Thursday, April 18, 2013

By Playing Dead, U.S. Envoy Survived,

December 2, 1978, Los Angeles Times - AP, page I-1, By Playing Dead, U.S. Envoy Survived,

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP)--The U.S. Embassy's deputy chief of mission, a bullet still lodged against his pelvis as a result of the airstrip massacre near Jonestown, Friday described how he played dead and managed to survive.

"It hurts more now than it did when I was shot," Richard A. Dwyer said, sitting down gingerly in an office chair, as he told his story for the first time.

The 45-year-old Dwyer, deputy chief of mission at the embassy, escorted a party headed by Rep. Leo J. Ryan (D-Calif.) to the Jonestown camp and was leading it out on Nov. 18 when the group was attacked at an airstrip by members of Jonestown's Peoples Temple sect.

A small-caliber bullet struck Dwyer near the base of his spine, lodging against his pelvis, and doctors have decided to leave it there.

A short time after the attack more than 900 cultists died in a frenzy of suicide and murder at the camp.

The Ryan party had gone to Jonestown to investigate reports of abuse of sect members. On the way out they were escorting several residents who wanted to leave the settlement.

Some of the party were already aboard the two plane that were to take them back to Georgetown when "all of a sudden somebody started shooting at us," recounted Dwyer, of Michigan City, Ind.

"The congressman ran by me and we both ran around the nosewheel of the DeHavilland Otter, the larger plane. The gunfire came at first from a camp trailer that had driven up alongside the runway.

"Ryan was hit, but I saw him take shelter behind the nosewheel. I was headed for the bush across the runway when I saw them firing at us from the truck parked on the other side and I knew I wouldn't make it.

"I hit the deck, and that must have been when they shot me. I don't remember feeling it hit. I lay on my back and played dead.

"I remember worrying that because I was wearing dark blue slacks the blood wasn't going to show up well enough. I was debating whether to smear some around on my shirt to make it look better.

"I was waiting there for the second shot and thinking about things my wife had told me to do that I hadn't got done. Then I heard a shotgun blast close up. There were two blasts. I flinched with each shot and wondered when he was going to get me.

"There was silence. Then I heard the tractor start up and it left...

"I looked at the congressman. He was clearly dead. Part of his head was blown away. The same was true for (NBC correspondent) Don Harris.

Dwyer said he checked two other journalists and found they were dead, then removed the body of the fifth victim, a woman member of the Peoples Temple, from the Otter, where it was still belted into a seat.

Able-bodied survivors carried the wounded into the bush in case of another attack. Dwyer said he knew they must get the twin-engine Otter into the air before dark.

"The pilot was still in his seat. I walked over to talk with him and walked right into the propeller. It sliced the sleeve off my shirt. It was one of the dumbest things I've ever done in my life.

The Otter was damaged, apparently in the attack, and could not take off. Dwyer had the pilot send an emergency radio message, and later the smaller Cessna took off carrying both pilots and one of the injured.

Dwyer, meanwhile, spotted a Guyanese defense force lieutenant and three soldiers with automatic weapons near the end of the runway, close to a damaged plane they had been sent to repair.

"I asked them the obvious question---'Where the hell were you?' Dwyer recalled. "The lieutenant said he couldn't tell what was happening . He said it looked like Americans shooting at Americans and it happened too quickly for him to do anything."

After dark, Dwyer had the badly wounded placed in the soldiers' tent and shepherded the others to a nearby tavern. The diplomat and Bo Flick of NBC then stood watch over the wounded all night, "holding their heads so they wouldn't choke on their own vomit or blood."

Guyanese troops arrived Sunday morning and secured the airstrip. The survivors were ferried out by plane, Dwyer finally leaving Sunday afternoon.

"I went home and burned my clothes. They were pretty much a mess. The embassy nurse came over and gave me a tetanus shot. I talked with the ambassador and went to bed. The next day [Mon. Nov. 20] I went over to the hospital and checked in." He was released last Saturday. [Nov. 25]

Survivors of the airstrip attack were full of praise for Dwyer's performance. "He was fantastic, a very brave man," said one. "I didn't even know he was wounded until somebody told me later."

Dwyer says he was just doing his job.

Dwyer had met Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones, who ordered the mass suicide-murder, only once before the fatal Saturday.

"He seemed completely rational, though he told me that at times he felt like he was getting paranoid. I told him it was a good sign that he recognized that."

That meeting was in May. At their final encounter Nov. 18, Jones "was noticeably different. He walked halting, with assistance. He seemed to ramble and didn't speak as logically as he had before." A physician who treated Jones and other sources have said he was seriously ill.

Was there some chain that bound the Peoples Temple together so tightly its members could poison themselves?

"Yes. It was all Jim Jones." Dwyer said. "These people are not your average Americans. The whole thing wasn't normal, to go up into the jungles of Guyana in the first place wasn't normal...

"But I do want to say there were a lot of people who wanted to be up there. A lot felt they were doing something and belonged to something, many perhaps for the first time."

December 2, 1978, Nashua Telegraph - AP, page 28, People Temple Survivors Prepare To Return to U.S.; Some Remain as Witnesses in Mass Suicide,


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