Unit: Company B, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division
Loss Coordinates: 134026N 1073809E (YA850131)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
SYNOPSIS: On 12 July 1967; Sgt. Cordine McMurray, then Sgt. Martin S. Frank, SP4 James L. Van Bendegom; SP4 James F. Schiele, SP4 Nathan B. Henry, SP4 Stanley A. Newell, and SP4 Richard R. Perricone were riflemen assigned to a search and destroy patrol operating in the Ia Drang Valley, Pleiku Province, South Vietnam. The area in which the patrol was operating was covered in jungle with scattered grass covered clearings approximately 4 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Cambodian border, 6 miles south of QL19, the primary east/west road in this region, 10 miles south-southwest of Duc Co and 68 miles from the tri-border region where South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia meet.
In the early morning hours, the company came in contact with a VC force of unknown size. In the ensuing battle, several members were wounded, including Sgt. McMurray, SP4 Van Bendegom and SP4 Schiele. In the case of James Schiele, other members of the patrol saw him hit several times in the legs and chest by automatic weapons fire. The medic treated their wounds before moving on to treat others.
Shortly thereafter the American position was overrun. As some members of the patrol successfully evaded, the VC captured Sgt. McMurray, Sgt. Frank, SP4 Van Bendegom, SP4 Henry, SP4 Newell and SP4 Perricone. They also captured SP4 Schiele who reportedly died of his wounds just before or shortly after capture. James Van Bendegom and Cordine McMurray were taken to the V211 Front Field Hospital where their wounds were treated. A week later, Sgt. McMurray joined the other four Americans in the B-3 Front Camp. He reported to the others that when he last saw James Van Bendegom before leaving the field hospital, SP4 Van Bendegom was alive.
While still being incarcerated in the B-3 camp, the camp commander told the others captured with SP4 Schiele and SP4 Van Bendegom that "James Van Bendegom died about two weeks after entering the hospital" and "James Schiele was buried near the battlefield." The V211 Hospital and B-3 Front POW Camp compound were described in the following manner: The camp and hospital were a complex of buildings in several separate locations, all within close proximity of each other inside the territorial boundary of Cambodia. The camp's graveyard was associated with the hospital. The hospital itself was located just inside the tree line on the north side of the Tonle San River and the Stoeng Ta Pok tributary bordered the hospital on the east side of it.
Sgt. McMurray, Sgt. Frank, SP4 Henry, SP4 Newell and SP4 Perricone were moved to a POW camp they called "Camp 101," which was located just inside Cambodia in the tri-border area due west of the city of Kontum, South Vietnam. Two other POWs, PFC Joe L. Delong and WO1 David W. Sooter who were captured in the same general area months earlier, were eventually moved to a larger compound, Named "Camp102," located nearby that could house additional captives.
In 6 November 1967, Stanley Newell, Cordine McMurray, Richard Perricone, David Sooter and Joe Delong attempted to escape from Camp 101 when PFC Delong clubbed a guard and took his rifle way from him. The POWs moved through to jungle in an east to southeasterly direction. Several hours after they escaped, other prisoners heard shots in the distance. Within a short period of time, all but Joe Delong were captured and returned to the prison camp. On 8 November, VC officers showed the prisoners clothing that was positively identified as belonging to Joe Delong. The VC told them that he was dead and if they tried to escape again, they would end up the same way. The pants had several bullet holes in them and were covered in blood. The other prisoners were never shown a body, and while some believed the officers' report that Joe Delong died while escaping, others did not. The men who escaped with Joe Delong believed he only got 2 to 3 kilometers away from the camp before the VC guards caught up with him.
For Americans captured in South Vietnam, daily life could be brutally difficult. Some of these camps were actually way stations the VC used for a variety of reasons. Others were regular POW camps. Regardless of size and primary function, conditions in the VC run camps frequently included the prisoners' being tied at night to their bamboo bunks anchored by rope to a post in their small bamboo shelters. In others, they were held in bamboo cages, commonly referred to as tiger cages, and in yet other camps the dense jungle itself provided the bars to their cage. There was rarely enough food and water to sustain them, and as a result, the Americans suffered from a wide variety of illnesses in addition to their injuries and wounds.
Likewise, the primitive lifestyle imposed on these men by their guards was particularly barbaric. Prisoners were reduced to animals, relying on the basic instinct of survival as their guide. After months in this psychological conditioning, many prisoners lucky enough to survive the early adjustment period of captivity, discovered that they were considerably better treated if they became docile prisoners who did not resist their captors.
In November 1969, the surviving POWs were moved north up the Ho Chi Minh Trail by foot to North Vietnam. The two groups arrived in Hanoi in April 1970.
In 1970 a VC rallier said he interrogated two Americans in the V211 Field Hospital, one of whom was black and the other was white. The black soldier has been identified as Cordine McMurray and James Van Bendegom was identified as the white American. The rallier said he heard the white American died in the hospital. He also heard that a third American who was captured at the same time who "committed suicide shortly after he was captured and was buried near the battlefield." US intelligence personnel correlated that hearsay information to James Schiele and included a copy of the report in his casualty file.
Cordine McMurray, Nathan Henry, Stanley Newell, Martin Frank, Richard Perricone and David Sooter returned to US control on 5 March 1973 during Operation Homecoming. The six returnees provided their debriefers with detailed information about their capture, incarceration and missing comrades.
In December 1990, a joint team under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) traveled to Vietnam to investigate the case of James Schiele and James Van Bendegom. They interviewed several witnesses who provided firsthand information about the B-3 Front POW Camp and the V211 Field Hospital. The witnesses confirmed that these facilities treated/held US POWs and made records on them for higher authorities.
In May 1994, US personnel were conducting research in a Cambodian military museum when they found a passage in a book titled "The People's Armed Forces of the Western Highlands," published in Vietnam in 1980, that pertains to this incident. The passage states, "On 12 July (67) … the soldiers of Battalion 7 wiped out 2 US companies, capturing alive six people in the area southwest of Duc Co."
Other JTFFA teams returned to Pleiku Province to continue investigating this loss incident. In February 1995, a joint team was able to find the probable location of the V211 hospital based on information obtained during interviews with former Khmer Rouge guerrillas who operated in the area. The Cambodian witnesses observed that it was much easier to reach the former base location using the approach through Cambodia rather than through Vietnam.
There is no doubt that James Schiele died of wounds received in combat and that he was buried near the battle site. There is some doubt that James Van Bendegom actually died in captivity in the V211 Field Hospital because his name never appeared on the PRG's list of POWs who died in captivity. As for Joe Delong, his name was included on the PRG's Died in Captivity list as having died in November 1967.
If these men are dead, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if the reports of his death were exaggerated, James Van Bendegom’s and Joe Delong’s fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is no doubt the Vietnamese know what happened and could return them or their remains any time they had the desire to do so.
Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Soldiers in Vietnam were called upon to fight in many dangerous circumstances, and each was prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.
Martin S. Frank passed away April 3, 2008 at the Audie Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. Arrangements will be announced later.
Frank, a Vietnam POW for five years, had a 'heart of gold'
Web Posted: 04/04/2008 11:03 PM CDT
Express-News Staff Writer
Martin Frank spent more than five years in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp but never lost his sense of humor and his desire to help others. Frank, 66, died Thursday at the Audie Murphy VA Hospital from inoperable lung cancer diagnosed two years ago.
Frank was an infantryman who was captured with several other soldiers on July 12, 1967, in South Vietnam. He spent 2,063 days as a prisoner before he was released in 1973. Among his decorations and medals are a Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Legion of Merit.
"He was my personal hero," said Jack Putalavage, a retired Air Force master sergeant who knew Frank for the past 13 years. "He has always been very active in veterans affairs," he said. "He was always willing to put in time or money, whatever it took to improve the life of veterans. He was just a caring person. He was crotchety and ornery at times, very opinionated but he had a heart of gold."
Born: July 11, 1941, in Montclair, N.J.
Died: April 3, 2008, in San Antonio
Survived by: Wife Betty Frank; children Virginia Johnson of Shreveport, La., Deborah Krester of Pittsburgh, Joseph Frank of Albuquerque, and Shannon Frank of Lynn Haven, Fla.; two brothers, George Frank and Joseph Frank; and 11 grandchildren.
Services: Visitation on Monday from 5 to 9 p.m. at Colonial Funeral Home, 625 Kitty Hawk Road, Universal City. Services at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Colonial Funeral Home; burial to follow at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery with full military honors. A reception will follow at American Legion Post 593 in Converse.
Betty Frank, his wife of 28 years, said he liked to bowl and he loved watching ball games on television.
"He loved baseball," she said. "He didn't care who was playing, as long as it was baseball."
A life member of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he enjoyed socializing with fellow veterans, she said.
He attended a POW reunion last July and met up with three of the soldiers who were captured and imprisoned with him, she said.
After retiring from the Army in 1987, Frank owned two bars until around 2000, Betty Frank said.
"He had three children before I met and married him and then he adopted my two," she said.
"He had a great sense of humor," she said. "We were talking about his funeral here a while back and he was talking to a Catholic priest. I'm not a Catholic but he was, and he told the priest that he wanted him to officiate at his funeral, that he just wanted to make sure all his bases were covered.
"He could sound gruff, but he had a heart made of gold," she said. "If you asked for something, and he could do it, he would be more than happy to."
Putalavage said Frank didn't talk much about his time as a prisoner of war.
"He was a hero, but he didn't put on any airs," he said. "He had a way of motivating people. He'd just come up with an idea and somehow he'd make it happen."
Putalavage recalled how Frank, when he owned the Ebb Tide Lounge on Harry Wurzbach in the late 1990s, raised hundreds of dollars for the American Cancer Society by simply taking donations for promising to shave his head — getting rid of his long hair, ponytail and beard.