Killer Instinct

All these years later, Trac says he still doesn't understand why the American soldiers massacred civilians in his village. "They were just farmers working in the field. I don't know why the Americans came here. Why?" he asked in Vietnamese.

Hyunh Thi Gioi was trying to seek shelter in a bunker with her 6-year-old son when the Americans came to Hanh Tin. As Gioi fled, carrying her son over her shoulder, she was shot. The bullet tore through her shoulder and hit her son, who died. Gioi still visits her son's grave regularly, lighting incense and trying to make sense of the tragedy.

She shudders when she sees a patch bearing the insignia of Tiger Force, and she points to her arm, remembering the soldiers who wore the same patch — the soldiers who killed her son.

Outside the village of Hanh Tin, Tam Hau, the niece of an elderly carpenter described to ABCNEWS' Mark Litke how her uncle was murdered by a soldier as he prayed for his life.

Carpenter Dao Hue, 68, was shot at close range by Tiger Force soldiers, executed just a mile from the hut he shared with his niece. She said she still remembers the day her uncle was murdered and remembers the rage of the Americans. Hau still visits the unmarked mound of earth where her uncle is buried.

The soldier responsible for killing Hau's uncle, by his own admission, was Tiger Force Unit commander Hawkins, who said the carpenter had been found with a gun and was making noise that could attract enemy soldiers.

"He was standing, hollering, screaming, ranting, raving and at that point I pulled out my .45 and silenced him," Hawkins told ABCNEWS. Other witnesses deny the carpenter had a gun.

The Army investigation cited that incident in recommending Hawkins be prosecuted for murder.

"Whether it be good or bad judgment, I did do what I did and that's all I can do," said Hawkins. "And if I had it happen again, I would more than likely do the same thing."

The people in the village, as well as the government of Vietnam, have called on the United States to account for what happened 36 years ago.

Cover-Up?

But to date, no U.S. official has explained why charges were never brought despite the military's extensive investigation.

"There was a cover-up," said The Blade's Weiss. "There is no doubt about it."

"We don't know at this point who killed the investigation," said Sallah. "We don't know why no one was charged. We do know it reached the top levels of government."

The Army sent regular reports on the investigation to the Nixon White House between 1971 and 1973, Sallah and Weiss reported. The final decision to keep the case quiet and not prosecute was made in November 1975, when Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, was urging the country to heal from the wounds of Vietnam. It was also the month James Schlesinger resigned as secretary of defense and was replaced by Donald Rumsfeld, who was the youngest secretary of defense in U.S. history.

"The last thing the Ford administration wanted at that point was a Vietnam war crimes trial, something the size of My Lai, because once you court-martial one of these guys … then everything's out of the bag," said Weiss.

Neither Rumsfeld nor Schlesinger would comment on why none of the Tiger Force soldiers were ever prosecuted. A spokesman for Ford said the former president had no comment on the Tiger Force investigation.

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