The Dirty Bird POW Camp held about 35 POWs from mid-June until late October 1967, and was located directly across the street from the Alcatraz compound. It consisted of a series of buildings covering five city blocks. Dirty Bird was intended to be a punishment camp, as well as a deterrent to US air strikes on the nearby power plant in Hanoi. There were ultimately three buildings holding POWs. The first building of the Vietnamese named compound, Yen Phu, was called Dirty Bird because of the coal dust and general debris. A month later a second building nearby was opened for prisoners which generally became known as Dirty Bird Annex or Dirty Bird West. For various reasons it was also called Army Post, Dog House, Foundry and Power Plant. Finally, a third building—an old Chinese school—was added. Some POWs referred to it as the School while others as Trolley Tracks. Since different prisoners were rotated in and out of the three sites it took some time to determine there were in fact only three locations, even though they were right next to each other.
Both Dirty Bird and the Annex had eight larger-than-normal cells. Dirty Bird additionally had a row of open air enclosures—more like “stable stalls”—that offered relief from the suffocating heat. The School had seven filthy cells. The rooms used as the cells had their windows blocked off with boards and pieces of tin making air movement negligible. There were enough gaps though for the prisoners to watch the daily routine on the street outside. Prisoners were allowed out of their cells for longer periods of time than at most other camps. However, they were still isolated as much as possible from each other and frequently had to wear leg irons and cuffs. Finally, the food was even worse than at most other camps.
Individuals and groups of POWs were transferred into Dirty Bird and then out again. While there they were frequently moved around outside the compound for brief periods of time, since the Vietnamese wanted to make sure it was a known fact that POWs were held in the power plant area. The Vietnamese believed the US military would not bomb the power plant area so as to avoid risking any casualties to the POWs being held nearby. During the night of 12 October 1967, George Coker and George McKnight quietly escaped from their Dirty Bird cells. They made it 15 miles down the Red River heading to the Gulf of Tonkin before finally being discovered and recaptured in the early morning hours of Friday, 13 October. The McKnight and Coker escape attempt would soon result in their move to the reopened Alcatraz compound, along with nine other POWs. As a result of the Dirty Bird escape attempt and the continued bombing of the power plant, a more secure POW lockup was required. All three of the Dirty Bird compounds were finally closed on 25 October 1967. It was the same day the Alcatraz POW compound would receive its eleven POWs, including George McKnight and George Coker from Dirty Bird.
Some of the POW's Held at Dirty Bird
Dirty Bird prisoners included: Gary Anderson, Al Brudno, Larry Chesley, John Clark, Jerry Coffee, George Coker, Tom Collins, Mike Cronin, Tom Curtis, Jerry Driscoll, Willis Forby, John Frederick, Ralph Gaither, Paul Galanti, David Gray, John Heilig, Bob Jeffrey, Fred Flom, Jack Van Loan, Kevin McManus, Ed Mechenbier, George McKnight, Reed Mecleary, Joe Milligan, Bob Peel, Jim Ray, David Rehmann, Jon Reynolds, Wes Schierman, Thomas Storey, Orson Swindle, Gary Thortnton, and Bill Tschudy.
Note: According to a mural on the wall outside the Dirty Bird main entrance, an automatic anti-aircraft (AAA) gun crew defending the Yen Phu power plant shot down John McCain. A separate monument on the shore of Truc Bach Lake, a short distance west of the power plant, commemorates the persons who pulled McCain from the lake and captured him.
Thanks to Scott Dillingham for his research and composition of the above introduction to the “Dirty Bird POW Camp.”