PURCELL, BENJAMIN HARRISON RIP April 2, 2013
Name: Benjamin H. Purcell Rank/Branch: Colonel/United States Army Unit: 80th General Support Group Date of Birth: 14 February 28 Home City of Record: Columbus GA Date of Loss: 08 February 1968 Country of Loss: SVN Loss Coordinates: 164425N 1071955E Status (in 1973): Returnee Category: Missions: Korea - 1st Lt. Purcell served from April 51 through May 52 with the 7th Infantry and was an Aide to X Corps Commander. Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1D
Other Personnel in Incident: Lenker, Michael, returnee; Rose, Joseph, returnee; Chenoweth, Robert, returnee; Ziegler, Roy "Dick", returnee; George, James Edward, missing
Source: Compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews, "Love & Duty", by Ben and Anne Purcell. Updated 2013.
REMARKS: 03/27/73 Released by PRG
The 101st Airborne Division had a new battalion just outside of Quang Tri City. "Charlie" was everywhere around the city. Radio contact was yet to be established with logistics. A single band radio needed to be delivered there ASAP. Colonel Pen Purcell was the executive commander of the 80th General Support Group and deputy commander of the Dan Nang Sub-Area Command. Purcell decided to hand carry the radio on their way to Dong Ha to check on other troops.
Warrant Officer Joe Rose was flying the UH-1 "Huey" and Warrant Officer Dick Ziegler was his copilot. The crew chief was SP/4 Robert Chenoweth, and SP/4 Mike Lenker was the door gunner. Pfc. James E. George, a refrigeration mechanic from Purcell's command, sat in the jump seat.
Purcell handed the radio he had come to deliver to Capt Drake. Private George, the refrigeration mechanic, hurried over to repair the disabled reefer truck, which was his mission on this trip.
Captain Drake and his commo sergeant got in their jeep and drove off. As Purcell started back toward the helicopter, he saw that the two pilots and Chenoweth had a panel raised and were looking at something.
One of the radios was out and they could not fly back up through the overcast skies without it. They had to cancel the rest of the trip up to Dong Ha.
Rose turned the helicopter toward the southeast and headed toward the coast. They were flying about three hundred feet or so above the ground - not high enough to be out of range of small-arms fire.
Suddenly Warrant Officer Ziegler turned toward Purcell and shouted, "We're being fired on!" His next message was, "We're on fire!"
The helicopter gave a sudden lurch and then the inside flared brightly with an orange light. Only seconds after the first round hit, the fire was already hot just forward of the transmission housing in the center of the passenger compartment of the helicopter. Private George and Col. Purcell were sitting on the outside seats as far away from the heat as it was possible to be.
The helicopter made a sweeping turn to the right and toward the ground trailing fire and smoke. Rose fought to control the helicopter and to land it as quickly as possible.
The helicopter hit hard and the tips of the rotor blades dug into the ground and broke as they struck a large granite monument. The helicopter was ripped to shreds by the ground impact and the flailing rotor blades.
George, Chenoweth, Lenker, and Purcell loosened their seat belts and jumped out, but the pilot and copilot couldn't get out through their respective doors. They were trapped in their seats by the "chicken plates," as the aircrews humorously called the armor shields installed between them and their doors. The door gunner ran to the front doors and slid the panels back so Rose and Mr. Ziegler could get out. By the time he opened their doors, though, the pilots had already butted their way through the windshield.
Ziegler was hit in the leg. George ran back to the ship to recover his M-14 rifle, which was lying on the floor between the pilots' seats. He drove right into the middle of the flames and the fire engulfed him instantly. Lenker and Purcell had to reach in and drag him out. Flames had licked at George's hands and face, and his skin there was hanging in strips.
Lenker and Purcell had a hold of George and they half-carried and halfdragged the badly burned young soldier away from the burning helicopter. Ziegler was limping badly, his leg was bleeding, and George was in great pain and groaning softly.
Soon after, the crew was surrounded by twelve Viet Cong. Realizing they had no chance to fight with few weapons and ammunition, the crew surrendered.
As the VC forced them to move, the injured George asked Ben Purcell to pray. The VC soon put an end to the prayers -- Purcell was forced to move off and a shot was heard. James E. George was believed executed that day. His remains have never been found.
More than five years later on March 27, 1973, Col. Ben Purcell was among the thirty-two Americans released that day. In his five years (1874 days) of captivity, he was moved through three camps, escaped twice, was held in solitary for 58 months, and endured starvation and torture.
Ben's family -- his wife Anne and their five children, were active in the National League of Families while he was held. Anne was a founding member of the organization - traveling later to Paris to meet with the North Vietnamese. It wasn't until 1969 that Ben's status was changed from MIA to POW.
Col. Pen Purcell served with the United States Army for more than 30 years. He retired from active duty in 1980. His many decorations and awards include the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Purple Heart.
The Purcells have been married 49 years (as of 2000). They have raised five children and have two grandchildren. They live in Georgia where they operate a Christmas Tree farm and lecture extensively on their experiences. In 1992, they wrote a love story entitled "LOVE & DUTY" -- the remarkable story of a courageous MIA family and the victory they won with their faith. This short biography was written with information from their book. Ben has previously been elected a Georgia State Legislator.
SOURCE: WE CAME HOME copyright 1977 Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret), Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602 Text is reproduced as found in the original publication (including date and spelling errors). UPDATE - 09/95 by the P.O.W. NETWORK, Skidmore, MO
BENJAMIN H. PURCELL Colonel - United States Army Captured: February 8, 1968 Released: March 27, 1973
Upon graduating from North Georgia College, Dahlonega, Georgia in 1950, I received my commission in the United States Army and was the senior ranking Army POW released from Southeast Asia. After the helicopter on which I was a passenger was shot down southeast of Quong Tri City, South Viet Nam, I was captured by the Viet Cong and taken to North Viet Nam where I was detained for more than five years; 58 months of which were spent in solitary confinement. During that period I never received a letter or package from my home, nor did my wife, who resided in Columbus, Georgia, receive any word from me.
Apr 21 1998
Former POW gives Fort Hood soldiers food for thought by Lisa Beth Snyder
FORT HOOD, Texas (Army News Service, April 20, 1998) -- The retired colonel grasps a hand in a firm, long handshake to compensate for the years when he had no human touch.
"In a literal twinkling of an eye, my lifestyle changed from a person of some consequence to one in which food, shelter, and life itself were uncertain," retired Col. Benjamin H. Purcell said to members of 13th Corps Support Command who were gathered for a prayer breakfast recently at Fort Hood.
In that twinkling in February 1968, a helicopter in which he was a passenger during the Vietnam War was forced to crash land. While he and five other soldiers on that aircraft attempted to get out of the area, only one was able to evade being encircled by the Viet Cong soldiers armed with automatic weapons. As the senior soldier, Purcell made the difficult decision to surrender in order to have a chance to survive.
He and three other soldiers were tied up and forced to march barefoot through the jungle. The fifth soldier's face and hands were burned in the crash and the Viet Cong did not bind his hands. When they briefly traveled by boat, Purcell said he took this opportunity to pray, and this gave him faith to endure the humiliations of being a prisoner of war.
When they resumed marching, he heard a shot. He suspected that the Viet Cong had killed the burned soldier, Pfc. James E. George of Burlington, Texas, because he was never seen again. Twenty-nine years later, Purcell showed Col. Terry Tucker of Joint Task Force Full Accounting, the probable location of the shooting on a map. A body was recovered at the site and it is being identified at the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.
After six days as a prisoner of war, Purcell and his group were finally interrogated. He only answered the questions required by the Geneva Convention and gave his wife's address so that she could be notified of his whereabouts. She was not notified until he was freed five years later.
"I was cold, I was hungry, I was hurting from broken ribs from the crash when I realized it was my 40th birthday," he said. His captors noticed it was his birthday, also, and followed their custom by honoring his special birthday and temporarily suspended the interrogation and gave him some food.
He became so weak that he was carried on a litter to a camp where they stayed for 30 days. Then they began marching again and sores from leech bites made it difficult to walk. He was afraid he was going to stumble on the night walk and be killed, so he said he prayed for light. The soldier in front of him turned on a flashlight soon after.
When he reached the next camp, he was put in solitary confinement and interrogated. During the interrogation he was told he was not a prisoner of war, but a criminal of war and he would be tried if he did not rethink his ways. Purcell insisted he was a prisoner of war and prayed for the strength to endure the experience.
"We survived by faith, courage, and our devotion to duty, and on very rare occasions our sense of humor," said Purcell, the Army's most senior prisoner of war in Vietnam.
He said his prayers led him to politely argue with his captors to keep his mind alert and to begin planning his escape. He fashioned tools for his escape from metal fasteners in his cell and with handles made from bread dough.
He also went on two hunger strikes to protest his solitary confinement that prevented him from being with the soldiers he felt responsible for.
Purcell spent 58 months in solitary confinement, excluding the few precious hours he had during two escapes.
"A man who cannot live with himself cannot live with his fellow man," Purcell said. "I learned to live with myself." He said he also developed a greater love for his fellow humans from this experience.
To keep busy he made three versions of his wedding band, one from a plastic toothbrush handle, one from an aluminum toothpaste tube, and the third from bamboo; a communion set from various materials; and a salt and pepper shaker set. He never got to use the salt and pepper set because he was not given the condiments because of his escape attempts.
"The physical body has needs -- food, shelter, life -- but life is not worth living without a spirit to feed," he emphasized. It was his faith in God and country that allowed him to experience 1,874 sunsets after awakening each of those mornings to a feeling that this would be the morning he would go home.
On Jan. 27, 1973, the prisoners were told the war was over and were moved to the Hanoi Hilton. Two months later on March 27, 1973, he was released.
He said his experience showed him that in addition to faith and family, three things are important to him. "Human life is the most precious thing," he said. "Secondly, freedom. Without freedom life is an existence, not true living. And communications, because of the time spent in solitary confinement."
In introducing Purcell, Col. Christopher A. Rockwell, 13th Corps Support Command chief of staff, said that Purcell would "delve into the spiritual, moral, and ethical aspects of our profession."
Members of the audience indeed got food for thought to go with their bacon and eggs that morning.
Colonel Purcell, pictured with the love of his life, Anne, has reported to his final Duty Station.
Memorial Service is set for
Saturday, 4/6/13, at 1400 hrs. at Bethlehem Baptist Church,
Clarkesville, GA .
CLARKESVILLE – Funeral arrangements for Col. Benjamin Harris (Ben) Purcell, 85, of Clarkesville are incomplete.
Col. Purcell died Tuesday, April 2.
Commissioned in the U.S. Army through the Army ROTC program at North Georgia College, he was captured in South Vietnam on Feb. 8, 1968,
and remained in captivity until March 27, 1973.
He was the highest-ranking POW in Vietnam, and also was a former state representative.
Hillside Memorial Chapel, Clarkesville, confirmed it will be announcing the arrangements.