man?
That is not my memory of it. But thatís as far as I will go,
Dan. Iím just, Iím not gonna get into a Gerhard for 30 years
has been living with this memory as well. (edit) And so part of
what weíre gonna have to do is not just reconcile the memory.
Reconciling the memory is just the smallest part of it. But
reconciling the pain that is felt. Reconciling the guilt that is
still there. The feeling that somehow we did something horrible
and how do you go on living? What would we do now?
If in fact it did happen. If there was an old man, an old woman
and three children being killed. Was it or was it not within the
rules of engagement for you and your men as you understood it, if
necessary, to kill those people?
Yes, Again, I donít know how youíre gonna cut this tape, but I
donít have any doubt that the people that we killed were at the
very least sympathetic to the Viet Cong. And at the very most,
were supporting their efforts to kill us. (edit)
Old men, women and children
Yes, I mean, the Viet Cong, in a guerrilla war, the people that
get caught in the middle are the civilians. And the Viet Cong were
a thousand per cent more ruthless than any standard operating
procedure that any American GI or Navy SEAL had. (edit)
Letís move from the first hooch. The hut on what weíll call
the outer edge of the main section.
You told me that you and your men shot from a distance that you
estimated at maybe 100 yards. (edit) And you did not know until
you stopped shooting that all of the people shotwere women and
Thatís correct, that is my memory.
Gerhard Klann told me that you and your men rounded them up and
shot them at close range. His story is that you shot them at very
close range. He estimated at five to ten feet. (edit)
I donít have any doubt about it, this part. We engaged from a
distance. We fired light anti-tank weapons, into this area. We
fired M79s into this area, we fired automatic weapons into this
area, and we advanced on the area to finish the job.
The official battle report on Thanh Phong says Lieutenant
Kerreyís unit came under attack and returned fire up to
12-hundred rounds and used some heavy weapons, including M-79ís,
grenades, and LAWs, or armor-piercing rockets.
Now it may be that there were people still alive as we came up
close, but we didnít go into a village and round people up and
shoot them in cold blood.
That is exactly Gerhard Klannís story.
That is not what happened that night. And I love Gerhard Klann
dearly and I do not want anything in this story to hurt him, but
that is not what happened that night.
No doubt about that.
No doubt about it. (edit) I mean it, it is certainly possible that
some of Gerhardís memory, memory happened towards the end, I
donít, I donít want to go down that road.
You have no memory of the inhabitants of the main part of the
village being lined up.
And being shot at point blank range.
Repeatedly with automatic weapons?
And forgive this reference, but it was literally blood and guts
splattering all over everybody.
You have no memory of that?
I have seared into my memory the sight of the dead women and
children as we came up upon them. Thatís what I have seared into
my memory. And I to me itís as bad as if it had happened the way
Gerhard, you see dramatic differences and I donít I mean and I
just donít see dramatic differences. Because I feel no moral or
military justifications for their deaths.
What do you think of Gerhard Klann?
Oh, I sought him out for the platoon. I was the administrative
officer for the SEAL team and he had experience and I did not.
Was he a loyal, strong member of the team?
Are you surprised by his story?
Yes, I am surprised by his story. But Iím not, Iím not angered
Does he have a grudge against you as far as you know?
And if Bob Kerrey is full of admiration for Gerhard Klann and his
military experienceÖ Klann also seems to have high regard for
his former unit leader.
Do you like Bob Kerrey?
Yeah, absolutely, Iíve been good friends with him for ever since
My only point here, do you have any grudge against him?
No, none whatsoever.
There were five other SEALs with Bob Kerrey and Gerhard Klann that
night in Thanh Phong. Four of them will not talk about the
operation in any detail. The fifth man supports parts of both
Kerrey and Klannís stories. Michael Ambrose agrees with Klann
that Kerrey helped Klann kill the old man at the first hooch. But
he emphatically disagrees with Klann that the other villagers were
rounded up and shot. Ambrose does say, however, that they were
shot at close range - 20 to 50 feet, he says- much closer than
Narration (graphic, revealing chyron)
This past weekend, Senator Kerrey and those five other SEALs got
together to talk about Thanh Phong, apparently for the first time
in 32 years. They released a statement saying ďWe received fire
and we returned fire.Ē The memory ďthat we rounded up women
and children and shot them at point blank range.. is simply not
Is it possible that Gerhard Klannís version of what happened is
correct and that it was so horrible that in the nightmare of
memories that you have, that youíve sealed it off. Is that
Is it probable?
It is neither possible nor probable. (edit to 3:08:13) Itís not
impossible that some version of what Gerhard is talking about
happened. But itís not my memory. (edit)
But a military cable we uncovered supports a crucial part of
Gerhard Klannís story - that Lieutenant Kerryís unit visited
Thanh Phong two weeks before the attackÖ and found only women
and children there.
Did you make such a visit? Do you remember that visit?
None of us remembers that. It would have been a violation of SEAL
team procedures to go back in. It would put us at considerable
risk to go back, right to the same spot.
Then how do you explain the cable?
I do, I cannot explain the cable. I cannot explain the cable. I
mean, I donít know, youíve got a cable, I donít know.
Iíve been told that your orders, as a SEAL, and as a SEAL unit
leader, was to get the job done. Forget about taking prisoners. Is
Those were your orders.
Those were orders.
Get it done.
Yeah, get it done.
Donít worry about taking prisoners or donít take any prisoners.
Donít take prisoners.
If and let me italicize that word, if the operation in Thanh Phong
happened the way Gerhard Klann remembers it, if it happened that
way, would that have been permissible under the rules of
engagement, which you operate?
I canít go that far. No. I think it would not have been
permissible. But itís, itís you know and the problem is, the
truth of the matter is, it felt like it was permissible. (edit)
Within the rules of war as you understood them?
I would say yes, within the rules as I understood them.
Military and civilian lawyers who are war crimes specialists have
told us they disagree with that interpretation. They say that any
order to kill civilians or unarmed prisoners is illegal. But
Lieutenant Kerreyís actions apparently were not challenged in
1969, even though according to an army radio log we foundÖ a
resident of Thanh Phong did make a formal complaint about
atrocities committed the night of Kerreyís operation.
To your knowledge, has this operation in Thanh Phong ever been
As a war crime.
Or atrocity case?
Should it have been?
I would say no, under the circumstances of what we were doing, I
would say no. (edit) I mean I certainly wouldnít have been
afraid of an investigation at that time.
All but one of the victims were women and children. There was one
man described as an older man. That being the case, why
shouldnít it be considered a war crime? Or an atrocity? Or be an
I would not call it a war, but the people who were responsible for
us at that time, if they wanted to do an investigation, they
should have done an investigation. (edit) To describe it as a war
crime, I think is wrong. Or to describe it as an atrocity, I would
say, is pretty close to being right. Because thatís how it felt
and thatís why I feel guilt and shame for it.
Are you concerned at all about the consequences of this becoming
Well am I, certainly, Iím thatís a possibility. Iíve got to
be prepared to tolerate any consequences of this. (edit) I
understand that that are all kinds of potential consequences, up
to and including somebody saying, this is a war crime. And letís
investigate and charge him and put him in prison.
Are you sorry now that you agreed to talk about it?
No, not at all sorry.
Bob Kerrey says he's lived with the shame and guilt of Thanh Phong
since it happened.
But military leaders decided to give Kerrey an award for the
operation that night.
We'll hear what Kerrey says about that when we come back.
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Of A Massacre: Part III
- What Happened In Thanh Phong?
(CBS) Studio Open
For more than 30 years, Bob Kerrey says he has been tormented by
what happened at Thanh Phong.
Though he insists that what he and his men did was permissible
under the rules of engagement. But back in 1969, the mission was
gnawing away at him, so much so that he says he changed the way
his men operated in their NEXT mission.
Two weeks after Thanh Phong, Bob Kerrey had another mission, on an
island off the coast of Nha Trang. The target: a group of
hard-core Viet Cong soldiers. Lieutenant Kerreyís unit scaled
these 300-foot cliffs at night. And after what happened at Thanh
Phong, Kerrey says he wanted to take the enemy soldiers prisoner.
This time, he split up his unit, there was crossfire, Kerrey was
wounded, and he lost his leg. After he got out of the hospital, he
was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Nixon. Kerreyís men
got together inWashington on the 30th anniversary of his receiving
that Medal. They didnít talk much, if at all, about Thanh Phong,
and from what weíve been told, Kerrey never told them he had
received a separate award-a Bronze Star -- for the operation in
Thanh Phong, the operation he now calls an atrocity.
Bob Kerrey later received a Congressional Medal of Honor. But for
this operation, he received a Bronze Star.
I wasnít aware of that.
You didnít know that?
Well, itís been a long time ago. But what do you think of that?
No, there was nothing warranted on that whole night that anybody
should have received a decoration, let alone accepted it.
You said you feel shame and guilt. Did you feel it at the time?
And if so, why accept the Bronze Star for this operation?
Something completely different from the Congressional.
I didnít, I mean, I didnít send it back. But Iíve never worn
it. Iíve no idea where it is. Send me a bronze, I didnít wear
a Congressional medal of honor, for almost 20 years afterward. (edit)
Donít presume that because Iím wearing a medal, that Iím a
perfect hero. Introduce me as a hero if you want to, but
understand not only am I a hero one night and a coward the next,
but weíre trained to do horrible things.
The Bronze Star citation credits Kerrey and his men with killing
21 Viet Cong.
Did you think then, do you think now, if you give it back, the
Bronze Star. ((edit)
I donít, I didnít think nor do I think now that I had to give
it back, to feel like it was inappropriately awarded.
Do you think it was inappropriately awarded?
I think itís inappropriately awarded, yeah.
Bob Kerrey was obviously uncomfortable with this line of
questioning and off camera he told us he thought we were
cross-examining him. But we did think it was necessary to ask him
once again about Gerhard Klann.
Weíve been in touch with Gerhard Klann recently and he says you
were trying to convince him to change his story. Is that true?
That is not true. God bless Gerhard, that is not, if I was gonna
change Gerhardís story, I would have contacted him three years
Did he tell you that he thought you were trying to get him to
change his story?
I donít think so. He may have.
But Kerrey says he wants to get together with Klann so they can
reconcile their stories. They owe it to each other, he thinks.
We havenít been intimate for 31 years, but I mean on the night I
was injured on the little island off Nha Trang and Gerhard Klann
put the morphine in my thigh. Gerhard Klann held me in his arms
like a baby. While I smoked a cigarette and waited for the Medivac
helicopter to come and pick me up I canít presume anything bad
about him. I canít anything but to do little, big, small,
whatever to try to help him do what Iíve been trying to do,
which is to live with this horror.
Living with that horror, Kerrey firmly believes, has been so
difficult because Vietnam veterans have been treated differently
from vets of other wars, wars that werenít questioned, wars the
United States didnít lose.
Senator, if this had happened in World War Two, would we be
talking about it? Would anybody be writing about it?
Curtis Lemay said in his memoirs that if after having designed a
firebombing campaign in Japan that killed 100,000 civilians in
Tokyo, in a single night, he said, If we lost the war, that he
would have been tried and executed as a war criminal. And that may
be true. No, we would not be talking about it in the same way, had
this been in World War Two.
For three decades now, their Vietnam experience has haunted Bob
Kerrey and his men. Kerrey says he has lived and re-lived what
happened on that night in February in 1969.
Did you have nightmares?
Oh, yeah. I mean, I couldnít shut my eyes without seeing red for
quite a while after I got him. So yeah, I was afraid to go to
sleep. It was just violent horrible things happening to me and to
others I mean thatís what hell is. You know, when, when you
think about hell and you imagine what hell is, you imagine
horrible things happening. (edit) Well, hellís not an imaginary
thing. Itís a, itís a real place and you can experience it on
earth and I experienced it on that night.
Youíve been there?
I have been there.
Back-up Close PROTECTIVE ONLY
Today, Bob Kerrey announced that he plans to return the Bronze
Rather/Coda version Z Final
What you have seen and heard tonight is some of what the Vietnam
War was like, what it was REALLY like. Some of the war, but not
all. Most Americans who served in Vietnam never did or saw
anything remotely ressembling what Bob Kerrey and Gerard Klann
went through. (TURN)
Kerrey and Klann were young commandos, trained to do what the
enemy had been doing for years: terrorize key people, kill them if
necessary, in hopes of winning the war. They went into Thanh Phong
that night in 1969 to do what they were ordered to do. Whatever
the precise details -- which we may never know for certain -- it
turned into a nightmare. Think of it what you will, but know this:
it is what some of war is like, what it's really like... a
nightmare of unimaginable horror and savagery... the full depths
of which only those who live through it can know.
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