WATKINS, WILLIE ARTHUR
Name: Willie Arthur Watkins
Rank/Branch: E4/US Army
Unit: Company A, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry 196th Light Infantry Brigade
(Americal) Chu Lai, South Vietnam
Date of Birth:
Home City of Record: Sumter NC
Loss Date: 09 January 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 153551N 1081006E (AT964263)
Status (in 1973): Returned POW
Other Personnel in Incident: Company A: James A.Daly (released POW - 1973);
Richard R. Rehe (released POW 1969); Derri Sykes (missing); Company D:
Francis E. Cannon (POW - remains returned 1985); Richard F. Williams (POW -
remains returned 1985); David N. Harker (released POW - 1973); James H.
Strickland (released POW - 1969); Thomas A. Booker (killed); "Coglin" (an
unknown person whom Cannon said died);
REMARKS: RELEASED 691105
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.
SYNOPSIS: On January 8, 1968, PFC Richard Rehe, PFC Derri Sykes, PFC James
A. Daly and Cpl. Willie A. Watkins, members of A Company, 3rd Battalion,
21st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade (Americal) were ordered to move
down to Happy Valley in Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam. "Charlie" and
"Delta" Companies had been sustaining heavy losses in previous days.
PFC David N. Harker, James H. Strickland, 1Sgt. Richard F. Williams, Sgt.
Thomas A. Booker, PFC Francis E. Cannon and "Coglin" were part of Delta
Company. During the fight, a mortar shell exploded near Cannon, the
radioman, killing Sgt. Booker and "Coglin". Harker, a rifleman, was stabbed
in the side with a bayonette. Strickland, a rifleman, was not seriously
wounded. Cannon had a large hole in his upper back and a smaller hole near
his neck. The Company's first sergeant, "Top" Williams, was shot through the
right hand and injured an arm. Harker, Strickland, Williams and Cannon were
captured that day.
The next day, under heavy attack, Daly, Rhe, Watkins and Sykes were injured
and captured. Sykes, a rifleman, was hit 3 times as he and Watkins had
jumped for cover just when a grenade hit. Watkins was captured immediately,
but thought that Sykes was left behind, as the enemy rushed him (Watkins)
from the area. During his departure from the area, Watkins saw Daly, whom he
thought dead, lying in a rice paddy. Daly then moved and drew attention to
himself and was captured. Watkins later saw Sykes, bandaged and calling for
water. Watkins and Daly carried him along the trail after their capture, but
were ordered to leave him under a shed at a house on the trail on the first
day. They never saw Derri Sykes again.
Watkins said that Richard Rehe, a grenadier, had also been taken prisoner
that day, but died in captivity from wounds sustained in the battle. Daly
stated that both Rehe and Sykes had been captured but had died the same day.
Cannon, Williams, Harker, Strickland, Watkins and Daly eventually were held
together in prison camps in Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam. For Americans
as well as Viet Cong, life in these camps was extremely difficult. The
living conditions were primitive, food scarce at times, and disease and
dysentary common, adequate medical treatment uncommon. It was not uncommon
for POWs held in the south to die of starvation or disease. It is also
resonable to expect that in such circumstances, one cannot predict behavior
or its abberation. While superhuman efforts were made to maintain the esprit
de corps and military order and honor, it was sometimes impossible not to
revert to a basic, more primitive nature for self preservation.
Top Williams, a veteran of World War II, and a big grey haired man, was
described as being a real professional. His injured hand became gangrenous,
but he survived this injury. He was receiving treatment and still probing
for bone splinters in his injured arm when he contracted dysentery and
ultimately died, September 27, 1968. Death from malnutrition and dysentery
is extremely unpleasant, and the victim suffers not only from the discomfort
of dysentery, but also from severe edema, and many times from halucinations.
Williams' remains were returned in 1985, after 17 years.
Frank Cannon, a handsome 6" tall man of 24 with deep set eyes, suffered from
the wounds he received by the exploding mortar shell. These wounds became
gangrenous, and although the wounds gradually improved by summer 1968,
Cannon grew continually weaker. By August, Cannon weighed only 90 pounds and
slipped into a coma. In early September 1968, Frank Cannon died. 17 years
later, the Vietnamese returned his remains to his country.
Willie Watkins, described as just over 6" tall, good-looking, lanky, very
dark skin, penetrating eyes, wiry and hard as a rock remained one of the
strongest prisoners and at times was a leader among his fellow POWs.
According to some of them, he "always had a Bible and a machete". He was
James H. Strickland, a rather short, blue-eyed, boyish looking man was known
to be a hard worker and to be as strong as a bull. He was also pointed out
by the Vietnamese as an example of a "progressive" prisoner, as was Willie
Watkins. The two were released from Cambodia on November 5, 1969.
James A. Daly, a conscientious objector, never felt he should have been in
combat. He had been waiting for notice to leave Vietnam, following a lengthy
process of appeal on the basis of his beliefs. Daly, a big man, "coffee and
cream color" was only slightly wounded when he was captured. His sense of
self preservation ensured that he lost a minimum of weight. He joined the
"Peace Committee" comprised of a number of other military men who opposed
the war, and official charges were brought against him upon his 1973 release
by fellow POW Col. Theodore Guy. In the wake of the POW release, charges
were officially dismissed.
David Harker also felt some anti-war sentiments, but it was said that he
slowly turned "reactionary" against the Vietnamese after he was moved to
North Vietnam after three years in the jungle.
Perhaps it is important to note that no returned POW would deny
"collaborating" with the enemy at some point in time. Technically, if a POW
was ordered to work or to perform any function whatever, the execution of
this function would be considered collaboration. Sometimes the abberation in
conduct was a group decision, made for the welfare of the unit. At other
times, the desision to cooperate was made for purely self-serving reasons -
such as starvation, reluctance to be tortured, loss of will to resist. It
cannot be possible for any person to judge this behavior not having
experienced the horror that caused it.
Richard Rehe and Derri Sykes alone remain unaccounted for from the battle in
Quang Tin Province. Although it seems certain that they are both dead, the
Vietnamese deny any knowledge of them.
For many others who are missing, simple and certain death did not occur.
Some just vanished, others were known captives and never were returned.
Still others were alive and well and in radio contact with would-be rescuers
describing the approach of the enemy.
Tragically, thousands of reports have been received indicating that some
hundreds of Americans are still alive and in captivity in Southeast Asia. We
cannot forget them, we cannot write them off. They must be brought home.
NOTE: Should anyone know the where-a-bouts of Willie Watkins, plese call the
P.O.W. NETWORK at 660-928-3304 or email email@example.com
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