WILLIS, CHARLES E.
Name: Charles E. Willis
Date of Birth:
Home City of Record:
Date of Loss: 01 February 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 162734N 1073551E
Status (in 1973): Returnee
Other Personnel in Incident: Gostas, Theodore USA (released); Henderson,
Alexander CIV (released); Meyer, Lewis CIV (released); Olsen, Robert CIV
(Released); Page, Russell CIV (Released); Rander, Donald USA (Released);
Rushton, Thomas CIV (Released); Spalding, Richard CIV (Released); Stark,
Lawrence CIV attached to USN (Released); Daves, Gary CIV (Released).
Source: Compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK 14 February 1997 from one or more of the
following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources and information
provided by Ret. Major Gostas and Lawrence Stark.
REMARKS: 730327 Released by PRG
Willis was working in the northern part of South Vietnam during TET '68 when
Hue came under seige. Ret. Major Ted Gostas (135th MIBN PROV) recalls being
trapped without his radio in the city, and being unable to warn hundreds of
5th Marines as they walked into an ambush and their death. Government
records indicate Willis and 11 others were captured soon afterward. Ten of
those were civilians working with the Vietnamese.
Charles Willis was held captive for 4 1/2 years prior to his release on
March 27, 1973. He resided in Idaho prior to his passing.
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
UPDATE - 09/95 by the P.O.W. NETWORK, Skidmore, MO
CHARLES E. WILLIS
Captured: January 31, 1968
Released: March 27, 1973
Mr. Willis was captured the morning the North Vietnamese Tet offensive
began. It was the Tet holiday and it was assumed that everyone would honor
the ceasefire. Thus all he South Vietnamese had gone home to celebrate with
their families. The town of Hue, the old imperial capital, had been chosen for
the relay station of the Voice of America. Mr. Willis was in charge, in fact,
he was due to return home the end of January but asked for an extension as the
plans were to relocate the station to a more secure site.
Early in the morning the Viet Cong started firing rockets and then mortars.
Down the street they came and then they appeared at the front and back doors.
Now captive, dressed only in shorts and a T-shirt and with elbows tied behind
him with wire, off they went to the athletic stadium where everyone was made
to line up against a wall. The Viet Cong had the safeties off their guns when
a North Viet cadre decided they should be taken to prison rather than
For four days they walked with their hands still tied behind them. Mr. Willis'
hands were so swollen that he could not see his wedding ring. As they walked
at night, he fell into a ditch and further injured the leg which had been hit
twice just prior to capture. He said, "My feet were cut very badly; I was
pulling leeches out of the sores every time we stopped."
On March 29th they arrived at Camp Bu Cow (in Vietnamese that means "Please
may I have"). They were taught that they must bow and ask for anything they
wanted. The indoctrination had begun. Mr. Willis was told that no treatment
would be given his wounded hip, which had developed blood poisoning, until he
admitted he was a "clandestine psychological warfare agent." He was then put
in a 5 x 3 x 5 foot cage. On May 2 he was allowed his first bath, haircut and
shave since capture.
Daily he was taken from his cage for questioning to see if he had "reformed"
his mind. After days of this, he realized that he had little time left, thus
he told his interrogators, "Yes I have refirmed my mind." Thinking that he had
said "reformed" a doctor was called. This doctor cut off the decayed flesh
without any anesthetic and gave him a sulfa tablet and crushed two for
application to the wound. It did not heal, so shrapnel was then removed from
his hip-again without anesthetic.
On July 6th he was put in a dungeon 6 x 6 x 10 feet. The room had two concrete
slabs with boards on them, one mosquito netting, one blanket and one chamber
pot. There was no light - in fact, one could not see one's hand in front of
one's face. He was confined there for nine months.
Due to the diet Mr. Willis had scurvy, beriberi, his hair fell out, his eyes
went bad, his teeth became loose and his leg remained swollen.
However, when peace appeared imminent, a doctor arrived and for three months
gave him "hundreds" of vitamins, 28 B-1 injections and lemons and limes to
eat. His weight was 192 when captured and 146 when he arrived at Clark.
Mr. Willis said, "If this is part of a training program for Foreign Service
officers, then it should be discontinued."
From left, Charles Willis with his wife Josephine and his sons Howard and Charles at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., following his release in 1973. Center, Douglas Ramsey in Vietnam before his capture in 1966. Right J.R. Bullington meets with student demonstrators in Hue in 1966.
ept. 17 is National POW/MIA Recognition Day, a day of special tribute to men and women who, in the service of the United States, became prisoners of war or were missing in action during wartime. While most of the nation's POWs and MIAs have been in the military, members of the Foreign Service, too, have suffered the hardships of enemy captivity with honor, dignity and distinction. Here, taken largely from their own accounts, are the stories of two Foreign Service officers held prisoner and one who narrowly escaped capture during the Vietnam War...