Always Out Front (Donald Rander)

During the night of January 31, 1968, a Villa in Hue occupied by the 135th MI Group regional team came under attack.   The shelling awakened Sergeant Donald Rander, assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Hue Regional Headquarters.   Grabbing flak jackets and weapons, the members grouped on the second floor.  They remained there for the rest of the night under intense enemy fire; occasionally going downstairs to destroy classified documents.

At dawn, low on ammunition and under intense fire, they left their building and fought their way to the building next door occupied by civilian employees of the US Defense Department.  Throughout the day and into the night, they were under constant attack from the North Vietnamese Regulars.  During the fighting, 24 year old Corporal Barry Wolk  from Hingham, Massachusetts was killed by enemy fire.

 “It was like Custer’s last stand,” Sergeant Rander later recalled.  “All the North Vietnamese in the world seemed to be outside the door.”

Low on ammunition and little chance of further resistance, the group surrendered on February 1, 1968.  Captured were Captain Theodore Gostas, Sergeants Robert Hayhurst, Edward Dierling and Donald Rander.

The men were dragged through the streets, dodging the fighting to the Villa of Foreign Service Officer Philip Manhard.  Manhard and some employees of the Construction Company Pacific Architects and Engineers had already been captured.  The NVA stuffed all the captured men into a shower stall for the night.

During their stay here, the Military Intelligence personnel put together a cover story to explain their civilian clothing and identification.  They agreed to tell the NVA that they were civilians conducting personnel security investigations on Vietnamese applying for jobs with the US Government.  The cover story seemed to work.

The POW’s were taken to a POW camp near Phu Bai nicknamed “Camp Runamuck 1.”  There they encountered CIA agent Eugene Weaver who had been captured in Hue.  Weaver blew his cover when a Viet Cong recognized him from a previous interrogation.  Treatment of CIA agents was brutal, as Weaver would soon learn.

The POW’s remained at this camp for two weeks.  The camp was located in a dense jungle mountain area.  They were shoved into a 20′ x 30′ long bunker.  There were 20 POW’s in this dark and dirty hole.  It was so small that they had to take turns sleeping. During their stay, they received meager rations of dirt-laden rice.

On February 19, the Military Intelligence Personnel and others departed this camp.  Captain Gostas was left behind, because he was too ill to travel.  Gostas later left this camp on March 10 and rejoined his comrades in North Vietnam in April.  Sergeant’s Rander, Hayhurst and Dierling began their trek to North Vietnam by foot.  They were barefoot, walking through mud and sharp rocks.  They were being tracked by a tiger and encountered leeches throughout the journey.  They slept on the ground without blankets in the rain.  They were traveling a narrow twisting trail when Hayhurst and Dierling seized an opportunity to escape.  On February 23, the two slipped away unnoticed and backtracked until they found a stream and a road that they followed back until they found a Marine Artillery camp. 

Sergeant Rander and the others proceeded under tighter security to a camp nicknamed “Runamuck 2.”  He arrived there in early March.  Rander was suffering from badly bruised and blooded feet.

In April, Rander and Gostas were reunited at a POW camp called Bao Cao, in North Vietnam.  Rander and Gostas cover was still holding up as they were housed in an area called Duc’s Camp with the other civilian prisoners.  The cells consisted of sturdy timber walls and thatched roofs and each building about 30 feet long.  Each building contained cells 3 feet wide, 6 feet high and 6 feet long.  The prisoners were treated harshly with meager rations and unhealthy living conditions.

Now that the POW’s were in North Vietnam, any hope that they may be rescued was long gone.

Other Books You Might Be Interested In

Contact Us