|Name:||Sammie Norman Womack|
|Date of Birth:||08 August 1944|
|Home of Record:||Farmville, VA|
|Date of Loss:||07 October 1966|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Prisoner of War|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||(none missing)|
REMARKS: 670207 RELEASED
SYNOPSIS: On 7 October 1966, 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 with major rice fields to the east, west and south of the Song Van Co Dong River. After capture, Sammie Womack was marched north to the VC prison camp in Tay Ninh Province as were other Americans captured before him. The ambush site was located approximately 1 miles east of Khiem Cuong, 6 miles northeast of the Song Van Co Dong River, 17 miles west-northwest of Tan Son Nhut Airfield that was on the northeast edge of Saigon and 17 miles due east of the South Vietnamese/Cambodian border, Dinh Tuong Province, South Vietnam.
When Sammie Womack arrived at the POW camp, he soon learned three other Americans were already imprisoned there. One of them was US Army advisor Pvt. Charles E. Crafts who was captured on 29 December 1964. The second was US Marine Corps advisor Capt. Donald G. Cook who was captured on 31 December 1964. The third was Douglas Ramsey, a civilian assigned to USAID, who was captured on 17 January 1966. They were held in several camps constructed deep within enemy-held territory and all hidden in the dense jungle of extreme southern South Vietnam. The camps were also located between the area of capture near the coast to the Cambodian border.
Some of the camps were actually way stations the VC used for various reasons, others were regular POW camps. Regardless of size and function, conditions in them 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 known as tiger cages. 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 a wide variety of illnesses in addition to their injuries and wounds. The Americans were being moved toward the west where they would join another group of American POWs, referred to as "The Camacho Group" and so named for SFC Issac Camacho, the senior POW in the group.
Shortly after Sgt. Womack arrived in the POW camp, a contingent of 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 move was hard on all the POWs, but it was especially difficult on Donald Cook. He contracted malaria the day before they broke camp, and suffered from night blindness that affected his equilibrium. Douglas Ramsey reported that "by sheer will power, Capt. Cook traversed the march's 150-200 miles. It was a super-human performance."
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 into 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 (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 to a US checkpoint that afternoon.
Prior to their release, Donald Cook regained his strength to such a level that Charles Crafts remembered him being "as strong as a bull" when he last saw the Captain. In spite of appearances, he was running a low-grade fever from malaria. Before long Donald Cook was gravely ill. Although the VC had stepped up their care of him, Capt. Cook could not keep any food down. According to Mr. Ramsey, "his abdomen swelled up as if he'd swallowed a basketball."
After Sammie Womack and Charles Crafts were released, the prisoners were moved to another camp farther to the west. Because of their condition, Donald Cook and Douglas Ramsey followed at a slower pace. After a month of struggling to climb the steep slopes, Mr. Ramsey arrived at the new camp. As soon as he arrived, he noticed that Capt. Cook was not there. He asked the guards where Donald Cook was and was told that he had been taken to "a distant camp." It was not until his own release that Mr. Ramsey learned from a VC interpreter that his friend had died along the trail, probably from another malaria seizure, only a week or so after the two were separated.
On 22 December 1970, the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG), better known as the Viet Cong, released a list of names of American POWs who they reported died while under their control. The PRG list included Donald Cook. According to the communist's list, Capt. Cook died on 8 December 1967.
As for Douglas Ramsey, he is only one of two Americans who were captured in the Heartland of South Vietnam prior to 1968 and who survived captivity to return to US control during Operation Homecoming.
While Donald Cook died while under the control of the communists they have made no attempt to return his remains 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.