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William Forbes Eisenbraun
Home of Record: Santa Ana, CA
Date of birth: 12/15/1931
Service: Army of the United States
Grade at loss: O3
ID No: O4074803
MOS: 81542: Infantry Unit Commander (Ranger Qual)
Length Service: 18
Unit: BDQ ADV TEAM TD 39, HQ, MACV ADVISORS, MACV
Start Tour: ------
Incident Date: 07/05/1965
Casualty Date: 09/08/1967
Age at Loss: 35
Location: Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam
Remains: Body not recovered
Casualty Type: Hostile, died while captured
Casualty Reason: Ground casualty
Casualty Detail: Other causes (undefined)
Shortly after graduating high school in 1948 William "Ike" Eisenbraun enlisted in the United States Army. Over the course of his military career, he became a commissioned Army Special Forces officer who was considered by all who knew and served with him to be an incredible soldier, dedicated, professional and an outstanding leader.
Vietnam was not Ike Eisenbraun's first war. During the Korean War he served with distinction with the 17th Infantry Regiment, Seventh Division, nicknamed the "Buffalo's." Among other awards and decorations, Capt. Eisenbraun was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat.
In early 1961 the United States Government determined it was necessary to commit a more structured Military Advisor Corp to Vietnam and Laos. Capt. Eisenbraun became one of the first to volunteer for duty in Southeast Asia. He did so because he believed in what his government was trying to accomplish in that part of the world.
In 1965, while on his fourth tour of duty in Vietnam, Capt. Eisenbraun was assigned as a Special Forces Senior Advisor to Headquarters MACV, SQ5891, and was stationed at the Ba Gia jungle outpost. The outpost was located between Highway TL5B, the primary east/west road in the region, and the Song Tra Khuc River in the densely populated and hotly contested rice fields just west of mountain foothills approximately 10 miles west-northwest of the coastal city of Quang Ngai and 16 miles south-southwest of Chu Lai Airfield, Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam.
In the early morning hours of 5 July 1965, this outpost was attacked and overrun by the Viet Cong (VC). A survivor later told newsmen a force of 1000 to 1500 Viet Cong massed an all-out attack on the outpost, which was defended by a garrison of only 180 ARVN troops and American advisors. Further he stated they attacked in "human waves and couldn't be stopped. It was a slaughterhouse." Newspaper accounts described it as "a bitterly fought battle" and as "one of the bloodiest battles of the war to date."
After the battle Capt. Eisenbraun was reported Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered. Later, two South Vietnamese soldiers who had been captured with Ike Eisenbraun and who managed to escape from captivity, reported that Ike Eisenbraun had in fact been captured. They also reported that he was in good health. His status was immediately upgraded to Prisoner of War.
US military intelligence also learned that within a short time of capture, Ike Eisenbraun had been moved to the VC run POW camp known as ST18. This camp was located in heavy jungle just south of the town of Tam Ky and 15 miles west-nortwest of the major US base at Chu Lai, Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam. Further, it was located approximately 27 miles north-northwest of the Ba Gia outpost where Ike Eisenbraun had been captured.
In September 1965 a recently captured Marine PFC Bobby Garwood joined him at ST18. During the time they were held alone together, the Special Forces Captain taught the 19-year old Marine the secrets of survival he had learned in both training and his years of personal jungle experience. Bobby Garwood credited Ike Eisenbraun with teaching him which insects could be eaten to fend off common jungle diseases, what native vegetation was safe to eat and what was poisonous, and the necessity to learn Vietnamese in order to survive captivity. They jokingly planned to write a cookbook called "100 ways to cook a rat."
Over the next 2 years other captured Americans and ARVNs were incarcerated with them including LCpl. Jose Agosto-Santos, PFC Luis Antonio Ortiz-Rivera, and LCpl. Russell Grissett. In addition to providing leadership to the prisoners of all nationalities, Capt. Eisenbraun proved a substantial obstacle to the VC in their attempts to interrogate the prisoners since he spoke fluent Vietnamese.
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 infinitely better treated if they became docile prisoners who did not resist their captors.
Unlike those Americans held in the North Vietnam prison system, the POWs held in the south did not naturally assume a command structure among themselves primarily because the vast majority of them were lower ranking enlisted men whereas those held in the north were primarily officers who were pilots and aircrews.
In August 1967 Ike Eisenbraun attempted an escape. When the VC recaptured him, they beat him unmercifully as both his own punishment and as an example to the other POWs of what would happen to them should they be foolish enough to try to escape themselves. In early September as he was still recovering from that beating, he fell about five feet from his hammock onto a pile of logs landing on his right side. For 5 days after the fall, Capt. Eisenbraun continued his daily activities, but complained of a severe pain in his side. After that he stayed in his bed/hammock. At approximately 0100 hours on 17 September 1967, LCpl. Russell Grissett awakened PFC Ortiz-Rivera to tell him Ike Eisenbraun had stopped breathing.
Unfortunately for the other prisoners after Capt. Eisenbraun died, no strong leadership surfaced within the remaining prisoners to take charge and bring a military style chain of command to the American prisoners. Had such a structure emerged, it would have brought comfort, order and structure to their chaotic existence. It would have encouraged them to resist the communists instead of allowing the communists to successfully use divide and conquer tactics against their American captives.
Twenty-six months after capture, Capt. William F. "Ike" Eisenbraun and all his worldly possessions were wrapped together and buried in the small POW camp cemetery located 10 to 15 yards from ST18 itself. His grave was marked with a rock inscribed by Bobby Garwood. Later other POWs who died in captivity were also buried in the hallowed ground of this small cemetery. PFC Garwood provided a map to the US government after his return in 1979 showing the precise location of the little cemetery and Capt. Eisenbraun's grave. To date no attempt has been make to recover any of the remains interned in this small graveyard.
LCpl. Jose Agosto-Santos and PFC Luis Antonio Ortiz-Rivera were released by the Viet Cong on 23 January 1968 in an early prisoner exchange. During their debriefing, both men reported they thought Capt. Eisenbraun died on or about the 8th of September. They also provided the details of where, how and why Ike Eisenbraun died. Bobby Garwood later provided his actual date of death of 17 September 1967. In spite of this, the US government continues to list it as 8 September 1967. Further, in spite of the wealth of information provided by the early returnees, his parents were only told that "he died of malaria and other causes." His status was subsequently changed to Prisoner of War/Died in Captivity.
There is no doubt that Ike Eisenbraun was a Prisoner of War who died while under the control of the Viet Cong and whose burial site was well marked and documented. As an American serviceman, he has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. Above all else, he has the right not to be forgotten by the nation for which he gave his live.