On Christmas Eve, the white center candle is traditionally lit. This candle is called the “Christ Candle” and represents the life of Christ that has come into the world. The color white represents purity. Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Savior. Also, those who receive Christ as Savior are washed of their sins and made whiter than snow.
Let’s look at our scripture passages for Christmas Eve beginning with the letter to Titus, Titus 2:11-15 (NASB) . . .
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,
12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,
13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,
14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
15 These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
Our Second passage is from the gospel according to Luke . . . Luke 2:1-14(NASB) . . . .
1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.
2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;
11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
Tonight all candles are lit starting with the “Prophecy Candle” (purple), then the “Bethlehem Candle” (purple), Next is the “Shepherds’ Candle” (rose), then the “Angels’ Candle” (purple) and tonight the “Christ Candle” (white).
Let us pray . . . Father unto You be glory, honor and power, joy, peace, love and purity for only You have given us Christ the Lord Who is King and Shepherd, Savior and Lord. We thank You for Your graciousness and love, for the amazing sacrifice You make, in Jesus’ precious name, Amen.
The fourth and last Sunday of Advent is for the celebration and representation of Peace. Let’s read our scripture passages, the first being from the first letter to the church of Corinth. 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 (NASB)
4 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.
3 But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.
4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.
5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
Our second passage of scripture comes from the gospel according to Luke Chapter 3, verses 1-6 (NASB) . . . .
3 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
2 in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.
3 And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins;
4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight.
5‘Every ravine will be filled,
And every mountain and hill will be brought low;
The crooked will become straight,
And the rough roads smooth;
6And all flesh will see the salvation of God.’”
Today we light four candles, the “Prophecy Candle” (purple), the “Bethlehem Candle” (purple), the “Shepherd’s Candle” (rose) and the fourth and last purple candle, oftentimes called the “Angels Candle,” represents peace.
Let us pray, Father we thank You for bringing us through this time of preparation to receive Your Son, our Lord and Savior. What a magnificent gift You have given and are giving us when He returns to gather His brothers and sisters, Your children, Home to glory. Keep us ever mindful of the price You paid when He came to earth in human form, totally human, yet totally divine, in His precious name we pray, Amen.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!
5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Our second scripture passage is from the gospel of John 1:19-28 (NASB)
19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”
20 And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
21 They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he *said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”
22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”
23 He said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.
They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know.
It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
On the third Sunday of Advent the pink, or rose-colored candle is lit. This pink candle is customarily called the “Shepherds Candle” and it represents joy. Today we light three candles, the “Prophecy Candle” (purple); the “Bethlehem Candle” (purple) and todays is the pink or rose candle know as the “Shepherd’s Candle.”
Let us Pray . . . Father thank You for giving us time to prepare for the coming of Your Son. As we look forward to His birth, we also look forward to His coming again and thank You for our redemption through Christ our Lord, Amen.
On the second Sunday of Advent, the second purple candle is lit. This candle typically represents love. Some traditions call this the “Bethlehem Candle,” symbolizing Christ’s manger. As we begin our Celebration of the Second Sunday of Advent, let’s join together and read from the letter to the Romans, chapter 15, verses 4-13 (NASB) . . .
4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus,
6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers,
9 and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written,
“Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles,
And I will sing to Your name.”
10 Again he says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.”
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord all you Gentiles,
And let all the peoples praise Him.”
12 Again Isaiah says,
“There shall come the root of Jesse,
And He who arises to rule over the Gentiles,
In Him shall the Gentiles hope.”
13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lets now read together from the gospel of Matthew. Matthew 11:2-10 (NASB)
2 Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples
3 and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”
4 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see:
5 the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the gospel preached to them.
6 And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”
7 As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
Advent-wreath-wk2-m8 But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces!
9 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet.
This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger Who will prepare Your way before You.’
Let’s pray, Father we thank You for Who You are and for all the ways You show us Your love. Through the Prophets of old You gave us a promise and we see You have fulfilled it. We can therefore learn from this that Your word is tried and true. You will always keep Your promises. Thank You for showing us Your love as we prepare for the birth of our Lord, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
Our second reading is from the book of the gospel of Luke, chapter 21:25-33 (NASB) . . .
25 “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 Then He told them a parable: Behold the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. 31 So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
Let us light the first candle of Advent. This candle is typically called the “Prophecy Candle” in remembrance of the prophets, primarily Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. This candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah. (Light the first Purple Candle)
Father we thank You that You love us enough to send us Your son for our redemption and new life. Prepare us for the day of Your coming again. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Celebrating Advent involves spending time in spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. In Western Christianity, the season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through Christmas Eve, or December 24. In 2014 it begins on Sunday 30 November and is celebrated each Sunday after that until it climaxes on 24 December.
What is Advent?
Advent is a period of spiritual preparation in which many Christians make themselves ready for the coming, or birth of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Celebrating Advent typically involves a season of prayer, fasting and repentance, followed by anticipation, hope and joy.
Many Christians celebrate Advent not only by thanking God for Christ’s first coming to Earth as a baby, but also for his presence among us today through the Holy Spirit, and in preparation and anticipation of his final coming at the end of time.
Definition of Advent
The word “advent” comes from the Latin “adventus” meaning “arrival” or “coming,” particularly of something having great importance.
The Time of Advent
For denominations that celebrate Advent, it marks the beginning of the church year.
In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through Christmas Eve, or December 24. When Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is the last or fourth Sunday of Advent.
For Eastern Orthodox churches which use the Julian calendar, Advent begins earlier, on November 15, and lasts 40 days rather than four weeks. Advent is also known as the Nativity Fast in Orthodox Christianity.
What Denominations Celebrate Advent?
Advent is primarily observed in Christian churches that follow an ecclesiastical calendar of liturgical seasons to determine feasts, memorials, fasts and holy days:
Anglican / Episcopalian
Today, however, more and more Protestant and Evangelical Christians are recognizing the spiritual significance of Advent, and have begun to revive the spirit of the season through serious reflection, joyful expectation, and even through the observance of some of the traditional Advent customs.
Origins of Advent
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Advent began sometime after the 4th century as a time of preparation for Epiphany, and not in anticipation of Christmas. Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Christ by remembering the visit of the wise men and, in some traditions, the Baptism of Jesus. At this time new Christians were baptized and received into the faith, and so the early church instituted a 40-day period of fasting and repentance.
Later, in the 6th century, St. Gregory the Great was the first to associate this season of Advent with the coming of Christ. Originally it was not the coming of the Christ-child that was anticipated, but rather, the Second Coming of Christ.
By the Middle Ages, the church had extended the celebration of Advent to include the coming of Christ through His birth in Bethlehem, his future coming at the end of time, and his presence among us through the promised Holy Spirit. Modern-day Advent services include symbolic customs related to all three of these “advents” of Christ.
Advent Symbols and Customs
Many different variations and interpretations of Advent customs exist today, depending upon the denomination and the type of service being observed. The following symbols and customs provide a general overview only, and do not represent an exhaustive resource for all Christian traditions.
Some Christians choose to incorporate Advent activities into their family holiday traditions, even when their church does not formally recognize a season of Advent. They do this as a way of keeping Christ at the center of their Christmas celebrations.
What Are the Colors of Advent?
Advent Colors and What They Symbolize
Purple has traditionally been the primary color of Advent, symbolizing repentance and fasting. Purple is also the color of royalty, demonstrating the anticipation and reception of the coming King celebrated during Advent. Today, however, many churches have begun to use blue instead of purple, as a means of distinguishing Advent from Lent.
Pink (or rose) is also one of the colors of Advent used during the third Sunday. It represents joy or rejoicing and reveals a shift in the season away from repentance and toward celebration.
White is the color of the center Advent candle, representing purity. Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Savior. Also, those who receive Christ as Savior are washed of their sins and made whiter than snow.
Symbols and Customs of the Advent Wreath
The Advent wreath is a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity. On that wreath, five candles are typically arranged. During the season of Advent one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday as a part of the Advent services. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
On the first Sunday of Advent, the first purple candle is lit. This candle is typically called the “Prophecy Candle” in remembrance of the prophets, primarily Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. This candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah.
Each week on Sunday, an additional candle is lit. On the second Sunday of Advent, the second purple candle is lit. This candle typically represents love. Some traditions call this the Bethlehem Candle,” symbolizing Christ’s manger.
On the third Sunday of Advent the pink, or rose-colored candle is lit. This pink candle is customarily called the “Shepherds Candle” and it represents joy.
The fourth and last purple candle, oftentimes called the “Angels Candle,” represents peace and is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent.
On Christmas Eve, the white center candle is traditionally lit. This candle is called the “Christ Candle” and represents the life of Christ that has come into the world. The color white represents purity. Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Savior. Also, those who receive Christ as Savior are washed of their sins and made whiter than snow.
Celebrating with an Advent wreath during the weeks prior to Christmas is a great way for Christian families to keep Christ at the center of Christmas, and for parents to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas.
Name: Ronald Edward Storz
Branch/Rank: United States Air Force/O3
Date of Birth: 21 October 1933
Home City of Record: SOUTH OZONE PARK NY
Date of Loss: 28 April 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Status (in 1973): Prisoner of War/Died in Captivity
The following is QUOTED directly from THE PASSING OF THE NIGHT, by Brigadier Gen Robinson Risner, Copyright 1973, Ballantine Books. Pages 63 – 71.
“One day they replaced Shumaker with Air Force Captain Ron Storz. I tapped on the wall to him, got his name, and so forth. He said that up until this move, he had been living with Captain Scotty Morgan. “I leaned on the door and broke the lock. Now I am over here alone being punished.” Ron told me he had been shot down in an L 1 9, one of those little planes called grasshoppers. Since he, as a forward air controller, normally worked with Vietnamese ground forces, he would carry a Vietnamese officer in the back seat. His mission was to circle and spot enemy positions or helps the artillery batteries adjust for accuracy. “One afternoon I decided to go up and buzz around by myself. I was just looking the area over, and I circled real close to the Ben Hi River. I knew that was the seventeenth parallel, but I didn’t mean to get over the river. When I did, a Vietnamese gun got me, and tries as I might, I could not keep from crashing on the north side. I thought they were going to kill me when I got out of the airplane. They made me get down on my knees. One of the officers took my gun, cocked it and put it against my head. I figured I was a goner.” He had been in prison for some time and really wanted to talk. I could hear him moving around in the other cell. He hollered out the back vent as Bob before him had done, but I could never understand him. We tapped on the wall, but it was too slow and unsatisfactory.
There were a lot of things we wanted to tell each other. Finally he asked, by tapping, “Have you tried boring a hole through the wall yet?” I told him I had tried several places but could not get through. “Each time I try, I hit a brick after I’ve gone in maybe eight to twelve inches.” I had several partial holes; in fact, the wall looked like a piece of Swiss cheese. “Well, I’ll try, too.” Pretty soon I heard some scraping and grinding. By that afternoon he was through. His hands were blistered, but he had made it. That gave me some incentive to try to go through the other wall. I really went to work, and I punched through there, too. We passed our tools through and let them work in the next room. In a few days, every room was connected up and down the hall.
Once we got the holes bored through, Ron said, “I’m really down in the mouth.” I asked what the matter was. “Well, just the fact that I have nothing. They have taken everything away from me. They took my shoes, my flying suit, and everything I possessed. They even took my glasses. I don’t have a single thing. They took everything.” Ron had indicated to me that he planned to become a minister when he got back to America. Consequently we talked about religion quite a bit, as all of us did. When he said he was depressed because they had taken everything, I told him, “Ron, I don’t think we really have lost everything.” “What do you mean?” “According to the Bible, we are sons of God. Everything out there in the courtyard, all the buildings and the whole shooting match belong to God. Since we are children of God, you might say that all belongs to us, too.” There was a long pause. “Let me think about it, and I’ll call you back.” After a while he called back, “I really feel a lot better. In fact, every time I get to thinking about it, I have to laugh.” “What do you mean?” “I am just loaning it to them.” I will never forget the day he called me and told me, “They’re trying to make me come to attention for the guards and I will not do it. What do you think I ought to do?” “What do they do?” “They cut my legs with a bayonet, trying to make me put my feet together. I am just not going to do it.” I knew he meant it. He was an extremely strong man. I thought about it for a while, then I called back, “Ron, I’m afraid we don’t have the power to combat them by physical force. I believe I would reconsider. Then, if we decide differently, we all should resist simultaneously. With only you resisting while everybody else is doing it means you are bound to lose.” He said, “Okay.” I knew, though, that if I had said, “Ron, hang tough! Refuse to snap to,” he would have done it without batting an eye. He was just that kind of man and he proved it a short time later.
It happened after we had begun to set up a covert communications system throughout the Zoo. By means of the holes in the walls, special hiding places in the latrine and other ways, we could pass a message through the entire camp within two days. I had put out directives establishing committees and worked out a staff. Certain people had been assigned specific jobs. One man was heading up our communications section. We had a committee working on escape. And we kept a current list of all the POWs and their shoot-down date. I then decided to put out a bulletin. It was not too large, but it contained directives, policies and suggestions. Since Ron was next door to me, I dictated it to him, and he wrote it down. Despite the Vietnamese’s denying us our dues as POWs, I still felt that we could outsmart them by using tactics such as these. We had only been at the Zoo around four weeks; given time, I reasoned, we could begin to effect some changes. I could not have been more wrong. One day during this period, a guard came in and made me stand at attention with my back to the wall. In a few minutes the Dog came in with another Vietnamese in a white shirt. The Dog did not say who the civilian was, but he paid him a lot of deference. Using the Dog as an interpreter, the civilian made a statement: “I understand you are also a Korean hero.” I was still standing braced against the Wall. “That is military information and I cannot answer. I can give you only my name, rank, serial number and date of birth.” When he heard the translation, the cords in his neck swelled up and he tamed red in the face. “We know how to handle your kind. We are preparing for you now.” He turned and stomped out. The Dog came back in a little while. He was either so scared or mad that he was still trembling “You have made the gravest mistake in your life. You will really suffer for this.”
With that threat he left. A few days later a guard caught the men two cells above me talking through the hole in the wall to Ron. He also found some written material. Then he went into Ron’s room and caught him by surprise. He took two pieces of written work Ron had prepared; one was a list of all the POW names, the other was one of the bulletins I had put out. To make matters worse, Ron had put my real name on the newssheet instead of my code name, “Cochise.” While still in the cell, one of the guards began reading the two sheets. Ron reached over, snatched one and ate it while holding them off with one hand. Unfortunately he had grabbed the wrong one. He ate the list of names which was not too important, but they kept the list of directives. They also found the hole in the wall. This so excited them that they stepped out in the hall yelling for reinforcements. While they were out, Ron ran over to my wall and beat out an emergency signal to come to our hole in the wall. They searched and found everything. I ate the list of names, but they got the policies. Get rid of anything you don’t want them to find.” I told him to deny everything, and I would do the same.
He just had time enough to stuff the plug back in the hole when they came and took him away. I passed the warning down to the other two rooms and they began to clean house. As fast as possible I began to try and dispose of anything incriminating. The steel rods that we had been using to bore the holes in the walls I put under the floor through the grate. I destroyed lots of paperwork, but the fat was in the fire. A big shakedown was on. One thing I had not destroyed was a sheet of toilet paper that had the Morse code on it. I didn’t think it was any big deal or I would have gotten rid of it. This was one of the pieces of evidence they would use to accuse me of running a communications system. The irony of it was that I actually was relearning the Morse code with the knowledge of my turnkey. He had even written his name on it for me.
They put Ron in another room for three days and nights without anything at all – no food, water, bedding, blankets or mosquito net. They just shoved him in and left him there. He not only got cold, but the mosquitoes chewed on him all night. They took me before the camp commander for interrogation. He had the piece of paper Ron had not been able to destroy and started reading the fourteen items it listed, such as: gather all string, nails and wire; save whatever soap or medicine you get; familiarize yourself with any possible escape routes; become acquainted with the guards, and in general follow the policy that “you can catch more flies with sugar than, with vinegar.” I denied the paper was mine. “Storz has already admitted everything and said you were responsible.” I knew that was a lie.
They would have had to kill Ron before he did that. He might admit to his having done it, but he would never say that somebody else had. They, of course, told him the same thing and said that I had admitted everything, and all he had to do was confirm it. After making the usual number of threats, they took me back to a different room at the end of the building. They left me a pencil and paper and told me to write out a confession that I had violated prison rules. “If you do not, you will be severely punished.” The first thing I knew, I heard a tap. It was Ron Storz in the next room. We exchanged what had happened in interrogation. I said, “Remember, I’ll never confess to anything.” “Roger, I won’t either.” He then tapped, “God bless you.” I sent back a GBU. I later heard that Ron was put in Alcatraz, a harsh punishment camp. Though he was an extremely strong man, the torture began to get through to him. The North Vietnamese hated him so that even when they moved out all the other POWs, they left Ron there alone. I later saw one of the postage stamps put out by the North Vietnamese. It was typical North Vietnamese propaganda. On it is a picture of an American POW. He is big and tall. Behind him is a teen-age girl, very small, holding a rifle on him. The American was Ron Storz. When making their report on the POWs in 1973, the North Vietnamese said that Ron Storz “died in captivity.” Ron Storz died as he lived – a brave American fighting man who considered his principles more valuable than his life.”
Ron Storz was beaten unconscious and died on 23 April 1970. His remains were recovered and returned on March 6, 1974.
Isaac ‘Ike Camacho was born in the farming community of Fabens, Texas, where crops and cotton-picking are a way of life. Along with his widowed mother and two sisters, he later moved to El Paso, where he attended Thomas Jefferson High School and enjoyed being a part of El Paso’s large Mexican-American community.
In 1957, while Camacho was enrolled in the ROTC program, an airborne trooper addressed the group. He made quite an impression on Camacho and three of his buddies, who later joined the Army together and requested airborne training. For Camacho, it was the beginning of a successful military career.
By 1960, Camacho had been promoted to E-5 and was serving as an airborne jump instructor for the old 503rd Airborne (later the 173rd). A friend told him about an elite new unit then being formed that needed personnel. Intrigued, Camacho investigated and shortly became a member of the newly formed 77th Special Forces Group. At the end of the training period, he was ordered to Vietnam.
Initially, Camacho was assigned to the Kontum-Dak To area, in the A Shau Valley. During his second tour in-country in 1963, he was part of the 5th Special Forces Group, serving in the province of Hau Nghia. That unit had established an A-Team camp at Hiep Hoa, in the Plain of Reeds, about 45 miles northeast of Saigon, to train Civilian Irregular Defense Guard (CIDG) personnel to conduct reconnaissance and raids in enemy-controlled areas. Built on the bank of a canal and encircled with barbed wire, the 125-by-100-meter garrison was protected by .30-caliber machine-gun emplacements on all four corners. In addition, two 81mm mortars were located near the gates. There was ample reason for the high level of security, since the camp was located near Cambodia’s infamous Parrot’s Beak region, a major VC staging ground.
In October 1963 a friend of Camacho’s who was also serving in the Special Forces, 1st Lt. Nick Rowe, was captured at Tan Phu, on the Ca Mau Peninsula. The following month it was Camacho’s turn.
On the night of November 22, 1963, moving stealthily under cover of night, several hundred VC infiltrators attacked the Hiep Hoa outpost. Aided by information from their spies, the guerrillas were familiar with the garrison’s layout and were also apparently aware that half the camp’s troops were out on a reconnaissance mission. Moving in quietly, they quickly killed some of the perimeter guards and then machine-gunned the camp’s inhabitants as they emerged from their billets. Several of the Special Forces troops manned a machine-gun position and began trying to stem the tide of invaders.
Camacho, who was the camp’s heavy weapons specialist, grabbed a carbine and made his way to the mortar bunker, where he waged a one-man mortar barrage against the enemy. He was still firing approximately 30 minutes later when he was joined by Lieutenant John R. Colby, the detachment’s executive officer, who was trying to rally the defending forces. In light of the attack’s intensity, and seeing that some of the CIDG troops were fleeing, Colby decided that further efforts to defend the camp would be futile. He handed Camacho a grenade to use for added protection and ordered him to leave while he could.
Camacho left reluctantly. He knew that a couple of Americans were still fighting inside the camp. Once outside the compound, he thought of his friends and could not bring himself to abandon them. He re-entered the enclosure and encountered heavier firepower and exploding mortar rounds. When he suddenly came face to face with some VC, he blasted at them with his carbine. The enemy fire was so overwhelming that he tossed his grenade at the VC and made a dash for cover in a machine-gun bunker. But the VC soon located him, as well as Sergeant George E. Smith, Specialist Claude McClure and Staff Sgt. Kenneth M. Roraback. This is Camacho’s story in his own words . . .
“Apparently, I was seen, Camacho later recalled, because in the next 30 seconds, I was surrounded and flashlights were being shined on me. I was ordered to get up, and as I did a VC grabbed my carbine. He felt the barrel, which was hot, then he said something to the others in Vietnamese. While they were tying me up, one VC gave me a butt stroke with his M-1 and I was out. When I came to, I had blood all over from a gash on the back of my head. Then another order was given, and we were practically dragged across the barbed wire.
A few minutes later, aircraft came and started dropping napalm and making strafing runs. Our hands were tied at the elbows as tight as could be and they had rope around our necks. We were being pulled like donkeys. Once we got out of bomb range, Smitty and I were told to walk down this little road, and they began to lock and load their weapons. They were going to kill us, but then someone came from the front of the column and gave a different order. We were spared.
They kept us blindfolded and moved us out–first on foot and then we were placed on an oxcart and covered with a tarp. I was able to move the canvas enough to see even though I was tied. We were going around Nui Ba Den Mountain, and I saw the north star in front of us. We might have been on Highway 22 or just a branch of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. When we entered Cambodia, the VC took off their headgear and began to sling arms. It seemed odd, because in Vietnam they controlled their noise, but over here they were unwinding, even talking. We traveled a long way blindfolded and were told to be quiet. Later that night we moved out on foot again.
We boarded a sampan to reach this place that looked like an island–it had water all around it. It must have been some kind of haven or R&R center. The VC stacked their weapons and were cooking and relaxing. There were classrooms for training and indoctrination. We were placed in a hooch watched by four guards. They had us locked up with chains. Really, there wasn’t much you could do about it with the chains around your ankle and fastened to a huge tree.”
Two nights after Camacho’s capture, a telegram was dispatched to his mother, Mary Elorreaga, informing her that her son was missing. It revealed only the briefest details of the Special Forces base camp’s being overrun and promised that a representative of the U.S. Army would contact her soon.
The four Americans had been taken to Trai Bai, a small camp site near the Cambodian border, no more than 60 miles from Saigon. The Vam Co Dong River lies just east of it. The VC found it ideal as a jungle sanctuary. Everyone in the camp focused their attention on the new arrivals. Camacho’s head was still aching, and it seemed to him that their chances of survival were slim.
The four Americans had another reason to be demoralized. The morning after their capture, the VC had received a radio dispatch announcing President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. As the Americans were being taken through small hamlets inhabited by people who were sympathetic to the VC, the villagers had turned out to taunt them: Kennedy di-et (Kennedy is dead).
Soon after they arrived at Trai Bai, Wilfred Burchett, an Australian writer and Communist sympathizer, and Roger Pic, a French photographer, arrived to document their plight.
“I don’t remember being photographed, said Camacho, but the proof is there–all of us Americans in black pajamas. Wilfred Burchett walked up to me and introduced himself. He said that we Americans were in trouble because we were fighting an unpopular war, and that he would try to see what he could do to help us. He asked if I understood. He asked me a few questions, and I answered politely without giving out any real information. He asked me if there was anything he could do for me, and I told him, ‘Yes, sir, can you tell me who won the fight between Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay?’ He must have been disappointed, because he gave me this look and just walked away.”
Shortly after that visit, Kenneth Roraback was summarily taken out and executed in retaliation for Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing of North Vietnam authorized by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Camacho had to fight depression at that point. “I think what scared me most was when some Cubans came to talk to me,” he recalled. They had on berets like Che Guevara. The incident happened after Burchett left. What they did was sit me down on a stump, and they stood over me and looked down. I guess they were trying to make me feel low while they were on top. This one asked me, ‘Eres Latino?’ (‘Are you Hispanic?’), and I answered, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Then he asked me, ‘What is your nationality?’ and I told him I was Indian.
He asked me if I knew Fidel Castro, and I said no. He got real mad and said, ‘You don’t know Fidel Castro?’ I told him, ‘No, the only Castro I know is the Castro I went to school with in Fabens, Texas.’ Next he asked ‘Do you like guitar music?’ I answered, ‘Yes, I like guitar music. Then he asked, ‘Do you like Sabicas?’ ‘I don’t know who Sabicas is,’ I told him. ‘You like guitar music but you don’t know Sabicas?’ I said, ‘No.’ He asked, ‘How come you like guitar music?’ and I responded, ‘Because Elvis Presley played the guitar.’
They got mad, and I heard them say, ‘Este pendejo no sabe nada. Es un baboso bien hecho’ (‘This fool knows nothing. He’s a natural blithering idiot’). They didn’t realize that I could understand what they were saying. One of them said to the other, ‘Ya no voy’ a hablar con este’ (‘I’m not speaking to him anymore’). So he walked around and put his gun next to my temple. ‘Hacete para ya!’ (‘Move over there!’) he said. I told him, ‘If you’re going to shoot me, just shoot me. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I just kept speaking English all the time until they finally said, ‘Dejalo, el no sabe nada. El es nada mas que un titere de los Estados Unidos’ (‘Leave him alone, he knows nothing. He’s nothing more than a puppet for the United States’). My questioner finally spoke in English and said, ‘Well, you know you’re here as a prisoner of war and these people have been suffering many years. We’ll talk to you later.’ I think they were trying to break us down mentally.
The camp was administered by this Vietnamese who called himself ‘the commissioner.’ He would tell us what a predicament we were in, that they were being bombed all the time and it was hard to provide us with food and medicine. He would say, ‘I understand that you’ve been sick, but you have no business in this country and must pay for your sins. What we expect from you is that you join with your fellow Americans, and now there are many people your age protesting the war, and you should join your comrades in the struggle to let the Vietnamese people live the way they want to.’ It cracked me up because they had every bit of information about the anti-war movement.
The interrogation included efforts to extract a confession, which mainly had to do with burning and looting and killing innocent children, murder and rape and all this other stuff. That’s what the context of the confession was. Finally, they wanted us to admit that we had invaded their sovereignty by coming in and doing all these things. I never did sign it. They would pressure me by asking me, ‘When are you going to see the light?’ I told them the confession did not mean anything to me, and I asked, ‘What do you want me to do, lie?’ ‘No, no,’ they said, ‘the confession must come from your heart.’
During the first six months of my captivity, I told them that I was a supply clerk. They asked what kind of work that was, and I told them, ‘If someone needed a canteen or a blanket, I would provide it.’ They said, ‘Oh, you were supplying war materiel?’ and I denied it. ‘No,’ I said, ‘It wasn’t war materiel, just canteens and stuff like that.’ Everything went good for a while until they called me in one day to interrogate me and showed me a copy of Newsweek magazine. They said, ‘Do you know what this is?’ I said, ‘Yes, an American magazine.’ They said, ‘Turn to page 14, so I did, and there was an article about Hiep Hoa, explaining how we had been captured. It said that Isaac Camacho had been teaching anti-guerrilla warfare. ‘We really like this, and your people wrote this!’ they said. ‘You have been deceiving us!’ They almost starved us to death after that article appeared.
Then the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times had articles about Mike Mansfield and Ernest Gruening, two anti-war politicians. Every time they would get something like that, when we went into interrogations they would show it to us. They would boast, ‘Even these people’s hearts are for the VC–these are the true patriots.’ It was very demoralizing.
The camp was located under triple-canopied forest. You couldn’t see the sky unless you were out on a work detail. It was always dark. I was kept in a cage just big enough to sleep and get some exercise. The first six months were probably the hardest, because they kept us in isolation. The only time I would see somebody is when they were going down to the well to wash up or clean the little cup they gave us. Then they decided to put us to work with a guard watching us so we couldn’t talk.
The first chance we had, we would talk to each other–’Hey, how are you doing? You all right?’–things like that. At first the guards would whack us across the back for talking, but they soon decided we weren’t going to escape, and then we could talk a bit. Eventually we were able to carry on a conversation.
We were fed just enough so we would be strong enough to work. One detail involved building a bomb shelter, and we had to go out half a mile in the woods to cut logs. It was on work details like this when we would get to see the sky. You don’t know how nice it is to see a piece of blue out there in that type of situation. We’d look out and say, ‘God, the sky looks beautiful.’ The logs we cut had been knocked down by bombing or lightning, so we wouldn’t bother the natural foliage.
I was held in a cage approximately 8 feet by 6 feet in area. Originally, I had been placed in a one-man cell, but they put us in two-man cells to relieve the guard force. The cage was constructed of wood. They very seldom used bamboo except for maybe the rafters. The logs were hammered together with wooden pegs, not nails, and held really tight. The thatched roofs kept us dry during the monsoons. It would really pour, but by the time the water filtered through the branches and reached the cage, the roof would protect us.
There was a hole dug at one end of the cage that we used as an air raid shelter. A couple of times we had to use it. They always had a small lamp on in our cage so they could observe us, and they would yell ‘Pica’ when a plane approached. That meant we should turn off the lamp and take cover. During one Skyraider attack, we jumped into the hole, but the chains on our legs weren’t long enough–our feet were sticking out. We knew that snakes and scorpions might be in the hole, but we still had to take cover. One bomb landed so close that the nose cone reached our cage. The foliage was scattered and you could smell smoke the next day because of the powder residue.
We did more wood cutting and dug some wells. Another detail involved working on their rice mill. I couldn’t believe how much rice they had. It was a mountain. It made me angry to see these guys pass my cage carrying sacks of flour or rice, condensed milk, vegetable oil for cooking, and all with lettering, saying: ‘Donated by the people of the United States.’ As a matter of fact, they made a rucksack out of this material so I could carry my personal items on work detail.
My physical condition deteriorated horribly. I was underweight and had gone through malaria, hepatitis and beriberi. I was really afraid of beriberi because my skinny legs would inflate and I could take my finger and poke it down almost all the way and it would leave a deep dimple there. Later, it would slowly come back out. It was caused by vitamin deficiency.
They served us nuoc mam sauce and plenty of rice. Sometimes it would be a mixture of half-rice and half-salt. They used to give us these old dried fish with worms crawling out of the mouth and eyes. When I relieved myself I could see the worms in my excrement.
When I saw the VC eating some peppers, I knew what to do. I asked them what it was they were eating and they told me that they were called ‘ot’ and did I want some. After I ate them, I put on a good show and acted like it was real hot. I threw myself on the floor and started asking for some water. My cage was now surrounded by VC, and they were all laughing. They gave me more, so I ate it. Besides being a vegetable, I knew it was the hottest remedy available, and it would clean out my system and kill all the worms.
Once I went on a hunger strike because of the food they regularly fed us. I told them, ‘I know you can give us better food than this.’ The commissioner came over and wanted to know what I was doing. He pointed to the rice and said, ‘What’s that?’ I answered him sarcastically, saying, ‘You mean you’ve lived in Vietnam all your life and don’t know what it is? It’s rice!’ He said, ‘We’ve worked so hard to bring the rice to you, and you’re throwing it away.’ I told him, ‘I can’t eat rice anymore. That’s why I’m throwing it away. I’m going to die.’ That evening we got a decent meal with meat in the rice. It could have been one of those giant rats that they killed or maybe a wild hog, we didn’t know. We knew that they ate a lot of different meat. They had elephant meat, snake, wild deer, chicken and a lot of vegetables besides. An army just can’t fight on a diet of only rice, they’d never make it. Sometimes when the breeze was blowing in from the mess hall toward the cage, you could smell something good cooking. When you’re hungry, that’s when your sense of smell gets real sensitive.
I learned some useful words in Vietnamese when I was a POW. I’m hurt, I’m sick, I want water, I need medical help. The guards didn’t lend themselves that much to helping us learn, and the interpreter was more interested in learning English. On work details I would see the VC picking up things from the ground, and I knew that they were getting edible things. Soon I was attempting the same thing. I would motion to them and ask, ‘To?’ and they would say, ‘No can to, dao.’ That meant I would get sick if I ate whatever it was. I learned what was good and what was harmful. Later on, that knowledge would be helpful.
I had a hunch that someday they would take the chains off of us while we were in the cage, and so I had been looking for a weak spot in the cage. One day I found it. Newer cages had been built, and I knew that more prisoners would be coming into camp. They drew our cages closer together and took off our chains to use on two new arrivals, a Marine captain named Cook and an Army private first class named Crafts.
I pried this one bar in the cage until I could loosen it and pull it upward and tie it with a little cord that I had. It gave me a little space that I could crawl over, and when I got out of the cage, I could push the crossbar down with my feet and just go around it.
We had only a rough concept of what the date was. The new prisoners helped us figure it out, and we fashioned a calendar. I had wanted to escape on July the Fourth, but it was actually on the July 8 that I left.
Smitty, my cellmate, knew that he would be seriously handicapped if he tried to escape, since he had no boots. He knew he wouldn’t get far with the plastic slippers that he wore. We both knew that the guards were going to be checking. He stayed awake all night to make sure the lamp would stay lit and the guards wouldn’t have to come in.
We had our mosquito nets pulled down, and I left an extra pair of black pajamas bundled up on my cot to give the illusion that I was still there. It was monsoon season and raining hard. The guard’s post was nearby, and it was hard to see if he was inside because of the way the building was shaped. I was so glad that I kept my old boots. I had rice, a piece of mirror and some tobacco paper to spell out ‘POW’ on a black plastic sheet. I asked Smitty again to stay awake and keep the lamp lit, and then I left.
Thunder and lightning lit the trail where we used to go on work details–that’s where I headed. After going out around 300 meters, I slipped into the jungle. There was a wall there where we used to take our breaks and look for patches of the sky. I knew my boots were leaving tracks, but they couldn’t be traced with all the water coming down.
I must have walked about 45 minutes through the downpour when I realized that I had made a 360-degree turn and was now back in the camp area. That really broke my heart. I was thinking, maybe I should get back in the cage and try some other time. I knew it would go real hard on me if I was detected. I decided to try again. I knelt to pray and think before going on. It went through my mind, ‘Think of escape and evasion tactics,’ and it seemed like the Lord was listening. I saw the little leaves as they were falling down from the storm, floating away. Then it hit me. That’s it–follow the water! I followed one little stream as it led into a bigger one, and then finally I came into a running brook that poured into a big fork of the Saigon River. I jumped in and swam with the current. I knew there would be nobody there to stop me in that kind of weather, and I tried to get as much distance as possible.
When I got out of the water I was loaded with leeches. I thought I had millions. I ran into the woods and began to pluck out the bloodsuckers. They were everywhere! I decided to stay in the woods and walk along the river. What I wanted to do was get my bearings when I came to a spot where I could see the sun. I had to go south or southeast–that’s the only way the river flowed. I knew I couldn’t stay too near the river because that’s where they would be looking for me.
I saw this little trap for small animals like muskrats and knew that people were nearby. By the second day I could hear search parties looking for me. I would hide whenever I heard them. I climbed trees at night to get away from tigers and other animals. I walked through this arroyo and I thought, ‘Nice sand, good ground like the arroyos in the U.S. southland. This is good–now I can make some time.’ But I had gone only a few yards when I saw some tiger tracks. I decided to change course.
During the first couple of days, fruit was abundant. I would fill my pockets. There was one that looked like a small orange or nectarine, also some like kiwi fruit and some mangos. I knew what mangos were, since I had eaten them all my life.
I had only a stick to defend myself with. On the third day out I was feeling dehydrated. I was lost and wanted to do some navigating. That evening, I heard a round go off in the distance and decided to travel in that direction. It had been cloudy when I started off that morning. By afternoon, when the sun came out, I realized that I had been traveling in the wrong direction.
On the fourth day, I just packed up what I had been carrying with me in a tree and began walking. I came across a puddle of water and was glad, since I had run out. I noticed that the water was loaded with mosquito larvae, but I drank it anyway.
I kept on going, and around 10:30 or 11 a.m. I saw an American plane–it may have been a Cessna L-19–flying real low at treetop level. I could read the U.S. Army markings on it. I began walking in that direction it was headed.
I came to a hardtop clay road, and I thought how it might be the same one that I had taken north toward Song Mau. I could see an abutment on the road, and when I got closer I saw some markings, something about a corps of engineers. That was the first sign of civilization I had seen since my capture. I sat back down in the jungle and I thought, ‘I can’t blow it now.’
First I saw a dump truck coming down the road. There were no soldiers riding on it, so I thought it must be a civilian truck. I stayed in the jungle to study things and kept going until I neared a rubber tree plantation. Keeping near the road, I moved ahead, hiding behind trees, until I saw a little Vietnamese flag and a gate with some gun emplacements and bunkers.
I figured that I had made it to safety, but I wanted to be careful. Then I saw a little moped coming. I was getting ready to knock this guy off his moped just in case he wasn’t friendly when I noticed a small car following it with a Red Cross symbol on its bumper. I jumped into the road and started waving a branch to signal him. He spoke to me in French, asking if he could help me. I knew a little French, and I told him I was an American and I needed help. I was real nervous that he would turn in the opposite direction, but he reassured me. He asked again, ‘Vous ette un Americain?’ and I answered, ‘Oui, je suis un Americain. He gave me a ride to the Vietnamese compound and hollered at the guard to let them know who I was. He took me right to the village chief’s house. The village chief spoke good English. I told him I had been captured at Hiep Hoa.
He told me that there was no American compound at Hiep Hoa, and I answered, ‘maybe not, but there was one when I got captured.’ He said that I didn’t look American, so I showed him my tattoos. I looked out the window and saw some berets. I told him, ‘If you don’t believe me, ask the Green Beret over there.’ He asked the Green Beret to come in. When he saw me, he cried, ‘Ike, is that you?’ I answered, ‘Yeah, it’s me.’
They took me to the Special Forces camp at Minh Tranh. Sergeant First Class Rocky Laine and some of the other fellows I knew were there. They were all happy to see me and got me a hot shower and a new uniform. They served me a big breakfast plate of eggs and ham. I couldn’t eat it. My brain was saying I want it, but my stomach was rejecting it. I got real sick, and they took me to the Third Field Hospital in Tan Son Nhut for a checkup.
The helicopter that took me to the hospital was actually on a mail run to Da Nang when the guys diverted it. The pilot took me to Da Nang, and I saw Sergeant Thompson, an old friend of mine. He hugged me before I was rushed out. Once I arrived at the hospital, Colonel Mike De La Peña came to see me within half an hour.
I can only describe the whole episode as something that occurred in a dream. That’s the only way I know how to put it. In my hospital room, Colonel De La Peña was standing over me like a father figure and there were tears in his eyes. I guess that’s when everything finally caught up to me, because I broke down, too.”
After being debriefed, Isaac Camacho was promoted to master sergeant, and he later received a field promotion to captain. Authorities told him not to speak about his encounter with the Cubans. He was shipped to Okinawa, where it was determined that his stomach had shrunk to the size of a 6-year-old’s during his 20 months of captivity. One doctor warned him that he would probably have stomach problems for the rest of his life.
As the first GI to escape from a VC POW camp, Camacho returned home to a hero’s welcome. He was congratulated by El Paso Mayor Judson Williams, Congressman Richard White and President Johnson. The El Paso Times reported that his mother said, Thank my good God! My prayers have been answered! He is my only boy, my only son, I have always been proud of him. I am the happiest mother in the world. I prayed day and night for 20 long months.
Camacho’s former commanding officer wrote a letter urging that he be awarded the Medal of Honor. But that never happened, perhaps because of a lack of witnesses. For his gallant defense at Hiep Hoa, however, Camacho did receive the Silver Star. In 1999 he was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Many people still feel that he should have received the Medal of Honor for the bravery he displayed in support of his comrades.
After all he has been through, Isaac Camacho is remarkably upbeat when he looks back on his experience. Speaking of a visit he had from George Smith, his friend who was in captivity with him, Camacho said: “I always say that I’m in debt for the way he sacrificed for me. That gave me all night to get away. We had a blast talking in El Paso. He told me about the reaction of the guards the morning after I escaped.
That was the funniest thing I ever saw in my life, Smith said. They checked out the cage inside and out. They just couldn’t see how the hell you got out! They had about five or six guys down in the hole to see. Even the commissioner went down in the hole to see if you were there. They didn’t even know which guard to blame because they had all been on duty and changed posts. They got the smallest guy in the camp and tried to force him through the bars to see if his head could squeeze through, and of course it couldn’t. They never once knew where the exit was. I wanted to laugh, but I could not.”
Isaac Zurita Camacho, 76, of Port Isabel, TX, entered into Eternal Rest on Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen, TX. Isaac was a life-long and loyal resident of the town he took so much pride in, Port Isabel, TX. He enjoyed being very active in the community he loved so much. He served as an American Legion Post 498 Commander, a loyal member at his church, Our Lady Star of the Sea, lifetime member of the VFW, and a successful business owner for over 30 years. He is preceded in death by his parents, Gilberto and Simona Zurita Camacho; his brothers, Jesus Z. Medrano, Cruz Z. Camacho, and Adan Z. Camacho.
He is survived by his wife, Corina Lopez Camacho; his son, Johnny Lopez Camacho; brothers: Lorenzo Z. Medrano, Quirino Z. Camacho, Frank Z. Camacho, Lucio Z. Camacho, and Domingo Z. Camacho; his sisters: Herlinda Locke, Maria Corilda Bella, Amalia Camacho, and Lydia Heald; seven grandchildren: John Albert Camacho, Vanessa Bryant, Ashley Murphy, Amber Murphy, Danaka Camacho, William Camacho, and Zachary Camacho; He is also survived by five great-grandchildren.
(Parts of this article were gleaned from the Vietnam Magazine article published in 2000.)
CPT Humbert Roque “Rocky” Versace, Army Special Forces
Detachment A-23, 5th Special Forces Group, (Intelligence Advisor, MAAG at Camau)
Date of Birth: 02 July 1937 (Honolulu HI)
Date of Death: 26 September 1965 (South Vietnam)
Vietnam was a different kind of war from World War II and Korea, and so was the POW experience in several aspects. There were fewer prisoners (estimated at about 1,200 military, civilians, and foreign nationals known to have been captured) for two reasons. There were no mass surrenders of American forces such as those ordered for the defenders at Bataan and Corregidor in the Philippines at the beginning of WWII. Nor were entire American combat units enveloped and overwhelmed, as happened during the forced withdrawal to the Pusan perimeter at the beginning of the Korean War. American prisoners were captured in Southeast Asia individually when soldiers were wounded or became trapped and couldn’t be rescued, or, as crew members of aircraft and helicopters that were shot down deep in enemy territory.
Vietnam was America’s longest undeclared war, and as a consequence, American prisoners endured captivity longer under inhumane conditions longer than in any previous conflict. (The longest held Army POW, Special Forces COL Floyd J. Thompson was held captive for two weeks short of nine years.) North Vietnam and the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam treated all of their prisoners as “war criminals,” and denied them any protections afforded to POWs by the Geneva Convention. Unless the communists allowed a prisoner’s name to be known to the media, those captured vanished without a trace, only to be known about if seen by another prison who did return.
Vietnam was the first conflict where the Code of Conduct guided soldiers in how to resist communist indoctrination. As in Korea, Vietnam POWs were subjected to intensive indoctrination sessions, designed by their communist captors to “re-educate” them over time to collaborate with the enemy, mainly for propaganda purposes, but also to stir up disunity within prisoner ranks.
On October 29, 1963, Capt. “Rocky” Versace, 1Lt. “Nick” Rowe, and Sgt. Daniel Pitzer were accompanying a CIDG company on an operation along a canal. The team left the camp at Tan Phu for the village of Le Coeur to roust a small enemy unit that was establishing a command post there. When they reached the village, they found the enemy gone, and pursued them, falling into an ambush at about 1000 hours. The fighting continued until 1800 hours, when reinforcements were sent in to relieve the company. During the fight, Versace, Pitzer and Rowe were all captured. The three captives were photographed together in a staged setting in the U Minh forest in their early days of captivity. CPT Versace was executed by the Viet Cong on or about 26 September 1965, the following is his story . . .
Though suffering from a badly wounded and infected leg wound, CPT Versace assumed the position of Senior American Prisoner and demanded that the Viet Cong treat the American prisoners according to the protections of the Geneva Convention. He protested vehemently when the VC cadre refused to recognize them as “prisoners of war,” but treated them instead as “war criminals,” subject to the whims of individual cadre to decide matters of life or death. For his vociferous protestations against starvation rations, lack of adequate medical treatment for their wounds suffered when captured, deliberate withholding of medicines to treat life threatening diseases, and the overall sub-human living conditions in a brutal jungle environment, CPT Versace was soon ordered to be kept in an isolation hut with thatch on the roof and sides, which made mid-day temperatures inside as hot as an oven. This punishment hut, kept out of sight from the other prisoners, was six feet long, two feet wide, and only three feet high. It was meant to break CPT Versace physically, especially with the addition of leg and arm irons, and mentally, from the intense heat, lack of sufficient food and water, and the claustrophobia that could be expected to result from being entombed in such a confining space. The leg irons prevented him from turning, so the guards would position Versace either face up or face down for hours at a time unless they released him for meals and latrine runs.
Versace, his head swollen, his hair white and skin yellowed by jaundice, was pulled around villages with a rope tied around his neck by his angry captors.
CPT Versace’s exceptional faith in God, Country, and his fellow prisoners, and his resolve to uphold every tenet of the Code of Conduct despite the temptations from his captors offering more food, better treatment and early release if only he would co-operate by making disloyal statements, distinguish him as the toughest hard-line resister among all of the Army jungle captives who did not return at Operation Homecoming.
His remains have never been returned to the United States and though the Vietnamese Government confirmed he had been in their possession and executed they have never produced them.
After extensive support from the West Point Class of ’59, “Friends of Rocky Versace”, Duane Frederick, and others, CPT Versace was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush on Monday, 08 July 2002. It was presented to Versace’s family and received by one of his brothers, Steven Versace.
The U.S. Army Special Forces, Vietnam (Provisional) was formed at Saigon in 1962 to advise and assist the South Vietnamese government in the organization, training, equipping and employment of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) forces. Total personnel strength in 1963 was 674, all but 98 of whom were TDY from 1st Special Forces Group on Okinawa and 5th and 7th Special Forces Groups at Ft. Bragg. USSF Provisional was given complete charge of the CIDG program, formerly handled by the CIA, on July 1, 1963.
The USSF Provisional/CIDG network consisted of fortified, strategically located camps, each one with an airstrip. The area development programs soon evolved into combat operations and by the end of October 1963, the network also had responsibility for border surveillance. One of the Provisional/CIDG camps was manned by Detachment A-21 at Hiep Hoa, Hau Nghia Province, South Vietnam. The isolated location, in the midst of known heavy enemy presence, made the camp vulnerable to attack.
On 24 November 1963, Lt. John Colbe, detachment executive officer; SFC Isaac “Ike” Camacho, heavy weapons specialist; then SFC Kenneth M. “Ken” Roraback, radio operator; SSgt. Claude D. McClure, medic; and SSgt. George E. “Smitty” Smith were assigned to Detachment A-21, Hiep Hoa Special Forces Camp. The detachment’s mission was to train CIDG troops and gather intelligence pertaining to enemy activity throughout the region.
Just after midnight the camp was attacked by an estimated 400-500 VC troops whose communist sympathizers within the camp had provided them with detailed knowledge of the garrison’s layout. The informants’ also provided tactical information regarding the fact that half of the camp’s personnel would be away from the camp at this time on a reconnaissance mission. VC within the camp killed the guards and manned a machine gun position in the first moments of the attack firing on the inhabitants as they emerged from their bunkers. They also climbed the camp walls and shouted to the CDIG force, “Don’t shoot, all we want are the Americans and the weapons!”
Lt. Colbe immediately rallied the camp personnel and began moving between their defensive positions. From the command bunker located in the center of the camp, SFC Roraback immediately notified higher headquarters of the situation and requested assistance including close air support before a heavy volume of enemy gunfire damaged his radio. Ken Roraback attempted to salvage the radio, but when it was apparent the radio was beyond repair, he set the remnants on fire. He departed the bunker and proceeded to man one of the machine guns.
Once the VC broke contact and faded into the countryside with their captives, a full-scale search and rescue (SAR) operation was initiated. When no trace of Ken Roraback, Claude McClure, Smitty Smith and Ike Camacho could be found in or around the demolished camp, all four men were declared Missing in Action.
The VC tied each man’s arms tightly together at the elbow in back, blindfolded them and tied a rope from one man’s neck to the next. A few minutes later, American aircraft started dropping napalm and making strafing runs on the beleaguered camp. Once the Americans were out of bomb range of the air strikes, the ropes were removed and the two wounded men were ordered to walk down a little dirt road. The guards prepared to kill Ike Camacho and Smitty Smith, but were stopped by a ranking VC who appeared from the front of the column. The Americans had another reason to be demoralized. The morning after their capture, the VC received a radio message announcing President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. As the prisoners were taken through hamlets and put on display, the villages taunted them with “Kennedy di-et” Kennedy is dead.
Roraback proved very uncooperative, a situation that infuriated the communists. Their actions also drew much close scrutiny to themselves and away from the others. In part because of this, Ike Camacho who continually looked for a way to escape succeeded in doing so during a monsoon rain the night of 8 July 1965. The following is a copy of an advisory received regarding the execution of 2 Special Forces Advisors . . .
Five Star Edition
Vol 21, No. 270
Tuesday, Sept. 28, 1965
Report 2 Advisers Executed
Saigon (UPI) — The Viet Cong executed two captive servicemen Sunday morning, the clandestine Liberation Radio said late Sunday night.
The communist radio identified the two Americans as Capt. Albert Rusk Joseph and Sgt. Kenneth Morabeth (as received phonetically)
However, later a Communist news article stated that the executions were faked. The US Army, who had already changed both men’s status from Prisoner of War to Dead/Died in Captivity, chose not reopen either man’s case to determine whether or not they had in fact been executed. In the late 1970’s all information regarding their “execution” was reclassified, and is no longer part of the public record.
MSG Roraback was married with four small children.
On 22 December 1970, the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG), better known as the Viet Cong, released a list containing the names of American POWs who they reported died while under their control. The PRG list included Ken Roraback as having Died in Captivity. Ironically, at the end of the war the VC refused to return the remains of SFC Roraback in spite of the fact they acknowledged holding him prisoner and executing him in reprisal.
If Ken Roraback died under the direct control of the VC, the Vietnamese could return his remains to his family, friends and country. However, if the report of his execution was merely a propaganda ruse, his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is no question the communists know the truth and could provide answers, as well as Ken Roraback or his 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 America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Military men in Vietnam were called upon to fly and 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.
Hiep Hoa was the first Special Forces camp to be overrun in the Vietnam War.