On June 21, 1971, we were ordered to pack our things. We traveled by truck and it was the first time in 3 years that we had seen the outside of our camp walls. We were transferred to another camp we called "Rockville" located in a valley, southwest of Hanoi. It was located on a hill with rocks all around, thus the name "Rockville". There were fourteen of us eleven Americans, one Canadian, and two Filipinos. They were Larry Stark, Marc Cayer, Chet "Speed" Adkins, Jim Thompson, Lew Mayer, Gary Daves, Alex Henderson, Richard Spaulding, Robert Olsen, Frank Sears, Tom Rushton, Russell Page, Art Balagot and myself. This place was much bigger and newer, almost felt like home. It had 2 adjoining bedrooms, a dining room, a large bathroom and a courtyard. We couldn't believe our eyes when we first saw it. Wow! This was luxury. We were given playing cards, allowed to play volleyball in the courtyard and the security was more lax. The guards left us to do as we please. We almost had a taste of freedom until the next major event.
This new found freedom made 2 of the men - Olsen and Spaulding thought of escaping since the guards weren't watching us all the time. They solicited me as their third partner because I was an asset being I'm familiar with the edible plants in the jungle. Jokingly, I told them that I was the oldest of the three so once we reach safety, if we ever get that far, they will probably dump me. We all laughed at the idea, and it remained just that, an idea. Others in the group took it more seriously!
One day in early October, Thompson, Mayer & Adkins escaped. Consequently our food ration was reduced. A day later, a farmer brought Adkins back to camp. Adkins said he approached the farmer to inquire if he knew where the French Consulate was and the farmer promised to bring him there and it turned out to be the camp he came from. Three days later, the other 2 escapees were captured.
Since then, the guards closed all the windows in our room and did not allow us to go to the yard. Daily inspections took longer and were done right before dinner. As a result, food got cold. There were times when the guards let us wait outside, shivering in the cold, while they inspected. One day in December, we went on a hunger strike and demanded to see the Camp Commander. The guards told us that the Camp Commander was gone for several days. We told them we would be on strike until he arrived. The guards called 4 of us at a time and tried to bribe us with food, but we all refused. That same evening, the Camp Commander arrived. Larry Stark was our spokesman. We complained about guards closing our windows, lengthy inspections, cold food, and no time in the courtyard and no medication for the sick prisoners. Luckily, the Camp Commander listened. The very next day, the guards were more pleasant. However, we didn't get to spend a lot of time in the courtyard anymore like we did several months before.
Since we stayed indoors most of the time, we decided to make use of our time creatively. Marc Cayer started teaching French lessons. Gary Daves taught algebra. Bob Olsen organized a comedy play. For Christmas 1971, several members got together and sang Christmas carols. That year we decorated the dining room with silver paper from old cigarette packs and the guards gave us some colored cardboard.
All of us exchanged "prison-made" gifts that year. We picked the name of the person we would give a present to. I got Gary Daves. I gave him a fishing pole that I made out of a tree branch from the yard, a wooden reel and fishing wire of string from my old socks and an aluminum hook. I received a cigarette case from Gary. It had my name, a map of the Philippines and 1971 embroidered on it. Christmas was a little brighter that year it seemed. We were getting used to spending Christmas in prison with no sign of freedom at all!
Our daily ration of food, consisted of French bread and sugar in the morning. The bread was made from old flour infested with "flour bugs" which made the bread really crunchy and smell terrible. In the early evening, we were given bread and boiled vegetables (we call it kangkong in Tagalog) and other times pumpkin or squash.
In the early part of October 1972 we all noticed that the bombings had stopped and the guards were awfully nice. We were once again allowed to spend time in the courtyard. Our food got better. We were given fruit in addition to our meal. Our cigarette ration increased from 2 to 6 cigarettes per day. We felt our release was on the horizon. Later that month, we were informed that the Geneva Peace Negotiations came to a tentative agreement. We had high hopes of being freed before the holidays and spend Christmas at home. My heart was robust with anticipation. Soon I no longer would mark days on my wall, nor lay in bed incessantly dreaming of home. Every night my thoughts were likened to a movie whose characters were played by my wife and children. I played this dream over and over until Id fall asleep. The nights were not as painfully eerie now that the thought of freedom may be the news of the morning.
Weeks later, as the negotiations wore on with no conceivable agreement, bombings started once again. The reality of our surroundings brought us all down. Christmas was a week away and we were still in prison. The impact was deep and troubling. Half of the group didn't want to do anything for Christmas. The other half had a little Christmas program that the guards and our interpreter came to see.
Page 6 - Hanoi Hilton