ECKES, WALTER WILLIAM
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.