27 December 1999

Trained Linguists?

Al Loreth 

Master Sergeant, United States Marine Corps, (Retired)

The names have been omitted to protect the not-so innocent.

While attached to the 95th Army Evacuation Hospital, I was assigned as an interrogator of wounded POWs and Civil Defendants.   I determined that one of them I interrogated was nothing more than a farmer who was forced to grow manioc and raise farm animals for the bad guys.

I turned in my interrogation report; confident that I had drawn the correct conclusion.  To may dismay, I received a telephone call from my team commander, who informed me that my conclusion was inaccurate.  He further stated that the alleged Viet Cong had been armed with a pistol when captured.  My boss ordered that I re-interrogate the man.  

After my second interrogation, I drew the same conclusion as the first.  My boss was not pleased, and told me to interrogate him again, and if I were unable to draw the correct conclusion, he would send someone over to the hospital who could.

Again, my now completely miserable prisoner convinced me that he was an unarmed farmer.  I telephoned my boss and told him that I wanted to see the so-called pistol that was purportedly captured with the prisoner.  An hour later, I received a call back to inform me that a mistake had been made, and there was no pistol captured.

Shortly after, my two Vietnamese language trained seniors, were called to the ITT [Interrogation-Translation Team] headquarters.  When they returned, they informed me that I was wrong about the interrogation, because papers belatedly turned in that had been taken from my prisoner proved that he was in fact, a VC.  Further, his paper commendation (giay khen) as translated, indicated that he was a Warrant Officer who was being congratulated for killing 21 South Vietnamese soldiers and six Americans.

Naturally, I was extremely embarrassed about my incorrect conclusions; especially since my commendation translating bosses were taking too much delight in my error.

I began to read the commendation, smiled broadly as I read.  By the time I finished reading it, I was hysterical with laughter.  The so-called Warrant Officer was referred to as "Fighter", a common address to anyone who supported the VC.  He was further congratulated for successfully growing manioc.  The commendation went on to read that it was particularly noble of the recipient to have raised 21 chickens and six pigs to good health. 

I shouldn't have laughed; but, I couldn't help myself.  I paid for it later.