KUSHNER, FLOYD HAROLD
|Name: Floyd Harold Kushner
Rank/Branch: O3/US Army
Unit: Medical Corps 1/9th Cavalry
Date of Birth: 30 June 1941
Home City of Record: Danville VA
Date of Loss: 30 November 1067
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 145537N 1084758E (BS634513)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Other Personnel in Incident: none
Source: Compiled 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 in 2017.
REMARKS: 730316 RLSD BY PRG
SYNOPSIS: For Americans captured in South Vietnam, daily life could be
expected to be brutally difficult. Primarily, these men suffered from
disease induced by an unfamiliar and inadequate diet - dysentery, edema,
skin fungus and eczema. The inadequate diet coupled with inadequate medical
care led to the deaths of many. Besides dietary problems, these POWs had
other problems as well. They were moved regularly to avoid being in areas
that would be detected by U.S. troops, and occasionally found themselves in
the midst of U.S. bombing strikes. Supply lines to the camps were frequently
cut off, and when they were, POWs and guards alike suffered. Unless they
were able to remain in one location long enough to grow vegetable crops and
tend small animals, their diet was limited to rice and what they could
gather from the jungle.
In addition to the primitive lifestyle imposed on these men, their Viet Cong
guards could be particularly brutal in their treatment. For any minor
infraction, including conversation with other POWs, the Americans were
psychologically and physically tortured. American POWs brought back stories
of having been buried; held for days in a cage with no protection from
insects and the environment; having had water and food withheld; being
shackled and beaten. The effects of starvation and torture frequently
resulted in hallucinations and extreme disorientation. Men were reduced to
animals, relying on the basic instinct of survival as their guide. After
months in this psychological condition, many POWs, lucky to survive,
discovered that they were infinitely better treated if they became docile
and helpful prisoners. Unlike in the North, the POWs in the south did not as
naturally assume a military order among themselves - perhaps because the
preponderance of POWs in the North were officers as opposed to a larger
community of enlisted men in the South - and frequently, there was no strong
leader to encourage resistance and to bring the comfort of order to a
From the camps in the South came the group of American POWs ultimately
charged with collaboration with the enemy. These charges were later dropped,
but are indicative of the strong survival instinct inherent in man, and the
need for strong leadership. It is common knowledge that nearly all POWs
"violated" the Military Code of Conduct in one way or another; some to
greater degrees than others. Those who resisted utterly, the record shows,
were executed or killed in more horrible ways.
Americans tended to be moved from camp to camp in groups. One of the groups
in South Vietnam contained a number of Americans whose fates are varied.
Capt. William "Ike" Eisenbraun was attached to the 17th Infantry regiment of
the Seventh Division ("Buffalos") when he fought in Korea. He was awarded a
Purple Heart for wounds received in Korea. In 1961, Capt. Eisenbraun
volunteered for duty in Vietnam because he believed in what we were trying
to accomplish there. He was one of the earliest to go to Southeast Asia as
an advisor to the Royal Lao and South Vietnamese Armies.
On his fourth tour of duty, Eisenbraun served as Senior Advisor,
Headquarters MACV, SQ5891, U.S. Army Special Forces. He was at jungle
outpost Ba Gia near Quang Ngai in South Vietnam when the post was overrun by
an estimated 1000-1500 Viet Cong force. Newspapers described it as "one of
the bloodiest battles of the war to date". A survivor told newsmen the Viet
Cong attacked in "human waves and couldn't be stopped." There were only 180
men defending the outpost. Captain Eisenbraun was initially reported killed
Later, two Vietnamese who had been captured and escaped reported that Capt.
Eisenbraun had been captured, was being held prisoner, and was in good
health. Through the debriefings of returned POWs held with Eisenbraun, it
was learned that he died as a POW. One returned POW said that on about
September 1, 1967, Eisenbraun fell out of his hammock (which was about five
feet above a pile of logs) and landed on his right side. For about 5 days
after the fall, Eisenbraun continued his daily activites, but complained of
a severe pain in his side. After that period he stayed in bed and at about
0100 hours on September 8, LCpl. Grissett awakened PFC Ortiz-Rivera and told
him that Eisenbraun had stopped breathing.
Another POW said Ike had died as a result of torture after an escape attempt
in 1967. Robert Garwood added that Ike had provided leadership for the
prisoners at the camp, and was an obstacle to the Viet Cong in interrogating
the other prisoners. He also spoke fluent Vietnamese, which made him a
definite problem. Garwood and Eisenbraun had been held alone together at one
point in their captivity, and Ike taught Bobby the secrets of survival he
had learned in SF training, and in his years in the jungle. Bobby states
that Ike knew and taught him which insects could be eaten to fend off common
jungle diseases, and that he and Ike jokingly planned to write a cookbook
called "100 ways to cook a rat". Garwood said that Ike had been severely
beaten following the escape attempt, and that one night he was taken from
his cage and not returned. The next morning, Garwood was told that Ike had
fallen from his hammock and died.
Ike Eisenbraun was buried at the camp in Quang Nam Province along with other
POWs who had died of torture and starvation. His grave was marked with a
rock inscribed by Garwood. A map has been provided to the U.S. showing the
precise location of the little cemetery and grave, yet Ike's remains have
not been returned.
Bobby Garwood had been captured on September 28, 1965 as he was driving a
jeep in Quang Nam Province. Garwood made international headlines when he
created an international incident by smuggling a note out revealing his
existance. The note resulted in his release in March 1979, after having been
a prisoner of war for 14 years. The Marine Corps immediately charged him
with collaboration and assault on a fellow POW, and he was ultimately
charged and dishonorably discharged. He is the only serviceman to be charged
with these crimes from the Vietnam War, and many feel he was singled out to
discredit the stories he has told regarding other Americans held long after
the war was over in Vietnam.
Several American POWs were held at a camp in Quang Nam Province numbered
ST18, including Eisenbraun, Garwood, Grissett, LCpl. Jose Agosto-Santos, PFC
Luis Antonio Ortiz-Rivera, Marine LCpl. Robert C. Sherman, Capt. Floyd H.
Kushner, W2 Francis G. Anton, SP4 Robert Lewis, PFC James F. Pfister, PFC
Earl C. Weatherman, Cpl. Dennis W. Hammond and Sgt. Joseph S. Zawtocki.
Agosto-Santos was captured when his unit was overrun in Quang Nam Province
on May 12, 1967. Cpl. Carlos Ashlock had been killed in the same action, and
he and Agosto-Santos had been left for dead. Agosto-Santos had been wounded
in the stomach and back. For about a month, he had been cared for in a cave
by the Viet Cong. Jose felt he owed his life to the Viet Cong. He was
released in a propaganda move by the Vietnamese on January 23, 1968. Ashlock
was never seen again.
Ortiz-Rivera was a Puerto Rican who barely spoke English. His Army unit was
overrun in Binh Dinh Province several miles north of the city of Phu Cat on
December 17, 1966, and Ortiz-Rivera was captured. Ortiz-Rivera was not a
problem prisoner, according to other returnees. He was released with
Agosto-Santos January 23, 1968.
Cpl. Bobby Sherman told fellow POWs that he had been on picket duty with
ARVNs on June 24, 1967 when he decided to go to a nearby village to "get
laid". The Vietnamese girl he met there led him to the Viet Cong instead.
Sherman had been on his second tour of Vietnam. During his first tour, he
had suffered psychological problems because of the grisly job assigned to
him of handling corpses of his comrades killed in action. In the spring of
1968, Sherman, Hammond, Weatherman, Daly, and Zawtocki, with the help of
other POWs, attempted to escape. Sherman beat a guard in the attempt and was
recaptured and punished. He was held in stocks for many days and fellow POWs
said he "got crazy and never recovered." They said he spent months as a
"zombie" and "never was there" after that. According to Harold Kushner,
Bobby Sherman died on November 23, 1968. The POWs buried him in the little
cemetery with Ike Eisenbraun. In March 1985, the remains of Bobby Sherman
were returned during a period that Eisenbraun's daughter was publicly asking
the President to bring her father home. A map had been published of the
cemetery, and many wondered if there was a connection.
Capt. Harold Kushner had been the sole survivor of the crash of his UH1D
helicopter on a mountainside in Quang Nam Province on November 30, 1967.
Kushner was a Army Medical Corps Flight Surgeon and had broken a tooth and
sustained a wound to his shoulder when the helicopter crashed. He was
subsequently captured by the Viet Cong. During his captivity, his wife,
Valerie, became active in the effort to end the war, believing that was the
only hope her husband had of returning home. Kushner became ambivilent about
the war himself, and when held in North Vietnam, made propaganda tapes until
informed by the more organized prisoners captured and held in the North that
it was prohibited. Kushner was released March 16, 1973 from North Vietnam.
(Note: a number of other Americans were held with this group including PFC
David N. Harker; James A. Daly; Richard R. Rehe; Willie A. Watkins; Francis
E. Cannon; Richard F. Williams; and James H. Strickland. One detailed
account of the captivity of these men can be found in "The Survivors" by
Zalen Grant. Another can be read in "Conversations With The Enemy", written
by Winston Groom and Duncan Spencer. Homecoming II Project - 2408 Hull Rd. -
Kinston NC 28501 -also maintains synopsis accounts of these men.)
W2 Francis Gene "Bones" Anton was the pilot of a UH1C helicopter, code name
"Firebird". On January 5, 1968, his crewchief was SP4 Robert Lewis III, and
door gunner was PFC James F. Pfister. The crew, flying out of the 71st
Assault Helicopter Company, was shot down as they were trying to assist C
Company, under heavy mortar attack at Happy Valley in Quang Nam Province.
Their co-pilot had escaped capture. Anton is one of the few POWs who
believed that Garwood, although clearly a collaborator, was still a loyal
American, helpful to his fellow POWs. Anton, according to other POWs was
"always cussing the Vietnamese". He was released from North Vietnam on March
16, 1973. When Cannon, Williams, Harker and McMillan were brought to the POW
camp at Happy Valley, they found Anton, Pfister and Lewis well fed and
clean. Pfister later made propaganda tapes at the Plantation in Hanoi in
April 1971. Garwood called him the "head snitch" in one of the camps along
the Rock River and White River in South Vietnam. Both Pfister and Lewis were
released on March 5, 1973. None of the three were considered by superior
officers to be among those who criminally collaborated with the enemy.
Russ Grissett was on a search mission for a missing USMC officer when he
became separated from his unit on January 22, 1966. He was with the elite
1st Force Recon, and was captured by the Viet Cong in Quang Ngai Province.
Russ was several inches over 6' tall and carried a normal weight of around
190 pounds. After 2 years in captivity, however, his weight had dropped to
around 125 pounds. Grissett suffered particularly from dysentery and
malaria, and in his weakened condition begged his fellow POWs not to tell
him any secrets. He had already been accused of sabotaging an escape plan by
Kushner. He found it difficult to resist, and willingly made propaganda
tapes about "lenient treatment". When Ortiz-Rivera and Agosto-Santos were
released, he had "behaved" enough that he was tremendously disappointed that
he was not released with them. During one period of near-starvation, in late
November 1969, Grissett caught and killed the camp's kitchen cat. It was a
dangerous move, and fellow POWs watched helplessly and innocently as guards
beat Grissett for the crime and he never recovered. Grissett was buried in
the camp's cemetery by his fellow POWs. Harold Kushner stated that Grissett
died on December 2, 1969. David Harker, another returned POW, stated that he
had died at 3:30 a.m. on November 23, 1968. On June 23, 1989, the U.S.
announced that the Vietnamese had "discovered" the remains of Russ Grissett
and returned them to the U.S. (Note: the "cat" incident spawned the assault
charges against Garwood. Garwood, enraged that others had stood by while
Grisset was mortally beaten, back-handed one of the bystanders in the
stomach and asked, "How could you let them do this to Russ?" Some witnesses
stated that the blow was not a hard one intended to injure, but seemingly
Dennis Wayne "Denny" Hammond and Joseph S. Zawtocki were Marines who were
part of a pacification team when captured during the Tet offensive on
February 8, 1968. Denny was a tall, lean, good-looking man thought to be
part American Indian. He attempted escape with the other POWs in the spring
of 1968 and was shot in the leg by Montagnards in a nearby village Denny had
beaten a guard to escape. Part of the "duties" of those POWs healthy enough
was to harvest oranges in nearby Montagnard orchards. The POWs were happy to
do this because it meant badly needed exercise and the opportunity for
additional food. Daly was once accused by guards of stealing oranges that
Hammond had stolen. It was on one of these workdays that the POWs effected
their ill-fated escape. After the escape attempt and recapture, Sherman
remained relatively healthy for a time, but in early March, 1970, died. He
was buried near the camp and his grave marked by a bamboo cross. (Hammond
died on 7 or 8 of March, depending on the source.)
Joe Zawtocki was a stocky, powerful, fair-haired man of Polish descent. He
and Garwood formed a close friendship and exchanged rings. Each promised the
other that if released alone, they would contact the other's family. Joe
died on December 24, 1968 of starvation and was buried near the POW camp.
Davis, a returnee, says that Garwood lost Joe's ring. Garwood states that,
upon his return, he gave Joe's ring to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Several years later, he learned that DIA had never returned the ring to
Joe's family. Joe Zawtocki's remains were returned to the U.S. on August 15,
Perhaps one of the strangest cases involved in this group of POWs is that of
Pvt. Earl Clyde Weatherman. Weatherman was in the Marine brig at Da Nang
where he had been confined for slugging an officer in 1967. On November 8,
1967, he escaped the brig (which constitutes desertion). Intelligence
indicates that he paid a Vietnamese driver to take him to his Vietnamese
girlfriend's house, but the driver instead delivered him to the Viet Cong. A
tall, muscular young man of about 20 years old with reddish-blond hair and
blue eyes, Weatherman was detained in the POW camps in Quang Nam Province,
and was party to the ill-fated escape attempt in the spring of 1968. Opinion
was divided among the POWs regarding the political loyalties of Earl
Weatherman. Harker felt his alliance to the Viet Cong was only an act.
Weatherman had once said to him, "Don't believe everything you hear about
me." Others felt he was clearly a turncoat. Perhaps Garwood stated it most
accurately when he said, "Weatherman's only crime was falling in love with
the wrong person - a communist."
It was widely told that during the April 1, 1968 escape attempt, Weatherman
was killed. However, Garwood states that he heard of and saw Weatherman
after 1973 when other U.S. POWs were returned, and years after his supposed
death in South Vietnam. Intelligence indicates that Weatherman continued to
work for the communists, and lived with a Vietnamese wife and family. One
position said to have been held by his was with the Vietnamese government's
department of construction - the Cong Tyxay Dung. Garwood last knew him to
be at Bavi, living with a Vietnamese woman.
In 1986, several national news articles revealed that intelligence documents
showed at least 7 missing Americans had been seen alive in Vietnam in the
last dozen years, including Weatherman. Some accounts added that Weatherman
had smuggled a note out of Vietnam that he wished to come home and bring
with him his wife and children. Weatherman's father was allegedly notified
The POW/MIA groups reverberated with anticipation, knowing that if
Weatherman came home, a new source of information on those men still missing
would be available. Several activists questioned a Congressional aide
regarding Weatherman. They asked, "When will Weatherman be able to come
home? We understand the holdup is visas for his wife and children." The
aide, with a caring and sympathetic look on his face, replied, "I don't
know. I just don't know."
Of this group of prisoners and missing, only Weatherman, Hammond, Ashlock
and Eisenbraun have not returned home, alive or dead. Ashlock was left for
dead on the battlefield. Hammond and Eisenbraun are dead, but still in enemy
hands. Weatherman, for whatever reason, chose love of a woman over love of
his country and remained behind. Can America close its doors to a man who
may have a wealth of information on Americans still alive in Vietnam? If he
now wishes to return to his homeland, can we be less forgiving to him that
we were to those Americans who fled to Canada to avoid the war?
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).
F. HAROLD KUSHNER Lieutenant Colonel - United States Army
Captured: November 30, 1967
Released: March 16, 1973
NAME: F. Harold Kushner, M.D., Lt. Col., Medical Corps, US Army
DATE OF BIRTH: 30 June 1941
EDUCATION: University of North Carolina, Medical College of Virginia
MARRIED: Valerie R. Moos, 25 August 1962
CHILDREN: Toni Jean, 25 December 1962; Louis Michael, 8 April 1968
DATE OF CAPTURE: 30 November 1967
DATE OF RELEASE: 16 March 1973
UNIT WHEN CAPTURED: 1st sq, 9th Cav, 1st Air Cav Div
POSITION WHEN CAPTURED: Squadron Flight Surgeon
HOMETOWN: Danville, Virginia
CURRENT ADDRESS: Department of Ophthalmology, Brooke Army Medical Center
Fort Sam Houston, Texas 78234
MESSAGE: The public response to the POWs homecoming was simply overwhelming.
Today is now a blur and merge of memories of the social whirl, thousands of
letters and calls, the hugs, and handshakes and tears, from friends and
family. It now appears as kaleidoscopic fragments of a collage of varied and
intense emotions. And through it all, the paradox of feeling so proud and so
humble simultaneously. To say homecoming was extremely gratifying is to
infinitely understate the magnitude of feeling. It was an incredible,
stupendous, prodigious emotional experience that left its mark on me forever.
At this juncture, far removed from the tumult and shouting, it seems to have
been a dream.
As a prisoner, my ambition was to return to my country, my family and my
profession. That ambition has been realized, and supplanted by the ambition to
see my children grow to manhood and enjoy the fruits of peace.
On March 16, 1973 I was taken to the Hanoi Airport, given a porkfat sandwich,
a bottle of Vietnamese beer and waited under overcast skies in a drizzling
rain for the C-141 in all its silver splendor - to burst through the clouds
and take me home. This was the beginning. This day marked the end of three and
one-half years of deprivation and struggle in South Vietnamese jungles, two
years of languishing in the jails of Hanoi.
I am home. I live in warmth, security and love with my wonderful and loyal
family. I live in the most modern, industrialized and most open society in the
world. I am aware, I am grateful and I am humble. Never will I take these
things for granted. If there is a lesson a man learns, by being deprived of
his freedom, his family and the material and spiritual benefits of his
homeland, it is gratitude and humility.
I have seen death and suffering; one-half of all the prisoners in my camp in
South Vietnam died after enduring incredible hardship and agony. I have seen
the face of war in all of its ugliness-with its destruction, with its
homeless, with its hungry; and lingering above all, is the ubiquitous stink of
As one who was deprived of his freedom for so long, I realize that the defense
of ours is even worth the price of war. My prayers are for peace - for our
children, for eternity; that our freedom will never be threatened, either
externally or internally; and that our children will nurture our country with
labor and creativity, rather than with blood.
Colonel Kushner stayed on active duty until 1977. He was with the reserves
until his retirement in 1986 an an O-6. He has a busy medical practice and
is active in his local community.
On his ordeal, which he rarely talks about - he recalls, "it was a terrible
experience, but there is some good to come from it. I learned a lot.I
learned about human spirit. I learned about confidence in yourself. I
learned about loyalty to your friends and comrades. No task would ever be
too hard again... I was lucky, very lucky and I'm thankful for that. I'm
thankful for my life and I have no bitterness. I feel so fortunate to have
survived and flourished when so many braver, stronger and better trained men
Colonel Floyd Kushner, M.D. F.A.C.S., resides in Florida.
The FREE PRESS
NAM-POW Wins Lawsuit
Norton Publishing Company and Ms Monica Jensen-Stevenson have
settled the lawsuit for libel brought by F. Harold Kushner, MD, COL (Ret.)
US Army. Ms Jensen-Stevenson, the author of Spite-House, published by
Norton, had asserted in her book that Dr. Kushner, while a POW in South
Vietnam had unnecessarily removed a healthy toenail and inflicted pain on
Robert Garwood, a convicted collaborator, and had hoarded medicine stolen by
Garwood, and had not dispensed it to the sickest prisoners.
Details of the settlement released by Dr. Kushner are that Norton
and Ms Jensen-Stevenson will pay to Dr. Kushner the sum of $100,000 and
publish a statement in a national newspaper (NY Times, Dec 22, '99) as well
as the Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Dec 24, '99). The essence of the
statement signed by Ms Jensen-Stevenson is that her only source for the
assertions in question was Robert Garwood, that she could not corroborate
those assertions by interviews with other survivors, that she meant no
injury or harm to Dr. Kushner. She noted that the other prisoners are well
aware of what happened and will testify in Dr. Kushner's behalf if
Dr. Kushner stated that he will donate his award to a veterans'
charity. "This was not about money," he said; "this was about truth."
He continued "I feel vindicated now, and more importantly, the ten
Americans who died in my arms in the jungle are vindicated. We promised
them justice." ....
Behind the Vietnam War Story of 'POW Wife' Valerie Kushner
She was a founder of POW/MIA Families for Immediate Release, and the LIFE photograph ... Vietnam POW Hal Kushner letter to his wife and family ...
I want you to know that I don't do this often. I was
captured 2 Dec.1967, and returned to American control on 16
Mar.1973. For those of you good at arithmetic - 1931 days. Thus it
has been 32 years since capture and 26 years since my return. I have
given a lot of talks, about medicine, about ophthalmology, even
about the D-Day Invasion as I was privileged to go to Normandy and
witness the 50th anniversary of the invasion in Jun.1944.
But not about my captivity. I don't ride in parades; I don't open shopping centers; I don't give interviews and talks about it. I have tried very hard NOT to be a professional PW. My philosophy has always been to look forward, not backward, to consider the future rather than the past. That's a hell'uva thing to say at a reunion, I guess. In 26 years, I've given only two interviews and two talks. One to my hometown newspaper, one to the Washington Post in 1973, and a talk at Ft. Benning in 1991 and to the Military Flight Surgeons in 1993. I've refused 1,000 invitations to speak about my experiences. But you don't say no to the 1-9th, and you don't say no to your commander. COL Bob Nevins and COL Pete Booth asked me to do this and so I said yes sir and prepared the talk. It will probably be my last one.
I was a 26-year-old young doctor, just finished 9 years of education, college at the University of North Carolina, med school at Medical College of VA, a young wife and 3 year old daughter. I interned at the hospital in which I was born, Tripler Army Med Center in Honolulu, HI. While there, I was removed from my internship and spent most of my time doing orthopedic operations on wounded soldiers and Marines. We were getting hundreds of wounded GIs there, and filled the hospital. After the hospital was filled, we created tents on the grounds and continued receiving air evac patients. So I knew what was happening in Vietnam. I decided that I wanted to be a flight surgeon. I had a private pilot's license and was interested in aviation. So after my internship at Tripler, I went to Ft. Rucker and to Pensacola and through the Army and Navy's aviation medicine program and then deployed to Vietnam. While in basic training and my E&E course, they told us that as Doctors, we didn't have to worry about being captured. Doctors and nurses they said were not PWs, they were detained under the Geneva Convention. If they treated us as PWs, we should show our Geneva Convention cards and leave. It was supposed to be a joke and it was pretty funny at the time.
I arrived in Vietnam in Aug.1967 and went to An Khe. I was told that the Div. needed two flight surgeons; one to be the div. flight surgeon at An Khe in the rear and the other to be surgeon for the 1-9th, a unit actively involved with the enemy. I volunteered for the 1-9th. The man before me, CPT Claire Shenep had been killed and the dispensary was named the Claire Shenep Memorial Dispensary. Like many flight surgeons, I flew on combat missions in helicopters, enough to have earned three air medals and one of my medics, SSG Jim Zeiler used to warn me: "Doc, you better be careful. We'll be renaming that dispensary, the K&S Memorial Dispensary."
I was captured on 2 Dec 67 and held for five and a half years until 16 Mar 73. I have never regretted the decision that I made that Aug to be the 1-9th flight surgeon. Such is the honor and esteem that I hold the squadron. I am proud of the time I was the squadron's flight surgeon.
On 30 Nov.1967, I went to Chu Lai with MAJ Steve Porcella, WO-1 Giff Bedworth and SGT McKeckney, the crew chief of our UH-1H. I gave a talk to a troop at Chu Lai on the dangers of night flying. The weather was horrible, rainy and windy, and I asked MAJ Porcella, the A/C commander, if we could spend the night and wait out the weather.
He said, "Our mission is not so important but we have to get the A/C back." I'll never forget the devotion to duty of this young officer; it cost him his life.
While flying from Chu Lai to LZ Two Bits, I thought we had flown west of Hwy. 1, which would be off course. I asked Steve if we had drifted west. He called the ATC at Duc Pho and asked them to find him. The operator at Duc Pho said that he had turned his radar off at 2100. He said, "Do you want me to turn it on and find you?" MAJ Porcella replied "Roj" and that was the last thing he ever said. The next thing I knew I was recovering from unconsciousness in a burning helicopter which seemed to be upside down. I tried to unbuckle my seat belt and couldn't use my left arm. I finally managed to get unbuckled and immediately dropped and almost broke my neck. My helmet was plugged into comm and the wire held me as I dropped out of the seat which was inverted. The helicopter was burning. Poor MAJ Porcella was crushed against the instrument panel and either unconscious or dead. Bedworth was thrown, still strapped in his seat, out of the chopper. His right anklebones were fractured and sticking through the nylon of his boot. SGT Mac was unhurt but thrown clear and unconscious. I tried to free Porcella by cutting his seatbelt and moving him. However, I was unable to. The chopper burned up and I suffered burns on my hands and buttocks and had my pants burned off. While trying to free Porcella, some of the M-60 rounds cooked off and I took a round through the left shoulder and neck. My left wrist and left collarbone were broken in the crash, and I lost, or broke, 7 upper teeth.
Well, after we assessed the situation - we had no food or water, no flares, no first aid kit or survival gear. We had two 38 pistols and 12 rounds, one seriously wounded WO co-pilot, a moderately wounded doctor, and an unhurt crew chief. We thought we were close to Duc Pho and Hwy 1 and close to friendlies. Bedworth and I decided to send Mac for help at first light.
We never saw him again. Later, 6 years later, COL Nevins told me that SGT Mac had been found about 10 miles from the crash site, shot and submerged in a rice paddy.
So on that night of 30 Nov. 1967 I splinted Bedworth's leg, with tree branches, made a lean-to from the door of the chopper, and we sat in the rain for three days and nights. We just sat there. We drank rainwater. On the third morning, he died. We could hear choppers hovering over our crash site and I fired most of the rounds from our 38's trying to signal them, but cloud cover was so heavy and the weather so bad, they never found us. I took the compass from the burned out helicopter and tried to go down the mountain towards the east and, I believed, friendlies. My glasses were broken or lost in the crash and I couldn't see well: the trail was slippery and I fell on rocks in a creek bed and cracked a couple of ribs. I had my left arm splinted to my body with my army belt. My pants were in tatters and burned. I had broken teeth and a wound in my shoulder. I hadn't eaten or drunk anything but rainwater for three days. I looked and felt like hell. One of the cruel ironies of my life, you know how we all play the what if games, what if I hadn't done this or that, well, when I finally reached the bottom of the mountain, I estimated 4 hours after first light, the weather cleared and I saw choppers hovering over the top. I knew I couldn't make it up the mountain, and had to take my chances. But if I had only waited another 4 hours
I started walking up the trail and saw a man working in a rice paddy. He came over and said Dai-wi, Bac-si- CPT Doctor. He took me to a little hootch, sat me down and gave me a can of sweetened condensed milk and a C-ration can, can opener and spoon. This stuff was like pudding and it billowed out of the can and was the best tasting stuff I ever had. I felt very safe at that point. One minute later, my host led a squad of 14 VC with two women and 12 rifles came upon me. The squad leader said, "Surrenda no kill." He put his hands in the air and I couldn't because my left arm was tied to my body. He shot me with an M2 carbine and wounded me again in the neck. After I was apprehended, I showed my captors my Geneva Convention card, white with a red cross. He tore it up. He took my dogtags and medallion which had a St. Christopher's (medal) on one side and a Star of David on the other, which my dad had given me before leaving. They tied me with commo wire in a duck wing position, took my boots and marched me mostly at night for about 30 days. The first day they took me to a cave, stripped my fatigue jacket off my back, tied me to a door and a teenage boy beat me with a bamboo rod. I was told his parents were killed by American bombs. We rested by day, and marched by night. I walked on rice paddy dikes, and couldn't see a thing. They would strike these little homemade lighters and by the sparks they made, see four or five steps. I was always falling off the dikes into the rice paddy water and had to be pulled back up. It was rough. On the way, I saw men, women and kids in tiger cages, and bamboo jails. I was taken to a camp, which must have been a medical facility as my wound was festering and full of maggots and I was sick. A woman heated up a rifle-cleaning rod and gave me a bamboo stick to bite on. She cauterized my wound through and through wound with the cleaning rod and I almost passed out with pain. She then dressed the wound with mercurochrome and gave me two aspirin. I thought, what else can they do to me. I was to find out.
After walking for about a month through plains, then jungles and mountains, always West, they took me to a camp. I had been expecting a PW camp like a stalag with Hogan's Heroes; barbed wire, search lights, nice guards and red cross packages - and a hospital where I could work as a doctor. They took me to a darkened hut with an oriental prisoner who was not American. I didn't know whether he was Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian or Chinese. He spoke no English and was dying of TB. He was emaciated, weak, sick and coughed all day and night. I spent two days there and an English-speaking Vietnamese officer came with a portable tape recorder and asked me to make a statement against the war. I told him that I would rather die than speak against my country. His words which were unforgettable and if I ever write a book, will be the title. He said, "You will find that dying is very easy; living … living is the difficult thing."
A few days later, in a driving rain, we started the final trek to camp. I was tied again, without boots, and we ascended higher and higher in the mountains. I was weak and asked to stop often and rest. We ate a little rice which the guards cooked. We actually needed ropes to traverse some of the steep rocks. Finally, we got to PW camp one. There were four American servicemen there, two from the US and two from Puerto Rico. Three were Marines and one in the Army. These guys looked horrible. They wore black PJs, were scrawny with bad skin and teeth and beards and matted hair. The camp also had about 15 ARVNs who were held separately, across a bamboo fence. The camp was just a row of hootches made of bamboo with elephant grass roofs around a creek, with a hole in the ground for a latrine. This was the first of five camps we lived in the South-all depressingly similar, although sometimes we had a separate building for a kitchen and sometimes we were able to pipe in water thru bamboo pipes from a nearby stream.
I asked one of the Marines, the man captured longest and the leader, if escape was possible. He told me that he and a special forces Captain had tried to escape the year before, and the Captain had been beaten to death, while he had been put in stocks for 90 days, having to defecate in his hands and throw it away from him or lie in it. The next day I was called before the camp commander and chastised and yelled at for suggesting escape. My fellow PW then told me never to say anything to him that I didn't want revealed, because the Vietnamese controlled his mind. I threatened to kill him for informing on me. He just smiled, and said I would learn. Our captors promised us that if we made progress and understood the evils of the war they would release us. And the next day, they released the two Puerto Ricans and 14 ARVNs PWs. The people released wore red sashes andgave anti-war speeches. Just before the release, they brought in another 7 American PWs from the 196th Light Bde who were captured in the TET offensive of 1968. I managed to write our names, ranks and serial numbers on a piece of paper and slip it to one of the PRs who was released. They transported the information home and in Mar 68 and our families learned we had been captured alive.
We were held in a series of jungle camps from Jan. 68 to Feb 71. At this time, conditions were so bad and we were doing so poorly, that they decided to move us to North Vietnam. They moved 12 of us. In all, 27 Americans had come through the camp. Five had been released and ten had died.
They died of their wounds, disease, malnutrition and starvation. One was shot while trying to escape. All but one died in my arms after a lingering, terrible illness. Five West German nurses in a neutral nursing organization, called the Knights of Malta, similar to our own Red Cross, had been picked up (I always thought by mistake) by the VC in the spring of 69. Three of them died and the other two were taken to North Vietnam in 1969 and held until the end of the war.
The twelve who made it were moved to North Vietnam on foot. The fastest group, of which I was one, made it in 57 days. The slowest group took about 180 days. It was about 900km. We walked thru Laos and Cambodia to the Ho Chi Minh trail and then up the trail across the DMZ until Vinh. At Vinh, we took a train 180 miles to Hanoi in about 18 hours. We traveled with thousands of ARVN PWs who had been captured in Lam Song 719, an ARVN incursion into Laos in 1971.
Once in Hanoi, we stayed in an old French prison called The Citadel or as we said, "The Plantation”, until Christmas 72 when the X-mas bombing destroyed Hanoi. Then we were moved to the Hoa Lo or "Hanoi Hilton" for about three months. The peace was signed in Jan 73 and I came home on Mar 16 with the fourth group. In the North we were in a rough jail. There was bucket in the windowless, cement room used as a latrine. An electric bulb was on 24 hours a day. We got a piece of bread and a cup of pumpkin soup each day and three cups of hot water. We slept on pallets of wood and wore PJs and sandals and got three tailor made cigarettes per day. We dry-shaved and bathed with a bucket from a well twice per week, and got out of the cell to carry our latrine bucket daily.
Towards the end, they let us exercise. There were no letters or packages for us from the south, but I understood some of the pilots who had been there awhile got some things. In the summer, it was 120 in the cell and they gave us little bamboo fans. But there were officers and a rank structure and commo done through a tap code on the walls. No one died. It was hard duty, but not the grim struggle for survival which characterized daily life in the camps in the south. In the north, I knew I would survive. In the south, we often wanted to die. I knew that when they ordered us north, I would make it. In the south, each day was a struggle for survival. There were between three and twenty-four PWs at all times. We ate three coffee cups of rice per day. In the rainy season, the ration was cut to two cups. I'm not talking about nice white rice, Uncle Ben's. I'm talking about rice that was red, rotten, and eaten out by bugs and rats, cached for years, shot through with rat feces and weevils. We arose at 4, cooked rice on wood ovens made of mud. We couldn't burn a fire in the daytime or at night unless the flames and smoke were hidden, so we had these ovens constructed of mud which covered the fire and tunnels which carried the smoke away. We did slave labor during the day, gathering wood, carrying rice, building hootches, or going for manioc, a starchy tuberous plant like a potato. The Vietnamese had chickens and canned food. We never got supplements unless we were close to dying then maybe some canned sardines or milk. We died from lack of protein and calories. We swelled up with what is called "hungry edema" and beriberi. We had terrible skin disease, dysentery, and malaria. Our compound was littered with piles of human excrement because people were just too sick or weak to make it to the latrine.
We slept on one large pallet of bamboo. So the sick vomited and defecated and urinated on the bed and his neighbor. For the first two years, we had no shoes, clothes, mosquito nets or blankets. Later, in late '69, we got sandals, rice sacks for blankets, and a set of clothes. We nursed each other and helped each other, but we also fought and bickered. In a PW situation the best and the worst come out. Any little flaw transforms itself into a glaring lack. The strong can rule the weak. There is no law and no threat of retribution. I can report to you that the majority of the time, the Americans stuck together, helped each other and the strong helped the weak. But there were exceptions and sometimes the stronger took advantage of the weaker ones. There was no organization, no rank structure. The VC forbid the men from calling me Doc, and made me the latrine orderly to break down rank structure. I was officially forbidden from practicing medicine. But I hoarded medicine, had the men fake malaria attacks and dysentery so we could acquire medicine and keep it until we needed it. Otherwise, it might not come. I tried to advise the men about sanitary conditions, about nutrition and to keep clean, active and eat everything we could; rats, bugs, leaves, etc. We had some old rusty razor blades, and I did minor surgery, lancing boils, removing foreign bodies, etc. with them, but nothing major.
At one time, in the summer of 68, I was offered the chance to work in a VC hospital and receive a higher ration. The NVA Political officer, who made the offer and was there to indoctrinate us, said it had been done in WW II. I didn't believe him and didn't want to do it anyway, so I refused and took my chances. Later, upon return, I learned that American Army doctors in Europe in WW II, had indeed worked in hospitals treating German soldiers. But I'm glad now I did what I did. We had a 1st Sergeant who had been in Korea and in WW II. He died in the fall of '68 and we were forbidden from calling him "Top". The VC broke him fast. I was not allowed to practice medicine unless a man was 30 minutes away from dying, then they came down with their little bottles of medicine and said "Cure him!" At one point we were all dying of dysentery and I agreed to sign a propaganda statement in return for chloromycetin, a strong antibiotic, to treat our sick. Most of us were seriously ill, although a few never got sick, maintained their health and their weight. I never figured it out.
When a man died, we buried him in a bamboo coffin and said some words over his grave and marked it with a pile of rocks. I was forced to sign a death certificate in Vietnamese. I did this 13 times. The worst period was the fall of '68. We lost five men between Sept. and Christmas. Shortly before the end of Nov., I thought I was going to lose my mind. All of these fine young strong men were dying. It would have been so easy to live, just nutrition, fluids, and antibiotics. I knew what to do, but had no means to help them. I was depressed and didn't care whether I lived or died myself. At this time, we were simply starving to death. As an example of how crazy we were, we decided to kill the camp commander's cat. Several of us killed it, and skinned it. We cut off its head and paws and it dressed out to about three pounds. We were preparing to boil it when one of the guards came down and asked us what was going on. We told him we had killed a weasel by throwing a rock. The guards raised chickens and the chickens were always being attacked by weasels. Well, the guard, who was a Montagnard, an aborigine, found the feet, and knew it was the cat. The situation became very serious. The guards and cadre were mustered..it was about 3 AM. The prisoners were lined up and a Marine and I were singled out to be beaten. He was almost beaten to death. I was beaten badly, tied up with commo wire very tightly (I thought my hands would fall off and knew I would never do surgery again) for over a day. I had to bury the cat. And I was disappointed I didn't get to eat it. That's how crazy I was.
Shortly thereafter, the Marine who had been beaten so badly died. He didn't have to. He simply gave up, like so many. Marty Seligman, a professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania has written a book about these feelings called "Learned Helplessness and Death". The Marine simply lay on his bamboo bed, refused to eat, wash, or get up and died. So many did this. We tried to force them to eat, and to be active, but nothing worked. It was just too hard. This Marine wavered in and out of coma for about two weeks. It was around Thanksgiving, the end of November. The rains had been monstrous and our compound was a muddy morass littered with piles of feces. David Harker of Lynchburg, VA and I sat up with him all night. He hadn't spoken coherently for over a week. Suddenly, he opened his eyes and looked right at me. He said, "Mom, dad...I love you very much. Box 10, Dubberly, Louisiana." That was Nov 68.
We all escaped the camp in the south. Five were released as propaganda gestures. Ten Americans and three Germans died and twelve Americans and two Germans made it back. I am the only PW who was captured before the end of 67 to survive that camp. I came back Mar 16, 1973 and stayed in the hospital in Valley Forge, PA for a month getting fixed up with several operations and then went on convalescent leave. The first thing I did was go to Dubberly, LA and see the Marine's father. His parents had divorced while he was captured. I went to see five of the families of those that died and called the others on the phone.
It was a terrible experience, but there is some good to come from it. I learned a lot. I learned about the human spirit. I learned about confidence in yourself. I learned about loyalty to your country and its ideals and to your friends and comrades. No task would ever be too hard again. I had renewed respect for what we have and swore to learn my country's history in depth, (I have done it), and to try to contribute to my community and set an example for my children and employees. I stayed on active duty until '77 when I was honorably discharged and entered the Reserve from which I retired an as O-6 in '86. I have a busy medical practice down in Florida and been remarkably successful. I am active in my community in a number of ways and despite being drenched with Agent Orange a number of times and having some organs removed, have enjoyed great health. Except for some arthritis and prostate trouble, I'm doing great. So I was lucky...very lucky and I'm so thankful for that. I'm thankful for my life and I have no bitterness. I feel so fortunate to have survived and flourished when so many braver, stronger and better trained men did not.
Dr. Hal Kushner
1/9 Cav, 1 Cav Div
16 October 2017