Name: Michael Dennis Benge
Rank/Branch: U.S. Civilian
Unit: Agency for International Development
Date of Birth: 6 August 1935
Home City of Record: Oregon
Date of Loss: 31 January 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 124049N 1080235E (AQ800030)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Refno: 1008


Other Personnel in Incident: Betty Ann Olsen; Henry F. Blood (both
captured); Rev.Griswald (killed); Carolyn Griswald (daughter of
Rev.Griswald, survived first attack, died of wounds); Rev. Zeimer (killed);
Mrs.Robert Zeimer (wounded, first attack, evaded, survived); Rev.&
Mrs.Thompson; Miss Ruth Whilting (all killed)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 30 June 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 1998 with material from Michael Benge.  2023


SYNOPSIS: Michael D. Benge was born in 1935 and raised on a ranch in eastern
Oregon. After college at Oregon State, he applied to the CIA, because he
wanted to travel the world. CIA told him to try the Agency for International
Development (AID). AID sent him to International Voluntary Services (IVS).
After two years in Vietnam with IVS, Benge transferred to AID and served as
an AID agricultural advisor. By the time of the Tet offensive of 1968, he
had been in-country five years, working almost the whole time with the
Montagnards in the highlands. He spoke fluent Vietnamese and several
Montagnard dialects.

On January 31, 1968, Benge was captured while riding in a jeep near Ban Me
Thuot, South Vietnam. Learning of the Tet offensive strikes, Benge was
checking on some IVS volunteers who were living in a hamlet with three
companies of Montagnard rebels who had just been through a lot of fighting
as the NVA went through the Ban Me Thuot area. His plan was to pick up the
IVS "kids" and then go down to pick up some missionaries in the area.

Benge was captured a few miles from the Leprosarium at Ban Me Thuot. This
center treated anyone with a need as well as those suffering from leprosy.
It was at the Leprosarium that Rev. Archie Mitchell, Dr. Eleanor Vietti and
Daniel Gerber had been taken prisoner in 1962. The Viet Cong regularly
harassed and attacked the center in spite of its humanitarian objectives.

During the Tet offensive, the Viet Cong again tried to wipe out the
Christian missionary influence in Dar Lac Province, and over a three day
period attacked the hospital compound several times.

Betty Ann Olsen was born to Missionary parents in Bouake, Ivory Coast. She
had attended a religious school and missionary college in Nyack, New York.
Curious about the way the other part of the world lived, she went to Vietnam
in 1964 as a missionary nurse for Christian and Missionary Alliance, and was
assigned to the Leprosarium at Ban Me Thuot. Henry F. Blood was a missionary
serving as translator and linguist for Wickcliff Translators at the

During one of the earlier attacks on the hospital compound, three staff
homes were destroyed, one housing Rev. Griswald, who was killed, and his
grown daughter Carolyn, who survived the explosion but later died of her
wounds. During the same attack, Rev. and Mrs. Zeimer, Rev.and Mrs. Thompson
and Miss Ruth Whilting were trapped and machine gunned. Only Mrs. Zeimer
survived her 20-30 wounds and was later evacuated to Cam Ranh Bay. Blood and
Olsen escaped injury for the moment.

Two days later, on February 1, 1968, as Olsen was preparing to escape with
the injured Griswald, she and Henry Blood were captured during another
attack on the hospital.

For the next month or so, Benge, Blood and Olsen were held in a POW camp in
Darlac Province, about a day's walk from Ban Me Thuot, and were held in
cages where they had nothing to eat but boiled manioc (a large starchy root
from which tapioca is made).

The Vietnamese kept moving their prisoners, hiking through the jungles and
mountains. The camp areas, swept very clean of leaves to keep the mosquito
population down (and the ensuing malaria threat), were clearly visible from
the sky. Once, Benge reports, an American aircraft came so close to the camp
that he could see the pilot's face. The pilot "wagged his wings" and flew
away. The Vietnamese, fearing rescue attempts and U.S. air strikes, kept

For months Olsen, Blood and Benge were chained together and moved north from
one encampment to another, moving over 200 miles through the mountainous
jungles. The trip was grueling and took its toll on the prisoners. They were
physically depleted, sick from dysentery and malnutrition; beset by fungus,
infection, leeches and ulcerated sores.

Mike Benge contracted cerebral malaria and nearly died. He credits Olsen
with keeping him alive. She forced him to rouse from his delirium to eat and
drink water and rice soup. Mike Benge describes Olsen as "a Katherine
Hepburn type...[with] an extra bit of grit."

In the summer of 1968, the prisoners, again on the trail, were left exposed
to the rain during the rainy season. Hank Blood contracted pneumonia,
weakened steadily, and eventually died in July. (July 1968 is one of the
dates given by the Vietnamese - the other, according to classified
information the U.S. gave to the Vietnamese through General John Vessey
indicates that Mr. Blood died on October 17, 1972. Mike Benge says Blood
died around July 4.) Blood was buried in a shallow grave along the trail,
with Olsen conducting grave-side services.

Benge and Olsen were kept moving. Their bodies were covered with sores, and
they had pyorrhea from beri-beri. Their teeth were loosening and gums
infected. They spent a lot of time talking about good meals and good places
to eat, planning to visit their favorite restaurants together when they went
home. They moved every two or three days.

Benge and Olsen were moved near Tay Ninh Province, almost to Da Lat, then
back to Quang Duc Province. Olsen was getting weak, and the Vietnamese began
to kick and drag her to keep her moving. Benge, trying to defend her, was
beaten with rifle butts.

Just before crossing the border into Cambodia, Olsen weakened to the point
that she could no longer move. Ironically, in this area, near a tributary to
the Mekong river, fish and livestock abounded, and there was a garden, but
the food was denied to the prisoners. They were allowed to gather bamboo
shoots, but were not told how to cook it.

Bamboo needs to be boiled in two waters to extract an acid substance. Not
knowing this, Olsen and Benge boiled their food only once and were beset
with immobilizing stomach cramps within a half-hour; diarrhea soon followed.
Betty Ann Olsen weakened and finally died September 29, 1968 (Vessey
information indicates this date as September 26), and was buried by Benge.

Finally, Benge was taken to Cambodia, turned over to the North Vietnamese,
and another long, grueling trek began. Benge, however, had made his mind up
that he wouldn't die. He treated his ulcerated body by lying in creeks and
allowed small fish to feed off the dead tissue (a primitive debridement),
then caught the fish and ate them raw. He caught small, green frogs and
swallowed them whole. He did everything he could to supplement his meager
food ration.

By the time he reached the camp the Vietnamese called "the land of milk and
honey" his hair was white and he was so dehydrated and emaciated that other
POWs estimated his age to be over seventy years old. He was, at the time,
only thirty-three.

After a year in Cambodia, Benge was marched north on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
to Hanoi. He spent over three years in camps there, including a total of
twenty-seven months in solitary confinement. Upon his return, he verified
collaboration charges against eight of his fellow POWs, in a prosecution
effort initiated by Col. Theodore Guy (this action was discouraged by the
U.S. Government and the effort was subsequently abandoned.) Mike Benge then
returned to Vietnam and worked with the Montagnards until the end of the

The Vietnamese have never attempted return the remains of Henry Blood and
Betty Olsen. They are two individuals that the Vietnamese could provide a
wealth of information on. Since they pride themselves on being
"humanitarians," it would not be in keeping with this image to reveal the
horror Olsen and Blood endured in their hands. It is not surprising, then,
that the Vietnamese have not publicly told their stories.

Olsen and Blood are among nearly 2500 Americans, including several
civilians, who are still unaccounted for, missing or prisoner from the
Vietnam war. Since the war ended, over 10,000 reports have been received
concerning these missing Americans which have convinced many authorities
that hundreds are still alive in communist hands. While Blood and Olsen may
not be among them, they went to Vietnam to help. They would not turn their
backs on their fellow man. Why has their own country turned its back on

Date:          Wed, 23 Sep 98
From:          "Mike Benge"
Subject:       BIO

Michel Dennis Benge (Mike) was born on August 6, 1935 in Denver,
CO, and grew up on a ranch in Eastern Oregon, where for a time,
he rode brahma bulls and bareback horses in rodeos.  He joined the
Marine Corps in 1956, achieved the rank of sergeant, and was
honorably discharged in 1959.  He completed  his undergraduate
studies in Agricultural Engineering at Oregon State University in

In 1963, he joined the International Voluntary Services (a
forerunner of the Peace Corps), and served for two years in the
Central Highlands in South Viet Nam, working mainly with the
Montagnards (a French term for people of the mountains).  He is
Fluent in both Vietnamese and Rhade (the major ethnic minority
dialect), In 1965, he joined the United States Agency for
International Development, and served as a provincial development
officer in the Central Highlands of South Viet Nam.  He received
three of medals from the government of South Viet Nam for
outstanding work in public administration, public health, and
ethnic minority affairs.

While serving in that capacity, he was captured by the North
Vietnamese during the "Tet Offensive" on January 28, 1968.  His
capture resulted from attempting to rescue four Americans housed in
a section of town that had been overrun by a North Vietnamese
battalion.  Mr. Benge was credited with rescuing 11 Americans prior
to his capture, and for this, received the State Department's
highest award for heroism.  He also received a second award for
valor for his actions during captivity. 

Mr. Benge was held in numerous camps in South Viet Nam, Cambodia,
Laos and North Viet Nam.  He spent 27 months in solitary
confinement and one year in a "black box."  While in the
"Plantation Gardens," he served as Col. Ted Guy's deputy, and was
released during "Operation Homecoming"  in 1973.

While on medical leave, he returned to Viet Nam and continued his
work with the Ministry of Ethnic Minorities.  In 1974, he was
assigned to the USAID Mission in the Philippines.  After the fall
of Viet Nam in 1975, he assisted in processing Vietnamese refugees
to go to the U.S. 

In 1978, he completed a Master's Degree in Agroforestry at the
University of the Philippines at Los Banos.  In 1979, he rotated to
USAID headquarters in Washington, DC, continuing his work in
international development, forestry and environment.  For
outstanding achievements in international forestry, Mr. Benge
received an award from the King of Sweden, which was patterned
after the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.

He continues his work with USAID, and resides in Falls Church, VA.
He is a single parent to two daughters, ages 16 and 11.  He is active
in POW/MIA affairs, and other South East Asian political issues.


Although I was never beaten by the Cubans, nor was I a part of the Cuban program, I did witness nineteen American POW's that I know of who were tortured by ... and members of the Department of Defense (DOD) that the Vietnamese Government was 'cooperating fully' in resolving the POW/MIA issue.

Good Saturday Morning Advocates, Veterans, Former POWs and Families of our MIAs!

Yesterday I received an article dated 24 November 2017 written by Ms. Elise Cooper, writing for the American Thinker and I forwarded it on to all of you.  As noted in our email Ms. Cooper was ‘quoting’ Mike Benge, Former POW and Advocate extraordinaire, well it appears that is not a  totally true statement. She had interviewed Mike, via phone, for this piece, BUT, was not totally accurate in her reproduction of Mike’s comments. Mike, being a man of integrity, contacted me via email late yesterday to advise me that the story as written was NOT one hundred percent accurate and that he had noted such to Ms. Cooper. Below is a cut from Mike’s email to me:

 “The author of this article briefly interviewed me by phone and although I sent her my research paper and copy of my congressional testimony, she purposely chose to misquote me even though I told/warned her that I did not say that Americans had held in Los Mastitis pysc. Prison in Cuba, but the info came from a State Department cable and there was no available documentation, that there was any follow up by State, for I had them a FOIA  and got nothing.   Regards, Mike”

I will be forwarding a copy of this email on to The American Thinker, to make them aware of the misquoting.

Until the all come home……….


From: Ed Wildeboor
Date: Mon, Dec 17, 2018 at 9:00 PM
Subject: Linebacker II - 46 years ago tomorrow
  On December 18, 1972, the bombing campaign known as Linebacker II was initiated against targets in North Vietnam by the US Seventh Air Force and the US Navy Task Force 77.
Take a moment to toast all who participated, and make a special toast to the Nam POWS, who Returned with Honor.

Ed Wildeboor

For those who have not seen it, this link is the most recent one I could find for "PAC 6: A General's Decision."

BG Sullivan remains a hero to all SAC crew members who participated in Linebacker II


Christmas Lights over Hanoi

By Mike Benge

The lighting of the Christmas trees in Washington, DC and New York are beautiful sights.  And the Christmas lights in Denver and other cities are outstanding.  However, the most beautiful Christmas lights of all were those of the Christmas bombing of Hanoi in '72.  The flash of the Sam missiles, the flares dropped from the plane, the arclights hitting the city, and yes, even when a Sam hit a plane, it was all spectacular, for this gave us all hope and we knew we were soon going home.

Bless that noon time reccie who flew up the train tracks blowing past our camp for the past year with a sonic boom while gaining altitude and turning across the Red River heading for home.  It gave us hope, and we knew that when the bombs started falling, we wouldn't get hit, for Uncle Sam knew where we were.

When the bombs started falling, we all cheered, and for a minute the guards threatened to shoot us if we didn't shut up, but they soon were crouching in their hidey-holes and shitting in their mess kits as the bombs started falling and they were too scared to say anything more. 

We had been forced to dig trenches down the middle of our rooms before the bombing, so I guess Johnny Walker had been instrumental in the NVA knowing the B52s were coming.  The bombs were close enough that the trenches contorted like a Z and the double doors to our cells would move over their own width from the shock.  The next day we found a dead bird outside our door presumably killed from the shock.  As the NVA was moving us to the Hanoi Hilton we peeked out of the sides of the trucks and saw that the B52s had been right on target for everything had been flattened except our old camp -- the Plantation Gardens. 

Yes Christmas lights are pretty, but none will ever be as beautiful as those over Hanoi on Christmas '72.  And God Bless the pilots and crews of the planes who gave their all to set us free.  Mike Benge.  '68-73


December 18, 2018, marks the 46th anniversary of the beginning of the air offensive over North Vietnam, Linebacker II.  This was a multi-service campaign that lasted for 11(12) days, and which culminated in the resumption of the Paris peace talks, the ultimate signing of the Vietnam peace accords, and the release of our POWs.  It is the consensus of a great many of us that without Linebacker II, we would still be rotting in the hell of Vietnam’s prison system.  

  • Overall Air Force losses included fifteen B-52s, two F-4s, two F-111s, and one HH-53 search and rescue helicopter.
  • Navy losses included two A-7s, two A-6s, one RA-5, and one F-4.
  • Seventeen of these losses were attributed to SA-2 missiles; three to daytime MIG attacks; three to antiaircraft artillery; and three to unknown causes.
  • The bombardment lasted 12 days resulting in 43 POWs captured and a loss of 27 others KIA.

At this Holiday time of the year, let us pause for a moment in honor of all of those brave
warriors who participated in Linebacker II, in memory of those who have made their Final Flight, and to especially remember the incredible courage of our POWs who were fortunate to have returned with honor and those who were not fortunate and did not return.

A toast to all our comrades -- POWs, missing in action, living or dead, whatever their duty, whatever their war, whatever their uniform.  God Bless Them All!

We toast our hearty comrades, who have fallen from the sky, and were gently caught by God’s own hands to be with him on high. To dwell among the soaring clouds they have known so well before, from victory roll to tail chase at heavens’ very door.  And as we fly among them there, we're sure to hear their plea: Take care, my friend, watch your six, and do one more roll for me.  (Author unknown)


Mike Benge, a Foreign Service Officer, was captured on January 30, 1968 during the TET Offensive and was held in camps in South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam for over five years.  He was released during Operation Homecoming in March 1973,

Published: Christmas Lights over Hanoi.  Maggie’s Farm. 12.23.13


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