Luck Of The Admiral's Son Not For "Grunts" By Ted Sampley U.S. Veteran Dispatch October 1999 George Smith and Claude McClure When two U.S. Army enlisted men were captured by the Viet Cong in 1963, they were plunged into an ordeal that would prove to be a relentless trial of body and spirit by torture. Once they were finally freed, however, their trials began all over again, when their statements critical of the U. S. Vietnam policy landed them in a military court facing a capital offense for violating the military Code of Conduct by "aiding the enemy." But, if your name is John McCain and your father and grandfather were famous admirals, violating the Code of Conduct by "aiding the enemy" translates into fodder for a political career, book deals, and adulation bordering on sainthood. Even though news reports of McCain collaborating with the enemy continued from the time he was captured in 1967 through 1970, the Navy never considered prosecution as an option. Instead, Pentagon pencil pushers chose a political spin that lifted McCain, the former POW turned U.S. Senator, up to a glorified pedestal where he sprouted a halo and wings and became America's "POW-hero" and today a presidential candidate. No such luck for the two lowly "grunts." After two-years of being held as prisoners of war under the most brutal circumstances in the steamy, mosquito infested jungle of South Vietnam, Army Staff Sgt. George E. Smith and Sp/5 Claude McClure could take the torture no more. They asked for and were granted parole. In November 1965, the two demoralized POWs were led across the Cambodian border and released by their Viet Cong captors. Following their release, Smith and McClure held a press conference in Phnom Penh and made statements that opposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Smith, 27, of Chester, West Virginia told the press: "I have known both sides, and the war in Vietnam is of no interest to the United States." McClure, 25, a black American from Chattanooga, Tennessee added, "The Saigon government is not the government of the people . . . The Viet Cong are the people." U.S. government officials were infuriated. Both Smith and McClure were Green Berets and they had clearly violated the military code of conduct which among other things, specifies; "If I am captured . . . I will accept neither parole not special favors from the enemy . . . [and] will make no oral or written statement disloyal to my country and its allies . . ." After the press conference Smith and McClure were met by representatives of the Australian government who made travel arrangements and flew the two former POW's to Bangkok, Thailand. There, US officials took them into custody and read them their rights under Article 31, which is the military version of the rights against self incrimination. The two former POWs were then loaded aboard a military aircraft and hustled out of Thailand to Okinawa where they were placed under house arrest and turned over to intelligence agents for "debriefing." "Tell us everything that happened that's important," the intelligence agents instructed them at the beginning of the debriefings. "It will be helpful for Americans who become prisoners of war." During the debriefing, which lasted approximately three weeks, Smith and McClure were not allowed to talk to anyone without prior clearance by the intelligence agents and their mail was read and censored. After the debriefing the Army informed them that they were being charged with violating Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice by "preparing, furnishing, and delivering to the Viet Cong certain documents, statements and writings inimical to the interest of the U.S." Shocked and demoralized, Smith and McClure quickly learned that the charge of aiding the enemy carries the death penalty and that they could be tried by a military tribunal without witnesses. Then, the Army dropped another bomb shell in their laps. Their debriefings, which they had given freely and openly were to be used as evidence against them. The Army moved Smith and McClure to a secret location away from the press and the Pentagon issued press releases implying that they had turned official papers over to the Viet Cong. Members of the press accepted the Pentagon's accusations against the two enlisted men without investigation or verification of the facts. Some elements of the media printed stories which referred to them as "turncoats." Prior to being captured November 24, 1963, there was nothing in the service records of Smith or McClure that indicated any lack of loyalty to the United States. Both men wore the Green Beret of the elite Special Forces. They were captured with several other Americans after the Viet Cong overrun their Special Forces camp at Hiep Hoa, South Vietnam. Any sensitive documents that Smith and McClure might have had access to were destroyed by flames that engulfed their team house during the attack. Hiep Hoa was the first Special Forces camp to be overran in the Vietnam War. It was located in the Plane of Reeds between Saigon and the Cambodian border and was one of many Special Forces camps fortified and strategically located in the midst of known heavy enemy presence. Because of their isolated locations, camps like Hiep Hoa were vulnerable to attack. Captured with Smith and McClure were Sgt's Issac "Ike" Camacho and Kenneth Mills Roraback. The Viet Cong force marched the captured GI's from Hiep Hoa south deep into the jungles of the U Minh Forest to a crudely built POW camp that the Americans later nick named "Auschwitz." The American prisoners in "Auschwitz" were placed in bamboo cages four feet wide, six feet long, just tall enough to sit up in. Life for the POWs became an every day struggle for survival. Communist interrogators effectively used sleep deprivation and the withholding of food and medicine as tools of torture to intimidate and break the prisoner's will to resist. Other American POWs were brought to "Auschwitz" and chained in the cramped bamboo cages. The new occupants included: Sgt.'s Harold Bennett and Charles Crafts who were captured December 29, 1964 during a fire fight with the Viet Cong in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam. They were operating as advisors to the South Vietnamese Army. Marine Capt. Donald Cook, who was captured New Year's Eve, 1964, while serving as an advisor to the 4th Battalion of the Vietnamese Marine Corps. Cook was wounded in the leg and later captured. Army Capt. John Robert Schumann, who was captured June 16, after his unit was ambushed. With the new POWs came an even more grueling barrage of indoctrination attempts by the interrogators: "Sign a statement declaring the United States imperialist aggressors and we will let you go home. "If you don't repent your crimes, you can stay here forever. This war can end tomorrow, but you can be here for the rest of your life." Any ranking POW who attempted to establish a chain of command in the camp would be severely beaten and isolated from other prisoners. When Capts. Cook and Schumann, attempted to establish command of the POWs in "Auschwitz," the Viet Cong responded mercilessly with beatings. They labeled the two captains "unrepentant reactionaries" and segregated them from the rest of the camp. From the beginning of Roraback's capture, he let his Viet Cong captors know that he believed in the Military Code of Conduct and had no intention of violating it while he still had the will to resist. From that point on, his interrogators set out with a pathological desire to break him. When the guards ordered that no one in the camp was to talk to Cook, Roraback defied them by yelling a conversation with the captain who was isolated on the other side of the camp. Roraback was soon isolated from the other prisoners. Comacho escaped July 9, 1965 during a heavy rain storm. For four days he used his survival skills to avoid Viet Cong patrols and made his way back to friendly forces. He was the first American serviceman to escape from the Viet Cong. In September 1965, Smith and McClure heard some horrifying news. National Liberation Radio was announcing to the world that the Viet Cong had executed three U.S. POWs: Capt. "Rocky" Versace and Sgts. Kenneth Roraback and Harold Bennett. Soon after, Smith and McClure signed a promise that if released, they would join the anti-war movement upon returning to the United States. The were released in November 1965. Cook and Schumann disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again. The Vietnamese later claimed they died of illness. Sgt. Crafts secured his freedom about a year later.