BENNETT, HAROLD GEORGE

Name: Harold George Bennett
Rank/Branch: Staff Sergeant/US Army 
Unit: Headquarters  Military Assistance Command, Vietnam 
Date of Birth: 16 October 1940 (Thornburg, AR)
Home of Record: Perryville, AR
Date of Loss: 29 December 1964
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 103740N 1071950E (YS549755) 
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Prisoner of War/Killed In Captivity 
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground 
Other Personnel In Incident: Charles Crafts (released Prisoner of War) 

REMARKS: 6506 ON PRG DIC LIST

SYNOPSIS:  On 29 December 1964, then Sergeant Harold Bennett and Private Charles Crafts were advisors assigned to an ARVN Battalion. During the afternoon, Sgt. Bennett, Pvt. Crafts and their ARVN unit were operating in the lush populated jungle approximately 2 miles southeast of Binh Gia, 12 miles north of the coastline, 22 miles northeast of Vung Tau and 42 miles east-southeast of Saigon, Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam.

As they moved through the area, the unit made contact with Viet Cong (VC) guerillas and engaged in a fierce firefight. During the battle both Harold Bennett and Charles Crafts were trapped and captured when their position was overrun and members of the ARVN abandoned them. Because their capture was witnessed and reported, both Harold Bennett and Charles Crafts were immediately listed Prisoner of War.

By 2 January 1965, Pvt. Crafts and Sgt. Bennett were joined by another American, US Marine Corps Capt. Donald G. Cook, who had been wounded in the leg and captured by the VC on 31 December 1964. Capt. Cook was an advisor to the 4th Battalion, Vietnamese Marine Corps when the unit was engaged in combat on a jungle covered mountain approximately 14 miles east-northeast of the battle site where the other two advisers had been captured two days earlier. Because the military knew nothing of his capture, Donald Cook was immediately listed Missing in Action.

The three Americans were held in 4 different camps constructed deep within enemy-held territory and all hidden in the dense jungle of extreme southern South Vietnam. All of the camps were located between the area of capture near the coast to the Cambodian border, which was where they would join another group of American POWs, referred to as "The Camacho Group" and so named for SFC Issac Camacho, the senior ranking POW in the group.

.Some of these camps were actually way stations the VC used for a variety of reasons.  Others were regular POW camps.  Regardless of size and primary function, conditions in the VC run 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. Harold Bennett and Donald Cook adhered strictly to the Code of Conduct, the code all military personnel are required to follow should he or she become a Prisoner of War. Both men proved very uncooperative, a situation that infuriated the communists. In February 1965, Harold Bennett undertook a hunger strike as a method of resistance that further angered the guards since they were eating the same diet he refused. This act of defiance earned Sgt. Bennett three beatings. Then in March, Donald Cook and Harold Bennett attempted an escape, but a guard alerted the camp before they could even clear the perimeter. The punishment that followed further weakened Sgt. Bennett.

Upon his release, Charles Craft reported that after the botched escape attempt in late spring 1965, Harold Bennett suffered "a breakdown from the lack of food and psychological distress that manifested itself in an obsessive turn to religion." The ravages of dysentery and malnutrition also debilitated him. At that time he began to refuse food and grew even weaker. The other POWs nursed him as best they could. They shared their meager rations with Harold Bennett, and forced him to eat when he refused to do so on his own, before the VC separated him from the others.

In May 1965, the VC broke camp once more and began moving the prisoners again toward the west. On 28 May, as the prisoners were being moved from one camp to another, Charles Crafts saw Harold Bennett for the last time. As Pvt. Crafts watched, the guards kicked and punched Sgt. Bennett to make him move faster along the trail. Later the guards, who had grown to hate Harold Bennett for his belligerence, told the other POWs that he had been killed because he was unable to travel. However, Pvt. Crafts remembered hearing no gunfire at the time Sgt. Bennett disappeared. Two weeks after the prisoners departed their 4th POW camp, Donald Cook and Charles Crafts settled into the new camp.

On 24 June 1965, Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF) announced on Radio Hanoi that Harold Bennett had been shot in retaliation for communist terrorist Tran Van Dong's execution by the South Vietnamese authorities after he was caught trying to bomb an officer's billet in Saigon. Sgt. Bennett was the first American Prisoner of War to be executed in retaliation for the death of a communist at the hands of the South Vietnamese officials.

Harold Bennett died under the direct control of the VC who could return his remains to his family, friends and country any time they had the desire to do so. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate 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 American POWs 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.