U.S. Marine Pfc. Robert Garwood commanded the Viet Cong guard detail that brought Watkins and Daly to our camp. We weren't shocked to see the rifle-toting turncoat, although he was, probably no doubt about it, the first American since the Revolutionary War to take up arms against his country. By this time we'd lost much of our capacity for shock; and anyway, Russ Grissett already had given us a rundown on the defector.
Bob Garwood was captured in 1965. I think he was the first marine prisoner of war. He crossed over to the Viet Cong side sometime in mid-1967. Why he defected was hard to say. He was such a liar that we could never decide. A nice-looking guy, close to six-feet tall, with regular features, brown hair, a full mouth, deep tan, he probably weighed no more than a hundred fifty pounds; but compared to us he seemed big and healthy.
Garwood had a half-dozen tales of how he was captured. The one we figured closest to the truth had to do with his taking a jeep to a village near Da Nang. Garwood was a driver for VIPs. He claimed to have been at one time the driver for Gen. Lewis Walt, marine commander in Viet Nam. What he was doing with the jeep that day we don't know, unless he was looking for a girl. He liked to leave the impression he was a lover. On the road he was stopped by the Viet Cong. Naturally he said he shot three or four before they pistol whipped him down. But we didn't believe that part.
Three of them were in the prison camp at first. Garwood, Grissett, and Eisenbraun. Later the two Puerto Ricans joined them. Eisenbraun was an army captain in the special forces when that unit deserved its name. According to Grissett, he and Eisenbraun fell sick after a few months. The captain developed a critical case of dysentery. Garwood had malaria but by some chance avoided the worst illnesses. Like us, they had to gather manioc and firewood and do their own cooking. Grisset and the captain tried to escape; both times, he said, Garwood reported them to the Vietnamese, and they were recaptured after a few hours' freedom in the bush. One night Eisenbraun fell out of his hammock and injured his chest on the bamboo bed below. He was spitting blood the next morning, but the Viet Cong forced him to go on a manioc run. He died several days later.
Garwood seldom spoke about his decision to defect. We were gathering wood one time and he got a little philosophical. What he'd done had come about by Grissett and Eisenbraun not working, he said. The burden for gathering food was on his shoulders. He'd realized that sooner or later he would die from overwork, because he was weak and undernourished too. So he compromised and made a deal to go over to the VC side.
There was probably some truth in what he said. Garwood was not dumb; he was intelligent, and quite agile with his hands. Neither was he ideological. First and foremost he struck us as an opportunist. He had believed his life to be at stake. Therefore Captain Eisenbraun wasn't sick--he was lazy. I later saw this same attitude in our camp. Maybe it's the mentality of all forced-labor prisons. To prisoners able to work a sick man is a drain on their dwindling energies. There was a strong tendency in our camp to dismiss a nonworker as lazy, whatever his reasons might be. You had to have a lot of compassion not to get angry with him; and compassion, like food, was in short supply.
Garwood came to our compound and introduced himself around. He was friendly, quick to smile, and said, "I'm sure you've heard about me." He seemed happy to talk to Americans again. There was no question in our minds about whose side he was on. We listened silently as he told us about the Front's victories in the Tet offensive.
Davis. McMillan and I were convinced we were headed to Hanoi. The guards told us we would catch a plane and fly the rest of the way. They said, "In Hanoi you have many things. You have bath and music. If you have money give it to the gate guard and he will get you coffee and milk." It was the ambition of all guards in the South to go to Hanoi. Hanoi was heaven and a whorehouse all thrown into one.
When we came upon Anton and Harker's camp I said, "What liars!" As we climbed the bank I saw a group of Americans staring at us, looking wild-eyed. Skinny and ragged. Faces the color of rice pudding. They began to pump us with a thousand questions about war news, sports, movies, broads, cars. I'd had a picture in my mind of a prison with big flood lights, high walls with guards patrolling back and forth. Here was this puny grass hootch with several pigs and chickens running around the yard.
Later someone brought out the food. Dr. Kushner sat on the ground with legs crossed picking absently at his rice. He passed what he didn't eat to Fred and Williams. Anton sat awhile and then got up and cussed the Vietnamese--"Goddamn motherfuckers!"--and sat back down only to pop up several minutes later and cuss some more.
Grisset quickly finished his bowl and hunkered down like a Vietnamese, waiting for someone to give him food they didn't want, putting a heavy stare on a likely prospect. When he received a gift he gulped it down, ran into the hootch, jumped on the bed, and pulled a blanket over his head.
I thought, "Jesus, I've been set down amongst some crazy men."
McMillan. They put us in a small shed that doubled as the medical and interrogation shack. The guys in the compound hollered to ask us what unit we belonged to.
We told them and yelled back, "How long have you been here?"
They said, "One guy has been here two years."
I looked over and saw a man with gray hair, going bald fast, with a beard and a hairy chest. His arm was in a sling. He was big and looked like a starving ape. I said, "Christ Almighty! Two years and look at him!"Actually I was looking at Williams. I didn't see Grissett till later.
In a few minutes Garwood walked up behind us. He said, "How you guys doing?" He spoke fast with a sort of clipped accent. We were shocked to see him, didn't realize who he was.
I said, "What are you, a trustee or something?"
He said, "Yes, I'm supposed to go home soon." Davis and I had a small supply of rice and salt the guards had given us, plus two cans of condensed milk that was part of the payment for my watch. Garwood said, "We're gonna have to take the rice and salt but you can keep the milk." After he left, the guys in the compound told us through the fence about Garwood and warned us not to talk around him. They said he would rat on you, but didn't give us details about him being a crossover.
Garwood returned. He told us about the camp routine. He asked what unit we were in, how long we had been in Viet Nam, and where we were from in the States. Then he began to talk about himself. He said his parents were divorced, his father was wealthy and owned a printing shop in Los Angeles. He had established a trust fund for Garwood and his sister, and both were to receive eighty thousand dollars when they turned twenty-one. (Garwood looked to be about twenty-two.) Then he told us how he was captured.
He said he was driving for General Walt that day. He took him someplace and the general said, "I'm going to be here awhile so you can come back in two hours."
Garwood went to get a piece of ass or something. That's when the Viet Cong captured him. Garwood shot at them with his .45. This is downtown Da Nang, you know. Can you imagine? He said they told him they would release him if crossed over. He said, "They lied to me, man. They fooled me. They said if I crossed over they would release me. Now they tell me I have to wait until a better time. They really fucked me over."
I said, "What are you doing now?"
He said, "I go down to the coast now and then to take pictures of military installations. Or sometimes I talk to the troops with a bullhorn to try to get them to stop fighting. But the only reason I do it is because I want to go home."
The guys later asked us what story Garwood had given us. He'd told me generally the same thing. It seemed like he did this every time a new guy came in. It sounded like an apology. I think he was trying to play both sides. Garwood was strong physically. He had a good build. And he was a pretty bright dude. He had a nice handwriting, a good working vocabulary, and spoke fluent Vietnamese. He could do anything the Vietnamese could with his hands. One time he fixed Kushner's glasses with a bit of fishing line. Did a good job too. And I saw him repair the VC's radio.
Garwood had a heavy rap. Still, I don't know what to think about what he said about crossing over because he thought they might release him. He looked sincere when he said it. But I really can't say. Garwood and Mr. Hom lived in the same hootch. They didn't like each other, I don't know why. I saw Mr. Hom lock BG's heels one day, made him stand at attention while he chewed him out. Garwood stood there and took it like he was a regular part of their army.
Daly. Garwood told us he crossed over because the VC promised to release him. In front of the VC, however, he would tell us they had released him in '67 but that he couldn't see going home while Vietnamese children were suffering and dying. He said he'd decided to stay and help do something to bring the war to an end.
Davis. Garwood wouldn't look you straight in the eye when he talked. He kept shifting his glance. I think he was ashamed of what he'd done. When he was up at the Vietnamese hootches he was very friendly with them. But when he was among us and the Vietnamese guards got friendly, touching him or patting him on the back, Garwood looked uncomfortable and usually left. All the Vietnamese except Mr. Hom looked up to Garwood. He was an American yet he could do everything they did. He could hump with them and build a hootch. Hom resented him.
Garwood talked to us about racism. There were five of us--Watkins, McMillan, Daly, Lewis and myself. I think that was his job, to try to indoctrinate us. He sort of liked Joe Zawtocki, who was also a marine; but on the other hand he disliked Denny. Joe and Denny were members of a pacification team that had been overrun during the Tet offensive. Joe and Garwood became so friendly that they swapped rings, and Garwood lost Joe's. Then Joe said something one day about killing Vietnamese. Garwood told the Vietnamese that Denny said it. Denny almost got punished.
I felt Garwood had problems growing up. He didn't seem to miss his family. There hadn't been a very good relationship between his mother and father. He spoke about his mother sometimes but never about his father, except to say he was a printer in California and had left him a trust fund. I thought he was a mixed-up guy. But I had to accept him as a Viet Cong. Take the time he escorted us on a manioc run. He carried an automatic carbine. The Vietnamese guard with us stopped in a montagnard ville and left Garwood to take us to the field. Garwood talked casually with us while we picked. Still, he was standing there with a weapon in his hands. Whether he would've shot us had we tried to escape I can't say. Who wanted to try him to find out?
Garwood occasionally gathered firewood. Mr. Hom told him to do things and he obeyed without argument. Garwood was tidy, I have to say that for him. He kept his gear in shape, did PT every morning with the guards, and shaved daily. His dark brown hair was short on the sides and long on top like the Vietnamese. He sometimes wore green shorts. He didn't especially like Vietnamese food. He talked about American food and about returning to the States after the war.
He was in and out of camp all the time. He didn't trust us a bit. When he got ready to leave he left. He didn't come down and tell us or say, "See you guys later." While in camp he called prisoners up to his hootch for interrogation. He was looking for someone to rat on the others. He called me up once or twice. He would lay his tobacco on the table and motion for you to have some. He knew we liked to smoke and seldom had tobacco. He learned that technique from the Viet Cong.
It was like one of them interrogating you.
We sometimes asked him how the war was going. He never gave a direct answer. I don't think he believed the VC would win. He thought the U.S. would just eventually withdraw. When he said something we questioned or disagreed with someone might say, "Oh, come on, Bob." But everyone was careful. No one really tried to argue with him. It was a tight situation. We called him Bob to his face--and a lot of things behind his back. He was a pretty intelligent guy. What I'd call swift. If he had been on my side of the fence and had done his share of the work, I would have liked him a lot better than I did some of the guys there.
McMillan. The other prisoners were glad to see Davis and me and the milk especially. Someone heated water and prepared eighteen cups of milk-diluted water. Everyone told us how they were captured. We went to bed at nightfall. We had no lamps, there was nothing else to do. Usually we talked for two ro three hours in the dark till we dozed off or the guards came in told us to shut up. Talk about how we'd fought and what we would like to do to the Vietnamese. Anton said he'd like to get them in his sights one more time. Garwood sometimes would sneak down in the dark, listen outside the hootch, and go tell the Vietnamese what we were talking about. We caught him at it two or three times.
Russ Grissett's attitude about Garwood we couldn't figure. After Garwood jumped the fence he apparently told Russ he would do all he could for him and Captain Eisenbraun. In fact he did just the opposite. How Russ could have faith in Garwood I don't know. But he still did. When Garwood came to the compound he and Russ would go off by themselves to talk. Russ would tell us, "Don't anybody join us when Garwood comes down. Let me talk to him and he'll tell me what's going on." They would go to the side of the compound and hunker on their haunches like Vietnamese. Everybody learned to sit like that, I did after I'd been there awhile. Russ got the Vietnamese habit all around though; everything he did was like the gooks. He ate like them, rolled cigarettes like them, and smoked like them, with it dangling wetly out the corner of his mouth.
Davis. When Garwood left we'd ask Grissett, "What did you talk about, Russ?"
"Nothing, nothing," he say, and walk away. We knew then that Garwood had come down and shot his head full of bullshit. I guess he thought that by being friendly with Garwood it would help his chances of getting out.
McMillan. The camp commander called Davis and me for interrogation. Garwood was his translator. I wasn't ready to believe it yet about Garwood, so I said, "If I cross over will you let me go home?" Garwood translated.
Slime said, "You have to make progress in order to go home."
I said, "Maybe five months I will make enough progress?"
He said, "Maybe." I used to beat around the bush with them like this.
Ol' Ratface, this guy from North Viet Nam, told me one day, "Okay, you cross over and we'll let you go home."
I said, "You let me go home and then I'll cross over."
He said, "No, no, maybe you get home you join back up with America."
There was no way I could ever cross over, no way. How could Garwood do a thing like that? How could he turn his back on his family? That's what the guys in that camp were to me. Family. I mean, we got into arguments and fights all the time. But it was the sort of thing that comes into the natural relationship between man and wife.
Harker. We continued to improve the camp. The Vietnamese made us build outside eating tables, which we did half-heartedly because none of us knew how to work with bamboo. I was carrying grass one day when my back began to hurt. I couldn't straighten up. Back at the compound Kushner asked had I fallen or strained myself. I didn't think so. He examined me but saw nothing unusual. I started running a fever. I ate a little rice from my bowl at mealtimes and returned to bed.
A Vietnamese doctor arrived to treat Williams and Cannon. He drew a dotted line with a ballpoint pen on Williams' arm and told him he would amputate the next day. Williams suddenly began to say he had a weak heart. I couldn't blame him. The doctor decided not to cut. He treated him with heavy doses of penicillin and each day took him to the medical shack to pick out bone splinters. Williams' hand began to look better and didn't smell as bad. Cannon's wounds also improved but he grew steadily weaker.
The doctor examined me. He turned me on my stomach and felt my back. The pain made me rear up, but he could find no cause for it. He left and returned the next day. This time he felt my back inch by inch. At the lower right side he made an indentation. He realized then I had an infection. He gave me a shot of novocain, sliced my back open, and ran a hemostat in to clean out the pus and establish drainage. It started healing and my fever went away. Kushner said the bayonet I had been stabbed with was filthy and had caused an inward-pointing abscess. The Vietnamese doctor was crude, but I owed him my life.
McMillan. After a week in camp I got an infection in my foot from a rock cut. It got worse but I kept it to myself. I'm afraid of doctors working on me, I've always been. Finally I told Kushner about it. He said I'd better let the Vietnamese look at it. My whole leg began to swell up. It started bothering me at night, I couldn't sleep, so I said, okay, I'll let them work on it.
The Vietnamese came to the compound. One of them looked evil and mean. He was the one who was supposed to work on me. I told him, no, I wasn't going to let him do it. I wanted the other guy. He seemed to be a more pleasant dude. He pulled out a rusty razor blade.
I said, "You're not gonna cut me with that?"
He said, "Ya." They gave me a shot of novocain. It killed the sensation a little, but I could still feel the cutting, felt it as the blade touched the bone. I screamed. The fellows had to hold me down. I passed out. When I came to my foot was bandaged and I was in bed. The VC medics changed the bandage every day and treated the cut with blue ointment. If I stand on it too long it still hurts. But within a month I could walk again.
Davis. Our schedule, such as it was, started at daybreak. Mr. Hom beat a bamboo gong and ran to our hootch and yelled, "Get up! Get up! Do PT! Do PT!" Some guys tried to stay in bed by telling him they were sick. Some of them really were.
Strictland. We did five or six stretch exercises, bend and reach, things like that. Garwood sometimes came down and made us do them when Mr. Hom wasn't in camp. I took the exercise period seriously. I thought it was helping me. To some of the other guys it was just a joke. Then I ran down to the creek and washed up. The Vietnamese did that. I guess I took the habit from them.
Davis. After exercises we returned to the hootch, ate a little rice, and waited for it to get completely light. A manioc run came up twice a week. If you were going you got ready. We wore our short pants on a run and a couple of pairs of boots were saved for this purpose. You picked out a pair and put them on, then got a bamboo basket and adjusted it, being careful to put a piece of cloth under the shoulder straps to keep them from cutting into your back.
We tried to leave by 6:30 and get to the field before the sun burned off the fog. The fields were in different spots. It usually took an average of two hours to reach them. The trails were under foliage or camouflage. The fields, however, were on the open mountainsides and if the fog was gone we had to worry about spotter planes. We ran for the nearest bushes when planes came over and hid till they went away. We were in enemy territory and dressed like Vietnamese. A bomb couldn't tell the difference.
Harker. Only three or four men at a time were permitted to go on a run, accompanied by two armed guards. The guards, who had asked the montagnards beforehand, told us which section of the field to pick from. The manioc bush looked like a slender tree about six feet high. The top was of green leaves, the stalk was grooved and rough on the hands. We hacked off the top, left about two feet of stalk. Manioc is a tuber like sweet potatoes and it was easier to pull them up this way. You grabbed the stalk and worked it back and forth to loosen it. A young plant came up easily, an old one hung on forever. Killing work, if you were weak.
The manioc looked like a long, fat root. Sometimes it was round and oblong, had a brownish-red outer covering similar to a sweet potato and a pink inner peeling. The edible part resembled an Irish potato but had a peculiar taste unlike that of a potato. It was an ancient and quite common food among the poor in parts of Asia.
Davis. A basket of manioc weighed about sixty pounds. If a weak man went on a run you would have to pull yours and probably his too and wind up carrying his basket back to camp.
Depending on how far the field was you'd usually make it back by midafternoon. Tired, sweaty, bruised, and cut, irritated with those who weren't working hard enough, you ate some cold rice and took a bath and talked about what you had seen on a run. I was usually in a bad humor for several hours after I returned. Everyone learned to let me cool off before we talked.
All of us were having a hard time trying to live with our hunger. As a teen-ager I'd often eaten a quick hamburger and taken off with an empty feeling in my stomach that I thought was hunger. It wasn't. Hunger takes over you body, dominates your mind. You crave for meats and think your imagination is driving you crazy. Some prisoners spent hours making up elaborate imaginary menus. Some actually got into fierce arguments about whose menu was best. The only thing you could do was drink water with the meal and try to psych yourself out, tell yourself that you were full.
Harker. A small condensed-milk can was our measuring cup for food. Each prisoner got a can and a half of uncooked polished rice per day, approximately thirteen ounces. At first Grissett was cooking a can per person in the evening and the remaining half can the next morning. His theory was that you should have a full stomach before trying to sleep. We cooked the manioc separately and left it in a pot so we could eat it cold at noontime. We decided to split it down the middle, to cook three quarters of a can in the morning and three quarters in the evening. Russ objected violently. He thought we were trying to put him in his place as a punk lance corporal. Maybe that entered in on it, but much more was involved. We had to try to establish a system that could be voted on by the majority.
We received sporadic rations of nuoc mam and cooking oil. The cooking oil was usually soy bean and on several occasions U.S. peanut oil. We mixed the cooking oil and nuoc mam and heated it. There was enough for two small dippers of sauce per person, enough to wet our rice. We knew it had protein value. Some prisoners literally tried to drink it. But we never had enough to do us much good, and in fact the nuoc mam's salt content was harmful when beriberi hit us.
We didn't try very hard at first to gather wild greens from the jungle. None of them tasted good, and our hunger hadn't driven us to eat them. Later we realized they were necessary if we were to live. The Vietnamese showed us which ones were edible. In the evenings we tried to have some sort of vegetable. Often we stripped a wild banana tree down the middle and ate the pulpy substance. On trees with nonedible fruit we ate the banana flower. Once we had papaya and at other times breadfruit, which we got from the montagnards. All regular food such as rice, manioc, and vegetables was split into precise equal shares.
McMillan. When food was dibbled out every body's eyes were there. Nobody wanted more or less, they just wanted their share. The cooked rice made three small bowls per person each day. You can pack a bowl with rice or you can put it in light and fluffy. It makes a difference when you're hungry. Cooking chores were rotated among two-man teams. It was tacitly accepted that the cooks packed their bowls a little tighter than everyone else's.
Harker. Several other rules about food were passed on by Grissett and adopted by us. The first was the extra-benefit rule--"extra bennies"--we called them. This included any small items of food collected by the individual. They belonged to him. It was not required that he share them though in many cases he did, usually with his best friends. Extra bennies were something like red peppers or a little dried corn you might get from the montagnards when you went on a manioc run. It was an incentive to pick manioc, which was hard work nobody wanted to do.
Davis. On a manioc run we had to pass through a montagnard ville. We always stopped in a few minutes on the way back and asked for tea.
Some of us picked up a few words of the montagnard dialect and combined them with the scanty Vietnamese we'd learned. Pfister was good at this, and he would say, "Got bop? Got ut?" Corn and pepper. "Give us breadfruit, give us something."
The yards would crowd around, laughing and saying "Cai gi? Cai gi? (What?) They often asked us for a manioc or two. We picked from their fields and sometimes they didn't have enough for themselves, so we could hardly refuse. Depending on how wealthy was the montagnard whose house we visited, he might give us a little corn or peppers or maybe some tobacco. But the yards were usually hurting worse than us.
Harker. Another rule was called "the lion's-share principle." Whoever killed an animal or bird got his choice of the meat and the amount he wanted. The principle was modified somewhat the day Watkins and Davis brought a mountain goat into camp. The goat had been killed by the VC. They gave a large piece of meat to Watkins and Davis, who had helped them move supplies, and a smaller share to the rest of us. Someone said, "Why should they get more? It was just luck they happened to be with the VC when the goat was killed."
Another added, "Yeah, why don't you two divide this around equally?" Davis tossed his in with the group's. But I don't think Watkins ever did.
Six of us were forced to carry rice for the VC. On the way back Davis opened his bag and filled my fatigue pants pockets full. When we returned to camp the VC brought out tea and invited us to sit with them a few minutes. They were all smiles, we had done their work for them. As I sat down the rice trickled from my pockets. The VC medic girl spotted it. I lamely explained my bag had a hole and I was saving the rice for them. They knew I'd tried to steal it, but they didn't hassle me, and I gave it back. Obviously I lacked Ike McMillan's talent. He could swipe the shorts off them.
McMillan. The guys all said I could steal better, so I always went to the Vietnamese kitchen to draw our rations. The kitchen was controlled by mama-san and Hannah, the other Vietnamese lady. Everyone said Hannah had a crush on me but I didn't care for her. I would usually go up and beg for something. I talked to her in English which she didn't understand and she would reply, "Khong biet. Khong biet." Then I'd point to what I wanted. Most of the time she would give me some. And I would be stealing something else while she was getting me that. One day I stole eighteen cans of rice. I've always been pretty good for stealing things, even in high school. McMillan was returning from the kitchen with our rations one day when a small ocelot ran across the compound. Ike dropped the supplies and shot up a bamboo tree like a rocket.
On a rainy night I was returning to the hootch before the guard arrived to make a head count. Suddenly someone pushed me from behind. I felt flapping wings under a raincoat. Garwood handed me the coat and said, "Here cook this and save me the legs." He was gone.
Anton. Garwood wanted us to think he was trying to help us. But he also wanted chicken. The only way he could get it was by stealing from the VC. He demanded the two drumsticks and left the remainder to be split among eighteen prisoners. He was taking a big chance though. Anything could have happened to him had the VC found out.
Daly. We left one morning on a manioc run about 7:30. Joe Zawtocki, Denny, Weatherman, Sherman, and myself. The VC for some reason sent only one guard with us. The other one, I think stopped off at a montagnard ville.
Anyway, we were walking along and Sherman said, "Today would be a good day to make a bird. What do you guys think?"
Denny said, "Yeah, you're right."
Weatherman agreed and asked Joe Zawtocki his opinion.
Joe was reluctant. He said, "I think it's a good idea but why don't we wait till we get back and try to get everybody to make a break at once."
The others pointed out how ridiculous this would be with sixteen armed guards around the camp.
"No," someone said, "This is the best time to try when we've only one guard."
The group asked me, "What do you think about it, Daly, since you're a conscientious objector?"
I said, "I'll go along with the majority."
"Do you think you could kill a guard?"
"Right now I want to go home. I think I would do anything to get back to my family."
We discussed the best time to make our move and decided to wait till we reached the manioc field. Joe Zawtocki was still not convinced. He hung back at the hilltop away from us and began filling his basket with manioc. We talked about who should jump the guard. Everybody thought it should be Weatherman, since he'd been a prisoner longer and therefore had a stronger motive for escaping. But Weatherman said, "I just can't kill somebody in cold blood. He's got to do something to me to make me want to kill him." Everybody said the same thing. Finally Weatherman agreed to do it.
The guard sat under a tree. His SKS carbine was propped nearby. Weatherman walked over and asked for water. The guard gave it to him. Weatherman began to play with the camp dog, which had followed us on the run. The guard was nervous. He looked as if he was too scared to make a move to get his weapon. You could tell Weatherman was nervous too. He finished the water and rejoined us. He said, "I just can't kill anybody in cold blood."
Denny said, "Well, if you can't let's forget about it."
As he said that Weatherman spun and went back to the guard. He asked for more water. The guard was positively jumpy now. Weatherman drank the water and returned. "Forget it," he said. "Let's get the manioc so we can get back to camp."
I started pulling manioc, a little relieved that Weatherman had decided not to try it. But unseen by me he had gone back to the guard once again. This time he jumped him. Next thing I knew he was calling for us to help him. Denny ran over. He and Weatherman beat the stew out of the guard, who was pleading for them to stop. Weatherman told Sherman to get the guard's weapon and shoot him.
Sherman said, "No I can't shoot him."
Denny shouted, "Open the bayonet and stab him Bob!"
Sherman flipped out the bayonet and stood with the weapon in his hands. He said, "No, no. I can't. I can't." He ran to me and said, "Here Daly, you take the weapon and do it. I can't."
I said, "Bob, I can't either."
Weatherman screamed, "Stab him, Bob! Stab him!
Sherman threw the rifle down. At the same moment the guard broke free and ran. Weatherman and Denny chased him across the field, brought him down with a tackle, and began slugging him. Then they let him go, grabbed his weapon, and ran to where we were.
"Come on! Let's go!" said Weatherman.
Sherman said, "I'm not going."
They looked at me. I said, "If Sherman's not going, neither am I. You let the guard go. He's gone to get help. There's no way we can get away."
Weatherman said, "Bastards! Dirty cowards!"
Denny said, "I'll get you for this, Daly!"
They headed down the mountainside.
Joe Zawtocki came down from the other side where he'd sat the whole thing out. He said, "Let's wait awhile and give them time to get away.
I said, "There's no use hanging around here. We were too damn yellow to go on. Now if we don't get back to that montagnard village before the VC get here we're going to wind up getting shot anyway.
We ran for the ville. The guard had alerted the montagnards. They had their warning system of gongs going. When we entered the village it was like King Kong coming. Women ran and screamed and grabbed their children out of the way. As we passed some kids in a hootch they reached for an old musket and pointed it at us. They were holding it on us, scared as we were, and I was praying for them not to pull the trigger. The villagers soon calmed down and came to tie us up.
Harker. Guards ran from the camp. We knew something was up. Garwood came to the compound and said, "A tiger's loose in the area. Everybody stay in the hootch."
The VC always told us we had to be careful in the jungle because a tiger might get us. I knew that was not it. At dusk the guards brought three of them back. They moved like machines, with blank stares. The VC pushed them in the compound. Joe Zawtocki was made to tell us what happened. Voice trembling, he said, "We tried to escape today. We weren't successful. Weatherman was killed. Denny was shot in the leg."
The camp commander said, "If any of you try to escape you will be shot. The guards have their orders."
Later Denny told us he and Weatherman could hear the montagnards searching for them. They hid in some thick brush and decided to lay low till nightfall. A montagnard kid stumbled upon them. The had the guard's rifle but they chose not to shoot the kid. He scrambled out and ran away. A bunch of yards arrived a few minutes later, told them to come out with hands up. They left the rifle behind and crawled out. Denny was little behind and to the right of Weatherman.
Weatherman stood with his hands in the air. A montagnard armed with an old Mauser approached. Denny heard Weatherman say, "No!" A bullet took off the back of his head, splattering Denny. The montagnard pointed the rifle at Denny and pulled the trigger. It misfired. Denny turned and ran down a creek bed. The montagnard shot, wounding him in the fleshy part of his calf. The yard was coming to finish him off when VC guards arrived from the camp. They saved him. He was taken to the montagnard village, and held for thee days without food in a small shed where rats gnawed at him during the night. The yards spat on him and beat him. They undoubtedly thought he would have brought U.S. bombs down on them had his escape attempt succeeded. Garwood brought a written "confession" and advised him to sign it. He signed. The VC returned him to our compound.
Daly. On the way back to camp Joe Zawtocki said he was going to tell the truth. I said, "What do you mean, Joe? Look, Weatherman is dead. The guard's alive. He knows that Denny beat him and that Sherman had the rifle in his hands. Denny and Sherman are going to be punished no matter what. We don't know what they will do to us. But there's no use admitting we planned to escape. Why should four people get beaten?"
The VC held a day-long trial a week later. That was when Ratface, the North Vietnamese, arrived to become a camp director. Joe told the truth about his nonparticipation. I said I didn't go because I thought we couldn't make it. Denny was given ninety days in stocks and Bob Sherman sixty days. I got thirty days' suspended sentence. Joe Zawtocki was let off with a warning. The VC said this showed the lenient and humane policy of the Front because each person got something different.
I don't guess it was a bad punishment for what we did, if you want to look at it that way. But Sherman did lose his mind while he was in stocks. They were placed in a special hootch below the compound. They couldn't move and had no protection from mosquitoes at night. When Sherman got out he had a faraway look in his eyes. He talked crazy, couldn't remember his name at first. We took turns feeding him. He didn't want to eat. He knew how people were about food. So when it came your turn to feed him he would offer you the food. But nobody took advantage of him. If you turned your back he would throw it over the fence. Actually Denny and Sherman didn't finish their whole term in stocks. Mr. Ho, a VC honcho, came to camp and pardoned them so they could attend his indoctrination class.
Strictland. The escape attempt occurred April 1, 1968. That's what they were too. Fools.
Anton. We talked little about escaping after Weatherman was killed. It was a subtle thing. We began to speak about holding out till the war ended.
Daly. I was on a manioc run a few months later with Denny and some other guys. We came across some orange trees that apparently belonged to the montagnards. Our guard was off some place out of sight. Everybody started scrambling for oranges. I went to a tree but couldn't reach any. The guard ran up and saw peeling on the ground.
He asked the others had they taken any.
They said no.
He asked me.
I said, "Daly no do."
He asked Denny had I taken the oranges.
Denny said, "Maybe he did, maybe he didn't . I don't know."
The rest of the guys then said the same thing. So the guard gives a stick to Denny and tells him to beat me.
I said, "Wait a minute, Denny. You're not going to beat me for nothing. You know damn well I didn't take any oranges."
He said, "I'm not going to hit you hard."
I said, "That's not the point. The point is the guard thinks I'm guilty. If you hit me you are saying in effect that I am."
The guard got impatient with our arguing. He grabbed the stick and hit me in the head. I screamed bloody murder and cursed him. He got scared and backed up. I moved toward him calling him MFs and everything.
The other POWs yelled, "Better shut up, fool! He'll kill you!"
I said, "Let him kill me but he'll stop breathing before me." I began to worry he really might shoot. I turned and ran to the camp.
I was telling the camp commander what happened as Garwood arrived. He said, "You stand at attention when you talk to an officer." I gritted my teeth and braced at attention.
I said, "The guard hit me for no reason."
Garwood said, "He didn't. Even the POWs say you took the oranges."
I said, "Listen, Garwood, I don't care what they say. Whoever told you that is a damn liar. Let them say it to my face."
That afternoon the VC held a trial. The other prisoners said I was guilty. What could I say? The VC ordered the POWs to suggest a suitable punishment. Denny told them I should go five days without food. The Vietnamese said, "Five days without food and he might die. Then they went down the line asking the other prisoners. The punishment was reduced to one day without food. Everyone said that was fair.
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