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A Family Member’s Critique of Werner Herzog’s “Rescue Dawn”

The movie “Rescue Dawn” began showing at select theaters in New York and Los Angeles on July 4th with national distribution on July 13th. Its director is Werner Herzog who is a master at taking nonfictional truthful scenarios and twisting them into fiction, Hollywood style. Such is the case in “Rescue Dawn” which is littered with Herzog’s errors of both omission and commission.

The movie is vaguely based on the book, “Escape From Laos” written by Dieter Dengler. However, the movie takes liberties that are offensive to anyone who is familiar with the events surrounding the prison break from Ban Houei Het Pathet Lao Prison in June, 1966. These liberties may be the stock and trade of Hollywood but they are offensive to the brave POWs and their families.

We, the friends and family of Dieter Dengler, Eugene (Gene) DeBruin, and Pisidhi Indradat wish to provide the truth for the record. Although the truth clearly doesn’t matter to Werner Herzog, the producers and many who may review “Rescue Dawn”, the truth does matter to many veterans and POW/MIA family members.

We can provide considerable documentation including testimony given to the Central Intelligence Agency by Dieter Dengler and Pisidhi Indradat, who currently resides in Bangkok, Thailand and is the last remaining successful participant of that prison break. We also have their personal writings, records, videotaped interviews and information that has never been released to the public.

This documentation paints a very different mosaic about events of that prison break and the role of Dieter Dengler as portrayed in “Rescue Dawn”. We want to be clear, we were friends of Dieter Dengler. We have warm memories of our friend Dieter, who recently passed away of ALS – Lou Gehrig’s Disease. We believe Dieter would be appalled by this movie had he lived to see it.

“Rescue Dawn” is a flawed movie filled with numerous omissions:

“Rescue Dawn”: There were six POWs.
Real Life: There were seven POWs. Pisidhi Indradat, Prasit Promsuwan, Prasit Thanee, Y.C. To, Duane Martin, Dieter Dengler, and Eugene DeBruin.

“Rescue Dawn”: Gene is portrayed as an uncaring, deranged and derelict Charles Manson type entity, devoid of humanity.
Real Life: Gene DeBruin is a kind and caring individual, helping to pass the years in prison by teaching his cellmates English, sharing his blanket on cold nights, sharing his food, even staying behind to help Y.C. To, a Hong Kong Chinese cellmate who had become too ill to escape without help. Gene returned to help Y.C. To despite pleas from Dieter Dengler and Duane Martin to join them as the group split up to try different directions in their bid for freedom. Pisidhi Indradat, a cellmate and survivor of the ordeal, called Gene DeBruin, “The finest man I have ever met.”

“Rescue Dawn”: Despite being the new man on the scene, Dieter Dengler manages to formulate the plans for escape and lead the group out of the prison.
Real Life: Dieter Dengler and Duane Martin arrived at the prison about two and a half years after Gene and the others were shot down. The five POWs had already escaped once before in 1964, and were recaptured and tortured. It took the group thirteen days to trust the new prisoner with the German accent. Once they were sure Dieter was an American they shared their secret escape plans, already formulated by Gene, Pisidhi, and the others, who had already begun storing rice in bamboo tubes in preparation for their escape.

“Rescue Dawn”: Dieter Dengler teaches the group how to escape their handcuffs.
Real Life: Gene and Pisidhi had already made the key used to unlock the handcuffs. They didn’t tell Dieter about it for two weeks. Until they trusted Dieter, they remained locked in the handcuffs and leg blocks at night.

“Rescue Dawn”: Dieter Dengler kills the prison guards.
Real Life: Dieter fired to protect himself from a machete weilding guard. Pisidhi Indradat risked his life to kill the guards so the group could escape.

“Rescue Dawn”: Gene is portrayed as being a wreck of a man in the jungle when he meets up with Dieter, muttering, “What will I do now?”
Real Life: Dieter testified that Gene, after shaking Dieter’s hand, shouted, “See you in the States,” before heading back into the jungle and returning to help Y.C. knowing full well that Y.C. would not make it to freedom without his help.

“Rescue Dawn”: Dengler and Martin approach the village together and when Martin is attacked, Dengler attempts to come to his aid by attacking Martin’s attacker.
Real Life: Dengler hid in the bushes while Martin approached a village in an attempt to secure food. Martin was hacked to death by a machete-wielding villager. Dengler weak himself from hunger, realized that he could not help Martin and to avoid becoming a victim himself, dashed off into the jungle, later to be rescued and whisked offshore to the USS Ranger.

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Both Dieter Dengler and Pisidhi Indradat spoke of Gene as a strong leader and a peacemaker when differences threatened their escape plan.

In raising Dengler alone to the status of ‘Hero’ despite the team efforts of all the prisoners, Herzog is in essence saying that only those who escape are heroes, which downplays the enormous amount of luck that goes hand in hand with the skill a successful escape requires. Duane Martin wasn’t less of a hero for succumbing to his attacker, Y.C. To wasn’t less of a hero for getting sick during the window of opportunity for the escape, why then must Hollywood lower those that didn’t make it out to raise up one that did? All seven were equal heroes from those who won their freedom to the ones who lost their lives.

Think for a moment, what kind of movie director/writer portrays a character in a movie, yet refuses to talk with that person before, during, or after the production? Pisidhi Indradat and Jerry DeBruin made multiple attempts to contact director Werner Herzog, producer, Harry Knapp, and Gibraltar Films, to insure the accurate portrayal of the characters, but to no avail. No response ever surfaced. Silence. Maybe the answer is the obvious one, Herzog didn’t want to do an honest movie, he wanted to make his film his way and the facts be damned.

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The TRUTH matters, and the TRUTH is “Rescue Dawn” is a dishonest film.

Pisidhi Indradat – Escapee from Lao Prison

Jerry DeBruin – Brother of Gene DeBruin

Stevan Smith – Documentary Producer – Vietnam War Veteran

Fred Rohrbach – Vietnam War Veteran

Malcolm Creelman – Vietnam War Veteran