|Name: Dieter Dengler
Rank/Branch: 02/US Navy
Unit: Attack Squadron 145, USS Ranger
Date of Birth: (born in Germany - US Citizen)
Home City of Record: Hillsborough CA
Date of Loss: 01 February 1966
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 174200N 1051500E (WE270590)
Status (in 1973): Escaped
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 May 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.
REMARKS: 660720 ESCAPED
SYNOPSIS: The USS RANGER was a seasoned combat veteran, having been deployed
to Vietnam for Flaming Dart I operations. The carrier played a steady role
for the remainder of American involvement in the war. The first fighter jets
to bomb Haiphong in Operation Rolling Thunder came from her decks.
LT Dieter Dengler was a German-born American citizen who advanced from VT30
to Attack Squadron 122 in late 1964 and then to Attack Squadron 145 onboard
the RANGER. Dengler was known to his shipmates as something of a renegade;
the ops officer was always after him to get a haircut and Dengler was
forever in trouble over his uniform or lack of military manner. In his
German accent, he would protest, "I don't understand." But Dengler was a
good pilot, although his flying career was brief.
On February 1, 1966, U.S. Navy Lt. Dieter Dengler launched from the aircraft
carrier USS RANGER in an A1H Skyraider as part of a four-aircraft
interdiction mission near the border of Laos. Dieter was the last man to
roll in on a target when he was observed by the pilot of one of the other
aircraft to start a normal recover. Due to limited visibility, the flight
lost sight of him.
The other aircraft in the flight could not determine what had happened. They
only kne Dengler disappeared. Dengler later stated that ground fire had
severely damaged his aircraft, and he was forced to crash land in Laos.
Search continued all that day and part of the night without success.
The following morning, squadron members again went to search the area where
Dengler disappeared and located the aircraft wreckage. Helicopters were
called in. From the air, it appeared that no one was in the cockpit of the
aircraft. The helicopter crew photographed the area and noted his donut (a
round seat cushion) on the ground by the wing. They hoped he was still alive
in the jungle somewhere.
Dengler had successfully evaded capture through that night, and later said
that he even saw the rescue aircraft as they searched for him. He had tried
without success to raise them on his emergency radio. Dengler was finally
captured by Pathet Lao troops, who tortured him as they force-marched him
through several villages. Eight days later, Dengler escaped, but was
recaptured within a short time.
Ultimately, Dengler found himself in a camp in Laos held with other American
POWs. One of them, 1Lt. Duane W. Martin, had been aboard an HH43B "Huskie"
helicopter operating about 10 miles from the border of Laos in Ha Tinh
Province, North Vietnam, when the HH43B went down near the city of Tan An,
and all four personnel aboard the aircraft were captured. It is not clear if
the four were captured by North Vietnamese or Pathet Lao troops or a
combination of the two. Duane W. Martin was taken to a camp controlled by
Pathet Lao. Thomas J. Curtis, William A. Robinson and Arthur N. Black were
released in 1973 by the North Vietnamese, and were in the Hanoi prison
system as early as 1967.
When Duane Martin arrived at the camp, he found himself held with other
Americans. Some of them had been held for more than two years. (Note: This
would indicate that there were Americans in this camp who had been captured
in 1964. The only American officially listed as captured in Laos in 1964 is
Navy Lt. Charles F. Klusmann, who was captured in June 1964 and escaped in
August 1964. Source for the "two years" information is Mersky & Polmer's
"The Naval Air War in Vietnam", and this source does not identify any
Americans by name who had been held "for more than two years." Civilian
Eugene DeBruin, an acknowledged Laos POW who has never been returned, had
been captured in the fall of 1963. Dengler has stated that a red-bearded
DeBruin was held in one of the camps in which he was held. All previous Laos
loss incidents occurred in 1961 and 1962.)
Throughout the fall of 1965 and into spring and summer of 1966, the group of
Americans suffered regular beatings, torture, harassment, hunger and illness
in the hands of their captors. According to an "American Opinion" special
report entitled "The Code" (June 1973), Dengler witnessed his captors behead
an American Navy pilot and execute six wounded Marines. (Note: no other
source information available at time of writing reveals the names of these
On June 29, 1965, after hearing the prisoners were to be killed, Martin and
Dengler and unnamed others (Eugene DeBruin was apparently part of this
group, but was recaptured, and according to information received by his
family, was alive at least until January 1968, when he was taken away with
other prisoners by North Vietnamese regular army troops) decided to make
their escape in a hail of gunfire in which six communist guards were killed.
Dengler was seriously ill with jaundice, and Martin was sick with malaria.
Dengler and Martin and the others made their way through the dense jungle
surviving on fruits, berries, and some rice they had managed to save during
They floated down river on a raft they had constructed, eventually coming to
an abandoned village where the men found some corn. After a night's rest,
Dengler and Martin made their way downstream to another village. This
settlement was occupied, however, and the two Americans were suddenly
attacked by a villager with a machete. Dengler managed to escape back into
the jungle, but Martin was beheaded by the assailant. It had been 18 days
since their escape.
Dengler made his way alone, and on the 22nd day, with his strength almost
gone, he was able to form an SOS with some rocks, and waited, exausted to be
rescued or die. Luck was with him, for by late morning, an Air Force A1E
spotted the signal and directed a helicopter to pick up Dengler. He weighed
98 pounds. When he had launched from his aircraft carrier 5 months earlier,
he had weighed 157 pounds.
Dengler returned to California, and has written a book, "Escape From Laos"
on his experiences while a POW.
Curtis, Robinson and Black were released from Hanoi on February 12, 1973,
over seven years from the time of their capture. Lt. Duane Martin's fate
remains uncertain. If, as reported, he was killed during the escape attempt,
no effort has been made by the Lao to return his body.
Martin is one of nearly 600 Americans who remain prisoner, missing or
otherwise unaccounted for in Laos. Although the U.S. maintained only a
handful of these men in POW status, over 100 were known to have survived
their loss incident. The Pathet Lao stated during the war that they held
"tens of tens" of American prisoners, but they would be released only from
Laos (meaning that the U.S. must negotiate directly with the Pathet Lao).
The Pathet Lao were not part of the agreements that ended American
involvement in Southeast Asia, and no negotiations have been conducted with
them since for the prisoners they held.
Reports continue to come in related to missing Americans in Southeast Asia.
It does not seem likely that Martin is among the hundreds thought by many
authorities to be still alive, but what would he think of the abandonment of
his fellow Americans. Are we doing enough to bring these men home?
Dieter Dengler resided in California with his wife Yukiko until his death
after a long illness on February 7th, 2001. He will be buried in Arlington
National Cemetery on March 16, 2001.
Rescue Dawn Movie Due 3/30/2007
Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog returns to direct his first feature since
2001's Invincible with this dramatic action film inspired by his own 1997
documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly and detailing the escape efforts of a
German-American pilot who was taken as a prisoner-of-war after being shot
down over Laos during the Vietnam War. When U.S. fighter pilot Dieter
Dengler (Christian Bale) escaped death after being shot down over one of the
most intense front lines in the Vietnam War, his troubles were only
beginning. Subsequently taken captive by the enemy and forced to! endure a
harrowing stint in a Vietnamese prison camp, Dengler and his fellow captives
stag a death-defying escape that would later inspire one of German's most
accomplished directors to capture the remarkable tale on camera. ~ Jason
Buchanan, All Movie Guide
VIEW THE TRAILER
A critical review can be seen at: http://air-america.org/News/rescue_dawn.shtml
Family, Friends of Gene DeBruin Critical of Herzog Film
by Jerry DeBruin (Associate)
posted: June 20, 2007
Family And Friends of Gene DeBruin Critical of Werner Herzog's Film, "Rescue
by Jerry DeBruin (Associate)
The movie "Rescue Dawn" will begin showing at select theaters in New York
and Los Angeles on July 4th with national distribution on July 13th. Its
director is Werner Herzog who is a master at taking nonfictional truthful
scenarios and twisting them into fiction, Hollywood style. Such is the case
in "Rescue Dawn," which is littered with Herzog's errors of both omission
The movie is vaguely based on the book Escape From Laos, written by Dieter
Dengler. However, the movie takes liberties that are offensive to anyone who
is familiar with the events surrounding the prison break from Ban Houei Het
Pathet Lao Prison in June, 1966. These liberties may be the stock and trade
of Hollywood, but they are an insult to the brave POWs and their families.
We, the friends and family of Dieter Dengler, Eugene (Gene) DeBruin, and
Pisidhi Indradat despise this movie and condemn those who produced it.
To support these statements we can provide considerable documentation. We
base our condemnation on testimony given to the Central Intelligence Agency
by Dieter Dengler and Pisidhi Indradat, who currently resides in Bangkok,
Thailand, and is the last remaining successful participant of that prison
break. We also have their personal writings, records, videotaped interviews
and information that has never been released to the public.
This documentation by the POWs who survived the ordeal paints a very
different mosaic about events of that prison break and the role of Dieter
Dengler as portrayed in "Rescue Dawn." We want to be clear, we were friends
of Dieter Dengler. We have warm memories of our friend Dieter, who recently
passed away of ALS - Lou Gehrig's Disease. We believe Dieter would be
appalled by this movie had he lived to see it.
Rescue Dawn is a flawed movie filled with numerous omissions:
Rescue Dawn: There were six POWs.
Real Life: There were seven POWs: Pisidhi Indradat, Prasit Promsuwan, Prasit
Thanee, Y.C. To, Duane Martin, Dieter Dengler, and Eugene DeBruin.
Rescue Dawn: Gene is portrayed as an uncaring, deranged and derelict Charles
Manson type entity, devoid of humanity.
Real Life: Gene DeBruin is a kind and caring individual, helping to pass the
years in prison by teaching his cellmates English, sharing his blanket on
cold nights, sharing his food, even staying behind to help Y.C. To, a Hong
Kong Chinese cellmate who had become too ill to escape without help. Gene
returned to help Y.C. To despite pleas from Dieter Dengler and Duane Martin
to join them as the group split up to try different directions in their bid
for freedom. Pisidhi Indradat, a cellmate and survivor of the ordeal, called
Gene DeBruin, "The finest man I have ever met."
Rescue Dawn: Despite being the new man on the scene, Dieter Dengler manages
to formulate the plans for escape and lead the group out of the prison.
Real Life: Dieter Dengler and Duane Martin arrived at the prison about two
and a half years after Gene was shot down and were not immediately privy to
the secret escape plans formulated by Gene, Pisidhi, and the others, who had
already begun storing rice in bamboo tubes in preparation for an escape. It
took the group thirteen days to trust the new prisoner with the German
accent, Dieter Dengler.
Rescue Dawn: Dieter Dengler kills the prison guards.
Real Life: Pisidhi Indradat risked his life to kill the guards so the group
Rescue Dawn: Gene is portrayed as being a wreck of a man in the jungle when
he meets up with Dieter, muttering, "What will I do now?"
Real Life: Dieter testified that Gene, after shaking Dieter's hand, shouted,
"See you in the States," before heading back into the jungle and returning
to help Y.C.To, knowing full well that To would not make it to freedom
Rescue Dawn: Dengler and Martin approach the village together and when
Martin is attacked, Dengler attempts to come to his aid by attacking
Real Life: Dengler hid in the bushes while Martin approached a village in an
attempt to secure food. Martin was hacked to death by a machete-wielding
villager. Dengler, weak himself from hunger, realized that he could not help
Martin and to avoid becoming a victim himself, dashed off into the jungle,
later to be rescued and whisked offshore to the USS Ranger.
Both Dieter Dengler and Pisidhi Indradat spoke of Gene as a strong leader
and a peacemaker when differences threatened their escape plan.
In raising Dengler alone to the status of "Hero," despite the team efforts
of all the prisoners, Herzog is in essence saying that only those who escape
are heroes, which downplays the enormous amount of luck that goes hand in
hand with the skill a successful escape requires. Duane Martin wasn't less
of a hero for succumbing to his attacker, Y.C. To wasn't less of a hero for
getting sick during the window of opportunity for the escape. Why then must
Hollywood lower those that didn't make it out to raise up one that did? All
seven were equal heroes from those who won their freedom to the ones who
lost their lives.
Think for a moment: What kind of movie director/writer portrays a character
in a movie, yet refuses to talk with that person before, during, or after
the production? Pisidhi Indradat and Jerry DeBruin made multiple attempts to
contact director Werner Herzog, producer Harry Knapp, and Gibraltar Films to
insure the accurate portrayal of the characters, but to no avail. No
response ever surfaced. Nothing. Nada. Silence. Maybe the answer is the
obvious one. Herzog didn't want to do an honest movie, he wanted to make his
film his way, and the facts be damned.
The truth matters, and the truth is Herzog made a dishonest film and only
succeeded in hurting a POW and a midwestern farm family that has suffered
Jerry DeBruin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- brother of Gene DeBruin
Stevan Smith (email@example.com)
- Documentary Producer
- Vietnam War Veteran
Fred Rohrbach (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Vietnam War Veteran
- Thai Escapee and returnee from Pathet Lao Prisons
- Vietnam War Veteran
What Happened to Gene DeBruin?: How
an American POW
your dear brother was Missing In Action while working on behalf of
How would you feel, if
brother as Charles Manson in a widely acclaimed movie?
by Debbie at August 16, 2007 05:30 AM
More info http://www.veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=17