tv 60 Minutes CBS May 26, 2019 7:00pm-8:00pm PDT
and ford. we go further, so you can. >> tonight on this special edition of "60 minutes presents," "under fire." >> bullets whizzing by, kicking up all around you. all you can do at that point is return fire and hope the next one, you know, doesn't get you. >> members of a special forces a-team were pinned down by the taliban, and by the time it was over, five u.s. soldiers were killed. not by the enemy, but by american bombs. >> it was, all of a sudden, this shocked moment of "oh my god, they just-- they just hit our hill." >> tonight, what our "60 minutes" investigation has uncovered. >> when we send our soldiers into battle, it's wrong to have them using a weapon system which
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>> whitaker: good evening. i'm bill whitaker. welcome to "60 minutes presents." tonight, on this memorial day weekend, we recall stories of soldiers "under fire." we begin with a cautionary tale we first reported nearly two years ago: how five u.s. soldiers, including two green berets, died in afghanistan on the night of june 9, 2014. the pentagon concluded the deaths were an "avoidable" accident, known by the contradictory phrase "friendly fire." it was the deadliest such incident involving u.s. fatalities in 18 long years of on-going war in afghanistan. it wasn't gunfire that killed the u.s. soldiers. it was a pair of 500-pound bombs dropped right on top of them by a u.s. warplane.
you're about to hear what happened that day from three of the soldiers who were there, including the green beret commander. they dispute the official version of events, and warn it's going to happen again. it started just after sundown on a sweltering night, with a fierce firefight. >> brandon branch: bullets whizzing by, kicking up all around you. >> henry "hank" montalbano: at certain points, it would die down, but it was unrelenting at other points. >> derrick anderson: it looked almost like a fireworks show, where they were shooting down at our positions. >> whitaker: were you scared? >> branch: absolutely. i think you would have to be borderline insane to not have some kind of fear. all you can do at that point is return fire and hope the next one, you know, doesn't get you. >> whitaker: brandon branch was a skilled army combat paramedic attached to the green berets, who had dreamed since childhood of being a soldier.
communications sergeant henry "hank" montalbano joined the green berets after graduating from williams college. and captain derrick anderson, the green beret team commander, could be a poster boy for the army. fluent in arabic, at 29 he was a bronze-star recipient in iraq and had led more than 80 combat patrols in afghanistan. this was supposed to be the team's final mission, after a six-month deployment that started in january of 2014. did you see much combat? >> montalbano: yes. it would be pretty typical during the course of an operation to take fire. >> anderson: we had had a long deployment. it was fairly kinetic. >> whitaker: a lot of action. >> anderson: yeah. everyone was coming home safe. we had a few guys from our sister team that had gotten shot on a previous mission. >> whitaker: the ten-man a-team was part of the fifth special forces group from fort campbell, kentucky.
the group's commander called them the "most disciplined, well-trained, and effective" unit in afghanistan. the green berets struck out from forward operating base apache, a dusty outpost in restive zabul province, an area dotted with beehives of taliban fighters, hidden in plain sight among the locals. >> anderson: we knew that this area contained taliban and bad guys. so, we understood that there was a clear possibility that we would be getting shot at, at some point. >> hey, get down! >> whitaker: captain anderson says the taliban stepped up its attacks when the u.s. announced most of its troops would leave after the afghan elections in june. >> anderson: i think the taliban was trying to make a statement before we left. >> whitaker: what was the mission in the gaza valley that day? >> anderson: so, our job, in conjunction with our afghan partners, were to help the afghans in going clearing the gaza valley from any taliban that may be hiding and waiting
for the elections to come forth and attack the polling sites. >> whitaker: to help understand what happened that night almost five years ago, using satellite photographs of afghanistan's gaza valley, "60 minutes" commissioned a scale model of the exact location where the friendly fire took place, and brought these three soldiers who fought there to see it. >> anderson: it's surreal to see the whole landscape again, and-- i mean, it definitely-- it definitely brings up memories of that day. >> whitaker: what's the terrain like? >> branch: it's steep and-- and slippery. >> whitaker: hours before dawn, on june 9, 2014, giant chinook helicopters, like these, dropped captain anderson and his 95-man task force of u.s. and afghan soldiers into the gaza valley to chase away the taliban fighters. temperatures soared over 100 degrees as the u.s. troops shadowed their afghan allies
from rocky ridges. at the same time, radio intercepts showed the taliban were also shadowing them. at dusk, the soldiers climbed down to take up positions near three helicopter landing zones. so the flag here, the red flag, what does that represent? >> anderson: that represents where we ended up at the end of the day, getting ready for pick- up from the helicopters. >> whitaker: attached to anderson's green beret team was an air force controller, whose identity is classified. he was assigned to the mission just 72 hours earlier, and his job was critical: to guide air force planes on bombing or strafing runs against enemy positions. it's a battlefield tactic called close-air support. what the green berets didn't know was that their new air controller had been demoted and kicked out of an air force special operations unit for poor performance.
did you know this guy at all? did you know anything about him? >> anderson: at the time, we didn't know anything. we... he showed up a couple days before the mission, so he was getting caught up on everything our previous air force controller had planned out. >> whitaker: half a mile away from anderson's group was army medic brandon branch and two green beret weapons sergeants: jason mcdonald, at 28, a veteran army ranger, and 24-year-old scott studenmund, the grandson of a u.s. senator who continued a family tradition of service by becoming a green beret. >> branch: once we got down in this area, there was like a small ditch that actually kind of ran down through here. >> whitaker: just before 8:00 in the evening, suddenly taliban fighters began shooting down into the ditch where brandon branch was with sergeants studenmund and mcdonald. >> branch: and then it just broke loose at that point.
>> whitaker: captain anderson watched as the fire-fight erupted a half mile away. >> anderson: from our location here, we could see the fire coming right onto them. they were just in such a vulnerable location down there, being on low ground, in a ditch. the advantage was from the taliban. >> whitaker: what were you seeing? muzzle fire? >> montalbano: you could see the tracer rounds. >> whitaker: where did you think the shots were coming from? >> branch: at first, just somewhere in this general direction-- in that vicinity. >> whitaker: you couldn't see anybody? >> branch: we couldn't see anybody at the time. it was just somebody shooting. >> whitaker: can you-- the bullets are hitting all around you. you can hear them going by? >> branch: right. yes, sir. >> whitaker: were you returning fire? >> branch: absolutely. absolutely. >> whitaker: under heavy fire, green beret scott studenmund scaled the hill with three other u.s. soldiers and an afghan sergeant to take up a more defendable position. they carried a machine gun, a grenade launcher, and rifles to fight off the taliban.
before scrambling up the hill to join the other soldiers, sergeant jason mcdonald sounded an urgent alarm over the radio: "troops in contact." >> anderson: he started asking for immediate support from aircraft. >> whitaker: it got that bad, that quickly? >> anderson: absolutely, sir. jason got on the radio and said, "get me the aircraft now." >> whitaker: have you heard him say that before? >> anderson: no, at no-- at no point during the deployment had we ever really heard anyone with the urgency in-in their voice and-- or necessity. >> branch: honestly, what's going through my head is that we're going to die. >> whitaker: the plane, sent to the aid of the special forces that night, was a b-1 like this-- a high-flying strategic bomber, not the type of aircraft typically used for close-air support missions in afghanistan. that night, the b-1 had a belly full of bombs, and a cylindrical tube called a sniper pod slung
beneath its fuselage. a sniper pod is a precision targeting system bristling with cameras and sensors that streams images like these to the bomber's four-man crew. as darkness fell over the moonlit valley, the green berets switched on infrared strobes attached to their helmets and pulled night vision devices over their eyes, which allow u.s. soldiers and air crews to identify friend from foe in the chaos of the battlefield. you can see the strobe lights? >> anderson: yeah. >> branch: right. >> whitaker: and everybody's got one? >> anderson: correct. >> whitaker: so, if you're looking at all of your guys out there, you're seeing lights all over the place? >> anderson: yeah. i mean, i have pilot buddies and i have friends that have said it can often times look like-- like a christmas tree in the valley. >> whitaker: what about the b-1 bomber? does-does it see the strobe lights? >> anderson: it cannot. >> whitaker: it cannot? >> anderson: we thought it could.
>> whitaker: the classified official investigation obtained by "60 minutes" later concluded that everyone-- the soldiers, the bomber crew, the air force controller-- all thought the b-1 targeting system was capable of detecting infrared strobes. they were all wrong. so it was your belief that this b-1 bomber could see your strobe lights going off? >> anderson: correct. yes, and, you know, throughout any operation, we've always had the general assumption that these aircraft can. >> whitaker: as this animation shows, the b-1 targeting system could see gunfire coming from sergeants mcdonald and studenmund, who were shooting at the taliban from the hillside above medic branch. but, because the plane's crew couldn't see the green berets' strobes, they mistook their muzzle flashes for the taliban. and that was just one of a cascade of critical errors, according to the investigation of the incident.
the report charges that, in the heat of battle, captain anderson lost track of the soldiers who had climbed the hill to fight the taliban. the air force controller with anderson, whose job it was to pinpoint enemy targets, admitted he made a mistake and sent conflicting positions for u.s. and enemy fighters to the bomber. the b-1 aborted its bomb run on three passes as technical glitches and the mountainous terrain garbled radio transmission. how long did that take? >> anderson: it ended up taking a total of 21 minutes. >> whitaker: and all of this time, you are under fire? >> branch: right. >> whitaker: the report also revealed that as the bomber circled 12,000 feet above them, instead of targeting the taliban, the air force controller made a fatal mistake. he gave the b-1 crew the location of the u.s. soldiers as the target, and, "improperly directed the aircraft over a
friendly position." no one in the bomber challenged the air controller's conflicting positions for u.s. and enemy fighters. that should have been a red flag. the air force controller with the green berets radioed the bomber: "be advised, friendlies are the only ones marked by i.r. strobes. so, anybody else is enemy target." six minutes later, he asked, "any i.r. strobes in your sensor at this time?" the bomber crew responded, "negative i.r. strobes." the b-1 crew did have hand-held night vision goggles, but they were out of range of the strobes. finally, the b-1 released two 500-pound bombs, directly on the six soldiers at the top of the hill. >> branch: and, as soon as it happened, it was all of a sudden this shocked moment of "oh my
god-- they just, they just hit our hill." >> anderson: and my gut dropped. i just felt something sink to the bottom of my stomach, and i was like, "no, this-- no. this isn't happening." >> branch: i grabbed my aid bag and i took off up the hill to try to go see if anybody had survived it, and if, you know, if there was anybody that needed help. and i heard, "you got to get over here-- i found scott." >> whitaker: what was his condition? >> branch: he was in-in bad shape. he... he was talking to us at first-- asking what just happened. and, while we began working on him, we just told him, "i don't-- i don't know what happened. i don't know what happened, but something messed up." i was applying tourniquets and trying to stop what was
happening-- trying to stop the bleeding. there was really nothing else that-that i could do. >> whitaker: i understand you said a prayer? >> branch: i just asked that god be with him and with his family. >> whitaker: staff sergeant scott studenmund died on that hilltop. also killed: staff sergeant jason mcdonald, the father of two girls; 19-year-old private first class aaron toppen; specialist justin helton, 25; corporal justin clouse, 22; and 31-year-old afghan sergeant gulbuddin sakhi. over the next days, memorial services were held for the fallen soldiers at forward operating base apache, and at an air field in kandahar, afghanistan. later, scott studenmund and jason mcdonald were laid to rest with full military honors at
arlington national cemetery. ( gunfire ) the official investigation of the accident pinned much of the blame on the green beret captain in our story. when we come back, what our two-year investigation found about the deadliest friendly fire incident for 18 years of war in afghanistan. ( ticking ) symptoms of hepatitis c. man 1: mine... man 1: ...caused liver damage. vo: epclusa treats all main types of chronic hep c. vo: whatever your type, ask your doctor if epclusa is your kind of cure. woman 2: i had the common type. man 2: mine was rare. vo: epclusa has a 98% overall cure rate. man 3: i just found out about my hepatitis c. woman 3: i knew for years. vo: epclusa is only one pill, once a day, taken with or without food for 12 weeks. vo: before starting epclusa, your doctor will test
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the pentagon appointed then-air force major general jeffrey harrigian to investigate the friendly fire accident. after an eight-week probe, the general issued a report that concluded the "incident was avoidable," and he spread the blame around: to the air force controller, to the bomber crew, and to the army green berets. let me go over some of the findings. it says, "though this was a challenging set of circumstances, had the team executed standard tactics, techniques, and procedures, and communicated effectively, this incident was avoidable." what do you think of that statement? >> anderson: i disagree with that statement. >> whitaker: but the investigation singled out captain anderson, who had led his team on more than 80 combat missions in afghanistan, for especially tough criticism. it charged that he lost track of his men and that his failures "caused him to misidentify
friendly forces as enemy." they said you didn't know that five of the members had moved up the hillside, and that you should have. that's sort of a major point in the investigation. >> anderson: i think that's an untrue statement. >> whitaker: anderson told us the soldiers on the hill were within what he thought was their standard security perimeter. do you bear any responsibility for what happened? >> anderson: i'm the commander of this team. this is my team. i miss my guys tremendously, but at the end of the day, there's nothing that myself or my team sergeant did that day or failed to do that day that caused that incident to happen. there's 1,000 different things that can happen during firefight missions. we made the decisions which we
thought were best at the time on the ground for the guys that were getting shot at. >> whitaker: the report goes on to say that, from you, there was a sense of urgency to drop the bombs that was perhaps unnecessary. so, in other words, you were making this seem like it was a bigger deal than it actually was. >> branch: i was there. it was a big deal. >> whitaker: they called it a "false sense of urgency." >> branch: they can call it that, but they weren't there. 21 minutes is an eternity when you're being shot at. >> montalbano: it's ignoring some of the fundamental reasons why this occurred. >> whitaker: they looked at the wrong things? >> branch: right. >> montalbano: yes. >> whitaker: the root cause of the friendly fire incident hasn't been adequately addressed yet. there's an aircraft carrying out
close-air support missions that can't detect the common marking mechanism at nighttime. it's dangerous to use an aircraft that's incapable of picking up infrared strobes. >> whitaker: the families of the fallen soldiers were briefed by a team of five officers, led by general harrigian. one of those gold-star parents was woody studenmund, an economics' professor at california's occidental college, and the father of green beret staff sergeant scott studenmund. studenmund interviewed all but two of his son's teammates, and has methodically and repeatedly reviewed every line of the declassified investigative report, in a personal quest to understand how and why his son died. were you satisfied with the investigation? >> woody studenmund: how can a parent be satisfied with an investigation into their son's death, when the basic cause hasn't been corrected?
and that is that the b-1 bomber sniper pod was not capable of seeing the strobes that the green berets were wearing. so, they dropped the bombs. >> whitaker: in a skype interview in 2017 from his headquarters in qatar, we asked general harrigian, who led the investigation, why the bomber crew didn't know their targeting system could not see infrared strobes on the soldiers' helmets? how is it possible that the air crew didn't know what their plane was capable or incapable of doing? >> jeffrey harrigian: they should have known, quite frankly. that's part of the academics that are given to them. so it was there, but the crew didn't remember that. the ground crew should have known just as well that their i.r. strobe could not be seen by the sniper pod. >> whitaker: yet, the general's own report says, "these
capabilities were not specifically covered in sniper academics." in other words, air force bomber crews were not taught that their targeting system can't detect infrared strobes. general harrigian, who was promoted and is now in charge of all air force operations in afghanistan, iraq, and syria, says the command sent an urgent bulletin to all its air crews 11 days after the incident, "to ensure they understand the capability and limitations of their aircraft's sensors to detect" strobes. still, the air force general insists the b-1 is not to blame. he faults the people on the ground, the air force controller and the green berets, for failing to keep track of each other and accurately communicate their positions to the bomber. >> harrigian: the individuals on the ground have a responsibility, have a duty to
know where their teammates are. and they're the ones that are communicating that information to the air crew. >> whitaker: could that discrepancy have been overcome if the crew had been able to see the infrared strobes? >> harrigian: without a doubt. >> whitaker: people will say that this incident proves that that the b-1 is not suited for that kind of close-air support. >> harrigian: this incident had nothing to do with the platform. this incident had everything to do with the humans involved with what happened here. >> studenmund: i think that when humans are under fire, in fear for their lives, and they make mistakes, that's different from a government not understanding the capabilities of the weapon systems that it sends out to help our troops. >> whitaker: studenmund is convinced the b-1 targeting system is responsible for his
son's death. >> studenmund: none of the other mistakes mattered. none of them mattered. when we send our soldiers into battle, it's wrong to have them using a weapon system which isn't capable of doing what it's supposed to be doing. it's not murder, but it's close. >> whitaker: woody studenmund wanted to speak to us on camera, because he fears a similar mistake will happen again. his dead son's comrades agree and told us the report's criticism of captain anderson was unjust. >> branch: if i got a phone call today that said, "you have got to go back to afghanistan," these were the guys that i would want to be back with. if they had messed up to the level that that report says that they messed up, i would not want to-- to do that. >> whitaker: captain anderson's
role in the accident effectively ended his green beret career, even though his commanding general concluded he did not deserve to be punished. he left the special forces and last week earned a law degree from georgetown university. anderson still serves in the army national guard. hank montalbano, who was held blameless by the investigation, also left the green berets, and earned an m.b.a. degree at the university of washington. brandon branch, who also was not faulted in the report, was medically retired due to injuries he sustained in afghanistan. he lives in texas. the air controller who gave the bomber the wrong target coordinates was stripped of his combat qualifications. he transferred to the air national guard, and helped manage rescue helicopters after hurricane harvey in 2017. the b-1 aircrew, after re-training, was cleared to fly again.
as for the bomber's targeting system-- it still can't detect infrared strobes. it's been three years. do you ever stop thinking about that day? >> branch: there was a timeframe after that day that... it-- it literally almost destroyed me. and that, for a long time it-- it ate at me. and while i still think about that every day, while i still see that every day, i think it would do them injustice for me to live my life in that moment every day. >> whitaker: you fear what happened to you could happen again? >> anderson: yes. >> whitaker: all of you? >> montalbano: absolutely. >> branch: absolutely. >> anderson: we still have u.s. service members throughout the
world in harm's way, that are going to rely on this aircraft again. and that's what disheartens me. that's what scares me. that's what i'm mad about. that we haven't fixed a problem that could potentially kill more of our service members. >> whitaker: last month, jeffrey harrigian, the officer who led the friendly fire investigation, was promoted again. now, he is a four-star general, commanding all u.s. air forces in europe, africa and nato. ( ticking ) >> cbs sports hq presented by progressive insurance. kevin na shoots a final round 66 to take the title at the charles schwab challenge in texas. the 130th running in the indy 500. simon pagenaud wins it by
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( ticking ) >> whitaker: most of us learned in history class about the critical world war ii chapters in the fight against japan: pearl harbor, midway, iwo jima. but who among us learned about attu, site of the only ground campaign waged in north america during the entire war, and a surpassingly brutal battle at that? perhaps it's because attu is the westernmost point of the united states, the last jewel in alaska's necklace of aleutian islands. perhaps it's because attu's weather is so combative the island might be as difficult to reach as anywhere on the planet. but, as jon wertheim first reported earlier this year, while the fight for attu has been exiled to the smallest
of military footnotes, a new book published by simon and schuster, a cbs company, tells the story of how, 76 years ago, a bible, a diary and two soldiers from opposite sides of the war came to define the impossibly remote island of attu. >> wertheim: we set out in search of history, flying across the volcanic chain of alaska's aleutian islands. our destination: attu. two plane stops and 1,500 miles from anchorage, attu is so far west that if you drew a straight line down from the island, you'd hit new zealand. we had taken off, not knowing if our plane could land on attu. >> mark obmascik: attu's home to some of the worst weather on earth, there's only eight days a year when the clouds and fog lift. >> wertheim: mark obmascik, a pulitzer prize-winning reporter, spent seven years going through archives and soldiers' letters
while researching his book, "the storm on our shores." he accompanied our team for the trip. only minutes from the island, a dense fog threatened to force our plane back to the nearest air strip 400 miles away. then, the fog suddenly parted like curtains, and there it was: attu. >> wertheim: when you finally got there, what was that like? >> obmascik: it was so gorgeous. it was so green and wild and raw. >> wertheim: no one lives on attu today. the coast guard abandoned its station and the island nine years ago. >> obmascik: i just was struck by how such a beautiful place could spawn such sadness. >> wertheim: the sadness began in june of 1942. >> walter cronkite: the japanese strike. >> wertheim: six months after pearl harbor, 2,600 japanese soldiers invaded attu-- populated then by 42 aleut natives, a school teacher and
her husband. japanese arrive in 1942. are they expecting any resistance? >> obmascik: well, they didn't find it. they could've taken the island with a bullhorn. nobody on that island was armed. >> wertheim: america feared that japan could use attu as a launching pad, to attack the west coast of the united states. >> obmascik: attu was the first u.s. soil lost since the war of 1812. so it was a propaganda victory for the japanese. >> wertheim: but one japanese soldier was conflicted. nobuo tatsuguchi had lived for ten years in america, finishing medical school in california. he called himself paul. >> obmascik: paul tatsuguchi fell in love with america. his girlfriend came over from japan. he proposed to her at yosemite national park. for their honeymoon, they went from los angeles to niagara falls on a greyhound bus. >> wertheim: quintessentially american? >> obmascik: you can't get more american than that. >> wertheim: paul tatsuguchi loved america's open roads, its skyscrapers and its ice cream.
but in 1941, he was conscripted into the japanese army. he was a devout christian and a pacifist, forced into war. he brought his bible to attu. >> obmascik: paul tatsuguchi's favorite bible verse came right out of deuteronomy. "choose life." >> wertheim: choose life. >> obmascik: choose life. >> wertheim: as chill winds whipped through attu, the japanese took to the mountains, digging foxholes and storing ammunition in sheds that can still be found on attu today. as a medic, tatsuguchi hunkered down in a makeshift hospital in what's called the jarmin pass, waiting for the inevitable american counter-invasion. in may 1943, 11,000 americans were sent north to recapture this far-flung outpost of the united states. riding on one of the boats, private harry sasser. what he heard about attu sounded ominous. >> harry sasser: that it was treacherous weather. storms came up just suddenly. i mean, in seconds.
>> wertheim: sasser is now 96, but back then, he was a mississippi boy, assured he wouldn't be on attu for long. >> sasser: we were told it would be about three days. that would be it. but that wasn't the case. the japanese were very tenacious fighters. >> wertheim: the primary force of u.s. troops landed on this beach. >> obmascik: so u.s. troops land on the shore. your adrenaline's pumping. you're expecting to be shot. and instead, nothing. all they find is black muck. >> wertheim: black muck. it seemed to swallow the troops on the beach with every slogging step. the japanese were hiding in the mountain fog, their snipers waiting to pick off the americans once they crawled up the valley. >> obmascik: the japanese would follow the fog up and down. for u.s. servicemen, they said it was like trying to shoot birds out of a cloud. >> wertheim: paul tatsuguchi began writing a diary. on the second day of the battle he noted, "took care of patients during bombardment.
our desperate defense is holding up well." but the americans' four-to-one advantage in troops eventually exacted a toll, and by may 29, three weeks into the battle, the japanese were doomed. >> obmascik: and so, the japanese commander organizes a final banzai attack. and paul tatsuguchi sits down at his diary and writes his final entry. >> wertheim: "goodbye, taeko, my beloved wife who loved me to the last." and then he bid farewell to his daughters-- his younger one, "born february of this year and gone without seeing your father." hours after writing those words, paul tatsuguchi left his bible behind, and advanced to an outcrop overlooking a small lake. below were unsuspecting american soldiers, like dick laird, an army sargeant from appalachia. >> obmascik: dick laird was a tough guy. but all the american training was that japanese troops were bloodthirsty killing machines.
>> wertheim: and how did dick laird and paul tatsuguchi, how did they collide? >> obmascik: dick laird looks up the knoll and sees that a group of japanese soldiers has captured an american mortar. and so, laird pulls out two grenades. he pulls the pin, and then he throws it. the grenade explodes, and laird finds that some troops are alive. and he and a fellow soldier kill them. >> wertheim: he kills eight japanese men. >> obmascik: he does. and he wins the silver star for it. >> wertheim: on one of them, he notices something unusual. what was that? >> obmascik: there is an address book that's full of some names from california. and there is a sheet, the diary. >> wertheim: whose personal effects were those? >> obmascik: he found the diary of paul tatsuguchi, whom he had killed as tatsuguchi was joining the banzai attack. >> wertheim: the banzai attack and the japanese occupation of day, when 500 defeated japanese
soldiers gathered on this hill. harry sasser witnessed the mass suicide. >> sasser: they pulled the trigger on a hand grenade and just blew their stomach out. >> wertheim: a gruesome scene? >> sasser: it was, oh, it was. it was-- it was tough. >> obmascik: the code was death before dishonor, and of more than 2,600 japanese men who started, only 28 survived. >> wertheim: 28? >> obmascik: the only battle in the war in the pacific that had a worse casualty rate was at iwo jima. >> wertheim: 549 americans were killed on attu more than 3,000 were wounded or suffered weather-related injuries. dick laird survived. he turned over paul tatsuguchi's diary to superiors. instead of containing military secrets, the diary contained human sentiments. so much so, english translations began circulating. harry sasser read a copy in
mississippi. >> sasser: well, it was-- it was a compelling account. and as he bid farewell to his wife and to his, his daughter. i, i, i sympathized with him. >> wertheim: what was dick laird's reaction to reading the diary? >> obmascik: crestfallen, but angry, because tatsuguchi was one of the eight guys who had captured the mortar and, here, they were going to try to kill him. but at the same time, laird could see that tatsuguchi loved his family and that he was human. >> wertheim: dick laird never forgot about may 29, 1943. >> obmascik: dick laird did not. he suffered nightmares for years. he just kept coming back, thinking that "i killed a guy who shouldn't have been there. you know, i, i, i killed a father." >> wertheim: 41 years after dick laird had fought on attu, he pulled up to this home in sherman oaks, california in the spring of 1984. >> wertheim: did he seem nervous? >> laura tatsuguchi davis: yes,
he seemed nervous. >> wertheim: this is laura tatsuguchi davis, the younger daughter paul had never met. after the war, she moved with her mother to the place her father loved, southern california. laura didn't quite understand why dick laird showed up. >> davis: he didn't tell me anything until i walked him out. and when we walked out, he said, "i'm the one that killed your father." and he just drove off. and i was in, i was in a daze. >> wertheim: you were in shock. >> davis: totally in shock. >> wertheim: did you have anger or resentment toward mr. laird? >> davis: yes, i did. >> wertheim: laird had left his phone number with laura, but she refused to reach out. a decade later, another american veteran of attu tracked down laura. alvin koeppe of michigan wrote this letter. he wanted to return something he had found in 1943 on attu's jarmin pass. >> davis: this is the bible that
was found by the jarmin pass. >> wertheim: this is the bible your father took to war. >> davis: yes. >> wertheim: oh, wow. >> davis: and he writes in the very first page of the bible, "therefore, choose life." >> wertheim: "therefore, choose life." >> davis: "therefore, choose life." >> wertheim: this is the bible that gave him strength when he went off to war. >> davis: i think so. >> wertheim: what's it like for you holding that? >> davis: it gives me strength. >> wertheim: the bible is now housed at the japanese american museum in l.a. tucked inside the bible are reminders of what paul tatsuguchi lost. >> davis: and there is a picture of my sister. she was almost three, and i was three months. and he had not seen me. >> wertheim: if this bible could talk. >> davis: yeah, i wish it could. >> wertheim: for years, laura wondered why dick laird had been so determined to reveal that he had killed her father. then it came to her.
>> davis: i wrote to him saying, "please forgive yourself." >> wertheim: what made you do that? >> davis: i started thinking. i said, "this man did not belong in attu, just as much as my father." he was protecting his country. he had to protect himself. >> wertheim: you wrote to him, "none of you should have been there, but you were. and that fact cast upon you terrible duties, duties you discharged the only way you could. what happened, happened. you were not at fault." >> davis: he was not. >> wertheim: you wanted to free him? >> davis: yeah, and i was the only one that could. >> obmascik: laird said that he read the letter and he cried. and he said it was the first time in a long time that he slept without nightmares. >> wertheim: and most improbably, laura and dick laird became friends. meeting often in tucson, where
her son attended school and dick laird had retired. >> davis: he said, "i killed the wrong man, you know?" this is how he felt. >> wertheim: was it almost like he felt he killed another american? >> davis: yes. >> wertheim: dick laird died in 2005. as for paul tatsuguchi, near the spot where he was killed on attu, a monument to peace was erected by the japanese government. signs of the american presence still abound. so do signs of a battle lost to the rust of history. attu's been left to the snowy owls, and to the ghostly winds that will go unheard. ( ticking ) >> the challenges of fighting and filming on attu. >> we had to walk everywhere. there are no vehicles or nothing. >> 60minutesovertime.com sponsored by ibrance.
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