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1966_12_03--27-33--I_Escaped_From_a_Red_Prison

30 after my crash—they marched me to a cave and stuck me in a hole that was roughly two feet across and four feet deep. There was about a foot of water at the bottom, and my arms and legs were still tied, so I couldn't sleep. For the next few days they marched me along the trails in eastern Laos. They gave me water and a couple of handfuls of rice, but I was extremely weak. I stumbled a lot trying to keep up with them and passed out a couple of times. Then, on the morning of the 14th day, we reached the prison camp. It wasn't what I'd imagined at all; I thought I was going to a camp like you see in the movies. But this was just a collection of bamboo huts sitting on stilts about four feet high. I knew other prisoners had to be there, so I began to shout: "Hey, you guys, what's up in there? What's the scoop?" But I didn't hear a sound. They shoved me into one of the huts, clapped handcuffs on my wrists and stuck my feet into wooden blocks that must have weighed 30 or 40 pounds. It was very dark in there, but the door was open about half a foot, and I wiggled toward it. That's when I saw six other prisoners in another but a few feet away. For security reasons, I won't say much about them, but several were in bad shape. Most of their teeth had fallen out, and I could see big sores on their bodies. And they were also wearing handcuffs. I shouted to them, and right away a guard came and told me to shut up. When he left, I called softly to the other hut. One guy called back that his name was Duane Martin; he was an Air Force lieutenant, a helicopter pilot, and he had been captured nine months earlier. Some of the others had been there more than two years. I realized there was a chance that one of them might be a stool pigeon, so I told them only that I flew a Skyraider. I didn't want to say anything about the carrier or about the targets I'd bombed. It didn't matter, because what they were really interested in was news from outside. What did cars look like now? What was happening in Europe, Cuba and China? What could you see on television? Then I told them that President Kennedy was dead. Duane Martin had said that, too, but they hadn't believed him. I was kept isolated for about a week, and then I was moved into the other hut. Until a month ago, the prisoners said, conditions hadn't been too bad. They'd even been allowed to boil water at night. Then Little Hitler came and everything had changed. I'll never forget that guy as long as I live. He was short—about five feet two inches—and he wore a blue-and-yellow loincloth. He had dark skin, little squirrelly eyes and a big belly. He always carried a submachine gun. He did his best to torment us, and he succeeded lots of times. He knew, for example, that we wanted water desperately, so he'd bring some in a pot and place it just out of our reach. Then he'd pour the water on the ground and laugh. Another of his tricks was to stand one of us in footblocks outside the but and take the man's handcuffs off. Then he'd tell the other guards that the prisoner refused to wear handcuffs and should be punished. Right away they'd beat him and fire bullets at his feet. Of all the guards, and there were 10 or 15 at all times, Little Hitler was undoubtedly the worst. Still, he had competition—Crazy Horse, for example. He really did have a face like a horse, and he really was crazy in a brutal way. Then there were Sot and Dam and Windy—he was a sly son of a gun who was always sneaking around corners, trying to catch us doing something. And Jumbo— I shouldn't forget him—a fat, dreamy-faced guy who didn't care about anything. He sat outside his but all day making baskets out of rattan fiber, and knew I'd never fly or see my mother again.' he never bothered us at all. It was hot as hell during the day and bitterly cold at night. Nobody had a match or a lighter—we just rubbed bamboo together to make fire. I still had my sleeping bag, but it was good only for keeping leeches and mosquitoes away. One morning—I think it was eight days after I was brought to the camp—Crazy Horse entered our but with a big smile on his face. The prisoners who had been confined longest could understand him. We were going to be set free, he said, free to go home. We just had to walk to another headquarters. We packed up our belongings: spoons and water cups that we'd carved out of bamboo, together with some thread and porcupine needles. Then we started marching. All of us were stumbling along, tied to one another by handcuffs. We should have known that Crazy Horse was lying— Crazy Horse always lied. We didn't reach a headquarters, only another prison camp, like the first one but more heavily fortified. Our bamboo huts stood on log foundations about three feet high. The guards shoved four of us in one of these huts and placed the other prisoners in a but across the way. Now we settled into monotonous routine. Every morning we'd wake up with the chickens. One guy would holler, "Kopa-tie-a-chow"—I have to go to the latrine. There was a hole in the ground 30 or 40 yards away. Five or six guards would remove his footblocks and escort him there. But if he stayed there longer than half a minute, the guards would start shooting. We soon decided it was safer to relieve ourselves in bamboo containers inside the huts. One of us would have to empty these containers every second or third day and would run the risk of being shot—but this was better than having all of us shot at every morning. At about nine o'clock the guards would give us rice. Sometimes all seven of us would be allowed to eat this morning meal at a table outside the main hut, and we'd have about 10 minutes to talk before the guards yelled "Kuo-kuo" and shoved us back inside. During the day the heat was so unbearable that the guards not on duty simply went to sleep. In midafternoon they'd wake up, go out to check their traps for animals and look for edible leaves and bark. Around five they'd let us out again for another 10-minute meal before putting us back in footblocks for the rest of the night. The most nerve-racking part of the routine was the singing. Every night the guards would sing the same propaganda songs, over and over. Now and then the guards would push us out of our huts and punish us—also part of their routine. They'd hang us upside down from trees or shoot bullets at our feet. One time a guard put an M-1 to my head, and I thought he was going to pull the trigger. I remember saying, "Oh, God, that's an American weapon. Our tax dollars paid for that." Then he laughed and took it away. After the first few weeks at the camp we developed a routine of our own. Saturday night was our hoot-and-holler time. We tried to pick songs that all of us knew—Loch Lomond or High Noon. On Sunday mornings we'd hold church services with Reverend Dengler, Reverend Martin or Reverend So-and-So presiding. We didn't have a Bible, but some of us remembered Scripture, and we'd talk for an hour or so about God. Then we'd pray. The rest of the week we had nothing to do but sit inside those huts and wait for food or punishment. Initially we had enough rice; we could even ask for second helpings. Then, in March, about a month after we imoved to the, new camp, the food supply dried 'up. Once every four or five days the guards would go to check their traps. If something had been caught, it had probably been dead for a while; other animals had torn off its legs or head. For some reason, when they caught a pig, the guards would stick the raw meat into a bamboo container and let it rot there for several days. It would turn green and start moving by itgtlf. Maggots would crawl all over it, and it would stink so bad that the guards would hold their noses. But we never got sick from eating. it. Most of the prisoners were already used to eating intestines, testicles and eyes. I thought they were crazy at first, but after a while it didn't bother me either. At mealtime we'd take turns dipping coconut shells into a pot of cold food brought by a guard. If we had meat, we'd cut it up first to make sure that each of us got his fair share. One afternoon we found a frog under the floor of our hut. We divided it, raw, among the seven prisoners, and I got his heart. It was smaller than a watch stem, but at least it was food. At night the rats came. We caught them in traps baited with rice. The rats were very good eating. We'd cook them to the extent of searing off their fur, then eat the head, legs, tail, skin—everything. The snakes that we caught were small, but most of them had rats in their stomachs. That 'was a double feast. In all the time we'd been at this camp, we never had any medical attention. One of the prisoners had a badly infected tooth; pus was streaming out, and it hurt him a lot. He found a nail somewhere, placed it against his tciOth and hammered it with a rock. He chopped it off piece by piece. and that relieved the pressure. I never got dysentery, but we all had diarrhea. We ate charcoal, Back home, Dewier stands on the wing of the "Spad" he began a "love affair" with when he first joined the Navy.


1966_12_03--27-33--I_Escaped_From_a_Red_Prison
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