DEBRUIN, EUGENE HENRY
Name: Eugene Henry DeBruin
Rank/Branch: U.S. Civilian
Unit: Air America
Date of Birth: 01 April 1933
Home City of Record: Kaukauna WI
Date of Loss: 05 September 1963
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 164245N 1061021E (XD250480)
Status (In 1973): Prisoner Of War
Other Personnel in Incident: Joseph C. Cheney, Charles Herrick (killed in
crash); Chui To Tik and 3 other Thai nationals (names unknown) (all captured)
Source: Compiled 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 in 2020.
REMARKS: ESC W/D008 NFI-CREW PIC PUBD
SYNOPSIS: During the 1950's a deteriorating political situation in Laos had
allowed NVA troops and Pathet Lao guerrillas to seize the Laotian panhandle
from the Royal Lao Army. Prevented by Geneva Accords from having a large
military presence in Laos, the U.S. established a "Program Evaluation
Office" (PEO) in 1958 as a CIA cover for anti-communist covert actions. One
activity, begun in 1958, used Meo tribesmen for a small pilot guerrilla
program, which soon became the largest clandestine army in CIA history. In
the first year, using U.S. Special Forces White Star teams as PEO
"civilians", a few CIA officers and 90 elite Thai Border guards, an army of
9000 Meo was trained for behind-lines guerrilla activity. Within 10 years,
the Meo army grew to over 40,000 guerrillas, becoming the most effective
fighting force in Laos.
The CIA's covert airline, known as "Air America" (AA) supported the Meo as
well as numerous other CIA-backed clandestine guerrilla armies. With the
escalating war, a large US military presence guaranteed that Air America
could operate in relative obscurity. With little fanfare throughout the war,
AA fought in the frontlines of unconventional war. AA pilots flew "black
missions" over China, North Vietnam and the Laotian panhandle. AA flew in
every type of aircraft from 727 jets to small Cessnas and junk aircraft,
transporting everything from combat troops (alive, wounded or dead) to baby
chicks, dropping rice to refugees and specially trained Nung trailwatchers
into denied areas. AA contracted both with the Drug Enforcement Agency (to
track international drug smugglers) and with the Meo (to haul its annual and
valuable opium crop).
As U.S. forces pulled out, AA picked up the slack, straining to maintain the
status quo. The communists drove the Meo from their homelands in the early
1970's, and as the Meo retreated, AA was in the position of hauling (and
feeding) tens of thousands of refugees. There were problems as the CIA fell
under Congressional scrutiny of its world-wide paramilitary activities and
public pressure to divest itself of Air America. South Vietnam's rapid
collapse in 1975 signified the end of the clandestine war that began in
Vietnam thirty years earlier.
On September 5, 1963, an Air America C46 aircraft was hit by ground fire and
crashed about 2 kilometers from Tchepone, Savannakhet Province, Laos. Eugene
DeBruin, Chui To Tik and two Thai nationals parachuted to safety, but were
immediately captured by the Pathet Lao. Two crew members, Joseph C. Cheney
and Charles Herrick, were killed in the crash.
Later, the the Pathet Lao photographed DeBruin and four others prisoners and
published a leaflet naming the five as their prisoners. Several times during
their captivity the entire crew was moved to different locations within
Savannakhet and Khammouane Provinces.
In early July 1966, Eugene and six other prisoners made an escape. However,
only two of the seven, Dieter Dingler and one of the Thai nationals who was
part of Eugene's crew, reached safety. One report stated that DeBruin was
killed in the escape attempt, but the Thai national reported that DeBruin
was last seen attempting to reach high ground in a classified location.
Eugene's family has not stopped looking for answers. They were able to find
a report that Eugene may have been alive as late as January 1968. His
brother, Jerome traveled to Laos in 1972 in search of information.
Although the Pathet Lao openly admitted holding American prisoners of war,
they insisted that the U.S. negotiate directly with them to ensure their
release. The U.S. never negotiated or recognized the Pathet Lao, and as a
consequence, not one of the nearly 600 Americans lost in Laos (many of whom
were known to have survived their loss incidents) was ever released.
As reports mount that Americans are still alive in Southeast Asia, the
Debruin family wonders if one of them could be Eugene or one of his crewmen.
May 26, 2003
Combined Locks family seeks brother lost in Laos
By Angie Gaspar - Post-Crescent staff writer
COMBINED LOCKS - Dar DeBruin-Hein was only 4 years old when her brother
Gene's C-46 airplane was shot down during the Vietnam War. Her memories of
the nightmarish phone call her family received remain clear today, 40 years
Angie Gaspar can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com
Senate Select Committeee 1993
Laos Eugene H. Debruin
On September 5, 1963, an Air America C-47 transport on which Mr.
Debruin was a "kicker" was shot down by hostile ground fire over
Savannakhet Province. It crashed approximately twenty two
kilometers northeast of Muang Phine. Eugene Debruin and four non-
U.S. crewmen parachuted out and were captured. According to the
Pathet Lao, the remaining two American civilian crewmen who were
not reported to have bailed out died in the crash. On May 31,
1966, the Pathet Lao spokesman in Vientiane, Soth Phetrasy,
confirmed that Mr. Debruin was alive and in captivity.
Information from an American escapee and a Thai captured with Mr.
Debruin recounted Mr. Debruin's capture and prison chronology
through July 3, 1966, the last time they knew Mr. Debruin to be
alive with them in Khammouane Province. Accounts of the prison
escape include information that four of the seven prison guards
were killed during the escape attempt. One Thai who escaped and
was recaptured was not killed after recapture.
A photograph of Mr. Debruin was later obtained by Air America in
May 1969 and showed Mr. Debruin in captivity circa 1965. A credit
card and other information concerning the dead pilot was later
obtained through private sources.
On September 25, 1982, Pathet Lao Colonel Khamla Keuphithoune told
a visiting National League of Families delegation that Eugene
Debruin was killed attempting to escape from captivity.
Information has surfaced from American POW hunters throughout the
last half of the 1980s and into 1991, as well as from Lao and Thai
residents of Thailand, which asserts that Mr. Debruin is still
alive in Laos and living freely with a Lao wife and children in
Khammouane Province. The Debruin case is well known in the private
POW/MIA community due to extensive efforts and informational
leaflets distributed by Mr. Debruin's brother who for many years
has attempted to recover his brother. The Joint Task Force Full
Accounting has received information regarding Mr. Debruin's grave
site and is currently planning to excavate it.
Bamboo Cage, Nigel Cawthorne
The Living Dead
So who were these men who were left behind? Who were the discrepancy cases -
the eighty men who the Americans knew to be alive in captivity but who did
not appear on the lists handed over by the North Vietnamese? The names of
these men are, of course, classified, but they included men like Gene
However, in reading the synopsis on Eugene De Bruin I
believe you have inadvertently picked
up a piece of misinformation and incorrectly included it:
"AA contracted both with the Drug Enforcement Agency (to
track international drug smugglers) and with the Meo (to haul its
annual and valuable opium crop)."