SOOTER, DAVID WILLIAM
Name: David William Sooter
Rank/Branch: W1/US Army
Unit: (probably Company B, 4th Aviation Battalion, 4th Infantry Division)
Date of Birth:
Home City of Record: Vallejo CA
Date of Loss: 17 Feb 1967
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 140522N 1072245E (YA568588)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Other Personnel In Incident: none missing, but held with men from at least
two other incidents including: Incident on 18 May 1967: Joe L. DeLong
(missing); Incident on 12 July 1967: Martin S. Frank; Nathan B. Henry;
Cordine McMurray; Stanley A. Newell; Richard R. Perricone (all released);
James F. Schiele; James L. Van Bendegom (both missing)
REMARKS: 730305 RELSD BY PRG
Source: Compiled from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S.
Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published
sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 1998.
SYNOPSIS: In the spring of 1973, 591 American Prisoners of War were released
from prisons and camps in Vietnam. Among them were six of a group of nine
U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division personnel captured in and near Pleiku
Province, South Vietnam during the year of 1967 whose lives had been
intertwined for the past six years. All had belonged to that part of the
"Ivy Division" which was assigned to Task Force Oregon conducting border
operations called Operation Sam Houston (1 Jan - 5 Apr 67) and Operation
Francis Marion (5 Apr - 12 Oct 67).
On February 17, 1967, W1 David W. Sooter was the only man captured from a
OH23 helicopter downed at the southeastern edge of Kontum Province near the
edge of Pleiku Province, and near the Cambodian border.
PFC Joe Lynn DeLong was the machine gunner for his company, on a
company-sized patrol in Rotanokiri Province, Cambodia on May 18, 1967.
(Note: most records list this loss as in South Vietnam, and coordinates
place it in the Ia Drang Valley, Pleiku Province, South Vietnam near the
border of Cambodia, but U.S. Army casualty reports state that the loss was
in Kotanokiri Province, Cambodia.) While on patrol, his unit was hit by a
Viet Cong force of unknown size and cut off from the rest of the company.
DeLong's platoon formed a defensive perimeter and attempted to hold their
position. Later that day, at about 1830 hours, DeLong's platoon position was
overrun. The next morning, another unit reached his position, and was able
to account for all platoon members except for DeLong. It was later learned
that DeLong had been captured.
Nearly two months later, on July 12, 1967, SP4 Martin S. Frank, PFC Nathan
B. Henry, Sgt. Cordine McMurray, PFC Stanley A. Newell, PFC Richard R.
Perricone, SP4 James F. Schiele and PFC James L. Van Bendegom, all members
of Company B, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division, were
conducting a search and destroy mission along the Cambodian border when
their position was overrun by the Viet Cong. With the execption of Schiele,
all the men were captured. The U.S. Army notes that Schiele and Van Bendegom
were captured by the North Vietnamese, while the others, apparently, were
captured by Viet Cong.
PFC Schiele was seen by his platoon leader as his unit was forced to
withdraw, leaving him behind. He had been hit a number of times by automatic
weapons fire in the legs and chest and was thought to be dead. PFC Perricone
stated in his debrief upon return to the U.S. that the enemy camp commander
of Camp 102 told him that SP4 Schiele had died of wounds received in the
fire fight. However, since there was no positive proof of death, the U.S.
government placed Schiele in a Missing in Action category. Classified
information given to the Vietnamese by Gen. John Vessey in 1987, however,
states that both Schiele and Van Bendegom were captured by the North
PFC Vanbendegom was also wounded in the engagement, and was seen alive by
other Americans captured in the same battle about one week after his capture
at a communist field hospital in Cambodia, not far from his capture
location. One of the released Americans was later told by the commanding
North Vietnamese officer at his prison camp in Cambodia that SP4 Vanbendegom
had died of his wounds. Vanbendegom was categorized as a Prisoner of War.
The other seven Americans were held in prison camps on the Vietnam/Cambodia
border for several months. According to the debriefs of releasees Sooter and
Perricone, they and DeLong had attempted to escape from a border camp in
Cambodia on November 6, 1967, but were recaptured the same day. Two days
later, Sooter and Perricone were shown DeLong's bullet-ridden and
blood-soaked trousers and were told that DeLong had been killed resisting
recapture. The Vietnamese included DeLong's name on a list of prisoners who
had died in captivity (saying he died in November 1967), did not return his
remains, and did not offer any explaination.
Sooter, Frank, Henry, Perricone, McMurray and Newell were all released by
the PRG in 1973. Frank was never known to be a prisoner by the U.S. Henry
was injured, and maintains a permanent disability today. The U.S. is certain
the Vietnamese also know the fates of DeLong, Schiele and Vanbendegom, but
the Vietnamese continue to remain silent.
Since the end of the war, only a few score of the many remains the
Vietnamese could provide have been returned to U.S. control. Each return of
remains signals some political move by the Vietnamese. Strong moves towards
normalization of relations began in the mid-80's, which most Americans would
not oppose. As evidence mounts that hundreds of Americans are still held
captive by these same governments the U.S. is rushing to befriend, many
concerned Americans believe that in our rush to leave Indochina, we
abandoned our best men. And that in our rush to return, we will sign their
More on David Sooter's captivity can be found in the pages of Benjamin
Schemmer's "THE RAID" by Avon. It states in part:
Dave Sooter, a twenty-two-year-old Army warrant officer, was flying H-23
helicopters for the lst Cavalry Division when he was shot down over South
Vietnam. It was February 17, 1967, less than seven months after he'd
finished flying school, when his helicopter was suddenly hit. It exploded
50 feet above the trees. Sooter remembers breathing fire. He passed out
before his burning helicopter hit the trees.
When he came to four or five hours later, Sooter was already a prisoner. His
captors gave him three days to recover some strength, then marched him to a
camp hidden in the jungle about ten miles inside the border of northern
Cambodia. He was held there for three years. On November 2, 1967, Sooter
tried to escape. He was caught within hours, and his legs and arms were put
in stocks while he suffered helplessly as ants and mosquitoes feasted on his
festering new wounds. Within a week, he was near death. One night he "saw
Jesus' face" and began praying. The next day his captors took off his
stocks. That night they put them back on. When morning came, the stocks
came off again. Dave Sooter turned into a devout Christian.
As well as he can fix the date, Sooter's long march to North Vietnam began
on November 8,1969. He walked for 43 days. He guesses he walked 600
miles-over jungle covered mountains, exhausted from the tropical heat,
miserable from the frequent rains, weak from malnutrition. When he reached
the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Vietnam, he was put on a
truck; it drove right up the Ho Chi Mnh Trail, at night, and landed him a
week or two later in a prison camp near Hanoi. Sooter thinks the miserable,
cramped new prison may have been at Ap Lo, near Son Tay. Wherever it was,
discipline at the camp was lax; the beatings were sporadic, not regular.
He could not recall where he was moved next, but less than a year later, he
and his fellow prisoners heard the raid on Son Tay - aircraft overhead,
small arms firing, explosions, SAMs screaming through the air. Four days
later, with no explanation, the North Vietnamese moved them all into the
Plantation in the northern part of downtown Hanoi. Almost every prisoner
who had been moved north from South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos was soon put
into the same camp. A few days after Sooter arrived at the Plantation, an
English-speaking North Vietnamese officer told them about the Son Tay raid.
He claimed that North Vietnam had known about it two weeks ahead of time.
But when no one paraded newly captured prisoners or American bodies, Sooter
knew he was lying. And the camp guards, Sooter noticed with relief and
amusement, were too busy digging trenches and foxholes or practicing air
raid drills to hassle the prisoners much.
David Sooter is deceased.
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