In the first two weeks there was hardly any semblance of public order.
The authors of the South Vietnamese official history of Tet wrote: "Thievery
and looting were widespread. War victims stole from their fellow sufferers.
All deserted houses were emptied of valuables. Robbed victims sought
to steal from others." At least one Marine battalion commander, Lieutenant
Colonel Gravel, complained about the "ARVN looting behind us.'44
More serious, from an American perspective, were reports that U.S. Marines were also involved in the looting. The Associated Press was supposed to have a photograph of an American soldier or Marine carrying a large painting under his arm. A Swiss newspaperman reported to MACV that he saw "numerous breaches of discipline which would not be tolerated in the Swiss Army." He claimed that a Marine tried to sell him a Longines watch and that he saw other Marines help themselves to photographic equipment from a partially destroyed store. The newspaper man came across another group of Marines near the Royal Palace manning a strongpoint, and "drinking whiskey, cognac, and beer, and cooking chickens." Moreover, he observed several Marines "amusing themselves by shooting at dogs, cats and chickens." A CORDS official told Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker that Marines vandalized the offices of the manager and deputy manager of the Hue power plant, alleging they took as well "whiskey, piasters, and dollars."45
On 26 February, General Westmoreland ordered both Generals Abrams and Cushman to give their "personal attention" to this potentially explosive issue. In turn, General Cushman asked both the commanding generals of Task Force X-Ray, Brigadier General LaHue, and the 1st Marine Division, Major General Donn J. Robertson, to inform him of all measures taken by members of their commands to avoid such incidents: "Looting obviously cannot be tolerated, and we must insure that every step is taken to prevent it. Officers and NCOs must be held responsible for looting by their subordinates." For his part, General Abrams assigned the MACV (Forward) staff judge advocate to begin a formal investigation. At the same time, General Robertson sent an attorney from the 1st Division legal office, Captain Bernard A. Alien, to Hue to assist in the probe.46
On 2 March 1968, General Abrams reported to Westmoreland the results of the investigation. He first disposed of the question of the Associated Press photograph. According to the AP Bureau heads in Vietnam, they knew of no such picture. They did remember a photograph taken before Tet of a 1st Cavalry soldier carrying a religious painting of the Virgin Mary in a sector south of Da Nang. After interviewing all commanders, newsmen, and CORDS personnel, the investigators concluded that "probably some small articles were looted by the Marines . . . however, these reported incidents were in extreme contrast to extensive and systematic looting by ARVN troops and civilians." Captain Alien learned that ARVN troops employed trucks to carry away their booty. Colonel Khoa, the Thua Thien Province Chief, had received no formal complaints from South Vietnamese citizens against the Marines. General Abrams observed: "At this time, investigation has failed to produce sufficient evidence upon which to base prosecution for any instance of looting by U.S. personnel."47*
Abrams generally commended the Marine commanders. He observed that Colonel Hughes of the 1st Marines very early took "positive measures to deter looting." On 4 February, Hughes told all officers and NCOs that "looting and pillage would not be tolerated." He directed that battalion and company commanders carry out periodic "shakedowns" of personnel. Many valuables were turned into the regimental CP and returned to the rightful owner. Hughes did authorize the commandeering and "cannibalization of vehicles as it became necessary to transport casualties."** He also ordered the shooting of dogs, cats, and pigs because the animals were "eating bodies, both of U.S. and [Vietnamese] . . . which could not be immediately retrieved because of the tactical situation." Lieutenant Colonel Cheatham stated that in the University his men used blankets and broke windows "to avoid fragmentation from incoming rounds." General Abrams concluded "Marine commanders appear to have taken reasonable measures to prevent looting and needless destruction."48
Obviously in a fluid situation and close-quarter street fighting such as Hue, commanders did not have absolute control or know all of the activities of their men. One Marine lance corporal reported, "anything that was of any value we took ... to keep for souvenirs and stuff." He mentioned random destruction caused by Marines in the University of microscopes and other
* Brigadier General Paul G. Graham, the former 1st Marine Divisions
Operations Officer or G-3, commented that looting "was not a problem
as far as the Division was concerned . . . ." Graham Comments
** Peter Braestrup, the former Washington Post reporter commented
that he remembered reading a sign '"Hotel Company Kicks Ass' . . . on
a seized van, used to haul supplies." Peter Braestrup, Comments on draft,
n.d. [Dec94-Jan95] (Vietnam Comment File).