The maximum-security Dogpatch POW Camp (Loung Lang) was opened in May of 1972. The camp was in a mountainous region 103 miles northwest of Hanoi, just nine miles from the Chinese border. Its first occupants were 209 blindfolded POWs out of Camp Unity that arrived after an uncomfortable two-day trip in a 16-truck convoy along with 55 Vietnamese personnel. They were told the move was for their safety, due to the stepped-up air activity around Hanoi. Since many other POWs were left behind in Camp Unity nobody believed the story. This was a reversal of the Vietnamese policy after Son Tay to consolidate all the POWs in just a few camps.
Upon arrival the POWs found 12 stone and concrete bomb-resistant buildings to be used to house the prisoners, each about 30’ x 50’ in size. The standard configuration was two large cells and two small cells with ten-foot-high ceilings and bars in the windows. A few of the buildings were set up with eight small isolation cells. Each of the buildings held up to 20 POWs in crowded conditions. It was obvious that unlike other hap hazard POW camps, Dogpatch was a well-engineered and constructed camp (about 1967) designed to prevent escapes.
The buildings holding prisoners had an attached walled courtyard covered with bamboo latticework, itself covered with tar paper and leaves. The roof of each building was also camouflaged with tar paper and leaves. Even the courtyards were camouflaged with large jungle plants scattered around the open areas. Talking was allowed within individual buildings but communication was not allowed between buildings. Each was its own separate prison camp. The camp was situated on two small hills and enclosed by a seven-foot-high barbed wire fence on one part and a six-foot-high stone wall on the remaining side. There were guard towers outside the perimeter and a large guard force with mortars and machine guns to keep the prisoners in line.
There were a number of unfinished buildings in the camp not being used but were large enough to hold another estimated 150 POWs. While the buildings in use had been wired for electricity, there were no electrical outlets or lighting. Eventually, small kerosene lamps were allocated one to each cell block. The rooms were cold, damp and dirty with high narrow slits for air. Water drainage holes on the floors of each room provided nighttime entry points for both rats as well as small cobra snakes. Luckily, no POW was struck by a cobra, but a few Vietnamese guards on patrol were stuck. The POWs were provided with extra clothes and blankets. Some cell blocks were allowed to light small fires in their rooms for warmth and to heat water for coffee. Meals usually included rice, milk, and some meat. Occasionally, Russian canned fish or locally purchased water buffalo meat was added to the diet while it lasted.
For the first time the POWs had some freedom from the constant observation by the guards. Within each building they were free to talk throughout the building. Cell block exit doors were unlocked about 7:00 AM and they were locked back up again at 8:00 PM. During the day, the POWs could go outside to their walled courtyard to eat, exercise and wash clothes. Individual cells within each building were left unlocked. For diversion, the POWs played cards and checkers they had carried with them from the Hanoi Hilton. John Frederick, a POW since 1965, had suffered all sorts of torture but at Dogpatch he became a victim of a typhoid epidemic that hit the camp. He was evacuated but soon died after reaching the hospital in Hanoi.
When they first arrived, the POWs were randomly assigned to buildings. On 25 October 1972 they were re-assigned according to their shoot-down dates. This, along with improved food and friendly smiles from the guards and officers, provided the first hints that a release and end of the war was eminent.
From October on they were not locked back up in their cells until 8:00 PM. No new captives were brought into Dogpatch after the May move and they were too far north to be aware of the increased bombing around Hanoi. In late-December 1972, they even failed to hear the B-52’s “Linebacker 2” 10-days, 700 sorties of Christmas bombings ordered by President Richard Nixon.
The first week of January 1973, a strange event took place. For the first time in almost nine years, the entry-doors of all buildings were unlocked during the day and the POWs could freely go outside and mix with POWs from other cell blocks. It was the closest thing to being a POW compound that the POWs ever experienced. Friends who had tapped on the walls to each other for years could finally see each other face to face. This increase in freedom lasted only a few days. In the mid-January 1973, the POWs were loaded on trucks for a return trip to the Hanoi Hilton. Another surprise was found by the POWs. Unlike their grueling 27-hours ride with hands cuffed and eyes blindfolded on the way to Dogpatch, they stood without blindfolds or cuffs to enjoy the trip to Hanoi on greatly improved roads. They counted hundreds of SA-2 and SA-3 surface-to-air missiles along the roadways as the convoy approached Hanoi. All missiles were cleverly hidden under camouflage and tucked in the jungle tree lines, concealed from air reconnaissance, but ready to re-supply SAM missile sites.
Dogpatch prisoners included: Bob Abbott, Will Abbott, Ray Alcorn, Gary Anderson, Bill Austin, Bob Bagley, Elmo Baker, Chuck Baldock, Ted Ballard, Bob Barnett, Tom Barrett, Bill Baugh, Kile Berg, Jim Berger, Bob Biss, Art Black, Cole Black, John Blevins, Ron Bliss, Dick Bolstad, John Borling, Chuck Boyd, Terry Boyer, Mike Brazelton, Dawg Brenneman, Barry Bridger, John Brodak, Paul Brown, Tom Browning, Al Brudno, Skip Brunhaver, Al Brunstrom, Hubi Buchanan, Don Burns, Mike Burns, Dave Burroughs, Bill Butler, Phil Butler, Ron Byrne, Burt Campbell, Dave Carey, Al Carpenter, Dennis Chambers, Harley Chapman, Arv Chauncey, Larry Chesley, Mike Christian, Jim Clements, Doug Clower, George Coker, Tom Collins, Ken Cordier, Joe Crecca, Mike Cronin, Tom Curtis, Glenn Daigle, Jack Davies, Ed Davis, Myron Donald, Dan Doughty, Jerry Driscoll, Dave Duart, Len Eastman, Jeff Ellis, Lee Ellis, Ed Estes, Ken Fisher, Fred Flom, Will Forby, Dave Ford, John Frederick, Ralph Gaither, Paul Galanti, Jerry Gerndt, Will Gideon, Dan Glenn, Wayne Goodermote, David Gray, Charlie Greene, Guy Gruters, George Hall, Keith Hall, Tom Hall, Porter Halyburton, Bill Hardman, Smitty Harris, Dave Hatcher, John Heilig, Don Heiliger, Jay Hess, Jim Hickerson, Howie Hill, Jim Hiteshew, Art Hoffson, Ed Hubbard, Roger Ingvalson, Gobel James, Jay Jayroe, Bob Jeffrey, Jay Jensen, Harry Johnson, Bob Jones, Neal Jones, Paul Kari, Pop Keirn, Mike Kerr, Denver Key, Rod Knutson, Carl Lasiter, Ron Lebert, Laurie Lengyel, Earl Lewis, Hayden Lockhart, Dave Luna, Al Lurie, Ron Mastin, Mike McCuistion, Mike McGrath, JB McKamey, Tom McNish, George McSwain, Bill Means, Ed Mechenbier, Read Mecleary, Ray Merritt, Bill Metzger, Al Meyer, Ed Miller, Joe Milligan, Joe Mobley, Tom Moe, Harry Monlux, Dennis Moore, Glenn Myers, Spike Nasmyth, Bob Naughton, Marty Neuens, Wally Newcomb, Glenn Nix, Giles Norrington, Tom Norris, Digger Odell, Tom Parrott, Bob Peel, Glen Perkins, Doug Peterson, Charlie Plumb, Mel Pollack, Bob Purcell, Fred Purrington, Darrell Pyle, Tom Pyle, Dick Ratzlaff, Jim Ray, Jon Reynolds, Chuck Rice, Ben Ringsdorf, Al Runyan, Kay Russell, Bob Sandvick, Bob Sawhill, Wes Schierman, Bruce Seeber, Bill Shankel, Jim Shively, Gary Sigler, Tom Sima, Jerry Singleton, Gene Smith, Wayne Smith, Ev Southwick, Larry Spencer, Don Spoon, Charlie Stackhouse, Al Stafford, Bill Stark, John Stavast, Tom Sterling, Ted Stier, Tom Storey, Leroy Stutz, Dwight Sullivan, Tim Sullivan, Bunny Talley, Dick Tangeman, Russ Temperly, Dave Terrell, Ross Terry, Gary Thornton, Loren Torkelson, Bill Tschudy, Chuck Tyler, Terry Uyeyama, Jack Van Loan, Jerry Venanzi, Dick Vogel, Wayne Waddell, Cliff Walker, Don Waltman, Jim Warner, Norm Wells, Possum Wendell, Dave Wheat, Bob Wideman, Irv Williams, Deane Woods, Larry Writer, Jim Young and Charlie Zuhoski.
Thanks to Scott Dillingham for his research and composition of the above introduction to the “Dogpatch POW Camp.”