• U.S.

South Viet Nam: Bad Yankee Go Home

3 minute read

On Gia Long street in the seamy port of Qui Nhon, South Viet Nam’s third-biggest city, two troopers from the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade halted their three-quarter-ton truck. Whether they stopped to shift their load, as they said, or to grab a beer or a whore, is beside the point. Within minutes, one of a legion of larcenous Vietnamese urchins surrounding the truck had made off with a fire extinguisher.

For 15 minutes, the American G.I.s drove around looking for the thief. Then they came roaring back down Gia Long street. A 15-year-old student named Nguyen Van Minh was sitting on a fence outside the Tay Son High School, smoking and reading as he waited for his afternoon classes. From the back of the U.S. truck, a soldier raised his M-16 and sent a rifle shot into the boy’s forehead. Minh slumped forward, the back of his skull blown away. “His brain broke out,” said a stunned eyewitness.

Hate-Filled. It should have come as no surprise that the shooting of Nguyen Van Minh resulted in two cathartic days of rioting by the hurt, hate-filled Vietnamese. Hostility has long been festering in South Viet Nam, on both sides. The Armed Forces Radio exhorts G.I.s daily not to toss cans at Vietnamese motorists. U.S. officials have never denied the existence of a contingency plan in case the withdrawing Americans have to shoot their way to the beaches through hostile South Vietnamese.

After the shooting of Nguyen Van Minh, Vietnamese police and American M.P.s quickly halted the truck involved. Pfc. Matias Yzaguirre Jr., 22, a Mexican American from Brownsville, Texas, was sent to the Danang stockade, charged with negligent homicide. Shock among Minh’s schoolmates turned to outrage when U.S. officials insisted that the shooting had been accidental. “It was no accident,” said a witness. “He wanted to shoot the boy.”

Before long 1,500 students were demonstrating in the streets of Qui Nhon beneath a quickly scrawled sign in uncertain English: BAD YANKEE GO HOME. The signs in Vietnamese were more pointed: KILL THE AMERICANS.

The provincial chief, Colonel Nguyen Mong Hung, urged the students to remember that “without the Americans, you would have no school at all.” But he was hooted down, and the crowd overturned U.S. vehicles and wrecked bars and restaurants frequented by Americans. The demonstrations were finally dampened by drenching rains, a curfew and unsympathetic Vietnamese troops.

In Effigy. Among those at Minh’s Buddhist funeral was the senior U.S. civilian adviser, who paid funeral costs, provided vehicles to take the cortege back to Minh’s native village for burial, and paid the family compensation of 100,000 piasters ($250). Meanwhile in Saigon, 280 miles to the southwest, as many as 600 demonstrators showed their sympathy for the slain boy by donning white mourning headbands and burning President Nixon in effigy.

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