Name: Derri Sykes
Rank/Branch: E3/US Army
Unit: Company A, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade
(Americal) Chu Lai, South Vietnam
Date of Birth: 04 July 1947 (Aberdeen MS)
Home City of Record: Chicago IL
Loss Date: 09 Jan 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 153551N 1081006E (AT964263)
Status (in 1973): Prisoner of War
Other Personnel in Incident: Company A: James A.Daly (released POW - 1973);
Willie A. Watkins (released POW 1969); Richard Rehe (missing); Company D:
Francis E. Cannon (POW - remains returned 1985); Richard F. Williams (POW -
remains returned 1985); David N. Harker (released POW - 1973); James H.
Strickland (released POW - 1969); Thomas A. Booker (killed); "Coglin" (an
unknown person whom Cannon said died);
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: 680109 DIC ACCORDING TO DALY
SYNOPSIS: On January 8, 1968, PFC Richard Rehe, PFC Derri Sykes, PFC James A.
Daly and Cpl. Willie A. Watkins, members of A Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st
Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade (Americal) were ordered to move down to
Happy Valley in Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam. "Charlie" and "Delta"
Companies had been sustaining heavy losses in previous days.
PFC David N. Harker, James H. Strickland, 1Sgt. Richard F. Williams, Sgt.
Thomas A. Booker, PFC Francis E. Cannon and "Coglin" were part of Delta
Company. During the fight, a mortar shell exploded near Cannon, the radioman,
killing Sgt. Booker and "Coglin". Harker, a rifleman, was stabbed in the side
with a bayonette. Strickland, a rifleman, was not seriously wounded. Cannon had
a large hole in his upper back and a smaller hole near his neck. The Company's
first sergeant, "Top" Williams, was shot through the right hand and injured an
arm. Harker, Strickland, Williams and Cannon were captured that day.
The next day, under heavy attack, Daly, Rhe, Watkins and Sykes were injured and
captured. Sykes, a rifleman, was hit 3 times as he and Watkins had jumped for
cover just when a grenade hit. Watkins was captured immediately, but thought
that Sykes was left behind, as the enemy rushed him (Watkins) from the area.
During his departure from the area, Watkins saw Daly, whom he thought dead,
lying in a rice paddy. Daly then moved and drew attention to himself and was
captured. Watkins later saw Sykes, bandaged and calling for water. Watkins and
Daly carried him along the trail after their capture, but were ordered to leave
him under a shed at a house on the trail on the first day. They never saw Derri
Watkins said that Richard Rehe, a grenadier, had also been taken prisoner that
day, but died in captivity from wounds sustained in the battle. Daly stated
that both Rehe and Sykes had been captured but had died the same day.
Cannon, Williams, Harker, Strickland, Watkins and Daly eventually were held
together in prison camps in Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam. For Americans as
well as Viet Cong, life in these camps was extremely difficult. The living
conditions were primitive, food scarce at times, and disease and dysentary
common, adequate medical treatment uncommon. It was not uncommon for POWs held
in the south to die of starvation or disease. It is also resonable to expect
that in such circumstances, one cannot predict behavior or its abberation.
While superhuman efforts were made to maintain the esprit de corps and military
order and honor, it was sometimes impossible not to revert to a basic, more
primitive nature for self preservation.
Top Williams, a veteran of World War II, and a big grey haired man, was
described as being a real professional. His injured hand became gangrenous, but
he survived this injury. He was receiving treatment and still probing for bone
splinters in his injured arm when he contracted dysentery and ultimately died,
September 27, 1968. Death from malnutrition and dysentery is extremely
unpleasant, and the victim suffers not only from the discomfort of dysentery,
but also from severe edema, and many times from halucinations. Williams'
remains were returned in 1985, after 17 years.
Frank Cannon, a handsome 6" tall man of 24 with deep set eyes, suffered from
the wounds he received by the exploding mortar shell. These wounds became
gangrenous, and although the wounds gradually improved by summer 1968, Cannon
grew continually weaker. By August, Cannon weighed only 90 pounds and slipped
into a coma. In early September 1968, Frank Cannon died. 17 years later, the
Vietnamese returned his remains to his country.
Willie Watkins, described as just over 6" tall, good-looking, lanky, very dark
skin, penetrating eyes, wiry and hard as a rock remained one of the strongest
prisoners and at times was a leader among his fellow POWs. According to some of
them, he "always had a Bible and a machete". He was never sick.
James H. Strickland, a rather short, blue-eyed, boyish looking man was known to
be a hard worker and to be as strong as a bull. He was also pointed out by the
Vietnamese as an example of a "progressive" prisoner, as was Willie Watkins.
The two were released from Cambodia on November 5, 1969.
James A. Daly, a conscientious objector, never felt he should have been in
combat. He had been waiting for notice to leave Vietnam, following a lengthy
process of appeal on the basis of his beliefs. Daly, a big man, "coffee and
cream color" was only slightly wounded when he was captured. His sense of self
preservation ensured that he lost a minimum of weight. He joined the "Peace
Committee" comprised of a number of other military men who opposed the war, and
official charges were brought against him upon his 1973 release by fellow POW
Col. Theodore Guy. In the wake of the POW release, charges were officially
David Harker also felt some anti-war sentiments, but it was said that he slowly
turned "reactionary" against the Vietnamese after he was moved to North Vietnam
after three years in the jungle.
Perhaps it is important to note that no returned POW would deny "collaborating"
with the enemy at some point in time. Technically, if a POW was ordered to work
or to perform any function whatever, the execution of this function would be
considered collaboration. Sometimes the aberration in conduct was a group
decision, made for the welfare of the unit. At other times, the decision to
cooperate was made for purely self-serving reasons - such as starvation,
reluctance to be tortured, loss of will to resist. It cannot be possible for
any person to judge this behavior not having experienced the horror that caused
Richard Rehe and Derri Sykes alone remain unaccounted for from the battle in
Quang Tin Province. Although it seems certain that they are both dead, the
Vietnamese deny any knowledge of them.
For many others who are missing, simple and certain death did not occur. Some
just vanished, others were known captives and never were returned. Still others
were alive and well and in radio contact with would-be rescuers describing the
approach of the enemy.
Tragically, thousands of reports have been received indicating that some
hundreds of Americans are still alive and in captivity in Southeast Asia. We
cannot forget them, we cannot write them off. They must be brought home.
SMITH 324 COMPELLING CASES
South Vietnam Derri Sykes
Richard R. Rehe
On January 9, 1968, Privates First Class Rehe and Sykes were
members of the 3rd Battalion, 196th Light Infantry Brigade,
Americal Division, searching for missing unit personnel in Quang
Tin Province. Their unit was ambushed by People's Army of Vietnam
forces and they became separated from their unit. Both soldiers
were reportedly wounded at the time, each hit up to four times in
the chest and shoulder by hostile fire. Both servicemen were
declared missing in action.
The majority of missing Division servicemen captured on January 8th
and 9th were evacuated to a People's Army Military Region 5 POW
camp. However, PFC Rehe, completely debilitated, was left behind
in a village on the night of January 9th and was never seen again
by surviving POWs. PFC Sykes was left behind in a bunker on
January 9th and was believed by returning POWs to have died there
of severe blood loss.
Both servicemen were categorized as missing in action until
released U.S. POWs captured at the time confirmed that although
seriously wounded, they had in fact survived into captivity but
never reached the Military Region 5 POW camp. One returnee stated
he was told by one of his captors that PFC Rehe and Sykes had both
died on January 9, 1968. After Operation Homecoming they were
declared dead/body not recovered, based on a presumptive finding of
Joint U.S./Vietnamese investigations in Vietnam located and
interviewed individuals with knowledge of the fate of members of
the Americal Division captured on January 8-9, 1968. Interviews
during September 1992 of former Military Region 5 prison camp
officials provided information on the fate of those who survived to
reach the prison. Witnesses testified that the precise location of
all graves was recorded after January 1973 and that 21 sets of
remains of those who died at the prison were recovered washed, and
bagged at the end of 1978 or early 1979 and then sent to "higher
headquarters." Included in these remains were those of a West
German man and woman who died in captivity. Remains of those
captured at the same time as PFC's Rehe and Sykes who reached the
prison camp alive, were repatriated in August 1985.