ROLLINS, JAMES UHLAND
Name: James Uhland Rollins Rank/Branch: Civilian Unit: Worked for Dept of Labor Date of Birth: 01 March 1936 Home City of Record: Merced, CA employed out of Hong Kong Date of Loss: 05 February 1968 Country of Loss: South Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 104436N 1063953E (XS850950) Status (in 1973): Released POW Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Cycle
Other Personnel in Incident: held with: Richard W. Utecht; Norman J. Brookens; Charles K. Hyland (all released POWs); Thomas H. Van Putten escapee
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 2002 with information from James Rollins.
REMARKS: 730212 RELSD BY PRG - INJ
SYNOPSIS: In the early morning of January 31, 1968, a 15-man Viet Cong suicide squad blew a hole in the tall masonry wall surrounding the U.S. embassy compound. Within seconds, the VC were inside the walls. After hours of fighting, five Americans, five South Vietnamese, and 15 Viet Cong were dead.
Saigon was not the only city struck by the Viet Cong. The communists had launched the Tet Offensive. The Viet Cong penetrated 13 cities including Saigon, Da Nang and Hue; the latter being the longest and bloodiest of the battles.
Five days after the attack on Saigon -- on February 4 -- Richard Utecht, a maintenance officer for General Service, USAID, left to pick up a tire from a nearby U.S. Army compound to deliver to one an AID bus that had gone out of service. It was 11:30 on a bright Sunday morning, and a maintenance employee, Norman J. Brookens accompanied him.
Brookens and Utecht left the apartment and took a side street to the compound. They stopped when their way was blocked by a cyclo (a small motorcycle with a seat mounted on the front for passengers). Within seconds, three Viet Cong armed with U.S. carbines moved in on Utecht's Jeep.
Assuming that their vehicle was being confiscated, Utecht followed VC orders directing them out of the city limits to a small village. It was here that the two men were bound with dynamite wire and they knew they were in trouble.
Brookens and Utecht were marched to Cambodia, a 50-mile trip. The Americans endured taunts from villagers and were hidden from U.S. military. They were bound so tightly that their arms swelled twice their normal size.
Two days after Brookens and Utecht were captured, an Australian businessman named Keith Hyland was also captured very near the village where the two USAID employees were captured. He also was marched northwest, and shortly joined with an American civilian, James U. Rollins, who had been captured on February 4 at Cholon near Saigon.
Around mid-March, they arrived at a camp with a group of grass huts in the middle of a field. Outside the huts, 14 VC guards were watching over 10 captured ARVN soldiers. They were allowed to wash in a shallow, dirty water hole, and given plain rice to cook. After several days at this camp, two more civilian prisoners were brought to their hut -- Rollins and Hyland, who had been captured a month before.
The punishment for speaking to one another was buffalo iron shackles and starvation. The men began to lose weight fast. They dreamed of food and escape, but with shackles on their ankles 24 hours a day, it seemed impossible.
Before long, the prisoners were moved again. It was a mental challenge to try to keep track of their location, and at this time, they believed they were in Cambodia. They later they walked to a trail which they believed to be the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During the journey they were held in cages or in deep holes.
On April 22, the four POWs 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 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.
In mid-July, the prisoners were moved to another camp, but Keith Hyland was left behind. Hyland was released on November 26, 1968. For the first time, State Department learned that Brookens and Utecht had definitely been captured.
For the next three years, the Americans were moved frequently as U.S. air and artillery strikes came closer. The journeys were pure torture, and the POWs were often chained to trees while cages were were built for them. They were sometimes held in swampy areas teeming with snakes and malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Some of the marches occurred during monsoon season, and the prisoners, still wearing leg chains, walked in neck-deep water. During the frequent U.S. strikes, some of them thundering B52 and artillery strikes, the men hid in bunkers. During one such raid, a camp was completely destroyed.
The POWs' health began to reach its limits. Brookens was suffering from dysentery and beriberi from which he never completely recovered. In April, 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 tentatively identified Brookens as one of 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. The other prisoners said that the man 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.]
On April 29, four new prisoners [unnamed in Brookens' account] joined the group. They eventually reached a nearly-completed 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 had a chance to talk to an American since the aborted escape attempt two years before.
By June, 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.
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. Then on the morning of February 12, 1973, the men were told they were going home. 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, finally started 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 resides in Michigan and had a leg amputated in September 1990 as a result of complications stemming from injuries during his captivity.
===================== The POW Network received a call from Nigeria on the morning of Oct 21, 2002. The notes below are teh result of an hour long conversation.
Held at various times with
Brookens -- Joined Rollins on one escape attempt - recaptured. Does not agree with much of what Brookens wrote regarding their time in captivity.
Utecht - older, suffered a great deal.
Dunn and Kjome - did not get along with either, but had a very bad relationship with Kjome. Felt he did anything for better treatment, atthe expense of those older or more ill.
Ray - believe died of starvation after hitting a guard with no chance of escape. Interrogations followed after and rations were cut. One day, never brought back to pit. Never saw body, but was Rollins thought Ray too ill to survive.
Schrump - closest to Ray. Good man.
Rollins - Very ill at times - malaria, berrie berrie, coma once, down to 85 lbs. After vitamin B shots, seemed to get better. Never enough food to gain strength. Made one esacpe attempt with Brookens.
All held in 3 ft deep x 2.5 wide pit for 2.5 years. Pits in horseshoe shape, 1 guard. Covered with logs and dirt, enough air and space to let snakes and scorpions in. Then transferred to cages for another 2.5 years. Chains were all day every day, Rollins had the most since he attempted escape. One escape attempt was worked on for a week on the one allowed trip to outhouse type building.
Later, 2 chopper pilots came in from another camp after being captured trying to rescue others that had been downed. He also met a Puerto Rican POW, who spoke Spanish well, but the guards could not communicate with.
James is divorced and employed as business development/admin management in Nigeria, Africa where he has worked there on and off for about 10 years.
He recently purchased a 63' sloop and intends to island hop after retirement.
As with most civilian POW returnees, he has some medical problems and little available care through USG sources. He was hospitalized 3 months in 2002, but has receovered.
James is still looking for several friends, one being civilian POW returnee Richard Utecht.
If you have information on Richard Utecht, please call the NETWORK at 660-928-3304.