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
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. 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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.


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