captured in South Vietnam, daily life could be expected to be brutally difficult.
Primarily, these men suffered from disease induced by an unfamiliar and inadequate diet -
dysentery, edema, skin fungus and eczema. The inadequate diet coupled with inadequate
medical care led to the deaths of many. Besides dietary problems, these POWs had other
problems as well. They were moved regularly to avoid being in areas that would be detected
by U.S. troops, and occasionally found themselves in the midst of U.S. bombing strikes.
Supply lines to the camps were frequently cut off, and when they were, POWs and guards
alike suffered. Unless they were able to remain in one location long enough to grow
vegetable crops and tend small animals, their diet was limited to rice and what they could
gather from the jungle.
In addition to the primitive lifestyle imposed on these men, their Viet Cong guards could
be particularly brutal in their treatment. For any minor infraction, including
conversation with other POWs, the Americans were psychologically and physically tortured.
American POWs brought back stories of having been buried to the neck; held for days in a
cage with no protection from insects and the environment; having had water and food
withheld; being shackled and beaten. The effects of starvation and torture frequently
resulted in hallucinations and extreme disorientation. Men were reduced to animals,
relying on the basic instinct of survival as their guide.
Walker was seen by other Americans in POW camps, and several reported that he was in very
bad shape. One day he was removed from the camp and never returned. The POWs were told he
was taken to a hospital and he died. At least one returnee stated that he died of
starvation. The Vietnamese informed the U.S. that Walker died February 4, 1966. They have
made no effort to return his remains.
In the fall of 1985, a CIA document was declassified which contained drawings of a Viet
Cong detention center which held U.S. servicemen in 1969 prior to their being sent north
to Hanoi. It was located just 20 miles southwest of Camp Eagle, a major American base near
Hue, South Vietnam. In the document were greatly detailed drawings, lists of personnel and
lists of U.S. servicemen identified from photographs. Orien Walker's name was on a list of
possible identifications. Along with Walker's were the names of several POWs who were
released in 1973. One of them has verified the authenticity of the report as far as the
camp itself is concerned.
The document was obtained by a private citizen who had obtained it through the Freedom of
Information Act. The family of one man on the "positive" list had never been
told there was even the remotest possibility that he had been captured. The Defense
Department maintains that the report was a fabrication, because the source could not have
known what he reported, even though much of it has been verified by returned POWs who were
Since the war ended, and 591 Americans were released from prison camps in Vietnam, over
10,000 reports relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia have been received by the
U.S. Government intelligence analysts have correlated over 80% of the data to Americans
who have been returned. Therefore, a very high percentage of it is true and verifiable.
Many officials, having reviewed this largely classified information have reluctantly
concluded that hundreds of them are still alive in captivity today. Since no one actually
saw Orien Walker die, and the Vietnamese have not made any attempt to return any remains,
perhaps he could be one of those said to be alive today. If so, what must he think of us?
Sun Feb 01 1998
Orien J. Walker died in the arms of Nick Rowe, twenty-eight days after being transferred
into Rowe's camp. Rowe called him "Tim Barker" in Five Years to Freedom to
protect his identity. CPT Walker died of starvation and disease, and inability to respond
to hand feeding by Nick Rowe. I recommend that you delete any references in Walker's
synopsis to a POW camp in Hue, because he was never in that area. He had been captured in
the Delta region; and kept as a POW in a group of ARVNs for a year before being
transferred to Rowe's camp.
Chicago Daily Herald
Monday, May 28, 2001
The Vietnam War film that won't be shown in theaters
This is the story of a war movie that you will never see.
The "stars" of the movie are clad in American military uniforms, just like
the lead players in "Pearl Harbor."
But there is one major difference between the summer's big war picture that
opened over the weekend and the one I am about to report here.
In the movie "Pearl Harbor," the soldiers and sailors all walked away after
being shot or blown up. They were actors, playing dead. In the war film that
you will never see, the stars didn't get up. They couldn't go home. Their
families never saw them again because they were actually dead.
Mike Cunningham, a colleague at ABC who thought that there might be a news
story in it, gave me the film last fall.
The hour-long film was shot during the Vietnam War, apparently to be used as
propaganda by the Communist North Vietnamese government.
The film shows downed American warplanes and helicopters. And it shows the
identification and family photos of the U.S. servicemen who were onboard.
There are wedding pictures and photos of children presumably carried by the
U.S. airmen who died.
The film also shows watches, rings and dog tags of dead U.S. soldiers, piled
up like trinkets from a cheap carnival.
And then there are the bodies. Lots of them.
Mangled, motionless American GIs stacked one on top of the other.
Scenes like this might not cause a modern movie audience to squirm in their
theater seats because they know it's "just Hollywood."
But the thought that these are actual American troops on film, Americans
killed in action, is unsettling and nauseating.
The film is among reels once used for propaganda by the North Vietnamese
government. Many were shown to their own citizens in an effort to prove that
they were "winning" the war.
An Army Intelligence officer had evidently obtained the film. He had
apparently been told to destroy the film. He didn't.
After the Intelligence officer died several years ago, the film passed
through the hands of some devoted Chicago veterans. That's how it came to my
colleague and finally to me.
On the film, at least three American soldiers are somewhat identifiable. One
of them is an Army Ranger Captain being taken prisoner by Viet Cong forces.
The other two identifiable soldiers appear to be dead. One is Ronald E.
Blake, according to a photo of a military ID card.
The other is known only by the last name Owens, the name on his green Army
After months of unsuccessful searching battle reports, casualty and fatality
records and POW lists to find out who these men were, I sent a copy of the
tape to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office at the
I asked two primary questions: who is the Ranger Captain and what happened
to him? Who are the dead GIs, Blake and Owens?
The Pentagon assigned three senior analysts to research the case. This
spring the mystery was solved.
"The Ranger Captain is Captain Orien J. Walker, U.S. Army," writes a
The Boston native "was serving as an advisor to an Army of the Republic of
Vietnam unit when Viet Cong forces attacked it on May 23, 1965. Capt. Walker
and several ARVN soldiers were captured during the attack. The capture scene
depicted in the propaganda movie appears to be a staged re-enactment of
After the film was shot, Walker was moved to a POW camp, according to the
Pentagon. He was in very poor health.
On February 4, 1966, Walker was put on a boat and taken to a hospital. That
was the last time he was seen alive.
"Despite repeated efforts to recover his remains," states the Pentagon
letter, "they have yet to be repatriated."
The Pentagon apparently had a copy of the Walker film in 1967. "In this
instance, we maintain the photos of Capt. Walker in our file and presume
that the U.S. Army casualty office furnished copies to his family following
their receipt nearly three decades ago."
What about the dead soldier with the name "Owens" on his Army jacket?
According to the Pentagon, Sergeant First Class Fred M. Owens, 32, from
Oklahoma, was one of seven soldiers killed when their helicopter was shot
out of the sky in the summer of 1965.
The other, unidentifiable American bodies probably came from the same time
period, according to the Pentagon, but "efforts to recover the remains of
these men have been unsuccessful. They continue to be listed as Killed in
action-Body not recovered."
As for Ronald E. Blake, U.S. Army, he "died of multiple fragmentation wounds
sustained during combat operations at Dong Xoai, South Vietnam, on June 10,
1965. His remains were recovered a few days later when U.S. and ARVN forces
retook the area."
Ronald Blake was from Rhode Island. He had just turned 24. The family
pictures at the crash site in the film were Blake's.
Thirty-five Memorial Days have passed since Blake gave his life for this
country. A lot has changed since then.
Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative
reporter at ABC/7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and
not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by email at goudie@@mediaone.net.