George Dergalis is an amazing man with an equally amazing life story.
Mr. Dergalis was born and raised in Greece in the mid 20th century. He
was just 16 when in 1940, he lied about his age and joined the fight in
Greece during World War II. His squadron fought hard and when the Germans
invaded in 1941, Mr. Dergalis’s group had been split off from communications
with the army and continued fighting for three months after Greece’s
surrender. He was put into a P.O.W. camp but escaped to America. He went
into battle later in the Korean and Vietnamese wars.
Mr. Dergalis is an artist and during Vietnam, functioned as a sketch artist
and photographer to capture the complexities, horrors, and tragedies of
the war. He made it through the war without having to fight but came away
with a set of memories and experiences with which few of us will ever
be able to compare.
Editor: We’ll be interviewing George Dergalis, so lets begin
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about where you were born and
where you grew up?
George: I was born in Greece, raised there. And then suddenly, the Second
World War came in, and first my father was drafted, then my brother,
and then I got into it by basically lying about my age.
Q: How old were you at the time?
Mr. Dergalis: I was 16, and I ended up in an Albanian front, which was
where the Greeks fought the Italians because the war was declared by
the Italians against Greece. The Germans did not participate yet, but
they were losing with us. Even though we were poorly armed, we had no
airplanes, no tanks, from the 1800-1900 weapons; and mostly it was will
power and the terrain. The terrain was very rough, rocky. We had donkeys
and mules for transportation. There were no radios and such, at least
we didn’t have any. The English had, but we didn’t. We didn’t
have any other help from any nations; and so our main thing was, sneak
on the base of the Italians, and steal their food, and steal their weapons.
One way we took the tanks was to makes holes. And run where they were
gonna be, the battle. Get in there and sit there and put a blanket on
the wheels. They get caught in the blanket and they get stuck. They
can’t go any further. And we get out, jump on the back, knock
on the thing. The guy opens up, you throw a grenade and that’s
Q: Did you participate in many of these?
Mr. Dergalis: Ya I did it, just like everybody else, we were trained
to do this. The other thing, the Italians, they had a ritual. After
6 o’clock, there were no battles. There was singing, and you can
smell the good pasta. But we didn’t have. So we sneaked there
while they were drinking wine and celebrating and try to get some goodies.
Q: Did you ever get caught?
Mr. Dergalis: No we didn’t. Part of it was, the Italians really
didn’t want to have a fight. They were more for singing; they
loved singing. They were sloppily dressed in many ways. They were not
willing; they were hanging around the little cities trying to get a
girl, so we were really progressing. We got pretty close to half of
Albania, and that’s quite a bit for a small nation of 6.5 million
against a nation of 35 million. And basically, they were well armed;
they had airplanes, and the mountains. At a certain point the Germans
seemed like they were fed up because they were asking them to get to
the Mediterranean so they could get in, being their allies, and they
were losing it so they came for help; and during that help, they parachuted
down and got it. Surprise! It was very easy because they were well armed
and they had the surprise factor. So, we ended up in a prison camp.
Part of it strangely enough is that when the Germans attacked the rest
of Italy they were actually a capitalization of the Greek army. They
gave up and they released everyone to go home except us. Our group,
which was pretty close to maybe 1,000 or 2,000 people at that time;
and the reason primarily was because we didn’t know when these
agreements had occurred, and we were still fighting, so they considered
us as partisans, and that was deadly for us. So, we ended up in a prison
camp, labor camp, etc. Anyhow, during 6 months before the war, I escaped
and I said what? So my big question was, the reason I went to Vietnam
was I was asked to volunteer. Ok, I was a civilian, I was teaching painting
and my curiosity was why I constantly end up in war when really I did
not want to be. The other thing was the curiosity; why are we fighting
there? Why all these protests are going on for the country? That was
another curiosity, which I think everybody has. America when they fought
the 2nd World War, they did it Gung Ho. Went there and got it. Every
one of them volunteered to go. And here their was a big battle, and
protests against the war, so that curiosity made me want to go. And
I was asked as an artist to go. The reason why they used artists was
it started somewhere in the 1800's, the Civil War. They didn’t
have reporters as organized, so they have artists who drew drawings
of the combat. And in that age it was much easier because the way they
fought the war was just stupid! They lined up and they walked into each
other to see how many they got down. When you sit down and think about
it, it’s so ridiculous; it’s so stupid. No one thought differently
and they did it by the hundreds; they were just falling down getting
killed. It didn’t make any sense. So, it was easy for an artist
to sit in the corner and just draw and then, go after the battle and
draw the dead ones. I mean, in the modern war it’s a different
story. Because the combat is a really very broadened area, shells don’t
land where you tell them to land, and everybody hides different places
and etc. So you really have to find a way how you gonna do that. And
the big question at first when you arrive there, its so different the
country all together to begin with. So my curiosity first off when I
arrived they told us to dress in a suit and it was 100 degrees there.
But anyhow, the suit was new, and it looked out of place anywhere. And
the second, I felt like a giant; and I’m short basically, I’m
not that short, but I’m not a shorty-short. I feel like a giant.
Little people. They were so little and small. It was amazing how I understood
for the first time in my life how a tall person feels walking around.
I really didn’t know. You always feel like it would be very comfortable.
As a matter of a fact I always wanted to be tall, I think we all do.
Because you think it’s an advantage, actually it isn’t,
especially in war. You hide faster, you get lost faster, you can run
faster, you’re less visible, so you really are an advantage when
you are short. Anyhow, that was the first thing. The second is you felt
from the moment you landed there that someone was always watching you,
and they were basically. You don’t realize until you stay long
enough there, you find out that; first of all I had a beard. Ok, now
American soldiers, they were really crew cut, clean-shaven and in uniform.
I was a civilian so they were immediately puzzled; and the second is
that they didn’t realize that women were manipulators using the
G.I.’s and everybody to find information. SO they’re so
sweet, very attractive, very sexy; and they immediately invite you for
what the call Saigon-tea, which each one of you can interpret it as
you want to. So these were the constants but all along was a way to
find from you why you are there, what you are going to be doing, where
you going, how long you’re gonna be. Its subtle, but its constant
and that’s how they collected information which would put bombs
(boobie traps), to know where trucks or some transport are gonna move;
and no one has experienced that before in the world, because when you
occupied an area usually everyone is happy; happy to greet you in Second
World War, or even Philippines or any place now is different; and everybody
is so friendly but at the same time they observe you. A lot of GI’s
that go out in town to the bars that don’t know. They just go
there for the girls and the drinks, and their tons of them. And they’re
all willing; that’s the other thing. And there’s so many
willing you say, how come? So anyhow, that was another aspect. The other
aspect is the kind of war you expect it to be, it isn’t. It is
here and there and there and there and there, but it isn’t a frontline.
So that’s a big difference from second world war where you knew
that was the front line, and you tried to break in or if they occupied
a hill you know for strategy you had to take over and go somewhere.
It is different; here you have a base in one area, and then an area
basically that is neutral that is their territory; the communist’s
territory. So, you fly over from area to area and the roads that were
available were built by Americans; they were continuously booby trapped
with bombs and mines, so you’re best bet was to fly over, and
that’s what we did. We had these bases where we flew from place
to place and a lot of little towns were avoided, and that’s where
these guys which were the peasants which were well trained came out
and began to pick up the fight; kill a few and disappear. In a way very
similar to what’s happening in Iraq right now but in a very different
way, little more modern, but very very similar in that respect. So that’s
one of the reasons why I went and the second is the kind of drawings
that I chose to do. Once you're in a war, you realized that beyond the
soldier there are victims, the innocent people. Because there are those
who don’t wanna be part of any communist democracy, republican,
socialist, they don’t care they don’t even know any of that.
They wanna make a living, they wanna have their kids, they have a few
goodies that they make in there lives and that’s about it, there’s
nothing else. So if you wanna look at the victims in a way and say who
are the suffering? Kids many times walk by in the streets and here’s
a GI, they throw a bomb for the GI but kill another dozen people at
the same time. You kinda feel sympathy for every one of them and say,
"what a pity people cant live in peace," and in a way they
are manipulating by some forces beyond their control. Because you don’t
know really somehow how you get into it because once the government
is threatened you wanna help it out you wanna go there and do something
about it. So a lot of my drawing I did were really based on, for example
this is a Vietnamese Nurse, look at the eyes, and can you trust that
to be a nurse? And we hired these people to take care of our people.
So you have to look at the character of these people. Do we know them,
you see part of it is we are familiar to our own kind of people because
that’s where we are brought in, but we don’t know oriental
people so well. They have a mask and they disguise it so beautifully.
You really don’t know what’s going on in there except in
Q: What are these two pictures.
Mr. Dergalis: Ok, these were after a battle. These were what they consumed.
Bullets, weapons, barbed wire that basically, these were sacks of sand.
Every bridge were like that. They barbed wire everywhere in front of
a hut, because, not only they fear the communist but they fear anyone
breaking in. So, basically you find that everywhere, but also are little
bridges. Not a big bridge, not even 10 feet, 20 feet long. Water buffalo
to drive carts, lots of traffic, so you need to guard these areas which
was a bridge once upon a time. They place some planks or metal to repair,
then it gets blown up; stops all the traffic. And then of course when
they stop traffic, they come up and attack. And, they make tunnels;
I’ll show you some pictures. And the tunnels are right underneath
you, and the cover them up with leaves, and they go for miles; they
have hospitals and such. They are little people you gotta remember.
You could enter, yet there are miles. You have to be a little thinner.
You could not stand up. For us to stand in that position, you couldn’t
do it for more than an hour, that would kill you already. You couldn’t
stand up after that. So, they had to stand up and crawl in; and they
did. So these were basically after the battle, these are the canned
goods, the berries, everything they had. We had some little small units
in front of villages that we wanted protected. They had a little radio,
they had a hole, had a cover from the rain, they had a little opening
so they could watch. They had a little refrigeration. That is barbed
wire all over the place, and tin cans hanging, so if everybody tries
to cut in they will hear the sound of the tin. And then they will get
alerted and the spotlights that they had. And these would have maybe
6 or 8 men; the rest of the troops miles away. So these guys are pretty
nervous up there They drink or eventually they start drugs; that made
it tough, but they sneaked them there all the time so they really had
to defend themselves. And of course they radio on for help and the helicopter
can get there faster. But at night many times even the guys in helicopters
could not find the direction. As a matter of fact, I’ll tell you
a little story where I ended up where they took me to the wrong pace
where they took me to a place that was occupied by the communist already.
Dropped us there and took off, so we had to look for survival. They
do these things because the pilots are tired and overworked; they are
young man like your age; they are not even officers yet; they’re
just in the service they learn how to fix the things, they sweep most
of the equipment out of it so its really raw material and the fly the
damn thing. They know how to prepare, and they take off. Anyway, this
one was a downed helicopter. Another thing when I arrived, I was stunned
by the fact that when I arrived their was half a dozen airplanes that
were broken up and burned. Part of it probably normal crashes. But that’s
the impression you get you say “Uh- oh!” Now this is a little
hut that they live in; its all grass and bamboo, and sticks; thats it.
Usually they have a little piece of pond because of the rains, and they
raise little fish in there, but also they have little stilts that is
the bathroom. They walk on a little bridge, sit there and drop it; and
kids take a bath in that water; and another thing, the boys have earring
because they are rare. They’re born more girls in there than boys,
soo in order to keep the evil away, they put earrings and dress them
up like girls. Keep the hair long so the evil will not know. So really
again, why there are more girls born. I don’t know really, but
parents want to get rid of them. There are too many. They try to marry
them, they get them to these bars, and of course they manipulate them
and use them. Then, what we have is another drawing and it shows the
girls and a little bit of everything. And now there are GI basically,
you gotta remember also that they were the South Vietnamese army that
were our allies. And they had these ship called Hope, and I’m
going their cause I twisted my leg and had continuous pain in my knee
and they could do basically nothing except gave me some pain pills for
it and after two or three days it went away; but I went there and while
I was there waiting for the x-rays I went around and tons of wounded
soldiers both Vietnamese and ours on that ship called Hope. The red
cross was on it, and it was parked there and they were continuously
moving people in and out, in and out, and once they were very ill they
flew them off to a different ship on the coast.
Q: Were you with a continuous unit the whole time?
Mr. Dergalis: No as a matter of fact here is a little map. It will give
a better idea on what was there.
Q: Where was this from? Is this given to you by the army?
Mr. Dergalis: Yeah, by our government, yeah. They had cannons set up
and every five minutes they were shooting on and on all night, day and
night in many locations so that they would not come there. In the meantime
of course, periodically we missed a few civilians and there are the
stories you hear that I said. Because when the unit attacks that day,
we were going to pay $75 for a cow they killed and $50 for the man,
so the cow had a bigger price than the man. So we went there and that’s
when I had a drawing and a Vietcong came up and grabbed a pipe out of
my mouth. I said to myself that’s it cause he had a grenade in
his hand. I thought uh oh. I continued to draw and he asked me to draw
him, so I drew him, gave him the drawing, and then he left; so I was
lucky, and my group that I was with told me not to go there, but I did
not listen. There were many many things I feared.
Q: Did you take all these photos?
Mr. Dergalis: Ahh...some are taken; some were given to me by information
officers. I could go anywhere I wanted, but I was attached to an information
officer. Every unit has an information officer. And they usually dispatch
a group to escort me to protect me; usually a captain or lieutenant
with two or three soldiers and a radio on and some grenades to call
the helicopters, and that was about the way I moved. And my decision
would be when I felt tired there or there was nothing to do sometimes
except you see soldiers sitting in barracks, drinking and sleeping.
Here are some booby traps.
Q: Where would they put that?
Mr. Dergalis: They’d put it in the ground and make a hole. Just
enough for your foot to go in, and of course its two feet deep so you
couldn’t come up, and sometimes they would use bamboo sticks on
the big holes; more like a hole for the whole body. They put the bamboo
Q: Did you ever see anybody fall in one of those?
Mr. Dergalis: I’ve seen people fall in. They are big, very big.
Some of these were given to me. This is another booby trap with the
wires, so when you sneak in it is tighter, and then you try to pull
out and when you release it goes right into you. Very sharp. Now this
is how they treated some of their prisoners.
Q: Did you carry a firearm while you were over?
Mr. Dergalis: Yes. According to the area I went in the officer in charge
their gave it to me; either a rifle or a pistol.
Q: Did you ever have to use it?
Mr. Dergalis: Not really. They had canals like that; so many, they were
constant traffic, and what they did because they started expecting them,
they put underneath the boat, a rope or a net, all the arms. And so
they could go on, they had a little motor; a little stick with a motor;
the same one that we have here. That’s the kind of traffic that
was constantly going through the rivers and the canals, and you cannot
check them all. It’s impossible.
Q: How wide were the rivers usually?
Mr. Dergalis: Some times they are only 10 feet wide; they are very narrow,
more like in Florida. Part of it because they depend on the transport
and all the vegetation. It is easier than during the rains they get.
Some of these here were Vietcong originally, and then after they were
given, they came back to us basically asking for freedom.
Q: Did you encounter any Vietnamese civilians?
Mr. Dergalis: Civilians? Oh yeah.
Q: What were they like?
Mr. Dergalis: Very nice. I met an architect there. I met a guy that
studied at Harvard. He was a city planner so he had no job. He visited
me and showed me areas I was interested to see. They were just like
anyone else. They have restaurants and businesses, but a lot of it were
prospering because the GI’s were coming into the city with money
and it was very cheap; most of it was drinking and girls. You know,
to do whatever you do with girls was 2 or 3 dollars, and every GI had
more than 2 or 3 dollars; and drinking was very cheap, so there was
plenty of that. And of course that corrupts also, very easily.
Q: You mentioned while they were on the tour there was a lot
of drinking and drug use, was that ever a problem?
Mr. Dergalis: I think it became a problem with a lot of people because
primarily there was confusion with a lot of people. It is hard to win
a war when people at home are against you. I had two or three interviews
with generals or other higher-ranking people and they said that we should
pour concrete over the whole damn place because the mud. I think mostly
for that. But then you had others who said that "we shouldn’t
be here. We shouldn’t be fighting, we should leave, we shouldn’t
invest money in it." So, you had a different opinion, but these
were people in the service, so you felt it wasn’t convincing why
we were there, and I felt that we were very restricted not to go full
force and go over the parallel instead of staying in the south on the
defensive, and go more on the offensive; especially the Marines. The
general of the marines wanted a war but they wouldn’t let him;
they didn’t want it because they felt the Russians and Chinese
would get involved and it would be a problem like we had in Korea, but
that uncertainty that everybody felt at home and the press was basically
reporting more the disasters than the good stuff like they do know.
There were a lot of good things happening there, they were building
villages, they were more protective, the south had a good amount of
armed forces that were very dedicated, trained by us. But we had a problem
and that was that we didn’t believe in it. And the other thing
sometimes the co-ordination. I felt personally that we were not prepared
to fight that kind of war. We were not knowledgeable that we didn’t
need the heavy tanks, troop carriers, bombing, any of that; that we
really needed to have a different system. We should have had small groups
of people that spoke the lingo of the local people because it’s
very hard to come to a village and try to explain with your hands what
you’re doing there and what you want. And, the few translators
you had were mostly the Vietnamese who were unable to give us all the
information we would have if we had our own people to train; and to
go there with small groups and disperse ourselves just like the Vietcong
did and get them on their own territory instead of waiting till the
came up to move around and get them just like in Iraq now. I feel it
is the same way; instead of moving with our unit and getting picked
like flies. It’s as obvious as it could be (the military trucks).
They color them, they star them in the same way as the uniform to have
them basically go on patrol dressed like an Arab, they come now dressed
like women. If we went there like Arabs at night with guns and went
on patrol in their locations that way you get to know where they are
where the come out from and get them on their territory you get more
of them much more quickly. When you wait till they come out they come
out in areas where you don’t expect them; it’s a different
kind of war. Partisans had it good because nobody knew where they were
gonna go, and the would sneak. Wait. Wait for patrols they knew they
had girls working in offices or other people who were getting information
for them. They just wait for them. One or two guys will do it. We should
only hire our own people and not the locals no matter how much they
told us they were for your government.
Q: So while you were there and taking all this in and talking
to the GI’s and generals, what was your opinion on whether the
war was a good idea or not?
Mr. Dergalis: Well I believe basically altogether war is wrong, and
I’ll tell you why. Because truly if you sit down and think, in
the end nobody gains. Now look at Europe. Greece, did not change, Italy,
did not change, Germany, didn’t change, France is the same, Spain
is the same. Nothing changed. They rebuild all the cities spend millions
of it, billions actually, kill several million people, so I think it’s
good to diminish the population so that may be the reason why they fight
wars. But what’s the gain? In the olden days when you look at
the crusades, there were gains. You know they wanted to take a castle,
or a farm, they wanted to gain a city. What’s the gain today?
Nothing except the influence. Is it worth it to lose X amount of dollars?
I don’t fight anybody, I wanna work together and build something.
I want the same ting everybody wants. Healthy family, somebody to work
with. Not really dirt rich, I don’t want it, some do. You wanna
be rich, work your tail off, don’t steal, you deserve it. But
you know you look at it from that point of view, why not get all the
people to work and peace. It’s a matter of as soon as your put
tow people together of any kind, you’ll have a war, and if you
put them one against the other with the arms, one’s gonna say,
well maybe he’s gonna shoot me first, so I better shoot him now.
Before you know it their doing it. Its one of the damn terrible parts
of human life. For centuries and centuries we keep repeating the same
stuff. You cannot at the same time have peace with one country either.
Cause if you do, the others gonna get you. So here is where the problem
is, can you sell the idea for everybody everywhere that you don’t
want the war and they don’t. Then you have the fanatics, and the
religious maniacs. That’s why I think religion should be kept
private. Whatever they wanna believe they have a right to believe. If
they are stupid enough to believe stupid things that’s okay as
long as you don’t sell it to me or any body else. It’s a
private world, sexually, however they wanna do it, wherever they wanna
do it. It’s their problem, who wants to know? Leave them be as
long as they don’t cause a problem. If they cause a problem, then
get 'em, but that’s where I feel personally that after seeing
the horrors of it, the pain of it, and also the losses of my family
for three generations. Everything my relatives built, they lost because
of war. But for what in the end? I didn’t want a part of it, I
just came here and I ended up being drafted. I went because I felt this
country deserves to be free and not happen what happened to the rest
of the world because of Europe. Every other 20 years there is a war.
That’s why I am for the fact that they are unifying now; maybe
that will stop them from killing each other. Then there is the threat
Q: Did you believe in the communist danger?
Mr. Dergalis: Ya you know, that I probably believe in more than you
people because my father originated in Russia. He was an army officer
in the Russia white Czar army. That’s how he ended up in Greece.
He lost everything and went to Greece because they lost the war. He’s
stuck in his head to hate communism so much so that every time I see
a red star I don’t want to look at it because I don’t want
to feel anger. Same with the hammer and cycle, when I see that OHH.
It creates horrors in my thought because of all that I’ve read
and because of what my father tells me. What he experienced in his family
twenty something brothers and 16 were executed. After that you kinda
say to yourself, I don’t think these are good people. When you
lose that much...I don’t know. I think many people own something
and they are not willing to lose it as much as people who have nothing.
They always say, nothing to lose, so maybe by giving them capitalism,
it will make a difference. But they have to be careful themselves who
the people are that they elect because certain countries are prone to
dictators, and it’s very easy to produce them. It’s very
Q: Do you think the U.S. made a difference in Vietnam?
Mr. Dergalis: I think it made a difference in the sense now that we
went back there promoting more democracy without saying it, without
trying to sell it by being commercialize by giving them goodies. Then,
we were there that’s what they wanted really, but then the North
wanted to get the peace together because that’s another mistake
that the United Nations did. They splitting countries. When you split
them, sooner or later you want to unify.
Q: Did you see the Vietnamese Vietcong and the Vietnamese rebels
as communists or as rebels that were trying to kick out an occupying
Mr. Dergalis: I think we’re very hard to know for two reasons,
primarily because their symbol is red again, which is blood in many
ways. That’s what their flag was. They didn’t use the national
flag till now, so it’s really very hard to know, but the initial
idea of the Mao who was the Chinese leader at that time and the Vietnamese
leader, it was very similar. They were dominators in that respect; in
their ideology. And I think that is where the problem is; when you try
to force by force someone to think and believe something, you really
are not allowing to let a person act by choice; that’s a problem.
So, I think from that point of view it is forced on people, and it was
more like that and I think it is very young people your age, it is very
simple and easy to make people go to fight when you have very little
at home. You give them a weapon, you give them food and shelter, you
give them a girl and drinks every so often, and you say to them lets
unify our country, our country should be prosperous, our country should
be proud. All these wonderful words we use to get the sympathy. No one
says, "Hey you guys I want you to go kill yourself." Have
you heard a general say that? You want glory, you be a hero. See, if
you do that it’s very easy to convince people; and then you say
look if you really distinguish yourself and kill so many Americans,
you get a medal, and of course, among themselves they respect the guy
with a medal. It’s a symbol. It’s worth maybe $5 to buy
a medal, but, the fact that it is given to you it means something because
they appreciate what you did; and among your own colleagues they value
you as a spectral because you distinguish yourself, and that makes you
want do that. It’s similar to a dog: You give him a cookie, tell
him to do certain things he’ll do it and expect a cookie. If you
don’t he wont do it next time, but if he does get one, he’ll
keep doing it; and then ask for a harder task. And he will do it sooner
or later. We learn that way all of is in a way. Society is that way.
If you look, sales; there’s a sale; look if you buy that, I’ll
give you %10 discount. And you go and you buy it and he says look, if
you buy that one too, I’ll give you %15. So you go broke saving
money. It’s a system. I’ll tell you for example anytime
people say look if you buy one more items of these I’ll give you
free shipping, but it requires another $50. Now your shipping was only
$6 or $9, but now you say "ohh free shipping." You hate shipping,
because you never get anything except the arrival of a package, and
you say I hate the damn packaging payment, so you pay $50. Make sense?
But we all do it. The cars, they can’t sell the car so they say,
I’ll give you $1,000! They pay you. In the meantime the guy put
it up $5,000 before hand, the price. But he’s giving you $1,000
and you say "ohh he’s giving me something." That’s
the same way the communists do it, we do it, the Europeans do it. Everyone
does that to young people who they basically get them to fight a war.
Now before that was your drafted because the wars were just. They were
defense of your survival. Hitler was destroying people. He was going
to take what he wanted to have, and the rest were going to be cooked,
gassed, murdered, executed, you name it, every tool. The Russians were
doing it too in Siberia, except they got labor out of them before they
totally went. So, you have a choice. You fight those because it’s
the survival of the species and you know that the future of those people
isn’t gonna be any. None! Not for you kids, my kids, or anybodies
kids. They gotta fight. But the other situation we don’t need
it, to fight. But, there are things strategically that you need to think
ahead. China’s big! China’s huge; 2 Billion people, where
we are we hardly have 300 million, so we need to build our allies, and
our allies can’t help because they are doing good economically.
They don’t want to help, so what do you do? You try to inch yourself
in strategic areas where in case you have to, you’ll survive.
Otherwise, they’ll take over. This is another situation that you
cannot choose yourself, somebody else may have to choose for us.
Q: Do you remember the My-Lai massacre?
Mr. Dergalis: Yeah
Q: How did you react to hearing about that?
Mr. Dergalis: Ok, I think the only way to explain to you even though
it is to punish those people who do that., but in a situation you have
to experience it with someone in the trenches who you are depending.
Lets presume you are six or ten guys fighting in one area. As a group,
you came from basic training, you are shipped to the same area, you
look up to everyone in the frontline and you depend on each other. You
see an attack and one of you has to be awake. You gotta be on guard.
That means the rest of you can sleep. You share meals, you do everything
together. You know each other almost more than you do your own wives
or your own families because you’re under stress; you have fear
day and night; and it goes for a long time. So suddenly, they attack
a group of them that comes from a specific area and kill the group.
And you left one or two of you alone. Your reaction initially is fear,
but then anger. There is one or two of you that just went nuts, and
they felt that village was instrumental in giving the nation or hiding
the Vietcong, and then they went berserk. So from that point of view
you say it’s almost self defense, but at the same time you say
how do you punish just that? And you take a bomber; he’s up there,
he’s flying, really think of it carefully; and you have a factory
attack place. You aim at it, and you don’t know that thing the
wind, the directional, the speed of the plane, everything varies how
that bomb is gonna go and it hits an area with a lot of civilians. Are
you guilty? And they do kill a hell of a lot of civilians with bombs.
How do you judge? Can you judge? So in a war, a lot of things are excused.
Things are forgotten. I think the people who do that and live with it
are not going to be able to live with it. Either they do themselves
in, or they cause enough trouble to get themselves in jail because again,
humans do not analyze circumstances by which people collaborate either.
As seeing people who collaborated to survive. They had to get a job.
Civilians who get employed be people like us who occupy. We occupy the
area and we get people who work for us jobs. Now all of the prostitutes
of the world are girls who instead of going to work they couldn’t
go to work either knowledge or the lingo or whatever. They spread their
legs; that was the way to get chocolate and stockings from the GI’s;
bring home food, canned goods. Later on, they cut their hair and the
killed us. You have to find out how can you question the guilt of things
during the war. The other day, I was seeing on the news there was a
one of our soldiers saw someone moving in a mosque and he shot him.
They put him in jail. Is that fair? I don’t think it is. Because
the guy didn’t have a gun, but what would happen if he did? Its
war. How do you react can you put soldiers where they can walk and see
something but not react. This is a problem that’s very, very sensitive
;very difficult to explain.There Has to be some damn good lawyer to
be able to bring that human quality to other people who are the judges
to see that there was no malice in there. It was self defense; he saw
a motion and he shot. Now we are trained as policeman or any place where
you use a weapon. Part of your training is to react, and if you were
trained town-to-town combat, the first reaction is you see a shadow
you shoot. because that shadow could be someone aiming at you. See that’s
the same as the My-Lai thing; How the guy went berserk. Maybe that’s
why I went to Vietnam and other places; to see and understand human
kind and how things are in life.
Q: What did you do to pass the time while you were there?
Mr. Dergalis: I didn’t have any time. No. not at all. From place
to place, some of the guys their were clowns because they had it good.
They were standing on patrol in an area, and they were going to stay
there for three-four days possibly because boats were crossing by. My
information officer said that it was an interesting area because you
can see boats go by and you can stay overnight with them outside; and
they had a cannon they shot every 5 minutes. Its ok I’ll go there.
There was a helicopter to take me there; he told me everything; the
Lieutenant will be on the ground. I got in the helicopter and he flew
maybe 20-30 minutes. In the area through the hills and we got over this
area and I see these guys and a few others in the helicopter and they
dump them as they claim. They lower themselves so they aren’t
on the ground; maybe 5 feet 6 feet and you have to jump. And I noticed
that the guys that were jumping, they were going like that with their
legs, and I was saying, now why would they do that? I said maybe it’s
the same way that when you jump from a car or a truck its to maintain
the motion, but then the helicopter was stationary, it doesn’t
move. I also noticed that it drops you in an area of what looked liked
a red patch, a big red patch. It looked like mud. It was mud. I had
a Kodak, and I had a tape recorder for taping people and asking information,
and my sketch material and part of why I always made that format, small
page cause you couldn’t carry anymore stuff with you. So I came
there and said ok here we go, I’ll jump. I jump into the thing,
I tried to imitate the legs and suddenly, I began to sink beyond my
knees, beyond my thighs to my waist in the mud. I couldn’t get
out. If it wasn’t for one of the GI’s that came out and
gave me his weapon and pulled me out by force, I would be permanently
in there, because it was basically a bowl full of mud; and these guys
got a big kick out of it! They were around laughing in their head. I
had mud in my camera, my tape recorder was totally ruined. a lot of
my sketches were gone. Pure mud. The other thing that they were doing
for passing time was throwing their beer cans and shooting at them.
That was my passed time cleaning my equipment. One is to take a bath
in another hole. There was a narrow whole this big and he says, "Oh
you can wash there." He didn’t tell me how deep it is. Again
you know, how do you go into that hole? You can’t put one leg
in you have to kind of go all the way in because I was mud up to here.
It was splashed up my face and my back. Suddenly I felt myself go “woooaahh!”
Sucked in! Eventually I washed some of the mud, not all and stayed wet
for hours. But there the sun is 100 degrees; it didn’t take long
to dry off, so that was the kind of clowning that they did. But then
I spent time drawing; it takes time to draw. You get information question,
draw weapons they collected, the boats that got by, and then assemble
the ideas and by the sun set its night.
Q: During 1969 and 1970 when opposition to the war in America
was reaching its height, what did you think of the anti-war protests
and how did they impact the troops you were with?
Mr. Dergalis: It didn’t impact me personally, but I know that
it impacts everybody there; those who heard it. The ones who were really
in areas where they got information they definitely were very demoralizing.
The drug addiction that came out after that a bit, and I think what
you had was the local newspaper which usually gave you information that
the service produced, you know armed forces., and then you had the radio
which was radio Vietnam, and they said a lot of truth about the protests,
but they always made the numbers very small; and they were feeling like
possibly its gonna end up badly for the war.
Q: Well, we are about out of time, thank you very much for helping
us out with the project.