SMITH, GEORGE EDWARD "SMITTY"
Name: George Edward "Smitty" Smith
Rank/Branch: E6/US Army Special Forces
Unit: Detachment A-21, Company B, 5th Special Forces Group
Date of Birth: (about 1940)
Home City of Record: Chester WV (family in Steubenville OH)
Date of Loss: 24 November 1963
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 105444N 1061914E (XT441071)
Status (in 1973): Released POW (1965)
Category:
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Other Personnel in Incident: Claude D. McClure (released 1965); Issac Camacho
(escaped 1965); Kenneth Roraback (missing); At Tan Phu: James N. Rowe (escaped
1968); Humberto R. Versace (missing); Daniel L. Pitzer (released 1967).
REMARKS: 651128 RELEASED IN CAMBODIA
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.
SYNOPSIS: The U.S. Army Special Forces, Vietnam (Provisional) was formed at
Saigon in 1962 to advise and assist the South Vietnamese government in the
organization, training, equipping and employment of the Civilian Irregular
Defense Group (CIDG) forces. Total personnel strength in 1963 was 674, all
but 98 of whom were TDY from 1st Special Forces Group on Okinawa and 5th and
7th Special Forces Groups at Ft. Bragg. USSF Provisonal was given complete
charge of the CIDG program, formerly handled by the CIA, on July 1, 1963.
The USSF Provisional/CIDG network consisted of fortified, strategically
located camps, each one with an airstrip. The area development programs soon
evolved into combat operations, and by the end of October 1963, the network
also had responsibility for border surveillance. Two of the Provisional/CIDG
camps were at Hiep Hoa (Detachment A-21) and Tan Phu (Detachment A-23),
Republic of Vietnam. Their isolated locations, in the midst of known heavy
enemy presence, made the camps vulnerable to attack.
On October 29, 1963, Capt. "Rocky" Versace, 1Lt. "Nick" Rowe, and Sgt.
Daniel Pitzer were accompanying a CIDG company on an operation along a
canal. The team left the camp at Tan Phu for the village of Le Coeur to
roust a small enemy unit that was establishing a command post there. When
they reached the village, they found the enemy gone, and pursued them,
falling into an ambush at about 1000 hours. The fighting continued until
1800 hours, when reinforcements were sent in to relieve the company. During
the fight, Versace, Pitzer and Rowe were all captured. The three captives
were photographed together in a staged setting in the U Minh forest in their
early days of captivity.
The camp at Hiep Hoa was located in the Plain of Reeds between Saigon and
the Cambodian border. In late October 1963, several Viet Cong surrendered at
the camp, claiming they wished to defect. Nearly a month later, on November
24, Hiep Hoa was overrun by an estimated 400-500 Viet Cong just after
midnight. Viet Cong sympathizers in the camp had killed the guards and
manned a machine gun position at the beginning of the attack. The Viet Cong
climbed the camp walls and shouted in Vietnamese, "Don't shoot! All we want
is the Americans and the weapons!" Lt. John Colbe, the executive officer,
evaded capture. Capt. Doug Horne, the Detachment commander, had left earlier
with a 36 man Special Forces/CIDG force. The Viet Cong captured four of the
Americans there. It was the first Special Forces camp to be overrun in the
Vietnam War.
Those captured at Hiep Hoa were SFC Issac "Ike" Camacho, SFC Kenneth M.
Roraback (the radio operator), Sgt. George E. "Smitty" Smith and SP5 Claude
D. McClure. Their early days of captivity were spent in the Plain of Reeds,
southwest of Hiep Hoa, and they were later held in the U Minh forest.
"Ike" Camacho continually looked for a way to escape. In July 1965, he was
successful. His and Smith's chains had been removed for use on two new
American prisoners, and in the cover of a violent night storm, Camacho
escaped and made his way to the village of Minh Thanh. He was the first
American serviceman to escape from the Viet Cong in the Second Indochina
War. McClure and Smith were released from Cambodia in November 1965.
Rocky Versace had been torn between the Army and the priesthood. When he won
an appointment to West Point, he decided God wanted him to be a soldier. He
was to enter Maryknoll (an order of Missionaries), as a candidate for the
priesthood, when he left Vietnam. It was evident from the beginning that
Versace, who spoke fluent French and Vietnamese, was going to be a problem
for the Viet Cong. Although Versace was known to love the Vietnamese people,
he could not accept the Viet Cong philosophy of revolution, and spent long
hours assailing their viewpoints. His captors eventually isolated him to
attempt to break him.
                
Rowe and Pitzer saw Rocky at interludes during their first months of
captivity, and saw that he had not broken. Indeed, although he became very
thin, he still attempted to escape. By January 1965, Versace's steel-grey
hair had turned completely white. He was an inspiration to them both. Rowe
wrote:
                  ..The Alien force, applied with hate, could not break him,
                  failed to bend him; Though solitary imprisonment gave him
                  no friends, he drew upon his inner self to create a force
                  so strong that those who sought to destroy his will, met
                  an army his to command..
On Sunday, September 26, 1965, "Liberation Radio" announced the execution of
Rocky Versace and Kenneth Roraback in retaliation for the deaths of 3
terrorists in Da Nang. A later news article stated that the executions were
faked, but the Army did not reopen an investigaton. In the late 1970's
information regarding this "execution" became classified, and is no longer
part of public record.
Sgt. Pitzer was released from Cambodia November 11, 1967.
1Lt. Nick Rowe was scheduled to be executed in late December 1968. His
captors had had enough of him - his refusal to accept the communist ideology
and his continued escape attempts. While away from the camp in the U Minh
forest, Rowe took advantage of a sudden flight of American helicopters,
struck down his guards, and ran into a clearing where the helicopters
noticed him and rescued him, still clad in black prisoner pajamas. He had
been promoted to Major during his five years of captivity.
Rowe remained in the Army, and shared his survival techniques in Special
Forces classes. In 1987, Lt.Col. Rowe was assigned to the Philippines, where
he assisted in training anti-communists. On April 21, 1989, a machine gun
sniper attacked Rowe in his car, killing him instantly.
Of the seven U.S. Army Special Forces personnel captured at Hiep Hoa and Tan
Phu, the fates of only Versace and Roraback remain unknown. The execution
was never fully documented; it is not known with certainty that these two
men died. Although the Vietnamese claim credit for their deaths, they did
not return their remains. From the accounts of those who knew them, if these
men were not executed, they are still fighting for their country.