Earl Glenn Cobeil was born on August 29, 1934 and joined the Armed Forces while in Pontiac, Michigan.
He served in the United States Air Force, and attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
On November 5, 1967, at the age of 33, Earl Glenn Cobeil perished in the service of our country in North Vietnam.
COBEIL, EARL GLENN
REMAINS RETURNED 03/04/74
Name: Earl Glenn Cobeil
Rank/Branch: O3/United States Air Force
Unit: 333rd TFS
Date of Birth: 29 August 1934
Home City of Record: Pontiac MI
Date of Loss: 05 November 1967
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 213000N 1051400E
Status (in 1973): Prisoner of War
Other Personnel in Incident: Richard A. Dutton, Returnee
Source: Compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK 09 March 1997 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews, “And Brave Men, Too,” by Timothy Lowry.
REMARKS: Egress; NVN did not release due to maltreatment/torture/mental
state. CACCF reports Died in Captivity.
Leo Thorsness was already in captivity when a Cuban team came and stayed for
a year. They taught the North Vietnamese how to extract information.
George Day had one of the first interrogators who spoke English. Day could barely understand him – but the brutality from him was loud and clear. The arm that had partly healed after ejection in 1967, was broken again.
“They had hung me up from the ceiling and paralyzed this [left] hand for about a year and a half. I could barely move my right hand. My wrist curled up and my fingers were curling. I could just barely move my [right] thumb and forefinger.”
“In some of the torture sessions, they were trying to make you surrender. The name of the game was to take as much brutality as you could until you got to the point that you could hardly control yourself and then surrender. The next day they'd start all over again.”
“I knew what he was – he was obviously Cuban and had either been raised at or near the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo. He knew every piece of American slang and every bit of American vulgarity, and he knew how to use them perfectly. He knew Americans and understood Americans. He was the only one in Hanoi who did.
Thorsness was not among the eight tortured by the Cubans as Day was, but they systematically tortured another in the camp to death, Thorsness says.
In November 1967, 90 miles north of Bangkok, Captain Glen Cobeil and Major Dick Dutton briefed for their mission. They were to be the spare F-105 aircraft in the event a plane would have to abort. There would be four aircraft that would preceed the fighter-bombers. The Wild Weasel aircraft's job was to seek out the guided missile sites, knock them out before they could launch the “flying telephone poles” (name given to enemy missiles).
The F-4 Phantoms provided MIG cover for the Weasels and the strike aircraft. As they made a wide sweeping turn, after releasing one of the bombs, the missile radar started working on them. A 37mm hit their tail and they were on fire. They were seven minutes from the Red River. They tried to nurse the stricken plane, but the time came when they knew they had to eject. They figured if they could hide until dark perhaps they could get across the Red River – that being friendly territory. However, they landed right in the middle of a populated area.
Quickly the peasants disrobed Dutton with no thought of unfastening buttons or zippers. They even cut his boots. With elbows tied behind his back, a loose blindfold over his eyes and a noose over his head, he was led barefooted down a rocky path. The civilians hit him with bamboo poles, rocks, dirt clods and fists. He had a gaping wound and one peasant woman stuffed it with a piece of cotton that had a mercurochrome like antiseptic on it. Loaded into a small truck, they bounced along and finally arrived at an empty church. Shortly thereafter Communist soldiers put unconscious Glen Cobeil in one truck and Dutton in another. They were taken to a Russian built helicopter and placed in the cargo section. Dutton's ankles were tied to a floor hook. As they flew along Dutton's blindfold was pulled up around his forehead and he saw an Oriental sitting on a packing crate holding a raised jack handle. Dutton thought he was going to smash his brains in. The Oriental shoved Dutton's head around to look at Glen. There was no wound on him. They finally arrived at the Hanoi Hilton. Cobeil was still alive.
Dutton never saw him again but only heard him. Both were tortured continuously and on the fifth day Dutton heard Glen scream his name and then he heard the sounds of them beating and clubbing Cobeil.
When George Day arrived at the Zoo on April 30, 1968, and met his interrogators, one of the Cubans had already pounded Earl Cobiel out of his senses. Interrogators, returnees said, had taken a rusty nail and carved a bloody X across his back.
Day recalls, “a young gook, whose name escapes me, and two other beaters beat him all night. They brought him out after a fourteen or fifteen-hour session, and he obviously didn't have a clue as to what was going on. He was totally bewildered and he never came unbewildered.
“The gooks kept thinking he was putting on, so they would keep torturing him. The crowning blow came when one of the guards some people called Goose struck him across the face with a fan belt under his eye, and the eyeball popped out. The guy never flinched, and that was the first time the gooks finally got the picture that maybe they'd scrambled his brains.”
“It sounds so savage you have trouble picturing it.”
Government records from 1979 still listed Cobeil as a prisoner of war. Records from later years finally indicate that Earl Glen Cobeil died in captivity. His remains were not returned home until 1974, even though the North Vietnamese had full knowledge of events that had taken place and Cobeil's death at the hands of the interrogator much earlier in the war. North Vietnam has yet to release the names of the Cubans involved in the torture and murder of American Servicemen.
Retired colonel recounts his days as a POW
Released: 18 Sep 1998
by Airman 1st Class Greg Davenport Jr.
16th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
HURLBURT FIELD, Florida (AFNS) — When people think of war heroes, they sometimes think of Hollywood-made personas such as Rambo. While the silver screen glamorizes war, retired Colonel Richard A. Dutton, 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing, has another story — a true story.
In movie after movie people see “war veterans” defeat the enemy and escape capture. These “Tinseltown” icons are the products of a writer's vivid imagination and real-life history. For the military community, real-life history takes on a very personal meaning.
Dutton and his co-pilot Captain Earl Cobeil were ambushed in their F-105 Wild Weasel F November 5, 1967, during the Vietnam War, after flying a suppression mission over Kep Air Base.
“We did our mission, and as the Weasels, we were the last ones out,” said Dutton. “We turned away and that's when they started firing. They knew if we were turned away from them we couldn't fire at them. We had the missile warnings, but the Weasel didn't have jammer pods, so our only defense was to go down and fly at low levels.”
Soon after decreasing altitude, the F-105 was hit by a 37 mm round in the rear of the plane. Both men ejected from the plane.
Landing in the Red River Delta, Dutton immediately tried to perform evasive maneuvers, but to no avail. With recently harvested fields, he said the two-inch rice stubble provided no cover from the enemy who quickly captured him.
Alone and unarmed, Dutton was dragged off to Hanoi to begin his sentence as a prisoner of war.
Dutton said at the time of his capture he was overflowing with different emotions. That's when he realized he may never go home and it was time to start making some important decisions.
“I had all types of emotions when I was captured,” Dutton explained. “I was afraid sometimes, but I just figured I'd try living day to day. I remember thinking, ‘If I make it through today, I'll worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.'”
As a resident of the “Hanoi Hilton” Dutton was subjected to things most people won't ever experience in their life. He emphasized that there's no such thing as a Hogan's Heroes-type of prisoners of war in a Communist situation.
Prisoners remained in solitary confinement, in a sealed cell so they couldn't see outside. The only light source the POWs' had was a single light bulb in each cell that burned 24-hours a day. A loud speaker also blared propaganda to dishearten the prisoners.
Dutton said for various reasons and lack of facilities, he and other prisoners were moved around to several prison camps, the most prominent of them being Son Tay. There, living conditions got even worse.
“I was put in a cell with three other guys,” Dutton remarked. “We spent almost two years that way and then we were sent to another camp, when a fifth person was put in with us.”
With some cells being 6 feet by 9 feet, Dutton said it was cramped and hard to cope. After the Son Tay Raid, November 21, 1970, Dutton and the rest of the other 51 Son Tay POWs were put in a big open holding pen like animals.
With horrible conditions that included malnourishment, filth and even torture, Dutton said it took the support of every POW to keep everyone else alive and strong.
“In war there's no such thing as a Rambo,” Dutton explained. “There was a great deal of mutual support going around, but it was usually done without ever seeing the person. We kept track of everybody who was there. You have to do physical and mental exercises to keep your mind working.”
According to Dutton, covert and clandestine communication was a POW's way of life. They drilled holes in doors, walls and bricked up windows with bamboo straws taken from bamboo brooms. He said instead of just sitting there, “We used everything the human imagination could find to communicate. You can just sit there, when you have nothing but time.”
After the Paris Accords were signed January 23, 1973, Dutton and many other POWs were released after 1,956 days — almost five and a half years of imprisonment. Dutton was released March 14 with the third wave of freed prisoners; however, Dutton's co-pilot Cobeil wouldn't make that journey to freedom. Injured during the ejection, Cobeil was captured and reported dead three years after the capture. His remains were returned in 1974, when he was buried in Arlington Cemetery.
Carrying that experience with him forever, Dutton continued his military career before retiring from the Air Force as a colonel. He said he's proud to have served, and even though it was a traumatic experience he would never want to repeat, it was one that was necessary.
“When you're in the military the one thing you've got to realize is the military is there to fight. The military's job is to defend this country,” Dutton pointed out. “The fact that our job is to fight doesn't necessarily mean that it's desirable. We serve a necessary function but it would be far, far better if we were never used — never needed.”
On 5 November 1967, Thailand-based F-105s from the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Takhli RTAFB were targeted against the Phuc Yen airfield in North Vietnam. The strike force included both F-105D bombers and F-105F two-seat SAM suppression “Wild Weasel” aircraft. Major Richard A. Dutton, pilot, and Captain Earl Glenn Cobeil, in F-105F serial 62-4430, launched as a spare aircraft but continued on the mission when one of the primary F-105Fs was forced to abort.
The F-105F SAM suppressors were first in the target area, but one of the bombers – Captain Billy R. Sparks in F-105D 61-0173 – was first hit. Sparks' flight was pulling off target when they came under SAM attack; Sparks took the flight low to evade the SAMs but he was then hit by several 57mm anti-aircraft shells. He remained in his burning aircraft long enough to eject in a lower-risk area, where he was picked by by a SAR helicopter.
Just after Sparks' aircraft was hit, Dutton and Cobeil were hit by 37mm AAA. Like Sparks, their aircraft caught fire, but they could not stay in it long enough to escape the heavily populated areas and were forced to eject near Piu Tho, just south of the Red River. Both were immediately captured and were taken by helicopter to Hanoi. On arrival both were subjected to beatings and torture for several days.
Captain Cobeil was selected for interrogation by a Cuban team led by the infamous “Fidel”. According to available information, Cobeil was beaten senseless on numerous occasions, subjected to electroshocks, and otherwise tortured repeatedly until his death in November 1970, three years after he was captured. His remains were returned by the North Vietnamese on 6 March 1974 and positively identified on 3 April 1974 with burial in Arlington National Cemetery. Promoted while a POW, Lieutenant Colonel Cobeil also was awarded a posthumous Air Force Cross.
Dutton and Cobeil have been associated with both the 333rd TFS and the 357th TFS. Both squadrons belonged to the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, and both squadrons had one flight of F-105Fs assigned. In “Vietnam Air Losses” Hobson associates the two men with the 357th TFS and we have done likewise.
COBEIL, EARL GLENN, U.S. AIR FORCE CAPTAIN
SERIAL NO. 364327201. 5-11-70. AGE: 36
DOB: 29 August 1934. U.S. CITIZEN BY BIRTH, RESIDENT OF PONTIAC, MICHIGAN. MARRIED.
CAPTURED IN 1967 IN VIETNAM, CAPTAIN COBEIL WAS TRANSFERRED IN JANUARY1968 TO THE PRISON KNOWN BY AMERICAN POWS AS “THE ZOO.” THERE, HE WAS SUBJECTED TO WHAT WAS KNOWN AS “THE CUBAN PROGRAM” LED BY A SPECIAL CUBAN TEAM WHOSE HEAD THE PRISONERS NICKNAMED “FIDEL.”
THIS PARTICULARLY VICIOUS SYSTEM OF EXTREME PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL TORTURE IS SAID TO HAVE BEEN AN EXPERIMENTAL PROGRAM OF DOMINATION TECHNIQUES, FOR WHICH SUCCESSIVE GROUPS OF AMERICAN POWS (18 IN TOTAL) HELD AT THE ZOO WERE RANDOMLY SELECTED DURING 1967-1968. COBEIL ENDURED “ONE OF THE MOST HENIOUS AND TRAGIC ATROCITY CASES IN THE NORTHERN PW EXPERIENCE” (ROCHESTER & KILEY, P. 399). AFTER WEEKS OF VICIOUS BEATINGS, UNRELENTING PSYCHOLOCIAL TORTURE, SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, AND FORCED ELECTROSHOCKS, HIS MENTAL AND PHYSICAL CONDITION DETERIORATED PROGRESSIVELY UNTIL HIS DEATH IN THE FALL OF 1970 IN A CELL AT HOA LO. HIS REMAINS WERE RETURNED ON 24 MARCH 1974.
SOURCE: ROCHESTER, STUART AND KILEY, FREDERICK. HONOR BOUND: AMERICAN PRISONERS OF WAR IN SOUTHEAST ASIA, 1961-1973 (ANNAPOLIS: NAVAL INSTITUTE PRESS, 1999), pp. 399-405. ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY THE OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, HISTORICAL OFFICE, 1998.
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard