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Prisoner In Laos: A Story Of Survival-Part I

by Phisit Intharathat (Associate Life Member) |

Editor's note: On September 5, 1963, five people, including Phisit Intharathat and Gene DeBruin (MSO-59), parachuted from a flaming Air America C-46 over Laos. All were captured and became prisoners. Phisit was a prisoner for three years, four months and four days. He was rescued on January 9, 1967. His story of survival is one of the most amazing and inspiring accounts of hardship and courage I have ever read. Gene is still missing.

You can't condense three years into a single article without losing the feel and detail of an event. Therefore, this story will be told over two issues. -- Chuck Sheley


A Straightforward Account

This is a true story, one that has never before been revealed to anyone in writing. It is being told at the urging of my subordinates, and being published in the funeral memories of my mother.

This story is a straightforward, unembellished account. I will use the real names of all the friends who were part of my fate, in memory of the brave spirits of all these beloved people. I will take this opportunity to thank my former instructors and commanders from the Naresuan Airborne Police Camp, who taught me to endure hardship like a man and, most important, taught me how to survive in the jungle. I'd also like to thank the Air America personnel who packed the parachute and made my 80th jump a safe one, enabling me to survive and write this story.

The Day Before

On September 4, 1963, I had just come off a C-123 after completing the daily mission of delivering supplies to Northern Laos. After taking my parachute and survival bag back to the supply room, I went to the air-operations room to log my hours for that day. Next I checked with flight scheduling and found out that I was scheduled to fly on a C-46 the next day with the following crew: Joseph C. Cheney (pilot), Charles G. Herrick (copilot), Y.C. To (radio operator) and Air Freight personnel including Gene DeBruin, Prasit Prahmsuwan and Tran Than. (I was part of this Air Freight team.) We were scheduled for three re-supply trips near the Vietnamese border, where Laotian Rightist forces were operating. After dinner I got ready for bed, because we had to board the aircraft before dawn the next morning.

The Omen

At 2100, Tran Than came to see me and told me that he did not want to fly the next day. I could not dissuade him, so I advised that he make his resignation to Frank Janke, the American section chief. When I arrived at the airport on September 5 at about 0530, I saw the C-46 parked in the area near the Air American restaurant. After picking up my parachute and survival kit, I went to the restaurant and told Cheney that Tran Than was not going. Cheney told me to find a replacement. Prasit Thanee was in the standby room, because his flight had been cancelled and said that he would go. All personnel were aboard the aircraft by 0655. I corrected the flight log with the names of the personnel aboard and read the warning forbidding us to fly lower than 8,000 feet as there was enemy AAA along the flight path. Cheney read this, laughed and said, "If the plane gets hit, Y.C. To will probably have difficulty reporting to Vientiane, and they will probably want numerous corroborating reports." Y.C. To was from Hong Kong, about 40 years old and quite superstitious. He told Cheney not to talk about the flight, as that was a bad omen. Cheney did not answer him but laughed, started the engines and taxied to the runway.

The Flight

We took off from Vientiane Airport and headed over the Mekong River to Savannakhet Airport. The flight took a little over an hour and was the normal flight path taken by Air American planes from Vientiane to Savannakhet and other provinces in southern Laos. After completing the loading of our supplies, we took off at 0830 for Ban Hoeui San about 40 minutes away. We flew at 8,000 feet at all times in accordance with the warning. The left door had been removed, and I looked out and saw jungle and mountains. This was repetitious to me, as I had been one of the first Thais to do this work in Laos and had spent several thousand hours working aboard aircraft and on the ground. There was not a province in Laos where I had not been. I stopped reflecting as we began to drop altitude and entered the Ban Hoeui San area, a valley surrounded by mountains. We completed our cargo drops and retraced our flight path to Savannakhet. There was no sign or hint of enemy AAA.

The Second Drop

After reloading, we returned to Ban Hoeui San for a second time. All went well until the final drop.We were dropping two bundles of rice, each one weighing over 600 pounds. The second bundle sort of floated and hit the left tail fin, causing it to vibrate menacingly. When we got back to Savannakhet, the pilot told the mechanics to check out the aircraft; if they found anything wrong, we would cancel the next flight. The mechanics found everything in working order. It was almost 1600, but we had time to do the job and still return to Vientiane before sunset.

The Shootdown

We took off from Savannakhet Airfield, climbed to 8,000 feet and flew the same route as we had done on the first two trips. Y.C. To was sitting in the radio operator's seat behind the pilots. As for the others, we were either sitting in the passenger seats or lying down. I took off my jacket and wore only a shirt and my brand-new jeans that I had just bought in Bangkok. An eight-inch jungle knife and a compass were attached to my field belt.

It was about ten minutes before we reached the drop zone. I was lying down eating a piece of fruit. A violent explosion happened close to where I was lying near the right wing of the aircraft. We abruptly lost altitude, and I floated to theceiling and fell back to the floor. I was certain that we had been hitby enemy AAA fire, and when I looked out the window, I saw puffs of smoke from AAA rounds as they were fired and exploded not far from our aircraft. I hurried to the cockpit and found Cheney disengaging the auto-pilot and turning the aircraft toward Savannakhet. At the same time, I noticed a large fire coming from the right engine, engulfing the whole wing and emitting a long stream of black smoke. Cheney turned off the right engine, and the fire went out for 10 to 15 seconds before starting up again, worse than before. I hurried back and put on my parachute and tried unsuccessfully to find my survival bag, now covered by the bags of rice that were scattered all over the floor. The fire had now spread to the body of the aircraft and into the cargo area through a hole in the fuselage. I returned to the cockpit and helped the pilots put on their parachutes. Cheney ordered me to abandon the aircraft. I urged the pilots to go with me, but they refused and continued to try to maintain the plane's altitude.

I put a parachute on Y.C. To and pulled him to the door. He said he'd never jumped before and that the parachute he'd checked out required him to pull the handle to release the chute. Gene DeBruin had parachute experience as a smokejumper, but the others had little or no parachute experience. I solved the problem by taking our safety straps that we used when dropping cargo and making a static line with them. I then attached one end to the handles of the parachutes. I had Y.C. jump first. I would jump last. I saw all four chutes open. My parachute was lower than the others, probably because the aircraft was rapidly losing altitude. Before we jumped, heavy flames engulfed the plane, and I was unable to see through the curtain of smoke into the cockpit. It was so hot I felt as if I were burning alive. After I jumped, the plane exploded, and I saw a giant fireball falling to earth.

I Scanned The Earth

I saw the parachutes of my friends above me. While I was floating, I scanned the earth and saw a wide plain at the base of the mountain. I could see that the others were heading for that area. I tried to turn into the wind that was blowing toward the plain and landed in a tree. I climbed down to the ground and left the parachute in the tree as a marker for search aircraft. It was 1630 in the afternoon, and the rescue aircraft operated until 1800. I found a small trail that did not look to be used very much. It was the rainy season, and footprints were easily noticeable. I hurried across the trail and hid in the dense jungle about 110 to 160 yards away from where the parachute was hanging. While I was sitting, I felt a pain in my right knee and felt that my pants were soaked below the knee. There was a tear of about two inches in my pants. I took off my pants and found the wound just above the kneecap. Yellowish flesh oozed out, and it was still bleeding. I tried to push the flesh back into the wound. I had some gauze with me and wrapped it around my knee. Then I poured tincture of iodine over the gauze. I put my pants back on and waited for help from the rescue aircraft. At about 1745, I heard the sound of an aircraft in the distance. I came out of the bush and climbed a tree. The sky was about to darken, but I could see four AT-6 aircraft flying in a line over my parachute and flying toward the plain area. A light rain began to fall, and I could hear the AAA start to fire. At the same time, the sound of 50-mm machine guns, hand-held automatic weapons and small arms fire filled the air. The aircraft quickly climbed for altitude, and I was able to see the emblem of the Laotian Rightist (friendly) Airforce on the planes as they flew away.

A Platoon Of Soldiers

In the open area I saw a platoon of soldiers dressed in khaki uniforms. They were wearing caps, had their arms slung and were carrying full issues of ammunition and other equipment. They were walking single file directly toward where I was hiding. I got down from the tree and hid again as they walked closer and closer. I could hear them talking in Laotian and Vietnamese, which meant that the Laotian Communists were operating with the North Vietnamese soldiers. They found the parachute and scattered out and started to search the area. The rainfall began to increase at dusk. They regrouped and headed back to the open plain area. I quickly came out of hiding and walked along the trail until I saw some light and heard a dog bark. As I moved closer, I saw four or five bamboo houses in the area. Around one house were seven or eight soldiers and two men wearing loincloths. I snuck along the tree line around the village until I found the main trail used by the villagers. I went into the jungle and traveled parallel to the trail until I ran into a small stream. The water wasn't deep, but the current was swift. It was night and difficult to travel.

I swam out and grabbed a hold of a log floating with the current in order to save time and keep from getting too tired. All I had to do was endure the cold water. I floated downstream for a considerable time, when I felt the stream getting shallower and the current starting to run faster. I couldn't see anything ahead. The stream quickly curved to the right, and the current became even stronger.

Captured

As I came around the corner, I saw a campfire on the bank in a clearing. I immediately let go of the log and started to swim to the opposite bank. The current was so strong that by the time I got to the bank, I had been pushed closer to the campfire. The opposite bank was steep and provided no cover. I saw five men at the campfire. Two of them held muskets, two had long-handled sickles and the other one held a crossbow. They saw me from the light of the fire and shouted for me to stay put; otherwise, they would shoot. The two aimed their muskets at me. One of them began signaling with a wooden signal clacker. A couple minutes later, about ten Laotian Communist soldiers ran out of the jungle. They were armed with Chinese rifles, and two of them had hand-held French machine guns.

They waded across the river, tied my hands behind my back and slipped the rope around my neck in a noose. All the time they pointed their guns at my head and poked my body with the barrels. I was extremely frightened and thought that they were going to shoot me. It was the first time in my life that I had been so afraid of dying.

I was taken to another village, where I saw my four friends, who had also been captured. They were tied like me, with the end of the rope attached to a pole in the ground. They let us sit there all night without being interrogated. My watch and lighter were taken, but they allowed me to keep a sewing needle. I was also able to keep some parachute cord that I had tied around my waist in place of my belt.

September 1963: First Prison

On September 6 at about 0800, we were marched to a house across a wide dirt field. We were taken inside and untied. They started questioning the three of us who were Thais. The questions were mostly meaningless, but I was hit in the head once. The solders then ganged up on us and beat us badly. After that they started to question Y.C. To, but Y.C. couldn't understand, and the interrogator couldn't speak any other language, so he stopped.

At 1100, we were marched through the jungle until we reached a big road on which cars could drive. I found out later that this road was National Route 9, stretching from Savannakhet to the Vietnam border. After a while, we reached three ancient buildings with a brick wall around them. The insides of the buildings were covered with bullet marks, and the windows had been replaced with barbed wire. We were but into a room about five yards square.

After about two days, my wound began to get infected. My whole knee was swollen, and I could barely walk. I squeezed the pus out of the wound and tried to clean it, but the wound itself was still spread wide open. I decided to sew up the wound using my sewing needle and threads from inside the parachute cord. Using my fingers to close the wound tightly, I pushed the needle through and my friends tied the thread. It hurt more than anything I had ever endured in my life, but I had to do it to survive. Four days later, the wound started getting infected again with lots of pus. I honed a bamboo sliver until it was sharp and used it to cut out the stitches and the dead skin around the knee. I then put in three new stitches. The wound got better and within three months had disappeared.

We were imprisoned here for 27 days and had just two meals of rice and one cup of water a day. One at a time, we were allowed to go outside and dump our excrement dish. Our weight began to disappear, and we could notice the looseness of
our clothes.

October 1963: Second Prison

We were marched along National Route 9 for three days, all the while meeting Russian trucks carrying Laotian and Vietnamese soldiers. There were machine-gun nests and bunkers at numerous spots along the route. I saw a military camp completely constructed of bamboo that must have been the location of several battalions. We were put in a second prison with a dirt floor. The roof was tin and covered with barbed wire. There were no windows or air vents, and just a little light was able to penetrate through nail holes in the tin roof. This cell was out in the open with no shade, and it was as if we were being baked in an oven. The floor was bamboo, raised about 18 inches off the ground. We were not able to stand up but had to be bent over all the time we were not sitting. The food was the same as before, one cup of sticky rice twice a day. After a month, all of us had dysentery and were passing blood. We had bowel movements many times during each day and night.

One night we heard what sounded like a mouse squealing. Prasit Thanee picked up a stick and struck at the noise. The next morning we awoke and found a dead snake with two round lumps just below its head. Prasist cut the snake open and found two mice. We rubbed bamboo sticks together, started a fire, cooked the snake and the mice, divided them up and ate them. We stayed here for three full months.

January 1964: Third Prison

We next traveled on foot five hours to Muang Ang Kham Prison near the Vietnamese border. The prison was made of logs buried in the ground. It was rectangular, with thatch covering the logs on the roof. This place had a stream nearby and was cleaner and better ventilated than the others. There were three tall watchtowers made of bamboo. For 24 hours a day we were placed in stocks or "foot traps," as they were called by the Laotians. The stocks were made out of a single bottom board and a single top piece that was wedged at both ends. All five us were forced to lay shoulder to shoulder with our ankles fixed in the holes of the foot traps. In a couple hours I felt numb all over. In order to defecate or urinate into our bamboo container, we had to break the bamboo flooring so that we could get the container below us.

Every morning at 0800, the guards would come in and take the top board off and let us out, one person at a time, to empty our excrement containers. They had four guards watching the person who was emptying his bucket. We took as much time as possible to empty our buckets in order to keep our feet out of the foot traps. It was winter, and we had only the clothes we were wearing. It was so cold that I couldn't sleep at night, and the foot traps kept my feet so numb I couldn't feel them. In addition to the foot traps, the guards put nooses around our necks at night and tied the end of the rope to a post outside the cell. When the guards came around to check at night, they jerked on the rope and we had to call out in response. We began to worry about the foot traps; if we remained like this, we'd be crippled for sure.

Out Of The Foot Traps

The eighth day in this prison, I saw a metal piece of a machine-gun clip on the way to dump my excrement bucket. On the way back I pretended to drop my bucket accidentally and bent over and picked up the metal and a small rock. After the guards had put us back into the foot traps, I straightened out the piece of metal and ground it on the rock. It was several hours before I had produced a knife the size of my little finger. Using the knife, I slowly bore out the openings in the foot traps to give me room to move my feet. After three days, we had the openings widened enough that we were able to pull our feet out of the traps without the guards knowing. Thereafter, we were able to sleep comfortably, but we had to be alert and quickly put our feet back into the traps when the guards came.

Throughout this time, even though our mental state was confused, there wasn't anyone who could not control himself. No one was so dejected that he considered suicide. We still had hope that if we weren't killed, we might receive help from Air America, the U.S. government or the Red Cross. We started thinking of escaping, but there were no opportunities, as the guards were very strict.

February 1964: Fourth Prison

During the middle of February, we walked to Lang Khang Prison deep in the interior, adjacent to the Vietnamese border. We split off Route 9 into dense jungle. There we encountered Vietnamese soldiers building a road. They had a full complement of road-building equipment, even large tractors. After five days, we arrived at Lang Khang Prison. There were high guard towers along the rectangular fence. The floor was dirt, and the walls and ceiling were made of trees about the size of a person's arm. There were long thorns in the wood, so one could not lean against the walls or touch the low ceiling. The cells were complete with foot traps.

At about 1600 on our first day, the guards led us outside the cell to a small stream, where we were allowed to bathe and wash our clothes for the first time. Before dark, the guards put us in the foot traps but also added some old-fashioned, heavy handcuffs. There were two ways of wearing them. One way was to have the hands together, as if praying. The other way was to put the wrists together with the fingers pointing out to the left and right. No matter which way they were worn, they were extremely agonizing. The first night was especially tortuous, trying to sleep in handcuffs and foot traps in the cold in wet clothing.

We used the knife to whittle away the foot traps as before. They didn't put us in the handcuffs during the day but did so only at night. Again, a rope was connected to the handcuffs and tied to a post outside the cell. The sleeping quarters of the guards were located about 30 yards away, and we were able to build a fire, although we had to work together to fan the smoke away so they would not see it. Every day when we went to empty our buckets, we tried to pick up pieces of wood and tin to bring back to the cell. We molded dirt around the tin and used it as a cooking oven.

Eat Anything That Moves

At this prison, grasshoppers and crickets, lizards and chameleons came into the cell in large numbers to escape the cold. When we woke up each morning, we would lie there motionless with our eyes open while we located any critter that had come close to us. We would quickly jump and grab it, squeeze the head to kill it and put it in the pile with the others. We then would make a fire and cook the catch, divide and eat. We did this every day in order to survive. When we first started to eat these insects and animals, DeBruin and Y.C. To were squeamish and declined to do so. But after seeing us Thais eating every day, they gave it a try and then ate it every day—not because it tasted good, but because they had to. How can a person who once weighed 150 pounds exist on two lumps of sticky rice a day? In five months, we each had dropped over 20 pounds, but we were still alive.

Planning An Escape

When we first arrived at Lang
Khang, we were guarded very closely. Later the guards became more relaxed, probably thinking that there was no way we could escape. Sometimes the guard who had watch duty would climb up on the cell roof and sleep until his replacement came. The replacement would do the same. We saw this but had to find a way to get our handcuffs off. The handcuffs were attached at one end and, when folded over one's wrists, were locked by a spring mechanism at the other end. We knew how to make a key, but we were lacking the material with which to do it.

Opening The Handcuffs

One morning when I was dumping my waste bucket, I picked up an empty toothpaste tube. Now we had something to work with. I used dirt to make a mold the size of the keyhole for the handcuffs. We melted the tube and poured it into the mold. It turned out to be a little large, but I used the small knife to scrape and shape it so it could be inserted into the keyhole of the handcuffs. The key worked with all the cuffs, and from that time on, we took the handcuffs off every night. We tied the cuffs to the bamboo flooring in case the guards came and pulled on the rope. We were about ready to make our escape. The next problem was figuring out how to get out of our cell.

Escaping The Cell

The cell was made up of tree trunks about eight to ten inches in diameter. The roof was made of logs covered with thatch. One day when there was no guard nearby, we tried moving the largest log on the roof. After a while, we were successful and were able to create an opening large enough to put one's head through. We put the log back in place. Now we were ready to break out and were just waiting for the right time and opportunity. During this time, we tried to be on our best behavior with the guards, so they would feel more at ease with us. Some of the guards were talkative, and we found out there were no mines around the camp. We had been here three months. We didn't have a map, a compass or even a destination, except that we would head west. The height of the dry season was at the end of May, and we chose that time, thinking that traveling would be easy. That's what we thought. Y.C. To used pieces of bamboo to make a Chinese-style calendar so we always knew the date.

The First Escape

On May 28, 1964, the time had come to make our escape. Each night, the guard would climb up on the roof and sleep, often snoring loudly. It would be a big problem if he slept on the log that we had prepared to move. That night the guard took over at dusk. He laid his weapon down on top of the cell, smoked a cigarette and climbed up on the roof and reclined on the opposite side from where we had prepared the log to move. After about two or three hours, we heard him snoring, so we moved the log. I climbed out first, followed by the others. The guard was still snoring loudly. I moved to the outside fence, pulled in wide enough to squeeze through and signaled for my friends to follow. We sat motionless to see if there were any guards along the outside of the fence. There were none. We moved in a direction that would avoid military quarters and headed toward a dry streambed where the walking was much easier.

After about three or four hours, we tried to find water but couldn't find a drop. When it started to get light, we hid and rested. We tried to sleep, but it was hard because of the many small bugs that swarmed around our faces trying to get moisture from our breath. Later we heard shouts from the soldiers who were tracking us. Their voices got close and then went away. That happened several times during the day.

That night we walked west. We were very fatigued and thirsty. The sweat was pouring out, and we had no water to replace it. We were very weak. We cut down jungle banana trees with hopes of finding water in the heart—to no avail. Our travel almost came to a halt as we tried to lick dew from the leaves.

On the third day, we had to catch our urine and drink it. The smell was bad; it tasted salty. We weren't concerned about food; the lack of water was the biggest problem. On day four, all of us felt as if we had sores in our throats. We traveled a very little distance. On the fifth day, DeBruin went into convulsions. My friends were unable to bring him out of it, so I tried another method. I urinated into his mouth. It worked! He choked, got up and ran away. We had to catch and hold him until he regained his senses.

Captured Again

I believe the soldiers weren't far behind, because we had left a lot of tracks. Near daylight on the sixth day, we heard the sound of frogs, indicating there might be water. We increased our pace in the direction of the sound. I walked ahead and found a water pond about four yards across and knee deep. When I scooped up the water into my mouth, I saw the reflection of a person in a Laotian military outfit standing on the cliff overlooking the pond. I jumped for cover and shouted for the others to beware. It was too late. Y.C. To and DeBruin had plunged into the pond. At the same time the sound of gunfire was heard in all directions. They had us surrounded. They shouted that we would be killed if we tried to flee. We all walked out and sat down in the pond. We didn't care if they killed us or not.

After they pulled us out of the water, they handcuffed us and put nooses around our necks. We walked about two hours to a small village. They beat us incessantly along the way. They wanted to know who led the escape. After some preliminary interrogation, they tied my legs to DeBruin's and hoisted us up a tree with out heads hanging about six feet off the ground. Not satisfied, they had the villagers find a red ant nest and beat the nest over our bodies. The ants bit us all over, but that pain was nothing compared to the pain in my ankles. I passed out and came to about dusk. I saw DeBruin laying beside me with his eyes closed. Our three friends had already been taken away. That night they brought us one ear of boiled corn to eat. We ate it all, including the cob. The next morning we were herded along a trail until dark, at which time I knew that we were back at Lang Khang.

Back At Lang Khang

We were put into a barbed-wire pen and learned that our friends were being held in a corrugated tin cell. Three days later we changed places. All five of us were black and blue from the beatings. After three more days, they put all of us back into the cell from which we escaped. They weren't suspicious about how we got out of the foot traps and handcuffs. They thought that they had forgotten to lock us up on the day we escaped. The guards were replaced by a new team that was a lot stricter than the other teams.

On August 22, 1964, a truck pulled up in front, and soldiers carried a cardboard box to our cell. They told us it contained things that were sent to us by a “neutral party.” In the box we found a Christmas card from Frank Janke, our boss at Air America. There were also canned goods, soap and cigarettes. Based on the date of the Christmas card, these things had probably been held for eight months before the package got to us.

Before dawn the next day, we boarded a Russian military truck and traveled through the jungle, mountains and valleys. There were 12 soldiers guarding us. We slept in the truck that night. We continued throughout the next morning until about four in the afternoon. They marched us into the mountains to the village of Ban Pha Tang. We then walked five days to our next destination.

The Fifth Prison

We were taken to a large prison built in a cave, and it contained many other prisoners. I don't know how long they had been there, but they were all skinny, weak and dirty. We were herded into a cave with water dripping down, and it was cool and stunk. The floor was stone, but they had made a raised floor of split bamboo for sleeping. We were there only three weeks and moved again across the river. From there we walked another full day. We found out from the soldiers that this prison was new, especially built for foreign prisoners. We were told that no one had been held here before.

The Sixth Prison

We arrived at Ban Tham in the evening. It appeared that it was a large village, as many villagers gathered around to look at us prisoners. This prison was like some of the others and located in a mountain pass covered by large, thick trees. A stream ran by in front, and there were tall guard towers at two corners of the fence. It had been almost a year since we were captured. We still hadn't been interrogated in any official way and had no news of the outside world.

We talked about escape every day. We clearly saw that our first escape effort had derailed because of the lack of drinking water. The Laos we had seen from the airplane seemed full of rivers and streams. We knew that our next escape would be during the rainy season, when we would have plenty of drinking water. We guessed that we were being held near the vietnamese-Laotian border.

Eating Dogs

Ten days after our arrival, we saw the guards kill a dog to eat. They tied the dog on a long bamboo pole with a couple cross poles so the dog was in a spread-eagle position. It was tied tightly and could not move. It was then immersed in water for two to three minutes before being removed. The dog would then vomit the food and water from its stomach. They did this three times, until the dog vomited clear water. The dog was killed by a blow to the head and then, still tied to the bamboo, roasted over a fire. They roasted it until all the hair over its body was burnt to a crisp. After scraping off the skin, they washed the dog with water, cut off the legs and head, and slit the stomach. One of the guards tossed the four legs into our cell. There was only bleeding skin on the bones, and no one dared taste it until that evening. Each one of us, with the exception of DeBruin, picked up a leg and started to nibble it. It was tough and had started to smell bad.

Interrogation

Fourteen days later we were marched back to our fifth prison and put in the same cell we had occupied before. In the morning, soldiers cut our hair for the first time in over a year, and we were allowed to bathe in the stream. The soldiers gave us Laotian military uniforms to put on. We were taken to an old house, where a big man stood. He was wearing a khaki uniform and a sun helmet and wearing a pistol around his waist. Five soldiers carrying AK rifles were behind him. He had us line up and took a few photos of us. When he finished, we were again handcuffed and taken to the porch of the house where the nterrogation began. The three of us Thais were questioned first. We were asked our first names, last names and ages. They inquired about various aspects of our personal history. They asked our rank and unit. We replied we were civilians working for Air America Company. He didn't believe us and warned us not to lie, or we would be shot. He asked how we knew how to parachute from a plane if we were not soldier. We again affirmed that we were civilians and were forced to jump from the plane when it was shot down. They began hitting us immediately. The soldiers in back of us used the stocks of their weapons to hit us from behind until our chairs fell over to the floor. They pulled us back up again and had us lay our handcuffed hands on the table. He asked me where do the Thai soldiers do their parachute training? I answered that I did not know. He grabbed the AK from one of the soldiers and slammed the stock down onto my right hand breaking the bones on the spot. My hand hurt, but I had to endure it. He yelled, "If you guys don't tell me the truth, I'm going to shoot you." When the interrogation began, he spoke Laotian, but as it rogressed, he started clearly speaking Thai. He pointed the gun at my head and had me write, "The [Thai] government sent me to invade Laotian territory and to kill Laotians." I had to write this and sign my name.

The interrogator was finished with us three Thais and started on DeBruin. He interrogated DeBruin in English with a French accent. DeBruin had to endure more pain than I did and fell out of his chair many times. The last time, he passed out. They threw water on him and continued the interrogation when he regained consciousness. In the end he was forced to write a confession just like us. We were taken back to Ban Tham.

The Cruelest Prison

On March 4, 1965, we were moved to Pa Kuen Prison. It was the cruelest of them all. It had swarms of mosquitoes and horseflies and was crawling with all sorts of strange insects. The jungle trees were so large that we never got any sun. Our bodies looked like we had ermatitis, and the malaria attacks were more frequent. We got only one small meal a day and were short drinking water. There were aircraft passing over 24 hours a day, and we heard bombs dropping and AAA. The Laotian soldiers were more afraid of the aircraft than anything else, and we were beaten often because of it.