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Book Review

Why Didn't You Get Me Out?Why Didn't You Get Me Out?
Frank Anton, with Tommy Denton
The Summit Publishing Group, Arlington TX
ISBN 1-56530-251-6
Copyright © 1997
The Summit Publishing Group

This is an important book to the POW/MIA issue for more than one reason.

Former POW Frank Anton takes us on an odyssey like no other. The odessy of chopper pilot to being captured to coming thisclose to loosing your will to survive. He watched others wilt away and do just that.

This book shocks you several times. Frank Anton draws rendering of the jungle Prisoner-of-War Camps that he was incarcerated at. It is the first book, to our knowledge, that addresses the fact that many of the jungle POW camps were right in our own back yard!

The jungle camp system seems to have been buttressed up against US Fire bases, or base camps, but the jungle was so dense that we did not see them!! But did we?

Frank recounts a chilling tale of US reconnaissance of one of the camps he was in:
"On a clear, early afternoon around February 1, 1971, I was sitting alone at the far end of the compound. The other prisoners were either lying on their bed or lounging idly by the hootch. That was when I heard it, the low-droning of helicopters approaching in the distance. I struggled to my feet, straining to hear. I was sure of it. 'Choppers, guys! I hear choppers and lots of them!' The others looked at me curiously as if I were addled and then ignored me. Then they heard it, too, and so did the guards.

A swarm of Huey slicks and gunships, three big, lumbering Chinooks, a white medivac ship, Cobra Gunships and observation choppers circled overhead and then began spiraling downward toward the camp. As they descended, one of the guards aimed his rifle upward and drew a bead, but another grabbed the barrel and yelled something at him in Vietnamese. I guessed that he was telling him not to give away our exact location because the jungle would camouflage us for a few more minutes. As the formation came nearer, the guards rushed toward us and ordered us to climb into the bomb shelter. I was the first one shoved into the hole. Then the VC changed their minds and decided to make a run for it rather than get trapped in a firefight if those Chinooks were carrying a couple of companies of infantry.

The guards began grabbing prisoners and pulling them back out of the shelter. I hoped that in the confusion they would forget about me and leave me behind, but a guard poked his head into the shelter and pointed his boyonet at me and yelled, 'Di di!'-move! I crawled out, and before my eyes was the OH-58 hovering less than forty feet above the prisoners' hootch, its skids almost touching the roof. The pilot had tossed a red smoke grenade into the guards' pigpen. The face of an American infantry captain was looking right at me from the 'copter, and I froze where I was standing. Then, as my eyes stared right into that captain's eyes, the guard poked me in the back with his bayonet and yelled again, 'Di di mau!' He shoved me in the direction of the trail into the jungle. The roar of the rotor blades receded as we scurried into the dense trees. No one but the guard followed me."

[Note: This recollection is confirmed. In Code Name Bright Light; The Untold Story of U.S. POW Rescue Efforts During the Vietnam War, this same story is told about a ore-raid US recon of a suspected POW camp. The infantry captain tells of seeing a 6' 3" blond caucasion in the camp. Not approximately 6 foot something, but 6' 3". Not light haired caucasion, but blond. How close do you suppose that chopper had to be in order for a report this thorough to be filed?]

Shortly after this incident, Frank and his fellow Prisoners were to be moved north. On Anton's approximate 500 mile trek, walking the Ho Chi Minh Trail to go to The Hilton in North Vietnam, on his way crossing from Vietnam to Laos and back into Vietnam, Frank Anton recounts another story. One where he is told that South Korean's were to be executed and in the same day sees a just-captured warrant officer:
After two or three weeks at the hospital, the [B52] bombings had tapered off, and we moved back onto the trail. Almost right away we came upon a cluster of two hundred or three undred dirty, wounded ARVN soldiers who apparently had been part of an operation into Laos. A South Korean who was with them and who spoke English told us that he and his fellow Koreans were going to be killed because the Vietnamese didn't keep Korean prisoners. I was struck by how cool and matter-of-factly he spoke of his fate. The next day, our guards made a point of taking us near where the ARVNs were being issued packs and weapons. That was the story of that stupid war. The people we went to help save their country could switch and fight for the other side and not miss a lick. I never saw the South Koreans again and don't know what happened to them, but they didn't deserve to get captured with that bunch.

Later that day, I also saw an American prisoner standing not more than ten feet away by the time I noticed him. He was a warrant officer, a chopper pilot, wearing a fresh flight suit. He was clean, so he hand't been in captivity very long, and I could see he was extremely scared. As soon as we saw each other, his guards grabbed him and moved him away very quickly. I never saw him again, but I also never forgot him.

Within a day or two, not fifty yards off the trail in a little clearing, I spotted two abandoned American helicopter gunships. Neither one appeared to be damaged and did not seem to have been there for long. Both had the red-and-white shark-tooth mouth, similiar to the Flying Tiger design on old World War II fighters, painted along the side of each of the chopper's nose. I recognized them as Shark gunships from the 174th Assault Helicopter Company in Chu Lai, but there was no sign of the crews. Obviously, we were in no position to investigate or even ask questions, but I sensed that the warrant officer and two abandoned choppers were indications that Elbert and I weren't the only Americans in the vicinity. There was just no way to know.

[Frank Anton is convinced that the person he saw that day was William Milliner who was lost on March 6, 1971. We know that on March 6, 1971, WO John F. Hummel, pilot, and WO William P. Milliner, co-pilot, were flying an AH1G Cobra helicopter gunship (serial #67-15464) as the wingman in a flight of two helicopters returning from a combat support mission over Laos. While in route, the weather turned hazy. At about 2000 hours, the wingman notified his troop's forward operation at Khe Sanh, South Vietnam, that both gunships were planning to use a ground control approach (GCA). That was the last radio contact with WO Hummel's aircraft. Could they have landed the aircraft, thinking they could remain undiscovered while the weather cleared? No one knows for sure because Milliner and Hummel have not yet returned.]

There are many in the issue who take umbrage to Frank Anton's disparaging depiction of Robert "Bobby" Garwood. Approximately 43 pages of this 196 page book deals with Garwood and Anton's first hand knowledge of Garwood.

By the time Anton was captured, Garwood had already been in the prison system for approximately three years. Anton readily admits that some of his perceptions of Garwood could have been influenced by what his fellow prisoners told him about Garwood.

There isn't a sole who could blame Frank Anton for his observations. Because Garwood did nothing to dispel what Frank was told by fellow prisoners of war who lived with Frank at the jungle camps. In the year and a half that Frank spent in the same camp as Garwood, Garwood was kept segregated from the other prisoners. Garwood had more freedom than the other prisoners. Garwood often translated guards orders or comments to the other prisoners. Frank's fellow prisoners viewed Garwood with suspicion and therefore so, too, did Frank.

But this book is not about Garwood. It is about Anton and his odyssey from hell and back. It is about surviving the jungle POW camps and walking to Hanoi. It is about the irony of being hidden in the back yard of American bases. It is about the hope of rescue and the reality of captivity. It is about seeing an American on the Ho Chi Minh trail for all of thirty seconds and remembering that American 30 years later.

Why Didn't You Get Me Out is an easy read by a man who is totally comfortable examining the man he was, complete with inadequacies and failings, to the man he is today. The PoW/MIA Forum thanks Frank for this work, for his service to his nation and sincerely welcomes him home.

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