CRAFTS, CHARLES E.

Name: Charles E. Crafts 
Rank/Branch: Private/US Army
Unit: Headquarters
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 11 August 1942
Home of Record: North Jay, ME 
Date of Loss: 29 December 1964 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 103740N 1071950E (YS549755) 
Click coorfinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Released POW
Category:

Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Other Personnel In Incident: Harold G. Bennett (captured/executed) 

REMARKS:  670207 RELEASED

SYNOPSIS:  On 29 December 1964,  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 jungle, 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. 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 May 1965, the VC guards 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 of Sgt. Bennett disappeared. Two weeks after the prisoners departed their 4th POW camp, Donald Cook and Charles Crafts settled into the new camp.

On 16 June 1965 Capt. John R. Schumann, was assigned as an advisor to the Cai Be District Chief, Dinh Tuong Province. Capt. Schumann was in a densely populated area laced with rivers, canals, waterways and rice fields on the north side of a primary canal that ran from the northwest to the southeast and flowed into the Song Tien Giang River when he was captured by VC guerrillas. After capture, the VC moved John Schumann north to join Charles Crafts and Donald Cook in captivity at a camp in Loc Ninh Province.

Despite his size, Capt. Schumann was described by fellow POWs as "a man of gentle spirit and quiet courage." By May 1966, John Schumann became very ill, suffering from pneumonia and with malfunctioning kidneys. Charles Crafts was allowed to stay with him and to take care of him from May until his death at 1330 hours on 7 July 1966, and was present when he drew his last breath. Pvt. Crafts later reported, "they (the VC) gave him everything they had available." He believed the communists held a special respect for him, and perhaps for that reason, he "received more medical treatment than any of the other POWs." The guards removed his body and buried him at an unknown location. Ironically, in October 1967, a photograph of John Schumann in captivity appeared in the Soviet "Red Army" newspaper in Moscow.

Charles Crafts was profoundly affected by John Schumann's death, which left him more vulnerable to the enemy's threats than before. The VC must have perceived this because in August they worked on him even more for a propaganda statement by threatening to kill Donald Cook and him if he did not comply. During one of these intimidation sessions, a guard put a pistol to Donald Cook's head to demonstrate the extent to which they would go to extract that statement. Donald Cook defused this dangerous situation by reciting the nomenclature of the pistol that was being held to his head.

In January 1966, Douglas Ramsey was a State Department Foreign Service Officer attached to the Agency for International Development (USAID) stationed at Hau Nghia as the Chief Provincial Representative. On 17 January 1966, he was riding in a province-owned truck that was transporting food and medical instruments to the village of Trung Lap to assist refugees and evacuees from a joint ARVN/US search and destroy operation. A VC ambush party appeared at the side of the road. After an attempt to evade capture failed, Mr. Ramsey exercised his prerogative as a civilian non-combatant and yelled "dau hung" - I surrender! The guerrillas marched him off to the POW camp in Tay Ninh Province. Even though Douglas Ramsey was aware of other prisoners in the camp, he did not speak to them until July when he made contact with Donald Cook and Charles Crafts at the funeral service held for John Schumann. The prisoners did not talk again until they broke camp three months later. However, in the interim, they were able to slip notes to each other.

On 7 October 1966, Army Sgt. Sammie N. Womack was a squad leader whose infantry unit was ambushed and decimated in a firefight with VC forces as they moved through a flat, grassy, populated area. As with Douglas Ramsey, Sammie Womack was marched north to the VC prison camp in Tay Ninh. Shortly after Sgt. Womack arrived in the POW camp, the guards broke camp on 28 October and began a two-week trek over some of the roughest terrain in South Vietnam. Donald Cook, Charles Crafts, Douglas Ramsey and Sammie Womack clambered across steep ravines on slippery log bridges and plodded through dense forest heavy with humidity and mosquitoes.

The VC could not have found a more inhospitable location for the new camp. Torrential rain and poor soil prevented cultivating crops to the point that even rice was in short supply. Prisoners and guards alike had to make do with a meager diet of manioc, bamboo shoots and an occasional rat for protein supplement. When monsoon rains hit early in 1967, the water table would periodically rise several feet saturating the camp for days and flooding the prisoners out of their dugout cells. Originally the VC planned to use this camp for only a short time, but due to continuing B-52 bombings, they opted to wait out the monsoons, and in the end, remained there for a year. Shortly after arriving in this camp, Douglas Ramsey and Charles Crafts also came down with malaria.

By January 1967, all the men were being given indoctrination up to 6 hours a day with the sessions split between the morning and afternoon. After his release, Sammie Womack told a debriefer that discipline was light, enforced mainly at night and that although there was no fence or wire around the camp, the prisoners were warned the area was booby-trapped. The guard force now numbered 10 men who rotated shifts and who were for the most part considerate and friendly. In spite of this, SSgt. Womack was brutally punished, then chained and thrown in to a trench the POWs dubbed "The Hole" and starved for two days for refusing to complete an index card. Charles Crafts also reported being placed in The Hole for not complying with instructions from the VC cadre.

Shortly after the first of the year, the communists informed Pvt. Crafts that he and SSgt. Womack were candidates for release, but said that he would have to persuade Sammie Womack to improve his attitude. Neither man had any idea what the VC had in mind, except that with the Tet holiday (the Vietnamese New Year) approaching, the communists' might try to make propaganda points by releasing a pair of POWs with one being black and the other white in a non-discriminatory manner. The two decided simply to act politely and write letters requesting release without criticizing the war effort.

On 7 February 1967, Charles Crafts and Sammie Womack were taken to a specially constructed hut for a formal release ceremony presided over by a senior official and attended by the entire camp including Capt. Cook and Mr. Ramsey. However, because Pvt. Craft's malaria flared up, they did not actually leave the camp until 16 February. Charles Crafts smuggled out a letter from Douglas Ramsey to his parents and two letters from Donald Cook, one to his wife and the other to "Big Sam," his cover name for the US government should the letters be intercepted by the enemy. As they left, they carefully studied the area noting a small clearing that could serve as a drop zone for a rescue operation. Unfortunately, they were unable to identify enough landmarks along the departure route to ever find the place again. By 23 February they reached a main highway where their escorts put them on a civilian bus that took them at a US checkpoint that afternoon.

Harold Bennett and John Schumann died while under the control of the communists and in the presence of their fellow prisoners. Each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. 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.