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It was around midnight that they awoke to the sounds of movement. By the time they had risen to their feet, Jack had found the barrel of an AK-47 rifle was pointed at his head. A North Vietnamese patrol had discovered their hiding place.
After a tense standoff, Jack had convinced them that they were a group of Australian immigration officials looking for information on several refugees that had applied for refugee status, with the Australian Embassy in Vientiane. Just as the soldiers were leaving them, a voice called out in Vietnamese “Chính Jack Roberts, Bạn sẽ không bất cứ nơi nào!” which translates to “Major Jack Roberts, You are not going anywhere!”
Jack look at amazement towards the voice and then recognised him as a South Vietnamese officer that he had trained while with the Australian Army Training Team (Vietnam). It was apparent that the man had changed sides and was now a relatively senior North Vietnamese Officer. Rifles were immediately trained on the three Australians, and after a few swift orders, their hands were tied behind their backs. Then forced to the ground.
After a lot of shouting between the new officer and the leader of the group that had found them, the officer who had revealed Jack’s identity left. The leader walked over to the prisoners and in fairly good English told them that the officer was a busy man with an important job and as he had no time to spare, left the prisoners this more junior officer.
The North Vietnamese soldiers then tied branches down the backs of their prisoners and tied their legs in such a fashion that they could walk, but very restricted. The patrols, along with its prisoners, marched south until just before daybreak. The other officer had seized the Peugeot and took it with him.
No sooner had they set up camp the senior officer started his interrogation. “You said you were Australian immigration officers, but now we find that you are Australian soldiers. However, as you have no uniforms or military identification, you must be SPIES! Probably CIA employed!”
Jack protested. “We are who we said we were and doing a job. Sure, I was a soldier once, but that was a long time ago.” With that, he felt the full force of a rifle butt across his nose, and he immediately tasted his own blood.
The soldier then turned to Joe and screamed: “Who do you spy for?” Joe replied, “Mister (making sure he used no military terms or jargons) my friends and I are all civilian…” and before he finished the sentence, Joe also had blood pouring down his face.
Now it was Emile’s turn. He braced himself for the pain that was to come when, instead of abuse, he was handed a cup of rice wine. “We are not animals as your American friends say, but we must know the truth. More importantly, I need to know what was your mission. We are peaceful people that only want our country to be united and to be able to pursue our simple lives. What is your Mission?”
Emile looked him in the eye and said, “You heard my friends, we are not spies or soldiers only…” and with that Emile also felt the force of the rifle butt.
The soldier then turned to one of his men and barked some orders. Immediately Jack, Joe and Emile were tied together around a tree in such a fashion that their backs were to each other and they could not sit down.
They had nothing to eat or drink since the night before, so when they saw their captors eating, they asked for food and drink. This was greeted with laughter, but no food or drink was offered. The senior soldier then said, “Maybe tomorrow, maybe not.” This was again greeted with laughter.
Shortly after nightfall the senior soldier approached them again and asked them in turn, “Who do you work for? What is your mission?” When they repeated once again that they were immigration officials only, he then asked them if they were thirsty. When they said that they were, he shouted that a cup of water was brought over to each of them. Holding the cup away from their faces he again asked them in turn, “Who do you work for? What is your mission?” As each of them, in turn, started to state that they were immigration officials, he emptied the water over their feet.
By this time they were beginning to show signs of exhaustion as they had been on their feet for over eighteen hours without food, water or rest. They were then untied from the tree and tied together so they could march with the patrol as it moved through the night. Around midnight the patrol stopped for a rest, and the prisoners were allowed to sit. They were given a cup of rice and half a cup of water before continuing on. They marched through the jungle until just before daybreak they came upon a small fishing village adjacent to a river.
From the village, a soldier brought out three fishing cages, each about 1200 mm square. The prisoners were forced into each cage and given a small amount of rice and a full cup of water. No sooner had they eaten than ropes were tied to the top of each cage and they were hauled out along several branches of trees overhanging the river. The cages were lowered to within a metre of the water. Jack was almost asleep in his cage when Joe sang out. “Bloody crocodiles!” It seems that the river was infested with crocodiles and they were just out of reach of a jumping crocodile.