Greeley Daily Tribune from Greeley, Colorado on April 10, 1973 · Page 18
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Greeley Daily Tribune from Greeley, Colorado · Page 18

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Greeley, Colorado
Issue Date:
Tuesday, April 10, 1973
Page:
Page 18
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IX GREELEY (Colo.) TRIBUNE Tues., April 10,1»73 Denton describes stay at notorious Alcatraz By CAPT. JEREMIAH A. DENTON JR., USN As Told In Kathryn Johnson Associated Frees Writer While 1967 was an improvement over 1966, Ihe ohange came slowly. On Oct. 25, the North Vietnamese implemented a new plan whereby they isolated 11 leading trouble makers at a notorious camp known as Alcatraz. Alcatraz consisted of a very small courtyard wilh one cellblock containing 10 adjacent cells, plus a nearby cellblock consisting of three cells. The lineup was: 1. Howie Rutledge; 2. Harry Jenkins; 3. Sam Johnson; 4. Bob Shumaker; 5. Ron Slnrrz; 6. Nelson Tanner; 7. George Coker; 8. George McKnight (who had escaped with Coker a month pre- vioulsy); 9. vacant; 10. myself. In the three-cellblock: 11. Jim Mulligan; 12. vacant; and 13. James Stockdale. On arriving at Alcatraz, we were shocked to find Ihese cells were so small. They had no windows, only small vent holes and only 48 inches square for romping room al the end of the bed. The beds were bamboo strips · deliberately designed to be uncomfortable. My own bed had a protruding nail. 1 told them about the nail a few times and they ordered me not to touch il, saying it was there for a purpose. The nail finally wore a nasty black hole ih my back which remained infested for two years. We set up routine covert audio and visual communications campwide. Our routine was simple. During the day when they needed lo move us about, one at a time,' to empty buckets, for bath or to pick up our food, we were not in irons. But aboul 5 or 6 p.m., Ihey put us in lighl traveling irons until 7 or 8 a.m. When dumping buckets, we used a syncopated brushing of the broom along Ihe inside of the bucket to send short messages such as, "I'm okay." Or "HBD SJ" (Happy Birthday, Sam Johnson). Or "MX" (Merry Christmas). When the other guys finished dumping in the community hole, my job was lo clean up the leavi ngs in Ihe hole area. I used this opportunity to brush out a longer message, usually a witty rebuttal of Ihe baloney we got on the morning radio. The irons were not discontinued as a rouline punishment at Alcalraz until Tet of 1068, and we wore pretty much left alone until December 1968, though much harassment and torture for exploitation was being applied to some individuals and groups at other camps during '67 and '68. Stockdaie was running the camp, and we all recognized that we were lucky to have been exempted from the exportation treadmill even though we lived in bad conditions. Trouble began aboul the time on which the North Vietnamese appeared to anticipate a general release in accordance with an agreement reached following the bombing halt just before the 1968 U.S. presidential elections. (Of course we had firm policy againsl accepting "early" release, meaning with-, out a settlement resulting in a. normal propaganda free release). After the election, there was a startling change in the attitude of the North Vietnamese at Alcatraz. For the next 10 months there was a concentrated torture purge for propaganda purposes. During this purge from December 1968 until October 1969, I was tortured Ihree limes and everyone was torlurcd at leasl once. Stockdale left camp in late January 1969 as a result of a very brave act in which he called a camp fast as a protest against brutal trealment to Harry Jenkins on a night when Harry was very sick. Our reaction lo Ihis treatment also included loud shouting and pounding on our doors which caused them much em- barossmont since il must have been heard over all thai section ······*········· I 3-D j MAPS ·'irtrT of Hanoi. The torture purge began with forcing some of us lo write re-, quests for amnesty. However, when it ultimately became apparent that North Vietnam and the new U.S. administration could not arrive al a mutually accepted setllement, the purge continued with different objectives, such as letters to your old squadron asking men to recognize thai Ihe United States was wrong in Ihe war, etc. By the end of this purge, one man was almost dead and all of us were in very bad physical and mental shape. As senior officer 1 was especially saddened at the condition of the others. Then suddenly in October I was caught communicating and for the first time during my stay in Hanoi I was nol severly punished or tortured. And further signs developed that trealment was significantly changing. Jn Novem- ber we began lo get a meager breakfast for Ihe first time, something like bread or sugar or peanut brittle. And our cigaret ration increased from three to six per day. On Dec. 8, another symptoms of changes policy developed when nine of us were brought back to Las Vegas. The man left behind was in frightful physical condition and could easily have died soon thereafter. By this move, the Vee, knowing that we would find a way to communicate wilh Ihe rest of Vegas, and that I would act to Iry to stiffen that camp, showed that Iheir ambitions for exploitation of PWs were being sharply lowered. When we arrived at Vegas, we were placed in solo again but one of Ihe senior North Vietnamese officers who had supervised Ihe entire torture program since 1965 made a startling announcement to me. His double talk was that the official humane policy of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) loward its war prisoners had been consistently humane for 2,000 years but that recently he and a number of other officers and guards had been required lo perform self- .criticism acts before his own people -- a typical Communist method used by governments to disavow previous policies. He told me Ihey had been required to acknowledge the fact that they had misapplied this humane policy in our case and that henceforth treatment would be drastically improved. Of course, I thought this sin- nister man was throwing some kind of curve ball but in general, his words proved to be true. From then on, to my knowledge, the Vee never administered torture for purposes of extracting propaganda, and opportunity for exercise and recreation were greatly increased. I have good reason to believe that a number of newly shot down men were later tortured for what the Vee coasidered hot operational military information. There were also subsequent periods of use of stocks, beatings, solitary confinement, etc., but these were done in the name of camp security or similar grounds in which the Vee probably felt they had some sort of real moral justification. Treatment never reached Geneva Convention standards but for the main body of POWs, the general change was as from night to day. At Vegas I immediately put out policies to stop further reading of "news' 1 from Vietnamese News Agency (VNA) on the camp radio and to dis- continue such things as voluntary trips to war museums in civilian clothes. I also deemed it necessary to call a voluntary two-week diet ending in a two day fast as a passive protest against a Vee effort to flaunt discrimnatory treatment within Vegas as a means of promoting dissention among us. Sick and very thin men were ordered not to take part but in spile of this order, participation was almost unanimous. They had obtained partial s u c c e s s with their"special t r e a t m e n I " program and though I knew my fasting order was not popular, I thought it an appropriate protest in that our refusal to accept necessities would demonstrate we could not be divided by Ihe proffering special privileges. During 1969, solitary confinement in Vegas was slowly phased out and we were af- forded the opportunity to play pi ng pong and a sort of French pool game. . Since late '69, we had started receiving regular packages from home. I think the rate of receipt was quarterly with a special package at Christmas. These packages were heavily pilfered and some men did not receive them regularly. Regular monthly mail had been general since, I believe, late 1968. Prisoner response to my orders was exceptional, and we generally managed to resist minor duress and threats and avoid any exploitation. By the time of the big move from Vegas, which was one corner of the Hanoi Hilton, to a section of the Hilton known as Camp Unity, discipline and morale of the Vegas group was quite good. On Dec. 26,1969, Ihe move to Camp Unity represented the first time in which all known Hfo\oi PWs were concentrated in one camp.. 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