Unlikely Warriors: The Army Security Agency’s Secret War In Vietnam (Laird Osburn)

After two nights in the warehouse the three American POWs were moved to a Cambodian Navy bachelor officers’ quarters by the river. Two rooms had been partitioned off on one end of the small building: one room for the officer and one for the enlisted men. Each room had two metal cots with mattresses, two chairs and a table. There was a kitchen area with a table and chairs and a bathroom with an enclosed shower and a toilet. Maybe it wasn’t the Ritz, but it was quite an improvement over their recent accommodations while in the hands of the Viet Cong. “Prince Sihanouk (the Cambodian head of state) sent his personal tailor by and he measured each of us,” Jack Fisher recalls. “We later received underwear, one pair of short sleeve and one pair of long sleeve khakis, pajamas, [and] shower shoes.”
Diplomats from the Australian embassy came to see the men and reassure them they were in safe hands. The Aussies brought welcome food, a bottle of scotch and badly needed medical supplies for their sore feet. Other than the Australians, no one else was allowed to see the captives, and for the most part, the prisoners were not allowed to leave the area where they were incarcerated.
About two weeks later, Laird Osburn was released from the French hospital in Phnom Penh and transferred to the BOQ with his fellow crewmembers for a great reunion. In addition to the injuries and burns he had received during the plane crash, he had been wounded by shrapnel from a rocket propelled grenade during the fire-fight. He later told Fisher that after the NVA captured him, a very tall, large oriental (Osburn was 6 feet 5) drove up in a Jeep Wagoneer. The man was dressed in white shorts and a white shirt, and obviously spoke with some authority. He told the Vietnamese that he would take Osburn, and took him to a hospital. Osburn was never held by the NVA or Viet Cong and he never knew who the man was who rescued him, or why.
The Australian diplomats told the four Americans they were going to be released in early March, and on 11 March 1969, they were turned over to the Australians who threw a party for them at their Embassy. After the party, the Aussies took the four men out to a local night club called “The Tavern” to celebrate their release, and they drank and danced until about 0200 hours.
Later that morning, after very little sleep, the ex-prisoners boarded a Burma Airways DC-3 and were flown from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, Thailand. “Needless to say, we didn’t feel great the next day boarding the plane,” Herlik later recalled. In Bangkok, the men were queried by reporters at the airport and realized they were national (and international) news, as no POWs were being released (in early 1969). They were then turned over to U.S. authorities and flown to Bien Hoa Air Base, north of Saigon. The four were not allowed to return to their company; their belongings were inventoried and shipped directly from Vietnam back to the United States.

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