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Published: 10/20/2003


Hearsay account triggered the probe

After 41/2 years of investigating Tiger Force, the only soldier disciplined in the case was the one who brought it to the Army's attention.

To Sgt. Gary Coy, it was an ironic end to an investigation that began when he first talked to Army officials on Feb. 3, 1971.

By the time the investigation ended in 1975, a letter of reprimand was in his file.

The reason: He told investigators he saw a Tiger Force soldier decapitate a baby during a sweep of a village in November, 1967.

He later admitted he didn't actually see the atrocity - but only heard about it.

Still, his story to investigators about the infant's death led to an investigation that would be known as the “Coy Allegation” - or the Tiger Force case.

It was in 1971 when Army agents first visited Sergeant Coy at Fort Campbell, Ky., to interview him about an unrelated war-crime investigation.

Agents wanted to know about accusations against the 101st Airborne in Vietnam, but Sergeant Coy told them about a smaller unit within the airborne division, Tiger Force.

He said a soldier whose first name was Sam severed a baby's head inside a hut. Investigators later identified the suspect as Sam Ybarra.

Mr. Coy told investigators he lied about witnessing the atrocity because he thought they would take the case more seriously, according to an Army investigator's report. He said he knew they would find other soldiers who saw the killing.

He went on to tell agents that he and a fellow soldier promised each other that whoever survived the war would bring the incident to the Army's attention. The other soldier, John Aherne, died in battle the next year.

Investigators later interviewed several witnesses who said Private Ybarra bragged about severing the baby's head to get the infant's necklace.

One former soldier, Harold Fischer, told The Blade in a recent interview that he witnessed Ybarra leaving the hut with a bloody necklace on his wrist and looked inside to find the decapitated baby.

Mr. Coy, 56, who now lives in Missouri, said he didn't feel he was treated fairly by Army investigators.

“All the hassle I went through, with the war being over ... it wasn't worth it.”

(Story was published on Oct. 20, 2003)