August 25, 2004
One Of Kerry's Band Of Brothers � Joe BangertBy Steve Gilbert
When John Kerry gave his victory speech the night of the New Hampshire primary, he said he was indebted to a specific group around him on stage.
"In the hardest moments of the past month, I depended on the same band of brothers I depended on more than 30 years ago," said Kerry, with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, beside him. "We're a little older now, a little grayer, but we still know how to fight for our country.
"And if I am president, I pledge that those who wore the uniform of the United States of America will have a voice and a champion in the Oval Office."
A few feet away, wearing the Marine Corps cap he has owned since serving in Vietnam, stood Brewster resident Joseph Bangert — one of the proverbial boys in the band.
Kerry and Joe Bangert embraced. Then Bangert stood between Teresa Heinz Kerry and her victorious husband basking in the victory. A victory his work as a Kerry veterans organizer had helped to achieve.
Bangert and Kerry had first met thirty four years before in 1970, in Detroit, during the Vietnam Veterans Against The War's 'Winter Soldier Investigation,' a project funded by Jane Fonda and the conspiracy theorist Mark Lane.
Inspired by the then recent news reports of the My Lai massacre, the WSI's organizers sought to prove that such war crimes were committed by US troops on an almost daily basis.
However, many of the participants were subsequently revealed to have been frauds. Many had not ever seen combat. Many had not ever been to Vietnam. Some had not even served in the military.
Joe Bangert was one of the WSI's star participants. His testimony along with many of the others at the event, was entered into the Congressional Record on April 6, 1971.
The following is an excerpt of Joe Bangert's testimony before the Winter Soldier Investigation as collected on the usenet group, alt.vietnam:
Joe Bangert, Sgt. (E—5) VMO—6, PMAG—39, 1st Marine Air Wing, 1st Marine Division (October 1968 to October 1969)
BANGERT. My name is Joe Bangert. I'm a Philadelphia resident. I enlisted in the Marine Corps for four years in 1967. I went to Vietnam in 1968. My unit in Vietnam was Marine Observation Squadron Six with the First Marine Air Wing and my testimony will cover the slaughter of civilians, the skinning of a Vietnamese woman, the type of observing our squadron did in Vietnam and the crucifixion of Vietnamese either suspects or civilians in Vietnam.
MODERATOR. Mr. Bangert, there's an incident here where you found crucified bodies hanging on barbed wire fences and in the same incident you witnessed South Vietnamese civilians shot without provocation on Highway 1. Could you go into this and kind of see how they are related?
BANGERT. I can cover a couple of these at the same time. The first day I got to Vietnam I landed in Da Nang Air Base. From Da Nang Air Base I took a plane to Dong Ha. I got off the plane and hitchhiked on Highway 1 to my unit. I was picked up by a truckload of grunt Marines with two company grade officers, 1st Lts.; we were about 5 miles down the road, where there were some Vietnamese children at the gateway of the village and they gave the old finger gesture at us. It was understandable that they picked this up from the GIs there. They stopped the trucks——they didn't stop the truck, they slowed down a little bit, and it was just like response, the guys got up, including the lieutenants, and just blew all the kids away. There were about five or six kids blown away and then the truck just continued down the hill. That was my first day in Vietnam. As far as the crucified bodies, they weren't actually crucified with nails, but they would find VCs or something (I never got the story on them) but, anyway, they were human beings, obviously dead, and they would take them and string them out on fences, on barbed wire fences, stripped, and sometimes they would take flesh wounds, take a knife and cut the body all over the place to make it bleed, and look gory as a reminder to the people in the village.
Also in Quang Tri City I had a friend who was working with USAID and he was also with CIA. We used to get drunk together and he used to tell me about his different trips into Laos on Air America Airlines and things. One time he asked me would I like to accompany him to watch. He was an adviser with an ARVN group and Kit Carson's. He asked me if I would like to accompany him into a village that I was familiar with to see how they act. So I went with him and when we got there the ARVNs had control of the situation. They didn't find any enemy but they found a woman with bandages. So she was questioned by six ARVNs and the way they questioned her, since she had bandages, they shot her. She was hit about twenty times. After she was questioned, and, of course, dead, this guy came over, who was a former major, been in the service for twenty years, and he got hungry again and came back over working with USAID, Aid International Development. He went over there, ripped her clothes off and took a knife and cut, from her vagina almost all the way up, just about up to her breasts and pulled her organs out, completely out of her cavity, and threw them out. Then, he stopped and knelt over and commenced to peel every bit of skin off her body and left her there as a sign for something or other and that was those instances.
Bangert went on to give accounts of fraggings and other similarly outlandish episodes he claimed to have witnessed first hand.
It is clear Kerry had Bangert's and others' similar claims in mind when he made his now notorious accusations against US troops in his sworn testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee six months later.
They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, tape wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the country side of South Vietnam...
An excerpt of Bangert's testimony was even included in Kerry's long suppressed book, The New Soldier, along with many other quotes from the WSI witnesses. Though strangely, there was little mention in the book of the atrocities that were the theme and purpose of the investigation.
In 1971 Bangert, like Kerry, traveled to Paris to meet with the North Vietnamese and Vietcong delegations. A highlight of which, Bangert says, was when he got to sing the Ballad Of Ho Chi Minh for the assembled guests.
We had a great banquet with the diplomatic delegations of both the DRVN and the PRGSVN and later some music began....
I had boldly decided to wear a close fitting shirt which had emblazened on the front of it the flag of the National Liberation Front of south Viet Nam. It was then that I belted out both "We Will Liberate the South" (Giai Phong Mien Nam) the national anthem of the NLF in Vietnamese —— for I am a linguist —— and ended that portion of the show with the Ballad of Uncle Ho. It was a show stopper to say these least.
Here are a few lyrics from The Ballad Of Ho Chin Minh:
Now Ho Chi Minh went to the mountains
And he trained a determined band
Heroes all, sworn to liberate the Indo—Chinese people
Drive invaders from the land.
Bangert brags that he has sung the song more than a thousand times in public. Indeed, he performed the song a little more than a year ago in concert at Joe's Pub in New York City.
Nevertheless, Joe Bangert, has worked closely with John Kerry on many if not all of his political campaigns, getting out the veteran vote. He worked on Kerry's first Senate bid in 1984 and up to the recent primaries as a veterans organizer.
Some questions arise about John Kerry's judgment in this matter. How could he include such a person in his 'band of brothers'? How could he employ such a man as a trusted advisor and veterans organizer for so many years?
And what would Vietnam Vets think about Joe Bangert? Do they know who Kerry has trying to get out their vote?
Steve Gilbert is a writer in New York