HARNAVEE THA CHAN "CHIP"
RIP - 02/04/18
Name: "Chip" Tha Chan Harnavee
Source: Compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK from one or more of the following: raw
data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA
families, published sources, interviews and CACCF = Combined Action
Combat Casualty File. Updated 2018.
REMARKS: RELEASED 09/01/74/HELD IN HANOI WITH AMERICAN POWS
GUTTERSEN DEBRIEFED CAPTURED SAYABOURY
"Chip" is alive and well and very active in the Thai Veterans community. He
joined NAM POWs in the celebration of their 25 years of Freedom in 1998.
CHAICHARN HARNNAVEE, COLONEL (Retired)
ROYAL THAI ARMY, SPECIAL FORCES
Born: 19 February 1931, Ayutthaya Thailand
Enlisted in the Royal Thai Army at LopBuri, Thailand, August 1952
Promoted to Sgt. 1964 Married: Wife, Chalerm Sri One Daughter:
In February 1965, Sgt. Chaicharn was stationed in Xieng Lom District of
Sayaboury Province, Laos with the Royal Thai Army, Special Forces (SF) as a
radio operator (voice intercept).
On 21 May 1965 (a day off, for fun) he joined American civilian pilot,
Ernest Brace as his "spotter". They were flying a PC-6 (Porter) on a
re-supply mission, delivering construction supplies to be used in the
building of a hospital. Traveling with them was a Lao Special Forces
Soldier and a pregnant Lao lady and her young child. Upon reaching their
destination at Baum Lao, Laos, they landed and taxied to the end of runway
and turned the aircraft to offload passengers and supplies.
They immediately came under heavy attack from small arms fire.
The Lao Soldier, the lady and her child were killed instantly. The
aircrafts wings and engine were also hit and caught fire. Sgt. Chaicharn
and Ernest Brice tried to then escape and evade into the jungle 50 yards
away. Under heavy AK fire, they made it to the jungle, but were met and
captured by a 300 man North Vietnamese Army (NVA) force. Soon after
capture, they started their fifteen-day march to Dien Bien Pho, North
Vietnam. Each man was bound and each was assigned six NVA Soldiers as
guards for their march. During the march they were fed very meager rations
and received no medical assistance.
Sgt. Chaicharn and Ernest Brace would spend the next three years in Dien
Bien Pho. They were kept in small huts about 15 yards apart. During his
entire stay in this camp, Sgt. Chaicharn was kept in ankle stocks at all
times. At night, in addition to the stocks, they would also tie his wrists
together and he would also have to wear a neck iron. The only time he was
allowed out was 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening.
Ernest Brach and he were not allowed to communicate at all. They were given
only meager amounts of rice and a tiny amount of vegetables. There was no
meat and no medical attention.
At one point, Ernest Brace managed to escape for three days. During this
time, Sgt. Chaicharn was brutally beaten because of Ernest Brace's escape.
In 1968, Sgt. Chaicharn and Ernest Brace were taken by truck to the Hanoi
Hilton Prison in North Vietnam. Sgt. Chaicharn was immediately placed in
solitary confinement and remained there for the next two years. After this
time he was allowed out two hours a day to clean the compound and work at
water purification for the compound. At the end of his two-hour shift, he
would then be placed back into solitary. During his cleaning duties, he was
allowed no contact with others. After about a year of cleaning duties, he
was able to make contact with another captive, a South Vietnamese â?"Air
Force pilot, called "Maz". Maz could speak Vietnamese, French and English.
At this point, Sgt. Chaicharn spoke neither English nor Vietnamese, only
Thai. Through hand signals, or jesters, they were able to start
communicating. As time went on, they began to understand each other more
and more. Maz eventually passed a code to Sgt. Chaicharn for them to
communicate. Then later, Maz passed the American "Tap Code" to Sgt.
Chaicharn and he began to teach himself English so that he could better
communicate. Because of his access to more areas of the Hanoi Hilton (for
cleaning) and at great risk to himself, he began to steal pencils, paper and
mirrors used for signaling. The better he got at understanding English and
the codes, the more he stole and helped the other prisoners of war (POWs).
Sgt. Chaicharn went so far as to smuggle his own food to other POWs that
were in worse shape then he. American POWs credit Sgt. Chaicharn as being
the reason they are alive today.
In 1973, with "Operation Homecoming" Sgt. Chaicharn was the only POW left at
the Hilton. Because he was Thai and captured in Laos, he alone was not
Approximately one month after everyone else had left the Hilton; Sgt.
Chaicharn was loaded onto a truck and taken north to Pho Yen Province, North
Vietnam, by the Chinese border. When he arrived, there were 216 other Thai
POWs, all having been captured in Laos. They all know the war is over, but
they are not being allowed to go home.
Soon after his arrival, because of his age (42), he is put in Command of all
Thai POWs. The Vietnamese wanted all POWs to volunteer to go through
"Re-education" training and become Communists. Sgt. Chaicharn was charged
with making sure that all his men did this. He refused to do it. Because of
his refusal, Sgt. Chaicharn was placed in the "Dark Room" for six months.
The "dark room" was a box, 3ft.x 6ft placed in the sun. There was one hole
near the top of the box that was about 11/2" - 2" in diameter. This hole
faced east. That was his only way to know day from night.
During this entire six-month period, he was allowed a bath once per month
and that was also the only time he was allowed to empty the pot that held
his body waste. Each morning the guard would kick the box and he was
supposed to answer, so they would know he was alive and there. On his last
day, he did not answer - his body had shut down. His legs no longer
worked, he couldnâ?Tt feel anything and didnâ?Tt know where he was. The
guard turned him over to the Doctor and after some time he started to
Once he was well enough again, he was called to the Camp Commanders office.
Sitting before the Commanding Officer (CO), Sgt. Chaicharn was asked if he
was ready to get his men to undergo "Re-education"? He told him "NO". The CO
then pulled an AK-47 rifle leveled it at Sgt. Chaicharn and chambered a
round. He then asked again saying he could kill Sgt. Chaicharn now, or he
could work with them.
Sgt. Chaicharn stood up and said, "Go ahead". "I am not a Communist and I
donâ?Tt want to be. The war is over I just want to go home. I will not be a
Communist" The CO sent him out of his office.
At about this time in the US, American former POWs were asking questions as
to what had happened to Sgt. Chaicharn. So many owed him so much, and he was
alive when they left the Hanoi Hilton. During his whole time of captivity,
there had been no word of his status to the Thai Gov. Where was he now?
The former Vietnam POWs in America were lobbying US and Thai Government's to
About three months after the incident with the Camp CO, the agreement was
signed between the Governments of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and the US. When
released from captivity on 29 September 1974, Sgt. Chaicharn was the only
Thai POW asked for by name. He was also the longest held POW of the Viet
Nam War: 9 Years, 4months, and 8 days. Within one month of his return to
Thailand, Sgt. Chaicharn was honored by a personal promotion to the rank
Captain, by His Majesty, The King of Thailand.
When it was learned by the American POWs that now Captain Chaicharn had been
returned to Thailand, Colonel Flynn, USAF, Commander Lackland Air Force
Base, TX and former Vietnam POW, contacted Capt. Chaicharn and asked him to
come to America for a one-month tour. They wanted to say "Thank you" to
Capt. Chaicharn for his gallantry and service to all the former POWs of the
Shortly after his tour of the U.S. Capt. Chaicharn was sent to Lackland AFB
in TX for 10 months training in English and then on to Ft Bragg NC for seven
months training in Psychological Operations (Psy Ops).
It was also during this time that Capt. Chaicharn was honored for his
bravery at the Hanoi Hilton by being presented with the "Silver Star" and
"Legion of Merit" awards by the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon.
Capt. Chaicharn is also the only foreign national to have his picture
hanging in the "Hall Of Heroes" at the Pentagon. After his schooling in
America, Capt. Chaicharn returned to the Special Warfare Command at
LopBuri, Thailand where he taught until his retirement in 1992 with the
rank of Colonel. Col. Chaicharn is now an elected City Councilman for the
city of LopBuri, Thailand. Col. Chaicharn is one of the true hero's of the
Prepared by Buzz Parish 17-10-04 Bangkok Thailand
|Subject:||WIFE OF LONG HELD THAI SPECIAL FORCES POW PASSES AWAY|
|Date:||Sat, 6 May 2017 19:46:28 +0700|
VOICE OF WITNESS
From: Mark Smith
Date: 8 February BE 2561 13:55:09 GMT+7
Subject: Letter To PostBag, Colonel Chaicharn Harnavee
It is with a heavy heart I write today to thank the Bangkok Post
for publishing the box on page 4 of your February 6,2018 edition with a
short obituary concerning the passing of my Special Forces colleague and
friend Colonel Chaicharn Harnavee. Perhaps someone who walked the
meandering roads of life and death with him these past many decades
should attempt to address his true meaning to the much misunderstood
relationship between the Thai and American militaries. After all, if not
for the demands of his fellow American released prisoners Chaicharn and
other Thais might well still be languishing in the gulags.
Thankfully the American Returned Prisoners of War (RPW) could not and
would not forget their brave Thai colleague even though they had no way
of knowing he had been shipped from Hanoi to the far north of Vietnam to
very possibly never be released. Finally in September 1974 the Thai
soldier known to the Americans as "Chip" was finally released to resume
his life. In his always stoic professional fashion he faced and
conquered all those personal and professional obstacles accumulated
during his decade of being missing and presumed by most to have perished
in combat or the cruel prisons.
In 1981-84 I led the first United States Special Forces team to
return to Thailand after a long absence and reunited with my fellow RPW
then Captain\Major Chaicharn. At that point, as with today, terrorism
and how to deal with not only the external threats but what remained of
the internal threats were forefront in our training and planning.
Chaicharn wrote a book in Thai about his terrible experiences in the
communist gulag and about the friendship and loyalty of his American
prisoner colleagues making in many cases their and his very survival
possible. There were days when he would not have made it without them
but many more days when many of them would not have made it without him.
The stoic Special Forces Sergeant became an accomplished messenger but
mostly he became an astute thief of not only things they needed but the
secrets the enemy kept from them. As the days and years went by the
Special Forces soldier proved brilliant at absorbing and perfecting the
Vietnamese language while never letting-on he understood much at all. In
other words he beat them in their own camp. For this he received the
Silver Star, America's third highest combat award ,for gallantry in
action. Further, he was awarded the American Legion Of Merit an award
rarely bestowed on a soldier of his rank at the time.
Down through the ensuing decades Colonel Chaicharn and I remained
close as only combat soldiers and those of shared experiences can be. He
read the English language press as I did daily and often we would speak
of those who wrote in professing great knowledge of those issues of
terrorism and communism, subjects we knew well. He always opened in the
same manner; "Did you see what this so-called expert said on things he
only has read about and we actually lived through?"Ł Then he would become
quiet and say "Thank God, they have the freedom to just be stupid."
This did not surprise me because my dear friend had a far-reaching
intelligence in dealing with such things few men will ever know.
In his waning days others would report things they claimed Colonel
Chaicharn had said but the next time he called I simply asked if he had
said it and he simply said; "No!" We both understood that some attempt
to stand in the reflected glory of conspicuous gallantry and though
unworthy attempt to assume that mantle themselves without merit. A
retired Special Forces soldier Ray Caron( And his wife Dr. Natcha Caron)
and myself were charged by Colonel Chaicharn to have his book and
thoughts translated into English and provided to his American Special
Forces and RPW brethren so that they and all others would know the
terrible truths of his experiences. This will be done.
Thank you Bangkok Post for recognizing the passing of my valiant
professional colleague and friend. I am at a time in my life when
colleagues, friends and family seem to be dying almost weekly and many
were truly great and did great things in their lives. Yet, I have not
been truly left with the longing for a simple phone call like I have
been since the passing of Colonel Chaicharn Harnavee, a hero to Thais
and Americans alike.
Major Mark A. Smith,USA, Retired
Returned American Prisoner Of War