UTECHT, RICHARD WILLIAM RIP 09/19/2010
Name: Richard William Utecht Rank/Branch: Civilian Unit: Maintenance Officer, General Service, USAID Date of Birth: 09/21/1924 Home City of Record: Fayetteville NC Date of Loss: 04 February 1968 Country of Loss: South Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 104500N 1064000E (XS850950) Status (in 1973): Released POW Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Auto
Other Personnel in Incident: Norman J. Brookens; held with: James U. Rollins; Charles K. Hyland (all released POWs); Thomas H. Van Putten escapee.
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.
REMARKS: 730212 RELSD BY PRG
SYNOPSIS: In the early morning of January 31, 1968, a 15-man Viet Cong suicide squad blew a hole in the tall masonry wall surrounding the U.S. embassy compound. Within seconds, the VC were inside the walls. After hours of fighting, five Americans, five South Vietnamese, and 15 Viet Cong were dead.
Saigon was not the only city struck by the Viet Cong. The communists had launched the Tet Offensive. The Viet Cong penetrated 13 cities including Saigon, Da Nang and Hue; the latter being the longest and bloodiest of the battles.
Five days after the attack on Saigon -- on February 4 -- Richard Utecht, a maintenance officer for General Service, USAID, left to pick up a tire from a nearby U.S. Army compound to deliver to one an AID bus that had gone out of service. It was 11:30 on a bright Sunday morning, and a maintenance employee, Norman J. Brookens accompanied him.
Brookens and Utecht left the apartment and took a side street to the compound. They stopped when their way was blocked by a cyclo (a small motorcycle with a seat mounted on the front for passengers). Within seconds, three Viet Cong armed with U.S. carbines moved in on Utecht's Jeep.
Assuming that their vehicle was being confiscated, Utecht followed VC orders directing them out of the city limits to a small village. It was here that the two men were bound with dynamite wire and they knew they were in trouble.
Brookens and Utecht were marched to Cambodia, a 50-mile trip. The Americans endured taunts from villagers and were hidden from U.S. military. They were bound so tightly that their arms swelled twice their normal size.
Around mid-March, they arrived at a camp with a group of grass huts in the middle of a field. Outside the huts, 14 VC guards were watching over 10 captured ARVN soldiers. They were allowed to wash in a shallow, dirty water hole, and given plain rice to cook. After several days at this camp, two more civilian prisoners were brought to their hut -- an American named James Rollins, and an Australian businessman, Keith Hyland, who had been captured a month before.
The punishment for speaking to one another was buffalo iron shackles and starvation. The men began to lose weight fast. They dreamed of food and escape, but with shackles on their ankles 24 hours a day, it seemed impossible.
Before long, the prisoners were moved again. It was a mental challenge to try to keep track of their location, and at this time, they believed they were in Cambodia. They later they walked to a trail which they believed to be the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During the journey they were held in cages or in deep holes.
On April 22, the four POWs 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 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.
In mid-July, the prisoners were moved to another camp, but Keith Hyland was left behind. Hyland was released on November 26, 1968. For the first time, State Department learned that Brookens and Utecht had definitely been captured.
For the next three years, the Americans were moved frequently as U.S. air and artillery strikes came closer. The journeys were pure torture, and the POWs were often chained to trees while cages were were built for them. They were sometimes held in swampy areas teeming with snakes and malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Some of the marches occurred during monsoon season, and the prisoners, still wearing leg chains, walked in neck-deep water. During the frequent U.S. strikes, some of them thundering B52 and artillery strikes, the men hid in bunkers. During one such raid, a camp was completely destroyed.
The POWs' health began to reach its limits. Brookens was suffering from dysentery and beriberi from which he never completely recovered. In April, 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 tentatively identified Brookens as one of 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. The other prisoners said that the man 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.]
On April 29, four new prisoners [unnamed in Brookens' account] joined the group. They eventually reached a nearly-completed 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 had a chance to talk to an American since the aborted escape attempt two years before.
By June, 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.
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. Then on the morning of February 12, 1973, the men were told they were going home. 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, finally started 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 resides in Michigan and had a leg amputated in September 1990 as a result of complications stemming from injuries during his captivity.
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). UPDATE - 09/95 by the P.O.W. NETWORK, Skidmore, MO
RICHARD W. UTECHT Civilian Captured: February 4, 1968 Released: February 12, 1973
I spent my boyhood life in Minnesota, joined the Army in 1942 and retired in 1966. In 1967 I accepted a job with the US Department of State as a motor maintenance officer in Saigon. My wife and two adopted sons, Gene and Michael, are now living in North Carolina.
I was captured 4 February 1968 and released on 12 February 1973, five years and eight days of Hell, Hunger, Sickness and no contact with the outside world. During this period I never heard from my family nor did they hear from me. I went from 209 lbs. to about 123 lbs. in less than one month. Most of my illnesses were cured by my will power and prayers and by telling myself - "If I'm going to die it won't be in these Damn Jungles," for I was not cured by medical treatment I received, which was almost nil.
I figured I walked about 850 miles during my stay with the "Viet Cong." I spent my time in 12 to 15 different camps within South Vietnam and Cambodia because of air strikes, artillery, food shortage, lack of concealment, or when a prisoner made an escape. During this period I was chained at the ankles (in some cases - both ankles), and kept in solitary confinement in a grave-type hole.
Our meals consisted of rice, rice and more rice, with a small side dish of either meat, vegetables, peanuts, fried bananas, salt water or sugar, which we called, "goodies." Our meats consisted of dog, monkey, snake, rat, fox, anteater, wild boar, eagles, or hawk. At the most we were given two or three pieces the size of a thumb nail. Our vegetables would be string beans, pumpkin, cabbage, tree leaves, cooked roots, egg plant, and never more than two or three small spoonfuls. Several times we had elephant blood soup. Incidentally, I was never fussy.
Once a year at "Tet," we were given a special meal of rice noodles, several larger pieces of tame pork and a few small pieces of hard candy. Two Christmases in five years we ate like kings. The other three we had field corn and salt water or cold fish sauce. Many times while being sick from malaria or beriberi, I would tell "Charlie" that I couldn't eat and could my food be given to a fellow prisoner. I was told to throw it away so the pigs could eat it (they raised pigs in all the camps). They gave us a baby chick to raise and we had to feed it from our own rations. When the chick was almost full grown, we asked the guards to give us more food because the chickens were eating most of our rations, but the guard refused.
I recall the time we were moving to another camp. After five days of walking I could no longer keep up the pace, one of the "Charlies" removed the rope from my arms (we were always tied when moving from camp to camp) and placed it around my neck and led me like a cow. After about an hour of being pulled, I passed out. My friends, Major Bill Hardy and Doug Ramsey, gave me mouth to mouth resuscitation and massaged my heart. This happened twice and I was finally left for dead. I was later told by Bill Hardy that I said to him, "Just roll me down the hill, the hell with it, and forget me." We feared many types of deaths such as poisonous snakes, insects, bombing raids, artillery shells, lack of food, even the fear of being shot by Charlie. One thing a person must remember when he is living in a prison camp, he must never give up or feel sorry for himself; or, if he fails to maintain a sense of humor, he'll never make it.
Utecht retired from the State Department in 1988 and resided in Minnesota until his passing in 2010.