An army marching under the hammer and sickle emblem ambushed 114 American servicemen Monday and held them as prisoners of war within view of the U.S. Capitol.
Two busloads of Army lieutenants set out for a prisoner-of-war training center, but they did not know they would be ambushed midway by MPs dressed as Soviet soldiers and armed with rubber Russian AKM rifles.
Simulated grenades blasted the bus, signaling the beginning of one of eight prisoner-of-war training exercises conducted each year at Ft. Belvoir. Several men jumped out the windows and escaped into the woods.
They did not escape the six hours of intense duress, harassment, and humiliation that awaited the others. They only postponed it. The rules of this war game prohibited mass escape because they would, under actual circumstances, end in "wholesale slaughter," according to a POW training manual. Individual escape attempts were encouraged, but none occured.
The more than 100 "POWs" remaining on the buses were yanked off, one at a time, theri right arms twisted behind their backs, their heads shoved into tight-fitting burlap bags. Spun from guard to guard, they were finally hoisted into the backs of trucks and piled on top of each other like fish.
"Face down!" barked a guard, nudging his rifle butt into the prisoners ribs.
Seven trucks loaded with the hooded prisoners pulled up 15 minutes later at the barbed wire gates of the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Compound (SERE), a mock prisoner-of-war camp on a remote corner of Ft. Belvoir in Fairfax County.
Guards dressed in Soviet-style uniforms with red lapels and red stars on the caps led them through the compound gate and under a banner declaring, in Russian, "Workers of the world unite!"
The guards pushed them to their knees in the soft mud and ordered them to clasp their hands behind their hooded heads. Those slow to react were pushed forward into the mud.
Russian march music blared from speakers atop watch towers where guards manned machine guns.
"Straighten your backs, animals," Capt. Paul M. Pittman, a Vietnam veteran who heads the SERE Compound, bellowed at the rows of kneeling men.
The compound one of 12 Army prisoner-of-war training centers in the country, "is as real as you can make it," said Lt. Joe Schmaltz, who spent three days as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. "I only wish I would have had it when I went over" to Southeast Asia.
Schmaltz was dressed as a communist guard.
"It brought back a lot of memories," Schmaltz said as he recalled his first glimpse of the SERE Compound.
Although the main motif of the camp is Soviet, it is intended to be "an amalgam. It incorporates the peasant brutality of the North Koreans and the Vietcong, the didactic superiority of the Chinese, and the cold sophistication of the Russian KGB," the SERE instructor's manual states.
Of the 114 members of last Monday's POW class, many were fresh out of college and had only a few weeks' militrary experience. One was a woman, 21-year-old Susan Lynn Kenyon, a cum laude graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont.
The students were told they would undergo a prisoner of war training exercise, but nothing of the physical rigors of psychological torment they would be put through. Their suggested reading list included books by Navy Cdr. Lloyd M. Bucher, commander of the U.S.S. Pueblo captured by the North Koreans in 1968, and Francis Gary Powers, whose reconaissance plane was shot down over Russia in 1960.
The POW camp is part of the basic officer training course at Belvoir. The first and second lieutenants participating in Monday's exercise are receiving engineering training. The course includes instruction on how to remove enemy obstacles and to build bridges, both of which would place them near the front line of military operations and in danger of enemy capture.
"For you the war is over," Capt. Ronald Filak, the camp commandant, told the prisoners from a red-star emblazoned podium.
Rule No. 1, Filak shouted to the POWs, when you hear gunfire, "get on your bellies!"
Machine gun fire snarled from the twin watch towers at diagonal corners of the camp. Five rows of hooded captives fell face-first into the mud.
"You must answer all questions posed by the People's Representatives," the commandant proclaimed. He referred to U.S. military defeats in Korea, Cuba and Vietnam, to U.S. support of foreign dictators, and to the "arms manufacturers of Wall Street who make millions while you suffer."
A guard leaned over a kneeling black prisoner.
"Do you expect chattel slavery like the kind you have in you army? Not so, you will learn," he said.
"Yes, comrade," the prisoner answered obediently.
Raising the issue of American racial discrimination is one of several ploys aimed at uncovering "the chink in the prisoner's emotional armor," according to the SERE training manual.
"Fanatic patriotism, hatred of the enemy, close friendship with another prisoner, fear for one's own safety, religious beliefs, or race prejudice," may be the key to breaking down a prisoner's resistance to the manual suggests.
Even Red Cross workers and chaplains may be working for the enemy within the mock POW camp.
Outright defiance at the compound - and at real POW camps - is discarouged in favor of a more subtle uncooperativeness, Pittman said. "The open hero can't win in a POW camp."
Those who defied their captors at SERE Compound by refusing to answer questions or by giving belligerent answer were dragged into mud holes and ordered to do push-ups, or hooded and placed in 2 1/2 by six-foot lockers buried in the ground. Maximum confinement time was 10 minutes.
In the six-hour exercise, 15 men were examined by medics for exhaustion or minor injuries. Three of those were taken to a hospital but not admitted, and two suffered from "extreme fatigue and mild heat injury," according to a medic's report.
Several men shook uncontrollably during exercises and interrogation. Some had to be supported on the shoulders of medics.
"I'm not worried about them. They're weak. They'll survive, they really will," said Col. Harold E. Iverson, director of Ft. Belvoir's Department of Combined Arms. "We know the breaking point."
Guards are instructed to protect themselves from prisoners who may attack them, but to bear in mind that the soldiers "are under considerable emotional strain," and that "their judgement may be impaired." Two POWs were retrained when they refused to obey the guard's orders.
A prisoner or guard was allowed to suspend the exercise by declaring that he was "going ad (administrative)," but was told to do so only in "extreme emergencies."
Guards occasionally "went ad" to inquire of a student's health if he appeared to be in serious difficulty.
Prisoners were divided into three groups and alternately underwent indoctrination, work detail and interrogation.
The indoctrination center, called the "lecture hall, " was a wood hut with a potrait of Karl marx looking out over the rows of ankle-high benches. A copy of the Geneva Convention hung inconspicuously in the corner.
"Have faith in the masses. Have faith in the party," droned a recording.
Work details worked at a feverish pace to uproot live tree stumps with shovels, or did exercises.
"Ther're too conscientious," muttered Col. Iverson. "They're used to giving their all. They should be trying to get by with as little as possible."
Three cubicles at the rear of the acamp served as interrogation centers. Inside, two inquisitors questioned a prisoner who squinted at the glaring light bulb before him.
The inquisitors asked whom they should notify if the prisoner dies in the camp. "Susan, my wife," one POW answered. He told them he did not know where she lives and that he hadn't heard from her in a year.
When the POW left the cubicle, one of the interrogators, Lt. Col. Steven Chucala, shook his head.
"He hasn't communicated with his wife for a year. You store that up for later use. 'Maybe she's fooling around with someone else,' you tell him. It starts eating away at the guy. This is what happened to our people in Vietnam," Chucala said.
American soldiers can withstand the most extreme torture and still refuse to answer oral questions, Chucala observed. "You can pull their nails out," he said, and they won't answer an interrogator, but if you tell them it's a business form they'll fill out every question.
On Tuesday those participating inthe POW exercise will evaluate the SERE experience and discuss how prisoners should comply with the military Code of Conduct.
Many students and instructors were evaluating the experience before the exercise ended at midnight last Monday.
"About 90 per cent of them will tell you more than they should," said one interrogator.
Instructors and students pointed out the same weakness in the exercise - its shortness.
"I realized this thing wasn't going to last forever," said 2nd Lt. John Cramond, a 23-year-old college engineering graduate who said the physical strain of the exercise was the most exacting part.
"I'm not in too good of shape right now," he said.
"I know it's only a one-night affair," said Lt. Kenyon, the lone female POW. "I guess I'm learnig some of my limits, but it's the kind of thing I'll think about when it's over . . . Women can handle it just as well as anyone else can."
Pittman admitted that "you never quite lose the feeling that this thing is going to end," and that the essence of the actual POW experience is the anxiety and strain brought on by the knowledge that it may never end.
Despite its shortcomings, Pittman said the POW training is valuable because it offers the students an "accurate and solid insight into the psychology of a potential enemy," and a better understanding of what those who spent as long as nine years in actual POW camps in North Vietnam endured.