LEWIS, ROBERT III Name: Robert Lewis III Rank/Branch: E4/US Army Unit: 71st Aviation Company, 145th Aviation Battalion, 12th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade Date of Birth: Home City of Record: Houston TX Date of Loss: 05 January 1968 Country of Loss: South Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 153557N 1081012E (AT967265) Status (in 1973): Released POW Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1C Other Personnel in Incident: James F. Pfister, Francis G. Anton (both released POWs); aircraft co-pilot, evaded capture REMARKS: 730305 RELSD BY PRG Source: Compiled by HOMECOMING II and the P.O.W. NETWORK from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. 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 chaotic existance. 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 in action. 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 for emphasis.) 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, 1985. 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 of this. 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?
======================== Robert Lewis retired from the United States Army as a Master Sergeant. He and his wife Jewel live in Texas.