|The Long Journey to
Our trip to the north was long and arduous. We were forced to keep pace with the guards making it especially difficult for Chuck whose foot was so swollen he couldn't walk. At one point, one of the guards threatened to kill him. Chuck told me to leave him and march on to save my life, but I refused to leave him. With a cane (made out of a tree branch) on one hand and the other around my shoulder, I managed to drag and pull him until we were out of the strike zone.
A week later, we reached our first camp. This was the gathering point for prisoners captured in Hue. At this camp, I remember meeting Tom Rushton, Gary Davis, Larry Stark, Don Rander, Ted Gustas, Don Gouin, Lew Meyer, Marc Cayer, a Canadian Agriculturist working for the Intl. Voluntary Services (IVS). I also met two American women, Sandra Johnson, also with IVS and Margaret Nelson, a physician, visiting Sandra at the time of their capture. On the march to the north, we passed several injured North Vietnamese. This was when the women were requested by the VC to stay behind to assist with their wounded soldiers. They were released on Feb. 25, 1968. Upon returning to the US, they informed the government of the POW's including 2 VOA employees, Willis and Pop. This was the very first time that Dorothy was notified that I was alive.
Camp facilities were minimal. The camp was a hut made out of bamboo. Guards slept on beds made out of bamboo slats. We slept in the dug up areas where the rats crawled around us. We slept head-to-toe on our sides facing the same direction. When it was time to change position, someone says "turn" and everybody had to turn. Due to lack of space, we took turns sleeping because there was not enough space for everybody to lie down. Half of the group slept lying down while the other half slept sitting. Around midnight we traded places. Going to the bathroom was a nuisance. It was so dark and there was hardly any space to walk. Everyone moaned and groaned as you stepped on feet, arms, and heads. Once in a while, you'll hear the men cursing! In retrospect, it sounds funny, but it sure wasn't at that time! In this camp, we were given a change of clothes and shoes. I got lucky because I was able to fit in a pair of fatigues. I opted to go barefoot so that someone else could use the shoes. As a kid in La Union, Philippines, I grew up in a farm and was used to walking with no shoes. The other men were not so lucky. Chuck was given fatigues that were too short and shoes too small. We had to cut off the top section of the shoe to allow room for his toes but this proved to be very uncomfortable after a while. Marc on the other hand had two left shoes, which made it difficult to walk.
In teams of two, we carried a 20-lb sack of rice. Chuck and I were paired together to carry the sack of rice. Due to his leg injury, I carried it all the way. Everyday we started around dawn and walked all day, taking only a few minutes to rest. The guards determined the time and place to camp. The daily routine was that several people put up the tarp or "plastic roof" over the sleeping area while others gathered leaves and branches that we would sleep on. Others got busy removing leeches between their toes. These pesky creatures attach themselves to your skin and suck your blood. The best way to detach them was to chew the tobacco then use this tobacco paste to rub on the leech. This eventually made the leech lose their grip.
It was hot and humid deep in the jungle. We looked forward to crossing streams and submerging ourselves to cool down. It also meant drinking more since boiled water was limited and controlled by the guards. This, however, came at some expense. The next few days we had diarrhea and there was no such thing as "pit stops". The guards stopped only as needed.
One day, the guards traded the sacks of rice for mushrooms with the villagers. That night, the guards built a fire to prepare dinner. We felt lucky thinking this would be the first time we would eat rice and mushrooms. We could smell the aroma of the food and we were all salivating. Unfortunately, an American plane spotted the fire that the guards built, so they called in a bomber plane. Three bombs were dropped. Flying rocks hit my left hip. The guards managed to escape. Unfortunately, this strafing incident killed Tom Ragsdale, a U.S. Agricultural adviser for A.I.D. He fell to the ground motionless and died instantly. I was only a foot away from Tom. I felt a sudden surge of fear for our lives and sorrow for loosing Tom, at the same time thanked the Lord for sparing my life. Marc Cayer was hit on the left foot crushing his little toe. When the dust and dirt settled, dirt and rocks covered what was once supposed to be our best dinner ever. The following morning we dug up a shallow grave using our bowls and cups and buried Tom. I borrowed a bolo knife from one of the guards to make a cross and carved "Tom Ragsdale, US Agricultural Adviser - March 13, 1968".
This page was last updated 09/23/01