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Man who bragged of killing Vietnam civilians dies

William Doyle, a tough-talking Vietnam War veteran who helped lead a decorated platoon that killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in a case concealed by the Pentagon for decades, died Nov. 6 in Springfield, Mo. He was 75.

Doyle was a team leader on the Army's famous Tiger Force in 1967 when some members began executing women and children in a bloody rampage that lasted seven months.

A wiry staff sergeant with the ace of spades tattooed to his trigger finger, Doyle bragged that he shot so many civilians that he lost count.

"We killed anything that moved," he told reporters from The Toledo Blade for a series that won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize. "My only regret is that I didn't kill more."

Though Army investigators recommended that he and 17 others be charged with war crimes, including murder and assault, no action was taken.

The case — the longest war-crimes investigation of the Vietnam conflict — was quietly closed by the Pentagon in 1975, and remained concealed for 28 years until the newspaper obtained the secret files.

"There was no political will" to prosecute, said Gustav Apsey, the Army's lead investigator. "They didn't want this getting out."

By the time the story reached the public in 2003, Doyle emerged as a harsh, emblematic figure of the Vietnam War — his words echoing during the presidential race the next year.

Supporters of Democratic Sen. John Kerry pointed to Doyle and the Tiger Force platoon in arguing that Kerry was justified in condemning the war in the 1970s.

Doyle remained unapologetic. "We fought the war the way we felt it should have been fought," he said.

Relatives say there were dual sides to the man who talked about killing on network television.

"You always knew where he stood — good or bad. He was brutally honest," said his niece, Melissa McCoy.

Born during the Depression in Kansas City, Doyle's mother was killed by a drunken driver when he was 12 and he was raised by an abusive father who frequently beat him. "He never lived a normal life," said his sister, Barbara Doyle. "It had so much to do with why he did those things during the war."

After living in foster homes, he joined the Army in 1950 after he was ordered by a judge to suit up or go to jail for beating a teenager with a bicycle chain.

After several years, Doyle was assigned to Tiger Force, an elite unit of the 101st Airborne.