May 1967, then Cpl. Carlos Ashlock and LCpl. Jose Agosto-Santos were members
of Company D, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division and were participating
in an operational mission in the vicinity of the village of Que Son in the
Rue Son Valley. This valley was rich in rice fields, densely populated and
hotly contested. As the Marines moved through the valley, they encountered
two reinforced battalions of Viet Cong (VC) approximately 1mile southeast
of a primary road and the same distance northwest of a river. The Americans
were engaged in heavy combat approximately 12 miles southwest of the coastline,
14 miles southeast of An Hoa, 18 miles northwest of Tam Ky and 25 miles south
of DaNang, Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam.
At 1750 hours, most of the
Americans in the patrol were wounded or dead and the Marines were forced to
withdraw under heavy enemy fire. Jose Agosto-Santos, who had been wounded
in the stomach and back and Carlos Ashlock, who sustained reportedly mortal
wounds, were both left for dead in the rice field where each fell. Both Jose
Agosto-Santos and Carlos Ashlock were immediately listed Killed in Action-Body
Shortly afterward, one of
the American survivors reported seeing VC troops carrying Agosto-Santos away.
Another report was also received by US intelligence from a local Vietnamese
official that two wounded Marines had been seen in the custody of the VC.
This report was viewed as possibly correlating to Carlos Ashlock and Jose
Agosto-Santos. In June 1967, a former Viet Cong doctor at Hospital B-25 reported
Cpl. Ashlock was alive and had been treated at his hospital. According to
another US intelligence report, he was also seen alive in July 1967. In spite
of this information, neither Marine's status was upgraded to either Prisoner
of War or Missing in Action.
In reality, LCpl. Jose Agosto-Santos
was not killed, but captured by the Communists. For about a month he was cared
for in a cave by the Viet Cong. On his first night in captivity, a VC medical
team removed two bullets from his body, which was an excruciating procedure
as the surgery was done without anesthetics. During his recovery the VC treated
him well while interrogating him as well as manipulating him with promises
of an early release in exchange for his cooperation. In June he was allowed
to write a letter to his father shortly before being moved to another POW
Some of these camps were actually
way stations the VC used for a variety of reasons. Others were regular POW
camps. Regardless of size and primary function, conditions in the VC run
camps frequently included the prisoners' being tied at night to their bamboo
bunks anchored by rope to a post in their small bamboo shelters. In others
they were held in bamboo cages, commonly referred to as tiger cages, and
in yet other camps the dense jungle itself provided the bars to their cage.
There was rarely enough food and water to sustain them, and as a result,
the Americans suffered from a wide variety of illnesses in addition to their
injuries and wounds.
In the new prison camp, known
as "ST18," Jose Agosto-Santos was incarcerated with other American POWs including
Luis A. Ortiz-Rivera. PFC Ortiz-Rivera was a US Army soldier, who had been
captured six months earlier, and like LCpl. Agosto-Santos, was from Puerto
Rico. Both men barely spoke English. To the other POWs, the two Puerto Ricans
seemed to be unduly subservient and amiable toward their captors. Further,
they were showered with favoritism as the VC endeavored to exploit their
On 23 January 1968, just before
the beginning of the communist initiated Tet offensive, the VC released PFC
Luis A. Ortiz-Rivera and LCpl. Jose Agosto-Santos in a propaganda move during
a ceremony outside a hamlet near the provincial capital of Tam Ky. The day
after their release, the remaining POWs were moved to another camp located
some six hours to the northwest of ST18.
Ironically, neither the Marine
Corps nor United States government had any idea Jose Agosto-Santos survived
his wounds until the time he was released from captivity. During his debriefing,
Jose Agosto-Santos told US intelligence personnel he behaved as a model prisoner
because he felt he owed his life to the Viet Cong who saved him by nursing
him back to health. Further, he reported he did not know if Cpl. Ashlock
was killed or only wounded, he as never saw him ..
In March 1991, Vietnam repatriated
a group of remains, one set of which they identified as those of Carlos Ashlock.
The remains were taken to the Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii (CIL-HI)
for examination. After an examination of all remains returned to US control
in March 1991, CIL-HI personnel determined that neither the remains identified
as Cpl. Ashlock, nor any other remains returned at that time, could be associated
with Carlos Ashlock.
American team members from
the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) have conducted an additional
investigation into the case of Cpl. Ashlock. During a field investigation,
JTFFA members located witnesses who provided information concerning the capture
of Carlos Ashlock. Some of the witnesses also reported multiple burial sites,
but none of the witnesses could provide information on the burial site locations
and no remains were recovered. According to JTFFA personnel, none of the
information gathered from these witnesses increases the knowledge already
known that Cpl. Ashlock was last known alive and in captivity.
If Carlos Ashlock died in
combat as our government originally believed, or in captivity as a Prisoner
of War as the Vietnamese witnesses claim, he has the right to have his remains
returned to his family friends and country. If, on the other hand, he survived
captivity as the US intelligence indicates, his fate like that of many other
Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia could be quite different.
Since the end of the Vietnam
War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise
unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports
document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast
Military personnel in Vietnam
were called upon to fly and fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they
were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred
to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.