OLSEN, BETTY ANN
Name: Betty Ann Olsen
Rank/Branch: U.S. Civilian
Unit: Missionary nurse/Christian
Date of Birth: 22 October 1934
Home City of Record: New York NY
Date of Loss: 01 February 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 124049N 1080235E (AQ776008)
Status (in 1973): Killed in Captivity
Other Personnel in Incident: Mike Benge (released POW); Henry F. Blood
(captured); Rev.Griswald (killed); Carolyn Griswald (daughter of Rev.Griswald,
survived first attack, died of wounds); Rev. Zeimer (killed); Mrs. Robert Zeimer
(wounded, first attack, evaded, survived); Rev.& Mrs. Thompson; Miss Ruth
Whilting (all killed)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 30 June 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: DIC 29 SEP 1968
SYNOPSIS: Michael D. Benge was born in 1935 and raised on a ranch in eastern
Oregon. After college at Oregon State, he applied to the CIA, because he
wanted to travel the world. CIA told him to try the Agency for International
Development (AID). AID sent him to International Voluntary Services (IVS).
After two years in Vietnam with IVS, Benge transferred to AID and served as
an AID agricultural advisor. By the time of the Tet offensive of 1968, he
had been in-country five years, working almost the whole time with the
Montagnards in the highlands. He spoke fluent Vietnamese and several
On January 31, 1968, Benge was captured while riding in a jeep near Ban Me
Thuot, South Vietnam. Learning of the Tet offensive strikes, Benge was
checking on some IVS volunteers who were living in a hamlet with three
companies of Montagnard rebels who had just been through a lot of fighting
as the NVA went through the Ban Me Thuot area. His plan was to pick up the
IVS "kids" and then go down to pick up some missionaries in the area.
Benge was captured a few miles from the Leprosarium at Ban Me Thuot. This
center treated anyone with a need as well as those suffering from leprosy.
It was at the Leprosarium that Rev. Archie Mitchell, Dr. Eleanor Vietti and
Daniel Gerber had been taken prisoner in 1962. The Viet Cong regularly
harassed and attacked the center in spite of its humanitarian objectives.
During the Tet offensive, the Viet Cong again tried to wipe out the
Christian missionary influence in Dar Lac Province, and over a three day
period attacked the hospital compound several times.
Betty Ann Olsen was born to Missionary parents in Bouake, Ivory Coast. She
had attended a religious school and missionary college in Nyack, New York.
Curious about the way the other part of the world lived, she went to Vietnam
in 1964 as a missionary nurse for Christian and Missionary Alliance, and was
assigned to the Leprosarium at Ban Me Thuot. Henry F. Blood was a missionary
serving as translator and linguist for Wickcliff Translators at the
During one of the earlier attacks on the hospital compound, three staff
homes were destroyed, one housing Rev. Griswald, who was killed, and his
grown daughter Carolyn, who survived the explosion but later died of her
wounds. During the same attack, Rev. and Mrs. Zeimer, Rev.and Mrs. Thompson
and Miss Ruth Whilting were trapped and machine gunned. Only Mrs. Zeimer
survived her 20-30 wounds and was later evacuated to Cam Ranh Bay. Blood and
Olsen escaped injury for the moment.
Two days later, on February 1, 1968, as Olsen was preparing to escape with
the injured Griswald, she and Henry Blood were captured during another
attack on the hospital.
For the next month or so, Benge, Blood and Olsen were held in a POW camp in
Darlac Province, about a day's walk from Ban Me Thuot, and were held in
cages where they had nothing to eat but boiled manioc (a large starchy root
from which tapioca is made).
The Vietnamese kept moving their prisoners, hiking through the jungles and
mountains. The camp areas, swept very clean of leaves to keep the mosquito
population down (and the ensuing malaria threat), were clearly visible from
the sky. Once, Benge reports, an American aircraft came so close to the camp
that he could see the pilot's face. The pilot "wagged his wings" and flew
away. The Vietnamese, fearing rescue attempts and U.S. air strikes, kept
For months Olsen, Blood and Benge were chained together and moved north from
one encampment to another, moving over 200 miles through the mountainous
jungles. The trip was grueling and took its toll on the prisoners. They were
physically depleted, sick from dysentery and malnutrition; beset by fungus,
infection, leeches and ulcerated sores.
Mike Benge contracted cerebral malaria and nearly died. He credits Olsen
with keeping him alive. She forced him to rouse from his delirium to eat and
drink water and rice soup. Mike Benge describes Olsen as "a Katherine
Hepburn type...[with] an extra bit of grit."
In the summer of 1968, the prisoners, again on the trail, were left exposed
to the rain during the rainy season. Hank Blood contracted pneumonia,
weakened steadily, and eventually died in July. (July 1968 is one of the
dates given by the Vietnamese - the other, according to classified
information the U.S. gave to the Vietnamese through General John Vessey
indicates that Mr. Blood died on October 17, 1972. Mike Benge says Blood
died around July 4.) Blood was buried in a shallow grave along the trail,
with Olsen conducting grave-side services.
Benge and Olsen were kept moving. Their bodies were covered with sores, and
they had pyorrhea from beri-beri. Their teeth were loosening and gums
infected. They spent a lot of time talking about good meals and good places
to eat, planning to visit their favorite restaurants together when they went
home. They moved every two or three days.
Benge and Olsen were moved near Tay Ninh Province, almost to Da Lat, then
back to Quang Duc Province. Olsen was getting weak, and the Vietnamese began
to kick and drag her to keep her moving. Benge, trying to defend her, was
beaten with rifle butts.
Just before crossing the border into Cambodia, Olsen weakened to the point
that she could no longer move. Ironically, in this area, near a tributary to
the Mekong river, fish and livestock abounded, and there was a garden, but
the food was denied to the prisoners. They were allowed to gather bamboo
shoots, but were not told how to cook it.
Bamboo needs to be boiled in two waters to extract an acid substance. Not
knowing this, Olsen and Benge boiled their food only once and were beset
with immobilizing stomach cramps within a half-hour; diarrhea soon followed.
Betty Ann Olsen weakened and finally died September 29, 1968 (Vessey
information indicates this date as September 26), and was buried by Benge.
Finally, Benge was taken to Cambodia, turned over to the North Vietnamese,
and another long, grueling trek began. Benge, however, had made his mind up
that he wouldn't die. He treated his ulcerated body by lying in creeks and
allowed small fish to feed off the dead tissue (a primitive debridement),
then caught the fish and ate them raw. He caught small, green frogs and
swallowed them whole. He did everything he could to supplement his meager
By the time he reached the camp the Vietnamese called "the land of milk and
honey" his hair was white and he was so dehydrated and emaciated that other
POWs estimated his age to be over seventy years old. He was, at the time,
After a year in Cambodia, Benge was marched north on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
to Hanoi. He spent over three years in camps there, including a total of
twenty-seven months in solitary confinement. Upon his return, he verified
collaboration charges against eight of his fellow POWs, in a prosecution
effort initiated by Col. Theodore Guy (this action was discouraged by the
U.S. Government and the effort was subsequently abandoned.) Mike Benge then
returned to Vietnam and worked with the Montagnards until the end of the
The Vietnamese have never attempted return the remains of Henry Blood and
Betty Olsen. They are two individuals that the Vietnamese could provide a
wealth of information on. Since they pride themselves on being
"humanitarians," it would not be in keeping with this image to reveal the
horror Olsen and Blood endured in their hands. It is not surprising, then,
that the Vietnamese have not publicly told their stories.
Olsen and Blood are among nearly 2500 Americans, including several
civilians, who are still unaccounted for, missing or prisoner from the
Vietnam war. Since the war ended, over 10,000 reports have been received
concerning these missing Americans which have convinced many authorities
that hundreds are still alive in communist hands. While Blood and Olsen may
not be among them, they went to Vietnam to help. They would not turn their
backs on their fellow man. Why has their own country turned its back on
Thu Jan 29 1998
The book CAPTIVE ON THE HO CHI MINH TRAIL was authored by Marjorie Clark as
told to her by POW Sam Mattix. It is the story of Sam Mattix, Cetralia,
Washington and Lloyd Oppel (Canadian) captured in Southern Laos near
Savanaket in October 1972. The two woman in that town, Bea Kosin and Evelyn
Anderson, hid from the NVN soldiers for at least two days as Sam and Lloyd
were taken off. According to the accounts of the villagers the girls were
executed just before the Royal Laos troops retook the town about a week
later. Betty Olson was in a village up the road and hid under a hut. She was
shot as she crawled out after a couple of days. Their bodies were found in
the smoldering ruins of one of the huts the NVN burned down. Sam and Lloyd
joined the LuLus in the Snake Pit, (4+4 cells behind the Golden Nugget) in
December 1972. Lloyd was taken to the Canadian Embassy a day before our
release on 28 March. He rejoined us at Gai Lam to go to Clarke with us on