BROOKENS, NORMAN JOHN 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 Category: 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. REMARKS: 730212 RELSD BY PRG - INJ 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 battles. 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 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. 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 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. 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). NORMAN J. BROOKENS Civilian 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.