SOOTER, DAVID WILLIAM

Name: David William Sooter 
Rank/Branch: Warrant Officer 1/US Army                        
Unit:  
Date of Birth: 16 August 1938 
Home of Record: Vallejo, CA
Date of Loss: 17 February 1967 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 140522N 1072245E (YA568588)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Released Prisoner of War 
Category:

Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: OH23G "Raven" 
Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing) 

REMARKS:  730305 RELEASED BY PRG

SYNOPSIS:  The Hiller OH23 Raven was a standard light observation helicopter during the early and mid years of the Vietnam War. By 1966, however, the US Army in the field found it was getting too old and too difficult to maintain, and started replacing them with other helicopters.

On 17 February 1967, WO1 David W. Sooter was the pilot of an OH23G conducting a reconnaissance mission along the South Vietnamese/Cambodian border. As the Raven flew low over a forested area laced with groves of bamboo and scattered grass covered clearings, it was downed on the top of Hill 1381, Pleiku Province, South Vietnam. The circumstances surrounding the loss of the Raven have been lost to history. What is known is the rest of WO1 Sooter's aircrew was recovered or rescued some time shortly after loss and David Sooter was captured by communist forces openly operating in the region.

The Raven's crash site was just east of the South Vietnamese/Cambodia border, 2 miles west of Route 615 and 25 miles northwest of Duc Co. It was also 44 miles south-southwest of the tri-border area where South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia meet and 46 miles southwest of the city of Kontum.

David Sooter was immediately moved into the B-3 POW camp, which was located inside the territorial boundary of Cambodia. The V211 Hospital and B-3 Front POW Camp compound were described in the following manner: The camp and hospital were a complex of buildings in several separate locations, all within close proximity of each other. The camp's graveyard was associated with the hospital. The hospital itself was located just inside the treeline on the north side of the Tonle San River and the Stoeng Ta Pok tributary bordered the hospital on the east side of it.

On 18 May 1967, PFC Joe L. Delong, a rifleman serving as a machine gunner with his company conducting a search and destroy operation 5 miles north of the Ia Drang Valley, was captured and immediately moved to the B-3 POW Camp. On 12 July 1967, PFC Delong and WO1 Sooter were joined by Sgt. Cordine McMurray, Sgt. Martin S. Frank, SP4 James L. Van Bendegom; then SP4 James F. Schiele, SP4 Nathan B. Henry, SP4 Stanley A. Newell, and SP4 Richard R. Perricone who had been captured in the Ia Drang Valley and moved to the B-3 POW Camp. The VC also captured SP4 James F. Schiele who reportedly died of his wounds just before or shortly after capture. James Van Bendegom and Cordine McMurray were taken to the V211 Front Field Hospital where their wounds were treated. A week later, Sgt. McMurray joined the other Americans in the B-3 Front Camp. He reported to the others that when he last saw James Van Bendegom before leaving the field hospital, SP4 Van Bendegom was alive.

WO1 Sooter, PFC Delong, Sgt. McMurray, Sgt. Frank, SP4 Henry, SP4 Newell and SP4 Perricone were moved to a POW camp they called "Camp 101," which was located just inside Cambodia in the tri-border area due west of the city of Kontum, South Vietnam. Eventually the POWs were moved to a larger compound, named "Camp102," located nearby that could house additional captives.

In 6 November 1967, Stanley Newell, Cordine McMurray, Richard Perricone, David Sooter and Joe Delong attempted to escape from Camp 101 when PFC Delong clubbed a guard and took his rifle way from him. The POWs moved through to jungle in an east to southeasterly direction. Several hours after they escaped, other prisoners heard shots in the distance. Within a short period of time, all but Joe Delong were captured and returned to the prison camp.

On 8 November, VC officers showed the prisoners clothing that was positively identified as belonging to Joe Delong. The VC told them that he was dead and if they tried to escape again, they would end up the same way. The pants had several bullet holes in them and were covered in blood. The other prisoners were never shown a body, and while some believed the officers' report that Joe Delong died while escaping, others did not. The men who escaped with Joe Delong believed he only got 2 to 3 kilometers away from the camp before the VC guards caught up with him.

For Americans captured in South Vietnam, daily life could be brutally difficult. 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.

Likewise, the primitive lifestyle imposed on these men by their guards was particularly barbaric. Prisoners were reduced to animals, relying on the basic instinct of survival as their guide. After months in this psychological conditioning, many prisoners lucky enough to survive the early adjustment period of captivity, discovered that they were considerably better treated if they became docile prisoners who did not resist their captors.

In November 1969, the surviving POWs were moved north up the Ho Chi Minh Trail by foot to North Vietnam. The two groups arrived in Hanoi in April 1970.

In 1970 a VC rallier said he interrogated two Americans in the V211 Field Hospital, one of whom was black and the other was white. The black soldier has been identified as Cordine McMurray and James Van Bendegom was identified as the white American. The rallier said he heard the white American died in the hospital. He also heard that a third American who was captured at the same time who "committed suicide shortly after he was captured and was buried near the battlefield." US intelligence personnel correlated that hearsay information to James Schiele and included a copy of the report in his casualty file.

Cordine McMurray, Nathan Henry, Stanley Newell, Martin Frank, Richard Perricone and David Sooter returned to US control on 5 March 1973 during Operation Homecoming. The six returnees provided their debriefers with detailed information about their capture, incarceration and missing comrades.

In December 1990, a joint team under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) traveled to Vietnam to investigate the case of James Schiele and James Van Bendegom. They interviewed several witnesses who provided firsthand information about the B-3 Front POW Camp and the V211 Field Hospital. The witnesses confirmed that these facilities treated/held US POWs and made records on them for higher authorities.

In May 1994, US personnel were conducting research in a Cambodian military museum when they found a passage in a book titled "The People's Armed Forces of the Western Highlands," published in Vietnam in 1980, that pertains to this incident. The passage states, "On 12 July (67) … the soldiers of Battalion 7 wiped out 2 US companies, capturing alive six people in the area southwest of Duc Co."

Other JTFFA teams returned to Pleiku Province to continue investigating this loss incident. In February 1995, a joint team was able to find the probable location of the V211 hospital based on information obtained during interviews with former Khmer Rouge guerrillas who operated in the area. The Cambodian witnesses observed that it was much easier to reach the former base location using the approach through Cambodia then Vietnam.

There is no doubt that James Schiele died of wounds received in combat and that he was buried near the battle site. There is some doubt that James Van Bendegom actually died in captivity in the V211 Field Hospital because his name never appeared on the PRG's list of POWs who died in captivity. As for Joe Delong, his name was included on the PRG's Died in Captivity list as having died in November 1967.

If these men are dead, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if the reports of his death were exaggerated, James Van Bendegom's and Joe Delong's fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is no doubt the Vietnamese know what happened and could return them or their remains any time they had the desire to do so.

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 Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Soldiers in Vietnam were called upon to fight in many dangerous circumstances, and each was 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.