Today is the 56th Anniversary of the Capture of the First Prisoner of War in Viet Nam

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by Tara Ross, Guest Author

On this day in 1964, a U.S. Navy pilot arrives at the soon-to-be-infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” LTJG Everett Alvarez, Jr. would spend a stunning 3,113 days in captivity, making him one of America’s longest-held POWs.

Alvarez’s troubles began on August 5. His plane took a hit during a bombing run, and he was forced to bail out. Mere minutes later, he was captured by Vietnamese fishermen.

Alvarez found himself in a rather tricky situation. Was he a prisoner-of-war with all the protections of that status? The North Vietnamese claimed that he was only a common criminal. (War had not been declared.) Similarly, how should he answer questions? At first, Alvarez gave only his name, rank, and serial number. But he soon realized that Vietnamese authorities had information obtained from the American media. How did that change what he could or couldn’t say?

For months, Alvarez had nothing to rely upon except his own wits. There wasn’t even another American POW around. He was barely surviving in a small cell on a starvation diet.

“Sometimes I lifted the cover off a plate and found a chicken head floating in grease,” he wrote, “or in a slimy stew or soup smelling of drainwater. At other times an animal hoof . . . . More than once a blackbird lay feet up on the plate, its head and feathers intact and the eyes open.”

Alvarez implemented strategies to sustain himself. He scratched a cross into a wall and hosted his own Catholic Mass. He etched the passage of time on walls. He did complex math problems and played chess against himself, just to keep his brain working. He had daily cleaning rituals, which (sort of) warded off the cat-sized rats that roamed around.

Other POWs began to arrive in 1965.

Their arrival made Alvarez’s life better—and worse. On one hand, he had companionship. The men developed a tap code that worked through walls. Their communications system, Alvarez would say, “became our lifeline . . . . It fueled our morale and stiffened our backbone. Above all, it kept us informed . . . . To be forewarned was to be forearmed.”

On the other hand, interrogations got a lot worse.

The North Vietnamese wanted letters and recordings for propaganda purposes. Americans were tortured if they refused to cooperate. On one occasion, Alvarez was told to write an apology. His arms were contorted and painfully bound until he finally complied. “For the first time in my life,” he later wrote, “I felt sheer hatred . . . . It took a few hours before I could hold the pencil and when I did, my writing looked like a drunkard’s scrawl. . . . I took pains to misspell words to make the confession as phony as possible.”

The arm torture left the skin on Alvarez’s hands deadened and black. Natural color didn’t return for two years.

On another occasion, Americans were marched through a frenzied crowd. They’d been tethered to each other, defenseless, as the mob madly beat and kicked them. “Our emaciated bodies, lacking nutrition, sunlight and exercise for so long, were ill-equipped to withstand this kind of ordeal,” Alvarez concluded.

The treatment of prisoners improved, but not until after Ho Chi Minh died in 1969. Finally, in 1973, the POWs were released.

Alvarez had been a captive since the very beginning—but he’d also been a pillar of strength for everyone else. “[A]ll the POWs, looked up to Ev,” one said. “He was one of those optimists who always thought we would get out the next day.”

Unfortunately, homecomings weren’t always so rosy. For Alvarez, the difficult news concerned his wife. During his absence, she obtained a divorce—and a baby with a new husband.

Fortunately, this hero’s story has a happy ending: Alvarez remarried, earned graduate degrees, and founded a wildly successful company.


Author’s Note: If you enjoy these history posts, please see my note below.

Gentle reminder: History posts are copyright © 2013-2020 by Tara Ross. I appreciate it when you use the share feature instead of cutting/pasting.

#TDIH#OTD#History#USHistory#liberty#freedom#ShareTheHistory

Guest author, Tara Ross, is a mother, wife, writer, and retired lawyer. She is the author of The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule,Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College, co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (with Joseph C. Smith, Jr.), & We Elect A President: The Story of our Electoral College. She is a constitutionalist, but with a definite libertarian streak! Stay tuned here for updates on pretty much anything to do with the Electoral College, George Washington, & our wonderfully rich American heritage.


 

The 75th Anniversary of the Bombing of Hiroshima, Japan

By Guest Author, Tara Ross

On this day in 1945, Americans drop an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The bombing came not too long after Japan had rejected a final opportunity to surrender.

The so-called Potsdam Declaration was issued through a combined statement of the United States, Great Britain, and China.

“The time has come,” these Allies declared, “for Japan to decide whether she will continue to be controlled by those self-willed militaristic advisers whose unintelligent calculations have brought the Empire of Japan to the threshold of annihilation, or whether she will follow the path of reason.”

Unconditional surrender was necessary. The alternative was “prompt and utter destruction.”

Japan rejected the ultimatum. Presumably, no one in Japan really knew what was coming. But you have to wonder whether anyone in America truly understood what was coming, either?

Captain William Parsons of the Manhattan Project briefed the crew of the Enola Gay (and others) before they departed on their historic mission: “The bomb you are going to drop,” he told them, “is something new in the history of warfare. It is the most destructive weapon ever produced. We think it will knock out everything within a three mile area.”

Well, yes, it did. But it also shattered glass in suburbs that were twelve miles away from the detonation site.

Later that day, President Harry S. Truman made a statement:

“The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. . . . We are now prepared to obliterate . . . every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city,” he stated. “We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.”

Unfortunately, the Japanese did not surrender that day. A second bomb would be dropped on Nagasaki mere days later.

It was a hard day in world history, but it was also the beginning of the end of World War II.


History posts are copyright © 2013-2020 by Tara Ross. I appreciate it when you use the share feature instead of cutting/pasting. #TDIH#OTD#History#USHistory#liberty#freedom#ShareTheHistory

Guest author, Tara Ross, is a mother, wife, writer, and retired lawyer. She is the author of The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule,Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College, co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (with Joseph C. Smith, Jr.), & We Elect A President: The Story of our Electoral College. She is a constitutionalist, but with a definite libertarian streak! Stay tuned here for updates on pretty much anything to do with the Electoral College, George Washington, & our wonderfully rich American heritage.

 

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