JOHNSON, BOBBY LOUIS
Name: Bobby Louis Johnson
Rank/Branch: E4/US Army
Unit:
Date of Birth:
Home City of Record: Detroit MI
Date of Loss: 25 August 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 110930N 1061320E (XT324346)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Category:
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Truck
Refno: 1264
Other Personnel in Incident: Burt Kinzel, escaped capture. (none missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 October 1990 from: raw data
from U.S. Government agency sources, published sources including "Civilian
POW: Terror and Torture in South Vietnam" by Norman J. Brookens. Updated by
the P.O.W. NETWORK 2007 with information from Burt Kinzel.
REMARKS: 730212 RELSD BY PRG
SYNOPSIS: On January 17, 1966, U.S. State Department Foreign Service Officer
Douglas K. Ramsey was driving a truck northwest of Saigon when he was
captured by Viet Cong forces. For Ramsey and for all Americans captured in
South Vietnam, life would be brutally difficult. These men suffered from
disease induced by an unfamiliar and inadequate diet - dysentery, edema,
skin fungus and eczema as well as particularly brutal treatment from guards.
Douglas K. Ramsey was the first to be captured of a group of about 30
Americans who would be held along the Cambodian border. The was the only
group of POWs who were not released from Hanoi in Operation Homecoming in
1973.
In 1967, the Viet Cong captured another prisoner of war -- Army Capt.
William H. Hardy, who was captured on June 29, 1967 as he drove a truck near
Saigon.
Around the time of the Tet Offensive in early 1968, the Viet Cong northwest
of Saigon captured still more Americans: State Department employees, Norman
Brookens and Richard Utecht; U.S. civilians Michael Kjome and James Rollins;
Army Cpl. Thomas Van Putten and Australian businessman, Charles K. Hyland.
On April 22, 1968, four POWs who were held together -- Brookens, Utecht,
Hyland and Rollins -- dared an escape. They had secretly learned to remove
their chains, and on this rainy night they made their break. Within seconds
of their freedom, they were soaked. It was impossible to walk in the thick
jungle, so they crawled on hands and knees. They immediately became
separated, and had barely reached the camp border when they were surrounded
and recaptured.
For the next ten days, they were given only several spoons of rice and a
pinch of salt. They were chained and bound with ropes so tight their arms
and legs went completely numb. The ropes were removed after a month, but the
chains remained. The four were rotated between a cage and a pit. Brookens
remained in the pit for several months, lying in his own body waste.
Throughout the spring and summer of 1968, others were captured: Capt. John
Dunn and Pvt. James M. Ray captured on March 18; Pvt. Ferdinand Rodriguez on
April 14; Maj. Raymond Schrump on May 23; SSgt. Felix Neco-Quinones on July
16, SSgt. Bobby Johnson, SP4 Thomas Jones and SSgt. Kenneth Gregory on
August 25.
Bobby Johnson and Burt Kinzel were riding in a truck. They stopped and went
into a mud hut realizing the enemy was approaching from all sides. Kinzel
ran, barely escaping the grasp of a VietCong. Bobby was captured and not
released till 1973.
The POWs were kept on the move; some held in groups, and some held alone. It
was a mental challenge to try to keep track of their location, and the POWs
report that they believed they were in Cambodia some of the time, and at
other times near the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During rest periods on the journey
they were held in cages or in deep holes, or chained to trees.
In mid-July, Brookens, Utecht and Rollins were moved to another camp, but
Hyland was left behind. He was released on November 26, 1968. For the first
time, State Department learned that Brookens and Utecht had definitely been
captured.
During 1969 and 1970, the Americans were moved frequently as U.S. air and
artillery strikes came closer. The journeys were pure torture, and the POWs
often lived chained to trees while cages were were built for them. They were
sometimes held in swampy areas thick with snakes and mosquitoes. Some of the
marches occurred during monsoon season, and the prisoners, still wearing leg
chains, walked in neck-deep water. During bomb strikes, some from thundering
B52 and artillery, the men hid in bunkers.
The POWs' health began to reach its limits. They were suffering from
dysentery, beriberi and jungle rot; some had festering wounds from their
captures. In April, 1969, they moved again, living in the jungle until a new
camp was built in Cambodia.
In early April 1969, an American prisoner escaped. Army Cpl. Thomas H. Van
Putten had been captured near Tay Ninh as he operated a road grader on
February 11, 1968. After making his way to friendly forces, Van Putten
identified the POWs held by the  Viet Cong in his camp.
In July 1969, a POW committed a minor offense for which the entire camp was
severely punished for 30 days. The prisoner who caused the commotion was
later taken from the camp. Some POWs reported that they last saw the man,
who was only 21 years old, laying on the ground near his cage covered by a
piece of plastic. They believed he was dead and he had died of torture,
starvation and lack of medicine for his ailments. [NOTE: Brookens does not
give the name of this POW who apparently died in July 1969. Although the
incident does not match information found in James M. Ray's personnel file,
and Jimmy Ray was not know to be dead, this account may refer to him.]
In late spring, 1969, the prisoners began to be put together, and they
eventually reached a new camp with above-ground cages, which they believed
was northwest of Tay Ninh near the Cambodian border. Brookens and Utecht
were put in the same cage, and it was the first time Brookens had talked to
another American since the aborted escape attempt two years before.
By June 1969, encroaching artillery forced the POWs westward into Cambodia,
but on July 14, they returned to the border camp where they remained until
December 1970. At this time, they were moved deep into Cambodia. Again they
were chained while cages were built. The POWs remained here until April
1972, when they were moved to a new, and final camp.
In 1969, 1970, and 1971, more Americans were captured: SP4 Gary Guggenberger
on January 14 1969; U.S. Civilians John Fritz, Jr., James Newingham and
Tanos Kalil on February 8; in 1970: SP4 Frederick Crowson and WO Daniel
Maslowski on May 2; SP4 Keith Albert on May 21; SP4 Richard Springman on May
25; in 1971: WO James Hestand, captured March 17; American civilian Richard
Waldhaus on August 4.
The POWs were in terrible condition -- painfully thin, with all manner of
skin ailments, dysentery, and malaria. Brookens was so physically depleted
that he could barely walk without the aid of walking sticks.
In 1972, more POWs arrived: MSgt. Kenneth Wallingford, Maj. Albert Carlson
and Capt. Mark A. Smith, captured April 7; Capt. George Wanat, Jr. and Capt.
Johnnie Ray, captured April 8; Air Force Capt. David Baker, captured June
27; and Marine Capt. James Walsh, Jr., captured September 26.
Then on the morning of February 12, 1973, the men were told they were going
home. By this time, there were 27 in all, five of them civilians. The group
was taken to a small airport outside Loc Ninh, and after 11 hours of
waiting, they were finally allowed to board the helicopters and start for
home.
Norm Brookens had lost 55 pounds since his capture, and was treated for a
ruptured colon, a heart condition, jungle rot, malaria and beriberi.
Thomas H. Van Putten resided in Michigan (until his death) and had a leg 
amputated in September 1990 as a result of complications stemming from 
injuries during his captivity.
James M. Ray and Tanos E. Kalil remained missing in action and were not
returned in 1973. Kalil's name was on the PRG list as having died in
captivity. Ray's fate is unknown.
Bobby still lives in Michigan.