Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 10:47 pm

Chapter 17: Bennies, or Limited Assignments of Assassination

Colonel McKenney had been puzzled by some aspects of the story that Garwood led an enemy NVA unit attack on Marines, but he felt the overall account fully vindicated the assassination work he had husbanded during his tour of duty in Vietnam. To him, the Phoenix program seemed right for traitors.

Some who pulled the triggers were not able later to square their consciences so glibly. Periodically, such men would come to McKenney in his role as elder Marine. They picked up some hint that he'd had experience in this line of work. McKenney himself adhered strictly to his secrecy oaths. But other Marines knew what his formal position at III MAF had been, and deduced some of the rest. The men with troubled consciences came to Colonel McKenney in a blind search for absolution from someone of stature within their own military culture who was also a man of God; at the very least they were looking for reassurance that they had not damaged their souls by following orders to kill men who were American soldiers like themselves. McKenney, becoming more and more fundamentalist in his religion, always prayed with them. He assured them of God's forgiveness. They had, after all, acted as Marines under instruction. He was still so self-righteous, so morally certain that the orders they had followed were justified, that he was able to shore up most of the distressed men. But not always. Some remained uneasy and vaguely apprehensive. And some even began to infect him with a sense that perhaps they had been used, their innocent faith in the infallibility of their commanders exploited far beyond what even in McKenney's ligid view was the Marine way.

One of those troubled Mmines was Bruce Womack, who joined the Corps in April 1972, at age nineteen. Originally from Arkansas, his family moved to the Detroit area for a time while he was growing up and then moved back to Arkansas. McKenney at first thought of Womack as a hillbilly who had joined the Marines while young enough to be malleable-one of those decent boys who almost invariably become the best Marines, those he always affectionately called mud Marines. Womack was referred to McKenney by Wesley Keith, a retired Marine captain who had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Single Mission Air Medal, and the Navy Commendation Medal. Keith had flown AH Cobra gunships with Marine Observation Squadron 21 and Helicopter Squadron 367 from the Marble Mountain air facility just south of Da Nang around the same time McKenney was at III MAF. He knew McKenney had worked with intelligence, but not much else. Keith had become an ordained Southern Baptist minister after retiring from the Marine Corps, often counseling Vietnam veterans. He thought he had heard just about every awful thing he could have about the war, but he found Womack's story appalling. It was instinct that made him think McKenney could ease Womack's obvious pain.

Womack told McKenney that he seemed destined for the military even though he never cared for any kind of confrontation. Perhaps it was this very dislike of being at odds with anyone, particularly his father, that made him submit to his family's tradition of military service. It came as a surprise to Womack that he was the only one in his recruiting class to be chosen for a highly specialized course in night operations and survival training given at the Army Military Police School at Fort Gordon, Georgia. He was never told why he had been put on an unadvertised and apparently tough and elitist track, but he was acutely conscious of a peculiarity in the way he was informed. The benefits of the course training were described to him by a full colonel, which was extraordinary enough. Even more surprising, the colonel carried a thick folder on Womack that contained more information on his short life than he imagined could exist. The colonel said the class had only eight men. It seemed a kind of compressed sniper course, heavily focused on operating in darkness and on staying alive in hostile terrain.

Womack became skilled in using a .308 Winchester sniping rifle, the M14 semi-automatic rifle, and the M60 machine gun. For months after completing the course Womack wondered what it had all been about. He was assigned as a driver to the motor pool at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, which certainly did not require any of the skills he had learned at Fort Gordon. No one ever explained why he had received the special training.

Womack figured because the war was winding down, the special warfare skills he had acquired under intense pressure and in double-quick time were no longer required. He was shaken out of his complacency when, in March 1973, after the peace accords had been signed and American prisoners of war were coming home, he and two others were assigned to quarters near the shooting range. Then, for six hard weeks, night and day, he was sent out on the range to perfect his shooting skills under the relentless eyes of reputedly the best marksman-instructors in the service.

His new orders-to report to the Marine Air Station at Kanehoe, Hawaii-were delivered by a full colonel, who told him he would get thirty days all-expenses-paid leave before he was to report for a special assignment that would be explained later. He was also told that chances were good he would not make it back. But if he survived the ninety-day assignment he could choose any duty station he wanted. Womack found all of this a bit strange. "I was a Marine private, though, and Marine privates don't question full colonels," he said later. What was even stranger, although more encouraging, was the order to keep receipts for all personal expenditures. This was unheard of. Whatever he spent out on the town would be reimbursed in Hawaii. It was like being handed an open expense account, and even Womack's father found this puzzling, though, like his son, he didn't think one could question the Marine Corps. His mother, as staunch a Baptist as Bruce Womack would ever know, was full of foreboding. She could think only that such a large sum of money was a kind of payoff for her son's life. It did not strike her as a good deal, but, aside from prayer, there seemed no way out. When Womack said goodbye to his parents, both were convinced they would never see him again. Both held his hands tightly, not letting go until an officer came to usher him onto the plane seconds before takeoff.

In Hawaii he was promptly reimbursed for more than twelve hundred dollars. Not bad for an E-4 corporal who normally made seven hundred a month. It was the first of many substantial payments that he carefully arranged to be deposited in an account with Pulaski Federal Savings in Arkansas. It would give a poor young man a nice start in life when his service was over. If he stayed alive.

His orders, received during a three-day stay in Okinawa, were for ninety days of temporary duty in Vietnam. He was told to let his parents know that he would not be able to communicate with them until the ninety days were over. Womack was full of questions about the assignment. He was told only that he would find out when he got to Vietnam. He was puzzled. Weren't American fighting men out of the war? He thought that perhaps his peculiar skills as a lone-wolf sniper were needed to clean out a nest of die-hard communists. He had once read an adventure story about small Nazi units calling themselves "wolf packs" who continued to fight the Allies, even after their generals had surrendered. Innocently, he thought he might be assigned to find and kill communists who, like the Nazis, were still fighting against Americans. He was flown directly to Bien Hoa Air Base outside Saigon. From there he left almost immediately for an area just outside of Tay Ninh, a few miles from the Vietnamese-Cambodian border. There he joined a compound comprising about fifty to sixty men. The site-approximately six hundred by three hundred feet-looked like a prison camp. It was closed in by a ten-foot high chain link fence topped by razor wire. He was one of fifteen Marines. The rest were Army.

Here, finally, he learned what his job was to be-the elimination of former American servicemen who had turned against the United States or engaged in activities-like drug running-harmful to their country. He would be part of a team of five men who were assigned missions of assassination. Each team lived in a separate, roughly assembled hut with a tarp roof and had no contact with other teams. Every mission was given a dossier on the individual to be eliminated. It included highly personal information like the location of birth marks and scars so that positive identification beyond dog tags could be made. But there were no specifics about their alleged crimes.

Womack had always been a serious Christian, attending Methodist services diligently since childhood. When he saw the dossier on his team's first assigned target with a photo of a young Marine in uniform, similar to the one of himself that his mother proudly displayed in the family room, he recoiled in horror. He told his superior officer, Marine Captain Rodriguez, he would not slaughter a fellow American. The officer had little sympathy for his moral quandary. "These men are vermin," Womack was told. "They are like dogs with rabies. They need to be taken out." When Womack still refused, he was told: "It's either you do that, or you'll wish you'd never been born. With one pull of this little finger," Rodriguez said as he lifted his index finger, "you're gone."

Somehow Womack persuaded himself that God had sent him here. It was important to be a good Marine. The fact that he would always be working with at least two other team members was some consolation, and the five men soon formed a tightly knit unit. It became apparent that the other four were as morally disturbed as he was, but the camaraderie discouraged too much introspection of this sort. The mechanics of the job were easy and never varied. Dressed in the masquerade team style of black pajamas and dyed hair and skin, at least three or more team members were taken to "the site." Significantly, "the site" was always the same Vietnamese-Cambodian border area, always within a nine- to seventeen-mile radius. They were taken there by jeep, by a "drop man," dressed in civilian clothes, whose name they never knew. The drop man told them where the target would be found. They had seventy-two hours to do the job and return to the drop-off point. If they took longer, they'd be stranded, a serious matter particularly if they were inside Cambodia, where the U.S. had no right to be. Womack was never sure whether the missions he undertook were on the Vietnamese side of the border. He suspected that he and his teammates were being sent to Cambodia. Why else would they need to disguise the fact that they were Americans?

Womack's first target was precisely where he and two teammates had been instructed to go. He remembered thinking that it was like a turkey shoot. Three armed men zeroing in from different directions made it almost impossible for the quarry to escape. It was, in loose terms, what had been sometimes called triangular fire during his training. Now, though, instead of three men firing from three points of the triangle at once, only one team member was assigned the kill. Triangular, simultaneous fire worked in clear spaces, not in jungle. Most victims were killed from a distance of seven hundred to nine hundred yards. The weapon most often used was a customized .308 caliber sniping rifle like the Winchester he had trained with at Military Police School, except that it had no manufacturer's marking and could be broken down to fit into a foam-lined aluminum carrying case. Another customized aspect was the large number of separated grooves in the barrel. Womack had learned at sniping school that the more turns to the barrel, the further the bullet would go accurately. Also unusual was the small number of customized rounds he was given for each job. On most military missions you took as much ammunition as you could carry. The unspoken message was that there was no room for mistakes. He was always handed the rifle at the drop off point and ordered to return it to the armory at the base camp as soon as he returned from patrol. Womack found this completely bizarre. As a Marine, he considered the job of cleaning his weapon before returning it to the armory as akin to a commandment from God.

On his first mission Womack was appointed the task of official assassin. His two companions were there for back-up, ensuring there could be no escape. Killing the man turned his stomach-as did undressing him, freshly slaughtered, to look for the body markings detailed in the dossier. When Womack got back to the compound he spoke to no one and went straight to his cot. For three days he floated between deep sleep and semiconsciousness, oblivious to his surroundings. Then he was sent on his next job. It was a routine that never varied-three days off after every kill, during which time the team members were confined to the camp but were free to play recreational games. Womack did not remember a single time when anyone felt like playing.

Somehow the second assassination felt easier. The third even more so. Then Rodriguez called Womack into the camp office for a chat. Womack arrived a few minutes early to an empty office. Curious about everything, he glanced at the papers on the desk. Reading upside down he could make out only Rodriguez's initials on a folder, before the captain came through the door. "Y or T seemed to be Rodriguez's first initial. Middle initial C." It would be the only off-limits information he was able to glean in his ninety days at the compound.

Rodriguez began by complimenting Womack on his work. "Some of you guys are better than others," he said, according to Womack later. "And some just are--." The tone made Womack uneasy.

"How does what you have done make you feel?" Rodriguez continued. The question, filled with innuendo, infuriated Womack. He answered: "What my government did, or what I did? I just follow orders. I didn't do anything."

The answer displeased Rodriguez. "Maybe you're getting into this too deep."

That was how Womack recalled the exchange. He did not know what Rodriguez meant. He was aware that some of his fellow assassins had left before their ninety-day tour was over. Somehow the rumor had reached his team that these were men who liked the job of killing too much and had therefore become too big a risk. But Womack felt himself at the other end of the spectrum, utterly helpless to change his situation and yet guilt ridden. Somehow he sensed that he, too, in some other way, did not fully meet Rodriguez's requirements. Disgusted he answered, "If you can't answer any of my questions and if I can't talk, what does it matter?"

Womack left this meeting with the very clear impression that he and all of his fellow assassins were expendable. If something "happened to him," no one would be any the wiser. He didn't know what Rodriguez had in mind for those who missed their seventy-two-hour deadline, but he didn't want to risk finding out. From that day forward he requested that the drop man pick him up after every mission thirty-five hours from the point of beginning rather than the standard seventy-two hours. In his stressed state of mind he figured, he'd have thirty-five hours to make it back to the compound on his own should his superiors somehow forget to pick him and his "family" up. Much later he realized that if his superiors had wanted to "lose" him, they could have, no matter what rescue plan he devised for himself.

The nickname for their targets was Bennies, short for Benedict Arnolds. Each successful kill reaped a hefty reward for the assassins- from twelve thousand to twenty thousand dollars to be divided between team members, usually five men. The amount appeared to depend on several factors: the nature of the target, the difficulties created by the impact of weather on terrain, and how long it took to make the kill. The sums paid were handsome in the early 1970s. The financial settlement for killing an American would provide a substantial down payment on a house in those days.

These individual missions were handled like Phoenix missions, McKenney later recognized. "The project had the mark of the Agency all over it," he said after listening to Womack's troubled confession of how each mission was highly compartmentalized. Team members were debriefed separately by different civilian debriefers who compared and analyzed the men's stories. If there was the slightest discrepancy in their recital of events, one or more team members could be grilled for hours. Sometimes neither Womack nor his mates could tell why they were subjected to such grilling. "One time they questioned L. A. Jones until he felt more like a POW being questioned by the enemy than [a soldier being debriefed by] his own superiors," recalled Womack. "They were trying to intimidate him into admitting that his time frame did not match [mine or] that of ... John Tyler, the man on the mission who had 'dropped that target.'"

Jones never changed his story and the debriefers finally left him alone. When the three men compared notes later they found their stories matched exactly. They were never able to figure out what the point of the exercise had been. If the objective had been to intimidate, it worked. Womack prayed that God would just get him through his ninety days and back to the United States and his real family.

But he could not stop the questions that continued to swirl in his brain. The closest village was seven miles to the southeast. The village seemed to be where the once-weekly helicopter bringing supplies was based. Why couldn't they go to the village? Why was the helicopter pilot dressed in a baseball cap and civilian clothes with a fatigue jacket? What surprised Womack more than anything was that they were clearly surrounded by the enemy. "But," he said, "they never once bugged us."

There was a communications hut with highly specialized and expensive equipment run by men who were not military. McKenney felt it had to have been a CIA project because of the amount of money involved. The Marine Corps could never have afforded the cost of even the bounty payments, much less the whole project.

Womack found that he could remove himself from the reality of what he was doing when he operated with all his highly trained senses on full alert. It was like following a bayonet drill, with the target a bag in the shape of a man. There was an old Army manual for bayonet practice that included the advice: "In-Out ... Don't think of it as a man." Yet a question nagged each time he got a kill: why did the victims deserve the sentence? He had never been a great student of American history, but he knew everyone had the right to a trial, even in the military.

And he knew he wasn't the only one to nurse doubts. His teammates, who called him Hillbilly because of his accent, knew he was a conscientious Christian. He believed that was why they came to him individually with whispered questions about the morality of their missions. He had no answer to satisfy them or himself. When he took the matter to an Army chaplain on the site, the minister almost bolted. "I don't want to know about this," the preacher said. He advised Womack to just count the days until his tour of duty was over. He would be happy to discuss anything else with Womack, anytime, but he did not want the subject of Womack's mission goals to come up again. Secrecy shielded even the chaplain from personal involvement.

Yet despite their reservations, Womack said to McKenney, neither he nor the others ever consciously doubted the basic premise, that those they killed "like dogs with rabies" had done something indescribably wicked. Perhaps, he. conjectured, they had been a rebel army fighting against their own fellow soldiers. After the initial rebuffs, Womack never had the nerve to ask his superiors just what, specifically, his targets were guilty of doing. To his knowledge neither did any of the other snipers.

By the time he spoke to McKenney, he knew that most of his comrades, like himself, had felt their souls in jeopardy. Within two years of returning to the States, L. A. Jones and Quentin Williams blew their brains out. A year later, John Tyler, the teammate Womack had felt closest to, "someone who seemed to have everything to live for," committed suicide by jumping in front of a train. Twenty years later only one other of Womack's teammates would still be alive.

What saved him, Womack believed, was a religious experience he had while on a mission in Cambodia. "God," he said later, "helped me." He thought of himself as born again. It was the only way he could get through the ninety-day assignment, which took out thirty-two men. He shrank from thinking about the implications if the other ten or so teams had an equal success rate that meant over three hundred men were taken out while he was there. It was impossible to know how many more camps like his existed or whether he and his mates would be replaced by others who would continue the assassinations.

It would take him a long time to drop the language, in his private thoughts, that disguised what he had really been involved in: a free-ranging execution squad, dispensing rough, frontier-type justice without benefit of courts martial: a kind of disciplined lynch mob, officially sanctioned but mysteriously sworn to a secrecy that made it seem dirty. When the United States finally evacuated Saigon and completed its total withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975, Womack was a driver in Hawaii. He was ordered back to Vietnam on the basis of a convenience of the government order. Womack was at the end of his tour. He already had his checkout sheets. He refused.

There seemed to be no adverse consequences for his refusing to go back at the U.S. government's "convenience." But when he was finally discharged, his Vietnam records were missing, removed by an unseen hand. In 1981, after revealing his history as an assassin of U.S. deserters to a Veterans Administration hospital psychiatrist, he literally watched while his service-related file was put through the shredder. When he spoke to Wes Keith and then Tom McKenney he had little documentation to corroborate his story. There was only his record of attendance at the Army Military Police School at Fort Gordon, his sharpshooter medal, and the record of deposits to Pulaski Federal Savings bank during his ninety days as an official assassin. His mother had had power of attorney and carefully monitored them. Nevertheless, both Keith [2] and McKenney believed him. McKenney told Keith, "From what I know of such classified, compartmentalized operations, everything-including the fine details -- fits." [3]

Womack's share of payment for each kill had made him richer by twenty-nine thousand dollars. He began to think of it as Judas money. When he came back from Vietnam, he wanted to be sterilized, to be "fixed," so that he could never have children. He thought that the awful thing he had allowed others to make him do was the result of a genetic weakness he might pass on. Today he is grateful that his family persuaded him otherwise. His wife and three sons make him want to live, despite the fact that he suffers from periodic bouts of severe depression when he goes for psychiatric treatment at the VA hospital. His children are the reason he has broken his vow of silence. If there is anything he can do to make sure American soldiers are never again forced kill their own, he wants to do it.

"I have suffered much guilt over what I did .... My job was more like a Mafia hitman than a U.S. Marine," said Womack.

It would take a long time yet for McKenney to agree. He knew that mud Marines, who actually had come face to face with the enemy and had killed with a knife or gun, always had a harder time living with the memories than men like himself or the desk types. He also knew that contrary to popular belief, time did not heal such deep wounds. Time allowed wounds to fester and made them worse.

Though at first McKenney did not consider the personal aspect of Womack's story exceptional, there were other aspects of it that bothered him, and not because he doubted Womack's memory or integrity. For the life of him, McKenney could not figure out what Marines were doing in Cambodia in the spring of 1973 when the war in Vietnam was over-or, for that matter, what they would be doing there at any time. He said to Keith, "Marines were never in Cambodia." The relatively short, ninety-day tour, too, was unusual. It indicated that someone higher up knew the sniper kids couldn't take much more. "And why," he questioned himself, "were they using kids fresh out of school to do a job that had been done by the most highly trained recon men before?" When his information on deserters had been current, there were large numbers of African Americans among them. He was puzzled that Womack's targets were all Caucasian, just as he was puzzled by the fact that the two or three Womack had to fight face to face had obviously been trained in the kind of martial arts learned in reconnaissance training. This was true of their survival skills as well. Womack's teams had usually spent a day observing their victims before killing them. Most of the men lived in cleverly hidden lean-tos and were well versed in the art of foraging for jungle food. They were nothing like the drop-outs and druggies who had made up the majority of deserters on the 1968-69 hit list.

What really bothered McKenney was the curious concentration of so many deserter-traitors in what was no more than a fifty-mile perimeter near the Vietnamese-Cambodian border, almost as if they had been herded into a slaughter yard. Never, during his tour in 1968-69, when he had made it a point to look at all the intelligence, did he see evidence that placed Garwood or other deserters in Cambodia. Nor had McKenney ever heard of John Sexton, the American prisoner who was set free by the North Vietnamese along the Cambodian border in 1971. So it did not occur to him, as it did to Sexton at the end of the war, that the communists might set free prisoners they had never acknowledged having. Sexton knew his fellow prisoners never showed up at the Hanoi Hilton or came home. He often wondered if the enemy, now that the war was over, would release them in the same casual manner they had released him, along the Cambodian border, where, unbeknowst to him, Bruce Womack completed his ninety-day tour.

McKenney tried to fend off the questions, and even more the possible answers, lurking at the back of his mind. He stayed in touch with Womack. Others came to see him and were even more troubled by their soldier / hit-man pasts. The questions and the logical answers refused to hang back in the shadows. Slowly, reluctantly, he learned more, but always against the grain of everything he believed. Whenever McKenney heard some new fact, offered by some patently honest man, and easily corroborated through his own official contacts, he hid it in a corner of his mind far away from where he nurtured his hatred of Garwood. His certainty about Garwood clouded his judgment of what he heard about any kills-about all those American soldiers who had been given no quarter.



1. Marine Observation Squadron 2 was Tom Selleck's unit in the 1980s TV series Magnum PI.

2. Wes Keith included Womack's story in a book entitled Victories of Christian Vietnam Veterans. Mountlake Terrace, Wash.: Wine Press Publishing, 1995.

3. In his position as religious adviser and confidante, Wes Keith was sought out by others who had been involved in assassination projects in the same area and time frame as those described by Womack. The difference was that none of the others had been as inexperienced in assassinations as Womack when they were recruited; all had a special operations background. One man told Keith that he had been wounded during a mission. Ordered never to talk about his wounds, he was advised to get plastic surgery. The U.S. government paid for his surgery.
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Thu Dec 07, 2017 1:03 am

Chapter 18: Creating a Circumstance

Soon after Russ Grisset was beaten to death by his guards in late 1969, Garwood was moved from the camp. He was not sorry to go. He believed other prisoners had made Grisset the scapegoat for a bad situation. Later Garwood would explain the horror in these terms: "We were all treated lower than the animals. So we started treating each other the same way. The guards built up distrust. We were like spiders in a jar."

He had known the same bitter and abandoned emotions after Eisenbraun died. Then, too, a terrible recklessness had seized him, until he remembered Ike's worldly-wise advice to focus on whatever was within his means to do, from learning the language to scavenging for food or information. It was impossible to explain the mental processes of a prisoner in his situation to anyone who had never experienced the incessant psychological pressures.

What happened after Grisset's grisly death was a combination of an individual rebelling against his caged existence and his captors' determination to set an example to the other prisoners. With come-what- may bravado, Garwood told the camp commandant how he had stolen food and medicine to help other prisoners, and how he had stolen from one guard and surreptitiously planted the stolen goods among the belongings of other guards. Only Grisset had known about this trickery, and secretly applauded it.

If Garwood had on this occasion remembered Ike's advice as he did after Ike himself was killed, he might not have lost his self-control. As it was, he provoked the camp commandant to march him before a people's tribunal at a special camp. The judges told him he was past reeducation and would be executed-lined up and shot by six guards in three days. Garwood did not care. What happened next, though, persuaded him that Ike was somehow still with him, and that his fate was truly in God's hands, not in those of the Vietnamese.

The day before his scheduled execution, the camp was bombed. Garwood was seriously injured. He hovered in a nether world of semiconsciousness. This lasted about four months, he figured later, calculating by the change in seasons and the Vietnamese calendar. During this blackout period, he could neither see nor hear. When he regained full consciousness, he was in a North Vietnamese-run field hospital in South Vietnam. From overheard conversations of medical orderlies and doctors, he deduced that he was one of very few survivors of the bombing, even, perhaps, the only one. Whoever found his unconscious body apparently took him for a Cuban or other communist- bloc adviser.

Because he spoke Vietnamese so well in his exchanges with hospital staff about his medical and physical needs, they perhaps had the impression that he was a comrade of long-standing from another "socialist state." Yet they treated him with some reserve, and he wondered if you could talk while unconscious, or if later he talked in his sleep. Something like this may have happened. It slowly became evident that senior communist officers were regarding him as an American. There was clearly confusion and uncertainty about what to do with him. He began to hope that nobody knew his history as a prisoner, or that he had been sentenced to execution. He prayed that the record of his travesty of a "trial" had been forever lost.

In June, still heavily bandaged, he was marched by NVA regulars to the North, as he figured, along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. By early September, they reached an army hospital at Nin Binh, where a bed was moved to a storeroom that had been cleared out for him. For the first time in his long captivity, he received what seemed like long-term treatment for his wounds with more than the stopgap medicines they had applied after he signed his one and only propaganda statement soon after capture. He was told that other patients would kill him if he was moved to a normal ward and someone found out he was an American. He sensed that hospital staffers treated him in a relatively more humane manner than their counterparts at S.T. 18 because they were still waiting to be told what to do with him. This did not prevent them from showing him their contempt ("Every injection," he said, "was made straight into the heart of my wounds"), but it may have been that some of their actions were simply those of a tough people responding to tough conditions.

About five weeks after arriving at Nin Binh, nine months after his scheduled execution date, Garwood was moved to Bat Bat prison camp at Son Tay. The camp was famous because it once held American prisoners. Now, with the exception of Garwood, it held South Vietnamese prisoners. From now on, he was to be alone, completely isolated from fellow Americans. The next nine years would be a strange twilight zone. All his information came from a mixture of sources: communist propaganda, the gossip of Vietnamese working in the prison camps, and increasingly, as their country moved toward defeat, from South Vietnamese prisoners. In 1975 they would be the first to tell him about the fall of Saigon. It would be a long time before he knew even that his country was no longer at war.

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, Garwood was joined by many more South Vietnamese prisoners. The administration of such a huge influx of prisoners presented problems. The regular cadres of political reeducation officers, disciplinary troops, and guards found themselves vastly outnumbered by the thousands held captive. It seemed to Garwood that the prison staffs increasingly comprised hastily assembled groups drawn from the ranks of fighting men.

Sixty thousand South Vietnamese prisoners were herded through Camp 5, a hugely swollen facility within a special prisoner-of-war zone in Yen Bai, two hundred kilometers west of Hanoi. Almost the entire Saigon administration was held there. Many of these South Vietnamese prisoners, including General Lam Van Phat, military commander of the Saigon area until the 1975 collapse, would later get out of prison. Somehow they made their way to the United States,-either as immigrants or, like Van Phat, as occasional visitors- where they were to give testimony that Garwood was a fellow prisoner, held under the same conditions as they.

In a letter to President Reagan during his first administration, Van Phat wrote that he felt an obligation to testify: ... "Seeing Garwood every week over a long period of time, we [Van Phat and other South Vietnamese generals] know him well .... I can confirm Marine Garwood was held prisoner and was not a deserter." It seems no South Vietnamese who was in prison with Garwood after the fall of Saigon reported the 1969 "spider-in-the-jar" treatment that had made life insufferable for Americans in the last camp before he was isolated from his own countrymen. Instead, those South Vietnamese who later broke out of the communist prison system would tell stories of friendship and camaraderie between themselves and Garwood that made it easier for them to survive.

After 1975, Garwood's captors repeatedly took pains to drum it into him that the U.S. government had officially taken the position that no American prisoners were left behind. Garwood did not want to believe this even though a statement made in 1973 to the media by National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, that all American prisoners had been returned, was played over the camp loudspeaker. He felt that the Vietnamese were trying to trick him into believing he had been abandoned and that in fact America did not know he and others like him were still alive. [1]

Garwood returned to the sanity of religiously following the rules laid down by Ike, now dead for almost eight years. He remembered telling himself, "Garwood, get the hell out of Vietnam anyway you can because none of the bigwigs of the world care .... Taking that attitude, I followed Ike's advice again-to avoid confrontations, conserve energy, and learn all I could in order to make my way to Hanoi and perhaps find ... neutral foreign diplomats. It had to be done without hurting my country or fellow Americans. I was alone anyway, and the war was over. I didn't exist. I grabbed at a chance to help set up a Czech generator at Camp 5, even though I didn't know diddley squat about putting one together." The Vietnamese assumed all Americans had technical skills. What Garwood did have, in place of engineering skills, was a natural talent for working out a mechanical puzzle. He was able to assemble the generator because all the parts were marked and "fit together like a Tinkertoy."

His success led him to deeper trouble. If he could put a generator together, he could take one apart too. He was obviously more expert than he had let on. Therefore the camp commanders decided that he should break down a different generator from Eastern Europe, for transportation in small sections to another part of Vietnam. He said, "They also wanted me to teach them everything I knew about generators. I thought, the jig's up."

He was in a panic, but he had long ago learned to conceal his emotions from the enemy. News that the war was over had never been confirmed to him by the only authority he acknowledged-his own government. But if those now controlling him were telling the truth, and he had no evidence to disprove their claim, then the official U.S. position really was that all American prisoners had been negotiated home, and his own existence was buried along with uncomfortable memories of defeat. His best buddies now were the remaining South Vietnamese prisoners who shared his feelings of abandonment though retained their faith in America. Some of them were U.S.-trained technicians. "They laughed and laughed when I went to them for help and said I didn't know a thing about generators." Two electricians and three mechanics knew more or less what to do. They quickly took the generator apart, labeling every part so that it could easily be assembled again. They taught Garwood not only how to assemble generators but other valuable information about the running of diesel engines. He said, "that's what saved my butt."

Under the ruse that he was to teach the South Vietnamese prisoners about breaking down the generator, he spent more than a week reversing that arrangement and taking a crash course from his supposed trainees. The guards, impressed by the seriousness of the job, kept a respectful distance. It gave Garwood an opportunity to find out what followed the fall of Saigon. This was precious information. The end to U.S. activities in Vietnam had been until now conveyed only through official communist pronouncements, scraps of overheard gossip, and guesswork. Yet this was the most critical political event of his entire life. The whole reason for his present predicament was that his government had sent him here to fight a war, and now it appeared no longer to matter. His view was necessarily narrow, and he had little hard information on which to base his future moves. From that narrow viewpoint, though, and from what he saw with his own eyes, he would have said that the communists had lost the war. Their country was in a shambles.

Now he learned that some of the South Vietnamese generals had behaved with extraordinary courage. Later he would find they received no postwar publicity, no public acclaim for their brave loyalty to U.S. aims from their U.S. allies, whose media, on the contrary, had lost all interest in their fate. He was particularly impressed by one Air Force general who took his own life rather than be captured. Years later, after his escape, Garwood would make it a point to look up the widows and the families of his prison friends who did not survive. The friendships developed here, and later with the families of fellow prisoners, became lifelong and deeply meaningful. Here, his knowledge of the Vietnamese language and culture did not mean he was White Gook or White Congo Instead it gave him the respect due someone skilled in the language and intricacies of Vietnamese culture.

New-found friendship and solidarity with other prisoners made him want to live again. He did not want to end up like the despised and downtrodden remnants of human beings left behind in Vietnam after the French-Indochina war. His guards referred to them as ralliers, people who had converted to the communist cause. Some were not even real Frenchmen, he learned, but lower-rank members of the French Foreign Legion, mostly non-French mercenaries. There had been Germans among them in the days of French military operations; poor devils captured in Europe during World War II and given the option of remaining prisoners or fighting in Indochina. They had made a bad choice. The ralliers, according to Garwood's guards, stayed in North Vietnam voluntarily after the French left, but Garwood observed that they, like him, had to ask for permission for any interruption in routine, down to asking if they could urinate.

The American prisoners in camp S.T. 18 had accused him of being worse than a rallier. Now, his South Vietnamese fellow prisoners gave him the gift of knowing positively that he was not and would never be one. He also knew that the ralliers were perpetual prisoners, for reasons probably similar to those that made the North Vietnamese keep him. No longer a pariah among his own kind, Garwood renewed his promise to the dead Eisenbraun to get out and tell the world what happened to American prisoners. It would take Garwood four more years and every trick he learned from Eisenbraun, as well as a few he picked up on his own.

His new-found prestige as Mr. Electric Generator helped. At Camp 776, so-named because it was opened in the seventh month of 1976, he was made responsible for captured U.S. vehicles. Camp 776 was scattered over one-hundred square miles, and contained twenty-two different camps. Each camp housed two thousand to six thousand prisoners. Attempting to escape meant immediate execution.

Garwood looked for any opportunity that might eventually get him to Hanoi. If it was truly now the capital of a reunified Vietnam, there must be foreign embassies there and some way of getting out a plea for help. His first chance came with an assignment to repair vehicles that broke down on the road. Every vehicle he saw seemed to be held together by ideology and wire. Drivers from the North would talk. He said later, "Drivers know what's going on. They get around. They gossip." Garwood, however, was under tighter security than he had been before he disassembled the generator. Now he was always accompanied by an officer-driver and two guards. He said, "They watched me like hawks. I couldn't do anything. I could not talk to Vietnamese pedestrians, could not take one step away from the assigned task." His new status was both a lucky break and a curse. It got him through the prison walls but it took him into open country where every living soul had been conditioned to inform the security authorities about everything. Any chatter he contrived with drivers had to be discreet. He was under especially strict watch during his out-of-camp runs. He figured there must be individuals like himself who, having something to hide, were equally wary. His most likely marks would be black marketers. They flourished in this poverty-stricken country, and the chance to barter goods to make life tolerable led them to risk draconian penalties, including death. To stay alive, they had to be as cunning as he.

Garwood had to "create a circumstance," the phrase Ike used, to get to Hanoi. If he could only get a message into neutral hands, he still believed the U.S. government would rescue him, somehow. Every time he repaired a vehicle on the road, he picked up some snippet of information. He built up a rough picture of Hanoi as the only place where westerners now came together with diplomats from third world and nonaligned countries. The Soviet Union and its satellites had withdrawn high-profile military and technical personnel. He realized later it was to erase evidence that the late war had been waged with their essential help. They were as eager to wash their hands of the communist regime as the United States was happy to dump South Vietnam. As for China, its troops were rumored to be fighting along the northern border against their socialist brothers.

He heard a lot from the guards and the drivers about a flourishing black market. Everyone seemed to be into smuggling watches, tires, gasoline tanks, and the debris of war, brought up from the south and sold underground in Hanoi. He remembered: "Liquor, sugar, candy, all these little things, any type of clothes. And what they wanted most on the black market-material for making blue jeans." He had now been sent as far afield as Hanoi several times, always under tight security.

There were unlimited numbers of captured U.S. vehicles there in need of repair and urgently required for official use. The communists desperately needed more transport. However, his guards were hungry for other things, which, Garwood knew, would lead them to take terrifying risks. He heard of new hotels built for the expanding foreign community. He began asking the drivers: "Why don't you guys just walk into these hotels and buy this stuff and sell it on the black market?"

Impossible, he was told. Vietnamese hotels were staffed by top-security people. It would mean instant trouble to enter without some official reason. Only foreigners were allowed inside them, or else Vietnamese officials with papers authorizing each visit. Hotels were divided according to nationality. Cubans in some. Russians in others. Garwood was desperate to find which housed people from neutral countries.

His opportunity came just before Vietnam's border skirmishes with China flared up into open warfare in the late 1970s. Tension between Vietnam and China arose soon after the fall of Saigon in 1975 when Vietnam began to seek economic and political agreements with the West rather than with the Soviet Union or China. By late 1976 Chinese-Vietnamese, who were now classed as criminals, were being rounded up and forced to work in labor camps, planting and cultivating the rice fields around Yen Bai. The program followed the pattern of reform-through-labor in China. In the planting and cultivating seasons, Garwood, along with the rest of the other prisoners, had to go to the rice fields. This gave him an opportunity to speak to the laborers. Most of them were middle class and sophisticated. Chinese in origin, Vietnamese was their basic language. Most ran small businesses and needed the "reeducation" that getting their hands dirty would supply. It was, of course, slave labor.

One victim was Nana, a nineteen-year-old girl. Her family had owned a coffee shop in Hanoi. She was shocked to find an American prisoner still in Vietnam. The two became friends. Unwittingly, Nana gave Garwood the information he needed and introduced him to other Sino-Vietnamese prisoners who knew more. He zeroed in on one hotel reputed to be very nearly up to western standards, albeit built like a concrete Czech bunker, a place to which the government directed neutrals it wanted to impress. This was the Victory Hotel, where the regime tried to create an artificial zone in which the surveillance methods and austerity of a police state were supposedly hidden from naive outsiders.

His first big opportunity came just before Tet in 1977. It was preceded by unusually hard rationing. He was taken to an old, captured U.S. Army jeep that had broken down near the dikes on the other side of Hanoi. From there he could see the Victory Hotel. With him were an NVA lieutenant-driver and two guards. He had traveled with the trio before and performed well, careful not to create problems. Their cautious friendliness sprang partly from the familiar phenomenon that people everywhere are impressed by those who make an effort to speak their language. Garwood had broken through these cultural barriers. He could joke, use street slang, and make them forget briefly that he was a foreigner. The lieutenant in charge was from Hanoi, and trusted him enough to leave him with only the two guards while he paid his family a holiday visit. Garwood's efficient repairs put the lieutenant in a good mood when he returned. The lieutenant had the sophistication of someone from the big city. The Vietnamese, communist or not, still observed class distinctions that were not in any manifesto. Big-city people were "cowboys." Peasants were peasants. Garwood appealed to the cowboy. He said to the lieutenant, "As a Caucasian, it would be no problem for me to go into that hotel: I could be in and out of there in five minutes with all the booze and candy and cigarettes you want." [2]

He had feared overstepping the mark. The silence following his overture to the lieutenant was one of deep thought. Garwood pushed his luck and said, "What am I going to do, run into a Russian and say, 'please take me to Russia'?"

The lieutenant laughed. He was still in a festive spirit. He understood too well that if Garwood got caught, it would mean the end for all of them. On the other hand, booty could be translated into a small fortune in Vietnamese currency. He considered the odds. They were into the biggest celebration of the year and already there had been a slackening of surveillance by the public-security people. The Victory Hotel was stuffed with what the austerity-plagued Vietnamese interpreted as showcase luxuries, a drab display of bars of cheap western soap in abundance one day, none the next, and a can of western beer displayed triumphantly in solitary splendor on a dusty shelf. The ambience struck "foreign guests," even those from third-world countries, as pathetic. The lieutenant, the sharp city slicker, barely bothered to conceal resentment that a few party chiefs catered to foreign capitalists while ordinary Vietnamese still suffered deprivation as the reward for all their sacrifices. The bleak hotel held out some promise of better times, however brief, for his family. "Foreign guests," the official designation for those who stayed here, including former-enemy capitalists, could buy freely items that were in tremendous demand on the black market, and forbidden to ordinary Vietnamese.

With a nod of approval from the lieutenant, Garwood got between the jeep and the dike and stripped off his blue prison garb. Someone handed him a spare white T-shirt, NVA overalls, and Ho Chi Minh rubber flipflops made from wornout tires. In this guise, Garwood was driven to the periphery of the forbidden hotel. Now he looked like a Caucasian, the kind of foreign guest whose quirks must be indulged. Without looking right or left, he walked into the hotel with a self-assurance he did not feel. He dared not show the hesitation of an interloper. He moved blindly through the dim foyer and spotted a kind of snack bar. He went straight to a counter and in English ordered cigarettes and candies. The lieutenant had provided money, and he handed the worn notes to the salesgirls. They seemed to take an eternity filling out the bill in triplicate. In his anxious impatience, he almost blurted out something in Vietnamese. He could not recall later if there were any guests around. In retrospect, it seemed that he had zipped in and out with his eyes practically closed.

He gave the bounty to the officer. His immediate reward was a pack of cigarettes. He took them, acting the part of trusted prisoner who would harbor no dangerous ambitions and go to any length for some tiny benefit. His style had to be still that of a subdued captive who was content with little. His companion grinned in shared conspiracy. "I had him," Garwood said. "This guy was my prisoner now although I didn't let him know it."

The little side runs to the Victory Hotel became a feature of Garwood's working excursions with the lieutenant, who suddenly saw the value of a Caucasian collaborator whose exits and entrances aroused no suspicion. Garwood always scrupulously turned over the things he bought. He kept the receipts.

Then the lieutenant had a sudden attack of nerves, and wanted to stop. Garwood said: "Listen, I'm going to be in Vietnam for a long time, maybe the rest of my life. As an American I crave a lot of things, cigarettes, candy, beer. Do you think it's wrong that I get a little bit of what I want? Meanwhile you can make a little bit of money."

Something else was eating the lieutenant. Possibly he had heard reports of a crackdown by the public-order authorities. He maintained that the business had become far too risky.

Then Garwood showed him some of the receipts and said, "I could go to your camp commandant." The conversation at the motor pool was conducted under cover of checking forms for a trip, and the only way the lieutenant could show his rage was to walk away. That action in itself made him a coconspirator.

He came back, aware of the jeopardy he was in. He was willing to create the circumstances Garwood was asking for-the repair truck would break down every time they went near hotels. There were shabbier hotels that still stocked goods unobtainable in Hanoi's streets. Soon other guards were drawn in, seduced by otherwise unobtainable luxuries like the whiskey Garwood found for them, some of it suspect alcohol from the Soviet Union.

"And so I found myself running what was for them the sweetest little black-market operation. For me, it was the only road out," Garwood told the American debriefers long afterward. One, General Eugene Tighe, the former Defense Intelligence Agency director whose duties had included reviewing intelligence from inside communist Vietnam, said: "Garwood was drawn instinctively to the one major source of information that escaped government controls. In any police state, individuals find an outlet in under-the-counter transactions. This satisfies a basic human need to kick against bureaucratic regulation. The best professional intelligence analysts were no smarter than Garwood, the amateur, in recognizing this treasure trove. The intelligence professionals lagged behind him in exploiting this. The biggest volume of human-intelligence reportage eventually emerged from black-market organizations running the length and breadth of the country." To Tighe and other experts, it would seem Garwood deserved praise for ingenuity. Starting two years after the ignominious U.S. pullout from Saigon, which left hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese in communist reeducation camps, this isolated American prisoner had applied ordinary American knowhow to the job of not only surviving, but also collecting information i.n an extremely hostile environment. "All I wanted was to get in and out of those hotels to try to meet anybody who could help me to get out," Garwood told the debriefers later. It required enormous patience. He was unsure of his real status in the outside world of humane laws. Was he still a prisoner of war? America's part in the war had ended officially years ago. What should govern his conduct, when his captors insisted that he pay his debt as a "war-criminal"? He had to improvise, guided by Ike's advice that a prisoner had a duty to do whatever he could to survive and escape. It was incredibly risky. Some of the hotels had KGB and Cuban security men as well as Vietnamese stationed everywhere. He almost got caught several times, once by KGB agents at the Victory Hotel, where they were generally never seen: Garwood had neglected to note the presence of a high-level mission from Moscow. Still, he always managed to escape, having by this time perfected his masquerade as a "foreign guest" with two guards and a driver.

The weeks turned into months, and time dragged on. The opportunities for scouting Hanoi came at long intervals.

He did speak directly to a Finnish journalist covering the border war between China and Vietnam. Garwood passed over his name, rank, and serial number, his address in Indiana, the date he was captured, and the camp in which he was being held. He held his breath. Nothing happened. Years later it became known that the note was destroyed by the journalist before he left Vietnam. The Finn was afraid that it would be found going through customs and that his own notes and tapes would be confiscated.

Later still the Finn swore to one of Garwood's friends that he had memorized the information and passed it on to the U.S. State Department. The State Department denied this, continuing to maintain that there was no reporting on Garwood after 1973 except "reports from refugees who Heed [sic] Vietnam [and] confirmed [U.S. government] suspicions that PFC Garwood might still be alive. Significant refugee reporting on PFC Garwood did not really begin, however, until a mass exodus of refugees from Vietnam began in the 1978/79 period, almost a decade after PFC Garwood had gone to North Vietnam." [3]

The second time Garwood tried speaking directly with someone, again with a Finn national, he was entirely successful, but the victory would be short term. On February 9th, 1979, the U.S. State Department was informed that Mr. Ossi Rahkonen, a World Bank official stationed in Washington, had received a note from "a person who claimed to be a U.S. POW. The individual passed a scribbled note to Mr. Rahkonen indicating he was Robert Russell Garwood, USMC, an American in Vietnam." [4] Luck seemed to have turned in Garwood's favor again. It was impossible for the U.S. government to discredit this report, like so many they had before. Rahkonen gave the information to the Swedish embassy in Hanoi, from which it was passed, highly classified, to the U.S. State Department via Stockholm. He also passed the message on to the Red Cross and the BBC, which broadcast the news on its world service. The publicity was enormous, and created a furor, especially in the National Security Council, which controlled intelligence on such matters.

Since 1975 two congressional commissions had formally declared, after assurances from the communists, "there are no more Americans left in Vietnam."

From the very beginning, the U.S. government managed the Garwood story. The U.S. State Department issued a caution: It was "unlikely that PFC Garwood would be free to leave any camp without Vietnamese assistance and ... it could not be excluded that he had acted at the 'request or demand' of the communist Vietnamese." [5] It was more likely, State argued, that Vietnam, in its attempts to achieve normalization, was using Garwood as an agent to manipulate the U.S. In a brilliant display of doublespeak, other U.S. government officials went on the offensive by revealing that senior NVA officers told them during bilateral meetings that Hanoi felt "forced" to make Garwood leave the country. He had been no good to them. Garwood, it was clear, really was the lazy troublemaker that his USMC superiors claimed him to be when they accused him of desertion. The NVA officers told U.S. officials that Garwood was a rallier, that he had been involved in black market and other illegal and immoral activities. For these reasons, he was now regarded as persona non grata in Vietnam. American government reports latched onto the communist accusation of "black market activities." [6] Suddenly Hanoi and Washington were in agreement. It seemed the u.s. government was no longer worried about the communists; the target of distrust was Garwood.

The worldwide publicity generated by the BBC report left no choice for the u.s. government but to work out Garwood's repatriation with the Vietnamese. In addition there was the unwelcome complication of having to deal with the families of the missing who immediately wanted to meet with National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to find out what he knew about other missing men in Vietnam. Memos between the National Security Council, the State Department, the USMC, and the Defense Intelligence Agency released later make it clear that damage control must begin even before Garwood stepped on neutral ground. One NSA memo branded Garwood as "a live American defector" (emphasis added), immediately after Rahkonen, the World Bank official, turned his note over to the State Department. [7] Congressman Gillespie (Sonny) Montgomery, who had led a commission to Vietnam and declared afterward that no Americans-prisoners or deserters-were left in Vietnam, now announced at a press conference that it came as no surprise that an American "deserter" might still be living in Vietnam. "If PFC Garwood does come home," he told reporters four weeks before Garwood's return home, "he should be put in jail." Montgomery claimed that he had documents proving "that Garwood led North Vietnamese troops against Americans," but he did not make them available either to reporters, or later to Garwood's lawyers.

Garwood was judged on charges made by Hanoi and accepted in official Washington, which up to that point branded the North Vietnamese as liars. It was the surest way to prevent Garwood from telling his side of the story.



1. Although Garwood's guards went to great trouble to prevent him from finding out that he was not the only American still held in Vietnam, he would catch occasional glimpses of or hear snatches of conversation between other American prisoners. Such opportunities would arise unexpectedly. In one instance some American pilots were briefly held in a fenced-off area of huts near Garwood's camp. In another, he silently made eye contact with an American, whose dress and demeanor showed he was a POW, on a staircase in an interrogation center.

2. His account is taken from the tragically delayed debriefing conducted by retired U.S. senior intelligence officers many years later. Garwood went over the entire incident as if it had happened the day before. He remembered precise details that jibed with what the debriefers knew from other sources.

3. The Case of Pvt. Robert R. Garwood, USMC, Final Report, Report to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (ASD / C3 /), Volume 1, June 1993.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Document is in the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, as well as the files of the author and attorney Mark Waple.
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Thu Dec 07, 2017 1:06 am

Part 1 of 2

Chapter 19: Grapes of Wrath

The wrath Tom McKenney felt that day when he first set eyes on Bobby Garwood on the television screen in April 1979 was no different from the blind obsession that had driven his hunt for "the traitor." This reaction shocked him, because he had spent the years after the war pushing himself to become whole again.

After he was finally forced to leave active service, the bottom fell out of McKenney's life. Perhaps because he had no institution making demands on him, he made superhuman demands on himself. Although unfamiliar with the term posttraumatic stress disorder, his family nevertheless had the common sense to know that soldiers coming back from the debilitating war of Vietnam required personal support and time to heal. McKenney denied that he needed any special consideration, and felt only pity and a thinly veiled contempt for those with psychological problems. Military life had instilled in him habits of self-discipline and loyalty. He blocked all the unresolved questions about his actions and his country, and found a challenge that demanded more than even the Marine Corps-a new search for his God.

McKenney was brought up Episcopalian. A regular churchgoer, his approach to religion was ceremonial: he loved the ritual. After his return to the United States-prior to the shock of seeing Garwood on television, in the United States again and apparently unharmed -- he embarked on a course that surprised his military establishment friends. McKenney became as single-minded a missionary as he had been a Marine. He traveled the country, then the world, preaching God's forgiveness. In Haiti, he worked to rescue outcast children. He was dumbfounded by the custom of locking seriously handicapped children out of sight in boxlike structures that were little more than coffins, allowing them out only for life's bare necessities. But he found that Haitians were willing to respond to his message of acceptance. The handicapped children, at first hostile, became a healing force for McKenney's own pent-up feelings about the shabby homecoming he had received from everyone except his family after Vietnam. By the spring of 1979 he thought he had expunged what seemed a bizarre sense of guilt. He was on a slow road to physical recovery. Most of all, he thought he had regained his peace of mind.

That he was wrong was immediately clear from his violent reaction to the man on television. Blinded by his old hatred, one fact escaped him: the man on the screen did not fit the description of the man he had dreamed of killing.

The six-foot three, buff and blond character that the survivors of the No Name Island massacre had described and the CI men had briefed him on so many years ago, the White Cong, was not this Garwood. McKenney did notice that this Garwood clutched a Bible as he stepped off the plane. This did nothing to soften his feelings. "If anything," he said later, "it seemed to prove that the traitorous bastard was smart enough to play on the sensibilities of Americans who took their religion seriously."

What he would not find out for another fifteen years was that the Bible Garwood hung on to, as if for dear life, had a meaning for him much like the one it had for McKenney. Garwood's fourteen years as a prisoner of the Vietnamese-more than half his adult life-had robbed him of everything except his belief in God, a belief that had been strongly enhanced by his last conversations about Judaism with his mother. A psychiatrist would tell him later that his prayers in prison must have been similar to the meditation practiced by Buddhists. To the doctor, it seemed that prayer had helped Garwood to travel out of his body when torture and mental anguish became too much to bear. But in Garwood's mind the God who had protected him was the same kind of old-fashioned western God revered by McKenney and somehow like the legendary Marine Chesty Puller, who had always put the welfare of enlisted men above everything else. Like McKenney, Garwood held on to his faith in the Marine Corps. He was a member of "the best military outfit in the world." The thought sustained him in his bleakest moments. The communists had never been able to strip him of his pride in being a Marine. Now that he was home, he was about to be stripped of that pride, of his uniform, and of his honor by his own country.

He had been on his usual round of black-market business, selecting candy, cigarettes, and whiskey at the snack bar in the Victory Hotel when he became aware that four people who seemed at first to be Polish were conversing in English at a nearby table. "Suddenly my antennae went 'bing,'" he later recalled. "I overheard one of them say, 'I'll be returning to Washington in a couple of days.' From that point onward everything happened so quickly, God must have played a hand in it. There was no doubt in my mind."

Garwood tore the flap from the envelope that held the money to pay for his purchases, barely paying attention to the girls who worked behind the bar. He knew better than anyone how such workers were terrorized into reporting on anything even slightly out of the ordinary. Two of the girls walked away to get the items he ordered, and then returned. As they adhered to the bureaucratic rules that required filling out endless bits of paper for every purchase, a kind of reckless giddiness seized Garwood. For the first time, he was separated from his own world by nothing more than the flimsiness of the old envelope in his hand. His instincts for caution, nurtured by years of captivity, vanished in an instant. This was an opportunity far more substantial than the chance encounter with the Finnish journalist. It was now or never. He seized a pen from the counter and hurriedly scribbled: "I am an American." He gave details of his status, rank, and what he knew of other Americans in the same fix. "Are you interested?" He wadded the tom envelope into a little ball and walked over to the man he had overheard. Looking back on this incident he said, "I was so desperate, ... I didn't know who I was giving the note to."

It was Rahkonen. He looked up in surprise when Garwood said softly in his awkward, seldom-used American-English, "Sir, do you have a cigarette?" Rakhonen offered him not only a cigarette but also a light. The gesture allowed Garwood to drop the ball of paper right into the other man's lap. The action was not observed by others, but Garwood's presence in working garb caused Rahkonen's table to fall silent. The silence spread to the adjoining table. It seemed as if everyone was staring at Garwood. With a boldness he had not known he possessed, Garwood walked back to the bar as if nothing had happened. He stood at the counter and watched while Rahkonen read the note and then looked up at him with a puzzled expression. The seconds crawled. Then the Finn came up and stared ahead at the mottled mirror behind the bar.

"You are American? You don't sound it."

"Yes. I am in Vietnam fourteen years."

Rahkonen said, "Oh, my God."

"We were both nervous as cats," recalled Garwood. "He just kept looking around. We went over and sat at a table and I told him I was being held in a labor camp at Yen Bai and the date of my capture. When I told him 1965, he did not believe it."

As Rahkonen remembered it later, he had been alarmed by the possibility of a trap. "What am I being set up for?" he asked himself. To Garwood he said, "Nineteen sixty-five? If you are a POW, what the hell are you doing in this hotel?"

Garwood felt the door to his cage closing. He gabbled a brief explanation. He later said, at the long-overdue debriefing with those U.S. senior intelligence officers who risked their own credibility by saying they believed him: "I knew I could not be seen talking to this guy for long. I did not want anything to draw attention to myself because I had already given him the note. Those [Vietnamese] guys would have wasted me right then and there."

Garwood asked, in a sudden return to sweaty caution, "Are you American?"

Rahkonen gave a throaty, uneasy laugh. Finally, the Finn answered simply, No.

Rahkonen continued to be suspicious. Why was Garwood here? Where was he going? He asked, "Aren't you afraid?"

Garwood was acutely aware that his American-English must have sounded broken up and strange. His sentences came out in the stilted style of a prisoner under interrogation: "Am I afraid? I have lost everything. There is nothing more to lose. Will you take this to the American government?"

Rahkonen answered, "Maybe."

Garwood's tenuous contact with the outside world depended upon his story being believed by this privileged visitor from the west, approved officially by the communists as a foreign guest entitled to preferential treatment, and who had no means of understanding what it was like to be deprived of all rights within a country run as one big prison. Rahkonen, though immunized and prevented from glimpsing the hidden universe of police rule, was in fact very well aware that every facet of life was governed by prison rules. He did not believe anyone would dare take a risk like that being undertaken by this gaunt, awkward apparition in worker's garb whose English came out like something learned in a Soviet-funded foreign-language institute. Garwood's approach smelled of entrapment, the Finn thought, and so he responded slowly. The danger of a prolonged exchange was nothing compared with the risk of a diplomatic incident.

Rahkonen broke away, giving no hint of sympathy. Garwood was never able to describe fully the nerve-wracking interlude. Back in camp, he was aware of something being wrong. His usual Vietnamese companions were nowhere to be seen. For twelve days there was an ominous lack of work for him other than his routine duties.

Less than two weeks after Garwood passed his note to Rahkonen in Hanoi, he was abruptly pulled out of the NVA motor pool and put in prison under tight security. He was not allowed to speak to anyone. His meals were brought to him. He did not know whether his note had reached the outside world. The lieutenant-driver he had enticed into the black market was gone. The two guards who'd been made accomplices were now under arrest.

He was numb and exhausted. But at least he had tried. He did not fear his own death. He only hoped it would be swift and merciful. But experience taught him that his captors were likely to play mind games first, so he braced himself for the psychological warfare they were so expert at.

Garwood was suddenly marched to the camp parade ground. Preparations were being made for an execution. He knew the drill for these ceremonial murders. He was resigned to being the victim.

Then he saw Nana, the Chinese-Vietnamese girl who had educated him about hotels in Hanoi. She was roped to the execution tree.

His vision blurred. He strained to give no sign of recognizing her, knowing he would be closely scrutinized, knowing how mock executions were often staged to trick a prisoner into betraying guilty knowledge. He looked straight ahead, and at first thought the sudden, brutal noise he heard was his own heart thumping out of control. The terrible clatter ceased as swiftly as it began. The normal sounds of the surrounding jungle slowly returned, but there was a menacing silence from the uniformed men around him. Six of them had emptied their AK47s into the bound girl.

"I hadn't even the courage to acknowledge her," he said again and again, later. "I just stood paralyzed. She never realized the significance of the information she'd given me. I had used her."

No one said a word to Garwood. He was hustled back to his solitude and left alone. His nightmares about Nana continue to this day. He is cursed with a near photographic memory and the details repeat themselves exactly. At the center is the face of Nana, distorted with fear and utter astonishment, as she realizes the executioners are really going to open fire.

When they came again to the camp in the middle of the night and took him away, Garwood was riddled with guilt. He did not deserve to live after an innocent girl had suffered a cruel death for something she did not knowingly do.

What he did not expect was to be taken to the Victory Hotel in Hanoi. This time, it was no stolen excursion in the company of men he could coax into collaboration. Instead, public-security men were his escort. "Everywhere I went, they had guards on me," he said. "I mean all over me. They were all in the same uniform-black suits, black ties, white shirts, and black shoes. They all carried pistols."

At the Victory Hotel lounge he was met by a Lieutenant Colonel Zwen, whose full identity he was not to learn until much later. Zwen questioned Garwood about events on the day he had passed his cry for help to the Finn. But Zwen did not appear to know much, and Garwood hedged. Zwen told him he would be meeting with Colonel Thai, the man in charge of Vietnamese prison security. Garwood knew Thai's reputation for unspeakable cruelty. Zwen smiled as he spoke of the forthcoming encounter but, Garwood remembered, "Zwen was so nervous, he was shaking."

"Do you recognize this place?" asked Zwen.

Garwood did not answer.

"Bob, try to convince me you are not CIA."

Garwood was dumbfounded. After fourteen years and all he had gone through, they were still asking the same question they had asked at the beginning.

"When you were transferred to us from South Vietnam," said Zwen, "they said you were suspected of being an agent. Do you still deny you're a spy?"

Garwood asked how often must he deny it.

"After what has happened, it's hard for us to disregard your background," said Zwen. He resorted to bureaucratic repetition of formula questions. The catechism was endless. Garwood had become a very important prisoner. The paranoid leadership wanted this "VIP" to lead them to his guilty associates. Their questions, direct and indirect, continued almost to the moment he left Vietnam.

They would ask, "How many Vietnamese were working with you? How many Laotians contacted you? How many Palestinians worked with you?"

Garwood by now was clever at seeing through such questions. Clearly the communists were worried about keeping their grip on the locals. Clearly, too, they distrusted allies and foreigners sent to them for training in terrorist techniques. This was true even of allies like the Palestinians who cooperated with the Vietnamese on special torture and interrogation tactics. Moreover his keen awareness and insight honed under the pressures of captivity and the need to stay alive, told him that something was up. He was being handled with an almost gingerly caution, and seemed to have been afforded some mysterious protection.

He said later, "Suddenly they couldn't threaten or do anything to me. They couldn't beat me. They couldn't shoot me."

Taken back to the Victory Hotel again, he asked: "Excuse me, why am I here?" He was doubly careful now to be polite.

"You are to meet American journalists," he was told.

This unexpected, almost off-hand breaking of such momentous news caught him off balance. He remembered Nana, though, and all the many times when an air of patient consideration by his captors had been followed by the disclosure of their hidden motive. He took a grip on himself. He wasn't going to repeat the mistake of throwing caution to the wind at the prospect of normal human contacts.

He gravely accepted sheets of paper with carefully worked out questions and answers. He went through them slowly, pretending to have difficulty understanding the translation. The paper was good quality, possibly foreign, certainly not the usual Vietnamese poor-quality stuff. He made an effort to control his panic. This was a script. It was written to make the Socialist Republic of Vietnam seem like an American defector's paradise and he was afraid of being lured into saying things that would serve his minders' propaganda. Going by past performance, they would bring trumped-up charges that he was an ungrateful recipient of their generosity. He could not afford to forget they were captors, and he was still a prisoner. He knew little about the progression of political events outside; he could not know that his own real world was undergoing profound changes, to which he would later be introduced like a Rip Van Winkle awakening after long sleep.

He was to be filmed, he was told. Americans would follow him around with videocameras. He was taken to what he was told was his future, normal habitat. He would be filmed shopping in the market and lounging by the hotel pool. If circumstances had been different, he would have burst out laughing.

He took the bull by the horns. "Am I going home?"

The answer was evasive: "That depends on you."

So his release was to depend on his acting skills?

Jon Alpert, an American cameraman / director known in the west for his curious ability to win the confidence of socialist guerrillas in various parts of the world for the NBC network, now appeared. The man showed none of the humane concern that would be normal. He was anxious to make his video. The videocamera had come into use after Garwood's imprisonment. There was a Vietnamese-looking woman introduced as Alpert's wife and a technician.

"This American told me I'd be going home soon," Garwood remembered later. "The way he said it, I wasn't sure. He deferred to the security people on everything and kept emphasizing that the Vietnamese government wanted the movie done. He was wearing a Vietnamese-type sampan hat, a black shirt, blue jeans, Ho Chi Minh sandals, and a little Ho Chi Minh button. His wife spoke Vietnamese. The man managing the sound equipment, Victor Sanchez, seemed to be, or at least tried to pass as, Cuban."

Six years later Alpert would give his impressions of Garwood's situation in a research interview for the CBS television program Sixty Minutes. He said then that he was not impressed by Garwood because he was "ungrateful" for the many things the Vietnamese had done for him. "The kind of lifestyle Garwood-who voluntarily defected to North Vietnam-led was far more luxurious than that of the ordinary poverty-stricken Vietnamese."

The unedited and uncut version of the videotape shows a vulnerable Garwood who looks like a tall and gangling windup doll next to the Vietnamese. He is asked to show off the "generous" lifestyle given him by the North Vietnamese. Leading questions make it clear that his unseen interrogators want him to say that he defected to Vietnam because he opposed the imperialist policies of the United States. The tape leaves no question that Garwood satisfies neither the man behind the camera nor the Vietnamese security people whose voices are heard in the background. Everytime he begins to answer spontaneously, the visual action is cut but there remains the sound of prompters. Numerous times, after ominous murmurings between Alpert and the security people, Garwood is told to repeat a particular answer. They are not pleased with his appearance. His walk is wrong.

His teeth, according to Alpert later, were too black and rotten: "It would make a bad impression on Americans." Garwood's teeth were fixed and cleaned by a dentist in Hanoi at Alpert's suggestion. Alpert was right. The fresh, white teeth would look like proof to Americans- especially former POWs whose teeth had all suffered-that he had never really been a prisoner.

The tape has never been shown to the American public because, Alpert later alleged, "the CIA intercepted it on its way to America." A copy of the unedited tape is now in the author's files.

In the most moving moment of the tape, Garwood is given one last opportunity to correct himself after his performance has failed to convey the portrait of a happily liberated convert to communism. For the second time, he is directed to give the folks back home a message. His face shows he knows that if he repeats his earlier mistake in saying he loves America, the consequences might be unbearable.

Still he wants that to get across. Close to tears, he pulls himself up and repeats directly to the camera, even more poignantly, what he has said before-that he has always loved America. He adds that he hopes his family will wait to hear from himself what he has to say. His life in Vietnam has not been easy. At this point, he is cut off by voices speaking off-camera, but recorded on the unedited videotape.

Garwood was asked years later how he had summoned the courage to sabotage the full propaganda value of the "interview." He had acted almost in spite of himself, he replied. Even if it meant giving up forever the chance of being released, he could not deny his country. Alpert's response, when Garwood had asked about going home, had made it clear that a positive answer depended upon the prisoner's "cooperation."

After this fiasco, there was a puzzling meeting with Colonel Thai, the chief of prison security. This was the same Colonel Thai who had been in charge of interrogation and torture of prisoners in 1968, and who at that time stopped Garwood from questioning the Montagnard whom he saw wearing Clyde Weatherman's shirt. Thai said nothing about Garwood's message to the Finnish diplomat, yet clearly it had gotten out, and had churned up enough furor to hugely embarrass Hanoi. Garwood deduced this from Thai's wretchedly upside-down manner of telling him that he would soon be released. The prison security chief adopted a bullying, hectoring tone. Garwood was going to find himself a problem to the U.S. government and the military, he said. No one in America would believe he had been a prisoner. He would be watched wherever he went. Thai went so far as to threaten him: the people Garwood cared about most might suffer and die if he was not careful about what he revealed. The Colonel never did explicitly state that Garwood was going home. That would have been admitting defeat.

Shortly thereafter Garwood was taken to another room where a Palestinian named Abu waited for him. Abu told him that he knew where each member of Garwood's family lived and worked in Indiana. There were over two hundred members of the PLO living in the Indianapolis area, he said pointedly. Garwood was to keep his mouth shut when he returned, particularly about any Palestinians he had come across in Vietnam. Abu had apparently been informed that Garwood had seen Palestinians and picked up the rumors about them: they were commandos teaching their brand of terrorist tactics to the Vietnamese. If Garwood revealed this to anyone in the United States, Abu threatened, his family would pay the penalty.

Garwood was touchingly sure that, if he could only make it out of Vietnam, the evil predictions of both Thai and Abu would vanish along with the terrible memories of the last fourteen years of his life.

But almost as soon as he was flown out of Vietnam on March 15th, 1979, Garwood began to get signals that, incredibly, Thai knew what he was talking about. Plans had been made for Garwood to be picked up by a U.S. military plane, but the U.S. government agreed to Vietnamese demands that he leave by commercial airliner. This would save Hanoi's face and demonstrate that communist Vietnam was safe for western private enterprisers. Had the U.S. military stuck to the original plan, Garwood would have been collected like the other POWs in 1973 by U.S. personnel in an American service aircraft. Instead, the impression was given that he had always been free to come and go, an impression that, it turned out, was desired by both sides. Only Garwood did not think he was free. A Vietnamese "security type" sat across the aisle from him. It was obvious he was on the plane to keep an eye on Garwood. This so unnerved the Red Cross official who had joined Garwood just before departure at the Ho Chi Minh Airport that he asked Garwood not to speak to him unless it was absolutely necessary. "You are out of Vietnam now," the official said under his breath, "but I have to go back there. It's where I work."

The crew on the Air France flight to Bangkok, however, did see Garwood as a prisoner suddenly free. They treated him so, and tried to shower him with goodies. Garwood had never even flown in a jet airliner. He knew nothing about the high-tech comforts of modem travel. It seemed like paradise. But he was puzzled when the French captain came to the cabin and tried to persuade him to continue with the flight on to France.

"On this plane, you are on French soil," he said. "No one can hurt you .... You should only disembark when this aircraft is finally also on French soil. Only the French people really understand .... France will welcome you."

Garwood, who still could not fully believe he was on his way home, said, "I am an American. I want to go home to my family."

The captain turned to the stewardesses: "He doesn't know what is waiting for him." Then he hugged Garwood and gave him two bottles of cognac while the stewardesses pinned a corsage on him.

On arrival in Bangkok everyone except Garwood was asked to leave the plane by a Thai security official. Garwood looked out the window. The plane was surrounded by military vehicles and an army of Oriental men who looked Vietnamese. He went into a state of paranoia. Had a trick been played on him? Was he still in Vietnam? Even when a Caucasian with several aides boarded the plane and introduced himself as U.S. Consul General Andrew Antippas, Garwood was still not completely sure who had control over him.

Antippas greeted him without warmth and escorted him through Thai customs to a waiting USMC C-130 aircraft. Garwood wanted to touch everything that was made in America and hug or shake the hands of all the Marines who came to meet him, an urge that seemed almost childlike when he thought about it later but which was natural after his long years of bottling up every normal and spontaneous emotion. The response was cold and even hostile. Garwood was not told that formal Preferral of Charges, including desertion and collaboration, had been laid against him three days before he arrived in Bangkok, foreclosing any chance for him to talk about his capture, imprisonment, or escape.

On board the C-130 Garwood was greeted by an expressionless Marine master sergeant who read Garwood his rights with cold efficiency. Garwood's emotions were in such turmoil, the import escaped him. Later he remembered feeling only relief at being addressed by a Marine Corps sergeant instead of a Vietnamese guard. Only the sergeant's obvious hostility prevented Garwood from hugging him. Then a Captain Joseph Composto came forward and said he had been assigned as Garwood's counsel. He immediately advised Garwood not to speak to anyone and that included Composto himself, who did not tell Garwood of the charges laid against him three days earlier. [1] Garwood was stunned. Why did he need a lawyer who advised him not to talk and acted more like a guard than someone who was protecting Garwood's interests? "That hurt more than anything," he said later, "I wanted so desperately to touch, to hug, to talk. I wanted to make contact of any kind with Americans." The communication Garwood craved was clearly not to be allowed. Even the crew members shunned him although one or two hesitatingly smiled at him. Garwood searched for some way he could show his good will. Then he remembered the Vietnamese currency called dong he had been given at Ho Chi Minh Airport to buy lunch. ot hungry, he had kept the money.

Now he asked each crew member in his stilted English, "Are you interested in a souvenir from communist Vietnam?" No one answered but each took one of the dong.

Then he overheard one ask another, "Can you believe this was once an American?" The question devastated Garwood.

When he asked Composto what about him looked different, the lawyer told him it was that he didn't walk like an American: he shuffled like an Oriental. Furthermore, Garwood spoke like a foreigner, was thin like an Oriental, and his eyes appeared deepset like those of an Oriental.

Garwood consoled himself with the knowledge that however strange his appearance might be to others, he was back where he belonged and if he died right then and there, he would at least be buried on American soil, not in the jungle. That was what mattered. And if he couldn't touch people yet, he could at least touch things. He wandered around the sparse cabin lovingly touching every American- made nut and bolt.

Marine Gunnery Sergeant Langlois was assigned to accompany him on the trip home. Langlois, at least, seemed to understand what he was dealing with. He growled at Garwood, who stood at attention and saluted when they first met, "You don't need to salute gunnery sergeants." Later, as some of the truth began to dawn on Garwood, he was assured by Langlois that if other Marines treated him like a leper, at least they would not physically hurt him.

Hearing his rights read was only the first of a series of events that would drive Garwood, finally, to the surrender he had successfully resisted during captivity-the surrender to hopeless resignation -- and to the urge to end it all by taking his own life. The detached hostility in Bangkok left him bereft without knowing why. He said later, "I just wanted someone to welcome me home, to tell me I did a great job." If someone had given him a Snickers bar he would have cried for joy. Instead, he was given cigarettes, but was told he couldn't smoke them on the plane. Ironically, cigarettes were the occasional perk given him even during the worst times of his long imprisonment. There was no physical torture but, just as he had been during the last fourteen years in Vietnam, he was at the mercy of others who demanded obedience. He felt caught in the gears of a machine that was insensible to any appeal for guidance or mercy. His only recourse was to withdraw within himself.

Transferred to the military C-130 in Bangkok, he assumed he would be flown directly to the United States. No one told him otherwise. Unaware that he was already being treated like a top-secret time bomb, he felt as if a huge weight was being lifted as he imagined Asia receding, and with it the nightmares. No matter what happened once he was home, he would at least be safe from his Vietnamese enemies, and with his family. Instead, the plane descended after a flight lasting about as long as his journey from Vietnam to Bangkok. Nobody had told him that he was being delivered to Okinawa. He became convinced that everyone was lying to him: he was being returned to Vietnam.

He was taken to a military hospital that he finally accepted as being American. Nevertheless, due to his experience of the last fourteen years, he continued to distrust whatever he saw or heard. To him, it now seemed as if authority had emptied out a whole section of the hospital to cage a crazed and infectious beast. He had not slept since leaving Vietnam three nights before. Now he was terrified even to shut his eyes. "I thought if I went to sleep, I'd wake up in Vietnam." He was afraid to touch the refrigerator or to lie on the indecently normal bed. The color television was entirely strange to him. He sat on the floor against a sofa, numb with a terror of the unknown that was, in an odd way, more awful than anything he had experienced before. He thought he was surrounded by security and intelligence specialists, and that only their faces and uniforms had changed. If there were humane gestures, he remembered none.
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Thu Dec 07, 2017 1:06 am

Part 2 of 2

He was in the hands of Americans who, in accordance with orders, would provide creature comfort but abstain from any closer contact, especially the kind of conversation Garwood craved. They treated him, he would recall, like something from outer space, photographing and filming him around the clock.

At some point during the three-day stay at the hospital, the exact moment lost in later memory, questions were posed by nurses and medics about his needs, but they were addressed to Langlois. The Sergeant was told that Garwood's "vitals" needed to be taken and that Garwood needed an injection to get rid of worms. The nurses and medics bustling in and out told Langlois the doctors were worried that Garwood might bring infectious diseases back to the States. When a medic tried to give him an injection, Garwood jerked away. Langlois ordered the corpsman to leave Garwood alone.

Finally a doctor told Langlois, "If we don't give him treatment, he'll die." Langlois, growing visibly more protective of Garwood, said "Give him time. He's still in shock."

A few minutes later a nurse came in and asked, "What does he eat?"

"Ask him!" Langlois responded. She did. Garwood refused to look at her.

Responding to Langlois's unspoken reprimand, the nurse tried harder. She asked when Garwood had last eaten or slept. There was no answer. Not until Langlois gently asked him if he wanted some real American food did Garwood respond and ask for the multiflavored ice cream he had seen advertised on the television screen a few moments before. When the ice cream arrived Garwood refused to eat until Langlois, on impulse, took the spoon and tasted each one of the flavors. Years later Garwood still marveled at Langlois's depth of understanding. The Sergeant had correctly deduced that Garwood was afraid of being poisoned.

Afterward, Captain Composto came in with a photo album. Perhaps because of Langlois's visible concern, the lawyer showed, for the first time, some sympathy toward his client. "I guess there's no other way to tell you this," he said. "Your mother is dead and so is your grandmother." Garwood felt himself sinking further into confusion and dismay. This was irremediable. He had prepared himself for the possible death of his grandmother and even his father, but not his mother. She had promised they would see each other again, and throughout the long fourteen years of imprisonment that thought had sustained him.

Mechanically Garwood looked at old pictures of his family. He recognized his father and stepmother and brother Don. He could not find his little half-brother and half-sister among the photographs. He had loved them. Were they dead too? Composto showed him pictures of the adults they had become. He stared at the picture of a baby. This, he was told was a new half-brother. It was the first reasonably heartening family event he had heard about in more than fifteen years.

Sergeant Langlois, sticking closer as Garwood's mental distress became more obvious, insisted he rest a while. Garwood ignored the bed, more comfortable-looking than any he remembered in the Marine Corps, and crawled under it. There, in fetal position, eyes wide open, he waited to be taken back to captivity. Later he thought the ice cream he had eaten must have contained a sleeping potion because, miraculously, he fell asleep for six hours.

Then, incongruously it seemed to him, he was fitted and dressed in a new Marine uniform with four hashmarks, [2] and told the next flight would take him to Chicago. Suddenly hope came back to him. Once again he was a Marine. In his most difficult days as a prisoner he had held to the belief that Marines take care of their own. He now told himself that he must have been paranoid about his reception in Bangkok and on the C-130. However cold his welcome, the uniform, which had been custom made to fit him perfectly, was proof that the old motto was true. It was the reason why the plane was filled with what he decided must be even more security men. It suddenly all made sense to him.

There came a moment, long into the flight, when a member of the flight-deck crew came back and said to him in an easy, conversational tone: "You'll be interested in knowing that we've just crossed the international dateline. You're halfway home."

Those words, or something like them, were the last thing he heard before losing consciousness.

When he came to, he had an oxygen mask on his face, his shirt was off, and someone was yelling, "We're losing him." Someone else thumped his chest. He might have been back in prison. A voice shouted, "Oh, shit, we're in real trouble now." Everyone thought he had gone into cardiac arrest. He was never given an explanation of this incident until many years later, when he was told that his heart had stopped beating.

In Chicago, three black limousines with darkened windows waited on the tarmac to escort Garwood and his entourage of Marine and security officers to the Great Lakes Naval Station. On the short stretch between the plane and limo he was bombarded with questions from what seemed like hundreds of reporters who waited for him. Here, there was no possibility of the U.S. government isolating him as in Bangkok, where he had passively agreed with Antippas, the U.S. Consul General, that it was better not to speak to the press. There, a cordon of Thai soldiers had surrounded him and prevented reporters from getting close.

Now he heard one question yelled over the media din repeatedly: how did he feel about the Marine Corps assertion that he had deserted?

He found the question absurd. How could anyone think the Marine Corps would make such an assertion? Of course they had known about his capture. It had taken place not far from their recon units. In a 1992 interview with government officials, described in The Case of Robert Garwood, U.S.M.C. Final Report, Volume 1, Joseph Composto claimed that just before they arrived in Chicago he "again" explained to Garwood that there were charges laid against him, including desertion. This makes it sound as if Composto told Garwood more than once that charges had already been laid against him but contradicts his earlier statement. He [Garwood] "did not appear to comprehend that he was going to be charged [author's emphasis] ... when Article 31 was read to him." Both Composto and his interviewers take the tone that Garwood should have known he would be charged because he was read his rights. "Desert?" he thought as he clutched the Vietnamese Bible someone had thrust into his hand after the cardiac episode on the plane. "Ten days away from the end of my tour?" He was grateful to escape into the limousine.

This was the curtain-raiser to the scene that McKenney watched on his television screen. A motorcade that included armed police cars used all four lanes. Periodically the three black limos changed positions, as if to confuse anyone anxious to know which one Garwood was in. Whenever a strange car overtook the motorcade, a police car would pull it over.

At the naval station hospital, Garwood saw once again that an entire section had been cleared. Ominously, military police were guarding every door. He was in prison. Even Sergeant Langlois could not lessen the blow, though he tried. He told Garwood, "Don't worry Bobby, they're not here to keep you in; they're here to keep everyone else out." It was kindly meant, but it evoked an unfortunate picture of vengeful masses not unlike the brainwashed peasants who had poked sticks up his rectum and otherwise tormented Garwood when he had been on exhibit in a cage.

Garwood had come home, but his reality had not changed at all. He was under suspicion, but no one told him why. He remains certain that he had still not been told of any charges, and yet he was under constant guard. His every word and movement were recorded. The difference now was that the surveillance was being done by the Marine Criminal Investigative Division, with sophisticated apparatus. Here, as in Vietnam, he was an undesirable, a criminal created by a war he still did not understand. The communists had drummed into him that the war had started when the United States launched a criminally illegal intervention, and that the people of the socialist republics were moving forward inexorably on a path to truth and justice, but the campaigns to brainwash him had failed. Garwood saw too clearly that in Vietnam, black was white, slavery was freedom, and all must suffer for the greater good of some unattainable Utopia. He was made to pay for resisting the enemy's propaganda. Now, having survived fourteen years of inhuman captivity, he was being made to pay still more, but why he didn't know. He sank even deeper into despair.

In the midst of what was, in his disturbed mind, a growing nightmare, Bobby Garwood found a moment of peace. It was something he would have least expected only a few days earlier while he was still in Hanoi: his father came to see him at the hospital with the rest of his family. Jack Garwood made no move toward him when Garwood, accompanied by Langlois, entered the reception room where his family waited. Jack did not recognize the painfully thin man in the spanking new uniform who was his son. Not sure if he was hallucinating, Garwood weaved up to his father, dropped to his knees, and held on to the older man's legs, as if for dear life.

So moved he could barely speak, his father said, "Bobby, don't do that. Stand up." Jack Garwood said later, "I understood everything, right then and there. I'm a simple man, but it didn't take more than common sense to see what they had done to him ... and what our side was doing to him now. I also knew that what happened to my son didn't happen to the sons of admirals or millionaires."

Jack Garwood had had many years to mull over his relationship with Bobby. In 1965, when he was first informed that his son was missing, he had gone through an emotional crisis. For the first time he became fully conscious of how much he loved the son he had treated so roughly. He blamed himself for driving Bobby away from home and into the Marine Corps. It was something he would apologize for again and again, now that he had regained his son. For his part, Bobby Garwood was embarrassed by this first apology, and overwhelmed by the unexpected gift of the love he had always craved. He said to Jack, "I was just as bull-headed as you were."

Two years earlier, in 1977, the elder Garwood had an opportunity to receive all the USMC monies accruing to his son while he was a prisoner. This was during the Carter administration's attempt to close the books on all Vietnam POWs. The sum, in the neighborhood of one hundred thousand dollars, would have eased Jack's finances considerably. He refused to sign the document that would have declared Bobby dead. He had never been given proof his son was killed, and no amount of money would make him jump the gun. This seemed to him like some kind of pay-off, a sordid business. It sharpened his growing sense of unease about his own past harshness toward Bobby and his suspicion he was not the only one who had been grossly unfair to his son.

A few weeks before Bobby's return, Jack had quickly responded to attorney Dermot Foley, who had given him a sense of the prejudices the government harbored against his son and offered to handle Bobby's defense if it came to a trial. Foley was a bankruptcy and commercial law specialist and had no experience as a trial lawyer, but he had a brother missing from the Vietnam war and seemed highly empathetic to Bobby. Jack, who at any rate had no alternatives, enthusiastically hired Foley. Since Jack had no money to pay, Foley agreed that he would be paid as money became available.

Foley joined up with Jack at the naval station to meet Garwood. After Bobby's emotional reunion with his father, Foley came forward but before he spoke to Garwood, he asked all of the military personnel to leave the room. He told Garwood to listen and not talk because the room was bugged. Then he listed for Garwood the serious allegations that were being made against him: sedition, beating a fellow American POW, and desertion in time of war. Garwood, already in a state of shock from the events of the past four days, was now paralyzed by an overwhelming sense of defeat. He knew now his instinctive feelings of apprehension over the cold and hostile treatment received from everyone except Langlois were not paranoia. How could Colonel Thai have managed to make his threats come true so fast? Worse, he had no idea how he would cope. The words "character assassination" came to mind and he realized how appropriate that harsh phrase was for what was happening to him.

Jack made up his mind at the Great Lakes Naval Station reunion that Bobby would not be destroyed, not if he could help it. And Jack Garwood could help. Family had always been the most important thing to Bobby, and now he discovered he did after all have one that would stand behind him as it never had before. After two weeks of interrogation at Great Lakes, Garwood went home to Indiana for an all-too short stay, courtesy of his accusers. Everyone in that house had been harassed by anonymous threats, via telephone, by letters, and even hurled verbally from cars screeching by the elder Garwood's home. The thmst of these threats was that someone would soon uphold the honor of the Marine Corps by taking revenge on the "traitor." Two of Garwood's half-siblings had lost their jobs because their employers could not deal with the constant media attention: one television network had landed a helicopter filled with cameramen and reporters in front of the factory where Bobby's half-sister Linda worked. Jack Garwood did not discuss any of this in front of his son. He knew it was too hurtful. But he made it clear to all and sundry that he believed Garwood totally innocent. "You're home now," he told Bobby, "there's nothing more to worry about." For the four short weeks of his visit, Jack Garwood and his other children acted as round-the-clock protective guards for Bobby.

'That's what saved me," he recalled, "because the questioning I went through at the naval station, which continued after the weeks with my family, was surely going to destroy me."

Still weak from the stress of his last days in Vietnam, and from the cardiac episode on the C-130, and still disoriented by his strange and unexpected homecoming, Bobby Garwood had been given to understand that his own government did know he was a prisoner in Vietnam all along, yet had done nothing to rescue him, or to acknowledge his prisoner-of-war status. He had never been mentioned in negotiations for the return of prisoners.

Instead, he was now asked if he had ever seen a loaded pistol. When he said yes, his interrogators asked: "Why didn't you grab it and take over the camp?" They knew he had stolen chickens to give to some of the other prisoners. Why, they asked, hadn't he stolen all the chickens? Didn't he agree that if he had done more for them, some of his friends might still be alive? This form of prosecutorial examination continued for weeks on end, and he felt he had entered another long tunnel with no end.

The Marine private, who survived fourteen years of imprisonment and finally rescued himself because no one else would do it for him, had walked into a political typhoon. Driving the storm was the outrage of both the public and many veterans at what they were convinced by rumor and innuendo was the commission of that most heinous of crimes, treason. The professional manipulators within the government knew they had nothing besides rumor to offer for public consumption, but this was no deterrent because the slander against Bobby Garwood was not really about treason. It was about the government's own insecurity.

By returning from Vietnam long after his enemies and the United States collaborated to declare all POWs either returned or dead, Garwood embarrassed those in authority. He confounded authority in Hanoi and in Washington. The truth about his long imprisonment and escape threatened to erode public confidence in the ruling bureaucracies.

The memos that flew back and forth between civil servants and the office of the Director of National Security, between the desks of federal politicians and those of military chiefs, were all joined by a common compulsion. What would be the consequences if official pronouncements were judged by the common people to be no more reliable than gossip and rumor? Like Jack Garwood, the families of missing men had strongly protested the closing of the books on those thought to be alive in 1973 when others came home. It would take yet another fifteen years before the U.S. government could bring itself to admit that men had been left behind, and some probably murdered by the communist Vietnamese.

Garwood had become a ritual scapegoat, the single target for all the accumulated hatred and bitterness nurtured by a frustrated military establishment. Like Tom McKenney there were many who were mortified by what they believed was America's ignominious withdrawal. But who to blame? Those who had been POWs in well-publicized prison camps like the Plantation and the Hanoi Hilton focused on collaborators who helped the North Vietnamese in punishing and torturing fellow Americans. These collaborators got away without censure when they were released with other prisoners in 1973 despite the fact that their activities were sworn to by prison leaders. Some returned POWs and their supporters were determined to bring them to justice.

Air Force Colonel Ted Guy had been the highest ranking prisoner at the Plantation, one of North Vietnam's largest prisons, where most of those caught in Laos and South Vietnam were held until they were moved to the Hanoi Hilton [3] in the late 1960s. Guy was courageous enough to take up his responsibilities as the man in charge. He was punished for it and kept in isolation through most of his eight years in prison. He was able to pass instruction to others by code through a small hole in the wall. After the official prisoner return, in 1973, Guy brought court martial charges against eight men who in prison had been among a group of collaborators who called themselves the Peace Committee. [4] They were generally referred to as the Dirty Dozen by other prisoners and functioned in both the Plantation and the Hanoi Hilton. The charges included aiding the enemy; disrespecting a superior officer; disobeying a superior officer; conspiracy; and carrying out conspiracy. According to Colonel Guy, "many men were brutally beaten and tortured in the Plantation, including yours truly for ten days in January 1972, because of the Peace Committee. Some of them [the Dirty Dozen] also sought political asylum and wanted to stay in Vietnam." This was after they had refused Guy's offer "to join us [the rest of the prisoners, in continuing] to resist and fight as best they could." Four left the Dirty Dozen during captivity and rejoined the majority of prisoners. The other eight, according to Guy, told him to "fuck off" and joined another group of collaborators at the Hanoi Hilton. This group included Marine Lieutenant Colonel Edison Miller and Navy Commander Walter E. Wilbur. [5] Guy had no problem with the fact that most prisoners -- he now believes all -- broke at one time or another and collaborated within the meaning of the U.S. code of conduct. "They broke me," he said. "I sang like a bird." But the thought of prisoners deliberately harming other prisoners, just to ingratiate themselves with guards and obtain inconsequential favors, would send him into a fury.

Guy remembered having to reprimand some of the prisoners who came to the Plantation in 1971 after having been held with Garwood at S.T. 18. One was Dr. Kushner, who, according to Guy, "had to be pulled up short ... bowing nose to the ground to the Vietnamese guards, without being asked to or threatened in any way." Guy could tell immediately that there had been no leadership at their previous camp. At the Plantation, with proper leadership, "they behaved, like the majority, with as much decency as was possible in those conditions."

In 1973 Colonel Guy also wanted to bring charges against those from the Plantation who accepted early release without his permission. He believed that these releasees had collaborated in order to gain their freedom. In fact he considered that any prisoner who accepted release without being ordered to do so by a superior officer was by definition a collaborator, [6] which would include Ortiz-Rivera and Santos. However, Guy was told that he could not file charges against the early releasees because the statute of limitations had expired. He was assured, though, that other action would be taken. To his knowledge, no measures were ever taken. Some of these early releasees would testify against Garwood at his court martial.

Guy's charges against the eight Peace Committee members were dismissed by Secretary of the Army Howard Calloway and Secretary of the Navy John W. Warner. Calloway said: "We must not overlook the good behavior of these men during the two or three years each spent under brutal conditions in South Vietnam." [7] He also stated that "courts martial would be unduly disruptive to the lives of other [releasees] who would have to testify." Lastly, Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird made it a policy to "forgive any alleged offenses by POWs during their captivity."

Guy, who had intended to seek the death penalty for Peace Committee members, was furious. So were the more than one hundred former Plantation POWs who fully supported all the charges, and were willing to give testimony. When Guy refused to go along with the dismissal, he later said, "Calloway delivered the amazing opinion that, 'in prison camps, Air Force officers have no legal authority over Army enlisted men'!" Following that decision Admiral James Stockdale, who was the ranking prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton, brought separate charges against Lieutenant Colonel Miller and Wilbur, who had been upgraded to captain while a prisoner.

Anger gnawed at Colonel Guy and at many of the returned prisoners over what they considered a betrayal of colleagues who had suffered and died trying to uphold the impossible code of honor decreed by Washington. They perceived this betrayal to negate everything they had so painfully striven for. It proved to them that the vaunted Code of Conduct had no force of law in the eyes of those leaders who insisted it be maintained no matter what.

By the time Garwood came out, the resentment of men like Colonel Guy over the unfairness of events in 1973 had festered and grown huge. Without knowing details, many felt it a small vindication that finally, if only symbolically through Garwood, justice would be done. Most knew little about the Marine private, but they had all heard rumors that he had struck another prisoner. Ironically, these stories had come from some of those who had been with Garwood in 1969 and who themselves needed reprimanding for later coming dangerously close to collaboration with guards at the Plantation.

Colonel Guy was upset at Garwood's prosecution, but only because others of higher rank and with more guilt were left out. He called it selective prosecution. He thought Garwood's behavior, as he understood it, should have been better, but that, as a private, he couldn't be held to the same standard as higher ranking officers. Still, Guy had no sympathy for someone he believed had struck another prisoner. Because of the awful charges repeated along the grapevine against him, Garwood was not considered by Guy to have been kept behind, even though he knew it was a common enough practice of the Vietnamese communists. They had kept Chaicharn Harnabee, a Royal Thai Army sergeant who was one of his fellow prisoners at the Hanoi Hilton. Harnabee had courageously served as messenger to his American friends, in the guise of willing Asian servant and sweeper for the Vietnamese guards. After American inmates of the Hanoi Hilton were released, Harnabee was all the more severely punished because he was an Asian considered to have sold out to the hated west. He was locked in a coffin for eight months with respite only to take care of daily necessities. Led by CIA pilot Ernest Brace, who had been captured with Harnabee when the plane he piloted was dropping off supplies in Laos, the released American prisoners used whatever leverage they could on the Vietnamese and U.S. governments to finally obtain Harnabee's release. Brace, who had been a Marine captain and was highly respected by Ted Guy for his courageous behavior in prison, pulled out all stops and used his connections- including those in the CIA-to push for his old colleague's release. Up to the moment of that release, the U.S. government, in strange unison with Hanoi, maintained that Harnabee had been released with the others. Later, in Thailand, Royal Thai Army and other senior officials made him available to the author, and did not hide their disgust at the way Harnabee had been abandoned by their American allies. Harnabee was promoted to full colonel and given responsibilities in the area of secret intelligence. Harnabee proved to possess an excellent memory and unassumingly told his story with facts confirmed independently by his former U.S. fellow prisoners in the United States.

It would take Colonel Guy more than ten years of painful investigation, leading to an even more painful rejection of his own past assumptions, to find that Garwood had been similarly victimized. Then he would say, "Why Bobby Garwood was tried ... even on lesser charges is a complete mystery to me. The only possible explanation has to be that Garwood had to be discredited so that he would not be believed."

The USMC with its proud and tough tradition of POW heroism had felt itself forcibly silenced and smeared by the fact that Lieutenant Colonel Miller, the highest ranking alleged collaborator to come home in 1973, was one of its own-a man who was not only embraced by antiwar movement leaders on his return, but ran for political office in Los Angeles on an antimilitary platform. When Guy and other former prisoners presented his prison history to the media, he brought an unsuccessful million-dollar libel suit against them. Based on overwhelming evidence that Miller's accusers were telling the truth, the judge ruled Miller could not go forward with the case. The legal costs incurred by Guy and the other former prisoners as a result of the libel suit were covered by their military insurance, but nothing could ever make up for the toll it took on their emotions. The USMC seemed determined that Garwood should not exhibit the affrontery that Miller had. In the process, some thought Garwood was turned into a whipping boy for all those who had gotten off scot free.

Air Force Colonel Laird Gutterson, who had been a prisoner in the Hanoi Hilton said, "The Defense Department in general and the Marine Corps in particular were reacting to their frustration at being unable to prosecute the high-ranking officers who were clearly guilty of collaborating with the enemy, other officers who made damaging statements in order to obtain early release, or the enlisted men who paraded around Hanoi as 'antiwar protesters.' ... I still ask myself why people like the Marine lieutenant colonel who beat up his fellow Americans to force them to appear for propaganda purposes in front of Jane Fonda, is not only allowed to retire honorably with full rights but is accepted by high-ranking Democrats as something of a personality."

By the time Garwood was released in 1979, recalled General Tighe, then the head of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, "the USMC would have preferred Garwood dead, and was determined to bring at least one collaborator to trial." It was not publicly known that the USMC had formally drawn up a charge sheet against Garwood three days before his arrival in Bangkok. The government maintained that no decision had been made about charging him and did not inform Garwood that charges had been drawn, despite treating him like someone in custody. When the Joint Chiefs of Staff met to discuss the matter of prosecuting Garwood soon after his return, according to Tighe, he along with the chiefs of staff of the Army and Air Force strongly recommended against it. They were just as strongly opposed by the chief of naval operations, USMC Commandant Robert H. Barrow, who had led a regiment in Vietnam. Tighe was appalled that the USMC presented only "hearsay evidence" that Garwood had deserted or behaved less honorably than other prisoners. Indeed, according to Tighe, "there was considerable evidence that he had behaved with ingenuity and courage, especially in the years from 1973 to 1979, when many sightings of Garwood were reported by South Vietnamese refugees who had been prisoners." In addition, Tighe and the two who advised against bringing charges felt that the emotional costs for the country would be too high. Nevertheless, Barrow insisted on an investigation. If allegations were found to be true, there would be a court martial. Tighe found this "ridiculous," since both the USMC Judge Advocates Division and the Naval Investigative Service already claimed to have thousands of documents of evidence against Garwood. "New evidence," he said, "could only come from those who had everything to gain by lying-the communists." His words had little effect.

Precondemned, Garwood waited four months while the government completed an expensive investigation that involved worldwide travel for the investigators checking on rumors. A typical piece of hearsay that consumed much investigation time and expense was that Garwood had actually been taken out of Vietnam while in captivity and at intervals propagandized against the United States in the Soviet Union and other communist countries. This was obviously a foolish claim. Any such appearances for propaganda purposes would have been, by their very nature, publicized. Communist broadcasts and literature were monitored minutely throughout his Vietnam years by experts working at huge information-collection centers like the BBC bases strategically located around the periphery of the Soviet bloc. Voluminous BBC "takes" were exchanged daily with similar monitoring stations operated by U.S. agencies. There had never been the slightest evidence of Garwood playing a propaganda role and the allegation could have been easily refuted. Garwood had never been out of Vietnam until his escape. The lengthy investigation into this and so many other bits of gossip turned up no evidence on which to base any kind of prosecutorial testimony. And because intelligence bureaucracies are protected from public inquiry when national security is invoked, it was easy to fend off hostile public inquiries into this grotesque waste of time and money. The investigators themselves decided who had the right to know.

General Tighe normally followed the low-key style of an old-fashioned intelligence professional. On this subject he was plainspoken. He referred more than once to "the fanaticism of the Marine Corps." Frustrated at the way his hands were tied, he would make it a personal cause to assist Garwood in clearing his name, at considerable risk to his own reputation. Tighe's character, long record of devoted service to national security, expertise, and even sanity were cruelly called into question by other grandees of the defense establishment.

And so, late in 1979, after a lengthy investigation costing what today would be many times the two million dollars on record, a new charge sheet was drawn up against Garwood. The charges-including desertion, soliciting American forces to refuse to fight and to defect, maltreatment of American prisoners he was guarding, and communicating with the enemy by wearing their uniform, carrying their arms, and accepting a position as interrogator / indoctrinator in the enemy's forces-were read with venom by a sergeant from the Judge Advocates Division who had never been to Vietnam. Two carried the death sentence; three more a life sentence.



1. From comments made by Composto seventeen years later it appears that he expected Garwood to know of the charges because he was read his rights, given counsel, and generally treated as if he was under arrest. Similarly the government maintained that "the reading of Article 31 which is the military legal equivalent of the civilian Fifth Amendment right was not an anomaly. Article 31 prohibits questioning a subject without first advising him that he has certain rights if the answers he gives might be incriminating. All former POWs who were suspected of having aided or collaborated with the enemy in any way were first read Article 31 and apprised of their legal rights so that they would be protected from self incrimination." (The Case of Pvt. Robert R. Garwood, USMC, Final Report, Report to The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence. (ASD / C3/), Volume 1, June 1993.) In other words, Garwood should have realized he was suspected of collaborating as soon as his rights were read because this was a procedure that had been followed with other suspected collaborators who returned in 1973. The fact that Garwood knew nothing about the treatment of any returning POWs in 1973 was ignored, just as no one seems to have considered the possibility that Garwood did not consider himself a criminal, but a returning prisoner. The thought that he would be charged for having survived and escaped after fourteen years of captivity did not occur to him. American legal procedures like the reading of Article 31 were so far removed from the reality of his life during captivity, he had no comprehension of their meaning, only an uneasy sense of the hostility directed toward him. In 1992 Composto acknowledged this when he explained to government officials that although Garwood had noted his understanding of Article 31 when it was read to him, he did not "appear to comprehend that he was going to be charged." In this he was, according to some military lawyers, no different from thousands of young servicemen who were never POWs, yet still don't understand that when they are read Article 31, it means they are accused of having committed a criminal act.

2. In the Marine Corps service stripes are referred to as hashmarks: one hashmark or stripe equals four years of service.

3. When Guy was moved to the Hanoi Hilton he remained a senior ranking prisoner and the man in charge was Admiral James Stockdale.

4. Guy brought charges against the following members of the Peace Committee: Marine PFC Abel Kavanaugh (who later, after his release, committed suicide), Army PFC King D. Rayford, Army Sergeant Robert Chenoweth, Army Corporal John A. Young, Army Corporal Michael Branch, Marine Corporal Alfonso Riate, Army PFC James Daly, and Marine Lance Corporal Frederick Elbert.

5. Some prisoners, like John Parsels, were under the impression that all collaborators generally went along with the Peace Committee, even if they did not actually belong to it. The name Peace Committee was therefore applied to all collaborators.

6. The only exception Guy personally made was for Doug Hegdahl, whom he ordered to accept early release so he could report to the U.S. government on the status of American prisoners. Hegdahl had a photographic memory and was able to memorize the names and situations of all the men with whom he had come in contact.

7. Calloway referred to the fact that some of those accused by Guy had gone through the same brutal prison experience in VC prison camps as Garwood, before they reached the Plantation and / or the Hanoi Hilton.
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Thu Dec 07, 2017 2:01 am

Chapter 20: Dishonored

As Bobby Garwood's case moved toward the court martial that would strip him of his most elementary civil rights and lead him to contemplate suicide, he withdrew more and more into some isolated comer of his mind where he stored those few genuinely good and right things that had happened in his life. Later, doctors would say there was no doubt he suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder. They commented on his "emotional remoteness" when he discussed what had happened to him during his captivity. This was in stark contrast to his nights when, alone, he constantly relived the deaths of Ike and Russ. He was filled with an overwhelming sense of "survivor's guilt," feeling he had no right to live and was of use to no one. Such feelings manifested themselves in an inability to cope with even the simplest daily occurrences, like crossing at a traffic light. Garwood would stand paralyzed at street comers, not knowing when to cross. But at the time, posttraumatic stress disorder, although recognized by some in the medical community and among families of the veterans, was not officially regarded by the military establishment as an illness, and was even viewed by many, like Colonel McKenney, as "a kind of weakness." [1] Consequently Garwood received no treatment for it. Instead he made do with the same comforting mind tricks he had used in Vietnamese prison camps. In the agonizingly long pretrial period during the winter-spring of 1979-80, he relived his reunion with his mother just before he went to Vietnam, his engagement to Mary Speer-who, unbeknownst to Garwood and his father, suffered a nervous breakdown upon finding out from Jack that Bobby was missing in 1965 and later married someone else [2] -- his friendship with Ike, and his new, positive relationship with his father. He put himself to sleep by clinging to the good memories, replaying them over and over. Automatically, he was using a device learned in communist prison camps by which he could remove himself from day-to-day ugliness. This, and the unanticipated support from his family, gave him a tenuous hold on sanity during the year and more that he waited for his trial to begin.

At the Great Lakes Naval Station, he was informed that the charge of desertion in time of war carried the penalty of death by firing squad. The government contended that he had not only deserted, but later refused repatriation-thus deserting twice. He was alleged to have voluntarily joined the enemy and engaged in enemy action against U.S. soldiers.

Most cruel and incredible for Garwood were the charges that he had caused the torture of Ike Eisenbraun and Russ Grisset. He could not fathom such ignorance on the part of the government's agencies. He had nourished a conviction that his own leaders had precise and extensive knowledge of the enemy at every level, but it was becoming devastatingly evident that either there was no such intelligence or, worse, the information was not welcome if it failed to support an existing mindset. Garwood was beginning to understand that he himself was an unwelcome bit of reality, which crippled his spirit even more severely than did his captivity in Vietnam. In Vietnam, at least, he had assumed his country was on his side. In enemy prisons he had been sustained by his naiVe belief that his own people must know he was a loyal American, good enough to drive General Walt, and trusted enough to be treated with respect by this great Marine. Hope had buoyed him during the Vietnam ordeal; hope based on his absolute certainty that powerful institutions in his native land would do everything to rescue him if they only knew of his predicament. Now, he had just enough grasp on reality to know that hope was futile.

The Marine Corps considered him the enemy. Some who analyzed him and his history agreed with his own assessment of his bizarre situation. Colonel James F. T. Corcoran, chief psychiatrist of the U.S. Air Force's Neuropsychiatry Branch at the time, and the military's only forensic psychiatrist, wrote: "Realistically, he is presented precious little for which he can be hopeful. ... Whenever recognized, he is stared at, chased, followed, and accused. There is little privacy in his daily environment and that will become even less . . . . Those things which separate his Vietnam prisoner existence from a prisoner existence in the United States are blurred. To him there is for now no distinction. It is not even thin or veiled."

Garwood was now subjected to interrogation by a series of government agencies, including the Naval Intelligence Service, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and USMC Intelligence. They appeared and disappeared in his life. The first session of examination and probing at the Great Lakes Naval Station was followed by another and yet another. Naval Intelligence Service agents would come with photos and drawings of Asian men and women and maps depicting specific places in Vietnam. He recognized nothing in all their presentations, neither people nor landmarks. Documents would be slammed down in front of him with knowing looks and direct, silent stares. No questions were asked. The agents of Naval intelligence- who were probably the only people involved in the court martial process who had complete access to Garwood's "criminal file" going all the way back to 1965-would depart abruptly, without saying a word. If they had meant to get some reaction out of Garwood, they must have been disappointed. He was a seasoned survivor of what he now assumed was the way prisoners were treated anywhere.

During the Article 32 Investigation,3 which ran through the winter and early spring of 1980, the government produced its seemingly one and only trump card-the former POWs who had been in camp S.T. 18 with Garwood during the 1967-68 "spider-in-the-jar" period. Investigators focused exclusively on this period and the incident of Garwood shoving aside David Harker after the Russ Grisset beating.

Publicly it appeared that the testimony of former S.T. 18 inmates, who still harbored their old prejudices against Garwood, the White Cong, persuaded the Article 32 jury to recommend court martial with the possibility of death sentence. This despite the fact that the five former POWs who testified against Garwood acknowledged that they had themselves "collaborated with their captors" and did other things-"whatever their captors were determined to have them do" similar to what they were accusing him of. Some observers were convinced that the jury's harsh recommendation was based on secret government material that had not been made public.

The press described these proceedings as complex and filled with moral ambiguity. "The public perception," wrote the New York Daily News, "seems to be one of confusion, combined with the uneasy feeling that a former POW is unfairly punished." [4]

Most reporters seemed unaware of the fact that the five officers on the jury could, according to military law, ask for a death penalty based in part on material that was not available to the public or to Garwood's attorneys, and that Garwood could therefore not defend himself against the thousands of documents of alleged "proof" of his misconduct collected by intelligence analysts and hunters like Colonel McKenney since Garwood's disappearance in 1965. Almost none of these documents would be declassified and Garwood's attorneys didn't even know of their existence.

The government hinted repeatedly that Garwood committed atrocities against other American prisoners. This would lead to fierce protests from defense attorneys that the government's case was based on hysterical rumors, not on fact. One particularly upsetting example of such rumors were the leaks of disinformation to the international press in 1972 about the Marine patrol suffering casualties in an encounter with an NVA unit being led by "a known Marine defector named Bobby Garwood." Defense attorneys were warned that the government would produce some of the Marines who would identify Garwood as the one who wounded them.

Nevertheless, when David B. Barker, commanding general of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where the tribunal was being held, presented the Article 32 recommendation that Garwood be court martialed, it did not include the possibility of a death sentence. This was a charitable gesture, perhaps made to avert a public outcry. The charges had been modified. Without Barker's intervention some would still have carried the death sentence. The Marine Corps hierarchy realized it would be hard to prove Garwood had deserted ten days before his tour of duty was due to be over. "Unauthorized absence" was substituted for the charge of desertion in 1965. But he was still accused of having deserted in May 1967 when he refused a communist Vietcong offer to let him go if he propagandized for them in the villages. But General Barker had not been informed that Garwood was a short timer at the time of his disappearance. Garwood's attorneys became convinced that Barker never would have taken the crucial first formal step in the long journey to disgracing a Marine who had been getting ready to go home.

The charges that Garwood had been responsible for the torture of Eisenbraun and Grisset were dropped. These were replaced by accusations that he had maltreated other prisoners-David Harker, during the Grisset beating incident, and "Top" Williams, who was said to have been verbally abused by Garwood.

Some of Garwood's lawyers felt that the government had done a good job in preparing some potential witnesses for the Article 32 Investigation. Before the hearing, David Harker expressed the view that Garwood should not be tried, although Garwood had angrily pushed him aside during the Grisset beating. In a People magazine article published shortly after Garwood's return, not only did Harker argue against prosecution, citing Garwood's efforts to help the other prisoners, but the incident of Garwood's pushing him with the back of his hand did not come up. On February 27th, 1979, the Greensburg (Indiana) Daily News reprinted an article from Harker's hometown paper with a headline that read "Don't Crucify Garwood." Harker was quoted as saying, "I can't believe Garwood was ... a sympathizer." During the Article 32 Investigation, however, Harker had been persuaded to playa leading role in getting Garwood prosecuted.

His testimony about the shoving incident at Grisset's beating was to prove the key factor in getting Garwood convicted. Vaughn Taylor, who would join Garwood's defense team later and stay on as his attorney, explained how Harker might have been persuaded to change his stance: "Before investigators and prosecutors sat him down and talked to him, he was the victim of an isolated and, in his view, a minor incident. But prosecutors could legally, and probably did, tell Harker about other incidents like the fabrication made up to cover the accidental firefight between Marines and a Special Forces masquerade team, which he himself had not witnessed." Harker was made to feel privy to inside information; he told researchers for the CBS television program Sixty Minutes that "the shoving incident was not serious, but there are other things Garwood did that could not be made public." It seemed to one researcher that Harker's sense of importance had been elevated by the sharing of confidences regarding unsubstantiated intelligence reports. The CBS researcher, with no bias in either direction, thought Harker's self-esteem was boosted by his belief that he knew something that others did not.

"Believe me," Harker said, "I know Garwood was guilty of harming other POWs." But he offered no direct eyewitness testimony.

This insinuation of guilt, based on evidence that could not be presented in the courtroom "for reasons of national security," was the key strategy of the prosecution. There was also deliberate tampering with evidence. Unfortunately it would take eleven years for Garwood's lawyers to prove to their own satisfaction that Garwood had been denied a fair trial because of government misconduct.

As exemplified by the Article 32 Investigation, the U.S. government dealt publicly with Garwood in a coldly proper and even paternalistic manner. Garwood was provided with military counsel, in addition to the civilian lawyer Dermot Foley, whose voluntary services had been arranged by his father with the agreement that Foley would be paid as money became available. Foley was acutely aware that the USMC continued to withhold over 145,000 dollars [5] in back pay that had accrued during Garwood's imprisonment. Furthermore, Foley saw that ten days after Garwood's capture he would have been automatically discharged from the Marine Corps. Instead, Garwood's enlistment had been extended indefinitely. Continuing his pay while he was a prisoner might be considered an act of compassion, but once he was back on U.S. soil, he was legally entitled to decide the status of his enlistment. If he had chosen to terminate his enlistment, Garwood could not have been tried by a military court, but he had no idea that the choice was his. Foley did expect that the back pay would soon have to be made available for Garwood's defense, and he had already filed a writ of habeas corpus that included a deposition from Garwood outlining hampered circumstances due to poverty.

The Marines made it clear Garwood would have no say in whether he was still a member of the Corps, but they seemed to recognize his helpless state as it affected his daily physical needs. Soon after his return to the States, they assigned him to sorting mail at Camp Lejeune. He had lodging, food, and was protected from an increasingly hostile public, but not from young Marines who were being instructed in classrooms that Garwood was the greatest traitor of all time. Thus indoctrinated, the Marines shouted their outraged contempt outside his bedroom window, which opened onto the parking lot next to the enlisted men's club. Soon after he was lodged in his room, Garwood's window was broken by a thrown rock. Again he felt he was back in a prisoner's cage and put on exhibition.

This personal tribulation was made tolerable by the presence of two people, Garwood's younger half-sister, Linda, and Sergeant Langlois. Linda, who had lost her factory job because of all the press attention focused on her during Garwood's month-long stay with his family, came to him when he moved to Camp Lejeune. Fiercely loyal and protective of her brother, Linda took on anyone who had the nerve to insult Garwood to his face. Garwood could scarcely believe that this strong young woman who had been his "baby sister" when he left for Vietnam was always there when he needed her. Linda would remain with Garwood until the end of the court martial.

At the commandant's order, Sergeant Langlois continued to stay with Garwood throughout the court martial as a protector and friend. Langlois thought Garwood was being railroaded. Was it the commandant's merciful intention to have this conclusion passed along to Garwood? Garwood could not figure out the answer.

When he left the small world between his room and his job in the mailroom within the camp, he was stared at, followed, and assaulted verbally. Even the Carolina beach outside his windows reminded him of Vietnam.

Most phantasmagorically to Garwood, even some of his military lawyers seemed to harbor the same illusion as his communist jailers- that he was an intelligence agent. The communists thought he was CIA. The Americans thought he was working for the Vietnamese, or-even more surrealistically-as a double agent for the United States. One interrogating officer asked, "Bobby, totally off the record, ... You know I'm out of uniform here .... Who are you?"

Garwood said later that if he had not been so utterly demoralized he would have laughed. Before the court martial began in May 1980, he would be hospitalized for a bleeding ulcer, malaria, and mental stress. In all his encounters with officialdom, he was questioned about himself, not about what he knew firsthand regarding the situation inside Vietnam, a communist country still given a priority intelligence rating as a target in the continuing Cold War. A realistic debriefing seemed as far away as ever, although more and more independent observers who came into contact with Garwood were beginning to think that if he had been inserted deliberately as an American agent, he might well qualify as an ace among spies. One of the great frustrations of his peculiar situation was that he continued to have so much privileged knowledge locked away in his head. Enough fragments emerged under questioning to pique the interest of civilians like his lawyers and psychiatrists. According to DIA chief General Tighe, who would debrief him many years later, Garwood possessed a near-photographic memory. And, thanks to his language skills, he had talked secretly with Vietnamese black marketers in their own language about matters hidden from the more law-abiding majority and therefore had an unrivaled insider's knowledge of the communist system in Vietnam and internal conditions there.

Garwood's mental state at this time was likened to that of a typical World War II concentration camp survivor by Dr. Emil Tanay, a civilian psychiatrist who interviewed him for the defense. Tanay, who had worked extensively with concentration camp survivors and was familiar with the symptoms of disorientation that Garwood exhibited, noted that Garwood's situation in Vietnam had "created unique and urgent psychological needs that were not met," and that his present situation, "where he was in another kind of mental concentration camp," was serving only to compound his frustrations and helplessness. Tanay met Garwood when the Marine had been sent by his attorneys to travel under his own steam. This was, from their standpoint, good strategy. They wanted Garwood to have the benefit of an expert in the kind of trauma he had suffered, but did not know how traumatized Garwood really was, and so made no provision to assist him in finding his way from the Detroit airport to the doctor's office. The psychiatrist, an acknowledged expert in his field and widely respected, immediately recognized Garwood's symptoms. Garwood was helpless: he did not know how to function in the society he grew up in; the English language was awkward for him; he had forgotten how to cross a street. When Tanay spoke to him on the phone, Garwood needed instruction on how to pay for transportation by taxi or bus, and he was too helpless to stay in a hotel. The doctor took Garwood home for the duration of his stay, an unusual step for a professional psychiatrist, who would normally limit his contact with a patient to the four walls of his clinic.

Tanay, and other psychiatrists called in later by the defense, warned that additional stress of the kind Garwood endured after leaving Vietnam could be lethal, yet every day he was subjected to more. His self-esteem was nonexistent. He was guilt-ridden about surviving when friends and comrades had not, full of self-recrimination, and barely recognized that he had done his best to help his fellow prisoners stay alive. He became passive, as if accepting that all the dreadful prejudgments passed upon him must be true. After all, he felt, those who were judging him were more worldly than he was, and knew more about right and wrong. It never occurred to him that the members of the jury of the Article 32 Investigation, whom he respected because they were all Marine officers and Vietnam veterans, had no understanding of the inhuman system inside which he had struggled. This lack of first-hand experience was exemplified when one of Garwood's lawyers asked each member of the jury in turn what he would do as a captive "if a guard put a pistol to your head and said he was going to pull the trigger unless you signed some innocuous statement ... like 'all Americans are imperialists.'" "I'd tell them to pull the trigger," each had responded. Men who had been prisoners knew that in reality the situation within communist camps was never reduced to such a simple choice. There had been certain circumstances when you could sign a meaningless piece of paper to get out news of your survival.

Garwood was a man isolated from his own community by an experience beyond articulation. His civilian lawyer, Dermot Foley, who himself had a missing brother, understood this but he had no experience as a trial lawyer and seemed unable to translate his empathy into an effective strategy for Garwood's defense. That the torture and degradation Garwood suffered as a prisoner should have been a primary issue of the court martial was the view of Vaughn Taylor, a brilliant young lawyer, recently out of the Army and hired by Foley after the Article 32 Investigation to bring a new dimension to the case. Taylor had been assistant professor at the Army's Judge Advocates General School at the University of Virginia. He had an outstanding background, having himself written the very specialized instructions for military judges in insanity cases. Taylor took an interest in Garwood's case from the moment he heard of his return, just as Foley had. Taylor was unable to get involved at first because he was not a Marine or civilian lawyer. As soon as he left the Army to join the Charlottesville, Virginia, civilian law firm of Lowe and Gordon, he became part of Garwood's legal team as counsel to Foley, with the blessing of his new bosses.

In the early stages of his involvement, Taylor was not informed enough to judge whether Garwood was guilty of all, some, or none of the crimes alleged. But he believed that if Garwood was at all guilty, it was because he had fallen into an incompetent mental state brought about by torture and duress. Taylor called this "coercive persuasion." As the trial progressed, he learned more of the facts. He also became acquainted with what he came to regard as the government's unethical smear tactics, and grew less willing even to consider the possibility of Garwood's guilt. Taylor was infuriated with the prosecution's attempts to present Garwood as he had always been depicted in the secret "criminal file" kept on him, as a miserable product of his deprived background. Later, Vaughn Taylor would say, "Bobby was not just a product of his background. He did more good than harm to American prisoners in the camps .... The courage he displayed in the way he did this makes him the bravest man I know."

The coercive persuasion suffered by Garwood in Vietnam was, to the lawyer, incontestably evident. Even the 121 Board-a panel of military psychiatrists ordered by the judge of the court martial to examine Garwood-did not question the torture and maltreatment he had suffered. But the argument that such coercive persuasion made Garwood mentally incompetent backfired in the courtroom and with the public. It would be twisted by many in the media to make him sound brain damaged or just mentally deficient. It also backfired with Garwood because, despite the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder, he knew he was not guilty of the criminal acts he was charged with and he did not want to be defended on the assumption that he was guilty but "not really because at the time he had been turned into a zombie."

Perhaps it was also pride in the one thing he had accomplished. He had outwitted his clever and cruel captors. A mental incompetent could never have done that. He did not want to be part of a strategy that turned him into a moron.

The three psychiatrists on the 121 Board decided he was mentally competent to stand trial and that at the time of his alleged conduct, he had the capacity to appreciate the criminality of it. No one made much of the fact that Garwood had to be examined twice by the 121 Board because one of its own psychiatrists was disciplined after he had collapsed from an excessive bout of drinking in a Jacksonville bar.

The defense team's cross examination during the court martial demonstrated that military psychiatrists agreed with civilian doctors on one critical point: Garwood's life now hung by a thread and this admission is inscribed in the court transcripts. Only the desire to vindicate himself and to tell the world what had happened to Ike and Russ and others like them, the psychiatrists confirmed, could have kept him alive. Each psychiatric session put him under the stress of reliving what was described as the "grossly traumatic events" of his prison years-the flashbacks to his punishments, the deaths of his friends. He would sob uncontrollably in recalling the deaths of Ike Eisenbraun and Russ Grisset.

Civilian psychiatrists did something the government had not done. They carefully listened to him and studied the "interviews" conducted with the prisoners who testified against Garwood. The consensus of the doctors-military as well as civilian-was that Garwood had absolutely no happy memories of Vietnam. They all believed he told the truth about his imprisonment.

From the limited records available to him, Dr. Tanay was certain that the rest of the prisoners had behaved just like GaIwood. "They had all engaged in activities which they, themselves, did not approve of, but had to accept as the price of survival." Doctors were unanimous in their opinion that "there was no evidence that Garwood ever used his Vietnamese language and culture skills to dominate or harm another American." During the court martial Garwood would take that integrity even further. He was aware that those who testified against him were guilty of actions harmful to other prisoners. But he had promised himself never to give the North Vietnamese or Colonel Thai, who had made such dire predictions about Garwood's future, the satisfaction of knowing that their "spider-in-the-jar" policy continued to work more than a decade later. It was a resolution he would not break: neither during the trial nor since would Garwood ever accuse any American of harming another American in Vietnam.

"I seriously believe," testified Dr. David L. Hubbard, who gave Garwood extensive physical, intelligence, personality, and psychological tests, "he may have conducted himself better than many of his critics who have come forward here. I believe he is a wounded veteran and entitled to those dignities granted to his peers." Hubbard's cautious words received little attention.

Bobby Garwood's emotional state left him oblivious to much of the legal strategy going on. But he had survived prison in great part out of spite against all his tormentors. Colonel Thai and his other Vietnamese torturers would not have the pleasure of learning that he had finally been broken by his own people.

Thus, when the prosecution hinted at the possibility of closing the case if Garwood pleaded guilty to at least to some of the charges, he refused to cop a plea. "I was innocent," he said later. "I wanted to prove that. I wanted to do it for my mother and for my father and my brother. I wanted to do it for Ike."



1. Thirteen years later, when some prisoners came back broken from the Persian Gulf War, posttraumatic stress disorder was accepted as a matter of course.

2. Mary Speer moved to California. Perhaps because of Bobby Garwood's earlier rift with his father, she did not remain in touch.

3. Article 31 investigations are very roughly analogous to probable cause hearings or grand jury hearings in a civilian court. They were designed to insure that servicemen whose military charges are to be tried by a general court martial have a preliminary hearing to determine if there is evidence to support the conclusion that an offense has occurred and that the person charged with the offense actually committed it. The law had originally come about because low-ranking servicemen invariably felt they had to plead guilty if accused by officers. Article 32 hearings were a legal safeguard of their right to maintain innocence.

4. December 21st, 1979.

5. This represented the further accumulation of funds that Garwood's father was offered three years earlier when the government was trying to close the books on all POWs, including Bobby Garwood. Garwood Senior would have had to sign documents acknowledging his son was dead. He refused.
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Thu Dec 07, 2017 2:03 am

Part 1 of 2

Chapter 21: Checkmate

Bobby Garwood was upset by media stories that not only distorted the tragedy of his capture and incarceration, but also raised doubts about his intelligence and his family background. Initially he trusted Dermot Foley, who headed his civilian legal team, because his father trusted him. But Foley was a bankruptcy specialist with no experience as a trial lawyer. Garwood also began to suspect Foley was more interested in gleaning information that might shed light on the fate of his missing brother, Colonel Brendan Foley, than on defending Garwood. Almost every meeting between Garwood and Foley was attended by a government official-usually Roger Shields, who had been chief of the Pentagon's prisoner of war task force in 1973. More often than not, Foley would find an excuse to leave Shields and Garwood alone. Garwood would then be grilled about things that had nothing to do with his defense and warned not to talk to anyone else about his experience. Afterward, Foley too would tell Garwood not to talk to anyone other than himself about his Vietnam experience, but for another reason: he had sold exclusive rights to Garwood's story and wanted nothing to spoil his contract with the authors and publisher of a planned book.

It was for this reason that, almost immediately after the court martial began in late spring of 1980, Garwood abruptly dismissed Foley and replaced him with John Lowe, who headed the law firm that employed Vaughn Taylor. When Foley, as head of Garwood's civilian legal team, hired Taylor, he hired the entire firm of Lowe and Gordon, as was customary. Soon after, John Lowe began to assume a leading role. Garwood was impressed by Lowe's take-charge style. Unlike Foley, Lowe was experienced in criminal defense and was a well-respected lecturer on trial procedures. An earlier client of Lowe's had been Robert Robideau, the Native Canadian accused of murdering two FBI agents in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Robideau had been acquitted by a jury.

Just before Garwood fired him, Foley told reporters that he was moving toward a defense based on "mental incapacity." This tack would require introducing as evidence the head injuries Garwood sustained when he crashed into a bus in Okinawa after having been on driving duty for seventy-two hours. Questioned about this much later, Foley said that his statement to the press had been nothing more than a publicity ploy. He had not really planned such a defense. He was setting up a smokescreen and using the media to confuse the prosecution. Indeed, he continued, he had positive proof in his files that Garwood had always been a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, which included photographs obtained from U.S. intelligence contacts of a bound and broken Garwood after capture. His plan had been, he said, to pulverize the opposition with this material at the most effective moments in the trial itself. He misjudged Garwood's capacity to understand this strategy, or perhaps thought him too emotionally fragile to deal with it. So the smokescreen meant only for the prosecution obscured his intentions from Garwood as well. Furthermore, Foley had persuaded Garwood to do a Playboy interview, but instead it was Winston Groom, coauthor of the book about Garwood's experiences in Vietnam, who was interviewed, and who, in Garwood's view, presented just one more distorted version of the facts. Garwood felt he had been used again, and offered up as a victim of a deprived background that made him succumb to the blandishments of the enemy.

Foley's own reason for arranging the Playboy interview was money. When asked about this, he said that he had already invested close to 150,000 dollars of his own money on the case with no sign of Garwood's back-pay being released. But Garwood did not care. He did not want to win by means of what he understood to be a strategy that would make him look mentally incompetent, or on false arguments that an unhappy childhood caused him to behave as the prosecution alleged.

There was another reason for firing Foley. John Lowe told Garwood that Foley, a commercial law specialist, was not qualified to defend him and was not looking out for his best interests: Garwood, he said, would have to choose between Foley and the partnership of Lowe and Gordon.

Foley was infuriated at being fired by Garwood. The lawyer told the author that he suspected Garwood had somehow been manipulated into making this decision by Lowe. Foley said his replacement had no interest in the material he had painstakingly collected long before Garwood escaped from Vietnam, including critical documents that would have demonstrated to the court that Garwood was captured; that he was wounded trying to escape; and that he was never anything but a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, undergoing the most severe torture and brainwashing techniques. Foley had gathered this evidence as part of his longstanding interest in the prisoner issue, and more, specifically, the search for his missing brother. He had been certain that if the public was made aware of this evidence, which had cost him a lot of money and time to accumulate, the prosecution would fold up. Without him, he felt, Garwood was certain to lose. He thought if Garwood did lose, he would be rehired to represent Garwood in an appeal. He had therefore saved the documents for that eventuality and had not made them public.

Foley had critics who discounted these excuses. They felt that he, like many others, had been persuaded by the government that Garwood was in fact guilty of such vile acts while a prisoner that only a defense of mental illness could save him from a severe sentence.

Foley's departure just at the start of the trial would have serious consequences for Garwood, and some legal students said later it was the crucial factor in his losing the case. Foley seemed to be the only one who understood that Garwood had been set up from the beginning of his capture-for what Foley said "was probably the most human of reasons. When you make a mistake, blame the other guy -- especially if he isn't around to argue." Because of Foley's missing brother, and his interest in veterans-particularly those who had been in covert operations-he had spent the years after the war cultivating military and intelligence sources and assembling information not made public.

He had seen enough official documentation of Garwood's original disappearance in September 1965 to decide that his tragedy really began with the cover-up of mistakes by superiors who failed to recognize the potential hazards of sending an inexperienced and inadequately armed and poorly directed private into the most hostile and dangerous VC territory in South Vietnam. He was convinced that those mistakes were compounded once it became known that Garwood's disappearance was of such interest to the command structure that even the secretary of the Navy was briefed on it. Foley had put together most of the Garwood puzzle in ways the attorneys whom he left behind could not, because they lacked his treasury of documents.

The puzzle would have to be completed much later-too late to influence the court martial-by DIA intelligence chief Eugene Tighe. He and others with a great deal of professional experience formed the opinion, based on evidence they had personally seen, that Garwood's entire Vietnam history had been manipulated, starting with an instinct on the part of his superiors to cover mistakes made on the day of his capture, and continuing with more cover-ups as mistake was piled upon mistake. Most important of all, there was nothing produced at Garwood's trial to make the crucial distinction between the communists' handling of "conventional" prisoners and those they assigned to a more sinister category.

A big Foley discovery was that Garwood had been moved into a separate enemy prison system designed to break suspected intelligence agents, a system known to both sides but kept utterly secret for different reasons. The communists did not kill such suspects because they needed to squeeze information from them about U.S. covert operations and intelligence plans. The U.S. government did not want the enemy to know it was tracking Americans through this secret system.

Foley found that when Garwood was captured, the Vietcong were returning most ordinary soldiers, but not those suspected of having worked with intelligence and I or special operations. Regular American soldiers were new to Vietnam, but the communists had been fighting irregular U.S. covert-action groups in Vietnam since the French pulled out in the mid-1950s. The communists regarded these covert operations as cynically contemptuous of international law. They responded with equal cynicism and without mercy to anyone they considered an international outlaw. As a G-2 driver and sometime chauffeur for the commander of American forces in the northern provinces of South Vietnam, Garwood fell immediately into the outlaw category of prisoner.

To the communists, the driver of a high-ranking officer had to be himself a high-ranking intelligence officer. The fact that Garwood was armed with only a pistol on the day of his capture reinforced that belief. Such drivers in the NVA were tasked with keeping track of the man they chauffeured, even to the point of assassinating him if it appeared he would fall into enemy hands. Such NVA drivers were aware of all intelligence briefings involving the officer they drove around. Garwood's captors assumed he, too, would have a high-level security clearance and be privy to secret information. Foley had been told by his Pentagon contacts that it was highly probable Garwood's capture was in fact not by chance.

Communist double agents kept a tight watch on General Walt's activities. They had already passed onto their superiors, on the day of Garwood's capture, the fact that General Walt was meeting with General Krulak. Krulak, the Pentagon's chief specialist on counterinsurgency warfare, was of special interest to the North Vietnamese. During the first half of 1964, the year before Garwood's capture, he had played a leading role in planning a campaign of highly successful clandestine operations against them. [1]

To the Vietcong, Garwood seemed part of the clandestine world. He was put in the custody of a highly secret and separately administered prison system controlled by the intelligence and security services of the military proselytizing department (Cuc Binh Van / Soviet). According to experts like Bill Bell, the former head of the U.S. office for POW / MIA affairs in Hanoi, [2] Cuc Binh Van / Soviet was loosely the equivalent of the Soviet KGB. It was Cuc Binh Van / Soviet that took charge of all Americans suspected of having been involved in covert action or intelligence, and to which highly trained interrogators, graduates, like Mr. Ho, of the Soviet Union's specialized schools, were assigned. Almost no one held by Cuc Binh Van / Soviet returned from captivity unless they escaped through a fluke bombing, like Issac Camacho, or were traded back to the Americans through the CIA for a Vietnamese of similar value. [3] All reports on the capture, detention, and exploitation of U.S. personnel regarded as spies were hand-carried by party couriers to the interministry / national defense council in Hanoi.

American intelligence knew a great deal about Cuc Binh Van / Soviet's highly secret and labyrinthine prison system, which spread throughout Vietnam, and tried to keep track of those it held; this was almost impossible, however, because prisoners were constantly moved from camp to camp to prevent their being rescued.

The North Vietnamese handled Garwood's case in a markedly different way from that of American prisoners who were judged to have been performing normal military duties when they were captured. Although he and other "secret intelligence and criminal prisoners" were sometimes held with "regular" prisoners, they were subject to a separate administration. [4]

The majority of "secret intelligence" prisoners under Cuc Binh Van / Soviet never ended up in the Hanoi Hilton and were never repatriated. This belated knowledge was to lead a former national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to say publicly in 1993 that it was likely most of these prisoners were killed shortly after the end of the war in a massacre similar to Nazi and Soviet massacres at Babiy Yar and Katyn Forest respectively. Fearing such a fate for the special category of U.S. prisoners, American intelligence had always been as secretive about the Cuc Binh Van / Soviet prison system as the communists themselves.

The general U.S. prejudice against Garwood and others held in custody by Cuc Binh Van / Soviet was a consequence of the success scored by this security branch in exploiting U.S. and foreign personnel for propaganda purposes, especially in the United States itself. The organization's true purpose as a top-secret dirty-tricks outfit fashioned on the highly skilled Soviet model was known to a select few in Washington. Its ingenious propaganda about Garwood always made him appear to be working for the communists out of conviction; never that he was being held as prisoner.

The effectiveness of this subterfuge was proven by the American prisoners who were persuaded by their VC captors that Garwood, dressed in NVA uniform, had visited their camp and contemptuously challenged them to follow his example. It was not until these men saw pictures of Garwood during the court martial that they realized he was not the man who had been pointed out to them in prison camp.

This was how misconceptions arose about some American early releasees, like John Sexton, who was left by the Americans to wander near the Cambodian border even though they had been alerted to his release, and perhaps also the so-called "Bennies" Bruce Womack was sent to assassinate. Once American intelligence learned that a prisoner had been associated with Cuc Binh Van / Soviet, and used for communist propaganda purposes, the usual assumption was that the man had either turned after being taken prisoner, or had voluntarily defected to do propaganda work.

Dermot Foley had managed to pry from his intelligence contacts a secret known to many of America's South Vietnamese allies, but to only a handful of American intelligence operatives who were in Vietnam when Saigon fell in 1975. He discovered that almost all of American intelligence during the war had been compromised and manipulated by a North Vietnamese agent who managed to infiltrate both the South Vietnamese intelligence superstructure and the American CIA. This was cartoonist Huyn Ba Thanh, the powerful liaison between the CIA and South Vietnam's President Thieu. Thanh worked at Saigon CIA headquarters on Pasteur Street and had access to almost all CIA files, including those kept on American prisoners, because the CIA was responsible for prisoner rescue.

Not until the war was over did privileged Americans realize that the South Vietnamese intelligence chief they had trusted with most of their secrets was in reality a hard-core communist and intelligence (Cong An) captain. Thanh had always been suspect to some South Vietnamese intelligence experts who had plenty of raw evidence to suggest that he had used the Phoenix program as a cover to destroy good people loyal to South Vietnam and the United States. In the days when U.S. intelligence groups were first becoming involved in Vietnam, experienced French security officers had warned the Americans about Thanh. They said he had been a protege of Mai Chi Tho, the powerful North Vietnamese Politburo member and minister in charge of Cong An, and was unlikely to change his allegiance.

No one listened to the French "losers" after 1954, but in 1975, as Saigon was falling, French warnings proved to be well-founded. Thanh, the double agent who had worked closely with the CIA in trying to bring down the Thieu government, was left in charge of destroying sensitive American records, including the lists of South Vietnamese who had worked for the CIA and other American intelligence units. After completion of this crucial task, he was supposed to leave on one of the last American planes for the United States. He never showed up for his flight.

A few days later, photographs of a smiling Thanh as People's Revolutionary Hero appeared in the North Vietnamese media. He had just been promoted to Cong An colonel and publisher of the secret service journal Tat Chi Cong An. Foley discovered that Thanh had handed the sensitive American records, supposedly destroyed by the CIA, to his superiors in Hanoi, thereby sentencing thousands of America's most loyal South Vietnamese allies to death or to Camp 776, one of North Vietnam's harshest prison camps. Some of the betrayed South Vietnamese were the men who helped Garwood become Mr. Electric Generator in that same camp. These were facts, Foley said later, that would have done much to vindicate Garwood.

The few high-level American intelligence officials who knew of Thanh's massive treachery saw no benefit in making any of this public. The facts about Thanh, however, would have explained the complicated web of disinformation, double crosses, and betrayal in which Garwood had been trapped. Now that Foley was gone, Garwood's defense, too, knew none of this history. From the court records, it appears the prosecution did not, either.

Thanh had played a key role in confusing the Americans. Now it seemed probable that he and Colonel Thai had themselves been unwittingly misled into believing Garwood was an intelligence expert by the high-level U.S. interest in his disappearance. Thanh, having access to CIA records, knew that ordinary noncommissioned deserters did not generate the frenzied activity that followed Garwood's disappearance on September 28th, 1965. Most telling for him was the briefing that General Walt himself had given the secretary of the Navy about Garwood's disappearance. It was ludicrous to think that a run-of-the-mill deserter warranted such top-level attention and crisis management.

Thus Garwood was not only suspect to his captors but a challenge that became greater when they discovered his unique fluency in their language and customs, and his skill in the art of survival-actually taught him, of course, by Ike Eisenbraun. The communists had turned their psychological warfare plans up a notch. They were no longer just out to break Garwood but to make use of what they regarded as new-found knowledge about him to toy with American intelligence. They succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, while Thanh's duplicity remained undiscovered. Their American opposites, who for the most part did not know the plain facts regarding Garwood's last driving assignment and the significance given it by the enemy, fell hook, line, and sinker for the enemy's deceptions -- none so hard as Colonel Tom C. McKenney.

The North Vietnamese were masters at the art of propaganda. Their announcement of Garwood's capture was designed to persuade the Americans that Hanoi considered Garwood an intelligence catch. Radio Hanoi's broadcasts, as transcribed by western monitors at the time, make this clear. This in turn caused the Americans to wonder whether Garwood knew more than they realized and had spilled the beans about Walt and G-2 immediately after his capture. The broadcasts became more provocative as time wore on and the enemy drew fresh conclusions about Garwood's importance. Other methods were designed to convey to the Americans that Garwood was a goldmine of information. This eventually played into the hands of Garwood's USMC superiors, who needed to prove that no mistake had been made on their part. If the brass could be persuaded that Garwood defected, they would not ask why he had been ordered on an ill-considered mission into dangerous territory, alone, unprepared, and inadequately armed.

Foley also knew that when Garwood was captured, the Marine Corps was still smarting over the rumored defection of several other Marines. Clyde Weatherman appeared to have "crossed over" some months before Garwood's capture. It was easy to persuade the USMC brass, who had no knowledge of Garwood's short-timer status, that Garwood had also crossed over. This was when top-secret memos first began to fly that would later pile up in Garwood's file.

Foley had learned enough about the voluminous, but what he called "flimsy" evidence collected on Garwood's defection to feel confident it would never stand up in court. He had sufficient documentation of his own to refute any claim by the government that Garwood had gone over, but this documentation never became part of Garwood's defense. Lowe and Taylor said Foley did not pass it on. Foley maintained that there was no interest.

In the end, Foley's conclusions were vindicated. Captain Werner Helmer, the tall, almost skeletally thin prosecutor whom some reporters described as looking more like a POW than Garwood, never even referred to the alleged criminal acts in Garwood's secret file during the trial proceedings. Instead, following the pattern established by U.S. intelligence, he built a secret case against Garwood behind the scenes of the trial while in front of judge and jury relying primarily on the testimony of former Garwood prisonmates who had themselves been manipulated by the enemy.

That the prosecution would resort to such tactics was at first inconceivable to Taylor. Taylor would remain Garwood's attorney after the court martial, but it was years before he fully understood how government manipulation and interference had made it impossible for Garwood to prove his innocence.

It did not take long, though, for Taylor to feel outrage in general at the government's way of playing rough with Garwood's constitutional rights, particularly in confronting the defendant with alleged evidence that was never explained. "They would say 'here are photos or documents you are allowed to see,' never what it meant or how they planned to use it," he said later. Taylor questioned Helmer about the ethics of this behavior: as in any trial, the prosecution was required to share evidence with the defense, especially if it could lessen the charges or lead to acquittal. Taylor knew the prosecutor well. Although they were about the same age, Helmer had been one of his students when he taught at the Judge Advocates school.

Now Helmer answered, "The law only allows you to see the evidence."

Still, Taylor thought, despite the hardball tactics, the prosecution was within the law. They had to be. A military trial does not allow for the same kind of dazzling showmanship often seen in civilian celebrity trials. Both prosecution and defense were under the microscope for unethical conduct. Even hand gestures had to be described for the court record and, if inappropriate, could be used to justify an appeal.

In the courtroom Helmer was technically proficient, doing everything by the book, but both Taylor and Garwood were aware that he carefully avoided meeting Garwood's eyes. The only emotion he ever showed was in a comment made under his breath to Taylor, before assistant prosecutor Teresa Wright made her final statement. With a grin he whispered, "Wait until you see this. Hell hath no fury like a woman!"

Taylor felt Helmer was deeply prejudiced against Garwood, but he did not know why. Privately the prosecutor kept up a continuing barrage of innuendo. This seemed intended to turn Taylor's sympathies against his own client. Throughout the court martial, Taylor would allege later, Helmer grabbed every opportunity to take Taylor aside and tell him of Garwood's horrendous record in harming other troops in Vietnam. Taylor said, "You almost had to believe Helmer knew something the rest of us didn't." Helmer told Taylor he had a Marine who had been blinded in a VC attack led by Garwood and was ready to testify. The Marine could identify Garwood by his voice, said Helmer. Later, when Taylor learned about the fire fight in 1972 that allegedly involved Garwood, he recognized it as the source from which Helmer had gotten his information. Helmer promised to produce the blind Marine on the witness stand.

"I didn't know if Helmer had the stuff, and didn't want to produce it because he didn't want to show his hand," said Taylor afterward, "or if he was empty handed and just bluffing."

Helmer began telephoning Taylor in his Charlottesville office. During one of Helmer's long-distance harangues, Taylor blew up. "Look, Werner," he said, "both you and I know the military has a completely open disclosure system. Either show me what you've got or shut up!"

Helmer replied: "I really don't have anything in particular ... but I've studied the historical traitors like Benedict Arnold. These 'Bennies' are all alike-and I've learned that once they start, they go to the nth degree." [5]

Taylor became concerned that there was a kind of arrogance to Helmer's convictions that made him oblivious to facts. Although no one, not even Colonel R. E. Switzer, the trial judge, took the AWOL charge seriously anymore, since it had been brought out that Garwood had only ten days more to serve when he was captured, Helmer did not let it go. He put Lieutenant Colonel John A. Studds, Garwood's company commander, and Charles Buchta, Garwood's battalion motor-transport officer the day he disappeared, on the stand. They swore that no stone had been left unturned to find out whether Garwood had a legitimate reason to leave III MAF, and stuck by their original story that Garwood had no authorization to go.

To prove that Garwood had no plans or reason to desert days before his tour was due to end, Garwood's attorneys called his long-ago fiancee, Mary Speer, to the witness stand. Speer, now married, testified that Garwood and she had been in the midst of wedding plans when he was captured and that she suffered a mental breakdown when she learned of his disappearance. Her testimony was backed by Kenneth Banholzer and his wife, Vicky, friends of Garwood who like Speer had corresponded with Garwood just before his disappearance. The two couples had intended to have a double wedding. Garwood's letters had stated emphatically that he couldn't wait to get back to the States. This testimony seemed to make little impression on the jury or the press. One reporter, seemingly unable to understand the relevance of Speer's testimony, said it seemed only "to prove that Garwood had a girlfriend when he disappeared in 1965." He knew nothing of the emotional scene that had taken place between Garwood and Speer in Vaughn Taylor's office before her court appearance.

Speer had come all the way from Covina, California, to testify. Her husband, who knew how much Garwood and she had been in love, had encouraged her and accompanied her. When Garwood and she met, they ran to each other, embraced silently, tears streaming down both their faces. For a long time they clung to each other.

Despite the fact that Speer's testimony was considered inconsequential, the testimony of Studds and Buchta was invalidated by irrefutable evidence. Billy Ray Conley, who wanted to take over Garwood's assignment on the day of his capture, was called by the defense. Conley, at this time a warehouse worker in Detroit, had watched Garwood's return to America on television in April 1979. Glued to the set, he understood at once just how lucky he was to have been denied Garwood's last assignment: "God looked out for me that day," he later said.

Conley knew that a lot of things could happen in fourteen years, but one thing was unalterable. Garwood had not deserted, and Conley could prove it. Conley had vied with him for the same assignment. Conley waited to see if the U.S. government would go through its records and find the interviews done with him and Garwood's other colleagues at the time of his disappearance, which validated Garwood's claim that he was on an official assignment when captured. The government failed to get in touch with him during the lengthy investigation and pretrial hearings and even after the desertion charge was changed to "unauthorized leave of absence." Then news reports showed the government still maintaining that Garwood had no assignment on the day he disappeared. And so Conley came forward, a witness nobody expected.

Conley's testimony left the prosecution with a severely weakened case. As they had during the Article 32 Investigation, the prosecutors now focused exclusively on Garwood's "spider-in-the-jar" prison experience with other Americans in 1967-69, that most painful period when the enemy had made him an outcast to his own people, and Russ Grisset was beaten to death. It was a weak strategy but singularly effective against Garwood because, on the advice of John Lowe, he did not take the stand in his own defense. This was against all his instincts. He wanted desperately to tell the world what had really happened to him in Vietnam. But Lowe recited a long list of criminal cases won because the defendant did not take the stand, including that of Robert Robideau. He said that 90 percent of cases were lost because the defendant became too emotional under cross examination. Still Garwood insisted. Finally, Lowe said: "the prosecution has over three thousand questions for you. They will put you on the stand for four to six weeks. They will ask a question. You'll answer it truthfully. Then they'll rephrase it. If your answer is only slightly different, they'll call you a liar." Lowe asked Garwood to consider what this would do to Jack Garwood and the rest of his family. Garwood acquiesced. He said later, "I was actually confused. There was only one certainty about the trial: I had no control at all."

It was at this point that Garwood would have benefited most from the services of the departed Dermot Foley. Foley had planned to use testimony from Dr. Edna Hunter, a psychologist and the head of the Pentagon's POW unit in 1973, when the prisoners came home. A published expert on torture and manipulation by the communists during the Vietnam war, she had interviewed all the former prisoners who testified against Garwood. Hunter, who wanted badly to testify, thought the jury should know that every one of Garwood's accusers felt guilty about having behaved exactly as Garwood had, or in some cases worse than he had, while being held prisoner. She passed no judgment on any of them. "They were all tortured, tricked, and manipulated by the communists," she had said to Foley. "They all tried to survive." This was something the judge and jury would not have a chance to hear.

Consider the example of Dr. Kushner. During his debriefing after his release in 1973, he spoke of the terrible conditions and torments the men had had to live through. Six men he knew in fact did not survive, he said, most of them dying in his arms. He talked about the physical and psychological torment, as well as the disorientation and psychoses suffered by the men. He talked about himself being brought to the edge of insanity by the awful, coercive, life-threatening conditions.

At his debriefing Kushner did not describe Garwood even once as excluded from the suffering of American POWs in general. Now, at the trial, he gave what was, because of his rank and profession, grave testimony against Garwood.

Much had been alleged during the preliminary hearings and in the press about Garwood's being armed and guarding American prisoners in Vietnam. Yet no one who testified could remember him ever acting as a guard without himself being under the watchful eyes of Vietnamese guards, or pointing a gun at another prisoner, or firing a gun. Indeed no one had been close enough to see whether the gun they alleged he carried had a firing pin. That was true of Kushner as well, yet Garwood's attorneys were very much aware of how persuasive he seemed in convincing the jury that Garwood had done the worst, even when they cross examined him. So John Lowe questioned him further on the stand:

Lowe: "During all the time that you say PFC Garwood was acting as a guard or otherwise carrying weapons you never saw him point a weapon at any American POW, did you? You never saw him display live ammunition for a weapon did you?"

Kushner: "No."

Lowe: "In fact, if you get right down to it you have no way of knowing whether any of the weapons he was seen carrying had firing pins or were otherwise operable, do you? Personally?"

Kushner: "No, nor do I know if the guards' weapons had firing pins."

In fact, making prisoners carry arms had been a ruse commonly used by the enemy. Dr. Hunter would have been speaking knowledgeably in court if she had been able to testify that prisoners were often required to carry useless weapons in order to arouse suspicion and sow dissension among the prison-camp population. None of the guilt-racked men she had interviewed, forced to carry a weapon in full view of other prisoners, was ever given one with a firing pin. Garwood himself said under intensive pre-trial questioning, over and over, that he had never carried a weapon that could be used to fire ammunition, and that he had never been given ammunition.

There was testimony from Jose Ortiz-Rivera, the Puerto Rican who was given early release by his captors because his "people were exploited by America just like the Vietnamese," and who persuaded American intelligence that Garwood had in reality deserted when he refused "liberation." Now living in Puerto Rico, Ortiz-Rivera was flown back and forth four times to testify against Garwood. At the court martial, Ortiz-Rivera required an interpreter for his testimony. Just as Garwood had remembered from their time in the same prison camp, Ortiz-Rivera spoke almost no English. Nevertheless, the Puerto Rican claimed now that he remembered having lengthy conversations with Garwood-in English. Ortiz-Rivera swore under oath that Garwood told him in the camp "that he felt better with them, with the Vietcong, and they treated him better than the U.S. Army [sic]." Had Ortiz-Rivera been even slightly better acquainted with Garwood, he would have known that the Marine never referred to himself as having been in the Army.

Many of the witnesses brought forward by the prosecution were, like Ortiz-Rivera, early releasees. This had made them suspect to men like Ted Guy, who thought they all should have been brought up on charges. Guy had felt that by accepting early release they had collaborated, seriously harming their fellow prisoners in the process. Had Guy and the one hundred other prisoners who backed him not been prevented from bringing charges by the government, these witnesses might have been robbed of credibility by the time of Garwood's court martial. When Garwood did not take the stand, however, their testimony stood uncontested.

Garwood's lawyers now did their best to present him as a sick man, someone who had been coerced and brainwashed into committing the crimes suggested by former inmates of Camp 4 and ST. 18 like Ortiz-Rivera and Kushner. The Washington Post reported that "his [Garwood's] attorneys do not deny the substance of the charges." In fact Garwood admitted to his attorneys that he was guilty of some of the charges brought against him, but, he explained, they were things that all prisoners were guilty of. He cited the example of having to verbally castigate other prisoners. This, he explained, did not mean he had been driven to insanity. He asked John Lowe, "what's wrong with using duress as a defense?" Lowe replied that, legally, duress would only work if a gun had been held to Garwood's head every moment of the fourteen years he was a prisoner.

Garwood asked, "literally?" When Lowe replied "yes," Garwood knew the die was cast. Lowe tried to be ameliorative.

"Bobby, we are not saying you are insane. We are saying you did things because of the horrible conditions in the camp."

"But I never hurt anybody. There were many times when I put my life on the line for others."

Garwood's sister Linda was outraged at the way his defense lawyers ignored her brother's pleas to be defended on the basis of duress and in a way that demonstrated his integrity. Every day something was said by his own attorneys that betrayed their belief that he would not be vindicated in the only way that mattered to him. As in a Shakespearean tragedy, each day "crept in its petty pace" toward the dishonor John Lowe, his lead attorney, foreshadowed in his closing summation. Even if the jury found Garwood not guilty, said his own defense lawyer, "he'd still be a sick man .... There would be no vindication." Garwood lost his trust in Lowe, the lawyer and former Army intelligence officer who had been so optimistic when he persuaded him to fire Dermot Foley. Lowe often told Garwood that he had staked his entire reputation and that of his law firm on this case, but Garwood felt he was being patronized. There was no sign of empathy. Above all Lowe wanted to hear nothing "personal," nothing about the stress and torture his client had been subjected to in the camps.

Years later Garwood remembered that Lowe had paid very close attention to him only once. The lawyer had been in the process of lecturing him about not taking the witness stand. "What will you do," he had asked, "if you're convicted and sent to federal prison? How will you deal with that?" It seemed to Garwood that his lawyers thought of "a possible guilty verdict as being like a switch in my head, bring it up and memories of prison would light up and rd do as they asked." Lowe expected him to try to avoid such a fate at any cost, but not in the way his client was planning.
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Thu Dec 07, 2017 2:04 am

Part 2 of 2

"I'll ask for the death sentence," Garwood replied. "In Vietnam I was the enemy. I will never allow myself to be put in the position of being the enemy of the American people. I only asked one thing of God-that he would allow me to be buried here on my native soil -- and he has already granted me that wish."

Garwood did not tell him that he expected to be convicted, or that he was just looking for an excuse to kill himself and had already obtained a 9-mm automatic gun. It had been made clear to him that there was to be no opportunity to tell the truth and defend himself. Ike and Russ, the only people who had known the truth, were dead and he felt an almost overwhelming desire to be with them. He had it all worked out. During breaks in the court martial he wanted to find a place to be by himself and to pray. Sergeant Langlois suggested nearby Emerald Isle, which was uninhabited. When he went there, Garwood sat cross-legged under a tree, facing what he believed was Southeast Asia, and found a measure of peace and comfort in the thought that he would soon be with the two dead comrades who had really cared about him. "I was going to go to Emerald Isle," he said later, "to my tree, strip, and shoot myself under my chin."

Garwood kept these plans to himself, but his sister Linda was by now so finely attuned to her brother that she instinctively knew he planned to take his own life. She also understood the reasoning behind his decision and confronted him. She told him that she knew he thought his family had assumed he was dead for over ten years: "But there is no way you can turn back the clock, expect us to go back to that time and just get on with our lives," she said, "because we love you .... You have to be a fighter for us." Garwood said later that Linda must have known her argument was the only one that could make him hesitate.

For Garwood, the judgment, when it finally came, was worse than death. Found guilty of informing on his comrades, interrogating them on military and other matters, serving as a guard for the VC, and simple assault against a fellow American prisoner, he would have to stand condemned before the world of the one thing he had never done, harming a fellow American prisoner of war.

Most damaging had been the testimony of David Harker, the only witness able to report that Garwood had struck him a blow: "As I recall, he hit me with the back of his hand, I don't know whether it was in a fist or whether it was an open hand that he hit me, in the rib. I remember he had a disgusted look on his face ... and he made the statement, something to the effect that 'you're gonna have to pay for what happened to Russ.'" Harker qualified it by saying the blow neither hurt nor harmed him, but "merely surprised him." He allowed it was the eating of the guard's cat that led to the fatal beating of Grisset, and this had triggered Garwood's "assault." But even as he described the horror of Grisset's beating, he seemed unable to connect Garwood's action with the pain and rage he felt over what was being done by their captors to his only friend.

Harker never explained just what had made him change his original and strongly worded opinions when Garwood first came home: "Don't crucify Garwood," and "He should not be prosecuted if nobody else was." So many questions were left unanswered by the court martial, even Judge Switzer could not help but remark on the apparent injustice done the plaintiff. "It is not the way I would have handled the defense," he told the author. "We never got at the truth because we never heard Garwood's side of the story."

What Judge Switzer did not know was that the government had actively tampered with at least one witness who would have been able to verify that Garwood had always been a prisoner of the Vietnamese, suffering the same torture as those who returned in 1973. That was a fact Vaughn Taylor would find out only years later. The lawyer never changed his mind that coercive persuasion was a relevant and important defense in the court martial, but he concluded that evidence showing Garwood was a victim of these communist pressures was not enough to counter the government's deliberate strategy of character assassination. Taylor would dedicate himself to clearing Garwood's name.

On the face of it, the jury came back with a minor verdict: Garwood was to be reduced to the lowest rank, forfeiting pay and allowances, including 148,000 dollars due him from his fourteen years in prison. In reality Garwood was sentenced to the purgatory of nonbeing, a state of wretchedness that western democracies often self-righteously accuse communist countries of inflicting upon their political, religious, and social dissidents. Not released from the Marines, but not paid by them either, suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and a host of other illnesses resulting from his long imprisonment, he received no medical benefits. He had no rights as a private citizen of the United States, not even the right to vote. As a Marine, he was not entitled to find civilian work. He owed hundreds of thousand dollars in legal bills for a sentence he would just as soon have traded for a firing squad. That at least would have been clean and quick.

Perhaps sensing that Garwood's resolve to live was at best tenuous, his defense attorneys whisked him into a waiting car immediately after the sentencing. He was driven to Harrisonburg, Virginia, where Dr. Robert Schowalter, a psychiatrist who'd established good rapport with him during earlier sessions, waited for him. There, for a few weeks, he was able to do what he had been so desperate to do during the court martial-tell his own side of the story to an impartial listener.

Since he had no alternative but to support himself and begin paying his legal bills, Garwood soon began looking for a job. He was relieved when John Lowe, intrigued by Garwood's history of working with cars, offered to take him on as his personal driver and handyman mechanic. In this way Garwood was able to work off some of what he owed his lawyer and to put food in his mouth. Under the terms of his sentence, Garwood was still in the USMC, and legally allowed to work on a part-time basis only. However, he often put in more than a full work week and that seemed acceptable to the Marine Corps. He was still under strict surveillance and required to report to the local USMC headquarters at regular intervals, but no one questioned the number of hours he worked. After some months, he found low-paying work as a gas attendant general-helper in a Virginia service station, where nobody asked questions about his right to employment.

Slowly he made friends and began dating. There were many women who sought him out because of his experience in Vietnam. Some had relatives who had been prisoners or were missing. Others heard about him through the media because periodically he was called before various congressional committees, ostensibly to give testimony about those still listed as missing in action, but seemingly more to remind America that he was a traitor and could not be trusted. "I felt like news reports about Bobby Garwood were not about me, but about an evil Garwood clone," he said later. The women who sought him out were usually generous, full of sympathy, and anxious to help him exorcise the ghosts of his past, but his relationships with them invariably fell apart. Garwood wanted to separate his current life from the horrors of his Vietnam experience.

"For a long time I felt like an alien in my own country," Garwood said later. "I just wanted to be normal, do normal things, and talk about normal things. I was jealous of couples who would go to a movie and just talk about the movie and the day's events." He would have to wait until 1986 to meet Cathy Ray-the woman he would marry-who would instinctively understand this need and provide him with the kind of normal and loving relationship he craved.

Surprising to him, some veterans of the Vietnam War sought him out and offered their friendship and support. They were usually men with outstanding war records who had worked in reconnaissance. Like the various congressional committees, they too were interested in obtaining information about missing comrades from him, but unlike most of the government representatives Garwood dealt with, these men did not automatically accept the court martial's ugly findings. Garwood felt dutybound to cooperate, but it was not easy to keep reliving the past.

To his father and others who were close to him, it was amazing that Garwood was able to cope at all. He did cope, though, perhaps because he had no alternative, perhaps because, finally, he had his family behind him and was not alone. Just before court martial proceedings began, Jack Garwood had come to Camp Lejeune to be with his son. To Bobby it was "like a vitapack." He said, "All the love I'd been missing all those years was there." Jack Garwood intended to stay with his son throughout the trial, but Bobby made him go back after a week. He said later, "By then I knew what the prosecution would do. I knew I didn't have a chance. My dad had a heart condition and I didn't want him to witness the tactics they had employed during the Article 32 Investigation." But father and son had stayed in constant touch and Bobby was convinced that's why he survived. Jack Garwood's parting words had been. "Come home to me, son. Don't leave me again."

It seemed later to his father that Bobby had shown too much integrity. He was manifestly not guilty on any charge. The judge, among others, had expressed sympathy for him in published remarks during the trial. It was for this reason, his father surmised, that the ultimate powers, those with real control over his fate, had taken a stab at him so unfair it could not but have been intended to destroy all his credibility, to keep him from ever convincing anyone of significance that the abstract entity known as Authority had made a mistake.

Having been dissuaded by his lawyers from testifying in his own defense, Garwood's withdrawal into a shell of exhausted resignation was almost complete. During the last week of June 1980, however, he suddenly perked up, thinking he still had a chance to be acquitted because of the unheralded appearance of one potential witness. The government must have thought so too, because it pulled out all stops to prevent this witness from being heard. The potential witness was a masked Vietnamese man who, according to newspaper accounts that Garwood saw, had just testified before Congress. The man was masked to protect his identity and it was generally assumed that he was in a witness protection program. He told lawmakers he had until recently worked as a mortician for the Hanoi government and had personally seen the bodies of four hundred Americans. In secret testimony he also reported he had seen some living U.S. soldiers in Hanoi after the war. The Mortician, as he was billed by reporters, appeared before Congress with his features concealed by a motorcycle helmet, but Garwood immediately recognized him as Colonel Tran Van Loc, the communist secret-police chief who sat on a five-man tribunal that determined each prisoner's fate. Of Chinese descent, he fled Vietnam when another border war broke out between China and Vietnam in the late 1970s. For Garwood, there was no mistaking the obese half-Chinese. The figure was burned in Garwood's memory, not only because of the power he had wielded over himself and other prisoners, but because Garwood had several times, long after the war was over, begged him to be allowed to return home.

He had never imagined vindication coming from a source that had once tormented him, but the fact that the Mortician had sought refuge in the United States convinced Garwood he might be willing to tell the truth about Garwood's fourteen years as a prisoner.

There were others who recognized the Mortician's true identity. This included Pentagon intelligence analysts, but that did not help Garwood. [6] His attorneys were never allowed to find out who the analysts were, or to get the Mortician to testify during the court martial.

General Tighe, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, on the other hand, had seen the intelligence analyses and enough corroboration from South Vietnamese refugees to know the Mortician was the man Garwood claimed him to be. Later, Tighe said he had found it impossible, as director of an intelligence agency, to openly assist Garwood's efforts to have the Vietnamese testify. Without success he tried to do so sub rosa. "The court martial," Tighe said, "was completely controlled by the fanatical elements of the Marine Corps." It was a matter that weighed heavily on his conscience until the day he died in 1993. He recorded the agonizing choice between making public all he knew and observing the rules of official secrecy. Above his desk, in his DIA director's office and later at home, he had hung a quotation about the abuses of government secrecy and the need for integrity among those entrusted with such burdens of classified information, adding: "Absolute secrecy corrupts absolutely."

The Mortician took Vaughn Taylor by surprise. Taylor was trying his best to win acquittal on grounds that torture and imprisonment had impaired Garwood's judgment and ability to live up to a tough code of conduct that men of much higher rank and experience had also violated, but he was flexible enough to see other possibilities. Taylor was disturbed by the insensitivity of the prosecution and he was affected by Garwood's obvious sincerity. Now for the first time since Garwood had insisted on taking the stand and been talked out of it, he was showing interest in his own defense. Taylor believed Garwood was telling the truth about the Mortician. If the Mortician verified Garwood's status as a fourteen-year prisoner there was a chance for real acquittal. He wanted him subpoenaed. The prosecution immediately objected.

"What really made me mad," recalled Taylor, "was that they played this constant game with Bobby-silent confrontations, attempts to trick him into revealing who he knew in Vietnam. Yet when Bobby really did know something in a case as important as the Mortician, they not only refused to listen, but made it impossible for us to subpoena him." Taylor continued, "What I would not learn for another eleven years was that the prosecution had gone far beyond refusing to listen. It was smack in the middle of subornation of perjury and obstruction of justice."

Taylor moved to subpoena the Mortician. For the prosecution, Captain Helmer objected strenuously on the grounds that Garwood could not be telling the truth. When Taylor insisted on Garwood's right to every relevant witness, Judge Switzer ordered a lineup. Garwood was to be given the opportunity to identify the man. If he identified the Mortician, a meeting would follow. The lineup took place in the office of John Drake, director of the International Rescue Committee. The IRC is officially a nonprofit, nongovernment association reputed to have strong ties to the Defense Intelligence Agency. It was an ordinary office interior except for the one-way mirror through which Garwood would be able to screen the lineup.

When a number of balding, Oriental men with similar body types appeared behind the one-way mirror, Garwood immediately identified the Mortician. Taylor was impressed. Unexpectedly-at least for Taylor and Garwood-the meeting with Garwood and the Mortician came just fifteen minutes later. It took place in the same room where Garwood had observed the lineup. It seemed as if the government had anticipated Garwood's quick identification. There was even a translator on hand whom intelligence sources later identified as working for the Naval Investigative Service, the same agency that had been investigating Garwood since 1965 and interrogating him since his homecoming. He also seemed ready for the Mortician and Garwood.

Before Garwood and Taylor sat down across from the Mortician and translator, the man who claimed to be simply an undertaker exchanged a few words under his breath in Vietnamese with Garwood. To Taylor it appeared the two recognized each other. He noted that Garwood suddenly paled before he slumped back into the pose of removed indifference he had shown throughout most of the court martial until the Mortician appeared on the scene.

When the formal interview began, the Mortician, through the translator, denied knowing Garwood and said he had never seen him in Hanoi. He had simply been an undertaker for the NVA with no connection to live POWs. He knew about the four hundred prisoners' bodies only because it had been his job to embalm them.

Under close questioning by Taylor, he admitted that at various times he had also seen three live Americans whom he thought were pilots, under guard, being moved around at 17 Lynam Day Street -- the Vietnamese equivalent of the Pentagon-in Hanoi.

"Were they prisoners?" Taylor asked. The Mortician answered, "It did not appear to me that they were free to leave." As if to make certain it was on the record, he reiterated: "Garwood was not one of the three."

Taylor reported back to Judge Switzer that the defense had no grounds to call the Mortician.

The young lawyer, who had hoped briefly that his client would be completely vindicated, was frustrated beyond words. In strict privacy, Garwood told Taylor what the Mortician had whispered before the meeting began: he and his family had been threatened with deportation. The man pleaded for understanding; if they were sent back to Vietnam, they would all be killed. He could, under no circumstances, acknowledge that he knew Garwood.

Taylor was dumbfounded. Garwood seemed so certain, and the two did seem to know each other. But the story his client now attributed to the Mortician was so outrageous, he could not believe it. Who would have threatened the Mortician when only a few people involved with the court martial knew he would be meeting with Garwood?

Ten years later, long after Garwood's case was lost, Taylor obtained proof that Garwood had been telling the truth. In November 1990, the Defense Intelligence Agency called Taylor. It was a matter of urgency having to do with the possibility of collaborators coming out of Vietnam. Taylor was asked to bring himself and Garwood to meet with Gary Sydow, a Vietnam specialist/analyst, as well as Colonel Millard Peck, who headed the POW unit, and the DIA general counsel.

At this official meeting, Peck showed Garwood three sketches, including a likeness of Garwood. They were composites DIA had put together of the three men the Mortician said he had seen under guard in Hanoi and had assumed were American pilots. Peck told Garwood: "The Mortician says that's you."

It hit Taylor immediately. "I thought: My God, here's proof that the Mortician knew Garwood. I knew then that I had been lied to." He informed the Senate Rules Committee, which he knew was small consolation for Garwood.

Taylor remembered Helmer's vehement protestations, ten years earlier, that Garwood was fabricating his connection to the Mortician. "I knew," Taylor said, "that the federal government had not been honest, but I still asked myself, 'Had the prosecutor too been fooled?'"

He got no answer to that question but some months later he was given access to evidence that specifically linked the government to the abrogation of Garwood's rights during the court martial.

He received a call from Senator Bob Smith, a member of the Senate Select Committee on POWs. The Senator told him that the committee was deposing the Mortician at an unnamed federal office. Smith knew that Garwood and Taylor had been summoned by the Defense Intelligence Agency the previous year to verify the sketches identified by the Mortician. Taylor's help in providing senators with intelligence that Garwood had collected on the communist hierarchy in Vietnam did much to persuade them to form the committee. For these reasons Smith invited Taylor to sit in on part of the deposition and provided him with transcripts of the entire interview. The questioning was done by counsel to the committee. The proceedings were recorded by a court reporter.

Smith wanted to know exactly how and why the Mortician had perjured himself eleven years earlier, so that he could judge his trustworthiness on other matters the committee wanted to question him about.

Taylor did not know if the Mortician remembered him when they were introduced, but it appeared as if he did not. Taylor did not identify himself as Garwood's lawyer. Although the Vietnamese seemed more at ease than he did ten years earlier when he denied knowing Garwood, he made it clear that he was beholden to the U.S. government and would do anything that was asked of him if the request came from a government institution.

There had been new delaying tactics in letting him give this fresh testimony. Senator Smith recalled that DIA had reported, for instance, that the Mortician was suffering from cancer and did not have long to live. He was unfit for travel and should be left to die in peace. Senator Smith, at the risk of appearing hard-hearted, reminded all that even secrecy institutions came under civilian control. Smith persisted with the request to see the "dying" man.

Now the Mortician proclaimed emphatically that he was not sick.

The committee reassured him that he was in a protected setting and could be completely frank and honest. This official reassurance was obviously important to the Mortician. He now admitted that he had not been honest with Taylor and Garwood ten years before. His excuse? He had been ordered to lie.

Because the Mortician seemed not to have learned any more English than he knew ten years earlier, the committee provided a translator for him. Senator Smith and committee counsel J. William Codinha's careful questions, repeated several times when necessary, brought out the true story of how this key potential witness for Garwood had been intimidated.

It now appeared that the day before the lineup in which Garwood identified him, the Mortician had received a morning visit from a Mr. Phong, assistant director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC, at the time, was a lifeline for the Mortician. It provided him and his family with their daily living allowance and other administrative help to settle in the United States. Phong gave the Mortician instructions that came directly from the director of the IRC.

Later that day, Phong told him, he would be visited by a lawyer from the Defense Department about meeting Mr. Garwood the next day. The Mortician complied. The Defense Department attorney arrived in military uniform and introduced himself as "a lawyer working with the Defense Department." The Mortician now told the committee he had assumed the lawyer held the rank of captain because he remembered being told this by the IRC director.

According to this fuller version of events affecting Garwood's trial, the Defense Department attorney, apparently not advised that the Mortician required a translator, quickly called the IRC to get one. When the translator arrived, the attorney provided the Mortician with specific instructions, advising him that he would be seeing Robert Garwood the next day: "If he [Garwood] picks you out of the lineup, you are to deny having seen him in Vietnam."

The Mortician had never discussed this since, he now told the committee; neither with his family nor with anyone. He feared for his family and himself. To Senator Smith this was obvious from the variety of ways the Mortician responded to the same repeated questions. Smith was quite sure the man was deeply afraid of the consequences if he said anything about this to anyone, and that the fear still lingered. The Mortician emphasized he'd had no problems obeying the "attorney-captain" because it had been made clear to him by the Defense Department that denying Garwood was vital. To such a witness, this implied many things having to do with U.S. national security. That point must have been underlined by the fact that the lineup where Garwood identified him had taken place in the IRC director's office. Both the director and assistant director had been present. Under the circumstances the Mortician had felt compelled to promise, "Okay, tomorrow, I will do whatever is asked for."

With the same anxious compliance, the Mortician had later worked with the Defense Intelligence Agency. For DIA, he firmly identified Garwood as one of the three Americans he saw under guard in Hanoi and had assumed were pilots. He made the unequivocal statement because he was no longer in fear of compromising himself and his family, and he was giving information that was required by a U.S. government agency. Now, in front of the select committee, he admitted again that he had seen Garwood being held against his will in Hanoi.

Taylor now had proof, sworn testimony before a U.S. Senate committee, that Garwood's witness had been tampered with, enough to win an appeal-if the money could be put together.

In later years when Garwood was asked how this had affected him emotionally, he could only say, "I don't know myself how I survived." The feeling that there had been a cold and calculating obstruction of justice destroyed his hope.

Right after the court martial, even his lawyers seemed to think his mind was so disturbed that he had fabricated what he said about the Mortician. But there was one uniquely informed group of people who did not need to be persuaded about the Mortician and knew the truth as Garwood knew it. These were some of the South Vietnamese officers who had been together with him at Camp 776 and had helped him to become Mr. Electric Generator.

Now they and their families took him under their wing. They contacted him to say they knew he had been abandoned and betrayed, that his betrayal was part of their betrayal. Just as before in Camp 776, the knowledge that he was not alone kept him sane. He had the outspoken respect of men of integrity. They had been America's best allies, and they had paid for it. His prisonkeepers and torturers had also been their keepers and tormentors. He needed to prove nothing to them. They knew those who resisted the hardest were the ones that the communists kept the longest.

Many of Garwood's loyal Vietnamese friends were doing all they could to keep track of their fellow countrymen still in Vietnamese prisons. They made Garwood honorary chairperson for their cause. It was the only honor he received and he treasured it.

This group of men provided for Garwood another gift: friendship with Mrs. Le Hung. Mrs. Le Hung was the widow of South Vietnam's last Air Force chief, whose heroic behavior had so impressed Garwood when he heard about it from his fellow prisoners at Camp 776 in 1976. In the last weeks before the fall of Saigon, General Le Hung had managed to get his family safely out of Vietnam. With an American promise of support and the guarantee that if Saigon fell, he would be evacuated, he had stayed to lead his men and fight until the last seconds of the communist takeover. When it became clear that the United States would not keep its promise to get him out, he committed suicide just before capture.

Mrs. Le Hung had come from one of Vietnam's oldest and most patriotic families. She had idealized the American democratic system. During South Vietnam's heyday as an important ally of the United States, she and her husband had had dinner at the White House and with then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara. Now she supported herself by cleaning the houses of Washington bureaucrats. She did not mind the work and considered her problems miniscule compared to those of most people in her country. However much her former hosts now discounted what she and her husband had stood for, her values had not changed. She still cared for the people who had been loyal to the cause, and the two nations for whom her husband had sacrificed himself. Mrs. Le Hung heard from General Lam Van Phat, who had been military commander of the Saigon area until the 1975 collapse, how Garwood was being treated. She knew he had been a prisoner with General Lam Van Phat and other South Vietnamese generals at Camp 776. Now he was in America, but being treated as an enemy. She invited Garwood to visit her.

As Garwood entered her modest apartment in Falls Church, Virginia, his eye immediately caught the altar that dominated the entry: American and South Vietnamese flags, incense, fresh flowers, and photos of her husband. Mrs. Le Hung told him that he was the only American to have crossed her threshold since she came to the United States. She had invited him because she wanted him to know that she knew he had always been a prisoner and behaved with honor. She had talked to many people who had been in the camps of North Vietnam, she told him. They had all said the same thing: Garwood had been one of them-a prisoner despised and vilified by the communists, who had tricked the U.S. government into betraying him. Had she not been totally convinced of this, Garwood would never have been allowed across her doorstep. She had invited him because he had been betrayed just like her husband, for political reasons. There were others-South Vietnamese officers who had been good, brave, and loyal allies-willing to testify to Garwood's real status as prisoner and to his staunch character. The last American helicopters to leave Saigon had shoved away former allies as if they had become a nuisance. That's how the United States now seemed to view Garwood, she said. Once he had been needed as a soldier. By surviving fourteen years as a prisoner, he had become a nuisance.

Mrs. Le Hung then said something to Garwood that returning veterans often said to each other because no one else would: "Welcome home." And she added, "On behalf of my husband and myself, thank you." It was as if the husband who had died in Vietnam to avoid capture spoke through her; as if General Le Hung were offering Garwood the spiritual sustenance he needed to find hope again.

For Garwood, Mrs. Le Hung's welcome meant more than the one he had received from another general of the Vietnam era. Long after the court martial was over he had received a postcard from his old boss and idol, General Walt, who was by then retired. Walt had addressed it to Garwood at his father's Indiana address. The General had written: "Welcome home, Marine."



1. These operations included air operations against NVA and Pathet (communist) Lao troops in Laos and destroyer patrols sent into the Gulf of Tonkin to collect intelligence and exert pressure on North Vietnam.

2. Bill Bell was also the former chief of operations of the Joint Casualty Resolution Center in Hawaii and worked for the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency on the POW / MIA issue. He currently heads the National Veteran's Research Center at Fort Smith, Arkansas.

3. After Cuc Binh Van / Soviet prisoners were evaluated and "sorted," they were evacuated to a camp of the regional party committee (Khu Uy), operated by security section personnel and directly controlled by the national defense council of the Politburo in Hanoi.

4. Those considered strictly military prisoners were placed in the enemy proselytizing department (Cuc Dich Van Soviet) patterned after a section of the Soviet GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence). The prisoners destined for bases administered by Cuc Dich Van Soviet were initially evacuated to a camp of the military region Quan Khu. Subsequent to "exploitation," they would be evacuated to the main American prison in Hanoi-the Hanoi Hilton.

5. The government has not abandoned its strategy of character assassination by innuendo against Garwood. Helmer's insinuations about Garwood derived from the same misinformation that had influenced McKenney, and were totally without merit. Garwood was not formally charged with any of the crimes athibuted to him in the government's file of classified intelligence reports. Nonetheless, authorized accounts continue to assert his guilt. The following is an example from Marines and Military Law in Vietnam: Trial by Fire by USMC Lieutenant Colonel Gary D. Solis, published by the History and Museums Division, Headquarters, USMC, in 1989: "In September or October 1969 ... Captain Marin L. Brandtner commanded Company D, First Battalion, Fifth Marines in an operation in Arizona Territory. During a firefight he saw a Caucasian who appeared to be pointing out targets for the enemy. Even though the Marines fired at him, the Caucasian did not appear to be hit. Captain (later Brigadier General) Brandtner was aware of reports that Garwood was suspected to be in that area and believed the man he saw with the enemy was indeed Garwood." On the basis of such hearsay, the book concludes that the magnitude of Garwood's crimes is unsurpassed in Marine Corps history. The final paragraph in this official statement is unequivocable: "Garwood was the only former prisoner of war of any armed service convicted of acts committed while with the enemy-not for acts committed while a prisoner, for his prisoner status ended the day he refused release and asked to remain with the enemy. Robert R. Garwood was the enemy."

6. Congressmen Lester Wolff and Benjamin Gilman were quoted in news reports as saying there were other official sources who backed Garwood's claim that the Mortician had been a powerful figure in Vietnam's secret police hierarchy. But it was almost as if someone had persuaded them that this had no relevance to Garwood's claims. Congressman Gilman said: "He [the Mortician] has been asked specifically whether he was ever aligned with a POW camp or whether he had ever been to a POW camp and he has denied that."
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Thu Dec 07, 2017 2:34 am

Chapter 22: Creeping Doubts

Although Colonel McKenney had by 1980 spent a good deal of psychic and real energy wishing for a silent, hard death for "that traitor, Garwood," he was curiously pleased to have the ugly matter brought into the open with the court martial. It was a kind of vindication of the darker aspects of his military career and his obsession with Garwood. It reinforced all his pride in being a "jarhead" to see the Marine Corps deal with such an ugly matter so judiciously and fairly. He felt as if a great weight had been lifted from him. He felt free, for the first time since 1968, of the desire to get Garwood.

McKenney kept track of the proceedings leading up to the military trial, but he was surprised at the sparsity of media coverage. He noted contradictions between what he had been told of Garwood's history and what was coming out at the trial. The Article 31 hearings determined that Garwood should actually be court martialed but they seemed to deal entirely with Garwood's prison experience, about which McKenney knew nothing.

Small doubts began to nag at him. Garwood was charged with desertion. That jibed with what he knew. But Garwood a prisoner? That meant he could not have functioned as a turncoat. The proceedings made it appear that Garwood was not where he had been placed by the intelligence McKenney received in 1968. If Garwood was in the camp with David Harker, the man he allegedly assaulted, he could not have led the attack at No Name Island. On top of that, there were observers who felt that Garwood was guilty of nothing other than being a prisoner who had survived to embarrass politicians and brass alike.

Although one of his best friends was an old-fashioned war reporter who had covered Vietnam since Dienbienphu, McKenney had little regard for most of the media coverage given to events having to do with Vietnam. That made it easy to rationalize that the media, not well informed about the Garwood case, was distorting the court martial. McKenney assumed that a lot of reporters who had been sympathetic to the North Vietnamese were pro-Garwood and would now want to present "the traitor" in a sympathetic light.

Then his rationalizations were suddenly turned upside down. Early in the court martial, Garwood got all the news coverage McKenney had expected but it had little to do with Vietnam. The headlines blazed from every supermarket tabloid: "Garwood Accused of Child Molestation."

Garwood easily disproved this charge in court, but not before he was another twenty-thousand dollars in debt to lawyers. Uncontested evidence put Garwood hundreds of miles from the scene when the crime was alleged to have been committed. But the fact that he was completely cleared at this trial, which immediately followed the court martial, was mentioned almost nowhere in the media, and the original tabloid slur festered on.

"They've cut the legs right out from under him," McKenney told his wife when he read the first awful headlines. She was stunned by the sympathetic reaction and the way her husband seemed dejected by the news. He knew too much about dirty tricks and Garwood's history to believe the molestation charge. A famous senator once told him that it was always easier and cheaper to get someone on a sex charge, even if it was trumped up, than on a real crime. He felt this was what had happened here. Garwood had been set up and it offended McKenney's sense of honor. He wanted the toughest sentence possible meted out to Garwood. (Privately, he felt, even the firing squad was too good.) He wanted to see Garwood punished for what he had done against his fellow Marines. But these heinous crimes had not come up during the court martial, and in McKenney's mind, Garwood's sentence had been as nebulous as the entire proceedings.

McKenney lived the good life now. He was a gentleman farmer on a modest scale, preacher and missionary without pay, and unofficial Marine Corps booster. There was not a deserving old Marine in the South who would not eventually get the citation he deserved, if McKenney could help it. By the mid-1980s, he was also becoming a sought-after speaker in many southern states on national holidays.

Despite this, he was caught up in "outsider" malaise. He compared it to the narrow, tall houses you could find in parts of old southern cities. These houses always nestled against much bigger houses. The narrow house was called a spite house. It was where the man of the family was relegated when marriages fell apart in the old days. That way, the errant father was near his children, but fundamentally separated from family life. McKenney figured that was what happened to Vietnam veterans. They had been divorced from the American family and moved into the spite house of society. He did not wish to be an ingrate, though. He had much to be thankful for. He had pretty much recovered from injuries and illnesses contracted in Vietnam and felt he had been literally saved by a miracle.

His belief in an old-fashioned God of miracles got him into trouble with some friends who had no sympathy for his "Jesus freak streak" McKenney had heard that Lewis Puller's family thought it better if he did not speak to Lewis-who was having problems adjusting to his severe handicaps-about religion. He thought it might be a rebuff from the Puller family and a criticism of his missionary work Marty, his wife, told him he was silly even to think people were critical about his religious work People, she said, were just too busy coping with their own problems. Marty knew, too, that although her husband had courageously battled to regain his physical health, he had never dealt with mental stress and deeply buried emotions from the war. He maintained an affectionate, postprofessional relationship with many wartime colleagues-especially the generals who supported and promoted him in difficult times-but he had lost touch with most of the men he worked closely with under Phoenix. McKenney had even lost touch with Sam Owens, to whom he had entrusted his personal file on Garwood when he left Vietnam.

Periodically, he felt pangs of guilt for not doing the paperwork required to get citations for Sergeant Bob Hyp, the courageous translator/ interrogator who, under dangerous circumstances, went to meet the second in command of an NVA regiment in April 1969. The NVA officer offered invaluable information about the enemy's plans, but there had been a strong possibility the rendezvous was an enemy setup and that whoever went to meet him would be ambushed. McKenney never forgot how Hyp's courage paid off. The NVA officer provided Hyp with information that resulted in an important victory for the Americans.

Everytime he heard the term posttraumatic stress disorder McKenney cringed. He felt deeply sorry for the vets he imagined crying in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, but the Wall itself offended him. He did not consider himself a Vietnam vet but rather a veteran who served in Vietnam. He said, "It was part of my history, but not my identity." Yet his family and friends were aware that he was a deeply troubled man whose problems had their origins in the war. They were also concerned that, earlier, he had started to use alcohol to deaden his pain. When he again chose to abstain, he apologized for drinking bouts that had seemed to assuage the effects of the war. Later, he admitted that his drinking may have been related to Garwood. "In truth:' he said, "Garwood's court martial opened such a frightening possibility for me, I dared not confront it."

The frightening possibility began with all those contradictions between what he believed as absolute certainty about Garwood's activities in Vietnam and what little had come out at the court martial. He found that some of the people he admired most had strongly disagreed with his original views on Garwood. Issac Camacho, the Special Forces sergeant who had been captured by the Vietcong in the early 1960s had no doubt that Garwood was captured and had suffered as many prisoners who were captured later had not. He said "no one who has not experienced the horror of one of those early VC camps has the right to point a finger at Garwood. And no one who has experienced those horrors would point a finger." Camacho cut short those who accused one of his own prisonmates of being a collaborator like Garwood. He remembered the man, half beaten to death, his body so starved and ravaged that maggots were crawling out of his mouth. Obeying his Vietnamese captors in such a condition, as long as he didn't harm Americans, did not constitute collaboration- not in Camacho's book.

Camacho's sentiments were echoed by USAF Colonel Laird Gutterson, a former Hanoi Hilton prisoner whom McKenney put in his gallery of heroes. Gutterson publicly endorsed Garwood during and after the court martial. He wrote, "I ask myself if I could have survived as well. I had two wars and several skirmishes under my belt, a lot of education, and was imprisoned not in the primitive conditions of the South Vietnamese jungle, but in the structured prison system of North Vietnam, where pain and deprivation were a daily occurrence, but death was seldom faced." The words were like a slap in McKenney's face, especially when Gutterson asked why "men who lived in comparative luxury demean themselves by continuing to deny the inescapable truth of Bobby Garwood's status, an American hero, and the scapegoat for the collective sense of 'not being quite tough enough'-an attitude hidden in the private darkness of those who survived."

McKenney tried to force himself to stop thinking about his own "private darkness." He simply could not believe that he was mistaken, or worse, misled, about the target who had taken up so much of his time and energy. Gutterson and Camacho were letting their own integrity blind them to the evil of Garwood. Nevertheless, their words, and those of a growing number of other veterans, both South Vietnamese and American, began to invade the darkness, and to undermine his equilibrium. Later he said, "I must have had a desperate need to find out the truth without ever admitting this to myself."

Nineteen eighty-five marked the beginning of real turmoil. McKenney heard about General Van Phat's letter to President Reagan in which he confirmed that Garwood "was not a deserter." Van Phat, military commander of the Saigon area until the 1975 collapse, had been a prisoner with Garwood at Camp 776. He wrote, "As a prisoner of the communists myself, 1 can confirm Marine Garwood was held prisoner .... Seeing Garwood every week over a long period, we [Van Phat and his fellow South Vietnamese prisoners] know him well .... 1 feel an obligation to testify." McKenney could not dismiss this voluntary statement from the former Saigon military commander, now a resistance leader who had dedicated his life to defeating the communists. McKenney had to find out more.

His special operations friends, again both South Vietnamese and American, educated him about Cuc Binh Van / Soviet, the communist Vietnamese secret system of camps that Dermot Foley had at one point planned to introduce into Garwood's defense. They told him that Garwood ended up in that system with many of their own lost colleagues-ground personnel on intelligence missions who were counted among the missing in Laos and Cambodia where secret wars were fought simultaneously with the Vietnam War. McKenney now discovered that by way of secret channels even he had not known about, United States intelligence had tracked this communist system and many of its prisoners. His contacts explained how ingenious the enemy had been in setting up camps in dense jungle, a skill little understood even today in the west. It seemed inconceivable, to anyone who had not been there, that trained U.S. observers could pass within a few meters of primitive camps holding a large body of captives and not see them because of the thick foliage, through which even light could not reach the ground.

On that score, McKenney didn't need much persuading. He remembered how one of his hunter-killer teams had discovered a POW camp in the hills. "It had been made of two-inch bamboo, narrow, low cages, about two feet off the deck," he said, "so the prisoners couldn't sit up straight." The camp held twenty-six ARVN POWs. The Marine recon team, a crack outfit, watched the camp until they were sure of what they had, then killed the guards and called in helicopters to lift out the POWs. "That camp, near Chu Lai," McKenney said, "was in our TAOR [tactical area of responsibility]. We kept patrols out in the area at all times, had permanently manned observation posts deep in the bush, plus aerial recon, infrared airborne radar, surveillance, agents, electronic intelligence, you name it. And we had no idea that there could be an enemy POW camp in the area. It was a total surprise. We kept wire taps on their telephone lines, tape-recording their telephone traffic. We knew lots about them. We were good. But they could have had twenty or thirty POW camps of the size we found, right in our TAOR, and go undetected."

McKenney became engrossed by the recon veterans' detective work. But he still did not know-or consciously want to know-what all this had to do with the deserter and traitor. If Garwood was what these men seemed to imply-not just a prisoner, but one of the hardcore prisoners the communists were toughest on-what did that make of McKenney, of Sam Owens, and of all the brave men who had hunted him?

In the years following his court martial, Garwood was sought out by veterans who wanted to know if he could provide them with information of lost colleagues. They found that Garwood, because of his language skills and curious ability to pick up the mannerisms of his captors, had been able to memorize information on the prison systems. Garwood had done this consciously because he had been trained by Ike Eisenbraun, within the very narrow limits of imprisonment and time running out, to think like a special operations soldier. He had wanted to share his knowledge with U.S. officials from the moment he set foot in Bangkok, but except for a few very terse questions asked by Marine officials in a threatening environment, there had been no debriefing. He continued to hope for one, though it was made clear to him by Vaughn Taylor that by giving any testimony, even before congressional hearings, he risked further prosecution for collaborating even after 1973, when the peace accords were signed. Taylor, afraid that any new trial would be a repeat of the first, requested immunity for his client before Garwood testified or cooperated with any government debriefers. Garwood remained willing to cooperate with government agencies, even without immunity.

McKenney now learned that the detective work of his new veteran friends was backed up by an unofficial but professional debriefing of Garwood done by the now-retired General Tighe, who served as first as deputy director and then director of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency from 1974 to 1981. Tighe had done his best in 1979 to persuade his peers that Garwood should not be court martialed. Garwood finally received a dishonorable discharge in 1986, so there was no possibility of USMC interference with the unofficial debriefing.

The former DIA chief, working with Dr. Chris Gugas, the polygraph expert who had set up the CIA's polygraph system, was astounded at the extent of Garwood's knowledge. It so closely matched the information collected by U.S. intelligence agencies in the same time span, and more. He said "it would have been impossible to make it up." During Tighe's tenure at DIA, the agency responsible for collecting and analyzing military intelligence, including that on POWS and the missing, there had been more than two hundred live sighting reports on Garwood. "Those reports," Tighe said, "never gave the slightest indication that Garwood behaved in any manner that was illegal or even embarrassing to his country." Although aware of rumors spread by USMC intelligence that Garwood had shot at his fellow Marines, Tighe never saw any proof of it or any documents repeating the allegations. He said, "American intelligence did know that Garwood was a prisoner and they had a pretty good idea where he was held." This was passed on to the Marine Corps without any judgments attached because that would have gone against policy. "At DIA," he continued, "we just directed the information like good traffic cops. Officially, we didn't pass judgments or do any interpreting."

Unofficially, the DIA director thought Garwood served as scapegoat for all those Marines who rigidly believed that "Marine prisoners in Vietnam should have adhered to the old-fashioned name-rank-serial- number code of conduct that actually ceased being official U.S. policy after Korea: That they should have escaped or died trying."

Why had Tighe not spoken out at Garwood's court martial? He had been too steeped in the habits of secrecy to break his oath. All those sighting reports were highly classified. The DIA chief had done his best to be persuasive behind the scenes and, later, to report the truth to appropriate congressional committees. After he was introduced to Garwood in 1985, when both were being interviewed for Sixty Minutes, he finally made the decision to debrief Garwood himself, because the matter weighed heavily on his conscience. He felt that all of his dire predictions about the more close-minded members of the Marine Corps controlling Garwood's court martial had been borne out. "They had been determined to get Garwood and they destroyed his life," he said.

McKenney, having read Tighe's remarks in a veteran's newsletter, recognized himself in Tighe's description of Marines who continued to adhere to the old code of conduct, but he felt that there had to be a mistake somewhere. Otherwise, his faith in the institution he had idolized since childhood would be shattered. He needed affirmation from some of those who had been with him in Vietnam, and who were party to the "dirty Garwood secret." But he had lost touch with most of them. What happened next, he believed, surely had God's hand in it.

Sergeant Bob Hyp, the linguist interrogator who in 1969 had risked his life to meet an enemy NVA commander at night in dangerous territory, now, almost eighteen years later, tried to get in touch with McKenney. He left a message with McKenney's secretary. McKenney had not seen or spoken with the sergeant since Vietnam, though he had wanted to recommend him for a Silver Star. ow, if the strange message was not a hoax, Hyp wanted McKenney to phone him back at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He wanted to talk to McKenney about Garwood.

When McKenney tried to call the number given, no one admitted to knowing who Hyp was. McKenney was in a fever of frustration. He tried to trace Hyp through USMC and other government channels. Unlike the quick results McKenney usually got through the Marine Corps finder service, which sends letters on to the intended recipient, he received neither a reply from Hyp nor the usual note sent by the USMC when the addressee was known to be deceased. After almost a year more of detective work he was told Hyp had "died of a heart attack."

Hyp had gone to work as an analyst for DIA after the war. In that capacity he had debriefed Bobby Garwood over a period of two years beginning in 1986 after General Tighe's informal debriefing had prodded DIA brass into finally undertaking a full and official procedure. The results were so successful that a secret DIA report (the Gaines Report) suggested, "Supervisors must optimize plans for Garwood's cooperation and availability. Planning should include consideration of hiring him as a consultant."

Someone at DIA had leaked portions of the report to McKenney's recon veteran friends. They sent him a copy, along with the videotape of Garwood in Hanoi, made shortly before his release.

Jon Alpert, the director of the videotape, had made it available to the author for possible use in a Sixty Minutes program. It was shown to a small group of veterans by the author to get their reactions. They had been stunned by what it revealed of Garwood's character. They told McKenney, who was intrigued. He wanted to see it, and yet also he didn't.

He was in Washington on the eve of the official Marine Corps birthday, 1990. This was the most important day of the year for him, devoted to the memory of all the good Marines, "officers and mud Marines alike." Perhaps it was fitting, he thought, to be reminded of what they had fought against. His friends loaned him the videotape. Sequestering himself in his hotel, he turned it on. He was grimly prepared for a communist propaganda masterpiece, celebrating a Marine gone bad.

What he saw put him in a state of shock and he needed to watch only a few minutes to realize that whatever the original intent had been, this was no propaganda film. The tape was rough, completely unedited footage. Even the instructions to Garwood given by Alpert and the Vietnamese and English chatter behind the camera had not been edited out.

The man who appeared on screen looked nothing like the Garwood envisioned by McKenney: neither the 1968 Garwood that counterintelligence had told him of or the clean-cut Garwood with perfect white teeth that he had seen depicted in magazines and newspapers during the court martial. This Garwood was painfully thin, with sunken eyes and rotting teeth. With his ill-fitting, baggy suit and broken English, he resembled nothing so much as the survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. He looked helpless as the people behind the camera paraded him up and down the streets of Hanoi, and through a market. McKenney knew from the wonder in Garwood's eyes that this apparent freedom to wander amiably among the austere foodstalls of the market was in itself a luxury.

To McKenny, one sequence, a visit to Garwood's "regular barber," was a crude set-up. Everyone seemed to have the sense of unease that amateur actors display during tryouts for the yearly local play in high school. McKenney said later, "That barber had never seen Garwood before."

McKenney was so tightly focused he did not hear the ringing telephone. Family and friends later told him they had called. He was in the world on the screen. Unwittingly, the producers of this farce allowed him to feel what Garwood was experiencing.

In one scene Garwood was surrounded by attractive, obviously smart and well-connected young Vietnamese women who spoke excellent English. Theirs were the same voices McKenney heard off-screen being helpful to Alpert and advising Garwood on what was wanted. The women reminded McKenney of the female communist intelligence operatives he had himself encountered in Vietnam. They were attractive and their Americanized English, complete with slang, could only have been learned in the kind of specialized "charm" schools run by the communists for their trainee spies.

Alpert seemed to have great rapport with them. When they wanted to do things that wouldn't sit well with an American audience, he told them so. Alpert teased Garwood about which of these girls was his girlfriend. Years later Alpert told the author that he believed Garwood had deserted to the communist side and then become unhappy with his meager living conditions. He had no reason for doubt, since that information had been given to him by both the Vietnamese and his intelligence contacts in the United States. Alpert admired what he thought was Garwood's defection, but not the fact that he wanted to return to America. Like many Americans, the director's sympathy toward the Vietnamese went back to the war. He felt the United States was responsible for the miserable circumstances of their country. "Despite the fact that Garwood's conditions were sparse by American standards," Alpert said, "he always had more food and better living conditions than his hosts." To Alpert, this was a fact Garwood did not seem to appreciate. He admitted Garwood was thin but "he looked as fit as most Vietnamese."

As McKenney watched in fascination, the women in the film giggled at Alpert's suggestion that they were Garwood's girlfriends. "Like cats playing with a mouse," McKenney thought, "they considered the wreck of a human body in front of them was incapable of functioning sexually." The camera closing in on Garwood's face showed a kind of tortured humiliation McKenney had never before seen in a human being. Involuntarily, he turned away his eyes as he felt Garwood's degradation. He knew from other prisoners that the hardest thing they had to deal with psychologically was the peculiar pleasure their captors got from insulting their manhood, knowing that conditions deprived the men of all sexual drive and instilled a fear of permanent impotence, made worse by the personal indignities visited upon them. Then shame and a red-hot anger began to well up in McKenney. He felt he was seeing an utterly defeated, and most probably brainwashed man. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Is this what the Vietnamese did to Americans who had supposedly given their all to the communist cause? It was no wonder the film had never been shown in the west.

Then he saw the sequence where Garwood, asked to give a message to the folks back home, said he loved his country. McKenney understood what was going on when the camera abruptly stopped and the disembodied voices suggested that Garwood try again. This was not the attempt at self-exoneration McKenney would have expected before viewing the tape and the noises coming from behind the camera made it clear that neither was this the kind of thanks the communists had expected in return for their magnanimity. Garwood was supposed to talk about his "reformation through education" and the crimes committed by the United States during the war. "Yet he faced the camera directly again and said he loved his family," McKenney later told his wife. "Garwood said he hoped they would not judge him until he could tell them his side of the story."

When the camera stopped a second time, McKenney thought the voices speaking in Vietnamese sounded quietly ominous. "Garwood's duress was palpable. Everything was at stake. Another wrong answer meant no release." The director told Garwood to do the last bit again.

McKenney watched in fascination, expecting to see his old nemesis crumble. He had never, during the days when he had jurisdiction over such things, seen coercion applied with such cruel finesse. It was agonizing to watch Garwood's face. His eyes showed he understood what was expected of him and what was at stake. He showed the paralysis of a wild animal caught in the glare of headlights. Then Garwood pulled himself up slightly. With a flicker of defiance he looked behind the camera and said what he had said before. McKenney could not believe it.

"I am a true American," Garwood said in his Vietnamese tinged, broken English. He had always been a true American and he loved his country. His life in Vietnam had not been easy....

McKenney was stunned. Garwood had ignored his captors. He had only to repeat their words-few enough and obviously fabricated- to ensure his freedom. The toughest men would rationalize such a compromise. The war had been over for so long that nobody in the west would have cared if Garwood had delivered an entire litany of praise for Hanoi's merciful enlightenment. All of it would have been recognized as propaganda. Yet Garwood would not pay this trivial price for his ticket out. McKenney had once read a description of Winston Churchill that he thought fit Garwood perfectly: "He was brave, and that was all that mattered." In that one moment, all the convictions that drove McKenney in Vietnam, and long afterward, fell apart. McKenney spent the rest of that year's USMC birthday celebrations in a kind of horrible trance. Forever after, he would remember nothing of the events attended, the people he spoke to, or the trip back home to Kentucky.

"The communist propaganda was crude," he said later. "Any fool could see Garwood's physical distress. "Garwood got out in spite of refusing to cooperate, and my government spit-and-polished him to erase evidence of ill-treatment by the enemy. In Hanoi, he was a wretched survivor. In the United States, he was turned into someone who had done well out of the communist system. I realized that my government had done the unthinkable, not only in betraying Garwood but in using me and others like me as murder weapons. How many other innocent and brave men were made to look like traitors? My last threads of trust parted and I passed into a horrible nightmare I still can't express. I nearly lost what was left of my mind. I had an irrational compulsion to get back into jungle dungarees, put on my killing knife and pistol, and withdraw from everyone but the others who'd been betrayed by those who never knew the sweat, the tears, the mud, and blood." He began to pick fights, always with strangers: "I challenged anyone who looked at me the wrong way," he said later.

Some months after watching the video, McKenney lost twenty-four hours. In that missing time, "I did awful, insanely violent things I cannot fully remember." He would forever be grateful that no family member was in the house during his blackout because he was not certain that he would not have physically attacked them. "When I came to," he said, "I was lying on the floor of my house, bloodstained, surrounded by broken glass and furniture. Apparently I had smashed most of the furniture. The entire house looked like a war zone."

Most shocking of all, he saw the charred remains of his beloved "blues," his formal Marine Corp uniform, along with ribbons and badges. Only a few weeks before, he had worn them with pride to his daughter's wedding. It seemed as if he had tried to destroy himself. He had no recollection of committing what he now thought of as almost an act of sacrilege.

Unaware of the events that had shattered McKenney, but realizing that he was in serious trouble, three of his friends, one a veteran, virtually set aside their lives for him. They knew his scorn for the "posttraumatically stressed" excuse, and searched for someone who could help without injuring McKenney's self-esteem.

John Steer, a fellow "charismatic Christian," fit the bill. Steer ran a retreat and healing center for troubled veterans. Deliberately built like a military installation, Fort Steer was in remote, rural Arkansas, in the foothills of the Ozarks. It had a headquarters building, mess hall, dayroom, showerpoint, and a row of small barracks. The sense of Vietnam was everywhere. The guys called the barracks "hootches."

Steer, himself, was larger than life, with a hook for the arm he lost in Vietnam. A preacher like McKenney, he was also a golden voiced baritone country singer known to Vietnam veterans throughout the United States. McKenney had in the past been moved by his rendition of "Don't Let Another Wounded Soldier Die." When they met, Steer immediately recognized what was at least a part of McKenney's problem. He reached and took McKenney's hand with his own good left hand and asked, "Has anyone yet said: Welcome home?'" McKenney was surprised that tears filled his eyes. Had anyone said this to him earlier, he would have thought it embarrassingly trite.

Now he said, "No."

"Then, welcome home, brother."

It was what McKenney needed, although this new association kept raw the wound opened by the Garwood video. Through the extended network of veterans informally associated with Fort Steer, he learned, finally, the whole truth about Garwood. The brief flash of recognition he experienced when he viewed the Garwood tape had been prescient. "Bobby Garwood," he said now, "was a man abandoned just like the aviator off Hainan Island, punished for being a politically embarrassing survivor." It was a truth he accepted with great difficulty, but one he had to accept because it came from men he admired most-those who were involved in the dangerous work of behind-the-lines reconnaissance during the war, and those who had been prisoners themselves, like Laird Gutterson. Even Ted Guy, who had wanted to bring charges against repatriated prisoners suspected of collaborating during the war, and who was judged by McKenney to be a soulmate in his hatred for Garwood, now openly wondered if Garwood's court martial was politically motivated. Guy would be one of the first among those McKenney had considered "fellow hard-core haters of Garwood" to write open letters of support for Garwood.

McKenney needed Garwood's forgiveness and he needed more than anything to get it in the true biblical sense. It was more important to do what was right before God than it had ever been to satisfy the tough standards of the Marine Corps when McKenney was doing his best to get Garwood assassinated. His second hunt for Garwood would be more difficult for the proud Marine Corps officer. It was a humbled and deeply sincere man at the annual meeting of the Vietnam Veterans Coalition, on Veterans Day 1991, who asked the author to carry a message of repentance to Garwood.
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

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Chapter 23: Semper Fidelis

Garwood asked the woman he loved to listen in on the call about McKenney. They heard in silence the story of this retired Marine lieutenant colonel who, they were told, wished to ask forgiveness for having been ready over so many years to kill Garwood by fair means or foul.

It was a lot to be hit with so suddenly and by a long-distance telephone call. The two functioned as a unit. Cathy Ray had not met Garwood when she first began to suspect that he was a man of integrity and courage despite the charges of treason and the wild accusations of molestation made against him in the American tabloids at the time of the court martial. Common sense told her that these charges had not been proved.

The two were introduced at a 1986 dinner party quietly honoring Garwood's birthday at the California home of Chris Gugas, the retired CIA polygraph expert. Gugas had then just finished helping General Tighe to debrief Garwood, who had recently moved to California. At first Garwood was wary of the woman described to him as the sister of an MIA. He expected, as was usual in such cases, to be inundated with questions about her brother or the larger issue of the missing, but he had completely misjudged the intentions of Cathy Ray. The dinner turned out to be jolly, with lots of conversation about almost everything but the issue of POWs or Vietnam, and Garwood was charmed by Cathy's open and friendly manner. He said later, "She treated me like a human being-not Bobby Garwood, ex-POW." By the end of the evening the two had established a friendship that deepened over the next few months. They took long walks on the beach, exchanging their thoughts about life in general but avoiding those specific matters that remained as painful to him as raw wounds. They shared quiet dinners, pooling their few resources. She discovered that he was handy around the kitchen.

Eventually they fell in love: each was drawn to the other's humanity. Cathy marveled at the fact "that a man who had been deprived of everything for so long could have such a strong sense of what really mattered in life." She admired his attempts to keep his promises to friends dead and alive, no matter how difficult; that he was a loving son, and brother, and a good friend. "For someone who had been betrayed so often," she said, "he had a very fine sense of justice, easily forgiving those who had hurt him by mistake. Most of all," she said, "I loved his strength and integrity." At one point Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire, offered him a lucrative and secure position to work on Vietnam prisoner data. Garwood refused the salaried job, offering his service for free: he did not want to make money on such an issue. Similarly, Garwood admired Cathy's integrity. She had been very much troubled by questions regarding the missing, but the subject of her brother would not come up, not until he questioned her, years later, after they married.

Cathy Ray was the sister of a fellow Marine, Staff Sergeant James Michael Ray, an MIA who had disappeared in Cambodia. Jimmy Ray had been one of those who volunteered for the most dangerous special operations, [1] so secret that the real facts of his capture had to be "plausibly deniable" by the U.S. government. It was almost certain he had ended up in Cuc Binh Van / Soviet, Hanoi's secret prison system. The family had evidence of this because they had two death certificates listing different times and places for his death. One month after his first "official" death, according to U.S. government records, Ray had received the Silver Star for a heroic attempt to escape prison. Five months after his "first death" he was alive enough to win a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. When Ray's family contacted those persons said by the government to have witnessed his death, they claimed to know nothing of it.

Cathy had enough experience of government manipulation of her brother's case to understand perfectly what had been done to Bobby. She never tried to discuss his prison experience in Vietnam, leaving that to the doctors Garwood continued to see. But she knew, from his nightmare-filled sleep and cold-sweat awakenings, that the past was always with him. Garwood was still suffering from an overwhelming survivor's guilt. She could tell without his saying a word how often his mind was with Ike and the others he had left behind: not just when there were news reports about the return of missing bodies, but on almost every happy occasion. There were times when Garwood, needing to be alone, took up a friend's offer to make use of a remote mountain cabin. Such times revitalized him and gave him the strength to face a world that allowed him none of the benefits automatically available to other veterans.

Garwood continued to make a modest living by repairing automobiles. Until 1986, when he was dishonorably discharged from the Marine Corps, he was officially denied the right to gainful employment or the usual service benefits, in addition to having no status as an American citizen. He was never paid for any Marine Corps service beyond the day of his capture and did not receive any veterans' medical benefits. Making the best of things, the Garwoods formed a very tight and very private family unit that included Cathy's child from a former marriage. They got on with their lives as best they could, but they never entirely put out of their minds the wrong that had been done Garwood. Cathy was very protective of Garwood: she meant to see him cleared, no matter what powers were still amassed against him.

So Cathy was cautious about McKenney's request, as was Garwood. McKenney was not the first to seek forgiveness for targeting Garwood during the war, but he seemed to be the highest ranking officer who had ever tried to contact him with a message of sympathy. Just the same, Garwood remained noncommittal. In the ten years following his court martial, a number of men claiming former assassination assignments had approached him, always secretly and sometimes anonymously, to tell him he had been their number-one target because they had then believed the rumors and innuendo circulating in their secret world. They had believed that Garwood led NVA attacks against his fellow Marines; that he took pleasure in killing and maiming them. Most of these callers were like Bruce Womack, former enlisted men who had been assigned the highly secret and financially lucrative work of assassinating other Americans. Like Womack, they were usually from poor backgrounds not unlike Garwood's, and were patriotic and deeply religious in a fundamentalist way. Most had been troubled over the contradictions apparent in their assignment from the moment they had killed their first American. At least initially, they had all shared a particular similarity: an innocent and zealous belief that their government and the branch of service to which they were attached could do no wrong.

Garwood recognized himself in them, and he could give any number of examples of his own naive zeal. For years he had been haunted by memories of an awful event that happened during his Marine training. He and fellow recruits were warned to stay low during a simulated firefight because, they were told, real bullets would be used. One young Marine did not stay low enough and appeared to be killed by a bullet. Garwood's training officers then lectured the trainees on how the dead man could have avoided his fate by following the order to stay low. Garwood still felt guilty about the young Marine's death when he talked to psychiatrists during his court martial. He remembered the blessed relief he felt when the psychiatrists finally persuaded him the entire episode had been faked to teach young recruits a lesson. Such relief, however, would never be available to the troubled men who came to see him now. They now lived in the shadows of society, ashamed of what they had done. A lot of their fellow assassins committed suicide, became alcoholic, or otherwise went under. Usually, the survivors who came to see Garwood appeared to have been kept alive by a strong belief in God and supportive families. Garwood easily forgave them.

McKenney, with his intelligence background, was different. He smacked too much of the official resolve to keep Garwood discredited. Ever since the court martial, all of Garwood's efforts to clear his name had been opposed. Dishonorably discharged and humiliated before congressional committees, he had been called deserter and traitor by powerful politicians who had access to the truth, if they were interested in it. Those who struck the most patriotic poses demonstrated voluble ill-will, and continued to speak of him publicly as a deserter when even the court martial established he had not deserted. For example, in July 1985, the powerful chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, Steven Solarz, denounced Garwood in a Washington speech before the League of Families: "We have the spectacle of someone who betrayed his nation, somebody who worked for the enemy, somebody who deserted the institution he was pledged to support .... "

The following year Garwood agreed to be formally debriefed by the DIA even though he had no guarantee that he would not be prosecuted again, as U.S. government officials had threatened, this time for collaborating after 1973. The more than one hundred hours of debriefing by specialists began in the Washington office of then- DIA chief Leonard H. Perroots and ended almost three years later at a quiet retreat at Okrakoke Island, North Carolina. This was the marathon interrogation that prompted DIA to suggest that Garwood be hired as a consultant. The reports concluded that "there was a lot of information [DIA had] ... which tends to substantiate what Garwood says. Despite this, it was made clear to Garwood that he would have to live with the stigma of being a traitor. Those who opposed him made certain that the suggestion of his being hired by DIA was never followed up.

Garwood had hoped that his long nightmare might soon end. From what DIA had asked him, he could tell they knew the truth. He said later, "They had precise intelligence on every camp and prisoner. They showed me photographs of myself in some of the camps. They told me highly individual things about my prison guards and black-market bosses. Only someone who was there could have described their traits so precisely." One of the men DIA wanted to know about was the Mortician. There was no question in Garwood's mind that they knew precisely what role Colonel Tran Van Loc had played in Vietnam. Nor was there any question that Garwood's own movements were known. For a long time, the debriefers now told Garwood, U.S. intelligence had tracked him through the prison system known to specialize in psychological duress, and were certain he would end up in the Soviet Union as a propaganda tool for communism. No one could figure out why this had not happened. Garwood just kept moving from camp to camp. Apparently no one had felt it necessary to research Garwood's history from the beginning to find out what was really going on.

Garwood felt that some of the debriefers empathized with him. One sought him out near the end of their session at Okrakoke Island. This was Bob Hyp, coincidentally the same staff sergeant who had worked with McKenney's in 1969 and distinguished himself by his bravery. Of course Garwood had no idea that his interrogator of 1988 had been closely associated with this Marine colonel now asking his forgiveness, or that McKenney had overseen the efforts to have Garwood assassinated in 1968-69.

Also, and ultimately the most important piece of information withheld from him, Garwood had never been told that Hyp was one of two DIA interrogators who had subjected the Mortician to six weeks of interrogation in Hong Kong in 1979. The Mortician said in later testimony before the closed U.S. Senate committee hearings that this questioning had been so intense, it had gone on "day and night." Only Sundays were left free to sleep. [2]

Hyp revealed to Garwood that he was a former "jarhead" himself. The interrogator impressed Garwood with his fluent Vietnamese. Hyp said, "We never had reservations about you. We knew for a fact you were a prisoner of war .... We knew how they broke you and we knew how they used you-often you, yourself, didn't know how. There was never any doubt about you. I checked all the rumors about you, the bad ones. There was absolutely no validity to them."

Garwood had been a necessary sacrifice, Hyp told him. It was important, at the time, to discredit him because it sent a signal to the communists that they could not use Garwood or any others like him to blackmail the United States. Of all the things that had been done to him and said to him, Garwood probably found this the most difficult to accept. He asked, "Sacrificed for what? ... and why can't it end?" Hyp only replied, "Bobby, there isn't a day when I don't feel bad about all of this."

At the end of the debriefings, another de briefer expressed different sentiments. Garwood was lucky, he said, because he had made it back. He pointed out others were not so lucky. "You're in the clear now, Bobby," he said. Then, more ominously, he seemed to correct himself. "You're on the plus side now ... but be careful because contact with the wrong people can put you in the minus."

"What wrong people?" Cathy asked. She had not been part of the debriefings, but she had gone to Okrakoke with her husband. She said afterward that she could not understand the callousness. She answered her own question. "The wrong people are those who refuse to stick to the secrecy that requires an eighteen-year-old soldier, for whatever twisted reasons of wartime security, institutional pride, and foreign policy, to sacrifice his whole life."

A short time after the Garwoods returned home, Bob Hyp telephoned. Cathy Garwood's heart jumped at the message. Hyp would be sending them a package of documents in the mail. Discreetly, but leaving no doubt about his intent, he said the contents of the package would give Garwood the proof he needed to win an appeal against the court martial's finding.

About the same time, someone who gave his identity as Hyp called the Canadian publishing house McClelland and Stewart, and left a similar message to be passed along to the author by senior editor Pat Kennedy: a package of documents would be sent that would clear Garwood in any court of law. No one knew then who Hyp was. When the call was returned, those who answered at Edwards Air Force Base said no one by the name of Hyp worked there. During later interviews with McKenney, it became clear that this had occurred about the same time that McKenney had received a message from Hyp, which "drove me crazy."

The documents, promised by Hyp with the assurance that they would irrefutably exonerate Garwood publicly, were never delivered to any of the intended recipients. Later, Senator Smith confirmed that Hyp had died of a massive heart attack. It occurred to Smith that the documents Hyp had promised pertained to the Mortician's testimony, which had been kept from the public by the U.S. government. The Mortician must have told Hyp during the intensive 1979 debriefing in Hong Kong that he knew Garwood was a prisoner in Vietnam. That could explain why Hyp had told Garwood, "We always knew you were a prisoner. We never had any doubts about you." Hyp must have known, as Vaughn Taylor would later find out, that the government had prevented the Mortician from testifying at Garwood's court martial and that Garwood would certainly be cleared on those grounds in an appeal.

Briefly, Garwood had allowed himself to believe that he would finally be vindicated in an appeal. When Hyp's unexpected death shattered those hopes, Garwood took a deep breath before resuming his stolid effort to take each day one at a time. The experience of his recent debriefing had taught him that officially the government was going to continue to sacrifice him to a policy he still did not fully understand. It made him wary of any approach that began with, "I know the awful truth of what was done to you .... Could you forgive?"

Garwood agreed to receive a letter from McKenney, but only if it was forwarded through the author. The call asking him to deal yet again with such a hurtful part of his past could not have come at a worse time. His father had just died. Garwood had wanted more than anything to give him the gift of seeing his son cleared. He was anguished that the debriefing that he had hoped would accomplish at least this much had only exacerbated his father's disillusionment with institutions he had once revered.

Jack Garwood, true to the oath he made when Bobby came back from Vietnam, had not let "authority" run over him. He had always loved his oldest son, but from the day Bobby had fallen on his knees and embraced him like the biblical prodigal son, Jack never again passed up an opportunity to show this love. Until Cathy Ray came along, he was the single most important factor in Garwood's slow climb back to physical and mental health.

The father had resented the way he was made to look like a crude buffoon by the media during Garwood's court martial. Garwood Senior had been convinced that the majority of Americans were made up of his sort of people. ever without a sense of humor, he would point to the success of the television program Roseanne: "The American people," he said, "are smart enough to know what's genuine." But the fact that his son had never been given a chance to place his case before the public ate away at him. Bobby was certain that grief and rage over his own helplessness to restore his son's honor had hastened Jack's death. Now Bobby was more determined than ever to give his father, at least in death, what he had coveted most in life-the restoration of family honor. A year after receiving McKenney's request for a meeting, he would risk his life in one more attempt.

In the spring of 1993 Senator Smith was planning a trip to Vietnam in his capacity as vice chairman of the U.S. Senate select committee on POW / MIA affairs. He wanted Garwood to accompany him so that he could verify for himself the accuracy of Garwood's testimony during the earlier DIA debriefings conducted by Hyp. From Garwood's description of the location of some of the prison camps where he was held, combined with evidence in the committee's possession, Smith believed other Americans had been held in the same camps.

It was a difficult decision for Garwood. Senator Smith had become his strong supporter. He had ended his opening select committee statement with the words, "I am here today because I believe Robert Garwood." He wanted Garwood to travel with him in a protected status, with appropriate "red" passport and travel documents. But other Senate committee members were incensed by the idea of U.S. tax dollars being spent to send "a convicted collaborator on a vacation to Vietnam." Those who opposed Smith prevailed. Garwood now had to decide whether he would travel with Smith without protective U.S. documents, albeit with Smith's promise to raise a ruckus if the Vietnamese arrested Garwood. The situation was exacerbated by a more personal dilemma. Garwood's beloved younger brother Don was dying of cancer and begged him not to go. The fact was, doctors told Bobby, Don could die any day. The strain of worrying about Bobby could hasten his brother's death. Don knew that General Tighe had warned Bobby not to go back to Vietnam, telling him it would be extremely dangerous for him. Many of Garwood's former captors would have no compunction about having him killed, Tighe said, and the United States would probably not make an issue of a convicted collaborator dying in such a way on foreign soil.

Despite the warning, Garwood traveled to Vietnam in early July 1993, having married Cathy just a few days before. Garwood wanted to make certain the American government would be legally obligated to report to Cathy if Tighe's worst predictions came true. Reluctantly, Cathy agreed that returning to Vietnam was something Garwood had to do. He decided that this would probably be the only chance he would ever have to keep the last promise he made to Ike Eisenbraun when he lay dying-to bring him home. Garwood knew precisely where Ike was buried and was determined to ask his former captors for that one favor, even at the risk of incensing them to his own detriment. He knew nothing could mean more to Ike's daughter Elizabeth. She had done everything, including an attempt to enlist President Reagan's help to bring her father home, all without success. Bobby Garwood was godfather to Ike Eisenbraun's grandchildren.

Garwood's request to the Vietnamese for Ike Eisenbraun's remains go no press coverage, even though he had preceded it with requests for assistance from appropriate U.S. agencies like the Joint Casualty Resolution Center. Senator Smith's strongly stated verification that Garwood had told the absolute truth about prison sites during his debriefing was received with press skepticism. Instead, most western reporters uncritically repeated the Vietnamese propaganda line. One American news service quoted Ho Xuan Dich, director of Vietnam's MIA office as saying that "Garwood socialized with other Vietnamese officers." Dich accompanied the Senator's team. He denied that someone named Eisenbraun had ever existed or that Garwood had been in a prison camp. Yet he lost no opportunity to needle Garwood:

"You were free to go everywhere," Dich said. "You were a low-ranking officer of the People's Army. You were my friend." That last was too much. Garwood, pointing his finger at Dich, shouted "You were never my friend." That, with an accompanying photograph, did hit some newspapers.

Vaughn Taylor, who accompanied Garwood and Smith, photographed a similar scene reporters either missed or thought irrelevant. Garwood and Smith made ready to leave one of the sites that Garwood identified as a former prison camp, despite the fact that his former captors had torn down the buildings. A diminutive male figure in white shirt and old-fashioned green helmet approached Garwood, who immediately recognized him as Colonel Thai, the man who had warned him just before his release that he would be watched wherever he went, and that the U.S. government would not believe he had been a prisoner for fourteen years. Garwood had never supposed that Thai, which is also the Vietnamese word for war, was the man's actual name, but he could never forget the face that had ordered the torture and execution of his friends. Colonel Thai had always taken a personal interest in Garwood, endlessly interrogating him about his language skills. He had never believed that Garwood learned the Vietnamese language in an ad hoc manner. Feeling uncontrollable rage, Garwood now pointed his finger at Thai and said, "You tortured and killed my friends."

Thai went white. Taylor said later that it seemed to him the closest they had come to fulfilling General Tighe's prediction that Garwood would be arrested. Taylor was convinced it was only Smith's obvious intent to stand his ground that saved them. Some months later Thai was still so angry over Garwood's audacity that he publicly contradicted Ho Xuan Dich's statements to reporters that Garwood had always been free in Vietnam.

During a meeting with Patricia O'Grady-Parsels, the daughter of a missing American pilot, the man formerly in charge of prisoner interrogation and torture emphasized that Garwood had been arrested and was a criminal from the start. Thai said the Americans released in 1973 from the capital region had been successfully reeducated and their sentences commuted. He told O'Grady-Parsels that Garwood had always had a "bad attitude." He had needed to be separated from the others in order not to contaminate them. Garwood remained a "criminal," Thai continued. For that reason his sentence was not commuted in 1973.

Back in Bangkok, a brief stopover on the way home, Garwood received Colonel McKenney's letter. It was again a very poor time to catch him with such a matter. He felt defeated because he had not been able to bring back Eisenbraun's remains. He looked exhausted and vulnerable. He was not at all the strong figure in cowboy hat and jeans who was pictured pointing an accusing finger at the Vietnamese director of MIA affairs in Bangkok newspapers just days before. But he was not alone. With him was a friend-a retired American Special Forces officer and former POW who had at one time believed the worst about Garwood and had been willing to shoot him on sight if given the chance. Now, sharing a late dinner at the Siam Intercontinental Hotel, there was an easiness between them, a camaraderie that came out of the shared horror and inside jokes of having been paws in Vietnam. The presence of his friend seemed to infuse Garwood with strength.

His face became a mask as he was handed the letter. He betrayed no emotion as he read it.

11 June 1993

Dear Bobby,

I have delayed for a long time writing to you because it is such an important, terribly significant thing for me. You are such an important, terribly significant person in my life. I have said to Monika [the author] that "I'm not ready ... it's too important ... it has to be right." But the devil's time is always "later," since "later" never comes. So the big moment doesn't have to be a big moment. I'm too tired to think straight tonight, but so what. ... I'll just do it.

As one idealistic Marine to another, I want to say that I now know the truth about you, I respect you and want to be your friend. I am that now. I look forward to meeting you face to face, and it looks like it may not be much longer; but I am your friend now.

She [the author] has probably told you that at one time I believed the lie about you and was part of the effort to kill you. I didn't just want you dead, I wanted the pleasure of killing you myself. I wanted to kill you so badly that I actually dreamed about doing it. I believe that if our roles had been reversed, you would have felt the same way about me, because we were both totally gung-ho Marines, true believers.

I've been pretty crazy for the past five or six years anyway, living more and more in my Marine Corps past, feeling alone, not belonging here and wanting to go back to Vietnam where I did fit in. I was always ready to fight, often in a kill mode, a growing menace to those around me. \Nhen I found out the truth about you and realized what it meant, it nearly finished me. I'm coming out of it now, doing better and better. I don't know about you this moment, but it is the Lord's job to square away all the wrong of it; in the meantime we can only ask Him to heal our hearts and minds as we pick our way through the emotional and political minefields around us to get on with our lives. We can exercise caution as we move ahead; but only He can heal us, and He will if we will just ask Him. You're not alone, and there are still a few we can trust. ... Maybe we can finally get the truth out to the American people. So Jarhead, this letter isn't the masterpiece of incredible climactic summary that I thought it had to be, but it is a start. Let me hear from you. I want to know you. I want to help. We need each other. There aren't many people I trust anymore, but you are one of them.

I'm praying for you.

Semper fidelis,

Tom C. McKenney

When Garwood finished the letter he got up without a word and disappeared for more than an hour. He said nothing about the letter when he returned. Much later, as he talked long into the night about this last, bizarre visit to Vietnam under an American senator's protection, he paused for a moment and said he would meet Colonel McKenney, but he needed time. It was another year and a half before the meeting took place.

Garwood turned down more invitations than he could keep track of from Vietnam veterans groups. Almost all veterans knew who he was and they were all curious about the man whose name had become synonymous with traitor. Most had come to believe that of all the horrors that had befallen Vietnam veterans during the war and its aftermath, those that he had suffered were the worst. Garwood declined most invitations because it was still difficult to speak of friends tortured and dead. He did agree to address the Upper Midwest National Alliance of Families in Minneapolis, in late November 1994, because, Vaughn Taylor told him, to get the money they would need to appeal his conviction-including a hundred thousand dollars just for the paperwork-he would have to accept some speaking engagements. The strategy did not really work. Garwood still could not handle repeatedly conjuring up his past as a prisoner, and he was not the kind of man who could simply recite the same preset speech.

On the afternoon of November 28th, the large reception room at the Minneapolis Holiday Inn was packed with veterans, many, if not the majority, former Marines. The gathering and the hotel where Garwood was staying were guarded by off-duty policemen. They were all Vietnam veterans who had volunteered for the job, in itself an extraordinary demonstration of how the tide was turning. After Barbara Sworski, the regional director of the Alliance, introduced Garwood to thunderous applause, the room became totally silent. Garwood spoke, quietly, slowly, at times in a whisper, yet every word was clear. Audience members later remarked that Garwood had been able to transport them back to Vietnam, to the prison camps where Ike and Russ had died. There were long, painful moments of silence while Garwood tried to collect his emotions. No one moved. It was clear that Garwood was reliving his imprisonment. In the hushed aftermath of the speech, veterans presented Garwood with a miniature of the Minneapolis Vietnam War Memorial. A long line of men queued up to offer Garwood their hand in friendship. Many said they had hated him because they believed he had betrayed their comrades, and asked for his forgiveness.

Colonel McKenney arrived in Minneapolis the night before. He was not in the crowd. His meeting with Garwood took place immediately after his arrival and lasted until the early hours of the morning. McKenney had barely taken the time to drop off his bags and check in. Garwood had checked in earlier. It was as if, having waited so long to finally meet face to face, neither man could stand to wait any longer.

Cathy Garwood opened the door. Bobby stood behind her. The two men greeted each other in a low-key, casual manner, as if they were two ordinary Marine Corps veterans thrown together by chance. No outsider would have guessed the long history between them. If Garwood had expected an immediate apology from McKenney, he did not show it. Cathy did. She watched the two men silently, with a tight expression.

After they sat down with nonalcoholic drinks, Garwood began talking-not McKenney, as Cathy had expected. The two men seemed to revert to their former ranks: Garwood, the Marine private, totally respectful to his superior; McKenney, the lieutenant colonel and intelligence officer, listening courteously and professionally. Garwood began with the day of his capture, mapping out carefully how he got his assignment and how he was captured. It was as if floodgates had opened in his mind. He could not stop talking. He carefully outlined the names of each building at III MAF, each officer, each roadblock, and bridge.

Then McKenney began to ask tough, specific questions: "The small bridge you crossed," he asked, "did you know it would be there? Did you know about its history?" McKenney knew the bridge had been of major interest to the enemy. There had been tunnels leading up to it when Garwood was captured and it would be blown up countless times by the VC over the next three years. It was negligence, McKenney had thought privately, that the question did not come up at Garwood's court martial, just as someone should have asked what an inexperienced driver was doing in enemy-infested territory alone.

McKenney concluded that Garwood's memory was phenomenal. On the few minor details about which McKenney had doubts, he checked with friends like Sam Owens, [3] who had been camped not far from where Garwood was captured on that fateful day. McKenney found Garwood's memory better than his own.

When McKenney asked Garwood to take off his shirt so that he could check for scars, Cathy Garwood suspected he had come to catch her husband out. To her he seemed to have again become the hunter-interrogator and perhaps worse. Something had gone awry. Her husband did not agree to meet the man who had unfairly targeted him simply to be judged again. If anything, she thought, the roles should have been reversed. Garwood should be the judge. But something silenced her.

"Why not let him see the wounds?" she told herself. "They were always there and no one else, in all of Bobby's interrogations and examinations at the time of the court martial and later during the DIA debriefings, ever showed the slightest interest."

Cathy Garwood suddenly understood what was happening. This was the trial Garwood always wanted, but never had. McKenney, the tough professional who gave his prey no quarter, was the judge Garwood wanted. These were the questions Garwood had wanted to be asked during the court martial, to prove his innocence. He had begged his lawyers to put him on the witness stand, arguing that he could answer any question truthfully. He had only refused to defend himself when it meant resorting to the backbiting "spider-in-the-jar" tactics the enemy had forced on American prisoners to make them accuse each other.

Up until this moment, even after he wrote his letter of repentance to Garwood, McKenney had continued to believe that at least Garwood's court martial was conducted fairly, according to Marine Corps ethics. Later McKenney said he felt awkward playing doubting Thomas, but a sixth sense prodded him to continue. He still had not seen proof that Garwood was wounded when he was captured. If he had lied about that-even if he told the truth about everything else -- it would have tempered McKenney's regrets about the injustice Garwood had suffered. Once he saw the scars on Garwood's right forearm and wrist, he said: "Garwood should have been given at least a Purple Heart. He fought off his captors until his injuries prevented him from picking up his gun. That's when he was captured. He resisted until he was not able to resist any more."

It was almost daylight in Minneapolis when Garwood reached the part of his story that dealt with his return to the United States. Both men were now gray with fatigue, yet neither wanted to stop. McKenney's face was set in an expression of pure disgust as Garwood related how the interrogators at Great Lakes Naval Station had asked him why, when he had stolen medicines and food for the other prisoners, he had not stolen more. "When you stole two chickens, why didn't you steal four? If you had stolen more medicine don't you think more prisoners would have lived?"

McKenney's explosion made everyone in the room sit up. "Any fool would know that if Bobby had been caught stealing so much as a handful of rice, he would have been shot," he said. "He risked his life on every occasion ... and any fool would also know that he might steal a small amount of food or medicine, or one or two chickens, without its being noticed. Stealing all of anyone kind of thing would have ended all future opportunities." McKenney considered the questions Garwood had been asked "as cruel, obviously designed to make him feel guilty, to make him insecure and to discredit him."

The image of the spite house sprang to mind. More than any other veteran, Bobby Garwood had been put away in a spite house. It had been built, block by rotten propaganda block, to envelop him, destroy him, and obscure from public view the ugliest secrets of the war. McKenney understood now that he himself had been as much a part of the attempted destruction as the interrogators at Great Lakes Naval Station.

When he arrived at Garwood's door earlier that evening McKenney knew Garwood had been done a great wrong, but he had not known what categOl)' of man he really was. He had no doubts now. Garwood was one of those mud Marines who had gone face to face with the enemy, for fourteen years, armed with nothing but his own ingenuity and integrity. He was, as far as McKenney knew, the only American who had beaten their system. Throughout his fourteen years as a prisoner Garwood had remained a good Marine in a way only real jarheads could understand. Even in the most constricted and dehumanizing circumstances, he had gone out and "whipped butt," without getting caught. McKenney could think of no better example than the night Ike Eisenbraun was suffering from severe stomach cramps and Garwood had risked his life to steal a small can of condensed milk for him. The style in which he had managed this -- spreading muddy clay allover his body and crawling through the gate right past the guard post to the kitchen and back-was classic leatherneck. The same was true of the times he had stolen food and medicine for the other POWs and managed to turn on the Voice of America for only fifteen to thirty seconds at a time with guards just around the corner. And though he was never caught red-handed the enemy had fully understood how big a threat someone like Garwood was to a totalitarian system that prided itself on being able to fully control human beings. They did their best to break him, but they did not succeed.

All of this hit McKenney harder than the four-hundred ton explosion that had given him a concussion during Tet 1969. Garwood was the kind of man he had himself been at one time. McKenney, too, had disregarded regulations when he went on booby-trap patrols as an overpaid rifleman, or borrowed the general's helicopter in a hot zone in pursuit of an urgent goal. Garwood had remained that kind of a Marine. McKenney, on the other hand, had eventually traded in his own freedom to think and act according to his conscience for blind loyalty to an institution.

It didn't make him feel better when Garwood admitted he would have reacted the same way as McKenney if given the same limited information.

"No institution is deserving of blind loyalty," McKenney wrote later in the notes he kept of this unique encounter. "There has to be room for the moral scrutiny of one's own conscience." He had always had two mottos. The first-"When it gets too tough for everyone else, it's just right for me and my guys"-now rang hollow. It was the second motto McKenney would try to live up to: "Real Marines take care of their own." Whatever it took, he wanted justice for Bobby Garwood from the Marine Corps. It was the only way future Marines had a chance.

Cathy Garwood thought: "McKenney will be fighting against the spirit of McKenney past." It had taken a quarter century for him to win the first crucial battle within himself. She wanted to believe he would win the second battle.

She only hoped it wouldn't take as long.



1. Ray was with the 525th Military Intelligence Group-Team 38.

2. Deposition of the Mortician, Select Committee on POW / MIA Affairs, December 12th, 1991.

3. McKenney had renewed his friendship with Owens after the two met by chance at the San Diego airport the year before.
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Re: Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam

Postby admin » Thu Dec 07, 2017 2:36 am


Bobby Garwood lives with his family on the west coast of the United States. He makes his living doing mechanical repairs.

Tom McKenney heads Words for Living Ministries, an independent church, and publishes a Christian newsletter. When he is not teaching the Bible, he lectures and writes articles and books on historical, military, and religious subjects.

Sam Owens retired from the Marine Corps in 1977. After a stint as a computer analyst and executive, he switched to a career in high-intensity law enforcement. He retired as a deputy sheriff in the Warrant Division, Columbia, South Carolina, in the fall of 1996.

Werner Helmer was promoted to colonel. For a period of time he was a military judge. He is a Professor of Military Law in orth Carolina.

General Eugene Tighe died of cancer in 1994.

Chris Gugas is committed to helping Bobby Garwood get an appeal.

The Mortician works as a cook at an undisclosed location in the south.

Vaughn Taylor practices military law in Jacksonville, North Carolina. He continues to head a defense fund for a Garwood appeal.

General Lewis Walt was appointed Assistant Commandant, USMC, after his stint as head of III MAF, and retired in 1971. His clitical view of the Vietnam War was perhaps best expressed in the title of his book, Strange War, Strange Strategy. He died at the US Naval Home, a military retirement home in Gulfport, Mississippi, on March 26, 1989.

John Sexton was honorably discharged as a disabled veteran after his release in 1971. He communicates regularly with Jean Ray, Cathy Garwood's mother. In a curious twist of fate, he is the last known American to speak to Cathy Garwood's brother Jimmy Ray in prison, in August 1969. He was not allowed to see Ray, who was held behind a screen of bushes, but the two called out to each other and exchanged basic information during the time they were briefly held in the same camp. Sexton was subsequently moved to another camp.

Don Garwood died two months after Bobby Garwood returned from his trip to Vietnam in 1993.

Linda Garwood died just before Christmas 1995.
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