Incident on Hill 192

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The incident on Hill 192 refers to the kidnap, gang rape, and murder of Phan Thi Mao, a young Vietnamese woman[1] on November 19, 1966[2] by an American squad during the Vietnam War.[1] Though news of the incident reached state-side shortly after the soldiers' trials,[3] the story gained widespread notoriety through Daniel Lang's 1969 article for The New Yorker[4] and a subsequent book.[5] In 1970 Michael Verhoeven made the film o.k., based on the incident. In 1989 Brian De Palma directed the film Casualties of War, which was based on Lang's Book.[1]

Incident[edit]

On November 17, 1966, Sergeant David E. Gervase (20) and Private First Class Steven Cabbot Thomas (21)—both members of C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 8th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division—talked to three other squad members (PFC’s Robert M. Storeby, 22; cousins Cipriano S. Garcia, 21, and Joseph C. Garcia, 20)[3] about plans to kidnap a “pretty girl” during their reconnaissance mission planned for the next day.[6] When interviewed by Lang in 1968, PFC Robert M. Storeby (under the alias of Sven Erikson) said “[Gervase] stated that we would get the woman for the purpose of boom-boom, or sexual intercourse, and at the end of five days we would kill her.” Storeby also recalled that Gervase claimed it would be “good for the morale of the squad.”[7]

At approximately 5:00 on the morning of November 18, the squad entered the tiny village of Cat Tuong, in the Phu My District, looking for a woman.[8] After finding Phan Thi Mao (21), they bound her wrists with rope, gagged her and took her on the mission. Later, after setting up camp in an abandoned hooch, four of the soldiers (excluding PFC Storeby) took turns raping Mao. The following day, in the midst of a firefight with the Viet Cong, Thomas and Gervase became worried that the woman would be seen with the squad. Thomas took Mao into a brushy area and although he stabbed her three times with his hunting knife, he failed to kill her. When she tried to flee, three of the soldiers chased after her. Thomas caught her and shot her in the head with his M16 rifle.[6]

Aftermath[edit]

PFC Storeby initially reported the crime. At first, the chain of command, including the company commander, took no action. Despite threats against his life by the soldiers who took part in the rape and murder, Storeby was determined to see the soldiers punished. His persistence in reporting the crime to higher authorities eventually resulted in general courts-martial against his four fellow squad mates.[6] It was during these proceedings that the victim was identified by her sister as Phan Thi Mao.[9]

PFC Thomas, PFC Cipriano Garcia, and PFC Joseph Garcia were each convicted of rape and murder in March and April 1967. Sgt. Gervase was found guilty on the count of murder but not of rape.[10] At the trial of Pfc. Thomas, who committed the actual stabbing and shooting, the prosecutor asked the jury to impose a death sentence.[6] The court, however, sentenced Thomas to life imprisonment. This sentence was first commuted to 20 years, then reduced to 8, which made him eligible for parole after half that time. Likewise, Gervase’s initial sentence of 10 years was reduced to 8 and he too was eligible for release within half that time.[11] In 1968, Joseph Garcia was acquitted on the appeal of his initial 15-year sentence and his dishonorable discharge was reversed after it was determined that his Fifth Amendment rights were violated, and his confession was ruled as inadmissible. Cipriano Garcia's sentence was shortened to 22 months. All soldiers (excluding PFC Storeby) were dishonorably discharged from the Army.[11][12]

In 1992, former PFC Steven Cabbot Thomas gained further notoriety when he was charged with being an accessory after the fact in the murder trial of George Loeb, who was charged with the May 17, 1991 shooting death of an African-American USS Saratoga sailor named Harold J. Mansfield. Both Thomas and Loeb were members of the white supremacist Church of the Creator. Thomas remained free on bond during the trial, and court records showed that in exchange for his testimony he would only serve one year's probation.[13]

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