Official picture of Eugene DeBruin
|Service/branch||United States Air Force|
|Years of service||1952-1956|
|Rank||Staff sergeant, USAF
U.S. Civilian, Air America
|Battles/wars||Vietnam War (a.k.a. Second Indochina War)
Secret War in Laos
Eugene Henry DeBruin (April 1, 1933 – c. 1968) was a US Air Force staff sergeant, and a member of Air America serving in Laos during the Second Indochina War. "Gene" DeBruin was working as a "kicker" for Air America in 1963 when his C-46 was shot down. He was a POW at a Pathet Lao prison camp in Laos until he and other prisoners attempted to escape. After this, there is little known about DeBruin's whereabouts.
Early life and military career
After graduating from high school, DeBruin joined the US Air Force in 1952. He served four years, mostly in Japan, as an aircraft mechanic reaching the rank of staff sergeant. During that time, he also obtained a private pilot license. He also practiced judo during his time in Japan.
After being discharged from the Air Force, DeBruin enrolled at the University of Montana at Missoula, Montana obtaining a degree in forestry. He then worked as a "Smokejumper" for three years in Alaska. DeBruin then moved to Mexico to learn Spanish with the intent of becoming a writer.
After declining to join the Peace Corps, DeBruin volunteered as a "kicker" with Air America. His job was to kick the pallets of rice and food down the plane to aid the refugees. According to his brother, he had plans of joining the Peace Corps after he finished his stint with Air America.
Capture and first escape attempt
On September 5, 1963, DeBruin took off on a mission with fellow Americans, Joseph C. Cheney and Charles Herrick, Thai Pisidhi Indradat, Prasit Promsuwan and Prasit Thanee, and Chinese Y.C. To. During a flight over Laos, his C-46 aircraft was hit by ground fire and crashed about 2 kilometers from Tchepone on the Savannakhet Province. DeBruin, Y.C. To, and the three Thai nationals parachuted to safety, but were immediately captured by the Pathet Lao. Cheney and Herrick were killed in the crash.
After his capture, DeBruin was moved to four different prisons, together with the other four prisoners. In May 1964, they managed to escape for three days, but were caught at a watering hole.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2007)|
Second escape attempt
After that failed attempt, DeBruin attempted a second escape. The seven prisoners that worked together for this second attempt were:
- Pisidhi Indradat (Thai)
- Prasit Promsuwan (Thai)
- Prasit Thanee (Thai)
- Y.C. To (Chinese)
- Duane W. Martin (American)
- Dieter Dengler (American)
Dengler was the last to arrive at the POW camp, and initially, distrusted by the other prisoners as they thought he might be an informant. Eventually the prisoners advised Dengler of their past escape attempts.
On June 29, 1966, while the guards were eating, the group slipped out of their hand and foot restraints and grabbed the guard's unattended submachine guns. The Pathet Lao guards spotted some of the other prisoners trying to escape. A shootout between the two sides ensued and Dengler and Indradat ended up killing five guards so the others could escape. Two others ran off, presumably to get help. The seven prisoners split into three groups. Indradat, and the other Thai prisoners; DeBruin stayed with To, who had been too ill to continue with the escape; and Dengler and Martin headed for the Mekong River to escape to Thailand. Martin was killed by a Laotian villager, while Dengler was rescued after 23 days in the jungle. Indradat was also rescued later.
Of the seven prisoners that attempted to escape, only two reached safety (Dengler and Indradat). One report stated that DeBruin was killed in the escape attempt, but Indradat originally reported that he last saw DeBruin attempting to "reach high ground in a classified location".
DeBruin's family has found reports that confirm that he was alive as late as January 1968. First, US Intelligence confirmed that DeBruin was recaptured and returned to the Muong Phine prison in late June 1966. According to intelligence reports, he was later moved to a POW camp at Muong Nong with eight other American POWs. According to reports, in January 1968, DeBruin and the other Americans were moved out of the complex by the North Vietnamese Army. Their destination was never known.
DeBruin's brother, Jerome DeBruin, traveled to Laos in 1972 in search of information. Although the Pathet Lao openly admitted holding American prisoners of war, they insisted that the United States negotiate directly with them to ensure their release, but this never happened.
Eugene DeBruin in film
Eugene DeBruin was portrayed by Jeremy Davies in Werner Herzog's 2007 film Rescue Dawn. The film focuses mostly on Dieter Dengler's life as told to Herzog by Dengler himself, but has been severely criticized by members of the family of DeBruin, Dengler, and Pisidhi Indradat, the other survivor of the group, for portraying DeBruin as a selfish and unstable prisoner who threatened to betray his fellow prisoners at any time, and who, at the time of their escape, did not know what to do.
Herzog acknowledged that DeBruin acted heroically during his imprisonment, refusing to leave while some sick prisoners remained, but Herzog was unaware of this fact until after the film had been completed. Herzog states that this narrative aspect probably would have been included had he learned it earlier.
- Dieter Dengler
- Richard G. Desautels
- Duane W. Martin
- Pisidhi Indradat
- Rescue Dawn
- Air America (airline)
- Air America (film)
- Rescue Dawn: The Truth - Rescue Dawn, Dieter Dengler, Gene DeBruin, Werner Herzog, movie, Steve Zahn, Christian Bale, Lao Prison, rescue, dawn, truth
- Dieter on Gene Debruin video
- "Rescue Dawn: The Truth". Family, Friends of Gene DeBruin Critical of Herzog Film.
- Herzog, Werner, The Making of a True Story, documentary feature on the American DVD release of Rescue Dawn
- Air America by Christopher Robbins
- The Ravens, Pilots of the Secret War in Laos by Christopher Robbins
- Air America Association web site
- Online Archive Materials about Air America in the Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech
- Air America - Roll of honour and images.