|Rank/Branch:||Staff Sergeant/US Army|
Assistance Team 4-49,
MACV, Advisory Team 71
|Date of Birth:||05 February 1931|
|Home of Record:||Maunabo, Puerto Rico|
|Date of Loss:||24 March 1969|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Prisoner of War|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Richard L. Bowers (Missing)|
REMARKS: 720822 DIC - ON PRG DIC LIST.
SYNOPSIS: On 24 March 1969, 1st Lt. Richard L. Bowers and SSgt. Gerasimo Arroyo-Baez, along with two other American advisors and an unknown number of ARVN personnel, were stationed at the Tam Soc Outpost that was located in the Mekong Delta. This hotly contested region was flat, open and populated with hamlets and villages of all sizes. Further, It was laced with rivers, canals, waterways and rice fields. Tam Soc Outpost was also located approximately 9 miles west-southwest of Khanh Hung, 22 miles north of the coastline, 32 miles south-southeast of Can Tho and 98 miles southwest of Saigon, Ba Xuayn Province, South Vietnam..
The base personnel awoke early in the morning to find their outpost under attack by what was estimated to be a company-sized Viet Cong (VC) force. The enemy was well armed with mortars, automatic weapons, small arms and B-40 rockets.
During the battle, Richard Bowers was heard calling for help over his radio as the VC were overrunning the camp. A relief force was immediately sent to the beleaguered outpost. When it arrived, they found all the Vietnamese defenders of Tam Soc dead, along with two of the four American advisors. Because of 1st Lt. Bowers' situation report issued before his radio went dead, headquarters knew he had been wounded in the foot and back during the attack. SSgt. Arroyo-Baez's condition had not been reported as it was unknown at the time of the transmission. The members of the relief force found no sign of either man among the dead or in and around the outpost. At the time the immediate search of the outpost and surrounding area was terminated, Richard Bowers and Gerasimo Arroyo-Baez were listed Missing in Action.
Later ARVN prisoners who were captured in this incident, were able to escape. They reported that Richard Bowers and Gerasimo Arroyo-Baez had also been captured. Afterward, the VC dressed both Americans in black pajamas. According to one ARVN soldier, both Americans were seen being led off into the jungle when the ARVN watched them attempt to escape and be rapidly recaptured. At the time the US military confirmed that Richard Bowers and Gerasimo Arroyo-Baez had in fact been captured. Shortly thereafter the status of both men was upgraded from Missing in Action to Prisoner of War.
According to several first-hand reports received by US military intelligence, both men were seen by several ARVN POWs and VC ralliers at different points in time and at different locations after capture. During these various sightings, both Richard Bowers and Gerasimo Arroyo-Baez were being moved by their guards through a series of VC run POW camps or in a specific camp.
Some of these VC run camps were actually way stations the communists used for a variety of reasons. Others were regular POW camps. Regardless of size and primary function, conditions in these camps frequently included the prisoners' being tied at night to their bamboo bunks anchored by rope to a post in their small bamboo shelters. In others they were held in bamboo cages, commonly referred to as tiger cages, and in yet other camps the dense jungle itself provided the bars to their cage. There was rarely enough food and water to sustain them, and as a result, the Americans suffered from a wide variety of illnesses in addition to their injuries and wounds.
A second-hand report received at a later date from a single source indicated that 1st Lt. Bowers attempted another escape. After he was once again recaptured, the VC determined he was undoubtedly more trouble than they wished to contend with, summarily executed him and moved his body to an unknown location for burial.
The combination of the most credible reports compiled by military intelligence indicates that 1st Lt. Bowers and SSgt. Arroyo-Baez were captured during combat, but in the confusion following the battle, both were able to escape shortly after capture. However, the Viet Cong located and recaptured them the same evening.
In spite of the fact that there were several first-hand reports to the contrary, US intelligence preferred to accept the single second-hand report that indicated that on the next day of captivity a VC guard murdered Richard Bowers. He reportedly did so after 1st Lt. Bowers attempted yet another escape. Later the guards departed with SSgt. Arroyo-Baez and the ARVN POWs. The POWs were forced to travel a number of days by foot and sampan before reaching their first actual POW camp.
The files pertaining to 1st Lt. Bowers and SSgt. Arroyo-Baez remain sketchy. Gerasimo Arroyo-Baez's name appeared on the "Died in Captivity" list provided by the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG) of Vietnam in 1973. It stated that SSgt. Arroyo-Baez died in captivity on 22 August 1972, but the PRG document did not provide information about where or how he died. There was no reference at all about Richard Bowers having died in captivity by any means at any time.
On 20 March 1985, nearly sixteen years to the day of capture, the Vietnamese returned the remains of Gerasimo Arroyo-Baez without explanation. They were transported to the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) where they were later identified and returned to his family for burial.
In spite of the fact that Richard Bowers was a confirmed prisoner of the Viet Cong, and one they claim to have executed, the Vietnamese continue to deny any knowledge of him - either alive or dead. If he was executed, there is no question the communists know where they buried his body and could return it to his family and friends any time they had the desire to do so.
However, if the report of that execution was a ruse, his fate like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia could be quite different. Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Military men in Vietnam were called upon to fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.