The primitive Briarpatch satellite compound, located in a mountainous area about 35 miles west of Hanoi, was opened in August 1965. It consisted of nine buildings with four 7’x10’ cells in each and were totally walled off from the other buildings with limited ventilation and no electricity or running water. The prisoner diet, which consisted of a handful of rice and watered down cabbage or pumpkin soup, led to malnutrition for POWs. During the cold winter months where temperatures would drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the POWs had only two cotton blankets to try and stay warm.
Initially, Briarpatch held just ten POWs, but after nearly 30 days the camp was closed due to heavy American bombing raids in the area. The ten POWs were relocated to the Zoo POW camp. Briarpatch re-opened in December 1965 and held 55 prisoners by the summer of 1966. Sixteen of them were among those forced to participate in the Hanoi March in August 1966.
Treatment at Briarpatch always seemed to be more vicious than elsewhere in the system, perhaps because the isolated location of the camp gave guards somewhat free rein. An undesirable assignment for prison personnel, Briarpatch guards and POW’s alike had already created a tendency for bad attitudes on all sides before being assigned to Briarpatch—making an already grim situation even more combustible.
Torture handcuffs were regularly used on the POWs, followed by extended periods of beatings with fists, clubs and metal bars until they wrote a confession. POWs were regularly put in the ropes, leg irons and ratchet “hell cuffs”. There were periods of time the POWs were left in cuffs 24 hours a day except for time to eat. On occasion the POW‘s were blindfolded and forced to run barefoot through the compound, or guards dragged them by nooses around their necks, purposefully running into objects. Also, the POWs punishment included spending up to a month in one of the 4-feet deep bomb shelter holes with their hands cuffed behind their backs unable to fend off the bugs and mosquitoes. Navy captive James Bell was hand-cuffed to his bed for 35 days in spite of an untreated dislocated shoulder suffered while ejecting from his shot down aircraft. At one point during the harsh treatment, Everett Alvarez stated “for the first time in my life I felt sheer hatred”. Toward the end of 1966 the regular beatings and torture conditions improved slightly with some guard changes. Prisoners were allowed out of their cells (one at a time) for short periods of time.
Briarpatch was formally closed in February 1967, with half of the 50 plus POWs being sent to the Zoo and the others to Hoa Lo. By February 1971, Briarpatch was reactivated for six months with a few prisoners moved from Camp Unity, along with a prisoner who had been recently shot down in Laos. Those sent from Camp Unity were also part of a small group originally captured in Laos.
Briarpatch prisoners included: Everett Alvarez, Tom Barrett, James Bell, Kile Berg, John Borling, Al Brudno, Phil Butler, Larry Chesley, Quincy Colllins, Ed Davis, Ralph Gaither, Larry Guarino, Porter Halyburton, Smitty Harris, Jim Hivner, Paul Kari, Richard Keirn, Rod Knutson, Hayden Lockhart, Norm McDaniel, John McKamey, George McNight, Scotty Morgan, Bob Peel, Bob Purcell, Jon Reynolds, Bill Robinson, Bill Shankel, Bob Shumaker, Jerry Singleton, Ron Storz and Bill Tschudy.
Note: Everett Alvarez, the first aviator shot down and captured, had been held more than a year without any face-to-face contact with any other POWs before finally being placed in a Briarpatch cell with Larry Guarino on September 13, 1965.
Thanks to Scott Dillingham for his research and composition of the above introduction to the “Briarpatch POW Camp.”