Oral History Interview
JCIT 005



Group Interview
2nd Platoon, Company D, 3d Battalion, 504th Infantry

1LT Matthew J. Miller
SFC Carlos M. Vilorio




Interview Conducted 31 December 1989 at Madden Dam, Panama


Interviewer: MAJ Robert K. Wright, Jr.




20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990

Oral History Interview JCIT 005



MAJ WRIGHT: [This is an Operation JUST CAUSE interview being conducted with the] 2d Platoon, Delta Company, 3rd of the 504th Parachute Infantry [2d Platoon, Company D, 3d Battalion, 504th Infantry], and the interviewing officer is MAJ [Robert K.] Wright, [Jr.], the [XVIII Airborne] Corps Historian. The time of the interview is 1130 hours on 31 December 1989. The subject of the interview is the initial day's operations in Operation JUST CAUSE.

And I'd like, at this time, to ask the two of you to give me your full name, rank, serial number, and your duty position within 2d Platoon.

1LT MILLER: My name is 1LT Matthew J. Miller, ***-**-****. I'm the platoon leader of 2d Platoon, Delta Company of the 3rd of the 504th.

SFC VILORIO: My name is SFC Carlos M. Vilorio, ***-**-****, and I'm the platoon sergeant for 2d Platoon, 3/504.

MAJ WRIGHT: Okay, gentlemen, I'd ask you, if you would, to give me a real quick run down on your deployment down to Panama and what you had been doing right up until the 19th of December.

1LT MILLER: Okay. We deployed to Panama for JOTC [Jungle Operations Training Center]. During that time period, we went through some of the training and we also went through some rehearsals for this operation. They were called SAND FLEAs. We were able to familiarize ourselves with some of the missions that we might have to perform if this ... if this turned real. Up until the day this happened, we felt we probably would do it, but there never was any 100 percent assurance. We just thought that we might be able to execute these missions.

The night that we executed the mission, we moved from Fort Sherman over to Fort Davis and linked up with our attachments. At that time, we moved to Coco Solo Hospital and waited for the Zero Hour, which would be 1:00 o'clock in the morning on the 18th [actually 20 December].

When we moved down into position, we were supposed to move in front of the buses that we were going to use as a roadblock to block the Boyd-Roosevelt Highway. The operation kicked off a little early because of some things that happened over at Coco Solo ... .

SFC VILORIO: ... Marine Barracks.

1LT MILLER: Marine Barracks. I believe it was 12:44 when they opened up with the [M-163] Vulcans and AT-4s. And at that point, I heard the busses start up. So we got down on the road and we followed the busses up to the road to where they blocked the bridge, a four lane bridge. At that point, our platoon was to provide security while the engineers moved in behind us and placed wire obstacles as a barrier. During this time period, some police forces moved down to the obstacle, and they tried ... they wanted to cross the obstacle to move to Colon. The word we had, once the obstacle went in place, nobody would cross under any circumstances. Our mission was to prevent reinforcements from moving to Colon.

I had my Spanish speaker, which is my platoon sergeant, SFC Vilorio, repeatedly tell the van to leave or they could be killed. The van would not move. Basically all the traffic was turning around behind the van, mostly civilians, I imagine, pedestrians, they were coming down. They saw the police van, they saw the roadblock, and they left.

At this point, I was ... I inquired of the engineers how long they needed to build the obstacle. They said they were going to need about fifteen or twenty more minutes and the van just stayed there. And my biggest worry, mine and SFC Vilorio's, was that he was calling for troops to come up and we only had eight men down there covering the obstacle at the time, because my other section was emplacing the [M-2] .50-calibers machine guns back up on the high ground, and my big worry was that they were going to dismount some troops and try to sweep around the obstacle and push us off the obstacle.

And about this time, two vehicles came down the sides of the road with their ... before this happened, I fired some warning shots to try to get the van to move. The van backed up approximately twenty-five meters and stayed there. And at that point, all the civilians tried ... most of the civilian traffic was turning around at least 100 meters before the obstacle and leaving. And then two police vehicles, I believe, came racing down the sides of the road, and they had their high lights on and they were flashing their lights on and off, which I believe was a signal to the van. At that point, I identified people in ... some people in the van had something they were putting out the window, so we opened fire on the van and the vehicles, and disabled the van. And the cars were shot up, but one of the cars left the scene, and I'm not sure what happened to the other one.

And at that point, the engineers said they needed a little bit more time, and they finally got the obstacle up, put up. So we withdrew the rest of my platoon back up to the high ground, which was approximately 200 meters from the obstacle, where we could overwatch the obstacle. I called higher [headquarters], told them the situation, and they said "don't let anyone come through the obstacle, they might be trying to reinforce Colon."

O.K., approximately an hour later, dismounted troops came around the busses, and we could observe them with our [AN/]PVS-7s in the wire.

MAJ WRIGHT: [To other parties] Five Minutes.

1LT MILLER: As they were coming through the wire, we engaged them with .50-cal[iber] fire and small arms, and it dispersed it looked like about a squad-sized element.

At that time, I could see no bodies in front of the vehicles, but the next day, there was no bodies when it was light. We were able to get down to the obstacle a couple days later and there was a lot of blood down around the wire, and stuff, but we didn't see any bodies in front of the van ... in front of the busses. The only bodies we saw were the bodies they took out of the vehicles that we engaged prior to that, and we saw three bodies taken out.

MAJ WRIGHT: Now, the bodies were taken out by the Red Cross?

1LT MILLER: Yes. The bodies were.

SFC VILORIO: They came up. The Red Cross hollered across from the other side of the bus. I went forward, and they asked permission to take the bodies out, and at that time I gave them permission to take the bodies out, and we seen them take out three bodies real quick.

1LT MILLER: They were uniformed police.

MAJ WRIGHT: They were ... you definitely could confirm that they were police, rather than P[andmanian] D[efense] F[orce]?


SFC VILORIO: I went to the house, there was a house a family living I think it was on our right, and that's how I was getting my news everyday from that family. And the guy said "yeah, I knew who the guy with the van was. If you had let them pass by, they probably would have shot you in the back." So they could confirm that they were police.

MAJ WRIGHT: Who was your higher during this operation?

1LT MILLER: Okay we were attached to HHC, 4th of the 17th [Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Battalion, 17th Infantry], and my commander at that time was CPT [Michael D.] Hauser of the 7th Infantry Division.

MAJ WRIGHT: He was... ?

1LT MILLER: He was located up at Coco Solo Hospital, and we were approximately 500 meters down from the edge of the 4/17th task force. He ... he stressed to me, before we went down there, nothing was to come through that roadblock because we were the boundary, and they might try to reinforce. As a matter of fact, later that night, I believe it was around 3:30 in the morning, he called and said a 300-man element was moving to reinforce Colon, and to, you know, to be ready. And we had [AH-130] Spectre on call ... we had Spectre on call, and we also had [OH]-58s ... we had 58s and [AH-1G] Cobras on call, too. They made runs down Boyd-Roosevelt and said they didn't see anything. But, you know, we just stayed alert, of course, the whole night and the threat... .

MAJ WRIGHT: A hundred percent alert?

1LT MILLER: A hundred percent security all night.

MAJ WRIGHT: Had you been ... you said, I think, previously before we started the tape, you had had the opportunity to do a personal recon. Had SFC Vilorio been able to do it?

1LT MILLER: No, the only ... . I was able to drive across the bridge and come back and look at the ground, how, if I would be attacking it. And that was ... I never got to get out and walk on the ground, or anything, but I did get to see the ground and I knew exactly where I wanted to put the crew-serve weapons, which was a big, big help. We had a really good plan before we left, before the operation kicked off. There was ... .

MAJ WRIGHT: Is that pretty much [it], SFC Vilorio?

SFC VILORIO: Yes, sir. I did one mission previous to that up here with another platoon that needed a Spanish speaker, so I didn't get a chance to actually see the ground like he did. And when we went back, like I said, when we hit the road, we encountered a lot of civilian traffic, basically a lot of taxicabs came between the two roadblocks. And I'm glad everybody kept their heads and stuff and we cleared that out, and we moved up there and put the roadblock. We brought the .50s back up to the high ground and put them in.

MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. And you ... the company commander briefed you just prior to departing from Fort Sherman or ... ?

1LT MILLER: No, his headquarters--Captain Hauser of the 7th ID's headquarters was at Coco Solo Hospital grounds. That's where he operated out of. And he briefed me before we went down to the roadblock, you know, how imperative it was that nobody was to come through that roadblock.

MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. The kids, when I talked to them, appeared to have a real good understanding of the Rules of Engagement. You feel comfortable that they knew what it was?

1LT MILLER: Yes, sir.

MAJ WRIGHT: They mentioned that you went out real light on ammo?


1LT MILLER: Basic load.

SFC VILORIO: A little less than basic load.

1LT MILLER: Well, yeah, a little bit less than basic load.

MAJ WRIGHT: They said you had had problems doing your final zeroing and you had to take stuff out of your basic load to do zeroing?


1LT MILLER: That's correct.

MAJ WRIGHT: What were you told about resupply?

1LT MILLER: We were told when it started that was all we had. You know, that was going to be it until things stabilized. You know, so I gave only--we do not fire on a burst, and I made it clear to my platoon, the only people who could fire on burst were people who were up on the bridge. And, ah ... because we didn't know when we were going to get any ammo back, you know, resupplied or anything. It turns out that everything worked out, you know, we all had probably at least half our ammunition left after the operation.

MAJ WRIGHT: Let me shut this down for one second.


MAJ WRIGHT: Okay. We're back on after that very, very brief interruption.

Were you briefed that all you were to expect, initially, were the policia?


MAJ WRIGHT: You thought it was [regular] P.D.F. that were going to be coming down the road?

1LT MILLER: Right.


MAJ WRIGHT: Assessment of the training of the guys you actually ran into? Did they know what they were doing at all?

1LT MILLER: Yes, sir.

MAJ WRIGHT: The guys seemed to feel that, initially when you made contact before the rounds started going, that it was a, sort of they were into their typical routine macho bluff, and they really weren't expecting that this one to go real.

1LT MILLER: I believe that because he told them, SFC Vilorio laid down under the bus and called out to them, you know, numerous times, "you need to leave; we are American soldiers, you cannot go to Colon. You need to leave or you may die." You know, we even fired warning shots. And we did everything we could to convince them that they needed to leave.

SFC VILORIO: I think that they thought that we were bluffing, even the warning shots ... in the one car.

MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. And then you stayed out there six days, about six days?

1LT MILLER: Right. We stayed on that hill for six days.

MAJ WRIGHT: A couple of questions that came up from what the kids told me (they did a beautiful job briefing on it). They're a first rate group of people. I think you guys have an outstanding platoon.

One of the things they mentioned was that, after you'd been out there a little while, you discovered there was a footpath that could bypass your position?

SFC VILORIO: Right. And that was to the right side. A retired E-7 [Sergeant First Class] that worked for Range Control over at Fort Sherman drove over and told us about it. And that was what happened. We started getting information about the Dignity Battalion coming down and raping and all kind of stuff; we started to put an OP [observation post] up over there.

MAJ WRIGHT: So you did have an OP to cover that, then?


MAJ WRIGHT: Did anybody try to come down it?


1LT MILLER: No, like a lot you know, the civilians, you know there was a lot of looting and stuff down in the free zone in Colon, and they were coming back. And my guidance was, if they didn't have guns and they were no threat, just let them go, you know. And no, we never saw anybody with any weapons during the day after the initial... .

MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. They said there was raping going on across the bridge.

SFC VILORIO: I was walking up there on an average of every ten minutes and people came crying that the Dignity Battalion was coming through the houses stealing, raping. One young lady came up to me and she was sixteen, she told me they came to her house, stole her food and raped her thirteen-year old daughter. And ...

1LT MILLER: Her sister.

SFC VILORIO: Her sister. Same thing over and over and over.

MAJ WRIGHT: And they were confirming they were Dignity Battalion rather than anybody else?


1LT MILLER: Right.

MAJ WRIGHT: Do you feel that they really were the Dignity Battalion guys and not just the Maleantes running around?

SFC VILORIO: Yes, sir, because every report was the same. And then one day, one of the guys that worked in the Canal Zone he came up and told us he had two prisoners and he brought them over, and brought him over to us, as a matter of fact, and we talked to him for a while. And one of the P.D.F.'s was in the Dignity Battalion, and we took him in. And then another one came in that same day, a little bit later, say about an hour later, and turned himself in to us.

MAJ WRIGHT: So you wound up securing three different people?

1LT MILLER: Yes, sir.

MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. One of the other incidents they mentioned to me was the second attack that came on what, Christmas Eve?

SFC VILORIO: The cows?

MAJ WRIGHT: Yeah, the cattle attack.

1LT MILLER: That turned out pretty good, though, because you know, they came through here and knocked down the barrels, and we seen the herd and I shot one of the cows, you know. And maybe I shouldn't have, but I did, but we got the villagers out of bed and they were really happy to get the cow. They didn't even know where the cows had come from because they said there was no cattle in that area anywhere, and they got the cow and they butchered it all up, you know. They were really happy to get the food.

SFC VILORIO: Yeah, they fixed us meals.

MAJ WRIGHT: So you guys got A-rations out of it, then?

1LT MILLER: Well, yeah a couple of ... they fixed up meals. So it turned out pretty good.

MAJ WRIGHT: Who were your engineers from?

1LT MILLER: They were 7th ID.

MAJ WRIGHT: O.K., the guys thought they were 82nd [Airborne Division] engineers.

1LT MILLER: No, they were 7th ID engineers. All they did ... well, they did a really good job because it was night and the ground was really hard. They put in about ten rows of wire and some barrels. They were supposed to fill the barrels up with water, but they didn't get them filled up. But, you know, they did a pretty good job. And that was all the engineer support we had, then they left.

MAJ WRIGHT: They pulled off as soon as they had the thing ... ?

1LT MILLER: Right, they were gone. The only time we saw them again is when they blew a sign up for us so we could see better.

MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. Second element of support you had were the two M[ilitary] P[olice]s that drove the busses, or no, I guess there were three MPs?

1LT MILLER: Well, we had one MP vehicle that stayed down there. Once in a while it would come down. It had an M-60 machine gun on it, a HUMMV [M-998-series High Mobility Multiwheeled Vehicle]. It would sit down there but like, if it got tasked out, it would take off and it'd come back. We never did really know if it was going to be there, or not.

MAJ WRIGHT: And the two busses were driven by MPs?

1LT MILLER: No, they were driven by 7th ID soldiers.

MAJ WRIGHT: Oh, O.K., because the guys thought they were MPs.

1LT MILLER: No, they were driven by 7th ID soldiers. As a matter of fact, the 1SG for HHC, 7th ... 4th of the 17th ... drove one of the busses down there. They drove the buses down there, got out and put a sign up, and then ran back, you know, and then got behind the barricade.

MAJ WRIGHT: The other thing they said was that in that one MP vehicle, they remained overnight with you the first night?


1LT MILLER: Right.

MAJ WRIGHT: And there was one female soldier on that?

1LT MILLER: Right.

MAJ WRIGHT: And they had some nice things to say about her and her qualities.

1LT MILLER: I never did ... I never had much contact with her, so I don't know.

MAJ WRIGHT: Was she on your side?

SFC VILORIO: No, I was on the other side. She was basically on the other side. I knew she was there, but I didn't talk to her much. She walked on the bridge with me a couple of times when I had to go to the barrells to talk to people, but that was about it.

MAJ WRIGHT: And intel[ligence] pretty good, up and down? You were sending spot reports?

1LT MILLER: Right. We were kept pretty well informed the whole time. We didn't have any problems working with the 7th ID.

MAJ WRIGHT: Okay, got ration resupplied? MREs [Meals Ready to Eat] from 4th of the 17th?

1LT MILLER: Yes, there was no problem. We had three MREs a day out there.

MAJ WRIGHT: And water from the locals?

1LT MILLER: Right.

SFC VILORIO: Water from the locals.

MAJ WRIGHT: Had you been briefed that the local water was potable? No problems?

1LT MILLER: We weren't briefed that, but the families were real receptive to us. They loved us and you know, SFC Vilorio made good contacts with the families and stuff and ... .

MAJ WRIGHT: Would you rate that as a--that the policy of having a Spanish speaker in each platoon--as a real plus?

SFC VILORIO: Plus, yeah.

1LT MILLER: Without it, we would have had a lot of problems. That was a definite need.

MAJ WRIGHT: Okay, the only other issue that had come up that I'd like to sort of get your feelings on, sort of feeling that 11Hs aren't always considered as 11-series guys and sort of the orphan children?

1LT MILLER: We're the 'bastards of the battalion.' That's pretty much ...

MAJ WRIGHT: What do you think the source of that problem is? The lack of education on the part of the line guys, or ... .

1LT MILLER: Right. We have vehicles and there was ... like, I was a line platoon leader for fourteen months before I came to Delta Company. And we have vehicles and they walk everywhere, but they don't realize all that's involved in the upkeep of the vehicles and stuff. And everyone wants to ride, like in a battalion. If there's a detail and you need a vehicle, come to Delta Company. And we get a lot of the dirty jobs. And a lot of times, you know, the battalion commander doesn't use Delta Company like he should.

Just like the instance, I'm sure a lot of the Delta Companies from the other battalions didn't come down here, you know. [NOTE: This assumption was incorrect.] And they train with the battalion hard, you know, the whole year and do everything the battalion does, and they get left behind. That would be really hard to swallow.

MAJ WRIGHT: Okay, anything else you can think of to add?


MAJ WRIGHT: Then I'd just ... at the conclusion of the taping, I'd just ask you to take a look at the sketch map that SFC Vilorio's pulled together and just check that stuff off, and then when we get back to [Fort] Bragg, I think I gave you my card?


MAJ WRIGHT: Okay, I'll give you a card. Check back in and brief up your company and battalion commanders that you guys will get copies of the transcripts of these tapes for your historical records at the unit.

1LT MILLER: Yeah, O.K.

MAJ WRIGHT: Thanks a lot, guys.

1LT MILLER: Thanks, sir.