ATTERBERRY, EDWIN LEE Remains Returned 13 March 1974 Name: Edwin Lee Atterberry Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force Unit: 11th TRS Date of Birth: 03 March 1934 Home City of Record: Dallas TX Date of Loss: 12 August 1967 Country of Loss: North Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 210800N 1055600E (WJ969369) Status (in 1973): Prisoner of War Category: 1 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: RF4C Other Personnel in Incident: Thomas V. Parrott (released POW) Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 October 1990 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. REMARKS: 740313 DRV RETD REMS SYNOPSIS: On August 12, 1967, Capt. Edwin L. Atterberry and Capt. Thomas V. Parrott were sent on a reconnaissance mission over Ha Bac Province, North Vietnam. When they were about 10 miles northeast of the city of Gia Lam, the aircraft was hit by enemy fire and the crew was forced to eject. Both Atterberry and Parrott were captured by the North Vietnamese, and moved to the Hanoi prison system. There they joined other Americans captured before them. They discovered that despite rigorous training, they were not fully prepared for capture by the North Vietnamese. On May 10, 1969, after a year of planning, Atterberry and a fellow POW, John A. Dramesi, made an almost miraculous escape from prison. The two slipped through the roof and traveled three miles over 12 hours, but were recaptured. Dramesi recalls the torture he could not speak of for many months. For the escape attempt, Dramesi was put face down on a table, and while one guard held his head, two others beat him with a four foot length of rubber taken from an old automobile tire. They also slapped him repeatedly in the face. This went on for days, in ninety-minute sessions, after which the left side of Dramesi's head was swelled up like a pumpkin. They also put Dramesi on a bread and water diet for 30 days. At other times during the next two weeks, Dramesi's arms were bound tightly together behind him and his wrists and ankles cuffed in heavy irons. A rope was looped around a two-inch-thick bar attached to his ankle irons, taken around his shoulders and his head drawn between his knees. He was held in this position for 24 hours without sleep. His circulation impaired, the flesh on his ankles died, and he still bears the scars. After two weeks, the Vietnamese realized he might lose his feet, so they removed the irons and treated the wounds, but replaced them. Dramesi wore the irons continuously for 6 months, removing them only once a week when allowed to wash. After 38 days of this torture, Dramesi was near death. When Dramesi and Atterberry were recaptured, one of the other POWs recalls shaking Atterberry's hand. This was the last time he was seen by any Americans. Like Dramesi, Atterberry was tortured, but Atterberry did not survive. The Vietnamese told other POWs that Atterberry died of an "unusual disease." The POWs knew the disease was attempting to escape. Atterberry's remains were returned in March 1974. Not only Dramesi and Atterberry were punished. The entire POW populace was systematically worked over. After the episode was over, the senior officers outlawed further escape attempts unless they could meet a set of stringent conditions, including outside help. Planning escapes did not cease, but the actual attempts were put on hold. This is an excellent example of how the Code of Conduct was "bent" to the circumstances at hand. A necessary modification was made to ensure the survival of the prisoners; it having been determined that it was impossible to follow the Code literally under the circumstances. The result of the Vietnam experience was a "new" code, the same in letter, but different in spirit and intent than the pre-Vietnam version. Most agree it is a more realistic form of guidance, and it stresses community organization and a chain of command. It releases the POW from the "die-before-you-talk" syndrome that brought so many to personal shame in Vietnam when they were finally broken. (And all of those put to the test who survived were broken.) Returned POWs have a special place in their hearts for Atterberry and each of them knows what happened to Atterberry could have happened to any of them, and in many cases, nearly did. Since the war ended, over 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing, prisoner or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S. Government. Many authorities who have examined this largely classified information are convinced that hundreds of Americans are still held captive today. These reports are the source of serious distress to many returned American prisoners. They had a code that no one could honorably return unless all of the prisoners returned. Not only that code of honor, but the honor of our country is at stake as long as even one man remains unjustly held. It's time we brought our men home. Thomas V. Parrott was released from Hanoi on March 14, 1973. He served five and one-half years as a POW. Both Parrott and Atterberry were promoted to the rank of Major during their captivity.
According to returnee, Col. Richard Dutton (RET), Edwin Atterberry was seen by other POWs as he was removed from his cell "in a bloody mess". "Atterbury" is mentioned on pages 163 and 293 of Benjamin Schemmer's "THE RAID" published by Avon. It states: "How many more POWs will we have to find out are dead if we wait much longer?" the President said. It was a reference to the death of six more American POWs on the list turned over by Cora Weiss on the previous Friday, November 13. The only similar list had been turned over by North Vietnam the preceding January, naming five dead U.S. airmen-all of whom, it was reported, had died before they hit the ground. But this latest list caused the Pentagon and the White House grave concern about the treatment of Americans held prisoner in the north. Two names, in particular, raised haunting questions. The first man on the list was Air Force Major Edwin L. Atterbury. The DID had learned that he had escaped early in 1969 in "fairly robust health," but was recaptured soon after he got "over the fence." Yet, the DID also knew, Ed Atterbury had never been seen or heard from again by a fellow POW. North Vietnam would only report that he "died in captivity" or May 18, 1969.