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SON THANG by Gary D. Solis


An American War Crime

by Gary D. Solis

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-55750-743-0
Publisher: Naval Institute Press

A detailed recounting and insightful analysis of one of the worst war crimes of the Vietnam War. On the night of February 19, 1970, a five-man patrol from Company B, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines entered the hamlet of Son Thang, about 20 miles south of Danang. The patrol was known as a ``killer team,'' sent to hunt down and kill the enemy in an area heavily infiltrated by Viet Cong guerillas. In the previous week nine men from B Company were killed in the vicinity; that morning one Marine had died after he set off a booby-trap. The patrol found no enemy soldiers in the hamlet. Not a shot was fired at them. Nevertheless, they roused 16 women and children from three of the hamlet's huts and shot them. The next day the incident was discovered and, to the Marine Corps's credit, an investigation was immediately begun. Four of the Marines were charged with premeditated murder (one, who claimed he did not participate, cooperated with the investigation). Four months later the general courts-martial began. Two of the men were convicted; two were acquitted. Solis is the ideal chronicler of the incident: A retired Marine lieutenant colonel, he commanded troops in Vietnam and holds three law degrees. In a blunt narrative style he provides in-depth looks at the crime, the events that led up to it, and the complex legal wranglings that followed. His solid account includes on-target appraisals of the actions of all the participants. He characterizes the trials as ``a failure'' because of significant ``deficiencies'' in the military justice system, the main one being that some of the Marine Corps prosecutors tapped for the trial were relatively inexperienced, and were consistently outmaneuvered by high-powered civilian defense lawyers. Nevertheless, Solis says, the Marines received ``fair trials.'' A first-class job of reporting on a little-known atrocity of the war. (23 b&w photos, not seen)