A Supersoldier's Charges
In 1968, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and in early 1969 was awarded command of a battalion in the 173rd Airborne.
The brigade was based in Binh Dinh province in the central coastal region when Herbert arrived. Over the next two months, his unit reported more enemy contacts than any other battalion in the 173rd Airborne.
Then on April 4, 1969, Herbert was relieved of his command for allegedly unsatisfactory performance. He later told investigators from the Criminal Investigation Division that, before his removal, he had informed his superior of war crimes that he had witnessed.
Herbert recounted a series of atrocities.
He said South Vietnamese troops had executed detainees in the presence of an American military advisor in February 1969. One of the victims had her throat slit as her child clung to her pant leg, Herbert said. (Investigators later concluded that about eight detainees had been slain.)
The following month, U.S. and Vietnamese interrogators tortured a teenager or young woman by electric shock and subjected a male detainee to water torture, Herbert said. He said he also saw interrogators beat two Vietnamese women held in metal storage containers.
Herbert told the investigators that he had reported these incidents to Col. J. Ross Franklin. On learning of the allegations, then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. William C. Westmoreland ordered Tufts to create a task force to conduct the investigation.
Before it was finished, Herbert took matters into his own hands and brought charges against Franklin and his superior, Maj. Gen. John W. Barnes, in March 1971, saying they failed to investigate reports of war crimes.
As Army officials feared, the case received widespread coverage because of Herbert's distinguished combat career and Barnes' rank, and because Franklin had served on the commission investigating the My Lai massacre.
Herbert achieved celebrity status as the case played out in the media. He appeared on "The Dick Cavett Show," was interviewed by Playboy magazine and was featured in a New York Times Sunday magazine article titled: "How a Supersoldier Was Fired From His Command."
Barnes and Franklin denied that Herbert had reported war crimes to them. According to news reports at the time, Barnes told an investigator he removed Herbert as battalion commander because he was "a keg of dynamite" who was "completely oriented to killing mercilessly."
The Army dismissed the charges against Barnes and Franklin, and removed Herbert's negative performance review.
Nevertheless, Herbert continued to accuse military leaders of a coverup. The Army responded by releasing "fact sheets" that said the investigation had substantiated only seven of 21 allegations by Herbert and had found no evidence that his superiors knew about them or retaliated against him.
In February 1972, Army magazine said that Herbert's "eminence is undeserved" and devoted six pages to the fact sheets.
Herbert retired from the Army, citing harassment and strain on his family.
In January 1973, his memoir, "Soldier," hit the bookstores, and the Army's public information office scoured its pages for inconsistencies, records show.
Around the same time, the Army leaked internal reports on Herbert to CBS News, according to an Army memorandum. The TV news magazine "60 Minutes" aired a segment on Feb. 4, 1973, that attacked Herbert's claims of coverup and retaliation.