View Full Version : A Sad Story of Two Brave Marines and the Lies Told About Them

01-08-03, 10:37 AM
Schreckengost and Greer: A Sad Story of Two Brave Marines and the Lies Told About Them
Summary. In 1964, two young Marines, Fred Schreckengost and Robert Greer, were captured by enemy troops near the U.S. Marine base at Da Nang, Vietnam. They were moved through several local villages then, according to numerous reports, shot to death while trying to escape. A huge body of mythology developed around this incident. Greer and Schreckengost were reported to be defectors who operated with North Vietnamese troops against Americans. They were supposed to have been returned to the U. S. under some sort of "secret returnee" program in which they were given new identities. Much of this foolishness was promulgated and perpetuated by a former U. S. Army Special Forces Captain, who was a bad actor. For many years, the Greer and Schreckengost story was part of the MIA activist cult's canon of belief.

In 1990, their remains were recovered from the hole where they had been buried in 1964.

I tell this story here to illustrate the sources of mythology that one finds in the MIA activist cult and to illustrate that the U. S. government was right all along in its position that these two Marines had died doing their best to do their duty.


One of the longest, most twisted sagas of the Vietnam War MIA issue deals with the capture and subsequent deaths of two USMC privates, Robert Greer and Fred Schreckengost. Before you start reading, you need to know that this is a simple, straightforward story, but it becomes twisted and distorted with all sorts of blind alleys. I will try to tell it clearly but sometimes it just gets messy.

Greer and Schreckengost were among the Marines who went to Vietnam early in the US build-up. They were stationed at Da Nang and, on 7 June 1964, they rented a couple of motor bikes and went for a ride in the countryside around Da Nang. They never returned and, when the Marines started searching for them, they quickly found the bikes by the side of the road and several local civilians told of seeing the two Marines being captured by "VC." A huge search was launched with Marines and South Vietnamese troops and police scouring the area. The searchers soon picked up the track and learned that the two had been marched through some villages where they were put on display by their captors then moved along. Despite having these warm leads, the two Marines were never seen again. And now begins the tale.

Salt and Pepper
One of the enduring unsolved mysteries of the Vietnam War is the story of Salt and Pepper. Salt and Pepper stories come mainly from northern I Corps and tell of a team of two Americans, a short black guy and a tall white guy, working with the NVA. There were all sorts of efforts to figure out who these two were. The problem was that sightings of them were usually fleeting, sometimes under fire, sometimes conflicting. DIA had developed some ideas of people who might be Salt and Pepper but, having read the file several times, I have to say it was speculative at best. I do not know if Salt and Pepper were part of the SSC report.

Anyway, Greer was short and dark complexioned (not African-American) and Schreckengost was tall, slender, and light-complexioned. (Actually, Schreckengost was close to Garwood in height, weight, build, and coloring. Remember that fact.) From time to time, captured NVA, civilians, and some US troops would report seeing an American working with NVA troops in northern I Corps and just north of the DMZ. When these people were shown a photo lineup, occasionally someone would pick out Schreckengost as one of the men resembling the guy they had seen. At no time did any witness ever positively identify him as the man seen; he was just one of several photos picked out in a few cases. I have no proof of this, but I must assume that knowledge of their loss and knowledge of the fact that Schreckengost's photo was picked out by a few witnesses was fairly widespread among USMC intell and, probably, among the special ops folks in I Corps.

CPT William R. Atkins, USArmy; AKA "Liam" Atkins
CPT William R. Atkins, USArmy, was a SF officer assigned for a while to CCN. He returned from Vietnam and was assigned to Ft. Bragg. He separated from the Army and moved into the Reserve. He was later released from the Reserves because, according to a series of letters in his file, he never attended drills or meetings, never participated, never answered any mail from the Reserves, etc. So, they dropped him. Atkins did, however, show up in a couple of other places: Rhodesia; the Prince Georges County, Maryland, police force; a London jail; Northern Virginia; and, a 173d Airborne Brigade reunion.

Atkins and Rhodesia

Stay with me, now, this gets messy. You will recall that, in the late 1970s, Rhodesia, a former British colony and member of the Commonwealth, was embroiled in a war between the minority white rulers and the majority black population, striving for independence. The Rhodesian civil war attracted lots of mercenaries, wannabes, and the like. Rhodesian stories were all the rage in SOF magazine. William Atkins showed up in Rhodesia, joined their Army, and lasted about a year before he was booted. According to sources in Rhodesia, they got rid of him because of his tendency to become enraged and beat his soldiers.

Atkins and the Prince Georges County, MD, police force

He then showed up as a member of the Prince Georges County, MD, police force. I do not recall how long that employment lasted but it ended in an internal affairs investigation into the theft of some evidence in a burglary and allegations of brutality. When we asked the PG police about the case, we hit a near stone wall. One new member of the force told us that it was one of those things that no one wanted to talk about. Maybe that was because the internal affairs captain who was conducting the investigation was shot through a window at his home one day. He lived.

Atkins Tours London

After this episode ( I believe we are now up into the early 1980s ), the US Embassy in London was contacted by the British police one day and told that the Bobbies had arrested an American and would the US consular folks like to come visit him. When the consular officer arrived, he found Atkins with an assortment of lumps and bruises. It seems that Atkins become belligerent toward a British Bobbie and decided to challenge the authority of the British police to keep order in London. I think it was eleven of them showed him what British nightsticks were all about. When the consular officer arrived at the jail, Atkins started telling him a story about US POWs in Vietnam. Atkins claimed that he had all sorts of information about American POWs, and about two Marines in particular. Officers from the Defense Attache Office questioned Atkins and determined that he had nothing specific, just a bunch of claims that he knew a lot and, if they could spring him, he would talk.

Oh, did I mention the fact that, when Atkins was booked by the London police, he had in his possession the ID card and a credit card belonging to a USNavy Reserve officer who lived in Alexandria, VA? It seems that these same items had been stolen from the Navy guy's home during a break- in; they had been found on a burglary suspect who was arrested by the PG County, MD police; and, these very items were subjects of the internal affairs investigation mentioned earlier because they had disappeared from PG police custody.