It was 1967, I was stationed on the USS Speary, a submarine tender. I was working on subs and enjoying the work for the most part and considering getting a submarine job code number. In order to be a member of the crew on a sub, one has to know what every button and switch and valve does on that sub. They give an extensive test too. Well after going out on two different maneuvers for testing the subs, I was pretty sure sub duty wasn't for me. I wasn't claustrophobic and I think I could have passed the test. I just didn't like the feeling of going real fast and not being able to see where you were going. These subs I refer to are FBM's -- no names -- and very fast with, twenty-four ballistic missiles onboard. They were amazing then and still are now.
I was very patriotic at the time. I wanted to do something, so I volunteered for shore duty in Viet Nam -- not the smartest move I ever made. Knowing how slow things happened in the Navy, I figured I had a while before I heard anything back. To my surprise I got my orders the next day. I remember having the feeling I wasn't really needed there on that ship, or they were glad to get rid of me. In actuality they needed more people in Nam and they didn't really want to get in the way, of a man on a mission.
It was great they gave me thirty days leave so I could go home and tell my parents the great news. Well they weren't nearly as happy as I was. Having four boys of my own nowadays, I can see how they must have felt. I knew they were afraid for me but they were also proud of me too. My Dad had fought in Korea, so he backed my feelings; my Mom just prayed for me.
The big day came and my parents brought me to the El Paso airport. I was off to some place called Widbee Island for survival training. I have always thought of myself as a survivor and a very crafty guy. If all else failed, I could burn off a hundred yards in eleven seconds, at the time. I had the blue ribbons to prove my speed. I knew I was bullet proof too! Hey, I was nineteen. So when I got there and we were loaded onto two thirty seven passenger Navy gray buses, I knew these guys couldn't break my spirit. It was always neat getting to meet guys from all over America, so many different types of people. When I first was in boot camp, a couple years before, there were guys from Arkansas who had never worn any shoes in their whole life. Several guys who didn't know how to swim joined up too. I used to wonder why anyone would join the Navy if they couldn't swim. Well, they learned.
Anyway the buses pulled into this place that looked like some summer camp. The people running that camp were all dressed in black Army fatigues with what I would call a black Castro hat with a red star on the front. Their pant legs had long red stripes running down the sides. I noted they were all large, strong men. They had us all get out and sit in a big circle. The told us what was to happen, more or less, in the next two weeks.
The first days we were to be in small groups, seven to eight men, with a leader in each, and we were to read a compass and go from point A to point B. We'd stop for food and water along the way as they discribed it to us. We were all given a white parachute for shelter and they were to be used for a bed as well. They told us all at some point we would all be captured and taken to a big cage and treated as prisoners of war. We would be asked to sign our names to a document saying we were a trader to our country. They told us do not sign these papers. If you do, you well be going through this course again for another two more weeks and if you fail a second time, we will give you the worst duty the Navy has to offer.
I remember them saying, "if any of you sailors came here to have fun. You have made a grave error. This course is designed to save your life in the event you get taken as a POW."
That evening we were all brought to a cafeteria about five miles away. Really good food and all you could eat too. They told us after we finished the survival course, we would be brought back here to eat all we wanted again. I thought that was great. Being a nineteen year old kid who could sit down and eat thirty pancakes and two big glasses of milk. I won a contest at an I-hop restaurant once for that very thing. So for me it wasn't a good idea to tell me I could have all I wanted to eat. My parents said I must of had hollow legs.
Well they brought us back to that camp on those same gray buses and put us all in small groups at that point. I think there were fifty eight of us in all. They told us we were in a large compound about five miles square. It had a twelve-foot high fences all around it and nobody was to cross the fence line. If you did you will be taking this course again. And they warned once would be plenty for anyone. I want to tell you these guys meant business too. They told us also if we felt ourselves getting hit by a rubber bullet at anytime, we were to fall down and let them take us prisoner. They left, wishing us all good luck.
It must have been around ten at night, we had a nice campfire going and the other groups did, also, as we could see the other campfires all around us. I remember seeing the stars through the pine trees; it was a pretty nice night. I loved the smell of the pines, being from the New Mexico desert.
The Navy chief that was in charge of our group was plotting out our first compass mission for the next morning. We were all huddled around him and he seemed to know his stuff. He was the one in our group who got the matches and the compass. It was so peaceful and we all talked softly. Only the sounds of the crackling fire were heard for the longest time. Then gun shots broke that quiet night. Somebody yelled, "American pigs surrender."
Another guy my age from Tennessee and I ran out of our camp, dropping our white parachutes first thing. We ran through the dark forest as quickly as possible. There was about a half a moon that night. The men in the black fatigues were busy capturing the others, affording us the time to get far away.
Those guys let us keep nothing, just our clothes: no watches, no knives, no food, or water. And we had no idea where we were. We only got a few hours of sleep that night; one of us was always on watch. We were up by dawn and wondered what we should do next. It didn't seem like they were out looking for us -- but, they were.
We were walking down through this really quiet valley we finally came up to the twelve-foot fence they told us about. He and I both wanted to play by the rules so we headed east inside the compound area, staying under cover as much as possible and were cautious in our movements.
We both wanted to get to the top of a near by hill, so we would be able to use it as a lookout and to help us get our bearings. The guy from Tennessee thought we should split up and meet each other at the top in thirty minutes or so. I went along with his plan and I got to the top, not hearing a sound on the way. I carefully looked all around and back down the hill. I saw the kid from Tennessee being lead away by four of those men in the black fatigues. His hands were tied behind his back and a thick rope with a loop or noose was around his neck. Two of the men were controlling their prisoner and the other two were looking for someone else, or at least it looked that way to me.
I had no idea how many guys may have escaped like I had. All I knew was that I didn't want to be captured. I moved only a few feet at a time. By the end of that day, I found a place were there were no foot prints and a pine tree that was maybe one-hundred-and-twenty-feet tall. I climbed to the top and stayed up there all night. Then at day break I climbed down and found a near by fallen dead tree. I got under it and dug out the dead soft wood on the underside with my hands and sharp sticks, making a nice cozy place to sleep. I figured I could beat these guys if I stayed up in that tree during the night and slept under the dead tree all day. Well it was a good plan except for a couple things, like food and water. I learned some tricks from some Indians in Arizona when I was younger: like how sucking on a small smooth pebble would keep your mouth wet and you wouldn't get thirsty. Well that was great, but, it only works for a couple days. Then, being this nineteen year old kid that could eat his own weight in groceries every three days, was a big problem. I got real hungry. One evening I found this big bush and the leaves tasted like spinach. Well, only for a time. The next day that bush had no leaves left. I guess it was a kind of water source too. I do remember looking at my poop and thinking I wasn't going to last much longer out there.
For the next two nights there was lots of night patrols. I was way up in that pine tree and could see flash lights and those guys yelling, "Evans! Evans!"
I was real hungry and thirsty but persistent also. I would have given my whole life savings for a couple of peanutbutter and jelly sandwiches and a quart of milk. But most of all I wanted to show those guys they couldn't catch me.
I learned to dress up like a bush and put mud on all my exposed skin, even soft leafy branches under my feet, so I left no tracks. I knew I was good because a few times their patrols walked right passed me, only feet away. I could even hear them talking about me. They thought I went across the fence. I wanted to jump up and yell at them, but, they would have got me.
The fifth day I was run down and I seemed to be dehydrated. My stomach hurt from nothing to eat and I knew I couldn't go on doing what I was. I took a chance and walked back to the main compound where they kept the prisoners. I only got about within a hundred yards and I was tackled by two men. I felt the cold barrel of a forty-five digging into my neck.
Then a mean voice said, "Are you Evans?"
"Yes, Sir." I said, in a heartbeat.
He said, "We have been looking for you day and night!" He sounded upset. I could only guess that they must have got in trouble if they didn't catch all the sailors. They tied my and hands and feet so I was only able to take short steps.
I told them I had to have something to eat and drink real soon. I was too run down, I couldn't have gone another day. They didn't care. They said they were taking me to their Capitan. They were pretty rough with me, I didn't care anymore. I only wanted to eat some real food and get something to drink. The sooner the better.
Those guys forced me into a chair before their Captain. They all talked like Russian military, or with a Cuban accent maybe. The Captain told me he would get me food and water. Someone brought that in, only after a few minutes. I ate and drank like a starving animal. He laughed at me as I ate.
He asked me where I had been hiding and I would have to show them the proof. "We think you went out past the fence. How could you live for five days with no food or water and my patrols looking for you day and night?" I got the feeling he was pretty upset with me. He told me, "Nobody has ever done what you did. You like making fools of us? We will show you a fool."
Then he opens his desk drawer and slides a paper in front of me offering me a pen at the same time. "Comrade lets make this easy for both of us and you sign this paper." He said it in a nice voice.
I looked at it. It said: "I hereby claim I am sorry for bombing women and children in your country and I am ashamed of America..." or something to that affect.
I said, "I ain't signing nothin', Mister." I stood up proud. I Yelled out my name, rank and serial number. He came over his desk and slapped me clean over my chair. He yelled to his guards to put me in the box. That was something, I could barely even fit in, they pushed the top down and locked it, with what sounded like a pad lock and chains. My face stung but I felt better after eating. I figured they had me in that box for maybe two hours. Then they came and opened it, telling me to get up. I couldn't. My arms and legs had all went to sleep. It was a weird feeling. The guards picked me up and dragged me back to the Captain. He still wanted me to sign that paper. I told him I will never sign it.
"There is nothing you could do to make me."
He called me a Capitalist American pig and told his guards to take me to be with the others. I wanted so bad to escape again, but they tied my hands behind me and had ropes around my neck pulling me like I was some animal. I was dragged and pushed into this big caged area. The highest ranking officer was tied to the fence all spread eagled, a sign around his neck with the word "PIG." There were loud speakers at all four corners of the place. My first taste of Hanoi Hanna.
We were all continuously marched in small groups to different buildings. I remember taking my seat in one and through a side door this guy comes in and stands on the American flag that was nailed to the floor, under his boots as he stood there, real cocky like. He coughs up a big ol' hocker and spits on the flag. I couldn't believe it. One older guy up towards the front jumped up and hits the spitter real hard. But these guys weren't playing games. More guards came in and took him outside and put him in a barrel of ice water upside down. We were ordered to watch. I remember the ice cubes falling and bouncing all around the barrel at the guards feet. For the rest of the coarse that older man had to go around in just his briefs. I remember him outside in the rain the next day, shivering and I couldn't do anything to help him. I started to hate those guards.
In fact they made the course seem so real, I almost thought we were really prisoners somewhere. I lost track of what day it was and we got very little sleep, just a few hours at a time. We got just sandwiches and water once a day. Well you could have more water if you asked for it. I did ask once. Three of the guards took me to a small building and two of them forced me to my knees and covered my head and chest with a black plastic bag the other guard held my head down and began filling the bag with water from a hose running full blast. I felt the water line going past my closed eyes and then running down my nostrils. With all I had, I pushed the guards off me with one quick movement. I took a deep breath. They were back on me again doing the same thing over and over, till I couldn't fight them off anymore. I remember coughing up water and feeling kinda sick. Then the guards left me be. It took a whole day for me to dry out.
The last thing they did to us all was put us in these four times four foot plywood boxes with a hinged door on the front. We were to stand bent over and with our hands on our knees. Not very comfortable. Then they would come by every so often and quickly open the door and you better be in the position they wanted you. They did have us come out every two hours or so and get a drink of water or to take a head break. I could hear as they would every once in awhile catch some sailor sitting down. He'd be yelling about something they were doing to him. Once when I got out for a water break one of us sailors was in stocks like they used in the mid-evil days. He was soaking wet too.
Near as I can remember, I think we were held in those four by four boxes for eight to twelve hours. Then they opened the doors and said the course was over. Lots of cheering went on for awhile to be sure. Those mean men in the back fatigues became like normal guys and congratulating us for a job well done. I did have to take the captain and two other men out to where I hid out for five days. They didn't believe my story and it was a good thing I was telling the truth. I don't think I would have wanted to go through that course again. Those guys were very good at their job. I'm sure they saved many a life too.
They told me I missed a lot of the day to day POW treatment, while I was evading them for that five days and they were glad there weren't more guys like me. He told me how many man hours they spent looking for me and they couldn't leave it be. They thought I could be out with a broken leg or worse. So they had no choice but to keep looking for me. He told me how I gave his men a real work out. I told them not to worry about me when I get to Nam.
"Nobody will be taking me alive."
© 2001 David N. Evans, all rights reserved
appears here by permission
I remember seven good friends I lost in the three tours I spent in Viet Nam. Funny how you can get back to the good ol' USA in one piece and not ever feel whole anymore. But like the title says, I have no regrets. If I keep writing, I know I won't maybe shine like a star, but I maybe can shine a little brighter for some.