News Release

On Bob Kerrey and Vietnam


Former Sen. Bob Kerrey’s public statements during the last day — prompted by revelations about to be reported by the New York Times and “60 Minutes II” about a raid he led that killed unarmed civilians during the Vietnam War — have raised important issues. This afternoon, the following statement comes from Brian Willson, a former U.S. Air Force captain who served in Vietnam.

After participating in the Vietnam War as a member of the U.S. Air Force, Willson became a peace activist. In 1987, in a civil disobedience action with other activists at a military base, Willson lost his legs when a train carrying munitions bound for Central America accelerated instead of stopping. At the request of the Institute for Public Accuracy, he provided a statement today and will be available for interviews:

“My Air Force Combat Security unit was dispatched to Binh Thuy on March 7, 1969, to fortify a Vietnamese-controlled air base a few miles northwest of Can Tho City in Phong Dinh Province, about 100 miles southwest of Saigon. I was the first lieutenant in charge of this unit…. As a security officer I quickly had to acquaint myself with intelligence reports on ‘enemy’ activity, and locations and types of friendly resources. I had not been in Vietnam more than a month or so when it was becoming obvious to me that virtually everybody, other than a select few identified Vietnamese business, political, and military leaders, was at least secretly hostile to the U.S. presence and sympathetic with the Vietnamese struggle for independence from any outside political force. After Tet 1968, the U.S./CIA Phoenix program had become especially intense in eliminating political and military leadership in the Vietcong, and U.S. air and ground forces had become much more indiscriminate in killing Vietnamese and calling them all VC.

“Bob Kerrey and I, along with nearly 4 million other U.S. men and women, were thrust into a fundamentally immoral, lawless intervention against the authentic desires of the Vietnamese to build an independent, sovereign nation. My job was, in essence, to protect airplanes in between their missions bombing villages, the latter all having been identified as being in a ‘free fire zone,’ which made it easy to rationalize destroying everything. On occasion I witnessed through ground observations the aftermath of villages bombed with only bodies of young women, many children, and a few elderly strewn on the ground. I never saw any weapons in these virtually defenseless villages.

“Our lawless, violent intervention in Vietnam was, unfortunately, not an aberration. This is a tough conclusion, one that is extremely painful, to acknowledge about the nation of our upbringing and citizenship. But we veterans have a choice to take courageous responsibility for our actions, even if our government will not. Bob Kerrey and his men killed for this lie, and this terrible assault on the Vietnamese people. The only difference between Kerrey and myself is that I was never in a position to personally kill while in Vietnam. But I was part of a killing machine, even being complicit in the bombing campaigns, and I saw dozens and dozens of the bodies of women and children.

“It is time to acknowledge our responsibility and to take leadership in a national healing process. Our souls, and the soul of our country, are at stake. Furthermore, the future of peace in the world may rest on a profound reckoning on the part of people in the U.S. that our imperial policies have been wrong, and that we now want to truly make amends for our crimes. I urge Bob Kerrey to be truly courageous about revealing his role while in Vietnam, and ask other veterans to do the same. The future of the human condition, not just our souls, may actually be at stake.”
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Also available for interviews:

Romo is a national coordinator for Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; David Zupan, (541) 484-9167