BENGE, MICHAEL DENNIS
Name: Michael Dennis Benge
Rank/Branch: U.S. Civilian
Unit: Agency for International Development
Date of Birth: 6 August 1935
Home City of Record: Oregon
Date of Loss: 31 January 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 124049N 1080235E (AQ800030)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Category:
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Refno: 1008
Other Personnel in Incident: Betty Ann Olsen; Henry F. Blood (both
captured); Rev.Griswald (killed); Carolyn Griswald (daughter of
Rev.Griswald, survived first attack, died of wounds); Rev. Zeimer (killed);
Mrs.Robert Zeimer (wounded, first attack, evaded, survived); Rev.&
Mrs.Thompson; Miss Ruth Whilting (all killed)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 30 June 1990 from one or more of
the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence
with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W.
NETWORK 1998 with material from Michael Benge.
                                              
REMARKS: 730305 RELEASED BY PRG
SYNOPSIS: Michael D. Benge was born in 1935 and raised on a ranch in eastern
Oregon. After college at Oregon State, he applied to the CIA, because he
wanted to travel the world. CIA told him to try the Agency for International
Development (AID). AID sent him to International Voluntary Services (IVS).
After two years in Vietnam with IVS, Benge transferred to AID and served as
an AID agricultural advisor. By the time of the Tet offensive of 1968, he
had been in-country five years, working almost the whole time with the
Montagnards in the highlands. He spoke fluent Vietnamese and several
Montagnard dialects.
On January 31, 1968, Benge was captured while riding in a jeep near Ban Me
Thuot, South Vietnam. Learning of the Tet offensive strikes, Benge was
checking on some IVS volunteers who were living in a hamlet with three
companies of Montagnard rebels who had just been through a lot of fighting
as the NVA went through the Ban Me Thuot area. His plan was to pick up the
IVS "kids" and then go down to pick up some missionaries in the area.
Benge was captured a few miles from the Leprosarium at Ban Me Thuot. This
center treated anyone with a need as well as those suffering from leprosy.
It was at the Leprosarium that Rev. Archie Mitchell, Dr. Eleanor Vietti and
Daniel Gerber had been taken prisoner in 1962. The Viet Cong regularly
harassed and attacked the center in spite of its humanitarian objectives.
During the Tet offensive, the Viet Cong again tried to wipe out the
Christian missionary influence in Dar Lac Province, and over a three day
period attacked the hospital compound several times.
Betty Ann Olsen was born to Missionary parents in Bouake, Ivory Coast. She
had attended a religious school and missionary college in Nyack, New York.
Curious about the way the other part of the world lived, she went to Vietnam
in 1964 as a missionary nurse for Christian and Missionary Alliance, and was
assigned to the Leprosarium at Ban Me Thuot. Henry F. Blood was a missionary
serving as translator and linguist for Wickcliff Translators at the
Leprosarium.
During one of the earlier attacks on the hospital compound, three staff
homes were destroyed, one housing Rev. Griswald, who was killed, and his
grown daughter Carolyn, who survived the explosion but later died of her
wounds. During the same attack, Rev. and Mrs. Zeimer, Rev.and Mrs. Thompson
and Miss Ruth Whilting were trapped and machine gunned. Only Mrs. Zeimer
survived her 20-30 wounds and was later evacuated to Cam Ranh Bay. Blood and
Olsen escaped injury for the moment.
Two days later, on February 1, 1968, as Olsen was preparing to escape with
the injured Griswald, she and Henry Blood were captured during another
attack on the hospital.
For the next month or so, Benge, Blood and Olsen were held in a POW camp in
Darlac Province, about a day's walk from Ban Me Thuot, and were held in
cages where they had nothing to eat but boiled manioc (a large starchy root
from which tapioca is made).
The Vietnamese kept moving their prisoners, hiking through the jungles and
mountains. The camp areas, swept very clean of leaves to keep the mosquito
population down (and the ensuing malaria threat), were clearly visible from
the sky. Once, Benge reports, an American aircraft came so close to the camp
that he could see the pilot's face. The pilot "wagged his wings" and flew
away. The Vietnamese, fearing rescue attempts and U.S. air strikes, kept
moving.
For months Olsen, Blood and Benge were chained together and moved north from
one encampment to another, moving over 200 miles through the mountainous
jungles. The trip was grueling and took its toll on the prisoners. They were
physically depleted, sick from dysentery and malnutrition; beset by fungus,
infection, leeches and ulcerated sores.
Mike Benge contracted cerebral malaria and nearly died. He credits Olsen
with keeping him alive. She forced him to rouse from his delirium to eat and
drink water and rice soup. Mike Benge describes Olsen as "a Katherine
Hepburn type...[with] an extra bit of grit."
In the summer of 1968, the prisoners, again on the trail, were left exposed
to the rain during the rainy season. Hank Blood contracted pneumonia,
weakened steadily, and eventually died in July. (July 1968 is one of the
dates given by the Vietnamese - the other, according to classified
information the U.S. gave to the Vietnamese through General John Vessey
indicates that Mr. Blood died on October 17, 1972. Mike Benge says Blood
died around July 4.) Blood was buried in a shallow grave along the trail,
with Olsen conducting grave-side services.
Benge and Olsen were kept moving. Their bodies were covered with sores, and
they had pyorrhea from beri-beri. Their teeth were loosening and gums
infected. They spent a lot of time talking about good meals and good places
to eat, planning to visit their favorite restaurants together when they went
home. They moved every two or three days.
Benge and Olsen were moved near Tay Ninh Province, almost to Da Lat, then
back to Quang Duc Province. Olsen was getting weak, and the Vietnamese began
to kick and drag her to keep her moving. Benge, trying to defend her, was
beaten with rifle butts.
Just before crossing the border into Cambodia, Olsen weakened to the point
that she could no longer move. Ironically, in this area, near a tributary to
the Mekong river, fish and livestock abounded, and there was a garden, but
the food was denied to the prisoners. They were allowed to gather bamboo
shoots, but were not told how to cook it.
Bamboo needs to be boiled in two waters to extract an acid substance. Not
knowing this, Olsen and Benge boiled their food only once and were beset
with immobilizing stomach cramps within a half-hour; diarrhea soon followed.
Betty Ann Olsen weakened and finally died September 29, 1968 (Vessey
information indicates this date as September 26), and was buried by Benge.
Finally, Benge was taken to Cambodia, turned over to the North Vietnamese,
and another long, grueling trek began. Benge, however, had made his mind up
that he wouldn't die. He treated his ulcerated body by lying in creeks and
allowed small fish to feed off the dead tissue (a primitive debridement),
then caught the fish and ate them raw. He caught small, green frogs and
swallowed them whole. He did everything he could to supplement his meager
food ration.
By the time he reached the camp the Vietnamese called "the land of milk and
honey" his hair was white and he was so dehydrated and emaciated that other
POWs estimated his age to be over seventy years old. He was, at the time,
only thirty-three.
After a year in Cambodia, Benge was marched north on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
to Hanoi. He spent over three years in camps there, including a total of
twenty-seven months in solitary confinement. Upon his return, he verified
collaboration charges against eight of his fellow POWs, in a prosecution
effort initiated by Col. Theodore Guy (this action was discouraged by the
U.S. Government and the effort was subsequently abandoned.) Mike Benge then
returned to Vietnam and worked with the Montagnards until the end of the
war.
The Vietnamese have never attempted return the remains of Henry Blood and
Betty Olsen. They are two individuals that the Vietnamese could provide a
wealth of information on. Since they pride themselves on being
"humanitarians," it would not be in keeping with this image to reveal the
horror Olsen and Blood endured in their hands. It is not surprising, then,
that the Vietnamese have not publicly told their stories.
Olsen and Blood are among nearly 2500 Americans, including several
civilians, who are still unaccounted for, missing or prisoner from the
Vietnam war. Since the war ended, over 10,000 reports have been received
concerning these missing Americans which have convinced many authorities
that hundreds are still alive in communist hands. While Blood and Olsen may
not be among them, they went to Vietnam to help. They would not turn their
backs on their fellow man. Why has their own country turned its back on
them?
SOURCE: WE CAME HOME
copyright 1977 Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret),
Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor
P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602
Text is reproduced as found in the original
publication (including date and spelling errors).
MICHAEL D. BENGE
Civilian
Captured: January 28, 1968
Released: March 5, 1973
From 1956 through 1959 I served in the Marine Corps. After I competed my tour
of duty, I returned  to Oregon State University and completed my studies in
Mechanical Technology in Agricultural Engineering. I served with the
International Volunteer Services (the forerunner of the Peace Corps), in
Vietnam from 1963 to 1965, as an advisor in education and agriculture. I
joined the Agency for International Development (AID), in January 1965 and
returned to Vietnam to work chiefly with the Montagnards (an aboriginal people
of the Malayan-Polynesian extraction living in the western highlands). Here I
acted as a civilian economic and community development advisor to the Darlac
province chief. During this period I  was named the adopted son of a tribal
chief and his wife. The brass bracelets given to me by the Montagnards were
removed when I was captured. However, since my return I am again wearing the
bracelets.
         
Three years later on January 28, 1968, while attempting to group people for
evacuation, I was captured by the North Vietnamese in South Vietnam. For five
silent years I endured forced marches through South Vietnam, Laos, and
Cambodia, into North Vietnam. I was tortured by the hands of the Communists
for my "bad attitude". While in captivity I was kept in solitary confinement
for 27 months. At intervals I was forced to maintain a difficult position on
my knees with my hands over my head for between 11 and 16 hours at a time. If
I dropped my hands I was beaten. While marching for several months, I had only
a small amount of rice and salt to eat. Perhaps once or twice a month I
received a tiny portion of  monkey or lizard meat. I ate anything I could pick
up or catch, small crabs, frogs, minnows, bugs, etc. If caught doing this I
was beaten so I swallowed them raw when no one was looking.
         
About two months after I was captured I came down with cerebral malaria.
During this period of  time  I was delirious for thirty-five days and suffered
periodic blindness. No medical assistance was offered. As a  result of
malnutrition, I began suffering from beri-beri, scurvy, jungle ulcers, loss of
hair, and loose teeth.  From 160 my weight decreased to less than 100 lbs. As
I marched through Cambodia and Laos I passed an endless stream of North
Vietnamese uniformed soldiers walking South and supplies being trucked from
Port of Sianookville, Cambodia and from Hanoi In Cambodia and Laos there were
rest camps every four hours along the trail flying the North Vietnamese flag.
         
The 85 men held captive with me would never had been taken prisoner if the
U.S. had struck the safe havens in Cambodia prior to the launching of the Tet
offensive in 1968. The only reason the P.O.W.'s  were released was because the
Americans eventually bombed Hanoi.  I was taken all the way to Hanoi. In the
early part of December 1969,1 spent about two months in  a camp in Laos
somewhere around Highway 9. I was then trucked into Hanoi and taken to a camp
outside of the city. At this location I was put into solitary confinement for
the next year, seeing no other American. I was kept in an isolation hut, where
they had sealed off all of the ventilation holes allowing no air. The walls
were painted black with coal dust and cement. There was no light. I had
contact with no one else. The room was filled with mosquitoes and flies. There
was one hole in the back of the hut which allowed little or no air to come in.
Only rats! And frequently I had eight or ten of them with me. My well was
right outside the hut. About fifteen yards uphill they had placed a cesspool.
Everytime it rained the water turned brown with pollution.
         
The free people of South Vietnam learned the nature of the North Vietnamese
communists in 1968  when they invaded Hue. The systematic massacre that
followed belied the N.V.A.'s persuasive propaganda. First they murdered
thousands on their lists of opponents or neutralists. Then they turned on the
pro-communists and student groups whom they did not consider reliable. Then as
they retreated they killed anyone they thought might have witnessed the
wholesale slaughter. Two missionaries, with whom I was imprisoned, told of
seeing six other missionaries, in Ban Me Thuot, gunned down in cold blood as
they emerged from bunkers with their hands over their heads. Two women
missionaries in Laos were tied inside grass huts by the NVA and burnt to
death. In another area three villages were overrun by the North Vietnamese and
they drove the women and children into a ditch and burnt them alive with
flame-throwers.
         
I was elated when I first learned of the peace talks. However, even with peace
and my return home I continue trying to awaken the people in the U.S. and
elsewhere about many facts of the Vietnam war.  I am very concerned about the
American, South Vietnamese and third country prisoners of war who are still
held by the North Vietnamese. We have documented proof of 53 Americans whom
the North Vietnamese had captured and used for propaganda purposes. There has
been no accounting of them on any of the POW or MIA lists. I feel that the
North Vietnamese may use the remaining prisoners to justify to their people
their claim of winning the war.
         
I am happy to have been home to rejoin my mother, father, and sister even for
such a short period of time. At present I am still a bachelor and have
returned to college in the Philippines for my M.S. degree in community
development. I returned to South Vietnam for four months to see my many
friends. I shall again return to work again with the Montagnards in Vietnam if
"The Tide Doesn't Turn Red." Unlike many others, my going to Vietnam wasn't
just "Doing My Thing". I still feel that I have a commitment. A commitment
that "they too might have the freedom of choice, of beliefs and political
alternatives."
         
It was great to return to America and be back in a country, even with all its
social ills, where one can enjoy the freedom of speech, the freedom of
thought, and the freedom of political choice in the free world, things that
are unknown to those, still in the lands where I was held as a POW.
----------
Date:          Wed, 23 Sep 98
From:          "Mike Benge"
Subject:       BIO
Michel Dennis Benge (Mike) was born on August 6, 1935 in Denver,
CO, and grew up on a ranch in Eastern Oregon, where for a time,
he rode brahma bulls and bareback horses in rodeos.  He joined the
Marine Corps in 1956, achieved the rank of sergeant, and was
honorably discharged in 1959.  He completed  his undergraduate
studies in Agricultural Engineering at Oregon State University in
1962.
In 1963, he joined the International Voluntary Services (a
forerunner of the Peace Corps), and served for two years in the
Central Highlands in South Viet Nam, working mainly with the
Montagnards (a French term for people of the mountains).  He is
Fluent in both Vietnamese and Rhade (the major ethnic minority
dialect), In 1965, he joined the United States Agency for
International Development, and served as a provincial development
officer in the Central Highlands of South Viet Nam.  He received
three of medals from the government of South Viet Nam for
outstanding work in public administration, public health, and
ethnic minority affairs.
While serving in that capacity, he was captured by the North
Vietnamese during the "Tet Offensive" on January 28, 1968.  His
capture resulted from attempting to rescue four Americans housed in
a section of town that had been overrun by a North Vietnamese
battalion.  Mr. Benge was credited with rescuing 11 Americans prior
to his capture, and for this, received the State Department's
highest award for heroism.  He also received a second award for
valor for his actions during captivity.  
Mr. Benge was held in numerous camps in South Viet Nam, Cambodia,
Laos and North Viet Nam.  He spent 27 months in solitary
confinement and one year in a "black box."  While in the
"Plantation Gardens," he served as Col. Ted Guy's deputy, and was
released during "Operation Homecoming"  in 1973.
While on medical leave, he returned to Viet Nam and continued his
work with the Ministry of Ethnic Minorities.  In 1974, he was
assigned to the USAID Mission in the Philippines.  After the fall
of Viet Nam in 1975, he assisted in processing Vietnamese refugees
to go to the U.S.  
In 1978, he completed a Master's Degree in Agroforestry at the
University of the Philippines at Los Banos.  In 1979, he rotated to
USAID headquarters in Washington, DC, continuing his work in
international development, forestry and environment.  For
outstanding achievements in international forestry, Mr. Benge
received an award from the King of Sweden, which was patterned
after the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.
He continues his work with USAID, and resides in Falls Church, VA. 
He is a single parent to two daughters, ages 16 and 11.  He is active
in POW/MIA affairs, and other South East Asian political issues.

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