LEOPOLD, STEPHEN RYDER Name: Stephen Ryder Leopold Rank/Branch: United States Army/O3 Unit: Green Berets Date of Birth: 19 June 1944 Home City of Record: Milwakee WI Date of Loss: 09 May 1968 Country of Loss: South Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 144057 North 1073658 East Status (in 1973): Returnee Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground Missions: Other Personnel in Incident: Refno: 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. REMARKS: 730305 RELEASED BY PRG INJURED 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). STEPHEN R. LEOPOLD Captain - United States Army Captured: May 9, 1968 Released: March 4, 1973 Capt. Leopold was born June 19, 1944. He attended elementary and junior high in Oklahoma City. At Shorewood, Wisconsin Senior High he edited the school paper, qualified for a National Merit Scholarship and lettered in three sports, while at Stanford University he was editor of the university newspaper and graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa in Political Science, Government, and History. Having to decide the possibilities for post graduate life styles, he chose the Green Berets, supposedly to last two years, ten months. TRAVELS WITH CHARLIE On May 9, 1968, I was captured in a pre-dawn engagement, two miles east of the Lao-Cambodian Vietnam border, while I was advising a company of Montagnard troops along with one other American. The only wound I received was some strategically placed schrapnel in the back of the right ankle which prevented me from accompanying the troops (they broke and ran). The NVA took me to a prison camp in northeastern Cambodia where I remained 18 months. Life in this camp was very severe in terms of physical deprivation. Life on 8 teacups of rice per day, almost no medical care and 12 hours in the stocks at night was a constant physical and mental strain. We lost three men out of 19 while at another camp where the men had to work, they lost 13 out of 27. Our diet was so poor that many of us contracted diseases. In Cambodia I spent all but three months in solitary. I had some roommates in March - May 1969, but was put back in solitary when I flunked a Political Science exam given by the prison camp commander. He said I used "the logic of a double-stubborn Washington robber" and that I was still a "pig-headed imperialist aggressor who needed to think about his crimes more carefully." Fortunately in November we were moved north to Hanoi. The trip took 48 days walking and ten days on trucks. We took the "scenic route" through Laos via the Ho Chi Minh trail. Our new camp was about 20 miles west of Hanoi. It was a real hellhole. I lived in a small, black washed cell with a wood bed on the floor. The camp routine consisted of getting up at 5 a.m. (you had to follow this schedule or be punished), folding up your blankets and sitting on your bed until 7 a.m. when a guard took you to the well to wash and empty your chamber bucket, returning to your room and sitting on the bed until 11 a.m. when lunch was served (that's right, no breakfast until August 6, 1970), laying down for two hours after lunch, getting up and going through the same routine until the 4 p.m. meal, then sitting on your bed in the dark until 9 p.m. gong sounded. The "criminals" were not allowed to exercise, walk in the rooms, lay down, sleep at odd hours, or lean back against the walls - nothing but sit and think about "your crimes." Our diet had a little more nutritional value than what we had in the South, but the quantity was still minute, purposely prepared either burned or uncooked without seasonings and generally unpalatable. The camp commander was something out of a Grade C Korean War prison camp movie: scrawny, effeminate, bureaucratic and extremely sadistic - in brief, an Oriental Eichmann eagerly awaiting the "final solution" to the American POW problem. Fortunately for us, NVN's prisons had been somewhat reformed in October 1969 and the "punishment" was not as widespread as before. However, my roommate was beaten every day for a week and forced to spend 16 hours a day either on his knees or standing up with his hands over his head. This was supposedly for tapping on the walls during the noon nap; he hadn't, but he had been awake due to his inability to get under a mosquito net in the unbelievable hot summer of the Red River valley. Life continued - it was all bad and unbelievably monotonous. Our names were never released and I personally never sent or received any mail. "Without the cold and desolation of winter There could not be the warmth and splendor of spring. Calamity has tempered and hardened me And turned my mind into steel." "Advice to Oneself" The Prison Diary of Ho Chi Minh. For once in his life, Ho told it like it is, particularly in the opening couplet. During my five years of imprisonment throughout Indochina, I learned the true meaning of the word "desolation" - at least as it relates to individual experience. And by gaining that knowledge I came to appreciate fully all that I had taken for granted, including personal freedom. Today, ice cold water, a fresh breeze, the freedom of movement, and other things that free Americans enjoy daily, still have a special significance to me. Perhaps in time my constant awareness of this regained "warmth and splendor" will fade, but I doubt seriously if it will ever disappear. For awakening this awareness of life, I thank the Vietnamese Communists; for helping me celebrate life this joyous Spring, I thank the American people. They have done much to assuage the bitterness that I might have felt because five years of my life were wasted in deadly dull confinement. I only hope that they show a similar concern for the disabled veterans who all-too-often were welcomed home with apathy and disinterest. If we as prisoners sacrificed years, they sacrificed limbs; their rewards should at least equal ours. It will take private and corporate generosity to pay these men their due. December 1996 Stephen Leopold resides in Wisconsin.