ECKES, WALTER WILLIAM
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ECKES, WALTER WILLIAM
Name: Walter William Eckes
Rank/Branch: E3/US Marine Corps
Unit: F Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division
Date of Birth:
Home City of Record: New York NY
Date of Loss: 10 May 1966
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 155735N 1081100E (AT987667)
Status (in 1973): Escaped POW
Category:
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing, but held with James S. Dodson,
escaped POW)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project with the assistance of Patty
Skelly of Task Force Omega, Inc. 01 October 1990 from raw data from U.S.
Government agency sources, correspondence with Walt Eckes, published
sources. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK.
REMARKS: 660618 ESCAPED
SYNOPSIS: In May 1966, Lcpl. Walter W. Eckes was assigned to F Battery, 2nd
Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. As radio operator, Eckes
volunteered for a F.O. (forward observer) team. He was attached to C
Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division (later known as the
"Walking Dead").
Because of a shortage of forward observers, Eckes' four-man team had no
officers and were not replaced in the field as the line companies rotated to
the rear to resupply or rest. Every couple of weeks, one of the team would
return to HQ 2nd Battalion, 12th Marines to pick up the team members' pay
and any supplies that were needed for the team. On May 9, 1966, Eckes
returned to the rear to resupply, spent the night, and the following morning
headed back to his team and Charlie Company 1/9. The team was located about
25 miles south-southwest of Da Nang at a hamlet called Lei Son (phonetic
spelling).
Eckes made the trip back to camp by hopping a ride on a truck from HQ. The
truck was going further south, so Eckes got off at a junction that entered
into Lei Son. The road, only about a quarter to a half-mile long, was booby
trapped every night, so Eckes decided to wait for another vehicle that was
going to enter all the way into the compound.
As he was sitting on the side of the road propped against a tree, three men
in South Vietnamese uniforms came walking down the road. One had an M-14;
one had a 45 automatic pistol; the third was unarmed. Eckes greeted the men
who then leveled weapons at him. Believing they were joking, Eckes pushed
the weapon aside. The three disarmed him, wrestled him to the ground, and
tied him up, putting one rope around his neck, and tying his arms elbow to
elbow behind his back.
The three Vietnamese dragged Eckes across the road by the neck rope and held
him overnight. The following day, Eckes was given over to another group who
led him to a POW camp. Along the way, he was paraded in villages the group
passed through. Eckes estimates the camp to be located about 10-15 miles
west-southwest of the hamlet of Lei Son.
When he arrived at camp, Eckes met a tall black man standing in the door of
one of the huts who smiled at him. At first Eckes thought the man was a
Cambodian he had heard about who had been infiltrating Marine camps
sabotaging equipment. Later he learned that the man was smiling because he
thought he would never again see another American. His name was Sgt. James
Dodson, and he had been captured three days before Eckes. Dodson had been
working with an engineer group clearing roads when he went behind a hut and
was knocked unconscious and captured.
While in the camp near Lei Son, Eckes and Dodson were not tortured, but
occasionally roughed up during questioning. Twice, interrogators came in
from outside the camp. After the second interrogation, Eckes was told that
he and Dodson would soon be moved to another camp where another American was
being held - Bobby Garwood. Several days passed, and the two were brought
black pajamas to wear on the trip to the next camp.
Dodson and Eckes were taken away from the camp near Lei Son and traveled
about three days when they were forced to return because of American
military activity along their route. About two weeks later, they were taken
in a different direction for the same destination. They were on the trail
for 3-4 days, and the prisoners were in bad shape. Eckes lost his toenails
due to a combination the effects of poor health and exposure, having been
required to wear "Ho Chi Minh" sandals. The left side of his face was badly
infected from insect bites, and his weight had dropped to 98 pounds.
At dinner that night, Eckes made a decision. He had endured all he felt he
could, and planned to make a break, but didn't know what to do. He and
Dodson discussed it, and both agreed they had to escape if they were to
survive.
Eckes and Dodson were traveling with about 18 Viet Cong and three of them
stayed with the prisoners during their rice meal that evening. The guards
also started to eat, and for the first time during the trip, all three
guards propped their weapons on a tree about 20 feet away. Eckes and Dodson
seemed compliant, and the guards felt confident. The other fifteen guards
were some distance away eating.
After the meal, Eckes and Dodson had to wash out their canteen cups in a
stream directly behind the Viet Cong. When they stood up, the guards
believed they were going to wash their cups, but instead, the POWs took the
rifles, grabbed a few supplies and took off through the jungle. It was June
17.
For the next several days, Eckes and Dodson were chased through the jungle,
and eventually made their way to a PF post just outside An Hoa (about 25
miles southwest of Da Nang), where a Marine base was located. The two were
brought in by ambulance to An Hoa, on June 20 and then flown to Da Nang
where medical needs were seen to and they were debriefed. The only other
American they had heard about was Bobby Garwood.
Walt Eckes will never forget his captivity. He is aware of the great volume
of intelligence which has convinced many that POWs are still being held
captive today. He and Dodson were among a very few who were able to escape
captivity in Southeast Asia. Many tried and were tortured for their efforts,
or killed. To Eckes and others who were fortunate enough to come home, the
idea that Americans are still being held captive holds a special horror.
It's time we brought our men home.
==============
Actual capture and escape dates are May 10th 1966 & escaped on June 17th and
got back to American lines June 20th.  I believe the DoD record shows an
escape date of June 18th but that is incorrect.  Marine Corps records have
it right.
Semper Fi,
Walt

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