B-2/501st May 69 – Nov 69
POW 5 FEB 70 – 27 MAR 1973
Sgt. Daniel H. Hefel, was held prisoner of war for 1143 days. He still remembers it like it was yesterday. He entered the service on December 3, 1968 and was inducted in the army on December 5, 1968. He took His training at Fort Polk, LA and was sent to Vietnam on May 23, 1969. When he arrived there he was attached to the 101st Airborne Division in the B-2/501st Infantry. He was stationed 12 miles from Hue at LZ Sally and was a foot soldier for six months. During this time he was hospitalized twice for malaria. He then volunteered to be a door gunner on a helicopter and was accepted. He was thrilled and happy because he thought he would now be dry and not wet and muddy as he had been in the fields. He wrote his folks and told them that he thought he would now be safe. That was the last letter his folks were to receive from him until October 2 1972.
He had been with this outfit only a little more than two months, and they were on their way to have the tops of the rotor blades on their Huey painted and the altimeter gauge fixed, when they were fired upon and crashed against a mountain. He and two other members of their crew were taken prisoner by the Viet Cong on 5 FEB 1970. His back was broken in the crash, a stick went through his lower lip, breaking his upper teeth. His right wrist was burned and his right leg was badly burned. He will have to carry these ugly scars for the rest of his life. How he got out alive is still a mystery. They were taken to a camp somewhere in South Vietnam. The trip took seven days since their captors had to carry them because none of them were able to walk. They carried them on makeshift litters. The fourth member of their crew was killed in the crash and was buried at the scene of the crash.
They were held in this camp for a little more than three months. They lay on strips of lumber placed on cement blocks, and a straw mat was the only bedding they had. They were fed monkey and elephant meat and some thin rice soup. Later, they were taken by truck to a camp in North Vietnam. His right leg was still paralyzed and his back pained him constantly. After about nine months life came back to his leg, but he was still unable to walk. Time heals, and finally twelve months later with the aid of crutches he was able to get around. By the time he was released he could walk again. During the time of his imprisonment he underwent an appendectomy. The doctors (“butchers” he called them) performed the operation without giving him any anesthetic. It took them about six hours because they couldn’t hold him still. This, in his estimation, was the most severe punishment any man could bear and one experience he shall never forget.
He was kept in a room with four to six prisoners. They were given small jobs to do, such as dishes, scrubbing their floors, sweeping the courtyard, etc. He mostly did dishes because his back was too unstable for him to do any heavy work. After their jobs were finished, they were allowed to play cards, sing or just sit around and reminisce, pray or dream out loud.
In October of 1972 their hopes were raised and life at the camp became more bearable. It was a great disappointment when the peace talks failed, but they never gave up hope. His parents received word on 24 MAR 1973, his Mother’s birthday, that he was to be released. On 26 MAR 1973 he left the Plantation Garden to fly to the Philippines and FREEDOM. What a happy day! On 30 MAR 1973, his Father’s birthday, he was flown to Denver, CO where he was met with open arms, love and tears, by his loving parents, most of his brothers and all of his sisters. His parents, Tom and Florence Hefel, have fourteen children; ten boys and four girls. Nine of the boys have served our country and their parents say that they have been in the service of our country for over twenty years. The past is past, so now we live for the future, which we hope will be lived in peace.
Daniel resides in Iowa.
This page is dedicated to all our POW and MIA and in honor of Dan Hefel.
Hefel at the Kansas City Reunion in July 2003
Photo courtesy of Brad Jimerson