JOHNSON, BOBBY LOUIS
Name: Bobby Louis Johnson Rank/Branch: E4/US Army Unit: Date of Birth: Home City of Record: Detroit MI Date of Loss: 25 August 1968 Country of Loss: South Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 110930N 1061320E (XT324346) Status (in 1973): Released POW Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Truck Refno: 1264 Other Personnel in Incident: Burt Kinzel, escaped capture. (none missing)
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 2007 with information from Burt Kinzel.
REMARKS: 730212 RELSD BY PRG
SYNOPSIS: On January 17, 1966, U.S. State Department Foreign Service Officer Douglas K. Ramsey was driving a truck northwest of Saigon when he was captured by Viet Cong forces. For Ramsey and for all Americans captured in South Vietnam, life would be brutally difficult. These men suffered from disease induced by an unfamiliar and inadequate diet - dysentery, edema, skin fungus and eczema as well as particularly brutal treatment from guards.
Douglas K. Ramsey was the first to be captured of a group of about 30 Americans who would be held along the Cambodian border. The was the only group of POWs who were not released from Hanoi in Operation Homecoming in 1973.
In 1967, the Viet Cong captured another prisoner of war -- Army Capt. William H. Hardy, who was captured on June 29, 1967 as he drove a truck near Saigon.
Around the time of the Tet Offensive in early 1968, the Viet Cong northwest of Saigon captured still more Americans: State Department employees, Norman Brookens and Richard Utecht; U.S. civilians Michael Kjome and James Rollins; Army Cpl. Thomas Van Putten and Australian businessman, Charles K. Hyland.
On April 22, 1968, four POWs who were held together -- Brookens, Utecht, Hyland and Rollins -- 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 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.
Throughout the spring and summer of 1968, others were captured: Capt. John Dunn and Pvt. James M. Ray captured on March 18; Pvt. Ferdinand Rodriguez on April 14; Maj. Raymond Schrump on May 23; SSgt. Felix Neco-Quinones on July 16, SSgt. Bobby Johnson, SP4 Thomas Jones and SSgt. Kenneth Gregory on August 25.
Bobby Johnson and Burt Kinzel were riding in a truck. They stopped and went into a mud hut realizing the enemy was approaching from all sides. Kinzel ran, barely escaping the grasp of a VietCong. Bobby was captured and not released till 1973.
The POWs were kept on the move; some held in groups, and some held alone. It was a mental challenge to try to keep track of their location, and the POWs report that they believed they were in Cambodia some of the time, and at other times near the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During rest periods on the journey they were held in cages or in deep holes, or chained to trees.
In mid-July, Brookens, Utecht and Rollins were moved to another camp, but Hyland was left behind. He was released on November 26, 1968. For the first time, State Department learned that Brookens and Utecht had definitely been captured.
During 1969 and 1970, the Americans were moved frequently as U.S. air and artillery strikes came closer. The journeys were pure torture, and the POWs often lived chained to trees while cages were were built for them. They were sometimes held in swampy areas thick with snakes and mosquitoes. Some of the marches occurred during monsoon season, and the prisoners, still wearing leg chains, walked in neck-deep water. During bomb strikes, some from thundering B52 and artillery, the men hid in bunkers.
The POWs' health began to reach its limits. They were suffering from dysentery, beriberi and jungle rot; some had festering wounds from their captures. In April, 1969, 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 identified 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 and he 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. Although the incident does not match information found in James M. Ray's personnel file, and Jimmy Ray was not know to be dead, this account may refer to him.]
In late spring, 1969, the prisoners began to be put together, and they eventually reached a new 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 talked to another American since the aborted escape attempt two years before.
By June 1969, 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.
In 1969, 1970, and 1971, more Americans were captured: SP4 Gary Guggenberger on January 14 1969; U.S. Civilians John Fritz, Jr., James Newingham and Tanos Kalil on February 8; in 1970: SP4 Frederick Crowson and WO Daniel Maslowski on May 2; SP4 Keith Albert on May 21; SP4 Richard Springman on May 25; in 1971: WO James Hestand, captured March 17; American civilian Richard Waldhaus on August 4.
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.
In 1972, more POWs arrived: MSgt. Kenneth Wallingford, Maj. Albert Carlson and Capt. Mark A. Smith, captured April 7; Capt. George Wanat, Jr. and Capt. Johnnie Ray, captured April 8; Air Force Capt. David Baker, captured June 27; and Marine Capt. James Walsh, Jr., captured September 26.
Then on the morning of February 12, 1973, the men were told they were going home. By this time, 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, they were finally allowed to board the helicopters and start 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 resided in Michigan (until his death) and had a leg amputated in September 1990 as a result of complications stemming from injuries during his captivity.
James M. Ray and Tanos E. Kalil remained missing in action and were not returned in 1973. Kalil's name was on the PRG list as having died in captivity. Ray's fate is unknown.
Bobby still lives in Michigan.