Name: Norman John Brookens
Rank/Branch: Civilian
Unit: Maintenance Employee/USAID
Date of Birth: (ca 1926)
Home City of Record: Fayetteville PA
Date of Loss: 04 February 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 104500N 1064000E (XS850950)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Auto
Refno: 1034

Other Personnel in Incident: Richard W. Utecht; held with: James U. Rollins;
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 1998.


SYNOPSIS: Norm Brookens arrived in Vietnam in June of 1967 to work as a
maintenance employee for USAID, the U.S. State Department's Agency for
International Development. He lived in a small apartment about a block from
the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.

In the early morning of January 31, 1968, Brookens was awakened by an
explosion at the U.S. Embassy. The explosion had been triggered by a Viet
Cong 15-man suicide squad who blew a hole in the tall masonry wall
surrounding the 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

Five days after the attack on Saigon -- on February 4 -- Brookens and
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.

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

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.

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 -- an American named James
Rollins, and an Australian businessman, Keith Hyland, who had been captured
a month before near Saigon.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

SOURCE: WE CAME HOME  copyright 1977
Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret),
Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor
P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602
Text is reproduced as found in the original
publication (including date and spelling errors).

Captured: February 4, 1968
Released: February 12, 1973

Norman Brookens was a civilian vehicle specialist for the U.S. Agency for
International Development (AID). He spent five years as a prisoner of the
Viet Cong. Living in cages and being transferred under cover of darkness
from Cambodia to South Vietnam, he suffered from malnutrition, beri-beri,
malaria, jungle rot, and developed heart trouble. The diet consisted of
rice, salt, dog and bear meat. "What they did to us was not human. They
would keep us weak and near death so that they had better control of us."

On a quiet Sunday morning, an AID vehicle needs a tire. It will be necessary
to try to locate one. Norman and a friend leave the hotel room and jump into
a jeep. They travel through the narrow streets in Saigon. Two Vietnamese are
looking under the hood of a stalled cab, which blocks the street. As the
jeep slows to maneuver around the stalled vehicle, three Viet Cong jump from
behind a building carrying U.S. carbines. They grab Brookens and his friend.
Brookens receives a blow in the face and at gun-point is ordered to get into
the back seat of his jeep. A Viet Cong sits on either side of him and the
third is up front with the driver.

Several times he was sentenced to be shot. "Charlie (the Viet Cong) would
point a rifle at me, but fire over my head. This strategy was practiced to
instill fear into the prisoners."

For twelve hours he regained his freedom, as he and a fellow prisoner
escaped. Rawlings was a tall man who had a reach long enough to pull the pin
from the door of the cage. With the sound of the wind and rain muffling
their noises, the men escaped. Within fifteen minutes the guards noticed the
empty cage and blew the whistle signifying an escape. Brookens and Rawlings
crawled through the brush and lost contact with each other. When a crack was
heard, Brookens assumed his friend had been shot After 12 hours, Brookens
found himself surrounded by guards holding bayonets inches away from his
body. Instead of being killed, he was beaten and led back to his cage where
he found Rawlings. They both just shook their heads and laughed.

"I have a mission now that I am home - to make people try and understand
Communism. That's the purpose of the book I am writing, and that is the
purpose of my life." This he states with a firm religious conviction.